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I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

 

Saturday night was date night, even among the undead and the supernatural. Lovecraft's was crowded with couples of every description. There were demons with demons, vampires with vampires, vampires with demons, an imp with a Chaos demon (not unlike a Chihuahua with a Great Dane), and a zombie with what may or may not have been a gargoyle. Gender wasn't an issue, species wasn't an issue. The only issue was mortals, since they had a bad tendency to squeal to the local authorities and that would have been the end of Lovecraft's, fine institution that it was. There was one mortal there that night, a guy with two leather vamp chicks who was living the heavy metal fantasy of his life. Not that it mattered. The guy couldn't have been labeled "Take Out" more clearly if he'd been jammed in an aluminum container with a clear plastic lid.

So it was Saturday night, and the usual Lovecraft's clientele was either assured of some preternatural nookie or trying to find it – and what was Spike doing? Sitting at the bar and trying very hard not to stare at the clock on the wall over the jukebox. Half an hour to go, half an hour and he would be walking towards the cemetery. He had an appointment that he was loath to break.

"Oh I just don't know where to begin/Though he says he'll wait forever/It's now or never/But she keeps him hanging on/The silly champion/She says she can't go home/Without a chaperone."

He was going to kill whoever had last programmed the jukebox.

"Another beer?" the lamia behind the bar asked.

"Yeah, that would be grand," he muttered and tried not to look at the clock again.

“And it's the damage that we do/And never know/It's the words that we don't say/That scare me so,” Elvis Costello continued to moan, “There's so many people to see/So many people you can check up on/And add to your collection/But they keep you hanging on/Until you're well hung/Your mouth is made up but your mind is undone.”

"So, you ain't been around much lately," the lamia said and pulled him another mug of the cheap domestic crap Lovecraft's had on tap.

"Been busy, doin' stuff, y'know," he said and accepted the fresh mug of weak, salty beer.

"What kind of stuff?"

"The usual, and a bit that isn't," he hedged and drank.

"I hear things, things that wouldn't be said if the sayer was sober. Perks of the profession, you know," she said and leaned forward across the bar, giving Spike a good view of her slightly scaly cleavage. "I hear that you're been hanging around with the Slayer. Wouldn't be a healthy thing for the Slayer to know about this place, now would it?"

If there hadn't been a yard-long stake resting near the cash register next to the sawed-off shotgun, Spike might have been inclined not to take this too seriously. But under the circumstances, he threw up his hands in poorly-feigned innocence.

"Puh-lease, the only place where I can let my fangs hang out? I don't think so. "

"Just asking. They say you've got a soft spot for the Slayer."

"I got a soft spot for the Playmate of the Month, an' you don't see me bringin' any bunnies in here now do you?"

"As long as we're clear."

"Clear as a Scientologist, babe."

“I don't want to hear it/'Cause I know what I've done.”

She nodded and started rubbing down the bar with a wet rag. Inside Spike's skull a little nervousness came out, looked around the mess of his brain and then retreated to its designated closet. As if the thought of breaking the sacred sanctity of Lovecraft's would ever cross his mind. Although the idea of Buffy raising some hell among the sappy eye-making demons and whatnot was kind of appealing right then. There was nothing quite as lonely as being alone when everyone else had thoughts of love or shagging. He drank some more beer and didn't look at the clock again. There was a good reason he didn't wear a wristwatch. He could obsess about time as easily as he could obsess about everything else. When he'd first read about the obsessive-compulsive personality a decade beforehand in a stolen copy of Newsweek, Spike had been surprised not to see his picture as an illustration.

Twenty-five minutes.

Spike was going to make this the longest beer in history.

Over in the back of the bar, something was laughing; happy laughter, not another being in pain laughter, and the sound ground against his nerves like sandpaper. The television over the bar was showing the tail end of the news, the filler. Human interest stories, heroic animals, strange trivia, and, apparently, pretty blondes.

"Give us the sound, would you, luv?' he asked and waved a hand at the lamia.

Smirking, she pushed the remote buttons and the bar across the bottom of the screen increased in a cascade of green light.

"Local officials are insisting that the outbreak of teen violence has nothing to do with the recent performance of teen pop sensation Citalia," the voice announced in a pseudo-grave tone while the picture went back to the pretty blonde with dark blue eyes and a heroic bustline. "Teen fans denied entrance into the pop star's concert in Los Angeles formed a mini-riot and overturned police cars."

To illustrate, the TV showed a cop cruiser burning merrily away like a backyard barbecue.

"I'd pop a cop for her," the worse for wear vamp on the other side of Spike commented. "Tasty morsel."

Spike didn't imagine for a moment that a vamp with eau du homeless was going to get within striking range of the teen beauty. The news flashed over to a crowd of kids, prepubescent most of them, screaming and carrying on in the street. A police cruiser rocked back and forth like a sailboat on a rough tide.

"That's nothin'. I was at CBGB the night the Clash came to town. These kids today know nothin' about causin' mayhem," Spike said and took a dismissive gulp of his beer. "Still, I wouldn't throw her outta my bed for leavin' communion crumbs."

The old-looking vamp next to him snickered between yellowed teeth.

"She's a little old for me. I like 'em young. Sweet meat you get, when they haven't been messed with yet."

"Virgins are over-rated," Spike announced and elicited a dirty chuckle from the lamia at the bar.

"You know what they say – it's like a balloon, one good prick and it's gone forever." Her grin grew even wider. "Doesn't even have to be a good prick."

"Took out an entire troop of Girl Scouts last summer. They was campin' at Big Bear Mountain. Tasted like cookies," the dirty vamp offered.

"Chocolate mint or shortbread?" the lamia asked.

Pedophilia had never been Spike's scene, so he flashed the dirty vamp an ugly look and moved a few inches further down the bar. The smell was as bad as the sentiment. Being dead was no excuse for poor personal hygiene, or fucking children. A vampire had to have at least a couple of rules. Keeping clean was one of Spike's oldest, while not feeding off children was a recent development. If the rules accumulated with age, given a hundred more years he'd be the same uptight prig as Angel. He drank some more beer to wash the idea out of his mouth, and watched the hands on the clock move with geological slowness.

The dirty vamp was staring at him. Spike stared at the television, which was now showing a beer commercial with half-naked women playing volleyball. It was one of his favorites.

"Don't give me that, looking at me like I'm dogshit."

"I wasn't lookin' at you, mate, wouldn't waste my time,"

"Think you're better than me?"

"No, I know I'm better than you. Now why don't you fuck off?" Spike asked in what he thought was a reasonable tone.

"No fighting," the lamia warned.

"Who's fightin'?" Spike asked as Dirty Vamp rushed at him, right into Spike's suddenly outstretched fist, managed to cold-cock himself and went down in a puddle of beer.

The vamp swore and struggled when Spike planted a foot square in the middle of his rag-covered torso.

"You see," Spike told the vamp on the floor, "It's no bloody fun when you're dealin' wiv' somethin' younger an' weaker than yourself."

"Get staked!" The vamp on the floor fang-faced and tried to snap at Spike's ankle.

"Listen, Sunshine, I been dead longer'n you were alive, an' it's generally not a real good idea to be fuckin' with the older ones, right?" Spike took another drink of beer and sighed. "That's free advice. Next time you're on a one-way ticket to the dustbin. Follow?"

The vamp scrambled out from underneath Spike's now-lifted foot and stood, pale-faced and smelly, glaring at Spike with yellow eyes.

"Fucking human toy," the dirty vamp sprayed saliva over most of the clean bar top as it lisped between its filthy fangs.

"Scuse me," Spike reached around the lamia, who was greedily watching the spectacle, and grabbed a bottle of cheap whiskey from the shelves behind. "You don't deserve the good stuff."

Moving fast, Spike brought the bottle down on Dirty Vamp's head, giving it the closest thing it might have had to a bath since it had been turned. The vamp blinked glass and booze at him, just in time to see Spike light a match from one of Lovecraft's free matchbooks. The vamp made a merry yellow flame as it shrieked and batted at itself. From the back of the room, Spike could hear a smattering of laughter, and a couple rounds of applause, which was quickly lost as the burning vamp ran for the door, trailing greasy black smoke and a foul smell.

"You got serious problems with your social skills," the lamia remarked.

"Nah, got serious problems with babyfuckers who don't wash," Spike said with the fervor of the born again and turned back to his beer.

The clock on the wall beckoned to him.

Fuck, five to twelve. He was late. Throwing a couple of bills down on the bar, he bolted for the door at a dead run.

Things change. Two months before he wouldn't have been running through the nighttime streets of Sunnydale trying to beat the clock. Two months before he was living and breathing on the ancient sands of Egypt while he and Buffy tried to beat an Egyptian vampire-goddess. Now he was trying to beat a curfew.

"Sorry. Sorry, got tied up," he blathered as he stumbled into the kitchen.

Buffy was already tricked out in her Slaygear, bag o'goodies over her shoulder and expensive little boots on her feet. She was frowning at him. That cute little line between her brows wasn't so cute all of a sudden.

"You're only ten minutes late, that's a new personal best for you," Buffy said and the frown turned into a lopsided little grin.

He realized she was teasing him, and it was still a new enough occurrence for Spike to be mildly surprised.

"Dawn's watching TV. I told her she could stay up until one. No later, if she tells you later she's lying."

"I heard that!" Dawn bellowed from the living room.

"I should be back at three," Buffy added as she moved towards the door. "Anything I should know about?"

"There's a vamp, didn't get his name, smells somethin' 'orrible, sportin' a somewhat charred overcoat. You might want to get him, he won't be movin' terrible fast."

"I'll remember that," she said and raised an eyebrow. "And you had something to do with it?"

"Me? Don't fret, it'll be a quiet night. Anythin' worth fightin' is out with their honeys."

She was halfway out the door before she stopped. "Spike, if anything—"

"Like a crazy goddess with bad fashion sense shows up? Yeah, I'll beep you. Happy huntin'."

He found Dawn sitting on the floor, watching TV and painting her toenails bilious green. Flopping on the sofa, Spike put his feet on the coffee table.

"So what's on the agenda, Niblet?"

"You missed the Behind the Music special on Citalia."

"My heart bleeds. What's so special about her anyway? Just another record company wench, if you ask me. Her and Britney an' Christina an' Mandy, they just grow 'em like tomatoes in Van Nuys or somethin'"

"And you know all their names because?" Dawn turned and gave him a superior look, flicking her hair back over her shoulder. "Fascinated by skinny blondes much?"

"I am a skinny blond," he protested lamely, knowing that he didn't have any clothes that the Little Bad could blackmail out of him. "An' a vampire's got to keep up w'the times or he goes all wiggy and Bram Stoker."

Leaping up from the floor, Dawn padded over to the sofa on her green-tipped feet.

"And you'd rather be out doing vampire things tonight instead of being here with me. Babysitting," she frowned a very Buffy-like frown.

"Pure torture this is," he agreed. "Now be a good little corpuscle and get Uncle Spike one of them blood bags out of the 'fridge."

****

Life, Buffy thought to herself, was pretty weird. Even by her standards. It took some pinching to believe that she was going out on patrol while Spike was Dawn-sitting. Not that she had a lot of choices in the matter. No one but Spike had the slightest chance of standing up to Glory. Besides, ever since her mother had died, Spike had been flitting in the background, watching Dawn, appearing after dark with groceries, changing the oil in the Jeep, and pretty much moving into the basement. When had that happened? She still wasn't sure. It seemed that one day there were Spike clothes hanging on a pole and the fold-out sofa was pulled out and made up. If any of her friends knew, they hadn't said anything. There had been no late-night forays into her bedroom, which was just as well. She hadn't exactly been in the mood.

And there had been Angel. Dark and sweet and confusing. Flirting with evil and evil was batting its eyelashes right back, according to Cordy, but he'd been the same big solid wall she remembered when he came to Sunnydale for the funeral. So many things had changed – she almost wished she could freeze herself in time like him. Eternal guilt might be a fair trade for knowing what to expect.

On the corner of Main and Church, Buffy smelled something nasty. A dark shape was headed down Main, limping somewhat. A definite eau du barbecue was wafting from it. Her Slayer Sense pinged and she moved closer.

Buffy was in the mood for violence. She'd been tired, depressed, and anticipating Glory around every corner. Under the circumstances, killing bad things was more de-stressing than bubble bath. At least Dawn wouldn't be demanding her turn. "Hey, stinky-pants!" she called out as she approached.

The vampire – there was no doubt in her mind that it was one – turned and glared at her, then fright-faced to give the glare more force. "You're out too late, little girl," he snarled.

She waved a hand in front of her face as if warding off the smell. "Listen, did you even bathe before you were turned? 'Cause if you're worried about the whole running water thing, I can assure you –"

The vamp lunged at her. Guess he wasn't interested in proper hygiene. Right foot in the stomach, sending him staggering back. Left uppercut, right roundhouse. Twist and leap and turn; he's too tall to flip with an elbow around his neck, so another flurry of punches, kick and kick again, once more for good luck, okay twice more. The vamp was on the ground, moaning and clutching at some body part she'd broken, and he was totally disappointing, had no play value whatsoever.

Yawning, Buffy rummaged in her bag for a stake. She didn't want to kneel on the dirty pavement in her pink silk shantung capri pants, so she just threw it downwards and stood back as Mr. Smelly exploded into equally smelly dust.

She was unhappy to find that she'd thrown the stake hard enough to blunt the tip on the underlying concrete.

****

"Hey guys, sorry I'm late," Buffy said and dropped her weapons bag on the kitchen table.

When there was no response, she dashed to the living room, afraid of what she would find. Had Glory gotten in? Was Spike dead-er and Dawn gone? Was there a mass of blood all over the sofa and the carpet was there—

There was Spike sleeping on the sofa with his head thrown back, snoring softly, while Dawn had her head pillowed in his lap, snoring slightly more loudly.

There was an empty ice cream carton weeping condensation onto the coffee table with two spoons sticking out of it, an empty blood bag, an empty beer bottle, and cigarette butts in a saucer. Buffy was going to have to kick his ass about smoking around Dawn. The TV was tuned to the Sci Fi channel and Buffy recognized the weird curly-haired dude from Doctor Who. It seemed that they had a good old time while Buffy was out keeping Sunnydale safe from the evil undead. Now the evil undead was sleeping on her sofa. She tiptoed over and poked Spike in the chest.

"Hey, lame babysitter, wake up," she hissed.

"No I didn't I—" Spike muttered and his eyes flicked open.

It was funny how she'd never realized how blue his eyes were before he kissed her that first time. He focused in on her and blinked.

"Whoa. How'd it go?"

"I found Stinky and dusted him."

"Good job that," he said in a vague way, "'s been quiet here. Watched Bordello of Blood and the Bitty one here fagged out halfway through. 'Spect we should put her to bed."

"Hmmm." Buffy agreed and sat down on the coffee table, so they were knee to knee, Dawn snoring against Spike's leg.

"You have that look – like you're goin' to say somethin' that's gonna' make me feel really small," Spike said and ruined his sarcastic delivery by yawning.

"I realized that you've been underfoot ever since Mom died. You're doing this, why?"

"If you're lookin' for some kinda confession, you're talkin' to the wrong vamp," he said, and yawned again.

"And selfless deeds are suddenly a Spike thing?"

"Actually, I'm gonna violate your sister in every way imaginable an' drain her dry." Spike rubbed his eyes and looked like he was choking back yet another yawn. "Especially since she keeps getting' heavier."

"I am not fat." Dawn opened one eye and looked up at them.

"Keep eatin' ice cream like that an'you will be."

"You two just practice this comedy routine when I'm not around, right? Dawn, you need to go to bed."

"You're no fun anymore," Dawn complained and sat up, "You're all bossy and do-this-or-else-woman."

"Go to bed or else you're grounded."

"See what I mean?" Dawn implored Spike.

"Know what they say about absolute power bein' absolutely corruptin'."

"Totally," Dawn agreed and began stomping up the stairs.

With a sigh, Slayer and vampire followed, just to make sure that the thirteen-year-old went to bed and stayed there.

Dawn's door shut tightly behind, Buffy turned and considered Spike, as he was standing in the hallway with his hands in his jeans pockets looking like a coat rack.

"'Right then, just off to my kip," he muttered and made for the stairs.

"Spike," she said and he stopped and turned to face her. "I can't believe that you're being helpful."

"Well, no good deed goes unpunished, right?" he said and smirked a Spikey smirk that somehow didn't quite make it to his eyes.

"Up for a little punishment?" Buffy asked, half shocked at the words as they fell from her mouth.

He didn't need an engraved invitation. Spike's mouth was cold against hers tasting, bizarrely, like ice cream, and his fingers twined in her hair, making her chest hurt in the familiar way and the rest of her body buzz like a fluorescent light. Her back was against the linen closet and his leg was between hers, pressing up into her crotch, where she was melting. Tame Spike on the sofa with Dawn was not the Spike now devouring her mouth there in the upstairs hallway, his fingernails raking deliciously against her scalp and pressing her up against the door, drawing the breath out of her lungs.

"Nurmf," was all she could say and it mostly came from her nose.

Correctly translating her statement as "God that feels good, and don't you think we should move out of the hallway," Spike began to back towards Buffy's room, pulling her along with one arm around her waist and the other holding her head so they could shuffle like mutant Siamese Twins joined at the mouth. Once the door was closed behind there was a flurry of fingers and fastenings, clothes dropping to the floor like old newspapers. Shoes banged off walls, and Buffy forgot Dawn for a moment when Spike's cold hands clutched her breasts. He turned his face to her throat and mumbled something she couldn't understand. They spilled onto the bed, tangled together like clothes fresh from tumble dry. "Now," she said.

"Bless you," he said sincerely and shoved into her.

It had been long enough that it was almost uncomfortable, but that was lost under a wave of sensation, like champagne on New Year's running throughout her body, everywhere his hands touched. "… Missed you…" she thought she heard Spike say as her head thrashed from side to side, trying to process the nerve shocks running through her.

Spike's hand covered her mouth, and she realized that she'd been moaning, was still moaning into his cool dry palm. His other hand continued to stroke and squeeze her breasts.

Her orgasm was like plunging into an icy ocean, a shocking overwhelming feeling that washed away everything but the feeling of his skin on hers, and inside her. Strange how his flesh warmed from contact with hers, not to 98.5, but close enough for comfort. She licked the skin on the palm of his hand, tasted ashes, tasted ice cream and her own skin. Making a noise in his throat, he pulled the hand away from her mouth so he could brace himself on both hands, over her, the light picking out the sharp edges of muscle and bone on his body. She hooked her ankles tighter around his narrow hips and pulled him closer until he was moving easily inside her soaking wet pussy, deep enough to make her catch her breath. Shifting somewhat, he angled himself so he was pushing in deeper, and still managed to skin her clit on the downstroke.

There was another climax building inside her, thrumming like electricity under her belly, under her skin. She passed her hands over the hard surfaces of his muscles, through the crunchy-soft parts of his hair, let him gnaw on her fingers. She licked his ear, tried his earlobe, tasting shampoo and ashes. He made a not-word sound in his throat when she ran her fingernails down his spine and over his ass. Vampire skin, perfect, flawless vampire skin. It was enough to make anybody think about changing teams.

Buffy's sweat was making both of them slick and slippery. Spike's head was tilted back now, silently howling at the invisible moon, and she could only reach his collarbone with her teeth. She bit hard, wanting to see how long he'd stay marked, and he groaned and came with a sudden cool rush.

After a not unflattering pause during which Spike collapsed onto her, then lifted off enough to shake his head as if he were trying to wake himself, he crawled down her body and buried his face between her legs. Because he wasn't human, Buffy didn't worry about crushing his head like a nutcracker. She did throw her arms up to hang on to the white-painted metal bars of the headboard, to keep herself from levitating off of the bed. Hearing Spike talk could be annoying, but the other things he could do with his mouth nearly compensated. His tongue teased her clit while his fingers slid over her backside like silk ribbons, opening her, slipping inside of her.

It didn't matter that he couldn't breathe; she was doing enough for both of them, and still she couldn't get enough air. She opened her eyes in the darkness and saw red and black spots as she came.

Afterwards, Spike lay stiffly beside her, like one of the Anne Rice vampires who turned back into a corpse during the day. Sex With Spike: The Sequel had sandblasted Buffy's brain, and all she wanted to do was go to sleep. With Spike making like rigor mortis next to her, that wasn't an option. He was sulking or plotting something- neither alternative was good. After a dozen or so minutes of uncomfortable stiffness alongside her, Buffy flounced onto her elbow. Spike's eyes barely flicked over at her.

"What?" she asked, trying not to sound annoyed and not managing it in the least.

"What yourself."

"You, being all sulky guy. If you tell me why you're sulking, maybe we can just fight and get it over with so I can get some sleep."

"I'm a fuckin' housewife, right?" he asked with controlled fury. "I'll be makin' meatloaf an' wearin' pearls an' heels while I'm runnin' the Hoover. William the Bloody of international infamy is helpin' a teenage nit-wit wiv' her homework an' takin' out the garbage."

"If you don't want to be here, if you don't want to help, fine. This isn't cool vampire stuff, helping Dawn with her homework, taking out the garbage and all that other stuff that humans have to do."

Still making like a shop mannequin, Spike sighed like an annoyed cat – a big and dangerous cat. Not a lion or a tiger, maybe a puma. What he looked like, however, was an angry albino ferret.

"That's not it."

"Is this because we didn't – you know – before this?"

"'You know'? You can't even say it, can you? Havin' sex, doin' the nasty, horizontal slamdance, shaggin', screwin', fornicatin', humpin' and bumpin' – fuck-ing. 'You know'?"

The air was burning her eyes.

"What the hell do you want, anyway?"

He might have said something under his breath, but Buffy didn't think she wanted him to repeat it, so she settled for rubbing her burning eyes and giving him a bleary glare.

"I want you to shut your yap an' go to sleep," he finally said and turned over in the bed, giving her a view of his back with an air of finality in every tense muscle.

"Fine," she snorted and burrowed down into the covers.

The problem with sleeping with vampires is that they always had cold feet and Spike seemed determined to brush her legs with his icy toes whenever possible. He also snored. Not loud enough to be impressive, but loud enough and unfamiliar enough to set her teeth on edge. It seemed that Buffy had barely closed her eyes when the clock radio went off.

“Don't believe in fear/Don't believe in faith/Don't believe in anything/That you can't break /You stupid girl/You stupid girl/All you had you wasted,” plaintive tones rolled through the slowly brightening room.

Oh fuck, she thought, I got no sleep at all.

But there was a meeting with the lawyer at eight and papers that had to be signed, so all she could do was crawl out of bed and shut off the alarm while Spike continued to sleep.

****

The lawyer thing dragged on longer than she could have thought possible. Buffy signed papers, looked at other papers, choked back a million yawns, and listened to the woman talk. By the time she was finally through, Buffy knew that between her mother's life insurance policy, what her father was still paying for child support for Dawn, and her mother's half-ownership of the gallery, there weren't food stamps in her future. There also wasn't a whole Dolce and Gabbana wardrobe for each season, but it looked like they wouldn't have to sell the house until Dawn wanted to go to college. Provided that Dad didn't decide that Dawn would be better off with him. It was unclear to her whether the monks' spell extended to Dad. If it did and he wanted her back, that was a problem in the making. Buffy really couldn't leave Sunnydale unless she quit being the Slayer, and Dawn wouldn't be safe in LA with their father unless Buffy was there as well. Of course, if Glory was over and done with, Dawn could go to Moscow if she wanted. Given her recent attitude, Buffy might just drop-kick her there.

Not that Buffy blamed Dawn for being Miss Negativity 2001. With the knowledge that Dawn was the Key, the death of their mother, and the lingering threat of Glory overshadowing everything, Buffy was pretty much in the Negative Zone herself. And what was bugging Spike, anyway?

It was after three by the time she dragged herself into the Magic Shop. There were only a few customers evident, and Willow, Anya, and Xander were all hanging around the research table, trying not to look like they were goofing off.

"Hey Buff, what's with the suitage?" Xander asked. "Hunting accountant vampires or something?"

"It's not a suit, it's a dress with a jacket, and it's very nice," Anya corrected her boyfriend. "But I would have gotten it in peach."

"Navy is more suit-y," Willow offered and took a heavy slug of Snapple. "Very grownup and professionalish."

"I was at the lawyer's office today, sorting out stuff with Mom's estate."

A guilty look was passed around the table.

"You know why the vampire didn't bite the lawyer?" Xander asked. "Professional courtesy."

"I thought it was a shark not biting a lawyer."

"I changed it, Will, to fit the occasion." Xander glanced over at Buffy. "It wasn't very funny in version shark point one either."

"I'm sure it was plenty funny. I'm just too beat to giggle. I got, like, no sleep last night. Between Dawn and Slayage, the old pony keg of busy was pretty much full. What is it with vampires blowing off personal hygiene basics lately? I dusted another stinky one last night."

Taking off her jacket, Buffy dropped it on the table and rummaged around in Giles' mini-fridge for a Diet Coke.

Willow shrugged, "I don't know. I don't remember vampires being really smelly before."

"Angel didn't smell bad and neither does Spike," Buffy said and sipped at the painfully, deliciously cold Coke. "Kinda ashy, kinda beery, and kinda leathery, but not bad."

"TMI," Xander said and cleared his throat. "I don't want to be that close to Dead Boy ever again. Just to switch the subject really quickly and awkwardly, I got some pick-up work getting the University Auditorium ready for the Citalia concert this weekend. I might even be able to get Dawn an autograph."

"That should make Dawn happy," Willow piped up. "She's really into Citalia."

"At least she's out of her Hanson stage. I still hear that mmmbop song when I'm having nightmares about being eaten alive by huge demons with teeth and tentacles."

"I just have nightmares about Hanson," Xander confessed. "All those teeth."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Dawn practically has Citalia wallpaper in her bedroom. I actually got her tickets to the concert. I think it might cheer her up."

"Who is this Citalia person anyway? Is this some human thing that I'm supposed to know about and Xander conveniently forgot to tell me?" Anya asked.

"Citalia is a pop star. Like Britney Spears or Christina whatshername. Blonde fluffy hair, really skimpy outfits and all the little girls and boys seem to like her," Buffy explained.

Pulling her backpack out from underneath the table, Willow produced the latest issue of People magazine with Citalia on the cover.

"My mother has a subscription, for pop psychology research," Willow lied and pinked around the face.

"So that's her?" Anya asked, looking down at the slim blonde with her mane of ringlets and her outfit that seemed to be nothing more than spangles glued onto her body. "She's hardly wearing any clothes."

"I think that's one of the reasons the little boys like her," Buffy said and smiled.

"And she sings?" Anya continued.

"In theory, I guess. She's made millions of dollars in CD sales and concerts this year?" Willow wondered aloud. "The songs aren't all that interesting. Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, and boy dumps girl for another girl. Pretty basic and hetero-centric cliché, really."

"You mean that if Citalia bares her body and sings inane songs about love and betrayal, she makes millions of dollars?"

"That's pretty much the gist of it," Willow said with her usual lemon-twist wryness.

"Well," Anya said, "I could do that."

"Except for the part where you, you know, sing," Xander pointed out.

Anya smacked his arm, then caressed it in a way that made Buffy look elsewhere. "Silly, don't you know that part's all done in the studio? And I can sing, too." To prove it, she stood straight, took a deep breath that captured Xander's entire attention, and, eyes heavenward, began warbling.

After a moment, Willow nudged Buffy's elbow. "Is that … Happy Birthday?"

"In the key of Q," Buffy stage-whispered back.

Just then Giles charged out of the storeroom, brandishing a truly wicked-looking cuirass with a chased silver handle. "Back to Hell, you –!"

Anya stopped singing, and pouted.

Giles was still holding his weapon poised over his shoulder, like a batter waiting for a curveball. "Gee, Giles," Buffy said, hoping to de-escalate the situation, "all you need is an eyepatch and a peg leg, and you'd be a nifty pirate."

With evident reluctance, Giles lowered the cuirass. "What on earth were you doing?"

"I was singing."

Everyone else looked away.

"And have you always been able to raise the dead with your voice?"

"Actually –"

"I implore you not to tell me. Aren't there any customers you can lecture on the benefits of capitalism?" Giles took a seat and propped the weapon against the table.

Buffy bit her lower lip and tried not to grin as Anya stomped off to accost some customers. Xander followed, with one last look towards Buffy, and Willow seemed engrossed in her latest spellbook, special-ordered through BookFinder.com.

"You look very – mature today," Giles noted.

"Lawyer stuff. Estate stuff. Boring."

"I would think that you would welcome a little boredom now and again."

"Boredom as in peaceful is good, boredom as in signing papers and looking at numbers is not good."

"No, I suppose it isn't. Truth to be told, I find the bookkeeping aspect of the shop nothing short of stultifying. I also can't discern why we always have an over-abundance of dried chicken's feet. I never order any, but there always seem to be more in the store-room."

"Maybe there's a multiplying chicken foot spell going on in there. I'm having the same problem with laundry. I think it's actually breeding in the hamper."

"Other than the laundry, how are you doing?" Giles asked in his delicately probing around the subject of death voice.

"I'm sad, Dawn's sad, it's sad." Buffy shrugged. "Little parts of life go back to normal, but Mom's still dead."

The little parts of life included boinking one of the evil undead, but that was something that Giles was better off not knowing.

"I kinda need an adult opinion here," Buffy said and sat down at the table next to Giles. "Dawn is really into Citalia and since Citalia is going to be in concert at the university, I got two tickets. She's not going to want me to go with her. She'd probably rather go with one of her friends. Is thirteen old enough to go to a concert alone?"

"I don't know. What kind of audience does this Citalia draw?"

"Nothing really scary, teenyboppers mostly, but there was a riot in LA at her last concert and I don't want Dawnie in a riot."

"I was going to Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Badfinger concerts when I was her age. Of course my parents never knew."

"But you were all tough Ripper guy, which Dawn isn't."

"I think you just answered your own question."

"This responsible adult stuff really sucks."

"Yes, it does."

****

"I need a favor," Buffy asked, and the basement door slammed down behind her.

Spike looked up from the copy of Gormenghast he was reading and took in the sight of Buffy in a blue dress, looking slightly embarrassed. His mouth went dry and he closed the book – he'd read it before, anyway.

"'Xpect it's not sexual either."

"Not exactly."

This was slightly interesting.

"And?"

"Dawn's favorite pop star is going to be giving a concert at the University this weekend. I got a pair of tickets since it might cheer her up if she went. She won't want me to go to chaperone, but she might not mind it so much if you do. You know, you being all older than her and dead besides."

"Citalia? Is that the ungodly pop pap the Niblet's always playin' in her bedroom with the door shut?"

"But you're cool leather coat guy Spike and all her friends will be so impressed that you're taking her. Might get her some social points or something. What you really need to do is keep an eye out for Glory and make sure that Dawn doesn't do anything that I'll have to yell at her for."

Buffy batted her eyelashes at him, which was never a good sign.

"And you will be?"

"Outside, hiding. Pretending that I'm not spying on her."

"So where's the sex bit come in?" he asked, suspicious.

"Accomplish this task and you will be suitably rewarded," she said and plopped down on the sofa next to him with another eyelash flutter.

"An' here I was thinkin' that you were pimpin' the Niblet out to me."

He could taste sugar on her lips over the waxy fruit of her lipstick. It was a Buffy-like taste, a little sweet and a little artificial over the human woman underneath. Her fingers stroked the front of his shirt as though it was made of silk rather than cotton. So she was bribing him with sex to take her bloody little sister to a pop concert. Actually, that was kind of cute. But the way that she drove her tongue into his mouth was far from cute. She was making the hairs on his arms stand at attention and salute along with his cock.

"So where would little sister be while we're snoggin' here an' now?" he asked, mumbling straight into her lips.

She slid her head around like a swan and her hot tongue touched his ear.

"She's at Willow and Tara's. I kinda needed a night off," she said in a voice that was something like a purr.

"Night on, more like."

"Mmm," she agreed and her tongue began circling his ear, making him shiver.

Spike wasn't sure what material the dress was made of, but it had heated with her body and was thin enough that he could feel the hard points of her nipples when he closed his hands around her breasts. Tightening her grip around his shoulders, she pressed up against him, arching her back and sighing. His fingers found the zip at the back of her dress and tugged it down until he had skin against his hands. With a quick wiggle, she was straddling his lap, her dress hiked up around her hips while she sucked his tongue into her mouth. It was all he could do to put his hands on the warm, round globes of her ass and feel the heat of her skin against the coolness of his own undead hands.

No knickers? The girl had obviously had a plan before coming downstairs. He couldn't help but smile.

Although he knew he had to be flattering himself, Spike liked to think that he was responsible for Buffy's acknowledgement of her erotic nature. Hadn't she ridden him like a pony when they were both mortals in Egypt? Hadn't she blown him like a pro? Hadn't she tied him up with his own belt and cracked his ass on a couple of occasions? Yeah, he was flattering himself, but if he didn't who would? Her little hands were hot on his face, her hotter mouth danced across his face, stopping long enough to run her tongue over the whiter than white scar through his eyebrow – and for a second he could smell the incense in the temple.

Impatient, he pulled the dress up over her head until her flushed face and tousled hair was obliterated by the dark blue dress for a moment and then she emerged, more tousled and flushed than before, the blush extending down over her breasts. He tossed the dress aside and ran his hands over her skin where pink faded to creamy peach.

"No knickers, no brassiere? I'm startin' to think that you came down here to seduce me."

"Me? Seduce you?" she asked, pretending annoyance.

"A'course, you'd never do a thing like that, 'cos you're all uptight an'—"

She silenced him by biting his lips, not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to remind him that she could. It only took Spike a moment to flip her over onto the sofa on her back while she gave a delighted whoop. Her arms and legs were pale gold against the black of his clothes and the dark brown of the sofa and her nakedness next to his clothes was more decadent than usual.

"I'm not uptight," she gasped and spit hair out of her mouth.

Nuzzling her neck, he tasted her skin, right where the pulse throbbed underneath. A need to pierce and suck crashed into his mind, but she'd need more time for that. He struggled out of his t-shirt with near-desperation, then crashed down on her like a rockfall. He could hear the breath rush out of her lungs and feel her rise against him, conforming herself to his body. Fumbling with his jeans, he managed to push them down past his thighs, close enough for government work.

"Talk dirty to me," she whispered.

Spike smirked. She must be feeling very adventurous indeed.

He gave her a human-teeth nip on the stomach. "Dirty how, luv? Baby, you feel so good, I can't wait to get inside you," he crooned, and Buffy gasped. Spike slid two long cool fingers inside her and stroked her in time with his words. She was wetter than Seattle and twice as hot.

"I'm not sure that's dirty enough." He sucked at a nipple, hard enough to make her cry out. "I'm goin' to fuck you through the floor," he realized he was growling now, and that was very good; he felt her muscles clench around his curving fingers. "I'm goin' to put my dick anywhere I want and you're goin' to beg me for it, 'cause you love to fuck me."

Moaning, she tossed her head against the nubby fabric of the sofa, her hair sticking to the upholstery and fanning out around her head like a sunburst. Spike reached with his free hand to tap her lightly on the cheek, not quite a slap but enough to make Buffy's eyes spring open. "I said, you're goin' to beg me for it."

The befuddled lust on her face gave way to defiance. "Think you can make me?"

"Oh, I know I can." His fingers were still pumping inside her and he could tell from the way that she was gasping for breath there were only a few moments before she'd finally come.

"No you can't, you—"

"Yes, I can."

Buffy really should have known better than to play sex chicken with him, Spike thought to himself. Allowing himself a satisfied smirk, he removed his fingers from her body, zipped up his pants and went to the other side of the basement, leaving her naked and stunned on the sofa. Rummaging around in the pile of his things on the freezer, he found his pack of cigarettes and lit one, leaning against the humming deep freeze.

"Spike?" she asked, in a confused tone and half sat up on the sofa.

"Right here," he said and exhaled smoke.

"Come back," she said and it was almost a whine.

"Doesn't sound like beggin' to me, sweetness."

"That is so wrong," she hissed and flopped back into the cushions.

"I can stand here all night, and you can just stay there thinkin' about how good you'd feel if you was to just give in and ask for it."

"Oh you wonderful thing, you. You're the Biggest of the Big Bads and you turn me into the nympho hose-beast that I really am," she said with the non-existent enthusiasm of someone reciting her telephone number.

Spike didn't know if he should laugh or groan in pain.

"You can do better than that," he teased.

Raising herself up on her elbows, Buffy glared across the basement at him.

"Get your skinny, undead ass over here and fuck me."

This time, Spike did laugh, and did throw his cigarette onto the floor, crushing it out with the toe of his boot. "You're got a gift for the erotic gab, my dear, ever think of switchin' to phone sex as a career?"

"Now!"

Kicking off his boots, Spike crossed back to the sofa and Buffy attacked the buttons of his fly like a crazy woman, peeling down his jeans in record time and pushing him back on the sofa. Before he could protest, she had straddled his lap and guided his cock right into the hot depths of her until all he could do was hiss with delight.

"Now you beg," she instructed and started to move over him.

Slayer muscles were a wonderful thing, he thought as he buried his face between her breasts. She was moving up and down on him with the ease of a cork on the water. She thought she could make him beg? Not that he could, since talking with one's mouth full of nipple wasn't terribly polite. God, she could have killed him if he hadn't been dead already.

They rocked back and forth on the couch, her back flexing underneath his hands. He could feel every hard muscle of her, including the hot tight ones coiled around his cock. It made the secret softness of her breasts even more appealing. Buffy was setting the pace now; Spike was content to play recreational vehicle this time. He bit at her breasts with dull teeth and she shuddered, her head thrown back so far that he could feel her hair brush his hands even as they moved downwards.

She came with a strangled cry that reminded him of how she sounded when punched in the stomach. He hadn't the patience to wait and followed right after. With Dawn out of the way at Willow's, there'd be many encores, he reminded himself just before the orgasm took over, exploding white and gold in his dazed vision, burning through his brain like a forest fire.

Buffy must have seen a hint of his reaction on his stupefied face. "Tell me you wouldn't beg for that," she teased, her legs still clutching his hips and her hands braced on his shoulders.

"Baby, right now I'd grovel on me hands and knees on national television." She twitched a little around him, and it was easy enough to say with her breasts still inches from his face.

"Yeah, I know what you-"

The sudden groan from the stairs made Buffy whip her head around, and Spike wriggled so that he could get a view past her body.

Anya. And, standing a few steps above her, the likely source of the noise, that useless git Xander.

As among the three humans, it was a toss-up as to whose eyes were closer to popping from their sockets.

"Do you mind?" Spike asked, since no one else seemed to remember that man is the only animal possessed of language. "Publicize your sex life if you want, but some of us prefer a bit o' privacy, right?" Buffy pulled a sheet from somewhere underneath them, and wrapped herself in it. He could hear her grinding her teeth.

Xander made a sound like a punctured basketball. Anya grabbed his arm. "Yes, I think we should go have sex now." Spike thought she meant it and wasn't just trying to minimize the embarrassment of the situation, since Anya could no more do that than she could pee standing up. Probably she'd just been staring as a means to gather useful information.

"You … he…" Xander raised a shaking hand to point at them. And then he was stumbling down past Anya, heedless of how she lost her balance for a moment and nearly plummeted down on top of him. He reached the couch just as Buffy managed to pull away, the sheet wrapped around her.

"Oh wrong. This is totally and completely wrong!" Xander gasped.

"I thought vampires would be far more oral—" Anya added.

Xander's first swing was wild, as were his second and third. Spike, standing now because there seemed to be no good alternative, grabbed him by the neck and held him off of the ground. The boy's hands went to his neck, trying to pry Spike loose. He could hear Buffy moving beside him and he held out his free hand to stop her.

"'S all right, I'll let him go. I ain't killin' anyone while I'm naked."

Xander froze, shot a quick glance downward to Spike's crotch, did some mental calculations involving a ruler, then resolutely brought his eyes forward.

Spike smirked.

"Though it's a good way to avoid ruinin' leather." He let Xander drop; as the boy staggered back, he took the opportunity to grab his jeans and step into them. Just in case killing became an option.

"Xander …" Buffy's voice was conciliatory. Spike wanted to be angry, but the fact of the matter was he'd always known that he'd go over with her friends worse than bulimia. There were no after-school specials to help youngsters cope with a friend shagging a vampire, he strongly suspected.

The sound of her voice was all Xander needed to turn and run, pushing past Anya, who shot Buffy a hurt look. "Dawn slipped on an ice cube and broke something in her arm. She's in the hospital," Anya rattled out like quarters from a Vegas slot machine, then rushed up the stairs after her lover.

****

Buffy wrapped her arms more closely around herself. Hospitals – she'd had more than enough hospital smell and sound, not to mention food, to last through her next few incarnations. At least the last time she'd been waiting outside the emergency room she'd been wearing panties. Dawn was still being evaluated, whatever that meant, and almost the whole hallway was filled with the gang. Tara and Willow were looking guilty and stricken, holding hands and whispering between themselves, Anya was looking through a battered copy of the Economist, and Xander stood next to her emitting vibes bad enough to be sensed in Ohio. Spike had been lounging against the wall picking at his nail polish before disappearing on a mysterious Spike errand. With a physical pang not unlike a punch to the gut, Buffy missed her mother.

The doctor, a young Asian man barely taller than Buffy herself, stepped out of the examination room and looked around the hallway.

"Family?" he asked, expressing a little doubt as to the motley collection of young people in the hallway. He must have been looking for a grown-up.

"She's my sister," Buffy said and stepped forward.

Inside the exam room, Dawn was sitting up on the gurney with a line of fine stitches across her forehead, a deepening bruise on her chin, and a technician was wrapping wet purple plastic mesh around her arm.

"-And you're going to have a pretty purple cast. The new casts are a lot more fun than plain old plaster of Paris," the technician said in the over-bright voice people reserve for dim children.

"It was an accident!" Dawn snapped as though Buffy had accused her of deliberately hurting herself. "I was just goofing around and I fell!"

"The radius in her left arm is broken and she bashed her face up a little when she fell," the doctor explained, "Nothing serious or complicated, but I want to keep her overnight for observation. With a head wound like that there's always a possibility of concussion. And we want to have the staff orthopedist take a look at her arm in the morning."

"What happened?" Buffy asked and went over to hold her sister's good hand.

"We were making strawberry smoothies. I dropped the ice cube tray on the floor and I slipped on one of the ice cubes," Dawn said from her tight white face. "It isn't Willow or Tara's fault. I just fell."

Buffy felt like there was an invisible garrote around her neck. It was her fault that Dawn was hurt. She shouldn't have sent her off to Willow and Tara's like that. Specifically, she shouldn't have sent Dawn off so she could have sex with Spike. Now Dawn was hurt because of her selfishness.

"You're going to be fine," Buffy said and squeezed Dawn's hand.

"No I'm not, I'm going to have a scar on my head and I'm going to look like a zombie or something! Jamie Byrne is never going to talk to me again because I'll be ugly."

"Dawnie, those are little tiny baby stitches and everybody know that makes the scar smaller. And if it still shows, a little cover stick and no one will ever see it."

"Really?" Dawn hiccuped.

"I promise, and I do know scars."

Dawn snatched her good hand free from Buffy and wiped at her nose.

"This day has totally sucked. Tracy was going to try to get tickets for the Citalia concert Friday night and they were sold out. Now I've got a stupid broken arm and a queer purple cast."

The technician looked up from his wrapping job and sniffed.

"Well, I just happen to know that there are a couple of tickets with your name on them at the Box Office and Spike said that he wanted to take you. Provided that the doctor says you can go."

"Spike wanted to take me?" Dawn's face lit up for a second, and then her eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Do you think I'm that stupid? He doesn't want to take me to a concert. You, he'd take to Australia and back in full sunlight, crawling on broken glass and holy water. You're making him do it."

"And I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't been for you meddling kids and your stupid dog."

"Okay, I'll go with Spike to the concert," Dawn agreed in the most ungracious way possible.

"If you stay here and behave yourself tonight."

"I'm not a baby," Dawn said with teenaged contempt and jerked her hand away from Buffy's.

The momentary sisterly warmth was gone like a snowball in a blast furnace, melted with the heat of Dawn's hormone hell. Buffy's toenails wanted to curl into her toes. That was the tone reserved for Moms. She'd used it on her mom and she'd heard Dawn use it on her as well.

"Dawn, you have to stay, the doctors want to keep an eye on you and want you to see the orthodontist tomorrow."

"Orthodontist! That's for teeth. Orthopedist, that's bones. God, you're so stupid," Dawn sneered.

That was the proverbial it. Buffy's tear ducts flooded like a canyon in a sudden downpour and tears started to pour down her cheeks. Dawn reddened and looked away.

"Get over yourself," Dawn said and twitched her mouth into an unpleasant sourness. "You sit here and act all sorry but you're just glad that I won't be coming home tonight because you get to spend the whole night bumping fuzzies with your skanky new boyfriend."

"He's not my boyfriend." Buffy said and pushed the tears off her face, painfully aware of her pantyless state.

"You like 'undead fuck-toy' better?"

"Buffy?" Giles' calm and reasonable adult voice cut through the red haze that was beginning to surround Buffy.

"Giles," she said and stood up, catching a cold and embarrassing draft up her dress. "Did you just get here or—"

Or did you just hear everything, she finished inside her head. Not that there was any point in trying to keep the Spike thing quiet now that Xander and Anya knew and would probably put an ad in the Sunnydale Daily.

"Xander called. I came as soon as I—" he looked over at Dawn who had had crossed her good arm over her chest and was glaring at him with the same adolescent hatred she had just been aiming at her sister.

"Enter parent-substitute, stage right," Dawn snarked.

Giles, wisely, ignored her. Buffy tried to and wiped at her face.

"Dawn's got a broken arm, possible concussion, and serious attitude damage," Buffy summarized. "She slipped and fell in the kitchen at Willow and Tara's, no big scary supernatural fallage, just a garden-variety accident."

"My attitude's damaged? Like you're so great!"

Giles put gentle fingers around Buffy's upper arm and pulled towards the door.

"I think family tensions are running a little high right now. I'll stay here with Dawn until the store opens and we'll get someone else to sit with her then." He gave Buffy a meaningful look from behind his glasses. "In case there's any sort of glorious activity."

"I don't think –" she started.

"Go home and get some rest. An argument right now isn't going to do any good to either of you and it certainly won't do a bit of good for me. Now go."

Even as she went out the door, Buffy could feel Dawn's eyes burning sister-poison into her back. Had life been better before Dawn? She couldn't remember. The monks had filled her head so full of Dawn-memories that it seemed that Dawn had always been around, snapping and growling like an angry puppy.

This night, which had started out so great, now officially sucked zombie dick for free.

****

Hospitals were strictly for humans. Humans getting bits stitched back together, bits taken out, bits put in that hadn't been there before. The unnatural and ugly smell of disinfectant over human blood just ruined the ambiance of pain and fear. Also, there was fuck all to do in the waiting area outside the emergency room. Giles had sent Willow and Tara home with instructions about herb tea the moment he arrived and Spike now had no one to talk to except for the obviously homeless guy in the corner who smelled worse than any week-old corpse. Anya was flipping through copies of US News that dated back to the Ford administration and Xander was trying to stare holes through him.

This wasn't good. That little incident in the basement now meant that there was what the movies called a "security breach" big enough to drive a motor coach through. The chances of Xander and Anya keeping mum about him and Buffy doing two man push-ups on the sofa were none to fucking forget about it. By the look on Xander's face the only way he was going to be happy with the outcome was if Spike was in the dustpan. As though it was any of the boy's affair, as if Xander had any right to criticize since he'd banged a Slayer himself and a demon to boot.

Spike slouched a little further into his chair and wanted a cigarette, and he wasn't as impressed by the no smoking signs as he was by the big orderly behind the reception desk who might or might not have troll somewhere in his lineage. The bags of blood he'd liberated from storage would stay cool for a couple of hours in his duster pockets so there was no reason he shouldn't wait until the sun was just beginning to rise. On the other hand, Buffy could come out at any moment and in all likelihood she would be in the beginning stages of a meltdown. There wasn't any point for the two kids to be around for that, and they'd witnessed enough Buffy embarrassment for one night.

"Look, it's getting' on to half two. You lot ought to bugger off home. I'll hold the fort down."

Anya looked up from her magazine. "That's a good idea. Xander, let's go home and have sex."

"I'm not in the mood." Xander gave each word the same weight in lead before getting up out of his seat and stalking out of the room.

The boy didn't even give good stalk.

"Who peed in his Corn Chex?"

"Luv, it's 'pissed in his cornflakes,' right?" Spike said and waited a moment before following sulky floppy boy.

Spike found Xander in the men's room down the hall, with his zip undone, draining the old trouser-snake. Moving vamp-quick in the tiled room, Spike grabbed Xander's favorite body part in a firmly threatening grip. Xander let loose a squeak and developed the correct amount of fear and loathing appropriate for a man being grabbed by the dick in a public restroom.

"Now that I got your attention," Spike said and favored Xander with evil smile #4, "an' your pathetic little willie, we're gonna' discuss this like gentlemen."

All Xander could do was nod, his eyes so big that Spike could have seen his reflection in them if he'd had a reflection.

"You don't go bustin' in while somebody's shaggin', right? An' you don't get all righteous when it ain't none of your affair who an' what the Slayer's doin' when she's not on duty."

For a moment, Spike thought that Xander had quit breathing, but the lad finally drew a deep, shaky breath and barely nodded his head.

"You say or do anythin' that makes the shadow of a frown cross Her Blondness's face an' I'm goin' to make you wish your slag of a mum never bore you, got it? The girl's got enough trouble as it is wivout you causin' any more. Are we clear, Carpenter-boy?"

Xander managed another nod, this one combined with a grimace that promised future reprisals.

"Soul or no soul, you're still mean to the core, Spike."

"An' you say it like it's a bad thing."

"I don't know what the hell you did to Buffy, but you're still a piece of undead shit, Dead Boy."

"I'm quakin' in my boots."

Since there was nothing else to say Spike let Xander loose and watched the boy zip and take himself out of the restroom at warp nine. Then Spike washed his hands, twice.

When he got back to the waiting room, only the homeless guy was evident. The human and the ex-demon had done a runner. He settled himself back into the uncomfortable chair and waited.

Moments later, the interior door opened and Buffy tottered out. He jumped out of his seat and had to remind himself to be cool rather than rushing over to her. Instead he made a quick saunter over to the shaking Slayer.

"How's the Niblet then? All the parts workin'?"

"She has a broken arm. They're keeping her overnight to see the – ortho tricycline or something tomorrow. She might have a concussion. And she's so nasty, she's—" Buffy took a deep breath and visibly steadied herself. "She wanted to hurt my feelings and she did a good job of it. Dawn hates me."

"She don't hate you, just don't like you too much right now. Symptom of the age. Giles is sittin' wiv'her, right? You ready to toddle off home?"

Buffy looked around the waiting room, empty except for the homeless guy.

"Where'd everybody go?" she asked.

"Home. So let's get a move on," he announced and gently tugged her arm in the direction of the exit.

Quiet Buffy was not a good thing, Spike knew. It meant she was thinking unpleasant things. Considering the fact that she was quiet from the emergency room exit to the entrance of her development on the other side of Sunnydale, she was thinking very unpleasant things.

"Dawn's hurt because of me."

"How's that?" he asked, sneaking a look at her in the DeSoto's dash lights.

Her pointy little face was set on grim.

"If I hadn't sent her to Willow and Tara's she wouldn't have fallen on the ice cube."

"She fell on a bloody ice cube, Slayer, she could've done that anywhere."

"I sent her there to get her out of the house to be alone with you. I was being selfish and Dawn's hurt because of it."

"It's a stupid fucking accident, she could have fallen in the shower wiv'you in the next room an' me in Modesto. Don't go floggin' yourself about it."

She didn't look convinced.

****

So tired. So tired that even her hair was tired and her fingernails ached. Throwing herself down on the edge of her bed, Buffy looked at her shoes, too exhausted to take them off. Maybe slaying wasn't compatible with the suddenly Single Momlike routine. There was probably a good reason Slayers didn't live far into their twenties, have families, run households, pay bills, and make sure that bratty teenage sisters didn't go to rock concerts. She groaned and lay back on the bed, her arms splayed out like limp fish fins.

Buffy had fallen from buildings, been killed a couple of times, been staked by a ratty vamp, and survived high school, but Dawn had to break her arm slipping on an ice cube? It was unreal. Stupid accidents didn't happen in Buffy's world.

Normal twenty year olds didn't sneak off to have sex with the evil undead while their sisters were breaking their arms in stupid accidents.

"Hey," the evil undead said and stuck his head through the doorway, "You all right, then?"

"I am a whole bunch of not all right," she admitted and looked at him upside-down from where she lay on the bed. Buffy realized that she could see up his nose and noted that it wasn't an attractive angle.

"Can I come in?"

Buffy put her hands over her eyes.

"I'm too tired to fight, Spike. Too tired for anything."

"'Xactly."

"Don't leave."

"Wasn't goin' to."

A moment later he had shed his clothes and slithered between the sheets next to her, about as lecherously as Mr. Gordo, who watched from the bedside with his beady, piggy eyes, saying nothing.

****

She should have been asleep. But no, she was lying there with Spike's arm across her midsection like a free weight while she watched the shadows from the tree branches flicker across the ceiling. She rolled over on her side and slid out from under his arm. He was almost snoring, but not loud enough to be the reason she was still feeling restless and itchy. It could have been the guilt over Dawn, but she didn't want to think about that.

Maybe it was her Slayer-sense. There was something that she should have been doing other than sleeping. Something really nasty was prowling the streets of Sunnydale and she was missing it. The sheets felt raspy against her skin and she punched the pillow into a better shape. She couldn't quite see what was wrong with this picture. Putting aside Mom being gone, Dawn in the hospital, Spike asleep next to her, and Glory hovering in town instead of staying properly in the heavens or hells or wherever gods hung out. Groaning, she heaved herself out of bed and pulled on her ratty chenille bathrobe, hoping against hope that Dawn and Spike hadn't eaten all of the ice cream.

Downstairs, Buffy detoured through the living room to pick up the empty ice cream carton and the dirty spoons from the night before. She padded into the kitchen, turned on the light and nearly dropped dead of shock. The ice cream carton and the spoons fell to the tile floor with a clatter that sounded an awful lot like a swordfight.

Oh shit, she thought.

"You're going to wake everybody up," he said in a calm voice.

Angel. Big and real as life there at the kitchen table, cleaning his fingernails with a small Swiss Army knife.

"Phones. Phones are good, you could have used a phone and called to say 'hey, I'm in town and I'm coming over'. You know, instead of just beaming down into my kitchen at like four in the morning," she babbled and picked up the spoons.

"And ruin the element of surprise?"

The downy hairs on the back of Buffy's neck stood up and thought about running away. The rest of Buffy thought about running into the living room and getting Mr. Pointy out of the chest. She wasn't entirely sure if she was speaking to Angel or EvilTwin Angelus. She couldn't see if he was wearing leather pants or not. Without being able to see the pants it was harder to tell the difference.

"So you just drove from LA to scare the shit out of me in my kitchen? Great, I need this right now." She crossed over to the sink to drop the spoons in soapy water and shoved the ice cream carton in the trash can underneath. "Dawn fell and broke her arm, and now you have to show up. This is turning into one funfest of a day."

While she was bent over at the trash can, Buffy snuck a look under the table. Black pants, naturally, but not leather. That helped somewhat.

"I heard about Dawn. I wanted to see how you were doing. I was worried."

"Worried?" Buffy asked and came back around the table so she could stare down at him over arms now defensively crossed over her chest. "My mother's dead and my broken-armed sister's an energy being who is being hunted by a very insane and dangerous goddess. Why would you be worried?"

"Buffy, you're not a good liar." He looked up at her for the first time. His eyes were as dark as she remembered and still gave nothing away. "I'm talking about how you've done a reversal of opinion about Spike."

The breath that Buffy sucked in burned her chest like woodsmoke.

"Newsflash, none of your business."

"I'm making it my business." In a vamp-fast move he was out of the chair and staring down at her. Buffy could smell the clove and sandalwood of him. "You're upset right now and you aren't thinking clearly."

"Right, I'm a stupid girl who can't make her own decisions." She stood up a little taller and glared the best that she could at him. "You know what, my life is NONE of your fucking business. You left and I went on slaying. I went on with my life. You have no right to come back here now and tell me what I should or shouldn't be doing."

"You're mad because I left?"

"Hello?! My mother's dead and my sister's in the hospital. Let's just stand here and talk about Spike, okay? God, you know, you're not the most important creature in the world, Angel!"

Just to make matters worse, besides the fact that she was glaring into his collarbones, Buffy's eyes were starting to burn and she knew that she only had the slightest chance of getting through this without bawling her eyes out.

"All you could find was Spike?" he asked, his eyes and voice going all melted chocolate.

Oh no, she was helpless against the melted chocolate look and sound. Too many nice things had happened when he'd had that going on.

However, insult beat out melted chocolate any day of the week.

"All I could find?" she echoed, her voice getting tight and thin with annoyance. "There are plenty of guys who want to go out with me. There are guys who are drooling with the thought of going out with me."

"If it had to be a vampire, you could have been a little more selective."

"Oh, yeah, you ruined me for mortal men forever," she snorted. "Get over yourself. I've gone out with human guys too. I had sex with human guys. I went out with one for almost a year. I'm not a fang-hag. "

"Which is why you're sleeping with Spike?"

"Who's takin' my name in vain?"

Buffy wasn't entirely surprised to see Spike in the doorway with his shirt flapping open, his pants barely buttoned, with a stake in one hand. Angel stiffened and stared at the other vampire who stiffened and stared back at him. They eyed each other like two pit bulls meeting for the first time. She couldn't actually hear growling, but it vibrated through her body regardless.

"Well this is just a cluster fuck beyond all imaginin'," Spike sneered at Angel.

"Did you bite her? Did you put her in thrall?" Angel demanded.

"No," Buffy said at about the same moment that Spike did.

"But that's kind of you, puttin' me up there wiv' the Masters. You just can't bear the idea that she'd be takin' up wiv' me of her own free will, can you, Sunshine?" Spike aimed a smile at Angel and it wasn't one of his nicer ones.

"Spike, the last time I saw you, you had your friend Marcus sticking hot pokers through me. I can't imagine anybody wanting to be with you of their own free will."

"An' it just keeps me awake all day, thinkin' that I could have killed you then."

The testosterone in the room, or whatever vampires used in place of it, was approaching toxic levels.

"Lost your chance, not that you would have had the guts to—"

Spike laughed and flipped the stake through his fingers, twirling it like a tiny baton, fingers moving almost too fast for human eyes to see, while Angel hunched his shoulders as if preparing to spring. Looking back and forth between the two men, Buffy wasn't sure if she should try to break up the argument before it degenerated into violence, or just go back upstairs and let them finish their macho posturing before she even tried to talk. The kitchen-wrecking potential counseled in favor of intervention.

"Ya don't have the balls for anythin' anymore, Sunshine. Gloomy, doomy, oh I got a soul an' it's put a powerful hurt on me. 'Course you never were anythin' other than a filthy, mucksavage Paddy wiv' delusions of grandeur."

Angel, obviously, had heard enough. Whatever a muckpaddy was it had hit a sore point. In a blur of movement, he was across the floor with his hands wrapped around Spike's neck.

"You won't die," Angel said in a very controlled voice, "but having a broken neck will really cramp your style."

"An' I can run this stake right into that bleedin' heart of yours."

True enough, Spike's hand was pressing the tip of the stake against Angel's chest. They could certainly do each other in at that point. The only question was who was faster. Buffy wasn't about to place any bets.

"Okay, knock it off, the both of you. Hands off each other, I don't feel like vacuuming up vamp dust in the middle of the night," Buffy commanded in the sharp voice that usually worked with strange dogs and occasionally worked with Dawn.

Unwillingly, Angel let go of Spike and retreated over near the table. Spike ostentatiously slid the stake into the waistband of his jeans. Okay, that tone worked just fine with hormone-enraged vampires. Buffy rubbed her hands over her face and looked from one to the other. This was her idea of hell, four in the morning with an ex-boyfriend and a current not-boyfriend snarling at each other in her kitchen like Rottweilers on speed. This wasn't something that Mom or Sex Ed had covered. She was going to have to punt.

"Okay, now, we have a little situation here. And it's going to have get worked out but until then, nobody's dusting, maiming, breaking, or otherwise damaging anybody else, got it?"

"She's so hot when she gets all bossy, isn't she?" Spike asked and caught the Look of Death for his pains. "Tauntin', you didn't say anythin' about not tauntin'."

"No taunting either." Buffy took a deep breath. "Angel, whoever told you about the Spike thing," she couldn't really say it, not when she couldn't admit it to herself, "forgot to tell you that a Keshonte demon gave Spike back his soul. Which means that you really can't dust him because it would be bad. And Spike, you can't dust Angel because I will be mad. Have we got this?"

"Mad, bad, and dangerous to know," Spike muttered. "Where's Lord Byron when he's needed?"

"Now I have got to get some sleep. Unlike you guys I have to go out in the daylight and do things. Like get Dawn out of the hospital." She glared at the two men. "You both better call a truce until sundown and I guess we'll take up where we left off tomorrow night – oh hell, I guess I mean tonight. If. I. Feel. Like. It."

Looks were exchanged and Angel slid out the back door of the kitchen without a word. Spike shook his head as if clearing something from the inside and looked back at her with a strangely blank face.

"You don't have to go," she said.

"I have to go home."

****

"I have to go home," he said and pulled his shirt back on.

"Silly, silly, silly, home is here," she said and sat up in the surf of linen and lace that made up the bed. "You stay here now." Her white body burned like a candle to his eyes, even though the lamps had long since guttered out.

"No, I must go home. I have – obligations – I have to be at the publishing house at half eight." He sat on the edge of the bed and began to lace his boots, but she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and her sharp little nails cut into him.

"You don't go home, you don't go to the publishing house, you're mine now and you don't leave me." She sounded almost frightened, underneath the petulance that reminded him too much of his little sisters.

Trying to be reassuring, he pressed his forehead to hers and took himself into the far and dark reaches of her eyes.

"I'm going to come back, I'm not like that."

The door blew open and the big man thundered in. He fell back against her, and she trembled as the large man with the wild hair closed in on them.

'You explained nowt to this Amadáin. You don't go home, boy, you never get to go home to yer Aul Wan an' yer Aul Man, yer with us now. You're one of us."

Certain that the stranger was a procurer and the frightened young woman was his doxy, all he could think about was the miserable little sum in his purse and prayed that it would be enough to make the big man go away.

"I don't have much money, but you're welcome to the entire sum," he stammered and got to his feet, even though his legs were shaking. "I've misunderstood the entire situation and I–"

"I ain't blaggardin' ya, boy. You're as dead as the dog's dinner and deader still once you step out inta' th' mornin' light."

"I must leave," he tried again.

The big man's hand smashed down across his face, sending him flying against the wall. Pain slashed through his brain. On the bed, the girl began to wail, the bedclothes fallen down around her naked body and she commenced pulling her hands through her hair like Ophelia.

"You said I could keep him. He was my present. I made him to play with me. You never play nice, you never play with me."

"Ye couldn't have found anythin' better than this gack dosser? Taught you better than that, I did."

While the man railed at the sobbing, naked woman all he could do was rub the wetness from his face.

And taste the blood.

****

Spike tasted blood.

Damn, he'd bitten his lip when Angel had hit him. It wasn't the first time, either.

The memories were banging in his head with the warmth and concern of a car crash. Even as Spike walked across the pre-dawn streets of Sunnydale, his head was back in a London basement. Another wonderful benefit of having a soul, apparently; he hadn't thought of all that in a century. The granite faces of the headstones in the cemetery exhaled the cool night air. He stopped and sat on the ground against his favorite tombstone, Sarah Smith, who had been buried before he'd returned from South America. Sarah Smith who had lived to be eighty-five, beloved wife and mother. Sarah Smith never had an unkind word for him, was solid and real against his back. Good old Sarah.

Drawing his knees up to his chest, Spike fisted his hands and dug them into the cool sockets of his eyes. There were things that he didn't want fighting their way out of the carefully constructed cages of nonchalance in his mind. Unfortunately, they were presently holding some guards hostage and demanding to speak to the press.

She'd wrapped him in her arms that night, her cool strong arms and taught him things that he could never have imagined. She'd just forgotten to explain to him exactly the price she'd exacted. Poor Drusilla, thinking with a brain full of holes as Battenburg lace. She'd never given him a choice, never given him a chance.

Fuck, Spike thought to himself, pushing back into the present day – present morning — just as the rosy-fingered Aurora was about to set him aflame with her touch. He ambled for his crypt, and realized that he was shaking. Damn the bastard anyway. Damn the fucking bastard. Hadn't spent enough time in Hell, hadn't stayed where he belonged. Had to come back and well and truly fuck up the only thing that was making Spike's un-life worth living.

He felt the presence all along his veins and arteries, blood to blood. Which was why he wasn't particularly surprised when the flying tackle sent him nose-first into the cool embrace of a stone Virgin Mary. Hands at his collar, spinning him around. Spike kicked, grabbed, and threw a punch into a midsection hard as the granite slab he found himself atop.

"You fuck, motherfucking, piece of shit, sonofabitch, fucking gobshite."

This was interesting; Spike had never seen another vampire red in the face before. It couldn't be a good thing. He was bent backwards over an aboveground crypt, edge digging into the small of his back, while Angel's saliva sprayed as he shouted.

"You stay the FUCK away from her," Angel warned and game faced.

That wasn't a good sign either, Angel with his vamp up.

"See we been carin' and sharin' out in LaLa-land," Spike choked around Angel's hands. "Don't be shy now."

"You just can't leave it alone, can you?"

Spike forced himself to laugh.

"The scourge of Europe is thrashin' me over a little blond bit a'skirt? You oughta' be ashamed a'yourself."

It probably wasn't the smartest thing to say, Spike realized when Angel smashed him in the face with a fist, and blood started to run from broken skin. The smell of his own blood sent the old blood lust like flames through his body, the burning outlining each and every vessel and capillary. He felt his own face heat and change, the sharp fangs pinch at his lower lip. Inches away from his face, Spike watched Angel's nostrils twitch at the same scent.

"Sanctimonious bastard," Spike swore and drove his knee into the other vampire's groin.

It didn't have the same effect it would have as on a human, but Angel's pain receptors worked well enough to send him staggering back a step, releasing Spike. Spike used the crypt as support and kicked Angel square in the face with both feet before rolling backwards over the crypt, putting it between him and the other man. There was blood on Angel's face and in his eye as he surged over the crypt, coat flapping out like Batman's cape. Spike leapt over a tombstone, reaching to the back of his jeans for the stake he'd stuck there earlier. Fuck, he must have lost it in the initial tackle.

Vampire strength notwithstanding, Angel was a hell of a lot bigger than he was and sheer mass gave the other vampire an advantage that Spike wasn't about to let him use. As long as he kept Angel far enough away and prevented him from crushing Spike against another crypt or the ground, he was going to keep his unlife intact.

"Why'd you do it? You going to make her suffer? Is that going to amuse you, Spike?"

"Consider the possibility that I might be enjoyin' her company."

"You're joking. You have nothing in common."

"Far as I can remember, we got plenty in common." The bitterness in Spike's voice betrayed entirely too much of his feelings so he masked it with another forced laugh. "An' you know all 'bout it, Sunshine."

"You fuck," Angel swore.

A roundhouse kick hit him in the throat and he tumbled backwards, smacking the side of his head against the sharp edge of a gravestone. Momentarily dazed, he struggled to his feet and ducked behind an obelisk. Yeah, Angel had longer arms and legs, he'd forgotten that.

"I've beaten the shit out of you before," Angel warned.

"'S why I'm avoidin' you," Spike gasped and rabbited around a mausoleum that slept four.

"Fuckin' coward."

"Don't fancy gettin' my ass kicked, thanks."

The sky was half-light in the east, making the sky opal with color. They had about ten minutes before they were both reduced to barbecue leftovers. He should have pointed this out but he figured that Angel already knew, and was entirely too fucked off to care. He could hear Angel's footsteps crunching though the dry grass of the cemetery.

"You can't have her, y'know, seein' as how your soul's got a return-to-sender option," Spike called, and felt the hardness of his vamp face melt away, leaving only stiff soreness. "There's no cause to keep her from what comfort she can get."

The footsteps stopped. "You've got no right to lay your filthy hands on her."

"An' that's somethin' you know more than a passin' bit about, Angelus." It was an effort for sure, but Spike managed to keep his voice steady.

"I'm going to kill you."

"Waste a'time. I'm already dead."

****

He was dead.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.

Heels of his hands dug into his eye sockets, he leaned against the wall. The room was dark and cold, the stub of a candle the only light. Every fiber in his being was shaking, and a thousand thoughts were battering like moths against a gaslight globe in his brain. The woman, the woman who had – he couldn't even think the words – killed him and them made love to him, was Drusilla. He could tell, now, that she was mad as a hatter. And a vampire besides. He'd read Le Fanu, he'd read Polidori's bastardized version of Byron's tale, and he'd even suffered through Varney. He knew about vampires, just as he knew about Greece and the Cherokee. They told him that he now was a vampire, which was as strange as waking up a Greek or an Indian.

Despite the oddness, it had the ring of truth. There had been a change, something terribly different ever since he'd woken up in Drusilla's bed. Of course he'd first thought that it had something to do with finally attaining carnal knowledge of a woman, but he may have been mistaken.

He heard the locks and leapt to his feet, shoving his glasses back against his nose, trying to regain as much composure as he could. Not exactly the best foot forward, not with crumpled trousers and shirt, his waistcoat, coat, braces and shoes having gone missing long before.

It was the large Irish man again, this time wearing a toothsome smile with nary a bit of warmth in it. He was dragging a girl with him, a girl from the streets with the tattered gaudiness of a Whitechapel whore. Her eyes were glassy, possibly with drink, and she looked from one man to the other with placid acceptance. This wasn't new to her, he realized.

"So you're had time to ruminate on yer current condition, have you?"

Bloody yokel, Irish hinterland accent and all.

"It's hardly acceptable. I must insist that you reverse it as quickly as possible."

"There's nowt to reverse it, boy," the Irishman said and laughed. "Nowt but a stake through the heart, havin' yer head ripped from yer body or the sunlight blastin' you into dust."

"And I have to drink blood to continue this cursed existence?"

"Catch on fast, you do, that's good. You'll not last long unless you feed. I've made it easy for ye." He shoved the girl forward. "She'll not fight."

"No," he said and took a step back, finding his back to the wall. "I won't." He said the words, but something within him slavered. He could see the veins crawling across the exposed parts of the girl's chest, moving with her every breath.

"Wise up ya gack ye," the Irishman said. "You've done nowt but lie about and sigh since ye've been here, and now I'm tellin' you to feed or ye'll starve to a death more complete than ye have now."

"So be it."

"Is'allright love," the girl said and arranged a flirtatious smile on her face, worn thin with overuse.

She touched his face, her fingers strangely hot against his skin. It should not have been the case. This was terribly wrong. But he could smell her, the warm smell of woman, the sweat on her body, the many men between her legs, and above all that, the rich wildness of her blood. Drawn to the sweet perfume of living human, he stepped forward, gripped her shoulder, and felt his face burn again with the strange change. The need to bury his now-sharp teeth in the soft skin of her throat was as desperate as the need for air itself. He was choking inside the dead husk of his body, and she was the only thing that could save him. He was salivating at the thought of how her blood would taste filling his mouth and his throat, how it would feel as her heart slowed and stopped as he drank the very life from her.

Over the girl's shoulder, the Irishman smirked.

"I can't do this," he said, releasing the girl's arm. "I'd rather be dead."

"You are dead," the vampire said and ripped the girl away from him.

Sharp teeth, in the face of a devil, sundered the girl's tender neck. He closed his eyes and heard the animal feeding, feeling the hunger gnaw at him like rats on a corpse.

****

The rat sniffed the Cheeto and recoiled, afraid of the plastic food. Spike shrugged and stuffed the rat-rejected pseudo snack into his mouth and washed it down with some Guinness. Most of the cans were empty, and Angel had begun building a Guinness can wall near the entrance to the crypt.

Fuck Angel, and the white horse he rode in on.

Burning Southern California sun outside, two cranky vampires inside, a truce that was as temporary as cheap hair dye. It was like Waiting for Godot with PMS. Spike was getting tired of watching Angel, but he wanted to avoid a sudden dust conversion experience. He sincerely hoped that Angel had drained whoever had cut his hair that way. But there was no point in saying it, since he'd only get the old furrowed brow routine, and maybe an annoyed exhalation.

The cigarette butts on the floor were multiplying like rabbits. Spike was chain-smoking, not because he liked it but because Angel hated it. There were still a few buttons that could be pushed after all this time. Getting Angel from zero to apoplectic in less than sixty seconds had been one of his favorite pastimes for decades. Spike considered the ash on the end of his smoke and watched the smoke drift up to the spider-covered vault above. He sniffed, smelled yeasty richness that had nothing to do with blood.

"Enough Guinness in the 'fridge for you?"

"Never thought you'd be drinking the Black," Angel said in the mildest tone possible.

"Things change."

"So I see. Leave her be, Spike."

"Fuck off."

Angel was sitting on top of the sepulcher's slab, one leg pulled up and bent, like a boy atop a stone wall, a glass of black lager in his hand, half empty. It seemed so mortal, so normal, and so fucking banal to be talking about a girl like this. She's mine, you keep away, she's mine, you keep away. They were vampires; shouldn't they have been engaged in a slightly more elevated discourse?

The sun moved overhead outside.

"So who told you, Xanderboy or Anya?" Spike asked.

Shrugging, Angel made progress into his pint of Guinness. "Does it matter? Let's just say my informant saw you and Buffy – together-"

"Makin' a short, blunt human pyramid, you mean?" Spike asked, amused by Angel's barely perceptible squirm. "Which is how you twigged, right?"

"Twigged? I fucking branched."

"And all your buddies there in LA said 'No, Spike wouldn't hurt her' an' begged you not to go."

"I have instructions from Cordy and Wesley to kick your ass. Gunn said I should bust a cap in it instead."

"Gunn? What's that?"

"You don't know him, but he hates you just the same."

"Reassurin', that. My fame has spread far n'wide. Expect that tellin' you I'd never kill her would ease your mind a bit."

"Snowballs, Hell, you know the rest." Angel looked down at his now empty pint glass.

A good host would have offered a guest a refill, but Angel could bloody well get up and get himself another lager if he wanted it. The bastard had found it easily enough. Instead, he settled a little more comfortably in his armchair and crossed his legs. Getting the hint, Angel rose, went to the tiny refrigerator Spike had looted from a dorm room and got himself another Guinness. Lighting another cigarette, Spike watched the other vampire cross the crypt. Years of experience made reading Angel almost as easy as reading the signs on the LA freeway, and the blinking yellow bulbs were saying that Angel was tired and preoccupied. If Spike was of a mind to, and he wasn't sure if he was or not, it wouldn't be a bad time to try making an Angel-kebob. But things had finally been moving in the proper rhythm with Buffy before Dudley Do-Right showed.

Sometimes death just wasn't fair.

Spike dropped ash on the floor. "You got a couple a' thoughts here, wastin' me bein' one of them an' the other bein' that Miss Slayer ain't puttin' you on the top of her hit parade if you do it."

Seeking the truth through the bottom of a glass of lager, Angel refused to look up at Spike.

"Maybe I'm willing to take that risk."

"Maybe," Spike started and had to lubricate his throat with lager before he could go on, "maybe I know things about you that the Slayer doesn't want to know."

It was a threat, and a muscular one, even if the delivery could have been better. Across the crypt, Angel's eyes flickered gold in gameface.

"Have you told her anything?"

****

Nobody had told him anything. But he knew. He was weak. Dying beyond dying. Time didn't happen in the dark room. He could have been in there a week, a month, and a year. His mother must have decided he was dead, or run off to exotic places. If she'd the seen the state of her blue eyed boy she would have hung her head in shame. He was filthy, he smelled like dirt and decay, and his clothes were torn and stained. He was losing his mind. Locked in a pitch black room where even his strangely enhanced vision did nothing to pierce the gloom, he huddled against the wall and recited anything he could remember to try to keep his mind from turning into porridge.

Like an unpleasant smell, the Irishman was back again, standing with the light from the corridor making an unholy halo around his mop of dark hair. This time he had Drusilla with him, her wrist disappearing in his huge and ugly fist. She was wide-eyed with fear.

"I hear Dru's been feedin' you on the sly," he said.

Mouthfuls of blood, stolen from her at her insistence. "You can't hurt me, my darling," she'd whisper as he moved inside her, and it had seemed right and just to use his newfound fangs, taking back a fluid more vital than the one she wrenched from him. Afterward, she would shake and moan in his arms, afraid of the things that weren't there in the dark. Afraid of her Master. Angelus. She'd whispered the name as if it would invoke God's wrath to even think it.

He stood and looked at Angelus. "Don't hurt her."

The vampire laughed. "You think she wouldn't like that, boyo? If you weren't too useless to live, you'd have a lot to learn." The last word dripped off his Irish tongue, an extended and dreadful "larn," and William thought Angelus might be toying with him even with the horrendous accent.

He swallowed. "You're going to kill me, then?" Even now, a part of him screamed for life, or whatever one called this existence.

"You're no vampire." Angelus’ss voice dripped contempt like blood. "You're a freak. Dru's touched and it's made her blood bad."

"No!" Drusilla protested. "He's just a chick, still in his egg. You must crack it, my Angelus."

"You're talkin' crazy again, and it's beginnin' to bore me."

"The demon is inside him. You feel it, don't you, William?" He couldn't deny her anything, and nodded. "You see? He is waiting to be born. The other children rip themselves from the womb, always already evil. That's no fun at all. There's nothing left to corrupt. William is a present for you. You must coax the demon out. You must make him in your image." Her eyes glittered like lightning-flashes reflected in deep water.

"You've seen this in a vision?" Angelus sounded skeptical.

"Drusilla, I don't want –"

With a wild cry she wrenched herself free of Angelus and came to throw her arms around him, tight as a tourniquet. "He will be such a killer, Father. What is begun must be finished."

Angelus sighed, a hollow sound that moved no breath. "Drusilla, I always said you'd be interestin' to have around. We'll try it your way. For a while."

He stepped forward, into the room.

****

As soon as she figured that the night staff had been switched for the morning, Buffy called the hospital and found that Dawn was still sleeping and seemed to be doing well. Which was good, since a truly concussed and dangerously wounded Dawn might have pushed her over the edge and she was not sure she could handle herself, edgewise.

Willow apparently had switched with Giles and now had Dawn-sitting duty which she had taken to with enthusiasm born of guilt.

"I can stay here as long as you need me to. I- I really don't mind."

"I'll be over there in a little while. I have some stuff here I have to sort out first."

In the light of current events, Buffy decided that her morning run should be down to the Magic Shop for some consultation with Giles. It was past eight o'clock when she finished lacing up her sneakers and set out. At least it was after the hour where all little vampires should be snug in their lairs. She hoped that both vampires had made it through the tiny remainder of the night without killing each other. If they killed each other it would de-complicate things somewhat, but she didn't want that on her head along with the rest of the guilt that she was accumulating like late fees on a tape from Blockbuster.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that someone had ratted her out to Angel. The only person who she couldn't see calling Angel was Giles. So it was to Giles she went.

"Hey," she said as the bells chimed on the door behind her.

Giles was nowhere to be seen, but the portable stereo on the counter was playing something with guitar and a man whining off-key. "Preacher was a talkin' there's a sermon he gave,/He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved,/You cannot depend on it to be your guide/When it's you who must keep it satisfied."

"Giles?" A moment later, the Watcher emerged from the back room with a cup of tea in one hand and a very long and wickedly pointed knife in the other.

"I thought we cancelled training for the nonce," Giles wondered and let Buffy take the knife away from him.

"We did, I just dropped by for a chat, and a ride to the hospital if you can manage it." She took a few practice swipes with the blade. "This is sweet. Too bad it's inventory."

"It's yours if you want it."

"It ain't easy to swallow, it sticks in the throat,/She gave her heart to the man/In the long black coat," the music continued and Buffy shook a cold thrill off her spine.

"Shouldn't need it. Things are kind of decaf-land with the demons lately. Cool music. Is it the Wallflowers?"

"Not exactly. It's Bob Dylan. Jakob Dylan's father. What did you want to talk about?" Giles perched on the stool behind the counter and arranged his face in listening mode.

"It's a personal kind of thing, not totally a Slayer thing, but there is kinda some overlap," she admitted and put the knife down on the counter, leaning with her elbows on the glass top. "You know that thing I didn't want to talk about before? I gotta talk about it now."

Abruptly, Giles was wearing his worried Dad frown, and Buffy's throat tightened. She wasn't sure how to explain any of it, and resented having her personal life turn into such a big issue.

"It's embarrassing," she began and could feel the blood turn her face pinker than her morning run had. "I kind of have, had, am having, like, a, you know, a thing with somebody."

Giles' face twisted for a moment, which wasn't quite the reaction she had imagined.

"I'm old and not cool, so would you be so kind as to explain exactly what kind of 'thing' you're referring to."

"A thing. A thing with somebody, a –" Buffy struggled for a moment and finally her mouth worked itself around the words, "– a sex thing. I am having a sex thing with somebody. A big Godzilla sex thing. And there's like a real low approval rating. Okay?"

As he always did when he was confused or stalling for time, Giles took off his glasses and examined the lenses for spots. Buffy sighed.

"Buffy, you're a young woman with normal needs and desires," he said and Buffy couldn't help but roll her eyes at the bland politically correct speech, which was totally Giles. "As long as you're responsible about it, no one really has a right to approve or disapprove."

Since he was being all Cream of Wheat and mellow about it, Buffy lost her hesitation about upsetting her Watcher. Actually, since he seemed to be reading from Oprah's invisible cue cards, Buffy decided that he really deserved to be shocked.

"With Spike," she said, in the voice of ultimate teenage disdain.

Mouth working without sound for a moment, Giles picked up the glasses he had dropped and shoved them onto his nose.

"Oh Buffy-" he began and sounded hope-free.

"Low approval rating, thy name is Spike," she said and pushed herself away from the counter. "Let me just answer all your questions now. No, I didn't plan any of it, it just happened. No, I don't think it's part of some great Spike plan. Since the Nazi demon thing. No, he didn't bite me and put me in thrall. I don't know if I'm happy about it, but I'm not un-happy either."

"Well, I can see you've been thinking about how your friends are going to react."

"But I wasn't at the time. And at four this morning Angel shows up in my kitchen to read me the riot act. I thought he and Spike were going to dust each other. I sent them away. It's possible they'll still be unsweepable tonight."

"It does seem that you have a bit of a problem."

"What am I supposed to do?" She threw her hands up in the air. "I can't deal right now, Giles. I've got enough to deal with between Dawn and all the lawyer stuff with mom's estate. Dawn put a Lean Cuisine in the microwave for ten minutes. Now the microwave is coated with brown gunk and the whole house smells like burnt chicken Kiev. I can't make her go to school, I can't make her go to bed, and she just sneers at me. I sent her to Tara and Willow's for one night and she breaks her arm. And then there's Glory out trying to kill Dawn and destroy the whole world. I just can't deal."

Much to her embarrassment, Buffy could hear her voice crack and felt the tears start to run down her face.

"Buffy, you've been dealt a rather rough hand right now. I understand that. You know that everyone is going to do everything that they can to help you." Giles came around the counter and pulled Buffy to him so she could snuffle on his shirt, "All you have to do is ask. And no one has the right to criticize who you decide you want to have a 'sex thing' with."

Despite herself, Buffy laughed and pulled back so she could wipe her face with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

"I don't, however, really want to know what Godzilla sex is."

Buffy laughed again, and got the remainder of the tears off her face.

"I only told Willow. About Spike I mean, not Godzilla sex. Dawn knew, but she's managed to blackmail me for months about not telling the entire world. Then yesterday Xander and Anya walked in –"

"And you thought I'd best hear it from you than the terrifyingly detailed report I would have received from Anya? You have my eternal gratitude. Now I'll just call Anya and have her get here early so I can take you to hospital."

****

"You're nobody in this town. You're nobody in this crowd. You're nobody till everybody in this town, thinks you're poison, got your number, knows it must be avoided. You're nobody till everybody in this town thinks you're a bastard."

"Turn the radio off," Angel ordered, in something like his old voice.

"Fuck you," Spike suggested and bit back a yawn.

It had to be midday. His eyes felt like poached eggs and every fiber in his being was screaming for sleep. But he wasn't going to sleep, not while they were drinking their way through a case of Guinness, never quite drunk and never quite sober.

"Turn the radio off and go to sleep," Angel added.

"The fuck I will. Sleepin'? Helpless? While you're here? Pull the other one, old son, it's got bells on," Spike said and another yawn nearly cracked his jaw.

"When were you planning on outgrowing your asshole phase?"

"Let's see, it's 2001 and from 2001 to 1880 is a hundred and twenty one years. So figure in 2122 I might feel like talkin' to you wivout breakin' your fuckin' neck."

"You know, I get a little fucking sick of everybody jamming everything I've ever done down my throat," Angel snapped and bolted up from the sepulcher. "The Powers that Be, the Host, Wesley, Darla, an entire law firm, and any other two bit minor demon with a memory, so I don't need shit from you too."

"Satan wept." Spike threw a lit cigarette in Angel's direction, the burning ember falling close enough for Angel to realize that Spike could have hit him with the cigarette had he wanted to.

Both men knew that vampires were flammable in the extreme.

"Hate me that much again?" Angel asked.

"Still."

Spike reached for another can.

"Fancy another drink?" he asked.

"Shove it up your ass," Angel barked.

All Spike could do was laugh and the sound was bitter as wormwood.

****

"So how long do I have to hang out here?" Dawn demanded.

"We have to wait for Doctor Schiffer to sign your release papers." Buffy sighed and looked through the pages of Teen People that she had brought for Dawn. Citalia sparkled through the cover story, which had a picture-to-word ratio of about one to one. She looked like a size minus-one to Buffy's experienced eyes.

"I can still go, right?" Dawn asked. "I have to go."

It was the first thing Dawn had been the least bit interested in since … since the funeral. Buffy resolved that Dawn would go to the concert, with Spike protecting her from the smallest jostle.

"Yeah," Buffy said and tried not to look satisfied. "But you stick with Spike. I don't want you getting in any trouble." Boy, did that sound weird. Spike was not anti-trouble. He was trouble's best buddy. But he knew his choices for the concert were sex or death and she was ninety-nine percent sure which he'd choose. Eighty percent.

Doctor Schiffer came in then and gave a long lecture about proper cast care and return visits. It was the kind of thing Buffy was used to tuning out, and she had trouble focusing against her natural instincts.

"Just one more thing," Dr. Schiffer added, breaking Buffy out of her navel-gazing. "Since Dawn's a minor and you're her temporary guardian, Child Protective Services has been forwarded a copy of the Emergency Room Report. It's standard procedure, really. But expect a call from a social worker who will probably want to come out and talk to you about why Dawn was staying overnight at a friend's house while you were entertaining your boyfriend."

Dr. Schiffer's comment smacked Buffy in the face with the warmth and caring of a long dead fish pickled in ichor. Not only did Buffy's face burn, but every square inch of her skin flushed with embarrassment, including the soles of her feet.

"Oh shit," was all she could say when Dr. Schiffer finally blew out of the room on a cloud of rubbing alcohol and passe Ralph Lauren Polo.

"Well you were," Dawn snarked. "Checking the bone-o-meter on Deadboy Slim. And everybody would be really happy to hear that you handed me off to lesbians."

"Dawnie, if you start telling people that your sister sent you to stay with lesbians so she could have sex with a vampire, you are going to end up with Dad and his new wife, an orphanage, or a funny farm. Any of which have massive suckage potential," Buffy said in a hard tone that she usually reserved for non-humans.

Dawn could only stare at Buffy with her mouth slightly open, which made Buffy feel better and worse at the same time.

"Outside, car, now, move." Buffy snapped and grabbed Dawn's purple backpack, which contained the clothes she had arrived in the night before.

"No wheelchair? I want to ride out in a wheelchair."

"No time, go – go – go."

The new Gilesmobile was waiting for them. Dawn glared at Buffy for opening the car door for her, and glared again when Buffy got in the back seat.

"Thanks for picking us up, Giles."

"Yeah," Dawn pitched in. "'Cause Buffy doesn't want to fail the drivers' license test again, it looks like we'll be needing you for daytime transport until I'm licensed."

Giles' mouth thinned, but Buffy couldn't tell if Dawn was finally getting to him or if the "daytime" reference reminded him of Spike. "Actually, I'd like to drop by the Magic Shop. Willow talked to all your teachers and picked up your homework." And Giles wanted to speak to her, otherwise Dawn's homework would have been waiting, in the annoying way of homework, at home.

Dawn pouted all the way to the shop, and Buffy couldn't help but feel a little grateful.

Inside, Willow and Tara rushed over to coo and flutter over Dawn. Even Dawn of Doom couldn't stay unmoved by the sugary goodness of dedicated Wiccans, and Buffy saw her smile, for the first time in a while, as Willow discovered that the cast was unsignable and began to think of charms to make everyone's signatures appear anyway.

Reassured, Buffy followed Giles into the back, where Xander and Anya were waiting. They looked tired; Xander wouldn't meet her eyes.

"This better be about something I can stake, decapitate, or disembowel, 'cause I'm in no mood for complexity."

"Carnage is an ever-present possibility," Giles pointed out.

"I think this Citalia person is, like they say in the movies, up to no good," Xander gritted out, looking only at Giles.

Anya put a hand out to rub Xander's arm. He twitched and then relaxed a bit. "Xander was working to set up the stage when he heard someone chanting – a man and a woman. I was waiting on one of those uncomfortable seats and he got me. The chant was pretty general, just an invocation of further power, but I know how you like to keep up with magical doings in the area," she ended on a chipper note.

"So what you're saying is we've got another powerful question mark in town. Just great."

"I did get a number of useful ideas by examining the various harnesses for the performers," Anya continued, oblivious.

"An–," Xander cautioned, and she closed her mouth, which in itself suggested that Xander had gone to Willow for some sort of control spell.

"Okay, I'll check her out," Buffy decided. "They're still setting up tonight?"

"Yeah," Xander said, looking at Buffy for the first time. "Takes a while to convert an indoor football stadium into a concert hall. Chairs at the goalposts, chairs at the forty-yard line, it's pretty much a chair army out there in strictly regimented rows. She's having a rehearsal tonight so everyone knows where to stand, jump and wiggle."

Buffy nodded, thinking of how she could get backstage and investigate for evil paraphernalia, assuming it was distinguishable from good paraphernalia. Even Willow had a dried-up head on a stick.

"So we'll be going now," Xander said, rising. Giles had another one of his "I've got terrible gas pains but I'm quite all right, thank you" looks.

"Wait," Buffy ordered. "I don't suppose either of you would know why there's two vampires with souls in Sunnydale, which may shortly be reduced to one."

Both Anya and Xander put on not-me faces.

"Anya? I know you talk to Cordelia all the time, you both have such a respect for money and an utter absence of tact. Did you happen to share any gossip with her after your little trip chez Summers?"

Anya shook her head. "There was no time, we were at the hospital, and then there was an extensive fight, and the make-up sex was correspondingly elaborate –"

Plausible, but not completely convincing. Buffy spied something in one of the boxes Giles was always saying needed to go down to the basement. Reaching in, she pulled out a tattered stuffed rabbit that smelled like cloves and held it in front of her.

"This is Mister Bunny and Mister Bunny thinks you're keeping a secret."

"Buff, that's just mean!" Xander protested.

"So is telling people about my personal life. So Anya, truth or Mister Bunny?"

The former demon turned flat white and began to back away.

"Mister Bunny wants to give you a kiss," Buffy added and shoved the stuffed animal closer.

Anya yelped and stumbled backwards.

"Oh shit, it was me, okay, I did it," Xander blurted.

"So, seeing Angel is supposed to remind me what true love is? Or just that vampires and dating don't mix?"

Xander's eyes held only concern. "I know you're in pain. I'm just not sure that you should be making any – emotional – decisions right now."

"Okay, I know this seems like Angel, the sequel, but the circumstances are really different, and Spike is being really helpful Glory-wise now and the rest of it isn't your business."

Xander snorted. "Right, like Angel had absolutely no fucking impact on our lives whatsoever."

"Would it make you feel any better if I told you I was just using him for sex?"

Giles blanched and Xander swallowed. "That's just how it started with Xander and me!" Anya chirped.

Buffy felt a little blanchy herself, and crossed her arms over her chest for reassurance. "So I'm guessing that's a negative. I'm sorry that's how you feel, and I don't expect you to welcome him to the gang. Just – let's try to work together until Glory is out of the way."

"Yeah, well, this threatening with bunnies thing is a new look for you. Bet you wouldn't have done that before you started getting the old cold Spike injection."

"That's enough," Giles broke in. "Could we please just concentrate on the matter at hand and not on personal lives, please?"

Buffy looked at her sneakers, and realized that the toes were badly scuffed and they needed to be washed.

"Right. Now let's make plans for this evening," Giles suggested, which seemed like a much better idea, so they did.

"Willow and Tara are going to where Citalia is staying and set a magic-sensing spell, which should tell us if Citalia is dabbling in the black arts or what Xander heard is some type of vocal warmup. I'll be here on call, Anya will stay with Dawn at the house, and I think Buffy has some vampires to deal with."

"She has to be at the Hilton," Anya offered. "None of the other hotels in town have any kind of star rating. Which isn't a good thing for the Magic Shop because we can't pull in any kind of high-dollar tourist traffic. But if we got that website that I was talking about yesterday—"

"Now is really not the time to go into this, Anya."

"And when would be a good time? I'm developing fine lines and wrinkles while opportunities just whiz by. My breasts are sagging while I wait for a good time to talk about e-commerce!" Anya bitched while giving Buffy a dirty look. "And –people are threatening me with bunnies."

"Everyone is stressed, and the important thing is to keep calm and be reasonable."

"Everyone has stress?" Buffy interrupted. "Pardon me! If anybody wants to trade for a grief-crazed little sister with a broken arm who is having me investigated by Child Protective Services because I sent her to stay with lesbians overnight where she broke her arm because I was concurring with the undead which my alleged friend decided had to come to the attention of my former, also undead, boyfriend who is now very pissed off and tearing the arms off the undead guy I was constructing with, so no one will take the broken-armed sister to a concert and keep her safe from the psycho goddess from Hell and I have to make all the decisions now because my mother is dead. Really, if anybody wants to trade their stress for mine, just sing out and we'll swap, like, right now," Buffy agreed from the depths of her ugly mood.

No one spoke.

"Really. I didn't think so."

"I think you mean consorting with the undead," Giles offered. "But we all understand that things are very, very difficult for you right now. More so than for the rest of us. Possibly we haven't been as supportive as we could under the circumstances."

"And if we'd been more supportive you wouldn't have to be doing the wild thing with Spike, or threatening people with bunnies."

In an unusual move of self-preservation, Xander stepped between Buffy and Anya, obviously sensing the fact that Buffy was on the verge of giving Anya a makeover she'd never forget.

"We should take Dawn home now," Xander told Anya.

"Yes, and sit on her so she doesn't break anything else." Anya sniffed and looked over her shoulder at Buffy. "Since Buffy has to separate her two pet vampires."

All Buffy could do was grind her teeth.

****

Angel had worked himself into a thorough brood after the Guinness ran out like the bloody typical Irishman he was. Spike could feel the sun leaching from the sky, taking its own sweet time.

Heathcliff-Angel was good for his safety, he thought, but not for his pole position, so to speak, in Buffy's life. Angel didn't make fun of her and he'd protect Dawn with every cell of his undead being. When all's said and done, she'd choose the dark and guilty hunk over the ineffectual and careless fop. And who could blame her?

Spike shook his head. Self-pity like that needed a drink to hold it up. And Angel had put paid to the last of the shipment he'd stolen from the liquor store. He needed a bar, and not the Bronze, and not Lovecraft's, which Angel might remember from Angelus days.

A human bar, then. Maybe he'd take a patron or two for later, seeing as his adventure in goodness was about to end.

Rusholme's was dark enough that Spike could have gone in vamped and not even scared the bartender. The patrons were isolated in their separate puddles of beer. The jukebox had "White Wedding" and he used all the quarters he'd stolen from the parking meters on the walk over. His fellow drinkers were so miserable that they didn't even seem to notice the droning repetition, just the way he liked it.

Spike was drinking Scotch like it was arterial blood, huddled at the bar, when a man leaned on the bar beside him and motioned the bartender for a beer. "Hey," he asked as he slid his money over, "why's the jukebox stuck?"

The bartender grunted. In a bar like Rusholme's, the bartenders were there to watch the cash register and water the drinks, not to monitor the patrons, let alone offer them a shoulder to cry on.

"You don't like it, mate, there's a liquor store just down the block." If he worked up sufficient annoyance, Spike thought, he could maybe have a fight and then a feed.

"Hey, no problem," the man assured him, and something familiar in his voice made Spike scrutinize him as surreptitiously as a drunken vampire could. This guy had been part of the 70s Bowery club scene in New York, Spike realized. His face was softened with age and fat, but Spike recognized him. Funny how the old punks all ran to fat and bloat. Old rockers like Keith Richards and Stephen Tyler just kept getting skinnier and tighter. Of course Spike had his doubts about Richards and Tyler being mortal anyway.

Beside him, the man was doing a little surveillance of his own.

The man – John? George? Ringo? Spike couldn't remember – finally broke his stare to smile. "You know, you remind me of—"

"Yeah, get that all the time," Spike grumbled and looked into his drink. One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer, or at least that was the ratio he was keeping if not the numbers.

"Looks like you have a respect for long-past days of glory."

"No doubt. So what's a man wiv' taste doin' in lovely downtown Sunnydale?"

The man chortled and waved for another beer. "Selling another slice of my soul."

"Hope it's remunerative."

"Oh, yes." The man took another long drink. "I, my friend, am Citalia's manager."

Spike almost choked on his Scotch. The Powers that Be were determined to totally fuck up his head this week. He covered and lit a smoke.

"'Zat so?" he asked.

"Oh yeah. I tell her where to go, who to speak to, I dress her up and approve her dates, who are all, by the way, queerer'n a three-dollar bill. I mean, do you think that a straight man would be in a boy band? And that is music today. If I wasn't paid so much fucking money I'd be disgusted with myself."

He saluted Spike with his glass and drained it.

"Fucking commercialism," he said and belched into the back of his hand.

"Yeah, accountants an' corporations ruin it all," Spike agreed. "You know what we gotta do? Burn down the disco, hang the fucking DJ, because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life."

The man was watching him with amazement. "I wish I were still your age. Back then I thought we could do it, you know, we could change the world through music. Fuck the establishment, eat the rich." Spike tried not to snigger. Back then, this man had snorted more powder than there was in Aspen. It was a miracle any of them could change their clothes, much less the world. Although coked-up blood was a bit of a treat and Spike could almost taste the memory of it.

"Now I'm one of them. But money doesn't suck, right?"

"Comes in useful," Spike agreed.

"Selling out's my cross to bear, buddy, what's yours?"

In a perfect world, Spike would have pointed out that bearing a cross was the best way for him to get branded, but it wasn't a perfect world, not even within spitting distance.

"Tearin' up the old guts wonderin' if my honey's gonna' pitch me out for an ol' love."

"Bummer. Been there, done that. But what's to worry? Women are like toilets: when you need one bad enough, any one is beautiful."

"This one is special," Spike found himself admitting.

"Ouch! Sounds like you've got a serious problem. Bartender, another round for me and my friend here."

The bartender stopped his dilatory polishing of glasses and slopped some Scotch into glasses. Spike lit a cigarette and hunched over the bar a little farther. Great, he had the sympathetic and drunken ear of Citalia's manager. The Slayer would want to know what was the what with Citalia before Little Bad could go to the concert and if the Slayer wasn't happy, he wasn't going to be happy.

"So how'd you wind up wiv'the manager gig?" Spike asked.

"Discovered the fucking cunt. High school musical. The ex-wife and the ex-kid wanted me at The Pirates of Penzance at Van Nuys High two years back. The little bitch was singing the lead, fucking amazing voice. Stage presence, too. Me and half the dads in the place were sportin' wood by the end of Act One. I talk her into cutting a demo, and since she was eighteen, no worries about parents. I shopped the demo around at the record companies. Tasty deal with Siren Records in LA."

George or whatever his name was pulled a cigarette out of the pack that Spike had left on the bar and also helped himself to Spike's lighter.

"Tasty for her. I get a miserable ten percent of everything after taxes and she owns the masters and is stuffing cash into Swiss banks after the first single comes out. I'm still paying alimony and child support out the ass. Course if I didn't have three ex-wives and five ex-kids I might have some left for myself."

Spike almost laughed, since alimony and child support were absolute non-issues to vampires; vampires had no issue.

"But get this, the bitch is as frigid as an iceberg. Never see her with a date that wasn't a fag set-up. I’d swear she had to blow half the company to get the contract she did, Madonna doesn’t do better, but now the contract’s in black and white, none of her producers can lay a hand or a dick on her. I'd think she was a dyke but I never see no women neither. I think she doesn't actually have a snatch at all. All that yummy chick stuff you see onstage and in the videos is as fake as her tits. She got those in 2000."

Compare and contrast the Slayer, who looked pure as the Virgin Mary and could pull his brain out of his body by way of his cock, to Citalia who looked like she'd fucked the entire US Marine Corps – essay, please. You have until half ten. The voices from his university exams haunted him for a moment. Women. The eternal mystery wasn't good and evil, life after death, cold fusion, or the recipe for a really dry martini; it was why the Hell women did what they did.

"I didn't want to do this, didn't want to be a pimp for a pubescent whore."

Spike didn't point out that since the girl didn't put out she wasn't technically a whore. Instead he just nodded and finished his drink. "Gonna change the world wiv'music. Bring down the 'stablishment."

"I had a band. I sang, you know. We were called Seizure. Played at every fucking two-bit club in New York and LA. Couldn't get a contract. What the fuck is up with that? Like the Ramones were better than us?" He drew a deep breath and looked at Spike with boozy eyes.

"To Joey. Man, you left us too soon," he said and raised his glass.

"To Joey," Spike agreed.

They emptied their glasses together.

The bartender brought another round and they drank it while the music continued from the jukebox. Spike had lost count of how many shots of Scotch he'd downed and his considerable vampire tolerance was beginning to give way to a feeling that was on the corner of pleasantly buzzed and shitfaced.

"Hey little sister what have you done/Hey little sister who's the only one/Hey little sister who's your superman?"

"You're a good guy," Georgeorwhatever said, "I appreciate you listening to me. Most people just want to hear about that fucking bitch."

Spike shrugged.

"I'm not a big fan," he admitted.

"Tell me about your 'honey'."

"Th'most amazin' dolly-bird in th'world. Got a body you'd kill for, and I done so more'n once. More beautiful – so beautiful I can just stand there like a right wanker an'stare. Take your breath away, man," Spike shook his head in amazement. "I'm the luckiest bloke in the world when she smiles. Not perfect, y'know? Sometimes she's as smart as a sackful a'wet mice. But sometimes, she – she leaves me in the dust."

Shaking his head with sympathy, the human waved at the bartender to refill their glasses.

"You got a terminal case."

"In more ways than y'can imagine, mate."

"To women," he held up his glass. "Can't live with them, can't kill 'em."

Since Spike wasn't entirely sure he could take Buffy, he was willing to agree. "Cheers to that, mate."

He was officially soused. It was a good thing. He was the biggest of the Big Bads in this universe and could go back to he crypt and knock Angel's pouf-ass around until sunrise and then go back to Chez Summers and make the Slayer cry out his name as he boffed her into oblivion.

"My good man, bring more liquid refreshment!" the manager ordered. "I keep thinking, when this runs dry, I could start my own label, y'know? Then I realize that we just paid $50,000 last week to get Citalia's remake of 'Because the Night' added to the radio playlist and I think I might as well buy a Beemer."

"Your girl's got that magic, though."

His gaze flickered to Spike's impassive face. "Yeah," he drained his beer. "Maybe too much magic."

"You mean that riot in LA? I got a real kick out'a seein' those little pink glitter girls takin' down the cops."

"That was a mistake, she shouldn't have –"

Spike sensed another person, or something like a person, coming up behind them. Didn't smell quite human, but he couldn't identify the difference. He swiveled on his stool as a heavy hand clamped down on his companion's shoulder.

"George. She said no drinking," a voice that sounded like a trash compactor said. The speaker looked human, if you thought Arnold Schwarzenegger looked human. Like Ahnuld, he sounded as if he had to be taught each word phonetically.

"Aw, fuck!" George, wisely, didn't try to get out of the Terminator's grip, which probably would have involved leaving his shoulder behind. "All right, I'm coming." With his free hand, he tugged out his wallet and tossed a few twenties on the counter. "Next few are on me, my friend. If you’re in LA, give me a call."

Spike took the business card and thought he could hear the goon's neck creak as it swiveled towards him. "I know you," he said.

"Like I was tellin' your pal here, I get that a lot." But Spike felt unease dance up his undead spine.

"Igor! Let's go." George, understandably, didn't want to be in Rusholme's now that drinking was no longer an option. The mismatched pair shuffled to the door and out into the night.

"Barkeep!" Spike ordered. "Another bottle o'whiskey to wash that taste out of me mouth."

****

"Drink whiskey, boy?"

He would have drunk lamp oil if it had satisfied the burning hunger in his stomach.

"No," he said.

"What ye drink, then?"

Sherry? Wine? Cider? He wasn't going to admit to any of them. The big Irishman was slouched on the narrow cot in the windowless room, fairly reeking of drink. Of course, the Irish always were drunkards, everyone knew that. Funny thing, there wasn't as much as a candle in the room and he could see the smug look on Angelus’s face. The whore, dead or unconscious, was curled up in the other corner of the room like one of Drusilla’s many broken dolls. The dolls, however, were better dressed.

"The women are shopping. They pick a shop, kill the proprietress and take whatever they want. Thrifty. No bills that way. Sometimes they bring an assistant back, for fittings."

The almost-empty bottle was wedged between Angelus’s thighs and he refused to look at it.

"You got a name, boy?"

"W-W-Will – William."

This drew Angelus off the cot, a smile of amazement briefly peeling the angry animal from his face.

"William?" he laughed softly to himself, the sound of a snake over silk. "'Course she has the Sight so I'd not wonder about the appropriateness of your name."

All he could do was reach up to straighten the spectacles he no longer wore while the vampire, swaying with the drink, stalked across the small room.

"Well, William. What's so special about you that would compel Drusilla to change you? What's so important or impressive about you?"

"Nothing."

"Name of a Saint. Which William? There were so many—" Angelus drank more and looked around the room as though there were answers written on the walls.

"St. William of Rochester, the patron saint of adopted children. That sounds about right, doesn't it? Drusilla adopted you into our little family. He went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his adopted son David who murdered him near Rochester, England. When a mentally deranged woman found his body and cared for it, she was miraculously cured of her mental problems. Reportedly miracles occurred at his grave, and it is said that he was canonized by Pope Alexander IV in 1256," Angelus said with the tone of someone reciting from memory.

Then his head snapped around and he drilled a cold, hard pair of eyes into William's bones.

"Drusilla's mad, mayhap she thinks you will cure her."

Under other circumstances that didn't involve his being dead and turned into a vampire, William would have protested that Saints and religion were folly since Charles Darwin had proved that man had arisen from the slime of the earth. He only had to look at Angelus’s brow to see that the Irishman was closely related to simian forms of life.

"Don't you say anythin'?" In a blurred movement, Angelus had seized him around the throat and was holding him against the wall with his feet hanging several inches above the floor.

Even though the breath in his lungs wasn't necessary, William still clutched at the man's hand.

"What shall I say? That I deny your existence? That I deny my own? That I wish I were dead in that stable rather than caged in here like an animal? That I don't desire the gift that's been given to me? What do you want me to say?" His voice was shrill and shaking as a frightened child's. "I'll say it, but for God's sake, leave me be!"

Angelus dropped his grip and William crashed to the floor like string-snapped marionette.

"Have a drink," Angelus said and thrust the bottle at him.

Since it was easier than arguing, William pulled out the cork, wiped the mouth of the bottle with his sleeve and drank. The whiskey burned like kerosene straight down his gullet and into his empty stomach. He gasped and put a hand to his mouth to cover the sound. Angelus laughed.

"You're just a boy, ain't ya? Smell of the schoolroom still upon you. Drink more, boy."

Schoolrooms, lecture halls, his tutor's rooms. Books smelling of old dust, old hands, old thoughts, and old bodies. He was dead as any of the books. What were the words? What were the words that the Father Simon had said at Gran's funeral? What were they? Rain falling into an open grave, Mum looking mild, Dad embarrassed at the weeping.

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality; then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the Law.

Death didn't have half the sting of the whiskey eating its way into his stomach like acid upon a stone.

"Drink that then, give you some hair 'pon your chest, Saint William," Angelus mocked. "Drusilla made you to save her? How do you expect to do that when you don't eat? When you just sit here an' stew like a turnip?"

"Made me to save her? I wish only that she had informed me of that pertinent information. And I'm not a turnip."

The drink was making the room sparkle in the corners, made the orange flecks in the vampire's dark eyes dance.

And so it went on, until the bottle was empty and William imagined that his battered stomach might rebel. The claws of the whiskey worked into his mind, blurring and confusing his thoughts. Angelus continued to talk, his voice rising and falling in the half-darkness. Time passed; the bottle was alternately snatched from and placed in his hands; he drank more. Outside, he imagined, life continued.

William had his eyes closed. When they were open he saw things, like the bloody splashes on the walls and the maggoty remains of someone's head. Was it still the same day it had been before? How long had he been dead? Did anyone miss him? Had anyone noticed?

I KNOW that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God : whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

A slap rocked his head so far he could hear the bones of his spine creak. "Answer me when I'm speakin' to ye!"

"No," he choked out, still refusing to look at Angelus.

"I don't see why ye mind that Dru killed you. You never lived." Something wet and cool splashed down his face and chest, burning where it entered open wounds. William smelled alcohol and determined that whiskey was going to waste. "Open yer eyes."

The quiet steadiness of Angelus’s voice frightened William more than the earlier bluster. When he opened his eyes, all he could see was a large lucifer, burning its way toward Angelus’s fingers. The flame danced like Drusilla in her madness.

"We fear fire," Angelus said. "We burn fast and well. If I drop this on ye, I could put it out quick, but Dru might not be so fond of what was left. You'd be a rasher of bacon left too long 'pon the fire, all black and crispy, mayhap wiv a bit a'fatty rind."

The match was half gone now. "Don't burn me," he said. The words echoed in his head like the pleas he'd directed at his schoolmasters, women, his father, God, all with the same result. But this time his voice was as dead as the woman rotting in the corner.

"An' what shall I do instead?" Angelus asked, smiling, the expression terrible with his yellow eyes and distorted face.

"I don't care," he said in the same voice.

The smile flickered and went out on Angelus’s face.

A moment later, the match did as well.

****

The house was dark. Buffy found it comforting.

After getting Dawn settled onto the sofa with the remote control in her good hand and Xander and Anya on the loveseat with the popcorn with only the blue light from the television breaking the darkness, Buffy finally felt like she could leave the house. No matter how angry either Anya or Xander were with her at the moment, they would keep the best eye possible on Dawn.

She didn't like the way they were looking at her, but sometimes a Slayer had to do things that she didn't like. Although the thought was somewhat comforting, Buffy was pretty sure that threatening with bunnies wasn't exactly a Council-sanctioned technique.

Xander hadn't quite finished the rubbing in of things either.

"You got anything to drink besides blood, beer and Diet Coke?" he called from the kitchen. "Maybe something full of healthy goodness for a little sister with a broken arm?"

"There's juice in the pantry. Apple and cranberry."

"Cranberry juice is excellent for the prevention and treatment of cystitis," Anya explained to Dawn in her chirpy post-demon voice. "You can get cystitis from prolonged and vigorous sexual intercourse when bacteria get into the urinary tract."

"Oh gross," Dawn said and wrinkled her nose. "Another thing that makes me wonder if sex is worth the trouble."

"Kingdoms rose and fell over sex," Anya said, "Of course that was because the Kings rose and fell over sex. Which is really funny when you think about how much of history depended on one guy or another's p–."

"Well the thing you have to remember is that you really should only have sex with someone that you love," Xander added as he handed Dawn the cranberry juice.

Buffy wondered if she should just vomit on his shoes or make the attempt to get to the bathroom.

"Thanks for the Family Value-Added chat, Xander. I have faith that you'll refrain from macking in front of Dawn –" Xander flinched at the reference – "while I find out if Spike killed Angel or it was the other way around."

"We can only hope!"

"I was going to say 'penis'. It's the perfectly acceptable medical term."

Buffy shut the door behind her.

It was midnight by the time Buffy made her guilt-soaked way to Spike's crypt. Thankfully, the cemetery was pretty much a vamp-free zone and Buffy was sure that she was not sensing strangers. Funny how she knew how they both felt – feelings that were as different as Spike's leather and ash smell was from Angel's books and sandalwood.

The crypt was Spikeless. Angel was sitting in Spike's comfy chair, channel surfing and looking more normal than she'd ever seen. A sick coldness clogged her guts. There was a pile of dust near the crypt entrance but it looked more like dirt dust than vamp-dust. The pieces were too small and not cinder-like enough, but Buffy wasn't about to make assumptions. There was also a pile of empty beer cans near the sepulchre, leaking stinky beer onto the dirty floor.

"Where's Spike?" Buffy asked, between teeth that felt as though she'd had her jaws wired shut to lose weight.

"I don't know," Angel said with his customary contempt for detail.

"You just let him leave?" she asked, getting shrill in the echo-y room.

"I've had my turn babysitting Spike. He left about two hours ago, said something about needing a drink."

A headache brought books, stereo, computer, and its CD collection to take up residence behind Buffy's eyes. She rubbed her temples and looked everywhere around the crypt except at Angel.

"So this is the part of the story where you tell me exactly how big the badness is which is Spike, right?" she asked, dryly pleased at how blasé she sounded.

Angel clicked off the television before speaking.

"Should I? I think you would know by now. How many times has he tried to kill you, anyway?"

"Count was lost at thirty, but he's been un-Buffy-cidal for almost two years now. Might have lost the urge."

"Replaced it with another one. Spike has a Slayer fetish. Did he tell you he killed two before you?"

"Like he's still planning to kill me?"

"You know for sure he isn't?" Angel finally looked up from the television set with his dark eyes set on Vamp piercing mode. It felt like he was reading her brain cells without needing a CAT scan.

"It would be a colossal coup to make the third Slayer fall in love with him before he killed her. It's the kind of sick joke Spike lives for."

"I'm not in love with Spike."

"You're making love with him."

"I'm fucking him. I learned my lesson about falling in love with vampires."

"I deserved that."

"Yes, you did," she agreed.

Angel had the decency to look away and his frown deepened. It almost made Buffy feel better. God, he'd hurt her so badly, broken her heart, superglued it back together and then broken it again in fresh fracture lines. Love and hate had disco danced so long in her mind to the tune that was Angel that she'd finally quit caring and the dance beat had stopped. Since there was no way that Angel could ever really love her for more than five minutes without turning into his own evil twin, it was hardly worth feeling anything for him anymore. She had as good a chance developing a serious relationship with Matt Damon via videotape rentals.

No, no, Angel was as over as legwarmers and Flashdance sweatshirts. She had moved on, and she had the twenty pairs of platform shoes she had used to ease her pain as proof. Apparently Angel didn't know about the shoes, because he took that opportunity to get up from the chair and come over to her. The non-heat of his body leached through her clothes and made her throat go all tight and dry. There was a lot of stuff going on in her head, not the least of which was sex. Maybe it was true that you never forgot the first guy you were with, and truer when he happened to be a vampire who went all grr and evil afterwards.

Relationships were supposed to be hard, but this was fucking ridiculous.

It occurred to Buffy that she'd been spending enough time with Spike to pick up his foul mouth. And it was Spike's foul mouth, in more ways than three or four, that was keeping her from turning into goo again in front of Angel. She managed to keep good posture and a purposefully blank expression when his dark eyes stroked her face.

"Spike loves Drusilla. He always has and he always will. She waves one well-sharpened fingernail at him and he'll come back like a whipped puppy."

It was the equivalent of a thin bamboo shish kabob stuck through her heart, not deadly, but not without pain, either.

"So it's the same way you love Darla?" she asked and gave him her brightest smile.

Angel seemed to decide not to answer.

"You think I don't know that you went apeshit the minute Darla came back from Hell?" She put her hands on her hips and aimed a 'no shit Sherlock' look at his downcast eyes. "You think Cordelia doesn't know how to use a telephone?"

"Blood calls to blood, it's between a vampire and the vampire he creates. You wouldn't understand."

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life," Spike announced doing a drunk suave swagger through the crypt door. He looked around for a moment and leered at the both of them before sticking the cigarette back in his mouth. "And I will raise him up at the last day."

He stomped across the floor, giving his coat a little flip so it flared out around him. No one was supposed to notice but just take the coat flapping as part of the drama that was Spike. In a couple of steps he had inserted himself between Buffy and Angel and was poking his chipped forefinger into Angel's chest in time to his words while the cigarette smoke floated up around his head and escaped to the crypt roof above.

"For my flesh is meat indeed. And my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."

For punctuation he exhaled smoke and leered even more broadly. "Don't stop talkin' about me on my account! Were you singin' the same ol' song about bad, mad, sad Spike?"

He smelled like a barroom floor and Buffy wasn't quite sure what she was supposed to do. There were flickers of vamp-power all around the room and she swore she could smell the funny smell that came when the fuses shorted out in the kitchen.

"Good night for drinking?" Angel asked.

"Fair to middlin'. At least Rusholme's got a decent jukebox. Unlike this place which only's listenin' to your sorry ass–:"

"Gave it some class for a change."

"Shut your bloody gob you fuckin' wank stain!" Spike switched from drunken malice to rage in a nanosecond.

Buffy reached out and grabbed a double-handful of duster.

"C'mon, we're going home," she said in the tone of voice that never worked on Dawn.

"Now? It's barely half twelve," Spike asked, the anger fading to mild bewilderment.

"We have to watch Dawn," she said in a slow, careful voice and began dragging him towards the door. Spike flung his arm around her shoulders and rested entirely too much weight on it for comfort.

"Right, gotta mind the Niblet," he agreed and cast a glare over his shoulder at Angel, who was blinking in what was his version of total surprise. "Keep your hands out of my stuff or you'll be usin' bloody stumps, right?"

Angel still might be shocked at Buffy's close contact with Spike, but she couldn't leave them together. Drunk Spike alone with Angel was a badness of the majorly big.

The post-midnight air was cool and damp, the grass leaving wetness on their feet as Slayer and vampire made their way through the quiet back yards of Sunnydale. Buffy shrugged free of Spike's arm and let him wander his way through the dark.

"Don't believe nothin' he said 'bout me."

"Like you didn't just start this – thing – so you could kill me later?"

Drunk, Spike was moving with an absolutely inhuman liquidness, as though he didn't have anything like a skeleton in his undead body. With the moonlight shining off his hair and his duster he seemed like something out of a dream, or a hallucination. A double-set of goosebumps rose on Buffy's skin. There were times that she was almost lulled into thinking that there was something normal about Spike, but now she was painfully reminded that he was a thing from another dimension, from a nightmare.

"Think I'd do that?" he asked.

"Let's say I'd be really, really surprised if you did."

Silently, he laughed, making Buffy wonder what was so funny.

What wasn't funny were the frozen polite faces of Xander and Anya when Spike followed Buffy into the living room. At the same time it was clear to Buffy that Spike was keeping himself very much under control so Dawn wouldn't see how drunk he was.

"So, status quo of souled vampires still status quo-ing?” Xander asked, sneaking a sideways look at Spike.

"Quo, status, the usual thingy," Buffy said.

"Can I stay up?" Dawn asked.

"No. You need to sleep so your bones will heal," Buffy said and hated the sound of her own voice.

"We just gave her one of the pain pills the doctor prescribed. She's a little stoned."

Dawn waved her good hand at Xander. "I am so not so little stone – stoned. I can still speak in concrete sentences."

In the doorway, Spike laughed. "The Bitty One's got a buzz on. Shift her off t'bed before she passes out."

Letting Anya help her get Dawn upstairs and into bed, Buffy worried about a potential Spike/Xander incident in the living room. She was listening for any unusual noise and had half her attention downstairs when she knocked over the water glass at Dawn's bedside.

"Shit," she cursed and grabbed at the glass, which broke into big pieces in her hand.

A shard sliced through her palm and brilliant droplets of blood flowed down her fingers. Anya flashed her a worried frown and then returned to where she was propping Dawn's cast up with pillows.

"Buffy, you go take care of that and I'll finish here with Dawn, okay?"

"Wonderfulness."

In the bathroom, Buffy threw out the broken glass and ran cold water over her hand, watching the skin flaps open under the water like a lipless mouth. Although she had seen gallons of blood in the past and most of it had been hers, she felt suddenly lightheaded and shaky. Stress, it's just stress, she told herself and sat on the closed lid of the toilet, pressing her forehead against her knees because she knew that was what you were supposed to do when you felt faint. Stress and not enough sleep. Just tired. The humming of the fluorescent light filled her head and she could taste something bitter and metallic in her mouth. The water ran on in the sink.

Angel was back in town, Citalia was doing something awful, Dawn broke her arm because Buffy had to be with Spike for sex, Xander and Anya hated her because of Spike, Dawn just hated her, Child Protective Services was going to put her in jail and take Dawn away, her mother was dead, Glory was going to kill Dawn, and Spike was going to make her love him and then kill her.

"What the Hell?"

Spike dragged her up to her feet from where she had sagged to the floor. She didn't know how long she had been there, but her knees stung with the impression of the tiles.

"Dawn-?" she asked.

"Is asleep an' Romeo and Ghouliette have left."

"Oh good," she said in the faintest shadow of a voice.

"Yeah," he said, matching her tone.

She felt, rather than saw, the change when he shifted from pointy human face to even pointier game face with a mouthful of fangs and eyes like burning sulfur. Air turned into something solid in her chest because she could see the reflection in the bathroom mirror, her reflection only, and she turned her head to watch her bleeding hand float into a point in the air slightly above her head, not seeing the cool fingers that were raising it to that fang-lined mouth. Before she could do anything other than moan with distress, Spike had buried his demon-muzzle in the palm of her hand and was licking the blood away from her skin. He still smelled like beer and Buffy remembered that he was drunk, and didn't know if he was trustworthy in that state. The last time he'd been drunk, he'd been human and she was more than capable of snapping him like a breadstick. This was different.

The feeling of his cool and sleek mouth on her skin made her mouth go dry and her breasts begin the hot tingle that crept down between her legs.

Not trustworthy? Him or her?

"No," she managed and pushed at his head with her free hand.

"What? Angel shows up and you're too good for me?" he asked from deep inside his chest and the sound flickered electric down her spine.

The lights in the bathroom were too bright and the mirror was showing her something that she didn't want to be thinking of.

"Really hate that tosser," he murmured.

His mouth flickered up her arm, licking blood away and teasing the sensitive skin until he reached the inside of her elbow. The cold shock of his lips with the hint of fang underneath right against nerves and pounding pulse made her moan out loud, worrying that Dawn could hear between the two half-open doors and wanting to care. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do. Bashing him over the head with the wrought-iron trashcan might have been a start, but that would only have slowed him down. The toilet brush had a plastic handle and not wood so she couldn't stake him if he got completely out of control.

"Why?" she managed to croak.

"You don't know nothin' about Angelus," he continued in the same scary-sexy voice he'd been using since he'd stalked into the bathroom. "You only knew Angel. You didn't live with Angelus."

While he was speaking, Spike deftly turned Buffy around so she was faced with her own pale reflection in the unfeeling mirror. Her eyes were too big and too black. She looked like a prime candidate for a drug test. She also didn't like the fact that she could feel Spike's hands roving over her breasts and stomach and all she could see was the fabric wrinkling and the flesh compressing underneath his invisible vampire hands. But what she really, really didn't like was the fact that he was nuzzling her neck with his fang-face and the scrape of tooth against skin was making her weak in the knees and wet between the legs. She wasn't supposed to like this at all. She also looked really stupid with ponytails on either side of her head.

"I was there, remember?" she gasped. "I was the reason he went bad last time."

"Blondie, you could make any number of good men go bad," he said and chuckled into her ear while one hand was worming its way underneath her baggy sweatpants and his fingers began sliding inside her.

Suddenly, her head was entirely too heavy for her neck to hold upright and dropped. She would have fallen, but Spike's arm was clutched just under her breasts and she barely managed to keep on her feet.

"Like that, do you?" he asked. "Did he make you feel like this?"

All she could do was bite her lower lip and close her eyes. Buffy wanted to cry and wasn't quite sure why she felt that way.

It only took a couple of moments, his fingers sliding back and forth against the stinging alive skin of her clit, for the final shattered glass of her climax to tear an almost pained cry out of her mouth. Spike's fangs were pressed against her throat, pressed against, not puncturing, and just barely holding himself back, as she was vaguely aware of the fact that his entire body was vibrating against hers like a too-tight guitar string. She squirmed around in the tight ring of his arm and found the non-demon Spike face staring back at her and there was something swimming around in the booze-drenched eyes that she didn't recognize. Underneath the worn cotton of his T-shirt, the muscles in his chest were as hard as the counter pressing into her ass. He was rubbing his face against hers, like an animal, and she could feel the stickiness that was her own drying blood. All she could do was groan.

Cigarettes, ashes, blood, and something alcoholic enough to make her brain swirl for a second. Could you get a secondhand drunk from kissing? Kissing wasn't quite the word for what Spike was doing. It was a combination of full dental exam and sucking her better sense out of her mouth – and it was wonderful. From Scary Bad Vamp to Sex on a Stick Vamp in less than five minutes, yeah, that was Spike. His hands were all over her, scraping nails hard enough to tingle into her skin, making the flesh on her upper arms do a delicious little creeping thing that went all the way up to the back of her neck.

His fingers roved through her hair and the coated elastic bands in her hair went snapping off into nowhere and her grateful hair fell everywhere like rain.

And then it was the bedroom, and Buffy wasn't quite sure how the bathroom had turned into the bedroom but the bed was much softer than the countertop and that was goodness in itself. Spike's hands slid down over her hips and in a moment her sweatpants were on the floor like rags, and she was pulling up his T-shirt so she could bite at his chest, ribcage, and collarbones. He was so thin, muscle and bone like one of those racehorse dog things. She couldn't hurt him. She could crush her legs around his hips and bite his ear while pushing against the hard denim of his groin with her own soaking wet one. He could take it, and could weld his body to hers without hurting her. She loved the way his skin felt, somewhere between paper and fabric and cool to the touch and gaining heat from her.

Somehow he got his jeans and his boots off while he was licking her left breast, alternately tugging at her nipple and his Levi's. She wanted to laugh but it didn't seem right somehow, so she settled for rubbing her hands through the crunchy wilderness of his hair.

"You don't have to try to impress me," she said into the cool curve of his ear.

"Yes I do, luv, in more ways than you're imaginin'."

It hurt when his hands pinned her biceps down to the mattress and she bit his arm in retaliation. In a serpentine vampire movement, he slid home inside of her and made her gasp out loud with the feeling of it. She shoved back at him and they both moaned at the same time. All Buffy could do was lock her ankles above his ass and try to hold on the best she could. When a guy had been drinking, was it supposed to make him last longer or less long? Did it make him longer or less long? She couldn't remember and decided that it probably didn't apply to vampires anyway. Everything seemed to be working all right in the dick department as he sawed into her, his mouth growing hot against hers and the small growling noises vibrating out of his tight throat. The muscles in her back and legs were starting to burn in the best way possible as the pleasure started burning in her belly.

There was sweat everywhere and it was hers because vampires didn't sweat. She could smell Spike – real Spike that she remembered from Egypt – the mortal smell of him that lurked underneath the leather and the smoke.

"Oh God, Spike, this. I love-" her voice caught in her throat "—this."

Did he pause for a second or did she just think that he had? But the rush of silver and blue from her clit stabbed right up to her brain and cleared the room for dancing sparks. Arching, she broke free of his hands and pulled his body as close to her as possible, trying to pull him into her farther than he could go. She grabbed onto him and pulled him down into the sparks with her. She felt him come inside her, hard and cold and shuddering against her own warm skin, and all he could do was make a strangled sound against the side of her face before he went boneless atop her.

It seemed very important that she not move, that she just kept running her hands over his shoulders, through his hair until he grunted and curled away from her. This she didn't like and stuck herself to his spine until all his muscles went stiff.

Against his back, Buffy winced, slid her hand over the bones in Spike's hip.

"You're doing it again," she told his spine.

"What?" he asked and she felt his voice through her body.

"Rigor Mortis guy."

"Slayer, I got quite a bit on m'mind at the moment," he said and sighed in the dark room. "Not the least of which bein' Scotch whiskey, so pardon the livin' fuck outta' me if I ain't the perfect soft toy."

"About Angel," she asked as carefully as she was able. "Is there something you're trying to tell me?"

A minute or two passed on the bedside clock.

"It was a long time ago, and in another country."

****

The wench was dead, lying in a corner. Across the room, William held essentially the same position, half-embracing the rough stone wall, legs jumbled underneath him. The rot beginning in the dead girl's stomach and the soft chewing noises of the maggots, heard with sensitive vampire ears, were almost a welcome distraction.

Outraged. That's what they called it when it happened to a woman, anyway. He didn't feel outraged. That was far too passionate an emotion to get through the fog settling into every corner of his brain. Outrage, he thought, turning the word over in his mind like a shilling. He felt no connection to the pathetic creature slumped like a sack of wheat on the damp floor. To be sure, that incessant hunger had followed him out of his body. But then his body was dead and there was no reason the screaming, demanding blood hunger would have stayed behind with a living mind to torment.

If he gave in to the sucking maw inside, the "demon," Angelus might stop. Drusilla promised him. But Drusilla'd been created by Angelus, and Drusilla thought that she could tell the future from the blood drops spewed from a slit throat. Angelus might just continue until he broke like an egg, like Dru herself, her reason dripping out like blood. Had the death of her mind hurt like the death of the body? William thought he might soon find out. He could smell his own blood where it was drying into his ragged trousers and filthy shirt.

I could fight back, he thought. He could hear the demon whispering instructions and promises. Look at it this way, it said. Even if I can't stop Angelus – you won't mind any longer.

"You poor thing, is this where they've been keeping you?"

He hadn't heard the door, hadn't heard the woman walk in, and didn't hear the sound of her breathing. She was another one of them. He could tell now. Like called to like. Her skirts crackled like fine paper when she knelt down to pull his chin up so she could look in his eyes.

"Starved and left in the dark. Drusilla doesn't take very good care of her toys, I'm afraid."

She smelled like expensive perfume and her golden hair was piled up in curls around her head in the latest style. With big blue eyes and the luminous skin he had begun to associate with these damned vampires, she seemed to glow in the dark little room.

"What's your name, sweetling?" she asked in an American purr.

****

She was being entirely too good to him, this he knew. He didn't deserve it. Lying on his side in the soft bed smelling like sweet, clean girl with the Slayer curled up alongside him like a sleeping kitten, Spike didn't want to think about how close he'd been to driving his fangs into the soft skin of her neck and draining her dry as a squeezed tangerine. It was all Angelus’s fault. If the bastard hadn't turned up with his soulful looks and his 'I'm worried about you' routine, the unthinkable wouldn't have almost happened.

So, Spike old son, looks like old habits die harder than you think.

Drinking out of blood bags, even microwaved, was about as close to killing as beating the bishop was to actually shagging. The truth of the matter was that he didn't want to kill her, but he'd rather have her dead than be back with that damned sheep-fucker Angelus. The best thing to do, really, was for Spike to beat a hasty retreat to Parts Unknown. He should let white knight save yon damsel from Glorificus and they could all live happily ever after with Angelus’s natural melancholy keeping him from true bliss and therefore preventing souless VampireDevilBoy from making a return engagement.

And monkeys could fly out of Spike's ass.

He also had the proverbial snowball's chance in Hell of falling asleep. Stupid things were running through his head, images of himself driving through the night in his car, fleeing the scene of his most horrible defeat, as well as some of that fucking drivel that Citalia sang: “And I'll feed your obsession/The falling star that you cannot live without/I will be your religion/This thing you'll never doubt.”

No matter what George had said, it was catchy shit.

And the hangover in the morning was really going to be fuck-off awful. He glared at the stuffed pig on Buffy's dresser. He should be shagging a girl who'd outgrown her toys.

****

"Drusilla treats her Miss Edith with more consideration," the blonde continued, standing and trailing an elegant hand over the rough stone walls.

"I don't think she can help it," he offered. The demon was a fiery ball in his stomach, sending jets of pain and hunger so that he could barely watch the new vampire drift around the room.

She was in front of him, holding his face in a pincer grip. "Making excuses. Angelus is right, you aren't a real vampire. This is a glorious life, don't you see?" She released him to spin around so that her blue and yellow dress flashed before him, satin and taffeta and other expensive fabrics like the ones his mother had carefully detailed from the society columns. "Only the best of everything. Only what you want to do, when you want to do it." She had a voice like treacle.

"Unless it's during daylight," he pointed out.

She pouted. When he was alive a face like hers would have him writing poetry day and night. And she'd throw it back in his face like all the others. Inside, the demon uncoiled and he felt a liquid rush.

"William," she said with perfect condescension, "Angelus needs a challenge. He's growing restless. I don't mind that he'll kill you, of course, but I do so love London." Her face distorted and became ugly, worse because she was so well dressed. "Be a vampire. Challenge him. You'll die or you won't. Either way, stop being worthless."

The echo of the women, the editors at the publishing house, the voice of his father, hit him like a box to the ears. What was he? What had he been? A mediocre student, a social disaster, possessing a shyness that was criminally vulgar, and disdained by any woman he had tried to woo. Her eyes were as cold and pitying as Cecily's, her hair swinging in ringlets like the neighbors' girl when he was eleven. Another woman, another superior woman. The burning to prove her wrong was greater than the blood-hunger had ever been.

Well then, he thought, let's see you make a better go of it, and wished for the demon's help. It was like opening a door into fire. The world exploded into coal-red pieces, there was a great pain as if his skin had been ripped from his body, and then a surge of energy unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

The other vampire was still in the room. She'd only had time to take two steps away. He rose with a growl and grabbed her shoulder. "Don't you turn your back on me," he warned, and heard the threat in his voice like the trumpets of angels.

She smirked at him. "I'm Darla. Why don't we get you cleaned up, and then you can have someone to eat?"

****

"Are you going to get me something to eat or lie there all day?"

There were elephants dancing on his brain in pink tutus and those hard pointy ballerina shoes. The hangover pain challenged the many tortures Spike had experienced since the Industrial Revolution. He opened an eye and was relieved to see that the thin, demanding voice belonged to Little Bad Dawn and not Drusilla as he'd initially imagined. He also realized that he was very much alone in Buffy's bed, very much on top of the covers and very much naked.

"Do none of you Sunnydale morons have the slightest idea that bustin' in on a bloke when he's in the altogether is rude?" he choked and grabbed some sheets around his waist.

"Chill, I spent last night listening to Anya's play by play description of her and Xander playing hide the salami and a whole bunch of other things, so I'm not exactly ignorant about the sex thing." Dawn hadn't taken her eyes from his body. Spike's stomach clenched and he pulled the sheets up to his chest.

"Don't be mentionin' sex while I'm not dressed. Now toddle off downstairs like a good little girl and I'll be down directly."

"I'm not a little girl," Dawn said with a flash of anger and hot eyes that reminded him uncomfortably of Buffy.

"Right, so toddle off downstairs like a good not little girl."

Sniffing, Dawn made her way out, holding her broken arm at a strange angle like a bird with a mashed wing. There was no doubt in Spike's mind that little Dawnie was going to be both a heartbreaker and a ball-buster as soon as she was old enough to realize that she could be. With any luck, the cast would slow that process down for about ten minutes.

He shoved himself into his clothes and, after a quick trip to the bathroom for hair and fang maintenance, made his way downstairs. The blinds had all been pulled down since he started doing the shopping, so he wasn't in immediate danger of bursting into flames, but if feeding Dawn involved using the gas range all bets were off.

"Right. I expect you're wantin' food or somethin', eh?" he asked.

Dawn had planted herself at the kitchen table, where Spike had drunk coffee and hot chocolate on a couple of different occasions, and was picking at the edge of her cast. Since she wasn't being much help, Spike opened the refrigerator and looked inside. Blood, beer, Diet Coke, and a bottle of cranberry juice made up the beverage portion of the inside. There were some vegetable-looking things lurking all green and uncooked and a couple of ambiguous packages wrapped in deli paper.

"Help me out here, what's in here that can be turned into Niblet Chow without much fuss."

"Scrambled eggs?" she asked.

"And how do I do that?" he asked.

"Eggs, frying pan, scramble? Don't you know anything?" Her voice and expression took on that annoying as hell quality that she usually reserved for Buffy.

"I ain't needed to eat food f'over a hundred years, and I sure as hell didn't cook before. Wasn't a manly thing t'do."

Sighing, she stared at the refrigerator from her seat at the table.

"There's bread in the cabinet and lunchmeat? Can you make a sandwich or is that totally not a manly thing?"

"Likely get me thrown out of the Big Bad Club, but I could have a bash at it."

In the end, the sandwich wasn't that complicated. He'd eaten them from time to time and could create a reasonable likeness from what was at hand. There weren't any long toothpicks with colored cellophane on the end, but Dawn reassured him that the toothpicks were optional and that there was no such thing as too much Miracle Whip. While Dawn started in on her sandwich, Spike nibbled at a slice of ham while a coffee mug of blood was warming in the microwave. The lunchmeat tasted flat and dead and he pitched it in the bin. Very few kinds of food tasted right to his vampire palette. Spicy things, by in large, were good. Meat that wasn't spicy tasted spoiled and sickening. Vegetables were nauseating, which didn't differ much from the soggy boiled English vegetables of his human youth..

"Thank you," Dawn said around a mouth of food.

"Nothin' to it." The microwave dinged and Spike pulled out his mug of O positive. "So where's Big Sis, then?"

The blood tasted funny, but he thought it might have been the ham.

"She and Xander went to check out the college auditorium where the Citalia concert is going to be. What's the what with that? Doesn't she think that I'll be able to handle myself there? God, she is so bossy since mom died."

"Well she don't want nothin' happenin' to you. Even if you were just a borin' un-supernatural twit, she'd still keep her eagle-like eyes 'pon you. 'Cos she's your big sister and that's what they do."

He really wanted his first waking up cigarette, but knew he risked a staking if he fired up in the kitchen. When the Niblet was done eating, he'd slip downstairs and smoke in the basement.

"Are there any potato chips?" she asked.

"No, and there ain't likely to be until Big Sis comes home or nightfall, whatever comes first."

"Good morning!" Willow burbled as she pushed the kitchen door open.

"Bloody Hell," Spike swore and ducked behind the kitchen island to avoid the sunlight from the open door.

"Sorry, forgot about the whole extreme sunburn thing," Willow apologized and Tara shut the door behind them.

"Don't trouble yourself," he muttered from where he crouched on the floor.

"Where's Buffy?" Willow asked.

"She went to the college auditorium with Xander to make sure that the Citalia concert is going to be safe for me or if I'm just going to have to spend the rest of my life in a bank vault so I don't get hurt!" Dawn said in the bitterest of teenage voices.

Willow and Tara exchanged a wet Wiccan look and Spike felt his non-existent blood pressure rise.

"Look here you," he said, using his talks with morons voice. "The mean ol' world out there's full of the nasties who only want to do you, kill you, eat you, rip you off, or turn you into somethin'. With Glory and the rest of SunnyHell around Buffy’s right to worry, and if you pretend it ain't so you are going to end up in a place wiv’out any handles on the inside doors, bank vault or tomb or what have you."

"I agree with Spike, Dawnie. Citalia has some kind of magic going on," Willow said in her usual gratingly staccato fashion.

"We really can't tell what. We've ever sensed it before," Tara finished and the lesbian witches nodded in unison, which made Spike feel decidedly ill – they were just too fucking cute.

"An I suppose ol' Rupert the Bear ain't bein' much help?"

"It's hard to explain a magic feeling. She had a kind of shivery blue thing with some ammonia and broken glass," Willow began.

"And Tuesday. She felt like Tuesday," Tara added.

"Makes Dru's ravin's sound like logic from Spock himself. Give me somethin' useful."

"Citalia and her entourage have taken over the whole top floor. That's twenty rooms. The guy at the front desk says that they have the stairwells blocked off which is against fire code but probably a good idea because the fans are like ten deep all around the building. One girl was trying to climb up the side of the building and she fell from the third floor and broke the arms of the people she landed on. They've been eating hotel food, despite suckage probability, but ordering gallons and gallons of mineral water – not the fizzy kind but the flat kind – and the night desk guy says he bets she's bathing in the mineral water."

"You forgot about the candles," Tara prodded.

"Right!" Willow said and brightened. "And there was a shipment of candles, cases and cases of candles, from the Goddess Wax Factory. You know the really expensive ones that Anya won't order anymore because she got that shipment where they were all broken and they wouldn't give her credit and told her to put in a claim with UPS and Anya told the woman from the Goddess Wax Factory that she was a selfish lesbian? Anyway. Those. Hundreds of pillar candles, all sizes. All in the Gold Power scent. Gold Power is the kind of yellow ones. I like Gold Power, but not as much as Apple Pie."

Maybe it was Willow and maybe it was the whiskey from the night before, but headache-elephants were starting to dance again in his brain.

"Citalia likes Gold Power," Dawn piped up. "It's on her fan-club website. That's what everyone waves at her shows now. Instead of those icky lighter things that get all hot in your hand."

Spike closed his eyes and observed a moment of silent mourning for concerts of yore. "You're the computer boffin, do the clicky bit an' find out what you can about Gold Power candles," he told Willow and then turned to Tara. "Do you know how to make coffee? I'm perishin' for a cup."

Shortly, Willow reappeared with her toy computer and did much in the way of plugging in wires and cords before settling down at the kitchen table and clacking away at the keyboard with a noise that made Spike's head hurt worse than it had before. Luckily, Tara had been able to make coffee and after two cups he was beginning to feel undead again. Dawn and Tara had gone upstairs to try to get Dawn washed and dressed around her cast and left Spike and Willow alone in the kitchen, which indicated a certain level of trust on the witches' part.

"So I hear you got outed," Willow said between clicks.

"Pardon?"

"You, Buffy. I knew it was just a matter of time."

"You knew?" he asked, a little squeaky with surprise.

"Buffy confessed. She needed to talk to somebody. She swore me to secrecy and I didn't even tell Tara who was somewhat miffed when she found out last night, but I think we got over that. I mean Buffy's my best friend and when she asks me to keep a secret I keep it – most of the time. When it's important and I don't think it's going to hurt her."

"So you're the only person in the entire bloody state of California who doesn't think I'm goin' to hurt her?" Spike asked, somewhat amazed.

"You've changed," Willow said with a self-satisfied little smile.

"Changed? Me? Not bloody likely, I been the same longer than you've been alive, Little Miss Tabitha," he spluttered and drank more coffee. Willow? On his side? He'd tried to drain her more than once and she was the only member of the Scooby Losers who didn't think that Spike boffing Buffy wasn't a sign of the impending end of the world. He shook his head at the impenetrable darkness that was the mind of Woman.

"'Change is the essential process of all existence,'" she said and did the same cat smile of satisfaction. "Or so says Mr. Spock."

"He never."

"Did too! It's from Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." She looked up and her little face was full of merriment. "I didn't know you were a Trekkie, Spike."

"Huh," he snorted and retreated behind his coffee mug again. "Not a Trekker, just watched lots a'late night TV back in the day."

He didn't remember Spock saying that, but he'd always liked The Trouble with Tribbles, A Piece of the Action, and Mirror, Mirror the best.

"Goddess Wax Factory website. They have a listing of all the contents in their candles. Let's see, Gold Power," Willow squinted at the screen and frowned. "Beeswax, paraffin. Glycerin. Essential oils: sandalwood, myrrh, rosemary, High John the Conqueror Root, angelica, petigrain, lemongrass, and mandrake. Wow."

"Sounds like herb tea to me."

"Sandalwood, myrrh, rosemary, High John the Conqueror Root can all relate to the object of desire. Burning a candle with those herbs in it with the right ritual should bring the desired things into the ritual-ers grasp. Angelica, petigrain, lemongrass, and mandrake are all power herbs – again with the burning and the ritual. So she's got hundreds of really powerful lost-thing and power herb candles. I understand the power but I'm not so sure about the lost things."

"Could that be what brings the teeny-boppers crawlin' all over her? Some sort o' Pied Piper thing?"

Willow frowned. "I don't know. The meanings can be … open to interpretation. Like, another way to interpret those herbs is that they can bring lost things to you."

"All's I know is, Citalia wants somethin' and she's come to Sunnydale. What're the chances that she's just lookin' for adoration?"

They shared a significant look.

****

"So this is where chairs go when they're bad. Reform school for chairs," Buffy said and looked around the stacks of folding chairs on trolleys scattered around the cavernous space of the auditorium.

"All bad things end up in Sunnydale," Xander said and kicked at a nearby chair.

"Which reminds me, Angel gave me the 'Big Bad Spike' talk already so you really don't need to go over it again, okay?"

"Vampire, Vampire Slayer, don't you see a conflict of interest going on here?"

"Says sleeping with former demon guy."

"Emphasis on former here, Buff. Anya's not exactly Miss Middle America, but she's got the normal thing heads over Spike. Spike's likely to bite your throat out as talk to you, soul or no soul."

"I am seriously bored with this subject," Buffy said and briskly clambered up onto the stage. "Let's get to the badness which is Citalia."

A badness with potential for ass-kicking, just the kind of badness that she liked.

"So how many screaming teens are expected in here?" she asked.

Anya looked up from her clipboard. "Something like ten thousand. That's a lot of hormones zinging around, and a hell of a lot of psychic energy. I checked the floorplans for the set, no pentagrams, pentangles, or any other spooky things starting with the letter p. They have the concession stands set up at exactly the wrong places for maximum impulse buying –"

"So we don't have some kind of Ghostbustery supernatural battery charger or anything like that and I don't think most demon-conjuring spells can be done without some kind of floor markings."

"There's a trap door." Xander offered. "Center stage. She comes up out of it at the beginning of her 'Out of The Darkness' number. She comes, strangely enough, out of a dark stage on a platform with a pin-spotlight on her face."

"Tacky but effective. Does she think she's Madonna or something?"

"She thinks she's better than Madonna."

"Hey youse kids!"

There were big shapes coming through the darkness of the auditorium from the main entrance. Linebacker-sized shapes walking with a neckless swagger that didn't seem entirely human. Buffy was thinking maybe demons or a really ugly European soccer team. She couldn't make out details of their faces because the light was behind them, but they were definitely not going to make anyone's calendar for 2002.

"Hi!" Buffy said in her perkiest cheerleader voice, and went to the edge of the stage. "Student Activities said that you still needed ushers for the show!"

"No ushers, professional security, us."

The leader got within view and Buffy saw that he looked like he'd had his face squished into a food processor early in life – before his head got quite so big and pumpkin-like. The rest of the goons were variations on the theme. Humans with faces like squash were few and far between; demons, on the other hand, were known to resemble any number of vegetables.

"Wow, what a bummer." Buffy let her face fall.

"Leave now and don't come back without a ticket," Pumpkin-face suggested.

"Great PR, bet you just keep the fans coming back for more," Buffy said and leapt off the stage

She landed badly, one leg crumpling underneath her, and grabbed at the Pumpkin-face to steady herself. Pumpkin would have fallen had another one of the big-shouldered goons not grabbed him. Buffy wailed with pain and clutched at her ankle.

"Oh that hurts, that really, really hurts."

While the goons circled her, Buffy glared at Anya, pointedly jerked her head towards the backstage area, and grimaced with fake pain.

Anya scampered away, making for the backstage area.

"You okay?" Pumpkin asked and helped her to her feet with more strength than gentleness.

While he was helping her, Buffy's hand slipped into the front breast pocket of his suit jacket, and she palmed what had to be a wallet.

"Fine, just need to go home and ice it, gonna go outside and wait for my ride." Buffy explained and hobbled for the exit, not looking at Xander or any of the other men working on the floor of the auditorium.

Outside, she sat on the edge of a cement planter and went through Pumpkin Boy's wallet. He had three hundred dollars in cash, no credit cards, no driver's license, a plastic passkey with the Hilton logo on it and a Blockbuster card. Nothing useful. A moment later, Anya popped out of the auditorium, shaking her head.

She and Anya waited outside for Xander to finish, carefully not conversing with one another. Anya busied herself with calculations on her clipboard. Ten years from now, Anya was probably going to own Sunnydale. Up to and including the graveyard with Buffy buried next to Mom. That thought made conversation with Anya even less appealing, and Buffy was happy when Xander finally returned, check for the day's work in hand.

"Well, we certainly learned a whole lot of nothing," Xander said cheerfully as he navigated towards Buffy's house.

"We learned that Citalia has demon security, which suggests a willingness to think outside the package.”

“Outside the box, Anya.”

Buffy ignored the vocabulary banter. She figured that half the time Anya just did it to bug everyone else. “Big Boy's wallet was kind of a washout. But he definitely had a demon vibe. No credit cards, no driver's license, and a Blockbuster card? Has to be a demon."

"Wallet? You picked his pocket?" Xander asked. "Get as mad at me as you want, Buff, but pre-Spike porking no pocket picking, post-Spike porking pocket picking. Judging not going on, just pointing that out."

"Pre-Spike porking no pocket-picking, post-Spike porking pocket picking!" Buffy grinned. "You made a tongue-twister! That is so cool!"

"Really?" Xander thought a moment then grinned back. "I guess I did."

"Everybody has credit cards," Anya said with her usual adherence to all matters financial. "The second thing I did when I became human was establish a line of credit. They must be very stupid demons."

Buffy didn't have to ask what the first thing Anya did when she became human was. He was driving.

"Stupid demons with a lot of cash." Buffy held up the bills only to have them snatched out of her hands by Anya.

"Hey!" Xander yelped while trying to negotiate a traffic light. "Anya, give that back, it's stolen properly. Property."

"Like demon-boy didn't come by it nefariously? He has to pay for being evil, and he has to pay for a bunch of pizzas tonight. Buffy, will the vampires eat pizza?"

"Get one topped with hemoglobin," Xander suggested, "or ladyfingers. So we're decided that Citalia is a bad thing."

"Anybody with demon security might be expecting demon problems," Buffy decided.

"You wouldn't have an on-call plumber if you didn't have bad plumbing." Anya agreed. "That would be prohibitively expensive. Unless of course you could work some kind of sex for service deal."

****

"You don't think I should go? Just because she's got guys looking out for her safety?" Dawn's incredulous whine buzzed through Buffy's head like a plane saw. "You're even crazier than usual. I've got a vampire and a Slayer guarding me, you think that means I'm evil?"

"No," Buffy said, as reasonably as she could, "I think that means that you're special. Along with those magic candles, the presence of Mr. Play-Doh face and his friends tells me that Citalia's got a big account at the National Bank of the Supernatural. And if she makes a withdrawal in Sunnydale, anyone around her is at risk."

"I hate you!" Dawn accused, and Buffy looked down at her crossed arms. Which is why she was surprised by the weight of Dawn, knocking her backwards as her sister clawed for her eyes with her non-casted hand. Willow was shouting in the background as Buffy landed hard on the floor, Dawn on top like an overloaded backpack. Her Slayer-reactions kicked in as Dawn made a teeth-snapping lunge for Buffy's neck like a newborn vampire, and Buffy grabbed Dawn's arm with one hand and held her away from Buffy's throat with the other.

"What is wrong with you?" The only answer was a banshee shriek. Dawn's face was so contorted that she looked more vampire than human. But that couldn't be it – there were no fangs.

Willow's hands descended onto Dawn's shoulders. "Dawnie, it's okay –"

Buffy had been holding Dawn away, not holding her still. She realized the mistake when Dawn rolled off of her, crashing into Willow and bringing her down in a cloud of floaty orange skirt. Willow screeched as Dawn flailed at her.

By the time Buffy had Dawn pinned, one arm tight around her waist and the other keeping her shoulders still, ignoring Dawn's heels kicking at her shins, Dawn had already dragged Willow's sweater off of one shoulder, where Buffy could see bleeding half-moons from Dawn's teeth, and scratched four seeping lines down Willow's cheek. While Dawn struggled and yowled, Buffy and Willow stared at one another in horror.

"Call the hospital," Buffy mouthed, and Willow staggered into the kitchen. "Dawn," she murmured, striving for calm. "Dawn, it's okay. It's okay."

Was this a normal teenage thing? What if the monks had made her wrong? Dawn was deaf to her attempts at reassurance, and kept struggling, even as her strength left her and all she could do was twitch like a new-born kitten.

"What the hell is going on here?" a dusterless Spike demanded as he exploded from the basement door, half-smoked cigarette hanging from his lip.

Great, Spike was smoking in the house, this she needed.

"Dawn freaked and attacked Willow," Tara informed him, from where she was trying to hold down Dawn's cast so she couldn't hit Buffy with it.

All Dawn could do was sob with heartbreaking gasps between each bout of crying. Spike knelt and relieved Tara of cast-immobilizing duty.

"C'mon, Niblet, you're goin' all red 'round the nose. Can't have that," he said in an offhandedly soothing tone which reminded Buffy that he'd dealt with Dru for almost as long as Sunnydale had been in existence.

"Ten minutes," Willow announced with the telephone still on her shoulder, the 911 operator yammering in the background.

Buffy wanted to scream as loud as Dawn had been screaming.

"She could die in ten minutes," Buffy hissed at Willow.

Across Dawn's heaving body, Spike shot Buffy a look of such fury that she almost choked.

"You're scarin' Buffy here, little one. We're goin' to get you cleaned up, an' get you some of that Kaberry Kaboom ice cream you like an' I'm getting' Urban Jumble 'cos I like the name."

It was the second longest ten minutes of Buffy's life, the longest being waiting for EMS to arrive and tell her what she already knew – her mother was dead

Eventually, the howling siren stopped at the front door and the room was full of people, taking Dawn away from Buffy and Spike and surrounding her like a blue polyester tide. Around the blue shirts, Buffy could see Spike and Willow involved in a low-pitched conversation that she couldn't hear. Tara had her arm around Buffy's shoulders and was rubbing her back.

"Everything's going to be fine," Tara soothed. "It's probably just the pain pills, they can make people act really weird sometimes."

In a matter of moments, Dawn was strapped to a stretcher and whisked out.

"Look," Spike said over the clamor of the ambulance people's voices. "Since it’s daylight an’ all, Willow's goin' to go to the hospital wiv you and I'll let everyone know, right?"

With any other guy Buffy would have thrown herself in his arms, but that wasn't something that could be done with Spike. Instead she made a face that was somewhere between a grimace and a smile and nodded. Spike responded by giving her an awkwardly light punch on the shoulder.

"Go on, then, in the ambulance. Make sure they use the lights an' all that."

Willow gestured at her from the doorway.

"Come here—" she said.

****

"Come here," she said and held out a haughty hand.

He was ready to say no, didn't like the glint in her eyes that suggested he should dash up to her like an overexcited lapdog likely to widdle on the carpet. He was full of the demon and felt the power of it move through his dead veins.

"I said come here," and her hand was in his hair and yanking him until he stumbled and hit the floor with both knees.

"Don't disobey me," she said in a pleasant sing-song, her fingernails gliding over his scalp. "I know you're a stubborn, willful one. I can feel it here, here and here."

Her nails dug into his head at what seemed to be random intervals. He'd read Fowler's book on Phrenology and hadn't much understood what the point was, but if it was to believed, he wouldn't have imagined that willfulness would be present anywhere close to his brain.

"Hardly," was all he could say, smelling her perfume all around him.

She was sickly-sweet with roses, far removed from Drusilla's wild spices and smoke. The rustling satin crunched under his hands as he clung to her skirts, to keep from falling to the dizzying carpet beneath. Yes, she frightened him. He remembered Drusilla's hissing reminders that Darla had made Angelus and was, therefore, his great-grandmother.

Funny, great-grandmothers shouldn't give great-grandsons a rise in the trousers. Great-grandmother could probably devour him like a cream cake.

"You're just beginning to realize it. It's not here yet, but it's coming."

Her hands were cold and hard on his shoulders, under his suspenders, cutting like ice blades through the worn silk of Angelus’s too-large shirt, around his throat, over his face, her thumbs touching the thin skin between eyebrow and eyelid.

"Become stubborn with me and I'll rip out your eyes with my fingernails," she said in her sweet voice. "Your eyes will heal in time, but there's nothing as distressing as a blind vampire begging others to bring him blood."

No stubbornness with Darla, that would be easy to remember. Her sharp little fangs cut into his throat with a pain/pleasure that classed Dru's with drawing pins. He was clinging to her skirt like an infant. Her lips were cold and he leaned up and into the sharpness of her mouth. This was like a needle into his brain, straight to the bits connected with pleasures of the flesh – the dead flesh, he had to remind himself. So calm and still and powerful, she took a handful of his hair and pulled his head back to drink deeper. She couldn't kill him this way, but a frisson of fear still stabbed through his guts. When the rushing sound in his head was loud enough to dampen the sound of the clock on the mantle she stopped and pulled back, her lips bright with his stolen blood.

"I thought the point was to feed me," he gasped.

She gestured at the bed, heavy with velvet draperies. Looking more carefully, William could see a little boy and girl, siblings most likely, clinging to one another in their sleep near the top of the bed. They were dressed in lace and flawless velvets, like the children his mother used to make him look at, the children who had what he could someday pretend to have if he behaved with total propriety.

"And where's total propriety now?" he murmured as he stalked forward to see them better. The boy was dark-haired and thin-featured, while the girl was as golden as sunlight reflected from the Thames. "They look like you and Angelus," he commented through a face burning with the change to fangs.

"I know," she smirked sweetly.

Experimentally, he reached out a hand and shook the boy. Sleepy brown eyes blinked up at him, lashes thick and dark enough to make all the girls weep. "Don't be afraid," he told the boy, feeling as if he ought to announce his intentions, as if speaking them would help him believe them. "This won't hurt long."

Human blood was nothing like Drusilla's blood, he discovered with the first flood into his mouth. It sparkled, was alive with a thousand different flavors. He could taste the boy's confusion, fear and pain. He could taste the biscuits and jam from the boy's last meal. He could taste the murk of the city air, the slap of the ruler across the back of the boy's hand when he spoke too quickly to the schoolmaster. He tasted life, spreading throughout his body like leaves unfurling in the early spring.

The boy's heart slowed, rallied, and finally stopped. William was enraged – the boy had no right to die and end this pleasure. Fortunately there was still the girl, just awakening from all the movement on the bed. She looked into his face, a devil face shiny with blood, and her mouth opened but no sound emerged. Faster than he thought he could move, William swept her into his arms and fastened his mouth to her neck.

As he drank, he looked up to see Darla, smiling.

Sadly, the girl was finite as well, and he dropped her to the bed and wiped his mouth. "More?"

Darla shook her head. "That's enough for now. Your stomach has shrunk, you'll make yourself sick if you gorge."

"How do you – why do you ever stop?"

The older vampire laughed, a flirtatious flash of teeth and tremble of bosom. "You'll drink forever and never lose the hunger. In the meantime, there are – other things – that we may do." With her eyes locked on him, she reached behind her dress, and it puddled around her like a mound of flowers.

Somehow Darla retained a bit more human color than Drusilla. Perhaps she was just better fed. She was golden and gleaming, highlighted with blushes of pink and untroubled blue eyes, as brilliantly colored as the sunset over the polluted Thames. William thought that the sunset was a small price to pay for this.

Darla was more demanding than Drusilla, but for William that was actually a bit of a relief. He was good at following directions, this he knew, and Darla gave him no cause to doubt that, not even when she pushed his head between her legs and ordered him to use his tongue. He decided to trace the words of Genesis on her slick flesh. The demon liked the blasphemy, and William liked the way Darla cooed and told him he was a good boy.

Cold fingers scratched his shoulder, and he would have pulled away if Darla hadn’t had his hair by the roots. She released him enough to turn his head and see his Drusilla, resplendent in dried-blood scarlet, smiling at him, smiling at Darla. “Oh you’ve met my beautiful boy!” she cried and clapped her hands. “We shall all have tea and cakes!”

“We shall all have rather more than that,” Darla drawled, and pulled Drusilla onto the bed, ripping through the cloth of her dress. Drusilla smiled coyly and finished shredding her garments, her face blank with ecstasy as she left thin lines of blood on her own fair skin. Darla let him observe for a few minutes, then forced him back to work. He could only identify Drusilla when she slithered around him and bit in the tender parts.

William enjoyed Darla, but his own member was swollen and the heavy bedcoverings were cruelly harsh against his skin. The next time she relaxed her grip, he pulled away and looked past her excellent bosom, creamy as blancmange, to her eyes. “Is it my turn now, please?” he asked, emulating the polite schoolboy he’d always been.

Their jostling had pushed the children together, with the boy’s hand flopping into the center of the bed to join the caressing. Darla stretched her arms above her head and William discovered a thousand thoughts about what he could do with her like that. “Drusilla, attend to William.”

Drusilla slid on top of William, pulling him deep into her cool recesses. He groaned at the sensation, while Darla’s legs closed around his hips and her fingernails drew tiny lines of blood across his chest and shoulders. Leaning over with a wicked light in her eyes, Drusilla lapped at the droplets even as her hips were moving against his in a rhythm that he was helpless to try and change. Darla’s hands grabbed his wrists, pinning him in place even as Drusilla’s pretty face above changed into something other than pretty, just the smooth arc of fangs and eyes like golden coins. She smiled with her dangerous teeth and as she leaned across to drive her fangs into his throat again, he exploded up and into her as her she bit down into his throat, sucking his blood into her mouth as other parts of her body sucked up other fluids.

Darla laughed as he arched and cried out. His vision darkened at the corners as Drusilla fed from him, stealing the blood away from him again. He might have wept then, as the hunger grew inside, but Drusilla’s wrist was open and she held it out with her now-human face as sweet as the nymphs and dryads in any writer’s imagination.

“Tea and cakes,” she said and proffered the blood at her wrist.

He drank, the coolness of her blood like cold wine in his dry throat.

“He learns fast, I like that in a man,” Darla said and he could feel her voice move through his body.

Drusilla giggled and blew out the last candle. In the darkness, he could still distinguish her narrow wicked fingernails from Darla's more practiced caresses.

****

Spike turned all the lights off at Casa Summers while he waited for Buffy and the rest to return from hospital hovering over Dawn. He wanted to go out and bash something, but without a phone he was basically chained to the house. Waiting in Buffy’s bed seemed a bit on the aggro side so he decided that the living room would be more neutral. The heavy curtains kept most of the sunlight out and bleached all the color out of the room. It was like being in an old movie. Funny, even when he remembered the days before Technicolor and Cine-A-Rama, he tended to remember them in black and white – except for the blood, which was brilliantly red as always.

Spike considered turning on the idiot box, but then he might not hear Buffy approach.

He had no idea how long it was before tired footsteps dragged up to the front door. Spike turned, because studied nonchalance wasn't worth the danger of being caught by Glory, so he saw Buffy's face in the light before she saw him in the darkness. She looked like she'd shrunk in the wash, white and so small she was sinking into her own clothes.

Buffy's Slayer-sense kicked in and she swiveled her head towards him. "What are you doing here?" she asked with total disinterest, and let the door fall closed.

"Waitin' for you," he said and tried to shift to indicate that she should come sit by him. "Dawn?"

"Sedated," she said. "Spike, what if — this isn't normal. Maybe the Key isn't supposed to be a person, maybe she's losing it like that monk guy –"

Spike gave up on Buffy's volition and moved to guide her to the couch. Her shoulderbones had never seemed more fragile under his hands. "Humans get crazy too, you know, it's just in Sunnydale it's harder to notice, right? Bad time, it's easy to crack, I can't even tell you what I did when — anyhow, don't go imaginin' the worst. You scare Dawn enough and she might start to believe it." As he spoke, he rubbed her hard, knotted back in slow circles. She didn't relax much, but she did lean into his hands.

"It was when I told her she couldn't go to the concert," Buffy mused. "Citalia again. First the goons, then the magic power candles."

"There were riots in LA," he reminded her helpfully.

"So you think it's Citalia casting some sort of spell that makes teenage girls crazy to see her?" Buffy turned to him and her eyes fairly blazed with hope.

Spike considered the possibility that she wanted an external evil force so that she wouldn't have to worry about her own surrogate parenting skills, and said, "I'm sure of it. Wanna go kill her now?" His hands were still moving on her back, soothing her, as they faced one another on the couch like high school sweethearts about to kiss.

"Last time I ran off to kill a skanky blonde newcomer I got beat like that nasty Sue chick on the original Survivor," Buffy admitted ruefully. "And I was in mega better shape than I am now. Nap, shower, slay, in that order."

"Right then." Spike pulled back just enough to slip one arm from her back to her knees and picked her up. She felt like she weighed less than a stone, and he knew she was too drained to fight Citalia when she didn't even protest, just lolled her head back against his cradling arm and let him carry her up the stairs.

Her top was a cobweb of strings tied in what must have been ten different knots, but she'd have red welts in the morning if he didn't take it off. Spike resisted the impulse to cut it and instead slowly unpicked each tangle. The pants, a bizarre hybrid of khaki and spandex, were much easier, and Buffy lay splayed across her bed, the golden glow of her skin in the moonlight interrupted only by her white cotton panties. With her hair spread around her like Ophelia in the river, she was unbearably beautiful. He wished for tears; he wished for the gift of poetry; he wished that she would stay here forever.

Buffy shuddered suddenly and curled up, cradling herself in her arms. "I'm so cold," she whispered. Spike flinched, knowing he could only steal her heat, and shook open the blanket at the foot of her bed to lay over her. But when her distress didn't abate, he found himself sneaking into the bed, discarding his clothes so that there would be nothing to irritate her, and trying to wrap himself around her like a shield. She didn't feel cold to him at all.

Buffy wasn't crying, which made her shuddering somehow more terrible. He stroked the swan curve of her neck, the thin flesh on her ribcage, the long muscles in her thighs, wishing that he knew better how to calm the sane. "'S all right, luv," was the best he could do, and whisper kisses on her shoulder. When she turned in his arms, he was surprised to find her eyes wide and clear.

She kissed him slowly and carefully, like a cartographer with a map to draw. Spike felt her shaking underneath him, and tried to keep his hands from wandering, but Buffy's mouth erased whatever half-drawn moral lines he had lurking in him.

It was slow, then, like moving through honey. He marveled at the texture of her skin, so open and human. The hollow of her neck, the juncture just below her breasts, the knob of her ankle all seemed brilliantly new. Buffy seemed content to let him ramble across her body, as long as he was touching her. Her mouth formed soft noises that couldn’t even have reached the ceiling.

When Spike entered her, he felt as if he was touching her through skin, into the nerves and muscle itself, that if he did this right they would never have to be apart again. He felt every tremor in her body in his own. Slowly, slowly, knowing that this was not a night for theatrics, until she sighed and relaxed underneath him. The orgasm wasn't even the point, he knew as he shuddered into her and then couldn't let go.

Eventually he did pull away, propping himself with one hand so that he could stare down at her. Funny how the Slayer could seem as vulnerable as Dru, as in need of protection. Inside him, something fluttered white wings. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you," he whispered.

Buffy was already asleep.

Spike thought about poetry. He wished he didn't have to steal words for her, but it would suffice. He'd read her Sappho, perhaps.

****

Later, William was in the library, feeling the fire warm his dead body while he looked through the books on the shelves. Most of them had never been opened, and the smell of paper and leather binding set him to salivating as much as the smells of blood and women. He ran a finger over the spines until he reached a collection of Chatterton's poetry and took it from the shelf. Slitting the pages with a newly sharp fingernail, he opened a page at random and read.

"Drain my heartès blood away; Life and all its good I scorn, Dance by night, or feast by day: My love is dead, Gone to his death-bed. All under the willow-tree."

Chatterton had killed himself in his garret by taking arsenic because he hadn't been able to interest a publisher in his verse. William now had all of eternity to improve his poetry to please the most discerning editor. The thought made him smile as he went to the brandy in a cut-glass decanter on the side table. Now, at least, he had a better idea of what raptures the physical act of love could provide. Raptures that, quite frankly, made anything he had imagined he felt for Cecily seem as silly and childish as talking to tin soldiers, pretending the toys were flesh and blood.

The brandy was a vast improvement from the horrid whiskey Angelus had poured down his throat in the cellar. There was also a box of fine Turkish cigarettes to which he helped himself. William settled himself in a comfortable armchair and began reading. Hours chimed on the mantel clock as time danced around the face.

The front door shut with a clamor that roused him from his reverie of brandy and poetry. A cold blast of air from the hall and Angelus’s coat was powdered with snow. Ripping off his gloves, he strode over to the fire and opened his coat before turning to stare at William with cold-bright eyes.

"The rat's been let loose from th'cellar, I seen. Didja finally decide that y'ld rather be up above with us than down below with the rest of the garbage?"

"Possibly," William admitted.

"So, was it Dru who finally let you out, then?" Angelus asked and turned his back to warm his hands at the fire, "Or dija' scrape an' blubber an' get one a'th day maids to take pity on you?"

"Darla let me out."

Angelus turned so fast that one of the delicate porcelain gee-gaws fell from the mantel to the hearth below and exploded into fragments. A crazy kind of satisfaction was warming William inside and all he could do was smile at the older vampire. The expression of shock on the other's face was going to be able to warm him through any number of cold London nights.

"Darla? Let you out? What'd she go and do a foolish thin' like that fer?" Angelus tried to cover with his usual bluster.

"Dunno," William said and let his eyes drift back to the book, insolently ignoring Angelus.

In a flash the book was torn out of his hand and dashed into the fireplace, the smell of burning paper and leather filling the room. William found himself creeping back in his chair, braced by his arms, pulling his body as far away from the gleaming gold eyes and demon face that filled his vision.

"Darla don't just take an interest in a body if she ain't got a use for 'em."

"Maybe she just got tired of your ignorant prattle and sought some more intelligent conversation," William responded, trying to summon up the angry demon that lurked within him somewhere.

But the demon wasn't receiving visitors and all the threat he tried to place in his voice came out as little more than sophomoric sarcasm. Well, so be it. Sophomoric sarcasm had held him in good stead through school and university.

"Intelligent conversation, from you? 'Tis only the fact that I find it so amusin' that's keepin' me from rippin' your stupid head from your narrow little shoulders, boy."

"Was it amusing, then, to keep me in the cellar, ignorant and frightened? Small wonder Drusilla has gone mad." William slithered over the arm of the chair until he was standing, with the chair safely between himself and Angelus. "You offered me no knowledge of anything, no idea of what I am now capable. Darla explained everything. I am enlightened and know what I am. I also understand exactly what a swaggering, overbearing peasant with delusions of grandeur you truly are!"

"Tell me why I shouldn't kill you here an' now."

Finally, the demon flared and he could feel the unholy power growing inside his body. William found himself laughing as he leaned forward across the back of the chair, until he was nearly touching noses with the irritated, fang-laden vampire.

"I think the lady may not appreciate it."

Meanings were made by the gleam of an eye, the twitch of a lip.

Angelus’s face darkened even more than before in his demon mask. Leaning closer so he was scant inches from William's shirtfront, he inhaled, sniffing like a beast.

"I can smell them on you," Angelus growled and William felt his blood-filled stomach sink to his boots.

****

"I can smell her on you," Angel said as soon as Spike pulled himself from the tunnel.

"Fuck yo—"

The wall of the crypt was harder than he remembered and his blood left smears on the stone. His left arm was pulled back and up behind his back hard enough to make the tendons scream and would have dislocated on a mortal.

"At least give me the courtesy of showering before you come back here and flaunt yourself."

Spike's vision yellowed out, and he could feel his face distort into his personal demon. Bracing himself against the wall, he lashed out with his left leg, caught Angel's and sent the other vampire sprawling onto the dirty floor of the crypt. He spun, shaking his head to push the demon back into place and straightened the lapels of his duster, which slapped at his legs.

"Don't ever fucking touch me."

"Fucking ponce," he added a moment later and licked the blood from his split lip.

Pulling himself off the floor, Angel began patting his clothes back into place like a cat who had fallen and didn't want to let on that he'd made an ass of himself.

"The Niblet's back in hospital, an' the Slayer's a right wreck," Spike said in something approaching a normal voice and rummaged around for his cigarettes in his pockets. “She didn't like much bein' told that she couldn't go to the concert. Went wiggy an' attacked Willow. Her Blondness had t'pull her off witchy-poo."

"Think it's a spell?"

Shrugging, Spike lit his cigarette and took a deep drag.

"Could be. Citalia's got an arsenal a' power and money candles up in her hotel room, Anya heard her casting spells earlier."

"So we just assume from here that Citalia is, in fact, something supernatural and probably not playing on our team."

"Hold on, mate, I ain't on your team, Spike don't do teams. Not a team player."

Angel's look cut him to the bone.

"Because you're better at playing with yourself?"

"Fuck off," Spike grumbled, not liking the fact that he'd set himself up for that. "I gotta wash an' get changed. And keep your fuckin' dim Irish self the fuck away from me. Ugly thing goin' 'round these days wiv people bustin' in when I ain't dressed."

"Whatever, just don't take all day," Angel said and turned his back on Spike.

If it wouldn't seriously limit the possible Sex with Buffy, Spike would have staked him right there and then. Angel obviously thought that because he was back in town he was vamp in residence, the wanker. Sizzling inside, Spike went and took a cold shower and pulled on some clean clothes.

In the car, Spike played the radio too loud for human ears and steered more by intuition than anything he could see through blacked-out windows. He could probably have driven to Lovecraft’s blind. Satan only knew how many times he’d made the trip blind drunk.

"See now, that's decent music, not like that Citalia crap."

"It's the end, the end of the 70's. It's the end, the end of the century." Angel reached out and turned the volume down, ignoring Spike's fang-face. "We need change, we need it fast. Before rock's just part of the past. 'Cause lately it all sounds the same to me."

"That new little girl pop shit? It's not even music, not really," Spike complained. "Where's the stunnin' social commentary, th' insight into the deepest reaches of human nature?"

"Like 'I wanna be sedated'?" Angel asked.

"Alienation, isolation, rage, disillusionment, an' a bunch of stuff you never got 'cos you were sleepin' in trash cans and tryin' not to exist. Course, that would give you a good idea 'bout alienation."

"I haven't been interested in music since Gershwin."

"How did you miss the sixties? You couldn't avoid the music or gettin' a contact high. You couldn't be anywhere without hearin' it."

"I wasn't stoned off my ass in Height Ashbury."

"Your loss. I partied with Charlie Manson, serious fuckin' nutter – like a Frayl demon wiv' shoes."

"What is this place?" Angel asked when Spike finally pulled into the parking lot, under the canopy with the sign marked “Reserved for Vampires” and the bloodstains indicating that this limitation was taken seriously.

"Lovecraft's. Dontcha' remember?"

"Was it another color? Different somehow?"

"You got Vampheimer's or somethin'? We used to hang here, you, me an' Dru. Cheers for the Undead, where everybody knows your name, right?"

Oh it was a wonderful thing to have every head in Lovecraft's snap their way when Spike and Angel entered. The ones who remembered when William the Bloody and the Scourge of Europe walked ankle-deep in gore through the continental capitals shook their heads in wonderment and the young things who had only heard the stories looked with greedy surprise. Thin Lizzy was wailing on the jukebox. "Friday night they'll be dressed to kill /Down at Dino's bar and grill /The drink will flow and blood will spill /If the boys want to fight, you'd better let them."

Angel was scanning the assorted creatures in the bar, and Spike wasn't certain what he was looking for, something familiar maybe. No one really knew what the trip to hell and the resouling had done to Angel. Maybe he had brain damage – not that you'd notice – but Spike was a little surprised that he hadn't remembered Lovecraft's. Blowing past him, Angel closed in on the bar and frowned his Neanderthal frown at the lamia behind the beer taps.

"So, couldn't stay away?" she asked and grinned her professionally friendly grin at him. “What can I get you?"

"Bull's blood."

Spike winced; it was the equivalent of club soda to a vampire.

"Give me a pint of lager," he instructed, "and one here for the happy boy."

"So, how's tricks in LA?" the barkeep asked, pulling beer from the taps.

"Tricky. What do you know about Citalia?" he asked with his usual charm and tact.

"Other than the fact that my kid has worn out all her CD's? Not a lot. I heard that the Ossenfelter brothers are working security for her." She plopped an overflowing mug on the bar in front of each vampire. "You might want to talk to Schedeni over there by the pinball machine. He used to hang with the Ossenfelters."

"The nights are getting warmer, it won't be long /It won't be long till summer comes /Now that the boys are here again /The boys are back in town."

"Ta ever so," Spike said and left a twenty on the bar, which had more bribe-like qualities than tip-like qualities.

They moved over to the pinball machine. Schedeni turned out to be a weedy little nuisance demon with a pinched face and badly twisted horns. When he saw the two vamps headed in his direction, he bolted up from the table and was about to make a run for the door on his webbed feet when Angel's huge hand slapped him back down in his seat.

"Please to be so kind good vampire sirs, there is nothing that I know. You ask and I know nothing!" he whined and rubbed his forelimbs together.

"Calm down there, little fella, we just came over to talk." Angel stretched a smile across his face and sat in the chair next to the trembling demon. For some reason, the demon cringed further away from the smile than he had from Angel’s normal face.

Around the room, heads turned in the opposite direction. Spike spun around a chair and straddled it, effectively pinning Schedeni in from the other side. His beer was warm and watery but he drank it anyway.

"I hear you're mates with the Brothers Ossenfelter," Spike said.

"No, them I do not know. I only know that they are bad demons and not fine vampire gentlemen like yourselves."

"You know, I would love to sit here all night and listen to you flatter us, but we're on a schedule," Angel said in a weary voice. "You tell me about the Ossenfelter Brothers and what they're doing with Citalia, or we'll beat the living crap out of you, stuff you in a box and Fed Ex you straight to Hell. You're going to wish you were never hatched."

"Lost none a'your finesse I see," Spike muttered into his beer.

"Oh, since that is the way which you have it put," Schedeni didn't look very happy and he began to twist his horns with his paws, which explained why they looked like twirly pasta, "the brothers it is money they adore. Anything for money. Ago half a year they left with the saying that money was to be had for the young lady. The young lady with spells to charm many. With the music she charms and afraid she is that she would be stopped from the charming. The brothers see that charming continues."

"Is she human?" Spike asked.

"This I do not think. I think human she was and no longer is. Water, water is most important to the young lady. It is with water and fire she charms." The nuisance demon shrugged. "This I do not know. Car engines, dryers and washers, computers, all these I can make sick, but not the water and the fire. I know nothing."

"Made that abundantly clear. You don't know nothin' 'bout nothin'. I say we waste him."

Schedeni whined and turned a paler shade of gray.

"Nah, let him live. If we find out he's lying, then we kill him," Angel said.

“Thank you kind vampire sirs,” the demon whined, and went back to his bloody stupid horn-twisting.

“I’m out of here,” Spike slammed his empty mug on the table.

Angel followed him out to the car like an oversized shadow. It really was getting on his wick, having the bloody great pouf following him like a puppy. Surrounding the car were three obvious demon-types with squishy square heads.

“Let me guess, Larry, Moe and Curly?” Spike asked. “No, must be les freres Ossenfelter.”

“Citalia wants to talk to you. You fight, we hurt you,” the Ossenfelter spokesdemon warned.

“Oooh, I’m scared, how about you?” Spike asked.

“Terrified,” Angel agreed.

Years crackled and broke into dust like dried flowers. Angel dove on the Ossenfelter on the right and Spike went for the one on the left. The Ossenfelter was as big and unwieldy as an 18-wheeled lorry so Spike was able to land a series of vamp-powered blows to the thing’s squishy head. Squishy-looking or not, it was like hitting a waterbed covering a bag of rocks and seemed to have the same non-effect.

“Ever seen one of these before?” he shouted over to Angel, who had his Ossenfelter on the ground and was kicking it in the head. Spike dodged a swing by an arm the size of a sheepdog and darted around the demon to avoid being kicked out from under the canopy into the sunlight.

“No, but I think from the name they’ve got something to do with bones. Ossen, ossify—“ The third Ossenfelter was turning its wart-shaped head from side to side on its swollen neck, trying to decide which one of its comrades to assist.

“Ossuary, osteoporosis, osteopath-“ Spike jump-kicked his demon in the face. It staggered backwards. “Osteoarthritis from the Latin osseo ‘of the bone’. Spend a hundred years tryin’ to educate yourself?”

“Like you trying to sound un-educated,” Angel said and slammed his demon’s head into the back wall of Lovecraft’s where it left a dark smear of whatever it used for blood and brains down the wall as it collapsed.

“Sod off.” For emphasis, Spike spun his demon into a pile of trash cans where it went down like a Concorde, only with less flame. It was in the sunlight, otherwise he would have finished it off for sure.

The third Ossenfelter finally made a decision. It ran like hell.

“Felter, German for feelings,” Spike continued and lit a cigarette. “Bone – feelings.”

“Felt like bone.” Angel shook his hand, clenched and unclenched his fingers. “Hit walls that were softer.”

“Badass demons. A singin' chick tryin’ to summon somethin’ lost, money and power, wants to talk to us. I’m thinkin’ that there might also be somethin’ that she’s needin’ supernatural security to protect herself from, yeah?”

“And that wouldn’t be thirteen year old girls.”

Spike remembered that Angel hadn’t seen When Dawns Attack in the kitchen that morning, which had shaken his belief that girls that young were mostly harmless.

“She might need our help,” Angel mused, ever looking on the sunny side even though it was likely to turn him into ash.

“Hell of a way to ask for it.”

“You’d be surprised,” Angel said flatly.

Spike followed Angel back to the car and slumped into the driver’s seat. “Now what?”

“We should go to the hospital and see how Dawn’s doing.”

Knowing full well that the other vampire meant see how Buffy was doing, Spike merely grunted and shoved the DeSoto into gear.

The woman at he reception desk looked at their black leather as though she had half a mind to call a burly orderly to throw them out, but from somewhere Angel produced a charming smile and a friendly demeanor so sugary that Spike was afraid he’d slip into a diabetic coma.

“Workin’ on your people skills?” he asked as the elevator doors slid shut on them.

“Blending. You know, blending with humans is a good thing every so often.”

“Show up wiv’a cell phone and a Hawaiian shirt and I’m pretendin’ I don’t know you.”

“Got the cell phone,” Angel muttered.

“That just ain’t right. It ain’t vampire-ly. Getting’ all high tech and all that nonsense. Next you get one of them clicky website things and then you’ve really gone native.”

“Www.helpthehopeless.org. Somehow we're listed as a nonprofit. Probably because we don't actually make any money.”

“Now that's just sad.” A Scooby meeting was in progress in the hallway outside Dawn’s hospital room. Giles was holding court with the Wiccans, Xander and Anya looking properly concerned. Buffy was obviously in the room with Dawn again. At the sight of him and Angel in the hallway whatever conversation there had been dried up like blood flow after a tourniquet. Xander’s face contorted when he saw the two vampires moving down the hall together. Clearly the young Harris boy had imagined that Angel’s reaction to Spike poaching his Slayer would have ended up with Spike in the canister of a vacuum cleaner somewhere.

“Angel, how good to see you,” Giles said. Spike would have expected a handshake, but on second thought Giles’s little finger still had that Angelus-inspired twist to it.

“So, you think that Dawn’s episode is directly linked to the Citalia situation?” Angel asked in the ‘taking charge big vampire guy’ voice that made Spike’s fangs ache.

“Difficult to tell, really. There are so many mitigating circumstances. Dawn herself and her supernatural nature, the fact that she has recently lost her mother, the fact that she has only recently become aware of her status as the Key, adolescence and painkillers. It might not have anything to do with Citalia at all.” Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them, which was less annoying that usual since the Great Pouf’s stone face of seriousness was more annoying than almost anything Giles could muster.

“Yeah, and her freakin' out right after she got told she couldn’t go to the concert? Right. Nothin’ to do wiv’it.”

“The demons Citalia has working for her are Ossenfelter demons.”

“Ossenfelter!” Willow piped up, smiling at Angel as though the past had been Tip-X’ed from her brain. “The books say that they have a layer of bone under their skins, can’t get through with normal weapons except for the back of the neck where you can get through to their spines.”

“Hello, X-Files. It’s, what, a three inch square area, back of the head?” Xander winged. “I’m all about hitting three inch targets.”

“Some targets are smaller than three inches and you have no problem hitting those,” Anya said in what might have been a normal tone if the subject matter had been somewhat different.

“How’s Buffy?” Angel asked before Spike could, the wanker.

“Stressed, but all right. Toxic guilt levels. She spent three hours with a social worker before she got to sit with Dawn.” Willow shook her head. “Imagine trying to explain and not say anything.”

“It’s terrible,” Tara agreed, from where she was sneaking looks at Angel from under her lank hair.

At the rate things were going, Angel was going to have to start signing autographs. Spike went back to sizzling, and it had nothing to do with the sunlight outside.

“I think it’s a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money that Buffy has to go through a social worker interview because Dawn fell on an ice cube and got upset when she couldn’t go to a concert,” Anya said and her face held certain demonesque qualities she didn’t show on a regular basis. “Xander had parents who never remembered his birthday, passed out drunk before he got dinner, never had food in the house and forced him to fend for himself at an inappropriately young age. Dawn gets social workers for an ice cube.”

Everyone took the opportunity to examine the tile floor for a moment, since no one wanted to deal with the subject of Xander’s tragic childhood.

“Somebody drop a contact?” Buffy asked and stepped through the door.

“Angel and Spike just identified the demons Citalia has working for her, Ossenfelters,” Giles said as though he wasn’t trying to cover up anything, and failed miserably.

“How’s the Niblet?”

“Sleeping. The doctors can’t tell me exactly what caused her meltdown. They’ve done tests, more tests are scheduled for tomorrow and if they can’t find anything, they’re sending her home on Friday.”

“Which would be concert day,” Angel said, jaw set on grim.

Buffy seemed to notice him for the first time.

“Hey, you’re still here.”

“Yeah,” Angel said and looked at his shoes.

Which was the cue for the romantic music to start swelling in the background. The tortured good vampire routine was still up and running. All right, it was time to face the ugly truth: what exactly were the terms of Angel’s curse? No doubt weasel Wesley had plenty of time to come up with a way around the part that prohibited Buffy Boffing. Damn Watchers, half lawyer, half Jesuit, figuring out how to obey the essence if not the letter of the curse. So could the great pouf actually shag Buffy and not turn into his evil, equally uninteresting twin?

Spike stuck his hands in his pockets and ground his teeth, since that was about all he could do at that point. Willow shot him a sympathetic look and sidled up nearby. A moment later Tara followed suit. Oh great, he had the Lesbian Seal of Approval.

“If Dawn is sleeping perhaps we should all go home and get some rest,” Giles said and pretended that he wasn’t trying not to look at the vampires.

“Right, come on then,” Spike said and looked over at Buffy, knowing that it was the first time he’d ever made anything even remotely resembling a proprietary motion within the same zip code as the Scoobies.

Depression and exhaustion had dampened any possible reaction down to a mild eye-flicker from Angel. Bloody lame reaction, actually.

****

“The shrink seems to think that it’s all because of mom’s dying. The acting out beforehand because mom was sick, and now the violence afterwards. There’s all those stages of death and grieving and the rest of it. She talked a lot about Keebler-Roth and the stages of death – I forgot what they were,” Buffy admitted and watched the familiar streets between the hospital and home flicker by. She was really sick of this route. At least with the sunset she could roll the window down and breathe something other than 50% cigarette smoke.

“Kubler-Ross’ five stages of death. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance,” Angel said.

“Pop-psych crap. I been dead an’ the stages are: Death, wakin’ up, getting’ hungry, getting’ really hungry, killin’, an’ then realizin’ it’s fun to be a vampire. The last bit can take up to a fuckin’ century, of course.”

Sitting between Angel and Spike in the front seat (there was entirely too much crap in the back seat of the DeSoto for anyone to sit), Buffy felt the ugly glare zing over her head like a crossbow bolt. She was entirely too tired to consider attempting to smooth over the Spike/Angel issue or even trying to figure it out.

“You can, you know, crash at the house,” Buffy told Angel tried to ignore the gagging noises Spike began making.

“No, really, the crypt is fine.”

“There’s the basement, that has crypt-like qualities?” Buffy pressed. “Spike used to stay there.”

“Before I got promoted upstairs,” Spike said and tossed his cigarette out the window.

“We need to go over to the sound check Citalia is having tomorrow afternoon. Xander’s setting up chairs or something. You’ve got the blacked-out car windows, I don’t,” Angel said.

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy could see Spike’s nails tap an unhappy beat on the steering wheel.

“If she can stand it, I can stand it,” Spike muttered.

Spike pulled in front of the house, nearly taking out the Lightfoots’ mailbox again and killed the lights and the engine. The unhappy trio made their way into the house. Somehow, walking between the two black-clad vampires made Buffy feel both very safe and very nervous at the same time. The two of them represented exactly one-half of the men she’d actually had sex with, which meant that fifty percent of the guys she’d slept with had been dead, which was pretty weird when you thought about it. If you were actually counting the number of sex acts committed, in overall sex episodes, Spike represented, like, 50% of all sex had – more if she wanted to count variety of sex had. Angel and Spike – they couldn’t have been any more different or any more the same. Angel with his darkly handsome athletic football guy kind of look and Spike all about sharpness and not taking home to Mom. Un-souled, they’d both tried to kill her. Then again, Riley had been an augmented human and Parker had just been a shithead, which mean that allegedly human guys weren’t that much better. At least with vampires you knew what you were dealing with – without souls, you were dinner; with souls, you had a sex partner who you couldn’t go to the beach with before nightfall, a dinner date who hardly ate, someone whose music, fashion, and entertainment likes and dislikes had been set before you were born, and someone in your bed who didn’t have a heartbeat.

But then there was that great vampire skin thing . . .

Spike went straight to the refrigerator and got himself a beer. He fang-faced for a moment and uncapped the beer. This was a pointless macho display, Buffy knew, because Spike had only used the bottle opener in the drawer by the sink several zillion times.

“The Niblet’s meltdown’s got to be some magic thing about Citalia, not about grief. Who goes that mad over not bein’ able to a concert?”

“He once punched a hole in a wall because he couldn’t find his gloves,” Angel told Buffy. “Magic was not involved.”

Buffy shrugged and began looking in the refrigerator for something with dinner-like qualities.

“We were in the Alps, it was fuckin’ freezin’ and I was pissed as a newt.”

“His gloves were in the pocket of his overcoat.”

“An’ ol’ Angelus was the picture of quiet sobriety.”

“Cold pizza? Anybody?” She held up a box and looked at Angel and Spike. “Well I’m human girl, hungry girl, and tired girl. After cold pizza, I am taking a shower and going to bed. You guys just go ahead and figure out who’s bigger and badder. Don’t mind me.”

There was extra cheese on the pizza, which was the only good thing to happen that day. Both Spike and Angel looked at her as though she were eating road kill straight off Route 66 as she tucked into her cold pizza by folding it in half lengthwise and trying to eat as much in a single bite as possible.

“Beer?” Spike asked Angel.

“Yeah.”

This time, Spike used the bottle opener.

Okay, it was time to play ‘how weird is my life’. Angel and Spike in the kitchen, drinking beer out of bottles and having some low-key conversation about how hard it was to get replacement parts for classic cars while Buffy ate cold pizza. If she shut her eyes, she could pretend that they were three normal people on a normal night in a normal world.

“Two hundred bucks just to get the ignition key replaced.”

“That sucks, good and proper. Should have gotten the dumb bird to cough up the dosh.”

“Cordelia?”

“Oh, well, that’s a bit different, I suppose.”

They were still talking about cars when Buffy pitched the empty pizza box in the trashcan and headed upstairs to shower.

Showers were up there with chocolate and sales on Sam and Libby shoes in terms of sheer goodness. Buffy stripped off her clothes and shoved them in the once-again-full hamper. There had to be a spell of constant fullness on the hamper; there was no other explanation. She turned the water on hot and full and twiddled with the showerhead until it was set on pounding massage. She could have done an endorsement, “After a full night of Slaying, I can’t wait to get home to my Waterpik Shower Massage.” Shutting her eyes, Buffy stuck her face in the spray and imagined all the stress of the day rinsing off her like dust.

So much better. For a few minutes she could just think about the hot water and how it was softening her muscles like cooking pasta. So much better . . .

The shower curtain was ripped away and Buffy screamed as something began making a high pitched “reet reet reet “ noise. Blindly, she reached behind her for the loofah on the stick and jabbed at whatever it was.

“Slayer! What the fuck are you doing?!”

Buffy blinked water out of her eyes and saw a wet and outraged Spike dancing back beyond the reach of the loofah.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she screamed back at him. “I almost staked you!”

“Didn’t you ever see Psycho? Shit!” He shook his head and water splashed further around the bathroom. “I was playin’ a joke, bit of an ‘itchockian ‘omage, if you will.”

“Not funny. Whole bunch of not funny!” she snatched the shower curtain back and put it between the two of them. “Sneaking up on me in the shower is not funny.”

“Buffy!? Are you all right?” Angel’s voice, over his fist pounding on the door, indicated his agreement.

“I’m fine!” she shouted.

“She’s more than fine, she’s fantastic!” Spike chimed in.

“You asshole,” she hissed.

“Well . . .” She could just about hear the gears rumble as Angel came up with the right thing to say. “Don’t scream if you don’t mean it.”

“Sorry!” she yelled.

Meanwhile, Spike was bent over double, laughing silently to himself. This didn’t amuse Buffy any more that the shower curtain trick did, so she pulled the showerhead off the bracket and aimed the water spray at the silently snickering vampire. Caught full in the face with the water, Spike batted at it as though he could somehow shoo away the spray. Now it was Buffy’s turn to laugh and she did as he staggered towards her, with his head turned as far away from the water as possible, like a cat caught in a garden hose. She was only sorry that he didn’t have his duster on. The damn thing probably hadn’t been cleaned in decades.

“You wench,” he swore and reached out until he grabbed the spray and turned it on her.

Buffy whooped and ducked farther back into the shower. Spike followed, his boots leaving muddy tracks on the tile and inside the tub itself. Backed into the corner, the only thing she could do was try to glare at him as he dripped closer to her. Finally, he had his hands over her shoulders, pinning her to the wall while the water sprayed down her left side. There was an unholy gleam in his eye.

“Think you’re funny?” he asked.

“Think you’re funny?” she parroted back as obnoxiously as possible.

His kiss was obnoxious too, rough and nasty and full of teeth. She liked it. She also liked the way that the wet T-shirt on his hard chest felt against her breasts and the way that his wet jeans chafed at her soft skin when he pushed her up against the tile wall of the shower. This was almost as good as the shower massage was for getting rid of tension.

“Shouldn’t be doing this. Dawn’s in the hospital,” she murmured.

“Can’t be in a permanently guilty state. Not good. Look at Angel.”

He pinned her head up against the wall with his hand on her jaw, and began making a rough examination of the inside of her mouth with his tongue while he jammed the shower head back into place with his other hand. Fighting against the wet leather of his belt and the wet denim of his jeans, Buffy finally managed to unfasten all the fastenings and pull his hard cock out of his pants. Spike hissed pleasantly into her ear when she took the length of him into her hands and squeezed, as though she was checking a zucchini for ripeness. In a non-vegetable move, he grabbed her ass in both hands and hoisted her up against the wall and she managed to insert tab A into slot B even though the water was now running into her face and down between the tiny gap between their bodies.

She couldn’t hold back a groan, not sure if she wished Angel were still in the hallway or not. The heat of the water had brought Spike’s body up to human temperature and the unusual heat inside her was strange and wonderful. Spike had a blissfully lustful look on his face as he thrust into her and shoved her back against the wall. Wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his wet-denim covered hips, all she could do was hang on and let each and every sensation wash over her with the water. The denim was rough, his skin was smooth, his teeth on her earlobe was sharp, the tile against her back was cold and the water pounding down over everything was deliciously hot and stroked far more of her body than hands alone could have.

He was breathing hard in her ear, even though he didn’t need to and her chest was heaving as though she’d been running miles. It was total sensory overload. He might have whispered something in her ear but she couldn’t hear it over the rushing of the water and the fast patter of her own heart. It wasn’t going to take long, because she was already burning and sparking inside almost before she’d managed to slip him inside. Something about the angle and the pressure managed to grind her clit almost directly against his body and she was gasping for breath in a few delicious moments.

A little sound crept out of her mouth instead of the full-fledged scream that had been waiting. The pleasure grabbed her by the back of the neck and shook her brain loose. She went rigid all around him and clung to his shoulders. Spike muffled some sound of his own into her shoulder and the cold burst inside her. Still shuddering, she was vaguely aware of sliding down the tiles until they were both in a heap at the bottom of the tub with the water still coming full-blast onto them.

“I think we flooded the bathroom,” she muttered and nuzzled her face into the now soft and dripping mass of his hair.

“Dirty girl needs a wash now, right?” he asked and reached for the shower gel.

Later, Spike’s clothes and boots were dripping into the tub and they were bundled in sheets and towels in Buffy’s bed. Washed free of gel and smelling like her shampoo, Spike’s hair was suspiciously soft under her fingers. She wrinkled her nose at him when he looked questioningly down at her.

“Did you ever think of laying off the bleach for awhile?” she asked.

“Would that make a difference to you?” he asked and she could tell that he didn’t mean his hair.

“Don’t start,” she said and pulled away to curl up in the sheet by herself.

“Hey, I ain’t sufferin’ from the delusion that if there was any possible way you could have Angel wiv’out Angelus I’d be out on my ass. The fuck-off bit is, I’m settlin’ for that.”

She sat up, pulling the covers up around her chest.

“I can’t handle you being needy right now. Come back when Dawn’s in the clear and this Citalia thing is over and done with, and then you can be as needy as you want. I can’t hold your hand because I’m using both of mine to hold myself together.”

He raised himself up on his elbows and stared at her, surprised wonder making him look younger and less Spike-like.

“Don’t get all pissy about Angel. The curse is the curse and that’s that. I might as well wish my mom alive again, as Angel un-cursed. Mom is dead, Angel is cursed and you’re here now.”

Spike sucked in his cheeks and thought, which she wished he wouldn’t do because it made him look malnourished and kinda gay.

“Right. I can do the supportive thing – I think.”

Buffy groaned in a way that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with Dealing With Spike and threw herself back onto the bed. She was starting to wonder if Drusilla had started out crazy or spending a hundred years with Spike had done it to her. Spike grabbed her and pulled her across the bed until her head was resting uncomfortably against his shoulder and he patted her on the back with a hand that felt strangely like a paddle.

“You just rest an’ I’ll take care of everything.”

Biting back a not-really-sane giggle, Buffy squirmed around until she got comfortable and eventually fell asleep.

****

Having Angel bust him out of bed at the crack of noon wasn’t Spike’s best way of starting the day. At least Buffy was long gone and that awkwardness was skipped. He was even less enthusiastic to be making his way through the underground tunnels of Sunnydale where there were things slimy and creepy enough to give him the willies – especially rats the size of sheep.

"You know what I can't understand," Spike began, keeping an eye out for rats.

"Bet I do," Angel said and continued tramping along. This tunnel carried a slow trickle of foul-smelling water and decayed leaves, and they both had to walk carefully to avoid becoming fragrant in the wrong way.

"Very bloody funny. No, what I mean is, you go all dark n' broody after a moment a' happiness. What I can't figure is where you get perfect happiness wiv'Buffy. Have you had an actual conversation wiv'her or were you just gazin' into each other's eyes?"

"I've had conversations with her."

"For more n'five minutes? You've experienced the illogic, the bad grammar, the complete and utter ignorance of anythin' not involved with slayin', shoes, an' fashion?"

"Yeah," Angel said and continued.

They walked along for a good ten minutes, and dodged the bright light of Sunnydale sun beaming through the grates. Spike waited as patiently as he was able.

"Well?"

"She's pretty. She's an amazing fighter. She has that innocent thing."

"You're deeper than I thought," Spike sneered and lit a cigarette. "Pretty, I'll give you, amazin' fighter, that too, but innocent? Let's just say it ain't a permanent situation. Did you know that she can—"

"Shut up," Angel warned.

"—out of a parkin' meter?"

And the cigarette was on the ground and Spike was being held above it by a good three inches by a hand around his throat.

"I'm not happy you're having sex with her, and I'm even less happy hearing the details, all right?"

Spike laughed and it echoed weirdly down the tunnels.

"Where's your sense of humor, Sunshine? Least when I got a soul, I didn't get a stick up my ass with it."

"Pity the Powers that Be didn't give you a gag," Angel said and dropped Spike.

"Wanker," Spike muttered and rubbed his neck.

"Asshole," Angel said without turning as he continued into the tunnel, coat flapping around him.

"Sticks and stones."

Something rat-like scurried by Spike’s foot and he tried to be very cool about shying away from it. With any luck, Angel hadn’t seen.

The bells on the rear Magic Shop door, the one conveniently shadowed by overhanging buildings, rang as the vampires passed through. No one was in the back rooms, so they moved forward. Spike found himself gawking at the gawk-worthy sight within. For some reason, there was a six foot plus slightly scaly green demon, complete with horns and a blindingly tangerine suit loitering near the register. Anya and Willow were behind the register, looking apprehensively at the apparition.

"Ah, Angel, he says he's a friend of yours . . ." Willow stuttered.

"Angelcakes. Why did I have to leave LA for the 'burbs? It better be good, because I am not a Dockers and Docksiders kind of guy," the demon complained and swished over to Angel and enveloped the vampire in a bright orange hug.

Oh this was cute. Was Angel now out of the coffin or something? Spike settled for crossing his arms over his chest to watch the unfolding scene.

"Why are you here?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me that, mon ami. Cordelia was fairly insistent."

"I need you to listen to somebody sing."

"I'm a demon, not an agent. Tell your friends that they have to make the rounds with the demo tapes the same as everybody else."

"Citalia is having a concert tomorrow night and we think that she's casting some kind of magic when she sings, only no one here can sense it."

"The only magic that girl casts needs a mixing board. And a good surgeon. That girl's as plastic as an Amex card. Still, if you really want me to listen –"

"Hang on, what's the Poncy Green Giant got to do wiv'anythin'?" Spike objected.

The demon turned and settled red eyes on Spike.

"So who's the rough trade?" he asked.

"Spike, this is the Host. He's an anargogic demon," Angel said as if that explained everything.

"Oh yeah? I used to have one but the wheels fell off."

"What he means, my peroxided little friend, is that I can read people's destinies when they sing. I'd invite you to my club but we don't have Never Mind the Bollocks on the kareoke machine."

"Your loss," Spike said. "So he's gonna' read Citalia's destiny when she sings? I'll tell you what her destiny is – she quits messin' about with the Niblet and the rest of her little playmates or she ends up kacked."

"Not just handsome, but charming as well. You must have been very bad to be inflicted with this one." The Host shook his head. "You know, your karma is just getting blacker and blacker."

"An' how are we getting' 'im into see Citalia? Don't exactly blend, now does he?" Spike asked.

"And you do?" the Host asked. "The Eighties are over, Billy Idol."

"Xander's working on the concert, some kind of carpenter thing," Angel waved a dismissive hand. "He can get us into the rehearsal this afternoon, but we have to get there soon so security won't be that high."

"Absofuckinglutely grand. Carpenter-Boy gets to drop a light on me."

An hour later, Spike was developing a crick in his back from setting up chairs in the floor seat area of the stadium. He stood up and wondered if lower back pain was a side effect from having a soul. He certainly couldn't remember being stooped over like a cripple before. Green Queenie in a purloined blue jumpsuit with a baseball hat hiding his horns and Steve Wonder sunglasses hiding the rest of his demon self was doing little more than shifting the same chair back and forth in half-inch increments. He must have belonged to a union somewhere. 527 Local Kareoke Bar Demon Poufs, LA Division. Must be a big brotherhood in LA.

"How much longer?" Angel asked Xander, who was looking officious in his hard hat.

"Can't tell. Divas are temperamental."

"I'm getting' temperamental standin' round lookin' like the Village People."

"Young man, there's a place you can go/I said, young man, when you're short on your dough," the Host sang in a clear tenor. "You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find/Many ways to have a good time."

Spike was seriously starting to hate this demon.

"You can be the cowboy," the Host suggested. "Xan the Tool Man is the Construction Worker, I get to be the cop because I sing lead, and Angelcakes would be the Indian Chief."

"I'm in serious danger a'chunderin' right here an'now,” Spike warned.

"Why the Indian Chief?" Angel asked.

"Because you're so brave," the Host said and laughed at his own joke.

"Guys, Citalia sighting, downstage right," Xander instructed.

Spike had to angle himself around the Big Green Pouf to see the stage from where they were hiding behind the empty chair-trolleys. It was a pity that he didn't have a camera to capture Angel in a flannel shirt and a worn ball cap looking like an extra from The Perfect Storm. A small figure wandered out on stage, drawing his attention away from blackmail. If that was Citalia, she didn’t suffer much without her makeup and costumes. A tiny blonde girl in a baby-doll T-shirt so small that a stripper would have blushed, and her flat little tummy glimmering with a piercing over the waistband of her low, low, low rise white jeans. He was practically getting hard just staring at her. In bad light he might have mistaken her for Buffy. A glance over to his side showed that Xander and Angel were drooling as well. Expectedly, the Host seemed only mildly interested.

Spike walked a pace behind Angel towards the soundcheck. He just knew the Host was following.

"George? You out there?" she called and shielded her eyes from the light.

"Right here waiting for you, sweetheart."

"This sucks! I can't see. I'm going to fall and break my neck," she whined.

Spike had a sudden and ugly Harmony flashback.

"You don't have to dance, sweetheart, just sing so we can get some levels," the post-punk manager suggested and stretched himself a bit more comfortably in his folding chair, spreading the fur coat he must have stolen from Elton John around his shoulders.

Was the auditorium cold? Spike couldn't tell. It wasn't cold enough to mist vampire breath so it couldn't have been cold at all. Another bloody pouf wanting to show off his wardrobe. There was a powerful lot of that going around lately. Maybe it was cold; Citalia’s nipples were standing out like gumdrops. Spike surreptitiously adjusted himself.

"Okay, dancing is like, no. Tommy, play 'The Sun' please?" she asked with a toothpaste smile to the obviously bored keyboard player behind a set up that might have been at home on the Enterprise.

They keyboard player went into a lengthy introduction where shimmering notes danced round the auditorium like soap bubbles. Citalia stood in place doing graceful swan-like things with arms that did not seem to have bones and rolled her neck with the athletic grace of a dancer. When she finally raised the cordless microphone to her lips the clear, fine sound shocked Spike down to his boots.

"The sun whose rays are all ablaze with ever-living glory, does not deny his majesty, he scorns to tell a story!"

The same surprise flashed from Angel to Xander to the Host, who quickly smiled with his fine white teeth in his fine green face.

"Girly hits the high ones. Brava," the Host marveled.

Up onstage, Citalia continued. "He won't exclaim: "I blush for shame, so kindly be indulgent." But, fierce and bold in fiery gold, he glories all effulgent!"

Realization rattled around inside Spike's head like the silver sphere in a pinball machine until it hit the triple score bumper.

"Fuck, indulgent. A hundred years and the rhyme is indulgent. Fuck me sideways."

All Angel could do was raise an eyebrow at him, Spock-fashion.

"I mean to rule the earth, as he the sky– We really know our worth, the sun and I!"

"Okay, honey, how about something that might make the top Forty?" George pressed.

"God, I get so bored doing all the same stuff," Citalia complained and moped cutely in the spotlight. "Can you start 'Back for more', Tommy?" she asked and showed off some more expensive teeth.

This time it was techno-flavored pop with enough of a bass line to make Spike's toes itch inside his boots. This wasn't what he'd heard from her on the radio, this ass kicking nasty bitch delivery.

"I can't use what I can't abuse/And I can't stop when it comes to you/You burned me out, but I'm back at your door/Like Joan of Arc coming back for more."

“She’s fuckin’ adorable,” Spike muttered.

On the other side of Big Green, Angel was smirking.

"Faithful much, Spike?"

"Go fuck yourself. No wait, you'd be havin' it off with the love of yer miserable life an' you'd go all Angelus again." Spike mimed surprise and then turned evil smile #2 on the other vampire. "An' that'd be a hell of an improvement. Least Angelus could have a bit a'fun."

"Fun is punching your lights out."

"Take a bash at it then, you fuckin' great wanker."

Angel took a half-hearted swipe at Spike's head but Spike stepped back and Angel had to pull his punch to avoid whacking the Host instead. This gained Spike a dirty look before Angel went back to being impassive.

"Are they always like this?" the Host asked Xander.

"Not really, they usually just pound the undead shit out of each other."

"Play nice bite-y boys or I'll separate you," the Host warned. "Keep your fangy little mouths shut so I can hear Senorita Citalia."

Up onstage, Citalia was working herself into the final crescendo of her song, stamping across the stage and pointing emphatic fingers at an invisible audience. "I came to cut you up/I came to knock you down/I came around to tear your little world apart/I came to shut you up/I came to suck you down."

All right, if the rest of her album was this good, maybe taking Dawn to the concert wouldn't be a complete torture. Citalia had a sweet, tight little body and the kind of neck that just begged for the biting.

“That’s great, fine. Terrific,” George yelled over the music.

Citalia tried to stick the microphone back in the stand and dropped it, where it kicked up feedback that made Spike's ears ring. She then bent and picked the microphone, giving the world an amazing view down the front of her little shirt. The pop diva then giggled and scampered offstage in a flurry of blonde hair.

"Doable. Very, very doable," Spike offered.

“Yeah,” Xander breathed and then caught himself. “I mean in a fantasy kind of way. Fantasies are important, right?”

"Yeah," Angel agreed. "Fantasies."

"She’s very blonde. That nightingale isn’t going to Princeton except by bus, if you know what I mean," the Host said. “Interesting vibe though.”

“What did you get?” Angel asked and turned to the green demon.

“I’ve got to think about it, digest a little. But we’ll just say that the wrapping doesn’t match the package.”

“Airplane blonde?” Spike asked.

Angel raised both eyebrows, which was a stretch for him.

“Blonde hair, black box,” Spike explained.

This time, the Host stepped out of the way so Angel's clout landed square on the back of Spike's head. It hurt, and Spike grinned, knowing he hadn’t lost his edge.

****

Buffy really hadn't been expecting to find a Laker-sized green demon in a bright orange Stephen Sprouse suit waiting with Spike and Angel at the Magic Shop. But from the way that the vampires were acting, the demon was only dangerous to the eyes.

"Did you get anything from the sound check? What's the deal with Citalia anyway? Dawn is still raising Hell about the concert."

"Keep your hair on, Slayer, we're had a bit of a look see 'round the place and we're waitin' for the synopsis, right?"

"You're Buffy?" Jolly Green asked, as if he didn't believe it. Then, perhaps reading her expression, he repeated himself – "You're Buffy!" as if he'd been waiting years for the opportunity to meet her.

"You were expecting Tyra Banks?" Big green fashion-impaired strangers were not her thing.

"It's just –I was expecting, well, the face that launched a thousand ships, not –" And Spike was game-faced, his hand on the larger demon's chest.

"Leave it out, Greenie," Spike said, and Buffy felt an awful thrill as he backed away. Angel stood, arms crossed, disapproving of the entire matter.

"Well, in any event," the demon said, straightening his shirt, "that Citalia is something, all right. It's not clear what –"

Buffy lost patience. "Will someone please give me 'Last Week, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer' so I know what's going on?"

Angel cleared his throat. "This is my … friend, the Host. He's an ana– he's a demon who can read people's destinies when they sing."

"And this chickadee's destiny is darker than most." The Host, a demon obviously used to being the focus of attention, moved to the center of the shop floor. "Some major mojo is at work in her. I count at least four brands of magic behind that vibrato. Not that magic is an indication of dangerous evil, under the circumstances. It's not as if she could be a teen superstar without some sort of pact with one of the Lower Beings."

"Which goes a bit to explain' Ricky Martin," Spike muttered.

"Nothing explains Ricky Martin," Angel said with the voice of gloom.

"This might be worth doin' a recce around the Hilton where the bird o'doom is stayin'. If she does want to ask for help, meetin’ her on our own terms and not wiv’ the Ossenfelter chorus backin’ her up might be the way to go."

"I need a drink, several drinks, some decent tunes and a peer group," the Host complained.

"Spike, you come with me to the Hilton, Buffy, you go take the Host out for a drink," Angel ordered and earned himself a sour Spike face.

"'Scuse me for challengin' your authority, mate, but he's gonna' stand out like a Deadhead at a Metallica concert, right?"

"Dark corner booth at the Bronze," Buffy explained. "Or maybe that demon bar that I'm not supposed to know about."

The shocked sheep faces on both Angel and Spike made her feel somewhat better, even though they were off to do Boy Scouts of Death thing without her. The Host loomed down at her with a toothy smile that was entirely unlike that of a vampire.

"Beauty and brains, no wonder you two bad boys got it so bad. I think I'm falling in love with her myself."

"Get stuffed," Spike suggested and Angel grabbed his duster sleeve to drag him out of the Magic Shop and into the night.

The Host watched the vampires go, a grin creasing his scaly green face.

"I wish I had a camcorder, there's a movie deal in here somewhere. Abbot and Costello on crack, Gibson and Glover with fangs. An anti-buddy movie."

"Dead and Deader," Buffy agreed. "And it just makes me wonder what I saw in either of them."

"Well," the Host rubbed his chin and mimed thinking, "it's not as though they don't both have that vampiric allure and all those black bad boy clothes. There's nothing wrong with either of them that a good stylist couldn't cure, well, that, a good haircut and my body weight in Prozac."

He shook himself out of his green reverie.

"Drinks, I was promised drinks. But if your bartender can't make a decent SeaBreeze, I am out of here faster than the minute waltz."

The Bronze was pretty crowded that night, which was a good thing because slipping in the back door and finding a dark booth was less trouble than usual. Most of the crowd was on the dance floor, jumping and dancing to Citalia's latest hit, which seemed to go right into Buffy's spine and turn her bones into metal. If she never heard another Citalia song again, she'd die happy – provided that she was buried in her new leather pants and Pucci flavored blouse.

"So what's a pretty girl like you doing slaying vampires in a place like this?" the Host asked as the waitress, who either decided not to notice his green skin and horns, or had lived in Sunnydale all her life and was unfazed by such things, took their drink orders and left.

"Doing my best, but it's uphill work. There's a Hellmouth in the city limits and every undead, supernatural freakazoid with delusions of mega-baddyhood seems to end up here eventually. I line them up, take them out and try not break any nails while I'm at it," she explained.

"You've got tonight off, little girl," the Host said and accepted his glass from the waitress, "A toast, to nights off!"

Amused, Buffy raised her own glass, full of pinkish liquid that he had promised her she'd like.

"Nights off, I'm down with that," she agreed and downed some of the pink drink. It was good, like fruit punch with a pleasant peachy aftertaste. "So what all do you know about Citalia?"

"I thought you were off, cutie pie," the Host sighed and played with the paper umbrella in his drink for a minute. "Like I said, the chick's got major bad mojo going on. I'm getting hate, revenge, and blood by the gallon, enough to make your boyfriends look like mosquitoes."

The Host waved a well-manicured green scaly hand at the waitress who brought another set of glasses. The second drink was as good as the first and a great improvement over beer and gin. Leave it to Spike to introduce her to the nasty stuff while there were drinks like this out in the world.

"So, Citalia 'gets discovered' in some prefabbed studio thing and does a couple of videos and faster than you can say breast augmentation, she's on MTV's TRL, rubbing herself all over Carson Daly. Then it's the VMA's last year and she shows with that Eminem and it makes all the papers. Didn't even need to win an award. Just had to show up in a red vinyl dress and there wasn't very much of that."

"But if she's so sexy, why do all the little girls like her?” Buffy asked and looked down into the remainder of her new drink. It was hot in the Bronze, she was thirsty, and these drinks were really good.

"She's like Barbie, I suppose. Leads to eating disorders, plastic surgery, excessive use of Miss Clairol #25 Golden Blonde, and a potentially lethal addiction to spandex and sequins."

The Host, she realized, was looking guiltily at Buffy's blonde ponytail and glittery blue top. "Of course women can have Barbie as a role model and go on to lead normal lives, right?"

"Sure, if they don't start dating vampires. Vampire Ken with real Death-Look fangs. Take him out in the sunlight and watch him burst into flame. See Slayer Barbie get dumped by Moody Soulful Vampire Ken, See Slayer Barbie have rebound with GI Joe. See Slayer Barbie end up with Eighties Punk Wardrobe Vampire Ken."

Buffy sighed and saw that the waitress was setting down a fresh drink before she had finished the last one. It had to be a spell that the Host was doing. Service at the Bronze was never that good.

"So which one's your favorite Ken doll?" the Host asked.

"Both," she admitted and couldn't help but grin. "Can't just have one pair of shoes."

"Exactly, change your man with your mood, good thought. You could write a self-help book."

"What I really want right now is a Citalia Barbie so I can pull its head off," she said and didn't smile. "That bitch has caused me nothing but trouble. I can't wait to give it back to her. Do you have any idea what she might be?"

"I'm thinking Siren. You know, enchants her audience, covering up a lot of nasty magic underneath. A siren bent on revenge for some reason."

"It has to be a guy. It's always a guy."

****

Angel was staring at the front of the Hilton as though he expected it to transmogrify into an ancient Mayan temple and all Spike could do was try not to yawn and light another cigarette.

"We gonna spend all night sittin' and wankin' or are we gonna do somethin'?"

"I'm planning."

"Sweet Jesus' bollocks we'll be here all fuckin' night!" Spike exploded and leapt out of the car

"So you have a plan?" Angel asked a few moments later when he trotted up.

"Nah, I'm makin' this up as I go along. Follow my lead."

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

A clot of paparazzi huddled miserably around the entrance of the hotel, their cameras all hanging like limp dicks in the cool night air. Spike spotted a couple of likely lads over near the hotel courtesy van smoking what his vamp nose told him was a controlled substance. He gestured for Angel to follow and strolled over to the stoners.

"Dude," he hailed one of the smokers in fluent Surfer-ese. "Spare doobage por favor?"

"Totally," the man agreed and reached in his pocket for something.

A moment later, both photographers were out cold behind the van and Spike was looping the strap of a heavy, expensive-feeling camera around his neck while Angel was clipping a PRESS badge to the front of his coat.

"You're just going to leave them there?" Angel asked.

"In th' old days I woulda' killed 'em," Spike struck a heroic pose there in the parking lot. "When I left you, I was but the pupil; now I am the master."

Angel clearly didn't get it and all Spike could do was sigh and stick his press badge pin through a buttonhole in his duster so it wouldn't puncture the leather.

"Right. Now make like Lois Lane."

"You were more convincing than me in drag."

"You made a big, ugly girl. We're talkin' East German Women's swim team ugly. Fugly. Coyote Ugly."

In short order, both vampires had joined the edge of the group and were watching a white limo come into port at the entrance of the hotel.

Manager George came out first, wrapped in his big furry coat that made him look like a bear in sunglasses, and Citalia followed, her head down, looking at the pavement beneath her feet. The cameras sprang to life, popping and flashing everywhere. Maybe-demon security pushed back the more aggressive cameramen. Spike aimed his camera in their general direction and thought he pressed the right button since the flash went off. In a blink of an eye, they were gone, and the press began to break up.

"And this accomplished what? Blurry pictures?"

"Not over yet, me old son." Spike said and focused the camera on Angel. "Smile."

Angel gave him a pained grimace and winced when the flash went off. For the second picture, he gave Spike the finger.

"Now what?"

"The hotel bar. I give George about ten minutes before he's in need of the ol'liquid refreshment."

It took fifteen minutes and two rounds of drinks before George finally appeared. The fur coat was gone and George was looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed by his supernatural babysitters. Spike let George get into his second drink before he sidled over, Angel in tow.

"Georgie boy, how's it hangin'?"

"Hangin' low. If she hasn't chewed it off," George looked over at Spike and the PRESS badge registered. "Oh great, you're another vulture."

"Prefer 'blood-sucker' m'self. Look, I just want a little favor. M'buddy here's Dick Hertz from the Dublin Daily and he's wantin', like, two minutes with your bird. Two minutes of the kind of 'Lookin' forward to visitin' the ol' Emerald Isle when I do my European leg of m'tour'. Real simple, bread an'butter thing. I take a couple a'snaps and we're gone." Spike laid it on as heavy as possible.

George shook his head and emptied the glass.

"No, you see, the record company won't let her talk to the press without the PR Nazi being there. No can do."

"So you're a company man now, mate? Doin' what the establishment tells ya?"

"Fuk the 'stablshm'nt," Angel added in his thickest Culchie accent. "Ye gawn ta let them tell ya what to do, then?"

Jesus, Spike thought, he'd forgotten how bad it sounded. Fucking hick mick.

George looked up from his drink, from Spike to Angel and then back to Spike again, and he paled somewhat.

“You guys look just like—“ he said and his voice trailed off and his pale turned an even whiter shade. “Okay, whatever you want, just don’t hurt me, okay?”

“Why would we hurt you?” Angel asked.

“She’s not in the suite, she went to a CD signing in Santa Barbara. But you can go up and look around if you want. I’m helping you, all right?” George’s hands were shaking around his glass, “Just remember that I helped you.”

He flicked out his cell phone.

"Boris, Igor, Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey, now."

Waiting by the bar, Spike and Angel watched the goon squad exit through the lobby door. George gave Spike the suite key.

The elevator was clean and smelled like roses.

“That was weird,” Spike said.

“Did you get the feeling he knew who – what we are?”

“Might have been a mirror behind the bar. Happens sometimes. They see a whole bunch of nothin’ an’ get all wiggy.”

The suite was at the end of the hallway, and Spike unlocked the door and stuck his head inside.

"Room Service?” Spike called in a creditable Mexican accent.

Nothing. The hotel suite was quieter than Spike's crypt. There was no sign of habitation in the white and blue room other than the creamy candles covering every available surface. It would have been frightening had the candles been made of, say, human fat rather than beeswax, but no human fat candles were ever that pale. Candles made from human fat looked like they had been made from peanut butter, which had been enough to put Spike off the stuff for a decade.

The room smelled like the herb-y candles.

Red silk lay across the three-foot-high bed like a gout of blood. Spike moved over and picked it up: a kimono, heavy with embroidered green-eyed dragons, gold threads scraping his palm. “Darla had one just like this,” he said without thinking, and Angel was there to snatch it from his fingers.

“They were very popular,” Angel said in the most toneless of tones.

Rats were nibbling at the corners of Spike’s brain as he turned to search the closets. Clothes, clothes, and – in a stunning turn of events — more clothes. A.B. (after Buffy), he was no longer surprised to find that doily-sized scraps of fabric took up enormous amounts of storage space, in apparent violation of the laws of physics. The only surprise was a heavy blue velvet dress with gold-slashed sleeves, a lace overlay on the skirt, and stiff boning. It looked like a costume for one of Citalia’s sets, but when Spike sniffed, it smelled of moths and tea and dust, and underneath it the heaviness of true silk velvet imbued with human sweat. An antique; surely she couldn’t dance in it.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” he said, more for Angel’s benefit than anything else.

“Spike!”

Grumbling, Spike followed Angel’s voice into the bathroom, which was roughly the size of a family farm that had been tiled in Italian marble. Makeup and jewelry cases covered most of the countertops. Angel was peering into one of the cases. As Spike approached, he gave in to temptation and looked in the mirror, where he was not. It was stupid to hope that the soul would make a difference, stupid to wish himself back in Egypt, but he still had to control the flinch.

Angel didn’t notice, engrossed with the dazzle of amethysts and diamonds spilling out from the jewelry box. Spike reached past him to take a handful, maybe to sell later.

Then he was dancing back, holding his burnt hand. “Fuck! Fuck! You fucker, why didn’t you say –“

“That Citalia’s got a serious cross fetish?”

Spike stopped moving, still cradling his hand against his chest. “She ain’t here for our help, is she?”

Their eyes locked. The mirror reflected empty air.

****

"Do you want me to tell you your destiny?" the Host asked.

"That's what ana–whatsit demons do?"

"Yeah, you sing, and I tell."

"Is it going to be bad?" she asked.

"Well, fate's not carved in stone, it's more like skywriting, a puff of fresh air and it can all change."

"So I can avoid what's going to happen?" Buffy asked through a face that was beginning to feel kind of numb.

"All you have to do is sing."

"I flunked chorus."

"I'm not a critic, sing Happy Birthday if you want."

" Bottom feeder insincere. Prophet Lo-fi pioneer. Sell the house and go to school. Get a young girlfriend, daddy's jewel," Buffy chanted more than sang and had to pause to remember the words to the song.

She took another swig of her drink for nerve.

"God's little gift is on the rag. Poster girl posing in a fashion mag. Canine, feline, Jekyll and Hyde. Wear your fake fur on the inside."

She stopped and immediately finished her drink.

"Oh, honey," the Host said and stopped.

"So what's my fortune?" she asked, perky as she hadn't been in weeks.

"Don't quit your day job. That and you're going to have a hell of headache in the morning." The demon said and folded his hands on the table.

"That's it? You make me sing in public and all you can tell me is that I'm going to have a hangover? I could have used the Magic Eight Ball for that!" she protested and attracted the attention of the waitress who brought her another drink.

"Okay darling, you've got more positive energy than I usually see in a year, which is a good thing, because you're going to be tested real soon and real hard. Your fate isn't entirely clear, you've got lots of places where the big old Y-fork of life is going to go the good way or the bad way, and you've got to learn how to think before you make your choices. And I don't mean fashion choices, sweetie darling, I mean the big and scary life choices."

"Doesn't it get more pacific than that?"

"Honey, it's pretty Pacific. Pacific and Atlantic, and the Dead Sea as well. While I'm talking about the Dead, I gotta tell you, your vamp boys – they're going to let you down. You're going to see them in a way that you might not like all that much."

The Host must have seen her frown because he reached out to pat her hand with his own green one.

"Most beings aren't all good or all bad, and almost all of them do stupid things more often than they do smart ones. I mean look at that punk vampire of yours – that hair! It's a crime! Anyway, bad and stupid things happen, and you've got to decide if you can forgive."

Chasing the ice cubes around in her drink with her fingers, Buffy pulled out a cube and sucked on it.

"You mean I have to forgive Spike for his hair?"

"Let's not push forgiveness too far, sweetie."

****

"Not being able to drive sucks."

As far as greetings went, that was a bit of a showstopper. All Spike could do was stare back at Buffy and watch the twinkling lights shimmer on the tiny string and handkerchief that passed for her blouse. She was blinking at him in an odd way that made his brain itch – something was definitely going on in the Slayer's head, but he'd be damned (again) if he knew exactly what it was.

"Are you drunk?" Angel asked, his normal expressionlessness replaced by confusion.

Buffy waved her hand in a wide dismissive arc that nearly smashed into the Host hovering beside her, which was confirmation enough. "I am not drunk," she articulated with the precision of the truly hammered. "I am pleasantly relaxed. Relaxed enough that the sight of the two of you does not make me reach for a stake. I have stakes everywheres, you know. All. Over. My. Body."

Spike would have sniggered if he hadn't been busy imagining their placement.

"What were you thinking?" Angel gave up on Buffy and addressed the Host. "There's some sort of magical superstar in town, not to mention all the background noise, and you get her plastered?"

"Sweetcheeks, I brought her to the bar, I didn't pour those Fuzzy Navels down her throat. I think you and David Bowie over there have only yourselves to thank for that." The Host folded his arms across his chest.

"'S a bit academic now. Let's get you home," Spike suggested, and Buffy smiled, the wide Julia Roberts grin she'd never bestowed upon him before and probably never would again.

"Home is good," she agreed, and tottered forward on her stilettos. Spike reached out to put an arm around her shoulders. "Spike," she said, turning her face to him, her voice honeyed and her eyes deeper than the ocean. "Do I look fat in these pants?"

Spike hung his head and Angel couldn't suppress a bark of laughter. Buffy spun like a gyroscope; it was all Spike could do to keep her upright. "What're you looking at? He's the one taking me home!"

"The lady has a point, and not just on all those stakes she's got," the Host said and laughed.

"Crypt's open, extra blood in the fridge, right?" Spike told Angel.

Angel growled, so Spike blew him a kiss.

"Even though I had to haul myself out to the 'burbs, I wouldn't have missed seeing this for anything. And you better drive me home, Angelcakes because I am not spending the night in a crypt!" The Host's voice chased them out of the Bronze.

This was payback for the other night, he reckoned as he pushed and pulled Buffy in the proper direction. If she pulled some scary sex game on him, he was going to be disturbed. But pleased.

Spike had to fiddle for his surreptitiously copied set of keys, since the only way Buffy could open the door was if the key was extremely proactive. Oh yeah, sex on the brain. Unfortunately, he suspected that Buffy had Rules against taking advantage of her soused state.

"Ooh, no messages," she crowed as they passed the hall table. "Messages, always bad."

"Yeah," he agreed. "Tools of the devil. Come on," he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and basically pulled her up the stairs.

"Hello it's me; I'm not at home. If you'd like to reach me, leave me alone. A change would do you good."

"Slayer, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, you'd best leave the singin' to Citalia."

“That’s nothing, you should hear me play piano.” Spike gaped and she smirked all the way upstairs, but it wasn't a serious smirk, it was a cute, drunk-girl smirk and he could handle that.

Upstairs, he scouted for pajamas, but didn’t see anything of use.

“Take off your clothes.”

Spike blinked and began to comply. In the morning he could always tell the Slayer that he’d been afraid of what she’d do if he resisted.

“Now me,” she ordered before he’d gotten rid of the jeans. She twirled, swayed, and caught herself on the nightstand, which bent a little underneath the pressure of her hands. It kept her still enough that he could untangle the bow holding her top together, sodden and fragrant with girl-sweat. The top fell to the floor where it took up less space than a Kleenex. Impulsively, he bent and buried his head between her shoulderblades, enjoying the taste and feel and scent of her underneath the alcohol tang.

Too soon, she skittered away. “You’re not naked,” she observed and tapped her foot, which, what with the naked chest, made undressing even more complicated, but Spike wasn’t about to complain.

In a blur of motion that even his sober vampire sight couldn’t desegregate, he was on the bed, his belt tied around his wrists and woven through the iron bars of her bedstead. For extra security, he gripped the bars in his hands, since it was a nice belt and he didn’t want to tear through it in a moment of passion.

Buffy didn’t join him immediately. He heard her stumbling around in the further recesses of the bedroom and speculated about what she was trying to find. She returned with a thick white candle and straddled his legs, bumping up nicely against his cock. The candle was unlit, so he wasn’t quite sure what she planned to do with it, but at this point all the options were acceptable. Hair gleaming golden from the hallway light, Buffy blinked down at Spike and he felt the total submission that he’d only experienced before with his vampire sires. He could get lost in this; it was too easy.

“Matches?” she asked and Spike was too engrossed in watching her mouth move to process the question for a moment.

“Lighter in m’left jacket pocket,” Spike managed and gasped as she hooked her legs around his so that she could wriggle half off the bed and find the jacket on the floor. It was all he could do not to thrust his hips up into the air that was less welcoming than her skin. When Buffy returned with the lighter, he stared in helpless fascination as she fumbled with the lighter, then carefully lit the virgin candle. The flickering light made her face glow as she leant over him and began to drip a trail of wax down the center of his chest.

The pain was minor. The sensation was not. His fingers squirmed on the bedstead; he wanted to gasp or do something human. But all he could do was groan as she worked her way down, pausing to let the wax dry then continuing the exquisite burning, past his navel, just up to where his cock waited swollen and begging for her.

Spike was panting, out of reflex not necessity, when she brought the candle up and began a horizontal line just underneath his pectorals. His stupefaction broke for a second as she approached the midline. “Slayer!”

Buffy looked at him, confused, then down at the nearly-complete cross on his chest and her face cleared. If she’d finished the cross, it might have burned down through his body and into her mattress, which would have been sucky for the mattress and even suckier for Spike.

A drunk and careless Slayer was a bad thing. It was all fun and games until somebody got dusted. Notwithstanding that his cock was stiffer than rebar at the thought.

“Are you afraid I’ll burn you with the wax?” she purred, obviously not realizing how close she’d come to putting a permanent memento on his body. Her free hand caressed his erection, which was bumping against her stomach. “Or are you afraid I won’t?” Spike’s eyes rolled back in his head as she trailed burning wax across his collarbones. At least she was headed in the other direction. “Maybe what I do depends on how well you do.” She was so wet against him, and he couldn’t distinguish between the heat of the candle and the heat of her flesh.

“Oh yes please.” He didn’t care if she recorded him begging and played it to a packed crowd at Lovecraft’s. Point of fact, they’d all envy him.

She slid onto him, as fast and shattering as a car crash. Spike bit his lip as hard as he could without game-facing and concentrated on giving her a ride she’d never want to trade in. With only his hips and legs, it was difficult, but he hadn’t spent decades dirty dancing for nothing. The first time Buffy cried out and threw her head back, he only grinned and began fumbling with his bindings. He managed to get his left hand free and turn them over just as Buffy started making the hitching noises that signaled another climax.

Grunting with effort, Spike pushed Buffy’s legs up and over his shoulders, using the Slayer’s flexibility to get past his still-bound right hand. With his new leverage, he set a pace that made Buffy shudder underneath him. She was drunk, but he was the one barely in control. “Slayer – ‘m close –“

Buffy reached up, her hand settling over his where it was tied to the bedstead, and the feeling of his bones grinding in her grip was more than enough to push him into orgasm, his hips battering hers to pull her down with him.

After, Buffy lay across him, panting for the two of them. They were on the very edge of the bed due to his limited range of motion with the belt, and he freed himself so that they could scoot to the middle.

After a while he got up to peel some wax into the rubbish bin, borrowed blood pulsing and stuttering within him with the thought of how much closer the Slayer had come to killing him in bed than she’d ever gotten back in the day.

“Spike?” she asked when he came back from turning off the lights.

“Mmm?” He slid up against Buffy, feeling the long sweep of warm human skin, almost better than having the blood running through his own veins.

“You ever think that maybe sex shouldn’t be so … scary?”

“Nah.” Spike brushed sweat-slick strands of hair from her face in the near-darkness. “If it ain’t scary, you got nothin’ at risk. An’ that’s as true for the missionaries as for the rest of us.”

A minute later, she was asleep, or passed out. It didn’t take him long to follow.

****

"I like Spike,” Anya announced as she piloted the Jeep through morning rush hour traffic.

Buffy grunted, afraid to let go of the dashboard, afraid to nod because there was a good possibility that she was going to throw up. Between Anya's driving and the nauseating headache, Buffy's stomach was clinging onto her ribs for dear life and whining like a child on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. Getting drunk, drunk sex with Spike, hangover in the morning with Spike smirking at her from the bed and refusing to get up. This was not close to goodness at all. Goodness was possibly vacationing on the East Coast. She wasn't sure if the leggings and the sweatshirt she'd pulled off the floor in her bedroom were really clean or just pretending to be. They had been in the pile on the left of her bed, which was the clean pile, unless Spike had tried to straighten up again and ruined her piles.

"Buffy? Are you listening to me?"

"I'm having a daydream where I don't have a hangover, an un-hung over dream."

"I said that I like Spike," Anya insisted which surprised Buffy somewhat since there didn't seem to be money involved. "Not in the I want to have sex with him way, but in a friendly kind of way."

This straddled the good/bad border, but Buffy wasn't sure that she should be thinking about straddling, Anya, Spike, and sex in the same thought train.

"Okay," Buffy said and waited to see if there was a point to what Anya was saying.

"For a vampire, he's all right. And I've known a lot of vampires. Xander will see this eventually, even if the sex ban continues for several more days."

"Sex ban? You're not going to have sex with Xander until he sees that Spike is all right," Buffy echoed, wondering if hangovers could make you hear things.

"Exactly," Anya said and swerved around the school crossing guard who was about to let children cross the street.

"Isn't that kind of anti-feminist or something?"

The former demon gave her a pitying look. "You've never read Lysistrata, have you? Very educational."

Finally, they pulled into the hospital parking lot and Buffy was able to make her way out of the Jeep without any major mishaps.

There were two news vans parked in a no-parking zone close to the hospital which barely registered on Buffy-radar. In Sunnydale, it could have been anything from a zombie infestation to a big accident on the freeway. Buffy suspected the freeway accident, since she would have heard about the zombies. Anya steered her in the direction of Dawn’s room where Dawn herself was sitting on the bed, fully dressed and looking somewhat snarly.

“You’re late.”

“Hi Dawn, you look significantly less injured and less insane,” Anya chirped.

“You still look like a dork,” Dawn rebutted.

“You still sound hateful and mean, but that might go away when your hormones level out.” Anya’s smile froze on her face and she elbowed Buffy in the ribs. “Your sister needs to talk to the doctor to find out how we can keep you from attacking people again. Then we can go home. I have Xander’s car, but he doesn’t know it yet.”

“You guys are so lame.”

The duty nurse, who looked an awful lot like George Foreman, stuck his head in the door.

“Hey Dawnie. Saw you guys come in so I paged Dr. Stedman. He’s on his way.”

Dawn stared holes into Buffy.

“What’s wrong with you? Deadboy keep you up too late or did he forget to bring his own snacks?”

“Up late,” was just about all Buffy could manage.

Anya looked from sister to sister and took a deep breath.

“We’re all really worried about you, Dawn, and we love you – not in a sexual way but in a friend kind of way – and we want to do everything that we can to help you get back to being yourself.”

“I’ll never be myself again. I’m not real.”

“Dawn, you’re as real as I am,” Buffy protested.

“That’s reassuring,” Dawn said with disdain that would have made Spike proud.

Buffy balled her fists up in her sweatshirt, and Anya looked stricken.

“I love you and I want you to be happy,” Buffy choked.

“Bite me, but that has a different meaning for you doesn’t it?” Dawn snarked.

The nausea bubbled up in Buffy’s stomach again and she tried to force it down. How much harder than facing decaying corpses could dealing with one angry thirteen year old be? She started to sweat under her clothes, wishing Spike, Angel, or Giles were there. Somebody older who could take charge of non-Slayery things.

“Hey, what’s up?” A youngish man with dark hair sauntered into the room. He had on a white coat and was carrying a clipboard, but other than that he looked like he should have been walking the halls of Sunnydale U. His nametag announced that he was Dr. Stedman. So much for grownups.

Dawn brightened somewhat.

“Hey, are you going to let me go?” she asked.

He smiled, a nice smile full of straight teeth and a light in his eyes. “Maybe. I just gotta talk to your sister first, you cool with that?”

“If you gotta,” Dawn grumbled.

“You must be Buffy, I’m Michael Stedman, I’m handling your sister’s case,” he grinned and shook Buffy’s hand in such a normal way that she almost fell to her knees and cried. “You wanna step into the hallway so I can talk to you about your sister without her hearing?”

Dawn rolled her eyes and giggled.

Okay, cute young doctor was not a bad thing. Buffy followed him into the hallway and down to a lounge area where some sad-looking people were drinking coffee and staring at the clock. Stedman showed her to a couch near a potted palm and they sat down.

“First off, no organic damage. Dawn has nothing in her X-rays or CAT scans to indicate that she has anything structurally wrong with her brain,” he said and held the clipboard face down on his lap. “I know your mother had a brain tumor, Dawn told me, and I want you to know above everything else, her brain is structurally normal.”

Buffy exhaled, just then realizing that she had been holding her breath and worrying that Dawn had fallen victim to what had happened to their mother.

“Now we might have another story chemically. Dawn’s anger and rage is probably misplaced depression and anxiety. Your parents’ divorce, your mother’s death, and the usual slings and arrows of adolescence have done a number on her. Serious self-esteem problems, a lot of anger, and that cutting incident you reported to the social worker. But I don’t think that she has a serious long-term problem.” He aimed his nice smile at Buffy again. “What we’re going to do is try her on some antidepressants and an anti-anxiety medication for a couple of weeks to get her over this rough period. No big. Her body probably needs more serotonin she’s producing right now so we’re going to keep her body from absorbing it so fast. It doesn’t mean she’s crazy, it just means she needs some help right now. And we’re going to send her to a good counselor so she has somebody to talk to.”

Buffy nodded, and realized that she had a death-grip on her shirt.

“And it wouldn’t be a bad thing for you to get somebody to talk to as well. You guys are going through something really hard right now and you need all the help you can get.”

He must mean non-supernatural help, undead help she had plenty of. But the idea of trying to explain everything to a shrink without getting into the whole Slayer business without ending up in a straight jacket was nothing short of impossible. Dawn could go to the shrink; Buffy would just stick to Giles who, at least, understood.

When she went back down the hallway, she saw a knot of people blocking the door to Dawn’s room, all pushing and trying to get a look inside. Buffy ran the rest of the way and began pulling people out of the way, ignoring the outraged squawks of the various nurses and PAs. In the fifteen seconds it took to wade through the crowd, her mind reviewed a hundred episodes of ER, with doctors crowding around the bed of someone whose heart had stopped, who had bitten through her own wrists, who was having a brain-frying seizure.

Instead of doctors, there was only a perky blonde girl – Citalia, Buffy realized after a moment of utter incomprehension. It was like seeing a dinosaur in a shopping mall, only Citalia was better dressed.

“Hi!” The other girl turned towards Buffy, who realized that she was sweaty with terror and dressed in gray sweatpants and last year’s wraparound top. And she’d forgotten to put on real makeup this morning. Citalia, by contrast, glowed like a gold statue in the sunlight even under the harsh hospital fluorescence. Her tight red leather pants and fringed vest decorated with dozens of little sewn-on mirrors could have, and probably did, come straight from a Paris runway.

“Uh, hi,” Buffy said. Monsters she could deal with, but girls who lived the life she used to want for herself were something different.

“Dawn and I were just talking about you! She says you’re overprotective but I said, like, there is totally no such thing when you’re a girl.” Behind Citalia, still on the bed, Dawn’s cheeks were bright red and her eyes feverish with adulation.

“It’s … really nice that you came to visit Dawn. Um, why is Dawn the lucky girl?” Dawn made a face to indicate that Buffy was a stupid twat who was embarrassing her on purpose.

“Oh, you know, when you’re in the hospital it can really suck, so I visit people. I used to have the cutest little pink candystriper outfit, but the doctors said it was confusing,” she frowned without any frown lines creasing her forehead, “and so now I just come and sign autographs. I’m so glad that Dawn’s going to come to my concert. I really think that music is about making people happy and stuff.”

Buffy could feel the threat assessment thermometer leaking mercury with every word the girl spoke. The girl didn’t sound like she could organize a trip to the mall, much less an evil plan. Selfishness in using magic to succeed might be enough to lead to disaster, particularly when a Hellmouth was involved, but it was a lesser kind of danger.

“Oh yeah,” Dawn agreed, nodding vigorously enough to shake the bed, and Citalia turned back to her.

“It was so nice to meet you. I’ll be thinking about you at the concert.” It took a zillion-watt smile to entrance a stadium full of people, and a smile directed at Dawn alone had the effect of a lightning strike on her.

“Thanks, thanks so much. Thanks for the poster too. I can’t believe you came!” Dawn hadn’t been this happy since she’d gotten her period. Citalia leaned down and gave Dawn a hug; Dawn’s eyes closed in bliss.

“I’m so sorry, I have to run. There’s all sorts of stuff people have to do to get me ready for the concert,” Citalia apologized. “But it was nice to meet you and Dawn, Buffy. You seem really nice.” She gave Buffy an extended version of the Dawn-hug. She smelled fabulous, a combination of expensive musky, vanilla-y perfume and her own scrubbed skin, and Buffy found herself hugging back with some enthusiasm. The breasts pressed against her own chest didn’t feel fake, and she was ashamed for having said mean things just because Citalia was pretty and successful. “You all be careful, okay?” Citalia said and disappeared into a crowd of flashbulbs and doctors holding out clipboards for autographs.

****

Spike drifted in and out of sleep, surrounded by warm Buffy-scent and cotton sheets soft enough to make him reconsider satin. Sleeping, he could cavort with Buffy to his undead heart’s content, wrapping her lithe blonde form around him in any and all positions. In the dream, he didn’t even mind when Angel showed up in the room, looking down at them with hungry eyes that did not discriminate. He didn’t mind when Angel slid onto the bed, instantly naked due to helpful dream logic, and he didn’t mind when Buffy’s arch away from him pushed her shoulders against Angel’s broad chest.

Spike bolted up into a perfect right angle. “Unholy Hell!”

Stumbling into his jeans, he cursed the gloating instinct that had driven Angel to the crypt, where there were no phone lines and he hadn’t bothered to get Angel’s cellular number.

Fifteen white-knuckled minutes later, he’d slung the DeSoto into heavy shade and dashed to the crypt, duster held above him like a combination of umbrella and bat-wings. He was still smoking around the edges when he finally reached darkness.

“Angel?” he called, looking around for his immortal mortal enemy.

Rubbing his eyes, Angel pushed back the curtain that Spike had hung around the bed.

“What is it? It’s not even sundown yet,” he complained.

“Lucinda Grey,” Spike said. “We need to get busy.”

****

"Didn’t realize the lot a’you was busy."

Angelus’s voice oozed sarcasm, but William wasn't exactly in a position to provide anything remotely resembling a pithy retort. He was naked, flat on his back in Darla's draped bed, with Drusilla strewn over his chest, licking at the tiny bites on his neck and shoulders while the lady to which the bed belonged had saw fit to nestle against his legs and engulf his entire organ in her cool mouth. William wasn't sure if he'd ever speak a coherent sentence again.

"What is it Daddy?" Drusilla asked in her shattered little-girl voice.

"I've brought presents." Angelus cooed to his wayward offspring.

Fickle as ever, Drusilla clambered over William, her petticoats dragging like broken glass over his skin to wrap herself around Angelus, her bare little breasts almost as white as the lace on her undergarments next to the black wool of his suit.

"What have you brought me?" she demanded, her dainty feet tapping on the rug.

"Angelus, can't you see we were occupied?" Darla asked in a tone of elegant distain.

"His attention's gone elsewhere," Angelus gave a wicked smirk and nodded at William who, to his own embarrassment, had lost his ardor the moment Angelus entered.

Swearing to himself, William shoved his body into his trousers and pulled the braces over his bare shoulders before Angelus could mock him any further.

"Is it diamonds? Is it pearls? Is it rubies from far-off idols in India? Did you bring me nightingales and raindrops and tiny baby mice?"

"Not exactly," Angelus said and smiled down at his mad daughter. "It's a great deal more amusing than that."

"You had better have brought an entire damned circus, Angelus," Darla drawled and shrugged into a silk kimono-robe she had purchased at the Japanese Cultural Exhibition.

The robe suited Darla far more than her couture gowns did. The brilliant scarlet silk with the blazing gold embroidered dragon swirling across the back spoke far more clearly than the tightly laced corset and demure gloves. She didn't bother to fasten the robe over her breasts, just loosely tied the sash around her waist and made her gracefully undulating way across the room. William followed like an acolyte. Angelus was opening a dirty, bloodstained carpetbag and pulling strange objects from the inside.

"I thought I'd take a stroll down Limehouse way, I do so like Chinese now and again, even if you do get hungry half an hour later," he laughed at his own joke. "But the first two Chinamen I chanced upon were engaged in a financial transaction of goods for cash. A very nice piece of goods for a large quantity of cash."

Drusilla clapped her hands and giggled, scurrying over to wind her fingers through William's already mussed and untidy hair.

"Poppy dreams, beautiful blood red poppy dreams. Oh you can fly, sweet and soft and long," she cooed, drawing her sharp little nails over his back and shoulders, making him shiver.

"That's right, Angelus killed some Chinamen and got some opium," Darla shook her hair back from her face and collapsed into a nearby armchair, drawing her leg over the arm like a common whore, "Be a darling and get me a cigarette, William."

He did, lighting it with a taper from the fire and handing it to her. The three other vampires watched Angelus fuss with what looked like a lump of blackish tar and an ornate pipe carved like the dragon riding Darla's back.

"Angelus thinks he can bribe his way back into our good graces, doesn't he Drusilla?"

"Yes, Grandmummy, he does.”

"Is it working, Drusilla?"

"He promised me a Bebe Bru dolly with a rose silk walking gown," Drusilla said and pouted. "With deep blue eyes and Titian red hair."

"You have William now, you don't need another doll."

This comment seemed to strike Angelus as being funny and he chuckled to himself as he lit a taper from the coal fire and applied it to the end of the pipe. Then again, perhaps Darla’s comment hadn’t been funny, but the opium-laced blood Angelus must have drained from his Chinamen could have softened his mind. The opium began to smoke and burn with a smell like rotting fruit. Drusilla let him go and moved to sit on the flowered rug at Darla’s feet, as Angelus ceremoniously handed the pipe to the smooth blonde in the flaming kimono. Smiling, Darla drew on the pipe, and a great look of peace passed over her features before she handed the jade pipe down to Drusilla on the floor. When William received the pipe, he was shocked to feel the smoke scrape his throat and lungs like broken glass. How was it that something that could smell so sweet could hurt so much? The smoke worked through his brain and the thought made him laugh. It wasn’t a logical question. Too many things were sweet and hurtful at the same time. Angelus’s fingers, when they touched his passing the pipe, were cold. Cold as the ice and snow outside.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.

William laughed again, the irony as rich and as intoxicating as the opium. He continued to laugh as the pipe made three more circuits around the group.

“You can stop that now,” Darla murmured with knives under her voice, and William looked to see that Angelus was smiling at him.

Biting back another laugh, he passed the pipe to Angelus without smoking more.

“’Spect I’m makin’ a fool of m’self,” he said by way of apology.

Angelus’s smile never wavered.

“The flowers are singing,” Drusilla crooned, running her hands over the patterned rug, her voice thin but each note was clear and true “The flowers that bloom in the spring, breathe promise of merry sunshine– As we merrily dance and we sing, we welcome the hope that they bring, of a summer of roses and wine. And that's what we mean when we say that a thing is welcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.”

William looked and listened but all he could hear was the flames of the fire and all he could see that was different was the thick white mist in the corners of the room. The narcotic effect of the opium was fairly disappointing in that respect, he’d expected something far more flamboyant, dragons, Vikings, and all he could see were vampires. He choked back a giggle. This really was patiently absurd. All his mother’s dire warnings of what could happen if he failed to meet expectations hadn’t included smoking opium with carnally adept vampires. Darla’s hand snaked out and caressed Drusilla’s black curls, and the white skin beneath them. Moving to the far side of the room, William leaned his forearms against the back of the other wing chair and watched.

“Pretty pretty darling,” Darla said and she leaned forward so her caresses now included Drusilla’s pink-tipped little breasts.

Mouth going dry and hardly from the effects of the opium, William felt the wool-covered bulk of Angelus sidle up behind him.

“We’re quite unnecessary,” Angelus murmured.

Oblivious to the men, the two women continued as though they were in complete privacy, Drusilla stretching under Darla’s hands like a cat on a sun warmed windowsill, her back arched like a nymph’s. Without any visible instruction, she turned on her knees to face Darla, who blazed in her red silk like a poppy herself in the velvet chair. Drusilla’s white hands slowly crept up Darla’s golden legs, smoothing and stroking the skin until she reached between Darla’s thighs. William, who had only heard third and fourth hand what women did together from acquaintances bold enough to venture to bawdy houses and licentious theaters, watched with fascinated delight. Leaning forward, Drusilla buried her face between Darla’s thighs and began lapping like a kitten, her dark eyes burning up at the other woman with her dark curls falling around her face as sweetly and innocently as any child’s. When Darla began to clutch the upholstered arms of the chair as though she intended to break through fabric and wood, and she tossed her head back in pleasure, William realized that he, himself, was more than moderately aroused by the scene before him. Un-needed breath in his lungs quickened and caught in his throat and the air in the room was as thick with depraved sensuality as it had been with opium smoke.

Since he was capable of nothing else, he giggled. Apparently becoming a vampire was educational at the least.

Darla began to writhe in the chair, tiny moans escaping from her perfect lips, her hands releasing the chair arms to touch her own breasts, run over her stomach and pull at her own nipples that were now as red as her silk wrap.

“That, more’n the mighty night sky, makes a man realize he’s insignificant.” Angelus purred into his ear.

William gulped in reply.

Finally reaching her shuddering crisis, Darla slumped back into the chair and welcomed Drusilla into her arms, they cooed a dulcet duet while exchanging kisses and caresses. At an unspoken signal, the women moved to the bed where Darla slid between Drusilla’s opened legs, creamy white under the silk of her stockings.

“Hold onto the back of the chair and don’t dream of lettin’ go.” Angelus breathed into William’s ear.

William wasn’t sure what he should be expecting, but when Angelus reached around and seized the fiercely awake flesh of his member, all he could do was squeak with shock. The Irishman’s big hand closed around him, cold and dry as a snakeskin and began a fierce motion that almost sent William to his knees. Naturally a man would have a better idea of speed and rhythm than a woman, no doubt having pleasured himself more than once. William clung to the chair back for stability, dropping his head so no one could see the shocked pleasure on his face. So hard and so fast and too knowing and just the right tempo and—in a humiliatingly short amount of time, he groaned and climaxed into Angelus’s hand and the back of the chair. He shut his eyes and heard the slithering of skin on silk grow louder from the bed.

“When you look down ‘pon us remember you’re no better than any. Don’t go bein’ a self-righteous hypocrite.”

****

“You self-righteous bastard! ‘Zactly how far up your bloody arse is your head anyway?” Spike raged.

“We have to do the right thing.”

“Which is get our asses the fuck out of town.”

The movement in Angel's shoulders was a shrug almost imperceptible to Spike's vampire eyes.

"If Citalia is Lucinda, we have to make this right somehow," Angel continued, rubbing his hands through his hair until it reached its usual ridiculous ridge.

"Make it right? You gonna waltz in there and say: 'Ever so sorry Miss for what got done to you over a'hundred years ago, could you please let the little kids go so we can all live happily ever after?' That's fuck-off mad, I tell you."

It was all Spike could do to keep from grabbing the easy chair and smashing it over Angel’s thick head. What he proposed was insanity, and possibly suicide. Going to apologize to Citalia – if she was Lucinda – with her retinue of Ossenfelter demons was about as intelligent as being the Starfleet security officer in the red shirt going into the cave to see if the monster was there. Angel wouldn’t have lasted past the first round of commercials.

"What happened – one of the things – "Angel ground to a halt like a car that had run out of gas and oil at the same time. "You have a soul now, you should understand. Atonement, making things right. As right as you can."

"Atone this,” Spike grabbed at his crotch. “Look mate, I started stickin' m'beer bottles in th' recycle bin and that's where this reformation ended."

Spike tossed his cigarette to the ground and mashed it out, reflecting that his new environmentalism didn't extend to littering.

"Try this, she's not going to be happy until we've seen her. Not happy Citalia means more violence, more children attacking their parents and police officers."

"And the harm in that would be–?" Spike raised an eyebrow and gestured emptily around.

"You'll be responsible for the deaths of more people."

"The first few thousand were a cakewalk, more is goin' to be hard?"

“Buffy’s not going to let it go at that. Citalia’s here to kill and she will try, and Buffy will try to stop her. I’m not going to let Buffy fight our battles.”

Well, that one was a corker. He absolutely, positively hated it when Angel was right.

“Bloody hell.” He groused and felt around in his pockets until he found a cigarette.

It didn’t help all that much.

“Guess we ought to start formulatin’ a plan or somethin’.”

****

Dawn had the expected reaction when told that, no, she still couldn’t go to the concert. The drugs muffled her hysteria somewhat, and she was nearly asleep while the attendant wheeled her out to be picked up.

Thankfully, Buffy’s headache had mainly cleared by the time Dawn was sent back home with Willow and Tara while Buffy went to deal with Revenge of the Lawyers. Apparently the settling of Buffy’s mother’s estate was responsible for a good portion of the deforestation of the West Coast. There was an inventory of the gallery, and the whole matter of who was doing what to run the gallery now. The partners wanted to buy out Buffy’s share, but that meant a whole bunch more accounting than Buffy had ever thought was possible. The inventory was worth an awful lot of money and Buffy’s attorney wanted to make sure that the poor motherless girl didn’t get screwed.

“You have to watch out for people like this,” the lawyer warned as she drove Buffy down her street. “Wave that much money in front of anybody’s nose and he can turn into a bloodsucker.”

It was almost funny. But, stepping out of the BMW in the driveway, Buffy realized that the lawyer was really just doing her job to protect Buffy in the same way that Buffy walked the streets of Sunnydale every night and kept it safe from dangers that the sleeping citizens had no idea existed.

“Thanks a lot,” Buffy said.

“I’ll call you Wednesday when the accountants are finished. Hope your sister feels better.”

“Thanks.”

With that the BMW pulled away and took normal life with it.

The house was vampire-free, which surprised her a little bit. Spike must have gotten up at the crack of noon to go do mysterious Spike things. Willow and Tara were her current Glory-prevention aids, what with the witchy powers and Spike and Angel being involved in nosing around the Citalia mess. Anya and Xander were there, apparently because the cable at Xander’s was out. Dawn had thrown Willow out of her room for being Buffy’s friend (not what Willow said, but Buffy spoke fluent Dawnese). Tara was still upstairs, braiding and rebraiding Dawn’s hair. Even through the drug haze, Dawn’s eyes had been hard when she looked at Buffy, who closed the door and fled downstairs.

“Hey, stranger,” Xander called out from the couch. “There was a MTV special on the making of ‘Hardly Ever,’ Citalia’s new disc. World premiere of her new video in a minute. I guess that’s for all us peons who can’t make it to the concert. We get to watch MTV and we can even call it research.”

“She’s a much better singer than you led me to believe,” Anya commented from beneath Xander. “I’d say she’s had classical training.”

“Shhh,” Xander hissed, running his hand slowly up Anya’s thigh, and Buffy turned to the television where the music was starting.

A girl with a powdered-white face, a heavy black Princess Leia hairdo, and a scarlet kimono embroidered with birds stood on a stage, fluttering a yellow fan as the audience clapped and threw roses at her feet. The music, a swirl of dark synth, seemed utterly out of place. “Turn the sound down, ok?” Buffy begged. “If Dawn hears, she’s going to go wiggier than Cher.”

Xander pressed the mute button as the scene cut to the girl’s dressing room. She was now golden-haired, revealed as Citalia. Her face was still made up so that her mouth was in the shape of a lipstick kiss. Responding to a knock on the door, she rose from her gilt-backed chair and invited two men in. One was tall, dark and handsome, the other slightly shorter, dirty blond and handsome with cheekbones sharp enough to make the air bleed. Citalia at least had good taste in actors.

“Turn it up a little!” Anya hissed, and Citalia’s voice whispered across the room, backed by the thrumming synth beat.

“Nothing said could change the fact/My trust was blind, you broke the pact/If God's my witness, God must be blind.”

Then the three were dancing, the men still in their floppy Victorian clothes with the huge cravats and Citalia in a dress as red as a beating heart, white lace fluttering at the sleeves as she gyrated. They were surrounded by other dancers making decidedly non-Victorian moves, and Citalia herself was sandwiched between the two men, who ground into her as if they were trying to get to one another. Their eyes locked over her head as she sang to the camera.

“If flesh could crawl my skin would fall/From off my bones and run away from here,/As far from God, as heaven is wide.”

“Holy homoeroticism, Batman,” Xander said, staring, and slid his hands further under Anya. Buffy figured this was punishment for the earlier walk-in, which was unfair but maybe inevitable. Willow, too, was focusing on the television as if it were her hope of Heaven. Citalia held up a glass of something golden and glowing and drank it down. In a sparkling wash, they were on a white velvet bed, one man on either side of her, their hands tugging at her dress so that the sleeves came off. Similar machinations turned the dress into a corset and cobwebs, as the men kissed and licked at her like Red Shoe Diaries rejects, their hands occasionally wandering past Citalia’s body to another superbly muscled thigh. Citalia’s eyes fluttered in feigned bliss as she continued to lipsynch. Buffy squirmed; this was barely one step above porn.

“Nothing that you say will release you/Nothing that you pray would forgive you/Nothing's what your words mean to me/Something that you did will destroy you.”

And then the dark one sunk his teeth into her neck. His mouth was slick, obscene, as he raised his beautiful bloody face to the camera. Buffy gasped and almost reached for a stake before she realized that it was all fake. On screen, Citalia struggled between the two men, Dark with his mouth at her neck, Light’s mouth high on her thigh, blood seeping onto the bed like an accelerated film of roses blooming.

“Ohmigod—“ Buffy said without engaging her brain.

A flash, and Citalia was running, stumbling, her gauzy white nightdress hiked up to show the blood running down her legs. Against a black background, a male hand raised a silver straight razor, coated with red Karo syrup that didn’t really drip anything like blood, which was enough to make Buffy relax just a little. Night, a river iced over; a white hand thrust through the ice, Citalia looking hardly damp at all but glittering with diamonds, pulling herself onto the ice. Then Citalia was on the bed again, white on red on white, her wrists held by the dark man while the lighter one crawled towards her.

With a Matrix-style move, Citalia flipped backwards, using her captor’s grip for leverage, kicking the other man’s face as she went. Now Citalia, streaked with more red Karo and not a little glitter, twirled the razor like a majorette leading a cheer.

Another jump cut, and an upwards shower of doves revealed Citalia, her arms spread wide, her palms raining rose petals with an enormous ivory cross behind her. The camera pulled back to reveal the two bare-chested men, one crucified on each side of her, iron spikes driven through their hands and thorn crowns digging into their foreheads. Their blood was black and tarry, not syrupy.

“If holy is as holy does/his house will burn straight down to hell/And take its conscience with it as it falls.”

“Think this video is going to anger the Christian Right just a little?” Willow asked, in her I’m-trying-to-joke-but-actually-I’m-disturbed voice.

Citalia continued to sing, pulling the dark man from the cross. He fell on his broken hands and knees, revealing an enormous dragon tattoo spreading across his shoulderblades. Buffy’s mouth dropped open. Still singing, Citalia put her hands on the man’s head and twisted; the actor closed his eyes and swooned as if his neck had really been broken.

“Choke on guilt that's far too good for you/Say one word, I'll laugh and bury you/And leave you in the place where you left me.”

A sword appeared in her hand, gleaming silver as the razor, and she swung. When the camera moved down there was nothing but an old skeleton and a glowing white skull tumbling across the flagstone floor.

“If flesh could crawl my skin would fall/From off my bones and run away from here/As far from God, as heaven is wide…”

Carlson Daly grinned into the camera, eyes a little glazed. He looked like a man who just had the girl of his dreams vomit into his lap.

“Wow, that was the new one from Citalia and – let’s just say that’s a new look for her. Coming up next, we have our exclusive interview with Flea—“

“What the Hell?” Buffy half-screamed, half-choked.

Anya hit the power button and the room went dark. “Um, Buffy? I might have, it was a long time ago really and I think there’s been some plastic surgery –“

One-handed, Buffy yanked Anya out from under Xander and pulled her to her feet.

“In London, near the turn of the century?” Anya was annoying, but she’d never before adopted the California habit of ending every sentence with a question mark. Buffy growled. “A girl, badly hurt, nearly dead, very wet. These two men had –“

“What did you do?” Buffy breathed each word as if it were its own chunk of ice.

“Turned her into a siren,” Anya hurried. “Each person she lures increases her power. She asked! I was a vengeance demon! It was my job!”

“Buffy, are you going psycho bitch for a good reason or—“ Xander protested, pulling himself up from the floor with a combination of anger and fear slathered over his face.

“If you’d been watching the video instead of groping Miss Vengeance Demon with a Bad Memory here you would have seen –“

“Angel and Spike,” Willow said and began pulling Buffy’s fingers from Anya’s shirt. “At least I think it was Spike, with the hair and everything. But I guess Buffy would know what his natural hair color is after all. And it isn’t Anya’s fault, she was just doing her job.”

“Make me ride the Special Ed bus, but did I just miss something really important? That was a video, it didn’t have anything to do with Angel and Spike.”

“That wasn’t a video, the whole thing was a re-enactment of a woman being seduced, fed off of, and tortured by two vampires, a tall dark and hunky one with a tattoo on his back and a shorter blondish one with really sharp cheekbones. Sound like anybody you know?!” Anya was on the bandwagon now, rounding on her lover with the fury of a woman who realizes that the man she is sleeping with is clueless. “At the end of the last century, a girl came to me and wanted revenge on these two men who had used her – badly. She was wet and mutilated. I helped her.”

“And she’s going to destroy whoever hurt her. Which would be Angel and Spike,” Willow finished.

Buffy could feel her heart beat in her right eye. It hurt. Was that how Mom felt before the aneurysm hit?

Okay, so Angel and Spike had killed Citalia. Angel and Spike had killed a lot of people and probably in more not-nice ways than she knew the names of. They’d likely invented not-nice ways of killing people. But at least they didn’t dance and make hot eyes at each other like that.

Something shattered. Buffy thought it might be her own sanity.

“What’s that?” Xander turned toward the stairs.

“Dawn,” Buffy said and grabbed her backpack of weapons.

Ugly visions of Glory dancing in her head, Buffy sprinted up the steps.

Faintly, from behind Dawn’s closed door, Buffy heard Tara moan.

Flinging the door open, Buffy realized that Dawn’s room was Glory-free zone, and a Dawn-free zone as well. Tara was sprawled over the bed with a broken lamp near her head and she was bleeding from a scalp wound. Dawn was gone and the curtains were fluttering in the window.

“Willow, call Giles and get Tara to the hospital. Xander, you and Anya are going with me.”

“Where? What? Where’s Dawn?”

“She went to the concert, dipshit !” Anya smacked Xander in the back of the head.

“Tell me everything you know about sirens,” Buffy shouted at Anya. “And – how do I kill one?”

****

Spike pulled up to a dark and deserted Summers house. There were no humans inside, he could tell by the smell. Dawn’s window was broken and there was glass on the grass, so it had been broken from the inside, and there was blood on the bedclothes when Spike went up to check.

“You know that plan we spent all afternoon working out?”

“Yeah?” Angel asked warily.

“I’d say it’s gone to fuck. We’d best get over to the concert now-like.”

Angel got back into the passenger seat.

"Mineral water and magic candles,” he said as Spike flattened the Lightfoots’ mailbox.

“Aqua et igni interdictus. Forbidden water and fire. Lucinda into the water? Remember?” Spike yelled over the straining engine. “And somehow she got out of that with a ragin’ mad-on and found herself something or somebody who gave her the wherewithal to do somethin’ ‘bout it. Fuck! It’s been starin’ us in the face all along.”

“Dawn, Buffy, the kids who follow her, it’s all incidental. She wants revenge on us.”

“The shit that happened, back there an’ then.”

The look Angel shot him in the dull green glow of the DeSoto’s lights had nothing to do with Citalia.

“Don’t go apologizin’. I ain’t forgivin’ you for anythin’. If I’m gonna go down you’re gonna come with me.”

"I shouldn’t have let Drusilla make you. She had no idea what she was doing. You weren’t exactly vampire material.”

"Wimpy an' whiny? She may have made me, but you taught me what bein’ a vampire was all about, and Lucinda was just the beginnin’."

"Spike –"

"Shut up," Spike said and lit a cigarette, carelessly blowing through a red light. “Let’s just call it water under Tower Bridge and be done with it.”

Weighed down with a soul-load of guilt, Angel stared out the window.

“But in the future, you keep your fuckin’ Mick nose outta’ my business or I’ll rip your fuckin’ head off.”

****

Citalia stalked across the stage, waving her arms at the crowd and rapping as hard as a white girl could into her headset mike. "It's goin' down, yo the girl got a gun. Best run."

As she crept backstage, Buffy wondered if the song lyrics were appropriate for Dawn's age group and also wondered if she was just getting old really fast. It had been almost disappointingly easy to sneak past the lame-o campus security and the quartet of pumpkin-faced goons wandering around backstage. It didn’t occur to her that it had been intentionally easy.

"Because she's quick to flip and empty out the clip and make a man understand where she's comin' from."

The dressing room door opened with the pop of a broken lock, and the only light inside came from a row of candles arranged altar-like in front of the wall-sized makeup mirror.

"The hardcore connected to the base of her fate. She just breaks and brings drama to the situation."

Spike and Angel had wanted her, seduced her, drunk from her. Then tortured her and left her to die. Buffy’s story followed the same arc, but the last chapter had yet to be written. Angel had exploded her heart, tortured and killed the people she loved, and nearly killed her, and with the voice of experience warned that Spike would do the same. And when Buffy looked in the makeup mirror, she saw a face just like Citalia’s.

The Host had said that Angel and Spike would disappoint her. Somehow having their essential nasty old vampire nature spread out all over the world via MTV was not what she had imagined.

Whatever the demon security guy hit her with, it was hard enough to get and then scatter her attention. Squirming and flailing, she went down fighting like a cat in a pillowcase.

This couldn’t be happening.

****

It couldn’t be happening.

The opium had made him go mad, it had to be, there was no other logical explanation. William crashed into the bed with Angelus atop him, the other man crushing him into the featherbed, alternately pulling at his own clothes and ripping away what remained of William’s. Human teeth scored his shoulders and throat, and William pulled at the heavy mass of Angelus’s dark hair to pull his head away and make the pain stop. Pain, yes, but glorious pain with straining muscles and the trappings of fighting, thrashing about on the civilized damask of the bedclothes. What unnatural and strange passions the opium had engendered in the women had now caught William in its grasp. He was chest to chest in an embrace that was half battle and half caress with the other man, and he could feel the heavy bulk of Angelus’s desire against his own stomach. Not knowing if he wanted to free himself from Angelus or give into him, William thrashed like a trout in a net while Angelus pinned him to the bed.

William had been behind the cricket pavilion and the bicycle shed at school. But those had been schoolboy games, fast, dirty and furtive. This was quite serious and not game-like at all. Hard body hard muscles, not feeling or smelling anything remotely like the perfumed flesh of the women. Fingers spread along the burning skin of his throat and William moaned. It was horrible and it was wonderful to be caught up like this where he no longer had decision, opinion or blame. Angelus’s skin was so cold, colder than Darla or Drusilla’s had been, and William felt as though he were being overpowered by a living wall rather than another being. He knew he was slight, knew it, saw it, had been told time and time again, but he had never felt quite so small until then.

Angelus had mocked him, beaten him, humiliated him and now saw fit to drag his mouth across William’s throat? William wasn’t quite sure that he cared. Fangs scraped and William realized that he was scissoring his legs like a man swimming. Swimming or drowning.

He didn’t fight, just wanted to be gathered up and crushed underneath the other vampire, just giving in to the dark lust that was pooling in his veins with the dead blood and the sweet rotten fruit of the opium. They were both gasping un-needed breaths, rubbing pelvis to pelvis, spreading fire between. The only information he had about his trousers was that he was not wearing them. Angelus’s legs were between his, harder and rougher than the women’s smooth limbs. It was all that William could do to hold onto Angelus’s shoulders when he was pierced above and below, fangs in the throat, hardened member splitting him asunder below.

He was dying again in the crushing dark pleasure running through his body, depraved, indecent, dead, immoral, and immortal. Overcome, he plunged his own fangs into Angelus’s shoulder, tasting the dark smoky vampire blood that made his nerves and fibers break into an unholy chorus of delight.

Finally, Angelus collapsed under the weight of his own release and they lay there, entwined like combatants, sticky with spilled blood and other fluids, William realizing that he had spent sometime during the activity. Stuck, glued together there on the damask counterpane.

“What’s so special about you, Saint William?” Angelus asked in a strange, tight voice and pulled William’s hair hard enough to hurt.

“I don’t know. “

“What the Hell is this?” Darla’s voice, now sharpened to near-shriek with fury jerked William out of his stupor just as her hands jerked him out of the bed and away from Angelus.

William’s mouth moved and no sound emerged. On the bed, Angelus pulled the bedclothes around his waist and looked offended.

“Dirty boys playing dirty boy games?” Darla demanded and the dragon on her back snarled along with her demon face. Angelus cowered back into the counterpane, pulling himself as far away from the woman who scarcely came up to his shoulder.

“You’re not to take him, you’re not to take him without my permission. It’s bad enough that Drusilla made him without telling me, and now you think you can just go and bugger him? Nothing happens here without my permission,” Darla raged at Angelus. “You have no rights, you have no choice and you have no decisions to make. I made you, I can destroy you and replace you in a moment.”

William scrambled around the other side of the bed and made himself as small as possible.

“He—“ Angelus began, glancing over at William.

“Shut up!” Darla shrieked and dealt Angelus a blow across the face that sounded like a thunderclap in the small bedroom.

Face blooming with dead blood under his cold skin, Angelus cringed.

“Before I changed you, you were nothing but an ignorant country boy with broad shoulders and a big cock, no better than the dogs you threw your table scraps to. I give you a world that you never could have imagined and you show me your gratitude by buggering this worthless fop behind my back?”

“While you were otherwise engaged?” William’s words slipped out before he could stop them.

Darla showed the same restraint she had when dealing with Angelus. She slapped him across the face so hard that he smashed into the far wall and brought a print down upon his head, glass shattering over his bare skin.

“This is my family and I make the decisions here!” she raged on and turned back to Angelus. “Take this misbegotten creature of Drusilla’s and teach him how to hunt before he causes any more mischief. Drusilla and I will go to Paris tomorrow night and not return until the end of the month. By that time I expect that you will make a proper vampire out of this one.”

In a flash, Darla was looming over William as he tried to press himself into the flowered wallpaper.

“And you, young William, any more trouble from you and I’ll give you the final death. Do you understand? I haven’t worked this long to keep this family happy to have something like you destroy everything!”

Drusilla wandered into the room, oblivious to her own nakedness, rubbing her eyes like a sleepy child.

“The noise woke Miss Edith. She doesn’t like to be awakened from a lovely sleep. What’s going on?”

****

“What’s going on?” It nearly killed Spike again to have to ask Xander, but he was still grateful that the boy was there, standing outside the main entrance to the concert next to concerned-looking parents in sensible shoes.

“Citalia is a siren, out for your sorry asses.” Xander glowered and looked as if he wanted to punctuate the comment with violence, but they all knew there was no time for anything but token posturing.

“Old news. What’s going on right now?”

“Dawn put the kibosh on Tara and went to the concert. She’s in there. Buffy’s headed backstage to take Citalia out at the first opportunity. Anya’s inside looking for Dawn, I’m waiting for Giles and Willow to get here from the hospital.”

Spike shook his head. “Anya’ll never get Dawn out against her will.”

Angel, obviously altering the Plan as he went along, spoke up as if Xander wasn’t there. “You go after Buffy, I’ll get Dawn.”

Spike folded his arms across his chest. “She won’t come wiv’ you. Me an’ Dawn, we’ve got to be friends, like, while you’ve been gone.” Maybe there was time for some posturing.

Angel glared. Spike knew Dawn had always believed that Angel meant Bad News for Buffy. Even at the height of the great ponce’s romance with Buffy, he’d never achieved more than chilly politeness with Dawn. It was odd, but satisfying, that Angel was jealous because of that implanted memory.

“Go on, impress the Slayer wiv’ your manly prowess,” Spike said and turned to enter the stadium. The security people ran towards him when he jumped the turnstile, coat flaring around him like an action hero, but they didn’t last long.

Inside the stadium, Spike looked out into the sea of girlflesh with something like despair. All the flat midriffs, low-rise jeans, string tops and dewy eyes looked the same to him. The place was a pedophile’s wettest dream, culture and Citalia conspiring to trick every man into playing Humbert Humbert. A year ago, he would have been looking for a Lo of his own. Now he was looking for Dawn. The comparison didn’t bear close examination. On top of that, he was getting the roaring in his stomach that always plagued him in large human crowds, and the desire to feed was an unwelcome distraction.

He searched for Dawn’s long brown hair. It was a little easier than it would have been decades ago, since most of the girls weren’t ironing their hair, but there were still scads of not-quite-Dawns. The ones that tried to engage him in conversation after he’d tapped them on the shoulders to see their faces were the scariest, girls dying to ditch Mom in the station wagon for an adventure. With a little more time for seduction they could have brought out his fangs, or his dick

The enormous amps that accompanied stadium concerts seemed to be aimed just at him. “Ejaculation of hot projectiles. She buck wild. Better recognize when she comes she comes correct.”

As he approached the stage, the bodies got tighter together, until Spike could have sworn that they weren’t all just wearing the same brand of jeans but were actually sharing a single pair. The smell of sweat and fruity perfumes just made him hungrier, and now every move he made was frottage against bare tummies, regardless of his newfound policy on little girls. Even in the old days, he was in the habit of choosing his molestees, not having them rubbed into him like suntan lotion.

“So let's respect! And if not you catch a broken neck, buddy.”

It was too much. A candy store for diabetics, a pharmacy for junkies, and a liquor store for drunks – all these tasty little girls in their little tops and little jeans. Spike's stomach hurt, reminding him that he'd had half a pint of O negative and a handful of Cheetos in the past two days. He was on the verge of giving up and sending Sir Bloody Galahad Angel into the Castle of little ladies when he noticed an asymmetry in the waving limbs. Dawn was a few rows in at the center, waving one arm twice as fast to compensate and screaming with the rest of them.

He didn’t see how she got breath back into her lungs after letting it out. The girls were packed closer than commuters in a Japanese subway train, and moving towards Dawn was about as easy as tunneling through concrete. Citalia seemed to be singing to that area, which pleased Spike not at all. There was nothing to be done about it but to push through the crowd, using the pressure of the bodies behind him to move forward.

Finally he was near her, and then against her body in a way that could officially be described as Bad Touch. She was wearing one of Buffy’s metallic blue tops, the kind that had one string to tie the back together and not much more in front. In fact, the cast provided a lot more coverage. “Dawn,” he yelled, “it’s not safe here!”

Not safe for either of them. Any more friction against his groin and the littlest Summers was going to know more about him than he wanted her to. She could borrow her sister’s clothes, but Spike’s cock wasn’t part of the wardrobe.

Dawn twirled in place until she was facing him, face shining with sweat and glitter. “Spike! You came!” He couldn’t tell if she remembered hitting Tara or just assumed he’d be okay with it; either would make sense. Citalia’s words rose and fell around them like hammers, outdoing the screaming crowds.

“Look down and your shirt's all bloody. Look like she caught you with a bad one for messin' with the mad one.”

“We need to leave,” he insisted. Around them, little girls began to pull away, making a space for them. Spike didn’t question the reasons. Dawn, however, stayed plastered to him like a shower curtain.

“But I’m having so much fun,” she pouted up at him. “Dance with me?” She shimmied and wrapped her unbroken arm around his waist. This was the point where a human man would have broken into a cold sweat. Spike’s stomach rumbled and he swallowed.

“No, Dawn.” He tried to get her hand off of his ass but didn’t think he could without breaking the second arm.

“I’m not ambivalent,” she said and put her hand behind his neck as she slid her leg up to his hip and twined around him. One glance down made it very clear that she was past the training bra stage and had shot right through to the not wearing a bra on purpose stage. “You could do anything you wanted.” She licked her lips and Spike found himself mimicking the motion.

Desperate, Spike glanced up at the stage. Citalia was not ten feet from them, at the very edge, watching, half-crouching, and singing straight to them. Which explained why the teenyboppers had parted like the Red Sea but was another reason for his stomach to clench.

“Told you 'bout this girl before. You didn't listen to me as I talked, now you stalked.”

Using his intimate connection with Dawn to move her, Spike attempted to push back into the crowd of humans. Blank-eyed, they refused to let him pass, legs and arms twisting in what looked like dance moves but had to be deliberate barriers. Finally divining his intent, Dawn began to hit him with a little balled-up fist, which actually did nothing to mitigate her seductiveness. She wriggled from his grasp like a kitten and leapt onto the stage, taking Citalia’s outstretched hand.

“By the hunter of the frontier who's size five and sexy.” Citalia could smile and sing at the same time. It was a neat trick. She led a stunned and pliant Dawn through a series of twirling one-handed dance moves as every girl in the stadium screamed and imagined herself there.

But she was singing only for Spike. “Quick! They'll catch your body in another one next week.”

Dawn was spun offstage, laughing as large dark shapes surrounded her. Right after that, a line of escape opened up for Spike, going all the way to an exit at the back of the stadium. Despite the clear evidence that Citalia – Lucinda — wanted him to follow that path, he did, moving past blurred and nubile limbs all swaying to the same pounding beat that had taken over his brain. The breadcrumb trail of little girls led to one of the many side rooms where offices and desks lived and day to day business was conducted without a soundtrack.

Not surprisingly, Angel was already there, looking at a pair of the Ossenfelters as though he wanted to eat them and spit out their many, many bones. Spike looked around at the cheap metal and simulated wood furniture and didn’t see as much as a fruit basket. This was obviously the anti-hospitality suite.

“We got to re-write that backstage rider,” he told Angel. “I want AB negative, bendy straws and groupies. We really need groupies.”

Outside, a million little girls were screaming with delight.

“Buffy and Dawn, bring them out now and nobody gets hurt,” Angel told the Ossenfelters.

As though that was actually going to happen. The Ossenfelters set their lumpy jaws and one of them finally achieved the power of language.

“She’ll talk to you between songs.”

“I’m just a-quiver. You quiverin’?”

Outside, Citalia/Lucinda was belting another one out and her voice bounced around the cinderblocks of the building.

“I tried hard to mend my wicked ways /The damage's done, there's nothing left to save.“

The demons left the door unlocked, possibly bright enough to realize that Angel and Spike weren’t going to try and leave until the bite-sized diva made her appearance. Spike lit a cigarette and sat on the edge of one of the desks. He tried the telephone but didn’t even get a dial tone.

“So much for Domino’s. I’m starvin’ of hunger. You hungry? I could really go for a couple a’pints of A pos right about now. Maybe with a big plate a’nachos wiv guacamole.” Spike narrowed his eyes and stared through the smoke at Angel. “Starin’ at th’ door ain’t makin’ any of this happen faster.”

“No matter what I do, the past always manages to come around and bite me in the ass.”

Spike snickered and ashed on the floor.

“Tell it to kiss off an’ get over it.”

The sound of the little girls got louder. They sounded like the crowds at a football match, only speeded up so the voices were high and chipmunky. Spike glanced up at the institution clock on the wall and realized that Citalia had to be getting to the end of her show. This was probably the fake hysteria of the crowd that knows it’s going to get an encore.

A moment later, the door slammed open and a retinue of Ossenfelters marched in, nearly hiding the little form in their midst. The demons parted and revealed Citalia/Lucinda looking fairly perky in her belly-bearing top and shrunken pants. Glitter and crystals were glued to most of her body, including an intricate pattern around her middle. Citalia also had a half-foot long crucifix hanging around her neck, and that sparkled along with the rest of her. She was blotting her face with a white towel and holding a bottle of Evian in the other hand.

“Hey, you’re still here, good.” She smiled and her teeth sparkled almost as much as her crystals. “I gotta get back for the encore, so this is, like, going to be really quick.”

Across the room the great bloody pouf was blinking at her with unadulterated pouf-ish surprise, and Spike seconded that emotion.

“Okay, like after the concert, you guys wait until midnight — it takes forever to get packed up and out after a gig — and then you go to that park outside town. You know, the one with the really ugly statue of the guy on the horse? With the gazebo? Behind the gazebo there’s, like, a clearing or something, and you’re going to want to, like, go there.”

She smiled at their incomprehension.

“Hello? Anybody home? If you want those two chicks back,” she made a vague, helpless gesture, “you’re really gonna want to do that, okay?”

Realizing his mouth was hanging open, Spike closed it.

She looked from Angel to Spike and back to Angel.

“You guys aren’t all that bright, are you?” she asked and frowned cutely. “And you are totally not as snackable as I remember.”

With a flick of her hair she was gone again, the Ossenfelters in formation around her like drones around the Queen bee.

“Was that weird or am I just getting old?” Angel asked.

“This new lot a’evil supernatural creatures ain’t got the class we did.”

As they made their way out to the parking lot, Citalia’s voice blasted them. Spike could feel it not only in his bones but in his undead flesh.

“Don't believe in fear/Don't believe in faith/Don't believe in anything/That you can't break /You stupid girl/You stupid girl/All you had you wasted.”

"We need to wait for Willow and Giles and arrange for backup."

"Backup," Spike scoffed. "What happened to bustin' in and killin' 'em all?"

"They've got Buffy." Angel's eyes did the haunted doomed romantic thing, which made Spike almost regret his own baby blues, but he wasn't wrong.

"Don’t forget the little Summers. So we carefully bust in an' kill the lot. An’ don’t give me any shite about plans, seein’ how well the last one went."

Spike spotted Xander in the distance – he was the only male in his twenties in evidence, since the rest were suburban daddies – and waved the Scoobies over. Since they were swimming upstream, it took some time, but eventually they assembled, a rock in the stream of rushing teens.

Angel spoke in his Natural Leader voice. “Our one advantage here is that Citalia may not know about you. They said to come alone, so we’ve got to do that, but you can give us fifteen minutes and approach from the other edge of the woods.”

“Our first priority must be Buffy,” Giles said carefully, staring at Spike. “Saving the Key without saving Buffy would be catastrophic.”

Spike stared back, not quite understanding what was going on but sure that he could not be the first to back down. “We ain’t on a budget here,” he lied. “They’re both comin’ out.”

He could still feel Giles’ eyes burning a hole in his duster as he and Angel returned to the car. Spike had often wondered if the Watcher had an interest of his own in Buffy, or really was playing daddy. In either case, Giles couldn’t have been entirely trusting of Angel and him together again. Then again, vampires and trust weren’t the usual #3 combo anyway. Angel was looking far too heroic and tight-jawed right about then, and Spike had to give into his baser urges and kicked the other vampire in the back of the heel, just to make him stumble in an un-heroic way.

****

Buffy’s head hurt. Hers was harder than most, she knew, but taking a licking and keeping on ticking was still not major fun.

“Hey, you’re awake, cool,” a soft voice said. Buffy blinked and tried to move her arms. Unfortunately, they were chained above her head. When she turned to find the source of the voice, she saw Dawn, also chained at one wrist, with another chain clamped above her broken arm.

The voice’s owner – Citalia, surprise, surprise – came into Buffy’s wavering field of vision. “So you’re this year’s girl. You’re really holding up! I mean your nail polish isn’t even chipped. Mine always gets all chipped so fast.”

“Listen, I don’t know what this is about, but you’ve got the wrong idea about Spike and Angel –“

“Superhero names, Angel and Spike. Or pets, you could name dogs or cats Angel and Spike. Kinda silly for vampires, don’t you think?” Citalia flashed a million gigawatt smile at Buffy, and she didn’t seem to be sarcastic at all. “So the boys have souls now? I’m really sorry but that doesn’t change anything.”

Okay, so maybe Citalia got the basic gist of things. “I won’t let you hurt them.”

“As if,” Citalia rolled her eyes and stepped closer, and Buffy was disturbed that the other girl was not playing according to The Evil-Overlord Handbook. She was supposed to gloat or threaten or something! Not act friendly.

Citalia stood on tiptoe so she was nose-to-nose with Buffy, her eyelashes thick and black with mascara.

“They’re bad, really, really, really bad boys.”

Feeling cold all over, Buffy couldn’t help but pull on the bindings around her wrists, even though she knew it wasn’t working.

“If you knew, like really knew what they did, I think you might change your mind –” Citalia’s cool hands, smelling of perfume and oranges, caressed Buffy’s bruised temple.

A weird kind of shiver crawled over Buffy’s skin and she found herself staring into Citalia’s eyes, too brilliant blue and liquid to be real. Another shiver, one of magic, crawled into her head and Buffy saw a blaze of white light, felt dry heat close around her like a fist, and fell into the center of the sun.

****

"The sun whose rays are all ablaze with ever-living glory, does not deny his majesty, he scorns to tell a story! He won't exclaim: 'I blush for shame, so kindly be indulgent.' But, fierce and bold in fiery gold, he glories all effulgent!"

She dipped her fan and fluttered her eyelashes at the audience. The boxes were filled that night, which meant that there would be an endless stream of dandies and other wastrels hanging about her dressing room after the show ended. It was hoping beyond hope that one of them would be an elderly, rich man with no living heirs and a bad heart.

Sighing inwardly, she raised her face to the gaslights overhead, pretending to look for the Japanese sun.

"I mean to rule the earth, as he the sky–. We really know our worth, the sun and I! I mean to rule the earth, as he the sky–."

God, the winter was destroying her voice. The filthy dirty London air and the dampness! No wonder the best sopranos usually buggered off to Italy after the New Year.

"Observe his flame, That placid dame, the moon's Celestial Highness. There's not a trace upon her face of diffidence or shyness. She borrows light that, through the night, mankind may all acclaim her! And, truth to tell, she lights up well, so I, for one, don't blame her!"

She hobbled downstage in her absurd shoes. What the hell were they called? Zoris? Bloody unpleasant and uncomfortable, like the bloody kimono. She smiled, feeling the rice powder crackle around the red slash of her mouth.

"Ah, pray make no mistake, we are not shy; we're very wide-awake. The moon and I!"

She snapped her fan open and froze, waiting for the chorus to hobble onstage in their zories. Bloody stupid costumes.

Later, her manager tried to give her three letters, all no doubt brimming with promises from portly men who’d lick their thick lower lips while they looked at her. “Take those away, George.” She was enough of a beauty to have her choice of society men who wanted mistresses, and she chose attractiveness over wealth – after a certain foundation level of wealth had been established, naturally.

As she sat removing the thick powder that turned her face the color of an eggshell, there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?” she called out sweetly. If it was George again, she was going to make him wish he’d never offered her an exclusive contract.

The two men couldn’t have been more different, or more alike. The taller, darker one was first in the room, while the shorter, whose hair was as golden brown as crumpets, followed with the same easy authority, sweeping his eyes around the room as if he’d been there a thousand times.

“Lucinda Grey?” the first man asked with a faint Irish burr. His eyes were merry and mischievous, and she smiled back, raising a hand to her neck to trail it coquettishly down her shoulder.

“I am. And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

“I am Liam; this is my – companion, William. We share both a name and a love for the theatre.”

“We were hoping that we might express our admiration for your performance.” William’s smile was just as infectious as Liam’s. She stroked a stray curl of hair and smiled at him.

They had nice teeth and excellently cut clothes. She could imagine Liam being one of the Irish gentry and William had the dilettante look of someone’s youngest son.

“And, of course, share the pleasure of your company over dinner.”

Outside the opera house, London was a fever dream. Streetlamps glittered, winking in and out like distant stars as smoke and soot passed by them. She could hear the crack of the carriagemen’s whips, the cries of distant fruit-sellers and beggars, the murmurs of the pushing crowds. She could smell coal burning in a million homes, roasting chestnuts, meat pies keeping warm and the cold, clean smell that meant snow was coming soon.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” William asked, smiling broadly past her.

“Beautiful,” Liam agreed, and this time it was clear that he was looking at her.

“The city is ours,” William said and offered his hand. Blushing, she let him lead her to a waiting carriage, Liam following behind, a glorious shadow.

She had no idea where the carriage disgorged them, other than that it was in front of a bistro streaming light and sound into the night air. Liam whispered to the headwaiter, and a space was quickly cleared for them in a corner.

William leaned into her shoulder and waved over a waiter. “Absinthe,” he drawled and the man frowned and walked towards the bar.

“I’ve never had absinthe,” she said. It was a drink for poets and “artists,” not women who sang for a living.

“You won’t regret it,” Liam promised. A young waiter, nearly as attractive as the Williams but not so expensively dressed, brought small brandy glasses full of clear, oily-looking liquid, along with a bottle of water, lumps of sugar and a three-tined silver trowel.

“Watch my hands,” William said, setting the trowel on the rim of his glass and placing a sugar cube on top. “It’s all magic, you see. Not slight of hand, but pure magic.” He gave her a wicked grin. His hands were long-fingered, aristocratically pale and precise; she thought he might touch her with the same care given to the absinthe. Slowly, he poured water through the sugar cube, letting it dissolve into the absinthe, which swirled and turned from green to a bright and sickly yellow.

She had been wondering which one would bed her even before the first glass. Pressed tight against one another in the crowded bistro, she was relieved that they didn’t smell like sweat and onions like all the other London men. Their hands were almost cool on hers in the smoke-sodden heat of the bistro.

The absinthe made her world go green like the drink itself. The flames in the wall lamps began to dance with each other, twining like tongues around one another. The peppery licorice of the absinthe drilled through her ears and straight to her brain, where it bounced around like heat lightning.

She shuddered and Liam gave her another glass. She barely tasted it; the world was already made of absinthe, and William was circling his tongue around her ear. Under the table, her stockinged foot rubbed against his ankle. She let her head fall back as Liam dipped his fingers in his glass and trailed them, sparkling yellow cold, down her throat. His tongue was just as cold lapping up the sticky liquid, and angels were waltzing on the bistro ceiling. The cherubs were weeping and she didn’t know why.

"Would you like to leave?" William whispered in her ear. His hand slid beneath her skirts, past her stockings, and Liam's traveled up her other leg, their hands overlapping on the juncture of her thighs. There was a bonfire in her belly and a thunderstorm in her brain. They took her dazed silence as answer and William helped her through the crowded bistro. The carriage was cool and dark, restful after the press of people around. Liam had her on his lap, tugging her bodice down so that he could feel her breasts, while William knelt in the shelter of her skirts and used his mouth the way she’d thought only a Frenchman could. Liam held her hips tight and moved his cool mouth up and down her throat as she reached her crisis. The pleasure and the absinthe set off fireworks, like green chrysanthemums, behind her eyes. When the carriage stopped, William went around to pay the coachman and Liam assisted her into the fine house in front of her. No servants rushed to take their coats, which she thought was odd for such gentlemen, but perhaps they’d given the man the evening so that he would not whisper about their habits. She stumbled a little on the stairs, but each man took an elbow and whisked her up. When she looked at either one, he was always smiling at her. She mainly kept her eyes on her feet, trying to maintain the image of grace. The carpets were gorgeous. Even one was worth a month’s salary for the entire cast of the opera. Perhaps they’d give her jewelry? It was portable, but occasionally difficult to convert to money. Liam left her side to push open heavy mahogany doors. Inside, a velvet-draped bed waited. The flocked wallpaper, the bedcoverings, even the upholstery on the chairs was deep burgundy, the color of the darkest roses. At the table where a woman might make her toilette, covered with silver brushes and jars, there was no mirror. “Whose room is this?” she asked, only vaguely curious. “It’s ours,” Liam said and smiled at William, whose return smile was a bit tight. “That lovely dress must be so confining. May I assist you with it?” William asked, and suited actions to words. He was just as quick with her underthings. “You’ve spent time as a ladies’ maid,” she giggled and Liam guffawed. William only swept her into his arms and moved to the bed. She was bare and they were both clothed, like that scandalous painting she’d seen a year ago while on the arm of a man determined to scandalize her. He’d given her emeralds, and of course she’d obliged. There was a rustling sound, which she correctly interpreted as Liam removing his clothes. William moved away and then Liam was there, looming over her, his hands pushing her thighs apart to receive him. She threw her hands up over her head and gasped as he pushed inside. Strong hands gripped her wrists, making her shiver. William crawled across from the other side of the bed and licked her ear, kissing her face while Liam reared above them, his thrusts shaking her body like a jolting carriage ride. When he finally spent, she was glad of the respite, though it was not lengthy. While Liam lounged beside them, watching and occasionally reaching out to caress one or the other, William took his turn, pulling her legs up over his shoulders and touching her between her legs in ways that made her cry out again. The night was turning into an educational experience, she thought dizzily. As soon as William withdrew, Liam was there again, pulling her atop his body. She’d certainly be sore tomorrow, but hobbling in those damned shoes no one would notice the difference. The solid muscle of his body under her hands excited her, so different from the other men, like a hero out of the penny novels that the chorus girls would never admit to reading. Liam looked over her shoulder to where William lay on his back. “Ready again, boy? Why wait?” And he slithered up against her back, pressing against her in a place no man had ever touched. Her eyes snapped open. She’d heard rumors of men who treated a woman as they would a man, but she’d never thought she’d find one herself. “I don’t –” she said and Liam put one hand over her mouth and one over her breast, thumbing her nipple. “Shh, sweet.” Then his absinthe-flavored mouth captured hers for another kiss, and she didn’t struggle against the stinging pressure, until they were pressed together all three and William’s hand moved around her body to where she and Liam were joined, caressing her into another paroxysm. Their mouths moved on her neck and shoulder, biting lightly, and then Liam lifted his head from her and kissed William, sucking on his mouth as if to bring out his soul. The sight alone sent tremors through her. Somehow it was so terribly pretty. Their hands moved over and past her and back. She couldn’t identify the source of any one sensation; she rocked between them and they were like water, seeping everywhere around her. She was making little sounds that were somehow like music and somehow not. After the waves of pleasure had washed over her for half an eternity, William stiffened against her, and she felt a dull pain deep inside. Liam lifted his mouth from hers and laughed, then hammered into her until the pain nearly equaled the pleasure. His rhythm broke, and with five sharp thrusts he followed William, still clutching her close. “Well now,” Liam said, lifting sleepy eyes to William. “That was a bit of a diversion, wasn’t it?” She heard William chuckle. “The night’s not half over yet.” Liam pulled away and rolled her onto her back, so that she was looking up at them both. “There’s another kind of pleasure we’d like to take of you.” He must mean French love, she thought, still muzzy from recent events. How was she to accommodate them both? Still, they’d proven inventive. Smiling up at the two handsome faces, she nodded.

“I promise you, this will be like nothing you’ll ever experience again,” Liam added and smiled his fine white smile.

From somewhere nearby, William produced a red silk dressing gown in the Oriental style, with a gold dragon embroidered on the back. Liam laughed and swept the fabric around her body.

“Quite beautiful,” he said and Lucinda felt herself preen, even through the haze of drink and pleasure.

As their faces changed, she thought that their eyes were the exact color of the absinthe.

Then the pain began.

****

The pain was indescribable and all Buffy could do was scream with a throat full of broken glass. When the it finally backed down to a bearable level she shook her head and looked at the ground.

Buffy didn’t want to believe it, but knew she had to. It was easy enough to push the dry words in the Watchers’ journals out of mind, but feeling it as Lucinda/Citalia had was completely different.

She could hear Dawn crying. Dawn might have seen it too, and this made Buffy cry even harder. That had not been something for thirteen-year-old eyes to see, not to see Spike, who she liked, and Angel, who she tolerated, behaving at their old and evil worst.

“I hate you!” Dawn screamed at Citalia. “You ruined everything! You never cared, you just wanted to hurt me, an’ Buffy an’ our friends!”

Slowly, through a head that felt like a swollen lump of nerves, Buffy opened her eyes and looked over at Citalia. Looked at her blonde slimness and blue eyes and gagged, wondering who Angel and Spike saw when they looked at the Slayer. Did they see Buffy or some little blonde with a ‘bite me’ sign around her neck?

Underneath the heavy stage makeup, the other girl looked tired and old, and there were tear-trails that slid down to her chin, somehow not smearing her mascara or eyeliner. At the back of her mind, Buffy wondered what brand she used.

“They hurt me,” Citalia moaned and crumpled into herself on the floor, hands over her face.

“I know and I’d be pissed off if I were you. But they’re not the same guys now, not at all,” Buffy hiccuped between her tears.

“That doesn’t make it go away. They mutilated me and threw me out like so much garbage.” Citalia moaned.

“Wait until Spike and Angel get here, they’re going to kick your skanky ass!” Dawn howled.

“Shut up!” Citalia screamed at Dawn, snapping around almost vampire-fast to snarl at the girl.

“Hey!” Buffy yelled, “That’s my sister and she hasn’t done anything to you!”

Citalia got up from the floor, grabbing a bottle of mineral water off the counter. With shaking hands, she opened a bottle, shook a couple of pills into her hand, and swallowed them with the water. She stood there, looking down at the floor, with her hair covering her face, breathing heavily for a few moments until her trembling stopped and she pushed her hair off her face before looking back to Buffy and Dawn.

“I’m sorry, but I need you to get them, and they have to be punished.” She grinned. “And it’s going to be soooo cool. You’ll be totally impressed.”

She started singing one of her songs as she started out of the room. ”My lover's charms/Are in a box/Beneath my bed/And piece by piece/I'll cherish them until the end.”

“I’m going to throw up,” Dawn announced.

Citalia’s voice oozed through the door, “I'm afraid I'll never get to heaven /They burn my hand/Scar my face/And blind my eyes/I'll steal your breath/And throw away/What I despise.”

“Go ahead,” Buffy said, “I’m right behind you.”

Dawn did throw up then, into a pile of clothes on the floor, making Buffy wish her little sister had managed one of the truly spectacular wide-coverage pukes that she’d been infamous for during long car trips. But the smell made her mouth water in an unpleasant way. Swallowing hard, Buffy got back control of her stomach.

“I’m sorry.”

“Not my clothes,” Buffy said and wiggled at her bonds, no luck, they were too tight.

“I had to come. I can’t explain—“

“Citalia is a siren, her power is attracting people with her music. You didn’t have a lot of choice. She used you to get to me, to bring out Spike and Angel. However, you are totally and completely grounded until you’re old enough to drive.”

“It’s all my fault!” Dawn moaned.

“No, it’s not. It’s Angel and Spike’s fault if it’s anybody’s. But you’re still grounded. ” Buffy looked around the room. There was nothing useful for undoing of ropes nearby.

“Spike and Angel will save us.”

“Right, and she’ll get them.” Buffy sighed and looked at her shoes, the toes were scratched beyond all help and this just added to her sadness.“Dawn, what exactly happened when Citalia did the thought thingy to me?”

Dawn frowned and stopped crying.

“You gasped, she cried, you cried, you both said ‘No, no please don’t’. Kinda lame, actually.”

“It was not lame, it was major icky! Major badness. Nobody should go out with vampires, shit like this happens.”

“You said ‘shit’.”

“Extended circumstances.”

“Extenuating.”

“Whatever.”

Further conversation was made difficult by the reappearance of one of Citalia’s goons, who stabbed an enormous syringe full of something that looked like blue curacao but hit a hell of a lot faster into Buffy’s arm. The needle felt as wide as a vampire’s fang as she sank into oblivion.

****

Darla’s scream pulled William out of his blood and absinthe soaked daze.

Frozen in the doorway, Darla and Drusilla stared at the bloody gore on the bed, Lucinda’s barely-breathing form and the blood-streaked naked bodies of both William and Angelus.

“What kind of games have you two been playing?” Darla demanded.

“Oh look, they’ve broken their dolly,” Drusilla stroked Lucinda’s bloody hair back from her face, “That’s the dolly that sings. The not Japanese, Japanese singing girl.”

“Lucinda Grey,” William offered, just to set the matter straight.

"It was William, ”Angelus said and stood up a little straighter, and the white skin over his scarlet-streaked body made him look like a pagan idol used for sacrifice, “I took him to the D’Oyly to see The Mikado and he went mad over the woman. Brought her back here and fed from her.”

“At which point in that fabrication did you lose your clothes?” William demanded, his face burning with blood and humiliation.

“God, I don’t care, I don’t care if Prime Minister Gladstone brought her here. You know better, Angelus. No celebrities, no one who is going to be missed, and NOT HERE!” Darla raged, sending the bottles of perfume and other toilette articles from her dressing table. “Now get that thing out of my bed and out of my house!”

Angelus didn’t speak while he and William pulled on clean clothes and began to clean up the mess in Darla’s bedchamber. William raged inside at the way Angelus had set him as the scapegoat for the fouling of Darla’s nest. Silently, they redressed the limp body in her dress and cloak, not bothering with the niceties of underclothes or stockings. A hansom cab was found and they steadied the woman between them while the cabby gave them the look of pitying disgust deserved by any men foolish enough to hire a doxy who was already in her cups. Angelus gave the cabby an address close to the Thames, close enough to require bribing the man with an extra pound to venture into such a neighborhood. William continued his silence through the snow-muffled streets. The address Angelus had given was uncomfortably close to where he had been born and raised a good portion of his life. All the book learning, the elocution lessons and the manners his mother had drilled into him had not entirely erased it. And what good had that done? They’d escaped the squalor and drudgery of Thameside and he’d gone to school only to become a demon feeding on blood with a madwoman, a whore, and an Irish bastard. He might as well have become a cutpurse for the good as it had done in the end. And it was the end, he was dead, and that he shouldn’t forget.

“You’ll want to go ‘round the stables, not along the main, quicker that way,” he found himself telling the cabby.

“You know this place, do you?” Angelus asked.

“A bit.”

Finally, the cabby was paid and they were on the bank of the Thames with Lucinda’s limp weight between them. Strange how a living woman seemed to weigh nothing and a near-dead one had to be fourteen stone between the two of them. While they half-carried, half-dragged her down to the river’s edge, the snow started to fall in thick, dense flakes. William could barely make out the lights of Big Ben’s face downriver to his right.

“Nice, you tellin’ Darla that I’d done this,” William bitterly said, the cold night already working into his fingers.

“Shite flows downhill, you bein’ the youngest an’ all.”

“Go bugger yourself,” William grumbled and helped Angelus carry the heavy cloth-weighted body.

Her arms seemed to be bent on smacking William in the face whenever possible, and he gritted his teeth and tried not to look at the red stains soaking through the fawn of her dress. Vampire or not, he had little experience with dying bodies and touching one made his undead flesh creep along with the cold. He could hear her heartbeat, too slow and irregular for a regular human, and it irritated him; they should have at least drained her dry before Darla arrived home.

“Fuckin’ hell . . . “Angelus swore as they drew level to the water’s edge.

Snow-covered ice stretched yards out into the night before turning into the black running silk of the water. It was apparent that they just couldn’t dump her on the edge; it would have been the same as dumping her body in the center of the street. But there was no telling how thick the ice was between the shore and the moving water.

“Right,” Angelus flopped the dying woman into William’s arms, “Take her out and dump her in th’middle.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing! I’ve only been a vampire a fortnight,” William shouted back at the other vampire, pushing the woman’s body back into Angelus’s arms.

“Now’s the time to learn, boy!” Angelus’s voice hit William in the face like a blow and he flung Lucinda’s body back at William again.

“Bloody hell,” William muttered and began to make his way across the ice.

The wind had frozen the water in choppy ripples, and the snow’s powder made the going even more treacherous. The fastest way to move was for William to back over the ice, dragging Lucinda’s body across, while looking over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t blundering into a crack that would split under their combined weight. No doubt figuring that the combination of William and Lucinda’s body proved that the ice was safe enough for his weight, Angelus followed.

“Sod you to hell, Angelus,” William swore after he’d slipped and fallen with the dead woman atop him for the third time.

Closer to the channel of moving water, the ice became even more dangerous underfoot with huge chunks frozen higgledy-piggledy from breaking and refreezing. Still, the water was a scant ten feet away and William continued, even though the ice was beginning to make ominous cracking noises, which echoed weirdly with the water underneath. Could vampires drown? Darla hadn’t said anything about that during her brief summary of the vampire nature. Of course she’d been unclothed at the time and William hadn’t been paying what she said as much mind as how her perfect body looked while she said it. She could have told him that vampires could turn into kittens and gambol about in the sunshine and he might not have noted it.

The ice cracked again and this time the cracking sounded far more dire than it had before. William inched farther towards the center of the river and the unthinkable happened: his foot broke through the ice. God in Heaven the water was cold! He screeched with the shock and pulled his foot free, the water leaking from his drenched shoe.

“That might be far enough,” Angelus instructed.

William would have made an uncouth gesture, but his hands were full of Lucinda. Carefully, he lowered her to the ice, kneeling in the half-inch of water now covering the area around him and felt the cold bite into his knees. Once she was flat on her back, he began to push her the remaining few feet into the open flow of the river, his cold body getting colder and colder by the second. Could vampires freeze to death? Another one of the things Darla hadn’t bothered to explain. As Lucinda’s clothes drew water, she grew heavier and heavier, and it was harder and harder for him to push. Finally he was nearly stretched his full length on his belly on the ice, his clothes drenched with frigid water and his eyes and nose full of stinging snow.

The water caught her dress’s hem and sucked greedily at the tidbit he’d brought.

She slowly eased into the black water.

The current caught her immediately and her hair flared out around her like the Millais painting of Ophelia and she began her stately progress down the river, water covering her face and her wide-open eyes. He watched her under the moonlight until she was swallowed by the blackness of the night and the water.

“Well that’s it, then.” William said and turned to go.

“Not quite,” Angelus’s hand stopped him. “You ain’t goin’ back.”

“What!?” Freezing cold, soaking wet, and exhausted, William gaped blindly back at Angelus.

“Darla wanted me to stake ya’, but I figure I’ll give ya’ a bit a’charity and just let ya’ go. I’ll let you go providin’ that ya never come back, ya never try to come near Drusilla, Darla an’ me again.”

“You must be joking!” William spluttered.

“Not jokin’ at all. You thought we were mates? Thought I-“ Angelus’s face lit up in an ugly smile “cared for you in some schoolboy way? Well I don’t an’ I never did. I had you and ‘twas enough.”

“You filthy buggering bogtrotter bastard!” William raged and leapt across the ice at the other man.

Angelus went down under the force of his assault and William pounded at his head and face with all his strength. Grunting, Angelus hit back, bringing stars to William’s eyes and making him gasp in fury and pain. They struggled on the ice. Blood poured from William’s skinned knuckles and his nose; Angelus’s pretty face was marred with cuts and bruises. They rolled closer towards the edge of the swift channel that still flowed. The shame and the outrage of Angelus’s duplicity gave William a strength and resolve he’d never had before. By God it felt good to smash his fists into Angelus’s face and the pain in his hands was nothing compared to the satisfaction. But as angry as William was, Angelus was more powerful and knew better how to use his fists and feet. William felt bones break under Angelus’s fists, and the river water soak into his hair.

“Shame, you might have had promise,” Angelus said and shoved William’s head into the freezing water.

Water flowed into his mouth and lungs and he choked in reflex, his hands reaching upwards for Angelus’s face.

“Ye won’t drown, you’ll freeze to a solid block of ice first. Dunno if you’ll make it through that, and the light of the sun will burn you even as you’re frozen.” Angelus, hair wild around his face, smiled again. “Farewell, Saint William.”

In a flash, William was under the water, the icy cold leaching what little heat he had in his body away until he was sure he was frozen through. The water was black as night in his panicky, open eyes, and his hands raised over his head felt only the solid sheet of ice above.

He screamed into the water.

****

For a moment, Spike wanted to howl with the blackened joy of it, just like the old dark times, Angelus and William the Bloody swaggering forward and if you got out of the way that would improve your chances of living by a few percent. All that was missing was cooing Darla and Drusilla peeping over their shoulders, and he couldn't say he missed them.

As one, they moved into the focal point of the oval clearing, across from Citalia and her torture apparatus, and stopped with the light on them for maximum dramatic impact. Dawn was expressionless but crying, her good hand hanging limply from its chain. Buffy looked – he'd never seen her face like that. The closest he could come was Drusilla after a bad vision. Buffy's not here now, would you like to leave a message? Some undead muscle in his chest twisted.

“Hello Clarice,” he said in his best Tony Hopkins impersonation.

Nothing. He sighed and tried again.

"We're here, let 'em go."

Citalia laughed. “You? Not in chains? As if."

"Okay," Angel said, putting his hands out in a placating gesture, "I can see that there are some trust issues here –"

"Let the little one go," Spike interrupted. "I'll come first an' then Soulboy can trade 'imself for Buffy. You've got to have heard, he's all reliable now. Happened not long after we had our turn wiv' you, right?"

Citalia's pretty face reddened further, but when Spike began to walk forward, she gestured to one of her roadie/minions, who began to unlock the chains around Dawn's wrist and ankles.

“Let the squirt go.”

Freed, Dawn bolted towards him, and her one-armed hug was rib-cracking enough to make him wonder if she'd got some of the Slayer's strength. Her tears seeped into his shirt. "Now, pet, none o' that," Spike chided. Dawn raised wide wet eyes to him. Acting on impulse as always, he bent slightly to kiss her warm and sweet-smelling forehead. "You're goin' to break a battalion of hearts, you are," he whispered as she blinked in astonishment. "In the meantime, you take good care of your sister. She needs all the help she can get," he confided.

Then he wriggled loose from her grasp and pushed her towards safety. As Spike approached Citalia and her Ossenfelters, he could hear Dawn's stumbling footsteps receding into the forest. The gang could protect her now.

"So where d'you want me?" he asked casually when he was only a few yards from Citalia, who, he noticed, had to stop herself from cringing. "You don't think chains for a bitty girl will hold me, now."

Heavy hands grabbed him from behind, tearing off his jacket and then his shirt. Spike struggled to stay upright and unaffected. "Comin' back for more?" he called out to Citalia, and was answered with a goonish punch to the kidneys that sent a shockwave of pain up and down his spine. Stripped to the waist, he was pushed over to a nasty-looking metal frame, his wrists clasped in heavy biting handcuffs, each secured with a thick hinch pin and attached to a corner of the frame by a thick cable. He heard a whirring noise as the cables tightened, pulling his arms nearly from their sockets, until he could only keep his toes on the ground. He could feel muscle fibers in his arms tearing, flaring with healing magic, then tearing again. Citalia couldn't have thought of a better torture device for a vampire. But then, she'd had a century to plan.

"Hey, Slayer," he gasped, hoping to roust Buffy from her reverie, "we've got to stop meetin' like this." If he turned his head as far to the right as it could go, he could see her, lolling in chains of her own. Her chains seemed to be for restraint purely, unlike his, so she wouldn't be too badly damaged to fight. Unless the damage was to her head.

"Buffy!" The Slayer moved a little at the sound of Angel's voice, which irritated Spike more than the pain of being strung up like a puppet.

"Angel," she said blearily and raised her head. "She's not going to –"

But Angel was already undergoing the same treatment as Spike.

"Hello? Let Miss Slayer go? Not!” Citalia asked rhetorically. "You two still sharing your girls? That’s totally wrong. If you’re good, I'll give each of you one of her eyes." She smiled, twitched her hand and something long and gleaming slid out. "Who’s first?"

"Buffy never did anything to you," Angel protested, and in a flash Citalia was in front of him, lashing out with the thing in her hand. It was some kind of razored whip, Spike realized when he saw it uncurl from Angel's torso, leaving a line of black blood.

Angel grimaced and continued. "I know what we did was unforgivable."

This time the whip slashed open his cheek and scored his shoulder.

"Duh," Citalia said, and picked up a silver scalpel from a table that the minions must have just assembled. She examined the edge for a moment, then looked back at Angel. "You know, you’re really snacky, but you’re toast."

"Forgiveness isn't about the other person," Angel counseled. "It's about letting go of what happened, not letting it control your life."

"You gotta quit hangin' out at them AA meetin's," Spike grumbled.

"Control my life?" Citalia cut diagonally from Angel's left nipple across his abs, ending at his hip. Angel's head snapped back as he tried to absorb the pain. "Like you guys controlled my death? My attempted death? Like no way!" She repeated the cut in the other direction, then put her hand at the intersection of the cuts and poked deep into Angel's guts. Spike winced; he didn't much appreciate the preview, and he wasn't looking forward to the feature presentation, either. He could hear Buffy struggling with her bonds, but she didn't sound successful.

Just when Spike thought things couldn't possibly get any more surreal, Citalia started to sing. Her sweet voice strangely at odds with the darkness of the scene and the bloodstains on her hands.

"My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time– To let the punishment fit the crime– The punishment fit the crime; And make each prisoner pent unwillingly represent a source of innocent merriment! Of innocent merriment!"

Citalia whirled and stalked over to him as Angel groaned in the background. "Share and share alike, that's your motto." Now she had a cut-throat razor, which she drove into his left shoulder just at the point that hurt the worst from being suspended. Spike didn't have Angel's stamina; he screamed at once.

Citalia stepped away, leaving the straight razor embedded in him so that his flesh could keep trying to heal around it. "You cut out my tongue with a razor like this," she reminded him.

"Really? It's so hard to remember the little details," he panted.

Giving him a pretty little smile, Citalia grabbed the handle of the straight razor and twisted it a few times until Spike screamed again.

"Right! I get the fuckin' point!" he shouted when she finally stopped and the pain receded to the almost-bearable level.

She waved her hand and Boris and Igor walked over to Angel. One grabbed his head and the other his jaw, forcing his mouth open. Citalia fussed over her implements for a moment and then strolled over to the trio, holding a pincerlike thing, maybe pliers.

"The advertising quack who wearies with tales of countless cures. His teeth, I've enacted, shall all be extracted by terrified amateurs."

After she extracted his left incisor, Igor and Boris actually had to flex their muscles to keep Angel down. It didn't do any good, since she got the right one in even less time. Spike didn't know if the fangs would grow back, and he couldn't even take pleasure in the realization that Angel looked even more the back-country idiot than ever with the gaping holes in his pretty smile. When the Ossenfelter brothers let Angel go, he sagged into his chains and his flopping head obscured the black blood streaming down the sides of his mouth.

Now Citalia was heading over to him. Spike thought he heard Buffy calling for Angel to wake up, look up.

"The billiard sharp who any one catches. His doom's extremely hard– He’s made to dwell– In a dungeon cell on a spot that's always barred." Citalia twirled the blood-smeared pliers in her hand like a cheerleader's baton. Spike raised his eyes to hers and tried not to shake. One of the Brothers scurried over and put something near to his feet. He didn't look away from Citalia, who seemed to rise through the air as she got close to him. Then he did look down, and saw the stepstool. He had to look up to see her face now, like one of her concert goers, and her sublime face was blank with ecstasy as she reached out to crush his little finger.

"And there he plays extravagant matches. In fitless fingerstalls. On a cloth untrue. With a twisted cue And elliptical billiard balls!"

The pain was instant lightning and he thought it couldn't get any worse when she'd broken the third joint, until she started on the next fingertip. Head back, he howled and felt something in his throat break as well. It didn't stop him screaming, though, so Citalia didn't seem to mind.

When she stepped down and smiled at him, he could barely see her through the red haze of his agony. "We’ll do the other hand later," she suggested. "Like a taste-test, see if it’s different." Spike felt wetness on his face and realized that he was weeping.

“I’ll cut your tongue out later. Can’t spoil the anticipation!”

Then she turned her back on him and went to do something to Angel that involved wet smacking sounds. A thousand wasps were stinging his hand each second. He could hear their furious buzzing reverberating in his ears. It didn't even look like a hand, more like a glove that someone had crumpled and thrown aside.

He wasn't expecting her to return so soon. "So," he said in a voice paved with gravel, "how many producers didja have to blow to get this popstar gig? All these years and y'r still tradin' your body for your livelihood." It was about -10 on his normal insult scale, but his brain cells were otherwise occupied and he really didn't give a fuck.

“You are, like, so wrong,” she said and frowned.

Picking up something too bulky to be a gun, she walked closer. It looked a bit like a science fiction movie laser, but – and then she pulled the trigger, sending a jet of water to splash against his chest. Holy water. He felt it blacken his skin as it dripped its way down his chest, burning into his flesh with every hungry drop.

"I totally get this," she said as she walked around him, grinning like the cheerleader from hell Spike couldn't see her, which made him even more anxious. "It's fun," she said and holy water hit under his right arm, causing him to convulse so that his feet left the ground and the muscles in his arms tore further. "You got your basic torture idea and all the neat stuff you can do to vampires." Another blast, on the back of his neck. Spike wasn't sure how much longer he was going to be conscious.

"I'm going to cut off your heads, both of them. I mean all four of them," Citalia said and let loose a silvery giggle. "You know, heads?”

With that, she turned back to Angel. Spike could hear the other vampire groan with a hopelessness that almost deserved Spike's sympathy.

Naturally, Citalia began singing again, and had Spike's hackles been able to rise, they would have. It was a snatch of a song that he'd heard Dru sing on more than one occasion.

"To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock, In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock, Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock, From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!"

She paused and let Angel scream. Spike found himself sobbing as though she'd inflicted whatever damage to his own body. Still, Citalia sang on.

"A dull dark dock, a life long lock, a short, sharp shock, a big, black block. To sit in solemn silence in a pestilential prison, awaiting the sensation of a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!"

There was no way in the seven circles of Hell was he ever going to be able to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan again.

Spike hung in his bonds and sobbed in pain. The Scoobies were coming, he thought, but with Buffy not leading the charge they'd save Angel and put him out of his misery. In fifteen minutes, he might even welcome that. Little trickles of holy water continued to find their way out of his wounds, etching further into his body even as she returned to Angel. If he could only grab the razor out of his shoulder with his teeth – well, then what? She'd bound him with metal, not rope.

He looked again at his pulverized hand. There was something he'd seen in a movie, once, about Harry Houdini? Whoever, the guy had dislocated his thumb to get out of shackles. Since Spike didn't have a hand anymore, just a flesh bag filled with bone matchsticks, the same principle might apply. He stood as best he could on his tiptoes, ignoring the smell of his own burnt flesh, and began to wriggle his wrist. The agony burst another world record, going beyond gold and platinum to a height so extreme it had no name. But the ex-fingers were beginning to slip through the cuff.

“I know you can hear me,” Citalia purred at Angel.

****

“I know you can hear me! Dru-sill-a!” William screamed for what felt like the thousandth time.

All along the quiet spring street in Kensington, gaslights flickered on. After months of searching, William had finally found the house, the pretty house in Kensington where he’d awoken as a vampire, the house he’d been cast out of and left for fish bait in the frozen heart of the Thames. He supposed Angelus hadn’t counted that William could manage to break through the ice and haul himself under a rowboat before the sun’s rise. Angelus probably wouldn’t have dreamed that William had the temerity to kill the first Thamesider he found and feed, stealing the man’s dry clothes and money before making his way from the river that had nearly killed him a second time. That had been in full winter and now it was May, with the tender green leaves out on the pretty trees lining the pretty Kensington street. Months he had looked for that street, never knowing the name, just remembering the views from the windows, the lace of the curtains, and the color of the door. Months of sleeping in the rail yards of Paddington station, months of draining the blood of every tough and vagrant he could find, drinking cheap gin, wearing dead men’s clothes, and, when he was bored, sticking long railroad nails into the bodies of his victims. Stories showed up in the papers about the Railroad Spike Killer. Ignorant bastards hadn’t realized that the bodies were lifeless before he’d driven spikes into their heads.

“DRU-SILL-AH!” he yelled.

Finally the upper window opened and her sweet face appeared with her hair wild around her face.

“William! William. My beautiful sweet William!” she wailed.

The door opened, revealing Angelus and Darla in their nightclothes, looking as angry as any parents could muster.

“Oh yes, he’s dead, you did a very good job of killing him,” Darla drawled.

Angelus’s eyes were as full of human hate as his demon eyes had ever been.

William pushed past them into the hallway where Drusilla rushed into his arms and began to cover his face with kisses.

“I’m back now, princess.” He looked over her shoulder at Angelus. “Did you miss me?”

Darla looked out the door and watched the shadowy figures of the neighbors moving behind their lace curtains.

“I really liked this street. You’ve made a mess of this, Angelus. We’ll have to leave” She set her hands on her hips and looked around at her vampire progeny, all three generations, and forced a smile on her face. “I understand Yorkshire is lovely in the springtime.”

****

“I understand you’ve got a soul now,” Citalia said, her faux-California accent cracking around the old dulcet English tones. “You must feel awful about what you’ve done.”

“’S just Angel over there,” Spike wheezed. “’M just regrettin’ not finishin’ the job in the Thames. Shoulda cut you up in little bits an’ left you for the fish. Mistakes you make, first on the job, y’know.”

“It was cold, so cold,” she sing-songed, and he shuddered in remembrance. “You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice –” The whip coiled around his neck and sliced deep, cutting into the tendons that were standing out in his agony. Spike’s head lolled on his neck as Citalia stepped back and smiled, her face spattered with blood like a thousand tiny flyspecks.

He must have passed out for a second. The sound startled Spike out of his blankness.

It was a guncrack, and then it wasn't. Spike blinked blood out of his eyes, saw that Citalia had disappeared, and turned toward the noise. A male figure, outlined by the faint light from the gazebo, was standing in a shooting stance and looking around at the demons, including the ones clutching various parts of their anatomy and bleeding ichor into the pine needles underneath.

"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five?" asked the voice that unmistakably belonged to Xander Harris. "Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a Impulse Cordless Strip Nailer IM325, the first and only cordless power framing nailer with a capacity of one thousand and forty-four nails, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?"

At that point, the Ossenfelter who'd snuck around behind him during the speech whacked him with a big branch, and Xander staggered and nearly fell. This was Anya's cue to pick up her own branch and go after the demon with all the intensity of a New York apartment dweller trying to kill a cockroach.

That was all very nice, but he had a torture session to exit. Pretending that his smashed hand was not really attached to his body, Spike tugged it the rest of the way out of the shackle and then lifted it to where his right hand was pinioned. His finger-remnants left black smears on the pin when he first tried to pull it out, and he had to stop because of the broken-glass pain that ran through his veins and burned like sunlight.

Spike couldn’t even pant to get out some of the pain. He felt coolness on his chin and realized he’d bitten through his lower lip, and not even in game face. Citalia was still singing, and he thought the voice was getting closer. The thought compelled him to try again, using his hand more like a hammer than anything else, until the pin slipped an inch and Spike’s own body weight ripped his hand through the gap and sent him tumbling to the unmattresslike ground.

The yelling was clustered around where Buffy had been tacked up like a butterfly. The gang would focus there, with Angel as a secondary objective. Spike spit black blood and pushed himself off the ground with his good hand. He didn’t bother to ask himself why he was staggering towards Angel’s last known position.

Sure enough, an Ossenfelter was tugging at Angel as if he were a shirt stuck on a hanger. Angel was screaming hoarsely. Spike took an ice pick from one of Citalia’s trays of hors d’ouevres and approached. He would have tapped the demon on the back to get his attention, but with only one hand unfeasibility outweighed coolness and he just plunged the pick into the Ossenfelter’s neck, between two rolls of fat. He must have severed the spine on the first try, because the thing shuddered and slumped to the ground, slowly losing its grip on Angel.

Spike stuck the ice pick into his jeans, worrying only a little about the danger to the family jewels, and scooted up one of Citalia’s stepstools to pick at Angel’s cuffs. It was difficult to keep his balance without a hand on one of the supports, but he managed. Angel just stared at him with dark, dazed eyes until the first cuff fell free.

“Think y’could get the other one, mate?” he asked and slouched down to the ground. Angel, who probably couldn’t speak because of the defanging and whatever else Citalia had gotten around to, moved stiffly to comply, then collapsed like a man going under a pile of rugby players. When Spike tried to pull him up, his arm was an undead weight flopping in Spike’s hand. Angel’s skin had that unhealthy blueness that signaled a vampire near starvation from lack of blood. Spike was not much better. He could move himself, but he couldn’t drag Angel to safety.

“Fuck,” he said and bit at his wrist to widen the wounds the cuffs had made. Kneeling, he pushed his wrist into Angel’s smashed and pulpy mouth. Fangless, the other vampire could barely suck. Still, Spike felt the blood rush out of him like water being sucked down the garbage disposal. Angel’s tongue searched for blood with a caress that, more than anything else, made Spike pull away. “That’s gonna have to be enough,” he wheezed and staggered to his feet. Angel followed this time.

****

The vampires’ screams and her own Slayer stamina had worn off whatever Citalia had given her, and Buffy was rocking from side to side, shaking the support beams. The metal was too strong for her to break, but they were just buried in dirt, in holes that had to have been specially dug for the occasion, and what you can’t break you can always get around, that was her motto. Or one of her mottos.

A Pumpkinhead noticed and came towards her. This was a non-smart move, as Buffy was already working up momentum and it was not difficult to swing up far enough to wrap her legs around his nonexistent neck. What with the necklessness, it was tricky to get purchase enough to snap his neck, but she just pressed in to dent the flesh enough to give her an opportunity to pivot. “Men have died trying to get where you are,” she informed him as she twisted. “Guess you’re just slow.”

Once Pumpkinhead’s chin was over his trapezius, Buffy used him as further ballast, and the metal posts began to shake like a soda machine being shoved by a college kid determined to get his sixty cents’ worth. Slowly, they slid backwards to a forty-five degree angle, and then collapsed completely, dumping Buffy on her ass with the ex-goon’s ugly head in her lap, which was a real ugh.

Not that she couldn’t beat Citalia with her hands tied behind her back, but it was a pain to be dragging around what felt like a ton of iron. She couldn’t reach one hand with the other to take off the shackles with the chains limiting her motion.

Brother of Pumpkinface, or possibly Bride of, rushed her and got a two-legged kick to the gut. It was like kicking a brick wall, only the goon didn’t shatter, though it did stagger back a few paces. Buffy jerked on her chains like a girl playing jump-rope, and the heavy metal frame whooshed over her head and hammered into her opponent hard enough to squash its head a few inches into the rest of its body.

“I’m guessing double dutch is out of the question.” The goon, and then the metal frame, toppled to the ground, pulling her forward until she was standing on top of the suddenly shorter goon. It was both hard and squishy, like a layer of bubble wrap over a refrigerator, and she hurried to step off. Then her feet were right up against the frame, and her hands were suddenly within reach of one another. “Hey, geometry in action. Cool,” she said to no one in particular and freed herself.

Amidst the general melee-ing, Buffy spotted Lucinda – Citalia – sneaking back towards the parking lot. Not sneaking fast enough, though. Buffy grabbed a handful of Miss Clairol #25 Golden Blonde and jerked Citalia off her feet. Right or wrong, Citalia had hurt Dawn, Angel, and Spike. Citalia’s mouth was a frosty pink ring of surprise.

“Leave my sister and my vampires alone, you bitch!” Buffy warned and punched Citalia straight in her surgically corrected nose.

The other blonde girl went down one knee and clutched her face while blood poured between her fingers.

“Oh! I think you broke it!” she whimpered around her bloody hand.

An Ossenfelter came out of the night with a gun. Since Buffy wasn’t sure how Slayer-strength handled gunshot wounds, she let the demon scoop up Citalia and back away into the parking lot. A few moments later, a limo fishtailed and sped out of the parking lot. Buffy’d seen some bizarre things, but a limousine as getaway car was one of the more surreal.

As she turned back towards the clearing, Xander emerged, dragging Angel beside him with an arm flung over his neck, looking much like conjoined twins would if one of them were dead. Anya followed behind, flapping her hands but not taking any of the burden, and then Giles, supporting Spike in similar fashion. Giles raised his head and saw her. “Dawn is with Willow and Tara,” he informed her and then continued to drag Spike towards Giles’ car.

Xander had somehow convinced Anya to at least open the car doors, and he pushed Angel into the back seat like a person dealing with groceries for a party he really didn’t want to have. Then he went to Giles and helped Spike into the back seat on the other side. “Just so we’re clear, this does not mean that I approve, condone, support or endorse either of you.”

Neither replied, which had Buffy turning her head and looking back worriedly as Giles guided her to his car. His hand at her elbow was warm and so it didn’t make her shudder.

“Where’s Citalia?” Giles asked as they headed for Buffy’s house.

“She got away. One of the uglies had a gun.”

In the back seat, one of the vampires groaned, either from pain or disgust. Buffy turned and looked over her shoulder to see Spike and Angel huddled miserably on either side of Anya who was vibrating with unhappiness. Buffy sat up on her knees in the passenger seat and hung over the back of the seat, while Giles piloted the ultimate driving machine went through the sleepy suburban streets.

“We have to go after her,” Anya warned. “She wants revenge on them and she’s not going to stop until she gets it.”

“I hardly think that this is the best time to be hunting down an angry siren.” Giles hunched further over the steering wheel and followed the taillights in front of him.

Somebody grunted agreement in the back seat. Buffy thought it was Angel, but one male grunt sounded pretty much like another.

“I need clarification,” Anya began. “Citalia wanted revenge on you two because you defiled her, tortured her, and mutilated her.”

As usual, Anya’s timing was something other than good.

“But did you guys have sex with each other too?” she asked.

“ANYA!” Giles bellowed.

“Am I the only one who wants to know? I don’t think so!” she snapped.

“Maybe we should wait until we’re all together and just maximize the embarrassment,” Buffy muttered and looked out the window.

“Who’s drivin’ m’car?” Spike demanded in a thin whine.

“Xander,” Anya explained.

“Bloody hell,” Spike said but without his usual energy.

****

Dawn, the kind that came with the sun, had broken by the time they got back to Buffy's, which meant that Giles, Buffy and Xander carried the vampires in wrapped like burritos in horrible wool blankets that grated against Spike like sandpaper. Spike was decanted onto the sofa and Angel onto the loveseat.

"Willow and Tara went to get some supplies, for healing stuff," Buffy said and sat down on the coffee table between them. Her position disrupted the carefully arranged issues of Cosmo and Vogue, but she didn't seem to notice.

"Oh just stake me an' get it over wiv'!" Spike moaned.

"Quit belly-aching," Angel said through his swollen mouth. "You never could be a man about pain."

"Bein' all stoic don't make it go away, me old son, so there ain't no point."

Dawn, the annoying little sister kind, was hesitating in the doorway from the hall. "Are you — are they going to be okay?"

Buffy gave Dawn her best smile, the one that might have been reassuring if Dawn hadn't seen it during a thousand bad times. "Vampires are pretty tough. If you don't kill them all the way, they tend to spring back. Look, they're arguing already, it can't be that bad."

Dawn seemed pleased by that bit of logic. Spike chewed on the inside of his cheeks to keep from screaming. Citalia's SuperSoaker had blackened large chunks of his torso and even after he stopped being spotted black like a Holstein, there'd be huge patches of scar tissue, thick and smooth and disfiguring. He remembered what holy water had done to Georg's face, fifty years later the scars still gnarled and ropy, and sincerely wished for true death. Yes, he would rather be dead than disfigured. Since when was that a crime?

"Hey," Dawn said brightly. "Who wants blood? I can heat some right up."

Spike and Angel nodded at the same time.

The blood tasted strangely like chicken, but at that point Spike didn't mind. After he'd drunk he felt a little more undead, and then Tara and Willow were back and chanting and smearing stinky gunk onto his burns. He didn't even have the energy to make lascivious comments, which was probably why Buffy kept shooting worried looks his way even as she fussed over Angel.

The re-toothing spell had to be in the kitchen, for whatever reason, and the whirl of girl-energy surrounded Angel and pulled him out of the room. Spike relaxed a little more, though the smell of the unguents on him was nauseating and the healing skin stung like it had been dipped in salt. The witches said that he wouldn’t scar, and he was prepared to graft their own skin onto himself if they were wrong.

“Spike.”

He thought it was Buffy for a second, and his head snapped up in confusion before he realized that Dawn was sitting on the coffee table, staring at her cast.

“Dawn.” The sound of her given name made her shudder. “’S far’s I’m concerned, that never happened. Magic –“

“Not all of it,” she whispered. “I didn’t know –“ She couldn’t finish, but Spike could guess. Didn’t know what the feelings thrumming in her young body were, didn’t have a name for them despite her technical knowledge of Xander and Anya’s adventures. Citalia had explained things to her and now he had another reason to hate the bitch.

“You know you can’t be bustin’ in like you did the other day,” he said as gently as he could. She nodded miserably, still not looking at him. Spike couldn’t have been more embarrassed if he were naked in Picadilly Square. He had a glimmering of the helplessness Buffy must feel, trying to mime being Mommy. “Dawn,” he tried again, reaching out an aching arm to touch her hand, causing her shocked eyes to fly to his, “if –“

“Dawn, could you come and be East for us?” Spike winced at Willow’s cheerful lilt. “Seems appropriate, y’know, Dawn, East, get it?”

Spike and Dawn turned to face Willow with what Spike guessed were identical glares. “Fine,” Dawn grumped and stood with coltish grace before stalking into the kitchen. If she and Buffy both lived through the next two years, Spike thought, there was going to be serious trouble. Willow frowned at him and disappeared after Dawn.

He stretched out on the couch and tried to sleep.

****

Daylight beamed down on to Sunnydale like the biggest spotlight at any concert. Buffy would rather have had the blinds and shades up, but she was harboring injured vampires in her home. Mom was probably spinning in her grave. That thought iced her cake of depression and Buffy shut the drapes in the kitchen with a sigh. The coffeepot was still dripping away and she poured herself half a cup and filled the rest of the mug with milk. It wasn’t exactly café latte, but it was going to have to do. Angel and Spike were still out cold on the sofa and loveseat in the living room, a combination of spells and vampire slumber turning them into life-size action figures that looked like they’d been run over by a lawnmower.

Willow was with Tara back at the dorm, Xander and Anya were in Buffy’s bed, which would have been upsetting if Many Things had not happened there already, and Giles had gone home. Buffy was left at the kitchen table, wondering how Dawn was doing, locked in her room on the second floor.

The demons that had done all those things to Lucinda were still inside Spike and Angel. Only a curse, and whatever Spike’s deal was, kept the demons from taking control, and Buffy wasn’t sure about the strength of either. She could do it quickly, now. Stake both of them before they awoke. It wasn’t like she hadn’t done it before, with Angel conscious and looking at her with loving eyes. Lucinda’s memories cried out for revenge, and she had her own Spike and Angelus stories on the same shelf of the mental library. Slumped in the kitchen chair, Buffy put her hands over her eyes and leaned her elbows on the table.

How could it be right to kill someone who was trying to redeem himself? No matter how sure you were that they’d fail? That was the answer, then. Angel and Spike had done Bad Things, but when she focused on the future, she couldn’t say that they’d definitely go back to scourging and spiking. So if she killed them, it was only in retribution, and there had been too much of that in Sunnydale already.

Big Questions, as usual, made her head hurt. Those were Watcher questions, not Slayer questions. Someone else was supposed to choose the target, and then she’d slay.

The targets were sleeping like orphaned alleycats on her furniture.

A noise made Buffy jump, spilling coffee on her fingers. Anya wandered in, dressed in Buffy’s oversized sleep shirt with the grinning cartoon monkey on it, and got herself a cup of coffee.

“Your bed is too small and Xander is very hot, like a lava gnome but without the sulfur smell. Of course Xander has his own set of unpleasant aromas.”

Buffy wiped spilled coffee off the table with a paper napkin.

“We did not have sex in your bed. I wanted to but Xander thought it was rude. I pointed out that you’d had sex in your bed but apparently this is different somehow. So sex was not had at all.” Anya shrugged. “It has been a sad and strange night in many ways.”

The former demon drank some coffee and looked at Buffy with her too-curious eyes.

“You’re distressed.”

“In a big way.”

“Is it because Angel and Spike seduced Citalia, tortured her, mutilated her, and drained her or because it’s clear that they were also having sex with each other?”

“C, all of the above.”

“I think it’s kind of sexy. You know, all that muscle-ly man body stuff, straining sinews, tight throats, quivering thighs—“

“Anya!” Buffy choked on her coffee.

“Now come on, didn’t you ever imagine, you know,” Anya’s eyes sparkled with healthy lust, “Having sex with two guys at once? Like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino?”

“Ewww, no. Old,” Buffy un-wrinkled her nose, “Spike and Angel do not look their ages, before you say anything. I might go for Matt Damon and Jude Law.”

“Nice choice.” They sat in silence for all of thirty seconds, which was an Anya world record, before she spoke again. “You know, for a thousand years I took revenge on numberless men, and they were all the same. And now I’m with just one guy, but he’s a hundred different people.”

“You aren’t getting all wise on me, are you?” Buffy asked suspiciously.

“Nah, I gave up on wisdom when I became human.”

“Good. I need a point of stability in a world full of change.”

****

Spike wasn’t entirely surprised to see Angel leaning against the DeSoto in the driveway.

“Get yer ass off my car ya’ great pouf.”

Crickets peeped nearby.

“I’ve been thinking, “Angel began.

“Don’t strain yourself.”

“As long as Citalia, Lucinda, whatever, is still alive, she can use Buffy and Dawn to get to you and I.”

“You and me. So?”

“So.” Angel looked at his shoes and the streetlight made his leather coat shine. “If she wasn’t alive she couldn’t hurt Buffy or Dawn.”

“Meanin’ you wouldn’t kill her ‘cos a’ your precious soul, but you wouldn’t stop me from killin’ her.”

The barest smile curved Angel’s mouth.

“Something like that.”

“All right, set a course Mr. Sulu, warp nine.”

“What?”

Spike sighed.

“Let’s go find the bitch.”

“The first one who moves gets a stake where the moon doesn’t shine!” Buffy came pelting out of the house with her fashionable bag of weapons over her shoulder and a stubborn look on her face.

“No!” Spike and Angel said in perfect unison, which made them look somewhat askance at each other.

“My sister, my town, my problem.” She pushed past Angel and into the back seat of the DeSoto, “I‘m not going to sit at home while you guys go out all injured and testosterone-y.”

“C’mon, Buffy, be reasonable,” Angel pleaded.

“Get out of the fuckin’ car.”

She merely folded her arms over her chest and waited. Since there wasn’t much else that could be done, Spike slid into the driver’s seat and lit a smoke, figuring that he could at least annoy her in turn. Angel just slammed the car door behind him and looked out the side window like the answers to the Big Questions were written along the sides of SunnyHell’s night streets as the big, gas-guzzling, 8-cylinder engine of the De Soto roared into the night. Finally Angel pulled out his poncy cellphone and started making calls.

“Cordy says that the concert scheduled for Anaheim tonight at the Pond is still going forward according to the tour schedule.”

“Bloody slag didn’t even plan a night off after wastin’ us.”

“Now she’s probably rounding up more energy to have another shot at you guys,” Buffy sighed and stared at the dashboard from where she was hanging over the seat back. “Can you drive faster? If it takes more than an hour to kill her you’re going to run into daybreak.”

“Who said we was gonna’ kill her?” Spike protested.

Buffy rolled her eyes.

“I’m not that blonde. What were you going to do? Try to talk her out of it? That worked really well last time. I just want to know what you had figured out to get around the guilt thing.”

“Uh, since she didn’t listen to reason, since she was willing to kill you and Dawn, who had nothing to do with the original offense, that puts her into the bad category,” Angel admitted.

“So you’d risk more debt on your soul for Dawn and I?” Buffy asked.

“Dawn an’ me. Jesus.”

“Yes.”

“Me too, I’m riskin’ my soul and my ass for you an’ the Niblet, you know. Hair-do isn’t the only one wiv’ a soul these days, y’know,” Spike said, sounding a little more annoyed than he had planned.

The parking lot was full of mommies and daddies picking up their brainwashed daughters when Spike pulled the DeSoto across the street.

Spike had found the local eighties station and was playing it as loud as he could to drown out the thousands of car CD players blaring out Citalia’s latest hit. His music and the girls’ dueled in the soft Southern California night.

The song was about a whore, not about a high school girl who didn’t fit in with the popular crowd.

“All of her lovers all talk of her notes/and the flowers that they never sent/and wasn't she easy/and isn't she pretty in pink”

“If flesh could crawl my skin would fall/From off my bones and run away from here, /As far from God, as heaven is wide.”

“The one who insists he was first in the line/is the last to remember her name/he's walking around in this dress that she wore/she is gone but the joke's the same/pretty in pink isn't she/pretty in pink.”

In the back seat, Buffy yawned and rummaged through her bag, finally coming up with a hair thing that she used to pull her hair back into a stern tail.

“Chargin’ her batteries for another go ‘round,” Spike said and lit a cigarette.

Angel looked out the window and sucked on his still-bruised lower lip.

“Follow her back to her hotel and get to her room,” Angel said in his Leader of Vamps voice.

“Sheer brilliance, mate.”

Eventually, the tour bus pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the street, the white limo following. It was a short jaunt to one of the many low-rise many-star hotels arranged in rings around Walt’s fairy castle. The limo decanted a small fur-wrapped person and a larger one. Apparently George was still on board. Parking the car behind a dumpster, Spike, Buffy, and Angel made their way through the kitchen of the hotel, past sleepy Mexican cooks who took little notice as they passed through. In moments they were in the elevator and headed upwards.

“Love in an elevator, livin’ it up when I’m goin’ down,“ Spike hummed and caught Angel’s filthy look. “Didja’ ever have a bird give you head in a lift? I highly recommend it.”

“I’ll put it on my list of things to do. Right after the bikini wax.”

“Ewww,” Buffy grumbled. “You guys are so gross.”

The lock on the door gave way with a little help from Spike’s paper clip, revealing a fairly disturbing sight, even by Spike’s standards. Buffy stood on her toes and peered between their shoulders. Citalia/Lucinda was seated like a Buddhist nun in the middle of a circle of candles, sticking a needle in her arm while she sang to herself.

“Malo a nos libera sed tentationem in inducas,” Citalia/Lucinda sang in her clear glass voice, “Nos ne et nostris debitoribus dimittimus nos et sicut nostra debita nobis dimitte et hodie nobis da quotidianum nostrum.”

Spike looked to Angel who had gone a bit pale under his bruises.

“Latin grammar’s seriously fucked. What’s she goin’ on ‘bout?”

“It’s the Pater Noster, the Our Father, backwards.”

“Satanist bull,” Buffy hissed.

“Sirens were classical Greek critters, not Christian ones so I’m thinkin’ it’s only stage dressin’.”

From among the candles, Citalia turned and favored the three with a wide, sparkly smile.

“Cool, I wasn’t counting on a party. Room service brought up some food, cookies, cold cuts, and stuff to drink, but I don’t think they serve blood here.” She stood up and waved the hand that held the needle at the room service cart near the television. “But they have satellite TV.”

“We’re not here on a social call, Lucinda,” Angel said in his tough guy tone.

“Bad ensemble, Buffy. Never wear a dark top with light pants, makes you look hippy.”

“I’m not into heroin chic.”

“Look, enough wiv’ the stimulatin’ banter. You, Citalia, knock it off with the siren shit. Quit spellin’ at the teenyboppers an’ tryin’ to kill our asses, right?”

“Where’s Dawn?” Citalia asked. “She was nice.”

“She doesn’t need to be here for this.” Buffy said.

“Not too happy with your boys, are you? All their women seem to end up dead … or deeply resentful. Maybe you should stop with the vampire dating.”

“Lucinda, stop it or we’re going to have to stop you,” Angel warned.

“Oh puh-lease! You guys really, pardon my French, fucked up killing me the first time!” She giggled like crystal bells. “Why should you do it right now?”

“I’m here. That’s the difference,” Buffy said and launched a roundhouse kick into Citalia’s midsection.

Citalia let out a girly scream and threw herself at Buffy. To Spike’s undead surprise, she got a grip on Buffy and threw the Slayer onto the room service cart where Buffy went down in a hail of cheese slices. Angel kicked the cart at Citalia, but she leapt on top of it and kicked him in the face, which couldn’t have felt good with his healed teeth. Candles fell around the room and Spike danced out of the flames while Citalia laughed.

“What a pretty dance you do, William.”

“The name’s Spike,” he snarled and dumped an ice bucket onto the burning carpet.

Buffy came up out of the lunchmeat shrieking like a Valkyrie and tackled Citalia. Both girls went down against the closet door and rolled in tangle of arms and legs that would have been interesting if there had been less clothing and more Jell-O involved. Buffy let out a pained yelp and disentangled herself.

“You bitch!” Buffy screamed and clutched at her left bicep.

Sure enough, Citalia had jammed her needle into Buffy’s arm and the plastic and metal of the syringe glittered like Citalia’s rhinestones in the light from the burning rug.

“At least you don’t have to worry about catching anything from me!” Citalia laughed and bounced away from where Buffy was gingerly pulling the needle from her arm. “We’ve had all the same men!”

That was pretty much enough for Spike. While Angel saw to Buffy, he made a grab for Citalia and twisted her arms back behind her.

“Gee Billy-boy, I thought you liked getting it rough!” she sneered and jabbed her elbow back into where she had stabbed Spike the night before. He swore and his grip loosened enough for her to wiggle free.

Angel came to the rescue and rushed at Citalia. She spun out from between them so that Spike crashed into Angel. “Choreography is your friend,” she chirped and made a grab for her SuperSoaker, stashed on a side table. Spike, wearing the demon now, dove on her. She staggered back and then threw him across the room. Angel circled her, looking for an opportunity, as Spike struggled to his feet.

Suddenly Citalia had a stake in her hand, and Spike found time to wonder when they’d started making handkerchief tops with hidden stake compartments, since Buffy had pulled this trick too. Angel jumped back out of reach, but Citalia dropped to the ground and, using her hands to hold her up, swept her legs around in a forceful arc, toppling Angel into a flurry of leather coat. That was some martial arts training, all right. Spike wished he’d been nearly as diligent over the past hundred years.

She jumped to her feet and advanced on Angel. One siren, two vampires and a Slayer, why wasn’t the math working? Running for momentum, Spike crossed the room and smashed into Citalia, knocking the stake from her hand and pushing them into the window.

Make that through the window, Spike realized when he heard the ugly sound of safety glass shattering and lost his sense of weight. Time stretched like a bungee cord, only without the part where he was going to go back up. Clinging to Citalia like a cat faced with a bath, he struggled to get on top so that she’d cushion the landing. Blonde hair whipped around her face, disguising the mad eyes, and he felt an emotion he could only tentatively identify as remorse.

Then they hit. It felt like God had just given him a roundhouse punch, but Spike didn’t feel any bones breaking. They sank further, Citalia falling away from him, and Spike realized they’d fallen into the hotel pool, undoubtedly to the amazement of the tourists. The water was blue with chlorine and tainted with piss, but he could see and move almost as well as he could in plain air.

The odds had changed, and not in his favor. He figured if he survived three minutes Buffy and Angel would join in. He could do that.

The water roiled around Citalia, bubbling like Willow and Tara’s cauldron. Something big began to emerge from the white bubbles.

Citalia, but in true siren form, enormous green tail and all. It came whipping towards him and the water slowed down his dodge too much. He was whisked towards Citalia; he couldn’t see if she’d held on to the stake during the fall. The tail felt razor-edged, and his blood puffed black clouds like octopus ink around him. If the bitch ruined his duster, Spike would be fucked-off beyond belief. Fighting his way through the roiling water that threatened to smash him into the concrete sides of the pool, Spike managed to get a grip on Citalia’s remaining human-shaped flesh. Not surprisingly, he grabbed a breast.

From the breast he was able to work his way up her body to her throat, a throat that he didn’t remember even as he drove his fangs into her skin. She screamed and he could feel the water vibrate around them with the sound. The tail lashed into his legs, cutting deep and he could feel the chlorine in the water sting. She thrashed like a landed fish, until she finally grew still in his arms and he could feel the brave beating of her heart finally stutter and stop. She was cool and dead against him and what tangled with his legs were human legs again. Kicking against the bottom of the pool, he launched himself to the surface, choking out water and drawing unneeded air into his lungs.

Sure as God made little green apples, Angel was waiting by the side of the pool with an outstretched arm. Spike grasped the arm and let the other vampire haul him out of the water. They stood there on the concrete and watched Citalia float in the pale water, her hair around her face, her expression somewhat surprised. It seemed that they had finally finished the task they had set out to do a century before. Spike was suddenly cold with a London January chill, and he wasn’t sure if it was Angel or Angelus standing beside him.

His legs buckled as a heavy dose of whatever Citalia had been shooting up with hit his brain. Angel grabbed him and he leaned against the bulk of the older vampire.

“Buffy?” he asked and spit out water.

“Pretty much all right.”

Abruptly, there were humans around, making Spike’s mouth water with the nearness of their blood. He knew he wasn’t sated, knew he could have fed more, and all he could do was hold onto Angel’s arm to keep him from running amuck from throat to throat until the burning hunger was fulfilled.

“Let’s get out of here,” Angel muttered.

“Yes, ladies and gentleman, I hope you enjoyed the surprise entertainment for the night,” the concierge was saying as the vampires limped and dripped past.

Manager George descended on them like a one-man welcoming committee.

“You have saved my ass in more ways than you can ever imagine!” he chortled and enveloped Spike in a furry hug before the vampire could step back.

“What kind of drugs did Citalia do?” Angel demanded, grabbing George by his furry lapels.

“Tranquilizers, mostly. For the stress.”

“Buffy got half a’shot a’somethin’. We don’t wanna be stuffin’ her in detox,” Spike warned, even as he started to feel Citalia’s chemically enhanced blood start to move through his own body.

“Nothing to write home about,” he elbowed Spike in the ribs, catching a particularly painful patch of healing skin, “Not like the old days, eh? Tell you what, I’ll deal with the police, tragic accident and all that. You go and hide out in my suite until, what, nightfall tomorrow?”

Angel glowered at the man. Showing a bigger pair than Spike thought he had, George straightened up and stared back at Angel.

“Unless you want to drive off into the sunrise.”

Sure enough, the East was starting to bleed darkness.

“Look, I’m glad the bitch is dead. Wouldn’t have done it myself, but you don’t look a dead bitch in the mouth.”

Spike could tell that this wasn’t going down well with Angel the Righteous, who was glowering.

“Selena’s albums are still selling, so are Nirvana, Hendrix, the Doors, and Elvis. Albums selling without the bullshit, manager’s wet dream. I’ll just find myself a new blonde with a better temper and a nice set of tits. Catch you tomorrow night.”

The card key was plastic and Spike dropped it three times before Angel finally took it away from him. They found Buffy in the lobby, sitting forlornly on a divan with her bag on her feet.

“Is she dead? Am I going to be okay?”

Angel did the comforting thing, pulling Buffy to her feet and putting his arm around her narrow shoulders.

“You’re going to be fine. It’s just a sedative. George is going to handle everything while we wait in his hotel suite.”

“Suite? Sweet,” Buffy said and showed them her rare and brilliant smile.

The suite was sweet, slightly smaller than Citalia’s and minus the ring of candles. The first thing Angel did was head to the small bar and get himself a bottle of whiskey and a glass. Buffy dropped her bag on the floor and looked around. Angel drained the glass as though it was fine AB negative.

“Are we a band now? Buffy and the Vampires?”

“None of us can carry a tune if it had handles,” Spike said.

Angel grunted and poured another glass of whiskey.

“I need a shower. I feel icky,” Buffy said in a vague voice and padded away.

Spike wandered over to the bed, which was the size of a small village, and stared at the bedspread’s red roses. His first real kill in over a year, and he felt like shit. The drug was moving as fast as the rest of her blood. He collapsed on the bed and looked out the balcony window at the fairytale majesty of the fake castle across the way.

"She would have come back," Angel said eventually. "No one gives up power like that voluntarily."

"Preachin' to the damned, you are." The drug warmed him more than the blood; the demon was silent for once. Spike thought it hadn’t been this way without a soul. Maybe you needed a soul for drugs truly to work their quieting magic. "She wouldn’ta been happy till you, me, the Slayer and the Niblet was nothin’ but dust. She was full of a powerful hate."

"You’re probably right," Angel pointed out, rolling the glass between his hands.

"Does it ever get any easier?” Spike rolled his head against the pillow, feeling the comforting solidity of the world around him. “The soul thing, not killin’ people by dranin’ ‘em. Bein’ stuck watchin’ people live life while you know yer on the outside. Watchin’ the Slayer and wantin’ to make it all go away for her?"

"Being willing to die for Buffy isn't enough, you know."

"You know as well as I that nothin's enough," he said and didn't like the raw sound of his voice.

"The Prophecies suggest that at the end of times a vampire with a soul may achieve redemption –"

"Fuck that, I’ll see you in Hell," he said.

There was a pause, then. "Maybe you will," Angel acknowledged, and Spike put his head back and tried to sleep.

****

Buffy could understand why people did drugs; the world seemed so much more interesting and sparkly. The glimmer of the showerhead fascinated her for the longest time, each drop of water was a revelation, little tongues lapping all over her body, and the smell of the soap and shampoo almost brought her to tears. Citalia was dead, Dawn was safe with Willow and Tara, and Spike and Angel were bruised but otherwise unharmed. Was it such a terrible thing to take her brain off the hook for a couple of hours? Good Buffy. All the rumors were false, she didn’t cause trouble in school, and she was keeping the world safe from the forces of evil. The thought made her giggle there in the bathroom.

She liked the way that she looked in the big hotel bathroom mirror, her skin looked as new and fresh as Dawn’s, as smooth as Spike’s and her eyes were big and liquid, like the shower had filled them with water. After running a hairbrush through her wet hair, Buffy wrapped herself in one of the hotel’s fancy bathrobes and headed out into the bedroom.

The room was all ripply, like it was underneath the pool where Citalia had taken The Big Plunge. Through the ripples she could make out Angel on one of the chairs, a half-empty bottle of something dark on the coffee table in front of him and a glass in his hands. Spike was on the bed, boots and all. She went over to the bed and crawled over to him so she could rest her cheek on his wet hair, which was starting to curl as the gel had given up in the water. He had his eyes shut and seemed more dead than usual.

“You smell like chlorine. It can turn your hair green. When I was a freshman in high school I had just gotten foil wrap highlights done and I went to Kayliegh’s to swim and her dad had put so much chlorine and other gunk in the water that my hair was all streaky with green and I looked really stupid for three days before Mom took me to the salon to get it fixed.”

When she opened her eyes, Spike was gone. She got off the bed and went over to where Angel was making the bottle disappear.

“You okay?” she asked.

“If we hadn’t gone backstage to meet her . . . It was my idea. I started all of this. If we hadn’t – if I hadn’t liked her, Lucinda would have grown old and died the way she should have. I feel like she’s weighing on me twice.”

Reaching out, Buffy stroked his hair, which was the way she remembered it, crunchy in the front and soft in the back.

“She went bad, that was her choice, not yours. You gave her two chances to give it up and she didn’t. She was willing to kill me and to kill Dawn, and she hurt a lot of her fans by taking away their free will.”

Tilting his head back, he looked up at her, and the darkness of his eyes pulled her in.

“When did you get so wise?” he asked.

“It’s that hard-core evil thing called growing up,” she said and could feel herself smile.

“Do you love him, Buffy?”

“Who? Spike?”

“No, Xander,” he said and made a face that made her giggle.

“I have always had a passion for Xander. I’m madly in love with Xander Harris. No. Maybe. Yes. Sometimes. Okay? Sometimes I think I love Spike. Then I put my clothes back on and I’m not so sure.” She giggled again and Angel didn’t look happy.

Since he seemed so sad, she plopped herself on his lap, barely aware of the drink spilling into her bathrobe. But his chest was so broad, and his skin was so cool when she pressed her mouth against his ear to whisper.

“It’s not the same, nothing will be the same, but it’s good. He’s good to me, and I don’t have to lie to him. Everything’s different now, anyway.”

“Buffy- don’t–“

“You’re irreplacable.”

“Irreplaceable.”

“Whatever.”

The familiar sandalwood and book smell of him made Buffy’s stomach do a little flip and she reached her tongue out to see if he tasted the same. Sure enough, the skin on his ear had the same book-y, Angel-y taste that it always did. Just to make sure, she licked the skin on the side of his neck. That tasted the same and he sighed in the same way.

“Don’t do this-“ he said in a voice so faint that she felt it rather than heard it.

She did hear the click of the door opening, and swiveled on Angel’s thigh to see Spike holding an ice bucket, heaped full of ice glimmering like diamonds.

“Oh,” he said, sounding exactly like Giles, no Cockney at all. “Oh.”

His free hand went to his chest, like a man in the first stages of a heart attack. Then he bent and put the ice bucket on the floor, backed out of the room, and closed the door again.

Buffy was on her feet in an instant, but Angel still made it to the door before her. “You stay right here,” he ordered, and she heard his footsteps running down the hall.

She put her hands on her face and realized that her fingers were cold.

****

Angel burst out of the fire stairs just as Spike was crossing the lobby. Spike stopped walking and waited for Angel to grab him, which he did. Predictable. After a hundred years, he should know the pattern.

“Where are you going?” Angel demanded.

“Gonna get the car,” he said, staring straight forward.

“It’s daylight and you’re wasted.”

“Trenchant observations, mate. Maybe I want a terminal sunburn.”

“Buffy was just –“

Spike, full of more frustration and fury than he’d been in a century, finally turned to Angel and nearly vamped in the lobby full of humans. “She’s high, she don’t mean it, you an’ her can’t ever happen, et cetera, et cetera.”

“None of that matters.” Angel’s face was as blank as a darkened television screen.

“First smart thing you’ve said in a hundred years.” Spike turned to go, but Angel’s grip on his shoulder wouldn’t let him. Where Angel’s fingers touched barely-healed skin the pain paled in comparison to the thing that was chewing at the inside of his chest.

“What matters is that she wants you.”

“You sayin’ we should go upstairs and have us another Lucinda-type party?”

The demon flared in Angel’s eyes, and Spike realized that some part of the other vampire was actually considering it, which made him speculate too. Double occupancy could be acceptable if the location was right, couldn’t it? Better than being homeless.

“I’m saying that she’s in there crying, and not for me. The past holds us, but sometimes you just have to let go. Buffy knows that. She’s learning.”

“I don’ wanna be a teachable moment for her.” Spike turned his face away, towards the receptionists. Happy or not, they all smiled with the identical trained Mouse smile.

“You can’t always get what you want.”

“Brilliant, Mick,” Spike said and then, despite everything, had to snigger at the pun.

“Go back upstairs,” Angel said in the softest of voices.

And Spike found himself knocking on the suite door. If she opened the door and her face fell, he was going to bag his third Slayer and then throw the curtains wide.

Buffy opened the door and crushed him in her arms like a trash compactor. He couldn’t even move to reciprocate. “Thank God,” she said, cheek pressed against his chest. “Do you have any idea how much you scared me?” She looked up and he had no idea what showed on his face. “Okay, so maybe you do.” She led him back into the room, onto the bed he’d been dozing on not fifteen minutes before.

He desperately didn’t want her to declare her loyalty with sex. “Don’t let go,” she whispered instead, and then she didn’t.

****

“I kinda always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend – for someone else to take/I kinda always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend -am I making a mistake? “

“Buffy, Angel and Spike kill Citalia, his cash cow, and this George guy throws a party? Here?” Xander shouted over the music while looking around the Bronze. “How weird is that?”

“You new in town or something?” Willow teased. “It’s Sunnydale, home of weirdness, central casting for your friendly neighborhood Hellmouth.”

“Right. I forgot. I had the temporary delusion that I live in a normal world.” Xander drank some more beer out of the plastic cup. “While we’re kicking the whole ‘weirdness’ concept around, how about this Buffy and Spike thing? And the Spike and Angel thing? And the possibility of there being a Buffy, Spike and Angel thing?”

“There’s no evidence that third thing ever happened. Just because they were all at the hotel together does not mean that there’s a Buffy, Spike and Angel thing at all,” Willow shouted back.

“Hey, with the kink-o-rama they slapped on Citalia, I’m thinking that anything’s possible.” Xander gave Willow a meaningful eyebrow-wiggle.

“I hope I hold a special place with the rest of them -all the time that we spent /I kinda always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend,” the music continued.

“Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean that I’m the authority on all things kinky!” Willow protested. “Ask your girlfriend. She’s like the letters section of Hustler!”

“And you’ve been reading Hustler since when?”

Willow grinned. “Since you hid them under your bed when you were ten.”

“Right, forgot about that.”

“I’m another ex-girlfriend on your list /But I should have thought of that before we kissed.”

“Hey, what’s the what?”

Spike snapped his attention away from eavesdropping on Xander and Willow to find the Slayer looking up at him with a little smile.

“Hey, dead guy, I’m talking to you,” she prodded.

“Can’t hear you over this bloody garbage they’re passin’ off as music.”

“Your wildness scares me /So does your freedom /You say you can’t stand the restrictions /I find myself trying to change you /If you were meant to be my lover I wouldn’t have to.”

“It’s No Doubt, which is a kind of retro punk thing, right?”

“No, it’s ska, which is not punk,” he corrected, trying not to be too pleased that she’d seen fit to grab onto his forearm, which had to be noted as the first time she’d touched him in public when he didn’t end up ass over teakettle.

“That old stuff all sounds the same to me.” She looked around. “Did Angel get here yet?”

Spike shook his head and lit a cigarette, “Must have been tied up savin’ unfortunates from unfortunate fates, or maybe he just ran out of hair-gel and won’t show.”

“That’s the pot calling the kettle purple.”

Giggling, Dawn ran past, the black lights glowing off the paint on her cast. She bounded over to Xander and Willow and started a conversation with them that required a lot of hand-moving and even more giggling.

“Ah, th’resilience a’youth.”

“And two weeks of medication. Still, wouldn’t it be great if everything was solved by taking one pill once a day?” She looked up at him again and assumed a serious face. “If you could take one pill once a day and not be a vampire, would you do it?”

“You’re assumin’ I don’t like bein’ a vampire.” He shrugged off her hand and downed the remainder of his beer, trying to put a force field of Spikeatude between them. “Bein’ a vampire is the dog’s bollocks. Wouldn’t have it any other way, right?”

Buffy’s eyebrows clearly telegraphed that she wasn’t believing word one of it.

“Well, maybe I would have liked to surf. Surfin’ at night just ain’t right. I could have surfed, you know.”

“Sorry,” Angel broke into their circle of two. “Had to climb through the window in the girl’s bathroom. They’re asking for picture ID proving that you’re over 21.”

“The guy at the door must have been blind, you don’t look a day over two hundred,” Spike agreed and showed Angel the back of his hand where an unlikely purple smiley-face was stamped “Can’t get anythin’ to drink wiv’out one a’these.”

Buffy grinned and showed the matching stamp on the back of her hand.

“You’re not—“Angel began.

“Spike? Do that thing again.”

Smirking, Spike licked the back of his hand and pressed the stamp to the back of Angel’s. With a practiced roll, the stamp was transferred to Angel’s skin.

“Saves on th’cover charge most times.”

“I’m getting drinks. Drinks on George.” She headed off with a perky tilt to her head that Spike hadn’t seen in months.

“She’s in a good mood.”

“Amazin’ what getting’ shagged regular will do for a body.”

Angel merely sniffed and looked around the twisting bodies filling the Bronze. “This has to be one of the strangest memorials I’ve ever been too, and I’ve been to a lot.”

“Talked to George earlier, he’s bumped one a’ the backup singers to lead an’ is callin’ it Citalia Tribute. ‘Parently the backup singer’s easier to get along wiv’ to the tune of blowin’ George’s pipes from time to time. Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead. He’s got plenty to celebrate..”

“Like you said, amazing what getting shagged regular will do for a body.”

“Why can’t you find a nice bird you can shag wiv’out getting’ your knickers in a twist?”

A faint smile crossed Angel’s face, loaded with mystery, “Who’s to say I haven’t?”

“You never!” Spike choked. “You lying heap a’shit! You’re takin’ the piss.”

But Buffy returned with a burden of beverages before he could delve any further into the matter at hand.

“Beer, whiskey, and a fuzzy navel for me,” she said and passed out cups.

“Sounds like a personal problem, Buff,” Xander said as he ambled over.

He glanced over at Angel. “So how are the teeth?”

The kid was practically shaking with repressed curiosity; Spike realized and enjoyed a few moments of pure evil satisfaction. If Spike had his way, Xander Harris was going to go to his own six-foot deep plot without getting any answers to the questions that were burning into his brain.

“Teeth are fine. Back to the old teeth.”

“Great, good stuff.”

Xander looked from Angel to Spike to Buffy and then back the other way from Buffy to Spike to Angel. To give the Great Pouf his due, Angel didn’t flinch and Buffy stared back at Xander as though he was a couple ounces short of a pint.

“And?” she asked.

“Oh, well, just great to see you guys all upright and all right and, you know, your kinda normal ab-normal selves.” Xander ran out of gas and his face slackened. “Maybe I should just go and get another beer right about now.”

“Good lad.” Spike said as floppy-boy took himself over to the bar.

“Oh yeah, Buffy, apparently I have to tell you ‘hi’ from Cordelia,” Angel offered.

“Whatever you tell her, just make it clear that I looked really, really good. I mean like glossy magazine good,” Buffy instructed. “Not a hair out of place, totally coordinated and chic, no smudged eyeliner, sheer perfection.”

Without thinking, Spike elbowed Angel in the ribs, not hard enough to hurt.

“What’d I say? Complete and utter ignorance of anythin' not involved with slayin', shoes, an' fashion?”

“Buffy? Never.” Angel said with one of his few and far between smiles.

“Oh, so you guys talk about me? Great,” she said and grinned over her cup at them. “No wonder my ears keep burning.”

And for a little while they were just two guys teasing a pretty girl in a dance club.

~End~

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