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Mask and Mirrors
 
Chapter 1
 
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Masks and Mirrors

~*~
Chapter 1
~*~

Spike was still smarting from the none too subtle cruelty of Harris’ taunts. Joyce Summers had meant the world to Spike. The woman who had entered his unlife axe swinging, had been the first person to treat him with any regard since his own mother. She had no illusions about the lifestyle that Spike lived at the time yet she had gifted him with her trust and friendship. No matter how long it might be before Spike became a coating of ash on some surface or be blown to the four winds he would cherish the memory of this lady. For once, this had nothing to do with his love for Buffy.

The funeral had been in the bright sunshine that forbade any vampire from attending. "Not that the poof would’ve wanted to say a goodbye. Joyce hated him and he knew it. Lady had taste as well as class," Spike smiled at the thought.

He had dropped by Brown Brothers mortuary to pay his respects the night before. Those breaking and entering skills still proved a plus for the vampire.

He hadn’t dared to approach Buffy and if the reaction of her friends to his attempt to offer a small flowery token of his love for Joyce were any indication he’d been wise. "Miserable Whelp sayin’ it was about my ‘pathetic obsession’. I didn’t even want Buffy to know they were from me. Harris can’t stop my puttin’ ‘em on the lady’s grave though," he thought as he approached Joyce Summers final resting place.

His smile faded as he neared the grave in his second attempt at a floral remembrance only to see his grand sire and Buffy cuddled together under a tree. Angel appeared to be offering his brand of hit and run cold comfort to the grieving girl. Spike once more threw his bouquet of flowers to the ground and stalked off into the night. "Least I actually cared for the lady. Not hanging about to score points with the slayer. Bastard probably won’t even stay to make sure Buffy and Dawn’ll be okay. Chit’s got a lot on her plate, hell god on her heels, lost her mum, and now the Poof has to show up to mark his territory!"

Spike sighed deeply and admitted to himself that he didn’t really mind Angel’s visit as long as it helped ease the pain he knew Buffy was feeling, if only a little. "Wouldn’t hurt the bugger to sick around a bit, make sure the ‘love of his unlife’s’ gonna make out okay. Maybe add his great bulk in the fight against Glory, protect the Bit. Wanker wouldn’t even have to sniff around temptation, could just stalk the girl like he did in the beginnin’. Buffy wouldn’t even have to know he was still here."

The grief filled, pissed off vampire turned and headed for his own cemetery and a date with the sulks. He’d check on his girls later when he stood a better chance of actually getting within a city block of either Summers girl.

~~~

Dawn had chosen to go and stay in Willow and Tara’s place after the funeral. Buffy was being all stoic girl and Dawn needed to emote. The two witches seemed to really get her need and let her rant and cry as much as she needed to.
Dawn was bereft and more than a little lost. Joyce was her anchor to this entire world.

Finding out that all her memories were false and that she really was some weird swirling energy thing had taken a toll on the girl. Joyce’s continued love and constant reassurance of Dawn’s place in the family, in the world, had been the only comfort the adolescent had and now that was gone.

Dawn knew that Buffy loved her, the monks had made sure that she would. That was the whole point really, how real was love that some guys in cowls ordered ready made?

The only person Dawn had made her own memories with, her own relationship, was Spike and that was just a beginning friendship.

Dawn had missed his presence at the funeral. It seemed wrong that he wasn’t there to say a last goodbye. Dawn knew that Spike genuinely cared about her mom, had visited often even when Buffy was living in the dorm.

Tara offered her motherly warmth and comfort and Willow raged with her over the injustice of such a bright light being snuffed too early. Dawn felt as drained as any victim of a vampire attack without the sweet release of death.

Dawn had rolled out her sleeping bag on the floor of the girl’s room but had yet to come anywhere near to sleep.

Willow wished she could just make everything better for the girl, for Buffy too. She had toyed with the idea of a spell earlier in the day; just a simple one to take the edge off the pain of loss, but Tara had been horrified at the idea. "You can’t use magic like that Willow! It’s wrong. People need to grieve, hurt and heal. It’s a natural part of the cycle of life. It wouldn’t be fair to Buffy or Dawn. Besides, Joyce deserves the emotions of her daughters to be real. They’ll get through this. We’ll help them, but not with spells and rituals."

Somehow seeing the distraught teen struggling with those natural emotions made Willow wonder if Dawn might just thank her if she decided to ignore Tara’s wise advice. "Oh, Dawn, I wish I could help more. The only thing is … it’ll get better. I promise."

Dawn looked up at her sister’s best girlfriend and glared at her. "You don’t know that." Really! How much better could things be expected to get? Dawn’s mom was gone, her sister was a cold block of ice and there was a crazy hell god trying to do who knows what to her! Dawn sniffed back tears and tried to accept Willow’s platitudes in the spirit intended but just couldn’t swallow the lie.

Tara understood some of what Dawn was feeling having lost her own mother some years before. She smiled tenderly at the girl and tried to lighten the mood somewhat, "Sure she does. We’re witches, we know stuff."

Ordinarily Tara’s gentle manner would have made Dawn smile at least but her pain and fear ran too deep. "What? Life goes on, and I forget mom?" Dawn felt the anger build. "Is that what you’re saying?"

Willow was appalled at Dawn’s interpretation and a little miffed at the snarky voice she had used towards Tara. "Not forget, no! I ….., she struggled to find the right words.

Tara, as usual, knew just what to say. "You make a place for her in your heart. It’s sort of like she becomes a part of you. Does that make sense?"

Tara’s words were somewhat soothing but still the big gaping hole in Dawn’s heart ached to be filled with her mother’s love again. She looked at the magic supplies all over the room and suddenly she hit on a way to make everything right again. "I know what I wanna do now. You guys are witches, like you said. You do magic and stuff."

Willow brightened as Dawn seemed to be interested in something she could handle instead of messy emotions. "You want us to teach you something? Maybe a glamour! You could trick all your friends at school…or, or maybe make a stuffed animal dance."

Dawn looked at Willow as if she’d grown an arm from the top of her head, "I wanna do a useful spell. I want to bring mom back."

Willow’s mouth opened like a landed bass and all the magic in the world couldn’t supply the words she needed to respond to the teen.

"Of course you can’t mean to bring your mother back and I wish we could," Tara truly did understand the feelings that had prompted Dawn’s quest. "It’s not possible."

Dawn was undeterred, "Why not? You guys do magic for all kinds of things."

Tara tried to explain. "This is different. Magic can’t be used to alter the natural order of things."

Dawn snorted, "All you do is mess with the natural order of things. You make things float and disappear. Besides there’s nothing natural about losing your mom when you need her most."

Tara slipped an arm around the girl’s shoulders, "But we don’t mess with life and death. It may be awful and unfair, but it is natural and this isn’t the way."

Tara didn’t care for the look she saw flicker in Willow’s eyes as Dawn had made her request. Willow caught the look of caution Tara had given to her before she added her two cents. "I’m not even sure it’s possible, Dawn. I mean, I’ve seen things on resurrection, there’s books and stuff." Tara looked alarmed at Willow’s train of thought. "I guess the spells … backfire?" Willow looked to Tara for reassurance or maybe permission to take on the project, Tara couldn’t tell which.

Tara gave a determined look at her lover and reminded her, "That’s not the point! Witches can’t be allowed to alter the fabric of life for selfish reasons. Wiccans took an oath a long time ago to honor that."

Dawn had a calculating look in her eye as she latched onto the pertinent parts of what the witches had said. In all those words the ones they had not said were that it could not be done. "So, it’s possible to bring someone back? They wouldn’t have taken an oath if they didn’t know they could do it."

Dawn could see the answer on the faces of the girls. She could also see that they wouldn’t lift a finger to help her find the proper spell. Maybe Willow could be softened up, Dawn could see the idea of performing such a powerful spell appealed to the girl but there could be no help from Tara’s corner.


As Dawn’s hostesses headed for bed Willow passed the bookcase next to where Dawn lay. With a discreet circling motion of her fingers one of the books slid out of place sticking out from the other books.

Dawn saw the movements and the sly wink Willow had leveled at her as they left her alone to sleep.

As soon as she was alone Dawn pulled out the book that Willow had obviously wanted her to read. It was a general history of witchcraft. She looked at the index and whispered the chapter titles aloud, "Age of Levitation. War of the Warlocks. Resurrection, a Controversy Born." With the first smile since Joyce’s passing Dawn quickly opened to the section she wanted and began to read.

~~~

The next night Spike finally managed to bring his flower offering to Joyce’s gravesite. It was a peaceful location and he knew Joyce would have approved the choice. He placed his flowers under the temporary marker running his finger over Joyce’s name written there.

"Well, Joyce, ‘s me again. Bad penny and all. Eldest had a visit from the poof. Didn’t seem to help much, wanker left her again. Promise I’ll keep an eye on ‘em both whether they want me to or not, Joyce."

He paused to swipe at the wetness on his cheeks before continuing. "Not fair, ducks. I died a century ago and still standin’ here, worthless as ever. You had too many good years ahead of you to be in the ground permanent like."

The night wind blew his hair releasing the soft curls that Joyce had tried to get him to free from the confining gel. Spike smiled at the fancy that it was her hand loosening them now. "Always did say you wanted to release this mess from the goop. Never thought it was fair of you to say I used as much gel as the poofter though!"

"Speakin’ of the Summers women’s bad taste in men, that wanker you were married to hasn’t shown his face. Overheard Buffy tellin the witch she couldn’t even track the bastard down." Spike wished he could rid himself of the chip for an hour with Hank Summers for the pain he put these wonderful women through. "Don’t expect he’ll be strollin’ into town to take the Bit away, too much responsibility involved. I remember all those things you told me ‘bout the bugger. Still, that’ll let me keep a close eye on the Niblet, make sure she gets a good fella when it’s her time…..maybe another thirty years or so." Spike could almost hear Joyce chuckle at that.

"Anyway, plannin’ on figurin’ out how to deal with this Glory bint. Don’t want the Slayer havin’ to deal with the likes of her at a time like this. Watcher’ll not desert them either." Spike choked back a sob. "You don’t need to worry, Joyce, you can rest easy. I’ll take care of ‘em both, you’ve got my word."

The wind ruffled his hair again in a gentle caress and he just knew it was her response. "Thanks for carin’ about me; not a soul out there that does. Gonna miss you, fair lady."


 
Chapter 2
 
~*~
Chapter 2
~*~

Dawn had volunteered to work at the Magic Box. Giles and Anya were happy to help the girl occupy her time while she was grieving for the loss of her mother. Of course what Dawn actually was doing was locating the book needed to end that grief’s necessity by bringing her mom back.

It took a short time to weasel the information from the clueless Watcher and his ace employee. One conveniently empty book-bag and two turned heads later and Dawn had the recipe for her plan. A night making lists and a day applying all the stealthy slight of hand she had learned by observing Spike and she was good to go. For the first time since Joyce had gone into the hospital Dawn felt like smiling.

Later that night it was time to put action to her dream. Time to bring mom home!

Dawn used the traditional Summers method of sneaking out of the house and shimmied down the tree to land with a muffled thud next to the porch. She had carefully tucked one of Buffy’s stakes in her pants and knew enough to avoid the vamp hot spots on her way to Joyce’s gravesite. It had not been difficult to slip out without alerting Buffy. Buffy had withdrawn so far into herself that Dawn felt she had buried both women in her family that gray day.

The only item the ritual called for that the Magic Box hadn’t been able to provide was there at her feet. Dirt from the fresh grave of her mother; "Fresh graveyard soil" it had said to be exact.

Not enough time had passed since the burial to pack the dirt solidly so digging up a bit wasn’t too taxing physically. Dawn wasn’t sure how she felt digging there. Part of her felt like she was violating her mothers resting place and another, larger part knew that she would dig to China through the holy of holies itself to get to her mothers loving arms again.

When she completed her task she moved the sod to cover her digging and stood to make her way back home.

"Hope it’s just dirt you’re after," Spike’s deep voice rumbled into the dark night. Dawn nearly jumped out of her skin.

Spike looked at the spooked teen with a wealth of understanding in his eyes. "If the spell calls for anything more than that, you’re into zombie territory, and that’s bad news."

Dawn started to stutter an excuse to try to throw Spike off the scent. The vampire was far too observant and knowledgeable of things mystical for her muttered words to have any hope of working and she knew it. She was busted but good.

Spike looked from the nervous girl’s face to the book she was clutching to her side and smiled gently at her. "I know good and well what you’re up to. That book you’ve got is infamous."

Very little had the power to frighten Spike after all his time and experience, the use of magic was one of those things. Magic rarely worked out well for anyone involved. Still, it was obvious that Dawn was not going to be turned away from her mission. She needed, loved, and missed her mum and no one; not her sister and certainly not the local outcast vampire was going to dissuade her.

Spike knew how she felt. In her shoes he would have likely done the same. He had suffered the long months of a death watch with his own mother and when he finally went proactive and turned her it only led to his having to drive a stake in the breast that had nurtured him as a babe. No, these things never turned out well. Still, if his Niblet was going to do it regardless of any warning he would damn sure make certain it was done right. The Slayer would likely stake him but Joyce would come back right or not at all.

"Look, I’m not gonna tell, Little Bit. I’m gonna help."

~~~

The pair slipped through the night like two dark ghost’s bent on a mission. Spike tried to let Dawn know the importance of the upcoming meeting. "I’ve never used this bloke’s services myself. Don’t hold with magic." He held up a silencing hand as Dawn started to defend her plan. "Word is he knows everything there is to know about resurrection spells."

Dawn looked at Spike from the corner of her eye and set her most defiant expression on her face. "You don’t have to be all nice to me. I know why you’re doing this."

Spike quirked an eyebrow and stopped mid stride to turn to the girl, "Do tell, care to share?"

"Spike, I’m not stupid. You’re crazy about Buffy and you’d do anything to get in good with her."

Spike nearly laughed aloud. "Are you daft? Big sis’d have my dust blowin in the wind before you could blink ‘f she had any idea what we’re about!" Spike had never looked more serious as he grasped Dawn’s shoulders and looked directly into her eyes. "Buffy can never hear about any of this, not this bloke and not my part in this. I’m dead serious."

Dawn saw the truth in his eyes and felt the first shiver of fear in his company that she could ever remember. Most times it was easy to forget Spike was a Master Vampire but every once in a while the leashed power still made itself known. In those times Dawn could remember every cautionary tale Buffy had ever told her about the Big Bad and his evil century of mayhem and blood. "So why are you helping me?"

"You’re gonna do it anyway, want it done right ‘s all. Your mum was too special to come back anything but perfect." Spike turned and began to continue their walk to the mystery man. "Magic’s too touchy to have an amateur play with a spell like this one. Doesn’t get darker or deeper to mess with life and death. Even witches like Red and Glinda wouldn’t really be up to it. Can’t actually think of any that would even try it. Too much can go wrong. Don’t want either of you Summers women losing anything more, okay?"

"Okay," Dawn solemnly agreed as they drew to a halt outside a door. Spike knocked and they cautiously entered upon invitation.

The room looked like it would belong to a scholar or librarian like Giles instead of a warlock or Shaman.

A small grandfatherly looking man came from around a curtained archway. He was wearing a bathrobe and glasses and Dawn wondered if he had ever worked for the Council of Watchers.

The man looked at Spike as if trying to place him. Finally a light of pleasure lit in his eyes as he proclaimed, "I know you!"

Spike looked both confused and a bit alarmed as he denied the claim, "Don’t think so mate."

The old man refused to be denied. "No, no. You’re that guy who hangs around the corner mart. Big into dominoes, aren’t you?"

Dawn nearly laughed aloud at both the look of horror on Spike’s face and the mental picture of the punked out vamp playing dominoes anywhere!

"Look. I’m not the guy. We’re here because…" Spike tried to turn the conversation to their actual purpose.

Doc as he asked to be called nearly laughed. "Crazy isn’t it? I mean I’d swear you were that guy. I mean, your hair’s a different color and you’re a vampire, but other than that…"

Spike launched into an explanation for their visit. The death of Joyce, Dawn’s deep grief and need for her mother’s presence at this point in her life and the intention to bring Joyce back to her. "So we were wondering, what's to be done about it. Heard you were the one to ask."

Doc looked as horrified as Spike had suggested a spellcaster would at the idea. "Oh no! That’s …. You don’t wanna mess with that. Look, I know some tonics to make the grieving fly by." He started to pull vials and bottles down from shelves.

"No," Dawn nearly shouted. "Sorry, but no," she said more softly. "I’m doing this with or without your help but Spike says with is better."

Doc looked thoughtful and a little impressed with the determination he saw in the young girl. "Either one of you witches? Got any experience with spells of this magnitude?" At the nervous shuffling of Dawn’s feet and Spike’s grim countenance he read the answer without hearing the words. "Didn’t think so."

As Doc turned from them to poke through the many books in his library Dawn noticed the tail on the otherwise human looking demon. She let out a slight gasp and Spike glanced at the girl and shook his head slightly in warning.

Dawn stood straight and tried to look well organized. "I’ve gathered the ingredients for the spell I found but there’s things I don’t understand."

"Well one thing you’ll need to make this turn out well are Ghora eggs. You’ll need to get one from its mother’s nest to make sure she comes back right." Doc was writing some words that Dawn couldn’t translate as he spoke. "These words will do the trick. Add the Ghora egg to the mix, say this portion here," he indicated his script. At Dawn’s puzzled look he reassured her, "Don’t panic, I wrote it phonetically. Just say it as it looks. It’s a demon tongue, a language as dead as Ancient Sumarian is to the humans. This is the oldest magic, basic just like the life and death it deals with."

"Right then. Ghora you say," Spike interrupted. "They local?"

"Like to live on the hellmouth. I’m sure you’ll find at least one with a clutch of eggs waiting to hatch." Doc turned back to the book he had copied the spell from and read aloud, ‘Egg of the Ghora gives life.’ It’s the key to the spell."

"Once you get all the ingredients together, put them in the center of a sacred circle. Then... say this incantation... three times. She will appear, you know, poof. Got it?" Doc was looking only at Dawn.

Dawn was beaming with the joy of anticipation, "Got it."

Spike decided to just ask for the information instead of wasting more of the night in a drawn out search. "And the Ghora?"

Doc looked startled as if he’d forgotten the entire purpose of this late night visit with strangers. "Oh, right, sorry. Um, go in the sewer entrance near Tracy Street. The opening's, um, on the left. Can't miss it. Just follow that down."

~~~

Spike insisted on a side trip to his crypt to pick up a sturdy axe. He had no idea what this Ghora might look like but a solid axe blade across a neck nearly always did the trick. Mothers, even demon mothers rarely gave up their young without a fight.

He had tried to get Dawn to wait for him to return with an egg but she had insisted on coming along. She was harder to shake than an Elopien mud eel. "You need me Spike. Somebody’s gotta get the egg while you distract the Ghora!"

Spike had to chuckle at the Slayerlike attitude, "What do you know, bitty Buffy! Not the Slayer in her after all, it’s all Summers!"

The large reptilian creature reminded Dawn more of a dragon than anything. It was sleeping atop a pile of glowing eggs at peace with the world.

Dawn breathed a sigh of relief, "Doesn't look so bad."

Spike rolled his eyes and silently groaned at the obvious jinx that the girl had just put on the whole operation. "Wait till it wakes up. That's usually when the bad starts."

"Spike, I can’t get at the eggs unless the big lizard moves."

Spike sported a maniacal grin and headed towards the sleeping mother Ghora. "Then I'll make it move. You just be ready." He lifted the axe and yelled, "Hey! Ghora, heads up!"

The sleepy mom awoke and sat up looking for the disturbance to her slumbers. Spike and Dawn took a deep breath as they noticed that the demon had not one but three heads, each lethal.

"Right then. Heads it is," quipped a nervous but game Spike.

Dawn kept her eye on the battle waiting her chance to grab the needed egg quickly. Spike was wailing on the mother Ghora and had taken out one of her heads while dodging the others.

The demon lashed its tail nearly knocking Dawn off of her feet as a panicked Spike tried desperately to divert its attention. "Hey, get away from her!" He buried his axe in the neck of the Ghora leaving it stuck mid way through the scaled column.

Dawn grabbed an egg and they both made a mad dash out of the nest area. As they started up the stairs to the relative safety of the streets of Sunnydale Dawn tripped and watched in horror as the egg crashed to the ground spilling its precious contents.

Spike grabbed Dawn as she started to turn back to the tunnel and the angry demon, "Leave it, Dawn. It's too dangerous and I haven't got," his voice trailed off as Dawn broke free and ran back. "a weapon," he finished as he broke into a run to follow the impulsive girl.

He caught up to her just as she screamed. The demon was inches from Dawn and enraged.

Spike began to throw rocks at the demon to attract its attention and protect Dawn. His rouse worked too well as the Ghora lowered one of its remaining heads and took a deep bite out of Spike’s side. It’s tail swept Dawn away tossing her like a doll across the chamber close to the tunnel leading to the stairs.

Spike screamed in agony as the teeth tore into him but knew Dawn wasn’t leaving without her bloody egg. He grabbed the precious item and shoved the Ghora back as he scrambled to his feet. He had never run so fast as he headed toward the teen. "Run Bit! Don’t look back. I’ve got the soddin’ egg."

~~~

Dawn prepared the ingredients to perform the resurrection that next night. Spike had reluctantly agreed to stand guard making sure neither Buffy nor any of her cheering squad interrupted. The Slayer was on patrol and her posse would, no doubt, be at her heels.

Dawn sat in the circle she had drawn on the floor of the living room. The sheet with the demonic words in front of her with candles holding it down while they illuminated it for reading.

She began with the words she had already transcribed from the book she had located at the Magic Box. Doc’s addendum would come at the end. "Osiris... giver of darkness.." She poured consecrated oil from a vial onto her hands and then smeared it on the sheet. In the center of the circle was a small cauldron that Dawn was filling with the dry and wet ingredients necessary as she continued the words of supplication to Osiris. "Taker of life ... god of gods... accept my offering. Bone, flesh, breath. Yours ... eternally."

Spike tensed as he spotted the scoobies rapidly approaching the porch, Buffy in the rear. "Bit, company comin. Best hurry this along or there’ll be vamp dust floatin into that pot you’ve got there."

Dawn didn’t even seem to hear him as she read the gibberish Doc had given to her and finished up with, "Return to us."

~~~

"I can’t believe you let my little sister even touch a book like that!" Buffy was livid. Tara had discovered the missing history and rapidly figured out the use Dawn had likely made of it. It hadn’t taken too long to discover various missing items from the Magic Box, including a rather dangerous grimore with ancient spells guaranteed to lead to disaster.

Tara was still beside herself with worry for the teen. "This is bad, really bad."

Willow was obviously trying to get back into Buffy’s good graces and out from under fire. "We came to find you right away, Buffy. Dawnie can’t do anything until tonight at the earliest. We’ll stop her in time."


Spike leapt back against the wall, unnoticed, as the thoroughly brassed off Slayer marched to the center of her living room and took in the sight of her little sister surrounded by broken demon egg and other trappings that just yelled, ‘TOO LATE’.

Dawn wasn’t paying a bit of attention to anything but the ritual at hand. "Bone ... flesh ... breath ... yours eternally. Bone, flesh, breath, I beg of you, return to us."

Tara gasped in horror as the room crackled with energy.

Willow had a strange look on her face that Anya privately named jealousy as she stared at the untrained teen summoning the mother of all powers in a ritual far beyond anything Willow had yet to try.

Xander pulled Anya closer into the protection of his arms as the room began to take on a bright glow to match the palpable energy flow. Suddenly there was a loud,"POP" and all returned to normal. All normal, that is, except for the bewildered woman clutching her loose clothing to herself and looking about in astonishment and confusion.

"William?" The woman asked in a weak but cultured voice. "Is that you? Why do you wear such vulgar clothing? And what on earth has happened to your hair?"

"And so wonder we all," Xander looked from the strange older lady to the vampire standing in wide-eyed, gape mouthed horror from the hallway.
 
Chapter 3
 
~*~
Chapter 3
~*~

A stunned silence filled the room as everyone struggled to make sense of what had happened. Buffy and her friends had been certain that Dawn was planning to resurrect her mother this night. Instead, there was a strange, rather old-fashioned lady standing just outside the magic circle. The woman seemed to recognize Spike. Spike, for his part, looked to be in shock.

"Who are these people, William?" The woman looked about her with growing alarm. Every one of the young people in the room was dressed strangely. She didn’t recognize the room either and had no memory of how she had come to be there. She would have been terrified had her dear son not been there as well. Dear William always taking such good care of her!

Dawn had come out of her magic induced trance and had noticed the lack of the presence of Joyce Summers and had begun to cry softly. "He said it would work, Spike," she wailed not even taking note of the others in the room.

"Who ‘he’? What ‘work’? And how did I just know Spike was involved in this." Buffy sputtered as she turned to face the oddly trembling vampire. Rage at Spike once more leading her little sister down a dark and dangerous path diverted Buffy from the other questions she had about the night’s events.

Tara could see the pandemonium about to break out and just knew from the wildly changing auras of everyone that it was not going to be pretty. "Um, perhaps we should all take deep breaths and sort this out one problem at a time," she suggested.

"Yeah, what she said," agreed Xander. He could see that something had spooked Spike and anything that weirded out a vampire could not be of the good.

Tara crossed the room to the older woman and held out her hand in greeting. "Hello, I’m Tara Mcclay. Won’t you have a seat while we figure out who you are and how you got here?"

"Has there been an accident, William? Has the carriage overturned, perhaps," she looked to Spike for some reassurance. "These good people do not seem to know me any more than I them. Have I sustained a head injury my son," she asked with a slight quiver to her voice.

Spike had finally managed to shake off the willies and slowly approached the lady. "Mother, no there has been no accident, not of that sort at any rate. There is much to explain, however. I fear I am unsure of where to begin."

The group looked from Spike to the mystery lady in shock. Had he just called her "mother"?

"I ask that you trust me for a short while, mother dearest, while we work towards discovering some important answers to our many questions. Can you do that, love?" Spike had put a tender hand under her elbow and guided her to a seat near the fireplace.

"Of course I trust you, son," Anne replied. "I fear that I have so many questions of my own I can scarce decide which to ask first." The woman looked only at Spike, keeping her loved and familiar son as her focal point in the odd world she found herself.

Anne began to cough, much to Spike’s alarm. The blood on her handkerchief caused the scoobies to look at each other in concern.

Spike looked about in reflexive panic searching for something liquid to ease his mother’s distress. "Could I get some water for her, please?"

Tara headed for the kitchen immediately and returned with a glass of water handing it to the woman gently. "Here you are. Are you all right? Is there anything else we can get for you? Do you need medication of some kind?"

"No, thank you my dear. The doctor has been quite honest with me that there is nothing to be done for this." Anne patted Spike’s hand lovingly and smiled up to him before continuing. "It has only become this bad of late. The spasms will abate anon. That is the way with Consumption. My William always takes good care of me. I am a lucky mother to have such an attentive son."

No one could deny the look of genuine love that passed between mother and son at that moment. Vampire or no Spike clearly loved this woman. The scoobies had all noticed the change in Spike’s accent as well. He’d sounded almost like Giles!

"Maybe you’d like to lie down for a while. We can’t really answer your questions until we answer a few of our own and I’m thinkin’ you could use a nap. Maybe it will help keep you from any more coughing," Buffy suggested.

"That would be lovely my dear," Anne replied with a look of relief. "You have such nice friends, William."

Dawn’s crying had stopped as soon as she had noticed the strange woman and the room filled with scoobies as well as her clearly annoyed sister. Seeing a chance to delay the biggest of those questions alluded to, she leapt to help, "I’ll be glad to show you to my room for that nap, ma’am."

Quick as a bunny, Dawn escorted Anne upstairs to her bedroom. Anne for her part was coping brilliantly with all the strange people and things surrounding her. After all, William was here so there was no reason to fear.

~~~

Buffy turned on Spike as soon as the lady, his mother it would seem, had gotten out of ear range. "Care to explain what my sister was doing with the magics? Maybe explain why she’s arranged this little family reunion for you?"

Spike blinked rapidly, still in a bit of shock over the events. "Not real sure about how my mother came to be here, Slayer. As for the first question …. Well, I’d appreciate it if you held off staking me till we sort out my mum. She’s a nice lady and I’d hate to have her see her only son coatin the furniture before she has a chance to get her bearings."

Buffy crossed her arms and set her jaw in that stubborn way that Spike secretly found adorable. "Uh huh. Just what were you and Dawn up to tonight. I get the feeling your mom popping up was a surprise to both of you so what was the real plan, as if I have to ask."

"Spikey and plans never work out, no wonder we’re in this mess," Xander whispered. He turned to Spike and raised an eyebrow, "And how did a nice lady like that wind up with YOU for a son?"

"She didn’t, remember," Willow chimed in. "Giles told us a long time ago that the demon replaces the human. That nice lady may think Spike’s her William but we know better."

"Pffft," snorted Spike. "Bunch of rot that is. Course that’s me mum. Nothing got replaced, just removed." He took in the looks of disbelief on all the faces except Tara and rolled his eyes.

"Look, you lot call it a soul, so fine. Lost my soul getting turned by that way of lookin at it. All I really lost was any feelin of guilt ‘s all. Not a handy thing to have when your dinner looks like you do." Still the group looked less than believing. Spike was rapidly loosing patience. "Oh Bollocks, I’ve lived it, Watcher’s only read a bunch of tripe those wankers have bound up and called fact."

Dawn returned to the group as Spike was making his impassioned statement. "What did I miss? Oh and Spike, your mom is so sweet!"

Spike smiled at the girl in affection, "Thanks Bit, that she is."
He looked more than a bit bemused at the need for the present tense when talking of his mother however.

"All right, splainy time," Buffy looked pointedly at a nervous Dawn.

"I …. It’s just ….. Buffy, you can’t be mad at Spike cause I totally made him help me," she began. "I was going to do it without him but I would have messed it up bad, well even worse than I have I think and Spike wouldn’t let me." Dawn looked from her sister to her vampire friend in panic. "That dragon thing would have eaten me instead of just taking a big bite like it did out of Spike."

"Dragons? Now there are dragons? Biting dragons?" Buffy closed her eyes in exasperation and let out a deep sigh. "Okay, not gonna dust Spike ….YET…. at least not with his mother upstairs. Let’s all sit down and you," she pointed to Dawn, "can start from the beginning."

It took over an hour to get the entire story out of the girl and another half hour of Spike and Buffy bickering over his part in it before the group all seemed to get back to the questions about the lady upstairs. "So if Dawnie was trying to bring back Mrs. Summers … how’d Spike’s mom show up," Willow asked the million dollar question.

"Haven’t a clue, Red," Spike said. "My mum died soon after I was turned. She looks a lot like she did there at the last what with the coughin’ up blood and bein’ all frail like."

"What’d you do, eat your mom after you were turned," Xander asked his eyes glaring.

"NO. Well, not exactly," Spike looked desperate. "It wasn’t like that! Thought I was helpin’ her, found a way to make her feel better." The scoobies were looking at him as if her were evil incarnate. "Just wanted to make her well again. Didn’t work out."

"So you …. What…. TURNED your mom?" Buffy’s eyes were huge in shock.

"Whoa, that’s cold man," Xander added.

"It wasn’t like that!" Spike began to pace in agitation.

Tara could see how upset the vampire was getting and could also see the play of emotions as his aura shifted colors in his distress. She put a hand on his forearm and said gently, "Of course it wasn’t. Anyone can see you love your mother. You were trying to keep her from a slow and painful death. Didn’t work out though I take it."

"No." There was a wealth of meaning, of pain, in that one word.

Tara could see that it was not the time or place for anything further. Besides with his mother quite alive upstairs, the point was rather moot. "You don’t need to say anything more about that if you don’t want to, Spike."

"The hell he doesn’t!" Xander had grabbed hold of the evidence of Spike’s evil doing past and wasn’t about to let it drop easily. "That nice lady upstairs was murdered by this….this….monster here, I don’t think that’s something we can just drop."

"Yes, I think it is," Buffy said. She really wasn’t in the mood for a witch-hunt, or a vampire hunt rather, from her too eager to judge friend. "Like Tara said, it’s all changed now and even if it hadn’t, it was like a hundred years ago."

"Okay," Willow decided to jump in and get the conversation back on track. "Looks like we’re all with the blank slates for answers here. Time to call in the brains." She looked at Buffy and asked, "You want to call Giles or should I?"

~~~

Giles had said enough "good Lord’s" to qualify for sainthood and polished the lens out of his glasses, literally. There was a scramble to grab the glass before it could break and then a search for a small screwdriver to replace the lens while the group suppressed giggles at Giles’ reaction to the evenings doings.

"Let me get this straight," he reviewed, "Dawn and Spike attempted to bring your mother back from the dead." They all nodded in agreement. "Instead of Joyce, however, the mother of William the Bloody has put in an appearance?"

"That about sums it up," Buffy acknowledged.

"You would be so kind as to not use that dreadful epithet, sir. It is never used in my hearing and for good reason," Anne had quietly slipped down stairs and had overheard the very last of Giles’ comment. "I am a mild mannered lady, sirrah, but I shall not have my son made sport of in my presence. His poems are lovely and these ill-mannered jibes are ungentlemanly."

Xander and Willow looked at each other as Xander mouthed, "Poems?"

Giles rose from his seat and looked at Anne in astonishment. Truly she was nothing like he expected Spike’s mother to be.
"Forgive me, I meant no disrespect I assure you."

"Perhaps I am overly sensitive. It is just that I have seen the effect that terrible appellation has had upon my William and will not stand by to see him hurt further." The room was filled with wide eyes all directed at a squirming Spike. "He was ever a gentle boy and the ruffians and bullies who traded sticks and fists for taunts and jests can still do the same harm. I will not stand for it."

"Again, my apologies," Giles said in a placating tone. "I had no idea the context of the nickname. No offense is intended toward William," Giles had to work to surpress a smirk directed Spikes way, "or his … poetry."

Anne narrowed her eyes and glared daggers at the man. She was no fool and could tell that despite her best efforts her William was being made sport of. She looked at Spike and smiled warmly. "I feel much better now. William, who are these people and how come we here?"

Spike introduced his mother to the entire group in an old fashioned manner and escorted her to sit in the side chair nearest the coffee table, the very one he had been seated in when first introduced to Joyce.

"We have much to speak of, mother, but I beg your indulgence a bit longer. I am not certain how to answer some of your questions as yet." Spike spoke softly with tenderness attached to every syllable. "I promise you that I have things well in hand and that all will be well. You needn’t worry yourself over anything."

Xander turned to Willow and asked, "So what do we call her anyway. Spike introduced her as his mother but we can’t just say, ‘hey, Spike’s mom’ to her."

Anne looked at the ill-mannered boy and offered, "You may call me Mrs. Pratt unless customs are far different in your country." She had rapidly realized that the people in the room were likely from the United States or Canada with the exception of Mr. Giles.

"Pratt," Xander let forth a childish giggle. "Spike’s last name is Pratt?"

Anne drew herself up and looked down at the chortling boy. "Indeed, we are. The name is old and honored and William’s bloodline is one of the finest. His grandfather was the second Marquees of Camden, George Charles Pratt. William was named for his great-grandfather’s best friend, William Pitt, the former Prime Minister. It was Mr. Pitt who was responsible for the elevation to Marquee from the previous title of Earl."

"Spike’s like royalty?" Dawn’s jaw had dropped at the thought.

"No, Bit, not royalty. No title here," Spike smiled at the teen. "Da was born without the help of clergy even if the old git recognized him."

"Huh?" Dawn and Buffy both said in matching puzzlement.

"I’ll explain later," Giles put in.

"It means that Spike’s a bastard," Xander said with a rather nasty grin.

"Indeed he is no such thing," Anne said aghast. "His father and I were quite properly married at St. James with both of our families in attendance two years before William was born." She turned to Spike and admonished, "I really don’t care much for your choice of companions my son. This boy is crude and ignorant, far beneath you."

"Yes, Xander, do shut up," Giles glared at the boy.

"It has been a rather momentous day for us all. I propose that we all go to our respective homes and deal with this situation as needed. Spi…um William, perhaps you could try to explain what we DO know to your mother. I shall endeavor to find answers to what we do not know in the meantime. We could meet here again tomorrow to continue this discussion."

"’Bout that," Spike looked anxious, "the respective homes part …not thinkin’ my mother would particularly appreciate mine. Think the shocks should be spaced out a bit and all. I’m open for suggestions." Spike had never looked less sure of himself before.

Tara immediately spoke up, "Of course! Your place isn’t nearly …. Um, big enough to shelter both you and your mother. William, perhaps Buffy will have room for the two of you stay here?"

Buffy and Willow both looked surprised but said nothing. Dawn looked delighted on the other hand.

"Well, there’s the," Buffy started to object.

"Really it would make lots of sense not having to ….ahhhh travel across town to that small dark place Spike lives in, don’t you think?" Tara smiled ever so sweetly at the Slayer.

"Well, since you put it like that I guess you’re right," Buffy said.

"YES," Dawn exclaimed and leapt from her seat. "You can take my room. You rested comfortably there earlier, right?"

"I really wouldn’t wish to put you to any trouble my dear," Anne said modestly.

"No trouble, zero trouble here," Dawn grinned. "I’ll bunk with Buffy and Spike can take the couch after you finish talking of course. Matter of fact, I think I’ll get my stuff and turn in now." Dawn headed for the stairs before Buffy could jump on her and mess up the plan.

Giles was busy ushering the grumbling Xander to the front door as the scoobies prepared to leave for the night. "Until tomorrow then, Mrs. Pratt. It has been a pleasure to meet you."

"Mr. Giles," she nodded in acknowledgement. She spared a smile for Willow and Tara but only offered a curt nod to Xander.

Giles looked from the unchastened boy to the unmollified lady and promised, "I’ll also work on the sad lack of manners with this one." Giles indicated Xander with his head earning a bright smile from Anne.

"Good night Spike …er… William. I’ll see why this spell gave these particular results and get back to you tomorrow," Giles said with confidence.

As the door was closing behind the group they could hear Anne ask her son, "Why do these people insist upon calling you ‘Spike’? It is undignified and sounds rather like the name for a terrier."

"Yes. I think there’s a lot I need to try to explain, mother," Spike replied.

"There’s tea in the cupboard and blood in the fridge," Buffy said quietly to Spike before turning towards the stairs. "Be sure to turn out all the lights and lock up when you finally get to sleep. And, please, try not to scare the poor woman to death, all right?"

"Thank you, Buffy," Spike looked into her eyes and she saw the sincerity in his. "I can’t thank you enough for letting my mum stay here tonight and for being so understanding."

"Well, don’t go that far, bucko, I haven’t started on you yet," Buffy took the sting from her words with a smile. It was the first real smile he’d ever seen Buffy direct his way and it made his heart sing. "First I have a sister to murder, or at least steal the sheets from." She chuckled for the first time since her mother had died and didn’t even notice that the heavy weight she had been carrying was already feeling a bit lighter.
 
Chapter 4
 
~*~
Chapter 4
~*~

Giles looked at the scribbled words that the small demon had written for Dawn and worked out the actual words from the phonetic spelling. "Good Lord, no wonder. Well that certainly explains everything." He shut the F’josdrg/English dictionary with a dull thud and sipped at his single malt. "Now what’s to be done with the good lady?"

The spell was not for actual resurrection but it would designed to bring the target from a time just prior to their death into the current time. Giles puzzled over the health issues of Mrs. Pratt. Yes in her day consumption, or TB as it was now called, was a death sentence. The slow and painful wasting away would have been horrific for her and all that loved her. Still, she had not appeared to be in those final stages of the disease. Giles determined to talk with Spike tomorrow to discover the true cause of his mother’s demise. He rather heartily disbelieved she had succumbed to her illness that quickly. From the solicitousness of Spike’s behavior towards the lady Giles suspected her death was not the result of a fledgling’s first feedings either.

The books had no spell to reverse what Dawn’s actions had wrought, however, so the lady’s health was a consideration. The sooner Mrs. Pratt could be seen by a physician and begin the long but usually successful treatment the less likely it would be for her to pass on her illness to any of those children now surrounding her. Giles wondered idly if William had been infected prior to his being turned long ago and far away.

It had been interesting to see the difference in the vampire when speaking to, and interacting with, this woman. Giles found himself more curious than he could remember since Watchers school. Spike had always been a curiosity, now he appeared to be a paradox. It was obvious that the records in the tomes that the Council had gathered about William the Bloody were flawed at best. Giles wondered how much was deliberate on their part and how many other "facts" might not be reliable.

There was little to mark Spike as a demon at all in his dealings with Mrs. Pratt. Indeed he was the picture of a solicitous, loving human son. Had Giles not been aware of just what Spike was he would never have guessed that he was a vampire at all. The strangest part of it was there was no artifice at all in Spike’s behavior. Spike’s concerns for the older lady were genuine as if he truly looked upon her as his mother.

Giles had been taught that vampires felt no real emotions. He had been clear in stating that fact to Buffy more than once since he had taken over as her Watcher. The human was gone, utterly replaced by a demon.

Spike had irritated Giles for years with his contrary behavior.
The slavish devotion and self-sacrificial love the vampire had appeared to show for his deranged sire had been a strong argument that there were some emotions possible. Still, Giles had been able to give different, more demonic labels to Spike’s relationship with Dru. When Spike claimed to have fallen in love with Buffy, Giles had easily determined that the only thing the demon was "feeling" was obsession born of the frustration from not being able to kill his third Slayer.

That was one of the reasons Giles felt so bloody uncomfortable around the punked out vampire; Spike was a walking contradiction to all the things Giles had been trained to know about vampires and their nature. Giles spent far too much of his think time rationalizing away what his eyes told him. Nothing grated on an educated person more than to have their core beliefs challenged with imperical evidence to the contrary. He made Giles antsy! This new revelation merely added to Giles’ discomfort.

He poured a last nightcap and firmly shelved the troublesome thoughts for the night. Time enough tomorrow to try to get to the bottom of the mystery that was Spike, the itch Giles just couldn’t scratch away.

~~~

Anne was exhausted. The wild story her boy told her had her head spinning. Still there had been proofs beyond the lad’s basic honest nature. The thing he called a television had been rather hard to explain away as were many other devices that gave truth to his tale of monsters, vampires and movement through time and space. In truth if Anne quietly accepted what William had said it neatly explained everything she had seen and heard since arriving. Sometimes the simplest explanation was the correct one after all.

Deciding to simply trust her son and his explanations was not as difficult as one would think. What was more difficult for Anne to accept was that William, rather than she, was technically dead. Anne had never met this dark temptress he called Dru who had murdered her son, she didn’t wish to. Still, William seemed unchanged at his core. He was still the same thoughtful, loving, gentle man she had been so very proud of in the past. Perhaps he had not been murdered at all but merely physically changed in some ways. Yes, that made more sense.

William had been deeply shamed as he admitted to her that he had engaged in actions that he knew she would be horrified to discover. He had tried to explain that he had a different nature now, different needs. Those he had traveled with in the early years had taught him how to behave, how to survive. William had always learned his lessons well and been eager to please those in authority. Anne knew many of those details he withheld out of shame could be laid at the feet of those who initiated him into his new life.

Perhaps she didn’t need to hear the details of those years. It seemed enough that William was living amongst humans and interacting the way he always had in the past. He had assured her that he was not killing despite that being the norm for a vampire. She hadn’t asked for more information about the years when her son, evidently, HAD been killing.

So, here she was in the twentieth century! In a far distant country as well! Anne had to cling to what she WAS sure of and that was William. She knew her son. All would be well.

Anne also knew that the young girls who had just buried their mother were in need of guidance and care. William appeared to love the two greatly if she were not mistaken. Indeed, she had never seen her son so concerned for anyone outside their own family circle as he was with this Buffy and her young sister, Dawn.

That William had tried to help young Dawn work witchcraft and defy death itself to bring back her mother said much. Anne remembered the way William had discussed the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice after he had presented his paper on the myth during his last term before having to leave university. The story had touched her romantic son deeply yet he had expressed a surprisingly fatalistic attitude about the futility of trying to cheat death. Perhaps his transformation, his own form of cheating death, had altered his views on the subject.

The lovely girl must be so very disappointed to be faced with a stranger, and a terminally ill one at that, instead of the beloved mother she had expected to hold in her arms. The child had been gracious and generous towards Anne, however, and she was grateful to her.

While it was obvious that William had never expected to see her again, he clearly was happy in her presence. Perhaps Mr. Giles would have an answer as to how she came to be here and if she was likely to remain.

In the meantime, Anne decided to retire to her borrowed room and allow her subconscious mind to try to absorb all the events of the day. Time enough tomorrow for questions and possibly some answers as well.

~~~

Spike gingerly bandaged up the wound left in his side by the mother Ghora. In all the excitement and confusion he had ignored the searing pain until his mother had been seen to. Luckily the bleeding had stopped before that good lady had noticed anything amiss.

Spike was leery of magic at the best of times and certainly the Bit’s plan was far from the best of times. Still it had been a complete shock to be faced with his mother’s beloved face and form when Joyce had been the expected result. Dawn had to be terribly disappointed.

It was a miracle though to see her alive, unturned and undusted. The memory of his rash rush to "cure" his ailing mother when newly fledged and the nightmare producing results that had haunted him all the years after rose up to taunt him. To think he had a second chance, a way to NOT be responsible for her death, was too good to be true. A large part of Spike wished fervently that all his worst sins could be wiped away that easily.

He felt a bit guilty at putting the Slayer on the spot by asking her to shelter both him and his mother this way, but he really couldn’t see his poor confused mother having to adjust to a crypt as her new home. He’d have to see about finding a place more appropriate if she was to remain in this time. He heartily hoped she would remain even if bringing her here wasn’t the plan.

Spike felt a jolt of fear as he realized his mother might reveal more about him than he was comfortable to Buffy and her band of scoobies. He just knew the Watcher would be all over his mum taking notes and asking pointed questions. Still the chance to undo his worst mistake by having her alive and human was worth any embarrassment caused by her presence. Perhaps he could find a way to ignore the chip long enough to drain the Whelp before he had more ammunition to turn Spike’s ego into Swiss cheese however.

~~~

"And so you see, these words in the original F’josdrg make it clear that the connection is with the one who actually gathers the Gorah egg. As Spike was the one to snatch it from the nest, the spell naturally selected HIS mother for transferal to our time." Giles had explained just what the spell had done and why to the startled group.

"So if I hadn’t dropped the one I had first, mom would be here now?" Dawn looked at Anne with a shy apology for the sadness in her tone.

"Don’t even think about it Dawnie!" Buffy had to push back the urge to go right along with Dawn’s unspoken plan to try it again. "It wasn’t right the first time and it wouldn’t be right this time either. Mom’s in heaven and as much as we want her here with us, she deserves to be in a place like that."

Dawn pouted at her older sister and began to argue. "Why not, Buffy, we need her more than some god or bunch of angels or something. You’re too busy trying to keep Glory from getting her key back and saving the world every night to do the regular stuff a kid needs growing up! I need mom even if you don’t."

"You think I don’t need her too?" Buffy looked stricken at the words her sister had thrown at her. "Who do you think kept me sane ever since I found out the world was actually a monster movie and I was the only chance anyone had to not be the bloody victim? I was only fifteen years old, Dawnie, when I had to start saving the world every night as you put it. Mom was the only one who let me be Buffy, made me feel safe and loved. You say you need her? Well, so do I."

Buffy drew a deep breath before continuing. The two Summer’s girls had long since forgotten the room full of other people silently witnessing this scene. "I’d give anything, ANYTHING, to have her back. But sometimes, even if you can’t believe it, I can actually think about someone other than myself. Mom’s in heaven. Leave her there. Nothing would be worse than to be pulled from a place like that just because we still felt like we needed her."

The room was deadly silent. Giles had removed his glasses and was pinching the bridge of his nose the beginnings of a tension headache making itself known.

Willow shuffled her feet nervously; she didn’t dare voice her opinion that Dawn wasn’t wanting anything unnatural or wrong.

No one put their thoughts into words as the silence stretched.

Anne had listened with as much interest as anyone else in the room, more in some places as it concerned herself directly. "Mr. Giles," she spoke softly and with slight hesitation. "I heard you explain that this magic spell took me from a time just before my death and brought me here. Does that mean that I am soon to die?"

"NO!" Spike leapt to his feet and shot to his mother’s side. "No, you won’t die any time soon. You aren’t that sick yet, mother."

"Yes, Spike is quite correct about your illness." At Anne’s skeptical looks he continued, "In this time TB, or Consumption as you know it, can be put into remission. Cured, if you will. Even stages more advanced than yours have a high success rate for treatment. No, whatever ….. accident befell you that brought about your demise, it wouldn’t be your illness. It would be safe to assume you have many years ahead of you, wouldn’t you say so, er, William?"

Spike looked at the Watcher and could see that the other man knew his part in his mother’s death in some way. He felt shame course through his system and fought back hot tears of grief and guilt.

Giles was once more flummoxed to see the play of emotions on the vampire’s face. Damn the creature with his constant shaking of long held beliefs! "Spike, if I might have a private word with you," he suggested.

Spike looked from his mother to the Watcher and knew he would far rather have this discussion away from her. He shot a grateful look to Giles and readily agreed.

When the two men were far enough from prying ears to get at the matter at hand Giles gave voice to his suspicions. "I have the feeling that you are well able to give the assurance that your mother is in no danger of meeting the same death she endured previously?"

Spike ducked his head and sighed deeply. "No. Not gonna die like that. Not even thanks to the chip either. Always wished I could undo that fuck up."

Giles leaned against the counter and narrowed his eyes in derision, partly happy that some of his training about vampires appeared to be the truth after all. "I see." He cleared his throat before putting the horror into words. "It is a well known fact that a fledgling will first feed on those closest to the human. Am I correct that this is how your mother died?"

Spike glared at Giles at the implication that he had looked upon his beloved mother as food, ever! "No. Not exactly anyway."

Giles quirked an eyebrow and looked at Spike as if waiting for a lie or a feeble excuse for the inexcusable.

"You see her, Watcher," Spike started laying his heart bare before the man. "When I rose I felt powerful, strong, alive. All my years of living and I’d never felt as alive as I did after death. All I could think was how I could finally, FINALLY, do something to help my mum. All those doctors, all that medical science couldn’t give her a single day of life but I could!"

Giles’ eyes widened as he began to understand what must have happened. "How long had you been a vampire?"

"Days. Dru’d not even taken me to meet the Poofter and his whore yet." Spike fumbled in his pocket and drew out a cigarette. Giles, in uncharacteristic charity towards the vampire headed to the back door to allow the conversation to continue where Spike could smoke.

Spike lit up and leaned against the railing facing his confessor. "Didn’t know it at the time but Dru thought like you do. I brought her there to meet my mum and give mum the gift only I had to give her. Mum had been worried. It wasn’t like me to be gone as I had been. I told her what had happened, what I was and I turned her." He blew out a long stream of smoke that did nothing to hide the haunted look to his eyes.

"She agreed to this?" Giles asked in amazement. The lady in the other room didn’t seem the sort to embrace becoming a monster.

Spike let out a bitter puff of laughter. "Not exactly. Trusted me though, poor mite." Spike closed his eyes in obvious emotional pain at the rush of memories. "Let’s just say that she wasn’t quite herself when she rose."

Giles kept silent allowing Spike time to gather his thoughts.

"Funny thing," he said in a bitter voice, "I didn’t see it coming. See I wasn’t too different after Dru turned me. Sure there were changes, but they all seemed positive to me. Like that bloke in the old adverts on the back of comic books. You know, the ‘ninety-eight pound weakling’ who sent off for this body building program and no one kicked sand in his face anymore?" Spike could tell from Giles’ nod that he knew the ad’s as well.

"And the changes were not positive with your mother?" Giles urged him on.

From the stricken look on Spike’s face they clearly had not been. "No. Didn’t see a bit of my mum there. Like Angelus she was, even if I hadn’t met the wanker yet to know it. Demon in the drivers seat, evil as they come. Some … things were said and I knew I couldn’t…," Spike broke off a sob breaking through.

Giles felt awkward at witnessing the obvious painful remembrance. He felt the most unlikely urge to place a hand of reassurance on Spike’s shoulder and firmly thrust the urge away.

"Mother wouldn’t want to live like that, be like that," Spike said decisively. "I made the mess and I had to fix it." He looked directly into Giles’ eyes as if daring the Watcher to say he had done wrong. "I staked her. She’d never even fed. Figure she had to have still gone to heaven, yeah?"

Giles shrugged uncomfortably. "I really couldn’t say, Spike. As you say, she had not taken any lives as yet so I would imagine there was no stain on her from your turning her at least."

"No that’d be stains on me," Spike said in a near whisper. "Only person ever loved me and I killed her twice." He stared off into the distance his expression as haunted as it had been at the beginning of the conversation.

"Well," Giles said in a spontaneous attempt to make Spike feel a bit better, "She’s not been turned or staked now. Her illness can be treated. You may have managed to get her that cure yet."

Spike looked at Giles in amazement. Had the Watcher actually offered comfort and hope? "Think she’ll hate me when I tell her?"

Giles’ smile was a genuine one. "No, Spike. In the short time I’ve known your mother I don’t think she could ever hate you for anything. I don’t think she’ll push you for this information either so you may not have to tell her at all."

"Don’t want her worrying about dying." Spike looked at Giles in all seriousness then laughed, "Who am I kidding? Gotta tell her, never was a good liar, especially to her."

"There is that," agreed Giles.

"Whatcha talking ‘bout?" Buffy’s voice broke in.

"I was telling Spike that the local medical staff at the hospital would be able to treat Mrs. Pratt with little difficulty." Giles was looking at Spike rather than Buffy as he spoke his half -truth. The vampire had been so very candid in his revelation and Giles knew Spike would not want Buffy to hear this particular story.

"Now that I think about it, I may have some work to do before we can get her decent medical care." Giles had the look of a person finally comfortable with a course of action. "I’ll need to look into the paperwork to explain Mrs. Pratt. Perhaps some insurance papers wouldn’t go amiss either. There are elements of Council training that are still of use after all."

Giles headed back into the kitchen feeling far more comfortable dealing with the simple enacting of a plan rather than dealing with the possibility that all his hard earned knowledge of vampires should be tossed out the window, at least where this vampire was concerned.

"There’s that cute, nice, doctor that helped take care of mom," Buffy suggested. "You remember Ben …. Um, I forget his last name."
 
Chapter 5
 
A/N: From here on they are Beta'd by the lovely Scarlett2U! Thank you Mary!!!

~*~
Chapter 5
~*~

The night had surprising amusements. After Spike’s rather heartrending confession about the original fate of his mother, Giles was privately enjoying watching the stereotypical interactions between mother and son that took place at day’s end.

"My son, while I am new to this world and unfamiliar with its society norms, I can scarce imagine your… wardrobe…is the way a proper gentleman would dress." Anne had looked from Spike to Giles pointedly. "You look more a cracksman than a young man of good breeding."

Willow stepped in to offer support to the flummoxed vampire. "Well, Mrs. Pratt, Spike ….er…William is dressed okay for California. Pretty much anything goes here and there’s a whole group of people who do the Goth look."

At Anne’s arched eyebrow, so reminiscent of Spike, Willow did concede one point at least. "Well, the ‘coat in the house’ look is sorta just Spike, but the all black theme isn’t odd."

"It’s kind of like his costume, like Superman’s blue tights," Xander offered.

"Blue tights?" Mrs. Pratt looked at sea. "Is this
‘superman’ one of William’s peers?"

"Hardly," chimed in Giles. "Superman is a fictional hero and Spike is a quite real…." His voice trailed off as he tried to decide how to best classify the vampire for his mother.

Anne didn’t seem to notice the sentence was incomplete and accepted the distinction without further comment.

"Say!" Willow brightened with a thought, "I know how to help Mrs. Pratt get her footing!" Willow looked at the woman and smiled warmly. It felt wonderful to be able to fix something for a change. "Let me show you how a computer works and where to go to Google anything you might want to know. You’ll catch up so quickly. It’s like having every library and museum in the world right at your fingertips."

After snatching up her laptop from the entry hall table, Willow guided Mrs. Pratt to the dining room.

"Hope Red’s ISP has a filter," Spike spoke with a physical shiver. "Don’t fancy havin’ to revive my mum if she types in the wrong word and gets into some ‘net porn."

"And you would know all about those sites, wouldn’t you?" teased Buffy.

"Your mother appears to be far stronger than you
think, Spike," added Giles.

"Maybe you should go clothes shopping, make your poor mother happy," suggested Dawn. "I could go along. You know, advise."

Spike seemed to gather his duster closer about him as if to stave off a cold spot.

Anya furrowed her brow at the notion and then shared her thoughts, unfiltered as always. "That’s it! It IS your costume, isn’t it? You can’t BE the Big Bad anymore, but you can dress like it." She turned in excitement to Xander and patted her boyfriend on the back. "You were right, Xander. Good for you! I didn’t know you were so insightful. It is like Superman’s cape and tights!"

"Don’t know what you’re natterin’ on about," Spike muttered. "Daft as Dru ever was." Spike shifted uncomfortably as the Scoobies all stared at him in evaluation.

"And the whole ‘living in a crypt’ bit, that would fit
too," added Buffy. "I never understood why you picked that icky place when Angel lived in a perfectly nice apartment and then the mansion. You even lived in that old factory at first."

"Like my crypt. It’s quiet, not too many visitors,"
Spike defended. "No need to insult me with Angel comparisons either."

"Ooh, ooh, that explains the radioactive hair too,"
inserted Xander with a wicked grin.

"Well," added Tara with a gentleness the others
lacked, "the whole Goth look is designed to show a certain rebellious power. I’m sure it frightens many people if they don’t get to know you."

Spike looked like a trapped animal. The way they were looking at him made him feel naked and not in a comfortable, getting ready to shag way either. "’S not like that. Just like it simple’s all. Basic black, a classic look. Timeless, just like me."

Buffy snorted in amusement. "Old, you mean."

"Put me down with the simple," Xander quipped.

Spike glared at Xander from a ducked head. If the chip hadn’t been there, Xander would be learning just how simple it was to bleed to death. "That’s right. And what does your fashion sense tell us, whelp? Oh, that’s right, you don’t have any style except doofus nerd, do you? Plaid in the winter and Hawaiian in the
summer would be my guess. What image you goin’ for, lumberjack or surfer? Gotta tell you, it’s not workin’ for me."

Xander started to move over into Spike’s face, but Anya put a restraining arm on him to keep it from getting physical. Spike might be chipped, but he could still knock Xander across the room with only a small headache. And unconscious Xander wouldn’t be up to giving many pleasing orgasms, after all.

"Xander, back off." Anya pulled on Xander, causing him to look at her instead of his intended target. "If Spike needs to hide behind an image, don’t poke fun at him. Lots of people do that. Look at Giles!" Everyone looked at the Watcher in curiosity.


"Giles dresses like some fusty recluse from a BBC import, even though he once was called Ripper. You just know there’s contained violence and fire under all that tweed! Besides, Xander, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your wardrobe myself. Nothing you wear shows what a wonderful stallion you are in the bedroom. All my girlfriends must wonder what I see in you!" Anya nodded, determined to do a bit of
shopping herself and soon. There were some leather pants she had been eyeing at the local Eddie Bauer that would look hot on her Xander.

Giles cleared his throat before speaking. "Yes, well, now that every male in the room has had his wardrobe reviewed and found wanting, perhaps we should move on to more important issues."

"Spike," Giles looked at the still fuming vampire,
"you will need to begin looking for a place to live
with your mother. I shall prepare documents for both of you to facilitate that. Do you have any plans to arrange financing your responsibilities?"

"We don’t have any need for another employee, Rupert," Anya piped in. "The profits won’t support another employee and I will not take a pay cut because Dawn messed up a spell!"

"Actually, I do have some dosh. Goes all the way back to my human days. Demon bank with branches all over’s been watchin’ over it. Guess now’d be a good time to make some withdrawals," Spike shared.

"Demons have banks?" Buffy was clearly shocked.

"Of course they do, Buffy," chided Anya. "How do you think demons live anyway? In some cases, such as vampires and vengeance demons, lifespans are very long too. You can’t just steal and pillage all the time! How do you think they educate their spawn? Living isn’t cheap, after all," Anya huffed.

Silence greeted that revelation as the humans began to wonder at the unseen world all around them. They all knew about the areas of town frequented by demons but had never given any thought to what sorts of lives that the inhabitants might be living when not in combat with the Slayer.

Spike took that opportunity to poke his head around the corner where his mother and Willow were engrossed with the laptop. "Mother," he began with cultured tones, "I need to go and collect some of my things for our stay here. I’ll get some things you’ll need as well. Will you be quite all right while I am gone?"

"I’ll be fine, William. This lovely girl has just
introduced me to a wondrous collection of computer sites with what are called webcams. Do you know that you can sit in front of this machine and actually see what is happening right now at the Houses of Parliament and Covent Gardens? This is quite the window on the world." Anne looked at her son, eyes sparkling like a child’s come Christmas morning.
"I’ve even had a peek at Tahiti, can you imagine?!"

Spike swallowed the lump in his throat at the pure joy he was seeing on his beloved mother’s face. ‘Last time I saw her, she was bleedin’ comin’ on to me. This is so much better. I could kiss the Bit for her screw-up,’ he thought. "Glad you’re enjoyin’ what this world has to offer. Willow is just the guide too." Spike smiled in gratitude to the witch.

"Spike," Tara stopped him at the door. "If you’d
like, I could go out and pick up a few things your
mother might need for a day or two. I think I could select things she’d like."

Spike looked in surprise at the girl who had been the shy wallflower of the group. ‘Always on the fringes, never fully part of the group,’ he thought. ‘Know that feelin’ well.’ He smiled at the blushing girl and dug out some cash. "Thanks. Appreciate it more than I can say, Tara. Nothin’ too radical but in style, yeah?"

~~~

The crypt didn’t have the feel of home that it usually held for Spike. Perhaps seeing it through the eyes of his mother put a pall on the atmosphere. No amount of imagination could allow Spike to see Anne Pratt setting up housekeeping in this place, no matter the
resources at her disposal. Spike thought he might call his poker mate, Clem, and offer the place to him. Be nice to be able to drop by and be welcomed. Right good memories in this crypt. First home he’d ever really had on his own.

"No way around the changes," Spike complained to himself. "Women never let a bloke be!"

He sighed and began to pack the essentials in an old carpetbag and valise. He’d come for the rest after he had a place to call home again. Not a lot to show for over a century of existence, really. Most of what he’d carted all over the globe had been Dru’s or were for her comfort.

He had placed the two small cases by the door of the crypt and turned to the refrigerator, intending to place his blood supply in a backpack Dawn had left at the crypt during one of her visits when there was a timid knock on the door.

Spike grasped a crowbar kept next to the door for dealing with unexpected and unwanted visitors and slowly opened the door. Buffy, head down, stood next to a human that Spike knew he should recognize.

"Um, Spike," the man said, "you haven’t come to
collect your bot and I’d REALLY like to leave town for a while. Katrina’s really badmouthing me and now my mom’s on my case."

Spike grew a whiter shade of pale as he took in the robot he had completely forgotten ordering in all the excitement of his mother’s return. He drew in a breath and motioned the builder to bring the false Buffy into the crypt. "You put in all that programming?"

"Sure thing, all the extra goodies with a few I thought of myself," Warren said proudly.

As Spike spoke, the Buffybot shot her head up, a wide grin playing on her pretty face. "Spike, oh, Spike!" the robot exclaimed then pulled him into a passionate embrace.

Spike pulled back in horror. What the hell could he say to explain this to Buffy? He was already on shaky ground by having helped her little sis in the attempt at resurrecting Joyce. If Buffy got a look at this little toy, he’d be dust even if his mom were in the same room!

"You got a cell phone on you?" he demanded of Warren.

"Sure," the nerd admitted and reluctantly held it out to the rather scary vampire.

"Keep that away from me while I make a call," Spike ordered, glaring at the bot. The bot stood with that unnerving smile, just staring at Spike as if she were looking at a yummy treat all for her.

Spike rapidly dialed Buffy’s number and prayed that Dawn would be the one to answer.

"Summers residence." The voice sounded like Anya and Spike breathed a sigh of relief.

"That you, demon girl?" he rasped out.

"Well, I’m no longer a demon, but it is Anya, if that’s what you mean, Spike," Anya huffed.

"Great, yeah, ex-demon. Got it. Look, I really need to talk to Red right away," Spike demanded. "Oh, and don’t let anyone know it’s me on the phone or I’ll make some mischief at that shop you treat like a temple. Got that?"

"That’s just sad, Spike, threatening vandalism!" Anya whispered, making no one could overhear her use his name just the same.

Anya motioned to Willow and pulled her into the alcove with the phone. "Willow, Spike needs to talk to you but doesn’t want anyone to know it’s him. I really don’t want to lose valuable merchandise because you get too loud, so I’d appreciate it if you’d just answer him in monosyllables, okay?"

"Um, sure," replied a confused Willow. She took the receiver in her hand and in a low voice said, "Spike, what’s up?"

"Red…Willow, seems I really need some help that only you can provide, luv. Think you could slip away and meet me in my crypt?"

"Probably," Willow answered, intrigued. "When do you need me?"

Spike was holding the robot at arm’s length as he talked on Warren’s cell phone. "Immediately comes to mind; soon as you can get here, pet." He closed the cell phone and handed it back to the young inventor.

"You got the paperwork on this?" Spike indicated the bot with his head. "You know, specs, design, instructions, that lot?"

"I’m not giving up the secrets to my invention! Are you nuts?" Warren looked shocked at the suggestion. "I don’t even have a patent on this! Anyone could steal it." Warren was backing away from the glowering vampire as he spoke.

"Look, it’ll do everything you wanted and more. You’ll be fully satisfied." Warren backed out the open door, preparing to run. "Have a good time. You don’t owe me a cent." Warren shot off through the cemetery as if the hounds of hell were after him.

"Spike, would you like to have sex now?" The robot had started to run its hands down Spike’s chest, rapidly aiming for the hem of his shirt. Spike swatted at its hands in desperation.

"No! No sex. Things have changed and you’re gonna change with ‘em." He backed into the crypt, shutting the door with his foot as he moved away from the bot.

"You don’t like me, Spike?" The bot’s face took on a look of confusion. "I’m just like you ordered. Why don’t you like me?"

"Like you just fine, pet. Needs have changed, that’s all." Spike was trying to decide the best place to stash this potential disaster from view. All he needed was one of the Scooby clan to get a look at it and they’d know what he’d had in mind and then stakes would appear from the ether. He had to put some spin on it and fix the problem before the lot of them came to the right conclusions. He was finally making some
progress with the Slayer and this was bound to bugger it up proper.

Spike managed to get the robot to the lower level just as Willow arrived at the crypt.

Willow looked about nervously. Spike hadn’t been a menace in a while, but the witch was still twitchy around him, especially alone like this.

"Thanks for coming, luv," Spike greeted her. He
looked relieved to see her and there were no empty bottles around to be used to threaten her, so Willow relaxed slightly. "Got a bit of a problem. Sort of a misunderstanding come back to haunt me. Need your brains to fix it."

"Is Harmony back? I agree she might make your mom upset, but I don’t know what you think I can do about it. Unless you want her staked and I’m not stake girl really. Maybe you should have called Buffy?" Willow was babbling and knew it.

"No, not Harm." Spike was desperately trying to think of how to word his request properly. Willow needed to know what he was asking without having all the worst assumptions confirmed. "I kinda got this machine, computer like."

Willow relaxed even further. Maybe Spike wanted her to upgrade some old PC he’d picked up at the dump or something for his mom. No problem! "Oh, your mom would love that! She’s having a ball checking out the different web sites. I even helped her set up a Yahoo account!"

"Not quite what I need," Spike finally registered the last bit Willow had said and tilted his head in
curiosity. "My mum has a Yahoo account?"

"Sure. Before you know it, she’ll have all kinds of net friends everywhere. She’s very excited," Willow gushed proudly.

Spike was struck dumb at that concept and just stared at the girl.

"Spike, it’s dark down there and lonely. Is that our bed?" The sound of the Buffybot’s too cheerful voice broke the silence. "Oh, we have company." The bot gazed at the gape-jawed Willow as she ran through the recognition programming Warren had coded into her
processor. "Willow, my recently gay best friend. Bit of a nerd, but rather sweet. Hello, welcome to our crypt." The bot headed towards the girl with a smile of welcome.

Willow blinked in surprise and then looked at Spike, who was clearly embarrassed beyond words. "Would this be the computer problem?"

"Yes," Spike admitted. "Had the idea an extra Slayer might come in handy a while back when that robot girl was running about tossin’ vampires through windows and all. Bint’s got some programmin’ I need you to wipe out though. Stupid boy must have thought I wanted it for the kind of thing a nerd like him’d do." Spike shuffled his feet and refused to look Willow in the
eye.

"’Cause that thought never crossed your mind, right, Spike?" Willow didn’t know if she should be horrified or amused by the pickle Spike was in.

Spike blinked at her and tried to think what answer was the best to give in order to get Willow to help him. "Point is, ‘s not right havin’ this bit of wires and plastic runnin’ about with a crush on me. It’s set up to be like Buffy in every other way though, the slaying and all. Might be useful if we could get rid of the extra stuff, yeah?"

"Let me get this straight," Willow put on her stern face of no nonsense. "You had Warren Mears make a sexbot for you and now you’re scared Buffy will find out and stake you, so you want me to change its programming and act like it’s supposed to have been used as patrol backup?" She crossed her arms and glowered at the obviously guilty vampire. Willow had
no intention of letting Spike see how intrigued she was by the bot and how funny she found the whole situation.

"Gonna tell the Slayer?" Spike asked, his voice low and deep.

Willow toyed with the idea of making Spike squirm but thought of the nice older lady she had just left behind the keyboard of her laptop and took pity on him. "Not if we don’t have to, I guess. Let’s have a look at her. No promises, but I’ll see what I can do."


 
Chapter 6
 
~*~
Chapter 6
~*~

"Yes, sweetie, I’ll explain it all when I get home, okay?" Willow finally took
a break to call Tara when the bot’s reprogramming looked to be more complicated than expected.
To her surprise, Willow was quite impressed with Warren Mears’ engineering skills.

The robot was a lot more than some fancy sex toy. The programming was intricate enough to make the robot duplicate Buffy’s life and life skills as closely as possible. Willow was not sure if she should be squicked or awed by Spike’s attention to detail in his instructions for the bot’s building. It was clear that the vampire knew the real Buffy quite well.

It had also been a shock to discover that the bot was programmed to protect the real Buffy’s family and friends over and above any instructions to do the same for Spike.

The removal of all the sexually oriented programming and the built-in adoration for Spike was time-consuming but far from anything that would leave an empty shell of a plastic doll. Warren had woven the programming so beautifully that the robot mimicked a complex human perfectly…well,
except for the unnerving vapid grin that the bot sported whenever Spike entered the area, that is. In fact, when Spike was in the upper part of the crypt, out of the robot's view, Willow was hard pressed to remember she was not dealing with the real Buffy.

Willow called Tara when Spike alerted her about the passage of time. She was always easily engrossed with technology and had not noticed.

Tara accepted a brief explanation that hadn’t mentioned the Buffybot and expressed the opinion that Willow should consider finishing her project the next day. Mrs. Pratt was already surfing into choppy ‘net waters and the gang wasn’t nearly as equipped to help the lady navigate the dangerous waters of the Web.

"Um, Spike," Willow ventured, "How ‘bout I take the bot to our place and work some more on her. Maybe Tara can help figure out how to explain it to Buffy."

Spike blinked in confusion. He really hadn’t thought much beyond having the budding witch fix the tastier parts of his robot’s design. The concept of Buffy coming face to face with the robot was enough to still his heart had it been beating. He wondered if he would look too unmanly if he stood behind his mother when the introductions were finally made. He was just grateful that Willow didn’t hate him so much that she would lay the whole sordid situation before the Slayer and his beloved mother. Spike wasn’t too sure whose horrified gaze he feared more.

"Good thinking, Red," Spike finally responded. "That bird of yours is a downy one. Anyone figure how to pretty up this mess of mine, it’d be her."

Willow smiled at him and avoided the extreme teasing that was begging to be done over this ‘mess’ as he had put it. She had always kind of liked Spike, even if he had scared her out of her wits more than once over the years. There was something she couldn’t put her finger on that made her put Spike in a different category than other vampires--even Angel--and it wasn’t the chip either. "I’m sure it’ll all work out okay. I mean Buffy can only stake you once, right?"

"Think she will?" Spike looked surprisingly young as he asked, like a child fearing the wrath of a disapproving parent.

"Nope, at least not with your mom around," Willow replied sincerely. Come to think of it, she didn’t really imagine that Buffy would stake Spike any time soon. All these years, chipless ones included, and no stakage had happened yet. Willow decided she might want to think about what that little realization meant at a later time though.

Spike drew in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, running a hand through his hair. He looked exhausted. "Lot to take in, yeah?" Willow nodded in encouragement. "Never thought to see
me mum again and here she is, behind a computer keyboard no less." He smiled at the girl responsible. "I really don’t know what I was thinkin’ when I had ‘Scotty’ built that thing. Guess I just figured Buffy’d never give me the time of day and I can’t picture wantin’ anybody else but her. Hate the thought of being alone’s all." He looked at Willow and she could read the truth in his eyes. "Stupid, I know. Probably woulda junked it within a week ‘cause it’s not really her, you know?"

"We’re all with the stupid from time to time," Willow consoled him. "I usually mess up a spell and get everyone mad at me when I go for the stupid," she laughed. "Of course, I AM getting really good at baking cookies!"

~~~

Spike drove Willow to her apartment on his way back to Buffy’s. The bot was stretched on the back seat, turned off for the trip. The drive was tense with Willow doing most of the talking.

Even though Willow had tried to convince Spike that Tara would likely understand, it was still a pleasant surprise to find the shy witch sparing him with a compassionate glance as he tried to explain how the bot had come to be.

Tara listened to the entire story in silence. The only thing that showed her opinion on the bot was the amused quirk of her mouth as she watched Spike tap dance around the words.

"Well, I don’t think anyone will believe you had this made to play checkers," Tara teased. "Since Willow will soon have all the…um…special programming removed, you could always say you thought the robot could help with patrols since Buffy was worried about her mom’s sickness. You did say it can slay vampires, right?"

"Nearly as good as Buffy, even if it doesn’t make those little jokes like she does. ‘Fraid neither botboy nor I can match Buffy for that," Spike admitted with a grin.

"Well, that might work then." Tara thought for a few minutes before continuing. "You know, this might even be a blessing in disguise."

Willow and Spike both looked at the girl with their eyebrows raised. "Do tell," Spike encouraged.

"With Glory out there, Buffy will probably need all the help she can get. This robot of yours might just be a bigger help than we think right now. Maybe Mr. Giles can test it to see just how strong it really is. I remember hearing that the other robot girl this Warren made was strong enough to pick you up and throw you through a window, Spike." Tara was beginning to look excited at the idea.

"Think Buffy’d buy that as the reason?" Spike was as nervous as a cat at a dog show.

"I could always say that I helped with the programming, ‘cause I kinda have now," Willow offered.

"You both know that I owe you big time," Spike said with a look of relief. This might just work. "I’m no welcher either; I’m good for it."

Both girls looked at him and flashed twin smiles at the idea of having the vampire in their debt. ‘Doubt if that happens every day,’ thought Tara, while Willow tried to think of any spells that required ingredients only a vampire could provide.


~~~


Giles had spent the morning preparing documents that would give status to Mrs. Pratt. "Lovely woman, such a shame about her son," he mused. "At least she can get good health care with these." He looked proudly at the documents that used actual information about the woman with some serious date tweaking.

Willow had agreed to hack into the appropriate computers and plant the new information later. By
tomorrow the good lady would be good to go for an appointment with that nice young doctor Wilkinson that Buffy had suggested.

Giles had put together the necessary papers for Spike as well, but with less enthusiasm. He still rankled at the thought of any vampire moving that closely into his Slayer’s inner circle. Angel had been a disaster for every single one of them and all Giles could see was the potential for even worse with the unsouled variety.

Giles arrived at Casa Summers just in time to catch the tail end of a conversation that had every
sane person in that house ducking for cover. Anya had taken it upon herself to explain to Mrs. Pratt the various relationships of the people now surrounding the newly arrived Victorian widow.

"Xander gives many wonderful orgasms, even if he hasn’t made an honest woman of me yet," Anya had just announced. "I do think he still lusts after Buffy though, but at least I don’t have to worry about Willow’s old crush on him since she’s decided to be a lesbian now that she’s met Tara."

It was obvious from the wide-eyed look on Anne Pratt’s face that she had only heard a portion of that rather amazing confidence, having mentally stumbled on the ‘orgasms’ mentioned at the start.



"Thank you, Anya," Giles began, "but I am certain that Mrs. Pratt will get to know all of us in her own time.". He turned to the scarred newcomer and tried to put a better face on things. "It is not as sordid as Anya has made it all sound. You will find that the moral standards of this time are quite different, but the importance of a good heart remains."

"I believe there is much I have yet to learn, as one would expect," agreed Mrs. Pratt. She was grateful for any excuse to end the discomfiting conversation with the odd yet friendly girl with the surly suitor.

"Anya is not used to the more subtle aspects of humanity, Mrs. Pratt." Giles wasn’t sure how much
detail Spike had given his mother in his explanation of the supernatural world. "You see, she lived for a bit over a thousand years as a vengeance demon." At Anne’s bewildered look, he offered, "If you would be interested, I’m certain I could find some books with better explanations than any I could give."

"The Vicar taught of demons, but I never dreamt of meeting one," Anne whispered in awe. "He never said a word about them being able to become human, however."

"Well, the word ‘demon’ here isn’t meant quite the same way as in the Bible or a sermon. They are rather like a different species from humans. Much older and quite different in many aspects, although the type that Anya once was began as a human and become a demon. The same is true with William. His turning, his becoming a vampire, involved losing his humanity and becoming a demon."

"That’s pure nonsense!" Anne stated in outrage. "My son is no demon. He is the same caring, loving, dutiful boy I’ve known since he was born to me. I can look in his dear eyes and see the same sweet soul that was always there."

Giles sighed. "Be that as it may, William is a demon and he has no soul for you to see."

"It is you that cannot or will not see," Anne stated firmly. "There may well be a demon, as you call it, within. William changed his appearance to prove his claims and I did see what he called the demon. He is, however, still the same man he always was beneath it all. If you cannot see that, it is because you have chosen not to. As for William not having a soul…, well, I’ve never heard such nonsense in all my days!"

"It’s true. Demons don’t have souls. They’re pure evil," Xander piped up.

"That’s certainly not always true," said Anya with a roll of her eyes. "Vengeance demons have
souls; they’re just different. Lots of demons have souls. Besides, evil is as evil does and lots of humans do plenty of evil. Look at Stalin and Mao and how they set out to destroy capitalism!"

Giles couldn’t suppress a slight smile at Anya’s world view. "It might be true that the chronicles may be incomplete. As a generalization though, demons are soulless and prone to evil. Vampires are among those in that category."

"IF that is true--and I am not believing it for a moment--then William is something other than a
vampire," Anne stated stubbornly. "You will never convince me that he has no soul because he is a
vampire. I can see his soul clearly; therefore, vampires must have souls."

"Angel does," suggested Dawn helpfully.

"Angels? Are these the same sort as the Vicar would have spoken of?" asked a confused Mrs. Pratt.

"Hardly," snorted Giles. "Actually, Angel is a vampire. One of those responsible for your son’s
alteration, in fact. Angel was cursed with a soul and now seeks to fight against evil and work towards redemption."

"Not a Calvinist then," joked Mrs. Pratt. Giles was the only one to get the joke and he laughed at the unexpected jest.

"No, not a Calvinist either; a Papist, I believe," he replied.

"Well, that explains it," Anne smiled.

"Mr. Giles, if the soul is a good thing, causing one to do and be good, why do you refer to this Angel’s soul as a curse?" Anne asked.

Giles blinked rapidly and tried to come up with an answer that made sense of the gypsy curse only to find himself wanting. "I wish I had an answer for that."

"So there is much you admit you do not understand about vampires in general and my son in particular then?" Anne looked a bit like the cat with a mouth full of canary.

"So it would seem," Giles reluctantly admitted. He was sure Spike had no soul, but he was less sure of the purpose of a soul in general and those thoughts disturbed him more than a bit.

The vampire in question chose that moment to enter the house, bags in hand. He had the feeling that he didn’t necessarily want to know what he might have missed while wrestling with his Buffybot problem.

"’Lo all. Just brought a few things for our stay here." He handed some shopping bags to his mother and kissed her cheek tenderly. "Stopped by the witches’ place and picked these up from Tara. I think they’ll set you up properly until we get settled in a place of our own. I intend to start looking about tomorrow," he promised his mother.

Buffy looked from mother to son and felt an unexpected urge. "You don’t have to leave right away. Stay as long as you’d like. I’m sure your mom could use the time to adjust a bit and the house is big enough."

A clearly startled Spike looked at Buffy in gratitude. "’Preciate that, Slayer. Don’t want to impose though," he said in soft wonder, not daring to believe what he’d just heard.

"It’s okay, really." Buffy found herself not wanting to be in the house with just Dawn at this point. Maybe other people, other voices would help keep hidden the hole left by her mom’s passing. "I’ll need to look for work soon and I don’t want Dawn here alone with Glory around anyway."

"You’re going to go to work, Buffster?" Xander looked a bit too pleased at the idea of Buffy joining the working class. With all his other friends in college, he was ready to embrace a companion in toil.


"Yeah, seems Mom didn’t have medical insurance, so the life policy will just cover those hospital bills and some of the others for the next few months. Glad I held out for that high school diploma now," she quipped. There was little humor in it though and they all could feel the
worry that spawned her plans.

"We would, of course, pay board," Spike offered immediately. "Maybe that would be enough to let you find something you’d like to do. You know I’m more than ready to help with Glory too."

Buffy smiled wanly at her former enemy, "Thanks, Spike, I do know. Sure, I’ll take some rent and
maybe I can find some job that won’t suck the soul out of ME."

Spike looked from Buffy to his mother and knew that there were going to be questions before sleep
this night. Whatever conversations had taken place in his absence looked to be about more than e-mails and web directories.

Xander and Anya made their excuses, fortunately voiced by Xander this time, and headed to their apartment. Anya had been whispering naughty somethings into his ear ever since she had reminded herself of what wonderful orgasms he gave her and it was more than time to go. "See you all tomorrow then?"

"Sure, Xan." Buffy walked them to the door. "Spike’s here; everything will be fine. He can handle any question that comes up now and I can get some sleep. Can you TRY to get Anya to think instead of talk?"

"Right after I solve the problem with world hunger, sure," Xander smiled. "Sorry about that. I love her, but there are times I wish she were a mute."

"I guess it could be worse, but I’m not sure how," Buffy agreed.

Giles handed Spike the paperwork he had generated and went over the various identity cards and diplomas with the vampire. "I believe you should have no trouble blending in with the human population with these."

"Thanks, Watcher, these should do the trick," Spike said as he looked through them. "Need to get a place in a respectable part of town and set up some accounts, but think I’ll stay close to Buffy and Dawn ‘til this Glory thing is settled anyway."

Giles shot him a look and warned, "Don’t think because your mother is here that you can take advantage. I’ll be watching your every move."

Spike smirked at Giles and raised an eyebrow, "Rupes, that sort of come-on may have enticed Peaches, but I’m really not interested."

"I’m deadly serious," Giles said with no good humor at all. "Keep in mind that I am not easily taken in by your dubious charms. I know what you are."

"No, you don’t have a clue," Spike replied with narrowed eyes.

Unbeknownst to the occupants of the house, their various conversations were being listened to by a pair of hidden interlopers. The bits they were able to hear were enticing, as were the bags of belongings the vampire had placed in the front hallway.

"Why would the Slayer have a vampire living in her home?" Murk looked at Jinx in amazement.

"Didn’t you hear them say he was going to stay with the Slayer until the situation with Glory was past? Why would a vampire need to stay with the Slayer?" Murk continued.

"And what did the older man mean about the vampire blending in with the human population and knowing what he is?" added Jinx.

They watched Spike standing next to his bags and making himself quite at home at the Summers house. This was an odd vampire indeed. Rumor had it that he didn’t even hunt or kill. His blood, if it WAS blood, was purchased from a butcher and was animal in origin. This vampire was even known to help the Slayer in her battles killing his own kind!

Jinx thought about the conundrum before them and then his face lit up with the germ of an idea. "When is a vampire not a vampire?"

Murk looked stupidly at his fellow minion as Jinx answered for him, "When the vampire is a Key!"
 
Chapter 7
 
~*~
Chapter 7
~*~


Buffy was being stubborn about the amount of rent Spike was offering for himself and his mother. It was a nice sum and would go a long way towards keeping the wolf from the door but still it bothered her. After all Spike’s room was a dusty basement with a small cot. More than that, the last thing she wanted was to find herself indebted to the undead. ‘I don’t even get why I offered to let them stay here,’ she thought petulantly. ‘Tara came up with the idea; maybe SHE should play landlord.’

If she were honest with herself, Buffy would have to admit that the house felt less bleak with the Pratt duo in residence. The pangs of missing her mother were fainter somehow and Buffy was torn between being grateful and resentful. Surely her mom deserved her absence to be fully felt. Still, the respite did allow Buffy to concentrate on the problem of Glory with more clarity.

Anne was learning the ropes of modern society and had even pronounced the marvel of respectable ladies wearing trousers as ‘about time women are allowed freedom of movement!’ They had all been astounded when the lady in question returned to the living room in a pair of stylish, if loose-fitting, blue gabardine pants with a powder blue striped shirt. Tara had done well in her shopping expedition. And just where HAD Spike come into all that money anyway?

"If you’re all with the cash advantage, why did you always demand money from us to help out?" Buffy glared at Spike as she grilled him. "You always stole Xander’s change too."

"Gotta have a way to do SOME evil, pet," Spike had replied with a smirk. "Vampire here, remember? Can’t even take candy from a baby with this bloody Radio Shack reject in my noggin, but I can still manipulate some of the hard earned from you lot."

Buffy looked daggers at the vampire and growled out, "Spike, it’s BECAUSE I remember you’re a vampire that I’m suspicious. I won’t take money you squirreled away from some poor innocent you murdered. How do I know you didn’t take it off a bunch of nuns or something?"

"Nuns were Angel’s thing, not mine. I preferred pissin’ off gangs of burly blokes and letting the fur fly," Spike reminisced. "Took their blood, luv, not their dosh. I’m a vampire, not a petty thief." Spike’s offended look changed as he thought about what he’d just said. "Okay, maybe I’ve been a petty thief a time or two, but that wasn’t my preferred way of dealin’. Hunt, fight, kill and eat--that was my way. Thieving was for regular breakin’ and enterin’…want, take, have, that whole thing. Didn’t usually eat anybody on those missions."

Buffy wasn’t sure just how to feel about that revelation so she decided to focus on the attack.
"This hasn’t got anything to do with Angel," she huffed. "Besides, at least nuns are adults. I heard YOU focused on orphanages and kiddies when you and that wack job you teamed up with left a wake of carnage."

"Actually, I usually took care of the orderlies and staff," Spike admitted, "Dru was the one with the kiddy fetish. Wanna make a big issue of it, that’s Angel’s doin’ too. Dru’s wirin’s not what it should be. Starts off all motherly urges, tea parties and dollies. Then ‘bout half way through she forgets why she wanted the tykes and wham, baby buffet."

"Ewwwww, Spike," Buffy pulled a disgusted face. "And I am so not wanting details!" She shuddered. The funny thing about Spike was that it was far too easy to forget he was a vampire usually. Only when a conversation like this took place was the demonic lifestyle he had embraced in his past brought into the spotlight and she was reminded forcefully just WHAT he was. ‘Maybe that’s why I goad him into this stuff, to remind myself what he is,’ she mused.

Spike let out a weary sigh. Just what did these humans think he SHOULD have done after he was turned? ‘Oh, yeah, can just picture how that would’ve turned out.’ Spike visualized his fledgling self walking into that long ago hotel room to meet Peaches for the first time. ‘But, Grandsire, why bother hunting down a person and attacking them when a simple visit to the butcher would suffice? No need to dirty our hands with all the mess and ugliness.’ Spike almost laughed aloud at the picture. ‘I’d have been floatin’ in the air before I got the second sentence out! No, maybe the Poof might have kept me chained up long enough to let me amuse his whore when she got
back.’ All the years of ‘training’ from Anglus, years that formed the monster he became, would have paled at the torture fest the two of them would have indulged in had he been that big of an idiot.

"Look, we’re off the point here, Slayer." Spike shook his head to clear the play of visuals his train of thought had brought to the surface. "Point is the money’s mine, legal and all that important nonsense. Demon bank took the bits I had when I was turned and made brighter investments than my father did and made a nice pot of plenty for me. Never had a reason to
spend it ‘til now, so there’s more than enough for me to pay our fair share for my mother and me to stay here."

Spike knew that the last thing Buffy needed at this point in her life was financial worries. She’d just lost her mom and become instant mother to a needy teen. The Slayer had been thrust into immediate adulthood with all its responsibilities and worries right when she needed to concentrate on saving the world from some raving loon of a hell god. Too much on her plate might crush the girl and she wasn’t likely to accept charity, at least not from him.

~~~

Giles took Mrs. Pratt on her first venture into the outer world. The appointment with Dr. Wilkinson was going quite well. He had been eager to help the old-fashioned woman with the wasting disease. Mrs. Pratt was appalled when the doctor suggested she call him Ben and Giles had to reassure her that conventional forms of address were not as strict as in her day, at least not in California.

The wide-eyed amazement on Mrs. Pratt’s face throughout the adventure had been a treat. She had
been quietly thrilled with the trip in the car. Giles wondered briefly at the probable reaction from this refined lady to Spike’s reference to the red convertible as a ‘penismobile.’ That might finally convince the dear woman that her son was NOT present and accounted for and that the demon in his body was nothing like her beloved, lost child.

"You know," Anne spoke proudly as she entered the car, "I’ve ridden in a steam carriage. Mr. Trevithick produced a few at the beginning of MY century. In fact, they caused such a stir that we even had red flag laws about them." She smiled a bit smugly, knowing the gentleman squiring her about would be surprised at her sanguine attitude.

Giles suppressed an urge to laugh, fearing Mrs. Pratt might not understand that he was merely charmed by her bravery and intelligence and would think he was making sport of her instead. "Indeed," he replied. "What were these red flag laws then? I am sadly uninformed when it comes to automotive history."

"Well," Anne warmed to the subject, enjoying the fact that she was the one with information for a change. "The steam-powered carriages startled horses and pedestrians causing mayhem when the young bloods took to the public roads. It became a law that if one were to engage such a vehicle for transport or simply for sport, a runner was required to precede the carriage on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn to warn all of the impending arrival of the marvel. The law was still in effect when I was last in my own time, even though there were precious few of the carriages in use. It was something of a nine-week wonder." Anne’s eyes opened wider as Giles pulled from the curb and entered traffic. "It would seem these are an improvement over those in my day. Not likely to have anyone fast enough to run in front of one of these."

"Sadly, they are no longer a source of wonder and amazement either," added Giles. "After owning a car for a while, the novelty wears off even the most remarkable model." Giles resisted the urge to run loving hands over his still new acquisition. "These use a combustion engine that is fueled with refined petroleum rather than steam."

Anne nodded, not wanting to crowd her mind with too many facts about things of no import. She doubted it would be necessary to understand how these contraptions actually worked as long as one could learn how they were operated. She conversed lightly with Giles while watching his movements on the gears and steering column. It appeared quite simple, really.

Intent on watching Giles drive, Anne missed most of the tour of Sunnydale on the way to the hospital and was startled at the unexpected size of the building. In her day, a hospital was usually the place where a person would find themselves at the very last stages of life. Surely there were not that many terminal patients in this city!

At Anne’s gasp, Giles guessed at the reason and sought to reassure her. "This is another area that is the same yet different, dear lady. Hospitals in this day and age are not the places where one goes to await the angel of death. There are still many illnesses that are without cure, but many more, such as yours, are curable. Hospitals are used for everything from childbirth to major treatments and everything in between now."

"I must say quite selfishly that I am glad to know my illness is one that can be cured." Anne had hardly dared believe the truth of it when they had suggested the possibility before. She had spent the past years on a private deathwatch, knowing there was no hope. Her prayers had long sense gone from begging the Almighty for a cure to asking for a quick passing in her sleep.

"I think remission is a more accurate term, but I am no doctor," Giles admitted. "I do know that few people actually die from it in this day and age, at least in places that are not third world countries."

"Perhaps you can explain that term later, if you wouldn’t mind," Anne suggested. "Right now, I would be well pleased to simply learn how to remove this harness and free myself." She chuckled as she fumbled with the seatbelt.

The examination was thorough and Anne was tiring from all the activity. She wasn’t an old woman by any stretch, having only been a slip of a girl of twenty when she birthed William. Still, she had experienced many radical changes in the last few days and it was a bit much. She looked at her reflection in the powder room mirror and decided she would need to speak with Tara later about updating her image further. It wouldn’t do to look like an old woman while still on the spring side of fifty!


The doctor explained the regimen clearly. The pills had to be taken in the numbers and combinations he detailed, but it was likely that in a few weeks she would be well on the road to a normal life! Modern miracles, indeed!

"Now, there can be side effects from the INH," Dr. Wilkinson said. "The most common is a general
feeling of being unwell, kinda like the flu. You may experience nausea to one degree or another."

"I daresay a bit of that is far more appealing than the death sentence this disease used to carry," Anne replied happily. To continue to live, to watch her son make his way in life, would be worth all the side effects in the universe. She was not unaware of the complete miracle of the two of them being there in the twenty-first century looking forward to years of time together.

As they awaited the filling of her prescriptions, Giles privately reflected on how wonderful it felt to save a life and not have anything supernatural involved. ‘That young doctor has a wonderful bedside manner,’ he thought as he remembered how kind Ben Wilkinson had been to Mrs. Pratt.

The drive back to Revello Drive was not without its surprise revelations as Giles casually voiced some of his thoughts on the young doctor. "He seems a fine example of the best the medical profession has to offer. He helped in the treatment of Buffy’s mother. Her death from complications of the surgery had nothing to do with lack of care by the medical staff. It was a tragedy that no one foresaw."

"My William would have been a wonderful doctor," Anne mused. "His father would have been so proud to have him follow in his footsteps. Of course William had not declared his choice of career
before he had to leave University to care for me. His professors were quite saddened to see him go as he showed such promise. He was quite the darling of the Dean as well," she said proudly. "Always had his nose in some book or other when he wasn’t writing his own creations. He knew there was no career to be had with his poetry. Indeed, he was never so silly a fribble as to expect to make his way on written words. Practical, that’s my William. Still, he ever loved things of beauty."

Giles nearly swerved into the oncoming lane as he wrenched his head to gape at the woman. "Do you mean to say that Spike…urm, William is EDUCATED?"

"What sort of home do you think William came from?" Anne was horrified to think these people could have spent five minutes in the company of her son and not see his natural intelligence, not to mention refined artistic abilities. "Naturally he is educated, even if he were not able to take his degree. Cambridge, like his father before him…only a year away from completing when I was diagnosed with Consumption."

Giles sat in a near trance as he took in the information on the unexpected talents housed in the
vampire he had seriously underestimated.

Anne was still waxing nostalgic over William’s school days. "His Latin was so good that he was being counseled to follow that path and pursue the sciences, possibly medicine. He was quite excited at the prospect, even if the sight of blood made him go over queasy. He was always clever when it came to foreign languages though. Said it was no different from learning a lovely bit of music."

"Music," Giles squeaked. "Sp…William is a musician as well?"

"Nothing unusual for a well bred gentleman," Anne dismissed the question. "A bit of the pianoforte well enough to accompany himself with a ballad or play a bit of Chopin." Anne’s eyes took on a far away look as she smiled sweetly. "I saw him once--Chopin, I mean. He played a concert in Paris when I was just a child. I was utterly transported! The music of heaven, it was." She sighed in remembered pleasure. "My dear boy loved to play his Nocturnes for me. Chopin died from my illness, you know."

"Yes, I believe I heard at one time or another that was the cause," Giles replied bemusedly.

"I always made certain that my William was exposed to the world’s beauty whenever possible. He never made the Grand Tour like others of his peer group, but he saw all the art and musical performances that London could provide. He was never shortchanged in his cultural growth, but surely you have noticed that by now."

Giles sputtered trying to think of an answer that wouldn’t set Mrs. Pratt off on him once again. Safety was sought in partial truths. "Well, William and I have more of a…um…working relationship, rather than social. Such topics haven’t come up."

"I should think you would have naturally gravitated towards one another. You are both British gentlemen of refinement and intelligence, after all." Anne tsked at the wasted time. "William is a bit shy and sensitive, but he does need people. He likes to put forth the image that he is self-sufficient and confident, but in truth he is prone to loneliness and insecurity. He is quite proficient, however, at producing that stiff upper lip all good British subjects are rumored
to own."

~~~

Willow got all the final programming tangles undone with the robot and smiled in satisfaction at the fruit of her labor. Really, if she didn’t know better, she’d swear the robot was Buffy!

"Sweetie, are you sure we should just take this over to Spike? I mean the cover story should work, but Buffy might not let him give it," Tara offered.

"You might have a point. I love Buffy to death, but sometimes she’s all pointy-stick-now-questions-later," Willow agreed. "Think I’ll call and lay the groundwork first."

Tara smiled serenely as her lover headed for the bedside phone. She admired Willow as much as she
loved her. Willow had been up long hours the night before putting in all the information they had on Glory into the bot’s database. They didn’t know much, but they also hadn’t exactly shared that little bit with Spike to make it available when the bot was built. The robot Slayer was now as knowledgeable as any Scooby where the hell god was concerned. If anyone could make Buffy see the benefits of the robot, it would be Willow.

"Hey, Buffy! Look, Tara and I want to bring something over that we’ve been working. It was Spike’s idea actually and it’s a good one, even if it might squick you out at first, hee hee, " Willow laughed nervously. "Anyway, I didn’t want you to get with the wiggins by just bringing it over." Willow listened to Buffy’s response and finally smiled, as her attitude seemed to be favorable. "’K then, we’ll bring it by in a few. We can play a game coming up with all kinds of ways it can be useful, especially when Giles gets there."

Willow hung up the phone and wrapped her arms around her lover tenderly. "That was easier than I thought it might be."

"You are nothing but diplomatic, sweetie. How could Buffy resist?" Tara leaned into the embrace and then turned in Willow’s arms. "Um…maybe we have a little time before we need to head over there, do you think?" Tara looked at Willow through her long lashes, flirting shamelessly.

"But what would we do with our time?" Willow impishly teased.

"I can think of some things," Tara promised as she took her lover by the hand and led her towards the bedroom.

~~~

Glorificus lay like a languishing heroine of old as Jinx continued with the foot massage that was causing drool to form on his lips. "I have to have that key NOW. If you really loved me, Jinxy, you’d get it for me." She removed her foot from the scabby minion’s lap, knocking him in the mouth as she did so. The slip-clad blonde began to pace in frustration, her ire rising at an alarming rate.

"One simple thing! ONE! I’m a god and I can’t even get ONE SIMPLE THING!" Glory’s minions began to scatter in fear as the explosion built up. "It’s MY key after all, it belongs to ME! Murk hinted that you had a lead on it. I need my key," Glory whined.

Jinx nodded enthusiastically, "Indeed, your magnificence! It will be my supreme pleasure to lay
your key before your so delicate and lovely smelling feet very soon now! We are nearly certain we have located your key and now only await a moment of opportunity to get it away from the Slayer and bring it to you, o most wonderfully buxom and aromatic one!"

"What are you waiting for, you moron?" Glory towered over the cowering minion. "Get off your scabby butt and bring it here." As Jinx scrambled to his feet and the door, she added, "And bring me a brain to eat while you’re out too."

"Yes, most melodious and perfect one! You have but to desire and it will be done." Jinx ducked out the door pulling Murk with him as Glory heaved a shoe in their direction. "Quick, Murk, pick out the least inept of our order and let’s get that vampire," he whispered. "I have a device left by those silly soldiers that used to swarm over this town that will subdue even one with the strength of the undead."
 
Chapter 8
 
Sorry for the delay.....having increasing computer problems, especially with any posting.


~*~
Chapter 8
~*~


"So many letters…one wonders what they all represent!" Anne gazed in astonishment at the array of prescription bottles on the table before her. She didn’t wish these new friends of hers to
think her timid, backward or missish by showing her nervousness at the prescribed treatment for
her illness. It was rather intimidating, however.

‘Nonetheless,’ she reminded herself, ‘at least in this time there are genuine medications with
proven results!’ Anne thought back to her own dear departed husband and his selfless attention to patients afflicted with this very disease. He used every legitimate method available and still had attended far too many funerals for his liking. How he would have loved the advances in treatment this world offered!

In the end, her precious Francis succumbed to the dreaded curse of consumption himself. It was many years before Anne exhibited the first signs that this personal scourge had returned to wreak havoc on her family. Her conversation with Dr. Wilkinson had explained that the infection had likely come from her darling
husband and lain dormant until showing itself years later while William was at university.

Indeed, the information gathered from the young doctor made Anne determined that all these fine people who had been so welcoming to her be tested to ensure that she had not passed this horror any further. A simple skin test would tell the tale.

Mr. Giles had reassured Anne that, owing to his vampirism, William would need no such testing. ‘I suppose that is one benefit to what happened to my dear boy,’ she reflected.

William had been engaged in a hushed but obviously heated conversation with Buffy before Anne had left for the examination at the hospital. There was no sign of her dear boy upon her return and Anne wondered if the two were still feuding. Buffy was as sweet and friendly as she had been from the start though, so Anne doubted the dispute was one that boded ill for all their relationships.

The concerned tones of Mr. Giles’ voice interrupted that train of thought. "Do remember what the doctor said about interactions, dear lady," Giles broke into her reverie. "As well as alcohol, you need to avoid a variety of foods. We must also not be lax in the liver checkups while you are on this medication. Hepatitis is rare but not to be trifled with." Giles had appointed himself Caregiver, Jr. where Mrs. Pratt was concerned. Something about the gentle lady brought forth his protective urges.

Buffy was looking at the papers the pharmacy had included with the medications trying to make sense of the terminology used to describe the drugs and possible side effects. "English would be of the good here, folks! Geez, can they make this any more confusing?" Buffy had been frustrated with this same issue during her own mother’s illness and treatment.

"You could always do what you did when Mom was sick," Dawn suggested. "You know, use the universal translator!"

Buffy brightened and exclaimed, "Yes!" as she headed toward the abandoned laptop. "Google is your friend for everything and when it isn’t, there are other search engines out there." She typed in a few words and scoured the suggested results until she narrowed the choices down to a few that seemed to explain the disease, its treatment and possible problems in as understandable a manner as possible. "Eureka! We have success," she grinned broadly.

The four were gathered around the laptop as Willow and Tara entered. The bot had been ordered to remain on the porch until Willow could ease the way for the inclusion of the robo-slayer to the mix.

"Hey," Willow wiggled her fingers in a nervous wave. "Buff, can I borrow you for a few minutes?"

Buffy left the rest to continue educating themselves on TB and joined the witches in the living room. "What’s up? You two look guilty about something," Buffy teased.

"Guilty? No, no guilt! Nothing to be guilty about," blathered Willow.

"Um, remember Willow telling you that we’ve been working with Spike on a project?" Tara turned her most innocent look on the Slayer, underlining the lack of need for suspicion.

"I remember being wigged that Spike made any plan at all that you guys would be part of without a broken bottle being held to your faces," Buffy replied.

"No, no bottles and no guilt either," Willow continued to babble. Now that she was face to face with Buffy, she began to second-guess her confidence in the cover story they had concocted.

"We’ve been worried about you for a while, what with Joyce being sick and Glory all ass-kicking and then Joyce…well, not making it. Then Glory tossed Spike across that hospital room before we magicked her out of there and it was pretty clear you could use a bit of help," Willow rushed. All of that was true enough. Even if there had never been a plan for a robot and they had never actually spoken with Spike over their concerns, it wasn’t technically a lie.

Buffy felt her eyes tear up at all the reminders of the trauma she had dealt with of late. "And SPIKE came up with a plan? Why am I suddenly scared?"

"True, Spike came up with it, but it wouldn’t have worked out as well if he hadn’t asked Willow to help with the fine tuning," Tara offered. "It really IS a good idea, Buffy."

"And what is this good idea Spike had? And I can’t believe I just put those words into a sentence that wasn’t meant to be sarcastic," Buffy grinned.

Willow and Tara exchanged a look, each silently hoping the other would take the reins and lay it out for Buffy. Tara finally decided she had the best chance of getting the story out without blushing and stammering too wildly and she earned her love’s eternal gratitude by explaining.

"Remember that robot girlfriend your former classmate made?" At Buffy’s nod, Tara continued, "Well, Spike was really impressed with it. Remember how it threw him out a window?" Tara hoped that explained enough of just what had impressed Spike.

"So…what…Spike had him build another robot? What’re we talking about here: Arnold as the "Terminator" or one of those creepy androids girls from "Blade Runner" that seriously kicked ass?" Buffy looked intrigued in spite of herself.

"Closer to that last part," Willow admitted. "He kinda had Warren build a robot you."

Buffy’s eyebrows rose sharply and her mouth formed a silent ‘O’ of shock.

"It can fight and all, just like a slayer! It’s programmed with all kinds of information about all of us, the Hellmouth and everything we know about Glory too," Willow continued.

Tara nodded enthusiastically and added, "It’s even programmed to make battle decisions just like you would. It will protect Dawn…and all of us, really."

"I even tried to program in some of your quippier quips too," Willow frowned at the one area that had proven to be less than successful. "Still workin’ the bugs out of that part though."

Buffy finally closed her mouth and attempted to process what her friends had just told her. "So, you’re telling me that Spike had Warren build a robot slayer?" Her eyes narrowed as the germ of suspicion began to take root. "And he did this so it could help us fight Glory?"

"Yup, complete fightin’ machine. No hobbies even. Doesn’t even watch TV or want to shop at the mall!" Willow was nervous again; she could see Buffy thinking about other uses Spike might have had in mind for the bot and even if that were true, it wasn’t important now. "I checked all the programming and tweaked it where it needed it, Buffy. I really think it will help us fight Glory. If nothing else, it might confuse her to have two of you to keep track of."

The others had entered the living room as Tara began her explanation and were all in various stages of confused interest.

"Buffy has a twin sister?" Anne asked innocently.

"No, I’m her only sister," Dawn answered. The teen turned to Tara and grinned broadly. "So does this mean we can have Robo-Buffy do all the housework?"

"Yes, because you do so much of it yourself that it would really change your lifestyle," Buffy snarked.

"You are saying that this…this…thing, this machine, can duplicate Buffy’s fighting style?" Giles was partly appalled and partly excited at the possibilities.

"Wanna see?" Willow didn’t wait for an answer before she headed for the front door to bring in the bot. Willow had pride of co-creation where the bot was concerned. Even if she hadn’t been in on it from the start, it was HER programming that was driving the robot now and she was dying to see it in action.

The bot smiled broadly at the assembled group before cocking its head at Anne and saying, "I have no programming for this person. Who are you and how do you love Spike?"

Tara rushed to try to cover up the slip in the robot’s priorities. Obviously Willow still had a bug or two beyond wit to clear up. "Wow! How observant!!! You’re right, Buffybot, this is Spike’s mother. I’m sure we can add the rest of the information tonight, right, Willow?"

Willow was pale at the implications of the bot’s greeting. "Yeah, sure. Heh heh, that’s what I get for only adding some of the new data. I’ll finish it up later, Get more information from Spike and Mrs. Pratt to flesh it out, so to speak."

"Oh, my," Anne remarked, "Artificial people too! What a wondrous age indeed."

"Actually, this is only the second one I’ve ever heard of and the first I’ve actually seen. I believe it is new to all of us," Giles admitted.

"I must say that I am somewhat comforted to know there are still strange things for all of you to adjust to as well. I expect to be the local rustic, but it is nice to not be totally alone in my amazement," Anne said with a slight smile.

"My dear, this is the Hellmouth," Giles comforted her, "there are ALWAYS things to take one aback, no matter how sanguine you might feel. As for this," he gestured to the robot, "I think Sp…William may have come up with a very useful idea indeed."

"That right?" The vampire in question came in as Giles was speaking. "Did I just hear the Watcher say I did somethin’ right?"

Anne shook her head despairingly at her son’s slip into lazy speech but decided to say nothing. William was far more accustomed to this time and place than she, after all.

"As it happens, yes," Giles looked a bit surprised at the turn of events himself. "This robotic slayer may well come in handy in the battle against Glory. If nothing else than to use as a decoy…," he drifted off, his mind running through various scenarios. "Yes, quite useful indeed!"

"Good on me then, eh, Slayer?" Spike looked cautiously at Buffy, hoping she was buying their planned cover story.

"Looks like," Buffy agreed, although her eyes showed some reservation. "It doesn’t look much like me though."

The looks that remark earned were priceless.

"I think we are very pretty," the bot said as she smiled at her inspiration.

Buffy had no reply to the remark that wouldn’t make her look horribly vain and was vastly relieved when Dawn looked like she was going to answer for her.

"Well, you’re all that and a bag of chips, but Buffy needs a little work." The look on Dawn’s face defied her sister to object since she had already claimed the robot didn’t look like her. Dawn stuck her tongue out at Buffy to emphasize the point.

"Suddenly I’m not seeing ‘do Dawn’s chores’ on this thing’s ‘to do’ list," Buffy muttered.

"Does Dawn slay monsters and save the world from bloody pillocks too?" asked the bot, looking from sister to sister and running the information against its programming.

"Not while I’m living, she doesn’t," Buffy vowed at the same time Spike exclaimed, "Over my undead body!"

Anne smiled and remarked, "William is so protective of those he loves." If Spike could blush, he would have.

"Dawn…," Buffy decided to set the stage for an official Scooby meeting and that meant all civilians needed to leave the room. "Why don’t you take Mrs. Pratt back to the dining room and find out all you can about her medications while we talk strategy for a while, okay?"

"But I want to…," Dawn began to protest but quickly shut up when she saw the set line of her sister’s jaw. "Fine! We’ll just be in here not hearing anything you guys talk about IN THE NEXT ROOM."

~~~

"I don’t like it at all, An. He’s been stalking Buffy since before Riley left and now he’s weaseled his way into her basement."

Xander and Anya had been discussing nothing since the arrival of Anne Pratt but the living arrangements of Sunnydale’s least popular vampire to Scooby males. Frankly, Anya was heartily sick of the entire subject.

"I fail to see why it matters to you where Spike lives, Xander Harris, as long as it isn’t with us again," Anya had been half-afraid her lovely apartment was going to be selected as perfect vampire housing. "I’m just happy they didn’t decide to foist him on us. Our bedroom is lovely and we have fine orgasms there, but it would be embarrassing to play some of our more interesting games with a roommate living with us."

"There will be no living with the undead," Xander promised with a shudder. "It matters because Buffy is my friend and I don’t want that bloodsucker moving in on her in ANY way, not just her house."

"Technically Spike is more of a blood drinker instead of sucker now," Anya began, only to receive the rolled eyes from Xander. "You know, if you didn’t tell me you love me every day I might just think you’re jealous!" It was a shameless cry for reassurance, one that sadly was not answered, as Xander didn’t reply with avowals of undying love for the girl at his side.

"He’s a vampire, An, no matter how he drinks it. That means dusty ends, not cozy family dinners. I can’t believe Giles didn’t put his foot down!" Xander was a man obsessed.

"Well, he didn’t, so you can’t either. Giles is Buffy’s Watcher, not you, and if he doesn’t have a problem with Spike and his mother living with Buffy and Dawn, you shouldn’t either!" As far as Anya was concerned, there was no question about the issue at all.

The couple walked into the Summers’ living room as the group was discussing various ways to use the robot in future encounters with the hellgod currently plaguing them.

"Hey, I didn’t know we were having a Scooby meeting tonight," Xander protested. "I would’ve brought donuts."

"Bring any more donuts and you’ll look like that bloody commercial ball of talking bread and giggle like a little girl when anyone touches you," Spike taunted.

"Ha and ha, NOT!" Xander glared daggers at the vampire. "Don’t think I haven’t seen you help yourself to a chocolate-covered twist when I bring them."

"Guys, can we stop comparing our girlish figures and get back to trying to figure out the best way to use this thing?" Buffy didn’t mention that she had noticed the beginnings of a little belly on her friend. Donuts were not the friend of everyone.

"What thing? What’d I miss?" Xander looked around the room. His eyes lit on the bot and then narrowed as he tried to process what he was seeing. Xander shuddered and exclaimed, "Holy walking Barbies….what IS that thing?" His face cleared as he began to smile. "Okaaaaay, I remember how this goes. You’re BOTH Buffy! Somebody used that stick thing and now we have two of you!"

Anya walked to the bot and smiled at the BuffyBot. "Hello there. You’re a robot, aren’t you?"

"Yes, I am. You are Anya. Once a powerful and feared vengeance demon and now a sex- and money-crazed girlfriend of the silly boy. Nice to meet you," the bot replied happily.

Tara whispered to Willow, "Maybe you’d better check on more of that programming, sweetie."

"Xander can be silly, it’s true, and I DO love sex and money, but I’m not crazy and still can be a formidable warrior." Anya was only insulted by the implication she was no longer powerful and feared. "Just a few months ago I helped defeat a troll god! Olaf feared me, let me tell you!"

Anya’s eyes lit up as she came up with a use for the bot. "Buffy, this is perfect! You can have this robot get a job and you can get one too; then you’ll have two incomes with only half the energy expenditure. It was highly efficient of you to think of this. Good for you!"

"Actually I hadn’t thought of THAT, but I’m not against the idea either. I wonder if Will can program it to qualify for a high paying job?" Buffy began to imagine an escape from the drudgery she had begun to fear would be her near future. Maybe she owed Spike a ‘thank you’ after all.

"So who’s the clever one with the erector set?" Xander looked at Giles. "Did the Council come through with some technology?" Xander looked over the robot and found himself wondering just how much it was made to look like the real girl and gave himself a mental shake. ‘Down, boy. In love with Anya. No thoughts of naked Buffy-like machines. Then again, it wouldn’t be cheating if it weren’t real…NO, stop.’

The bot was looking at Xander with a questioning look. "You are Xander and a carpenter with no super powers or skills." The bot then processed Xander’s initial question and answered to the best of its ability. "To answer your question, Spike is the clever one who had Warren build me."

"SPIKE!" Xander exploded. "Spike had you built? What for? A sex doll? What’s the matter, Deadboy, can’t get a real girl so you have some geek build one for you? What kind of sick freak are you?" Everyone’s eyes rounded at Xander’s display of shock and anger. "Buffy’d never stoop so low as to even be nice to you so you had this…this…abomination made? What kind of sick programming did you give it anyway?"


Willow tried to calm the waters as she saw Buffy’s look of calculation. "NO, Xander, I worked on the programming myself. There’s no sex, no kissage, nothing like that!"

"Yeah, because Spike’s intentions towards Buffy are sooooo honorable," Xander scoffed with derision. "What’s the matter, Spikey, tired of your left hand?"

All hell broke loose as everyone began to loudly talk at once.

Dawn and Anne entered the room, drawn by the shouting. Dawn looked William’s mother in embarrassed horror as the words poured from Xander’s mouth.

Spike clutched his head after taking a swing at his personal nemesis only to have the chip punish him for the attempt.

Xander, being free of any such handicap, leveled a punch that hit the vampire squarely on his jaw before Giles managed to grab the boy’s arm to stop further blows.

"Xander, get hold of yourself this instant!" Giles ordered. "You cannot come into Buffy’s home and attack her guests in this way. You were not here for the explanations and don’t know what you are talking about. Do yourself a favor and SIT DOWN."

Xander had no plans to sit any time soon and tried to wrench himself free of the Watcher’s grasp. "This piece of trash has been begging to be dusted for years now. Time we took out the trash and if you won’t, I sure will."

Dawn began to cry. Willow began to babble pleas for her oldest friend to cool down and listen. Tara looked nervously at Spike’s mother and moved to her side. Giles continued to try to subdue the furious boy. Buffy toyed with staking both the pains in her ass even if one of them were human. Anya settled the matter by
soundly slapping her erstwhile boyfriend and demanding, "Xander Harris, shut up and sit down or there will never be another orgasm for you in the future. I don’t need to be a vengeance demon to arrange that either!"

Xander saw the fury in her eyes and allowed Giles to peel him off Spike and thrust him into a chair.

Anya squared her jaw and tried to organize her thoughts. "You are being a complete ass. It’s clear your problem is jealousy. You still think Buffy will wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, my, how foolish I’ve been! Xander Harris is the man for me!’ Decide who you want and let me know when you do." With that, Anya stalked out of the house and headed towards an all night lock and key shop to have the apartment locks changed.

"An," Xander started to follow his girlfriend, only to have the steely voice of Anne Pratt chime in.

"I think not, young man. It is well past time you get a good talking to, in lieu of the sound thrashing that you deserve." Anne ran a soothing hand over her son’s head. She had never seen William so angry. The emotions were startling in their obviousness. For the first time, Anne could imagine her boy as a killer.
Surely he would love to do serious harm to the foul-mouthed lout who had done nothing to give Anne a positive opinion of him since their first meeting.

"Son, perhaps you should leave for a while and compose yourself," Anne suggested. The last thing any of them needed was a recurrence of the violence that had left her boy on the receiving end of a bully’s fist.

"Perhaps I should just say ‘sod off’ to this bloody chip and remove the whelp’s tongue," Spike glowered.

"Enough!" said a horrified Anne. "You are above such comments and must regain your control, William. Please, take some air and return when you’ve regained your equilibrium. At once, William!" Her tone brooked no argument and no one was surprised to see Spike head towards the door.

~~~

"There he is! Finally, no Slayer around." Murk pointed excitedly at the emerging vampire.

Murk started to move from their concealed position in the bushes in the front yard next door.

"Wait, you idiot! Let the Key move further from the Slayer’s house before we use this," Jinx ordered. Really, it was a wonder Murk hadn’t been eviscerated by her magnificent gloriousness for his impulsive stupidity a dozen times already.

The group of demons clad in monk’s robes followed the vampire as he stomped his way to the sidewalk and then turned toward the corner park. Spike was obviously paying no attention to his surroundings, knocking over any object that he found in his path and swearing a blue streak.

As soon as Spike reached the park, he felt the high voltage as it shot through him, leaving him a writhing mass on the ground. He managed to gasp out a heartily felt, "Oh, bloody hell, not again!" before losing consciousness.
 
Chapter 9
 
A/N: Ever tardy still due to bloody computer problems (many of them licked but a few more that make communication a crap shoot). Thanks for your patience. Those wonderful readers who reviewed the previous chapter will be getting a reply asap....I have read them and am ever so grateful!....

Without further ado, I give you:

~*~
Chapter 9
~*~


Xander wistfully eyed the front door and wished he had darted out after Anya. The last thing he wanted to experience was being called on the carpet by a perfectly nice lady who had the misfortune of thinking Spike was her son. Besides, who knew what Anya might be getting up to. The thought of being consigned to his parent’s basement while his girlfriend cooled off was chilling.

Anne looked more like a tigress preparing to defend her young than a mild-mannered Victorian lady of breeding as she rounded on the boy. She surveyed the assembled Scoobies and softened her look before suggesting, " You may wish to leave the room. I do not intend to hold back in dealing with this young man."

Willow and Tara made a quick escape, taking Dawn with them for an impromptu sleepover. More discussion about potential uses for the robot would have to wait. Willow, for one, had no desire to see her old friend chastised, even if he had been asking--no, begging--for it. Tara merely wished to remove Dawn from the fracas.

Buffy and Giles moved into the kitchen to eavesdrop safely out of harm’s way.

When Xander found himself alone with the irate mother, he began to squirm in his chair.

"I may be new to this strange world of yours, young man, but some things never go out of fashion to people of good breeding. One of those central things is respect for others. You continually disrespect the Summers girls with your attitude and comments. One would think you the man of the house, the way you try to dictate their friends and the use of their own home!"

Xander tried to stammer out a denial, but Mrs. Pratt held her hand up in the universal signal for silence as she continued.

"You have disrespected me by ignoring my requests for civility towards my loved one. You have not made a single effort to accommodate the relationships and feelings of any other individual beyond yourself in this vendetta you seem to have against my William. Your own lady-friend has been held to disgrace with your lack of attention to her and unseemly attentions toward Buffy. I fear Anya has the right of it when she attributes your outburst to jealousy over one who clearly feels the love of a sister towards you and no more."

Xander was beginning to think he might cry if the lady didn’t let up. Didn’t she get it that he was only concerned for a dear friend? That ‘son’ of hers was a monster, for heaven’s sake!

"I have also seen you disrespect my William in every encounter, even those where he has been completely civil towards you!" Anne could see the argument behind Xander’s eyes and decided to nip it in the bud.

"I am fully aware that William is a vampire. You need not remind me of that fact. I am neither naïve nor a fool, no matter what you may think on the subject."

Xander shook his head to deny any such assessment of the lady.

"Mr. Giles has graciously loaned stacks of books to me that chronicle the somewhat slanted history of my son over the last century. William has also been forthcoming to my direct questions, even though he obviously wished to spare me the more sordid details. I am not looking at him through rose-colored glasses; I am seeing him clearly."

"But he’s a demon, not your son," insisted Xander.

"No. As I said, I see him…William…quite clearly beneath the various masks he has donned. My son was a good man who met with a tragic circumstance far beyond his ken. And, yes, there are differences, some not so pretty, but he is still my William when all is said and done. William did not choose to become this demon you refer to him as being."

Xander sat up straighter and spewed out the standard Council conventional wisdom. "But that’s not true! He had to agree when Dru turned him. He had to drink her blood or he would have just died and not become a vampire." He sat back in self-righteous smugness.

"And I suppose this Dru gave him a lengthy discourse on just what she was offering? She explained in detail what she was, what he would become, how he would survive? She did all of that in the moments while he was dying?" Anne looked with disgust at the boy who only saw what fit his preconceived notions. "Choice, you said?"

Xander had no comment to counter that, so he settled back to let her continue.

"As I was saying, I see William. Soul or no soul, vampire or man, my son survives. Even this demon you like to remind everyone of has more respect for me and the Summers girls than you demonstrate!"

Xander blushed a bit at that.

Anne just looked at Xander as though her eyes could see within his essence into his very soul. Something in her gentle heart tempered her anger with a bit of sympathy as she gained a glimpse of the Xander within, the boy who was a product of a troubled childhood and far too little love.

"My William was not a large child and he was prone to dreaming. His was ever an artistic nature, more refined than many of his contemporaries. Needless to say, he has faced more than his share of bullies." She saw Xander flinch at the word and decided her insight was likely on target. "William always faced them with dignity. I still see that same quality now, in spite
of the life he has no doubt been forced by circumstance to live."

Xander started to interrupt but Anne beat him to the punch again.

"Yes, yes, I have read the accounts. I know William has learned to fight back, perhaps with more zeal than I would have hoped. I understand how he achieved his unfortunate new name as well. I grieve for those he is responsible for killing, especially those killed out of anger rather than necessity. Nonetheless, I doubt seriously that most people would have reacted differently under similar circumstances, especially with their conscience muted as his is."

Anne narrowed her eyes and looked directly into Xander’s as she delivered her next pronouncement.
"You, Mr. Harris, are a bully."

Xander flushed and stammered a denial.

"Let us be certain we understand the meaning then," Anne conceded. "A bully is one that repeatedly oppresses, either psychologically or physically, a less powerful person. Your constant criticism and exclusion of William from even the most benign of social occasions are symptomatic of that nasty character trait. With that device in William’s brain, he is not able to do anything but accept your treatment. You are well aware of that fact and take full advantage of it."

Xander sputtered, "That’s not true! I’m not a bully. It’s just that he’s an evil vampire. If he was a human I’d never…. It doesn’t matter anyway. He’s a demon and it doesn’t matter to him what anyone says. He hasn’t got any feelings to hurt."

"What nonsense! And I had credited you with intelligence at the very least!" Anne was peeved once again, all her former sympathy being overpowered by indignation on William’s behalf. "Anyone with eyes can see as your words hit their target! Even you must see it to continue in this manner. What would it profit you if William felt nothing under your verbal attacks? You know you wound him--that is the entire point of it!"

"I’m not a bully," Xander repeated.

"It is more than simply the jealousy your lady friend pointed out, although that is part of it. I suspect you are even jealous of many of William’s vampiric qualities you claim to disdain. The power and strength would appeal to you as it clearly does to him." Anne thought a bit about the boy before her and her son’s sad history of torment by others.

"Bullies are rarely born. They are generally made by other bullies. I suspect that your home life leaves much to be desired. Your father likely beat you and you were not fortunate enough to have the firm foundation of a mother’s love to offset that."

Xander began to squirm noticeably with this unexpected insight.

"You are well on your way to becoming the sort of man you have good reason to dislike," she predicted.

"I’m not my father," Xander cried out in anguish. He cringed at the reminder of his greatest fear.

"No, you are not. However, you are well on your way toward that very outcome." Anne touched the boy on his arm with surprising tenderness. "You have it within you to truly choose and unlike the vampire who gave my son no real choice, you have the benefit of my actually explaining the path you are on to you."

"How do I turn out different though?" Xander asked softly. He was horrified with a vision of himself drunk and overbearing, as he became the father he had always feared.

"You have good qualities as well, Mr. Harris. I have been observing all of you these past few days. You have it in you to be a different sort of man, one to be proud of." Anne felt a strange desire to try to really reach this boy and help him. "You are brave and loyal. You have a quick mind and quick wit as well. You are capable of being nurturing if you choose. But you must WISH to be other than your training has been. You must set your own pattern, rather than merely accepting the one handed to you by your father."

Xander had begun to weep at the unexpected caring he heard in the woman’s voice. He wasn’t ready to concede her points about Spike just yet, but he did have to admit, at least to himself, that much of his behavior didn’t have a thing to do with any real dislike of the vampire per se. There had been moments when Xander had even enjoyed Spike’s company…when he managed to forget for a moment what Spike was.

"We’ve got history," Xander tried to explain. "Spike and me, I mean. I remember before the chip when he tried to kill us."

"He must not have tried very hard then, as you appear quite whole for having been targeted by such a powerful vampire," Anne smiled indulgently.

"Okay, more like knocking me out and scaring me lots of times," Xander admitted. "He did try to kill Buffy though. Lots of times, lots of ways."

"Aaah, but that was before he loved her," Anne stated with a large grin. "It’s as plain as day to me that he loves Buffy dearly; her sister as well, although in a different way. William has such an expressive face; all of his emotions show so clearly. I feel at complete ease in guaranteeing that he will never deliberately hurt either Summers girl in the future. William loves with his whole being and with an amazing constancy. He would rather harm himself than see either girl suffer a moment’s pain."

~~~

Buffy and Giles had listened to every word coming from the other room. Several times one or the other had to force themselves to stay in the kitchen as assertions were made that they just could not agree with. Council ‘truth’ was deeply ingrained in both of them, after all.

As Mrs. Pratt declared Spike’s love for her, Buffy had a stricken look on her face at the thought the vampire might actually be sincere in his feelings. The thought was staggering.

Giles noticed Buffy’s discomfort and assumed she was upset over the idea that Spike had deep feelings for her. "I know Mrs. Pratt believes Spike is genuinely in love with you, Buffy, but you must realize she sees him as a mother would and not clearly."

"I don’t know, Giles, maybe she sees him better than any of us do." Buffy turned a wan smile on her Watcher and revealed the real source of her upset. "Giles, is it possible that I just can’t love anymore? Did Angel take my heart with him for real? I mean if even a soulless vampire can love, why not me?"

Giles made a sideways motion with his head and looked uncomfortable as he sought to reassure his Slayer. "Buffy, you are quite the most loving girl I’ve had the good fortune to meet. Why, your acceptance of Dawn, for example…."

Buffy was shaking her head in denial of Giles’ assessment of her ability to love. "I was never able to really feel for Riley. I’ve been terrible to Dawn more than once," she admitted. "I could love once! I loved Angel with my whole being, Giles. I stood up to the Council, Mom, you, my friends, the Powers even…to be with him. Then he left me and I just shut down."

Giles looked like he was going to deny her statement, but Buffy continued before he could.

"Riley left because I was shut down. I couldn’t love him no matter how hard I tried and he knew it. I hurt him, Giles!" Buffy began to cry softly at the memory.

"Buffy, perhaps it has less to do with your inability to love and more to do with trying to force the feeling for someone that just didn’t inspire it in you," Giles suggested.

"I’ve gotten so good at the whole slaying thing, but it’s like the Buffy part of me is shut off somewhere," Buffy turned wet eyes on her uncomfortable Watcher. "I don’t even know if Mom knew how much I loved her and now she’s gone."

"I’m certain that Joyce knew how much you loved her, Buffy. She was very proud of you, you know," Giles offered.

"I don't know. To slay, to kill...it means being hard on the inside. Maybe being the perfect Slayer means being too hard to love at all. I feel like that first Slayer we called up to defeat Adam. She had no softness at all in her and I’ve felt that way since then." Buffy looked at Giles seeking the answers to the universe in her gaze. "I already feel like I can hardly say the word love."

"Buffy, you just lost your mother; you naturally feel emotionally numb. Your boyfriend left you at the worst possible time and that has opened old scars as well." Giles laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I daresay the moments for proclamations of love have not been foremost of late."

Buffy looked at her Watcher, the man who was more father than her blood kin. She looked into his gentle eyes and tried the words out. "I love you. Love, love, love, love, love…Giles, it feels strange!"

Giles, looking about for emotional cover, was startled beyond the telling. "Well, I shouldn’t wonder!" He took a deep breath and tried again. "My dear girl, I know very well that you love me. Your actions through the years have removed any doubt. Indeed, you show the love you feel, even if the words do not come easily." He smiled and tried to quip, "Perhaps it is my British
influence. We are not known for our impassioned expressions of love, after all."

"Spike’s British and he can just gush," Buffy pointed out.

Giles closed his eyes tiled his head and raised his eyebrows at that. "True, but Spike is not well-known for any sort of restraint either."

Buffy giggled a bit at that and they returned to straining their ears to hear the confrontation that was taking place in the other room. It had become eerily quiet as they had delved into Buffy’s deepest fears.

~~~

The scabby demons roughly pushed and shoved the struggling vampire into the lush apartment and
dramatically gestured to him as they announced their presence.

"Most beauteous and odoriferous of all gods! Most magnificent of all mistresses! Most…"

"Yeah, yeah, can the chatter and explain what THIS is doing in my living room?" Glory had risen from her sofa in annoyance at the intrusion.

Murk took the lead, "Most stunning one, we believe he is…"

Jinx joined and they said in gleeful unison, "the KEY!"

Glory looked a combination of amused and annoyed as she moved toward the small group surrounding the shackled vampire. "Really? The Key, you say?"

Her minions nodded enthusiastically and nearly drooled in anticipation of their reward.

"You see, that’s why your brains aren’t even worth eating!" Glory knocked Murk out of her way as she walked in circles around Spike. "Any moron would know it’s not possible for THIS to be my Key!" Glory leaned in and sniffed at Spike then shook her head. "The Key has to be pure. THIS is a vampire. There is nothing pure about him."

Spike perked up at the hellgod’s observation, "Got that right, toots. Impure as the driven snow here. I’ll just be leaving," he said, his voice shaking a bit in suppressed fear. He tried to turn for the door only to be stopped by Murk.

A nervous Jinx was trying to make sense of this development. "But, your wonderfulness, we observed the Slayer. She has even permitted this one to move into her home. Why would a slayer of vampires house one if not to protect him from us? Indeed, the Slayer treats this one as one special, precious even."

Glory’s eyebrows raised at that as her curiosity took hold. "Really? Precious?" She pushed aside her minions and took hold of Spike’s chin, looking at him closely. "Let’s take a peek at you, precious, shall we?"

Spike summoned all his snark and replied, "Sod off."

Glory smirked as she let loose with a flying fist that sent Spike backward into the wall. The blow was fierce, leaving cracked plaster and a bloody Spike. Before Spike’s head could clear, the hellgod was grabbing him by his lip and pulling him upright. He struggled to rise lest it tear. "If the Slayer protects him, maybe appearances are deceiving."

"Slayer can’t stand me. Wasting your time there, bitch," Spike spat in spite of his fear.

Glory picked Spike up and threw him onto her bed. He landed hard with his hands trussed up behind him, causing pain in his back as the fullness of his weight landed on them.

"He may not be the Key, but he may not be a complete waste of our time. Maybe there’s something on the inside that makes him valuable. Let’s see, shall we?" Glory took a finger and thrust it into his stomach.

Spike screamed in pain as Glory dug around in the vampire’s gut. "Shhh, what do you know, precious? What secrets do you have? What can I dig out of you?" She removed her finger from his bleeding stomach and reached for his head, pulling it up with one hand and grasping his hair painfully.

Before Spike could react, her questing finger plunged into the back of his skull, causing searing pain and a piercing scream.

Glory had a look of intense concentration as she probed the opening, finally smiling in victory. "Now what do you suppose this might be?" She held up a small device in triumph. It was Spike’s chip.

Any joy Spike might have felt at being released from the hated bit of metal and silicon was lost on the now unconscious vampire. He didn’t feel a thing as Glory had her minions chain him to the ceiling in preparation for a thorough interrogation when he did revive.

 
Chapter 10
 
Slogging my way through continued (but improving) computer problems and dropping in (and updating) where I can....I give you the next chapter:

~*~
Chapter 10
~*~

"But I don’t understand why I had to leave," Dawn whined. "Not that I don’t love staying over here or anything."

"Mrs. Pratt wouldn’t want you--any of us, really--to be there. She’s the sort of lady that corrects someone in private and Xander was the one she wanted to set straight," Tara reasoned.

"Besides, we need to think up plans for using the nifty robot in our white hat army and you’ll want to add your two cents," teased Willow.

"Okay, mostly I’m thinkin’ how to send the bot out to get a high paying job so Buffy can finally take me to Disneyland," Dawn suggested.

Willow smiled indulgently. "See, I never would have thought of that strategy! Cartoon mice are always an important resource to white hat armies. I watched enough Tom & Jerry, Mighty Mouse and, of course, Mickey to know that much."

"Yeah, maybe drop a piano on Glory’s head or something," giggled Dawn. "If we do go, I’ll have to get Buffy to kidnap Mickey!"

All three girls were hit with a fit of giggles at the picture of Glory going mano a mano with a five-foot mouse in gloves. "Hi, Glory," Dawn mimicked the Disney character, "I hear you want a green ball of energy. Let me introduce you to my friend Kermit!"

"Oh, Xander does THE best Kermit imitation. Too bad he’s not here to do it." Willow began
to look a bit sad at the thought of her dear friend off getting a tongue lashing while they were having such a good time.

Tara sensed what caused the mood switch in her girlfriend and sought to soothe her guilt. "We did the right thing, sweetie. Xander is a wonderful guy, but he’s been kinda out of control lately and Mrs. Pratt really doesn’t have any choice but to put her foot down." She smiled at Willow and whispered, "Maybe it will be in time to save his relationship with Anya. I’m sure nothing but good will come out of it."

"I don’t know if fixin’ up Xander’s latest demony love life badness is of the good or not," Willow began, "but I know he loves Anya, so I just have to keep my fingers crossed and keep hopin’." Willow’s grin looked as forced as the sentiment.

"Anya’s not so bad really." Dawn knew that Willow and Anya were still like two wet cats in a bag when left alone together. "She’s kinda funny and at least you always know what she’s thinking."

"That would be about money or sex…no mystery there," Willow said with a roll of the eyes.

"I think Anya really does love Xander though," Tara said thoughtfully. "I mean for himself. He’s
certainly not rich or powerful or anything like that, but she doesn’t even look at any other fella. Maybe we’re too hard on her. It can’t be easy to suddenly be human again after all those centuries as a demon."

"But she’s not even sorry for all the stuff she did when she was all veiny!" Willow was off and running with the first of many things about her friend’s lover that offended and repelled her. "Sure, she doesn’t talk as much about all the curses as she used to. Xander finally got her to shut up with all the dreamy-eyed reminisces of plagues and dismemberments and creative killings. I still don’t think she regrets even one of them though!" She shuddered at the memory of Anya’s previous trips down demon memory lane. "Even Spike doesn’t go on and on about the ‘bad old days’ like that!"

"Spike used to tell me stories when I’d visit him in his crypt." Dawn looked wistful at the memory of those comparitively simple times. "He usually made the endings happy though. I think he thought Buffy would stake him if he was honest. I mean really how dumb does he think I am? ‘Gave the little girl to a good family that would never put her in a coal bin’ my a…." She stopped as she noticed the raised eyebrows on the witches’ faces.

"It does sound like Spike seems to know that blood-and-death stories aren’t appropriate. Funny, that almost sounds like he still has some clue about right and wrong. I thought Giles said you had to have a soul for that." Willow looked thoughtful at that concept. "Maybe Mrs. Pratt is right and William isn’t completely gone.

"Spike said that Angel’s sire Darla told him that a vampire is whatever the person was like, only even more so and with the gloves off." Dawn tried to explain how she had interpreted that bit of information. "See, it’s like if you were a bad person, you became even more bad as a vampire. Spike must have been a nice guy because he has to work at being all evil." Her eyes widened as she begged, "Don’t ever tell him I said that! He hates anyone thinking he’s not the Big Bad." She relaxed as Willow and Tara nodded in an unspoken agreement at secrecy. "It’s like vampires know right from wrong but just don’t care anymore. At least that’s the way I think it works. I don’t know if that’s a soul or what.

Dawn suddenly became solemn and quiet. "I wonder if I have a soul? Glory said the key was evil and I’m the Key. Spike said it didn’t matter how I started out but how I am now that matters. But I still wonder if I have a soul…and if Buffy would love me if I don’t."

"Of course you have a soul, silly," Tara rushed to reassure the adolescent. "It’s a lovely one too. I’ve seen your aura, remember?"

"Spike was very smart with what he told you, Dawn. I’d listen to him…at least about that," Willow added. "Buffy’d love you no matter what though. You’re her little sister, no matter how it all happened."

"So maybe what’s important isn’t if you have a soul but how you act?" Dawn hesitantly suggested.

"Sounds right to me. Lots of humans with souls act as bad as any demon I’ve met." Willow filed that thought away to look at more closely at a later time.

~~~

Mrs. Pratt was in the kitchen preparing a proper pot of tea for the shaken young man. There were few trials in life that a good cup of tea couldn’t help put into perspective, after all. There would even be enough to offer a cup to Buffy and Mr. Giles as well. Those two looked as if they could use a bit of it as well.

"So, how DO I keep from becoming the kind of man my shining example of a father has shown me?" Xander really, really didn’t want to become just another rotten apple in the Harris family basket.

"You listen to the voice within you that tells you right from wrong. You make a conscious choice to be kind and always err on the side of love. You treat others as you would wish them to treat you. You choose your own role models. Mr. Giles is one possible choice. He is not a perfect person--no one is, you know--but he endeavors to be a good and decent man." Mrs. Pratt smiled kindly at the boy. "When all else fails, ask yourself what your father would do or say in any given circumstance and then do the opposite!"

"You make it sound easy," Xander said softly.

"It isn’t. Life is hard and the choices are always before you, often coming fast one upon another. You will not always succeed, but the telling part of a man of good character is what you do when you do fail. Do you give up? Or do you make amends? Do you attempt to do better? Those are the making of a good man, the true mark of success." Anne poured out the tea in four cups and motioned for Buffy and Giles to join them. "A good rule of thumb is to always be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."

"William was really lucky," Buffy smiled at Mrs. Pratt. "You’re really wise…and nice."

"I’m merely old, I think, and wisdom comes from living." Anne’s sweet countenance showed the true humility at the core of the woman. "I am very lucky to have William as well. He is a good man for all the obstacles he has had in his way of it."

Giles really didn’t want a fight with the good lady, but he hated even more the thought of her eventual disappointment when she finally saw Spike clearly. "Mrs. Pratt, I mean no disrespect, nor do I wish to cause you undue distress, yet I must point out that the being you see only as your son is not the man you knew."

Anne fixed the Watcher with a steely glare, "Do we need to have a private conversation too, Mr.
Giles? I assure you there are things I have available to say to you as well."

Giles shook his head. "No, no, I’d really rather avoid a dressing down. Bad for my image as the mature adult and all." He tried to put a light face on the situation.

"Good. You have been kindness itself in your dealings with me and I wish to call you friend. But I will always side with my son, make no mistake on that," Anne vowed. "I have heard the arguments you have made, read the journals you have offered, and yet I still see the man that my son is.

Once more, Anne held out a staying hand as she continued. "He lost his way. To survive, to be successful in his new form, he made choices. Many were bad ones, to be sure, but they did permit his survival. He lost sight of humans as other than food and humanity as other than dangerous emotions. He was surrounded by those who drew out the worst in him. The device that has caused him such pain was really a blessing in disguise, as it has permitted William to once more be in company with humans as peers. He has once more dipped into the well of humanity that never left him. He is surrounded by all of you now, rather than those who glory in evil and bloodshed."

Giles closed his eyes and nodded. "I had hopes that Spike would choose to embrace our fight and even suggested that this chip might have been a plan by the Powers for him to change his path."

Anne looked at Giles appraisingly. "And when did you make this suggestion?"

"He had just moved into his crypt…er…his home after having been sheltered by me from the soldiers who captured him." Giles remembered the sting of rejection he had felt as Spike laughed in his face at the idea. The seeds of his resentment of this particular vampire had been sown then.

"So it was fairly soon after William’s life was radically altered, correct?" Anne asked, eyebrows
raised. She waited for Giles’ expected nod to continue. "Did you think to make the offer again at a later time? Perhaps after William began to help out, to interact, to adjust to his changed status?"

Giles merely stared at the lady, stunned to realize that he had never again made any such offer to the chipped vampire.

"Yet with no assistance from any of you, it appears that William has altered his path." Anne shook her head sagely. "I am very proud of him!"

"We helped him," Buffy argued. "We kept his sorry a…um…kept him from being recaptured by the Initiative. We fed him, put him up in our houses…."

"For which I am eternally grateful, my dear." Anne smiled at the blustering girl "By ‘assistance’ I refer to moral guidance. Did any of you offer any word of encouragement to him in his small victories against his demonic nature? Did any of you offer a hand of friendship with no ulterior motive? Did you offer to help him find his way?"

The sheepish looks on the three faces gathered round the table gave answer even as none spoke a word.

"From what I have observed, my son has had just the opposite from all of you, with the exception of Dawn and Tara. Xander has been the most vocal, but I have noted the remarks, the looks, the slights. For William to have come this far with no help-- with all of you impeding his way, actually--is remarkable! Just imagine how much of his humanity he might have reclaimed had you offered that little bit of help." Anne looked at Giles specifically as she continued, "Yes, you made the offer but let your hurt pride prevent any further offers. You should have realized that he was at a loss and vulnerable when you first approached him. The attitude I have seen you show to William would be enough to prevent his seeking you out at a later time when he was ready for the change."

There was continued silence as each individual tried to process what Mrs. Pratt had just suggested. Had they really made it harder for Spike to change? Had he really made changes for the better against their best efforts to defeat his attempts?

"You didn’t mention Anya," Xander noted. "You mentioned Dawnie and Tara but didn’t say anything about Anya. I don’t think she’s ever been mean to Spike."

Anne nodded in agreement. "No, I haven’t noticed any animosity towards my son coming from Anya’s direction. I did not mention her because she is in a similar situation to William. She is also relearning what it is to be human. Unlike William, however, she is being helped and accepted to a degree."

Anne turned back to address Xander specifically again. "You need to try more kindness in that quarter as well. If you truly do love this girl, you need to show her respect also. She has lived far longer than you, yet you berate her publicly for her mistakes. She is blunt and indiscreet, but you are fully aware of those qualities. If you wish for her to change that portion of her personality, you should show her the respect to correct her privately."

Anne turned to Giles again. "I am surprised a man of your position is ignoring two such valuable resources. Between William’s experiences and Anya’s, you have a wealth of information available to you with only a question asked. I would think that after a thousand years as a demon, there would be little that Anya would be ignorant of and yet you do not appear to ask for her opinion or information at all. William has more firsthand knowledge of his world than any of your books, yet you never even ask his input. I’m surprised at you!"

"Put that way, I’m a bit surprised myself," Giles muttered.

~~~

Spike was hanging from the ceiling of Glory’s bedroom. His face bore witness of the fits and starts of the mad hell god and her idea of questioning a prisoner.

Glory paced around the vampire, anger glittering in her eyes. "I have a riddle for you, precious," she pronounced the last word dripping with sarcasm. "How is a vampire that won’t talk like an apple?"

She grabbed Spike’s hair and pulled his head back, exposing his throat to the dagger she held. She ran the blade from his Adam’s apple to mid-chest, leaving a trail of blood from the shallow cut.

"Think I can do you in one long strip?" Her threat to flay Spike was clear as her motions left no question of her intent.

"I really don’t see why you care about these people anyway. They’re meat sacks only good for a brain suck to me and a blood suck for you. Either way, they’re only good for suckage." Glory wrinkled her nose in distaste.

Spike gave a snort of bitter laughter. "You’re lying to yourself, hell bitch. You like this world more than you want to admit. Look at all the human things you seem to enjoy! You got the bloody mall in your closet and half the current line of Revlon on your vanity!"

"I deserve beautiful things! I’m a god! How dare you put me in the same category as these insects that crawl all over this ball of dirt as if it were dung," she sneered.

"Still, humans created all of that stuff you like so much and use to try to make yourself worth lookin’ at. Humans--okay, most of the high-end designers are Marut-Oza demons, but the worst evil they do is encourage women to try to look like starved twelve-year-old boys and design God awful fashions no one in their right mind would wear." Spike curled a lip in derision. "Wait…YOU wear them, but that just proves my point."

Glory’s blow laid open Spike’s right cheek. He was just glad she hadn’t used the hand with the dagger. ‘Ego the size of her dementia; good to know. Just wait for the right time and try to stay undusty in the meanwhile,’ he thought to himself.

"You wanna know who the Key is? Fine, I’ll tell you." Spike saw the hell god perk up at finally getting what she had spent hours fishing for.

"Start talkin’. You make me happy and maybe I’ll let you live after all." Glory perched on the sofa in anticipation.

Spike steeled himself for a bad reaction to his little plan. "Yeah, okay, the Key. Here’s the thing….." He twisted in his chains looking for a weak spot, a position that might make escape possible. "It’s that guy. Ran things in the last campaign, now the number two guy. What’s his name? Oh, yeah, Dick Cheney."

"We shall bring the bleeding and beaten body of the Vice-President to you at once, o fantabulous one," promised Murk in excitement.

"Dick Cheney is not my Key, you idiots! Firstly, he’s clearly a demon, so again with the impure. Also, he’s old as grit and the Key is new in its current form. Obviously the vampire is lying."


Spike laughed weakly, a small trickle of blood trailing from his lips. "Yeah, but it was fun. And guess what, bitch, I’m not telling you jack. You’re never gonna get your soddin’ Key. You might be strong, but in our world you are a first class idiot. Slayer’ll send you to hell all right, just not one you rule."

Glory drew herself up to her full height and looked at Spike with malice. "I am a god."

Spike continued to test the chains that held him captive. "God of what? Bad home perms?"

Glory moved towards him yelling, "Shut up!"

"Okay, sorry. I just had NO idea that gods were such prancing lightweights. Yup, the Slayer is going to kick your skanky, lopsided ass back to whatever place would take a cheap, whorish, fashion victim ex-god like you." Glory patted her allegedly lopsided backside in unconscious neurosis, as Spike prepared himself for a taste of Glory-delivered hell.

He got it. Glory’s kick was forceful enough to break the chains holding Spike. Unfortunately, it was also strong enough to break several of his remaining intact ribs. Hitting the wall in the hallway also completed the job of shattering his left leg that she had begun during her torture session.

Spike knew that he had to move as quickly as his broken body would allow if he had a chance in hell of escaping the crazed god and her scabby pets. "Good plan, Spike," he mumbled as he half ran, half crawled towards the elevator and freedom

The sounds of Glory ordering her horde of hobbits to bring him back were all the encouragement Spike needed to move faster than should have been possible as his hand hit the closed elevator door. He tried to pry the door open only to discover an open shaft with the elevator car a couple of stories below him. "Oh God," he prayed to any deity willing to listen to a damaged demon.

He leaned forward and let gravity pull him down into a rough landing on top of the elevator car just as Jinx appeared in the doorway.

Jinx yelled, "He’s in the lift! Quick, downstairs!"


Spike opened the hatch and fell through into the car itself, trying to summon up the strength he would need to get out of the elevator and the building before being recaptured. No Marines or Cavalry were going to show up to save his bacon. As far as anyone knew, he was off for a sulking walk right about now.

The elevator doors opened to an armed gaggle of scabby gargoyles led by Murk. "You do not insult Glory by escaping! The most sensational one is not finished with you yet."

Spike struggled to his feet and prepared to put up a fight only to have Jinx hit him once more with a taser.

"Bloody hell," he mumbled as he fell at their feet. His last clear view was of Glory morphing into the young doctor that Buffy had been chatting up at the Bronze a few weeks ago. The same doctor currently treating his mother!



 
Chapter 11
 
A/N: Sorry for the delay. Still tying up residue of computer problems here. Did manage to post my Witch story on time at the lj community, and now have this update. Thank you for your patience. If you are interested in the Witch story here's the link:
http://community.livejournal.com/watchersdiaries/70588.html#cutid1
(there may be a surprise guest in it even though the characters are Buffyverse originals)



~*~
Chapter 11
~*~

Ben hovered over the unconscious vampire and tried to decide what he should do. On one hand, he had become a doctor out of a genuine desire to help others, to ease suffering. That led to the determination to see the valiant vampire get away from Glory safely, his secrets intact. On the other hand, Ben wanted to distance himself from the entire sordid mess. Much as he liked the Summers girl, there was little hope the child could be kept safe from Glory forever. Perhaps it was best to have it all over quickly.

Spike moaned as he swam back to awareness. He saw the improbable sight of the pretty boy doctor and knew his memory of Ben morphing from Glory had been reality. ‘Here now, Glory, the barmy bimbo, shares the same skin as Dr. Do Good? Best look into that before I pass word on to the Slayer. Bint’s not likely to just take my word on that, seein’ how Buffy was all purrin’ kitty for gentle Ben.’ Both Spike’s demon and man rankled at the memory of Buffy preening for the young medic while ignoring Spike’s own efforts to court her.

‘Might be smart to let on like I didn’t see the Presto Change-o gig.’ Spike moaned again and opened his eyes as much as the swelling allowed. "Glory send for a doc? Vampire here, not likely what you trained for."

Ben swallowed in relief. The vampire hadn’t seen the transformation after all! "Well, the lady didn’t seem too rational, all things considered." Ben feigned nervousness and backed away from Spike. "You aren’t going to suck my blood, are you?"

"Not bloody likely," Spike let out a snort of derision. "Not up to swingin’ a cat, much less chasin’ around some lunch. You’re safe." Spike decided it was best if Glory or Ben or whatever the hell this being really was had no idea that his fangs had been pulled by the last medical people Spike’d had the displeasure of meeting.

"Wouldn’t mind a bit of a hand though. Like you said, the bint’s completely crackers. Sorry, you bein’ a doctor and all, I shoulda said she’s non compos mentis." Ben smiled in spite of himself. "Be kinda nice to get out of here before she gets back. Be smart of you to make yourself scarce too, come to that."

"Think you can travel?" Ben offered a hand-up to the prone vampire.

"With a bit of help, yeah. Kinda got a lot of motivation, ya know?" Spike gave a pained, crooked smile to the medic.

"We’d better hurry. There’s no telling when Glo… the lady might return." Ben draped Spike’s arm around his shoulder and headed for the door. He would have to be crafty to be certain Glory’s fawning pygmies didn’t report everything he did to help this vampire. It wouldn’t do for her to think her answers might be as close as inside the brain she shared with him!

As Ben half-carried Spike from the building, Spike began forming a plan to hunt down those rejects from a medieval faire and ask some serious questions about Glory. Spike felt fairly certain that one of the Knights of the Padded Cell would have the answer to this ‘two gits for the price of one’ package.

~~~

Buffy went to bed as soon as Xander gathered his courage to go home and try to make peace with Anya. "Groveling is a learned skill. Luckily for me, I learned it years ago," Xander had said ruefully.

Giles, on the other hand, lingered over the best cuppa he’d ever had and the company he was enjoying more with each meeting. "Buffy is quite right, you know. You are a genuinely nice lady, as well as wise beyond your years."

Anne blushed and lowered her eyes. Was Mr. Giles flirting with her? It had been so many years that she wasn’t sure. "You are far too kind. I know full well that I am your elder, so you needn’t try to turn me up sweet. I’d wager you are merely trying to deflect any further lectures about my son with your honeyed words."

"Nonsense!" Giles responded honestly. "If you are my elder, it isn’t by much. Those years between your timeline and your arrival in mine certainly don’t count."

They laughed and compared ages, discovering that Anne was, indeed, a mere seven years the elder. "See," Giles exclaimed, "not a vast difference at all!"

They shared a companionable silence as Anne began to rethink her rejection of Dawn’s offer to cut, color and style her hair in a more modern, youthful manner. ‘Maybe there’s life in this old girl yet,’ she mused and looked at the Watcher speculatively.

Giles was opening up about his career as Buffy’s Watcher. It became clear that the man had many areas where guilt had taken root. Mrs. Pratt had heard many of these stories from the youngsters themselves over the time she had been in their company and knew that Mr. Giles had nothing for which to chastise himself.

"You know," she said gently, "in spite of your strength, intelligence and bravery, you appear to be secretly consumed with fear!" At Giles’ slightly affronted look, she hastily continued. "No, not for yourself! You are actually quite self-sacrificing. I speak of fear of letting down those you love. Or worse…," she trailed off. "William is just like that. He did everything he could to not let me down. As I’ve said, you really do have much in common."

Giles snorted and then looked a bit worried that he was in for a dressing down too. He relaxed a bit when he could see that Anne had taken no offense.

"That is the very trait that has caused much pain for William, and others no doubt. His desire to please led to his striving to be what that creature that changed him desired him to be. Those other creatures who molded and taught him would have found it easy to achieve the results they wished if they noticed his eager desire to be accepted, loved, cared about." Anne had a far away look of sadness as she spoke her thoughts aloud. "He had so little of that, you know, except from me. I always adored him, but…well, that’s of no importance now."

Giles was compelled in spite of himself to know more of Mrs. Pratt’s views on her son. "Do go on. You paint an interesting and remarkably unexpected picture of William that I’d not thought of before."

Mrs. Pratt smiled sweetly and took advantage of the invitation. "He’s doing it now, as you would see if you but lifted your blinders."

"Doing what?" Giles was not certain of Anne’s meaning in the least.

"Trying to become that which pleases. He is trying with all he is to be the sort of man you all-- especially Buffy--can like and accept." She noted the stiffened posture of Buffy’s Watcher and surrogate father. "This troubles you I can see. You can feel the attraction between them as well and that awareness has opened doors to all your own fears, hasn’t it?"

Giles nodded slightly but remained silent.

"Really though, why fear a change in William for the better?" Anne smiled brightly. "If you worry it will not be genuine, you need not. To begin with, he is good at heart. The descent into evil was the natural result of what happened to him. Evil can seduce even a human and you know that well, I venture."

Giles started to sputter a disclaimer, but Anne was continuing already. "I suspect you rebelled as a youth and it had disastrous consequences?" At Giles’ slight nod, she continued. "After you returned to the fold, no doubt with many ‘I told you so’ comments from those surrounding you, my guess is that you vowed to stay the straight and narrow thenceforth. You sought safety in the established rule of order."

Anne really had no intention of lecturing Giles, but it was past time to clear the air and make the man see what was before his own eyes.

"I’ve had many a chat with the girls and understand your feelings of responsibility about Buffy’s death at the hands of that horrid creature. Your world was shaken to lose a loved one in that way, even if but for a moment. You likely blamed yourself because she is your charge and you could do nothing to prevent that prophecy from fulfillment."

Giles became ashen as he always was when reminded of Buffy being murdered by the Master. He really should have found a way to keep her safe, to prevent the dear girl from having to experience the horror of walking to her death. Xander Harris should not have had to be the one to save her. HE was her Watcher, after all!

Anne watched the play of emotions on the man’s face and had a good idea of his train of thought. "Instead of dwelling on what you see as failure, note that Buffy IS alive because rules were broken! That prophecy was not permitted to go unchallenged. She lives in spite of the established fact that her death was predicted. There was even another Chosen called! Had you not ventured from the old rules, old ways in dealing with Buffy that might not be the case."

Giles brightened a bit as his mind tried to wrap itself around that concept. The Council had been clear that it was Giles’ unorthodox methods that had led to every disaster and near disaster that Buffy had encountered. Giles often felt a complete failure, an emotion even more painful because of his real love for the girl.

"Yes, but there were areas where I should have used a firmer hand. I let Buffy dictate, make decisions that brought catastrophe," Giles said with a shiver.

"I know a bit about her first love--a vampire, but one NOT like my William. I know that you set aside long held beliefs and accepted the relationship and that now you feel guilty for letting your guard down." Anne ventured a compassionate touch on Giles’ hand.

"Angel," Giles nearly spat. Old wounds never fully seemed to heal where those dark days were concerned. "I should have forbade her ever seeing him. I should have made it clear that a vampire, even one with a soul, was not a proper match for a Slayer…for any human, really."

"My dear Mr. Giles, you could not have stopped the girl had you tried!" Anne laughed in amusement. "Surely YOU are not so old as to forget the power of first love?"

Giles had to smile at that. "No, I don’t suppose she would have listened to me had I tried."

"No, she would not have. She would have had her relationship in secret and you would have been even less prepared for the sad outcome that has so tainted all of you regarding Buffy’s love life and vampires in general. Angel is Angel. He is neither William nor any other vampire; just as William is William and not Angel. Can you for a moment imagine a chipped, unsouled Angel behaving as my William has done?"

Giles wiggled his eyebrows and moved his head from side to side. "Not really. He’d have had his minions bringing him Initiative soldiers to dine on and would have wreaked havoc on us all."

"Exactly!" Anne thought she might just get through to this man that not all things were clear-cut. "What did occur when Angel showed his evil colors has caused much residual damage to you all. For you, it has caused anger and fear that has placed blinders on you. To be the man you should be, MUST be, you feel you need to build a fortress around your Slayer and this has made you stop trusting her and yourself. You second-guess your own judgement and completely dismiss Buffy’s."

Giles started to protest but thought better of it. Mrs. Pratt did have a point, if he were to be honest with himself.

"You need to learn to trust yourself again. Your Slayer is successful BECAUSE she follows instinct, not rigid training. This world is not black and white and you KNOW that. You also know that it is dangerous to deny the truth of it."

"But Buffy cannot be out there night after night second-guessing herself. It is kill or be killed and seeing things in black and white might let her age to full womanhood." Giles had given this much thought over the years and was certain he was right.

"But just look at where that can lead," Anne tried to illustrate. "Look at William: it was black and white thinking that led to monstrous choices on his part. When that female turned him, he was not a man any longer and thus had to be a monster, or so he thought, so he was taught. Look what the world nearly lost! I thank the gracious Lord that some part of William rebelled at this black and white view of the world. It enabled him to hold onto parts of himself that might have been lost otherwise."

"Yes, but Spike DID become evil," Giles pointed out.

"Sadly that is true, but never completely. Just think, had he held to the notion of limitless possibilities, perhaps he would have struck out and made his OWN path decades ago! What a champion for good he can be and could have been so much sooner."

"So you are saying that viewing the world in absolutes is the real danger?" Giles was appalled at the concept. He was dead certain that only by seeing Buffy’s calling this way could he hope to keep her alive. These were dangerous thoughts coming from Spike’s mother and Giles began to think it might be better for Anne Pratt to be out of the Summers home forthwith.

Anne saw the stubborn set of Giles’ jaw and a hardness come into his eyes. Clearly she was getting through to the man and that was bringing up all his defenses. She knew his greatest fear was losing Buffy to a horrible fate because of a wrong choice on his part.

"I understand that the Slayer must err on the side of black and white to survive battle, but not everything in her life is a battle," Anne said placatingly. "All I am saying is that you should give William a chance. Observe him and don’t make judgements based on preconceived notions."

"Are you telling me that all I believe, all the collected wisdom of the Council that I have been taught is wrong?" Giles snarked. His back was straight and his attitude indignant.

"No, of course not. That would be an absolute, wouldn’t it?" Anne teased a bit. "Most is likely correct, albeit I suspect much of that ‘wisdom’ you were taught is flawed. There is likely much knowledge deliberately withheld or altered. It is much like religion in that. You mustn’t throw away the baby while disposing of the bathwater! Embrace the core truths, but let your higher self see the subtle shades."

Giles openly laughed, tension falling from him once more. "I daresay Quentin Travers would love to see himself as Archbishop of Canterbury. I believe I understand what you are getting at with this."

"Take the Bible," Anne decided to drive the point home. "I love the Good Book, believe in it as any well-educated Christian woman does. Still, to take it all literally, you are left with odd bits of black and white such as seeing shellfish as an abomination or finding you are called upon to stone others right and left for their transgressions! It IS all there within the pages, after all, in black and white. But by allowing your higher self to see the shading, one can remember that the larger message in the Bible is that God is a God of love who does not call on us to hate one another nor to set ourselves up as judges. It does not invalidate the words in black and white nor change the original reasons for them. Yet what a harsh and unloving world this would be if that were all we did! You do not need to reject all you have been taught, merely use your fine mind to make your judgements. Open your heart and see all the shades."

"But if you are right and Buffy is drawn to Spike…," Giles felt a shiver of fear again.

"You really need not fear a re-enactment of what went before. Buffy has the ability to recognize the potential for good in William. This does not mean she would or should throw caution to the wind. Buffy is far too intelligent to do that and is even more cautious than you to do so after her first heartbreak. She would not enter a relationship all dewy-eyed again."

"So I should…what…sit back and watch?" Giles snorted.

"That is your title," Anne chided. "Mr. Giles, William as a vampire IS prone to evil, but he can and HAS chosen good. To see only the ‘truth’ of his vampiric nature and reject the reality of the individual choice is to miss the important part of the lesson. It is just possible that my William's love for Buffy might be the very thing to help keep her living well beyond the norm. Surely the powers and abilities he possesses as a vampire could be a great asset if she would but allow it. William would lay down his life for those he loves."

"Speaking of William, he hasn’t returned yet," Giles noted.

"I shall have to call him to task for that," Anne nodded. "He knows I worry about him. I suspect he’s in a bit of a snit that I didn’t allow him to witness my chat with young Mr. Harris."

Giles laughed, "Yes, Spike would have loved to have heard that! They get on like two pit bulls at a dogfight. Two minutes in company and the hackles begin to rise."

"I believe Mr. Harris will think on what I said. He’s a good boy at heart. I will need to speak to William as well. He often asks for trouble, but please don’t tell him I said so." Anne turned pleading eyes on friend. For the second time that night she began to wonder if there might be more than friendship in time.

~~~

Spike made his painful way back to his crypt, racing the sun as he sought shelter. He had allowed Ben to help him get as close to Restview Cemetery as possible without making his destination obvious. It wouldn’t do to let Glory/Ben know where he lived when not camped out at Buffy’s.

The bloodied and beaten vampire stumbled over a low tombstone and cursed at the late Mr. Dobbs for having the audacity to be buried right in his path. He heard a rustling in the bushes to the right and tensed for a fight.

"Come on out, you bugger, I can hear you just fine," Spike called in false bravado.

"Don’t hurt me, Spike! I just wanted to see if you taped the "Airwolf" marathon on USA Network tonight," came the nervous voice attached to the saggy gray demon. "Man, what happened to you? Did those demons at Willie’s get mad at you for helping the Slayer again?"

"Not quite, Clem," Spike sighed in relief. With his sweet-tempered friend at hand, he might just survive this night after all. "’Preciate a bit of a hand gettin’ home though."

"Sure thing, Spike. Wow, you sure are a mess! Do you need me to pick up some blood for you after I get you settled?" Clem looked at Spike’s injuries and even in the dark of night it was obvious the vampire was in a bad way.

"You’re a soddin’ miracle, Clem," Spike whispered. "Yeah, I’d ‘preciate that too. I need to lay low for a bit, got some leprous Lilliputians most likely lookin’ for me. Rather they don’t get lucky at the mo."

"Hey, I saw that miniseries about Gulliver! I didn’t know there really was a place with tiny people though. Sure is a strange world," Clem’s ears snapped as he shook his head in amazement.

"That it is," Spike agreed as they entered his crypt. "Clem, how would you like to be a spy for me, seein’ how I’m not exactly mobile."

"You mean like on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."?" Clem was excited at the idea of playing Napoleon Solo for his buddy.

"Anyone ever tell you you watch too much TV?" Spike bit his lip as the pain hit him from the chuckle.

"All the time," Clem said sadly. "Lost my last girlfriend over it. She was a Y’Blisk demon though, so I may have been lucky. I found out later that they eat the male after mating! Kinda glad I was hooked on "Melrose Place" at the time." Clem shuddered at the possibilies.

Spike described the odd Knights, who, like Glory, seemed to be looking for the Key and asked Clem to report back if he spotted any of them. He didn’t want to worry his mother, but he didn’t want to go to Buffy without anything to back up his information on Ben/Glory.

Clem headed out for some much needed blood and to scout for humans in crusader outfits, leaving Spike to work on his plan. Next on the list would be to find out if Ben was human at all. If he weren’t, then Spike could solve all their problems without having to worry anyone further. "If I didn’t have this bloody chip, I’d just drain the bugger and be done with it," Spike snarled.
 
Chapter 12
 
A/N:Going to post this while I seem to be able to do so. Due to computer problems on my side I am hoping I have all the corrections accounted for from my wonderful, patient and so skillful Beta, my sister of the heart Mary (). Any errors are to be laid at MY door, not hers!

So, without further ado, on to the much delayed chapter:


~*~

Chapter 12

~*~

"An, sweetheart, look …I’m on my knees here. Makin’ a public spectacle. Way too broke to hire a skywriter and too scared to send a clown with balloons." Xander had spent the past hour outside his apartment begging his steamed girlfriend to just open the door a crack.

His key had proven as useless as he had expected it to be, since he knew Anya well enough to expect the locks to be changed.


"Okay, not in the mood for humor, check." He was really beginning to worry that he had finally pushed the ex-demon too far.


After Spike’s mom ripped him a new one and then comforted him with words meant to encourage him to be his better self, Xander had concentrated on trying to figure out how to make things up with Anya. It would be another week before he was payday man again, so a shiny bauble was out of the question.


Maybe he should credit his love with more than avarice, if he wanted to be fair. "An, you were right. I’m a first rate jerk who didn’t know the best thing to ever happen to him. You’re right about a lot of things… except one. It IS you that I love. I maybe needed a battle axe upside my head to make me realize it, but you are my whole world."


He could hear some movement inside and breathed a sigh of relief that he was at least being heard by more than nosy neighbors.


"An, please, if you don’t want me to come in, I do understand. I know I don’t deserve another chance, but please, at least come out and we can go somewhere to talk." His voice caught on a sob at the end. "I don’t deserve you, but, God, honey, I need you…I love you."


Sniffles could be heard from the other side of the door. "Go away, Xander Harris. Go run back to your precious Buffy and let me listen to dumb country music and cry in multiple glasses of cheap American beer."


"I’m not leaving, An," Xander promised. "You have to leave the apartment some time. You’ll have to step over my dead body if necessary, ‘cause I’m not going anywhere until we at least talk. even promise to listen for a change."


A door across the hallway opened and an annoyed gray head popped out. "I’m going to call the police, young man. It’s some people’s bedtime, you know!"


"An, Mrs. Tanner’s planning to have me arrested," Xander whined. You don’t want to become engaged to someone with a criminal record, do you?"


The sniffles stopped before the security chain made a familiar rattle as Anya opened the door a crack.

"Engaged?"


~~~

"It looks like the scene in "Excalibur" when Arthur is getting ready to do battle with Mordred. Only with no cool soundtrack," Clem reported with wide eyes. "You’d think these guys would drive Hummers or something instead of ride horses." The sad-faced demon shook his head in amazement.


"Yeah, well, no accountin’," Spike coughed out. He was feeling slightly better, having made good use of the bags of blood Clem had managed to appropriate for him. Human too, not pig swill! Still, there was lots more needing to be healed and vampires did their healing from the inside out. More bones and tendons would need to mend before the various cuts, abrasions and bruises could make an attempt to return to normal.


"How ya doin’, buddy? Still look like something a Traxlar dragged in though. Maybe I should get some more of the good stuff from The Alibi before it closes for the night," offered Clem.


"Wouldn’t turn it down, mate." Spike decided Clem was quickly earning a spectacular "thank you gift when this whole Glory thing was finished. His help was worth a lot more than a case of Bugles and the complete boxed set of "Best of David Hasselhoff."


"Mind a side trip to the Slayer’s?" Spike knew his mother would be beside herself with worry if he didn’t return soon. Then again, one look at her Willie boy in his current condition might just take away their unexpected miracle and return his mum to her grave. He had to keep her from worrying and buy time to heal.


"No problemo," Clem answered nervously. "Want me to send the Slayer by?" Clem hoped the answer was "no", because the last thing the gentle demon wanted was to beard the slayer of his kind in her own nest! It was one thing for Spike to cozy up to the girl, but Clem liked to keep HIS pair firmly attached!


Spike shuffled painfully over to the box he used to store his personal effects and withdrew a sheet of paper and pen. After a few moments of silence while Spike wrote and Clem shifted from foot to foot in uncomfortable tension, Spike finally gave his instructions. "Give this to anybody who comes to the door unless it’s a genteel older lady. Tell them to give it to the Watcher or the Slayer ONLY. Got that?"


Spike saw the obvious nervousness of his friend and sought to reassure him. "They’re not used to demons just strolling up to the front door and knockin’ politely, so I doubt anyone will be armed. Daft gits probably SHOULD with that hell bitch out and about, but they likely won’t. Just try to look harmless, hand over the note and leave."

~~~

Buffy took the note from Dawn and opened it to read. She really needed to remind her little sister not to simply open the door. Just because the sun had been up for an hour didn’t mean it was safe. Everyone else living in Sunnydale might be blind to the dangers surrounding them, but the Summers household should know better.


Anne had watched the odd man as he muttered quickly and thrust the paper into Dawn’s hand before fleeing in a panic. "Oh, dear, that poor man! I’ve never seen such a dreadful skin condition in all my days, even when my beloved husband held open clinics! Perhaps we should discover his address and refer him to that wonderful Dr. Wilkinson who has given me such hope!"


"I believe ‘that poor man’ was actually a demon, Mrs. Pratt," Giles suggested.



"How strange then that he did not attack! In fact, he seemed far from hostile to me," Anne mused. "I thought you were of the opinion that all demons were bloodthirsty animals with only mayhem in mind?" Anne secretly delighted at the slight blush on the Watcher’s face as he struggled to hold fast to his firm opinions in face of challenge.


"Where on earth could William have gone?" Mrs. Pratt asked of no one in particular.


Buffy’s brow furrowed as she read the short missive. "I need to take a quick trip to see…an informant… at Restview Cemetery," she announced. "I won’t be long." She headed for the door after selecting a stake and small axe.


Giles followed her out onto the porch, concern shining in his eyes. "What is it?" he whispered. "Restview? Was that note from Spike by any chance? We noticed he hadn’t returned… Mrs. Pratt and I, that is."


"Yup, something about Glory and needing to see me in person but not here. We’ll probably both be back in a few minutes and you can grill him for details then. I really don’t know anything else." Buffy sighed, not happy at having to go out so soon after a late night.


She had wakened from her first dream-free sleep since her mom had died, wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and the arms of oblivion that awaited her there. Dawn’s exuberant chatter upon returning from her overnight stay with the Wiccans had jolted Buffy from her slumber and now it would be pointless to hope for a nap later. Before Buffy could properly scold her sister for her high decibel human alarm clock imitation there had been that odd demon at her door and now this. ‘Spike better have a damn good reason for making me come to him instead of just dragging his dead tush back home and talking to me at a civilized hour here,’ she thought peevishly.


Buffy was only a block away from her house when she nearly ran down Xander, who was walking down the sidewalk muttering to himself.


"Xan?" Buffy could see that her friend was troubled but didn’t really want to take the time right then to listen to the latest in the Xander and Anya follies. "Hey, I’m in a bit of a rush, but Giles is up if you need, you know, to talk or something."


"And just how am I going to afford a decent diamond on my salary?" Xander seemed to be asking himself. "I would have to hook up with a woman who can tell color, clarity and carat size in her sleep!"


As interesting as Xander’s mumblings seemed to be, Buffy just wanted to go and meet with Spike and get home before the day had a chance to get too crazy.


She had plans to work with Willow in getting that stupid robot ready for job interviews. The sooner some cash started coming in, the better. Buffy had just been informed that the life insurance money would all be used up paying her mom’s medical bills. Right now, time was of the essence and there would be time for deciphering Xanderisms later.

~~~

Willow made herself busy in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for the household. Buffy was hopeless in the kitchen and Dawn didn’t seem to have inherited any of Joyce’s skills in the culinary arts either.


Anne watched from the doorway as Willow piled waffles on a plate and muttered some foreign words over them before turning back to the stovetop. As the sausages began to sizzle, Anne decided to ask, "My dear, won’t those lovely cakes cool too quickly sitting on the counter in that manner? I do not presume to have any special skills in the kitchen aside from the planning of menus, but it would seem they would need to be placed in a chafing dish at the very least."


"Not a problem, witch here," Willow smiled. "A few words in Sumerian and presto… fresh as just grilled!"


"Do you often use magic for such trivial matters?" Anne was perplexed. Surely such important skills should not be so blithely put to use. "I would think it a great waste of power to do that which can easily be accomplished without an incantation."


"What’s power if not to use?" Willow asked.

Anne felt a slight rush of fear run along her spine at those words. The girl seemed to have a too casual disregard for the wonderous gift she possessed.


Xander entered from the back porch before Anne could give voice to her concerns. "And hello, waffly goodness! Willow, my dearest and bestest cooking friend in all of Sunnydale, you must have known I was on my way!"


"Not really, but just remember, mister, that I CAN track you down if I ever really need to," Willow teased.


"And at that, I tremble," Xander said with a false shudder. "Of course you could always do that anyway; I’m a creature of habit and you know me too well." He smiled charmingly.


"Did you make up with Anya last night?" Willow wasn’t sure what to hope his answer would be. She had never warmed to the former demon, but she didn’t want her oldest friend to have his heart shattered either.


"Check and double check," he replied. "Or maybe I should say checkmate. I managed to get myself engaged last night, Will."


Willow scrunched her face adorably and said in a questioning tone of voice, "Congratulations? Why do I think you aren’t exactly happy moon-walking man about this?"


"I am," Xander answered quickly--too quickly. At Willow’s dubious look, he said again, "I am. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with Anya. I really don’t even want to see myself without her there with me. It’s just …I don’t know, I guess I’m not sure if I’m really ready."


Xander looked at Mrs. Pratt and nodded in greeting. "After that talking- to from a very wise lady, I realize that I have some growing up to do and now I’ve jumped right into the fire." Willow crossed her arms and gave him her most stern look. "It’s just that nothing was getting through to Anya. She wasn’t listening to my apologies." Willow continued to glare disapproval.
"I can’t lose her, Will."


"Perhaps Anya would be agreeable to a long engagement," suggested Mrs. Pratt. "That would give you a bit of time to know your heart better without withdrawing your request for her hand."


Xander looked like a drowning man who had just discovered a life preserver floating by. "Do you think she’d go for it?"


"Tell her that’ll give her time to plan a big, expensive wedding," Willow suggested. "Anya should jump at that," she added snidely.


"I would think that Miss Jenkins would have some traditional values, owing to her origins," Mrs. Pratt agreed with better disposition. "Long engagements were commonplace for most cultures in days gone by. She may want the time to properly prepare for her role as Mrs. Xander Harris. Meanwhile, you will have the time to finally realize that you are not your father."


Anne knew that the boy was still on shaky ground in spite of the inroads made the previous evening.


All in all, Anne was pleased to have been brought into this strange new world. Not only did he beloved son need her, but it was also becoming quite clear that these children were little more than a pack of orphans in all but legality. Anne had always wanted a large family; she had no difficulty embracing these young people as children of her heart to help lead, teach, guide and correct when needed. They appeared to accept her in that sort of role already. Between herself and Mr. Giles, the sad dearth of parental role models would be compensated for and possible tragedies averted.


Tara glided into the kitchen and was gathering plates and silverware to prepare the table for the meal.

‘Such a dear, tranquil child,’ Anne thought, not for the first time. "Tara, my dear, would you consider giving me your advice on updating my appearance later this afternoon? I am told that much can be done to shave off the ravages of time without making one appear common or fast."


Tara gave the older lady a crooked smile and assured her that she would be delighted to help. "I think a change of hairstyle and maybe haircolor would really go a long way in getting you right up to date."


Dawn became excited at the project and volunteered her help as well. "I watch all those makeover shows on TLC. I can SO figure out how to make you look young and hot in no time!"


Anne blushed. She wasn’t completely sure what ‘hot’ meant, but she was more than happy to embrace anything that might make her look younger than her middle-aged years. "I suppose if my William can lighten his hair to near blinding blondness, there is no harm in my removing a bit of gray. I would welcome your advice, Dawn."


Tara continued laying the place settings as they discussed various ideas for Mrs. Pratt’s makeover. Suddenly Tara looked startled as she recalled a previous engagement. "Oh! I am so sorry, Mrs. Pratt. Could we do this tomorrow? I agreed to meet a group of friends at the Multicultural Fair this afternoon! Willow was going to go with me, but we had a little spat last night so she plans to stay here. Maybe she could help if you are in a hurry."


"I am so sorry, dear!" Anne placed a consoling hand on Tara’s arm. "I had wondered at the two of you being in separate rooms since you arrived this morning. It isn’t like you-- two peas in a pod you are, usually."


"It’s not that big a deal. We just had a slight disagreement. I was getting to be a bit of an ‘I lost my mother and know how it feels’ expert according to Willow and she was not too happy with my advice to Dawn."


Tara sounded so sad and more timid than Anne had ever seen her. It was as if the rebuke had made the sweet girl run for emotional shelter.


"I suppose I have angered many of you in my short time here then, as I tend to speak my mind as well. I cannot imagine you being anything but loving and well-intentioned, Tara. You have all suffered a loss…perhaps Willow was merely reacting from grief."


"Maybe. I hate having her mad at me though. Willow is amazing!" Tara looked toward the kitchen and frowned slightly as she noticed Willow floating a serving platter from the cabinet to the side of the stove for the sausages. Tara knew Willow had great untapped power and it both terrified and thrilled her. Right now, however, she doubted that Willow would care to hear any criticism from her.


"She is at that," Anne agreed. "This too shall pass. As for my makeover, I shall await your leisure, Tara. You chose such lovely things when you went shopping for me initially. I trust your instincts implicitly."


"Thank you!" Tara was touched. Her confidence needed just such a boost and it felt wonderful to have someone value her opinion so openly.


"Can I come to the fair too?" Dawn begged.


"I think Buffy wants you closer to home right now, hon," Tara answered. At Dawn’s crestfallen face, she promised, "But as soon as things get back to normal around here we’ll make a special date to go check out that new family fun center that opened, okay? I think they even have paint ball."


Dawn brightened at the prospect and scampered off to enlist Xander to be her teammate when they did go.


"Such a sweet child," Anne pronounced. "So innocent, fresh and young. Full of energy too. Buffy will have quite a task keeping her in order."


Tara bit her lip rather than reply. No one had explained Dawn’s keyness to Mrs. Pratt. No one had warned her about Glory either. Maybe it would be a good idea to at least tell her about the insane hell goddess. ‘I’ll ask Mr. Giles what he thinks later,’ Tara decided.



~~~

Buffy opened the crypt door gently in near silence. Something in Spike’s brief note made her forgo the normal ‘kick it in and take no prisoners’ method of entry.

The light that streamed in behind her did little to dispel the gloom of the burial place that only seemed to come alive in the presence of its not-so-dead-like undead resident.


A quick glance around confirmed the absence of the vampire in question, so Buffy made haste to the hidden trapdoor that led to the underground portion of Spike’s home. The torches below lent an amber glow to the lower chamber as Buffy spotted Spike’s form under the deep blue sheet covering him as he lay inert on his bed. Vampires did sleep in the daytime, but Spike was usually alert enough to intruders to have her less than stealthy approach trigger some response. Buffy had never seen him more corpse-like.


"Spike," she hissed into the shadowed expanse. There was no reply and Buffy was beginning to get nervous. Spike in stillness was creepy, but Spike in silence was just plain unnerving.


She made her way to the bed and reached out to shake the vampire to wakefulness. In doing so, she became aware of the slight rattling sound that accompanied his unnecessary breathing. Buffy felt the small hairs on the back of her neck stand up with the ‘can’t put your finger on it’ sense that something was dreadfully wrong in Spikedom.


Steeling her nerve further, she tugged the sheet back, exposing his black-, blue- and red-marked alabaster chest. "Oh my God…Spike! What happened to you?"


Spike groaned as he drifted to consciousness. His left eye could be opened enough to recognize the concern on Buffy’s face. "Wish I could say you should see the other guy, pet." He made to sit up, only to have Buffy still him with a gentle hand on his bloody, ripped chest.


"No, don’t try to get up," she encouraged. "What the hell happened to you?"


"Hell god actually, so you’re not far wrong," Spike replied. "Few of those hairless Ewoks that Glory bint keeps as housepets decided I must be the soddin’ Key for some reason. Took me over for some tea and no sympathy. Didn’t like my answers to her questions and used her own brand of encouragement to change ‘em."


"Oh, my God! I’ve got to get Dawn out of here," Buffy panicked. "Glory may be at the house already."


"Relax, Slayer," Spike said with a sad, disappointed tone in his voice. "Didn’t say who the Key is. Well, okay, told her it was that Cheney git, but she knew I was yankin’ her chain. Never give her the Niblet, even if the bitch killed me… and she nearly did."


He pulled the sheet back up his body and fell back on the bed with a groan. "If you’ve got that little faith in me, you can just close the bloody door behind you on your way out!"


Buffy stared down at the broken body of her former enemy and actually saw him for the first time with blinders off. He had always seemed to have a soft spot for Dawn and had never been less than kind to her little sister, even when Dawn was being especially annoying. Spike might turn on one of the Scoobies-- okay, mostly Xander-- but Buffy knew in her heart of hearts that Dawn would always be safe where Spike was concerned. If Buffy had to admit it, so would she.


No matter how Buffy tried to deny Spike’s genuine emotions where the Summers girls were concerned, she wasn’t so stupid as to not know the truth.


"I believe you, Spike. I just panicked." Buffy’s voice was barely above a whisper, but the wounded vampire heard her well enough. "I’m just so worried about how to keep her safe, you know?"


"Yeah, well, about that…," Spike had to stop as coughs racked his body and Buffy heard more of the rattling sound.


"Spike, what all did she do to you?" Buffy reluctantly asked. She really didn’t want a laundry list because, from the looks of him, the damage was substantial. Still, he’d taken one for the team and she really was concerned.


"Got lots of mendin’ to do, but I’ll get there. Demon friend of mine’s been bringin’ blood by. He’s the bloke that took my note to you. Name’s Clem, by the way." Spike didn’t want the Slayer’s pity and hated being seen as less than strong. He didn’t really want to give her the blow by blow. "Think I’ve got a rib playin’ darts with a lung; sounds all bubbly."



"Look, Slayer, need to let you in on something and ask for a favor," Spike continued. Part of it was to take the spotlight off his condition and part was because he was beginning to really tire and needed sleep to heal.


"What do you need?" Buffy was glad someone had been seeing to Spike’s feeding since he clearly couldn’t.


"Need you to get me mum off the scent. Make up some reason I’m gonna be gone for a tic. Can’t let her see me like this. Would worry her sick again and she’s just now on the mend. Never could lie to her though, so you’ll have to come up with something and I’ll play along later," Spike requested earnestly.


"Okay, I can do that," Buffy promised, her mind already toying with some possibilities for subterfuge. "What else?"


"See, that’s the thing. Was hopin’ Clem’d get back with some proof, but you’ll just have to take my word for this bit." Spike drew a watery breath and prepared to reveal his hard- won information. "See, Glory morphs into a human. That doc you were all hot for, the one treatin’ my mum…Ben something or another. One minute Glory was rearranging my insides and the next there stood the good doctor in a slinky slip and heels. Not a good look on him either."


Buffy looked intently at Spike as if struggling to wrap her mind around his information. "So you’re saying that Glory KNOWS Ben?"


"No, I’m saying that Glory IS Ben," Spike said with rolled eyes.


"There’s a connection of some kind between Ben and Glory. I’ll have to get the gang on it. Maybe Ben’s met Glory, ran into her that day at the hospital. I’ll bet that’s it!" Buffy was pacing in excitement. "I’m not sure how much help Ben can be though. I doubt he knows she’s a hell god."


Spike’s eyebrows were raised to a painful extreme as he listened to Buffy go on and on. This was more than Buffy taking a dip in the Egyptian river, more than her embracing her image as dumb blonde. Something was definitely wrong. For some reason Buffy was not hearing the words he was saying…as in really not hearing them!


‘Maybe it’s magic of some kind. Somethin’ to keep anyone from glomming on to the truth. Must be the key to defeatin’ the vicious bitch. Clem heard me well enough, so the mojo must not work on demons,’ Spike realized. ‘Looks like I’m on my own with this one, unless it’s only the Slayer that’s shielded from the truth.’


"Yeah, good idea, pet," Spike said with a sigh. "Might want to send the Watcher over later so we can suss it out a bit." Spike hoped Giles would be able to hear his information clearly and they could work on taking out the threat in Prada that held Dawn’s life in her sadistic hands. Maybe Clem’d be back before the Watcher got there and Spike would have reinforcements to back up his claims.


"Okay," Buffy winced at Spike’s pained moan as the bed moved upon her rising. "I’ll come up with a good lie to tell your mom and send Giles over. Need anything else?"


She felt strange knowing how much she owed the vampire for his silence in the face of torture. She wasn’t quite sure how to relate to him at all lately and this just amplified that unease. It had been simpler when they were just enemies trying to kill one another. ‘Yeah, like either of you ever took the many chances you had to actually do each other in!’ Buffy hated when her traitorous mind threw out that bit of truth.


Buffy surprised herself by leaning over the battered hero and placing a chastely tender kiss on his swollen, bruised lips before saying, "I won’t forget what you did, Spike. I get what it cost you."


Spike blinked in amazement. Had the Slayer just kissed him? This kiss was different from the heated exchanges he remembered fondly from Red’s spell. This kiss was of her own free will and it meant something. Just what it meant would occupy Spike’s thoughts for the next few hours as he sought the relief of sleep.


"Maybe Giles’ll slip you a bottle of something to take the edge off when I tell him what a mess you are," Buffy suggested with a slight smile. She really was not sure what had just happened between them, but on some level she knew that things would never be the same. That thought kept her busy all the way back to Revello drive.

~~~

"Mousy little package for my beautiful key," Glory opined as she watched the shy blonde girl move from booth to booth at the fair. "Then again, clever little priests putting all that power in such an ordinary package. Pretty clever."


Tara held the lovely jewel-toned Batik fabric against her sun-kissed skin and began to imagine the right pattern to choose for a Javanese- influenced top. She lifted the fabric to her nose and inhaled the fragrant, earthy scent that proclaimed the fabric as hand-dyed in the traditional manner. ‘Maybe I could get enough to make something for Willow too,’ she decided with a smile.


Tara had hoped that Willow would change her mind and join her at the fair, but the absence of her lover was not going to spoil the day. Tara’s sweet disposition made it impossible to hold onto grudges or anger. Willow was more volatile in temperament but never one to hold back affection for long.


Tara next indulged her cravings at the ‘Flavors of India’ booth, biting into the Besan Halwa enjoying the almond and pistachio flavors competing for attention with the buttery ghee of the treat. "Willow would be asking for recipes everywhere," Tara said with a twinge of sadness. "Maybe I’ll pick up a few for her."


Tara headed for the bench ahead, planning to enjoy a brief rest in the sunshine while savoring the smells and sounds of the various cultures surrounding her. ‘I wonder what kind of multicultural fair we could have if some of the friendlier demon cultures were able to have some booths too,’ she mused. Caught up in that thought, she didn’t sense the garish blond woman as she sat down next to her on the park bench. She did feel the pressure on her hand, however, as Glory grasped it tightly.


"Nice," Glory taunted, "Just hangin’ out with the girls. You like that sort of thing, don’t you?" She squeezed Tara’s hand hard enough to crack multiple small bones. Tara winced from both the pain and the unnerving sound of cracking. "Shhhhhh, don’t make a sound."


Tara looked around, desperately hoping salvation might lay in one direction or another. For the first time in her life, she wished her father had been right about her being a demon. A demon might stand a chance against Glory; a shy co-ed didn’t.


As if sensing Tara’s thoughts, Glory issued a taunt and a threat. "No one here can help you. Anyone tries, I’ll just kill them and it will all be your fault."

Glory’s nails had dug into Tara’s abused hand and blood started a slow trickle past the hell god’s grip.


Tara stifled a cry of pain and looked with terror at her tormentor. "No, don’t hurt anyone, p-p-p-please," she begged with an untimely return of her long lost stutter.


"You be a good girl and these worthless meat sacks will be just fine. They can keep living their meaningless lives, because that’s what they really are— meaningless." Glory grinned maliciously and continued, "Now, keys… not so worthless!" Glory raised their joined hands and flicked her deep pink tongue over the blood.


In a lightning quick moment, her whole attitude towards Tara changed from simple threats to overpowering rage. "You lying whore! You’re not my key, you’re just another meaningless piece of walking mud!"


Tara tried to pull back from the furious hell god, but her hand was in a death grip. She vaguely considered gnawing off her own hand to get away if it had been possible to do so quickly enough. Instead she frantically twisted in her seat, trying in vain to work loose in a more conventional manner.


"Worth nothing," Glory continued. Then her rage faded as fast as it had appeared and a cruel smile crossed her face. "Wait, not totally useless. I am feeling the need for a little pick- me-up. You wanna make it all better, mouse girl? Be my little pick-me-up?"

 
Chapter 13
 
A/N: A few portions of dialog are from the actual episodes aired. I have altered them somewhat to fit the story I imagined.


~*~
Chapter 13
~*~

Anne Pratt sat in silence as the haircolor did its magic. One might assume her mind was engaged by the makeover Willow and Dawn had just begun, but it was actually turning over the details of the conversation she’d had earlier with Mr. Giles.

It seemed incredible that this small band of amazingly resilient young people had been engaged in a battle against a being with godlike powers and an ego to match!

Anne had been regaled with stories of previous epic battles and hairsbreadth wins against all odds. Each of the group, except her dear son, had a story or two to relate. To hear them tell it, the world itself had been saved time and time again by their little group.

This time, however, they were worried. This Glory had powers that made the Slayer seem weak by comparison. Even with the assistance of her William, this insane, power-mad uberdemon had bested them again and again. Now the grief-stricken Slayer could not even take the time needed to recoup emotionally from losing her beloved mother before the fate of the world was once again in her hands.

This wonderful world Anne now belonged to had as much to fear as it did to marvel over. Still, somehow she just knew her William would always see to her safety, just as he clearly tried to help Buffy outlive the predictions for her calling.

Anne had always said that there was strength in numbers and as long as this group focused on the love they shared, there was hope. Perhaps having the benefit of being something of an outsider, she could point out trouble spots and actually contribute to the group dynamic. If nothing else, she might set them right about William so that his assistance would be sought out and appreciated rather than wasted by their prejudices and his posturing.

"Ding," Dawn chirped as she smiled ear to ear. "Time to rinse and then let Willow use her magic with a pair of scissors."

"That would be a terrible waste," Anne gently chided. "I would think it a simple matter to wield shears without resorting to such power."

Dawn giggled as she realized the misunderstanding. Ever since Mrs. Pratt had come to see the reality of magic and Willow's obvious talents in using it, any words that spoke of the mystical were taken literally by that sweet lady.

True, Willow hadn't helped the situation by using her mojo for even simple tasks. No one had said much to her about it, not even Giles. Tara was the only one to confront Willow about her possible abuse of power.

"No, no! I didn't mean actual magic; I just meant Willow has natural talent to make it look good. She cut her own hair the last time and it's adorable!"

At that point, the witch in question entered the room with a magazine opened to an advertisement for wigs designed by Raquel Welch. "This lady's older than you are and just look how hot this style is on her and how young she looks." Willow showed a picture of Ms. Welch with a shoulder-length shag that flipped slightly at the ends of the layers. The rich auburn color with blonde highlights matched the dye job they had just given Spike's mom.

Anne peered intently at the photo and tried to imagine herself in such a style. She wondered if it would be possible to look as young and stylish as the lady in the picture…and if anyone…erm…important would notice. "Perhaps we could ask Mr. Giles if he thinks the style appropriate to a woman of my years."

After a quick consultation wherein Mr. Giles indicated the style to be "quite lovely and likely most becoming on a lady of Mrs. Pratt's fine bone structure," the cutting began.

"Wow, this is so much easier than cutting my own hair," Willow exclaimed as she finished the last of the layering.

Mrs. Pratt looked a bit unnerved as she noted the rather large amount of hair under her chair. She lifted a timid hand to gently touch the exposed neck and closed her eyes, praying for
courage, before allowing the girls to lead her to a mirror and the revelation of this new, thoroughly modern Anne.

The vision gazing back from the mirror brought out a gasp followed by wide-eyed appreciation. "Oh my, I look lovely! I haven't looked this young since William was a boy. I had forgotten how very blue my eyes are! Strange the difference the color of ones hair can make." She looked at Willow and complimented, "You truly are a magician, even without the use of supernatural powers. Thank you."

Anne marveled at how much lighter her head felt with the haircut. Funny how something as light-weight as hair could make such a difference. She looked critically at the new style and felt as if she were looking at a stranger. True it was a young and attractive stranger but it would take getting used to all in all. Now she looked the part of a new woman in this strange but wonderful new time. There it was in a nutshell, a new woman with a new look and a bright new future with new friends and the best son a woman could hope to have.


But best of all, to Anne's thinking, was the warm look that came into Mr. Giles' eyes as he beheld the new her. For the first time, Anne didn't feel dowdy. Instead of her life being half over, it
might well be just beginning. It was amazing what a bit of a change could accomplish, how it could lift spirits and breathe life into a person.

Anne couldn't wait to see William's reaction to her new look. He would have no reason to complain, judging by everyone else's opinion--and even if he did, it would hold no water considering his current choices in that regard. "I wish William would return soon. It is not
like him to pout. He was never one to hold a grudge."

She noted the looks that were exchanged between Willow and Mr. Giles and amended, "Yes, he has a temper, but it was always as quick to burn out as to ignite. I felt so sure that sending him on a walk would be all that was needed to diffuse his anger."

"I'm sure Spi…William has some logical reason to be delayed." Giles felt the need to reassure this lovely lady of her son's well-being, despite the cryptic note indicating there was
likely trouble afoot. Most likely Buffy would be returning with Spike in tow at any moment.


The doorbell interrupted any question that might have arisen about just where Buffy might be. Soon the air was filled with teenage girl squeeing and excited chatter. An animated Dawn zoomed into the room and headed towards Giles like a slender heat-seeking missile with deadly purpose of mission.

"Giles! Buffy isn't here and Janice's mom gave her custody of her Visa card. Janice says her mom is filled with divorced mom guilt and the sky's the limit for a charge-o-rama. Can I go with her to the mall? Please? Please? Please?!" The decibel level of 'please' rose with each utterance, nearly causing the Watcher's ears to bleed.

"Dawn," Giles tried to reason with the excitable teen, "I would not presume to assume the role of parental figure with your sister currently engaged elsewhere. I will, however, presume to suggest you let your friend go to that appalling mall without your company this time. I feel certain that Buffy would completely forbid your going."

Giles drew Dawn to one side and whispered a reminder to the girl, "Please remember how very vulnerable you are at this time, Dawn. It is all we can do to try to keep you safe from Glory without you running about like some carefree adolescent. It is not as if you were being protected from vampires and need only take care at nightfall. You girls just lost your mother. Please do not place your sister in the position of losing you as well."

Dawn was torn between indignation, disappointment and good old-fashioned teenage angst, but she did go speak to Janice. The crestfallen friend rolled her eyes before yelling out a snarky, "Fine, I'll just go without you, since your BABYSITTERS won't let you out to play."

Dawn sniffed and wiped at her teary eyes before running up the stairs to her room and slamming the door loud enough to knock a photograph off the wall outside. Her accompanying, "I hate my life!"
was loud enough to be heard even over the stomping.

Anne turned troubled eyes on Giles and asked, "Is it really so dangerous that the child cannot be permitted an outing? She has lost her mother too, you know. Couldn't one of her sister's older friends go along to make certain she is safe?"

Giles smiled, removed his glasses and sighed as he polished the lenses to a sheen. "I wish it were that simple, Mrs. Pratt. You see, this Glory is a god. None of us, not even Buffy, is truly prepared to take her on should she choose to take the Slayer's sister as hostage…or worse." The group had decided to withhold the crucial detail of Dawn's keyness when updating Spike's mother.

"Piffle! I know my scripture." Mrs. Pratt was no evangelical, but her education had been thorough in an era where God and country reigned. "Does the Good Book not say that the gods of old, the idols, were but demons?"

"Yes, as I recall from my youth, that is what it says," Giles agreed readily. "But Glory's power is far greater than any demon on record-- or in our experience--and she is an object of worship."

Mrs. Pratt still stood firm in her belief. "Did not Lucifer demand to be worshiped as well? That did not make him a god, even with all his power. Didn't you show me in one of your own texts that the pure demons were highly powerful?"

"I did at that," Giles said as he gave in to her logic. "God or not, Glory is beyond any enemy we have dealt with thus far. It is too dangerous for Dawn to be flitting about, Mrs. Pratt."

Mrs. Pratt considered the Watcher's point and nodded in agreement. "Yes, I suspect you have the right of it, all in all. By the way, I give you leave to call me by my Christian name; I would be pleased to have all of you simply call me 'Anne'. This century is far less formal than mine and I wish to live within the times I find myself."

~~~

Xander and Willow had been talking quietly while all the hubbub roiled around them. Now that quiet prevailed once more, their conversation was audible.

"She didn't call the police on you though, did she?" Willow asked, wide-eyed.

"No, but I feel a donut delivery to the neighbors will be on the calendar soon." Xander had obviously been sharing details of the late-night vigil outside his own apartment and what had led to his spontaneous proposal to Anya. "Mrs. Tanner has her nephew and his wife visiting. She's trying to get them to move here and my playing Romeo in the balcony scene was messing up her argument that the apartment complex was a quiet, peaceful one. That niece of hers is a
librarian and you know how they are about quiet." Xander shot a look at Giles as he made his point.

"Still, did you HAVE to propose?" Willow was trying to think what spell might cause Anya to forget her new status as an engaged woman.

"No, but Will, I would have eventually," Xander admitted. "I love Anya. I can't imagine life without her. Come on, who am I going to marry? How many bug women or ancient mummies are there on the dating scene?"

"True, Anya IS a step up from Cordelia, but MARRIAGE…Xander…I don't know." Willow was sure her oldest friend was far from ready for that step.

"I think Mrs. Pratt is on the right track about me holding out for a long engagement. Hey, bestest friend and co-conspirator, why don't you 'help' Anya with all the planning? I'm thinking lots of suggestions…bride magazines with ‘what to do when’ stuff…changing plans often…you know, sensory overload." Xander figured a year might be long enough if he worked on his commitment issues and didn't just rush back into personal denial.

"Sounds doable. Okay, sign me up for Operation Bewilder Anya," Willow said, then whispered too low to be heard, "Shouldn't be too hard to do that!" She gave Xander an evil grin and added, "I could always just make her forget you even proposed…or fought, for that matter. I think there's a spell in one of my books that will do the job."

"NO! No spell, Will!" Xander's eyes widened in horror. "The last time you involved my life in a spell, every demon within a hundred miles was on my doorstep." He saw his friend's eyes narrow at the suggestion that her magic skills might be flawed, so he quickly backtracked. "No really, my magical tree-named friend, your skills with eye of newt are much better used on Glory than my little oopsie."

~~~

Buffy nearly knocked over Giles as she barreled into the house. "Giles! Got some news on Glory. Spike seems to think that that cute Dr. Ben Whatsit might know something about her. I couldn't follow the whole thing, but he seemed really sure."

Giles pondered that news for a moment, trying to comprehend the unlikely connection between a Sunnydale hospital intern and a misplaced hell goddess. "It would seem a strange coincidence for there to be any connection. Did Spike explain his reasoning?"

"Actually, he asked me to send you over to 'suss it out' as he put it," Buffy answered with a shrug. Remembering the battered vampire, she bit her lip. She couldn't get his bruised and bleeding body out of her mind. What her former enemy had endured to protect her and her sister boggled Buffy's mind. Clearly they needed to reevaluate Spike and his place in their group.

As quickly and quietly as possible, Buffy let her Watcher in on what had happened to Spike while out on his walk.. There was no sense in alarming Mrs. Pratt and besides, Buffy hadn't yet decided on the perfect lie to tell her houseguest.

Giles looked pole-axed as he took in the surprising tale of Spike's loyalty. "How bad is his condition?"

"Pretty bad," Buffy admitted with a shudder. "I made sure he got hidden from Glory's groupies and had enough blood to get him back up to speed. God, Giles, I can't believe Spike took one for the team, for me, like this!"

Anne startled Buffy by asking, "I did not mean to eavesdrop, but did you mention my wayward son?"

Buffy stared at the now youthful-looking woman like a deer caught in headlights. Between Anne's new look and Buffy's instant guilt at needing to lie, the Slayer was caught completely off guard. "Well, yeah…he's…um…," Buffy stumbled as she looked in desperation to her Watcher for help in deceiving the worried mother. All Buffy's years of practice hiding her Slayerhood and patrols from her mother were deserting her in her moment of need.

"Buffy, we have apprised Anne of the situation with Glory. I think it's safe to speak freely in front of her. " Giles only hoped he would have time to let Buffy know that they had withheld the true nature of her younger sister before it slipped out.

"Oh, good, ‘cause you know I'm not good at the whole 'lie to moms' thing," Buffy sighed in relief. At least her lie could have SOME truth in it. Things always worked better that way.

Buffy turned to Spike's mom and smiled in reassurance. "Spike got a lead on some guys who might know more about Glory. He's gonna be checkin’ it out so he asked me to let you know he'd be gone for a while and not to worry."

"Good. In my opinion, the sooner this Glory person is dealt with, the better," Anne responded. "I know William will not rest until we are all safe as houses. He would go to any lengths to protect those he loves."

"Yeah, I think he would," Buffy said in complete agreement.

Buffy looked around and did a quick head count of all Scoobies. With Glory out for blood, she wanted all her loved ones close. It didn't take long to notice the absence of Dawn.

"Where's Dawn?" she asked the group at large.

Giles gave a slightly disgusted look and answered, "In her room, I suppose." At Buffy's look, he rolled his eyes and chided her gently. "Really, Buffy, I cannot be expected to deal with that many teenage hormonal shifts."

"What's the what?" Buffy was suddenly glad she’d had to be out of the house that morning. Nothing said 'gonna go out for a while' like Dawn in full voice.

Giles clued Buffy in on the great mall adventure he had quashed and Dawn's to-be-expected reaction to his refusal to let her go with Janice.

"I'm surprised I didn't hear her whining across town," Buffy said with a slight laugh. "Oh, well, into the lion's den it is." Buffy headed upstairs to try to reason with her little sister. 'Maybe I can bribe her with a shopping trip this weekend,' she thought.

"Dawnie," Buffy called as she knocked on the closed door. "Come on, Dawn, answer the door."

No reply came from the room.

"Dawnie, not kidding here." Buffy wished for the millionth time that their mom was still there to be the parent. "Dawn, if you don't open the door right now, I'm kicking it in--and don't think I
won't. Xander's even here to put it back together if I break it, so that won't stop me."

Still no answer.

Buffy took a deep breath then decided to try the door handle before entering her sister's room the way she usually reserved for Spike's crypt. The door swung open to reveal an empty room and opened window.

"I am going to so kick my sister's behind," Buffy muttered as she raced downstairs in a panic.

"When did Janice the Instigator leave exactly?" Buffy demanded.

"Well, it was close to half an hour ago. Why?" Giles asked, beginning to feel nervous.

"Because my little sister has way too many fake memories of growing up with me for her own good! The little pest climbed out the window. My guess is she's already moved on from the Gap to Old Navy," then in a whisper, "if we're lucky."

Buffy was reaching for the door and calling for Giles to grab his car keys as she spoke. No one answered Anne as she asked, "Fake memories?"

Buffy stopped on the porch and glanced between Giles and Xander, trying to decide which was the best man for the two tasks at hand. Giles was a more seasoned fighter if they encountered Glory, so Buffy decided he should accompany her to the mall for Dawn retrieval. That left Xander to 'suss out' the Ben/Glory mystery with Spike.

"Xand," Buffy asked with batting eyelashes, "Would you mind dropping by Spike's old…um…house…in Giles' place? Just tell him that Dawn's being a pain in the butt and Giles can't make it. Spike'll explain it all to you when you get there."

"Sure thing, Buff. Xan-man to the rescue!" Xander replied affably. "Of course, the way we left things when I last saw the peroxide pest, he may not want to share."

"He'll share," Buffy said somberly. "Xander--never mind, you'll find out when you get there. I can't take the time right now with Dawn and everything," Buffy said with a pointed look at Anne Pratt. "It'll all make sense when you get there."

"Okay, that accounts for Spike and Dawn…now where's my honey-boo?" Willow had expected Tara back hours before. There was no way her sweetheart was so angry with her magic use that she would just stay out this late!

~~~

(earlier that same day)

Glory grinned evilly at the terrified girl next to her on the bench. "Wait, not totally useless. I am feeling the need for a little pick-me-up. You wanna make it all better, mouse girl? Be my little pick-me-up?"

Glory drove her fingers into Tara's skull and threw back her head in ecstasy as she fed energy from the shy Wiccan. "Yes," she exalted as the wonderful brain began to yield its wealth to the current big bad. "Such a yummy brain!"

Tara's mouth was open in a silent scream of agony as the hell god taunted her, "What this does is make you feel like you're in a noisy little dark room, all naked and ashamed."

Glory continued to place visions within her victim's mind. "There are things in the dark that need to hurt you because you are a bad little girl who's done naughty things." Glory whispered in a maniacal voice, "Little pinching things that go in your ears and crawl on the inside of your skull. You know that if the noise and the crawling would just stop that you could remember how to get out." Glory smiled wickedly and then added, "But you never, ever will."

With a sneer, Glory demanded, "Now…Who…Is…The…Key?"

Tara had never struggled so hard in her life to hold it together. The pain was unlike anything she had ever felt before and the images now dancing in her subconscious were far too close to Tara's own private childhood hell to be dismissed as just Glory's words made visual.

The young woman had always seemed timid, possibly weak, but Tara had been forged in the furnace of her family and no mere amped-up demon was going to take over her will that easily. There was no way Tara was going to give sweet Dawnie over to this bitch.

Summoning her last willful thoughts and more magic than she was usually given credit for possessing, Tara fought back and, channeling every spell she could remember, thrust Glory from her mind.

The hell god flew back far enough for her fingers to be disengaged from their mission within Tara's brain. A crowd of people nearby happened to be attracted to Glory's scream of frustrated rage, causing Glory to flee the scene before Dr. Do-Good could make an embarrassing appearance.

Tara's unconscious body slumped to the ground as one of the onlookers took out his cell phone to call 9-1-1 for the silent girl. Blood covered Tara's mangled hand and a small trickle of blood seeped from her nose, but no one in the group of Samaritans could tell the operator exactly what had caused the girl's injuries. As for Tara, she was beyond explaining.

 
Chapter 14
 
A/N: I am having weird computer problems (not to mention the whole domain name thing here *G*) that is making it nearly impossible to respond to reviews here. PLEASE know that I read and APPRECIATE (and you) all. I'll respond as soon as humanly possible because what you say DOES matter!

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
~~~
Chapter 14 (pt 1)
~~~

A sheepish Dawn sniffled from her backseat prison. She clutched her hard-won booty close and tried to give yet another excuse for her bad behavior. "But Mrs. Pratt needs updated clothes of her own now that she looks so modern!"

"And I'm sure she would be among the first to say your willful disobedience is reprehensible," Giles replied. "I don't think Anne would appreciate your trying to use her to excuse this lark."

"You never let me do anything, Buffy. Mom used to be strict, but she was never a prison warden," Dawn sulked with a decidedly unpretty pout. "I'm as old as you were when you started slaying. I don't see why I can't have some freedom. After all, I'm really, like, thousands of years old. Lots older than you."

"But you act like you're still a child," Buffy snapped. "Besides, you didn't sneak out to fulfill some mystical calling, unless there's something really hellmouthy in that bag you've got there."

"Mom would have let me go," Dawn whined.

"No, Mom would NOT!" Buffy shot her sister a look hot enough to melt leather. "Don't try that game with me. I'm a child of divorce and I know how that one works. Turning one parent-like person against another just to get your way, saying the other one would let you get away with murder to try to guilt the OTHER other one to cut you slack is way ancient warfare. Besides, as you love to point out, I'm not Mom!"

Dawn just whimpered in reply. She was sooooo busted and knew it. Dawn wondered how many real centuries she was going to be grounded this time.

Buffy was tired. No way was she ready to be a mom, let alone mom to a teenager enough like she had been herself to give Buffy nightmares for life.

"Look, Dawn," she sighed. "How can I trust you? God, don't you get how serious all this is?! Didn't they give you any sense with all those memories?"

Dawn turned doe eyes on her sister and hiccuped along with her sobs. "Sorry." But she didn't really sound sorry.

"Mom dies, there's a hell bitch on the prowl to find the only part of my family I have left to shove in some lock somewhere and you decide to go all 'I Was A Teenage Pain In The Ass' on me! Dawn, it isn't just this. Mom had just been buried when you decided to try to take on Willow in a witch-a-thon championship and bring Mom back. Now we've got Spike's mom added to our little tea party. How many innocents am I going to have to protect before I can even get a minute to cry for Mom?"

"'Cause it's all about you," Dawn shot back. "I loved Mom too! And, unlike some slayers who don't want to be sisters, she loved me back."

"Of course, I lo--," Buffy cut the words off before a telling pause. Then she took a deep breath, letting it out in a whisper sigh. "Dawn, you know I care about you. God! Your safety is all I've been thinking about for months! I know you loved Mom. We're both her little girls and we both miss her. You just have to help meout here. Work with me and don't add to my problems right now. There'll be a lifetime for you to make my life hell when Glory is gone."

Dawn had noted the pause quite clearly. "See," she accused, "you can't even say the word! You couldn't even lie and say you love me."

"What makes you think that?" Buffy tried to deflect the accusation with side issues.

"You're always yelling at me. Face it, you resent not being an only child. If I had a dollar for every time you've said you wish you were an only child I could have paid for this myself," she held up the shopping bag. "I'm nothing but another duty to you. I should just go give myself up to Glory and let her turn me in whatever lock she wants, simple up YOUR life and mine too."

Buffy was ready to blow. "Stop it! You're an even bigger drama queen than Spike…or drama king, I guess he'd be." Buffy turned in her seat and looked her sister squarely in the eye. "Speaking of Spike…he just let Glory nearly kill him to keep her from finding out you're her long lost key. You say you love him so much, but you'd make his broken bones be for no reason just because you got nailed for sneaking out to the mall? Now who's the bitch?"

Dawn's stricken face spoke volumes. "What did you say? What happened to Spike?"

Buffy spent the rest of the trip filling Dawn in on what her vampire protector had endured while trying to keep them safe. It was the first chance Buffy had to fully brief Giles on the details as well.

"I am speechless to think an unsouled vampire would permit his own life to be put at risk to protect any human. Spike has always been unusual, but this defies any description of vampiric behavior I've ever encountered." Giles was sincerely flummoxed.

"Spike says he loves us. Guess actions DO speak louder than words, huh?" Buffy muttered. "I guess I'm more surprised that I'm not that surprised. Wonder what that means?"

"It means you owe Spike a whole boatload of 'sorrys' for being a complete bitch to him ever since he told you he loves you," Dawn snarked. "At least I told him I love him back."

Neither Buffy nor Giles said a word.

~~~

The solemn trio returned to a house in an uproar. The hospital had contacted Willow with the news that Tara had been rushed to intensive care and was currently in a coma of unknown origin.

Willow practically flew past Giles and Buffy as she rushed to her car. "Ask Anne. She knows as much as I do," she barked.

Anne filled them in on the bare bones information she and Willow had been given. "Willow said that it was only because she was listed as Tara's next of kin that they notified her at all!"

"First Spike and now Tara," Dawn wailed and rushed up to her room.

"Whatever did Dawn mean by 'first Spike'?" Anne looked pointedly at Mr. Giles, intent upon being given the whole truth from the Watcher. She could see by his body language that something about William was being withheld from her. "I'll ask that you not coddle me. If something has happened to my son I am entitled to know of it."

Buffy jumped to her mentor's rescue. "He's fine, really. Yes, he had a little run-in with Glory, but he's fine! I wasn't lying earlier. Spike…William is checking out some medieval-looking guys who may have info on Glory. In fact, Xander is probably helping him interrogate one of them right now!"

Anne felt her heart constrict with fear at the thought of her beloved son being ripped from her life just as she had re-entered his. She spoke so softly that only the best of ears could hear. "Is he badly hurt then?"

Giles took it from there. "Spike is a vampire, remember? It takes a great deal to harm a vampire. You really mustn't worry about William. Buffy assures me that he is most eager to exact a bit of vengeance and his condition is just fine."

Buffy knew the last thing Spike needed was his mother taking some kind of health tail-spin. "Spike just didn't want you to worry because he was off being busy with the vengeance stuff and the spying and all. Please take it from me, he doesn't need to be worrying about you on top of everything else! Don't start getting worked up about him and he'll be home before you know it. Really."

Anne wanted very much to believe her.

~~~

Willow started down at the still form of the woman she loved with her whole being. 'Glory! It had to be Glory.' She could feel the anger rising from the depths of her soul, beating against her inner flesh with a white-hot need to explode into the outer world.

"Time someone sent Glory home. Hell will be a relief after I'm done with her," Willow vowed. She took Tara's uninjured hand in hers and swore an oath, "I promise, baby, no one will ever hurt you like this again. Glory's gonna pay."

Phoning home, Willow tried to keep her voice even as she related Tara's condition and what was known about how she got into it. There was silence on the other end of the phone as the group took in the implications of Willow's suspicions. "The kids at the festival remember a trashy blonde sitting next to Tara and Tara looking really scared. If ‘trashy blonde’ doesn't scream Glory, I don't know what does."

"Yes, you are quite right, Willow," Giles agreed. "In light of Spike's recent encounter, you are most likely correct to assume it was Glory who attacked Tara. Do the doctors give a prognosis regarding the coma?"

"Not a clue, Giles." Willow had been relentless in her questions to the medical staff, but to no avail. "They don't know why she's in a coma, much less when--or if--she'll come out of it. I'm not waitin' around though." Willow was already hanging up the phone before Giles could react to her last comment.

"Willow! Willow! Oh good Lord, now the fat is truly in the fire! Willow, don't hang up!" He continued speaking, not even noticing that his words were being spoken to a dial tone. "Listen to
me, you cannot accost Glory on your own. Willow! Willow?" Finally the ominous buzz on the other end registered and he turned to Buffy with a look of panic.

~~~

Xander couldn't believe his eyes, much less his ears, as he sat opposite the black and blue bane of his existence. Spike had given as brief a description of his time with Glory as possible, but Xander could read between the lines--the red, crusted lines all over Spike's body.

Clem had arrived and the three were planning to abduct a knight to make questioning one of Glory's foes possible. "I just know those guys would take one look at me and I'd be shish ke-Clem before I could even get a question out."

"I say we wait ‘til dark, sneak into their camp and drag off the nearest guy. My guess is he'll know about as much as any of them." Xander offered his opinion to the accompaniment of demon nods.

"Works for me. Gives me a couple of hours yet to get the bones lined up proper," Spike said as he reached for another bag of Willie's finest. "You lot'll have to take him out though. Human …chip …Excederin headache, remember?" he prompted.

"Sure thing, fangless," Xander said, with no real venom for a change. Xander's talk with Anne had made an impression on him, even if he wasn’t in share mode about it yet. "Wouldn't hurt though, if you could flash a bit of fang at 'im after we truss 'im up like a turkey. Nothing like the fear of imminent throat rippage to make a captive start squealing like Porky the Pig without the stutter."

"I know a thing or two about intimidation, whelp. Don't have to be all physical to get the job done either. You two nab the wanker and I'll make sure we know what they know right quick." Somehow both Xander and Clem believed him.

Spike decided that now was the time to see if only Buffy was unable to listen to his Ben/Glory revelation. "One other thing, Harris. Told Buffy about what I saw while decoratin' Glory's
apartment. Ravin' Rhonda turned into that Dr. Ben right in front of me. Seems they're sharin' more than just closet space, if you get my meanin'"

"Who's this Rhonda?" Clem looked thoroughly confused by this new character in the story.

"Not Rhonda. Glory. Couldn't think of anything meanin' crazy that worked with Glory's all," Spike admitted sheepishly.

"Oh, ‘cause I remembered you saying this Dr. Ben turned into Glory and then you came up with that 'ravin' Rhonda' thing and I thought I got it wrong. My mistake," Clem nearly blushed.

"Wait a minute!" Xander looked like a lightbulb had just come on over his head. All too soon it flickered off. "Are you saying that this doctor that helped take care of Joyce has met Glory? Are you thinking we should kidnap him too and not just one of those knights. Because if you are, I think that's kind of a dumb plan even for you, blondie. I don't think this doctor ever met Glory or would even have a clue about any of this. Buy a vowel, Spike! Ben may treat crazies, but Glory hasn't exactly been an inpatient."

"She's been an in-HIM-patient, you twit! I said Glory is Ben…Ben is Glory. One body, two beings. Can I make it any simpler?" Spike spat in exasperation.

"No, I don't think Ben could have ever been around Glory. You must have had your brains scrambled while playing cat toy to nutty hell gods," Xander said with a shake of his head. "Wait…," that hopeful lightbulb seemed about to reappear, "are you saying that Ben maybe MET Glory when we were all at the hospital a few weeks ago? I still don't know what good you think nabbing him would do."

Spike leaned in, nose nearly touching Xander's. "NO, you nit! I said BEN IS GLORY!"

"Can't convince me Ben knows a thing about her," Xander determinedly replied.

Spike rolled his eyes in frustration and muttered, "This is going to SO be worth it," before landing a solid blow to the side of Xander's head.

Spike made a grab for his own head in expectation of the pain he…didn't feel. Only Clem's excited, "Wow! It isn't just the Slayer then!" kept Xander from noticing how much pain Spike was not in after hitting him.

Spike had quick enough reflexes to mask his painless state by clutching his head and moaning pitifully. Yet all the while he was wondering, 'Why doesn't it hurt? Maybe I'm not so fangless after all.’

Spike rapidly decided it would be best not to let the boy know about the sudden turn in fortune that he was experiencing. Time enough for stakes and arrows later when Glory was sorted. Meanwhile, it seemed letting anyone know about Glory's alter ego was pointless-- unless that other person happened to be a demon.

A plan began to formulate in Spike’s mind once he realized he was likely chip-free for the first time in over a year. It wouldn't hurt to question one of the Knights who say ‘Key’ anyway, just in case killing Ben didn't fix the problem after all. The only problem with Spike's plans in the past had been his lack of patience. This time he'd be as patient as he had to be to make certain the bitch who had made him her personal pinata paid in spades.

~~~

"You can't just barge in here and start fondling my inventory!" Anya protested. "I know you're the Slayer's best girlfriend and my fiancé's oldest friend, but this is a money-making establishment and not your personal playground."

Anya tried to bar the way as Willow moved about purposefully. She might as well have spoken to the counter for all the impact her words were having. Willow completely ignored her as she gathered various supplies and stacked them on the large, round table. Willow then moved up the ladder to the dark arts books that were gathering dust there.

When Anya tried to block her ascent, Willow glared at her with inky black eyes and muttered, "Amoveo". Anya was glad to be removed only a few feet away instead of out of existence entirely. Something was terribly wrong and Anya made haste to the telephone to sic Giles on the witch run amok.

As Anya yelled into the telephone, letting the increasingly frightened Watcher know what the young witch was up to, Willow began to mystically drain books. Lightning crashed and the building shook as dark lines of black flowed from the ancient texts up Willow's arms, suffusing her body with inky veininess. Her hair became as pitch and her eyes lost the last of their whites as they shone with ebony sharpness.

"Vis Vires, Talio, Laureola," Willow proclaimed to the universe. "Power, retribution and victory are mine for the taking!" The universe responded with thunderous approval, or so Willow interpreted the rumble that followed.

"God, Giles, she's gone all Lord Valdermort here. I'm not a vengeance demon anymore, but I can feel her cries in my bones," Anya said in awed tones. "What the hell happened?"

After Giles explained about Tara, he urged Anya to use any means necessary to keep Willow from leaving the Magic Box. "Yeah, I'll just do that! Why don't I end world hunger and bring lasting peace to the Middle East while I'm at it! Giles, Willow's seriously scary here. I have a wedding to plan and attend, I can't be throwing myself on some sacrificial fire to try to stop a juiced-up witch hell-bent on revenge. Our shopkeepers’ insurance is history just from the little she's already done here."

The point was moot as Willow had already left the building in every sense of the phrase. Piles of books filled with blank pages were all that was left in her wake.

~~~

Buffy took off at a dead run as soon as she understood what was going on at the Magic Box. She nearly knocked Willow over on the pavement a half block from the store. It was obvious that
Willow could not even see her Slayer friend.

"Will! Will, honey! I'm so sorry about Tara, but I know her, she's strong. She'll pull through. If someone like Faith can pull out of a coma, Tara sure can." Willow was starting to seriously wig Buffy out just by her appearance. 'Crap, just what I need, TWO crazy superpowers about to play matter/antimatter on my hellmouth! Need to yank the battery on this Energizer Bunny now.'

Buffy grabbed Willow by her upper arms. "You cannot even think about taking on Glory."

Willow seemed to notice Buffy for the first time, shaking the Slayer off as if she were but a child. "You heard what she did to Tara. I won't let her get away with it."

Buffy DID understand. Hell, seeing Spike in the condition Glory had left him made Buffy eager to go and rip the bitch’s arms off and flail her with them until she was more battered than Spike. Even as scary as Willow looked though, there could be no way for this to end well. "You have to wait, Will. Even I'm no match for Glory and you know that."

Willow narrowed her gaze into tight basalt slits of rage. "But maybe I am. This is my choice, my lover.

Buffy tried reason, "This isn't the time, Willow. Tara needs you alive; we all do."

Reason and Willow were no longer on speaking terms, however. "Then when IS it the time, Buffy? When YOU feel like it? When someone YOU love is damaged, maybe beyond repair? When she finally kills Dawn? It's time when I say it's time and YOUR time is up," Willow announced before flicking her wrist and sending Buffy flying a block down the street. "I've got a hell god to impale on her own pitchfork."

Buffy shook her head to clear it of the tiny birdies that had suddenly nested there and watched in frozen terror as Willow headed in the direction of the location Glory's super snake had been traveling months prior. Buffy could only hope it would take Willow a while to locate Glory while she went for reinforcements.

~~~

Unfortunately, the newly upgraded witch had little trouble locating the current residence of the hellmouth's latest big bad. Glory was leaning slightly on one of her minions and acting a bit like a person on a hallucinogen. "You know, I think I've got a little buzz from the mousy witch. Even if I didn't get to finish my meal…what a mind she has! Mmm, nummy treat," Glory said with a dreamy smile.

"But your Magnificent, Most Powerful and Sniffalicious one, how will you find the Key now with the Slayer alerted to our tactics?" Jinx ducked behind the questioning Murk to avoid the daggers that Glory was looking at his companion.

"Don't be more of an idiot that you already are, Murky," Glory smiled to herself, "I'm closing in and my Key is as good as in my dainty yet powerful hand. Buffy only has so many in her posse and all I have to do is work my way through them until I find the right one. It's like 'Where's Waldo': he's always there and you always find him."

Suddenly darkness put a pall on the room and silence like the vacuum of space descended. The minions began to look for shelter and prayed they would be allowed to use it if it were found. Glory, looking more curious than fearful, asked, "Did anybody here order an apocalypse?"

The door to the apartment flew open, splintering with the force. Willow moved towards the hell god, floating several inches from the floor in a manner that would have made David Blaine envious. An unseen wind accompanied her as she moved relentlessly towards Glory. The minions cut their losses and made for cover.

Willow was calling on all the big guns of ancient god-dom. "Kali, Hera, Astarte, Ishtar, Isis…," as she continued to float. "Air like nectar, thick as onyx. Hold my victim…."

Glory laughed and interrupted Willow's chant, "Oh, yes! Lovergirl, of course. I broke your little dolly and now you've come to spank me. How cute!"

Willow continued unabated. "Hold mine victim as in tar."

Much to Glory's obvious amazement, the air around her began to shimmer and she found herself unable to move her feet. She looked up in shock at the mortal witch with an attitude.

"You're gonna pay, bitch. No one messes with my girlfriend," Willow promised. Lightning flashed from the tips of Willow's fingers and arced toward Glory. The god screamed as the bolts hit. "Shatter," commanded Willow and all the glass and mirrors in the room imploded.

Glory, now over the initial shock, began to giggle like a schoolgirl. "Is that the best you can do, honey? That's ALL? You think I care about all this stuff around me? The apartment, clothes, what passes for artwork here? Not likely. None of it matters. Now, my Key, that matters. And nummy brains like mouse girl's? That's got some value. That was something to savor."

Clearly Willow was not backing down. "Viper, Scarab, Falcon, to bite and eat and rend. Descend upon this abomination, to my words alone attend."

Glory felt the fangs of the asps as they shot their poison home. The beetles scampered over her as they chewed their way up her body, heading for her orifices like lemmings to the sea. A score of raptors dove and ripped as Willow watched in righteous approval.

Glory shook off the snakes and insects and smote the birds as they flew. The tar no longer seemed to hold the now royally pissed hell god as she headed straight for Willow. "Now I'm starting to get annoyed." Glory grabbed Willow by the throat and threw her into the wall.

Giles and Buffy burst through the doorframe just as Glory prepared to pick Willow up from where her body had landed. Whatever Willow had done to fuel her powers was already taxed to the limit and no longer under the control of the novice yet talented witch.

"You know what happens to bad little witches, lover?" Glory grabbed Willow by the throat again, causing her to sputter and gasp for breath. "Same thing I'm going to do."

Buffy stood directly behind the hell god and butted in, "They used to worship gods too, but all I see on their knees to you are a bunch of scraggly half-wits."

Buffy yanked Glory's hands off Willow's throat and punched her in the face, causing blood to spurt from Glory's nose. It felt good to do some damage for a change. Spinning quickly, Buffy connected her foot solidly with Glory's midsection.

Glory countered with a jab to Buffy's side that cracked multiple ribs as Willow stumbled to her feet. Willow's ebony hair was slowly returning to the bright red that usually graced the girl's head.

Giles quickly grasped Willow's hand to tap whatever power was left in the girl as he commanded, "Sopor!" At the command, powered by all of Ripper's latent abilities and Willow's remaining ‘go’ juice, Glory fell to the ground and emitted a loud snore.

"What did you do?" Buffy stared wide-eyed at her Watcher. Every once in a while, Giles could still surprise his Slayer.

"I merely put her to sleep. I'm afraid I haven't the power to do any more damage than that for now." Giles lifted Willow in his arms and carried the semi-conscious girl out of the wrecked apartment. "It would seem that magic may have its uses against Glory, however. I believe some research is in order once we make certain Willow has given up her Quixotic quest for instant vengeance."

"Maybe when she hears the hospital called and Tara's out of the coma she'll calm down a little," Buffy said hopefully.

"When this current apocalypse is quite finished, I shall have to see about dealing with Willow's unexpected abilities," Giles decided. "Until then, we must attempt to keep her from becoming a loose canon and harming herself as badly as she might Glory."

"Wow, Giles, something can hurt Glory!" Buffy began to have hope for the first time in months.

~~~

Willow was sobbing and shuddering in the car as Giles told her that Tara had awakened and asked for her. The doctors suspected there might be some internal damage to Tara's brain, owing to ten small holes they had discovered in her skull. Just what damage was unknown at this point. So far she had merely called Willow's name and responded well to the various neurological tests that hammers and pins could administer.By the time they arrived back on Revello Drive, Willow was weak as kitten. Giles carried the exhausted witch upstairs and placed her in Buffy's bed with a promise that she would be awakened if there were any changes in Tara's condition.

"So it's lookin’ good for Tara?" Buffy asked when she and Giles returned downstairs.

"It's far too soon to tell. Suffice it to say there is undoubtedly going to be some damage. Just what that will be remains to be seen. Tara clearly remembers Willow. As to formulating full sentences or any other skill requiring comprehension, we shall have to wait to see." Giles didn't want to be Dr. Doom, but he was not a believer in holding out false hope either.

"God, I hope Tara pulls through. Willow loves her so much, Giles." Buffy grew silent as once more her thoughts drifted to her own seeming inability to feel that emotion. Ever since Angel had walked off into the smoke-filled night, she elt as if her heart were encased in ice. Willow had survived the loss of Oz and gone on to a greater love. Why couldn't she?

"Giles, what Dawn said earlier wasn't completely wrong," Buffy ventured. "I don't know how to love anymore. It's worse than dying, I think, this emptiness where my heart should be," Buffy bit her lip in anguish. "Is it because I'm the Slayer? Are all slayers just cold killing machines? Was Travers right that I'm nothing more than a weapon meant for the Council to wield until I'm all wielded out and the next girl gets all wieldy?"

Giles often wished he could legally strangle that pompous git sitting so smugly in London. "Of course not, Buffy. You are a very loving girl. I thought we already had this conversation the other evening?"

"I can't help it Giles. If I'm going to protect my little sister, I have to really love her. And if I can't love anyone, how can I do that?" Buffy reasoned.

"Well," Giles said hesitantly, "I've already ventured back into the ways of my youth once today. I might just as well use some of the power I have crackling through me for a good purpose. It may not be enough to kill a hell god, but it's bloody well enough to induce an altered state of consciousness for you to speak to your inner Slayer and maybe get the answers you need there."

"You mean like those funky dreams we had after we kicked Adam's butt last year?" Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about that idea. Still, if she could finally break through the iceberg that encased her heart, it would be worth a roll in the mud with the Rasta Slayer within.

"A bit, yes. Think of it as an enhanced Slayer dream," Giles offered.

"Okay, do your voodoo, guru mine," Buffy grinned at Giles.

"You not only mix metaphors, you mix religions, Buffy." Giles smiled warmly at his charge. "Whatever shall we do with you?"

"I don't know, make with the woo-woo and send me off to bed?" Buffy teased.

"Very well, dreams there shall be then," Giles promised and began to flip through pages in search of the exact spell he was sure he remembered.
 
Chapter 14 Pt 2 (Interlude in dreamland)
 
~~~
"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.".....Carl Jung
~~~

Buffy drifted off to sleep faster than she had in years. She entered REM almost immediately.

The sun baked the desert sand under Buffy's feet as she moved over the barren landscape. A slight wind that felt as if it had been channeled from hell itself whipped her hair about her face.

Buffy looked to her right and noted a cat, small and compact like a lynx, keeping pace with her as she moved. "Hello, kitty. Nice day for a walk," she said to her silent companion.

The two travelers continued until they reached the rise of a large sand dune where a lone boulder stood. Buffy sat on the rock and was relieved to find its surface oddly cool to the touch. "Well, what's up, pussycat? You know, you kinda remind me of Spike for some reason. You'd like him; he's a predator too."

Buffy smiled at her little joke. She leaned back and let the heat of the sun bake the soreness from her muscles. After a short rest, Buffy continued on her journey, heading toward a small growth of trees in the otherwise empty vista.

"Gotta be my destination, right? Last stop for gas, from the looks of it," she directed at her furred companion. "I take back what I said about you reminding me of Spike; you're too quiet."

The cat let out a low growl of seeming agreement.

Buffy arrived at the odd oasis. The trees didn't belong in any real desert, being broad-leafed and thick with age. No water was visible to nurture either the trees or the grass that felt cool beneath Buffy's feet. Night was falling and Buffy began to gather some small branches from the ground to build a fire against the rapid drop in temperature. Soon she had a cheery fire crackling. Staring into the fire, her eyelids felt heavy and she began to doze.

Buffy was snapped from her dream-within-a-dream to the voice of a woman coming from the lynx. As Buffy struggled to waken enough to understand her words, the cat stretched, bones popping, as it became the familiar form of the first Slayer.

"You seek answers, yet you slumber," the mud-caked girl accused. She sounded like a throatier version of Kendra.

"I seek peace," Buffy corrected.

"There is no peace for the Slayer. You are born, you are called, you fight and you die." The heavily accented words chilled Buffy and she shivered more from them than the cold night air.

"No, I'm more than that. I'm the Slayer, but I'm Buffy too!" Buffy protested.

"Why do you ask me then, if you have all the answers," the ancient Slayer taunted. "What is your real question, girl?"

"Why can't I love anymore? I mean I used to love…I was a regular love-a-palooza. I could love ‘til the cows came home and then lavish love on the cows." Buffy began to cry softly as she mourned the girl she had once been.

"You ask the wrong question, girl. You do not seek to know why you cannot love, but instead how you can give up that much power to another again. This is the same question asked by all the world's brokenhearted." The old Slayer nodded sagely as she went to the heart of the matter.

"But I keep getting involved with vampires," Buffy yelled as she stood and began to pace. "I'm the vampire SLAYER. Why am I such a freak?"

The old one smiled smugly, as if in possession of a dark secret. "You are no freak. You are but true to your nature."

Buffy stopped pacing and whirled on her predecessor. "Huh?"

"Think, child," the slayer urged. "Did you ever wonder why you are called the Vampire Slayer when your duties call for you to slay all sorts of demons?"

Buffy looked at the sincere black and white painted face gazing at her serenely from across the fire. She felt as if she were a rabbit facing off with a snake. "I don't get it. Vampires are demons. Demons are evil. I slay vampires and other evil demons. I got that memo when I was
fifteen."

The first Slayer sighed deeply and prepared to explain. "I was the first. Once I was a normal girl. The essence of a demon was put in me to give me the strength to fight the evil ones. And so was born the Slayer line."

"Wait, are you saying I'M a demon?" Buffy was appalled.

"No, child, you are a demon slayer," the original answered. "I am saying your POWER is the essence of an old demon. There is a difference."

"Like what, the difference between Swiss cheese and cheddar?" Buffy huffed.

The old Slayer laughed a bit at that. "It is far more complicated than we have time to explain. What is important is to know that the demon whose essence was used was similar in nature to the vampire. So, my daughter, your powers are a form of vampire designed to slay demons.
Thus, you are a vampire slayer. This is why the powerful masters of your cousin race are drawn to you and you to them. As I said in the beginning, you are true to your nature!"

"Does the Council know this, ‘cause I'm thinking ‘no’," Buffy interjected.

"They know both more and less than they think they do," the old one said cryptically.

"They fear you when they do not have full control. It was thus in my day as it is in yours. That is why girls are chosen so very young: easier to manage. Or so they think," she added with a wink and a laugh.

"Most of my daughters never grow to be fully women and their true nature isn't a problem. There are rituals and tests designed to make certain their Slayer both fears the vampire and is repelled by him, or dies in the process."

"The Cruciamentum!" Buffy said in sudden understanding. "I was eighteen! But I was already in love with Angel then," Buffy whispered that last part.

"Yes, you were ahead of them. You already knew the pull of the demon and this is one reason they fear you. Put aside the shame you have felt for attractions you were intended to have, Buffy.


"Now to the issue of your hardened heart," the early slayer continued. "This is the part of you that is other than the Slayer. This is the defense of a wounded girl. Most first loves end, and most end badly. You merely need to mature, child. You will love again. You have already begun
to," the slayer looked pointedly at Buffy as she spoke. "I doubt he would be pleased to be told that I remind you of him, however."

"And again with the ‘huh?’" Buffy said, deliberately misunderstanding the turn of the conversation.

"All in your own time," the slayer responded with a chuckle. "Know this, girl, if you come away from this with no other wisdom: you must forgive to be blessed with real love. You must take the chance of pain to know bliss. You must die to yourself to live a new creature. Judge each being for his own actions and no other, and be merciful in your judgments. This is all I can tell you."

"But what about my inability to love?" Buffy cried.

"There is no inability to love. You deny what you feel out of fear. You love deeply; you are full of love. You love your family and friends enough to die for them. You begin to love in other ways again too, but must take that at your own pace. When the time is right…." With that the slayer seemed to fold into herself, becoming the sleek cat once more. The cat turned golden eyes on Buffy and turned away from the fire, purring. As the cat sauntered away, it turned once more towards Buffy and gave a low growl before disappearing entirely.


"Well, that was more and less than I expected," Buffy said, already looking for the river Nile for a quick dip. "Thanks, Giles, and thanks, kitty-cat. I guess I'll just take my chock full o' love self back to the land of the wide awake and work on all that other stuff."

~~~
 
Chapter 15
 

~*~
Chapter 15
~*~

Spike decided to hang back and let Clem and Xander put the drop on Crusader Rabbit. The newly unencumbered vampire had no intention of letting his nemesis in on his possible chipless state. Knowing Xander, he would stake first and question the situation later.

The knight--Brother Melchoir, to be specific--was utterly terrified when Spike flashed his game face accompanied with a convincing growl.

Xander glared at Spike with suspicion and whispered, "Thought you couldn't hurt humans. This dude a demon?"

"Not hurtin’ the soddin Templar, now am I?" Spike retorted. "Bloke's human enough, but there's something more there. I'm thinking magic of some kind. Makes sense…look at the pack of 'em. They look like they just left Saladin's palace or a Monty Python flick. Glory's ancient and these rejects have been chasin’ her all this time? Somethin's not right." Spike knew he'd have to bring up the whole Ben/Glory issue and really wasn't looking forward to the blank slate that was Xander's mind on the best of days.

"Harris, why don't you step outside and keep watch? Don't want any of his mates pokin' about before we get some answers," Spike suggested. Wouldn't do to make the boy think he was trying to get rid of him, but at least he didn't have to keep giving Clem the same information every ten seconds.

"All right. If you need any help convincing him to talk, shout out," Xander said and shot a menacing look at the Knight.

After Xander left the cave where they had taken the captive, Spike turned to the clearly terrified young man. "Now, you and me are gonna have a little talk. You might not believe me, but we both want the same thing here. Glory needs to be put down and I'm just the vamp for the job. But I think you might just know some things that might make that job a bit easier, and more permanent too. You follow me so far, Lancelot?"

"Melchoir," the Knight responded in reflex.

"Not really carin’ here," Spike admitted. "Okay, let's test this out a bit. Glory shares a body with a human--you know that, right?"

Melchoir nodded, seemingly amazed at the vampire’s knowledge. Spike continued, "My guess is you boys don't know who that human is. Correct?"

"Our priests have prayed for divine wisdom that the host be revealed to us, but as yet our Lord has kept the knowledge veiled," Melchoir acknowledged.

"Yeah it's a bitch when that happens. Powers get all tight-lipped but expect you to dance to their tune when you don't even have a clue of the steps…." Spike was on a tangent and Melchoir was clearly confused. "Never mind."

"I know who the host is. Problem is there's magic involved and any human that gets clued in forgets it right away," Spike revealed.

"How can you know the answer to our quest? You are an unclean thing," Melchoir spat. "The Lord would not favor such as you with the answer."

"Yeah, well, you don't look like you've seen the inside of a garden tub in a while either, mate," Spike smirked. "Thing is, when I want answers I go lookin for 'em, not prayin’ and beggin’.

"I've got a suspicion you band of jesters without a joust are a slight bit more than just human. If I'm right, you'll hear what I tell you and not turn around and have a problem with short-term memory." Spike nodded to himself as he saw the knight pale slightly. "Let's start at the beginning then, but do the Cliff Notes version ‘cause I've got a hell bitch in need of serious payback."

"What do you want to know, demon?" spat Melchoir with as much disdain as a terrified person could in the face of a powerful demon with very sharp teeth.

"All of it," Spike demanded. "Where you come from. How Glory time-shares a body with a human. How to kill Glory once and for all. Where you got those nifty swords."

"And how do I know you don't work for Glory?" the knight asked fearfully.

"You're alive, aren't you? You think Glory's identity crisis is so bad she'd need to ask you those questions?" Spike laughed at the look on the knight's face.

Melchoir slumped in his seat and prepared to answer the vampire's questions. If the demon was working for Glory he was as good as dead anyway.

"The Key is the link and the link must be severed, such is the will of God. Only the death of the Key can subvert the will of Glorificus," Melchoir intoned.

"Not gonna happen," Spike said with narrowed eyes and a look of determination. "Keep your yap shut about the Key. What do you know about the nut job, ‘cause I gotta tell ya I've spent the better part of the century with a loose screw and Dru's poster girl for sanity next to Glory."

Melchoir drew a deep breath and began to explain about the origins of the current big bad. "Glorificus ruled with two other hell gods in a demon dimension. They were despots of the worst kind, doling out suffering and despair. Their power was equal at first, but the Beast's power grew far beyond her brothers. Her desire to punish, to bring misery had no parallel. Her brothers looked upon her and trembled. They knew it was but a matter of time before she would no longer be willing to share her power. A great battle ensued. In the end, they defeated the Beast…barely. She was exiled. Sent to this lower plane and banished from her kingdom."

"Yeah, yeah, sounds all Wagnerian. Cut to the chase. How'd she get in Good Dr. Ben Casey?" Spike asked impatiently.

The knight was completely unsure of Spike's meaning, but he did fully understand the intent. "A newborn male was created to be her prison. Glorificus was to be trapped within this mortal, forced to live and eventually die. The mortal prison is her only weakness."

"So I was right, kill Benny and get Glory as a two-for-one!" Spike was excited that it might be just that simple. "So where do you lot fit in, and make it the quick version."

"When the brother hell gods first opened the portal to our dimension, they appeared before our mighty army of God. We were committed to freeing the Holy City from the heathen Scaracen, but our priests quickly realized a more urgent need stood before us. It was our priests that formed the boy child to house the Beast. The babe grew slowly and powerful magic was used to increase our lifetimes as well to guard the Beast and its mortal prison as well as the Key to the openings. Over the centuries there was discord, division. The child was stolen away, never to be found again, its identify lost to the ages. Another group of priests left our number. They are the ones that became the keepers of the Key. They had the misguided idea that the Key could be harnessed for good. The Key must be destroyed; it is the only way. We have since dedicated our lives and pledged our very souls to locate the child and destroy it, and sever the Key as well." Melchoir was breathless after the telling.

"Keep that up and there'll be a severin’ of your head from your shoulders," Spike promised. "Go on with the story."

"The Key opens the gates that separate dimensions. The Beast will use its power to return home and exact vengeance on her siblings and all her peoples," Melchoir warned.

"Fine, let the bitch go home," Spike began, only to have the knight interrupt him.

"No, no!! Once the Key is activeated, it will open ALL the portals. The walls separating realities will crumble. All the dimensions will bleed into each other. The entire Universe will fall into chaos, darkness and pain forever! This is why we are pledged to stopping this abomination," Melchoir ranted, wide-eyed with fervor.

"New Crusade with a bit of immortality tossed into the mix," Spike mused aloud. "Baby god's a big boy now. Key's not the issue. I'm gonna kill the 'looks good for his age' doctor and you're gonna go wherever anachronisms like you go," Spike vowed.

~~~

Giles, Willow and Buffy returned to the Summers house in near silence. Willow was drained of more than just her borrowed power. She felt like she could sleep for a month and still be tired. They had stopped by the hospital to visit Tara. Willow was relieved to hear that early tests were promising for a complete recovery for her lover.

Giles had been livid when told of just how Willow managed to summon the massive power she had used to attack Glory. He had not been blind to Willow's misuse of magic but had no idea the girl had the potential for such dangerous use of forces.

Willow tried to excuse herself to get the sleep she still craved, but the Watcher was not about to let the night’s activities go unremarked.

"Willow, surely you cannot expect me to sit idly by while you delve into the black arts willy-nilly!" he huffed. "Magic is highly dangerous and you know that well. I have made the mistake of relying on your natural abilities and your growing knowledge in the past. That was my error. Clearly it is too perilous to allow you anywhere near books of magic. Do we even have any left for research purposes, or did you drain them all?"

Willow was in tears. "I'm so sorry, Giles. I just acted on instinct. I thought I'd lost Tara forever and Glory had to pay. I know it was wrong to use magic like that, to go to the darkest magic and try to use that to win the fight. I know magic is dangerous. I've messed up enough spells to know that I have lots to learn if I want to control it right."

"NO, you do NOT have it to learn. I am decided that the only thing for you is to keep as far away from magic use as possible." Giles sighed then added, "You can never have it purged from you. Once embraced, it becomes a part of who you are. The use, however, must stop and stop now. To allow further use of magic by you would be tantamount to giving a nuclear bomb to a five-year-old!"

Anne had been listening to the entire conversation, as well as the brief description given to Dawn by Buffy of what transpired at the hell god's home. Mrs. Pratt's mind was working overtime as she pondered all she was hearing and the incidents she had been troubled over ever since she was introduced to magic and its use.

Anne understood the fears Mr. Giles was experiencing to cause his harsh comments but she was worried that the emphasis was being placed in the wrong area. She decided that it might be best to voice her opinion.

"Oh no, it is not the magic that is the danger, the problem is a flaw in the person." Anne noticed some angry looks from Willow's enablers and a guilty look from Willow herself. She hurried to explain before they shut out her opinion.

"You see, it is just like my William. Both Willow and William are lovely people who have no idea how special and wonderful they are. They feel weak and non-essential and have often been the innocent victim of bullies. Those experiences have only reinforced their view of their lack of worth.

"William became a vampire and found himself with tremendous power and, unfortunately, the accompanying belief that he was fated to be evil no matter what his heart might say otherwise. All of that power went to purposes that were far beneath the man he is. It was not the power
itself but his view of what sort of individual he was and had to be. He is learning new ways now.

"In Willow's case, she discovered a wonderful natural gift, a way to tap into an enormous amount of power and manipulate the natural order of things. Willow feels safe in exercising this power because she believes that she is using it for the greater good or, at the very least, for benign purposes.

Anne looked pointedly at a mollified Xander and asked, "Did you not tell me of a time when Willow used magic in a spell to force her will to be done?" Xander nodded sheepishly as Willow blushed brightly. "She did not intend harm, but harm was done nonetheless. Indeed, as I heard the story, I was surprised nothing tragic and irreversible took place!"

Willow ventured a question, "Does that mean that I'm a bad person and that's why the magic goes to a bad place even when I'm trying to do good?"

Anne smiled gently and sought to reassure the chastened girl, "No, child! Of course not! You are a charming and sweet girl filled with the best of intentions. The problem is your fears. You are afraid you cannot help Buffy unless you have some form of supernatural power to offer and that is simply not true. Your intelligence and judgment are of immeasurable value. Your use of magic can be quite helpful in its place, but it is not the reason for your importance in this great war between good and evil you so bravely fight.


Anne decided to make another observation, "You also seem to have some difficulty trusting others to make decisions for themselves. One example is your reluctance to accept that Xander loves Anya. I have heard you offer the use of your magic power to alter that relationship
and can see from your eagerness the offer is more because you disapprove of the relationship than to smooth over an argument between them. You must curb the desire to make things bend to your will, no matter how well meaning you may be. People have the right to make their own choices, their own mistakes. It is how we learn."

"But if you love someone and can make sure they don't make a mistake, why let them get hurt?" Willow looked genuinely puzzled.

"In the first place, you can not know that YOUR view is the correct one. You are powerful, but you are NOT the Almighty," Anne said but gently. "Your job as a friend is to love and support your loved ones as they make their journey through life. If they ask your advice, by all means be honest, but it is not your place to make their choices.

"Please know that I do understand the temptation you feel," Anne admitted. "If I had your power, I might well be tempted to use it to find a way to take William and return to our own time, to prevent his murder. If I were to do that, however, how much else might change? Didn't Buffy herself tell me that William helped her to defeat Angelus a few years ago? What if he were not here to assist her? I have not the wisdom to decide what is the right thing and the power would be used only to satisfy my desires."

Willow nodded slowly, Anne's words making sense to her as she thought over spells she had nearly cast in the past with just such thinking. "I get it. Power can corrupt and no one knows everything."

"Precisely!" Anne beamed with approval. "Do you also see that until you realize the responsibility that comes with your power and until you accept that you do not require that power to be useful and needed you are in danger of using this gift in a way never intended? It was
inevitable you would need to deal with this issue at some point.

"Tara's attack was an understandable inducement to use your power against this Glory. I think that more harm than good came of it, however." Anne noticed the puzzled looks on several faces and explained, "Imagine how much more helpful it would have been to have Glory ignorant of your potential power against her. That element of surprise is lost now and Glory will be better prepared if she sees that you are going to use your gift against her. In return for this loss, you gained nothing really except to anger this demon further. From what I heard from Mr. Giles, you have also put yourself in danger by going to an evil source to increase your power for the attack. Fighting evil with evil is never a sound plan."

Buffy had to agree with that last part. Willow had been truly scary with her black veiny look and kick-ass power. "Is that why Will turned all black-eyed girl? That was some major wig worthy stuff there and Anya says all those books are just blank pages now." Buffy turned to Willow and added, "She says you're going to owe Giles forever for ruining what she called, 'irreplaceable merchandise that was totally priceless', but I don't think Giles is going to charge you though."

Xander spoke up with a memory that the conversation had brought up. "That first major spell Willow ever did was the one to put Angel's soul back. Oz told me Willow sat up in bed and started rattling off a bunch of stuff in some foreign language. He said her eyes went all black and it was like she was possessed or something. Cordy had nightmares for a week!"

Giles nodded and took off his glasses, preparing for a good rub as the implications set in. "Good Lord, I can only imagine the power that flooded into Willow at that time. This infusion only increased that imbalance I fear."

"Well," Anne continued, "it does no good to lock the barn behind the horse. Neither Willow nor William can divest themselves of the power they harbor. So it is up to us to help them to channel it properly. They must understand it is to be used sparingly lest it corrupt them.
They both have far more to offer in this fight than just their supernatural gifts."

"That may be true, but I fear we will need their strengths and powers when we go up against Glory," Giles reminded Anne.

"Yes, but it should be in a well-conceived plan of action and with others to monitor how the power is used, in my opinion," Anne replied. "They both need a more realistic view of themselves, too, if they can ever hope to make responsible decisions on when and how to unleash the powers they possess.

Anne was silent for some time, debating whether or not to mention the rest of her thought. Finally she decided to be in for a penny as well as a pound and spoke again. "The same argument can be used about slayers, I think. Buffy is filled with power, but she seems to have a clear view of its purpose thus far.

Anne looked over at Dawn who was dozing in the corner. "Dawn was telling me just yesterday that there is a second slayer, one who misused her power and now languishes in prison, unable to use those powers for good. She was not clearsighted, but unstable. The problem was not the power but the person who was using it. It is in the character. Willow and William will both be fine; they just need guidance.

Anne smiled at Giles and offered a sly suggestion, "I believe YOU might be the very one to train and guide Willow once this Glory is dealt with. If I am not mistaken you have experience in such matters. I believe you could be a good mentor for William as well, if you would consider it."

Time enough later to mention to Mr. Giles that she had read of the exploits of one Ripper Giles in some of the journals he had inadvertently loaned to her. If anyone could get Willow on the right path, a Watcher who had gone down that same wrong one was the man for the job.

"If you don't mind, I really need to sleep now. A year of snooze would be of the good," Willow beseeched. "I swear I won't do a thing without a full out consultation from now on. I'm not running away from what I did and I DO get why it was stupid and wrong. But I can't undo it." Willow looked at Giles imploringly. She then looked at Anne, "I also get what you're trying to tell me. I admit I'm all insecure gal. Yeah, I need to work on that, especially if I'm gonna be
walking around with a time bomb in me from now on. You gave me lots to think about. Thank you."

Willow gently touched Anne’s hand as she passed her on the way towards the stairs and the promised bliss of slumber and whispered another, quite sincere, "thank you." It was wonderful to have someone care enough to be honest, clearsighted enough to see the situation and yet still compassionate enough to understand.

"Yes, get some rest. Tara will likely be released tomorrow and it won't do for her to be worried over you as she continues to recover," Giles said.

"Besides, you're still my big gun and I want my big guns in top form," Buffy added. She wondered how her other gun, Spike, was recovering. She prayed there would be time for them all to get ready before Glory attacked again.

 
Chapter 16
 
~*~
Chapter 16
~*~

Brother Melchoir was in an uproar. The demon before him had just implied that the Beast would be challenged and defeated by his unclean self! Such could never be the will of the Lord, could it? No, the key must be severed! THAT was the will of the Lord; his masters had driven that home over the long years. He must have been mumbling his thoughts aloud, because the evil creature before him had begun to growl and its face was shifting in a most terrifying manner.

"You open your yap about that again and I'll rip your tongue out and make you eat it," the vampire promised his completely believing captive. "So once more for the terminally stupid, or maybe just totally stubborn. Here's the deal: I am going to personally remove Glory and her meaty prison. YOU are gonna stay chained up ‘til then. Once Glory's just a footnote in history, you and your Round Table reject friends are gonna bugger the hell off to whatever place or time you came from and we'll all pretend none of this ever happened…got that, Mel?"

The captive knight trembled in fear. The vampire had spoken quietly but with enough force that Melchoir had not a doubt in his mind that all that had been said would come to pass. A century of purpose was coming to a close. The quest embraced by his brethren would be achieved by one not fit to be in their number. Could such be the will of God after all?

The vampire, once more in human face, was pacing rapidly in obvious readiness to take on the hell god. Soft words were exchanged between the unclean one and the hideous creature with the sagging skin. Soon, chains appeared as if from nowhere and Brother Melchoir found himself trussed up like a Saracen at the fall of Jerusalem. The human in league with his captors rejoined them and more whispers were exchanged. Finally satisfied that the Knight was not going to be going anywhere until released, the vampire and human left. Melchoir looked at his loose-skinned guard with the ragged, pointy teeth and shuddered.

"So," Clem asked cheerily, "do you like Baywatch? ‘Cause there's a marathon coming on in about fifteen minutes."

The chained Knight blinked in surprise but answered honestly, "Yes, I have watched this program. I quite enjoy the artistry of David Hasselhoff."

Clem grinned widely, not noticing the tremors the sight his jagged teeth caused his reluctant guest. "Me too! He's totally underrated. Did you know he had a top-selling album in Europe? The guy's a triple threat, a major talent! Tell you what, I'll go whip up some Country Time and see what snacks I might have stashed away. Didn't know Spike was going to use my cave to do the interrogation, so I'm not prepared for guests. Sorry."

~~~

Buffy gave Giles the Cliff Notes version of the dream his concoction had produced. "So Mud Girl tells me that I'm a Vampire Slayer as in like a Vampire, not as in she who dusts the undead. Gotta say that's kinda one of those swords with two sides, Giles. On one hand, it's nice that I'm not, you know, a pervert or something with my love life history. But on the other, bigger, hand, I'm kinda wigged to think I might be part demon. I mean will I start to mutate or something if I live long enough?"

Giles removed his glasses, setting them on the table rather than cleaning them as Buffy had anticipated. "I had heard something like this about the origins of the Slayer line. Naturally, it is all steeped in myth and mystery. I shall, of course, do as much research as the Council will permit on this issue. I wouldn't worry though, Buffy, it's not likely that you will be anything other than the lovely young woman you are right now. I think the essence of the demon and not the nature of it is the source of your power, just as the First Slayer said."

"So does that mean my "perfect normal guy" is really gonna turn out to be a vampire? Maybe I shouldn't have let Angel go," Buffy mused.

"I doubt seriously that the First Slayer was suggesting you renew your relationship with Angel," Giles tried to keep the panic out of his voice. "There is the matter of the curse--that hasn't changed."

Buffy was lost in thought but still aware of what Giles was saying. "We've both kinda moved on too. When Angel came to tell me how sorry he was about Mom, it felt nice to have him there. But it didn't rock my world like it used to. I used to imagine Angel coming back into my life and … well, it wasn't like I imagined. It was almost like I didn't know him. I guess in a way I don't … know him, you know? I went right from 'Ooh, creepy stalker guy, run!' to 'Oh, I love you
forever, my knight in shining armor' with him. He never has been an open book, so I never got to decide if I even liked him before I loved him." Buffy forgot for the moment that she was speaking aloud as she tried to sort through her emotions on the boyfriend front.

Giles was wishing he could cross all his fingers and any other possible appendages in the hope that Buffy was finally seeing her 'great love' for the first blush of passion that it had been. His soaring mood came crashing to the ground with Buffy's next train of thought, however.

"Then again, maybe it's not Angel she meant," Buffy wrinkled her forehead in confusion. "Maybe she meant Spike?" Buffy clearly remembered the words of the First Slayer, "You must forgive to be blessed with real love. You must take the chance of pain to know bliss…Judge each being for his own actions and no other, and be merciful in your judgements,". That certainly sounded like Spike to her. Maybe it was time to stop going over her past with the pest and try to move on to the vamp he was trying to be now. His mom seemed to think he was still pretty much like the son she had known. Maybe she herself should take another, closer look.

So lost in that thought was Buffy she didn't even hear her Watcher's to-be-expected "Good Lord!"

~~~

Anne had watched the subdued girl slink around all morning. Willow was clearly chastened and embarrassed. Anne worried that her words had been too critical for the child to handle at this point. After all, it was Willow's insecurities that had placed her in this mess to begin with and further blows to her fragile sense of self were not likely to produce good results.

"Ah, Willow!" Anne said with a beaming smile of greeting. "Just the person I was hoping to find. I am quite at sea still in this wonderful new world of yours. I would be so very honored if you would take me in hand and help me to navigate. You have already done so much that I hesitate to impose, but it is because of the brilliance of your assistance thus far that I can think of no other to ask."

Willow looked a bit startled but felt the warmth of pride run through her humility-chilled veins. "Of course I'll be glad to help you any way I can and you could never impose! You seem to be doing so well on your own though, I can't imagine what you need me for." Willow said the last with the most whipped puppy voice ever uttered.

"But that's just it, don't you see?" Anne was a woman on a mission. "I CAN'T even begin to imagine much of anything! Everything is so beyond my ken that I scarce know where to begin! I should like it very much if you would call me friend and take me under your wing. You are such a remarkable person, Willow. I don't believe I've ever met a young lady with the mental skills I have seen that you possess. Even Mr. Giles clearly admires and relies upon your knowledge and common sense. Why, Tara is practically in awe of you!"

Willow felt her spirits lift at the praise. "What do you have in mind?"

"I believe I am in need of a tutor. Yes, you have shown to me this wonderful device, this computer, but I lack direction, don't you see? You can steer me, guide me to information I should know and forbid me from the distractions that will only slow my progress. After all, how many times can one watch a webcam update when there is a century of information I need to be processing?"

Willow thought about the project and brightened completely. "Oh, I have a great idea…a complete, multimedia, one-on-one teaching plan! This is going to be a blast!"

As Willow bustled into the kitchen with Anne in tow, she was already making a mental list of all the things Mrs. Pratt was going to find fascinating and essential. "Maybe we should start at the library. The Campus has a great one and it might be the perfect way to ease you into the twentieth century without overwhelming you. I don't think they are going to release Tara today, so we could start now if you want to. We could even drop by the hospital to visit Tara after…."

Anne smiled serenely and decided that she would be the slowest student in the world if that was what it took for this girl to finally see her worth beyond the magic. "I think that's a lovely idea, Willow. Lead on."

As the pair headed out the front door, they came face to face with a glowing Anya. "Good morning, Mrs. Pratt, Willow. Isn't it a beautiful day?! The sky is as blue as the bridesmaids’ gowns I saw in Bueller’s window this morning. I think I heard a pair of turtledoves cooing to each other this morning too. That has to be a good omen, right?"

Anne mentally sighed and thought to kill HER two birds with one stone. "Anya, we were just headed to University to begin my education. Won't you join us? I'm sure a lady such as yourself will wish to be fully knowledgeable about all you will need for the perfect wedding, and where better than a library?"

Anya abruptly turned and joined the two as they headed for Willow's sedan and a day of education. "Yes, I want to make sure I have the absolutely perfect day! A girl only gets married once--well, some more than once, some lots more than once, but not THIS girl! No, ma'am, I'm a one-man woman and Xander is my man."

Willow managed to hold her tongue. After her slip with the dark magic, she didn't have any rocks left to throw Anya's way, at least not today. Willow remembered the plan to delay the actual event and decided to plant a few seeds while the opportunity presented itself. "Oh, and don't forget all the showers you have to plan for even before the wedding. Lots of gifts, lots of details, and did I mention lots of gifts?"

"Are there money showers?" Anya wondered aloud. " Because Xander and I could use a bit of a boost in feathering our nest."

"That's kind of tack…umm…Why don't we check it out and see if that's doable," Willow tap-danced. No way was this ex-demon going to embarrass Willow's oldest friend by soliciting funds, but Willow might be able to channel that desire to acquire into a long string of showers that would keep Anya happily distracted during what could hopefully turn into a long engagement.

~~~

"So, am I back to my usual pale perfection, or is me mum gonna have the vapors with one look at her boy?" Spike asked Xander as they headed for Revello Drive.

Xander gave Spike a dirty look and took the bait. "Number one, you are not a perfect anything … except maybe a pest. Number two, I don't have a clue what the 'vapors' are." He caught the smirk on Spike's face and decided to let the insults slide. After all, he had promised Mrs. Pratt to give her son a chance. "If you mean do you look less like the loser in a bar brawl? Yeah. And you know, Spike, the game's pretty much up."

"What game's that?" Spike was more than a bit nervous about what had transpired between his mother and Harris.

"The whole 'Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins' shtik with the street urchin accent. Your mom spilled all the beans and they spelled out Cambridge." Xander had the satisfaction of seeing the vampire actually manage to pale further. "Wow, didn't know vamps could get any less color!"

"I love my mum with all my heart, but I wish she'd keep the family pride a bit to herself," Spike muttered. 'Took a lot of time to perfect my image and she goes and blows it to the whelp, of all
people!' "No way of savin’ my image, is there?"

"Not a chance, Giles, Jr.," Xander joked and grinned in glee at Spike's discomfort. This was far better than his previous bullying tactics!

"Could always eat the lot of you and get the image right back," Spike threatened half-heartedly.

"Not so long as you're all Chips Ahoy Boy, I'm happy to say," Xander reminded him. Fortunately, he wasn't looking at the alarm that crossed the vampire’s face as he remembered his present chipless state. If Buffy and her groupies found out he wasn't nearly as fangless as they thought, he'd be dust before he could offer a word of protest.

With that sobering thought, Spike began to try to think of how he could kill Ben without giving away his lack of government devices. 'Gonna have to stop with the pointless threats too, you git, or they'll never relax around you without the hardware. Gonna have to kill like a man, not a vamp, if I don't want any suspicion from the Scooby pointy wood glee club. Figure out later how to break the news I'm my own vamp again.'

The teasing session came to an end as the duo arrived at Buffy's house. Xander decided getting Spike's mom to take those walks down memory lane might just prove a gold mine in the Spike-baiting arena. Just because he was going to stop being a mean-spirited bully didn't mean he should have to give up all his fun!

Giles was excited and interested in the information they had gleaned from the knight. With any luck, they could discover the host and remove Glory from the scene without having to take her on in all her power.

Giles headed to a pile of research books to see if there was any help to be had within the dusty tomes littering Buffy's dining room table. Xander, seeing a long, boring afternoon on the horizon, scooted into the kitchen to start the coffee and avoid a research assignment. Spike decided to use the opportunity to do a bit of his own research.

"Think I'll take a page outta Red's book and see what I can find online," Spike announced and headed to the end of the table with the laptop. Giles was already lost to the world of the printed page and merely grunted in agreement. Fortunately, Spike was not yet pigeonholed in the role of prime researcher material and the Watcher was doing his best to tune out distractions.

'Let's see,' Spike mused, 'gotta kill quick but not be too obvious. Best find out a bit about the ‘good’ doctor then.'

~~~

Ben headed toward the inquest he was fully expecting from the two doctors waiting for him at the end of the hall. Once again Glory had taken over their shared body and made him miss rounds. He
had already run through all the accepted excuses for such behavior and was desperately trying to think of something that might be believed. "I'm so sorry I'm late!"

"You're not late," the elder doctor said in monotone. It was such a shame, really; the young man would have made a fine doctor had he but applied himself. "You can't be late for a job that you no longer have. Much to no one's surprise, I have decided to give your position to someone who will actually show up to do the job."

Ben's face fell at the news. "There's an explanation…which I can't exactly give right now…Can I just say it's not my fault?"

"I think you've already used about all the explanations there might be, don't you, Mr. Wilkinson?" The doctor sighed in sadness. He really took no joy in watching talented young doctors implode under the pressure of internship. This case was one of the most extreme in his experience. "Take responsibility for your choices at least, Ben. Get your act together and you may have a career one day."

Ben turned away, his face flushed with anger and frustration. He headed for his locker to pack up his dreams. "This is so unfair! She's taking everything that matters away from me." The other interns looked on in puzzled embarrassment as their former colleague banged on his locker and ranted in fury at the injustices of his life. "I'm Ben, I'm Ben, I'm Ben," he chanted.

'Maybe he's schizophrenic,’ thought more than one. At least two witnesses decided an incident report was in order and scurried off to file one.

~~~

Giles was getting restless. Nothing in the many books was proving promising and he was beginning to suffer a bit of eyestrain.

Xander was reaching for the last of the jelly donuts and asked for the millionth time when Buffy was due home from her job interviews. The bot wasn't up to freestyle question and answer sessions yet, so Buffy was doing that phase of the search for gainful employment. It was hoped that the actual employment part could be done by the Buffybot when the time came to actually punch a clock.

Spike was engrossed in whatever was flashing on the computer screen. 'Probably porn,' thought both Giles and Xander at the same time.

Spike had taken careful notes on his selected method of murder, making sure to use Fyarl to keep the others from understanding his chicken scratch. Now all he needed was a bit of information on the not-so-completely good doctor himself and he'd know if his plan was likely to work. He brought up the Google search engine and began to type in the name of his nemesis. There might be several Dr. Wilkinsons in the greater Sunnydale area, but Spike doubted it.

He had managed to get far enough to type 'Dr. W' when Xander sidled up behind him. "Whatcha doin’, Spike? On the scent for a way to find Glory's host?"

Spike jumped in his seat startled from his concentration. Thinking quickly, he finished typing 'ho' onto the ‘Dr. W..’ query and hit enter. "Just takin’ a break, checkin’ to see if the idiots in charge of decent programmin’ are gonna bring back Dr Who." The screen began to fill with the many sites dedicated to the long running sci-fi series.

Much to Spike's alarm, his smoke screen aroused interest in both the Watcher and the boy. "God, I used to get so scared at times!" Xander admitted. "Then I'd get embarrassed when the monster of the week was some guy covered in carpet or looked like a giant, rolling saltshaker."

"Ah, the days when story content mattered more than special effects," Giles added sagely. "The program is a classic, really; still entertaining all these many years past its prime."

Xander was animated on the subject. "So, G-man, I heard a rumor that they are going to maybe start with new episodes. The movie flopped here but did okay in Britain, or at least that's what they said at the web site. Who do you see as the next Doctor?"

Giles decided to ignore the hated nickname and gave the question some thought. "I rather like the idea of that handsome chap in the Gold Blend advertisements, actually. I think he could add a
bit of dash to the role."

"Yeah, it's called Taster’s Choice here, but isn't he a little old?" Giles gave the boy a dirty look as the actor in question was about Giles' own age. "I mean the Doctor has been a lot of different ages, but they want to play to the younger audience and manly youth is the way to go there."

"Well then, who would you suggest, given your expertise as a casting agent?" Giles snarked.

"Maybe Timothy Dalton. He was much better as 007 than he gets credit for and he's got that whole suave thing happenin’," Xander suggested.

"Are you daft?" Spike joined in, temporarily sidetracked. "The Doctor isn't suave. He's edgy, quirky. He's a soddin’ time lord!"

"So Mr. Vamp Expert, who was your favorite Doctor?" Xander challenged.

"Tom Baker, of course. Had a real handle on the role. Bit of dash, bit of humor and a natty dresser, man made his own style others copied. Coulda used a bit of hair gel on those curls but had his own style, didn't he?" Spike looked to Giles for agreement.

"I think Jon Pertwee was far superior, actually," Giles said, with a negative shake of his head towards Spike. "The man had dignity and class, just as one would expect in a character so well travelled and advanced."

Xander laughed at both of them. "Yeah, well, Peter Davidson had Peri--beat that! Do you even remember those costumes they put her in?"

"Well, if you're talking about companions, the real chemistry was between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. You could feel the electricity between The Doctor and Romana," the romantic William in Spike piped up. After all, the couple had begun a real-life romance while playing their roles.

"Tosh, the best companion has always been Sarah Jane Smith. That's why she's returned more than once. Same actress too, so that says something. No Sarah Jane #2 needed there," Giles offered.

"Man, I could sure use one of those sonic screwdrivers," Xander the Construction Worker lusted.

"I'd be happy with the Tardis," Giles and Spike said at the same time.

The three men looked sheepishly at one another and Xander had to continue by bringing up the Master and how he was like Magneto of the X-Men. Another argument ensued as each expressed their take on the villain.

"He had that whole hypnosis thing, kinda like a thrall. That's cheatin’, like that poof Dracula," Spike insisted.

"But it worked, didn't it?" Xander pointed out. "Face it, he could've done the whole universal conquest thing if he'd wanted to. There was no one who had a better chance than the Master."

Buffy had come in at the tail end of this conversation and paled at the sound of that dreaded name. "Oh, God! Not him again! Don't I have enough to worry about with Glory without having 'fruit punch mouth' to deal with!"

Xander looked confused for only a moment before realizing that Buffy had her Masters confused. "No, not The Master, the Master. You know, the Doctor's Master."

Buffy scrunched her forehead adorably and asked, "The Doctor?"

Spike understood how Buffy felt at the reminder of his long-gone and unlamented ancestor. "Yeah, not old bat face, the Time Lord Master from Gallifrey."

Buffy just looked even more confused. "Doctor…who?" meaning she was clueless.

"Precisely!" Giles exclaimed in triumph. "Dr. Who indeed."

Much to Spike's relief, the trio left the dining room with Giles and Xander intent on educating Miss Buffy on the finer points of old British science fiction programs.

"Back to the important stuff now," he muttered as he Googled his way into Dr. Wilkinson's information. "Now to hack my way into the good stuff. Hospitals are so much easier than that stupid college dorm assignment program," he decided as he typed furiously at the keyboard.

"Best get the dope on the dope before the Three Stooges come back in here," he mumbled.

~~~

Giles and Xander were busy putting together the evening meal, thus saving them all from yet another pizza or, worse yet, Buffy's cooking.

Spike was satisfied that he had all the information he needed to not only kill Dr Ben Wilkinson, but to do it with no suspicion cast on the death. Spike not only had plans, he had backup plans to his plans.

As the kitchen crew joked and continued teasing Buffy about the first pop culture trivia she was clueless about, a vamp on a mission slinked out into the twilight for a rendezvous with destiny.
 
Chapter 17
 
~*~
Chapter 17
~*~

'Too perfect, really,' Spike thought as he made haste towards the hospital pharmacy. "Benny Boy even set himself up with the drama queen performance earlier. Nothin’ like a history of rage on top of serious stress. Course, in this town no one looks too far into cause of death anyway.' Spike smiled at the head-in-the-sand attitude in Sunnydale as the lock clocked open. The hospital records had been easily opened on Willow's computer and the incident reports on Ben after his abrupt dismissal had been a goldmine for the questing vampire. Lots of talents from his evil Big Bad days were coming in handy. 'Some skills never lose their usefulness,' he thought as he put the lockpick back in his pocket. ‘Should take up cat burglary.’


With a wide grin, he pocketed the vial of Kaon CI and a syringe large enough to bring panic to the most manly of Marines. The only part of the plan left was for Spike to shadow the half doc/half loon-god until he could get Ben far enough away from others for the potion to do its deadly work.

~~~

"I just hope I can keep Xander from being too impatient," Anya's voice rang out. "He should be understanding though. He's the one that's always after me to do things like a proper human, after all."

Willow stifled a giggle at the ease of getting Anya on board for a long engagement. "Oh, I think Xan will understand. I'm sure he'll want your wedding to be just perfect and not rushed at all. Guys don't always get how important all that stuff is, but Xander is really considerate that way." Willow fought the urge to check her nose to see if it had grown during that last statement.

"Indeed. In my day, a proper betrothal was a time for the couple to get to know one another better while all the various legalities were completed. Many a marriage was still being conducted based on property and bloodlines, at least in the upper classes," Anne added with a nod. "Such things took time."

"Well, I suppose I could try for a twelve to eighteen month timeline that all the etiquette books called for," Anya said thoughtfully. She bit the side of her lip in concentration as she reviewed all she had discovered during her research day. Finally, she smiled brightly. "Oh,at least that will give me time to make sure Giles can get me that sixpence to put in my shoe! I like that custom. Anything that is supposed to bring wealth is something I don't want to miss!"

Anne laughed at the acquisitive girl. "Don't forget it's supposed to ensure a wealth of happiness and joy, not merely financial gain."

"Don't forget the idea of having ribbon pulls for the bridesmaids! Maybe some of your old wish-granting will work on those too. I hope my charm will have something I really want for its wish," Willow teased.

Anya had looked up nearly every wedding custom from the past two centuries for details she hoped to incorporate in her grand wedding plans. Willow was pretty sure this wedding was going to rival
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s before all was said and done. The young witch only hoped for a happier marriage for her oldest friend.

Anne ventured some words of encouragement. "Yes, I believe you shall need at least a year or more to fully prepare a decent wedding. I'd be honored to help in any way you would like, my dear."

Anya practically beamed with excitement, "Oh, that would be great! I don't have a mother. Well, actually I do, but she's been dead for over eleven hundred years and she wasn't much for the whole mother/daughter thing even then….." Anya trailed off with a faraway look in her eye. It was clear that, like all the rest of this group, she was a person with a deep need for mothering. "Anyway, it would be wonderful if you'd help me do this right. For Xander, you know. I want to make him
proud."

"See, not even married yet and she's trying to "make" me something," Xander said with a smile as he swooped down and kissed Anya soundly. "Besides, I already AM proud of you, An. Any guy would be."

Anya blushed brightly at the unaccustomed praise. "Xander, I don't want to disappoint you, but it may be a while before we can put together the wedding of my dreams." She completely missed the quick flash of relief that crossed her beloved's face. "Naturally, you'll continue to receive nightly orgasms--I'm not that interested in old-fashioned morals where sex is concerned! But the wedding itself is going to take at least a year to plan. All the bride magazines say that! There are even timelines and calendars and everything. It's very regimented actually."

Xander felt a burden was beginning to lift and smiled brightly. "Just like the Army. And I think Napoleon said it best: 'An army marches on its stomach.' I believe dinner is ready to serve, ladies, if you'll follow me."

"But you can't march on your stomach! Crawl maybe, but who wants an army that crawls?" Anya tried to puzzle out the expression to no avail. "Sounds cowardly to me."

The women headed for the dining room in quest of the source of the wonderful aroma wafting through the house. Willow took a deep sniff and looked in hopeful approval at Giles as he entered carrying a covered cassarole dish. "Please tell me you did the cooking, Giles. I had Buffy's tuna noodle surprise last week and it took a couple of days to even face food again."

"HEY!" Buffy huffed, "I followed mom's recipe." At the raised eyebrows of Dawn and Willow, she amended, "Okay, I may have used regular chicken broth instead of cream of mushroom for the sauce, but it was still soup. Besides, the tuna was 'Chicken of the Sea'. I don't know what the problem is."

Dawn laughed. "It would have been even better if you hadn't put the noodles in before you went out for the day. A slow cooker and noodles don't mix…that is, unless you wanted it to taste like
tuna/chicken-flavored library paste."

"Ha ha, laugh it up, brat," Buffy replied indignantly. "At least I know not to deep-fry peanut butter marshmallow thingies like you did."

The group gathered around the dining room table and began to pass the plain but tasty dish Giles had concocted. "I vote Giles chief cook, even if I have to agree to be bottle washer," offered Xander.

Anya paused in pouring the wine from the bottle to her glass and looked at it thoughtfully. "Not a bad idea, Xander. I suppose there is a refund for properly cleaned bottles somewhere. I don't think it will bring much, but every little bit helps."

After everyone finished their chuckle at Anya's comment, Giles cast a serious look at Willow. "The hospital called while you were out."

"Tara!" Willow looked ready to bolt. "Is she okay? She hasn't taken a turn for the worse, has she?"

"Calm down, Willow. The news is quite good actually," Giles reassured her. "In fact, they are willing to release her in the morning. I had to assure them there would be plenty of help for her aftercare, but they were more than happy to make her hospital bed available for another."

Willow grinned and poured some wine for herself from the bottle Anya had passed to her. "So this is a celebration for real then!" There was a celebratory clink of glasses as they all toasted to renewed hope for the future.

~~~

Ben was sulking in the corner of the Bronze and downing his fourth mug of frothy forgetfulness when the frustration of his lost career caused him to slam the brew down on the table, breaking the mug and sending beer flying every direction.

"Hey, mister," the comely waitress admonished, "I have to clean all that glass up without getting cut. Doesn't pay to have open cuts workin' a night shift in this town."

Ben glared at the girl with no real sympathy. "At least you've GOT a job, menial as it is."

"If you're unemployed, you'd better not be runnin' a tab," the girl quickly demanded.

"Oh, I can pay. May not tip, but I can pay," Ben grumbled.

A couple of the regulars weren't too happy seeing their favorite overworked waitress being dissed and decided to step in. "Yo, Mary, this smartass giving you grief?" His partner in pool sharking nodded his agreement to take care of the uppity jerk insulting the sweet girl.

"Nothing I can't handle," the pretty girl smiled. "Thanks though."

Ben was looking for a fight and this looked like the perfect opportunity to hit something with all his pent-up anger at his fate. "I wouldn't let a skank like you handle any part of me. I'm a doctor; don't want to catch something I might pass on." The surly former doctor glanced from under lowered lashes at the two knights of the pool table to see if he had achieved the result for which he had been angling.

Mary's eyes clouded with tears. She was a sensitive soul, not really cut out for dealing with mean drunks. If tuition weren’t so high, she would have handed in her apron months before. "I …. I…"

Before she could respond to Ben's nasty insinuations, the shaggy-haired hero who had been silent earlier executed a beautiful left hook that knocked Ben from his chair. In short order, the fight spread as the combatants crashed into and through tables. Ben was giving as good as he got, throwing punches right and left, never caring where they landed.

From his front row seat on the balcony, the smirking vampire thanked his lucky stars for short-tempered, aggrieved interns. 'Really, the bugger's makin' this way too easy.' Spike watched carefully for the inevitable arrival of the lumbering hulk of a bouncer. He had to grin
as the not-so-good doctor was lifted by his collar and unceremoniously tossed out the back door into the alley. "Show time."

Spike moved with vampire-enhanced speed out the front door of the Bronze and around the side to the alley. No chance for Ben to have recovered and gotten far, but Spike didn't want Glory to make an appearance at this show.

~~~

The talk had been lively and upbeat at the dinner table and Buffy was feeling more relaxed than she had in months. Between Willow's promise to program RoboBuffy to do a great job no matter which place finally offered a job and Mrs. Pratt's plan to rescue Xander from his impulses, it was shaping up to be a hopeful day. Even Spike's news that he might be onto something where Glory was concerned gave Buffy reason to be cheery. Even if she still doubted Dr. Wilkinson had any knowledge about Glory, Spike seemed sure and that was good enough for now. Maybe the bad luck that had begun even before her mom had died was finally turning.

Giles leaned back in his chair and decided to share his plans with the group now, as they were in such high spirits. "Willow, I have been giving much thought to the things Anne had to say to you after your misuse of magic the other day. I'm sure you have as well."

Willow's spirits dampened at the reminder. 'Goddess, I hope he's not going to tell Tara what I did. She'd really be disappointed in me.'

Giles could see the thoughts and guess at their content. "I don't plan to tell Tara how out of hand things became. This is not about blame, Willow. It's about dealing with the problem before it gets worse. I quite agree with Anne that the real issues with you are internal and I make no claim to being able to assist there. However, she is also correct in her surmise that I DO have some experience with magic that gets out of hand."

Willow blinked back tears of relief and gave her full attention to what the Watcher was saying. Truth be told, her walk on the dark side had frightened the young witch as well.

"Once we have settled this whole Glory debacle and Tara is fit for travel, I would like to take the two of you to the coven that helped a young, impulsive and rebellious lad to regain control of his life. The coven is in Devon and Athenea is one of the most powerful witches alive today. I believe that you and Tara would benefit greatly by training under her instruction." Giles watched the emotions play across Willow’s face and completely missed the distress on Buffy's.

"You're leaving me?" Buffy felt as if the floor had fallen from under her. She’d just lost her mother. Now her father figure too? "Giles, I need you! You're my Watcher. You can't just up and go to England, leaving me here on my own!"

Giles looked startled at Buffy's conclusion. "Of course not, my dear! I wouldn't think of leaving you for any great length of time. I will, however, need to escort the girls and make arrangements for their training. I might also make a short visit to London to handle some personal affairs. All in all, it is more like a longish vacation."

Buffy's look of relief was tangible. "Oh, thank God! It's just that I can't handle losing another person just now, Giles."

Willow then had her turn at hurt feelings. Fortunately, Buffy noticed. "Will, I know you and Tara will only be gone a short while. Hey, school's your thing; I kinda expected you to go somewhere for a while anyway. Besides, I know you'll be back as soon as possible. It's just the men in my life who go away and never come back."

"You needn't worry," Giles reassured her. "You haven't really needed a Watcher in a long time." He held up a hand to forestall the disagreements to that statement. "No, it is true. You have far surpassed anything I might teach you. However, I cannot bear to walk out of your life. You are more than the Slayer to me and you know that full well."

"I know. I'm just used to being left." Buffy spoke so softly no one but Giles and Anne heard her plaintive comment.

"Well, that is one point in William's favor," Anne remarked. "He would never abandon those he loves."

Buffy looked a bit startled at Mrs. Pratt's comment but couldn't think of any reason to disagree with that lady's assessment of Spike's character. No matter how much Buffy wanted to be able to discount Spike's positive traits, there was no way she could ever see him being disloyal to someone he loved. Even Dru had to toss him out several times before he finally moved on.

Giles was still talking of his plans to Willow, oblivious to Buffy's mental checklist of Spike's positive qualities. "Naturally, we will need to be certain that Tara is fully recovered before heading over, but I don’t imagine some time in the countryside will do her any harm. Point of fact, I can only see this as benefitting Tara, physically as well as increasing her natural powers."

"Oh, yes, Tara's magic isn't as flashy as Willow's, but there's lots of power in her too," Anya added. "You people could use her ability to read auras. I'm surprised you haven't tapped into that already. She's a talented healer too."

Willow was torn between irritation at having her skills referred to as ‘flashy’ and pride that Anya recognized the specialness that was Tara. Pride in her lover won out and she graced Anya with a genuine smile of appreciation.

"Indeed," Giles agreed. "We haven't properly used many of our resources." He looked pointedly at Anya. Much of what Anne said to him in their discussions had been considered more than once. "I
believe that, with the proper training, Willow and Tara's unique relationship with magic will complement each other perfectly. Each can both enhance, yet temper, the other."

"If that means we're the perfect couple, I could have told you that," Willow said with a smile.

"Indeed, there are several perfect couples here," Anne looked at Xander and Anya, "and some potentially perfect ones as well." She looked pointedly at Buffy. "Speaking of which, do any of you have an idea where my wayward son has gotten to?"

~~~

Ben lay where he had fallen, or rather where he had landed upon being tossed. He shook his head to try to clear the blood that was trickling into his eye. He saw the pale hand that was extended to help him up and grasped it gratefully.

"Could just finish up what they started, I suppose. That would just force some kind of investigation though and I'm aimin’ for discreet here." Spike smiled coldly at the confused
drunk. "So I'm just gonna stick with the original plan and put you down peaceful-like." Spike plunged the needle into the befuddled man and depressed the plunger, shooting the carefully measured fluid into his victim.

Ben looked at Spike in confusion, "What did you do to me?" He could feel his heart speed up as his breathing became more difficult.

"Mite young for a heart attack, but I'm guessin' the Sunyhell canoe-maker won't waste much autopsy time soon as they see how your heart went spastic. Potassium's nice and natural, after all. Always shows up in the lab reports." Spike answered the dying man.

"By the time you get on the slab, they'll just see the heart attack, not the Hyperkalemia that came first. Just had to make sure it was concentrated enough to do the trick. Didn't want some Jessica Fletcher wannabe to get too curious."

Ben slumped to the ground, even as his eyes rounded in understanding.

Spike had considered making it harder for forensics to determine cause of death, but finally decided that if lethal injection was good enough for the California Department of Corrections, it would be good enough for an imprisoned hell god.

"Bit of potassium chloride and problem solved the old-fashioned way….murder most foul!" Spike could hear his demon chuckle in approval. "Might take fist and fang off the menu, but can't keep a true Big Bad from using his noggin'." His deep chuckling, "Bwahahahah," would have made Vincent Price proud as he lay Ben's body on the cold pavement.

~~~

"You know, we haven't talked about the future and your plans," Buffy said, looking straight at Anne.

Anne, thinking Buffy had taken offense at her mild matchmaking attempt, blushed brightly. "My dear, I wouldn't presume to interfere with either you or William. I hope you were not offended by my observations. You have been kindness itself to me ever since I popped up in your parlor."

"No, no! I'm not offended," Buffy rushed to reassure the lady. "Besides, everyone else adds their two cents in about my love life, why not you too? At least it's different cents." Buffy laughed
lightly. "I just meant that I haven't talked to you yet about an idea I've been playing with."

Buffy looked at Dawn and saw the hopeful look on her little sister's face. "I know you might want to be a modern independent woman and all, but if you think you could put up with us here, we sure could use your influence. I'm not ready to be a mom to anyone, much less a bratty teenager. Would you consider staying here with us…not just for a while…but like family?"

Anne thought she might weep in gratitude. Ever since her arrival, she had found herself drawn to these young people. The urge to mother them nearly overwhelmed her at times. And now to receive an invitation to do exactly that! Well, she was moved beyond the telling.

Buffy rushed to cover the quiet. "Not that I want to dump all my responsibility onto you or anything," she reassured Anne. "Just…well, I miss Mom too and somehow your being here has made it easier to cope. I wouldn't expect you to try to take her place--no one could--but it would be kinda like a wiser aunt or something with you here."

Anne couldn't help the single tear that escaped as she nearly whispered, "Thank you, my dear girl. Nothing would make me happier. I shan't try to run roughshod over you…any of you. I should enjoy
being useful, however. Some skills never go out of fashion. I may not be prepared to become a modern career woman, but I do know how to be maternal."

Dawn nearly leapt from her seat in excitement. "So you'll stay?"

"Yes, for as long as you wish me here," Anne promised.

Dawn whirled to face her sister, "Thank you, Buffy! WOW, does that mean Spike's gonna live here with us too? That's awesome!"

Buffy blinked in surprise. She hadn't thought it all out that far….or HAD she? If she were honest with herself she would have to admit the idea of the former bane of her existence becoming a member of her household held a certain appeal.

Anne picked up on the tension Dawn's outburst had ignited. "William is a grown man. Neither would he impose his company on another's household. He lived with me in order to care for me in my illness. Now, thanks to that lovely young doctor, I no longer will need such nursing."

Buffy's head jerked up in horrified astonishment, "Ben is Glory! That's what Spike was saying to me. Ben IS Glory! I don't know why I couldn't remember that before now."

All eyes were on Buffy as several voices echoed, "Ben is Glory?!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
A/N:

Thank you all for your patience as I struggle with RL and really, really irritating computer problems! Very soon all should return to normal. Happy you are still interested.

Kathleen
 
Chapter 18
 


~*~
Chapter 18
~*~


The meal ended in a flurry of voices all speaking over one another in excited tones. Buffy and Xander had just explained that they suddenly remembered Spike desperately trying to make them understand that young Dr. Ben Wilkinson and Glory, the god from hell, were one and the same.

"I don't get it," Xander's voice rose. "Okay, I may not be attento-guy, especially when Spike's the one talking, but I think I should have clued in to something that important!"

"Well, I didn't either. I remember it was kinda like I didn't even hear Spike's words the way he spoke them. It was like one of those foreign movies where the words they are saying are different from the ones you hear," Buffy suggested.

"Dubbed," Willow offered helpfully, "You mean dubbed movies where they put a different voice track over the original one."

"Yeah, like that." Buffy scrunched her forehead as she tried to remember the encounter with Spike. "No wonder Spike was looking at me like I was crazy."

"And he knows crazy," Xander muttered, causing Anne's eyebrow to rise in a familiar facial expression.


"Hey!" Buffy punched Xander in mock irritation, "Don't EVEN compare me to that nutjob!"

Dawn took up the teasing. "Well, Spike did love Dru for like a century and she was certifiable, but he put up with it. Now he's totally in love with you…. Do the math."

Buffy glared at her snickering little sister and moved the conversation back to the Ben/Glory situation with a sigh. "And I'm just saying that I don't get why no one could actually hear what Spike was saying."

"Magic, maybe?" Willow suggested. "A spell of some kind that might keep the truth from being revealed if anyone told it. That would help keep the secret. If anyone found out, they couldn't tell anyone else, even if they could remember it themselves. Wonder why Spike remembered?"

Giles nodded his head at the idea and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps it is because Spike isn't human. The magic might only be tuned to humans, leaving it possible for Spike to witness the change and remember it yet be unable to pass the information forward."

Xander grinned as recent activities began to make better sense. "I get it now! Spike couldn't get anyone to hear the truth so he worked around it!" Xander then told the group how he, Spike and Clem had captured one of the Knights and how Spike had gone off on a personal mission after the interrogation ended.

"Oh, dear," Anne worried, "I do hope William hasn't rushed into the lion's den. He always fancied those tales of knights and heroes rushing to protect their ladyloves. I do hope he is not attempting to actually try such derring-do."

Giles patted Anne's hand in consolation. "You needn't worry overmuch about Sp…William. He's well able to comport himself in battle. He has, after all, managed to remain undusted for over a century and, as Dawn pointed out, keep his mentally unstable sire alive as well. To do so would requires far more than simple luck."

"Indeed, luck would be the last factor William would wish or need. His 'luck', if you will, has never been of the best. His ingenuity, however, has been remarkable," Anne replied. "He was ever one for impulsive actions that led to dust-ups and scrapes, but he would think well on his feet and it would come out right in the end. Had his interests been more martial than artistic, he might well have made a fine field commander in a regiment."

Buffy found herself remembering past encounters with Spike during his Big Bad era and could easily see those very traits. His plans were never bad in and of themselves, but his impatience always thwarted the best of them….still, he never got dusty when they blew up in his face.
The more Buffy heard of William, the more she could see that Victorian gentleman in aspects of Spike. Maybe William wasn't completely gone, just as Mrs. Pratt had been saying all along.

Unlike her Slayer friend, Willow hadn't become sidetracked in her thoughts and brought the
matter back to Ben and Glory. "So why is it that Buffy and Xander can remember what Spike said now?"

"Maybe the magic wore off?" suggested Xander.

"No, magic that powerful wouldn't just time-expire," Willow disagreed.

"True.” Anya had to side with Willow on this one. “And it isn't just powerful but important magic, so whoever originally did the spell would have been very careful to make sure it would last."

"So why would it just suddenly go away?" Dawn asked, her voice shaky with emotion. Anything to do with Glory and her powers affected the Key far more than anyone else at that table, after all. She was the only one that Glory had any plans for, when push came to shove.

"Perhaps this Glory person simply went away," suggested Anne.

"No, not gone away…," Buffy thought aloud. "Maybe someone got rid of her. Xander, where was Spike going?"

Xander blinked a few times, trying to remember exactly what Spike had said as they parted company. "I don't think he really said, Buff. He seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere though, and it was like he had something important to do. I figured he was going to get more
information from somewhere."

"If what we suspect is true, Glory may well be dead and this entire crisis may be over at last!" Giles ventured a happy grin at the thought.

"Did Spike say when he'd be back?" Buffy demanded. "’Cause we really need to know if that's true."

"Goddess, I hope it is!" Willow exclaimed. "If Glory is trashy fashion history then I can concentrate on getting my baby better and we can all relax for a change!"

"We'll just have to wait for Spike to get back, I guess," Buffy decided. "I mean I could go out and try to beat the information out of one of the scabby minions, but I'm guessing Spike already has the answer. At least we'll be able to hear what he actually has to say this time."

~~~

""Hey, buddy! You're looking like the Gluknoz who ate the litter! Everything work out okay?" Clem beamed at his best friend.

"Score: Big Bad, one; Hell Bitch, zero," Spike answered as he swaggered into the cave. He hadn't felt so potent, so powerful in a long while. Being chipless was going to take some getting used to, especially if he had no plans to revert to his pre-chip behavior. Still in all it was good to be free to make those choices without electricity forcing his hand.

"So this Glory is gone then?" Clem inquired, giving the chained Melchoir a look that said 'I told you so'.

"Ben's dead--that's certain--and if this monastery reject was telling the truth, that means Glory is too." Spike began to unchain the captive monk.

"So the Beast is truly dead?" Melchoir asked, his voice filled with awe. "How can an unclean one such as yourself achieve the will of the Lord?"

"Seems to me the Lord I was taught about years ago could use any damned thing he wants to do his dirty work. Even an unclean one. By the way, those hell and brimstone spouters I remember seemed to think everyone, even a robe wearer like you, was pretty unclean." Spike had never liked the holier-than-thou attitude of clergy and having just risked unlife and limb playing for the good guys made being called ‘unclean’ rankle a bit.

"So now that I've solved your little problem and put you lot out of work, looks like you'll need to find some old hermits caves or the like and get out of Sunnyhell." Spike started to push the monk towards the cave entrance. "Need to do a bit of clean up with those crusty, cowled
cenobites. Reckon they might try a bit of mojo to bring the bitch back, if possible."

"We can take care of our own," Melchoir promised. "In the story I told of the origins of our purpose, I mentioned that there were splits, divisions amongst our number over the years. Those who serve the Beast were once of our number. Their outward appearance has altered to reflect the sickness of their immortal souls, just as your kind of monster changes in appearance as evil consumes you."

Spike’s eyes narrowed as he growled, "Not seein' much change here, mate."

"Clearly you have yet to sink to the levels of evil that in time show your true demonic nature," Melchoir insisted. "Surely you have seen that occur amongst your kind."

Spike thought back to the Master and his one meeting with the head of his clan. 'If that's how I'll look by being the Big Bad, maybe changin' sides isn't a bad idea. Old Bat Face was no looker! Can't see Buffy ever gettin' warm fuzzies over somethin' lookin' like that.'

Spike shook his head to clear that image from his mind. "So you're sayin' these minions of Glory were once part of you lot?"

"They were. They were those who concluded the Beast was not able to be defeated and that to join and rule was a better plan than to fight the inevitable." Menchoir looked grief-stricken to think any of his order would make such a choice.

"'Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven', eh?" suggested Spike as he quoted Milton.

"So it would seem. It would also seem that they chose poorly," Melchoir smiled for the first time in what seemed an eternity. "We shall gather the infidels and deal with them. They will be of no further importance to any of you."

"So, Mel, where will you guys go anyway? Got any career plans now that my buddy's killed the wicked witch?" Clem had a tendency to like everyone he encountered and his time spent with Melchoir had developed into a friendship of sorts, at least in Clem's mind.

"That will be for our Abbot to determine. This part of the world is not one we are well adjusted to live in, so I would imagine an older part of the world will become our home. It is likely that we shall devote the rest of our lives to prayer and good works," Melchoir noted.

"Sounds like a bloody bore to me," Spike said with rolled eyes.

"But you won't even get to watch TV if you do that!" Clem exclaimed in real distress. "Won't you guys go crazy from the boredom?"

"What, you think they're not crazy already?" Spike snorted.

"Madness comes in many forms," Melchoir admitted. "I believe ours to be divine madness if it is such." He smiled benignly at Clem and responded to the demon’s concern. "I shall miss some things of this world and time, indeed. Still, I have been set apart for a higher purpose and must not turn my back on a holy calling."

"If you're up for a bit of prayin' for the ‘unclean thing’ that fixed your problem for you, I wouldn't turn 'em down. Once Buffy and her crew find out I'm not all chip-havin' it could get ugly for yours truly," Spike sighed. "My girl's more likely to stake first and ask questions later."

~~~

Giles was revealing a bit of his plans for the upcoming trip to England, beyond getting the young witches settled and trained. "I had thought to establish current identities for you and William while in London. I think that with Willow along to use her computer skills, we can create a background for both of you as I promised earlier."

"That would be lovely," Anne nodded. "It is odd to think that one's actual life must not be considered and an entire new history must be created from whole cloth."

"I shall try to make your new background similar to your actual one to make it easier to remember," Giles promised. "Perhaps once you have the necessary papers you would enjoy a visit to the mother country for a look around?"

Anne blushed slightly but could not contain the excited gleam in her eyes as she imagined such a trip. "I should fear becoming quite lost, even if my heart fairly leaps at the thought of seeing my old surroundings. I didn't get out much after the illness took over my life. There were many things and places, even in my own time, that I longed to see."

"I would be happy to escort you to any and all of those places, madam," Giles offered, causing Anne's blush to deepen markedly.

"I would enjoy that greatly," she whispered.

Spike cautiously opened the back door and followed the voices to the dining room, where the group lingered over their dessert. He crossed to his mother's side and dropped a fond kiss on her cheek. "And what is it that would give you pleasure, my good lady?"

"William!" Anne blushed even deeper, if that were possible. "We have wondered at your absence." Anne's brow furrowed as she took in Spike's bedraggled appearance. "What on earth has happened to you, my son?"

It took Spike a moment or so to remember he still bore the signs of Glory's torture session. He realized that, to his sheltered mother, he must look like the losing half of a barroom brawl, not that the good lady would have had any exposure to such a spectacle. "I’m fine, Mum. Had a bit of a dust-up with that Glory troublemaker, but I'm fine now. One advantage to me bein' a vampire is I heal quite quickly. You're not to worry for a moment."

"Ah, yes," Giles broke in, "and speaking of Glory, we think you may have some new word on her? Suddenly both Buffy and Xander have a clear memory of you telling them that Glory's human identity is none other than your lovely mother's physician."

Spike quirked a brow at the revelation that his attempt to pass on that vital information had finally registered. "Bint's not a problem any more. Don't know if the hell I sent her to is the one she was so interested in goin' to, but she's finished here." Spike looked fondly at Dawn and promised, "No need to worry about her comin' after anyone ever again."

Dawn startled the vampire by throwing herself into his arms and nearly crushing him with the intensity of her hug. Her tear-filled eyes of gratitude made Spike's dead heart nearly beat. "Thank you, Spike! Somehow I knew you'd save me from her. You've always been there watching out for me!"

"And the Slayer sister gets zippo credit for Dawn watchage," Buffy quipped.

"Oh, you take care of me too, but Spike's the one who always shows up in the nick of time and saves me." Dawn's look of worshipful adoration settled on the suddenly shy vampire.

"So, how'd you do it?" Xander wanted details. "Glory beat the snot…," with a side look at Anne, Xander apologized for his vulgar comment before continuing, "Well, she pretty much outmatched you and Buffy. How'd you get the upper hand?"

"Just used my noggin and came up with a foolproof plan," Spike answered. He didn't really want to give details, as it would raise too many questions about how he had been able to kill her in her Ben guise.

"Well, I for one don't care at all how Spike did it, I'm just glad he did. There is far too much to do planning my wedding to be distracted by hormonal hell gods and the doctors that house them," Anya pronounced. "Good job, Spike. Want a piece of apple crumble?"

Giles pursued the issue in Watcher-like form. "I, on the other hand, DO care how Spike accomplished this. It needs to be recorded. One never knows when such information will be useful in the future. Besides, I need to be certain that Glory has been dealt with in a permanent manner."

"Oh, she's dead all right," Spike assured the Watcher.

"But is she ‘really, most sincerely dead?'" Xander asked, grinning widely as Dawn tittered at his horrible Munchkin impression.

"Yes, you twit, she's dead, gone and likely in the coroner’s office as we speak. Ben is, anyway. Doubt if she changed after I offed him." Spike started to leave the room as soon as he realized that he had slipped and brought the human doctor into the equation.

"So you actually killed her while she was in her human form?" Giles asked with a nervous tic. "And just how did you accomplish that without any dire repercussions from your chip?"

All eyes turned to Spike as he struggled to think of a way out of the situation.

 
Chapter 19
 
~~~
Chapter 19
~~~

Silence ruled the dining room of the Summers house as everyone contemplated the implications of Spike being able to kill human Ben and not be brain-damaged by the chip.

"Again I ask, how were you able to kill Ben Wilkinson?" Giles was most insistent. "Much as I find myself grateful that you did so, I do have to ask and demand an answer."

"Did it herself really," Spike hedged.

"Who did and what did she do?" Buffy was still confused.

"Glory. Signed her own death warrant," Spike really, really hoped he could vague everything up sufficiently to keep his secret.

"And just how did she do this helpful act?" Giles pressed.

"While she was using me as her own personal cat toy, she sort of made it possible for me to off her alter ego," Spike admitted.

"Cat toy?" Anne was aghast at the picture Spike's words painted. "I thought you said your injuries were minor, in spite of the discoloration and swelling."

Spike had hoped for such a reaction, even if his alarming his mother was the unfortunate side effect. By turning the conversation a bit, he
might manage to get out of the Summers house undusted.

"Now, don't fret, dearest, I'm healing nicely now, remember?" Spike glanced at the set faces around the table and made a valiant attempt
to scoot out of the crossfire. "Maybe we could talk privately and I'll explain it all to you so you can stop worrying."

"Maybe you'd be better explaining it to US so WE can stop worrying," Buffy said sternly.

"Indeed. There is a kettle of fish on the table that must be addressed," Giles said with a voice of steel.

"Surely this can wait until my son and I speak privately," Anne requested. "I daresay William will be happy to answer all of your questions in good time. Meanwhile, a mother needs to be reassured of her son's well-being."

Spike gave up any hope of keeping his chipless state a secret beyond this night and sighed. "Look, I'll explain it all after I get Mum up
to speed. Not going anywhere."

"Perhaps we can retire to the parlor," Anne suggested and rose from the table, Spike close at heel.

~~~

The group sat in silence after the Pratt duo had left the room.

"So does this mean Spike can kill humans or just that he could kill Ben?" Xander asked the question on all their minds.

"I don't know. Will, maybe you could look up some kind of truth spell, if we have to use it," Buffy suggested.

Willow nodded in agreement.

Dawn stood up and huffed indignantly. "Spike just saved my life and all your asses and you're talking about him like he's the enemy!
What's wrong with you guys? He came right here, so he's not hiding anything or running away. You really need to give him a break for a
change. No wonder he's afraid to just come out and tell us what happened. You guys have got him tried and convicted and he hasn't
even done anything wrong!"

"He's a demon, Dawnie, not a saint. We've got lots of reasons to be nervous," Xander reminded her.

"I was a demon and even though I'm human now, I'm no saint," Anya pointed out. "Do I make you nervous?"

"Only when you start talking about our sex life," Xander answered quickly.

"No, really, listen to yourselves! Dawn's right. You are a bunch of bigots!" Anya rose from the table and began to clear the table taking
out her nervous energy on the china and cuttlery. "If anyone else here had just gotten rid of Glory you'd be all 'ooh, my hero', but because Spike's a demon you assume the worst. Would you rather Glory still be around? I'm glad he did whatever he did to that Ben person. Now we don't have to worry about the end of the world or people we love getting killed."

"I'd think YOU," Dawn said directly to Willow, "would be glad Glory's dead after what she did to Tara!"

The tension around the table was palpable until Dawn and Anya headed for the kitchen to take their frustrations out on the dishes.

~~~

Anya noticed Dawn growing progressively quiet as they finished washing the last of the dishes. "What's the matter, Dawnie?"

Dawn shifted from foot to foot while she tried to figure out how to explain her unease to Xander's girlfriend. "I was just thinking…with Glory gone, what am I? Am I a demon thing too…or Buffy's bratty little sister…or what? And if I'm a demon, does that mean they won't want me around either?"

Anya stared at Dawn intently before answering. "You certainly seem like Buffy's bratty little sister to me. I'm sure they will all just treat you like that. They're happy to ignore anything that makes them uncomfortable."

"But what AM I?" Dawn whined.

"Well, right now you're Buffy's whiny little sister, and may I say that is a highly unattractive trait, missy. Many humans can handle normal bratty behavior or whiny behavior but rarely both in one person. You really should choose one and stick with that."

"Yeah, like you're one to give advice on how to act," Dawn pouted.

"See! Bratty suits you much better," Anya stated cheerfully. "I'd go with that one."

Both girls grew quiet, lost in their own thoughts as they put away the clean dishes.

"What do you think they'll do about Spike being able to kill Ben?" Dawn looked worried to think of the expected reaction. "I won't let them dust him. I swear I'll hide all of Buffy's stakes if I have to."

"Maybe Buffy's obvious sexual attraction to Spike will cause her to give him the benefit of the doubt," Anya suggested.

Dawn sputtered, eyes wide, at the images Anya's comment had conjured. "What?!?!?! What sexual attraction are you talking about? Buffy's always talking about Spike like he's bad and awful, and she's always hitting him too."

"Dawnie, don't immature little girls still pick on the boys they secretly like? They did in my time."

"Well, yeah," Dawn admitted, brightening. "You mean Buffy's mean to Spike because she LIKES him?"

"That would be my guess," Anya answered. "You can feel the suppressed sexual tension between those two for a mile. Oh yes, Spike's not the only one with a crush."

"That'd be great!" Dawn began to cheer up completely at the thought. "Mrs. Pratt will be staying here so it won't be so awful with Mom
gone. Buffy and Spike can get together." Dawn turned excited eyes on Anya. "I'll have a family! A real family!"

~~~

Spike completed filling his mother in on the reason her friends were concerned by his ability to kill the human doctor.

He was touched at his mother’s concern over the pain the chip had inflicted since the Initiative had inserted it in his brain.

Anne was the only one to ever ask what else might have been done to Spike in that laboratory, but Spike didn't wish to further rattle his mother with those details. "That's a story best left for another day.

Spike felt a bit guilty for further worrying his mother. She was healing nicely but still not completely out of the woods. He feared losing her yet if he wasn’t careful.

Trying to difuse the alarm his condition and history had raised, Spike changed the subject to his mother’s new look.

"I have managed to forget all my manners, mother, my apologies!" Spike touched a gentle finger to his mother’s modern hairdo and smiled fondly. "You fit the century well! Probably a good thing this chip is gone. I may need to show a bit of the demon to keep the suitors at bay," he teased.

Anne grinned, her eyes a bit too bright for Spike’s liking. "Do you really think so, son? I admit to enjoying the idea that I am not yet ready to be put to pasture."

"Never say such a thing!" Spike reassured her. "Any man would be blessed beyond measure to have your regard."

Bits of the conversation in the dining room were filtering into the parlor and Spike knew it was only a matter of time before his delay tactic would cease to work. "I suppose I've delayed the inevitable long enough. If I don't get in there and just tell them, there will be no peace in this house."

"Fear not, son," Anne said with a look of fierceness he couldn't remember ever seeing before. "I won't let a one of them harm you.
You are a good boy…a good man, rather. They will just have to see that."

"Haven't always been, Mother. That's the problem." Spike was thinking of his history with his soon-to-be inquisitors and wishing his bravado had taken a different course than continual threats about what he would do without the chip. "Time to pay the piper."

~~~

Dawn flinched as Spike described how Glory's fingers had pried the chip from his skull. Anne paled too, even though she had heard this
part already. Mrs. Pratt reached for the young girl’s hand and squeezed it in sympathy.

"Didn't know she'd relieved me of it at first, but once I figured it out I knew I could use it to my advantage," Spike confided. "Knew I could
get to her when she was in the fragile human form and take her out once and for all."

"And how did you do that, Spike?" Buffy's voice had a hard edge. Her heart turned to ice as she began to fear she would have to soon
dust another vampire that had come to mean something to her. How was she going to continue to have Spike's mom around if she had to dust him? How could she handle never having his annoying presence in her life? Why did she always have to make the hard choices? "Did you drain him?"

"What?!" Spike barked, "Not drinkin' from the tap, not even after I found out I could. What part of 'I can change, I can be a good man' did you not get, Slayer?" Spike turned pleading eyes on his beloved, hoping for understanding at last. "Made my choice a long time ago to go my own path, didn't I?"

"The chip rather forced that path though, and now that it has gone you will be well able to make good on all those threats," Giles pointed
out.

"Oh, please!" Spike snorted in disgust. "If I wanted you lot dead, a head full of chips wouldn't have stopped me!"

"And how do you figure that, Mr. 'I'm gonna drain you drier than the Sahara if I get half a chance'," Xander taunted, using one of Spike's past refrains.

"Lots of ways, you nit," Spike nearly snarled. "Bloody Angelus never laid a hand on the lot of you." He stopped to look at a stricken Giles
and amended, "Okay, maybe Giles and his bird, but not the rest of you. Coulda done everything HE pulled, with or without a chip. Left a mess
behind him, he did. I nearly managed that with that walkin’ rag doll, Adam. You THINK I couldn't have destroyed the great Scooby fightin’
force?"

"Psychological warfare. Very effective," Willow agreed solemnly. She narrowed her eyes at Spike and noted with a chill in her voice, "You
always were perceptive too. Seemed to know what made us tick. Speaking of ticks, you knew our tics too. That's without the k. That last part. I'm babbling. Shutting up now."

Everyone was looking at Willow, trying to process just what her outburst meant and if it were at all relevant. Spike, as usual, seemed
to fully understand her and merely smiled and let out a small chuckle.

"Yeah, Red's right, could have you at each other’s throats if I'd wanted to. Did it the once and changed my mind in the end. Too easy," Spike muttered. "Coulda gone physical too, for that matter. Soon as I learned I could kill demons I could have intimidated a few into doing the dirty work for me. They coulda even made kills so I could eat the natives if I had wanted to go that way. Point is, I didn't."

Giles was struck with a memory of pre-chip Spike and pointed out, "It wouldn't be the first time you hired others to do your wet work. I
remember well the hit you took out on Buffy with the Order of Taraka." Giles glared at Spike in remembered fury.

"Called the wankers off too, now didn't I?" Spike had a near plea in his voice. He really wanted them to understand that the point wasn't
what he HAD done in the past. He was a vampire, evil deeds were to be expected. The important parts were the things he DIDN'T do, by
choice, even while actively evil. If they couldn't see it by now, it would only be a matter of time before one of them showed up on his
doorstep stake in hand and he'd have to kill or be killed. Spike would rather go to the other side of the world than have that happen to any of them. "What, you think they just stop when they fail?
Didn't want the Slayer dead, wanted her off my back so I could get Dru healed. They were a bloody diversion and then they were unnecessary. Paid 'em off, end of story."

"Oh, dear," Anne remarked, "You do have a good deal of water under the bridge to try to account for with these people. I wish they hadn’t known
your tendency to put up your fists in the face of fear and your unfortunate sharp tongue, for that matter."

Spike looked sheepish and spoke quietly, "You've been doing a good job of stripping off my protective gear, Mum. Not sure if I'm happy about that, even if I know you mean well." He took any sting from his words by leaning down and kissing her on the brow and whispered, "I love you."

"I know," Anne replied and patted Spike's hand gently. "I love you too, my precious son."

Xander didn't want the matter to just drop, too much was at stake, or rather too much might need staking. "Really, Spike, how many times
did you say you couldn't wait to get the chip out so you could kill all of us? Now the chip is out and you expect us to all just forget the threats and invite you out for pizza and beer?"

"Don't remember you ever inviting me, whelp. How about all the times you threatened to stake me even when I DID have the chip? Am I supposed to watch my back for the rest of your life just because you threatened me? I said I'd drain you when you pushed me too far, ran your mouth too much.

"Lots of ways to kill that don't trigger one of those bug zappers. Coulda set a fire or used poison. Worked just fine on Dr. Ben/Glory,
didn't it?" Spike challenged. "I didn't have the chip then, true, but killed Benny boy just as well with or without. Coulda done you that way, slipped something in one of your drinks if I'd wanted you dead that bad."

"Sounds like you gave it plenty of thought," Xander noted.

"Sure, evil, remember?" Spike retorted in reflex. "Thought about lots of things I could still do while you were all calling me impotent and useless."

"And flacid, don’t forget flacid," suggested Anya quickly.

"Still, you have to admit the threat needs to be addressed," Giles reminded Spike, doing his best to ignore Anya’s outburst..

"That's what I'm doin, isn't it?" Spike asked in exasperation. "Tryin’ anyway. Look, Watcher, remember when you went all demony?"

Giles nodded, not sure where the conversation was going at this point.

"I'd just found out I could kill demons, right? Just moved out of your less than welcoming accommodations, no more chains in the bathtub
or ropes on chairs." Giles had the grace to look abashed as Anne looked at him with reproach. "I even said I could kill you before I knew it was you in that Fyral skin. Coulda just done it then if I'd wanted you dead. You were a demon and fair game. Slayer wouldn't even have known a thing. Point is, I didn't. If you remember, I helped you find that soddin’ mate of yours with the wicked wit AND helped you lose the bloody Initiative SWAT team. Was my perfect opportunity if I'd really wanted you dead."

"It's not like you did it from the goodness of your heart, Spike," Giles reminded him. "I seem to recall you held out for substantial pay for that help."

Spike rolled his eyes and didn't mention Giles demanding that same money back to remove the Initiative homing device from his shoulder
just a week later. "Fella has to keep up his image. Can't just throw in with the good guys. Altruism does not equal evil, you know."

Buffy had been listening with interest to the entire exchange in silence until now. Her look showed her astonishment at yet another side of Spike she had never suspected. "Wow, making with the big words there, Spike. Gotta say that doesn't exactly scream Big Bad either."

Spike let out a snort and faced the Slayer. "Yeah, I'm not as stupid as you lot think I am." Spike smirked and tossed a taunt right back
at her. "Just like you, missy. It's a great way to throw off the easily blinded. Make 'em think you're not the brightest bulb in the chandelier and they underestimate you. Also keeps you from getting sucked into endless hours of boring research duty when you'd rather be out killin’ something."

Buffy laughed at his insight. "Nailed!" She crossed her arms in front of her and tried to look serious, but her eyes danced with mirth. "You do realize that Giles is even now planning on how to tap into your unexpected skills. The research table awaits. Learn to love it, Spikey."

Willow had been thinking back to pre-chip Spike too and all her old fears surfaced. "But you did try to kill us, Spike. Not just the whole, 'first I'll kill you, then I'll kill Buffy.' The night you
escaped from the Initiative…I still have nightmares of that bottle in my face."

"Give over, Red!" Spike rolled his eyes, completely annoyed. 'Did these kids memorize every word I ever said, everything I ever did?' he thought. "I was drunk. 'Sides, I didn't even draw blood."

"You drew plenty of blood from me," Xander reminded him.

Spike shrugged. "Yes, I hit you over the head. I was a drunk, evil vampire; be glad I didn't just kill you outright. I needed Willow, not you, you pillock! Point is, I didn't. Carried your unconscious carcass to the factory and put you on a nice comfy bed to bleed without even takin’ a lick."

"You didn't kill me because you needed me alive to make Willow do your evil will," Xander charged.

"Please. Coulda had her scared even more if I'd just killed you, right?" Spike could see Xander try to process that thought. "Never planned to kill either of you and you knew it then, I'd guess. Was hurtin’, wanted it to stop." Spike looked pointedly at Willow and reminded her of that urge, "You know how that feels though, don't you, Red….even without enough whiskey to float a liner." She looked down in shame at the memory.

"I was drunk enough to consider using magic and you know how jumpy spells make me." Spike gave a half shrug as he let go of the anger
and resumed his debate points. "Yeah, I tried to scare you. Held a broken bottle to your face. Didn't even nick your skin though, did I?
Didn't even lock you two in when I went for that spell book either, or dog-boy and the cheerleader couldn't have come riding to the rescue. Killin’ the two of you wasn't on my to-do list, face it."

"So…," Giles broke into the conversation in an attempt to bring it back to the topic at hand. "You're trying to say that you have no desire to kill or bite any of us now that you are chipless?"

"I'm trying to say I haven't wanted to do either in a long time, even before the bloody chip," Spike replied with a clenched jaw.

"So you're all talk, all pretend evil? Bogus Bitey Boy the not-so-Big Bad?" Xander said sarcastically and with a suspicious burst of
laughter.

Spike looked at the boy with a flash of the old Spike, the one they had met first and feared. "NO. Yes." He ran a frustrated hand
through his hair as he tried to figure out what he meant to say. "I'm tryin’ to say that I've changed."

Spike looked from face to face before continuing. "I'm trying to say that my demon may cry out for human blood, but I can't just see people as food any more. I'm trying to say that a spot of violence against a demon or a vamp is a lot more challenging than against a puny human,
even several at one time. I'm trying to say that I'd never hurt any of you and that means not hurtin’ any human ‘cause that would just
disappoint you." He looked directly at Buffy as he said the last.

"I see a young girl and don't see dinner; I see Dawn. I look at a mature person and see Joyce, or Mum, or Giles. I look at the loud, annoying co-eds and see you lot. They're all safe," Spike said with a lump in his throat. He'd never thought it out before, but now that he'd said it he knew for certain he'd never drink from the tap
again, at least not just to feed and definitely not to kill.

"What about young men? Do you see me?" Xander asked, trying not to show that he had been affected by Spike's impassioned speech.

"Hope not or I'll fall off the wagon," Spike teased. "Yeah, as much as you piss me off, you grow on a person…or a vamp. You're safe, so are they." Spike had to add, "Course just ‘cause I wouldn't drain you doesn't mean I wouldn't knock you into next year if your mouth starts runnin’ off with your constant insults and lame jokes though. I may not be the Big Bad any more, but that doesn't mean I'm a saint."

Anne decided to jump in before more old wounds were opened. "Well, if you have all decided to keep your pointed wooden objects to yourself
for the time being and give William the benefit of the doubt, I suggest we all get a bit of rest. It's been a terribly long day and tired minds tend to be more prone to argument."

Spike moved to his mother's side and leaned over to kiss her cheek gently. "Hope you'll understand if I stay somewhere else for a while.
Least ‘til the dust that settles isn't likely to be mine."

"Of course, son, just don't stay away for long, or go far away. I need you; we all need each other actually." She spoke again only for his ears, "Buffy needs you even if she isn't quite ready to admit it to herself yet."

"'M off then," He rolled his eyes at the brief flash of alarm that crossed over the Watcher's face. "Not gonna go lookin’ for some all-night buffet, Giles. Know you're getting along in years, but
thought your hearin' was a bit better than that."

Buffy sat silent as she watched her vampire walk out of the house without a backward glance.

~~~

 
Chapter 20
 
A/N:After so long a delay (so terribly sorry! Between RL and the previous computer issues this one just stalled. I vow not to do that to you again gentle readers!) Hope I haven't lost you on these lasts bits of the tale. There are another couple of chapters (estimate) left and they will be forthcoming in a timely way, I swear!

Since it has been so long, here's a quick reminder of the events in the previous chapter. Spike's chipless state was revealed along with the fate of Ben/Glory and much discussion took place about Spike's fate.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

~*~
Chapter 20
~*~

Spike detoured to Willie’s for a bottle of comfort on his way to the crypt. He was fairly certain that none of the Scoobies would be by immediately to stake him. His mother’s presence alone would slow that decision.

There would, however, be a price to pay and he had known that going into the situation. He was the only one able to take out Glory before she did any further damage, but it was unlikely that gratitude alone would outweigh years of mistrust and fear.

He knew the sensible choice would be to take the short space of time he had and get out of Sunnydale quickly, never to return. Still, everyone he had ever loved was here in this hell hole. Buffy and Dawn had been enough to hold him before, but now his mother was a resident as well. He couldn’t see dragging that good lady from pillar to post. Likely her consumption would only return and he would have to watch the life drain from her once again.

No, his mother had found friendship among his enemies and was getting a foothold to good health. What did a life on the run with him have to offer her? She was a human meant for human company, not that of a demon, a monster. Sooner or later, even his mother would turn from him; that was how it always was for him. Better to leave her in good company and move on without her.

But what sort of unlife would it be without love of any kind? Dru was his past. Buffy was his heart. As long as the Slayer lived, he could not love another. He was damned before dusting because of it, being love’s bitch. He could no more leave than change who he was.

No matter what he chose to do he was buggered. The only choice he really had was to wait and see how it all played out. Waiting was not his strong suit, but at least he would have the company of Mr. Daniels and Mr. Walker while he awaited his lady’s pleasure. He had a feeling her pleasure would be delivered in the form of a sharp wooden object.

~~~

“That’s it?” Xander sputtered, “You’re just going to let the evil bloodsucker walk out of here?”

Buffy was still staring at the door that had closed after Spike’s abrupt exit.

“I do think Anne is correct in her suggestion that we all sleep on things before making any determinations,” Giles said tiredly. He looked at his Slayer with concern. Judging by the look on Buffy’s face, it was not a foregone conclusion about the disposition of the now chipless vampire in their midst. “Spike made many valid points that need pondering, amongst other things.”

“So we take him at his word that he’s not going out there and making up for lost time at the all-night diner we call Sunnydale after dark?” Xander found it hard to work up the indignation he should have, but the words tumbled out on automatic anyway. He found it even harder to look in the direction of Anne Pratt.

The lady in question sighed. “I had thought you were going to use that head of yours for more than a hat rack in the future. You disappoint me.”

Xander looked at the woman who had been more motherly to him in a few days than his own mother had been in his entire life and sadly pointed out, “You don’t understand. Spike has no soul. Even if he wanted to not be the monster that he is, he can’t help himself.”

Anya looked at the gathered humans and shook her head in amazement. It was all playing out just as Dawn had feared in their conversation earlier. “Soul schmoul! You people amaze me with what you don’t know and what you assume.”

She looked at Giles and asked, “Where did you get all your information about Spike anyway? From watching?”

“There were books,” Giles replied quickly. “The Council keeps records on the more notorious demons.”

Willow chimed in, “Yeah, I remember that book. It said Spike was about two hundred years old and that Dru was dead.”

Xander went back to the same old argument, “Okay, flawed, but demons still have no soul, no moral code.”

Anya flared at that. “What, and humans do? You’re standing there and telling me that all humans are good? Buster, I had a thousand years of dealing with humans who were anything BUT good. And this whole moral code thing…what makes you think that just because it might be a different set of rules that demons don’t have them?”

“Really, Anya, you cannot compare some demon codes of honor with a human conscience. Human beings have certain standards agreed upon centuries ago,” Giles began, only to have Anya cut him off.

“You do not!” Anya was indignant now. “You can’t even decide on a common belief among your own different religions! How many places are women nothing but chattel still? How many cultures see nothing wrong with cooking up Fluffy for dinner? How many religions would want to stone Willow and Tara to death for loving each other?”

“We don’t kill and eat each other,” Xander insisted.

“Jeffrey Dahmer!” exclaimed Dawn.

“Yeah, but he was nuts,” Xander countered.

“Humans kill to eat; just because it isn’t usually other people doesn’t change that,” Anya reasoned. “Besides, canabilism still exists in some places among humans and not just wackos like Dahmer do it. Maybe you buy your meat at the local grocery, but someone did the killing to feed your need.”

“Spike’s been eating pigs’ blood from the butcher,” Dawn pointed out.

“See," Anya nodded, "he’s been eating unnaturally, to his detriment, just to please you people.”.

“Yes, well, that has kept him from being dusted thus far.” Giles set his lips firmly on that point. “Were he to indulge in a normal vampire diet there would be no point in this discussion at all.”

“What do you mean ‘detriment’?” Dawn asked cautiously.

“Well, a vampire needs human blood to be at his peak efficiency. It’s their natural food goup,” Anya explained. “Haven’t you people noticed that Spike and Angel are slowly showing a bit of aging?”

Blank stares greeted that bit of information, and then Giles’ inner Watcher came forth and he reached for pencil and paper to take notes. “Are you saying that human blood is why a vampire does not age?”

Anya huffed a bit, then preened at being the only one with information on the subject. “Of course! Just as a human’s health suffers for a poor diet, so does a vampire’s. Oh, they won’t get old for a long, long time on an all-animal diet, but they will age a bit. It takes longer to heal without human blood too.”

“That can’t be,” Xander insisted, “Angel’s had that soul for a century and he doesn’t look that old!”

“What makes you think Angel only eats pigs’ blood?” Dawn put her hand on her hips and looked at Xander challengingly. “I remember him ordering O neg from Willie’s all the time when he and Buffy were dating and I don’t think animals have that type of blood.”

Dawn turned to where her sister had been sitting for confirmation only to note that at some point Buffy had left the room.

“Hey, where’d Buffy go?”

~~~

Spike could feel her before he opened the crypt door.

The chamber was dark. Buffy hadn’t seen fit to light the candles he had available, but his enhanced senses knew where she sat.

“So at least plan a goodbye before you use that,” Spike indicated the stake she had in her lap.

“I’m hoping you can convince me you meant what you said back home so I won’t have to use this,” Buffy replied honestly. “Where were you?”

“Not out huntin’, if that’s what your mind’s been imaginin’,” Spike snorted in disgust. “Told you a million times I’m off the human for good. I’ve turned myself inside out for you, tryin’ to be the sort of man you could love. I know what I am disgusts you. If you think I’d add to the body count now, you’re crazy.” He looked at her with every emotion laid open for her to see. “This chip was done to me. And I hated it, hated being vulnerable to every soddin’ human who might want a piece of me. Still, it let me get close to you, so I can’t wish I never had the bloody thing.”

“I wish it were that simple,” Buffy sighed. “I trusted Angel, and in the end I still had to send him to hell on the point of my sword.”

“’M not Angel.” Spike nearly whispered. “Not going to do anything that’ll put you in that position again. Was there, wasn’t I? Saw what it did to you.”

“I don’t know if I can do it, Spike. To go each day on trust that you won’t slip up. I don’t know if I have it in me to trust that much, or the energy to keep watching you to be sure.” Buffy’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “But I don’t know if I can stake you either.”

They sat in silence for a while, neither knowing what they could say or do to take the burden off the other.

“Thought of packin’ up and leavin’ so you wouldn’t have to do either,” Spike began.

“NO!” Buffy’s eyes widened with the fear of being left yet again. She seemed to realize how much she was exposing with that exclamation and rushed to add, “No, you can’t leave. Your mom’s here now and she’d be lost without you.”

“That the only reason I shouldn’t go, pet?” Spike ventured.

Buffy was quiet as the grave she sat in as she wrestled with her emotions. “Spike, you asked for crumbs and I think I have a whole cake here and it scares me. This would be hard enough with the chip, but now….”

“For even one crumb, I’d let the soddin’ butchers put another chip in to replace the one Glory dug out,” Spike offered spontaneously. His expressive face clearly showed his willingness to back up those words with actions if she but said the word.

Buffy felt the sincerity of his offer and knew in that moment that he had meant every word he had said in her mother’s living room earlier.

Suddenly she knew, to the depths of her soul, that she could trust him to not go back to killing.

She smiled. She stood. She laid the stake on the chair and walked away from it.

Spike watched, not certain of her intent but hopeful since she was approaching unarmed.

When Buffy got close enough to be toe to toe with the vampire, she reached out a hand and gently cupped his face. “I’d never ask that of you, Spike. I only ask that you always remember your promise and give me no reason to lose the trust I’m about to place in you.” She sealed her decision with a soft kiss.

He raised a tentative hand and threaded his fingers through her hair, finally drawing her closer and deepening the unexpected kiss as her lips parted beneath his. He poured all his love into that kiss and sensed his spirit leap to realize she was there with him, he felt it. There was no going back after this.

Both were breathless with the passion they had but touched upon. Spike was the one to draw back first. The budding was too fresh, too fragile to trample in haste. He held her in a lover’s embrace and breathed in the scent of her hair, listening as her heart pounded hard and wild.

Buffy was in a daze. The kiss touched her more than any kiss she had previously experienced with anyone else. There was no doubting Spike’s love now and no more denying her own heart’s involvement. She might not be ready to declare undying love but she was well on her way and for once that thought didn’t scare her one bit.

“So I’m thinkin’ this is not what your nearest and dearest expected you to do when you left to find me.”

Buffy giggled, “Not what I expected either. I’ll need to work on the gang a bit, remind them how you just saved us all from Glory and how you haven’t even bitten Xander since you got all chip-free. Somehow they’ll come around. I’m sure your mom will help me out with that.”

Spike no longer feared the mighty Scoobies; he could defend himself against them easily now, even without doing major damage. He was, however, a bit terrified by what the kiss had meant. He wasn’t used to holding out much hope when it came to his love being requited. Hope made one soar. If she backed down now the crash would likely destroy him. Still he couldn’t stop himself from asking.

“What about what just happened here, love?” Half of him was already berating himself for even asking. It would be just like Buffy to bolt and run.

“I really don’t know.” Buffy surprised them both by snuggling closer. “I had some advice recently that was pretty good. She said I should forgive and take a chance. She reminded me that I have to judge everyone for themselves and be merciful. Maybe if you’re patient with me, I’ll get there.”

“Would wait an eternity for you, Buffy,” Spike sighed into her hair. “Never been a patient man, but for you I’ll learn.” It was enough, it had to be enough … for now.

“Guess we’re good then, huh?” Buffy smiled. “Take it a step at a time and see where we go?”

“Can do that. ‘Spect the journey’ll be half the fun. Long as you’re there too, I think we can make it.”

“I can be a bitch,” Buffy warned.

“Know that already, don’t I?” Spike snorted with laughter.

Buffy swatted him on the arm in mock irritation. “Yeah, and you’re Mr. Perfect all the time! I’ve never met anyone more annoying. Just who thought chaining a girl up was the perfect way to declare his feelings?”

“Guilty,” Spike admitted sheepishly. “Never claimed to be perfect, but I do vow to love you perfectly, Buffy, if you’ll let me.”

“I think I can live with that,” she happily replied.

This time Spike initiated the kiss and it put the first one to shame.


 
Epilogue
 
~*~

Epilogue: ten months later

~*~

“Do you see them yet?” Buffy bounced up and down trying to see over the shoulders of the crowd waiting at the arrival gate.

“Think I see Red’s hair.” Spike craned his neck, but with what appeared to be the “Brady Bunch” and “Eight Is Enough” families also there to meet arrivals, he wasn’t having much success.

Anya sidled up to Dawn and whispered, “I just hope Anne was able to find enough of that lace I asked her to pick up for me. I plan to have a veil at least as long as my train for that walk down the aisle.”

It was a credit to Xander that he didn’t blanch at the reminder of his impending date at the altar. He was less nervous about taking his vows than he had been right after his spontaneous proposal but still not ready for that long walk just yet.

“Oh, here they come!” Dawn spotted Giles’ tweed before any of them. She had grown at least five inches since they had all said their goodbyes at this same gate.

It was a blur of tears and hugs and laughter as the whole group was reunited for the first time in close to a year.

“Did you bring back lots of cool souvenirs? What did you bring for me?” Dawn regressed to a small child at the thought of presents.

Tara answered with a delighted laugh. “We have tons of goodies. Something for everyone.” She looked at Spike with a shy smile and promised, “We even remembered to pick up that Yorkshire Red tea you wanted, so you can have a lovely cuppa. Oh, and there’s gooseberry jam too; your mom said you loved that as a child.”

Spike shifted uncomfortably at the reminder that these people had been in close quarters with his mother for months now and there was no telling what stories she may have shared about his human existence. “And cheese. Don’t forget the cheese!” Willow added. “Buffy, we brought you some Wensleydale like you asked, but I found this really yummy goat cheese in South Devon called Ticklemor that you’re gonna love!”

“Goat cheese? Blech!” Dawn made a face to match her words. “I don’t get Buffy’s whole cheese love thing.”

“What’s not to love?” Buffy was puzzled how her pizza-loving sister could not appreciate the finer points of all things cheese.

“I’m just glad you are all back before the Hellmouth starts perking again,” Buffy said to Willow and Tara. “I can always use the help of two very powerful witches fresh out of Hogwart’s.”

“The coven was quite helpful.” Giles was proud of his protégées’ progress. “The ladies are remarkably talented and now have the control over their natural magic to be a force to reckon with by any challenger.”

Spike was watching his beaming mother as she stood at Giles’ side. Clearly there was a story there and he couldn’t wait to get her alone to hear it. If he guessed correctly, Giles was about to become even more a part of his life than he already was as Buffy’s Watcher. He had never seen his mother so happy or young-looking.

“So, dearest,” he addressed her. “How did you find the mother country? Changed a good deal, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it certainly has. Rupert…um…Mr. Giles has been a wonderful tour guide. Quite patient with my giddiness.” Anne wrapped her son in a warm embrace and kissed his cheek. “I missed you terribly though and am glad to be home once more.”

“I’m glad you’re back too, Mum. Hasn’t been the same with you gone. No one to keep me on the straight and narrow.” Spike wiggled his eyebrows playfully.

“I’m certain that Buffy has done quite well without my assistance,” Anne smiled fondly on the girl who had possession of her son’s heart and acted as his very soul.

Buffy laughed. “I don’t know. Spike’s a real handful at times, but I do my best.” She winked at Spike over his mother’s shoulder as she hugged the older woman.

The looks they exchanged clearly showed they knew just how much of a handful he was in ways that no mother wanted to hear details.

Spike wrapped an arm around his two loves and led them from the terminal. Buffy leaned in close and whispered so low only vampiric hearing could catch, “I plan to have my hands full pretty soon too, after everyone’s settled.” Spike smiled and shook his head in amazement at how his life had changed so completely in such a short time.

Dawn looked at Tara closely. “So, no left over trouble from Glory’s mind thingie?”

“Nope, I’m better than ever, according to the Council’s doctors. I don’t even have nightmares of that anymore.” Tara and Willow walked hand in hand next to the coltish former key.

“I’m glad to hear that because I want all my bridesmaids to be completely sane and healthy on the big day,” Anya chimed in.

“Yes, because the guest list alone insures complete insanity without the wedding party making it worse,” Xander added ruefully. “She’s inviting all her demon friends to the wedding and I haven’t got any idea how to explain some of them to my family.” He thought for a moment then added, “Then again, I’m not sure how to explain my family to anyone either.”

“Well, we have our work cut out for us then, don’t we?” Anne patted Anya on the hand. “I am delighted you are taking your time to make certain every ‘t’ is crossed and every ‘i’ is dotted.”

“I’m happy you’re back to help me plan,” Anya admitted. “I need a mother’s touch to pull this whole wedding and marriage thing off without blowing it.”

Anne looked at her son and Buffy and smiled. “Perhaps you won’t be the only couple in need of a mother’s advice.”

Buffy blushed. “Well, they don’t usually have marriage ceremonies between slayers and vampires.”

“Nonsense! My son is a gentleman and he’d not do less than make an honest woman of his love,” Anne chided. “Rupert, surely you agree with me on that point?”

“Yes, well…it is all rather unorthodox…,” he began but quickly crumbled at Anne’s troubled look. “But then as you said many times as we toured London, change is often of the good. It IS the Hellmouth, after all, and normal rules don’t always apply.”

“You see, dear, you can have your big day as well in good time,” Anne assured Buffy. She looked at Tara and Willow and added, “And one day, when the world is sane, all those who love will be able to vow it before God and man.”

Dawn hugged Anne and said the words they all were thinking, “I’m so glad my spell brought you to us. We all need a mom and you’re one of the best!” Dawn then winked at the sputtering Giles. “Okay, Giles didn’t need a mom…but I think he needs you anyway.”

“Indeed,” Giles agreed. “I couldn’t have put it better.”

~fin