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The Heart's Filthy Lesson (with MustangSally)

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"Shouldn’t you be extinct or something?" Spike asked, and knocked back another shot.

The Keshonte demon gave him a headachy look and got himself a little deeper into his own beverage.

"Speak for yourself, vampire."

"I haven’t seen your kind in nearly a hundred years," Spike continued, swirling the Stolichanaya and A positive around in the highball glass,

Sweet fuck, why was he yammering like a girl? He’d wanted a drink, several in rapid succession, and not some escapee from Bullfinch’s Really Big Book of Rare Demons at his elbow. It had to be the drink making Spike so chatty. He’d walked into the underground bar with the intention of getting pissed and staying that way for a week. He’d picked up some cash on an enforcer gig kicking ass for a little old demon from Pasadena. Working that close to Sunnydale wasn’t his idea of fun, but getting paid for tearing some bugger to bits was. Driving down Route 66 and converting lucre to liquor had been the plan, but a Keshonte demon next to him at the bar was rare enough to be interesting.

"I’m surprised you recognize ‘my kind.’ Not many ever left Europe." The demon’s tone was hostile, but not overly so. The tentacles on his head, thin enough to pass for dreadlocks in bad light, waved gently, showing that he wasn’t in a dangerous mood.

"There weren’t many to begin with, mate. Knew a few in Amsterdam, though, last century."

The demon grunted, and Spike decided he’d run out of nice. Waving his hand, he ordered another drink. The barmaid was a slightly scaly lamia with big green eyes and big soft breasts. He turned his attention away from her curves and concentrated on the bar top instead. Women, couldn’t live with them, couldn’t be dead with them. He’d spent roughly a hundred and twenty years, alive and dead, moping over one female or another. Your problem, William-me-lad, is what the daytime TV shows call a cycle of failure, he reminded himself. You only want the ones who don’t want you. Maybe he should try another therapist. The first one had been tasty.

"They told me this was where all the demons come."

Spike looked up, distracted from his unusual depth of self-analysis. Now the Keshonte wanted to talk, now that Spike was settled in for a good wallow in self-pity. He almost told the Keshonte to bugger off, but the blood-and-vodka combination swirling in his stomach relaxed him.

"Oh, yeah, everybody comes to Rick’s." His Bogart impersonation, filtered through various accents, was so bad as to be unrecognizable.

"Rick’s? I thought this place was called Lovecraft’s?"

"You don’t get cable, do you?"

The demon’s expression was quizzical. His kind had human eyes, warm brown irises trapped in a scaly pink face.

"Casablanca?"

No dice; the demon continued to look blank.

Spike sighed, rummaged around for a memory of what polite conversation was, and remembered, "So what brings you to the suburban wasteland?"

"What’s it to you?"

"You wanted to talk. If you don’t, fine. Got some drinking to do." His drink was clotting; he waved for yet another.

The demon hunched forward, obviously keyed up. "I’m here looking for a Wirtschaftsministerium demon. Seen any?"

"That would be ‘No’."

Which was a good thing since a Wirtschaftsministerium demon was only slightly less nasty than a wolverine crack addict in need of a fix.

"I have information that a vampire was trying to use the Hellmouth to raise the Wirtschaftsministerium." The demon rocked slightly back and forth on the bar stool. If he’d been a vampire Spike would have identified his tone as bloodlust, but that wasn’t like a Keshonte. The Keshonte were just another bunch of loser human-wannabes, swanning around Amsterdam reading poetry and eating pastry. He’d heard vague rumors of some sort of healing powers. Spike didn’t like healing, unless it preserved the food for later snacking. Wankers. But maybe this wanker was a wanker with cash.

"I might be able to help you out, old son. What’s the story with this Wirtschaftsministerium?"

"He was blown off of this plane in a magickal accident about five years ago." Damn, Spike hated the ones who put a "k" on magic. It was so nancy-boy. "But he wishes to return, and the Hellmouth is the best place for a remanifestation. When he rises, I will be here."

"And what’s the cagey bastard done to get your knickers in a twist?"

The Keshonte examined Spike, scanning his face with an intensity Spike found troubling. The Keshonte seemed to be hunting for cracks in the infamous Spike façade, but since the Keshonte was a male of the species, it seemed unlikely any would be found. "I’m Dracco. You are?"

"Spike."

"No, really."

"No, really," Spike corrected him with an edge worn to sharpness from use.

"Spike, I’m looking for the Wirtschaftsministerium because he is a war criminal."

Spike barked laughter. "Whose war? A human war, a demon war, a war in this century, or from the beginning of time? Demons have been doin’ each other in since the first demon realized that he could smack another with a bit of rock. It’s not fuckin’ worth it, mate." He leaned over until he was almost nose to nose with the Keshonte, "There’s a Slayer within spitting distance of the Hellmouth. Unless you got a pair big enough to deal with her, you better forget about the Wirtschaftsministerium."

"I will never forget him—Karl," finally, a name to cut down on all the boring Germanic syllables. "I will always remember what happened to my people." Dracco showed Spike the inside of his forearm, the runes branded there. "You don’t see Keshonte demons because the Nazis destroyed almost all. Most demonologists think we’re extinct. They will be right, in two generations."

"Those bastards were efficient."

Dracco knocked back the rest of his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His voice stayed low and intense and his brown eyes did not flicker from the vampire’s face.

"Karl was part of the Schutzstaffel-Totenkopfverbande. He was their JagdKriegspfarrer." The ridiculously long German words twisted something in Spike; he hadn’t heard those particular syllables in a long time. Americans with their acronyms preferred the sexier "SS," and left out the Death’s Head part entirely. "He ran a concentration camp near Birkenau for undesirable demons. Keshonte wouldn’t work for the Nazis, so we were undesirable. And, as you said, they were efficient. The Wirtschaftsministerium demon known as Karl I have hunted since May 8, 1945."

Spike, who could remember being impressed when halftone pictures started appearing in London penny newspapers, wasn’t impressed with a mere fifty-six years.

"So how’d he manage to hide from you?"

"He’s magically adept. He’s good at hiding. And more than hiding. Some colleagues of mine found him in Brasilia about twenty years back. He tore them into pieces the size of postage stamps."

Karl sounded like he might be someone Spike would really enjoy killing. Also Karl was a demon, which minimized the possibility of Spike’s brain feeling like it was going to explode, and Karl was a Wirtschaftsministerium demon which made killing him even more attractive. Karl sounded like a badass which made taking him out downright fun. As a matter of fact, Spike was almost tempted to offer to take out Karl for free.

"You are talking to the right vampire, Dracco, I think I can help you out."

As she had so many times before, Fate stepped in and slapped Spike across his sharp cheekbones. This time fate was looking like a succubus walking through the bar’s front door carrying an infant’s car seat in her shapely arms. Fate was a bitch.

"Bloody hell," Spike breathed and moved to intercept the woman.

"This is not a good time," he told the creature in the baby seat.

"William, it’s really nothing. You’re nothing," Marranzano the imp coughed and took a deeper drag of his cigar, "always broke, always in trouble. I invested two grand in you and you’re given me nothing but heartache and agita."

The Imp looked like a cross between a melted baby doll and Dennis Franz and was not on Spike’s top ten list of favorite creatures.

"Shh, you’re upsetting him," the succubus cooed and began to rub Marranzano’s belly.

"Later baby, you’re givin’ me a boner, " the imp told her, and turned his pug-dog face back to Spike. "I want my two grand, Willie and I want it by the end of the week or you’re going to be perforated by something that started out life as a tree. Capice?"

Marranzano began coughing and spraying Spike with hot imp saliva, which was disgusting even given Spike’s flexible aesthetics.

"Two grand. End of the week."

"Two and a half grand. Interest. And don’t try getting yourself killed to avoid me. I’ll just have your skinny vamp ass resurrected and kill you again myself. Capice?"

"Unfortunately."

Marranzano and the succubus took themselves off to a corner booth and Spike slouched back over to Dracco at the bar.

"How much is he into you for?" Dracco asked.

"Two and a half grand."

"Right. You help me out with Karl and I’ll bail you out with Marranzano."

"Sounds like a plan," Spike said, and they didn’t shake hands, since a demon’s promise is a demon’s promise. "One condition."

Dracco’s mouth twitched. "There’s always a condition."

"I want to kill him."

Finally, the demon smiled, and Spike was mildly shocked to see that his teeth were white and even, testaments to the power of orthodontia and bleaching. "No. But you can hold him down while I kill him."

"Right. But you buy the next round."

Three double-rounds later Spike had decided that Dracco was the best friend he had ever had in his life, as he generally felt about anyone buying drinks after a half-dozen or so. The next step in the inebriation process was the telling of truth and Spike plunged into it with the reckless disregard which was his habit.

"I saw one of the demon labs once," Spike said.

Dracco’s predicament had shaken loose the shattered glass of his memory and the shiny images rattled around his mind, a shimmer here, an edge there, a flash of pain in eyes, of blood on lips, memories that cut as they shifted.

"Were you ... a subject?"

Spike laughed into the A positive. "They tried to talk me into signing up. I was more interested in the nightlife in Berlin. You didn’t get much more decadent than that." Spike liked to tell himself that he was the model for the MC in Cabaret; it might even be true, since he’d earned a fair amount of useless Weimar cash in one of the clubs, snacking on unruly customers and terrorizing the girls into doing whatever management wanted. "The SS liked having vampires; it fit the image. The vampires liked the buffet. I didn’t want anything to do with it. Never could follow orders."

"The lab?" Dracco prodded.

Carefully, Spike stepped around the broken shards in his mind, deciding what Dracco should see. There were things that he didn’t want to see again either.

"A woman, a vampire was with me at the time. We were making merry picking off the locals." The liquor smoothed out the edges of Spike’s voice, returning it to the grammar and diction of his living life. "It was a good time to be a vampire, so much chaos, no real rules other than Heil Hitler and shit on everyone else. Snag is, my Drusilla was mad as a hatter when she was changed and changing didn’t fix her, but she’s got some other powers you might say - psychic. You know Hitler was obsessed with the supernatural? Was picking up every alleged magical object in Europe and hiding it in the mountains? Of course you know, he probably boiled your parents’ bones to see if eatin’ you would transfer your powers, whatever they are." He paused, but Dracco did not enlighten him.

"The - what the hell were they called? It was a nightmare." He drank again and let his brain cells relax. "Yeah, Schutzstaffel Himmelfahrts Kommandos - say that five times fast. The SHK were picking up demons and vampires as fast as the rest of the SS was making up shiny new decorations for their valor in terrorizing Jewish businessmen and raping their wives and daughters. Another vamp ratted us out. Georg told his SHK buddies about Dru’s talents, and they picked her up. I went and got her out."

"What did you see?"

He had to close his eyes against the memories. Blood roses, blood rising like the tide, blood washing away the dirt of a thousand-year reich. "I saw too much," Spike admitted.

"They wanted to get the secrets of eternal life without the nasty demonic side effects," Dracco said, unnecessarily.

"Yeah, well, I showed them exactly what nasty demonic side effects look like, thank you."

And he’d spent the next day hiding in a warehouse sobbing into Drusilla’s lap, demanding to know why she had done this to him and moaning about the awfulness of humans.

****

Now that they were on the same side, Dracco was very chatty. Spike thought he might be lonely, in the sixth decade of hunting the demons who’d destroyed his people. "I used to have real resources for this, you know. We worked with the Israelis—why do you think they were so effective? They were very committed to the task. But now the humans are all dead or dying. On general principles, they’re willing to assist in the destruction of any entity that was on Hitler’s side, but it’s not the same as it was when I could work with the men with the blue tattoos on their arms. They knew why we had to keep going."

It had been a long time since Spike had that deep a commitment to anything other than himself and longer since he’d seen so much of a demon’s emotions so close to the surface. Humans usually wore their feelings around their necks like scarves for the world to wonder at, and Spike didn’t think it was appropriate for the supernatural to do the same.

"Well, I’m all that you got now. Unlucky bastard."

Dracco showed Spike his pretty teeth.

"What are you doing in this half-assed town anyway?"

"I’m an unlucky bastard."

"It’s a woman. It has to be a woman. You vampires are such romantics."

"Well, there is one little chippie here I wouldn’t kick out of bed for conjurin’ demons."

"So, this ... chippie, what’s she like?"

"She’s the Slayer." Spike got a kick out of the other demon’s reaction: he twitched, then gave Spike the once-over, checking to see whether Spike was actually nuts. "Yeah, she’s a sweet little thing, but she won’t have anything to do with me. She only dates boys with souls." He couldn’t quite manage Darla’s contempt for the concept, but he thought he’d conveyed the proper level of incredulity. "It’s all right though. Plenty of fish in the sea."

"Ah, but some fish are tastier than others, eh?"

They shared a manly laugh.

Keshonte demons were known for their sense of smell and Dracco’s nose drew them closer and closer to one of the many semi-abandoned warehouses in the formerly industrial section of Sunnydale. There were lights in the ground level of one of the warehouses.

"No music, can’t be a rave."

As demons, they had every reason to be in the area, so they just walked up to the place. There was a big leatherboy vamp guarding the door, with swastika tattoos blazoned over now-meaningless muscles. Prison reject, Spike thought.

"We late?" Spike asked. He’d inferred that Dracco’s commitment to subterfuge did not include conversing cordially with Nazis. He just hoped that Karl’s sycophants hadn’t been studying the various demons Hitler had tried to wipe out, so Dracco wouldn’t be outed.

"You missed the introductions—but the Great Leader is just about to speak." It took a vamp to get that worshipful, idiotic tone just right. He held the door for them, and Spike gestured for Dracco to go first in case it was a trap. As Spike passed the vamp, he staked the fellow with the stake he kept under his duster (no pun intended). Nothing against the fellow, except that he might be in the way were a rapid exit desirable.

The good thing about dusting other vamps was there was little tidying-up required afterwards. Brushing off the mortal remains of the vamp, Spike ambled into the warehouse with Dracco slouching alongside. Sure enough there were some fifty-odd losers of the dead, undead, mortal and demonic persuasions. A more pathetic group of creatures Spike hadn’t seen since Gencon in New York in 1976 when Shatner locked himself in a hotel bathroom with a fire extinguisher.

At the front of the warehouse was a makeshift altar with the usual accoutrements of skulls, goblets, and candles. Black candles, and Spike could smell licorice, which probably was not the mood they wanted to foster. On either side of the altar were a pair of third-rate vamps wearing reconstructed Nazi uniforms that gleamed with polyester. Spike remembered the smell of wool and blood from those days and realized that, no matter what the vamps thought they were getting right, they would never smell authentic. There was a rumbling undercurrent of undead conversation and a shuffling of feet around some really ugly folding chairs.

Folding chairs. Ugh. That was one of the problems that Spike encountered with younger vampires - the species in general had lost its sense of style somewhere around 1986.

There was the sound of drumbeats—recorded, Spike could tell—and everyone quickly tried to line upp facist-style. Straight lines, and even ones; Spike and Dracco got waved to the second row, where there was a gap. They fit in, Spike on the very end and Dracco next to him. The room held its collective breath, except of course for the vampires who just looked worshipful. The drumbeats stopped.

A tall being in a long black cloak entered, carrying a candle. Spike couldn’t see its face, though it was man-shaped. The candle it carried in bony white hands threw dramatic shadows across the floor of the warehouse, and on the faces of the rapt audience. It lit the candles on the altar until the flames seemed to dance in one continuous line across the table. Spike couldn’t help but shudder. He was lucky enough to have avoided most of the centuries without electricity, but he’d heard stories about elders who got careless with fire, and he couldn’t see why any self-respecting vamp would willingly get close when there were flashlights.

The figure turned to face the crowd, and Spike saw that it was wearing a silver skull mask. Spike flicked his eyes towards Dracco, who gave a small shake of his head: No, that’s not the Wirtschaftsministerium.

It—he—began to speak, and his voice was compelling even filtered through the mask:

" My comrades! Schutzstaffel-Totenkopfverbande! We meet here for the fourth time. We have experienced in these four months the miracle of a resurrection of a defeated and demoralized and suppressed kind. Today this kind stands before us once more, restored in outlook and heart. Each time we come to this city, we can look back on a month of work, but also on a month of accomplishments.

"What a spirit seized our kind! How proud and manly it has once more become. It has overcome all the powers of destruction, collapse and dishonor, and has found once again the path to honor! Today we can again be proud of our kind! This miracle that has renewed our kind, my fighting comrades, is not a gift from Hell given to those unworthy of it."

The words had the ponderousness of a speech translated from the original German. In fact, Spike could remember hearing something similar on the radio in the late thirties. He and Dru had been holed up in an opium den, feeding on the slow-moving dreamers and sharing their hallucinations.

Silver Skull picked up a human skull from the altar and crushed it in his hand. The fragments drifted to the ground. The humans in the audience gasped.

"Now, the great transformation begins. The first sacrifice is one unworthy, who we have cleansed, who will be our pathway to a greater destiny."

From the side, two costumed goons half-carried, half-dragged a young vamp. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen when she’d been turned, and she couldn’t have been turned more than one night ago, from the confused look in her piggy demonic eyes. She was another fake blonde, dressed in basic hookerwear, blue bra straps listing out from underneath her too-small pink tank top. Spike guessed she’d been turned just for this ceremony, whatever it was. Her face was switching from human to vampire and back, as if she were too frightened to control the change.

When she was in front of Silver Skull, the two Naziettes stepped back a little, each still holding on to an arm, so she was pinned like Fay Wray. Naturally, she was none too pleased with the position; nothing good ever happened like that. She could see the panting audience and, even though she had to be able to sense its lusts, for blood and otherwise, she still cried out, twisting her head to address them.

"Help me! Please, help me!" Her eyes locked with Spike’s, and he had to force himself to watch Silver Skull instead. This was not hard, because his next move was to reach out and plunge his hand into the vampire’s chest as she screamed. The hole in her chest was ragged, and undead blood leaked around the edges, clashing with the tank top. Spike reached out and put his hand on Dracco’s forearm, reminding the demon not to act yet.

Silver Skull removed his hand, displaying the vampire’s heart on his palm. It was about the size of a fist, with chunks of aorta and vena cava protruding like stubby fingers. The vampire screamed again as her heart continued to beat, coating Silver Skull’s hand with thick dark blood. Spike could smell the peculiar dead/alive scent as large drops spattered the concrete floor. He’d never drunk another vamp but Dru, but he could feel his face change and his fangs extend in desire.

Silver Skull worked the moment a bit longer, then raised the heart above his head and tilted it back, so that the blood began to coat the silver teeth of the mask. Slowly, he squeezed, and blood gouted from the heart. It must have been supernaturally linked to the body, because the amount pouring down over the mask, through the eyes and mouth, onto the hood and cloak, seemed unstoppable.

The heart burst with a wet popping sound, and fragments of muscle and gristle flapped out of Silver Skull’s clenched fist. The vampire stared at Silver Skull for a moment, shocked into silence. Her flesh, alive so recently, was still pink and glistening inside, wrapped around her skeleton; Spike could see where Silver Skull’s investigations had exposed her spine. Then, heart destroyed, she exploded into dust, darkening the blood on the silver mask still further.

The crowd, as they said, went wild, roaring "Sieg Heil!" and other stupid Germanisms.

This was too much for Dracco, who roared a war cry of his own and pulled out a short thick sword and a pistol. Spike was impressed by the pistol; too many demons were still living in the fourteenth century. He was less than pleased by the strategy, seeing as how there was none. But with Dracco chopping off arms and legs like he wanted to make a bouquet, Spike decided to follow along.

The first few moments were perfect, delectable chaos. The crowd hadn’t quite figured out that Dracco was not part of the show, and Spike was able to stake three vamps before he encountered a bleeding human. Unthinking, he reached out for a mid-battle snack, and nearly fell over with the force of the headache. When his vision cleared, there were two ugly bodies between him and Dracco. One vamp, one thing he’d never seen before but that reminded him a lot of Chewbacca. He growled and grabbed the vamp, whose cheap uniform squeaked under his hands, and shoved it into Chewbacca’s chest. The demon went over like a big hairy tree, and Spike hurried towards the altar. Dracco was already there, flailing with the sword, the gun for some stupid reason back in his waistband. He kicked over candles and chalices full of blood as he advanced on Silver Skull. The only thing Spike could do was keep the others back as the showdown began. Fortunately that wasn’t hard because mystic freaks like Nazis had a thing for mano-a-mano, no matter how much more sensible overrunning the outnumbered would be. All it took was a nasty glare and a shrug, as if to imply that, if Silver Skull couldn’t handle a Keshonte, what kind of leader was he anyway?

Silver Skull swept out a long leg and knocked Dracco over. But Dracco rolled towards him, tangling legs and robe together so that Silver Skull fell on top of him. They were punching and thrashing as Dracco tried to get a decent angle with the sword. Smoke was beginning to rise from behind the altar, where some of the candles had gone over. The struggling forms grew even more indistinct, as if they were merging through the force of mutual hatred. A bony hand extended out of the fray and grabbed at something on the altar. Spike realized that it was a knife as the hand raised it high above the squirming bodies, impossibly high, and just then Dracco’s tentacles ripped the silver skull from Silver Skull and Spike could see his face.

The vampire had a round, pleasant face, or it would have been apart from a scar from his left temple to his nose, destroying the bourgeois symmetry, the plumpness that smoothed out any lines. His one remaining eye gleamed absinthe-green from the fire now flowing around the altar.

"Georg," Spike breathed, not even meaning to say it aloud.

Georg plunged the knife into Dracco’s side, and the Keshonte screamed, a high warbling sound like a teakettle. Spike leapt onto the altar, ignoring the fire, seeing only Georg and a room five decades old. At his feet Dracco was still screaming.

Spike had heard it said that people who killed for revenge wanted their victims conscious, so they’d know whodunit. He didn’t care; he was going to stake Georg from behind. But the vampire had always had an eye for the main chance, and he pulled the knife from Dracco’s guts and whirled to face Spike. Spike’s fangs were fully extended, borrowed blood roaring for vengeance within him, a stake in each hand. Georg’s gnarled face was wary but lacked a spark of recognition, which annoyed Spike into a flash of good sense. Instead of moving, which would let Georg set the order of battle, he stood and waited for Georg’s attack.

In the recesses of the warehouse, something exploded. Spike did not blink against the hot smoky wind that buffeted them. Georg looked him over, evaluating his stance.

"Spike." Even with the scar and the black socket where an eye should have been, Georg managed a heil-fellow-well-met smile that belonged in a corner pub rather than a Nazi meeting hall rapidly going up in flames. "Small world, isn’t it?"

Then Georg did a backflip and disappeared into the flames rising around them.

"Bugger!" Spike considered following, but he only liked shooting flames when they came from his lighter, and these were growing out of control. Staying in the warehouse, even for a fight, was just volunteering to become a charcoal briquette.

Beside him, Dracco wheezed and tried to stuff his insides back inside. Spike shrugged and picked him up, heading to where he’d seen some windows on the way in, just in case something nasty was waiting at the main exit. His boots did a Ginsu on the boards blocking the windows, and he kept his balance with Dracco-bits hanging out all over him very well if he did say so himself. As they cleared the sill, something large inside the building exploded, and Spike had to roll himself around Dracco so that he’d hit the ground first, avoiding further damage to the Keshonte (and the attendant stains on his prized leather coat).

When he was able to stand again, Spike half-carried, half-dragged Dracco back to the car. "You’re going to be all right," he said, not knowing why he bothered.

The Keshonte blinked up at him and wheezed like a cat toy. "You know I’m not."

"I know a couple of witches, they’ll fix you right up."

"No, I have no control over my own time." What the hell does that mean, Spike thought, but then they were at the car and he was struggling to get Dracco in, wincing at the green ichor that slopped on the seats. The car had seen worse, though not recently. "You are a good man, Spike."

"Bugger that. I’m just in this for the killin’. Of which there was lots." He tugged the seatbelt around Dracco, trying not to hit any of the wounds.

Dracco’s gun was still stuck in his waistband. Spike pocketed it for future use.

"I know the truth. I want to help you with your problem."

"My problem?" Could Dracco have guessed about the implant and why Spike needed a nonhuman to battle?

"The woman ... the Slayer."

"Don’t worry about that."

But Dracco was off in his own world, mumbling to himself. After a while, Spike noticed a reddish glow surrounding Dracco’s body, which he tried to ignore while driving. A few wispy tendrils of the red haze touched him, smelling of incense and peppermints, but he didn’t think they were dangerous.

"They shall not forget," Dracco whispered.

Dracco died as he slung the car into the handicapped parking slot by the magic shop.

Oh hell. Oh bloody hell.

Spike sat in the car a moment, feeling vaguely ill and trying to figure out how to dispose of the body. Blithe humans bumbled in and out of the magic shop while he sat and nursed his growing nausea. He decided that Giles had really gone to far with the neon sign at the moment that he decided he was going to throw up. And he did, into the back seat, with a spectacular wave of blood that would have killed a human. It just made Spike feel even more sick. He grabbed at the door handle to get the hell out of the car, but his blood-wet hand merely slipped from the chrome and left marks on the upholstery. He could hear the beating of his heart as he fell into it.

****

"I want to go out and meet all the pretty people," Drusilla had said. Sixty years in, and he still wasn’t used to her childish diction.

"It’s day, love, best we wait a few hours."

"Are you denying this wonderful creature her slightest whim?" The hail-fellow-well-met voice from behind made Spike rise and turn, snarling, to confront its source.

"What’s it to you, mate?"

The tawny-headed vampire stood as straight as if a witch had stuffed her broomstick up his ass. Only the smug smile on his face kept him from looking like a mechanical soldier.

"Ooh, so pretty," Drusilla said, reaching out a long finger to stroke the jagged silver lightning flashes on his uniform collar. "And look at the lovely skulls!"

He smiled down at her, leaf-green eyes dancing merrily. "Lovely skulls indeed, madam. And you are?"

She settled her wrap around herself and looked down coyly. Spike put his arm around her shoulders, and she obligingly leaned on him. "I’m Spike, this is Dru, what the bloody hell is it to you?"

"I’m Georg," he said, bringing Dru’s hand up to kiss it. When she retrieved it, there were two puncture marks, still bleeding, and she giggled. "You’re quite a poet, Spike."

Oh, that was really too much. He snarled and disentangled from Dru, but Georg stepped back and shook his finger, tsking. "Really, there’s no need to get upset. I’ve heard many good things about the two of you. You look like good solid Aryan stock, the kind the Reich needs in its improvement efforts."

"I’m not so sure about this Aryan business," Spike told him. "Seems to me they’re all just as red and runny on the inside."

"Well," Georg winked, "the humans are stupid about things like that. But let me tell you, friend, the Nazis are the best thing to happen to Nosferatu since electricity replaced all those torches the humans used to keep handy! They have plans to move the entire population of Europe into camps, where they can be controlled. The cattle will be corralling the cattle, without any effort on our part. What’s more, the Nazis adore Nosferatu. They offer us our choice of the lesser races."

Nosferatu? The precious term rankled Spike down to his shoes. This Georg with his berlinerisch accent, no better than Spike’s guttural English one, and his fancy manners was nearly enough to encourage Spike to look around for something wooden with a point on the end.

Drusilla shuddered next to him. "Oh, I can see the flames rise! The gold is melting from their teeth and running, running on the ground! The sky is black from burning bodies, they burn so dirty, we can dance and the terrible sun cannot see us at all!"

"Sorry," he lied. "I think we’ll just sit this one out."

"Your choice. But if you or your pretty lady want to get in on the ground floor, you just come see me at local Party headquarters."

As he left, Drusilla began singing a song about skin, and soap.

****

It was a hangover. He knew it was. It was the vile twice-as-bad-second-hand-hangover he always got from draining drunks. Bad blood, less oxygen, fewer nutrients, less power, one hell of a buzz and then a bitch the next evening. But he hadn’t drained a drunk since the sodding chip wound up in his noggin almost a year ago-and --- Dracco, Karl, Georg, and Britney Spears flooded back into his memory. Spike groaned and tried to sit up.

"He’s awake."

"Is that a good thing?"

"Well, he could explain what he was doing in the Ford Explorer out front. That would have been hard to explain to the parking police. No Mister policeman, I don’t know who left the unconscious vampire and the dead demon in the handicapped spot, maybe it was a drive-by dead demon dumping."

Oh hell, it was that nit-wit Willow and her special friend Tara nattering on at him with their dippy witchy singsong voices. It was a little late for any help from them for Dracco. He shook his head to clear it and blinked at blonde and red hair, at the round eyes staring at him with mild puzzlement. Inexplicably, he was glad to see them.

"Are you all right?" He couldn’t tell which one spoke; he was too busy trying not to see three of each.

"Oh I’m perfectly well. When I’m perfectly well I always vomit blood and pass out in cars next to dead demons. That’s the picture of wellness for me. What do you think, you silly cow!?" The shouting made his head throb a bit more and he winced.

"He sounds fine," Tara offered.

"Where’s Dracco?" he asked.

"Xander and Anya took him down to the recycling center and they’re going to put him in the newspaper to steam burner."

"You’re going to burn my friend in a rubbish tip?" Spike demanded.

"He’s being recycled, at least. Circle of Life and all that," Willow said. "Eco-Reincarnation."

"He was a Holocaust survivor, you git! You burned him in an oven, you think you finished the Nazis’ work for them?" Willow gasped and staggered back. Spike’s headache was getting worse and he started to feel queasy again, as well as an unfamiliar heaviness in his chest. Maybe he was having a heart attack. Did vampires have heart attacks? He’d heard about one vampire in New Mexico who had drained a human with food poisoning and had been sick for weeks after. Maybe he had caught something from the bovine blood he’d been stealing from the butcher shop - mad cow disease even. Now Dracco was being burnt up with thrown-out newspapers and junk mail like a sale circular from a discount store and the thought of it was making him feel awful.

"I feel bad about Dracco, I mean, really bad."

"Well, he’s dead, it’s natural that you would feel bad." Willow was still pale, but recovering.

"Unless you were a vampire. Soul is conscience. Spike has no soul," Tara reminded them, "You must be feeling guilty because you think that there is something that you could have done to prevent Dracco’s death."

"Hang about there. I’m not filled with guilt, thank you."

Head throbbing with his heartbeat, Spike sat up and realized that he was lying on the floor beside the counter at the Magic Shop. Fortunately, the sign was flipped to closed and there weren’t any human TV dinners wandering in and out. All he needed was a little live food dangled in front of his nose and he would be off on one of his impotent rages again. Instead, he rolled his neck to loosen the tight muscles in his neck and shoulders while Willow and Tara stared at him as though he was about to sprout an extra arm or two.

"I think he did something to me. Before he died."

"Was it revenge? Did you kill him?"

He glared at Willow. "No, I didn’t kill him. Why would I punch holes in a fellow and then carry him here for your help?"

Tara went over to the book table and retrieved one of Giles’ monstrosity catalogs. This one was bound in what looked like ostrich skin, though it might also have been avian demon. "The Keshonte demon’s powers have to do with time manipulation. If he did something to you, it must have to do with time."

"Do you feel older? Or younger?" Willow asked perkily, hopping from one foot to another. Lesbianism and research challenges really agreed with her.

"I feel vile," he explained. "I ... it’s like I don’t want to think about Dracco bein’ dead, but I can’t stop. I keep thinking I should have—"

"Sounds like guilt to me. Not time manipulation."

Tara tugged at Willow’s poofy fake-Indian shirt and they had a whispered consultation. He would have tried to listen in, but he didn’t feel it was worth the effort.

"We’re going to try a little spell," Willow said.

"Do I need to get up and run?" He wasn’t fully recovered from Willow’s last adventure.

"No!" For someone so socially awkward, she really didn’t know when embarrassment would be appropriate. "This is just a spell we’ve done before. Actually a variant. And it’s going to work this time, ‘cause Tara isn’t going to screw it up on purpose."

Spike rubbed his aching head. "Just give me a few minutes and I’ll leave you to it." But he was too dizzy to stand. Even leaning against the counter took all his strength, and the dull snuffling of their motion and chanting from the depths of the shop lulled him into complacency.

Tara came bounding up to him. "We figured it out. I think. What I think the Keshonte demon did was use time manipulation to resurrect your soul. They can do it to replace damaged limbs or eyesight or things like that, and it stands to reason they can heal souls too."

"That’s stupid! Vampires don’t have real souls, they have demon souls, except for Mr. Bloody Intense and Silent." Spike struggled to his feet, with the counter in a supporting role, in order to get some dignity back.

"Angel is different—" Willow had her hand on Tara’s shoulder, so the two could present a unified front.

"So I’ve heard," he drawled, heavy on the irony.

"Look, how much do you know about vampire demonology?"

"How much do you know about how your insides work?" he snapped back at her, stuck suddenly into a flash of pulling ropes of entrails from a fortuneteller’s stomach—Dru had said that if the girl got such messages from chicken guts there must be much more wisdom inside her, but the silly wench had died before giving any insights. He felt nauseous, and furious.

"Off-topic," Willow shook her head as Tara continued, "Look, when a vampire demon enters a dying person’s body, it comes from the netherworld. Usually they don’t have much personality, having been lolling about waiting for something to happen since, oh, the creation of the universe. So the body’s original thoughts and memories come along, only all filtered through this evil demon’s viewpoint."

"So?"

"So the original soul is kicked out and goes to the etherworld like all the other souls of dead folk. When the gypsies cursed Angel, the curse just went and picked a soul out of the etherworld, something that was hanging around, maybe waiting to be born, maybe just bored with the un-life. Same thing happened as with the demon—no particular thoughts or memories, so it glommed on to what was already in Angelus’s head, only this time with a soulful viewpoint. And then when he and Buffy—"

"So the old man’s on his third soul, eh? Bit of a slut, don’ you think? Three souls seems a little promiscuous."

"The Keshonte demon didn’t work that way. When I say it resurrected your soul, I mean it pulled your body’s original soul back from the ether-world and rebound it into your body. Once it’s restored, that connection is natural, not magical, and you’re stuck with it until death. You can’t even be revamped, because the demon already inside you won’t let that happen."

Spike let this sink in and swim around in his brain. He didn’t much like the idea of having a soul foisted upon him without consent. Worst of all, it was his old, used, soul. The soul that belonged to a milquetoast of long ago, a part of him that had ended with his human life. What if that raving twit came back, what if he went all weak and wet again? He’d rather be dead and in hell than be the pillock formerly known as William.

"This is not acceptable. You have to help me get rid of this soul thing," he said.

"Maximum ‘No.’" Willow said and stepped back a bit.

"Come on, girl. No one opened my head so the chip’s still there. I’m still toothless. "

"Even if we could-"

"This doesn’t sound like a spell. Not one that can be reversed, anyway," Tara spoke with quiet confidence. From her, it was credible, maybe because he hadn’t known her back when she was still worried about detention. "It may be a curse or a geas, but it doesn’t sound like a spell."

"So what do I do now? Move to LA and start brooding?"

"We have to talk to Giles."

Speaking of pillocks . . .

Grabbing his coat from the counter, Spike pulled it on and felt the heavy leather enfold him like a devil’s wings. He felt like himself again. This made him feel only slightly better.

"Bloody useless the whole lot of you," he snorted. "Couldn’t figure your way out of a paper bag."

Taking that as an exit line, he made his way out and headed home to his crypt.

****

"Knock, knock," Giles poked his head around the decorative ironwork door of the crypt. Spike didn’t bother to look up from the TV set.

"Go away," he suggested.

As an Englishman, Giles found it almost as impossible to cross a threshold uninvited as any vampire did, so he stood in the doorway and peered around. Spike reached for the remote and turned the TV off.

"Might I come in?"

"Suit yourself."

"I’ve been talking to Willow and Tara," Giles’ voice trailed off as he stepped into the crypt. "Interesting what you’re done with the place. Quite nice for a mausoleum."

"It’s a crypt. Mausoleums are completely above ground." Spike felt around under his chair for the bottle of vodka he had left there a few nights earlier. "The rumors of my soul have been greatly exaggerated."

"Spike - if you’re just being coy."

"A soul. You’d think I’d notice, right? No visible manifestation. Take that back to the Scoobies and sod off, would you?" He opened the vodka bottle with a fang.

"If you should develop a soul, it would change things."

"Look, been there, done that, not impressed." Chip or no chip, Giles was beginning to piss him off and he hauled himself out of the chair and advanced on the former Watcher. "Isn’t there something that you should be doing? Like looking something up in an old book?"

Giles straightened up and moved toward the vampire, caring not that a very old being was encased in what appeared to be a young body, and he spoke in his schoolteacher voice.

"Were you not so determinedly abrasive, one could almost feel sorry for you."

Spike was seriously tempted to fling the bottle at the Watcher, but it was his last bottle and it was full. Instead, he slumped back into his chair and began to remedy the bottle’s full state. What was it that the world wanted to inflict a soul on him? He gulped down an easy quarter of the vodka bottle and felt the liquid burn his throat. Theoretically, vampires weren’t supposed to drink anything but blood, according to Stoker’s infamous line "I never drink. . . wine." But that hadn’t been the only thing that Stoker had gotten wrong. The thoughts of the past day were whirring around his brain like errant fireflies and all he wanted to do was howl like a wolf in a trap.

"Save it for someone who gives a f---"

"Giles? Are you in here?"

"What is this? Bloody Grand Central Station?" Spike groaned as the Slayer walked in.

As usual, she was decked out in the latest in teenybopper wear, something strappy and filmy all gold and white and clinging to her hard little breasts and frighteningly flat stomach. It was disgusting. She never failed to make his undead heart hitch in his chest, her spun-sugar and marzipan outside covering the black iron and steel underneath. All creamy skin and candy floss hair and sudden death. She had eyes that a boy could lose himself in for the better part of a month, and even with the vampiric overlay, Spike was still a boy. She stopped and turned up her upturned nose.

"What are you doing here?" she sniffed at Spike.

"I live here. Want a drink?"

"Pass," she said and turned to Giles, "Willow and Tara tell me that Spike has gotten a soul from a Keywhatsis demon. "

"Keshonte," Giles corrected.

"Whatever. So the soul thing. Is this true or what?"

Spike was too entirely enraptured with the image of Buffy in the altogether to answer immediately. She wrinkled her nose at him.

"Slayer, I didn’t know you paid house calls."

"I’d say ‘bite me’ Spike, but you might misunderstand me."

"That I might." Her hair moved with a perky life of its own. It probably had its own dates and fan club.

"He looks the same, Giles. All mopey and ... worthless."

"Listen, if I want your abuse, I’ll come beg you for it." That was really too close to the truth, he thought. "I don’t feel any different." Except for the part where the thought of killing made him sick. But he expected to have the bloodlust back soon.

"With the chip, it might not much matter," Giles suggested. "Unless the remorse overwhelms you."

Spike laughed and drank again.

"It will happen, Spike. You will know what it is to relive all your murders, all your viciousness, from the perspective of an ensouled being."

"That could be fun. I enjoyed the killin’ so much the first time around."

Giles held up his hands. "We might have an unprecedented circumstance here. If Spike really has had his soul resurrected . . ."

"I told you. No soul here."

"Methinks the vampire doth protest too much." Giles had the decency not to smirk at his own humor.

Buffy was walking the floors, sussing the place out for possible attack. She wasn’t paying him any attention, since he was no threat. "Can we check? Is there some way we can find out if he has a soul?"

"Tara cast her demon-sensing spells, that’s the most reliable evidence we have at this point."

"It’s bloody unfair, you make a decent financial arrangement with a bloke and he goes and throws a soul on you at the last minute. That is no way to do business," Spike complained and took another pull on the vodka, "Now could you two just bugger off and leave me alone?"

"We need to find out." Giles protested.

"You go find out, leave me out of it," Spike snarled and brandished the bottle at him.

"You’re being unreasonable-" Giles began.

"Go away!"

"Spike, there is an opportunity here to study the essential nature of the soul and how it relates to the entire physiology and psychology of a vampire demon ---"

Spike’s face burned at he felt the change move upon him. Fangs grazed his lower lip and he was out of the chair and moving on the former Watcher before it became a formed thought. The air moved like water around him, and he knew that he was moving at high vamp-speed, blurring through time like a blade through the air. The bottle shattered somewhere off on his left and he had his hands in Giles’ shirt front and was shoving him up against the wall, his fangs extended and mouth opening to move in for the kill. Giles’ expression of frozen horror barely registered in the corner of his mind.

"NO!"

And he was slammed backwards and into the floor, the un-breath knocked from his undead body, his mind spinning like tires in the mud as he relived the last thirty seconds. He had attacked Giles without premeditation, he had reverted to the lowest level of vampire reaction, he had been angry and hungry and had sought to get rid of the irritant and quench his thirst for blood at the same time.

No headache.

It was as though the chip was no longer implanted in his brain.

Well fancy that.

He started to laugh. Soul or no soul, he was a killer again.

Buffy was bouncing on the balls of her feet with her little hands in fists while Giles picked himself up from the crypt floor. Her eyes were flicking back and forth between Watcher and vampire as though she were watching from cheap seats at Wimbledon.

"Giles, explain. He just almost bit you nearly."

"What a revolting development," Giles sighed and stood up, rolling his head on his shoulders and stretching his back as though it hurt him.

Spike stopped laughing and lounged on the floor.

"I suppose it wasn’t nice of me to frighten an old man like you, Rupert."

"Shut up!" Buffy snapped.

"It appears that the chip can’t overpower his natural instincts now that he has a soul."

Spike rose from the floor in a fluid movement, aiming a predatory smile at Buffy.

"You know, I’m feelin’ just a bit hungry right now."

Wrapped in his coat, he melted out into the darkness of the cemetery.

****

Spike made his way into the alleyway behind the Bronze. It was last call, the college students wandering back to the dorms after a hard day of wasting their parents’ tuition money and a hard night squandering their pocket cash on beer. He lit a cigarette and stuck to some shadows just beyond the dumpster. A blonde. He really wanted a blonde that night; he wanted one down to the pain in the pit of his stomach.

Three drunken girls giggled out of the back door, flicking their hair and clomping like deer on their platform shoes. Their skins were so fresh; they still had that new-human smell, a smell that was rapidly eclipsed by the familiar sweet smoke of pot. So young, so cute, so bloody stupid.

He crushed his cigarette out underfoot and advanced on them, pulling a fresh one from his crumpled pack. He smiled at them.

"Got a light?" he asked.

The blonde’s head snapped around and gaped at him, decided quickly that he wasn’t a cop and giggled.

"Guess so," she said and held out a lighter.

"Ta ever so," he said.

One of the brunettes cocked her head to the side and gave him a look of blatant interest from under her eyelashes.

"You’re English?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"Been here long?"

"A very long time," he said and flashed her a ladykiller smile.

It took about ten minutes before he had them eating out of his hand. It didn’t take much in California. The girls lost it for the accent and the bad-boy attitude almost as fast as they lost it for Ricky Martin, and he didn’t even have to wiggle his bum to do it. The two brunettes finally figured out that he was more interested in the blonde and faded back into the Bronze. The blonde, whose name he carefully forgot the moment after she told him, had her tongue in his ear and his leg sandwiched between her thighs and was rubbing against him. The poor thing was obviously unsatisfied by the resident athletic prats hanging about the University and was desperate for some kind of sexual satisfaction. She smelled a little sweaty, but in a good, tasty way.

He bent his head down, felt his face flare hot with changing, tasted the salt on her skin.

And felt the tide of nausea, no the tidal wave of nausea, smash over him like - well, a tidal wave.

The next thing he knew, Spike was half-sprawled on the ground, his hand clamped over his mouth, feeling as though he was about to spew up his vampiric guts. Fuck. The blonde hovered over him, her face registering disconnected dismay.

"Too much to drink?" she asked.

"Hmmmm," was all he felt safe enough to say without throwing up on her shoes.

"Ummm . . . Look, it’s been real, but-" she scrabbled around in her purse, came up with a slip of paper and scribbled on it, "Call me sometime, okay?"

Again, fuck.

By the time he slunk back to the cemetery and to his crypt again, Buffy and Giles were gone, leaving no trace that they had ever been there. Ripping off his coat, he dug out one of the medical supply blood packs from his stash and punctured the plastic with a fang.

Bloody hell, what good was being free of the chip when he couldn’t sodding eat? Somewhere in the back of his mind a voice was suggesting that he ring Angel and get some advice on how to deal with this whole soul thing. He told the voice to shut its bloody hole and sucked on the blood bag in earnest.

****

"This is a whole bunch of not good," Willow offered over cappuccino at the espresso pump the next morning.

Seated across from her, Buffy crumbled her muffin between her fingers and sighed.

"This is a high point of badness. We have Spike being Mr. Pointy Teeth again plus he has a soul which makes me think that killing him isn’t---"

"Kosher," Willow finished for her.

"When Angel lost his soul, it was pretty obvious. Spike is otherwise. It isn’t much different except for the non-effective chipness of it all."

"In Advanced Psych they were talking about learned behaviors as opposed to personality traits," Tara offered between sips of tea. "A personality trait might be formed in utero, as left or right hand dominance is, while a behavior is something that you learn as you grow up. Like the way that guys like cars. They like cars because all the other guys like cars and it gets imprinted on them. Men living in the jungle don’t know what a car is, so they don’t like cars. It’s a learned behavior. Now a personality trait is something like being a jerk or being shy. No matter where you are you’re shy. You’re shy in LA or you’re shy in the jungle. There are probably as many jerky people in the jungle as there are in California."

Willow frowned.

"Maybe not. But I see your point. If Spike’s inherent Spikiness is his personality, he might have been just as Spiky back in the day and if he never became a vampire. Soul or no soul, he’s Spike."

"I’m not comforted by that."

"No, it’s not helpful at all, is it."

"If we figure out how to un-soul him to make the chip work it’s like we’re turning him into a demon, which is really contrary to Slayerhood. And I shouldn’t kill him because he has a soul, but with the soul the chip is as useless as last year’s Vogue." Buffy sighed. "This is a little out of my depth."

"Who wants to talk about Keshonte demons with your best friend Xander?" he asked and plopped down in the chair next to Buffy, slopping his latte onto the table.

"We were just getting bummed talking about Spike."

"Well here’s something to brighten your day. That Keshonte demon that Anya and I hauled away to the trash dump yesterday was carrying a couple of interesting things. One of which was close to eleven thousand dollars in cash, which Anya wanted to keep. The other thing was this-"

Xander pulled a leather-bound notebook the size of a paperback book from his back pocket and laid it on the table. The worn pages fanned outwards and were filled with notes, drawings, and photographs pasted within. "Seems like our mysterious stranger had a past."

"Are those spells?" Tara asked.

"No, they’re not. I stayed up most of last night reading this, and it’s amazing. That Keshonte demon was the Simon Wiesenthal of the demon world. He spent his entire life hunting down demons and vampires who worked with the Nazis and killing them. It reads like an Indiana Jones aventure. Listen to this," Xander picked up the book and began to read aloud, "Picked up Verteidigung’s trail outside Jakarta. Three days journey into the bush. Caught him after nightfall on the third day. Cut out his heart and watched his body burn to ash. It is just one name out of many that I can cross from my list. All will be avenged."

"I didn’t know that demons and vampires worked with the Nazis," Tara admitted.

"Can’t see that making it into the regular history books, can you?" Xander put the book down and picked up his coffee. "The only problem is that he wrote about what he did after he did it, so he mentions hiring Spike in Pasadena to help him find something called Karl."

"And we can assume that Karl is one of the bad Nazi demons?"

"Well, he can’t be good. The Keshonte demon wouldn’t have been after him if he was a good guy. There’s one other thing about Spike in here. Apparently, the Keshonte demon was going to pay him to find this Karl guy. The money is Spike’s."

"Bet you had a hard time straightening that out with Anya." Willow said with a grin.

"Oh, I’ll be dating the sock puppet until she stops sulking."

"To summarize, " Buffy began, "The Keshonte was a good guy, he killed Nazi demons and vampires and one of them must be around here somewhere because he hired Spike and brought him here. I have to ask Spike for information about the Nazi demon. I also have to give Spike money. And Anya is mad at Xander so he’ll be experiencing secondary virginity for a while." She looked around at her friends at the table. "Do I have to mention that this is a bad hair day all around?"

 **** 

There were red and black flags flying in the train station, and Dru shivered each time they passed underneath. With his arm hard around her waist, Spike half-guided, half-carried her through the dour crowd of mortals trying to catch the trains out of Germany.

"Just follow the train all the way to the last stop. Angelus will meet you in Moscow," he repeated for the millionth time since he’d found the bite marks on her thighs—bite marks that hadn’t been his.

No matter how much Angelus hated him, there was no way that the ensouled fool was going to turn away a damsel in distress. Imagining Angelus freezing his pious ass off in Russia while reading the telegram Spike had sent had almost freed his dead heart enough to laugh. Angelus’ curt "YES. STOP" had been the welcomest thing imagined, even though it meant that he was now in debt to Angelus once again. But it was a small price to pay for Dru’s safety.

"What do you do when they stop at the border?"

"Show them my papers."

"If that doesn’t work?"

"The gold coins."

"If that doesn’t work?"

The madness brightened her dull eyes for a moment. "Why can’t I just kill them first?"

"Because if they find out what you are, they will send you back here," he explained and dragged her to the last train on the tracks. "I’ll be on the next train, right behind you."

He was lying. There was a good possibility his plan could go wrong, as his plans tended to, and he’d be in the cleaning Frau’s dustpan rather than on a train. Swinging her up onto the train, Spike found that Dru’s fingers were biting through the gray wool of his coat, hard enough to break the skin.

"Come with me, the train carries death like packages."

"I’ll be along shortly," he kissed her forehead and gave her the best fake smile that he could, "Be a good girl and don’t eat too many of the passengers."

He thought he heard muffled moaning from a thousand throats as the train pulled out of the station, but it may have been from his own heart.

Spike killed an SS officer and took his uniform and papers to get in to Party Headquarters. He could have killed a brownshirt, but the SS uniforms were so much better-looking, and if he couldn’t exact vengeance while looking good, there almost wasn’t a point. The big black coat was a good thing. It fluttered heavily around him as he stalked through the front doors and a minion Heil’ed him en route. Georg’s office was on the third floor. Through the glass door, Spike could see him bent over paperwork. Paperwork! Vampires filing reports was unnatural. The Nazis had taken all the fun out of random killing.

Behind him, Spike heard the moan of a human not quite dead yet. Reflexively, he wiped his lips. Wouldn’t do to talk to Georg with someone stuck in his teeth.

The doorknob squeaked as he turned it. Georg looked up. Surprise flickered across his round, pretty-boy face and then was sucked into oblivion by his practiced welcoming smile. "William the Bloody! Come to join us?"

"Not Bloody likely." Georg’s hands were lost behind the stacks of paper; he could have a stake, or even a gun for the good it’d do him. "You told your goosestepping friends about Drusilla."

"It’s well known that she has weird powers," he said reasonably. "She tells the fortune of every Nosferatu she sees."

Spike was tired of explanations, so he jumped onto the desk and kicked Georg in the face. The vampire was already rising, a silver flask in his hand, and his chair crashed to the floor behind them. Georg staggered back and managed a vicious punch that caught Spike in the sternum. Now they were both in the narrow space between the desk and the back wall of the office, struggling.

"There’s no need for this," Georg said, his face close to Spike’s. "Drusilla’s got enough in that mad head of hers to go around." Spike snarled and headbutted him.

The flask couldn’t be good news. Spike slammed Georg’s hand against the wooden wall, trying to get him to drop it. A picture of Georg shaking the Fuhrer’s hand in front of a platoon of troops crashed to the ground, goldleaf frame cracking, as they careened into a filing cabinet. Papers swirled around them like angry ghosts—lists of names, train schedules, maps. Georg kicked Spike in the stomach, pushing him back into the cabinet again, and Spike felt several ribs crack.

He whirled and kicked Georg in the side, then followed up with a fury of punches driving the vampire into a corner. Georg was still fiddling with the flask, trying to open it. Spike saw the silver top spin off just in time to drive the heel of his hand into Georg’s shoulder. A clear liquid arced out of the container, splashing across Georg’s face.

The vampire screamed as his skin began to blister and blacken, crumpling like paper in fire. Holy water, Spike reckoned, and pulled back. He could hear cries from outside—his handiwork had been discovered. He could stake Georg, but it might make more sense to let the youngster live out his undeath as a hideous cripple, so that when other vamps saw Georg they’d whisper Spike’s name.

"You shouldn’t take what don’t belong to you," he told Georg, whose hands were clawing desperately at his face, and turned to face the humans outside.

The first human through the door left a big red stain on the rug.

****

"I have money for you," Buffy said by way of greeting.

Spike, who was shooting alone at a table, picked up his beer mug and saluted her with it. "I been waiting years to hear that from you." He must have an entire wardrobe of black jeans, black leather, and cheesy red silk shirts. Never mind that the look worked for him, it still lacked the necessary variation that was the true mark of style. She wondered whether his underwear was equally monochromatic, then shook the thought away with a shudder.

"The Keshonte demon owed this to you. For services rendered."

She held out the rolled package of money to Spike and it quickly disappeared into the inner recesses of his coat. He smiled and flagged down a waitress. "Buy you a drink, Goldie?"

"We have to talk."

"Something else I’ve longed to hear. Two more of the same," he told the waitress. He turned back to his pool game, which annoyed her no end. She was going to set the agenda here, no matter what Spike thought.

Spike sank a last shot and turned to face her. "Social call?"

"The point, quickly. Fangs off civilians. Stick to the blood packs from the medical supply and we’ll call it even."

He hitched a hip up on the edge of the pool table. "Doesn’t sound even to me. What do I get out of it?"

Buffy took the beer mug from the waitress, sipped it and frowned at the bitter taste. Maybe it was something that you got used to after you killed a few million brain cells.

"You get to live."

"Are you threatening me, Slayer?"

"Duh?"

Barking a laugh, he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. "Erudite, as always." She didn’t know whether the smoking or the vocabulary word bothered her more.

"Bottom line time. The Keywhatsis demon was hunting other demons - big-time bad Nazi demons. He probably told you something about it before you let him get killed. We want to take out the Nazi demons. You have information. We have money. It’s simple."

Hooking his thumbs in his belt loops, Spike narrowed his eyes at her through his cigarette smoke. Well, she could pose as well as the next vain vampire, and she shifted her stance and crossed her arms in a way she knew made her look even cuter than him.

"How much money?"

"Four thousand now and five thousand when the demon is dead."

She thought that he choked on the smoke, but he recovered quickly. "What the hell kind of bake sale is ol’ Rupert running in that store anyway? Is he selling any illegal herbs out of those big glass jars?"

From her jacket, she produced another paper package, bigger, heavier and more expensive than the last one. His eyes bounced between her chest and the cash.

"Nine thousand?" It made her feel better that Spike was impressed too. He tried to swing the pool cue back and forth nonchalantly and only managed to drop it.

"I can shop a lot on nine thousand dollars, Spike, and I hear the Mall calling me."

"Better hurry. Bebe might be having a sale."

She could admit, at least to herself, that Spike’s ability to banter had probably saved him from Mr. Small Sharp and Pointy more than once.

"One condition."

She raised an eyebrow.

"There are always conditions."

"Ask me nicely, say please," he taunted her.

She considered the corny routine of throwing the money at him again. His eyes seemed gray in the low light of the Bronze, gray and stormy, like he didn’t understand himself either.

"Please, help us."

His fingers seemed very white and very bony when he took the money from her outstretched hand. He had, she realized for the first time, pretty big hands. The thought disturbed her so she tucked it away.

After a brief stop for Spike to deposit his cash in his cache (the Mellon family mausoleum), he led Buffy off to the burned warehouse where he and Dracco had encountered the Nazis. As they walked, he gave her a brief outline of events: Georg killing the girl-vamp, Dracco attacking, the escape. She had the feeling that he hadn’t really killed seven at one blow; more likely he’d just slunk out while no one was looking.

When they arrived at the warehouse, the walls were black with fire and the windows were empty eye sockets looking out into the night.

"Nice," she commented and stepped over some blackened cinderblocks that seemed to have exploded from the warehouse.

"Well I only take girls to the very best places." He looked around, sniffed. She could smell old blood, a truly lovely Slayersense, but nothing smelled fresh. "They’ve moved somewhere. I don’t imagine that they’ll be coming back here any time soon."

"Thank you, that information was so useful."

"You wouldn’t know what to do with useful information if I drilled your skull and poured it in."

Deal or no deal, Buffy took the opportunity to haul off and land a swift one straight to Spike’s nose. He bounced to the side and grabbed at his face.

"Gob, enough with that, all ride?" he snapped in a clogged voice. "Come up with something more original."

"What would a Keywhatsis demon be doing in Sunnydale? What would he be hunting? What was going to happen here, Spike? And don’t waste any more of my time!"

She glared at him while Spike wiped blood from his nose and unwillingly wiped it off on his black jeans. "The problem with you young Americans is that you have no concept of history beyond the founding of MTV." He spat blood into the night air. "Horrible things happened not so long ago that everyone wants to cover up."

"Like vampires?"

"Like humans worse than any vampire. Hitler was responsible for millions of deaths in a few short years, which puts his kill ratio far and above any master vampire that ever lived. He had all kinds of humans - Jews, Romany, Catholics, mentally and physically deficient, homosexuals, and anybody who looked sideways at a swastika—put to death. He summoned demons to enhance his powers, he tried to co-opt vampires - he wanted to make the perfect undead soldier."

The mist that came in from the ocean began clogging up the areas between the surrounding trees, low to the ground, like something in a dream. All Buffy could do was stand and listen to the tale as the hackles started rising and dancing around on the back of her neck.

"The Nazis captured Dru and tortured her in one of their underground bunkers. I fought my way in and out. The blood was an inch deep on the floor before I finished." He was looking in Buffy’s direction, but he couldn’t see her. "Dru was tied down like a madwoman, and her eyes were like the Hellmouth itself. They brought her things to read - pieces of jewelry, a gun, and someone’s skull, as if her gift wasn’t as mad as she was." He stopped and drew a long breath. He didn’t need the oxygen; he needed the pause.

Buffy couldn’t move, stuck somewhere between feeling sorry for him for the pain of the past and wanting to punch him in the nose again for making her feel sorry for him.

"They had gotten vampires to sire other vampires, kept the new ones locked up and starved for blood. Some had eaten away their own hands and feet because they were so hungry. I turned them loose on the ‘scientists’."

The moon was coming into view behind the warehouse, lighting the broken windows like a dollhouse. Standing in front of a window, Spike turned into a solid silhouette, and she could no longer see the twisted expression on his face, only hear the pain in his voice.

"They vamped a fucking baby. It couldn’t crawl yet, it didn’t have any teeth. But it had the face, and the eyes. You don’t vamp a baby. I got Dru out of there and we left Germany, went to Moscow for awhile. Europe sucked. There wasn’t a safe place for a vampire anywhere until 1947."

A snowball had formed in Buffy’s stomach. Spike shook his head, and she could hear his long leather coat flap against his legs like wings.

"The vampire that Dracco fought, his name is Georg, he was one of Hitler’s pets. Georg is planning to raise a Wirtschaftsministerium demon named Karl."

"A demon named Karl?"

"Well, he’s hardly going to be named Manuel, now is he?" Spike snapped. "Karl was the one who gave Hitler his little idea about the Final Solution. He gave himself a fancy demonic title to go along with all the other stupid Nazi pageantry. Karl and Georg got history—way I heard it, they got together at the Wannsee conference and slaughtered their way through the war together. They must have split up to avoid the secret Nuremberg trials held for demons. But demons forget, times change, their message can rise again in the brave new world of California. All that you Yanks care for is spectacle, blowing the budget. And Nazis give great spectacle."

"Well we can’t let this Georg raise the Whoseywhatsit demon, can we?" she asked. "And if Georg is a vampire, he must be staked."

"Georg is a master vampire as well as a warlock, he avoided British assassins for decades, and he’s halfway to raising Karl who Dracco hunted for fifty-six years. What makes you think you can do it? You and your pathetic little crew of losers?"

"We have to do it, Spike, failure is not an option."

"Get familiar with failure; it happens." He rummaged around in his coat pocket for a moment, and came up with the big bundle of bills. "Take your money back. I won’t be helping you."

He lightly tossed the bills to her. Buffy caught them with one hand and watched him turn to go.

"Spike," she called after him, "what happened to the baby?"

The wind rustled through the trees as he melted into the darkness, and his voice was barely louder than the rustling as he said three words.

"I killed it."

****

Nighttime Sunnydale. Not exactly a happening kind of place. Spike leaned against a retaining wall near the center of town and considered his options. He could go to Lovecraft’s for a drink and try not to pick up another demon that could lay something even worse than a soul on him, he could go and tease the Romanian guy who ran the Quicky Mart after midnight, or he could go back to his crypt and see who was on Conan O’Brien. None of the options was really appealing. The image of Buffy standing in the rubble outside the warehouse was burnt into the interior of his brain like a cross. Damn.

A Ford Escort full of drunk teenagers screamed by. Spike could smell the beer in their blood and his mouth started to water. Maybe he’s just go back to the Bronze and see if his stomach upset had passed.

"Spike." The voice grabbed him and whirled him around. It wasn’t a human voice.

A tall man was standing underneath a nearby streetlight, setting flame to cigarette. Something cold and ugly started creeping up Spike’s spine. The man was a vampire, that much he could tell, and had something magical wrapped around him like a bad smell. The cold and ugly thing knocked on the base of Spike’s skull and gained entrance.

"Georg," he said and assumed his toughest attitude. "I should have killed you in Berlin."

Smiling, Georg snapped a lighter shut and advanced a few steps. His hair was the same as always, sandy gold layered like perfect brushstrokes, but he had two glimmering green eyes and no scar.

"I was thinking the same thing."

Throwing back his head, Georg laughed, a normal laugh, which stood Spike’s fangs on end more than a howl of evil merriment would have. He was holding his face together with magic, Spike realized, psychic plastic surgery. If Spike had known Georg had the potential for such power, he would have killed him back in Germany. Sixty years of running from all the people and demons who were still mad about the Nazi thing had obviously pressured Georg’s powers into fine hard diamond. The missing eye had been the only thing keeping Georg from looking like the sleekest burgher in town, and with the magical mask he looked like the president of the Better Business Bureau, the one no one could ever believe liked messing with little boys.

Clapping his arm around Spike’s shoulders like a long-lost friend, Georg pulled the other vampire close.

"You look really well, really, really well. Seems like California agrees with you," Georg’s voice dropped to a silky whisper, "Is it true? Are all the women blondes with long legs? Prone to opening them at a moment’s notice?" His eyes sparkled with delight, like Santa Claus on acid.

"Enough to keep it interestin’," Spike admitted, worried that somehow Georg was rummaging around in his mind without letting him know - it was an uncomfortable kind of idea. He shook off Georg’s arm and stepped back to where he could keep a better eye on the other vampire.

"It’s wonderful to be here, near so much demonic energy bottled up, just waiting for a Nosferatu with a vision. And they have two hundred channels on cable!" Shaking his head at the wonder of it all, Georg reached out and smoothed the front of Spike’s duster.

"This is nice, did you get that around here?"

"Look, I’m sure you just aren’t here to chat about the weather and my jacket—"

"I’ve heard things about you, good things," Georg offered the pack of cigarettes to Spike, who helped himself, "I hear that you’re a can-do kind of Nosferatu, that you’ve just about made this town your own."

"So?" Despite his attitude, Spike’s vanity spread its wings and preened.

They smoked in silence for a moment. Spike felt creeping unease, as if he were at a car dealership, about to talk himself into buying chrome detailing and a ten-year maintenance plan.

"Imagine my surprise when you were with the Keshonte demon-was he a friend of yours?"

"That’s none of your fucking business."

"Don’t you ever tire of being just a Nosferatu for hire?"

Georg’s eyes gleamed in the streetlight’s glow, and Spike could feel the net of the vampire’s gaze drop down around him. Not every vamp could bedazzle another one; it was a talent like painting or making really good Margaritas.

"If you’ve got a point, get to it and quit wasting my time."

Georg laughed his happy laugh again and the undead flesh on the back of Spike’s neck crept uncomfortably.

"I think we can help each other out, here. I need help rounding up all the Nosferatu over sixty years old, I don’t want them getting in the way. And they’ll be useful in the upcoming ceremony. When I raise Karl, you can name your price. If I remember correctly, you never could turn down a deal that would be to your financial advantage. "

According to the rumors back in Berlin, Georg had only been turned in the late 1920’s himself, during the bad Weimar years when demonic possession might have seemed better than peddling your ass for a wheelbarrow of cash whose value diminished with every rotation of the wheel. By getting rid of all the older vampires, the ones smart enough to survive a century of rapid change, and controlling the young, stupid ones, he was cutting out any serious competition. Of course, that also meant that Spike was ultimately going to have to go, a prospect which didn’t cheer him much.

"I don’t-"

"You just think about it. Don’t make your mind up now, " Georg gave Spike a friendly clap on the arm, "I’ll be in touch."

With that, Georg took himself out of the circle of light from the streetlamp and promptly vanished into the darkness, leaving his still burning cigarette on the ground as the only sign that he had ever been there.

****

"Right, changed my mind," the Magic Shop door banged shut behind Spike, "Georg’s gotten on my wick. You should kill him."

Buffy blinked, not really surprised, while Giles looked up from the book spread open between them with an equally unfreaked face.

"He thinks he can pay me to bring him Nosferatu -- I mean—vampires to sacrifice."

"So you’re back on board?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah, but you still have to pay me."

"Tell us about the ceremony you observed at the warehouse," Giles asked.

Spike began pacing around in the open area in the reading area of the store, his coat slapping against his legs. "I think it was a preparatory ritual. One Nosferatu - fuck! One vampire is sacrificed in order to prime the mask. Later, the wearer of the mask sacrifices more vampires, with lots of magic circles an’ other paraphernalia. I’m not too sure what the result is, because I was out of there before I heard the end of the story. But I’m guessin’ it ends up with the Wirtschaftsministerium on top of a pile of bloody corpses. Those fellows generate slaughter like football players generate riots."

"Football players don’t—" Buffy stopped, confused.

"Never mind," he said, and grinned at her.

"I don’t think we should pay him," Anya said primly from her perch on the sales counter. "He has a soul now. He should be doing this for the greater good."

"I don’t see you volunteering your time here at the shop," he pointed out.

"You’re right. Giles, we should all get paid overtime for this." She hopped down and came over to the table.

Giles threw his head back and rubbed his temples. "Anya, no one gets paid for fighting demons."

"Then I think we need a union...." The massed force of the glares from everyone else silenced her.

Spike tried to pitch his voice just for Giles. "I’m thinking maybe one of your books has some sort of information about this soul business. It’s not cramping my style, but I’d like to know more."

"I’m a soul-man, da da da da," Xander sang, imitating Dan Akroyd’s deep bass.

"Fuck off," Spike suggested.

"Sensitive now, aren’t we?"

"Was it the fuck or the off givin’ you problems?"

Anya deftly stepped between Xander and Spike, forgetting once again that she was no longer a vengeance demon.

"Transitions are rough. I know that. So maybe if you just enhanced your coolness, it would go easier for you?"

Smiling, he snapped his teeth at her. "It doesn’t get any easier than this."

Giles tugged at his glasses. Spike wanted to cut his hands off; that would stop that particular tic. "This whole progression of events is amazing. Do you know you’ve answered centuries of speculation about the impact of the soul on the physical brain?"

Buffy looked confused, flipping a stake idly from one hand to another. Her hands were capable of such precision. Imagining them on a male body, on his body, kept him tossing and turning during the day. And now he was undead and ensouled and still all alone --

Anger boiled low in his chest. The others were smiling at him as though he were a small dog that had done a particularly amusing trick. Once again, they were thinking that he was safe. First chipped and then re-souled like an old pair of shoes - as though the worst thing that he could do was hurt their feelings. The hell with that, he thought.

And vamped, throwing an arm out to grab Willow who’d wandered in too close. "The food just walks right up to me, beggin’ to be eaten. When will you people learn?"

Buffy went from indifference to rage before he blinked. "Let her go."

With one arm around Willow’s waist, he used his right hand to brush her hair away from her neck, a slow intimate caress that made Buffy’s gold lame top shudder in sympathy. He was counting on Buffy to stop him. There was no way that he was going to go down in a nauseated heap in front of them, even if he had to let some fairly spectacular bullshit fly.

"But she smells so good," he said reasonably. "Not as good as you, of course. But hamburger’s easier to get than caviar, right?" He pressed his lips to Willow’s throat, feeling the blood jump up to meet his fangs, and extended them just enough to break the skin. He felt slightly queasy but it was nothing that he couldn’t control.

The sight of blood broke his hold on them, and suddenly Spike found himself on the floor, Tara’s arms thumping uselessly against him. She was keening and hitting at him with soft fists like an amphetamine-crazed rabbit, and he threw her off as Willow scrabbled away into some book-lined corner. Tara quickly followed, and he was on his feet facing the Slayer.

"I hate to steal a line, but we’ve had this date from the beginning."

"I’m not the one who keeps breaking it," she said. And it was true. He’d been a coward for so long, hoping that things might improve. But the soul wasn’t going to go away.

"You’ve passed up so many chances, Slayer. If you let me live now people will start to talk." He could smell her, some ten feet away. She smelled like milk and honey. The beads on what passed for a blouse glimmered in the dark light of the room.

She snarled, the cute curl of her lip detracting somewhat from the threat. "It’s a real soul?" she asked, obviously directing the question at Giles as she stared at him.

Spike answered. "Yeah, the full luxury package with the CD changer. Even got those trick Firestone tires. The ones that go boom!"

"I don’t want to kill anyone with a soul. It sets a bad precedent. Am I allowed to kill him, Giles?"

"Oh, now you’re taking orders again? How decisive of you. Come on, Slayer, take some responsibility for yourself." He feinted forward, and she spun and kicked like some demented wind-up ballerina in one of Dru’s music boxes. A lamp went over and somewhere something shattered. He smiled, knowing that it would make her angrier. "That’s my girl. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues." His fist moved too fast for his own eyes to follow, and her head snapped back with the force of the blow.

But she was already kicking him, and he was slammed back into the wall, sliding down until his feet hit the floor and he swayed, already moving to her side. "David ... Bowie ... you’re ... not," she gasped in between punches. He was at least as happy that she’d gotten the reference as he was to be able to dodge her blows, and get in a few of his own.

Hands from behind grabbed him away from the Slayer and threw him to the ground. Surprised, Spike shook his head to get his bearings. But then Giles was kneeling above him, blocking Buffy. "Stop this provocation right now. I will not let you manipulate Buffy into destroying you. If your conscience troubles you now you’ll have to make the decision to kill yourself by yourself."

Spike grinned up at his countryman. "What makes you think my conscience troubles me, mate? Haven’t you met enough humans with evil hearts to know better? A soul just means you have a choice. You know, humans hurt me worse than Angelus ever did, and he was a master of the demonic arts."

"Suicide by Slayer?" Giles asked, ignoring Spike’s logic.

Buffy narrowed her eyes from where she peered over Giles’ shoulder at him.

"You will NOT use me like that. You want to kill yourself? Do it off my clock!"

"ALL RIGHT!" Giles roared loud enough to make Spike’s vampiric ears ring.

The former Watcher stood up and brushed off his trousers, "We can debate all this later on. Just—Spike, keep your fangs off Willow and everybody else until further notice or I will let Buffy stake you."

"I’m not an attack dog," Buffy groused and flung herself into Giles’ chair.

Spike stood up and went to hover near the door, fiercely aware that he was getting a stereo glare from the witches in the corner.

"This is important, and we can’t waste time fighting amongst ourselves. Willow and I have been researching the ceremony as Spike described it to Buffy. We believe the most likely explanation, given what Spike told us about Georg and this Wirtschaftsministerium, is that Georg has recreated the Schutzstaffel-Totenkopfverbande and is trying to raise Karl, the JagdKriegspfarrer."

"Gesundheidt," Anya piped up.

"These names are giving me a headache," Buffy muttered.

Giles looked in need of aspirin himself. "As far as I can make out from the book that the Keshonte kept, the vampire summoning the Wirtschaftsministerium demon needs to be wrapped in the mantle of Totenkopfverbande in order to have full control over the demon. The circle of power Georg needs to raise the Wirtschaftsministerium is created through the sacrifice of twenty vampires."

"You’re just showin’ off because you can pronounce those names," Spike taunted Giles.

"In any event, they can’t have the mantle. We have to get it first. The Keshonte indicated that he thought it was with a group of were-coyotes living in a freight yard outside Victorville."

"Oh yuck. Victorville."

****

"Don’t talk to me," Buffy said and glared out the passenger side window.

"I wasn’t," he said and pushed the Explorer over the speed limit, "I wouldn’t waste my time."

"And you can also stop looking at me like I’m an Egg McGuffin."

The illogic of it stunned him to silence and he goosed the engine up a few more miles an hour.

"Aren’t you going a little fast?"

"Aren’t you being a little bit of a bitch?"

"I’m being a bitch? You snack out on my best friend and I’m supposed to be Miss Happiness?" she crossed her arms over her chest. "And why should I care about some demon that wants to kill vampires. Makes my life easier."

"Start the wholesale slaughter of vampires and it’s just gonna’ lead to something even worse."

"And the wholesale slaughter of vampires is bad in what way?" she snapped and did a little nostril-flare to show that she was angry.

"Your an’ my perspectives aside, it just leads to somethin’ else, an’ somethin’ else. Next thing you know, they start sacrificing other dispossessed minority groups." He paused and collected his thoughts. "All the vampires, all the demons, all the witches, all the Trekkies, and all the boy bands. Mind you, the latter one might not be a bad thing."

"Vampires are evil.  They kill people."

"Yeah? Got over that one pretty quick with Angel, eh? Forgettin’ that he wasn’t exactly a choirboy back in the day. Vampires are predators, and humans are prey, it’s just a food chain, evil don’t enter into it. How you think that cows and chickens feel about you? Eat hamburgers, Buffalo wings, wear leather pants?"

Tight leather pants, he reminded himself.

Very tight leather pants where he could just about make out the non-existent line of the dental floss that passed for underwear these days. Nice tight leather pants.

A piece of paper blew across the road. In his reverie, Spike thought it was a cow and swerved. Buffy yelped and grabbed onto the dashboard. She continued to huff and steam for the remainder of the hour-long drive. Spike chain-smoked and threw the butts into the desert outside, ignoring her glares and pointed throat-clearings. It had been his experience that Slayers didn’t live long enough to get cancer. The lights were bright and far apart out in the desert, and it was with many stops and turning arounds that they finally found the colony of abandoned freight cars near the skeleton of a once-thriving rail line.

They exited the SUV. "Listen, we might try a bit o’ negotiation before you start your usual beatin’-things-til-they-squeal routine," he said.

Cocking her head to the side, Buffy considered him, like a golden eagle trying to decide if the thing on the ground was really food or just bait. "You’re different."

"Aren’t we perceptive," he dripped ichor better than a chaos demon. "I’m surprised that you manage a thought in that pretty vacant little head of yours."

Spike the macho and William the Bloody Pratt were doing elemental battle in part of his psyche and it was obvious enough for even Buffy to see. Next thing he was going to be reciting more poetry and listening to Celine Dion.

"Not as Spike-y."

Pulling himself up to his full height, he sneered down at her, "If you think I’ve gone soft, girl, you better try to think again. I’m more me than I’ve been in a long time."

"Meaning this is going to get royally screwed up?"

Spike opened his mouth and then shut it. Arguing with Buffy was like trying to talk to a conservative talk show host. He never understood her logic and all it accomplished was annoying both of them. Instead, he made an "after you" gesture at the light coming from behind one of the boxcars.

The weres were human tonight—good news, that, because their supernatural strength was slightly less. They were sitting around a fire, the source of the light that had led Buffy and Spike to them. Something big was turning on a spit. Spike tried not to look too close. He couldn’t risk a return of the nausea just now. One of them was plinking out a song on an untuned guitar; the others were engaged in desultory Spanish conversation.

"Que honda!" Spike called out. "Puedo hablo con el mas chingon?"

He flashed them a gangsign he’d picked up from the Latino vampires he’d met in LA. Buffy glanced over at him as though he’d sprouted wings.

A girl who looked to be in her twenties, with hair curling to her waist, Frida Kahlo eyebrows, and the kind of dark smoldering eyes that gringos adored, detached from the group around the fire. She was wearing khakis and an embroidered blouse that showcased truly impressive cleavage. For about two seconds Spike forgot Buffy Summers ever walked the planet. She gave Buffy the kind of contemptuous scrutiny that blondes get from the greater nonblonde world.

"La mas chingona, I’m in charge here, and humans aren’t welcome." She had a heavy Mexican accent.

Spike gave her a flash of vamp-face. "Not exactly human, are we?"

Buffy got straight to business. "We’re looking for a mantle that has magic powers. The mantle of, of, of -"

"Totenkopfverbande," Spike assisted, so they both glared at him.

"No me anden vacilando, and I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"It’s important," Buffy insisted. "There are some Nazis in town and they’re planning on using the Mantle to raise a really nasty Nazi demon. I’m the Slayer; I can protect the Mantle better than you can."

The girl snorted and crossed her arms over her chest, to Spike’s dismay. "No chinges con migo .You may scare vampiros with that, but usted no es nada aquí."

Buffy repeated the gesture. "I guess we’ll have to see about that."

"Matémosles," one of the other weres suggested, "Even the vampiro can die."

Well then, negotiations were over. Nothing to be done but go along with Buffy. "You know, I’m kind of in the mood for some Mexican tonight."

The weregirl bared her teeth. Even in human form, they were scary-sharp.

"No estamos asustados de usted."

"You should be afraid," Spike warned. "Thought you were coyotes, not Chihuahuas."

Behind her, the other weres began to growl and rise from around the fire. The guitar stopped, and Spike adjusted his stance.

There was a howl from the other side of the fire. The weres’ heads snapped back and forth, looking for something that couldn’t be seen through the flames, and hurried towards their leader. One said something in rapid Spanish to her. Another, probably the pack shaman, had what could only be the Mantle wrapped around his shoulders; it looked heavy and metallic.

"Éste es su incidente," the girl accused.

From around the edges of the fire, vampires began to emerge. Spike counted eight when they stopped moving and paused for effect.

"All we want is the Mantle!" one of the vampires called out.

"Isn’t that original. We got here first, now piss off," Spike warned the tatty vamps standing too near the fire.

The wereleader looked at Spike and Buffy, then back at the newly arrived posse. Eight vampires versus nine werecoyotes, one of whom looked pregnant: the odds were tight, and in other circumstances Spike would have wanted to watch. And then feed on the leftovers.

The girl hissed something at the pack member wearing the Mantle. He reached up and unwrapped it, folding it neatly. Then he tossed it into the air above their heads as all the werecoyotes began to run away.

Spike appreciated the strategy as he ran for the Mantle; appreciated it less as he missed it with his outstretched arms and the thing knocked into his head like the world’s heaviest rain of toads.

Half-blind from the Mantle and a cut leaking black blood into his eye, he fell on his ass when the first vamp slammed into him. He felt burning pain across his midsection - a silver knife; the vamps had come prepared for weres, not vampires. Cursing, Spike rolled on top, grabbed a stake from his jacket, and staked the vamp without even seeing it. He paused a second to adjust the Mantle around his shoulders for safekeeping. It was shaped like a metal lionskin, and he felt certain it was a good look, but then the next one was on him and he had to box and kick without regard to fashion.

Behind him, Buffy was dispatching vampires with her usual dispatch. He dodged as one rushed him, then lunged to drive the stake into its chest as it turned for another go. Something solid hit him in the back, staggering him, and he spun to find a vampire holding a piece of firewood that had snapped like an overstressed crayon. The vamp looked as confused as Spike felt, but he didn’t question fortune and kicked her into the fire, where she burned like a Roman candle.

Two more vampires converged on Spike, one on each side so that he could only see both in his peripheral vision. The stomach wound was slowing him, and he couldn’t keep track of both.

Spike felt Buffy heading for them, and ducked. Sure enough, she vaulted over him, feet thudding into a vamp’s chest. The move caused him to lose his balance, though, and he sprawled in the dirt as Buffy pounded a stake into her victim. Bouncing to his feet, Spike tried to locate the final vampire, but all he could hear was the roar of a dirt bike heading into the desert. No telling whether Georg’s crew had reinforcements; best to get the Mantle to a place of safety.

****

Spike followed Buffy into her house. The lights were out, Joyce and the brat undoubtedly sleeping the sleep of the magically protected.

"That Mantle was pretty useful. Repellin’ stakes and all that. I should get me some of that - what - Kevlar? See if it does the same thing."

"Bad idea. It would make you look fat."

"Far more frightening then death," he agreed, rolling his eyes.

By that time, Buffy had her hand on the doorknob of her bedroom, and whirled around to face him, her hair whipping across his nose.

"Why are you following me?"

"Do you think that our escapee didn’t recognize me? If I go back to my crypt I’m goin’ to wake up dead. Safest place for me is right next to you. They’ve got a bit of a fear of the Slayer, you know," he raised a scarred eyebrow at her, "Only ‘cause they don’t know you."

"I could have killed you many times," she snorted and sat down on the edge of her bed to unlace her boots.

"And why haven’t you?" he asked, leaning against the door so it closed behind him.

"Extenuating circumstances," she enunciated and padded out of the room on her soft little feet.

Spike waited until he heard the bathroom door close and then he started undressing.

When Buffy returned from the bathroom, decked out in a baggy pair of sweatpants and a loose top, she was something other than happy to see him in her bed with the covers pulled up to his chin, trying to look as innocent as possible.

"What the Hell do you think you’re doing?"

"Hiding."

"Not in my bed you’re not."

"For once in my profligate, facinorous, nefarious, and flagitious un-life, a Slayer actually needs to treat me as a valued commodity."

"Not."

At least she understood the last part of the sentence. The truth of the matter was that she was looking both pale and tired, a good look as far as he was concerned, but with her stamina, it most likely meant that she was tottering on her metaphorical platforms. As if to underscore the point, she plopped down on the side of the bed and gave him a tired glare.

"Get out of my bed or I’ll stake you."

"Let’s not fight. Climb in and I swear I won’t lay a fang on you." He batted his eyelashes at her.

"Not a fang or a finger," she warned and pulled back the covers.

"No fangs, no fingers."

"Do you snore?" she asked.

"Do you?"

She slid down between the sheets. Compared to his, her skin was boiling hot. The wound on his stomach began to burn as it sensed her blood. Warm human blood would cure him in a matter of moments. Only problem was that this human’s blood was strictly off-limits. He may have killed two Slayers and drunk the blood of one, but this was an utterly different situation. He felt his fangs itching to extend while another bit of him was starting to extend of its own volition. Yes, he did want the cachet of conquering another Slayer, this time more intimately. But it was something more than that, something he didn’t want to explore that deeply. Undue introspection wasn’t his gig.

She was starting to breathe heavily, not quite snoring but it was a close call. His chest started hurting again.

He could feel the warmth of her body.

She could want him (and he knew that she did) and she could need him for this gig (and this he knew) but she wasn’t ever going to love him. She wasn’t ever going to understand the feeling that threatened to draw him into the undertow of her blood, under the surface of her warm skin. But two out of three wasn’t bad. Drusilla had registered about .5 on each one of those attributes, so in a way he would be moving up.

He reached out and touched her shoulder.

She was as hot as the teakettle he remembered at his mother’s house.

"Buffy?" he asked.

She didn’t answer. She was asleep. Her pulse was beating in her throat. He could get drunk from her smell; as sure as he became drunk from those who carried alcohol in their veins. With her eyes shut in sleep, she was like a sculpture on a tomb, an idol formed to grace an ancient temple. He wondered if the ancient ones had worshipped their slayers, nubile forces of death and destruction protecting the villages from killers in the night.

Groaning, he turned on his side and faced a teddy bear.

"Sod off, you," he warned the bear.

The bear didn’t even blink.

****

Spike dreamed of golden sun. Buffy had been wearing a white-and-yellow striped swimsuit and a sunhat with a matching ribbon, and telling him to put on his sunscreen so that they could have the picnic.

"Spike!" That was not the tone she’d had in the dream, he groused as he opened his eyes.

"That’s my name, don’t stake it to death," he drawled.

"That’s not your name, that’s a stupid-ass nickname you dreamed up because you thought it sounded cool."

She was wearing pajamas with little pink pigs floating on clouds. Outnumbered among the pigs, there were a few blue dogs. But that didn’t entirely excuse her tone. "Feel free to stop being a stereotypical California bitch at any moment."

"I need to shower and you need to leave."

"What, now?" he gestured out at the morning.

"When I’m out of the shower, you are to be gone."

So of course he just sat on her bed, legs crossed at the ankles, lounging as if a sweet-smelling girl’s bedroom was his natural habitat.

When Buffy emerged from the bathroom, her arms were raised and she was rubbing her hair with a yellow towel. "What?" she asked. "I just brushed my teeth, there can’t possibly be anything stuck there."

He closed his eyes, and quoted: "Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,/Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not/Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither/Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,/Looking into the heart of light, the silence."

When he opened his eyes again, she was staring at him, something wounded in her expression. Finally she moved, pulling the tie of her robe even tighter and brushing past him. "I need to get dressed," she said. "Get out."

If he didn’t know better, he would have said that the look on her face was fear.

 **** 

Wrapped in a toweling bathrobe, Buffy’s mother whisked into the kitchen, noticing that there was a vampire drinking coffee at her kitchen table.

"Buffy, I hope you made a full pot," Joyce Summers blinked around the room for a moment, as groggy as a zombie pulled from the grave, "Hello Spike."

"Mrs. Summers."

"Spike just got here," Buffy lied.

"Can I get you cereal or something?" Buffy’s mom asked. "Eggs?"

"He’s a vampire, Mom, he doesn’t eat food, and we’re fresh out of blood," Buffy said in a prissy little voice, not happy that her mother was doing the Donna Reed routine with the Vampire From Hell.

"Oh," her mother said in her not-awake voice, "Should he not be out now or something?"

"It’s overcast, I’m not in imminent danger of bursting into flames."

Rolling her eyes, Buffy hurried to the basement and shoved a fresh dozen stakes into her backpack. Daylight or no, it never hurt to pack wood. She folded the mantle of Tote-cop-for-bandy over the stakes and zipped the zipper. Buffy could hear her mother’s voice as she headed up the basement stairs again.

"Well, you know, Angel has that detective agency in LA, you could do something like that."

"Not exactly my scene, Mrs. Summers."

"Well what did you want to do when you were aliv-before you, uh, became what you are?"

Oh God, her mother was having the Career Talk with Spike. Everyone knew vampires didn’t have jobs.

"Actually, I wanted to be a writer. I -"

"We have to get to the Magic Shop before it opens," Buffy cut him off the best that she could.

"I know you’re busy dear, but is there any way you watch Dawn today after school?" Buffy’s mom asked as Spike finished his coffee. "Her ballet class was cancelled this week."

Sure that she was doing the big blush, Buffy grabbed the coffee mug from Spike and jammed it in the dishwasher, "If she takes the bus to the Magic Shop I can keep an eye on her there."

Great, Buffy, big-time slayer of demons and vampires had to baby-sit. Spike was looking vague-ish and being quiet-ish which meant that he was storing up the information to tease her with later. Whatever was going on in his twisty head was not showing on his face. She realized that she hadn’t paid enough attention to him before to know. He was so irritating, like a sandal strap that kept rubbing and rubbing no matter how many times you wore the shoes.

Once her mother was gone, Buffy leaned across the table and hissed at him, "Don’t make nice-nice with my mother. She’s not a pork chop for you to drool over."

"I only drool over you, pork chop."

Buffy wasn’t sure how she was supposed to take that, so she settled for the Look of Death.

****

"The texts say that the Mantle of Totenkopfverbande is indestructible." Giles took off his glasses at the assembled group, as if to impress upon them the seriousness of the matter. Spike had to admit, the unbeatable foe just seemed less interesting after the third or fourth time, sort of like the American presidential election. But Giles fiddling with his glasses was eternally annoying. Maybe he could just nail them to Giles’ face and be done with it.

Xander snorted. "Indestructible and unpronounceable. What is the deal with the names? Why can’t we have the mantle of Steve? No we have to get the mantle of Toten-ankh-amun."

"Germanic organization, Germanic demons, and therefore Germanic names," Willow looked up from the tome she was perusing. "Am I the only one, Jewish-ness aside, who is really creeped out by this whole Nazi thing?"

"Well, Nazis are pretty creepy, Willow," Xander agreed. "It just shows that demons haven’t cornered the market on awfulness."

"Pound for pound I’m sure that demons out-nasty humans on any scale," Anya piped up, as if feeling as though she had to bring in the demon perspective on this multi-species roundtable.

"Anya, you play for this team now," Xander reminded her.

"Yes, well, it says here that the Mantle survived immersion in the heart of a volcano. The author of this volume speculates that only a trip to Hell could destroy it."

Buffy sat up straighter at that. "We are not opening the Hellmouth just to get rid of this ... Mantle." It wasn’t just the blondeness that drew him, Spike thought, or her delicate wrists like a wood-nymph’s and blue eyes that begged to be filled with tears. It was the contrast—the fact that she could deliver sudden death with a pirouette and only be concerned with how her hair had fared. Fundamentally, she was more callous about death and destruction than he’d ever been, just by the force of her self-absorption. He admired that.

"What are our other options?" Willow asked.

"I’m afraid I don’t know," Giles said.

Spike was still watching Buffy. He wanted her to admit how the blood rushed and hummed inside her in response to the violence. Half of her drama came from denying that she wanted the baddies to die. She’d never accept a supernatural police force with trials and carefully graded punishments. Even the minimal rules of the Council had been too much for her.

"What are you grinning at?" she snarled. Her halter-top was blue, with gold and white beads making little flowers across her chest. Tight white leather pants completed the outfit, like God’s personal dominatrix.

"Well," Spike said, drawing out the word until they all were staring at him. "There is one thing you could try."

They all gawped, until he gave up waiting.

"Tell us, please, Spike, what could we do?" he narrated in falsetto, then switched back to deep-scary voice.

"Why, children, the answer is obvious. Grab yourself a vampire, put the Mantle on him, and then cut off his head."

"I’ve got a thought about the proper volunteer," Xander said, just as Willow said, "You know, I’ve always wondered why the clothes disappear when a vamp gets dusted," and Giles perked up, opening his mouth to offer an explanation.

"Stop!" Buffy said, and the incipient chaos calmed. "Giles, did my ears deceive me or is that a good idea?"

The twit actually took off his glasses and rubbed his temple before venturing an answer. "Erm, well, I’m willing to give it a qualified perhaps."

"Qualified rapture," Spike said and rubbed his hands together, "Now what do you say I go and find us a disposable vampire?"

 ****

"There’s something different about you-"

Philip was the kind of vamp who’d spent just a little too much time actually dead before the demon took control of his body, which gave him eau du corpse and a tendency to drop chunks of flesh from time to time. The general stupidity of the average person who became vampbait explained a lot about the mean and modal vampire intelligence level in recent decades. Spike looked at the other vampire the way that a genuine Gucci bag looks at the kind made in Hong Kong and sold by street vendors.

"Yeah, I had my hair done. Now can we get on with the show?"

"I heard there was some kind of chip in your head so you weren’t a vampire no more," Philip said, undaunted by Spike’s abruptness.

"I’m still a vampire," Spike explained. "I just have—I just had trouble eatin’ regular-like for a while. But I’ve put that behind me, and to prove it I’d like to stage a little massacre. And if you help me you’ll drink and make merry like never before."

"What’s your plan?" Thank Hell Philip was easily led. Spike noted the vamp’s baggy pants, and the grimy T-shirt under the multipocket vest with bloodstains indicating it was stolen off some kid who’d been too cool for Philip in high school. Spike was doing vampirekind at least a great a favor as humankind, and the fashion police might even give him a commendation.

"There’s a study group meeting in a building on the Sunnydale campus. It’s a public place, so we can surprise them, and it’s isolated, so no one will hear the screams."

Philip accepted this without further comment, and they headed outside the bar.

The capture went down as smoothly as baby’s blood. Xander had rehabilitated a few of the Initiative taser guns abandoned in the underground facility, and Philip folded like laundry into Spike’s waiting arms. It was even simpler to wrap the mantle around him, tucking it into his pants in hopes of making it more clothes-like. Spike wanted to wait until he woke up, just to see the look on his face, but Giles vetoed. that.

They tied Philip to a piece of Buffy’s training equipment that looked to Spike like a cross between a torture device and a sex toy. Rather appealing, really. Philip’s head lolled above the post.

"Ready?" Buffy asked, twirling her sword like the cheerleader she might have been.

"He’s teed up like a T-ball in PeeWee league," Xander said. "Just take a swing." Giles made his disgusted face, and Spike was in agreement.

Buffy’s vorpal blade went snicker-snack, and Philip’s head tumbled to the ground, bouncing two and a half times before exploding into dust.

All eyes—all remaining eyes—turned to the headless corpse. Was it a corpse even though Philip had not technically been alive? Hadn’t been dead, either. Post-corpsal, maybe. Spike was glad he didn’t have breath to hold as they waited for Philip’s body to follow the head. The Powers That Be were awfully inconsistent about that—they liked making vamps go to dust dramatically.

It must have been half a second later, but to Spike it seemed as long as the latest Britney Spears album. Philip’s body crumbled, leaving the restraints to flop loosely to the ground—and the Mantle went with him.

Everyone except Spike let out an audible sigh.

"Well that was anti-climactic," he said, smiling at the rest.

"The JagdKriegspfarrer will be quite enough to handle even without the Mantle," Giles chastened.

Buffy pouted. "Party pooper. What does this monster do, anyway?"

Spike smiled more widely. "It pretty much runs the demonic gamut. Dismemberment, flesh-eating, grave-robbing, auto-cannibalism when bored, arson, rape, wearing really loud clothes like Xander-boy here. You get the picture."

"Auto-cannibalism—That’s not eating cars, is it?" Buffy sounded worried.

"No, Blondie," he said, and could tell that Giles was the only one to catch the reference.

Given what he now knew about Giles, he probably wasn’t the only one in the room who’d had nasty sex to Debbie Harry’s rapping in "Rapture." To tease her in a way she’d understand, he brought his arm up to his mouth and mimed chomping down. She stuck her tongue out at him and then looked appalled by her own casualness. She was so used to him as a eunuch. Her conduct undoubtedly stemmed from the easy way he’d sunk into ineffectiveness. The Keshonte couldn’t have been right about him, though. It was only the soul that kept him here, and the desire for revenge on Georg.

****

Buffy altered her regular patrol route. The Nazis were the types to pick a warehouse for their ceremony so they could hang their stupid bloody flags. They had no use for a nice roomy cemetery. Spike followed her as they tramped through the gray streets of the District Formerly Known As Industrial.

"What are all these empty buildings doing here, anyway?" she groused as they strolled down yet another trash-lined street. "Empty buildings are just asking for trouble."

Spike had heard from the local vamps that the area used to be devoted to defense contractors. One vampire, who’d been around when Spike first showed up to toast the Chosen One, told him that you could eat well just on the military inspectors who came poking around, trying to figure out why a widget cost umpty-hundred dollars. For some reason they didn’t get that the Sunnydale death rate kept labor costs high. He thought this explanation would bore Buffy, however, and remained silent.

He heard a skittering noise and raised his hand. Buffy stopped, but knocked his hand aside anyway. He pointed toward the side street, and they tiptoed closer, staying in the shadows. Two figures hurried to the bricked-up building in the middle of the street. Buffy made as if to go after them, but Spike restrained her. They knocked twice on a black spot, which turned out to be a door that opened in a blaze of silvery-blue light. Spike could hear eerie chanting, and wails.

"What are the odds that there are two eldritch ceremonies going on down here tonight?" he whispered.

"Why would anyone have an Elvis ceremony anyway?" she snapped.

"El-dritch. Black magic, demon and devil stuff."

"Let’s go," she said, and he grabbed her again. She wrenched her arm away. "Soul or no soul, you don’t get to paw me every two seconds."

Spike stepped back, held his hands up and set phasers on killing sarcasm. "Regardless of your personal space problem, if Georg is in there, he’s got twenty vampires ready for sacrifice. Which means he’s got somethin’ powerful enough to corral twenty vampires. Call your Watcher, tell him to bring everything you’ve got."

She frowned, considering, then took out the cellphone.

They waited for the others, Buffy sitting on the hood of the car and swinging her legs like executioner’s axes because she refused to let Spike smoke in an enclosed space. After five minutes she was bored enough to talk to him. "Do you wish you’d never been vamped?"

"Kind of a personal question, innit?" He was in no mood to indulge her. Truth or dare, now, that would have been tempting.

"I figure I’m entitled." She reached up and stretched, deceptively small muscles standing out along her arms. Her top this time was pink and asymmetrical, with cutouts in strategic places. Though maybe they were tactical places; Buffy could be hard to fathom.

"I’m glad I’m not dead," he admitted. "As for the rest, I enjoyed myself more without a soul and its attendant bad poetry. Pain was pleasure and pleasure was pleasure too, and there was no such thing as regret..."

"Yeah, ‘cause that explains the way you behaved when Drusilla dumped you."

"She didn’t dump me."

"Spoken like a true boy, vampire or otherwise."

"Anyway, it’s not so different. That Keshonte demon had more good in his little claw than most humans have in total, and he had a demon soul. Human souls aren’t the only ones around, you know, and if you’re tryin’ to get rid of anything without a sanctioned, human soul, that makes you no better than the Nazis. Kill anythin’ that’s not like you or that makes you afraid of what you might be."

"Spike?" Her tone was hesitant, almost friendly now.

"Yessss?" he hissed, still mad about the touching thing earlier.

"What was Vancy?"

"What?"

"You said Georg and Karl met at Vancy."

"Oh, Wannsee. That was where the bureaucrats met to deal with the administrative hassles of the Final Solution. Gas chambers disguised as showers, furnaces for burnin’ hundreds of bodies, all that requires a lot of organization, a mountain of red tape, right? It had been goin’ on smallscale for a while - a massacre here, a concentration camp there, but it had lacked efficiency. Wannsee was where they worked on achievin’ economies of scale, if you know what I mean."

"Georg and Karl were part of that?" Her face was an unwritten book; he couldn’t tell what she was thinking but he shuddered anyway. He’d have thought the history would be unreal to her.

"Yeah, creatin’ McConcentration camp."

 

 

Spike let Buffy take the human guard at the door. She punched him unconscious instead of breaking his neck, but Spike was really in no position to complain.

Georg’s voice boomed around them as they entered the warehouse. It was as if he were speaking directly in Spike’s ear, though Spike could see the rock-star headset wrapped around the silver mask.

"We have fought as one fights only for the most priceless gift that this world has to offer. What have we given over these months in work, in sacrifice, in devotion, in fanaticism, in contempt of death! We were successful not only because I was your leader, rather far more because you were my followers. The miracle of our coming together moves us all."

Georg paced around a circle of captives, working the crowd like the audience for Who Wants to Be a Neo-Nazi? Neon chalk designs covered the ground within the circle. Spike looked away when the rune that meant Cthulthu seemed to shuffle towards him. "Not all of you can see me, and I cannot see all of you. But I feel you, and you feel me! The belief in the greatness of our kind will make us large, it will make us rich, it will make wavering, cowardly, anxious ones brave and courageous! Through the sacrifice of these, unworthy to bear the name Nosferatu, we will take the world as has been our right since the beginning of time! "

The crowd roared. The chained vamps struggled more frantically to get free. Spike could see the dust shaking from the bolts in the floor, but they’d never get loose in time. Georg walked over to the biggest vampire, smiled up at him, and thrust both hands into his chest. This time, he crushed the heart in situ, and the vampire exploded around his fists. Spike had to admit the dramatic force of the image as the massed neoNazis screamed even louder.

"We can break this up any time now," Buffy said, but she looked uneasy. Georg moved to the next one in the circle.

Spike couldn’t stand the thought of Georg receiving all that adoration one minute longer. "Right, slaughter time," he said and strode into the crowd, a stake in each hand.

The first three fell without attracting any attention. He was lucky that the crowd was vamp-heavy; he could shoulder humans aside without any soul-protest, and that was good enough. Then the muttering of the crowd grew louder around him, and demons who weren’t totally focused on the ceremony in front of them began to turn and growl. He devoutly hoped that Scrappy-Doo and her gang were at his back as he kicked in the face of a particularly nasty-looking green fellow.

The commotion was beginning to compete with Georg for participants’ attention. Spike could feel the moment when Georg realized that something was wrong; the other vampire’s gaze flashed across his face like sunlight.

"Spike!" the jovial voice stroked his ears from every direction. "Come to sign up? We offer a complimentary bookbag and mug for our new members!"

Spike rammed out an arm to the left, and something inhuman squealed.

"I don’t read and I already got china," he said, kicking a minor blue demon in the stomach so hard that it squelched.

Georg stepped out of the circle, absently ripping the heart out of another chained vampire as he went. "Then you must be here for the slaughter." In his peripheral vision, Spike saw Buffy execute a perfect somersault with a half-twist, landing between two vampires who blew apart simultaneously.

Georg swirled his hands in a strange kung-fu motion, and the path between them was suddenly clear. "And I’m always happy to oblige when it comes to slaughter."

Spike preferred to skip further banter. He had the feeling he’d come off the worse. So he shrugged, causing his duster to flutter around him menacingly, and dove for the other vampire, planning to knock Georg down and pin his arms to be safe from spells.

But Georg was like a brick wall, and Spike’s ears rang as he staggered back - not too far, because Georg had him by the shoulders, wrenching his right arm out of its socket as Spike added his own howl of agony to the symphony of chaos around them.

"You know, I never did know what Drusilla saw in you," Georg smiled and pulled Spike a little closer, "and I bet she didn’t know either after I had her. I don’t suppose she mentioned my name in any awkward moments?"

Caught in Georg’s cement grip, Spike’s furious lunge turned into a humiliating jerk. Before he could do anything else, Georg had his hands around Spike’s throat and was squeezing, hard enough for black and red to sparkle in Spike’s field of vision. Spike could see the details of his Nazi colonel’s outfit; this one, unlike those clothing his henchman, was the real deal, down to the swastika-branded buttons, which seemed to whirl as Georg’s fingers cut into his throat, threatening to pop his head off like a daisy.

"Fuck you," Spike choked.

"Not the answer I was looking for," Georg said.

Spike’s flailing legs caught Georg in the nuts, and the other vampire relaxed his grip. Then Georg’s eyes widened in surprise as an arrow emerged from his shoulder. He spun and saw Giles, desperately trying to reload his bow. Cool. Go Giles. Somewhere behind Giles, the rest of the gang goggled at the demons and vampires and losers, oh my.

Georg grabbed at the crossbow bolt and pulled it free with a snarl.

That was enough for Spike to regain his footing and lunge for Georg again. They thudded into a squirming mass of demons and Spike almost went down, but the memory of Drusilla screaming, screaming had him by the throat with a tighter grip than Georg could ever use. He managed a left-handed uppercut that knocked the silver mask askew and sent Georg staggering, and then another kick in the balls that put the vampire on the ground.

"I am doing this for the greater good of the race!" Georg yelled, rising up on his elbows.

"We’re vampires, asshole. We’re not a race and we don’t do anything for good!" Spike was frustrated, and he stalked towards Georg, pushing demons and humans aside.

Georg smiled—Spike could see only one side, peeking out from behind the mask, which made him look like a seriously deformed Siamese twin—and it was enough to stop Spike cold. "I guess you’re right," he said and reached out a hand to make magical gestures. A vampire in stormtrooper drag sailed out of the main fight and into his outstretched arms. For a moment their embrace looked cozy. Then the vampire looked down to see the stake protruding from his chest. "Master?" he said, looking deep into Georg’s eyes, and exploded into dust.

The earth groaned and a sudden wind rose through the warehouse, tearing at Spike’s clothes.

That was the twentieth vampire, Spike realized. Somehow, all the ones we killed here counted too. He must have drawn a larger magic circle than the one we can see.

"Aw, fuck," he said and launched himself toward Georg again.

Screaming triumph, the vampire raised his hands to the skies (really the warehouse ceiling but Spike just knew that, in Georg’s head, he was reaching to the stars) as if everyone was supposed to stop now and contemplate his victory.

He blinked and dropped his arms when Spike put the stake through him.

"What are you --?" he said, looking honestly bewildered, like an accountant confronted with years of false returns.

"Payback’s a bitch," Spike advised as Georg blinked in surprise and puffed into dust. The silver mask thudded to the ground, and Spike quickly stuffed it into his pocket for later pawning.

Behind him, Spike could hear newly-minted screams.

Not wanting to make Georg’s mistake, Spike turned toward the circle. A cloud of oily green smoke was dissipating, revealing the oily green Wirtschaftsministerium. It looked like a sea anemone. That is, how a sea anemone would look if you were the size of a Sea Monkey. Well, a sea anemone with rainbow tentacles, bullfrog eyes and a circular maw lined with a triple-row of shark teeth. The Wirtschaftsministerium looked like something Salvadore Dali would have designed while suffering from food poisoning after a bad batch of calamari. The Wirtschaftsministerium extended tentacles in all directions, wrapping them around the left-over chained vampires.

"Oh good," said a cheery, insane voice that needed no amplification, "hors d’oeuvres."

Spike’s shoulder was screaming louder than the dying vampires, and he staggered a little as he tried to get back towards the circle. He could hear Xander yelling, a wordless war-cry that made him wonder about the boy’s stability. Now that the acolytes had seen the Wirtschaftsministerium, some had changed their minds and were heading toward the door. Demons, humans, and vampires buffeted by him, each species managing to slam into his shoulder with its own special elan.

"Hey there, Big Ugly." Buffy’s voice cut through the clamor.

"Well, well," the Wirtschaftsministerium replied. "My own private Princess Leia."

A Wirtschaftsministerium was bad enough, but a Wirtschaftsministerium with delusions of Jabba the Hutt could do serious damage.

"Where’s Georg?" Karl called, waving his tentacles in agitation, "Georg called me."

"Georg isn’t available right now, can I take a message?" one of the lesser demons stuttered.

"Oh damn," Karl sagged for a moment within his tentacles and then perked up and sized the demon foolish enough to speak and held the demon so he could look at the terrified, squirming demon’s face, "and I was really looking forward to working with him again. Oh well."

The Wirtschaftsministerium bit off the demon’s head the way a child massacred a gingerbread man.

"Can somebody get me a beer? I need a beer to wash this down with."

Grunts and cries followed. Spike tried to get a glimpse of the battle from over the remains of the panicking crowd. Buffy was flawless, as usual, but the Wirtschaftsministerium was even better. It moved tentacles every time before she struck and lashed tentacles at her from where she could not see it. "She’s outmatched," he shouted at the rest of the gang, as Buffy hit the floor with enough force to bounce. She tried to rise, but couldn’t avoid another blow.

Tara and Willow ran forward, holding a piece of rope and chanting. The Wirtschaftsministerium lashed out with one long, tongue-shaped tentacle, and Tara was snatched away, towards its central body. It continued to whip Buffy with several tentacles as it wrapped others around Tara, bulging and rippling obscenely around the witch. Tara’s high scream cut through the noise, then stopped.

"Give me a darkness spell!" he ordered Willow, who was just standing there. He began running towards the Wirtschaftsministerium. Amazingly, Xander followed him, though he quickly disappeared under three minor demons. He heard Anya yowl and join the affray.

Fortunately, soft little Willow could whip up a mighty spell with enough incentive, and before he’d gone three steps the whole abandoned factory was black. Buffy was lying right where she’d fallen. Spike felt a tentacle brush past his head as he picked her up. She felt paper-light, as unreal as a pinup in a magazine. As he moved away, he nearly tripped over another soft body, and a quick feel identified it as Tara’s. Groaning, he called on his reserves of vampiric strength and picked her up as well. His shoulder had screamed its metaphoric voice hoarse; the white-hot pain of it could only now be endured, not relieved. There was something wrong with the way Tara’s body draped, but he ignored it.

Running on instinct and the low-level infrared vision that came with vampirehood, he found the exit. "I’ve got them, go now," he ordered. "Xander and Anya!" Willow said. Spike stood for a moment, unable to understand what she meant. But Buffy would kill him if she woke up and found her friend (and whatever Anya was) dead, so he shifted Buffy and Tara to Willow and Giles and headed back into the warehouse.

The demons and vampires were piled on top of one another like the world’s worst organized American football tackle, all of them looking for the tasty ball of blood that was Xander. Spike worked his way through the pile methodically, staking where necessary, breaking necks where that was more effective, until he recognized a familiar hairy arm. Bending at the knees, he dragged Xander out; the boy was barely conscious, and didn’t even scream at the pressure on his arm. Anya had been knocked into the wall and was trying to stand. Either the others hadn’t noticed her or something residually demonic kept them away. Perhaps it was her baleful expression. Spike tugged at her with his left hand and hurried them all out.

"Where are his shoes?" Anya demanded as they all stuffed into the Explorer. "Where are Xander’s shoes? He’s unconscious and he has no shoes!"

Willow fussed over Buffy and Tara in the back while Anya started the SUV. Behind them, Spike saw twenty or so assorted losers pile into cars and onto motorcycles to give chase. "Anyanka, shut the fuck up and drive."

She did, and he quickly realized that Ford and Firestone didn’t have to worry about killing them through shoddy design because Anya was going to take care of it with bad driving. The tires squealed through a turn and he actually felt the left side of the vehicle leave the ground for a few bad seconds before it decided that flipping over would be too simple.

Spike rolled down his window and looked back. They’d lost a few who couldn’t make the turn, but there were still five cars and four motorcycles behind them. One of the motorcycles was gaining fast. "Do we have any weapons left?" No answer. "There was a bag of weapons in the back; someone give me something long and heavy or I’ll just use one of the unconscious bodies!"

Scowling, Giles rooted around underneath Buffy’s tiny, curled-up form, and came up with a baseball bat.

"Thanks, mate," Spike said, then swung the bat out the window and decapitated the demon on the motorcycle, who was about to climb in. The motorcycle twisted and fell in the road, where another cycle ran into it, ejecting its vampire rider off onto the curb. The cars and remaining cycles swerved around, but they were further back.

Giles had shaken off his shock and was leaning out the other window, shooting at their pursuers with a compound bow. Spike was very impressed when Giles managed to crack the windshield of one of the cars, sending it spinning around into another. Anya twisted the SUV into a hairpin turn that actually threw him out of the seat, gravity forgotten, and slammed Buffy into the side door, Tara piled on top of her like unfolded laundry. Buffy groaned, but Tara was still out of it; red stains were beginning to bloom on her white blouse and Spike didn’t want to look too hard at the patterns they made.

He remembered Dracco’s gun, and used it to emulate Giles’ example, but with the pain in his shoulder flaring like a nova his marksmanship was for shit and he stopped before he wasted all the ammunition. Giles picked off the remaining motorcyclists, and then there were only three cars behind them.

"We can’t lead them back to the Magic Shop, Dawn is there," Willow choked. "We need a hospital, Tara’s legs -"

"Anyone who wants to drive instead of criticize is completely welcome to take over," Anya snapped, and turned again, this time into four lanes of traffic going the other direction. Hunched over the steering wheel, she ignored the horns and flashing headlights and ground the accelerator into the floor to take advantage of the straight road.

Around the Explorer, other cars roared and swerved. Spike watched as a Ferrari crashed into a lamppost, creating more obstacles for their pursuers. Another car twirled like a top as the driver tried to avoid being turned into kibble. The honking horns sounded almost like a chorus as Anya whizzed past fast-food restaurants and gas stations, pushing the ocean of oncoming traffic apart through what had to be sheer force of will. Finally the last car in pursuit determined that it had a better chance of surviving a report to Karl than out-chickening Anya and turned back.

****

Spike wasn’t quite clear on how he got Buffy custody. Everyone else was still at the hospital, and after he’d convinced Giles to pop his shoulder back into place he’d gotten a cab and couldn’t work up the energy to be surprised when Buffy joined him. But she got out at the cemetery, same as him, and followed him back to his pad. Vampiric healing had already set in; he could feel the small striated muscles in his shoulder healing and reattaching in all the right places.

He closed the door behind her and waited, curious, to see what she would do next.

Her eyes were sparkling like - sparkly things - and she kicked the side of the sepulcher in the corner of Spike’s crypt. Pressed concrete crumbled under her boots as she stalked back and forth like a cat pacing out the confines of the cage at the local animal shelter.

"We walked in there like Girl Scouts selling cookies," she raged at him and her hair floated insanely around her bright, bruised face, "Hello, like demon guys do you want to kick our asses or what."

All Spike could do was watch.

"And you, what good are you? ‘They’re in here, Slayer,’" to his undying and undead shock, she gave a creditable imitation of his own mutant cockney, "'Sorry ever so, but what a great bloody lot of you there are. Just have at the Scoobies at your own time, old chaps.’"

"I sound nothing like that."

"I want that - that Workshaftmummy demon thing dead!" she snarled and whipped around to face him. "Don’t look at me like that, you have no idea how I feel."

"Angry, frustrated, enraged, betrayed, and helpless?" He leaned back against the nearest pillar and realized that he was not smiling. He was more serious than he had been in decades. "No, that I know nothing about."

She narrowed her eyes and the sparkles got smaller and brighter. Breathing hard with the force of her anger, her chest was heaving underneath the sparkles of her top. Sparkles not as bright as her eyes. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun, Spike mentally paraphrased, they are the points of blades.

"It won’t happen again, I know what I’m up against now," she announced and turned on the heel of her steel-tipped boot and pounded for the door.

A mortal wouldn’t have been fast enough to get between her and the only means of egress from the crypt. Then again, a vampire with any sense wouldn’t put himself in front of a pissed-off Slayer. Any vampire with any sense wouldn’t have already killed two Slayers in a century.

"You are NOT going back there," he shouted, feeling his face warm into a half-transformation.

Damn it, he could smell the blood from the gouge on her wrist and it was making his mouth water, make his control tenuous. She just beamed angry eyes at him and vibrated with anger and frustration. Fortunately, Spike was trainable and when he saw the telltale movement of her right shoulder, he recognized the start of what usually ended with a good punch in the nose, and he managed to catch the slashing blur of her fist a half a foot from his face. Her little fist was hot and hard in his hand, and blood from her wrist flowed onto his fingers. He swallowed the rock in his throat and fought back the heat and the need for her blood. He needed her to get to Karl, and he needed to walk knee-deep in that demon’s blood so that Georg would not have the last laugh.

"Enough with the nose-punching! Do that again and I swear I’ll-"

"What? Kill me?"

Jerking her hand out of his, she danced back a step and caught him with a clean roundhouse kick to the chest. Stepping into her arc, he slammed his hand into her shoulder and she bounced back a few feet. He struck at her face, but she came in low and drove her shoulder into his side and he went tumbling across the room, sending the TV to the floor with an expensive crash. He rolled to his feet as she kicked at the base of his spine, danced back and flicked hair back from her face.

As ever, she was beyond sublime. A rain of sharp punches peppered his face and chest; he blocked most and took the rest without breaking stride, forcing her backwards towards the sepulcher. He put the pillar between them and they enacted a merry ring around the rosy - death overtones and all. The strategy that was forming in his mind was to wear her out. He knew that she didn’t have a stake left on her so his chances of getting dusted were low provided that he prevented her from breaking any of the furniture. The adventure at Karl’s lair and her subsequent knockout had to sap her considerable stamina. If he could just endure her attacks long enough for her to run out of steam, he’d be home and dry.

The boot connected with his jaw and sent him sprawling to the stone floor. It was painful, yes, but a pain that he could live with. In a flash she was atop him, her little legs pinning his midsection to the floor and she was punching at his nose with one hand while she scrabbled around in her jacket with the other. She was burning into him, her blood, her heat, her skin, and the bright sun of her livingness was searing him like hot iron.

He smelled the wood before he saw it.

Fuck, she’d managed to come up with another stake. Where in the fuck did she keep all of them? Her clothes must have all been tricked out with secret pockets like a kleptomaniac kangaroo. She was panting down at him, sweat glimmering on her face, sticking her hair to her temples, and resting like a perfect raindrop between the pink points of her upper lip. Their noses were scant inches apart and her breath scalded his face. Things were moving around behind her eyes and in the scant two seconds it took her to bring the business end of the stake up and press it to the shirt stretched thin over his chest and his heart, Spike’s fingers finally found the grip of Dracco’s pistol.

Buffy sucked in a surprised breath from the sensation of the metal of the gun’s barrel against the bare skin of her midriff. Eyes doubling in size, she looked down at him.

"Take me out and you’re goin’ with me-" and if his voice hadn’t cracked it might have been more impressive.

Maybe only Mexicans enjoyed Mexican stand-offs.

Face creasing in a frown, her eyes flicked from stake and back to his eyes, and he could see that she was thinking again. Normally this was like a commercial break where he could get up and get a beer, but she’d been so full of surprises lately that he wasn’t going to risk losing focus again. Losing focus was how he had ended up on the floor in the first place.

Now he was focused, focused on the sliver of wood brushing against the skin over his heart and the beat of his pulse in the finger tightened on the trigger.

"Come on, Slayer. We’ll end this thing here an’ now, you an’ me."

When the last fragment of his hoarse whisper dissipated into the silence of the crypt, she moved.

Her lips were hard and tasted like salt. She bit his lower lip like the youngest of vamps, her fingers reaching and clawing at his hair.

After a moment of shocked paralysis, his free hand wrapped around the stake, getting a palm full of breast for his trouble, and grabbed for the stake. But she was quicker, flicking the ash stake away, and he heard it rattle off into a dark corner as she grabbed his shirt and pulled him half off the floor. With her hard little stomach digging into his and the bulk of her weight resting squarely on his crotch, he pressed up against her, trying to grab some kind of contact through the thick seams of two pairs of jeans. The button flies were suddenly a very bad choice. Smelling like milk, honey and blood she wrapped around him, her fingers in his hair, digging into his shoulders underneath the leather of his coat. He groaned under her mouth, as he’d groaned in a London alleyway a hundred odd years before, his arms and hands crushing her against him, hard enough to bruise a normal human.

A little mewing sound came from her throat as she dragged her face along his, only to catch his earlobe between her teeth and make him wince with the glassine lusciousness of it. By accident or design, her gouged wrist slid over and past his cheekbone and coated his lips with blood. His undead heart nearly stopped its frantic beating as the rich rustiness of her blood filled his senses with the subtlety of a nuclear accident.

"Oh God," she muttered into his jaw and her hands roved over his back, stinging him with the edges of her short nails.

With a combination of sheer will power and vampiric strength, he pulled loose from Buffy, slid a few feet away from her on the floor, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He’d already swallowed the blood and his hand came away clean.

"If it turns out tomorrow that you’re possessed or got amnesia, things will get ugly," he warned.

On her knees, she crawled over to him, pulling the tie from her hair as she came. Once again, she grabbed his shirt and made it perfectly clear that she wasn’t about to change her mind. His hands cupped her ass and pulled her closer, until she was fully pressed up against him again.

"Tell anyone and you’re totally dead," she murmured and began to circle his ear with her tongue.

"Quiet as the grave," he assured her.

There was fumbling with fastenings, unlacing of boots, and clothes falling to the floor like needles from a Christmas tree. Naked, she was a dream, peach and gold and shimmering in castoff light from the candles. Unbound, her breasts were bigger than he had imagined, but fit perfectly into his hands. She stretched and moaned underneath him, her hair shining against the black leather of his jacket spread on the floor. He licked every millimeter of her body, tasting her and letting her smell sink into his skin, running tongue and teeth across each of the raised scars he found scattered on her form. She polished the whiteness of his body with her hands. Her fingers destroyed his immaculate coiffure, until his hair flopped onto his forehead in its natural state.

With a fistful of her silk hair he dragged her head back into a graceful arc and she shuddered with pleasure rather than fear when he scored the skin of her throat with his mouth.

Face pressed against the inside of her thigh, the demon rose in him for a moment and his fangs broke the softest of skin there, and he licked the few blood droplets away, the taste rich in his mouth, feeding his hunger. But he shook his head and regained control before moving deeper between her legs to explore new tastes from the gold girl stretched out before him. She shuddered when he touched her, shuddered and gasped with something like surprise. Smirking to himself, with his head down and hiding his face, he bent to work to show her a few of the things that he had learned. Moaning loud enough to wake a zombie or two, she lifted her hips for more and almost tore holes in the leather under her hands.

Looking soft and used, she kissed him, her tongue feeling his canines as if testing the edges. Tasting her and her blood on her lips was almost more than he could take and he pushed her back to the floor, shoving her legs open with his knee. That should have been the point where he graciously offered her another out, but he didn’t.

God, she was burning hot, it felt as though she was melting like wax around him. He groaned into her breasts and she grabbed his hips to pull him further in. She hissed like a cornered imp when he filled her at last. He couldn’t remember offhand if he’d ever had a willing mortal woman before and the sharp urgency of Buffy was nothing like the graceful lasciviousness of vampires. Ankles locked together at the small of his back, she demanded every molecule from him as he began to grind into her with controlled determination. In short order she was filmed with sweat and her nails had broken the first few layers of skin on his ribs. She hissed into his ear, demanding more, biting the tender flesh there. Finally she jerked and he could feel her climax around him, nearly dragging him down with her. Sucking the breath from her mouth, the sweat from the hollow of her throat, he continued thrusting into her saturated depths. He dragged her up to the edge and pushed her over time and time again, until she was incoherent beneath him. Finally, he could no longer maintain any semblance of control and came into her with a roar that shook cobwebs and dust from the walls of the crypt around them.

Spent, half-dead, with his brain registering minimal activity, he felt her curl up alongside him, her warmth flowing into him. Forgotten things surfaced in his mind. A snippet of a sonnet: When do I see the most, beloved one? / When in the light and the sprits of mine eyes/Before thy face, their altar, solemnize/Or when in the dusk hours (we two alone)/ Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies/thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies, / And my soul only sees thy soul its own.

Outside, it started to rain.

****

"Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod."

If speed dressing was an Olympic event, the little man was engraving "Buffy Summers" into the gold even as she was stuffing her feet into her boots.

"Thinking bad, moving good, have to go, have to get out," she chanted under her breath like a Dr. Seuss character on uppers. "Would not, could not, should not think!"

As far as she could tell, Spike was still sleeping like the undead in the extremely sleazy red and slimy polyblend sheets on the bed - but she wasn’t going to look because he wasn’t there, she wasn’t there and the bruises on her knees were from fighting the demon. The adrenalin was making her heart skip around like a CD someone had used as a coaster. None of this had happened and when she woke up it was all going to be a horrible nightmare just the way it happened on TV.

"Thinking bad. Last night bad, Uber-bad. Gotta go. Don’t look, Buff, don’t look, don’t think, don’t deal."

Her shoelace broke; she looked down at the blackish stringy thing in her hand and had no idea what it was or what it was used for. She threw it aside, and the shoelace landed on the bed right next to the guy-shaped thing, which was doing something like snoring underneath a retro-tacky red and black velvet bedspread. It was an unnaturally blonde guy-shaped thing and it smelled familiarly of cigarettes, sweat, and leather.

"Oh fuck the shoelace—" she choked and flung herself out of the crypt.

Half a mile, half a mile, half a mile onward and she was running full-tilt alongside the gray morning streets while the rain wet grass soaked the bells of her jeans. She ran hard, harder than she needed to, until she stumbled into the coffee-smelling kitchen. At the table, Dawn narrowed her eyes at her older sister.

"You are so busted."

"Not now, totally and completely not now," Buffy hissed and began sliding for the stairs.

"All night. You were out all night. I know you weren’t at Willow’s because I called," Dawn folded her arms over her chest and gave Buffy a sly smile, "you were with a boy."

"Listen, TWERP, Slayer business, all night-"

"Buffy?"

Buffy’s mom wandered into the kitchen wearing her not enough coffee face and went straight to Mr. Coffee for support.

"Where were you, honey?"

"She was out with a boy," Dawn gloated. "I bet she was having sex."

"Shut up!" Buffy snarled to Dawn and then faced her mom, "Slayer stuff mom, big time Slayer stuff. All night big time slayer stuff."

"Oh you are such a fucking liar!" Dawn blurted and her face screwed up and reddened in pre-cry mode. "You smell like cigarettes an’ you got a hickey."

Sleep and shock wrestled on Joyce Summer’s face.

"Dawn, there’s no need for that kind of language," she said, far less upset than she would have been if she were fully awake.

"Nobody believes me, no one listens to me," Dawn wailed and flounced away.

Joyce frowned, "Buffy, you promised that you’d give me a call if you were going to be out all night saving the world from destruction or something."

"Sorry mom, I wasn’t near a phone."

 ****

The magic shop was dark and cool. Too much like Spike’s place, but at least it had the comforting smell of herbs and candles and old books. No cigarettes or leather at all.

"Buffy?" Willow emerged from the back of the shop. "How are you doing?"

"Better," she said. "How’s Tara?"

Willow’s rounded shoulders slumped further. "Her legs are broken. They, uh, think she should be fine otherwise. No major scarring. But she told the nurses she didn’t want visitors. Not even me."

"Oh, Will," and then she was crying. She felt Willow approach, hesitate, and then draw her into a hug. Willow awkwardly patted her back, slow rhythmless pats that just made Buffy realize that Willow had no idea what was going on with her.

Finally she pulled away.

"Would it be prying to ask what brought this on?" Willow asked. "I mean, I appreciate the sentiment for Tara and all, but, this doesn’t seem like vicarious suffering."

"It’s like so totally bad right now. The demon thing and the Nazis and everything is just mega-suck!" Buffy dragged her hand under her nose and managed to get maximum snot coverage on her face.

All Willow could do was root around the counter for a tissue.

"Sounds like you might be suffering from some pre-demon-syndrome. Darkest hour, dawn, you know what I mean. I have some herb tea that might help," she handed Buffy a clean but crumpled tissue, "but you have to go to stop with the coffee. Time for decaf city."

"But I’m so tired," Buffy sniveled into the tissue, which was coming apart faster than a demon’s promise in her hand. "I am so freaking tired. My hair is tired. And I hurt everywhere-"

"You did land hard last night. Blackout City. Maybe you shook something loose."

"It’s not that!" Buffy wailed and let loose a fresh tide of tears and melted mascara.

Shocked, Willow patted her raccoon-eyed friend on the arm.

"Full disclosure, there is a problem. Sharing the burden, you know the rest."

Fractionally, Buffy pulled herself together, blew her nose and soaked the tissue to uselessness. Tissues gone, Willow had to offer her a napkin from beside the espresso machine Anya had hidden behind the counter.

She settled for the rind of the truth, if not the full orange. "I think Spike likes me."

"Like like? Or Like?"

"Like. Boy girl like. He’s acting so weird, I mean since the soul thing he’s been—soulful. It’s so not fair."

"I think it’s sort of romantic. He got his soul back and now he’s in love with you."

"He is not in love with me. He—likes me." Buffy pouted. "Anyway, flowers and chocolates and useless promises are romantic. Anything that involves the word ‘soul’ is not romantic."

"Except for Barry White’s voice," Willow pointed out.

"Who? Well, that Keywhatsis demon had no idea what it was doing. Now I have a responsibility for him."

"You could just let him suffer."

"No, that’s too much like what happens to my real boyfriends. I don’t want him to be evil again—I’ve got enough going on without facing a vamp who’s taken two Slayers. I can’t date a vamp that’s offed two Slayers. I mean it’s a serious conflict of interest."

"Um, Buffy, fighting and dating aren’t the same th—" Willow stopped and they looked at one another. "Anyway, we need a strategy for fighting the Wirtschaftsministerium."

"What have you and Giles come up with?"

"Bupkis." Buffy stared at her. "Sorry, feeling the Jewishness a little more strongly these days. He’s on the phone with some monk from Nepal who might be able to help. But nothing yet."

"Nepal?"

"Very lost tribe."

Buffy located Spike on the loading dock of the Magic Shop, leaning against the wall in a halo of yellow bug-light. He was doing the noir-ish thing of smoking a cigarette under the overhang with the attitude of a man waiting for a bus.

"We need to talk," she said as the door closed behind her.

Spike mimed looking at a watch, "That took about twenty minutes longer than I thought."

"Last night—did not happen. Understand?" she said in what was supposed to be a tough voice, but she had a suspicion that it wasn’t.

"I ought cancel the ad in the Sunnydale Daily then. SLAYER SHAGS ANOTHER VAMPIRE," his hands drew the headline’s outline in the air. "Bad habit you got, love."

Her hands fisted and she stepped closer. Spike ignored her movement and continued to smoke his cigarette. The smoke drifted through the rain and the night air to turn into something nearly solid around the light. It wasn’t entirely clear what she was supposed to do now, but in that respect, it was your basic dealing with a boy kind of thing.

"Gonna ruin my rep," he crossed his arms over his chest like a gangbanger and gave her a hard look, "bad enough with the chip ruinin’ my brain for a year, this damn soul thing, and now bein’ the Slayer’s cuddly toy? Thank you no."

"Waiter, reality check? You’re sorry about what happened?"

Face taking a strange twist, Spike looked down at her, "It’s not makin’ my Top Ten List of smart things. Would you rather I gloated?"

"No," she said and watched the raindrops punch holes in the shining puddles, "I just wish—well, if it hadn’t happened, things would be . . . simpler. This is too hard."

"Free advice, Slayer," he said in a edgy, jerky voice, a voice that sounded like someone was squeezing his throat, "When you do something, you did it, and it does fuck-all to regret it afterwards."

With thumb and forefinger, he flicked the butt of his cigarette into a puddle. The ember burned for a second and went out. In a flash, he was millimeters away from her, the coolness of his flesh bristling against the boundaries of her space. She backed up half a pace and found wall behind her. He didn’t have any smell of his own, she realized. It was all cigarettes and leather, other dead things he’d adopted, but there was no Spike smell underneath. The fine hairs on her forearms stood upright and waved hello in an agreeably creepy way.

"Just don’t stand there and tell me that you didn’t enjoy every filthy little moment of it," he said in a voice that was full of silk and broken glass. "Don’t pretend that your knees don’t get weak when the thought of it crawls up into your head in the middle of the day. That you’re not re-running it like a videotape through your mind, looking for excuses for a do-over."

If he moved a hair closer they would be touching. Instead, he was staring into her eyes with his own colorless dark ones, holding her gaze like a cobra stalking a sparrow. Naturally he was right, scary-making right.

She thought that if he didn’t touch her, she was going to die.

"If you’re going to walk on fire, you prepare yourself to be burnt."

In a fast vampire blur of movement, he was gone, and the door was banging shut behind him. Her stomach did the big tilt-a-whirl thing and she gulped down cold air. The wall was reassuringly hard and real against her back, which was a good thing, because the ground that she was standing on wasn’t real steady anymore.

****

Lovecraft’s again. Fucking Lovecraft’s or the fucking Bronze, Sunnydale needed a couple more places to hang out in. Maybe he should just pack the whole thing in and move out to LA. At least in LA everything didn’t close at 2 am. Fucking one-horse town.

Yeah, his mood was what you could call foul.

Spike sipped at the "Bloody Mary" the oh-so-funny bartender had mixed, and looked around for a likely looking demon. Best thing for a bloke to do over a girl was to pour a couple of quarts of alcohol onto his brain and see if that quenched the fire somewhat. Alternately, bars were a good place to get a bucketful of ice to shove down his pants. Short of getting pissed as a newt on blood and booze the next best thing as to find something to kill. That always made him feel better.

He’d finally gone and made an ass out of himself. Yes, so he’d shagged the Slayer, you’d think that he would have felt better about it, felt some kind of triumph instead of feeling rejected once again. The Sex With Buffy Thing had been a colossally bad idea. Despite the fact that she hadn’t exactly protested, and he was vain enough to think that she had enjoyed it, Spike was pretty certain that she was going to use it as yet another reason to punch him in the nose.

The bar was pretty crowded that night, demons outnumbering most of the other creatures. There was one ugly mother of a chaos demon in the corner making short work of the pinball machine, and a trio of Calansis playing what looked like poker at a table by themselves near a fairly large clot of down-market vampires. The leather and tattoo crowd looked like likely Gregor recruits. He recognized a vampire who’d been in the abandoned factory, hanging back to see what happened. Vamps could be such fucking voyeurs.

Spike sidled up to the vamp and took a seat at the bar next to her. "Buy you a drink?"

She tossed her blonde hair. Brown eyes though, and eyebrows, classic bottle-blonde. "I hear you don’t date your own kind any more."

"You hear wrong, baby. Papa’s got a brand new set of fangs," he licked his lips to emphasize the points. "Which is good since it seems like now is a great time to be undead, what with the JagdKriegspfarrer in town."

"Why do they call him that, anyway?"

"It means ‘Hunting Priest,’" he said, waving for another drink for both of them. "Way I heard it, it’s sort of a nickname, like ‘King of the Hill,’ or ‘Lord of the Dance,’ only a tad more mystical and a whole yard more deadly."

She hummed, and swirled her new drink, the blood and alcohol adhering to the edges of the glass and sliding down in little, tasty-looking strings. "The name seems to fit, looking at the way he smacked down the Slayer."

"Pity she escaped, though. I have to admit, I wish I knew how he managed to trounce her so thoroughly. I don’t like to say so, but I had a harder time with the two I did."

"He probably just read her mind," the vamp said, leaning towards him to emphasize her cleavage, which Spike did his gentlemanly best to appreciate.

"Read her mind?" the absent distraction in his voice as he contemplated the shadow between her breasts was not entirely feigned.

"He can do that, y’know? It’s wicked cool. He can read demons by touch, but humans are just, like, transparent to him. He can’t be surprised, so he can’t be stopped."

"That’s a good trick, all right," he acknowledged, and took another drink. He’d have a few more with the chippie, just to keep her suspicions to a minimum. Then they’d go outside, and he’d feel her up or dust her, maybe both, but he was pretty sure that his cold heart wouldn’t be in it.

"Ramona, get away from that asshole," one of the redwood-sized leather and tattoo boys called as they advanced through the tables.

"The caliber of vampires these days makes me weep for the future of the race," Spike drawled in his old, old, and grand voice and hunched more nonchalantly into the bar.

Predictably, the vamp grabbed Spike’s shoulder and whirled him around on the barstool, "What did you say to me?"

"I said you were an asshole, asshole."

The young vamp, who was over six and half feet of polished coffee toned muscle, pulled Spike to his feet.

"Faggot. Human-pet faggot."

"C’mon, you can do better than that, surely."

"Don’t fuck with me, man, we’re bigger and there are more of us."

The stake slid out of his belt like a dream and sank neatly into the meathead’s heart like a hot knife through butter. Surprise registered on the big vamp’s face before he disintegrated into ash and sand.

"Yeah, but I’m older and meaner." Spike advised the pile of dust on the floor.

Two rushed him and they all went down into a tangle of vampire arms and legs through the fragile wood of a nearby table. Spike gut-punched one of them and began kicking the other in the face with his steel-tipped DM’s.

"No fighting! Take it outside!" the bartender roared.

Spike grabbed the leg of a nearby chair and jammed it into the chest of the nearest vamp. The remaining one howled with rage and got his fangs kicked in for his troubles. Skittering to his feet, Spike found that the remaining vamps in Lovecraft’s were advancing on him like the mob in the original Frankenstein movie. Chains were produced, broken wood came into hands, and brass knuckles and knives came out of pockets. The femme vamp he’d been charming even had a wicked butterfly knife in one hand.

Chair leg in one hand and stake in the other, Spike faced the crowd and laughed. This was like the good old days, cornered, and hunted, with his back up against the wall. The adrenalin filled him like heroin.

"Right then, who’s next?" he demanded.

He took out about six of them before he was backed out into the rainy night, catching the edge of a knife across forehead and scalp before he dusted the baby Viking. The rain washed the blood from his face and into his eyes. Even with his enhanced night-vision, it was hard to keep track of all of them in the unconfined space. The blonde leapt at him, and a split-second of hesitation at the sight of the flow of gold hair in the moonlight was enough of an advantage for her to tackle him into the mud underfoot. He rolled with her, twisting his body so when gravity caught up with her, she drove her own voluptuous chest onto the point of the stake. Chick-dust mixed with the blood in his eyes.

Scrambling to his feet, Spike counted four remaining vamps in the street. The others were either mixing with the mud or had taken themselves off somewhere else.

"The leader wants to meet you," one of the leftovers called from a safe distance across the muddy parking lot.

"You tell me that now? Fuck off!"

"He wants to meet you, he’s heard about you, William the Bloody-"

"That’s Spike. Don’t forget it," he held his head up to the sky and let the rain wash some of the blood away from his eyes. "You tell your master that I remember when he was a trumped up little bullfrog, and I’ll meet with him when I’m damn well ready."

Hurting in about a dozen places, Spike squared his shoulders and sauntered away like the meanest motherfucker who had ever walked the planet. Once he was out of sight of the vamps, his shoulders slumped and he began limping.

****

There were only a limited number of enormous empty warehouses; Spike found the Wirtschaftsministerium and his crew in the fifth one he checked. A red Philomena demon with facial hair that looked like extruded Play-Doh tried to block his way.

"Name’s Spike," he said. "Your master sent me an engraved invitation."

He really did not have the reserves to fight, and he was grateful when the scarlet fellow returned, much more respectfully, and ushered him in.

Karl had already begun to rearrange the inside of the warehouse. The walls were covered with vines, and the vines had fleshy pink flowers the size of beach balls. They moved as Spike walked by, wavering towards him, petals curling and uncurling like beckoning hands. Green-orange lizards with a few too many legs clung to the vines, flickering white forked tongues at him. Small cracks in the cement floor produced a purple grass that looked slick, almost bloody. He noted that the Philomena demon leading him in avoided walking on the grass, and followed suit.

The Wirtschaftsministerium had set up shop in the center of the warehouse. Old crates had been hastily hammered together to create a sort of throne, with a mini-moat made of kiddie pools for a pink liquid that some of the demon’s tentacles bathed in. Monkeys chattered in the vines, and occasionally the Wirtschaftsministerium would spiral a tentacle around one and bring it in to its central body, then spit out bloody bones onto an already large pile off at the side. A wall of oversized televisions flickered through every channel known to humankind. One of the Wirtschaftsministerium’s eyes watched TV while the other looked down at the vampire standing in front of him.

"Spike," the JagdKriegspfarrer boomed, as if the statement were only true because he was saying it.

"Jawohl," he said lightly.

One of the tentacles advanced, holding a squirming, screaming simian.

"Monkey?"

"No thanks, I had baboon for lunch."

"You’re Nosferatu," Karl stated, waving the monkey around like a human with a buffalo wing. "What are you doing with those puny humans?" he asked and popped the monkey in his mouth.

"Biding’m time," Spike explained. "I owe the Slayer a dirty trick or two."

A tentacle swept toward him. This one was mottled green-gray, covered with stiff hairs that brushed against his cheek. Spike felt a chill as it draped around his neck and trailed down his spine. "I see you do," the Wirtschaftsministerium said, and hawked up a ball of hair and bones to punctuate. "So what’s the deal?"

"Georg took somethin’ of mine a long time ago. I got it back but, me, I’m the type to carry a grudge."

The demon grunted acknowledgement.

"But now that Georg is out of the way, it seems to me that you might be needin’ a right-hand vampire. And if I was to bring you the Slayer, away from her backup band so that she couldn’t get away, perhaps we could come to some sort of mutually satisfyin’ arrangement."

The tentacle had developed suckers, cool against Spike’s skin. He imagined Buffy, bound and bleeding, for the thing’s amusement, and was rewarded with a caress from his waist to his neck.

"I like the way you think, Spike," the Wirtschaftsministerium said. "Are you sure you don’t want a monkey?"

 ****

"Okay, brains, the night before we raid the demon’s lair you pick a fight with, like, all the vampires in town?"

Sitting at the kitchen table, Spike winced and dabbed at his lower lip with a napkin. Buffy crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the counter.

"They started it," he muttered.

"Did you at least learn anything useful?"

"Yes, draw the line at twenty to one."

Things were now officially beyond the twilight and into the zone, Buffy realized as she stomped to the laundry room, the pant leg hems of her yummy sushi pajamas dragging on the floor. The Nazi Thing was bad enough, the soul thing was worse, the Sex With Spike Thing was unspeakable horror, and the Doing Spike Laundry tempted reality itself. At least she had the answer to one of her longest-running morbid questions: boxers or briefs? The answer was one she hadn’t thought of—neither. And this kind of was just more than she wanted to know; the fact that Spike went around commando was not something she wanted to think about. Grip was lost and she was thinking that maybe there was no getting it back. Her brain was doing the hamster dance to keep Spike Thoughts at bay. The jeans were still pretty wet so she set the dryer for another ten minutes and returned to the kitchen to make sure he didn’t try to make a Dawnwich midnight snack.

Smirking his Spike smirk, he drank the beer she’d brought from the basement. "Isn’t this cozy?"

"Not. Your clothes dry and you are out of here."

In the other room, the dryer hummed and she could hear the clatter-click of buttons and zippers hitting the metal inside. Spike drank his beer and the hands crawled around on the clock for a while.

"So," she sat up straighter and folded her hands on the table, "how’s the soul thing working out for you?"

"My spirit is to weak—mortality/Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep/and each imagined pinnacle and steep/of godlike hardship tells me I must die/Like a sick eagle, looking at the sky. /Yet ‘tis a gentle luxury to weep."

The words swirled around their heads like fog and she blinked away the sound-spell.

"Did you write that? I heard you tell Mom you wanted to be a writer."

"No, John Keats did, and before you ask, I didn’t know him, he was long dead before I was even born," he said with some of his old sharpness and pushed at his hair which had flopped down over the cut on his forehead.

The dryer buzzed. Buffy got up and went to the laundry room, Spike trotting alongside her like a guard dog. She felt in the tumbler and wasn’t pleased with the dryness so she put ten more minutes on the machine. "Do you know any more poems? I never can memorize them. I had to do it for school once and it was like blank-o change-o right in front of the class."

He looked blank for a moment, blank as Buffy had been back in the sixth grade.

"More Keats?" he asked before continuing, "Ah—She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;/and Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips/Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh/Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:/Ay, in the very Temple of Delight."

And she knew that her face had gone all red again; the dryer had really heated up the laundry room and even Spike’s pale vamp-skin was looking a little blushy.

"Is there more?" she squeaked.

"Er . . Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,/ though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue/Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;/His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,/And be among her cloudy trophies hung."

She didn’t mean to move, but then she tasted beer and the ash of cigarettes on his lips. He muttered something into her mouth as she tugged his shirt from his pants, her palms smoothing up and over the coolness of his chest, underneath the sweatshirt. It really wasn’t fair, he was entirely too good at kissing, just the right amount of hard and soft, the hint of teeth under lips, and she felt equal parts stupid and happy. And it was terrible and it was wonderful. It was terrible because he really just wasn’t a nice guy, vampire or not, and not the kind of guy that she should be letting into her house late at night, even if he was---

"Shouldn’t do this—" she mumbled into the familiar gray sweatshirt.

The fizz died out of her thoughts like an opened can of Diet Coke. Under her frosty pastel blue tipped fingers, the muscles on the back of his neck were hard and solid as the dryer pressing against the small of her back. Her breasts were mushing against his chest, even through the flannel of her pajama top, and the un-gelled parts of his hair were wrapping friendly-style around her fingers.

"Shh ... My mother will hear," Buffy mumbled against his throat. His hands rounded up over her ribcage, her back, pushing up the flannel like tissue paper in a gift bag.

"She got demon-ears or something?" he teased, and she felt his voice move through his chest.

"Moms go all super-woman when guys are around."

He licked kisses around her hairline, over her eyelids, a brush of teeth where her pulse jumped in her throat. "I did want to be a poet, you know. That much was true," he whispered, and the wistfulness of his tone made black and red sparks dance behind her eyes. She shuddered and pulled him closer.

"Why weren’t you?" she asked in a breathy, squeaky voice as his hands rounded back around her front and homed in on her breasts.

"I sucked," he admitted.

Okay, she couldn’t help it; an ugly little snicker escaped from her once the pun registered, and his hands dropped from where they had been testing her breasts as though he were checking for freshness in cantaloupes. "Very funny," he said into her ear in a way that made the left side of her body break out into gooseflesh, "you’re in trouble now."

Hands doing a vise-thing on her waist, he hoisted her up onto the dryer, which was shuddering and thumping like a Maytag sex toy underneath her, the heat from the coils inside warming the backs of her legs and her behind, even as her head brushed against the cold of the glass window behind. As Buffy eeped in surprise, Spike deftly peeled her jammie bottoms away from her sweaty skin, dragging a pair of one of her better Victoria’s Secrets panties along with it. She squealed and wriggled, but he pressed his hand over her mouth.

"Let’s not wake Mummy, shall we?"

His free hand wandered slowly down her body, making her jump and shiver and mouse-squeak into the musky mustiness of his hand. Finally, his scary hand reached down between her legs and she jolted with the shock of the hard dryness of his frightening fingers in her wettest and softest parts. The dryer humped and bumped hotly underneath her. Squeaks melted into moans as his fingers worked in and out, following the thumping of the dryer, his thumb doing something that it shouldn’t where it wasn’t supposed to be. All she could do was arch her back and try not to scream into his hand now hot and clammy from her captured breath. Buffy shut her eyes, not wanting to see his dark eyes burning down through her. When The Big One hit, she bit down into the unyielding skin of his palm and screamed inside her head.

Wobbly, she let him ease her off the hotplate of the dryer, her hot face against his cool chest. His skin was so soft, hairless and slick under her tongue. He quickly shed the sweatpants and shirt that had made him look so fragile, and underneath he was all long bones, arc of arm and thigh against her. Red round bruises, healing nearly Slayer-fast, dotted his chest, and she scraped her nails down his smooth skin, catching a nipple as she went. With her back braced against the machine, he bent down so that he could trace the contours of her breasts with his tongue and fangs. She clung to his shoulders and tried not to fall. A fang nicked her right nipple and she made a sound she didn’t think she’d ever made before. Pulling himself up to his full height, he presented a human face to kiss her with. She tasted her own blood.

"Turn around," he said into her ear, sounding more than a little rough. He didn’t breathe except to talk, she realized, that’s why he didn’t need to come up for air --

"Turn around," he demanded again.

"Oh God," she explained to no one in particular, and let him turn her to lean over the rumbling, panting dryer, his fingers digging hard into her arms, her hips and her ass. The heat boiled past her, wrapped her in an embrace like his arms. He pushed into her slowly, then pulled out quick and repeated. She gritted her teeth and tried not to whine. The angle was different; better, sending silver streamers out to the ends of her hair. Her toes were barely brushing the ground and his hands were smoothing over her back, tracing her backbone as he grunted something that might have been her name.

She gripped the controls of the dryer, feeling her heart thump with the laundry inside, thump with the thrusting inside of her that threatened to boil her brain. EXTRA DRY, MORE DRY, COTTONS, BUZZER ON, TIMED DRY. Her weight was on the dryer, her toes curled over the tops of his bare feet. He was buried deep inside her, deep enough to amaze, deep enough to hurt, deep enough for her to break her fingernails on the wood-tone control panel. CLEAN LINT FILTER BEFORE USE. She hummed with the dryer, from somewhere within her belly. The pleasure bubbled up inside her, passed through her skin and into his as he lay over her half on the dryer, thrusting deeper still and harder, making her gasp for the hot air to breathe.

"OhGodohgodohpleaseohpleaseoh," she choked between lung-fulls of hot air.

She hit her chin on the top of the dryer when it hit, and she barely heard the gonging of the dryer case as the cannon and fireworks were going off in her brain and the rest of her nervous system. Dimly, she was aware of pain in the back of her neck and indistinct endearments partially swallowed by the thumping of the dryer.

The buzzer on the dryer went off, loud enough to wake everything in the nearest cemetery, but Buffy couldn’t have moved if the fate of the world was at stake.

****

It was one of the half-dozen nice days allotted an English summer, and the watery sun spilled down through the green leaves overhead, dappling the grass with blotches of darkness. Across the lacy blanket, Buffy rummaged in a wicker basket and frowned.

"There’s tea and Diet Coke, I didn’t know what you wanted," she fretted.

"Diet Coke’s fine," he agreed, accepted a can and wondered why he was wearing the cream linen suit he’d had when he was human.

Just then the storm troopers began to goose-step by.

"It doesn’t get better than this," she enthused, pulling a rabbit wearing a white pinafore over a blue dress out of the basket. The rabbit began to snuffle around the grass at the edge of the blanket and nibble at the blue ribbon tied around its head.

"Er, no."

"I’m late!" the rabbit whined in a nasal voice, "I’m late and mom’s gone and I don’t know what I’m going to do."

"Shut up," Buffy hissed at the rabbit who began to cry.

There had to be better ways to wake up than this, Spike thought as he fought back the surrealist dream. The good news was that he was still in Buffy’s bed, she hadn’t staked him in the middle of the night, and he wasn’t missing any of his more essential bits. The bad news was that Buffy was arguing with her brat of a little sister in the doorway.

"It’s not my fault you’re too stupid to drive!"

"You should have thought of that before you missed your bus!"

Abruptly, Dawn jumped back and goggled at Spike.

"Oh gross."

"Feeling’s mutual," he grumbled and was relieved to see that his pants were still on the bottom of the bed where he’d put them after carrying Buffy upstairs the night before.

"You’re havin’ sex with another vampire. I’m telling Mom," Dawn warned.

"And I’m telling Mom you were trying to ditch school by missing the bus."

"I’ll drive her," Spike offered before he could stop himself, "I have to get back anyway."

Dawn looked from bare-chested Spike in the bed to her disheveled sister in her bathrobe and her canny little eyes narrowed in an unattractive way.

"Give me your purple sweater, to keep, and I might not tell."

"Go get ready!"

Buffy slammed the door shut behind her extortion-minded sibling and looked down at the floor while Spike clambered out of the bed and pulled on his jeans.

"Spike—" she started in a pale copy of her usual voice.

"Yeah right, nothin’ happened. But you better get the brat straightened out before she tells your mum that nothin’ happened." He pulled his t-shirt on over his head and found that it smelled April-fresh, which was slightly unnerving.

Rolling her eyes, Buffy leaned back against the door. "The first time’s an accident, the second time’s a mistake, and after that it turns into a bad habit."

"You could use a couple of bad habits," he advised and advanced on the closed door.

She was all sleep-soft and languorous underneath his hands and his mouth when he kissed the tender skin over her jugular vein. Squirming agreeably against him, she leaned back against the door and signed happily, her skin warm and silky underneath her bathrobe. How long would it take for the kid to get ready for school, he wondered as he examined the flavor of Buffy’s collarbones.

"Buffy! NOW!" the evil child hollered from the hallway.

"I could make it look like an accident," Spike offered.

Rubbing her face with one hand, Buffy shook her head.

 ****

"We got stomped like narcs at a biker rally," Xander complained and touched the black eye that was almost swollen shut.

"Speak for yourself, floppy-boy - I killed my man."

"Yeah, only after he unleashed the Wiffle-minister on us. Real effective." Xander’s contemptuous snarl made Spike decide that he could tolerate the nausea, if he could only hold the boy down long enough to drain him.

"Get stuffed."

"Go stake yourself."

"Oh, and which of us is magically adept enough to maybe notice that the circle of power included the whole warehouse? Huh?" Spike demanded, thumping a hand on the back of Xander’s chair, making Xander wince, "I’m thinkin’ a little witchcraft might have warned us not to go killin’ vampires during a ceremony that required as a main ingredient --- killin’ vampires!"

Giles looked over to where Willow and Tara should be and sighed. "Unfortunately we’re not able to analyze that aspect of the situation. But the Wirtschaftsministerium demon is here now, and we have to deal with that."

"Spike says he’s vulnerable if we can get him while he’s trying to consolidate his power by putting the whammy on a bunch of vampires and demons, which he’s going to do in order to enslave them," Buffy offered, and then blushed. She was never going to be able to keep the secret that she was doing the nasty with the nastiest. He coughed, to draw attention away.

"From what I gather from the local vampires, Karl’s havin’ a big hoo-rah tonight. Humans aren’t invited—they’re on the menu. Karl will be distracted what with trying to control hundreds of vamps and demons. I say me an’ the Slayer here sneak in and tie Karl up in a big bow."

"What you have to remember about Walmartsteries demons is that they can only be killed by removing the heart. Of course finding the heart in a mass of tentacles and the—uh, body part can be tough," Anya advised, "Normally I’d advocate going for the genitals first, but Walmartsteries don’t have them."

"I don’t want to know how you know that." Xander flashed her a dirty look.

"I’ll come," Giles said, already reaching for his weapons.

"No." Spike folded his arms. "I can get one human in, sort of a BYO beverage thing. But no more."

"Buffy?" Giles awaited some wisdom from the Slayer, which Spike could have told him was about as likely as blood from a grapefruit.

"I’m ready," she said. "No problemo."

 **** 

There were entirely too many vehicles parked outside the closed-down factory. As a matter of fact, the parking lot was virtually full, and Spike could see lights inside the many-paned windows big as the moon. The cool night air thrummed with a pulsing beat.

"Are you sure that this is the right place?" Buffy asked, her hands automatically touching each of the weapons attached to her person the way a Ninja nun would cross herself.

"Looks like a party," Spike admitted and shut the driver’s-side door of the SUV behind him. How Buffy could have grown up in California without ever learning to drive escaped him.

"Partying demons?"

"Hey, demons throw one hell of a party, I remember in Paris, oh, there was this one cavern in the catacombs—" he grinned at the memory, "the gin flowed like water, there was an all-demon jazz band, half the dancers from the Follies Bergere were there dancing naked, and Picasso got drunk and started crying. Hemingway . . . the size of a tangerine—I mean, I don’t usually look but, it was pretty spectacular. The party, that is."

"Whatever," Buffy agreed and began striding her purposeful booted stride across the parking lot. "How’s this going to work?"

"I’m sure we’ll figure something out once we get inside."

"You’re pretty confident for a guy who couldn’t kill this demon last time."

"I was hauling your ass out of trouble last we were at his little abattoir. That’s a slaughterhouse," he amended as her nose wrinkled.

"I know what an abattoir is!" Buffy protested. "My death and destruction vocabulary is unmatched among my peer group."

Spike was caught between advising her that she was peerless and asking her to spell the word.

As they drew closer, Spike could hear the music, Acid House, dance beat. A beat that vibrated his heart and made his toes itch, catchy as hell. They reached a door marked "Emergency Exit Only" where a short line of demons, possible vamps, and possible vamp-groupies were lined up for entrance. For all intents and purposes, it looked like the line outside Studio 54 back in the day.

"I hope there’s no cover charge," he muttered and felt around in his coat pocket for his cigarettes and lit one.

"Could you please not smoke," she hissed as they took places in line.

"Beg your pardon, but I’m a bit apprehensive, right?"

They shuffled along in line, and Spike put his arm around her shoulders in a careless, possessive way. Naturally, she glared holes in him.

"I am the vamp, and you are my fang-candy. Got it?"

At the door, Spike showed the bouncer his teeth and Buffy gave the vamp her sweetest smile, which was almost enough to give Spike a hard-on right then and there, and even the bouncer melted under the warmth of her expression. Spike was sure that the leather and tattoo vamp was hiding a Mr. Pointy of his own somewhere under his jeans.

"Have a good time," the bouncer called after them in a wistful voice.

Inside, the music was loud enough that conversation could only take place at a bellow.

"This is fuck off amazing," Spike marveled, "He’s been watching MTV."

The cavernous space of the factory had been transformed into a club the likes of which he had never seen before, and Spike had seen plenty of clubs. The foliage was less noticeable, the walls covered with scarlet fabric to hide it, and if the fabric moved most of the guests would assume that it was a breeze or their own alcoholic daze. The center section of the factory floor was three stories high, surrounded by girder balconies. The required swastika flags were hanging from the balconies, rippling with the music and the canned smoke rising up from the dance floor. A DJ booth was tucked in a corner, and stadium-concert sized speakers reached for the sky visible through the skylights above. The floor of the factory was crowded with vampires, humans, demons of almost every description, and a few things that Spike couldn’t identify. Strobe lights fought with their colors over the dance floor, cut by artificial smoke and a green laser dance through the whole thing. The dance floor and the balconies were packed. Karl must have been able to attract every demon, vampire, and whatever, from Seattle down to Tijuana, no mean feat.

"Well this certainly attracts the sixty and under crowd," Spike admitted. "Hell, I’m attracted."

"So how old are you, anyway?" Buffy asked.

"That’s none of your business!" he snapped.

She might have blushed in that cute human way of hers, but the lights were turning her face blue so it was difficult to tell.

"After everything that’s happened, I think I deserve to know a few things about you," she shouted over the music.

"Fair enough," Spike agreed and began heading around the dance floor.

"I asked you a question," she yipped and followed him.

"Yeah? So? This isn’t a date, we have to stop Karl."

"Well aren’t we focused."

"All this," Spike gestured around them, "is generating powerful psychic energy. I’m thinkin’ Karl is goin’ to use that psychic energy to brainwash everyone here into helping him create the Fourth Reich. All the noise will help conceal us, but we’re still going to have to sneak up on him."

"Sneak up on him. Gotcha," she said and snapped back into Slayer mode.

You know, Spike realized, if you broke things down into bite-sized chunks, she picked up fairly quickly.

"You all should know this one," the DJ said smoothly. "Let’s have some audience participation here!"

And you don’t stop sure shot Go out to the parking lot And you get in your car and drive real far And you drive all night and then you see a light And it comes right down and it lands on the ground And out comes the man from Mars And you try to run but he’s got a gun And he shoots you dead and he eats your head And then you’re in the man from Mars You go out at night eating cars You eat Cadillacs Lincolns too Mercurys and Subaru And you don’t stop You keep on eating cars Then when there’s no more cars you go out at night And eat up bars where the people meet

"They had best not quit their day jobs," Spike muttered.

"And now, the monster you’ve all been waiting for: the JagdKriegspfarrer, here to give you the very best in German philosophy and bloodcurdling terror!"

The red-and-blue lights focused on a raised dais in the middle of the dance floor. The beams swirled and flashed at an epilepsy-inducing rate. A flashpot burst and coated the dais with dry-ice smoke, and a few tentacles seeped over the edges like some crazy demonic striptease.

Karl’s cavernous mouth distorted in a grin large enough to swallow a cow. "Thank you, thank you very much. I’m sure you’re all wondering why I called you here tonight."

His cadence changed, slipping back into the bloodcurdled rhetoric of the Thousand-Year Reich. "I have built a new home for our kind, and have given those who dwell in that house a new spirit and new meaning. All those who may think that they can shake this state, or even bring it to collapse, should take note. They should not deceive themselves! If our old enemies and opponents should seek to attack us once more, our battle flags will fly high and they will learn respect for us!"

The masses cheered, and Spike wasn’t a surprised to see a few lighters lit by the more foolish humans in the group.

"We are not careless and foolish. History has given us hard lessons. But we are calm and self confident. I am so when I see you. I know that there is a unique movement behind me, a wonderful organization of men and demons. I see before me endless columns of the flags of our new Cause. I make this prophecy to you: This Cause has the first days of its youth behind it. It will grow in the coming centuries, becoming strong and powerful!"

"He’s paraphrasing Hitler, and not well at that," Spike hissed into Buffy’s ear.

"These flags will be borne by ever new generations of our kind. Schutzstaffel-Totenkopfverbande is healthy once more! Our kind is reborn! Fight as you have never fought! Be upright and determined, fear no one and do your duty! If you do so, the power of Hell itself will never desert our kind!"

"We’ll go on three," Buffy whispered, and he felt her tense beside him. "One, two—"

"Three." He said and grabbed her wrists.

Her squeal of shock was a terrible sound to his ears as he snapped the handcuffs around her wrists.

"You asshole!" she shrieked.

The lights went up, and it was like something out of Star Wars, with the varied demons circled and watching, the Wirtschaftsministerium leaning down from his throne and somehow Buffy was front and center on the dance floor, kicking at Spike.

"I told you I could bring her without her little spellcasting friends," he said, jerking Buffy up by her chained wrists, as she twisted her head to glare at him. "No fuss, no muss, no blood on your nice dirty floors."

"You lying, cheating, vampire asshole!" she raged.

"Good job, really. I’m impressed," the Wirtschaftsministerium admitted.

"And my reward?"

"They’re going to make up a new word for what I’m going to do to you," Buffy promised him, her braid lashing his cheek as she struggled, but he’d got leverage and he wasn’t going to lose it.

"I think ‘fellatio’ is a perfectly acceptable term," he said reasonably.

"You are so dead—asshole," she growled.

The Wirtschaftsministerium ignored her. "I’ve had them change one of the offices over into a love lounge. I would like to watch," and there was something about a green-thing-with-tentacles leer that made it much more lascivious than a regular leer.

Spike rubbed the crotch of his jeans with his free hand, causing Buffy to gasp and try even more frantically to wriggle away. "Oh, we’ll have a grand opening, all right. After an initial, private breaking-in period."

Once the Wirtschaftsministerium laughed, the rest of the bunch knew it was all right to chortle along. "This way, then," the monster waved a tentacle to his right, indicating an opening that headed deeper into the abandoned factory system.

A pair of biker vamp chicks took Buffy away from Spike and hauled her off while she glared holes into Spike.

"So," Spike looked around, "Nice place you got here, lots of space."

"The first thing we do when we attack LA is take over the Staples center. Now that has room to stretch some tentacles in."

"Good choice, " Spike rummaged around in his brain for other small-talk one could have with a megalomaniac demon and wasn’t coming up with anything really useful.

Fortunately, the vampchicks came back with Buffy in tow, a splutteringly furious Buffy decked out in some filmy white gown that looked like it had been filched from a Hammer House of Horror movie, and bare feet. She had, he realized, blue toenails.

"I let you into my house, I gave you protection, and I let you drive my sister to school. I trusted you! You turn me over to NaziTentacleBoy? I even slept with you and—"

Unfortunately, the demon manning the DJ booth was changing records when Buffy spoke and the last sentence fell into silence like ball bearings into a tin bucket. Spike winced, and Buffy looked around into a circle of amused inhuman eyes.

"Walk of shame time," she muttered.

The Wirtschaftsministerium squinted at Buffy. "You already slept with him? Slayer, what part of ‘evil demon’ don’t you understand?" Her cheeks were so red now against her white face that she looked like Drusilla had been playing dress-up with her. Her death-glare intensified to warp factor nine. I canna’ hold her, Cap’n, he thought and grinned.

"Humiliation’s a good look for you," he told her and took her elbow, dismissing the girl-vamps with a wave.

"I’m-going-to-stick-you-outside-until-you-turn-into-Spike-jerky!--Then-I’m-going-dunk-you-in-a-baptizing-pool,-nail-a-mezuzah-to-your-forehead-and-make-you-watch-Barney-videotapes-until-you-beg-to-be-staked!"

As Spike and his struggling captive passed the Wirtschaftsministerium, Spike ran his hands over Buffy’s pert derriere. She spit and managed to spatter his cheek, but he came away with her emergency stake, which had been taped to the small of her back. "I think we’ll just take that away, too," he said, and turned and buried it in the laughing demon’s chest.

The rest of the demons froze as if Spike had hit their "pause" buttons, and he pressed the handcuff key into Buffy’s hand as the Wirtschaftsministerium screamed. Sadly, it did not turn to dust, but yellow ichor flowed around the stake, and Spike took the opportunity to thrust his index fingers into the thing’s eyes. The eyeballs burst like grapes, really big, slimy, hot grapes, and then chaos really began to swirl around them.

Karl’s voice was distorted, as if it were coming from within a deep well. "You are a lying asshole! You’re supposed to be on my side!"

The fight was too difficult for him to think of a snappy reply and live. The tentacles swooped and lashed, forcing him to jump like a child at double Dutch, and he realized that the safest move was closer in to its torso, where it had less control over the thick tentacles. He dodged closer, nearly tripping over a decapitated demon body. In the background, he could see Buffy swinging the ceremonial sword she’d recovered from one of the vamp-attendants. She moved like a child whacking at a piñata, but with better accuracy. Heads popped off hither and yon, some bodies exploding into dust, some not. Unfortunately, Spike had paid attention to Giles and Anya’s briefing on the Killing of Wirtschaftsministerium demons and knew what he had to do to get rid of this particular monstrosity. Closer and closer, he fought his way toward the heaving green mess, staking and stabbing whatever came at him. The Wirtschaftsministerium howled and thrashed as Spike grew nearer. Finally, he was within arm’s length of the blind creature and he pulled the knife out of his coat. Well, it wasn’t so much a knife as a machete and if Giles found it missing, he was going to be bloody furious, but would just have to get over it.

"Come on, old thing, this won’t hurt a bit," he hissed at the Wirtschaftsministerium. "Actually, it should hurt a lot."

It howled and thrashed more, tentacles seeking him out. Presumably it could still see through others’ eyes, but it must still be disoriented without its own. Spike saw his opening and threw himself at the demon, the eucalyptus and mothball smell of the Wirtschaftsministerium nearly making him gag. The thing felt like a plastic bag that had been rubbed with Vaseline and he couldn’t get a good enough purchase between the tentacles to know if he was aiming for the right spot. Taking a deep breath, he plunged the machete in where the Wirtschaftsministerium presumably kept whatever it used for a heart.

The Wirtschaftsministerium screamed in rage and pain and lashed out, a tentacle stinging deep into the flesh of Spike’s leg and then he was upside down, looking down at the gaping maw of the beast under its blind eyes while the Wirtschaftsministerium shook him as though it were trying to break every bone in his undead body.

Pocket change, old keys, lighters, and a few of Buffy’s earrings rained down from Spike’s pockets as he was shaken, jiggled, and waved from side to side. Feeling as though was on a bad round on a Big Dipper, Spike concentrated on not throwing up his medical supply dinner.

"Buffy!" he shouted, "Sword? Now?"

"'Fellatio’ is a perfectly acceptable term?" She de-capped a vamp with grim glee. "Grand opening? Private breaking-in period?" A demon staggered back minus a hand and part of its tail. "Humiliation’s a good look for you?"

"It’s going to eat me!"

She paused in mid-massacre long enough to put her fist on her hip and give him Amazonian attitude, "Well pardon the fuck out of me if I’m not totally and completely concerned for your welfare."

A leather vamp rushed at her. Buffy held out a stake and it impaled itself. She didn’t move a cell.

"I’m your ride home!" he reminded her.

"Shit," she swore and tossed the sword towards him.

If Slayers and vampires participated in the Olympics, the track and field events would have a whole new performance level without the use of drugs. The sword easily sailed the length of the factory floor, and Spike managed to wiggle his body into position so he barely caught it, the blade nicking his fingers and blood running uselessly down his fingers and into the air.

"Time to rock," he said and cut the tentacle around his leg clean through.

Hitting the floor was a welcome pain; he bounced back up, cut the arm off a polyester Nazi vamp and staked him for good measure. Rounding on the Wirtschaftsministerium, he held out the sword like a child in a holiday pantomime.

"Okay fat-boy, let’s dance," he told the heaving green monstrosity.

"I’m going to suck the flesh from your bones, vampire."

"Is that your final answer?"

The sword hit home. The Wirtschaftsministerium yowled with pain and then began to spray yellow ichor everywhere. Screwing up his nerve and his stomach, Spike stuck his free hand into the beast’s gut and rummaged around. Karl wheezed, wailed and heaved, nearly knocking Spike loose, but Spike persevered while swearing horrible oaths under his breath. This digging around in the Wirtschaftsministerium’s gut was beyond the call of duty; it was like sticking his hand in a very old bag of kitchen garbage without the eggshells. Finally, he grabbed something with a little more gristle than the rest of it and pulled. With a sickening pop, Spike fell backwards, covered in bilious goo, holding the sword in one hand and what felt like an over-ripe watermelon in the other. He dropped the watermelon thing onto the floor. It bounded a few times before landing with a splat. Shaking goo from him like a dog shakes mud from its fur, Spike scrambled to his feet and rammed the sword with both hands into what he hoped was the demon’s heart and not its liver. The blade of the sword went a good six inches into the cement floor, skewering the foul organ to the factory’s substructure for good. The Wirtschaftsministerium heaved horribly and Spike grabbed one of the lighters that had rained from his pockets during his spate of inversion, and ignited it over one of the long streams of ichor leading from the heart back to the demon proper.

Bloody hell, what was it that Dracco had said right before he died?

"They shall never forget," he suggested and dropped the lighter. The merry flame zipped along and hit the mysterious organ and the main body of the demon at about the same time.

The Wirtschaftsministerium went up like a recycling bin full of gasoline-soaked newspapers and smelled like the down dump was ablaze.

"See you in Hell," he told the flaming mass that used to be the monster’s body.

He turned and Buffy was standing in the midst of a field of corpses. With Karl’s demise, every vamp and demon with two neurons to rub together had decided to see what the party scene was like in, maybe, Schenectady. She looked to him like Venus rising from the waves, if Venus were covered in gore up to her elbows. The blood soaking her nightdress plastered it to her chest in a most attractive way.

Buffy was staring down at her feet. He hurried over to her; the demon-bonfire was going to spread fast.

"They took my shoes," she told him. "I paid two hundred dollars for those shoes."

"I’ll reimburse you," he said, and she shot him a look of pure surprise.

He took off for the back door. Halfway there, he turned back. She was limping, leaving dark smears on the ground behind her. She refused to meet his eyes, just continued moving forward stiff-legged.

She was not going to beat the fire. Cursing, he galumphed back to her, hoping his coat would protect him from stray sparks.

Buffy smacked him hard enough to make his head spin when he picked her up. "Listen, I don’t like this any more than you do," he said, struggling not to vamp out on her from proximity to so much blood.

Her face moued in disgust and disbelief. He was seriously tempted to drop her on her delectably firm ass, but instead he slung her over his shoulder, smiling when she oofed surprise, and began to run for the exit. Burning slicks of liquid—alcohol, demon blood, demon vomit—made the dance floor into a maze, and Buffy was beginning to cough from all the smoke rising. Her dress fluttered around him like a hundred tattered butterflies.

Outside, he stopped and looked around for the SUV. The warehouse boomed and groaned behind them. Fortunately, no one had stolen his stolen vehicle, and he shoveled Buffy into the passenger side just as the warehouse went up like Chernobyl.

"Well, there it goes, the bonfire of the wannabes-" Spike said over the howl of the flames, fumbling for the seatbelt to buckle Buffy in.

He was so proud of himself that he didn’t see it coming, so when her right hook caught him square in the nose, he staggered back in pain and surprise.

"Dob’t boo dat!" he whined, hands clasped over his snout.

Shoulders square, nose pointing to the moon, Buffy wrapped the tattered remains of her dress and her dignity around her and jumped out of the Explorer. Spike shook his head to clear it and stared after her with a mix of rage and wonder.

Then he got into the SUV and started it up, bringing it around to crawl beside her. "That can’t be helpin’ your feet," he said.

She limped onward.

"You saved me so I could drive you home. If you don’t let me do it, you’ll have saved me for nothin’."

This made her stop and think, and after a minute (probably the most serious cogitation she’d ever done), she got in.

****

Spike carried her into the crypt. By this time she was almost used to it, but not so used that she didn’t notice him feeling her ass as he went. He plunked her down on the black-and-red bed and disappeared into crypty darkness.

If he thought she was going to sleep with him just because he’d carried her out of a burning building, when he’d killed her shoes in the first place --

Spike reappeared, carrying a metal basin and some red towels. He knelt by the bed and took her dirty, bloody foot in his hands.

With unexpected gentleness, he began to clean her feet. The water was warm and comforting. "The reason the Wirtschaftsministerium beat you the first time is that he could read minds. Because you’re human, he could sense you coming; you never could have surprised him. You had to believe that I was betraying you."

He finished one foot and began on the other. "How can I be sure you weren’t doing your usual trick of switching to whatever side was winning?"

"You can’t I suppose, but it takes a lot of arrogance to think that you were going to overpower that monster horde all on your own with your hands cuffed behind your back. If I was playing the odds, I should have just snapped your neck. It would have prevented the private show I promised the Wirtschaftsministerium, but he wouldn’t have killed me for that. Probably." His touch was so gentle, patting her feet dry. She could feel every loop on the terry towels.

"So how did you fool him?"

Spike looked her in the face for the first time since they’d entered the crypt. "When I met with him, I didn’t think about betrayin’ him."

Buffy stared at him. You couldn’t just not think about something—everyone knew the joke ‘don’t think about a pink elephant.’ You’d have to have, like, two separate brains, one evil and one good.

Or two separate souls—demon and human.

"What? I got something in my teeth?"

She shook her head unnecessarily. He was still holding her right foot in his lap, and he returned his gaze to it. Slowly, carefully, he raised it to his lips. She jerked in surprise when she felt the cool lap of his tongue, rough over the newly forming scabs, but he held her firmly and she felt a bolt of white heat travel from her feet to her crotch.

He washed her feet a second time with his tongue, cleaning away the dried blood. Willow said the feet were maps of the body, but she’d never known it could feel like his tongue was everywhere at once, her breasts, between her legs, even her forehead, phantom kisses as his mouth grew red with her blood. His eyes never left hers; even when she had to toss her head back he was still watching her face when she turned back. Vampire saliva contained a clotting agent to combat the large wounds the vamp made, she remembered Giles saying, but it hardly mattered now as she writhed like a music video star on the slick scarlet sheets. When his mouth left her feet and began to trace a path up her legs, meandering to explore the backs of her knees and the outside of her thighs, she began to moan in earnest.

This is crazy, crazy. The thought was like a mantra in her head, drowning out the sound of herself panting. Her hands clutched at the sheets, which pooled and slid away from her grasp like her good sense. Spike licked her through her white panties, smearing blood there as if her virginity had been returned. She arched up into his hands, hard against her thighs. The silk moved against her, guided by his tongue, and the white noise thrumming in her ears blew all thoughts out of its path with tornado force.

She was still shuddering through her orgasm when he ripped her underwear off and pushed inside her. He was still wearing his clothes, he’d just opened the fly of his jeans, and the chuff of the denim against her thighs was painful, and almost intolerably arousing. His cock—Spike her first lover she could think of as having a cock, like a separate part of him designed just to give her pleasure—burned inside her, throbbing in response to the pulse of her blood. She managed to pull his black T-shirt off, quickly lost against the sheets. He’d lost all finesse, groaning into her collarbone, plucking at the tatters of the flimsy nightgown as he slammed her into the bed.

"Slayer—Slayer—sweet beautiful fuck—"

She cried out as his fangs grazed her shoulder, but he didn’t bite down, only buried his face in her neck as he rode out his own extended orgasm.

This is not good, she thought as he rolled off of her and snuggled into her side, smelling of salt and blood.

And, I’m going to need to borrow his clothes.

****

It took nearly fifteen minutes to cover up her various cuts and scrapes with makeup. There was a thin red line where Spike had nicked her shoulder the last time; his other visitations were already healed. Blood sports, she thought uneasily, and remembered arching back to meet his mouth.

She needed to talk to someone. Things were not okay. In fact Buffy thought Okayville might not be on the same planet with her. So she headed to the Magic Shop, where okay was

"Willow, I, uh, have a confession to make." Buffy stared at her toes intently. Teal had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now she thought it might clash with too great a percentage of her wardrobe.

"What is it?" Willow had that hushed best-friends tone, like she was really excited to hear a secret to show that she and Buffy were still tight despite the whole Tara thing.

She took a deep breath. Best to be straightforward. "I, uh, I kinda, accidentally, slept with Spike."

"You slept with Spike!"

"It’s not certain that the neighbors heard you, why don’t you yell again."

"Accidentally? Like, he was naked and you were naked and you just fell on him?. . ."

"I didn’t mean to. It just—sort of—happened." She paused, knowing it would come out eventually. "Three times."

"Three—Not going to repeat any more, I swear," Willow put up a hand. "But—Buffy?" How could you, she meant.

"I don’t know," she said miserably. "I wasn’t doing a lot of deep thought at the time." Deep breathing, maybe.

"He has a soul," Willow said hopefully. "And, on the positive side, he’s nearly as strong as you are, so the whole insecurity thing won’t be such a problem, and compared to his ex you’re like a model of normalcy."

"Also there’s the sex," Buffy offered. "On the positive side."

"Bad image, fast forward," Willow said, and blushed from her hairline to the neck of her peasant blouse. "On the negative side, he’s still kind of a psycho killer."

"That’s the big question mark," she admitted. "But if he just kills bad guys, isn’t he just like me?" Or, she thought, aren’t I just like him?