Qualities of Mercy...Part I
PG13

Archived at the Buffy Rebecca verse, www.geocities.com/buffyrebecca

Disclaimer: All BTVS characters remain the property of Josh Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and all
other owner/creators of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series...

Play "Secret Garden"

A nonBR story, obviously...

Summary: Buffy and Spike after the second kiss in " Tabula Rasa"...

The music had changed...Buffy noted....

A DJ had switched off with the band...

As she and Spike broke their embrace she heard it clearly now...

Go to "With or Without You"

Spike cocked his head at her as he pulled back...

"...On a bed of nails she makes me wait...And I wait without you..."

In spite of herself Buffy grinned back at him...

Just too coincidental...

"So what?...Now you're looking for "our song"?..."

Well...she noted...Better than the one you came up with...

Spike grinned...Still dazed...But it was...almost...A human smile...

She looked at him a second...

Alright...

"...you give me all but I want more...And I'm waiting for you..." she quoted,
breathing hard...

He stared, flattened and open-mouthed...

She brushed back a stray lock of his hair...

And before he could bring himself to move she was gone...

He ran out into the street...Shoving a few morons out of his way...One swung at
him...He caught the fist, the chip burning at him...And tearing loose, continued on...

No sign of her...
***
Willow sat in her dorm...Back home at last she thought...

Just as well...She told herself...

Buffy had not been too sorry to see her go...And Willow'd caught it...

But then, she had screwed things up rather badly...

Tara gone...Buffy...Distant if not worse...Even Xander...Disappointed in her...

And yet...She couldn't bring herself to believe that magic had brought her to this...

Ok...So Giles had warned her, based on his own experience...

But he didn't have her talent...

Well...At least he'd never showed it...Unless...

And then Xander with his screwing around...Love spell with Amy, the latest thing with the
musically minded demon Sweet...

But...He didn't have her talent...

Unless...

And then there were all those little folks screwing with magic...Almost on a daily basis...The
Mayor...The swim team coach...Even Xander's old boss at the UCal-Sunnydalers' favorite pub...

But...Surely...They didn't have her talent...

The one thing...That she had...That made her...Unique...

Yeah, right...Magical ability...A unique trait...In Sunnydale...

So...The lesson was...Give it up girl?...Or...

Try harder...Learn more and learn from the mistakes...Become stronger...

But was there one spell?...One?...She could point to that had not backfired badly...

Well...Buffy...But...Side effects seemed rather a problem...

And the subject was definitely not overjoyed with the result...

Ummn...Ah...Angel...The restoration of the curse...

But...Not her spell really...Although, to be honest...None of them were "her" spell per se...

The small stuff...Yeah...Locator spells, that sort of thing...That always worked well...

But the big stuff...She had problems there...

As, to be fair to herself...Did anyone...

Tara...Her image came to mind...No...No...She pushed it down...Time to think of Tara
later...When she'd figured out some...Legit...Way...

Anyway there was little doubt her protege was already taking steps to protect herself in any
case...Maybe Giles even had...Helped her...Before leaving...

After all...It was pretty clear none of them trusted her anymore...

Well...Alright...Leave that...

But there must be something...Something she could do to prove that the magic was right...Good...

That she was still in control...And able to use it in a positive way...

If she could do that, they'd see...And one by one...They'd come back...

Even, in time...Tara...

A sound came from the front of the room...Poor Amy the rat...Squeaking away in her cage...

Another reminder of past failures...

Hmmn...

Was it time to put the poor kid out of her misery?...She'd already outlived the normal rat span...

But then again, if there was a chance...Hey...

Something positive...

Of course...She'd tried...Many times...
But with her ever-expanding talent...If she set her mind to it...Focused...
***

Spike had finally caught up to his Slayer...In the alleyway where she'd ducked...And naturally,
become involved in assisting the usual poor innocent...

Of all people, one Warren Mears...Spike's robotmaker...

Not exactly the first person on Buffy's list of folks to assist...But as he was about to die at the
hands of a rather large female vamp...

She dusted the lady just as Spike reached the alley entrance...

"Well...Warren?..." Buffy looked at the shaken robotmaker...

"Your latest robot not to the client's liking?..."

Warren staggered to his feet...Ummn...Hi...He looked past her and she turned to see Spike...

"Hey, Spike...How's it going?..." Warren called...A satisfied customer...

God, hope Buffy never saw the bot...Unless...This Buffy was...

Nah...Unless Spike had developed a masochistic streak...She was barely paying any attention to
him...

Buffy headed off without a word...

"So...How'd things go with your bot?..." Warren asked Spike...

Sod off, Spike genially informed him...And followed after Buffy...

Warren carefully watched them leave...

God that Spike sure is obsessed with her...

He pulled a cell phone out and called his fellow Masters of the Sunnydale Universe...Andrew and
Jonathan...

Things had not gone very well tonight, he told them...

The hypnodisk was a flat failure...The female vamp he'd tried it on nearly killed him...

"Well I told you..." Jonathan called into the phone...

I've tried that "get Girls through Hypnotism" ad before...

Never works...

Well...We'll just have to keep at it...Warren told his partners...

"Can't we just dump the "hypnotize Buffy" thing and move on to the Shrink Ray?" Jonathan
asked...

Hey...We do them all...In order...Or we do nothing...Fearless Leader Warren told him...

That's the pledge...he noted...
***

Spike approached Buffy...

She whirled to face him...

Well?...

"You told me you "wanted more" back there"...he noted...

Well?...she looked at him...So I like U2...

He sighed...

"Slayer...Even Angelis never tortured a man like you do...What is it you want from me?..."

What's your offer?...she looked at him...

He hesitated...Sizing her up...

Well...She looked him up and down...

“What can you give me Spike?...”

A future?...A home?...Children?...Peace of mind?...

"You couldn't even warm me when I'm cold at night..."

He couldn't help smiling just a little...

"I notice...You didn't say...Love...Buffy..."

Why is that?...Afraid I might be able to manage that at least?...he asked...Staring into her...
She put up a hand...

You're right she told him...I was wrong to let this go on...It was cruel of me...

I apologize...Please excuse the unstable, recently dead girl who just lost the only real father she
ever had...I appreciate you trying to help me...I'll mention it to God if I ever see Him...

He just stared at her...

She looked away from him...

Then back...

Look...I'm grateful...We're friends...she told him...Which you know is a really amazing
improvement over where we started...All's well with the world...

He pressed a hand against the wall over her head...

"It's not enough...For either of us now..."

We both want more...he told her...

She backed up against the wall, turning her face away...She put up a hand and shook her head...

Then looked him full in the face...

"There's nothing in this Spike...Nothing...However I've been acting...Whatever...Things the way
they are now...May be making me do...I don't...I can't...I won't...Love a demon..."

He sighed...And blinked a bit at her...

I was a man once...he told her...Not a bad fellow at all, really...

You never even asked me if I'd had family...Not even my last name...

But you're right...I'm dead...And soulless...Hardly worth your time...

He paused...

“Just a question or two, Ms. Summers before I toddle back off to my grave...If you'd be so kind...”

She looked at him...

Spike frowned...
Where is old Christ, Jr anyway?...Your resurrection wasn't enough to drag him back here?...

Why hasn't he dropped by to help you out?...The love of his existence?...

Christ, I treated Harmony better...Let alone Dru...

Tell him to get his sodden brooding ass over here...Preferably with a wallet full of cash...But...

Far be it from me to offer our Slayer advice on affairs of the heart...

"Good-bye Ms. Summers...See you around..." he walked off...

Leaving her watching him until he was lost in the street crowd...

Gritting his teeth, he kept on...Until he sensed she was no longer able to see him...

When he ducked into a narrow alley between two stores, staggering and clutching his skull...The
chip burning what felt like a hole into his brain...

But not as hot as the single tear that had run down his cheek while he spoke to her...

The tear she'd watched form and roll...
***

A moment?...Or two?...Alone?...With my fiancee?...Anya blinked at Buffy...Standing in their
doorway...

Why...Sure...Of course...Anya told her...Grimly...

Let me just find some forsaken corner of this town where I can put my life at risk for a few
minutes...

Xander patted her back...

"That's great honey...We need some dishwasher soap anyway..."

Back...Soon...Anya told them...

Very soon...To my dear fiancee...

Who has made a solemn commitment to me...

"Hope you're feeling better, Buffy..." she called back as she closed the door and went...

They grinned at each other...
"She intends for this to come off I think..." Buffy smiled at him...And poked him...

You're one lucky guy...You better treat that girl right, Big Brother...

He nodded...

"Xander?...You're a guy, right?..." Buffy looked at him...

Several doctors have assured me it's likely, Buf...he told her...Anya is preety sure...

She put up a hand...

"I need someone to talk to...Giles is gone...And Willow...Well..."

Yeah...I don't think either of us can talk to Willow now...Xander noted sadly...

So?...

"It's about...Spike?..."

"Me?...You want to talk to me?...About Spike?..."

"Who else can I talk to now?..." she looked at him...

Xander sighed...Wasn't hard to figure this one...

Even Anya had found Spike's behavior romantic and touching over the past months...

Besides...Dawny had told him Spike was following Buffy on patrol now constantly...And she was
seeming to at least tolerate his presence quite well...

To the point, Dawn had told him, that she'd come home a leetle anxious one or twice when he
hadn't showed on cue...

Angel/Angelis all over again...What is it with Slayers and Brooding Vampires anyway?...

Strong women go for the brooding, artistic type I guess...

"Buffy...You can't love a demon...Spike is what he is...No matter how much he may really care
for you...There's a part of him...A big part...That's waiting for you to let your guard down..."

He loves you?...Ok...Maybe...Concede the point...

But he's immortal and he sees nothing wrong with the vamp lifestyle...If he could turn you, he'd
do it in a heartbeat...I know it and you know it....
Buffy nodded...She knew...But...He'd tried so hard...She...Someone...Had to speak up for him...

"There's always been something...Human...About him..." she looked at Xander...

The way he loved Dru...When he was with Mom...Dawn...

He was never quite an Angelis...

"Nope, not quite...Just a guy who got off on torturing people with railroad spikes...And killing
Slayers..." Xander replied...

She looked at her hands...

"I know what death is now...Maybe...A part of him wanted Heaven too...Maybe he
thought...Somewhere inside...Those Slayers...I...Could help him..."

Then help him...Xander told her...If there's something human left in there, give him peace...

Even if you could try with him...You're going to age and then die...What'll he do when that
happens?...

Either he'll turn you to prevent that...Call it love if you want...Or he'll go back to what he was...

"You know I'm right, Buffy..." Xander took her hand...

Hey...This is Big Brother talking...

She grinned a little...

"But..." he sighed again... "It's no good no matter what I say, is it?..."

You helped save a demon, Xander...she pointed out...

If love could save Anya...Why not Will?...

"Anya's human, Buffy..."

Spike or William or whoever he was...Is dead...

We can pity the man...But we can't trust the monster...
***

Willow placed the Book in her lap...Lit the candle...And set Amy the rat carefully down by her
side...Oops...

Amy did what any self-respecting rat would do and ran like hell for cover...

Under the bed...

"Amy?..." Willow called...I'm trying to help you here...

This is not helping...

Oh, well...Doesn't really matter where in the room she is...So long as she's within earshot...

Please don't go getting yourself tangled up in the bedsprings, Amy...Willow called...

Suicide isn't called for here...I really think I can do it...Eventually...
***

Where am I going?...Buffy asked herself as she left Xander's...

What am I doing?...

God...If only Giles had stayed...Or Willow...Was still a Willow I could talk to...

She looked back at Xander's building...

But thank God for my Big Brother...

All I have left now...

Anya's right to worry...If things were different, I'd be all over Xander so fast...

Not that it'd be right...But...

So is that it?...I'm considering another vampire romance because I'm that desperate to feel...

Something?...

Not exactly a good reason for attempting a hazardous and potentially soul-destroying
relationship...

He's dead...William, if he was the way Spike described him...Is dead...

But...I was dead...Anya was more or less undead...Angel...Hmmn...Angel...

No...Not the curse...No way...

We didn't even have the heart to do that to Drusilla and Spike before...I won't do it now...
Besides...Willow is not someone I want to deal with right now...

But...

Angel told me Darla was resurrected...As a human being...For a little while...

Before he decided to have sex with her restored vamp demon...

And father her child...My beloved Angel...

Well, gee...Guess I should be flattered...Darla couldn't quite hack it on the happiness scale...

Wonder how many times he's "comforted" his other ladyfriends back in good old LA...

But...If Darla could be human again...If I could be resurrected...

No...I can't...I won't ask Willow...

On the other hand...If Xander and Willow can do magic...Couldn't hurt to try a leetle reading...

I have to be my own Watcher-researcher now anyway...And it might help me get back in the
habit for college next semester...

Coming out of her reverie she found herself at the graveyard where Spike's crypt lay...

And Mom's grave...

***

A large but clearly clueless young vampire sauntered over to her...

"Hello, baby..." it said... "I just dug myself out of my grave..." It...he stoked his hair back...

Impressive...she noted dryly...

But...Been there, done that...

Oh...His face registered more disappointment at the lack of novelty in his accomplishment than
shock at her staking him as he dusted...

Behind the dust cloud...Clearly having run up in a frenzy...

Spike...

He looked at her...Disappointed?...Was he hoping to see her dead?...Not likely with a moron like
that last one...Or just...Hoping to "save" her?...

He frowned...

"Can take the dead Slayer out of the grave, but can't keep her out of the graveyard, eh?..."

I came to see my Mom...she told him...

The change that came over him even surprised her...

He quietly walked her over...

"She's fine..." he told her... "No...Thing...gets anywhere near...And never will..."

I'll be at my crypt if you...Want anything when you're done...

"Wait..." she told him...

Stay here with me...Just for a couple of minutes...

He looked away...And back at her...Intensely...

They stood quietly looking at Joyce's stone for several long minutes...

He rubbed his head...A strange expression came over his face...

She looked at him...

"Are you ok, Spike?..."

He put his hand down...And grinned at her...

Just a sympathy ploy, Slayer...

She frowned...

A headache?...I'd say he's due to have that damn chip tested....

***

She moved to go...He followed beside her without a word until they neared the entrance to the
graveyard...And suddenly...

He was kneeling....

He held out the coat to her...His Slayer's coat...The one he'd won so long ago...

She stared at him...

"All right..." he looked at her bitterly...

Here I am...A tormented one begging for the mercy only the Slayer can offer...he told her...

The Gift...

She looked back at him...

***

Her sudden success surprised Willow almost as much as Amy...

There was a groan from under the bed...Willow shoving it to the side as Amy heaved it off...

"Amy?..." Willow looked at the naked girl...Trembling and blinking at her...

"Willow?..." Amy looked down and shrieked a bit...

Letme get your clothes Willow told her...

Got 'em back here in the closet somewhere...
***
He sighed...

"Not today, eh Slayer?...Your social calendar too packed to deal with a lost soul's torment?..."

Buffy still just stared at him...He waved his hands slightly at her...

Right then...Maybe another time...He rose, dropping the coat at her feet...

Be seeing you...He gathered up the coat and started to stalk off...Out of the cemetery...Then stopped and turned back at
her...

"Just..." he waved his hands despairingly...

"Let me know if you need anything..." He smiled sardonically, laughing at himself... "My door is
always open...From dawn to dusk anyway..."

He whirled back and continued on...

"Spike?..." she called...He turned a corner not looking at her...
But she'd caught the trembling...Sensing something wrong...More than just the pain of a broken
heart...

"Spike?!..." she called, following round the corner...He was heading off down the
street...Heedless of her call...

"William!!!..." she screamed... "William!!!..." Running now...

He disappeared around a building...
***

Xander pondered the situation...Something had to be done...

Before things between Buffy and Spike got too out of hand...

In her present state, it might already be too late...

"He loves her, I think..." Anya began...

"That's not what I need to hear right now, Anya..." Xander muttered...

I know all about Spikey's devotion...

No...Anya looked at him firmly...I mean...I think he loves her...Enough...

To listen...

Xander looked back at her...And nodded...
***

He entered the nearest underworld hangout he could find...

A bit trendy this one...One he generally avoided...Slumming humans, demons, vamps trying to
look suitably menacing...But what the hell...Any port in...

Staggering in...The pain finally having faded a bit...

So...Thought Spike...Looking at the clueless happy meals scattered about the place...Here we
are...

Back to the old...Stalking grounds...

A wave of pain gripped him...

Jesus...Hardly fair that...
What...I need persuasion now?...

Maybe old Dru is having a little fun with me...Again...

A demon confronted him...

"So...The Slayer's little errand boy...What's up Errand Boy, the Slayer sending you to give us her
latest?..." the demon pushed at him...

Touch of nervous fear on the fellow's part, Spike noted...He really wanted to know...

In fact, a number of demon faces were turned his way...

He looked at some of them...Afraid of little old Buffy Summers...

Well, once he got his footing back...And let them know just how vulnerable she now was...

How almost happy she'd be to accept a quick death at their hands...

An idiot human came over...No idea where he was, Spike could see...

Out for a night on the wild side...

Well...One must begin again somewhere...

"Hey dude..." Andrew, third of the new self-proclaimed Masters of the Sunnydale
Universe...Greeted Spike...

"You're a friend of Buffy Summers?...Right?..."

The various demons and vamps looked at each other...Several quietly moving towards the door...

Spike smiled at the moron...

"Buffy?...Yeah, I..."

Just as another wave of pain struck him...

Andrew looked at the blonde dude...Jonathan was right...The guy did look like Rutger Hauger in
"Blade Runner"...

Buffy's strange blonde boy...Whom she seemed to have around her almost every night now
judging by what they'd seen following her...

Well, couldn't hurt to see what he could find out about her from him...
Anything to further the schemes of the new crime lords of Sunnydale...

"Hey...You ok?..." he asked...

Spike grabbed him...Assumed work-face...

And released him...Ushering in a new wave of pain...

Yep...It's firing in reverse, alright...he noted...Just lovely...

Andrew backed off and ran for the door...

Strange, strange dude, man...Gotta tell the guys about this one...

A demon at the bar looked at Spike...Koptos demon, typical lumpy, horned type, minor shape-
shifting ability...

The human sitting next to what had been a fairly attractive young woman blanched in fear and
ran for the door after Andrew...

"Pathetic..." the demon grinned, moving closer to Spike...

William the Bloody...Look at you...A Prince of the dark once...

Now...

"Sorry about your date, mate..." Spike hissed to the fellow through clenched teeth...The pain
slightly subsiding...

Got his Visa card number...That's all I wanted...The demon grinned...

Not really my type anyway...

You look all in, friend...the demon told him...

"Hey, Georg..." the demon turned to the bartender... "Drinks for the house...And a bag of blood
for my friend here..."

Not for him...the bartender shook his head, whispering...

We don't serve traitors to our kind here...He glared at Spike...

"If it weren't for your girlfriend, we'd leave you and your sorry ass tied up on the roof for
daybreak...And if you hang around, I don't guarantee some of us won't..."

He moved off...

Tough break, Willy...The Koptos demon smiled...

Tell your Slayer girl...Gertfrood says hi...Maybe I can pass her some info sometime...

"Doubt I'll be in touch with her in the future, mate..." Spike noted...

Really?...Gertfrood looked at him...That would be a pity...

For you...

"The Slayer's the only thing keeping you alive right now..." he smiled...

"If you're gonna stay in this town better make nicey-nicey with her...If you don't want to end up
charcoal..."

In fact, he went on...Info could go both ways, you know...From as well as to the Slayer...And the
bearer might earn himself a nice fee from both parties...

Never hurts one to know what Ms. Summers is up to...

Thanks...Spike told him...I'll keep it in mind...

Xander entered the bar...He'd been running out of dives to check...Not that he expected to find
Spike in this place...

Too trendy for a poseur like Spike...Xander was sure Spike would go for dark and decrepit on his
nights off from tormenting Buffy and co at the Bronze...

Spike held his throbbing head in his hands at the bar...

Surprised, he went over to the bar...Carefully laying a large cross on the counter...

The bartender frowned but brought two beers at Xander's request...

I have to talk to you Spike...he began...

Well, thought Spike...Nothing like dining with an old friend...
****

I think you care about her...Xander continued...

And so you know...She...

He looked at Spike...Who was clutching his head tightly...

"Are you ok?..."

He saw the eyes rolling up in Spike's head...As the vampire gripped his chair desperately...

My god...What's proper procedure for an epileptic fit in a vampire?...he wondered...

"Anybody got a pencil?...A stick?..." Xander called...

Hey...No Slaying here...You want to kill him...Take it outside...The bartender hissed...

"Harris!...Get out of here!..." Spike cried...

His demon face popping up...Along with a profound sense of bloodlust...
***

Anya had restrained herself for all of fifteen minutes before calling Buffy to tell her that Xander
was out risking life and limb to find Spike...And talk to him...

Spike was after all...Buffy's responsibility...And while theoretically Anya had faith in the tried
and tested chip's restraining effect...When her fiancee was involved rather than Buffy or Dawn or
Willow...

So that Buffy entered the bar just in time to see...

Spike staggering across the room...And Xander holding him...

The vampire was trembling with pain...

"What happened?..." she asked, looking at Xander...Who was rather self-consciously trying to
help Spike through the crowd...Holding him up around the shoulders...

That damned electronic conscience of his...It's blown a fuse, Xander noted...

It keeps firing...

But...Buffy looked at them...

Spike smiled a bit and struck at Xander...

The pain subsided a bit...

Thanks, old pal...He told the staggered Harris...

See...Hell, it's actually a relief now to take a stab at your average human...Spike noted to
Buffy...And clutched at his head...

The songs are right, you know...he mumbled, trying to grin at her...

Love does hurt...
***

"When?...When did it fail?..."

Just after we had our second little tryst, Slayer...When you left me...Wanting more...he
gasped...Gripping his skull...

Xander reluctantly helped get him out the door...The various bar denizens clearly anxious to keep
a low profile in the Slayer's glaring presence...

"Spike...We have to get you to someone...A doctor..."

"The only one who knew how the bloody thing works is dead...I tried that route, remember?..."
he told her...Forcing the words out through clenched teeth...

Kill me...he told her...Hurry...

Xander looked at him, shocked...And at Buffy...Who held him...

His demon face appeared...He jumped up...And writhed in agony...

Buffy looked at him...Breathing hard...

She pulled up her stake and stared at it...Then looked at his pleading eyes...

Xander gulped...Never in my life did I think I would be doing this...

"Don't Buffy..." he cried...

She shook her head...

And smashed the back of the vampire's skull with the blunt end as hard as she could...

Spike went down...Out for the count...
***
"Glad to see you back, Amy..." Willow told her as Amy...Now dressed...Gobbed at what food
Willow had been able to scrape up...

She paused to look at Willow...
"So...How long?...Did I miss much school?..."

Ummn...Why don't we take this one step at a time...Willow noted...

But really nice to have you back...

Amy nodded...But...Could she?...Ummn...She was still groping for words...

Shower?...

Willow pointed out the bathroom...

Inside, Amy stared at herself in the mirror...And pounded the glass until it broke...Her hand
bleeding from a shard of glass...

"Anything wrong?!..." Willow called...

"I...Broke the mirror...Sorry..." Amy called...

No problem...You ok?...

Fine...Amy called...

Just fine...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part II

By the door of the bar...Standing just off the sidewalk...Buffy looked at Xander...Who looked
back at her...

What to do...An unconscious, epileptic vampire in their arms...

In desparate need of a skilled neurosurgeon...

Gertfrood...Who had reassumed the guise of a reasonably attractive, short young
woman...Emerged from the bar...Staring at the trio...

"Buddy here's a leetle drunk..." Xander noted to the young woman...

"There's easily a dozen guys about to come out of there ready to bash Spike's brains in...You two
want to save him?...Or are you just gonna drop him in the street?..." Gertfrood asked, pointing
back at the bar...Where indeed several denizens were watching carefully from windows...

Come on...she waved as she..It...hurried on...
They looked again at each other and half-carried, half-dragged Spike along after the woman...
***

No...Said Dawn, coldly into the phone...She did not know where Buffy had gone...

Giles had given up trying e-mails and dialed direct...

Buffy'd just stopped by for a few minutes after Patrol, gotten a call from Anya, and headed out...

Why?...What do you care?...

He knew better than to argue with the girl...Especially during a trans-Atlantic phone call...

"Tell Buffy I called...And to please read my e-mails..." he told her...

Yeah, sure...Don't do us any favors, Giles...Dawn hung up...

She considered a moment after hanging up...Should she?...Maybe...Restore the e-mails she'd
deleted from Mom's computer...

They were still in the "Recycle Bin"...

Nah...Why?...If they were so important, Giles should have stayed to tell Buffy about whatever
was in them...

He'd told Buffy she could deal with it all alone, right?...Left her...Left them...

Now he what?...Wanted to run their lives from a distance?...

Probably just more lectures...Solemn "Advice from Father Watcher"...As he ducked out on
them...

Just like Daddy...
***

Gertfrood had led them to a demon safe house...Fortunately unused for this evening...

They made Spike as comfortable as possible...Not too difficult a chore when the subject is in a
near coma, Xander noted...

Buffy visibly winced as Spike convulsed on the mat they'd placed him...And turned to the
pleasant-looking girl who'd led them here...

"So..." Buffy looked at the young woman... "What can you do for him?..."

Anything you're prepared to pay for, Slayer...Gertfrood smiled sweetly at her...

It gave Xander, who knelt by Spike, watching him, a shy smile...Catching his stray glance...

A demon loves its little practical jokes...

Besides...Gender is a relative thing to a Koptos demon...
***
Amy had emerged from the bathroom with her hand bandaged, a wry grin on her face...

Sorry...Gotta get used to using hands all over again...

Willow waved it off...

Long as you're ok...

"So?..." Amy looked around... "Where is everybody?..."

Everybody?...

Buffy...Giles...Xander...

That girl of yours...Amy grinned...

"Oh...You...Found out about that?..." Willow looked at her...

When you were...Ummn...Smaller...

Tara?...Wasn't it?...Yeah...Tara...Isn't she around?...I'd like to meet her...

"Feels like I already know her after all this time..." Amy noted...

Ummn...Well...

See some things have changed...Especially in the past few...

"Yeah...Tell me about it..." Amy smiled...She sat down, a little weak in the knees yet...

Looking at Willow...

"So...Buffy actually died and you brought her back?..."

Nice going, she noted...

Wow...Little rats have big ears thought Willow...
Still...Nice that she's more or less up to speed...

And...Xander is getting...Married?...Amy asked...A definite trace of regret there...

Hmmn...So much for a new love interest, Willow thought...

Oh well...Still...Be nice to have another magics person around...

Someone less stuffy about it than old Giles...
***

"He needs a doctor...A neurologist..." Buffy told Gertfrood...

Or at least someone who can fix that thing in his head...

Gertfrood looked at Buffy, smiling...

"And the price you're prepared to pay?..." it asked her...

I won't kill you...Tonight...Buffy smiled back...

"Well..." the demon nodded...

That's a start...But...

Life's hardly worth living without the amenities...Gertfrood noted...

"I can give you five thousand..." Buffy told it...

Maybe more later if the bank will ever consider my house as collateral...

"Better...But doctors...Medical or magical...Who'll work on vamps don't come cheap..." the
demon smiled...

Make it ten thousand...If you really can help him...Xander told Gertfrood, looking up from where
he watched Spike...Now writhing as he lay unconscious...

Buffy looked at Xander...Who grinned back sheepishly...

Anya will hit the roof...But the Blond One did pull his weight this summer...he noted...

She looked at Gertfrood...

"Ten thousand...and a safe pass in Sunnydale so long as I don't find you harming anyone...If you
really can help him..."
Gertfrood frowned a bit...One might expect a world-saving Slayer to be better compensated...

However...Every underworld creature who knew about the Slayer had heard of her ridiculous
attitude towards her work...No rewards desired, no bribes accepted...

Still ten thousand...A free pass...And the gratitude of the Slayer and her minions...

Not too bad for a slow evening...

Well?...Buffy looked at the woman...

Should I throw in a basket of kittens?...

"Please..." Gertfrood smiled, putting up a hand... "My kind are vegetarians..."

The offer...It looked at them carefully...Is acceptible...Let me see what my contacts can do...

"Wait for me..."

Not here...Buffy insisted, looking at Xander and Spike...

No intention of letting engaged Big Brother get caught in the usual ambush, thank you...

"We'll take him to his crypt...Meet us there when you have something..." Buffy looked firmly at
the young woman...Who shrugged and nodded...

With that the woman left...

Can you get your car, Xander?...Buffy asked him...

I'll watch him until you get back...

Xander nodded and got up...Feeling the lump on his forehead where Spike had belted him...

"Don't take any chances, Buffy..." he told her, looking back down at the vampire...

"Mr. Pointy...Armed and ready..." she told him, patting her pocket...

Ok...Back in ten...He paused and grinned...

"The things we do for our resident maniac..."

Buffy grinned wanly back...

Be careful...Xander cautioned...And he left...
Buffy watched the writhing Spike...And knelt by him, gently stroking his head...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part III...

Amy was looking at a blank TV screen as Willow arranged a sleeping bag...

Amy's own home not being currently available on account of mysterious
disappearance...

"I used to watch the TV news all the time..." Amy said quietly...

Oh...Ummn...Well...

"We missed the six o'clock but the eleven is coming up in a half-hour..."

Willow noted helpfully...

I kept looking for my dad...Some of my family...Amy went on...

You know, teary-eyed...Looking for me...But I never even saw a story about me
being gone...

"Guess I didn't leave much of a hole, did I?..." she smiled at Willow...

Well...I'm sure they'll all be glad to hear you're back...Willow told her...

Silence...

Ummn...

"There's some other good news...Your house hasn't been sold yet...I bet
tomorrow we can go over to the bank and get you settled back in there no
problem..."

I hate that place...Amy said...More to herself...

My own mother stole my body there and was ready to leave me there, kill me if I
made trouble...

And now I get to go back there...Alone...After all this time lost...

Willow looked at her...Not the positive result she'd hoped for on this one...

In fact...This was beginning to look an awful lot like Buffy all over again...
Amy came out of her reverie and smiled a bit at her...

"But...You gotta have a place to stay, right?..."

Hmmn-hmmn...Willow smiled a little back...

"Maybe...maybe you'd like to try and reach your dad?..." she suggested
hopefully...

Will he even remember me?...Amy looked at her...

"Geesch...Amy...It hasn't been that long...I know it's hard for you but..."

What did you tell him?...she asked...

"Does he think I'm dead?..."

Willow sighed...Well...

"We said we weren't sure where you'd gone to...That you seemed to want some
time alone..."

Got that, didn't I?...Amy grinned...A shade too hard...

Why don't we call...Someone...? Willow asked her...

Is there anyone to call?...Amy looked back at the TV screen...And turned back
to Willow...

"Lets...Wait on that for now, Willow..." Amy said...

Ummn...Sure...

They sat quietly in their chairs a moment...

"Say...How's things at the Bronze these days?..." Amy asked her...

Same old...same old...Willow replied...

Plus the occasional underworld menace...

Hmmn...

"It's nice to be back here in this old room...I missed it when we...When you
moved me...To Buffy's...Sorta like...Coming home...But..." Amy looked around...
"Could we?...Would you mind if we...Went over?..." Amy looked at her...

Just to get out for a few minutes...

A world of yes...Willow grinned...

Phew...Anything to avoid another session with yet another suicidally depressed
revived person...
***

Xander had decided to bite the bullet, face the music, and tell Anya...That he
was pulling out a hefty chunk of their just-released CD savings to help Spike
with his little epileptic problem...

Besides, their demon friend seemed like the cash on demand type...And Xander
hadn't carried a check on him...

He was a bit apologetic as he got up to leave the crypt...

They'd just gotten the CD through its six-month cycle...The cash would have
been at her...Buffy's...disposal if she had still needed the help...

Buffy shook her head and grinned...

"Xander...That's your wedding and honeymoon fund, isn't it?...For crying out
loud, if it were me instead of Anya, I'd let you have one right in the kisser
for even suggesting it..."

I know you'd...Both of you would've...Given it to me if Dawn and I really still
needed it...

Besides...She looked at Spike, now more or less sleeping on the mat they'd laid
him on...

This is the same as giving it to us...

"But make sure Anya is ok with it...We'll find a way if she's not..."

I can always withdraw my no-kill pledge if our lady friend gives us any
trouble...
***

After Xander left... She poked around...Sheepishly...

Well, what the hell...Besides...she thought...
Spike has routed through my stuff God knows how many times...

And about time I took back anything he still has of mine...Or Mom's...
***

Spike seemed quiet for the moment...She went down into the depths and over to
the far wall where he had some small crates and boxes...

Hmmn...She frowned...Stuff of hers...An old dress, some photos of her and

Mom...And Dawn......A sweater, an old pair of jeans...

Some old underwear...

God...That little...

She brought a couple of boxes of her old junk back upstairs...

Spike was twitching...But not in serious enough pain to wake for the
moment...She went back down and continued looking...

At the bottom of a large cardboard carton...A metal box...Rusted...

She opened it gently...Old...Really old...Letters...An old card...

She moved to put the box back down...But she left it open, staring...

And pulled out the letters carefully...

An old photograph fluttered to the floor...

A woman...Quite beautiful, though not well-dressed...Thin and run-down as
well...

A weary, harried, but strong look to her...

A little of Joyce...

Rather Emma Thompsonish, Buffy noted...She turned the photo over...

"My dearest boy...Love, Mum... Christmas 1878..." on the back...

Her hand shook...His mum...William's mother...

And he'd kept it...All these years...
She put it back hastily...But couldn't prevent herself from looking at the
letters...Brittle paper which she lifted delicately...

Cramped writing...As if the writers had very little prospects of getting more
paper...

Even the margins filled with writing...

Addressed to...a Master Will...impossible to decipher...

Something House...

Cambridge University...

"January 1879...Dearest Willy..." One began...

"We missed you awfully this Xmas...Mum is very tired but Phil and I have been
making her rest...She hopes to go back to service next week..."

More undecipherable writing...

Buffy looked on the back...

"Love,

Melia..."

His sister?...To him...At Cambridge...

A groan from upstairs...

She put the letters back carefully, laid the box back at the bottom of the
carton, and left the room...
***

"Why not take him to Sunnydale Hospital?..." Anya asked a sheepish Xander...

Less sheepish than when he'd entered their apartment and launched into the
night's business...Thankfully, Anya's kind heart had won out for the moment
over her attachment to their savings...

Not a good idea, we thought...Spike being a vampire and all...Xander told
her...

Some intern goes to prep him for head surgery...Uses a pencil to mark the spots
for the bone saw...Presses a bit too hard...And...

Or they do the operation...And while we're out next day, take him to the
sunroom for a few rays...

Hmmn...Well...Anya hesitated...

What do you two know about this demon?...

Does it have references?...Did you get a number?...

I mean...this is our wedding fund you're tapping...For Spike of all
people...Anya sighed...

We should at least have the right to check up on this one...

She insisted on returning to the crypt with him...

After all, this one might be an old friend...Or at least someone she'd
recognize...
***

Buffy brought the now conscious Spike some water...He was experiencing waves of
pain now...

"Buffy..." he gasped between waves...

"You can't stay here...Where's that...Idiot..." he desperately forced the words
out through clenched teeth...

"Harris?..." he finished, breathing hard...

Xander'll be right back...We have...Someone...Coming...

"You...Have to...Go..." he gasped...

Don't worry yourself about it...she told him...

The day I can't handle you...

He managed a feeble grin...And started convulsing fiercely...

His demon face popped out...

She looked at him...And turning, grabbed a cloth she'd had beside him...Dunked
it in a small bowl of water and put it on his head...

"For...God's sake...Slayer...I haven't got a bloody fever..." he
cried...Twisting...

But to his surprise...It did help a bit...

He calmed...And she began talking...Without looking at him...

"You could have killed me...At the graveyard...Before Xander and I found you at
the bar..." she noted...

You underestimate your talents, Slayer...he replied...

Why?...Why didn't you try?...

Not a good time...Impolite, you know...You being there to see dear old Joyce
and all...

I did like her, after all...She'd of been so disappointed in me... Spike looked
away...And back...

Buffy looked fiercely at him...

"Why didn't you try to kill me then?...I wouldn't have realized in time, you
knew that..." she told him...

Debatable point, Buffy...Spike noted...

"Tell me...why?!..."

"I love you..." he said simply...

She put the cloth back on his face...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part IV...

Amy's spirits had picked up a bit from what Willow could see as they sat at the Bronze...

Though no one had as yet recognized her, a couple of guys had checked her out...

This was gonna be fine...Willow told herself...

Score one for positive magic...
But a slight unease was still between them...Mainly emanating from Amy...

Well, natch...Just back to Humanity...Feelings of alienation, etc were to be expected...

But every now and then, Willow caught the faintest sense of...Something...from her
companion...A momentary hardness in her look...Dislike?...Anger?...

But it faded so fast Willow put it down as natural reaction to resuming humanity...Her
empathetic skills having declined in proportion to the growth of her magical ability...

The old Willow might have been equally sympathetic but would have recognized her own
limitations in dealing with her friend's emotional state...And the acute need for a good therapist...

***

A friend of a friend had referred Gertfrood to her...its...Contact...

Dr. Henry Jones operated from a small office on the west side of Sunnydale...Bordering a certain
part of town where even some of the little town's more unsavory characters preferred not to go...

The McGarvey-Crestwood cemetery...Rundown, ruined, and abandoned...By humans,
anyway...and leading out to the Crestwood area...Home of the lowest property values in
Sunnydale and its environs...

Which was saying something, this being Sunnydale...

In manner, the good doctor appeared a mild, occasionally drunken, small-town elderly doctor...

Of English extraction, based on his accent...Whose primary oddity was his large number of rather
strange-looking patients...Who, pitiable creatures as they were, seemed to prefer night visits...

In truth...His wartime reputation...That of Colonel Dr. Hans Gresner, SS...The infamous "Butcher
of Belsen"...Would have preceded him, had he or those who'd protected him allowed it to
become public knowledge...

But what made him truly unique...More so than your usual artificially preserved former SS
maniac...And had won him the occasional protection and life-extending assistance of a certain
well-known LA law firm...Was his past experience as medical liaison to a very special SS
unit...

The "Death's Head" SS Legion, vampiral...Organized under Himmler's personal
supervision...Composed of uniquely talented recruits...Used for certain special operations,
mainly on the Eastern Front...At night...

In certain specialized fields, the Nazis had had a surprising tolerance for minorities of a kind...
So that...As fate would have it...A uniquely qualified physician was at hand to deal with Spike's
little problem...Dr. Jones having done enough neurological experimenting on both vamps and
humans in his day to have been judged worthy of preservation by the US government after World
War II...And to be consulted by Margaret Walsh and her Initiative science team during the course
of their experiments...

No personal or probing questions asked, naturally...

But the good Herr doctor had seen better days...With the closing of the Initiative and Wolfram-
Hart having gleaned all the information they deemed useful from him, he'd had to fall back on
providing his expertise to Sunnydale's underworld population...Several of whom continued to
provide him with the drugs he needed to slow his aging...But were not able to do much for him in
terms of financial remuneration...

So Gertfrood's "friend" was correct in assuming the doctor would be willing to offer his
services...At what most neurological patients would consider a bargain price...

But the elderly physician quickly realized he had more than cash as an incentive here as
Gertfrood explained Spike's dilemma...

The chance to see the fruits of his research, the behavioral chip, in action...

And...He was curious to meet Spike...William the Bloody...

Whom he had encountered...Though not personally, fortunately...Once before...

On the Eastern Front...

***

Given Spike's unchipped condition, Xander felt it best for Anya to wait outside the crypt...

Anya was pleased at his dutiful protectiveness...A good fiancee...

Too bad he couldn't be a leetle more protective of their money...

He'd just check in with Buffy and return, he told her...

What?...With Buffy probably lying dead on the crypt floor while Spike was rejoicing in triumph
over her corpse?...Or transformed and lying in wait with Spike for good old Xander to enter,
unselfishly risking life and limb...As usual...

"If you're going in...I'm going in..." Anya told him firmly...

Xander sighed and agreed...For just a moment...
A terrifying sight greeting their eyes as they entered the main room...

Buffy...Holding the prostrate, trembling Spike's hand...Soothing him with a wet cloth...

Humming softly to him...
***

She was glad to see them...A call to Dawny was long overdue...

Fortunately, between his own efforts and the gang...Dawn especially having made improving his
living space her pet project this summer...Spike had been building up a considerable inventory of
modern appliances...

Buffy found a cell phone...No use...

Probably the crypt walls, plus all this electrical junk Spike has now, Xander noted...

You can bet this place is not up to code...

"I'll try it outside...Ummn?..." she looked nervously at the trembling Spike...Unconscious again...

Anya knelt by Spike and smiled at her...Buffy nodded, grateful...

She went out...

Xander looked at Anya...Helplessly...

"What are we going to do?..." he asked her...

Don't know, she told him...And smiled wanly at him...

What did the others do when you fell in love with me?...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part V...

Buffy reached Dawn from Spike's cell phone, just outside his crypt...

Though her sis affected a nonchalant air, it was clear that Dawn had been reaching her limit...

She'd be a while yet, Buffy noted...Just the usual, no big deal, just taking some extra
time...Besides she was with Xander and Anya...And quite safe...

Any word yet from Giles?...

No...Dawn answered...Not a thing...

She could almost hear Buffy's frown over the phone...

Willow had called however, Dawn told Buffy...Saying that she had a surprise for them...

To see at the shop tomorrow...

Ok...Get to bed...Buffy told her...

"How's Spike?..." Dawn asked...Did he patrol with you tonight?...

Again?...

He's fine...Buffy told her...We're having a little meeting at his place right now...

Meeting?...At Spike's?...

Buffy couldn't help grinning to herself as she heard Dawn's slight gulp...

Could I talk to Xander?...Dawn asked brightly...

Or Anya?...

Bed...Buffy told her...Now...

Buffy hung up...

And frowned again...Nothing from Giles?...

Strange...
***

Dawn pondered...And called Xander and Anya's apartment...

No one home...Well...

Maybe Buffy was telling the truth...
***

Dr. Jones willingly accompanied Gertfrood back to Spike's lair...Long experience making him
quite aware that his companion was not the pleasant-looking young woman she...it...Seemed...

Buffy, still outside the crypt...noted to herself that the old gent with their new "friend", the
young... woman?... At least looked like a doctor...

All three entered...Dr. Jones moving to examine his patient...

"Gertfrood?..." Anya looked at the young woman...
***

Perhaps...Thought Willow...As she and Amy staggered back to her dorm...

This hadn't been the best idea for Amy's first night back...

They'd both gotten fairly well plastered...And Willow could vaguely remember it getting a bit
rowdy with the magics...

Fortunately none of the gang had been around to see...

Though they had missed a neat display...

In any case...She was sure...Almost...That they'd set everything back to normal...

In spite of her condition, after she got Amy settled in the bed...Can't make a girl who's been a rat
for years sleep on the floor her first night back...Willow struggled over to her computer...

Habits of scoobie duty...And a vague hope that maybe...Tara...

Several e-mails from Giles...Each one a hair more anxious...

He suspected Dawn was not passing on his messages...Could Willow see that Buffy got these?...

She sent back a friendly reply but did not feel up to reading the messages in detail just yet...

And calling a good night to Amy, climbed into her sleeping bag...

Amy watched her from the bed...With an icy, utterly sober stare...

Little Willow was every bit as powerful as her naive boasts over the course of the evening
suggested...But she clearly was having trouble dealing with the rush her growing power was
giving her...

Something useful in that, perhaps...Amy noted...And definitely a good reason to move
cautiously...

If she wanted to get her turn to play...As Willow and the others had played with her...

Their cute little pet...

But she'd consider it all...Tomorrow...

There was no rush...And she'd learned to be patient...The hard way...

She followed Willow to sleep...
***

Dr. Jones had completed his examination...As best he could under the circumstances...

Somehow the chip's modulations had been reset...Some kind of stress or strain had caused the
chip to shut down and reboot...With the reboot came a small but definite possibility of a reset...

Spike had had the bad luck to win the lottery...The reset chip would continue to fire so long as he
was not attacking humans...Until it was either completely disabled or reset back to normal
manually...

Well, great...Buffy noted...Lets do the manual reset...What's involved?...

"Can we use a TV remote?...Or something like that?..."

Ms. Summers failed to understand, the doctor told her...

He would have to go inside Spike's brain...

In the back of the room...Gertfrood had been catching up with its old acquaintance...As they
watched the doctor...

"My God, Anyanka...You're human..." it suddenly realized...

No...thought Xander, who'd been hanging back from them...I do not want to know how they
knew each other...
***

It would be best to do the procedure in his clinic, Dr. Jones told Buffy...And he would need time
to prepare...Perhaps, with luck, this evening...It already being past three am...

"We can't leave him like this..." Buffy replied...Looking firmly at the elderly doctor...

You won't leave him like this...she told him...Grimly...

"It's a delicate procedure, my dear...With no guarantee of success..." the doctor noted...

"But our chances are improved if you'll let me proceed as I've described..."

He could give her something to keep Spike sedated for the day...
As a vampire, he was unlikely to be all that active during the day anyway...

"What happens..." she hesitated... "If we can't stop it from firing?..."

In that case I would strongly recommend we remove it, Dr. Jones told her...

Not even a vampire can survive continuous electroshock...
***

Gertfrood reluctantly accepted the two thousand Buffy gave it...

The rest...If and when Dr. Jones completed his work...

"And...That no-killing promise of mine?..." Buffy told the demon...

"It only holds if you're there tonight..."

Gertfrood smiled demurely...Waved at her old friend Anya...And escorted Dr. Jones out...

Pretty girl, Xander noted to Anya as innocently as possible...

Koptos demon, she frowned at him...Lumpy, scabby, with big horns...

And diseases...lots of diseases...

A rather entertaining dinner companion, though...She had to admit...

Nope...Xander thought...Do not want to go there...All in the past...

With my Inca mummy girlfriend...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part VI...

What now?...Xander asked Buffy...

She'd administered the sedative Dr. Jones had given her...

Spike, though still trembling fitfully, was sleeping...

"You guys should head out..." she told them...

Buffy?...Xander looked at her...And sighed...

"You can't stay alone here with him..."
Neither can you...Anya nervously hissed to him...

"He can't be left alone like this..." Buffy noted...

Well...

Guess I'd be too pooped for work today anyway, Xander noted...

"One of us has to go tell Dawn it's ok..." he told them...Looking at Anya...

I doubt she'll accept just another phone call...

Anya frowned...Still...As long as he wouldn't be alone...

And at least she could bring back some extra blankets and coffee...

"Anya?..." Buffy looked up at her as she started out...

"Thanks...For everything..."

She grinned at Anya...Who nodded...

"I'll keep Big Brother in one piece...I promise..."

"Just...Be careful, Buffy..." Anya told her gently and left...

Been quite a year, hasn't it?...Buffy noted to Xander...

Oh, yeah...he agreed...
***

They sat...Watching Spike sleep...

"Things didn't go well with Angel, did they?..." Xander asked her, hesitantly...

Nope...Buffy looked him in the eyes...

"He's...Moved on..."

Still hopes we'll be united...One day...

Maybe some reincarnation of me...she noted...

After his redemption is complete...Someday...

Bastard...Xander thought...

He couldn't take one look at her and see how much she needed him?...Just to be around at least...

"You know..." she smiled...

I've been thinking...

If I were transformed...Became a vampire...

Xander blanched...

No...She grinned, waving her hands...I'm not considering a lifestyle change...

Just...If that happened...

I think Angel would stake me without a thought...Just doing his duty by me...

But William...

"Spike would rejoice, naturally..." Xander noted...

Yeah, Spike would...she agreed...But William...If he were free of Spike...Somehow...

I think he'd lock me away somewhere...And spend his life...Existence...Trying to help me...

Probably fail...But he'd never stop trying...

Xander looked at her...Buffy...

"Is that...William?...Or what you wish he could be?..."

He dreamed of saving me...Over and over again...That's what he told me...When I first came
back...she told Xander...

No demon dreams of saving a human...she looked at him...

Xander looked away...

God...You...Bastard...he thought...

You let us idiots drag her back...And You give her this...
***

Dawn was, understandably, not satisfied with Anya's terse explanation of the
situation...Following Buffy's instructions to leave out potentially upsetting details...

And insisted on accompanying her back to the crypt...

Well, Anya sighed to herself...Best to let Buffy deal with her...

Thank God these things...Children...Start out small and helpless...

Feeding on you like parasites...Utterly dependent for several years...

I'm just not ready yet to deal with a full-grown teenager...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part VII...

Anya waved her hands helplessly as a frowning Buffy came to the door of the crypt where she
and Dawn waited...

"What's going on?..." Dawn demanded...

Spike's had some chip-related problems...We're helping him...End of story...Buffy told her...

"Can I see him?..." Dawn asked...

No...And now you go home...

"He's my friend too, Buffy...He saved my life..." Dawn told her...Insistent...

Buffy shook her head firmly...But her manner had changed...

"Please Dawn...He wouldn't want you to see him now..."

Dawn saw the pleading in her sister's eyes...

"Is he going to die?..."

Hmmn...Anya had to bite her lip hard to avoid answering that one with the natural reply..."He's
already..."

No...Buffy told her firmly...We've got help for him...

"Will you...Let me know?..." Dawn asked...

Yes...Buffy told her...But we won't have any news until tonight...

Dawn nodded nervously...Ok...

"Buffy?..." she hesitated...Twisting in embarrassment...

"Give him this for me?..." she kissed her sister quickly...

Tell him...She looked round...Fortunately Anya had gone in to check on Xander...

Tell him I'm praying for him...

"I will..." Buffy told her...

Dawn looked at her a long time...

Well?...Buffy frowned...

"I...Just wish Giles were here..." Dawn told her...

Yeah...Buffy nodded...

So do I....

Anya came out to take Dawn home...

Dawn looked at Buffy seriously...An adult's face...

"Take care..." she told her sister...And hugged her...
***

"She loves him...Doesn't she?..." Dawn asked Anya as they walked to her car...

Anya shook her head...

"I don't think she knows...Probably..."

Dawn stopped and looked at her...Tears filling her eyes...

"I should have died..." Dawn told her...

No...she corrected...I never should have been born...

"None of this would have happened if I hadn't come to be...Buffy dying...Willow and Tara
breaking up...Giles...And now this..."

You can't know what might have happened, Dawn...Anya told her...
"But...If you hadn't come...Buffy would be all alone now..."

Poor Buffy...Dawn cried softly...Instinctively, if somewhat tentatively Anya hugged
her...

"Anya?...What's going to happen to her?..." she asked desperately, crying into Anya's hair...

I don't know honey...I don't know...

Don't leave us...Dawn begged her...Pulling away to look at her...

You and Xander are all we have now...
***

Around noon Xander was delegated to go to the shop and inform Willow of Spike's condition
and the whereabouts of the others...See if Giles had tried to reach them...

And find out what "surprise" Willow had for them...

"Should I ask her...?..." Xander looked at Buffy...

"No..." Buffy told him firmly... "If she wants to help us...She can check out this Gertfrood and
her doctor friend...Maybe get some information on Spike's chip..."

But if she wants to try magic...Tell her...Thanks but no thanks...

For now...she amended, looking at Spike who was shaking fitfully again...

"Wait, honey..." Anya stopped him...

"If..." she looked apologetically at Buffy... "If...Willow gets upset..."

Remember there are multipurpose protective charms in Giles'...My...Desk...

And of course the cash register...

He nodded and left...

"Sorry, Buffy..." Anya noted... "I don't mean to imply that Willow would ever...Consciously..."

No problem...Buffy stopped her...

I wouldn't want Xander there without some protection...

"Not that I think Willow would hurt him either...Just best to be safe than sorry..."
***

Dr. Jones contemplated the coming evening's activities with relish...

A chance to shine one last time...

And to take revenge...On the creature who'd helped prevent the fall of Leningrad to the Nazis in
1941...Assisting a Soviet Slayer to thwart the efforts of the SS Death's Head Legion,
vampiral...While posing as a British journalist...

One last blow for the old home team...

A knock at his office door brought him out of a brief reverie on the joys of revenge...

"Ummn...Dr. Henry Jones?..." a short, pudgy young man looked at him...Two similar looking
young men standing beside him...

Yes?...May I help you, young man?...the doctor asked...

"Yes, you can...If you're also the Dr. Hans Gresner who's an authority on behavioral
modification by means of electroshock and hypnotherapy?..." Warren Mears smiled at him...

"Is he like...Indiana Jones?..." Andrew hissed to Jonathan...

Shut up...Jonathan wacked him...

"Dr...Who?..." Dr. Jones blinked at Warren...And contemplated the time necessary to reach the
gun stored in his desk...

Dr. Who's name is Hans Gresner?...Andrew asked Jonathan...

"Relax, Dr. Gresner..." Warren grinned... "We're not here to hassle you...We're here for a
consultation...And we're ready to pay up front..."...Offering a thousand dollar bill...

Dr. Jones smiled thinly...

Come in, by all means gentlemen...
***

"Amy...?..." Xander looked at her in astonishment as a beaming Willow brought her in from the
back of the shop...

Her beaming only slightly lessened by the fact of the audience being a rather small one...

"Hi, Xander..." Amy smiled...With some real warmth, Willow noted...
Of course he always did spend a lot of time talking to her in the cage...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part VIII...

Dr. Jones was intrigued by the proposed scheme of the Masters of the Sunnydale Universe...

Mind control utilizing hypnoconditioning supplemented by positive electrostimulatory therapy...

And not a little saddened...

That these three...Dolts...Could have gotten so far...

And were in effect...His disciples...Using his experimental data...

Only in America...Specifically, Sunnydale...

Still...To place the famed Slayer under control would greatly enhance his position vis-a-vis
Wolfram and Hart, Inc..His only hope for achieving immortality...non-vampirally, that is...

And would still allow for his personal vendetta against William the Bloody...

And, he noted, looking at the three Masters...Disposing of his new "partners" ought to be a
matter of little consequence...

Yes, he smiled at Warren who sat across the desk from him ...Andrew and Jonathan nervously
poking around the office...

He thought...Perhaps...He might be willing to assist them in their efforts...

For the right price, of course...

"We don't give him access to Buffy after we get her, right?...We keep her, right?..." Andrew
hissed to Jonathan...

I mean this old dude and that hot babe, Buffy...Together?...Seriously disturbing image...

***

"She must be quite a girl..." Amy noted to Xander as she, he, and Willow sat in the Magic
Box...A touch wistfully...

He nodded...Oh yeah...

Willow, though disappointed by Buffy's "no magic" strictures on aiding Spike, was throughly
employed in researching the Internet for anything useful on the chip...

Which relieved Xander no end...Maybe Willow was not so far gone as she had seemed recently...

Now more than ever Buffy needed her old friend back...

"Oh, Xander..." she called out to him from the computer... "There are a bunch of Giles' e-mails
here...He wanted me to make sure Buffy read them..."

She'll be glad to hear that, he replied...She'd been worried after not hearing from him...

"But...Amy..." Xander turned back to her... "What about you?...How're you doing?..."

"Ok, I guess..." she smiled wanly at him...And looked at the floor...

Everybody's gone...

"Well...Ummn..." Willow cut in brightly... "We haven't tried reaching your family yet...Your
dad..." she pointed out, a leetle desperately...

You should call him...Xander told her gently...

"Can't quite deal with that, now..." Amy replied...

But it's so good to see you again Xander...

He smiled, nodded, and patted her hand...Looking expectantly at Willow...

"I should get back..." he told her...

"Well...I haven't got much..." Willow sighed... "Koptos demons are generally preety
harmless...Just kinda inclined towards practical jokes on humans...What with their
shape-shifting and all..."

Tell me about it...Xander grinned wryly...

"As for this Dr. Jones...He's a legit doctor...And his specialty is neurosurgery..." she paused...

But...Xander filled in...

"His office is in a pretty bad area for a doctor who does neurosurgery...He oughta have a place in
Beverly Hills, all that kinda thing..."

He did seem kind of old, Xander noted...Maybe his best days are behind him...

"Well...His place has always been the same...In the worst demon-crowded part of Sunnydale..."

"We'll keep a eye on him..Thanks...." Xander told her...He got up and Willow walked him to the
door...

"You'll tell them?...Buffy?...And anyone...Else...You should happen to meet?...About Amy?..."
she asked him, hopefully...

Tell them that it really worked this time...I didn't screw it up...Willow told him, a little pleading
in her tone...

"Sure, Will...I will...Especially that "someone else"...But..." he paused and looked over at Amy
who waved to him...

"What's going to happen to her?..." he looked at Willow...who frowned....

Nothing...She's back and she'll be fine...she insisted...

I hope so, he told her...

"Will?..." he hesitated... "You know...Whatever's happened...We all still love you...We just..."

We just don't want to lose you...To this...

"Then don't leave me...Alone...All of you...Please..." she begged him... "I can handle it...I'll be
fine..."

He nodded and kissed her on the forehead...Bye...And left...Promising to report back after
Spike's encounter with the knife that evening...

She went back to Amy...

"Xander's such a great guy..." Amy paused... "I never quite realized it until..."

Willow looked at her...

"He was the one who always talked to me...Like I was still a person..." she noted...

Not like some cute pet...she thought, looking at Willow...

Yeah...Willow agreed...Xander's a great guy...

Ummn...Amy paused...This guy Spike?...

"He's Buffy boyfriend now?..."
Willow blanched...What?...No...

God, no...She thought to herself...

"Why do you say that?..."

She just...Seemed so concerned about him, Amy noted...From what Xander said...

Oh my God...Willow thought...
***

"Two...roads...Diverged..." Spike muttered in his sleep... "...I could not..." he twisted in
agony...The medication still keeping him under... "Travel both...Two roads...Two roads..." he
passed out...

Robert Frost?...Anya noted to Buffy...He quotes Robert Frost in his sleep?...

Somehow William the Bloody never seemed a Robert Frost kind of person...

"How would I know?..." Buffy looked at her...

Two roads?...Buffy thought...Looking at him...

He opened his eyes...Looked at her blankly...

"...Not knowing the way...And not...Fin...Find...Finding the way..."

"And from this...Torment..." his eyes rolled in his head as he convulsed...

"Anya!!..." Buffy called...

They held him briefly and he gradually relaxed...

"I...Must free myself..." he passed out again...

"Do you think he wrote that?..." Anya asked...

Shakespeare, I think...Buffy replied...He was quiet again...

"I guess he really was a poet..." Anya noted...

"You suppose he's published anything?...I mean maybe when he was alive..." she asked...

Might be interesting to read it sometime...

"I don't know..." Buffy sat and looked away...

I don't even know his last name....she said, more to herself than Anya...

"Maybe he's got some of his stuff here..." Anya noted...

Buffy stared at her...

And went over to the large cardboard carton she'd brought from below...Pulling out the metal
box and a few shoeboxes...

She carefully opened the metal box...And removed the brittle papers gently...

She showed Anya the photograph without touching it...

William's mother, I think...she told her...

"She was beautiful..." Anya noted...Looking at Buffy...

Buffy went on to the top letter on the pile...The only one she dared handle...

"Cambridge University?..." Anya looked at the heading...

Well...Spike always did have an air of sophistication about him...

"I don't want to disturb the other letters...They're so old...He's kept them so long..." Buffy
noted...

"So...I guess he had a sister..." Anya looked at the back of the top letter...

And looks like his mum...His mother...Was a servant...

Buffy looked at her...

"That 'in service' thing this Melia mentions..." Anya noted...

It usually means a person is a maid or butler...Or serving wench...

"Must have been quite a feat...The son of a maid or whatever...Getting into Cambridge...In the
1870s..." Anya pointed out...

And all for nothing Buffy thought...

"What's in the shoeboxes?..." Anya asked...

"I haven't looked in them yet..." Buffy was hesitant...

Long as we're committed we might as well see it all...she noted...

She opened the first box...Filled with sheets of folded paper...Poems...

Mostly preety graphic descriptions of blood and gore...

With, she had to admit, flashes of a sharp and sardonic sense of humor...And a keen eye...

"He'd make a great comic strip writer..." Anya noted... "Of the graphic novel genre...The blood
and gore thing would really work for him there..."

Maybe he was at some point, Buffy noted dryly...He must have occasionally had to earn a
living...

She pulled out one more poem and stared at it...

"To Buffy Anne..."

The rest of the sheet was blank...Buffy turned it over...

"I love you more than I could ever begin to explain..."

She put it down...And began repacking the sheets...Quietly...

Anya looked at her...Nervously...

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea...
***

With a returned Xander's help, they got Spike into their car just after dusk and drove him to the
address given by Dr. Jones...

Gertfrood was waiting at a desk as Anya and Buffy went up and knocked at the door...She
greeted them pleasantly...The doctor was ready and would see them immediately...

She...It seemed to be enjoying playing receptionist...

Anya eyed her old acquaintance...Did it work for...? she started to ask...

Oh, no...Just keeping an eye on its business transactions Gertfrood noted to Anya...Though it was
a bit fun to run the doctor's office for an afternoon...

Maybe my career talents lie in medical assisting...Gertfrood told her...
"Don't let it play nurse in there..." Anya hissed to Buffy...As they carried Spike inside the
clinic...

"Gertfrood was never the hygienic type..."
***

"What?..." Spike looked at the group around him...Buffy, Harris, the rabbitphobe fiancee,
the demon Gertfrood from the previous evening, and some elderly gent he didn't know...

He tried to move his head...Couldn't...Locked in some kind of vise or something...

The rest of him was strapped down to a table...

"Lie still, my boy..." Dr. Jones told him...

"It's ok Spike..." Buffy grinned at him... "We've got a doctor for you..."

Oh...Right...The damned chip...But...

"Is it all right now?...I don't feel any pain..."

Not quite Buffy told him...The doctor's given you a local anesthetic...

He...And for that matter, Xander...Experienced a moment of absolute shock as Buffy took his
hand and stroked it...

"It'll be ok...William..." she told him...

He nodded and relaxed...Hell, what did it matter now?...

She took my hand and called me William...

Short of a titanic sexual encounter I'm not likely to ever top this...
***
Well?...Buffy looked at Dr. Jones...Who nodded...

"The chip is reset...It appears to be firing in its normal sequence..." he told her...

Your vampiral friend should be back...To whatever passes for normal for him shortly...

He should return for a check-up in a couple of days, but otherwise...

Gertfrood smiled pleasantly...

Always nice to see an important business transaction end with all parties satisfied...One may
wish to do business with such clients as the Slayer again...

The Slayer and her friends assisted a wobbly, head-bandaged Spike to Xander's car and they
headed out...Buffy grimly promising to return immediately if any problems developed...

"Thursday evening ok for the return appointment?..." she asked...

Seven or so would be fine the doctor told her...

Gertfrood duly noted the date and time down...She...It...Actually was enjoying the work...

Never hurts to acquire new skills...

The demon was however a bit surprised after the others had left when the doctor accepted his
half share of the take without complaint or argument...Considering Dr. Jones' contribution to the
joint effort Gertfrood had expected an additional bargaining session and to walk away with no
more than thirty percent at best...

After all Spike might need the doctor's neurological services again and with the
Slayer...Astonishingly... Interested in his survival there would have been little argument
Gertfrood could have made had Jones demanded more...

Well, humans...Go figure...

After Gertfrood had scooped her...its...cash and left as well, Dr. Jones placed a call...

"All went well?..." Warren asked him...

Yes...Dr. Jones told him...He'd downloaded the chip's schematics during the procedure...As well
as obtaining its signal frequency modulation...He'd send over the information by courier...

And William the Bloody would be returning in two days...With Ms. Summers, almost certainly...

Excellent...Warren noted...We'll be ready...

***

Spike was mostly silent during the ride back...Though he was, for Spike, gracious in his thanks to
Anya and Xander once back at his crypt...

"Any time..." Xander noted, grinning a bit...Something to tell the grandchildren that's for sure...

I saw the inside of William the Bloody's skull...

"I'll pay you all back...Soon as I can..." Spike told them...
Really?...Xander looked at him...

Like I believe that, he thought...

"Of course not you idiot..." Spike grinned... "Where the hell will a vampire ever come up with
10,000?... Unless I plan to spend a long time in prison....Which I do not..."

" 'Bout what I figured..." Xander noted...Grinning back...

Anya however...Understandably...
***

Buffy stayed behind for a few...Just to see he was settled and alls well...

He stood looking at her...She moved nervously around the crypt, noting Dawn's attempts at
"Operation Humanization"...Refusing to face him...

Finally she stopped...It was time she got going...She turned and asked him if he'd be ok...

"Why did you do this, Buffy?..." Spike looked at her...

"Surely not just for the continuing pleasure of my scintillating conversation..."

Was it?...Because you thought you owed me something?...And this is the payoff?...debt canceled,
case-closed?...he looked away...

Cause you didn't have to bother...Especially to the tune of five thousand dollars...

"You don't owe me anything, Slayer..."

She looked at him...And sat on the edge of a crate...Thinking a bit...

"I've never really known what happens, Spike...To the things I kill..." she paused...

See, Giles could never tell me for certain what happened to their souls after the
transformation...Just the usual Council line that they're probably...Hopefully...off in Heaven...
or somewhere like that...

I think the Council prefers not to know...Less chance of weakening in their resolve to rid the
world of vamps and demons, I guess...

I even read that book about your old pal, Dracula...it claimed the souls were trapped in limbo,
watching helpless while their bodies were used...

But a Slayer can't generally afford to brood about the lost or trapped souls of the vamps she
kills...Vamps already do enough playing on one's sympathy as it is...

As you ought to know...She grinned...

"But then...I met you..." she told him...

No soul...She grinned at him...And yet...Sometimes...So human...

"And I then died..."

A change of perspective...

And now...Killing 'em...Isn't quite enough...

I guess maybe I need more now...She grinned...

I "want more"...she paused...

I need to feel again...Even before I died, I was losing that ...The ability to feel...

And, maybe helping them...At least one of them...If I can...Will help me...

He looked at her...Annoyed and a shade bitter...

"So...This is pity then...For the lost boy..."

It was her turn to get annoyed...

"Take it anyway you like..."

She stood up...He looked at her...And frowning, looked at the wall...

"There's more than pity here, Slayer..." he told her without looking at her...

Mercy, maybe?...he asked...Not quite sarcastic now...

Maybe...She agreed...Catching him by surprise...

Well...he sighed...Beats pity...By a hair...

She smiled...And quoted...

"The quality of mercy is not strained...It falleth as the gentle dew from Heaven...
It is twice blessed...In him who giveth...And him who receiveth..."

I.e...It does us both good...She noted...

She caught his attempt to conceal a little surprise...

I do read you know, she grinned...And with Giles around you can't avoid Shakespeare...

Guess I'll have to make do...Spike noted...

She got up to go...And stopped...

"Dawn...Wanted me to give you this..." she kissed him on the forehead...

And to tell you she's praying for you...

"Then I'm Heaven-bound for sure..." he grinned...

She was starting out...

Thanks the Nibs for me...he told her...

Buffy nodded...And paused again...

Well?...Spike looked at her...

"I read some of your poems...And a letter...From your sister?..." she hesitated...

He nodded...

"Were you all set to fret about it?...Don't worry, I've nothing to hide..." he told her...

Want more?...he grinned...

She came over...

"Yes..." And kissed him...A long while...Hands in his hair...

William...she breathed to him...Be William...For me...

She pulled off abruptly, leaving him shaking and astonished...And resumed a matter-of-fact tone
without breaking her stride...But refusing to look at him...

"If your head isn't bothering you after your check-up Thursday night?...Would you care to
come by my place for dinner Friday?...About six-thirty if that's not too early?..."

"I'll be there.." Spike told her...Still trying to collect himself...
Even if the damned thing fries my brain into goo, I'll be there...he thought...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part IX..

Anya and Xander had promised to check in on him tomorrow, Buffy noted to Spike as she got up
to head back...She was overdue to spend some "quality time" with Dawn...

Especially after the interesting information Xander had passed on regarding Giles' emails...she
thought...

"Lucky me..." Spike noted dryly...Recovering now a bit...

"Buffy?..." he looked at her...

"See you Thursday for your check-up, William..." Buffy called... as she left...Hurriedly...

Mercy...he thought...Hmmn...

Somehow that last kiss hadn't seemed the gentle tap of a Florence Nightingale...

And she clearly had not wished to discuss it...

Well...No point in mucking up the chip again by dwelling on it...

Still...An interesting thought crossed his mind...

Was she giving mercy?...Or asking for it?...
***

It was a rather grim Buffy whom Dawn found at the front door when she opened it...Hoping to
sneak in...

She'd expected Buffy to be out later...Tending Spike...

"Sorry...Guess I lost track of time..." Dawn noted...

"I don't remember you're asking for permission to go out..." Buffy glared at her...

"Sorry...Didn't know I couldn't leave the house for a half-hour..."

She looked at Buffy...Seriously...

"How's he doing?..."

Spike was much better, Buffy told her...Grimly...

Buffy stared at Dawn...

"Where were you?..."

Janice's...No big deal...She just wanted some notes...

"I thought Giles told you to stay away from Janice?..."

Giles...Isn't here, is he?...Dawn noted flippantly...

"You deleted his emails to us, didn't you?..." Buffy asked her quietly...

Dawn looked away and back, shrugging...

"So?...He left us, didn't he?..."

Buffy sighed...

"Giles...However wrong I may think he was to go...Is not our father, Dawn..."

Dawn shook her head...

"He didn't mind taking the part when he was here...Now he just walks away from it..."

"If he couldn't handle it...He had no business letting..." Dawn paused...

"Letting us love him so much..."

"He felt he had to do it for my sake...And he's still trying to be there for us..." Buffy grinned,
briefly...

"And just spent several hundred dollars in phone calls to prove it...Thanks to you..."

She frowned at Dawn...Who was looking at the picture of Joyce on the end table by the sofa...

"Why are they all leaving us, Buffy?..." she was in tears...

Mom...Tara....Willow...Giles...Even Xander's not going to be around here much soon...Why
now?...

"It's...Because of me, isn't it?..." Dawn looked down...

My coming here...Brought all this on...
"These things happen, Dawny...There's no reason for them sometimes..." Buffy took her hands...

"It could just as easily have been my coming back...If I wanted some one thing to blame..."

But if you weren't here...With me...Now...

"I couldn't have borne a moment of this year...I've have some bad years but this one..." she
grinned...

Dawn couldn't help grinning back...

"Yeah...It has been a bad one..."

The creme de la creme of bad years...Buffy agreed...

"But we'll get through it..." And hugged her...

So...Dawn looked at her...What did Giles have to say?...

"Dawn?!...You didn't even bother to read them before you deleted them?!..."
***

After fifteen minutes on the computer, Dawn sheepishly admitted there was no way she could
recover the lost mails...

Maybe Willow?...

Well...Buffy frowned...Then grinned just a little...

Actually...It was almost a shame Xander told me and I checked the computer, she confided...

He was about to take the first plane back...

Dawn frowned...So?...

"Don't tell me...You mailed him back and told him not to..."

Not exactly...Buffy told her...

"I left a message on his answering machine...That I'd call him back tonight..."
***

Buffy reached Giles about two hours later...Having sent Dawn off to bed...

He had news...
His motive for leaving...had included an additional factor...He'd needed the perspective of
distance...

He'd been studying the change going on in Willow from England, Giles told her...

And consulted the Council's best...

It was as he had suspected...And feared...

The Hellmouth's energy had been released into the Sunnydale environment to a minute extent by
Glory's brief opening of the portals...Which though even more limited in time than the Master's
Hellgate opening...Had been on vastly wider scale...

As a result...The natural effect of the Hellmouth on Sunnydale was even stronger...

Some, of weak or immature will were being encouraged to a dark path in their lives...And others,
particularly those previously gifted with magical sills, were tempted with new power and
ability...Like poor Willow...

A dangerous time...Even if no specific enemy was using it to their advantage...

Even some of Buffy's recent depression could be attributed to the effect...The sense of the
hopelessness and futility of the fight against Evil...

"Giles...Are you coming back?...Now that you know about this?..." Buffy asked, hopefully...

There was a pause...And sigh...

"I understand..." Buffy told him...Gripping the phone tightly...

So...What do we do about this...Pollution?...

"Not much can be done, my dear..." Giles told her...

In time it will fade somewhat...More or less back to what's normal...For Sunnydale, anyway...

Simply warn the others, especially Willow...

It's likely to be a very unsettled time for a while...

"If I can do anything from here..." Giles noted... "I will..."

And...You know that if the situation ever does become...Too difficult...

"Thanks Giles..." Buffy told him...
How's Spike behaving these days?...he asked...

"Oh...Same old Spike..."

"Buffy?..." Dawn broke in on the extension from her room... "Why don't you tell him?..."

Dammit, Dawn...Off the phone and into bed!...

"Now!..." Buffy hollered...

A grumble and click...The click sounding a leetle suspicious...

"Giles?...You don't suppose...This "pollution" is turning Dawn into a bigger brat than ever?..."
Buffy asked...

Giles had caught on...

"Hardly likely, Buffy...I can't begin to conceive of Dawn possibly being a bigger brat..." he noted

"Hey?!..." Dawn injected...

"I'm coming upstairs in five seconds, Dawn!! "...Buffy hollered...

This time the click sounded real...

"About Spike...?..." Giles asked...Hesitantly...

He had a leetle chip problem...Solved for now, it seems...Buffy replied...

"I see..." he paused...

"Buffy...Spike..."

Is my problem...Buffy noted firmly...

"Yes...But...Please...Take care...special care..."

"Never let your guard down, especially with the most human-seeming vamps..." Buffy replied...

First lesson you ever taught me...

I won't...She told him...

"And?...Now I know Dawny is off the phone...What did you learn about me?..." she asked...

Another pause...

"Giles...You haven't been calling like this just to warn me about evil contamination in
Sunnydale...Unless Willow is much worse than we thought..."

How bad is it?...she asked, trying to sound calm...

Yes...he sighed...There is more...

"I discussed your resurrection with the Council...And the change in your personality..."

Buffy...he hesitated...

"So...Am I more susceptible to depressing Hell pollution now?..." she tried to sound calm...

I'll keep away from ropes, knives, and small electrical appliances in the bathtub...I promise...

"We think...A door may have been left open...When Willow pulled you through..."

And a demon came with me, right?...She was relieved...

Old news, Giles...We took care of my little new-born friend...The day after I got back...

Yes...I know Buffy...

But...

"Dear, you know that everyone has a demon counterpart...Waiting...For the chance to take the
body if the opportunity arises..."

"If..." Buffy was starting to tremble..."Only if you're killed by a vampire, drink its blood..."

That's what you always told me, right...

Sometimes...A door is opened...And the demon may try to rush through...he began...

"No!...No, Giles...You're wrong..."

I am not...she insisted, tearing in her voice...

"No, my dear...You are not..." he assured her...

But your demon...May have started through...May be affecting you...Hoping...

"Hoping to lead you to destruction and take your body..."
But...If we are correct...Your soul is holding it back...And will...As long as you live...

"You're saying that if I die...Any way I die...I'll be..."

I don't know for sure, Buffy...he told her...But yes...That may be the case...

"And with all this...You won't come home?..." she was crying now...

"Buffy...Now...More than ever...You must be strong...On your own..."

But I can help you...To understand what's happening to you...And there are tests we can have you
perform...In the emails I resent...

"Tests..." she was a little bitter now... "To see if I'm one step away from becoming a vampire?..."

Forewarned, my dear...he told her...

"As you used to say, forewarned beats getting caught in an ambush by Spike and ten hairy horned
demons..."

She laughed a little at that...

"I love you, Giles..."

"And you, my dear...My love to Dawn...Please give my best to Willow and the others...And tell
Spike..."

Tell him I expect my boy Randall to do his best...

***

I dunno know about this, Jonathan noted...

Again with the hypnodisk...Remember last time?...he pointed out to Fearless Leader Warren...

"We didn't have the right equipment..." Warren replied...

This kit comes from right here in Sunnydale...he noted...

PO Box 666...

"With the diamond we stole from the Sunnydale Art Museum to provide the proper light
frequency..."

"Complete with hypnotic hellchants...Music to enslave by..."
"And...A money-back guarantee if it fails on the victim of your dreams..."

Plus...He held up their latest achievement...

The positive reinforcement chip...Courtesy Dr. Jones...And the involuntary assistance of William
the Bloody...

How can we fail, gentlemen?...He struck the pose of a true Master of the Sunnydale Universe...

Show a little faith, Johnny-lamester...Andrew poked him...

"Yeah...But this field test...Inviting a vampire into your home..." Jonathan noted...

Relax...Fearless Leader told him...The last one didn't get me...We've got crosses, Holy Water,
stakes...

"We're as safe as if the Slayer were here..."

Safer...Andrew thought...If she knew what we were planning...

A rap at the basement entrance...As Warren had requested his mother had sent his young lady
friend over without inviting her in...

Andrew looked at the door...Jonathan looked at the door...

Guys?...Warren looked at them...Waving his hands...

"The lady is waiting..."

They looked at each other...

Lamesters...Warren muttered and went to the door...

"Come in...?..." he invited the young, demure-looking brunette...

Very nice...He'd requested a respectable-looking young vampiress from the vamp den...

"Hi...Warren?..."

Fearless Leader nodded...

"Angela...A friend of mine...Roy?...Referred me to you?..."

Exactly...Please...Come in...Warren again invited...

She entered cautiously...A girl never knows...Even with humans...

Three geeky dweebs, she noted with relief...

"I understand you boys...Want a new experience?..." she smiled at them...

She frowned at the crosses and implements on the table in the rear...

"Just a little protection..." Warren noted...

"In case things get out of hand...You understand..."

Yeah, Andrew noted brightly...Wouldn't want all the blood drained from our bodies...

Hmmn...she looked at them...

Cash up front...she told Warren...

Naturally...Warren smiled...Handing her a thousand dollar bill...

And hitting her with a stun gun charge...

Andrew fired a tranquillizer dart as the vampiress staggered and donned her "work face"...

"You little...!!!" she raged...Stumbling...

"Jonathan?..." Warren called...To his fear-frozen fellow Master...

Ummn...Jonathan looked in terror at the vampiress...Now on her knees but struggling...

"Shoot, you moron!!!" Warren hollered...

He fired his dart and the vampiress went down...

***

There was still one problem...Jonathan pointed out as Warren began prepping the unconscious
Angela for brain surgery...As her forced-open eyes watched their new hypnodisk with the
headphones playing a mix of hellchant and instructions...

"Everybody knows...You can't hypnotize someone to do something they don't want to do...So
what good is this gonna be?..."

Warren sighed as he picked up the bone saw and began cutting into poor Angela's vise-gripped
skull...
"Johnny, my man...I've already explained this...We simply find something that our subject wants
to do or be that we can make use of...Our instructions fit what the subject secretly wants, while at
the same time giving us what we want...And the happy chip reinforces the new behavior by firing
a nice little pleasure jolt whenever our subject follows instructions..."

He put down the saw...And motioned for Andrew to bring the new chip over...

In Buffy's case...Warren resumed...Our poor Slayer is depressed and overwhelmed by her never-
ending duties...

As we've seen in the course of our observations...

He began carefully inserting the chip into Angela's brain...Following a chart of instructions sent
by Dr. Jones...

Yeah...Jonathan noted...She has been looking sad...

Somebody oughta help her...Make her happy again...

Exactly...Warren agreed, as he adjusted the chip and began forcing the electrodes into the vamp's
brain...

And we all want our Buffy...Happy...he looked around...

"Right?..." The others nodded...

So...Warren grinned...We offer her...Nirvana...Thoughtless bliss...Peace...

He looked over his handiwork...Angela was mumbling her instructions as the disk continued to
turn...

"I thought you were gonna program Buffy to think she was that bot you made for Spike?.."
Andrew asked, puzzled...

Warren rolled his eyes and wacked him...

"That what I'm talking about, moron..."

But...Jonathan looked at Angela...What about our test case?...

What?...Does she want robotic bliss too?...

Hmmn...Not exactly...Warren noted...

He performed a test firing of the chip...Angela clearly quite happy as a result...Success...
Wait and see...Fearless Leader told him...

"Ok...Close..." he called...Lifting his hands...

You mean...Like put that piece of skull back?...Andrew asked...

No way I'm touching that...Gross...he noted...

Moron...How did I wind up with these geeks, Warren sighed...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part X..

Wednesday afternoon...

Willow and Amy had, at Willow's strong urging...Spent most of the day trying to settle Amy's
affairs...

Willow attempting a cheery air, despite Amy's lack of interest...

Fortunately there'd been enough to keep them busy...And things had gone well...

Enough of Amy's mom's life insurance and other savings in the bank to let her clear the bills on
her home...And cover daily expenses for a while...

No big hassle with the house...Just mucho paperwork...

Even a number left with the bank from Amy's dad...Not that she was really to use it...But at
least...

Still, Amy was uninvolved and lethargic most of the day...Leaving Willow increasingly
desparate...

She decided to see if possibly Buffy might like to get caught up with her...And to hook up with
an old friend this evening...

If nothing else, they had a shared resurrection experience, sort of...Even if the details were
considerably different...
***

Dear Angela's programming by hypnodisk and chip was complete...

But...Jonathan was puzzled...What instructions could Warren have come up with that would
fulfill a desire or need on her part?...Besides killing them all...

"I'm assuming she wants what every vamp secretly wants..." Warren noted...Mysteriously...

Angela woke up...And looked round the room, startled and frightened...

"What am I doing here?...Who are you guys?..."

"Warren Mears, miss...And this is Andrew..." Andrew nodded...

"And Jonathan..." Jonathan smiled nervously...Hi...

"Angela...Reynolds..." she looked at Warren...But...

You had a leetle incident...Remember anything?...he asked...

"Ummn...Yes...Some guy...Attacked me...Tall, dark...He...Bit my neck..."

I passed out...she looked at them...None seemed like the guy...But...

"Well..." Warren told her... "We found you and brought you in...You'd lost a lot of blood..."

Whacked your head pretty badly too...

She felt the bandages...And looked suspiciously at her rescuers...

"Why did you bring me here?...How come you didn't call an ambulance?..."

What kind of perverted crap have you three been pulling with me?...

"We just wanted to help you, Angela..." Warren smiled...

She saw the crosses and implements on the table...My God, they're cultists, she thought...

I've gotta get out of here...

"I want to go home now..." she told them...

Ummn...You really should wait, Angie...Warren noted...

I think you need more time...

She hauled herself up to a sitting position...Glaring at the twerp...

"Listen, you...I'm going home...My husband is waiting for me...And if you try to stop me...I'm
screaming for the police..."

"I'd really recommend you wait, Angie..." Warren smiled...He moved to pat her hand...

She jerked away... "Get away from me, you creep..." Throwing him back...

She stood up...

Geesh, man...She doesn't seem very obedient to me...Andrew hissed to Jonathan...If Buffy comes
out like this...

"Where's my coat?...I'm leaving now..." she told Warren...Where he lay on the floor where she
had thrown him...

He pointed at a chair, she grabbed her coat...And headed to the door...

"Look...If you guys helped me, I'm grateful...but...I'm still gonna tell the police and leave it
to them to sort things out..." Angela told them...And headed out...

Into the afternoon sun...

Wow...Andrew grinned...So...We like, just cured a vampire, huh?...Saved an undeaded type...

Restored a hot babe to humanity?...

Hmmn...Not exactly...Warren noted...

There was a blood-curdling scream from outside...The Masters of the Sunnydale Universe ran to
the basement door and opened it...To see poor Angela in the last stages of flaming out...

"God, man...What did you do to her?..." Jonathan looked at her remains, horrified...

To let the poor kid go like that...And such a hot babe, too...

"Hey..." Warren noted, giggling... "You both heard me try to stop her...Besides..."

I don't think she'd have been able to resume her old life...And she's at peace now...

"She really believed she was human again...She wasn't even interested in sucking a couple of
pints..." Jonathan noted in wonder...

And...I deliberately bled her a couple of pints while she was "in training"... Warren pointed out...

Just to strengthen any latent bloodlust...

"Even her self-preservation instinct couldn't overcome our conditioning...Since it matched what
she really wanted..." Fearless Leader noted...
To be human again...And able to go home...

A complete success...Though a tragic loss of a hot babe, he admitted...

We're ready for the Slayer...he told his fellow Masters...

Well...Be nice to see her smiling again, Jonathan noted...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part XI...

Buffy was noncommital, listening to Willow's description of Amy's "complete recovery"...

Glad as she was to have Willow back, if only for a evening, she placed little confidence in her
friend's desperate attempts to insist that Magic had, this time, succeeded without any
consequences...

Especially after spending a few moments with Amy...Who remained withdrawn and lethargic...

Still, nearly three years as a rat was bound to leave anyone a little shaken...

But Buffy also couldn't help noticing Willow had shown no interest in Giles' e-mails, except to
pass them on...

And did not seem concerned even when Buffy took her aside and tentatively explained her
potential problem...

Restrain a vampire demon?...No problem...Child's play...

Just look at good old Amy...And you...

"Should I cook something up?..." Willow asked Buffy eagerly...

No...No, thanks, Will...she told her...

"But...I'd appreciate some help with Giles' tests tomorrow..."

Hmmn...Willow was disappointed but realized it was not the time to press for a magics
solution...But as to the tests, surely there was an easier way...she thought...

Why bother?...Willow asked...Why didn't you just let Spike use the chip?...

"What?..." Buffy asked her...Staring...

"You said that doc fixed him up, right?...So...Have Spike check you out...If there's a
demon with you...Ummn...Trying to get in with you...He'll sense it..."

If he hasn't already...Willow noted...And paused, suddenly seeing the look on Buffy's face...

Ummn...

"Buffy...I'm sorry about this...Believe me, I didn't know this could happen..."

"There are always consequences, Will..." Buffy replied...

But I know you meant well...

"I don't mean to be insensitive, Buffy.." Willow told her... "It's just...To me, it's nothing new to
worry about...You've always been at risk of transformation..."

We...All of us...Even Joyce and Dawn...have known for years that it could happen...

"It will happen...When I die..." Buffy told her...

Guess this makes it easier for you guys...No doubt about it now...she noted, looking at her
hands...

"We won't let that happen..." Willow replied hastily... "Never, Buffy..."

Buffy nodded...Blinking rapidly...

"Always nice to know my friends are there for me..." she said quietly, pausing...

Willow didn't know what to say...

"Do you really think?...Spike knows?..." Buffy asked her...

"I don't know..." Willow looked at her...

"I suppose not...He'd of killed me when he had the chance or had me killed..." Buffy reflected...

"Still...I think he sensed it...In some way..."

But...If he knows...Even if he just sensed it...she thought...

And didn't try...If he didn't try...Then...It could be true...

He could love me...

"Buffy?...About you and Spike?..." Willow hesitated...
"My problem, Will...I can deal..." she noted...End of discussion, Willow realized...

"As far as the tests go...Tomorrow I'll do whatever I can..." Willow told her...

Buffy nodded, smiled, and patted her...Thanks, Will...

"It'll be ok..." Buffy told her and went to the door where Xander and Anya had just arrived...

Willow stared after her...

It can't be true...Giles is wrong...The Council is wrong...

Oh, God...What have I done?...she thought...Trembling inside...
***

Amy was talking with Dawn...But had watched Willow with Buffy...

While Buffy didn't seem all that resentful...Not snapping dear Willow's neck and tossing her
body into the dumpster, for example...There was clearly some coldness between them...

No point in approaching her...Whatever damage Buffy's relationship with Willow had taken, it
clearly was not enough to incline her to Amy's way of thinking...Too bad...

But then...While she sympathized with a fellow sufferer...Buffy'd done nothing for her while
she'd been trapped...

Hadn't given her a moment's thought as far as she knew...Too busy being Ms. Heroine-Slayer, I
guess...Amy thought...

Well...She could sit on the sidelines and applaud Willow's punishment if she wished when the
time came...Or, if she chose to be a fool and help the little magic addict...

She'd die a third time...

"So..." Dawn's chatting finally intruding on her thoughts... "Are you glad to be home?..."

Amy was so quiet...Even Dawn was running out of things to say...

Amy stared at her...What a little fool...But involuntary tears forced her to close her eyes a
second...

If only I had someone...Like this...Waiting for me...Needing me...

Someone to give me a reason to go on...

And smiled faintly at the teen...

"Ever so glad..." she replied...

"Willow's terrific, isn't she?..." Dawn went on, pleased to finally get a response...

"I mean...All she's done for you...And Buffy..."

Hmmn-hmm...Amy agreed, nodding...

Yes...Amy thought...I can see what she's done for Buffy...Looking at Buffy's strained and
haggard face...

And sensing the distorted, contaminated aura which Willow had studiously avoided probing...

Yes...And I'm so grateful she finally found time for me...she thought...

Dawn was rather relieved to have Xander come over...

Amy was just so quiet...And she already had a depressed sister to deal with...
***

Back at the lair of the Masters of the Sunnydale Universe, the boys contemplated tomorrow
night's operation...

Although success had crowned their efforts so far, Jonathan and Andrew had...Misgivings...

"I dunno about this..." Jonathan told Fearless Leader Warren...

Taking on the Slayer and her blonde vamp...At the same time...

And the guy lookes like Rutger Hauger in "Blade Runner"...Andrew noted...

"Yeah...Only this Spike has the blade and we'll be doing the running..." Jonathan finished...

"Are the two of you wussing on me?..." Fearless Leader looked at his partners...

No way...Andrew insisted...It's just...Buffy...Superhuman...This guy...Supernatural...

Are we ready for the two of them?...

"Gentlemen..." Warren sighed...Such lack of faith...

"We have Science as well as Magic on our side...Tranquilizer darts, the hypnodisk, and the new
chip for Buffy...And a leetle surprise for Mr. Blond..."
An experienced...Uniquely experienced...doctor to assist...

Plus of course...Our tried and tested freeze ray...

"I hate that thing..." Jonathan noted... "Somebody else carries it this time..."

Say?...Andrew asked, a thought occurring to him...

Where do we keep Buffy once we get her?...

Hmmn...Good point, Warren noted...Well...

"She can stay with me here..."

What?!...His fellow Masters looked at him...

Hey...No fair...This is a partnership...

All our names go on the title...

"Gentlemen?...Are you suggesting I would take undue advantage?..." Fearless Leader was hurt...

He was shocked...Shocked to think that they would suspect him of selfish motives...

Besides...His mother was always around...How could he pull anything?...

"Well....I guess we couldn't very well send her home after this..." Jonathan noted...

And my parents sure wouldn't go for having her stay in my room...he admitted...

"We'll fix up a room for her down here..." Andrew suggested...Behind the furnace...

"Away from you..." he noted to Fearless Leader...

At least until we complete our take-over of Sunnydale and the three of us...And our new
Queen...secure our own place...
***

Amy thawed a bit after Xander came over to talk to her...Which Dawn took notice of...

She likes him?...

Boy...Talk about love triangles...Witch, former demon, and our Xander...Likely to get messy
considering Anya...Still...Dawn looked over where Buffy was talking to Anya...Rather
intensely...
Anya seemed to be taking it fairly well...Just casting an occasional nervous glance
Xanderward...Though Buffy was holding her back, talking to her...

Getting a report on Will, I guess...Dawn thought...

Another troublespot...she sighed...Poor Buffy...

Poor William...

***

Yes...Spike was fine when they'd checked him, Anya noted to Buffy...Craning to see Xander as
he sat with Amy...

"Did he...Say anything about me?..." Buffy asked her...

I don't know...Anya told her...Xander spoke to him more than I did...Yeah...

"Why don't we call him over here...Now..." she suggested...

"Xander!..." Anya called...

"Buffy is desperately anxious to speak to you about what Spike said!..."

Buffy rolled her eyes a bit...

***

"Your fiancee doesn't like to have you away, does she?..." Amy noted to Xander, grinning...

Well...She's still a leetle insecure...What with the demon past and all...he noted...

"I don't blame her...I'd be jealous too..." Amy told him...

Tell her she's very lucky...she smiled at him...

Xander smiled sheepishly and went over...

Amy looked at him wistfully as he walked away...

He loved a demon back to humanity...she thought...

No magical props, no bizarre spells or curses...Just love...

If only I had someone like that...Who cared whether I live or die...
She glared at Willow who felt her look and turning, caught the tail end of it...

Amy?...She went over...

"Anything wrong?..."

Amy smoothed her features and smiled...Not the right time...Not yet...

"No..." Amy looked at her... "I'm just...A little disoriented..."

"Natch..." Willow patted her arm... "But you'll be fine...Soon...Once you get settled..."

Soon enough...Amy agreed...

Once I settle with you, she thought...

Soon enough...
***

Buffy went out to patrol about an hour later after the little dinner party broke up...

Thoughtful...

While it was nice to see Willow again...It was clear she was still obsessed with magic...

"I've got to find a way to get through to her..." Buffy told the large demon who jumped out at
her...

What?...The demon paused to ask, confused...Fatally...

"I can't lose her..." she told the two vampires who tried to slip by her in the parking lot near the
Sunnydale General Hospital...

Who?...One of them had barely time to ask before dusting...

She swung down a dark street...Nearing the McGarvey cemetery...A little different route than
usual...In a rather bad part of town...

And found a bandaged Spike walking along...Looking out towards the cemetery...

"Spike?!..." she called...

"Slayer?...Fancy meeting you here...Did you all have a pleasant get-together with rat-girl?..."

"You're supposed to be resting, Spike...I just spent a small fortune on that head of yours,
remember?...The least you could do is take care of it..." she frowned at him...

Is it...Giving you trouble?...she asked...

"No, no...Just needed some air..."

He was pale as a ghost...And trembling slightly, she noticed...

"Your car around?..." she asked...He shook his head...

"It took you a while to walk this far, didn't it?..." she looked at him...

"Hours till sunrise, Slayer..."

They walked quietly, side by side....

A small group of large vamps came out from the shadows further down the street...

And moved in on them...

"This is our part of town, Slayer..." one boasted, coming up to her side...As she dusted him
without looking at him...

Spike in his turn quietly staking one who closed on him from his side...

The remaining three in front looked at each other...Buffy looked at them...

You guys gonna move or what?...her look clearly said...

They moved...Quickly...

"When was the last time you fed, Will?..." Buffy asked him...

He shrugged...A while back, Slayer...

And you're going in the wrong direction, she noted...And at the rate you're going, you'll never
make it back in three hours...

"So, I'll sprint...You should see me do the 1000 meter run..."

She pulled up short...He stopped as well...

"Are you trying to commit suicide, Will?..." she asked him, looking in his eyes...

Well, Slayer...Considering I have a stake in my pocket...I'd hardly have to walk six miles...
he noted...

"But what would it matter anyway?...Oh, right...You have an investment in me now..."

I'd prefer it if you didn't, Will...she told him...

"With Giles gone I need the back-up..." she noted quickly...

"Well..." Spike shook his head and grinned sardonically at her... "Buffy Summers?...Admitting
she needs help?...I must have regained my soul and Hell must have frozen over..."

She grabbed him and kissed him...Don't, please don't...she whispered...

Buffy...Buffy...He kissed her back...And could feel himself sobbing...

"Don't...Don't leave me...William..." she said...Embracing him...

Not now...

There was an abandoned house in the lot next to them...She pulled him into it...
***

Qualities of Mercy...Part XII...

Thursday morning...

Well...Buffy looked ruefully at the sleeping Spike...

That solved nothing...

And yet...She was somehow, unbelievably, impossibly...At peace...Even...Happy...

In bed with William the Bloody...She the instigator of the night's..."Activities"...And...

Happy?!...

"Urggh!!..." she panicked and almost choked, struggling to get hold of herself...

No...No...It was an act of kindness...To stop Spike from...Whatever he might have had in mind...

Yeah...she sighed to herself as she calmed a bit...Right...

Oh, God...She shook her head...This is not happening...

She could not care for a demon, she told herself...No, not for a deranged, cynical killer who took considerable pride in his "craft"...Even if he lagged behind Angelis, the Master, perhaps even Dru and Darla in malicious vengeance-seeking...Unless...

Unless dear "sis" from hell was messing around in there...Influencing her emotions...

"Lead her to destruction"...Wasn't that what Giles had warned?...

Surely Angelis himself couldn't come up with a path to more complete destruction than this...

And yet...This hadn't been a mating of two monsters...Even if at times things had gotten a bit...There had been tenderness, gentleness...Affection...

It must mean something...Something about him must have changed...Beyond just the effect of the chip...Not a redemption of course, but..If his love for her was genuine, perhaps....something...Had changed?...

Or, maybe...Returned?...

But now was not the time to sort this out...She had to learn more about whatever she had carried back with her from the grave...Her demon "sister" for want of a better word...

And more about Spike...And what was and had been happening to him...

She frowned and considered...

It was daylight now...To get him home she'd have to get his car, wrap or bandage him up...

On the other hand, they weren't too far from Dr. Jones' office...Where they were due tonight anyway...

Hmmn...She was supposed to do Giles' tests today...Willow'd promised to be at the shop in the early afternoon...

Maybe...Staying for while with Spike to make sure he'd be ok there, then leaving to meet with Willow and the others was a reasonable option...And it would give them a chance to talk...

They hadn't had much time for that last night...she noted...

No real need for the car anyway...She could have Xander take them home tonight as he and Anya were planning to come...Not wanting to leave her alone with Spike when Blondie went for his follow-up neuro exam...

Pity they couldn't have been around here last night, she thought...

The thought of getting some things at the nearest store crossed her mind...
What, now I'm planning to make this some kind of bizarre picnic?...she thought...

Wonder what he'd like?...Besides a fresh bag of blood...

Oh, God...Dawn!...She must be going out of her skull...

Spike tossed a bit...

She looked at him...So frail...He clearly hadn't fed for several days...On top of his other little recent difficulties...

And out here...Strolling until sunrise...

He's ready to die...Dying...To prove himself to me...she thought...

Trying to save me again?...From myself this time?...

A fool for love...Always has been...If his stories about his past life were true...

Well...Nothing a blood pack won't cure...

If he'll take it...After all, it would spoil his...Gift?...No...

She looked at his wan face...

It was a love song, his desperate little stroll last night...He was singing his love song for me...

As a poet should...

***

"Will?..." she whispered to him gently...

He looked at her, startled...And looked around the room...Wondering...

Was it a dream?...Maybe last night's half-formed, half-conscious little idea had worked...And this was...Heaven?...

He was...Understandably...Shaky...From convulsions, neurosurgery, lack of blood, plus a rather exhausting night...

Don't think I'd be feeling so awful in Heaven...Especially after last night...he thought...

But if she's here...It can't be Hell...

"Yeah..." she grinned awkwardly at him as he looked at her... "You're finally even with Angel..."

She looked at him...Nearly as shaken as he was, he could see...She frowned a bit...But he could also see...She was not angry...

"So...Does it beat killing us?.." she asked...

Is this...A dream?...he asked her...

"No...More like a nightmare, I'd say..." she replied...But she was smiling...

A dream...he told her...One I never want to wake from...

She put up her hands...Please...She looked away, rubbing her hands nervously at her side...

He looked at her, thought a moment, and smiled...

"The clouds methought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked, I cried to dream again..." he quoted...

She stared at him...Spike?...

It's...From Caliban's dream speech..."The Tempest"...he told her...

After all, he was part demon, too...he noted....

She looked at the nearest wall...Which had taken some damage in the course of the evening she noted...

Part demon...The thought tore at her...Like me?...
***

"Spike, I have to go and call Dawn...Tell her...God...What do I tell her?..." she paused...

Tell her...We fought the good fight and sent the latest fiend packing...he suggested...

Or...A truly Spikian grin appeared...

She frowned at him...Here it comes, she thought...

"Tell her you stayed up all night with a sick friend who needed you..." he smiled at her...

That's the truth, after all...he noted...

She stared at him...A little...Mercy?...From the Spiked one?...Then nodded...Her eyes thanking him...

"I'll think of something..." she told him..."But I've gotta call her now...Before she sets a posse out after us..."

He nodded...But...

"Buffy?..." he called as she headed for the door...

She stopped, looking back at him...

Well?...

Ummn...Just wanted to say...he paused...

If this was mercy...

He could bear with it...

She rolled her eyes, frowning at his grin...But had to admit, to herself...

This did beat the morning after with Angelis...

***

"I'll get some things while..." she began...

He interrupted...

"You should go home..." he told her...

No point...We're due back here tonight and I have to meet Willow at the shop today, she pointed out...

"And we have to talk...Back in a few..."

"What?..." he grinned... "No good-bye smooch?...Or perhaps something a little...More substantial, eh love?..."

Glare...

This was so much easier when I just wanted to kill him...Buffy noted...

***

So...Amy looked at Willow as she made breakfast...

Another day or two remaining before her house was livable again...

"What's on the agenda for today?..." More brightly than she'd sounded since her return...

Well, Willow thought...Looks like my socialization idea worked...Progress...

Ummn...She looked at Amy...Well, I have class this morning...I guess demon tests for Buffy's the main thing today...

Demon tests?...Amy wondered...Some kind of Slayer exam?...

"But if you're up for something...I could let class slide this morning..." Willow told her...

"Oh no...Don't worry about it...I should go over the papers on my house anyway..." Amy replied...

Maybe...I'll think about calling my dad...she told her...

"Yeah...That sounds great, Amy..." Willow agreed, pleased...Yeah, things are turning out just fine on this one...she thought...

Why don't we hook up at the Magic Shop around one?...Willow suggested...

Amy nodded...Sounds great...

Willow headed out after breakfast...And Amy began carefully examining her collection of magic books...

There were better ones at the Magic Shop but it was too difficult to get a few minutes alone with them...

She had an idea of what she'd do but needed specifics...After all Willow was so powerful now...

Anything Amy would do would either have to be powerful and quick...Or delicately slow and subtle...

***

To Buffy's surprise, it was Tara who answered the phone...

Dawn had indeed...Mildly, Tara assured her...Freaked...And called her that morning, knowing
Willow and Xander were away at school and work and not knowing Amy well...

She'd been on her way over anyway...Giles had e-mailed her at her dorm in his efforts to reach Buffy...And with a few messages for her specifically...Regarding Willow...

"So...A Big Baddy keep you out all night?..." Tara asked gently...

More or less, yeah...Buffy replied...Dawn was howling to be put on in the background...

And took the phone...

"Well?!..." she yelled into it.... "What happened?!..."

The usual, Dawn...I just got tied up...Sorry...

"From now on you carry a cell phone!...Do you know how worried I was this morning?!...Do you?!...Buffy?!..."

"Yeah, I do...About as worried as I was last night when you sneaked over to Janice's...But at least you had some idea where I was..."

A pause...

"How's Spike?..."

Spike?...Ummn...

"Just fine...Mucho improved headwise...Sends his best..."

"So..." Dawn asked cautiously... "He was with you in the big fight against whateveryoumightcallit?..."

Ummn...Yeah...

He did his bit...she told Dawn...

And then some, Buffy thought...

He may have lost his ability to kill humans but he's lost none of that old vampire agility...

"So...When will you be home?..." Dawn asked...Even more cautiously...

"Well...I have to get Spike home...He's a leetle battered...And then I have Magic Shop with
Willow to discuss some things...You'll have to run for school, anyway...Why don't you come over
to the Shop this afternoon?..."

Yeah...Sure...Dawn was a little frozen...

She said goodbye and hung up...Looking at Tara...

"She's with him now...Been with him all night, hasn't she?"...Dawn asked her...

Tara looked at her and then sadly away...Avoiding her...

She knows it's true Dawn realized....

She loves him...Buffy loves Spike...Oh, my God...

My poor, poor sis...

Buffy, you crazy moron?!...

"How can she?...Is she?...Did Willow...Screw her up?..." Dawn asked Tara...

Sweetie...Tara sighed...

"I..." Tara began...But Dawn interrupted, hugging her...Sobbing...

"What is she going to do, Tara?...My poor sis?!..." She held on tightly as she cried...

"I don't know, Dawny...I don't know.." Tara rocked her gently in her arms...But...We have to be there for her...

My poor crazy sis...Giles was right...He must be right...She must have something horrible inside her...Dawn thought...Not that I don't like Spike...Or appreciate the life-saving...

But...Spike?...As my sis' steady?...she thought...

Oh, God...As my brother-in-law?...

Course...Dawn couldn't resist the thought even as she continued to cry softly... It is just a leetle romantic...And they will make a cute blonde couple...

Short, dyed-blonde couple, that is...

Well, something in common for them...
***
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