Walking After Midnight

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Part Sixteen

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A blond figure separated itself from the shadows and stepped out into the lamplight. Spike's eyes were the color of flint as he watched Angel disappear around the next corner, still carrying his precious burden. His hands clenched tightly into fists as he tried to ignore the jealousy that ripped through him at the sight of the tiny Slayer cradled in his sire's arms. "That's right, take her home," he muttered unconvincingly. "I'm through with her anyway."

Kicking a rock that lay near the edge of the road, Spike felt his anger explode and clenched his fist, driving it into the nearest telephone pole, splintering the wood and the skin of his knuckle. The pain didn't register, though; the only thing he felt with one hundred percent clarity was rage. It drove him onward, past the park, past the ruins of the school, and finally into the crypt that had been his home. As he had predicted, his belongings, what few there were, had been strewn about and destroyed.

There was nothing there he could salvage, except the mason jar that he had hidden behind some loose rocks. He clawed at the stones in the wall, loosening them, then grabbed the jar. His money was still there. It would be enough to buy a car from the sleazy little demon on the outskirts of town and leave it all behind. He couldn't get away fast enough.

Stuffing the money in his pocket, he turned and bumped into a woman. She stood watching him impassively, even as he morphed and growled at her. "Who are you?" he demanded.

"It's what I can do for you that you should be interested in," the woman smiled, walking toward the marble bench in one corner of the dark and dank room. "Call me a kindred spirit - someone who knows what it is like to walk this world as a demon, but lack the ability to give in to the impulses that drive us."

He eyed her, seeing something vaguely familiar in her face, in her reddish brown hair. "You're a vampire."

"I am. Sometimes." Her face slid into that of her demon and she traced her fingers over the ridges in her forehead. "I, too, have been rendered helpless by the Initiative. Tell me, hostile, what is it that you feel when you feed?"

"I can't feed at all," Spike growled. "All I have to do is try and it feels like my fucking head is being sliced open."

The woman frowned and crossed her arms. "I think that I envy you."

"You envy me?" Spike chuckled sarcastically, low in his throat. "What is there to envy in being stripped of what you are?"

"You feel physical pain when you feed. I would gladly endure that to avoid the emotional pain, the guilt that accompanies me when I feed."

Spike stiffened and put his hands on his hips. "Oh, bloody great. You have a soul? What is it with damn vampires and their souls? And why do they always seem to find me?"

"I have no soul. I have an earlier model chip than the one you have. It releases a chemical into my brain when I feed on humans and it makes me feel the most agonizing guilt that you could ever imagine."

His mind flashed to Buffy's face, the tears streaking down her cheeks, her dress pushed up around her waist. Oh, he could imagine. Quickly shaking the image away, determined not to care, he looked at the woman. "No offense, but I like the newer version better."

"I'm sure that's true," the woman replied, standing again. "I can help you, but you must help me in return."

"You can help me what?" he asked, eyeing her up and down.

"I can deactivate that chip in your head for a price." She took several steps toward him, pausing when she was only a few feet away. "Not a monetary price, but a small kindness on your part."

"And what did you have in mind?" he inquired, eyebrows raised.

"I want to kill her. I want to kill Maggie Walsh, my daughter, my own flesh and blood, and the second I do, when the kill is a victory and before I feel the guilt, I want you to kill me."

Spike narrowed his eyes at her. "Your daughter? Your daughter is the bitch who did this to me?"

"And to me." She held out a slim hand. "I'm Isobel Walsh." Spike stared at her outstretched hand and she sighed, dropping it back to her side. "My own daughter turned me into a monster, and then implanted me. You have no idea just how devious she is, hostile."

"Call me Spike." He folded his arms across his chest. "And tell me exactly how you can deactivate the chip in my head, but not the one in yours."

"I can get you on the inside. I can show you how to do it. The reason I haven't done the same for myself is because I don't want to be what you once were. I don't judge you for wanting that again, but I *will* keep my word." Isobel smiled up at him, holding out her hand once again. "Would you like to hear my plan?"

"I'm all ears," he told her, firmly grasping her hand in his. "But I'm also one cautious bastard. You play me, you'll get played."

Isobel only nodded, and then reclaimed her seat on the marble bench. As she spoke, telling him how they would infiltrate the Initiative, she watched a genuine smile begin to spread over his handsome features. When she finished laying out her plan, the blond vampire was practically bouncing, and she had no doubt that when he was able to resume his former lifestyle, people would quake in fear before him.

And her own demon rejoiced his good fortune.

She would keep her word.

***********

Giles rushed up the sidewalk to the Summers' front door. He had just gotten home when Angel called and told him to come right away. Not bothering to knock, he entered the house and immediately shouted for Buffy.

"She's in the shower," Angel called from the kitchen.

Giles hurried through the house and stopped in the doorway. "Is Spike assisting her?"

Angel set the box of hot cocoa he had found on the counter and moved toward the sink to fill the teakettle with water. "She can walk."

"What?" Giles sounded stunned as he tried to process the three simple words that Angel had said. "She can walk? How- when- ?"

"I don't know." The vampire put the water on to boil and opened another cabinet, pulling out a cup. "She said she got the feeling back in her legs the other night, but she didn't elaborate."

"The other night? But I saw her, she was still in the wheelchair..."

"She didn't tell anyone. Said she was afraid that Spike would leave if he knew," Angel told him flatly.

Giles could see the tension in the vampire's jaw and knew that his anger was barely held in check. "Angel, what happened tonight? Where is Spike?"

"Spike is gone. He and Buffy had a...a fight." Angel hesitated, running his fingers through his hair. He looked up at the other man, his eyes full of pain. "I found her in an alley, Giles, just like Cordelia's vision. At first she was too upset to talk. Her clothes were torn, and I thought...I thought that she'd been raped."

A startled look of alarm crossed Giles' face. "Good lord-"

"She hadn't been," Angel assured him. He wasn't sure how much to tell the Watcher, but didn't know if he could trust Buffy at this point to tell Giles the truth. He decided to forge ahead and avoid going into detail. "She told me..." His eyes closed for a second and he had to force the words past his lips. "She told me that she has feelings for Spike. *Strong* feelings. That they'd had - that they'd been..." Unconsciously, Angel squeezed the cup he'd been holding and it shattered in his hand.

Giles just stared at the vampire, unsure of how to process this new information. His slayer involved with another vampire? With Spike? It was almost inconceivable. "Angel...I -I'm terribly sorry. I never imagined..."

"I need to get out of here, Giles," Angel interrupted. "I can't be near her right now. I'll finish up that business with Willy, and then I'm heading for the mansion. You can contact me there." He didn't look at the Watcher as he spoke, his gaze fixed on the crumbled pieces of mug on the floor.

Giles shifted uncomfortably, at a loss for words. "I understand. Thank you for your help, Angel."

Angel nodded, then walked toward the door. Giles' voice stopped him. "You won't do anything...rash, will you?"

"No," he answered without turning. "I won't do anything rash." His hand on the doorknob, he paused before opening it. "I never should have come back here," he whispered, disappearing before Giles could say another word.

In the ensuing silence, Giles raised his eyes to the ceiling, wondering what could possibly happen next. "Bloody hell," he murmured, and headed upstairs to find out exactly what was going on with his Slayer.

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

When Giles reached the bedroom door, Buffy was standing in front of her mirror dressed in baggy sweats, staring blankly as she combed through wet, tangled hair. Even though Angel had told him about her being able to walk, it was still a shock to see her on her feet in front of him after months of being in the wheelchair.

"Buffy?" he called out quietly as he entered the room. "Are you all right?"

Her head shook slightly and her hands dropped to her sides. "No, Giles," she whispered brokenly. "I'm not all right."

He crossed the room and took her hands in his, alarmed by how icy they were. "Come, sit down," he murmured, leading her to the bed. "Tell me what happened, tell me everything." He sat her doown and joined her on the bed, hesitantly putting his arm around her shoulders.

Buffy leaned into him, breathing in his familiar aftershave. His strong arms and soothing voice broached her meager defenses, and she crumbled for the second time that night. "Oh, Giles," she sobbed into his shoulder. "I'm so stupid! I should have called you as soon as I got the feeling back in my legs, instead of lying and making a mess of everything. F-First Spike, and-and then Angel," her breath came in gasps, "I-I suppose you... hate me now...too."

"Of course I don't hate you," he sighed. "Although...I do question your judgment at times."

She shook her head. "You don't know, you don't know the things I did..."

"I've spoken to Angel, and I've got eyes, Buffy," he murmured against her hair. "I think that I can surmise most of it." There was a long silence as Buffy's face flamed with mortification. Giles cleared his throat. "Angel mentioned that you told him you feel...something...for Spike. Are you sure it isn't just...gratitude, because he took care of you?"

"I'm sure," she sniffled. "I started liking him before I was attacked. All that time we spent together afterward only made it grow stronger. And now I I think I'm in love with him, Giles, and it doesn't even matter, because he can't stand the sight of me."

"Oh, Buffy, I'm so sorry." His arms tightened around her and he murmured more words of comfort as she clung to him and cried.

When the flood had slowed to a trickle, Buffy pulled away and wiped at her face with the back of her hand. She avoided looking at Giles for a moment, then sighed and glanced up at him. "Angel left?" When he nodded, she asked, "How was he? When you got here?"

"He was...upset."

"Wow, Giles, understatement, much?" She shook her head. "I know how much I hurt him tonight. Seems to be my specialty lately."

"Buffy, I'm not sure what occurred with Spike, but as far as Angel is concerned...perhaps there were some things that needed to be said? A sort of...closure, as it were. You weren't allowed any when he left."

"No, I wasn't, but that doesn't excuse my behavior. I can't believe he brought me home after -"

"He loves you, Buffy. Whatever else has happened, I can't imagine that either one of you could abandon the other. No matter what the circumstances."

His words served as a painful reminder of just how different things were with Spike. The blond vampire had no problem walking away from her, as evidenced by his post-coital behavior. Buffy felt a fresh stab of pain as she recalled his hateful remarks. Devastated didn't even begin to cover how she felt.

Flushing, she stood up and walked over to the mirror, avoiding Giles' eyes. Picking up her brush, she began working through the tangles in her hair again.

"Angel said that you and Spike had a fight. Are you sure you're all right - physically, I mean?"

"Physically, I'm fine. Legs work and everything."

Giles took a deep breath. "Yes, about that...what happened, exactly? How were you able to walk again?"

Briefly, she told him about suddenly waking up with feeling in her legs. She kept brushing her hair as she did so, trying to avoid thinking about Spike and what had happened between them.

Giles listened intently as she related her reluuctance to tell Spike the good news. He frowned. "I wish you had called me. You know how imperative it is that you keep me informed."

"I'm sorry, Giles, I didn't think about it. I just...wanted Spike to stay with me."

"Well, now is the time to think about it. The Council is in town to deal with Maggie Walsh. I've spoken to them about formulating a plan, and with you able to walk, we'll have the element of surprise on our side when we move to strike."

"We?" She narrowed her eyes at him. "What? You rejoined the damn Council?"

Giles paused, clearly taken aback, then nodded his head. "I've formed an alliance with them, yes. As for rejoining them, they've yet to ask me, but -"

"But you would? After what they did to us both?" She tossed the brush down on the dresser and turned to confront him. "How dare you?"

"How dare I?" he questioned, surprised by her anger. "Pardon me for stating the obvious here, Buffy, but how dare you keep something like this from me? How long were you planning to keep up the charade? And how do I know that you weren't able to walk days ago? Weeks? You certainly seem steady on your feet."

"Don't you accuse me of that!" she shouted, pointing a finger at him. "I told you that I just started walking this morning. And you couldn't possibly hope to understand my motivation for not calling you right off the bat."

"Well, then enlighten me," Giles crossed his arms, regarding her with a serious expression.

"I didn't call because I knew what your response would be. Fall off the horse, get back on. Scared of the water, jump in and don't test it."

"I don't understand."

"You expect me to just start slaying again, don't you? You expect me to grab the bull by the horns and-"

"Could you please refrain from using metaphors?"

"Fine," Buffy snapped. "Here's a non-metaphor for you. I don't want to be the Slayer. I would rather be some dried up cripple in some filthy hospital, then go back out there," she pointed toward the window, "and let them finish me off."

"You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do!" She stalked toward her closet, yanking her ornate trunk from under a pile of clothing. Moving swiftly, she unlatched the clasps and pulled the top up, then lifted a tray, exposing an arsenal of weapons. "Look, Giles, I've got stakes," she threw one as hard as she could, flipping it end over end, and it embedded in the wall, the handle sticking out only a few inches. "I've got crossbows," she fired it off as well, the bolt slicing through her lampshade and shattering the bulb. "I've got Holy Water," toss, "more stakes," toss, "and would you look at this? A mace!" wind, throw, "and none of it did a damn bit of good, did it? They almost killed me. AGAIN!"

"Buffy, stop it!" He crossed the room and grabbed her arm, halting the rain of weaponry. When she turned on him, he gripped her upper arms and held on, fully aware that she could toss him across the room just as easily as she had tossed her stakes. "Listen to me," he ordered gruffly. "I know how frightened you are."

"No, you don't!" Buffy half shouted. "Giles, you have no idea!"

"Do you think I don't feel terror at the danger you face every day? What happens to you, happens to me. When you are hurt, I hurt. When you bleed, my soul bleeds along with you because it's my duty to see to it that you are safe." He reached for her hand and took it in his. "I felt the same relief you must have felt every night for the past few months, knowing that you were safe and sound at home and not out there fighting demons. We didn't choose this life, Buffy. We were chosen and though it can be quite a burden at times, it's ours to bear."

"I can't bear it! People always leave me because of who I am! My dad, and Angel," her breath began hitching and new sobs suddenly burst forth, "and Spike- Spike - God, it hurts so much!"

"Buffy," Giles said softly. "I'm still here. I'll *always* be here. We'll get through this, the same way we get through anything. Together."

His voice gentled her for a second, letting her regain control. She drew a deep breath and looked him in the eye. "I won't work with the Council, Giles. I *can't*."

"I see," he answered flatly, releasing her.

"Please understand -"

"I'm sorry, but I don't understand. This is your calling, your sacred duty, Buffy-"

"Giles, please!" Her voice grew strident. "I can't do it, all right? I can't trust the Council, and I can't help you. I'm sorry."

"Very well, then. Angel and I will take things from here. I'm sure that between the two of us, and the men from the Council, we can put an end to Maggie Walsh's reign of terror. If you change your mind..."

"I won't," she assured him. "And I'm not sure I'd be much help anyway at this point." She looked up at him beseechingly. "Giles? Are we...okay?"

Giles didn't respond for a few slow, agonizing seconds. Finally, he nodded, a sad smile parting his lips. "Yes, we're 'okay'. Perhaps you should get some rest. The sun is up already and you didn't get any sleep last night. I could bring up some hot chocolate, if you like, before I go."

"That would be nice, thanks."

He walked toward the door, pausing before he left. "I'm sorry about Spike, Buffy. About...everything that's happened. I-I'll let you know if he turns up."

"I'm not sure he will. Not after..." She turned away, blinking back tears.

"After what?" Giles asked before he could help himself. "What happened between you two?"

"I don't want to talk about it. Please, Giles, I just want to sleep, okay?"

"All right, Buffy," he sighed. "I'll get your drink, and check in with you later, then." When she didn't answer, he turned and left the room, and finally, she was alone.

Buffy let herself collapse onto the bed as every muscle in her body screamed with fatigue. She felt stiff and sore, and her legs were trembling from overuse after so many months of inactivity. Weakly, she dragged the covers over her and huddled beneath them, shaking. It felt as if she'd never be warm again, never feel strong again.

Never be free from the heartwrenching pain in the middle of her chest.

"Spike..." she whimpered softly, curling into a ball. The tears came again and she didn't even try to stop them. How had things gone so completely wrong in so short a time? She and Spike had grown closer in the last few weeks, on their way to becoming more than just friends. And just like that, her lies had destroyed it all. Because of her stupidity, another man she loved had walked away from her. Telling him how she felt hadn't made a bit of difference; he was still gone.

And she wanted him back, more desperately than she'd ever wanted anything in her life. She needed his strength, needed him to help her get past this fear that was eating her up inside. The fear was controlling her, keeping her from being the Slayer, and if she couldn't be the Slayer anymore, then what would she be?

Nothing, she'd be nothing. And she'd still be alone.

A few minutes later when Giles returned, he found her asleep, her tear-stained face tense in slumber, fists tightly clenching the blankets under her chin.

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Part Seventeen

Buffy had slept fitfully, waking several times with the covers tangled around her limbs and cold tears drying on her face. She finally gave up any hope of real sleep and rolled to her side, watching as the minutes turned to hours on her bedside clock. Her body ached from all the times she'd cried, but now her eyes were dry.

And all she could do was think.

Think about the giant hole that Angel left in her life when he walked away from her, and how she'd thought she would never recover from it.

Think about how she'd nearly gotten her life back on track when her legs were taken away, making her doubt everything and everyone. Making her afraid to be what she was meant to be.

Think about Giles wanting to accept help from the very people who had betrayed them. The people who had turned their backs on them when it had mattered most.

And lastly, think about Spike leaving her in that alley without a backward glance after making her scream in ecstasy. The hatefulness with which he'd treated her, the utter lack of concern for her pain.

Bastard.

Okay, so she'd lied. She could accept responsibility for that, and she'd do anything to take it back. She hadn't meant to hurt Spike, only keep him by her side until she knew what his true feelings were. Was that so terribly wrong? She was human, dammit! She'd made a mistake - did that mean she had to pay for it in blood? Did she have to be humiliated time and time again, her heart and pride torn to shreds?

And was she expected to wallow in self-pity like a mewling, whining child?

No. She wasn't going to live like this any longer, and she wasn't going to be anyone's punching bag again.

Her anger built until she flung herself out of the bed and began pacing around the room like a caged animal, images of the men in her life flashing in front of her in a red haze. Angel always thought she needed saving, did he? Her arm swept across her vanity, sending perfume bottles crashing to the floor. And Giles! Her journal flew into the closet, several pages tearing loose in the process. Giles thought she should just forgive and forget, and when she couldn't, well that just meant she was still and immature little girl, didn't it?

Breathing heavily, she turned in a circle, searching for something else to throw as her anger focused on Spike. How dare he throw her love back in her face? How dare he walk away after fucking her with so much intensity and passion that she'd almost lost consciousness? How dare he...

Her feverish gaze landed on the silver mirror and she snatched it up victoriously, intent on smashing it to bits. She cocked her arm, ready to hurl it into the wall . and then she stopped as she heard Spike's voice inside her head. 'No, -that- is beautiful.'

With a sigh, she lowered her arm and sat down on the bed as her knees gave out. Damn him, she though miserably, tracing her image in the glass with a finger. Damn him for making her trust again, for making her feel beautiful and strong again, only to destroy it in a burst of self-righteous anger.

And destroy it he had, knowing exactly what to say to bring her to her knees. He'd always seen right thought her, from the very moment they'd first laid eyes on each other. When they were enemies, she'd been able to shrug it off, no matter how pissed off she got. But now that she'd let him into her heart . now it felt as if his words were slicing a jagged path right through that same heart. As if he needed to claw his way out from the inside. And she didn't know how much longer she could take the pain.

She let the mirror slip from her fingers onto the bed and stood up, determined to get a grip on what little strength she had left. She didn't -have- to feel this way. She'd dealt with all of this before - with Angel, and to a lesser extent, with Parker. She'd survived each time, a little worse for wear, but still standing, still fighting. And now, she had the mother of all fights just waiting for her participation. All she had to do was get angry and stay that way. And at the moment, that didn't appear to be a problem.

She was the Slayer. It was time she acted like one.

She scanned the room, taking in the evidence of her tantrum. Such a small display for such a supposedly powerful young woman, she thought derisively. Surely she could do better than that. Her gaze fell upon the weapons trunk on the floor next to her closet. Giles had apparently repacked all of her weapons for her. She studied it for a few minutes, recalling the way she used to have to hide it all. Pack away her weapons and conceal her bloody clothes and injuries.

She didn't have to hide anything anymore.

Buffy reached into the trunk and pulled out Mr. Pointy. She'd had the stake that belonged to Kendra bronzed, which earned quite a few odd looks from the men at the mall where she had taken it to have it done. Cradling it in her hand, she got to her feet and held it up in front of her. Striking fast and hard at an invisible foe, she listened to her arm whip through the air, slicing the wind with a low whistle. She was still fast, very fast.

The paralysis hadn't taken that away from her.

The phone cut through her concentration and she grabbed it, biting back the urge to say Spike's name into it. "Hello?"

"Buffy, it's Giles," the Englishman said. "I hope I didn't wake you."

"No, I'm up." She sat on her bed, still running her hand over the bronzed piece of wood. "What is it? Did something else happen?"

"No, nothing has changed." Unless you took into consideration the fact that he had gone all over town looking for Spike and hadn't slept a wink, nothing had changed. "I was just calling to see if you've changed your mind about working with the Council. Angel and I will be meeting with them tonight and I'd very much like it if you'd accompany us."

"No," she stated flatly. "I told you before, I won't work with them. And what exactly is your plan? You never told me."

"I suppose I didn't," Giles sighed. "Malachai, one of the elder councilmen informed me last night that Maggie Walsh was seen in your hospital room hours after your accident. She had a shaman in tow; a mystical man who can alter the state of being. We've every reason to believe that perhaps she is responsible for your paralysis."

Buffy's hand tightened around the stake. "We already know she's responsible for it. She had her pet vampires ambush me."

"No, Buffy. We believe that she put some sort of spell on you to prevent your Slayer strength from healing you."

"A spell?" she asked quietly. "You mean magic kept me crippled?"

"It's quite possible. If there were mystical forces at work it could explain why you've had such a speedy recovery and why it happened so abruptly." He cleared his throat. "At any rate, we've located where the Initiative is operating."

"Where?"

"Underneath the Lowell Fraternity house at the campus," he replied, then added, "If you would just accompany us-"

"No," Buffy repeated more firmly. "Look, I have to go. I'm hungry and I need to get some fresh air."

"Er, Buffy, any word from Spike?" Giles asked casually. "I was wondering because-"

"Giles," she sighed softly. "Look, I can't talk about this, okay? I have to go."

She hung up before he could say anything else and stood, pacing across her room. It had been magic all along? Not her own weaknesses and faults? They had resorted to taking her out of the equation with a spell? That certainly put a new spin on things. If they had been forced to fight dirty, maybe they were scared of a fight.

If that was the case, she'd give Maggie Walsh the fight of her life.

If that bitch hadn't put the chip in Spike's head to begin with, none of this ever would have happened. She had started a chain of events, meddled where no human should meddle, and tampered with the fates. Maggie only thought she knew how to take the Slayer out of her element.

It was obvious that for all of her training, Maggie hadn't the first clue as to what a Slayer actually was. A Slayer's element was what she made it.

Buffy picked up the mirror that Spike had given her and studied her reflection once more. The face that stared back at her was hardened with resolve, all traces of self-pity gone. All that remained was intent.

A deadly intent to slay anything that got between her and Maggie Walsh.

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Giles arrived at the bar first, just after sunset, and secured a large table in the back, away from the other booths. Even as he ordered a beer, his mind stayed on Buffy. She had admitted that she feared being the Slayer again. She had looked him in the eye, her own eyes hollow and red rimmed, and admitted how much her duty terrified her. He hated himself for what he represented in her life; the man who oversaw her 'Sacred Duty'. Yet, there was nothing sacred about being scared and alone.

His thoughts turned to Angel then, the vampire who loved his Slayer as much as he did, only in a very different way. He knew that both of them would die for her, but Angel couldn't even have the satisfaction of being near her. Couldn't even think of being a part of her life. Checking his watch, he scowled and headed toward the payphone to try Angel's number again. He paused when the door opened and the vampire stepped in, looking as if he'd gone about five rounds with ten Slayers. His face was scratched, bloody in places, and his lip was swollen.

Giles met him halfway. "I thought you said you wouldn't do anything rash," he said in a low voice.

"I didn't do anything rash," Angel told him, holding up his hands and showing his bloody knuckles. "I did something violent to avoid rash."

"So, I take it that Spike didn't survive the night?" Giles watched him, wondering how he'd break the news to Buffy. And wondering why he felt so annoyed that he didn't have a chance at Spike first.

Angel frowned at the mention of his childe's name. "I didn't find him. But if I had, anything Angelus dished out would have seemed like a love tap compared to what I would have done to him."

Giles couldn't control the smirk that crossed his face. "I won't say I'm sorry. I have quite a few things to say to him before he meets his demise."

Angel chuckled and followed the man further into the bar, where he sat at the table. "How's Buffy?"

"She told me what happened," Giles said casually, not offering details. "And she told me that she won't take part in bringing down the Initiative."

The vampire looked shocked. "Did you tell her that Maggie Walsh was responsible?"

Giles nodded. "She refuses to work with the Council again. Even if it is for a common goal. To be quite honest, she was furious that I was even considering it."

"To be fair to her, she does have a valid reason to be leery of them." Angel motioned for the waitress and ordered a shot of liquor. When the woman walked away, he added, "I mean, they chose her, then tried to kill her. I think that might put a damper on any working relationship."

"Oh, you're absolutely right," Giles replied. "I don't agree with all their methods myself, but I do believe that in this scenario - they are our best hope."

Angel nodded his head at the door and stood. The Watchers filed in, each one wearing a suit and a somber face. Giles stood as well, extending a hand to Malachai when he was close enough. The elder man shook it and smiled. "Mr. Giles. Angel. I'm glad you both decided to show."

"We gave you our word," Angel told him as he cast a worried gaze at the other men. No matter how many times he told himself to trust them, he couldn't help having reservations about it.

"We've heard rumors that the Slayer was seen in action last night," Malachai reported as he sat down across from Giles. "Is there any truth in that?"

Giles glanced at Angel. If he told them the truth, would they insist on her aid or would they allow her time to recuperate? Taking a deep breath, he spoke firmly. "Buffy has regained use of her legs, however, it is my opinion that it is too soon for her to be back in her full capacity. The injury that she obtained initially was very grave and-"

"Relax, Mr. Giles," Malachai waved a hand, motioning for Giles to sit down. "We won't need her help. We'll be able to do this ourselves."

"Right," Giles gave him a weak smile. "I do thank you. Buffy's well being-"

"Is still the most important thing to you," Malachai finished for him. "It's admirable, the way you love that child, however, it still works against you."

"Quite the contrary, sir." Giles stared him in the eye. "It works *for* me. Buffy's record could speak on its own and we all know that. I think my methods, including my devotion to her, is tantamount to her success thus far."

Malachai regarded Giles for several seconds, then glanced at Angel. "A Slayer who somehow forced a Watcher *and* a vampire to love her. I hope I will meet her before we leave and see for myself what she possesses that could make grown men go against their true natures."

"You just might," Angel told him with a knowing grin. "And won't that be fun?"

Giles shot him a look, then leaned forward, getting down to business. "So, the hour approaches - shall we finalize the plan?"

"It's going to be a long night," Malachai sighed, and motioned for a set of blueprints from another Watcher. Spreading them out on the table, he motioned at one corner. "We'll go in here." He glanced around the table, pausing at each face. "We're stepping into Hell here, gentlemen. Hell on earth." He fixed his gaze on Angel. "And won't **that** be fun?"

<><>

Buffy dressed black leather boots, tight leather pants, and a clinging halter-top. She stood in front of the mirror gazing at her reflection. She had lost weight since her accident, but she was satisfied with her appearance. Her hair was pinned back tightly away from her face so no one could grab it and it made her look older, wiser. When she faced Maggie Walsh, she wanted her to see firsthand that she had not bested the Slayer.

No one would ever best her again.

She was furious. She was strong. And she was hell bent on getting revenge.

Making her way back to her bedroom, she surveyed her weapons trunk and selected a few stakes and a long knife. She dropped the stakes into her bag, then lifted the knife, trailing her fingertips over the sharp edge of the blade. It drew blood instantly, staining the blade with a crimson smudge. The wound closed almost as instantly and she smiled. It was going to be a fine night.

Climbing out her window, both for exercise and for old time's sake, she dropped down onto her lawn and headed toward the UC-Sunnydale Campus. She moved swiftly, with purpose, her anger quickening her pace. Halfway across town, she spotted two vampires and she paused, silently pulling a stake from her bag. They never saw her coming. Her speed surprised even her, and left the vampires with a scream that died on their lips when they dusted. Blood surged in her veins and she gripped the stake tighter.

It was nice to be back.

They'd never stop her again.

<><><>

Lowell House loomed directly in front of her. Buffy stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the massive structure. She hadn't planned very far ahead, hadn't exactly decided how she would enter thee house or find her way to the underground. A car pulled up and she made a show of bending to tie an imaginary shoelace. Three large boys piled out, casting a withering glance in her direction, then they moved to the trunk, where they retrieved a bundle. A bundle that was clearly a person. Or a demon. It was wrapped in a woolen blanket and squirmed madly when one of the boys tossed it over his shoulder.

To the casual observer, it looked like a harmless prank against a fraternity brother. To the Slayer, it looked like a godsend. She made her way down the sidewalk, then hid behind a copse of trees as the boys went into the house. Standing on tiptoe, she watched through a window as the men dropped the bundle on the floor and yanked the blanket off. Bingo! The vampire lunged at the men, talons raking the air, fangs gnashing at nothing and everything at once. She watched as the men taunted and kicked the vampire and narrowed her eyes. These were the same people who had neutered Spike.

Suddenly, the wall opened up behind the boys and Maggie Walsh stepped out. Out of an elevator? Buffy looked more closely. Yes, it was an elevator. She watched as the men shoved the vampire into the elevator, stunning it with a hand held device, and backed away. She was the Slayer. She wasn't exactly equipped to handle stun guns and army men. A flash of light from a low basement window caught her eye and she knelt down, squinting. The elevator was passing down; she could see the light through the crudely constructed shaft.

Prying the window open, she silently prayed for no security alarms, and when nothing blared, she slipped inside. It looked like a regular frat house basement. Not that she had seen many or even any at all, but it looked like a place where a bunch of boys haphazardly tossed their laundry. There were four washers, four dryers and each were buried under a mountain of clothes. There were also cases of beers stacked neatly against one wall. She shook her head at the irony of that. Take care of your beer, but let your colors bleed onto your whites. Men!

Buffy moved quickly to the elevator shaft. It stood in the middle of the room, boxed off with wood and metal. It was a total eyesore, so completely out of place that anyone who saw it would question what it was. Wasting no time, Buffy pulled off one of the wooden beams and separated the metal, peering down into the brightly lighted shaft. It seemed to go on for miles, deep into the belly of the earth. The elevator was at the bottom, apparently stopped. Casting a glance behind her, Buffy slipped through the crack she had made, clung to the cables, and pulled the metal back in place. It wasn't perfectly smooth, but she had chosen to enter in a nondescript place. Hopefully no one would see the small gap.

Hand over hand she made her way down, quietly lowering herself further and further. The muscles in her arms began to ache and she cursed herself quietly. All the time she was in her chair, she should have been exercising her upper body more. A lot more than just lifting the remote control or wheeling herself back and forth to the bathroom. The thought of her wheelchair pushed the ache out of her mind and she felt a renewed burst of energy. Moving even faster, she hooked one leg around the cable and let herself slide.

She went past the air conditioner vent so quickly that she never saw the two vampires, one very familiar and the other bearing a striking resemblance to Maggie Walsh, crawling in the opposite direction.

<><>

Spike heard something whiz past the air duct and glanced behind him. He was on his hands and knees, having entered the air conditioning unit almost an hour before from a tool shed behind Lowell Fraternity. Isobel had been meticulous, carefully rewiring the security system to prevent it from locating their movement. "What was that?"

Isobel, who was just ahead, on her hands and knees as well, continued moving. "It was probably a bat."

Spike scowled, but followed her without question. They had been right next to the vent when the elevator screamed past moments before. He had questioned why they didn't just scale down using the cables, but Isobel had pointed out that the elevators were so fast, it could cut a person in two. He could feel the small passage begin to slope downward and had to struggle to maintain his balance as they moved deeper and deeper into the structure. Isobel had informed him that the facility was about five stories below the surface of the earth.

Ahead of him, Isobel paused and opened the bag she had secured on her back when they began. Spike watched her pull out ropes and harnesses and shook his head. "You really know what you're doing, huh?"

"I do it all the time." She held out a harness to him. "Slide this over your legs and buckle it at the waist. Have you ever rock climbed?"

"I can't say that I have." Spike did as she instructed, then watched her hook a knotted rope through the clip on his harness.

"From here, it's a straight drop of roughly fifty feet. We have to be quiet. We can't just jump because we could go through and land right on top of them. We're going to hook this rope around that beam," She pointed above her head at an exposed metal rod. "and lower you first. When you get to the bottom, you be careful to put your hands and knees on the outside edges of the air ducts. It's exposed down there and they'll hear you if you aren't careful."

"Right," Spike said, tugging on the rope to make sure it was secured. This was his big chance and he wasn't going to blow it. He'd get that chip out and then Buffy- Well, he'd get his chip out. He couldn't let himself think of her. She would tell him to keep the chip, wouldn't she? She'd tell him that it gave him a reason to fight on the side of good. But look at what that had gotten him. The side of good had lied to him, betrayed him, and worst of all, touched a long dormant part of him that was better left alone. His heart.

"Spike?" Isobel repeated the vampire's name for the third time. "Are you ready?"

"What?" He looked at her. "Oh, yeah, lower me."

<><> Part Eighteen

Buffy had almost reached a small utility door inside the shaft when she heard voices in the elevator below her. She made a lunge for the door as the elevator sprang to life. Swearing under her breath, she let go of the cable just in time to softly step on top of the elevator and crouched down low as it began an upward ascent, taking her back over ground she had already covered. Looking upward, she realized that she would be flattened if she wasn't careful, and quickly lay on her back, pressing her palms flat. With no time to spare, she watched the roof quickly approaching and closed her eyes.

She was about to be crushed. In the few seconds it took for her to realize it, various images flashed through her head. Spike, Angel, Giles, her mother, the gang. Her funeral. She held her breath, thinking what a shame it was to die this way instead of in battle, then wondered if anyone would ever know what she had intended to do. If Spike would know. Would he miss her? Would he realize that she had been crushed trying to exact revenge for what Maggie Walsh had caused both of them?

The elevator stopped with a jerk, and Buffy, with her nose pressed to the ceiling, opened her eyes. She was alive! But she was also in quite a predicament. The narrow amount of space prevented her from moving at all, and the ceiling was literally pressing against her breasts, toes, and nose. It was like being buried alive, only worse. There was nothing she could do except wait for someone to take an elevator ride down again. And who knew when that would happen? She could hear the men inside the elevator exiting, and heard several other people laughing and making fun of the vampire they had captured.

It didn't take her long to realize that the air was thin inside the dusty shaft and she was having trouble getting enough of it. Her lungs felt like they were full of dust, her face grew sticky and she could feel sweat gathering on her back. Unable to be sure of how much time had passed, she squeezed her eyes closed again and tried not to think about how easily she could die. Her chest was leaden, it rose and fell with effort and she had to struggle not to cough. If she could hear the Initiative boys, then they would hear her.

Somewhere in the distance, she could hear a radio playing. Popular top forty music reverberated through the metal tomb and she attempted to concentrate on that. She failed miserably. With effort, she turned her palms up and pressed against the ceiling, hoping it would open, or at the very least, crack just enough to let in some fresh air. However, it was sealed tight and the only reward for her efforts was a cramp in her elbow. Breathing became more difficult after that, since her movements had kicked up even more dust. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks, and her mouth was so dry she found herself wishing they were rolling over her lips instead of down into her ears.

She was close to screaming for help, to putting herself at the mercy of Maggie and her men, when she finally heard the doors open and the elevator shook as it began its descent. Almost sobbing in relief, Buffy sat up and stretched her arms over her head, trying to work out the cramp in her elbow. Looking at her watch, she realized that she had been trapped for almost forty minutes. If she didn't act fast, the Watcher's Council could thwart her plans and everything she had just endured would have been for nothing. A cool breeze blew against her face and she savored it, standing on shaking legs to latch onto the cable again when the utility door came into view. She hooked her leg around it and hoisted herself up, turning the handle on the door. It was locked.

"Son of a bitch!" she whispered as she pulled even harder. It was no use. The door was locked from the inside and looked as thick as a bank vault door. She was in the process of weighing her options when the elevator began to climb upward again. "Oh no!"

Yanking her bag around so she could dig through it, she pulled out an ax and used the blade to pry open the small trapdoor in the top of the elevator. She was amazed to see that the compartment was empty, quickly counted her blessings, and dropped down into it just in time. When the door opened to reveal two men in uniform waiting, she quickly grabbed the one closest to her, put the blade to his throat, and looked at the other one. "Get in."

The man made a move for his gun, but Buffy pressed the knife against her captive's neck even harder. "Get in before things get really bloody and your friend's neck is gone."

"Do it!" gasped the man in her arms.

The other man stepped into the elevator, sizing Buffy up. She gave him a small smile. "Yeah, I'm small. But don't be stupid enough to think that matters. Press the button that'll take us straight to Maggie Walsh." The man pressed one of several buttons. Buffy nodded. "Now, slowly put your gun on the ground."

As the man pulled his gun free, gingerly holding it between his thumb and finger, Buffy flipped the ax and brought the blunt end down on the back of his head. He collapsed forward as the man who had been her hostage tried to spin around and face her. She punched him in the ribs before he got halfway, and he dropped to his knees, gasping for air. Gripping his head, she brought his face down onto her knee and he too collapsed. Buffy gathered up their guns, stored one in her bag and held the other in her hand, then waited patiently for the elevator to open.

When it did, she cautiously glanced around, then ripped open the control panel and buried her ax in all the cords, chopping several in the process. She wrenched it free, yanking out several more cords and wires, and stepped out. She was inside a small office. Moving slowly, she stepped onto the plush carpet and walked toward the desk. A small placard that said 'Maggie A. Walsh' sat facing outward.

Buffy smiled.

She was in the Dragon's lair.

A weapon's cabinet stood in one corner and Buffy twisted the lock off, helping herself to a 'Rambo' style bandolier full of tranquilizer darts. She hefted the gun that they fit into and then proceeded to put a stun gun into her waistband. These weren't demons she was dealing with, they were people, and as far as she was concerned, the only person on her hit list was Maggie Walsh. And the pistol would take care of her. The rest would just sleep for a while.

Almost as an afterthought, she decided to shoot both men in the elevator with the tranquilizer gun to ensure they wouldn't wake up and alert anyone up top to their intruder. She studied the firing mechanism, noted the fact that each cartridge held 14 darts, and shot each man once. The gun was silent as it fired and she smiled again. She could get used to weapons like that. As soon as she was finished, she made her way to the door, cracked it an inch, and peered out into the compound. She saw three men making small talk next to a jeep. Hmm, she thought, so there are other entryways into this place. That's not good. She watched for several minutes, but no one else passed.

Gathering her bearings, she took a deep breath, yanked the door open and fired one shot at each man. The darts struck their marks, and whatever was inside was so fast, that none of the men had a chance to pull the needles from their skin before they fell straight forward and lay still. She stayed close to the walls, crouching low and peeking over boxes and around filing cabinets. Finally, something clattered in the distance and she slowly crabwalked, keeping her eyes open, across a small catwalk that looked down into a pit.

Ensconced in a padded area that looked like wall to wall aluminum foil with dentist chairs, were Maggie and four men. They were strapping the vampire that had been captured to one of the chairs. She could hear the growls and protests of the demon, but couldn't make out what the men were saying. She glanced behind her, making sure the coast was still clear, and lifted the gun, resting it on the railing as she pointed at her first target.

<><>

On the other side of the compound, Spike and Isobel had made it through the air conditioning unit undetected. Isobel led the way to a small room, where she twisted the door handle off, flicked a lightswitch, and motioned him into a chair. Spike had no choice but to comply, as he was out of his element and basically at her mercy. He took the proffered seat and watched the female vampire type in several codes on a computer screen. Different windows popped up, then vanished as she went through the various motions. Spike's gut felt like it was in knots as he watched her. This was it. The chip would be coming out.

"Hostile Seventeen, right?" Isobel asked quietly.

"Yes, I suppose." Spike nodded and glanced around the room. He remembered all too clearly what it had been like to wake up inside one of the observation rooms in this hell hole.

"I can't take the chip out," Isobel announced suddenly. "It's embedded into a part of your brain that would render you immobile if it was removed." She saw the look on his face and quickly added, "But I can deactivate it right now."

"Deactivate? It wouldn't shock me anymore?" Spike leaned forward, looking at the computer screen. There was an illustration of something that he imagined was the make and model of his chip. "Do what you have to do. I want it stopped."

Isobel nodded, typed in a few more numbers, and opened one of the desk drawers. She pulled out what looked like a hand held metal detector, save for long tubes running the length of it, and ran it around Spike's head. It began to beep near his right ear. She pressed several numbers on the side of the device and moved it back over his head, carefully inserting one of the tubes inside his ear. Spike could feel intense heat radiating from the gadget, or possibly from his head, and he gripped the arms of his chair. "Ow!"

"We have to burn it up," Isobel said. "Your specific chip will malfunction if the heat rises beyond a certain degree."

"I'll bloody well malfunction if I rise beyond a certain degree too! And it fucking hurts!" he growled.

"Do you want five minutes of pain or an eternity of pain every time you try to act on impulse?" Isobel pressed a few more buttons, watching on the screen as the diagram of Spike's chip began to turn red. They were halfway there.

"You're going to burn me bald!" Spike shouted, trying to push her hand away. "Stop it!"

"Two more minutes," Isobel blocked him. "Two minutes until you're free."

"God, when I get this chip out of my brain, I'm going to kill everything with a heartbeat."

"That spares my daughter. She has nothing where she should have had a heart."

"How did that old bag get so evil, anyway?" Spike asked her, trying not to notice the smell of burning hair. "You don't seem the abusive type."

"My daughter was spoiled by her father, and never taught right from wrong. Everything I tried to do with her was thwarted, and so she became a willful child and even worse adult." Isobel kept her eyes on the screen. "She was always determined to be a Slayer and when she failed, she decided to use science and technology to undermine all that the Council had worked toward."

The Slayer. Spike's mind wondered to Buffy and he went numb all over. Would he be able to kill her? Did he want to? How would she react to the old Spike?

Isobel moved away, announcing that the chip had been 'burned' completely, and Spike gingerly touched the side of his head.

He didn't feel any different.

And he didn't feel any better.

<><>

When the last soldier hit the floor, Buffy stood up and made her presence known to Maggie Walsh, dropping the tranquilizer gun and raising the pistol. The Slayer locked eyes on her foe, and to her credit, Maggie didn't falter. As a matter of fact, she smiled. "Well, well, well," the woman said, eyeing the gun in the Slayer's hands. "I'm guessing you aren't going to use that on me or I'd be a dead woman right now."

"You got the dead part right. You could never be called a woman." Buffy returned the smile and lowered the gun. "I've had an awful long time to just sit and think about payback. It occurred to me that a good old fashioned ass whipping might be just what you need." The Slayer leaped down into the pit and stood a few inches away from Maggie. "Then I'm going to kill you."

Walsh had a long metal rod, which she swung at Buffy's head, but the younger woman had anticipated the move and ducked. As the momentum swung Maggie around, Buffy tackled her, causing the rod to clatter out of the way. Neither noticed the vampire free himself from the chair and run.

<><>

Giles, Angel, and the Councilmen gained access through the cargo bays in the Initiative. There were several army jeeps, several holding pens and one guard, whom they drugged with a hypodermic needle. Jones, one of the security experts from the Council, had tinkered with the alarm system, then announced that it had already been shut down. The men, around fifteen in all, couldn't be bothered with determining the cause. Instead, they sprang into action, each one performing the task they had been assigned before they entered the compound.

Angel stood ready at the doorway, a long metal pole in his hand, waiting patiently for Jones to swipe his fake clearance down the security box. When he did, and the door opened, Angel wasn't prepared for the vampire who flew into him, fangs bared, nails scraping wildly. He watched as one of the Councilmen produced a stake and tossed the vampire off of him, toward the man.

"Wait!" the vampire shouted. "Angelus, right? You don't want to go down there, man. The Slayer's down there and she's pissed."

Giles' eyes locked on Angel's and both men stepped toward the vampire. Angel spoke first. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, man. Cute, blond, tiny and toting an arsenal of weapons. She's attacking some human woman and I bailed. I didn't want to-" The stake was plunged into his back courtesy of Malachai.

Wasting no time, Angel and Giles turned as one and headed through the open doorway.

The stakes had just been upped.

Literally.

<><>

Maggie was stronger than Buffy had anticipated. Blood pooled from a gash in her forehead and as Maggie charged at her, she was momentarily blinded by the sticky liquid. She raised a hand to wipe it away and the other woman slammed into her, knocking her onto her back. Her head connected with the metal base of one of the chairs and stars exploded behind her eyelids. Nevertheless, she gripped the chair and tugged herself upright.

Maggie chuckled as she watched the girl crawl to her feet. "And they said you were the best."

"I'm just letting you get in a few good licks so your death won't be so depressing for you," Buffy said with a shrug.

The smile on Maggie's face faltered and she balled up her fist, swinging wide at Buffy's jaw. The Slayer caught her arm and backhanded her, sending Walsh staggering backwards. Maggie ran her hand under her nose, saw the blood on her fingertips, and charged again. Ducking low, Buffy caught the woman around the knees and then stood, sending her flying over her head and into the wall of the pit. Even the Slayer cringed at the bone crunching smack that sounded as she impacted.

Wasting no time, Buffy stepped forward and gripped her head and chin. "Breaking your neck is going to be the most satisfying thing I've ever done."

She was about to twist when someone shouted behind her. "Buffy, no!"

Turning her head, she saw Angel leap down into the pit and start toward her. In her shock at seeing Angel there, she let Maggie go, and the woman staggered to her feet, raising a knife that had been in her boot over her head.

"Look out!" Angel cried.

Buffy turned in time to see the blade come streaking toward her, but another person leaped into the pit, tackling Maggie. "Giles!" Buffy cried, realizing who had saved her.

She made a move to help the ex-Watcher, but suddenly, commandos were dropping into the pit left and right. She pivoted, seeing for herself that Angel was occupied with two soldiers, and several men in suits were fighting hand to hand with even more. Turning on her heel, she made a move for her weapon bag, only to have it kicked out of her reach.

Looking up, she vaguely recognized the young commando who stood facing her. "Riley?"

"Buffy?" the young man asked. "Buffy Summers? From psych class? What- what are you?"

"Don't take this the wrong way," Buffy told him sweetly, as she punched him as hard as she could. "But what I am is none of your business. And you gave me a C when I should have had an A." He landed in a heap on the ground and she stared down at him. "I hold a grudge."

"Mmph," he replied, then went out like a light.

Giles wrestled the knife away from Maggie and tossed it in Buffy's direction. It clattered to the ground behind her and Angel intercepted it. Buffy had given her attention to two commandos who were coming her way. Giles looked at Maggie and smiled. "You always did have trouble holding onto your weapons. I guess that's why you never made it as a Slayer."

Maggie's nostrils flared. "Ripper Giles! How pleasant to see you again."

"You won't feel that way for very long," Giles slowly removed his jacket and let it fall to the floor behind him. "Let's have a go, for old times sake, shall we?"

Her acceptance of the challenge came in the form of a well aimed kick as his head, which he ducked under. Maggie's leg fell to the ground like lead and Giles aimed a blow to her ribs. She coughed and sputtered, doubling over in pain. Giles was gripped from behind by one of the errant commandos, who held him in place as Maggie righted herself and lifted the metal pole she had tried to hit the Slayer with. "Let's see how I hold onto this."

She drew it back, took aim, and then was tackled from behind by something strong. Something stronger than a human. At first, she thought it was the Slayer again, but the hands around her throat were cold. She gripped them, prying them away and turning her head to look.

She met a pair of eyes that were almost identical to her own. Isobel Walsh lifted her daughter to her feet and growled, "Call them off."

Maggie thrashed wildly, trying to ram her elbow into the vampire's chest, but it was no use. She looked around, searching for anyone to help her, but the commandos, the few who were still standing, were engaged in combat with the Council. She watched in horror as the Slayer knocked two of their heads together, bringing them to their knees, and then the remaining few were targeted and downed.

"Isobel. " Malachai stepped forward, gazing at the vampiric visage that was hiding the woman he had known for years. "My god, Isobel, we thought you were simply ill."

"I am ill," Isobel said in a near whisper. "Why don't we let Maggie explain to you why that is."

Malachai glanced at Maggie and shook his head. "No. Maggie, no! Tell me you didn't do this."

Maggie wriggled, trying to slip out of her mother's grip. "What are you people doing!? You've ruined my research facility, you attacked my men, and you- you talk to this vampire as if you feel sorry for her! She's an animal! A monster!"

"Silence!" Malachai held up a hand and reached into his breast pocket, pulling out a document. "Maggie Walsh, you are hereby stripped of your title as a Council Operative. You are ordered to return to England as our prisoner, where you will be properly punished."

Maggie started to speak, but Isobel tightened her grip, glaring at the Elder Watcher. "She won't be making that trip, Malachai. It ends tonight."

There was a collective gasp as Isobel sank her fangs into Maggie's neck. As one, the Councilmen stepped forward, each bound to protect their own, but each torn between justice for Isobel and their duty. Suddenly, the female vampire wrenched her mouth free and howled in agony. Tears, crimson and thick, ran down her cheeks. "I can't do it! Do you see what she created!? Do you see what she's done?"

"She can't do it, but I can," Spike spoke suddenly, leaping into the pit. With lightning speed, he gripped Maggie's head, twisting hard and then letting her drop when her neck snapped. Before Maggie hit the ground, he pulled a stake from his pocket, drove it into Isobel's chest, and turned to look at Buffy, who was staring, mouth agape.

"Spike-" she whispered.

He could tell by her face that she realized the truth, the chip was gone. And he was a fool. Armed with nothing but a stake, facing down several Councilmen, Giles **and** Angel who was slowly skulking toward him.

Spike stared silently at her for a moment, his eyes dark and unreadable, then, as quickly as he had jumped into the pit, he leaped out of it and retreated, leaving Buffy too stunned to speak at all.

<><><>

Continued...

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