1-Vignette

Xander's POV

It's another grey Sunnydale afternoon; never clear enough for the sun to make the streets safe anymore. My damn shipment is late again and if I lost another driver and guard, I'm gonna - Hell, I'm gonna just hire some more.

They better get here soon or I'm gonna be watering down the drinks - again. Well, at least I'll make a little extra on the overhead. That'd make Anya happy except the money will go to paying for another guard and driver if these latest two ended up as someone's dinner.

Maybe I should think about just biting the bullet and putting out the extra cash for some real
professionals. I hear Riley is looking for work again. The man just can't stay away from the leeches though, doesn't make him real dependable.

Still, heh, I could send him out with Spike. Hell, Riley might even pay me for the chance to go out with a vamp. He still hates Spike's guts but when you gotta have it, you gotta have it. Soldier boy can't have too much pride left; after all he came crawling back to good old Sunnyhell.

It's really earned that nickname, except that with the constant cloud cover called up by the various wizards and spell casting demons on behalf of the local vampire population you could take the 'sunny' out of the equation. Oh well, makes it easier on Spike.

Man, where is my shipment, damnit! That's what happens when you hire kids. I never should have listened to Dawn. So her friends needed the money to get out of town, who doesn't?

Wait a minute; what's that? Well, all right, it sounds like my truck, about damn time. C'mon guys, let's go, let's get unloaded, let's....Dawnie? Oh Jesus, Dawn, what the Hell happened? Spike, where's Spike, someone go and get him now!

She's still breathing, thank God. That's quite a gash across her forehead though but head wounds always bleed a lot. Just keep cool, keep it together. You can handle this; you can, oh Tara, good.

Look at her work. She's so damn calm, just smiling at me and working her mojo, like Spike would say. Doesn't look like there's much she can do for the driver though, at least it was quick. Oz's got the other kid, he just looks banged up, doesn't look like most of that blood is his. Okay, breath deep, don't start yelling; just keep it together.

What the Hell happened! Okay, so much for not yelling. The kid's stammering and stuttering about how he didn't know Dawn was in the truck until they got to the pick up point. He never would have let her come along if he'd known. Jeez, he looks like he's gonna cry and this looks like a little more than a case of friendship. And now Tara is glaring at me, well this is turning out to be a great day.

Dawnie's color looks better. Maybe Tara can get her up and walking before Spike shows up and trashes my bar to vent. I suppose I should see if any booze made it through. Never mind, here comes Anya and damn if she isn't smiling. Don't tease me like this. She's giving me a nod and yes, there is whiskey in the house!

Oh, oh, there is also, one very pissed off vampire in the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

I knew it! I bloody well knew I smelled her blood! Thank God I can hear her heart beating strong. The witch has got her. Nibblet's going to be all right; Glinda's gotten so much stronger since Buffy died and that hell with Red. She's giving me a smile, so I know it's gonna be okay and now I can kill that wanker that Oz is helping.

Oi, here's Nummy stepping in my way, that probably means the kid's off limits. Damn!

What's this then? The help is off loading booze; Nibblet got hurt on a booze run! I don't fucking believe it. Xander would never, never let her go out on one of those. Hell, it's dangerous enough just walking the streets here in what passes for daylight.

And who the bloody hell is this kid Oz's got a hold of? He looks like he just lost his best friend and since there's a corpse bleeding out on the floor - except he's not looking at the body on the floor, he's kneeling next to my little girl.

Nummy's slipped his hand in mine, and giving it a squeeze. When did she get to be so grown up? It's only been five years since Buffy died. She's too young to have a beau. Ha, a beau, listen to me, showing my age, I am. If he let her go on a run with him, but no, Xan always did know what I was thinking, most of the time anyway. He's shaking his head. Great, that means she did it on her own. She's a Summers woman all right, headstrong.

She's waking up, moaning a little and the kid is holding her hand and looking at her like the sun rises and sets with her smile. Yeah, now I'm getting poetic. I really am showing my age. Sometimes, I know exactly how Ripper feels. These kids can make me so damn tired.

Tara's helping Nibblet to her feet; the kid is on the other side. Screw that, and don't bother trying to hold me back Xan, I'm picking up my little girl and putting her to bed!

* * * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

Well, that went better then I hoped. No one's dead and Spike is sweeping out of here with a protesting Dawn in his arms. Tara's checking out the kid and I give Oz a sign. He'll make sure the kid makes it home all right. Not too many things in Sunnydale want to deal with a werewolf who's got it under control. He better be back in time for his set. I can sell a lot more
drinks when there's dancing and a show.

Well it looks like this is as under control as anything ever is in this place but that settles it,
I'm hiring professionals; no more of this nickel and dime crap. I don't want anymore of my people hurt or of course, my business. Anya's giving me the Look; I shrug my shoulders and give her a smile. She's counting out the cash and handing it to the kid.

I suppose I better stop calling him the kid since it looks like I'm going to be dealing with him for a while. What the Hell was his name, Bill, Barry, no Frank, yeah Frank! And here's Frank, stuttering away in front of me, trying to explain and trying not to look at the covered corpse in the corner.

I find myself telling him that it's okay. I understand, and I'm sorry about his friend. He wants
to know what we're going to do about the body. He probably believes those stories we've been spreading around about Oz's eating habits. Well it keeps the locals in line and gives the demons pause.

Tara's telling him not to worry and asking if his friend had any family in town; we'll take care of it Frank, don't worry. Your friend will rest in peace, more peace then most of us enjoy.

Time to get upstairs and get a shower. Anya's tending bar tonight so she's going to be slipping into that little red, low cut number she favours. She'll make a killing on tips. It's funny, after our marriage ended, everybody figured that was the end of the partnership and the bar but that's my Anya. She might walk away from a husband but she won't walk away from cash. I
wonder how many people know how many businesses my ex-wife is a silent partner in: The Zeppo, The Magic Shop, and The Bronze. She's the lady to see for favours and information and in a place as dangerous as Sunnydale, both those things can mean the difference between life and death and something worse.

The shower's already running, must be Spike. He's laid out the white tux tonight, very Bogie. He must have been watching Casablanca again. Hmm, looks like I'll need another shave as well, no point in letting that hot water go to waste, hell there's no point in letting a hot vampire go to waste either.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

I can hear Nummy moving around in the other room. I can hear the door opening and yes, I've got a bit of all right taking up way too much space in the shower but you don't hear me complaining. Who knew that the Slayer's lanky knight would grow to Angel-sized adulthood?

He's kneading my shoulders, giving me those soft little kisses I like so much along my neck. He knows I'm tense about the Nibblet. I'm a bit pissed, yeah. He says he's hiring kids and down and outers for the runs because they're cheaper but I know that's not it. He wants everyone to think he's a hard-ass but he's still the White Knight. He gives them a chance to make some money and get out of town because no one stays here unless you can't get out; you're crazy, a demon or us.

Five damn years we've been holding onto the Hellmouth by the skin of our teeth. Five years since she died and everything changed and Sunnydale couldn't look the other way anymore. It was only a matter of time until the vamps and demons found out that the Slayer was gone and no new one could be called, not until Faith dies.

Sometimes I think of the irony of her lying there in the Hyperion in a coma, Angel watching over her. The Council springs her early so that she can protect the Hellmouth and some drunk driver comes along and just like that, she's in a prison again. Except this time, she's not going to get out early. Angel's so sure she's going to come out of it. She won't but what else
can he do?

I heard from Ripper that the Council's tried to have her 'retired' twice since then but Angel's protecting her like, well like she was Buffy. I don't blame him, even after what happened to Red, I don't. Somebody's got to look out for the Slayers.

Xan's got me all relaxed now. I trace his scar with my fingers; took him over a year before he'd take that damn eye patch off in my presence. I had to sit him down and explain to him all the things I'd seen that were worse, besides when he's all dressed up with that black patch on I think he looks right sexy. I'm still trying to get him to grow the beard but he's reaching
for the razor so I've lost that argument again for tonight.

Well, that's all right, we've got enough time to - Oi! Bloody Hell woman did I use to interrupt you when you were trying to get a shag in? Wait, I guess I did but; oh Nummy's giving me a smile and a wave, the bleedin water's going cold anyway and I love to watch my pet get dressed.

Damn, he looks good!


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Xander's POV

Damn, I look good! Between Spike and Anya I actually now own a decent wardrobe. Both of them are surprisingly tactful about not mentioning my stash of Hawaiian shirts in the back of the closet.

Spike's dressing in his customary leather for the evening and most eyes will be on his ass wishing they could peel him out of those pants, but that privilege will be mine.

You'd think after all these years I could get this damn tie done up right. He's pushing my hands away and making 'tsking' noises. He always has to straighten it for me. I look him over. I look me over.

Anya's waiting for us outside the door, touching up her lipstick. She gives me a wicked smile and winks at Spike. He leers politely, as I offer them both an arm and we walk down the staircase to make our nightly entrance.

It's Showtime Folks and The Zeppo is once again open for business.

The End..................................................................................................................................................................

2-Closing

Xander's POV

It's last call and only the diehards are still here. Giles is tending bar and expounding on his theory of magical constants, whatever the Hell that means, to some equally deranged demon of some sort. I swear, pour a few into our ex-Watcher and he can out talk me. That is until Anya starts singing. Her final number is our signal for last call, always something old and
torchy. She's standing in that baby spot, she and Spike insisted on at two hundred bucks a pop, and caressing that mike stand like I remember being caressed once upon a time.

There's a somebody I'm longing to see;
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone who'll watch over me.

I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood
I know I could, be oh so good
To one who'll watch over me?

Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key

Won't you tell him please, to put on some speed,
follow my lead
Oh how I need, someone to watch over me

Where is that someone to watch over me?*

Damn, my ex has got a great voice. I raise my glass in appreciation and she gives me just the smallest smile. That dress, those legs, that voice and it's no wonder every male left in the place is focused on the stage with their tongues hanging out, some of them literally; oh that's attractive. Damn vamps.

I look for Skip, our doorman and bouncer. Ah, he's already heading this way; guys got a sixth sense for trouble. Skip's great; he's discreet, polite and big. He's also got a thing for my ex-wife and judging by the little smiles she gives him the 'thing' is mutual.

Well more power to him, especially if he can keep up with Anya. I had no idea the reputation I'd garnered in this town just by having kept an ex-vengeance demon happy, if you get my drift. If I'd known then what I know now about the sexual appetites of demons - I would have still dived right in with both eyes open, oh yeah: speaking of which, where's Spike?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ripper's POV

I find it delightfully ironic that Anya of all people has a singing voice that would melt butter. I honestly thought we would kill each other in the beginning of our partnership. I admit that there were times when I amused myself by mentally compiling the necessary spells and ingredients to get rid of her. If it wasn't for the fact that it would have been wrong and if I
also hadn't been absolutely sure that she was probably doing the same - well. I like to think I might have lost an astute business partner rather than some cherished body parts, but perhaps that hubris on my part.

She does look quite delightful, yet again. The way she and Spike agonize over the final number every day is just one more oddity in my life. Watching the two of them argue over lighting and costuming and any props she might use is amusing and just strange enough to
keep me sane. They never argue about music though and I must say the choices are always perfect. If I close my eyes as I sip my gin and tonic, I can almost pretend that I'm back in civilization.

Skip is beginning to ever so gently urge our patrons towards the door. He's quite an amazing fellow, this friend of Angel's. I don't believe I've ever seen his like. He's quite the fellow; I believe he and Oz have struck up a firm friendship of like-minded laconic individuals.

Also, if I'm not mistaken he and Anya are involved, which I find disturbing but perhaps that's just a bit of jealousy on my part.

I do like that dress.

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Spike's POV

Anya's singing the closing song. That baby spot was a good idea but I think I'll change the filter just a bit for tomorrow night; make her look a bit more mysterious, yeah? I'll see if I can't talk her into the black velvet number.

I think this is one of the reasons that Wolfie keeps coming back to the 'dale; he secretly likes the tux and this bit of theatre we put on each night. Of course it's not the main reason; he comes to be close to Red. If I had a soul, I might even feel sorry for him.

Look's like Skippy is ushering the deadheads to the door, all demons. The humans cleared out hours ago. I still can't believe that they manage to crawl out of their little barricaded homes at all, but every night we get at least a dozen or so. I used to wonder if they were in denial or just plain stupid until I got a good look at some of them. They're whistling in the
graveyard, they are, just a little act of defiance for the resident big bads.

Xan always treats 'em like royalty; says we need their courage to help in the fight to hold the Hellmouth. I don't know about that; seems to me all the courage in the world isn't going to help us. One of these days, our number's going to be up because we're just whistling in the graveyard too. We're holding onto the Hellmouth through cunning and trickery, smoke and
mirrors.

Look at him, he's smiling and raising his glass to the ex, sitting here relaxed and looking capable of taking on anything that comes his way. He knows how I feel. He told me once; if I ever wanted to leave, maybe head to LA or just somewhere else, he'd understand. I nearly decked him.

It wasn't exactly the way I wanted him to find out that I could get around the chip, at least for a while. Dru was barmy as they come but she was right about things more often then she was wrong and she was right about the chip just being a problem of mind over matter.

In the end, it's all about perspective; am I trying to hurt them or am I just trying to protect myself? Granted, in Nummy's case it was about hurting him. Yeah, one of these days I may break his nose but I'll never leave, never.

Oi, Ripper, let's have one for the road, you old sod; let's drink to King and Country - I catch my pet's eye and raise my glass in salute - and mad dogs and Englishmen, too crazy to come out of the midday sun.


The End...........................................................................................................................................................

3-After Hours

Xander's POV

Oh man, that was great. Nothing relaxes me like a good bout of lovemaking. Well, making love with Spike anyway. Oh damn, he's trying to move me to get to his cigarettes. Noooo, I'm boneless. I don't want to move.

Great now he's poking me. No wonder women complain about men not enjoying the romantic afterglow. I'm being manhandled by a nicotine-addicted vampire with an obvious oral fixation (Thank you to whoever's listening!).

Well I don't really mind him crawling over me to get to the nightstand. I'm tough; I can take it.

Heh, heh, oh, ticklish vampire, ha! Hey, hey, no roughhousing, watch it with the pillow! Oh great, I'm not getting out of bed to clean that up. No, no way, uh uh.

And no, a game of hide the snake is not going to change my mind either. Although feel free to keep trying.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

Big lummox. When it comes to post coital bliss, Xan is just a big happy tomcat, the way he leans back with his hands behind his head. I wonder how he'd take it if I told him Angelus used to do the same thing? He's much more easy-going though; wear him out and he'll agree to just about any bit of nonsense whispered in his ear. I wonder if this is how Anya talked him into buying the bar?

I need a fag, c'mon move it you. Oi, don't make me climb over you; I just worked my arse off. Well, I wouldn't call it work exactly but - c'mon Nummy. No! No tickling, no! Bloody 'ell. I'll teach you to tickle a Master Vampire! Where's that pillow?

I'm not cleaning that up. C'mon Nummy, just reach over there and snag my fags. What's this under the sheets then? Very interesting, I wonder if it bites, because I do. Pick up my fags, pick up my fags, you will do this. You are in my thrall.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

Ha, ha, ah stop it, stop nibbling! All right dammit, here are your cigarettes. For crying out loud, you are the laziest creature of the night, I've ever met.

I snag a cigarette from the pack and light it. Spike growls at me and snags it back. We play this game every night. We both know Anya will kill us if she catches Spike smoking in bed or me smoking, period.

"C'mon, give me a hit. It's no worse than lying here next to you breathing it in."

"Anya'll stake me right and proper if she catches you smoking, pet. Oh all right, don't pout."

Ahh, that hits the spot. Thank God I don't smoke. It's a bad habit and I have enough of those already.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

What is it with me and broody men? Look at him; he's gone all quiet and grim. I know what he's thinking too; about that call from the bartender Giles took over for last night, Teddy something or other: the poor stupid bastard. He's been playing both sides, he has. He can't even lie properly, said he was sick. I'll bet he was; you could smell the fear over the phone. Someone gave out the location of the booze run and Dawnie damned near died because of it. If it were up to me I'd have gone and ripped the blighter's throat out right then but Nummy told me to leave it. Bloody Hell, he's always got to make sure, he does.

"I'll take care of it luv."

"No you won't. It's my bar. I'll handle it."

"Look it doesn't matter if I do anything."

"Hey, it matters to me."

Dammit all, bloody, broody heroes and their overblown sense of responsibility! Oi! Give me my fag back! And no, a game of hide the snake is not going to change my mind either; 'course that don't mean stop.

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Tara's POV

It's so funny, you know? To think that the safest place to be in Sunnydale is right where I am now, sitting on the edge of the Hellmouth. My friends would probably lock me up if they knew this is where I come to think, bathed in the soft pulses of light. It's so quiet here; if I sit very still I can almost hear her calling to me.

I think Oz knows that I come here; the way he stares at me sometimes, I'm sure he knows. I used to think he was watching me; waiting for the chance to get rid of me, once and for all, so that we wouldn't have to share our memories of her anymore. But now, now I think he's just waiting, like me, except he doesn't really know what he's waiting for. I do.

Shhh, I hear you. I won't tell, don't worry. I won't tell. I'm not sure what I'd say, anyway. They think you came here that night to try and close the Hellmouth, permanently, that I was helping you. I used to think that they couldn't conceive of any other reason why you would have been here but now I'm not so sure.

I think Anya knows.

No, no, I never said anything, shhh! I know she hasn't said anything to Xander and she won't. You have to believe me. She does love him in her own way. She wouldn't hurt him by saying anything. She won't hurt any of us. We're family now, all of us family, forever.

It's time to rest. It's time to close our eyes and rest without dreams or regrets or lies - just rest.

Hush little baby don't say a word
Momma's gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don't sing
Momma's gonna buy you a diamond ring


* * * * * * * * * * *

Anya's POV

The glow from the Hellmouth is getting dimmer; Tara must be out there calming the savage beast.

I know what you are and I know what you did. It serves you right and I'm glad you're suffering because Xander's suffering and you deserved everything you got.

I always knew you weren't as sweet as they all said. I was a demon for over 900 years. What's that saying? 'It takes one to know one' and I know you, but not Xander. He believes in second chances and impossible dreams and beating the odds, and friendship. And no matter what he says, he believes in a human's ability to do the right thing because they have souls.

I think, between Spike and I, we'll eventually cure him of that little prejudice - or maybe not. It's so sweet, that trust; so sweet you just want to - but no, I can't do that to him: you lucky, lucky bitch.

The End............................................................................................................................................................

4-Interlude

Xander's POV

Well look at that, another one of our mayors seems to have disappeared, this makes, what, three now? Living in Sunnydale gives the term 'political in-fighting' a whole new meaning. I wonder if it was the Deputy Mayor or the Commissioner of Public Parks that took him out?
I'll have to give one of my contacts a call if they don't call me first. I've got a fifty riding on Public Parks. Oz says she's the toughest Pack Leader the local werewolves have had in a long time; disembowelled the last two would be Alphas that came courting. Man and I used to think being married to Anya was rough. Well, speak of the Devil and she will appear.

Anya's POV

When I see him lounging in his chair first thing in the morning, unshaven, bare-chested and dressed in that silk robe Spike bought him I think, Anya, you fool, woman. What were you thinking to divorce a big, good-looking piece of eye candy like that? And then he gives me that smirk and I remember. Oh yeah, that's right, when we weren't having mind blowing sex we were usually arguing; which resulted in me wanting my powers back so that I could turn him into a lizard and feed him to a passing owl. And, I didn't want our relationship to end that way. I don't think he did either. I actually like him much better now that we're not sleeping together, still, there are times.

Xander's POV

Damn she makes me uncomfortable when she stares at me like that and licks her lips. She also makes me hot but I've a got a cool blonde to keep me company these days. There were times when I swear I thought we were gonna bring the house down with our arguments. We got so damn contrary with each other; if she said black, I said white. We took opposite sides on everything except sex. We never argued in the bedroom, or the kitchen, or the bathroom or the back seat of Giles' car.

I don't think he ever bought our story of spilled ice cream staining the upholstery. Cost me over five hundred bucks to get that back seat cleaned. From what I remember it was worth it though.

Those were the good old days; back when I was still young and na´ve and thought that even without Buffy, we could still hold onto Sunnydale by fighting the 'good fight' just the way we always had before. I learned though; you've got to hold onto what you want anyway you can because it can get ripped away in a heartbeat. If I'd learned that sooner maybe Willow; ah screw it!

Spike's POV

My boy's brooding again. He's thinking about Red. I can tell. Been watching him sitting up there dressed in my silk robe, my colours if you like, trying to pretend he don't see his ex sitting next to him and damn near drooling in her coffee. I could smell them both from here. One of these days they're gonna fuck again and then I just might have to kill 'em or join in. I haven't decided yet. I always did like surprises.

Well, if it isn't our gallant Chief of Police and his current toady. I wonder what's gotten them out and about before sunset or who? I don't like minions, never even liked my own. Best get up there, it's time to play needle the copper and draw a little blood for breakfast.

Xander's POV

Oh fucking great! This is the third time this month. Why the Hell do I even bother sending money over to City Hall for? It's long past time for somebody to stake that little leech. I should just let Spike loose on him but better the devil you know. We might actually get someone worse taking his place. Oh man, I need more coffee.

Anya's POV

Maybe Xander can just get him to leave before - too late. Spike's already seen him. Great, this should be fun. Wonderful and I just had the floors refinished too.

"Harris, Spike. Anya, you're looking as lovely as ever." The Chief smirked showing just a hint of fang. Anya ignored him and Spike laughed. The Chief lost his smile.

"What do you want?" Xander poured himself another cup of coffee shoving the pot toward Spike. He pointedly did not offer any to the Chief.

"You're not very hospitable for a merchant are you Harris?" Unlike Spike, the Chief's Cockney accent was the real thing. He'd been an East End street thug before being turned and coming to the Hellmouth and being appointed Chief of Police by then Mayor Donatello. He managed to survive the rapid mayoral turnovers by providing muscle for the local
politicians, collecting protection money, and following orders unquestioningly. His taste for blood and brutality endeared him to many on the City Council. His metamorphosis from human to demon hadn't been much of a change.

"How you doing Danny? Still walking with a bit of limp I see." Spike slowly stirred blood into his coffee. "Shame how long those kinds of wounds take to heal, isn't it." Spike's grin was all teeth.

The Chief snarled, briefly flickering into game-face. Spike's gaze never wavered as he blew on his coffee and took a sip. They continued to hold each other's eyes until Xander broke the silence. The Chief's eyes blinked and Spike smiled into his coffee as he leaned against the arm of Xander's chair.

"It's too early for a pissing contest and as I'm sure my partner's dying to tell you, she just had the floors refinished so I'll ask a final time. What. Do. You. Want?"

"I stopped by to ask if you've seen Teddy your bartender lately? Seems he was suppose to meet his girlfriend after work and never showed up. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that would ya?"

"Can't say as I do. He called in sick and Giles had to take over for him; haven't seen him since." Xander shrugged. "Maybe he decided to take a breather, you know, re-evaluate his priorities. Illness makes some people do that."

"Well, I'm sure he'll turn up. Most people do in this town, one way or another." The Chief snarled, barely politely.

"Well, if you see him be sure to let us know, won't you?" Anya asked with cold formality. "We still owe him his final pay check."

"Was there anything else?" Xander raised his eyebrows politely.

"I do believe it's time for Danny to be toddling off to bed where all good vampires should be at this hour of the morning." Spike murmured.

The Chief stared at the threesome with barely concealed hatred.

"And you're all such good people." He sneered openly. "I wonder if Mrs. Murchinson feels the same way? You know Mrs. Murchinson don't you? Her son Bobby was good friends with that little girl of yours, Dawn. Seems he passed away suddenly the other night. Very brutal from what I've been told. Shame, a young man like that, dying that way."

Xander's eyes darkened and his nostrils flared. Spike straightened imperceptibly in preparation for battle. The Chief smiled thinly as his lackey subtly moved into position.

"Yes, we'd heard. We sent flowers to the funeral. It was a lovely arrangement. It's a shame our police department can't put a stop to all this senseless violence. Whatever do I pay my taxes for?" Anya intervened languidly as she sipped her tea. She raised her head and caught the Chief's gaze directly for the first time. He swallowed unnecessarily as he stared into her eyes. He caught a movement at the periphery of his vision, suddenly sensing the presence of the club's bouncer, Skip.

"Please don't let us keep you. I know you have a very busy schedule." She gestured to the door. "Skip will show you out."

Xander continued to stare grimly at the Chief while Spike had again relaxed against Xander's chair. He gave a softly mocking laugh at the retreating vampire.

Anya gave him a chiding look before smiling wickedly and calling in a sweet voice, "Have a nice day." They heard a muffled roar from outside the front door.

She and Spike cackled evilly but stopped when Xander stood up abruptly.

"Bastard! Evil, undead bastard!" Xander paced agitatedly.

"Oi," Spike said mildly.

He rounded on his once and present lovers. "This isn't a game you two. Humans don't fall down and get back up again. Bobby was only nineteen."

Anya and Spike met his furious glare calmly. Spike walked over and gently touched his face, "And your only twenty-five, luv and it wasn't your fault."

Xander closed his eyes and took two deep breaths, leaning into his lover's hand before turning and kissing his palm. He gave Anya a gently apologetic smile.

"Was it really a lovely arrangement?"

"For what it cost it should have been." She said calmly. Xander only smiled at her mercenary statement.

"And Mrs. Murchinson is on her way out of town?"

Anya briefly checked her watch, "As of nine this morning." She watched Spike slowly rubbing little circles along Xander's shoulder and back while he nuzzled at the brunette's throat. She licked her lips. Perhaps she should go check on Skip. There was one last item though.

"And Teddy?"

Xander smiled grimly, "I'm sure he'll turn up, most people do in this town, one way or the other."

The End..........................................................................................................................................................................

5-The Set Up

Dawn's POV

Spike is finally letting me out of bed today. Three days stuck up here being waited on hand and foot so that I don't have to lift a finger. I have all the time in the world to think. In fact I can't stop thinking; thinking about how Bobby looked when he died. How Bobby screamed when he died. How Bobby was a year younger than me.

I'm not stupid. I know people can die anytime, anywhere. It doesn't matter whether you're the Chosen One or if the Powers don't know your name, good or bad, everything dies. I know that or at least I thought I did. I'm so stupid and because I was stupid I got my friend killed. Hell, I didn't just get him killed; I got my friend partially eaten.

And the worst part, the worst part is that after everything that happened I don't even want revenge. I just want to run away. I'm the Slayer's sister and all I want to do is get away from this town as fast as I can. So I guess that means, I'm stupid and a coward.

Frank and Bobby and I used to talk about leaving. That's why I got them the job driving the truck for the booze run. They were going to get some money together and then Bobby and his mom were going to leave first and then Frank and I were going to meet up with them. We were all going to move to San Diego because it's so sunny there and there' the university. And most importantly it's not so far away that I couldn't convince myself that if they needed me I could come right back.

Anya thinks I with them that night because I thought it would be an adventure. Xander thinks I went because Frank is the love of my life. And Spike? Well he didn't say anything at all but I think he knows.

I've lived my whole life with 'adventure'. I could learn to live without it. I like Frank a lot but I don't think I love him, not like Spike loved Buffy or Tara and Oz love Willow. I went because I realized that it was dangerous and they might need help. And they did, I just wasn't it. And, I went because I don't love Frank the way he loves me, so the least I could do was put my life in danger for him because that's what he was doing for me. It's a lot easier to put your life in danger than your heart. Spike taught me that. He didn't mean to but he did.

And I went, because despite all our plans, I knew that I was never going to leave Sunnydale. I was never going to transfer to the university in San Diego. I was never going to marry Frank. Bobby was never going to be our best man.

I always wanted to be a Scoobie, always. I guess it was just something that was made part of my personality when I was created. Maybe it's a protection mechanism; find the most powerful force in the area and stick to it. It used to be Buffy and the gang, than it became Spike and the gang. I'm part of this place and these people until the day I die. I can't leave them and they can't leave me.

Still I wish I could run. I really wish I could.


Oz's POV

Man, I heard it was a real exciting morning. First they find the remains of the mayor and then the Chief of Police shows up here and gives the Boss a hard time. That always struck me as a bad idea. I don't think pushing his buttons is a very good thing right now. Xander isn't the most laid back of people. That's cool though. He's got a tough job. I wouldn't want it.

I wonder if Skip is around or if he's hanging out with Anya. I can smell the faintest trace, whoops, well I won't be bothering Skip for a while. Giles isn't up yet. If Xander was upset then I know what he and Spike are doing. I guess I'll just hang out here and play for a while, do a few 'unplugged' numbers. I always sound better on this stage then any place else.

Sitting up here, strumming, I can close my eyes and almost catch a hint of her scent.

Something fearless in your eyes,                                                                          something careless about your smile,                                                                   Something fragile when you hold your breath                                                               And when you move you move right through me*

I could go up and see her. She's probably pretty bored, three days stuck in that bedroom.

Shed your armour, spin your web
Hypnotize me with the longest stare
Make your promise or maybe it's a threat
'Cos when you look you look right through me

I could offer to listen if she wanted to talk about what happened the other night. I could but I won't. She'd probably freak and then Spike would have to kill me. If I weren't a werewolf he would have smelled how I felt a long time ago and I'd already be dead.

You're unfolding right before my eyes
And when you move, you move right through me.

It doesn't matter. She's never going to really see me. I'm just Willow's ex, some guy that plays in the band and gets furry every month. I've got to cut my ties to this place once and for all. And as soon as I find out what really happened that night at the Hellmouth I will. I know Tara's hiding something. I can smell it on her but she won't talk to me. So I just keep
wandering back here, watching and waiting for something to happen, sometime in the future. Damn all these women who just keep getting under my skin.

I think Spike might know but then Spike knows a lot more than he lets on. He won't tell me but he won't stop me trying to find out. I wonder if that's a good thing? Less thinking more strumming.

Spike's POV

Got a chance to catch a cigarette before I see the Nibblet. Wolfie's playing something pretty and sad. He must be thinking about Red again. Well, I'm not gonna have sex with him to jolly him out of his funk. I've done my bit for King and Country this morning. Xander'll be down soon and we can start getting things set up for the show tonight.

Saturday's are our big night: big band and usually some out of town entertainment. For reasons that he can't explain, he hired a flamenco dancer for tonight. And not only is El Corazon a gifted flamenco dancer but she is an exceptionally high-strung, half-demon pain in the arse flamenco dancer. I've spent all week trying to deal with the bloody bint. I haven't put up with a prima Donna like that since Darla.

If it hadn't been for Oz and her guitarist I would have killed her, there's no question about it. The two of 'em had bonded; bloody musicians. So Wolfie kept stepping in to calm her down. She must have a soft spot for puppies because she would simper at him, sneer at me and usually do what she was told. Her guitarist has got my deepest sympathy and I mean that sincerely.

Best go on up and make sure Lil Bit hasn't completely talked herself into a lifetime of guilt and depression. Bloody humans! I spend all my time trying to get this lot into bed or talked out of a deep funk. Sometimes I just want to toss them all against the wall. Fine, the world's gone to Hell, we've all lost someone we love and we'll end up dying in a town called Sunnydale; deal with it! But then I realize that brooding and guilt is how my humans deal with their problems and that's probably why I care for them; the suffering appeals to the demon in me.

I wonder if they realize how lucky they are? Probably not, well that's my load to bear. Heh, heh, heh! C'mon Nibblet let's roll!



The End................................................................................................................................................................

6-Prequel to Another Saturday Night

Giles' POV

God I hope I don't have to tend bar again tonight. I do have another business to run, you'd think Anya at least would remember that. Just because we hired Tara doesn't mean I don't need to be at the store. Although, we didn't hire her for her efficiency did we?

Rupert, you are far too hung over to think about this right now. I've got to get some bloody coffee and, what is that tapping noise? Oh good Lord, how could I have forgotten? It's that awful woman and her infernal castanets. Why Xander thought that hiring a flamenco dancer was a good idea, I'll never know.

It does appear as if Spike has his hands full. I admit, I find that amusing. He looks as if he's about to tear his hair out or her throat. Awful woman, she is quite a good dancer though.

I think I shall just pour myself a good strong cup of coffee, settle back and watch the show. Hmm, fascinating, I had no idea that vampires could even flush that shade of red. I should be making notes for the Watchers. And that language they're shouting at each other - is that Ancient Zylian? I do believe it is, what an excellent choice for hurling curses at one's enemies. I didn't even realize that Spike knew Ancient Zylian. Oh dear, they have gotten loud and not even Oz seems to be able to calm them down.

I do wish Oz would take to the road again. I feel this business with Willow will soon come to a head and I'm still not quite sure what side he'll take. He isn't the most forthcoming young man. He just sits and watches and waits. I know he loved Willow, but did he love her enough; no matter what? When the moment comes, will I have to kill him too? God, I hope not.

I know Anya will take care of Xander and Spike will do whatever he feels he must but what about Oz? I feel so old, so tired. When Buffy was alive, I thought that the worst thing that could happen would be the death of my Slayer. I imagined that I would leave Sunnydale and go back home to grieve in peace, but I never realized how much these people would come to mean to me; how much I would love them. And so I let myself be persuaded to stay, to help, to give guidance and counsel. Well I bloody well bollocks that up didn't I? Where was I that night and all the nights that led up to it? Willow, why didn't you come to me, why didn't I see myself in your eyes?

Oh dear Ripper, you have become a maudlin old man, haven't you. Well, there's no point in fussing. I probably won't have to live with my mistakes; I'm sure Xander will see to that. Drink your coffee and watch the fireworks on the stage. She really is a wonderful dancer.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

Oh, for God's sake, shut up! What the hell was I thinking when I decided I wanted a flamenco dancer, somebody please explain my thought processes to me? Not a word Anya!

"Okay people listen up! Spike, give it a rest and don't even think about it!"

"Lady you're under contract, that means you don't get paid if you don't perform. That also means you pay attention to my artistic director when in rehearsals, understand? Also, I would appreciate it if you got your hands and other appendages off my lead musician, thank you!"

Oh yeah Xander, you always wanted to own your own business but why a nightclub! Oops! I said that last part out loud didn't I? Yeah, Spike's smirking at me; Oz's is giving me his patented Oz Stare and I can hear Anya snickering, fine. Laugh it up An. I swear that sex gets me into more trouble, just whisper in my ear and I end up agreeing to all sorts of crap.

Oh wonderful, and here's Giles with coffee. Well at least he isn't laughing at me. Thank God for a grown up I can trust. Yeah, the rest of you just go laughing to yourselves, Giles and I will have a civilized cup of coffee and you all can all just kiss my....

* * * * * * * * *
Spike's POV

Oh my nummy, listen to you getting all-masterful, I've got to take advantage of that later. Like to take advantage of it now, oh well.

That's right you bint, my pet's spoken, get your arse on place and stay put. 'Course I don't have a problem with you groping the wolf if it'll keep your mouth shut but nummy does so get your paws off him. The Zeppo's Artistic Director has spoken. I wonder if the title comes with a raise?

Bloody Hell, I've got to laugh, gone from being the Big Bad to a nightclub employee. You know, I wouldn't tell anyone this except maybe Dawn but I think I might be a bit odd for a vampire because, well, I kinda like designing shows doing numbers and if anyone's got something to say about that they can just kiss my arse.

Well, c'mon you doozy bint, on point and one, two, three, hit the baby spot, big finish! Yeah, that's the ticket luv. We're going to knock 'em dead!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dawn's POV

Ha, ha, ha, I love Spike. He's my best friend. He's vain,loyal,bitchy and totally over the top but he loves me and he's so alive. Listen to him, laying into the woman and looking at Xander like he's a dessert and then just turning around and clapping his hands and giving orders. No matter what happens, he just keeps going and he makes sure we all keep going.

I don't know what I was thinking. I can't leave these people. I love them and I know they love me. Besides, they're obviously, insane. What is Spike doing, is he trying to do flamenco dancing? This is just too weird. It's like he's channelling Robin Williams from The Birdcage.

We've all been through so much since Buffy died; seen the best and the worst of times but we've stayed strong. I should have remembered that. I won't forget it again. We're family now and nothing's going to break us up.

7a-Another Saturday Night

Tara's POV

I'm so tired. The day seemed to go on forever. Giles didn't show up until the afternoon and then he left to go tend bar at the club. It was for the best. He only comes in to keep an eye on me. I hate the way he watches me! I hate the way they all watch me! Oz and Giles and Anya and Spike and Xander, all of them! Sometimes, Goddess help me, I even hate them.

No, that's a lie. I don't hate them. I just want it all to be over. I want to rest, really rest, the sleep without dreams kind of rest. Sometimes I think I've spent my whole life hiding myself, my real self, from the people around me that is until I met Willow. She was the only one who really saw me, accepted me. And now, because of her, I'm the outsider again.

I don't know how much longer I can keep this up; caught in the middle but I can't leave Willow. I love her so much. I have to believe that it will be okay because if it's not, oh God, if it's not I don't really know what I'll do, whose side I'll choose and I think that scares me more then anything.

Maybe I should just go to Giles, tell him what happened; what I 'think' happened. Maybe he could help me, tell me I've worked this out right. He could check my conclusions, my calculations. Tell me if I missed something? Because if I did? I can't leave them to face her alone.

No, I can't think like that. It's going to be okay. I didn't miss anything; everything is going to be fine. I know what I saw in her eyes in that final moment and it wasn't evil. I know that and I'm going to make sure she has the chance to prove it.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

Got a good crowd in there tonight and it'll be a great show or I'm going to feast on a certain flamenco dancing bird. I can see them lining up at the bar.

I feel restless tonight, restless and cold. Maybe someone's walking over my grave. There's a storm coming too. I can feel it, the air tastes like there's magic in the mix. 'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.'

Finish your cig Spike, my demon, and go inside and play your part, your Nummy'll be looking for you. He's going to need me soon, need me more then he ever has before, I'm thinking if the Watcher and Anya have their way. I almost feel sorry for this lot, watching
them dance about and try to pick which side they'll take and what they'll be willing to do once they make their choice, but not me. I all ready know my place; it's with my pet and I'll do whatever I have to do to keep him safe.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Spike, we've got a good crowd tonight, eh? And you and Anya thought hiring a dancer was a bad idea, admit it, you thought I was crazy." Xander slapped his back. He was dressed in a classic black Armani tux tonight and Spike's eyes gleamed appreciatively.

"I still think you're crazy Xan but maybe you're crazy like a fox. So, I'm the Zeppo's Artistic Director am I? What's the salary with that then?"

"There is no salary Spike, we don't pay you because you're dead and I'm not obligated to pay the dead a living wage and I'm certainly not obligated to give them a raise." Anya sipped her very dry martini elegantly.

"Anya, I'm hurt and I'd take your explanation personally if it wasn't for the fact, that I heard you say close to the same thing last week when you were talking to the part-time bartenders after they asked for a raise. 'Course, you substituted the word 'part-time' for the word 'dead' but you were just as tight fisted. Cheap is not a good look for you luv."

"Well I'll just keep that in mind the next time I see you slip a couple of twenties out of Xander's wallet when he's not looking." She said icily.

"Anya, you slip a few twenties out of my wallet when you think I'm not looking too." Xander smirked.

"Oi, busted luv!" Spike crowed.

"Oh shut up Spike!" She belted her martini and stalked off.

"Heh, heh, she flounces off rather well doesn't she pet? Pet?"

"C'mere, God you two are going to be the death of me." Xander pulled his lover closer and quickly nipped his ear. Spike hissed in pleasure and surprise. Xander was not a demonstrative man in public although he made no secret of their relationship. Spike frowned
thoughtfully and leaned back against the human's broad chest.

"What's the matter pet? What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I just feel, shaky tonight, for some reason, probably the electricity from the storm." He laughed a little unevenly.

"The storm's been called up luv. Somebody doing a ritual I suspect." Spike volunteered the information rather reluctantly. He didn't want his pet to feel obligated to rush out and find the perpetrators, try to stop them. Just for tonight, he thought, let's just let it go.

Xander scowled, "I didn't hear anything about any ritual being performed tonight."

He gestured to Oz for the phone. He was doing second bartender duties tonight with Giles because of the Saturday night crowd and because Xander had yet to replace his recently deceased ex-bartender.

Dawn after much cajoling and begging and a word from Anya about free help, was circulating through the crowd selling gum, mints and cigars, although if Xander had known how she'd look dressed in the costume, well, the males in the place better keep their damn hands to themselves.

He dialled Tara's number from memory and grimaced in irritation when the machine picked up.

"Tara, it's Xander. I'm going to try your cell phone. Spike says this storm is magic generated and I need to know if you can give me a read on why. Call me."

He quickly dialled her cell phone but got her voicemail. What the Hell, where was she?

* * * * * * * * *
Tara's POV

Oh Willow, the storm, it's almost beautiful, the lightening, the colours. Shhh, my love, it won't be long now.

.........................................................................................................................................................................

7b-Another Saturday Night II

Anya's POV

This storm, there's something not right about it. I can feel the magic in the air. I hate this town if it isn't one cult it's another trying to raise some demon or bring on the next apocalypse. I don't know how I'm supposed to keep a decent profit margin under these conditions.

Xander and Spike are being very blatant tonight; the storm must be upsetting Xan. He's probably going to call Tara and ask her to do a reading on it. I wish he wouldn't depend on her so much; it'll just make it that much worse in the end.

My dear sweet, trusting Xander; it's your innocence that drew me to you in the first place. It's part of what keeps me by your side. Innocence is like ambrosia to a demon. You and Dawn, just to be near you, to sense that virtue, that purity of nature is like a little touch of heaven and I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that nothing sullies it.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen to me if you find out what Giles intends to do about Willow and that I knew, that I even supported his actions. Will you kill me? Could you kill me? I've thought about it a lot lately and I've come to the strangest conclusion. I think, if it was a choice between death or seeing my betrayal in your eyes, your loss of innocence; I think I would rather that you kill me. Isn't it strange, my actions can bring about the very thing I'm trying to prevent?

I wish I could talk to you and explain but how do you tell a man you love that the friend he thought he'd lost is coming back and you can't let that happen. It's ironic really, I used to blurt everything out, all the thoughts in my head just tripped off my tongue and you always tried to get me to think before I spoke. Well guess what, Xander, I learned to keep my mouth shut; wouldn't you be proud.

The best that I can hope for in this twisted little scenario is a quick, quiet, professional resolution to the problem. At least the lying will be over, for all of us. And hey, if you kill me, you'll still have Spike, at least until you realize that Spike probably knew too.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey Anya, what's up Bosslady? You're looking kind of down." Dawn laid her tray on the bar and surreptitiously tugged the bodice of her dress down. Anya promptly reached over and tugged it back up, giving the girl a wry look. Dawn frowned mutinously.

"Would you rather I did it or Spike?" Anya asked ignoring the second part of the girl's greeting. Dawn grumbled a reply. Oz slipped a glass of tonic water in front of her with a quiet smile.

"Thanks Oz," Dawn grinned. Oz held her eyes for a moment then nodded, turning to fill an order down the bar. Dawn sighed to herself and took a quick glance down at her chest, even in this dress, she barely had any cleavage. She would have looked better in the push up bra she'd bought, but Spike had confiscated it. Of course, she couldn't prove that, she'd been in the shower and when she'd come back out her new thong and bra set were missing. Now a lot of people would have thought free roaming pervert but she knew how safe the upper floors of the club were and besides, she knew Spike. One of these days she was going to have to sit down and explain to him that she wasn't fifteen anymore. My God, she actually contemplated going all the way with Frank. And she would have too if she hadn't been absolutely positive that Spike would have smelled it and locked her in her bedroom for the rest of her life. Oh, who did she think she was kidding; she was never going to get to strut her stuff. At this rate she'd be the world's oldest living virgin.

Anya raised an eyebrow as she contemplated the young woman next to her. She suspected that Dawn was feeling somewhat stifled by all the males in her life, most particularly one male vampire. He'd sent her into Dawn's room earlier to remove the girl's new lingerie. She coerced some extra work out of him in return for that little service but she suspected that she was going to find herself speaking on Dawn's behalf very soon. The girl wasn't a child anymore and Spike had to stop treating her like one.

She smiled inwardly as she remembered the scandalized look on the vampire's face when she'd asked why he couldn't just go in and remove the offending garments.

"Cor, Anya, the Nibblet's in the shower. What if she were to walk out?"

"Fine, I'll get them but don't throw them away or burn them or anything. They're expensive."

Spike rapidly shook his head, "Here now, I don't want them at all. I'm not handling the Lil' Bit's knickers." He shuddered. "You get them and keep them somewhere." And with that he beat a hasty retreat.

She shook her head at the oddities of vampire nature and decided to be blunt.

"I have your new underwear. I'm sorry I took them. I let Spike of all people talk me into it. I'll bring them by your room tomorrow and by the way, your breasts are just fine and so is your cleavage. The only reason the males in the room aren't staring is because they know that those two over-protective idiots at the end of the bar would kill them for it, eventually. That is of course if Giles or Oz didn't get to them first."

Dawn looked at the older woman a little desperately, "Anya, you've got to help me. They'll listen to you."

"Yes, of course they will because they're all such reasonable men."

"Do you think they'd listen if I got Tara involved too?" Dawn asked.

Anya looked up sharply, "You mean, have both the Saint and the Slut on your side?" Dawn blinked at the bitterness underlying the woman's question.

"No, I don't think of you two like that. I just meant, you know, two women are better then one," Dawn smiled tentatively raising a small fist half way in the air, "Go sisterhood, rah?"

Anya grinned reluctantly, "The Sisterhood of Sexy Lingerie and the Emerging Woman?"

"Yup, with a membership of me. How about it, please?" The girl pleaded.

"Yes all right, you've made your point. We'll gather the men and explain some of the facts of life to them, but tomorrow. Right now, get out there and sell. The show will be starting soon." Anya waved the girl on her way. Dawn saluted smartly and returned to hawking her wears.

Anya smiled and continued to scan the crowd before coming to an abrupt stop on a familiar but unwelcome face.

"Wonderful, if Angel sent him here that means trouble."

Lindsey McDonald caught her eyes on him and raised his glass in greeting.

......................................................................................................................................................................................

8-The Big Brawl

Spike's POV

Oh bollocks, it's Lindsey. Angel's daffy cheerleader must have had another bleedin vision so he's sent his mouthpiece to give us the bad news. At least Nummy hasn't spotted him yet. The way those two carry on, like twins separated at birth; it's sickening. So what if they both had fathers that drank and a poor background, doesn't mean they have to be best friends.


Anya thinks I'm jealous but that's complete crap. I don't even think Lindsey's that cute, too smart for his own good, but not cute, besides, he's short. It's just that Xander acts like he's family or something; acts like I don't understand having to work to be something and having family that thinks you're crap. I get it; I lived a long time in Angelus' shadow with his derision ringing in my ears. Yeah, I get it.

Great, Xander's seen him. I'd better get over to the table; can't leave my Nummy alone with the shark. He'd eat my boy alive; probably make him like it too.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Lindsey's POV

Damn, I love this club, good booze, good looking women, good looking men and the best damn, fly in the face of all reality entertainment this side of the Mississippi - reminds me of The Big Easy.

Anya doesn't look too pleased to see me. She doesn't like me much, smart woman. How she and Xander ever got hooked up - although I'm sure it has something to do with how she fills out a dress. She's like a queen holding court, reminds me a little of Darla. Ah, those were the days.

I love the entertainment here; it's always different. I'm guessin it wasn't her that hired El Corozon for the evening so that means it was my man Xander. Guy's got a great sense of style. I swear he's wasted in this town. I'd try to get him to L.A. but the town can only support one good looking brunette with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility at a time. And speaking of which, there he is and his blonde shadow should be along shortly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

It is Lindsey. God I hope it isn't bad news. Oh who the hell am I kidding; it's always bad news but still it's great to see him. I know Anya's not that fond of him and Spike acts like he's a pest but he's like the big brother I never had.

Man, don't get me wrong; I love Spike but back in the day he had a nice comfortable middle class family and a nice comfortable middle class income. His upbringing was civilized and every once and a while the Big Bad slips up and his former life leaks through. He doesn't
understand about drunken fathers and the 'back of my hand' justice. Or maybe he does, I don't know. I only know that Lindsey's here and he makes me laugh. I guess I have a weakness for bad boys.

"Hey, Lindsey!" Xander gave the other man a big hug, nearly lifting him off his feet. Luckily Lindsey had the foresight to set his glass down when he caught sight of the club owner.

"Whoa, gotten used to breathing, like to keep doing it old son." He clapped the younger man on the back. "How the hell you been Xan?"

"Not too bad. Dawn got in a little trouble but she's okay now."

"Yeah I heard, glad she's all right." The both got comfortable and Oz appeared with a refill for Lindsey and a coffee for Xander. Lindsey gave a respectful nod in greeting which the musician returned.

Ever observant the lawyer watched Oz automatically locate Dawn's place in the room before he went back behind the bar. He noted Xander's total obliviousness to the werewolf's behaviour. He hid a grin, one of these days all hell was going to break lose and he hoped he was here to see it.

He caught sight of Spike heading toward their table with a scowl on his face and his eyes took on the evil glint that Angel would have recognized immediately. He leaned in close to Xander to whisper in his ear.

"Don't look now but your boyfriend's heading this way and he doesn't look happy"

"Huh?" Xander twisted his head. Spike did look all growly; must be a problem backstage.

"MacDonald. What ill win blows you into town?" Spike slid gracefully into a seat close to Xander ignoring the frown his lover threw his way. He'd seen the bastard practically sitting on his pet's lap.

"Could be this storm you've got going tonight or maybe it's the fine entertainment The Zeppo always provides." Lindsey gave the blonde a razor thin smile.

"Cut the crap. Cordy have a lucid moment?" Spike was this side of polite but he had to be careful. Xander had a soft spot in his heart for Angel's seer. It wasn't the bint's fault that the visions had finally driven her loony. Spike had a sneaking suspicion that the girl's madness actually gave Angel a weird sense of family revisited; that the Powers had somehow managed to recreate Angel's first family with a twisted funhouse spin.

Cordy had Dru's place; Lindsey had his and Wes, well he'd proven himself quite the hard case when he needed to be and so he ruled the roost and got his way most of the time, just like Darla. Of course there were some differences what with Faith the Sleeping Beauty in the Tower. If truth were told it actually gave Spike the creeps to go to L.A. and see Angel on those rare occasions that Xander or Giles deemed it necessary. Everything at the Hyperion was too much like a fractured fairytale for his liking. That fact that Lindsey not only dealt with it but also seemed to thrive made the vampire view him with a certain amount of respect if not fondness.

"Yeah. She said that the Hellmouth was ready to have a baby. A pretty, pretty baby with eyes of gold." Lindsey shrugged, "Make of it what you will but Angel wanted the message delivered personally. He also wanted me to scope out the area and report back."

"A baby? Great, that's all this town needs another demonic mouth to feed." Xander deadpanned. Spike snorted.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

Looks like the shit's about to hit the fan then. I hoped we'd have more time, Hell I hoped it would never happen. Goddammit Giles, you better be sure and you'd better be quick because I don't want Xander to ever find out, not ever. You cock it up and I'll kill you.

Xander noted the sudden tension in Spike. No one else would have noticed anything out of the ordinary but after all these years Xander was able to read the slightest change of expression, the tension to be read in the corner of his mouth. Something was up and he
intended to find out what.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dawn's POV

Oh my God, it's Lindsey. Oh my God. I wonder if my hair's okay? I could just kill Spike for taking my stuff, of all the night's not to have cleavage! All right, just keep calm, tug the bodice down just a touch and be cool. You can do this girl; you're a Summers woman and you're gonna make your sister proud.

Okay, deep breathe, smile, God I hope Spike and Xander don't embarrass me. Oh what am I thinking; of course they're going to embarrass me. Oh God.

* * * * * * * * * *

Anya's POV

Wonderful the boys are bonding again. Sometimes I hate the boys. Lindsey never shows up unless it's bad news but does Xander care? No. Smooth talking jerk: he's exactly the kind of male I used to curse on a regular basis. I can't believe some other Vengeance Demon hasn't had the pleasure although, from what I hear, someone had a Darla fixation for quite a while so maybe I'm wrong. Heh, heh.

Oh no, Dawn's spotted him. I'd better get over there and run interference for the poor thing before she dies of embarrassment. She'd better tug that bodice back up too or Spike's going to lock her in her room until menopause. Well, at least she has good taste. He's good looking; my sources tell me he's creative in bed, he has a well-developed survival instinct and of course he's quite well off. Hmm, all in all she could do worse. Perhaps I should speak to Xander about this, Spike wouldn't like it but Spike refuses to think about Dawn having sex let alone getting married. Yes, this might be a very advantageous match for the girl.

What does that creature think he's doing? Get your hands off my dependent!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Spike's POV

Oi, what's Anya? Hey, get your paws off my baby!

* * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

What the Hell? Dawnie!

* * * * * * * *

Lindsey's POV

Oh, oh.

______________________

"So that's when the vampire hit him?" The cop was nearly cross-eyed from trying to get the story straight. This was the eleventh patron he'd interviewed and no one had the same tale of what the heck started the brawl at The Zeppo.

It had taken two paddy wagons and ten cops to quell the fight and round up the participants. As near as he could make out, someone had grabbed the cigarette girl's ass and all hell had broken lose.

The Chief was in a jubilant mood brought on by the fact that he had one Spike aka William the Bloody, Mr. Xander Harris and a Daniel Osbourne in his office and ready to be sent to the lock up downstairs. He was happily taunting them with tales of suspended liquor licenses and assault charges and disturbing the peace and anything else he could pull out of the books. The cop could see him leaning back in his chair having a drink in celebration. Now all they needed to do was find some credible witnesses as to who started the brouhaha.

"Well, see I'm not sure if it was the vampire or the little girly herself. I tell ya, the lady has a mean right hook. But see, I don't know if it was her slapping him that started the whole thing or him spilling his drink on the D.A.'s wife that did it." The diminutive demon gave a shudder at the memory of the D.A.'s wife.

The cop dropped his head into his hands with a groan of despair. Eleven witnesses and eleven different stories of what happened. This was the first one that mentioned the D.A.'s wife though.

Oh, oh, looked like trouble in a tight black dress and mink coat; one ex-Mrs. Xander Harris with her big city attorney on her arm. She sashayed right past him and into the Chief's office without a by your leave.

The Chief's yelling; the Chief's turning a particularly unbecoming shade of red. The lawyer's
smiling, not good. Oh that's a shame, looks like someone still has friends in high places.

Now they're all waltzing out of the station looking like cats that ate the canary, even the werewolf looks pleased. If his boss wasn't such a son of a bitch the cop might almost feel sorry for him. He doesn't think he's ever seen a vampire cry.

.....................................................................................................................................................................................

9-Line 'em Up

Dawn's POV

Lindsey is leaving again. He never stays long enough to notice me. Well that's not exactly true; he always gives me this little wave and says 'see ya'. He doesn't say kid but you can hear it tacked onto the end of his good bye. Oh well, I'll get him next time. I'm nothing if not persistent; Buffy and mom taught me that. Eventually he's going to notice that I'm not a kid anymore and then? Actually and then I don't know what I'll do.

Trying to get Lindsey's attention is like trying to get the attention of some famous celebrity; once you've got it than what do you do? Don't get me wrong, in my head I've got it all worked out, he'll look at me and decide that I'm the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. We'll talk; he'll find me fascinating and witty. I'll have him entranced and that's when he'll
sweep me off my feet and take me away from all this craziness - to the insanity that is Los Angeles. And this is where my fantasy breaks down and the weirdness that is my life reasserts itself. Darn my stubborn streak of practicality.

Oh well, at least things have calmed down since Saturday night. Lindsey did his lawyer thing and Anya did her 'mess with me and you'll be singing soprano' thing and all is right with our world again although the word on the street is that I will never be allowed to work in the club again or at least until I'm forty. Like it was my fault that jerk made a grab for me. Well he won't be grabbing anything for a while. His bad luck that Anya got to him first; a lot of people forget that not being a demon anymore doesn't mean you don't remember magical stuff. Anya has a whole arsenal of wicked spells ready and waiting to be used on unruly patrons, which is kinda cool. She's like Willow used to be, only sane.

Yeah, like Willow. Better get ready for brunch or Anya will be up here to drag me to the table, can't miss our one family meal. God, my life is strange.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

Somebody shut the damn alarm clock off! Thank you Spike; note to self, pick up another alarm clock today.

What a night, nothing gets Spike in the mood like a good fight, add to that putting one over on the Chief and he's as happy as a clam. Which explains the "C'mon pet, don't tell me you're tired. Just one more time, luv?" that I got at least three times last night. That last time I decided to lay back and let him have his way with me. I've got to remember to do that more often.

Of course now I'm as energetic as a wet noodle. Are noodles known for their energy? Oh
well, Anya likes us all to have Sunday brunch together as a family for some strange reason and it's not nice to keep Anya waiting so time to wake up my vampire and get a move on. Or not.

"Spike, what are you doing?"

"Nothing pet."

"Looks to me like you're burrowing under the covers; got a reason for that?"

"Mmmph."

"Oh Jesus! No, I can't! I'm too tired! Spike!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Anya's POV

Where are they? They know we always have Sunday brunch together. It's tradition. Oz managed to make it on time. Lindsey is here and here's Dawn. Tara will be here shortly and Giles is on the phone but I can see him so he's forgiven but if I have to go up and get those two men I will be very upset!

* * * * * * * *

Oz's POV

Looks like Anya's working up a full head of steam. The first time she invited me to brunch I wasn't sure what to make of it. I'm still not sure. It's like a cross between Dallas and the Addams Family and yet it's cool; quirky and a little scary, but cool.

Dawn's drooling over Lindsey again, I wish I could hate the guy but I can't. It's not like he encourages her or anything. He's just Lindsey, good-looking, smooth talking and rich with enough of the bad boy thrown in to make him exciting. Man, it's a sad state of affairs when being a werewolf and musician can't even get you labelled as exciting anymore.

Well, my instincts tell me we've got more than enough excitement coming up in the near future. Angel doesn't send Lindsey here unless it's important. It's all coming down real soon and like the man said, 'times, they are a changing.'

* * * * * * * * *
Tara's POV

Anya doesn't look very pleased. I hope it wasn't me. I'm sure I'm not late. Oh, Xander and Spike aren't here, but Lindsey is. Oh Goddess, why did Angel send Lindsey? Does he know? He must suspect something. Cordy must have seen something. Oh please, let her
vision be vague, please.

* * * ** * * * * * *
Giles' POV

Cordelia's vision can only mean one thing; Willow is waking and with the power of the Hellmouth running through her she will be nigh unbeatable if she is allowed to fully rise. The day I've dreaded for so long is finally upon us.

I've contacted all my old friends for information, I've pulled in every favor I had left from all my contacts at the Council so now we wait and I pray that for once that Fate will be kind and only Willow need die and I won't end up having to kill any more of these children that I've grown to love.

* * * * * * *
Anya's POV

That's it! I will not have our family meal ruined by over-sexed males at least not when it doesn't involve me.

"If you will please excuse me, I will return momentarily."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Xander's POV

Damn, now I'm limper than a wet noodle. Is there such a thing? Yeah you keep grinning you evil undead fiend. I guarantee you we have about two minutes before Her Highness marches in here and starts throwing things and threatening the removal of necessary body parts.

"Xander!"

"Spike!"

Whoops, underestimated the time, oh well, it was worth it.

...................................................................................................................................................................

10-Knock em' Down

Spike's POV

 

Her Royal Highness was not amused but she's got a soft spot for our Xander and with a nice mixture of contrition and well, more contrition he smoothes the waters. We all sit down to a nice brunch and wave good-bye to Angel's lawyer boy.

 

Rupert buggers off fast enough after he leaves. I don't like the looks of that or the narrow eyed gaze my pet fixes me with; bloody Hell. Time to choose Spike me lad, pick your side; tell what you know and cut your lover's heart out or keep your mouth shut and let the chips fall where they may.

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Xander's POV

 

It's time for Spike and I to have a little talk. The tension's been building for days and I put it down to the storm, magically created by some nameless cult or so I thought but according to Cordy's vision it has to do with a birth at the Hellmouth. Is that what's causing all this uneasiness on everyone's part? Maybe I'm not the only one reliving memories of the night
Willow died? Was it her sacrifice that night that's triggering all this now? I've got to talk to Spike; he knows something, or suspects it anyway. I can trust him to give it to me straight, even if it hurts.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Anya's POV

 

Giles' takes care of Willow and I take care of Tara; that's always been the plan. Best of all possible worlds: I'm able to stop Tara from getting to Willow without killing her otherwise I'm afraid poor Tara's going to have an unfortunate accident.

 

I'm sorry Tara, I really am. I know it's not your fault, we can't choose who we love, I've been human long enough to learn that truth. But I can't let Xander be hurt; we never should have lied to him, I know that now but after all this time how do you tell someone you care about that the person they've loved since they were child has become evil incarnate?

 

God Willow, you always were a pain in the ass.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Oz's POV

 

Everything smells wrong. The hair on the back of my neck is standing straight up and man I don't like this, don't like this at all. I smell fear and anger and regret and it's putting the wolf on edge. Whatever's going down is going down tonight. I know it has something to do with Willow's death the question is; do I follow Tara or do I stay here with Dawn?

 

May be it's time to let go of the past; does it really matter what happened? Willow's dead man, move on. Damn, I should have been shut of this town a long time back but smiling eyes and long brown hair kept me enthralled far too long and now the trap is closing and it's gonna catch me along with everyone else.

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Dawn's POV

 

Something's wrong and I don't know what but I can feel it, like ants crawling under my skin. This is like the night Buffy died, when I thought the world might end and for me, in a way, it did. It feels like that now, another ending. If anyone listens to the prayers of us make believe people, I don't want lose any more loved ones, please? Just this once, can't we please catch a break?

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Tara's POV

 

 I believe in you Willow and I trust you. Some times, know matter what your head says, you've got to go with your heart. I know you lied to me at times. I know you coveted power but I also know that your deep inside, your heart was good and I believe that in those final
moments, you made the right decision. I hope I'm right sweetheart because if I'm not I'll have damned this little town and all the people we love to Hell.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

Giles' POV

 

It's time. May God have mercy on my soul.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

"Spike, I need to talk to you." Xander called out. The vampire hesitated on the stairs before reluctantly turning and facing his lover.

 

"What about Pet?" Spike asked with a forced smile.

 

Xander met him on the part way, frowning at the bleak look in the blonde's eyes.

 

"What the Hell is going on? What's up with everyone?" Xander asked irritably.

 

"Pet..." Spike shook his head.

 

"Answer me dammit!" Xander snapped frightened now in a way he hadn't been before. If Spike didn't want to tell him than it was bad. "It's about Cordy's vision isn't it? It has something to do with Willow's death? Well does it?"

 

Spike stared into the scared face of the man he'd learned to love more than he thought possible. He reached out a hand, noticing with mild surprise that it trembled slightly. His hand ghosted along the curve of his lover's jaw and he swallowed convulsively before answering.

 

"You know I love you Pet, more than life itself? Promise me, you'll always remember that?"

 

Xander nodded silently, steeling himself for the information his lover was about to impart.

 

In a blur of vampiric speed, Spike suddenly lashed out, clipping his lover across the chin and catching his unconscious burden before it neared the stairs. He stifled a groan at the blinding zap of pain the chip sent through his skull, gritting his teeth as he carefully carried his precious burden up to their room laying him gently on the bed. Tears of pain and sorrow
clouded his vision; he wiped at them in irritation.

 

Well Spike, looks like you've made your choice. He brushed the hair from Xander's face before standing, his eye's flashing demonic yellow. "Yes Pet, it all centres on Willow. She's alive and kicking," Spike hissed as he slipped fully into gameface, "But she won't be for much longer."

........................................................................................................................................................................

11-Prodigal's Return

"Dawn would you please go downstairs and bring up some red wine? Oz perhaps you could help?" Anya barely glanced at the girl while making her request, keeping her eyes instead on Tara. The young witch was fiddling nervously with her teacup. She'd wanted to leave earlier but Anya had asked her to stay so that they could go over some Magic Box receipts.

Dawn shrugged her shoulders, "Okay Anya, come on Oz, you can be my pack wolf." She teased the quiet young man.

Oz smiled and turned to follow the young woman of his affections, hesitating briefly to look back at the ex-vengeance demon. She never took her eyes off Tara, merely waving Oz on his way.

"Tara, before we go over the receipts, could you also bring me the receipt book from the bar please?" Anya asked the distracted young woman.

"What, oh yes, of course. Do you think this will take long Anya? I promised to meet someone later." Tara asked nervously.

"No, dear, this won't take long at all." Anya smiled briefly pulling a small handgun from the desk drawer unseen by Tara as she turned to pick up the book; hiding the gun behind her back she quietly advanced on the young witch.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Giles stumbled, cursing as he dropped another candle necessary for the ritual that would render Willow vulnerable as she emerged from the protection of the Hellmouth. The wind, harbinger of the brewing storm, was gathering in intensity. Small fissures had opened here and there in the ground surrounding the birthing area, making his task more hazardous but he carried on with grim determination.

He cast another glance at the ancient crossbow that if all went well, would end Willow's life. He closed his eyes briefly as that thought crossed his mind; if all went well, he laughed bitterly. Whether he ended Willow's existence tonight or not, nothing would ever be well again. He knew that among the many sins that weighed heavily on his conscience over the years, this one would be the worst.

He shook his head to clear the morbid thoughts, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand; time enough for regrets later.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Spike spared his unconscious lover one last glance, filled with regret and pain. He knew Xander. He knew that Xander would probably never forgive him if he knew what Spike was about to do. Truth be told, Spike had been almost as shocked as Xander when he hit the
young man. He'd told himself that he would stick with Xander, let the ex-watcher and Anya do what they felt they must and Spike would stay in the sidelines, hoping only that his pet wouldn't find out. Even now, the vampire wasn't sure what story he would come up with to try and explain his actions; all he knew was that Willow was rising and that it would most likely be bad and Xander, sweet, precious Xander could not be made to suffer any more pain.

He wondered briefly whether he shouldn't have simply taken a chance and told Xander all he feared and knew; perhaps they could have come to a decision or formed a plan but if they couldn't? Well, that was the rub, because if they couldn't than Willow would have to be destroyed and even if Xander could bring himself to do it, he would surely break his heart in the process. Better than, that he never found out what his best friend had become. Spike knew what a comfort memories could be; sometimes they were all you had.

He laid once last kiss on his pet's forehead before turning and heading into the storm.

* * * * * * * * *

Anya crept closer to the unsuspecting witch raising the gun high, intent on bringing it down hard across the back of the girl's head when nature intervened, the ground trembling violently. Anya cursed as she lost her balance, stumbling slightly before quickly regained her footing but not before Tara had turned, her eyes widening in shock at the gun in Anya's hand.

"What are you doing?" Tara stammered.

"Well, I should think that would be obvious. I'm apparently holding a gun on you which is a bit prosaic I'll grant you but I didn't want to take a chance on a spell not working."

"Why, why are you doing this?" Tara stalled; desperately trying to think of something that she could do that wouldn't get her shot. She knew defensive spells to protect her against any number of supernatural creatures but against humans? Added to that the fact that she knew Anya had cast personal wards around her person for protection.

"I can't let you go to her. I know you love her and you want to see her again but I can't let that happen." Anya sounded almost sympathetic.

"How long have you known about Willow? You have to realize, she changed her mind Anya I know she did." Tara begged, trying frantically to get Anya to see her side. Anya merely shook her head, never taking her eyes off the witch.

"No, she didn't change her mind. She went that night to make a permanent bond with the Hellmouth so that she could become immensely powerful. She simply miscalculated and it sucked her in. Now I don't know how she's managed to work her way back out after all
this time and frankly, I don't give a damn. She's not coming back. Giles will see to that, one way or another, after tonight Willow will never be a problem again." Anya stated coldly.

"No, no, you have to listen to me! At the last minute she changed her mind, I saw it in her eyes, please Anya don't do this, please!" Tara pleaded, trying not to cry, trying to keep her wits about her. There was one spell she could try, but if she didn't do it exactly right she could kill Anya and possibly herself. Oh Goddess, how had things ever gotten to this point, deception and now possibly murder? Could she do this even for Willow?

"Why don't you take a se..." Anya suddenly crumpled to the floor to reveal a grim faced Oz standing behind her.

"Is she dead?" Tara asked tentatively.

"No, but she'll be out for a while." Oz met the stricken young woman's eyes, "Can you stop Giles?"

"I, I don't know Oz, maybe." Tara bit her lip, tears clouding her eyes. She wiped at her face impatiently.

"Hey guys what," Dawn stopped, staring nonplussed at the unconscious woman on the floor before running forward and kneeling at Anya's side. "What happened?" She cried.

Suddenly she noticed the gun and looked around wildly. "Was there a robbery?"

Tara latched on the possible scenario gratefully. "Yes, thank the Goddess that Oz showed up and scared them off." She grasped the distraught young woman's arm. "Dawn you have to call an ambulance. I'll find Giles okay?" Tara jumped to her feet, not waiting for a reply.

Dawn nodded her head, running to the bar and frantically dialling emergency. Meanwhile Oz and Tara shared a look of understanding.

"I'll need your help." Tara said quietly.

"I'll be there. You better get going." Oz answered.

Tara reached out briefly, giving his arm a quick squeeze of thanks before heading out into the night.

Dawn returned with a cloth and some cool water. "The ambulance is on its way. Oh god Oz, do you think she'll be okay?" Dawn checked Anya's pulse and breathing, putting her hard won first aid knowledge to good use.

"She'll be fine Dawn." Oz answered her calmly before kneeling by her side. "Dawn?"

"Hmmm?" She murmured, intent on tending Anya.

Oz reached and cupped her chin lightly, turning her face to his. She blinked at him in confusion. "Oz?"

Oz bent forward and placed a gentle almost chaste kiss on the young woman's lips before drawing away and looking into her eyes, waiting. He knew the exact moment when the other shoe fell. Her mouth parted in an "O" of comprehension.

"I thought you should know." Oz stood up. "I have to go. Stay here with Anya until the ambulance comes and if you see Spike or Xander, send them to the Hellmouth." He turned and in a burst of preternatural speed left the room before she had a chance to question him.

"Wait, dammit! Oz?" Dawn cursed under her breath. What the Hell is going on?

* * * * * * * * * * *
Xander groaned. His jaw felt ten sizes too big and hurt like the devil but that was nothing compared to the pain in his heart. Spike had hit him; his lover, his best friend since Willow's death, had decked him.

Xander stumbled to his feet and into the bathroom, throwing some cold water on his face to wake him up. By the clock on the bedside table he could see that it hadn't been that long. Spike probably thought he would be out for at least an hour but Xander was hard headed, always had been.

He stared at the bruised scarred face of the man in the mirror. Bleak, pain filled eyes stared back but as he watched, those eyes grew cold and hard. He stalked back into the bedroom, put on his holster, grabbed one of the automatics pistols he kept and extra ammo. Grabbing his leather jacket, custom made, reinforced with Kevlar plates in the lining, he made his way
downstairs. He was going to find Spike and he was going to get some answers, one way or the other.

He wasn't prepared for the sight of Dawn kneeling by an unconscious Anya. He halted, dropping to the floor next to his ex-wife.

"Dawnie, baby, are you okay? What happened here?" Getting a good look at Anya eased his mind, her color and breathing seemed all right and Dawn didn't seem freaked. He knew she was an excellent first aid nurse.

"Oh thank god, Xander." Dawn sighed in relief until she got a good look at him. "Jeez what happened to you? Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?"

"What happened, who did this?" Xander growled noticing the gun for the first time.

"Oz and I were down in the basement getting some wine. Oz suddenly went upstairs. I followed him and Anya was out cold on the floor with the gun by her side. Tara was here and said," Dawn frowned, "No, I asked if there had been a robbery and Tara said yes. She went off to find Giles and then Oz left, said that if you or Spike or showed up, to go to the Hellmouth." Dawn nodded to herself and gave Xander a piercing look, reminding him very much of Buffy at that moment.

"There wasn't any attempted robbery was there?" She shook her head and gave him a twisted smile. "You better get going, something bad is going down. I'll stay here with Anya." She pushed him towards the door. "Go Xander."

He stood and the two shared a grim smile. "Be careful Xan."

"You too baby girl." Xander stepped out into the storm.

* * * * * * * * *

Giles stumbled as another tremor shook the ground. He closed his eyes, chanting a spell to light the candles and keep them lit in the face of the growing storm. He slung the crossbow across his shoulders and began to chant the words of the ritual that would render Willow
vulnerable.

The glow from the Hellmouth continued to grow brighter and the tremors were almost continuous now. The howling of the wind grew deafening. Giles felt his strength beginning to falter but steeled himself to continue; he focused all his remaining power on finishing the ritual.

As the last words left his mouth a massive tremor shook the ground, knocking him off his feet. He struggled to his knees as the ground cracked open disgorging a pulsating mass.

* * * * * * * *

The ground shook alarmingly, the chandelier swaying as bits and pieces of the ceiling rained down around the two women. Dawn cried out as the tremor continued. She grabbed the still unconscious Anya underneath the arms and dragged her to the relative safety of the bar edge, managing to pull her out of the way before the chandelier and a good part of the ceiling caved in, falling in a spectacular crash. Dawn covered herself and Anya doing her best to protect them both against the rain of debris. The dust slowly settled in ominous quiet.

* * * * * * *

Giles panted, trying to catch his breath as the ground quit shaking, pointing at the mass and readying the crossbow.

"No Giles, don't!" Tara screamed stumbling into the circle and dropping to her knees by the mass as it began to twitch and tear from inside.

"Do it Giles," Spike snarled appearing in full gameface, his eyes cold.

Tara gasped, "Spike?"

"Sorry Glinda but we can't take the chance," Spike growled. "Now be a good little witch and move away from her." Spike gestured, stopping suddenly with a hiss. "Oz."

Oz moved into view, his eyes glinting yellow; the wolf very close to the surface. "Stay where you are Tara," he said calmly.

Meanwhile the mass had stopped moving and tearing; it now appeared to be lit from within burning and melting. There was as brief flash and a naked female shape lay curled in a foetal position on the ground.

"Willow, sweetie," Tara moaned softly reaching out to pull the still body closer.

"Well this looks like a right Mexican stand off except for one thing; we've got the crossbow." Spike stepped between Giles and Oz, ready to take on the wolf if need be.

"Yeah, but we've got the gun." Xander intoned harshly, stepping into view as he pointed the pistol at Giles, his hand didn't waiver.

"Pet," Spike breathed softly. Xander didn't respond to the quietly spoken word.

"Now it's a real Mexican standoff."

 

End of Season One