Chapter 4: Exposed

Chapter 4: Exposed

                *Another meeting at the Magic Box.  I think I've had about enough of these.*   Xander sat in his truck, looking unenthusiastically out at the shop.  He could see Anya inside, and Willow bent over a book.

                *I know, love,* Spike thought, and Xander pulled his key out the ignition.  Spike had been here for half the day, helping Anya wrestle some stock around and keeping Dawn entertained when she got out of school.  He was pleased with his new freedom to roam Sunnydale via the tunnels and sewers, and Xander had asked Tara to put a warding spell on the underground entrance down in their cellar, just in case.

                 *Wonder what Giles will say?  Do you think - he won't bring Ethan, will he?*

                *Might do.*   Spike came out of the training room and walked as close to the windows as he could, staying back from the last, slanting light of the setting sun.  *Come in, love.  Miss you.*

                *Yeah...coming.*   Xander slid out of the truck and locked it, then went slowly inside.   Spike slipped his arm around him and kissed him and his mouth was warm and sweet from the cherries he and Dawn had been sharing.

                *She can get the stone right into the bin, 'bout every time.*   Xander broke away from him, laughing.

                "Is that what you spent all afternoon doing, teaching Dawn how to spit cherry pits?"

                "I got her to admit that Siouxsee can sing.  We read some, too."  Spike's tone was aggrieved but his eyes danced with laughter and Xander had to pull him in for another kiss.

                *Taste good.  Have to get some of those for home.* 

                *Mmmm...yeah...*    The link went X-rated and Xander scratched his nails down Spike's back - pulled away again as the doorbell jangled.  An older woman and her daughter edged around the two, eyeing them with something that looked like disgust and Xander felt the blush coming over his face.

                "Can't wait to get you home," Spike said, loud and clear, and the woman jumped a little and shepherded her daughter away.  Xander tugged at Spike's waistband and they both walked down the short flight of steps to the table where Willow was scowling over a thick book.  Its pages were spotted with black spots of mildew and she handled them with the tips of her fingers.

                "This is so gross.  Giles needs some sort of - of air-tight box for these books.  Or one of those rooms like they have in those cigar shops?  Oh!  Maybe we could make an air-tight bubble around one of the bookshelves..."  Willow stared off into space, obviously contemplating some sort of spell and Xander settled uneasily next to her.

                *Probably suck us all into a vacuum or something,* Spike grumbled, and Xander grinned at him.

                "Can you two please not engage in foreplay during business hours?" Anya scolded, coming out from behind the counter.    "As a rule, Magic Box customers are open-minded and tolerant, but we still get the occasional anal-retentive homophobe."   Behind her, the woman who'd given them the eye stiffened and shot a narrow-eyed glare at Anya.  The ex-demon, oblivious, turned around and smiled brightly.

                "Hello!  And how can I help you spend your money today?"  Spike snickered as she bustled away, herding her customers towards the other end of the shop.  He leaned on the back of Xander's chair, his hands in Xander's hair with that familiar, comforting touch that Xander loved best.  He sighed and smiled, feeling his eyes close just a little, and Willow shot a considering look at him.

                "Do you know why Giles wanted to have a meeting, Xander?"

                "Hmmm?  Oh - not...not really, Willow.  Why?"

                "Just wondering.  He hasn't been around much lately.   I tried calling him yesterday but he wasn't answering...  Do you think he's all right?"

                "I - think he's fine, Willow.  I mean - this has all been pretty hard on him but I think he's...getting better."

                "You mean, getting over Buffy being dead."  Xander sat up at that and looked at Willow, who had an odd expression on her face - something between anger and excitement.

                "I don't think he's - well, maybe he is, Wills, but -"

                "Man has a right to live his life, Red.  He can't be in mourning forever."

                "What do you know about it?  You didn't even care when she died -"

                "Of course he did!"  Dawn stood in the doorway to the training room, her expression one of shock and anger.  "He didn't cry or - or make a scene but he was sad!"

                "Dawn - I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."  Willow's look was pleading, but then she glanced back at Spike and it hardened.    "But Spike -"

                "Don't finish that, witch."  Spike's voice was cold - very soft - and Xander reached back and found Spike's hand - gripped it fiercely.

                *Don't, don't - Spike-love, don't...* 

                "Or what, Spike?  You'll - you'll bite me?"  The hiss that came from behind him made Xander go cold and he stood up fast.

                "Guys -"

                "I won't touch you, witch - you're Xander's and you’re the Bit's and they come first.  But you're pushing them away with your...jealousy."  Willow's eyes went wide, but her face flushed a dull red, and Xander winced inside.  *Fuck, he might be right...*    The bell jangled - someone coming in or the customers fleeing, Xander couldn't tell

                "Jealous?  I'm not - not jealous of you, Spike.  I just don't trust you!   None of us should.  I don't care what Xander says he can see in you - you're just a demon!  Buffy never -"   Dawn was striding over from the training room, her mouth open in shock but her hands bunched into fists.  *Anger sorrow,* in the link, strong and sharp.

                "Willow?  What's wrong, honey?"  It was Tara that had come in, bag of books over her shoulder and an expression of confusion on her face.  Willow turned sharply at her voice and seemed to slump, deflating.

                "Oh, Tara, I - I just...  Things are just so...  They wouldn't be like this if - if Buffy were here."  Willow sank down into her chair, the tears finally flowing, and Tara stepped up to her, bending down and hugging her, whispering in her ear.  She glanced up at the others, puzzled, and Xander shook his head - turned and shooed Spike and Dawn away, back to the training room.  *Anger* still, from Dawn, but it was fading, replaced with sorrow - with confusion.

                "What the hell was that about?" Xander asked once they'd gone into the training room.  He turned a questioning look on Dawn and Spike.  Spike just shrugged and crossed to where his duster was hung over the horse.  He pulled out his cigarettes and lit up, and Xander looked at Dawn.

                "She's just been - really on edge, lately.  She thinks Giles is going to go back to England and - it's really bugging her."  Dawn glanced over at Spike, *Hurt fear* in the link.  She lowered her voice, but Xander knew Spike would still be able to hear her.   "And she doesn't like me spending so much time at your house."

                "Why fucking not?  Nothing wrong with you comin' round - you've got your own room an' all! What's that bloody girl thinking?"  Spike bristled instantly and Xander sent calm through the link.

                 "What's wrong with you being at our house, Dawn?"  Dawn looked at the floor, her arms crossed tightly over her chest.

                "She says...that...I should spend more time with..."

                "With what, Niblet?  With her?"  Spike had come up and put his hand on Dawn' back, rubbing gently, and Dawn glanced up at him, her eyes bright with tears.

                "Don't get mad, Spike!  I don't want you guys to fight, please?  I hated it when Mom and Dad fought and - you guys are the only family I have anymore and if you can't be friends I - I don't know what I'll do!"  *Fear* again, and something like panic, and Spike looked to be at a total loss, rubbing Dawn's back but glancing at Xander for some sort of help.  He pinched his cigarette out, putting the butt in his pocket.

                "It's okay, Dawn - I promise that we won't fight," Xander said, shooting a look at Spike.  *No fighting!*   "Don't worry about what Willow said, okay?  We'll talk to her about it.  It's not your problem."  Dawn sniffed - rubbed the back of her hand over her eyes.

                "I just - she said I should hang out with...regular people."  Spike's hand stopped its soothing motion and rage flared in the link, strong enough to bring the hyena up and out.  Dawn was staring at Xander as he fought for control - fought the hyena back and grabbed Spike's arm as he strode past.

                *Spike -do NOT.  You can't - do anything.*   It was the demon that turned back, snarling, and Xander yanked him even closer - wrapped his arms around Spike and just held him.  *Don't, don't love - don't think about it, don't do anything.  Dawn's freaking out, just calm down.*   Spike's arms came up and hugged back, and the vampire put his face down into Xander's shoulder.

                *Want OUT of here, love - want to go.  So sick of this place, Xan, please...*   Xander hugged harder, shocked.  Leave?  That was something they'd never really talked about and now -.  Xander saw Dawn's face - white, tear-streaked and miserable - and he held out an arm to gather her in.  She came with a small sob and Spike freed an arm as well, holding her close.

                *Just pack the Bit up, get the wolfling...  We don't have to be here, we can - teach her and...it's hurting her to be here, love, it's - hurting all of you.  Let's just go, just -*

                *How can we?  Spike - I don't know -*    There was just *sorrow sorrow sorrow* from Dawn; a mix of things that just felt sad, and shuddered through them both.  

                "Please don't be mad at Willow, Spike, please?  She's just - really upset about Buffy still, she doesn't - doesn’t mean it -"   Spike drew back a little, human again, laughing in a rather stilted way.

                "Now, poppet, don't you fret.  Me and Red aren't mates but I won't do anything - or say anything.  I promise.  Chin up, now.  Meeting'll start soon, you don't want to be all - squishy, do you?"  Dawn sniffed, wiping her face - smiled at Spike.

                "Okay.  Okay, I'm...   Thanks, Spike."  Spike reached out and smoothed her hair, grinning at her, and she sniffed again.  "I'm gonna go wash my face."  Dawn smiled over at Xander as well and went across the training room to the bathroom, shutting the door softly.  Spike leapt, furious, and hit the heavy bag with fists and feet.  It took him exactly three solid hits to send it crashing into the wall, the broken chain rattling, the thick leather split open and spilling out wads of filler.  Spike stood over it, snarling, and delivered a final kick.

                "Got it all out now?"  They both spun around, startled by Oz's soft voice at the back door.

                "Fuckin' witch..."  Spike muttered, going for another cigarette and Xander gave Oz the details, fast through the link.  Oz frowned and walked over to the old couch, slumping down.

                "That seems a little...extreme," he said finally, and Xander had to laugh.  He crossed over and flung himself down next to Oz, running his hands back through his hair.

                "Jesus.  It's all just - crazy."

                "Did you mean it?  About leaving, Spike?"  Oz was looking troubled, and Spike sighed - came over and settled on the floor between them, leaning back so that Xander's leg on one side and Oz's on the other were pressed into his shoulders.  *Family* in the link, and *Pack* and for a moment they all needed the contact.

                "I've stayed places for longer.  But this bloody place - it's bad luck for all of us.  Bad memories.  We don't have to stay - nothing keeping us here, right?   We can just go - Bit'd be over the moon to travel, all the stories I've told her..."  Spike's voice trailed to silence, and Xander reached out and ran his knuckles up the back of Spike's neck - kneaded tense shoulders and Spike sighed.

                "I think...  Manny's son has a company, up in Seattle.  He's told me if I ever want to relocate, I'd have a job just for the asking..."

                "Seattle's a cool place.  Good energy up there..." Oz added, and the three of them lapsed into silence.   Xander bent over Spike, kissing his temple and forehead, resting their heads together for a moment.

                "Listen...  I think Dawn would like to finish school here - finish with her friends.  And I don't know if she'd really want to leave Tara and Willow for real...  But - if Giles tells us he's leaving - if he really is going back to England, then...  We'll talk about it, okay?"   *All right, love?  Is that - enough?*

                *Never thought you'd even consider it, pet.  It's more than all right.*

                *You game, Oz?*   Oz shifted on the couch - put his hand out and let it rest with Xander's on Spike's shoulder. 

                *Derio'd go.  And I like to travel.  Yeah, I'm game.*   The surge of happiness and relief from Spike made Xander kiss him again, *sorry* in the link, feeling bad that Spike had felt so - trapped.  *Should have said something, love.  Should have told us.*

                *Didn't want you to be unhappy.  Didn't want you to think you had to leave your friends.*   There was an undercurrent of sadness to it all, though, because the three of them knew Tara would never come along.  It would be hard, to leave part of the family behind if that's what they decided to do.  They stayed like that until Dawn came out of the bathroom, smiling again and looking as if she'd never cried a tear, and then Spike got up and told her to get a stake and try a few moves - see if she remembered what he'd shown her earlier.  He hit 'play' on the boombox in the corner, wailing woman's voice pouring out and they started sparring.  The look of intense concentration on Dawn's face made Xander smile, even as he felt a little pang of loss in his heart.

                *Looks like Buffy, when she does that.*

                *Yeah, she does,*   Oz agreed.  They looked up when Tara came to the doorway.  Spike and Dawn were too busy to stop, but Spike glanced at the blonde and gave a small nod to show he saw her.

                "thrown back again to drown
                kinder with poison
                than pushed down a well - or a face burnt to hell
                feel the cruel stones breaking her bones
                dead before born
                words fall in ruins - but no sound
                she's dying of your shame - she maimed by your paw

                he gives birth to swimming horses..."   

                Xander caught a brief image from Spike; the singer, Siouxsee, up on stage, heavily lined eyes glaring out at the crowd, the press of bodies all around, smoke and alcohol and pot.  Spike shot him a quick grin. 

                *She's a looker, eh?*

                *If you like that kind of thing,* Xander smirked.

                "Hey, Tara - is Willow okay?"   He had to yell a little over the music and Tara skirted around the other two and joined him and Oz on the couch, looking tired.

                "I think so.  She's been - r-really on edge, the past couple of w-weeks.  She's having a h-hard time dealing with...all thi-this." 

                "Yeah...  How about you, Tara?  You okay?"  Xander touched the back of her hand gently and Tara smiled at him.

                "I'm fine, Xander.  I'm...  It sounds b-bad to say it but Buffy wa-wasn't my best friend.  I'm n-not as - as torn up as W-willow..."  The guilty look on her face made Xander want to hug her tight, and after a moment's thought he did.

                "Hey - it's okay, Tara.  Nobody expects you to just stop, you know?  You've got school and I've got my job...  We've all got lives that have to go on.  There's no - right amount to miss somebody."  Tara hugged back - smiled over at Oz, who was nodding silently.

                "I know, Xander.  I r-really do, but s-ssometimes Willow...  She's just so - up-upset.  I don't know what to du-do about it."  There was a long silence then, as the three of them watched Dawn and Spike, each sunk into their own thoughts.  It did seem to Xander that Willow was taking Buffy's death the hardest.   Dawn still had nightmares - still cried over Buffy - but she had come out of her long silence, and was more and more the Dawn they'd all known before

                *There's that 'before' again...  Dawn's doing all right, really - we all are.  Except for Willow and I just don't - don't know WHY.  I miss Buffy...but she's gone.  I can't change that.*   Xander watched Dawn fake a punch and go low, getting Spike in the thigh and the vampire whistled, grinning.

                "Good on you, Bit!  That was great."

                "But she was open on her left."  It was the 'bot, standing in the doorway and looking faintly...displeased?  Willow came in behind it and gave it a little push, motioning it towards the corner.

                "What's - it doing here, Willow?" Xander asked as Spike and Dawn shrugged off the 'bots assessment and circled each other.

                "Oh, she had a kind of - malfunction, last night.  Got hit pretty hard in just the wrong place.  I had to do some repairs.  I programmed her to come and find me if anything goes wrong, and that worked, at least.  She just needs a little charging up before patrol tonight and I thought it would look good to have her leaving from here sometimes.  Like - like she...Buffy...used to."  Willow bit her lip and followed the 'bot to the corner where a heavy-duty power cable lay coiled.  Willow popped the stomach-plate of the 'bot open and plugged her in, and the 'bot went still.

                "So, think she'll be up for orientation next week at school?"  Oz asked, and Willow started to answer him when the front door bell jangled.  A moment later Anya put her head around the corner of the doorway.

                "Giles is here.  Time for our meeting."

                "Okay then."  Xander wasn't looking forward to the meeting, and he could feel the reluctance from Spike and Oz as well.   Oz turned the music off and they all moved slowly into the front room, where Anya was just locking the door and turning the 'Open' sign around to 'Closed', frowning.  She didn't like closing early.  Giles was leaning on the display counter, looking worn out and uncomfortable, arms crossed over his chest.  They all found places to sit - Tara and Willow at the round table, Oz and Xander halfway up the stairs with Spike right behind.  Dawn chose to sit on the stairs too, and Anya went behind the counter again and started fiddling with receipts.   Giles looked around at them all and then took a deep breath.

                "I'm grateful that all of you could come here for this...  I'm - I have some very serious things to discuss."  He paused and took off his glasses - rubbed his eyes.  "I'm sure that all of you remember Ethan Rayne -"

                "Oh!  I remember him!  He turned you into a demon, right?"  Dawn looked pleased, and Willow smiled at her, nodding.

                "Ah, well yes, yes he did, among other things...  And I - had the Initiative take him away."

                "You did?"  Dawn was wide-eyed, and Giles flinched from that a little, putting his glasses back on. 

                "Yes I did, Dawn.  At the time I - well, that's not important.    What is important is that...  That he got away from them."

                "Oh, no!  What - what should we do?  Is he coming here?  Do we need - some sort of spell to - to hold him or...or drain his magic, maybe?"  Willow grabbed a book at random from the stack that always seemed to accumulate on the table, flipping it open.  Xander saw the wince, when she spoke - the brief look of sorrow that crossed Giles' face.

                "No, Willow, that won't be necessary.  He...  He's already here, and he's...  Well, he's really not a threat to any of us, right now."

                "What do you mean?"  Giles sighed and rubbed his forehead with his thumb, looking exhausted.  Spike's knee pressed into Xander's shoulder and he leaned back a little, shivering as cool fingers slipped into his hair.

                "The Initiative established a base in Brazil, after we destroyed the one here.  They - took Ethan there.  But a - but something happened, and that base was destroyed as well and Ethan managed to - managed to escape and make his way, over several months, back...here."

                "Why here?" Tara asked softly, and Giles glanced at her.

                "Well, I suppose here because - because we were friends, Ethan and I.  He - he didn't have anywhere else to go."  Behind him, Anya had stopped organizing her receipts and was looking at Giles with a thoughtful, considering expression.

                *Oh crap.  I think Anya just figured something out.  Think she'll keep her mouth shut?*

                *Doubt it, pet.* 

                "Okay, so, he comes all the way back here.  What does that mean, though, Giles?  You're not - not helping him, are you?  I mean - after what he did -"

                "What he did is - is in the past, Willow.  What he did was nothing - nothing - compared to what the Initiative did to him."

                "But he kidnapped Buffy and tried to feed her to that Eyghon guy!  Or god, or demon, whatever!  And - and he nearly got us all killed with that Halloween costume thing, and -"

                "Yes Willow, I am aware of these things.  That's really not the point -"

                "Seems like a pretty big point to me, Giles!  I mean, he tried to kill us all and you're just - gonna be his friend again?"  Giles was pacing now, head down and a thunderous expression on his face, and he stopped short at Willow's words.

                "Friend.  I haven't been his friend...for some time.  But now - yes, now I'm going to try to be. I - I owe him that much, after what I did..."

                "Giles -"

                "Leave off, Red.  Did you know, way back when me an Angel had a little run-in with some Nazis?  They were collecting us - vamps, that is.  D'you know why?"

                "Recruiting you for help with the Final Solution?" Willow snapped, and Xander felt Spike stiffen - felt the demon surge, and Spike ruthlessly push it away.

                "No, you daft bint.  They wanted to try and control demons.  They wanted to cut open their brains and make them into an army.  Sound familiar?  That's where the soddin' Initiative got its ideas from.  The bloody Krauts.  That's what Rupert turned his mate over to.  All that meticulous Nazi framework embellished and improved upon by fuckin' Yankee ingenuity."   Willow had gone pale, and Tara was holding her hand, looking between them.  Giles had put his hand to his face, as if to hide his expression or to stop himself from speaking, and they all sat in an uncomfortable silence for a long moment.

                "So what exactly does all this mean, Giles?  Your friend is here and you feel all guilty, as you should, but what does that mean to me?"  Anya came out from behind her counter, looking anxious and annoyed at the same time and Giles let out a strangled sort of laugh.

                "Yes.  Thank you for once again getting straight to the point, Anya.  What it means to you - to all of you, really, is that...  I'm going back to England."

                "What?"

                "Oh, Giles -"

                "Leaving?"  Willow, Dawn and Anya all started talking at once.  Tara looked sadly at Willow and bowed her head. 

                *Guess demon-girl was right.  He's off with his mate across the pond.*

                *Nazis?*

                *Yeah - remember?*  Xander closed his eyes, letting the past surface - was jolted out of that memory - out of the stale, dead air of a dying submarine and Angel's furious face as he punched a German soldier - by Willow.

                "Giles, you can't leave!  You really can't!  I mean - we need you here now that - now that Buffy's gone!  How are we gonna figure out prophecies and apocalypses and - stuff like that?  How are we gonna figure out if Buffy - if she went -"

                "I really cannot have that discussion again, Willow!"  Giles actually shouted and they all froze, staring at him.  He stood glaring at Willow furiously, and she glared back, her mouth set in a thin line, her eyes dangerously hard.

                 "We need to have that discussion!  We need to talk about it and figure it out!  We can't just leave Buffy -"

                "Enough!"  That was Ripper *darkman demonkiller* and they all felt the shockwave of power that flashed out from Giles.  Spike hissed and Oz's eyes flared black, the wolf struggling for dominance.  The hyena reared up as well, fight or flight kicking in hard and only the combined efforts of both Xander and the soldier kept it from launching itself straight at Giles.

                "What in bloody hell is going on," Spike growled, and Giles shot a furious look at him.

                "It's none of your damn business -"

                "Yes it is!  Well, it's not Spike's business but the rest of them have a right to hear this!"

                "Willow -"

                "No, don't try to stop me."  Willow shot to her feet, her hands twisting together as she agitatedly paced up and back behind Tara's chair.  "When Buffy died - everything was wrong.  She didn't die a natural death, she died in the portal!  And her soul - we can't know where her soul is -"

                "Yes we can.  Natural or not, her soul is where it ought to be - where it should be!  We will not be performing some sort of - of obscene hedge-wizardry in the hopes of scrying out her whereabouts!"  Giles voice was trembling with tightly controlled rage but his eyes were like two pits, utterly void of emotion.  Willow flinched from the look he gave her, but turned to the others - to Dawn.

                "Don't you see?  What if she's in some - some hell dimension -"  Dawn gave a choked cry, covering her mouth with her hand, and Spike was up, leaping over Oz and Xander, landing not two feet from Willow.  He took her by the shoulders and let the demon out, his lips pulled back in a grimace of rage.   Behind Willow, Tara stood up, her hand going out uselessly towards the two.   When the vampire spoke, it was a sibilant, hate-filled whisper.

                "You will shut your gob right now, witchling, if you know what's good for you.  How in fuck could you say something like that in front of Dawn?  If you ever talk about the Slayer bein' anywhere but up with her mum and the fuckin' angels I will personally rip out your tongue and feed it to the first fuckin' stray dog I find.  Do.You.Hear.Me."  He gave her a vicious shake and Willow's mouth, which had dropped open snapped shut, and she jerked herself out of his grip.

                *Spike - fuck's sake-* 

                "I've got things to fuckin' kill."  Spike glared around the room - shook his head once at Xander and with a flick of his eyes indicated Dawn, who was crying silently behind him.  Then he was gone.

 

                *Well, that didn't go well at ALL,*   Xander thought, as he and Oz headed out to patrol.  They could feel Spike like a cruising shark, cutting through the night-time shoals of Hellmouth demons, cold and unstoppable.  He and Oz had left Giles and Willow behind, both tight-lipped and silent, furious.  Anya had called Drake and gone home after Giles had rather testily told her that he was leaving the shop in her hands and becoming a silent partner.  She wanted to have 'celebratory taking-over orgasms', and Drake, apparently, was always obliging.

                *No - could have gone better.*   Oz looked over at Xander with a small smile, and Xander shook his head.  Dawn had tried to be stoic - had stopped crying and let herself be taken home - but they could feel her upset in the link, and Tara had pulled her close and led her inside the Summers' house, whispering comfort in deaf ears.

                "What in hell - I mean, if Willow really thinks Buffy is in some - some hell dimension, then what does she think she can do about it?   What - would be the point?"

                "Maybe she thinks she could - get her out?"  They both thought about that for a moment, and then Xander sucked in a sharp breath.

                "No way is she thinking about bringing her back!  Not after what Dawn did...  She is not that crazy!"

                "Fucking hope not," Oz muttered, distaste in the link.  Xander shrank away from the idea with loathing - it was wrong, to do something like that.  To mess with someone's soul.  As much as he hated Angel, the thought of his soul being jerked around, between heaven or hell or limbo on the whim of some pissed-off gypsy...  It wasn't right

                *She's daft enough to try it, maybe.*   Spike, somewhere down the street and off to the south, and Xander turned the truck at the next intersection.

                *No way.  She - I know she's a little...casual about magic sometimes but she wouldn't mess around with stuff like that.*

                *Better hope not,*   Spike thought, and then the link rippled with surprise and gleeful interest.

                *What is it?* 

                *Bunch'a demons - fuck, Hellions.  What in hell?*   Xander looked over at Oz, who was sitting up straight, looking back with a frown on his face.

                *Spike, what d'you mean?  What are Hellions?*   Images, through the link.  Demons in leather and chains, a convoy of motorcycles cruising through Sunnydale, heading roughly towards Willy's bar.  And the knowledge of what they were; pirates, who come in and destroy - who take over, for a few days or a few weeks, and then move on when the town they've invaded is sucked dry.

                *They're pretty wild but they're not big-time.  Usually stick to back-water places with no real defenses.  Only reason they'd be here is if...*

                *They found out about Buffy,* Oz finished, and Xander felt a wave of fear go over him.

                *Wolfling's right.  I'm gonna see what the hell they're doin' - make sure it's...  You get Blondie and the Niblet to our house.  Tell her ward it - make it a fuckin' fortress.  And get Giles and his mage over there - they need to be together.  It's gonna take more magic than Glinda has to keep them out.  And we need to have access to the Underground, just in case...*

                *Is it really that bad?*   Xander glanced behind him and swung the truck into a U-turn in the middle of the street, Oz braced against the dash.

                *Fuck yeah, love.  If they know, then everybody knows.  This place is gonna blow sky-high before daybreak.  We've gotta be ready.  Lock the house down.  I'll be there soon.*   Then he was gone and Xander flattened the pedal to the floor, pushing the truck as fast as it would go.  

                "This just keeps getting better and better," he muttered, and had to smile when Oz belatedly fumbled his seat-belt on.

                "Seattle's sounding pretty good about now," Oz replied, and Xander felt exactly the same.  They drove on, heading for the Magic Box and hoping that Giles would still be there.  This was going to be a long, nasty night.

 

                Spike prowled the Sunnydale streets, watching the Hellions - do their thing.  There were at least twenty, and they'd gotten into a kind of rhythm, going from store to store downtown.  Not to the Magic Box yet, but getting there.  He debated whether or not he'd defend the store but decided, with a snort of silent laughter, that he wouldn't.

                *Demon-girl'd probably get more money outta insurance, anyway...*   The Hellions loved the smash-and-grab, but they weren't very neat and they weren't very thorough, and Spike had a pillowcase - liberated from a wash-line - that was gradually filling up with...bits.   *Never have too many movies, never have too much music, and that pawn shop out by the highway gives damn good prices.*   On principle, Spike wouldn't do any smashing himself - that would smack of allying himself with the Hellions and traditionally, those demons and vamps didn't get along.  But he'd take advantage of the chaos.  Other Hellmouth dwellers were taking advantage as well, and the night was shaping up to be something like all right.

                *And the Watcher's mate is probably eatin' this like candy.*   

                He'd followed Xander and the wolf's progress through the link; getting Dawn and Tara from the Summers' house, going to Giles' flat and convincing him to come, as well.  The mage had looked fevered and a little out of it, but he'd grinned at Xander and asked him how 'the beast' was faring.  Xander had been hard-put to stop 'the beast' from knocking him unconscious and Spike had told him, through the link, to shut his particular brand of 'come get me' down or he'd come over there and shut the mage down personally.  Giles had proceeded to get the man drunk, which apparently blunted Rayne's abilities to project magic of any sort - at least, in the weakened state he was in.  Which was a bloody good thing, in Spike's opinion, because the man was a fuckin' beacon to anyone with the slightest bit of magical sensitivity.  And Hellions had that in spades.

                *But Glinda-witch needs what Giles can give her - she's strong, but she's not as adept.  And we might need that chaos-git in the end, if things get bad.  He'd make good bait, at least.*  

                There seemed to be a fight up ahead, and Spike strolled closer, trying to see.  True to form, a number of the demons had lit fires - heaping up smashed store-front bits in the street, or filling trash barrels with scraps.  The lurid firelight made the scene reminiscent of - well - a lot of Spike's past, and for a moment he felt a twinge of nostalgia.

                *Fifty years from now, Xan won't care one way or another...show him a bit of what it's like to travel the world with a Master...*  That thought made him grin, and he lit up a cigarette with a flourish.  The Hellions were surrounding something now - chattering and laughing and Spike looked around - saw a high, deeply silled window just inside an alley.   He jumped, hanging from the sill by one hand and jammed his pillowcase of loot up against the window for safe-keeping.  Then he dropped back and sauntered up to the edge of the demon circle.  If there was a fight to be had, he wanted to be in on it.  What he saw made him stop and stare.  The 'bot was in the middle of a circle of demons, looking a bit frazzled.

                "I have to find Willow," the 'bot said, and the demons closed in.  The 'bot managed to fight her way free of the demons and took off running, and with a roar the demons were after her, mounting up on their customized Harley's and zooming away up the street.  Spike contemplated the situation for about five seconds before he grinned and took off running.  The demons were following the 'bot, who was sticking to the sidewalk.  If he ran through here - and climbed this...

                *Perfect, yeah.*   Spike leaped down onto the sidewalk and watched the 'bot and then the demons flash by.  He stood in the middle of the street, waiting.  One demon was a little behind - he'd had a moment's trouble getting his bike started - and Spike watched him coming up the street, engine wide open.  The demon saw him - grinned nastily and aimed straight for him.  Spike grinned back, and at the last minute leaped high into the air.  The steel toe of his boot connected solidly with the demon's head and he flew backwards, skidding over the asphalt and crumpling against a light-pole.  Blood welled out from under the still form and Spike laughed.  He took a last drag off his cigarette and flipped it away - trotted over to the bike and righted it.  It seemed all right - was still running, even - and he climbed aboard and kicked it into gear, following the now-distant sound of the rest of the demons.

                *What's going on, Spike?*

                *Dunno.  The 'bot's chasin' after Red, so I'm gonna see what happens.  She there?*

                *No - not at home, nowhere.  We can't find her.  Tara's going to try a spell.*

                *Right...  Keep safe, love.*

                *You're one to talk.  Watch yourself, vampire-mine.  There's a lot of them.*

                *Just enough, pet.*   Xander was laughing, but Spike could feel his worry - could feel Oz, who wanted to loose the wolf and come join him.    But he was staying with Dawn, helping her calm her nerves with a dose of sugar and cheese.  They'd cooked frozen pizzas and half-drowned her with soda, and she was starting to get mouthy with Rayne - asking pointed questions that the mage appeared to want to answer but that the Watcher wouldn't let him.

                *That's my girl,* Spike thought, grinning.  The demons were on the outskirts of town now, headed towards...  *Fuckin' woods?  Breaker's Woods.  What in hell is the witch doin' out here?  Or is the 'bot just fucked up...*    The motorcycles were circling - tires spinning and faltering in the damp leaves and uneven terrain under the trees, and a couple had gone down, pinning their luckless riders beneath them.  Spike charged ahead, bouncing heedlessly over the rutted track.  Something - someone - was screaming.

                *That's not the 'bot - don't think she's got it in her...oh fuck.*   It was Willow - it had to be, and Spike revved the engine higher and broke through into a clearing.  Four bikes were weaving a circle around the 'bot and Red, who was slumped on her knees, looking dazed.   She had something cradled in her arms, and there was mud and blood smeared on her face.  The bot was fighting but she'd obviously taken several hard blows already, and random sparks of blue electricity were sparking over her.  A moment later, one Hellion drove straight into her and rode her down.  He leaped off his bike with a roar of triumph and gathered the dazed 'bot up - slung her over his shoulder and climbed back on his bike.  Spike drove his own bike straight into him, knocking them all to the ground.  He leaped free of the wreckage and ran for Willow, snatching her up and jerking her unceremoniously towards the trees.

                "No!  Nooo, we have to go back!" Willow shouted, pulling against him, and he turned around and snarled into her face.

                "If we go back you're most likely dead - or a bed-warmer for one of these boys.  Want that?  Time to fly, pigeon."   Willow's eyes were wild, and she looked desperately back over her shoulder.

                "But - but Buffy -"

                "What in fuck are you talking about?  The 'bot's knackered."   Spike turned and jerked her to a stumbling run, diving into the trees in the hopes that the Hellions wouldn't be able to follow.  Willow tripped and fell, sprawling, and something flew from her hand - hit with a crack of shattering pottery against a tree-trunk.

                "Oh no, no, no!  It can't be broken!"  Willow scrambled towards the tree, groping the dimness for whatever she'd dropped and Spike leaned down and jerked her to her feet.

                "We don't have time for this, Red!  What the fuck are you doing?"

                "The urn!  Urn of Osiris, it's the last one, the last in the world -"   Willow's eyes were full of tears and horror and pain, and Spike wanted to slap her - cold-cock her and toss her over his shoulder, get home before something happened.  He felt uneasy up here - looked around and took a sudden hard breath, finally recognizing where they were.

                "What in bloody hell were you doin' up here, witch?  Why are you at the Slayer's grave?   What fuckin' idiotic thing were you doing -"

                *Spike!  Get out of there!  Get home!*   Xander and Oz both in the link, fear making them loud.  Spike shook his head sharply.

                *What is it?  What's happening?*

                *Don't know, but Ethan and - and Giles are - just get home!*   Image, suddenly - the Watcher looking panicked, the mage grinning like a rabid dog, his eyes rolling up white in his head.   'Chaos is loose in the world, children!  Something has happened - something has broken free.  Better run!'   The man looked demented, but even at one remove through the link Spike felt - afraid.  There was something - he turned and started to run, dragging Willow behind, letting the demon out and trying to pinpoint what it was he was sensing.  He caught a whiff of wet earth - rot - but it was blotted out by exhaust from the bikes and the stink of the demons themselves, and he shook it off - plowed down the hill, crashing through underbrush and trying to get as many trees as possible between himself and the demons. 

                The roar of the bikes faded after a bit, and he slowed warily, giving Red a breather.  She was crying now, sniffling and coughing and gasping for breath and he finally stopped in the lee of an outcrop of stone, letting Willow sink down and crouching beside her.

                "Now tell me what the fuck is going on, Red."  Willow wiped her nose on her sleeve - looked up at him with red, streaming eyes and Spike had a sudden, horrified thought.  "Were you - Jesus fucking Christ, Red, tell me you weren't -"

                "I had to do it, Spike!  I h-had to!  I couldn't leave her in some - some hell-dimension, I couldn't -" Spike stared at the trembling, crying girl - stared while his mind ran furiously over and over everything he knew about...

                "Resurrection.  Bloody hell, witch.  You don't know what you've fuckin' done."  Willow shook her head and pushed herself to her knees, shaking.

                "It doesn't matter.  The urn - the urn's broken and - and those demons stopped me.  I don't - it didn't work, Spike.  I...failed."

                "Be fuckin' glad you did."  Spike stiffened suddenly.  Something was there, in the brush just behind him.   Creeping stealthily towards them.  He lifted his head, scenting, and almost gagged.  Wet, moldering earth, the stink of corruption - of death.  He spun, rising to his feet, ready to take on whatever was lurking.  Green eyes stared at him - a tangle of filthy hair, a white, mud-streaked face.  Rags of cloth were clutched around equally filthy shoulders, and bare feet and legs showed cuts and bruises.  The reek of decomposition was so strong Spike pushed the demon away, and the figure swayed, staring at him.

                "Slayer?" he whispered, and it - she - jerked and looked wildly around.  Then she turned and was running, the rag of cloth - *Burial shroud, oh FUCK that's the quilt we wrapped her in -* snagging on a bush and fluttering to the ground.  It was streaked with fluids and dirt - crusted with rot and Spike shuddered, imagining Buffy waking in that filthy hole - waking surrounded by the rotting remains of the coffin and her own clothing and the mire of worms and beetles...waking alone -

                "S-ssspike...  Spike, was that - w-was that -"

                "Yeah.  That was your Slayer, witch.  Or what's left of her.  Fucking hell."  Spike turned around and grabbed Willow - flung her unceremoniously over his shoulder and started to run for all he was worth.

                *Got to get home, got to...bloody hell, don't have a fuckin' clue.  Is she - still herself?  Is she even sane?  You've outdone yourself with this one, Red...fuck, fuck, fuck!   Xander!  Xan-love...  I've got the witch - come meet us.  Got some news, love...*

 

 

 

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Siouxsee and the Banshees - Swimming Horses