Disclaimer: As per usual, Buffy is owned by Joss/ME/Kuzui/etc. Not me. Sheesh, if I owned it, would I be writing what is essentially a fix-it fic?

Thanks to Staway Man, my Beta

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season One

By Alkeni

Episode 8: Lovers Walk Redux

November 22nd, 1998

Willy's Alibi Room

"I'm telling you, Slayer! I have no idea who or what killed your friend's dad. Swear on my mother's grave! Should anything happen to her, God forbid..." Willy insisted, looking terrified. And he was terrified. Terrified of the short blonde woman who had lifted him a clear foot off the ground.

"You're lying!" Buffy said furiously. "C'mon, Willy - someone has to have talked about it! If only for the bragging rights to get at me, through my friend's family!"

"Listen, kid, be reasonable! I mean, why the hell would I lie to you and Angel here, when the two of you are obviously ready, willing 'n able to beat the shit out of me? I spread the word about your friends, just like ya forced me to way back when. And you know as well as I do the kinds of demons and vamps that come through my door aren't hardcore or suicidal enough to go after your family, your friends, or their families. HEY! What the hell-?!" Willy picked himself off of the floor, slowly, rubbing his leg and wincing in pain after Buffy dropped him to the floor.

The Chosen One had a lethal expression upon her face. "Willy, let's get something straight. I'm done fooling around with you; either you tell me who did it, or so help me I'll-"

"Buffy." Angel interrupted, stepping forward towards her as the Slayer turned to face him. "He's telling the truth, I can tell. Willy honestly doesn't know who killed Xander's dad." Before Buffy could say anything in protest, he continued, speaking to the snitch. "But you have your suspicions, I'm sure. So, let's hear it. Who's been talking about Buffy more than usual? Complaining more than usual? Talking a bigger game than they usually do?"

Willy looked at his broken front door, then back at Angel and Buffy. He sighed and replied, "Yeah, well, I'm kinda surprised you haven't heard it already. Old buddy of yours was in here last night, truth be told." He paused a moment, and then sighed again. "Spike."

"SPIKE?! That son of a - he's actually back in town!?" Buffy immediately felt a stab of guilt in her stomach, because she had let Spike live back in May. Had made that Devil's bargain with him to stop Angelus and save the world...and now...

Now he's made Xander pay for my mistake...

Buffy shook her head after jumping to conclusions, she knew she had to focus. "I told that bastard the deal, God damn it! He and Drusilla left Sunnydale for good, and they got to live. So why'd they come back? And why now?"

Willy shook his head, feeling unnerved by the female teenager's glare. "Uh, no. The loon wasn't with him, actually. They split up in South America few months back, from what he was saying last night. Actually, Spike spent the whole night pissing and moaning 'bout how she left him for a Chaos demon. Oh, and how it was all your fault, Slayer..."

"Where's Spike's new lair?" Buffy demanded, not liking the implications of that.

"No clue." Willy immediately backed away from Buffy's raised fist, bumping into the bar after just a few steps. "Seriously! C'mon, Slayer, the guy didn't get that drunk. And hell, he might not have even have set up a new base yet. Look, kid, I know you're upset - but listen, we both know how this works, right? I don't know where Spike is holed up, but I can find out. But you gotta do something for me, okay?"

"You're not exactly in any position to make demands here, Willy." Buffy spat.

Willy gulped, but then he straightened up. "You're not going to kill me, kid, and neither is your boyfriend. Or else, you'd have done it already. And whatever else you may think of me, I've got a business to run, and Spike racked up a bar tab a mile long. So..."

Angel didn't let him finish, already knowing what the weasel-y snitch was hinting at. "Fine. I'll make sure that whatever money or valuables we find at Spike's place go to you, once you give us his new address." Angel said firmly.

"What? Angel!" Buffy turned and stared at him. "What are you-?!"

"Buffy, do you want to find Spike as quickly as possible or not?" Angel asked her. He answered his own rhetorical question. "And since we both know the answer's yes, this is the easiest and fastest way to do it. You know that. Besides, Willy's right, neither of us are going to kill him; at least not tonight, and not like this."

Frustrated and angry, both because she knew Angel was right and because of this whole damned situation, Buffy let out an angry growl that turned into a scream as she drove her fist into the bar. She poured her anger, her sense of helplessness, her guilt... This is all my fault, damn it...into the punch. The blonde girl pulled her fist back and prepared to hit the bar again, but Angel grabbed her arm. "Buffy. That's not gonna help, and we need to go. Besides, I'm sure Willy got the picture the first time."

Clenching her fists, fuming and knowing her beloved was right yet again, Buffy let Angel walk her out of the bar. Behind them, the bartender-slash-snitch let out a sigh of relief as he slumped back to lean against his bar.

Un-freaking-believable, Willy then thought to himself, assessing the hole made by Buffy's fist.

November 23rd, 1998

17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Xander stood up, eyes still staring out the window, like they had for the last nine hours since his 'interview' with the so-called Librarian of Fate. He hadn't even bothered to try to sleep, as Harris had known it was never going to happen. Not tonight. Not under these circumstances.

During the night, he had thought about the situation. There was no doubt that he was totally out of his league here. Plus, this was something that no one could help him with. Sure, he knew what was going on, how and why his father had been killed in order to teach him a lesson...but the Watcher and the Slayers and the rest of his friends didn't know squat. Because he, Xander, couldn't tell them a damn thing. He was all alone, and unable to tell anyone what he knew. Not even Cordelia.

Which totally sucked.

Nonetheless, over the past nine hours Xander had come up with a project in his mind. A project that was probably impossible to complete, granted. The Jester, and the Librarian...they both had made clear just how small he was, compared to them, and compared to what they dealt with on an everyday basis. Those guys were on a level which he could clearly not understand or play at. So how the hell was he supposed to become even a nuisance to the forces of Fate, become something that would actually bother them? If they were so much bigger, and larger than life, so to speak...how could he become any kind of serious player in this game? Xander honestly didn't know.

Still, I have to. Somehow, I have to. I have to keep screwing with them, with their plans, using the Iron Coin. Both of them; neither the Jester nor the Librarian are on my side, after all. And hate to admit it, but I guess that for now, that's all I can do. I have to protect my friends from whatever it is that they're up to. I don't care why they do it. Who knows...maybe there's some kind of greater good that's supposed to come out of all this, on some cosmic level that I can't possibly understand. But I don't care if there is, on account of I can't see things at that level. All I can see, all I know, is that my friends are at risk, and that bad things are going to happen. Bad Things that I am not going to like. Bad Things that I can stop. Bad Things that I need to stop.

Xander took a deep breath. "Damnit, I may not be able to hurt them. But I can use the coin." He looked at the object in his hand. All night, he'd turned it over in his hand, over and over and over and over and over again. He could probably repeat the motion in his sleep by this point.

Harris looked at the coin, then took a second deep breath. Despite all the months which had passed since last summer, he had never gotten used to the feeling of the visions the coin gave him. Closing his eyes, he flipped the coin. "Buffy Summers."

The vision appeared at once in his Harris-shaped head.

Dead children...a merry-go-round, in a park at night...

The library on fire...parents screaming...no, yelling...

Buffy...Willow – and Amy? They were tied to...they were being burned at the stake?

Xander shook his head slightly, as the images continued to inundate his mind.

Two old guys with British accents, they were talking somewhere...

An abandoned house, and two other guys were bricking up the windows...

"The Cruciamentum is one of our most important traditions, Rupert."

The library. A needle, someone was injecting something into Buffy's arm...

A crazed, psychotic-looking vampire giving her too much trouble...

Xander's head snapped forward as he came back to the here and now, the vision still lingering just behind his eyes. He didn't need to write it down, but what he did need to do was talk to Giles. Find out what the hell 'Cruciamentum' really meant.

Thanks to his Latin lessons over the past few months, Harris knew that the word was way too close to the verb that meant 'to torture' – among other things – for his comfort. And that -nt- meant that it was probably a Present Active Participle. And he was still kind of fuzzy on those.

And whoever was talking about it in that vision – one of those two old guys, he supposed – was talking about it to Giles.

But he couldn't go to Giles. Not yet. Right now, he had more flips to do. More people to flip for. Still, right at the top of his mental to-do list were two words.

Cruciamentum. Giles.

Taking another deep breath, Xander flipped the coin once more. "Cordelia Chase."

Xander immediately fell to the ground, his free hand on his stomach, groaning and pressing down, as if trying to stop bleeding. He had seen and felt it that time, had felt the iron spike piercing Cordelia's gut as if it was his own, he had felt her agony.

Cursing and trying to ignore the way-too-slowly-fading pain by sheer force of will, Xander staggered to his feet and flipped the Iron Coin again.

"Willow Rosenberg."

November 23rd, 1998

Sunnydale High School Library

Monday morning class could wait. Screw it, he had other priorities.

"Giles, office, now." Xander said without preface, walking around the main desk and into the librarian's private office without so much as a by-your-leave. Giles sputtered in surprise for a moment before he walked into the office after Xander, taking off and cleaning his glasses – the fifth time that morning – as he went.

Rupert never had a chance to say anything, though, as Xander commanded him, "And close the goddamn door behind you."

Surprised at the boy's tone, the Watcher nonetheless did as he was bid before he turned around and said. "Xander, w-what on earth is going on? Well, I mean, obviously you're...err, after what happened to your father..."

"Unless you want Buffy and Willow and Cordy and Oz barging in and wondering what the hell a 'Cruciamentum' is, then you should also lock the door so we can talk in peace. Don't think I don't know Buffy doesn't trust me the way she used to, and that she wouldn't demand answers neither of us can give her. Especially about something that roughly translates to 'torment' or 'torture' in English."

Even more flustered and shocked, Giles perched his glasses back on his nose and closed the door. "Xander, uh, h-how did you hear about the Tento di Cruciamentum?"

"Tento...? No, never mind. And to answer your question, the same way that I've heard and learned everything else that I shouldn't be knowing, Giles!" Xander said, almost pulling his hair in frustration. "You know, I think we need to set up some ground rules here, because I'm starting to go insane with all this. God damn it, I didn't ask for any of this, Giles! But since I've got it, I'm using it, and if I'm going to use what I know to the best effect, these little Q and A sessions need some ground rules from now on. And rule number one? I need you to stop asking me how I know things that it makes no sense for me to , you already know it's because of this thing that I've got! You know, the one I can't tell you details about?"

Giles looked even more flustered. "Well, yes, Xander, but still-"

"And rule number two, when I ask you a question about things that I have no business knowing about in the first place, you just answer straight up. Especially given the circumstances, I don't care if you get all stuffy and British about it. My father got killed last night, and I'm not in the mood for stalling or evasiveness anymore. I swear I'll find out some other way if you don't cough up, so for the last time: What. Is. The. Cruciamentum?"

"Ah. Well. It's a, uh, test." Giles said slowly, looking away and down.

Xander didn't get it. "A test? That can't be what's got you looking so rattled. Good Godfrey Cambridge, you've got the entire library here and then some inside your head! Whatever it is-"

"It's not for me, boy, it's for Buffy. And before you ask, it's...it's not a test of knowledge. Nothing something you can study for and, and be assessed with a pen or pencil. The Cruciamentum is...it's a test of wits, of strength, of resourcefulness for the Slayer, when she reaches her 18th birthday. And it's...the sort of test whether you either pass, o-o-or you die, in, in combat against a vampire." Giles confessed.

"What the hell!? You want to put Buffy into a 'fight to the death' scenario with some bloodsucker, as part of some stupid-ass test?" Xander looked like he honestly couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"I don't want to do that, for God's sake! But it's what Quentin Travers, the deputy Head of the Council, will demand that I do later in January." Giles threw his arms up in disgust. "It's pointless, a-a-and an antiquated barbaric tradition, but it's nonetheless been Council practice for a dozen centuries. And, it can't be stopped, even if I were to refuse to go through with my part in the whole sorry affair. One way or another, it will happen..."

"Oh, Lord. Okay, then let's start from the top." Xander took a deep breath, trying to force the frantic intensity of out of his voice, from more than just this 'Cruciamentum' thing. An entire morning of flipping the Iron Coin, of seeing the visions...visions that had forever been burned into his mind, even if he lived to be a hundred. Another breath. Xander said as calmly as possible, "What happens during this test?"

Giles looked out the small window and spoke softly, not meeting Xander's gaze. "According to the protocols I've studied, the Slayer's Watcher must use a special spell to put the girl's mind to sleep...hypnosis, uh, all of the Chosen seem especially vulnerable to it. Once, ah, properly distracted, he injects her with a special semi-magical chemical cocktail of sorts. It temporarily suppresses all of her Slayer enhancements, leaving her no more than an ordinary human being in terms of strength, reaction, senses, even knowing a vampire from a non-vampire. Then the Chosen One is, err, locked up in an empty house and she must kill a vampire present therein, um, before sunrise. Alone, and only what materials or makeshift weapons she can find."

Xander honestly couldn't find the words to reply for a moment. Eventually he spluttered. "How...what kind of sick-"

"Keep in mind that ever since...well, before human civilization began, the Council had only one girl with superhuman powers to fight against all the demons, vampires and forces of darkness throughout the entire world. Waging such a war with such limited weaponry means, uh, means taking a, um, a very cold-hearted approach to the Slayer. And not without good reason. For a field Watcher like myself, it's impossible to stay that cold when you personally know the girl, when it's your job to teach her and train her and you see that she is more than just a disposable weapon, one who-who has no purpose but to protect humanity. The Cruciamentum was simply an outgrowth of that inevitable viewpoint..."

"You sure? Because it sounds to me like the Cruciamentum's a real convenient method for you guys to weed out the stupid or incompetent Slayers, given the whole 'limited weaponry' thing you just mentioned. Not to mention that if the Slay-gal lives long enough to start thinking for herself, well, hey! Much easier to simply wipe the slate clean and start off with a new one, rather than have to put up with the old one's complaints and arguments! Am I wrong, or what?" Xander asked cuttingly.

Giles briefly looked startled, and then resigned again. "Perhaps. But as I said, one way or the other, it will happen. If I refuse to play my part, then I'll be fired and someone else will do it. Or, if that proves impossible once she's forewarned, then the Council may elect to just kill her using one its wet works teams. Even Buffy can't survive a sniper's bullet to the heart from five hundred yards away, without even seeing her assassin."

Xander's eyes were now very, very wide. "You're serious?"

"Deadly." Giles said, looking away again.

"The hell with that, then! We've still got two months, so you need to warn Buffy what's the what. Not to mention make sure that she can handle the test easy-peasy. Take it from someone who knows the first rule of passing tests: you always cheat if you wanna pass. And we can cheat here, no problem."

"Xander, the Council-"

"Can go kiss my lily-white ass! Just off the top of my head, I figure I'll send Angel in to hide in that damned house before you and the other guys from the Land of Tweed shove Buffy in there and lock the door behind you. Hell, it's not as if either of us could stop him, once he hears about this conversation. What do they call that, plausible deniability?" Xander demanded.

Giles smirked for less than a moment. "I-I-I suppose it's possible. But as you say, Buffy's 18th birthday is still some time off. Right now, we have a more immediate concern, namely who killed your father."

"There's no way you could know who did that already...wait up, who do you think it is?" Xander demanded, getting the impression Giles knew something he didn't.

"Well, uh, Buffy and Angel seem to think it's Spike..."

Xander's reaction was...unexpected. He laughed, a short, harsh bark. "One, I'm pretty damn sure Spike isn't the vamp who killed my dad. And two, why would they even think it was him? He's gotta be somewhere on the other side of the world by now, or whatever!"

"Uh, no. Angel and Buffy went to Willy's last night, you see, to-to try and find out who killed your father. The man claimed not to know anything about that, but Willy did mention that Spike was, um, back in Sunnydale, blaming Buffy for Drusilla breaking up with him. In my view, it makes some degree of sense. Besides, what makes you so sure it wasn't him?"

"Well, think about it, Giles. That vampire had to be invited in, and the hell with that thing of someone forcing their way inside. That was..." Xander briefly choked, unable to speak in order not to violate the Hydra's rules. "And my dad, he wouldn't have had any reason to invite Spike into the house. Now, a teenage female vampire dressed in real skimpy clothes? Far more likely. But unless Spike was pretending to be a rum salesman with fee samples or something, Dad would have told him to get lost straightaway. And I'm not saying that that salesman scenario's impossible, but it just doesn't seem like something Spike would do; at least, not after what happened with Parent-Teacher Night last year."

Giles had to nod at that. "I suppose so, yes. So what exactly are you saying? Are you proposing Buffy and Angel don't track Spike down and slay him?"

"No, I'm not saying that. That undead asshole should be dusted ASAP, God only knows how many bodies he's left behind him since the 19th century! But still - Spike's not the vampire who killed my father." Xander looked away for a moment, thinking, wondering. Should he tell Giles about seeing Buffy, Willow and Amy being burned at the stake...?

No. He'll tell Buffy, he has to. After all, these days Giles doesn't fully trust me anymore, not one hundred percent, just like the Buffster. And once she hears about that, who knows what it'll lead to! I don't have any context for why they're being burned alive like that. But there has to be a reason. Fate has to really, really want them all dead...

"Alright. That's settled, then. And, um, I'll consider what you said about the Cruciamentum," Giles said, unaware of Xander's mental musings and assuming the younger man knew something he didn't, regarding William the Bloody's culpability in that other matter. Shrugging, Giles turned to his desk and picked up a piece of paper. "Now, Xander, about this latest translation of yours...what on earth possessed you to translate Dixit nautam poetam Servavisse the way you did? Honestly, don't you recognize and indirect statement by now?"

Xander groaned. Here we go...

November 24th, 1998

Chase Residence, Sunnydale

'Xander, are you sure you haven't, like, totally lost it after your dad was killed?' That was the question which Cordelia wanted to ask Xander the most, and the one question which she knew she shouldn't ask him. He wouldn't take it well. These days, she knew her boyfriend well enough to be sure of that.

Instead she just squeezed his hand for a moment as they sat there in silence on her couch, for now...she was content for them to just be together.

Damn it. The dweeb was holding up so well...on the outside...but then, he always did. Nonetheless a woman knows her man, and so Cordelia could tell, after Xander had shown up at school the next morning, after his father's death...and this morning...

He was having nightmares about what had taken place the other night. She could see the tell-tale signs, small things. Usually she only noticed them when her boyfriend was trying too hard to hide them. And usually around apocalypse season. But now, after the death of his father...

Cordelia Chase swore viciously to herself. We so have got to get out of this damn town, one way or another, before it kills us too. Or drives us insane, or whatever.

Granted, there was a new...drive in Xander now. Like he was throwing himself into the helping with the Slaying. Buffy wouldn't let him go on patrol with her last night, saying he was 'too emotional' about it...plus she didn't agree with Xander's conclusions about Spike not being Tony Harris's killer.

Personally Cordelia had to agree with Xander's logic, even though Spike being the bad guy made a lot of sense...because like Willow, and unlike Buffy,she had actually met Xander's parents. Both in the old days, and more recently after she had finally taken their relationship out of the closet. The dork's right, his dad woulda simply told Spike to go screw himself and slam the door in his face; and his mom never even knew anyone had entered the house. And yet someone broke in? Kinda weird, now that I think about it...

Nonetheless...this drive...Cordelia wondered if Xander would be willing to leave Sunnydale with her now, rather than stay and help in the fight, in order get revenge...for everything. Still, if it wasn't Spike...maybe they'd never find out 'whodunit'. Who had actually killed his father. God forgive me, but I can't help thinking that that might actually be the best thing that could happen, so that my doofus doesn't get himself killed trying to do the whole 'avenging son' thing. Oh, Lord, I just want the next six months to be over and done with already, so that I can drag both him and me away from this hellhole!

"I won't ask how you're doing, because y'know, totally stupid question. But do you think you'll be okay?" Cordelia finally asked her beloved, leaning into him a little.

Xander reached up and stroked Cordelia's hair gently for a moment, tucking an errant strand behind her ear. "I don't know." He admitted. "The nightmares...they've gotten worse, these last two nights. I just have...I just have a bad feeling...like..." His voice trailed off, before it firmed up.

"Yeah, Cor, I'll be okay. Eventually. I'm alive...and I've got you...and my friends. I'll make it though this, one way or the other. My mom, I'm not so sure about, but that's something we can discuss another time." Then he looked at the Chase girl for a moment, just looked at her. His girlfriend. The woman he...yes, he could admit it now, the woman he loved. Had fallen in love with.

Xander bit his lip a moment. "Cordy...there's something I..." His voice trailed off a moment. "The death of someone close to you...kinda makes you think about life...death...the people you care about." Harris interrupted her attempt to interrupt with a finger pressed gently to her lips. "Cordelia...about us...before...before I found out...about Dad. I, I figured something out...about how I feel about you...and...my dad's death...it made me think...about how either of us could die...die before I told you..." He paused for one more moment.

"Xander," Cordelia said nervously. "You're...uh, you're starting to worry me-" Xander cut her off with a soft kiss.

"Cordelia Chase, I love you."

Cordelia's eyebrows nearly lifted up to the top of her head upon hearing that, but as he kissed her again, she just grabbed Xander tightly and climbed on top of her boyfriend, pushing him down onto the couch and fastening her lips to his like glue. Those three words were something she had been waiting to hear for nearly a year; and so as far as she was concerned, it was time to give herself to Xander Harris completely.

Mind, soul, and most especially body.

Not far away, Cordelia's cell phone started to buzz and vibrate.

They both ignored it.

November 24th, 1998

Sunnydale High Library

Buffy slammed down the phone. "She's not answering. Damn it, we don't have time for this. We have to find Spike!"

Oz looked up from the ground, which he'd been examining rather intently since the call had come through from Spike a few minutes ago. He was worried and trying to catch Willow's scent, even if he wasn't succeeding well. Buffy, likewise worried, replayed the recent conversation in her head for the tenth time...

"I've got yer little red-headed friend, Slayer. Come 'n find me, and maybe you'll get her back alive. I won't promise untouched. She does look right tasty, doesn't she?"

"I'll come for her, Spike, don't worry. And this time, I'll dust you - just like I should have last year! You just tell me where Willow is!" Buffy had screamed into the phone, terrified for her best friend.

Spike had laughed darkly. "Cor blimey, now that'd spoil all the fun, Slayer! Tell ya what, you come find me. And you have two hours, Little Miss Tiny, or Red here ends up my next meal. Maybe even me new bird, if I'm feelin' generous..."

"I can follow her scent. I think." Oz suddenly spoke up, staring at Buffy. Angel and Faith had already left to try to track Willow themselves, each in their own way. "The full moon is in ten days...that's...barely enough, to let me follow the scent. Now where's the last place we know she was-"

Oz quickly answered his own question, recalling what his girlfriend had said about trying to use magic to find out who had killed Xander's dad. "Uncle Bob's Magic Cabinet."

November 24th, 1998

Abandoned Factory, Sunnydale

"Slayer!" Spike said arrogantly from the top of the stairs, hands in the pockets of his coat. He looked somewhat hung over from his drinking binge the other night, but nowhere near as bad as what he would have looked like in another world - one where he had both Xander and Willow as his hostages. "So ya finally showed up. Gaah, I was startin' to wonder if you ever would! Thinking Red and I would actually get to have a little...fun time, together."

"You son of a bitch-" Oz swore, stepping forward, only to have Buffy put an arm out in front of him. "If you hurt Willow that way, I'll-"

"Oz." Buffy said, cutting him off. "I've got this." Then she looked back at Spike, twirling a stake in her hand. "What can I say, Spike, I aim to please. Not you, of course; me."

"Ya know, it would have been a lot more pleasing if you'd come alone, Slayer." Spike said, looking around and suddenly catching a familiar scent. "Or at least if ya didn't bring Captain Forehead over there. What happened to a fair fight?"

"When were you ever in favor of a fair fight?" Angel asked in amazement, stepping forward a bit.

"What can I say, mate?" Spike spread his arms wide mockingly. "I like winning."

"Then let's get this over with, Spike." Buffy said, gesturing as the brunette Slayer showed her face as well. "I'd like to introduce ya to Faith, she's Kendra's replacement. And do you remember the little tussle you, me and Kendra had in that church, last year? Well, this time, you're notwalking away after fighting two Slayers..."

"Yeah? Well, sod that, luv - voila!" Spike stepped back and three vampires came out of a doorway on the bottom level. New recruits from Willy's bar. "Let the fun begin, then!"

Angel took two stakes out of his pocket and tossed one to Oz, then charged at the vampires, the teenage werewolf following close behind. Faith was already battling her own opponent.

"You deal with Spike!" Angel shouted to Buffy, as he fell onto one of Spike's minions, knocking the other away with a kick to the chest and grappling to get his stake into his opponent's chest. Oz ducked under the remaining vampire's punch, then took a hard fist to the side, but pulled himself to his feet before his opponent could get much advantage out of it. That's going to hurt in the morning.

Buffy didn't even bother to use the stairs. She literally ran at them, grabbing the rail and using it to vault herself up to the upper landing with a jump, landing with a roll from the shoulder, stake in her hand when she rose to her feet. She had less than a second, though, before Spike was upon her.

"Nice plan, Spike. But gee, did you actually think you could pull it off? Did you reallythink I'd be stupid enough to come here alone?" Buffy taunted as she ducked under his punch and kicked him in the leg; but Spike turned, taking it on the side of his leg, rather than the shin or knee, and then he grabbed her arm, twisting it towards him.

"Gotta say, Betty, that if you think this is my entire plan? Then you know bugger all about me..."

Without another word Spike released Buffy's arm and stomped, hard, on a section of the landing's wood plank floor. It gave way under his foot immediately, the floor cracking around the hole, and Spike then grabbed the railing, jumping away from it, as the entire landing started to cave in. "Ta-da!"

Panicking, Buffy grabbed the door handle leading into the nearby room, holding on for dear life as she saw the spikes Spike had set up below the landing, clearly waiting for her. Naturally, she recalled the stories of how Spike had gotten his nickname back in the 1880's - killing people with railroad spikes through their brains...

"Not bad, but you must have eaten your Crazy Flakes this morning if you thought that would work!" Buffy shouted as she pulled at the door handle, letting the door swing free with her hanging on. And then she she used the momentum to swing herself back towards Spike. "Ta-da!"

Spike's eyes went wide with disbelief as Buffy's legs connected with his chest, sending them both over the edge, away from the deadly spikes. Buffy maneuvered Spike to serve as cushion for her landing, but the peroxide-blonde vampire twisted and managed to get them to land on their sides, the wind knocked out of both of them. "Ow. Oh, bloody toffing hell..." William cursed.

Sensing movement Spike rolled over, as Angel came at him, stake in hand. Buffy clambered to her feet, holding her side and fighting back the urge to wince in pain, but before either of them could deliver the killing blow...Spike was on his feet and running for the door. He reached it, both vampire and Slayer running after him.

"Another time, you lot!" William the Bloody said with a smirk, and then he was out the door.

Making sure that Faith and Oz were okay and helping dispatch the remaining two vamps, Buffy and Angel then tried to catch up to Spike. But, he was already on the street heading for his Dodge DeSoto...

...before a black van pulled past him, the side door sliding open and two men in black masks pulled a loudly protesting Spike inside.

Just for a moment, Buffy caught a glimpse of a familiar face as the door closed, before the van roared off down the street.

It was Mr. Trick, giving her two thumbs-up, an arrogant look of victory on his face.

"Willow," Oz said simply, before racing back into the abandoned factory to look for his girlfriend. Faith quickly followed after him, and they headed down into the basement where the Rosenberg girl was waiting; bound and gagged, but more or less okay

Outside, Angel finally stopped Buffy from running after the van. "Buffy. It's too late, they're gone! We'll have to deal with Spike another time."

Out of breath and feeling infuriated, the blonde Slayer nonetheless finally acknowledged her undead lover was right. Damn it, I hate it how he always makes so much sense these days...

"Another time." Buffy repeated the words venomously, staring after the van and feeling strangely cheated. "Another time, Spike, I promise you..."