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Dark Night of the Soul

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Chapter Notes: Some dialogue taken from “Primeval” (s4) written by David Fury and “No Place Like Home” (S5) by Douglas Petrie.

 

~*~

Prologue

~*~

 

May 16, 2000. Washington, D.C., Senate subcommittee hearings.

 

“It was an experiment.” The sweating man looked askance at his superiors as he gave his final report and recommendations. “In a small town in California, the brave team of ‘Sub-Human Initiative Resource Development’ was fighting for their very lives as it all fell apart around them. The Initiative represented the Government’s interests in not only controlling the otherworldy menace, but in harnessing its power for our own military purposes. The considered opinion of this counsel is that this experiment has failed.”

 

Questions began to fly. “What about our partners? Are they on board with your recommendations? Hell, Don, this project has been in the making for over a half century and cost more money than any other single project and you’re saying it simply failed?”

 

Donald Griffin gulped before he continued from his prepared page. “Once the prototype took control of the complex, our soldiers suffered a forty percent casualty rate. It was only through the actions of the deserter Finn and a group of civilian insurrectionists that our losses were not total.” He silently prayed the group would be as successful as he was asserting now. “I trust the irony of that is not lost on any of us.”

 

The Senate subcommittee chair nearly snarled in frustration. “Dr. Walsh assured this very committee that everything was well in hand only last week. I have personally inspected the facility,” he blustered. If word got out about the project there would be hell to pay in the press but that would be the least of their worries.

 

Griffin drew in a deep breath and continued, “Maggie Walsh’s vision was brilliant but ultimately insupportable. The demons cannot be harnessed. The end result cannot be controlled.”

 

The co-chair seemed nearly as desperate as her counterpart. This project was the most top secret of any since the Manhattan Project and she was damned if she would miss her place in history because of a little glitch. “There must be a way to salvage something from this! Some of these Hostiles must be useful in one way or another. … Are any of them edible?”

 

Griffin wished with all his heart that he could promise some continuation of the project, but it had been made clear, with lots of pressure from higher up than a lowly Army one-star had clearance to know, that the decision had been made. This report was a mere formality. “It is therefore our recommendation that this project be terminated and all records concerning it expunged immediately. “ The collective gasps nearly drowned out the rest of his statement. “Our soldiers will be debriefed with a standard confidentiality clause and reassigned to other special operations. We will monitor the civilians and the usual measures are prepared should they try to go public. The facility itself will be filled in with concrete.”

 

The lone committee member who had reservations about the entire project, especially given its initial origins in Hitler’s own back rooms, was relieved. His conscience had been at war with his oaths of silence for months as reports and videos had been reviewed by the committee. “Burn it down, gentlemen. Burn it down and salt the earth,” Griffin concluded. Senator Procter could but nod in agreement, even as his colleagues moaned in disappointment.

~~~

 

August 15, 2000. New York City, deep in the bowels of the United Nations

 

“Gentlemen, if you would all take your seats, we can begin.” The small man exuded power beyond his stature. “We all need to be on the same page here before things take on a life of their own, especially these early days. Some things, naturally, will take their own course organically, but proper steering is necessary at the first to prevent crashing on the shoals.”

 

“Fine, Karl, but this is Tuesday and if I’m not home at a reasonable hour, my little woman is going to have my hide,” a man in military attire joked. “I may command my men, but not Harriet!” The room filled with politicians, military, and intelligence personnel from various first world nations laughed at their comrade’s dilemma with him.

 

“Indeed.” Dr. Karl Hoffman former liaison to the United Nations Security Council from the ‘SubHuman Initiative Resource Development Project’ smiled thinly. “The sooner we begin, the sooner Colonel Graves can return to his happy home, as can we all.”

 

 

“So, have we a name for this little project?” The clipped tones that spoke of the finest education afforded a gentleman of proper birth rang out as the men began to take their seats.

 

“Who cares what we call it as long as it gets the job done?” Quentin Travers said irritably. “You bunch of girls’ blouses are as bad as the blasted Council of Watchers with your dithering about and kowtowing to a young chit not intended to even last past her secondary education!”

 

“A sentiment that no doubt led to your taking leave of that august entity,” quipped the man at his right side.

 

"Who says I've taken leave?" Travers sneered. "Rather, I've brought them to a place of sanity at long last."

 

As the room quieted, Dr. Hoffman began his prepared comments. “All of us here have spent years in hopes of finding a way to make certain that mankind stays at the top of the food chain. We have done this with no fanfare and little thanks, even from those aware of our efforts. We have buried countless comrades and protected a public that, frankly, is often as thick as sheep about the world they live in. Three months ago our best hope in harnessing the demonic population for some good use was put to an abrupt end.”

Multiple conversations broke out at that reminder.

“Yes, yes, we all agree that Maggie went a bit overboard with her little special project but the bulk of her work was spectacular to say the least of it. These…things…were finally being sorted. Those with uses were being prepared for those uses and the rest for extermination.” Nods all round greeted that pronouncement. “If the public had any idea of the danger they are in we wouldn’t have to sit in dark basements making plans to protect their welfare.”

 

“But it was universally agreed back in the 1960s that the public would be far too panicked by the truth. The studies all pointed to more social unrest and governmental collapse; more than if the Roswell information were released!”

 

“Yes, Armand, your government, my government, all of the governments represented here looked at that data and made a noble choice to fight the battle quietly for the public good.” Hoffman looked at Travers coolly. “Your little group of demon experts promised they had the situation under control and had done so from the dawn of time.”

 

“Not my group. Had I been allowed free reign, we wouldn’t be sitting here now,” Quentin huffed.

 

“Whatever. One little girl cannot contain it all. We’ve swept incident after incident under the rug. Sworn more of our finest soldiers to secrecy and sent them to their deaths than I wish to remember. There are only so many serial killers the public will believe, after all, and the world is too large for one teenage girl to police on her own. This one is not even mobile, remaining in one small Southern California town!” A few shouts burst out as former Watchers Council members argued the validity of the traditional methods of dealing with all things demonic.

 

After peace resumed, so did Dr. Hoffman. “We did this in the best interest of the public, of humanity itself. We have hidden the truth from the world to avoid panic. Well, maybe panic is just what is needed. A good healthy dose of reality!” He watched the shock slowly turn into interest at his statement. “We can guide the public to awareness and the public in turn will finally give us the mandate to do what is necessary.”

 

After the applause died down, Colonel McNamara, fresh from the slaughter of Sunnydale, brought up one ugly thought. “There will be casualties, lots of them. If we do this, we’ll have to let some incidents happen instead of stopping them and covering them up. People will die.”

 

“Hence the title of this project, gentlemen.” Dr. Hoffman had never looked more ghoulish than as he gave name to the plan already approved in all but formality. “Operation Acceptable Collateral Damage. It sounds harsh and will feel that way as well, but it is a fact of warfare and we all know it.”

 

“Any dissent or discussion?” He waited, looking from face to face. The proper amount of resolve was shown on each countenance and he was well pleased. “Very well, then. There is intelligence of a demon plot for a ritual that will require at least a dozen human sacrifices and bring about a plague of locusts if they succeed. It is to take place in Nigeria, according to our best Bundesnachrichtendienst contacts, and you all know German intelligence in that area cannot be bested. We already had an elite group ready to put short work to clearing the beasts out--the demons, that is; not the locusts. I have a call in to Rupert Murdoch to send one of his best to get the scoop and release those crucial first reports of something non-human at work. He has no idea that he’s being played, naturally. The man’s a buffoon.”

 

~~~

Chapter 1

 

September 28, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

“We need to remind you that this video is not for the squeamish. We advise you to use discretion in deciding whether or not to view it.” The handsome reporter waited a breath before nodding for the replay of the film in question. “As you can see from this Fox exclusive video, the entire village was razed and survivors herded like cattle by what appear to be creatures not of this earth.” Shep Smith’s steady gaze looked out at his unseen audience, offering them a touchstone to sanity. “We have received assurances from a highly placed but unnamed source in President Clinton’s White House that, in spite of appearances, we aren’t dealing with extraterrestrials. Our source hints that the government is fully aware of just what those things are you see on your screens. We’ll let you know when we do. Stay tuned to Fox for your up-to-the-minute, fair and balanced reports when it matters most.”

 

 

Buffy sat encircled in Riley’s arms and stared at the screen. Her boyfriend had barely let her out of his sight since they sent Dracula packing. She wished it was just relief that she was okay, but she feared it had more to do with his increasing insecurities after finding out Drac had had a taste of her. “Well, if Shep would ask me, I could tell him they’re Rasgool demons and they only wish they were smart enough to fly a paper airplane, let alone a flying saucer.”

 

“I can’t believe they let that reporter actually get out with the film!” Riley knew he was out of the official demon containment field, but things couldn’t have changed that much in the few months since his discharge. “Wonder how they’re going to put that cat back in the bag.”

 

“Rasgools are idiots,” Buffy continued. “How did they manage to pull this off? I know that’s a pretty isolated village from what they showed, but come on, Dawnie could take them!”

 

“Who am I taking and where?” Dawn Summers flopped on the end of the sofa, causing a surprising ripple considering her tiny frame. She made a grab for the popcorn bowl on her sister’s lap, earning a slap for her efforts. “HEY, you need to share! MOM!”

 

“And there she goes,” Buffy snarked in irritation. She leveled a glare at her sister. “If you want to be treated like an adult, start acting like it and not tattling every two minutes.” The effect was completely ruined by Buffy sticking her tongue out at her.

 

The TV had been muted for commercials and had only now begun its seemingly perpetual rerunning of the disturbing video. Riley had already picked up that Buffy was feeling guilty for the deaths on the screen. She was the Chosen One after all. “You can’t be everywhere at once, Buff. It’s not your fault.”

 

“Eww, gross!” Dawn buried her head in the cushion she had been clutching. “Tell me I did not just see a demon eat the head off some poor African kid!”

 

Joyce Summers walked in without hesitation and flicked off the TV with an annoyed look at her eldest. “Buffy, what were you thinking letting your little sister see something like that?! Just because you deal with it on a nightly basis is no reason to expose Dawn.”

 

“Mom,” Buffy protested, “I didn’t even know the brat was home until she bounced on the couch and started mooching popcorn.”

 

“Dawn, don’t you have homework to do?” Joyce didn’t need to speak twice and Dawn scooted up the stairs to her room, tossing a smirk Buffy’s way. Joyce pressed her fingers against her temples and tried to will the coming headache away.

 

“Now you are so going to get it!” Dawn sing-songed as she slammed her door.

 

Joyce took a deep breath and faced her daughter. “I’m sorry, Buffy. It wasn’t fair of me to expect you to bell your sister. If I can’t keep track of her, I can’t expect you to do any better.” She turned the TV back on and clicked the remote, looking for something other than reports on the ‘mysterious and horrible incident in Africa’ as it was being called. All the stations seemed to be reveling in the gore fest of the top story however and she shut it off again.

 

“It’s okay, Mom. Dawn could drive a saint to murder.” She smiled, but then noticed her mother’s pallid complexion. “Are you okay, Mom?”

 

Joyce let out a short sarcastic burst of laughter. “Is anyone? I’ve had to deal with knowing some of this stuff since you told me about being the Slayer, but now it’s right there in the open. I can’t pretend it’s just a vampire or two and the rest of the world is all right and safe, now can I?”

 

“Sorry, Mom.”

 

Joyce sighed deeply. “So…now everyone will know. Welcome to my sleepless nights.” She spoke softly, but with a tremor.

Buffy hadn’t realized her mother had been so distressed about the real world she patrolled nightly.

“Maybe not, Mrs. Summers. There are well placed people who make a living keeping a lid on things like this. A few days from now, they’ll find a way to explain it and everyone will move on with their regularly scheduled lives.”

 

“How will they explain two headed creatures with tentacles devouring those poor people?” Joyce raised her eyebrows as she struggled to see how it could be possible.

 

Riley shrugged and, looking a bit smug, replied, “Well, we usually give out a story about mutants and radiation leaks. That does the trick.”

 

“Are people really that stupid?”

 

“Apparently,” Buffy laughed. “Everyone in Sunnydale always believes the weird stories to explain things here. PCP gangs, anyone?”

 

“Buffy, I’m going to lie down for a while before my book club starts to arrive. Will you please make sure Dawn gets over to the Perkins’ house to watch the kids so Kate can make the meeting?”

 

“Sure, Mom. You sure you’re okay?”

 

“As okay as anyone can be,” she smiled weakly. The headaches were becoming too much of an issue to hide much longer, but Buffy had enough to deal with in her life without having to fuss over what was likely just another indication of hormones waging war.

 

 

~~~

 

October 24, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

 

Buffy had not yet faced a demon who could give her a run for her money in the art of ‘kick ass in stylish shoes’ until tonight. The permed blonde was throwing a hissy fit as she stomped across the warehouse floor towards the window through which Buffy and the formerly captive monk had just crashed. The floor cracked under her dainty feet and the support beams began to shatter, distracting the raging creature in red. “Oh, shit!”

 

As the ceiling fell, dropping massive chunks of concrete on the lone figure, she had begun to morph into a young man who looked up with horror in his eyes at his coming destruction. “Damn!”

 

Buffy helped the badly injured monk across the parking lot, trying not to worry about the building that seemed to be collapsing behind them, billowing out dust clouds in its death throes.

 

“Stop, please,” the man begged feebly.

 

“We have to keep going!”

 

“My journey is done, I believe.” Buffy tried to lift the monk, but he gasped and clung to the chain link fence refusing to move. “You have to protect the Key.”

 

“Fine,” Buffy agreed in annoyance, “We can protect the key together, just far, far from here.” She had no idea what kind of demon she had just fought, but it was only luck and a large window that saved her from having her ticket punched for the second time. ‘Some lucky contestant came close to getting to wear the happy Chosen crown.’

 

“Many more die if you don't keep it safe.” The monk was clearly not going to make it and Buffy feared the same for herself if the raving blonde with surprisingly good taste in Manolo Blahnik sandals reached them soon. “The Key is energy. It is a portal. It opens the door. For centuries, it had no form at all. My brethren, its only keepers. … Then the abomination found us. We had to hide the Key, gave it form, molded it flesh...made it human and sent it to you.”

 

Suddenly it all made sense. All the questions about Dawn, about her mother’s illness. “Dawn!”

 

“She is the Key.”

 

Buffy was filled with righteous anger. “You put that in my house?!”

 

“We knew the Slayer would protect it.”

 

Buffy’s mind flew over memory after memory of life with her pesky smaller sister. Her joy in being told she was going to have a baby sister to help care for. Her annoyance in not being the only special little girl in her daddy’s life. The year they all worried when Dawn had scarlet fever and nearly died. The way Dawnie had hero worshiped her, always wanting to do everything like Buffy, be just like her. How could they not be real? How could DAWN not be real? “My memories, my mom’s?”

 

“We built them.”

 

It was too much. Who gave them the right to play with her mind this way? To play with her mother’s mind, the minds of all her friends? “Then unbuild them. This is my life you’re…”she began angrily. “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t even know…what is she?”

 

 

“Human...now, human. And helpless. Please...she's an innocent in this. She needs you.”

 

Buffy’s voice was hauntingly sad and young as she asked to have it spelled out, “She’s not my sister?” Surely only a younger sister could be as annoying as Dawn and as endearing.

 

“She doesn’t know that.” The monk looked at Buffy once more a silent plea in his eyes as life left his body at last.

 

~~~

 

“I swear, Giles, she was ‘Tacky Whore Blonde #9’ from Clairol and the strength of at least six Chirago demons. Nice shoes though.”

 

They had been through the rubble searching for any sign of the demon that had killed the monk and turned Buffy’s world upside down. So far only Giles had been told of Dawn’s true nature--if the monk had not been lying, that is.

 

A flash of red was seen below a twisted bit of metal rebar and Buffy began to pull off concrete, hoping to find the demon’s body and not just a bit of fabric. “See!”

 

Watcher and Slayer stood in gape-mouthed amazement at the sight of the bloodied, broken and very dead young man in a red dress and strappy sandals, one with a broken heel.

 

“Perhaps he was wearing a blonde wig,” Giles ventured.

 

“Not unless he had some serious silicon padding in that bra,” Buffy mused. “So, demon expert…wanna try buying a vowel here?”

 

~~~

 

“And so it is written,” concluded the reject from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

 

It had been hard to miss the encampment of medieval warriors outside Sunnydale proper. Putting two and two together usually added up to one apocalypse and Buffy had easily decided that it was connected in some way to the dead crossdressing man and her false sister. She had been right, but not in any of the details.

 

The story of the hell god Glorificus of late transvestite fame, and the mystical Key that now had no urgent purpose save to drive Buffy crazy by stealing her clothing, had been startling, to say the least. When it was all sorted, the Knights of Byzantium, as they referred to themselves, had left town purposeless and Buffy was left with a ready-made sister and a lifetime of untrustworthy memories.

 

The raging hell god had literally stomped her own ruin when her less sturdy shell had taken the brunt of her snitty fit.

 

“And I get left with the Cracker Jack prize sister,” Buffy rolled her eyes. Still, the feelings she had for the brat were the same. Maybe this time the Powers had actually given her a gift after all.

 

~~~

 

November 6, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

“Buffy, I’ve been trying to talk your mother into going to a doctor for those headaches of hers,” Kate Perkins confided. The lovely homemaker had been one of Joyce’s first and best friends since they moved to Revello Drive. First Buffy, then Dawn had been the family’s babysitter since before the youngest Perkins had even been born. If Kate thought it was important, then Buffy would pay attention, as the lady was one of the most level-headed people she had ever met, and the nicest.

 

“I made a chicken and rice dish for your dinner tonight,” Kate handed the warm casserole to Buffy. “Maybe you can convince Joyce to just take it easy when she gets home. She handed a plastic sack to Buffy as well. “There’s dinner rolls and dessert in there but they don’t need to be kept warm. Hope you still like chocolate death cake?”

 

“God, yes!” Buffy couldn’t resist a deep sniff at the contents of the goodie bag. “You really didn’t have to do this, Kate. I could have cooked up something.”

 

Kate Perkins snorted in amusement. “You forget, Buffy, I’ve been on the receiving end of more than one of your dinners.”

 

They both laughed at the memories. “Want some iced tea before you head home to the monsters?”

 

“Sure.” Kate followed Buffy into the kitchen and took a seat at the counter. “Are you still seeing that soldier fellow?” Buffy didn’t catch the unease that showed on the kind lady’s face.

 

“Yeah,” Buffy frowned. She and Riley weren’t going to make it. She knew that. It had been going downhill ever since he nearly died trying to keep the implant in that had made him feel he had a chance to be the Slayer’s equal in strength and speed. Buffy felt she had to be half the woman she really was just to please him half as much as he wanted. It was a no-win situation. She had tried to give him her heart, but had never been able to just let go enough, be herself enough, to offer what he needed.

 

“You look troubled,” Kate said sympathetically. Buffy remembered how Mrs. Perkins had been one of the few adults to seem to understand how broken she had been when Angel had left for Los Angeles. She had offered support and chocolate whenever Buffy needed a shoulder. “Anything I can help with?”

 

“No. Time I act like a grownup and just be honest with Riley. He’s a great guy, you know, just not MY great guy.”

 

“Ahhhh.” Kate nodded sagely. “I was worried that you were setting yourself up for another broken heart.” She looked visibly relieved to find that Buffy seemed heart whole this time. “There’s always Nicky,” she teased.

 

For the past year, the Perkinses had been trying to get Buffy interested in Mr. Perkins’ younger brother. After Xander had joined the same construction crew as Joe Perkins and met Nick, he had agreed the guy was a gem but stopped pushing when Buffy paired up with Riley. Nick was a great guy, and good looking too, in a California surfer sort of way. He was a faithful Big Brother, built houses for Habitat for Humanity and even volunteered at the local food bank. He was out of college and headed for his first big promotion at the local bank. Buffy wished she found him as attractive as she knew a ‘normal’ girl should.

 

“Nicky has started coaching Zane’s little league team on Saturdays. You should come with us; we’ll have a tail gate party get some fun in the sun.”

 

“Maybe later. Think I need to deal with Riley first, before I head out to break yet another heart,” she sighed. The dark thoughts chimed in, ‘Doomed. If I were interested and started dating Nick, he’d leave town and his whole family would be devastated!’

 

Kate laughed. “Okay. Just saying. I don’t want just anyone for my brother-in-law. Guess he’ll have to wait a few years for Dawn then.”

 

Buffy laughed with her. “Dawn should be so lucky!”

 

“Do I smell chocolate death cake?” The girl in question crashed into the kitchen with all the grace of a newborn colt. “OH! I have died and gone to heaven,” she started to paw through the plastic only to have Buffy swat her hand with the wooden spoon she had been using to stir the tea. “Hands off, this is for dinner.”

 

“Dawn, do you think you could watch Tammy and Jake tomorrow? Joe and I are going to take the two oldest to my sister’s in Compton. She just hasn’t got the nervous system for four under the age of twelve,” she giggled.

 

“Sure. I’m thinking of raising my rates though,” Dawn warned.

 

“Dawnie! Kate just brought dinner and you’re thinking of price gouging!”

 

“Well, I do give discounts for favorite customers,” Dawn blushed. “Hey, Buffy, did you figure out what to give to Tara for her birthday tomorrow? I’m thinking of mixing a cool tape for her with some of that New Age music she loves.”

 

“Not a clue! She’s still so shy around us that I’m not sure what she’d want.”

 

“Just give from the heart, Buffy, and that is all that matters,” Kate advised and, as usual, Buffy listened. “You say she’s shy; my guess is the best gift would be your friendship and acceptance.”

 

Dawn turned on the radio, trying to find the station playing the type of music she wanted to record to make her gift. She stopped as each station seemed to be playing an urgent news alert.

 

“God, Dawn! I’m trying to avoid the news. Nothing but endless yapping about the elections. I’ll get up and vote tomorrow, but I’m so sick of this already,” Buffy quipped. “I can’t wait for it to all be over. After tomorrow, we can all get on with it and forget about the great Bush vs. Gore throwdown of the century.”

 

Instead of turning the volume down or the radio off, Dawn increased the volume with a worried look on her face. “Um…this isn’t about the election, Buffy. Maybe you should listen.”

 

“There had to have been at least six of them,” some citizen was saying. “Their faces were terrible! My poor boy didn’t have a chance.”

 

“Once again, this just in,” the reporter intoned with great drama. “The savage murders of over a dozen young music fans outside the popular Toronto hot spot just gets more bizarre. Two eyewitnesses have come forward and detailed the horror they barely survived.”

 

“Sid had wanted to get there early ‘cause Lee’s Palace fills up fast on a Saturday. I had to go to the ladies, or I’d have been right there with my throat ripped out too. It was terrible! I started out the door and saw them; there were so many! They were ripping into all the kids out there behind the Cave, blood was everywhere. I know the papers said it was an animal attack, but those were not animals. They were monsters right out of a horror movie!”

 

The report interrupted again. “Still no official word on this development, but amateur video of the attack is being analyzed now and will likely be released as soon as it is authenticated.”

 

Kate had paled as the broken voice of the distraught girl had sobbed out her tale. “I need to get home,” she headed for the back door. “Dawn, will six be okay with you? We want to be on the road before it gets dark. Too many weird things happening lately.”

 

“Sure. I’ll be there right after dinner.” The door had already closed before her final word. “Wow, Kate’s upset. Guess we won’t have to keep your secret identity too much longer if this stuff keeps happening. Must have been vampires, huh?”

 

“Yeah,” Buffy mumbled. “Hey, Dawnie, why don’t you put this stuff in the oven to stay warm while I give Giles a call, ‘kay?”

 

 

End Notes:
This will likely be a long story.

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 2

~*~

November 10, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

It had taken all of Spike’s patience to keep from driving Harmony out of town himself just to see the back of her. He might have felt sorry for the whining blonde if he thought she had any deep feelings for him. Spike knew better. He was the vampire world’s version of the High School football captain, top of the food chain in their world, and Harmony was madly in love with THAT. If another vamp came into Sunnyhell and knocked Spike off his position as Master Vamp on the Hellmouth, Harmony would drop him like a hot rock. With any luck, the bird would latch onto some demon running one of those Hollywood studios and never darken his door again.

 

Ever since the dream that had knocked him senseless, he couldn’t bear to see the cheap knockoff of the real blonde beauty who owned his heart. ‘Guess that’s what I was wantin’ all along; thought it was provin’ to Dru she was wrong about me havin’ a thing for the Slayer. Way to go showin’ her up that way!’ He had to pick the one fledge with enough surface similarities to try to get his mind off the real object of his affections. ‘Like thinkin’ some plastic statue of Athena could match an Elgin marble.’ Harmony had the blonde cheerleader look, was the right age, and spoke the snappy California girl talk, but that was the beginning and ending of any similarity.

 

No, Harmony was gone at last. Judging by the way the human population was acting since all the recent news items revealed what had always been there in front of them, she would do well to find some out-of-the way place to lay low. All demons would do well to think about such a contingency.

 

To that end, Spike had been busy working on the lower part of his crypt. He had expanded the living area below and hidden the entrance so that you could only find the trap door via the otherwise empty, and now bottomless, sarcophagus. Access to Sunnydale’s system of sewers and tunnels, compliments of the late great Mayor Wilkins, had been expanded, allowing a quick retreat, and various hiding places were scattered throughout. It wasn’t a safe time for a demon, especially one that could not fight a human without being brought to his knees by the chip in his head.

 

Even a busy vamp has time for a Passions break, though, and since Tabitha was getting ready to get a spot of vengeance in, he didn’t think the tunnel project would mind an hour wait. The TV was small but had the full cable package, even if the company was not aware of it.

“What the hell?!” Passions was being pre-empted and from the looks of his channel surfing, so was everything else. Same thing in one version or another on nearly every channel, so he parked it on CNN and let it play.

 

“Wolf, as you can see the damage is extensive.” Christiane Amanpour looked serious to the point of being dour. “I’ve seen a lot of carnage in this region, but nothing on a scale like this. The entire Air Calvary Regiment was, well, …murdered doesn’t even begin to cover this.” The camera panned to the retrieval squad with a couple of members clearly becoming sick in a ditch near the covered corpses. “The sheer savagery is unimaginable.”

 

Blitzer’s placid expression didn’t change. ‘Bugger has as few facial expressions as Peaches,’ Spike mused.

 

“There is a top team from the Pentagon due to arrive within the hour to see what information can be gleaned from the security cameras but at this point in time no one seems to have any idea what group is responsible. No known terror group is stepping forth to take credit. We’ll keep on this and get back to you when we have more information. Wolf, back to you.”

 

“Thank you, Christiane. We will be switching to the White House Press room for a briefing within minutes. This shocking story has brought Washington to a standstill. A bit of background on this highly decorated group of young soldiers here. The Regiment executed an estimated 12,500 patrols in the Bosnian and Serbian regions. They were responsible for 480 weapon storage site inspections, supervising the removal of over 12,000 mines. The Regiment has served one of the longest tours of most military units deployed to this troubled area. We repeat, the entire Regiment was discovered dead in a scene some are describing as being a charnel house of blood.”

 

“Bugger!” Spike had seen many a bloodbath, taken part in his fair share for that matter, but regular viewers of daytime television weren’t used to what his eyes took in on the screen. “Best get back below, looks like it’s only going to get worse. Least Red’s girlie doesn’t need to worry ‘bout being a demon after the other night. Was worth the twinge it gave me, even if the Slayer didn’t see the reasonin’ behind it.”

 

~~~

Tara smiled as Davey West ambled to her table of herbal remedies. For some reason, seeing the young man who had every reason for bitterness yet never had a less than sunny disposition always made her day brighter. “Looking for anything special, Davey?”

 

“Hi, Tara! Gorgeous day isn’t it? Always makes me glad to live in California when November can look like this.”

 

“You’re right. We tend to take it for granted after we live here a while, but I remember some cold Novembers growing up.”

 

“Me too. I was raised in Montana, but Mom and Dad moved us out here to get better medical care for me as soon as they knew it was Proteus Syndrome. Not that they could do anything for me either, but, hey, the beach is just a short drive away and we’ve got all this sun!”

 

“What can I get for you?”

 

“Well, ginger, of course--gotta keep that blood thin,” he grinned at her in a lopsided, pathetic parody of joy. “I heard there are some vegetable extracts that help too, if you have anything along that line.”

 

Tara helped the young man check the different choices available and, more importantly, offered the gift of her friendship. “How are things at the video store?”

 

“Great! Got a running joke that they’ll promote me to head the section for horror films and get free advertising out of it.”

 

Tara cringed at the cruelty of his bosses and coworkers but was awed to see that the lad took it as a joke himself and took no offense. Davey saw the flash of compassionate anger when it flashed though and hastened to reassure her. “They don’t mean any harm, Tara. It’s not like that. It’s a good job and they pay me well, include me in all their socializing. I have no complaints. No one even calls me ‘Elephant Man Junior’ like the last place I worked.”

 

Once again, she felt humble in the face of an everyday hero who had found joy in the sad life he had been given. It was life affirming on a spiritual level. Davey West was a true inspiration and she wished more people could meet him to feel it.

 

She was in full agreement with Davey about coming to Sunnydale. The move had been the best thing Tara had ever done for herself. She was away from her oh-so-dysfunctional family at long last and was spreading her wings. She had the feeling that she had found her forever love in Willow and love was always something to celebrate.

 

What nearly overwhelmed her, however, was to have discovered at her very lowest point that she had a family of friends as well. Her past birthday had actually felt like a rebirth. Maybe no one else could understand it, but she would forever be grateful to Spike for wiping away any possible seed of doubt about her having a demonic nature lurking within. She had known fully well why he had chosen to prove her father wrong in that way; it was indisputable. He hadn’t hit her very hard either, didn’t even give her a nose bleed!

 

She gave Davey his change and wished him the blessings of the day and began to pack up her potions. The open air market had been a great way to make a bit of spending money on recipes learned at her mother’s knee. Very few of her herbal and aromatherapy items had not sold. She set aside a bit of Burba weed and decided to take it by Spike’s crypt as a little thank you.

 

~~~

 

“Hey, Spike.” Clem looked worried. It wasn’t a look Spike had ever seen on the laid-back demon before. “I wondered if you were thinking of moving away from the Hellmouth. A bunch of us guys are headed up north and there’s room in the Bug for you if you want to come along.”

 

“This is my home, Clem. Not lettin’ anyone drive me out. Nothin’ changin’ here, though, not really. Slayer still playin’ sheriff, keepin’ a lid on. I don’t dine on the fresh anymore, so the general public finally gettin’' a bit of sense after dark don’t change a thing for me.”

 

“There’s a rumor going around that those soldiers that were here last year are back. Harvey’s whole bowling league team disappeared just last Friday after their game.” Clem’s voice dropped to a near whisper. “There’s some old military base near Death Valley and I hear they’re filling it with demons of all kinds. So far they’ve only gotten the ones that have nothing against humans anyway, but I don’t want to wind up there. I’m thinking the woods in the Cascades might be a good place to find a nice cave and ride this out.”

 

Spike fought back the chill that coursed through him at the memory of his life changing time in the Initiative caves. Those were the sorts of dreams he didn’t like waking from too often. “Thought the Slayer put an end to those wankers.”

 

“Well, it’s not exactly the same, I haven’t heard of any experiments or anything. Recognized a couple of them in the park the other night, though. They were talking to the Slayer’s boyfriend. I was fairly close, but it’s rude to eavesdrop, so I moved along.”

 

Spike’s eyes narrowed. Captain Cardboard might be out of the Initiative, but the Initiative was still in the boy. Every time they were in the same place, the looks Finn shot his way made it clear that his worldview hadn’t changed one bit. Everything was black and white, and white meant looking and being just like him and his troop of berks.

 

“So, wanna come?” Clem was getting itchy and wanting to hit the road.

 

“Thanks, mate, but I’m stayin’. If that lot is back, it can only spell trouble for the Slayer. Wanna keep watch on what goes down.”

 

“If things change, head up to Mount Hood in Oregon and we’ll make room for you,” Clem clamped him on the shoulder. “Bring the Slayer and her friends along too. If they need a hideout, they’ll be welcome.”

 

~~~

Nov 20, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

Buffy was distracted and that was never good for her on patrol. Nearly a week prior, she had narrowly avoided being staked with her own weapon by a vamp that was such an idiot a kid on a sugar high could have taken him without effort. Riley had come to the rescue just in time and that just annoyed the hell out of her. She hadn’t broken off the failing relationship yet and this incident had just done more to underline Riley’s need to be the protector of all things Buffy.

 

“I’m the Slayer. I don’t need a protector, just a partner…preferably one who doesn’t mind that I can kick his ass,” she grumbled so quietly that only a vampire could hear her. Unfortunately for her privacy, one such vampire was right there and heard every word.

 

“Trouble in paradise, love?” Spike moved through the shadows as if one with them.

 

Itstartled Buffy, although she covered nicely. She rolled her eyes. “Eavesdrop much?”

 

“Not eavesdropping when you’re in my front yard talkin’ to yourself. Need to know if the Slayer’s gone barmy, don’t I?”

 

“You’d know ‘barmy’ and that would be in the Biblical sense,” Buffy smiled at her own quip.

 

Spike didn’t even try to act offended, but smiled in agreement. “See, expert here; even you admit it.”

 

A fledgling chose that moment to stumble into the small clearing with the joking pair only to meet with a quick dusty finish at the end of Spike’s stake. “Hey, that one was mine!” Buffy pouted.

 

“Gotta share, pet. I get cranky when I don’t get my spot of violence,” Spike returned.

 

“At least you aren’t doing my job because you think this damsel needs saving,” her voice held a slight note of bitterness.

 

“Wouldn’t think of it,” Spike looked shocked that she might think he was some do-gooder charging in to rescue her. “You’re the bloody Chosen One--best I’ve seen too--not likely to need help taking out some moron fresh from the turf.”

 

Buffy snorted. “Yeah, you worrying about me would be a real stretch.” She completely missed the flash of hurt that crossed the vampire’s face.

 

“Might be surprised what I worry over, love.” His tone of voice made clear that she figured in there somewhere, but Buffy wasn’t sure just how.

 

“Not too much to do on patrol lately. Most demons are staying in at night just like the humans are. Vamps come out, of course, but most are losers like that one. Not much challenge. I think I’m getting too complacent; nearly got staked last week. Riley got the creep.”

 

“AHA,” Spike nodded in understanding. “That the White-Knight-wannabe that’s got your knickers in a twist?”

 

Buffy had to laugh. Riley would love to be seen as some hero of old rushing to the rescue of all and sundry. “Got it in one.”

 

“So back to my original question. Trouble in paradise?” There was a note of hopefulness in his voice that would have puzzled Buffy had she taken notice of it.

 

“That would imply there’s a paradise to have trouble in, wouldn’t it?” Buffy wondered idly just when Spike had become so easy to talk to. “Riley and I haven’t exactly become the poster couple for happily ever after. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over with my love life.”

 

Spike quirked a brow and tilted his head inquiringly. “How so?”

 

“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Helps to keep my mind off Mom’s situation.” Spike wanted to interrupt and ask about Joyce but decided to take one conversation at a time. His expression encouraged confidences so Buffy continued. “I was pretty young, both as a girl and a Slayer, when Angel and I were together and it felt natural and okay that he tried to guide me, rescue me, that kind of thing. It was kind of romantic really, with all the mystery and popping in and out like that. All those helpful hints and words of wisdom from this powerful vampire who had seen so much was…well, let’s just say I didn’t mind.”

 

Spike managed to keep from glowering at the mention of his grandsire. Buffy had loved the wanker and that was not going to change any time soon. Besides, the Slayer had no clue of Spike’s affections. Not like Dru, who was always going on about her daddy even though she knew how it grated. “Can see how that worked,” he encouraged and motioned to a gravestone to sit.

 

“I’m not a total doof; I see the similarities between Riley and Angel.” Spike’s eyebrows both rose at that and Buffy laughed at his reaction. “I mean they’d hate to hear it, but truth is truth. I guess I’m beginning to wonder if Riley was some kind of Angel substitute minus the whole actually dead thing, a rebound guy. It’s totally not fair to him, because he’s really a great guy, but the feelings just aren’t there.”

 

Spike could have danced around the cemetery cheerfully at those words but held his glee in check. “It happens. Look at me! I got tangled up with that mind-trust, Harmony!”

 

Buffy nearly fell off Abigail Tunsdyle’s headstone giggling. “Well, my taste IS at least better than yours!”

 

“Oy, watch that, missy!” His dancing eyes countered the harsh exclamation.

 

They both started at a rustle in the bushes and tensed in preparation of a kill. Spike’s night vision was the better, however, and his body poised for flight rather than fight. He whispered a warning, “Looks like some of your boy’s band of brothers. Might be a good time to take this conversation indoors, seein’ that I’m on the hit list lately, along with every other non-human out there.”

 

They made their way into Spike’s crypt in silent accord, avoiding detection by the small group of men in camouflage.

 

Spike lit candles and offered his lone chair to Buffy as he hopped up to sit on the lid of the Sarcophagus. ‘Gonna need to show the Slayer my downstairs soon,’ he decided.

 

“Where was I?” Buffy crinkled her brow in a way that Spike found utterly adorable.

 

“Insultin’ my choice in bed partners.”

 

“Oh, yeah! And ewwww! A mental picture I do not want, thank you!” Buffy grinned at the look Spike gave to her feigned disgust.

 

“Least you never had to stand outside some haunted frat house and listen to the moans and groans of someone’s bed partner mistake,” Spike snarked back. He felt bad for embarrassing the Slayer, as he had clearly done, judging by her bright red face and wide eyes.

 

“You were there for that?”

 

“Sadly, yes.” Spike saw that Buffy was likely to bolt so he steered the conversation back to somewhat safer waters. “So, you were sayin’ you had this epiphany about Soldier Boy and Peaches being interchangeably wrong choices.”

 

“Not exactly my point, Spike!” Buffy was getting angry. Spike threw his hand up in mock surrender and gave a sheepish grin.

 

“Sorry,” he choked out. He managed a look that made him suddenly seem both innocent and young. It jarred Buffy’s perception of the vampire momentarily, just long enough to defuse the situation.

 

“Gettin’ kinda dangerous to be out and about lately,” He really wanted this time in Buffy’s company to return to something resembling a friendly conversation.

 

“Yeah. You’d think demon activity was something new! I’ve actually seen less of it than usual. The people here at the Hellmouth can’t really claim ignorance ‘cause stuff’s been going on here forever. I mean, you can’t explain away the mayor turning into giant snake at the High School’s graduation too easily and not have some hint, some clue!” She shook her head and snorted a laugh. “I heard some guy on the news yesterday saying they are having some riots in France because some group is saying the mad cow disease problem that happened is linked to these weird creatures. It took Chirac to call out the army finally. Things are getting majorly hot and not just there. No one has mentioned demons yet, but they might as well.”

 

“You were saying you nearly got staked last week. Everything okay? That’s not like you. You’re the best Slayer I’ve ever seen, so you must have been surrounded.” Spike was worried, had been since she mentioned it, but didn’t want to let her think he saw her as less than capable.

 

“No. Just one very lame vampire. I had my mind elsewhere, I guess. It did get me thinking about my shelf life though.” Buffy scrunched her forehead as she suddenly thought of something both disturbing and helpful. The look she gave Spike was a bit colder than it had been in some time.

 

“Maybe you’re just the one I should talk to. You killed them.”

 

“Killed who, pet?”

 

“Slayers.” Her voice had gone to ice.

 

No point in denying the fact. “Two,” he nodded warily, not sure he liked where this conversation was going.

 

“Tell me about them, how you killed them. What they did wrong.”

 

“You want to learn all about how I bested the slayers and you want to learn fast. Right, then. We fought. I won. The end.” He really, really didn’t like Buffy remembering his past with her sister slayers, given that he finally had an opening to try his luck with the girl now that she was giving up on the overgrown Boy Scout.

 

“That’s not what I…,” Buffy was a little perplexed by the slight hurt she heard in his voice. This was Spike. He was supposed to be all proud of his past victories; he’d bragged about them enough in the past.

 

“What did you want? A quick demo? A blow-for blow description you can map out and memorize? It’s not about the moves, love. If we’re diggin’ up past uglies, you must be a bit worried.”

 

“Just trying to stay alive and I figure you can help me do that.” Buffy didn’t like feeling her mortality, but truth was truth--if Riley hadn’t come along, she might have found herself past the sell-by date stamped on the bottom of her Slayer package. “If you don’t want to share, fine, but you don’t have to a pain in the ass about it.”

 

“What can I tell you, baby? I’ve always been bad.”

 

~~~

Riley was in a funk. Buffy had been distant for the past week, ever since he had saved her life! ‘What does she want from me? I turned my back on my career, my life, for her. I fight the good fight. I just can’t seem to get past whatever wall she has and I’m getting a little tired of feeling like I’m just not enough for her.’ He turned into the decrepit building and handed money to a scraggly vamp pimp while motioning towards Violet, his current favorite.

 

As he ascended the steps passing more filth and degenerate behavior than he ever wanted the Reverend Baker to find out about, he reminded himself once again how this was all Buffy’s fault. If she were only more emotionally available, he wouldn’t need to look for this feeling elsewhere.

 

“We’re thinking of moving soon, closing up,” Violet shared. “Not too safe now, even for those of us who don’t hunt or kill.”

 

“You’ll be safe. I still have contacts.” Riley felt a bit of panic at the thought of having his pleasure put in jeopardy. “I may have to be careful how I do it, but I’ll see you’re okay.” It felt good to see the look of relief and gratitude on the vampiress’s face. ‘At least someone appreciates me taking care of them!’

 

“Oh, Riley, you’re so good to me! Let me be good to you now, okay?” Violet stroked his arm in anticipation. One day, she hoped he would let her show him the pleasure of having him penetrate her while she was penetrating him but for now she stuck to their routine and shifted into game face, drawing his forearm closer to her fangs.

 

He rolled his eyes back in pleasure as the slight prick brought a jolt of pain followed by bliss when he felt his life-force going into Violet as she moaned in ecstasy.

 

Riley let his mind drift, enjoying the feeling of being the center of the world to the frail vampire he was giving life to. He was rock hard and hoping Buffy would be in the mood later to take care of that, because he was getting more than a bit tired of long nights with just his right hand for company. ‘Never mind that. Forget Buffy for the moment, just enjoy mattering to Violet for now. Enjoy it all being about you, Finn.’

 

~~~

“You got off on it!” Buffy had seen the look on Spike’s face as he had given his recount of his dubious history.

 

“Not as such. Look, Slayer, it’s different than the hunt and kill for food. You slayers are IT,” he ran his hand through his hair in a frantic gesture. How could he explain the difference, the reason he would never regret those two victories. “It’s like in war, pet. There’s one elite warrior on the side of puppies and Christmas and you’re it. To go up against a Slayer, it’s combat. Two warriors pitting their skill and only one comes out alive. You do it every night! I suppose you’re telling me you don’t get off on winning? How many of my kind you reckon you’ve done?”

 

“Not enough apparently, since the whole army's trying to do my job.”

 

“And we just keep coming. You can kill a hundred, a thousand, a thousand-thousand and the enemies from hell besides, and all any of us need is for one of us…just one…sooner or later to have that thing we’re all hoping for.” He narrowed his eyes to a slit. It was in her interest to really get it, to understand her position in the grand scheme of things from the demons’ perspective.

 

“And that would be?” Buffy’s voice was harsh, ragged. This wasn’t comfortable at all for her.

 

Spike leaned close, as if confiding a secret, “One. Good. Day.” He could see the goose-flesh rise on her arms. ‘Good! Maybe she’ll remember what a big target she is, what a trophy, and be a bit more careful.’

 

“Problem with you, Summers, is you’re too good; you let your mind wander. You’re starting to think you’re immortal.”

 

“So that’s it? Lesson over?”

 

“No. That was lesson the first: Always have your weapon ready, ‘cause I already have mine,” He shifted into game face to underline the message. “Lesson the second: Ask the right questions. You want to know how I beat ‘em?” Buffy nodded slowly, not really sure she wanted to hear this after all. “The question isn’t, ‘how’d I win?’ The question is, ‘Why did they lose?’”

 

“What’s the difference?” Buffy huffed.

 

“Big difference, love.” Spike would have loved to show her but the crypt was not really the place to spar and he didn’t want Buffy to relegate him back to villain status completely, even though she needed to be reminded of some hard facts if she were to survive. “Love to dance with you and show you, but the chip might not like it.”

 

“You think we’re dancing?” Buffy snorted.

 

“That’s all we’ve ever done, love, and why we’re both still standing here now.” He tilted his head and tried to decide how to explain. “The thing about the dance is you never get to stop. Every day you wake up, it’s the same bloody question that haunts you: ‘Is today the day I die?’ Death is on your heels, baby, every slayer and every vamp, and, sooner or later, it’s gonna catch you. Part of you wants it, not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you’re just a little bit in love with it.”

 

Buffy had grown ashen. How had Spike known how tired she was of this endless duty? Of getting up every day knowing she was going to be knocked around, bruised, battered, cut, bleeding, maybe not surviving, but having to try? Was it the same for him?

 

“Death is your art. You make it with your hands day after day. That final gasp, that look of peace…part of you is desperate to know. What’s it like? Where does it lead you? You see, that’s the secret.” He waited to be certain she was with him on this point. “Not the punch you didn’t throw or the kicks you didn’t land. Every slayer has a death wish. Even you. Sooner or later, you’re gonna want it. And the second…the SECOND…that happens….” He clapped his hands together in front of her face for emphasis. “It’ll be there. Some ugly will slip in and have a real good day.”

 

Buffy gulped and stood rigid. Spike could see he’d made his point and stepped back a pace. “THERE endeth the lesson.” He could see his Slayer was rattled. “Did I scare you? You’re the Slayer; do something about it. Hit me! Come on, one good swing, you know you want to.” He’d given her a sense of her vulnerability, now it was time to give her back a bit of the sense of her own power. “Give it to me good, Buffy, do it!”

 

She really had no desire to hit Spike. She had felt comfortable in his company, trusting in his insights. She didn’t want to be the schoolyard bully beating on the guy who couldn’t fight back just because she could. “Spike…”

 

Spike was panting, his passion aroused at the thought of anything physical with Buffy. Without thinking he leaned in, eyes fixed on her lips, and Buffy backed away quickly, startled and confused.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” She could have sworn he was about to kiss her.

 

“Come on, I can feel it, Slayer” Spike was near whispering his voice low and sultry. “You know you want to dance.”

 

Buffy blinked and backed away. God help her but she did! “Say it’s true, say I do want to. It can’t be you, Spike, I’ve been there, done that and got the ripped heart to prove it. It can never be you.”

 

She pushed past Spike and fled the crypt, leaving him with his eyes closed and breath coming in gasps. “I’m not bloody Angel, pet. One day you’ll figure that out!” he shouted at her retreating form.

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 3

~*~

November 22, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

Buffy scattered another vampire to the four winds and tried to keep focused. She remembered the lessons Spike had tried to impart the evening before and had no plans to repeat the events of the previous week.

 

It had been good that Spike had come by Revello Drive last night to be certain that Buffy understood the near kiss. “Heat of the moment, vampire here.” Not much of an excuse, if Buffy thought about it too hard, but they both had a silent pact to let it lie that way.

 

He had shown up right after her mom told her about the planned hospital stay for her headaches. Kate Perkins had been right to worry, as it turned out. Things looked bleak and Buffy had cracked. She had been crying on the back porch steps when Spike had appeared through the shrubbery asking what was wrong and offering help.

 

It had been good to have someone to share the worry with. Say what you would about Spike, one thing was indisputable and that was his genuine liking for Joyce Summers. He had been sweetly consoling and offered words of hope.

 

Now they had the facts and the worry was more intense than ever.

 

Dr. Isaacs was fatherly and sympathetic as he explained Joyce’s symptoms and prognosis. It wasn’t good; brain tumors rarely were. He had introduced Buffy to Dr. McKennitt, the Chief of Staff who had his own specialization in Neurosurgery and would be overseeing Mrs. Summers’ case. He was straight out of central casting with a vague George Clooney look to him that make Buffy feel confident that the man knew his stuff. ‘Hmm, the power of TV to plant suggestions!’

 

Arrangements had been made for an MRI and possible surgery. The idea of her mom’s head being cut into made Buffy feel five years old again--helpless but too old to be blissfully unaware. Having someone you love in jeopardy and not being able to do a thing about it was the very definition of hell. Patrolling had at least given Buffy a chance to work out some of her frustration through acceptable violence.

 

A new volunteer for the dustbuster showed himself and Buffy used her fists to beat her frustrations home. Her knuckles were bleeding from the effort and the dazed vampire was pleading for the stake by the time she was ready to end it.

 

“That Dark Shadows reject say something to piss you off, Slayer?”

 

It was Spike. It seemed it was always Spike.

 

Buffy drove the stake home and stood up, wiping the dust from her jeans. “You volunteering?”

 

“Not for a role in ‘Gone With The Wind’, no. Got an ear, though, if you need to vent.” Spike figured the news about Joyce was not good. “Docs figure out how to fix up Joyce?”

 

“Oh, they figured, but just aren’t sure if it can be fixed.” Buffy fought back tears. “It’s a brain tumor.” Spike flinched. “Not in a great spot to do surgery either. They say this kind grows fast too.” The tears won the battle and began a trail down Buffy’s face. Spike had to work hard not to join her.

 

“Remember how useless it feels,” Spike muttered.

 

“Completely useless.” Buffy looked at Spike in curiosity. “You talking about Dru? I mean when she was sick?”

 

“No.” Spike took in a ragged breath. “My Mum. Had the wasting sickness, as they called TB back in the day. Nothing anyone could do but watch her cough her life up and die a day at a time.” He ran a hand over his eyes, as if suddenly feeling the weight of all the years he had lived. “Never easy, but when they’re still young it just seems worse somehow.”

 

“You’re right.” Buffy was struck with a strange thought. “This is a funny conversation for two killers to be having, isn’t it? I mean, how many young moms did you take out? How many demon kids have I left orphaned?”

 

“Any you left orphaned were the fault of the parent doing evil. Nothin’ wrong with you followin’ your calling. Never saw you just kill for no reason.” Spike had noticed that Buffy wasn’t simply a tool of the Council, an extension of her stake as easily replaced as that crude weapon. “I’ve seen you leave plenty of demons alone if they weren’t up to no good. Even gave me a pass after I got handicapped. You’re the Slayer, not a killer.”

 

Buffy decided not to press him on the other part of her comment. He might not have a conscience without his soul, but he clearly didn’t want to talk about his own string of orphans.

 

“Can’t tell you it’ll all turn out all right, but I can tell you that your mom’s a strong lady, and if anyone has a chance, it would be her.” Spike resisted the desire to take her in his arms and hold her until the pain eased.

 

Buffy smiled through her tears. “Thanks, I needed to hear that.” She fought the urge to fling herself on him in search of comforting arms.

 

After a silence that extended just one touch beyond comfortable, Spike cleared his throat. “Think she’d mind if I popped in for a visit? Could offer to scare some decent food out of the hospital kitchen for her.”

 

Buffy laughed at the mental image of a game-faced Spike demanding something better than overdone chicken and flavorless jello. “That might be worth selling tickets.”

 

“Pay the hospital bill with the money,” Spike played along.

 

“Get rid of all the hypochondriacs.” Buffy giggled this time, as pure a sound as Spike had ever heard and he made a silent vow to not let this be the last time he heard it, or, better yet, was the cause of it.

 

She stopped giggling, but the smile remained. “Sure, Mom likes you for some reason. Visiting hours are until ten.” Had anyone suggested earlier that evening that she would feel any lightening of her heart, much less be giggling and smiling, Buffy would have thought them insane. Still, here she was in a cemetery with a creature she was supposed to be turning into so much ash, doing both. Then again, Buffy had never really worked hard at ending this particular vampire for some reason she didn’t want to examine too closely.

 

“Want to come along? The mini-market is still open and we can pick up some grapes.”

 

“Is that a British thing?” Buffy was near to giggling again. “Giles showed up this morning with about every kind there is and then sat and did the whole nervous eating thing till there were only the sour green ones left.”

 

“Suppose it is,” Spike acknowledged. “We’ll get the sweet red ones then.”

 

~~~

 

“It feels a little like being a snoop.” An elderly lady was answering a ‘man on the street’ question on the TV news. “I mean, I understand there are clearly creatures…aliens…things…whatever they are. We’ve all seen them on the news. Still, to ask regular people to call in reports if they see anything odd with their neighbors or co-workers….well, that just seems too Nosey-Nelly to me.” The female reporter who had asked the question turned a solemn gaze at the camera, “That’s the view from the street. Now back to you, Hal.”

 

Hal Fishman shook his head. All the stories over his many years at the anchor desk at KTLA seemed trivial next to the current world situation. He addressed the camera. “The governor has made it clear that until more details are released on this threat to humanity , no real identifying measures are in place for profiling this enemy. The statements made today in Sacramento are merely a request for the public to be aware and to share any suspicions with the proper authorities. Under no circumstances are citizens to allow mob mentality to take over. Folks, if you see or know someone you think may be involved in these acts of terror, don’t try to be judge and jury. Call the police!” The camera switched to a side view as Hal spoke to a representative from the Governor’s office.

 

Joyce muted the TV and smiled at Spike and Buffy. She grinned at the paper sack in the vampire’s hand. “Let me guess. Grapes?”

 

“Sadly predictable,” Spike muttered and held out the sack for Joyce to help herself.

 

“Had many visitors? Buffy noted the various bouquets on the windowsill.

 

“Joe and Kate dropped by. Giles was here, but you know that. I was napping, though, and there could have been plenty more that got to listen to me snore and watch me drool.” She looked at Buffy, examining her for signs of stress. “Buffy, I’ll be fine, really.”

 

“I know, Mom.”

 

Joyce looked to the TV screen and shuddered. “Seems like the whole world is suddenly sick in the head, doesn’t it?” She looked at Spike with affection. “The government is hinting around that they know what they are calling the source of the attacks on civilization. They’re rattling the swords about giving law enforcement more tools--power, they mean. There is talk about strengthening our intelligence capabilities to find out the plans of what they’re calling our ‘enemies’ before they act and finding them before there are more attacks.”

 

Spike snorted. “Demons don’t usually have plans and certainly not any coordinated ones. Most are bloody fools. Why do you think one teenage girl in a generation was considered enough firepower to fight us off?”

 

“Well, I certainly won’t let Buffy go off on some globe-trotting demon expedition!”

 

“Darn!” Buffy jested, “There went my only chance for travel!”

 

“They’ll just have to keep coming here if you have to be the one to kill them.” Joyce’s light tone belied the seriousness of the subject.

 

“Hellmouth makes that likely,” Spike agreed. “Most demons just wind up killing each other.”

 

“Oh, I did have another visitor,” Joyce sounded annoyed to have forgotten. “Don’t know why it slipped my mind. Anyway, it was Riley, but I think he was more looking for you than wanting a chat with the brain challenged.”

 

“MOM!” Buffy admonished at the same time Spike had said, “Joyce!” in a similar tone of reproach.

“You are far from brain challenged. If that berk made you feel that way, I’ll gladly go for the headache to rip his spleen out through his nose.”

 

“Calm down, attack vampire! There will be no spleenectomies except by qualified doctors in the operating room.” Buffy laughed.

 

“Riley was quite nice, Spike. I think I’m just self-conscious. I’m doing all right at the moment, but I think I’ve been saying some pretty strange things on occasion,” Joyce sighed.

 

“So does Spike, but he doesn’t have your excuse,” Buffy jibed.

 

“Hey!” Spike glowered at his favorite frenemy.

 

“So,” Spike began, hating to bring back the seriousness but needing to know, “When is the surgery?”

 

“Dr. McKennitt is planning on the day after tomorrow. He wants me to rest a bit and observe my vitals before opening me up.”

 

“It doesn’t hurt when they start poking in the brain itself, so don’t fret. Course they’ll give you anesthetic, so even better.” Spike really wanted to ease Joyce’s likely fears.

 

Buffy and Joyce looked stricken. Neither had given thought that the vampire had been put through brain surgery and more than likely had not been given pain killers.

 

“No nerve endings in the brain itself, so no worries.” He didn’t have a clue that both women were wishing they had considered what Spike had been through with a bit more concern. Buffy in particular was ashamed to think of the many jokes at the vampire’s expense that had passed her own lips. Too late for apologies, and it didn’t look like he would even get why she felt the need.

Joyce squeezed his hand in gratitude and empathy. “Thank you, Spike. That eases my mind a bit. I’m a bit of a coward at the idea of pain.”

 

“You’re one of the bravest women I’ve ever met, Joyce Summers.” Spike’s look showed he meant every word and Joyce’s face flushed with humility.

 

~~~

Spike saw Buffy home and accepted her offer of a cup of cocoa. “Wow, wonder who it is at this hour?” Buffy questioned as the doorbell rang. “Demons don’t usually ring the bell. Be right back!”

 

Spike bristled in annoyance, hearing a clear baritone voice with an altogether too familiar and friendly tone causing laughter from his Slayer. That was HIS role in her life, thank you very much!

 

Buffy entered the kitchen followed by a male that looked like he had just stepped off the set of Baywatch. “Spike, this is Nick Perkins. His brother works with Xander and his sister-in-law is one of Mom’s best friends.”

 

Nick put out a large, well tanned hand and grinned in an agreeable manner. “Nice to meet you, Spike. Joyce speaks highly of you.”

 

It was hard to keep a sour attitude against that, but somehow Spike managed. Something about the boy was off, but Spike couldn’t pinpoint it. Likely it was just a bit of jealousy and seeing things that weren’t there. “Can’t say the same. Never heard of you.”

 

“Spike!” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well, at least Mom could never have said he was rude.” She turned a jaundiced eye on the vampire and muttered, “Behave!” too low for anyone but Spike to hear. “Nick brought dinner over for me and Dawn.”

 

“So you’re a cook?” Spike was in fine form. “Thought Harris was a carpenter?”

 

Nick didn’t seem to feel the hostility directed his way, or if he did, chose to ignore it. “Yes, Xander is one of the best men with wood I’ve ever met. Helped me put up all the cabinets in the Habitat for Humanity house we worked on last weekend. I’m a drywall man myself. Kate did the cooking,” he winked at Buffy, much to Spike’s frustration. “No need to worry you’ll be poisoned.”

 

“Please, sit. We’re just having a little hot chocolate and I’d be glad to fix you a cup.” Buffy began preparing it before the man could answer.

 

Nick took a seat across from Spike and ignored the looks of death directed his way. “So, Spike, what do you do?”

 

“Mostly kill things,” Spike growled.

 

“AH, exterminator. Good line of work. Never any end to the bug and rodent problem here in California.”

 

“Got that right,” Spike snapped, clearly meaning a pest of another sort. This was HIS time with the Slayer.

 

“IF you have a business card, I’d be glad to recommend you if I run across anyone needing a fumigation,” Nick offered.

 

“Spike doesn’t have cards and has all the business he can handle, don’t you, Spike?” Buffy glared at the fuming blonde.

 

“Well, if you do ever need to drum up more business, just let Buffy know. She knows how to reach me,” he smiled ingratiatingly at her, to Spike’s disgust.

 

“Bet she does.” Buffy heard him, even though it looked like Nick missed it.

 

“Slayer, I’d best be shoving off. Remember you sayin' you were about to turn in,” Spike hoped the overly tanned lifeguard would take the hint and leave too.

 

“Slayer?”

 

Buffy was flustered and glared daggers at Spike for the deliberate use of her title. “Yeah, um … Spike heard me listening to some noisy heavy metal band once and never lets me forget it, right, Spike?”

 

“More the boy band type,” he muttered in disgust.

 

“I like a nice mix myself. Change it up, keep it fresh.” Nick nodded to both his companions.

 

Buffy decided to get a bit back at the glowering vampire. “Some people just stagnate. Take Spike here, lost in the Eighties. Latched onto Billy Idol and never let go.”

 

“That’s who you remind me of!” Nick brightened and tapped the table causing Buffy to jump. “Thought I’d seen you somewhere before, but now I see you just look like Mr. White Wedding!”

 

Nick pushed aside his nearly empty mug and rose. “Since you were going to turn in early, guess I’ll go report back to Kate that you’re okay and able to feed when you want to. I’m going to drop in on Joyce in the morning on my break. We’re working a site next to the hospital, so I can scoot over.” He turned that poster boy smile on Spike again. “Really nice to meet you, Spike. Can’t wait to tell Joyce we finally met.”

 

Nick left by the back door and Spike wasted no time getting answers. “That why you’re pushing the hall monitor out the door?”

 

“What?” Buffy was flustered. Spike sounded almost jealous and that made no sense. “NO! Don’t get me wrong, Nick’s one heck of a good catch, and good people besides. I think that would be a dream come true for Kate and even Xander, but no, a world of no. I’m not dumping Riley for someone else. I’m just not going to lead him on any further, that’s all.”

 

“Good. Something wrong with that one,” Spike would have to do a bit of investigating. Not that he thought he would have a shot at Buffy, but he didn’t want to just sit back and watch as another male walked in to take his place, or the place he wanted to be his at least. “That Hobie Buchannon wannabe’s too smooth.”

 

“Hobie…?” Buffy puzzled out the reference and then laughed! “You do watch too much Baywatch! He’s older than Jeremy Jackson, but come to think of it, he does look a little like him. You could do with a bit of smooth yourself, Mr. Rude and Obnoxious!”

 

“What can I say, baby, I’m evil,” Spike shot back with a smile and stood to leave. “Best let you dig into the goodies then. I’ll take patrol for you tomorrow, so you can rest up for your mum’s surgery.”

 

Buffy softened at the reminder of how kind Spike had been lately. “Thanks, Spike, I appreciate it. I was worried that I’d have to ask Riley, and since I’m planning on the big breakup pretty soon, that wouldn’t be fair.”

 

“You’re covered, and you’re welcome.” Spike left in a fantastic mood. Captain Cardboard was on his way out and he didn’t even know it yet…but Spike did! Life was good at times. He punched his fist into the air in triumph.

 

~~~

November 24, 2000. Sunnydale Memorial Hospital

 

The waiting room was crowded with the nervous friends and family of Joyce Summers. Tara and Willow held hands while Anya kept asking if there was anything she could get for anyone from the vending machines. Giles sat stoically with only the occasional twitch and glance at the clock to give away his true mental state. Xander paced. Dawn had fallen asleep in exhaustion and slumped against Riley, who had shown up insisting his place was by Buffy’s side.

 

As for Buffy, she was nearly jumping out of her skin. Every ding, every loudspeaker announcement, every door opening or closing made her ready to flinch. She felt like she was in a vacuum with muffled voices and people far away, as if she were in a tunnel of some sort.

 

Dawn woke with a start. “Wow! Didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t sleep much last night. I was worried.” She wiped a bit of drool from her lip and gave an apologetic look to Riley.

 

“Not a problem. I never mind being a pillow for a lovely Summers woman.” Riley grinned, but his longing look was directed at Buffy as he said it.

 

Giles frowned at the exceedingly inappropriate comment.

 

Riley caught his look and shifted uncomfortably. He was antsy, needing something, some release. Buffy had scarcely spoken to him all evening and he’d sooo been there for her. He’d given up a chance to help his old friends root out a nest of Fyrals to be here in her time of need and she had yet to give him so much as a smile. He began to think of long dark hair and a needy mouth and wondered if Violet would be busy about now. “You know, I hate to bail on you, but I did promise Graham to join him for something and my minister asked me to speak at a youth thing at the church tonight too. Call me immediately when Joyce is out of surgery, okay?”

 

Buffy didn’t answer, didn’t even appear to have heard him. Xander nodded and promised to call, so Riley headed for the south exit. ‘Not like I can do anything to help anyway and Buffy has lots of people to sit with her.’

 

He turned down Oak Street towards the seedy part of town and the welcoming fangs that always made him feel necessary and special. “One quick stop, that’s all. Take the edge off,” he promised himself.

 

As the door closed on Riley’s retreating back there was a slight commotion at the nurse’s station that did get Buffy’s attention. The shrill voice of the Charge Nurse rang out fierce and determined. “I’m not stupid. I’ve lived in Sunnydale my whole life and seen the results of your kind. I know what you are, unlike certain government officials without the balls to call it like it is. This is a human place to take care of human people. Get out before I see if this pencil’s long enough to do the job.”

 

Buffy saw Spike glowering at the enraged woman in uniform who had stepped out to prevent his entry into the waiting area.

 

“If I was here to kill anybody, you’d all be dead before you figured out what I am, bitch,” Spike threatened. “I’m here to see about a friend.”

 

“Things like you don’t have friends,” the nurse dared.

 

Buffy had reached them by now. “Spike, what are you doing here?”

 

The nurse looked at the girl who had been silently haunting her floor for hours in amazement. “Miss, this thing isn’t right. See?” She pointed to a mirror that clearly showed Spike’s lack of reflection. “I don’t know how to explain this to you, but he ...,” she pointed her thumb at Spike.

 

“Is a vampire, I know,” Buffy finished to the nurses utter shock. “He’s also a friend of my mother’s.” She shot Spike a look of apology. “And… of mine, sort of.”

 

Spike pointedly ignored the nurse from that moment on. Buffy had called him a friend! The rest of the world could take a flying leap. “How’s Joyce?”

 

“Not out of surgery yet.”

 

“Came as soon as the sun went down. Figured it would still be going on.”

 

“You figured right,” Buffy impulsively hugged the surprised vampire. “Thanks for coming.”

 

Xander had watched the proceedings with growing disgust. “What’s HE doing here?” If looks could stake, Spike would be a matter for the custodian at that point. “Waited till Riley had to leave to come sniffing around to see how to make things worse?”

 

“Xander, that’s enough! Spike’s been worried about Mom too. She’d want him here. You know she thinks of Spike as a friend.” Buffy surprised herself with the realization that every word was true.

 

Buffy noticed the nurse on the telephone and overheard, “That’s right. Bold as brass here on the seventh floor. I know you aren’t calling them what they are, but you did say to call in. This isn’t a suspicion; there is no doubt.”

 

Buffy grabbed the receiver from her hand and slammed it down hard. “Now, let’s go over this one more time. 1. Spike is a vampire. 2. We know that. 3. My mother, who is still in surgery fighting for her life, would want him here and what my mom wants is what she is going to get…am I starting to make my position clear? 4. You are going to call them back and claim the call was a prank and that the situation is handled, got it?” Buffy was showing a side to this nurse that few humans ever got to see--pure Slayer.

 

She then turned to Xander, “And you are going to just shut up and let this go, or you can leave.”

 

The nurse backed away from the enraged girl but made no move toward the phone. They were all startled by the voice of Dr. McKennitt, who had witnessed most of the conversation from Buffy’s acknowledgement of Spike’s undead status. “Do as she asks, Mavis. No one is causing any trouble here, right?” He looked pointedly at Spike.

 

“Not here for trouble. How’s Mrs. Summers?”

 

The doctor gave a short laugh before answering, “Clearly filled with surprises. As for the surgery, she came through like a trooper. There’ll be lots of post-op care, of course, and we’ll need to watch her closely, but it looks like we got the whole thing.” He smiled at a beaming Buffy. “Looks like some of her strength passed down to her girls.”

 

“When can I see her?” Buffy put her arm around Dawn, who had come to hear what the doctor had to say as well.

 

“She’ll be in recovery for a while, but should be coming around within the hour.”

 

“Thank you, Doctor,” She glared at Nurse Mavis, who was still trying to placate the person on the other end of her phone conversation, “for everything.”

 

“My pleasure. I can’t wait to have that post-op conversation with Joyce,” he laughed and headed to the locker room, shaking his head in bemusement. This was proving to be anything but just another ordinary case.

~~~

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 4

~*~

November 24, 2000. Sunnydale, California

 

Riley arrived only a little late to the meeting. Rev. Baker had already started his talk to the room filled with avid young men. “So you see from the passages I just read in Matthew, the Lord is clear on how you deal with demons. You drive them out. Out of people and out of the land. Those swine were driven off a cliff to their death! The secular government may be afraid to put a name to what we see reported in growing numbers, but these beasts are from the pit of hell itself. We are God’s warriors, gentlemen, and I’m proud to lead you, as any good shepherd would, to drive the wolf from amongst us!”

 

The lads gave a rousing ovation to the Reverend Doctor and he waited, basking in their admiration and letting it die down before introducing Riley. “Some of you may recognize Riley here. He is a faithful servant and fine example of young manhood. We’re privileged to have him in our church family.” Some of the young men recognized him and smiled in greeting, a few calling out a welcome.

 

“What you do not know is that until this past year Mr. Finn was someone very special indeed. He was part of an organization that is still top secret but connected to our brave military. Their job was containing these very beasts. He can verify what I have been calling them--demons…evil, sub-human, slathering killing things. Things that have no place in God’s lovely world or harming His people. Just yesterday we celebrated a day of Thanksgiving for all we have been given. Now it is up to us to make certain we do not lose the great gift we have received.” He nodded to Riley as he turned the podium over to his featured speaker, then went to sit with the dozen or so young men, many, he noted with pride, from his own congregation.

 

Riley resisted the urge to scratch his arm where fresh wounds were trying to heal. Violet had been as welcoming as Buffy was distant and he was still buzzing a bit. She had cooed over him and fussed, showing him he was so much more than just another customer. He needed to find a place to get her tucked away before he lost his best source for what he craved. Graham was already sniffing around that side of town and it was only a matter of time before the whole suck house would be discovered and destroyed.

 

“I’ve spoken to Dr. Baker and leveled with him about everything I can without violating my oaths.” Riley nodded and smiled at the Reverend. “Sorry I’m late; I had a bit of a mess to clean up.” He puffed up visibly as the young men oohed and ahed, their imaginations running riot. “Anyway, I got a preview of Dr. Baker’s notes and know what he’s already told you. I don’t want to repeat what’s already been said. He is right: As the whole world is slowly learning, we do not live in this world alone. There are demonic forces as old as the Garden and they want us dead.”

 

One lad shivered and let out a nervous giggle. “This is way worse than the Borg.”

 

“Shut up, Andrew,” his slightly older companion ordered. “This isn’t play time.”

 

“Indeed, Warren, it isn’t.” The minister agreed. “Still, the boy has reason to feel fear. Until you learn to put on the armor of God, you won’t be safe in this battle. That is what this is going to be--a battle for our very existence.”

 

Riley continued, breaking the nervous silence that greeted the somber minister’s pronouncement. “This is the battle between good and evil and the lines are clear. Soon, the governments of this world will be telling the good people they lead what we in this room already know. Soon, the things I’ve seen will be known to all and we can finally rid this world of a blight that has been allowed to walk free for far too long. This time we can march with banners high and do what should have been done in ages past. We can remove the abominations.”

 

The applause was deafening in the tiny room. As the men gathered round their new hero, one slightly older youth slipped silently into the night, a disturbed look on his face. He needed to talk to his Rabbi about this. Jonathan already knew about demons, like most of the fellas that had graduated from the old High School on the Hellmouth, but knowing and destroying wholesale were two different things. A couple of the guys in his Star Trek club were Bracken demons and he didn’t fancy having to kill either of them. They were nicer to him than anyone else in town.

 

~~~

November 27, 2000. Sunnydale California

 

“I know she won’t be up to all the whoop-to-dos, but I saw that so-called Thanksgiving meal they gave her at the hospital,” Kate shook her head in disgust. “Just leave it all to me and we’ll have a mini-feast to make up for it. You know I love to cook, and with the success of the surgery we need two Thanksgivings this year.”

 

“You’re way too nice, Kate. Okay, sure. Mom has always loved the holidays and she hated them scheduling her operation where she missed this one. I can help with the potatoes; I even know what a ricer is now.” Buffy was on cloud nine. Joyce was being released the next day and everything seemed peachy with a big dollop of keen on top.

 

“If there are any of your friends you’d like to invite, please do. I know Joyce is used to having a house filled with young people. I can get a great deal on a turkey at the Mega-Mart on Fifth, so we can feed an army.”

 

“I’ll ask Willow and Tara. I think Xander and Anya are going to take a couple of days and drive up the coast before all the winter holiday shopping season ties Anya to her cash register.” Buffy envied her friends the chance to just get away for a short while. ‘No vacations for the Slayer.’

 

“What about that young man of yours?”

 

“Riley? I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to be seeing each other much longer, so I don’t think inviting him to a big family get together would send the right message.”

 

Kate laughed. “I was talking about the blond British boy that was hovering over Joyce and wearing his heart on his sleeve every time he looked at you.”

 

“SPIKE?!” Buffy sputtered. “There was no heart-wearing! It’s just Spike. He’s kinda friendly with mom and is just some guy I know.”

 

“If you say so. Nick told me he met Spike here the other day. Said he seemed a bit intense but nice.”

 

“Intense is one way to put it,” Buffy chuckled at the reminder of the tension in the air that evening.

 

“Well, if he’s a friend of Joyce’s, you should ask him to join us too,” Kate suggested.

 

~~~

“And with the holiday shopping season approaching, this message from the White House was just the calming voice needed, according to Wall Street. Consumer confidence needed the bolstering and the urge from President Bush to not let these evil doers change our enjoyment of the holidays is expected to have a positive effect. Back to you, Peter.”

 

Peter Jennings’ air of confidence served to add to the general mood of optimism. “So the message seems to be that this latest bout of violence is no reason to change your Christmas and Hanukkah plans. The government has matters in hand. Recent crackdowns on large, unauthorized gatherings and the reward system for information has led to the capture of many thought to be ring leaders of these still unidentified gangs of evil doers who have spread terror across the globe with murders and attacks on innocent civilians. The President reassured the nation today with the promise to bring this terrible situation to a rapid end.”

 

A clip of part of the President’s speech was replayed. “We are going to stay on the offense two ways: one, hunt down the enemy and bring them to justice; and two, spread freedom.”

 

“Well, I’m delighted someone cares about innocent shopkeepers and their profits!” Anya nodded approvingly at the TV screen. “Business has really been off lately. There was one lady came into the Magic Box and started yelling at Giles that he was selling what she called ‘the Devil’s tools’!”

 

“Yeah, some of the churches in town have been pretty vocal about demons and witchcraft lately,” Xander nodded. “Kinda scary. Glad we’re not living in Salem.”

 

“Yes, well, Salem or Sunnydale, I’ve seen this before.” Anya shivered. “I’m over a thousand years old, remember, not some kid fresh out of high school.”

 

“Thanks for the reminder that I’m with an older woman,” Xander teased.

 

“Experienced and you love it.” Anya smiled tenderly. “But, really, it may have a different face and a different name, but the evil is the same. I saw it during the Spanish Inquisition, during Stalin’s purges, the hunt for communists by the McCarthy Commission where everybody was suspicious of everybody else. The Nazis did it systematically. Call it racial cleansing, religious crusades or whatever…it’s the same thing. First, people get scared, then suspicious. Next thing you know, they give up freedom in exchange for protection and start to turn on each other. While doing what they think is the right thing, they bring on a worse horror than what they feared originally.”

 

“It’s kinda weird seeing people here getting all upset, though. I mean, if anything, it’s been kind of quiet here on Hellmouth Central,” Xander frowned in puzzlement.

 

“That’s because many of the upstanding demons are getting out of town as fast as possible. I’m not sure where they think they can go, since this is not just a local thing.”

 

“Yeah, Max let a couple of roofers go the other day. He said they weren’t able to provide decent proof of citizenship. I think he kinda knew they were demons and it never bothered him before. Pretty good with the asphalt, they’ll be missed.”

 

“You know, I don’t have anything to prove my citizenship,” Anya sounded a bit worried.

 

“You’re fine, Ahn. Giles would never fire you,” Xander dismissed the issue with a wave of his hand. “So, all packed for our mini-vacation?”

 

~~~

Buffy was coming down the stairs just as Kate was opening the door for Spike. Spike was carrying a slightly bedraggled bouquet of daises and a bottle of wine and didn’t notice the Slayer immediately.

 

“Glad you could come. Mom will be pleased,” Buffy’s voice drew his eyes her direction.

 

“And a thousand ships were launched,” Spike murmured as he took in the sight of a dressed up Buffy. She did look lovely in a dress a shade of green to rival her eyes.

 

Kate Perkins smirked. ‘Joyce’s friend indeed.’

 

“Hey, Spike,” Tara smiled in greeting. “Nice to see you.”

 

Willow didn’t look quite as happy to see him, but still not as hostile as he had feared. “Tara, Red. So, Willow, you puttin’ aside all that angst about the holiday and celebrating it twice now?”

 

Willow blushed under Tara’s questioning gaze. “This is a different giving of thanks. We’re celebrating Mrs. Summers being okay. No Native Americans were hurt in the course of her surgery.” She couldn’t help but grin at the reminder. “We’ve got a nice chair and some rope, though, if you’re feeling nostalgic.”

 

“Thanks ever so,” he smirked. “Prefer my freedom and a bit of food this time round.”

 

“Plenty of both here,” Joyce smiled up at Spike and took the flowers from him. “Ah, no grapes! I think I’ve had my fill for a while.”

 

The doorbell rang again and Buffy opened it to a nervous looking Giles. “I wasn’t sure what I should bring until I remembered how your mother enjoyed these,” and handed over a bag of assorted grapes to a giggling Slayer.

 

“Least I brought mine fermented and in a bottle,” Spike snarked.

 

The group headed into the dining room to partake of the feast laid out in celebration. Joyce felt well loved and very, very grateful.

 

~~~

“So you see, Rabbi, I’m kind of worried. I mean, I know some demons who are really nice guys. Is it right to just say they all should be killed?”

 

Rabbi Goldstein looked weary. “Such broad characterizations are never right, Jonathan. Many a people have suffered from that sort of thinking. I am pleased you haven’t let your fears rule your thinking.” The Rabbi had been planning to speak to his people on the need for rational thought. “I think one thing that is dangerous is to label an entire people. This word ‘demon’ is being bandied about here in Sunnydale and soon it will be used everywhere. But are they demons or are they just a different species? Whatever they are, the same Creator made them as well as us and put them here.”

 

“But there are all these attacks and it’s always been scary here with all the vampires and weird other demons,” Jonathan shook his head. “I just don’t know what the right thing to do is. Should I turn in my buddies from the Star Trek club? I know they’re demons, but I don’t think either of them has ever even hurt a poodle!”

 

“You are wise to think first,” Rabbi Goldstein smiled approvingly. “Many are simply acting without considering the cost to all of our freedoms. The Bill of Rights is meant to protect all living in the borders of this great land. It is a function of public trust and a balance has to be kept between combating the evil we are fighting and protecting civil liberties. If your friends pose no threat, why give their names to those who do not know them? If you had reason to think they were about to commit an evil act, that might be different and quite irresponsible to keep silent. However, to treat them any differently than in the past based on the public suddenly waking from its slumber and seeing that we are not alone in this world, well, that would be irresponsible as well.”

 

“Thanks, Rabbi,” Jonathan felt some relief. “A couple of friends of mine are joining a new youth group, kind of a militia to help patrol the streets of Sunnydale and keep everyone safe. I really don’t want to join, but they made me feel like I wasn’t really pro-human if I didn’t. I feel better now.”

 

“You are welcome to drop by anytime, Jonathan. I don’t always have answers, but I promise to help you arrive at a decision by reasoning things through, if you wish.”

 

Jonathan hadn’t been gone but a moment before Rabbi Goldstein picked up the phone and dialed the memorized number. “Cal? I think it’s started. Could you round up Father Quinn and meet me here later this evening?”

 

~~~

Joyce was tired but happy. The love surrounding her and pure joy at her successful surgery had been a balm to her soul. It felt strange having others do the cooking and cleaning up, but she knew not to push it. Besides, just seeing Spike in the kitchen washing up had been enough to make her laugh and they did say that laughter is the best medicine.

 

She lay in bed and wondered if she would need to change the fliers for the opening of her African tribal art exhibit. Already there had been rumblings from the uneducated about how the pieces she was showing were demonic in nature. ‘Since when did art and fashion have to be suppressed because of fear?’

 

Joyce didn’t feel up to facing down even a small crowd of angry citizens at this point, but the gallery needed a decent showing if the hospital bill were going to be covered. “Perhaps Mr. Giles will have some suggestions.”

 

~~~

Riley looked over his shoulder once more to make certain he hadn’t been noticed. He knew he shouldn’t be back here so soon, but he needed her so badly. Earlier, he had gone by Buffy’s house, only to see the house filled with people, and he was chafing at having been shut out of what was obviously a celebration of some sort.

 

“Riley! I’m so glad you came. I’ve been thinking about you all day and hoping you might want me.” Violet looked up at him with dancing eyes. The girl was scraggly to look at but had speaking eyes, eyes that were all for him. “Let me make you feel good, baby,” she cooed.

 

“I’ll be right up, baby,” Riley promised and turned to Gus, the lead vamp in the house. “I need to tell your boss something.”

 

Gus had always been a rather unpleasant looking fellow, even when he had been human. It was amazing that some vampire had actually wanted him around beyond a quick meal. “Something wrong, soldier? Want another girl instead of Vi?”

 

“No, Violet is perfect. I need to tell you that you would be smart to move your operation out of town pretty soon. I have some friends and they’ve been scoping out this neighborhood. So far you’ve been under the radar, but they’re smart and it won’t be long.”

 

Gus digested this advice and weighed it against all the free meals and cash coming his way and decided there was no real need for haste. “I’ll look into it.”

 

“You really should.” Riley could see his words were falling on deaf ears. Time to convince Violet to strike out on her own. He knew of a vacant apartment in a quiet neighborhood. Maybe Violet would be easier to convince.

 

~~~

Buffy sat on the end of her mom’s bed and indulged in some ‘girl talk’. “I’m just not sure how to break it to him. I mean, Riley is such a nice guy. Mr. Normal, just like everyone says I should have and all. He hasn’t done anything wrong for me to end it. There’s just something missing and I’m never able to just relax and be me around him without his getting all competitive.”

 

“I know that lots of people say love is hard,” Joyce began. “In the sense that you have to work at any relationship to keep it alive and healthy, that might be true, but love, when it is really love, is easy.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“When it’s hard, it’s usually because either you are unhappy with something about the other person and wishing to change them, or you are uncomfortable being yourself for fear they won’t accept you the way you are.” Joyce watched Buffy carefully to see if she were getting her point. “When you love someone, you accept all of them just as they are and you feel accepted in return. That’s when it’s easy. You say you can’t just be yourself around Riley, that he doesn’t accept all that you are. I’d say it’s not love then.”

 

“That makes sense.” Buffy’s shoulders slumped a bit. “I don’t think there are any guys that could just accept and handle Buffy Summers, not with the whole Slayer part added in the mix.”

 

Joyce thought about how to say what she had been thinking. Nearly dying had left her with many a thought about her girls and their futures. “Long ago, I had this image of you leaving the Slayer duties behind, especially after Faith showed up. I pictured you going to college, finding some wonderful man who would see how precious and special you are and you being blissfully happy. I could just see the grandkids I would spoil and you finally learning to cook.” She smiled wistfully. “I suppose that wasn’t very loving of me.”

 

“Mom, you’re a terrific mom!”

 

“I’m not perfect, honey. I admit a lot of it was fear and a bit of not really understanding just what it meant that you were ‘Chosen’, called. I’ve been thinking a lot lately and realize that I’ve put a terrible burden on you by asking you to fulfill my dreams and not your own.”

 

“Your dreams aren’t so bad,” Buffy smiled indulgently.

 

“Come on,” Joyce teased, “You’d be bored within a month if you didn’t go out patrolling and you know it! What I missed was that you ARE special and not just to me. A special woman like you will have to have a special love to ever be happy. Maybe what we’ve been calling normal isn’t even normal at all for you. Maybe we’ve been trying to fit you into a mold that isn’t right and natural. I think you are right to end it with Riley. He’s not nearly good enough for you.”

 

“Thanks for saying that, Mom, but I don’t think it’s Riley that’s lacking.”

 

“Nonsense! If he can’t appreciate you and the Slayer in you as well, that shows a big flaw in him, not you.”

 

“So I’m doomed to be alone, huh?”

 

“No, you just need to be open to the real thing when it happens and don’t make the mistake of dismissing anyone because you don’t see them as normal.”

 

Buffy flushed slightly when Spike’s face flashed through her mind. “I’ll try. Now, young lady, you need to get some rest,” Buffy used her best ‘mom voice’ and tucked Joyce in. “We just got you home and I don’t want to have to take you back because we wore you out again.”

 

“I’m never going back there,” Joyce vowed, only half in jest. “Horrible place!”

 

“Good!” Buffy agreed.

 

~~~

Spike narrowed his eyes in contemplation and disgust. “So that’s how the wanker spends his evenings away from Buffy.”

 

He debated what to do. If he told, Buffy might cling to Riley longer than she had already planned to do. Still, if he remained silent and Finn got himself turned, the giant hall monitor could take out the whole group before they realized he was pulseless.

 

“Best tell the Slayer and hope for the best,” he sighed. “Least that way she won’t have to run another boyfriend through with some weapon. Hard enough getting past the damage left by Angelus without addin’ to it.”

Chapter Text

A/N Bits of dialogue from “Into the Woods” by Marti Noxon. There will be less and less canon from this point

 

 

***

Chapter 5

***

Riley, in a cloudy haze of euphoria, looked at the vampire girl firmly attached to his arm. Yeah, he knew he was flirting with danger and consorting with a Sub-Terrestrial, at that. 'What would the guys think?' The brief flash of shame was quickly overpowered by the bliss of being the center of someone's attention.

 

Buffy had been shutting him out for what seemed like ages. That little 'No Riley Invited' dinner party hadn't been the first time. He wondered just what Buffy wanted from him. 'I've overlooked her not-quite-human superpowers and weirdness. I've even put up with her calling some HSTs friends, refusing to let me take them in when we had the proper place for them right there in the labs,' he thought indignantly.

 

This whole thing started because he wanted to know firsthand what could make a nice girl like Buffy, the 'Chosen One’ according to her little group, even tolerate an HST. 'She's let more than one of them bite her. Dated one of the worst.' There had to be something, some lure. Well, now he understood that the bite could be addictive, but it still seemed like more than that with Buffy.

 

'Wonder if she's letting Spike bite her?' The thought of Spike having any of his parts in or on Buffy sent a wave of rage crashing through him and he nearly yanked his arm away from Violet's fangs in response.

 

'Reverend Baker was right. These things have to be Devil's Spawn to tempt even a good Christian like me to indulge in this depravity.' Riley promised himself this was the last time, the very last time. He'd repent. He'd burn down this den of Satan himself and then he'd make sure Buffy knew what sort of evil she'd let run loose in the town she was supposed to protect. He'd bring the Chosen One back to her calling, back to the side of the angels. Well...maybe he'd call it something different; no point in bringing up THAT particular HST.

 

***

 

"Not tryin' to cause trouble in paradise here, pet." Spike really hated having to be the one to clue in the Slayer to her Soldier Boy's newest folly. "All it would take is one slip and the bloke you let into your house might not be the kind for sunny picnics anymore."

 

He was glad that Buffy was willing to listen and maybe even believe his story about where he'd found himself when he had trailed Riley. She had been horrified at the information about the suck houses, never having heard of them before.

 

"Surprised there's any still open, with all the smart demons leavin' town in droves," Spike offered. "'Course, no one said the kind of trulls workin' in a place like this have too much in the ol’ brain-box." He politely ignored the snort from Buffy and her look that clearly asked, "So, why are you still here?"

 

They stood outside the dilapidated house and watched as customers furtively entered and left. "Looks like business is down," Spike noted.

 

"Gonna be more than down after tonight," Buffy was livid. Yeah, she’d planned on ending things with Riley, but aside from the personal betrayal, this showed a real lack of thinking on his part. He could have been killed, turned! Buffy could just see any one of her friends or family letting a vampire wearing Riley's face in with no question! "If I wasn't sure before, I am now. We're way past talking."

 

The determined Slayer headed into the building with a look on her face that almost made Spike feel a bit sorry for the idiot inside. Almost.

 

***

 

"I wanted to know what you felt. I wanted to understand why you let them in, gave them so much power over you," Riley pleaded.

 

"So this is my fault? ‘Hey, gee, Buffy's so mysterious, I think I'll go out and almost die, let some creepy vampire whore...’" She shuddered.

 

"They made me feel something, Buffy," he whined softly. "They needed me."

 

"They needed your money and your blood," Buffy crossed her arms, rather than slap him silly as she so wanted to do.

 

"You keep me at a distance, Buffy. You didn't call me when your mom went into the hospital, much less have me over with all your friends, and even SPIKE, for that dinner! SPIKE, Buffy, and I wasn't even invited? Yeah, I saw. I dropped by to check on you…er, your mom."

 

"Look, we are not doing this here." Buffy glowered at him.

 

"Looks to me like we're done doing anything anywhere." Riley sounded dejected.

 

"It's so much more than this, Riley, and it's not all your fault." Buffy put up a hand to forestall his interruption. "There are so many things not working between us. I tried everything to find a way to make it work. You can't handle the fact that I'm stronger than you, and that's not gonna change," her voice showed the sadness she felt at another failed relationship. "You don't approve of how I handle my calling. You don't get my friendships." She looked around for Spike, only to note he had discreetly left the scene. "You don't get me."

 

"Oh, I think I'm beginning to," Riley was starting to let go of his guilt and embrace his inner self-righteousness. "You don't see that there are humans and there are monsters, hell spawn, and never the two shall co-exist. That's the line, Buffy, a line you cross a lot, and if you were a Slayer like the kind I read about in those books Giles has, you wouldn't need reminding. The only thing an HST deserves is a quick trip back to the hell that created them."

 

"That what you were doing in there, Riley?" Buffy was beyond angry at his sanctimonious words. Where did he get off telling her what her duty was?

 

"No, but I'm not ruling out demonic attack. I can't swear that I haven't been targeted by demonic forces to lure me to the side of the enemy. I guess I should be glad you found me here, pulled me back to the side of good." He looked down at her ingratiatingly. "You must care, you saved me."

 

"I care, Riley. Of course I care about you." Seeing the look of hope flare, she knew she had to squash any further walking down that dead end. "But you are right: I don't love you. I've tried and if you have to try to fall in love, it isn't love."

 

"Maybe I'm not the only one under demonic influence here," Riley huffed then turned from her without a backwards glance, as if Cerberus were nipping at his heels.

 

***

Reverend Cal Prentiss shook Rabbi Goldstein’s hand, then pulled him into a hug. "I had hoped this day wouldn't come, Saul. Sad day, a sad day."

 

"Indeed. We may be called to believe in some things we cannot prove, but nowhere are we asked to check our intellect at the door on the way! You can feel the hatred brewing, the fear that only makes it grow."

 

"Had a young fella in my congregation, really good with the kids and active in all kinds of good works. Nice family too. Lister demons, so he told me. Had to leave town with nothing but what they could carry just last week. One of his neighbors lived there nigh on 25 years too, reported the family and tried to burn their house down with them in it!" Rev. Prentiss shook his head sadly. "Nice family. What a shame."

 

"Chaim Rosenberg, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine from our food kitchen days, Reverend Cal Prentiss, Pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. over on Cottonwood. Cal, this is my cantor and oldest friend, Chaim Rosenberg." Chaim and Cal shook hands and took their seats in the large but cozy office.

 

"Chaim is a wiz at organizing and speaking and I thought he might be a real asset if we're going to try any effective countermeasures to all the nonsense happening lately."

 

The elderly man shook his head in sadness. "Makes me nervous, all this talk! Even my son and his wife-- well educated, logical people--are spouting all sorts of idiocy they've been hearing on the radio and on TV." Chaim's face softened, "Of course, my einikel, my Willow, she tries to tell them they know bopkis, but do they listen?" He gave a 'what can you do?' shrug. "Too little listening happening, if you ask me," the Rabbi nodded in agreement.

 

"Too much listening to some things. You ever tune into that Charlie Cooper show on talk radio?" Prentiss shivered. "Pure hate. Gets people all riled up. Yesterday's show was him calling for any non-human to be destroyed, even those living in peace, even the little children! He's got bumper stickers he's offering to his callers, has 'em using his buzzwords: 'No Appeasement, No Quarter Given', and 'Humans Only for the Earth as God Intended'. Idiot leaves out every other species, never mind these folks they're callin' demons."

 

"Indeed, that's why I called you, Cal. We need to carefully canvass the faith community, find out who's buying into this, promoting it, and try to take countermeasures. Our people will be depending on us for good, sane counsel."

 

"Heard that Baker's stirring up the soup. Even has a youth group forming to flush out demons. Giving real fire and brimstone speeches about being the 'hand of God' in this battle." The Rabbi leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

 

"Well, he always was one to grab the spotlight. Nothin' like decidin' a whole group of folk are demonic to give him a platform," Reverend Prentiss nodded. "Not that I don't believe in demons, and not that I haven't seen some of these folk do evil. Then again, I've seen plenty of evil done by pure humans too. Just seems too easy to lump them all together and I can't quite see anything in Scripture that tells of demons from hell coming here to deliver pizza or run a dry cleaner’s shop like the family I mentioned a while ago."

 

"Well, let’s look over the list of congregations, see who's still thinking rationally, shall we?" Rabbi Goldstein turned to Chaim and smiled, "Mind taking notes?"

 

***

 

Col. Ellis, formerly of the Sunnydale Initiative, looked over the paperwork Graham had handed him.

 

"What about Riley? Agent Finn? I'm telling you, sir, if we go in for a sweep and drop, he's definitely a guy we want on the team." Graham hoped his superior would look at his old friend as a great choice for their new assignment.

 

"We could look to bringing him on board. Has the qualifications and the spleen, from the looks of it." Ellis frowned, "Wasn't he part of that group of insurrectionists that brought an end to the operation last year?"

 

"He got involved with this girl, sir, the one the HSTs call 'The Slayer'. She got his head all turned around for a while. They gave him an honorable and I know he went reserve." Graham had seen his friend when he got home the previous night. He had looked terrible. "I think his relationship with the girl is pretty much in the past now, sir."

 

"Bring him by," Ellis nodded. "We need all the good men we can get. Looks like we'll be getting that green light soon and roundups will be going into high gear."

 

***

 

Spike flinched as the door to his crypt crashed open. Expecting Buffy, he didn't immediately go on guard. That gave Riley the opening he needed to grab Spike by the front of his shirt and yank him from his chair.

 

"Guess it takes a while to get back to full strength after those bites," Spike smirked.

 

Riley slammed him up against a pillar. "I knew it had to be you. No way did Buffy just stumble on Violet's place by accident. Get your jollies showing her my weakness?"

 

"Look, I'm not the one who got you into this. Don't kill the messenger." Spike couldn't fight the oaf, not with the chip, but that didn't mean he was going to cower in front of a bully. He’d had enough of that when he was human.

 

Riley scowled and pulled back his arm. Spike gasped when he spotted the stake in his hand. "Why the hell not?" Riley sneered as he slammed it into the cornered vampire's chest.

 

The pain that shot through Spike was like nothing he'd ever felt before. Funny, all the vamps he'd seen staked--hell, he’d staked enough himself--he’d never thought about the physical moment of pain as the stake tore through tissue and exploded into the heart. Spike's brows furrowed in puzzlement. Pain. Yeah. Tons of that. But no dust? He looked down in confusion at the implement now protruding from his chest and then back again to the red, furious face of his attacker.

 

A smug Riley was grinning. "Plastic wood-grain. Looks real, doesn't it?" He grabbed Spike's shirt again and removed the stake with a squelching sound, leaving a large hole and lots of blood in its wake. "Don't think I don't know what's going on with you, Spike. Stay away from her. Or we'll do this for real next time." He patted Spike on the cheek in condescension then walked away.

 

Spike leaned against the pillar, trying to stay upright. 'Not gonna let this wanker make me look weak.' Had to hit back the only way he could, with his mouth. He began to laugh, "You're really under it, aren't you? Look at you, afraid I’m hot for your honey. Even if I wasn't in the picture, you couldn't hold onto her. You bollocksed up the romance all on your own."

 

Riley nearly growled and stalked toward the wounded vampire again. "I mean it, 17, keep away from her."

 

"Last I saw you're not her husband. Not her anything anymore, from what I've heard."

 

Riley jabbed his fist in the wound, causing Spike to double over in pain. "She's a human, or so she says. It'll be more than me making certain you're out of the picture. Bank on it, demon."

 

***

 

Xander seemed to take Buffy's breakup with Riley harder than the girl herself did. "See, what I think, you got burned with Angel, then Riley shows up. You shut down, Buffy. And you've been treating Riley like the rebound guy."

 

"He is the rebound guy, Xander." Buffy drew in a deep breath. "I know you like Riley. I know everyone says I need a nice normal guy--not that an ex-drugged and chipped commando is normal. It doesn't work! He's not the one that comes along once in a lifetime. I tried! The feelings just aren't there and they aren't going to suddenly show up either."

 

"I just hope you made it a clean break, Buff. If you can't love this guy--I"m talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred love--well…," he sighed sadly, "then I'm behind you. You did the right thing. Still don't want you to give up looking for that nice normal guy, though." He smiled crookedly.

 

"And why should Buffy settle for a normal, weak human?" Anya was pretty sick of hearing how wonderful 'people' were just based on their species. She had dealt with plenty of terrible normal human males over her years of bringing justice.

 

"There's always Nick; even Anya likes Nick." He tried to placate his irate girlfriend. "What do you say, Buff, jump back in the water? See what other fish are out there?"

 

"At least Nick could do better keeping up with the Slayer with that demon strength of his," Anya agreed.

 

"What do you mean 'demon strength'?" Xander turned to her, an appalled look on his face. Buffy looked stunned as well.

 

"What? You don't know that the Perkins family, including Nick, are Dyown demons? I think Kate may be half Lister, but I'm not certain." Anya looked like she was seriously pondering the genetics of Joyce's neighbor and friend. "Maybe Bracken, but I'm thinking more Lister."

 

"But how....when...why?" Xander was stuttering. He'd known the Perkins family as long as he had known Buffy. He'd even helped babysit their kids. "They're...demons?"

 

"I just said that, didn't I?" Anya shook her head. Sometimes Xander and even Buffy and Giles could be so blind.

 

"Wow!" Buffy blinked, her face a picture of surprise. "I had no idea. I'm guessing they're the peaceful kind of demons, yeah?" She really hoped there was no reason for her to stake her mom's best friend.

 

"Of course they are," Anya gave them both a disgusted look. "You should know by now that there are several species of demon that live and work around humans quite peaceably. Who do you think takes all the night jobs here on the Hellmouth?"

 

"You mean the pizza guy?" Xander's mouth gaped like a landed fish.

 

"Well, duh!" You think a human is going to deliver pizzas for that tiny salary at night...here?"

 

"Okay, maybe not Nick then," Xander began.

 

"Make up your mind, Xander. Should Buffy have a nice guy who can keep up with her or some puny human she'll break?"

 

"How about we just let Buffy decide?" said the slightly irritated Slayer. "I think I’m not really ready for round three in the love games just yet. Riley and I only broke up yesterday."

 

Giles entered the Magic Box looking preoccupied and like he was in a hurry about something. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to go back to London for a short while. Anya, you can handle the shop on your own, right?"

 

"What's up, G-Man? Apocalypse in the offing?" Xander grinned. "Seems a little early in the season, doesn't it?"

 

"Not an apocalypse as such, but trouble--far more than we may be equipped to handle, I fear." He looked at the young people gathered and he worried about what may be up ahead. An apocalypse might be easier if things continued as they seemed to be headed. "Have you listened to the television news today?"

 

"Not on my Tivo list, Watcher Man," Xander shrugged.

 

"Not enough room with all the Babylon 5, Doctor Who and war movies you record," Anya chided. "Although I do try to tune into the money market news. One of us has to be the responsible adult, especially about our money."

 

"They've announced a new Senate sub-committee on hostiles and demons, part of the Judiciary committee, just like the one they set up for terrorists." Giles explained. "Senator Hatch said that with all the attacks by these unknown non-humans it was time to have our government and its military get more heavily involved."

 

"So you’re heading off to London...why?" Buffy looked concerned but confused.

 

"Rumor has it that Quentin Travers is planning to speak before this sub-committee, as well as a session of the UN. I'm not certain what he is planning to divulge, but I have a bad feeling about this. I have certain contacts within the Council who are equally alarmed. I'll be meeting with them."

 

***

 

Giles had been gone only a day before Willow and Anya began trading barbs and looking daggers at one another.

 

Anya was straightening her merchandise and lamenting the lack of movement with the chicken feet stock. Willow had been poking fun at her concerns and Anya was heartily sick of it.

"Make fun of the ex-demon! I can just hear you in private. 'I dislike that Anya. She's newly human and strangely literal.' You are as bad as all those zealots out there grabbing innocent demons off the streets!"

 

"Well, it would help if you at least tried to act more human, especially now," Willow huffed. She didn't like or understand Anya. The former vengeance demon clearly had no remorse for any of the death and disaster she had caused as a demon. She still acted as if she were a demon half the time, and yet Xander was like a puppy dog around her.

 

Tara spoke up, "It-it is dangerous. My friend Davey West is a-a human, but he has a disease that makes him look odd. He's been fired from a job he loved and is getting harassed by people on the street. He's taken to carrying around a note from his doctor stating he's fully human, just suffering from an illness. Just in case."

 

"I am being careful. Xander has made it clear that I have to talk less, and more like you do when I talk. We're supposed to go to a cookout at his boss’s house tomorrow and I think Xander is hoping I'll decide I want to stay at home."

 

The three girls looked at one another silently with a vague look of unease on all their faces.

 

***

 

"Hey, Xander, bring that plate of brauts over here, will ya?" Max Taylor was in his element flipping burgers and turning sausages on the grill and bellowing out orders like on the job.

 

"Sure thing, boss." Xander took a whiff of the yummy meats grilling and spared a nervous glance at Anya, sitting apart from the rest of the group. The off-hours get together was not something Xander felt he could easily turn down. Max was a good boss and he paid well. Still, the supervisor was also very much a fan of The Charlie Cooper Hour and had the loudmouth blaring out of the radio every day on the site.

 

Max served up another round of succulent meat and looked over his crew. This was the life! Real slice of Americana right in his own back yard. "I'm putting in a new policy, boys. Gonna have DNA tests for all hires from now on. None of those demons and other trash gonna be on a Taylor Construction crew, no siree! Strictly human. Like Charlie says, it's humans for humans."

 

Xander noticed Joe Perkins stiffen and edge over closer to Anya. Knowing what he did now about his co-worker, he didn't blame him one bit.

 

Taylor was still talking. "Don't know if I'm gonna make you guys take it. You all seem pretty human to me, but I'm not ruling it out. Person can't be too careful these days. Don't always know who you're talking to or dealing with."

 

Xander could see Anya starting to get annoyed and purposefully headed towards her with a plate full of potato salad and brauts.

 

"Well, Mr. Taylor--," Anya began, only to be cut off as Xander dumped the plate in her lap, making a huge mess.

 

Joe quickly grabbed napkins and started to help clean up while whispering, "Probably better just to be quiet, Anya. Let it go."

 

"What's that?" Taylor asked, then noticed the mess. "Say, there's a bathroom just inside that door if you want to clean that off," he pointed with the tongs. "Xander, if you get that clumsy on the site, I might have to test you." He laughed at his own jest.

 

"I think Anya was going to thank you for having us over. She works a lot of hours and hasn't had a chance to meet many of my work buddies."

 

"Pretty lil’ gal you've got there, Xander." Taylor smiled lasciviously. He'd heard that she had quite a mouth on her and the fellas knew more about Xander's love life than they had any reason to know. Rumors always spread at a workplace. "I'm sure all the fellas will be delighted with her company. You need to bring her around more."

 

Kate had sidled up to Xander and put a concerned hand on his forearm. "Maybe I should take Anya home? She'll want to get those stains before they set."

 

"I can take her home, Kate, but thanks." Xander noted the frown on Max's face. He liked to be ruler of the roost and had wanted all his key employees at his little shindig. He wouldn't be happy if Xander bailed out now.

 

"Really, I don't mind," Kate looked nervously at Anya who had just returned from the bathroom still looking peeved. "No reason you boys shouldn't stay and enjoy. We ladies can take care of the laundry emergency by ourselves."

 

Xander bit his lip, "Okay. Just...I won't be too late, honey." He kissed Anya briefly and let Kate lead her to her car.

 

Things were heating up and not just next to the barbecue pit either.

 

***

 

Buffy gave Spike a curious look when she noticed him flinch as they took out another rampaging Fyral demon, the second one of the night. "Hurt yourself? These guys too much for the Big Bad?"

 

"'M fine, Slayer," he lied through gritted teeth. 'Heart would have to be on the left side when I'm left handed,' he complained to himself.

 

Buffy stopped laughing at him and grew concerned as she noted blood seeping from his chest. "Did one of them get a piece of you?"

 

"No. Rather not talk about it," Spike tried to pull his coat closer to hide the fresh leak his physical exertion had caused.

 

Buffy, not to be put off, pulled his coat aside and touched where he was bleeding, making him flinch in pain. Eyes narrowed, she reached for the bottom of his untorn tee shirt to have a look at whatever injury could be causing the bleeding.

 

"Hey, hands off, Slayer," Spike tried to evade her hands, to no avail.

 

Buffy's eyes widened as she took in the bandage, now soaked in blood, right over the heart area of Spike's chest. "Want to tell me how this happened?"

 

"No."

 

"Want to try to keep me from harassing you till you do?"

 

"No." He drew in an exasperated breath then leveled with her. "Had a visit from your former honey. Wanted to make a point I'd remember." His tone of voice clearly meant to brush it off.

 

"If that point was wood, you would be in an ashtray right now. What happened, exactly?" Buffy looked determined to hear it.

 

Spike looked sheepish and his voice was low. "Wanker had a plastic stake. Promised the real deal if I kept hangin' around you. Told him he didn't get to play bouncer at your party and we parted as less than friends. That do it for you?" His wounded pride in telling how he had been bested by a mere human showed in his body language.

 

Buffy was livid. "Who does he think he is, telling me who I can and cannot hang around with? And what kind of pervert carries a plastic stake around to torture vampires anyway?" She started to walk off in the general direction of the apartment complex where Finn currently resided.

 

"Best just let it lay, Buffy. He was mad on account of me telling you about the suck house and because you gave him his walkin' papers. No need to stir the soup." Spike had heard a rumor that Finn was back in uniform and the last thing he wanted was to make a bigger target of himself, not with the chip in his head.

 

Buffy stopped, but her eyes were welling with unshed tears. "I'm so sick of everyone thinking they have a say in who I can like." She turned back towards Spike. "Let's go back to your crypt and get this bandaged up again. Looks like no more demons needing killing tonight and it's starting to rain. You can even make snarky remarks about my poor taste in men while I patch you up. I won’t even break anything when you do. Boy, can I pick 'em!"

 

***

 

“Colonel Ellis, I’m honored to join your unit,” Riley stood proud and ramrod straight before his new superior. “Feels like coming home.”

 

“I’ll have Graham show you around the facility then. Good to have someone with your background and record on board. Saves on training.”

 

Graham took Riley through the gates and gave him an overview on the security and procedures for working on the base. “Over here are the labs. Lots of the same faces doing the good work, just no Frankenstein monsters being made.” He poked Finn in the rib and grinned, “Just like old times, only a bigger budget and not as much having to hide what we’re doing. When we get the civilians on board, we won’t have to worry about any bleeding hearts shutting us down.”

 

Graham dropped his eyes and bit his lip, wondering how to approach the biggest question he had for his old friend and comrade. “About that girl and her band of saboteurs…that going to be a problem this go-round?”

 

“Buffy and I are history.” Riley looked thoughtful. “You know, I saw a lot of things while I was with her and her friends. Some of it doesn’t add up.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, they talk about Buffy being ‘chosen’ like it’s some religious thing or royalty, but it smells off. I mean it’s just not natural for a female to be that strong. She is wicked strong, Graham! She was holding back when we tested her with the group. It’s not…well, not human.”

 

“Are you saying this Slayer is an HST?”

 

Riley looked a bit uncomfortable. “I don’t know. How can you tell for certain? She reads as human on all our equipment, but I’ve never seen anyone other than an HST heal as fast as she does. I’ve seen her take out groups of demons without breaking a sweat. Something isn’t right.”

 

“Sure she’s not on some kind of drugs, like they were giving us?” Graham couldn’t picture the small, cute blonde as a Hostile.

 

“No. No drugs. She doesn’t even really drink. The legend is that the girl, the 'Slayer', gets this power when the previous one dies, then passes it on when she is finally killed. It’s all supernatural oogie-boogie stuff--that is, if they’re telling the truth.

 

“Then there’s her friends. She’s really soft on some demons, like that werewolf they sprang before the doctors could look him over. He’s a friend of hers, or was, until he left town. The girlfriend of her best bud says she herself used to be a demon. Not sure how you become a human after being a demon. Vampires do it the other way around, but it doesn’t make sense going from demon to human.”

 

“Maybe those are exceptions to her because they are human, or, in the case of the werewolf, mostly human?” Graham attempted to give Buffy’s choice in friends the benefit of the doubt.

 

“What about 17?!” Riley nearly snarled.

 

Graham furrowed his brow in confusion. “17 what?”

 

“HST-17. The vampire that escaped early on from the holding cells in the old Initiative.” Riley turned and gave his friend a grim look. “She’s been protecting the bastard since he escaped. He’s always around. She even lets him run tame in her mother’s home, has him to dinner.”

 

“Wait!” Graham exclaimed in shock. “You mean that 17 is still alive ... or whatever? He should have been dust ages ago from the chip. None of the chipped Hostiles lasted very long after implant. How is he still around?”

 

“Bagging it for blood,” Riley nodded. “Leaves the humans alone that way. He’s out showing off his fighting skills against other demons most nights, though.”

 

“Doc will want to get a look at that one! He’ll be stoked to know an early subject is available for research. Shouldn’t be too tough picking him up, since you say he hangs close to your ex.”

Chapter Text

***

Chapter 6

****

Giles felt a chill run down his spine as he listened to the things Robson and the group were telling him.

 

“Travers is off the reservation, as it were. Says the Council is passé, a relic. Says one girl cannot contain the numbers of vampires and demons overrunning the earth. Says we should have begun wholesale extermination years ago.” Robson knew full well that not every demon was a threat and he looked pale at the implications. “We were all taught that our existence, the existence of the Slayer, is a matter of balance, not extermination.”

 

“Be that as it may, why on earth would he seek to ally the Council with a group that tried to destroy the current Slayer?” Giles would never forgive Walsh for that offense.

 

“Doesn’t think too highly of your Buffy, does he?” Robson had had many a discussion with Rupert over Quentin Travers and his methods over the years. “Doesn’t care much for my Nora either, truth to tell. Says she’s too forward, not properly conditioned to know her place.”

 

“We know the Council’s stand regarding Faith as well. Prison is the only thing keeping them from sending a second wet works team to finish what they started. Diana Dormer, Faith’s first Watcher, and I roomed together during training. I have to admit having a soft spot for the troubled girl. Diana loved her like a daughter.” Davina White was pouring tea and trying her best to maintain control of her shaking hand. “I believe Quentin thinks we can do away with slayers altogether and use this resource to contain the demons without having to deal with accepting whomever the Powers have chosen for the task.”

 

“He’s power-mad! Can’t control the young girls under his watch and can’t stand to be made a fool,” Paul Jeffries added.

 

“I can’t understand why the Council hasn’t taken steps to remove him from leadership. His sharing of information, going public, is against all the traditions and rules of the Council.” Giles sat back in his chair and tried to rein in his temper. "There are long-standing peace treaties with some species that this is going to violate."

 

“Indeed,” Jeffries agreed. “You know that he and Wyndam-Pryce--Roger, not his doltish son--spent years stacking the Council with their sycophants and toadies. Not one will raise a hand against the one who feeds them.”

 

“So there’s no stopping him then,” Giles sighed.

 

“Not that we’ve been able to think of and Lord knows we’ve tried.” Robson sat back in his chair with an air of defeat.

 

“We may simply have to weather this storm out and hope for the best,” Davina nodded.

 

"Contingencies, gentlemen...and er, lady. Contingencies. I think it's time to make preparations for the worst case scenario. Make certain these idiots led about by that beastly Travers don't leave what's left of the world undefended. Gather those we can and the resources we can and go underground," Jeffries pronounced.

 

***

 

“What do you mean you refuse the test, Joe?” Max glared at his long term employee. “You realize that by refusing you are admitting to being a demon?”

 

“I’m a tax paying citizen of the United States, Max. Our Constitution says a person is innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. This goes against my principles and should go against yours too.”

 

Max was clearly offended. “Are you questioning my patriotism, Joe?” he asked in a low, vaguely threatening tone, eyes narrowed.

 

“You’re questioning my humanity!”

 

“I’m doing exactly what the authorities have asked. I’m ferreting out all the demonic creatures that are ruining this great land of ours, taking our jobs and killing our people. The law is soon going to back me up and then it won’t just be people losing jobs.” Max was red in the face with anger. “Take the test or take a hike, Perkins.”

 

“Been nice working for you, Max.” Joe grabbed his lunch-pail and headed for the parking area.

 

The rest of the crew, many having considered Joe one of their best foremen and aso a friend, were speechless, but no one said a word.

 

“Anyone else want to refuse the test?”

 

***

 

Joyce, looking wan but not so deathly as before her surgery, poured the tea for a jet lagged Giles. “So is Buffy in any danger from this Travers man?”

 

“I don’t know.” Seeing the look of alarm on the ailing woman’s face, he amended, “I’m not certain what his priorities are at this point, Joyce. He is meeting with the United States Senate today. I hear they did a blackout of coverage on C-SPAN. No telling what he is saying. There will be a televised address with the U.N. tomorrow. He's already had a one-on-one meeting with Blair. He’s in the height of his glory at the moment, the man of the hour, as it were. I would imagine any thoughts he has of Buffy are taking a back seat to his ego for now.”

 

“Well, she doesn’t work for them any longer anyway. What can he do?”

 

Giles inclined his head in agreement. “There is that.”

 

“What about the rest of the Council?”

 

Giles looked furious but contained. “Most are following him like so many sheep. A few sane individuals are managing to get as much of the research library copied and hidden for the future we may all face if this all blows up. A couple are taking their Potential Slayers into hiding.”

 

“So what about the information on the Key you were going to ask them to research? I know that the whole hellgod danger has passed, but what about Dawn’s future if this Travers starts talking about all he knows?”

 

Giles cleared his throat. “Well, fortunately we never told the Council too much about that. No one outside our small circle knows anything about Dawn. As far as the world is concerned, she is a typical adolescent girl.”

 

“Oh, thank God! I have enough to worry about with Buffy on shaky ground.”

 

“We may have to warn Dawn at some future point, perhaps do a few tests of our own. It looks as though the government--well, almost all of them for that matter--are thinking of enforcing tests to determine just who are normal humans and who are not.” Giles looked suitably troubled. “There is no reason to suspect that Dawn would test as anything other than human, but it would be prudent to be certain.”

 

“Everyone is running around like the world is ending. I had to leave church last Sunday when my sweet-faced minister started talking about hell being unleashed on earth and our duty to ‘protect our women and children.’” Joyce shook her head. “When did everything get so out of hand?”

 

“I don’t really know, Joyce.” Giles took a sip of her perfectly brewed Earl Grey and thought a bit. “I grew up knowing about the things that go bump in the night. You learned of it after Buffy was called. It’s always been out there. Our planet has always had demons and humans living on it at the same time. At times there has been peace; other times, war. Usually it’s been a state of détente with the Slayer policing the demon world, ridding it of the worst elements and stopping apocalypses. There is a balance that has been kept and an unwritten agreement to not talk too much about the reality we live in.”

 

“Tell that to the Charlie Coopers and the raving hatemongers online,” Joyce said.

 

“I don’t know who decided we needed a war, but they will be getting their wish should this continue.” Giles closed his eyes and looked very tired. “Fools!”

 

***

 

“Did you hear that British guy, Mr. Travers’, speech at the U.N. yesterday?” Warren had rushed over to Reverend Baker’s office filled with excitement. “We were right on all counts. There are demons and we’re all that stands between them and taking over the world.”

 

“Warren, you must remember that God has his own army. Not even a demon horde can stand against us. Many will fight and many will fall, but the Good Lord will prevail, son.” The minister looked saintly and just a trifle smug. “Remember that, young man, and take heart.”

 

“I was thinking about starting that group you suggested. Youth for Humans?” Mears prodded. “I think a great slogan would be, ‘Resistance is futile.’ What do you think?”

 

The minister laughed good naturedly. “I think that sounds just fine, son, just fine. We’ll show this hellspawn what it is to come up against the Almighty.” His countenance raised, face shining in reflected glory, the minister might have literally meant God or their little group or maybe even himself.

 

“At least the government is doing the right thing. These new laws are going to be passed and signed so fast the demons’ heads might just spin off on their own. After that last massacre in Oklahoma where a Congressman’s son was one of the slaughtered, I doubt there will be any votes against them.” The minster seemed to recall his audience. “Well, son, let’s get busy, shall we? Start gathering your troops and let’s do the Lord’s work.”

 

***

 

“Now back to you, Peter.”

Buffy had never watched so much news in her life, usually finding it rather boring and not anything that directly pertained to her own life. Not since all this started though. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing one bloodbath or another. Usually, it was confusing to her, because the lame demons involved could have been easily stopped in most cases.

 

Peter Jennings was continuing the broadcast, “Meanwhile, back in Washington, Senator Hatch has submitted a bill from his Judiciary committee entitled the Human Protection Act that looks to get quick approval when it comes to a vote. For more, let’s go to Ann Compton in Washington.”

 

“Yes, Peter, it looks as if the bill will have little to no opposition, even though a few liberal Congressmen have raised the question about the broad language used in the bill.

 

Under the provisions of the section titled ‘Restoration of Human Sovereignty,’ no one failing to pass a DNA test proving they are completely human may hold any position in civil service or the military.

 

Other provisions cover areas that are more general and not government specific.

 

State funded schools will no longer accept any student or teacher who does not test positive for human DNA. No licensing for any medical professional will be issued or renewed unless proof of humanity is given; the same for judges and lawyers, as well as notaries.

 

Voters will have to provide proof of pure human DNA before being allowed to cast ballots in all 50 States and all protectorates beginning with the next election.

 

There are more restrictions being looked into to protect our people from these beings now being openly referred to as demons.”

 

Ann looked up from the text she had of the legislation and straight into the camera. “It’s being referred to as the first step in taking back our planet. Back to you, Peter.”

 

“Thank you, Ann. Stay tuned as more developments follow.”

 

Buffy looked up from the TV to see an ashen Kate Perkins at the door. “Come on in, Kate. What’s up?”

 

“Joe lost his job. He refused one of those tests. Now there’s talk that everyone--at least everyone who is suspect--is going to have to take one, and if you refuse you will be arrested.” She was shaking. “I don’t know what to do, Buffy. I’ve lived in Sunnydale my whole life, so has Joe. My grandfather helped bring the University here and he was on the board for years. Joe’s family practically built the entire downtown area. What are we going to do?”

 

Buffy only wished she had the answer.

 

“I wish I could tell you that you’ll be safe, Kate, I really do. I don’t know how anything is going to play out, the way things are going. I always did hate that jerk Travers and now that he gave that scary speech at the U.N., he has everyone in a panic.”

 

“It doesn’t help that some demons are still out there killing and rampaging,” Kate admitted. “You know they are the minority, right?”

 

“I don’t have a clue, Kate; I only slay the ones I catch doing the bad things.”

 

“There’s talk about finding safe houses. You wouldn’t know anyone I could talk to about that, would you, Buffy?” In desperation, Kate turned pleading eyes on the Slayer.

 

Buffy thought for a moment. “There might be. Let me give someone a call, Kate, and I’ll let you know if I find out anything.”

 

 

~Los Angeles, California~

Everything was hectic at the Hyperion. Darla had died giving birth to Angel’s miracle child and the group had found itself helping nearly as many demons as humans. The helpless came in all varieties lately.

 

The only reason Angel and Lorne were safe from the international frenzy over demons was because the entertainment industry that practically owned L.A. was largely demon controlled. Still, things would be safe only so long before the pressure would cause even that protection to fold.

 

Cordy had just gotten little Connor to sleep when the phone rang, waking the fussy baby again. She grabbed the yowling child in one hand and the telephone in the other. “Angel Investigations. We help the helpless; how can we help you?”

 

“Cordy? It’s Buffy, with a favor to ask.”

 

“Angel’s kinda busy right now, but I can have him call you when he gets back in.”

 

“Is that a baby I hear crying? What’s going on out there, Cordy?”

 

“Long story meant for another day and not my story to tell anyway. Look, Buffy, Angel’s moving on with his own mission. I know he’ll bend over backwards to lend a hand with whatever problem you’ve got, but it really isn’t safe for him to leave L.A. right now.”

 

“I’m not needing him to leave. In fact, just the opposite. Do you know of any safe places for peaceful demons to ride this out?”

 

“Why, you planning to send some our way?”

 

“If I can, yeah.” Buffy wondered offhand if she could convince Spike to head to Angel’s place as well. She hadn’t been able to shake the bad feeling she had ever since she’d seen the hate Riley had for Spike when he staked him. She wouldn’t put it past Riley to hand Spike over to one of the patrols she had seen out and about lately.

 

“We’ve got some room here, but I don’t know how long L.A. is going to be safe for anyone.” Cordy cooed to the baby and rocked him in her arms, trying to get him to settle back down. “Look, I’ll have Angel call when he gets in, okay? I kinda have my hands full right now.”

 

***

 

Spike didn’t even look up as Buffy crashed through his door while on patrol that night. “Soldiers?”

 

“Yeah, they’re making a sweep of the old cemeteries tonight, it looks like. I didn’t like a conversation I had with Graham the last time I ran into them and thought I’d make a discreet retreat.”

 

“Tab's in the fridge. Help yourself.” Spike vacated the only chair and took a seat on the sarcophagus that served as secondary seating.

 

“It’s getting a lot less safe out there, Spike. You ever think of leaving?”

 

“And going where, pet? This demon hunt’s happenin’ all over the world. Seems one bolt hole is as safe as another. Least I know the sewers and hidey holes here in Sunny-D pretty well.” Spike was as nervous as any in the demon community, but really, where was someone to go when everywhere was dangerous?

 

“There has to be some place,” Buffy sighed. “I’m trying to find a way to help the Perkins family get to safety. I put a call in to Angel, hoping he knows where I should send them.”

 

“Got a friend named Clem left a while back. Said there was a group headed for the Cascades in Washington State. Might have something set up there. I haven’t heard from him since he left though.”

 

Buffy shook her head, “Maybe Angel’s heard of it, or someplace like it. “ She plopped in the chair and opened her soda. “This sucks majorly! It’s my job to stop the bad ones and all they’ve done so far is scare everyone to death and get in my way.”

 

“Yeah, I’m no fan either,” Spike laughed. “Different reason, but I completely agree.”

 

“Anya saw Riley in town yesterday. He’s back in uniform.” Buffy looked up at Spike through her lashes. “She’s afraid Riley is going to turn her in for having been a demon.”

 

“Don’t know how anyone could prove that’s story's anythin’ more than just some somethin' the chit told,” Spike consoled.

 

“I don’t know what kind of intel or equipment they have now. I know they’re using DNA swabs on the local population, but I think they have more in their bag of tricks.” Buffy took a long swallow of zero calorie sweetness.

 

“Looks like they got funding that’d put that Walsh bitch to shame this go-round,” Spike said bitterly.

 

“Aren’t you worried?”

 

“’Bout what, pet?”

 

“About Riley turning you in.” Buffy rolled her eyes in exasperation. “He has a powerful hate for you and you know it.”

 

“Let ‘em come. Be worth the headache to pay the wanker back for the hole he put in me.” Spike spat with bravado.

 

“And when the chip leaves you writhing on the floor helpless?”

 

The only possible answer was the one she got: silence.

Chapter Text

***

Chapter 7

***

 

"Buffy? This is Angel returning your call. Look, Buffy, I've got some bad news. Faith's been found dead in her cell. They are saying she hung herself, but I'm not buying it." Angel sounded tired. His face might not be expressive, but his voice usually was. "Call me back when you get this message, okay?"

 

Giles paled as he listened to Buffy relay the message from Angel.

 

"Angel doesn't buy it that Faith got taken down in a yard fight. Where they had her locked up wasn't like that prison on 'Oz'; besides, Faith could have kicked Adebisi's ass from here to Tuesday without breaking a sweat. She's too skilled for some random inmate to have had that one good day." Buffy looked as shaken as Giles. "I have to agree with Angel. So, Watcher mine, who was it? Was it the not so friendly government operatives or the Council?"

 

"I wish I could say with certainty," Giles paused to think. "I don't know yet how much Travers may have told that Senate committee about Slayers, at least not specifically Faith and you. I have a feeling it was more likely a Council action. Travers has been wanting to be rid of Faith ever since she came out of that coma."

 

"Any of your friends likely to know for sure? I'd really like to think I can live my life and do my duty without having the Council targeting me as well." Buffy had been up most of the previous night trying to comfort and console her mother, who had unfortunately heard Angel's message before she did and was worried sick.

 

"I have a call in to Robson." Giles glanced at his answering machine as if looking at it could magically cause an answer to appear. "I don't know if or when he might get it. He was taking his Potential, Nora, and going into hiding when I last spoke with him."

 

"This is so wrong, Giles. The good guys are in hiding. Most of the friendly demons are disappearing and the humans are scarier than the things I hunt every night. Things used to be so simple. Faith and I had our issues but she was the only person alive who could ever totally get what my life is like, what it is to be ‘Chosen’. She messed up but the big reason she went totally off the rails is because she wasn’t able to deal with having killed a human. She was every bit as much ‘The Slayer’ as I am and now I’m back to being the ‘one’. She deserved better both as a Slayer and in how she died.”

***

Giles watched the address Travers made to the General Assembly of the United Nations. “Wonder what the berk had to say in closed sessions. This was bad enough.” Whatever he had revealed had caused quite the shake-up.

 

“…..announced his retirement today. Mr. Annan of Ghana has been Secretary General of the UN since January of 1997. His unexpected announcement has been met with astonishment in diplomatic circles. The appointment of Cosmin Beldescu of Romania as Sec. Annan’s replacement as Secretary General is also a cause of much surprise. Little is known about this newest member of the Romanian delegation to the United Nations and his appointment to this august position so rapidly following his arrival is seen as unprecedented…..”

***

“It’s time gentlemen. The people of the world are ready. We are ready.” Secretary Beldescu was firm and confident as he addressed the collected heads of State and their representatives in the bunker below New Jersey. “We have already let out enough information to soften the blow. It remains to finally do what the public has been clamoring for us to do and come clean.” His grin could only be referred to as wicked. “We shall give them what they wish, no?”

 

“I will address the world tomorrow and lay it all out then. All the major news outlets have been alerted and we will be having the conference in the Security Council room. This will add a nice stamp of control on the entire project don’t you think?”

***

 

The Scoobies gathered around the TV for the ‘big address’ as it was being called. Spike nervously sipped at the cocoa Joyce had thoughtfully fixed in an effort to offer liquid comfort to all. ‘Think some of Rupert’s scotch might be a better idea,’ he thought ruefully.

 

“Citizens of the world, I have come before you to finally stop treating you as mere children. The human race is resilient and clever and there is no need to continue to withhold truths from you for fear that you would panic,” Beldescu intoned. His demeanor was that of a determined leader speaking to his people as equals. “You have been deluged with reports from around the globe of horrifying incidents, incidents that your governments have long hidden or explained away in order to protect you from the awful truth. That truth is that we are not alone on our Mother Earth. No, I do not imply that we have made contact with some alien race. These monstrosities you have rightly feared are from the same planet that mankind has cultivated and tamed. Make no mistake, they are not human, but they are of Earth. They are the very stuff of nightmares long hidden in our folk tales and myths.

 

“People have been aware but reluctant to speak publicly about these things until the atrocities became uncontainable. They are varied in type and go by many names, some deeply embedded in the human psyche. Monster, Vampire, Demon…you have all had subconscious awareness of their existence. Those ‘things that go bump in the night’ are all too real and we must stop treating you as small children being told that the monster in the closet is imaginary. In my land, my beautiful Romania, we have long accepted the reality of one type of demon, the Vampire. One of our National Heroes, our beloved Vlad Dracul was murdered by such and the body of that hero has been reigning terror, propelled by the beast that murdered him. Since 1476, Vlad Tepes has been denied sacred rest while unspeakable acts have been committed by the demon residing in his corpse!”

 

The screen behind the new Secretary General began to show scenes of a handsome, pale man with long dark hair and piercing eyes being surrounded by uniform clad humans. The Secretary General turned sideways and indicated the press and the television viewers should watch as the images told the story. The vampire of legend had been cornered, stripped of his magicks, and was vulnerable. As newsmen watched in amazement, he was held down and beheaded, becoming nothing but a brief flash of skeleton and then dust.

 

“What you have just witnessed is the end of one, but only one, of these demons. After centuries, the hero of my people will be at rest and the hell beast that stole his body and his memory has been returned to the devil himself! The abomination, this travesty of human imitation has been eliminated at last.

 

“This is the information that you must finally be given, people of the world. Humans are in a struggle to survive. Demons have always been among us, preying upon our children, our weak, our vulnerable. As you have seen over these past terrifying months, their attacks have become more bold, more deadly. No longer a lone peasant murdered, butchered or worse, but large groups of humans have become the fodder of these denizens of hell. No more!” He practically shouted the rallying cry. “We shall be antelope to the lion no longer! Children of the world, it is time to wake up and deal with the nightmare that is, in the end, reality.”

 

Xander gave a nervous laugh, “I thought the Dark Master was kinda nice--for a vamp, that is.” Buffy gave him a dirty look.

 

Spike stared at the screen and wondered just how long before the Scourge of Europe would be in the crosshairs. He had a fleeting thought, wondering if Dru was somewhere safe. No doubt her Pixies had been quite vocal for months. She was crazy but not stupid. Somehow he thought she’d make it.

 

“No coming back from this,” Giles muttered. “This cat isn’t going back into the bag now. What the bloody hell are they thinking?”

 

“They’re thinking all-out war,” Spike replied glumly.

 

***

Rabbi Goldstein looked at the smallish crowd of concerned citizens and lightly tapped the microphone to begin the discussion. “We want to thank all of you for coming tonight in spite of the downpour. Most of you are here because you have become concerned over events that seem to be drawing us all along a path that is both frightening and foreboding.

 

Some of you are here because friends or neighbors, even family, have been directly affected by the changes in the way our world is looking at interpreting the laws of this great land. There is real fear in the streets of our cities and towns, not just fear of those beings we have lived with unknowingly--or knowingly, in some cases--since the start of time, but also fear of each other.“ He looked out at the nodding heads, mostly human.

 

An elderly couple sat in the shadows, their pale grey skin indicating they belonged to the demon community. “I recognize many of you and welcome you all to Congregation B’nai Israel, a house of worship and peace. Shalom.”

 

“For those of you unfamiliar with me or my colleagues, perhaps I should introduce us. “ He laughed in a self-deprecating manner and added, “I should be so famous that you all know me? Oy, I’ll introduce myself first, I think.” The crowd laughed softly.

 

“I am Rabbi Saul Goldstein and I have led this congregation these past twenty years. At my right is Father Michael Quinn from St. Jude Thaddeus on Fourth Street. To my left is Reverend Calvin Prentiss Pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. over on Cottonwood. Next to him, the honorable Imam of the Al-Sadiq Mosque and my great friend, Kalil Mohammed Azim. I tease him that he was recruited to keep our group from becoming the living embodiment of the old joke of the Rabbi the Priest and the Minister!” The crowd laughed a bit louder at that quip.

 

“And introducing yourselves as 'Father Mike, his brother Cal, and his other brother Kal’ doesn’t?” quipped the Imam.

 

They waited for the laughter to die down. It felt good to laugh, if only for a brief moment.

 

The Rabbi continued. “Like you, we have been watching the events around us and have come to the conclusion that there is a need for those of us called to lead spiritually to step up to the plate and follow our consciences. This is not the time for remaining silent, even if it would be equally foolhardy to become so well known as to become ineffective.” The Rabbi closed his eyes at some private memory before continuing, “It is ever the way in this world to walk a thin line when trying to take the moral high ground.” His eyes teared up and he motioned for Father Mike to continue.

 

“Mark your calendars that Saul ceded the microphone,” the Priest quipped, trying to elicit a grin from the emotional Rabbi. “Let’s get to it then.” Father Mike looked like the Notre Dame fullback he once was years before, a bull of a man with not much neck, but tons of heart. His gruff voice added a touch of no-nonsense to the discussion at hand.

 

“We’ve lived with demons here in Sunnydale for all of our collective lifetimes. Pussyfoot around it all you like, call our neighbors what you will, we all were aware, even if we never talked about it. We knew to keep our kids inside after dark, what streets to avoid at all times and that the month of May usually means some pretty weird things happen like clockwork. We also know that not all demons are unfriendly or dangerous,” he nodded towards the grey couple in the corner. “Some even attend services and play a mean game of Bingo on Saturday nights!”

 

Several pairs of eyes shifted toward the nervous pair of Grivloks who had been formally ‘outed’ by the good Father. “Ralph there is even preparing to become a deacon!”

 

“Now no one here is saying the nasties shouldn’t be dealt with. Any demon or human who kills or preys on others needs to be given some form of justice and no one here is disagreeing about that.” Many heads nodded in quick agreement. “Still, there is a big difference between justice, justice with mercy, and the outright injustice going on around us on a regular basis since the formally invisible elephant in the room has been exposed.”

 

“We mean to make certain that our fellow sentient beings get treated with the same fairness we still reserve for those we call human. Thanks to the fear inflamed by our leaders, this calls for a bit of law bending.” He looked fearlessly at the hand-picked group they’d invited and sent up a silent prayer that they had chosen wisely.

 

“We are establishing a sort of underground railroad for those of our neighbors in jeopardy who are not a threat to any of us. There are networks of groups forming, kind of like the resistance movements in Europe in the Great War. We’re keeping information sharing to a minimum to prevent any of it falling into the wrong hands, but we'll manage to get the job done.”

 

Some in the audience began to shift in their seats nervously. The unspoken message was one of concern that their complacent lives were about to change if they were being called upon to do more than look on in despair and instead take action.

 

“Each of us here,” Father Mike motioned to his fellow clergy, “came up with a list of people we felt had the kind of heart that holds courage and decency enough to join in this effort. Men and women willing to do the right thing and save innocent lives. That would be you.”

 

The group sat silent for a moment until Harvey Wicks, proprietor of one of the more lucrative butcher shops in Sunnydale, thanks in part to many in the demon community, stood to speak. “Look, I’m all for justice and all that, but you’re asking us to put our lives, our families in danger. I’m not sure I want to go out on that particular limb.”

 

A couple of heads nodded and a murmur rose as this fear-driven but valid point was discussed quietly by the crowd.

 

“I mean, I wouldn’t just stand there if one of my customers were being dragged away. Don’t think so anyway. But what you’re talking about here is against the law!” Harvey was beginning to sweat at the thought that someone might report the current meeting putting him in hot water without him even doing anything illegal! “They have all those anti-demon laws that passed pretty much everywhere to keep us all safe. It’s pretty clear what kind of penalties there are for aiding and abetting sub-humans!”

 

“Sub-humans?!” Chaim Rosenberg rose in outrage. “Where have I heard that term before? Oh, yes, the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 just before they put my family in rail cars and sent us to Treblinka! Back then I was one of those ‘sub-humans’. I was eleven years old and had not even had my Bar Mitzvah.”

 

“This is hardly the same thing,” Harvey exclaimed, his face red. “You are a human; they’re demons!”

 

“Demons, schemons! Suddenly you’re the Almighty knowing who’s who and what’s what?” Chaim was spoiling for a fight, one he wished had been fought for him so many years ago. “Let me give you a bit of a history lesson, Mr. Butcher Man, one I lived and see happening all over again.”

 

Harvey sat down, fuming, as the others all made it clear they were interested in Chaim’s point of view.

 

“I came to this wonderful country an orphan, allowed in because my only family left was a distant cousin in Fresno. My entire family was sent to the north of Poland, to Treblinka, and rest in a mass grave with over a million other people determined to be sub-human by the legal authorities! I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones and escaped in a revolt while on work detail. I hid in the countryside until the war was over, living on whatever I could find and terrified of being recaptured. I became a proud citizen of this land and joined the United States Army as soon as I won my citizenship. I fought in Korea and have the shrapnel in my body still to show for it. My medals are in my chest of drawers where I take them out once a year to parade each Veterans Day. What I would give if just one of my brothers were alive to see that!

 

“My son, his wife and daughter will never know the joys of having a large, loving family gathered for Shabbat. My lovely granddaughter, Willow, never dressed as Esther on Purim to act out our history for her aunts, uncles and so many cousins, all so long in their graves!

 

“Those men who herded my family into cattle cars were following the law of their land too. Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, the mentally impaired, Communists and political dissenters were all labeled as sub-human, deserving only to be removed from decent society.” He looked pointedly at Harvey, “You say they are demons, monsters. So we are to fight them by becoming them?”

 

Harvey had the grace to look abashed but still not convinced as Chaim continued.

 

“I love this country that embraced the starved orphan seeking the safety of a society with a constitution designed to give fairness and justice to even its lowest citizens. That is the society I put my life on the line for in battle, those are the principles. We have become so afraid of the so-called monsters among us, who have always been among us, that we have given away our rights and altered the rule of law that has been our foundation ever since those far-seeing men laid them out for the world to marvel over. A constitution that has been the clarion call for countless patriots to rally behind. For adopted children such as myself to be willing to die to protect. We have sold our birthright like Esau of old and for what? To become a homeland that Himmler himself would feel at home in?” Chaim was nearly weeping. “This nation at least was supposed to be different from the old world, the old ways, and yet our fear has led us like sheep to conform to the same old model.”

 

“This isn’t about the American flag, old man!” Harvey was upset to have his patriotism held in question. “This is a global problem that is being dealt with by all of humanity and that includes us!”

 

“Patriotism is more than putting on a uniform and digging out medals and marching in parades once a year,” Chaim said softly but clearly. “It is in making certain that the principles all of that represent remains. That we be a people determined to stay safe but still free and fair to all. As my beloved mother used to say, ‘if everyone is jumping off a cliff, should you do this too?’, I am saying we need to stop running for the edge and be what we have always claimed to be.”

 

Ira Rosenberg began to look around nervously as his father boldly dug in his heels. “Papi, please,” he pleaded in desperation, “You’ll attract attention. Please be still.” He hoped his father would remember the danger his words were placing them all in, that remnant of family he held so dear.

 

It was just like the old man to meddle where it wasn’t his battle. Ira remembered the resentment he had felt as a child whenever Chaim left their comfortable home and his thriving legal practice to head south to ride buses with Dr. King or defend voter registrars in Montgomery. This was no different. “So you’re going to jeopardize your family for, what, a bunch of things that aren’t even human?”

 

“How can I be still, my son?” The elder man felt a tear track down his wrinkled face. “If enough people--the good, decent majority of German and Polish people--had said such words, done such deeds as the Rabbi and his friends have put in front of us, you would have a family around you to treasure. You say I might get us in trouble? We are in trouble, every human on this earth. This is about family, always has been. What kind of a father would I be to let the world become such a terrible place for my children and their children? To let innocents suffer is to let the bullies win and we all lose then, even my own family.”

 

The elder Mr. Rosenberg looked Harvey in the eye and quoted Pastor Niemoller’s famous remark, “In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.”He shifted his gaze to an approving Father Mike. “Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

 

Harvey Wicks silently left the room, debating whether he should speak up and call the number the TV newsmen had given to report sedition.

 

***

Buffy was glad they were meeting at her house this time instead of the Magic Box. She felt comforted by her mother’s presence after all they had heard during the announcement. “Damn that Travers! Bad enough with whoever is behind all this stuff happening, but he had to do some info dump on a bunch of nervous politicians. This can’t go well. Everyone is going to be running around like in some horror movie and pointing fingers at everybody else. How am I supposed to do my job?”

 

"My dad says there's a meeting at the Synagogue tonight. He's going mostly because my zaide...er... that's my grandfather, is on some committee and Dad's afraid he's going to get in big trouble." Willow loved and admired her grandfather. Unlike her parents, he kept an active interest in her life, had even met and liked Tara.

 

Xander frowned in thought. "Max was going on about some meetings, but I doubt they'd be the kind to interest your grandpa."

 

"You mean the ones over at Dr. Baker's church?” Dawn asked. “There's some guys from school starting up some youth movement. They're walking around talking tough and swaggering through the halls."

 

"What youth movement?" Joyce looked concerned.

"I don't know. Some of the kids were talking about it. They're saying they're going to be some kind of superheroes helping to protect humans when all the trouble everyone expects to happen comes or something like that. They meet at the church."

 

"That's my job, and I've done pretty well with it, if you ask me," Buffy said indignantly. "What, a bunch of teenagers are going to be the Slayer now?!" The irony was lost on Buffy as she spoke. "Do they even know how to kill some of the demons they'll be meeting?"

 

Giles shrugged, "I seriously doubt most of them have thought through any of that."

 

"Speaking of Slayers," Buffy lowered her voice from the angry tones of before. "Any word on who the new Chosen is now that Faith is..." She couldn't quite bring herself to say the words.

 

"No, not a word. Also no response yet from my contacts on just who arranged for Faith's demise." Giles had been hoping that one of the Potentials in hiding had been called because at least then the girl would be safe.

 

"Did any of you hear the other news tonight?" Tara took Willow's hand and squeezed it reassuringly. She knew that her girlfriend was worried about her grandfather even while she was proud of him. "Anyone suspected of harboring a demon is going to be arrested. They've suspended habeas corpus too. They're going to allow search and seizures without a warrant or probable cause, if they suspect someone is either a demon or helping one."

 

“Maybe I shouldn’t be seen with any of you lot in the open for a while. Too many ‘round here know I’m not exactly pulse positive,” Spike offered.

 

"I don't even know why you're here," Xander snarked. "What, you're suddenly part of the group?"

 

Buffy rolled her eyes and reminded Xander, "You know Spike has been helping for quite a while now."

 

"Yeah, but I still don't get why." Xander looked sullen.

 

Anya looked at her boyfriend in irritation. "You do too. You were here last summer when Spike kept Joyce from being killed by those vampires outside her gallery."

 

Joyce smiled at the vampire, "He and I were already starting to be friends before that, but yes, Anya, that did change the dynamics. Spike is a friend, Xander, and you'll just have to get used to it. This is my home after all."

 

"So we're just going to risk helping a demon for...HIM?" Xander looked appalled. "Color me selfish, but I don't feel like wearing an orange jumpsuit for Spike."

 

"Not askin' for help, git." Spike frowned and fought the urge to leave. "I’m here tryin' to help you lot."

 

"Enough in-fighting, gang, we have a lot bigger issues to worry about than who we let in the clubhouse." Buffy pulled out a sheet of paper with notes she had taken during her conversation with Angel earlier. "Angel and his group have been helping friendly at-risk demons get papers and make contacts. There are a few places that are setting up refugee camps as far away from people--human people, that is--as possible. I sent Joe and Kate and the kids out to him this morning. Spike…," She glanced over at the still prickly vampire, "You said something about a place you knew?"

 

"My friend Clem was talking ‘bout a bunch of caves in the Cascade mountains in Washington, where a bunch of demons were heading. Don't know the whole setup, haven't heard from him. Seemed to think there was room for quite a few though."

 

Spike looked at Xander and decided to take the high road in spite of the hostility of the boy. "I think you lot need to see the setup I've been workin' on startin' with the crypt. Got some tunnels and a few hidden spots. Figure it might come to that, even for all of you, and you need to know your way around. Maybe the Slayer might come by and have a look-see."

 

Tara spoke up, "Spike's right. These new laws are going to make it hard for everyone, not just demons. They're making it an ‘us vs. them’ world and their definition of both isn't necessarily what ours might be."

Chapter Text

***

Chapter 8

***

 

"Thanks, love, for speakin' up for me with your boy." Spike had a tender look on his face, as if he were so unused to kindness that he was disarmed in face of a small, earned bit of it.

 

"Xander needs to get over his knee-jerk reactions, especially when it comes to my choices in life. I don't tell him who he should let into his life and he needs to respect me the same way." Buffy shook her head. "He means well. He's seen me hurt more than once and gets overprotective. Still..."

 

"Can't fault him for that at least." Spike snorted out a laugh, "And if you tell him I said that, I'll have to bite you."

 

Buffy laughed. Amazing how far they had come to be able to joke about such a thing. One thing Buffy had decided having watched this vampire around her family for nearly the past year was that he really wouldn't harm those she cared about even if his chip stopped working. Against all she had been taught and all she had believed, she had seen at least some echo of the ability to feel true emotion in him. He truly loved her mom and he treated Dawnie like a beloved little sister. He had some caring for her too; she could see it in how he helped out. She knew her good opinion of him mattered.

 

"So what do you think about this clown car of teenage defenders of the innocent?" Buffy scoffed.

 

"I think too many people with too much fear is never a good thing. Seen my share of pitchfork-wieldin' torch carriers in my day. It never ends well," Spike looked suddenly very sober, "for anyone.

 

"Slayer, I think it'd be a good idea for me to show you lot what I was talkin' about with the bolt holes. Never know when or who might need 'em."

 

"You might be right. You can practically taste the fear in the air. I doubt things will be getting back to normal any time soon." Buffy sighed. "Sure you want to face the idea of going into hiding with Xander as a roomie?" She teased.

 

"Had to live with the berk once before and barely knew him then," Spike smiled. "Suppose it's the devil I know this go-round." He motioned for Buffy to lead the way back towards his crypt. "Likely never come to it, but better safe like they say."

 

"Who'd have ever thought back then that you'd be coming up with ways to help us all on your own? You're not planning to tie any of us to chairs and taunt us, are you?" She teased back.

 

Spike smirked and raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Got some chains, pet, but not nearly enough to go around."

 

Buffy shook her head, "I don't EVEN want to know," and put her hands over her ears in mock horror.

 

"Wouldn't chain you, love,” He looked startled then shook his head to clear out the tempting vision he'd had, "not unless you asked, of course."

 

"Like that would ever happen!"

 

Spike looked mildly disappointed, "Yeah. Didn't think so. Gotta say the demon's a mite disappointed. Kinda the vampire version of chocolates and flowers."

 

Buffy laughed at what she thought was his joke. "You saying your demon wants a date?"

 

Spike stopped walking and looked at her with his heart in his eyes and swallowed. "Likely not the best time for grand gestures--or layin' cards on the table, for that matter--but the demon's not the only part of me that can dream."

 

Buffy turned to look at Spike in a bit of shock. Yeah, he clearly loved her mom and Dawn and was even decent enough to her lately. She had started to think of him as a....maybe not a friend exactly, but certainly not an enemy. "What?"

 

"Look, Slayer, now's not the time," he laughed ruefully, "maybe never be the time," he muttered. He closed his eyes, not wanting to feel the lasers he expected to have shooting at him from her deer-caught-in-the-headlights eyes. "Can't control where the heart chooses to love."

 

She fought the urge to run. This could not be happening. The whole world was upside-down and headed straight to hell and Spike chose this moment to make some misguided declaration of love? "No!" She turned and walked briskly towards Restview.

 

"No as in...what? No, a person can't control who they love? No, I don't love you? No, you don't want to hear it?" Spike rushed to keep up with her.

 

"D. All of the above," Buffy answered harshly, then stopped dead in her tracks. "Look," she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, "I really don't want this conversation with you...not right now. Too much is happening to.... Look, Spike, I don't hate you. I even enjoy your company ...and I can't believe I'm even saying that. I just broke up with Riley, Mom's been sick and the whole world has suddenly decided to do my job, only without having the skills. You were right in the beginning. It's not the time."

 

Spike looked stricken, but suddenly brightened, "Does that mean there might be a time later?" He looked so bloody hopeful.

 

"Yes. No. I don't know." Buffy turned and started walking again. "Can we just hit rewind and forget we even started this conversation for now?"

 

Spike was silent as he kept pace with her near trot through the cemetery. "Won't promise never to hit the play button though."

 

Buffy turned to him in front of the crypt door and with a sigh she nearly whispered, "Fair enough. Now show me this maze of hiding places you've been working on."

 

***

 

"... not answering questions about his broadcast blaming this January's earthquakes in El Salvador that killed hundreds followed by the quake in Gujarat, India that killed 20,000. Pat Robertsonhas not retracted his assertion that these disasters were caused by the surge of demonic activity now being seen all over the world. Calls for repentance and right living were repeated in last night’s press conference. Now back to you, Brian."

 

Brian Williams cleared his throat and looked full into the camera, "This just in from Washington. Senator Proctor, formerly ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and vocal opponent of the newest measures passed against non-human and sub-human entities and any human found aiding or abetting them has been detained for questioning on accusations of his own involvement in the so-called resistance movement. The new laws against the demon terror threat have been cited as justification for his being held with what he is calling illegal detainment with no proper due process. For more on the legal implications for Senator Proctor, we go to our senior legal correspondent, Craig Melvin. Craig..."

 

 

Angel angrily turned off the small TV set and turned to the more-green-than-usual demon nervously pacing in front of the counter. "Lorne, I think even L.A. is not going to stay safe much longer. Are you sure you shouldn't think about just opening another portal and going back home till this blows over? You kind of stick out a bit."

 

Lorne took a deep drink of his Sea Breeze and frowned. "I have to side with Anne Frank on this one, Angelcakes. '’In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.' I am thinking of taking up an offer to do a show in Vegas though. It's a revue and I'll just look like I'm in makeup. A musical send-up of all the demon panic...some song and dance, good for the soul."

 

"Cordy and I have been talking about taking the baby and heading towards the Cascades before everything gets too crazy here. She's been having some pretty nasty visions; it's not looking good." Angel glowered and ran his hand through his spiked hair. "Don't want Connor to grow up in some hell environment. Better the back of nowhere than that."

 

"The little prince will do just fine no matter where you raise him, crumbcake," Lorne reassured the dour vampire. "Kiddo's a miracle! I can't see the Powers going to all that trouble letting two vampires have a baby, writing a prophecy about the little bundle and then let him be harmed during this little hiccup in human history."

 

"I got that family Buffy sent me up there safely enough. I'm thinking it might be a good place to lay low for a while. Cordy's a city girl, but she's game for it if it means keeping Connor safe." He flipped the TV back on and headed to his office to brood about the situation.

 

"And in local news, another shooting that appears to be unrelated to demon activity. A Canoga Park woman is in critical condition after being shot in the chest and abdomen. The gunman is described as an ex-boyfriend of the victim. The man shot and critically wounded the woman in the front yard of her home Monday and then shot himself to death as the limousine driver he hired looked on, police said.

 

The woman, identified as Sherry Schwartz, 54, an IRS auditor, was shot once in the chest and once in the abdomen, police and medical officials said. Again, this does not appear to have any connection to the rash of murders and mayhem attributed to demons and other non and sub-human sources.........."

 

***

 

"Turn that up!" Max bellowed over the sounds of his crew busily hammering away. "Important stuff happening in the world, don't want to be left in the dark," he laughed bitterly.

 

Xander rolled his eyes and went back to finishing a cabinet he was sanding before installation. He was so sick of everyone with their TVs and radios blaring nonsense about things he'd been dealing with quietly since he was just a kid. All this focus on demons had only made it harder for the people who were supposed to be dealing with this 'important stuff' to get the job done.

 

"Today's Coops Scoop for you human heroes goes out to our brave folks in that hotbed of demon activity. Yes, that's you, L.A.. Don't think we haven't seen the signs over the years with your decadence and filth! Seems this guy Travers that's been a big help to our government in their fight against the unnatural handed over a truckload of files on known demons living right among us pure humans! One of these sick freaks even runs a so-called detective agency right there in your City of Angels. Even has the nerve to call himself that...Angel." The radio jock's voice held a sneer. "That's right. Nothing like calling yourself something good and decent and hiding in plain sight."

 

Xander nearly dropped the sander he was using and tried not to draw attention to himself as he listened to the ratings hit 'Charlie Cooper Hour'. Personally he thought ol’ Charlie was nothing but a shill ginning up hatred and fear at painful decibels, but the show was mother’s milk to Max and his ilk. 'Gotta find a way to call Buffy. See if she's heard this. Sounds like Angel's been outed.' He didn't have to strain to hear the show as it continued loud and clear.

 

"That's right. Seems this piece of filth was part of a whole quartet of monsters who've lived longer than dirt. Two females and two males, including this Angel," his voice lingered on the name mockingly, "the most vicious blood-sucker acted as their leader for ages. Made quite a name for themselves over cross the Pond back in the day. Pack of 'em running free, doing their evil and corruptin' our women."

 

Well, Xander couldn't argue that part if pressed. 'Got to agree with some of what Charlie says.' Angel hadn't been the best thing that ever happened to Buffy.

 

'Spike's been helpful lately though. Wonder if they'll out him?' They had all been given the grand tour of the tunnels and hiding places that Spike had been working on in case any or all of them eventually had to do a strategic retreat from the madness that was sweeping the world in its wake. 'Hope Evil Dead, Jr. isn't thinking of helping himself to anything skeezy along the way.' Xander still didn't trust Spike any further than he could throw him, but Buffy had been clear that the vampire was part of the group now.

 

"Damn it, Wally, you cut the plank too short! Think we can make a decent profit having to toss good lumber?" Max was fuming. Really, listening to the talk show hadn't helped his temper one bit. Since he became one of Charlies 'Human Heroes',his blood pressure looked about to be the next thing to top the charts.

 

***

Buffy juggled the Doublemeat sacks and fumbled with the door. It wasn't the kind of wholesome meal her mom always provided, but at least her mother wouldn't have to cook lunch today. "Mom! I come bearing greasy goodness from the people that bring us stylish cow hats! Hope you're hungry."

 

"Mom?"

 

"Mom? Where are you?"

 

"Mom....Mommy?"

 

Buffy didn't even feel the bags slip from her fingers to land on the carpet. The only thing she could process was the sight of her mother lying on the sofa, eyes wide open but seeing nothing. In her short life, Buffy had seen enough of death to recognize the pose.

 

***

"This wasn't supposed to happen. She was getting better. The doctors all said she came through the surgery perfectly. She's been taking it easy, Dawn and I have been helping...." Buffy was distraught and deathly pale herself.

 

Giles enfolded the girl in his arms and tried to offer what comfort he could. "Life is rarely fair, my dear."

 

The ambulance had just left with Joyce's body, long past revival, moments before. The EMT suspected an aneurysm and had said it sometimes happened after brain surgery. He had assured the grieving girl that her mother likely hadn’t felt a thing, that it had been quick and probably not painful.

 

He was wrong. It was painful. It was painful beyond the bearing.

 

For the first time, Giles wished vampires could be about in sunlight because Spike would be a handy bit of help once Dawn was told of this tragedy. He could barely believe that thought had actually formed in his mind, but it was true.

 

"Do you wish for me to go with you to collect Dawn, to tell her?" Giles wasn't sure how to deal with the bundle of weeping girl he already held, much less a second one that would also need comfort soon.

 

"I'll tell her, but I'm not sure I can drive," Buffy choked back on a startled laugh. 'Why am I able to laugh? Mom's dead and I can laugh? What's wrong with me?' Her furrowed brow was a beacon to Giles that he should say something, but he had no clue what.

 

"Of course. I'll just pull the car around," the unnerved Watcher hurried to the task, grateful to be doing SOMETHING. He felt so powerless under the circumstances.

 

"Giles,” He stopped halfway to the car. Buffy's voice was so soft he barely heard her. She'd never looked so young and lost, not even in the early days when Giles had first met her. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do." She bit her lip to try to stop the trembling as tears continued to run rivers down her face. "Mom…Mom always took care of everything important." She turned wide, wet eyes to her father figure. "Who's going to take care of us now?"

 

Giles swallowed back his own grief and gathered her back into his arms. "We'll take care of each other, my dear."

Chapter Text

***

Chapter 9

***

A/N Small portion of dialogue from “The Body” by Joss Whedon, as well as small bits of dialogue from “Helpless” by David Fury and “Touched” by Rebecca Rand Kirshner.

 

 

"I have no doubt your fine, beautiful mother would be proud to be displayed in any of these lovely choices," the funeral director's bland countenance did little to conceal the rampant avarice within his soul. "This full brush Copper Heritage with bronze finish is a popular choice for those with discriminating tastes." He could see that the girl was not fully listening to his soft sell suggestions. He looked at the stuffy looking older gentleman and made another suggestion, "Of course, since the lovely Mrs. Summers deserves nothing short of the very best, there is also our Belmont mahogany veneer with almond velvet interior. Just feel the plush detail of the lining!"

 

'He's a ghoul. I can slay ghouls, can't I?' Buffy thought in disgust.

 

"Mrs. Summers did, indeed, deserve the best, but she also made clear her own wishes in the event of her passing." Giles sounded disgusted with the clear attempt by the man at emotional manipulation of the grieving. He headed towards a lower priced but still lovely white metal casket, much to the funeral director's disappointment. "Buffy, what do you think about this one?"

 

Buffy looked at the proposed place to lay her beloved mother to rest and fought off a shudder. Her mother belonged in her own lovely queen size bed--alive, resting and growing stronger, not in a metal box, no matter how stylish or plush the lining.

 

"Giles, would you mind filling out some of those forms for Mr...?" She was stuck on the name of the salesman-cum-funeral director who hadn't given her a moment of peace since their arrival. "I'd like to look around by myself to decide."

 

"Of course." Giles took Dawn by the elbow and steered the weeping teen toward the consultation room.

 

Buffy looked at the showroom filled with beautifully made boxes all waiting to be filled with loved ones and buried under several feet of earth, never to be seen again, and she finally gave in to the tears.

 

She felt the tinglies that screamed 'vampire' loud and clear and noticed a slim, somewhat nerdy looking fellow in a lab coat trying to slink out of the back room unnoticed. Her hand automatically reached for her ever present stake as she blocked this interloping vamp’s escape.

 

"Please, Slayer, don't stake me!" The vampire was pathetic, wide-eyed and visibly shaking.

 

"Why not? You, vampire; me, Slayer--it's kismet, isn't it?" Buffy had him pinned to the wall with one hand, but in all honesty the vampire was putting up no fight at all.

 

"Please. I work here. I don't kill anyone; you can ask," the vampire whispered.

 

"Splainy?"

 

"Look, I was never cut out to be a vampire. I can't stand fighting, never even liked the sight of blood before I was turned." Buffy loosened her hold and listened with a disbelieving smirk.

 

"My name's Dooley. I got turned during the big war. I never met my sire. There was plenty of blood around without my having to kill anyone there at first. Then I found ways to get blood from the medical corpsmen. I'd been a combat medic. See, even then I didn't want to fight!" Buffy had moved further away, finding this vampire’s story an odd distraction to her overwhelming grief.

 

"And you work here...why?"

 

"I had to find some way to feed. I can't stomach taking lives and I'm no good at hunting. When I saw how embalming works, it seemed the perfect solution." Buffy looked confused, so he explained further, "You have to take all the blood out before you can put in the solution, see. It's a perfect job for a vampire, really. All that blood has to be drained anyway and no one gets hurt." His voice dropped to a soft whisper at the end. Dooley swallowed nervously and prayed to whatever entity might care about a hardworking, non-killing vamp that the Slayer would see the truth in his eyes.

 

"Huh." Buffy let him go and stepped back from the trembling creature. Yeah, the whole world was upside-down and made little sense anymore. She was pretty sure the weird story from the even weirder vampire was true, but then again, did it really matter at the moment? "It's your lucky day, Dooley. Unlike your boss, you seem to be honest."

 

She kept her eyes on him as she moved back toward the showroom. "Now that I know about you, though, just remember that if I find out you've lied, I will hunt you down."

 

The vampire looked beyond relieved. "Thank you, Slayer. You won't regret this, I swear." He bit his lip and offered a word of free advice in gratitude. "Um...if Mr. Tate tries to sell you the mahogany one, just know he marks up the price by a couple of thousand. It's not any better than the one in poplar."

 

***

 

"She's just so closed down," Willow said worriedly. "Has she even tried to talk to any of you? She's hardly said a word to me."

 

Xander shook his head sadly. "Her mom dying like that, especially when she seemed to be getting better, has really hit our Buffster hard. She'll come around, Will."

 

"But I don't understand! I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's…there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore! It's stupid! It's mortal and stupid! And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, ‘well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever,’ and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why," Anya dissolved into a sodden mess of tears.

 

Xander tenderly gathered his girlfriend into his arms and tried to offer comfort.

 

Tara tried to respond to Anya before the clearly irritated Willow could chastise the former demon. "My mother died when I was seventeen. There's things...thoughts and reactions I had that...I couldn't... understand...or even try to explain to anyone else. Thoughts that...made me feel like I was losing it... or, like I was some kind of ho-horrible person."

 

Willow put her arms around her love, "Was it sudden? Your mom, I mean?"

 

"No. And yes. It's always sudden." Tara sat, lost in her own private memories of grief.

 

"Well, at least she's not trying to patrol right now. I don't know if she'd be able to deal the way she's feeling right now," Willow concluded.

 

"Yeah, guess we should be grateful she insisted on Dead Boy, Jr. being part of the team. His taking her patrols has been a real help." Xander shrugged as if he couldn't believe he was saying anything complimentary about Spike.

 

"I think Spike is working his own grief out by killing demons," Tara nodded in agreement. "I saw him last night as I was walking past Rosedale Cemetery and he was really taking it out on a large Fyarl demon. I actually felt sorry for it."

 

Xander rubbed his bandaged hand in sympathy, "I had a close encounter with a wall demon myself. Violence...yeah, it's of the helpful."

 

***

 

"No, Spike. I need to get back on the job. There is a whole town filled with fear-crazed humans and not-so-stealthy military guys trying to play at demon control, but this is MY job, my calling. I need to get back to it." Buffy was firm. "I appreciate you covering those few days, but I NEED to do this."

 

Spike wasn't sure she was fully ready to get back into patrolling, but she was doing a bit better and there was no way she was going to listen to anything he had to say otherwise. "It's pretty quiet out there, pet. Only the truly stupid demons are out creatin' chaos with everything goin' on. No real challenge and I don't mind doin' sweeps a while longer if you and the Bit want some more time to find your feet again."

 

"See," Buffy brightened as an idea hit her. The perfect way to redirect Spike's concern. "That is how you can really help me: Dawn! She's shut me out and I know she needs someone who can get her to talk, get her to deal with...." She couldn't even finish the thought.

 

Spike smiled softly and resisted trying to draw Buffy into an embrace. 'Poor dove could do with a bit of that herself.'

 

"How about you stay here with Dawn? Get her to eat something other than one of her horror stories on a plate and maybe talk a bit?" Buffy looked at him hopefully. "She was always coming to you in the past when she wanted to spew emotional stuff. You as the big vamp babysitter might be just what she needs. You can help Dawn and I'll know she's okay while I get back to patrolling."

 

Spike felt uneasy. Surely it would be a better solution for the two sisters to grieve together, talk together and try to heal. He could go out and kill things like a proper demon and everything would be as it should be. He looked at Buffy and, as always, could deny her nothing, "Sure, pet. Ol' Spike will even try to remember how to heat up a TV dinner that's not liquid. Don't worry 'bout the Bit. Nothin' gonna get to her with me around."

 

"I know," Buffy gave him one of her increasingly rare smiles. "Thanks."

 

***

Spike had been right. Aside from a band of rather loud teenaged boys making a show of marching in some uniforms that would have been right at home at Dragoncon, and two small squads of guys in military gear, it was All Quiet On the Western Front city.

 

Buffy was lost in thoughts of her mom and worry over just what kind of life she was going to be able to make for herself and her sister without Joyce's steady hand when she nearly stumbled on a startled small Kwaini demon. They were known to be non-violent, so Buffy merely urged her to seek shelter and continued her patrol, her mind not really on anything but her raging emotions.

 

"Nothing to kill around here and I could use something that needs a good pounding," she pouted.

 

"Perhaps that can be arranged," the voice came from behind and Buffy whirled into position, finally ready for a good fight.

 

***

 

"What do you mean she never returned home?" Giles hadn't slept well and it was far too early in the morning to quickly grasp the panicked words from the vampire on the other end of the line.

 

"Do I have to use smaller words, Watcher?" Spike was all out of patience. He'd waited for Buffy to return until after sunrise and had been trying to cope with Dawn's endless list of things that must have gone wrong for Buffy to still be out. Time Giles got involved, even if it was the bloody arse crack of dawn! "The Slayer never came home from patrol last night."

 

"Are you quite certain?" Giles fumbled for his glasses and looked at the time brightly glowing on the alarm clock. "It is still early. Perhaps she encountered a large group of demons and is merely delayed in returning home. By the way, what are YOU doing there? I assume you are calling from the Summers residence?"

 

"Slayer had me braiding hair with the Bit. Said she needed to get back to patrolling, even though I offered." Spike's voice had an uncharacteristic quiver to it. "It's been too quiet for her to have had any real challenge on patrol or I'd never have gone along with her daft plan to make me into a bloody babysitter."

 

"Was she still distracted when she left to go on patrol?" Giles was beginning to share Spike's concern.

 

"Well...yeah," Spike was clearly at his most sarcastic, "You think she was tickin' off some grievin' list? Denial: check. Anger: double-check. Bargaining: check. Depression: check. Slaying? She's feelin' all that and more, and you've seen it. In her own head most of the time. Not even talking to Niblet. That's why she asked me to do Dawn patrol; knows the chit needs an ear, even if it's mine."

 

Giles let out an exasperated sigh, "Yes, Spike, I am well aware of the delicate nature of Buffy's emotional state at the moment."

 

"I'm more worried about the possible state of her physically at the mo," Spike's voice shook. "Too many helpful humans out and about might not understand a tiny slip of a human girl out in the night by herself. You know how Buffy feels about killin' humans, even those that deserve it."

 

"Have you contacted Willow or Xander?"

 

"Not exactly on my Friends and Family, now are they?" Spike knew that Willow would listen, but he doubted Xander would even take a call from him, much less listen to what he had to say.

 

"Quite," Giles agreed. "I'll call and see if anyone has seen or heard from Buffy. I'll need you to stay there with Dawn for the time being. Call immediately should Buffy arrive home."

 

"'Course I will. Can't leave the Bit. Besides, it's a mite too sunny for a quick jog home." Spike wondered if there would be any negative repercussions if he were to slip a Valium into the girl's milk. Her imagination was going places Spike didn't want to go when it came to possible reasons the Slayer was missing. He hated that he couldn't simply go out and hunt for Buffy himself. "Only time I hate bein' a vamp is when I'm stuck in the dark and where I need to be is in the light."

 

"She will turn up. Buffy is quite resilient and resourceful," Giles reminded them both.

 

"She is that, but she is also human, maybe more human than usual of late," Spike added.

 

***

 

It had been one of the longest days of Spike's entire existence and listening to the Scoobies argue was not improving his mood one bit.

 

"She didn't say anything then either," Xander reminded everyone for the dozenth time.

 

"But Buffy didn't have a little sister depending on her then," Tara suggested, having heard all the arguments that had been going on for what seemed like hours.

 

"Right here," Dawn raised her hand miserably. "I have fake memories about that, and I really can't see Buffy doing that even if she is grieving and upset."

 

"I think we should at least check the bus stations. Maybe she went to L.A. to see Angel?" Willow offered.

 

Spike bit back a nasty comment about his less-than-helpful grandsire and scoffed, "Not bloody likely. I'm tellin' you she went on patrol takin' nothin' with her except her pointy wooden friend. Doubt she even took her ID, much less anything she'd need if she decided to scarper off."

 

"But she isn't anywhere and no one has seen her," Xander reminded everyone of the hours they had all searched. "Willie said some of his customers saw her early on, but not many of them were out and about to know where she was patrolling. The only one who remembered where they saw her said it was real early, right after you say she left the house, and that was down by the train station."

 

"A place she's been patrollin' regular ever since that passenger car full of drained bodies turned up. Means nothin' except she's still patrollin' there." Spike wanted to smack the boy for being so stubborn.

 

Xander jutted his chin out and repeated his idea for the millionth time. "All I'm saying is that when Buffy hit bottom the last time, when she had to send Angel to hell, she took off. Losing her mom and with everything else going on might have made her need to...I don't know...get away?"

 

"Like a vacation?" Dawn snorted. "Yeah, 'cause that's just soooo Buffy!"

 

"Children!" Giles held up his hand, wondering if it was half in defeat. "Enough of this speculation. I highly doubt Buffy has simply run off. She is older and wiser now and has far more responsibilities and concerns."

 

"What I've been sayin'! Do you lot even KNOW her?" Spike was disgusted. "This is the woman who saves the world on a regular basis. Haven't you seen her strength and kindness? Haven't you noticed how she carries all of you even when she's dead tired herself? Hell, she's even willin' to spare some of that kindness my way. She's not likely to walk out on any of you, but especially not Dawn." He smiled at the distraught girl. "You've all had your look around; my turn now. It's night and I know where the dark things go. Someone or some thing will know what happened. Maybe she was injured and is layin' low. She's around. We'll find her." He looked directly at Dawn hoping she would hold onto his promise.

 

"Be careful. You're one of those things that go bump in the night that almost everyone is out looking for. It's not really the safest thing in the world for you to be out there," Tara sounded worried and put a hand on his arm, as if to try to make him change his mind and stay.

 

Spike looked at the girl gently and remembered again why he thought her too good for most of the Scoobie clan. "Ta, luv, I'll be fine. Got a Slayer to hunt down and got the street cred to get some demons talkin' if they know anything."

 

"Be careful," Dawn added, "I can't lose you too."

 

***

 

Spike really wanted someone to say the wrong thing so he could go all fist and fangs. All day he'd been kicking himself for not calling one of the Scoobies to stay with Dawn so he could have Buffy's back. He'd been lulled into thinking he was best helping by comforting Dawn when clearly Buffy had been the one needing the Big Bad at her side.

 

He'd been to every bar and dive that catered to the less than human population. He'd questioned every lowlife and demon he could hunt down, to no avail. Aside from the couple of demons Willie had quoted, no one had seen Buffy at all.

 

He was leaving the Pizza Shack, a place crawling with demon employees--in some cases, literally--when he ran into a familiar face. "Cardboard! Fancy seein' you here. In for a slice, are you?"

 

Riley glared at the vampire he most hated and resisted reaching for his tazer. He had decided to stop by the joint for exactly that and didn't have backup with him. "Out of my way, Spike. Just be glad I'm in a good mood and I don't call for you to be picked up. Demons are illegal, if you hadn't heard."

 

"What about Slayers?" Spike looked menacing, even though Riley knew he was still chipped.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I mean Buffy's missing." Spike tilted his head and gave a piercing look at the soldier who once professed to love her. "Wouldn't know anythin' 'bout that, would you?"

 

"Maybe she finally got sense enough to steer clear of filth like you."

 

Spike growled softly. "Even if she did, she's still missin'. None of her friends or Dawn have a clue. Went out on patrol last night and never came back. Sure you don't have any ideas?"

 

Riley stared at the vampire and had several ideas, not all of them involving Buffy. "Really too busy now to keep track of one little girl who can't keep out of trouble."

 

"That little girl has more power in her little finger than you ever had, even jacked up with Walsh's drugs. Hated that, didn't you?" Spike sneered.

 

"Lots of things I hate and pretty much top of the list is you, Spike. I'm going to do you a favor one time only and let you keep looking. If I see you around again, you'll be back in a glass cell so fast your head will spin, got that?" Riley pushed into Spike’s space and loomed over him. "You are nothing. You are a demon and I can do anything I want to you and likely get a medal for it. Don't push your luck, vampire." He shoved Spike against the brick wall and then moved past him into the pizza parlor.

 

Spike closed his eyes as he realized his accusation against Riley wasn't too farfetched. "Wouldn't put it past the bastard to have Buffy locked up somewhere. Maybe tryin' to deprogram her or some nonsense."

 

Spike debated following Finn to see if the weird thought was possible. He hadn't thought about that possibility among all the more unpleasant ideas everyone, including himself, had come up with.

 

He decided it might be better to get in touch with Giles than to try to handle Finn on his own. Perhaps the Watcher had contacts that might have a better chance of finding out if the rejected soldier boy had some reason to be in Sunnydale. Last they had heard, he had left town after the break-up. Xander and Riley had been friends of sorts; maybe the boy knew something and hadn't made a connection.

 

"You the vampire looking for the Slayer?" The frail-looking Kwaini spoke so quietly that it took a vamp to hear her. "I saw her last night. She nearly fell over me when I was picking up a bag I had dropped. She let me go, told me to find someplace safe to hide. Said there were lots of humans out looking for people like me and it was dangerous." The girl lowered her eyes. "She was nice. Never expected the Slayer to be so nice."

 

"She is that," Spike agreed. "Where'd you see her and when, and what happened to her after?" Finally, a lead!

 

"It was on the sidewalk just outside of the Restview Cemetery about ten o'clock. I didn't want to be on the streets at that time, but my daughter is sick and I had to get her medicine. I was very frightened and trying to stay away from all the humans."

 

"Yeah," Spike agreed. Restview! His own neighborhood. Had she gone to the bolt holes he'd shown her because of all the idiots out looking for trouble?

 

"Did you see where she went?"

 

"No, sorry. I was in a big hurry to get home to my girl."

 

Spike decided to give the tunnels and caves a quick look before bothering Giles with his far-out theory about Riley. "Maybe I'll find her sleepin' safe and sound in one of the caves. Hard to tell time in there. I'll have to find some way to work some electricity into one or two in case any of the rest have to hide out some day."

 

***

 

Buffy opened her eyes and tried to raise her head. The room was blindingly white and her body was not responding to her attempts to move it. As her head began to clear a bit, she realized that she was restrained and, she guessed, fairly heavily drugged. Nothing felt right.

 

"It's an organic compound of muscle relaxants and adrenal suppressors. The effect is temporary. It's been used for generations during the Tento di Cruciamentum on our Slayers to test their mettle." Travers sneered as he looked through the one way glass looking into the holding cell. "You can test those Slayer qualities in their normal form as soon as it wears off, if you wish. Miss Summers can be quite a handful, I warn you.”

 

 

End Notes:
This is why I (reluctantly) had to let Joyce die in the last chapter. Buffy needed a logical reason to be off her game.

Chapter Text

***

Chapter 10

***

 

“So this wee slip of a Kwaini ran into Buffy while she was patrollin' jus' like I said," Spike glared at Xander who was continuing to maintain that Buffy had merely left town to get away from the stress of her recent loss.

 

"You were at Pizza Shack and didn't even pick up one?" Dawn was nearly drooling. "They are the only pizza place in town to get the mix of anchovies and pineapple just right."

 

"There IS no right mix for that," Xander shuddered.

 

"So says the man who loves bacon maple donuts," Dawn defended.

 

"I stand by the yummy goodness that is salty and sweet perfection covering fried dough," Xander said. "Besides bacon is the foundation of the food chain and perfect with everything."

 

"Bit off the point here, children," Spike looked mildly disgusted, although it was a toss-up as to whether at the foods being discussed or the side trip to unimportant things.

 

"Still think it’s odd runnin' into Soldier Boy there. He took gettin' his walkin' papers pretty hard and hightailed it out of town last anyone knew. Suddenly, he's right here when the Slayer goes MIA," Spike pointed out.

 

"But Riley knows Buffy is a human," Willow reminded everyone. She hated to even think that the young man whose suit she had championed could be behind Buffy going missing.

 

"Yeah, but it could be like those groups that nab people outta cults, deprogram 'em.

Wannabe Sgt. Rock never did like Buffy's choice of who she let in. Could be thinkin' he's doin' her a favor with all the new laws and all." Spike reminded them. "Left with as big a chip on his shoulder as the one they shoved in my cranium and every bit as irritatin'."

 

"I have to agree with Spike," Giles said surprising them all. He had been agreeing with the vampire more often than not lately. "It bears looking into. Any avenue that might bear fruit should be explored. This IS Buffy we are talking about. It is alarming that none of our locator spells have shown her anywhere."

 

“It’s weird,” Willow bit her lip in consternation. “Even if someone uses a masking spell I usually can pick up at least a wisp. I get nada. It would take some powerful magics to make her go totally off the grid.”

 

Xander looked troubled. He had needed to hold onto his theory for his own peace of mind. "Okay. I still have a couple of contacts. I'll see what they might know."

 

"Don't let them know that Buffy is missing. The fewer people to know that, the better," Giles reminded the sometimes too trusting boy.

 

"Jus' find out where the wanker is livin' and I'll do the rest," Spike offered.

 

"And do what? If it comes to a fight, are you gonna knock him down with all the thrashing from the head pain, Chip Boy?" Xander sneered.

 

Spike glared at him and swallowed back a low growl.

 

"It might be too dangerous for you, Spike," Tara gently reminded him. "There are so many people out there that don't know you're one of the good guys. You could get hurt or worse."

 

"Coward already threatened me and that's just for existin', so might as well be for doin' somethin' useful." Spike said.

 

"Still, some backup wouldn't go amiss," Giles nodded. "We are too few to risk losing even one of us needlessly."

 

"Jus' get the info," Spike stared at Xander. "We can cross bridges when we get to the river."

 

"I can see if he's registered with the Global Human Initiative--that's what they are calling their military operation at the moment," Willow looked excited to put her hacking hat back on. "My grandfather is keeping up with all that. Things seem to be changing more often with it all the time."

 

"Yes, Willow, that might save a good deal of time and give us some answers, even if Xander's contacts do not pan out," Giles agreed.

 

"Speaking of my grandfather, he's asked me to talk to his Rabbi. He wants me to do a lot of spillage about Slayers and stuff," Willow furrowed her brow. "Is that okay, Giles? I mean, Mr. Travers is telling all kinds of stories and partial truths; should I tell what I know?"

 

"Hardly any point in keepin' things a secret, is there?" Spike pointed out. "Heard the supposed 'whole story' 'bout me, Angel and the girls on some radio show the other day. Got more than half wrong, though they also missed some pretty nasty stuff that would've made us look even worse if I’m being honest about it." Spike didn't look particularly nervous at having his dirty linen aired, even if it were not totally accurate.

 

"I heard the broadcast from that Charlie person too," Anya nodded. "I'm sure someone like him has plenty of people screaming for a nice vengeance wish against him. It makes me wish I had my power center back. He had so much wrong! He listed Bracken demons among the most deadly and most of them live among humans just fine, even intermarry!"

 

"I think Angel's contact from the Powers was a Bracken demon named Doyle," Willow nodded. "If the Powers thought he was okay enough to be their go-between, I don't know why anyone would put them on the bad demon list."

 

Spike laughed ruefully, "'Cause in this Brave New World anything they decide isn’t human is on the bad list. You gits at the Council have libraries filled with information that's not 'xactly right and now they're sharin' it with the whole class."

 

"Well, at least what I share will be stuff I learned firsthand, not from some book that probably was written by someone with a prejudice or an agenda," Willow promised.

 

"Good girl, Red, keep it 100," Spike encouraged her. "If this turns into the kind of war it looks to be shapin' up to be, the good guys'll need the truth on their side."

 

"Indeed," Giles agreed. "Having had most of my training from the Council of Wankers, I’m not certain if I have all the truth myself, and I am better educated and more open minded than most."

 

"If you people had only listened to me over the years, instead of telling me to shut up," Anya gave them all, but especially Xander, a dirty look. "I've only lived a thousand years and seen not only plenty here, but in other dimensions as well. I could tell you stories that would curl not only your hair but your cat’s hair at the same time."

 

Everyone except Spike looked at the former demon as if they had never entertained the idea that she might have something of value to contribute.

 

"What, you think because I got stuck in the body of a high school girl that I have the knowledge and maturity of one? Just because I'm blunt and openly like sex and money doesn't mean I am stupid." Anya rolled her eyes, then moved back behind the counter to once more fondle the daily receipts.

 

"Anya, I deeply apologize." Giles had the expression of a man just waking from a self-induced coma. "I've been lamenting the lack of materials once available from the Council records and here I have a living, breathing resource working in my own shop!"

 

"You're forgiven," she beamed. "Now, will everyone please stop always telling me to shut up? If I don't know an answer, I'll tell you."

 

"I'll just bet you will," Spike muttered with a laugh.

 

 

***

 

... "The new Pope is urging the faithful to remain calm and remember that there is a benevolent Power over all and this trouble is well in hand. This message of hope comes in the face of mass panic following the brutal massacre of dozens by unknown red-eyed monsters seen in this exclusive video taken by a tourist in St. Peter's Square."

 

Anya pointed to the television screen. "Those are Rofocaliusins. They don't usually rile up. Hmm, they are telepathic. Maybe the frenzy is with all the chatter. I'm surprised there are so many all together. Being telepathic, they usually keep to themselves. Keeps them sane."

 

Willow looked up from her computer screen to see what Anya was referring to. "OH, those are the scabby demons like the one that infected Buffy years ago! She was suddenly hearing everybody's thoughts except Angel. He had to track another one down and make a potion with its heart to cure her!"

 

Anya gave her a dirty look.

 

"What? We didn't know what to call it," Willow protested. "It's all scabby...see?" She finally gave Anya a dirty look in return and muttered, "At least we figured out how to cure Buffy, even if we didn't know its fancy pants name."

 

 

...Meanwhile the President, also urging calm, reassured the Nation that the doers of evil will not succeed in the destruction of humanity.

 

Across the country and, indeed, the whole world, massive arrests are taking place even as we air. Non and sub-humans are being processed and classified as they are discovered and captured. The leaders of both political parties issued a joint statement this morning reminding everyone that as long as you are not doing anything illegal, you have nothing to fear as these new laws take effect. It is all part of keeping humanity safe.

 

In a related story, the CDC announced they had perfected the procedures using the Human Genome to help screen for humanity. In trials, it is found to be 95% accurate."

 

"Yes, very reassuring," snarked Giles.

 

"When are they going to test for evil in humans?" Anya queried. "Just as many evil, murderous humans as there are demons. Probably outnumber demons actually. Have you ever watched ‘48 Hours’?"

 

"Or just the nightly news," added Tara as she nodded in agreement.

 

***

 

Reverend Baker took to the podium and gazed out at the full to overflowing crowd. "I'd like you all to meet someone really special who is here to share with us tonight. Madeline Cutler is the head of MAD, 'Moms Against Demons'. She comes to us with a strong background in Biblical demonology and child advocacy."

 

"What kind of school teaches Biblical demonology for a degree?" Andrew asked Warren. "I'd sign up for that one!"

 

"Shut it, Speed Racer! This lady's a pro."

 

The 'pro' had begun to speak. "Just remember that God is watching as we work our way through this testing period. We need to remember that it was our own moral lessening that released the demonic scourge, but once we've proven ourselves worthy, the Almighty will once more smile down upon us. Anyone who's been pallin' around with these monsters is as bad as they are!"

 

The crowd erupted in cheers and chants of, "Kill the traitors!"

 

Madeline smiled benignly. "Our children have been corrupted in our own schools! Taught that there is no moral black and white, that everything is a shade of grey and perfectly acceptable. I'm here to tell you that the only shade God accepts from his people is white! Pure, godly white!"

 

More cheering.

 

"Um, Warren, what if we're not completely...moral?" Andrew looked worried. "Not monster bad, but, you know, maybe...confused on some things?"

 

"She's not talking about that you, moron. She's talking about being pure human," Warren looked at the younger boy with disdain.

 

"If I were in charge,” the MAD woman smiled jubilantly, “they would know that torture is how we baptize demons. We are God's own army, doin' His mighty work of cleanin' up His world."

 

A few hallelujahs joined the cheers this time.

 

"Earth for humans!" She shouted. The response was deafening.

 

***

 

"And all of this was taking place right here in Sunnydale for all of our lives?" Rabbi Goldstein looked poleaxed. "How is it we never noticed?"

 

Chaim Rosenberg chuckled, "There is none so blind as he who will not see."

 

"True." The Rabbi smiled at Willow with genuine affection, "Seems we blind people owe a great deal to some of our own children and grandchildren, doesn't it, old friend?"

 

Willow blushed. "We mostly just help Buffy. She's the current Slayer. They've been protecting the blind... er...people for centuries. No one really knows how long. The Council of Watchers, the group that Mr. Travers used to head up, didn't really let people read most of their older reference books." She gave a sly look to her companions, "They also don't know that Giles--that's Buffy's Watcher--and I copied a bunch of their books to the computer years ago before he quit the Council."

 

"Those copies could come in quite handy." Rabbi Goldstein, ever the scholar, looked like he would love a long look at the copies.

 

"Not all the information was accurate or even true, as it turns out." She frowned, but then brightened. "But a lot of it was! And we have resources we didn't even think about until recently. Let me explain about Anya and Spike."

 

***

 

Spike hated having to wait for the sun to go down before resuming his search for Buffy. Each hour that went by was another hour that she could be in pain or danger. It was eating at him.

 

Restview looked as quiet as a cemetery should be but rarely was in Sunnydale.

 

'If the demon chit saw Buffy here, there must be a trail of some kind. All I have to do is pick up a thread.'

 

The sudden sound seemed to come from all around him, but before he could pinpoint what it was, he was surrounded by blackness.

 

***

 

"The Rabbi is really interested in talking to you, Giles, when you have a bit of time. He's trying to form a decent resistance and hopes you can help him find out what demon groups might be the most helpful." Willow had told everyone about her earlier meeting. There was a bit of hope knowing that not all humans had succumbed to the current madness and hate.

 

"I believe that might be the best option for dealing with this current situation. We can at least try to help prevent as much needless suffering as possible until we can decide how best to fight back. Resistance groups were a valuable help during the Great War, after all," Giles nodded. "Of course I'll meet with the Rabbi and any other sane human trying to stem this tide of insanity."

 

"On the bad side," Willow continued, "I finally broke through the firewalls of the Global Human Initiative and if they DO have anything to do with Buffy's disappearance, we may not have enough people to find her easily."

 

"What do you mean, sweetie?" Tara knew the news was bad based on the look on her lover’s face.

 

"I mean they've got camps, lots and lots of camps in a lot of places. If they did take Buffy into custody, there's no way to know just where they might have her." Willow's jaw firmed, "We'd find her. It just wouldn't be quick or easy."

 

“I spoke to a friend who heads a coven in Devon. Althenea looked into the trouble we’ve been having with locator spells.” Giles looked grim. “The coven detected a dark magic at work that blocked such workaday spells from penetrating large areas. I would hazard a guess those large areas would coincide with these camps you’ve uncovered.”

 

Willow gulped. “That sounds too logical and really scary. What if Buffy…?” She couldn’t put her thoughts into words.

 

“No reason to assume something terrible has happened. Maybe it’s like Spike thought and Riley has her. He could live on one of those bases. We couldn’t trace her, but that doesn’t mean she’s in danger.” Tara took Willow’s hand and tried to reassure her. "Anything on Riley?"

 

Xander had been getting the runaround all day when trying to contact guys he had thought of as at least friendly acquaintances if not friends. "The last guy who would actually talk to me just said that he didn't know, he was out of it. Then he called Ri a ‘zealot’ and told me to steer clear of him if I didn't want to get dragged into a 'royal mess'."

 

"That doesn't sound good," Anya frowned. "If even Riley's friends think he's off the spool, maybe Spike was right?"

 

"I'll keep looking," promised Willow as she powered on her laptop.

 

***

 

 

Spike came to, hanging from chains and feeling like every muscle was on fire. He tried to suss out where he might be without opening his eyes and letting everyone--and he sensed quite a few humans nearby-- know he was conscious.

They seemed to know anyway.

 

“You know, 17, there’s a lot can be done to a vampire without making them dust,” a familiar voice said. “We’ve been doing plenty of experiments to see how close to the line we can come.” Riley looked gleeful while the rest of his men merely looked cold and efficient. “Lots of parts you can live without.”

 

Spike glared at the soldiers and put on a brave face. Not going to let them see that he was in the least intimidated!

 

“You’re set up for P & P--that’s physical and psychological, by the way,” Riley crowed. “That means you don’t have to worry about being staked…just yet. Of course, you may find that bad news instead of good.”

***

Chapter Text

Author's Notes:
A/N Sections on Islamic belief in demons taken from Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinn

Sections on the Jewish teaching on souls taken from http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3194/jewish/What-is-a-Soul.htm

 

 

***

Chapter 11

***

 

"...thus putting to rest speculation that former President Slobodan Milosovic might be one of these demonic races once and for all. The results of the now standard DNA test showed a near 98% human purity meanwhile the former Yugoslavian President remains in custody awaiting trial on charges of war crimes.

 

In other news, Silvio Berlusconi has won the general election becoming the Prime Minister of Italy for the second time..."

 

Angel switched off the television, "They should check Berlusconi. Anyone who heard his singing on those cruise ships back in the 50's would suspect at least a bit of demon."

 

"Should I alert what's left of the Rome office? They might want to warn him." Lindsey McDonald leaned against the door-frame of the office at the Hyperion with a large smirk at having caught the souled vampire talking to himself.

 

"What the hell are you doing here, McDonald? Thought Wolfram and Hart closed up shop for the duration. I expected you to head back to punching cows or whatever you punch on your off-time back in Texas."

 

"Oklahoma," Lindsey corrected him.

 

"What do you want, Lindsey? I'm kind of busy at the moment. Well, too busy for you at any moment, actually."

 

Lindsey looked around at the various taped boxes and bags, "Looks like I finally get my wish. Leaving L.A., Soul Boy?"

 

"That why you're here? Plan to turn me in? Need to get in line for that after the loud-mouthed demagogue on the radio pretty much drew a map to my door." Angel continued riffling through the office drawers, making certain he was leaving no evidence of where he was going and leaving no trail to follow.

 

"Me?" Lindsey put a hand to his heart and gave a look of mock horror at the thought. "Actually, big guy, I'm here to make an offer."

 

"What makes you think you have anything to offer that I'm interested in?"

 

"A goodwill gesture then. In memory of Darla." Lindsey dropped all pretense of sarcasm at the mention of her name. Maybe the vampiress had used him, had only loved Angel, but that didn't mean she hadn't taken Lindsey's heart to hell with her.

 

Angel narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "What about Darla?"

 

"I loved her. Did everything to keep her alive," Lindsey sighed sadly. "All you cared about in the end was the baby. How is Connor anyway?"

 

"None of your business."

 

"Well, she might not have been in a place to hear it, but I did promise to always make certain the kid got the best shake out of life. I may be pretty morally fluid, but I keep my promises to those I love." Lindsey's expression was grim but resolved. "That bitch Lilah's been talking. Went to the local head of the Humans Only campaign and told them about the mystical baby of two vampires. Ordinarily, I'd have used my contacts at W&H to fix things, but since the Senior Partners have pulled out of this dimension until all this blows over, that avenue is closed."

 

"So you came to warn me? Gloat? Spit it out. I don't have time to play your games, cowboy." Angel growled at the implied threat to his baby son.

 

Lindsey smirked and held out his hands as in surrender, "Down, boy! I'm just the messenger. Thought you'd want to know what's in the wind. Maybe do the right thing by Darla's son and get him somewhere safe."

 

"MY son is fine, thank you. Okay, you've delivered the message, don't let the door hit you on the way out," Angel snarled.

 

Lindsey glared at this vampire-he-most-hated. "You know, one day you might just be grateful that I DO care about the boy. It might just save your life."

 

***

 

Chaim Rosenberg looked up from his newspaper and let out a deep breath. "It's like watching history repeat itself. Doesn't anyone ever learn from the past?"

 

"What's that, Dad?" Ira reached for another toasted bagel and set aside his own section of the paper.

 

"This...THIS!” Chaim could feel his blood pressure rise as he pointed to the headline.

 

Ira gave a slight glance at the headline and shrugged. "I don't understand why you are so upset, Papi. Those laws only apply to non-humans. Nothing for us to worry about."

 

His father gave him a look of profound disappointment. "I thought your mother and I raised you better. Raised you to care about injustice, even when it didn't directly affect you. All this success of yours has hardened you," Chaim shook his head sadly. "At least Willow still has a soft and caring heart. You should be proud."

 

Ira, having only paid attention to part of his father's musings, blinked and then agreed. "We're very proud of Willow. She's still pulling in a 4.0, even with all the social turmoil. I still wish she had taken that scholarship to Harvard, but she wanted to stay here in Sunnydale," he shook his head in disappointment.

 

"You be proud of her head, I'll be proud of her heart," her grandfather muttered.

 

Sheila Rosenberg pulled up a chair and sipped her morning coffee. "It's that strange friend of hers, that Bunny girl who was always causing trouble back in high school. We should have nipped that in the bud right away. Willow would be in a proper school excelling as she should."

 

Chaim rose from the table taking his paper with him. "Blind and stupid, and this from my own loins?"

 

"What's got your dad in a turmoil today, honey?"

 

Ira shrugged, "Something in the new anti-demon laws, I guess. You know how he always projects. I knew he had a hard life back in the day, but this isn't Germany and it's not the 1930s."

 

Sheila patted his hand affectionately, "No, it certainly isn't. He'll be fine. I've had more than a few patients projecting. Other Jews like Papi who seem to see Nazis everywhere, Blacks and other minorities who seem to feel it's a civil rights issue being fought all over again. They just don't understand that these creatures aren't human! There's nothing to compare."

 

"Your practice must be booming if it's upsetting so many people. Lots of new patients, my lovely doctor wife?" Ira teased.

 

"Enough," Sheila laughed. "Who knew psychology would be such a booming business?"

 

"Keep that up and my law practice will look like small potatoes in the household wage-earning scheme of things," Ira agreed.

 

"Just don't change your specialty from Corporate Law to anything having to do with all these new laws or it will be an issue we need to look into! I don't want us to be anywhere near this quagmire."

 

"Speaking of Willow...have you seen her or that girlfriend of hers --what's her name? Tina?... lately?" Ira poured another cup of coffee and gazed lovingly at his wife.

 

"Not really. She came by a couple of days ago, but she only wanted to talk to Papi. I'm not too thrilled with the idea of him putting radical ideas in her head. She needs to concentrate on school, not social issues that don't affect her. Perhaps you could speak to your father about that? Not so much with the calls to action and more with the educational encouragement." Sheila pursed her lips in disapproval. "No doubt she gets enough of the other from that group of friends of hers...always off doing God knows what!"

 

***

 

Warren Mears looked around the church hall decked out with banners proclaiming the fledgling group's name and battle cry proudly. 'Youth for Humans. Resistance is futile!' As usual, Andrew was late and Jonathan was once more a no-show. He'd have to have a talk with Shorty about that. If he kept missing meetings, some of the guys might start to think he wasn't committed to keeping humans safe and pure.

 

Teenagers began to filter in, all in high spirits from their patrol of the town's nighttime streets. Warren was giving his big speech tonight. He was starting to like public speaking, just like Reverend Baker had said he would. He had always been a natural leader. Now he had a room filled with willing followers ripe for the leading.

 

He nodded to Andrew, who had just rushed through the door at the last minute bearing boxes of cookies for the after-meeting, then he walked to the makeshift podium and tapped the microphone. "Ahem. Yeah. If everyone will sit for a while, we can start," Warren urged.

 

The room of mostly boys and a scattering of girls shuffled to their folding chairs.

 

"Youth for Humans!" Warren shouted as the room shouted in echo. "Resistance is futile!" Again the group parroted his cry. "We stand between decent people and the monsters that want them dead. We ARE the power!"

 

Cheers and elbows nudging one another greeted that hubris.

 

"Before we get to the cookies donated by the ALL HUMAN Lemonte bakery, we've got a bit of business and a battle plan to hash out." Several of the teens looked at the table heaped with yummy sugary goodness with rapture. "Sunnydale has about 38,000 citizens. We're still not sure how many aren't fully human, because, being a small town, we haven't got enough DNA kits to test everybody yet." He held out his hand to still the grumbling. "Calm down, they're coming. Just slower than we'd like."

 

The room quieted again as he motioned for silence.

 

"The good news is the new laws are all Federal and we don't have to wait for some stupid City Council to start making sure they are followed. Anyone found to be a demon, non or sub-human, now includes half-breeds or partials. Anyone with anything other than pure human blood going back to great-grandparents, even if only one would be classified as non-human or demon, makes someone a sub. They aren't allowed in our hospitals, our schools, not as teachers or students or any other position. They have to register all their property, including businesses. Hey, you know all that! Anyway, guess who has a list of those businesses right here in SunnyD?" Warren smiled and waved a paper.

 

The group cheered.

 

"That's right, boys and girls. We have an enemies list right here, all legal and official. I say we break a few windows, bash in a few doors,” Warren grinned in glee. "What do you say?"

 

"Humans only!" they began to chant.

 

***

 

Willow and Giles looked around the table at the small group of religious leaders who had taken it upon themselves to begin a small but thus far effective resistance movement against the insanity that was the new world post the great reveal. They were calling it the 'Lighthouse Project'.

 

"I just cannot use the term demon for these people," the young Imam huffed. "The Holy Koran is quite clear on what it is to be a demon. Iblis--or the devil, as you call him--was a Jinn who refused to bow before Adam. The jinn can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent; they have free will like humans and unlike angels. These beings are able to be seen by humans and don't fit the clear descriptions in the Holy Book. Besides, even if they are demons, the Holy Book also mentions that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was sent as a prophet to both "humanity and the jinn", and that prophets and messengers were sent to both communities. How can any decent Muslim condemn them out of hand?"

 

"We in the Talmud also know of demons, although they are a minor--you could say bit--player in the scheme of creation. Demons are supernatural, malevolent beings with the power to cause hurt to humans. I know some of these people being called demons and they are not all malevolent by any means!" Rabbi Goldstein agreed. "I agree with Kalil; these terms are helping no one."

 

Giles shrugged. "The Council referred to them as demons, but that is only since Christianity came to the fore. Prior to that, the literature referred to them by various names, usually the types they call themselves. I believe now even they tend to use the term ‘demon.’ It's rather a case of semantics."

 

Father Quinn blustered, "Well, whatever we call them or they call themselves, this whole situation stinks. Good are being swept up with the bad, and ordinary decent people are just going along with it! That's not right, no matter how you slice it. Smacks of pure bigotry. No place in God's creation for bigotry of any kind."

 

"Amen to that," Pastor Prentiss nodded. "Thanks for all the summaries you put together for us," he pointed to the binders on the table in front of them all. "It'll help us reach out to the ones we encounter here in Sunnydale, maybe get the good ones to someplace safe--if there is someplace, that is."

 

Willow swallowed and hoped Angel's group had managed to put something workable in place already. "A friend of ours has been working on a refugee camp up in the mountains near the Canadian border. I haven't heard from him in a few days, but it looked like it was coming together."

 

"This friend,” Reverend Prentiss smiled, "He one of the 'good ones' or a human like us? Not caring for any reason, except I get the feeling some of those supernatural powers might come in handy in a place like that."

 

"He's a vampire--in fact, one with a soul," Giles cleared his throat. "He has been working on his redemption for a while now. As long as he has his soul, he's dependable and an asset."

 

"As long as he has his soul? How can one lose a soul? “Rabbi Goldstein looked puzzled. "In Judiasm, the soul is the self, the "I" that inhabits the body and acts through it. Without the soul, the body is like a light bulb without electricity. With the soul, the body acquires life, sight and hearing, thought and speech, intelligence and emotions, will and desire, personality and identity. Everything has a Soul, not just the human being, but also every created entity possesses a "soul." Animals have souls, as do plants; every blade of grass has a soul. How can this Angel person live in any form with no soul?"

 

Giles looked stymied. "Perhaps soul isn't the proper term either. I'm really not certain. There is something lacking in a vampire once they are turned. It permits them to kill and do all manner of evil with no conscience, no remorse. Without it they are vicious and more animal than human. Indeed, Angel himself calls it his soul."

 

"How do you explain the evil in humans? The killers and those with no conscience? Would you say they have no soul?" Rabbi Goldstein was warming to the topic and ready for an intellectual debate on the subject. "As for animals, well, not many of them are wild killers."

 

"Perhaps, like the term ‘demon’ we should just consider the term ‘soul’ as being used as a point of reference only?" suggested Father Quinn. "I doubt we'll all come to any agreement or even scratch at the truth just debating among ourselves. Now’s not the time to be arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Point is, the guy can be trusted as long as whatever it is holding him back from killing is in place. That right?"

 

Giles nodded, "Yes, that about sums it up."

 

"I can work with that," said Reverend Prentiss.

 

"There is also a series of tunnels and caves that Spike put together here in Sunnydale in case it would be needed. He used many of the ones that have been here for ages, but he concealed entrances and made connections that weren't there before. They all join and eventually lead to an opening at the base of Kingman's Bluff and the cove beyond the beach there. We figured if we had to, that it would work either for hiding out or making a run for it via boat if things got too bad. It might work well to connect the operations, and funnel people and demons up from L.A. through Sunnydale then via ship to Washington and the hidden camp there." Giles began to think out loud.

 

Father Quinn had followed Giles train of thought carefully and nodded in agreement at the possibilities. "Who is this Spike?"

 

"Spike's another Vampire who’s been working with us," Willow offered. "Well, until the last few days. He's kinda gone underground."

 

"And he has a soul as well, this Spike?" asked the somewhat puzzled Imam.

 

"No, but he does have a chip!" Willow brightened.

 

"Perhaps I can explain," Giles offered, settling in for a long evening.

 

***

 

Tara wished she had just joined Willow and Mr. Giles at the meeting with the resistance group. Waiting around for them to return was driving the normally patient girl crazy. "It's all those crazy groups of people; they scare me more than any of the scary things that we've always dealt with. “

 

Anya nodded. "Yes, frightened humans mobs are far scarier than most demons. Usually they run faster too, often with weapons."

 

Xander rushed in with a worried look on his face. "I think you'd better close up shop, Ahn. They just passed an ordinance against magic users. Seems they had a prisoner that linked magic with demons and it isn't looking pretty."

 

Anya paled, "You mean they are going to take away my business even without thinking I'm a demon! That goes against capitalism! They can't do that!"

 

Tara bit her lip in nervousness. "Any idea who the prisoner was? And…and what kind of ordinance?"

 

"No clue, but it was some guy heavy into the dark stuff, I guess. As for the ordinance, so far it’s just fines, I think, but they are pushing to make magic use illegal." Xander looked around and wondered how they could manage to keep the shop open without violating the new law. He couldn't think of a way. "When will Giles get back?"

 

"They were supposed to be back at least a half-hour ago. They had a lot to talk about, though." Tara looked out the window wistfully and spotted her young friend Davey West. He was running in desperation and followed by a small group of teenage boys. "Don't lock me out!" She yelled over her shoulder as she made a mad dash to try to help the boy.

 

"Tara!" Xander yelled in panic then rushed out to try to help as well.

 

Tara was facing off the mob of hooligans and standing over the fallen boy. "Davey is as human as you are! Maybe more. He has an illness, even a doctor's note to prove it. Leave him alone!"

 

The crowd wasn't to be appeased. "Look at him! Nothing human there...look at the lumpy face."

 

"He has neurofibromatosis. He's human!" Tara was nearly in tears.

 

One of the bigger teens grabbed Tara by the arm and wrestled with her to get her away from the crying boy on the ground. "Get away from him, bitch! We can tell a non-human when we see one." He swung Tara into the wall, her head making a sickening cracking sound as she connected.

 

"The lady said stay back!" Xander demanded. "Go bother real demons and stop manhandling women and people with illnesses." He stood to his full height and glowered at them. "The police have already been called. Unless you want to spend some time in jail for assault, you'd better shove off," he bluffed.

 

One of the boys whispered in the ear of the bully who had hurt Tara. "Yeah, well, maybe he is human. You'd better hope so, for your sake, 'cause don't think I'm not going to report the little sniveler and you." The mob moved on.

 

Xander went to help Tara, only to find her unconscious and bleeding from the back of the head. "Is Tara going to be okay?" Davey asked.

 

"God, I hope so," Xander replied. If not, there would be hell on earth from Willow.

 

***

 

"And so from Spike we know that this Initiative was at least around in 1943. The U.S. group was called Demon Research Initiative but the ones actually capturing demons and experimenting were the Nazis. Spike said they had a plan for a vampire army." Willow summed up the story of Angel and the submarine that he'd been sent to deliver to the American authorities back during the war.

 

"So Senator Proctor isn't wrong," Chaim broke his silence. "It was something right out of the Nazi nightmare. Still is, just like I've been saying."

 

Willow patted her grandfather's arm affectionately. "This time we'll just have to fight back and win sooner." Her cell phone began playing the Indigo Girls 'Power of Two' ringtone that Tara had programmed in. "Hi, sweetie....Xander?..."

 

The color drained from her face and she looked, wild eyed, at Giles, "We need to go to the hospital right now!"

 

 

***

Chapter Text

A/N Graphic violence. Some torture might trigger or be too much for some to read. If you want to skip it, just imagine what the Initiative COULD do to Buffy and Spike and you'll likely be on the same page.

 

***

Chapter 12

***

 

Buffy couldn't remember ever being so tired. The so-called doctors had been running endurance testing on her for weeks. If she were at full Slayer power, it might not have been so bad, but whatever they had been putting into her weakened her--not completely or they wouldn't be getting information on her "uniqueness" at all, but enough to cause every one of her muscles to cramp badly when they were finished. Even if the sleeping shelf they called a bed had been somewhat comfortable, she doubted she could have had a full night's rest with her body aching this badly. Still, based on the glimpses she caught of others being tested and worse, she was one of the lucky ones...for now.

 

"Wonder when the guys will mount up and tunnel me out of Shawshank?" she muttered. Surely they all would realize what had to have happened to her?

 

"Hey, just zap it if it gets too annoying!" That shouted order from a familiar sounding voice was followed by sounds of a scuffle and a loud curse. "Might as well just hook up electrodes; this one is always annoying."

 

Buffy put face to name a second before he came into view, 'Riley!' She looked at the group of soldiers dragging the limp form of some poor prisoner. Obviously, they had followed Riley's order and tazed him into unconsciousness. From the look of the prisoner's body, it was probably a mercy.

 

"Riley, why am I here? You know who I am and why I have my powers. Why don't you just tell them about the Slayer powers?"

 

Riley looked at her coldly. "And how do I know that all isn't just a load of crap? You aren't normal, Buffy. You've never been normal in any way, not just your fighting ability. I'd say there's good reason to make sure you aren't some weird form of demon after all."

 

The prisoner moaned and began to return to consciousness. His head lifted and Buffy's eyes widened as she saw who it was.

"Spike?!"

 

***

 

Spike tried to return to consciousness with a desperation born from knowing he was at his most vulnerable when he was out. He could have sworn he heard Buffy call his name, but when his eyes opened he saw only the same four close walls of his cell.

 

Felt like only a few broken bones this time, that and a scattering of burns. If the buggers would actually feed him today, he might be whole enough to deal with the next round.

 

The first day in captivity had been the worst thus far. The bastards hadn't believed in anesthetic, not for demons at least. He should be grateful they had already learned that actual removal of organs led to small piles of dust so nothing was permanently disconnected. Was all moved about, lifted and examined though, and it hurt beyond the telling, even days later. They had also learned that a drop of holy water on the vocal chords kept the deafening screams from bothering them at their work.

 

Spike’s voice had finally returned today and he had wasted no time in expressing his opinion about their treatment of him, his accommodations, and the likely parentage of his captors. That hadn't gone well for him either.

 

Seemed the overgrown Boy Scout had decided to make Spike his own personal project. No matter the test, poke, or prod, Finn and his sneer was always right there to watch, if not administer the damned thing. They were taking that P & P very seriously. The physical was nothing if not creative and that twit Finn knew just enough about Spike to make the psychological actually sting.

 

The early years with Angelus had given Spike pretty good firsthand knowledge of what kinds of pain and torture he could endure, but this situation held no promise of it ever ending, at least without him being a pile of dust. He would have to steel his mind to keep despair from doing half their job for them. Make 'em work for it, make them feel a bit of pain and worry along the way.

 

A bag of pig-swill was thrust into the cell.

 

"I'd drink up if I were you, vampire. Never know when it'll be the last." The soldier chuckled at his threat coached as a joke.

 

"Same with you and breathin'," Spike threatened back.

 

***

 

Willow was chalk white and eerily silent as she waited for the doctor to finally let her know how Tara was doing. By the time Giles got the redhead to the hospital, Tara was already being treated and they wouldn't let her into the examining room. No one was giving her any information either. Seems she had no legal rights to any say regarding how and what might be done to her beloved! Officially, no one except the family that Tara had turned her back on for good reason had these rights.

 

Giles had told the admitting nurse that Tara had no family. Willow would make certain that any computer search would show that to be the truth. Still, Willow had no clever computer trick to give her actual relationship the legal weight needed to give her a say or privileges.

 

Giles handed her a tepid cup of weak tea from the hospital vending machine. "I don't suppose there is anything I can say to make this any easier?" He put a comforting arm around her.

 

"Some news would be great," Willow sniffled. "Xander had described what happened and Tara's condition when the ambulance arrived."

 

"Did Davey get home safely?" Giles inquired.

 

"Yeah, I had a hard time keeping his dad from going after the idiot squad. I've got a feeling that with the way everyone is feeling and acting, he'd be the one in trouble." Xander sank down in his chair and slouched wearily. "Poor kid's quiet. Looks like they finally broke his spirit. I doubt he's going to want to go outside his house again, at least as long as all this idiocy is going on."

 

"Tara is always talking about that kid and how brave and sweet he is. I'd hate for this to kill his spirit." Willow sipped at the tea and grimaced.

 

"Any word on Tara?" Xander glanced at his oldest friend and shuddered at the flash of vengeful anger on her face.

 

"Nope. I'd better hear something soon or I'm going to start getting creative." Willow muttered and not in jest.

 

A harried looking doctor cleared his throat and looked kindly at the clearly frantic redheaded woman who had been demanding information from the staff ever since her arrival.

 

"How is she?" Willow demanded as she rose from her seat and confronted the doctor.

 

"I can only tell you her status: she is in serious condition." The doctor could feel the arguments to policy ready to explode around him. "Now, if one of you is related to Miss Maclay, I might be able to give more information." He looked at the three people pointedly.

 

Xander took the hint. "Um...I'm family. A distant cousin, but she doesn't have anyone closer. Will that do?"

 

The doctor smiled and nodded, happy that someone had taken the bait he had tossed them. "That'll do fine. Your...cousin...has suffered a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. We won't knowuntil she regains consciousness and our neurological team has a good look at her what the end result will likely be."

 

"What are the possibilities?" Giles asked.

 

"Closed head injuries frequently cause diffuse brain damage, which means damage to several areas of the brain. It causes headaches, confusion, memory problems, and nausea. In a moderate brain injury, symptoms can last longer and be more pronounced. Most patients make a good recovery.

 

With a severe brain injury, the person may suffer life-changing and debilitating problems. She could have cognitive, behavioral, and physical disabilities. People who are in a coma or a minimally responsive state may remain dependent on the care of others for the rest of their lives." The doctor sighed, "We really won't know what direction Tara's condition and treatment will take until all the tests are completed. We have her scheduled for some scans in the morning."

 

Willow had begun to pace. "So we don't know too much, that’s what you are saying?"

 

"We know she will live and that is a good start," the doctor reminded her.

 

***

 

"This collar should give a strong enough jolt to fell a fully healthy Fyarl.” The technician promised proudly. "With this around her throat, even one soldier can safely control her movements and behavior."

 

"So we could safely stop the drug treatment and actually test her abilities without fear of reprisal?" The doctor inquired. "The last ‘quick fix’ your team came up with resulted in two of my best aides having to be treated for broken limbs."

 

"This model has a strong enough charge, and it’s titanium-rimmed so she won't be able to tear it off."

 

"Travers, what do you think? You're the expert where this girl’s strength is concerned."

 

Quentin looked over the device carefully. "I don't see why it shouldn't work. This girl has enhanced strength and skills, but she is mostly human at her core, at least physiologically. I don't see why this device shouldn't allow proper testing."

 

"Fine. Release the sleeping gas into her cell and bring her in for a fit as soon as you are certain she's actually out." The doctor nodded. "Let’s get to some real tests at long last."

 

***

 

Giles looked at the large chain and padlock on his place of business with pursed lips. "What gives you the right to close up my establishment?"

 

The police officer looked chagrined. "Look, I'm just following orders. The city council voted that all magic shops and occult places were to be shut down until they decide if the stuff you have in there is real or just kids’ stuff."

 

"And just who is it they plan to have make that determination?"

 

The officer shrugged, "Not sure. Someone from the Humans Only office, I guess."

 

After the officer had driven away, Giles removed his glasses for a quick polish as he thought about his best course of action.

 

"I tried to keep the officer from locking us out," Anya commiserated. "He wasn't listening to me at all. No one does," she sighed.

 

"We have been lately, Anya, and your words have been quite valuable," Giles patted her on the shoulder gently.

 

"True." Anya looked into the window all the lovely merchandise that should be being purchased even as they spoke. "What are we going to do now?"

 

"I'm thinking that for once I am glad that Spike had that entrance to our basement from the sewers. Call Xander and see if he can lend a hand in moving out as much as we can before the officials come to take inventory."

 

"Maybe we can put enough silly stuff on the shelves that they'll think we're just a kids shop?" Anya suggested. "We could even stock things like a street magician might like and say that's what is meant by the magic in our name?"

 

"You mean cards and hats for rabbits and the like?" Giles suggested as Anya flinched at the mention of the little fluffers.

 

"NO bunnies! Can't we have some other creature instead of those?"

 

Giles shrugged, "Well, they are traditional."

 

"Anyone with sense would know right away that it IS an evil magic shop if we stocked them." She argued illogically.

 

"You call Xander while I go home and change into something suitable. The sooner we move things, the better." Giles purposefully headed towards his car, already making a plan of action as he walked.

 

***

 

Spike struggled against the restraints holding him underwater. He didn't need to breathe, of course, but he was used to doing so. He couldn't help the panic at knowing any attempt to breathe would only draw water into his lungs.

 

The container was clear Plexiglas and a team of doctors stood watching, clipboards in hand. The water had been freezing when he had first been immersed and closed in. Since then the temperature had fluctuated from icy to literal boiling. The "test" had been going on for hours, although it seemed even longer. He could feel his skin begin to crack where the burns and stretching had taken its toll.

 

"Looks like a bit of skin has sloughed off, at least I'm assuming that's what the thin coating of dust is," The lead doctor noted. "Perhaps the next test should be using oil to see if the higher temperature of boiling oil causes more of a skin loss?"

 

"Make note of that, Jackson." The doctor tapped the container and peered in at the obviously distressed vampire. "Might want to give it a couple of days, minimal feed, enough to rebuild the skin so we have a clean slate," he ordered.

 

***

 

Buffy whirled into a kick spin and aimed for the legs of the pimple-faced sociopath closest to her. The lead examiner pressed a button on the device he held and she suddenly collapsed to the ground, clutching at the collar they had evidently put around her neck while she was out. The pain was excruciating.

 

"Now, Miss Summers, it would be far less stressful for you if you would simply cooperate," the bastard dared to suggest.

 

"I am going to get out of here and I am going to make it my life's goal to rip your testicles off one at a time and make you eat them," she growled.

 

"Crude as ever, Miss Summers," Travers tsked.

 

Buffy finally noticed the old Watcher who had been standing in the shadows. "What are you doing here? Why are you letting them treat your Slayer this way?"

 

"In the first place, I thought you were not working with the Council any longer? Quit, didn't you, when we wouldn't assist your decision to help that vampire Angelus?"

 

Buffy glared at the man who had moved closer into the room to loom over her. "You know I've never stopped doing my duty. I just stopped trusting your group's judgment. Looks like I was right."

 

"A Slayer is not needed for her judgment, merely her ability to kill demons and contain the Hellmouth. You, Miss Summers, do not know your place." Travers curled his lip in disdain. "And you are easily replaced."

 

***

 

Willow slipped into Tara's room and pulled the curtain around her bed. She set out the required candles and herbs and began to prepare for a simple healing ritual. She carved Tara's name into the white candle and lit it. She anointed Tara's head with the herbs and sacred oil and began the healing chant.

 

"I call upon Atepomarus, Brigid, Sekhmet, and Aceso.

Come to the aid of your daughter Tara, who has been felled by injury.

By the light of the moon and the path of north

Let illness be purged and good health flow forth

 

Let not this simple spell coerce or make their situation worse

Hear now my humble plea, and as I will it, so mote it be."

 

She blew out the candle and gently pressed a kiss on Tara's forehead.

 

As she gathered her vials and candle, Willow gave a startled look at the horrified expression on the nurse’s aide who had evidently witnessed the short ritual. "This isn't what it looks like. It's religious," Willow tried to explain. "It's asking for help in healing her."

 

"That's not religion. Religion's in a church and it doesn't have all that mumbo-jumbo you just said." The aide backed out of the room, looking fearful. "I've read about you people. You're as dangerous as those monsters. You work with them."

 

"Wait, NO!" Willow tried to explain. "I don't work with monsters; I fight them."

 

The aide shook her head and left the room hurriedly.

 

"Oh, boy! I'd better call Giles on this." Willow put on her resolve face and debated if it were safe to leave Tara in this place with these people.

 

***

 

Xander and Giles wiped off cobwebs and dirt and sunk wearily to the ground to rest. Most of the actual magical items and all of the books had been moved into one of Spike's providential hiding places. They had left behind anything that was harmless or could pass as a child's idea of magic. Anya had used her connections to get enough merchandise that looked like it might tempt an amateur Sigfried or Criss Angel.

 

"Think they'll buy it?" Xander whispered tiredly.

 

"Doubtful. We have enough of a regular clientele that this ruse won't last long. Perhaps long enough to buy a bit of time, though." Giles had decided, based on the crackdown on magic and Willow's disturbing encounter at the hospital earlier, that it might be time to join Spike in whatever place he had evidently chosen to hide out. "We should probably make a search of the different bolt holes and make a strategic withdrawal from what passes for society now."

 

"I still have a decent job and so far no one is suspicious of me. Maybe I should keep everything normal and my eyes open. I can keep you up to date about what's happening locally, at least." Xander offered.

 

"Well, I'm not going to be living below ground while you're up there," Anya said indignantly. "I'm not some mole person and I'm not afraid of the demon haters. I'm a human girl through and through, and they can't prove differently."

 

"What about Dawn?" Xander thought about the girl who had been trying to act as if nothing were amiss while her sister was MIA. "Willow is still staying there, but with Tara still in the hospital and Willow outed as a magic user, it might not be a good thing to just hope that she'd test as human and leave her to their mercy."

 

"Mercy?!" Anya barked. "Not much of that lately."

 

"Dawn took it rather well when we explained her origins, at least as well as we could given the limited information we actually have. I'm ever grateful Buffy decided to tell her while Joyce still lived. I doubt she would have handled the information as well otherwise." Giles closed his eyes at the memory of all that had been lost in such a short time. "Yes, I think it prudent that Dawn join us in the tunnels until we can decide the best course of action. We cannot continue to wait for Buffy's return to decide what to do about her little sister."

 

"Do you think we'll ever find Buffy?" Xander asked in a choked voice. This was the first time he let on that his original dream of Buffy being gone by her own choosing had ended. They were all quite awake by this time.

 

Giles clasped the young man's shoulder, "We won't give up until we do. There are places even in the tunnels where Willow can continue to use her computing skills to search. If you remain at your job and home, at least as long as it is safe to do so, you can be our eyes and ears in other ways."

 

"Well," Xander stood, "I guess we go and find out where the great bleached undead is holed up and take it from there."

Chapter Text

***

Chapter 13

***

It felt like weeks had passed. Spike moaned softly, feeling the last of his burns healing. “Bloody bastards want to play more games, they need to give me more than little bits of pig swill to heal up first.”

“Part of the tests, demon,” the nearby soldier commented. “See how little to feed your kind and still have you come back for more. Gotta say, you’re proving to be pretty resilient.”

“What good are all these so-called tests gonna do anyway?” Spike was pretty sure there was nothing new to be learned from the tortures he’d been enduring. The Council of Watchers had done their versions of this kind of thing ages ago, had libraries filled with the results. “That pillock Travers is sittin’ on information; go torture him for it!”

“We don’t torture humans.” The soldier moved away from the cell door, leaving Spike cursing in his wake.

“17 giving you a hard time?” Finn asked the junior officer.

“Just language that I’m pretty certain I shouldn’t use in polite company,” the lad grinned. “Got quite a mouth on it.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Riley agreed. “I’ll take it from here. If 17 has healed enough to be a pain in the ass, he’s ready for another round of testing.”

***

“So we dropped by the hospital to see how Tara’s doing,” Xander looked more than a bit exhausted. Between work and acting as eyes and ears for Giles in the “normal” world, he hadn’t had much sleep.

Willow leapt from the cushion she had been sitting on and nearly grabbed him. “How is she?”

“Doctors say she’s stable. She moved her fingers yesterday when Anya was visiting. They think that she might be coming out of the coma before long.”

Willow looked hopeful, “How about the tests?”

“So far the scans look good. They can’t test for some things until she’s conscious though.”

“What about that Nosey Parker nurse?” Willow remembered the judgmental look on the aide’s face when she had witnessed Willow doing a simple healing spell on Tara.

“I think I smoothed that over. Claimed that my dear cousin Tara had gotten involved with a nature-based religion and that was actually a prayer thingy you were doing.”

“That’s what I tried to tell her when she walked in on me,” Willow scowled. “Stupid Muggle.”

“Yes, well, did the stupid Muggle accept your explanation?” Giles asked.

“I don’t know, but one of the doctors backed me up, so I doubt they’re going to go all Salem Witch trials on Tara once she wakes up,” Xander reassured his oldest friend.

“They’d better not or I’ll show them what a witch really is,” Willow vowed and Xander could have sworn her eyes turned black for a moment.

“And Anya? Any word on the status of the shop?” Giles inquired.

“Ahn promised the board of directors at Humans Only that the shop would stop selling anything even remotely linked to magic, even the kids entertainment kind. She’s transforming the Box into a party goods store. It was the cheapest merchandise she could find to stock it. YAY, Oriental Trading! You know Ahn, not willing to go into debt just to build a smoke screen.”

Giles nodded his head in agreement, “Just so. At least we might be able to keep use of the building if something is in place. Good thinking on her part.”

“That’s my girl,” Xander grinned. “Knowing Ahn, she’ll wind up making a profit big enough to even pay the bills before the month is over.”

“So does that mean we can leave this cave and go back to civilization?” Willow wanted with all her heart to be a Tara’s side when she woke.

“I think it best to continue to lay low for a while longer,” Giles cautioned.

“What about Dawn?” Xander nodded to the sleeping form of Buffy’s young sister. “We have room at our place.”

“I really think it best for Dawn to remain with us.” Giles wasn’t about to let Buffy return only to discover her sister had been placed in jeopardy.

“What about you, Will, did you get in touch with Angel’s group?”

“Not yet, but I’ve got feelers out. I think they’re still working their way up to Washington. It’s kinda slow going with the baby.” Willow was still blown away at the thought of Angel and Cordy raising any child, much less one born from two vampires.

“There’s this guy in LA named Lindsey McDonald who claims he’s setting up a shelter to take in refugees. He wanted me to put him in touch with groups here, but I don’t know if we can trust him,” Willow looked nervous. “On paper, he looks like he could really be an asset, but I just don’t know. Angel hates the guy.”

“I don’t necessarily take that as a sign of a character flaw,” Xander said.

“We cannot take even the smallest of chances though,” Giles warned.

“Run into our own missing vamp?” Xander was starting to get a little worried about Spike, although he would suffer torture rather than admit it.

“Not a sign and frankly that concerns me. Spike is many things, but not a coward. I cannot conceive of him leaving without a word.” Giles sighed. “I cannot like the idea that both Buffy and Spike went missing at close to the same time. I’m beginning to suspect that this isn’t just a case of Riley kidnapping Buffy, but more likely these Global Human Initiative types have them both.”

***

Buffy reeked. It seemed like an age since they had let her have even a quick shower and a change of clothes. She hated how she felt and didn’t even want to know how she looked. So far she had been lucky, she supposed. They had kept testing her strength and Slaying abilities against every sort of demon imaginable--some she’d never seen before, even in the dusty books Giles kept making her look at. She was at full strength again, but even with that there were limits to her energy levels.

“How many is it so far this test?” the impassive eyes of the clipboard-wielding doctor flicked over the exhausted girl.

“Twenty-seven, most of them the beast variety, not much in the brains department,” the soldier holding the controls to Buffy’s collar replied.

“No significant flagging of energy yet?”

“Doubt she’s ready to dance, but I think she’d still win if we put some more in the cage with her.”

The doctor tapped his pen on the clipboard and thought about the best use of their assets. “Perhaps we’ll give her a bit of a rest then, while we see if we have enough worthy opponents at hand to continue in the morning.” The doctor turned to the clearly angry girl, “Miss Summers, I would imagine you would like a night off? If you’ve been a good girl and have not given Corporal Gaines difficulties,” the soldier shook his head, “then I believe we might even permit a shower and chance to get into something a bit more comfortable. You see, Miss Summers, we’re really quite civilized as long as you cooperate.”

Buffy bit back the words that begged to be said in answer. She really wanted, no, needed that shower. All the soap and water in the world wouldn’t make her feel completely clean after the things she had been forced to see and do in the time she had been held there. She consoled herself that the demons she had been killing non-stop were likely grateful to finally be done with this place.

Unlike some Slayers, Buffy had always contented herself in only killing demons and vampires that she caught getting up to no good. She vaguely knew about the demon underworld in Sunnydale but had decided early on not to take the battle to them unless she had to. It was enough to keep the troublemakers reduced in number and let the rest take care of themselves. None of the demons she’d faced in combat here had actually done anything she knew about to warrant a slaying, but then again she didn’t have that death wish Spike told her about yet either.

‘Wonder if that was Spike I saw,’ she thought, not for the first time. ‘I really hope he didn’t get caught while trying to rescue me.’ She worried again about the rest of the group. ‘Were they part of a try to get me out of here and are they locked up somewhere too?’

Not knowing was eating away at what little peace of mind her returned powers had given to her. She needed serious sleep time to get her brain working on a way to get some answers.

***

Private Graham Miller was less than honored that his friend Riley Finn had asked for him to be transferred to his detail. Graham much preferred being part of the capture units. He’d seen enough just in the few short days he’d been on this duty to begin to question just what the hell they were doing here anyway. Riley was changing into someone he didn’t recognize anymore. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to convince him to come back to the Initiative; it was as if something had snapped deep in his friend’s psyche.

“Then this female with blue skin like something out of Star Trek actually offers to fuck me any way I like if I’ll just let her spawn go,” the acne-scarred grunt laughed. “Like I’d want to touch that!”

“I don’t know. Lots of the guys have a real good time with the more human-looking ones. What about the younger one? Some of them look better when they’re still small.”

The soldier Graham knew only as Barnes turned his stomach even more than most of the demons he’d been dealing with for the past few years. Barnes had a reputation for raping female prisoners, usually as brutally as possible. “Why the evil eye, Miller? You never took a taste?”

“I’m not a rapist,” Graham replied.

“Not rape. These things ain’t even real. Kinda like masturbating, only using demon pussy instead of your right hand,” Barnes shrugged carelessly, then turned back to the other Private, whose nametag read Reese. “You really ought to give it a try. Some are real wildcats.”

Graham stowed his food tray on the collection table and gave the pair a disgusted look.

“What’s the matter, Mr. High and Mighty? You prefer males? Plenty of them here to fuck if that’ll take the sour look off your face. I think you just need to get yourself some.”

Graham didn’t even dignify the comment with a glance as he left the cafeteria and returned to duty. He longed for the days when he didn’t feel filthy completing his mission. The new guys being recruited into the units seemed to be more and more like Barnes and his ilk. His days of pride in service felt like a thing of the past.

***

Tara woke with a start and looked nervously around her at the unfamiliar room. “Willow?” she choked out softly.

Anya jerked awake in the chair next to Tara’s bed. “It’s about time you decided to wake up. You’ve had us all worried.”

“Where am I?”

“Sunnydale Memorial.” Anya wondered if she should alert the nurse that Tara was awake, but decided it could wait until she had a chance to warn the girl about what not to say. “You’ve been in a coma since you decided to take on a gang of teenage bullies. I don’t know how much you remember, but you’ve been unconscious for a couple of weeks.”

“A couple….?” Tara looked startled. “Where is Willow?”

“Look, we don’t know yet if you are brain damaged or how bad it might be, but you have to try not to say anything that will put us all in more jeopardy.”

Tara blinked rapidly. There was a lot of information in that artless statement. “I don’t feel brain damaged.”

“That’s good news, though I’m sure the doctors will be testing you anyway,” Anya sighed. “I certainly hope you have good health insurance. Giles provided a good policy for me when the store was doing well, but we didn’t think to ask about you when they admitted you.” Anya stood and offered Tara a sip from the water glass on the bed table next to her hospital bed. “I really hope you do, because Xander is listed as your closest relative and I don’t want to have to try to find a way to pay your hospital bill when we check you out.”

Tara gratefully took a sip of the tepid water. “Why is Xander listed as my family?”

“Stupid laws don’t accept your relationship with Willow as having any legal status and no one would tell us anything unless we were family. Xander said you were a distant cousin and that he was the closest thing to family you had.”

Tara tried once again, “So where is Willow now?”

“They went into hiding.” For once, Anya seemed to remember the emotional impact all this must be having on the still fragile girl in the hospital bed. “Willow was caught doing a healing spell for you and they had just started to enforce all those laws on magic use. “ She stopped and gave a concerned and very pointed look at Tara. “You cannot let anyone know you have anything to do with magic! Xander finally made them believe you were into nature worship but not Wicca, or who knows what they might have done. I don’t know if they can legally arrest someone in a coma or not.”

“Was Willow arrested?” Tara looked terrified.

“No, she and Giles went into hiding before anyone could show up to bring her in for questioning. Giles had to remove all of our wonderfully popular merchandise and replace it with silly hats and whistles and things like that just to keep the store open. Of course, I have had a rather decent month of sales, if I do say so myself.”

“Ahn? Is Tara awake?” Xander entered the room and pulled the door closed behind him.

“Hi, Xander,” Tara’s voice was weak but she sounded like she was all there. “Thanks for backing me up against those boys.”

“So you do remember,” Anya smiled. “Maybe there won’t be any brain damage. Go, you!”

Xander closed his eyes and bit back the urge to correct Anya’s social skills. He cringed to think of what she might have already said to Tara.

“So how’s it feel being back in the land of the consciousness-having?” he smiled.

“Kinda fuzzy, but good, I guess. Anya was just telling me that Willow and Mr. Giles have gone into hiding? Why not you too?”

Xander looked around carefully, not wanting to chance being overheard. “We’re trying to stay where we can keep track of things, at least as long as we can. I mean, I’m all human and Ahn tests that way too, so we’re safe so far.”

“So they went to stay with Spike in the tunnels? “

“They’re in the caves, yes, but Spike isn’t with them.” Xander cleared his throat. “The best we can guess is that he might have been captured by the soldiers.”

Tara looked alarmed. “Goddess, I hope they haven’t killed him!”

“Just guessing, but maybe he’d be better off if they had,” Xander muttered.

***

Wesley finished packing up the books from his and Angel’s research library and handed the last of them to Charles, who was cramming everything usable into the rental van. “I think we have everything that might be considered suspect out of the way now.”

“Sure hope so, ‘cause I’m not planning on a vacation in one of the government’s new resort facilities. I didn’t spend most of my young and pretty years fighting the big uglies only to share a cell with one,” Gunn declared.

“That’s not something I would desire either, I assure you,” Wes wiped his brow.

“I’m pretty nervous trusting this McDonald mother. I mean, he did Angel a solid with the heads-up on Lilah droppin’ a dime about Connor, but can the dude really be trusted?”

“We can’t know for certain and I don’t plan to have too much share-time with him, but he did seem sincere in wanting to help. He claims it’s in honor of Darla that he wishes to be a help fighting against those who would have targeted her.” Wesley looked nervous. “Frankly, he’s all we’ve got.”

“That don’t make me happy, man. All he’s gotta do is say the wrong thing in the right ear and we’re toast.”

“Lindsey may be morally corrupt, but from what I’ve seen, he has some scruples. There are lines he doesn’t wish to cross. He even had a moment there when they gave him that new hand where he seemed to be looking for a bit of redemption himself. I’ve often wondered what might have happened had Angel not dismissed him entirely.”

Gunn chuckled, “Prob’ly staked his ass if Angel’d gotten too close. No love lost there.”

“Indeed.” Wesley took a last look around the hotel and dusted off his hands. “Well, I suppose we’re about to find out how trustworthy Lindsey McDonald might be then.”

“Remind me again why I don’t just cut my losses and head back to the hood?”

“Because you are a loyal defender of the innocent and a fighter on the side of good.”

“Yeah, that.” Gunn laughed again and slapped Wesley on the back. “Think they made it?”

“I have every confidence in Angel’s ability to survive against insurmountable odds.” Still, he looked grim. “There is nothing in this dimension that would prevent him from protecting his son and Cordelia to his last bit of strength either. Yes, I think they will make it, if they haven’t already.”

“Okay then. Guess we pick up Lorne and head to McDonald’s farm…and can you get any more dope a name than that for his setup?”

“Very apt indeed.”

***

The floor of the room was being hosed down as they dragged Spike in for the next planned “test”. The blood of varying colors mixed with ichor of who knows how many previous occupants. He looked at the wheel attached to the wall and had a feeling he knew what was coming. ‘Movin’ on from skin to bones, I guess.’

“Thought you would have this cleaned up by now!” Riley barked at the slow moving soldier pushing a broom through the mess and aiming it all for the grated drain in the center of the room. “We’re on a schedule here, you know, Private.”

“Yes, sir, doin’ my best, sir. It’s just that there’ve been a lot of them today, sir.”

“And still more to come. Don’t make me get behind schedule or you’ll find out it really does roll downhill.”

The soldier began to sweep more rapidly while nervously eyeing Spike, who was being held between Graham and Reese.

“Don’t worry, this one’s been chipped longer than you’ve been in service,” Reese jibed.

Riley looked down at the wet, slick floor and gave an irritated sigh. “All right, put 17 in the holding pen there until the floor dries enough that we don’t have anyone slipping. I hate filling out accident reports.”

The soldiers dragged Spike to the small cell adjoining the “testing” room and closed him in.

“Is that you, Spike? Gee, I can’t believe they grabbed you!”

Spike looked over to see the battered, emaciated form of his floppy-eared poker buddy. “Thought you were headed up north?”

“I was. I came back for Celia’s boyfriend. We didn’t make it out of town.” Clem looked forlorn. His youngest sister had always been his favorite. He almost didn’t mind dying before having to let her know what had happened to the love of her young life.

Spike put a gentle hand on the sagging shoulder of his friend. “Know you did your best, mate.”

“I tried, I really tried,” Clem said wearily. “Don’t think I’ve got much left in me for whatever they have planned. Guess I should just be glad I won’t die with nobody knowing what happened to me.” He lowered his head, “When you get out of here, tell Celia I tried, will you?”

“What makes you think I’m gettin’ out of this hole?”
“You’re Spike; you’ll figure a way out. You always do,” Clem said with conviction.

Spike wasn’t nearly as sure as Clem about that, but he appreciated the vote of confidence.

“Got any idea what kind of party games they have planned?” Clem tried to sound lighthearted.

“Yeah, seen pictures in books about the Inquisition. If that wheel out there is what I remember, we’re both in for a few shattered limbs or more. You still healin’ okay?”

“Not so much. We’re not as quick to heal as vampires. I really don’t think my body can take much more.”

“Try to hang in there, Clem. You’ve got family out there who care.”

“You’ve got people who care too, Spike.”

Spike got a faraway look of melancholy and didn’t answer at first. “Doubt anyone’ll miss ol’ Spike. Prob’ly didn’t even notice I was gone.”

“That sweet little girl would,” Clem reminded him.

Spike gave a half grin. “Yeah, the Bit might at that. Guess there’s at least one who’ll remember me.”

Clem began to cough up blood. Suddenly, Spike was a worried William watching his mother losing her life one cough at a time and he felt tears begin to cloud his vision. “Hang in there, Clem. Don’t let the buggers win, yeah?”

***

Giles moved furtively through the back room of the former Magic Box, now renamed Party Box, and opened the hidden panel where they had stored some of the more powerful books and useful weapons.

He was fairly certain that no one was looking for him specifically and he could easily return to life out of hiding, but he was loath to risk either Willow or Dawn on a bet of that magnitude.

Better keep his forays into the outside world to a minimum and not attract attention. Still, they did have certain needs and the Book of Honorius, with its spells revealing deep knowledge of science, might be necessary if they were to move Tara into the caves with them. It appeared that she was healing well, but neither he nor Willow had sufficient knowledge of medicine to be sure they could deal with any setback that might occur.

His hand hovered lovingly over several other texts before settling on the one that had brought him out in the open. Willow was, frankly, unnerving him with her singleminded determination to be reunited with Tara immediately. He would rather wait until all the test results were in before moving the poor girl to the makeshift lodgings he was now sharing with Dawn and Willow.

He had thought to have Xander bring the book, but the less connection between Xander and the shop-- beyond Anya, of course--the better. So far the boy’s regular visits and updates had made their isolation bearable. They didn’t want to draw unwanted attention to any patterns that might make anyone suspicious however. Besides, it was safe enough for Rupert Giles, merchant, to be out and about…at least for now.

“Ripper, GOD, I thought you were gone too!” came a whisper from the door leading to the alleyway.

Giles nearly dropped the precious tome as he whirled to the see the last person he expected or wanted to see. “Ethan, what in the name of all that is holy are you doing here?” His former friend looked ghastly.

“That damned twat Travers has had me as his personal trained monkey under lock and key for an age.” Ethan sagged against the wall. “Barely got out with my skin intact, mostly anyway.”

“Got out? Got out of where precisely?”

“Well, the…,” Ethan Rayne moaned as the sound of grinding bones accompanied his slide down the wall to a collapse. “Bugger!”

“Ethan!” Where have they been keeping you?” Giles had a stir of hope. Perhaps this unexpected encounter might lead to Buffy.

“Underground, like a bloody mole.” Ethan moved his hand from his side that he had been clutching ever since Giles first turned around and saw him. “Maybe not so intact as I had hoped,” he groaned out. He pulled his hand away and looked down at his blood soaked side. “Seems one of them managed to hit me after all.”

Giles rushed to his side and could already hear the wet gurgle that spoke of a punctured lung at the very least. “What do you know about Buffy? Quick, man, stay with me long enough to at least answer the bloody question!” Giles would have shaken Rayne in his urgency except it might only hasten the man’s death.

“Your little Slayer?” Ethan smiled. “Never good to get so attached, dear boy, haven’t you learned?”

“Bit too late for that, Ethan. Please you have to tell me what you know.”

Rayne quirked an eyebrow. “Not going to live long enough for that I fear, Ripper, my boy.”

“Just get to the point.” Giles ground out.

“I can’t know for certain if it was your girl or the other one. Travers wants them both out of the way, you know. “Ethan was gasping for air, making talking difficult. “Not dead. Testing her abilities. Mostly for show. Quentin sees no need for one silly girl fighting endless battles. Plans to wipe them all out with his new International army. Save the world, reap the glory.”

“Yes, he’s a megalomaniacal fool. Where are they keeping her? Our locator spells tell us nothing.”

“That would be me.” Rayne flashed a grin that showed the blood that indicated severe internal injuries. “Wonderful masking spell. Worked a treat, didn’t it?”

“Damn it, Ethan, where are they keeping her?”

Rayne was fading fast. “East of here, not too far. Nearly under your nose.” He slumped, his head falling to Giles shoulder. “Always did fancy dying in your arms, Ripper.”

Chapter Text

Author's Notes:
A/N In this story, the timeline for events in canon on “Angel the Series” is not as seen on the screen. Some events, such as the birth of Connor and Cordy becoming half demon, happen a bit sooner.

Screen names for Angel and Willow are the product of my wonderful Beta, Scarlett2U’s contribution. I could not think of better for either character.

 

~*~

Chapter 14

~*~

 

“For a little guy, he weighs a ton! Does dark magic add pounds?” Xander huffed. “I mean, I’m no Schwarzenegger, but I am ‘Construction Guy,’ able to frame a house, lathe and plaster with the best of them and I’m seriously winded!” He mopped the sweat from his brow and took several deep breaths.

“I’m very grateful for your occupation tonight,” Giles puffed and moaned softly as he massaged his sore shoulder. “You are certain that this is the location they will be pouring cement in the morning?”

“Yup, Max is already riding the crew to get it done muy pronto. With all the crew he’s lost with his demon purges, we’re behind schedule. The foundation was supposed to be laid last week.” Xander liked all the overtime pay he’d gotten lately, but he was really longing for the good old days with full crews and normal work days.

“Not that I was a big fan of your old partner in crime, G-Man, but what do you think did him in? I know he’d been shot, but it didn’t look like it was anything vital that got hit.”

“I believe Ethan bit the hand that fed him once too often and paid the price,” Giles looked down at the undetectable shallow grave where he and Xander had just buried a significant part of his past. “I daresay Quentin Travers knew better than to trust Ethan. He used him and his abilities, then arranged to remove him permanently.”

“Yeah, yeah, Travers and his lab boys are the who…I was wondering about the how,” Xander clarified.

“My guess would be poison of some sort. I am assuming Ethan tried to get to me in hopes that I would assist him in administering a cure.” Giles shook his head sadly. “There is no way to know for certain without a proper autopsy, of course, but based upon some of the symptoms he was exhibiting and knowing that beastly Travers, I am fairly confident that was the means to his end.”

Xander laid a comforting hand on the older man’s shoulder in sympathy. “Sorry, big guy. Rayne may have been a first class rat bastard, but I know he was important in your life.”

“Once, a lifetime ago, we were like brothers…well, that’s how I saw him at any rate.” Giles’ voice drifted off along with his memories. “Even then, Ethan was never satisfied. No matter what he got in life, it was never enough.”

“And now he is in an unmarked grave that’ll be the foundation for Sunnydale’s newest Pre-School.” Xander shook his head then looked at Giles. “Well, at least he’s not completely unmourned.”

“No, no, he is not.” Giles remained silent for a moment while Xander returned the shovels they had used to the company tool shed.

“You going back to the cave tonight or do you want to bunk with me and Ahn?” offered Xander. “I mean, I know you want to share what Ethan said about Buffy, but it’s not like we can do anything tonight.”

“Thank you, but I’ll go back to our hiding place. Willow and Dawn would worry. Besides, I have the books we need to prepare for any special care that Tara might need when we get her released from hospital.”

“I’m hoping that’ll be soon, before Willow goes all Itchy Witchy on us. She’s really not a happy camper being kept away from her girl,” Xander shivered.

“Indeed.” Giles picked up the backpack with the volumes he’d retrieved from the Box, then gave a last salute to the grave of his oldest friend. He gave a small chuckle, startling Xander. “You know, Ethan would likely find his final resting place amusing. In days long gone, people used to sacrifice a human and put the body into the foundation of a new construction to appease the gods. I think he’d like this final resting place, all in all.

“As for the information that Ethan gave us regarding the whereabouts of Buffy, such as it is,” Giles cleared his throat and prayed his voice wouldn’t break like a schoolboy. “Yes, well, perhaps you and Anya would be good enough to join us after your shift is complete. We need to verify our suspicions and then begin to work out a rescue plan. Time is of the essence.”

Xander bit back a curse. “All these years she’s been fighting all the nasty uglies, stopping apocalypse after apocalypse, only to have it be humans trying to do her in!”

“Not all nasty uglies are demons, you know,” Giles reminded the young man.

Xander thought of his father’s drunken tirades and abuse. “Yeah, I liked it better when I could ignore that part.”

“Indeed. Growing up is rarely easy, nor is it painless.”

***

“So you’re Angel,” Kate Perkins gave the vampire a look cold enough to freeze boiling water. She had been Joyce’s sounding board during all the Buffy and Angel drama a few years ago and also a shoulder for Buffy to cry out her broken heart at the end of it. As far as Kate was concerned, this vampire might have a soul, but he had no heart.

“You must be Buffy’s friend. Kate, isn’t it?” Angel smiled and offered his hand.

“Joyce’s as well, and you’d do best to remember that,” Kate gave him another cold look.

Cordy shivered, “Felt that temperature drop.” She turned her hundred watt smile on the clearly disapproving woman. “I’m Cordy. Any friend of Joyce Summers is welcome here. She didn’t approve of Soul Boy here, but even Joyce would tell you you’re in good hands in a crunch.”

Kate thawed a bit; after all, no one was required to help them hide from the new authorities. She vowed to be more gracious and hoped she could pull it off. “Nice to meet you, Cordy. I seem to remember Buffy mentioning you as well. Didn’t you used to date Xander?”

Cordy’s smile lessened slightly. “Old history from a time when my standards slipped a bit.”

Kate looked at her with a jaundiced eye. “I used to babysit for Xander when he was a wee bit older than that baby you’re holding. He was such a sweet and beautiful boy. He’s grown to be a successful and handsome man. I’m very proud of him.”

“He was lucky to have you,” Cordy replied diplomatically. “Welcome to our little encampment. There is a series of caves throughout the Cascades and we’ve got several thriving communities already. Let me take you to our official processing center. We’re trying to reunite families and connect friends when they show up.”

“Now that’s something I’d like to volunteer to help with,” Kate brightened considerably. “Losing family and friends is one of the biggest heartbreaks of all.”

“We’re trying to use the computer networks to do a lot of that work for us. We have several computer wizards here and other places that are setting up something Willow calls a Dark Net Highway or something,” Angel explained.

“What Technology-Challenged here is trying to say is that we’ve got plenty of hackers working the Internet in ways they can’t trace so that we can communicate,” Cordy playfully rolled her eyes at Angel.

“My Zane might be a help with that. He’s only eleven, but he’s already designed his own version of Grand Theft Auto. I’m just glad he channeled his inner car thief into computer games,” she chuckled.

Cordy shifted a sleeping Connor to her other arm and smiled warmly. Nothing like a pair of doting mothers to bond a friendship. “How many kids do you and Joe have?”

“Zane, as I mentioned, he’s our eldest. Then there’s Carla and Tammy at nine and seven, and finally my baby, Jacob, who’s just starting to walk and get into everything,” Kate proudly pointed to each. How old is your little one?”

“Connor’s actually Angel’s, but his mother died when he was born,” Cordy kissed the slumbering baby’s forehead. “I’m the only mama he knows.”

Kate looked startled, “Angel’s? Isn’t he still a vampire?”

“Long story. Why don’t we get you settled first and then we can get to know one another, swap baby stories?” Cordy gently took the woman’s arm and herded her towards a white-eyed Codger demon with a clipboard. “Syd Frzylcka here is a former client of ours. He’s in charge of checking in all the newcomers. Syd, this is the Perkins family. Treat them right; they’re personal friends of the Slayer.” Cordy winked at Kate and whispered, “Your status just rose at least three notches. You can thank me later.”

“Speaking about computers, I need to go check in with Willow. I’m sure Buffy will want to know her friends got here okay,” Angel gave a quick kiss to Connor and then to the woman holding both his son and his heart in her hands.

“Say ‘hey’ from me,” Cordy said. Connor chose that moment to wake up and begin to fuss. “And you, mister, you need a change in a major way!”

***

Angel had their resident hacker show him once again how to use the IM that Willow had set up for communications between refugee stations and settled in to type his update. Luckily, Willow was online.

AvengingAngel: Hi, Will. Tell Buffy her friends got here safely. How’s it going there?

Will B Done: Not so good. Tara’s in the hospital because a gang of soldier wannabes attacked her for helping this kid with birth defects. The poopyhead Council of Humans or whatever they’re calling themselves have closed up the Magic Box.

AA: Sounds dire.

WBD: Buffy’s gone missing and we think Spike might be too. Giles, Dawn and I are living in the tunnels for now.

AA: Buffy’s missing? What are you doing about it? Cordy didn’t get any visions on this!

WBD: Calm down. We have a lead and we’re working on a plan.

AA: I can be there in a few days.

WBD: No, don’t come. You’re more useful there. We’ve got it from here. It would be easier if Spike was around, but he turned up missing not long after Buffy did.

AA: Did he do something to hurt her?

WBD: No, silly. Spike’s on our side. He’s been helping for quite a while, you know that.

AA: I don’t trust him.

WBD: He doesn’t trust you either, so you’re even.

AA: Okay, okay. What can I do?

WBD: Nothing for now, except what you’re already doing. We’ll let you know if that changes….Oh, hey, Giles wants to know if you’ve got room up there for Dawnie?

AA: Sure. Cordy’d probably be happy to have her to help with Connor.

WBD: We figure that Buffy would want to know she was safe. She tests human, but you never know how things are going to go right now.

AA: I’ll get in touch with Lorne. He’s supposed to be headed your way. Charles and Wesley were going to pick him up and take him to a safe house, but he thought he’d be more help at your end. I’ll make sure he knows where to find you.

WBD: Don’t bother, we’ll find him.

AA: You can’t miss him. He’s bright green and usually wears neon colors that don’t go too well with his skin tone.

 

***

Rabbi Goldstein hadn’t seen anyone as flamboyant as the demon sitting across from him since he was a guest speaker at a Greenwich Village synagogue during the height of the disco craze. “Welcome to the Lighthouse Project, Mr…Lorne, is it?”

“Just Lorne. You couldn’t pronounce my actual name. I’m here to help. You could say an Angel sent me,” Lorne grinned.

“And how are you expecting to help?”

“I suppose it would be simpler to just show you what I can do,” Lorne suggested. “Why don’t you sing a line or two or chant if it makes you happier.”

“Wrong religion for the chanting, but Father Quinn can oblige if you really need a chant, maybe even something Gregorian,” Rabbi Goldstein teased his fellow clergyman gently.

Lorne looked at the four religious men sitting at the table with him, “Gotta say you’re not my usual crowd. I’m more of a Saturday night guy instead of Sunday morning.”

“Two of us,” the Rabbi pointed to the young Imam across from him, “aren’t Sunday morning guys either. I imagine we’ll find we have even more in common once we get to know one another. Most people do.”

Lorne relaxed a bit. If the sweet old man in the little hat had a sense of humor, they might just make this whole gig work. “I’m from a different dimension called Pylea. Long story--more the kind like Waterworld that needs the work of a good editor instead of the epic Lawrence of Arabia long--but anyway…I can read people and demons when they sing. Even if they hum, actually…maybe whistle, although I’ve never really tried that one.”

“I was going to work at the farm where all the refugees make a stop on the way north, but I figured the best place to weed out any possible Dona Marinas would be here.”

“Dona Marina? Who is this woman?” Imam Aziz looked puzzled.

Father Quinn answered, “She goes back to the conquest of Mexico. She was a translator and mistress of Cortes, famous for betraying her people to the conquistadors.”

“Ah, I see,” Kalil nodded. “Yes, it is best to prevent that. Far too many lives are at risk to take chances based on blind trust.” He turned his eyes towards Lorne with growing respect, “You can do this?”

“I haven’t been wrong yet. So far I haven’t found any demon species I can’t read,” Lorne promised.

“And humans?” Rev. Prentiss asked.

“Or human. Usually humans are a little trickier because you’re so good at fooling yourselves, but I’ve been here long enough I can get to the truth.” Lorne just hoped his eardrums were up to the likely assault of who knew how many vocal renditions of bad songs.

“When and where do you plan to do these tests?” Rabbi Goldstein raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll be setting up shop here in Sunny Delight. It’s the last land-based link until the boats take the refugees to Washington and we really don’t need to have any traitors turning up then. The caves up there are where we’re moving everybody we can fit.”

Father Quinn went over the plans they had all been looking at when the horned, green man in the loud pink suit had sauntered into the room requesting a meeting. “Looks like we have a large holding area at a farm just south and east of Los Angeles. We’ll be filtering refugees there as a way station.”

“My friends Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Charles Gunn will be screening folks there. Wesley will be using a standard truth spell. The farm is owned by a guy I never thought I’d trust before, but he checks out just fine. His name is Lindsey McDonald and he used to be a lawyer for a demon law firm out in LA. He’s as shady as most lawyers, but his heart’s really into doing the right thing this time.

“You trust him with all these lives?” Rev. Prentiss looked leery.

“I hope I can, because he already has my life in his hands and I don’t just let everyone have that kind of power. Yeah, I’m as certain as anyone can ever be that he’s sincere.”

“Once everyone’s cleared for the next link, it’s a short trip up here to our system of tunnels and caves, right?” Father Quinn looked around the table, making sure everyone was of the same understanding. “Then we filter them down to the bottom of Kingman’s Bluff where we boat them up the coast to Washington.

Lorne nodded in agreement, “Then overland to the Cascades and safety. I’ll be the last chance to catch any infiltrators or traitors before the final destination is revealed.”

“Which makes your protection vital to the whole operation,” the Imam added.

Reverend Prentiss grinned, “Gentlemen, time to put on your thinking caps to figure out the best place for this dapper young man to set up shop.”

 

***

Buffy massaged her aching back and tried to get to sleep. They had kept her slaying at a non-stop pace for what seemed like forever. “No weapons? Fine, not like I’ve never had to improvise before.” She was pretty tired of having to prove her abilities over and over again. “I’ll bet Travers just loves this; it’s like a neverending eighteenth birthday surprise for his least favorite Slayer. When I get out of here, I’ll have a little birthday present for him. I’m thinking something shiny.”

“What’s that, Buffy?”

Buffy rushed to the door of her cell and stretched to see through the tiny slit that passed for a window in the door. “Graham? Is that you?”

“Yeah, hey, I’m really sorry about how this is turning out,” He sounded genuinely upset. “I mean, I always thought you were a pretty nice girl. I never wanted to see you treated like most of these animals we have in here. I’m not even sure I like seeing how they’re treated anymore.”

Buffy snorted, “Which animals, the ones in the lab coats or the ones in the black uniforms?”

Graham gave a rueful half grin, “Fair enough. Had that coming, I guess.” He was silent for a while, clearly thinking. “It was so simple in the beginning. Had all these creatures, monsters, and we were the ones stopping them from killing off all us humans.”

“Tell me about it. At least you got to volunteer for the job. I got “Chosen,” you might say drafted,” Buffy commiserated.

Graham laughed softly. “Problem is, after a while you see things, a lot of things you can’t unsee. A lot of things that don’t fit into a neat pattern. Makes you think. Well, makes me think anyway.”

“That’s because you still have a working soul,” Buffy agreed.

“I’ve seen some supposedly soulless hostiles that seem to have a better moral gauge then some of my comrades in arms, so I don’t think the soul has a thing to do with it.”

“No, I don’t either,” Buffy agreed. “Speaking of decent beings with no souls,” she hazarded a try for information, “have you seen Spike down here? You guys used to call him Hostile 17.”

“He’s that vampire friend of yours, isn’t he? The one that drove Riley crazy with jealousy?”

“That’s the one,” Buffy admitted. “I thought I saw him down here a few weeks ago. I’m hoping I was wrong.”

Graham closed his eyes, remembering the last time he’d seen the vampire in question. “Sorry, you weren’t wrong. He’s down here all right. Riley’s made a special project out of him.”

Buffy gulped and felt tears well in her eyes. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “How is he?”

“Not too good. I couldn’t stomach it and asked for a transfer to another detail, though I didn’t explain why. I don’t want to find myself in a holding cell because they think I’m a sympathizer.”

“What have they done to him…to Spike, I mean?”

“You really don’t want to know. “

“Yes, I do!” She paused. “No, I probably don’t, but…I need to know.”

“He matters to you that much?” Graham looked puzzled. What Riley was doing was just wrong, but maybe he had a reason to be jealous after all.

Buffy bit her lip and felt a tear escape to run down her cheek. “Yeah, he really does.”

“I haven’t been with that detail for a week now, so I can’t say how he’s doing at the moment. I know he’s not dust though and, last I saw, he still had all his parts,” Graham grimaced.

Buffy let out a sob, “Oh, God, this is so much worse than I ever imagined it could get. Back when I actually worked with you guys, I never thought about the stuff you were doing, not once! How can anyone see this and think it’s okay? I mean, I get it, I was blind too, but….” Her voice trailed off.

“Yeah, right there with you,” Graham agreed. “It’s like it creeps up on you. Little things, tiny moral compromises that seem okay and before you know it…wham! You look around and wonder how you got there.”

“Can I ask you a favor?” Buffy thought she might be able to trust the soldier at least for one small favor, since he seemed to be sincere in his dislike for what he saw happening.

“Maybe. I’m not the hero I once thought I was, so I can’t promise to get you out of here or anything,” he admitted and felt like the worst sort of person in doing so.

Buffy smiled in understanding. Times were dangerous and it took a whole new level of heroism for something like that. “I know. That’s okay--well, it’s not okay, but I do get it. No, I just want you to try to get a message to Spike. Could you just tell him he’s not alone, I’m here and I’m not leaving without him? Tell him…tell him I believe in him. Could you do that?”

Graham thought it over for a moment and then felt his backbone stiffen. “Sure, I’ll do my best.”

“Thanks.”

***

The conference room was filled with the white coated doctors involved in “Project Chosen.” “So do we have a consensus?”

“The subject checks out as human with enhanced abilities. Increased stamina, strength, and healing properties, along with sensory skills notwithstanding. It is our belief that she is a higher order human, but a human nonetheless,” reported the head of the Physiology department.

The heads of the Psychology and Neurological units conferred briefly then gave their report. “Her mental agility is in hyperdrive, at least when she is actively in the process of performing her duties. Quick thinking, resilient, alert. She tests on the high end--off the chart, actually--but nothing that can’t be called human. Her synapses seem to fire more rapidly than anyone tested prior. Basic IQ tests show her ranking in the higher percentiles as well. “

“This is nonsense,” the team leader scowled. “Every one of you has reported your results showing things decidedly NOT human, yet you sit here and say you believe her to be just like any of the rest of us, only a little better? It seems abundantly clear to me that her results tally more with the creatures she is supposedly called to kill. Travers has already explained that the first of her kind was actually infused with the essence of one of those monstrosities we are here to eradicate. How can you continue to suggest she’s human?”

There was a great deal of grumbling and heated discussion among the various doctors and a handful of former members of the Watchers Council. Tempers were rising.

Travers cleared his throat, “Perhaps if we were to proceed with slightly more invasive research we might have more answers? Once and for all, we can answer the question of whether a Slayer is actually an enhanced human warrior called from among us to be our Paladin of sorts, or is she a hybrid of some kind foisted upon us and never able to be fully trusted to have mankind’s interests foremost? I don’t need to tell you that there have been far too many of these girls who have waffled when put to the test, and this one is the worst. That is one reason we can no longer allow the welfare of humanity to rest in their hands.”

“I suppose we could devise certain tests that won’t destroy the subject and perhaps yield more answers? “ The team leader looked around the table, noting more than a few of his colleagues were avoiding eye contact. He made a mental note to remember just who looked to not be on board. “I expect a detailed course of action from all departments in two days. Meeting adjourned.”

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 15

~*~

 

"No!" Dawn crossed her arms in front of her and gave a look that even Resolve Face Willow had to envy. "If any of you think for one single minute that I'm going to let you ship me off to Sasquatch Central to watch Angel brood and help Cordy change diapers while my sister and Spike are both still missing, you're crazier than Spike's first girlfriend!"

 

Giles hoped he didn't appear to shrink under the girl's thunderous glare. Dawn could be surprisingly intimidating. "Buffy would be the first to insist you be moved to a place of safety, Dawn; you know that is the truth."

 

"Why don't we find her and ask her, instead of sending me Demon Express to the Great North?" Her jaw was set to stubborn plus one.

 

"Dawnie, you know how unstable everything is here. We're pretty sure you'd pass the new DNA tests, but not completely sure. We aren't even sure if we're safe here ourselves!" Willow's brow furrowing from dealing with the teen was causing early wrinkles.

 

"You know if Spike were here, he'd never let you send me away. He'd totally get that I have to be here to help find my sister," Dawn's eyes teared up.

 

Giles took off his glasses and gave them a good polish. "That is just the point. Spike is not here, nor is Buffy. Our two strongest fighters are missing and all of our resources stretched far too thin as it is. The only way to ensure you will be there to great your sister once we do locate her and bring her home is to send you to the refugee camp in Washington." He sighed deeply. "We merely want to ensure your survival to the best of our ability."

 

"Yeah, I get that, but I'm still not going." Willow glanced at Dawn's feet, fully expecting to see her heels physically dug into the packed earth of the cave. "What about Tara? You planning to ship her off for her own good too?"

 

Willow bit back an angry retort but looked daggers at the girl.

 

"Enough!" Giles rarely raised his voice but did now. "Tara hasn't even been released from hospital as yet. She will scarcely be capable of a long journey for quite a while. If and when Tara is ready, I can assure you that she will have the good sense to understand when others are merely looking out for her best interests."

 

"Fine, I'll go!"

Her two companions nearly drew a breath of relief.

"When Tara does." With that Dawn turned and flounced back to her corner of the cave to pout in privacy.

 

"So," whispered Willow, "What do we do now?"

 

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his face instead of the much abused eyewear. "We do what is necessary and render the difficult less difficult." He picked up one of his ancient grimoires and began to page through. "There is at least one relatively safe and simple spell to induce sleep we can use."

 

"She's going to be mad," Willow warned.

 

"But at least she will be alive."

 

***

 

Riley kicked at Spike's remaining intact rib and smiled at the audible crack. The beating had been brutal. It had taken quite a bit out of Finn. 'I’m gonna need a good rub down after this encounter,' he thought as he massaged his sore shoulder. His superiors had given him free rein regarding how much damage to inflict, short of dusting 17. Their interest was in discovering any changes in the speed of healing after a week without feeding and the more injuries the better for that experiment.

 

There were plenty more tests of this kind on the roster, Riley was pleased to note.

 

The psychological aspects of the testing were a bit trickier, but Riley was sure he could hit on the right combinations to get measurable responses from Spike. One thing he had noticed in his encounters with the vampire while he was running free was that Spike seemed to have a broader emotional spectrum than most of the vampire hostiles. Emotions were the perfect target to play the sort of mind games the doctors had in mind.

 

"Hey, 17, bet I have some info you might find interesting," Riley bent over the broken vampire and grinned.

 

"Nothin' bout you interests me, 'cept how long it might take for you to bleed out, you wanker."

 

Really, Riley was growing tired of the bravado 17 continued to wear like a shield. "Fantasize all you want, it’s never gonna happen." Riley laughed. "You got lucky the first time you were in our labs. Now we have the whole beautiful world on our side. No one to complain, no one to help, and, in your case, no one to care."

 

Spike felt a pang at the words, then thought of a young girl with wide, trusting eyes and a bad habit of getting into trouble nearly every Tuesday. He consoled himself that at least one person would care.

 

"Yeah, you might have been useful as extra muscle for a while, but you know as well as I do that you were only a sometimes useful 'thing' to Buffy and her friends. Without that chip we gave you, you wouldn't have even been that," Riley taunted.

 

"That the info you had to share?" Spike managed a short burst of what passed for a laugh. "Said it herself more than once; ‘m not deaf here. Like I said, you've got nothin' to bring to ‘share time’, Finn." Spike rolled onto his back and bit back the groans of agony that wanted to spill from his bleeding mouth.

 

"Well, I don't know about that." Riley sneered down at the prone vampire, his expression filled with malice. "Bet you don't have any idea what's been happening in South America since you were there last."

 

The only connection he had to South America was a series of bad memories of his dark princess and a century's worth of devotion and dreams trampled beneath the hooves of an antlered demon followed by careless dismissal by the love of his life. 'Don't let the berk see he's touched a nerve.'

 

As far as Spike knew, the soldier had no way of knowing about Brazil and Dru. "Carnivale? Wreched urchins roamin' the streets of Rio bein' picked off by my kind? Dozens of Pele wannabes practicin' their kickin?"

 

Finn smirked, "Other labs, other Sub-humans. One might interest you. I've read the reports and saw some of the pictures. I’ll have to show them to you. Man, some of you can sure take a licking and keep on ticking. The sickest of you even seem to like it. She sure did."

 

Spike had grown still, not even breathing, and Riley knew he had made a direct hit.

 

"Gave our psychiatrists a real interesting subject to study while she lasted. That was one seriously crazy vampire! Not sure how useful some of the data will be in the end, but a real interesting case study." Riley really wished Spike's eyes were open so he could watch as the information sank in. "Maybe your newest obsession will hold up a little better, or last a little longer."

 

Finn would never have believed something as broken as the vampire currently crumpled before him could lunge with quite that much force before the chip had finally dropped him. "Hose this thing down and put it back in its cage," Finn ordered his men.

 

***

Chaim welcomed the soft spoken lad with a smile, “So, Mr. Levinson, have you made your choice then?”

 

“Choice?” Jonathan looked at the old man with confusion.

 

“To follow your heart, even if it’s hard, and do the right thing or to let fear consume you,” the elder man clarified.

 

“But what can I do?” Jonathan asked. “You know my friend that I told you guys about, the one from my Star Trek club? They came and took him away, right out of class!” Jonathan looked shamefaced. “Lots of us were friends of his in that class, but no one said anything or did anything.”

 

“And why do you think that was the choice you all made?” Rabbi Goldstein asked.

 

“We were scared,” Jonathan admitted and lowered his head. “It was like we all were waiting for someone else to say something, to take action, but no one did.” He began to softly cry. “He was my friend and I didn’t even try to help him.”

 

The Rabbi nodded and put a consoling arm around the distraught young man. “I know your soul is burdened. Fear is a powerful emotion. It’s primal, goes back to the days when we all lived in caves and feared the night. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, lad, it is doing the right thing even when we are frightened. You aren’t the first to fail at that, but this one failure does not make you a coward. It should teach you to dig deep and find the courage in the future though.”

 

Chaim had been whispering to Imam Azim while the Rabbi spoke his words of comfort and encouragement. Now, with a nod to his colleague, he turned to Jonathan, “Do you want a chance to make up for your inaction with your friend? Make this lesson worth the learning?”

 

“How can I? They took Dwayne to the camps. Am I supposed to go break him out?” Jonathan turned imploring hands toward the kindly, older man.

 

The Imam spoke, “No one expects you to commit suicide. The Holy Koran is clear in many places that there are rewards for martyrdom, but only in special cases. It is absolutely forbidden to kill people except when ordered by Allah. To my knowledge, Allah did not charge you with this duty! We can but pray for your friend now.”

 

Jonathan looked crestfallen as the Imam continued, “But you could help to keep others from being taken.”

 

“How?” Jonathan looked eagerly at the men gathered round him.

 

Chaim looked at his fellows and they all nodded in agreement. “There is someone you need to meet. He’s taken on a large and important task and could use some willing helpers. My Willow told me that you dabble in magic, is this so?”

 

Jonathan looked a bit nervous, considering his present company--religious folk not usually being magic-friendly--but nodded in the affirmative.

 

“Someone with your skills could be of great help to this man in making certain that innocent people have a chance to get to a place of safety.”

 

“How’s that?

 

“Let me introduce you. He’s in the other room going over some plans with Reverend Prentiss.” Chaim led Jonathan to an adjoining room.

 

Lorne looked up from the maps spread on a card table and gave the newcomer a piercing glance.

Reverend Prentiss raised his brows as well when he noted the young man accompanying his comrades, “Who do we have here?”

 

Chaim nudged Jonathan forward and indicated the brightly dressed, horned, green demon that looked strangely at home in the synagogue’s fellowship room. “Lorne of the Deathwok clan, allow me to present a young mage who wants to do some good in the world.” He drew Jonathan closer to the table and put his age-gnarled hands on the boy’s shoulders, as if to impart some of his own strength to the timid young man. “This is Jonathan Levinson. He can do magic and, according to my Willow, he is fairly gifted.”

 

Lorne looked at Jonathan closely and with interest then grinned, “Well, aren’t you a blessing and such a cute babka too. Want to sing me a tune?”

 

“Jonathan looked confused at being called a pastry and blushed brightly. “Sing?”

 

Lorne explained, “I read people and demons when they sing. Ran a club in LA called Caritas for quite a while and got plenty of practice. It’s what I do best.

 

“Read people? Like Sylvia Browne or that Edwards guy who talks to dead people on TV?”

 

Lorne laughed in delight, “Not quite. I don’t do predictions or talk to the dead, unless you mean vampires. I could probably read a zombie too, but they aren’t very verbal.”

 

“So I just sing and you can tell…what?”

 

“I can see a lot of things. Your potential is a big one. I can also see if you are on the up and up, and that’s the main reason I’m here: to have a little karaoke session with some of those looking for a safe place to hunker down.” Seeing Jonathan still looked a bit confused, he further explained, “See, we don’t want anyone finding our hiding places if they are going to cause trouble or work for the lunatics currently running the asylum. They sing and I either red light them or send them on to refuge.”

 

“Oh! Like a lie detector?”

 

“Close enough. If you’re our very own Harry Potter, we can use your help in sorting everyone out with a truth spell.” Lorne looked hopeful. “Still, I need to check you out first, so I need a tune, anything will do.”

 

Jonathan squirmed, not comfortable being in the spotlight at all, much less while trying to carry a tune.

“It’s been a long road.

Getting from there to here

But my time is finally here

And I will see my dreams come alive…”

Jonathan’s reed-thin voice managed to stay on key.

 

Lorne’s face lit up, “A Star Trek fan. Interesting choice, but I see you are going to be a real asset.” He wrapped an arm around the lad and gave him a brief hug. “I think we’re going to get along just fine. So how good are you with those truth spells?”

 

***

 

Xander couldn’t wait for his shift to end. ‘If Max doesn’t shut that damned radio off, I might just have to indulge in a little workplace accident to save my sanity!’ The Charlie Cooper Show used to be only an hour of hate and bluster, but with the current world situation, his program was now on for at least three hours and every one of them was piped out of Taylor’s old fashioned boom box at their current work site. It set Xander’s teeth on edge. “Just how much outrage and fear can one person spew before they get carted away anyway?” he whispered.

 

“Harris, bring that air compressor over here!” the boss in question ordered.

 

“Great, closer to the blaring demagogue,” Xander muttered to himself, being careful not to be overheard.

 

…” We have some in this nation mollycoddling these things and making apologies for their actions! These demons have killed thousands of decent human beings and that’s just here in the United States. I hear the whiners saying, “Not all of them are murderers.” To those naïve lunkheads, I say, “Do you want to take a chance that the ‘nice’ demon next door isn’t going to up and eat your kid next week?”

 

Xander privately thought no self-respecting demon would want to be anywhere near good ol’ Coop, much less eating his kid. Actually, he doubted Charlie had any kids, because he’d seen pictures of his boss’s radio hero and he couldn’t imagine any woman ever letting him touch her, much less make a baby with him.

 

“Any chance I can get off a half hour early today, boss?” Xander smiled falsely at the man he no longer respected at all. “My cousin is getting discharged from the hospital and I need to fill out all the paperwork and pick up any prescriptions before I can take her home.”

 

Max glared at Xander, looked pointedly at his watch and then the soon-to-be preschool. He sighed in a much put-upon way. “I suppose I’d be a total jerk if I said no.”

 

Xander waited to see if Taylor was going to go for complete jerkdom option.

 

“Yeah, a half hour, but not one minute earlier, got it, Harris?” He took the air compressor from Xander and started to walk to the tool table before throwing a caveat over his shoulder, “I’ll expect you to work through lunch tomorrow to make up for it though.”

 

“You’re all heart, boss,” Xander mumbled.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I said thanks; you’ve got a big heart,” Xander lied.

 

“Got that right! Way too soft a touch.” Max Taylor was either the most deluded human alive or a really bad comedian.

 

 

At exactly a half hour before the crew was scheduled to finish, Xander headed to his car to pick up Anya for the trip to the hospital to collect Tara.

 

Willow’s sweetheart was going to need some special after-care, but she was finally going to be released from the hospital. Willow was frustrated that she couldn’t take the chance of coming along, but she had already made enough of the staff nervous during Tara’s stay.

 

***

 

Anya was sullen. The increasing campaign against all things demon was starting to wear down even her optimistic nature. Xander wished the old Magic Box was still up and running. His brilliant girl was making a profit with the party goods they now offered as merchandise, but that profit was nothing like what it had been when they catered to the magic users of Sunnydale. Nothing like a boatload of sales to perk Anya up, even in times like these.

 

“Did the doctor say how often Tara is supposed to come in for physical therapy?”

 

“They set her up for three times a week for the next six months, then a re-evaluation,” Xander shuffled the small stack of papers that the Transition and Care representative had given him. “We need to get these prescriptions filled too. Some pain killers and a muscle relaxant, it looks like.”

 

“I’m certainly glad Giles had Tara listed on the business insurance. She only helped out part-time and I was against the added expense of adding her to the plan when Giles first did it, but now I could kiss him!” Anya glared at Xander in annoyance, “You would have to go and claim to be Tara’s only relative! We would have been stuck with the hospital bill if she hadn’t been insured.”

 

“Ahn, we couldn’t let Willow keep worrying. One of us had to claim relationship or we wouldn’t have had any legal right to know how she was doing.” Xander felt like he’d been having this same conversation for weeks now. “Anyway, it’s beside the point now. She’s covered for all but the deductible, and Giles paid that from his savings. “

 

“I should invest in insurance companies. Humans are so breakable. There’s a lot of money to be made insuring them…maybe the healthcare industry too. I don’t know why I didn’t think about this before now?” Anya jotted a note to remind herself to check stock prices in the morning.

 

The nurse wheeled a wan-looking Tara towards the couple waiting for her. “Ms. Maclay still has some residual issues,” she warned them. “She’s still having some trouble with short term memory and her limbs on the right side don’t always cooperate, do they, sweetie?” She gave a saccharine smile to the soft-eyed, gentle girl in the wheelchair.

 

“I’m doing much b-b-better. I can’t wait t-to get home,” Tara smiled at them all.

 

“And we can’t wait to get you there either,” Xander assured her. “Willow is making all your favorite foods for dinner. I think there’s enough to feed a platoon!”

 

Tara ducked her head and blushed, “No need to m-m-make a fuss.”

 

“Don’t say that!” Anya exclaimed in mock horror. “A person just home from the hospital should be pampered by the one who loves them best. You should demand presents!”

 

Tara gave a short laugh. “Just yummy food is present enough.”

 

The aide helped settle Tara into Xander’s car, “Now, no more taking on groups of rough young boys, okay?”

 

“D-d-didn’t want to last t-t-time. Couldn’t let them h-hurt Davey.” Tara felt her eyes tear up at the memory.

 

The aide patted her shoulder, “Of course not. He was an innocent human. He’s even been on my floor a time or two over the years. He’s not some dirty demon! What were those boys thinking?”

 

“Demons aren’t any dirtier than humans…well, except for a few that live in sewers, that is,” Anya stated indignantly.

 

“Interesting,” the aide gave a jaundiced glare at Anya that didn’t go unnoticed by Xander. “Do you know many demons… Miss …Jenkins, was it?”

 

“Ahn reads a lot,” Xander rushed to cover for his girlfriend.

 

“Indeed. That’s better than first-hand knowledge at any rate,” the aide agreed, still giving a suspicious look at Anya. “Don’t want to think of a nice…human…girl like you involved with the likes of those hell-born monsters.”

 

Xander couldn’t get away fast enough. He only hoped his pounding heart would slow a bit before he had to turn around and check himself in for an EKG. “Ahn, honey, I think you need to be more careful what you say. I’m not telling you to shut up; we don’t do that anymore. I’m just worried about you.”

 

“That woman just made me furious,” Anya huffed. “I get so tired of all the nonsense I hear people say about demons in general. They aren’t all alike, you know! Everyone’s making blanket statements and they don’t even know what they’re talking about. You can’t judge whole groups of people on just a few; it’s not fair or smart.”

 

“I know, honey, but you put yourself at risk tilting at windmills. You aren’t going to change the minds of people like that nurse’s aide. She didn’t form her opinion based on reason, so you can’t use reason to change her opinion,” Xander sighed.

 

Anya looked at him proudly, “When did you get so wise?”

“Wisdom and the Xan-man are not total strangers,” he quipped. “Even a hardhead like me can learn if I want to.” He squeezed her hand lovingly, “And with the right teacher.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End Notes:

*A/N: Jonathan’s song choice was “Faith of the Heart” (theme song for the TV series “Enterprise”), written by Diane Warren

Chapter Text

A/N: Warning: Dark chapter involving torture. I promise things will begin to get better, even if slowly.

 

~*~

Chapter 16

~*~

"Look, I know this guy and he knows me. Why don't you just ask him to drop by for a minute? I don't see how that would ruin all your fun game plans," Buffy wheedled.

The farm fresh face of her current guard flushed, but he didn't bother to look at the rather frightening girl with the superpowers, much less answer her request.

 

Graham hadn't been back to let Buffy know if he had seen Spike again in this hell-hole. She sighed, "All right, you know what? I'm pretty sick of...everything actually." In truth, Buffy was feeling a bit lucky, considering the condition of many of her fellow inmates. Her strength was flagging a bit and she was more than a little sick of the smirking face of Quentin Travers, but, all in all, she was not too badly harmed.

 

It hadn't taken long to realize what she could do before someone in a white coat or fatigues activated the collar. After that, it was day after endless day facing off against every kind of demon in just about every combination imaginable. 'They set 'em up and I knock 'em down.' Her body ached and she was more tired than she could ever remember feeling, but mostly they had simply tested her Slaying abilities and recuperative powers.

 

She had overheard plans recently that did make her nervous. Travers had managed to convince the doctors that, in spite of the DNA tests, she wasn't fully human. 'So the First Slayer got her powers from a demon essence? Huh! Wish they would have told me that from the start.' It was only a matter of time before she would be handed over to the slice-and-dice division of Hell Hospital. 'Need to find Spike so we can figure out a way to get out of here.'

 

 

***

 

"Ms. Summers is demanding to talk to one of our operatives, Graham Miller." The Lab Tech relayed the information shared with him by the young soldier assigned to the Slayer that afternoon. "Don't have a clue why. She says she knows him. Do you think we need to pass this up the chain?"

 

"She is likely seeking an ally or a favor of some sort. It's not likely Miller is in any position to be someone to worry about." The distracted Doctor barely looked at the Tech. Still, no chances were to be taken with this special prisoner. The doctor decided to run the information by the unit commander; let him decide whether the Slayer's request was worthy of scrutiny by those higher on the food chain.

 

***

 

"So what about this Miller? Is he loyal?"

 

The commander thought about the young man in question. He had known him from the old Initiative days. A good soldier, stalwart and true. Still, he had heard a rumor. "Seems to be. He's shown some squeamishness about some procedures recently. Doesn't seem to approve of some of the boys letting off a bit of steam with the demons." He frowned in thought, "Perhaps we should keep him away from the Slayer until we see about those little blips on his otherwise stellar record."

 

The Commander tapped on the stack of papers littering his desk. "Have plenty of bigger fish to fry. Seems a small thing that the girl wants a bit of conversation with someone she knows from before."

 

The doctor remembered something he had heard about the staff from the original Initiative, "What about that ex boyfriend of hers? I understand he's on staff here too. That'd be a familiar face. He loyal?"

 

The commander grinned widely. "Fine boy! Very loyal. Devoted to the mission. He's a real go-getter, even made a few highly creative suggestions for testing these things."

 

"Speaking for the medical staff, I'd prefer the Slayer to be kept as pacified as possible, at least regarding her interactions with my techs. They are trained medically, not militarily, and even with that collar she can be rather a challenge."

 

"I'll arrange a visit from Finn. It should placate Ms. Summers; let her think she has some resources beyond herself to depend upon. No doubt the lad will know how to handle whatever scheme the girl might be hatching."

 

***

 

Graham really hated being reassigned to work with Riley's group. If someone had told him that he would feel that way a few months earlier he would have laughed at them. Ri was one of his best friends. He hardly recognized him now. The dedicated soldier up for fighting the good fight had turned into a hard, sadistic man with no sense of humor and none of the innocent farm-boy charm that had once made Graham wonder if his friend was cut out for their monster-hunting detail.

 

He knew that Finn had gone through a terrible time dealing with what he saw as a personal betrayal by Maggie Walsh. The drugs and implant had been a shock to them all when it was revealed what had been done to them. The Frankenstein monster, Adam, had also been a blow to Riley's world-view. God only knew what had gone down with Buffy, but Riley had started to harden fairly soon after they had seen the closing of the first Initiative. It had only gotten worse, it seemed. 'Maybe I shouldn't have recommended him and brought him back into this.'

 

Miller watched as Riley issued orders for another 'test' on the seemingly harmless and friendly demon with all that extra skin--well, what skin folds were left, that is. The floppy eared demon already looked pathetic and Graham had no idea just what important scientific information could come from the test Riley had just ordered.

 

"Have you seen those things that pop out of its eyes?" Riley said defensively when Graham had asked. "Only way to know just what they do is pull them out. Getting soft on me Miller?"

 

"I just don't see inflicting damage when it isn't necessary, that's all. Haven't they already tested others of its kind?"

 

"Yeah, but that was a female and a juvenile at that. You know what the docs say: the more you test, the more you know." Riley and Graham were walking as they debated the issue and now Graham realized they were about to enter the one cell that really bothered him the most. The one demon that seemed to bring out the worst in his old friend.

 

17 was curled into a fetal position on the cold cell floor and, while writhing in obvious pain, was not making any sound. Graham steeled himself and looked over the paperwork, fighting off nausea. "Man, what is anyone going to learn from this?!"

 

"It's part of the psychological.. well, obviously physical too," Riley snorted.

 

"Yeah, but..."

 

Riley delivered a kick to Spike's head. "As for what this thing will learn? He'll learn his place."

 

Graham couldn't take his eyes off the vampire. "And what's that?"

 

"Hell," Riley smirked.

 

Graham stayed silent as he watched Finn manhandling 17, making checks and notes on his clipboard as he checked over the distressed vampire.

 

The doctor in charge of the wing entered and asked for a report, breaking the long, deep silence. "So how's the subject dealing with the deprivation?"

 

"He hasn't said," Riley darkly quipped, then he and the Doctor guffawed nastily.

 

"I daresay," the doctor continued to laugh. "Let's see," he looked over the paperwork and Finn’s notations. "Sight, smell, speech and taste all inhibited" He looked up at Riley, brows raised. "Just a few drops of holy water managed it?"

 

"Yes, sir. Works like acid on this kind. Didn't take much on the eyes, vocal chords and in the ears to do the job. Last one we used in this trial took a couple of weeks to heal up and get back to normal, but that was one of the subjects we were still feeding."

 

"How long since this one fed?"

 

"Close to a couple of weeks this time; he's pretty starved."

 

"We need to think of how to inhibit the sense of touch for full sensory deprivation. I'll get my team on it. Brainstorm a method. Once this one's been left this way for a bit, give him a few feedings so we can implement whatever we come up with. Give him a few days this way first and take good notes." The doctor wrote his orders on the form as he spoke.

 

"The sense of touch seems heightened. Probably because it's trying to compensate for the loss of the other senses,” Riley offered. "Maybe we can try a few things to up the ante with pain tolerance this go-round, make the test a little different from the other subjects? Take advantage of this thing still having one sense to test," Riley looked far too happy with the idea. Graham had to suppress a slight shiver.

 

The doctor looked thoughtful. "Yes, might as well make full use of his condition." He smiled at Riley. "I'm sure you can come up with something...new." He handed the clipboard back to Finn and headed to the next cell.

 

Riley followed the doctor out and spoke to another member of his team, sending the soldier scurrying.

 

In short order, the soldier, one Graham vaguely remembered as being one of Barnes rapist buddies, returned with a vice-like device. Before Graham could even ask what Finn had in mind, his old friend was rolling 17 over on his back and he and two other team members were holding him down.

 

As Finn applied the vice on the vampire's exposed penis and testes and began to crush them in the device, Graham finally lost his battle with nausea and emptied his stomach all over the floor.

 

***

 

"Hey, Jonathan!" The young man nervously glanced over his shoulder and was relieved to see that Andrew seemed to be alone.

 

"What's up, Andy?"

 

"What's up with you? Haven't seen you at any of the meetings in ages. Warren asked about you and I didn't know what to tell him."

 

"I've been kind of busy. My classes are kicking my butt this semester and I've been doing some work at my Synagogue too," Jonathan lied. He quickly tried to steer Andrew in the opposite direction. If the Rabbi and Lorne came out now, there was no telling what Andrew would do or say!

 

"Hey, did you see the latest stuff on the net about the X-Men movie that'll be out soon?" Jonathan hadn't noticed the irony of the film’s subject matter given the current events of the world until he'd read the article. "Seems some group wants to make the studio pull it because they say it has a hidden message that's pro-demon. Man, that would suck!"

 

Andrew looked ready to cry. "I know! I mean, there's nothing the same about a completely cool story about mutants and getting rid of demons and monsters, right?"

 

Jonathan wondered how hard it might be to get his friend to see the light. Andrew had good in him. He was from a troubled home and far too easy for someone like Warren Mears to dominate. Andrew was easily seduced by power, or what he saw as power.

 

"Yeah, it makes you think a little though," Jonathan dared. "Just remember Dwayne from our Star Trek club. He was a really nice guy. We had a great time at Comic Con last year, remember."

 

Andrew smiled, "Yeah, it was great! I totally kicked ass in my Flash costume. No one else wore one. Dwayne helped me put it together," his voice trailed off at the memory.

 

"It doesn't seem right that we all liked the guy one day and then were supposed to hate him the next just because it turned out he was part demon. I mean he was the same guy. It just didn't seem fair." Jonathan watched Andrew's face to see if he was getting through at all.

 

Andrew squirmed as if he'd been suddenly attacked by a colony of ants. "Yeah, but Warren says the demons were just pretending to be nice. They were really wanting to get rid of us humans."

 

"Warren doesn't know everything," Jonathan said impatiently. "He was always jealous of Dwayne because he got better grades, even in the science classes."

 

Andrew stopped walking and looked closely at Jonathan. "Is that why you stopped coming to the meetings? Because of what happened to Dwayne? And what DID happen to Dwayne, do you know?"

 

"They arrested his family. I tried to find out what happened to them, but no one seems to know. His dad's car parts store was given to some guy who's been his competitor for years. They didn't even pay him for it, just took it."

 

Andrew looked upset. "Do you think they killed them?"

 

"Probably."

 

***

 

"Lawmakers are assuring the population that the concentration of demons in certain areas of selected cities is a temporary solution to the problem. A spokesman for Senator Billings’ office stated that it was merely a way to keep better census records by relocating demons from smaller towns and the countryside into the selected cities. No human need worry about having to interact with these demons as the sections designated for their temporary housing will be behind walls. No demon will be permitted to leave the area until their final destination is determined. All small towns and rural areas are being scoured and demons rounded up for this purpose."

 

Chaim's lips were set in a scowl. "It's the Heydrich plan all over again. Ghettos first, then the camps."

 

Rabbi Goldstein put a comforting hand on his old friend's shoulder, "That's why we are taking action. We won't stand silent."

 

"Ira is furious," Chaim confided. "Seems my Willow has lost her scholarship because of magic use."

 

"How is your granddaughter?"

 

"So far, so good. Her sweetheart is out of the hospital and Willow is devoting herself to making sure Tara recovers fully. That nice Mr. Giles is watching over them in one of the safe houses, or cave, I suppose I should say."

 

“That's good news at least," the Rabbi sighed wearily. "So little of that of late."

 

***

 

"Hey, Buffy," Riley put on his most charming grin. "I hope they are treating you well."

 

"Do I look like I'm a happy customer?" Buffy fingered the collar that kept her behavior in check.

 

"As long as you cooperate, I'm sure they will treat you just fine." Riley looked at her slyly. "I suppose we could have just asked you to come in for testing. You're pretty special, you know! Most powerful girl in the world. Maggie never did much testing of your powers and I doubt Giles did either."

 

"I'm CHOSEN, you lunk. Of course Giles never put me through anything like this! The Council knows what a Slayer is and what we can do." She was livid. Did Riley think she was stupid? She'd seen Travers, for God's sake. This wasn't even a bit about scientific curiosity. The Council could have told them everything they needed to know about a Slayer, more even then they had ever told her.

 

Riley looked slightly abashed. "Look, Buffy, we broke up, but that doesn't mean I don't still care about you. Do you need anything? I hear you were asking about Graham."

 

"Yeah, I ran into him a while ago. I had a favor to ask him." She looked at Riley as if she just realized something, "I thought you were leaving town?"

 

"I decided I could do more good here. They needed people experienced with demons. Could use you on the team again," he hinted.

 

"This isn't my game. It never was. I was called to take out evil demons and keep the balance between good and evil. I wasn't called to bring in a bunch of other beings for torture just because they are different."

 

"You're calling them beings now, not demons? What's happened to you, Buffy? You used to be pretty clear about what's good and what's evil."

 

"I grew up," Buffy stated. "Learned to see that it's not that simple."

 

"Maybe you had some bad influences too," Riley suggested angrily.

 

Buffy glared at him and saw a clear look of jealousy pass over his face. "Where's Spike? I know I saw him here."

 

"Why do you care, Buffy? I thought you weren't interested in him," Riley sneered.

 

"I care because he's been doing good for quite a while now. He's a friend. He was a good friend to my mom and my sister too. He doesn't deserve to be in here; lots of demons don't deserve to be in here." Buffy crossed her arms in a determined fashion. "Where is he?"

 

Riley was really done with this girl. Clearly she didn't have any decency in her any longer. Maybe it started with that first vampire she shacked up with. Maybe it was whatever caused her to be more than human herself. Maybe it was always being attracted to demons when perfectly decent guys were right there willing to give her the world. Whatever it was, he was tired of longing for someone like her. He deserved better, he deserved a real girl. It was time she saw just how badly things could go in this place for anyone not on the right side of history. "I'll take you to see him."

 

***

 

"Welcome to The Party Box, how can I help you?" Anya chirped.

 

"You're the girlfriend of Xander Harris, aren't you?" The young man asked in a voice so quiet it was nearly a whisper as he looked nervously over his shoulder.

 

Anya craned her neck to look behind him to see what he was looking for. "Yes, he's my fiancé actually. Are you a work friend?" She took in his fine build and concluded he must be in construction.

 

"We have a mutual friend: Riley Finn," he raised a brow in question.

 

"Oh, yes, we know Riley, but he left town quite a while ago. I don't think Xander has his current address, so I'm afraid I can't help you locate him." Anya didn't show how the mention of Riley unnerved her. "We don't have any dealings with demons or demon hunters any longer. Just two regular people doing normal jobs and trying to live the American dream."

 

Graham had to grin. Really! The girl tried far too hard. If she weren't careful, she'd be attracting all sorts of unwanted attention to herself. "I'd really like to speak to Harris. Could you point me to his job location?"

 

"Well," Anya offered, "He should be here in a few minutes actually. He's picking me up at closing time. We're going to have a nice normal evening of eating dinner, watching a little TV and maybe playing a game of Canasta with our equally normal neighbors."

 

"Look, I'm not your enemy. I don't know what your story is, miss, but you are putting up all kinds of red flags with this talk about being normal."

 

Anya paled at his words.

 

"You might want to try and relax a bit and tone it down. I'm not here to check on you, I promise."

 

The girl was pretty and she seemed human. Then again, there were cells filled with human looking demons. If that's what the girl was hiding, or trying to hide, it would be a shame to have her act this jumpy in front of the wrong person.

 

Graham looked around the store and fiddled with some of the merchandise while waiting for Harris to arrive. He gave a start as the bell over the door jangled.

 

"And how is my little capitalist today?" Xander exclaimed as he entered. He didn't see Graham, who had moved out of his line of sight.

 

"Happily counting my profits," Anya smiled at Xander, then motioned towards the young man who had so rattled her.

 

"Do I know you? I feel like I should know you," Xander furrowed his brow as he tried to place the young man.

 

Graham extended his hand, "Graham Miller, friend of Riley Finn. I think we met a couple of times during the whole Adam fiasco."

 

Xander blinked then quickly took his hand in a firm shake. No point looking guilty. "So how's Ri doing?"

 

Graham looked around as if to be certain there were no other customers in the shop. "Not so great. I think he's lost it actually. I hope I'm not making a big mistake here, but I tried to find that guy Buffy used to spend a lot of time with--older man, British."

 

"Mr. Giles. He's out of town on a buying trip,” Anya lied. “He is my partner with the store."

 

"Yeah, him. I could be in a LOT of trouble if anyone finds out I was here or what I said." He gulped but then with a look of determination plunged ahead. "There's this hostile--we call him 17, but I think you know him as Spike. I just think someone should know that he's in the labs. I don't know how much longer he's going to make it; they've…done things to him." From the look on Graham's face, Xander wasn't sure he wanted to know any details.

 

"And you are telling us why?" Xander didn't sense a trap but wasn't about to take any chances. If this guy knew where Spike was, it might be the same place where Buffy was too.

 

"Because I didn't sign up for the kinds of things I'm seeing every day. It's one thing to hunt down and kill monsters that are clear threats. I even get why the doctors had to check a lot of them out, find their weaknesses and how to kill them. What's happening now is a lot more than that." Graham sat on the stairs, shoulders sagging. "It's not right. It's not just tests; it’s torture. It's not only the dangerous ones, but even some that you can tell are harmless."

 

"Spike's not harmless, but he does have that chip you guys put in his noggin," Xander reminded him.

 

"Yeah, I didn't have a problem with the chips either, but that's the least of his problems now, believe me." He looked at Xander with eyes that had clearly seen too much. "I know he's a friend of Buffy's. She asked me to pass word onto him, but I wasn't able to get him alone. I figure if he's her friend, he can't be all evil, and maybe he's your friend too."

 

"Not exactly," Xander began, but finally had to let go of his last bits of resentment and dislike. "We're not buddies, but he's been helpful ever since you guys chipped him. Maybe even a few times before." He looked at Graham hopefully, "You said Buffy asked you to say something to Spike. Does that mean you know where she is too?"

 

Graham licked his lip and decided it was time to jump full in. He couldn't go on like he had been; it was time to follow his conscience. He’d figure out what to do to protect himself later. "They're both in the labs just east of the old Initiative caves. They're not being kept together. I don't think Spike even knows Buffy's there."

 

"He guessed that a long time ago," Anya suggested. "He just didn't want to scare us, so he said he thought Riley had her."

 

"Riley isn't assigned to Buffy. He's working Spike's unit. He's got a real hurt on for that vampire too."

 

"And Buffy?" Xander prompted, his heart sinking.

 

"She's not in too bad a shape so far. They've been testing her powers pretty hard and she's pissed off and tired, but they haven't done any surgeries or anything yet."

 

"Yet!" Xander was horrified. "She's a human! What are you people doing down there?"

 

"Bad things."

 

***

 

"I remember when you told me that if you wanted someone with superpowers you'd date Spike," Riley checked his finger on the control to Buffy's collar. He hoped he wouldn't need to press it, but he would if necessary.

 

"Spike and I aren't dating. He's a friend." Buffy replied.

 

"Well, he's not so much with the superpowers anymore. Not much power at all, in fact," Riley gave a grin that could only be called evil as he pushed open the door to Spike's cell.

 

Buffy saw the broken vampire unconscious on the floor and very clearly in desperate condition. "Oh, my GOD! What have you done to him?"

 

"Lots of things. Currently he's in sensory deprivation, so he won't even know you're here." He chuckled, "Oh, don't look so down, Buffy, your vampire whore will heal up. He always does, at least until we're done with him."

 

Buffy started to move to Spike's side, but Riley grabbed her arm to turn her back towards him. He indicated the control box for her collar, "Don't make me use this on you, Buff. I truly don't want to cause you pain, even if it's in your own best interest. I said you could see him; I didn't say you could touch him."

 

"Why? Why have you done this? Are you that jealous?"

 

"Jealousy has nothing to do with this. He's government property, Buffy. He has been since we first collected him. We're just making him useful for once. Lots to learn about his kind. How to hurt them, how they heal, how much of damage they can take and still function. He's contributing to science."

 

"He's helped save the world, you bastard! He's done a lot of good. He doesn't deserve this," Buffy felt the tears run down her cheek and was angrier that her distress was now obvious to the man she once thought she knew pretty well. "My God, Riley, what happened to you?"

 

"Nothing happened to me, Buffy. I just moved back to the side I should have been on all along, the side of human beings. You're the one playing both sides."

 

She wanted nothing more than to rush to Spike's side and help him--well, perhaps killing Riley and getting them both out of there was something she wanted more.

 

"Please, Riley, let me go to him!" She hoped there was still some shred of the old Riley left to hear her appeal.

 

He glared at her, then, with a huff of laughter, shrugged, "What the hell? He can't hear you or see you. Go ahead, but only for a second. I need to get you back to your cell."

 

Buffy wasted no time as she knelt next to the totally thrashed vampire she had come to care for. She reached a trembling hand and touched his pale back. He was so starved that every ribs and vertebrae was clearly visible. He looked fragile and she was nearly afraid to touch him with more than the slightest of touches...still, he flinched at the contact. "I promise you, Spike, we'll get out of here. I won't leave you behind. I won't let this continue."

 

Her whispered promise, while unheard by the vampire, was heard by Finn, who stiffened and began to question the wisdom of his letting Buffy see Spike in this condition. It looked like he might have just given her a reason to make a whole lot of trouble!

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 17

~*~

 

'Buffy?' He knew that touch, the touch of an angel. He shouldn't know it--the hand gently feathering his back was one more remembered for fists and blows--yet he knew it. Perhaps it was nothing more than a phantom conjured by his pain-fevered brain. A ghostly touch from an otherworldly comforter sent to keep him sane. He knew it couldn't be real; angels like Buffy didn't dwell in hell.

 

Time wasn't something a vampire often thought about, given how very much of it they usually had, but all Spike had for company at the moment was time and his thoughts. 'Should have let the Slayer...Buffy ...know how I feel. Doubt she'd welcome the news, but at least I'd have said the words.'

 

Buffy had been kind to him ever since she realized how he had helped her mom and was willing to help her and her merry band of do-gooders. He had bathed his spirit in her kindness, drank deeply of every drop offered and yet wanted more.

 

'Don't need eyes to picture you, pet. You glow. Never saw anyone so filled with love and courage. You get knocked down and always get right back up again with a clever quip on those beautiful lips. GOD, what I'd give for just one taste of those lips again.'

 

He remembered the spell gone wrong and lips of Buffy, delightful lips of Buffy. He felt himself smile and hoped that berk Finn saw it. 'Make Captain Cardboard even crazier wondering what ol' Spike had to smile about.' Then again, the jealousy-fueled crazy the soldier was acting on was pretty intense already.

 

Spike knew why he was getting the brunt of Finn's latent sadism. Other demons were suffering too, but Finn was positively a creative genius when it came to dealing with Spike.

 

The smile faded as Spike remembered one of his last sights before the drop of holy water burned his retinas into oblivion. Clem, that poor sod with the ever cheery disposition, just hadn't been up to the kind of tests--torture, actually--doled out in this place of torment. Spike had lost his sight, but in time, given a decent feed or two, his eyes would heal. Clem hadn't made it through the surgery that took his eye tentacles.

 

'These bastards are gonna pay for every bit of misery they've inflicted,' he vowed. 'Gonna survive the worst they throw my way. Gonna get out of here, save the Slayer, and come back for a lovely spot of vengeance that'd make D'Hoffryn proud.'

 

Pity the demon girl didn't still have her power source. Would be a perfect time for Anyanka to saddle up and show them all what a demon could do.

 

***

 

The showers were mostly empty as Graham approached his long-time comrade. Riley seemed to be in a great mood, whistling some upbeat Christina Aguilera song.

 

"Say, Ri," Graham plastered on a friendly face for his old friend, "I was thinking about transferring back out into the field. Not sure I'm cut out for the lab work end of things."

 

"Don't be an idiot, Miller!" Riley smiled back. It had been a good day and no defection from his buddy was going to ruin it. "Promotions come when you get noticed. You get noticed when you're around the brass. Your best spot is right here with your old buddy Finn." He gave a lopsided grin. "I'm a pretty popular guy lately. You could say you're in if you stick with Finn," he chuckled.

 

Graham watched as Riley reached into the depths of his locker and pulled out what looked like a shaving kit bag. His eyes rounded as he saw Finn withdraw not a razor, but a syringe with an unknown substance that he proceeded to inject into his buttocks.

 

"What the hell is that, Ri?"

 

"Nothing to worry about, just Cypionate. Gives a boost where it's needed. Tons of athletes use it; it's not illegal or dangerous."

 

Graham thought he'd heard some of the other guys talk about it and other legal substances that helped them muscle up, build stamina. "Isn't that a steroid?"

 

"Just synthetic testosterone, a little extra oomph. I'm bench-pressing nearly 75 more pounds already, up 50 with military press." Riley preened proudly. "Take a bit of HGH now and then too. Really builds up muscle. You ought to try it, stop looking like the guy that gets the sand in his face."

 

'Or dumped for a vampire,' thought Graham. "I'm still doing fine with just regular workouts. I'll pass on the ‘roids. Had enough stuff put in me when Maggie was in charge; thought you did too."

 

"That stuff was experimental! I got turned onto this by a friend on the Sunnydale police force. Lots of those guys use it. They only really warn against teenagers using it and I don't overdo." Riley flexed an impressive bicep. "Most of this is just plain, old fashioned hard work, buddy," he playfully smacked Graham on the rump with his damp towel.

 

Riley knew damned well he wasn't doing anything but tweaking his already impressive physique. He was man enough for anybody, anybody with normal expectations at least. Wasn't his fault he had a pulse or a weakness for girls who weren't content with honest, fit, reliable human males! Riley Finn was never again going to be second rate compared to a pansy assed, fanged degenerate. Even her more hulking ex wouldn't be a challenge any longer. Thank God for science, the great equalizer!

 

"Yeah, about that transfer idea...," Graham tried again.

 

"Don't worry, I'll forget you even asked," Riley laughed. "We all have dumb ideas every once in a while."

 

"I'm serious, Ri, I want out in the field again. This really isn't for me." Graham didn't want to give away his real reason. He was sickened by what he saw being done by people he used to admire and respect. He was also more than a bit frightened watching decent guys like Finn turn into something he no longer recognized.

 

"Sorry, no can do. I want my team manned by the best of our heroic force, and that, my man, includes you," Riley attempted to flatter. "Face it, we've got the best job in the whole division. We don't have to bag and tag; we just do the doctors’ tests, put the hurt on a bunch of nothing demons and in return get great pay, benefits and a retirement package our dads would have killed for."

 

'That's the problem,' Graham thought. 'I don't like killing or torturing for my great package anymore. It's not right.' He thought of some of the mild, terrified beings he'd seen come through the labs. Some wept, some were in silent shock, a few fought back or tried to, and others begged, tried to bargain. So often he'd heard the quivering plea of a mother seeking protection for her spawn or had a timid creature try to make the case that he had never harmed a human in his life. Some truly believed the official line that the "good" demons would merely be confined but not harmed. Graham knew better by now. Nothing would placate those behind this Brave New World other than the total annihilation of all species of demon, no matter what their intelligence or character.

 

"Hey, speaking of prime healthy male specimens...you feeling better after that massive hurl of the other day?" Riley jabbed a gentle elbow into Graham's side. "Gotta say I've never seen Greene so grossed out than when you unloaded all over his spit and polish."

 

"Yeah, I'm taking care of what ails me. Think I'll be doing better." Graham didn't want to revisit the scene that had caused his intense vomiting. The cure he had at long last decided upon might kill him in the long run, but it was the only possible remedy he saw. 'Time to get out of this hell before it kills me, drives me mad or turns me into something not deserving to be called human.'

 

***

 

'If I can just figure out how to get this collar off, the rest will be a piece of cake.' Buffy stared at the electrically fortified door to her cell and amended, 'Okay, not cake maybe, but still doable.' She imagined she'd have to attempt her escape when guards came either with food or to transfer her to the fighting pit. 'Blood's gonna spill, but I don't plan on any more of it being mine. No more leakage from the Slayer.'

 

Buffy might not be doing much talking aloud, but her thoughts were on overdrive. She had to guard every action, every word because there were eyes and ears everywhere. If she had any chance at all, she had to make sure no one had even the slightest clue of her plans or even her concerns.

 

'First time since I got here that they've left me alone for more than a short time to sleep. Wonder what's up? Doubt they've run out of demons to have me kill.'

 

They had left her pretty well alone since her visit from Riley and trip to see Spike and that had been a couple of days at least. No fighting, no examinations with doctors poking and prodding, no contact except the nervous soldier who had delivered her food twice a day. ‘Definitely not big on the missage where Travers is concerned,’ she frowned. She had no reason to believe they were done with her though.

 

'I could sure use some of Willow's mojo about now, or even having Spike at my back.' Spike! God, he'd been almost unrecognizable under all the damage. Buffy felt a sharp stab of guilt. She knew it wasn't really her fault, yet the jealousy that had to be part of Riley's brutality felt like it was. She had tried to explain Spike's place in her life when she and Finn had dated, but it was clear that Riley was convinced there was more to her interest in the vampire than camaraderie and a history that included saving the world together once upon a time.

 

As horrified and sickened by the sight of Spike's condition and hints at how he had been treated, Buffy was equally shocked and repelled by the changes she had seen in Riley's behavior. He had been nearly gleeful displaying the tortured vampire to her! 'I know Riley hates demons, especially Spike, but I never would have thought he'd enjoy anything like what's happened to Spike.'

 

To the depths of her soul, Buffy wanted to believe that the man she had once dated, slept with and even tried to love would have tried to stop the savagery that had clearly been done to Spike. After all, Riley KNEW him. He knew the vampire had helped out pretty regularly since he’d been chipped. She had even told him about their truce years before and how they had worked together to defeat Angelus.

 

Even if Riley was willing to see Spike mangled that way, she didn't understand his obvious glee in showing the results to her as he had done. 'Why was he being so cruel to show me Spike like that? Without a smidge of compassion for Spike or for me.' She wondered if they were drugging their troops again. She wondered if it mattered. There had to be something there in a person's character beyond drugs to make them into the kind of monstrosity that would do the things she had seen and heard about in this place.

 

She thought about the differences she’d noted between Graham Miller, who clearly had a conscience and was bothered by what he was asked to do and Riley's total lack of same. It only served to make Buffy more confused than ever. Not only did it speak volumes about the basic nature of the two men, but it also made it unlikely that drugs were the sole problem. It wasn't likely that Riley would be drugged and not Graham.

 

***

... In other news, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denied demon involvement in the latest suicide bombing that left fifteen innocent civilians dead at a popular night spot last week. Sharon said that a thorough investigation has determined the bomber was a member of Hamas and the attack a part of the continuing land disputes in the West Bank and not part of the greater battle that currently involves the entire planet. When asked if this latest violence would have any impact on Israel's neutrality policy regarding demons, the Prime Minister is quoted as saying,"There is no correlation between the local political troubles that are ongoing and our tradition of not supporting genocide by any state or authority. The recent act of terror does not change our commitment to our traditions.”

 

Israel is one of three declared neutral countries in the war against demons, along with Canada and Switzerland. None of these neutral nations is accepting refugees, but they continue to refuse to deport demons living within their borders.

 

In related news, Sweden has become the first nation to open its doors to so-called peaceful demons contingent upon the prospective immigrants passing standard vetting procedures. For more on this, we go to Jeff Greenfield, who will be featuring an in-depth look at what nations are refusing to join in with what is being termed the Coalition for Survival of the Human Race. Be sure to tune in tonight at 10:30 P.M. for Greenfield At Large. Jeff, want to give us a preview?"

 

Rabbi Goldstein turned off the television and looked up in surprise to see a pale, antsy young man in the black uniform that marked him as a member of the Global Human Initiative.

 

"May I help you, son?"

 

"I sure hope so. Xander Harris said you might be able to help me disappear." The boy was twitching with nerves and clearly not comfortable.

 

"I'm no magician," the Rabbi quipped. There was far too much at stake to risk the entire project based upon someone knowing the name of one of their people. "Besides, aren’t even magic acts for entertainment frowned upon now?" He hoped young Jonathan would be returning from his lunch run soon. He really wanted to get word to Lorne about this unexpected guest.

 

"Have a seat, young man. I hope you don't mind if I complete the last part of this week’s D’var Torah--that would be a sermon for the uninitiated, not that we initiate," he winked at the soldier. "I promise to be right with you."

 

Graham took a seat and tried to still the twitch in his right leg. He looked like a terrified suitor facing down an angry, rifle-holding dad, for God's sake. This was a Rabbi. How dangerous could he be?

 

A young man came in laden with sacks of something that smelled delicious, "I had to get rye for yours, Rabbi, ‘cause they were out of pumpernickel." Jonathan nearly tripped over his own feet as he caught sight of Graham sitting across from the Rabbi. 'Oh, God, we're toast! The Imperial Stormtroopers have found us out!' He fought the urge to drop the bags and make a run for it.

 

Rabbi Goldstein smiled benignly at the terrified lad, "Jonathan! Just in time. We have a guest. I hope you succumbed to temptation and ordered extra?"

 

"Thanks, but I'm not hungry," Graham assured him immediately. "I didn't mean to intrude either, but I'm kind of in a real urgent situation. I guess I should have made an appointment."

 

"No need to stand on ceremony. As long as you give me a moment, you'll have my full attention." The Rabbi motioned to Jonathan, "Jon, would you do a favor for me and deliver these notes on this week’s sermon to our visiting Cantor?" And to be sure the boy understood, he clarified, "Lorne was going to proofread for me."

 

"Sure, Rabbi," Jonathan agreed, although still slightly confused. He took the proffered papers and headed into the actual Synagogue.

 

The group had just recently completed an entrance to the tunnels that was hidden by a trapdoor behind the lectern on the elevated bimah where the reading of the Torah took place. Lorne had a small living space just under the Synagogue to the left of the main tunnel entry.

 

Jonathan resisted the urge to take a peek at the note he was delivering to the flirtatious andsomewhat intimidating demon who was their main hope in avoiding detection from infiltration. As expected, the demon was in.

 

Lorne's eyes lit up as he saw the boy. He really was a cute little morsel. 'Ah, if only there was time for romance. What a world when it's all so serious with no time to enjoy the things that made living worthwhile!' Maybe, in due time, this shy lad might be his chance for Kyrumption. "What can I do for you, my little Halvah?" The boy did look sweet and good enough to eat—and not in the traditional Pylean way either.

 

"There's an Initiative guy in the Rabbi's office. I think this is about that," Jonathan handed the note to Lorne.

 

Lorne read the missive and wrote a reply before handing it back to Jonathan," Tell Saul I'll be listening and if I come in, he'll know everything is okay."

 

Jonathan returned and gave the paper back to the Rabbi, who read it quickly. "Ah, good." The Rabbi was glad Lorne only needed the slightest bit of a tune, a hum even, to see what he needed to see.

 

"Sorry, young man, but lately it's been like that song ‘Livin' La Vida Loca’," The Rabbi smiled at Graham as he checked to see that the horned demon was in place behind the office door and out of Graham's line of sight. "Come on and sing along or hum it with me...it's practically an anthem." He gave a soft laugh and began to hum.

 

Graham wondered if the Rabbi was joking, but as the gentleman seemed to be seriously expecting him to join in the chorus, he obliged reluctantly, "Livin’ la vida loca, Come on! She's livin la vida loca." He had to admit the silliness did relax him a bit. Maybe that was the purpose behind the odd suggestion, to put him at ease.

 

Evidently it was enough, because Lorne came into the office, startling Graham into jumping from his seat. "Whoa, Captain Cutie, nothing to worry about here. Saul says you are here looking for some help?"

 

Graham looked between the green demon and the now serious Rabbi and nodded. "I need to cut my ties with the Initiative and I don't think they'll just let me retire. Xander Harris said you might be able to help me out?"

 

"That would depend on why you want to cut those ties and very specifically what you want from us," the Rabbi solemnly said.

 

Graham sat back down and his shoulders slumped. "You know, all I ever wanted to do was to serve, do good, you know? I was up for the Green Berets when Dr. Walsh recruited me into the first Initiative." He looked nervously at Lorne, whose horns suddenly looked mighty pointy. "I was good at my job. Capture those demons. Man, I never knew anything like that existed...no offense," he looked sideways at Lorne.

 

Lorne grinned, "No offense taken. Nothing wrong with being who you are. I'm a demon and not ashamed."

 

Graham nodded then continued, "Back then it made sense. We were trying to learn and all the demons we were picking up were feisty. Lots of times they didn't seem to be more than animals; less even."

 

"Some are like that," the Rabbi agreed. "I don't pretend that every demon is a snuggly cuddlepuppy deserving my protection, but neither are they all rabid animals either. Just like people, they are all different. The sentient ones are just like us in most respects, at least where it counts."

 

"Yeah, I get that now," Graham agreed. "Back then it was pretty simple and nothing to make me regret signing up. I was protecting people from these things out of a nightmare, things that were killing people. Some of the things happening in the lab were questionable in hindsight, but the excuse that we needed to know the enemy made sense at the time."

 

"It usually does," the Rabbi said with obvious irony.

 

"I don't know how much you know about the first Initiative," he crooked a brow, hoping one of the two would help him out a bit.

 

"Enough to know it was a fitting prelude to the current debacle," Rabbi Goldstein stated. "Frankenstein monsters intended to be super soldiers, demons taken apart to create these abominations."

 

"There was only one. Adam." Graham shuddered at the memory. "We didn't know about that project, only Dr. Walsh and those few with clearance did. Most of us didn't believe it when Riley and Buffy tried to tell us what was happening just under the surface. I really thought that once Walsh and her crew were gone and things were all cleaned up, it was back to the good mission, ya know?"

 

The Rabbi let out a rueful snort, "You are rather naive for a soldier, young man. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it rarely goes back."

 

Graham hung his head, "Yeah, I can see that now."

 

"So," Lorne broke in, "From what I read, you want out and you don't know how to do it. You also seem to want to make up for it in some way."

 

Graham looked at the demon in shock.

 

"I read people when they sing. That was the reason for Saul's sing-along."

 

Graham still looked bewildered but nodded anyway.

 

"That, and I really like Ricky Martin," the Rabbi quipped. "Great ice breaker too."

 

Lorne laughed delightedly. "That's the beauty of music."

 

"Well," Rabbi Goldstein turned to Graham, "why don't you tell us all you think you can about the things we don't know and we can maybe arrange some things you don't know anything about." He turned to Lorne, "What do you think? The farm?"

 

 

End Notes:
A/N: Riley, IMHO, was always a bully (I cite the plastic stake as one piece of evidence) I do not think his behavior in this story is too out of character, but the extreme aggression and rage can be rooted in reality with a practice not uncommon among bodybuilders, athletes, even military and police agencies (our NM Police are well known to have a segment who abuse steroids). Any OOC behavior of Riley’s can be attributed to this. It is also my belief that his character flaws in canon, his insecurities about his loss of "super" powers post drugs and implant would make him vulnerable to the temptation for this abuse.

http://m.livescience.com/38354-what-is-roid-rage.html

”Studies have shown clear associations between testosterone and aggression. In general, hormones work by attaching to target cells and changing their behavior. The chemicals can affect mood by targeting nerve cells. Research shows conflicting results for the existence of steroid-induced rages.

Chapter Text

Author's Notes:
A/N: http://buffy.wikia.com/wiki/Demon source for info on canon pre-history of demons in Buffyverse

~*~
Chapter 18

~*~

 

"You weren't quite what I expected either, you know," Buffy grinned and nudged him gently in the rib. "I was used to either Mr. Soulful Eyes Angel striking romantic poses and playing mystery man or the run of the mill Grrr Argh idiot just waiting for my stakes."

 

Spike grinned back, "Yeah, I get that. I've always had a thing for Slayers, you know that. Seen more than my fair share over the hundred plus. Top of the food chain, you lot." He smiled at her warmly. "The first one was a challenge. I was young and impulsive, but it made me want to go against the best, yeah? Saw plenty in the years after, but none looked like they were ready for the likes of me, not and be much of a challenge anyway. Only one other till you, pet. Played with a few, tried to get 'em up to speed, only to have some halfwit take them out before they were ready for prime time."

 

"You know all that should remind me why I should hate you, right?" Buffy raised an amused brow.

 

"Pro'ly should. You know I'm honest with you though," Spike looked up at her through his too-long-for-Buffy's-comfort lashes. "Point is, you were different from the start. Not just your skills, something about you. You're the whole package, Buffy. I wanted to dance from the start and never wanted the music to end."

 

"Yeah, it was always the best when we fought each other, or with each other," Buffy agreed.

 

Spike drew her closer and tucked her under his arm more snugly. Buffy sighed in contentment. Somehow she felt a sense of peace with Spike that she hadn't been able to find, no matter how hard she had tried the mind exercises and meditations Giles had taught her. Spike was here, with her, and everything was going to be alright.

 

"That first fight together was somethin', wasn't it?" Spike sighed wistfully. "Took Grandpa by surprise. Never saw us comin', least not teamed up."

 

Buffy laughed, "Face it, Angel without the soul seems to lose IQ points, along with everything else. He should have paid more attention, seen how you were seething at how he stepped in with Dru like that. Doofus!"

 

"Can't see past that enormous forehead," Spike agreed.

 

"What really surprised me was findin' out you never took back the invite. Came back to SunnyD lookin for somethin to make the hurt stop and found real magic in your mum." Spike smiled and hugged Buffy. "Real lady, that one. Let me talk and cry and sort things out. By the time you showed up all hot to stake, she had me pretty well in hand."

 

"She was great that way," Buffy agreed. "She looked naive to a lot of people, but really, that was her strength--seeing the good in everyone. Yeah, she got burned a lot, especially by Dad, but she never stopped trying to see that bit of good inside." Buffy looked up at Spike and smiled warmly, "She liked you a lot. Said there was a lot more good in you than in many people she knew."

 

"She had a way of makin’ me want to live up to what she saw. I hated the idea of disappointin' her. Pro'ly would have got me on the pig slop without the bloody chip if she'd made a big point of it."

 

"You know, I believe you," Buffy nodded. "You proved her right when it counted, that's for sure. If you hadn't decided to look in on her, those vamps would have drained her or worse."

 

Spike looked sheepish. "Shouldn't have been so late at the Gallery, I told her that. Had a big shipment. Figured someone needed to make sure she got home safe."

 

"And you did," Buffy lightly brushed her lips against his in thanks.

 

"So, pet, how we gonna make sure you get home safe?"

 

"Not just me, Spike. We're getting out together. Best as partners, right?"

 

Buffy smiled widely in her sleep and rolled over, reaching for someone and frowning when her arm met air. She hated waking this way. She had felt hopeful and safe, only to find herself alone and with few ideas of how to turn it all around. She had to find a way to get near Spike. Together, no one could stop them!

 

***

 

"Sweetie, you shouldn't be trying to do too much! You've only been out of the hospital a short time," Willow tried to steer Tara back to the curtained off sleeping area.

 

"C-can't j-just lay around, s-sweetheart. Have to do s-stuff." Tara's vocal hesitations were a bit better now, no worse than when the girls had first met at least. Giles was delighted, saying that it showed the synapses were connecting better and Tara's head trauma might completely heal given time. She still had a slight weakness in her right limbs, but was doing strength-building exercises regularly.

 

Willow fought the urge that usually came over her in the stillness of night, when the few spell books she had at hand called to her to find just the perfect spell to pay back the miserable bastards who had inflicted such damage on her beloved. Tara always seemed to know when those devils began to speak to her because her hand would reach for Willow and she would give her a firm squeeze as if to say, "I'm here. I'm okay. Don't waste the energy."

 

Still, there was a cold fire in the pit of Willow's tummy that burned with the need to rage. The gang who hurt sweet Tara were only the first on her list. Those who had taken her best friend, her hero, her Buffy were also on that list. Now that they knew, kinda, where Buffy was, it was taking all of Giles's mental abilities to try to figure out the most sure-fire method to free her.

 

Willow had immediately suggested magic, but Giles felt that if his late friend Ethan Rayne had been the one to put up wards, it wasn't likely that they would be ones easily breached. Going at it that way would only serve to alert Travers and his ilk that they knew where Buffy was and were planning to free her. No, more conventional methods were going to be needed.

 

Xander had told them about Graham defecting and while that was a good thing, it didn't seem to offer much help in the grand scheme of things, just one less enemy to deal with. They also knew that Spike was captive too, but not in any condition to help Buffy.

 

It was funny that no one doubted for a minute that Spike wouldn't help Buffy given the chance! At some point, they had all embraced the idea of the vampire as an ally and not just someone who helped while looking for some personal reward.

 

They were a bit surprised when Graham relayed Buffy's message that she was not willing to leave without Spike being rescued as well. It wasn't that Buffy was cold towards Spike; indeed, they had been acting more and more like friends over the past few months. They had all noticed it. But to insist he be rescued along with her did complicate any rescue plan. Now there wasn’t only one to retrieve, but two, and from what they had been told, two that weren't kept together.

 

Giles had blanched at the description Xander paraphrased from Graham's report about Spike's condition. Just how they were to be expected to get out a vampire that badly damaged was a hurdle the former Watcher was clueless how to jump. 'Perhaps if we got Buffy out we could convince her to make a rescue attempt for Spike later?' Giles shook his head. He knew his Slayer better than that. No, together she said and together she meant. He sighed and went back to the proverbial drawing board.

 

***

 

Anya was not merely shivering, she was shuddering. It was the second group of soldiers to drop by the Box since Graham had shown up asking for help in his plans to go AWOL. So far no one had accused them of aiding in the soldier's disappearance, hadn't even questioned them really, but Anya was terrified.

 

"They must know, Xander." Anya whispered. There was no one else in the store, but everyone seemed to speak in whispers lately as they looked over their shoulders. "Someone must have seen him come in here. They must suspect us. Why come to a party goods store and buy nothing?"

 

Xander was as nervous as his fiancé but manned up to be her strong arm to cling to. "We can't know that, Ahn. Besides, they can't prove anything. As far as they know he dropped in to look at some party stuff and that's all we know."

 

"But what if they remember us from before? Some of them might have been part of the first Initiative and know we were Buffy's friends."

 

"Not ‘were’, are, Ahn. Don't panic so much you forget the important stuff," he kissed her furrowed brow. "It's going to be okay. If things get even a little dangerous, I promise we'll join the others in the caves. I won't let anyone hurt you."

 

Anya felt her eyes tear up. "You don't know what it's like to be hunted. Even as a human the first time, people always looked at me funny because of the magic and because I just didn't fit in. Then, as a demon, I had power but still had to be careful."

 

"You're human now; they won't target you."

 

"That's easy for you to say. If they ever find out I was a demon at all, they would be after me, tearing me apart to see if they can find traces, torturing me for information I don't have," She felt the tears slide down her face unchecked. "That 'ex' part that makes it okay to you to be dating me won't matter to them at all. It will only make them more curious."

 

"Not going to happen." Xander hugged her and gently brushed away her tears. "Not too long ago, I admit that I wouldn't have spent time with you if you hadn't been human, if you didn't have that 'ex'. But, Anya, I've come to love you, you know that. Human or demon, I love you, and I won't let those that I love get hurt in this, I swear it."

 

Anya sniffed, "You mean it? You'd still love me now that you know me?"

 

Xander smiled sweetly, "I'd love you if you got all veiny and scary, as long as it wasn't directed at me. Matter of fact, you'd be safer and those powers would be pretty helpful right about now. Any way you could call up old friends?"

 

"D'Hoffryn and all my sisters left the dimension when W & H did that big spell to quarantine us during all of this. There's no jumping dimensions now. Lorne can't even contact anyone in Pylea. We're all on our own here. It's like when the Old Ones left the first time."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Well, in the beginning the demons, pure demons, ruled this world. Surely Giles told you all that?"

 

Xander tried to think back. He vaguely remembered something like that being said early on.

 

Giles looked very professorial as he tried to teach the young ones the history of this long battle, "The original and most powerful demons originated eons ago. They were godlike, extra dimensional beings called the Old Ones. The Old Ones lived on Earth during the Primordial Age after they were brought there from their home dimensions by the Seed of Wonder."

 

Buffy yawned widely while Xander looked at his watch and hoped the donut shop would still be open when Mr. Giles finished his history lesson. Willow was the only one who was clearly interested, "So that's what Buffy fights every night, these Old Ones? And they were here first? I'm not sure how I feel about that part."

 

Giles continued, "As time passed, mortals began to appear on Earth, at first serving the Old Ones in many different capacities. In time, they turned on the demons, created the First Slayer with the help of demon essence stolen for the purpose and the Old Ones either retreated to other dimensions or interbred with humans, thus diminishing their powers through the generations. The last pure demon that walked the Earth during this period was killed by a special weapon wielded by that First Slayer."

 

Willow was like a dog with a bone, "But they were here first?"

 

"Yes, Willow, they were here first." Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Do you suggest we remove ourselves or become slaves once more?"

 

Willow looked conflicted. "Well...no. But it doesn't seem fair we just kill them either."

 

"We don't; the Slayer does with our assistance, and she most certainly does not kill them all. The Chosen One maintains balance, makes certain that humanity has a place in this world, one of freedom." Giles looked at his Slayer, her eyes glazed over with disinterest.

 

"So the demons Buffy fights aren't these Old Ones?" Willow asked. Giles felt a brief, disloyal thought that this girl, even with her sympathies for demons, would have made a far superior Slayer to the reluctant cheerleader he was trying to groom.

 

"No, they are not. By modern times, demonic creatures native to Earth were not full demons but had a percentage of human heritage due to their ancestors' crossbreeding, while full demons were native to other dimensions. A very few are buried in a guarded place called the Deeper Well awaiting reawakening. This leads me to the real topic of this meeting: the Master and his plans."

 

It had all seemed so simple then. Willow was the only one with even a hint of wondering about rights and things that were other than black and white. Simple may have felt nice, but look where that thinking led! Xander hugged Anya a bit tighter and wondered where it would all eventually lead.

 

***

 

Angel drew a weary hand across his face. So many refugees were streaming in. On one hand, it was a good thing that so many were being saved, but on the other, it was putting a drain on the resources available. "Anything coming in clear enough to understand?" Someone had unearthed an ancient short wave radio and they had been monitoring for non-official channels broadcasting throughout the world. The computer was a godsend, but it didn't have the full story.

 

"There's a good chance both Peru and Ecuador are going to commit to being safe zones pretty soon. There's some strong opposition but not many in actual numbers. I guess the native populations in both countries have a long memory of how it felt to be targeted to be wiped out. There are some great caves in the region too, so we can set up a southern base if it all works out," Cordy's high school Spanish was coming in quite handy manning the radio. "Think Wes will want to leave the farm and run it?"

 

"Maybe not Wes; he's needed there to keep an eye on Lindsey. I still don't trust that guy any further than I can throw him," Angel groused.

 

"Well, big fella, you can throw him pretty far, so I wouldn't lose sleep. Darla did at least a couple of things right; she got McDonald on a decent path when needed and this guy here," She cuddled the sleeping baby and smiled her best Madonna smile.

 

"Who'd have thought?" Angel grinned.

 

"I couldn't help overhearing. Mind if I butt in?" Nick Perkins was an imposing figure even when compared to Angel's hulking form, but his innate gentle nature was far less off-putting than the vampire's could be.

 

"Butt away," Cordy grinned. Angel bit back the jealous ire that rushed to pour out of his mouth. He hated when his girl looked at another fella that way, all admiration and welcome!

 

"If our Southern neighbors do decide to stand up and be counted, I figure we'll have to act fast to set things up safely," Nick suggested. "I speak Spanish really well, the kind they speak in South America too, so the idioms aren't a challenge. I did some work with the Peace Corp after college in Bolivia and have an idea of the area from traveling."

 

"What are you thinking?" Angel shoved a map in the demon's direction.

 

"If we use the Farm as a clearing house, moving some folks north here and others to the south, it would kinda make that the center of the wheel. We're going to have to expand if this keeps up for too long anyway. At least we'd have a couple of spokes."

 

"Okay, so how do we get them from the Farm to Peru?" Cordy looked at the map and the large distance needed to be safely traveled.

 

"Ever hear of Mexicruise?" Nick grinned.

 

"Aren't they the small cruise line that goes up and down the Mexican Rivera and always seems full of silver-haired ladies looking for shipboard romance?" Cordy laughed at Angel's flummoxed look, "My nanny dreamed of taking one of those. Kept hoping she'd meet some Ricardo Montalban clone and spend her retired years in a 40s movie."

 

Nick nodded. "They do have a specialty clientele. My Aunt Pearl actually found her Ricardo, but that's a story for another day." He rubbed Cordy's shoulder a bit too familiarly for Angel’s liking.

 

Cordy shot her vampire a dirty look as she heard the low, quiet growl of disapproval.

 

Nick clearly was not intimidated, but he also didn't push things. "The owner is actually a Bracken. His family traces back to Seville and came over with the Conquistadores. I met him in the Corp before he took over running the cruise line for his dad. Anyway, I'm sure we can fit some of his ships with hiding places to transport folks. Get them from the Farm to the cruise line, then down the coast. He has a couple of ships that go as far south as Chile. We arrange a couple of ports of call in Ecuador and Peru, unload our people, and no one's the wiser."

 

"You make it sound simple," Cordy said.

 

"No, not simple but do-able." Nick looked at Angel, "Whadda you say? Sound like a plan?"

 

"How do you plan to contact this guy? Is he even still free?" Angel looked to poke holes in the plan, before they all got too excited.

 

"Yeah, he married well, really well. Very well connected politically and the wife's family doesn't know about his spikey side."

 

"Sounds perfect. You really want to leave us to set this up?" Cordy sounded disappointed.

 

"My family's safe here. I can't stand back while others can't say the same thing." He looked grim. "Yeah, I'm sure. Times like this, people don't have to do much, but if every decent person just did something it could all be fixed. I still believe that most folks are decent at heart. Lots are just scared right now, scared and not thinking straight."

 

"You're a good guy, Nick." Cordy blinked back a few tears. "I wish all people just could look past labels."

 

"Yeah, mankind has a bad history with that."

 

***

 

She was asleep and cuddled safe and close. He didn't even mind being in this hell as long as he had her there where he could make sure she was untouched, or as untouched as possible. Her soft hair wisped across his chest blown by the soft tufts of breath released as she slept.

 

Spike wasn't mad--no, they hadn't managed to destroy his mind, not yet. Still, keeping her in his mind helped to guard it. The nerves that felt his few chest hairs move could easily be turned into strands of gold gently playing on his skin. It helped.

 

In his silent darkness, he had taken to letting his imagination run free. All the deepest dreams of tenderness and love that he had held in check for fear of rejection and disappointment were now fuel keeping hope alive. In his dreams he held her and she returned his most gentle, loving touches. He kissed her, finding her mouth not only willing but eager. He could say all the words that choked him in his regular life, words desperate to pour out of his mouth but held back lest he drive her further from him than the bonds of friendship she currently allowed. Buffy was his light, his reason and his goal.

 

He knew Buffy was there in the compound. He'd heard rumors and was fairly certain he had glimpsed her at least once. He also knew, knew with no doubt whatsoever, that she had been there with him recently. He didn't know how it could possibly be but he still knew it to be true. His angel had made a visit and had touched him. She had brought him back from a brink that now beckoned from a distance, that gaping maw of despair.

 

She was there. She knew he was there. She cared.

 

They could do anything they wanted to him, short of outright dusting, and it would all turn up right now. Now he had a purpose; not quite a plan, but a goal. He had to find a way for them to be together. They were always stronger together than apart. Even arseholes like their captors couldn't win against the two of them when they were working together.

 

Spike remembered his Sunday school years far better than anyone would ever imagine. In fact, in his pre-vampiric existence, he'd actually given thought to a life in the church at one point. He remembered a quote from Ecclesiastes: "Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." Even the bloody Bible made it clear that it was true, that there was strength in numbers.

 

The only numbers they needed were two, Buffy and Spike. Now how to arrange that?

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 19

~*~

 

"I don't have to prove my loyalties, Quentin.” Crispin Starling had always had always been known as Travers’ faithful bird and he quite chafed at the thought that his idol would doubt him at this stage. “I made my choice when I decided to throw in my lot with you and this mad brilliant plan of yours to end the battle once and for all.

 

"When half the Council decided to turn their backs on you, steal from our sacred libraries and go into hiding, I stood proudly at your side. When you gave that marvelous speech to the U.N. that set the ball into play, who helped you draft the bloody speech?"

 

"Yes, I know, Starling." Travers would be glad when he no longer needed the handful of sycophants and toadies who had helped lend weight to his words in the beginning of his grand plan. "You've been all that is helpful and loyal. It would, however, have been more...timely...had I been informed of the captivity of the Slayer of Slayers when it occurred."

 

"Well, sir, you were rather focused on the Slayer at the time," Starling ran a nervous finger under his collar. Travers might be saying all the right forgiving words, but his eyes made it clear that Starling had erred grievously by not immediately apprising his boss of the vampire's presence in the labs.

 

"As I am still," Travers sighed in exasperation. "Don't you understand the significance, man? William the Bloody, the Slayer of Slayers, has greater importance than being just a captured master vampire, especially where this Slayer is concerned. One of the problems with Miss Summers has been her willingness to associate with dangerous demons, one of whom is this one."

 

"Has Miss Summers entered into an illicit alliance with this one as well as his grandsire?" Starling was aghast. The stories about the active Slayer taking the notorious Angelus as her paramour had shocked every member of the Council when it happened. Starling hadn't heard of Summers moving on to yet another vampire.

 

"Not that I have heard. She has, however, entered into more than one alliance with this Spike, going so far as to permit his escape from a proper dusting and a free pass out of town for himself and his mad sire," Travers sneered in contempt. Really! There should have been no dissenters to his well thought out plan to make Slayers obsolete at long last. This girl and her murderous offshoot, Faith, should have made it clear that whatever process that had once produced compliant and efficient weapons in the form of the Chosen had ceased to function properly.

 

Faith had been dealt with with relative ease. Quentin only had a couple of second rate seers still loyal to him and thus far they hadn't been able to pinpoint which Potential had been called to replace the murderess. If one had been called, it had to be one of the girls whose Watcher had taken her into hiding. The other possibility was that there wouldn't be another called as long as Miss Summers remained alive. It was a dilemma. The petty part of Quentin Travers didn't want a quick end to the thorn in his side with the silly name of Buffy. The girl had been an endless trial to him and she had to pay for that before being removed permanently.

 

"So Miss Summers and this Spike are allies?" Starling was gobsmacked. "Why on earth would the most notorious killer of Slayers forge any alliance with one of the more eccentric Slayers in recent history?"

 

"Why indeed?!" Travers muttered. "We are aware of the two of them working together on more than one occasion and of the vampire even residing with the girl's former Watcher, that idiot Giles!"

 

"I know Giles. He's an odd duck, to be certain, but it seems preposterous that he would allow any vampire into his home, much less make a roommate of one!"

 

"I believe it was at the request of Miss Summers. The first Initiative managed to implant a chip in Spike before he managed to escape. I suppose the girl took pity on him."

 

"Should have staked him and been done with it," Starling huffed.

 

"Indeed. Yet another bit of proof that the Chosen is not functioning properly. The decision-making skills of the last three have been astonishingly poor."

 

Starling looked at Travers speculatively, "You don't suppose she's sweet on him? This Spike, I mean--not Giles."

 

"It is entirely possible given her history." Seeing the appalled look on his underling’s face, Travers got a new idea. "Perhaps we should test the actual relationship between the two?"

 

***

 

Buffy blinked then closed her eyes from the glare of the bright light overhead. She was still groggy and felt soreness in different parts of her body. She vaguely remembered the soldiers entering her cell and activating her collar to the point of making her lose consciousness. She woke only briefly as a mask was placed over her mouth and nose, but she was anesthetized before she could fully test the restraints holding her to the gurney.

 

Whatever the bastards had done to her was completed and she seemed to be in some post-operative area of the labs. Buffy closed her eyes and tried to keep anyone from noticing she was conscious once again. Maybe she would be able to figure out what had happened to her.

 

"I believe we have enough samples of both blood and tissue, a bit from some inner organs as well. We should be able to see what, if anything, impedes the rapid healing she exhibits." The butcher who had just invaded her body indicated the cart with the bits and pieces that had been stolen from her against her will to the soldier assigned to transport the samples to the laboratory.

 

"I'll see they get this right away, sir," the soldier promised. "I know this is a priority one project."

 

"The sooner we can determine the source of the girl’s powers, the sooner we can decide how to classify her."

 

Buffy wanted to rip loose her bonds and show them a little something about her power. 'Hey, whoever the Powers are that keep jerking me around and decided to choose me a few years ago! Now would be a great time for you to do more than just sit back and do whatever it is you do when you aren't ruining lives of little girls.'

 

Buffy remembered Giles telling her some of the legends about Slayer power and how some old cave guys had grabbed some demon and somehow put some of its demony power in the poor girl they picked as the First Slayer without actually making her a demon. She remembered meeting the girl in their dreams not that long ago and thinking Sineya had a major attitude problem. Buffy really couldn't blame her!

 

Somehow Buffy doubted the scientists here at the Mengele Memorial Home for Maniac Doctors and Crazed Military would be able to pinpoint the source of her powers. It wasn't like the supernatural change that came over her when chosen was something they were likely to see under a microscope!

 

'Oh, great, my one-man fan club,' Buffy tensed as she noted the entrance of Quentin Travers. No point in pretending to still be unconscious. "Here to gloat?" Her words, though slurred slightly, were clear.

 

"Not gloating, Miss Summers. I'm here in the interests of humanity. You have degraded your calling, you and Faith. The survival of the decent people of this world can no longer be left to the questionable protections of the past. You will provide the information needed to help upgrade humanity once we have uncovered the necessary essence to achieve empowerment."

 

"That's your grand plan? Get rid of me and Faith just to turn everybody into a Slayer? That's stupid on a whole new level."

 

Travers looked down his nose as the silly girl, "You haven't the capacity to understand what my plans are, little girl. There will be no Slayers, because none will be needed. We are ridding the world of those abominations that the Slayer merely held in check all these centuries. Finally, it will be Earth for the humans, like those preposterous posters all call for."

 

"So why the slice-and-dice with me then?"

 

"A man can be forgiven indulging in a few pleasures," he whispered before saying more audibly, "The interests of science, of course. Besides, if you are indeed still fully human, we need to know that as well."

 

Two orderlies entered to transfer Buffy back to her cell only to be waylaid by the former head of the Council. "Gentlemen, a slight change. Miss Summers is to be given a different accommodation. She will be sharing a cell with another high priority subject."

 

Travers took them aside, along with the Doctor, to give new instructions. No matter how hard she tried, Buffy couldn't hear a word.

 

"But won't that be highly dangerous?" the doctor sputtered. "I thought we were still to treat this woman with a bit of care?"

 

"I am convinced she will be quite safe. Indeed, that is the main purpose in the change in accommodation. We will be monitoring continuously, of course," Travers tried to reassure the man.

 

"Isn't that one still pretty much out of commission anyway," offered one of the orderlies.

 

"Handicapped, to be sure, but that one has a history of creativity that prevents anyone from classifying him as harmless," Travers nodded. "The subjects know one another, have had an alliance in the past. It will be important to see how they react to each other's condition. Will she choose to try to assist him in healing? Will he attempt to assist her? We need those questions answered and the only way to do that is to put them in the same cell and watch."

 

"But what if they do work together? Will we be able to contain them?"

 

"In the worst case scenario, the vampire can be eliminated. His usefulness as a subject of research has really come to an end. Neither of them is in any condition to be a threat—not for the immediate future, at any rate,” Travers smirked. "This will be more important in gathering data on their interaction. Once we have the information needed, it will help us evaluate Miss Summers’ allegiances, among other things. She needs to be assessed for her threat level. She has proven to be other than the Protector of Humanity; we need to determine just how far she has fallen.

 

***

Giles looked at the small group gathered. "It's not hopeless. Now that we know that both Buffy and Spike are in the same facility, it is only a matter of finding a way to get information to them both once we decide on our plan. I rather wish that Graham Miller had chosen to stay where he was and act as a conduit, but I suppose he had reason to fear for his own safety."

 

"Yeah, the guy was really rattled by all the stuff going on, that's for sure. I felt really sorry for him. He was a good guy trying to do good things and woke up to find out the good guys weren't who he thought they were," Xander nodded.

 

"What about planting a vole?" Anya looked excited.

 

"I think you mean mole, honey," Xander corrected gently. "Yeah, that's a great idea, but I don't know how we can do that. I mean, the guy would have to pass for one of the military or medical people, but not be someone they might notice."

 

Lorne stood and stretched his long legs cramped from sitting too long in the slightly damp cave. "I have the beginning of an idea. There is a guy who's worked with Angelcakes for a while now, but before that, he was a street fighter with a serious rep for taking out demons. They might not know about him and he has the cred as being firmly in the ‘demons are bad/must kill’ camp."

 

"Would he be interested in helping?" Giles asked.

 

"He already is. He's been working with Wes at the Farm, but his talents are wasted there, I think. We'd need to get him prepped and maybe find out how to get him assigned. The cute soldier we just sent their way could help with that, maybe?" Lorne looked pretty hopeful. "That will give us time to perfect our own plans, so he can get the info to our captive cuties."

 

"It might just work." Willow looked thoughtful. "I can use my hacking skills to get him paperwork and maybe even an assignment, especially if we go low level."

 

"W-w-will we be a-able to get Buffy and Spike close enough t-t-together to get them both out?" Tara worried.

 

"We'll figure out something, sweetie, don't worry." Willow kissed Tara tenderly.

 

"Are you sure no one will associate this guy with Angel and us?" Xander worried.

 

"I listened to that whole program when Angel was outed. They never mentioned his crew, just him and his old family and the miracle baby. If we give him a different name, I doubt anyone would connect him," Lorne looked pretty certain.

 

"And he is reliable?" Giles asked, not wanting to take any chances that weren't absolutely necessary.

 

"He's gold. Really a stand-up guy and sweetheart, you'll love him!"

 

***

 

"Andy!" Jonathan nearly dropped his Slurpee. "Didn't expect to see you around. Aren't you busy with that whole Youth For People thing Warren started?"

 

"Yeah, it hasn't been as fun as I thought it was gonna be. I mean, it was pretty cool when we went into all those demon-owned stores and broke everything up," Andrew squirmed a bit. "At The GameStop, I kinda liberated a few games, but mostly we just made the businesses so they couldn't run anymore."

 

"Legal vandalism." Rabbi Goldstein had joined them as Andrew talked.

 

"Not vandalism, just making sure the demons can't make a profit from regular humans. That's what Dr. Baker says anyway," Andrew looked a bit sheepish.

 

"I see, and your liberated games are spoils of war then?"

 

Andrew brightened. "I guess so, since we're kinda in a war. Aren't we?" He glanced between his old friend and the rather formidable Rabbi, looking for confirmation. "I'm not too clear on the lines anymore, I guess."

 

"You always did have that problem, Andy. You follow anyone who looks like power to you and right now that looks like Warren. I wish you'd use your own brain for a change." Jonathan shook his head.

 

"So you're okay with demons?"

 

"Don't know. Not like I hang around with a bunch of them. Can't even find a bunch of them anymore. I just know that we had friends who were demons and it never bothered you before all of this."

 

"Maybe I never realized what they were taking that was really ours before now," Andrew offered defensively.

 

"And just what was taken from you, son?" the Rabbi inquired.

 

"Well, they took our jobs and businesses and...and...," Andrew recited the party line like a robot.

 

"You didn't want a job, Andy! Besides I'd bet Mr. Griflyx would have hired you at The GameStop--before you trashed it, that is. He always used to like you," Jonathan reminded him. "Where is he now?"

 

Andrew felt his eyes tear up at the memory. "He was hurt in the purge. I think he died, but I don't know for sure." He sniffed back a tear. "This is just all so confusing! It sounds so right when Dr. Baker talks or that guy on the radio or Warren, but then I think about our old Star Trek club or Mr. Griglyx, and I'm not as sure."

 

"Maybe you should try to decide what YOU think is right before you just follow others’ orders, young man," the Rabbi cautioned.

 

As Andrew walked away, Jonathan shivered in fear. "I don't think we should have let him know how we felt, Rabbi."

 

"You think this boy would say something to the wrong people? I don't think we said a thing they don't already know. As long as they don't suspect we are actually taking action, I doubt the young man can cause us too much grief." The Rabbi smiled and draped an arm around Jonathan's shoulders. "Besides, maybe he'll have an attack of conscience and stop being a mindless brute that creates chaos and disaster. There is always hope for salvation, Jonathan, never forget that.

 

"It's easy to forget hope in times like this, Rabbi," Jonathan looked around at the town he no longer recognized.

 

"That is why we must not ever permit ourselves to do so. I believe it was Christopher Reeve who once said, 'Once you choose hope, anything's possible.' Those are wise words; hold them close and don’t let go. Better days are still ahead of us, but first you must believe.”

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 20

~*~

 

Graham stowed his gear and finally dared to take a breath not constricted by fear. The farm was just what the name implied, an old fashioned California produce farm. It was easy to forget that California was one of the major crop producers in the U.S.A. Everyone remembered the beaches and big cities but forgot the largest part of the state. Maybe the Global Human Initiative would forget it too and do them all a favor.

 

"Hey, new guy," Gunn held his hand out and offered a warm smile. "Lorne says you had a change of heart. I had one of those myself a while ago. Funny how meeting some of these non-humans can make you think. Pissed me off for a while. Hard to be all righteous, hang with your brothers doin' the same things, fightin' the same fight once you see one of them doin' the right thing better than you. Don't ever tell him I said that though; he's got a big enough ego already."

 

Graham shook the friendly man's hand. "No worry about that. I haven't a clue who you're talking about."

 

"Angel. Vampire with a soul, helper of the helpless, champion of the PTB and a shit load of other titles that all make him a special snowflake. You might have heard his greatest hits pre-soul on that radio show a while ago. I went from trying to stake his pasty ass to joining his crew." Gunn shook his head as if he was having trouble believing it himself.

 

"So he's one of the hostiles that actually isn't a threat?" Graham wondered how many there really were.

 

"I wouldn't say that," Gunn laughed. "Dude can be a real threat if he thinks you need an ass kickin' and that soul isn't something anyone wants out of him. Still, he's ace. Man--well, vamp--with a mission. With the soul, he's only a threat to the big uglies that need killin'."

 

"I wonder how many of them have souls," Graham mused. "We had a hostile in the labs, a vampire, but he'd been working with the Slayer."

 

"You must mean Spike. Naw, he's soulless, but he's still fightin' the good fight from what I hear." Gunn looked uncomfortable. "So he was captured? Damn!"

 

Graham looked haunted. "What was happening to him is a big reason why I had to get out, get away. There was no excuse for what they were doing to him. My old friend is so far off the spool it isn't funny and he has a real hard-on for putting the hurt on this Spike."

 

"I never met the guy, but Cordy said Spike was helping Buffy and driving Angel nuts. They're family and you know how that can go," Gunn smirked. "Nobody can get a rise like family."

 

Gunn took a seat and motioned to the other chair. "Look, Lorne cleared you or you wouldn't be here now. I don't know, or want to know, the crap that's been happenin' in your little lab of horrors, but we need to figure out where you're gonna fit in."

 

"Not my lab--if it was, I'd close them all down." Graham sat. "I want to do something to help fix this disaster, stop the craziness, the torture and killing. I know some of these non-humans were a threat and I'm down with dealing with those, but I've also seen that it's not that simple and most of the ones getting swept up now aren't a threat to anyone."

 

"That's usually the way it works, ya know. The truly wack always seem to find a hidey hole, fly under the radar. The innocents pay the price more often than not." Gunn thought about all the lowlives that seemed to prosper and all the good folk he'd seen shoved down and done wrong over the years. "Not fair, but it’s how things seem to work."

 

"So how can I make up for some of the stuff I did?" Graham looked crestfallen. "I swear I never meant harm, but obviously what I meant and what happened aren't the same things."

 

"We got plenty of work for willing hands here, man, maybe too much. You'll have plenty of chances," Gunn reassured the man. "Think I'm gonna put you to work with another newcomer here. His name's Nick and I think you'll get along just fine. We're puttin' together a whole new route for refugees. The first part is gonna be dangerous because it'll be hard knowin' who to trust."

 

"That's true everywhere though, isn't it?"

 

***

 

Giles went over the rough draft of a plan to get both Buffy and Spike out of the labs and to safety. There would only be one chance to pull it off. Any error would likely result in one or both being killed or moved to different, and most certainly separate facilities. They had to make this one attempt count and Giles felt the weight of his choices upon him.

 

There needed to be a diversion, something that would engage the attention of the Global Human Initiative troops. Something that might even distract the medical personnel. If Giles could figure out a way to make that diversion also remove Quentin Travers from existence, all the better!

 

The group from the Lighthouse project was eager to lend a hand, or many hands actually.

 

"So you see, Wesley, we think we need someone inside for a short period to make certain that we know just where they are keeping both Buffy and Spike." Giles was glad that Willow had managed to put together secure lines and disposable cell phones for communications. Her technical skills were every bit as impressive and useful as any of her magical abilities.

 

"Yes, Rupert, I concur. Are you certain both must be rescued at the same time?"

 

"Buffy made it clear that she had no intention of leaving without Spike. Frankly, given the condition Mr. Miller said Spike was in, I think there won’t be an option to extract him later." Giles knew it only made the mission harder, but he fully understood Buffy's reasoning. It was both of them at once or they would only get one.

 

"I had no idea Spike had become such an important member of your team," Wes remarked. "Angel never seemed to think William the Bloody had anything much to contribute. Actually, he had little positive to say about him at all."

 

"Well, you can take whatever Angel had to say on the subject with a grain of salt," Giles huffed. "He has blinders on where Spike is concerned and no doubt more than a bit of a case of dog with a bone."

 

"Pardon?"

 

"Buffy," Giles explained. "Angel cannot have her, may not actually even wish to have her, in point of fact. However, that being said, Angel does not want anyone else to have her either, hence the comparison with a dog and a bone. He's returned to Sunnydale more than once to mark his territory when he felt it might be threatened." Giles sounded disgusted, but then he usually was regarding Angel.

 

Wes laughed. "Yes, he does seem to have some interesting attitudes towards Miss Summers. You do know about young Connor? It isn't as though Angel has put his life on hold for Buffy."

 

"Ah, yes," Giles sounded as amazed as he looked. "The miracle baby. Born not only to two vampires, but one of whom had previously been a large pile of dust here in Sunnydale."

 

"Angel was also a casualty there, if I am not mistaken," Wes reminded Giles. "Didn't Buffy send him to hell at one point?"

 

"A miracle child indeed." Giles shook his head and wondered just what possible reason the Powers had for young Master Connor.

 

"I do think Charles would be excellent as your mole, to get back to the issue at hand," Wes sobered.

 

"Will he be willing to put himself at risk in that way?"

"Courage is not something Charles Gunn is short on. He's a stalwart fellow and completely committed to fighting the good fight wherever it might take him." Wes looked out the window at the man in question, who was engaged in a conversation with the newcomer Graham Miller. "I think he would be perfect as the inside man. Furthermore, he looks the part. Very 'heroic American soldier' in appearance."

 

"I'll let you run the idea by him," Giles nodded. "Once he is on board, send him up here so that Willow can set up paperwork and we can get this ball rolling."

 

"I'll speak to him this afternoon," Wes promised. "He's befriended your actual soldier contact that you sent to us. Perhaps Mr. Miller will have some pointers that will make his deception easier. I'll talk to them both."

 

"Thanks, Wes," Giles concluded. "How are thing otherwise there on the farm?"

 

"So far, we couldn't have picked a more perfect spot. We've stayed under the radar, so to speak, and have plenty of land to make surveillance difficult should we come under suspicion. I have to say Lindsey has really done a stellar job with the whole operation. I never thought to have reason to praise him for anything. I suppose that is another thing we have to thank Darla for: a miracle baby and a miracle white hat."

 

"Somehow I doubt she would be that proud of the latter," Giles chuckled.

 

"Indeed!"

 

***

 

"You call me a disgrace as a Slayer. What's that make you, Quentin? An abomination of a Watcher?" Buffy glared at her nemesis.

 

Quentin drew himself up to his full height, looking for all the world like he had the stick up his butt that Spike was always accusing Buffy of having. "You should be thanking me, Miss Summers. We're moving you into the same cell as your latest pet vampire. You seem to prefer their company to humans. It would seem I am doing you a favor."

 

"Yeah, your favors are never in my best interest." Buffy narrowed one eye suspiciously. "I don't know what your game is, but I'm not fool enough to think this change is any kind of favor for me or for Spike."

 

"Think as you will, you always do," Travers dismissed her. "Not that it matters, Miss Summers, but I truly don't blame you for your failings. Clearly something in the process has ceased to work properly. Your lack of proper qualities is only a symptom of the real problem, a problem we are currently rectifying."

 

"Wow, you win the arrogance award and I know plenty of contenders,” Buffy scoffed. "You think your plans are the right answer to keeping the balance, that you know more than the Powers that set everything up centuries ago?"

 

"Balance is not the objective; it never should have been." Travers moved to the door to leave. "Earth and this dimension are for humans. Those demons that chose to stay should have paid the price for their decision long ago. We are merely doing clean-up."

 

"Yeah, this is a cleansing alright, just like some of those countries that do ‘ethnic cleansing’ and say it's a good thing. You're sick, Travers."

 

"I am pragmatic and effective, Miss Summers," Travers smirked, "And you are obsolete."

 

***

 

..."And with that signature, President Toledo of Peru opened his nation for any peaceful non-human seeking refuge. Neighboring countries have not expressed any strongly worded complaints about the policies in Peru and Ecuador, although President Lagos of Chile has gone on record that the neighboring nations will be monitoring the situation in the interests of national safety.

 

Meanwhile, in Europe, pockets of resistance have turned violent with attacks on bases established by the Global Human Initiative. There have been reports of sabotage of rail lines vital for transportation of non-humans and demons to containment centers. Disturbing video from a few of these attacks clearly show both humans and demons taking part in these terrorist activities.

 

"Well, I for one am feeling a little better knowing some humans are finally waking up!" Anya really was looking less tense than she had in quite a while. "I had begun to worry that the entire world full of human beings had lost their minds from fear."

 

"Plenty have," Xander admitted. "A lot of them that know something is wrong are keeping quiet about it too. Look at me!" He had been chafing at having to keep his thought to himself at work every day. Over and over he heard Max spew nonsense but knew he couldn't, shouldn't say a thing. He was trying to help by passing information and doing things in the free world for those he loved who were in hiding. It wasn't easy though and only getting harder.

 

He was worried about Anya too. She had so few filters on what she would say that he lived in dread that one day she would say the wrong thing to the wrong person and he would have to do something dramatic to keep her safe.

 

"Just remember, sweetheart, that we have to lay low. We're doing something, but we can't let anyone know we are." He hoped she took his words to heart, because their lives depended upon it.

 

"I understand that, Xander. If I didn't, I would have made a scene everyone would remember at any one of your work-related events. That man you work for is a bigot as well as an idiot."

 

"Can't argue with that," Xander agreed. "But Max has the eyes and ears of lots of powerful people here in Sunnydale. We've learned a lot that Giles and the resistance groups have needed to know just by keeping on the old goat's good side."

 

 

"Will we have to live like this forever, Xander? I don't do well living a lie," Anya truly looked uncomfortable.

 

"Not forever, baby. Just as long as it’s needed. Sooner or later, we'll join everyone else and try to bring sanity back to this poor old planet."

 

"I never thought I'd look forward to living underground in a cave with your friends as roommates!" Anya shook her head in amazement. "Not to mention that we'll have to finally close down the Party Box, just when I managed to get it making the sort of profits we had before our change in merchandise."

 

Xander pulled his fiancée into his arms for a comforting hug. There were times they felt all alone and isolated from everything they once knew. It wasn't a happy feeling. Xander looked forward to his trips to the caves, even if they had to be kept to a minimum lest anyone note his comings and goings. Anya made even fewer trips and was feeling the isolation even more acutely.

 

The bell over the door chimed, alerting them to a customer. The harried looking middle aged man looked around as if he feared he was being monitored.

 

"I'm looking for Rupert Giles. I was given to understand he is partial owner of this establishment?"

 

The British accent and tweed suit screamed Watchers Council. 'Great! Where's a witch when you need a reliable truth spell?' Xander tensed up.

 

"Mr. Giles no longer is involved in the shop. He left town as well." Anya pasted on her chirpiest smile. "We do still have the finest of party goods in the whole county, however. How can we help you?"

 

"You can help me by letting Giles know that Paul Jeffries, formerly of the Watchers Council, has an important bit of information he needs to hear as soon as possible."

 

"Assuming I did know how to reach Giles, and I am not saying I can, where can you be reached?" Xander hoped he wasn't making a big mistake, but he seemed to remember the name Jeffries as one of the Council members Giles had met with early on, one of those who went into hiding.

 

"I'm currently staying in a secure location nearby." He narrowed his eyes and appraised the young man. Suddenly he remembered where he had heard of this Alexander Harris. The lad was one of the humans who had banded together with the Slayer and risked life and limb in the good fight. Surely such a one would not have succumbed to the madness of the world. "I wouldn't think of taking a chance like this if it were not imperative. I volunteered to come here to let the old boy know what has happened. We tried to protect all the girls, but that wanker Travers or some of his goons managed to get his hands on the location of Davina White's safe house. She was looking out for five Potentials and we've lost all contact with her."

 

***

 

Starling switched off his cell phone and ran his hand over his face. "I tremble at the thought of what he'll want to do with them."

 

"You say something?" Barnes hadn't been eavesdropping on the British civilian, but judging by the man’s face, he wished he had.

 

"Nothing that concerns you," Starling snorted dismissively. "Your pay grade doesn't go that high, young man. Please inform Quentin Travers that I need to speak with him immediately."

 

"I'm a commissioned officer with the Human Global Initiative, not your lackey, Brit boy." Barnes sneered. "Get him yourself." He really hated all these civilians, not even good Americans, running around acting superior to good, loyal operatives like himself.

 

Starling sighed in annoyance and left to find his superior.

***

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 21

~*~

 

Buffy smiled at Spike, amazed at how relieved she felt being locked in the cell with her once powerful enemy. In truth, it had been a long time since she could really consider Spike other than at least a friend. At times, she had begun to think of him as something even more than that, but those were the days long past, when there had been time for softer emotions and possible futures.

 

“I think he wants to prove to everyone what a complete screw-up I am by being friendly with the enemy. Big eyes and big ears and more deadly than any wolf.” She pointed to the cameras outside the cell that moved as they did to capture them in any location in the cell. “Yup, that’s me, Buffy the Malfunctioning Slayer. Until all this,” she waved her hands to encompass the whole of the Initiative, “I might have even agreed with Travers, especially about being friendly with you.”

 

“Thanks ever so.” He raised his scarred eyebrow and frowned.

 

“I don't mean that as an insult; I know better now. Back before all this stuff began, I kinda had the whole ‘human and soul equals good/demon and no soul is bad’ party line in my head too. I didn't dust you because of the chip, even though I should have seen the parts of you from years ago that showed you were more than just a monster before the chip.” She spoke softly yet did nothing to try to prevent anyone from eavesdropping.

 

“Hey, still the Big Bad here,” Spike huffed. “Doesn’t mean I can’t think or have layers.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, but I remember when you didn't want the world to end. You helped me defeat Angelus and kept Acathala from sucking the whole world into hell.” She smiled at him fondly and remembered how Spike’s approach had surprised but not shocked her even then. “You were nice to my mom before you got the chip,” she reminded him. “I had to know that, deep inside, you weren’t just some slathering beast out to kill. I never took back your invitation. I went off to LA and just took you at your word that you would take Dru and leave. I never even considered that you might come back and attack my mom just because you could get in! It’s like I always knew you wouldn't lie to me or take advantage of our truce to hurt Mom.” She smiled brightly at him. “See, more than just a monster and that's a good thing.”

 

“Don’t kid yourself, Slayer; I’m still a vampire even if I’m leashed at the moment. We kill, we drink blood, it comes with the package.” He knew that Buffy knew all of this, but he wasn’t about to pretend to be a tamed kitten when he knew the tiger still liked red meat. “Yeah, I like this world. It was in my interests to keep it spinnin’. Not some altruistic, romance novel vampire here.”

 

Buffy snorted, “I'm not calling you a saint! But then again, compared to some of the human guys I've run across while in here, you might just make the grade.”

 

Spike couldn’t help but give her a half grin and a nod. He had to agree that he’d seen some things during his time as a captive that would have even given Angelus a run for his money. “So what’s this plan you think they have by puttin’ us together, not that I’m complainin’.”

 

“They’re watching every move, probably listening to every word too. I think Travers wants to be able to prove that I'm too comfortable with vampires and demons to be trusted to kill them like a Slayer should.” Spike guffawed as if the concept was clearly ridiculous. Buffy continued, “He's got this whole line of crap about how slayers are coming out flawed and can't do the job. He talks about Faith and how she took up with the Mayor and how she was okay with torturing and killing humans.”

 

Buffy sat on the single sleeping platform and closed her eyes. “Then there's my dating history with Angel. I probably don’t need to tell you the Council was less than pleased with that bit of Buffy drama! Now there’s my friendship with you. They know we’ve worked together. They know you’re off limits for dusting,” she opened her eyes and smiled playfully with a twinkle in said eyes, “Unless I decide to do the deed one day.”

 

“Travers wants a reason to end the whole Slayer line. He says we're obsolete. I guess it’s not enough to keep any kind of balance, he’s all hot to jump right to genocide on all demons so that there is no need for balance or a Slayer.” Buffy looked disgusted. “If the Powers had wanted to do that, they would have arranged for more than one teenage girl to be called to fight the ooglie-googlies. I mean, it’s not like all demons and vampires are located in Sunnydale, California. It’s also not like that’s the only hellmouth on earth either. They must have had a reason not to try to wipe out all the creatures of the night.”

 

Spike had to agree. He’d often thought about the inefficiency of the whole ‘one Slayer at a time’ system of fighting his kind. “So this Travers wanker’s decided he has a better plan than the Powers to Be? Must be some kind of megalomaniac. Know the type. Lived with one for about twenty years once, seen a few in the years since. It usually doesn’t end well for them.”

 

Buffy grinned widely, “We can only hope!”

 

“So he’s tryin’ to prove a point havin’ you here?” Spike had already given Buffy a once-over, visually checking for any serious damage. He could tell that she hadn’t had a day at the spa experience while in the labs, but she also wasn’t injured too badly. That thought gladdened him. “Who’s he tryin’ to prove it to?”

 

“Not sure. I know that the Council wasn’t all behind him when this started. My guess is he just wants justification for turning on his own Slayer and his sacred duty.” Buffy looked into the camera speaking more to their listeners. “Screw him. By the time this is over, it won’t matter what he thinks about Slayers. We’ll either be dead, along with a pretty large number of people and demons, or we’ll find some way to beat him and the world will know he was the biggest monster of all.”

 

Buffy reached over and tenderly cupped Spike’s face with one hand, “You look better than the last time I saw you. I was afraid you weren’t going to make it.”

 

Spike was surprised. He was more than half convinced his awareness of Buffy’s presence had been a hallucination. “You saw me?”

 

“Riley took me to see you. “ She shuddered at the memory. “I made him let me touch you, but you couldn't know who I was, you were such a mess. I was afraid to do more than brush my hand against you; you looked like one touch might turn you to ash.”

 

Spike ducked his head, more touched than she could ever know, “I knew it was you. Gave me strength to heal. Don't know how I knew, but I did.” He trembled slightly and Buffy removed her hand from his face, feeling slightly awkward.

 

“Thought my next sight would be the bowels of hell. Just didn't know if it would be the kind the Vicar warned about with the hellfire and torture, or Angelus' promise of dancin' with the devil and endless parties,” he smiled at Buffy a bit sheepishly.

 

The idea that Spike had been so without hope broke a piece of her heart. She had seen him in all sorts of dire circumstances over the years, but he was always so confident, resilient. If her coming to see him had given him that hope back, she was doubly glad Riley had given in. “Hey, I thought you liked this world. I seem to remember you talking about racing dogs and soccer and Happy Meals on legs. Why in a hurry for hell?”

 

“No hurry, pet, just expected it. I’m glad I’m still in this world--maybe not so much at the moment, but in the long term.” He smiled and cherished the crumb Buffy had unintentionally given to him: she had remembered his words from what felt like a lifetime ago. He had to mean something to her if she recalled his words so perfectly. He cherished the idea that she had listened and understood. “Still love this world. Got lots that makes it special: poetry, places so beautiful that even seeing ‘em only in moonlight can’t diminish the beauty.” He grinned impishly, “Some great American TV and junk food like that amazing bloomin’ onion the Bronze used to make. Excellent European beers and chocolate—it’s not just America with a corner on the good things market. Indian and Thai food, Russian ballet, the Great Barrier Reef that makes a vamp glad we don’t have to breathe so you can stay below as long as you like to look at all the creatures playin’ in the coral.” Spike looked wistful, “Lots of things I love that are only available here.”

 

Buffy felt a slight stab of jealousy at all Spike had been free to experience and see in his many years of living. She was never going to have that chance. She’d be lucky to survive her current situation and if she did, the next disaster was always waiting just around the corner. For a creature considered dead, Spike was the most alive person she’d ever met. “Sounds like you’re right, there’s a lot to love in this world. What else?”

 

“Art, for one. Got a feeling art in hell would be more Hieronymus Bosch and Giger than Van Gogh or that bloody Kincaid bloke who paints all those landscapes you want to just jump into. Brilliant music...likely a reason you never hear of the choirs of hell. Then there’s the perfect little things like flowers, ...you.” He hadn’t planned on that slipping out. Spike only hoped Buffy still had some lingering sympathy over his most recent injuries and that it would save him from a righteous fist to his nose.

 

Buffy felt her brain go into shock. Did Spike just say he loved her? Maybe he just meant the part about thinking she was perfect which was kinda nice actually. Love? She felt a slight swell of panic. She had to ask. “We've been friends for a while; um…when did you decide you love me?”

 

“Love’s not somethin’ you decide, pet. Love happens. Can't pick where or who. Don't know for certain when, but the whole reason I came back after Dru dumped me was to prove her wrong.” Spike decided he might as well lay it all out there. Really, what could he lose? He was in a place designed for eventual death, might as well die honest. “Dru knew. Told me I wasn't hers anymore, but yours. Said you were all around me. Said I was covered in you and in the light and I’d never be demon enough for her again.” He hazarded a glance at Buffy, who was looking anywhere but at him. “I thought I'd come back, kill you and prove her wrong but all I proved was that Dru's pixies were right, like they always are. I couldn't leave, not then, not knowing. Went for that gem partly because I thought about just being with you in the sunlight. Had to go and posture, of course, try to make you think I got it to better kill you. Instead I let you pull it off my finger, nearly burned.”

 

“Why?” Buffy looked confused and a little scared, “Why would you love me? I’m the Slayer, Spike, designed to destroy you? Why would you love me?”

 

“God, Buffy, don't you have any idea of the woman you are?! You’re fierce, strong, powerful, and bloody righteous. You’re a livin’ Valkyrie, a goddess who can burn me with just a look. At the same time, you're tender and loving. Kinder than anyone deserves and you forgive those you love even when you shouldn't.” His heart was in his eyes and once Buffy’s locked with his she couldn’t look away. “You're everything good and beautiful. Effulgent.” He smiled at her shyly, “All that in the most gorgeous package I've ever seen. You never staked me, but you slew me from the start.” He shook his head as it to shake loose a memory. “I think the first time I watched you at the Bronze the fire was lit. Each meeting only added to the flame. “

 

Buffy stared at him in silence. At least it didn’t look like it was in horror--shock maybe, but not revulsion. Perhaps he hadn’t made a terrible blunder letting her know. “Ever wonder why I never killed you?”

 

Buffy snorted and came out of her shocked stupor, “Cause I’m a great Slayer and wouldn’t let you?” She laughed, a sound utterly foreign in this place of anguish and pain.

 

He nodded, “That too, you're the best I've ever seen. Still I had you to rights more than once. Remember that Halloween, you in that godawful dress? Coulda drained you easy, but got caught up in how beautiful your eyes are, how much I wanted you. Lots of times I had my chance and let it go because the thought of the world without you in it was unthinkable. Wouldn’t be a world worth savin’without you.”

 

Buffy tried to wrap her mind around Spike loving her. She knew he could love; it wasn’t that. She had long ago had to admit to herself that Spike was capable of love. She had seen it in his care for Dru. She remembered how quickly he had turned away from an easy win, a chance to drain her dry with little or no effort, in that weird vampire-lovin' nightclub full of misguided kids. One threat to Dru and he’d made all the minions stand down! She’d seen a form of love directed at her mother and Dawn too. “So it’s lust?”

 

“No, Buffy, it’s love. So much love it spills over and even wound up covering your nearest and dearest. First your mum and little, sis but also--and I WILL kill you if you ever say a word--that band of misfit toys you surround yourself with too. That’s another part of your power...you make even a monster like me want to be a man and a good man at that.” He drew in a shaky breath. “Not like I can manage it, but you make me want to try.”

 

Buffy let the idea swirl around a bit and found that she was not as uncomfortable as she would have expected to be. She hadn’t really considered what she felt for this particular vampire. She knew she preferred the world with him in it. He made her laugh, made her think. He surprised her in a good way more times than she could count. She looked forward to patrol when he went with her; he made it fun. She liked discovering little things about him that he liked to think were hidden, like his intelligence and sensitivity. She’d known for a long while that she didn’t hate him and it was clear that she was far from indifferent, but love? She remembered how she felt when she had seen him a few weeks earlier, all damaged and defenseless. She cared, no way to deny that. But how could she possibly explain that with mere words, without giving false hope or dismissing him out of hand?

 

She took a deep breath and endeavored to explain. “I don't love you, Spike--well, at least not like that. I don't know what I feel or what it might turn into. I know that when I knew you were in here, I was scared for you but also comforted knowing you were close. I know that I feel stronger with you at my side. I know that when I saw you after Riley...just the thought of you hurt badly--or worse, dead--was unbearable.”

 

Spike’s voice was barely audible, “What's that mean?”

 

“I don't know. Maybe it’s because of all the stuff goin’ on otherwise. You might not have noticed, but we're prisoners of a bunch of well armed lunatics and the whole world is being turned into scorched earth. I'm supposed to keep the balance and I can't even keep one vampire that I care about from being so badly hurt that my heart breaks.” She threw up her hands in frustration, “Why bring love into it now?”

 

Spike shrugged and looked at her with an endearingly tilted head and hope in his eyes. “A bloke keeps bein’ taken to the edge of dust, he starts to think about all the things that are important. All the people, all the dreams, all the chances not taken, all the words that didn't get said. Suppose I just couldn't not say it.” He looked at Buffy and saw her start to retreat behind one of her walls. “Not askin’ anything from you, Buffy. Told you how I feel, don't expect anything back. Be a bloody miracle if you did feel somethin’ for the likes of me, and there’s not usually a miracle for monsters. Haven't got the best track record when it comes to gettin’ the response I want when I love anyway.” He gave a rueful laugh, “Just don’t make fun of the lovesick vampire, yeah?”

 

Buffy could see his heart on his sleeve as clearly as if it were literally there. “I wouldn't do that. I've seen how you can love. I get that your emotions are real.” Part of her wanted to immerse herself in this unexpected situation filled with a plethora of possibilities, but another part, the Slayer part, couldn’t let herself be sidetracked from the mission, the bigger picture. She sighed, “This isn't really the best time or place for this kind of discussion, even though I get why you said it. By the way, you’re not a monster; you haven’t been in a long time.”

 

Spike whispered, “So there’s hope?”

 

Buffy let out a small laugh of her own, “For the world or for us?”

 

“Both?”

 

She might not know what she felt towards, Spike but one thing she did know: she didn’t want to add to any hurt. “No promises. I think we have a much better chance of surviving this and getting out of here in one piece now that we're together. We've saved the world together before and I don't count us out this time either. About the emotional stuff…I really don't know. Spike, I'm pretty screwed up that way; I have been since Angel. I don't know if I CAN love, even if I want to.”

 

Spike scoffed, “Sweetheart, you ARE love.” Buffy looked at him sharply. “You got burned and learned a lot of wrong lessons. You were young and fresh and wonderfully open and giving and you had a master of emotional torture twist all that. “

 

Buffy felt her hackles rise as they always did when she went into protective mode regarding Angel. “Angel isn't like that!” She wasn’t nearly as angry as she would have expected.

 

“Angel is exactly like that. I lived with the wanker, remember. No soul…soul…didn't matter, same basic character. “

 

Buffy crossed her arms in front of her like an angry schoolteacher. “You knew Angelus! He changed completely with the soul.”

 

“Knew him after the soul too, pet.” Buffy looked surprised. She thought Angel had parted with the others right after the curse had forced a soul on him. “He stayed with us till the Boxer Rebellion. Got that soul in 1898, so he traveled with us a couple of years after that. Only thing different was he fed on people he decided were worthless. Didn’t see much different in him otherwise. In fact, didn’t know about the soul till after. Next I saw him was on a submarine with a bunch of Nazis and the origins of this group of rotters.” He gestured around them, implying the Initiative in general. “Had that soul then too, but it didn’t stop him from sirin’ this dyin’ American sailor who clearly didn’t want any part of that kind of eternal life.”

 

Buffy looked shocked. Obviously there were stories that Angel hadn’t thought to share about his background. ‘Why does that not surprise me?’

 

“Liam was always drawn to innocence and beauty. Liked to corrupt the pure, even as a human. Had a pretty predictable M.O. too: stalks and plays the mystery man, gets their attention. Hands them partial truths and outright lies when it best suits him, gives sentimental gifts. Likes to pulls you close only to push you away as soon as you start reciprocating.” Buffy couldn’t help but recognize the beginning of her relationship with Angel. If Spike was right, it was no different than Angelus on the hunt. She felt a chill.

 

When it looked like Buffy was listening and not immediately gong on the defensive, he continued, “Difference was Angel with a soul wanted to possess you, consume you in a different way. Angelus, no soul, wanted to possess you like he did Dru...make you his great masterpiece, total corruption of all that innocence and you forever in his power. You bein’ the Slayer was icin’ on his cake.”

 

“Angel, all soulful, left you, told you it wouldn't work, but he never really let you go. Always making sure your heart stays his, that he possesses you even if he can't have you completely.” He caught her jaw taking on a firmness that should have alarmed him. “Know this makes you angry and I’m not sayin’ it to rile you. You say you can’t love, blaming yourself for that whole disaster. Darling, you were played by a master then left to feel that the fault was yours. He was the one a couple of hundred years old, the one who never anchored that soul or even tried to later when he got it back again. He's the one who should have known he was doin’ the same to you he always did as Angelus. All you did was love the soddin’ bastard with your whole innocent heart.”

 

“Well, that shows that I'm not a good enough judge to allow myself to love. If I make a mistake, people die.” Buffy wiped at an unwelcomed tear.

 

Spike was courting that broken nose again, he knew it. Still, he couldn’t let this remarkable but damaged girl keep on blaming herself, shutting herself off. Even if she never brought herself to love him, she was made to love someone. To hold all that love inside, to not share it, would be a crime. “That pimple-faced playboy wannabe who hurt you last year was human, right?”

 

Buffy was still dwelling on what Spike had said about Angel and their relationship and had to think fast to catch up to what he was talking about. “Parker? Yes.”

 

“That mistake rule out all humans?”

 

“No! “ Of course it didn’t. She had blamed herself, but no one had died. She’d tried again with Riley. Her face crumpled at that thought. Once more she had loved someone and they turned into a monster.

 

“Angel didn't deserve your love, but that shouldn't rule out all vampires. We're not alike. I'm not Angelus; William was no Liam. I'd love you better than Angel with that soul any day,” Spike vowed.

 

Buffy shared her latest realization. “What about Riley? He’s human, was a good guy, but look at what my love has done to him.”

 

Spike laughed, “You takin’ credit for the shortcomings of Finn now? Buffy, he was no better than Liam. Bein’ human’s got nothin’ to do with it and neither does your love. He had character flaws from the start. Couldn’t handle you havin’ the power, for one thing. Didn’t appreciate the incredible woman you are. Always had a touch of the bully in him. Besides, I don’t think you actually loved the sadist anyway.”

Buffy resisted the temptation to agree, she was trying to make a point after all. “That’s because I still love Angel.” There, take that!

 

Instead of shutting up, Spike merely nodded, “I still love Dru. ‘Sides, doesn't that prove you can still love?” He gave her the full head tilt and looked deep into her eyes, “Are you still IN love with him? Still have dreams of some happy ever after with Peaches?”

 

Buffy knew that if she lied and said yes, it would end the conversation, but it would also hurt Spike. Besides, they were being honest with one another, and in her heart of hearts she knew a yes would be a lie. “No, I know better. I know we'd never make it and not just because of the curse. We've grown apart. I don't know him now…if I ever did…and he only knows the 16-year-old girl in love for the first time. I'm not her. I still love him though, I always will.”

 

Spike swallowed and bit back on his frustration that Buffy was still seeing his grandsire as someone worthy of her time and love. Still, he had to think of the girl, not his own issues. “Makes sense. He was your first…everything. The word is ‘first’ though; that usually means others come later.” He smiled at her with just a hint of mischief. “I'm fine with that. Don't mind him being your first love, first lover, as long as I've got a shot at being your last. I don't leave, Buffy.”

 

Buffy remembered all the drama she had witnessed between Spike and Dru and thought about how many decades he had put up with her bad treatment. “I believe you mean that.” She felt her heart lurch as she realized she yearned for someone to love her with that loyalty and intensity. “I wish I could be what you want, give you what you need. I see things in you that my heart cries for...someone who will stay, who takes all of me and is okay with it, who can be my equal partner. I just can't love, not again.”

 

Spike looked around and thought about their current situation, then closed his eyes. “You can, but yeah, not now, I get that. Probably shouldn't have said anything, but you never know when time is gonna run out. It’s important to me that you know that no matter what… look, if you never feel anything for me but kindness and compassion like you already do, that’s fine. What I want you to take away from this is that you are cherished, adored. I want you to know that not everybody who loves you walks away. Only thing that could make me leave is if these bastards finally do off me.”

 

Buffy felt bile rise along with her panic at the thought. Her face showed her horror at the idea of losing him and it made his heart swell.

 

“Don’t say anything now, Slayer. Let’s get clear of here, save the world, make it happy for puppy dogs and kiddies again as well as peaceful demons and their spawn. I'm not asking you for anything, love. I'm hoping; I can't stop that. Meanwhile, I'll just love you, try not to push and wait for you to add another number to that ‘first’ that's holding you back.”

 

Buffy bit her lower lip, “What if it never happens or if it takes me forever?”

 

Spike’s eyes sparkled, “I'm not getting any older, pet. Got all the time in the world. You're worth any wait.”

Buffy cleared her throat, “So…partner mine, any thoughts on how we might blow this popsicle stand?’

 

***

Chapter Text

Author's Notes:
A/N Brief dialogue from “Dead Things” written by Steven S. DeKnight, and one put-down compliments of my eldest sister. Also, one mention of events in an episode not covered in this story but referred to as if it had happened before events of this tale begin.

~*~

Chapter 22

~*~

 

"Fang boy seemed to think this little plan had legs," Gunn admitted. "You see any reason he might be wrong?"

 

"I'm still seeing a long life for you when you warble the Gilbert and Sullivan, so that's a positive." Lorne had actually enjoyed Charles surprising him with a tune from H.M.S. Pinafore when asked to sing. It was a nice relief from badly performed R & B tunes. It seemed every demon he'd read lately had imagined themselves to be the next Usher or Lil' Kim.

 

"I'm down for that," Charles smiled. "So I got a crash course in Army 101 from Miller back at the Farm. I'm hoping it can be a quick James-Bond-and-out because that place sounds like a soul killer."

 

"It's not pretty," Lorne agreed somberly.

 

Willow handed Gunn a manila envelope. "I don't think I've forgotten anything. All the documents should hold up. We tried to cover everything."

 

Gunn thumbed through his new identity. "Richard Roundtree? Who came up with that?"

 

Willow blushed. "Xander really was holding out for John Shaft, but we thought maybe there were fans of 70's blaxploitation films that might snap to it so we settled on the actor's name."

 

Gunn gave her a 'who are you people?' look. "Why not just give me the name Fake Soldier or I.M. Spy?"

 

Giles looked flustered. "I don't think anyone will catch on. It really was intended as an homage. Xander has spent far too much time watching films and does have his heroes."

 

"How about Lando Calrissian then? At least Billy Dee would be less obvious."

 

"We can change it," Willow promptly took back the various I.D.s. "We haven't done the computer hacking yet, so that's not a problem.

 

Charles smiled at the uncomfortable girl, "Just messin' with you, freckles. I don't really care what you call me as long as I can remember to answer to it."

 

Giles looked at the notes he had made. "Miller able to coach you enough to pass for military, do you think?"

 

"Got some old R.O.T.C. training to help out too." Gunn remembered how much he had resented his grandmother pushing that on him at the time. Never thought it would come in handy. "I can use that and Hollywood up the rest. Not planning any Band of Brothers relationships; just get in and scope it all out, pass on messages and then go A.W.O.L."

 

"Yes, the sooner you can accomplish that, the safer for all involved," Giles nodded in agreement. "Xander will be working with you as well; he has access to certain helpful memories of army life."

 

"He was in the military?" Charles had met Harris briefly when he had first arrived and the boy didn't seem old enough to have done a tour of duty.

 

Willow smiled, "Hellmouth style. Long story about enchanted Halloween costumes and chaos-loving magicians."

 

Gunn couldn't help the confused look at that. "And that gets turned into military protocol, how? Maybe I'd be better off just having a movie marathon to study."

 

"You might find his knowledge surprisingly helpful." Giles assured him. "It was the best aftereffects from magic I've encountered. Quite useful, actually."

 

"Will do then. I'm happy to help out, but I was looking forward to running the South American route for our little underground railroad. Once we get your Slayer and vampire out of that place, I can get back to plan A." Gunn only hoped there would still be things to do along that line after he did a short role as a mole in the lab.

 

"Any chance your mojo is able to pinpoint where I can find the two of them pretty quickly?" Charles looked hopefully at Willow. "I've heard you wield a pretty powerful wand."

 

Willow sighed wistfully, "Sadly, a powerful sorcerer beat me to it where the labs are concerned. It's shielded pretty heavily from any magic or we would have already mounted a rescue."

 

"He gonna be a problem?" Gunn noticed their look of confusion so he clarified, "The Dark Lord sorcerer?"

 

"Ethan is no longer a problem," Giles assured the young man. "His handiwork, however, continues to be a stumbling block for our best assets."

 

"I think you're selling our own Hermoine short here," Lorne suggested. "Maybe magic won't let us get the Slayer and Spike out of there, but my guess is there's still enough magical talent in this little group to do some damage otherwise. Maybe as part of the diversion?"

 

***

 

Xander and Anya were whispering their argument, only stopping for the waiter to deliver their meal. "I don't like it. There have to be at least five other guys on your crew that Max could send!"

 

"I don't like it either, honey, but I can't say no to the boss. The problems at the San Jose site need to be stopped muy pronto. It's costing Max an arm and a leg."

 

"I wish I had my powers, I'd make him pay up," Anya vowed.

 

"Much as I find that idea to be poetic justice, it doesn't stop the fact that I'm the lucky grunt he decided on to go in for the fix." Xander took his girlfriend’s hand gently and caressed her palm. "I promise I'll only be a day, maybe two. Besides we'll have plenty to do here fairly soon. Can't be away too long."

 

Anya sighed and pouted slightly, "I'm going to miss all our orgasms too, Xander." She looked at him with mischief in her eye and spoke in a normal tone, not caring if they could be heard. "I just got that new Wonder Woman costume and was hoping you could be Steve Trevor this weekend and conquer the Warrior Princess of the Amazons with your manly seductions."

 

Xander blushed and looked around to see if Anya's latest sexual TMI moment had been noticed. "That'll make a great incentive for me to wrap things up quickly."

 

Xander leaned over and kissed her gently. "Now I need to go make a quick pit stop. If the waiter comes by, I'd like another Lite. Are we okay, honey?"

 

Anya looked put upon but resigned, "Yes, we're fine. I just miss you when you aren't around."

 

Xander headed for the men's room, completely missing the predatory looks being given to his fiancé by the dark haired man in the next booth. If he had, he would not have been pleased to see the man was sporting the brown uniform favored by the goon squad that injured Tara.

 

Warren Mears sidled up to the hot looking, dirty-talking blonde whose date had just conveniently left the table. "So how did you get so beautiful?"

 

Anya stared at the young Lothario wannabe. "Okay, does that line usually work?"

 

"It’s not a line when the lady is a stone fox, as you clearly are," Warren offered his hand. "I'm Warren, but if you'll consider not wasting that Wonder Woman costume your date didn't fully appreciate, I'll answer to anything you like. Personally, I thought she and Batman would burn holes in the Universe if they ever got together. I could even bring over some of the cool gadgets I've made that actually work, unlike the fantasy Batman gear."

 

Anya looked at the boy as if he'd grown an additional head. "My date is actually going to be my husband and he will be right back. I doubt he will like having his fiancé being hit on by someone else."

 

Warren dismissed her gentle brush-off and continued his pursuit. "It'd be a big trade up, Princess.” His eyebrows tweaked and his voice lowered on the word big.

 

"Xander is nicely formed and gives me excellent orgasms," Anya waved a hand dismissively at Mears. "I don't need anyone else. I'm sure you can find someone else interesting to you; if not here, maybe at the comic book store?"

 

Warren stood and glared at the girl who had just shut him down without hesitation. "You don't know what you're missing."

 

Anya gave him a wilting stare, "I already have one ass in my pants, and I don't need or want another." She looked towards the restrooms, hoping Xander would soon be coming back to the table. This strange boy was annoying and didn't seem to be able to take no for an answer.

 

Warren bristled. Just who did this bitch think she was anyway? How dare she insult him when he had just offered to take care of needs that clearly the floppy haired idiot she was with wasn't meeting! He seemed to think he recognized the man from somewhere. 'Yeah! He's the guy that stopped my crew from putting the hurt on that kid.' He knew him from somewhere else too. Where was it?

 

Anya cleared her throat to get his attention, "I think you'd better leave before Xander comes back. He has strong hands and a well developed upper body. You wouldn't want him to have to make you leave."

 

Xander. Yeah, that name rang bells. Wasn't Xander the name of the Slayer's friend? Warren seemed to remember the man as part of that bitch's entourage. He hadn't appreciated her nosing into his business last year when his robot, April, had come to town. That wasn't Slayer business! She was supposed to have been busy dealing with the first Initiative and that Adam thing, not messing with his affairs!

 

'So her boyfriend's a friend of the demon-loving Slayer, and one who defended a possible demon himself recently. Wonder where little Miss Wonder Woman stands on the issue?' He gave her an oily smile that didn't reach his eyes, "Well, can't say I didn't offer."

 

"Didn't offer what?" The voice came from directly behind Mears. He stood and turned to look at the clearly ticked off face of Harris--yeah, that was his name.

 

"This guy heard me talking about my costume and made rude suggestions about taking your place while you were out of town," Anya answered rather too truthfully.

 

"Did he really?" Xander gave a deadly look at the man. "I'm sure you let him know he didn't have to worry about us and our personal business."

 

"I did, but he wasn't wanting to listen," Anya rolled her eyes. "He seems to think he's a real ladykiller."

 

"Just a demon killer," Warren corrected with a smirk. "I don't suppose that should worry you now, should it?"

 

Anya hoped she didn't show any fear but gulped nervously. "Not at all."

 

"I make it a point to be sure we clear all that scum out, even the ones that don't look it," Mears offered a veiled threat and eyed Anya up and down speculatively. "But like you said, you don't need to worry. Also, you don't need to thank me for helping to keep you safe either."

 

Xander had had enough of this. "Anya's perfectly safe with me. No one is going to hurt or bother her while I'm around to stop it." He clenched his fists and noticed Warren giving them a glance.

 

"I'm always available to any lady in need," he smirked at Anya. "I'll just rejoin my group then, seeing that the lady is already spoken for." He nodded at the pair and walked away.

 

"I don't like that man," Anya shivered. "He gives me the creeps."

 

"Yeah," Xander agreed. "Well, it's over and you don't need to worry about him anymore."

 

Anya looked over and, seeing the malice in Warren's eyes boring into her, hoped Xander was right.

 

***

 

The orderly adjusted the restraints holding Buffy on the gurney while a six-man team of soldiers held Spike at bay. "She's a bloody human being, you nits!" Spike had never hated the crippling chip in his head more than now when he could have easily and happily ripped all of the wankers to pieces and saved his girl from more pain and humiliation.

 

Buffy's strength had once more been compromised by drugs administered earlier in the day. She and Spike had known it had to be a precursor to something unpleasant.

 

The orderly blushed and muttered, "Nothing too bad this time, miss. They're going to do some brain scans, no cutting." He offered an apologetic smile to Buffy and a nervous glance at the growling vampire.

 

It was downright unnatural, these two! If the girl really was human, it was even odder--if you asked his opinion. Of course no one did, but the consensus was that the caring relationship observed between the so-called Slayer and the vampire was nothing less than disgusting and certainly shameful.

 

Ever since they put the two together, it was obvious that they knew one another well and had genuine concern for each other. Fry had never seen the likes of it and he'd been with the Initiative since Maggie had first set up shop in this town.

 

He'd seen other demons demonstrate emotional attachments, of course, but not vampires and not towards a human either. Maybe the brass were right and, in spite of all the test results Fry had heard about, the girl wasn’t human after all. 'Maybe a demon related to vampires. Got a lot of the same powers and strengths.' That could explain the sick relationship.

 

He tightened the straps as tight as he could without cutting off her circulation and wheeled the gurney out of the cell. 'Be glad to get away from that one,' he thought as he glanced at the vampire with the eerie golden eyes.

 

The guards backed out, weapons still trained on the vampire. They all breathed easier once the cell was secured and the electricity turned back on to power the field.

 

Buffy was conscious, and she was also angry. She hated having her power diminished like this. 'Did I ever really say I just wanted to be a normal girl? What was I thinking?'

 

The elevator had piped-in music, evidently for the questionable enjoyment of the staff. No self-respecting demon would listen to badly done instrumental versions of J-Lo hits without going off the spool and ripping out wires.

 

Buffy was spared further musical indignities when the elevator door opened with a friendly ding on sub-level seven. The orderly pushed her out into an overly bright, wide hallway, then left her to check in at the nurses’ station. "Summers here for scheduled scans," he announced.

 

The desk nurse clicked on her keyboard, then printed out a small stack of papers for Fry to fill out. "Man, there's more paperwork here than in the regular army," he quipped. "I didn't think that was even possible."

 

The nurse chuckled and offered her sympathy.

 

There was a commotion nearby. Buffy could barely twist her head far enough to see what was happening. She didn't need special powers to hear what was being said, however; both participants were perfectly loud and clearly angry.

 

A thuggish looking guy in black leather was walking towards the small group of people, not giving Buffy as much as a glance. She thought he looked familiar, but couldn't put a name to his face. 'I think he was one of the wetworks guys that tried to kill me when I was in Faith's body!' What was going on here?

 

"There has to be a mistake, Starling," the woman's clipped, upper class British accent sounded panicked. "These girls are Potentials; they are under the protection of the Council. It is how it has been for centuries!"

 

"They are renegades and have been ever since you and the other traitors tried to hide them. What did you think would happen when we eventually found your location?"

 

"These girls have done nothing wrong," the woman continued. "If there is any retribution for our decision, let the blame fall on me!"

 

"Oh, it will, Davina, I assure you."

 

"What is to become of them?"

 

"They'll be processed and tested, nothing too invasive unless Travers decides it's necessary. We've been getting enough information from Summers though," he motioned towards Buffy with his head.

 

Davina looked at the wan girl on the gurney with a look of pure horror. "My God, what have you been up to?"

 

"Winning the war, Davina, as we should have done long since." The man referred to as Starling then gave orders to the soldiers surrounding five young, frightened girls. The youngest couldn't have been more than eight or nine. "Put these girls in the holding pit with the female demon spawn."

 

"You can't be serious, Crispin," Davina sputtered. "They'll tear the girls apart once they sense what they are." She had sworn to protect the girls with her life, only for it to come to this.

 

"Maybe, maybe not. I suppose we'll find out soon enough though," Starling motioned to the soldiers for the girls to be herded away from the incensed Watcher.

 

With a grim look, he then waved the black clad assassin to his side. "Davina here was wondering about retribution, Weatherby. I see no reason to keep the lady waiting."

 

The wetworks veteran grinned diabolically and neatly snapped Davina's neck. "Clean up in aisle six," he chuckled as he stepped over her lifeless body.

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 23

~*~

Paul Jeffries paced nervously in the tunnel outside Scoobie Central. When Giles came within reach, he clutched at his arm, a desperate look on his face. "They found Davina and her girls."

 

"Dear Lord!" Giles paled. "How many?"

 

"Five. Her own Potential, Shelly, and four others." Jeffries wrung his hands in despair. "For the life of me, I cannot see how they found them. The safe house was in the middle of nowhere in the Colorado Rockies."

 

"Isn't Quentin still using the Council's seers?" Giles pondered.

 

"Those few who remained loyal to him, yes. Not the finest or most talented. Athenea and her coven used a dimensional rift to escape when they first foresaw this debacle and before that avenue was closed down."

 

Giles gave his fellow former Watcher a speculative look. “Has a new Slayer been called?" Giles prayed the unfortunate girl would be one of those still safely in hiding.

 

"Nieves says his girl, Daniela Santiago, was Chosen. They left San Juan for Vieques as soon as we realized Travers had gone off the reservation. There's less chance of them being discovered there. Too many military still around the main island to risk staying closer to home. They had thought to hide in the rainforest, but as it's a national park, it would be right in the government’s backyard, so to speak. They decided on the move to one of the lesser islands. There are more than a few hidden caves there." Jeffries spoke in a clear but distracted voice.

 

"At least we know that the PTB are still active if a girl has been Chosen," Giles sighed in relief. He had begun to worry that the madhouse once known as planet Earth had been cut off and left to fend for itself.

 

"Do we?" Leave it to Jeffries to douse the flame of hope with the water of reality. "We have always assumed the passing on of the power involved active involvement of the Powers, but what if it isn't? What if it was a process set in place early on that merely occurs automatically now?"

 

"I prefer to think we are not abandoned here," Giles admitted. "The Deist worldview is not one that appeals to me. Most things spiritual involve belief rather than proof. I choose to believe. To do otherwise is far too bleak for my tastes."

 

"Far be it from me to rain on your parade, Rupert." Jeffries began to pace once more. "We have the new Slayer and your girl in our arsenal, but both are rather useless at the moment. One in God only knows what condition and held captive, the other in hiding and in fear for her life." He shook his head, "Bleak days indeed."

 

***

 

Warren eyed the front door of the Party Box with narrowed eyes. 'Bitch thinks she's too good for me!' He'd obsessed over Anya's flat turn down of his come-on all night. He was important! Lots of girls were begging for him to notice them! He was a force to be reckoned with in the fight for humanity, for Pete's sake. She should have been honored. The kinky chick should be coming onto him!

 

He had tried to find out all he could about this Anya Jenkins by using Internet search engines. It was as if she had just popped into existence in 1998 from out of nowhere. She’d graduated from Sunnydale High, but he couldn't find out where she had gone to school before that--or anything else for that matter. There was something fishy going on with the girl. He really needed to get a blood sample to run that DNA test on her.

 

"Whatcha doing, Warren?" Mears jumped nearly out of his skin before turning around and threatening a slap at his minion.

 

"Nothing that concerns you, monkey boy," he sneered at Andrew.

 

"Hey, that's not fair. My summoning flying monkeys was wicked cool. You make me sound like I'm in a circus." Andrew sometimes wondered why he even hung around with Warren. True, there were all the great sci-fi inventions the guy came up with and Warren always seemed to be so in control and confident. Andrew followed Warren’s pointed stares at the Party Box store. "You planning a party?"

 

"Huh? Oh, no. Met the owner the other night and just wondered how any business selling cheap crap like they sell can stay in business. I mean, I can see sales a few times a year and for birthdays, but how do they make a profit?"

 

"I don't know. They have plenty of cool, cheap gizmos and toys along with the party stuff. I mean, they even have stuff from Red Dwarf you can't find just anywhere."

 

Warren rolled his eyes. "So you shop there regularly, Zamfir?"

Andrew flinched at the reference to his pan flute playing that he once proudly used to summon demons, including his personal favorite: the aforementioned flying monkeys. That was before anything demon was uncool of course. Now they were in the business of getting rid of demons, not summoning them.

 

"I shop. They even have old party favors with a Babylon 5 theme! You can't even find those on eBay." Andrew squirmed, as he often did when Warren turned his full attention on him. "Besides, Anya's nice. Her boyfriend likes the same comic books I do and she knows all the characters and never makes me feel like she thinks I'm being childish."

 

"Yeah, Harris. Met him too." Warren glanced at the Box. "He was a good buddy of the Slayer once upon a time."

 

"I only met him once, but we got talking about Marvel versus DC and he was a cool guy." Andrew smiled at the memory. "So if you aren't planning a party, whatcha doing?"

 

"I'm wondering how I can get a blood sample out of the bitch behind the counter."

 

"Anya? Why would you want that?" Andrew asked nervously. He was actually kinda tired of bothering all the shopkeepers who had been decent towards him.

 

"Because, nimrod, I don't buy that she's just the girl next door, if you get my meaning," Warren had a look of single-minded obsession. Oh, yeah, he was gonna prove the bitch wasn't normal. Teach her not to turn down a perfectly hot guy like Warren Mears.

 

***

 

“Are they going to knock you out and ship you up here too?” Dawn’s voice made it clear she was still quite unhappy at the way her own wishes had been subverted, even though she was finding herself enjoying the work at the refugee camp.

 

Tara chuckled, a sound that warmed Willow’s heart. “N-n-o, not yet. W–w-willow doesn’t think I’m up for trav-v-veling just y-yet.” The stutter annoyed Tara to no end. She had finally gotten past the stutter that was caused by nerves, only to have the residual effects of her injuries bring it back! She felt as though something precious and hard won had been stolen from her. “I n-n-need to g-get off the phone n-n-now. Here’s W-w-will. L-l-love you, Dawnie.”

 

Willow took the proffered phone from her girl’s hand before Tara could drop it. Her strength was improving, but Tara’s endurance was still minimal. Small steps frustrated both of them, but at least there was improvement.

 

“Hey, Dawnie? You talking to me yet?”

 

“Well, I didn’t hang up,” Dawn sounded friendlier than in previous calls. Small steps there too.

 

“How are things really going up there? I’d ask Angel, but…you know how little Giles trusts him and Angel was always good at the kinda-sorta sharing method when we needed to be total in the know sharing.” Willow well remembered when Angel was part of the team. How many times had he given only partial warnings or none at all?

 

“Things are going okay,” Dawn felt important being asked to give a report they could rely upon. They could have asked to talk to Cordy, but they asked for her instead. Maybe they didn’t think she was just a dumb kid after all. “We’ve got more refugees than we can handle, but there are plans to start sending new ones south once that gets set up. Nick Perkins is already in Mexico setting things up with this guy who runs a small cruise line. I think that will help take the pressure off here.”

 

“Pressure?” Willow furrowed her brow in concern. “What’s the problem?”

 

“Nothing you wouldn’t expect. Lots of different kinds of demons all with different diets and habits all living on top of one another. It gets…interesting at times.” Dawn smiled, remembering the negotiations between a clan of F’Nakins and Durishens just the previous day. Both had claimed the same section of the cave they had been assigned. The F’Nakins said they had to have a northern exposure to do their religious rituals and the Durishens, who had no religion, said they needed the minerals that dripped down the walls to help with fertility. “I never knew demons were all so different! It’s kinda like the U.N. in a way, and I never trained to be a diplomat.”

 

Willow smiled, “I’ll bet you’ll have tons of skills when things get back to normal. Are you learning some of the languages?”

 

Dawn had shown an early gift for demon languages that had Giles all atwitter at the thought of the girl’s aptitude for work with the Council once things were set to rights.

 

“A few. Of course, some of them you can only read. The human vocal chords can’t pronounce some of them,” Dawn stated proudly. It made her feel special that Willow was treating her as someone with skills to offer. She wasn’t just the Slayer’s kid sister, former Key with no purpose any longer--even if they had manhandled her into migration.

 

“I found out I’m pretty good with babies,” Dawn giggled. “Connor is a cutie-pie. You’d never guess his parents were two of the worst vampires in, like, ever.”

 

“Yeah, how about that?! My brain went kaplooie when I heard that Angel was a daddy. Darla was dusted years ago, but the whole thing with her coming back human, then getting vamped again and becoming a mommy is unbelievable. I know L.A. has a reputation for weird, but that is way beyond the kind of weird I’m used to!”

 

Willow ran her hands gently through Tara’s hair, trying to soothe some of the tension she felt coming off her girlfriend. She was going to have to try to convince Tara to get more rest. The injured girl was starting to chafe at her limitations. Willow was glad in a way, because it meant she was truly on the mend at last. “I’d better keep this short. Anything you guys need?”

 

“We’re a little short on some supplies, but Angel has been working deals with some friendly townspeople nearby,” Dawn rolled her eyes at the memory of the fuming vampire ranting to Cordy about price gouging.

 

“I hope he’s being discreet!” Willow didn’t like the idea of tipping anyone not firmly in their corner off about their camp.

 

“He’s being careful,” Dawn amended. “I think he’d have no problem eating anyone who betrayed us and, more important, that’s what they think too.”

 

“I don’t know if I’d call threatening being discreet,” Willow shook her head.

 

“Only one guy and only once. I don’t think the guy was really a troublemaker, more like greedy,” Dawn confided. “There are lots of people getting rich off of all this misery.”

 

“I know. Some of the labs are using the more peaceful demons as slave labor before killing them,” Willow pursed her lips in disapproval. “They work them to death.”

 

Dawn shivered. “That’s not right.”

 

“None of this is right,” Willow declared.

 

***

 

Andrew looked at the small device in Warren’s hand. “What’s that?”

“This, princess, is a listening device,” Warren grinned evilly. “Anything Miss Too-Good-To-Play says that might raise a few eyebrows will come right through this thing and onto my trusty PC audio file program.” He waggled his eyebrows at Andrew’s shocked face. “Besides, if she’s on the up and up human-wise, other things might just rise listening to her audio porn, so no loss. The chick’s got quite a mouth on her…and wouldn’t I like to find out the details on that personally. Really Harris needs to put a cork in her if he doesn’t want every red-blooded man around sniffing her skirts.”

 

Andrew felt uncomfortable with the whole conversation but didn’t want to give his supposed friend any more ammunition to hit him with when he wanted to belittle him. Still, he couldn’t quite hide the disapproving expression that crossed his face.

 

“Oh, don’t get your panties in a twist,” Warren chided. “I’m authorized to investigate any suspected demon like this. It’s perfectly legal.”

 

Not for the first time, Andrew wondered at all these new powers and laws that sooner or later seemed to target people he liked. Anya had not only sold him his precious magic pan flute and shown him how to use it, but she had taken the time to write out a list of demons he shouldn’t try to summon with it. Who knew if he would have survived calling up one that might have eaten him before he could give it orders?! He watched in dismay as Warren crossed the street and entered the Box. ‘Maybe I should warn her to be careful of what she says.’ Yeah, and make an enemy out of Warren? That would toast his onions for sure!

 

At first, it had seemed almost noble being a part of the Youth For Humans group. ‘I mean what part of pro-human screams Brute Squad?’ Andrew pictured sweet, bespectacled Mr. Griflyx and then his fellow Star Trek fan, Dwayne, and some other demons that had been nicer to him than most humans over the years. Now they were all gone, one way or another, and he, Andrew Wells, Summoner of Demons, had had a hand in getting rid of them.

 

When he was in their meetings or marching and chanting about ‘Humans Only’ it all felt great, like being a superhero, a champion of his species. It was only later when he was alone that the specters attended his sleep, that the half remembered moments came back to him. Moments when he laughed and played and enjoyed the company of so many of these demons that he was now helping to eradicate. Moments when they didn’t talk down to him or treat him like a freak or helped him like Anya had done. That was when he questioned it all.

 

Warren was so smart and strong and Andrew had always looked up to him as a born leader. He’d made this sound almost holy, like a crusade. Face it, the power was a heady feeling. Holding the lives of others in your hand was a rush! Like being a kind of god in a way. Andrew had enjoyed being a practitioner of the arcane arts and the way it made him feel special. He couldn’t even do that now because of the laws, not unless he wanted to be put in one of the camps himself. The only time he still felt special was when the youth group was getting patted on the back for ‘cleaning out the scum’ or when they marched and chanted together. Ah, but when he was alone….

 

Andrew was feeling more and more like Rogue lately. The 1981 Rogue was a proud member of Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but in time she started listening to Professor X, started remembering those people whose memories she had absorbed, so she chose to join the X-Men instead. He could turn good like Rogue and maybe the ghosts would let him sleep again.

 

Jonathan seemed more at peace since he stopped hanging with Warren. Short Stuff was still as nervous as a cat with three tails and more than a little paranoid, but he didn’t seem torn like Andrew was and he didn’t have dark circles under his eyes from disturbed sleep. That must be nice.

 

Andrew had always been overlooked; he was used to being no one special. Always Tucker’s brother, never Andrew Wells, the powerful mage who could cause Sunnydale High’s Juliet to flee the stage mid performance chased by flying monkeys. Not the guy who could do higher math in his head almost as fast as a calculator. Not the guy who could quote dialogue from entire science fiction or James Bond films without missing a word. Not the guy who had mad skills, if only someone just wanted them, noticed them. No, he was the geek, the loser, the butt of jokes. Even Warren sometimes forgot his name and they’d been friends since grade school.

 

All Andrew wanted was to be important to someone. He didn’t need the whole world noticing him like Warren dreamed of, but he wanted to matter. Warren used to make him feel like he could be someone; he’d even promised it when they first formed the Youth For Humans group. Now he only had Andrew pick up the snacks for meetings and obey commands when on patrol. It seemed that all that really happened was that Andrew had lost himself. He didn’t even notice himself anymore.

 

He looked at Warren and saw his power trips and ever expanding ego and it kinda scared him. He’d had to sacrifice friends, demon and not, stabbing them in the back or even in the front to some power he wasn’t even sure he wanted to have win. It was never enough and Andrew wasn’t sure he could keep doing it much longer.

 

‘I don’t want to kill or even set someone up to be killed. If I quit, though, I might die.’ He suddenly saw the accusing face of Dwayne looking at him with scared eyes. ‘Maybe it’s what I deserve. I didn’t sign up to murder, but that’s what it’s turned into really.‘ He was so torn! He needed help sorting it all out. Maybe that Rabbi guy Jonathan hangs with could help?

 

It would be worth a try, if only to be able to sleep again. Who knows, maybe it wasn’t too late even for a schmuck like Andrew Wells.

 

***

 

Buffy groaned and struggled back to consciousness. "Not too bad, my patootie!" she grumbled softly.

 

"Slayer? Buffy? You back with me, pet?" Spike sounded beside himself.

 

"Yeah. Present and accounted for, slightly worse for the wear." Buffy couldn't even dredge up a weak smile to go with the jest.

 

She felt the gentle touch of Spike's hand on her shoulder preventing her from trying to get up. "Just rest, Buffy. Need to conserve that energy, save it up for the eventual righteous ass-kicking you'll give these wankers."

 

"In my dreams." She did smile then, "And I mean that quite literally. I dream of it. I must have destroyed this place and all the real monsters a thousand different ways every time I managed to get to sleep."

 

"Got a favorite?" Spike grinned. He hoped she'd find strength in being able to at least talk about it. "My personal favorite involves the slow, painful ripping off of body parts."

 

Buffy guffawed, "Right now my favorite involves a bit of napalm. I remember thinking that was a horrible thing to do to someone when we read about how it was used in Vietnam. Now I gotta say I can see a use for the product."

 

“Gotta apologize for all the times I called your big lunk of an ex ‘Cardboard’. Thought he was as bland as a bologna-n-mayonnaise sandwich on white bread, but I seriously underrated him.” Spike rolled his eyes. “I always knew he resembled Angelus more than a bit, never thought it was more than surface though. Turns out he could offer a few tips to Peaches in a few areas.”

 

“He’s your special nemesis. Mine’s Quentin Travers, former boss and head of the Watchers Council. Guess what wasn’t in the employee packet?”

 

Spike leveled a skeptical look at her, “You think your ex didn’t help put that target on your back? From some of the things I’ve heard Finn say, my guess is he did plenty of talkin’ up about your ‘unnatural’ powers.”

 

Buffy sighed. “I don’t know if it would have mattered in the end. I think I earned my place on Mr. Masterpiece Theater’s list pretty much on my own.”

 

Buffy flexed her wrists and grimaced a bit. They were sore from her pulling on the restraints while in the lab. Spike noticed immediately and took her hand to once more look at her wrists in case he had missed some damage earlier. “I checked as best as I could, love. Didn’t see any signs of cuttin’ or burnin’. Still clear you’re hurtin’. What’d they do to you?”

 

Buffy shrugged and tried to appear nonchalant. “Scans, like they said. Of course, they left off the part where they would give me an electric shock at different strengths while monitoring my brain activity. I guess they were looking to see how pain impacts a Slayer’s brain. Duh! Just like everyone else, big surprise there. Way to advance scientific knowledge. Go, Initiative!”

 

Spike seethed. How dare they treat Buffy as if she were a demon or some lab animal! This girl had saved every one of their worthless hides over and over again and that gobshite Travers was delighting in causing her hurt! “I’d like to take their electrical toys and attach ‘em to their bits and bobs. See how they like it! You okay?”

 

Buffy shook her head, “Yeah, no permanent damage. Let’s just say when I give my review of this establishment on Travel Advisor they won’t be getting any stars.”

 

Spike gave a half grin, “For people callin’ themselves scientists, they do plenty of pointless experiments. Guess the buggers can’t read ‘cause you know they have lots of this data already. I remember the first edition of this particular horror story, and by that I mean during the Big War. Had lots of data, I looked at some while on the not-so-pleasure cruise under the sea on that sub Angel liberated.” Spike ran a hand through his hair, loosening some precious looking curls inadvertently. “Like all those lab experiments on bunnies and beagles that just repeat stuff they’ve already done. I think some just like inflictin’ a bit of hurt; it’s not just demons that enjoy it.”

 

Buffy sat and smiled back at him. “Yeah, I never got that back in high school. I mean how many frogs need to be dissected by teenagers to finally know how they work anyway? I hated that. I hate being the frog even more.”

 

“I admit to havin’ a streak of masochism from time to time,” Spike looked up at Buffy’s snort, “but even I have my limits. They won’t be getting any stars in my review either. What say we look into checkin’ out of here and upgradin’ the accommodations? “

 

“No argument here.” Buffy leaned closer and whispered, “You got any ideas yet? You broke out of the first one pretty quick and I’m hoping lightning can strike twice.”

Chapter Text

~*~

Chapter 24

~*~

 

“This here’s the girly pit.” The open, freckled face of the young soldier seemed at odds with the lewd leer currently on it. “Couple of ‘em could pass for human easy. Think there’s even some that are.” The lad was practically salivating. “You’re one lucky grunt! Took me months to pull this duty with all the added bennies,” he chuckled and adjusted his crotch. “Yeah, when the cats away…you know what I mean?” He cast a lustful look at the frightened, huddled females who all looked terribly vulnerable, no matter how fierce their demon countenance.

“Thought you were a good Christian boy, Reese. I’d think the ladies would be total hands-off,” Gunn struggled to keep his expression neutral and not reveal his revulsion at what the tow headed private was so obviously implying went on here.

“Seems like there’s a couple of loopholes,” the boy giggled at the word ‘holes’ like a twelve year old. “Firstly, they ain’t human. Kinda like one of them blow-up dolls or your right hand on a Saturday night if ya get my drift,” he winked. “Number two,” Again the immature giggle, “the bitches ARE demons. Them’s from the Devil himself, so if I do fall to temptation, well, I’m only human. Overcome by the Serpent, like back in Eden.”

“Yeah, just like Eden,” Gun mumbled. “Sure the ladies feel like they’re in Paradise.”

“They might not, but I sure do,” Reese nudged Charles with a friendly elbow to the ribs. “Tell you what, after your duty, you get the pick of the litter.” His look turned serious for a moment. “Maybe you want to avoid the five humans. The red headed bitch put Jackson in the hospital with a broken collar bone and sent his balls damn near back in his gut.” He tossed a hostile look in the direction of a short redheaded clearly human girl who gave him the look right back. “They’re little but wicked strong!”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Charles gave a sympathetic look at the females grouped together as if for mutual protection. He noticed more than a few holding on to children, some still infants. So far everything Gunn had seen in this house of horrors made his skin crawl. Demons--some he had recognized as harmless--cut up, beaten, missing parts. Even the fiercest were looking traumatized. Only the newer arrivals looked to have some fight left in them. Charles would have bet all his pay that some of the prettier males were getting the same extra attention from some of the bigger assholes running this place as the females were. ‘Damn! Even with the kids in here…maybe even some of them,’ he shuddered.

“K then, I’ll leave ya to it,” Reese winked again and whistled a jaunty tune as he headed to the caged officers area at the front of the cell block.

Charles hoped he’d find the Slayer and vampire quickly, because he couldn’t wait to get out of this place. He doubted there was enough soap in the world to ever feel clean again after what he’d witnessed and he’d barely been here a week.

‘Folks ougta know what’s really happening in here. Doubt they’d be so gung-ho about it all if they had a clue.’ A germ of an idea hit him. ‘Wonder if the former Watcher could get his hands on one of those tiny cameras some cops are starting to wear?’

***

Spike awkwardly put a reassuring arm around Buffy’s shoulder as she shivered with the aftereffects of her ‘scans’. Somewhat to his surprise, she didn’t pull away or give him one of the killer looks he once earned for taking far fewer liberties then this. “Wish I could make all this just go away for you, pet. You’re a bloody hero! Every one of these wankers owes their lives to you,” he gave the back of the soldier standing outside their cell the two-fingered salute and a look of pure disdain. “Not worth one bruise on your pretty skin.”

Buffy smiled wanly, “You’ve saved their bacon a time or two yourself, with less reason to bother.”

“Kinda lost my mind when I fell for a certain Slayer, what can I say?” He gave her a throaty chuckle that did something interesting to her insides.

“Better than my usual trick of making a guy lose his soul.” Buffy glanced up at the sound of the cell door opening and frowned as Riley entered, “or his humanity.”

Spike didn’t give Cardboard so much as a peek. “Dru did the honors with both, love. Guess the mind was all I had left.”

“You still have your heart,” Buffy put her hand gently over the unbeating organ in question, “and it’s a big one.” She smiled and would have ventured a joke had Riley not been in the cell glowering at them.

Spike smiled, “Nope, you’ve got that too, want it or not,” he hugged her even closer and nuzzled her neck. ‘Take that, you overgrown Boy Scout.’

“Didn’t catch the whole conversation, but you’re about to lose those hands, bloodsucker, unless you let go of Buffy right now,” Riley sneered.

Spike didn’t budge, didn’t even acknowledge Finn’s presence.

Riley roughly pulled Spike away from Buffy flinging him across the cell towards the open door. “Take this walking corpse to the treatment room. Need to teach him what happens to oversized mosquitoes that touch what isn’t theirs.”

Spike gritted his teeth and glared at his tormentor. “Not yours either.” The two soldiers under Finn’s command hauled Spike upright and manhandled him to the doorway. “I’m the one grew up with Good Queen Vicky, but even I know that women aren’t property…least of all the Slayer.”

“Leave him alone, Riley!” Buffy was heartily sick of the testosterone factory that once had been her boyfriend. “Spike was only being kind. HE seems to know how to treat a woman.”

“That’s the point, Buff,” Riley curled his lip cruelly. “Doc’s finally figured out you’re not normal at all. Female, yeah, I can attest to that, but human? Maybe not so much.”

***

Andrew thanked Mrs. Mears for the juice box and headed down the basement stairs to Warren’s lair.

Warren didn’t even turn away from his computer screen as he greeted his longtime lackey. “How they hangin', my young Padawan? They did drop finally, didn’t they?” He chuckled at his own joke.

Andrew was far too used to the verbal abuse to even notice it. “Kinda bored. I went by the arcade, but it’s closed up. Nobody took it over after we liberated it from the Glaxonbeaste demon, “Andrew sighed unhappily. “I was close to getting top score on Gauntlet Dark Legacy too, the one in the back corner.” He sighed wistfully.

“Maybe we can see about setting ourselves up as Arcade Kings. All that hardware’s just sittin’ there collecting dust. I could handle being a business mogul.” He smacked Andrew on the shoulder, “Give you something to do when you aren’t on a snack run for the troops. Whadda you say, seventy-thirty?”

“Fifty-fifty,” Andrew grumbled. “I’m the one going to be doing all the work. Besides, I like to play the games, not make change, break up fights and clean bathrooms.” He made a disgusted face. “They smell funny. Like mouthwash on a pine tree.”

“Sixty-forty, take it or leave it.” Warren spun around in his chair and raised his eyebrow, expecting a quick agreement to his offer.

Andrew sat in the chair next to Warren, “I’ll think about it.” He didn’t notice Warren’s frown. “I always saw my future as more Spielberg than Gates.”

Warren was displeased. His minion was acting disturbingly like someone entertaining their own thoughts! Better remind him of his proper place in the grand scheme of things. “Dream on, monkey boy. “You MIGHT put something together to show on Public Access, but I think the studios are safe from that special Wells lack of charisma,” he laughed at the offended look on the younger boy’s face.

Warren had never respected Andrew’s big dreams and creative efforts, even when they were kids and Andrew’s dreams had been more about going to Disney than being Disney. Usually Andrew accepted Warren’s put-downs as if they were his due, but lately he found his old friend to be…lacking.

“Watcha doin’?” Andrew leaned forward and looked at the screen that had commanded all of Warren’s attention when he had first arrived. “Hey, that’s the Party Box!”

“No shit, Sherlock! Great powers of deduction there. CIA’s got nothin’ on you. What gave it away, the cheap crap on the tables or the blonde bimbo behind the counter?”

“Anya’s hair is more red than blonde right now,” Andrew corrected him. “She’s always on top of the latest trends. In fact, she’s often ahead of the curve. Chunking is going to be the next big thing.” Andrew looked closely at the girl on the screen, “I think there’s some brown in there too. You can’t tell too well on your screen; the color’s kinda faded. You should adjust your contrast.” He made a move to the mouse to make the adjustment only to have Warren slap his hand hard.

“Owie! That hurt! Why do you always have to be such a poop head?” Andrew pouted.

“You’re such a big baby…what you gonna do? Throw your dirty diapers at me?” Warren laughed in his face.

“No,” Andrew sputtered indignantly. He looked back at the computer screen and got an idea. “I’ll tell Anya you’re spying on her. Probably hoping to make sick porn vids you have to hide from your mother.”

Warren glared daggers at Andrew and the younger man gulped in alarm. “You keep your yap shut. No joke Jar Jar, you open your mouth and you’ll be back on Naboo faster than if you had a real TIE fighter. You say one word to the bitch and I’ll splice you like a linked list!”

Andrew had never seen Warren so angry. “Whoa! No need to go nuclear. If you want to go all Inspector Gadget on the lovely and stylish shopkeeper it’s no skin off my elbow.” Andrew backed away, scooting his chair a fair distance from his fuming former mentor.

Warren glared at him in silence long enough to put the fear of Ra into him. “I happen to be doing my civic duty. Chick’s not normal. I intend to get proof and take it to the boys at Humans Only. She’ll wish she’d been nicer to a guy just offering her a good time then! Be begging for me to do something for her.”

Andrew looked at Warren in horror. “You’re getting even with the fair shopkeeper because she turned you down?”

“Bitch thinks she’s too good for me,” Warren spat. “Filthy demon should get so lucky! I’ll prove it too.”

Andrew blinked. “Why? You’ve got more women than James Bond ever since you started the movement. Why do you want Anya too?

“I don’t want her. She’s demon scum, I know it. I need to make a statement. Let her know how to treat her betters.”

Andrew shook his head. Power had gone right to Warren’s head like…like…like something powerful and whatever. “I won’t say anything,” he promised.

“Better not, and I mean it,” Warren resumed watching the screen. “Sooner or later, I’ll get the proof I need and you aren’t going to mess it up for me.”

“Yeah, well, I gotta go. Tucker wants me to detail his car and I really don’t want him shrinking my BVDs again like the last time I didn’t do it.”

“Go on and do your minion things, Andrew, and keep your mouth zipped.”

Andrew had promised not to say anything. Now he had to figure out how to give Anya a clue about what was going on without breaking his word or getting caught. She had been one of the few people in Sunnydale to be nice to him and Andrew was sick of having everyone who was just disappear or die.

***

When Spike was returned to their cell about an hour later, it was Buffy’s turn to offer comfort.

“Let’s straighten those fingers and figure out a way to splint them, ‘k?” Buffy looked around the Spartan room for anything that might offer a rigid frame for fractured fingers. She finally gave up and decided to use the torn leg of her scrubs to make a wrap thick enough to keep Spike’s digits immobile enough to heal properly when and if his vampire healing could kick in. With as little as they’d been feeding him, it might take almost as long as it would take for a human.

“Your ex is as handy with a hammer as Harris,” Spike grimaced as she tied off the third bandage. “He’d be the dog’s bollocks puttin’ up drywall.”

“I’d call him a different animal.” Spike let out a small giggle. “I’ll have Xan recommend him to his asshole of a boss. They’ll get along great, and ass and an asshole,” She grinned. “See, yet another reason for us to stop putting it off and getting out of here. Someone’s gotta make sure Riley lives up to his full potential career-wise.”

The guard looked into the cell and shrugged. He’d be damned if he could figure out what those two had to laugh about! Oh, well, time to punch out and maybe see if Reese and Barnes were up for some slap and tickle of the red-eyed variety. He’d enjoyed his last ‘date’ with the petite Chin-Raj demoness in spite of her tail. Actually he’d found a very interesting use for that tail!

***

“Say, you seen Reese?” he asked the new guy…Corporal Dee--yeah, that was it.

Gunn looked at the newcomer and shrugged. “No clue. Dude was supposed to be in the cage, but he pulled a ghost about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Damn! I was hoping…,” the guard with the nametag identifying him as Federwitz left the sentence open-ended. Most of the guys pulling duty in the G block were cool with fellas letting off a bit of steam, but this was a new guy and Federwitz wasn’t about to make assumptions. He sighed in disappointment, “Guess I’ll catch him on the other side.”

“I’ll tell him you were looking for him,” Gunn promised affably. “Anything special you want me to pass on?”

“Nah. Just passing the time, sharing the chortles. My C.O. went caveman again and hammered out his pet vamp’s fingers. For some reason, the bloodsucker and his Slayer girlfriend found it funny. “He shook his head in amazement. “Reese always loves the 411 on what happens in my little wing of this zoo.”

Gunn couldn’t think of any other vampire but Spike who might be housed with a Slayer and finding the situation worthy of a laugh, except for his old boss Angel and that vampire was close to a thousand miles north of there. ‘Has to be Spike. Sounds like he’s locked up with Buffy! Huh. Well, that’ll make my life easier,’ Charles grinned in genuine pleasure. “Sounds like you’ve got plenty of tales to tell.”

“Tails?” Federwitz had a flash of panic. Nah, no way Reese shared that bit of personal info with the new guy.

“Yeah, war stories. I’ve been in the field, capture or kill. This is my first time at a lock-down.”

“Yeah, yeah, tons of stories. New one every day around here,” Federwitz smiled. Maybe the new guy was going to be okay after all.

“So this vamp’s roomin' with a Slayer? How’s that workin’ out for him?”

“Better than you’d think, considering her title and all. I think they were pals on the outside. Weird with a beard, if you ask me.”

“Guess so,” Gunn nodded. “No accountin’ for taste, I guess. Say, what block are you on? I might just have to drop by and sneak a peek.”

“We’re over in H. Finn’s fiefdom, we call it--not to his face, of course.” Federwitz always did enjoy being in the know. “That’s Riley Finn. He’s one tough hombre. Don’t go crossin’ him or you’ll be out on your keester before you can say ‘sorry, sir’. No sense of humor either. Gets most of his jollies yanking that vamp’s chain. I’d say they weren’t pals on the outside if I had to guess. Decent enough to his men though. I’ve got no complaints.”

“Think I’ve heard of him. One of the old guard, wasn’t he?”

Federwitz nodded, “Yup. Favorite of Maggie Walsh herself, called him her son. Really shot up through the ranks while assigned to the First Initiative. Got a lot of field time under his belt, yes, sir.”

“Sounds formidable,” Charles tried to look impressed. “Take someone like me years to move up the way things are now. Lots of recruits and too much competition.” Gunn gave a half grin, “Course, I’ve been known to be a bit of a badass myself.”

“Plenty of room at the top for the right kind of fella,” Federwitz agreed. “Welcome to ‘Human Initiative Laboratory and Detainment ‘A’ Facility’, or as we grunts like to call it, the Thunderdome.

“Please tell me the reason for the name is because the head of this fine establishment is a sexy mama like Tina Turner. I’ll be more than happy to re-up when this tour is over,” he laughed. “Provided, of course, that I’m not stuck guarding a bunch of scaly-assed female demons with talons and serious overbites the whole time.”

“There are worse fates, my new friend,” Federwitz laughed. Maybe he should show the new guy the ropes. Well, not literal ropes, the hellcats could get out of them too easily. Plenty of manacles and chains to go around though.

***

“Ah, Jonathan, my old friend and comrade,” Andrew shuffled up to him in the line at the theater box office. “I see you too are among the first to see how the great Spielberg makes A.I. come to life?”

“Yeah, not too sure about Haley Joel Osment carrying the film, but Jude Law is always great, and, hey, Spielberg,” he shrugged, indicating it was a given the film would be a classic.

“Haven’t seen you around much,” Andrew looked around suspiciously, hoping none of the Youth for Humans guys were here at the early showing to report back to Warren about Andrew talking to the traitor. “Been keeping busy?”

“Plenty to do. I’ve been working at the Synagogue--you know, cleaning up and stuff. Things get a little wild after a Bar Mitzvah; you’d be surprised.” Jonathan fished in his wallet to pay for his ticket. Once, not that long ago, he would have offered to pay Andrew’s way in too, since he did get a paycheck, but they weren’t the same kind of friends any longer. Too much blood under the bridge.

“Yeah, Warren’s thinking about buying the old arcade and having me run it,” Andrew shared. “I don’t think I want to work for Warren though, even if I could play all the games for free after closing time.”

Jonathan waited as Andrew got his ticket and they walked companionably to the concession stand. Maybe he’d split a tub of popcorn for old time’s sake. Andrew could really be a lot of fun, even if he couldn’t be trusted at the moment.

“Hey, I was wondering if you ever drop in at the Party Box,” Andrew fished for information. “I know you used to buy a lot of your magic supplies there. Didn’t you get your magic bone from Anya on special order?”

“Shhhhhhhhh, are you nuts?” Jonathan looked around in panic. No one seemed to have heard Andrew speak the M word though. “You know I don’t do that stuff anymore. It’s illegal and it’s…it’s…wrong.”

“Mum’s the word. Hey, that starts with an M too,” Andrew grinned, overly pleased at the coincidence. “It’s like synchronicity or something. Yeah, your mum bone!”

Jonathan still looked nervous as a cat with six tails in a room full of rockers and not the musical kind either.

“Anyway, I was wondering if you might deliver a note to the proprietress if I gave it to you,” Andrew whispered. “It’s a personal matter.”

Jonathan looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “She’s engaged, you know, and you’re really not her type.” Xander Harris was a bit of a nerd too, but he at least had muscles and wasn’t a virgin.

“Not personal personal, just personal as in private,” Andrew blushed. “You know I’m saving myself for Jeri Ryan, especially if she’s in costume as Seven of Nine.” He trailed off with a blissful look on his face for a moment. “Or maybe Robert Beltran,” he whispered, then blushed even more brightly and shut his mouth quickly. “As a friend, you know, just friends. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with Lt. Commander Chakotay, right?”

Jonathan shook his head. He wasn’t about to weigh in on Andrew’s murky issues regarding sexual orientation, especially since he was fairly sure Andrew hadn’t even played with his compass yet. “So the note?” he prompted.

“Yeah. It’s just that Anya’s always been nice to me and I might know something she might want to know, but no one can know that I know or that because of me she knows…you know?”

“Not really,” Jonathan looked bemused. “Why do I get the feeling this has something to do with the Fuehrer of Sunnydale? Please tell me that Warren isn’t thinking there’s still a place selling magic stuff.”

“No, nothing to do with magic, but you’re partly right. I swore a sacred blood oath not to speak of it,” Andrew’s eyes darted about nervously.

“Really? He’s still making you do that crap?”

“Not really, but he did make me swear on pain of…well, pain.”

Jonathan sighed. He really hoped this wasn’t some kind of weird Machiavellian plan of Warren’s that he was using Andrew to pull off. Anya wasn’t a close friend, but they were friendly enough and she was working with the resistance movement. He didn’t want to put her in any danger. “Look, I’ll give her a note if you want me to, but you’d better not be planning on hurting her in any way. She’s really nice and one of the few girls who will talk to me for more than five minutes. I WILL make you take a blood oath,” he promised.

“Okay, so long as she…well, no one ever finds out I’m the one who wrote it. Especially not Warren.” Andrew shivered, “He’d go full Vader on me.”

“Deal. Now let’s get the popcorn and check out the flick. You can write your love notes later.”

“I already did,” Andrew said as he slipped a folded piece of notebook paper that had enough tape on it to stymie Houdini. He breathed a sigh of relief. He’d done his duty and the rest was up to Anya.

Jonathan carefully put the note in his wallet as he paid for the snack. He’d wait to give it to her until they ran into each other at the next meeting. No way was he going to go within ten feet of the Party Box if Warren Mears was involved in whatever this note business was.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 25
~*~

 

Spikes fingers were healing, albeit slowly. Buffy carefully turned his hands and checked the progress. Such beautiful hands! Even swollen from the fractures, they were lovely. Long-fingered, like a musician or artist. Buffy wondered fleetingly how it would feel to have those fingers touching her in ways…naughty ways…that were suddenly quite appealing. The bastards in charge of this nightmare weren’t feeding him very well or often, so his natural perks, such as rapid healing, were in short supply. His so pretty hands were going to have to depend on her to make them well again.

It felt good to have a pleasant thought for a change. Sparing a moment to imagine softer moments with Spike of the desirable fingers was a treat no one could deprive her of indulging in.

Buffy was numb from thinking about all the mindless cruelty she had witnessed since being taken captive. It hurt her heart knowing that one of the most vicious of the captors seemed to be fueling his cruelty based on misplaced feelings for her. Looking back, she had to admit to herself that she could see seeds of it in Riley when they were dating. He had never even questioned what that first Initiative was doing. Oh, he’d come to see the horrors that produced Adam and admit how wrong that whole experiment had been. He had resented having been made a lab experiment himself with the implant and drugs that had come close to taking his life. But there had never been much, if any, questioning otherwise. He saw the demons he delivered to the doctors as nothing more than animals. But even animals felt pain! Even animals deserved better treatment, compassion. He never gave that a thought and she realized it now in hindsight.

Those character flaws had been set free in this environment where the worst behavior was rewarded and praised. The things her ex-boyfriend had been doing horrified and sickened her. That she had ever entertained the idea of building a life with him now made her question her own blindness.

Buffy felt old. Surely she must be old to carry the wisdom she had been collecting of late! Life was far more complicated than was comfortable. Few easy answers and more questions than a person could live long enough to answer. Maybe that was why so many people settled for the easy path, the black and white/right and wrong dichotomy that felt comfortable but hid the truth.

The demons she had spent the past few years putting down had deserved it, or so she prayed. She had killed those caught preying on people, the ones out for the kill. It wasn’t like she could have just made a citizen’s arrest! There was no court system for handling the sort of evil those types of demons got up to. She was, by virtue of her calling, the only judge and jury available and had been entrusted to be executioner as well.

Being locked in here had changed her perception. She had seen great evil in fully souled humans and compassion and love in soulless demons. Buffy didn’t feel guilty for having done her duty. She protected people, stood between them and the creatures that had been merely nightmares to most of them back in the day. She hadn’t sought out demons in their own homes except vampire nests and that wasn’t quite the same thing. She even left many of them alone as long as they weren’t feeding or trying to end the world.

It was one thing to kill, to slay a demon in combat for the right reasons and quite another to collect them and torture them willy-nilly.

Spike could see her furrowed brow and knew Buffy was deeply troubled by something. This place was bleak enough without adding dark thoughts to the mix. “Slayer? What’s got you in a blue funk?”

Buffy shook her head as if coming out of sleep only without the restful part of it. “Just thinky thoughts. “ She looked at Spike and almost laughed. There was the whole dilemma in the flesh! Evil vampire without a doubt. He’d done horrific things and likely would again if he could. He could also be tender, loving and even kind. She remembered his interactions with her family and friends, even those who were less than kind to him and had to admit that he was as multi-layered as any human, even with no soul. How many evil vampires helped a Slayer stop an apocalypse after all?

“I’ve had to readjust some thinking while in here, that’s all. Not the easiest thing in the world for someone you like to call out for her stick-up-the-butt, self-righteous attitude,” she joked.

“What kind of readjustment?” He was curious. He had noticed Buffy was different, but then she had been changing long before now. She had accepted him into her inner circle after he had kept Joyce from becoming some berk’s dinner and had even listened to him reveal his love for her without breaking any of his remaining intact bones.

“You haven’t asked what I’ve been up to in here before we became roomies.”

“Figured you weren’t much for share-time with the evil undead,” Spike smirked. “Got plenty of time to listen if you’ve changed your mind.”

“They had me in the fighting arena. Demon after demon. They’d send them in and I’d take them out. “Buffy snorted, “Kinda like my average night on steroids. It wasn’t too bad. They were feeding me, unlike what they’ve done to you, so my healing was working on hyper drive still. They were all a blur, you know?”

Spike nodded encouragement for her to continue. Clearly she was troubled by something.

“I’d never really killed demons for no particular reason before. Some of them were scared out of their wits when tossed in there with me, I could see it. There were a few that I doubt ever fought anybody. I couldn’t let that stop me though; it wouldn’t have saved them or me.” She bit her lip and rubbed her arms as though chilled. “I wonder how many were just ordinary beings before all this? How many had family that loved them, jobs they enjoyed?” Her voice shook. “I’ve never been in that position before and I really don’t like it.”

“Sweetheart, that’s why they call it demonizing an enemy,” Spike smiled gently. “You start to think of your opponent as someone real, someone with feelings and it gets harder to do ‘em. That’s why in war they make the enemy somethin’ other than human, yeah?” He leaned his back against the wall and slid down to sit next to the troubled girl. “You’re the Slayer. Nothin’ bad or wrong with that. People need someone like you keepin’ the balance, protectin’ the innocent, makin’ it safe for stupid sods and puppies and all. You’ve got no reason feelin’ bad for doin’ what you have to. You’re more fair minded than some I’ve seen over the years, not out to wipe us all out. What these wankers set you up to do wasn’t right or fair and that’s what’s troublin’ you. Don’t let it! The demons you killed knew just like you did that only one of you was comin’ out of that pit alive. And if they had the skills, they’d have made damned sure it was them.”

“There were a lot of them. I lost count.” Buffy sounded soul tired.

“Can’t say I’m sorry you’re the one sittin’ here, pet.”

“I’m with you on that,” Buffy agreed. “I guess I never knew there were so many kinds of demons or that they were so different. Even the same types of demons are different, just like people.”

“Damned straight! Take the Poof and me,” Spike pulled himself up short after seeing the pained look on Buffy’s face. “Sorry, reflex habit that. Truth though, even vampires aren’t all alike, not that I recommend you cozy up to notice the differences. Good way to end up on the menu.”

He was pleased to see Buffy smile genuinely at that. “I don’t know. I can’t see you going after Dawn’s jugular.”

“Too skinny, need to fatten her up a bit,” he teased. “See, I’ve got the same problem you now have. They shoved the chip in me and I started hangin’ about with you lot. Suddenly you were more than dinner. Hadn’t spent much time around humans other than in the hunt. Easy to forget…,” his words trailed off as he thought a bit about what he was saying. “Yeah, became somethin’ more than food. Became more…real. Think that’s what you’re sayin’. Demons becomin’ more than just somethin’ evil to kill. Gets you all turned around inside. I can see why they try to keep you Slayers from thinkin’ too much along that line. You stop seein’ the evil monster and you get dead real quick. No time to suss out who’s good, who’s a rotter and who’s just some bleedin’ unfortunate sod tryin’ to survive, not without takin’ too long and endin’ up on some demon’s horns or fangs.”

“That’s what you meant about wars and demonizing huh? If it’s just the enemy in all capital letters you can kill them and still sleep, but if you think of them as someone’s family, someone who likes sunsets and picnics and kitty cats, someone real with dreams and feelings, it’s not so easy.”

“Got it in one, pet.”

“There were so many of them,” Buffy trailed off again.

“Well, look at it this way…they’re out of here at least. Venture to say they’d thank you for that bit, all things considered,” Spike reminded her.

Buffy thought about it and then had a different thought cross her mind. “I wonder what they did with the bodies? I mean the vampires all turn to dust and some of the demons become goopy messes that some poor janitor has to mop up, but some left bodies like people do.”

Spike looked at her and caught where her mind was going, “And if they have that many to get rid of its not likely they just stack ‘em about in some room inside here smellin’ up the place.”

They smiled at each other as a germ of an idea hit them both at the same time.

“Don’t know why I hadn’t thought about that before,” she whispered carefully. They were both well aware of the cameras in the cell spying on their every move and likely every word. “Things come in and things go out all the time. We just need to know how and where.”

“Next time some wanker tries to call you a dumb California blonde, you be sure to land a good right hook on ‘em. You’re as brilliant as you are beautiful,” Spike grinned. “Only drawback I can see is findin’ someone with the answers who’s willin’ to share. Finn runs a tight ship, not likely to have a complete idiot or anyone sympathetic to our cause hangin’ about. Might have to figure another way to get the answers we need.”

“At least we have the start of a plan though,” Buffy smiled and took what felt like her first clear breath in a while. “Meanwhile, we need to get you in decent shape to take advantage of any opportunity that falls our way.”

Buffy didn’t hesitate for a moment before using a fingernail to open a vein on her wrist where the skin was quite thin. “Drink, Spike. They aren’t feeding you and you need to heal a lot quicker than you are. You won’t do either of us any good while totally starved.”

***
Quentin Travers avidly watched the pair depicted on the monitor. He curled his lip in contempt as he watched his personal thorn-in-the-side check the vampire for injuries. He turned away from the screen and pointed at the offending sight, “Tender with one another, aren’t they, Starling?”

His toady showed the proper amount of disapproval, “Disgusting is what it is, a perversion!”

“Glad you can see how defective these girls have become,” Travers nodded in approval.

The two former Council of Watchers heavyweights had just spent a significant amount of time watching as the five Potentials had been introduced into the communal holding cell with the female demons and their spawn.

Much to the surprise of nearly everyone, there had been no bloodbath. Instead the demoness who appeared to be the alpha female had appraised the frightened human girls and had seemingly ordered the others to leave them alone.

While that in itself was enough to raise eyebrows, the Potential Slayers, trained though they had been, did not even attempt to eliminate any of the hell-spawn they encountered. Instead they cautiously and slowly appeared to bond with their fellow cell mates as if they considered them equals.

Starling clucked, “I am flabbergasted enough having seen Potential Slayers making nice with demons. Why, that one girl even went so far as to comfort the scaled spawn of one of them!” He looked as appalled as he sounded. “They should have died doing their duty and slain as many vermin as possible before they expired. At the very least, they should have shunned them and shown a proper amount of disdain. Now this…the active Slayer is playing nurse to no less than William the Bloody,” he shook his head sadly.

Travers nodded in agreement, “Indeed. Historically, we’ve accepted the choice of an unseen Force in selecting these vessels and gotten acceptable weapons in our long war. We have seen in our lifetime that there is no regard for tradition, for decency, for duty any longer. This one,” he gestured at the monitor, “has been the worst of the lot!”

“I am aware that she has given you a great deal of grief over the years,” Starling commiserated. “I had hoped Miss Summers would prove an anomaly. Hasn’t she been involved with a vampire before this?”

“Indeed, yes. Angelus. That was when she dared to declare herself independent from Council control. She turned on her sister Slayer with the full intent of feeding her to that same monstrosity! Angelus has a history even worse than William the Bloody and you see how she carries on with him!”

Starling made the appropriate noises of agreement. He had been in the field with his own Potential Slayer at that time, but the shock waves had reached him all the way in Nepal.

“And Faith…that sister Slayer, was just as bad--killing humans, consorting with a demon she treated almost as a father figure. She had absolutely no regard for direction from her Watchers; she got two of them killed.” Travers shuddered in revulsion. “Completely rogue, no discipline. Sold herself for hire to that demon, aiding it in its plans to ascend to a more powerful state.

Travers let out a huff of vexation, “Like this one,” he nodded at Buffy who was still gently tending to Spike, “Drawn to vampires…the same one actually.”

“William the Bloody?” Starling looked surprised.

“No, Angelus. Faith showed a marked interest in seducing that beast. You know how that turned out.” Travers frowned, “Girl found herself in a coma. Utterly useless to us as a Slayer, but too much in plain sight to be properly eliminated with any ease. No possibility of getting a decent girl to take her place, one who knows what’s what and what her duty is.”

“Shame we cannot select the right girl ourselves,” Starling mused. “My Anu knew exactly what she was. She didn’t puff herself up with false pride and think she was more than a temporary tool of the Powers to be guided by her betters. Shame that Licade got her during training.”

“Clearly there is something warped in the Slayer line. Yes, yes, the odd perversion has popped up from time to time. We’ve always managed to cleanse the abominations before they got too far out of hand. That was why we developed the Cruciamentum, to weed out the troublemakers. It served us well for generations. It was a rare thing to have a willful girl given the power, but we’ve seen indications for years now that the tide has turned. These last two have been the worst.”

Travers lowered his voice as if to impart a deep secret. “There is evidence within the current crop of Potentials that all the traditions, all the time honored and well proven methods of the Council are no longer enough to control them.” Travers looked Starling directly in the eye. “Times change, Crispin, and the wise man changes with them.”

“Forgive my being a slow top, Quentin, but why go to the bother of recording this disgusting scene?” He gestured toward the screen where to the two men’s horror Buffy was seen to cut herself so the vampire could suckle.

Travers gave a wolfish grin and rubbed his hands in obvious glee. “This is splendid. Better than I had hoped! This should be proof…finally!” To Starling’s confused look he explained, “I know those traitors who took their Potentials into hiding still rely on electronic communication. Habits die hard after all. When I make these videos available, they will see that I was right. I told them the girls needed to be evaluated and culled.”

“I do remember you suggesting just that before we implemented Operation Collateral Damage. I also remember that there was great dissention.” Starling backed up a step at the rage he saw coming to the surface in his compatriot.

“Sentimental fops with unhealthy ties to their charges,” Travers snorted dismissively. “Like the five we were watching earlier, all as useless as this one,” again pointing to Buffy.

“They hadn’t your clear vision, sir,” Starling shook his head in disapproval. “Missed the obvious solution or didn’t have the stones for the job.”

“All I asked for was loyalty, a proper sense of duty. Those Potentials whose Watchers sent them to us as requested should have been put into service working with the Human Initiative soldiers as we finally eradicate the demon filth entirely.” Travers looked thoughtful as he remembered the scene of that last meeting of the Council proper. “Many balked, some fled and the precious few still willing to follow direct orders managed to bungle most missions as if they were as inept as children!”

The former head of the Watchers Council took on the look of a spirit-infused Evangelist as continued, his eyes burning. “I made my plans clear! Those who refused to follow my lead, those renegades who withheld their girls are making me look bad, Starling”

The fanatical countenance Quentin Travers had assumed caused no little amount of fear in Starling. He was not prepared for the raise in voice to match the fervor of this little speech. “If I cannot demonstrate full control of my own people, then why would anyone accept my leadership at all?”

“NO!” he slammed a fist on the desk in front of him, nearly causing Starling to jump out of his skin. “No, they must be brought to heel, must be made to admit that I was right. Every one of them must return with tails tucked, bringing their girls with them.”

Frankly Travers was beginning to scare Starling more than a bit, “You’d accept them back?”

“We’ll deal with their betrayal later. First, I need to regain control of those girls and their Watchers, have them admit that I was correct in my assessment of how we were to go forward. Get them on record that the old way of allowing some mystical process to select who we employ as our weapon no longer works. That the time has come to finish this war once and for all.”

Quentin, looking like a prophet of old once more, indicated the screen with Buffy and Spike, “This should be proof enough for even the most stubborn. They cannot dispute my contention that these so called Powers are no longer providing proper tools for the fight. These demons must be eradicated! If the demons are victorious over us, then their crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men! It’s time for a true leader to accept the challenge and cleanse the earth.”

Starling wasn’t sure whether to salute and cheer or to run for the hills.

Travers was on a roll and continued his rant, “Discipline, Starling. Discipline and authority are essential. They,” he waved his arms in an all encompassing gesture, “Need a strong leader. One who makes the tough calls. One who gets the job done and not piecemeal either.” His eyes fairly glowed with a near religious zeal.

He took a much needed breath before finishing, “Only through strength can we be great again. Only by discipline can we reclaim the planet for pure humans.”

Starling struggled to stifle the instinctive urge to cry, “Sieg heil!"

***

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 26
~*~

 

Charles managed to get the grand tour of the H wing at long last. He hadn’t nagged, not wanting to draw unwanted attention to his interest. He'd spent the time scouting everything else he could and testing a theory of Tara's at the same time.

Seemed that when that jackass of a sorcerer had put barriers to magic around the place he'd left a little back door for himself. Any magic done from the outside couldn't penetrate into the compounds, BUT someone could, if they knew how, do magic from within.

Rayne didn't have a chance to utilize his secret ability before they poisoned him, but the small tests Charles had run for Giles and Willow were promising. Rupert's knowledge of the man Ethan was and Tara's prodding that it was worth trying had won the day. Small victories were to be savored.

Willow had supplied Charles with a charm that allowed him to speak without the recording devices picking up his conversations. He had two more of the charms, one each for Buffy and Spike to use whenever he finally got a chance to be alone with them. No point in conspiring or planning an escape when the walls had ears! Now all he needed was the opportunity for a private chat.

Federwitz had come through and seemed eager to show off his playground. The few unfortunate demons on his block were a miserable lot. The commander, Finn, was a brute of the worst order. He got off on the screams and pleading. His handpicked crew was no better.

The one meeting Charles had with Finn had made him feel dirty. There was no shame, no hint that the man ever questioned his own behavior. He was proud of it all. Riley claimed he was delighted to be in charge of the "scummiest of the scum," as he called his charges. All Charles saw was misery that he wouldn't wish on any creature. Even the vampires Gunn so despised had earned his pity.

Federwitz had been disappointed that the star attraction--Spike, as it happened--was in pretty good shape for a change. Finn had taken a short leave back to Iowa on family business and no one else had quite the same single-minded dedication to putting the hurt on one specific vampire. Spike still looked like hell and Gunn shuddered to think what the vampire looked like when Finn was here and actively tormenting him.

It was serendipity that Federwitz was called away to help with a Chirago having a post-torture seizure two cells over so soon after he had opened the one holding Buffy and Spike. He'd had to talk fast, introduce himself, pass the charms to the two of them and promise to return later with more time and privacy to work on their plan.

Charles told them some ideas he'd had and reassured them that they could talk without being heard or recorded. He also advised they keep their backs to the camera still focused on them for Travers’ amusement and God knows what else.

***
Gunn looked carefully as he made his way to the Mosque. To fit in, he’d had a crash course in behavior expected of a dedicated Muslim, courtesy of Imam Azim.
Kalil had grinned as he had prepped Gunn. “Who knows, perhaps Allah, may He be exalted, has arranged this in order to bring you to faith?”

“Thanks, but I got my own thing with the Big Man. No offense,” Charles smiled in return.

“None taken. Only those who distort the Holy Koran would be offended. Your reply shows you are well on your way to Shahada already; you profess belief. Still, the offer is open,” Imam Azim unlocked the small office in the Community Center where the hidden entrance to the tunnels was located and hung the “counseling in progress” sign on the door. “Tell Mr. Giles I am greatly enjoying the book he lent to me and look forward to discussing some of the passages after our next meeting.”

“Will do. Thanks again for the cover. “Gunn went through the carefully disguised door and made certain it locked behind him. Only the most essential members of the resistance had keys to the various access doors. Charles had been impressed with the level of organization and security here in Sunnydale. He had thought the set up at the farm was tight, but this group was borderline paranoid.

‘It’s probably a good idea with Travers and his goons making SunnyD ground zero for their power base.’ Charles had met the Grand Muckety-Muck during orientation and had been struck by the old man’s fanatical facial expressions when talking about the world as he envisioned it coming soon. Travers hadn’t said it, but Gunn was positive that the old codger saw himself at the helm. ‘Must have a tiny package, needing to compensate that bad! Too many ladies turned him down, maybe even laughed, when he was still trying to be a player.’

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of “Breathe” being sung, badly, in some demon language clearly not meant for American pop love songs.

Lorne was hard at work, grimace on his face, and vetting possible guides for the many refugees streaming through the system every day. Gunn clung to the shadows so he could avoid being recognized elsewhere and blowing his cover.

“That’s fine, Ramona. I’ve heard enough.” It was more than enough, judging by the look on the green demon’s face. If anything, he was a couple of shades closer to Hunter than Kelly. He also looked seriously concerned about something he had seen.

Indicating the dark corner that shrouded Gunn, he firmly suggested, “How about you tell my associate about this new group you’ve been involved with?”

The attractive demon looked nervously from the darkness that held the signature of ‘human’ and the obvious demon in front of her. She squirmed in her seat, “I’m not supposed to talk about them, but they’re on our side,” she fixed her gaze pointedly at Lorne as she said ‘our’.

“From what I saw, I’m not too sure about that.” Lorne made a mental note to look more fully into the vision he’d had while listening to the caterwauling that seemed to pass for singing in her race of demons.

“They’re pro-demon,” Ramona cried defensively while shooting a dirty look at the invisible-to-her human in the room. “Much as your group has helped, especially families, all you’re doing is hiding us! The humans declared the war. What do you expect?” Pure hatred glowed in her golden eyes.

Lorne leveled a gaze at the bristling demoness that brooked no argument. “Well, speaking AS a demon, I’d expect a little gratitude to the humans brave enough to stand with us in this fight. They don’t have to and those that do risk plenty trying to do the right thing.”

The girl looked conflicted, “But we need to do more than hide!” Her luminous eyes filled with silvery tears, “Where is our courage, our pride? T’Mcasla says if they take one of us, we take ten of them. They want war; we give it to them. Even if they kill us all, we go down fighting with dignity.”

Charles had heard rumors of this T’Mcasla. The legend was he had been married to a human woman who had turned him in herself. His group, called the DRA for Demon Rebellion Army, had been formed soon after his escape from an overturned bus filled with demons headed for the camps. The betrayed demon had been heating up the internet with his message of death for all humans with no exceptions. It had taken on the trappings of a holy cause and was proving frighteningly popular, especially among the younger demons that were as filled with fear as the humans they now hated. There were rumored training camps popping up to prepare the young hotheads for direct conflict.

Part of Gunn understood their feelings, especially having seen the horrors of the labs and prisons firsthand. If he had been born a demon, he might be seduced to violent response himself. Before he could voice this sentiment, Lorne was blindfolding the rejected Ramona in preparation for her departure.

All who were brought to Lorne to be read were blindfolded both coming and going and only permitted a view of the nondescript room he used to vet them. They were taken on a circuitous route through the tunnels as well, so that the safe places wouldn’t be compromised.

“Nelson Mandela, a human who knew a thing or two about injustice and cruelty once said, ‘There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people’,” Lorne lay a sympathetic hand on Ramona’s shoulder. “I do understand the lure, little sister, but remember Mandela also said, ‘If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.’ We have more and more partners every day,” he shook his head sadly at the thought of all the needless death and destruction. “What happens to them if your T’Mcasla achieves his goal and we kill all the humans? Will it really be a better world? Will we truly deserve it?

The blindfolded demon didn’t show a reaction, but Gunn had a feeling she would mull over Lorne’s words of caution in the days to come.

“If we start killing all humans, we become no better than they are. Not all humans are evil and deserving of death. Some are just confused and afraid right now. It was a lot to have dumped on them at once and the puppet masters used every one of our bad actions against us to prove that we are all to be feared. Some humans are just bigots and that’s not going to change; others will come around once they get their fear under control. More than a few are already helping and more will come. Patience is a hard thing to ask, especially for a youngster like you, kiddo, I get that. Just try not to be stupid.”

Lorne handed her off to the security unit waiting to escort her back to the world above with a final thought, “Even the current Slayer and her team are against this mess. If the Chosen One can see what’s just, then there’s got to be hope, right?”

Once they were alone, the old friends relaxed a bit and Charles plopped himself casually in the comfy chair facing Lorne. “Don’t envy you having to turn some away like that. Nasty place waiting if she gets pulled in.”

“Not my idea of how I wanted to spend my time when I crossed dimensions. All I wanted was a place where music and peace were valued. Hard to believe it now that this looked like paradise to me not that long ago,” Lorne sadly lamented. “Still, have to look to the safety of all those demons who just want to live. We get involved with that new group and all bets are off and we can kiss any human help goodbye at the same time.”

Gunn stared at the floor in contemplation, “Yeah. Guess if it came to it, humans would have to pick their own side.” He drew a deep breath and summed it up, “This sucks so hard!”

“Indeed, my luscious mocha friend,” Lorne looked grim. “That’s another thing I miss. No one seems to take time for the yumminess humans are so good at making. I haven’t had a decent low-fat caramel frappuccino since I left LA when this whole clusterfuck started.” He wiped his weary eyes and settled back in his matching comfy chair. “So, any progress on your secret mission?”

***
"I'm pretty sure I’ve heard of this guy," Buffy reassured Spike. "Last time I talked to Angel, he mentioned this demon hunter who'd started working with him. I remembered the name, 'cause, you know, weapon."

"Jus' hard to know who to trust in a place like this’s all." Spike ran a newly healed hand through his hair in frustration. "Hell, likely it’s the same outside, for that matter."

"Yeah, I get that, but we can't look gift horses in the mouth," Buffy reminded him. "And just what the frilly heck does that even mean anyway? Is the horse the gift? Why look at its mouth? And can I just say ‘ewwwww, oat breath’? If it’s that Trojan kind of horse, I can see why you'd want to look in its mouth…and other places too."

Spike chuckled at her nonsense, glad for the proof that her spirit was as strong and uncrushed as ever. "Think it’s about questioning the age of the nag. Checkin' the teeth used to be a way of tellin' how old a horse was, how valuable. The adage is sayin' that if someone's nice enough to give you a horse, don't get fussy about the quality."

Buffy nodded, "Okay, that makes sense, I guess. I'm just hoping this horse is a good one."

"He did say your Watcher was in on this plan. Can't see Rupes sendin' somethin' one step from the knacker to help you. Likely the lad has skills."

They had been relieved beyond the telling to find out the others were safe for now in the hiding places Spike had wisely put together before everything had gone to hell. Knowing they weren't as alone as they had feared was cause for hope too.

"Supplies come in, but there are too many people around to make that a good way," Buffy began to muse about their options aloud. "They always make it look easy on TV and in the movies. Prisoners tunnel out using a spoon or hide in laundry carts like it's nothing."

Spike smiled, "First time I found the air ducts, made my way out that way. Gunn said that won't work this time. Seems they learned after I made it out."

"We need to get outside the exterior walls. Once we do that, the gang can get us the rest of the way home." Buffy sighed. It seemed hopeless, but she wasn't anywhere near ready to fold her hand. She wondered just what home was going to turn out to be when she got there.

***
Charles looked at his watch and knew he had to hoof it back to base soon. He and the Watcher and his crew had hashed out a few plans for springing Buffy and her current cuddle-vamp. “I’m thinking it might be a good idea to go a little pro-active, along with just moving people to safety.”

“What did you have in mind?” Giles had a decided note of trepidation in his voice. Enough Watchers were combatants in this bloody war without him suiting up for that kind of battle.

“Not talkin’ about joining up with the ‘bomb first and ask questions never’ group,” Gunn smiled ruefully. “Doubt they’d let us join up anyway. No, I mean maybe counter some of the propaganda asshats like that Charlie Cooper lay on so thick you can’t see the truth anymore.”

“You have something specific in mind?” Willow looked interested. She too was tired of playing defense all the time, especially since the other side was so damned offensive in every sense of the word.

“Yeah, actually,” Gunn shared his brainstorm and hoped they could find a way to work it. “You’re the computer wizard, right?”

“Check and check,” Willow said with no humility whatsoever. She knew her skills! “Which do you need?”

“Both. I’m thinking if I can get my hands on one of those tiny cameras like the police use in some places I could record what actually goes on in that hellhole. I have to believe that most people would wake the hell up and demand changes if they only saw the truth. Why not try to rally the good guys?”

They all looked at each other in silence, contemplating the idea and how it might be done to advantage. “I know there are more decent people than bastards; it’s just that the bastards are currently in the driver’s seat and have the loudest voices.” Gunn prayed that was the case at least. If not, then the human race might not be worth saving.

“M-m-might work,” Tara’s eyes danced with excitement. “W–w-Willow could up…l-load the feed live.”

Willow caught her lover’s excitement, “Easy-peasy! I know how to make it go viral before anyone might take it down too.”

Gunn smiled in honest happiness for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. “Get me the gear and grab your air-sickness bags then.”

Giles nodded in accord. “That might just strike a blow in the right direction.” He gave a wicked grin at Charles, “Think you can get Travers spouting his crap with a frothing mouth in one of those feeds?”

Charles chuckled, “Shouldn’t be too hard to do.”

Xander brought the group back to the harder issue: getting Buffy out of that same place of perdition. “Are we going to do this before or after we get our guys home?”

“No reason we can’t do it at the same time. Maybe not film the escape, but there’s plenty of prep work needed for breaking them out to give time for some damning footage.”

“I just hope you get something horrible enough to get it through some thick skulls that this is not some modern crusade ordained by the Powers,” Anya chimed in. “Even the original Crusades weren’t that, even though they sold it that way.”

“Won’t be hard to do that,” Gunn assured them and shuddered at the thought of all he’d seen.

“Back to Buffy and the Great Escape,” Xander repeated.

“Yes, I think your idea of the burial pit is the most likely to succeed.” Giles looked again at the map Gunn had drawn. “It is far enough from the walls to give a good head start and, with the forest nearby, we have cover for ourselves to spirit them away.”

“How carefully do they check those carts with the dead demons?” Anya knew Spike could play dead pretty well and, if they didn’t know he was a vampire, could pass for another human-like dead demon. Buffy might be trickier, however.

“Depends on who’s doing the duty. They take the bodies of those who don’t dust or dissolve out when the holding room is full. Most of the guys hate that duty and often it’s a crew made up of idiots who are on punishment detail. Lots of grumbling and more attention paid to complaining about the duty than checking each body.”

“So if we can find a way to sneak Buffy and Spike into the room just before they load them up to take to the pit for burning, it might just work,” Willow mused.

“We’d have to be on the money with the timing, but, yeah, I think it would be our best option. I can keep track of how fast the room is filling and the duty roster so that we can have an idea on the exact time.”

“How will we make Buffy look like a dead demon?” Xander queried.

Willow frowned and then brightened, “Hey, the talismans you gave them to mask their talking worked, right?”

“So far, looks like,” Charles nodded.

“So some magic can work inside, like we thought. If we make the magic signature small enough, it should go unnoticed. I could come up with a glamour of some sort for Buffy so she will look more like a dead demon than an alive and pissed off Slayer,” Willow grinned widely. “Piece of cake!”

“Now I need to pass the idea over to the dynamic duo and keep my eyes and ears opened,” Gunn added. “I imagine I can find a way to get them from their cell to the holding room without too much trouble, if it’s the right day and time. I’ve made some contacts.” He grimaced thinking about the scum he was associating with in the camp. “Can’t wait to scrub those memories and contacts!”

“I can imagine,” Xander nodded. “So this pit…how’s it work?”

“They build up enough dead demons and take the bodies outside the walls to the pit here on the map,” he pointed to the spot he had carefully labeled. “Once a month they douse it with an accelerant and light it up. Once it cools they use slave labor from the ‘honor prisoners’ to rake the ashes and get it ready for the next load.”

Willow shivered, “Grandpa was right--it is like the Nazis! God, how did we get here?”

Anya looked sad, “I’ve only asked that question a thousand times over the centuries. Humans aren’t too good at learning lessons from history.”

An uncomfortable Giles cleared his throat, “Yes, well, perhaps this time will be different. We can but hope. If we can get Buffy and Spike into one of those carts just before they take them to the pit, that will get them on the right side of the walls. What about guards or observation?”

“Minimal. They’re got their swagger on in there. Don’t really see much resistance, so they’re lax, especially when it comes to demons they figure are dead already.”

“Good, good.” Giles looked thoughtful. “All we need is to get them where they can climb out of the pit and make a run to the forest, where we can whisk them away to safety,” he mused aloud. “Are they in condition for it?”

“At the moment, yeah. You’ll have to be ready at a moment’s notice, since everything has to be exactly right for this to work.” Gunn warned. “Maybe get all these clergy members of your group to start sending word ‘upstairs’ for a bit of help. It would be easier if it all works out on one of Finn’s off-duty times, because he’s like a cat at a mouse hole where Spike’s concerned.”

“Good thing Spike’s a dog’s name then,” Xander quipped.

***

“Hey, loyal humans! Coop here with the scoop of the summer. Make sure you gather up the grannies and kiddies and get yourself out to the big rally at one of the sites near you this coming weekend!

There’ll be big screen TVs to connect us all in the celebration of mankind finally taking back what should’ve always been ours. Check our website for the location nearest you.

Along with some really fantastic guest speakers, including yours truly, there will be lots of great musical performances, food, and fun for the whole family.

Don’t miss the demon stoning arena. Must be seventeen or older, sorry.

Plenty for the young ones too, including face painting and helpful and fun classes on how to spot a demon and how to take ‘em out if they have to!

Best of all, it’s all free, just like we will be soon! Remember, ‘Earth for Humans’ just like God intended.”

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 27
~*~

***

Buffy fingered the talisman in her pocket and turned her back on the camera pointed into their cell. "I know it's our best shot of getting out of here, but there's just something icky about being in a cart full of dead bodies that makes me shudder. You'd think I'd be used to dead bodies, but I'm not usually lying around with them."

"Not somethin' anyone usually does, pet. Not in large numbers anyway." Spike had more than a few reservations about the plan. Oh, it was sound enough as escape plans go, but so much depended on every single aspect going smoothly and Spike knew well that the odds of that were slim. "Sides, you've been layin' around with this dead body for a good while now," he gave her a grin and hoped his jest would lift her spirits a bit.

Buffy gave a sputtering laugh and whacked him lightly on the arm, "You don't count! Besides, when I think of dead, I certainly don't think of you. You're more alive than most people I've met."

"We get on the right side of these walls and all your little Scoobies might have somethin' to say 'bout the company you keep." Spike gave her a sideways look that did little to disguise his unease.

"No one is going to pick my friends, Spike. You don't get a say where the Scoobies are concerned and they don't get one about you. I'm a big girl. I feel like I've aged a bunch of years in this place, so I'm counting that as a big old plus sign on the maturity scale." She touched his arm gently, "You'll grow on them; you did me," she promised with a smile.

Buffy had spent plenty of time during her captivity getting a much closer view of the vampire who was once her great enemy and now her best comfort. She had seen behind his masks and his self-protections. She couldn’t say she knew him half as well as she suspected he knew her, but she was seeing him, really seeing him. He wasn’t just a vampire. He wasn’t like Angel or Angelus, for that matter. He was his own unique self. One thing this horrible experience had taught her was that most demons, at least the sentient ones, were unique individuals just like humans were. That was a lesson she wasn’t going to forget once this was all sorted out.

She could see why her mother had enjoyed having a cuppa with Spike and why Dawn loved to just hang out and listen to his stories. He was so much more complex than she would have ever expected; also smarter and funnier once he let you in. She had already seen his loyalty back when he was with Dru. Had seen his ability to love then too, even if she had denied that’s what it was she was seeing. There was no way to deny it now. For whatever reason, Spike could and did love and love well.

They had to get out of here! There were too many things she wanted to learn in life, too many people she wanted to get to know better. She’d be damned if she’d have that opportunity lost or forced to play out before Quentin Travers’s perverted cameras! The escape would not be a piece of cake, but it could be done…would be done.

"Going to be a lot like one of those Mission Impossible movies with all the synchronized watches and everything. Wonder if we can recruit Tom Cruise?" Buffy wiggled her brows and gave a wistful sigh.

"Damned nasty thing they did makin' Phelps a villain," Spike grumbled. "Saw the original series back in the day and there's no way Phelps would turn like that. Cruise's film ruined a good character."

Buffy gave him a puzzled look. See, there was another example of the complexity of Spike. He was a vampire. He should be cheering when someone, even a fictional character, went to the dark side! He was a…what was the word? Sounded like pair of ducks, but that wasn’t it. Anyway, that’s what Spike was and she was really hoping for time to explore all those things that made him so different from anything anyone would have expected.

"Gunn should have a pretty good idea about the timetable for removal of demon bodies. They have fewer of them now that they don't have me adding to the number every day," Buffy noted sadly. She never minded killing demons as part of her calling. The ones she killed were asking for it. The ones she had killed here had been a different matter. The terrified demons put into the arena with her were desperate to kill her in the mistaken belief that they would be allowed to live if they won the contest. It may have been ‘kill or be killed’, but most of them hadn't a clue about how to fight and didn't last long. Most were demons that never would have seen the killing side of the Slayer in other circumstances. She couldn't help but feel some grief over those deaths.

"Buck up, Slayer. You did 'em a favor by puttin' 'em out of their misery. They'd tell you if they could," Spike consoled her. "Better that than the labs, bein' all helpless and no end to the torment."

Spike knew Finn was going to be back fairly soon from a longer than usual R & R break. Likely he'd been thinking up new ways to make Spike miserable. He could take it, years with Angelus taught him that early on, but still it wouldn't help to be physically impaired when they needed to put the plan into action.

He looked lovingly at Buffy and thought about how things were going to only get harder for her the longer she was kept here and how important it was for her to get out, back to her loved ones. "Pet," he started hesitantly, "If the time comes to jump in that cart and make it out of here and I happen to be...."

Buffy frowned and put a gentle hand on his forearm, knowing where his thoughts were going, but it didn't stop him.

"Listen, I 'preciate more than I can ever say how you keep goin' on about stickin' together, not leavin' me here, but we need to be realistic. I might not be able to go, might not be in shape to do anythin' but hold you back, get you caught." He tenderly tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "You don't wait on me, hear? You get yourself in that cart and out of this place. Ol' Spike'll find a way out. Like a cat, always land on my feet, yeah?"

"No!" Buffy knew there was a possibility that Spike might be injured when the time came. She could help him. Between Charles Gunn and herself they could get Spike out with her if she had to carry him! "I thought I made my position clear, Spike. We go together or we wait till the next opportunity."

Spike smiled gently and tilted his head in that way that caused Buffy's breath to catch and her heart to beat oddly. He lifted a lock of her hair and stared at it gleaming gold in the harsh light of the florescent lighting. "Dru called you Sunshine." He looked hypnotized or lost in deep thought. "She had no idea how right she was," he said in a near whisper. "You're a dove at daybreak--strong, beautiful, all with a mission and ready to fly." He chuckled and closed his eyes, then let go of her hair and moved away from her. "I'm just a broken thing, more evil than good most of my time. What happens to me don't much matter in the big picture. You, on the other hand...."

"Me, on the other hand, is still going nowhere without you," Buffy said stubbornly. "You've been on the right path for quite a while now and that's without a soul to take the credit. You sell yourself short." Buffy took Spike by the shoulders and willed him to look into her eyes. "Was it someone broken or evil who saved my mom from a gang of vampires? How about when you helped me stop an apocalypse or two? Was it someone who doesn't matter who's been like a brother to Dawn almost since she came on the scene? Who's helped me and the gang? Saved Giles from being tortured to death by Angelus or being captured by these idiots when he was turned into that demon? No, don't turn your eyes away from me. Look at me, Spike," she demanded. "At the very least, you're family. Family doesn't get left behind. Family doesn't get forgotten."

"But, pet..."

"No ‘but anything’," Buffy said sternly. "You can't walk; I carry you--just like you'd do me. You can't make it otherwise and we wait." Her voice and face softened, becoming quite tender. She gently cupped his face turning his gaze back to her again. "You think I don't know what would happen if I leave here and you don't? Not gonna happen, so just shove that idea right out of your head. You'd never leave me."

"Never," Spike admitted. "Don't walk out on people I love," Spike smiled wanly, "Not too many of them to waste."

"And yet another way you're different from Angel," Buffy mused. "You stay, or at least you come back."

***

"I don't know, Kate. We've lost a couple of decent recruits lately. Luckily, they never got in any position to compromise the operations." Nick Perkins sounded tired, but as full of good humor as was his nature. "I probably need to talk to the Grand Organizer himself instead of emails and messages." He laughed, "NOT because I don't trust you, o wife of my beloved elder brother. I should make that clear before I need to hire a food taster for the next family dinner," he teased.

Kate giggled, "I already sent Dawn to go get Angel when you started telling me. I figured you'd need to run things by Mr. Micromanage." Kate was getting along better with Angel after having worked with him for a while, but she still hadn't forgotten the pain he had caused the Summers family. Cordy had assigned Kate the job of running the communications center for the camp and that had forced her into a grudging relationship with the brooding vampire.

All of the leaders throughout the underground that, under various names, ferried at-risk humans and any peaceful, or willing to be peaceful, demons to safe places had heard the rumors. The scuttlebutt was coming from all areas about the new guys on the block, the ones who had chosen to meet the world's insanity with violence. No amount of reasoning was making a bit of difference to the DRA as more and more young demons were convinced killing was the only way to survive. Naturally it was creating that famous cycle of violence that merely fed into the fear and paranoia already felt by the humans. Most recruiting was happening on the dark web, the part of the internet still safe for use without giving away their location. Now there were reports that members were trying to infiltrate the refugee camps to entice the fearful and angry to join in their cause.

No matter if one could understand how the DRA came to be, there was no excuse for the mayhem they caused or the danger they put every other demon in. Demons were already misunderstood victims of bigotry, and in jeopardy. Every violent act just made the whole situation worse. There was no way their methods could ever hope to win out against the sheer numbers of humans that were in control of the planet. T’Mcasla talked big and dreamed even larger, but, in the end, he and his cause were doomed. The other leaders were scrambling to keep the Demon Rebellion Army from dooming them all. Human assistance was essential, but it would dry up if the madness continued.

"Too bad Lorne was the only Pylean to immigrate to our corner of the Universe," Kate mused. "We could use more with his particular gift.

"Amen to that!" Nick held the perpetually cheerful green demon with the major skills for ferreting out potential trouble in high esteem. "I'm just happy we latched onto a couple of Obake to do our liaison work with recruits here. Wesley sent a pair of brothers, or I think they're brothers, hard to tell."

"Yeah, but that's why they're so valuable to the cause," Kate reminded him. "All that endless shape-shifting makes it impossible to ID them later."

"They do all the parts that require visual contact when we interview now. Add to that the mad skills of our resident Mage and his truth spells, and so far no slip-ups." Nick's voice became more serious and quiet, "Only a matter of time though. Can hear the tick-tock on that one. Only hope it’s somewhere we can contain without bringing down the whole network."

Kate noticed that Angel had quietly entered the room. 'That man clearly has stalking down to a fine art!' Better hand it over to him and leave the long-distance reunion for later. "Hey, Nicky...Angel's here and I'll put him on." She hesitated, her heart filled with worry and longing for the days when her family was as close as a short drive. "Don't take any chances, Nick; it'd kill Jim if anything happened to his baby brother."

"I'll be fine, sis. Give my love to the old boy and kiss the kiddies for me. Tell the rugrats their pirate uncle has been picking up plenty of booty for them that I'll bring next time I rotate back up there."

Angel took the handset from the weepy woman and waited without a display of impatience for her to vacate the chair. "Perkins? Dawn said you need to report another incident?"

"Yeah. This time it was one of our own. A Garuda hothead. Not sure if the DRA have targeted us too, or if they just thought an insider could recruit from our safe camps. Either way, I don't like it. They will bring down fire on all of us if we don't get a handle on this; they're reckless."

"Fanatics often are," Angel agreed. "You sure they were from the DRA?" Angel looked pensive. "There are several smaller groups popping up now, you know."

"No question about it. Earl did a pretty inclusive spell on the Garuda and followed it up with a mind wipe, because the last thing we need is to have any of those terrorists think we have too much info on them. Right now we're just a hunting ground for new members. We don't want to have them declare our camps to be enemy territory and start their bombing shite on our people. Too much heartache and loss there already"

"True," Angel agreed. "If they think we are a liability and not just ineffectual, we might as well paint a target on all our backs."

"I'm thinking we need to implement a strict policy on our screenings starting...like...yesterday. We should do extra readings on refugees as well as volunteers. I sent that to you in an email last week, dude!" Nick understood that the vampire fancied he had some special gift for managing, but time was a-wasting and too much was at stake.

"Yeah, I've looked over our resources and I'm just not sure we have enough talent to cover anything like that," Angel admitted apologetically. "Besides, if we put our fleeing people through too strict a screening, it'll slow things down to a crawl."

"Better slow than bringing the Global Human Initiative to our doors because of a slip-up," Nick barked. "The whole system depends on keeping our locations, operations and members secret and secure. Loose lips and all that."

"What about Human Initiative spies? Any more of them sniffing around the docks again?"

"Not since the last two." Nick ran a weary hand over his eyes and swallowed his distaste for violence. "Vernon took care of them." He shuddered as he remembered the report on how the two humans had been handled. Nick hated many things about the situation they were in but most of all he hated what it was turning him into. "There won't be any bodies to be found."

"Good," Angel didn't sound conflicted at all. "Look, I'll go over the numbers again and get back with you. You're sounding stressed; why don't you put in for a short break and come see your family?"

Nick nearly laughed at the way the vampire made it sound so casual, like putting in for vacation back when he lived a normal life. "That would be fantastic, but where are you going to find another Dread Pirate Roberts to sail the high seas with boatloads of refugees while I'm playing lay-about in Washington?"

"Gunn can spell you," Angel suggested automatically.

"Charlie is currently playing the role of James Bond back in SunnyD, trying to get your ex and her new, improved vamp out of the labs there, or did you forget?"

Angel growled at the description of Spike but said nothing. He suspected Nick was trying to get a rise out of him. "Yeah, I forgot he volunteered for that one."

"Shouldn't be too long now," Nick mused. "They've got a plan ready and they're just waiting for the right time to implement." He didn't envy his new friend being in the belly of the beast. "I'll be glad to get him back in one piece. Graham and I have been handling things, but more hands are always needed. I was really hoping those last volunteers would work out. The DRA is really cutting into my resources."

"Once Buffy is free, things will start to improve." Nick could almost hear the intense brooding over the telephone line. "That whole group can leave Sunnydale and disperse throughout the operation. Lots of talent at one time then. Tell you what, I'll personally send Spike to you down there. He speaks a bit of Spanish."

Nick had no doubt that Angel would be more than happy to send Spike anywhere as long as it was as far away from his bone...er...ex-girlfriend as possible.

***
..."And in today's news, another suicide bombing in a public place, this time just outside the Lenkom theater in Moscow. The theater was filled to capacity for the opening of the Gorin play 'Fool Balakirev". The notorious demon terrorist group DRA has claimed responsibility. The numbers aren't fully in yet but rough estimates give casualties as numbering over 50 with many more hospitalized. We'll keep you informed as more information is released. Now back to you, Bernard."

"Indeed," Bernard Shaw intoned somberly, "In a statement released from the Global Human Initiative, acting director Quentin Travers vowed to 'hunt the murderous demons to the ground and wipe this terrorist organization off the planet'. According to our sources at the U.N., a Demon Terrorist Taskforce has been deployed to work with local authorities in Moscow to ensure all known or suspected DRA members or supporters are detained immediately."

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 28
~*~

 

Finn was itching to have some private time with Spike. He'd watched, sickened, as Buffy and Spike drew closer to one another in confinement. They were always huddled together, talking and touching. 'Hell, Buffy never doted on me like that!' NO! He, the real boyfriend, always had to beg for every minute of her time. Everybody, her friends, her so-called "calling", her mom, her pet vampires, all of them came before Riley and he still felt the sting.

The Old Man, the Englishman that seemed to be everywhere on the base calling the shots had ordered a hold on Riley's fun for a while. Some crazy stuff about making recordings of the disgusting relationship between Slayer and vampire to back up some thesis of his to win over former Council members. Riley was clueless as to why those pricks were needed. That whole group was nothing but lots of little girls who didn't know their place, trying to be men, and old academics talking each other to death. If something wasn't on some old scroll or carved in a rune somewhere they had no idea what to do! Well Finn knew and couldn't wait for the okay to let loose. The vampire was looking altogether too healthy.

Riley nudged the prone Spike in the ribs, not hard enough to snap anything unfortunately. "Get up, monster. Need a hair sample for the labs. We can do it the easy way or the hard way, and you know which way I'd prefer."

"Best tell the lab boys to do their testin' quick-like. Vampire, remember, hair might degrade a bit or even dust if they wait too long," Spike suggested then pulled out a sample himself to hand over. He was tired of not being in charge of what was done to his body. If they wanted a hair sample, well, he'd rather be the one doin' the pullin'.

Finn sneered at the offered hair sample, then took it and handed it off to his subordinate to take to the lab. "You seem to forget just who I am in this place, Spike."

"Don't forget a thing. You're the wanna-be hero that can't handle a woman stronger than you are. You're the git who hates and kills vampires while you’re gettin' suck jobs from one on a regular basis. I used to call you Captain Cardboard, but cardboard has more goin' for it than you ever will."

It took all of Riley's restraint to not lay into the smartass and show him just who he was. "Actually, Spike, to you I'm sorta like a god. I'm the one with the power of life and death over you and you'd best remember that."

Spike laughed with genuine glee. "A god? What kind of moron would have a nit like you as their god? Power of life and death, is it? Bloody lackwit! All animals, even the little ones--hell, even viruses--have that kind of power. I've been the personal escort to more than you can imagine on that trip across the river Styx." Spike curled his lip derisively. "Goin' by victim count and your own weird logic, you should be on your knees to me!"

Finn glared in contempt, "I'll be sure to remind Buffy of that when she's back from her check-up. Maybe a reminder that you're a cold blooded killer with no remorse will wake her up."

Spike returned the stare but kept silent. 'Bloody git already got me to mouth off for the cameras! Shit, nothin' like givin' bullets to the bastards holdin' the guns.' He was fairly sure that Buffy would understand and blow off anything Finn had to say. She'd lost that black and white view of the world since becoming one of the incarcerated here. She knew what Spike was and he had reason to think she also knew who he was by now.

There was a loud commotion in the hallway that broke the uncomfortable silence. A soldier entered and whispered something into Finn's ear, causing him to grimace. "Sure it's Barnes?" At the nod from the frightened looking junior officer, Riley spun and started to leave Spike's cell. "Make sure you secure the area. Don't want those TV cameras here for the press conference picking up on this mess."

The soldier left at a near run, trailing a double team of his fellows headed towards the sounds of shouting.

Riley sighed, then promised Spike, "This isn't over by a long shot. I'll be back."

"Don't doubt that for a minute," Spike smirked. "As much time as you spend gettin' physical with me I'd be inclined to think you've got a crush. Not interested, by the way, and besides, I'm taken."

Spike could tell by the rigid spine on his tormentor that his insinuations were understood.

***

The rival television crews crowded the small space near the administrative offices of the facility. "Probably just more propaganda. Some blowhard giving another pep talk to the masses," opined one cameraman.

"Pays the same. I just film and upload," his counterpart from another network replied. "It's so canned now that we might as well just load up the old stuff and recycle,"

The group of cameramen chuckled. "Not much new in the news lately, that's for sure. Hell, I can give a speech just repeating what they all have to say. ‘Demons bad. Must kill demons. Earth for humans. Make the planet ours again. Blah, blah, blah’."

"I don't know. There's that new group that are fighting back. Might get some footage worthy of a Media and Journalism award out of that," he cameraman said wistfully. "Need to get assigned to something other than recording these press conferences first, though."

"Yeah," his counterpart agreed sadly, "Not likely they'll hit an installation like this. Way too much security on a regular day, but with the Secretary General here it's tighter than a virgin hooker."

U.N. Secretary General Beldescu was spotted getting ready to head for the row of microphones set up for the event. "Showtime."

Cosmin Beldescu hated sharing the spotlight, but in fairness this Travers guy was responsible for his promotion and Cosmin did love the perks of the job. Eventually there would be a showdown. Once the demons were removed from the picture, there would be a need for a firm hand on the wheel of government and Beldescu's ambitions would undoubtedly collide with those of Quentin Travers. In the end, only one hand would steer the ship of state and that hand was going to be that of Cosmin Beldescu! Let the old geezer have the spotlight for now.

"Peoples of the world," he began his introduction speech as the cameras whirred.

***

..."No one has been as close to the enemy or more in the forefront of the fight as my esteemed colleague. We all know this hero by now, but it is my privilege to present to you the Director of the Global Human Initiative, Quentin Travers."

"Here we go again," sighed Chaim Rosenberg as he turned up the volume on the small TV. "We have so much on our agenda today and this Shlub has to take some of our time. Still, we have to listen. Both of them such Tumlers! To ignore them is to miss the latest stirring of the soup, yes?"

He looked around the table at the small group who constituted the heart and soul of the Lighthouse Project. Decent men and women all, and the demon Lorne as well. He was proud to be part of such a group in the troubled days they were currently living in. "I doubt he has anything of importance to share, but the nasty boys who hang on their words will be riled up later." Chaim shook his head sadly.

Travers began to speak. He talked of the efficiency of the Global Human Initiative in hunting down the dangerous demons and recent success in putting down insurrectionists who had dared to attack innocent human populations in public arenas. "I assure every one of you that this group of terrorists will be shut down," his hand slammed on the podium resoundingly in emphasis. "You decent human beings deserve nothing less than full protection from the oldest enemy who is no longer hiding in the shadows, but is seen and known to us all. They shall not prevail!"

His voice that had started level and calm had increased in emotional fervor as he came to the heart of it, "It is a problem of whether our planet can ever recover its health, whether the demon influence can ever really be eradicated. Don't be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus. Don't think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the Earth of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis. This contamination will not subside; this poisoning of the planet will not end, until the carrier himself, the demon scum, has been banished from our midst."

Chaim sat upright in his chair and pointed at the screen sputtering, "He's not even trying to be original now! That is from Hitler's Salzburg speech in 1920! Of course, in that speech, my people were the demons. All he really did was change the word Jew to Demon! Why can no one see this for what it is?"

"We see, my brother," Kalil offered a calming hand on the angered older man's shoulder. "We are not sitting idly by while such evil reasserts itself."

Nods all around the table showed the solidarity of the group, and most likely, others like it around the world would be in full accord.

"He's a maniac, no question," Rev. Prentiss shook his head sadly. "How the population can listen to this and not see it just makes me sad."

Lorne sighed, "I've read enough demons and humans to know the power of fear. He may be a maniac, but he knows how to use fear and uncertainty to his advantage. All he had to do was tap into the natural instinct and there you have it."

"But won't people just get tired of being scared all the time?" Willow remembered how frightened she had been when first exposed to Buffy's world back in high school. Eventually the fear abated, though, and she had no trouble dealing with the supernatural. "I used to be really scared, but before long I was right there, helping Buffy in the fight."

"Well, Gingersnap, you channeled your fear into action and that can be good, but only if those actions are the right ones." Lorne reminded her. "There are plenty of terrified people out there taking action too. What they aren't doing is learning to see things as more than black and white. They're handling their fear by just killing demons without thinking about if they need to every time."

"Buffy killed demons and so did we," Xander reminded him.

"Yes, but you didn't go down to their neighborhoods and slaughter them in their homes or kill whole families, did you?" He looked at Xander as the lad bit his lower lip and looked uncomfortable. "No, you didn't because you were fighting evil, not demons. You targeted the ones who were hurting people, trying to end the world. That's a very different thing, my studly cream puff."

"Exactly!" growled Father Mike, "Nothing wrong with protecting yourself and others. No one here thinks all demons are fine upstanding citizens worthy of a cuddle any more than all humans are. That's the big difference between what your Buffy was called to do and what this Amadan who used to run the Council meant to support her seems to think is the proper response."

Jonathan had been listening carefully, "How do you tell the difference?"

"You judge by what a person does, not what he is," Rabbi Goldstein offered.

***

Jonathan tucked his head a little deeper into his jacket against the chill wind as he walked home, deep in thought. He wondered how he would be judged, based on actions he'd taken at times in his life. He'd done some questionable things over the years in an effort to mean something to somebody, be someone important. Some of those things got people hurt. Still, he had to believe that deep down he was an okay guy.

"Hey!" Just who Jonathan didn't need to run into. His former partner in crime--well, not literally of course, but Andy had some of the same issues he had and they had both done some iffy things.

"Hey, Andrew," his voice didn't sound particularly welcoming, but the other boy didn't seem to notice.

"Did you get that note to Anya at the Party Box?"

"I just gave it to her," he stopped himself before he gave away that he had just been in a meeting that included Anya and Xander. They were still flying under the radar regarding their sympathies. He had slipped the note to her just before the meeting was scheduled to begin and told her it was from Andrew Wells, who might or might not be reliable.

"Good, 'cause I think Warren got one of his guys to plant the cameras at the store already. You remember Gary? He's in heating and plumbing and gets into all kind of buildings on the job, ya know." Andrew squirmed.

The guy always looked uncomfortable in his own skin that way. "Hope the note got to her in time," he gave Jonathan a look that might have made him feel guilty had he been as worried as Andrew obviously was. It was kinda weird seeing Andrew worried about someone like he seemed to be for Anya.

"Hey, I heard some scuttlebutt that you're helping friendly demons get to safety. You're part of some group?" Jonathan tensed up and felt himself go pale as the blood drained from his face.

"Don't know where you hear crazy talk like that," he hedged.

"Don't panic!" Andrew mimed zipping his lips and tossing the key, "My lips are sealed. I'd never give you up. Besides I kinda think that's a good thing…you know, noble."

Jonathan would love to believe his old friend had really changed, but it wasn't that long ago he was in Warren's group harassing demons right and left and even causing more than a few to get killed. "Yeah? Bet you don't say that at your Youth for Humans meetings."

"I stopped going," Andrew admitted. "Turns out most of my friends had at least some demon in them. It wasn't so much fun after I saw so many disappear or worse," he shivered. "I didn't officially quit; Warren wouldn't like that. I just find reasons I can't come to the meetings and stuff. Even Warren's enough afraid of Tucker not to complain when I say I have to work with my brother."

"Tucker is lucky Warren hasn't sicced his group on him with all his demon-summoning stuff," Jonathan noted.

"Tuck stopped all that when he finally got a girlfriend," Andrew shrugged. "I wonder sometimes about Janice, but Tucker's a lot easier to live with now that he's got a girl."

"So you stopped because...what? You feel sorry for them?" Jonathan was trying to puzzle out how likely it might be that his old friend had actually changed. After all, sympathy, according to Adam Smith, was the basis for moral feeling.

Andrew looked sheepish, an ironically appropriate look for the guy in Jonathan's opinion. "If there would be that kind of group, you know, helping out the good demons, think I could join and help out?"

While he didn’t sense a trap, Jonathan remained silent. Andrew was a lot of things, but never a good liar. "MAYBE I've heard about that kind of thing and I might know someone who you could talk to."

Andrew brightened up. "That'd be so cool! Like in a comic book where once the hero walked the dark path, but then seeks the way of redemption and saves everybody in the town!" Andrew's eyes gleamed brightly.

"Yeah, well, I doubt it would be like the comics," Jonathan warned. "Anyone who'd try to help out like that would have to do it in secret. No fanfare or awards."

Andrew deflated slightly. "I know, but inside I'd feel like a hero."

"I'll ask around."

***

Andrew felt the tingle of excitement as a blindfold was placed over his eyes, followed by a hood. The grim man who turned up on his doorstep and asked if he was the one interested in joining a resistance group wasn't talkative, though Andrew was full of questions. None was being answered.

"You'll be told what you need to know when you need to know it," the man grabbed Andrew by the arm and helped him into the dark van that the boy had only glimpsed before he was blindfolded.

Andrew nearly peed himself in excitement. This was it--his destiny at last! He was going to do something great, he just knew it.

It seemed like it took forever for the van to arrive at its final destination and the man guiding Andrew led him on a path he couldn't visualize in his darkness. It seemed like a hallway or tunnel or something closed in, but there was no way to know. When the hood and blindfold were finally removed, the sudden light nearly blinded him once again.

He was in a small, bare room with a bright light on him and deep shadows elsewhere. From the shadows, a melodious voice spoke gently. "So, muffin, I hear you are interested in helping the helpless. I need you to sing for me, hopefully nothing from the Hip-Hop oeuvre, as I'm pretty sure you couldn't pull that off."

"Sing?"

"Like a birdie, or whistle, hum...something musical, just let it flow."

Andrew began to warble in a shaky voice.
"How do you do
I see you've met my faithful handyman
He's just a little brought down because
When you knocked
He thought you were the candyman
Don't get strung out by the way I look
Don't judge a book by its cover
I'm not much of a man by the light of day
But by night I'm one hell of a lover
I'm just a sweet transvestite
From Transsexual, Transylvania."

Lorne suppressed a chuckle. Somehow he had little difficulty seeing the young man singing for him being a Rocky Horror fan.

***

"Verdict?" Rabbi Goldstein was well aware of the nervous anticipation Jonathan was consumed by, waiting to hear the results of Lorne's read of his friend.

"The boy shouldn't try a move to Broadway any time soon," he smiled at the group. "I've only seen one other destiny like this one. Lindsey McDonald was hard to read too. Seems, like Lindsey, this kid could go either way and I don't mean just in one sense."

"But what does that mean?" Jonathan was a wreck. "Isn't this Lindsey guy working with us at that farm?"

"That he is. It took love to finally nudge him to the right path. He fell in love with Darla and it's because of his love for her and her son that he threw in with us. Andrew doesn't have that sort of incentive right now," he looked pointedly at Jonathan much to that boy's confusion. "If he had a reason, he could easily be the hero he fancies himself as becoming or..." a long pregnant pause followed. "He could bring death to us all here in Sunnydale. It always comes down to the choice between love and hate. It's not about good and evil, but about love winning out over hate."

"And young Mr. Wells?" Calvin Prentiss inquired, his eyebrows raised.

"Young Mr. Wells hasn't learned love yet. Hasn't had much in the way of it in his life to now. He does have attractions that could bloom into love. He has potential." Lorne took a deep breath. "If we reject him, I guarantee he'll go to the dark side. The boy is looking to belong, to matter. He can be guided and molded. What he can't be is trusted, not fully, not now. Once he learns something of love, then he can soar."

***

Buffy watched Spike sleeping. He looked so young and innocent in his slumber. She wondered how they had gotten to this place. No, not the labs, but to the place where he had found a place in her heart. They had been mortal enemies, but even then there was a sense that his word could be trusted, enough that they became allies when it was needed.

Spike had somehow weaseled a place into her life, her group and finally her heart. It didn't happen in a blaze of passion or attraction like it had with Angel. It didn't happen by making a seemingly rational choice like with Riley. He sort of grew on her. Just as the changes in him, that slow path to the light, came bit by bit, so too had he become far more important to her than she might have realized had they not been caged together.

He loved her. Buffy knew that Spike could and did love without a soul. That had all been nonsense. More of Angel's rationalization for his actions as Angelus combined with Council dogma. No, Spike could love and deeply. She had seen his care for Dru, his willingness to sacrifice himself for that love.

He told her he loves her and Buffy knew he didn't use the term lightly. No, he loves her. But what did she feel for him?

Buffy and love were pretty unmixy if you looked at her track record. She sighed inwardly. 'Jinx. That's what I am. If I love someone, they leave or go bad. Spike would be lucky if I never loved him back.'

She wished she were better with words. Maybe she could explain her fears as well as her feelings and give Spike what he needed to hear. Maybe, when they were free, she could try.

Spike stirred, the feeling of being watched nudging him into consciousness. Buffy smiled at him as his eyes fluttered open. "Sorry, hope I didn't wake you."

"No, pet. 'Sides, if I get to look at you when I open my eyes, I don't mind."

Buffy smiled wider. 'Spike has no trouble with words. He's Wordy Boy actually.'

"I'm just a moth, love. And you, Buffy, you're the world's only candle. The brightest, most effulgent candle that ever was. Being near you might burn me to ash, but I couldn't stand to be anywhere but as near to your glow as you'll let me be."

See! Buffy felt her eyes tear up, "That sounds like it could be a poem."

Spike returned her smile although his was a bit sad, "If I had the gift of Wordsworth or Burns...maybe Byron...." His voice trailed off as he became lost in thought. "No, even then no words could possibly do you justice."

'I must be a candle, 'cause I know I just felt myself melt,' Buffy thought as she felt one of the tears track down her cheek.

"Wish I could love like you do," she whispered.

"Sweetheart, you ARE love."

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 29
~*~

 

“This note, that’s why!” Anya was as nervous as a cat with six tails and pacing furiously while talking a mile a minute. “How do I know they only bugged the Box? Why bug me at all? I’m as human as I was before I ever met D’Hoffryn. Who would do this? Why?”

“Those are all excellent questions, Ahn. I don’t know how you got on anyone’s radar, but I swear by Grabthar’s Hammer no one is going to hurt you.” Xander wrapped his arms around his frantic fiancé.

He put up a good pretense of calmness, but his insides had turned to jelly. He knew he loved Anya, but the very thought of her hurt or dead had him nearly mad with worry. “Let me see that again,” he reached for the short note.

Ahn handed over the note. It wasn’t overly specific, but at the same time told them more than enough to create panic.

”Box bugged. Vids 24/7. Suspect demon or sympathizer. Take care.” so few words, so much terror.

Xander had looked around as well as he could without making it obvious he was searching for something. If the note wasn’t a hoax, whoever had bugged the place had done a good job of concealment.

“When?” Ahn cried. “I mean, what if they had surveillance before I got this note? It’s not like I’ve been indiscreet,” she ignored Xanders snort of amusement at that. “Not about my past anyway, not since all this started. I’m pretty sure I haven’t said much, but who knows what might have slipped!”

“I think if they had anything they’d have done something by now. Relax, honey; I’m gonna turn in my notice today. I’ll say we’re moving to greener pastures. We’ll be safe underground with everybody before you know it.”

“It can’t be too soon for me. This spy business sucks,” Anya buried her head in Xander’s shoulder, seeking comfort.

“Yeah, all my James Bond fantasies are over, that’s for certain! Too much stress. Let’s face it, I’m not cut out to be a real G-man, no matter what our own G-man might think.”

“I’ve been worried about you,” Ahn admitted and snuggled deeper. “I hate that Max Taylor! He’s a bigot, and nasty too. Just the kind of man I used to be called upon to punish. You’ve seen how he acts around all the wives and he never hires women for his crews. “

“Shhh,” an alarmed Xander looked around nervously. “We don’t know if the apartment is bugged too. Same with the car.”

“This is so hard for me. I’m still not used to filtering what I say and now I have to be almost paranoid.”

“Not almost, Ahn, be paranoid. Nothing wrong with healthy paranoia when the circumstances call for it,” Xander grinned, “Besides, it’s not paranoia when they ARE out to get you.”

Xander drove Anya to the Party Box to start packing the merchandise to store it for a better day to come and then headed for the construction site. Max wasn’t going to be happy, but then he rarely was unless he was lording it over on someone.

It didn’t take long for Xander to be called into Taylor’s trailer office after his arrival. “Harris, get your ass in here! We’re behind schedule and I’d have thought you’d have shown up early to help fix that,” Max bellowed.

“Well, boss, you never said you wanted us in early or that you would authorize overtime.”

“Don’t get smart with me, Xander,” Max sneered. “You’ll never amount to anything if you don’t learn to take some initiative on your own.” Max was reminding Xander of his old man more and more everyday, and that was anything but a compliment. He seriously hoped the Taylors never had kids.

“About that, boss man,” Xander began. No way was he going to let Max Taylor bully or guilt him into a delay. Anya was in danger. “Need to turn in my notice. Ahn and I are headed to Vegas. Got a great offer, I’d tell you with whom, but you know, ‘What happens in Vegas…’ We can do the wedding before I start.”

“What the hell, Harris! I’m short enough without you bailing on me. Just what am I supposed to do to cover?” Max’s face was red and his manner livid.

“Don’t know and don’t really care, Max. Maybe firing good guys right and left wasn’t a good business model after all.”

“You think you’d be foreman if Joe Perkins hadn’t as good as admitted he was demon filth?”

“Joe merely remembered he’s an American. Here in the good ol’ U.S.A. you’re innocent till proven guilty. That much is still in the Constitution anyway. He wasn’t a criminal and wasn’t about to give up his rights and take your test to prove himself innocent,” Xander huffed without giving away Joe’s actual demon status.

“You should thank me for keeping the crew pure. Those things will turn on you the first chance they get,” Max snarled.

“Same goes for lots of human people I know,’ Xander walked off leaving Taylor sputtering in rage.

***

Finn’s team rushed to the female demons’ holding cells, intercoms alive with chatter. “I need to know exactly what went down, so cut the hysteria and report NOW!”

A calmer voice responded as the other voices quieted, “Sir, Barnes was…um…interrogating one of the detainees, a Lurite adolescent. Next thing we know, body parts are flying and all the females in the area started a godawful keening and tried to get into the cell. Barnes didn’t have a chance! Man, I don’t think there’s enough of him left to even bag for his folks to lay to rest.”

“Current status in the pit?” Finn demanded. He was pretty sure he could fill in the blanks. Barnes had a reputation for letting his smaller head make his choices when dealing with the females in his charge. He was well hated and feared by most of the prisoners.

“The females are all yelling and going wild. Frankly, sir, we’re all afraid to go in there to stop the riot.”

Finn rolled his eyes. He wondered where they were getting some of the recruits lately. Idiots, bullies and near criminals, more often than not. How was Riley supposed to keep a lid on things with Barnes and his clones riling up the prisoners? “Hit ‘em with gas and knock ‘em out. DO IT!” His order brooked no argument. “I want that area locked down and contained NOW.”

“Sir…Mr. Travers and his aide are headed that way. Should we intercept them?”

“Think they’ll be in any danger?” It wouldn’t break Riley’s heart to see Quentin Travers get a bit of a scare in him. That man had spoiled all of Finn’s fun of late, making his home videos when there was ball busting to do.

“None of the females are making moves to get out. There’s lots of screaming and pandemonium and it won’t look good unless we get them under control quick, but I don’t think there’s any physical danger.”

“Good thing the other dignitaries and the press aren’t parading around the area with Travers then.”

***
“So, Starling, you see why I am confident that the traitors will soon be singing another tune. I’m not shocked, of course. I’ve been through this with Miss Summers once before, insolent girl!” Travers rolled his lip in distaste. “Had the audacity to demand we assist in saving the life of her paramour Angelus, if you can believe that. At least she hasn’t tried to bargain for this one’s freedom. She’s no longer under any delusions about who holds the power this time.”

“Still scandalous behavior in a Slayer, I must say,” Starling agreed. “And the Potentials we are holding are not proving to be any better. They’ve clearly bonded with the demon females in their wing. Perhaps we should include footage of that as well.”

Travers narrowed his eyes and gave Starling a look, as if questioning his sanity, “Hardly! Good Lord, my man, the last thing we want is for them to see what we’ve had to do to rebelling Potentials! Remember, they all took their girls and some others into hiding with them. They’d not wish to see their charges incarcerated. Get a grip!” Travers face was red and he looked like he was near apoplexy. “The idea is for them to see the perversion first hand. They all knew about the murderous second Slayer, of course. I doubt any of them truly objected to her being removed. They need to see the repeated behaviors of the original Slayer, Summers. One mistake made while still a very young girl might be brushed over, but THIS, this shows a pattern! There can be no denial that something is terribly wrong with the choices of the Powers at this point in history. The system is broken and I did not break it.”

“Do you think it was wise,” Starling ventured, carefully picking his words like dodging mines in a battlefield, “to have placed the fully human Potential Slayers directly in with the demons?”

BOOM! Clearly he hadn’t dodged a thing, judging by Travers infuriated look. “I mean…er…em…I do understand what you had hoped to achieve. The idea was brilliant, truly, sir! It’s just that the girl…well, the girls are already obviously corrupted. They didn’t behave as one would anticipate at all, not how they were trained. “Travers was looking ever so slightly mollified with Starling’s hurried back-track. “Actually, sir, it has served to prove your thesis correct. It is not just the last two called Slayers, but a rot within the system itself!”

“Just so, Starling, just so.” Travers nodded. “Any human thrown in with the demons that then bond with them shows his true colors. I must say that any demon that doesn’t rend such a human to bits, as any normal animal would, clearly shows the human is not right in some way. They must be little more than animals themselves.”

“Yes, sir,” Starling concurred. “What about this new situation the Youth leader has brought to our attention? This former demon that is now fully human? What are your thoughts on how to proceed there?”

“Ah, yes, another ‘friend’ of Miss Summers, is she not?” Starling nodded in the affirmative. “I think something a bit different is called for there, don’t you?”

“Like what, sir?”

“I’m thinking a fair and open trial might be in order. A public examination of this female’s history and character. It should be televised, of course. The court of public opinion will weigh heavily on the civilian authorities. Show her lack of remorse, her long list of deaths and dismemberments. If I’m not mistaken, our Council even credits this Anyanka with having a hand in the bloody Russian revolution! Lay communism at her door, that’s the ticket. The numbers of ‘unnatural deaths’ under Stalin alone are estimated at twenty million people!”

“I’ve heard it might be upwards of sixty million,” Starling paled. “Makes Hitler and Pol Pot look like pikers, if one can imagine that.”

“Yes, and this vengeance demon helped usher it in, from what our records tell us. As I said, not one word of apology, even when returned to human status! Just what does that truly make her?” Travers tilted his head and looked down his nose piously. “Proof is what it makes her! Proof that even if they can pass the tests for humanity, once they become tainted in any way by demonic contact, they neither seek nor deserve redemption.”

“I rather like the idea of a public trial, sir,” Starling agreed heartily. “Will we be holding her here for the duration?”

“I think not,” Travers mused. “I think decent, humane confinement with all the rights and privileges any human would expect is in order. Don’t want to drum up sympathy among the bleeding hearts.”

“What about that boyfriend of hers?”

“Leave him alone unless he breaks the law by trying to free her. We don’t want to make it look like a witch hunt, now do we?”

***

“Thank Willow for this brilliant talisman,” Spike whispered to Gunn. With Finn out of the block, it was the perfect time to run the plan by the imprisoned duo. “Wouldn’t be able to discuss a thing without it.”

“Yeah, helps to have a witch in your corner,” Gunn agreed. “So you guys set for tomorrow? Got the plan nailed down in your mind?”

“Yeah,” Buffy affirmed. “Once the bells and whistles go off, you’ll open our cell and we head for the carts. You order the kapos on duty to carry on and clear out the bodies. We play dead while they dump us out and, while the fireworks are still popping, we climb out and head for the woods. Am I forgetting anything?” Buffy looked nervous but more than ready.

“That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Just remember to have Buffy under you so they don’t notice her breathing, right, Spike?”

“Got it. Buffy under me. Not an order I’m likely to forget,” Spike smirked.

Charles chuckled, “Keep it in the pants, bro. You’re not out of the fire just yet. Plenty of time for bumpin’ the uglies once you’re clear of this hellish place.”

“There will be no bumpin' of anything,” Buffy tapped her toe and gave them both her best prim school-marm glare. She smacked Spike on the forearm, “That’s enough from you, pig.”

Spike could tell from her tone of voice that it was all teasing and bluster. They were both fairly giddy in anticipation of getting out and tasting freedom once again.

“Any heads-up on when the show starts?”

Charles could see the worry on Buffy’s face and wished he could give her something concrete. “We’re planning for shift change, first one in the afternoon. You don’t have any watches or anything, but you’ll know when you see the day crew start to do turnover.”

“What about Finn?” Spike could just see the giant Boy Scout ruin their plans!

“He’s supposed to be in an admin meeting most of tomorrow morning and afternoon. They’re looking at ways to shore up security in the female demon section. Right now the girls are all in the open pit while they clean up from the riot.”

“How about you, Charlie? How’re you gettin’ out?” Spike had come to like the young man in the short time they had become acquainted. He would hate to see Charles Gunn pay for their freedom with his life.

“I figure in the confusion I slip out and they chalk me up to collateral damage. There’ll be more than a few bodies and not all of them are going to be able to be identified. Slip my tags on one and blow this joint. “He smiled in genuine happiness, “I plan to be about two steps behind you.”

“Well, then, that’s alright,” Spike smiled. “Don’t stick around for photos and souvenirs, yeah?”

“Nah, nothin’ here I’d want to remember, “Charles said with a shudder.

Spike looked at Buffy tenderly, “Don’t want to forget everything; been a diamond or two in the dirt.”

Buffy squeezed his hand and smiled at him, “There are better ways to make those kinds of memories than being in a place where you get tortured on a regular basis.”

“Yeah, but if it was the only way…gotta say gettin’ close to you…you’re worth it,” Spike’s look could melt the glaciers.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 30
~*~

 

Buffy and Spike were wound tight, senses on high alert. Time seemed to slow to a crawl and both of them were itching to get the show on the road.

“You up for this, Slayer?”

Buffy smiled, seeing through Spike’s use of her title instead of her name or one of his trademark nicknames for her. He hadn’t called her Slayer in a long while. This time he was addressing the warrior, the part of her that was all steel and fight, the part that brooked no nonsense.

“Born ready, vampire. You?”

“Same.”

Buffy had some bruising and a gash on her forehead but nothing that would prevent their flight to freedom. Spike was blessedly in one piece as well. The gods of prison escape seemed to be smiling on them.

“Should be anytime now. I saw Federwitz head for the Charge Officers room for shift change.” Spike paced, ready to act on a moment’s notice.

“See Gunn anywhere?”

Spike looked through the glass pane in the cell door and peered out. “Speak of the devil. He just showed up at the end of the corridor. Got what looks like a laundry cart with him. Suppose that’s our transport.”

“I feel like I’m in every bad prison break movie Xander ever made me watch! Guess I should be glad we didn’t have to spend months digging a tunnel.”

Spike grinned, “I’m gettin’ pretty good at playin’ mole-boy. First, diggin’ up my pretty ring you gave to your ex, then all those tunnels to make a place to hide from these berks. Can’t say I fancy another round of excavation just now though.”

Buffy moved closer to Spike near the doorway and was knocked sideways when the first explosion rocked the building.

“Sounds like they’re playin’ our song, Slayer. Care to dance?”

***

“And fire two!” Xander grinned in glee. He rather liked blowing things up. He might have chosen construction as a career, but there was something to be said for controlled destruction too.

The second charge went off closer to the Administration area where most of the “important” staff had offices and barracks.

“Hope that first one didn’t accidentally get too close to Buffy,” Willow worried.

“Had to give them the heads-up and create confusion in their wing. Gunn said he set the charge where it wouldn’t do more than structural damage,” Giles reassured the twitchy witch.

“I just wish your buddy Ethan hadn’t been so good at his craft.” Willow hated not being able to use her magic skills in the battle. She didn’t seem to realize how important her computer hacking abilities had been in deciding where and when to plant the explosives. It was a different but every bit as important kind of magic.

“Now the guard tower,” Xander smiled as he pressed the activator for the charge.

“Let’s wait a short while for the next set, shall we? No doubt there’s ample confusion within to mask their movements,” Giles had everything planned to the second and so far luck had been with them.

***

“We’re under attack,” screamed Fry. “Must be those DRA bastards!” Fry was panicked as all the regular guys were. They’d all seen the news reports on how the Demon Rebellion Army treated captives. He really wished Barnes was still alive. That guy knew his way out of any situation…well almost.

“Not gettin’ me!” Fry vowed and headed for the nearest exit out of the facility, ripping off all insignia that would mark him as part of the staff.

“Get back to your post, soldier,” barked the CO for the wing. “Can’t have these creatures running loose. Contain them, seal the unit!”

Demons were agitated, looking for a way to use the miraculous panic and explosions as a way to freedom. A few cells had sprung open releasing a handful of demons including a pregnant female Fyral, who was happily removing the heads of her former tormentors. The others were too busy looking for a way out.

***

Gunn quickly swiped his access card and opened the cell door for Buffy and Spike who leapt into the cart immediately. “Okay, wheel man, let’s get the hell out of dodge,” Buffy exclaimed.

“Might let a few of the other sad buggers out along the way for more cover, mate,” Spike suggested.

“Oh, HELL no! No while I’m wearing a target on me,” Gunn replied.

“Most’ll be too dazed to do anything,” Buffy reminded him. “Keep in mind this is Riley’s playground. They’ll be lucky if they have all their parts.”

“Yeah, that mother is hardcore!” Charles could see in her eyes that the biggest reason Buffy had for trying to make a case for opening the cells was sympathy for the occupants.

“Sides, when they go checkin’ it might make ‘em take a bit longer to snap that we’re gone if the whole wing is loose,” Spike added.

“Alright, but if any of them come after me I’ll be expecting some protection,” Gunn agreed.

“Done,” Buffy promised.

Charles began swiping the card on all the occupied cell doors as he pushed the cart closer to the hallway leading to the morgue.

As predicted by Buffy, the demons inside weren’t capable of threatening anyone and looked more dazed and confused than anything.

Once in the hallway, Gunn sprinted as fast as his legs could move. The morgue was at the far end of the building and as yet untouched by any explosives.

The second volley of charges began to go off, this time nearer to the women’s wing. Gunn hoped it got that bastard Fry, Barnes’ buddy and protégé who gave men and humans a bad rep. The female demons had taken care of that Buster Barnes neatly just the day before. He’d never rape again--well, he’d never do anything again for that matter.

“Next step: changing carts. Next one won’t smell too good, just sayin’.” Gunn warned the pair. “Some of the demons have been dead a while and are kinda ripe.”

“I’ve been dead a while too, mate,” Spike quipped. “Lucky for me, I don’t have to breathe. Buffy might have the worst time.”

“Nothing can smell so bad that it would be worse than being in this place,” Buffy shuddered. “As long as they don’t set the fire before we can get out, I’m fine with whatever.”

“I already told the crew that there’ll be another load before they should light up so you’ve got time. I think everyone will be pretty busy for a bit,” Charles suggested as he flinched from yet another blast. “Damn your homeboys musta got a great deal on C4!”

“Xan works construction. Helps to have a man with the right connections,” Buffy smiled.

“Just remember when you crawl out of that pit, you head to the woods to the East. The A-Team will be right there. I’m plannin’ on being right behind you. Time for Lt. Dee to go AWOL if I can’t plant the tags on an unidentified and get listed as dead.”

***
“Miss Jenkins?” The man wore the uniform of the Global Human Initiative and was backed up by at least five others that Anya could see.

“Yes, can I help you?” Anya had stayed behind at the Box to try to keep from drawing attention to what the rest of the group were up to. The still undiscovered surveillance devices would finally come in handy. ‘Nothing to see here. Just business as usual.’

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with us, ma’am.”

Suddenly it was Anya who was afraid. “Why? I’m a tax-paying citizen and I’ve committed no crimes.”

“Well, ma’am that’s going to be for a jury to decide. Please put your hands behind your back and I’d strongly suggest you not engage in any resistance. My squad have orders to bring you in alive, but nothing was said about the condition.”

“What have I done? Can I get a lawyer?” Anya felt the bile rise in the back of her throat. ‘We waited too long!’

“That’s not for me to say, ma’am. I don’t know about a lawyer, but I suspect you’ll be allowed one. You’re going to the jail, not the facility. Just come along peacefully.”

***

“Will someone kindly explain what is going on?” Travers demanded. “Starling, find someone with answers! “ He stumbled slightly with the force of yet another explosion. “How is it possible that security has been breached?”

“I’ll look into it, sir,” Starling promised then looked around and wondered just who the devil there was to ask.

“Director Travers, sir,” the soldier in full riot gear took him by the arm. “You need to get to a secure area right away. So far we’ve contained the beasts, but I don’t know how long that’ll be the case.”

“Yes, yes,” Travers nodded. “I want answers as to how this was allowed to happen. There will be serious consequences for this shoddy security.” He was incensed. This was supposed to be the most protected base in the country, yet someone had managed to plant and detonate several explosives. Heads were going to roll once the inquiry was completed.

“Sir, this area is not safe,” Starling tried to urge his angry superior off the catwalk overlooking the female prisoners.

“I am aware of that, Starling. I am not daft.”

“No, sir, of course not.”

Another charge went off that rocked the building harder than the last. The female demons were keening and chattering, looking to see if any cracks could be exploited and turned into a way of escape.

Travers looked over the rail at them and fumed, “Make certain to have troops around the perimeter in case any of these creatures manage to find a hole big enough to crawl through. I do not want even one lost, do you understand?” He addressed the soldier who was still trying to get the director to move out of the area. “I especially want those five renegade Potentials accounted for, Starling,” he ordered.

“On it, sir.” Starling’s words were drowned out by yet another blast and the sound of pulling metal.

The catwalk railing was coming lose and Travers had been thrown onto the other side, the one open to the pit below.

“SIR!”

“Don’t just stand there, Starling, pull me back up!”

From below came an eerie silence as the female prisoners all gazed at the dangling director just barely out of reach. A vampiress in full demon mode stood directly below Travers and lisped, “Yes, Starling, mustn’t delay. Wouldn’t want your boss to take a tumble.”

The accompanying laughter chilled Starling to the bone.

“I get dibs on first blow,” came a human voice. Starling thought it was Sally, the Potential trained by the late Davina. “I owe him for my Watcher.”

“We all owe him,” the vampiress noted just as Travers grip on the railing slipped, sending him in a screaming fall into the pit filled with living vengeance.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 31
~*~

 

Never had a wooded area seemed so welcome or night skies so filled with wonder and delight. Had air ever smelt so sweet or burned so fiercely in her chest?

Buffy drew in large gulps of it partly from greedy pleasure and partly to appease her aching lungs. Long term captivity and limited action had made the mad dash from the pit of death to freedom seem like a marathon. Her lungs burned with the unaccustomed demands made upon them.

"Which way?" she gasped to Charles. He was as winded as Buffy so he merely pointed toward a thicket of scrub pine, juniper, and salt cedar mixed in with big cone spruce. All in all, a perfect cover for fleeing prisoners and their rescue team.

Spike, being blessed by not having to breathe, was doing better than the two humans. "You okay, Slayer?"

Buffy nodded, but he could see she was clearly still struggling to catch her breath. Spike scooped her up mid-stride and continued the sprint to safety.

At Buffy's indignant glare, he grinned but held her even closer and whispered, "Let me do this for you, love. Might as well have some advantage from being on the lam with a vampire, yeah?"

Buffy swallowed her injured pride and relaxed in his arms.

Voices--familiar, long unheard voices--whispered in the night indicating they had reached the finish line at long last. "Buffy!" … "Is she hurt?"… "Can she walk?" Words of relief and concern jockeyed for attention and answer.

"I'm okay, just out of practice with the running," Buffy reassured her Watcher and friends. To Spike's delight, she didn't struggle for him to put her down immediately either.

Charles brought up the rear after what felt like an uncomfortably long wait. He gave an amused grin at Spike and said, "Vamp or no, if you want to carry me the rest of the way I'm not gonna argue." He drew in a few painful breaths. "Okay, terror and adrenaline are slammin' when you need the boost!"

"Indeed." Giles ushered the small group through the brush towards an SUV parked on the small forest service road. "You'll have time to rest on the drive back to the shelter. Buffy, are you sure you aren't injured?" His gaze lingered on her cut forehead and bruises.

"Should've seen me a few weeks ago." Giles flinched at her words and the images they conjured. "I'm peachy with a side of keen now."

"Tweed Knickers was too busy trying to play Candid Camera and maybe luck into some vampire porn to have either of us too bashed up. Gotta look pretty for the camera. Worked out well for us for lots of reasons, even if it did nearly make Captain America's brain explode not havin' his favorite tension release." Spike finally relinquished his precious armful and gently deposited Buffy on the seat nearest the door, clambering in to sit beside her.

Judging by his facial expression, Giles was out of practice following Spike speak.

Buffy took pity on his obvious confusion and with a chuckle translated. "What Spike is saying is that Travers put us together and stopped most of the pokey and punchy stuff for the last couple of weeks. He was filming us for who knows what perverted reason and I guess he wanted us to look presentable. They even stopped Riley from his pastime of torturing Spike every possible moment." She laughed at Giles' furrowed brow. It felt so good to laugh again.

"Good times," Spike snarked, "not!"

“Can I just say how glad we are to see you?” Xander looked at his dear friend then spared a look at Spike as well. “Both of you.”

Spike’s eyebrows flew nearly to his hairline in surprise. “What’s been happenin’ since we took our involuntary vacation? Had to be world endin’ if Harris is glad to see me.”

“Fair enough, Pale Wonder,” Xander grinned. “Let’s just say there’s been some re-evaluation and growing up all round and leave it at that. While I’ll love hugging the Buffster, you’re still not my type.”

Buffy couldn’t seem to stop grinning. From the depths of despair to this was almost too much to trust as being real. She kept expecting to wake up snuggled next to Spike in their Spartan cell.

“The tunnels and cave still workin’ okay?” Spike had noticed the direction they were headed at break-neck speed.

“Splendidly,” Giles nodded, not taking his eyes off the road or his foot off the accelerator. “I cannot state more strongly how fortunate we all are that you had the foresight to create that refuge.”

“Ta, Watcher. Saw the handwritin’ on the wall. Lived too long not to notice the pitchforks and torches.” Spike had a faraway look that spoke of memories no one wished him to share.

“We sent Dawn up north to Angel’s camp,” Willow advised Buffy. “She’s safe as anyone can be but still pissed off at us for sending her away.”

“You did the right thing, Wills. I don’t think I would survive it if they got their hands on her,” Buffy admitted.

“We’ll all be in the safe haven now until we figure out a way to stop this madness.” Xander gave a relieved sigh.

***
Peter Jennings stared into the camera and completed his broadcast,”Official count on the number of dead are still climbing, but the attack on the Global Human Initiative holding camp and interrogation center is suspected to be the work of the terrorist group DRA. Unnamed sources with that group have issued a statement denying their involvement in the attack but offering their congratulations and support for whatever group might have been responsible. Now for more on this tragic and devastating event we go to Brian Ross on the scene…

***

After getting the escapees safely tucked in and welcome home hugs out of the way, Xander wasted no time in going to collect Anya. It wouldn’t take too long for the idiots in charge to start sniffing around Buffy’s known associates once word had spread that she had escaped. Time to collect his girl and head underground with the rest of their ‘family’.

The Box looked deserted and Anya wasn’t answering as he called out to her. Out of the corner of his eye Xander spotted a softly crying Andrew.

"Where the hell is she?!" Xander had Andrew's shirt collar tightly fisted enough that the boy couldn't answer even if he understood the question.

Jonathan had told Harris and Anya that Andrew had been the one to write the warning note. Xander knew the boy wasn't the one responsible, but he sure as hell would know who was. "Was it that creepy boyfriend of yours? Did he come and take my Ahn?"

"Grgff." Andrew's face was changing colors at an alarming rate as he struggled to answer the furious man. Just before the world was set to go dark, Andrew was released from the iron grip and fell to the floor gasping and coughing, desperately trying to drag as much air into his lungs as possible.

"Tell me," Xander now sounding more lost than furious. "Tell me she's okay at least. That your perverted bully of a boyfriend isn't hurting her."

"Not…Warren," Andrew choked out. He massaged his throat and looked nervously at Harris. "And he's not my boyfriend! I don't have a boyfriend...I mean girlfriend, of course. Well, he is, or was, a friend and a boy, but that's all in the past. Except he is still a boy, or man really."

"Stop babbling and tell me."

"Right. Warren was the one with the cameras, but he's not the one that arrested Anya."

"Arrested? What do you mean arrested?" Xander looked completely confused. "What did Anya do?"

"I don't know. Really!" Andrew sidestepped Xander, making sure he was out of his reach. "All I know is what I saw on the local news. The Global Human dudes arrested her. She's in jail. Something about past crimes as a demon or something like that." Andrew chewed his lower lip while thinking. "Is there even a law about that anyway?"

Xander had no idea what he had done next. One minute he was manhandling the little dweeb Andrew and the next found himself stumbling his way through the tunnels headed for the living quarters. Quarters he and Anya were supposed to begin sharing that very night. Too late! He had been too damned late to save her!

***

“They say she gets a lawyer. They’re making this look like a legitimate arrest complete with rights,” Xander spat in distaste. “Come on! We all know it’s just theater. They already know what they’re going to do to her; we all do. It’s just show for those people still so blind they can’t see what’s happening.”

Even if he didn’t remember the event clearly, he had cried until he was physically sick, beginning in the unlikely place of Andrew’s arms. The boy had been surprisingly sympathetic and deeply troubled by Anya’s arrest.

In fact, it was Andrew who had taken the dazed Xander to Jonathan to get him to safety before the older man could switch from grief and worry to rage and revenge.

The gang had managed to prevent Xander from going off half-cocked and putting himself in danger as well with great difficulty.

“Okay, we can act in their little play until we figure out a way to get Anya back home. We’ll have to come up with a more subtle way, though, because after today they’ll be more on guard.” Buffy was rubbing comforting circles on her devastated friend’s back as she sought to reassure him. “We won’t let them hurt her.”

“Ya know,” Charles Gunn had a thoughtful look followed by a wide grin. “I think I might just know the lawyer for the job too!”

Xander gazed up in confusion. “No lawyer’s going to fix this.”

“There’s one that has more tricks than Houdini and I’m bettin’ he’s itchin’ to do more than sort demons and look at sheep.” Gunn headed to the communications area and dialed up the Farm.

“Yo, English, need to talk to McDonald.” While waiting, Charles explained briefly: “This dude cut his teeth at Wolfram and Hart. He knows angles not in any geometry book. If anyone can play the system, even this system, it’s Cowboy. He’s in the fight in honor of his lady love; no reason to think he won’t help get yours out of the bind.”

“Can they spare him at the Farm?” Willow wondered. So far the isolated farm in question had proven ideal in housing large numbers of refugees as they fled the cities and sought shelter. The Farm had become the biggest hub in the whole network of refugee camps west of the Rockies. “Won’t that just leave Wesley to run the place?”

“I imagine Charles will be rejoining them before too long,” Giles put in.

“Actually, I’m headed south to help Nick Perkins with the Mexicruise smuggling operation ferrying folks to saner countries.”

Giles looked thoughtful then turned a slightly nervous gaze upon Willow before suggesting, “We could send Tara with you, Charles. She would do an admirable job assisting Wesley and she would be far safer there than she is here, even with all of us surrounding her.”

Willow started to protest, but Tara looked eager as she snapped at a chance to actually contribute and not merely heal. “I’d l-l-love the chance to d-do something useful!”

“But I don’t want you to go,” Willow pouted. “You ARE useful, honey. How could I do anything without you here with me?”

Tara gently took her lover’s hand and smiled, “You know that you d-don’t need m-me to do w-w-what you need to do. P-p-please let me contribute.”

Willow was near tears. “But I’ll miss you.”

“And I’ll m-miss you too, precious, but this sit-situation needs all of us,” Tara reminded her.

“But can’t you contribute here?”

“Here’s n-n-not where I’m needed.”

“Yes, it is,” Willow said softly as a tear trailed down her cheek.

“All the more reason for us to end this nightmare once and for all,” Buffy reminded everyone. “Too many people being pulled apart, some forever. We’re just lucky that we’re all still alive to fight the good fight and personally I’m ready to start taking the fight to them for a change.”

 

“What are you thinking about, Buffy? Are you suggesting we take up arms and start killing humans willy-nilly?” Giles looked appalled. Even if the humans in question were behaving worse than many a demon, there were lines he wasn’t willing to completely wipe out. Cross on occasion, if need be, but not obliterate.

“I don’t have a real problem with that,” Spike admitted with eyes narrowed in anger. Noting the nervous look from Buffy’s friends, he amended, “Selective, of course. Not talking wholesale slaughter here. Look, people, this is war. We didn’t make it, but we’re in it, like or not. No place to play Switzerland either. Bloody hell, even Switzerland wasn’t as neutral as they made out! Time to pick a side, children.”

Buffy stood and moved next to Spike. “I choose the side of right and I completely agree with Spike on this one. You don’t know what’s been happening in there, not firsthand.”

“Kinda got a look,” Willow admitted. “Charles took some vids while we were waiting for you to get free. We’ve been streaming them online 24/7. The authorities take them down and we put them back up. Lots of people are really horrified.”

“That was a good idea, Charlie boy,” Spike slapped Gunn on the back in congratulations. “Hard to stay in denial when the evidence is in your face.”

“Oh, there’s still doubters. Plenty of conspiracy theorists out there spinning what they see,” Charles noted.

“But that’s the crazy fringe, the fans of those radio loons and so on.” Willow reminded them. “Most sane people know better. They can see the truth.”

Giles looked speculatively at Buffy and Spike, “I assume the two of you have discussed some ideas?”

“Yeah,” Buffy took Spike’s hand unselfconsciously, even in the face of the surprised looks on her friends face. “Why don’t I let Spike tell you what we’re thinking about?”

Giles nodded to the vampire. “Go on.”

“I’m the only one here that lived through somethin’ like this once before. True, as a vampire I wasn’t too involved in the politics of it all, but I doubt any of you have missed how much like the rise of Fascism this is?” At everyone’s nods, he continued, “Figure, why re-invent the wheel? Take a look at what worked to beating down the Reich. You lot don’t want human blood on your hands, so best avoid joinin’ up with that group of demons that’ve been puttin’ the hurt on this Global Human Initiative. Wouldn’t mind takin’ a meetin’ with ‘em though,” he mused. “Anyway…lots of ways to disrupt and bring down a system like they’ve set up.”

“You’re talking about…what? Sabotage?” Giles queried with a more enthused look on his face.

“Don’t misunderstand, Watcher, there’ll be blood too. No doubt some spilled in the labs while you were divertin’ those sods from our escape. Dare say there were human deaths and that was your bloody plan,” Spike reminded Giles.

Giles squirmed, “Yes, well…as you say, as long as we aren’t looking at indiscriminate slaughter, there are bound to be deaths.” He sighed, deeply troubled. “It can’t be helped. Continue.”

“We disrupt on a big scale. Rails, roads, airports, government buildings, assemblies and meetings of the main guys--that kind of thing. We can also take out transport convoys with supplies to the labs and those bringing prisoners to them.” Buffy suggested. “Willow, think you can mess with their communications? Maybe even figure a way to knock the fire breathers off the air?”

Willow nodded, “On it.”

“Xan, do you think you can lay hands on more explosives?”

“I’m down for anything that gets these bastards that did what they did to you guys and took my Anya. Count me in,” Xander vowed.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 32
~*~

 

Spike stretched until he heard his joints pop. It felt good to have freedom over his life and body once again. He’d had the first halfway sound sleep since his capture and finally felt like himself again. The blood was pig swill, but it tasted of ambrosia nonetheless. There was no question of additives or waking to a living nightmare after drinking it.

 

Buffy smiled at her fellow escapee and gave a cheery, “Good morning, lazy bones.”

 

Spike smirked, “Right back at you, Slayer. Don’t think I didn’t notice you sleepin’ in a bit too.”

 

In fact, both had startled awake a few times only to reach for the other before drifting back into slumber once reassured of the other’s presence. The situation had not gone unnoticed by Giles, confirming his suspicion that the pair had bonded while in custody. The Watcher wasn’t too sure how he felt about that, given his training, but the man in the tweed suit was simply happy to have his girl back safe.

 

It hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice, actually. All had seen that the two seemed intent on staying fairly close together, even when it came to sleeping arrangements. No one had said a word about it, however.

 

“So…think we can get to talk to this T’Mcasla guy?” Buffy wasn’t sure if she wished to ally herself with the one demon making any real effort to fight back. He didn’t seem to have the same agenda as Buffy, even if part of her understood his position.

 

“Probably not you, pet. Bloke has serious hate for humans and my guess is a Slayer would be top on his list.”

 

“Willow told me he had a human wife who turned him in,” Buffy shook her head sadly. “I can’t imagine sending anyone into that place, especially someone I once loved!” Buffy thought back to Riley and realized she wouldn’t even wish that on him. “I can’t say I blame him for the hate.”

 

Spike had a faraway look but nodded. He could think of a few deserving individuals he wouldn’t mind seeing caged and prodded. His shining girl, however…she had too much pure goodness in her to entertain thoughts of revenge. He hoped her innate kindness wouldn’t get her killed one day, ‘Not if I can help it,’ he vowed.

 

“Think he’ll see me though. Probably figures William the Bloody will want to sign up.”

 

Buffy furrowed her brow, “You don’t, do you?”

 

“Once upon a time, I’d have given the bugger a run for his money leadin’ the operation. Show ‘em why we were called the Whirlwind, the Scourge of Europe.”

 

“And now?”

 

“Now I have a lady who wouldn’t put up with it,” Spike smiled. “Pretty well tamed me, she has.”

 

“Must be pretty special lady to do that,” Buffy smiled shyly.

 

“That she is,” Spike agreed and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead.

 

“So wholesale slaughter is off the table. You joining up with insurgents is off the table. What is on it?”

 

“Like we were sayin’: Lots of mayhem possible without just killin’ across the board.”

 

“Where do we start? If you don’t have something in mind already, I’d like to finish what the guys started and close up the base where they held us.”

 

“Sounds like a right fine startin’ place.” Spike looked more enthused than Buffy had seen in ages. “M thinkin’ we give ‘em a little extra package next supply shipment. Ammonium nitrate can do lots of damage, take out part of that whole wing and open it up so the demons in that area can scamper off or do some of our work for us.”

 

“Won’t that kill the guards working in that area?” Buffy looked troubled.

 

“We have the copies of the duty rosters that Charlie left for us. Think we can time it for when no one’s in the direct line of fire. Pet, there will be casualties. You knew that goin’ in.” Spike began to worry that the Slayer wasn’t going to let Buffy go full into attack mode, not if humans were possible targets.

 

“I do know that, Spike. I can’t help but feel weird though. My whole calling is about protecting humans from demon threats and now I’m in the position of considering killing humans to protect demons!” Buffy paced, clearly uneasy with the thought. “I’m on board. I know we have to do this. I just have all these built-in issues…I’ll deal,” she reassured Spike.

 

“Love, I can’t guarantee no human’s gonna die when we do this; likely some will. We won’t set out to target them and we’ll do our best to keep casualties to a minimum. That’s more than they’ve been doin’. Sure you’re gonna be okay with this?”

 

Buffy was silent long enough to worry the vampire. She thought about her all important mission and what it really was supposed to mean. It had to be more than making her the appointed executioner of demonkind. “I guess there’s no way around it. I’m supposed to protect the innocent and that always meant the humans, but they aren’t so innocent lately. I suppose that’s kinda changed. ‘Innocent’ has a lot of different faces and descriptions now. “She paused then nodded as if finally coming to some inner agreement. “Okay, I’m in. We do what we need to do to shut them down and save as many innocent lives of any kind that we can.”

 

Spike gave her a warm look of awe and approval, “That’s my Buffy.”

 

“Maybe we can time it so that when the loading dock goes up, we can take out the main roads leading to the base and that one bridge over the culvert too. Hit them all at once before they figure out they’re under attack.”

 

“Sounds like a good plan, love.”

 

Xander had been listening to the conversation. Not eavesdropping, the living area was too small for secrets after all. “I think I can get all the supplies we need still.” He turned a wicked grin towards Spike,”Wanna help me steal a truck, fang boy?”

 

Spike returned an evil grin of his own, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

“Don’t get too mushy on me, vampire,” Xander grinned. “And I expect you to be front and center when we go to get Anya out of their hands.”

 

“That is a given.” The two men shook hands over it.

 

***

 

“Lindsey McDonald, representing Anya Jenkins,” the well dressed lawyer presented his card to the deputy on duty. “Here to see my client.”

 

The deputy gave him a dirty look, “Who’d you piss off to get this one assigned to you?”

 

“Not a public defender. I was hired by concerned citizens to make sure Miss Jenkins gets the best defense possible, like she’s guaranteed by our laws.” Lindsey gave him a pointed look, “You know, those laws you are sworn to uphold and defend?”

 

“Yeah, but she was a demon,” the deputy sputtered.

 

“And now she isn’t. You have a point there?”

 

The deputy buzzed the door open. “Okay, but don’t expect your other clients to love you taking this case.”

 

“I’m not worried. In fact, this kind of case is why I went into law in the first place. I just forgot that somewhere along the way.”

 

The key clanked as it unlocked the cell door and Anya looked up from her bunk, wondering who the good-looking man in the suit might be.

 

Lindsey extended his hand and offered a genuine smile, “Miss Jenkins. I’m your lawyer, Lindsey McDonald. Nice to meet you. What do you say to us taking this meeting somewhere more comfortable?”

 

The deputy put up only a cursory argument before leading the pair to an interrogation room, one without a two-way mirror or surveillance systems after Lindsey again reminded him of Anya’s rights.

 

“Now we can talk. I’ve been sent by some friends of yours to make sure your stay here is a short one.”

 

“Well, I certainly hope so! I don’t mind telling you that as a law abiding citizen and business owner, I’m not used to this treatment,” Anya looked around with suspicion.

 

“No one’s listening,” Lindsey smiled. “Promise!”

 

“How can you tell? I didn’t know anyone was listening at my store until it was too late.”

 

Lindsey pulled out a small amulet on a chain around his neck and grinned. “Product of a certain talented redheaded entrepreneur you may remember. She said to say ‘hi’ and that the whole crew is on the job, by the way. Here’s one for you as well,” McDonald handed over the amulet. “Probably going to have to give it back to me when we’re done in here, so they don’t confiscate it. Still, as long as you wear it when we’re talking, it won’t matter if they are violating your rights to lawyer-client confidentiality, because they won’t hear anything. Worked with a couple of your other friends, I’m told.”

 

Anya quickly put on the necklace and breathed a sigh of relief. She and Willow might never be close friends, but she did respect the young witch’s talent. “So are those friends home now?”

 

“They are indeed,” Lindsey confirmed. “Let’s see how to go about arranging for you to join them as soon as possible.”

 

“I’m for that!”

 

“Why not start by telling me your story, or a condensed version since I gather you’ve had a pretty long life. The more I know, the more I’ll see the case they are building against you.”

 

“This is a first. Usually when I want to talk about my life, everyone tells me to shut up,” Anya quipped.

 

“Hey, I’m paid to listen. Well, at least I used to be,” Lindsey chuckled. “My firm pretty well left this dimension and took my salary with them, but I think seeing these bastards sweat will be a pretty good paycheck.”

 

***

 

“So how did the meeting go?” Buffy had been on edge the whole time Spike was gone. Not only was he meeting a very volatile being, but he was out in the open and the thought of his recapture had her nearly biting her nails.

 

“Went like we expected mostly. He wants no part of humans, even one who was recently a prisoner. Calmed down a bit when he got that I wasn’t plannin’ on tellin’ him his business. We’ve agreed to stay out of each other’s way, work together on some projects and basically call a truce otherwise. They won’t target our people or get in the way of our operations, and we won’t try to shut them down.”

 

“Did you have to tell him much about our people and plans?”

 

“Just enough to make sure his group keeps out of our way,” Spike sighed. He hated haggling with demons; they rarely had a sense of humor and often couldn’t be trusted. One thing he did come away with from his meeting was that T’Mcasla was honorable. Once his word was given, it was to be trusted. That boded well for them not tripping over each other. Just what would happen once the big picture was righted was another matter altogether. Spike didn’t see the betrayed and bitter demon ever agreeing to live in peace with humans again. Sooner or later, Buffy was going to have to take him out, just not now when they had a mutual enemy.

“The good news is that he already has a couple of people who have infiltrated the lab. Think they can place some smaller explosives here and there that’ll help. He can get them to his people and that’ll be easier than us tryin to sneak someone in. We agreed that the purpose was to free as many of the prisoners as we can, not target the humans. He’s willin’ to go for that because of the larger payoff.”

“I can get what we need with a few days notice. Maybe we should start to stockpile for future missions?” Xander suggested.

 

“That would be wise,” Giles agreed. “I’m certain there are areas here in the tunnels where we can safely cache weapons and explosives?”

“Yeah, one of the tunnels goes to one of the original Initiative storage areas from their first incarnation. Kinda poetic justice usin’ one of their own former sites to put together their eventual ruin.” Spike’s smiled gleefully.

 

***

 

You’re hearing it first here with Coops Scoops, folks. Rumor has it that Crispin Starling, former aide de camp for the assassinated Quentin Travers, is going to be the man taking his place as head of the Global Human Initiative. Since he was right there from the beginning of the war against this plague of demons, there should be no gap in the protection we have enjoyed under Travers’ guiding hand.

 

Meanwhile, in the latest press release from the high command, the savage and unprovoked attack on the holding center that took the life of Mr. Travers and so many other fallen heroes has been officially labeled a terrorist attack. While the infamous DRA continue to deny responsibility, it is unlikely any other group has the sort of network to have planned and succeeded in creating such devastation and tragic loss of life.

 

The President has ordered all flags at half-staff in honor of our fallen heroes and an official three-day mourning period. Similar proclamations have been issued in allied countries and the UN has also issued a statement of condolence and plans for a plaque to honor the fallen.

 

Congress is working on legislation to permit temporary suspension of certain articles in the Bill of Rights to allow better intelligence gathering to prevent any such occurrences from happening again. I, for one, think the only patriotic response is to call your Representative and urge them to fast-track this legislation. Human lives are at stake, people. Earth for humans!

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 33
~*~

 

...Initiative Sunnydale base, the recent site of a brutal terrorist attack, was hit once again by unnamed insurgents yesterday. Authorities are still assessing damage, but casualties are expected to reach triple digits."

"That's bloody nonsense! Know where those buggers were and there weren't but a handful possibly in the line of fire." Spike looked at Buffy in concern. He knew full well that she was still struggling with the idea of declaring war on humans. She agonized over the idea of taking lives, even human monsters like those working in the labs.

Buffy saw his worried look and patted Spike's arm consolingly, "I know, lies. They're good at that. They've lied from the start about a lot of things."

"Also unknown are the numbers of dangerous escapees. Citizens in the surrounding areas are urged to keep all doors and windows locked and not invite anyone not personally known to you into your homes. Be on the lookout and report any suspicious activities to the Global Human Initiative 800 number.

The base has been effectively closed until repairs are completed and security increased. All remaining internees will be transferred to other facilities.

"Good luck with that!" Xander exclaimed with a wicked grin on his face as he shut off the news broadcast. "Gonna have to airlift those internees since we blew out all access roads and the rail lines.

"Yeah, good work there, Harris," Spike praised him with a clap on the back. "Impressive show you put on back there."

"I'm thinking 'Harris Demolition' has a nice ring to it when all this is over and done. Ahn will love us owning our own company. Lots of money to be made in demolition, even in times like these, and it's also a pretty great stress reliever."

Willow hugged her oldest friend sympathetically. "We'll get her out, Xander. We all promise, no matter what it takes."

"I know, Will. I just hope I can manage to see her without leading them back here to our safe place. I don't want her to feel abandoned."

"Think we'll set it up to look like you're staying at the rectory with me while the trial is ongoing," Father Quinn suggested. "That will give you access to the tunnels, and what's more natural than a young man seeking spiritual support under the circumstances?"

Father Mike, as he insisted upon being called, had joked that he was the perfect person to assist with the bomb-making, having had a passing acquaintance with pipe bombs. He'd laughed uproariously and no one was quite certain if he had been making a bad joke at a stereotype or had some pretty dark skeletons in his closet. Giles had decided to let that sleeping mongrel just keep on sleeping.

"I plan to sit next to you at the trial as well. Might as well put this collar and stylish black suit to good use in the P.R. department. Make people give it a second thought if a former demon has a priest in her corner. Priests and demons aren't known for pallin' around. Usually meet at exorcisms," and again he laughed deeply.

"Ahn's not big on organized religion. When she was human the first time, the god of choice was Odin. She saw too much ugly stuff over the years to get interested in any of the modern religions," Xander admitted uncomfortably. Come to that, he hadn't been inside a church since he was confirmed as a boy. "No offense."

"None taken, son. My church alone's got as much blood on its hands as your ladyfriend likely has. History isn't pretty. We'd all be better off to remember the mission and message, and forget about the power plays and politics."

"Isn't only religion that’s guilty of that particular sin,” Giles added. "Same goes for governments, even organizations like the Council. Most are intended for the common good but devolve into vying power struggles. The very people whose needs they were meant to tend are often crushed, bloodied or destroyed in their bids for control."

"Speaking of power bids, think we have enough boom makers for another target or should I start rounding up more?"

"Think we've got enough at the moment, Xander." Buffy felt a discreet nudge from Spike and caught the hint. "But Spike and I can go do inventory to be sure."

***

"Think they're onto us?" Buffy blushed remembering the knowing looks that passed between her friends and Watcher as they had headed down the tunnels that led to the improvised ammo dump.

Spike smirked, "Maybe." He shot a glance at her with an inquiringly raised eyebrow. "That bother you, pet?"

"Ya know, I hate to admit it, but it probably would have before all this happened, before you and I became roommates and sleep snugglebunnies. I used to worry about disappointing them."

"And now?"

"Well, first of all, I don't think they ARE disappointed. But even if they were, I figure life is too short and a Slayer's life even shorter." Spike clasped her hand and gave it a tender squeeze. "I figure I'm entitled to happiness when I can get it and where I want it."

"And are you? Happy, that is, I mean...with me?" Buffy was always surprised at just how insecure the former Big Bad could be at times.

"Think I can be, yeah," she reassured him.

"Wanna find out?" Spike shot her a lascivious grin, "Or is this one of those wrong time and place moments?" The grin faded, "I mean, I'm fine with just holding you like we've been doin'. Best experiences in my long life and I'm not complainin' or makin' any demands." He bit his lower lip, looking unsure once again.

"I think if we wait for a perfect time and place even YOU won't live long enough," Buffy quipped lightening the mood. "Not too sure about an ammo dump though. Think too much heat might set a few off?"

Spike chuckled. "Got someplace else in mind, love." He guided Buffy to a small concealed opening that led to yet another tunnel.

"Where's this one go?"

"Trust me?"

"Always." Her response earned a look of awe from the vampire.

The tunnel took a sharp right turn and ended in a crude set of steps up eventually opening into a basement of a building that clearly had been unoccupied for more years than Buffy had lived in Sunnydale.

"Where are we?" Buffy had spent her share of time in the sewers and tunnels that made up Sunnydale's collective basement, but she didn't have the same sense of direction that Spike evidently had.

"Warehouse district, not too far from the docks. This one's been vacant a long time, even before the economy closed up the rest in the neighborhood. Naught but addicts and alcoholic homeless and a tagger been anywhere near in a long time. Thought about makin' it my place before I decided on the crypt instead."

"Why'd you choose the crypt?"

Spike ducked his head shyly, “Better chance to catch a glimpse of a certain Slayer living in a cemetery. You don't often patrol over here."

Buffy gave his hand a gentle squeeze and a warm smile, “It’s oddly sweet that you'd rather live in a graveyard just to see me patrol."

"Like havin' a seat at the ballet, pet. Watchin' you spin and twist and thrust...'tis better than Pavlova."

"That the dog guy?" Buffy looked genuinely puzzled.

Spike chuckled, "No, love. Anna Pavlova was one of the best Prima Ballerinas in history. The first to truly dance all over the world. Was in the Imperial Russian Ballet, created the brilliant 'Dying Swan" and was bloody gorgeous too. Died in the early 1940s. There's even a dessert named in her honor. Lovely thing made of meringue, fruit and cream.

Buffy giggled, "That makes SO much more sense than the guy with the dogs."

Buffy followed Spike up a short staircase to what once had been a large, well furnished office overlooking the wide open former warehouse. It was glassed in with an unobstructed view on three sides. Surprisingly the glass was all intact, in spite of the bits of graffiti spray-painted in the warehouse proper.

Spike noted her surprise, "Flashed a bit of fang over the years, kept the hooligans away for the most part. Never know when a bloke might need another bolt hole."

"You're really clever for a guy whose plans don't usually work out."

"Don't work 'cause I lack patience, not intelligence, love!" Spike huffed indignantly. "Had to plan and have decent back up plans too if I was gonna survive long. Add takin' care of Dru to the mix and sometimes needed several fall-back plans."

Buffy wondered why they had tended to think of Spike as stupid. It should have been obvious to all of them that he was anything but.

He'd never gone out of his way to disabuse them of that notion though. His impulsive actions merely added to the illusion. 'Makes sense. If everyone underestimates you, it gives you the advantage.' She grinned at him, "Yeah, dumb like a fox!"

Spike chuckled, “Guess that won't work on you anymore."

"Nope."

The abandoned office had dust covers over the furniture and when Spike removed them Buffy was surprised to see the quality of what had been left behind. "Is that a sofa-bed?"

If Spike could have blushed, he would have. 'Not so subtle after all, mate,' he kicked himself. Buffy didn't seem to be offended or upset with what might have been seen as him jumping to conclusions though. "Guess there were some long nights here when the warehouse was in use. Lucky for us, eh? Comfier than those army cots or sleeping bags on the cave floor.

To his surprise, Buffy began unfolding the hidden bed and patted the mattress with near affection. It had been a while since she had something that looked that comfortable available.

"Not as cozy as a feather bed like in my day or one of those modern foam things they're selling on the telly, but still soft at least."

Buffy pushed her hand down on the mattress, feeling its welcoming give. “Perfect! Think the guys'd mind if we camped out here from now on? Give them more room after all."

Like a proud landlord, Spike showed her around the rest of the area. "View of the whole place, so not likely to get caught with our knickers down. Could hook up a TV and radio. I'm pretty handy tappin' into public utilities after all. Electricity's not even a challenge. Could even get the loo functional," he opened the door to a well appointed rest room complete with a small shower. "Just have to know where to hook in and my lady can have all the luxuries of home," his eyes twinkled in response to Buffy's clear look of near bliss at the thought.

"Oh, could you?" She looked at him as if he'd hung the moon. Who knew a working shower and thin mattress was a better love offering than flowers and chocolate? Hell, she'd have those too once he had the chance!

They basked silently for a few moments, then Spike cleared his suddenly dry throat and pointed out a trapdoor on the ceiling that contained fold-down stairs. "And access to the roof if a quick getaway is needed."

"Am I being selfish if I don't want to share this space with the other guys?"

"Seems to me you do pretty good knowin' right from wrong without asking somethin' like me."

"Know and care are two different things when there's a hot shower dangling in front of me."

"Yeah, even I know the difference; don't care much though," Spike admitted.

"Looks like that's true, with or without a soul, based on what we've seen lately," Buffy pointed out.

"Never did know for certain just what I lost when the soul buggered off. Always thought it was the carin' 'cause I felt so free without it, yeah? But you're right. Plenty with a soul still stuffed up in 'em don't seem to care either."

"I guess that's what I've learned. Since we can't really tell what the soul does, maybe all that matters is how someone acts, the choices they make," Buffy mused.

"Seems a fair way to look at it," Spike agreed.

"So what do you think? Doesn't look like the Brown Shirts or the GI Joes pay this area much mind. Not too many demons left in Sunnydale save those in the lock-ups. Those that are still free are in deeper hiding than even we are."

"I think this is a great place to set up, especially if we hide the entrance to the tunnels. I know I'm paranoid, but I never want to be back in there again," Buffy shuddered.

"With you there, Buffy." Spike pointed to an old drafting table in a corner. "Could use that to spread maps for plannin'. No direct sunlight so I can move about freely too. We can bring our allies in here without using the tunnels, especially if we aren't 100% sure of their commitment. Won't give away the rest of the operation that way. Plenty of ways to skedaddle if anyone does snap to our location too."

Buffy watched Spike pace around looking excited at the possibilities. He may have had a problem with his plans working out when dealing with her all these years but clearly his mind was sharp and quite able to work on contingencies when he wasn't distracted by Slayers that refused to stay in the "hunt/kill" category. He may not have loved her from the start but he was certainly distracted enough to make all his plans go belly-up.

She wasn't as naturally intuitive as Spike had always shown himself to be, but she had gotten to know him pretty well since their early truce and friendship. Being stuck in hell with him had only increased her understanding. Spike was one of those people who proved the old adage, "to know him is to love him". Maybe love was too strong a word at the moment, but it was darned close.

Buffy had made up her mind those last frantic weeks in the lab to stop putting her life on hold. Constantly waiting for the "right time" had only caused Buffy to miss out on a chance to have her own grab at happiness. It was time to let the past be past and also let the future take care of itself. What was it that Faith used to say? Want. Take. Have. It would be lovely to finally have.

Slayers never know when the end game buzzer was going to sound. No one did really. Maybe that explained war-time romances. Buffy didn't want any more regrets to take to eternity with her when her time finally did come.

She and Spike had grown so close. They had talked, shared--something she and Angel and even Riley had never really done. She couldn't even say what either of her past boyfriend's favorite colors were! Simple things that even close friends would know eluded her knowledge. How can you love without knowing? She did know Spike pretty well already. There was always more to learn, but she'd seen his worst side and his best, just as he had hers. He was someone she wanted to know well.

Spike had been standing directly behind Buffy as she had been lost in thought seemingly surveying the location. It was perfectly symbolic of their relationship, Spike at her back. She knew she wouldn't have come out of those labs was well as she did without Spike. She felt warm all over, realizing how natural it felt, how safe she felt with Spike as her other half.

"Looks great to me," Buffy nodded. "In fact, it looks perfect in a lot of ways."

She turned abruptly and before the startled vampire could move and raised her hands to gently cup his face. "Lots of things look perfect to me." She leaned forward and touched her lips to his.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 34
~*~

 

Anya had spent too many hours forlorn in her cell. She wondered if Xander had managed to get to safety or if he was in another cell elsewhere. No one was answering any of her questions. This young man who had just entered her life brought the first rays of hope in what felt like an age and Anya knew what an age truly felt like!

"Ms. Jenkins, as I said, my name is Lindsey McDonald and I'm going to represent you." He put out his hand and gave her a bright smile.

"So who hired you? Lawyers don't come cheap and everyone who might care about me is no longer prosperous," Anya knew Max would not have given Xander any severance pay.

"Friends, like I said. I was hired by people you trust. We have many friends in common and not just your recent buddies here in Sunnydale. I used to work for Wolfram and Hart."

Anya stared at him, assessing the truth of his claim, "I thought the Senior Partners moved out of this dimension just like D'Hoffryn did."

"They did. I freelanced for a while," he cleared his throat and gave her a wry grin. "I had a bit of a disagreement with the Partners over several things. You could say I didn't like the way they ... gave me a hand." He chuckled as if at some private joke. "Didn't care for how they handled a lady that I loved either."

Anya nodded, even though she didn't have a clue about his references. "You're wasting your time, I'm afraid, and time is money. This is a show trial with the fix in already. I've lived long enough to see the handwriting on the wall."

"Surely you aren't THAT ancient," Lindsey teased. He looked into Anya's blank face and gave up on joking her into an upbeat attitude. "Okay, that might be their plan, but we're going to turn the tables on them."

"How?"

"I'm sure you've heard that good lawyers are sharks? Baby, I'm the baddest shark in the ocean," Lindsey promised.

Anya perked up a bit, "You think you can save me?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty certain. Let's go ahead and give them their show, but we'll be the ones writing the script," he smiled. "Now, let’s get some specifics from your perspective." McDonald opened the file he'd been given with the required disclosures from the prosecutor’s office. "Seems they've decided to try you as a war criminal. Want to give me a rundown on how you figure into both Henry the VIII and the Russian revolution? I gotta say I'm pretty impressed."

***

"And if you ask me it's never too late to punish those who have caused so much human misery! This female may be fully human now, but as a demon the amount of bloodshed caused by her actions is mind boggling. I'm telling you, folks, I've had a look at the prosecution's case and this is a slam dunk! Take it from Coop: there isn't a decent human alive who won't want a conviction and the GHI isn't going to let any of us down."

"Would you turn that loudmouthed buffoon off?!" Giles was heartily sick of the blatherings of the ignorant, pompous demagogue who reigned on the radio airwaves, drawing more and more power by spewing hate and stirring up fear.

Willow switched off the radio. "I hate him too, but listening does give us an idea of what they're up to. They use him to spread their propaganda," she shook her head sadly. "You'd think people would wise up!"

"Sadly, most people allow themselves to be spoon-fed. They rarely check information for factuality or even common sense. Generation after generation seems to fall for it over and over again. Put a face in front of a camera or a loud voice behind a microphone and they are suddenly experts," Giles groused. "Joseph Goebbels wasn't the first to exploit that, though he raised it to an art form."

Xander looked woebegone, "I just don't get it though. What wars did Anya ever start?" She was the patron of scorned women. How can she be a war criminal?"

"I don't know, Xander," Giles clapped his shoulder with empathy. "We are trusting that Charles was correct that Mr. McDonald will be able to prove this is all stuff and nonsense."

"I'm scared for her," Xander choked back a sob. "She acts tough, but Anya's really still a confused little girl at times. She's just re-learning how it works being human and a lot of those things scare her. She puts on a good show, but I've seen her struggle with things like Joyce's death, my parents’ lack of parenting skills and just little stuff like sickness."

"Don't sell her short, Xander. Anya is far stronger than you might think. She has seen much in her long life and while she may not express herself with anything remotely like diplomacy and tact, she has more wisdom than you seem to realize."

"God, I hope so! I hate thinking of her alone and confused."

Willow smiled at her old friend, "It'll be fine, Xan. Before you know it, she'll be right here annoying all of us in her own special Anya way."

***

"What is this?" The lead prosecutor looked at the paperwork incredulously. "Motions to dismiss? Suppression of evidence? I don't think you know who you are dealing with here, McDonald." His face was florid with suppressed rage, "You think you can use fancy, high-priced lawyer tricks to keep that bitch from a public execution?"

"I know exactly who I am dealing with, believe me. The motions are mostly just part of the show. We'll be having that trial, but it's going to be a fair one."

The prosecutor laughed in Lindsey's face. "In your dreams."

McDonald calmly laid out several documents and photographs on the desk. The prosecutor's eyes widened as he took in what was in the papers and blanched as he looked closer at the photos. DAMN, it was most every top-ranking Global Human Initiative member and some of the most prominent elected officials! How the hell did this cowboy-lawyer get this stuff?

"Oh, I have copies. Lots and lots of copies, and of more than this, besides. I think I have enough dirt on most of you to bury you all actually. Perks of working for W & H for endless years, not literally of course." Lindsey smirked at the ashen man. "Anything happens to me, so much as a hangnail, and these go public. You'll never find all the copies either, so why don't we take a step back and start dealing like professionals?"

"You think you can blackmail all of us? You think we'll just let her out?" The prosecutor began to pace nervously while thinking out loud, “Can’t turn back now even if we want to. It’s too public. Too many have seen our case."

Lindsey shrugged, "Fine with me. I've got no problem going on with the show. I'll do my job and you do yours, only we're playing fair. We'll take this mess to a jury. My client will be treated with respect and with full rights and protections under the law. No dirty tricks and these files I have will stay between us. Any monkey business and the PR you've used to gin this whole thing up will look like nothing when I get done. The pitchforks and torches will be out for you and most all of your little world domination wannabes."

The prosecutor nodded mutely.

"Are we clear?"

"Crystal." The prosecutor’s voice sounded like a strangled cat.

Lindsey refiled the documents and photos and flashed a wicked grin, "Okay, let's dance."

***

Spike took Buffy by the hand and lead her to a chair, "Sit for a mo', love. Need to do a few things. Wasn't sure when I could bring you here or if you'd come."

Buffy gave the clearly nervous vampire a confused look but complied.

Spike reached into his deep pockets and pulled out a handful of items that clattered to the desktop. Buffy watched, bemused, as he started setting up small votive sized candles here and there around the room and lighting them. Spike fiddled with the largest item, a Walkman player, then grinned in satisfaction as he set it to play. Buffy was prepared for an ear assault of punk rock, but to her surprise was instead hit with Frank Sinatra singing, "It Had To Be You."

Spike slipped off his duster and held out his hand to Buffy, "Dance with me, beautiful?"

Buffy slipped into his arms easily and they began to sway to the gentle rhythm as if born to it. Buffy's head rested perfectly on his shoulder as she let him lead her in the dance.

"For some reason I never pictured you ballroom dancing to Sinatra," Buffy admitted.

"Lots about me you don't know. Lived a long time, Buffy, not just born when mosh pits and slam dancin' became a thing. Cut my teeth on the waltz and country dances, I’ll have you know," he smiled down at her. "Frank there seems a tad more romantic than Johnny Rotten, even to a sorry sod like me."

"So you are going for full-out romantic then?" Buffy teased.

Spike shot her an annoyed look, "You can't tell?"

Buffy giggled, "Of course I can, you dope. I think it's sweet."

"Well, don't know about sweet, but it's all so much less than you deserve. Love to have taken you someplace nice, not an abandoned warehouse. Do it up proper with a fancy meal and perfect wine to go with it. Decadent chocolate somethin' for dessert. Start the whole thing out with flowers...not roses, too common. 'M thinkin' maybe a bouquet that tries to say it all."

"What do you mean says it all?"

"In my day, we did a thing called the language of flowers. Each flower had a special meaning, a message. Even the color made a difference."

"Yeah? What would be in this bouquet you'd bring me?" Buffy was breathless, genuinely moved by Spike's tender side.

"Well, there would have to be bachelor buttons for anticipation, violets for faithfulness, a bit of blue hyacinth to express sincerity and, in the middle, one perfect red rose to declare passionate love." Spike smiled into Buffy's hair as they danced.

"That sounds lovely," Buffy sighed as the moved slowly around the slightly dusty floor.

"Not half as lovely as you," Spike noted.

The song came to a close only to start with "This Guy's In Love With You" by Herb Albert and Spike didn't break stride as they continued to dance.

"So did you put a playlist together like those flowers you were talking about?"

Spike leaned back and bit his lower lip, dipping his head to look up through his lashes at her shyly, "Um, yeah, 'fraid so."

They danced through several equally romantic, downright mushy, songs until Buffy cracked up as Bette Midler's voice began to warble "Wind Beneath My Wings". "Okay, how did that get in there?"

"Think I'd forget somethin' as important as the song you wanted for our weddin'?"

Buffy stared up into his earnest eyes and answered frankly, "No, no I don't. Somehow I don't think you'd forget anything important to someone you love."

"Got that right, pet."

Buffy's hand moved from Spike's shoulder to the nape of his neck. She'd always been fascinated with the sweet curls that often showed themselves there and they proved as soft as she had imagined.
The familiar sounds of the Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” seemed the perfect temp for the soft caresses the couple began to share as the whole crazy world seemed to stop just for them.

Spikes lips descended with near maddening slowness towards Buffy’s eagerly waiting, slightly opened welcome. Amazingly soft lips touched hers tenderly, not with the harsh demand that Buffy would have expected from a vampire, even a vampire in love.

Spike’s long fingers played in her hair worshipfully as the kiss deepened into something that felt as natural and welcome as spring after a long hard winter. They had stopped dancing as the music played on.

Buffy left one hand to play at his nape while the other inched its way under his shirt leaving invisible streaks of fire where skin met skin. Her hand moved slowly upward dragging the cotton material with it. Finally her other hand joined in the joyous task of removing the barrier to Buffy’s hands access to Spike’s alabaster perfection. The shirt hit the ground unheeded.

Spike’s hands were busy as well following the path his mind had envisioned millions of times over the years. Her buttons gave way to his expert manipulation and Buffy’s shrug helped free her to his gaze. His eyes devoured her as he took in the red lace bra encasing two perfectly rounded mounds that he craved more than he had ever desired what flowed through veins. His head dipped to place adoring kisses on the pink flesh revealed.

Buffy’s head rolled back on her shoulders as Spike’s hungry mouth moved on her. The bra, expertly unsnapped, fell to join the blouse on the floor between the lovers. She moaned in pleasure at finally being skin to skin. Elvis seemed to be reading her mind as he sang out, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”. The tiny candles flared as if inspired by their rising passion.

Spike’s fingers played on her hard nipples, teasing and caressing before his lips closed over the right one to gently suckle. Buffy felt lightning shoot straight to her core as he played her perfectly. Her hands moved to his belt buckle, deftly undoing the obstacle and moving on to flip the top button of his jeans.

His cock was straining at the zipper that she was carefully lowering, ‘Silly vampire going commando! Could hurt something important,’ she thought as his eager member practically leapt into her waiting hand.

He felt like velvet encased steel as she wrapped her hand around his girth and began a slow rhythmic glide of her hand up and down his length. She ran a nail gently into the slit already glistening with pre-cum as Spike shuddered and moaned.

Spike’s hands weren’t idle as he intently worked at removing her jeans to join his, pooled on the floor where he had just stepped carefully free of them.

Once free of all but Buffy’s matching red lace thong, Spike moved them both back toward the sofa bed where they both fell in a tangled collection of limbs. He had resumed kissing her on the mouth as his expert hands explored all her delicious, willing flesh laid bare before him. His tongue gently caressed hers as it made its own explorationsto her delight.

Buffy wasn’t lying idly by, but was doing her own explorations with tongue and hands. His cock felt impossibly hard in her one hand while the rest of his body was pliant and oddly warm beneath her other hand.

“So good, so beautiful,” he gasped between kisses. “Love you so much, Buffy.”

“Mmmmm,” she replied the only way her sensation overloaded mind permitted. “Need you, Spike. Make love to me,” she begged unnecessarily.

“That’s the plan, my beloved,” Spike grinned down at her and began to kiss a path downward leaving a hot trail of electricity in his wake.

Reaching her thong, he used his teeth to bite through the side and his hand to quickly remove the final barrier to her sex. His so talented tongue licked firmly at her clit, causing her body to jump and sing. He chuckled, causing ripples in her nearly purring pussy. While one hand caressed her thigh, he slowly inserted one long tapered finger deep within her, causing her to moan in pleasure. Soon a second finger joined its mate within and his deep caresses began to drive her rapidly towards an impending climax. His tongue began to lash her clit faster and faster, hastening her towards release. She came like a rocket, exploding around his mouth and fingers with a shout of his name and shaking body.

“Wow,” she gasped as soon as she could possibly speak again. “That was…”

“Yeah,” he agreed with a lopsided grin. “Gonna make you scream my name all night, love,” he promised.

Buffy knew it was not likely an idle boast, but she fully intended to leave him a quivering mess as well. Shehad no doubt her name would be shouted every bit as loudly.

Before Buffy could act on her plan to return the bliss she had received from his mouth, Spike had crawled panther-like up her body and positioned himself to enter her. Buffy looked at him coquettishly and teased, “Missionary? I don’t know why, but I always thought you’d be more unconventional.”

“Oh, I’m unconventional beyond your imagination, sweetheart. Got a century of creativity and variety to share and I promise I will, all in good time. Thing is,” he slowly pushed his cock into her waiting quim, “I’m plannin’ on a long, long night. This isn’t gonna be a one-time thing. First time, I want to see your beautiful face. Wanna watch every nuance, see every bit of bliss and happy play on it. Wanna watch you gasp and pant, see your eyes dart about while I play you perfect-like.” His cock was fully seated and he stopped moving as his words washed over her like warm sunshine, “Plan to love you every way my century of knowledge can think of and maybe a few we can make up just for us.” His cock began to slide in its perfect dance, slow and deep, causing her to thrash and moan as he managed to hit her in just the right spots every single time.

Spike was as good as his word as he brought her over and over to climax. She could die in that moment and not even notice the transition to heaven since she was so near it already.

They lay clasped in one another’s arms, letting music and candlelight wash them in their afterglow. Spike’s busy fingers played her still trembling body like an instrument and he a virtuoso. Tender kisses followed clever fingers as he brought her body fully to life.

Buffy stopped running her hands from their caressing of his thighs and chest to flip them both over leaving her astride her smiling vampire. “Ready to dip into that hundred years of knowledge?”

“Always ready.” And he was.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 35
~*~

 

Sinatra was crooning "The Very Thought of You" as the lovers cuddled under Spike's duster. The candles had long since guttered. "I remember this one from Mom's favorite albums."

"Mum liked Ol’ Blue Eyes, did she?"

"Oh, yeah, she loved all those old guys."

"Hey! Nothin' but a bunch of whippersnappers compared to me, missy," he laughed. "Dru loved Frankie, but I always thought Dick Haymes had a better voice."

"Dick who?"

"Haymes. Remind me to tape a copy of "You'll Never Know" or "The More I See You"; shoulda put 'em on the playlist. Voice smooth as butter."

"You," Buffy poked him gently on his bare shoulder near his unbeating heart, "have the soul of a poet."

"Don't have the soul of anything, pet."

"Well, maybe souls are overrated," Buffy smiled, much to his open-mouthed shock.

"It was sweet of you to put together all those pretty songs even if we didn't dance to all of them."

"Didn't we?" Spike grinned. "Seemed like we managed quite a bit of dancin' last night."

Buffy blushed a pretty pink. “I hope you know I don't usually go all the way on a first date. I'm not Easy Buffy."

Spike laughed aloud at that, "Buffy, you are many things, but easy is not one of them!" He nipped at her shoulder as he continued to softly chuckle. "Sides, if the pathetic set-up I put together last night is what you consider a date, you've been treated terribly by all the men in your life! Promise I'll make up for it."

Buffy ran tender fingers over his face, "You'd have a hard time topping last night for pure romance. No complaining here."

"Just glad we talked Red into holdin' off bringin' down the power grid for a while longer. Since she hacked her way in, she's chompin' at the bit wantin' to turn out the lights!"

"That's our Will! All with the power control."

"Speakin' of which, we'd best be gettin' back to the caves before that Watcher of yours gets his knickers in a twist and sends out a search party. 'Sides, I don't want to miss the fireworks when we knock out most of the main transport routes in So. Cal." Spike shook his head, "Who'd have thought the most mayhem I'd be part of would be as a white hat?"

Buffy pouted, "Shouldn't we have at least another half hour before we have to go back?"

Spike rolled her onto her back and nestled between her waiting thighs, "Think we can wait at least that long, yeah."

***

"Hey, you're back in time for the show!" Willow positively glowed with anticipation. "Operation Infrastructure Goes Boom is all set for simultaneous explosive goodness the day after tomorrow. You two looked like you might be gone a while."

Spike looked sheepish and Buffy decided to ignore her friend’s innuendo. "Operation Infrastructure Goodness Goes Boom? Is that an official name?" Buffy was amused at Willow’s gung-ho enjoyment of destruction. Both of her dear friends had taken to mayhem enthusiastically enough to give Spike a run for his money.

"Nope, but it pretty much covers it," Willow grinned somewhat maniacally. There seemed to be an untapped dark side to Buffy's best friend.

"Most of Southern California and parts of Nevada and Arizona are set for simultaneous loss of highways, bridges and ports," Xander explained. He showed Buffy the "war map" with Willow's patented coding in highlighter. "It's all going to go boom at the same time."

"Yeah! Let's see them transport prisoners and move troops after that," Willow snickered. "We even got T'Mcasla's group to plant explosives at some of the military weapons centers in the desert and the naval weapons station at Seal Beach."

Giles pointed to a few of the military ports along the southern coast, "We managed to get a few planted here and there as well. Enough to disrupt regular operations and possibly put the fear of God into them."

"How far up the coast?" Buffy asked as she studied the map and tried to decode Willow's colorful madness.

"Our direct operatives have it covered from Chula Vista up through Fresno and as far east as Las Vegas. Every major interstate will have at least a handful of areas destroyed. Most major bridges and railways should be unusable for the foreseeable future as well." Even Giles looked gleeful at the prospect.

Buffy wondered why she had never noticed this side of her little family before, but then remembered how very Ripper-like Giles had become after Angel murdered Jenny. Funny, she'd never referred to it that way before, always saying it had been Angelus. She'd done a lot of re-evaluating since her capture.

"Are we takin' down the power grid or knockin' out Hoover Dam?" Spike asked.

"Not this go-round. Number one, not enough explosives. Have to replenish our supply and, number two, Will wants everyone to still have TV, radio and the net. Project Radio Free World is going live right after the chaos eases," Xander explained.

Willow nodded, "We figured everyone has been running on fear all this time, so they'll be scrambling to find out what happened. We can hit 'em with our own propaganda...only ours is the truth."

"We have the films Charles shot while undercover in the labs and some other footage from elsewhere. Lindsey McDonald had some information he didn't need for leverage during Anya's trial that will open some eyes as well." Giles rubbed his hands in joyful anticipation.

"Bound to change some minds," Willow nodded.

"So my bestest friend's gonna be a TV star?"

"Not so much," Willow shook her head. "Lorne suggested we put Andrew in front of the camera. Said his destiny was pretty much media-oriented and it gives him a place to help like he says he wants to, one where we can watch him closely."

"Andrew...who?" Buffy still felt a bit out of the loop.

"Tucker Wells' brother. He was in Warren Mears’ youth group but got sick of what was actually going on. He tried to warn Anya that the Box was bugged. He's kind of tofu according to Lorne--could go either way depending on who he's around--but he's not actually full-out evil."

Xander added, "He was really broken up that his warning didn't come in time. Guy's got a surprising amount of compassion when he taps into it."

"Yeah, that was what made us decide to let him join like he's been asking to. He went after Warren when Anya was arrested and actually stood up to him. Threatened to let everyone know something’s not too macho in Mears' past if he did anything more to hurt Anya." Willow looked pretty amazed at the memory. "Rev. Cal saw it all and kept Warren from pummeling Andrew...he's not exactly a fighter."

"Yeah, that's when Lorne suggested we take him in somehow," Xander nodded. "I think the Jolly Green Giant has a kind of a thing for Andy personally."

"So Andrew's going to be our Tokyo Rose, only without the ‘working against the good guys’ part or the ‘secretly being forced to do it’ or, well, maybe not such a good comparison," Willow babbled.

Buffy chuckled as Willow blushed, "And now in English, Will?"

Spike scoffed, "You're a fine one to talk, love."

Giles nodded in solidarity, "Indeed. It took me years to finally translate enough to actually communicate properly." The two Englishmen laughed.

Buffy huffed, not actually irritated but joining in the spirit of teasing. "Watch out, blood-breath, or there'll be no more exploring for hideouts."

Spike shut up instantly. "Not another word!"

So we've got film and stuff. What about the McDonald stuff...won't that take away his advantage protecting Anya?"

"McDonald swears the things he gave us are just the tip of the iceberg. He has all he needs to keep the trial honest, or so he says. He also says there is a treasure trove of info at an old W & H archive site. Might be worth sending someone to retrieve it all." Xander had considered going himself but didn't want to abandon Anya with her trial starting. In fact, the arraignment was tomorrow.

***

Lindsey had been in more courtrooms than he could remember, but he'd never seen anything like what was the promised Trial of the Ages. Since the Global Human Initiative was made up of many nations and this trial was officially being presented as a war crimes trial, it didn't follow any familiar pattern. Good thing he liked a challenge!

The officials had finally decided on a forum that cobbled together a military-style tribunal with a standard American trial by jury. In “fairness” to the wounded parties, there were three judges representing the Global Human Initiative's diversity and three more that came from the military and NATO. That made for a judiciary panel of six in total. Lindsey had dirt on at least four of them, so that was not a problem.

The jury was comprised of twelve randomly selected citizens, human of course and mainly from North America for convenience sake. Juries were always the wild card. Luckily, McDonald was well versed in how to woo a decent jury. He'd been very careful in his selections and objections when they were impaneled, so he was also feeling pretty good about that part of the equation.

Lindsey turned and gave a reassuring smile to Xander and Father Quinn, who were seated directly behind the defense table. The young construction worker looked grim, but the Priest was doing his best to be a strong support for him. Xander's family had renounced both he and Anya as soon as they had learned of her past as a vengeance demon, and their mutual friends were not able to surface to offer the support Xander and Anya were going to need as the trial moved forward.

Anya was led in from the side door. As Lindsey had advised, she appeared subdued in a stylish but conservative pencil skirt with a jacket over a plain white blouse. She looked every bit the fully human small business owner that she actually had been for the last few years. Just the image Lindsey wanted burned into the jury's mind.

She smiled demurely at Xander and felt her handcuffed hands being grasped into a warm squeeze by the burly Priest as he leaned in to kiss her forehead as if she were a cherished grandchild. Xander pulled her into a hug before they all had to take their seats, awaiting the judges’ appearance. Lindsey noted that the jury looked approving that the defendant seemed to have the friendship, even affection, of a man of the cloth. Not what they expected for a demon, or former demon. Good!

They all rose for the highly ceremonial procession and seating of the judges in their various regalia. Lindsey had never seen so many seals, insignias and emblems as there were on a few of the non-American panel! They were pompous asses to this country boy. He thought the wig on the British member was a bit much for the American jury to swallow--good, another possible point in their favor. Americans liked their "betters" to be film stars and rock singers, not representatives of power. He'd have to play that up during the trial.

The prosecutor, a different one than the joker Lindsey had treated to his so helpful file, rose to begin the reading of the charges. Judging by this one's behavior, though, he too had gotten the memo. He had already begun speaking as Lindsey had been doing his assessment.

"We intend to prove that the defendant," he pointed to Anya, “did, while still operating as a vengeance demon, cause through callous abuse of her powers the deaths of millions and that only from two granted wishes. There is no way to fully know the actual number of human deaths the defendant may be responsible for initiating."

Anya squirmed in her seat and Lindsey placed a calming hand on her leg. It wouldn't do for her to appear even remotely guilty. Appearances were everything, especially at this stage.

"Two wishes?" One judge in a frilly red and white get-up inquired. "Are you saying these deaths were wished for?"

"Not precisely, your honor, your worships. We can and will prove that the defendant, with reckless depravity, did grant two vengeance wishes that led to those deaths."

"Proceed," another judge with a bored expression declared.

"The first wish was made by Catherine of Aragon, late Queen of England and consort of King Henry VIII."

"I say," interrupted the British judge in the wig who also knew McDonald could ruin him in a flash if he so chose. "That's rather going back a bit far in history, isn't it?"

"No statute of limitations on murder, my lord, and I assure you murder most foul was committed due to this wish."

"What on earth was the wish then? To my knowledge, Henry died from health-related reasons, all quite natural for his time."

"Henry was not the victim of the results of Catherine's wish, my lord. The wish was that the longed for male heir that Catherine had failed to produce would never come to be, or, if one did so, that he would die before siring another."

The non-British judges looked more puzzled than anything. "And this led to deaths how?"

"Well, your honor, this led to the ascension of Henry's daughter, Mary, to the throne after the early demise of the male heir, Edward. Mary re-instituted the Catholic faith by purging the Protestants, often violently, earning her the name Bloody Mary. Hundreds died. Likewise, when her sister took the throne and put the Protestant church back in supremacy, further deaths occurred. We can even show a correlation of these events with the bloody war between Spain and England that followed Elizabeth's taking the throne. None of these religious-based deaths would have happened had Edward lived or produced a male heir himself and that could not happen due to the defendant's granted wish.

"Further, Elizabeth died with no heir at all, leading to the coronation of James of Scotland. His son, Charles, fathered another James and further religious tainted wars and death took place as that later James was prevented from being his father's heir because of his Catholicism. Those so-called Jacobite uprisings also trace to the curse placed upon Henry's line by that wish! We plan to concentrate on those deaths under Mary and Elizabeth, however, as we will show the direct correspondence is clear."

The room was silent as the jury members looked speculatively at Anya. Lindsey could see them wondering how such a dainty, pleasant and human-looking woman could have sparked such events.

The prosecutor continued, "The second deadly wish we are charging the defendant with involves the Russian revolution and its resultant carnage."

"Do go on," the only female judge urged. Clearly she was buying into this nonsense. Lindsey decided to do some research on her for preventive measures.

"Anya Jenkins, then known as the Vengeance Demon Anyanka…."

Anya nudged Lindsey and whispered indignantly, "I was known as the Patron of Scorned Women!"

Lindsey shushed her and wrote on his legal pad. "I know. We'll have our turn. Relax and try to look like a sitcom mom from the 50s."

"...in 1913 did grant the wish of Praskovia Fedorovna Dubrovina, wife of Gregori Rasputin, then a trusted adviser of Czar Nicholas II of Russia. Mrs. Rasputin was unhappy at having been left behind in Pokrovskoye with their three children while her husband enjoyed the life at court as a personal physician, spiritual adviser and friend to the Romanov family.

"He was also allegedly involved with other women, many women, one of whom was rumored to be the Czarina herself, although that was never proven. Rasputin's wife wanted him home with his family and away from the temptations of the flesh that kept him from home.

"That wish, that his advice to the Czar would prove to be flawed, did not lead to his return home. But it did lead to Nicholas Romanov taking full charge of his armies during WWI, an utterly disastrous course of action that led to tremendous hardships within Russia. This advice was in direct opposition to Rasputin's earlier words of wisdom that, and I quote, "If the Czar goes to war against Germany it will be the end of the monarchy, of the Romanovs and of Russian institutions." What, other than the defendant's granted wish, could cause such an opinion to change so thoroughly?

"The hardships at home during the war directly led the Bolshevik armies of Lenin to gain power and the revolution to begin. That revolution alone saw the deaths of over nine million Russians!

"We also contend that the success of the revolution led to Joseph Stalin then taking power. His campaign of purges and enslavement has been estimated to have cost the lives, conservatively, of twenty million individuals. Think, your honors! That’s twenty-nine million humans dying because of the defendant granting one peasant woman's wish!"

 

Anya felt her alarm rise but covered nicely. Lindsey McDonald still looked far too confident for her peace of mind. Something was up there and she wanted to know just what. She wasn't sure just how far she should trust her life and well-being to a man who had worked for the most famous demon law firm in any dimension.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 36
~*~

 

"A word if you will, Buffy." Giles had on his concerned Watcher face.

"Sure, Giles, but can't it wait? Spike and I want to set up quarters down by the loading docks, get the windows painted before next sunrise."

Giles looked uncomfortable. He'd downright squirmed at hearing the words 'Spike and I'. "Actually that leads me to the subject I wish to discuss."

And there it was! Buffy looked at her Watcher, mentor and surrogate father and could see the wheels spin. His Slayer, his girl, falling for yet another vampire. All the old memories of the disaster that had been Angel/Angelus must be screaming inside of him.

"Giles, you know I love you, but I'm a big girl now and any mistakes you think I'm making are mine to make."

"Some mistakes have lethal consequences, my dear, as you well know. I would be remiss in my duties not to point them out to you."

"That's fine, Giles, but number one, I learned from my mistakes and won't be repeating them, and number two, Spike isn't Angel. He's not even Angelus and that would be a more accurate comparison since he doesn't have a soul."

Giles removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He hated treading into these waters with anyone; it went against his reticent British nature. Still, it was Buffy and the girl had already suffered far too much in her short life. With Joyce gone it fell to him to try to offer the wisdom of age and experience.

"Buffy, I cannot in good conscience stand by and watch you risk that kind of hurt again." He saw the set jaw of his charge and conceded what he could. "I agree that Spike is nothing like his wanker of a grand-sire. I will go so far as to admit that Spike has proven his worth as an ally. He has been rather startling in his ability to choose good; I admit to being impressed. Nonetheless, he is a vampire."

"I had noticed," Buffy snarked. "Kinda my job description to see those kinds of details."

"Yes, yes, I meant no dismissal of your skills or commitment," he sighed. "Sometimes events occur that can cloud our thinking. This applies to humans in a general sense as well. I might have the same misgivings were Spike a human male for that matter. His being a vampire merely compounds the potential disaster should the worst case prove true."

Buffy leaned against the desk and let Giles get this off his chest. She knew well what happened when someone let fears and concerns fester within. Better to get it all out in the open and air it out. "I'm listening."

Giles was silent, clearly gathering his thoughts. He'd half expected Buffy to reject his input altogether. To have her willing to listen had taken him enough by surprise that he wasn't totally prepared. Giles was struck anew by how much his girl had matured during the course of events of the past year. He was still adjusting to the change.

"You see, wartime has traditionally seen people cling to one another. Even total strangers can become involved. The acute nature of life and death issues seems to make people want to bond. There is a reason that wartime romances are fairly cliché. Marriages are entered into in haste on short acquaintance. Liaisons take place that never would under other circumstances. There is a good reason for the large increase in births post war."

Buffy giggled, "Well, that's one issue we don't have to worry about. Spike's not likely to get me pregnant...unless whatever Power That Be caused Angel's swimmers to go active and father Connor gets involved. If the Powers are meddling, you'd think there are other issues they'd get involved with instead of seeing me get knocked up."

"Yes, well…," Giles cleared his throat, face paling to a ghostly shade. Discussing the subject of Buffy's reproductive possibilities had made the red of his blush more pronounced against the whitened countenance. "Aside from those rather personal details that, and I beg you not to discuss with me in any detail, there are emotional considerations to...erm...consider."

Spike had stopped at the office door, mesmerized by the sound of Buffy giggling and not wanting to intrude. He was also not willing to walk away and not hear the conversation that had so tickled her. He had caught the tail end of her comments and wondered why the Watcher was suddenly concerned with his ability to procreate or when Giles had decided it was his business.

"I deal in life and death moments all the time, Giles. I have since I was fifteen." Buffy stopped herself from adding a well-deserved eyeroll. "My life is wartime and will be until I die. I've accepted that."

"I'm so sorry, Buffy. I'd change that for you if I could."

Buffy smiled at Giles, "I know that. I kinda don't mind anymore. It used to really bug me, but not so much now. I'm not planning to go down easy or soon," she shrugged. "Besides, no one knows what their time-stamp might be. I always expected my mom to live to be ancient and hoped Dawnie would give her a ton of grandbabies and great-grandbabies to spoil before she...left. Instead she died before she was even fifty. I learned that you can't let things like when you're number is up make your choices for you 'cause you never know when it will happen."

"Of course that is true," Giles nodded. "It also does not make my points moot."

"Yeah, I get that. Wartime romances are of the bad. But still, what's wrong with a touch of gentle when everything is harsh? What's bad about reaching for some joy, a ray of hope? It seems to me that having something, someone, to hold onto in wartime is of the good."

Spike felt the gaping maw of pain devour his recent joy at hearing his Slayer's words. 'That what it was? I thought it meant more to her than just some stolen moment of good in the middle of all the bad.'

Spike thought to himself, ‘If that's what she needs, I'll still give it to her. That's what I get for expectin' more. Why should Buffy love me after just a few years when Dru couldn't with a century?’ He turned and headed back to the tunnels to continue packing up what was left.

"I understand, Buffy, but there is much more at stake with your...involvement with Spike than just any wartime relationship. What will he do once we achieve peace and you move on?"

"I never said that's what it is with me and Spike!" Buffy finally did roll her eyes. "You're putting words into my mouth and I've got plenty of my own in there already."

"But you just said--," Giles began only to have Buffy cut him off.

"I just said there were good things about wartime romances. I never said that was what was happening with me. Spike and I had started to be friends long before this stuff started! Yeah, I was dating Riley, but we were having trouble and it was ending on its own. Some of that was probably because a part of me already liked Spike's company more than Riley's. We were headed for more than friendship no matter what." Buffy started to pace, frustrated that Giles still had a scowl that indicated he wasn't taking her seriously.

"Yeah, I'll grant you that our being in a cell together might have speeded things up, but that's ALL it did. I was already attracted to him and he was already in love with me."

She stopped her pacing right in front of Giles. "Remember Willow’s ‘Will Be Done’ spell right after Spike got chipped?"

"How could I forget?" Giles shuddered at the memory.

"Her will for me was that I marry Spike, not that I love him. Lots of people get married who aren't in love." She looked directly into Giles' eyes as if willing him to follow the dots. "BOTH Spike and I were in love, Giles. LOVE. We weren't just going to get married but were head over heels in love. I remember how that felt. That didn't come from her spell but from somewhere in our subconscious."

"I suppose you could put that slant on it."

"Not a slant, Giles, a revelation! Do you seriously think I haven't thought about the path that led me here? Giles, I'm gun-shy. I'm not afraid of much; I can't be and do my duty as Slayer. After what happened with Angel, I'm terrified of my emotions, scared of making another horrific mistake that leads to a lot of dead bodies. I have no confidence in my choices, not until now. I had time to think in there...lots of time. When I started having feelings beyond friendship, I put on the brakes. I took out every feeling, every encounter and put them under a microscope. I tried every way imaginable to logic away what I was feeling, what he was feeling. Guess what? All it did was make everything really clear."

"Clear in what way?"

"Clear in that I lo…care about Spike and he loves me. It's not some wartime thing. It's not obsession. It's not desperation. It’s been building for years."

***

“This is great!” Willow was busy setting up her com center, or nerve center as she liked to call it. “The caves were fine and I’m so glad Spike thought that far ahead but, you know, I prefer living above ground, not like a mole.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to feel like a Troglyte from Star Trek’s Cloud Minders and I’ve only been down there a few weeks!” Xander’s inner nerd agreed.

“Nonetheless, the caves and tunnels have served well and will continue to do so,” Giles reminded them. “Now we will have more room for stockpiling supplies for further forays against the infrastructure.”

“And for hiding people as things get worse.”

“Indeed. Is that all of our equipment?” Giles looked around the warehouse office space and began to mentally divide the area.

“Think so. We’ve got power now,” Willow cheered as she brought up her computer. “Took all my latent geek skills, but we’ve got net connections and cell phones get better reception up here.”

“Just like in the big city…without the big and the city parts of course,” Xander teased. “Looks like something from Mad Max out there,” he peeked out the small window pane that looked outdoors.

The non-sunlight-sensitive members of the group appreciated the small openings to the outer world. Of course, those small panes would be heavily covered at night so their lights wouldn’t show that there was anyone in the long abandoned warehouse.

“Got a while before Angel’s group checks in about their operation up North. Hope they had as much success as we did down here. Joe Perkins coordinated their targets and he was always great with explosives, so I’m expecting good news.” Xander missed his friend and remembered learning all about explosive placement from the older man.

“It’ll be even longer before we hear from the Devon Coven and the European groups reporting in.” Willow yawned widely. It had been a long day of moving. “I’m going to set up my sleep area now that we’re up and running. I claim dibs on the alcove next to the bathroom.” She was chipper again with the success of their first big operation and the move above ground. She still missed Tara terribly, but now that things were looking up, so were her spirits. Besides, she hadn’t lost the ability to chat online.

“I can’t believe we let the vampire appropriate the sofa bed for their room by the docks,” Xander groaned. “Ratty as it was, it beat the sleeping bag on the floor we’re stuck with.”

“Perhaps in good time we can find a way to add some bits of comfort,” Giles mused.

“Or this can finally be over and we can all go home,” Willow sighed wistfully.

***

“Why are you all Silent Vamp all of a sudden?” Buffy set down her end of the sofa bed and glared at Spike. “I thought you’d be all happy after last night.”

“Last night meant everything to me,” he emphasized the last word just enough that Buffy easily caught the implied accusation.

“What? You think it was nothing to me? I told you I’m not Easy Buffy.”

“Not sayin’ you are,” Spike shuffled his feet and looked a combination of hurt, angry and nervous. Not a good look on him, if you asked Buffy.

“Spike, I didn’t plan last night; you did.” She saw his body stiffen defensively. “I didn’t mean it like that!” She put a soothing hand on his arm. “I just meant it took me by surprise, a good surprise, a better than good surprise, that’s all. Maybe I’m not so good with first morning afters and you didn’t just get it, but last night meant more than I can say to me too.”

“So you’re down for a wartime romance then? “ His voice dropped to a whisper, “What about after?”

“Wartime…?” She flinched backward. What was it with the men around her that they … “Wait! Did you overhear me and Giles earlier ‘cause gotta say eavesdropping…not your friend.”

“Yeah, I heard,” Spike huffed while trying to look anything but hurt. “Well, heard enough anyway.”

“Apparently not,” Buffy argued.

“Look, pet, I’m no bloody Milton Warden and got too many sunlight issues to be rollin’ in the surf while the music soars,” he started to pace, clearly agitated. “I’m the borin’ guy who sticks around till I’m tossed to one side or get replaced. I’m the one stays there for the fightin’ and for the makin’ up, good times and terrible. Not some bleedin’ chick flick leadin’ man that can’t really last.

“I know! I never thought you were. I don’t want some ‘From Here to Eternity’ fantasy and, yeah, I got the reference. I kinda like my eternity to be more literal. I want a guy who stays! I’ve never had that. I know you, Spike. I’ve seen you and how you are when you care. You give everything to the woman you love, sacrifice anything. It’s almost scary.”

“I scare you?”

“No, I scare me!”

Spike looked puzzled at her admission.“I don’t know if I can love like that. I can be pretty self-absorbed.”

“That’s not how I see you, pet.”

Buffy smiled softly. She wasn’t wordy girl, but maybe this was the time to try.

“Look…I’ve had time to think lately and I actually used the time to do just that. Back before I moved to Sunnydale, I dated a guy. Funny enough, his name was Pike; must have been an omen,” she giggled as she shook her head. “Anyway, he was the first guy I dated after I got called. He was fine with me being the Slayer, too fine. He tried to fight at my side until he decided he was holding me back.”

Spike sat on the sofa and gave Buffy his full attention. They’d talked a lot while in the cell, but Buffy wasn’t one to open up on emotional issues. He knew the importance of what was happening.

“Then there was Angel,” Buffy noted his frown and low growl. “What can I say? It happened and it changed everything, at least for me.” Spike tried to school his features to not show his jealousy and his disgust at the thought of his Slayer and Grandsire’s ill-fated love story.

“I was so young, even younger than my years when it comes to emotional stuff. I didn’t even give Angel a second look for a long time. He was this kinda creepy older guy who skulked around and popped up with no warning, dropping hints and vague warnings. I remember I called him Cryptic Guy. I could see he was handsome, but that was all, really. I was more interested in the cute guys in school and that was before I even knew he was a vampire.”

“Should’ve gone with those first impressions, love.”

Buffy smiled as she gently swatted his arm. “Yeah, well…anyway… Eventually things with the guys at school proved to be disasters and Angel started batting those cow eyes and making romantic poses and before you know it he switched from Cryptic Guy to mysterious and nobly tragic.”

Spike snorted and shook his head. “Outside of the nobly tragic part of the act, it sounds like standard Angelus Stalking 101.”

Buffy looked surprised that any part of Angel was like the creature Spike had known so well as Angelus. It took her a short pause to continue. “Well, you know how well that turned out.”

“Some of it, yeah. Be willin’ to hear it all one day if you want to share or need to,” Spike offered gently. He knew whatever the details might be, they had left deep scars. He’d wager that most of Buffy’s romantic problems could be traced right to Angel’s door.

“That takes us to the mistake known as Riley.” Spike felt his skin crawl at the reminder of his recent torturer. Come to think of it, both her main exes had taken delight in torturing him.

“Never did understand that one.”

“He was my attempt to go for that normal everyone told me I should want, that I convinced myself I wanted. Something other than another ‘freak show’,” Buffy shuddered at some memory. “That’s what Angel called what we had.”

“Got that right, but not ‘cause he was a vamp, just 'cause he was a wanker who never learned how to love proper.”

“At any rate, you were there for the whole Riley thing. I just couldn’t be what he needed. I never was able to open up completely to him, let him in.” Buffy thought back over her most recent disaster and felt the guilt rise. “I think I drove him a bit crazy. You know better than anyone what he’s turned into. I’ll always think that if I’d only loved him better…who am I kidding…if I’d actually loved him, maybe he would never have turned into a monster.” She laughed bitterly. “Great track record. I love Angel more than I should and unleash a monster. I can’t really love Riley and unleash another monster.”

“Not you, love, just the men you tried to build somethin’ with. They were monsters in masks before you ever came into their lives.”

Buffy wasn’t too sure about that but let it go for now. She was pretty tired of baring her soul and wanted the comfort of baring something else now that they seemed to be on the same page again. Time enough for deep meaningful sharing another day. It hadn’t been as hard as she had expected. Spike was surprisingly easy to talk to.

“I won’t say the words you want to hear until I know I really feel them the way you deserve. I’m tired of having them not mean the real thing. I don’t know if I can ever love the way you do, but until I’m sure I can love the way I believe I can, real and pure, I won’t say those words. But just because I don’t say them doesn’t mean that what we have now doesn’t mean anything or that I’ll never say them. Are you okay with that?”

“Better than okay.” He gathered his girl into his arms and held her in love’s silent embrace.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 37
~*~

 

"This is just silly," Anya fumed. They were back in the interrogation room of the jail, the arraignment having been completed.

"Yeah, I'll make sure the jury gets that, starting with my opening remarks tomorrow." Lindsey laid a comforting hand on the irate girl.

"I did grant those wishes, but I wasn't the fool who listened to bad advice. I didn't rouse the rabble and lead the ragged masses to overthrow a king! I also didn't oppress people for centuries and ignore their needs while living the high life."

Lindsey could tell she was just getting started and he let her go unchecked. Better to get her emotional outburst out here so she could be placid and demure at the defense table during the trial. He loved his client's frank attitude, but a jury might not.

"And as for Bloody Mary," Anya rolled her eyes. "If anyone thinks my little granted wish had anything to do with the violence of the Reformation, they are certifiable. People have been killing people in the name of whatever god is popular long before I was born and that was over eleven hundred years ago."

Lindsey chuckled, "Been reading some of my notes while I wasn't looking? I'm planning on bringing all that up and a lot more, sweetheart."

"This is just such a waste of time and taxpayers’ money," Anya huffed. "I mean, how do they expect a jury to just accept the nonsense they laid out?"

"They expected this to be a slam-dunk, a show trial only. The intention was to make it look like you got a fair trial, convict you and make the claim that they were treating all the prisoners fairly with you as proof."

"Well, that just doesn't make sense. There are all those films from the labs that the guys are making sure everyone sees which prove that wrong."

"Yes, and that makes your trial more important to them than even before. Fortunately for us, W & H left behind a lovely warehouse filled with archival information. Some of that information gave me enough leverage to make them play fair, give the public a real trial. Let them make fools of themselves while I tear into their paper-thin charges."

"Wait a minute, buster," Anya shook a finger under his nose. "You mean you have blackmail on these idiots and you didn't just get the charges dropped and me released?"

"Actually, yes," Lindsey leaned back from the threatening finger. He was glad at that moment Anya was no longer a Vengeance Demon, because he had a feeling more than his nose would be in jeopardy.

"They want a show trial and so we'll give it to them. Only difference is it'll be a fair one and we'll win." He smiled smugly, "It'll be a good thing."

"Good for you maybe! You get to be a famous lawyer like those Dream Team guys with O.J. Simpson. Only I'm not guilty and you're not stuck in a cell."

"That's true, but you are safer in that cell than you would be anywhere. I made sure you will be treated well. It's not the Ritz, but it’s clean and comfortable and, again, safe. You'll be like a politician caught stealing, a real VIP."

Anya wasn't buying it,"Why? Why me? Why do you want a trial at all? I can't see you making a fortune defending random demons."

"Well, not any more, that's true," Lindsey shrugged. Defending demons had actually made him quite a comfortable life for years while working for the old firm. "And the reason the trial is good is because we can help expose lots of stuff going on, help the cause, make you into a martyr and a rather fetching one at that. It's a great way to aid the resistance."

Anya digested this and didn't succumb to his embedded flattery. "Can't I just fund raise? I'm great at that. I'd much prefer getting people and demons to reach into their pockets than try to make them have sympathy for me. Believe me, I'm great at that, just ask Xander. I'm not too good at public relations; you can ask him that too."

"You haven't had me there to coach you," Lindsey tried to mollify her. "Look, it's not like I picked you out and started this. They already had you targeted and arrested before I came along. I'm making the best damned lemonade ever made out of their pile of lemons. I'll have everyone drinking it and toasting you as they do."

***

“So, gentle viewers, the world is beginning to take notice of the darker, more nefarious plans of the so-called Global Human Initiative. The proof is mounting that, like the best super-villains, the real goal is not getting rid of a threat but gaining control over the entire world.

Join me, gentle viewers, as we replay this uncut, verified vid of U.N. Secretary General Beldescu and the late madman leader of the GHI, Quentin Travers, as they discuss just who will hold the reins of power when all the dust settles. “

Andrew hit play on the console and looked at Willow for approval as the broadcast of the damning video found its way onto televisions and the internet across the world. Willow grinned as her best hacking job ever worked like a charm.

There were plenty of congratulations to go around. Andrew had proven to be not only capable but strangely compelling as a “host” for these broadcasts. If it hadn’t been for Charles Gunn, they would have no video to broadcast at all. The vids showing the conditions in the labs had been shocking to the populus. This latest one, however, had gone viral within a day.

It had been a stroke of luck that Charles had been summoned to security backup during the high profile visit to the labs by the Secretary General and even better luck that his microphone had picked up the quiet conversation between the visiting dignitary and Travers. It had been all Charles could do to keep a giant grin off of his face as the two megalomaniacs had discussed future power positions.

The world had at last sat up and taken notice beyond mild disapproval of the extermination of demons. Suddenly everyone’s well being was at stake.

***

”And in breaking news, representatives from countries not part of the Global Alliance are reported to be in secret meetings in Norway tonight discussing a joint effort and possible declaration of war against the Global Human Alliance and all its member states. Confidential sources tell us that concerns were raised by a controversial video purporting to show a private conversation between U.N. Secretary General Beldescu and the former head of the Global Human Initiative, Quentin Travers.

Those sources claim these nations, all of which have refused to be part of the Initiatives efforts to protect humanity against demon kind, claim to fear eventual loss of their sovereignty. These nations have been providing varying degrees of assistance to demon refugees and are suspected of aiding and abetting various demon terrorist groups in their attacks upon law abiding humans.

Secretary Beldescu and the new head of the Global Human Initiative, Crispin Starling, have stated repeatedly that this insidious video is fake, having been created by demon-run propaganda organizations.

Neither Beldescu nor Starling could be reached for a comment on this latest rumor regarding potential warfare. However, they have issued a statement that any attempt to use force against the GHI or the Alliance would be met with extreme force.

Secretary Beldescu is quoted as saying, “We will not permit these misguided nations to jeopardize the important task of ridding Earth of demon scum who terrorize and threaten humanity itself. The people of this world have our solemn pledge to serve and protect our citizens and build a world for humans only as designed by the Creator.”

***

“Is the defense prepared to begin their opening remarks?”

“If it pleases the court, yes, your honors.”

“Proceed.”

Lindsey glanced at the prosecutor with satisfaction. His worthy opponent’s opening had been weak at best, without much content of note. Clearly they were abiding by the agreement to make this mockery of justice a fair fight with no last minute tricks. McDonald’s vetting of the jurors had him fairly certain that they were all malleable enough for his presentation to sway them his way. There were other files at the old W & H archive that he wanted to get his hands on, just to be certain he had extra ammunition in case he needed to persuade anyone else to give Anya the acquittal she deserved.

He drew himself up and faced the jury and gave his best confident smile. “Good morning.

“You have heard a lot of far-fetched speculation on the part of the prosecution this morning. I say far-fetched because we all know in our hearts and minds that the long history of our world, our people, is filled with religious strife, revolutions and wars. As the old adage goes, ‘there is nothing new under the sun’.

“We also know that such world-changing events are not caused by one particular person or event. Some might point, for example, to the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand as the match that lit the fuse leading to World War I. Any reputable historian however would point out that there had to be a fuse there to light in the first place.

“Did my client grant the two wishes the prosecution has described? Yes. Did those granted wishes cause the events the prosecution wishes to lay at her feet? No.

“I will present to you facts, not speculation. Facts from witnesses uniquely qualified to speak on the specific charges. Undisputed experts in their field. Every one of them will clearly show you the utter absurdity of the prosecution’s claim that this one woman, a Justice Demon at the time and known as the Patron of Scorned Women, is not responsible for the purely human actions and events that they are trying to attribute to her. We will show a chain of events long preceding the granting of these simple wishes made by victimized women that actually led to the events in question.

“Further, we will establish that Ms. Jenkins has been fully human, just as she was before she began her employment in aiding hurting females achieve a measure of justice when wronged. She has made positive contributions to human society. We shall show that her friendship with the Slayer allowed her to assist in keeping all of us safe time and again, often at great personal risk. She has helped avert end-of-the-world sized events and has helped protect innocents alongside the Slayer, who was chosen by the very Powers That Be responsible for selecting the warrior for the people.

“We will show her as a productive member of society. A well respected and successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, an asset to her community and human society in general.

“Ladies and gentlemen, when we are through, not a one of you will entertain these scurrilous charges as truth and it is my firm belief that you will do the right thing and release Ms. Jenkins to return to her loved ones and her life as the exemplary human that she truly is.”

***

“I don’t think that could have gone any better, lad,” Father Quinn congratulated Lindsey and slapped his back congenially. “From the looks on their faces, you had them eating out of your hand.”

“I want to keep it that way, Padre.”

“We all do.”

“I was thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get as many of the files left at the old archive as soon as we can, just in case we need more information to keep everything fair and square. Might even be stuff in there that can help in other ways. W & H had all sorts of clients, not just demons. Plenty of politicians and business leaders came through their doors over the years. Not a few of them made use of somewhat dubious means to their power either.

“My old bosses weren’t above keeping blackmail information on them, and on others too, if they felt it could give them an ace in the hole.”

“Might be a good idea indeed. In fact, since you tipped them off by letting them know there are files out there, they just might try to locate them first.” Father Quinn got a look on his face that almost literally revealed a light bulb above his head. “Think I know just the guy for the job too.

***

“So, Jonathan, think you’re up for the mission?”

“I’d love to do something useful. If you don’t mind my asking…why me?”

Rabbi Goldstein grinned at the boy. “Well, son, you don’t have any obvious connection. You can get to LA and to this archive without drawing attention.”

The smooth-looking attorney looked the boy over with a skeptical expression. “You guys sure? I mean, no offense, kid, but you’re kind of young and not exactly brawny. Some of those file boxes might be bigger than you.”

Jonathan hated having his smaller stature pointed out, especially in front of people he looked up to. “I can handle it. I’m stronger than I look; older too.”

Chaim Rosenberg chimed in, “I’ll go with the boy.”

Lindsey let out a snort of laughter, “Again, no offense, but you don’t look like you’re up for heavy lifting either.”

“I’d go, but they’ve seen me in court every day,” Father Quinn said regretfully.

“I’m still a young man and in excellent shape,” offered Imam Azim. Kalil was compact but clearly muscled. “I will go as well. Between the three of us we should do fine, Allah willing.”

Lindsey looked him over and nodded. “I’ll put together a list of the most important files to bring; anything else is gravy. There are some computer discs too. I’ll work up a map of where you’ll find the stuff. The place is a gold mine, but I doubt you’ll get it all, so try for the essentials.”

Xander wished he could go, but, like Father Quinn, he’d be too high a profile. “Spike and I can probably round up a panel truck that should hold as much as you can get without setting off any bells and whistles.” He shot a look at the so-far silent vampire, who nodded in return.

“We’ll set you up, no problem. When do you need the wheels?”

“I think the sooner the better,” Lindsey warned.

“In the morning, then. Harris and I can appropriate the truck tonight and Harris can park it next to the Mosque.” Spike already had in mind the perfect place to get his hands on a vehicle and a set of stolen plates as well.

Jonathan yawned and stood up. “Guess I’d better turn in then, so I’ll be good to go early.”

“I’m thinking around six would be a good time. We can get to LA and blend in with the tail end of rush hour traffic. Easier to get lost in a crowd,” Chaim suggested.

Jonathan turned to his old friend Andrew and sighed, “Wish me luck.”

Andrew pulled him into a bear hug that made Jonathan slightly uncomfortable, for all that he understood the sentiment. “May the force be with you, young Padawan.”

Willow hugged her grandfather as well. “And God go with you too, Zaide. Don’t do any heavy lifting!”

“I may be an old man but I’m tougher than I look, sweetheart.” Chaim patted his chest and smiled at his beloved granddaughter. “Tough, like an old chicken, eh?”

Willow shook her head at his silliness. “I mean it. A girl needs her grandfather. You take care of him,” she glared at Jonathan.

Jonathan nodded.

“I shall also keep an eye on my brother,” promised the Imam.

Willow looked puzzled.

“What?” Chaim joked, “You forgot Abraham is the father of all of us? Kal’s my kid brother. “

“And kid brothers always watch out for their elders.”

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 38
~*~

 

"How many more boxes?" Imam Aziz was feeling his energy flag a bit. Allah alone knew how tired Mr. Rosenberg must be at his age!

"Not that many, really. Got everything Mr. McDonald asked for and plenty more besides. I don't think we can fit in the rest." Jonathan ran a hand over his forehead, wiping the sweat away before more dripped into his eyes. He hadn't done this much heavy lifting since Warren had him "help" move his stuff to his mom's basement. Warren had assumed the role of supervisor while he and Andy had been the Sherpas. He was glad Andrew was finally away from the bad influence of Warren Mears, the Toxic Tech.

Chaim looked at the haul in appreciation, "Think we've got enough to bury these farzeenish?"

Jonathan suppressed a giggle at the older man's reference to the Global Human Initiative as monsters, given that was who they claimed to be protecting the world from.

"I would guess the answer might be yes. It is a blessing that Mr. McDonald is on our side, is it not?" Kalil tensed up, having thought he heard a noise coming from bushes nearby. "I think we might have company," he whispered.

"Get behind the wheel and be ready to drive like a madman," Chaim urged his friend.

"Jonathan, quickly! Close the back--get in there yourself if you must. You can move to the front when we are safely away and can stop for a moment. It looks like our luck may have run out."

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity all around them as black clad soldiers of the GHI began to come out from cover with weapons drawn.

"Stop! Under the authority of the Global Human Initiative acting on behalf of the Global Alliance, present your papers and explain your presence here."

Chaim stepped forward even as Kalil released the parking brake and eased the truck into gear. "What can we do for you, sir? We're moving some old boxes for the law firm that owns this building." He patted his pockets as if looking for paperwork. "I must have left the work order in the cab. Just one moment and I'll get them."

Jonathan eased into the back of the truck as if to straighten the boxes as Chaim inched his way to the front of the vehicle.

Chaim made no sudden movements that might draw further suspicion. "You would think a man my age could retire by now. Still, I prefer this to greeting customers at a Wal-Mart to make ends meet," he pretended to grumble.

"Hey, I know you!," sneered one of the soldiers. "You're Chaim Rosenberg, the guy who was spouting all that pro-demon crap about Nazis at a meeting before we got a handle on the threat."

"Stop moving! NOW!" another raised voice commanded.

Chaim stopped in his tracks just a short distance from the open passenger door. He tried to make out the face of his accuser. "Harvey Wicks? Is that you? I thought you still had your butcher shop in Sunnydale. What are you doing in LA, and in uniform no less?"

"Not that it's your business, traitor, but one of my sons runs the place now. Serving humanity is more important work, making the earth ours again. That shit you were trying to sell helped me decide I had to take a side and, unlike you, I chose my own kind."

"You sure he's a sympathizer?" the commander of the group asked. "Seems a bit long in the tooth to be a real troublemaker or terrorist."

"Yeah, I'm sure. He may not be much for setting explosives or breaking monsters out of cages, but he can sure run his mouth. Looks like he can move boxes too."

"Did you say Rosenberg?" the commander asked. "Any relation to Willow Rosenberg?"

"She is my granddaughter. Why? Do you know her?"

"I dated a friend of hers for a while until she threw me over for a demon," Finn looked at the trio in disgust. "Turn off the engine and get out of the truck and keep your hands where I can see them," he ordered gruffly.

Chaim locked eyes with Kalil and whispered quietly and quickly, "Mission's what's important. I'm old, it's my time. Tell them all I love them." Then a bit louder to warn Jonathan, "GO! Quickly!"

Chaim made a dash for the alleyway next to the warehouse, drawing all eyes on him as the Imam reluctantly but efficiently slammed his foot on the accelerator.

Jonathan grabbed the back door of the truck and pulled it closed, hoping against hope that the metal doors would protect against bullets at least a little bit. "What about Mr. Rosenberg?"

"He chose our survival and mission and he will be honored," The Imam replied sadly. "I wish he had taken the wheel instead of me. He will be rewarded greatly for his sacrifice though. Allah, may His name be praised, has special rewards for martyrs in a just cause."

They careened down the nearly empty side streets of the industrial district, glad that it was the weekend and not the busy work week.

"Keep your eyes open for a place to hide ourselves and the truck. We will need to find another vehicle and transfer the boxes now that they have seen what we are driving. We must not let our brother's sacrifice be for nothing."

Kalil kept off the major roadways and tried to keep to where there was a bit of overhead cover, should the GHI use a helicopter to try to find them. Luckily, this part of LA had more than a few streets that still had trees.

"There!" Jonathan yelled. "To the right! There's a truck terminal and it looks closed. We can park between a couple of big rigs and see if we can find something to move the stuff into and get back home."

"You are a bright boy, Jonathan. We must see about yet another theft," the Imam sighed in sorrow. "I am sure Allah, may his name be praised, will understand such indiscretions."

They pulled into the Central Freight terminal and between two eighteen wheelers. Jonathan got out and started to look around for something viable. Several rows over, he spotted a smaller truck, the sort used for smaller cargo. He checked the cab. To his pleasant surprise, he found a clipboard on the driver’s seat. On the clipboard was the paperwork from the last delivery and a set of keys for the truck. The driver must have been either forgetful, trusting or in a big hurry to start his weekend. Bad for him, but oh so good for them. "Over here!"

Kalil had been scoping out the terminal, making certain there was no one else about. The place appeared to be blessedly deserted with no security or random employee on the premises. With all the social upheaval, lots of jobs were vacant everywhere, especially of the night shift variety. Kalil was certain that human-based crimes had risen thanks to that. Those statistics were another "fun fact" the authorities didn't want well known. Heaven forbid anyone think some demons had actually been beneficial to society!

The sad and subdued duo transferred the files and discs to the newly appropriated truck and tried to conceal their original vehicle as best as they could before heading back to Sunnydale. The Imam prayed that there was enough information in the cargo to make it worth the sacrifice of such a fine man as Chaim Rosenberg.

***

"I think there is something in the files they're bringing back to ensure that last judge is a bit more...um...sympathetic to our side," Lindsey wasn't too comfortable sitting in a church office, even if it was to brainstorm. Too many years working for the Senior Partners made him fear a random lightening strike. He looked at the vampire looking cool as a cucumber across the table and wondered why HE wasn't at least itchy.

"What about the jurors?"

"Well, Mike, I'm not sure. None of them are what you'd call big players, so there may not be any dirt--at least none that my old bosses would have bothered with."

McDonald was glad the priest had told him to just call him by his given name. All the other religious trappings were enough to make his inner child from a "God fearing" upbringing squirm.

"No one's that clean,” Spike scoffed. “Gotta be somethin' naughty in their life to use if you need it. I've lived long enough to know that I haven't met that many humans who are truly squeaky clean."

Father Mike laughed at the vampire's claim. "Got that right! Even yours truly. Whole reason I'm in business."

"Maybe I can hack into some sites and see if anything iffy pops up," Willow suggested. "Not that you'll need to do anything with the information, unless they seem like they're being controlled by the Global guys."

"Backup intel--yes, I believe that would be prudent," Giles nodded. "In the event any such information isn't necessary to ensure that Anya receive a fair trial, we can always destroy anything you might find."

"Man, I can't believe all the stuff we've had to do in trying to 'do the right thing' since these guys took over!" Buffy shivered a bit. "Blowing up stuff, targeting humans or at least not letting the fact that humans are around stop us, and breaking all kinds of laws including auto theft," she looked pointedly at Spike, then tempered her comment with a smirk. "And now blackmail! My mom would be so upset, but then she'd probably join in."

"These times call for soul searching and compromise," Father Mike sighed. "I just go back to the main rule MY boss gave that we are to love one another. IF what we wind up doing is trying to achieve that, I'm able to sleep nights."

"So what's the plan for tomorrow, lawyer man?" Xander wanted to know.

Lindsey placed some notebooks in front of Anya's fiancé with his plan of action. "I'm hittin' them hard on their so-called facts. Have a nice selection of historians and academics to blow holes in their cause-and-effect scenario. They all have their pet theories, but every one of them will show that there were plenty of contributing factors to all the bloodshed they are trying to blame on Anya. The law says acquittal if there is a shadow of a doubt. By the time I'm done, it won't be a shadow; it’ll be full-on nighttime."

"Can't wait to get Ahn home where I know she'll be okay. She's stronger than she looks, but my girl's still pretty fragile at times. I know she's going nuts being locked up like that too."

"We'll get her out and safe soon," Willow laid a consoling hand on her friend's arm.

"Demon Girl's a trooper; don't sell her short. After all, she's been livin' with you all these years," Spike quipped.

"Yeah, blood breath, good thing Buffy's the whole platoon!" Xander grinned in return.

Buffy felt a warm glow in the vicinity of her heart seeing her oldest male friend and her new lover actually joking with one another. Then again, maybe it was a sign that they were headed to a major apocalypse.

The office phone rang, interrupting their conversation, as Xander and Giles looked over the lawyer's notes with approval.

"St. Jude Thaddeus. Father Mike here, how can I help you?" He listened and paled, shifting his gaze around the table nervously. "Dear God, I'm sorry to hear that! ... Yes, I'll let everyone know. Please be careful. Might be a good idea to take the truck straight to the warehouse and hide it inside. Yeah, she's here with me now and I'll tell her. ... Yes, I know you didn't. ... Don't go thinking like that, Kal! You know he wouldn't want that. He'd come to think of you like a little brother, you know; he wouldn't want you to carry that. ... We'll see you soon. Go with God."

The priest closed his eyes and gathered his thoughts. All talk around the table had stopped as everyone clued in that the phone call had been about something bad.
They all looked inquiringly at Father Mike.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news. Seems the Black Shirts of the GHI showed up at that archive as our crew was leaving."

"NO! Were they caught?" Xander felt a bit of guilt thinking their friends might have been arrested or worse while trying to help Anya.

"No. In fact, they have all the files they went after and then some," he cleared his throat and prepared to deliver the bad news. "Unfortunately one of them had to sacrifice himself so they could get away. We're not positive if he was captured or...well, I'm sure we'll hear one way or another." He turned sad eyes on Willow, "I am so sorry, child, but it seems your grandfather chose to prove himself the hero we all knew he was."

Willow gasped as tears sprang into her eyes.

Father Mike reached over and took her hand as Giles wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Keep in mind we don't know what the soldiers did, merely that Chaim drew their attention onto himself so that the others could get away."

"Zedye!" she wailed. Her mind flooded with memories of her loving and gentle grandfather over the years. He had been the warm place in her home keeping Willow from minding the coolness of her career- and success-obsessed parents. He had been the heart of her home growing up and now Willow's own heart was breaking at the thought of him gone.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 39
~*~

"Are you sure it's a good idea?" Buffy knew the net was tightening around all their operations. The GHI was not made up of total fools and they couldn't count on their luck to hold forever.

"Think it's essential, pet. Just look at Red over there," he nodded towards Willow. "Hasn't said more than two words to anyone since she found out her grandfather was killed by those berks. Don't think we want her puttin' on her witch's hat and implodin', do we?"

"Of course not, but we also don't want another blow that would guarantee setting her off either."

"Not gonna happen," Spike wrapped an arm around Buffy and kissed her furrowed brow. "Got our best guys on it and everythin' in place to make it as safe as possible."

"I hope you're right."

 

***

"May God console you together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Saul Goldstein felt the weight of sadness press in on him as he shook hands with the mourners at the graveside of his dear friend and cantor, Chaim Rosenberg. The dark clouds that had covered Sunnydale all day had given over to a steady rain that the Rabbi felt fitting for the occasion. It was as if the heavens themselves cried at the loss of such a man.

"Thanks, Rabbi," Ira Rosenberg shook his hand after releasing a handful of dirt upon his father's lowered coffin. "I don't know what got into the old man. He was always so sensible while I was growing up, not running around playing Don Quixote for a bunch of…well, whatever they are, they aren't human anyway. I used to look up to him as a kid, but I think he may have been suffering from dementia or something. I should have taken him to the doctor and demanded tests."

Sheila Rosenberg threw in her handful of dirt and placed a gentle hand on her husband's back. "He was too feisty to let us take him anywhere he didn't want to go, Ira."

"Your father was not senile; he was simply a man of good conscience," Rabbi Goldstein chided gently. A funeral was not the place for a lecture after all. "He devoted his life to helping others and died with dignity."

An indignant Ira straightened his back in affront. "How is it dignified running around LA breaking into places and interfering with the law?"

"He died for a cause he believed in, trying to save lives."

"He died tilting at windmills," Sheila replied, her mouth set in suppressed anger. Really, one of the reasons she and Ira avoided the Synagogue was because of fanaticism like this! She missed her Professional Ladies group but really wished there were another congregation in Sunnydale to join. "He also encouraged our only daughter down that same path. Oh, I'm not putting all the blame on him," she reassured Ira. "Willow was already involved in shady business ever since her friend Bunny came to town."
Ira patted his wife's hand in commiseration. "I know, sugarplum. And now our little girl didn't even attend her own grandfather's funeral!"

Sheila looked at the not inconspicuous group of GHI soldiers who had been observing the group of mourners, clearly looking for someone. She only hoped Willow wasn't the target of their search.

"Attending a funeral isn't nearly as important as attending the living," the Rabbi reminded them. "Willow and Chaim were very close. She has nothing to be ashamed of by not being here in the flesh."

"I just can't like this business." Ira gave a sad look at his father's grave and walked to their car, Sheila on his arm.

The Rabbi took the extra keriah he'd torn to represent Willow and put the black ribbon in his pocket as he walked to his own vehicle. The dark sedan had tinted side windows that made it impossible to see into the back seat.

He took a quick, casual look around before entering the car. The group of soldiers seemed to have lost interest and left after the mourners had scattered.

"I wish I could have been at the graveside, Rabbi," a timid voice sounded from the back.

"I know, dear, but it wouldn't have been safe." He reached into his pocket and took out the torn black mourner’s ribbon and an envelope. "These are for Willow. Be sure to tell her I'll be there after sundown to sit Shivah with her. I'll bring Jonathan with me, along with the candles."

Tara looked back at the gravesite now awash with rain. "I know it's killing her not to be here herself." Tara had improved wonderfully during her time at the farm. All that was left to mark her ordeal was a slight limp when she was tired.

"Chaim would want her safe. If she placed herself in danger just to put in an appearance at his funeral, he would have my head! What is important is that she was there with him in life."

Tara nodded, “That’s true. What we do while our loved ones are living is what counts in the end." She bit her lip, “Maybe I should have...I don't know...sent flowers at least."

The Rabbi smiled, "We don't do funeral flowers, honey. Flowers are for joyous occasions and Jewish custom doesn't think it fits with the mood. Flowers are also for the living."

"Maybe we'll plant a tree in his honor when all this is done. Do you think he'd like that?" Tara grieved not only for the man she had barely gotten to know and also for the girl she loved with all her heart. She knew Willow was closer to her grandfather than any of her family. "We can make it a way for Willow to get some closure. Do you think they'd let us plant a willow tree here by his grave?

"I think he'd be very pleased. Since I'm on the board that runs the cemetery, I can guarantee we'll approve the planting."

***

"Tara!" Willow threw herself into the arms of her dearest love. "How? Why? No…how, that's the question. You're supposed to be at the farm with Wesley." How did you get here?"

Tara looked over Willow's shoulder and gave a half grin at the vampire standing against the wall. "Oh, someone arranged for me to get here in time for the funeral."

Willow began to sob, "I couldn't even go!"

"I know, sweetie, but he knew you were there in spirit and I kinda represented you as much as I could,"

Spike pushed off from the wall, his face startled. "Hope you didn't get seen, luv."

"No, I stayed in the Rabbi's car through the service, but I was there anyway. You were right," she addressed Spike, drawing everyone's puzzled eyes to him.

"Happens from time to time," Spike chuckled. "How many?"

"About seven that I could see. I didn't recognize any of them, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't know to look for me," Tara responded.

"While I am delighted you're back with us, much to my surprise," Giles gave a pointed glare at Spike. "Just what was Spike right about?"

"Soldiers watching the funeral," Tara shivered a bit then looked at Willow compassionately. "It really was a good idea for you not to go."

"So," Willow turned and looked at Spike, "Does this mean you're the one who sent for Tara?"

Spike looked sheepish. "Figured you needed her 'bout now. She was wantin' to be here anyway."

Willow stunned him by wrapping him in a tight embrace, “Thank you. You don't know how much I needed her."

Spike gave her an uncomfortable hug and looked at Buffy, "Think I understand, pet. Some burdens are best carried when someone you love helps."

"The Rabbi said to give these to you and also to tell you he'd bring candles for the ceremony after sundown. He said he might not be able to come for the full seven nights, but Jonathan would be here at least."

Willow took the proffered envelope and looked at her name written on the front in her grandfather's script. "What's this?"

"He said that your grandfather wrote something to give to you in case he didn't make it back. The rabbi also said that he was to tell you not to worry about coming to the funeral; he knows you loved him." Tara took the torn black mourner’s ribbon and pinned it to Willow's shirt above her heart. "Do you want us to leave you alone to read it?"

Willow squeezed Tara's hand. "Will you sit with me?"

"Of course, sweetie, I'm here for you."

Willow opened the envelope and began to read.

My dearest Willow,

I am so proud of you, my little Ginger Pixie. You are smart as a whip, but your heart is not puffed up with pride. You care about others and are true to the self God made. I could not have asked for a better granddaughter. You were always a precious child, but I've seen you grow to be a woman of integrity and worth.

I admire your judgment as well. You've chosen well with your Tara. She has the tender heart of a nurturer and I know that your heart will be safe with her. You chose your friends wisely also and made an extended family you can build on and rely upon throughout your life. I am proud that you made friends not only among our own kind, but you have a heart big enough to embrace those others who share our world. Anya and Spike are both very worthy of your affections. Both have proven that it is not what you are but what you do that matters in the end. They also are a fine example to all that no matter what bad choices we might have made, a pure and loving heart can always earn forgiveness and love if given the opportunity. I know I leave you in safe hands.

If you are reading this, then the mission did not go so well with me. I pray it is true only of me and that the others managed to accomplish what we had hoped. Your friend Anya deserves her freedom and these monsters need to be stopped. The risk was worth it if we accomplish something to help bring those things about. Do not be bitter, Pixie. I knew there was a chance that this old man would not return.

I was not the father I should have been to your dad. I was too busy building up the firm and making a success to provide the best for my family. I tried to make Ira the sort of man I could be proud of and I AM to a great degree. I wish he had been closer to you and less like me with the concentration on the practice. He never embraced the Jewish community as I did. I was proud to be Cantor at the Synagogue and a respected elder in time. For all my accomplishments, I wish I had made sure Ira valued you and the truly important parts of living more than he has. Do not blame your father; he is only following my poor example. I wanted to make a better world for my family but forgot some of the most important ingredients.

The times we are living in were not what I hoped for you, but given the condition of the human heart and our stubbornness that refuses to see or change, I suppose I should have expected nothing less.

When I was a young man, "strong men" came into power. That was their desire as well - power. Some were driven by ideology, but underlying it all was the quest for power. It is always so.

As a youth, I saw them come and take away two boys not much older than me, boys whose only crime-- in their eyes, a crime--was to love one another. I listened to my elders say not to worry. If we all just did as their laws ordered, we would be fine. I am sad to say I believed them. I WANTED to believe them. As things got worse we convinced ourselves that SURELY people would stop the madness, see the hatred for what it was and do the right thing. It didn't happen. It took the threat being directed at them before anyone came to help and millions died because of it.

I saw the pattern this time and didn't tell myself lies. In my day, it was the homosexuals, the Slavs, the Jews and other hated people. This time it was those they've chosen to call demon. Always it is those who are seen as "other".

I needed to redeem myself for my inaction before as a young man. I had to make this trip to aid the cause the only way I could. My conscience would not allow for less. The millions who died in my time screamed for action, demanded justice.

I have done all that an old man can do now and am ready to reunite with those I loved and lost. My precious Chava, your grandmother, who doted on you as a baby. How I have missed her! My parents and siblings who didn't make it out of the camps of their time. My Tante Hadassah, who was murdered in the camps of Stalin. So much death and misery we humans inflict! It will be so wonderful to see them all again. I pray that this current madness will be the last rise of such hatred in your lifetime, my precious girl.

Don't stop the fight until things are right again. Maybe they weren't exactly right before, but at least there was some justice. Never settle for less than the best that you can make the world and never lose your compassionate heart.

Know that I have always loved you and always will,

Your loving Zayde

Willow laid the letter next to her, seeking solace in the arms of Tara. "I don't think I could have handled this without you here, baby."

"I'm here; I'll always be here." Tara held her tightly in love's embrace.

***

“Welcome, Rabbi, Jonathan, Imam and, I think, Reverend Prentiss if I haven’t mangled your name.” Buffy motioned the four men towards the steps up to the office of the warehouse. “Willow’s right up here.”

Spike moved from the shadows so silently he gave the men a start. “Think your Boss’ll bring down a plague of frogs or some-such if I’m there?”

The Rabbi smiled gently and took the vampire’s hand, “I think you would be welcomed with the open arms of a loving father. Let’s see, there are four of us plus Mr. Giles and Xander, so you joining us would make seven males for the prayers and, to some of us in my religion, seven is a number of completion. I would say its fortunate you wish to join in.”

“You DO remember that I’m a vampire, right?”

Reverend Prentiss laughed, “You rarely let us forget it. Besides, I don’t want to be the only one here that is completely lost where the ritual is concerned.”

“We are an odd lot, aren’t we?” Giles nodded to them as everyone entered the space set aside for the shivah. “We put cushions down for sitting, was that right? Willow wasn’t too certain of her memories.”

“I’m not a stickler for tradition,” Rabbi Goldstein assured him.

Xander looked at Spike and quipped, “Evidently not.”

“I did ask permission, Harris,” Spike said.

“Zayde would want you here, Spike; you don’t need permission. He liked you,” Willow declared.

Everyone greeted one another and Imam Aziz took Willow to one side to express his deep sorrow for her loss and his apologies that he and Jonathan had survived while Chaim had not.
“I know my grandfather wouldn’t want you feeling survivor’s guilt, Imam. From the letter he left me, I think he felt he was the weak link and was accepting that he might not make it. He would be so happy knowing you got back with everything you went for.”

Jonathan cleared his throat before asking, “Would you mind if I read the prayer when we get to the Kaddish? I really loved Chaim. I never got to know my own grandfather and he took me under his wing when all this stuff started. “

“That’d be nice,” Willow agreed. “Rabbi, if you want to get started?”

“O God, full of compassion, who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the Shechinah, in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the soul of Chaim Rosenberg….”

Willow listened with half an ear to the ancient prayer for the soul of the departed and watched as Rabbi Goldstein lit the candle. She leaned into Tara and gave up thanks that she was there with her again, especially now.

The prayer had somehow come to an end as Willow had been lost in her memories. “And now Jonathan will lead in the Kaddish. It’ll be in Hebrew, but all you need to know is that in the long pauses you just reply “amen” and we’ll manage.”

Jonathan drew himself up to his full height and began, “Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba b'al'ma di v'ra khir'utei.” He lifted his head and indicated they should all do their replies. Even Spike added his voice to the age-old word that offered agreement.

Willow thought about how senseless it seemed that her grandfather had survived so much, built such a life for himself and his family only to meet his end stealing files to free a former demon and maybe bring down the power structure that had turned their world upside down. She really didn’t resent Jonathan or the Imam, but it just seemed that her dear grandfather should have been able to die of a great old age, comfortable in his bed and surrounded by family. She wished that just once her father had let him know he was proud to be the son of Chaim Rosenberg. She gently touched the pocket containing her treasured letter. ‘It’s good to let people know they matter.’

“Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru,” Jonathan was concluding the prayer and nodding for the final “amen” to be said.

Everyone gathered around the desktop where a small meal was laid out. Willow had made certain there was even a mug of blood available for Spike. She hadn’t stopped thanking him for thinking of bringing Tara home for her.

“See,” the Rabbi teased that very vampire, “no plagues. No lightning either. You need to stop thinking like the people who like to make access to God and heaven like a private country club! You’ve proven your worth more than once, Spike.”

Willow moved through the group in the half-aware state of one deep in mourning. She picked up snippets of conversation along the way but snapped to full attention as she heard Jonathan speaking to Giles.

“Yeah, I’m completely sure. I didn’t know any of the others, but Riley Finn and Harvey Wicks were definitely two of them.”

Willow felt the electricity as it crackled and popped around her fingers. Tara noticed at the same time Spike seemed to and they converged upon the furious witch before she could do any damage. “Sweetie, you need to take deep breaths and calm down. You don’t want to scare the visitors.”

Spike helped guide Willow to the old office chair up against the wall. “Red, you okay in there?”

“Riley! It was Riley that murdered my grandfather!”

Spike and Tara exchanged a look over Willow’s head. “Can’t say I blame you for going all Voldemort. Just hearin’ the bastard’s name conjures up enough of the Old Spike to make me want to forget my promise not to tear into a human throat ever again. Now’s not the time though.”

“Spike’s right,” Tara agreed. “I know you want to avenge what was done, but we have to be careful.”

Willow’s voice was chilling, “I’ll be careful alright. I’ll carefully rip the flesh off his body…slowly.”

Tara shivered and shot a worried look at Spike.

“Sounds like a right fine way to deal with him. I’m not sayin’ you’re not right, pet, just sayin’ now’s not the time. Got my own reason to hold a grudge there, yeah?” He motioned for Buffy to join them. “I promise we’ll make him pay, just not in a blind rage. Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

“Star Trek ? Really, Spike, “Buffy smiled, then noticed the mood was anything but one meant for teasing. “What’d I miss?”

“Willow just overheard Jonathan tell Giles that it was Riley who killed Mr. Rosenberg.” Tara’s eyes darted about nervously. She really hoped they could keep Willow from lashing out.

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Well, sounds like that’s strike three for my ex. He’s owed for me, for Spike and now for your grandfather.” Buffy caught the worried look on Spike’s face. “Why don’t we plan something later, Will, once everyone leaves but us and we can figure out the best way to do this.”

Willow looked from face to face and saw the same resolve she was feeling and let some of her anger cool. “I don’t want to wait too long. He’s got a lot of enemies now and I want to be the one to administer justice.”

Tara was gladder now than ever that Spike had called to ask her to return. Willow was going to need someone to make sure she didn’t fall too far into the deep dark.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 40
~*~

 

"In Beijing today the famous Temple of Heaven sustained catastrophic damage as a pair of suicidal bombers detonated their explosives during peak tourist hours. One hundred and twenty-five are believed to have perished in the attack. Another thirty-two injured and an unreleased number are missing, according to local authorities.

Engineers tell us the extensive damage was due to the location of explosives that were clearly intended to weaken major structural supports for the popular and ancient building.

The terrorist group DRA is claiming responsibility for this heinous atrocity.

For more on this latest attack on humanity, we go to Mike Cinoy, CNN's senior Asian correspondent on the ground..."

"Thank you, Aaron. Casualties are mounting as these sorts of attacks become more commonplace. Our sources at the Global Human Alliance headquarters confirm that two other terrorist plots were thwarted, one in the Paris Metro and another at St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. Those would-be terrorists are in custody and are being questioned extensively to determine if their attacks were also directed by the DRA or one of their human affiliates. Back to you, Aaron."

"I sat down with Secretary General Beldescu just this weekend to discuss the increased threat these terrorist attacks are posing. Here is what the Secretary General had to say about increased security measures and the efforts being put forth by local authorities with assistance from the GHA and the anti-terror units of the Global Human Initiative...

***

The explosion rocked Sunnydale, jarring Giles from sleep and a lovely dream involving Jaffa cakes and tea with Jenny Calendar. "What the bloody hell was that?!"

Spike chuckled at hearing the Watcher use one of his own favorite expressions for a change. "Not sure. Our group didn't have anythin' scheduled."

Willow rushed to her laptop and began making inquiries. She looked up after a few minutes, "So far, nada."

"What about your buddy T'Mcasla?" Xander asked Spike. "He plan any fireworks for here in Sunnyhell?"

"He doesn't run his operations by me unless it’s somethin' we're doin' jointly," Spike shrugged.

"Got it!" Willow yelled. "It was the D.RA. They took out a Global Initiative base near Shady Rest cemetery. Looks like it also blew up some ancient pagan temple thing." Willow turned a quizzical look at Buffy and Spike. "I don't remember ever seeing anything like that there. The local news feed said it was pre-Columbian. You'd think one of us would have noticed something like that."

Buffy and Spike looked at each other with equally puzzled expressions. "I spent years all over every cemetery in Sunnydale, including Shady Rest, and never saw anything like that."

"Sure they aren't pullin' that out of their arse to make it look worse for our local demon terrorist?" Spike wouldn't believe anything from the Global Human groups! If they told him he had fangs, he'd have to have Buffy check to be certain.

"Looks pretty legit. I've found some local TV video and I don't think they could have faked it this well." Willow's hands flew over her keyboard, looking for more confirmation from sources that might be less iffy.

"Whoa, wait a minute, Wills. One of those news feeds was about Anya. Back up." Xander pulled up a rickety chair and stared over his friend’s shoulder to get a better look.

"Just a recap of today in court. You know, I thought they had jumped the shark with the O.J. trial, but they've been complete doofuses with Anya's," Willow shook her head, finding it hard to think that their little group of friends was suddenly international news-worthy.

"Yeah, they even do a segment on what Anya's wearing before each day's update. Weird!" Buffy giggled. "Glad Cordy had some of her best stuff shipped for Anya to wear. The six o'clock reporter was gushing about the designers Anya's choosing. Sometimes even this crazy world makes no sense."

"Okay, gotta say I'm more than a little skeeved out to think my current girlfriend is wearing my ex’s hand-me-downs. Makes me feel a little like something picked up in a thrift store," Xander gave a lopsided grin.

"Well, Harris, you're the one who said it," Spike dodged the balled up paper Xander lobbed his way.

"Children!" Giles rubbed a weary hand over his face in exasperation. "If you wouldn't mind putting away the spitballs and snark for a moment while we research just what seems to have happened here in our little corner of chaos?"

Willow turned with a Cheshire cat smile, "Well, in local news, it seems somebody took out some of the Global Human Initiative munitions bases that were fairly close to the cemetery. Looks like some pyramid like building that wasn't there before suddenly was and now it isn't. Also, Anya wears nice clothes and the prosecution tied up their stupid case today."

"Thank you, Willow," Giles rolled his eyes. "Are you certain you never saw any such building, Buffy?"

"Positive. I've been all over that cemetery for years. Then again, this IS still the hellmouth."

"Maybe there was a cloaking device, like on Star Trek?" Xander suggested.

"But what or who would do such a thing?" Buffy wondered aloud.

Giles looked thoughtful, "And why?"

***

The woman could have been any age from her fifties to ancient. The loose gown she wore was homespun and rough looking, her hair white as snow.

"Hey, lady! Are you alright?" The city worker had nearly passed out when the woman appeared from among the rubble.

Her dazed look unnerved the man, because in spite of her age and obvious disorientation, there was an aura of great power coming off her. 'Maybe she's some human-looking demon,' he reckoned.

"You need to sit down while I call 9-1-1." The man made a move to assist her, only to stop quickly as she pulled back from him in irritation. Her expression was no longer confused, but rather like the precise and deadly gaze of a cobra sizing up prey.

"Where is the girl?" Her soft voice was deceptively gentle, but it still did not quell the feeling of nervousness in the man.

"Um...what girl?"

"THE girl. The one Chosen to stand against those demons who seek to rule." The man felt like a pinned insect under her scrutiny.

“You mean someone at the GHI? I don’t know any important women here at the local. Don’t know any important men either. I’m just a clean-up guy.” From the fear he was feeling in this woman’s presence, he really wished he had a name to offer. She didn’t look like she would be too happy with no answer to her questions.

“I know nothing of this Global whatever,” she waved her hands in dismissal. “I wish to see the Chosen One. It must be in her assistance that I have been called forth.”

“Maybe if you told me her name I’d be able to tell you where she is,” he offered.

“They change so often we stopped noting their names. It was not to have been so,” the woman sounded sad. She looked around as if actually seeing her surroundings for the first time. “What year is this?”

“Um, 2002, ma’am.” Clearly this one was on the lam from a nursing home. ‘Gotta be careful with them! They can be strong as an ox.’ He reached for his walky-talky to get some much needed backup.

“Hey, Mike, mind calling for an ambulance? Got a sweet old lady here must’ve been hit with some marble when that weird pyramid collapsed. She’s in her nightgown and looking for a girl she calls the Chosen One. Figure that must be her nurse or something.”

Michael Czajak knew he’d heard that term before. He thought back till he hit his eureka moment. High school! Magic! Class protector…Buffy! Yeah, he remembered when the parents all went nuts, even Buffy’s mom and Willow’s too. Tried to burn them at the stake. Some big demon that Buffy killed caused it all.

Michael started to relay his memory to Jack but thought better of it. So far no one knew about his past dabbling in magic and he wanted it to stay that way. Besides he kinda remembered Buffy had escaped from the GHI and was on a wanted list. Better not let anyone know he had ever met her.

“Is she hurt?” Michael asked after his long pause lost in the past.

“Doesn’t look like it, but she came out of all the rubble. I don’t see how she wouldn’t be.”

“I’m on my way.”

Michael rushed to the site and stopped abruptly in front of the woman.

“Do YOU know where the Chosen is?”

Michael looked at his co-worker and offered, “I’ll take care of this, Jack, just get back to clearing up this mess.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Jack was relieved not have to deal with the slightly scary woman any longer. If they had been near water, he would have wondered if she was one of those water witches his buddy Gomez had always gone on about. Something called La Llorona, he thought Jose had called them.

Michael looked at the woman and felt her power. He offered his hand to help her over some of the broken marble. “I think you mean Buffy. The Slayer?” he suggested after Jack was beyond hearing him.

“Buffy? Is that the name of this one? Odd.” The woman smiled for the first time. “Yes, the Slayer. Take me to her or call for her to come here at once.”

“I don’t know where she is at the moment, ma’am. She’s pretty much in hiding from the GHI.”

“Is that what they are calling the Council of Men now?”

Michael remembered seeing Quentin Travers on TV and the newscaster saying he had once been the head of some kind of Council. He wasn’t sure if that was what this lady meant, but if so, at least he could clue her in on some stuff that had happened.

“…so this guy Travers kinda helped start the Global Human Initiative and they set things up to get rid of all the demons and magic and stuff,” Michael concluded his brief but informative explanation.

“And the Slayer?”

Michael squirmed under her gimlet eye. “See, the GHI picked up Buffy and some other people from Travers’ old organization and took them to their labs. “

The woman seemed to even stop breathing for a moment. “Where is this…lab? Where is Travers?”

“Well, Mr. Travers is dead, ma’am, and the lab is shut down because some group blew it up. Most of the demons inside escaped and Buffy is on a wanted list, so she must have survived the blast. But I don’t know where she is.”

“This is what comes from being locked away!” The woman began to pace. “They always overstepped their bounds, but this Travers sounds like the worst. Men like him are why my sisters and I were created in the first place.” She turned to Michael and ordered, “You must help me find where Buffy the Slayer is and take me to her.”

Michael wracked his brain trying to think of a way to placate the woman. It was obvious she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He remembered that Buffy and Willow were still friends, at least last he had heard. He hadn’t seen Willow since right after graduation when he had tried to help to de-rat Amy. If anyone knew where Buffy was, it would be his old fellow coven member. Problem was, he had no idea where Willow was either.

“Well, boy, don’t just stand there with your mouth open. Say something useful.”

“Jonathan,” Michael sputtered.

“Jonathan? Jonathan who?”

“He might know where to find Willow,” Michael explained. Seeing that his explanation had not cleared up a thing, he added, “Willow is Buffy’s best friend. She’ll know where to find her.”

“Now you are making some sense,” the woman smiled for the first time.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 41
~*~

The defense was in its fourth day of testimony. Lindsey saw the jury's eyes glaze over as yet another historian, one more undisputed expert in their field, was called to the stand to rebut the flimsy charges of the prosecution.

With each day and with each witness, McDonald had dismantled the tissue-thin case the GHA had tried to pass off as valid charges against Anya. Lindsey could go on for weeks, but he feared a bored jury could retaliate with a verdict more designed to spite him than to correctly conclude there was so much more than reasonable doubt of guilt.

"I call Dr. Robert Starkey to the stand," Lindsey prepared to parade his latest historian before the nearly numb jury and the too avid circus of TV cameras.

"Is another expert witness truly necessary, Mr. McDonald?" The judge representing the military never had liked history, being more a man of action himself. Already, in this exercise in futility they were calling a trial, he'd heard enough European history to make him either a candidate for an MA or to blow his brains out.

The Colonel had wanted to refuse the dubious honor of sitting on the bench for this sham, but at the time, the brass assured him it would be quick and the verdict a foregone conclusion. He was meant to be no more than bemedaled window dressing.

"If the prosecution is willing to accept for the record the nearly universal opinion of the experts that the prosecution’s case doesn't hold water, then I'll be happy to see an end to this myself," Lindsey managed to keep a smirk off of his face with great effort.

Both the jury and panel of judges looked at the prosecutor with hope in their eyes. One word from him and they could all go back home to their lives.

"Prosecution?" The Colonel's voice begged for an affirmative.

"No, your honor. We stand by our case and fully intend that the jury decide it on its merits."

Lindsey gave a piercing stare at the prosecution. 'Wonder if the asshole has an ace up his sleeve? Juror in the pocket maybe, and looking for a hung jury? Need to check on that.' Not for the first time, he wished he could find a way to start a sing-along with Lorne in the room to hear it.

"Proceed," muttered the unhappy judge.

The tweed clad academician took the stand with something of a spring in his step. It was rare that he had the chance to show off his knowledge in a forum like this. It had never happened--even in his dreams, if he were being honest. Why, his testimony was being televised all over the world and millions were glued to their sets!

He preened a bit for the cameras. Just the night before, he'd been a guest on a prestigious news program and had been treated rather like a pop star. On the way into the courthouse, he had even overheard the reporter call his appearance dapper to her listeners!

"Dr. Starkey, would you state your credentials for the court please?" Lindsey began after the formalities of swearing in were completed.

The old man sat up straighter and seemed bursting with pride. "I was awarded my Ph.D in 1977 from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. I am currently both a Fellow and Emeritus Professor of History at Christ's College, Cambridge. I am a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a Fellow at the Society of Antiquaries of London, aFellow in the Royal Historical Society, winner of the Yorke Prize, Cambridge. I have contributed to numerous textbooks and encyclopedia articles, as well as serving as...."

"If it pleases the court," the prosecutor cut off the testimony. "The prosecution concedes that Dr. Starkey is qualified in his field." Dr. Starkey glared at the man who had terminated his moment to shine on the world's stage as brightly as he might have.

"Thank you," the presiding judge breathed. "So noted. Please continue, Mr. McDonald."

Once more, Lindsey's witness utterly ripped apart every shred of validity in the prosecution’s assertions. Once more, the judges, jury and TV viewers were reminded that historical events rarely have one trigger and that more often than not, many prior events and the choices of many people lead to cataclysms in society. Old hatreds, power plays, prejudices, ancient grudges, greed and sometimes merely complacence by the masses are most often the roots of human political and religious evil.

The historian whose expertise was the Tudor period of English history went through the history of religious persecution and execution that far predated Henry VIII. He honed in on events such as the Council of Constance in the early 1400s, as well as the Oldcastle revolt that took place in the reign of Henry V.

By the time he began to expound on the execution of William Tyndale, the jury looked ready to strangle and burn the Doctor, the prosecution, defense attorney and every idiot who had caused them to sit through the testimony! More than a few heartily wished the defendant was still a vengeance demon because they had some mighty creative ideas of what their wishes might be.

***

Xander flopped wearily on the plush sofa that he and Spike had appropriated just the evening before. Down time had turned into scavenger forays into abandoned homes and businesses and, little by little, the warehouse was taking on a home-like feel. Spike seemed to have an eye for nice items.

Not too many demons remained in Sunnydale. The old lure of the hellmouth energies had been eclipsed by the heavy presence of the HGI. So many would never return. Still, Willow insisted they keep a record of where they got everything, so that when sanity returned they could give the property back to its rightful owners.

 

The best find of all had been electronics. They not only had a sizable television screen with all the bells and whistles but a top notch security system. It used camera surveillance and alarms, not only in the warehouse area, but also the caves and tunnels where they stored the resources of the resistance.

Spike’s years of not only keeping himself but his mad sire alive had given him many useful skills and plenty of experience in providing for needs. They would never be so foolish as to feel safe, but they did feel safer than they would have otherwise.

Buffy's favorite acquisition was a king-size memory foam bed that she and Spike had set up in their private corner of the lower warehouse. They had taken the space supposedly to be better ready to defend their position since it was closer to the entrance to the warehouse, but everyone know the real motivation was the privacy it afforded.

Spike had promised to find a way to set up a Jacuzzi tub for his lady if he could figure out how to transport it without drawing unwanted attention.

"So, Harris, how was court today? We tried to watch here, but the blithering idiots were more interested in what designer your girl was wearing," Spike rolled his eyes in contempt for what passed as news reporting.

"Don't forget how Mary Hart went on and on speculating who Lindsey might be dating! I think they decided it was either Christina Aguilera, Kirsten Dunst or that hot gal from TV... um...Eliza Dushku-- like any of them have ever been to Sunnydale!" Willow shook her head in disdain.

"At least that was on Entertainment Tonight, sweetie; you expect that from them. It is sad that the actual news stations carry the same stories though," Tara added.

"Haven't seen this much of a media feeding frenzy since O.J. murdered his ex-wife and that waiter. They even cut into Passions with reports that say nothing," Spike snorted. "Since they won't allow cameras in the courtroom, they try to fill air time with everything but what's important."

"You didn't miss much unless you needed a sleep aid," Xander yawned as if to prove his point. I mean, I get what Lindsey's doing--and he's doing a great job of it--but I think half the jury is in a coma by the end of the day. I lost track of the historians and other authorities he's called to the stand. He's pretty much shredded all the charges and theories the prosecution made. I think Anya's finally feeling some hope."

"I'll just be glad when they release her and we can bring her home," Buffy sighed. She never would have believed how much she would be missing the blunt ex-demon.

"Speakin' of," Spike grew serious, "how we plannin' to make the two of you disappear when it does happen? You're both all over the TV, kinda hard to suddenly go off the radar."

"Actually, I've been giving that some thought." Giles looked up from the map array he'd been studying in preparation for the net targeted sabotage. "I think it best if you both go back to your apartment for a few days after. Give the sharks the interviews they'll be after, make a show of your wedding plans. In short order, the intense scrutiny will fade and you'll be a nine days’ wonder. You can confide in one of the gossip mongers that you are planning a getaway to relax after all the stress. We can make it look like you are off on a cruise with our friends at Mexicruise and spirit the two of you back to the farm, then back here when the coast is clear."

Spike arched a brow, "Rather detailed for bein' 'some thought', innit there, Watcher?" He grinned, "You've been hidin' a right devious mind all these years, old man."

"The only old man in this room is you, William Pratt. I believe your date of birth was around 1853, give or take? A full century before I came into this world," Giles pretended to be affronted by Spike’s age jibe. The two had somehow slipped from guarded distrust and sniping at one another to a fairly congenial banter over the long year they had been in the struggle.

"Speaking of Lindsey, he's coming by tonight to go through some of the info we have on the jurors. Father Mike'll guide him here from St. Jude's tunnel entrance. Putting the door in the confessional was inspired! Even the snoopy news groupies won't try to get in there." Xander smiled,"Of course they'll think he hasn't been to confession in years when it takes him so long."

"Prob’ly think it's all those women they've been tryin' to say he's shaggin'," Spike chuckled along with Xander.

"I have the dossiers on all the jury members, and Tara and Andrew have been looking through all the stuff in the boxes Zayde died to salvage." Everyone felt shared unease as Willow's tone became icy and brittle. The black eyes were even more disturbing. She was still a stack of dynamite just waiting to blow. Spike was certain that the only reason Riley Finn still drew breath was because he wasn't currently deployed in Southern California.

"Yeah," Xander tried to change the subject quickly, "Lindsey plans to end his case by putting Anya on the stand Monday and wants to be sure there's no reason to worry about the jury. He was kinda surprised the prosecution didn't just fold by now."

"Maybe they're afraid if they make it look too easy that their bosses will come down on them," Buffy suggested. "I mean, if they stay the course, play the game like they originally planned and the jury still acquits, then it’s not their fault."

"Makes sense," Xander nodded. "I like that better than if we missed something."

"So Anya on the stand, eh?" Spike set off in a fit of giggles, startling all of them. "Wish I could be there to see that! Don't imagine even McDonald has her tamed enough to keep her from bein' right entertainin'."

"That's my girl, all with the overshare and no filters," Xander beamed proudly. He'd come to appreciate Anya in ways he never would have imagined before this whole nightmare began. She was honest, loyal, brave and true; and he missed her more than words could say.

***

Monday was bright and clear, all the better for the TV cameras to focus in on all the people lucky enough to get seats in the courtroom. Today was promising to bring boffo ratings since the former demon herself was taking the stand. A couple of the news agencies had managed to smuggle in small recording devices to capture every juicy bit of testimony.

“Ms. Jenkins looks cool as a cucumber in what I believe is an Alexander McQueen. Some say he designed it just for her day in court!” Nancy Grace barely stopped her eyes from rolling at the non sequitur that had just gushed from her erstwhile colleague’s mouth. She wasn’t about to let her Court TV segment devolve into a fashion show!

“I really wouldn’t know, Karyn. On a far more important note, we here at Court TV have been assured that full transcripts of today’s testimony will be released almost immediately after adjournment today. Be sure to stay tuned for all the information on this groundbreaking case.”

Nancy turned eyes of fire on her production crew. “Just who decided to let the bimbo open this segment today? This is a serious show about serious subjects, not an episode of Entertainment Tonight.”

Luckily for her cameraman, Nancy didn’t overhear his whispered, “She just wishes she had those kind of ratings!” The two crewmen snickered even as their headliner glared daggers their way.

***

“Please raise your right hand and swear after me…,” intoned the courtroom clerk.

Lindsey went over his notes as Anya was sworn in. He hoped he’d be able to keep her natural exuberance within bounds. It wouldn’t do for her to seem too pleased with her history. The facts might speak for themselves but the defendant speaking had to be on point and relatively restrained to make the right impression.

“Please state your name for the record,” the clerk requested.

“Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins,” Anya dutifully and proudly proclaimed.

Lindsey walked towards the witness stand. “Is that the name on your birth certificate, Anya?”

“Well, they didn’t have birth certificates back in my day. Not too many people could read or write then.

“And when and where was that?”

“By today’s calendar, it was 860 and it was in a village called Sjornjost in what is now Sweden. Of course, most people would think of us as Vikings, using today’s terms. Sweden wasn’t actually a country in the same way as today.”

“And what was the name you would have been known by at that time just to make sure the record has your birth name correctly?”

“My parents named me Aud. Others might have referred to me as Aud Larsdotter…that’s daughter of Lars…if they had to make sure of which Aud they were talking about. “

“And when did you change your name to the one you stated at the beginning of your testimony?”

“Oh, I started going by that name after I finished high school here. When I was at Sunnydale High, I was going by Anya Emerson, but I didn’t think I was going to be around that long.”

“And why is that?”

“I was only there to make friends with this high school girl who’d had a boyfriend betray her so that she could make a wish for justice.”

“When was that, please?”

“1998.”

“And did you make that wish?”

“I did and it was a good one too. She wanted a world where Buffy--that’s the Slayer--had never come to Sunnydale. It was pretty bleak.”

“So you created this alternate world. How is it that this bleak world stopped existing?”

“The Giles in that world--that’s Buffy’s Watcher--figured out I was a justice demon and he broke my power source. I became human then and was stuck as a teenager here in Sunnydale. Let me tell you, that was a pain in the neck! There I was, over a thousand years old and having to live like I was only seventeen! It was demeaning!”

“I’m sure it was,” Lindsey smiled and noted many in the jury did as well. “Did you legally change your name to the one you currently use?”

“Well, no. I read that unless you intend to defraud someone, you can call yourself anything you want to, and I liked my choice better than the one D’Hoffryn gave me when I first came to Sunnydale.”

“So, Anya, is that the only name by which you are called?”

“It is now. When I was a justice demon, I was known as Anyanka, the Patron Saint of Women Scorned. “

“And when did Aud become Anyanka?”

“It was in 880. My husband Olaf was cheating on me with a skanky barmaid named Rannveig and so I turned him into a troll. I impressed D’Hoffryn--he’s the head of the justice demons--and he recruited me. I had nothing to lose and there were plenty of women scorned, believe you me!”

“Is that the sort of justice you used to dispense?”

“Sometimes wishes aren’t that creative, but I tried to nudge the women into thinking outside of the box when I could.” Anya remembered Lindsey’s coaching from the night before and added, “I also tried to talk some women down when they wanted more than just justice. Sometimes that old saying about a woman scorned is really, really true!”

“Can you give an example?”

“Well, take one of the wishes I’m on trial for,” Anya offered. “Catherine of Aragon actually wanted me to have Henry’s penis fall off right when he was having sex with Anne Boleyn. I thought that might be too extreme and helped her focus on what would make Henry most unhappy. Having no male heir was his biggest issue and why he put her away, so I suggested that maybe he shouldn’t get his wish for one.”

“So you in no way intended for the religious wars that followed?”

“There were already plenty of religious wars, even there in England. The wish I granted only really made sure that England got one of their greatest queens in history. “Anya looked at the jury, “You know, queens are as good at ruling as kings are, and Henry should have appreciated his daughters more!”

“So your career as a justice demon was all about avenging wrongs done to women then?”

“Yes.”

“What about the man you were brought to Sunnydale to punish? What happened to him?”

“Oh, he’s my fiancé!” Anya waved and smiled at Xander who grinned goofily back at her.

“He wasn’t harmed?”

“No, his former girlfriend got to see that she was blaming all the wrong people and also that they weren’t really right for one another and then everything went back to normal.”

“And this former girlfriend?”

“She moved to LA to become an actress. “

“And your life now…how would you describe it?”

“Normal, workaday folk. I’m quite the capitalist and proud to say I run a very profitable business. I’m a member of the Chamber of Commerce and both the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. Xander and I are going to get married, have 2.5 kids, a dog and probably a cat--but no bunnies, absolutely no bunnies!”

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 42
~*~

 

‘Hmm…guess even in a war there are sweet domestic moments. Who knew?’ Buffy smiled as she looked at Spike sprawled in the comfy chair in the nook he’d turned into his small private library. Buffy hadn’t been surprised by the volumes of poetry and Shakespeare; she’d come to expect that of her vampire. She’d long since realized that beneath the punk thug exterior lay a scholarly poet with amazing depth.

Her eyes skimmed a few of the titles of his latest acquisitions. “So are you planning to come clean to Giles that you can read…what language is this?” She picked up the book Spike had just laid aside when he noticed her presence.

He smiled up at her fondly and teased, “You illiterate valley girl! In my day, every well educated bloke was expected to learn Latin and Classical Greek--and not just the languages, but the literature, culture, art, history, philosophy, whole ball of wax. Headmaster in my day, a real task master about it too, Edward Balson was his name and Classical Studies his obsession. Wanted the next generation of frilly boys to have somethin’ in their noggins of worth.” He chuckled as Buffy blinked rapidly. “This lovely find is a rare copy of Ars Amatoria by Ovid in the original Latin,” he answered proudly.

“What school was that? I mean, I know you were educated, but you’ve always let Giles think you got your education on the mean streets of London, maybe even schooled by Jack the Ripper or someone like that.”

Spike laughed, “Kept me from havin’ to do research in those musty volumes he called a library, didn’t it?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Buffy pointed out.

“Eton, love, followed by Oxford like any proper gent, even those with the blood but not the dosh to back it up any longer.” He closed his eyes briefly as if deep in thought. “Always was about the blood…as a human and a demon. Only difference is, when you’re a vampire you learn it all tastes the same, no matter the class or race. Kings or slaves, makes not a jot of difference.”

Buffy giggled, “Vampires: champions of the classless society!”

“Well,” he grinned wickedly, “we’re not exactly big on social reform, just not picky eaters for the most part. Dru used to say older people tasted funny, like death, that they stuck in her teeth, but that was all in her addled mind. “He had a sad, wistful smile as he remembered his once beloved sire. He shook his head as if to clear the painful memories of what had happened to her from his conscious mind. “Now, drink from someone on drugs or drunk and you can tell the difference! Get a bit of the high yourself, but drugs and drink don’t care about class or race either.”

“So double bang for your buck if you pick a stoner or wino…and by the way…ewwww.”

Spike rolled his tongue behind his front teeth and smirked, “Oh, yeah, good times.”

Buffy gave him a dirty look. “THOSE good times are all over, mister. You keep talking like that and I’ll start to think Giles is right and your tutor was Jack the Ripper!”

“As for ol’ Jack…not too far off the mark ‘bout bein’ one of my early teachers. Just like Eton, he was good with the birchin’ and swung a mean cane when he wanted to drive home a lesson. Your boy Angel--well, Angelus--was the Ripper. I was only a stripling young vampire but remember it well. He was mad at Darla for some reason and left us back in ’88 while he took his rage out on the kind of whores who couldn’t send him to a dusty grave with one hand tied behind her back. Rampaged his way through Whitechapel ‘til Darla fetched him back before he got too sloppy and brought out the pitchfork crew.”

“Angel?! HE was Jack the Ripper?!” Buffy could tell by Spike’s face that he wasn’t just pulling her leg.

“Well, the bugger’ll like as not tell you it was Angelus as if he wasn’t even there, but yeah.”

“But I thought Jack the Ripper was some crazy guy.”

Spike raised his eyebrow and just looked at her. “Thought you met ol’ Angelus? Wanna tell me why he didn’t fit your description?”

“Angelus was cruel and evil, but not batpoop crazy.”

“Because tryin’ to end the whole soddin’ world and wipe out your food supply is sane?” Spike gave her a look that dared her to disagree. “Look, pet, you live as long as it takes to be a master vampire and one of a few things happens. You can go a bit mad like Kakistos or Angelus when his demon really gets goin’. You can mix full-on evil with daftness like old Bat Face Nest--the Master and his plan to bring back the Old Ones ring a bell? You can be more entertainin’ like Drac and learn tricks, get a rep as idiosyncratic.”

“That’s not what I’d call him,” Buffy huffed at the memory of the pest.

“Me? I just kept learnin’ new things. Always did like school as a human. That’s not to say I haven’t had my moments of bein’ bloody minded stupid from time to time,” he admitted.

“Sheeya,” Buffy teased.

“But even at my worst, I never crossed the Rubicon completely. Told you once that I like this world. Don’t want to see some apocalypse wipe out all the people. Humans make life interestin’. Been cuttin’ back on the evil too since I met a certain Slayer. Doesn’t leave me too many choices but to keep on learnin’ then, does it? Day I lose interest’s the day I go as barmy as…” His voice trailed off as he once more thought of Dru and her Angelus-inspired madness. “Well, don’t plan on it anytime soon.”

“Good to know,” Buffy sat on the arm of the chair and ran a hand through his hair, dislodging the tamed curls from their gel prison. “Enough crazy around here without you joining in.”

The radio that seemed to always be on some place or another in the warehouse switched to a news break. They were less frequent than in the early days of the new world order, but enough breaking news events still occurred to make keeping an ear tuned prudent.

The alarming trend of countries threatening the Coalition of Nations working together to keep our planet safe from the demon threat and return control to human kind continues. Today, the UK pulled out of the GHA after a referendum vote spearheaded by a group of MPs from Scotland. The final vote was 68% for leaving and 32% against. The pro-leave movement’s spokesman Henry McLeish was quoted as saying that this vote strikes a blow for common decency.

There is speculation about the role the leaked video of a controversial private conversation between late GHI head Quentin Travers and Secretary General Beldescu may have played in the voters’ decision. We wish to remind you that the veracity of that video is still in dispute.

Other referendums are scheduled for Canada, Australia and New Zealand in the wake of this outcome. This brings to 19 the number of nations breaking affiliation...

“Wanna turn that thing off, pet?” Spike was far more interested in the current events taking place between he and Buffy to be bothered by the latest news, even if it was from his homeland. There were enough Scoobies with their own damned radios to pay attention if needed. “Already lived through WWII once.”

Buffy smiled at how carefully Spike laid his treasured book on the small wooden crate that passed as a side table. She had to laugh at how much reverence and adoration he showed his library--not as much as he did her, of course. “Think it’ll get that bad?”

“Think it might be worse since this might actually wind up bein’ the whole world involved before it’s done. Back in the last one, Dru and I scarpered off to Spain. They were supposedly neutral, but there were plenty of Nazis everywhere. Franco was a fascist, after all, so he was friendly to ‘em.”

“So you stayed in Spain during the war? I’d think you’d love the chaos of the battlefields.”

“Not really. Yeah. lots of tasty fear, panic and confusion and blood flowin’ like a literal bloody river. Sounds good on paper.”

“Um…I’m thinking no,” Buffy scrunched her nose in a way Spike thought utterly adorable.

“Is to a vamp, love,” Spike shrugged. He was glad that Buffy no longer cringed whenever he mentioned anything from his days of killing and feeding. Then again, he tried not to bring it up too often. He was also glad that the dull pain he still felt whenever his Dark Princess’ name came up or his memories drifted back to their time together had lessened a bit with each night spent in Buffy’s arms.

“So why Spain?”

“Things get that bad and it’s not safe for anybody, not even the junior half of the Whirlwind. Darla hightailed it to the States, and me and Dru headed to Madrid.”

“So you stayed there ‘til the war ended?”

“Dru took up with a Graxnor demon and left me high and dry. I got lured to a party that only sounded good. Was a set-up by a special branch of Mengele’s division of butchers. Drugged the blood and next thing I knew I was trussed up like a Christmas goose and carted off to a Nazi submarine with a handful of other old vamps. Posers mostly, and long overdue a good dustin’, truly an embarrassment to our race.” He chuckled a bit at the memory. “Don’t know where they planned to take us. Likely a lab somewhere in Germany eventually, maybe Poland.”

“How’d you get away? Did Dru come to the rescue?”

“Got captured by the good guys and, in the confusion, killed more than a few of the Krauts and a handful of the Yanks too. Only me and two of the least annoying of my fellow prisoners were left when Peaches showed up playin’ Captain America. Seems the US Government blackmailed the sod into rescuin’ the mission and returnin’ the sub to Allied hands. They didn’t know anythin’ about us, o’ course.”

Buffy startled at Spike’s nickname for Angel. “Angel? He was a war hero?!”

Spike bit down on his jealousy and irritation at Buffy’s soft look at hearing of Angel’s exploits. “Sure, that’s how he’d paint it. Not like he volunteered, had to threaten to dust him to get him to help. Mostly he was just spendin’ his time avoidin’ humanity at that point. Took a sneak peek at a certain Slayer to get him to actually join the cause.”

“So Angel rescued you?”

“Wasn’t exactly his first priority, no. Didn’t have enough crew to get the sub back and, like I said, they promised a dustin’ if he failed. This G.I. Joe he needed to get the sub close to port was dyin’ from a screwdriver to the gut, compliments of Germany’s finest, so Peaches turned him against his will. Fella’s name was Sam Lawson and right unhappy he was about the turning too.”

“Angel turned someone even though he had his soul?”

“Yeah, claimed it was an emergency. Guess it was, to be fair.”

“I bet he staked the guy once they got to port.”

“Bloke didn't make port, least not on the sub. Angel threw us both out in the ocean a good twenty miles from shore and he didn’t need Lawson any longer. Poor bugger begged Angel to stake him. Lawson and I had to swim for shore. Washed up somewhere on the English coast. I gave him some “Vamps for Dummies” crash course lessons on how to survive. He decided to keep workin’ for the good ol’ US of A and eat his way behind the Nazi lines. Turned his personal lemons into lemonade, I suppose. I left him to it and headed back to Madrid and Dru.”

“So this guy’s still out there somewhere, I guess.” She sounded so sad at the thought that Spike felt a bit bad at having told the story.

“Far as I know, yeah. Nice enough bloke. More than a bit pissed at Angel and likely still is. Had plans to marry his girl back in the States after the war, go to college on that promised G.I. bill scholarship. Missed his mum. Thanks to Angel, he didn’t get to die a war hero, and as a vamp could never go home again.”

“That’s sad.”

Spike nodded. “Maybe it was that soul of Angel’s made a difference, but Lawson turned quick and kept a lot of his humanity. Pretty good control over the demon right from the start too. Made it harder on him in a way. Maybe he’s out there not tryin’ to be the Big Bad somewhere.”

Buffy looked like she was processing that possibility and decided to cling to it. “What did the Nazis want with a sub full of vampires?”

“Didn’t read much German back then, but the paperwork wound up in the hands of the US government. What I was able to read looked like the beginnin’s of the Initiative. Same idea that bitch Maggie Walsh had: build a super soldier, maybe a vamp army.”

“That’s so crazy,” Buffy shuddered.

“What part of old Adolph’s plans were you thinkin’ were sane, love?”

“Point.” Buffy ran her hands through Spike’s already loosened curls and considered how best to indulge in a far happier pastime than trudging through some of Spike’s more dodgy memories. “So how about enough about our exes, world wars and let’s see about something more with the happy making?”

Spike smirked, “Lookin’ for a happy endin’ then, love? Think I can manage that.”

“You always do,” Buffy whispered and pulled him into a steamy kiss.

***

Jonathan stealthily entered the warehouse. He knew the group had already seen him on their cameras and would be there to check on who he was bringing into their inner sanctum.

Giles didn’t disappoint. He gave the white haired woman a long look, “Who is this you’re bringing to us?”

“She won’t tell me her name, but she insists she as to see the Chosen One…er…Buffy.”

“And so you brought her here?”

“Don’t be alarmed, Watcher. I’m on your side,” the woman gave a tight grin.

“And I should believe this on your word alone?”

Jonathan blushed brightly, “I would never compromise you guys like that! I had Lorne read her. He said she was alright and could maybe even be a big help.”

“He said nothing more than that?”

“I don’t think he wanted to share with me, but he did say she was okay.”

Giles sighed. Lorne had not failed them as yet so he was inclined to trust this stranger. “I’ll see if Buffy is available.” He didn’t offer to bring the woman any further into their sanctuary however.

“You’ll like Buffy. She’s a sweet girl,” Jonathan tried to make small talk. “Saved our class and our town tons of times! We named her our class protector because we had the fewest deaths in the history of Sunnydale High School.”

The woman raised a brow but didn’t reply.

“Okay, shutting up now,” Jonathan muttered.

An irritated and rumpled looking Buffy emerged from the corner area that she and Spike had turned into their own private nest with Giles following close behind. “This had better be good,” she grumbled.

“I'd forgotten how young you would be.” The old woman looked Buffy over from top to bottom and then smiled, clearly pleased at what she saw. “Comes from the waiting. Mind plays tricks.”

Buffy looked at her with curiosity. “Who are you? Am I supposed to know you?”

“Once I was one of many, but now I am alone in the world, the last of my kind.”

“So are you here representing one of our allied demon groups?” Giles grew more interested because she didn’t look like any demon he was familiar with.

The woman chuckled softly and shook her head, “Hardly! My sisters and I helped to defeat the last of the Old Ones eons ago. Let me put it this way, I look good for my age.”

Buffy looked confused, but Giles perked up. “I thought you and your…sisters…a legend.”

“Not for the lack of your fellow Watchers’ trying,” she glared at Giles. “After the Shadow Men trapped the demon and merged its essence with the First Slayer, they wanted full control of the girl.” She looked at Buffy with sympathy. “As time went on, these men became the first Watchers. Some did as they aught and aided the Slayer in her duties but others preferred to wield the power. The Watchers watched the Slayers and we were watching them.”

Buffy looked at Giles and noticed he looked uncomfortable at the things the woman was saying. “So what are you?”

“I am the last of the Guardians. Women who help the Slayer, protect you.”

Buffy looked at Giles, “Why have you never told me about them?”

Before Giles could answer the old woman continued, “The Watchers, rather more corrupt than the usual batch, used magicks to have us sealed up. I do not know by what means I was released, but here I am.”

“So what all do you do? Do you have special powers, ‘cause we can use all of those we can get on our side of this mess.”

Spike moved silently next to his Slayer and looked defiantly at the old woman who had interrupted what had promised to be some rather spectacular lovemaking with Buffy. “Seems human enough.”

The woman looked him over skeptically. “If you think to shock me by standing at the Slayer’s side, vampire, you will find you have failed. You are not the first of your kind to bond yourself to the Chosen One, although the Council of Men didn’t like that any more than they did us.”

Giles cleared his throat, “Yes, well…has anyone let you know what has been going on lately?”

“The rather amusing and wildly dressed demon who had me hum for him brought me up-to-date, at least with the essentials. I gather this dimension has been shut off from all the others?” Giles nodded. “And you have had no direction from the Powers That Be?”

“Not that I’m used to getting any communication from them,” Buffy grumbled. “Not even any Slayer dreams, and I think the Powers were the ones who usually sent those.”

The woman appeared to be deep in thought or perhaps reaching out mentally in some way. “I see.” She shook her head as if irritated. “It seems everyone but you,” she nodded first to Buffy, then to Giles, “has forgotten their responsibilities! Well, that is going to stop now.”

“You have a way to help?” Buffy brightened considerably.

“Let’s just say that once I am through, there will be no more ignoring duties, no matter how unpleasant.”

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 43
~*~

After settling in their new ostensive comrade in Giles' personal haven, the Scoobies met to discuss the latest development. They had chosen to use Buffy and Spike's downstairs living quarters for greater privacy.

"So, Watcher man, is granny on the up-n-up?" Xander had long since lost his trust in others based solely on their humanity.

"To the best of my ability to tell, yes. The Council had few documents on the Guardians, no doubt because their existence was somewhat damning of the Council itself. Based upon the Guardian’s statement about being locked away by magic, there was likely a certain amount of fear that the knowledge of these women might become widespread."

"Don't know quite what she is," Spike offered. "Seems mostly human…but more...kind of like Slayers."

"There is one school of thought in the archived information I remember reading that claimed the Guardians were chosen from uncalled Potential Slayers. They would therefore be, as you say, more than human."

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, that sounds right. I get a vibe from her like I got from Kendra and Faith, almost like family in a way. I don't know how to explain it any better."

Giles smiled fondly at his Slayer, "That's actually a very good explanation. As I was taught, the Slayer was indeed imbued with the essence of a captured demon, one related to the sort that empowers vampires. That is why the Chosen One is known as a VAMPIRE Slayer, even though your duty includes the slaying of all manner of demons."

"So I'm a kind of good vampire?" Buffy looked aghast.

Spike snorted, "Don't have to look so horrified, pet; we DO exist."

Buffy took his hand and squeezed it gently. "I didn't mean it as an insult, silly." She glared at Giles, "Why didn't you see fit to tell me this?"

Giles looked a bit uncomfortable. "Two very good reasons. In the first place, those stories were considered mere folklore rather than fact. And secondly, you already had your perspective on vampires compromised by your association with Angel. Were you to stop to consider the possibility of kinship, your life would have been even more in peril than it already was. It was safer to keep my counsel."

"Folklore, huh?" Willow rolled her eyes. "How many ooglie googlies have we encountered that were supposed to be only folklore? Gee, I dated one!"

"Haven't we all?" Xander added unnecessarily. "I think Buffy's whole job description would be listed under that title in the dictionary."

Giles added somewhat defensively, “Besides, had you taken the time to actually read that large volume I tried to give you initially, you would have read at least a portion of those tales."

Buffy had the grace to blush slightly. "You mean the giant Vampyr book you pushed at me the day we met?"

"The very one," Giles nodded. "There was at least one reference in the Slayer’s Handbook that you also chose not to open."

"Okay, water on the bridge," Buffy waved her hands and mangled yet another adage. "Let’s move on to the now. How can this Guardian help us? Any clue, Watcher mine?"

Giles grew silent as he tried to remember any helpful information gleaned from the "forbidden" books that had so enticed him as a young Watcher-in-training.

Buffy broke into his thoughts, “And what should we call her anyway? Guardian sounds medieval, like a keeper or something."

Spike laughed ruefully, “Meant pretty much that in my day, when women were not much more than chattel. Unmarried women often had someone appointed as a guardian, at least of their finances. Even widows found themselves in that situation, except on rare occasions. My own mum had to depend on me to handle the money my father left us, as if she weren't perfectly capable of runnin' the show. Course, at the time it seemed completely natural to both of us."

Tara looked sad as she nodded, “My family was still doing it that way where my mother was concerned."

"Your family were poopy-heads," Willow declared.

Giles cleared his throat and called them all back to the matter at hand. "As to what to call her, I would suggest you ask her that question. Now, about what she can offer to us...I seem to recall that the Guardians had an open channel to the Powers That Be. They often received visions, even direct communication. Lore has it that one of the female Powers was the one who empowered the women to begin with."

"If it was one of the Powers that made them, then why were the Council wiccans able to seal them in a pocket dimension like that?" Tara looked shocked to think any mere magic user could have so much ability that they could challenge a TRUE Power.

"In all honesty, we know little about the Powers That Be. We know that they are in control of this and other dimensions, but whatever limitations they might have are a mystery." Giles looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"Course it is! Think the Wankers would want anyone to know their weaknesses? Bloody stupid on their part if they did," Spike snorted. "They may be many things, but I doubt stupid is one of them."

"So you think she might be key to fixing this mess?" Xander looked hopeful, a look he’d had precious little reason to sport for too long a time.

"I did manage to get her up to speed regarding our current situation and she seemed to feel she could be of help." Giles had a pensive look, “She actually said that after I mentioned Dawn and her origins. She expressed the desire for us to have Dawn return for her to…I believe her exact words were to examine her."

"Dawn is not some bug for anyone to examine!" Buffy might feel a sisterly vibe from the old woman, but Dawn was her actual sister and no amount of argument would ever make her see Dawn otherwise.

"I don't believe she meant it in any way disrespectful or threatening," Giles smiled mildly. "I think it would be a good idea for Dawn to come home. If we don't care for the direction of any plan that might involve her, we can always send her back to the mountains."

"Yeah, have that hero Angel fetch her back. Sounds like a plan to make everyone happy." Spike had a somewhat petulant look that Buffy hadn't seen on him since before they were in the labs together.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Buffy narrowed her eyes at him.

He shrugged, still with a slight pout on his face. "Dunno. Pretty much speaks for itself, I'd think."

Buffy ignored all the curious looks everyone was giving the two of them. "I think we need to have a bit of a private chat. Be right back."

Though she grabbed at Spike's arm to escort him outside into the warehouse proper, it looked more like someone being led by their ear.

"Just what did you mean by that?"

"Well, you seemed pretty happy thinkin' 'bout ol' "war hero" Angel...just thought you'd be happy to see him again," Spike muttered.

Buffy did roll her eyes and sighed. Both she and Spike had matured so much over the past year and their relationship had become so close that she was out of practice dealing with his jealousy. "Maybe with all the interruptions you missed the memo, but Angel is just my ex. You are my boyfriend, my lover. You have no reason to be jealous."

Spike looked abashed at being caught out. He lowered his gaze to his feet and shuffled a bit. "Sorry, love. Reflex reaction where Angelus is concerned. I've always come in second, especially with the women I love. Guess that look on your face when you got excited thinkin' him bein' a war hero made me lose IQ points and lose control of my mouth at the same time," he bit his bottom lip. "Not a good combination or one of my more shining moments."

Buffy counted to ten, then counted again. She wasn't sure when or if she would ever get used to dealing with the insecurities of others, having too many of her own already. "I was just happy to know that he did some good before he met me is all. Sometimes it seems like he spent that hundred years not really working on his redemption until he started helping me. It makes me feel more responsible for him than I like feeling. I guess that's why I was so happy to think of him doing something for the good guys long before me." She leaned in and placed a light kiss on Spike's soft lips. "Let's get this meeting over with and get back where we were before our latest ally turned up and I'll show you just whose woman I am, 'K?

Spike's face softened as it always did whenever she expressed her feelings in words. "'K. Sorry, Buffy. I can be a right git at times. You deserve better."

She gave him a big grin, "There is no one better, you big dork! Let’s get back out there and get this over with before anyone else can mess up our night."

The reconciled lovers returned to the group, who were still discussing the Guardian's possible assistance.

"I believe the idea is that Dawn’s key energy can be used to power a spell that will open a channel to the Powers That Be," Giles explained.

Willow looked excited. "Well, she was intended to unlock dimensional portals. That makes sense."

"Just how is this so-called Guardian planning to get that energy? This is my baby sister you're talking about." The stubborn set of Buffy's jaw made it clear that no one was going to do anything to Dawn that might weaken or harm her. "I don't give a rat's hiney how she came to be. I care about who she is now and that is my sister. Anyone who comes after her has to go through me."

Giles put a comforting hand on his Slayer's shoulder. "Perfectly understandable and I daresay you would not be standing alone in that protection. None of us will allow harm to come to her. We'll find another way if it is necessary. That said, I do think we should hear just what the plan is that she is proposing."

Buffy relaxed her stance a bit at Giles’ assurances. "I'll listen."

Spike leaned in and whispered to Buffy, "Not to worry, love, the Bit's special to me too and doubt anyone could take us both on and win."

Buffy squeezed his hand and smiled. "Yeah...we're pretty awesome together, aren't we?"

"Yin and yang, sweetheart. Make a perfect whole."

Buffy thought for a while in silence about all they had talked about. "Okay, we'll send for Dawn. I miss her anyway and things are a lot safer here now, BUT no promises on using her for anything! I'm gonna need convincing and Dawn is going to have to be willing. No one is going to be allowed to talk her into anything," she glanced at Willow's avid face.

"I'll send word to Kate so Dawnie can start packing and they can start planning her trip home," Willow offered. "I think one of their boats was scheduled to dock here in a few days to pick up some refugees that escaped from a holding cell in LA. Wes cleared them and they've been hiding at Reverend Prentiss' place since they were moved here from the farm."

 

"Seems like we've got a plan or the start of one anyway. Maybe we can all just go to bed and sleep on it and let our newest housemate know what we've decided." Buffy grasped Spike's hand and moved toward their sleeping area.

 

Spike leaned in and whispered, "And when you say ‘go to bed’ you mean…?"

 

Buffy had to laugh at his timid expression. Clearly she was going to have to make good on her earlier promise. Fortunately, doing so was a pleasure and in no way a chore. "Well, I'm pretty sure neither of us are too sleepy at the moment, being nocturnal creatures and all. Maybe we can think of something to pass the time and work off some energy...what do you think?"

 

"I think I feel some inspiration, yeah,” Spike chuckled.

Chapter Text

Sated. Buffy remembered the word from a long ago vocabulary list in grammar school. Since she began her relationship with Spike the definition had taken on worlds of difference! She mewed contentedly and snuggled closer to her equally languorous lover.

Spike ghosted his hand up and down her arm raising pleasant goose bumps; she could have sworn that he was purring. The deep voiced hum of pleasure imitated a fully satisfied jungle cat more than anything else.

Spike always had reminded Buffy of a cat. A large jungle cat like a jaguar, all black and sleek with sinuous movement that masked the ability to instantly move like lightening when spotting prey...yeah, like that. Buffy rather liked cats.

"So would you think I'm greedy if I said I wasn't ready to sleep yet?" Buffy gave a lascivious grin. She looked at Spike through lowered lashes and was rewarded with a slow smile and deep chuckle.

"I'd say I'm the luckiest bloke to ever live, love. You'll never hear me complain. Can go all night if it pleases my lady."

"Is that what I am? Your lady?"

"My lady, my love, my life, my everything. Know I'm considered a dead thing but I swear I never lived until you came into my life. I used to say Dru was my salvation and maybe she was because her turnin' me is how I was around long enough to find you."

Buffy laughed. "You were trying to kill me Spike! Don't rewrite history."

"Not! Ever wonder why I never managed to kill you back in the beginnin' when you weren't quite the brilliant fighter you are now?"

"Bad planning? Too impulsive? Bad luck? You're deluded and I was just that good?"

Spike snorted. "Hardly! Didn't realize it till later o' course but I didn't kill you because I didn't want you dead. Didn't want to snuff out the most effulgent light I ever saw." He drew Buffy into a closer embrace. "Saw it while you drove all the little boys insane with your dance. Salome had nothin' on you pet! I’d give my whole kingdom not a soddin' half, give you some poor sod's head too if you'd asked. Wanted to dance with you forever right from the start."

Buffy scoffed, "Sure; and my mom's axe wasn't really needed."

Spike smiled fondly at the memory of both the incident and the woman wielding said axe. "Would never have said it to her. Joyce was mightily proud of that moment. Brave of her, just like her daughter. Earned my respect protectin' her girl like that but, no, she didn't stop me. Do you really think that I couldn't have ripped that axe out of her hands and killed her for intereferin'? Would've destroyed you to see it and I could've had my third Slayer easy that day if I'd wanted it."

Buffy thought back to their first real fight and had to admit she had been out-matched. "You passed up an easy kill on Halloween too when I went all damsely and weak."

"No fun dancin' with you when you weren't yourself." He gave her an x-rated look with his tongue rolled behind his teeth in a way that turned her knees to butter. "Had a good time gettin' up close and personal while it lasted though." He looked at her with a raised eyebrow, "Wondered why you didn't drive a piece of wood in my heart when you came back to yourself. You had me good and proper."

Buffy blushed, "I don't know. For some reason I just couldn't, then you ran off. Glad I didn't though."

"Dru knew. Told me I was covered in you. Didn't believe her for a long time. Thought I just wanted a dance and maybe a quick tumble first." Spike looked up at her through his sinfully long lashes, "Knew I wanted you from the start. Couldn't get near you without all the blood rushin' south. Made everythin' hard, even the fightin'.

Buffy snorted. "Come on Spike, you get horny whenever you fight just like I do. Can't blame that on me!"

"Not always love, not unless it's you or thinkin' of you in my arms after." He gave that deep, sexy laugh that never failed to get her wet. "So know how to put my lady in the mood now. Hold the roses and go with the right hook, save me a lot of dosh!"

They both laughed. "You've never had trouble getting me in the mood...speaking of..." Buffy slid her hand down his torso stopping to run a fingernail down his Apollo's belt drawing gasps of pleasure from her vampire.

Spike held his breath as her hand found his eager cock and began a firm glide up and down his length. She glanced back and forth from his blissed out facial expression to his velvety firm member and felt the womanly power that had little to do with the Slayer and everything to do with Buffy. With just one hand she could control him, own him, and bring pain or pleasure with just her touch. She exalted in that power.

***

“So are we good now?” Buffy rolled to her side as Spike’s well used cock slid out of her. Spike’s unexpected insecurity earlier still bothered her. Buffy still wasn’t much of a wordy girl but her body had been speaking loudly for hours. She just hoped the message had gotten through.

“We’ve always been good this way. Attraction was never a problem. Guess the problem’s me and my lettin’ the past sneak up and bite me in the arse. ‘Course not havin’ the sense to keep my bloody mouth closed doesn’t help.”

Buffy laughed, “Maybe you should use that mouth in less destructive ways then.”

“’Expect me to kiss you every time I feel a bit of stupid about to come out?”

“Please Spike,” she giggled, “That many kisses would mean permanent lip lock and I have to breathe.” Her voice was teasing and Spike had to grin in return.

“Not such a bad way to go,” he suggested. His brow furrowed and Buffy had the feeling that like it or not Wordy Girl Buffy was going to have to show up after all.

“Really though…are we good? I don’t want you wondering about me and Angel because there is no me and Angel.” She rained a line of kisses up his torso ending with a soul pleasing kiss on his soft lips. “Did I do something to make you doubt?”

Spike continued his gentle caresses as he gazed into some long ago distant memory. “Never really got just how he does it but I’ve seen it enough times to know it’s real. The old bugger hasn’t got a thrall or I’d chalk it up to that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Darla was his sire. Shoulda been the one runnin’ the show but instead she followed him about like a love struck school girl instead of the diseased whore she was. Left her sire to do it too. Even kept him around after the curse of a soul. Broke her heart when he finally ran off there in China. Thought for sure he’d choose her over scruples. She never got over him. Hell even back from the dust and she managed to give him the kid!”

Buffy snorted. “Yeah I still don’t quite know how that happened. Last I saw she was a pile of dust and last I heard vampires don’t have babies.”

“Like most everythin’ about him, least according to him…some prophecy or other. He’s gotta be the most important pillock ever to be with all the prophecies he says are about him! Don’t matter the soul was cursed on him and he never wanted it. Don’t matter the carnage he’s responsible for. No, he’s the Powers own special snowflake. Like as not bloody songs are written about him if you ask.

Then there’s Dru. Tortured the poor mite in ways I hope you never have to hear about. Killed her entire family in front of her even the wee ones. She ran off to a convent to escape his torment and he showed up there. Killed the Sisters and Priests there too and made sure Dru knew it was because they gave her sanctuary. Once he saw she was bug shaggin’ mad he raped her on the dead body of her Priest confessor and then turned her. Even with all of that it was always about her Daddy.”

“Well he did drive her crazy first,” Buffy reminded him. “Besides you two were together for like ever. She must have had eyes for more than Angel.”

“They let her turn me ‘cause they were tired of carin’ for the mess when she was less than lucid. Broke her proper then couldn’t bring himself to take care of her.” Spike frowned and bit back on his anger. “Still all it took was the THOUGHT of her Daddy and she went runnin’. Like I wasn’t even there. Like a hundred years of devotion and adoration meant nothin’. It was always him.”

Buffy cuddled closer to comfort him. Oddly enough the thought of Drusilla and Angel together didn’t give her even a twinge of jealousy. She must really be over him! “I’m so sorry. Dru couldn’t help herself. Like you said he made her that way. I’m sure she did love you.”

Spike snorted, “Oh yeah. Came in a solid second. Made a dandy consolation prize. Right convenient bloke, that’s me.” He shook his head as if to clear the old memories and feelings from his mind. “I felt it when they killed her. Waves of emotion pourin’ out of her. You know the biggest emotion she was feeling there at the end?” The one thing she was yearnin’ for the most?” Buffy shook her head. “Her bloody Daddy! Even though the last thing Angelus ever did where she was concerned was tryin’ to burn her to death. Made sure she knew he wanted no part of her. Still it was all about her Daddy.”

Buffy thought about all that Spike had said and the scars he had on his too tender heart from all of it. “I can see why you have insecurities there but I’m not Darla or Dru.”

“Know you’re not. Still saw the mess he left with you too. Played the mind games even with that shiny soul in place. All the tortured lovers crap where the two of you could never be together because of fates cruel hand, and the evil Gypsy curse o’ course, never mind how he fully EARNED that curse.” Spike kissed her forehead tenderly. “Made you think his losing that soul was your doin’ and all the unleashed evil of Angelus was your fault.” Yeah when he thought about it Angel had nearly ruined this precious girls possibilities for any healthy love in her future.

“All those puppy eyes and stolen kisses when he got back only for him to just walk away! Makin’ you feel like you were too much a temptation and you would cause him to fall again. Then didn’t even have the decency to stay away and let you get on with the life he said you deserved! Kept comin’ back to mark his territory, keep you on his leash.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Buffy started to defend. She knew it was her fault that Jenny had died and lives were ruined. If she hadn’t pushed Angel to make love to her none of it would have happened.

“It was exactly like that,” Spike said forcefully. He knew his grand-sires games when he saw them.

The two lovers continued to stroke one another softly as if to give and receive comfort for past slights and injuries from other loves. Spike thought it rather ironic that the bane of his romantic existence was also the root of Buffy’s worst issues as well. ‘Gotta give it to the old man. Able to bugger things up for most everyone he comes in contact with and makes it last too.’

Buffy lifted up and looked into Spike’s eyes, “But…why do you think I still want Angel? I thought it was pretty clear that I’ve moved on. Besides I know he and I can’t be together.”

Spike swallowed back the question about what her position would be if they COULD be together. “’Cause I lived it. ‘Cause grateful as I am that I’m convenient I know I’m not the one enshrined in anybody’s heart, especially not your heart, forever. Angelus saw to it before I ever was on the scene.”

Buffy thought back to her relationship with Spike and tried to remember all that they’d discussed, all that was said. Maybe she hadn’t made it clear. Maybe she had but they were both too damaged for it to be cleared up in one conversation early on. Maybe so many other things were going on to get in the way of tending their hearts. There were many maybes but one thing she was completely sure of…she was over Angel. Spike had already offered her more in their short time together than all the empty promises, broken dreams and idle fantasies she’d ever had involving that first blush of love so long ago.

“Look I understand why you’d feel like that. But you missed something important besides the fact that I’m not Dru nor am I so crazy that I can’t see a good thing when I’ve got it. I love you. Real grown up love not some high school, wide eyed crush that wouldn’t have lasted past the first year or two of college if even that. You may not be my first love but you are my first REAL love.” She wound a strand of his baby soft hair around her finger. “I had time to think about my life back in those cells. Too much time actually! At first I wallowed in all I had lost and part of that wallowing was about Angel I admit that.”

“No bloody loss there pet,” Spike snarked.

Buffy smiled, “You know what I figured out? I figured it out even before they put us together too. I figured out that Angel and I never really talked. Lots of angsty looks and furtive touches, plenty of deep sighs. Sometimes he’d talk, more like talk down to me like I was a child almost. It was like he was trying to improve me, polish me up. He’d talk about books that bored me and music that I wasn’t interested in. He never asked what I liked or tried to learn about things I loved. One time he went ice skating with me…one time! I don’t think he even asked me what my favorite color was. I figured out that not only do I not know Angel now that we’ve been apart but I never did know him.

He doesn’t know me either. Oh he’ll tell you he does but he doesn’t. He has an image of me that wasn’t even true of my sixteen year old self and he’s never changed that view. I’m like some frozen… frozen thing that he’s got on a shelf. Okay maybe not frozen cause then I’d be all melty Buffy. Um… like I’m under a glass dome or something like in a museum. He shows up to look at me every once in a while, maybe try to dust me off. But it’s not real. The Buffy he has there isn’t real. This,” she gestured between them, “This is real. I’m real.”

Spike looked at her in awe. He’d nearly spaced out when she declared herself in love with him but it was too important to miss all that she was saying.

“You can’t have love if you don’t know someone. I mean what is it you love? I do know you. The good and the bad. You’re the guy who was going to kill me on Saturday but couldn’t wait then couldn’t do it. You’re the guy who saved my mom and fights at my side. You’re the guy who pays attention and knows just how to love me best. You’re the guy who remade himself for the love of me. You are not even CLOSE to convenient but you’re also not second best or second choice.” She kissed him with her whole heart pouring through her lips.

“If Angel were to come here with Dawnie and tell me that his soul was cemented in and that we could be together I’d turn him down without a blink. I have my guy and it’s not him. He’s not just my past, he’s my past fantasy. You’re my now and my future and you’re as real as it gets.”

Spike hated the weakness the tears on his cheeks revealed. Then again Buffy did know him so all his pretences and posturing didn’t work with this girl…HIS girl. Could it be true? Could she love him that way? Buffy was many things but not a liar. She said it so it had to be true. She didn’t say those words easily either, it cost her. Somehow a miracle had happened and Spike wasn’t used to miracles.

“Never been loved, pet. Me mum loved me I suppose but that’s the sum total of it. Always craved it more’n blood but never had it. Not used to it. Not sure how to wrap my mind around the idea that someone as perfect and good as you could even give me the time of day. You’re every dream I never dared to dream and every unspoken prayer. Hope you have patience with me if I slide into the stupid again. Promise I believe you. Promise I’ll fight my inner demons just like I fight the ones we face in combat. Just don’t stop loving me, pet. Stake me first okay?”

Buffy smiled at him and stretched something like a cat herself. “Hey, I’m all insecurity girl here. I’ll probably have my moments too. I have abandonment issues like you would not believe. I’ll put up with yours if you’ll put up with mine…deal?”

“Deal. Should we seal that with a kiss or somethin’ better?”

“I’m going for something better and nothing is better than us together.”