Rating: PG-13 (violence, some language, some sex)
Wordcount: Roughly 145,000 total
Notes: Home stretch. Just four more installments...I can do it....
"Okay, we need someone to be at the store in case Sippy has news about something going on in the lair. You might have to keep it closed tomorrow, sorry Giles, I know I can't just be making executive decisions like that, but we're going to need privacy in there. You understand, right? I mean, the customers. They can't-"
"Buffy," Giles interrupted, "tomorrow is Sunday. The store is always closed on Sundays."
"Oh." Buffy smiled nervously and picked up a book, opening it to a random page without bothering to look at it. She needed to be doing something, and just talking wasn't doing the trick. "Well, that's that. Xander? Anya? Want to babysit the kitty?"
"What fun, a Magic Box sleepover," said Xander. "Does Sippy have any movie channels, or is he always just 'Meanwhile, back at the lair'?"
Anya accepted the assignment without argument. "This house is too full of loud and frustrated visitors to have good sex here anyway," she said. "Xander, come help me carry pillows and other things that make hard surfaces comfortable." The two of them prepared to return to the store for the night, leaving Buffy and Giles with a pile of books that Giles had brought along from there and deposited on the dining room table.
Giles squinted at the books as he cleaned his glasses, then said, "I'll relieve them in the morning. If there isn't a way to discover the whereabouts of Darla and her cohorts, I can at least investigate the spell that Daemonis has used to conceal himself."
"Right. Good." Buffy closed the book, its contents still unknown, and grabbed another one, giving it the same treatment. The only thing more maddening than leaving all four vampires alive was that all of them were now missing, and Daemonis was the only one who had left even a clue on how to find him. She felt like she was wired enough to take on all of them at once if she could only get her hands on them, and instead she had books. "They'll be up and out again tomorrow night. Any kind of head start we can get on finding them before that is a check in the victory column."
Oz and Willow were holding nearly identical poses at the other end of the table, arms folded with their heads resting on top. Exhausted as they were, neither had allowed themselves to nod off yet, for which Buffy was grateful. Oz concealed a yawn before he spoke. "I can try to do some tracking. It's hit or miss, but I at least know Spike's scent well enough to follow if I find it."
"And I can..." Willow trailed off, and she had to rub her eyes and shake her head before regaining focus. "I can keep looking for a seeking spell, I guess. The ones I know won't work because they need a personal item, oh, maybe I can get something from Spike's crypt. Do you want me to go to the crypt?"
The strain in Willow's voice brought Buffy out of her own mechanical haze a little bit. "No. No, you need to sleep. Oz, you need to sleep too. Giles, you need to sleep."
"It's almost dawn," Giles agreed.
Buffy's eyes snapped up. "Dawn? Oh great. Is there room to sleep everyone here?"
Giles nodded. "I expect some of us will need to see what kind of rest the floor can afford us, but you and Angel should take the guest room."
"Huh?" said Buffy. "I meant everyone else. We're going back to the mansion like right now."
Willow gave her a look of bleary confusion. "But why? I thought you wanted to keep everyone together so we could work on this."
She had said that, hadn't she? She had been ordering everyone around since she found them at the lake. It felt like no time at all had passed between then and now, yet at the same time, when she tried to remember waking up that morning it felt like weeks ago. She faced her friend and told the truth. "Because Angel's headed for meltdown territory and I need to get him alone."
Willow, Oz, and Giles all looked through the doorway to the kitchen, where Angel and his team were gathered around the island countertop and conversing with heated intensity. They had gravitated together as soon as they were all in the same place, just as the Scoobies had gravitated to Giles's guidance, and she had no doubt that they were working out assignments of their own. Angel glanced over his shoulder at her, probably noticing that everyone at the table was looking their way, and she flashed him a smile that was bound to be unconvincing. On second thought, he had also probably overheard her last remark. Oops.
"Well..." said Giles.
Buffy knew what he, and Willow and Oz, were thinking: Angel seemed fine, far from the meltdown borderlines. "I'm serious," she hissed. "What he went through tonight..." Her voice surprised her by cracking, even at the whispered volume she was holding, and she covered her mouth to suppress a tiny sob. Knowing she was still visible to Angel if he turned around again, she stood up and moved away from the table. Willow pushed out of her chair to join her, and Buffy saw Oz tap Giles's arm and gesture at the doorway. The two of them got up quietly and left the girls in privacy.
Their departure alone might have been enough to set Buffy off; it was so considerate of them. Before she even formulated any of the sentences she'd thought to say, tears started falling, and Willow was hugging her tightly and murmuring unclear but comforting words.
"Why can't they just die," Buffy whimpered into her shoulder. "Why does the past always have to be coming back and hurting him?"
"I don't know," Willow confessed. "He tries so hard, you'd think he'd get a break sooner or later. But you know what?" She took a step back, her hands on Buffy's shoulders, and gave her a hopeful grin. "Angel thinks he's lucky. Isn't that the craziest thing?"
Buffy wiped her face with a sleeve and chuckled. "And you're going to tell me it's because of me, right?"
"I am, but the best part is I don't have to make it up. Come on, you should get him alone, like you said. If you hurry you won't even have to smother him in blankets for your ride home."
When Buffy went to collect Angel from the kitchen, he only resisted for a second. Certainly there was part of him that didn't want to sleep until his old companions were found, daylight be damned, but he wasn't about to fight Buffy on it. Especially not when all three of his employees backed her up with, "Go home," and even somehow managed to all say it at the same time.
It felt very odd to be walking back into the mansion, despite having been there less than a day ago. Buffy had been trying hard not to think about where she and Angel were supposed to be right now, and what they were supposed to be doing, but when she saw the gifts on the table still wrapped and waiting, it was hard to keep living in denial. She deliberately looked away from them, and Angel saw it and took her hand firmly, leading her upstairs without saying a word.
They settled on the bed together, but his shell didn't come down right away. She didn't force it. She sat leaning against him until he chose his words: "They brought back Darla as a human. She had the one thing in this world I want, and she threw it away."
"Makes you mad?"
He thought about it, then shook his head decisively. "I don't blame her. She had no chance to adjust, and there was nobody there to help her." He closed his eyes for a moment. "She looked for me and I wasn't there."
Because you were here with me, thought Buffy, but she didn't want to complicate the matter. She couldn't feel guilty about it, either. Darla's second chance was blown, but she had been a dead thing to begin with. Wherever her soul was now, it was where it belonged, and the only thing to be done was to make sure her body, and her demon, went where they belonged too. "We'll help her in the other way. We bring peace."
"I hope so." He pulled her closer to him, not seeming to be conscious of doing it. "I thought tonight was going to be peace. I can't believe you had to be there for that. I can't believe you had to hear me say those things."
She drew in a breath that fluttered the fabric of his shirt where her face was pressed up to it. That was Angel, always thinking about her suffering even when his own was worse. But he was still here with her, not trying to hide as if her mere presence were a privilege he didn't deserve, and that made it better for both of them. She was glad he could talk about it, and sorry for what she was going to say next, no matter how much it had to be said. "Why did you do it that way? Why did you talk about what happened when you got your soul secured?"
His tone was flat and miserable when he answered. "Because it happened. You can ask Willow what I said during the spell. That the soul doesn't matter, that I was going to end up a killer either way...and when I said it, I believed it, so I thought they would too. Especially now that they've all gone through what I did."
"Do you believe it now?"
It wasn't exactly a question that needed to be asked, she knew. She might as well start every day by asking him if he thought he might go on a murdering spree today. But if he still had some kind of fixation on his brief final experience with having no soul, maybe it would be good to let him confirm out loud that it was over.
So she wasn't exactly prepared for him to answer, "Partially." Seeing her start to blanch, he continued quickly. "I said that evil can come from a vampire that has a soul, and Daemonis proved that for me. I said that a soul doesn't have to get in the way of a good time. And I didn't even know how right about that I was. Being here with you for these last few months- in spite of everything- it's amazing. I'm so happy it makes me dizzy. I'm so happy I can't even think about the curse. I can feel things I never felt without a soul, and sometimes it hurts, but it's always, always worth it. It's not punishment anymore. It's something I chose."
Buffy craned her face up to see his. "And they didn't, did they? They just wanted an easy fix, like you said."
He swallowed hard and nodded. "I thought that Spike at least could be redeemed. He always seemed like he was already halfway there- eating food like a human, talking about love like a human. I used to mock him for it."
"And Drusilla?" The words were out before Buffy had thought them through. Maybe he wasn't ready to talk about Drusilla. Maybe she should just stop with the questions.
But he didn't flinch to hear the name, and he didn't obfuscate his answer. "She can't be redeemed and she can't handle having a conscience. She was insane before I turned her. This is worse for her than for any of us." He shifted suddenly on the bed, twisting to face her, and grabbed her upper arms so tightly that she wondered if he really thought she was going to try to escape. "Buffy," he said, his tone dire and his eyes boring into her. "I hurt her so badly. I did things to her that should never even be spoken aloud, and I made her worship me for it. She would look at me and remember all of it and still couldn't hate me like she should, because I took that from her too."
Buffy recalled telling the others that she wanted to get Angel alone to avoid a meltdown. She felt his desperation through his deathgrip on her arms, his shame breaking the surface of memories he had never wanted her to hear. Even after he stopped talking she could hear that he was taking short, shallow breaths, some kind of carryover that vampires had from a human's physiological channeling of emotion.
Slowly, without breaking eye contact, Buffy placed her hands over his and then guided them away from her biceps and into her lap. She didn't have to pry him off of her; he responded as soon as he felt what she was doing, and looked at his own hands as if shocked by their betrayal. Without giving him time to wonder if he had hurt her- he hadn't, anyway- she leaned in and kissed him, very gently. His lips barely moved against hers, but when she touched his cheek and ran her fingers along the curves of his shoulders, she felt his body lose some of its rigidity and she knew she had him back. The moment had passed.
"But she can hate you now," Buffy said softly, still trying to cradle him in the diminutive circle of her arms. "Is that why she ran away?"
"She ran because she was afraid of me. And who wouldn't be?"
She chanced a smile, tilting back to show it to him. "Do I really have to answer that? For crying out loud, you've got a Slayer hanging on your neck here."
It worked. This time he was the one to initiate the embrace, and she felt kisses in her hair before he let go and stood up. She stayed on the bed. Sure, he was pacing a little, but he was just pensive now, not freaked. "It shouldn't be long before Spike and Dru go back to Darla," he said. "They need a leader. Hopefully that means we can find them all at once, but we won't know how to take them out until we do."
"Mm. Well, now your finder-outer squad is here catering to our whims along with the Sunnyhell regulars, so I bet we get it charted and mapped in no time. It's like when Batman teams up with the X-Men. Or wait, maybe they don't live in the same comic books. Xander would know."
Angel nodded, eyes down as he wandered around the room. "They're good. They know what they're doing."
"The X-Men?" Buffy freed her hair from its elastic and started taking off her jewelry. It had taken this long to remember that she was at home and it was time to recharge, but now she could call it quits on the worst parts of the night and save the good memories for later.
"My team." He smiled a little, showing he knew that the correction was unneeded. As he spoke he pulled his shirt over his head, still pacing, and she saw his back bared to her. The griffin on the right still guarded it with fierce dignity, rippling along with his muscles and presenting the initial of the only name she would ever be able to call him. "It'll be okay. We'll track them all down, we'll make sure they don't cast the spell. It'll be okay."
"Yeah." She slipped out of her own shirt, wadding it up in her hands with distaste for the spots it had accrued during the messier parts of the night, and then stopped short as she looked at herself without it. She had completely forgotten about the very provocative lingerie she had been wearing under it, chosen in anticipation for the getaway, and now her mind was so full of vampires and dirty work that it struck her as completely ridiculous.
She let out a stream of abashed giggles, and Angel turned around to see why. He saw the humor in it immediately, but the amusement on his face was greatly overtaken by approval. "Red," he noted. "Did
you wear that for me?"
When Buffy had changed from the wedding dress into her current outfit, she had been thinking of all kinds of seductive things to say when it came off of her. She was pretty sure they were all very effective ones, too. Now, the only reply that came to mind was, "I really really did." She shrugged a shoulder, not wanting him to feel like it meant he had a function to perform. "It made sense at the time."
"It makes sense now." In a few quick steps he was back on the bed with her, fingering the red frills in a way that made her blush like a virgin. "God, Buffy, you're so beautiful."
"I knew you liked me in red."
"I like you in everything. Or nothing. And you look amazing in white, did I tell you that?" He touched his forehead to hers and ran his fingers through her hair. "I wanted tonight to be perfect for you. I don't know how to-"
"Don't you dare apologize to me," she breathed. She almost told him to just kiss her, but some lines can't be used more than once, so instead she just kissed him. Regrets about the little cabin at the coast didn't last. They couldn't. Reality narrowed down to her lover's hands, clasped firmly once again on her arms, but this time only to lower her onto her back and hover over her with his tongue twining around hers. Ever since she had invited him back into herself, he had never needed to wait for permission. She could have doubts about her timing or his desire, but he always knew when she wanted him, and when he came to her, it was to take what was his.
It wasn't until she felt his weight pressing her into the bed that she could fully relax. It kept occurring to her that they were married now, and the thought felt new each time. Maybe she wouldn't get to wake up beside him every day, but she would get to keep having those days for as long as they both were alive.
After she was spent, she nestled against him and enjoyed the silence that accompanied the continued wanderings of his hand. She must have been halfway into a dream already when she spoke- she couldn't think of any reason that she would bring it up otherwise, sudden curiosity notwithstanding. "You could have fooled Darla if you went with her. You could have played the part until you had her trapped."
"Yeah," Angel agreed sleepily. "But she would have touched me."
Buffy began to feel very optimistic about the battles she most likely had coming tomorrow. As far as she was concerned, Darla had already lost.
After Giles showed up at the Magic Box the next morning, Xander brought Anya back to the house just in time to catch Wesley and Gunn as they were going out the door. "Whoa, hey," he said, grabbing Wesley's sleeve. "Fill me in first? I just spent the most boring night ever on the most uncomfortable table ever in the spookiest store ever. Whatever you're doing right now there's a high probability that I'm going to beg you to let me tag along."
"Sure," said Gunn amiably. "Wouldn't hurt to be bringing a guy who knows the territory."
"Or you could be in our group," put in Willow as she and Oz descended the stairs. "We're going to break and enter! But it's just a crypt. Ooh! Or maybe we could call it a tomb, and then we'd be tomb raiders!"
Xander decided to let chivalry rule the day and turned to Anya. "Who do you feel like today? Sherlock Holmes or Lara Croft?"
She frowned back at him. "Well, obviously I prefer that you emulate fictional characters that have a penis, but I was going to join Cordelia's group, because she's staying here."
"Your fate has been determined, Sherlock," stated Wesley, opening the door again. "Shall we?"
Xander got into Wesley's car with him and Gunn, Willow and Oz set off on foot, and Anya and Cordelia waved goodbye from the doorway. Xander got a few details during the ride about what they were supposed to be doing, and the first item on the list seemed to be a stop at Angel's mansion. Both men had been adamant about the need to retrieve some of their own clothes, and Xander couldn't really blame them. The shirts he had loaned them were perfectly good no matter what they might say about the colors, but enormous height was a trait that Wesley and Gunn happened to share, and just about everything was small on them.
Buffy answered the door in a bathrobe and pointed them to their suitcases and to rooms where Wesley and Gunn could change. She had morning hair and starry eyes, but she was as calm and collected as ever, greeting everyone politely and thanking them for the work they were putting in today. While he was alone in the room with her, Xander took the chance to ask if she was alright, and she merely stood there with her folded arms and said, "Fine. You?"
"Fine. Uh, where's Angel?"
"Busy." She said it with a smile. "Sorry we can't come help. Daylight."
"Yeah. Them's the breaks." He wondered if she was challenging him to mention that daylight only posed a problem for one of them. He thought he might mention that later, maybe if he was feeling a little more suicidal. "So...yeah. The guys just needed their clothes."
"And then, we're, uh, gonna go. Since you and Angel are, uh, busy."
She smiled again. "There's a reason I'm not inviting you to sit down, Xander."
Wesley and Gunn returned, a timely rescue. Wes exchanged a few words with Buffy about keeping everyone in contact in case anything was found or changed, and she promised to keep the phone on and then gave them a warm but insistent goodbye. Xander took the hint as well as they did, but just before he was ushered outside he turned and blurted out, "Buffy. I think I forgot to say this yesterday, but...congratulations."
She responded by wrapping him in a quick hug and murmuring her heartfelt thanks into his ear. Then she shooed him out the rest of the way and turned back to her home, and he shut the door behind him and rejoined Angel's extra tall detective force.
Xander was able to be of real help, it turned out, and sooner than he would have expected. Giles had written out directions to a few different places in town that might have information, but none of them led to anything useful and Xander put in a vote for trying Willy's pub next. Even Giles had only a passing familiarity with that one, but Xander knew every entrance. He led them to the 'human' one, which faced the street but opened into a dark hallway that protected the vampires within from getting hit by any stray sunlight. It also incidentally gave them a viewpoint that let them see what was going on in the bar without being immediately visible.
Gunn saw it first. He was in front, and blocked the other two with an arm before pointing at the bar and mouthing the words, "Is that him?"
Xander confirmed it silently, stunned. Spike had his hands on the counter and was leaning over it in the most threatening possible pose, and he was saying something inaudible to Willy, who was putting on his usual show of helpless shrugs and stammered denials. Xander looked to Wesley and Gunn to see what they wanted to do, and after a few glances had passed between the three of them, he stayed put and held his silence. With Spike impaired by his chip, they undoubtedly could have killed him right then and there, but they had discussed it earlier and they needed to either shadow him or force some information out of him first, or they would never get on the trail of the others. A bar full of vampires was a terrible place to initiate a fight, anyway.
Spike slammed a fist on the bar and stormed off toward the exit that had sewer access, and Xander and the others gave him a moment's head start before emerging cautiously from the hallway. A few of the customers looked up from where they were huddled over their drinks, but when they saw that the humans weren't going to bother them, they went back to their own conversations or sullen solitude. Willy, however, recognized Xander and beckoned him over right away. Xander was suspicious- Willy wasn't a friend, though he was usually harmless and tolerable in temper- but they had come here for a chat with him anyway, so he approached the bar and Wesley and Gunn came up on either side of him.
"You guys with the Slayer?" Willy asked. "Working with her and Angel? You prob'ly wanna hear about what Spike just told me, right?"
Xander raised an eyebrow. "And you're just going to tell us? Is this some kind of proactive attempt to keep us from threatening to beat it out of you?"
"Hey, hey, none of that." Willy grabbed a rag and started reflexively wiping the counter. "I'm giving you this one for free 'cause he's looking for his girlfriend, and if he finds her there's gonna be trouble here that money can't fix."
"His girlfriend?" said Wesley. "You know about Drusilla?"
"Damn right I do. Thought we'd seen the last of her when Spike came back into town and she didn't, but whaddaya know, last night I'm closing up shop and here she is."
Gunn grabbed his wrist, halting the movements of the cleaning rag. "She was here? You saw her? Now do me a favor and tell me you're not taking money from her boss."
"I toldja," said Willy. "This ain't a money thing. I dunno what they're up to, but it's not good and you guys can end it." He waited for Gunn to loosen his grip and then twisted his wrist away from him.
"I told Spike I didn't know a thing, see? But he's gonna tear up the town looking for her, and I figure we're all better off if you get there first. So, you gonna listen?"
"All ears," said Xander.
"A'right. There's this guy I get in here sometimes. Human guy. Minds his own business mostly, but sometimes he picks up a vamp chick and takes her home. Got that blood kink thing, I guess."
Everyone made appropriately disgusted grimaces. Wesley followed his by saying, "What an extraordinarily distinguished establishment you seem to be running here."
"Hey," Willy retorted, "this ain't a suckhouse. The guy doesn't make trouble, he can do what he wants. But last night, the vamp chick was Dru. Woulda warned him off her, but he didn't give me a chance. Now, I know where he lives, see? We hung out a couple times. I don't know if she's still there- hell, I don't know if they even got there in the first place, maybe she just sucked him dry and left him on the sidewalk- but it'll give you a start."
"Wow," said Xander as Willy scribbled down a name and address on the back of a receipt. "Thanks."
"Just get the job done. That Drusilla's crazy. And lately, all them other vamps are crazy too, I don't know what their problem is. And Spike, he's gonna burn this place to the ground if he finds out I had anything to do with this, so for God's sake, kill him too."
Gunn gave him the quick nod of the competent warrior. "Sounds like a plan. Keep it real, barkeep."
They went right to the address they were given before even contacting Angel, hoping to follow the trail to its end before they returned to him with a report on their progress. Wesley ordered that they take every measure to prevent Drusilla from learning that they were after her, but nonetheless, he knocked on the front door and openly asked the man who answered if he had seen a woman who matched the description he gave of Drusilla.
The man was, unsurprisingly, wary of them, and the first thing he asked was, "Willy send you?"
"He was concerned," said Wes smoothly. "He knew she was dangerous. I expect he'll be quite relieved to hear that you're alive and well after your encounter with her."
"Yeah, uh, thing is, I didn't really have one. She wanted me to bring her to another bar first, and then she left me and picked up some other guy." He scratched his head. "I don't think she liked it that I knew she was a vampire. Sounds crazy, I know, but she was kind of..."
"Crazy," said Xander. "We know."
Gunn tapped his fingers on the wall impatiently. "You got anything on this guy she went with? Ever seen him before?"
"Seen him, don't know him. The bartender probably would. The Bronze, downtown, you know the place. Good luck." He closed the door in their faces, which Xander thought was nice and tidy. If the bite-fetish barfly wanted to get rid of them, the feeling was fully mutual.
The next part of the process was as arduous as any in which Xander had ever participated. The first guy didn't know, but he knew a guy who might know, but he wondered why they wanted to know, but there was another guy they should ask if they really wanted to know, but his phone number was missing, but some cash might make it easier, but maybe they should try the first guy again. Wesley and Gunn were as aggravated by the runaround as Xander was, but he was impressed to see that they had few reservations about threatening when it helped, and the chilly tone that Wesley used for it was more impressive still. In the end they had another address, as well as the knowledge that Drusilla and her date must have reached his home shortly before dawn, so she was, in all likelihood, still there.
It was time to bring the story to Angel. Xander hoped that Buffy had changed out of her bathrobe by now.
Between researching Daemonis's concealment spell, fielding calls from nearly everyone at one point or another, and keeping one eye always on the Moisipi spirit, Giles was busier than he would have thought he could be in the store by himself when it was closed. When Wesley called and told him that they were all convening at Angel's to compare notes, he cursed to himself and glared at the Moisipi, which had been silent all day but would undoubtedly start spouting information the moment he left it alone. "Start without me," he told Wesley. "Or send Anya over to take my place. Tell her she's on the clock as long as she's here."
He was the last to arrive at the mansion, but only by a few minutes. Father Tom was being filled in on everything that had happened since he left the reception the night before, and he looked none too happy about being out of the loop throughout the entire saga. When Giles entered, everyone seemed to be trying to find delicate terms to explain the significance of Darla and the other two vampires working together, until finally Angel looked up and said, "Drusilla. Spike. He knows."
Father Tom nodded passively and let the disjointed story continue, but when they got to the part about Daemonis disappearing and the need to keep watching the Moisipi in case of any change, he interrupted. "He's there but he isn't visible or tangible?"
"Yes," said Giles. "And I've spent the morning investigating possibilities of magic he might have used, and come up almost entirely empty."
"Because it's not a spell." The priest shook his head in irritation as everyone swiveled to give him a blank stare. "I've been hunting Daemonis for years. Did none of you think to call and ask if I knew anything that might help?"
There was an embarrassed silence. Giles wondered if he could have been studying in his own home all this time. Xander had gained a look of intense consternation, no doubt wondering if he and Anya could have spent the night in bed. Willow answered the question in her own sheepish query: "We figured...didn't want to bother you?"
Father Tom sighed. "He has an ability that lets him vanish when he feels the need, as long as nobody is there to see him do it. As far as I know, he can rematerialize the same way, but by keeping watch with that spirit, you're effectively holding him in place. Given the urgency of his current situation, I've little doubt that he'll want to return as soon as he has the opportunity, but for now, you don't need to worry about him."
"Relief, anyone?" said Xander after a brief pause. "Are we feeling a little relief? I'm gonna go with relief. Moving on."
Willow raised her hand, bubbling in anticipation. "My turn? Oz and I got this nifty Zippo lighter from Spike's crypt. We can cast the seeking spell any time."
"Classic!" Buffy praised her. "And Spike should be with Drusilla, so that's two down."
Wesley cleared his throat. "Actually, Spike seems to have lost Drusilla at some point last night. But we may have found her." He went on to tell everyone how he, Gunn, and Xander had located her current refuge. Through most of the story he spoke directly to Angel, who took it in silently with an unwavering gaze, and ended it by handing him a slip of paper which seemed to have a name and address written on it.
Angel studied the paper for longer than someone with a memory like his ought to require, then said to no one in particular, "If Spike lost Dru, he'll go back to Darla. He won't think anyone else could help him find her."
"So I retract my earlier statement," said Buffy. "That's three down. Four if we count Daemonis. Anyone else got news?"
"Here's something," Oz offered. "It's ten minutes to sunset."
Cordelia stood up and peeked out of the heavy drapes. She turned back to the room, apparently satisfied that Oz's statement was accurate, and announced, "Cry hammock! Unleash the dogs of war!"
"Havoc," corrected five or six voices around the room, Giles's among them.
"Whatever," Cordy replied. "Get going! You're unleashed!"
Angel wasn't sure how to go about splitting up the group, but Buffy didn't seem to have any qualms about excusing herself and him by telling them simply, "I need to talk to Angel alone for a minute." She led him through the house to the door by the garden, a private spot though still protected from the last rays of sunlight.
She cut right to the chase. "You want to go after Drusilla by yourself, don't you?"
"Yes," he said, the truth of the answer bringing it out of him without any need to think about why.
"But I don't know if that's possible, with the other two loose at the same time."
"Let me take care of them." She brought a fingertip to his lips quickly, cutting off the protest he was about to make. "Spike can't hurt me, and I can handle Darla by myself. Can't I?"
The question was asked sincerely; once again, she wanted confirmation from his knowledge of Darla. All he could do was answer with the same honesty, though it turned his stomach to think of Buffy and Darla in a mortal battle. "You can handle her."
"And if you sneak out of here now, the gang won't have anything to do but back me up. So I'll be fine. We really can't wait on either of them, Angel. If we try to get them one at a time, the other could be up to some serious no good."
"You really want me to do this?"
Her voice took on an edge, as it did when the anger that she felt at the world seeped through. "No. I want you to take me back to bed and make love to me until I pass out. But it looks like right now I'm supposed to be thinking long-term, and as far as that goes, I want closure. So go get me some."
The sun had finished setting, and Angel took one step outside. He didn't think that he could ever find closure for his history with Drusilla, but there could be an end. He had to move fast, though. "I'll go. You'll tell them not to follow me?"
"I'll demand it. Here." She grabbed his stake sheaths from the weapons chest nearby, and he strapped them on and loaded them as she turned and found him a coat that would conceal them.
"Don't underestimate Darla," he said, donning the coat. "And keep your eye on Spike too."
"I know. One more thing." Buffy ducked back out of the room and came back quickly with a small pouch. She shook the contents into her hand and explained, "Wesley gave these to us. You probably won't need another weapon, but they're so small, we might as well each take one."
He lifted one of the 'weapons' delicately from her palm and stretched it out to look at it. It was nothing but a pair of brass handles connected by two feet of cord that was so thin and clear that it was almost invisible, but he thought he understood. "Garrotes?" he asked.
She nodded and demonstrated with the other one, looping it once around his wrist and taking a handle in each hand. "You can cut through a lot of different materials like this," she said, pulling her hands apart just enough to exert the slightest amount of pressure on his skin. It didn't hurt, but he could feel the way it would slice through if she meant business. She released his arm and wound up the tool, using a clip to fasten it onto her belt loop. "It doesn't do much for someone with ordinary human strength, but...go us."
He coiled up the other one and tucked it away in his pocket. "Apparently Wesley has some strange ideas about wedding gifts," he said.
"He also got us a crockpot." Buffy offered with a rueful smile. "Hey, I'm just glad they don't say 'His' and 'Hers.'"
"I better get moving. You too. I'll find you as soon as I can."
Before letting him go, she reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, gazing up at him intently. "I love you."
It wasn't a phrase he ever tired of hearing from her, but it also wasn't routine for them to say it every time they had to part before facing some kind of danger. It was too much like a goodbye, or at least an admission that one of them might not come back. Right now it was probably the only way that Buffy could show him that she was afraid. He pulled her to his chest and hugged her tightly, feeling her return the embrace with her usual fervor. "I love you too," he answered, kissing her first on the forehead and then on the lips. "And I swear, I will take you to the beach."
Willow's locator spell, simple enough to cast, brought the merged teams to a crypt much like the one that Spike had so recently vacated, though in a different cemetery.
Actually, the spell didn't bring them anywhere. It showed Willow where the vampires were, and it showed her how to get there, but it certainly didn't provide any transportation. To get there they all had to squeeze into Giles's car and Oz's van with their sharp and bulky weapons, and when they got out at the graveyard's gate, they ran. Willow couldn't run as fast as Buffy, or many of the others, but she tried her best. She was the only one who knew exactly where they were headed, and she could tell that Buffy was already anxious about getting there too late. There was magic for transporting people, Willow knew, but she hadn't had the time to learn it yet. It was just impossible to know what to prioritize in her magic studies. It seemed like every day she needed something completely different.
The cemetery surrounding the crypt that had hidden Spike and Darla for the day was a vast one, and the crypt itself was certainly on the spacious side. They came up to it panting, Willow gesturing at it as her breath came back to her. The warriors among them didn't need to talk it out; they shared a few glances, hefted their weapons, and then Buffy led the way down the three steps to the door and kicked it open.
Willow waited outside trembling, with Oz standing by her and Giles, Cordelia, Xander, and Anya nearby. Everyone else had gone in, but it didn't take long for them to sweep the place and return, sans Father Tom. "No blondes," said Buffy. "There's a survivor, though. Who thinks they can help the holy man make her talk sense while I start working on Plan B, tentatively labeled Oh Shit They're Still Missing?"
Cordelia stepped forward fearlessly. "I learned a lot about comforting scared girls by working with Angel," she said. "And hey, she might have a priest phobia. I'll have her out here shaking hands in no time." She entered the crypt like it was her own front door- although, Willow thought, she probably didn't hold her nose before walking into her own front door.
Willow and Oz hurried up to Buffy to catch her attention before everyone else did. "The spell worked," said Willow. "This is where they were when I cast it, so they must have just left. And, well, I could cast it again, but if they're already on the move, it's not going to do much good."
"Their scent is fresh," Oz confirmed. "I can try following it. No guarantees on the quality of the haste, though."
Buffy exhaled with evident frustration and turned away. "Giles, you have any thoughts on where they're going? ...Giles?"
Giles had moved farther away from them while they were talking, and now seemed to be involved in his own rapid discussion with Wesley and the others, punctuated with a lot of looking and pointing out at the darkness. Willow and Oz followed Buffy over to the other group, where she announced their presence by inquiring, "Did you guys find something else interesting to talk about? 'Cause I thought we agreed that it was my turn to choose the activity for the night."
"Demons," said Gunn.
The answer was succinct enough to make Willow start scanning the area around her for danger, but Wesley elaborated with, "We've spotted several already. They're keeping at a distance as of yet, but they may become problematic when we wish to leave the premises."
"Which we have to do," stated Buffy. "Soon. Darla and Spike have way too much of a head start already."
Something moved, out from behind one large headstone and hidden again by another in the blink of an eye, but this time it was close enough for everyone to see, and Willow had no illusions about it being friendly. Xander shuddered. "Aye carumba. Just when you think all the flunkies got swallowed up in a mass baptism incident."
"Daemonis amassed many followers," said Giles, "not all of them vampires. It's likely that they switched their allegiance over to Darla when she gained control, or that they simply knew that something was afoot here and came to investigate. Either way, we'll need to find a way around them, or prepare for more of a battle than we had anticipated."
The conversation was saved from getting any bleaker by the emergence of Cordelia and Father Tom from the crypt, escorting a teenage girl with long dark hair and a pretty face. Evidently Cordelia had made good on her boast of sealing a quick friendship: the newcomer still looked nervous, but she took her place in the small crowd without hesitation. Cordy beckoned Buffy over, and everyone else tried to keep a respectful distance while still listening in.
"You guys aren't, like, normal," the girl ventured. "I mean...are you? Normal human people?"
"Honey," said Cordelia with utmost sympathy, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Is your brain fried? We understand if it is, but we don't have time to get into that right now, so you better just start by letting us know."
Willow's first impulse was to speak up in the girl's defense, but Cordelia had a point. What they needed more than anything right now was information, and mental recuperation came second. Xander seemed to pick up on the same thought, and even declared it with a workable proposal: "Hey, if what we're looking for here is brain power, how about skipping all that vocal stuff?" He looked pointedly at Father Tom. "Doesn't this count as a justifiable cause to read her?"
"I can't," the priest informed him. Then he asked the girl directly, "Are you a vampire?"
"Yeah," she replied, without shock or hesitation. "I mean, I think so. I was just getting used to it and now everything feels different and I don't know why."
It was hard to see everyone's reactions in the dark, but Willow noted that nobody gasped, and Cordelia didn't remove her hand from the girl's shoulder. Giles's voice was grave when he spoke. "You were sired more than ten days ago?"
"Yeah, it was maybe two weeks."
Buffy stepped up to face her and said with deep sincerity, "That is great. And later on we can explain why it's great. And we might be able to help you. I'm sure things have been hard, and I can't promise they're going to get easier anytime soon, but you really have a chance. Something you can work with. In the meantime, can you work with us?"
"...I guess?" The vampire looked more bewildered than panicked, but being rushed like this still wasn't going to be easy on her.
"Okay," said Buffy. "Have you seen a vampire named Darla?"
The name was clearly familiar, from the girl's expression, and carried some kind of emotional weight.
"Darla?" She bit back a choking laugh that carried a frantic undercurrent. "Of course it would be Darla. Can't be more than one of those around...she was here. She's everywhere, really. She's the top. We all have to obey her because she knows best, only now there really isn't any 'we,' since I'm the only one left. And she has this Billy Idol guy, he kind of scares me too."
"Spike!" It was too obvious to have to say it out loud, Willow thought, but that didn't stop most of them from making the exclamation at once. Finally, finally they were getting their enemies cornered.
"That's him. That's his name." The young vampire raised an eyebrow. "You know everyone, don't you?"
"Where did they go?" Buffy pressed her. "What did they say?"
"I don't know where they went. Darla was ticked. She said that the spell should have gone through by now if Demonic had done his part. She said he must be dead."
"Daemonis, you mean?" asked Wesley.
The girl looked faintly irritated through her confusion. "Whatever. She said Spike had to take his place."
This time Giles was the one to put words to what they were all thinking. "Spike is going to be the sacrifice," he said. "Darla intends to use him to cast the spell."
"I have to go," said Buffy as she whirled to face him. "I have to catch them before they reach the lake. Guys, can you hold your own here? I can't do this if any of those demons out there decide to follow me."
"You bet," Gunn assured her. "We all go out there and keep them busy, and you run for the door."
Willow wanted to just throw in her support and start facing some demons, but she was calculating some times and distances in her head and it wasn't working out. Buffy wasn't going to make it to the lake on her own strength. Willow lowered her voice, and the two of them automatically separated themselves from the others as she tried to explain the situation to her friend. "You have to move fast. Faster than just running, and there aren't any direct roads for a car. I have a spell for this, but...I have to stay linked to you. I have to be in meditation for as long as you need it, and stuck here with everything...I don't know."
Buffy took a deep breath, nodding her comprehension. "Be ready with it anyway, and I'll see what else we can do. You need to set anything up?"
"A few calming exercises wouldn't hurt."
"Do them. Don't go far."
Wandering off was the last thing on Willow's mind. It was impossible to tell how many demons were out there, or what kind they were- there was just an occasional rustle or shadow that made her remember checking her closet for monsters as a child, sometimes every few minutes, all night long. Oz squeezed her hand and let her recede, and she sat down cross-legged outside the crypt and leaned against its wall.
The calming exercises were legitimate; they weren't unique to Wiccan tradition and contained no magic in and of themselves, but they were used by spellcasters at every level and always helped Willow clear her mind before a difficult spell. Conditions for deep concentration couldn't get much lousier than this, and she needed to take advantage of what little solitude she could find. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and pictured herself in a void. She stopped thinking about Buffy getting to the lair on time, stopped listening to the low murmur of voices as the others discussed it, stopped wondering why Buffy and Angel had chosen to separate for these crucial battles. Minutes slipped away, and only the weight of a gentle hand on her shoulder brought her out of her trance.
She opened her eyes and took Oz's hands to let him help her up from her sitting position. "It's okay," he said. "You can stay here and cast the spell. Cordy and Xander are taking care of the vamp girl, her name's Lydia. Anya and the Watcher-types are going to try to identify all these demons on the fly so we know how to beat them. The rest of the guys are clearing a path for Buffy."
Willow blinked, trying to focus on the shape of his face before her as her eyes readjusted to the night. "What about you?" she asked.
"I'm going to protect you." He took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss, then led her behind the crypt. The rear wall was shorter than the others, and she had no trouble climbing up to the roof with the boost he gave her. The stone surface was cold beneath her and a little dirty, but it was solid, a good place for working magic. She looked back down at Oz, who smiled before he turned away and began shedding his clothes.
When he turned back, he was the wolf in full. Willow's heart beat a little bit faster- she knew how much progress he had made, but this was an awfully dramatic way to test it. "Oz?" she said tentatively.
In answer, he reared up with his front paws bracing against the crypt, looking up at her and wagging his tail. That alone sent a little thrill through her body. She had never seen the wolf wag his tail before. Without a thought for the risk, she got down on her belly and stretched out her arm to pet his head, right between the ears. He neither growled nor flinched, and she could barely contain her glee. The wolf had never let her touch him before, either. "I love you so much, Oz," she told him, and then he dropped back down to all fours and trotted away, settling within her range of vision but facing the darkness of the cemetery, standing sentry.
Buffy and Giles came up to the other side of the crypt, and Willow crossed it to talk to them.
"Buffy, are you ready to be Speedy Girl?"
"So past ready. And selfishly giddy about being temporarily imbued with extra super powers."
Willow searched the ground for her supply bag and had Giles hand it up to her. There were a few small items she always kept in there for their versatility as spell components, and one of them was a small white feather. She showed it to Buffy without letting go of it. "This is going to be the talisman. You have to hold it in your hand the whole time you're running, and I'll be here concentrating to keep the power in it. When you get to them, drop the feather, and I'll know I can let go of the spell."
"Aye aye. Profuse thanking is coming up as soon as we have time for it."
"'Kay. Oh, and don't trip, okay? That would be really bad."
Buffy nodded emphatically, and Willow spoke a simple chant over the feather to get the spell started. Then she took a deep breath and leaned down to hand the talisman over, straightening carefully as the influence of the spell made her lose some of her steadiness on the crypt's rooftop. She got into a meditative posture as Giles murmured, "Do be careful," which was probably directed at Buffy but could have been both of them. Willow didn't open her eyes to find out. She was damned well going to be careful without any encouragement for it anyway. Oz had her back, the gang had the battle, and she had the wings on Buffy's feet.
The Slayer's accelerated departure sounded like a clap of thunder. There were sounds that continued beyond that; clangs, shouts, roars, the wild mournful call of a wolf. Willow heard everything and never opened her eyes to see it.
The urgency of her situation didn't mean that Buffy wasn't marveling at how it felt to run like this. When she had first gained her powers, there had been moments between the angst and the training when she would test her strength or reflexes just for the fun of it, forgetting about all the duties and changes that being Chosen had brought into her life and just enjoying it for what it was. It had been a long time since anything had felt new about super strength and reflexes, though, and the enhanced speed that she was using right now was exhilarating in its sheer novelty.
She wasn't sure how fast she was moving, but she thought it was at least highway speed. It was hard to look at anything that wasn't straight in front of her- she herself would probably only appear as a blur to anyone she passed- and the importance of Willow's warning about tripping was made clear. She concentrated on picking a clear path through the cemetery, leaping the gate, and crossing some populated but quiet territory before reaching the woods. For the last part of the journey she found herself back on a road, the one that led up to the dock, and she could smell the water and feel the change in temperature before she saw the lake.
Two faces were visible at the dock, pale spots against the darkness of their clothing and the night around them. Buffy's hyperspeed made their appearance seem sudden and alarming, and for a moment she actually tried to put on an extra burst of speed, as if they would have the opportunity to escape her, instead of preparing to collect herself for battle. She came to her senses as they both flinched in shock at her unconventional arrival, and she opened her hand, letting the white feather float lazily to the ground at her skidding feet. Her breath caught up to her in a few beats, and she drew in a huge gulp of air that wrenched painfully at her lungs. The spell had made her hectic dash possible, but it hadn't entirely shielded her from the aftereffects, and she hoped that her legs would stop trembling before she had to start using them for kicking.
Spike was crouching and holding onto one end of a large plank of wood; on closer inspection, Buffy saw that he had pulled it from the dock and there was now a wide gap in front of him. He straightened up as she began to approach, but Darla spoke first. "If it isn't the cheerleader. Angelus didn't come? Poor boy, probably couldn't bear to be taking sides. Oh, or maybe he didn't want to see you die. He can be so sentimental."
Buffy considered telling them the truth about where Angel was, just to see what Spike would do if Drusilla's name was invoked, but for now it was safer to keep him here, where he was helpless against her. "He chose a side," she said instead, then looked at Spike. "Everyone made a choice."
"Right," he said, unimpressed. "Angel chose Bachelorette Number Three, I chose One and Two, and you chose a last-ditch effort to try to make me feel repentant. If you two are going to fight to the death, can you just get on with it?"
"You're an idiot, Spike. You're never going to get what you want this way."
He snorted. "Stakes and stones, princess. You haven't got a sodding clue of what I want." He began to stroll closer to Buffy, though he stayed on his side of the missing piece in the dock. Buffy took a few steps forward herself, and looked down to see water swirling beneath the gap. It was too dark to tell for sure, but she calculated that it was directly above the door to the lair. "Perhaps I've become the compassionate one," Spike continued. "I don't see your lot finding much concern for the suffering you've wrought. Lost souls come back to the prison of cold flesh? A girl driven mad by pain and forced to endure it forever? Is that what you expect me to want?"
So Spike wanted to cast the spell so he could save Drusilla from the torment of her conscience. It was heartbreaking, in a way, seeing the lengths he would go to for her. With any luck, Angel had already released her into death. "Maybe not," Buffy replied, "but whatever you do, things will never go back to the way they were before. Even with her."
Darla's hand flashed out in a quick movement, and Buffy thanked her lucky stars that she had been keeping one eye on the female vampire. It gave her the heads up she needed to catch the knife that was thrown, her hand closing around the hilt while the point was just inches from her chest. Buffy glanced at the weapon, then tossed it into the water. A knife wasn't going to be much use here.
"Smooth catch," said Darla. "I was starting to feel left out of the conversation. So, Buffy darling, it's been a while. How's your mother? I remember her, she was so...sweet."
Buffy knew better than to rise to the bait, but the surge of fury she felt at the calculated jab veiled as an offhand remark eliminated all of the weariness that the run had brought into her. She transferred all of her attention off of Spike and onto Darla. "If you want to catch up, let's talk about the good times. Like you getting staked by Angel."
"And you think that was for your sake, don't you? You have much to learn about my boy. You know what would help?...Two hundred years of insight into his mind."
There had been enough talk, and Buffy no longer felt winded. She jumped the gap and twisted into a handspring as she came down, reaching Darla feet first. It would have been a serious blow, but Darla dodged and was positioned to defend as soon as Buffy was upright again. Silence cut through the night as they made one slow revolution around each other, broken only by the gentle sound of the water lapping against the rowboats tied up at either side of the dock. Buffy made her second attack, realizing that Angel had meant it when he said that Darla didn't like direct combat; she kept waiting for Buffy to initiate so she could play her defensive moves. Seeing these tactics didn't make Buffy temper her aggression at all, but it did make her warier. It was too hard to tell yet just how strong Darla was.
She got an answer sooner than she wanted, when Darla swatted away her punch like it was nothing and landed one of her own directly in her face. "For instance," the vampire said conversationally as Buffy staggered backwards, "you ought to know that he's going to want to hurt you. Nothing you need to take personally, of course. That's just how he likes it. And don't think that he's lost his instincts just because he put a ring on your finger."
Buffy felt one of her heels find the edge of the dock. She recovered her balance quickly, but it had been too close and she made sure to keep more to the center. "You're like fifty shades of jealous right now," she replied. "Never had a boy give you a ring, huh?"
Darla walked boldly across Buffy's path, stopping at Spike's side. For his part, he was simply watching the match with his hands in his pockets, but Buffy knew he was never going to be as passive as he appeared. Darla neither touched him nor spoke to him, keeping her eyes only on Buffy. "He's going to want you bound and gagged. Trembling when he touches you. And every single day you're together, he'll crave the sensation of burying his fangs in your neck and guzzling down that warm, rich, young blood of yours."
She took one more step and Buffy saw that she had not been heading for Spike, but for the loose board that he had pulled up. Before Darla could pick up the board, Buffy darted forward and stepped onto its other end, preventing her from gaining a weapon. It also gave Buffy a good opening for an attack, and she delivered a series of kicks and punches, some of them successful, before finding the space to make a verbal reply. "Oh, you guys drink blood, huh? If only I were your age, I might have known that." She crossed her wrists to block a hit, then snatched Darla's hand out of the air and held it immobile for a few tense seconds. "But here's an angle for you- maybe that's what I want him to do to me."
She was rewarded by a flash of surprise hitting Darla's face, but then the vampire twisted out of her grasp and kicked out at her so hard that she went flying, almost to the end of the dock. Gravity caught her first, but before she had her momentum back under control she slid into the tall wooden post at the corner, ribs first. She rolled back to her feet quickly- nothing was broken, but being thrown like that had frightened her. For the first time, it occurred to her that she might not win this.
Darla was approaching with a purposeful but unhurried stride. "Spike," she commanded, "you know what to do. Get on it."
"I think I want to watch this first," he said. "Can't resist a good catfight."
Buffy stared at him, indistinct as the darkness made his form at the other end of the dock. She was suddenly aware of how much of a danger he could really be right now. If he got bored before she was done with the 'catfight,' she wouldn't be able to stop him from getting into the lair and casting the spell. Keeping her fighting stance and watching Darla, she called out to Spike, "You're not one of them, you know."
"Oh, there's a twist," he called back. Evidently she had captured his interest, because he started walking towards her- and away from the access to the lair. Good. "Not one of who?"
Buffy met Darla's backhand and returned it in kind before answering. "Her. Them. Your new club. You're not crazy like them and you're not evil like them. You don't fit right and all four of you know it."
"Priceless," said Spike with open incredulity as he stopped in front of the dueling women. "I'm not evil, now?"
Darla's blows were coming fast and ruthless, and Buffy had to grit her teeth and keep her concentration divided between fighting her and talking to Spike. "Not like they are. I mean, seriously, Daemonis? You were going to follow that?"
"I'm not following anyone," he spat, definitely getting angry.
"And you don't need to badmouth Daemonis," Darla added with suggestive sarcasm. "Not the best I've ever had, but given his condition, the stamina was impressive."
Buffy almost stopped fighting just so she could gawk. "Oh, gag me. That was just about the epitome of TMI."
"It's an alliance," Spike continued. "I'm capable of an alliance, you know."
"It's a club," Buffy countered, countering a deft punch at the same time. "And all of its other members are treating you like the doormat. You're not like them. You can't kill like them. You're the only one who even has a chance to learn to live with a soul, and they hate you for it. Come on," she panted, getting desperate. "Your name doesn't even start with D!"
Darla's next move caught her off guard: an open-handed strike to the face. No way, Buffy thought. Did I just get bitchslapped? The indignity of it was insufferable, but on the other hand, it had to mean that she was fraying Darla's patience, and maybe that meant she was getting to Spike, too.
"You are nothing," hissed Darla. "You are an insignificant, ignorant, inferior little child. And Angelus is a confused, broken toy. And before long, he and I will be sharing the last of your blood and laughing over it. Welcome to the glory of the new world." She rushed at Buffy, grabbing at her clothes and limbs, working to disrupt her balance. The same pole that Buffy had rolled into kept appearing in the corner of her vision, reminding her of how perilously close they were to the edge of the dock.
Buffy fought back with the dirtiest tricks she could think up, going for the eyes, the hair, inflicting pain in any way she could. Unable to spare a glance at Spike, she nonetheless cut loose and screamed at him. "You can't save Drusilla! She's going to be in agony for as long as she lives and this is your last chance to give a damn about it!"
Darla's voice came out much more steadily, though just as loud. "Spike, get down to the lair and cast the spell. Right. Now."
Spike stood in easy range of a misplaced blow from either one of them, but he still appeared calm, almost disinterested. He looked them each in the face, then said casually to Darla, "Never really liked you anyway." With that, he lifted his foot, planted it in the middle of her chest, and shoved.
Darla had less than a second to show her complete shock, and then she was toppling backwards. Like any falling person would, she reached out to grab the object closest to herself, and the object was Buffy, who had no chance to break away. During the ten foot drop, Buffy had time to notice the moonlight rippling across the surface of the lake, the hard smack of the water as it met her body, and Spike's roar of pain as the ensuing splash hit some exposed part of his body.
Can't hurt me, she told herself as she sank beneath the surface. It's just water, just holy water, I'm not a vampire, it can't hurt me. But she was going under, and she felt a rivulet trickling down her nose, and this time there was nobody around with the breath to save her.
Start at the beginning.