“I see,” Ethan said thoughtfully. “So, you have her complete confidence, then?”
He spoke to Giles, but his eyes were on Spike. Before the vampire could answer, Giles spoke for him.
“Buffy has trusted Spike to help her protect her family and friends for some time now. I believe she would want him to have full information.”
“Would she now? How interesting...But I digress,” he added quickly when Giles shook the crossbow. “There are a number of things that one must understand about Glorifcus in order to thwart her plans –“
“Said plans being...?”
“She wants to use the Key to open the door to her own Hell dimension, so that she can go home. However, once opened, the only thing that can close the portal is another turn of the Key – so to speak.”
“An’ the portal leads to a hell dimension.” Spike spoke flatly.
“Yes. One from which assorted unpleasant and deadly creatures and demons will pour once it has been opened. That’s the bad news.”
“There’s good news?” All three men whirled to find Willow emerging from the floor.
“Yes,” Ethan replied, his eyes focused on the young witch from whose body he could feel the power radiating. “There is good news.”
Willow approached unhesitatingly, the confidence in her demeanor telling the mage that she was more than aware of her own growing power. He nodded and gave her a wink before continuing.
“Glory is only in her own, rather indestructible, body a portion of the time. The rest of the time, she is trapped in the body of an ordinary human. If you can find out who he or she is, you can eliminate her while she is vulnerable.” He preened a bit before adding, "There was a city-wide memory spell in place when I arrived. One that caused humans to instantly forget if they happened to watch her change. It was amusing for a while, but it was making me twitchy, so I removed it." He frowned when no one thanked him or appreciated his expertise, but instead continued the interrogation.
“You say she impersonates a human – some other human than the woman that she appears to be?”
“No. Do pay attention, Ripper. I said she IS a human. Her...essence...for lack of a better word, is trapped inside a human body. A human who walks and talks and does whatever normal people do - and then occasionally turns into a female Hellgod. All you need to do is catch her in her human form and--”
“And convince Buffy she has to kill a human,” Spike growled, exchanging looks with Giles and Willow.
“It doesn’t have to be Buffy, who does it,” Giles said quietly.
“Well, willing as I am,” Spike licked his lips, “I can’t bloody do it, can I?”
“No. You can’t.” The watcher’s tone of voice indicated that the conversation was over.
Ethan’s smile was growing wider as he watched the vampire absorb what Giles was actually saying. Spike’s eyes widened and a look of admiration crossed his face before he schooled it back into his usual casual unconcern.
“Why have you chosen to share this information with us, Ethan?” Giles had lowered the crossbow, but not yet disarmed it.
“Again, you weren’t paying attention. If that portal is opened, it will bring Hell on earth. We will all die – probably painfully. I am much too young and good looking to die yet.”
“Why don’t you just kill her, if you know when she’s weak?”
“Ah, violence is not my way, Ripper. Surely you remember that? This is a job for your slayer, or her pet vampire here. Or someone else with a violent streak.” He stared at Giles until the other man looked away.
“Be sure you remember that,” Giles said quietly as he handed the crossbow to Spike. The watcher began walking towards the kitchen and his bottle of scotch. “Would you care for a drink while you explain to me why it is that you are not currently residing inside an army prison?”
Spike and Willow watched the two British men as they carried their glasses to the couch and sat down at opposite ends.
“He makes me feel all...oooky.”
“Can’t say I’d want to have spend a lot of time around him, either. But the watcher seems to know him pretty well, doesn’t he?”
“They’re like old...friends...or something.”
“Yeah.” Spike grinned. “Or something.”
“What? Oh... no. No! You don’t...you think? Giles? Our Giles? And Ethan Rayne?”
“I wonder what old Ripper was like, before he became all tweedy and watcherly?”
Willow shrugged and shook her head. “We saw him when Ethan did the band candy thing – he was kind of a thug.” She scrunched up her face. “Buffy’s mom liked him, though.”
“Rupert and Joyce? The things I’ve missed by not being around all the time.”
Willow snickered and poked him with her elbow. “All you missed out on was being staked by Buffy. If you’d stayed around instead of popping in and out those first couple of years, she’d have staked you for sure.”
“Or I would have killed my third slayer,” he responded, turning to meet her eyes steadily.
“Well, yeah, or that.”
They were quiet for a minute; then Willow asked, “Do you still want to kill Buffy?”
He cocked his head and studied her serious face. “What do you think?”
“I think that my spell that made you two want to be married, didn’t say anything about being in love or playing kissy-face in a big chair all night,” she answered without looking at him. When he didn’t say anything, she turned her head and met his eyes firmly. “Riley is good for her, you know. He’s probably as close to normal as the Slayer is gonna get.”
“Normal’s a bit over-rated, Red.” He stood up and walked towards the closed door. “I wonder where she is? It’s gettin’ late and she’s been gone since midday.”
“I know.” Willow allowed a trace of uncertainty to enter her voice. “You don’t suppose...”
“She should be back by now.”
“Maybe I should do a locator spell? I’ll have to go downstairs and see if Dawn or Joyce might have anything that belongs to Buffy—“
“Don’t bother them,” he said quickly. “I think I’ve got something...”
Willow didn’t say anything, but she raised her eyebrows when Spike took a familiar-looking scarf out of his back pocket. She took it from him, her “I want an answer now” expression never changing even as she wrinkled her nose at the blood stains on it.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he growled. “I didn’t steal it. Got bitten pretty bad the other night, and the Slayer wrapped that around my arm until we-I could get back here and fix it up.”
“Buffy used her scarf to bandage your arm?” Willow looked thoughtful. “Exactly how much time have you two been spending together lately?”
Spike shrugged. “It’s not like that,” he insisted. “With the boy scout all normal-human again, and the hell bint’s minions out there every night lookin’ for the bloody key, Slayer needs a bit of help sometimes. That’s all.”
“Uh huh.” Willow didn’t sound convinced, but she took the scarf and walked over to where Giles and Ethan had settled into a glaring contest from either end of the couch. “Um...Giles? I – we – think it might be a good idea to try to find Buffy. Or at least to know where she is. She’s been gone a long time and we’re – I’m – worried about her.”
The watcher shot Spike a hard look, but nodded in agreement.
“A good idea, Willow. I take it that piece of cloth belongs to Buffy?”
“Um...yeah...Spike just happened to have—“
“I’m sure he did,” Giles said wryly. “All right.” He turned to Ethan. “I don’t suppose you have any materials with you that we can use without going downstairs and disturbing the others?”
“I can do better than that,” the mage smiled confidently as he reached into the small bag he’d carried in with him. He pulled out an ordinary-looking mirror and set it carefully on the floor. “We can use this and actually see not only where she is, but what she is doing.”
“Hope to bloody hell she isn’t shaggin’ Capt’n Cardboard,” Spike muttered as Willow and Ethan quickly set up the spell. Willow froze and looked at him with wide eyes.
“Oh my god! I didn’t think – you don’t suppose? Maybe we shouldn’t—“
With a glare at the vampire, Giles said quickly, “I seriously doubt that Buffy is so irresponsible as to have gone off for a tryst with her boyfriend...” There was just the slightest emphasis on the word ‘boyfriend’, but the vampire heard it and glared back. “...when she had such an important mission ahead of her.”
Nodding dubiously, Willow looked at Ethan to see if he was going to begin the spell. To her surprise, he gestured at the mirror and said, “Why don’t you do the honors, darlin’? It isn’t often I get to see such a combination of beauty and power in action.”
Willow colored visibly, even as she preened under Ethan’s praise; completing missing the rolling eyes and disgusted looks on the other two men. She began her chant, and they all leaned towards the mirror, anxious to be the first one to catch a glimpse of the missing slayer. As the mirror took them on a rapid transit across the town to the large, expensive apartment building crowning a hill on the edge of the city, they all tensed. The visualization hurtled through the lobby and up the stairs, floating through a heavy oak door and into the room where a bloody and battered Buffy was hanging from chains.
Spike immediately whirled away from the image – snarling incomprehensible curses in two human languages and one demon. He went immediately to his weapons chest and began tossing out swords, crossbows and knives. Giles and Willow continued to stare into the mirror – the witch’s horrified gasp the only sign that she had noticed the bruises and welts on Buffy’s face and body. Spike was on his way to the door when Giles snapped out of his own stunned stupor to snap, “Where are you going?”
“Where the hell do you think I’m goin’?” Spike snarled back.
“Wait for the rest of us,” the watcher insisted. “You won’t be able to do anything if Glory is in human form.”
“Not waitin’. I’m faster than any of you. I might not be able to stop the bint if she’s human, but I can make a sizable dent in her minions before you lot get there And I might be able to get the Slayer out of those chains.”
Without another word, he was out the door, leaving it swinging behind him. Willow walked over and closed it, while Giles went downstairs. Ethan sat comfortably on the couch, seemingly unperturbed at the idea that the girl he had counted on to save the world was currently imprisoned and immobilized by the very Hellgod she had gone out to slay.
It took only a few minutes for the Scoobies to divide into two groups – Tara agreed to remain in the crypt with Dawn, Joyce and Anya. Although her magic was less powerful than Willow’s, it was sufficient to provide some cloaking protection for the lower half of Spike’s home. Xander and Giles quickly armed themselves with swords and crossbows from Spike’s weapons stash, then stood at the door and looked at the chaos mage lolling on the couch.
“Come on, Ethan,” Giles said curtly. “You know I am not going to leave you here to get up to who knows what kind of mischief. Your skills might be useful to us – in case Willow needs backup,” he hastened to add as the young witch’s eyes narrowed.
With an exaggerated sigh, the mage pushed himself up and lazily strolled to the door which Giles was impatiently holding for him.
“I really think I’ve done my good deed for the decade, Ripper,” he grumbled as he followed them out into the cemetery. “I’ve told you how to kill her and now you know where to find her. I should be leaving town, content in the knowledge that your little gang of do-gooders will take care of the problem.”
“You should be grateful that we aren’t looking too closely into how Glory came to Sunnydale to look for her Key,” Xander said, swinging his axe in a menacing fashion.
Ethan looked at him as though the boy was something he had found on the bottom of his shoe. “Ah yes, Anyanka’s boyfriend. How the mighty have fallen...” Satisfied that he’d put Xander in his place, Ethan turned his attention back to Willow. “You know, darlin’, with your power and my expertise, we could do wonderful things together—”
He was interrupted by Giles’ hand gripping his bicep in a painful, if very familiar fist. “You’ll walk with me,” was all he said as he dragged the reluctant mage into a faster gait. When Ethan opened his mouth, preparatory to commenting on the manhandling, Giles snarled a short, “Shut up.”
Ahead of them, Spike had reached the apartment building and was searching for a way in that didn’t require going through the front entrance – which he could see was guarded by one of Glory’s minions, doing his best to appear fully human as he huddled in his robes near the door. Spike shut his eyes briefly, picturing the images from the mirror and counting the floors to the one with the door behind which Glory was torturing the Slayer. When he was satisfied that he knew where he was going, he put the sword he was carrying on his back and began a stealthy climb up the outside of the building, using his arms and shoulders to haul himself up as he found his favorite boots to be a bit too stiff and clunky to give good footholds.
He paused to rest on the edge of a balcony, only to find an astonished and very naked woman staring at him with wide eyes. Spike gave her his best shy little boy smile and a wink before swinging away and up again. He pressed up against the side of the building, hoping the chimney to which he was clinging would hide him from the curious woman, now on her balcony and staring around for the man she still wasn’t absolutely sure that she had seen outside her fourth story apartment. As soon as he heard her door slide closed, he pulled himself the rest of the way up to the balcony leading to Glory’s apartment.
In the lower level of Spike’s crypt, Joyce, Dawn, Tara and Anya huddled together on the bed.
“Do we know what’s going on?” Joyce asked, her fear obvious. “Has Glory found us?” She pulled Dawn close in a protective embrace.
Tara looked uncomfortable, but before she could stammer out an explanation, Anya spoke up in her usual forthright manner.
“Apparently Glory has captured Buffy and the men – and Willow – have gone to rescue her.”
Joyce’s face went white and Dawn gasped as her mother unconsciously tightened her grip.
“Is that true?” The question was addressed to Tara, in spite of Anya’s annoyed look.
“Y...yes. It seems that someone Giles knows—”
“Ethan Rayne” spat Dawn. “You remember, Mom. Band candy? Mini skirts and juvenile delinquent Giles?”
“Oh, ahem, yes. Why yes, I do remember him. So he is here?”
Tara tried again. “Yes, and he was able to help Willow do a spell that not only located Buffy, but showed what was happening to her—”
“What was happening to her?”
“I’m sure it’s going to be fine,” Tara soothed. “Spike left a long time ago, he’s probably already rescued her.”
“Sure,” Dawn agreed quickly. “Spike and Buffy are probably kicking major Hellgod butt right now.”
“I thought Spike couldn’t hurt people?” Joyce sounded relieved and confused at the same time.
“Glory isn’t human,” Tara explained gently. “But she is very, very strong.”
“Spike and Buffy are stronger,” Dawn said loyally.
“Not by themselves, they aren’t,” Tara said quietly, “but together I’m sure they will be more than enough. Their auras—” She stopped abruptly, casting a quick glance at Joyce and Anya.
“Their auras what?” Dawn refused to let it go. “What can you see when they’re together? Do you see what I see?”
“What do you see?” the smiling witch countered.
“I see two people who were made for each other and are too stubborn to admit it.”
Tara nodded slowly, glancing at Joyce again. “Something like that. They both have interesting auras – such a mixture of light and darkness – but together, they light up the room. I’m surprised everyone can’t see it as easily as I can, really. It’s that bright.”
“Xander will never see it,” Anya muttered. “If he thinks Spike wants Buffy, he’ll probably stake him – even if he does secretly like it that he has another guy to shoot pool with sometimes.”
“I don’t think Spike ‘wants’ Buffy,” Tara said, ducking her head. “I think he’s in love with her.”
To her surprise, Joyce agreed with a quiet sigh. “I suspect that you’re right, Tara. As much as I like Spike and as much as I know that he likes us...” she gestured to herself and Dawn. “...I’m sure that it’s the way he feels about Buffy that makes him so willing to stand up to a Hellgod to protect us.”
All four women nodded their heads, each lost in her own thoughts about what might come of a vampire and a slayer who fell in love. If anyone remembered Angel and the disaster that was Buffy’s relationship with the souled vampire, they didn’t mention it. Anya was barely aware of most of it, Dawn had been too young to be allowed to know much about it, and Joyce’s understanding ended with her gratitude that the vampire had left town. She felt a twinge of guilt as she remembered her own naive belief that without his presence, Buffy could have a normal life with normal relationships. Two more years of watching Buffy juggle a slayer’s duties and life as a college student had given Joyce a much better understanding of exactly how NOT normal her daughter’s life was and always would be.
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