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The Pain in the Neck Affair

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In an abandoned building, the man trembled as he held the book. He knew that the text within was ancient, written on papyrus, the hieroglyphs nearly invisible. When the book had been unearthed, even experts from the local museum didn’t know what it was. Nor did they know its value, but he did. He’d immediately recognized the book for what it was – the knowledge of the universe. That he had to kill three men to get it was a pittance of a price to pay. Killing had never bothered him before; it wasn’t likely that he would let it stand in his way now.

“It was a shame to allow your book to fall to such disrepair, Thoth,” the man said, his voice echoing strangely in the walls. Who would think to look for him here within this maze of corridors and stone-hewn rooms? And if they did look, it would take years to find someone. There was enough space down here to hide an entire battalion, much less one man and one much smaller book. Not even Thoth himself would be able to find him.

Content that all was well in his world, he opened the book and began to study the words. They came slowly at first; and then he gathered speed as his mind became more familiar with the symbols. It was just a matter of time now before the secrets of the universe spilt out before him. Soon power, even the power of life over death would be within his grasp. THRUSH was going to love this.

***

The blonde woman walked easily through the shadows at a leisurely pace. While most people chose to avoid the night, she relished it. While many people feared what hid in the shadows, she sought it out. She was the Slayer and this was her element. This is what she was born to do. This is what she would die doing.

“Anyway, so, I’m telling Giles that I don’t need more training time and he accuses me of having a lack of attention…oh, look, shoes!” Immediately she was drawn to a plate glass window and its display. She rested her hand against the cool smooth surface and studied the shoes.

“Buffy!”

She turned her attention back to her red-haired companion walking beside her and pouted slightly.
“Okay, maybe a little problem, but those shoes are so cute.” She pointed to a pair.

“They would go well with that little pink top,” Willow said, smiling at her friend. “You know, the one with the fuzzy wuzzy. The one that you bought to replace the one Spike…so he could…when he um…this is going badly.”

Willow fell silent as two pairs of glaring eyes focused upon her.”Um what?” Xander Harris was confused and that pulled his attention away from his chips. He’d not been privy to this conversation and he was openly curious. His dislike of the vampire was well known in their circle and anything someone could offer to make him hate the demon that much more was welcomed information.

“Umm…use it…as target practice. You know how Spike is…always with the grr,” Willow finished weakly.

“Could we just focus on the problem at hand?” pleaded Xander. It wasn’t that he possessed that long an attention span himself, but he did have an early call in the morning. That was the thing about construction during the long hot Southern California summer; it was better to start work early before the mercury hit 100 degrees. The sooner they finished patrolling, the sooner he could crawl into bed for a few hours of sleep before heading out to the construction site, providing Anya let him sleep. The girl’s sexual appetite was considerable.

“What problem at hand? Are there problems? Giles didn’t say anything. I thought this was just a normal sweep.” Buffy Summers had the dubious honor of being the oldest living Slayer. The fact that she had already died twice was beside the point.

At this particular point in time, she felt deliciously free and without responsibility. Dawn was on a field trip, so keeping her safe was someone else’s problem. She hadn’t felt that burden lift since her mother’s death.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flash of pale white. True to form, Spike followed, but never getting too close to her when she was with her friends. He stayed in the shadows, keeping out of sight, but never out of hearing range.

Xander had a powerful hatred for all vampires, but he held a special aversion for the blond vampire. Willow was understandably jumpy around the vampire since he’d attacked her in the dorm room, but Spike had never attacked Xander directly. Knocked him about in fights a couple of times, but nothing like what Angel had done to him. No, Angel held that honor. He’d tortured Xander, nearly killing him, and Xander was still able to work with him, albeit begrudgingly.

Buffy herself wasn’t sure how she felt about the blond vampire. He’d spent the last few years trying to kill her, now he professed to love her. What she felt for the vampire certainly wasn’t love, but there was something. And it was a comfort to know that in a fight, the vampire would be right there, ready, perhaps too ready, to wreak havoc upon the demon world. The vampire’s thirst for violence was well known and he now directed all that violence at demons, since his chip prevented him from killing humans. The fact that he took so much…she paused to remember her Watcher’s exact words… ‘buoyant zeal’ in that violence worried Giles. The vampire was more of an ally than enemy these days and he was beginning to give Buffy funny feelings in the pit of her stomach. Not Angel kind of feelings, but still…

The earth shifted beneath her feet and Buffy frowned, her train of thought mercifully broken. Ever since her death at the hands of the Master, she got queasy at the thought of earthquakes and when one hit, no matter how small, she felt small and alone.

“Did you feel that?” Willow looked at her friends. “Was that an earthquake?”

“In Southern California? You think?” Xander wasn’t concerned about a silly little earthquake. There were more important things in life, happy things, like fruit roll-ups, cheese puffs, and, oh, wrestling. “Hey are you guys going to the wrestling match this Saturday? Gorgeous Gutter and the Brute, it should be a fes-to-rama!”

“Give me a break!” Buffy looked at the man as if he’d grown a second head. “Why would I want to expose myself to even more violence than I already have in my –less-than-peaceful life? Beside, those moves are so fake!”

Xander looked deeply wounded momentarily as if the thought of fake moves had never occurred to him, then he caught himself, lest one of his best friends think him a fool. “Of course they’re fake, that’s what makes them so much fun.”

“Pass. I got homework. If I don’t start working on that stupid, stupid paper for that stupid, stupid 19th century Lit class, I am going to be so fried this semester. I just wish I could do the research without actually having to do the research, like if there was someone I could just talk to about it.” A whiff of cigarette smoke caught Buffy’s attention and she smiled suddenly. “You know what, I’m gonna bail. I’ll do a quick pass through the cemetery and head home. I suddenly feel all researchy.”

“You sure you don’t want one of us to go with you?”

“Nah, you two head home. I’m good.” Buffy cut down a dark alley and headed towards the closest cemetery, one of many in Sunnydale.

****

He stopped in his chanting as the earth rumbled. Carefully he started to read again and then stopped. “What?” he questioned aloud. He didn’t remember anything about needing a sacrifice. And he had to do what? He scanned the text again and made sure that he hadn’t misinterpreted the symbols. No, a man must die and he must be…while he…okay, this was going to alter the plan a little. Who would make a good sacrifice? Couldn’t be Ripper. The Slayer would never allow that to happen and he wasn’t too sure he could take his old friend in a fight. Besides, it made more sense to use a stranger, one who wouldn’t attract immediate attention. According to the text, the victim, better if it was victims, had to be worthy, strong and staid. H e was going to have to think about this.

****

Buffy paused by a tree in the cemetery, smiled and then sighed, “I know you’re there, Spike. I can hear you breathing.”

The vampire stepped out from the shadows. “Vampires don’t breathe, luv.”

“I know that; it must have been your boots squeaking.”

“Or maybe it was my manly charm.” The vampire rubbed his chest and smiled seductively.

“You’re not a man, Spike, you’re a vampire. Big difference.” Buffy resumed walking and the vampire fell in step beside her.

“Well, yeah. What brings you into my neck of the wood? I thought you three were shoe shopping.”

“I have something to ask you.”
“Is that right now?” The blond stopped and faced her, his eyes heavy-lidded, his voice seductive. “How do you know you can trust me? Me being a monster and all? I’m dangerous. I’m the Big Bad…” His voice lowered to a purr.

Buffy shook her head and laughed. “Spike, Spike, you’re about as dangerous as...” Buffy stopped and thought furiously. Given the proper circumstances, any one of her friends could be very dangerous. “… As something not very dangerous.” She hefted herself up onto the cool granite of a gravestone.

“You sure know how to woo a fella, Slayer.” He leaned back against the stone, close enough that he could feel the heat of her body, smell the wonderful combination of smells that made up her own particular scent. “What’s on your mind?” He already knew what was on his. It was what was on his mind all the time these days.

“What do you know about the 19th century?”

“Besides having lived through it, you mean?” Spike reached into a coat pocket for a cigarette and his lighter. He lit the cigarette and took a deep drag, holding the smoke for a long count and then exhaling it out his nose, waiting for the nicotine to hit his system. Buffy coughed and waved her hand in front of her face.

“Smoking is just nasty.”

“Ain’t likely I’ll die from it though, is it? It’s expensive, though, I’ll grant you that.” He let the cigarette dangle from his lips as he turned his attention back to the night sky. “Getting’ harder and harder to scrape up the cash for some decent smokes.”

“Did you read a lot back then? I mean, were you familiar with…the writers…when you were…younger?”

“Yes, Pet, I supposed you could say I was a bit of a bookworm then. My mum was a great believer in reading. She liked to have me read to her after she got…” The vampire fell silent for a moment and then tapped the ash off his cigarette. “What do you want to know?” His voice had grown different, quieter.

“Well, I’m supposed to be doing this paper based on the writers from 19th century and…I was wondering…if I could ask you some questions about them.”

“And what do I get out of it?”

“The pleasure of my company?”

Spike chuckled and turned to face her. “You can do better than that, Slayer.”

“What must you always do this?”

“Do what?”

“Turn everything I say into some kind of…innuendo” Buffy stopped as something caught her peripheral vision. “What was that?”

“What?”

“Thought I saw something. There, by the McPherson crypt.” Spike had closed his eyes and inhaling deep.

“I thought you said you didn’t need to breathe?”

“I do to pick up a scent, don’t I?” He shook his head before taking another drag on his cigarette. “Nothing there, Slayer, at least nothing I can smell anyway. Now, about this proposition of yours…cigs and booze.”

“Hello, under 21. Cash…I don’t have much.”

“Probably more than me at the moment. That’ll do, I suppose. Ask away. I’m all ears.”

“Jane Austen.”

“Try again.”

“Emily Bronte?”

“Slayer, I said I was a book worm, not some bloody ponce! I…” This time he stopped and looked off into the shadows.

“Something?”

“Yeah, you stay here.” Spike crushed out his cigarette and pushed off the stone. “I’ll be right back.”

“Like I would let you go off without me?” She was on her feet and resolved.

“Could be nothing.”

“Could be something.”

****

Napoleon Solo sighed, long and hard. Spring was in the air and a young man’s fancy turned to anything besides paperwork. Granted he was no longer a young man, he still wasn’t as old he was going to be. It seemed like it took more and more paper to drive organizations these days. His neck ached and he twisted it back and forth, trying to work out the kink. It came not from the chasing, not from the hiding in a cupboard for several excruciating hours, but from falling asleep on the plane. He did that more and more these days. It seemed a safer alternative than trying to chat up the stewardesses, who were now called flight attendants and were more often married than not. He’d even started seeing a few pregnant ones. It was progressive for the airlines, but hard for a die-hard flirter as himself.
His phone rang and he grabbed it before the second ring. “Solo.”

 

“Were you sitting on the phone, Napoleon?” He smiled at the voice of his partner.

“Very nearly, Illya. What’s going on and please let it be some form of action.”

“Not nearly. Apparently Records has gotten tired of nagging you about your reports and they are now nagging me.”

“Since when have you ever turned in a late report?”

“Not mine, yours. Didn’t you read your e-mail? On your computer?”

Napoleon glanced over at stacks of files and books that inundated his desk. “I have e mail? I have a computer?”

“I’ll be right there.”

Napoleon hung up the phone and sighed again. So much for a fun evening of a microwave dinner and Alex Trebek. The Russian wouldn’t give him any peace until he was up and running on the computer. Someone somewhere had to be having a good time tonight.

****

“Kill ‘em!” The shout reverberated through the coliseum and the two men in the ring heard the shouts. Friends in every day life, they were sworn enemies in the ring. The Brute and Gorgeous Gutter circled each other, slapping, punching, tossing each other about on the canvas, blood capsules crunching in their teeth, beneath their outfits, giving the crowd the blood they demanded.

Even in the corridor, Anya could hear them screaming. She wasn’t exactly sure what Xander saw in this inane little display that he liked so much, but the dinner before had been nice and there had been the promise of ice cream and copious sex afterwards to brighten her mood. She walked into the Ladies Room and headed for one of the stall. The noise from the crowd seemed to be growing, flooding the room with its din, even though the thick walls of porcelain.

“People, people,” Anya muttered, as she walked into a stall and began to undo her belt. “It’s not like any of this is real.”

 

Spike would never admit, even under the pain of being more death, that he actually enjoyed these hokey American wrestling matches, which is why he kept a low profile, ducking out of sight just in time to avoid the whelp’s gaze. Had he known that Xander and Anya would be here, he would have watched it on the telly. Still, no harm done; they hadn’t seen him, he had a great view of the ring from his less-than-officially paid for seat and the couple were far too interested in what was going on down on the mat. Well, Xander was. The ex-demon just looked bored. Being a vengeance demon for a few hundred years took the edge off events like this, he’d wager. No, they both liked a bit of violence in their lives, which is why Spike had been disappointed in the cemetery with Buffy. Whatever was roaming through the cemetery eluded them all and he’d ended up discussing James Barrie, Lewis Carroll and William Thackeray with the Slayer until sunrise surprised them both. It had been nice, even pleasant, but now he needed violence to make peace with his vampire side.

Blood flowed copiously from the mouths and noses of both wrestlers and while it seemed to bring the lust for violence out in the crowd, Spike could tell from here that it wasn’t real blood. Then he stopped and frowned as he scented the air. The sweet metallic smell of fresh blood washed over him and his stomach gurgled. One of those sods must have actually drawn blood. Now that was a first and it seemed to be whipping the crowd up into frenzy. With any luck, someone would kill someone else and he’d be able to combine a night’s entertainment with dinner. It had been too long since he’d had human blood.

The noise just kept increasing until he felt like his head would explode from the sheer sound. Worse
than that, people seemed to be rioting all around him. Just his luck, all this violence and he couldn’t even get a hand in. Stupid fucking chip, stupid fucking commando boys. He stopped his mental berating when something else crossed his vision. It was something that wasn’t human and that suited him just fine. Non-human meant it was a beastie he could hurt and suddenly the night wasn’t quite as…
The thought trickled from his head at the sight of the creature before him. The head of a hippopotamus swiveled in his direction just as the mouth crunched down upon the arm of a spectator. Spike started to move and then he hesitated when he saw Xander dangling limply from the creature’s other fist. With a roar, Spike put on his game face and charged.

****

Napoleon Solo, his dark hair plastered down against his head, moved in and out, jabbing at the punching bag, then landing one solid punch after the other, first left, then right. The impact sent jolts of pain lacing up his arms, but he ignored them. He was getting older faster than he’d like. Now it was more imperative than ever that he stayed in top form. From the corner of his eye, he watched his partner, dancing in and out, placing one well-timed kick after another, and spinning in the air with barely any effort.

Illya Kuryakin could feel his partner’s watchful gaze as he yelled, launching a flurry of kicks, chops and blows at his well-padded opponent. With a strangled cry, the man fell backwards onto the floor, looking like a hapless tortoise in all the protective gear. Immediately, Illya was beside him.

“Hawthorne, are you okay?” Illya knelt beside him, helping him into a sitting position. “I’m sorry, I forgot who I was fighting.”

“An ice pack, my kingdom for an ice pack.” The reply was muffled by the suit.

“You’re all right,” Illya said, smiling. “I should have held back a little.”

“No, you should have held back a lot. I’m not THRUSH, you know. Believe it or not, I am on your side.”

“This is an interesting way of advancing through the ranks, Mr. Kuryakin.” Napoleon had taken off his gloves and was unwrapping tape from his hands. “Job advancement by pummeling your co-workers.”

“Funny, Napoleon. Are you finished for the day?”

“Yes, I believe a sauna is calling my name, perhaps a nice rub down by our newest masseuse. How about you?”

“I’m good for another more couple of rounds. Hawthorne?”

“You so owe me, Illya”

“Just take off the gear and hold the bag.” Illya picked up a roll of tape and began to wrap the white adhesive around his knuckles, first one hand and then the other, flexing them as he went. Satisfied with the taping job, Illya pulled on boxing gloves that Napoleon offered. He punched one hand into the other to seat the glove and then he reversed the process. Hawthorne re-joined him and together they walked to the punching bag.

Napoleon watched as his partner started working the bag, moving so much faster, with so much less effort than he could have mustered. What a difference a few years makes, Napoleon thought as he walked towards the locker room. Agents were filing in and out of the changing area, some on benches pulling off clothes sopping with sweat. The abuse that their enemies put them through demanded that they train their bodies hard. A soft agent was dangerous to his fellow agents…and one headed for either an early grave or a desk. Neither option was something Napoleon wanted to consider. As Chief Enforcement Agent, he already spent more time behind a desk than he wanted. He envied the younger agents on their rounds of field assignments, the freedom they had to race back and forth across the country, across the world, just like he used to.

He stripped off his own sweat-drenched tee shirt and tossed it towards the hamper. It would reappear in his locker, cleaned, pressed and folded by tomorrow morning. He flexed his shoulders, feeling muscle grind against muscle. He paid no attention to the better-honed bodies around him. Younger men didn’t carry the scars that he did, nor the expertise and the knowledge that had allowed him to come this far. He was tired, but he was far from being put out to pasture. Hard pressed, he figured he could take on and out just about anyone in the locker room - as long as his partner wasn’t there. Napoleon grinned at the thought and stripped out of the rest of his clothes. He reached for a towel to tie around his middle and was draping another over his shoulders just as Hawthorne came limping into the locker room.

“Napoleon, you have got to cut refined sugar from your partner’s diet.”

“Did you finally tire him out?”

“No, he’s still at it, but unlike him, I know when to say when. Besides, I have to be in Brussels this evening. If I don’t get a move on, I’ll miss my plane.”

“Good luck, God speed.” Napoleon slapped the man on his shoulder and walked toward the sauna. He had no idea if he would ever see the man alive again. He hoped so. He liked the young agent and Baker, the agent assigned to Hawthorne as his partner. They had good chemistry and worked well together. They reminded Napoleon of himself and Illya in the early days, so excited, so ready to grab whatever THRUSH could throw them. Napoleon wasn’t ready to let go of that and yet, it just seemed a little harder every year to compete, to stay one step ahead of them.

The sauna was empty when he stepped in and Napoleon relaxed back against the wooden bench, closing his eyes. The moist heat made him drowsy and he welcomed the feeling, letting it worm its way into his stiff muscles and tendons. The door opened and Napoleon half expected his partner to slip in. Instead, two agents entered and took a bench opposite him. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, they ignored Napoleon and talked quietly amongst themselves.

“So did you hear the news?”

“Hard to avoid it. The reporter said it looked like a bomb had gone off. Body parts were strewn everywhere.”

“Yeah, well, from what I heard, not all the body parts were accounted for. Some were missing…”

“They said nearly forty people were mutilated. Some looked like they had been chewed on. Clock up another first for sunny California.”

The sheer horror of the words made Napoleon wince and even worse was the relish with which each man offered the words up. They were excited by the violence. Napoleon pulled the towel from his face, about to reprimand their enthusiasm for other people’s losses when the intercom crackled to life.

“Agents Brown and Hatch, report to the armory.”

Wouldn’t you know it? Just when I was getting comfortable.”

“I told you they count the bullets. You lose one, you have to account for it.” The two shuffled from the sauna, passing Illya as he walked in.

“What happened? Did you break all the equipment,” Napoleon asked, leaning back again.

“No, there was no one left to play with and my mother always told me that if you played with yourself, you’d go blind…” He paused at the innuendo of his words and smirked. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes, after all this time, I know exactly what you mean.” His partner settled beside him and leaned back. After a long moment of silence, Napoleon asked, “Illya, have you listened to the news recently?”

“Caught a little of it this morning. There’s an uprising in Iraq, trouble in South Africa, and the Chinese are not happy with Taiwan and vice versa. There was something about India and a drought, but nothing that would require our official presence as of yet. All pretty basic stuff really. ” Illya fell silent for a moment and then he resumed. “There was brief mention of an assassination attempt in Peru which might need looking into, some sort of virus is threatening a quarantine in parts of Hong Kong and some scandal going on inside of the White House, but mostly it was business as usual. Why?”

“Was there anything about a massacre?”

“What? Where?”

“Some place in California.”
“No…wait, yes, something about a wrestling match and ensuing riot, but I didn’t catch the city’s name. The garbage men showed up at that point and you know how much noise they make.”

“When we get out of here, would you pull up that story up? I’d like to see what has gotten our agents so excited.”

“You mean Brown and Hatch? Napoleon, road kill makes them excited. Guess that’s what happens when you’re not forced to watch family and friends die in a war. Are you guessing trouble?”

“I don’t know, but something isn’t right and you know how I get when something isn’t right.”

****

Xander Harris cautiously cracked open one eye and stared at the wall of white. Either he was in heaven or in a Laundromat.

“Hey, Xander, you in there?” Willow’s red hair swirled into view and Xander reasoned it was safe to open both eyes. He smiled slightly and immediately Willow was joined by Buffy.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Xander said weakly. “I feel like every bone in my body has been turned into some form of tasty but wiggly Jell-O.” He tried to sit up.

“Never underestimate the power of muscle relaxants.” Buffy helped him by pushing the control button on the bed. She loved playing with these buttons.

“You have Spike to thank for having any body at all,” Giles, said, his tone deliberately light. “If he had not interceded on your behalf, it would have been much worse.”

“Spike? You must be crazy. He wouldn’t help me.”

“That’s where you are wrong, Sweetie,” Anya said, coming into the room. “Whatever that thing was, he kept it from taking you apart. I can’t say much for his technique, but at least you’re intact, especially the important parts.”

“Where is he?” Xander looked around the room as much as he could from his supine position.

“In his crypt, healing, I would imagine,” Giles said, polishing his glasses.

“Thing kinda took exception to having its snack taken away from him,” Buffy said, dryly. The phone call had taken all of them by surprise. She didn’t even know that Spike knew how to use a phone. Yet he’d called her after managing to drag Xander off into a quiet and safe corner of the coliseum and before he crawled off to his crypt. Poor Spike, he was trying so hard these days. Buffy, stopped and frowned. Why was he trying to be so helpful? It just didn’t make sense. Xander’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Well, color me surprised, if not very happy.”

“You’re lucky, Xander. Lots of other people can’t even say that,” Willow said.

“Yeah? I’m not feeling very lucky.”

“Yeah, they sorta had their heads and other…things chomped off…”

“Good night, nurse!”

“Xander, can you tell us about what attacked you?”

He closed his eyes and thought back. “I was watching the ring and was hit from behind. It knocked my program out of my hand, so I reached down to get it. Something grabbed me by my leg and whacked my head against a chair. That’s the last thing I remember.”

“It would have been helpful it you hadn’t been off to the facilities when the attack occurred,” Giles said to Anya as she sat on the bed and held Xander’s hand.

“Yes, and possibly I would be dead or incapacitated so I say hurrah for me.”

“What did Spike say, Buffy? He musta got a good look at it?” Xander ignored Anya’s comment as he did so many of her statements.

“We haven’t been able to ask him yet. He was out of it when I checked on him last. I should probably go take him some blood and see if he can talk yet. If this thing is wandering around Sunnydale, I need to find it fast.”

“Yes, and now we need to talk to the doctor,” Anya said. “I need to know when Xander will be able to have sex.”

“An, sweetie, remember our conversation about private talk. That would be now.”

****

Napoleon Solo sighed and pushed aside a stack of papers. He was convinced that the paperwork on his desk was breeding, creating little stacks all over his office. Outside, somewhere, it was a beautiful spring day, but while the sun failed to penetrate the thick steel-reinforced concrete of UNCLE HQ, the ennui managed just fine.

He picked up a report cover and was about to flip it open when his door slid back. His partner entered, shirtsleeves rolled up past his elbows, tie stuffed into his pocket, giving an excellent impression of a distracted professor or dazed librarian. If the Russian noticed the paperwork, he chose not to comment upon it. He simply moved a pile of unanswered interoffice correspondence out of a chair and sank into it. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes before resting his elbows on his knees.

“Does using the microfiche make you nauseous? I have gone on every motion-based thrill ride anyone could imagine and I’m fine. I have dangled out of helicopters, done barrel rolls in small planes; parachuted, rappelled upside down, nothing bothers me. Five minutes with the microfiche and my stomach and I are parting company.” He leaned forward and propped his forehead against his hands.

“Don’t go so fast,” Napoleon advised. When it became apparent that his partner wasn’t going to speak, Napoleon prompted, “And to what honor do I owe this visit? Have you come to tell me that your desk is clean and you’re taking the afternoon off? Or just here to gloat?”

The Russian’s head came up and he looked hurt. “I just have different skills than you. Pyrotechnics, languages, martial arts, science, and better organizational skills, all superior, but I don’t need to gloat, Napoleon. I am here because you asked me to follow up on something earlier today.”

“What? Oh, the wrestling match and riot - I’d forgotten about that.”

“Yes,” Illya said, flipping his glasses open and putting them on. “I did a little research. Right now, they have verified forty-four dead, but have yet to recover all the bodies.”

“You mean, a building collapsed? I didn’t hear about that. Was it an earthquake?”

“No, the building didn’t collapse. It’s just that many of the bodies had pieces…missing.” Illya shuffled through the papers he had on his lap. “According to The Brute and the Gorgeous Gutter…”

“The Brute?”

“And the Gorgeous Gutter, AKA, Jeremy Oaks and Miguel Guiterrez - they were the featured match that night - the crowd was really wound up. Then halfway through the match, Oaks was pinned by Guiterrez and the crowd started to riot. Or at least that’s what they thought. As their trainers were getting them out of the arena, Guiterrez said that he looked back, as did his wrestling partner, and saw what was attacking the crowd. This should be of interest to you. According to them, it was a naked woman, or at least it looked like a woman from the shoulders to the waist, but the head was oddly shaped and there was something wrong with her legs. Many of the eyewitnesses closest to the attack can remember nothing at all. One woman allowed herself to be hypnotized and came up with a wild story of being attacked by a hippopotamus.”

“Let me guess, none were reported missing from the local zoo. And you got all of this from the papers?”

“Of course not. I hacked into the API computers.”

“Illya Kuryakin, I am amazed and somewhat delighted at you, as well as being on the verge of reporting you. You are not supposed to hack into other agency’s computers.”

“It is their own fault; they don’t have a very efficient firewall,” Illya said, doing his best to appear chastised and failing miserably.

“So where did all this happen?”

“A city just north of Los Angeles, some place called Sunnydale.”

****

“This update from California. The death toll now stands at fifty two, more than seventy injured, when an apparent earthquake triggered mass hysteria at a wrestling match in Sunnydale. Surprisingly enough, the local authorities have declined all outside agency help saying that they have the matter under control. This and much more coming up on News Ten at Eleven.” Napoleon Solo spit a mouthful of toothpaste out and walked into the living room of his apartment. Wiping his mouth on a towel, he reached for his communicator.

“Open Channel D please. Illya, are you there?”

An exasperated, “Yes, Napoleon, what do you want?” was the reply.

“Are you watching the news?”

“No, I am rather busy at the moment.” The Russian voice was strained, even clipped.

“Have you ever known a city to decline help after an emergency?”

“No, why?

“That riot at the wrestling match. Sunnydale has declined outside aid. Does that strike you as odd?”

“I’ll check it out, thank you. Now, if there’s nothing else…”

“Got a hot experiment going, do you?”

Illya Kuryakin looked over his shoulder at the Montgomery twins languishing upon his bed and smiled.
“Yes, you might say that.”

“All right, then back to your test tubes, Mr. K and I’ll talk to you in the morning. Napoleon out.”

“If I am able to talk by that point,” Illya promised his communicator. He tucked it into his jacket pocket as it hung from the chair and returned, naked, to the bed. “Now, ladies, where were we?”

****

Illya Kuryakin walked slowly into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, barely having the strength to lift his hand in greeting to Del Floria. Thankfully the reception area was empty except for the petite redhead who sat behind a desk.

“Rough night, Mr. Kuryakin?” she asked, handing him his badge as he hid a yawn behind his hand.

“Rougher than you can imagine,” he admitted as he managed to get his badge pinned on the second attempt. “I’m not as young as I used to be.” Then elevator door slid open and he stepped inside, leaning back against the cool metal. Then he started to grin to himself at the memory of the previous evening’s pursuits. “Then and again, I’m not as old as I’m going to be either.” He punched in his floor and relished the quietness of the elevator.

He’d barely gotten settled when his office door slid back and Napoleon walked in, carrying a cup of coffee. Wordless, he handed it to his partner and sat down, waiting for the Russian to sip the hot beverage carefully.

“Thank you.”

“I figured out your little experiment after I hung up. I won’t ask for names, just give her my regards when you see her next.”

“You’re assuming there were survivors. At this point, I am not certain,” Illya, said, not bothering to deny anything. He’d known Napoleon far too long to try to pretend otherwise. However his partner knew what and when he did was Napoleon’s little secret. “I listened to the latest from Sunnydale on the way in this morning. Actually, all of us on the train listened to the report since the young man didn’t seem inclined to turn the volume down.”

“Did you ask him nicely to turn it down?”

“No.”

“Illya, I do believe that you are becoming more American every day, or at least more New Yorker.”

“Yes, and if he had bought something other than American, his radio would have lasted for more than two bounces. What brings you here so early today?”

“Waverly wants to chat with us,” Napoleon offered as an explanation. “I’m just wondering…could this be more than it seems?”

“People are always violent at sporting events.”

“Maybe at rugby matches or soccer games, but this just seems extreme even for that. True, these guys had a loyal following, but it didn’t seem to warrant a riot.”

“You think perhaps THRUSH has something to do with this?” Illya took another sip of coffee.

“Mr. Waverly does. You feel up to a trip to sunny California?”

“Hmmm, desk work, field work, another difficult choice.”

Waverly was on the overseas relay when they arrived and both men quietly took their seats at the table, biding their time until their chief was ready for them. Waverly closed the channel and toggled a switch on. A man’s face illuminated the wall before him.

“Do either of you recognize this man?”

Both studied the face, then Napoleon looked over at the Russian. Illya hunched his shoulders and shook his head. “Can’t say that I do, sir,” Napoleon said.

“One of our field agents has been picking up several messages from this THRUSH operative to their West Coast headquarters. He keeps hinting at a new weapon, a weapon so powerful that it will allow THRUSH to not only control the world, but also the universe. He also alludes to the fact that he and he alone is able to control it.”

“That sounds a little grandiose.”

“Exactly what our agent thought and then the THRUSH operative said that he would offer them a small sample of his power.”

“Let me speculate, a wrestling match in Sunnydale?”

“Very good, Mr. Kuryakin. Yes, the operative has taken credit for that incident. I would like you to go in and see if such a connection is possible. If such a weapon exists, we must not permit it to fall into enemy hands.”

“We were under the understanding that Sunnydale has refused all outside offers of help.”

“That is correct, Mr. Solo. However, we are not offering. We are doing. That is why I am assigning you and Mr. Kuryakin to the task. If THRUSH is involved and if this was indeed an incident of Thrush’s making, then we cannot afford to sit idly by and wait for their next move. I want you both on the next plane out to California. Investigate, confirm-or-deny and resolve as you see fit. Good day, gentlemen.”

****

Buffy made her way carefully through the graveyard. If it was the night, she would move through the stones and grass with disregard. During the day, however, she tended to have a bit more reverence for the denizens committed there. She was just glad that Sunnydale wasn’t Colma, a small town outside of San Francisco that had the dubious honor of having more dead people than alive within the city limits. The city was constructed as one big graveyard for San Francisco. Had that town been on top of the Hell Mouth instead of Sunnydale, there would never been any peace for her. She arrived at a crypt and pushed the door aside.
Sunlight flooded onto the floor directly in front of the door and Buffy waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the vault before entering. A familiar shape was sprawled upon a coffin pedestal right where she had left him.

“Spike?” Her voice was deliberately soft. “Are you awake?”

The figure stirred slightly at her voice. “Slayer?” The word was mumbled as if the speaker had a mouth full of marbles.

“Yeah.” She walked over to him and winced. One eye was swollen completely shut, then other merely a slit. His lips were puffy, cracked and caked with dried blood. Bruising colored both cheeks and his nose was swollen and looked slightly off-sided. Still, he didn’t look as bad as he did the first time she checked on him. His constitution was already working to heal the body. She had panicked initially when she couldn’t rouse him, but then realized that if he was in an undusted condition, he was still with them.

“Come to ask me more about 19th century authors? Not really in the mood right now, luv.”

“Figured you could stand something to eat.”

“That’s decent of you, Slayer.” Buffy watched him try to struggle to achieve a sitting position for a moment before helping him up. She tried not to think of the hard body beneath her hands and concentrated instead upon watching his face as a grimace worked across it. “Ta, gotta a few bones that haven’t quite mended yet,” he offered as an explanation as she got him into an upright position.

Had someone suggested that she might have feelings for the blond vampire, she would have ripped his
or her tongue out, but she couldn’t help feel a stab of remorse mixed with compassion, for the demon. There was a pitcher of water beside the vamp’s refrigerator and she carried over to the slab. Finding a rag wasn’t hard, as most of Spike’s clothes had been reduced to shreds in the fight. She ripped a piece of his shirt free and dropped in the water. Wringing it out, she held the cloth to his mouth, wiping away some of the caked blood. “Something sure mopped the floor up with you,” she said softly, working the material gently over cuts and scrapes.

It was obvious that even her touch, as light as it was, pained him, but he held still for her ministrations. She rinsed the cloth and held it up to his eye. “Here, hold this.” The vampire did as requested and Buffy hefted herself up to sit beside him. She opened a mayonnaise jar of blood and held it out to him.

“I hear that.” He took the jar, drinking deeply from it. Pig’s blood was a sad substitute for what he craved, but that was beyond him now, both physically and financially. This would have to do. In any event, it would help him heal faster than going without. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Buffy was engaged in an active study of the walls around her. She dealt with blood every day, washed it out of her clothes more times than she could actually count, but it always made her a little queasy to watch someone actually drink it.

“How’s the whelp?”

“The whelp…Xander is awake, but pretty banged up. Thanks for keeping him alive.” Buffy stole a glance, and content that the vampire had finished for the moment, turned back to him. “Can you describe what did this?”

“Hell, I see it every time I close my eyes but you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” His head dropped and Buffy reached out to catch the jar, but the vampire rallied and straightened. Like a dog with a bone, his grasp was still firm on the jar.

“Try me.”

“A woman, well, least ways from the neck down.” He let the hand holding the rag drop to his lap. He simply lacked the will or the strength to keep it in place any longer.

“How could you tell?”

“She was starkers, Slayer…well nearly. She was wearing some sort of mask, I guess. Stuck on real good what ever it was. Musta weighted at least 30 stones, maybe more.”

“Stones? There were stones involved? Who was throwing stones?”

“Hasn’t Giles taught you anything?” He paused to drink the rest of the blood and handed her back the empty jar. He used the rag to wipe his mouth and tossed it into a corner. “Something else, though. She had plenty of opportunities to take a chunk outta me, but thought better of it she did. Maybe she only liked fresh meat. Gave me this instead.”

Buffy’s eyes widened as Spike slowly lifted up the hem of his tattered tee shirt.

****

“A what?” Giles’s voice was tinged with puzzlement.

“Spike said that a woman did everything at the coliseum…he said she was wearing a mask or something.”

“If it was wearing a mask, how did he know it was a woman? I get tired of women always being blamed for this stuff.” Willow dropped a book to the table with a thud. “It always seems like men are so quick to blame us for everything and taken credit for all the stuff we work so hard for.”

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Tara’s voice was soft as she reached for Willow’s hand. It’s better now than it used to be. At least we can vote.”

“Will, he said she was naked and had breasts that hung down to her waist.’

“To her waist?” Giles began to polish his glasses. “My word.”

“Some women just don’t understand the need for good support garments,” Buffy said, simply.

“What did the mask look like?” Giles returned his glasses to his nose.

“A hippopotamus wearing some sort of crown. He said she was really big and heavy…something about stones. Thirty stones?”

“That would put her at at least 420 pounds.”

“Betcha don’t see one of those every day,” Willow said, already reaching for a book. “Least it should be easy enough to spot her. Was there anything else? Necklaces or anything.”

“Yeah, she was wearing this medallion of this eye-like sort of thing. It left an imprint …on his stomach.”

“A bruise?”

“More burn-like. Like when you touch a vamp with a cross.”

“Take me to him.” Giles grabbed for a pad of paper. “Willow, Tara, you start to research. Look for anything that might resemble whatever Spike described. This shouldn’t take long.”

“We’ll hold down the fort.”

****

Napoleon Solo walked off the plane into the arrival area of Sunnydale Airport. He’d had the impression that Sunnydale was just a hole in the wall, but it actually was fairly large, big enough to warrant its own airport. A soft noise drew Napoleon’s attention and he glanced over at his partner. The Russian was doing the same thing as Napoleon, appearing to search the crowd for someone, but actually checking the area for THRUSH operatives.

“I don’t think our welcoming committee made it,” Illya said. He started to walk in the direction of the baggage claim arrows with Napoleon close behind.

“Nice to know we can show up and go unnoticed.”

“THRUSH might not even be aware that we are aware.”

“And let’s hope it stays that way, at least until we can have a look around and get our bearings.”

“I shall meet you in the baggage claim area, Napoleon.” At Napoleon’s questioning look, Illya nodded towards the rest room and Napoleon nodded in return.

Illya rounded the corner just in time to overhear the tail end of the conversation.

“Listen, you’ll get your stuff. It’s just too hot right now.”

“Tell me another story.”

“The Slayer is on my ass, man.”

“I’m crying tears of pity. I want my stuff.” Suddenly both men stopped, aware of Illya’s presence. “This isn’t over.” He pushed past the Russian and the second man smiled hesitantly at the Russian and the Russian stared back. “Kids,” the man offered as an explanation and walked swiftly from the room, but not so swiftly that Illya failed to notice that, according to the mirrors that decorated the sink area of the restroom, he had been the room’s only occupant.

“How very strange.” He was still puzzling over this when he joined his partner a few minutes later.

“Trouble? You look perplexed.”

“Napoleon, what would cause a man to not cast a reflection?”

“Is this one of those philosophical discussions that you like to get into? I’m really tired, Illya.”
Swiftly the Russian described the scene he’d just been a part of and his partner shrugged his shoulders.

“Maybe he was a vampire,” Napoleon joked.

“Yes, of course, that’s exactly what he was and I am the lost Czar of Russia.”

“I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it if I were you. We have more important things to worry about.”

“Like THRUSH.”

“Like whether our luggage made it through or not. Airline service is not what it used to be.”

****

Spike’s head came up slightly at the sound of his tomb door being opened, but he just didn’t have the energy or strength to do much else about it. Besides, he could already tell who was standing there. Their scents had preceded them, Buffy’s soft vanilla scent and the Watcher’s more masculine smell. If they wanted him, let them come over here to him. He wasn’t inclined to use one more ounce of energy than he needed to.

“Spike?” Buffy spoke quietly as they approached. “Still with us?”

“Yes, pet.” He didn’t move from his recumbent position.

“I brought Giles. Can he look at that mark?”

At least she was asking in an almost-polite fashion. A few months ago, she would have just punched him into submission and then done what she wanted. “Charging ten bob a gander now.” He arched his back up to facilitate Buffy’s pulling his tattered tee shirt up, hissing as the struck fabric pulled free of raw flesh. His game face flashed momentarily until he got a handle on the pain and dropped his head back. Burned deeply into the vampire’s stomach was a large symbol.

Buffy turned her head sideways. “Nothing like a cross”

“It’s Egyptian. May I?” Giles asked before reaching out to gently touch the area. The skin around the burn was actually warm to his touch and the Watcher frowned. “Why would this symbol burn you like this?” He began to sketch on the pad.

“You’re the Watcher, you tell me.”

“I was speaking rhetorically. It must be a highly religious icon. Why hasn’t it started to heal over yet?”

“Takes longer, these bits. Hurts like a son of a b…”

“Buffy tells me it a large demon.”

“With really big…” Spike’s head had come back up to regard his fellow Brit.

“The rest of the demon had a woman’s form then?” Giles set down the paper and gently replaced the fabric.

“Hands were more paw-shaped, but they could still sort of hold stuff human like.”

“I must consult my texts. I must confess to a certain ignorance when it comes to Egyptian mythos.” He turned to leave and added as an afterthought. “Is there anything we can get you, Spike?”

“Just close the door on your way out.” The blond head dropped back to the cool stone. “I don’t fancy waking up to find myself on fire. Once inna lifetime was more than enough for that.”

****

“Will he be all right, Giles?” Buffy was careful to make the question sound nonchalant as they walked back through the graveyard.

“Vampires have an amazing capacity to heal, Buffy. Spike’s is better than normal. His recovery from that broken back proves beyond a doubt that he will recover from this as well. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, ah, no reason, really. He’s just been helping out...with patrols…lately.”

“You’d be ill advised to rely upon him, Buffy. He is too unpredictable and too dangerous to be trusted.”

“I know, Giles, but he can’t hurt people anymore…”

“A mere technicality. He would if he could. He’s not Angel.”

“Don’t I know it? He’s all blond and buff,” Buffy caught herself, “…y thinks she should go check out the coliseum. Will you be able to pick up Xander? The doctor said he’d be released this afternoon.”

“I’ll make sure he’s taken care of. Buffy, be careful. Until we know what this demon is, you need to watch your back. You saw what it did to Spike”

“Giles, I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

****

“Stupid heel,” Buffy muttered as she sat on a folding chair and looked at her shoe. “This one’s a write off. I should never fall for those two-for one sales.” Annoyed, she took off the other shoe and threw both into the satchel she carried over her shoulder. Luckily, she still had her old shoes in the bag and she put them back on.

Buffy had been at the coliseum for nearly an hour, picking through rubble, looking for any signs or hints from this latest demon. “Maybe she got tired and went to Saks,” she said to no one in particular. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the two men, one dark haired, then other shorter and blond. Like her, they seemed to be really interested in things, but pretending not to be. She had a sixth sense about this. These guys could be trouble, especially since they were paying her no attention at all. Buffy looked down at her stylish if slightly out-of-fashion blouse and shrugged her shoulders. No accounting for tastes.

****

From the safety of the shadows, he watched the two men as they worked their way through the piles of chairs and fallen masonry. Of all the luck, to have UNCLE’s two top agents delivered nearly to his doorstep. What a sacrifice this would make! If he could pull this off, he would become the true holder of the Book of Thoth. It was important that he act quickly. Thoth was nearly upon his doorstep and the power and destruction that Taweret had reigned down upon these poor unfortunates frightened him. He hadn’t expected the god to find him so quickly, but that didn’t matter.

Just one more ceremony and the Book was his and these two agents would be the perfect gift to offer to Re. Of course, he wasn’t expecting that the Slayer would also be showing up, but in a city sitting on a Hell Mouth, nearly every event has some supernatural aspect. He’d just been hoping that perhaps she’d seen fit to…move on. No matter, no one was going to stand in his way. Not Thoth, not the Slayer and certainly not UNCLE.

****

Illya flexed his shoulders and looked around uncomfortably. Napoleon glanced up from the spot he was studying.

“Kink in your neck? I happen to be an expert in those these days.”

“No, I have the strangest feeling that we are being watched.”

“Local authorities?”

“It’s something else…someone else.”

“THRUSH?”

“I do not know.” Illya looked around, studying his surroundings. The place had a few people in it, but no one that he recognized. There was a young, blonde woman who had broken her shoe here and was muttering as she put her shoes in her bag.

“Illya? Hello, Earth to Illya.” Napoleon waved a hand in front of his partner’s face. The Russian started and glared at his partner.

“I’m sorry, Napoleon, you were saying?”

“No, you were saying. Something about being watched?”

“What do you make of her?”

“Pretty, but a little young for you, my friend. She looks like she could still be in high school.”

“What is she doing here?”

“Overhead her talking to someone. Said she was from the school newspaper. Several students were killed and she was doing a story on them. They wouldn’t talk to her, but said she could look around. Why?”

“I don’t know. She has an air about her. Maybe it’s just the wanton destruction here. Or my imagination…something has me on edge.”

A movement caught Illya Kuryakin’s eye and he turned swiftly. The shape vanished around the corner quickly, almost as if it was trying to defy detection. “Napoleon, did you see that?”

“Hmm, see what?” He glanced up from the stain he’d been studying.

“Someone just took off around that corner. I think I’ll go have a look.”

“Do you need back up?”

“I’ll be fine. Be back before you know it.” With that, his partner moved away, disappearing around the corner.
****

That statement haunted Napoleon for the rest of the afternoon. Illya had simply disappeared. No one had seen him, nor could Napoleon raise him on the communicator. Now he walked the darkened parking lots outside the stadium, looking for clues. He was so involved in his search that the man was upon him before he even sensed him.

“You the guy looking for someone?”

Napoleon spun, his gun out and aimed before the words had even had an opportunity to sink into his brain.

“Hey, I’m just trying to help.” The bearded man held up his hand in mock surrender.

“In the future, it would be wise to not sneak up on people.” Napoleon lowered his weapon. “Yes, I am looking for someone.”

“Blond, about this high, sort of sporting a British accent.”

“Yes, that’s him.”

“I found him. He’s in a cellar not far from here. I think he needs some help. He’s been beaten up a little bit.”

It never occurred to the agent to question the ‘little bit’ comment as he began to follow the stranger. It would have taken more of a little beating to slow the Russian down, but at the moment, all Napoleon was worried about was finding his partner.

****

Buffy watched as the dark-haired man left, obviously in a hurry. The guy’s friend had been gone for the better part of the afternoon and Buffy could read all the telltale signs of anxiety as the day stretched on. Maybe he’d found the guy, but Buffy didn’t like the way the bearded guy was acting. He was making her Slayer sense wig big time. There was something off about him. Without even making a conscious decision, Buffy followed the pair.

****

The Scooby gang all looked up as the door to the Magic Shop opened and Spike slowly and stiffly stepped though.

“Hey, Spike, how are you feeling?” Willow was immediately up and around the table. She walked over to him and tentatively touched his arm. The vampire looked down at her hand for a moment and then smiled. He wasn’t used to people caring about how he was. This was all very new to him.

“I’m okay, Red.”

“You still look kinda…Spike, um, can I see…you know…it?”

Spike tipped his head back and looked at the ceiling. “For the love of…I am going to start charging.” He was secretly pleased with the attention, but he’d never admit to it. He limped over to the counter, leaned back against it and lifted up the hem of his tee shirt “I’m assuming you mean this and not something else?”

If she caught the innuendo, she ignored it. “It’s nearly healed.” She sounded disappointed as she traced the design of the pink skin. “But I believe we have a match.”

“We vampires have a way of doing that, yeah. Gonna have the scar for awhile though.” He dropped the shirt hem and looked around the room before moving to the table and sinking down into a chair. “Where’s Buffy?”

“She went to check out the coliseum”

“Alone?”

“Spike, Buffy can take care of herself. Giles wouldn’t have let her go if he thought there was any danger,” Tara said, closing the book she’d been reading. “You’re really worried about her, aren’t you?” she asked, gently.

“That thing is bloody dangerous! You saw what it did to me! And the boy.”

“The boy is just fine, thanks.” The ding of the shop bell preceded Xander’s voice by a split second. He edged his way through the door, closely followed by a fussing Anya and a less-than-exuberant Giles.

“Never underestimate the power of modern medicine.”

“Or their drugs,” Anya added. “He’s wasted.”

“Not wasted, An, just relaxed.”

“Xander, if you were any more relaxed, you’d be drooling.”

“Willow, did you find anything?” The watcher dodged around the slower-moving pair and walked to the book-laden table.

“Spike, your shirt please.” Spike groaned and again lifted up his shirt and Willow held up an open book next to the vampire’s bared stomach. “Behold, the Wedjet, the Eye of God. It’s considered by the Egyptians to be the most holy of the holy.” To Spike, she added. “That’s probably why it burned you.”

“Good work, Willow.”

“It was actually pretty easy once you told me it was Egyptian. According to Magic in Ancient Egypt, the Wedjet represents Thoth.”

“Thoth?” Anya rolled the name over in her mouth. “Is he the god of lisps?”

“He’s the ibis-headed god of scribes and writing.”

“How appropriate, Watcher, the bleeding God of Librarians.” Spike had dropped his shirt and leaned forward to rest his head against his propped-up arm. His whole body was screaming at him. Luckily, he’d had lots of experience ignoring his physical comfort. “So Red, what does this god do…besides check books out and clean his glasses?” Giles looked up from the polishing of his glasses and rapidly put them back in place.

“Um, it says here that when you die, your heart is weighed against that of a feather. He writes down the information.”

“Looks like you’d be in luck with that one, Spike. Your heart must be the size of your thumb,” Anya said brightly. “Or possibly your penis.”

“Not bloody likely.” Spike was using his other hand to apply pressure to the back of his neck. There was a stomach-lurching crack and he sighed, twisting his head back and forth. “That’s better.”

“Ewww.” Willow looked as if she was ready to vomit. “How can you do that?”

“Not likely to find a chiropractor who could do it, am I? Damn neck hasn’t been right since the bloody
Slayer dropped that organ on me.”

“You were trying to kill Angel!” Willow was quick to defend her friend.

“Bleed him dry more like it, but yeah.” Spike was defiant. “So?”

“And if your heart weighs more than this feather, Willow?” Giles asked, trying to bring the conversation back around to the topic at hand. He had moved behind the counter and was fumbling with a mug and the microwave.

“Um, then it’s thrown to something called the Devouress. She eats it and you go to the Egyptian version of hell. Doesn’t sound like a fun place. If you pass the test, then you go on to the Afterlife, which, according to this text, is pretty much like your regular life. If you were a farmer while you were alive, that’s what you’d be doing in the Afterlife. Doesn’t sounds like much fun either.”

“I don’t know what the hell an ibis is, but this demon I saw, it wasn’t a man …”

“It’s a bird,” Tara interrupted. “With a long bill.”

“I know a woman when I see her.”

“Oh, it’s okay, Spike. Tara found your demon. It says here that her name is Taweret and she’s basically just a strong arm for the gods. Whatever god needs her takes her out. As long as he feeds her, he controls her. Chances are that’s what he was doing at the wrestling match - feeding her”

“So this Trough guy is yanking her strings.” Xander had made it to the table and carefully eased himself into a chair.

“Why here? Why Sunnyhell?” Spike was now leaning into the chair, his one functioning eye closed, head resting over the back.

“I don’t know,” Willow answered. “Maybe the power of the Hell Mouth attracted them.
Tara shook her head and spoke softly, “But Taweret isn’t basically evil. She just does as she’s asked and this Thoth guy seems pretty benevolent too unless you’ve pissed him off.”

“How do you piss him off?” Anya asked, glancing from one witch to the other.

“Mess with his books?” Xander pushed a stack of musty book to one side, “I know how Giles gets when we mess with his… not that I ever would…”

“That’s possible, I suppose,” Willow said slowly. “There’s this one book he’s super duper protective about. It’s called, The Book of Thoth, surprisingly enough.”

“The Slayer needs to know this.” Spike raised his head and pushed up from the chair.

“Are you quite sure you’re up to this? You can hardly stand.” Giles watched the vampire move stiffly toward the front door. There was none of vampire’s usual swagger in his walk as he moved and it was apparent, even to those not fond of him that he was barely able to function.

“Try and stop me, Rupert.”

“At least drink this before you go.” Giles offered him a mug filled with blood. “Be careful, it’s warm.”
Spike sipped the contents cautiously and then downed it in a few swallows. “Ta, Watcher.” He handed the man back the mug and took a few more steps. He stopped and shook his head, reaching out a hand for something to hold onto. The display proved a poor choice and the books tumbled to the floor.
“What…what did…?” He was down on his knees before anyone could get react and sprawled out on the floor before anyone could reach him.

“Oh no, Spike!” Willow ran to the vampire, instinctively reaching for his neck for a pulse. When her fingertips touched the cool flesh, she realized her mistake and giggled. “Oops, my bad.”

“He’s fine, Willow, I just gave him some of Xander’s tranquilizers.”

“Hey, those are my drugs,” Xander protested loudly.

“You have enough tranquilizers to bring down a small army, Sweetie,” Anya said, patting his shoulder and nodded to the vampire. “Case in point. You didn’t over-medicate him, did you, Giles?”

“I don’t think that possible with a vampire. He should sleep for a few hours though. “

Tara was frowning as she walked to the vampire. “I know he’s…he’s not good, but he is kinda helpful and he is trying, Giles. Why did you drug him?”

“Considering the shape Spike’s in, I think Buffy would stand a better chance without his help. Could you help me move him back into the training room? It wouldn’t be good to have a customer trip over him.”

****

Buffy walked down through the mass of tunnels, not even surprised that such a maze existed. Sunnydale had tunnels and sewers that rivaled cities twice its size. The vamps used the sewer system as a sort of demon mover to get around the city. Followed the bearded guy had been easy. Once the dark-haired guy got knocked out by the fellow he’d just met, Buffy was surprised feeding didn’t occur, since she’d pegged the guy for a vamp, Maybe this was an appetizer for the hippo chick.

The guy took one last look around and stepped through a doorway. Buffy followed, moving soundlessly through the dark. She kept to one side of the door and peeked in. Sure enough, there were chains involved. The blond guy she’d seen earlier was shackled to the wall. He’d been stripped of his jacket and shirt.

“Napoleon? What did you do to him?” the blond guy shouted as he yanked viciously at his chains.

“Calm down, UNCLE. He’s still alive. You both need to be alive for this ceremony. Well, at least initially.” The man’s voice seemed very familiar to her, but Buffy couldn’t put her finger on it. With his back to her, she didn’t recognize him.

“What ceremony?”

The man smiled as he struggled to fasten a manacle around Napoleon’s wrist. “Ah, now that would be telling and you will find out in the fullness of time.” He stripped Napoleon of his jacket and unbuckled the shoulder holster. “I must say, you two are well stocked. However a word to the wise, most people in Sunnydale don’t bother with regular guns anymore. They prefer crosses. Now, if you will excuse me. There is much work to be done.” As he walked out, Buffy ducked around the corner, melting into the shadows, crouching down to make herself as small a shape as possible. The man breezed past her, bent on some other mission. When she was sure he was out of sight, she jumped up and ran into the small chamber.

“Napoleon? Napoleon, wake up. We need to get out of here.” The blond guy had turned his attention to his partner, and then looked up at the sound of her entrance. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“Doesn’t matter. I need to get you both out of here before that other guy comes back. Are you hurt?”

“No, do you have a key?” The man was hopeful.

“Does it look like I could get a key in here?” As tight as her pants were, it didn’t seem likely that her clothes had a pocket, much less anything else. “They’re stylish, but not so good on pocket space.”

She reached up and grabbed one of the chains holding him. Taking a breath she pulled once, then again and mortar fell. The chain yanked a few inches out of the wall.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Buf…” The woman collapsed in front of Illya and their host shook his head. He had not even entered the room, yet the woman now sprawled unconscious before the Russian. His power was growing.

“If I were to venture a guess, I’d say she’s dessert.”

“How did you do that?” Illya looked from the man to the young woman and back.

Ethan Rayne held up a hand, made a gesture and his features settled back into their normal appearance. “Do you believe in magic?”

***

Spike stirred and groaned at the memory. Bloody Giles must have slipped him a frigging mickey. He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the cot, pausing to give his pounding head time to clear. His vision was swimming and he felt slightly nauseous. If he was back in his crypt, he’d have laid back down and submitted again to sleep, but he couldn’t rest now, not with Buffy still out there…if anything happened to her…he’d take them apart. No, wait, couldn’t do that. Didn’t matter, he’d find some punishment to fit the crime.

“Feeling better?” He started at the voice, fist pulling back automatically and then he relaxed. It was only the witch, Willow.

“Shouldn’t surprise a fella like that, Red, especially when the fella’s a vampire. Act first, think later, somethin’ like that.”

“I figured you were safe, you being hurt, chipped and all.” Willow held the bag out to him. ”Cheese puff?”

Spike’s stomach rolled at the thought and he shook his head. “Thanks, no. Even on a good day, I avoid eating anything fluorescent orange.” He stood and carefully flexed his shoulders. His stomach was still a bit tender to the touch, but he was feeling better by the moment as his vampire constitution dispensed what little drugs remained in his system. He reached up to touch his face, his fingers inventorying his healing cuts.

“Your bruises are nearly gone.” She offered. “I know you can’t kinda look in a mirror…Spike, I’ve been meaning to ask this for a long time. How do you shave?”

“There’s a monster on the loose and you’re interested in personal hygiene? Bloody hell…”

Giles stepped through the door and looked relieved at the sight of the vampire sitting up. “Thank the gods you’re awake.”

“Sounds kinda funny coming from the fella that made me unconscious to start with. What are you playing at, Watcher?”

“You needed the rest, but now I am concerned about Buffy. She hasn’t returned and I don’t even know where to begin looking for her.”

“And this is the crack team that thwarted my every move. I am deeply embarrassed.” Spike walked out of the training room. Xander and Anya were sitting at the table, holding hands and talking in whispers.
“What else did you find on this bird guy?” he asked, his hands patting the pockets of his duster for a pack of cigarettes. Coming up empty, he sighed instead and leaned against the counter.

“Oh, Spike,” Xander said, jumping up. “You’re awake!”

“Yes.”

“Yes.” Xander sat back down. “Good.” Willow tossed the bag of snack food down on the table and wiped her orange-stained fingers on her pants. “We found all sorts of stuff. Apparently, he’s one of the more powerful gods, answering to the creator god himself. He’s also thought to be the inventor of magic and writing, along with being the patron god of scribes. According to our sources, he holds a book that is the key to all magic in the world.”

“So why’s this fella out running around with hippo girl? Guy that powerful shouldn’t need someone else to do his dirty work.”

“Haven’t figured that one out yet. “

“Which is why we desperately need to track down Buffy, Spike.” Giles tried again to telegraph his sense of urgency.

“Where was she last?”

“The coliseum.”

“That’s where I’ll start then.”

“But how?” Tara started.

“Her scent, Glinda, I’ll track her by her scent.”

“We’re coming with you.”

“Thanks for the offer, but you’ll only slow me down.”

“I’ll take that risk.” Giles picked up a weapons bag and hefted it to his shoulder. Willow and Tara stood beside him, both looking resolved. Xander was coming to his feet, but the Watcher waved him back down. “Xander, I need you and Anya to stay here in case Buffy returns.”

“I can do that,” Xander said, resuming his seat. “I can so do that.”

“Then try to keep up, people,” Spike shouted from the door. “I won’t have you holding me back!”

****

Buffy stirred and made a face. She was all crampy and sore. She opened one eye a slit and caught the sight of blond hair.

“Oh, god, Spike, I should have known. You’re an evil, disgusting creature. I don’t care how many times you chain me up; I’m not changing my mind. I don’t love you.”

“Excuse me?” The voice had a British lilt to it, but it was far cry from Spike’s working-class accent. She opened her eyes further and groaned.

“Not Spike. Sorry.” She yanked her hands, grimacing as the chains restricted her movements. “Well, this sucks.”

“If by that you mean our situation is unfortunate, then I am inclined to agree with you,” Illya said, smiling slightly at her.

“You sound just like Giles. Just give me a minute to regroup here.” Buffy took a deep breath and waited. Her Slayer constitution would bring her back up to full strength quickly, she just hoped it would be fast enough. She hadn’t seen what hit her, but she didn’t want to hang around for an encore.

“Who are you?”

“Buffy Summers. How about you and your friend? Are you okay?”

“Illya Kuryakin, Napoleon Solo.” He nodded towards his partner and Napoleon raised a hand in greeting.

“You nearly pulled that chain right out of the wall. How?”

“I eat lots and lots of Wheaties.”

“Reassuring,” Napoleon said. “Illya, can you reach anything?”

“No. My chains are too short to reach my watch.”

“You want to know what time it is?” Buffy’s voice was incredulous. “I will never understand grown-ups. It’s time to get out of here, that’s what time it is. Or possibly time to start panicking, I’m not sure which. If Giles was here, he could tell me.”

“I have a device in my watch that would allow me to pick open these locks.” Illya strained against the manacles, his fingers just a scant inch from his opposing wrist. Blood stained his forearms red as he struggled against the manacles.

“Great, now you’ll bring every vamp within a mile in here. Just what I need to make my day complete.” Buffy flexed her shoulders and looked up at the ceiling. “If you guys don’t have any objections, I’d like to get out of here. I got a term paper to write this weekend.” She took a deep breath and jumped up to grab the chains. Suddenly, it felt as if a club had smashed into her stomach. She gasped and fell back.

“That’s far enough, Slayer,’ came a voice from the doorway. She dropped back down, looked over at the voice and then groaned.

“Oh God, Ethan Rayne, I should have guessed. I should have let Giles eat you when I had the chance, him being demony and all.” She rattled her chains at the English warlock who lowered his hand and smiled benevolently at the trio. “I am so going to kick your ass, Ethan.”

“Not this time, I’m afraid.” Ethan walked into the room and set down the book he was carrying.

“What is it with you guys and books? Now I know where that Fahrenheit 451 guy was coming from. I’m ready to start burning books too.”

“But this isn’t just a book, Slayer. This is the book.”

“Oh…well, that’s different – not! Let us go, Ethan or so help me!” She yanked at her chains and Rayne took an involuntary step back. Napoleon and Illya exchanged a glance.

“Not this time, Ms. Summers. You see, in order to get this plan to work, I need a sacrifice. Now, I was going to offer up these two gentlemen, but if I can send you along at the same time, well, so much the better. The world won’t miss one less Slayer.”

“You know another one will come right behind me.”

“Not necessarily. This book is going to rewrite all history, as you know it. Don’t you know what this is?”

“A reason not to study for my history final?” At his headshake, she tried again. “It’s a big musty book. So what? Giles has a ton of them.”

“This is The Book of Thoth.”

“Wonderful and does a CD come with it? Thoth’s Greatest Hits? Who the hell is Thoth?”

“He’s the Egyptian god of Scribes and Magic. How did you get that?” Both Buffy and Rayne looked over at Illya. “I didn’t think it really existed,” the Russian said to his partner.

“If that is indeed The Book of Thoth, then you’re playing with some very serious power, Mr. Rayne,” Napoleon said. “I would exercise some caution if I were you.”

“Yes, I’m counting on that power.” Rayne opened the book. “What I hadn’t counted on was Thoth bringing Taweret with him.”

“You thought he’d just sit idly by and let you take his most treasured possession from him?” Illya snorted. “If you surrender it now, perhaps he won’t kill you. Perhaps she won’t eat you.”

“Okay, time out, guys,” Buffy interrupted. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“This is the book, Slayer, the one, the only, THE book of magic. Don’t you understand? This is the first book ever written about magic. It holds the secrets of the universe. This is what all magicks are based upon. This is the Holy Grail of magic, Slayer.”

“Yeah, yeah, tell me another story, Ethan.”

“It supposedly holds the power of life and death over us all. And I’m sure THRUSH has big plans for it,” Napoleon said.

“Yes, well, they were helpful for awhile, but I see the need to, shall we say, loosen the ties that bind. THRUSH just isn’t what I thought it would be.”

“I see,” Napoleon said, nodding to his partner. “World domination, endless riches, your own company car just isn’t enough for some of you.” He regarded his partner. “I miss the old days, Illya. They tried to topple a country, we caught them and that was it. Is it me or are things getting more complicated?”

“I assure you, life will become much less complicated for you in a few minutes.” Ethan lit a candle.

“Death has a way of simplifying things.”

The floor trembled and Rayne frowned. “Sorry, but we must press on here. Taweret will be here soon and I have no intention of having a shake and howdy with her. Do we have any volunteers for first?”

“I will,” came a chorus of three voices.

Rayne laughed. “If you think I’m unchaining you for a moment, Slayer, you’re out of your mind. I was talking to the two gentlemen here.” Ethan pulled something from his robes and Buffy’s mouth dropped open.

“Oh my god, that’s the biggest dildo I’ve ever seen! Where did you get? Wait! What? The guys?
Ethan, you’re not…you aren’t…are you?”

“This is an unfortunate part of the ceremony, Miss Summers, so put your tongue back into your mouth. I don’t know what Ripper might have told you, but I am very adaptable.” He dropped the phallus back into a pocket and shook his head.

“I have a bad feeling that this references back to the story you told me in a tomb once,” Napoleon said to Illya. The floor shook again. “Reinforcements?”

“U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t even know you’re gone yet, Mr. Solo. There will be no heroic rescues this time. I’m afraid that you have both seen the light at the end of the tunnel. You see, that rumble would be Taweret and I have no intention of facing that lady head on. We need to get this show on the road.”

Buffy began to struggle against her chains in earnest. “I am so going to hit you until you bleed, Ethan.”

The floor rumbled again and Rayne walked quickly to the trio. “I think not, Slayer. “ He gestured, Napoleon grunted and then sagged in his restraints. Rayne grabbed the manacles, supporting the unconscious man one handed as he unlocked the chains with the other.

“No! What are you doing?” Illya protested, pulling against his own restraints. “Take me instead.”

“Just be patient, Mr. Kuryakin, you’ll be next. Just cooperate and I promise that I’ll slit your throat before raping you. You’ll never feel a thing, unless Taweret gets you first. You see, I really only need one sacrifice and once the ceremony is started, well, the balance of power shifts. Be seeing you.” Rayne dragged Napoleon out of the room.

“I don’t believe this,” Buffy said. “Just when I thought the man was out of my hair. I think I liked him better with the chocolate bars.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing. We need to get out of here before your friend gets really dead.” Suddenly the wall began to bulge and exploded inward, showering Buffy and Illya with bricks.

“Oh my god, Spike was right.” Buffy murmured as a figure walked through the rubble. The demon was large and very naked. Fetid breath assaulted Buffy’s nose and she made a face. “Hey, flabby girl, have you heard that you’re supposed to brush after every body?” The hippo head turned towards her and Buffy winced as the demon started to shuffle in her direction.

Then there was a shout, a roar and the demon fell forward, into the wall beside Buffy, a very angry vampire riding on its back.

“That’s for the first time, bitch,” Spike shouted, driving his fist into the demon’s side. He yanked it back and delivered another blow. “That’s for now.”

The demon threw him off into a wall and Buffy shook her head. Spike was never going to learn. Yet it had given her the diversion she needed. She reached up, grabbing the chains and flipped her legs up. That gave her the leverage she needed to yank the chains free. It didn’t give her enough time to right herself before dropping ungracefully to the floor. She grunted as she rolled over and glanced over at Spike.

He was back on his feet and punching at the demon. It looked more annoyed than incapacitated by his blows. However, it kept Taweret off balance enough to give Buffy some freedom. Giles rushed in, welding a broadsword. He was closely followed by Willow and Tara and all descended on the demon. For her part, Taweret seemed unconcerned by the attack. She picked up Giles and tossed him aside as if he were a candy wrapper. The Watcher slammed into the wall and slid down it, groaning. Buffy turned to the Russian.

“You need to leave.” She had enough adrenaline going now that his chains didn’t prove a bother. She yanked them free from the wall. “Find your partner and get out of here. We’ll take it from here.”

“I can’t leave you.”

“Don’t let Ethan finish the ritual. He does that and we’re all done for. Now go!”

Illya took a step, then Taweret tossed Spike into him and they collapsed into a pile of arms and legs.
“Do you mind, you burk? Get off!” The vampire heaved the Russian away from him, towards the door.
“You heard the Slayer! Go!” Spike managed to get to his feet just in time to receive a face full of Buffy as Taweret pushed the young woman through the air. He caught her and they tumbled back down.
Buffy winced as she heard newly knitted bones crack. His wounds re-opened under the impact, but worse than that was where Buffy’s elbow had landed.

“Get your bloody elbow out of my balls, Slayer.” He groaned, pushing her off of him. He resisted the urge to cup his bruised genitals. Instead he staggered to his feet and again hurled himself at the demon, the pain in his groin adding fuel to his fire.

Buffy re-entered the fray, using her chains as a bludgeon. Taweret roared in pain as the iron made contact. Willow and Tara sat down on the floor close to Giles. They helped the Watcher to sit up and clasped their hands together. Willow began to chant.

“Get a containment field on her,” Spike yelled as he and Buffy struggled to hold onto demon. “Keep away from her mouth, Slayer.”

“I’m trying!”

Behind then, a slender figure moved through the dust and swirl of bodies, studying the surroundings as if looking for something. It watched the fight before it and then dismissed it. His book was not here and he had no concern for Taweret’s well being. He knew she was well able to vanquish this group.

****

Illya didn’t pause a moment longer after his collision with the other blond. Instead, he ran into the corridor, vainly trying to decide which way Rayne had taken his partner. In instances like this, he dropped back to his instincts and turned left, barely keeping from tripping over the chains that still hung from his wrists. He stopped to gather them up and heard a low voice. He took a few steps and it grew louder. Illya rounded the corner and ran into the room. Napoleon, still unconscious, was stripped naked and chained, stomach down, on a stone pedestal. On his back had been placed the book Rayne was carrying with him. It was open and Rayne stood behind him, phallus posed. He’d pulled Napoleon’s head back by his hair and in his other hand he held the blade of an ornate knife to the agent’s throat.

The language that Rayne chanted in was odd, but vaguely familiar. Illya didn’t care; he knew was that Napoleon was a second away from having his throat slit. He charged, and Rayne jumped back, startled.

“No, I won’t let you stop me,” he shouted, beginning to draw the blade across Napoleon’s throat. Then, abruptly he stopped as the slender figure entered. The bird-like head regarded the scene before approaching Rayne. Illya looked from one to the other, unsure of his next move. His first instinct was to rescue Napoleon, but Rayne had dropped Napoleon’s head. Blood from the cut oozed down the front of the stone, but the agent wasn’t in immediate danger. The Russian turned his attention to the warlock as he raised his knife. Thoth, for Illya recognized the god instantly lifted a hand and the knife flew from Rayne’s grasp. Rayne took a step back and spread his hands out before him.

“Contain,” he shouted and immediately a bubble of something akin to translucent jelly surrounded the god. Easily, Thoth parted the substance and stepped through the barrier.

“This looks like my exit clue,” Rayne muttered, taking a step back as the god moved forward. He made a grab for the book and Thoth said something. Rayne was suddenly picked up by an invisible force and hurled from the room.

Illya watched as Thoth walked to Napoleon and lifted the book from its resting place. Now, barely conscious, Napoleon struggled, but the god placed a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. It said something in clicks and chirps and then looked at Illya and nodded.

Thoth gathered his book to his chest and walked gracefully from the room. “I can’t wait for the Old Man to read this report,” Illya muttered as he struggled to loosen Napoleon’s restraints. “Are you okay?’

“I’m naked,” Napoleon said, in a dazed voice, looking down at himself, then up at his partner.

“Yes, you are.”

“I have blood dribbling down my chest.” Napoleon’s voice was matter-of-fact.

“Yes, you do.” Illya tilted the man’s head back to look into his eyes. “I don’t know what he fed you, but what say we find you a hospital and get that taken care of? Napoleon, did he…did he…violate you?”

“I don’t think so. I feel like I’m punch drunk.”

Illya looked around and found the agent’s pants. “Let’s get these on you. There were some very young ladies in next door and I think the sight of you in all your manly wonder would be a bit too much for them.”

“I’d like to sleep now.”

“Stay with me for a bit longer, Napoleon. We need to get out of here first.” He hefted the agent to his feet and started back to where he’d left the rest of the people.

***
Spike wrapped his arms as far as he could around the demon’s neck and twisted with all his might. Then, abruptly, he was in a pile on the ground. “What the bloody hell?” He couldn’t believe the demon could move that fast. He sat up and looked at the other people in the room. They seemed as puzzled as he was. “Where did she go?”

“She vanished,” Buffy said, offering him a hand up. “One minute you were on her, then ‘poof’ she was gone. Will, did you do that?”

“As much as I’d like to take credit for it, I don’t think I’m quite up to that chapter. I couldn’t even get that containment spell to work on her”

“Dusted?” Buffy suggested.

Spike looked down around him. “Don’t see any.”

“I think Thoth found what he was looking for,” Illya said, from the doorway. He entered, supporting his half-naked partner. “I need to get him to the hospital. Raine did something to him.”

“Where’s Ethan?” Buffy asked. She offered her hand to the vampire. “Here, we’ll give you a hand. Spike?”

Illya studied the man who responded to the woman’s request. This was the fellow that kept chaining her up and professing love to her? He looked like he was one step away from death’s door. Illya had never seen someone beaten so badly and still standing. What could she see in him?

The vampire reached for Napoleon and then he backed off, his game face in place. “I’d better not, Slayer. That’s going to put me way too close to fresh blood.”

“What… what are you?” Illya asked, staring at the vampire. Instinctively, he put himself between his partner and whatever this Spike guy was. Spike took a step back and turned away. When he turned back, he was once again in control of his demon. The Watcher touched Spike on the shoulder and the vampire moved away.

Giles eased Napoleon from Illya’s grasp. “We’re…friends. Let’s leave it at that, shall we, at least until we can get some medical help for him? Buffy?”

The blond woman slipped into Illya’s place. “We’ll get him to the hospital. Jus follow us.”

“Could you get him out of here?” Spike protested as they passed him. “The smelling is making me crazy. It’s killing me.” His stomach was starting to gurgle and Willow hid her smile behind her hand.

“You’re already dead, Spike, you couldn’t possibly be anymore dead. Dusty, but not dead…” Buffy pointed out.

“What about him?” The Russian pointed at Spike. “Your friend looks like he could stand some attention too.”

“Spike? He’s fine. Well, as fine as he get. Giles, Ethan is down here somewhere.”

“Why doesn’t it surprise me that Ethan was behind this?” Giles took off his glasses and began to polish them “Well, I’m sure he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

“Thoth wasn’t happy with him. He threw him out of the room, but I didn’t see him when I came out.” Illya said, letting Buffy replace him on Napoleon other’s side.

“Just your luck, Watcher. Patron saint of librarians and you miss him,” Spike muttered. “I’ll go have a look see around. See if maybe Ethan fell down and hurt himself… maybe I could help him fall down and hurt himself.” The vampire pushed past them and disappeared into the dark.

“Be careful, Spike,” Buffy said and then looked at her companions. “What?”

The Watcher turned back to the Russian. “Thoth found his book then. I would have very much liked to have seen it.”

“Yes. He took it and then he left,” Illya said. “I’m assuming he took Taweret with him.”

“That would explain the poofiness,” Willow said. “Thoth got what he came for. Why hang around here?” Willow followed them out of the room as they started to make their way back to the surface.

“I don’t understand several things that happened today,” Illya finally admitted.

Giles patted him upon a shoulder. “That’s all right. There are many days I don’t understand either.”

****

Napoleon Solo shifted in the narrow hospital bed and smiled at his partner. His throat was itchy where the doctor had applied some liquid stitches, but otherwise he was fine. It was just a matter of hours before they would be back on a plane heading for New York. “Was there any sign at all of THRUSH?”

His partner ruefully shook his head. “Not that we could find. I went back through those corridors pretty thoroughly after we got you here. This is definitely one of the oddest places I’ve been in.”

“You know what they say about California being like a bowl of cereal and all. Full of fruits, flakes and nuts,” came a voice from the door. Buffy Summers stood there. “Can I come in?”

“How could I refuse such a request from such a lovely lady?” Napoleon turned the charm on full and the Russian sighed.

“Even on death’s door you would flirt with the devil, Napoleon.”

“Ah, go on…really?” Buffy smiled, straightening her skirt. “Me? Lovely? Really?”

“Would I lie to our rescuer?” Napoleon asked as she entered the room. Illya stood and offered the chair to Buffy, who smiled and lowered her eyes shyly. She wasn’t used to men acting so gentlemanly.
“Nah, you guys would have gotten out eventually. I…we just helped a little.”

“You have interesting friends, Ms. Summers. The man with the bumpy forehead…” Illya said. “Your boyfriend?”

“Spike? A lifetimes of no. He just…helps sometimes.”

“And chains you up at other times? Yet when he attacked Taweret, it seemed more than friendship that was driving him on.”

“Spike has…issues. What he really needs is an anger management class. On the other hand, he’s good in a fight and usually wins. Except when he fights me, of course.” she finished brightly.

“What exactly are you, Ms. Summers?”

Buffy folded her jacket neatly on her lap and regarded it for a long moment. “I’m an ordinary college student,” she said finally.

“Why did they call you Slayer?”

“It’s a nickname, you know, like Funky Girl or Wild Woman. In between trying to have some sort of social life and not getting kicked out of school, I sort of look for trouble. Well, actually it finds me, most of the time.”

“And Spike?”

“One of the aforementioned troubles.”

“Yet he helps you? And you seem to be obviously concerned for his welfare.” Illya settled upon one corner of Napoleon’s bed and studied the woman who was currently checking her hair for split ends and looking exceedingly shy. “And if I may say so, you seem more than just an ordinary college student. Most of the ones I know don’t go around yanking chains out of walls.”

“Confused much? Welcome to my world.” She laughed for a moment. “And you guys are more than you seem. Most people in Sunnydale don’t carry weapons. I saw your gun holsters when you were chained up. Are you some kind of police officers?”

There was a long pause as the agents exchanged glances with one another. Finally Napoleon spoke,
“We are international enforcement agents.”

“Get out! You’re spies? Like James Bond and those guys? I didn’t think you guys were real. Well, that’s a first for Sunnydale.” She started to rise. “I should let you get some rest. And I should to go check on Spike… see if he needs anything. Whenever he gets hurt, he gets really needy.” She slipped her jacket back on and turned to the door. Illya’s voice stopped her.

“Ms. Summers, if you should need anything, please do not hesitate to call upon us.” Illya handed her one of his cards. “We will always be in your debt.”

“Anything?

“Anything.”

She took a step towards the door and then paused. Over her shoulder, she asked, “You guys know anything about 19th century writers?”