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This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Heart's Filthy Lesson (by MustangSally and RivkaT)

"I don’t have plans and schemes /And I don’t have hopes and dreams /Baby, I just don’t have anything, anything/Since I don’t have you /I don’t have you."

The jazz swirled through the bar like the haze of cigarette smoke.

It was Tuesday night at Lovecraft’s and the usual congregation of male losers of the undead, dead, demon, and assorted supernatural worlds were lurking in the shadows, drinking, playing cards and generally being uninspiring. It looked like a cross between the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars and the movie poster for The Usual Suspects, even down to crap fashion sense. Spike was perched on his favorite barstool, drinking Stoli and A positive, indulging in a bout of self-pity. There had to be some way that he could get out of the funk that surrounded him like an eight-week wet afternoon.

"I don’t have fond desires /And I don’t have happy hours /Baby, I don’t have anything, anything /Since I don’t have you /I don’t have you."

He wondered if Prozac worked on vampires.

"I don’t have Happiness and I guess /I never will ever again /When you walked out on me /In walked old misery /And he’s been here since then," the jukebox continued, despite the fact that the Chaos demon was growling at the aged Wurlitzer.

Small chance that the Chaos demon was going to be able to get the latest Britney Spears any time soon. Spike had shoveled ten dollars in quarters into it and told it to keep playing his song. Sometimes the only thing a vampire could do was drink a lot of booze, listen to depressing music and then stagger back to his hiding place at the crack of dawn.

What no one appreciated was that vampires had hearts, too—undead, unbeating hearts, right enough, but they could be macerated by a woman’s meat-grinder treatment as easily as a human’s.

"I don’t have love to share /And I don’t have one who cares /Baby I don’t just have anything /Since I don’t have you /I don’t have you."

He was starting to think that women were just placed in the Universe to make men miserable. He lit another cigarette and chased the olives around in his drink. Blood and alcohol swirled like a barber’s pole. Women existed only to shag and play games with men’s hearts and minds, regardless of the life signs connected to those organs. Dru had played him for a fool and dropped him like a crucifix, and the Slayer had done the same. Maybe a spot of celibacy was in order.

A spot of being dragged through boiling lead while wearing an aluminum thong might be slightly more enjoyable. Was there something in the bar that he could shag, or kill, or shag than kill?

He smelled perfume and looked up.

She was stacked, she was familiar, and she was a pain in the ass.

"Hullo Anya," Spike said as the former vengeance demon sidled up to the bar next to him.

"Bourbon, straight, no ice," she told the barman.

"Havin’ a bad hair day?" he asked.

"Why would you think that? Just because I’m going to a demon bar to kill as many brain cells as possible, why would you think that I was having a bad day?" She paused and caught a breath. "What’s wrong with my hair?"

"Noth—"

"I asked him if he liked the dress and he failed to look up from the television." Her voice had become even higher and more machinegun than usual. "Survivor was obviously more important to him than I was. So I left. I took his car and I left. And he still failed to look up from the television."

"You took his car?" Spike echoed, horror-struck.

The barman slapped a glass in front of her, and the twenty-(centuries)-something pretty girl threw a shot back like John Wayne, wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and nodded for another.

"I borrowed it. I told him and he continued to stare at the bikini bimbos on television. I didn’t steal it."

"A fine point there," he agreed and took a deep gulp of his Bloody Charlie. "But you shouldn’t be here, since you aren’t actually a demon anymore."

"So?"

Girl-logic. If he lived to be a thousand, he would never understand girl-logic. The problem was that it wasn’t logic as such, it was moving from point X to point A by way of the shoe store and a couple dozen make-up counters. Anya wiggled on the barstool, fluffed her hair and gave Spike one of her more frighteningly intense looks, one that crawled around the back of his skull and looked for change under the cushions.

"I don’t have love to share /And I don’t have one who cares /Baby I don’t just have anything /Since I don’t have you," the singer ambled off into a sad coda. A moment later, the music started again and the Chaos demon kicked the jukebox.

"Giles is gone," she said after the third shot. "In England having sex with his girlfriend. He said it was ‘for a variety of business reasons’ but I heard him on the phone with her and this is definitely sex tourism. So I have to run the shop all alone, and all I do is smile at customers and take their money, and at night it’s all scary and Xander won’t come to pick me up because he says he’s too tired from hauling bricks around all day -" she stopped to hiccup – "and all I want is someone to pay attention to me."

She was doing fine without him, but he nodded anyway.

"I mean it’s all changed, its not the way that it used to be. He comes home and we eat dinner and then he gets in front of the television and turns into a couch radish."

"Potato. Couch potato."

"Well, some kind of starchy food. And we don’t talk and we never have sex anymore."

Anya’s voice was loud enough to make the Calansis demons look up from their eternal poker game near the jukebox. Spike gave them a good glower and turned his attention back to Anya. The former demon was red around the face and nose and Spike wondered if she was going to explode or just break down and cry. Either one was an ugly proposition.

"Because he’s too tired from hauling bricks all day- And I want to have sex, sex is good and I really like having sex with him and I always -"

"I get the picture," Spike cut her off.

"This long-term relationship stuff really sucks."

"And you’re just figurin’ this out now?"

Which was just enough to push Anya over the edge. Her eyes filled up with tears and she began shredding the cocktail napkin between her shaking fingers. "But I just love him so much-"

"Right, that was your last call. C’mon, let’s get you home." He took Anya’s arm and began to propel her towards the door.

"But I don’t want to go. I want to stay here with the demons. I belong here, not with Xander," she whined, and balked.

"No, no more demons," he ordered.

"But-"

"Dude," a surprisingly un-supernatural voice demanded from right behind Spike, "she doesn’t want to go."

"Yes she does, she just hasn’t realized it yet," Spike said and dragged Anya a foot or two closer to the door.

Chaos demons, fucking Chaos demons, the horniest thing in the Malleus Malleficarum, why was he pursued by Chaos demons? And this one’s horns were oozing with lust as he looked at the tidbit that was Anya. It was tempting to leave Anya to the devices of the Chaos demon, and she’d probably had more than one when she was a demon herself, but they tended to leave marks on humans and this would doubtless end with him being banned from the Magic Shop, which would be a Bad Thing.

"I don’t have love to share /And I don’t have one who cares /Baby I don’t just have anything /Since I don’t have you /I don’t have you."

"Dude," the Hawaiian-shirt-sporting demon repeated, "she doesn’t want to go."

Since he really wasn’t in the mood for a fight, Spike caught up a barstool and brought it down on the Chaos demon’s head with the full force of his vampire strength. The demon snarled and grabbed at him with hands the size of Christmas geese. Spike ducked behind another vampire, who ended up on the wrong side of the Chaos demon. The vampire fang-faced at the demon and snarled.

Anya let out a very humanly girlish scream and skittered away, knocking over the Calansis poker table. Four fucked-off Calansis demons advanced into the fight, where the Chaos demon and the extra vampire were alternately pounding on one another and trying to pound Spike. For his part, Spike made a beeline over the assorted tables, leaping from one to the other, breaking glasses and spilling drinks as he went. He dodged around the Calansis demons and headed for Anya near the jukebox. This, he thought as he kicked the nearest Calansis in the head, was more trouble than it was worth. Anya gaped at him with her eyes round as manhole covers. Spike grabbed her arm just as the Chaos demon went down in a puddle of slime underneath a dog pile of Calansis.

"Spike," the bartender shouted from where he was hiding beneath the bar, "Don’t come back here!"

"Put the stool on my tab," Spike instructed and hauled Anya out the back door, just as chairs began to fly through the air and Lovecraft’s degenerated into a supernatural bar brawl.

"When you walked out on me /In walked old misery /And he’s been here since then," the jukebox continued over the mayhem.

"I hope you don’t think that this is going to mean I’ll have sex with you-" Anya stated as he pulled her into the night.

****

Buffy bounced into the lecture hall, swinging her bookbag with cheerful, decapitating force. Willow was already waving from the fourth row, her bag blocking off a seat for Buffy.

"So what’s today’s topic?" she asked Willow, sprawling into the bag-held seat and busily rifling through her notebook to find an empty page.

"Guest lecturer. Some mummies are here in Sunnydale on loan from a museum in Cairo, and the curator of the traveling exhibit is here to talk about them."

"Mummies again?"

"These are Egyptian mummies, the regular Boris Karloff kind, not the strange and little-known Inca kind … Buffy? Buffy?"

"Who is that vision of male beauty?" Buffy breathed, just as he approached the podium and began to speak into the microphone.

"Tie, real adult, survey says – guest lecturer Dr. Peter Talbot."

"Temptation Island eat your heart out."

"Be less tempted and more attentive," Willow joked.

The professor blathered on about Egyptology, and hieroglyphics, and something called the Rosetta Stone – all things the regular professor had covered for this segment of the World History survey, but admittedly not nearly as attractively. Buffy was glad she didn’t need to take notes. It left her more time to contemplate the natural wonder in front of her. Was his hair really so black that it had blue highlights? She was looking for a dark guy these days. Not dark personality-wise, but dark hair, dark eyes, even a little brooding would not be out of place. No bleach, no nail polish – she’d got those covered on her own. One hundred percent normal, un-augmented, genuine, factory-warranty human guy was what she had in mind.

"Incredibly, the bodies were not mummified, despite the luxurious setting of the tomb, which was reserved for mummies from the highest classes. Time worked its ravages, of course." He smiled out at the audience, blue eyes twinkling mischievously.

"Are those dimples, even though they’re long?" Buffy whispered to Willow. "’Smile creases’ sounds so … non-yummy."

"Shhh." Willow bent over her notes.

"Adding to the mystery, the bodies were locked together in an eternal embrace."

Buffy shifted in her seat, her mind doing a Beavis "he said ‘embrace’" riff. He was wearing a blue dress shirt with a stripy red tie, the top button of the shirt undone and the tie a bit loose. The suit jacket was draped over a vacant chair in the front row, and the dark pants fit so well they had to have been tailored.

"The bodies have been identified as those of two women."

Willow looked up, her mouth dropping open.

"Sisters without the skin," Buffy suggested, and Willow frowned.

"Of course, the posture was not necessarily … sexual," the lecturer said, his voice dropping on the last word as if he were saying it just for Buffy’s benefit. "They could have been fighting. Even more bizarrely, carbon dating places the age of one body at over three thousand years, but the other tests as recent – from within the last century. There are signs that the tomb was entered within that period, but no explanation for how the younger body could have wasted away to the same condition as the older body, or how they could have become entangled without completely destroying the older one."

The screen flashed on some hieroglyphics, reminding Buffy of some of her less successful attempts to use an iMac. Within the squiggles and other indefinable symbols, she recognized a few from spell books.

"The paintings in the tomb are primarily related to the worship of Sekhmet, the goddess of bloody vengeance and battle. This is highly unusual since traditionally most tomb art revolves around the rising of Osiris from the dead. Sekhmet is a fiery and destructive Egyptian goddess associated with war and divine vengeance. Her name means ‘the Mighty One.’ One of her primary temples was located in Luxor, a few miles from the Valley of the Kings." He smiled. "Which is where King Tutankhamun was buried, one pharaoh I’m sure everyone has heard of."

Buffy remembered Giles saying once that the legend of Osiris being brought back from the dead was a metaphor for vampire ontogeny. At the time she hadn’t understood what he had meant, since that was before she had done the cram course for the SAT’s. But Giles had never mentioned anything about Sekhmet, and it wasn’t like him to leave something out if he thought it was important. He was more inclined to add an awful lot of excess information.

The guest lecturer smiled out into the audience, his voice wrapping warmly into Buffy’s head.

"According to a tale known as ‘The Destruction of Mankind,’ Sekhmet was the ‘Eye of Re,’ a vengeful aspect of the usually benevolent goddess Hathor. The sun god Re sent Sekhmet to slay mortals who were plotting against him. Sekhmet became so enthusiastic about her task that she nearly slew all of humanity. Re prevented this by tricking her into drinking vast quantities of beer, which had been colored to look like blood. The intoxicated goddess had to abandon the slaughter and humanity was saved."

Okay, so Sekhmet was a bloodthirsty bitch, and two chicks trying to kill each other had been left in a tomb covered with pro-Sekhmet graffiti. Willow was writing away at 60 mph, and Buffy frowned at her. What was the point of taking notes if there wasn’t going to be a test?

"As goddess of war, Sekhmet was often said to accompany Pharaoh into battle. She was also the ‘Lady of Pestilence’ who could send plague and disease. She was also revered as a healer of these ailments, a role that seems paradoxical in such a bloodthirsty deity. Go figure." The professor looked at his watch and beamed his grin around the hall again. "They said I had a minimum of one hour, and since I remember what it was like to be you guys, I’m going to stop now." There was a ragged smattering of applause from around the hall.

"Yeah, well thanks," he said and tapped his notes into a tidy pile of cards. "But you could do me a favor by coming to the exhibit – in Murphy Hall between now and the endd of the month – and filling out one of those

comment cards saying how great it was."

The lights came up and the students filed out of the auditorium. The guest lecturer strode off the stage without a backward look. Buffy was disappointed. She had wanted to ask him if the mummies had been part of some sort of Sekhmet Sisters gang.

"That was interesting. Lesbian mummies, bloodthirsty goddesses, don’t hear that in class all that often," Willow said and stopped. "At the Magic Shop, yes, in class, no."

"Still," Buffy said, popping the top of her Diet Coke, "Creepy mummies aside, he is pretty cute, in an Indiana Jones kind of way."

"You’re totally talking to the wrong person about that. But I can see a certain scruffy charm."

"Scruffy charm has its charms. And anyway, if Tara weren’t in the picture, are you telling me that you wouldn’t even consider a guy who possessed such wasabi hotness? Not even if he smiled at you like he was smiling in the lecture hall?"

"I think this is the point where I invoke don’t ask, don’t tell. Speaking of guys in the general segue kind of way and not meaning to pry closer than is really necessarily, have you talked to—" Willow mimed fangs.

"No." Buffy said, a little nastier than she had planned. "Not going to. Over and done with."

"Heard that before," Willow said to herself, and Buffy decided that she could pretend that she herself hadn’t quite heard.

"I’m totally and completely serious. Living guy-free right now is pretty good, quiet, and I kind of like that." They rounded a corner of the classroom building and walked straight into what was either the football team or a group of trolls with unusually good personal hygiene. "Not that I would want to take it up as a permanent kind of thing."

Surrounded by the valley walls of man-flesh, Buffy felt a little wavery around the edges; the humid California afternoon was thick with yummy boy-smell. Eye-level with buff chests, shoulders, rippling 6-pack abs, every little bit of muscle primed and ready for athletic prowess on the artificial turf and towel snapping in the locker room afterwards. Buffy wasn’t sure if she was having an anxiety attack or some kind of lust seizure, but her heart was pounding faster in her chest than a Eurodance track, and she turned a reddened face to Willow.

"So when’s Giles getting back from England?" she asked in a helium-esque voice, trotting through the hallway at breakneck speed to get away from the fug of man-ness.

"Next Wednesday." Willow broke into a half-canter trying to keep up, her backpack bumping against her shoulders. "I don’t think that he’s going to be happy with the bill from the electronic alarm company. You know they charge three hundred dollars each time the alarm gets tripped by accident?"

"I always thought Anya was a little quicker on the uptake than that."

"But seven times in three days? And why are we running?"

Buffy pushed open the heavy steel and glass door as though it was made of paper and took a deep breath of fresh air. "Not running. Just crowded, too many guy-people breathing the air."

"Ri-ight. You know, Anya only seems to set off the alarm while she’s closing up for the night. You might want to cruise by when you’re on patrol, just to let her know you’re keeping an eye on her."

"Will, there are about seven zillion protection spells on that building. She doesn’t need me."

Willow stopped dead in her tracks and shuffled the gravel between her feet for a moment. "You don’t have to avoid the store for the rest of your life. I think two months might be long enough, don’t you?"

"I haven’t been avoiding the store, I’ve been busy, I have really hard classes this semester and when I’m not patrolling I’m reading or doing homework. I have Ancient Civ and English Lit and even you would get bleeding eyeballs from the reading that you have to do with them!"

"And this would have nothing to do with the fact that certain people of the undead persuasion have been known to frequent aforementioned place."

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Hello? I said nothing and I mean nothing." Buffy frowned and qualified herself. "I mean something which is I mean that I’m not avoiding the Magic Shop because certain people of the undead persuasion have been known to frequent aforementioned place."

Willow blinked.

"Cross my heart," Buffy lied.

****

Getting Anya home turned out to be a far more complex event than Spike had imagined. There was Xander’s car to deal with, for one thing, and the fact that Anya absolutely refused to stop crying just cast a pall over an otherwise annoying series of events.

The moon was fat and full, which explained a lot of things, including the dog/man shaped thing that Spike almost hit a few blocks from Lovecraft’s. Damn werewolves completely forgot the rules of the road when they changed. The most staid businessman turned into a yipping idiot, leaping in front of cars. Made you wonder how the police explained all the naked hit and runs in and around SunnyD. Then again, the SunnyHell police were hired by weight rather than IQ.

Finally, with the car parked in the appropriate place at Xander’s apartment building, Spike escorted Anya up into the hallway. His motivation was strictly mercenary; he had the idea that at some point this would earn him a few brownie points in the eyes of that ridiculous blonde creature. Anya tottered along in her fashionably stupid shoes and Spike let her, not offering support since he didn’t need the brownie points that badly.

Anya was blubbering too hard to get the key in the door, which seemed somehow symbolic to Spike. Finally he claimed her keyring and did it himself, turning the knob and giving the door a kick to open it up since he couldn’t enter.

Xander had responded to the commotion by leaving the couch; Spike could see, over his shoulder, the bowl of Doritos he’d abandoned on the coffee table. "Where have you been?" he demanded as Anya brushed past Spike and stumbled into the apartment. Then Xander deigned to notice Spike, and Anya’s questionable emotional state. "What have you done to her?"

"I don’t want to talk to you," Anya wailed, and ran into the depths of the apartment, presumably to the bathroom (holy ground for females).

"If you’ve hurt her -"

"Oh, dispense with the soap opera, you can’t act that well," Spike growled from the doorway, the threshold between him and Xander like an invisible force field in a Classic Star Trek episode. "Your girl wanted a bit o’ sexual satisfaction and had to accept alcohol as a substitute. Speakin’ for m’self, I can see why she’s upset, though not why she’s so particular about getting her man-love from you."

Anya was back now, shorter without the dangerous shoes. Her eyeshadow was smeared from where she’d washed her face, like a clumsy child playing with mother’s makeup.

"I don’t need your advice," she snapped.

"Oh, sure, complain to me for hours on end and then take his side." Spike didn’t know why he was surprised. Anya was just as much a human girl as if she’d skipped a thousand years of inflicting misery on men. Or maybe that aided her presentation.

"This is none of your business, Spike." Xander had stepped forward and was poking his finger into Spike’s silk shirt.

"Come out into the hall and say that, floppy boy," Spike said and gave Xander malevolent smile #4.

Xander stepped back into the apartment a couple of feet, well out of arm’s reach. Anya velcroed herself to his side and settled for glaring at Spike as though he’d started the whole thing to begin with.

"Just leave us alone," Xander warned.

This was really beginning to get tiresome, this doing someone a good turn and having it blow up in your face like a kitten in a microwave.

"Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t let your girl wrap your car around a tree. Look, she’s back unharmed, just somewhat th’ worse for alcohol. So be a good pair of dimwits and have a nice shag, right?"

Xander and Anya blinked at him like owls caught in broad daylight before he spun away, wishing he could have reached inside the apartment to slam the door.

As he stomped down the steps of Xander’s apartment building, Spike found himself wondering why males and females ever really bothered with one another. Masturbation was never this complicated.

****

"Wow, talk about sun damage. Didn’t they have moisturizers back then?" Buffy breathed and stared up at the intertwined figures in the glass case.

The bodies looked as though they had been formed out of chopsticks covered with several large corn flakes, and then deep-fried. She wondered if Full Ho Luk was still open and if she could talk Willow into some fried won ton before heading home.

"Crispity-crunchity," Willow agreed. "And it’s kind of rare because the Egyptians actually had to do a lot of stuff to their mummies to make them mummies. I mean it just doesn’t happen every day."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Icky kind of invasive stuff," Willow hedged, circling around the glass, looking up at the mummies. "These are natural – people raisins."

Buffy looked again at the entwined figures. Something about them was twinging her Slayer sense, setting her brain vibrating like a plucked guitar string. The faces, if you could call them faces, were nearly touching; lips peeled back from snarling teeth and eroded gums.

"During the Old Kingdom, from 2750 to 2250 BC, only royalty was mummified, but during the New Kingdom, 1539-1070 BC, it spread to the other classes." A voice floated out of the darkness behind one of the paper-mache mummy cases which served as set dressing in the University museum.

Willow jumped away from the case when she heard the voice, and Buffy automatically jammed her hand in her bookbag and grabbed a stake. Anything talking to you after sundown wasn’t necessarily a friend in Sunnydale.

The voice belonged to the jalapeno-flavored guest lecturer, who was hanging out in the gloom of the museum. He must have been keeping an eye on his priceless display, making sure that the jocks and other things that went bump in the night didn’t bother his crispy ladies. Buffy let go of the stake, since staking a guest lecturer was probably going to reflect badly on her GPA. He was even cuter up close, in the dim light of the museum.

"To make a true Egyptian mummy, all the internal organs were removed, except for the heart. The liver, the intestines, and the kidneys were all preserved in canopic jars because they were necessary for the body to regain life in the afterworld. The only organ discarded was the brain, because they had no idea what it was for. The body was packed and covered with natron, which is a natural salt, and left to dry for forty or fifty days. Then the body was packed with sawdust and spices before it was finally wrapped in linen covered with spells and full of amulets wrapped between the layers. Of course nothing like that happened here, hence the mystery." His voice was as silky as sand.

"Extreme mystery," Buffy agreed.

"Were you two at the lecture?" he asked, coming a little closer into the light spilling over from the beams shining down into the mummy case.

"We were. I’m Willow Rosenberg and this is Buffy Summers."

"Hiya," Buffy muttered. Dr. Talbot was still wearing his suit. She was used to sussing out physical characteristics on minimal clues, and he looked skinny but strong. Think Billy Baldwin, not Charles Atlas. She swallowed and looked at the mummies again.

"Are you two interested in Egyptology?" he asked, looking pretty much at Buffy only.

"Dead things." Buffy blurted. "I’m really interested in dead things."

Willow flashed her friend a panicky look. "Mortuary science. Buffy’s studying Mortuary Science."

That earned her an "ew, yuk" look.

"I’m afraid I’m closing up for the night, but you’re welcome to return tomorrow. I’ll be giving – personal – tours throughout the week."

"Oh," Buffy breathed, wondering when she’d fallen into the plot of a cheesy porn film and hoping that Willow’s involvement was not further required. "I’d love to take your tour." She wondered if she were really blushing over every square inch of visible skin, or only felt as if she were.

"Tomorrow then." He indicated the path to the door, and Willow grabbed Buffy’s arm to tug her away from the mummies.

"I’m revising my opinion," Willow said, and this time Buffy had to force her strangely sticky feet to keep up with the other girl. "I’m pretty much thinking that the creepiness outweighs the hitting-on-the-girl-young-enough-to-be-his-daughter-type charm."

"Please," she scoffed. "I’m way over the age of consent, and he’d have to have been a father at, like, twelve, in a weird Mary Kay Letorneau scenario. But, I don’t know, there’s something about those mummies … I definitely think we should research and return. Potential acolytes of creepy death goddesses near the Hellmouth. I would feel very un-Slayerly if we didn’t keep an eye on this place."

Without discussing it, they were headed off-campus and toward the Magic Shop. "I’m sure Tara would be happy to help research," Willow said brightly. "She’s handy with those crutches, you know! … Not at all in a sexual way."

"*So* did not want to go there," Buffy said, but without heat.

"Tara was asking about Spike the other day, why he wasn’t hanging around the gang like before …?"

"You didn’t tell her, did you?"

"No," Willow was hurt, and the pout showed in her voice, "and I don’t like that, but I respect your feelings. It’s just that unresolved boy-girl issues have a way of showing up and demanding resolution at highly inconvenient times, and maybe you ought to schedule some dealing-with-it time so that it doesn’t interfere with the next crisis."

"You know what, I’m going to let you and Tara do the book-learning thing," Buffy said abruptly. "Too much studying in one day, there’s nasty rash potential. I’m just going topick up some Chinese and head home. If

you’re so convinced that Doctor Tasty is up

to no good, why don’t you look up Sex-met

or whatever her name is."

She left Willow standing on the sidewalk, looking woefully in Buffy’s direction. Damn Spike anyway.

Which was what she was thinking half an hour later, when she had to duck into the alley beside Xander’s apartment to avoid Spike as he half-carried, half-dragged a wobbly Anya up the steps.

How dare he swagger like that, with his coat flapping around his legs like a gunslinger, his over-bleached hair standing out like white shoes after Labor Day, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth? Didn’t he know that the eighties were over? Didn’t he know that the Sid Vicious thing was passé? All she could do was chew on her thumbnail and hope that he left before he realized that she was there. Hiding from a vampire was an iffy thing at best, but with any luck he wouldn’t be able to smell her (or the Chinese food cooling under her arm) through the cigarette smoke. And what was he doing dropping Anya off at Xander’s anyway? Was Anya now hanging out with Spike because he was the only one willing to come around the Magic Shop after

closing time? Come to think of it, where had

Xander been lately? Didn’t Anya or Xander

like her anymore? More importantly, did

they now like Spike better?

When he disappeared into the building, she considered her options. The Magic Shop was out: Willow was undergoing major sulkage by now. Xander and Anya were Spike-infested. Dawn was at home – she shuddered with horror at the thought – and the only viable option was to return to the museum and poke around. She rummaged around in the take-out bag and pulled out a fortune cookie.

"People say you have sharp sense and superb intellect."

Yeah, that cookie had been meant for someone else.

Buffy cracked the next cookie while chewing on the remains of the first one. She was holding out for something good about finding romance, riches and fame, great shoes at a low-low price, or a promise of travel to exotic destinations.

What is the distance between the eyes and the soul?

Apparently this entire package of fortune cookies was meant for someone else and possibly she’d even been given the wrong dinner. If it was sweet and sour pork she was going to be really pissed.

"Kung Pao chicken." the familiar slimy voice commented. "If you really want to hide, carryin’ Kung Pao chicken isn’t the best thing to do."

"It’s not Kung Pao chicken. It’s Szechuan Eggplant and Tofu," she corrected him, wanting to kick herself for being so wrapped up in reading fortunes that she hadn’t heard one annoying, psychotic, and evil vampire lumber up next to her. "It’s true, Chinese do all taste the same and half an hour after eatin’ one you’re hungry again."

"I did not need to know this," she snapped and crinkled the bag shut. "What are you doing here? Lurking around Xander’s place?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," he said and smirked a Spiky smirk at her.

"I’m not lurking, I was going to see if they wanted to eat Chinese food."

"They’re busy makin’ the beast w’two backs. What’s next on the agenda, Blondie?"

Bad mental image, Xander and Anya, not gross but Buffy wasn’t sure that she wanted to be thinking about anybody having sex while she was standing within ten feet of the Vampire From Hell. Yes, the Vampire from Hell, not because he was evil, which he was, not because he’d threatened her a zillion times, and he had, but because she’d made the major mistake of having sex with him. And the sex had been pretty much amazing and thinking about it had taken up entirely too much of her time lately. So she stood there and tried to keep her thinking hard, clear and focused, which wasn’t really easy since his midnight eyes were taste-testing her even as they spoke.

"Patrol. I’m doing the college campus tonight. You might want to find someplace else to be, since I wouldn’t want to stake you by accident."

"No, you’d do it on purpose," he smirked at her again and dangled something shiny and silver in front of her nose. "Fancy a lift? I don’t think Xander’s goin’ to be usin’ the car in the next five minutes."

Reflexively, Buffy looked up at Xander’s apartment in time to see the lights go out.

"The Uni’s a long ways away, long walk for those stubby little legs a’yours." He jingled the keys again.

"My legs are not stubby," she said and looked at the car, thought about the distance, "but it’s a ride, that’s all."

"I wasn’t imaginin’ it was anythin’ but."

Naturally, Spike had tuned the radio to the greatest hits of the ‘80’s station and Buffy had to endure an assortment of Duran Duran, Culture Club, and the B-52’s while they made their way to the university campus in Xander’s Cherry Apple Primer Corvair. Since she didn’t have anything better to do, Buffy opened the rest of the fortune cookies and couldn’t read the fortunes in the dark of the car so the fortunes weren’t binding.

"If you should fall, into my arms, tremble like a flower," a man sang from the radio.

"So how are you doin’, Slayer?" he asked, lighting a cigarette.

"I was fine before the secondhand smoke thing started," she grumped around a mouthful of cookie.

"And how have you been over the past two months?" he asked.

"Fine, just fine, great even. None of your business as well."

"Glad to hear it," he snarled and turned the car into the entrance of the university with a jerk that sent Buffy into the passenger door even with her seatbelt on.

"Oh I’m sorry, was I supposed to follow you around or something? You thought I was going to get all mushy over you, Spike? Get. A. Clue. A soul is not an automatic upgrade into boyfriend-class." She caught an angry breath and tried to bring her voice down to a pitch that would be heard by something other than dogs. "You’re a liar, you’re a cheat, and a sneak. The list of people you’ve killed looks like the LA white pages. You’d sell your grandmother up the river if the price was good enough and you’re about as dependable as—as – an undependable thing. Besides, I really don’t like you."

"Right, your stop." He slammed on the brakes with personal-injury inducing fervor.

"Fine!" she shouted and started to fumble with the catch of the seatbelt, which was sticking like a bad curse.

"Bloody Hell," Spike muttered and reached over to grab at the catch.

"Don’t!" she hissed and grabbed his hands, " I can do it myself."

"I expect you can." The acid in his voice should have burned through the seatbelt strap.

She hit him, somewhere between a punch and a slap, since she really didn’t have enough room to build up velocity. A normal guy would have been reeling, but Spike’s head barely turned and all she could do was steam in frustration for a split second before he leaned over and kissed her. Anger’s gas flame flared up again. How dare he? How dare he think that she-And her little coherent train of thought derailed and crashed into the toy scenery under the Christmas tree of her senses. It was wrong, entirely wrong, crazy wrong and just plain old good. He kissed her long and hard, enough to make her almost forget that she was mad at him, that she had sworn to herself after the last time that the last time would be the last time. Head pressed back into the seat, she felt herself getting all tingly, warm, and stupid, tilting her head up and kissing him back even though she knew better. Kind of like looking over the edge of a building and wondering what it would be like to jump.

She’d jumped before and gotten away almost unscathed.

Somehow, he’d managed to get his hands out of her grip and was holding her face, drawing his thumbs over her cheekbones in a way that was making it hard to breathe. Equally inexplicable was the fact that she had her hands on the cool hardness of his chest, feeling the muscles move and feeling the non-existent beat of a vampire heart. It hadn’t taken much for him to slither over the emergency brake until he was straddling her on the passenger seat, his thighs capturing her hips on either side. His mouth slid, cool and thrilling. down past her jawbone to here he could kiss her throat, right over her carotid artery. Buffy found herself gasping and wasn’t sure if she was moving her hands against his chest to get a better spot to push him away with or because he felt so good. The cool palms of his hands dipped inside her shirt and bra to make contact with her breasts and she felt herself arching up against him from the car seat.

"Hey!" someone said and there was a tap somewhere, a tap that sounded sharp and official.

Bright light burned her eyes.

"What the F-" Spike began.

"You two, out of the car."

****

Campus Security, Buffy realized, was shining a flashlight into the car and the man in the ugly polyester uniform jerked the passenger door open. Spike looked at Buffy for a brief second and the expression was a simple question: ‘You want me to kill this asshole?’ As tempted as she was, Buffy pushed at Spike, realizing that she had just been saved from making yet another Major Mistake.

Spike slid out of the car and Buffy followed suit, the seatbelt causing no problem this time. The Security officer seemed bent and determined to blind both of them with his flashlight which he held in the goofy way that all police did.

"This ain’t a hotel," the man warned.

"No sir," Buffy said in her meekest tone.

For his part, Spike leaned against the side of the car and looked like every parent’s nightmare, which was doing nothing to endear him to the rent-a-cop. The cop looked from Buffy to Spike and made a quick judgment.

"I’m gonna need to see some ID," he warned. "This is private property. If you ain’t students, you’re trespassing."

Buffy hauled her University ID out of her wallet and showed the officer, who gave it a cursory look before handing it back to her.

"What about you?" he asked Spike.

To Buffy’s surprise, Spike passed the man a laminated card, which the Security Office looked over as though he was examining it for DNA. Finally, he looked up at Spike with infinite skepticism.

"Little old for a student?" he asked.

"Grad student," Spike said and folded his arms over his chest and gave the man a ‘fuck you’ look.

"What department?"

"Parapsychology."

Flicking the card back to Spike, the guard adjusted his flashlight belt and looked officious. "Get a room, this ain’t a hotel," he repeated, apparently only possessed of one lame line, and waddled off into the night.

"Doughnut-biter," Spike scoffed and dug his cigarettes out of an interior pocket of his duster.

"Well thanks much," Buffy snapped and pulled her shirt straight.

"My pleasure," he smirked and lit a cigarette. "And what demands your attention here, at SunnyHell U?"

Pulling tight on her attention’s leash, Buffy brought it to heel.

"Lesbian mummy vampires."

"This I have to see."

The lock on the back door to the museum yielded to Buffy’s gentle persuasion, her debating skills exercised in the form of a quick kick. She didn’t see red lights blinking or hear any alarm, so she’d just have to hope that the U was as budget-deprived as the administration always whined. Spike flitted alongside her, doing the silent-vampire routine.

The hallways were dim and silent, boxes and crates stacked against the walls with labels from Faraway. Operating on a Slayer-enhanced sense of spatial relations, she headed towards the Egyptology exhibit. As she drew closer, she began to feel the floor vibrating, a sub-earthquake-level shaking that left her queasy. Damn mummies anyway; why would a sane person even bring them near the Hellmouth?

Now she could hear chanting, gobbledegook in some Mummylicious dialect. If the cute guy is involved in this, she thought darkly, we’re going to have words.

Annoyingly, Spike grabbed her arm; she frowned at him and jerked away. He made a two-fingered gesture that Buffy had never understood, but always assumed was obscene, and then pointed. Over near the grouping of fake mummy cases the U had dragged in for set dressing, candles flickered. In the faint light, she could make out a figure moving around the sarcophagus where the lady mummies lay. She peered around the edge of the fake mummy case.

"I have come to be a protector unto thee. My strength shall be near thee; my strength shall be near thee, forever. Ra hath heard thy cry, and the gods have made thy word to be truth. Thou art raised up. Thy word is truth in respect of what hath been done unto thee. I hath overthrown thy foes, and thou art Sekhmet, Lady Destruction."

The candlelight did amazing things for the highlights in Dr. Talbot’s hair. Buffy was almost distracted from the gallon jug of dark fluid he was about to pour into the sarcophagus.

She cleared her throat, and he spun around.

"I wouldn’t do that if I were you," she warned. He snarled, a perfect curl of upper lip that made his blue eyes flash like pilot lights, and edged around the sarcophagus, putting it between them. Then he tilted the jug and the first red drops arced through the air.

"The blood of Isis, the spells of Isis, the magical powers of Isis, shall make this great one strong, and shall be an amulet of protection against She that would do to her the things which she abominates," he continued to chant.

"Freeze! Campus Security!"

Which didn’t quite have the threat of "Freeze, Police!"

Dr. Talbot swore and ducked and rolled under a display case, leaving a splatter of black blood under the case from his tipped jug. She could hear him scuttling away as she raised her hands, having no desire to see how well Slayers healed from being beaten by flashlights and doughnuts.

"You! Over there! Drop it!"

Buffy dropped her stake and squinted; the sudden red alarm lights weren’t helpful, making everyone look like a Paratin demon only without the warts. There might be three or four rent-a-cops. Maybe. Dr. Talbot had probably made it to Tijuana by now, and Spike was nowhere in sight. No doubt he had slithered off to his crypt like the snake that he was, ditching her when the going got rough.

"Okay Missy, what’s going on here? This some dumb sorority prank?" Rent-A-Cop #1 asked.

"Dumb prank? Prankish. Dumb. Very, very dumb," she chattered, as blonde as possible.

As quickly as they had gone on, the red lights and the sirens went out, leaving blackness and silence for about two seconds, and then a droning male voice began, backed by squealing, distorted guitars, blaring over the speakers loud enough to make Buffy’s ears buzz with pain.

"She had an ‘orror of rooms, she was tired you can’t hide beat/When I looked in her eyes they were blue but nobody home," the voice droned, "She could’ve been a killer if she didn’t walk the way she do, and she do/She opened strange doors that we’d never close again!"

Buffy heard cops howling in pain at the discordant assault and she jammed her fingers in her ears to block some of the sound. Her Slayer-sense alerted her to Spike’s presence before he grabbed her arm. She knew it was him by his ashtray and leather smell and fought her natural instinct to pull away. Instead, she followed him through the darkness of the museums. Vampires could see better in the dark than humans, and she had a good idea that Spike wasn’t about to turn her over to the fake cops, but she didn’t like feeling helpless in the dark while His Spikiness was in control.

"She asked me to stay and I stole her room/She asked for my love and I gave her a dangerous mind."

The screaming guitar music continued.

"Now she’s stupid in the street and she can’t socialize/Well I love the little girl and I’ll love her ‘till the day she dies."

Finally, Spike pulled a fire door open with vampiric strength and they were outside, and they were in the back parking lot, complete with both of Campus Security’s golf carts and Xander’s Corvair. The very first security guy from earlier – witness to Buffy’s near-humiliation – was waiting outside the door they’d initially entered, talking on his walkie-talkie and looking nervous. Going back for the car was not a good idea.

"Spike, what did you-"

"Plugged the old Discman into the PA system. Discman and CD I fully expect you to replace. That’s a classic album."

"There has been music recorded since 1989."

"Usin’ the widest definition of the word music."

"Quick recap, guest lecturer is chanting and pouring blood into a sarcophagus with unusual mummies inside. This can’t be good," Buffy hissed as they picked their way through the shrubbery and away from the museum.

"Where’d he get the big bottle of blood? I get those stupid little bags and he gets a whackin’ great jar of it."

"Hello? Creepy Egypt guy more important than your grocery issues."

"No he’s not," Spike muttered as they crept along. "Where we goin’ now?"

"Willow and Tara. They’re looking up Sekhmet for me."

"That should be a laugh riot."

****

Buffy banged on the dorm room door. A moment later, Willow opened up and goggled at Buffy with Spike lurking behind. Spike was tempted to vamp-face at her but realized that the subsequent ruckus would slow matters down somewhat. Instead he composed his face into something like a bland expression.

"Did you find that Sex-met stuff I asked you about?" Buffy asked as she barged past her friend into the room proper.

Spike loitered in the doorway while Willow stared back at him like a squirrel not sure if there really was a glass pane between her and the cat.

"May I come in?" Spike asked with a double-shot of sarcasm.

"Buff?"

"Yah, spell him out later. This is important," she instructed as she crossed to where Tara was propped up on the bed with a flurry of books and paper around her.

"All right, come in," Willow instructed Spike.

Spike stepped over the threshold as though it were made if unstable gelginite and went straight to the window where he could lurk, lean and look over Buffy’s shoulder. Tara’s eyes followed him across the room. While Tara could be downright friendly when he was alone with her, the moment Willow entered the scene, Tara treated Spike like he was an asp in a basket of dates.

"Further research has disclosed that Sekhmet was thought to be embodied in an avatar," Tara explained from the bed.

"What’s an avatar?" Buffy asked.

"A being who embodies a god," Tara said, in her not-quite-duh! voice.

"Remember about the blood-drinking?" Willow asked, shifting her weight to stand between Tara and Spike. "The creation of Sekhmet’s avatar involved a lot of blood-drinking."

Spike backed away, moving towards the room’s single desk, putting as much room between the two witches and himself as possible. He didn’t much relish the thought of them sprinkling fairy dust on him and turning him into a frog or something. Buffy looked up at him for a moment with a big question mark hanging over her head before turning her attention back to the matter at hand.

"Can you say ‘vampire’?" Buffy asked rhetorically. "But he was pouring the blood into the coffin. So are these mummies some sort of freeze-dried avatars?"

"There’s no mention in the texts of that," Tara said. "But observed behavior would suggest some type of resurrection scenario."

"She wasn’t moving yet, last I saw before the cops so rudely interrupted," Buffy offered.

Tara looked down at the book she’d propped on her lap. With her legs splayed to accommodate both plaster casts, she looked like a human gingerbread woman.

"According to these records, the ritual to resurrect Sekhmet’s avatar requires several nights to take full effect. First the blood of a man, then the blood of a woman. There are some references to repeating the process, but I couldn’t make sense of them."

Spike cleared his throat like a were-tiger having a hairball, making Willow’s face go as red as her hair. This earned him a Slayer-glare.

"I didn’t say anythin’," he protested and turned his attention down to the schoolbooks and papers scattered over the desktop while Buffy and the witches went back to their yipping.

His eyes scanned down the page of a notebook, between loopy notes about the end of the Elizabethan Era and the changes that Shakespeare had caused in writing in general, someone had jotted down a few lines from one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets. The words in a childish scrawl jumped out at him.

"Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, /But am betroth’d unto your enemy: /Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, /Take me to you, imprison me, for I /Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, /Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

"Spike?" Buffy’s voice snapped him out of his cold horror. "Why do you think The Formerly Cute Dr. Talbot would want to raise Sekhmet?" she repeated.

"Oh well," he slid onto the desktop and looked across the room at the women, "I’m thinkin’ the usual reasons any mortal goes muckin’ about with ancient vampires. Money, power, sex, eternal life, dead borin’, really."

A thought surfaced.

"Formerly cute?" he asked.

The women, inevitably, ignored him.

"He wants to have sex with an ancient dried-up vampire chickie?" Willow wondered aloud, and then caught herself, and blushed. "It’s the dried-up thingy. Like ouch. But if that’s what you’re into, fine with me!"

The accidental double-entendres of Willow’s speech struck Buffy first and she glanced over at her friend as if Willow had been sucking blotter acid. Tara merely sighed and closed her book. Clueless, Willow looked from one to the other and frowned. Spike thought this was all very cute, but a waste of time.

"Hang about, what if it’s th’other way around? What if Sekhmet is usin’ the good doctor to resurrect her, not intendin’ to keep whatever part of the bargain she’d made with him to begin with?"

"Wouldn’t be the first time a vampire broke a promise," Buffy remarked in a tone as dry as Sekhmet.

"I guess going to the school authorities is out of the question? I mean the mummies don’t belong to him, they belong to the museum in Cairo," Tara offered in her mild way.

"Are you volunteering to explain? That won’t go over really well," Buffy pointed out.

"The place was crawlin’ with Sunnydale’s Finest last we saw, I doubt if he’ll get much raisin’ of the dead done the rest of the night. It’s safe as houses."

 ****

It was late afternoon by the time Buffy made it to the crypt. She pulled open the trap door and barreled into Spike’s inner sanctum. Naturally, he was sleeping through the daylight, a bleach-blonde lump under his retro tacky red and black velvet bedspread.

"Get up!" she demanded and kicked the bed frame.

It took three repetitions before Spike emerged from the covers and gave her a bleary glower.

"For Hell’s sake, it’s the middle of the bleeding afternoon," he groaned and pulled the covers over his head.

"Talbot stole the mummies. The mummies are missing from the museum," she explained in a not-patient voice. "The mummies are gone."

Only by concentrating on the mummies was she able to look at the bed without thinking about what had happened on it – much.

"Spike!" she kicked the bed again, not wanting to touch any more of it than was necessary. "He’s taken the mummies and can complete his ritual tonight."

"Right, wake me when it starts."

"And they took Xander in for questioning because his car was found on campus. It didn’t matter that he’d already reported it missing."

"Xander’s in the slammer?" the muffled voice from under the covers sounded amused. "He’ll make somebody a nice bitch."

"He was questioned and sent home. Willow says that Sekhmet can only be banished if her physical avatar is destroyed. Stake through the heart, decapitation, and then burning. And if you don’t get up in the next thirty seconds, I’m going to practice on you," she warned.

"Why don’t you come here and practice something else on me?" The beckoning hand left something to be desired in the erotic category.

"Twenty seconds," Buffy said.

"It’ll take longer than that, I promise."

"Fifteen-"

"All-bloody-right." Spike finally surfaced and the covers sliding down his body made him look thinner and whiter than usual. He had raging bed-head, and grumpy morning-face. "Look, why don’t you go get some coffee, drink it, and let me bite you, all right?"

"Willow was able to track down the house that Talbot rented for the month in the college computer system. He’s probably taken them there."

"If this bloke’s the mummy freak, I bet you a fiver that he’s got his house all tricked out like a tomb or a temple," Spike remarked and got out of bed.

Naturally, he was naked. Buffy should have seen that one coming a mile away. She also should have realized that he had a truly amazing ass.

"Oh God," she muttered and looked down at the scuffmaks on the toes of her boots. There was no doubt in her mind that her face was matching the red squares on the bedspread.

"I’m thinkin’ that this little jaunt to SunnyD is the first time he’s been able to be alone with his dried-up babes. A proper little honeymoon, don’t you think?" She could hear him moving around, doing things.

She just knew that he was making his naked and proud way around the crypt, like that fat gay guy in the first Survivor, trying to freak her out, trying to get the upper hand, and trying to get her to look at him. She wasn’t going to. He could walk around with – it- flapping in the breeze the whole night for all she cared.

"Those fat blokes you laughingly refer to as Campus Security are probably nothin’ compared to what they got at his regular museum. It must have been a walk in the bloody park for him. Are you listenin’ to me?"

"I’m not talking to you until you put on some pants. I will not speak to you while you are pant-less." She caved like a tunnel dug in sand.

"Bit late for the maidenly modesty, Slayer." period he sounded amused and then rustled around for a moment. "Fine. You can talk to me now."

Since he was actually buttoning up his fly, it didn’t count as actually lying, even though it did give her a very clear view of the fact that he had, like, zero body fat and his abs tended to twitch alluringly when he moved. But he was leering at her while he did so. All Buffy could really do was wait while he pulled aside the black drape that hid a pipe hung with a limited variety of clothes. Yes there was the half-dozen pair of black pants, red shirts, black t-shirts, and a few other things besides. Spike stared at the clothes for a moment before turning to her.

"Do you ever have those days where you just don’t know what to wear?" he asked in an exaggeratedly feminine voice.

"Here’s an idea," she said with brittle brightness. period "Black pants, black T-shirt and a red silk shirt. It’s a novel and unusual look, one you don’t see every day."

Just to spite her, she was sure, he varied his normal routine by wearing a gray T-shirt. A moment later, he combed some gel through his hair and shrugged into his duster.

"Right, let’s go."

As far as surveillance was concerned, theirs was both lame and amateurish. Xander’s car was about as inconspicuous as a hippo in a pink tutu, and having a vampire in the back seat under a gray Army blanket was just plain weird. Stuffed next to the scratchy wool of Spike’s blanket, Buffy fought the urge to start poking him through the fabric until he begged for mercy. She found herself wondering if he was ticklish and quickly beat back the thought. Xander and Anya were in the front seat, clearly more enthralled with each other than anything that was happening in the nondescript white ranch house across the street. It was like a bad double date at the drive-in. Not that Buffy had ever been to a drive-in, but she had watched Happy Days reruns. Worst of all, the car smelled foul.

Campus Security must have eaten the confiscated Szechuan eggplant and then farted in the car.

"How long is this going to last?" Xander asked, glancing at his watch in what he must have thought was an inconspicuous way.

"Yes, not long I hope, we have some reconciliation sex planned. Which, I might add, we interrupted for you," Anya added.

"Thanks for interrupting. Since Sekhmet is a vampire entity, I don’t think he’ll do anything until after dark. That’s about a half anhour from now."

"Wonderful. I get to do the Claude Rains imitation ‘til then?" Spike asked.

"Try Helen Keller. She was mute," Buffy suggested.

"Hey, Evil Dead, I bet you can’t stay quiet until sundown," Xander challenged.

"How much you want to put on that, Floppy-Boy?"

"Sawbuck," Xander brandished the twenty. "Put your money where your fangs are, Dead Guy."

Buffy held the money and sipped at her coffee. Across the street, nothing continued to happen.

"Anya, if you could be anywhere else right now, somewhere else entirely, where would you want to be?" Xander asked. In Tirely? Buffy wondered, until she figured it out

"Monaco," Anya said, "I’d want to be Grace Kelly in Monaco with Cary Grant. Did you ever see that movie, Buffy?"

"To Catch a Thief? That’s one of my mother’s favorite old and moldy movies."

"Xander? What about you?" Anya asked.

"A tropical beach, you in one hand and a cold Corona in the other."

"That’s so sweet!" Anya simpered and leaned over to kiss Xander.

Unexpectedly, Buffy felt a pain in the center of her chest, envying them their couple-ness. Next to her the blanket heaved in frustration.

"What about you, Buff?" Xander asked.

Without warning, the black and red bed rose and waved hello to her consciousness. She chewed on her lower lip, intensely aware that Spike was next to her, and that he was sitting in a state of deathlike rigor, waiting to hear what she said.

"Oh, anywhere but here, really." her laugh sounded fake even to herself. "Maybe in a big hot tub with Brad Pitt or something."

"What’s your man look like?" Xander asked, suddenly sitting at attention in the driver’s seat.

Buffy’s lie evaporated in an instant.

"Dark hair, kind of yummy."

"Yummy? What kind of description is that, then?" Spike demanded, just as Anya’s voice rang out.

"Sundown! And a yummy dark haired guy just pulled the blinds in the front room," Anya reported.

"Bloody Hell," Spike muttered, obviously realizing that everyone was going to say he lost the bet by jumping the gun.

Buffy shoved the twenties at Xander. "You guys wait here. If we run into something we can’t handle, we’ll let you know," she instructed, getting out of the back seat.

"How will you let us know?" Anya asked.

Sticking his head in the passenger’s side window, Spike gave them one of his more smug looks. "When the house shoots flame, blows up, or vanishes into a parallel universe, that may be a bit of a hint."

"Gee thanks, never would have occurred to me," Xander sniped back.

"Today would be nice," Buffy called from the sidewalk, and Spike loped up alongside her.

"So what’s the plan?" he asked, eager as a snake that had seen the dinner-mouse through the side of its aquarium.

"Stake it, decapitate it, and set it on fire."

"I love a woman who knows her own mind."

****

What Dr.-Bloody-Talbot obviously did not understand about Southern California decorating was that you could pull the blinds, but that didn’t stop your neighbors from seeing in. Especially when they walked up to the windows and peered through the cracks.

Sure enough, the man’s living room looked more like Ancient Egypt than the sets for The Ten Commandments. The mummyquins had pride of place, on a bed of blindingly-white sand that looked as if it was contained in a child’s sandbox. Papyrus scrolls were scattered across every available surface, rolled, unrolled, and in-between: absent-minded professor as evil genius.

Buffy scurried over to the entrance. She grabbed the knob and shoved her shoulder against the door with controlled violence. There was a low groan as the hinges popped loose and she carefully moved the door out of the way. "It’s quieter than kicking," she explained as he looked at her in amazement. "Come on in," she suggested, and he did.

There was only a bit of hallway between them and the good doctor’s living/resurrecting room, and they were quickly watching him chant and sprinkle something that smelled like oregano, but not in a good way, on the mummies.

"My heart, my mother; my heart, my mother! My heart whereby I came into being! May no one stand up to oppose me at my judgment, may there be no opposition to me in the presence of the Tchatchau; may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of she who keeps the Balance of Justice!"

Talbot took another enormous jug of blood – Spike was desperate to know where he shopped – from a side table and uncapped it.

Buffy unshipped the stake from the small of her back and arrowed it towards him. It hit the jug, puncturing it and sending it spinning away from the Egyptologist. More blood slopped onto the mummies, but the majority was lost with the jug.

"Bitch!" he yelped.

"What is it with you guys anyway? Show a little athleticism or a will of your own, and you go running like lemmings!" she accused.

"’Scuse me?!" Spike asked, punching through a glass case to pick up a zillion year old dagger. "Absent me from that lot a’wankers."

Suddenly Spike experienced a sudden change in verticality. He’d been picked up and thrown across the room, bouncing off the wall and onto a stone bench. Looking back, he could see four mummies advancing on Buffy – real, Scooby-Doo mummies, frayed bandages and red glowing eyes and all, not just desiccated corpses. Dr. Talbot had his hands raised, controlling them somehow.

Spike crossed the room in four bounds, grabbing the nearest mummy. With one arm around its neck, he hooked his fingers into the eyeholes, feeling his fingers buzz with the reanimation magic coursing through the thing, and reached until he found the dried skull. He pulled until the skull separated from the rest of the skeleton. The mummy’s body twitched within the bandages, then collapsed.

Talbot had retrieved the remains of the jug, and Spike’s keenly honed ear for blood could hear it gurgle onto the entwined bodies.

Buffy was still showing off her Giles-Kwon-Do moves, as if she could kick the mummies into submission. "Got to take their heads," he suggested, just as one of her kicks sent a mummy against a mirror so hard that skeleton fragments poked out of the wrappings. Well, that would do it too.

The ground beneath them began to shake, as it had in the museum. Spike didn’t think it was an earthquake. Talbot’s chanting was beginning to annoy him.

"Hail, thou One, who shines from the moon. Grant that Sekhmet may come forth among thy multitudes at the portal. Let the Tuat be opened to her. Behold, Sekhmet shall come forth by night to perform everything which she wishes upon the earth among those who are living."

Spike detached a mummy’s arm from the rest of the body and used it to beat the thing’s skull into powder. Buffy was ignoring the final mummy, heading for Talbot again, so Spike took it and impaled it on a conveniently placed mini-obelisk. It waved its arms and legs feebly, like some obscene spider, but he ignored it in favor of the gathering magical storm in the room.

As he watched, a mini-tornado began to form, whirling above their heads, blue-black with pink and yellow sparks flashing through it like demented Tinkerbells. A funnel formed, tail homing in on the dried-out girl mummies on the sand. With a sound like the slap of a tidal wave on shore, it sucked the top body into its cloudy embrace. The remaining mummy shuddered, and he could see it twitch. Jolts of electricity bounced around the room, frying lamps and making papyrus scrolls dance with blue fire.

Dr. Talbot whooped (somehow evil self-celebration could always be heard, no matter how loud the other noises) and threw himself into the funnel, which was still hovering in the center of the room. Spike could see the funnel begin to shake and throw off streamers of smoke, beginning to dissipate. Looked like victory for the good doctor.

But Buffy never let anyone else have the last word. She ran after them, leaving a hole in the disintegrating smoke like a reverse contrail.

"Bugger!" Spike followed, and managed to get a hand on her shoulder as her body was sucked further into the blackness. He wasn’t going to let her out of his sight until they’d had a bit of a discussion, or sex anyway.

****

She was falling through a shower of sparks and waves of light, fuzzy electric feelings crawling over her skin, the sound of a million electric guitars playing Led Zeppelin in a tin can, cold air rushing by her, sucking the breath out of her lungs and everything smelled like burnt popcorn. Buffy screamed and didn’t hear a thing.

And she landed with a thump on her side and rolled, trying to get her feet underneath her to face any real threat, but she was dizzy-woozy and her arms and legs seemed to be out of her coverage area. Rubbery, she managed to raise herself up onto her hands and knees, and shook her head to try to shake the sparks out of it. Her backpack was still on her shoulders, which meant she was still armed.

"Fuck," a small and shaky version of Spike’s voice interrupted her spark-thickened thoughts.

"What the hell was that?" she asked and looked around in total darkness, but was it dark or was she blind?

"Dunno, some teleportation spell thing. Brutal, though. Feel like I’ve been through a mangle." She heard him moving around somewhere to her left. "Wonder where we are. If I’ve gone through this just to end up in Encino, I am goin’ to be really fucked off."

Something big and pale was beginning to come into focus. Really big and really pale, bright even. Buffy squinted and blinked, and even if it didn’t help, it made her feel better.

"Oh my God," Buffy breathed as the world swam into focus.

Sand, miles and miles of sand, stretching from horizon to horizon. More sand than there should be in the entire world, making hills and valleys out of dunes, all silver and black and white under the light of a moon that seemed close enough to touch. Buffy stood up and the cool wind moved through her hair.

"What?" Spike demanded and leapt to his feet.

"Spike, it smells funny."

He looked around, a silver and black thing himself. Spinning in a slow circle, he looked around the entire horizon, and finally tipped his head back to look at the big, black night sky overhead.

"What you smell is actual clean air. No smog. An’ th’ stars are all wrong, I mean that bit there, should be there, and that bit there, well I dunno what that is." He pointed up into the night sky.

"So now you’re an astronomer?" she asked in sharp tones, hitching her fists onto her hips and cocking her head to the side to indicate sarcasm.

"I’m thinkin’ by the mis-alignment above, that we’re somewhere in Africa. The continent. Ever heard of it? Your guy and his Mummy, sand, catch my mental?"

"Is it contagious?"

Spike whirled, kicking up a wave of sand with his boots. "Egypt."

"No. Super-octane no. Not Egypt. Vegas maybe, not Egypt."

"No, of course not. Ignore everything I say." He squared his shoulders and began marching down the sand dune, leaving her alone.

"Spike? Spike! Where are you going?!" she shouted after him.

He continued to stomp along and in a matter of moments disappeared from view between the dunes. Since there was no way that he was responding to her shouts, Buffy cursed and began hurrying after him.

"Where are you going?" she panted after catching up with him.

"Get some cover. Sun comes up and you go all red and peely. I experience spontaneous Spike combustion."

"You’re serious about this Egypt thing."

"Very."

"So I guess we walk, but where do we go?"

He shrugged, looked up at the moon as though he didn’t quite trust it.

"North Star over there. So that’s East. We go East."

"Why?

"If we go on long enough, we’ll hit the Nile or the Red Sea," he said and began to walk. "I think."

"I have a bad feeling about this," Buffy sighed and shouldered her backpack.

****

Night’s candles were burnt out, and jocund day was standing tiptoe on the misty dune-tops. The prickle of fear began dancing along Spike’s spine as he looked around the sand bowl, which afforded no cover.

Abruptly, he stopped, knelt, and began to scoop sand from one sandy place on the ground to another.

"What are you doing?" She was bouncing from foot to foot with impatience, sand scurrying around her feet.

"I don’t see any shelter ‘round here, do you? Best I can do is dig a hole in the ground and try to cover up."

Buffy glanced toward the east, and he was gratified to see concern flit across her face, even though it disappeared into her blank Maybelline expression. Without saying more, she knelt and began to scoop.

Ten minutes later, there was a band of yellow in the sky, sun reflecting off clouds, and they were only about four inches down. He tried to increase the pace, but his hands wouldn’t cooperate. For some reason he was tiring rapidly, his arms beginning to spasm with the repetitive motion. He twitched and Buffy’s hands brushed across his, gritty with sand.

"I always knew you’d be the death of me," he muttered.

"So now this is my fault?" To her credit, Buffy didn’t slow her pace at all.

"We’d best stop and try to cover me up," he said.

He huddled in the shallow sandy depression, curling himself into his coat, as she piled sand on him. The sand was still cold from the night, and he found himself shivering, wishing he’d had one last meal before he went.

She was dumping sand on him, the slow increasing weight his only hope of survival, and he remembered being trapped in a cellar while fifty angry Alsatian villagers advanced on him and Dru. Tasty, they’d been, but before matters had turned in his favor there had been a long period in which the dank and dirty cellar walls had seemed to close on him like the maw of some dark beast. Now, the pressure of the sand was like being swallowed, individual grains worming underneath his coat and biting like fleas.

Spike thought he could feel the hot breath of the dawning sun, searching him out to light him like a match. How many thousands of matches had he lit over the years? Watching the flare, always risking self-immolation, but drawn to the ritual of smoking and the little death of the match as if it would ward off his own.

Finally she stopped. He could hear her panting. "Sun’s up," she said, her voice roughened through sand. "I can feel it on my skin."

All he could feel was the great hand of the desert, curled around him.

He tried to breathe, waiting for the end, and found himself choking on stale air. Reflexively, he tried again, a great gulp that filled his mouth with sand but no oxygen. Helplessly, knowing he was killing himself, he began to thrash, trying to burst a hole in his sand blanket so he could breathe. Above him, he heard Buffy exclaim, but he couldn’t waste time trying to communicate. With one last desperate punch, he broke through, and wriggled as best he could to get air underneath his coat, drawing his hand back before it could feel the sun’s wrath.

"Spike!" She had the sound of one who’d repeated herself too often for comfort. "What is it?"

"Couldn’t…" gasp, cough, "breathe."

Pause. "Vampires don’t breathe."

"Don’t have … to breathe," he corrected. "Do it … out of habit."

"You nearly killed yourself for a bad habit?"

"You knew I smoked," he volleyed, but the mental flywheels were spinning too fast to see. A habit, yes, maybe aided and abetted by the claustrophobia. But he shouldn’t be choking like this, feeling the welcome burn of air in his undead lungs.

What in Zandru’s hell had that transport spell done?

Spike gathered himself and called the bloodlust to spark the Change. He felt his face contort into the familiar sneer, but no burn of magically transformed muscle and skin, and when he ran his tongue across his teeth he encountered nothing but dull edges.

"Buffy?" He was amazed by the steadiness of his own voice.

"Still here."

"Pull me out.."

"What?"

Summoning his unnaturally-reduced-to-natural strength, Spike pushed more sand out of the way and emerged, a baby snake from an egg. He blinked into the dawn. The sun, brighter than any artificial light he’d seen in over a century, brought tears to his eyes. God, had the sun always been that big? The heat and light licked his face, his hands, and his hair like an aggressive but friendly lion. Was it any wonder that older minds had worshipped the sun as a god?

"Oh my god," Buffy said, shocked out of California-ese and into making each word a separate explosion of disbelief.

Eyes wide open, Spike tipped his head back into the burning light of the morning, feeling the burn move through his eyes and into his brain. His arms were out to his sides, feeling the light and the heat, while the warming desert wind flapped his coat around him. Years fell away, he smelled fresh air, felt his heart beat in his chest, felt the living blood run through his veins, felt his stomach gurgle and his arms ache from digging in the sand. He wanted to laugh, wanted to sing, wanted to explode.

"O SUN of real peace!/ O hastening light!/ O free and ecstatic!/ O what I here, preparing, warble for!/ O the sun of the world will ascend, dazzling, and take his height-and you too, O my Ideal, will surely ascend!/ O so amazing and broad-up there resplendent, darting and burning!/ . . . O purged and luminous!/ you threaten me more than I can stand."

The morning light absorbed into his cells, zipped electric through his nerves, set his brain bubbling. The sun was burning his eyes, that’s why his face was wet with tears. He mopped his face with the back of his hand and turned to face the silent and transfixed Buffy behind him. All he could manage was a weak smile.

She just stared at him, which under different circumstances might have been flattering. He shrugged, scrabbled around in his mind for some cool, found a melting ice cube somewhere between ego and sarcasm, and gave up as the reality of the situation hit him like a cricket bat on the back of the head.

"I’m human. I’m alive."

The look that she gave him was perfectly blank, the painted eyes of a Barbie doll staring back at him in the Slayer’s pointed little face.

"Hello? C’mon Blondie, experiencin’ mental vapor lock more’n usual?"

"Oh that’s wrong. That’s just totally and completely wrong. You can’t be alive!" her voice started spiraling upwards with rage, "You’re Spike, you’re—" she began to splutter as her hands worked the air as though she were squeezing his throat. "You’re rotten, nasty, self-centered, you’re got awful hair, and you’re bad."

"I recall you sayin’ somethin’ different last we-"

He never got to finish the sentence. Yes, he saw the telltale movement in her right shoulder, knew the punch was coming, and threw up a hand to grab her incoming fist-which promptly smashed into his nose and sent him rolling like Wesley from the Princess Bride down the dune they stood atop. When he reached the bottom of the incline, blind with pain and sand, he grabbed at his face and found that it was bleeding. Not the showy gusher from vampire veins, but a slow, painful, and human leak. He flopped back into the sand and howled with pain. God, he was dying, his entire skull was crushed, his face was smashed into a pulp, and he was blind and disfigured forever.

"Fuggin’ ‘itch!" he raged.

"Spike, don’t be a wuss."

She was kneeling in the sand next to him, her face folded into a frown while she dabbed at his blood with a grubby cocktail napkin from the Bronze. Her fingers were warm, but not the burning heat that he remembered. Of course, their body temperatures were about the same now. Unexpectedly, he felt very warm and it had nothing to do with the sun or the desert. Snatching the napkin out of her hands, he rubbed at his face. The smell of his own blood was faint and made his stomach churn unpleasantly.

"I’m sorry," she said ungraciously, "I forgot. Slayer strength."

"Yeah, you Slayer, me mortal. Do that again an’ you’re likely to drive a bone fragment straight into the brain."

"Brain? What brain?"

"That would kill me. You’d best think of another method of foreplay."

She put her hands on her hips and regarded him as coolly as a vulture watching a rabbit dying of thirst.

"Oh this sucks," he grumbled and spit out a combination of sand and blood.

Shaking the sand out of his clothes and hair, he stood up, closed his eyes against the new sun-brightness of the sand and thought for a moment. When he opened them, he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. "Here you go," he said, slipping off his leather duster and shoving it at her.

"What’s this for?" She didn’t take it. Sand was still running out of the sleeves as if from a broken hourglass.

"’Less you brought your industrial-strength sunblock, I suggest you cover up," he said, looking at her bare arms, practically bare chest, and bare midriff with a gaze that was nearly not lecherous.

Snorting, she took the jacket and shrugged into it. The cuffs draped to her fingertips and the hem nearly hit her ankles, but she wore it as if it were the latest in Paris fashions.

They walked for hours. Spike could feel the sunburn begin to rise out of his shocked, unprotected flesh, a slower burn than he’d expected but likely to hurt like Hell’s own hounds in any event.

"Did you miss it?" Buffy asked from behind him, her voice strangely gentle.

"What?"

"The sun."

He tilted his head, considering. "No," he finally admitted. Coco Chanel’s elevation of the suntan to fashion happened long after he’d become a vampire. And three days in the English sunshine did not a tan make. Besides, as an aspiring poet, he preferred to do his moping indoors. "It never bothered me, livin’ at night, and then not long after I was turned the movin’ pictures came along, so if I did get lonely for it … There are vamps that treat movies set in daytime the way human men treat a girlie film, but that was never my bag."

****

"Stop," Buffy instructed.

No difficulty there. Spike wasn’t used to being human, he wasn’t used to walking hours in the hot sun, and he certainly wasn’t used to keeping up with a Slayer using human stamina. He used his hands to brace against his thighs and leaned over as discreetly as possible, which wasn’t very. He tried not to suck in deep breaths that would only dehydrate him more.

"I hear something," she said. "There are people working, over there," she indicated a hill of sand that looked to him much like any other hill of sand.

She turned and began walking.

"Wait!"

"What? Spike, we have to get out of this sun."

"Don’t I know it. But listen, you an’ I ended up in the same place. Stands to reason that Talbot and his beauty queen also came down somewhere about us. We

ought not go in with banners blazin’, is all I mean."

She thought about it, which caused a charming little frown line to appear on her forehead but had no other apparent results. "If anything gets in our way, I’ll slay it. Will that make you feel safer?"

"Oh I wish," he said and followed.

Creeping like cartoon villains, they approached the source of the noises. Metal chewing against sand, shouts—orders—called down. It could have been English, or !Kung, according to Spike’s newly dulled hearing. They scuttled past half-dug-out houses, ancient steles scratched with shovel marks. "This is kind o’ destructive," he whispered. "Might not be legit. A real, official dig would have to do all sorts of preservation stuff, along w’ the bribes."

"Who’s there!" The shout turned them round. As if transported into place, a circle of goons surrounded them, looking like gladiators on the sand. Half looked Arab, dressed traditionally. The other half were sunburnt like Spike was about to be, dressed in the kind of Great White Hunter clothes that should have gone out with Rudyard Kipling. The non-Arabs were carrying big, nasty-looking revolvers.

"Who are you?" one of them asked, pasty-looking underneath his peeling skin.

"Tourists?" Buffy offered.

The goons looked at one another. "You’re … American?" their interlocutor asked in plummy English tones. He said it like "syphilitic," only with slightly more disdain.

"It’s worse than that, mate," Spike told him. "She’s a natural blonde." Buffy’s hand moved as if to whack him, and then stopped.

Another volley of uncertain looks. "We’d best take them to Isobel," the talker said unhappily.

"What are you waiting for?" Spike asked with outrage. "Kill ‘em!"

Buffy’s head whipped back and forth, assessing the situation. "I don’t kill humans. Not without a better reason anyway."

The goons began to advance. "How’s this for a reason: They aren’t dressed normal-like. Those trousers went out with the Charleston, and those guns are antiques. There’s somethin’ very wrong here."

Hard hands closed around his upper arms, marching him towards an unknown fate. Beside him, Buffy submitted; she’d obey anyone but him, apparently. "Antiques are sold in quaint little shops," she informed him, struggling free from their captors’ hands but otherwise following their lead. "A gun in someone’s hand is, definitionally, a non-antique."

****

Deeper into the dig, they were surrounded by tents and camels and people, mostly people swaddled head to toe in unflattering brownish fabric running on unfathomable errands, often shouldering loads that Buffy would have thought more suited for strapping on top of an SUV. The only car they passed, though, was a brown hulk that looked like a refugee from an Indiana Jones movie, all metal and sharp angles, the kind of car you needed to wear a cap to drive. Only someone had obviously carried out a powerful restoration spell, because it looked shiny and new enough to carry around a starlet. But there were no pyramids. Buffy was disappointed.

Mr. I’m-afraid-of-Americans stopped in front of one of the larger tents, relieved Buffy of her handy backpack, and disappeared into a flap of brown fabric.

"Buffy," Spike said, despite the jostling of the nervous large men surrounding them, "I think those are telegraph lines goin’ into that tent over there."

"Hunh?" She’d heard of the telegraph—it was sort of like a fax machine, only with worse typing. And maybe it involved Morse code; she was none too clear on technical stuff.

"Excuse me, sir," he addressed one of their captors, a brown-haired man with smile lines who was not smiling, "could you tell me the date?"

"It’s October sixth," the man said.

"Of what year?"

Buffy gave Spike the same look as the man—obviously she’d punched him too hard earlier, and the blooming black eyes weren’t the worst of the damage.

"1925," he said as a tall blonde woman—Isobel, Buffy guessed—emerged from the tent.

"Young lady, I hope you have a perfectly good explanation for wandering around our campsite after an anomalous temporal vortex carrying a variety of unorthodox items," Isobel said, looking over her half glasses at Buffy.

"There are non-anomalous temporal vortices?" Spike asked and was ignored.

"Specifically, a large crucifix, several wooden stakes, brass knuckles, several knives, a small bottle of holy water. Am I to assume from this collection of items that you are hunting vampires?"

"Y’know what they say about assumin’," Spike muttered under his breath.

"It’s a long story," Buffy said, feeling that hope was gone beyond gone-ness. 1925?

"Miss, your enthusiasm is commendable, but business such as this must really be left to those with a certain, shall we say, expertise," Isobel fussed with the large tie hanging around the neck of her broad-collared blouse.

"Been there, done that, got the spellbook. Ever heard of a Slayer? Chosen One, born into every generation?"

"And you think you are the Chosen One." The woman’s voice was indulgent.

"Buffy don’t do much thinkin’," Spike interjected. "She’s a lot better at the bein’ a Slayer part."

"I’m afraid, my dear, that it is quite impossible that you should be the Slayer. Jane?"

From out of the darkness emerged a young woman, nearly as slight as Buffy. She moved liquidly, like something that had only detached from the air for a moment. She too, was dressed in a long skirt, heels and a floppy-necked blouse. Not what Buffy would have considered sensible Slaywear. Buffy’s eyes locked with Jane’s. Jane was confused, but the idea of a second Chosen One was much easier for Buffy. Jane had a frightened wildness in her dark eyes that reminded Buffy far too much of Faith.

"Okay, this may be hard for all of you to understand, but the thing about the ‘into every generation’ business -"

Jane, for one, had heard enough – she lunged for Buffy, despite the tall woman’s cry and the feeble attempts of the goons around them to stop her. Buffy ducked and grabbed Jane’s outstretched arm, flipping her neatly onto the ground. Jane bounced up like a jill-in-the-box and took a more careful stance. Skirt or no skirt, the other Slayer was strong as Buffy and almost as limber. At least she was compensating for her stupid clothes.

"I’m actually from a different generation -" Buffy stopped to kick at Jane’s stomach; Jane grabbed her foot, but she twisted in the air and used Jane’s grip as leverage to vault over Jane and land on the sand behind her.

"There was this spell, which obviously moved us through time -" Jane landed a fierce kick on her left shoulder, and Buffy just knew she’d bruise unattractively, so she responded with an uppercut that staggered Jane back a few steps. "And how much of this is required before you guys admit that either I’m not a wannabe -"

Jane was keening now, a warcry that sent shivers down Buffy’s spine and threatened to drown out her dialogue, and she leapt at Buffy with enough force to knock them both to the ground. Buffy was occupied trying to wriggle to the top, and she had to use a particularly subtle move Giles had spent nearly a week drilling her on before she was able to pin Jane’s hands as she straddled the other Slayer like a rocking horse. "-Or your Slayer’s training is dangerously deficient."

She stared up at the woman who was obviously the leader of this bunch. "I assume you’re Jane’s Watcher. I’d call her off if I were you."

"Good job, that, " Spike said, not without admiration.

The tall blonde looked from Spike to Buffy and then back again, before settling on Buffy.

"Jane-" she said.

The brunette shrugged out of Buffy’s loosened grip and stalked over to stand behind her Watcher and glare at Buffy. Isobel ignored her, smoothing a hand over her own blonde hair before continuing.

"So you’re a Slayer. That’s good. We’ve been sent by the Council to destroy a particularly nasty vampire."

"Us too. We followed a bad guy who took this strange mummy, possibly the avatar of Sex-met, back in time," Buffy said, leaving out the part where the Council knew nothing about it. "This is Sp—William," she said.

To her disgust, Spike turned on the charm with an audible click.

"Shankly. William Shankly," he said and shook Isobel’s hand, his face moving into a friendly smile that Buffy had never seen before. "Ever so pleased to meet you."

"Isobel Throckmorton. The Lancaster Shanklys?"

"Essex, actually."

"He’s … my Watcher," Buffy stammered, not knowing what else to say.

"Really?" But Isobel wasn’t going to let a little thing like a bleached blonde Watcher get between her and her mission at hand.

"The crux of the matter is this. Someone has released a very old and very dangerous vampire."

Buffy’s head hurt. "Why would someone from our time bring a mummy back here? I mean, why go back in time when in 2001 we have indoor plumbing and TV and stuff? He could have resurrected Sekhmet and stayed around to slaughter now, I mean then."

"Indoor plumbing is not unknown to this day and age," Isobel said stiffly. "But as for your broader point, our researches have disclosed that a major thaumatological turning point is upon us. Within the next ten days, the stars will align in a configuration that will not be seen again for a thousand years. According to ancient prophecy, at that point Sekhmet will have the power to rule the world. And the people she bleeds to death will outnumber the grains of sand in the desert. But if she sleeps entombed, her chance will be lost."

"So," Buffy agreed, "What’s the plan?"

"We had wondered how Sekhmet escaped from her tomb, as it is heavily guarded. We are going to lure this incarnation of Sekhmet to a different tomb and seal her inside."

"Why don’t you just stake her?" Buffy asked. Did these people not have any idea what they were doing?

"My dear, Sekhmet is an avatar of a goddess. It’s far more complicated than that."

"Well, I was told that all you need to do is stake and bake."

"You forgot the head bit," Spike corrected. "Stake, cut off her head, then burn her. Stake, cut, and bake."

"We are binding her in the tomb." Isobel assumed the expression of a substitute teacher in charge of a study hall. "We would appreciate your help in this matter. Then we will attempt to return you from whence you came."

Whence? Buffy wondered. Had she really said whence? Was whence really a word?

****

They stared at each other until the real Watcher shook her head briskly. "Jane, take them to your tent, you can bunk with me."

"This way," Jane sulked. The black-haired Slayer led them to a tent about ten feet square and fitted out like a proper bedroom with a wardrobe, dressing table/desk, bed, bedside table and a few kerosene lamps. The floor was covered in an elaborate rug that would become a priceless antique in eighty years. Buffy stared openmouthed at the paucity of the accommodations. Spike found himself smiling internally at Buffy’s discomfiture. Primitive conditions in Southern California meant no cable.

Jane did have a jug of water and a mismatched set of cups. Spike poured himself some, thirsty after all that walking, and took his first sip of water in over a hundred years. He recoiled from the old-paper taste and the unsettled grit. The memory had been much better.

"D’you think you’ll go mano a mano with Jane again anytime soon? That was a fabulous fight. Only thing missin’ was baby oil and music," he asked and arranged a leer on his face.

"Shut up."

"And you promotin’ me to be your Watcher. Am I goin’ to get to watch everythin’?"

"Don’t make me hurt you."

"Don’t tease."

"Give me some of that. I need to re-hydrate. It’s good for the skin." Spike complied and then snickered at Buffy’s expression as she choked down the water, which had been boiled but not de-sedimented.

"Your Doctor Yummy and his Mummy have really gone and gotten us in a right mess."

"I don’t see where we can do anything but help these people out. They’re our only way home."

Spike, with his flexible sense of loyalty, found himself missing his cool, dark, and comforting crypt. "I trust that Isobel about as far as I could comfortably spit out a rat."

"Bad picture. But we’re choiceless here," she said in a voice as barren as the desert outside. "Willow and Xander are gone – my mother and Giles, they’re not even alive yet. Their parents probably haven’t gotten to first base. We’re alone."

Something twisted in his gut and he wanted very much to have a cigarette, but leaving her alone right now wasn’t the best thing to do. Instead, he went and sat next to her where she was sitting on the bed, trying very hard not to touch her, even though every cell in his body was telling him that now would be a good time.

"Where are the pyramids?" she asked with a frown. With her dirty face she looked like an unhappy child.

"Not here. Down the Nile a piece, I expect."

"Great. I go to Egypt and I don’t even get to see the pyramids. That sucks."

"Just drink your water."

To his surprise, she did.

****

Dressed in borrowed clothes gathered from the Watchers and Jane respectively, Spike and Buffy made their way through the camp to dinner. Spike felt downright naked without his duster but he didn’t need to stand outamongst the Watchers and he’d managed to fight his way into the trousers, shirt, and jacket that had been gathered up for him. He couldn’t remember how to tie a tie so he left it off. The clothes felt strange, rough against his living skin, and he’d forgotten the way that braces rubbed on his shoulders. Had he really spent years and years bundled up in cotton and linen like this? The boots pinched his toes and he worried about blisters. On the other hand, Buffy managed to look cool and collected in her mango-colored silk dress. He noticed that she’d neglected to put on stockings and he didn’t know if it was by choice or out of ignorance. He wasn’t about to say anything because he had the suspicion that any comment he made was going to be answered with a smack or two.

Jane stalked over to them. Her dress was cobalt blue, which set off her dark hair and the three ropes of real pearls around her neck. She stopped about six inches from Spike’s face, so that he was staring into her eyes.

Deliberately, she leaned forward and sniffed Spike’s collar. He tried to stand as if women checked him out like fruit in the grocery store on a regular basis. "There’s something about you," she accused. Her human breath brushed his cheek and knocked his already-racing heart up another twenty beats per minute.

Beside him, in her bright, filmy dress, Buffy tightened her hand on his arm and it hurt like hell. "Yes," she said, stepping forward so that Jane had to retreat or bump chests, "he’s my Watcher."

"Share and share alike," Spike said, trying hard not to sound eager.

Buffy looked at him as though he smelled like dead fish. For a moment he thought she was going to hit him again, but instead she stalked past him to the dinner table, leaving him alone with Jane. Jane’s pale eyes burned into his face and recognition sent lightning-shocks down his spine. It wasn’t so much that she looked like Dru, she looked at him the way Dru had. A cold feeling, possibly not human, began in the pit of his hungry stomach. He found himself wishing that Buffy hadn’t walked away from him.

Jane raised an elegant eyebrow under the dark canopy of her fringe and considered him again. The Council members, archaeologists, and assorted flunkies passed by on their way to the dinner table.

"You’re surrounded by death," she said as casually as any vampire.

"Well, you know, spendin’ all that time with Slayers and whatnot," he hedged. "A bit’s bound to rub off eventually."

Hell, he sounded like a complete prat, and not unlike Giles, which amounted to the same thing. Jane did the burning eyes thing at him for another few moments and then took herself off to the dinner table. Nearly sweating with relief, Spike waited a few moments and then followed.

The table was set with fine linen and gold-banded china, which was slightly surreal with the desert sand surrounding them and the stars burning down like a thousand faraway chandeliers. "Looking at you now, dressed properly," Isobel managed to make it sound like an insult, "you seem familiar to me. Are you certain we haven’t met before?"

"You may have met one of my grandparents, I suppose."

"Hmm. Perhaps when your injuries heal I’ll see a closer resemblance. How were you hurt?" Her tone implied that Buffy had neglected to protect her Watcher, and simultaneously that her Watcher had wrongly attempted to ignore his job description and intervene.

He tried very hard to avoid looking at Buffy. "I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it was a side effect of the transport spell. California to Egypt across eighty years is a hard journey, and I don’t have the Slayer’s immunities." He heard Buffy shift in her seat, relaxing.

"So, how did you come to be in California?"

"Turned left at Cleveland," Spike joked, looked around and realized that no one at the table had seen A Hard Day’s Night but him and the joke was lost.

He cleared his throat. "Actually, there’s a Hellmouth there. Been there since the Spanish settled in the late 1700’s. It’s a veritable phantasmacopia of demons, vampires, ghosts, hauntings, and poltergeists, as well as a few things less easily categorized."

Dinner, refreshingly stuffy, began. He hadn’t dressed for dinner since Dru’s fetish for evening dress had dissipated. And Dru hadn’t been picky about demitasse spoons and fish forks, though she did scold Miss Edith for spilling her tea. Of course herself had given Spike the task of dressing the dinner for dinner. Getting a woman into an evening gown was infinitely more difficult than getting her out of one, especially when she realized that she wasn’t going to live through to dessert.

Buffy viewed the silver set before her with stunned horror. It might have been the first time he’d ever seen her afraid.

Broth was served in delicate two-handled bowls. Spike picked his up and brought it to his lips. Buffy looked at him disbelievingly, then hastily imitated him. This had possibilities.

The possibilities escaped him as soon as he tasted the broth. It was fatty, salty, exploding on his tongue like concentrated sunlight. He gulped it down, ignoring Buffy’s increasingly frantic faces, and signaled for more.

His dinner companions disappeared into a haze of crackling fat and tinned vegetables, all hitting his taste buds like cluster bombs. He slowed only when his stomach threatened not just rebellion, but all-out, George-Bush-in-Japanese-Prime-Minister’s-lap style guerrilla warfare. He relaxed into his camp chair and tried diligently not to belch.

"So," Jane said, accepting another gin and tonic. "How long have you been a Slayer?" Her stare was as dark as her hair.

Buffy stopped chasing a chunk of maybe-meat around her plate. "Coming up on six years now. And you?" Her tone was dulcet, evidence that she was engaged in a serious dominance struggle.

Jane looked down.

"The prior Slayer was lost eight months ago," Isobel said. "Jane was identified at age three and has been in training ever since."

"Wow," Buffy said. "I’m sorry," and she sounded genuinely so.

The servants were spiriting plates away, rather more from Spike’s end of the table than elsewhere, and Spike settled back to adjust his belt. Who would ever imagined that English food would be that good? The secret was that you had to be dead for a century to appreciate it. If he continued to eat like this, he was going to need to steal some bigger jeans when he got back.

Jane’s curiosity had yet to be satisfied. "And you’ve been Buffy’s Watcher all that time?" Her eyes were like searchlights under the pale moon of her forehead.

Buffy and Spike exchanged glances. "The Council and I … have had our differences in the past," he said, trying to channel Giles. "But I’ve been with Buffy for some years now."

There were cream cakes for dessert, and trifle, which Buffy turned up her nose at, so Spike ate her portion.

After the dessert had been cleared, and after Spike had gotten the strength to stand, he headed towards their borrowed tent, leaving the deserted table behind. The alcohol was beginning to overwhelm the caloric onslaught, and he was glad that the tent was only a hundred yards away.

Jane appeared on the path before him. "You shouldn’t be out alone, after dark," she crooned, her voice raising goosebumps on flesh that hadn’t moved in decades. "Something might happen to you."

"I think it already has," he admitted.

Her skin was the exact color of the risen moon, her hair like the night between the stars. Why were all Slayers beautiful? Was it some kind of adaptation to keep vampires off balance? Anyone could be fooled into thinking that a delicate beauty like Jane was harmless. Her perfume was lilies of the valley and it wrapped around him like smoke.

She was circling him now, her dress rustling over the sand like a cobra. "What’s eating you, Sweet William?"

His back was totally exposed. She could stake him before his next heartbeat.

"Jane!" Isobel’s voice from across the compound made his head ring. "Come to bed!"

Jane sniffed, a well-bred English sound, and disappeared in a hiss of cotton and lace.

She didn’t say ‘eating’, he realized as he hurried toward the relative safety of the tent.

She said ‘eaten’.

****

Buffy thought she was drunk. It was possible, given the fact that the only beverages on the table at dinner had been alcoholic in one form or another. She had never seen adults put away so much booze in her life. They had been drinking like frat boys, only with food, so their speech had slurred somewhat, but no one had started cracking dirty jokes or brought a goat to the table. Even Jane, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen, was putting it away with the rest of them.

Sitting at the tiny dressing table in her tent, Buffy ran a brush through her hair and considered her face. With the heavy eyeliner washed off and the lipstick now on a napkin left at the dinner table, she looked more like herself than she had earlier that evening when the dark-eyed stranger had stared back at her from the same mirror.

Hard to believe that the morning before she had been trying to get Spike out of bed in his crypt, and he’d been wandering around all naked and arrogant. That thought percolated through her brain for a moment before she continued thinking. Was Human!Spike a good thing or a bad thing? The jury was still ordering chicken salad sandwiches on that one. Human!Spike was Subdued!Spike, which had a couple of advantages. He was more polite, not quite as foul-mouthed, and seemed to be refraining from his customary Spiky snarkiness. On the other hand, he hadn’t tried to paw her for many, many hours and this made her wonder if he was sad. He looked like he was suffering pain somewhere, like his shoes were too tight. Grinchy-face, with blackened-blue circles from the nose-punch clashing with his cornflower-blue eyes.

Speak of the vampire, or ex-vampire – the flap of her tent pulled back and Spike wobbled in.

"What are you doing here?"

He smiled at her, and she noticed that from somewhere he’d acquired glasses, a tiny gold-rimmed pair that, with the suit, made him look as cute as a teddy bear holding a bunch of heart-shaped helium balloons. "Sent me here, they did. Figured you and I would want to stick together, the way a Watcher and a Slayer should." He moved towards her, then tripped on a stool and she only saved him from smashing into the floor by moving Slayer-fast to grab him.

"Something else I forgot. Tolerance to alcohol. Not only have I gone blind as a proverbial bat, I can’t drink anymore." He blinked up at her and his human eyelashes were still really long.

"Why was there so much alcohol?" She was aware that her tone was vaguely whiny, but it was only Spike after all.

"Drinkin’ the water’s a good way to get yourself killed out here if you didn’t grow up with girardia and all those other nice invisible little bugs. No such thing as chlorination out here. Alcohol tends to ward off the worst of the bacteria."

She was still holding him, and her stomach was wobbly, so she eased him onto the bench and sat with him. He was warm, warmer than he’d ever been, and she was suddenly cold.

"I had forgotten how the world gets when you’re drunk," he said, leaning companionably against her shoulder. "All sparkly, like bad TV reception, only feelin’ it instead of seein’."

Spike was probably as surprised as Buffy was when she turned her head and kissed him. The gin on his lips tasted different, bitter, dark purple, and she felt his tongue invade her drink-numbed mouth with a vague satisfaction. Clumsy, lumbering, he shifted on the bench until he was straddling it, his hands on her shoulders to keep from falling away, and his fingers traced her collarbones and fumbled open the buttons on the thick cotton shirt.

Spike’s human kisses were different, rougher. It might be the alcohol or it might be the realization that there was almost nothing he could do to hurt her now. He tugged at her lower lip with his fangless, even teeth and she sighed as his hands found her breasts. Where his fingers crossed her skin she felt electric sparks, travelling through her body slowly, like rubbing up against a thick fur coat. His teeth scraped at her jawline and she threw her head back, watching the shadows dance on the top of the tent. His shirt refused her attempts at removing it, and finally she growled and pushed him away.

"Take off your clothes and get in the bed," she ordered, pushing away from the bench, and he grinned up at her until she felt herself blush.

Spike managed to undress himself and lay back on the bed, his white body nearly glowing in the lamplight amidst the dark exotic blankets. She’d never really let herself look at him before; the sex had been hurried and shameful, and while it was still shameful she had the feeling that this was going to be slow. Anyway, she was seventy-five years away from anyone who knew what a big ball of wrong sex with Spike was. His body seemed milk-white even without the vampirism, thin but muscled like a statue in a museum, smooth and lithe, thinner than Riley and Angel, with dark nipples standing out from his chest. There were a variety of whiter than white scars crossing his skin at different points, and she wondered how many of those she had inflicted. Buffy could see his ribs through the blood-pink flesh. He was unembarrassed by her frank scrutiny. His cock jaunted up to meet her, purpling with his very own blood, and she felt a guilty thrill—she was the big strong one in the situation; she could make him do anything she wanted, and he’d want it too.

The dress and step-ins came off fairly easily. The cool night air against her skin—or maybe it was Spike’s waiting gaze — made her shiver. He hadn’t taken off his glasses, which seemed more decadent than the rest of it.

When she straddled him, he groaned in pained pleasure. His skin was smooth against hers, proving all the stories about sun damage. She dragged her fingers down his ribs and he shuddered underneath her. She felt buzzing arousal between her legs, pressed against his chest, and he bent his head to nip at her stomach right above her bikini line. "I’m not sure I got enough to eat, Slayer, how about some dessert?" he growled, and she silenced him in exactly the manner he’d requested, covering his face with her body, capturing his cheeks between her thighs. Behind the gold frames, his darkened eyes burned her skin. Here, too, he was rougher, using the flat edges of his teeth on the delicate skin, tugging at her, sucking in the only way he could now. She could feel the blood rushing beneath the surface of her skin, right up against him but no further, and his hands were cupping her bottom now, his fingers sliding in where his mouth couldn’t reach, warm fingers, warm tongue lashing at her. The red-brown-gold bed shook underneath her; she was pumping up and down on him like he was a hobby horse. The lamplight thrashed against the ceiling in rhythm with her movements, hot and liquid golden like he was making her feel.

The orgasm swept her up, more powerful than any transportation spell, mixing with the alcohol in her blood and the remnants of dehydration to make her collapse on top of Spike, panting, while he held her waist as if she were going to float away.

After a bit, his grip relaxed, and then he began to push against her. "Slayer!" he said, muffled and wheezing, "… can’t breathe!"

Laughing, her head still buzzing with starlight, Buffy moved down his body like he was one of her workout toys, stopping only when she encountered his still-bobbing cock. It throbbed against her wet thigh, warm and dry and seeming so lonely, she had to give it a home.

Spike sighed as she slid down on him, and the sound was so human-normal that it made something in her chest do a back-flip, with a twist. His glasses had gone askew while he had other things to worry about, and she reached down to adjust them so that he could see her face. He blinked up at her as she moved, slow and careful. He was human now after all, and delicate, and deserved to have the work done by someone who had the stamina for it.

"I didn’t remember," he sighed, his face smooth with wonder and pleasure. She dragged her palm down his cheek and was shocked to find a hint of stubble.

"What didn’t you remember?" she asked, displeased that he was still capable of thought.

"It’s not the same thing at all," he mumbled. "The only way…" he trailed off, his head twisting against the thick pillows as he groaned. His hips pumped, overtaking her rhythm, and she felt him surge within her, then subside. Human Spike apparently lacked the extensive control of his vampire self, but since he’d already ensured her satisfaction, she’d allow him some time to get up to speed, or to slow down, or whatever.

She slid off of him and threw her arm over his nearly hairless chest, shaking with his attempts to get his breathing under control. His hair was mussed and his glasses still weren’t right, and this close to him she could smell his sweat. Deodorant was a thing of the past, or of the future really, and she was glad that Spike turned out to have a good solid boy-smell, nothing sour or overly pungent.

Words said during sex couldn’t be trusted, this she knew. But Spike’s had seemed uncharacteristically meaningful. Maybe Riley had been right, in a twisted not-right way: sex for vampires wasn’t at the pinnacle of experience; it wasn’t the only way they could get inside someone else. Here, human, Spike was limited to human senses.

Much later, after they’d both dozed and the lamp had burned down to the wick, they talked.

"Where’d you get the glasses?" Buffy asked, running a finger down the side of his face.

"They have an extra supply. Watcherdom bein’ an invitation to myopia an’ all, and then considerin’ the constant hazards of fightin’ evil, it’s only sensible to have some backups. I’d forgotten how nasty it is to have the world all fuzzy, like your thinkin’."

Spitefully, she dug her fingers into the thin skin covering his ribs and he twitched away.

"We’ll have none of that, young lady," he warned, but the threat was lost due to the fact that the glasses had slid down his nose and his post-tryst hair looked as though someone had run an eggbeater through it.

She tried very hard and managed not to snicker.

"I think I know why I’m human." She stared at him, and he sighed. "Unlike you, I had a physical presence in 1925. I was undead then—now—just like I’m undead in 2001."

Details, details, she thought and began examining his skin a little more closely. There was a scar on his shoulder and she bent her head to taste it.

He fussily pushed the glasses back up his nose before continuing, "I’m in Paris about now, I think, but point is that if I’d gone through as a vamp there would be two of me in the same time."

The scars definitely hadn’t been there when he was a vampire. Maybe the rush of real blood under his skin had brought them out. She followed the shoulder-scar down to where it dead-ended on his left nipple, and he caught his breath when she raked her teeth over it.

"If the two of us met, it might be enough to destroy the universe, or at least be some sort of magical Chernobyl," he continued, but sounded somewhat less self-assured. It might have been the fact that she held the twitching weight of his cock in her hand.

"Chernobyl," she agreed and tasted the other nipple. No, the scar didn’t make a difference in taste, only texture.

"But if the laws of magic don’t want that to happen, puttin’ me through as a human while filtering out the demon soul means that even if we meet, there’d be no duplication and therefore no explosion."

"’Cause the real Spike doesn’t have a human soul at all," Buffy said slowly, as the explanation penetrated and she bent down to run her tongue around the edge of his navel.

Hard to believe that he had been born – that a woman had given birth to him. It was easier to imagine that Spike had been hatched like an infant snake from an egg in some foul-smelling nest somewhere.

"Blondie, I am the real Spike, fangs or no," he said and his voice caught even as he reached for her breast. "But that other fellow tearin’ up the catacombs is the real deal too, and at least this way there’s no risk we’ll make like matter and antimatter even if we do meet."

"How do you know so much about time travel, anyway?"

"I’ve been watchin’ late-late night TV since it started. Star Trek, the Outer Limits, Doctor Who, the Twilight Zone. Couple a’years of that and you’re an expert."

She narrowed her eyes, "But if we were to leave here and go to Paris, and run into you, would you kill you?"

"Would I kill me?" he asked and he was full-blown hard again in her hand.

"Yes. Would you kill you or would you?" she asked and twitched her hips so she could guide him into her.

"Yes," he gasped without hesitation. "There would be screamin’ an’ carryin’ on and then I’d probably rip myself into bite-sized bits."

"Cross Paris off the list of fun places to go," she said and pulled him deep inside her.

"But it was fun," he said in a thin voice, punctuating his words with thrusts of his slim hips. "Montmartre, Follies Bergere, Gertrude Stein’s parties, summers at the Cap d’Antibes, Scotty and Zelda getting drunk and fighting, artist’s models, American Jazz, and French wine."

Somewhere after Gertrude Stein, Scotty and Zelda, and a brain-wrecking orgasm, Buffy put her head down to his shoulder and heard only the rumbling of his breathing in his chest, which gradually faded into a distant tide as she fell asleep.

****

The following morning, Buffy was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and Spike found himself plotting her death as he was exposed to evil morning perkiness. His hair still retained vestiges of gel—that stuff really did stand up to most anything, even suddenhumanity—so he washed his face in the small basin on the dresser and ran wet fingers through his hair to keep it in line. He hoped they didn’t stay here long; his roots would begin to show. He was glad that he’d taken off his black nail polish the day before on a whim. It would have been hard to explain to Jane and her uptight Watcher.

After the culinary glories of breakfast, which was a slightly less formal affair than dinner, Buffy went off somewhere with Jane to do Slayer things and Spike found himself alone at the table with Isobel. He sipped at his coffee and found it disappointing until he remembered that coffee always smelled better than it tasted and a half-dozen spoonfuls of sugar made it bearable.

"This must be very difficult for you," Isobel said, squinting out across the blowing desert sand between the camp and the workmen working at the tomb.

"You have no idea," Spike said, in a voice that registered a 7 on the pH scale.

Naturally, Isobel had no idea what he was talking about and explaining it was out of the question so he drank a little more coffee and squinted into the sun as well. The white robes of the Arabs blew in the hot wind and somewhere voices were chanting the morning Salat: Allâhu Akbar. Allâhu Akbar. Ash-hadu an-lâ ilâha illal-Lâh. Ash-hadu anna Muhammadar-Rasûlul-Lâh. Hayya ‘alas-Salâ. Hayya ‘alal-Falâh. In 2001, on this very same spot, they would still be chanting the same words. Barring apocalypse, people like them would be chanting when Buffy’s bones had crumbled like vampire dust. Spike felt old, and small.

"I understand that things may be quite different in eighty years, but you seem very young to be a Watcher," Isobel tested him, like a kung-fu master assessing the defenses of her opponent.

"I’m older than I look," he said and showed her his unfamiliar teeth in something almost like a smile. "Look, love, why don’t we just cut the bull and go at it straight-like. You don’t like me and you don’t trust me. Right back at you babe. But we got a deal goin’ on here. Buffy and I help you get Sekhmet locked up in her condo for one and you get us back to where we belong and out of your hair."

"What I don’t like, Mister Shankly, is your attitude."

"Wouldn’t be the first time I heard that. Now is there somethin’ I can do or do you want to sit ‘round and take shots at me all day?"

Still as and stiff as an Egyptian statue, she stared at him for a long moment, and the wind moved the pale blonde hairs that had escaped from her smooth uptwist.

"If you go down to the tomb, I’m sure Albert will find something for you to do."

"Right."

Albert turned out to be a young man with an intelligent face and a floppy haircut. He was directing the local workmen in fluent Arabic, where they were reinforcing the walls of the tomb with steel girders. The workmen were wearing "bloody foreigner" faces and working slower than teamsters.

"The real problem is that the locals don’t understand what will happen if we don’t get Sekhmet under lock and key," Albert complained when Spike commented on the workers’ lack of enthusiasm for the project.

"I don’t suppose offerin’ them more money would help?"

"Please, we’ve already got Howard Carter working on the other side of the Valley, and he’s paying more than we are. All the enthusiastic workers are over there. I’m afraid that the budget doesn’t stretch much further."

"You have a budget? Savin’ the world’s got a budget?"

"You know what the bloody Council’s like."

Spike nodded as though he did and tried on one of Giles’ long-suffering looks.

"You want to be a mate and help me setting out some wards around the perimeter?"

"Right."

Setting wards turned out to be digging holes in the unbelievably rocky soil and burying metal boxes the size of a shoebox every ten feet. By midday, Spike’s hands were covered with blisters, his back was screaming in pain, and his sunburn had sunburn. How any human could work in the heat was nothing short of amazing, since Spike had sweated through his shirt in the first ten minutes. It was only frequent breaks for the vile tea-water that kept him from doing the dehydration nose-dive. While they worked, Albert let loose with a long string of complaints about Isobel, most of which seemed to center around the fact that she was a woman, and that Albert should have been put in charge of the expedition. None of this surprised Spike very much, since the woman in charge issue was still going on in Sunnydale almost eighty years in the future.

Despite the complaining, Albert was a gabby goldmine of information. He outlined all the precautions that the Watchers were taking to make sure that Sekhmet didn’t get out of her prison. There were anti-vampire devices, such as the wards, that Spike had never heard of or encountered in his long and illustrious career as one of the evil dead.

"The trick is, you have to match the pervading culture and religion of the vampire," Albert grunted as he shifted a fairly large rock. "Christian symbols work on vampires from a Christian culture. You wave a cross at a Chinese vampire and he’s just going to look at you like you’ve lost your tiny mind. You need a yin/yang or a Buddha." Spike actually knew this was untrue, at least where the vamp in question was aware of the religious tradition at issue. He’d seen vamps with the sidecurls that marked them as formerly Orthodox Jews cringe from crosses, not because of Christian superiority but because they’d recognized the symbols that continued to persecute them in undeath. But there was no sense relieving Albert of his potentially useful misconception.

Spike dragged one of the surprisingly heavy wards over to the hole and dropped it in. Despite what Albert had said about magical elements, Spike was convinced that the boxes were made of solid lead. There were hieroglyphics incised on the surface, spelling spells of binding or some other Watcher-like thing.

"Knew one guy who went after a vamp in Nepal. The vamp ripped the crucifix out of his hand and snapped it in half before he put the big bite on him. Now what we’ve got here is completely accurate to 1353 BC Armana-centric Egyptian religion. You see, the pharaoh Amenophis makes this dramatic turn into a sun-based religion. The disc of Aten. Aten was a minor god until Amenophis picks him up and he changed his name to Ankhenaten. It means Beloved of Aten. Re was the sun god before that. Suddenly, Ankhenaten moves the capital to Armana and makes everyone worship Aten. Makes you wonder, since Aten was depicted as a solar disc with sunrays coming down off it. "

"Vampires and the sun."

"Exactly. We think that’s when Sekhmet made her appearance and the whole country turns to sun worship to combat her. That would have been the time that the priests of Aten would have locked her up in her first tomb, but there aren’t any documents to support this."

Albert straightened up, took off his fedora and ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair.

"D’you think this is gonna work?" Spike nodded at the tomb, the wards, and the desert in general.

"I hope to God it does." Albert’s face settled into an expression of dread. "Otherwise we’re fucked."

If the situation hadn’t been so serious Spike might have laughed. The sands blew around their ankles for a long moment before Albert jammed his hat back on his head.

"See the tomb?" he asked.

"Sure."

The tomb was three small rooms carved into the solid rock of the hillside. Workmen were smoothing three of the walls of the main room while the fourth wall was being painted with an elaborate mural that looked like something Spike vaguely remembered seeing at the British Museum a few decades earlier. He should have gone with Dru the night that she broke into the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the King Tut exhibit back in ‘79. What had he done instead? He suspected that it involved going to CBGB, drinking a beer, seeing a band, and then drinking a patron.

But there had been a lot of nights like that.

"We’re putting this gate with ankhs on it across the doorway. The ankh is the Egyptian symbol for life, almost analogous to the Christian cross."

Spike stared at the gate, wrought in something the color of gold, saw the touching arms of the loop-topped crosses and remembered a crucifix pressed into his outstretched hand, one of Angelus’ little jokes. It had taken almost five years for the burn to heal properly. Without thinking, he stepped back from the gate, and bumped into something soft and feminine.

Unfortunately, it was Isobel.

"Albert, I need you to place an international phone call back to headquarters. I need to have a file couriered over. Can you drive to the American Express office this afternoon?" She was staring straight at Spike. He put a hand up to check whether there was something nasty on his face, and winced when his fingers encountered the bruises remaining from Buffy’s domestic violence episode.

"I need to get the rest of the wards set and I -"

"Albert." Isobel tightened the leash with her voice and a cold look.

"Right after lunch." Albert looked at Isobel with a mixture of rebellion and irritation that Spike thoroughly understood.

Turning again to Spike, Isobel composed her face in a smooth façade of calm friendliness.

"I hope this is educational for you, Mister Shankly."

"Extremely."

With her dress shimmering in the torchlight of the tomb, Isobel made her way out. Both men watched her go.

"Bitch," Albert breathed.

Spike made a non-committal sound.

"She hasn’t got the slightest fucking idea what we’re dealing with, thinks it’s some kind of Council Holiday or some fucking foolishness," Albert said.

Spike grinned at him.

"Best let her make a hash of it herself."

"She never should have been put in charge. And that bloody Jane. You ask me, the girl’s a walking cock-up."

"Fancy a smoke?" Spike asked.

"Ta ever so."

****

When Buffy returned to the tent, Spike attacked her, but not in the usual way.

"There is a common courtesy of puttin’ things back when you’re done wiv ‘em," he snarled and kicked a pile of clothes off the chair.

"Excuse me?" she asked in a stake-pointed voice. "I’m sorry, is part of being human turning into my mother?"

"Wardrobe, that’s where the hangin’ things live." He pointed at the furniture as he spoke, as though Buffy had grown up in the jungle instead of Southern California. "Chest of drawers, which is where the frilly girlish bits live, not all over the floor."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she glared at him. "So what’s got your frilly bits in a twist?"

He stopped flinging clothes around long enough to give her a snarl almost as ugly as a fang-face.

"That bloody Isobel. Set me out diggin’ holes with Albert all mornin’."

"Albert? Who’s Albert?"

"The point is—" he would have had far more authority if he hadn’t been holding an underslip, "—she knows that something isn’t quite pukka about you an’ me. Havin’ Jane sniffin’ around me isn’t helpin’ matters either. I’m thinkin’ that her Slayer sense is pickin’ something up."

"Jane’s not making my top ten list of favorite people, either. She’s totally weird. I thought maybe we could trade Slayer tips or something but all she wanted to do was play cards," Buffy flopped down on the bed and took off her shoes. "And this skirt and heels routine is totally lame."

"Dunno, got its advantages," he said and his hand was on her leg, sliding quickly up the length of her skin. "Easy access, for one."

Breath caught in her throat, Buffy let him push her back into the bed, and welcomed the hot hardness of his kisses. God, he had the kissing thing down cold. Guess it took a hundred years or so for complete proficiency. She gave herself up into it, since it was only kissing, after all, and his heart was beating in his chest. She could feel it banging against her hand like something trying to get out of a cage. His hand was working its way around her underwear, headed for home plate, and part of her brain was doing the "it’s wrong" tap-dance while the other was all ready for a slow grind.

"It’s the middle of the afternoon," she hissed when he finally broke for breath.

"So it’s a rare opportunity. You wouldn’t deny me a rare opportunity, would you?" he murmured into her throat.

She wanted to die, wanted to swoon (whatever that was, exactly), and couldn’t quite work up the energy to fight him off. She knew she could. With his human body, she could put a massive hurt on him. The knowledge made her thighs tremble underneath his hand. He tasted familiarly of cigarettes and smelled nicely sweaty, and she couldn’t ignore the fact that he was pressing the hardness of his cock against her belly. This was definitely a situation. He was now human, which meant that it was okay, but on the other hand, he was a vampire and had been for an unknown amount of time, which was a complication. She refused to take into account that she’d virtually molested him the night before. His lips moved against the skin on her neck and she felt the hardness of teeth. She shuddered at the feeling and the memory of fangs.

"I can deny you plenty," she said and it came out in a breathless sigh.

"Can you, really?" he asked while his hand cupped her where she was hotter than the desert and wetter than the Nile.

Clever fingers slid past the layer of satin and lace and slid inside her, making Buffy gasp in the hot stillness of the tent. In the filtered daylight, Spike’s eyes sparkled with uncontained mischief.

"Hello? Anyone in there?" a voice called.

In a split second, Buffy was upright, pulling her skirt down over her thighs and trying to gain some composure. Spike lounged back against the bed, his hand covering his eyes.

"What the bleedin’ hell do you want?" he demanded.

"Uh . . ." the voice behind the tent flaps hedged, "It’s Albert. You want to come with me into Luxor?"

"Who’s Albert?" Buffy hissed.

"One of the Watchers. Seems alright, despite that." Spike hissed back, and then raised his voice, "Half a mo’."

Slowly, Spike got up and pointedly re-arranged the folds of his khaki trousers around what must have been a painful bulge in his crotch. Buffy felt the heat rise to her face and looked away. She could hear him chuckle at her discomfort at his discomfort.

"I’m supposin’ that we’ll finish this discussion later, right?" he asked in a normal sounding voice.

"I’ll take it under consideration," she said, far squeakier than she would have liked.

Spike parted the flaps of the tent; standing in the sunlight was Mr. I’m Afraid of Americans, complete with a floppy dirty blonde Hugh Grant haircut and Masterpiece Theatre accent. Buffy gave him her best pissed-off girl look.

"Sorry if I was interrupting, but I wondered if Shankly wanted to take a jaunt over to Luxor with me," he said, looking at everything in the tent except Buffy.

"Sounds like fun," Buffy said and bounced up from the bed. "I really hate these shoes. I need to get some other shoes."

"Oh," Albert said and gave Spike a look that was coded for boys only.

"’S all right," Spike explained, "She’s a Yank, and they raise up their women different-like. Add in eighty years and . . . well, you’ve almost got a man."

Buffy didn’t know if she was supposed to be offended or not, and settled for putting on her shoes.

"Let’s go see Luxor. I’m all about seeing Luxor."

****

Albert’s car turned out to be a convertible, which was a good thing. Buffy sat in the back seat and let the hot desert wind tear through her hair, while the boys sat up front and smoked cigarettes. She was still throbbing wherever Spike had touched her and felt vaguely drunk. But since the desert zipping by was anything but calm, she didn’t think about it. Instead she watched the camels and the funny fabric-wrapped Arabs plod along the side of the road as they sped past.

"Y’see, everything alive is on the East of the Nile. Everything dead is on the West. The Egyptians buried their dead under the setting sun." Albert explained.

"How come you know so much about Egypt?" she asked over the roar of the engine.

"Studied it at Oxford. The Watchers recruited me right out of school. Must have known that this was coming," Albert yelled back.

"They’re funny that way," Spike agreed.

It was hard to believe that he had been a vampire two days before, Buffy realized. No wonder the Watchers had been fooled. The sun had darkened his skin to a living hue and he looked about as comfortable as possible in the pale beige and khaki that all the Watchers wore in the desert heat. Somewhere in the Fall 1925 Watcher Collection, he’d managed to find a long coat made out of something pale and light that substituted for his favorite duster. Even his hair was different, springier, less plastic than usual. She sensed curls lurking somewhere underneath. For a moment, she could almost believe that he’d always been warm and alive. If he had, things might have been different. Maybe she wouldn’t have the heavy feeling in her chest.

Luxor was a low collection of sunbaked buildings huddled against the water of the Nile. Even Buffy knew that any big river running through Egypt had to be the Nile.

"The American Express office is just off the souk. If you two want to take a look around, you know." Albert said as they pulled up beside one of the many sunbaked buildings.

"Brilliant," Spike agreed and helped Buffy out of the back of the car, which she really didn’t need but was nice anyway.

"Meet you back here in half an hour," Albert said and adjusted his hat and promptly vanished into the American Express office.

Buffy looked around at the stalls, looked at the women in their black masks and stepped back.

"Are you sure?" she asked Spike.

"Don’t worry, they’re Muslim, can’t show their faces to anyone but husbands and family."

"That’s just wrong."

"Come on," he said, and pulled at her arm with his living warm hand, "You can educate ‘bout women’s rights later."

Buffy couldn’t believe the smell of the souk. It was a combination of spices, sweat, smoke, baking mud, horrible rotting things and dirty animals. She tried to breathe through her mouth and not think about it too much.

A snake charmer was making a cobra dance out of a basket as they passed. Feeling unusually shy, Buffy decided that hanging onto Spike was a good thing. At least he seemed to know what he was doing. The smell crawled up her nose and tried to strangle her brain with its horrible tentacles. It smelled like someone was trying to barbeque a trashcan that cats had peed in. They strolled through the stalls and stands of the souk, and Buffy only caught flashes of fabric, food, unidentifiable brass things, and even more unidentifiable glass things. Finally, a place where she could go shopping and he was dragging her through at the speed of light.

"I need shoes."

He wasn’t listening to her, not that he ever seemed to anyway, but this time he wasn’t listening because he was staring across the souk with an expression she’d seen before – when he was hunting.

"Small world, innit?"

Following his eyeline, Buffy watched a dark-haired European guy surrounded with some fabric-wrapped Arabs cross the far side of the square. Even without the museum and lecture hall surroundings, she recognized Dr. Talbot. Case in point, men were just bad. Dr. Talbot had started out cute and flirtatious and then he turned into an ancient vampire mummy goddess re-animating creep.

"So Doctor Yummy is here, his mummy can’t be very far away, right?"

"Don’t call him that, he is so not yummy anymore," she said and began to slip around the edge of the crowd, trying to put less space between her and Dr. Talbot.

She was lying. Talbot was still fairly yummy. He was decked out in the same Banana Republic looks as Spike and the Watchers: khakis, pale shirt, boots and suntan highlighted with peeling pink spots. But Talbot had incurred the wrath of the fashion gods by deciding to accessorize with an Indiana Jones fedora. At least Spike had refrained from that, though his weird little blue-tinted 1920s sunglasses were hard to look at without laughing. Despite the silly hat, Talbot looked like the star of an old black and white adventure movie. Talbot should have been the hero with his rugged good looks and flashing blue eyes. Spike should have been sneering and slinking his way around in the shadows as the lead villain. Everyone knew that thin guys with English accents were always the villains, unless they were Sting, and even then it was a toss-up.

Reading her mind like a magazine, Spike looked over to her and made a face.

"Hat like that an’ he was supposed to be yummy?" Spike murmured. "Looks a right pratt to me."

"Come on."

For once, he didn’t argue and followed her. They worked their way around the square until Dr. Talbot and his flunkies disappeared down an alleyway.

Luckily Talbot and his crew were entirely too caught up in walking down the street and conversing in Arabic to pay any attention to the following Slayer and soi-disant Watcher. The streets narrowed to alleys and the alleys narrowed even further, the buildings blocking out the brilliant blue desert sky. The alleys were cooler, darker and, if possible, smellier. Talbot and his Arabs disappeared into a large, low building with a sign written in squiggly Arabic.

"I guess you can’t read that?" she asked.

"You’d be right there, Blondie."

"A window would be good right about now."

And windows they found, along the side of the building where there was barely three feet to walk between the walls. They were barred with wood. Buffy motioned to Spike and, after rolling his eyes, he laced his fingers together and hoisted her up. Buffy held onto the windowsill and stepped up onto Spike’s shoulders, even though he groaned and wiggled unhappily underneath. She supposed he was looking up her skirt, but dismissed the thought as she pulled the wooden grill free with as little noise as possible. Pulling herself through the window, she found herself on an upper level to the building, like a balcony that looked down on a main area underneath. There were desiccated piles of straw around and the whole place smelled like it hadn’t been used in ages. It must have been a stable at one point and the upper level was the hayloft. Buffy could even smell the ghosts of horses – or horse pee and manure, to be honest. She leaned out through the window and helped Spike pull himself up. They crawled to the edge of the balcony and looked down.

Talbot was there, having removed the offensive hat, and was arguing with one of the Arabs. At the far side of the floor stood a glimmering golden sarcophagus, throwing back the light from some lamps that were scattered around the stable. That had to be where Sekhmet was being stored like out of season clothes. The Arab was in a high state of excitement, pointing at the sarcophagus and then at the door, rolling his eyes and carrying on like a PTA member who had found the Kama Sutra in the junior high library.

"Looks like he’s havin’ some trouble with the rank an’ file. Just can’t get good thugs anymore," Spike breathed.

"Maybe world-destroying goddesses are against the Thug Union by-laws or something."

"Right then, Slayer, what’s your cunnin’ plan?"

"Sekhmet’s in the sarcophagus, and she’s resting, so if we got her in the sunlight and opened it, toasted evil mummy goddess." Buffy pointed at the windows on the far side of the stable, "Get those open and the sunlight should fall on her."

"Should bein’ the operative word. Still have to stake and decapitate w’ the materials on hand."

"If you have a better plan, I’m taking suggestions!"

"A crap plan is better than none, I suppose."

They crawled along the hayloft, the dry floorboards threatening to creak at every movement. The boards were splintering and powdering with dry rot, and Buffy wondered exactly how sturdy they were. Not that she and Spike were heavyweights, but the vibrating boards made her hands sweat with nervousness even in the desert air. To her right, Spike was moving at the same slow pace, his brow wrinkled with concentration and his sweat-damp hair flopping into his face. For a moment, a feeling of unreality threatened to suck her under like dry quicksand. Part of her was refusing to believe that this actually was Spike, with a dirty face and his shirt sticking to his back with perspiration. Vampires didn’t sweat, vampires didn’t have peeling sunburn on their noses, and vampires had no reason to wear funny sunglasses because they couldn’t see without them.

Spike reached the first window and began pulling at the wooden frame. Buffy reached the second one and popped the frame out as quietly as she could, and sunlight streamed into the stable. Underneath, someone shouted in Arabic. Spike swore and heaved at the boards, but the increased pressure was no match for the dry wood underneath and Spike’s foot went through the floor as though it was thin ice. Yelping with alarm, Buffy felt the whole hayloft shudder and pitch before the planks underneath her feet suddenly weren’t there anymore and the whole side of the hayloft collapsed like a toothpick model. Buffy landed flat on her ass on the ground in a billow of dry hay, wood fragments, and dust. She started to sneeze, eye-watering nose-burning sneezes. It felt like every bit of hay, dust, and wood had gone straight up her nose and filled her sinuses like pins and needles.

"What the hell is going on?" Talbot demanded, as the Arabs began scattering around the stable.

Talbot reached down and grabbed Buffy by the arm, hauling her to her feet. Blinded with dust and sneeze-tears, all she could do was stare at him between sneezes.

"What are-" he began and realization crept over his face like the sunset in the desert.

Well, he really was cute. Life was just totally unfair.

"What are you doing here?" Talbot demanded.

"Just droppin’ in," Spike sniped and landed a right hook square to Talbot’s jaw.

Trust Spike to make a dramatic entrance.

Talbot dropped Buffy’s arm and reeled back. Apparently archaeology wasn’t a physical field of study. Whirling, Spike kicked him flat in the chest and Talbot bounced off the nearby wall. Roaring with pain, Talbot rushed at Spike.

"Buffy, Sekhmet!" Spike shouted and moved in on Talbot.

The sun wasn’t hitting the sarcophagus. That much was clear. The square of vampire-deadly light fell a yard short of the golden box. Wiping her eyes as she ran, Buffy hit the sarcophagus with a running tackle. It was like hitting a brick wall, only smaller. The box shifted a couple of inches. She heaved at the box until the muscles in her arms and legs burned. It slid a few more inches towards the light. At the rate she was going, she would have the box in the sunlight by the time the miniskirt was invented. While she was on the verge of tearing muscles she didn’t know the names for, Spike and Talbot were pounding on one another. She could see that Spike still had the skill he’d had as a vampire, but with his reduced human strength, he was only bruising Talbot where he normally could have shattered bones.

Hearing breaking glass, Buffy turned her head and saw that one of the oil lanterns had fallen and shattered, oil spilling onto the dry wood and hay. The place would go up like a rocket once the flames got underway. The Arabs decided that now was the time to act and swarmed over her like flies. She kicked and punched at whatever living flesh was nearby, but they had no interest in her. They were grabbing at the sarcophagus and hauling it towards the door, away from the square of light and away from the fire. Buffy swore and held onto the sculptured surface of the box, digging her fingers into the gilded wood, and refusing to let go even as hot hands grabbed at her. An order was barked and the dozen or so men suddenly hoisted the box onto their shoulders with Buffy still atop it, her fingers tearing and bleeding on the wood. She reached for the seam separating top from bottom as they crossed the threshold into the burning Egyptian daylight. The top didn’t budge. She felt along the seam, her flingers slippery with blood, and she touched a bar that bridged the gap.

The sarcophagus was latched from the inside, Sekhmet had locked herself in and short of an axe, which she didn’t have, there was no way that Buffy was going to be able to open the box. Vision red with frustration, she banged on the lid, cursing Sekhmet, Talbot, the flunkies, and Egypt in general. Just as the Arabs were sliding the box onto the back of a truck, Buffy leapt free, punching at anything that touched her, and turned back to the stable. Flames were making short work of the dry wood building. Smoke was billowing out of the entrance like the open door of a designated smoking area.

"Spike?!" she shouted. After a moment, when he failed to give a smart-ass answer, Buffy put her hand over her mouth and ran into the burning building.

With typical male tunnel vision, Spike and Talbot were still trying to beat the snot out of each other while the building burned around them. Spike had Talbot by the throat, and Talbot was trying to pull Spike’s hands free.

"Fire!" Buffy shouted. "Fire Bad! Macho really, really stupid!"

Spike’s head snapped around to look at her and Talbot took the opportunity to drive his knee into Spike’s stomach. Grip broken, Spike doubled over in pain as Talbot escaped up through the ladder leading to the hayloft. Buffy rushed over to Spike and grabbed him.

"Playing hero all of a sudden?" she demanded.

"Thought I was one of the good guys now," he said and coughed, "Dunno what I was thinkin’."

A wall of flame from the burning hay blossomed between them and the doorway.

"Right. Where’d Doctor Yummy get to?" Spike choked.

They followed Talbot up the ladder, through the hayloft, which was now black with smoke, and onto the roof of the next building over. Buffy could see Talbot running across the next rooftop. Breathing fresh smoke-free air, Buffy broke into a run, with Spike hot on her heels. Talbot ran through a laundry line, his panache lessened somewhat by what looked like a large pair of ladies’ bloomers wrapped around his neck. He threw the bloomers aside and reached the edge of the rooftop.

"This isn’t over," he shouted.

"You can bet on it, asshole!" Buffy yelled back.

"That was pithy and erudite," Spike commented and coughed again.

How someone – or something – who smoked as much as Spike would cough after being in a fire amazed Buffy in a bitter kind of way.

Talbot leapt over the edge of the building.

Letting out a yell, Buffy ran to pick up speed and followed, Spike right after her. But something went wrong. The fall was longer than she had expected and ended in crackling and pointy things. Things that squawked and screamed. She opened her eyes and saw the back of the truck as it pulled away, Talbot smirking at her from where he sat atop the sarcophagus. He waved. She wanted to give him the finger but she didn’t have the strength to raise her arm.

"Bloody hell, chickens!" Spike complained.

More chickens than she had eaten in her entire life. Enough chickens for a voodoo priestess to raise every single dead rock star on VH1’s Behind the Music. A chicken was pecking at her leg and Spike seemed to be engulfed. Broken cages lay around them like buildings after Godzilla had come to town. It rained feathers. There was something squishy underneath her and Buffy assumed, feeling a little ill, that there had been chicken collateral damage.

An Egyptian, presumably the owner of the chickens, ran over and proceeded to give them hell in Arabic. Spike brushed chickens from himself and scrabbled to his feet. Screaming back at the chicken-man, Spike was trying to look threatening, which didn’t work too well since he had more feathers in his hair than a girl at a slumber-party pillow fight.

The chickens squawked loud enough to be heard in Pittsburgh and fluttered nervously around, shedding feathers and clucking hysterically. More Arabs joined the argument, making a threatening circle around Spike. Buffy slowly climbed to her feet, hurting over most of her body. While she pulled feathers out of her hair and pushed futilely at the chicken blood and feathers on her now-ruined dress, the chicken-man pulled a meat cleaver out of his robes and took a swipe at Spike.

This really was a time for a tactical retreat. She thrust her way into the circle of angry men and pulled Spike away.

Pursued by chickens and Arabs, Buffy and Spike sprinted down the alley. As they reached the mouth of the alley, an open cart piled high with an assortment of fruit blocked their way; the fruit vendor shouted something incomprehensible but unfriendly at them. Spike wasn’t taking no for an answer. He scrambled over the fruit piled on the cart and Buffy followed suit. On the other side a wicked look crossed his face and he grabbed the side of the cart.

"Can’t ruin a perfectly good cliché," he said and upended the cart.

Melons, oranges, and other round and tasty things cascaded into the alleyway, rolling like bowling balls and plowing into the feet and shins of the pursuing Arabs. Buffy wondered if the guys were going to be knocked over like tenpins, but didn’t get to see the outcome since Spike was pulling on her arm, dragging her into the thick of the souk. Whatever the fruit had done, it had slowed the Arabs up enough that Buffy and Spike were clambering over a very surprised Albert in the car by the time the angry mini-mob, led now by the enraged fruit vendor, emerged from the alley.

"What the devil’s going on?’ Albert demanded,

"Drive," Buffy ordered, "Drive now, drive fast."

"Do it!" Spike added, when Talbot looked to him for confirmation.

"Right then," Albert agreed and they sped off. "What did you do? Sneak a peek under some bird’s yashmak?"

"Not quite. We ran into Dr. Talbot," Buffy explained, since Spike was peeling some citrusy fruit shaped like a football, throwing peels out of the car and shoving sections into his mouth. He must have swiped it from the fruit vendor while the vendor had other things on his mind.

Albert grunted stoically and drove, weaving past people who wandered like targets in a video game into his path. In a matter of moments, they were outside the city walls and speeding along the edge of the Nile. Feathers dropped off Buffy and Spike at irregular intervals.

"Bloody Hell," Spike winced and rubbed at his shoulder, "I think I’ve done something ‘orrible to myself."

"Now, now, you have to remember that you’re not immortal," Buffy said in her sweetest of voices and patted him on the sore shoulder.

He glowered at her all the way back to camp, eating his purloined fruit.

****

Back at camp, Buffy headed straight for the tent, which was fine with Spike as fighting always made him horny too.

The ruined dress pooled at her feet and she stood in stockings and step-ins, rummaging through Jane’s closet. He was glad she hadn’t bothered with the compressing elastic that passed for a brassiere in these benighted times. With that cute modesty that still surfaced from time to time, she crossed her arms over her chest like one of the mummies, her hands at her shoulders, when he entered.

"You can’t get dressed again w’out cleanin’ up a bit," he pointed out. Dismayed, Buffy looked down at her still-feathery arms. Spike went over to the basin and dipped a cloth into the tepid water left over from his morning shave. "C’mere."

Blinking like a newly awakened cat, she stepped over to him. Carefully, he ran the cloth down and around her arm, pulling it gently away from her body and closing his hand over her wrist for a moment just to feel how thin it was. Then he repeated the process on her other arm and wrung the cloth out before dipping it again and turning his attentions to her chest.

"I’m not dirty there," she complained softly. He chuckled and bent his mouth to the space between her breasts, returning with a white feather caught in his teeth. He blew it up at her face and she squeaked. Soon he’d tossed the cloth to the side, running his hands in great circles around her body, loosening garters one by one.

Sucking his lower lip into her mouth, her hands dug into his shoulders. This was almost worth being alive for, the way that she seemed to flow through his skin and straight into his bloodstream. He nuzzled behind her ear and down the slope of her throat. She tasted sweaty and rich, her flavor going straight to what remained of his brain. She tasted better than anything that the Watchers’ cook put on the table.

"Somebody might see-" she hissed as his lips worked their way over his throat.

"’S all your fault," he murmured, taking her bleeding fingers up to his lips. "Can’t help m’self."

Her blood tasted like rust, a faint shadow of what it should have been, but it still made him shudder against her. Warm breath whisked over his face, ruffled his hair, made his skin dance and sing. He could have sold the feeling of her on street corners and been a rich man. Her fingernails hissed over the cotton of his shirt, sounding like distant birds as she loosened his buttons. Dipping her head down to his she kissed him with the athletic ferocity that made his bones turn into jam. His fingers traced over the thin bones in her skull, the funny bumps on her nose, the too-large orbits of her eyes, and memorized each angle and curve.

"Stupid," she mumbled against his mouth, "stupid, stupid, stupid."

He didn’t know if she meant her, him, the situation, or the chicken feathers everywhere. He quit worrying when her hands slid inside his shirt, strong fingers tracing down his torso, nimbly working his belt and flies loose. When he tried to do likewise with her cute satin underpants, she made a noise and wiggled free, only to unstick her mouth from his and began down the center of his chest to follow the route her hands had taken. Her hot and wet mouth burned at him and the damp trail of saliva evaporated cooled his skin in the desert air. She eased his trousers down from his hips until they wadded up in bedroom farce fashion around his calves.

Spike knew his eyes must be round as the moon, more in shock than arousal though the latter was considerable. Strands of Buffy’s hair caught on his thighs as he felt the tip of her nose brush against his groin. Why would you do this? he thought, but fortunately it came out as "Urk."

She snickered, tickling his stomach.

Unsteadily, he leaned against the wardrobe, hoping it was sturdy enough to bear his weight.

The skin of her face felt like velvet against his cock, her hair silk under his hands. He was afraid to move, afraid that she’d change her mind, afraid that she wouldn’t change her mind. Afraid of teeth – he’d been fang-nipped in the past. No fangs here, he thought as her soft mouth closed around him. Oh this was just wrong, it was just entirely too good. She had her hand around most of his shaft while her tongue and lips moved over the head of his cock. His balls felt like they were filled with lead and he was torn between trying to make himself last as long as possible and giving in. The adrenaline from the fight (he now had adrenaline) and the sheer fact that the Slayer was kneeling before him with her mouth on his formerly undead dick was just a little too much for his substandard human body to bear. With an unmanly gasp, he exploded into her mouth.

He wobbled, he wavered, and grabbed at the wardrobe again. For her part, Buffy just stood up and discreetly wiped her chin on the back of her hand.

"If that’s part of Slayer trainin’, Giles is a dead man."

"Very funny," she said in a pseudo-prim voice, "But at least I got you back for all the times you’ve made me stupid."

"Paybacks are a bitch," he muttered as he collapsed onto Jane’s bed, hitching his pants back up with arms like wet string, "I’ll just be lyin’ here dead ‘til dinner."

"And this is different for you how?" she asked and went back to rummaging in the wardrobe.

Spike just looked up at the canvas of the tent and felt the unfamiliar throb of his heart echo down into his insanely sensitive groin.

****

"The good news is that we saw Talbot," Buffy said over the dinner table.

"Yeah, and he saw us," Spike corrected her around a mouthful of dinner, "which is not good news." The tinned beans and onions tasted really good, salty like blood but richer, full of nuance and greenness.

"Maybe he didn’t recognize us," Buffy said with painfully false hope.

"You two are fairly distinctive." Isobel pointedly glanced at Spike’s hair. "Still, we have only three days until the stars align to fulfill the ancient prophecy and Sekhmet can be raised in all her destructiveness. Albert tells me that the tomb should be finished tomorrow. Isn’t that right, Albert?"

Albert, who was working his way through his dinner, paused with fork in mid-air and blinked at her.

"Uh, quite. The only snag is that I was really planning to go into Luxor tomorrow night. Carter’s having a reception at the Winter Palace to celebrate getting the inner coffins open at the Tutankhamun site." The Watcher slash Archaeologist put down his fork as though his food had suddenly become alive with worms.

"And this benefits our situation in what way?" Isobel asked in her ground glass and sugar way.

"It doesn’t. Save that Talbot might come, if he’s the scholar that Mr. Shankly says he is. Everyone who’s anyone in Egyptology is on the guest list. Carter’s going to show some photographs that haven’t been out of his collection." He caught an angry breath. "Anyone with any sense would see that Talbot would be drawn to such an event."

To Spike’s ears, Albert sounded as though his disgust at Isobel was going to burst forth like an ugly case of projectile vomiting.

Albert and Isobel locked glares over the silver candelabra.

"Why don’t we nab him after the party and torture him ‘til he tells us where the mummy is?" Spike asked, and sawed again at his steak. The cooked fibers were a revelation to his tongue, and he grabbed a piece of bread to mop up the juices left on the plate.

A trio of appalled faces stared back at him. Jane, however, had an unhealthy sparkle in her eye.

"That would be wrong," Buffy said, tres California.

"I don’t hear any other ideas," he said and it was his turn to cross his arms over his chest.

"If there was something we could do instead of . . . you know, hurting him." Buffy looked around for a reaction. "If we could find Sekhmet before he activated her, we could just stuff her in the tomb and it would be over. Right?"

"And what are we gonna do? Scold him? ‘You’re been a very naughty Egyptologist, young Talbot. Tell us where the mummy is or you won’t get any dessert’," he said and leaned back from the table. "That’ll work."

Jane laughed and flicked her hair away from her face. "I think it’s a good idea. Even if we can’t get him to tell us where the mummy is, she can’t be raised without a high priest. No high priest, no raising."

"Kidnapping Talbot would be against Watcher code," Albert protested, but a small smile twisted his mouth. "Not that anybody would have to know . . ."

"Ah, bugger the code. Do you think that vampires and the rest of the nasties are workin’ with a rulebook? If you ever wonder why you lot never seem to get ahead, it’s because of the bloody code. You spend more time debatin’ about what you should do than doin’ it." He threw down his napkin and got up from the table. "I say we get in and get rid of the dried-up bitch before she manifests."

"Gee, why don’t you tell us how you really feel," Buffy said to the tablecloth.

Feeling that he’d pretty much said his piece and adding anything would only be overkill in the annoyance department, Spike left the group sitting at the table and went out to where the camp looked out over the desert. The moon was up, not quite full, and he felt far more comfortable than he did under the hard eye of the sun. This damned sitting around and waiting was making his brain itch. Did they really think that Sekhmet was going to let them lead her into a tomb that was thick with magical binding spells? She might be old but that was no guarantee she was stupid. He lit a cigarette and continued to think, since there was fuck all else he could do.

A three thousand plus year old vampire, now that was an interesting problem. Was she going to have the powers she would have if she’d been awake for three thousand years? Or would she just have the accumulated powers for the amount of time before she was entombed by the whoever they weres way back? With any luck, she’d only have a couple centuries worth of abilities, and Buffy would be able to take her, with or without Jane. Otherwise, Sekhmet would be something like a thermonuclear bomb with fangs.

Screaming from the camp behind him made Spike drop his cigarette.

"Bloody Hell," he grumbled and set off at a dead run.

Watchers or not, they hadn’t done much about protecting the camp, that much was evident as a wave of robe-clad figures swarmed over the camp, like ants, but less cute. There were bodies on the ground, blood darkening the sand. He scanned the chaos for Buffy and spotted her breaking a chair over a head with her usual style and grace. A form rushed at him, and he caught a flash of fangs within the darkness of the hood. Without thinking, he lashed out with his fist and caught the vamp square in the face. It hurt like hell; the shock of the impact jumped up his arm and tried to scramble his brain. Fucking human body. He cursed to himself and picked up the nearest rock and hit the vamp again. It still hurt like a son of a bitch, but the vamp went over and Spike kicked it in the head.

"Fuckin’ amateurs," he muttered.

But another green vamp was coming after him.

"Stake? Anyone got a stake?" he shouted.

What looked like it had once been a chair leg came flying in his direction. He caught it, wincing as it slammed into his sore hand, and jammed it in the vamp’s back. The vamp exploded into a shower of dust. Even as the dust was settling, Spike moved through the dark robed vamps, staking whenever the opportunity arose. It was three to nothing by the time he reached the side of the car where Isobel was trying to hold off a vampire with the remains of a chair.

"I guess they skipped the bit in the rulebook ‘bout not attackin’ during the dinner hour."

"If you hadn’t attracted their attention earlier-"

Spike shrugged and dusted the vamp giving Isobel a hard time. "Shit happens."

"Humans!" somebody shouted, "we’ve got humans too!"

"Well color me surprised," Spike said and kicked the nearest Arab who fang-faced him and rushed.

Ducking, Spike drove the stake up while the vampire sailed overhead. Clumsy newbie. The majority of the Arab vamps seemed so inept that they had to have a fairly recent manufacture date, he realized as it rained vampire dust into the desert sand for a moment.

"Vampires don’t work with humans," Isobel protested.

"Stranger things have happened."

He could hear Buffy and Jane exchanging bon mots over the rest of the affray, with occasional pauses for slaughter. He made as if to go back into the battle, but Isobel’s hand stopped him.

"Your duty is to watch," she ordered, and he would have made a nasty crack if she hadn’t been as white as if she’d been bled dry. If he guessed right, Isobel was the only string keeping the helium balloon inside Jane’s head anywhere near the ground, and he couldn’t leave her to be chewed up by Talbot’s groupies.

A baddie dashed by, and Isobel stuck a neatly stockinged foot out, sending him to chew sand while Spike stabbed him. Instead of dust, he got blood, and had to pull the stake out against the suction of human flesh. The human Arab yelled out in pain and drew back, blood fountaining from his living flesh. Isobel turned and retched, and in deference to her delicate sensibilities he knelt and tried to wipe the worst of the blood off the stake with sand.

"Given that Sekhmet’s little band o’groupies has apparently found us out, I’d say the lurin’ to the tomb plan needs some re-thinkin’."

He paused and jammed a chair-stick into a questing arm. There was a very human cry, and the arm pulled back.

"Luxor," Isobel said, her voice small but her face as composed as if she were in a lecture hall. Then she cringed as Jane howled like a werewolf. Nearby, a body thudded to the ground. She swallowed and continued to speak. "Albert thinks Talbot will show up, and even if his ambitions outstrip his talent, his Egyptology is impeccable. If Albert believes that this show is worthy of scholarly attention, then we shall find our scholar there."

The Arab assortment (alive and undead) seemed to decide en-masse that attacking the camp hadn’t been the cakewalk that they’d expected and streamed back into the desert.

"Hey, Council-types!" Buffy’s bray cut through the noise of retreating feet. "We have an all-clear, let’s have a head-count."

Bodies littered the moonlit sand, not all of them friendlies. In the end, the dead included three Arabs, an unknown number of dusted vamp Arabs, and one of the nameless Watcher flunkies. Others on staff were sporting assorted bites and injuries. Spike watched Isobel search the mayhem for Jane and saw the unguarded relief when she found her Slayer. Both Slayers were covered with vamp dust and seemed more ruffled than injured. Jane’s eyes were bright with fight-fever. Spike didn’t like this much.

Isobel examined one of the formerly hostile bodies, which sported a large ragged hole in his chest, proof that humans were messier than vamps in almost any situation. "Humans …" she whispered.

Jane was beside her as if materialized from a puff of desert air. "Not any more," she said, and there was a stippling of blood on her milky-white cheek, black in the moonlight. Her hands sought out her Watcher, caressing Isobel as a child would caress a favorite doll after some trauma.

"Jane, you didn’t—" Isobel began, but her hands were already sneaking around Jane’s shoulders, holding the girl close, and she didn’t want to hear the answer enough to finish the question.

Spike’s scarred eyebrow tried to crawl up and hide in his hairline.

Buffy strode up and kicked her shoes into the darkness beyond the camp’s lights.

"I hate those shoes," she announced. "No traction and they hurt my toes."

Realizing he ought to say something Watcherly, Spike straightened his shirt and tapped the stake against his hand as though it was a pointer and he was teaching a class.

"I suppose that accounts for your poor performance?"

He thought for a moment that she was going to hit him, but, just to keep him off balance, she settled for a sweet smile.

"My poor performance?" she asked and Spike decided to let the subject die right where it had been staked.

"Right," Isobel ran a hand over her hair to smooth it and looked around the wreckage of the camp. Reluctantly, she loosened her grip on Jane, but kept one hand on the girl’s elbow. "Albert, let’s get some wards around the perimeter, and set up a watch rota with the hired hands, please?"

It was getting on to midnight by the time Spike and Albert had enclosed the camp with another set of the damned heavy wards. Albert was thin-lipped and sullen during the operation, and Spike could see the young man’s hands shaking in the weak light from the torches.

"She’s going to get us all killed," Albert bitched. "Stupid bloody bitch. I wasn’t plannin’ on getting killed out here."

"No, the Watcher code is goin’ to get you all killed. Her imperial coldness is just followin’ the rules, and out here, the rules ain’t worth shit. An’ it doesn’t matter if the person givin’ orders is concave or convex, if you get my meanin’."

The truth of the matter was that Spike had seen enough to know that the female of the species was deadlier than the male. In a fair fight, he would have picked Darla over Angelus any night of the week – not that Darla would have fought fair, which really was the point. The thought of Darla kicking the undead shit out of Angelus warmed him somewhat as they finished placing the wards in the cool desert night.

With the spring in his step and the song in his heart that generally came from being in a good fight, Spike headed back to the tent and found Buffy clad in a white lawn night-dress sitting at the dressing table. She had her head in her hands and her fine shoulders were bowed as though she carried all the camp’s wards on her back.

"What’s troublin’ your flighty brain?" he asked, sliding his hands around the edges of her gown. He still couldn’t get used to the temperature equivalence, or the way the sweat of her body made him instantly, uncontrollably hard.

"Jane—she—she staked a man, Spike. A human."

"That’s Mr. Shankly to you," he whispered into her shell-pink ear, reaching out to taste its curves with his tongue, and she trembled beneath his fingers. Even his bones ached for her.

Her head lolled back as his mouth worked down her neck and his hands worked at the laces of her dress. "I was with Faith when she," Buffy paused to moan, a sound that floated through the room like clouds of incense, "she accidentally staked a man to death. That was when she decided that she was bad." The fine fabric, less fine than her skin, slid away like a dream and she was naked from the waist up.

"Not meanin’ to talk about other women at an inappropriate time," he said and took her breasts into his hands, rubbing her hard little nipples with his thumbs and biting down on the sword-curve of her shoulder, "Jane hasn’t decided that she’s bad."

Her hand twined in his hair, sending electric thrills through him where her fingernails raked his scalp. "That’s what I’m afraid of." She twisted on the bench, and he had to move quickly to keep up with her breasts. Her mouth was warm and wet. She’d never seemed so liquid before. As a vampire, nothing but blood had felt just right, but he could drink from her mouth for hours now. He could feel the muscles twitching underneath her skin, still heated from the evening’s battle, and taste the wine from dinner on her breath.

Spike’s back was beginning to ache, so he urged Buffy up, their mouths still superglued together, and they tottered over to the bed, where the soft blankets nearly cushioned Spike from losing his breath as Buffy landed atop him. "No weight jokes," she warned as he panted up at her.

"Not a pound of you’s wasted, Blondie," he said and used the opportunity to push the nightgown down over her hips, getting a good handful of flesh in the process. She wriggled like a mermaid on top of him to rid herself entirely of it as he nibbled at her collarbone. She wasn’t wearing underwear, and he thought again that the rumors about Slayers and sexual desire must be true.

"Careful, that’s borrowed," he warned her as she attacked the buttons of his shirt like they were tiny, annoying vampires that she could stake with her fingers.

Buffy only grunted and twisted until the shirt surrendered and flapped around his shoulders like ghost wings. He took her head in one hand – so small she was, his hand seemed to span her skull – and dragged her down to kiss and kiss again. To his unacknowledged shame, Spike could have stayed like that indefinitely, kissing her sweet slick lips, tasting the fight-sweat that shone on her body. Buffy had other ideas. Her hands freed his belt and then his trousers, sliding down his trembling thighs and tangling among the bedsheets.

He gasped when he felt the thick leather of the belt twist around his wrists. "What are you doin’?" he asked and barely noticed the break in his voice. Buffy’s breasts hung above him and he lunged for them like Tantalus, grazing a pink nipple with his tongue as she secured his hands to the headboard.

"You need to learn to behave," she purred into his ear and he groaned, his erection burning in the dry air of the tent.

"I am have," he said, and she looked at him as if he’d been hit too hard during the fight. But she was grinding her pelvis into his stomach, and if she’d just shift a little downwards everything would be cricket.

Buffy blinked and her hand slithered around to cup his balls. "What’s the matter, Spike?" Her fingers combed through the sparse hair there, and he felt the hard edges of her nails like the promise of scars. "Don’t you trust me?" Her voice was thick honey and it coated all his synapses. But even through the haze of lust, he could reckon that, for GI Joe and tender Angel, female superior had been pretty exotic, and Buffy might never have had anyone to explore her darkness with before. That was easy enough for him.

Her fingers were sliding up the shaft of his cock now, the pressure just too-hard enough to make him grunt and close his eyes in rapture. Spike could feel her breasts swaying millimeters above his mouth, and he levered his head enough to take the biggest mouthful he could. Her skin was almost chilly with sweat and she hissed and fumbled so that the head of his cock slipped inside her. He thrust his hips like the last days of disco, but Buffy was ready and rolled like a wave, keeping her wet warmth almost out of reach and tearing her breast from his mouth with a liquid smack.

"Can’t kill me the regular way, Slayer?" he gasped as she settled herself more carefully on him, a little further but nowhere near enough. Buffy smiled and flicked her hair back from her shoulders, which did interesting things to her breasts.

She eased up and down on him, setting her own rhythm with absolutely no consideration for his needs. He would have cursed her, but she might have smacked him, and he bruised easily now. Besides, she was using her hands to touch herself and it would be a shame to interrupt that task. Blonde and bronzed in the lamplight, her skin glowing from battle and sex, she was the wet dream of a thousand million men, and she had his cock inside her making her sigh and gasp. Her thighs were hot against his flanks, grinding into his hipbones.

His brain swirled away.

"O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright. It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear; Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!"

He might have thought it or said it, he wasn’t sure.

And she stiffened and cried out, then collapsed onto his chest, blonde hairs brushing his face like spider silk. Spike’s panting moved them both up and down; she was limp as a new-drained body on him. "Untie me," he growled, something of his vampire voice surviving, and her eyes were wide and stunned as she complied, still half-impaled on his cock.

The moment the belt slid free from the headboard, he had her flipped over, the buckle now wrapped around his wrist and painful but irrelevant. Her wrists were caught in his hands, thin wrists he could span together with his thumb and forefinger, like fucking a skeleton with a thin coating of flesh and muscle. But no skeleton could be warm and wet and tight around him as he pounded into her like a carpenter behind schedule and nearly out of daylight. Beneath him, Buffy counterthrust with a force that lifted them off the bed and then back. Spike could hear the groan of metal.

Maybe that was him. She wasn’t a Slayer, she was a succubus. He was so close to orgasm, had been holding it back by force of will and fear of humiliation since she’d tied him up. When he came it was going to blow out his spine. His mouth sought out her carotid, gave a little proprietary nip not hard enough to leave a mark, and moved down to where he could mark her in a less public place. Buffy moaned a little with every bite and he sped up his thrusts. When he buried his teeth in her shoulder, finally drawing a hint of blood that tasted thin and strange to his human tongue, she screeched and jerked again.

Oh thank heaven, he thought and the orgasm ripped through him like a bolt of lightning. It felt like every bone and ligament in his body was shaking apart, each with its own happy destination. He could feel his fingers clench and flex against Buffy’s slick skin, and smell the sex in the air. Even as the euphoria drenched every atom of his body, the smell was the best part. It seemed like proof.

He rolled off of her, hissing as his oversensitive human flesh parted from her. Buffy sighed and let her hand drift onto his chest. He felt his heartbeat starting to slow, and watched her hand rise and fall with his breath. It was too much. It made him wish that things were different.

William, he thought with near-resignation, you’re a bleedin’ romantic and that’s the honest truth.

****

Sunlight was burning through his eyelids, seeking him out to destroy him, to grind him under the wheels of the chariot of the sun. His chest was tight, he was burning, choked and burnt by the all powerful Eye of Heaven. He fought against the bonds holding him down, holding him out to die in the pitiless light.

"Urk?" the bonds asked, and Spike opened his eyes to see a single blue eye staring back at him.

It took him a few moments to review current events and realize that the bond in question was the Slayer’s bare arm over his chest and her equally bare leg wrapped over his. There was an awful lot of bare Slayer pressed up against him, pinning him down to the lumpy mattress. As far as bonds were concerned, this was acceptable, and he remembered that, since the freakish trip through Talbot’s Time

Tornado, he was human and the worst thing the sun could do was give him sunburn. The terror subsided somewhat. For her part,

Buffy made a sniffling noise and burrowed into her pillow, arm and leg still pinning him down as if he were a teddy bear prone to wander.

The sun was brightening the tent around them like a paper lantern. He lay on his side and watched the canvas glow. How many sunrises had he missed anyway? The actual figure was something in the order of forty thousand, and since sunrises in England weren’t as much an event as a vague sort of occurrence . . . maybe less. A new wrinkle, or rather something that he’d forgotten from his living days, was the existence of the morning erection. It seemed a pity to squander the opportunity, not to mention that he was awake before Buffy.

As for the Slayer, she was warm and soft, smelling like sex and skin pressed up against him. With the hot sheets pushed down around her thighs, she was bare and lovely in the morning sunlight. He hadn’t lied the night before, there was barely any of her to hold, her skin and muscles stretched over bones like the canvas and wire of a biplane, flexible, strong, but easily damaged. Bruises dotted her ribcage, and for once he was reasonably certain that he hadn’t caused them. With his tongue, he followed the breadcrumb trail of bruises down her torso to her thighs. He wished that he could taste the blood beneath the skin, tantalized by the broken vessels underneath his tongue.

He could hear her sigh, feel her breath move his hair, and her fingers wrap around his shoulder, digging nails into his skin. She pushed his head down between her thighs, where she was musky and sticky from last night’s activities. He traced patterns on her with his tongue, Latin and Greek that he’d learned fifty years ago or a hundred and twenty-five, back when they still taught such things to bright young boys. She sighed above him, her hands twisting in his hair signaling what worked best.

Her morning orgasm was sharp and swift, and he felt no compunction in entering her with the same haste, the sweat making their bodies slip-slide against one another and the light from outside the tent nearly as bright as the light behind his eyes. Quiet they were, with the morning sounds of the camp starting behind the canvas. Her hands skimmed whatever body parts she could reach, smoothing, stroking, soft for a change. There was almost no friction, she was so wet, their skins were so wet and the light was washing over everything. Spike started to wonder if he really had awakened or this was just another dream. But when he finally climaxed, it was an endless slow motion shudder of ecstasy like the sunlight itself.

Afterwards, he slept again, her limbs still wrapped around his.

He woke up with a yell, just as the bed shook.

"Spike!" Buffy said and kicked the bed again.

This was getting old.

"You know, there are far more pleasant ways of wakin’ up a bloke."

"We’ve got work to do. The tomb has to be finished up and after yesterday’s herd-thinning you’re apparently a vital part of the operation."

"We? So you’ll be haulin’ wards with the rest of us blokes?"

Today she was in trousers, slim and light, a refugee from a Polo ad with her gold-gleaming hair and dazzlingly white shirt, messing with her face at the dressing table mirror. "No, I’m going to be updating Jane on the finest in next-century hand-to-hand. Have you seen any sort of, of, I don’t know, keep hair in place kind of stuff?"

"Jane’d make quite the vampire," he said, leaving the bed to pad over to the washstand and splash lukewarm water on his face.

"You probably think that’s a compliment." She looked over at him and blushed.

It took him a moment to figure out why she’d reddened, but Spike realized it was because he was naked. Somehow she could shag him senseless and still manage embarrassment afterwards. Actually, it was kind of cute. Trying to keep a straight face, he lathered up a face flannel and proceeded to scrub the sweat and sex-stickiness off his skin.

"I know hair gel is totally not now, but how can there not be conditioner? Hair moisturizing goo? Pomade or something?" Buffy muttered and rummaged around in the dressing-table drawers. "Aqua Net. I would even settle for Aqua Net."

"Slayer, seer and vampire," he mused. "It would be the trifecta of evil."

"Scary."

"Good thing it’s impossible." Bent over the washstand, he poured lukewarm water onto his hair and rubbed at it, not quite as effective as a shower but it was going to have to do for the time being.

"What?"

"Slayers can’t become vampires.," he said and wiped water out of his eyes, "What has Giles been teaching you? Or does he just stand around lookin’ British?"

Still dripping, he went to get his trousers out of the press. If they stayed here much longer, he’d need laundry done. He’d forgotten how inconvenient sweat could be.

She didn’t respond except to take up the heavy silver brush on the nightstand and begin attacking her hair.

"Why d’you think vamps try to kill you? If we—"

"We?"

"Shh, I’m explainin’. If we could turn a Slayer, the destruction she’d create would be incalculable. I always figured that’s why the Powers just take ‘em away when they die."

"All those nightmares," she said softly.

"Forget that." Standing behind her, he could see his face and hers reflected in the dressing mirror. The black eyes were only faintly gray now. But more to the point, the man in the mirror above the pretty girl was someone he hadn’t seen in decades. "Plenty of real horrors to have nightmares about."

Almost unwillingly, he reached out and touched her hair, pulling it forward over her shoulder where it gleamed fluffy gold against her white shirt. In the mirror reflection, her eyes flicked up and met his, and something dark crossed below the surface of her stormy Atlantic blue eyes. The dark thing chewed at his chest for a moment until he broke the spell by poking an obnoxious finger into her ear.

"Like Sekhmet, for example."

"Ow! Yes," she said and rubbed at her ear, "like Sekhmet. And Talbot."

Fortunately, the only razor Spike had ever shaved with had been a straight razor, and after lathering his face he started scraping away bristles with the sharp, silver edge. Buffy watched with horrified fascination.

"How come you don’t cut your own throat?"

"’Cause I’m careful. Now why don’t you toddle off and quit distractin’ me."

"I am totally out of here," she snorted and stomped off.

Jane’s young French-speaking servant had left him new shirts, and he put on the clean cotton with a shudder of pleasure. But Buffy had been right, there was nothing in any way shape or form of hair product in the tent. So even though he was clean, shaved and wearing a fresh shirt, the only thing he could do was give his wet hair a few hopeless pokes with his fingers before he headed out into the baking morning sunlight.

****

Isobel was about to get on Spike’s last nerve, but he steeled himself into a false smile when he found her at the breakfast table. There was toast with orange marmalade, and this made him happy.

"Good morning, Mr. Shankly."

"Good morning."

Isobel put the journal she’d been reading down on the table. "I wish to speak with you."

"And aren’t you doing that?"

Her face seemed to tighten even further, as if she were getting a face-lift by pinning the skin back. "It’s obvious that you have an inappropriate relationship with your Slayer."

"I do?" He let that comment hang in the air for just long enough for Isobel to look away.

What was obvious was that both he and Buffy had forgotten that tent walls weren’t as good at blocking sound as brick and mortar. Oddly enough, he was slightly embarrassed at the thought that they must have been entertaining the entire camp with their sex sounds the past couple of rounds. He wasn’t used to having living neighbors.

"She’s four years over the age of consent," Spike pointed out. "An’ gentlemen have been marrying their tasty young wards since before Ethelred the Unready bollixed things."

"Do you intend to marry her, then?"

Spike almost choked on his own tongue. Then he considered telling her that Buffy had already released him from his promise, a phrase outdated even in 1925.

"I never intended any of this," he said and it was too true to continue, so he changed to aggression instead. It was more comforting.

"You know as well as I do, the Slayer doesn’t get to go home to a hubby and kids at the end of the day. Death does its parting soon enough for her, it does. If she’s lucky she dies savin’ the world, if she’s not lucky she dies instead of savin’ it. If I can make one day of what she’s got a little better for her, then the Council and the Powers That Be and all the rest can go hang."

Isobel flushed at his words, but held her ground. "That’s all very well, but what happens when protecting you conflicts with the greater good?"

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one," he said automatically, but it meant nothing to her. Spike sighed. "Buffy knows her duty. Even if she loved me," and the words burnt his throat like acid, not that he’d ever thought different but he’d tried not to think it at all, "our girl is exceedin’ brave. If I were you, I’d worry a tad more about Jane. The girl’s cracked in the center."

Isobel’s lips compressed in a line tighter than a tourniquet.

"She’s got the Sight," Spike insisted, pressing his advantage. "That’s not compatible with slaying."

"We hardly have a choice in the matter," Isobel burst out. "Should we have—there was discussion on the Council—it would have been insupportable!"

"Killing her and hoping the next one had a better head on her shoulders?"

She looked away.

"Same old Council," he said cheerfully. "They still think the girls exist for their benefit."

"This isn’t the nineteenth century anymore," she murmured, looking at him with the first friendly expression she’d deigned to produce.

"No, it isn’t," he agreed.

"Do you ever think about what you will do when your Buffy is gone?"

Ice dropped into his stomach.

"I know she’ll leave me behind eventually," he admitted.

"They always leave," Isobel said. "And we turn them into words, pages in a Chronicle. The only consolation is that the work must be done."

****

They’d taken hotel rooms at the Winter Palace in order to have a base of operations nearby. If all went well, they’d take Talbot back to a room surrounded by other Council-rented rooms – not that anyone was likely to investigate screams in an anything-goes country and an anything-goes decade, but it would cut down on the necessary bribes – and request him to assist the Watchers with their inquiries.

Buffy had an elaborate ice blue beaded dress borrowed from Jane, and Albert had produced a rather well cut white dinner jacket and black trousers for Spike.

"Damn," Buffy cursed as the second garter went flying off into the corners of the room.

"What’s wrong now?" Spike’s tone was indulgent, and she wanted to strangle him but her hands were too full with garters and stockings.

"These -" she waved her hands at him. He moved over to the chair where she was attempting to assemble her outfit and knelt on the carpet.

"Here," he said, and his fingers were deft with the buttons and elastic. She just knew they were going to dig into her skin; Buffy had the feeling that garter-leg was as much of an affliction as waffle-butt from sitting on a deckchair. Still, having his hands trail up and down her legs, smoothing the stockings, was not unpleasant.

"There you are," he said and lightly slapped her outer thigh. "A very model of the modern Slayer. Next time you might put the stockings on first, easier access."

She gave him hmmph-face and he grinned back up at her. The knot on his bowtie looked like it had swollen to twice natural size and then been squeezed. "Stand up," she ordered, and she rose from the chair so that they were not six inches apart. He looked into her eyes and she felt a current running between them, pooling golden and thick in her stomach. She felt for his tie without looking, then had to look down to untangle it. "I can’t go to a party with a guy looking like this," she explained to his chest as she fixed and neatened the knot.

"Stupid things, ties," he admitted.

"Why anybody would walk around with a noose around their neck is plain old stupid," she said and stepped back to check her handiwork.

"You wanna do the stockin’ thing again? That was fun," he suggested.

Instead she turned back to the wardrobe. She still needed to figure out how to get into the dress.

****

The long crystals of Jane’s earrings were chiming around Buffy’s head as she made her way down the staircase. The Winter Palace had been all decked out in white roses and gold ribbons for the reception, but Buffy wasn’t too concerned with what the Arab Martha Stewarts had been up to. She still wasn’t sure that she had everything on right, and the soles of the new shoes were worry time on the slickness of the red rugs. The hairpins were digging into her skull in a zillion uncomfortable places and she was sure that Jane’s bright red lipstick was making her look like a bimbo from an old Poison video.

Somewhere there was music, a stringy-thing that would have been uncool even for Mom, but nice in an old-fashioned kind of way. Gripping the lacy metal handrail, Buffy picked her way down the stairs and hoped that she wouldn’t fall on her ass in front of too many people. If it hadn’t been for the dangerous shoes, she could have let herself feel like Scarlett O’Hara gliding down the stairs in the first couple of scenes of Gone With the Wind. Except Scarlett would have had Red Butler – Rhett Butler – waiting at the bottom of the stairs smiling at her.

She got Spike, wearing a Spiky smirk walking alongside her and not looking uncomfortable.

"You’re easier to kill now, I just wanted to remind you," she hissed as he held out a hand to help her make the change from slippy carpet to slippy wood floor.

"Thanks for the remindin’," he muttered back at her. "I was goin’ to tell you how lovely you looked, now you’ve got me fearin’ for my mortal life."

"If you don’t, the fear thing can start."

"You look nice," he said and somehow managed to sound as fake as his haircolor.

"Thank you," she said and let herself look at him, realizing that he was about as dressed up and unusual as she was.

Spike in a white dinner jacket, who would have thunk it? He really did have suit body – broad across the shoulders and narrowiing down from that. She touched her hair to make sure that it was still where it was supposed to be and tottered along with him into what they were calling the ‘Salon’. Instead of what Buffy would have considered a salon, the room was pretty and elegant in a stuffy kind of way. There were some gold and red chairs, bunches of flowers on any flat surface and some that tilted, and a fish-faced man in a turban behind a table making drinks. Scattered around this was an assortment of stuffy and unfriendly-looking people in fancy clothes bunching around little tables of little food things.

Buffy froze in the doorway like an uninvited vampire. She could smell all the people, and except for the sick-making swirl of perfumes they smelled just like everyone else in this time – sweaty and harsh.

"What?" Spike demanded.

"Not my – thing. Fancy manners thing. Just altogether badness for Buffy."

"Right," he agreed and quickly looked around the room, at the people and what was on the tables, "Finger food, no problem with the flatware. Smile much, talk little and faux pas should be avoided."

"Mr. Spike teaches etiquette, period this isn’t the past, it’s a freaking parallel universe," she muttered as he tugged her through the doorway.

A swarthy-type in a red server’s jacket passed by with a tray of champagne flutes. Spike liberated a pair and passed one to Buffy. She took the cool glass and sipped it. The bubbles stung her nose but it was a million, million times better than beer.

"And we just stand around and wait for Talbot to show up?" she asked.

"Smile, drink champagne, try not to stake the guests . . . Even though the Tutankhamun dig is old news to Yummy, there’s no way he goes back in time and then skips this unveilin’. Nutter with mummy stuff all around his place."

"You live in a mausoleum. There are skulls on your floor. Pot, kettle, you know the rest."

"It’s a crypt."

"Hello? Stone box, dead stuff, same difference."

Albert rolled up, looking polished and cool in his tuxedo. "Greetin’s all. D’ja see Isobel and Jane yet?"

"I suppose they’re still dressin’," Spike said and gave Albert some kind of significant boy look that made Buffy’s hairpins dig harder into her head.

"Howard Carter’s here, Lady Carnarvon, and the rest of the digging and preservation people," he yammered. "And would you believe that Pierre Lacau, the Director-General of the Antiquities Service, and the Minister of Public Works, Morcos Bey Hanna, came as well? Last I heard Lacau and Bey Hanna were threatening to throw Carter out of Egypt altogether."

"Guess they forgot that when they started seein’ gold."

"It’s amazing what people will do for money." Buffy flashed Spike a deadly look, remembering too many times when he would have sold his grandmother for a couple hundred in hard cash.

"Those people make up the Who’s Who of Archaeology. This is the most important find in Egyptology to date," Albert enthused like a Trekkie seeing the previews for a new movie.

"No," Spike corrected, "the biggest find ever."

Giving a strained laugh, Albert rubbed at his shiny forehead with a linen handkerchief, "You know I keep forgetting that you’re ahead of us . . ."

"So do we," Buffy said and gave him a smile.

From all appearances, Albert seemed to be an okay guy, a little chauvinistic, but nice.

"Do you think that as many days have passed at home as they have here?" she asked Spike. "Because Giles and the rest of them are going to think that I’m dead and my mother—"

"We can get you back before you left, if you know when that was. I mean the spells are pretty specific," Albert offered and proved that he had been paying attention at Watcher school after all.

"There’s a saying old says that love is blind/Still we’re often told, ‘Seek and ye shall find’ /So I’m going to seek a certain boy I’ve had in mind. . ." a woman started singing along with the band, sad and sweet. Buffy didn’t know the song. The tune had to be so old that even Giles might not have heard it.

"See, told you," Spike said and she was sure that he was lying, just pretending the whole Watcher thing. "Want to dance?" he asked.

This had potential. There was no way that Spike was going to be able to mosh or slam-dance with the music that the band was playing, and there were a few stuffy couples shuffling around the shiny floor with the enthusiasm of drugged turtles. On the other hand, Spike moved as though his joints had been liberally lubricated, when he wasn’t galumphing around like a cartoon character. The boy did know that his hips were for something other than just connecting his legs to his body.

"Okay," she said.

Spike passed his glass to Albert, and Buffy followed suit. They crossed to the dance floor. Standing there with a glass in either hand, Albert watched them go. Spike’s hand was warm in hers and his other hand rested demurely on her waist. She wondered how long that was going to last.

"Now this isn’t your Sunnydale Sway, which is basically shaggin’ standin’ up," he instructed. "There’s a proper manners thing goin’ on here."

"And I was really looking forward to upright sex in front of all these people."

"Now the upright sex bit has some potential," he murmured into her ear.

An agreeable tingle ran down from her ear to her hand, making tiny goosebumps along the line.

"Only man I ever think of with regret/I’d like to add his initial to my monogram/Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?"

"I saw that," he said.

"What?"

"That ‘Spike’s a Big Bad’ thought followed by the ‘I shouldn’t be doin’ this’ one."

"I wasn’t thinking ‘Big’."

"Now you’re insultin’ me," he said and gave her one of his here and gone smiles.

"There’s a somebody I’m longing to see/I hope that he turns out to be/Someone who’ll watch over me."

Insults were pretty much the way that they communicated, Buffy realized. Quip trading, smacking around, and then giving into whatever perverse thing that made her crash into him like a television dropped from a rooftop. At least here she could be seen dancing with him, was allowed to laugh when he cracked jokes, and didn’t have all her friends wondering if she had finally lost her sanity.

He smelled good, like soap and aftershave and whatever he had used to slick down his hair, and they could shuffle demurely around the dance floor and no one stared. The dance floor was filling with more couples now, and they were just two young blondes on the town. Had they danced in Sunnydale, Spike would have been surrounded by angry Scoobies carrying stakes for him and a straightjacket for her.

"You’re thinkin’, I can smell somethin’ burnin’."

"I’m thinking ‘is my life weird or what?’ I don’t want to be here slow dancing with you fifty years before I was born."

"Fifty-five years."

"Whatever. I don’t want to be here slow dancing with you and liking it."

"You got it wrong, love, this is the bit where you’re supposed to say that I’m really not a bad guy at all and both of us bein’ human changes everythin’."

"You are a bad guy."

A strange expression crossed his face, something like hurt, something not like hurt. It was hard to tell.

"So why do you bother with me, then?"

"I have no idea," she admitted.

Another expression replaced maybe hurt – it was vintage pissed-off vampire Spike.

"I can’t be somethin’ I’m not."

"You’re pretending pretty well, aren’t you?"

"You just don’t give up, do you?" he snapped and turned on his heel to leave her alone on the dance floor.

Humiliation crawled up her neck and stained her face red, and the room started to swim while her eyes stung. It had to be the roses; she was having an allergic reaction to all the roses. She hung there for a moment and realized that everyone was staring.

"Although he may not be the man some/girls think of as handsome/To my heart he carries the key/Won’t you tell Him please to put on some speed/Follow my lead, oh, how I need/Someone to watch over me."

In a heartbeat, Albert had stepped up to the plate and wrapped his arm around her waist.

"That was rude," he remarked.

"Spi- Shankly is a little emotional. I upset him."

"I don’t quite understand how any woman as beautiful as you are could upset anyone."

That should have made her feel better. She smiled and leaned into his shoulder. Everyone who told her she was beautiful wanted to use her, or worse to leave her, in the end. It was better than being ugly, for sure, but it was a bad way to attract boys. Which was a point in Spike’s favor. He’d never told her she was beautiful. In fact, he usually insulted her or her clothes. She could count the times he’d ever said anything nice to her on one hand. That couldn’t be good, either.

"What are you thinking?" Albert asked gently.

Buffy blinked. "I’m thinking … that’s Talbot, right over there. And who is that with him?"

Albert put his cheek to hers and followed her sightline. "I don’t know, but I’d wager that she’s wearing authentic Pharaonic jewelry. Say Seventeenth or Eighteenth Dynasty."

The woman was stunning in a Catherine Zeta-Jones way: black hair like a waterfall, skin like the moon reflected in water, kohl-lined eyes that looked exotic rather than gothic or raccoon-y the way Buffy would have. "So I’m thinking Miss Egypt over there might be pre-manifestation Sekhmet."

Pre-manifestation Sekhmet was decked out in something pale yellow and filmy, shining in the electric lights and teasing the eye with the promise of transparency. Not surprisingly, she had the kind of curvy swervy body that made boys go all Neanderthal.

Albert swallowed. "We’d best be careful, then."

"You can roll your tongue back into your mouth while you’re at it," Buffy said and this time she was the one to walk away from her dance partner. Between her and Talbot, couples swirled, the women’s skirts flaring like pansies as their men moved them across the floor, following elaborate unmarked paths. Blondes with short marcelled hair and strings of pearls dripping down their backs obscured her view of the demonic couple, then revealed them again. Talbot’s partner was watching the dancers like a cat in front of a bowl of goldfish.

"Hey," she said, tapping Talbot on his free arm, keeping him between herself and the not-quite-woman, "what do you think you’re doing, unleashing a goddess who wants to eat the entire world?"

"Miss Summers, it’s a shame your tenacity doesn’t extend to your coursework," Talbot said in a patronizing teacher voice.

"You looked up my grades?" she asked.

"I like to know who I’m dealing with. And your GPA doesn’t exactly identify you as a threat."

Buffy’s face heated up.

"Look, buddy, I did not come here for academic counseling. You are about to unleash a very dangerous thing on a world that doesn’t deserve it!"

Talbot let out a stream of Arabic out of the side of his mouth, and his companion froze like a mannequin. Her eyes still moved, though, tracking the paths of humans in the room. Then he grabbed Buffy’s arm and pulled her in the direction of the French doors opening into the garden courtyard. Buffy decided to let him do so, since she was moderately interested in Talbot’s version of the Evil Overlord speech. There were so many variations, kind of like your crazy power-hungry maniac’s nightly top ten list.

As if he knew he had to keep her attention, he began talking as they headed out. "Terrible things happen during this century. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the wholesale slaughter of species, the poisoning of our rivers and seas, and the chemical emissions that will destroy the ozone and raise the global temperature past the boiling point."

"And you think that if vampires take over the world, they’ll kill us all and none of that will happen? I’m as big a fan of the panda as anyone, but your plan, like, defines the word ‘overkill.’" They were out onto the flagstones now, and Buffy had to adjust again to keep her balance on the hateful shoes.

Talbot steadied her with a hand at her elbow and smiled, as if all he could see was a cute co-ed. "Sekhmet is not a vampire; she’s a god." He said "god" with the shuddery breathlessness of Dawn disclosing her crush on Keanu Reeves. "She should have arisen in 3000 B.C. and rule for a thousand generations. She would have unified the West, and ultimately the world, under the orderly rules of Egyptian society rather than the chaos that came out of the mess of Christianity, the Dark Ages, the Black Death, even the ravings of the Renaissance." Buffy couldn’t quite understand what he was talking about, but then history geeks were often confusing.

"What no one today understands is that Sekhmet was the culmination of a long line of gods and living gods, the Pharaohs. Her powers, her – unique – needs, they were widespread among the rulers of the time. It was only rebellion and treachery by Amenophis, brazenly calling himselfAnkhenaten, that prevented her from succeeding to the throne and ruling in glory." Talbot paused and snagged a flute of champagne from a roving butler, who melted back into the night.

"So, with this ruling and throne thingy, I guess the humans just get to sweep out the throne room and occasionally offer themselves as tasty snacks?"

Talbot ignored her, as Evil Overlords are wont to do. "You’re obviously a woman of some kind of power. There is a place for you in the order of things as they should be. When Sekhmet rises in truth, when she crushes the unrest even now brewing in Europe, events will resume their proper course. You could help guide them."

Buffy took a step backward, and the heels let her. "That’s just so sweet of you. But you’re only trading one form of horrible death for another. Vampires running the world are going to be like Nazis squared. You so do not want to go there."

Naturally, a gun materialized in Talbot’s hand. Why was it that egghead weaklings who couldn’t take a punch could somehow outdraw any gunslinger? "It was worth a try," he said and smiled his sunny, dimpled smile. Buffy wanted to sigh but watched his gun hand instead. As his finger began to tighten on the trigger, she dropped and, balanced on one hand, swept her legs in a vicious kick that hit Talbot right in the knees. She heard the crack of cartilage, and then the gunshot, which kicked up stone fragments around her ears.

Back on her feet again, she ground a spiked heel into Talbot’s hand, the first use she’d gotten out of the damn shoes, and forced him to relinquish the gun. Another kick sent it off into the garden, to appall the groundskeepers later. Talbot, weeping from the pain, nonetheless managed to gargle out something that sounded different from regular Arab-speak. She kicked him in the head, because she hadn’t before, and he fell silent.

But the noise from the party was just starting. Screams, and meatier sounds. Sonofabitch must have turned Sekhmet back on in some remote-control way. She ran back into the salon, hitching her skirt up.

The room was almost deserted when she reentered. A small pile of bodies, stacked like a teetering pile of Christmas presents, was back against one wall, behind the vampire woman who was surely Sekhmet. She turned and looked over her shoulder at Buffy, mouth shockingly red, and Buffy had the feeling that she hadn’t borrowed Jane’s lipstick to create the effect.

Albert, waving his own gun, came charging into the room.

"What part of Watcher didn’t you understand?" she sniped at him, angry that she had another human to protect.

"Can’t find Jane," he gasped, the gun wavering in his hands as he looked at the pile of bodies. "That’s Bey Hanna’s assistant."

"Used to be," Buffy corrected. "Find Jane, find Isobel, and find Spike."

"Spi-"

"Shankly. Nickname, long ugly story," she stopped herself before she yammered again. "Just do it now!"

But no, Albert had to try to be a hero and shot at the woman. She stepped back as the bullet impacted the front of her dress, leaving a small black hole. Albert, who could not have been paying attention in Watcher School as well as she’d thought, actually gaped in shock as Sekhmet advanced on him. Buffy grabbed one of the nearby serving tables – hors d’oeuvres cascaded to the floor – and broke the table legs over her knees into makeshift, but still pointy, stakes.

"Albert, stake!" she shouted and threw one to him.

Albert was never even going to make it into the minor league. The stake bounced off his fingers and clattered to the floor even as Sekhmet was reaching for him. Groaning with frustration, Buffy charged the undead Egyptian chick. Sekhmet wrapped her fingers around the barrel of Albert’s gun and crushed it in her grip like uncooked manicotti. Chunks of metal clattered to the floor and Albert gave out a little moan of fear as Sekhmet’s bloodstained fingers reached for his throat. By the time Buffy reached Sekhmet, Albert’s feet were dangling a few inches off the ground at Sekhmet was looking up into his face as though she was trying to decide if he had a caramel or nut filling.

"Put the archaeologist down!" Buffy ordered.

Sekhmet turned her head and stared at Buffy. There wasn’t anything remotely like human-ness in her dark eyes. In her time, Buffy had seen plenty of scary demons and vampires, but almost all of them had manifested some kind of emotion on their faces. Even Angel. Sekhmet’s stare was as blank as copier paper. Fear nagged at her like a torn cuticle.

"Did you have Slayers back in the mummy days?" Buffy asked. "Girls whose sole purpose in life was to turn nasty vampires like you into ashes?"

"Doesn’t speak English," Albert choked.

"So much for my witty repartee," Buffy decided and kicked the hand that Sekhmet was using to hold Albert aloft.

Albert fell to the ground like a discarded sock monkey.

Sekhmet’s face didn’t change at all but she began to move towards Buffy.

****

Spike was having a food-gasm.

The caviar was to die for. The potent black spheres of salt and sea crushed against his taste buds like a divine sacrifice. Just a touch of lemon juice and he was in heaven. He’d eaten his way through the pate de fois gras, the proscuitto-wrapped cantaloupe, the cheeses, the puff pastry with Stilton cheese and quince jam, the stuffed grape leaves, the Gruyere walnut wafers, the lamb balls with dill, the salmon mousse on new potato halves. This was better than sex – almost. This was food that he could write a poem about, if he still did such things.

"You eat like a starving dog," Jane said.

He turned to her, mouth and hands full. She stared at him, which made it rather difficult to chew. He finally managed to swallow. "Food’s different in th’ next century," he hedged, since she wouldn’t live long enough to contradict him."It’s healthy."

"But you weren’t you in the next century," she said with deadly precision and stepped closer. Spike reached back and put a handful of nuts back on the table so he could grip it for balance. "You were only you before now. How can that be?"

"The Sight speaks in metaphors. Maybe you don’t understand what you see."

Her eyes were like the bluest heart of a gas flame. "The Seer speaks in metaphors. The Sight is true. You never came home. Your mother thought you were dead and she cried. She was right."

The pate turned into cement in his stomach.

When the screams came from the salon, Spike almost sagged to the ground with relief. Then he hurried after Jane, one hand still full of apples and Stilton.

They passed Albert on the way. He seemed perturbed, but they didn’t stop to listen.

Buffy was circling a gorgeous vampire, trying to learn her moves. The vampire was somewhat awkward, as if she’d just been raised, but she was lightning-swift which indicated significant age. Sekhmet’s avatar, Spike realized, old yet sleepy. Buffy had a stake in each hand. Jane darted over to the side, where chairs for vanished wallflowers were scattered. She performed an emergency chairectomy and returned, armed like Buffy.

She skittered around the Slayer/vampire pair, trying to get behind Sekhmet’s back.

There was an explosion off to his right, by the doors to the garden, and Jane staggered and put her hand to her forearm. It came away bloody. Spike turned to see Dr. Yummy pointing a tiny derringer, now trying to get a better shot at Buffy.

Spike advanced on him. Poofter wasn’t even watching. "Hey," he said, coming up beside Talbot, "that’s a girl’s gun," and hit him in the stomach when Talbot turned to confront him. Talbot staggered and Spike kneed him in the balls. The good doctor folded like the Playmate of the Month when mom comes in the door.

Spike could have kept kicking, but he really wanted to get up close and personal with the man. Make sure no tasty young Slayer would ever think of him as "yummy" again. With a knee on Talbot’s stomach to make sure he couldn’t catch his breath, Spike lifted his fist to pummel the man, and realized that he was still holding the Stilton.

Waste not, want not. As Talbot tried to suck in a breath, Spike slammed a fistful of the pungent dirty-sock flavored cheese between his teeth like a gag.

Talbot’s eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets. "Yah, you Yanks can’t take an English cheese, can you now?"

Talbot choked and spat a chunk of Stilton on the marble floor. "Oh now you’ve done it," Spike warned. "Wastin’ good Stilton’s a crime against ‘umanity, and you ain’t the proper class a’criminal for that." Hands laced into a double fist, he walloped Talbot’s pretty cheek, sending his face slamming into stone for a second impact.

Talbot was still scrabbling for the gun, but Spike had a decent grip on him, so he turned to look at the battle of the Slayers – which had departed. He could hear things breaking in the main hallway, over the noise of the fountains there. A kick to the jaw redirected his attention to his own situation. Four men, presumably Talbot’s flunkies, were advancing on him, and one was drawing back his leg for another blow. Spike launched himself away from Talbot and towards the main hall.

He slammed the salon door on the men – they could get around, but it would take precious seconds – and turned to see Buffy and Jane dodging swipes from Sekhmet. Her hands were so white and so fast that when she moved she seemed to leave streaks in the air. They were circling one of the fountains; the merry arcs of water danced like diamonds around them.

Now Buffy was feinting, drawing closer to keep Sekhmet’s attention, while Jane tried to get around her back. Buffy dared too close and Spike screamed "No!" just as Sekhmet’s hand settled around her throat. Sekhmet held Buffy out like a cat with a kitten by the scruff of its neck. Buffy’s hands flailed wildly, attempting to dislodge the vampire’s grip. Sekhmet turned in circles, using Buffy as a shield from Jane’s stake.

Spike didn’t remember leaving the doorway; he was on Sekhmet’s back, pulling her hair like the reins of a horse. He heard Buffy break free, gasping, and then Sekhmet bucked him off and picked Buffy up again. Spike landed hard on his back as Sekhmet grabbed Buffy by the shoulders and pushed her head into the fountain. Jane finally stuck her stake into the kneeling Sekhmet, but she must have been off because Sekhmet merely twitched her shoulders and Jane fell back, the stake crumbling to toothpicks in her hand. Buffy was still underwater and Spike thought it had been hours already.

"Get her throat!" he yelled to Jane. "Won’t kill her but she’ll have to let go!"

Even the undead retained human body memories, and with her throat pierced Sekhmet’s priority would be to remove the obstruction. At least he hoped that a three thousand year old vampires would behave like the rest of them.

Jane complied, and it worked halfway. The stake slid into the back of Sekhmet’s neck with a wet pop. The goddess stilled for a moment before one hand went to her throat to pull out the stake. She pulled it through her throat like a girl threading a needle – and Spike nearly gave up the hors d’oeuvres he’d eaten at the sight of the shard of wood, black with vampire blood, emerge from Sekhmet’s white throat. With her free hand, she smacked Jane halfway across the floor. Buffy flopped out of the fountain like a landed fish and hit the floor with a sodden plop.

Sekhmet rose to her feet, shuddering like an oak in a hurricane, and turned to face Jane. Spike wondered whether there was a sword or a fire within reach; staking without cutting and baking was obviously useless. Jane squared her shoulders and raised another chair-part like a javelin.

From one side, Talbot and his minions burst into the room just as a passel of civilians, lured by the relative quiet of the last few minutes, came through the main doors. Sekhmet, the focus of everyone’s stares, seemed to preen and raised her hands as if blessing a worshipful crowd. Talbot said something in angry whatever-it-was, and she lowered her arms and came to him. Already, her movements were smoother. Spike couldn’t begin to imagine what she’d be at full strength.

Talbot took Sekhmet and his companions back the way he’d come.

Buffy vomited water onto the clean marble floor, and was immediately swallowed by a flock of women in their bright dresses. He could leave her for a few moments. Not even the freshest vamp would attack her in that size of a crowd.

In his peripheral vision, Spike saw a robed figure detach himself from the crowd, as if he’d learned what he’d stayed for. Jane was watching him, a linen napkin wrapped around her bloody arm; he jerked his head towards the departing man, and they followed him out into the hallway, and then into the alley right next to the Winter Palace.

"Let’s not go all the way back to HQ with him," he suggested to Jane as she hurried down the steps of the palace beside him. Keeping up with her easy strides made him pant, but he was there. "I’m all out of patience for bein’ outnumbered."

Jane just nodded and sped up.

She caught the Arab just at the end of the alleyway.

The unlucky man somersaulted into the wall with the thudding of uncomfortable bones. Spike ran a hand through his hair and tightened his grip on the bit of board he’d purloined from a packing crate.

"Where’s Sekhmet?"

"Sekhmet will arise and clean our country of you foreign infidels!"

"Religious rhetoric really gets on my wick, you know?"

The broken board smashed into the side of the Arab’s head, sending drops of blood in a beautiful splatter pattern over the dirty wall. Spike stepped back and looked down at his shirt. There were matching blood droplets on it. This was good, this was almost like the old days, and he could feel himself smile. The man gargled on blood and turned his face away.

"You have raped our country."

"Changin’ your tune to anti-imperialist dogma? Not gonna’ work, you tell me where Sekhmet went and I’ll let you limp out of here."

"She will live again and the blood will rise like the Nile, drowning the nonbelievers and those who have enslaved us," the flunky chanted like a mullet-headed groupie at a Megadeth concert.

"This is me not carin’ about any of that." He slapped the man, just for the humiliation factor. "Where’s Talbot’s fuckin’ mummy?!"

The Arab pressed his lips shut and Spike hit him again, this time in the kidneys, so he groaned and huddled to grab at his injured parts.

"William?" Jane asked in a voice like chiffon, "What are you doing?"

"Questionin’ the witness," Spike said and looked over to where she was standing in some stray light like a ghost in her white dress.

"Can I watch?" she asked.

"Suit yourself."

Making a gesture that Spike assumed was the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of making the sign of the cross, the Arab began to pray.

"Hail, Father of the Gods! Hail, Mother of the Gods! Deliver Sekhmet from every evil obstruction, from every dire attack of an enemy. Deliver her from that deadly slayer with knife-like words, from men, gods, Spirit-souls, and the damned."

"No need to get personal, mate," Spike muttered and aimed a kick at the man’s midsection.

The Arab cried out and Jane floated a little closer, her dress hissing around her legs as she moved. Even with the thickness of human senses, Spike could smell her excitement, and the blood of the Arab. He knew that he had broken some ribs and was disappointed that was all he could manage. How was it that now he had the ability to kill again, and didn’t have the ways or means? Fate was a complete bitch, and probably looked quite a bit like Darla.

"He’s stubborn," Jane said in a breezy voice that wrapped nicely around Spike’s brain.

"Want a crack at it?" Spike asked and offered her the board.

Instead, Jane knelt in the dirt next to the Arab, and her light-whitened hand stroked his flushed, dark skin, leaving finger-trails of blood. Even warmed by a living heart, Spike’s mouth watered at the sight.

"Just tell us where Sekhmet is hiding and this will all go away," she crooned.

"She protects us from your evil," the Arab whispered.

"She is evil."

"Sekhmet, Hathor, Lady of Amentet, the Dweller in the Great Land, the Lady of Ta-Tchesert, the Eye of Ra, the Dweller in his breast, the beautiful Face in the Boat of Millions of Years…." the Arab retreated into prayer once again.

"This is not working," Jane said and rose to stand behind Spike. "Kill him."

Spike cracked the Arab across the head again and noticed gray matter splatter against the wall with the blood. The Arab jerked in death throes for a few moments and then grew still as a foul stench filled the air, voided bowels a consequence of messy death. Slow bloodloss usually didn’t do that, which was one more thing that was good about being a vampire. He had to admit that he admired the man’s dedication. Spike would have given up every bit of information somewhere between blows two and three – he hadn’t yet found anything worth dying for.

"That was utterly useless," he said and dropped the board on the dead body. "I could have spent better time peelin’ the old tangerine."

He rummaged in his pockets for a moment, and came up with his fake Sunnydale University ID. He dropped the ID in the middle of the body, in case Talbot’s flunkies came for it. He wanted Talbot to know who had been responsible, even if the picture was computer-generated crap.

"Is he dead?" Jane asked and stepped over to the body. She stared down at it as though she were examining a rare flower.

"Yeah, that’s good guys four, bad guys one." The realization that he really was working for the forces of goodness and light stuck in Spike’s throat like a blood clot.

"Really dead?"

"He’s an ex-Arab," Spike joked.

Rising from where she had been crouching, Jane advanced on him, and her eyes shone with feral light. Somewhere in the back of his head, where the sensible bits were locked in a closet, something began screaming a warning. He ignored it, as usual.

"That was a good trick with the throat," she commented. "You have experience."

"Watchers learn some shortcuts," he said and shifted a few inches back.

"You and your Slayer. You have a special kind of friendship, don’t you?"

"You need no tellin’ about that." Even though he was trying to keep his face as blank as possible, Spike’s human heart was throbbing in his chest, a half-remembered feeling. Something not unlike fear and desire wrapped in a wrestling hold.

Trying to cover, Spike reached for his cigarettes and lit one, the flame dancing light around the alley and the dead body.

She undulated a little closer, light from the top floors of the Winter Palace making the fabric of her dress flicker in and out of reality. Jane smiled in a smooth curve of lip and cheek.

"You make love to her, don’t you?"

"Isobel taught you that? I expect she teaches you lots of things." He was trying to ignore it, but his breath was catching in his throat, thick with tobacco smoke.

He coughed and was faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that he wasn’t quite as cool as he had always imagined. The silky flow of her body, graceful with the Slayer’s predatory training, wrapped around his baser nature like a spiderweb. He could smell her and the dead Arab at the same time, and he was drowning in it. His body might have become mortal, but there was no force in any of the dimensions that could erase the years of memory in his mind. The red coal at the end of his cigarette jittered in his hand.

Small wonder mortals were such terrible poker players; their entire bodies gave their thoughts away. Was this what being mortal was? Being aroused by the body of every woman who walked near? Good thing this was a mostly Muslim country.

Cocking her head to the side, Jane was only an arm’s length away.

"She can’t teach me everything."

"Suppose not," he said as she closed the gap.

Her mouth was almost vampire-cool from the desert night, with the underlying human warmth. Her arms slithered up and around his neck, pulling his blisteringly hot body down against her. She tasted different from Buffy, bitter and dizzy, like the bite of a lime on the heels of a tequila shot. Buffy? Buffy who? By nature, vampires weren’t enthralled with the idea of monogamy, and he’d been dead longer than he’d been alive. Against his chest, her breasts were small and hard, digging into him with bullet-point nipples, and he wanted to feel them, taste them, and see what they were like.

His cigarette fell to the ground and was forgotten.

"And I have known the arms already, known them all- /Arms that are braceleted and white and bare/ [But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]/It is perfume from a dress /That makes me so digress? Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl./ And should I then presume? /And how should I begin?" Under his hands, her skin was as hot as a rock baked in the sun. Her bones as dry as tinder and her mouth as warm as melting honey. Without thinking, he pulled her closer, feeling her body against his, her soft flesh against him. He homed in on her throat, smelling her there.

Her tongue circled his ear like a hungry shark. "William . . . " she breathed.

He was thrown back into a different time, thick with lace and red roses, of dark hair spilled on a satin pillow and loving, mad eyes. Her cool hands were burrowing underneath his shirt, smoothing over the skin of his chest, making him catch a painful living breath.

"Shall I part my hair behind? /Do I dare to eat a peach?/ I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach./ I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…"

She was methadone to Buffy’s heroin, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. She tasted like smoke and blood, the skin on her throat dark and sweet at the same time. His dull teeth barely skimmed the surface when she moaned like one of the desert winds. Yes, her breasts were small and hard, but he had no reason to complain when she writhed against him and stuck her tongue into his ear. Honestly, this human sex thing was pretty interesting, since he’d been mighty short of it way back when.

Jane’s hands went over the waistband of his trousers, quick as a cobra, and seized his favorite remaining body part in a grip too strong for comfort.

"Ack," he choked. "Mind that, would you?"

"Sorry," she mumbled into his mouth and touched him again.

Obviously, the human organism wasn’t particularly discerning since he was hard as a board in her grasp.

"I want to-" she began and her voice trailed off into a moan.

"Yeah, I-"

In a Slayer-quick movement, she was kneeling in the dirt of the alleyway, and her hot mouth was closing around him like the perfect porno video priestess. He groaned when her tongue swirled around him. Okay, and she had learned this – where? His suspicions about Isobel weren’t adding up. He lost the power of coherent thought as her cheeks hollowed and she sucked harder.

"Holy Hell," he whispered.

"Jane!" Isobel’s voice rang out like the school bell at the end of recess.

Reality hit Spike like a barrelful of ice water. If Isobel didn’t kill him, Buffy would, and he did have the definite idea that shagging Jane up against a wall over the body of a dead Arab was something other than chivalrous, not to mention colossally stupid. Whatever blown-glass understanding he’d managed to make with Buffy was far more important than a mad Slayer with her hormones in an uproar.

"Baby, let go," he suggested.

Jane gave a little moan of frustration, and her mouth stilled

"Maybe this isn’t a good idea," he said, unclamping her lips from his cock and pushing her away, "As a matter a’fact, I’m sure it’s a real bad one."

"But you-"

"Changed my mind," he said and stepped quickly back from her and tucked himself back into his trousers, "And I was a cad and led you on and the rest of that rubbish. You’re not ruined, as the case may be. And you can go ahead an’ be your regular virginal Slayer self, right?"

It must have been something that was taught as part of Slayer training, because she caught him across the face with a slap that made most of his skin numb. At least she didn’t punch him, but that was eighty years of progress for you.

"I know who you are," she hissed between teeth that flashed white in the light from the hotel. "I know what you are."

"I’m a complete bastard, " he agreed. "Now toddle off to bed like a good girl."

Stalking off back towards Isobel, Jane’s dress hissed around her legs.

A cold feeling settled around Spike’s spine. This was going to get ugly. That was a given.

Slayers were too thin, too muscular and sinewy. As soon as he was able, Spike planned to stick his dick and his fangs into a fat girl with a giving body and a warm nature. He stomped up the stairs to the second floor and found his way into the right suite by luck rather than design.

How could she know who and what he was when it was still a mystery to Spike himself?

Of course, it looked like he was turning into quite the Slayer magnet these days, which he found profoundly disturbing.

****

The patchy electric light wavered in the wall sconces as if she were still underwater. Isobel had given her something thick and sweet, and now her arms and legs felt like bags of lead and she could feel the bed spinning underneath her, slowly, like a lazy susan in a Chinese restaurant. It hurt to breathe, hurt with the sogginess of too much swallowed water, but she didn’t mind terribly.

Spike opened the door and lurched in. Over his shoulder, she could see red flocked wallpaper, the kind that old ladies still used in their parlors, only the design was shifting slowly as she watched, like amoebas mating.

Spike watched her for a minute, then approached the bed. He bent as if to kiss her, and she turned her head, but he caught her chin and sniffed at her mouth like a stray dog.

"Laudanum," he said, and his voice had that lost-in-the-past tone she hated. To pay him back, she sniffed as theatrically as he had, and caught blood and florals.

"Where have you been?" she demanded as she struggled to sit up, or at least to get her elbows under her so she could be halfway in charge.

"Killin’ an Arab," he said and went into the bathroom, where she could hear water splashing and then silence, as if he were taking the chance to look himself in the mirror.

When he came out he was pinker than he’d been with sunburn, scrubbed like a child with a fed-up mother.

"Did you learn anything?"

He sat down on the bed, his weight making her shift on the soft squishy mattress. "Yeah, these folks are absolute fanatics. No reasonin’ with them whatsoever. You all right?" He asked the question quickly, so they could both pretend he hadn’t.

"Near drowning equals majorly freaked Buffy. The second serious vamp I killed—the Master—he kinda drowned me. That’s not something you get over, and it’s not like I haven’t tried." After that speech, she let her head loll back onto the comforter, which was plump and warm.

"Yeah, I heard a bit about that, from the losin’ side." His fingertips traced patterns through her hair, caressing her scalp in a way that made her shiver. "Still an’ all, you didn’t stay dead, and the rest of ‘em did."

"The unsinkable Buffy Summers…" He looked blank; Estrogen TV probably did not register on the Spikeometer.

"Takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’," he teased, tracing the line of her cheek with a finger, and she smiled up at him, wondering if she’d ever done that before. From the look on his face, she probably hadn’t.

"Albert says that Sekhmet has human form, but she doesn’t have the avatar’s full powers. That has to wait on the ritual." Spike nodded and looked away, as if he were thinking hard.

Then he was back and his face swam closer, his lips brushing hers as if she were a fragile thing. Unblinking, she noticed that as a human he had pores, though they were small. Vampires always looked poreless; it was their one characteristic worth envy. But Spike was human in her eyes and against her mouth. His lips were chapping in the dry desert air and his five-o-clock shadow had forgotten about Daylight Savings Time, but he was gentle and the scrape of his skin against her face made her tingle. She could kiss him for hours, this she knew, no matter what.

She sighed and arched her back to allow him easier access to the complicated ribbons and buttons that held her nightgown together. Spike’s hands were careful, brushing against her only gently. She didn’t want their usual clawing and moaning—and the fact that they had a usual style was terrifying in and of itself—but she was vaguely troubled by the prospect of something different. Still her limbs were loose and liquid underneath him, and he was doing all the work so she could hardly complain.

Buffy watched Spike as he freed her from the cotton nightgown. His face was intent, almost studious. His fingers took her pulse at her wrists, then her neck, then lower down. The rough pads of his fingers skittered over her erect nipples, writing invisible poems on her skin. The room wobbled in her sight as his fingers dove between her thighs, seeking the place where she was as wet as the fountain downstairs.

He stroked her for what seemed like hours, inside and out until she didn’t quite know the difference, his eyes dark in the flickering light, intent on her face. As her arousal built, she couldn’t look at him and turned her face into the comforter, welcoming the scrape of threads on skin. Her hands were stretched out over her head, her fists unclenching and clenching as the tension built in her belly and spine.

"I’m sorry," he hissed into her hair.

"’Sokay," she whispered, not quite sure what he was talking about.

When Spike took a mouthful of her breast, his eyes finally closed, she lost it and came, feeling the waves roll through her as if she were floating on the sea, just out of sight of the shore.

"Mmmm," she hummed. That laudanum was

pretty heavy stuff. She was surprised she’d

never heard about it being sold on the streets. "You’re still dressed."

Spike brought his slick fingers up to his lips and sucked on them, making her blush. Then he unbuttoned his beautiful white cotton shirt and shucked his pants and laid next to her on the bed. His hands covered her breasts as if he didn’t want anyone else to see them.

"Don’t forget this. Right?" he asked. "Don’t forget it’s me. "

"No."

"Buffy?" he asked, poised above her, and she nodded.

The feeling of him sliding into her was muffled some from the drugs, but that allowed her to watch how his face got tighter and his eyes scraped her face, and how the muscles in his arms bulged as he moved on her. She could fall into his eyes.

After only a few minutes, he stiffened and thrust hard, then collapsed. She could feel his weight, warm and comforting, keeping her from spinning off the bed, and as the wetness from her thighs seeped into the bedspread. Under her hand his back was as smooth as new paper. Gradually she let herself be carried out to dreamland.

****

In the morning, they drove back to camp, courtesy of one of the interchangeable Watcher types who’d come back to the hotel to pick them up. Spike could tell that Buffy’s head was still aching from the laudanum and he had the feeling that he was wearing not enough coffee face. They hadn’t had the cash for breakfast at the hotel, so as soon as Buffy had changed into a clean shirt and khakis they went in search of sustenance.

Isobel was waiting at the table, the remains of toast and marmalade in front of her. She was sipping amber tea and reading what looked like a dossier, which she carefully placed on the table as they approached. Spike drank his first cup of coffee as if it would save his life and began tucking into breakfast as though he’d been in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Isobel watched him for a moment while Buffy rummaged around the table for a really good piece of fruit.

She didn’t look at Buffy. "Your black eyes have healed rather nicely."

"Even humans heal eventually," he joked weakly around a mouthful of eggs.

"Really. I wasn’t sure you’d remember."

"Excuse me?" he stammered, feeling more human than he had since they’d come through the whirlwind.

"I know where I’ve seen you before. You were in Paris, last spring. Your hair was different, as was your manner," Isobel looked up from the dossier.

"I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about," he lied and felt the fear-sweat come out all over his body.

"You were in Shakespeare and Company, getting a copy of Ulysses. You were with a young woman with red hair. After you bought the book you went to an alley just beyond the Luxembourg Gardens, where you drank her blood and killed her. Didn’t you, Mr. Shankly? Or would you prefer your more garish sobriquet, William the Bloody?"

"Oh shit," Buffy groaned.

Something stirred underneath his thoughts, something black and strong as Turkish coffee.

"When I’m in Paris I generally stay in Montparnasse. Maybe I know you from Chez Suzy or Le Panier Fleuri," he named the two most infamous brothels in the Latin Quarter and Isobel went as red as the desert sunset.

"Nigel, Henri," and there were two bulky gentlemen flanking him, their steak-sized hands like iron bands around his upper arms.

"He’s human," Buffy said with the desperate air of someone who’s in the air before she realizes that her parachute lacks a ripcord.

"And we are certainly interested in how that occurred. But Jane has yet to be wrong about a vampire identification, and she isn’t now, is she, Mr. Shankly?"

Why was it that, whether you shagged a girl or failed to shag her, she always turned so bitter afterwards?

"And I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for you meddlin’ Watchers and your stupid Slayer," Spike sneered, then broke character and chuckled to himself.

"Frankly, Mr. Shankly, this is not amusing at all," Isobel warned and turned to Buffy, "Do you find this amusing?"

"No," as a matter of fact, she sounded like she wanted to cry. But that was impossible, more impossible than him gaining a soul and then becoming human.

"Lock him in the tomb, that should hold him."

At least he’d gotten breakfast.

****

Holding himself like a rock star being taken off by the local police, Spike let the Watcher goons haul him away. Buffy looked at the sand around her feet and watched it blur.

"What are you going to do with him?" she asked.

"We don’t know. This hasn’t happened before."

"You can’t lock him in the tomb forever. You can’t kill him because he’s human now; even I know the rules good enough to know that. If you take him back to Council Headquarters and experiment on him or dissect him, you’re no better than demons yourselves."

Looking up from the thick document file on the table before her, Isobel took off her glasses and regarded Buffy for a long moment, while Buffy tried not to fidget or put her hands around the Watcher’s neck. Of course beating up a Watcher was a serious faux pas, but Isobel was really just asking to get her ass kicked.

"You’ve put me in a very awkward position."

"It’s going to be more awkward when I shove my foot up your-" Buffy caught herself in time (her vocabulary seemed to go downhill with prolonged Spike exposure). "Spike is bad, we know that, and he’s proud of it, who knows why. He did a lot of bad things before, and he’s doing them now, but the Spike that I know is just kind of bad. He’s about thirty percent bad. He’s got a soul, he hasn’t been able to kill anyone for a couple of years, and he’s actually been helpful . . . occasionally . . . when it’s convenient for him."

"My dear, although he may be human for whatever reason, he’s still a vampire, and has a vampire’s thoughts and lack of morality. He killed a human, albeit an Arab, in Luxor, and he almost killed others when the camp was attacked."

"And those Arabs would have killed any of us given the chance. He also saved your ass from those vamps, and the whole bunch of us from Sekhmet at the Winter Palace. An all-around bad guy wouldn’t do that! Spike’s not the enemy, Talbot and Sekhmet are!"

"How much do you really know about him? You’ve taken him into your. . confidence. Do you really know what he’s done?"

Buffy ground her teeth.

"When Spike came along-"

"Spike? Is that what he’s calling himself now?"

"When he came along, the records were majorly incomplete. Thanks to you guys. We knew he wasn’t two hundred yet, and that he’d hung out with Darla and her little family-"

"Darla, Angelus, and Drusilla?"

"Yeah. They put the fun in dysfunctional." Buffy realized that now was really not the time to get into the subject of Angel. "We knew about the railroad spike thing, too. We also knew that he killed two slayers. One in China during the Boxer Rebellion, and another one in New York in the 1970s."

"You’re associating with a vampire that killed two Slayers? I would have thought that girls in the future with the advantages of education and a more enlightened society would be more sensible."

"Isobel, you know that some things aren’t – sensible."

Isobel stood up, her face gone as white as any vampire’s.

"He also attempted to interfere with Jane last night. Are you aware of that?"

"That is totally bogus."

Isobel’s face reddened, and then she took a deep breath. "You must think I’m very cruel," she said.

"That might not have been my word for it."

"Every one of us sacrifices for the work of the Council. When emotions enter into a Slayer’s consideration … more innocents die. A certain hardness is our only defense. Your … feelings for the vampire are only an extreme example of the wisdom of that policy." She pushed the document folder towards Buffy. "I suggest that you become acquainted with what your paramour has managed to accomplish."

Her feet kicking up angry waves of sand, Isobel stalked back to her tent. Buffy looked at the file on the table, beckoning to her like a sale sign in a shoe store. She wished that Giles was there to tell her what she should do. Giles and Willow would have wanted her to read the file. Xander would have suggested that they just stake Spike to see what happened. Feeling very much alone, Buffy sat down at the table and opened the folder.

****

"Spike?" Buffy asked, between the golden cage bars, glimmering with intertwined ankhs in the sunlight.

"Oh fuck off, would you," he said with the venom she remembered from when they had first met.

"I’ve been talking to Isobel."

"She’s done what I couldn’t—convinced you I’m the Big Bad?" he asked with gritty malice.

She couldn’t make out much more than a dark shape in the gloom of the tomb. He was leaning against a wall, arms crossed over his chest and smoking. They could have been talking outside the Bronze, Spike wrapped in shadow and refusing to show his face. A glimmer of whatever Jane had sensed crept over Buffy’s skin. Even in the human body, there was something not right here, still something dark and dead.

"They don’t know what to do with me," he remarked and managed to sound almost bored. "This place has been set up for Sekhmet, and it’s overkill for poor little me these days."

Buffy swallowed, tried to keep her voice calm and level, tried to keep the pictures out of her head. "She showed me the pictures that the Watchers took in Yorkshire."

He didn’t need to pause to check his memory; if he did she thought she might have vomited. "Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Havin’ a name like that is just beggin’ for destruction."

"Spike, there were four hundred people in that village. Families, old people, children-"

"Not as I was alone there, mind you. It was Darla, Dru, me, an’ precious Angelus – while he was Angelus." He managed to make Angel’s former name sound like a curse. "An’ a grand time we did have."

"Four hundred people. In one night."

Something rustled in the tomb. He might have shrugged, or one of the many snakes may have slithered out of the walls.

"It was, as they say, a night to remember."

"That just wasn’t being hungry. There was no way that the four of you could have drained a hundred people each in one night. Killing out of hunger is one thing, killing just for fun is evil."

"Just like your hunters wiped out all those – what the Hell are they called – buffalo, way back. Humans kill for fun. Don’t even try to mess me about with that." His voice came out as sharp as the broken stones littering the ground outside.

"You kill," he added a moment later.

"I slay."

"Yeah, and you never feel good the moment when you see in their eyes that they know that they’re gonna die, do you? The screamin’ and the beggin’ and knowin’ that it all lies on you. Do I kill or don’t I? You’re a God then." His voice pounded into her head like the power chords in a Heavy Metal song, and her hands dropped away from the bars.

Hearing him, seeing him, seeing the broken, twisted and torn bodies on the TV screen in her head intercut with pictures of Spike, smirking at her, sleeping, snarling in vampface and in human face, the way his eyelashes looked against his skin when he kissed her . . . Buffy stepped back from the bars and wanted to clamp her hands over her ears not to hear any more.

"Killin’ is watchin’ their whole life run by like a bad movie and they catch their very last breath," he said and caught a breath of his own.

"Stop it!" she warned.

He rustled again inside the darkness, cloth on stone, cloth on skin in the hotel bedroom, the warm light from the lamps in the tent. Gritting her teeth, she tried to stop the shaking that was threatening to throw her to the ground.

"You’ve seen it with demons, that last split second when they finally die, when the pulse finally stops beatin’ against your lips. They just go out like a match. And that’s it. Gone."

"Shut up." Her voice wasn’t as strong as she would have liked.

"I’ve done what I’ve done. You don’t think I was drinkin’ blood out of beer bottles for over a century, did you? I’m a vampire, I kill people. It’s what we do. And I was very, very good at it. I ain’t goin’ to stand here and tell you that I’m not goin’ to kill again. And I ain’t goin’ to winge and moan about what I’ve done. Those Angelus killed are just as dead as mine, for all his sad talk."

The sudden flare of his lighter as he lit another cigarette bathed his face in orange light for a moment, making Buffy jump even though the bars separated them. He looked up at her over the flame and gave her his best smirk.

"Je suis sans regret. I am without regret. Sounds better in French, doesn’t it?"

"I thought that you were – changing—"

"Oh come on, you’re a fang-hag! Don’t even try it now. You’ve known what I am."

"You’re a fucking asshole, a fucking smug, fucking vampire, fucking asshole! And you dress like shit!" she snapped and stomped away from the tomb.

"’As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport,’" he shouted after her. "That’s Shakespeare, you illiterate bitch!"

Time passed slowly in the tomb, and Spike could easily imagine spending whatever remaining time he had alive watching the spiders spin webs in the corners. He was carefully hoarding his cigarettes, not sure when he’d be able to get more. As a human, his craving for nicotine was nearly as strong as his craving for blood had been as a vampire.

The look on Buffy’s face when they’d dragged him away had almost been worth it. She’d worn the same expression of blind hurt when Angel had gone Angelus on her. In retrospect, he should have killed Angelus when he had the chance. But apparently he now rated higher in her emotional pantheon than he had before. The sun crawled into the sky. He could see it through the intertwined ankhs on the bars. It really was a shame. Egypt had potential. Being alive with Buffy had potential as well, even though he felt shamefully inept half the time.

What the hell was he supposed to do? The bars across the door would have been nothing to kick through when he was in his natural state – undead. He could even have kicked through them with little danger of any inconvenient burns from the ankhs, not because of Albert’s misguided notion that the vampire had to match the holy symbol, but because his favorite pair of DM’s had steel toes that knew no religion. Now he had only one option – sit and wait.

It didn’t take long after sundown for the hissing of skirts to approach the barred entrance. He thought of snakes. A lock clanked and the door opened. Jane entered, as ceremoniously as an ancient priestess. There was no way that this was going to be good.

Jane carefully lit a lamp on the wall. "What shall I call you? Buffy called you Spike -why?" Without having to look at the lock, she produced a key and entered his cell.

"Short, ugly story," he said and climbed to his feet, human joints creaking in the coolness of the tomb.

Jane kept her face as enigmatic as one of the faces painted on the walls around her. Her shadow blotted out the gold-and-black pattern created by the bars.

"Why are you human now?" Jane asked.

"I dunno. I was perfectly happy bein’ a vampire until the time travel thing put a serious cramp in m’style." He let his face lapse into a smirk. "An’ now it looks like I’m headin’ for death again, sans afterlife."

Jane met his eyes without a trace of embarrassment or nervousness.

"If I’d shagged you senseless would this be happenin’ now?"

The Slayer merely blinked, her green eyes clear of any emotion.

"I don’t supposed you told Isobel the whole story. About who was the molest-er and the molest-ee."

"I can kill you," Jane said in a chillingly nonchalant tone. "I can kill you and let the vultures pick the meat from your bones."

"That ain’t exactly cricket, you know," Spike pointed out. "Beatin’ on a helpless mortal."

Jane backhanded him, and Spike went sprawling on the stone floor. Maybe Jane was stronger than Buffy, maybe it just seemed worse because he was human, or maybe Buffy had been pulling her punches for the better part of a year. He preferred to believe the latter. But his bitten lip was bleeding and his face was moving from numbness to howling pain. He rolled onto his back and wiped blood away from his mouth. Under other circumstances this might have been fun.

"That’s a girl. Bash the vampire," he said around the blood.

This time, the girl kicked him square in the stomach.

For an embarrassing moment, Spike thought he was going to throw up. The breath rushed out of his lungs and a hideous wave of nausea swamped his mind. While the pain and the nausea incapacitated him, Jane darted closer, placing one satin-slipper on his outstretched right hand.

"Isobel’s not goin’ to like this much. An’ the council will see it as further evidence of instability," Spike choked, "You know what they do with Slayers who step out a’ line? They kill ‘em."

He heard the bones in his fingers crunch and break under Jane’s foot. Writhing in pain, it was all he could do to keep from screaming. He wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction.

"What in the hell is goin’ on here?" a male voice demanded from the doorway.

"Albert," Jane cooed, "you shouldn’t be here."

"The hell I shouldn’t," Albert warned and reached to his waist, which was when Spike saw the gun resting there.

"Slayers aren’t immune to bullets."

"Oh but they only slow us down," she said and began moving on the sandy floor, with her easy, athletic Slayer walk, still within the cell but she could have her hands around Albert’s neck in under a second. If Spike could have breathed, he would have told Albert to get the Hell out.

"Use your brain. It may not work properly, but I know it exists. We have to focus on Sekhmet," Albert snapped.

"I’ll tell Isobel," Jane pouted, and stopped moving. Spike saw Albert’s finger relax on the trigger, and wished the Watcher weren’t so trusting.

"And I’m quaking with fear. Get the hell out."

Jane made her elegant way out of the tomb; Albert wisely backed up to give her plenty of room. Spike would have applauded under other circumstances. Albert hurried over and hoisted Spike to his feet.

"She’s done it now. The nine gates of Hell are going to open when we get back. Are you all right?"

"I think she broke the fingers on my wankin’ hand," Spike admitted.

"I shouldn’t be here," Albert said and grinned at Spike. "But anything to annoy Isobel, right?"

"Gotta have an aim in life," Spike muttered and tried to raise a little flame of nonchalance from the ashes of his cool. "How’s Buffy?"

"Unharmed but sulking. I expect Isobel’s trying to figure out how she’s going to explain that she was harboring a vampire for the better part of a week when she has to face the Council. Fancy a smoke?"

"Thanks," Spike said as Albert passed him a cigarette. "It’s a fine point, but I’m not exactly a vampire at the present moment."

"Precisely," Albert grinned again. "Which makes me think that you really ought not to be in here."

Albert flung the door to the tomb wide open and Spike limped through without fanfare.

"Now I feel like I can ask why you’re doin’ this, an’ it’s got to be more than gettin’ Isobel’s knickers in a twist."

"Does it?" Albert repeated his grin. "Let’s just say that the Council of Watchers is like any other organization with different factions inside, right? What hurts Isobel helps me."

"So a bit o’sabotage wouldn’t be out of your line, then?"

Albert pulled a tattered map out of his pocket and handed it to Spike, using his finger to trace along the squiggly lines that indicated the rocky hills around the Valley.

"What you’re going to want to do is head northwest around the outer edge of the Valley. You’ll pass by Carter’s dig. That should be the only light that you see. Then there’s a kind of peninsula right below the tomb of Siptah."

"Oh yeah, Siptah. Knew ‘im well."

"Sorry," Albert cleared his throat and continued. "Up on the peninsula is Siptah’s funerary temple. My guess is that is the place where Talbot will manifest Sekhmet. It’s isolated, you can see the rest of the valley below and it’s almost impossible to get to from the Valley floor. I know that’s where I would go if I were Talbot, and I was right about the reception, right?"

"Right, know your enemy an’ all that. So what’ll you be doin’ while I’m sweatin’ my balls off in the desert?"

"Isobel will listen to me. She hasn’t any choice. We’ll meet you there tomorrow just after sundown, which is when Talbot has to make the final sacrifice."

"We better start now, right guys?"

So intent they had been on the map that neither Albert nor Spike had heard Buffy creep up on them. Spike inwardly cursed his thick human ears and tried to pretend that he wasn’t glad to see her.

"Not we, me," he corrected her.

"Is now really the time you want me to point out how your plans always get screwed up?" she asked, fastening her backpack a little tighter around her shoulders. "What happened to you?"

"Had an unpleasant run-in with Jane’s fists."

"Wuss."

Buffy held out her arm. Spike’s duster lay black as death across it. His throat tightened when he took it, but he said nothing as he shrugged into the comforting leather, donning it like armor.

Something strange and wonderful wrapped around Spike and Buffy for a moment, like the faint echo of music or the shadow of a perfume.

Looking from one to the other, Albert’s face registered incomprehension.

"I only planned on one . . ." Albert’s voice broke, "I only stole one horse."

"Horse, oh bloody hell," Spike muttered and the spell broke like a soap bubble.

"Don’t animals like vampires?" Buffy asked. "That would have made it impossible back in the no car days."

"Animals don’t like Spike. Spike don’t like animals. It’s a mutual thing."

Albert looked from Buffy to Spike, again, and didn’t like what he saw.

"Right. One more horse, coming right up." Albert blurted and bolted.

****

Given a choice between the tomb and the horses, Spike would have chosen the tomb. The smelly, stupid creatures seemed to be perfectly charmed by Buffy and but the one he was doomed to ride had rolled its eyes and showed him its horrible teeth before he even managed to get within five feet of it. When he tried to climb up in the saddle, it maliciously shifted its feet so that he nearly fell on his face and snorted like an annoyed woman when he managed to swing a leg over. His hand and his stomach hurt like nobody’s business and it was all he could do to keep upright in the saddle. Thank Hell that Jane hadn’t bothered to notice that he was left-handed. Each of the horses’ steps sent new waves of pain along his bones. This was obviously going to be a rough trip. The horse’s gait was not unlike bobbing along on a rowboat, but less rhythmic and Spike began to feel slightly queasy after about ten minutes.

"You came back for me," he observed.

"So?" she had the horse reins in her hands and looked like she knew what she was doing.

"Even after what Isobel told you?"

"If you think I came back because I like you or approve of you, you’re thinking a truckload of wrong."

"Puh-lease. The thought never crossed my mind," he lied.

They continued along until the horse’s tracks stretched back to the horizon before Buffy broke the silence.

"Spike, you didn’t try anything with Jane the other night, did you."

Halfway through his cigarette, Spike choked on the smoke and went off into a fit of coughing that left his eyes tearing and his sore chest sorer.

"Not bloody likely! Other way around, she came at me like a freight train an’ I barely got away with my virtue intact!"

"With your track record for telling the truth I should believe you?"

"I spent a century with one madwoman and that was enough, thank you."

She was silent for another couple of miles and Spike hoped that the subject was officially dropped, but when she opened her mouth again, he cringed.

"You know I think maybe Isobel and Jane . . . not that I have a problem with that or anything, but-"

"Like you say in SunnyD – Duh. Goes a bit towards explain’ why Isobel’s so eager to keep all a’this as far away from the Council as she can. Don’t want too many noses pryin’ into her business."

As they spoke, Spike noticed that clouds were starting to move into the inverted bowl of the sky, clustering over and around the moon like milk poured in water. The clouds outside the moon’s reach were dark against the cobalt sky, almost black, and the wind began to blow hard and cold, sending sand skittering over the ripples of the desert beneath. An unpleasant thrill of dark magic and gathering power set his skin to standing in goosebumps. The horses shuddered and shook their heads in a pas de cheval of nervousness. Spike’s horse stumbled on the rocks underneath, and nearly pitched him from the saddle. Buffy looked around as though she were catching a whiff of a foul odor.

Down in the Valley of the Kings, the warm gold lights of the encampment around the tomb of Tutankhamun flickered in the darkness. Spike consulted the map. Carter’s camp was the halfway mark to the funeral temple of Siptah.

"I can tell by the pricking in my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," he recited and looked over to Buffy.

"It must be that thamato thingy that Isobel was talking about, the stars lining up so Sekhmet can manifest."

"We should stop now," Spike said again, after his horse stumbled for the third time. "If this bloody creature sticks its foot in a hole, we’ll be fucked. And I doubt you want to break a horse’s neck to put it out of its misery."

"Where do you suggest we spend the night?" Buffy asked in her sweetest, bitchiest voice.

"Caves all over the place, right? One o’ those will hide us an’ the evil beasts, and keep us from the worst o’ the sand an’ the cold."

In fact, the third cave they checked had a circle from a burnt-out fire and a stack of brush in the back. Buffy tied the horses together and wrapped the rope around a two-hundred pound rock at the front, then gave them some of the oats from her saddlebag. Spike, with Buffy’s attention elsewhere, moved like a hundred-and-fifty-year-old human, laboriously dragging sticks into the firepit with his left hand and trying not to bend. His lighter was extremely helpful and the fire burned with marshmallow-roasting merriness.

Spike’s stomach still hurt from Jane’s tender attentions and the thought of food made him, for the first time since he’d been re-alive, feel sick. He palmed his share of the rations as Buffy ate. The girl had an appetite for food that matched his for blood. He thought it must be going to feed her supernatural powers, because he saw no evidence that any calories ever visited her physical body for more than a nanosecond.

"So what are we gonna’ do if the Watchers don’t show up?" he asked.

"Stake, bake, decapitate," she muttered around a mouthful of bread and cheese.

"Albert was tellin’ me that the Ancient Egyptians turned her back with Aten’s solar disk. It’s got the sun an’ it’s rays on it, an’ the sun’s rays end with ankhs – the symbol of life. We should get our hands on one a’those."

"Right. We’ll just run down to the Quicky Mart and see if they have them with the Doritos and Ring Dings!" she snapped and then looked down at the bread in hand. "I would kill for a Ring Ding right about now."

"I would kill for a kill," he admitted and dug in the pockets of his duster for a pack of cigarettes.

Most were crushed, but there were a few that were still smokeable.

"You’re still thinking about killing? You’ve been human for how long?"

"Six days," Spike said and exhaled smoke, "And they stick druggies in rehab for at least a month so don’t go suggestin’ I’ve changed my ways."

"Do you have to smoke in here?"

He blew a smoke ring and smirked at her.

"What are you gonna’ do? Beat me up?"

Instead, she ignored him and continued eating. When Buffy finished, she went out to do girlish and other unmentionable things. That was another advantage of not eating: he could just lie down by the fire and try to sleep.

But when Buffy returned, she didn’t lie down on the other side of the fire. She snuggled up against him, pulling his duster around her with a force that made him wince. Then she started to wiggle her behind against his groin. He wasn’t in much shape for slap-and-tickle, but on the other (unbroken) hand there was no telling how long it would take Buffy to wise up and stake him. If he turned her down now he’d be turning down a significant percentage of the sex they were likely to have.

Thinking of it that way, he felt the lightning crackling through his bruised ribs and his hand drop into a background hum. And it wasn’t as if he were unused to fucking through pain. Buffy’s scent, intensified by days without a shower, filled his nostrils and dropped his IQ.

He caught her hip and stilled it, pressed tight against him. "Are you tryin’ to kill me?"

"It’s a thought," she said, and rolled around so they were chest to chest. "But first …" Her busy hands pushed the leather jacket off his shoulders and slipped down to his belt, working at the buckle with confidence. Spike closed his eyes and tried to get his breathing under control. "Killing was like sex for you, wasn’t it?"

"No."

She pinched him through his shirt. "Don’t lie to me."

"Sex isn’t like breathin’, breathin’s not like eatin’, killin’s still another thing. Different pleasures all."

Buffy slapped him lightly, on the cheek Jane had bruised. She was breathing hard and her eyes were strange, lit from within with moonlight. Trust Buffy never to make it easy. But he could.

"C’mon, Slayer, I’m bad, punish me. I know that’s what you want," he taunted her.

"You don’t know anything about me," she said uncertainly, but she was running his belt through her fingers, back and forth like a slithering snake.

"You don’t know anything about yourself."

He slid a hand up her thigh, inches away from her lovely quim. Quick as a sneak attack, she pushed him onto his back. He winced as he thudded into the floor; he hadn’t exactly told her about the ribs yet.

"Take off your pants," she ordered. He hurried to comply, and when he finished he started on his shirt, only to have his hands slapped away from the buttons with careless violence. "I didn’t tell you to do anything else."

He nodded, and hoped she’d seen it in the flickering light. For a moment, Spike wished they were part of the world of political correctness, seventy years in the future, with its safe words and padded restraints, but he’d never had that before and he wouldn’t know to miss it now. At least, he thought, goosebumps rising over his body, mimicking his growing erection, Buffy was unlikely to cut him the way Dru sometimes had. Lucky for him, he was extremely adaptable, and had been playing in the dark halls of sex before her grandparents were born.

"Turn over."

He did, adjusting himself so that he was pressing into the leather jacket, over a layer of sand. He had a good idea what was coming next, and he was grateful that he felt the belt on his buttocks and not his neck. Buffy had no idea how to use her strength in sex-play, probably because her lovers had been too timid to try, and she was perfectly capable of strangling him blue without fully intending to do so. Still the leather stung like, well, like being beaten with a belt, and it took him back to childhood and to Angelus, with Dru standing by and covering Miss Edith’s eyes while telling him that he’d been a bad boy. The pain brought tears to his eyes, and still she kept bringing it down, now on his upper thighs, now back to his ass. The sound of his gasping, heaving breaths was the only thing he could hear, echoing through the cave like a hundred victims.

Abruptly she stopped, and reached around to check his cock. "You like that," Buffy said, and he could hear the smirk.

"I like you, Blondie," he gasped. "You got a nasty mind," he added, in case he’d been misunderstood. Or understood.

She made a "hmmph" noise and flipped him over with one superstrong hand at his shoulder. The leather ground into his ass like a starfield of agony, each shimmering point its own pain. Spike bit his lip so as not to cry out. He heard Buffy’s clothes rustle in the darkness, and then she was on him, grinding her crotch against him like another punishment. Spike reached up to put his hands on her arms, but she shook them away. "Not yet," she instructed, and crab-walked up his body, making his ribs sing like a xylophone, until his mouth was buried in her cunt, salty and rich like the sea.

It didn’t take long. She was high on adrenaline and anticipation of the battle they’d nearly reached, he thought. When she shuddered and sagged over him, he used his good hand to flip her on her back. The belt was still in her limp, sweaty hands and it was the work of a moment to wrap it around her wrists. She was as warm and soft as pancakes against him.

"Hey!" Pleasure and alarm warred in her tone.

"Turnabout, fair play, et cetera," he said, keeping his voice playful. "You’re not scared of a human, are you?"

He could hear her breath catch and feel her trembling underneath him. She couldn’t resist a dare any more than she could resist a sample sale.

"I’m not scared of you," Buffy sniffed, and he tightened the belt so that the buckle would scrape against her wrist, right where the knob of bone protruded. She bucked against him and he smiled, his face turned away from the fire.

"You should be," he warned.

Spike let his bad hand rest on hers and pressed his body into her. With his fingernails, he scored lines down her torso and she squirmed underneath him.

"Still unimpressed," she scoffed. He bent his head and set his teeth into her earlobe, increasing the pressure until he felt her hips twitch and she made a noise deep in her throat.

Spike moved down, scored her throat with his teeth, bracing his weight on his unbroken hand.

"Stay there," he ordered and she chuffed laughter. In retaliation, he pinched her nipple, hard. Moving further down, he pushed her right leg up over his shoulder, opening her wider and giving him better access. She was salty, sweaty, and she groaned when he scraped sand against her labia with his tongue. He brushed a stubbled cheek over her thigh to increase the friction. Buffy quaked above him and he bit at the crease of her thigh to remind her to behave.

"You see, this is just the beginnin’," he pitched his voice low and tried to keep it from shaking. "Trainin’ wheels. You thinkin’ you’ve gone all tough."

She couldn’t look away from his eyes, even when he licked her again, letting his dull teeth scratch where nerves were the closest under her hot, wet skin. He jabbed his tongue against her clit and she jumped. He could feel the muscles in her leg shaking against his shoulder.

"When we get back, I’m gonna’ show you things that would send Clive Barker runnin’ from the room."

She was close, he could feel it. Back when he was human they’d called it the crisis, euphemism being more acceptable than the clinical terms that newfangled girls threw around these days. With Buffy trembling underneath him and his own erection a burning ache, he thought the old name was truer. Trying not to jog his wounded parts, he settled himself between her legs.

"Always havin’ to be so careful with your men. Fragile bodies, fragile egos. You don’t have to be careful with me."

She tried to snort, he could tell, but it came out a sigh.

"Say it, Slayer."

He could hear her hands writhing against the belt. She could have broken free at any time. But he knew she wouldn’t. He moved his hand to cover her breast, soft and heavy, and her teeth clicked together.

"Please."

"Please what?"

"Please, Spike."

He slid into her, a bullet into the chamber of a well-made gun. She was hotter than blood and more potent. She moaned when he finally hit home, arching her back to meet him. Grabbing her hips and making his broken fingers sing with pain, he sat up on his knees and pulled her closer, until she was wrapped around him, her legs clamped hard around his hips while her torso stretched long against the floor of the cave. She had never been so hot, wet and tight around him before and her ragged breathing was a counterpoint to his. By all the demons in hell, if he didn’t come soon, he was going to die. Sweat plastered her hair to her forehead, and her eyes were rolling back in her head like a woman having a seizure. In mid-thrash, she pulled her shoulders up from the floor and somehow managed to hook her forearms around his neck, her fists bound by the belt, hard against the back of his skull. Their combined weight ground his knees into the sand, making his ribs and back pain him more than Jane’s beating had.

Nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball, they stared at each other with fierce and glazed stares. They breathed in each other’s breath, thin and dizzy-making and the sound of breathing and the wet slap of skin on skin drowned out the noise of the winds outside. She kissed him, hard and hungry and mad, he had an arm around her waist and it was all he could do to keep them from tumbling over into rock and sand. Finally, Buffy clamped down around him like the proverbial iron hand in a velvet glove and she let out a scream that would have impressed a banshee. That was just enough for Spike’s human nerves to send him into a crisis of his own that threatened to melt his brain and most of his nerves. She shook against him and he against her until they sagged wet and weak back into the unlikely bed of sand, leather and stone underneath. Her head slid to his shoulder and he lay his injured hand on her belly, where the blood from his shattered nails pooled in her navel.

Being, after all, only a mere human male, Spike was half-asleep in a matter of moments, while Buffy, being a human female, wanted to talk.

"I don’t like the way you make me feel," she told his shoulder blade while she slipped the belt from around her wrists.

"And how is that?" he managed, and watched the dying fire flicker on the uneven rock overhead.

"Ever ride the Tower of Terror? Two stories straight down. I feel like that."

"S’allright. I can’t keep my fuckin’ hands off you. It’s like a junkie thing, and I don’t like it much m’self."

"And kinky sex bothers me."

He tried not to snort, but failed.

"I mean, kinky sex with you seems pretty natural all things considered, but that just goes to show that Sex With Spike is creepy and wrong."

Let her rationalize all she liked, if it kept her in his bed. He hadn’t lied, for once. Every time he touched her, every kiss, every shag, every time he looked into the shallow chlorine-blue pools of her eyes, he just wanted more. Part of his sensible mind wondered if Angelus had felt the same. But his bruised and broken body told his brain to shut the fuck up. Sleep, with her soft arms and even softer garments, was managing to seduce him away. He fell asleep smelling Buffy’s hair.

****

In the morning, they split the remainder of the meager rations Albert had concealed in Spike’s saddlebag and resumed the trek. The ache in his ribs was lessening already, but his hand burned like it had been coated in napalm. He was worried about infection; he hadn’t kept up with medical science after being turned, but he had a bad feeling about the chance of finding antibiotics in the desert. Still, he didn’t tell her all the things that Jane had managed to do to him in the tomb. He also didn’t tell her what Jane had tried to do in the alleyway behind the Winter Palace. She didn’t need to know.

The sun beat down on them like that one-armed drummer from Def Leppard. Spike’s head ached from the dryness and the light. Once or twice the hot and evil sun made Spike hallucinate: palaces, bridges, even the World Trade Center. Buffy held up much better, since she was the only superhuman between the two of them.

They traveled nearly the entire day on horseback, watching the valley from above. It was as if there was no one left in the world, and he and Buffy were a perverse Adam and Eve. It was like the end of Planet of the Apes, only without the ocean. Spike dozed in the saddle and Buffy was shockingly silent. He would have worried if he hadn’t needed the rest.

She woke him with an exclamation.

"Look!" Blinking, he followed her pointing finger to a point right above the bottom of the valley, where a caravan of trucks was winding its way towards their destination.

Spike shook his head to clear it; being human just kept surprising him with its inconveniences. "What do you bet that’s Yummy and Mummy?"

"Can’t you give that a rest?"

"No more ‘n you an’ your friends can give up on the Scooby Gang lingo. Is Xander Shaggy or Scooby?"

Buffy frowned, her eyes tracking the trucks. "Let’s go. They won’t be expecting an attack."

"An’ I suppose you’re Daphne, right?"

"Oh shut the fuck up, just for once."

She kicked her horse and it went galloping down. With a grade like that, there wasn’t much chance for a non-gallop, so he sighed and followed suit.

Cavalry assault was pretty noticeable under the circumstances, and the Arabs surrounding Sekhmet’s entourage quickly began to point, shout, and unlimber their carbines. Spike kept his head down, pressed against the horse’s smelly mane, and tried not to hear the whine of the bullets passing by.

"Good idea!" he yelled to Buffy.

"It works in the movies!" she screamed back, and knocked an Arab off of his horse with a fast-moving uppercut. Then she vaulted into the cab of the first truck and began pounding at something he couldn’t see.

Spike figured Buffy could take care of a truckload on her own, so he went for the second truck, clotheslining another armed horseman as he approached the window. "Good riddance," he sniped at the horse as he launched himself into the passenger seat.

The driver was fumbling at his belt, but it was difficult to draw a weapon while you were trying not to steer into a gully.

"Dr. Yummy, I presume?" Spike said and punched him in the jaw, which would have been pleasant if he hadn’t had to do it too many times already during this adventure. The truck lurched and Spike clutched at the dashboard. Talbot was cursing and attempting to keep the wheel under control, but power suspensions and brakes – and seatbelts, for that matter – were a thing of the future and he couldn’t keep control. As they hurtled down a rocky incline, Spike managed to get his feet up to kick at Talbot while he braced his shoulders against the door. The last kick before impact snapped Talbot’s head back into the metal doorframe of the truck.

And then they were tumbling ass over teakettle. Spike was bounced around inside the truck like a basketball at a Harlem Globetrotters game, and Talbot’s limp body sharing the limited space didn’t make it any easier.

When the truck stopped and settled in an agonized metal groan, it was on its side, and Spike was underneath a human blanket. His ribs were singing the song of agony, and Talbot’s weight on him made him cough. When he managed to shift Talbot off enough to wipe his mouth, his hand came away bloody.

Bloody, right enough. Wiggling some more, and ignoring all the signals that told him he wasn’t in any shape for this, he managed to push the groaning Talbot against the bottom door, where Spike used him as a footstool.

Cautiously poking his head out the window, Spike noticed something very bad.

Sundown.

Above him, he could hear the cries and moans of Buffy’s victims. But Talbot had been driving this truck, and Talbot didn’t seem like the type to let others take care of his pride and joy. Spike put his good hand on the outside of the truck and prepared to lever himself up.

A hand like rock clamped around his wrist and picked him up like a girl examining an earring to see if it went with her outfit. He couldn’t see the thing holding him out above the truck, ten feet above the ground, but he could see Buffy, heading down the incline towards them, stake in one hand and a scimitar she must have picked up just then in the other.

"Let him go!" she yelled.

"Do what you want wiv’ the girl, just don’t hurt me," he echoed weakly. His arm felt like it was stretching like Silly Putty, only at some point there was going to be a disconnection. He was pulled back – he could no longer feel his arm – and pressed against a cold feminine torso. Sekhmet’s other hand snaked around his throat and closed his windpipe like a pinched straw.

The truck shuddered as Talbot, still wheezing, climbed up, said something sharp to Sekhmet in Ancient Egyptian, and put a gun to his head as Sekhmet relaxed her hold.

"Surrender now and live longer," he called down to Buffy. Behind her, at the top of the gully, more Arabs were gathering, and they didn’t look happy. Buffy glanced back, then glared at the trio on top of the truck.

Slowly, she lowered her weapons. Spike gaped at her, opening his mouth to tell her to get her shapely ass out of there, but Talbot clouted him on the back of the head with the gun and his lecture went undelivered.

****

"My hiding place is opened, my hiding place is opened. The Spirits fall headlong in the darkness, but the Eye of Horus hath made me holy, and Upuati hath nursed me. I will hide myself among you, O ye stars which are imperishable!"

Talbot had a very annoying voice, enough reason in itself to kill him, Spike thought as he meandered towards consciousness.

"In very truth I am Ra himself. I am not a man of no account. I am not a man to whom violence can be done."

"Buffy?" He was twisting on the ropes around his wrists like a carcass in a slaughterhouse. The rope chewed into his wrists as he wriggled until he could see her, trussed just as he was only, intelligently enough on the bad guys’ part, she was wearing chains. His hand and his ribs and his head all screamed for attention – feel my pain, they said – but the adrenaline managed to fend off their demands.

Buffy’s head was hanging down, hair covering her face, and he started to sweat, a humiliating side effect of the human condition. If Talbot had whacked her proper, the thing hanging next to him was a carrot in a Buffy-suit. Of course, brain damage would actually require a brain.

"C’mon, Buffy. Planet earth to Buffy," he pleaded.

"I am thy son, O great one, I have seen the hidden things which are thine. I am crowned upon my throne like the king of the gods. I shall not die a second time in Khert-Neter."

Up at the altar, Dr. Talbot was going through his ancient Egyptian priest routine and looked nothing short of daft in full eye-make up and linen kilt. Men in skirts, it just wasn’t right. Spike’s arms were stretching out of their sockets and he figured that by the time he got let down, his knuckles would be scraping the ground. In her throne on the dais, Sekhmet was looking lovely and deadly at the same time. If he’d only been his vampire self, he’d give the bloody bitch a brawl she’d never seen the likes of. He was grinding his useless teeth and only succeeded in making his jaw hurt on top of everything else.

"My heart is with me, I have life by my word, and my heart hath being," Talbot droned and did something complicated involving waving a knife over an alabaster drink-cup, which Spike suspected contained blood. "My heart-case shall not be snatched away from me, it shall not be wounded, and it shall not be put in restraint if wounds are inflicted upon me."

Talbot tossed something into the drink cup and flames jumped from the cup’s rim with a loud crack. On his left, Spike heard Buffy moan. Thank Hell for Slayer healing powers, he thought and leaned as close to her as he could.

"Wakey wakey. Mummy’s got a nasty surprise for you," he hissed.

Buffy tossed her hair back and stared around with incomprehension before her thoughts visibly clicked into place. Gaze tracking around the temple, Buffy finally looked over at Spike.

"Final manifestation?" she asked.

"Well it’s not a bloody tea party now is it?" he answered and realized that he’d gone shrill with panic.

"Why are we-"

"Blood of a man, blood of a woman. Weren’t you paying attention? We’re the fucking entrée."

"Your karma just bit you in the ass," she observed and began pulling on the chains tying her to the hook overhead.

The hook seemed to wobble a bit and stone dust rained down.

"I think I can wiggle this out-" she said and pulled again.

Sekhmet rose from her carved throne and made her majestic way down the short stone steps to the main temple floor.

"Wiggle faster," he instructed.

In all his years meeting older undead, Spike had never seen anything with the grace of Sekhmet. She didn’t walk as much as flow towards him. She was beautiful with her gleaming gold jewelry, moonlit skin, midnight hair, and inhumanly perfect body clearly visible through the thin white stuff of her gown. If he hadn’t felt quite as much like the blue-plate special, Spike might have been attracted. As things were, his human senses were telling him to run, hide, and leave his hands behind if that was required to get away from this deadly beauty. In a moment she was close enough to smell, even with his dull human senses, and she smelled like a million spices he didn’t have names for.

Next to him, Buffy froze.

Sekhmet ignored Buffy, turning her dark eyes on Spike.

Oh God, he thought to a deity he hadn’t bothered with in a century, help me.

Her eyes ate the flesh from his bones. He was shaking, caught up in her stare, his chest tightened with unbearable pain and he couldn’t breathe. One of her perfect white hands reached out and touched the side of his face with a feeling of frost. Had he been so cold as a vampire? Swallowing hard, he fought through her thrall.

"Here now," he croaked, "Give us a fightin’ chance, love."

For a moment, she didn’t move, and Spike could hear Buffy’s quick breathing in the desert night. Slowly, Sekhmet reached out her perfect claw-tipped hand and touched the rope loops binding Spike’s raw wrists to the hook in the temple wall. The rope broke like cotton thread and in an instant; Spike was on his knees on the dusty floor, clutching his aching arms to his achier body. Sekhmet watched him without altering her expression. Plan, plan, he needed a plan and he needed it more than any other plan he had ever needed. And it had to be a good plan, since he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get a second chance with this. Okay, draw Sekhmet away from Buffy, Buffy would get loose and keep Sekhmet from killing him. Killing him? He couldn’t honestly remember ever worrying about that before.

This divine retribution stuff really blew.

He managed to stand up, throw his shoulders back and summon up some of the old Spike-a-tude. It wasn’t much, but it made him feel better.

"I don’t usually go for older women, but I could make an exception."

She smiled and showed fangs. He’d never seen a vamp with enough control to just bring out fangs without the face going as well. Looked good, felt really bad. Somehow he brought up a smile.

"What do you say we ditch the Yanks an’ you an’ me take off?"

Her arm flashed out, cobra-quick, and all he could do was drop to the ground and roll out of her reach, ribs screaming and shifting inside. Sekhmet’s fingers left an inches-deep gouge in the stones of the floor. Regaining his footing, he bounced out of reach of the next swipe.

"I’m not takin’ no for an answer, love." Unfortunately his cough broke up the coolness, and tiny drops of blood spattered the floor. Sekhmet’s eyes lit up like star sapphires. Teasing her with an appetizer was not a good idea.

She glided closer, her eyes flashing in the torchlight. Up at the altar, Talbot continued with his annoying chanting and over against the wall, Buffy continued to wiggle at the hook.

"Three thousand years? You look good, Babe. I would have figured you for about a hundred."

Continuing to circle him, Sekhmet favored Spike with a fang-filled smile. He backed toward the altar, drawing her away from Buffy.

"Don’t talk much, do you? I kinda like that in a woman."

On the next blow, her fingers brushed his flailing arm and it was like being hit by a Mack truck. Spike was slammed into one of the pillars near the altar and his human breath was knocked out of him, making him feel queasy in addition to the pain. He wasn’t going to be able to keep this up for very long. Buffy really needed to get a move on with the chains. Stepping back, Sekhmet paused and considered him for a moment, and the realization hit Spike like a second 18-wheeler. She was toying with him like a cat with a cricket. She was smacking him around to get the maximum amusement from her prey until he lost play value. He’d done it more than once himself. The torchlight flickered over the scene, hotter than moonlight and making the entire world shudder and jump like a hand-cranked movie.

Once more she advanced. Spike’s back was up against the pillar, and he could feel the coldness of the stone seep into his sweat-drenched shirt. Sekhmet was close enough for him to see the gold flecks in her dark eyes. He willed her to look into his eyes, wondering if he was able to pull that little trick off by sheer force of desperation. She looked back into his eyes as he tried to keep his mind blank. His arm stretched up and back, the movement not registering on her face at all. The wood of the torch was reassuringly solid in his hand as he pulled it from the holder bolted to the pillar and brought it down on Sekhmet’s Cleopatra hairdo. Sparks flew and Spike smelled burnt hair. Sekhmet’s mouth opened like a desert cave and she shrieked like a cat with a trodden-on tail. Stepping sideways, Spike jabbed the lit end of the torch into Sekhmet’s torso. More sparks, more smell, and she backed up enough for Spike to get clear of the pillar and out into the open.

He twirled the torch like a pool cue as she advanced on him. Her face and her body had become wary.

"Now that I’ve had a think ‘bout it, maybe it ain’t right for an old bitch like you to be goin’ after a tender sweet young thing like me," he advised and slammed the torch into the side of her head like Babe Ruth hitting one into the stands.

Another vampire would have been stunned by the blow and should have gone up like a kerosene-soaked Christmas tree, but Sekhmet merely reached out and grabbed Spike’s wrist with a grip that was like being crushed by two stones. The torch slipped from his suddenly numb hand and fell to the floor in a wave of sparks and flame. For a long moment, she didn’t move, and all Spike could hear was the Ska rhythm of his heart and the desert air rasping in his lungs. He drove his knee into her stomach and might have fared better if he’d tried it with one of the pyramids. He pulled against her grip and realized that he’d have to gnaw off his own arm to get away.

But he wasn’t going down without resistance. She whipped him around until he was trapped between her body and her immobile arm. He stomped on her feet, wiggled and wormed in her arms, thrashed and pushed away from her like a fish with a hook in its mouth. The pressure on his broken ribs increased and he could have wept with pain. He could feel the softness of hair against the side of his face as she pushed her face down to where collar met neck. He yelled, he yowled and screamed as her teeth sunk through his skin.

It hurt like a sonofabitch. It had hurt like that when Dru had-

His vision started to gray out.

Some unconscious drive clicked in as he felt his own blood start to run down his neck, hot and wet, onto his chest. Without thinking, he turned his head until his lips were against the silky skin of her forearm and he drove his disappointing human teeth into her. He tasted the blood, felt it against his lips, felt it run down his throat like a rare wine, and then the blackness carried him away.

****

"Spike!" Buffy screamed.

In the background, Talbot continued chanting.

"Thy father liveth for thee, O son of Nut. I am thy son, O great one, I have seen the hidden things which are thine. I am crowned upon my throne like the king of the gods. I shall not die a second time in Khert-Neter."

Yards away, Spike was swooning in Sekhbitch’s arms, his face turned to her like he was –

"Yaaah!" she howled, or something to that effect, and the chains parted like cheap shoelaces. Sekhmet raised her face and smiled at Buffy. Even through the blood, the smile was pure and beautiful. Spike sagged onto her like a discarded suit.

Buffy was still wearing half-length chain bracelets. She decided to put them to use, and ran towards the oblivious Talbot. He didn’t look up until the chain shattered one perfect cheekbone, and then he went down like Monica Lewinsky. Sekhmet made a gobbling, groaning noise and dropped Spike.

"Tit for tat," Buffy said and prepared to fight, braced like an action figure on the sandy floor.

Sekhmet growled, a low noise that seemed to fill the temple with wall-to-wall sound. She stretched out a hand—and suddenly was in front of Buffy, who hadn’t seen her move. Buffy whirled a chain at Sekhmet and she grabbed it out of the air, held it between her hands, and tore it apart.

Buffy swallowed and kicked out, landing a solid blow to Sekhmet’s abdomen, which felt like iron-reinforced concrete.

Sekhmet was craning her swanlike neck to look for Spike and Talbot; she wasn’t even watching as she blocked Buffy’s blows practically before they started. Buffy would have been insulted if she’d had the energy. Spike’s blood gleamed on her mouth, and as Buffy kicked and whirled, Sekhmet used an obscenely long tongue to lick it off.

Buffy was apparently an annoyance to her on the level of a gnat. Sekhmet turned and headed toward Talbot, lying crumpled a few yards away. Buffy took the opportunity to wrap her remaining chain around Sekhmet’s neck, wrapping her legs around the vampire and attempting to bring her to the ground.

Sekhmet lurched, then brought a hand up to her throat. Buffy heard the tinkle of metal turning to powder, and then she’d lost her hold and was falling back onto the ground. Sekhmet reached Talbot and pulled him upright. His eyes opened briefly and then horror blanked them as she ripped into his neck.

Buffy didn’t see any way she could stop Sekhmet from killing Talbot, so she backed up and went to Spike, also doing a good impression of a crumpled napkin. Spike still had a pulse, which was weird in and of itself and was probably why Sekhmet had decided to de-accessorize Talbot; she still needed to drain a man to complete the manifestation.

At least Spike was alive – for the time being anyway, because there was no telling how much blood Sekhmet had gotten out of him before he bit her back. Maybe Isobel was right, once a vampire, always a vampire. If he vamped out, wouldn’t he be soul-negative again? This was way too complicated. "That does it," Buffy announced, "the bitch is toast."

Unfortunately she wasn’t entirely sure she was the right brave little toaster for the job.

From outside, she heard shouting and screams. Sekhmet continued to suck at Talbot’s throat, greedy slurping sounds that made Buffy sick to her stomach. Spike was wheezing in unconscious distress; she’d get no help from him.

Just as Sekhmet looked up from her meal, drained like a cold Diet Coke on a hot day, Jane burst into the room, covered with dust and blood. Isobel was only a few paces behind, and Albert and the other Watchers after that.

"Glad you could join us!" Buffy yelled. "She’s got the guy, make Isobel stay far back." Several Watchers deployed in front of Isobel while Jane strode toward Sekhmet, who rose gracefully like a cobra emerging from a snakecharmer’s basket.

Buffy left Spike on the stone floor and joined Jane. She nodded at the other Slayer, who nodded back unhesitatingly. Crazy or not, Jane knew her duty.

She felt warm wetness on her skin. It was raining blood inside the tomb. Sekhmet must be awfully close to full strength. The spatters made Jane look even more psychotic. On Sekhmet it kind of looked natural. The vampire goddess turned her face upwards, towards the hidden moon, and let out a cry like a wolf being gutted.

Two Slayers was only about four Slayers shy of the strength necessary to deal with Sekhmet. With Jane lunging at her legs, Buffy’s jump onto Sekhmet’s back actually managed to unbalance the vampire, who went tumbling over Jane with a sound like the Titanic going down.

"Jane!" Isobel screamed. "The disk of Aten!" She threw something golden toward them – she had a good arm, for a woman wearing a blouse with leg-of-mutton sleeves, Buffy realized – and Jane scurried out from under Sekhmet’s legs to catch it.

Or tried to. Sekhmet twisted like an adder on the ground and grabbed Jane between scissoring legs. Jane screamed defiance as Buffy stomped on Sekhmet’s face. She broke the vampire’s nose, she thought, but it didn’t make her let Jane go. Now Sekhmet was distracted enough to go full vamp-face. That, with the broken nose was going to keep her from winning Miss World 1925.

Stake, cut and bake, she remembered, and darted to where a wooden torch still guttered, not yet doused by the occult weather. Sekhmet was swiping at Jane, still pinioned between her legs, her caresses raising lines of blood on Jane’s face and shoulders. Buffy grabbed the torch and slammed the bottom end into Sekhmet’s heart with all her might. She looked like a birthday cupcake with one candle.

Sekhmet merely blinked up at her and pulled it out. The fire singed her moon white hand and she dropped it onto the sand, where it rolled away. Then she relaxed her legs just enough to pull Jane across her torso, within biting range. Jane’s eyes rolled in her face like a frightened cartoon character.

Sekhmet had pulled the stake from her heart like Buffy would pluck a stray eyebrow hair, as if it were a simple matter of staying fashionable.

The disk, Buffy remembered. She saw it, half buried in sand, and quickly scooped it up. Holding it in front of her like a cross, she advanced on the Jane-Sekhmet sandwich. Sekhmet raised her mouth from Jane’s neck and snarled.

"Force her back into the inner sanctum!" Isobel screamed from somewhere behind.

Buffy hoped the inner sanctum was the dark place between the two gold-leafed pillars, and waggled the disk of Aten as threateningly as she could, forcing Sekhmet back step by step. Jane was struggling, kicking and thrashing, but Sekhmet’s arm around her waist was immovable. Buffy saw the red rivulets running down Jane’s throat. If Sekhmet drained her before the Watchers could seal up the sanctum, they were all doomed. With cold clarity, she realized that it would be best to shoot Jane now, to deny Sekhmet her kill. But she didn’t have a gun; all she had was a fancy plate.

Ten steps away from the sanctum now. Jane was looking beyond Buffy. "Let me go!" she yelled and Buffy thought she was not talking to Sekhmet.

Buffy hurried her pace. The blood was making the stone floor slippery, and she wished again she’d had time to get better shoes. "Prepare the spells!" Isobel’s voice cut through her brain. Sekhmet had stopped her snacking now, and she almost seemed mad enough to drop Jane and come after Buffy. But the disk of Aten had begun to glow in Buffy’s hand, throwing off warm, yellow light—magical sunlight, Buffy thought—annd Sekhmet could do nothing but cringe away and pull Jane’s body up to shield herself from the worst of it. Where the light hit her face, Sekhmet’s milky skin darkened and smoked but did not burst into good old-fashioned flame. This godhood stuff was a total drag.

Now Sekhmet was underneath the lintel. The room behind was dark, but Buffy could see carvings on the stone doorway. A man with the head of a dog, what looked like scales like the ones at the supermarket, and other strange figures that seemed to squirm when Sekhmet came near. The bloody rain had stopped, and the Watchers’ chanting was louder. Sekhmet looked beyond Buffy, and her yellowed eyes widened in her vamped face. She bent her head again to Jane, as if finally realizing that she was about to be defeated. The ground underneath Buffy’s feet began to shake, and she heard stone fall behind and around her.

Jane screamed again as Sekhmet sank her fangs into the fresh wound. Buffy, still waving the disk of Aten like a pom-pom, knelt and scooped up a fallen chunk of rock. It weighed at least twenty pounds, which would have to do. She wound up, just as Giles had shown her, and pitched.

The stone smashed into Sekhmet’s newly crooked nose, snapping her head back. Jane’s neck, now shredded from the tracks of Sekhmet’s fangs, was pouring blood down her proper white blouse, a new rain of blood. Sekhmet staggered back two steps, into the inner sanctum, still clutching Jane. Jane’s eyes were glassy but determined.

The doorway came down with a demolition crash, dust and sand and gravel spewing everywhere. She could feel the rumble of the rocks and the chanting merging, that soundless hum of magic that always raised the hairs at the back of her neck. Buffy risked a glance back at the Watchers and saw Isobel sagged against a wall, unseeing, her fingers clutching and releasing at the rough rock, fingertips already torn and bloody.

It was time to be the Slayer since no one else was around to do the job anymore.

"You!" she shouted and pointed her entire arm at the Watchers who were clucking amongst themselves like nervous chickens, "Start with the binding spell thing."

Numbly, she looked on as the Watchers began their part of the evening’s entertainment, casting spells to seal the sanctum extra-tight and prevent any exploring humans from noticing its existence. They were all bloody, white eyes staring out of their faces like bones poking out of meat. Blood soaked through their beige clothes and it seemed that a few were weeping through the blood on their faces, leaving clean tracks that gave her a painful pang of sympathy in the pit of her stomach.

Isobel was still clinging to the wall, staring at the pile of stones that would encase Jane and Sekhmet for the next half-century.

****

Buffy knelt by Spike. He was still breathing, though it didn’t sound quite right. "Spike?" She’d heard somewhere that pinching someone’s ear could wake them up really easily, so she tried it.

"Ahhhh…." he groaned and blinked up at her. "Slayer!" He smiled, which disconcerted her no end. "We did it, right? We won."

"What do you mean we," she said softly. "How bad did she hurt you?"

"’So, ‘t is not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ‘t is enough, ‘t will serve,’" he said and raised a hand to dab ineffectually at the blood flowing from his neck.

"Did you swallow her blood?" she asked.

"Matter of fact I did." Spike made a face before turning his face to the side and sticking his finger down his throat like a frat boy making room for more beer.

The blood stained the sand and was absorbed in an instant. Spike coughed a couple of times, spit out more blood, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and turned back to her. Buffy’s face wrinkled as though she had been chewing on a lemon.

"You will so understand that I won’t be kissing you for like weeks now."

Through the bruised wreckage of his face, he smirked at her.

"As if you could last that long."

"Jane!" Isobel’s cry of anguish should have been enough to split the rock into sand.

The Watcher had come out of her trance and terror twisted her face and body as she ran at the collapsed entrance, scrabbling at rocks, tossing them out of her way as if she could dig into the tomb.

The disk of Aten rolled across the stone floor. Albert reached to pick it up, but Isobel’s keening cry froze him in mid-movement.

"It wasn’t supposed to end this way. I knew what I was doing!"

Buffy, still panting, hurried over and grabbed her wrists. "Isobel, you have to stop!"

"I killed her," Isobel insisted. "She wasn’t ready, she never should have been a Slayer… she just wanted it so badly. And now I’ve killed her." The tears running down her dirty face made her look nearly as young as Jane had been.

"Isobel," Buffy paused, "she was the Slayer. Ready or not, you never get a choice." She pulled Isobel close, the woman’s hands beating feebly at Buffy’s chest. "I’m so sorry," she said, as Isobel wept into her neck, wept as if the world were ending instead of just having been saved.

Somewhere behind them, Spike was speaking in a voice that didn’t quite sound familiar. He sounded like one of the tapes high school English teachers played of fancy actors reciting Shakespeare.

"’My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains: round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.’"

****

Albert was out assembling the necessary materials for the return spell. Isobel had yet to emerge from her tent, and none of the Watchers were man enough to see how she was doing. Inside what had been Jane’s tent, Buffy was watching Spike sleep and trying to clean up. It didn’t seem entirely necessary, and yet she couldn’t imagine leaving the dead girl’s clothes strewn around.

Spike’s breath had slowly grown more labored throughout the night. Occasionally he would cough, and sometimes there was blood. The sun had risen outside and she had no idea what to do.

Human Spike was vulnerable. But human Spike still had the vampire in his head. She was disgusted by him, and, this was the scary part, she wanted him too. She wanted the Spike who could stand at her back, but if she let him do that, he was going to want to do other things. Cave-sex things, sex that was like fighting. Would it make her dark too, or was it like a pressure valve? Buffy had the bad feeling that only experience could tell.

With a particularly vicious cough, he woke.

"How are you?" she asked, feeling stupid.

"’M dyin’, Slayer," he said. "Never thought it would be like this …Not with a punctured lung, busted hand, an’ low a quart of blood. All I ever wanted was a high body count and a glorious death. Dyin’ mortal, without even a good-lookin’ corpse, ain’t glorious."

"You are not dying!" He made her so angry. She turned away and got him some water, then propped up the pillows so that he could drink. He managed a few sips and then shook his head.

"You get to bring death on. Don’t believe it says in the rulebook that you can reverse the call."

"There are doctors, medicine …"

"Not here an’ not now. You think I could be airlifted out, maybe?" He took another shallow breath. "Figured you’d kill me. Dyin’ for you, that wasn’t the plan. How’s that mopey bitch say it, innit ironic?"

"We’re going to get out of here. You’ll be fine," she said and reached out to brush some stray, sticky hairs off his forehead.

"If I do die, do me th’ courtesy of not forgettin’? Right?"

Her throat felt as though Sekhmet had her hard hand around it. She did not want to feel bad that Spike was hurt, possibly dying. For crying out loud, he was one of the things that she was supposed to slay. He was a bad thing. A Big Bad, not that he should know it. Without really thinking, she leaned down and gave him a quick kiss on his red-stained lips. She was kissing him and tasting his own, living blood, something that she wouldn’t have done when he was a vampire. Tired and hurt as he was, the kiss melted into something far sweeter than he had ever managed before.

"Buffy?" They both looked at Albert, who let the tent flap fall down. "We have some choices to make."

"No choices. He’s got to get back now." Buffy wiped her mouth with the back of her hand nervously and then had to wipe her hand on her dark pants.

"And become a vampire again? Is that really what’s best for him? Is that right? Actually," Albert said, "I was thinking it would be useful if you stayed here. With us. With your knowledge of the future -"

"Wrong girl, mate," Spike cautioned. "What Buffy knows about twentieth century history is prolly less than you know about high-energy physics."

Buffy didn’t like the fixed look on Albert’s face. Now that she thought about it, the bulge in his pocket was decidedly not a happy-to-see-her bulge. Albert wouldn’t shoot her, she thought, but she wasn’t alone. Tracking her gaze, Spike’s eye lit on the gun stuffed in Albert’s pocket and he sucked in his cheeks with annoyance. Somehow the effect wasn’t as sinister with him prone and the white bandage stuck on his neck, but he did tense up, as though he could actually do something other than cough on the suddenly-evil Watcher.

"I think you’ve got the wrong idea about me," Buffy said, using the calm tone she’d use to talk Dawn out of a snit.

Albert arched a blond brow. "Do you mean to say that you led me on?" Well, that tone never worked on Dawn either.

"If you think you can get my cooperation by keeping me here against my will—" Her hands clenched on empty air. Obviously Council treachery was not a recent development. So much for the decline and fall theory of history Willow had been promoting.

"That’s the horrid thing about a destiny, you have to fulfill it even if you don’t like the company. And I’ve got other methods of persuasion. I could get a healer here for him," he pointed at Spike, "in a matter of minutes. You could live out your human lives, both of you. Or," now the gun made its appearance, "I could shoot him."

"Uh huh, Watchers good, vampires evil. Shove it up your ass," Spike said with pure bitterness. "An’ you were actin’ like you was my mate."

"You’re never mates with the Council, right, Albert?" she said hollowly. "Your interests intersect, and then they diverge."

"Well said, Buffy," Albert inclined his head to her. "I believe Spike doesn’t give you nearly enough credit for intelligence."

"No, but she is really flexible," Spike said and coughed, his mouth fresh bright red as if he were still a vamp.

"Albert!"

Everyone pivoted to Isobel, like satellite dishes swerving to catch a new signal. Buffy took the opportunity to sidle closer to Albert, blocking his line of fire to Spike and putting her within neck-snapping range.

Isobel stood in the early morning sunlight spilling through the open tentflap. Her eyes were holes in her strained white face, and she’d missed a button on her blouse. Anguish steamed off of her.

"Put the gun down, Albert."

"What do you want, Isobel?" Albert asked patiently, as if to a small child.

"To fulfill our bargain and send these adventurers home," she said. Her eyes glowed like a cat’s in the light spilling in from outside.

"Your bargain," Albert said, tossing his head. Suddenly, Isobel’s rigid devotion to duty seemed like a better idea than Albert’s panache.

"You never understood a thing," she said, and turned to face the others. "Buffy, if you would be so kind?"

Buffy closed the distance and drove her fist into Albert’s stomach and her knee into his groin. He accordioned like a paper straw. She caught the gun in midair and turned it on the crumpled Watcher/archaeologist.

"Go ahead, make my day," Buffy warned.

"That was more satisfying than is quite proper," Isobel said, and her face softened for a second.

"My pleasure entirely," Buffy told her.

"Ah," Spike complained, "You should kill ‘im. Treacherous weasel like him, they just breed an’ make more."

Buffy looked at him, sighed, and picked him up in her arms like a combination of a baby and a heavy carpet. Spike snarled up at her. "You tell anyone about this," he warned.

"No worries."

Isobel led them to a circle of black stones in the sand. Outside the circle, four equidistant braziers were smoking and emitting a smell like that of the rowdier fraternities back at school.

Spike curled up inside the circle, a human comma wrapped in a leather duster. Buffy stopped and looked again at Isobel. She felt as if she were jumping on a lifeboat, leaving the Watcher to drown.

Isobel pressed a sheaf of papers into her hand. "Think about this," she whispered. Frowning, Buffy stuffed the papers into a pocket and backed into the circle.

Isobel began an eerie, wordless chant. Buffy saw men emerging from tents, English and Arab alike, staring at the spectacle. At some point, her chant began to include words, though they didn’t sound like any language Buffy had ever heard. The sound made her think of a sunset when summer was dying.

As the sand rose mist-like around the circle, she knelt and looked at Spike. He was staring at Isobel, and he looked very young. His face was open, tender even, and she realized that he pitied Isobel, left alone with her duty and the smug men of the Council.

"You’re not really part of them-" he said, and grabbed at her hand.

For a heartbreaking moment she realized that was the last time that they were ever going to touch living flesh to living flesh.

And then the whirlwind swept them up. The last thing she saw in Egypt was a red-faced Albert, advancing on Isobel. Isobel ignored him and looked into the spell she had created, her beige skirt whipping around her legs and her eyes like a whirlpool down into nothing.

****

The first thing he was aware of was feeling different. His body itched with healing magic. He was cold-cast steel, hard as iron, tough as leather, and he could hear the mice conspiring in the grass nearby. He was back, big and bad and larger than life. The bloodlust turned in his veins, and his teeth were sharp as razors. He stood up, felt the leather of his coat swirl around him like a sandstorm, and howled with pleasure at it.

Alongside him, Buffy groaned and wobbled. He caught her arm and held her upright. Once again, the spell had disoriented her more that it had Spike himself, which gave him a jolt of superiority that he hadn’t had in days.

"You all right?" he asked.

"Hate hate hate time travel," Buffy muttered and shook her head.

Movement in the corner of the room sent a cold chill down his nicely dead spine.

The second mummy, the one embraced by Sekhmet, was starting to stir. Where he had seen nothing but beef-jerky flesh and time-yellowed teeth, he could now make out features, and his imagination filled in the rest of the details

"Jane?" he asked.

He didn’t expect the mummy to twist and shake in response. The blood from Talbot’s abandoned jug stained the white sand, but as he watched the blood began to seep out of the sand, like a reverse-time effect in a cheap movie. The liquid was pulling in on itself, a shrinking target underneath Jane’s dried-up husk. The crumpled flesh began to smooth out as muscle plumped on long-dry bone, and the body writhed in apparent agony as the long-dead Slayer began to rise.

Spike could only gawp.

Jane’s lustrous black hair had reappeared, along with her milky-white skin. And a face full of fangs to rival Drusilla.

"Oh shit," he groaned.

"I thought you said a Slayer couldn’t be turned!" Buffy complained.

"I guess there’s an exception in the rulebook for gods!" he snapped. "Ssspike," she hissed, and he could see the girl still within her, trapped and horrified; the soul-magic hadn’t quite worked on her Slayer’s soul, but the demon was in full control. "Darling …"

"No means no," he reminded her.

She easily dodged his first blows, and kicked out, sending him windmilling across the room to lie on the remains of one of the earlier mummies. Jane and Buffy dodged one another in the crowded living roon, Buffy almost en pointe as she skipped past Jane’s clawed hands.

Spike scuttled into the dining room, where he eviscerated a chair. He returned to the fray, brandishing the chair back, with its four spindles sticking out like a handleless pitchfork.

Jane was beating Buffy like a redheaded stepchild, demon cunning giving her the edge she’d lacked in life. Buffy had been forced back against the wall, unable to retreat further.

Jane’s back was to him as she raised her hand for another stunning blow.

Spike shoved the jagged wood deep into her back. Jane jerked like a line-caught fish. Her arms flailed about, trying to get off, but Spike kept pushing forward.

"You missed the heart," Buffy accused, panting.

Spike was still pushing the Jane-vamp around the room, feeling a bit as if he’d got a cat on a leash. "Don’t think so," he said, and kicked her knees out so that she stopped trying to escape and tumbled to the floor. If the chair back was made of tough wood, he’d have tried to pin her to the ground, but it was already splintering and he couldn’t risk losing his advantage. With the floor to brace against, the vamp was almost able to rise, but he had her for another minute.

"Stake, decapitate, bake. There’s a dagger over there on the floor." He didn’t mention that he planned to pawn it at the end of the adventure; in the meantime it could get him to the pawnshop with his undeath intact.

"I thought we only needed to do this to Sekhmet," Buffy grumbled as she knelt by the scrabbling vampire and raised the dagger over her head.

"You’ve got a better idea, I suggest you speak up quick," he said and she brought the dagger down, using it like a short sword. Jane’s head separated from her body with a meaty, squishy sound. Blackened blood dotted the cut but didn’t gush out as the head rolled a few feet away and stopped, staring at them. Jane’s eyes were still green, still thickly lashed. The head snapped at Buffy, trying to get a bite, while the body’s hands clawed at Spike.

"If the flambe part doesn’t work we may have a real problem."

"Yeah, well, I got a lighter in my pocket. I suggest we give it the old college try."

Buffy waited.

"I can’t get it out m’self, love. This is somethin’ of a two-handed business." Indeed, headlessness had not slowed the vamp’s body down much, if at all. Her arms were as flexible as snakes, reaching through his clothes to hurt whatever she could. One of the chair’s spindles disintegrated, leaving only three thin pieces of wood to hold her down.

"Front jacket pocket," he said to Buffy’s suspicious glare. She retrieved it and flicked the wheel just as Jane managed to get her arm firmly wrapped around Spike’s elbow. She pulled and flipped Spike over, onto his back. Only Buffy’s foot on the shaking chair back kept Jane in place. Jane’s claws felt like they were branded into his skin. If she caught fire, he’d catch fire as well. Vamps burned like magnesium flares.

Buffy looked down at him, at the place where his arm was joined to Jane’s.

Shrugging, Buffy dropped the lighter onto Jane’s neck, where decapitation had exposed the moon-white fineness of her skin. The head screamed as the headless body convulsed with fire. Runnels of flame darted down her back, her legs, her arms.

The fire leapt at him, hungry for its long-denied feast, and he struggled. He could feel the heat through his duster, could smell the leather as it began to carbonize. Through the flames from Jane’s body he could see the malicious grin of her head, watching his demise.

Then Buffy put her boot down on Jane’s disintegrating arm, and he rolled free, crushing the flames against Talbot’s ugly carpet. In his peripheral vision he saw Buffy kick Jane’s head into the bonfire of her body, where it flared like a new coal. Vamps usually burned hot and fast, not unlike the victims of spontaneous human combustion, but Jane’s unusual lineage seemed to include some flame-retardant.

Some, but not enough. As they watched, her flailing ceased, and her limbs finally turned to crackling ash and exploded apart.

Buffy kicked sand onto the remaining embers, and Spike began to look around for additional loot.

"Spike?" Buffy’s voice was stretched tight as her favorite spandex pants.

He smiled, full of fangs, and was miffed when a stake materialized in her hand. "What, Slayer, now I’m annoyin’ you more’n usual?"

She gripped the stake more tightly. "You were human on the other end. How do I know there’s still a human soul in there?"

"I don’t suppose my word of honor would do?"

Never a patient girl, Buffy was unable to tolerate such smart-mouthing. She lunged toward him, but this time he could see her move, honey-slow compared to how she’d seemed with his human perceptions. He brought his arm up to block the stake, then spun and landed a kick on the hard muscle of her thigh that sent her into the wall, near the collapsed husk of a mummy.

Even without years of intense Buffy-watching, he could tell she was off her game. Now would be a propitious time to finish his Slayer trilogy. Or quartet, if you counted Jane.

The right time, the wrong Spike. He unfangfaced and threw himself at her, careful to avoid the stake as he thudded atop her.

"See?" he said, not panting with effort, as he wrenched her arms over her head. "No problem fightin’. Chip’s not workin’, ergo soul is percolatin’ along nicely, right?"

She blinked up at him. As usual, her eyes were beautiful. Something inside him rolled over and gave up.

"Buffy? You need some help?" Xander’s voice was braver than the boy himself since he and Anya were peeking around the wreckage of what had been Talbot’s front door.

"I’m okay," she said in a small voice.

Spike flexed his hips against her, just because he could, and her mouth opened and closed, making about as much sense as her words usually did. Then she kneed him in the stomach and he rolled off, staring at the torn-up ceiling and grinning until he rose to join the night. He pushed past Xander and Anya on the front step.

He stopped on the threshold and looked over his shoulder at Buffy.

"By the way, thanks for everythin’," he said in his best snotty and mysterious voice.

Knowing that Buffy would understand, and Xander and Anya would be perishing with curiosity, he made a dramatic exit, giving his duster a flick for maximum billowing. He could feel their stares pinned to his back.

The moon outside was further away than it had been in Egypt. Spike settled his duster more attractively around his shoulders and smoothed his hair back into place. It was good to be undead.

****

"’Ancient mummies stolen from University Museum, Sorority prank suspected,’" Willow read from the Sunnydale Weekly. "’Doctor Peter Talbot unable to be reached for comment.’ At least they didn’t genderize and assume it was a fraternity prank."

"I kinda gave them the sorority idea," Buffy admitted, twisting her face.

"Well go Girl Power! Not that I would want anybody to blame the innocent, but it would be nice if Delta Delta Delta was called in for questioning. They’re such snobs…. So how was Egypt?" Willow asked, and Buffy knew she’d kept the question in for as long as she humanly could.

"Egyptian. Dusty, sandy and hot. Kind of primitive. I couldn’t find anything decent to use on my hair and I don’t even want to talk about how complicated the underwear was. No TV either. I’m just glad to be back with pantyhose and MTV."

"So much for the grass being greener."

"There was no grass."

"Right. But was there sex? Unchaperoned time with His Spikiness . . . And it was days – and nights, even though Anya and Xandeer say you were only in there an hour."

"I don’t think I should answer that."

"Which would be a big old ‘yes.’"

They were in Buffy’s room, with the stereo playing a little too loudly to block their conversation from prying Dawn ears. Buffy was rummaging through her closet looking for something to wear to the Magic Shop that night, and Willow was looking through Buffy’s jewelry to see if there was something that she wanted to borrow. It was supposed to be a "Hey Giles is back and Buffy didn’t get killed in Egypt" get-together and no one had invited Spike. Standing in her underwear, Buffy considered a black dress, deemed it too sexy, and then shoved it back in the closet.

Picking up a necklace that was silver with little green stones, Willow held it up to the light. "That would go really well with your blouse," Buffy advised.

"Was there sex in Egypt?" Willow repeated.

All Buffy could do was chew her lip and try to concentrate on her wardrobe. But she could hear Willow waiting like a bus idling its diesel engine at the curb.

"You know, human Spike, strange country, all that sand and heat. Kind of feels like the ol’ Harlequin Moonlight Love collection."

"Human Spike is not unappealing."

"And sex with Human Spike is not un-fun."

"It was – intense. Sex with Angel was romantic. Sex with Riley was fun," Buffy thought for a moment while Willow waited with her mouth hanging limply open. "This is – intense. I mean, not just the body thing, but the mind thing as well."

Gritting her teeth with frustration, Buffy balled up the sweater she was holding and tossed it into the closet with enough force to send hangers clattering to the pile of shoes underneath.

"I’m all scraped afterwards, I mean like in my head. You know? And I don’t like what I think and feel during and after," she hurried on before her mouth could run out of nerve. "It’s just so icky and dirty and nasty. And he’s a vampire, and he’s Spike!"

"You’re worrying me here. Is he making you – you know, do stuff that you don’t want to?" Willow asked in a soft voice.

"No, more like, he’s making me want to do stuff I never thought I wanted."

"There’s nothing wrong with that! That happens in relationships. You learn about yourself and your partner…. But of course you’re not having a relationship with Spike."

"Some things aren’t right to want. They’re too dangerous."

"So you’re going to do what now?"

"I’ve narrowed my options down to binge eating or melting my credit card from overuse."

"That’s healthy." Willow frowned. "Why don’t you just suck it up and have a relationship with him? Sorry, bad word choice there. I’m sure everybody would forgive you." She paused. "Eventually. It’s got to be better than sneaking around and feeling guilty. I know I felt a lot better when I admitted that I loved Tara – in that way."

"Are you telling me to come out?"

Willow blushed. "Can we just rewind over that last part and tape over?" She took a deep breath. "Are you in love with him now? Does he love you?"

Buffy’s head was an empty room.

"I don’t know," was all she could say, but she reached for the black dress anyway.

****

Xander didn’t know Buffy could hear him as he whispered to Anya near the shop entrance; the acoustics of the place were just as strange as its magical contents.

"I have to say I’m not too upset that there’s no new guy around here to hate. Seems like any time I despise a guy with total gut-wrenching intensity, that’s who Buffy falls for." He took another swig of beer as the door opened. "Hey, Dead Boy, this is a party not a massacre, and you’re not invited."

Spike stepped in anyway, the shop being a public place, and shoved a six-pack of imported beer into Xander’s stomach.

"I was gonna crash the cool kids’ party but instead you got lucky."

"Remind me to throw out my lucky rabbit’s foot."

"Wasn’t lucky for the rabbit now, was it?"

Anya turned to Buffy and gave her a Significant Look. She shuddered to think what Anya would say if she became confident enough in her suspicions. Actually, Anya was likely to be nicer than anyone else about the whole mess. Anya did understand the complications of dating outside your species.

"So," Giles began looking around the little group in the Magic Shop, "what exactly happened while I was away?"

"The visiting lecturer re-animated the avatar of an Ancient Egyptian goddess," Willow offered.

"And I went back in time and prevented her from destroying the world," Buffy added, wanting to get credit for being able to handle herself while he was away.

"With Spike and they killed a Slayer," Anya piped up.

Slowly, carefully, everyone else looked from Anya to Buffy and then back to Anya. Anya frowned. Xander turned his expression of horror from Anya to Buffy.

"Buff?" he asked.

"She had been turned into a vampire, so it wasn’t – like – bad, you know?" she frowned at Anya. "Justifiable Slayage."

"Actually," Giles said and cleared his throat, "I was referring to the bill from the electronic alarm company."

Now it was Anya’s turn on the hot seat.

"Three hundred dollars a visit? That’s highway robbery. We shouldn’t pay them. We should set a spell on them so they all get genital warts."

"Where’s the boom box, I just got the coolest new CD," Willow jabbered and the tension relaxed like a deflating balloon.

The CD was fairly cool, but Buffy only had a tiny part of her attention on the music. Most of her was conducting Spike Surveillance. Spike hung back, watching the festivities and sipping occasionally at his beer. Even when she had her back to him, she could feel his eyes on her. But he was never looking when she glanced his way. This was like being back in junior high again, Salem’s Lot junior high. At least Spike wasn’t trying to pull her pigtails.

"Giles, can you find out what happened to a Watcher for me?" Buffy asked.

"Your friend from Egypt?"

"Yeah, Albert. Albert—" she looked over to Spike. "What was Albert’s last name?"

He had been paying attention, because he responded immediately. "MacGuffin. I think it’s Scots for ‘fuckface’."

Giles disappeared into the back. Spike came and sat beside her. "Hullo, Slayer, long time no hit."

"That can be fixed," she snipped and stared into her ginger ale, since no way was she drinking around the friends who’d witnessed the beer debacle, and the snake-god-fraternity sacrifice before that. She missed the gin and tonic of Egypt, a little bit.

"MacGuffin, comma Albert. Born 1899, died 1936," Giles came back, looking down at the list in one of his many heavy-duty Watcherbooks. "Was the Watcher for Kathryn Eikenbourg. She was killed in 1930 by a Fromogian Demon in Switzerland, apparently. Looks as though he was head of the Watchers Council from 1931 to 1936."

"Wow," Buffy breathed. "He did get to be an old man."

"Old man?" Giles demanded. "Not only is your perspective wrong, your calculations are as well. He was thirty-seven. That’s hardly old." Giles scanned down the page. "Oh, and he was killed in Berlin by a vampire."

Buffy sensed what was coming from the look of Dire Truth in Giles’ eyes as he looked over at Spike.

"Apparently by you."

"Really?" Spike pulled the look of surprise off his face and replaced it with smug self-satisfaction. "Am I good or what?"

It was such classic asshole Spike that Buffy’s fists itched to hit him.

Giles managed to look more sour than usual.

"I suspect you don’t even remember."

"One way or another, he didn’t do us a good turn in Egypt," Spike finally said. "If he’d ‘ad is way, Buffy would still be awaitin’ the invention of the blow dryer. An’ with his charmin’ sense of loyalty I wouldn’t be surprised if he had somethin’ to do with the fuckin’ Schutzstaffel-Totenkopfverbande."

She noticed that Spike didn’t mention that Albert had been perfectly willing to threaten him to get her to comply. Of course that would involve revealing that Buffy would do something other than applaud if he were hurt.

"Well, that’s convenient," she said. "But it’s in the past with the rest of it." She was thinking about the file on Spike that had disappeared because Isobel sent it into 2001, where Buffy had no idea what to do with it. It was in the past, but it was right there with her, too, the Spike dossier that she had hidden between the mattress and box spring of her bed, the one that she hadn’t wanted to ever read again.

"And Isobel Throckmorton?" Spike asked. Buffy started; she hadn’t thought to ask about Isobel.

Giles flipped through the book. "There’s no mention of her here," he said.

"They wrote her out, the bastards," Spike said, wistful and angry. "They covered it all up, and it’s like she never existed. You put her back in, right? She’s in Buffy’s Chronicle now and they won’t get rid of her this time."

"I hesitate to speculate on her fate," Giles said in a mildly sad tone. "When a Watcher loses a Slayer, it tends to have an ill effect on the mental health."

"Yeah, and the Council’s ever so understandin’ about the mental health of the little girls they use."

Giles was staring at Spike as if he’d grown a second head (or another soul). Spike snorted and looked away. Buffy concentrated on her drink. Maybe if she stared at the bubbles long enough, they’d give her some answers.

Finally she heard Spike get up and leave. Giles was observing her like a scientist with a microscope, so she smiled and raised her glass. "To safe returns from foreign places," she said, and he smiled back tentatively.

"Exactly," he agreed and drank.

The wise eyes considered her from behind his glasses and she flashed back to Spike with his crooked glasses naked and grinning up at her in the tent in Egypt. The falling sensation filled her stomach again and she had to gulp at her soda to quell it.

"Buffy," Giles began in his best Dad-substitute voice, "I don’t mean to pry, but there does seem to be something troubling you."

"I can’t … I can’t tell you yet. I’ll tell you – soon. When it’s over."

"Buffy -"

She rose, aware that "soon" and "when it’s over" were not necessarily synonyms. She couldn’t hide forever. She needed to make a choice.

****

Buffy found him outside. He was standing in the alleyway, hair plastered flatter than usual from the rare southern California rain.

"What do you want from me?" she demanded.

The rain ran into her eyes.

"The usual. Nothin’ and everythin’."

"Don’t do this to me," she choked. "I don’t like this. I don’t like the Tower of Terror feeling. It’s not right. You know it, I know it. God, I know it!"

"I’m gonna impart a few decades o’wisdom here, Slayer," he said and for a change he wasn’t smirking. "Fate has its own plans for you. Kick and scream all you like, in the end you’re stuck, just as you’re stuck bein’ the Slayer."

"You’re not my fate," she said sullenly, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Maybe not," he said, and pushed her up against the damp brick wall. She could feel the rough edges digging into her back. "But I paid the price of admission an’ I got to ride the Tower of Terror as long as I can." His mouth tasted of beer and cigarettes and her whole body trembled beneath him, advising fight or flight. They were thigh to thigh in the rain, and his skin was refreshingly cool and vampire under her hands.

He was staring at her face as though he were reading subtitles.

"You know I could, I mean, any man would-" he pulled up short, a man caught in a hangman’s noose.

Spike took a deep, not-needed breath.

"Come home with me, Slayer," he whispered in her ear as her untrustworthy hands stroked his leather lapels.

"You don’t have a home," she corrected him. "You lurk in a mausoleum."

"Mausoleum above the ground, crypt below," his hands illustrated on her body, cupping a breast and slipping a hand underneath the minimal hem of her dress. She caught her breath and hardly heard him finish. "How many times do I have to tell you?"

She let him take her wrist and lead her out into the night.

****

Compulsive Academia:

Groveling to Jordan for mega-quick beta at a moment’s notice. She also announced that we "skipped more periods than an entire inner-city high school."

* All Egyptian curses and spells are highly modified forms of THE PAPYRUS OF ANI: THE EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD (240 BC) Translated by E.A. Wallis Budge

* Spike’s French (most of which, sadly, was cut) came first from Babelfish and was then cleaned up by Liz~Queen of Lizonia

*Except for what is fiction, the Egyptian lore comes courtesy of: Dr. Ken Matthews (ret.) Arcadia University

D.L. Conrad The Complete Tutankhamun – Nicholas Reeves Egyptian Religion- E.A. Wallis Budge Tutankhamun: Life and Death of A Pharaoh - Christiane Desroches-Noblecroft Discovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb- Glubok Treasures of Tutankhamun – I.E.S. Edwards The Mummy’s Tale – Ed: Dr. A.R. David & Dr. E. Trapp Journals - Howard Carter

Ancient Egypt- Guardian’s Egypt – www.guardians.net/Egypt

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