Chapter 9: Song

Chapter 9: Song

                Oz put his arms down and then sat down, scrubbing his hands back through his hair and ruffling the dark green strands up wildly.  "Ooookay.  That was just -"

                *Fuckin' weird,* Xander thought, toppling backwards, panting a bit.

                *Too right, pet,* Spike agreed, and he hopped down from the rungs of the fire-escape ladder he was clinging to, looking around with gold-glowing eyes.

                *Did anybody else think 'West Side Story?'*    Spike and Oz looked over at Xander, who lifted his hands in a 'what?' kind of gesture.

                "Hey!  I do watch other stuff besides Aliens and Star Trek."

                "Who'd have thought 'other stuff' meant lame musicals?" Spike sniggered, and Xander, who was collapsed across a pile of empty crates, kicked half-heartedly at him. 

                "You knew what I meant, so I guess you've seen it, too," Xander said, and Spike opened his mouth and then shut it.  He hopped up onto a loading dock and sat on the lip, legs dangling.

                "Dru loved Sondheim - made me take her to a revival of his, didn't she?  Went for every bloody performance.  Can't tell you how many times I've seen bloody West Side Story and Sweeny Todd...  Rather liked that one," Spike added, digging around for his cigarettes and lighter and for a moment they all sat in silence, Oz drumming his fingers restlessly on the stack of pallets he was on and Spike swinging his heels against the graffitied concrete of the dock.

                "You suppose this happened to anybody else or was it" Oz wondered, and Xander sat up, pushing his hair back out of his face.

                "Well, I guess we'll go see what Giles has to say...or we could just call -" he added, when Spike gave him a look.  This was supposed to be their night off - pool and drinks at the Bronze, movies, junk food, 'snogging' on the couch and an early bed-time where no sleeping would occur.  Spike did not want to go to the Watcher's house and get embroiled in all-night research or any other 'Scooby' business.

                *Don't need to go see the old queens tonight,* Spike thought, puffing like a dragon, and Xander giggled at the mental image Spike provided with that - Giles and Ethan in slacks and cardigans, sipping tea from fussy cups, surrounded by stacks of books.

                "They have kind of gone off the research deep-end," Oz mused, and Spike and Xander both silently agreed.   Ethan was getting better, but so very slowly, and Giles was convinced his cure lay somewhere in the musty, leather-bound tomes he unearthed at second-hand shops in San Francisco, ordered over the Internet, or cajoled out of the few Council friends he had left. 

                Oz lifted his head suddenly, turning to look at the alley mouth, and Derio came around the corner.

                "Hey -" Derio looked a little bewildered and Oz went to meet him, slipping an arm around his waist and getting a quick kiss.  "I - couldn't find you inside, so I..."  Derio's voice trailed away to silence and Oz hugged him a little.

                "What's up, amante?" Oz asked softly, and Derio grinned at him - shook his head.

                "I don't - know.  I was running a little late - had to drop some stuff off at the printers and - this man was there shouting about an order that was all screwed up?  Really being a pendeja, mi Dios.  And - then - the manager found the right order and it was all fixed and - we - started singing about it."  Derio looked at Oz - looked at Xander and Spike, a small, puzzled smile on his face.   Xander sighed noisily and Spike cursed.


                "We just - did the same thing.  The singing, I mean."  Oz sighed as well and leaned his head on Derio's shoulder.  "I guess we go by Giles' house after all," he said, and Spike cursed again.  But he jumped down from the dock and grabbed Xander's hands - hauled him up and into a quick kiss.

                "Come on, love, maybe it'll be quick and we can get straight to the shagging, right?"

                "Do our best," Xander murmured, pulling Spike forward by the belt-loops for another kiss.  After a moment they turned and the four of them walked out of the alley, headed for Giles house.   With a glance at Spike, Oz started humming, and then Xander did and Derio joined them, looking puzzled still but smiling. 

                *Bloody Hell!  Stop that!*   Oz laughed out loud and started to sing, and Spike roared, but he was laughing too, and he couldn't help joining in, snapping his fingers along with Xander.

                "Here come the a bat out of hell

                Someone gets in our way...someone don't feel so well...

                Here come the Jets...little world step aside...

                Better go underground...better run, better hide..."



                "Does it really matter if we find out what's behind this?  I mean - singing and dancing, it's not that bad."  Buffy spoke from a face-down position on the table at the Magic Box and Anya paused beside her to pat her head.

                "Of course it matters, Buffy.  It might have started as just singing and dancing, but now people are going up in flames!  At this rate, I won't have any customers left, and paying for the wedding will be difficult.  Drake's offered to pay half, of course, but if I let him do that he'll want to arrange things."  Anya shook her head indulgently and moved on, and Xander, sitting across the table, shared a look with Buffy.  Drake was studying forensics with a sort of manic glee and only Anya labored under the delusion that bridesmaid's dresses, seating charts, and 'first dance' song choices could drag his attention away from five-day-old corpses and mysterious stains.

                "At least he fits in," Dawn had remarked, and he did, to the extent that Anya had finally told him everything about Sunnydale - and herself.   It had taken him most of a day to process and then he'd showed up at a Scooby meeting at the shop, notebook in hand and an expression of utter determination on his face.  He'd come along on patrol, made notes, and gotten elbow-deep into a Nyrn demon Spike had killed.  Spike had taken him for a drink.  He was currently doing a side-project of his own, cataloguing the various demons Buffy or Spike killed, and he kept popping up at odd moments during patrols or at the Bronze to ask questions or beg a tissue sample.  Spike encouraged him, Anya lectured, and everyone else found it secretly disturbing.  But also endearing and they were happy Anya had somebody that knew her secrets and accepted them.

                "What's up, Buffy?  You're not your normal spunky Slayer self," Willow asked, shifting a pile of books to one side.  Tara, across the table from Willow and looking intently through an old herbal, glanced up at Willow for a moment, the expression on her face unreadable but...

                *Wow, that was...*   Xander shivered just a little.  Tara's look - had chilled him.  *Something's going on, there.*

                *Dawn said they had a bad fight about magic but - when she mentioned it this morning Tara acted like nothing had happened.*  Oz, over on the loft stairs with Derio looked troubled and Xander glanced at Tara again, who was now smiling softly at Buffy.

                "You do seem kind of t-tired," Tara said.

                "Oh, I'm - I'm okay, I guess."  Buffy sat up and brushed her hair back - idly picked up a pencil and began tapping it on the table.  "I - I went to see Angel a couple of days ago."

                *She WHAT?*

                "You what?" Willow looked concerned, and Buffy smiled wanly at her.

                "Well, I kind of had to, you know?  He - found out I was - back and...  It just seemed kinda mean to ignore him.  I mean -"   Buffy sighed and tapped the pencil a little harder, and Willow reached out and put her hand on Buffy's, stopping the nervous motion.

                "So - how was it?  Was it awful or was it - okay?  Are you okay?"   Buffy let the pencil go and locked her hands together in her lap - looked over at Oz and Derio sharing a book, and at Xander who had stopped his own research.  He smiled when she looked at him, and she smiled back.

                "I thought it would be - terrible.  I thought - it would be this huge...ordeal.  But it was...  You know, I think he might be falling in love with Cordelia."

                "You do?"   Xander didn't know what to feel about that.  Cordelia had really been his first love - real love, as opposed to schoolboy crushes or schoolboy lust, and it felt - odd - to think that someone else could see the sweet side of Queen C.  Especially when that someone was deadboy.

                "Yeah.  He talked about her a little bit.  After I told him about a hundred times it was okay and he could.  It was...really nice to just sit and talk, you know?"  Buffy smiled again, only this smile was directed inwards, and softened the angular planes of her face - took the tired droop out of her shoulders.  "It was like...we finally connected, you know?  Not Slayer and Vampire or Hero and Heroine or any of that, just...two friends.  It was good."

                "Wow.  That's - not something I ever thought you'd say about dead - about Angel," Xander said, and Buffy laughed lightly, standing up and gathering a stack of books.

                "Me neither.  It wasn't ever true before.  Even Spike knew that - way back when.  But I think it is now.  We've both kind of - grown up."

                *'Bout time,* came Spike's mental grumble, and then he was coming through the door, shoving a bizarre figure before him.  An apparently normal man from the neck down with what appeared to be a huge dummy head from the neck up.  It wobbled and almost fell, and Spike kicked it.

                "Look what was lurkin' 'round outside, then," he growled, and the thing cowered.

                "Ooh, is that what's been causing this off-Broadway nightmare?" Anya asked, coming around the end of the counter.  She hefted a chunky idol off a shelf and looked at it consideringly.  "Are you the jerk that's putting my wedding in jeopardy?"   She raised the idol threateningly and the creature and Spike both took a step back.

                "Nah, it's just a servant, like," Spike said.  "Oi!  Watcher!  Best get out here."  Xander went to stand next to Anya and a moment later Oz and Derio joined him.  As Giles and Ethan came out of the office, Buffy moved up closer to the creature as well, looking pissed off.

                "So, what's the story?" she said, and Spike kicked it again.

                "Sing, you little bastard," he growled, and the figure puffed itself up, arms outstretched - and spoke.

                "My master has the Slayer's sister.  She called him and he came, and at midnight he's going to take her back with him to the underworld to be his Queen.  Until then, he's waiting at the Bronze."  A collective groan went up from the assembly and the creature looked as puzzled as it was possible to look with a giant dummy head.

                *How in hell did it get Dawn?  Gonna have somebody's head for cricket,* Spike snarled, and Xander took a hard breath. 

                *Pack pack pack,* from all of them, fear and anger kick-starting the wolf and hyena into super-protective mode, and feeding fuel to the never-dimming flame of malice and bloodlust that was the demon.

                "I'm sooo tired of fighting evil at the Bronze.  Can't we just make that like - Sweden, or something?  And why am I not surprised Dawn is involved in this?" Buffy groused, and Anya reluctantly put down her idol.

                "Well, at least you know where to go to make all this madness stop.  Hurry up and kill his master, I can be open late tonight."  The creature stumbled back at that and tried to make a dash for the door, and Spike caught it and snapped its neck with a growl - dropped it to the floor.

                  "Spike!  I can't have customers stumbling over a dead...puppet-headed thing!  Take it to the dumpster!"  Anya stomped irritably into the office and slammed the door, and Spike rolled his eyes.

                "Christ, wish she'd just elope," he grumbled, but he hoisted the creature up and began dragging it towards the back entrance.

                "So, Dawn called this - demon - and now it's gonna drag her off to be Queen.  You know - I'm tempted to let it.  See if some supernatural creature can take her.  Bet he sends her back in a week."  Buffy was scowling and Giles moved towards her, a faint smile on his face.

                "Really, Buffy, as much of a - a teenager as she's being, we can't leave Dawn to the - horrors of an arranged marriage.  Besides, untold retribution may rain down upon us if she angers this - song demon."         

                "Oh - probably not," Ethan drawled, and everyone looked at him.  He held his hands up in a gesture of innocence and Xander felt the anger boiling up from Spike, who dumped the body in the training room and stalked back into the shop proper.

                *Bastard had better not have known all this time.  If Dawn's hurt -*

                *Calm down, Spike - let him talk.*   Xander grabbed at Spike's arm and stopped the vampire from going any closer to Ethan.

                "What're you goin' on about, mage?" Spike growled, and Ethan flashed a wolfish grin at him.

                "Just that Sweet won't actually harm her.  Or take her.  Dawn didn't call him.  I did."

                "What?"  The chorus was loud and, in Willow and Buffy's case, a little shrill and Ethan stepped back one step, hunching his shoulders just a bit.

                "Oh, I know Sweet from...other places.  He mostly just likes to cause a little chaos.  He gets people to sing out their secrets.  Really, it can be rather amusing.  This - bursting into flames thing is rather new, though."

                "Ethan," Giles said, and his tone was one of long-suffering and barely leashed anger.  Ethan looked over at him and smiled again, his voice going soft.

                "Oh, Ripper.  I'm just getting so bored, pet.  Sweet won't take her, since I did, in fact, do the summoning.  Just go confront him, do a little song and dance, and he'll be gone.  He knows better."  Ethan's voice was cajoling - caressing, and Giles sighed, shaking his head.  He reached out and touched Ethan's hand where it lay on the counter.

                "Really, Ethan, you cannot do these sorts of things -"

                "No you bloody well can't," Spike snapped, shaking Xander off and pushing past Willow and Tara to go toe to toe with the mage.  "If the Bit has one scratch on her I'll come back here and show you my favorite way to get marrow out of thighbones.  Think you'd like that?"  Ethan's eyes darkened, a seething flash of something and Spike hissed, vamping out.  Giles hastily got between them, pushing Ethan backwards towards the office and Xander moved forward as well, shooting Ethan a dark look and tugging at Spike's sleeve.

                *Spike, calm down, okay?  Let's just go get Dawn -*

                *Protect pack.*   Oz was closer too, glaring at Ethan who lowered his head, mock-submission.  His grin still curled the edges of his mouth up though, irrepressible and unrepentant.

                "He won't be doing anything else.   Ethan, you go and - help Anya in the office.  We are not through speaking about this.   Dawn must be rescued - again.  Back off, Spike," Giles added, a touch of the *darkman* in his voice and Spike shot him a look of pure menace and whirled around - stalked out.  There was a moment's silence and then Buffy grabbed a stake and a knife out of an open weapons bag and darted after Spike.

                "Wait up, Spike!  I'm the one that's supposed to be riding to the rescue!"  The door-bell jangled as they left, and Giles heaved a sigh.

                "I suppose I should go along, just in case...anyone else?" 

                "Sure, Giles, we'll come," Xander said, and he and Oz and Derio walked across the shop and up the stairs, grabbing weapons of their own.  Giles took an axe and followed them, and a moment later they were out the door.  A few paces down the sidewalk and the bell jangled behind them.  Xander turned to see Tara coming out of the shop, looking angry, and Willow trailing behind her, a sullen look on her face. 

                *Got the whole gang coming,* he thought, and there was a snort of amusement from the shadows up ahead.  Spike was lounging against a wall, smoking, and fell into step with Xander as they came even with him.

                 "Slayer wanted to go on ahead - I figured I'd wait for you.  Make a better entrance, the whole gang like this, all - determined."  Laughter in the link, but Spike's hand found Xander's and they walked briskly to the club in a comfortable silence.  When they got to the Bronze, Buffy had kicked the door in, and they went in.


                *You know, I think I hate musicals now,* Xander thought, lying on his back in bed.  Spike was doing something over by the dresser with his jeans and after a moment he slipped in beside Xander - eased himself over on his elbows and got one thigh between Xander's, his mouth dipping down to kiss shoulder and collarbone, sternum and jaw.   Low voices from Oz's room - Derio's soft laugh - and then quiet.

                *Least everyone knows about the Heaven thing.*

                *Oh, yeah, that was just...great.  Not only does Willow take Buffy out of Heaven, she uses some sort of...mind-control spell on Tara to make her forget that they had a fight.  And it all comes out at once.*   Tara's white, betrayed face - her shaking voice - had made the three of them close ranks, surrounding Tara and blocking Willow out.

                "How could she," Tara whispered, hugging herself,   "After what G-glory cou-ld she just - erase part of my mind?  Erase my meh-memories?  Oh god - what if..."   Oz had told Tara to come home with them - spend the night, but she had sniffed and straightened - shaken back her hair.

                "No.  Wu-we have to - deal with this.  We h-have to talk it out.   Th-thank you for asking, b-but I have to go home t-tonight."

                *Red had better come up with a damn good apology for that,* Spike grumbled, but then the link went to nothing but sensation, and Xander happily dismissed the witches - the whole evening - from his mind until later.

                *Now is*   Xander sighed in pleasure as Spike's mouth moved down his body, licking and gently biting, sucking and caressing.    He shivered when Spike took the head of his cock into his mouth and then grumbled in inarticulate disappointment when the slick suction moved away.  A moment later, though, he hissed and arched in pleasure as Spike slid himself slowly down Xander's length.  Spike rested one hand on Xander's chest, the other on his thigh and worked himself languidly up and down, his head falling back and the moon-pale arch of his throat gleaming in the dimness.   Sensation and emotion coiled between them, no distinction of Spike and Xander, just us, us, us.

                *Love, love...holding me... god... sparks, like... needles and hot and...OH, there, just...  yeah, like...icefire in me in you this, mine...blood and... honeysweet, god....just... don't stop, don't...see you, love you... demon, my own, my...never enough... fuck, how you make me... yours, just yours mine yours always... yes...*    The link was babble - the sudden spillover from Oz *hot salt hot need, oh need....need tooth bite sweet ice cold flame yours ours yours MINE* was deliberate and heady and Xander thrashed, groaning.    Reached up to yank Spike down to him and maul the vampire's mouth with his own - thread his hands through silken hair and find the cicatrix of the claim-scar and take it into his mouth - split it open with snapping teeth.  Spike mewled in pleasure, his body like a vise around Xander, his hips still pumping and his own fangs scraping and prickling and sinking deep.  The shivering jolt of magic-laced blood was like a shock - like a blow - and Xander's body went hard and tight, arching up, nails drawing blood.  Spike's muscles convulsed, drawing him deeper and the cool, slick flood over their bellies smelt of sea and clover and pepper - smelt of magic and otherness, and the link was like a wave that rolled over them and took them down; low, grumbling moan of the wolf and the contented purr of the demon.



                The door to the shop basement clicked shut and Giles glanced up to see what had made the noise - did a double-take, fumbling the stack of papers he was looking through.  "Oh good Lord," he said, and let his head drop down onto his hand.  Buffy and Anya, standing next to him at the counter, looked puzzled and then a huge grin came over Buffy's face and she started to giggle.

                "Don't push it, Slayer," Spike growled, but Buffy just kept laughing and a moment later Anya joined her.  Spike growled again, for real this time, and stomped down the Magic Box steps.  Well, mostly stomped.  The stupid shoes didn't stomp well, and the stupid jacket didn't flare and snap like his duster, and...

                "Spike!" Dawn squealed, wide-eyed and she doubled over in laughter too, clutching the back of the chair she was sitting in in an effort to hold herself up.  "Oh my god, I can't believe - oh my god!" Dawn choked out, gasping.

                "You dared me and I did it, Bit.  Now you have to take that class."  Spike smirked at her and sat haughtily on the loft steps, wincing at the rasp of cheap twill over his wrists.  The suit was moth-bally, ill-made, and looked...  The door-bell jangled.

                *Fucking hell.  You look -*   Spike groaned and clutched his head in his hands. 

                *You're supposed to be workin' late!*

                *Had a complete fuck-up at the site - NOT my fault - so, no.  I'm here.  Just in time, apparently.  What are you...doing?*   Xander stumbled down the steps and came to a halt in front of Spike.  Taking in the tweed slacks and dress shoes, the collared, buttoned-up shirt and tie, the tweed jacket, the -

                *Vest.  You're wearing a VEST?*

                *Waistcoat, you wanker.*   Spike didn't lift his head, and a moment later he felt Xander's hands  gently pushing his away and combing through his hair.  He'd deliberately left it alone - not a bit of gel or anything else - and Xander's fingers teased the loose curls, tugging gently.

                *Love your hair like this, like you just woke you just got fucked...*   Spike looked up sharply, grinning, and Xander let his fingers trail slowly out and away.  He grinned back and then sat down beside Spike, leaning hard into him.

                "So why the sudden - Gilesification, Spike?  What's up?"

                *Yeah, what?*   Oz and Derio emerged from the training room, Oz shirtless, with dust all over his shoulders and hands and Derio carrying a toolbox.  They'd been installing a sound system so Buffy could have music when she worked out.  She'd accidentally 'slayed' two boom-boxes, one with a poorly-aimed stake, the other with a kick and Giles had declared a moratorium.  They'd all figured Buffy'd have to work pretty hard to slay something that was up in the rafters.

                "Is every sodding person here today?" Spike grumbled.  Buffy sauntered over from the counter, still pink-faced from laughing.

                "Well, Ethan's not here.  Not yet.  But he's bringing Giles' tea so -"   The tinkle of the door-bell interrupted her and she grinned, eyebrows going up.  "So I'll bet that's him!"

                "And us!" Willow called.  "We thought we'd join - holy god.  Spike?"  Beside her Tara gaped for a moment and then put her hand over her mouth, stifling laughter, and Ethan blew him a kiss.  Spike had had enough.

                "Right.  That's bloody well it!"  Spike stood up and paced over to Dawn, scowling.    "Niblet kept sayin' how she wanted to sing, wanted to do something but she wouldn't take the classes, would she?  Said she was too shy!  I ask you!"  Spike shot a fierce look at Dawn who tried to look solemn but failed.  Derio put the toolbox down and brushed a cobweb out of Oz's hair, staring at Spike with an expression of utter fascination.

                "So, I told her - go ahead, dare me something.  Told her if I took the dare she'd have to take the classes, these - voice or singing or whatever they bloody well are.  And I won, Bit, so Monday -"

                "I'll be signing up."  Dawn sighed, looking down for a moment, then she looked back up at Spike, grinning again.

                "I said you had to dress exactly like you used to!"

                "Well, close as I could get without goin' to some museum or other, Bit -" Spike started, but Dawn shook her head, holding up a hand.

                "No, that's not what I mean.  I mean - where's your glasses, Spike?"

                "Glasses?" Buffy choked, and Spike vamped, snarling at her.  Then he took a deep breath and pulled the demon back - reached into the inner pocket of the jacket and pulled out a pair of cheap spectacles.  They sold them at the chemist's, no prescription needed, and these had the least magnification he could find.

                *Sodding things give me a headache,* he grumbled, but he opened them and slid them on.  "Yes, Slayer, glasses.  Ruined my eyes peerin' at this or that bugger's cramped-up scribblings, didn't I?   You try reading by candle-light for fifteen years, see what it gets you."  He looked up at the group, unconsciously lifting his chin.  Total silence greeted him.

                "Good Lord," Giles said faintly, and beside him Ethan ran a glittering, speculative eye over the vampire.  The girls were staring with various expressions of amazement, and Derio and Oz looked...

                *Somehow, you make tweed sexy,* Oz thought, and Spike could see the same thought in Derio's eyes - saw him slip an arm around Oz and grin into the wolf's dusty green hair.  And Xander...was lost.  Memories flooding him, memories that Xander was re-living - deliberately searching for.

                *Walking across Hyde Park, heading for a particularly secluded bench, anticipation and joy centered on the brand-new book that was tucked under his arm.  Browsing for hours in the bookstalls at Charing Cross.   Sitting in the parlor with Mother after supper, listening to the quiet click of knitting needles as he read aloud to her.  And oldest and most dear, huddling in the tiny space between bed and wall, the candle set carefully on an old box.  Mother's faded India shawl around his shoulders and his legs going numb, his feet freezing as he read, read, read, while the old clock downstairs chimed out eleven and midnight and one a.m. and thirteen-year-old William fell asleep sitting up, dreaming of King Arthur and Captain Nemo...*

                *Love...*   Xander was smiling at him and Spike smiled back, his real smile.  He hadn't thought of his books - his little den - for so many years, despite the growing library they were accumulating at home.

                *Some of my best times, those.  After Father died...*   Xander gently took the jacket lapels in his hands and drew Spike close - kissed him softly.

                *I look a right nancy.*

                *Beautiful no matter what,* Xander contradicted, and pulled back - tucked a lock of hair behind Spike's ear.

                "Wow -" Buffy said, and then a soft grey haze rolled in, and everything vanished.



                *Ow, ow!  Damn - slept funny - ooh, my neck -*   He sat up slowly, rubbing at a cricked and throbbing neck and shoulder, and looked around in confusion.  The - room? was dim, lined with shelves of books and jars of things, candles and statues.  There were other people as well, sprawled over the floor.

                *What in Hell...?  What the fuck am I doing here?  I should be...I should...who...?  Oh god, who, who am I?  I don't -*

                *Don't panic!* A voice said, in his head.  Hard voice, clipped and calm.  *Head injury or shock can cause temporary amnesia.  Let it go - it's not a priority!*

                "Yeah, right," he muttered.

                "Huh?" a voice said, and he looked around wildly - spotted a blonde woman over by some steps, sitting up slowly.  She looked around, her expression utterly confused, and then stood up - crossed to a wall and flipped a switch.  Lights came on overhead and he looked around in shock and growing dismay at the -

                *Eight...NINE people!  All - passed out?  Fuck, please be passed out.  And - wow - damn big dog.*  He moved, getting his legs under him so he could stand and his hand came down rather heavily on an arm and he recoiled.

                *Whoa.  He's pretty close.  Was I - protecting him?  Did something happen?  Gotta - check for injuries, gotta -*   Something stirred, inside, some knowledge and he crouched over the suited figure beside him, reaching to take a pulse.  His fingers found cold flesh - no pulse at all -and he felt his mouth go dry.

                "Oh fuck, I think this guy's - d-dead."

                "What?"  The blonde woman stumbled over, eyes wide, and he reached out again, pressing his fingers into the pale, cool skin of the other man's throat.

                "I can't feel a pulse.  Here - you - you stay with him and I'm gonna see if - if anybody else is hurt.  Do you know - what happened?"  The blonde shook her head, staring at the dead man, and he stood up and looked around - went to the nearest figure, a teenage girl with long dark hair.  He hesitated for one moment and then he put his fingers to her neck, taking in a huge breath of relief when he felt a strong, solid heartbeat.  As he pulled away her eyes popped open and she squealed, scuttling back away from him.

                "Don't!  D-don't hurt me!"

                "Hey!  No hurting!  I wasn't -"   He held his hands up, palms out, keeping his voice low.  *Keep her calm, don't let anybody panic, just assess the situation and move on.*   The voice in his head seemed to know what it was talking about - the advice seemed sound - so he just waited, watching the girl.  The blonde had jerked, startled, when she'd cried out and now she moved closer, holding her hand out.

                "Hey - it's okay.  He was just making sure you weren't hurt.  He won't hurt you - I won't hurt you.  It's okay."

                "What's going on?"  It was one of the two older men - glasses and short, graying hair - and he was sitting up, looking around muzzily.

                "We - we don't know.  I'm checking for injuries.  This guy - Fuck me!"  The 'dead' guy was sitting up, irritably rubbing his head, and he shot to his feet and stumbled away.  The blonde woman let out a tiny shriek and scrambled away as well, pulling the teenage girl with her and holding tightly to her hand.

                "What in bloody hell is going on?  Why are you people being so damn loud?"  The dead guy - *well, no, live guy!* coiled gracefully to his feet and looked around - took off the glasses that were perched on his nose and regarded them with puzzlement, then put them away in his jacket.

                "I th-thought you were dead!  I felt for a pulse and I couldn't - you were cold!"

                "I'm not dead."  The - living guy - stared at him and he stared back, something tickling at the back of his mind, something...urging him?

                *What the hell?  So, he's not dead and...god, he's fucking - amazing, his eyes...*

                *Get back to the others!* that little voice insisted, and he blinked and looked around.

                "Look - I don't know - what's going on.  But we need to see if anybody is hurt and we need to - figure out what we're doing here.  I'm -"   Sudden and utter panic, because when he'd tried to introduce himself - nothing came. 

                *Nothing!  Oh my god - it's not coming back...*

                "Jesus, I - I can't remember my name," he said shakily, and the blond man's eyes went wide.

                "What kind of a person doesn't know their own name?" the blond man asked, and he shook his head, trying to stay calm.

                "I dunno. What's your name?"  The blond man opened his mouth - shut it and than opened it again and then slumped, defeated.

                "I - dunno.  Bloody hell!  What about you two, d'you have names?" he asked the girls, and they both looked confused.

                "I - I'm...  Oh!"  The blonde woman reached out to the teenager, lifting a little gold necklace in her fingers.  "This says 'Dawn' - I'll bet that's you!"  The brunette smiled, looking relieved.

                "Or 'Umad'," she said, looking down, and giggled.  The blonde rolled her eyes.

                "Steady on, then," the older man said, and another man - this one also older, but ill-looking; thin and pale, rose shakily to his feet, leaning on the counter and looking around him.

                "What on earth -?" he asked, and the blond man made a sort of amused noise.

                "Well, that's three of us for the Queen - any more, or are the rest of you all Yanks?"  They all looked around as the other people - a red-haired woman, another blonde woman and a woman with light brown hair, and a young man whose dark-brown hair was in dreadlocks all stirred, sitting up and then standing.  They all shared the same air of fearful confusion.  The dog was the last to rouse and it looked around at them - lifted its head and let loose a quavering howl, eerie and too loud in the confines of the shop.

                *Has to be a shop - there's a register - but...what kind of weird shop IS this?*

                "Ah!  Make it stop!" Dawn said, hands over her ears, and the dreadlocked man - who'd woken with the dog draped over his legs - reached out hesitantly and petted it, tugging the mane of dense, auburn hair around its neck and shushing it.  After a moment the dog quieted and leaned against the man, watching them with feral, jet-black eyes.

                *Right - okay...  How do we figure out who we are?  Gotta be some way to identify...I.D.!*

                "Hey!  Everybody - check and see if you have a wallet or a - purse or something.  Maybe we can figure out who we are that way."  They all began to check, patting pockets and looking gingerly through the various packs and bags that had been close to them when they'd woken.  In all, it was amazingly successful.

The two older men were Rupert Giles (with glasses) and Ethan Rayne, the dreadlocked man was Desiderio Padovani, the red-haired woman was Willow Rosenberg, and the taller blonde was Tara Maclay.  The shorter blonde woman didn't have any I.D on her at all, and neither did Dawn.  The brown-haired woman didn't seem to have I.D. either, but she poked around behind the counter and came up with a purse - lifted a driver's license out and checked it against her reflection in a small compact.

                "I'm Anya Jenkins!" she said, grinning, and they all smiled back.

                "And I'm - Alexander Harris."  A rush of relief came over him at that - as if merely knowing his name somehow made things better, and he heaved a small sigh of relief.

                *So...Alexander.  Alex, I guess.*   "So - everybody has a name but you and you," Alex said, pointing in turn to the small blonde woman and the suited not-dead man, who rolled his eyes.

                "Actually, I do have a name.  But good god -"   He held out his jacket, where a small placket of material was sewn, with some writing on it.  "'Made with care for Randy'.  What am I, bloody three years old?  You probably thought it was a right good joke," Randy said, glaring at Rupert, who recoiled slightly from the fierce blue gaze.

                "What?  Me?  Why in the world are you accusing me of - of that?" Rupert waved his hand at the jacket and then turned with a startled noise to Ethan, who was reeling a bit.  "Good lord, man, are you all right?"

                "Just - just a bit dizzy.  I really feel I must sit down," Ethan said faintly, and Rupert led him over to the chair that Tara hastily vacated.

                "There now, all right?  I don't suppose there's any chance of some tea -" Rupert said helplessly, looking around, and Anya perked up.

                "Oh!  Maybe there is.   I'll go look."  She turned with a determined air towards what looked like an office but Willow stopped her.

                "Do you really think that's a good idea?  Snooping around?  I mean - this place is pretty weird with the - magic books and stuff..."  She held up a book that said 'Magic for Beginners' on the cover, and they all regarded it with varying degrees of interest.

                "Magic!  A bunch of balderdash," Rupert scoffed, and Anya frowned at him.

                "Better not say that in front of the customers!  Look - right here it says that you and I own this shop."  She indicated a messy stack of papers that she had been looking at a few moments earlier.  "And if we own this shop then it stands to reason that we believe in magic."  She nodded decisively and Rupert looked thoughtful.  "Also, there's probably a kettle and some teabags or something back here since I'll just bet you're not the kind of guy who gets a latte."  Anya turned and marched into the office and Alex shrugged.

                "She's probably right.  Listen - Randy - what's the deal?  Why are you all - accusing Rupert of...your name?"  Randy snorted, his hands feeling over his pockets and coming up with a pack of cigarettes.  He looked at them in surprise and then shrugged, tapping one out.

                "Well, we're both Brits, for one.  And that-" he added, pointing at Ethan with the cigarette, "has got Oscar bloody Wilde stamped all over it.  Plus - look how we're dressed!  Must be 'drag your son to work and bore him stiff' day."  Randy finally found a lighter - a sleek silver Zippo - and lit up, inhaling deeply.  Rupert glanced down at this own slacks and tweed jacket, bewildered, then made the connection.

                "Son?" he squeaked, looking less than pleased.  "There is a certain feeling of...familiarity."  He frowned, then moved to stand by the counter, looking at the papers Anya had indicated.

                *Oscar Wilde?  He was...oh!  He was that English guy...that GAY English guy!  Is Ethan gay?  Well...*   Alex shrugged mentally, not caring.  *Gay, straight, he can't remember any more than the rest of us, so...  And besides, I don't know if Randy's gay but...he's fuckin' HOT.  And so is that Desiderio guy.  So - maybe I'm a little...Wilde...too.* 

                *Get a fuckin' grip!* the inner voice raged.  *We've got more important things to worry about than who likes dick!  Like, why we can't REMEMBER anything and what the fuck is going on!  Snap out of it, soldier, and get with the program!*

                *Huh?  Jesus, shut up!*   Alex wondered if the others had little voices yelling at them in their heads.  He decided that maybe it wouldn't be the best idea to mention it out loud, just in case.

                "You know, I think I was in the Army or something.  I mean - when I woke up, I was thinking about if anybody was hurt and - I just knew what to do.  I mean, I could imagine how to take care of somebody who was in shock or something."

                "Maybe you're a doctor," Willow said, and he grinned.

                "Nah.  I've also got a card for a carpenters' union of some kind so - probably not.  But I just kinda feel like..."  He stopped talking, shaking his head.  He couldn't put it into words; it was just a feeling, but a strong one.

                "You know, I - kinda feel the same.  I - remember?  Some stuff..."  Randy's voice trailed off, and Alex looked over at him.  Something - was there.  Some sort of - familiarity and he nodded slowly at the other man.

                "Yeah.  I think so too.  Maybe we - met in the military?  Something...  You just -"

                "Yeah," Randy echoed, looking back at him, and they both smiled at the same moment.

                *Wow - niiice smile.  I wonder...*   But that line of thought was interrupted by the blonde woman.

                "I want to be called Joan!" she said, and Dawn made a face.

                "Joan?  Yuck!  That's so - so boring!" 

                Joan made a face right back.  "Better than 'Umad'!" 

                "Oh, shut up," Dawn snapped, just as Joan said:

                "You're such a pain!"  They stared at each other.

                "Hey, maybe we're -"

                "Sisters?" Dawn finished, and they both smiled and hugged each other.

                "Hey, Alex, maybe these are yours," Desiderio said, softly accented voice that placed him from south of the border somewhere.  He was indicating a toolbox and Alex went over to it - crouched down to look.  He froze as the huge dog pulled away from Desiderio's grip and stalked over to him - pushed his nose into his shoulder and then his neck, sniffing.

                "Sheesh, that's cold and wet - ah - hey!  C'mon, dog, don't do that."  Alex turned slowly and equally slowly put his hand out, letting the dog sniff it before he curled his fingers into the thick, russet fur.  It was silky-soft and the dog felt good - felt solid and right, and Alex shivered just a little.

                *Maybe I know this dog?  Maybe me and this Desiderio guy...?*

                "That's not actually a dog.  That's a wolf, although I've never seen one so large," Rupert said quietly, and Randy glanced at him and then moved closer, his eyes on the dog.

                "How d'you know what it is?" he said softly, and crouched down next to Alex, hand outstretched.  The - wolf - eyed him for a moment and then sniffed his outstretched fingers - nuzzled his face into Randy's palm.  Randy grinned, delighted, and stroked the thick fur of the wolf's chest and neck.

                "I - don't know, exactly, how I know...  I just do.   Perhaps I'm a - a weekend naturalist?"  Rupert looked back at the papers and Alex smiled at Randy and the wolf.

                "He's really beautiful, isn't he," he said softly, and Randy grinned at him.

                "Yeah, he is," he replied, and Alex reached out to touch the wolf again.  When he did it was like - felt like -

                *Like a circuit completing.  Like...feels RIGHT.  What the hell?  NOT me and Desiderio.*   The feeling was so strong he gasped, and beside him Randy did the same.

                "What the hell was that?" he said under his breath, and Alex shook his head helplessly.

                "I dunno, but I think - we'd better stay together.  And - and Desiderio, too."  Randy nodded - looked over at the other man who was watching them with sharp, black eyes.

                "I think you're right," Desiderio said, just as quiet.  They all jumped as Anya suddenly popped out of the office.

                "I was right!  There's an electric kettle back there and tea things, and this!"  She held up a folder of some kind, brown with an elastic fastening.  Across the front in bold letters was 'My Wedding Planner'.   "I'm getting married!  There are all kinds of charts and - and lists and - tons of stuff!"  Anya looked pleased and she turned to eye Rupert.

                "So, do you think it's us that's getting married?  I mean - we're co-owners of the shop and everything.  Makes sense."

                "Hmmmm..."  Rupert looked a little startled at the thought, but before he could say another word there was a sudden crash of breaking glass. 

                "What the -" Alex jumped up, heading for the front of the shop and Randy fell in step with him.  Dawn and Joan hung back, wide-eyed.  There was a spray of glass across the floor, and a chunk of what looked like cinderblock.  It was just twilight outside - deep, blue-amber haze that made the edges of things fuzzy and indistinct.  Someone was standing on the other side of the door - several someones.

                "We want Spike!" a muffled voice yelled, and Alex and Randy looked at each other, puzzled.

                "They want spikes?"  Another piece of cinder-block crashed through the window and Alex jumped - glared at the door.

                "This is really pissing me off."  He reached out and put his hand on the knob - caught Randy's eye.  "You ready?"

                "Ready," Randy said, grinning, and Alex wrenched open the door.  Three figures whirled to face them and they stared for a long moment.  Alex slammed the door shut - turned the security bolt.  Randy lunged for the window and yanked down an anti-theft mesh, clicking it shut.  Then they both stared at one another.

                "What the - the fuck was that?"

                "Vampires!" Randy said, and Alex gave him an odd look.

                "What d'you mean, vampires?"  Randy stared at him, utterly blank, and then a thoughtful look came over his face.

                "I...  Did you see their faces?"

                "Yeah.  They looked...weird."

                "They looked like vampires.  They - bloody hell!  They just did!"  Randy looked frustrated and jumped when Joan came up behind them.

                "So what's going on outside?"  She peered through the broken window, and suddenly a ridged, fanged face appeared in it, snarling.

                "Send him out or we'll burn the place down!"   Joan gave a yelp, jumping back, and Alex moved on pure instinct, the voice in his head screaming instructions.  He punched straight and hard, dead center, and was rewarded with a sharp snap and a howl as his fist broke the vampire's nose.  The face disappeared backwards, streaming blood.

                "Brilliant!" Randy crowed, slapping Alex on the shoulder and Alex winced, stumbling forward a step.

                "Damn!  You're strong, Randy."  Alex rubbed his shoulder and Randy looked at his hand - smiled delightedly.

                "Am I?  Bloody brilliant."

                "Those are vampires, huh?" Joan asked, inching up to peer through the mesh again.  Alex tugged her away.

                "Yeah, vampires.  And they want - somebody.  Spike?"

                "Who the hell is Spike?  We've all got names.  Unless the sods want the wolf/"  All three turned to look at the wolf who lolled his tongue out at them, looking for all the world as if he thought they were utter idiots.

                "Well, they can't have him.  What would vampires want with a wolf, anyway?" Desiderio said, kneeling down and hugging the wolf.  The animal leaned into him, letting out a low hmmph sound.

                "No, they can't have him," Alex said slowly.  Because they couldn't.  The wolf - was important.

                "Listen - this is a magic shop - maybe we can find some kind of spell or something to get rid of them?  And - what kills vampires?"  Willow sounded excited, looking through the books on the table in the center of the shop and Tara, Dawn and Ethan started to go through them as well.  Rupert put the papers down and opened a book that was beside him on the counter.

                "Well, let's see...  According to traditional lore - if, of course, I remember correctly, vampires may be killed by...holy water, or - or crosses, or a wooden stake through the heart."

                "Or beheading," Ethan said, nose in a book, and Rupert nodded distractedly.

                "Yes, or beheading.  So - do we have any stakes, I wonder?"

                "Let's see what's back there," Joan said, pointing, and Alex and Randy followed her across the shop and through the door in the back.

                "Wow!  Look at this!"  Joan darted across the room to a wall of axes, swords, daggers and staffs.  Other, more mundane equipment - weights, a horse, a punching bag and a stack of mats - was scattered around.

                 "This is giving me a very...bad...feeling," Randy said, looking around.  He stripped off his jacket and rolled his shirt-sleeves up, and Alex couldn't help noticing his pale, muscled forearms and agile fingers.  He shivered, just a little.

                *What the fuck?  I wonder if we're...close?  He just...*   Alex shook his head.

                *Focus, for god's sake!* the voice screamed, and Alex sighed.

                "Bad feeling why?" he asked.  Joan had doubled up her fists and was punching half-heartedly at a heavy-bag, and Randy watched her for a moment.

                "It just seems - there's vampires out there.  And we're in a bloody magic shop...  What if this isn't our world?  Or - what if in this world, the vampires have taken over?  What if we're the only humans left?"  Joan stopped punching, staring at him, and Alex felt a quiver of fear go through him.

                "No way.  We can't be the only humans.  Can we?"  Randy looked at him, his eyes wide and a little spooked.

                "No, we can't 'cause - what would the vampires eat if all the humans were dead?  They need us to survive, so..."  Joan put her fists on the heavy bag, head to one side.  "So maybe it's a war.  And we just got - trapped, or something, but there'll be a rescue soon or - something."  She drew her fist back and punched, and the bag swung violently, the chain creaking.  Alex whistled.

                "Wow - you're strong too.  What if -"   He was interrupted by a cracking sound and suddenly a back door splintered away from the jamb and swung inwards, crashing into the wall.  Two figures leaped through: vampires, fangs gleaming and golden-glowing eyes wild.

                "Got 'em now!" one crowed.  He pounced towards Joan whose face went from utter shock to grim determination.  The other leaped for Alex, grinning, and he ducked and rolled, bringing his fist up as the vampire flew over him, sinking it deep into his gut.  The blow seemed to shock the creature, who rolled awkwardly to his knees.  Out of the corner of his eye, Alex could see Joan punching and kicking, and the vampire reeling under her blows. 

                *Fuck - what -stake, holy water - gotta be a stake back here!*  Alex pushed himself to his feet and then Randy was there, raining blows down on the other vamp and Alex darted away to the wall of weapons.  He searched frantically and almost tripped over a duffle.  He yanked the zipper down and saw stakes, and grabbed a handful.

                "Joan!  Catch!" he shouted, and lobbed one to her.  She snatched it out of mid-air and he turned to Randy, who had the vamp pinned and was methodically pulverizing its face.

                "Randy!" Alex yelled, and tossed the second stake.  As Randy started to turn Joan lunged and stabbed her vamp with the stake.  It exploded into a cloud of dust and she reeled back, coughing.

                "Did you see that?  That was awesome!  I think I'm some kind of superhero!"  Joan was grinning, panting, and Alex grinned back - turned back in time to see Randy bring his own stake down on the vamp beneath him.

                "Hold your breath!" Joan cried, and the dust swirled up.  Randy let out a shout of triumph and bounced to his feet - turned to face them.

                "I guess that won't be a problem," Alex muttered.  Randy just grinned at him - golden eyes, fangs, a ridged and alien face. 

                "Oh my god!"  Joan looked around frantically, as if for another stake, and Randy took a step towards her, his grin fading.

                "What's the matter?  Did you see how he just - disintegrated?  That was bloody amazing!"

                "Randy - you...  Uh, you - your f-face."

                "What about it, mate?"  Randy's hand went up to his cheek - to his forehead - and froze.  Wide-eyed, he felt carefully over his features, his fingertips just brushing the tips of his fangs.

                "But - what -" Randy looked utterly shattered and Alex walked slowly over to him.  He wanted -

                *He's - a vampire.  But he's in here with us - he's our friend, he HAS to be...  God, just wanna...*   Alex reached out and hesitantly put his hand on Randy's shoulder and the vampire slumped a little, looking at him.

                "I can't be a vamp, Alex. I'm - I'm in here with you - you blokes!  I'm - a good guy, aren't I?"

                "Y-yeah.  You have to be.  Maybe there are - are good vamps and - and bad vamps and - you help us!  I mean - Joan is like - WonderWoman over there or something and you must help us kill the bad vamps.  Maybe - maybe there's lots of good vamps!"  Alex couldn't stop staring and Randy looked away, shrugging his hand off.

                "Don't have to stare.  It's - ugly."

                "No it's not!" Alex snapped.  *Where the fuck did THAT come from?'s not.*

                "It's just - different" Joan said softly, walking over to them and studying Randy's face.  "It's like - a lion's face, kind of."

                "Yeah?"  Randy looked pleased - glanced over at Alex, smiling, and suddenly the vampire face was gone.

                "Oh!  It's - how'd you do that?"

                "It's gone!" Alex stepped up close, his hand going to touch Randy's now-smooth forehead.

                "Hey, guys?"  They all started, turning around, and Desiderio was in the doorway, the toolbox in his hand.  The wolf pushed past him and trotted over, rubbing up against Randy's leg, pushing him back a step.  Randy laughed and dropped his hand down onto the tall, broad back.

                "I think we'd better get that door nailed shut or something," Desiderio said, and he came across the room as well.

                "Oh - yeah.  Lucky they didn't all just run through!"  Alex went to help the other man, looking around for something they could brace the door up with.

                "So, you can put your vampire face on and off," Joan said, and Randy grinned at her.



                Two hours later and the vampires outside had tried to rush them three times.  They hadn't set fire to the building yet - they kept threatening it - and everyone was getting antsy.  A call to the police had proved fruitless, since the vamps had apparently cut the phone line, and no one had a cell phone.

                "Can't believe we're living in the bloody Century of the Fruitbat and not one bloody person has a cell phone!" Randy groused, smoking his last cigarette and pacing back and forth in front of the counter.  He'd torn the sleeves off his shirt but left his vest on and the flex of his muscles under milk-white skin was fascinating.  At least - Alex and Desiderio couldn't stop watching, and Ethan seemed to be sneaking glances as well.  Anya had tried a spell-book, but she'd only managed to conjure a spotted black and white rabbit.  She'd screamed and passed out, and Rupert was currently trying to revive her with Essential Oil of Eucalyptus and scotch.

                Ethan, Willow, Tara and Dawn were still poring over books, and Joan was in the back again, trying out different weapons.  The occasional thump and 'awesome!' drifted out to them.

                "Century of the Fruitbat?  What the hell is that?" Alex asked, leaning over the wolf's back and rubbing it behind the ears.   The wolf made that little hmmph noise again and pressed against his hands.

                "It's - it's...  I don't have a soddin' clue!  It just - popped into my head!  Listen, we can't just sit in here - we need to do something.  We need to -"

                "What?  Attack?  We're not all superpowered like you and Joan, Randy!  We'd get killed!"  Dawn was the most afraid, of all of them, and Randy pinched his cigarette out and put the butt in his pocket - went over to her and crouched down next to her chair.

                "Listen, Dawn, there's no way I'd make you fight these wankers.  I'd keep you safe."  Dawn looked down at him and a small smile turned up the corners of her mouth.

                "You - you would?"

                "Course I would - we all would!  You saw the pictures in all the wallets!  You're - all of you are family.  Something like.  Me an' Ethan, we're the odd men out."  Dawn looked thoughtful at that.  She'd even had pictures in a small backpack that had included Desiderio and a shorter, blue-haired man, an obvious couple.  Randy was right - it seemed that he and Ethan were the only ones not pictured anywhere.

                *Doesn't matter.  Randy BELONGS.  He's one of us.  Maybe - you can't take pictures of vampires.  They don't show up in mirrors, so - probably not.*

                "You don't feel - odd," Dawn said, and Randy ducked his head - smiled up at her and then stood up, patting her shoulder gently.

                "Thanks, pet.  But don't be scared - it'll be okay."  Randy went back to his pacing, his brow furrowed in thought, and Alex found himself staring upwards at the loft that held more books and a couple of straight-backed chairs.

                "You know..." he said slowly, listening with concentration to the voice in his head, "I've got an idea..."



                They were crouched in the loft, waiting tensely.  Alex's palm was sweaty on the stock of the crossbow he held and he wiped it hastily on his jeans.  Beside him, Randy's vampire face was evident as he scanned the shop below.  They'd put out almost all the lights, and there were people hidden with crossbows and stakes all over.  Tara had a found a spell, one that would cause an intense flash of light.  They were going to lure the attacking vampires into the store and at Joan's signal Rupert would use the spell.  They hoped it would momentarily blind their opponents since Randy had said he had no trouble seeing in the darkened training room, or out into the nighttime street.  There were about ten vampires and one strange sort of fish-headed demon still outside, and Joan waited by the door, ready to open it and lure them in.

                "Ready?" Randy called softly, and there were murmured acknowledgements from around the shop.  "Go, Joan!" he called, and Joan opened the door and strode outside.  A moment or two later she pelted back in and the vampires streamed in behind her, snarling.  Joan dove for cover under the table and a volley of cross-bow bolts leapt across the room.  Two vamps were dusted and two more went down, one shot through the eye and one in the knee. 

                Alex swore, his hands shaking as he hastily reloaded.  Next to him Randy did the same, and Desiderio on the other side.  Another volley went off, dusting one more vamp and wounding another and then they were in the shop and it was too dangerous, now, to use crossbows anymore.

                "Rupert, now!" Joan yelled, and Alex shut his eyes tight.  A brief murmur and a flare of white behind his eyes and there were screams from the vamps.  He looked again just as Randy leapt off the balcony, ignoring the stairs altogether.  He landed on two vamps, fists in the back of their necks.   As they collapsed Willow and Tara darted out, slamming stakes down hard and both vamps dusted.

                "Whoo hoo!" Tara yelled, pumping her fist, and Willow looked wide-eyed at her and then grinned back.

                "Only five left, Joan!  Let's bloody do it!" Randy shouted, leaping on another vamp.  Joan came out from under the table, fists and feet already in motion and Alex darted down the loft steps, Desiderio's feet ringing on the wrought iron behind him.  Ethan, Dawn and Anya were in the office and Rupert stood guard over the door, axe in hand.  From out of nowhere the wolf came running and he landed on the fish-headed demon, toppling it to the floor, snarling and snapping in its face.  The demon snapped back, showing a mouthful of impressive teeth.

                Alex swung his own axe, slicing into the thigh of the vamp with the crossbow bolt in his knee and Desiderio was right there, swinging a short sword, hacking inexpertly but hard.  The vamp snarled and lunged at them and all three went down.  As they struggled the vamp suddenly disintegrated and Willow stood over them, coughing.

                "Thanks!" Alex cried, and then Joan and another vamp bowled into her, knocking her flying.  "Shit, Willow!" Alex scrambled to his feet, rushing to help the redhead.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Desiderio hamstring the vamp Joan was fighting and the vamp poofed into nothing, Joan's stake finishing him off.  Randy was twisting the head off another vamp, and one was trying to get the wolf off of the fish-demon.  

                *More like a shark,* Alex thought, reaching out to Willow.  She grabbed his hand and pulled a little more enthusiastically then he was ready for and he stumbled forward, his foot coming down heavily on something that broke with a small crack.



                *Whoa - dizzy.  Fuck!  What in hell -*   Xander stared down at his foot - up at Willow, who was on her knees, hand to her head.  He heard a small cry and glanced up to see Buffy jerk a vamp off Tara and dust it.  Then nothing but the low growl of wolf-Oz, who was crouched on the chest of a shark-headed demon over by the door.

                "What -" Tara said, and then she looked at Willow and her face crumpled into tears.  Giles was putting his axe on the counter, opening the office door and Dawn and the others came out, looking bewildered.  Ethan came out last and he was pale.

                "Ripper, love - I can feel it.  We're leaving right now," Ethan said, and Xander stared at Ethan for a moment, confused.

                *Feel what?*

                *HIM, love.  Christ -*   Spike was backing away from Giles, getting Tara to her feet and bringing her with him.  Xander looked at Giles and - *darkman demonkiller DARKMAN* was like a solid wave of deafening, ice cold energy that crashed over them all.  It was like drowning in half-solidified ice and Xander took in a hard breath and grabbed Derio, pulling him back, getting them both close to Spike.  The hyena howled, mindless fear.  Xander didn't think he'd ever seen quite that expression on Giles' face, although it was obvious from Ethan's slightly panicky look that he had.

                "Ripper - now.  Right now, or you'll be bloody fucking sorry," Ethan hissed.  Giles was staring at Willow, his mouth working silently, and suddenly he turned and looked straight at Ethan - managed one sharp nod at the rest of them and strode out of the shop.  As he passed the shark-headed demon it cringed away from him and Oz growled.  Ethan followed behind, his eyes blazing, that seething coil of dark smoke that was himself almost as strong as Giles' barely banked fury.   The door slammed and they all waited for a moment.

                *Fuck, fuck, FUCK.  What did she - what in HELL was she -*

                *Memory - memory spell, god -* from Oz.  Nothing coherent from Spike, the demon's rage incandescent and savage.  Xander was startled when the vampire spoke and his voice was utterly flat.

                "Slayer - best get the Niblet home.  Glinda's coming with us.  We'll come get her things tomorrow."

                "Spike -" Buffy said, her arm around Dawn's shoulders, frowning.

                "Do it, Slayer!"

                "It's all right, Buffy.  We'll - we'll call you."  Xander moved so that Tara was between he and Spike, and Buffy looked at him - looked at Willow with a mixture of confusion and anger on her face.  She sighed finally, and nodded.

                "Okay.  What about - that," with a gesture towards the shark-demon.

                "I'll take care of it," Spike said, and Buffy nodded again and she and Dawn left.  Willow watched them go, tears streaming down her face.  Anya came out from behind the counter, her purse under her arm, her face furious and set.

                "We're going to be closed tomorrow.  You guys - get going.  I'm locking up."  She disappeared into the back and Derio shakily walked over to Oz, who was still standing on the demon.

                *Let him up, Oz,* Xander thought, and the wolf snapped at the demon one more time then hopped off - met Derio half way and leaned into him.

                *Fucking naked again,* Oz thought, and Xander almost laughed - hugged Tara instead who was crying silently into his shoulder. 

                Spike growled.  "Get the fuck out of here, Shark.  You ever do anything so stupid again and -"

                "Yes, yes, right, of course, Mr. Spike, of course," the demon mumbled, climbing awkwardly to its feet.  It hurried out the door and was gone, and Derio looked around - walked over to the counter where Oz's shredded jeans were lying and picked them up.  Keys jangled faintly in the pocket.

                "There isn't anything...   I'm gonna drive Oz home.  I'll - see you guys there."

                "Yeah, right behind you, Derio," Xander said, and the two of them were gone as well.

                *Xander - get Spike home, get TARA home.  Don't let him - don't let him hurt her.*

                *I won't.  Love you.*

                *Love you.  Pack, Xander.  Can't lose any of them.*

                "Tara?  Tara, I'm - I'm s-sso sorry, I'm so, so sorry -" Willow choked out, crying harder now, and Tara shivered in Xander's arms, silent.   Xander felt the hyena surge - felt the snarl distort his face.  He fought it - fought back the incoherent rage and the desire to rend - to end this threat to his family, *protect pack protect pack protect protect protect* dinning in his mind - echoing from Oz still, shouted from the demon.

                "Willow...  Don't - come around for a few days," he finally managed, his voice harsh, and he turned abruptly and started out, Tara held close in his arms.  Behind him he heard a muffled wail.

                "Xander!  I didn't mean - I wasn't trying to -"

                "He could have died, witch!  They all could have, forgetting what's out there - what we are." Spike's voice was as cold and dreadful as a snake's hiss, shaking with a desire to kill so tenuously leashed that Xander spun around, dreading what he might see.

                Spike stood over Willow, the demon there, his body quivering with tension.  He crouched down suddenly, his hands on either side of Willow's thighs, his face inches from hers.  He took a deep breath, scenting her, his mouth slightly open and Willow was leaning frantically back.

                "Did you see the wolfling, red witch?  He forgot his humanity - or he forgot how to find it.  What do you think would have happened if Xander had forgotten like that?  If I had?  Want me to tell you?"

                "S-spike, get away from -"

                "I'll tell you, witchling."  Spike's nails dug into the floor, splintering it, and Xander smelled blood suddenly - felt the stab of splinters through the link but Spike didn't seem to notice.  Anya emerged from the back room and froze, staring.  Beside him, Tara had lifted her head but she was still silent.

                "If I had forgotten, Willow - oooh, if I had forgotten..."  Spike's voice had dropped to a crooning whisper - to a rumbling purr of a voice and Xander shuddered violently all over, they hyena wanting.

                *Oh god, want it want it, blood and bones, blood and BONES - Spike!  Get away get away -*

                "I'd have had every drop of blood in the Watcher's body, Red; I'd have taken that misbegotten mage and eaten his heart, pretty.  A quick death for demon-girl, because she still reeks of D'Hoffryn and even William the Bloody doesn't cross him."  Spike licked his lips, head down, golden eyes fixed on Willow.

                "But I'd have had my hat trick, witch, I'd have had my third Slayer because she's no match for the demon when she can't remember her hate, witch.  And Dawn, and Tara, and Derio...  They're pack, witch."  Spike shredded a line of splinters out of the floor - lifted a bleeding hand and touched Willow's forehead with it and she flinched, trying to scrabble away.  The same hand darted out and grabbed the front of her shirt - yanked her back.

                "And pack means I'd have turned them, witch.  Because that's all the demon knows - that's all the demon wants and it's only the soul and my boy that keeps it from the things it wants, witch."  Spike lifted his head and growled - let it rumble up and out, louder and louder to a roar that made Willow cry out and that the hyena answered, full-throated shriek.   Tara jerked against Xander's ribs and he shushed her absently, everything in him tuned to the demon.

                "And you - Red...  I'd have sucked the magic from your body and the marrow from your bones and had that pretty hair for my lair, sweetheart, and that is why you don't do magic on me and mine ever again, Willow - ever fucking again."  Spike rose in one fluid motion - whirled and stalked out and Xander couldn't bring a single word past the growl that was lodged in his throat.  Every word Spike had said was true - Xander had felt it - had known it like his own mind, and the images of what might have happened would wake him, sweating and shaking, for weeks.

                When they got home, Derio and Tara both nodded silent, weary understanding and they gathered Oz and went back out into the night.  Hunting - had never felt so much like absolution and Xander wondered if he would ever, ever love Willow again.





Stephan Sondheim - Jet Song, West Side Story