Part 3

Is This Love That I Feel?



In the predawn gray, Oz lies awake while Willow sleeps. He presses close to her, matching the soft cadence of her breathing with his, trying to deny his loss. He is touching her, her skin bears his scent, the taste of her still lingers in his mouth. But she isn't with him, a frost has blighted their garden, there is a snake rustling through the fallen leaves. The Wolf growled softly, remembering the look in his mate's eyes, the hot smell of her anger, her jealousy of another man.

Last night she made love to him with the lights out and he could hear his rival's name in her sighs, even while her mouth devoured his and her hands moved over his skin. When she crouched over him and swallowed him to the root, she kept her eyes closed. Even when she rode him, his cock sunk to her core, her body moving with his, her face was turned upwards, away from him, and he knew that it wasn't his face she saw in the shadowed ceiling; not truly his hand that made her shake and moan and come.

The Wolf is raving inside Oz, mad with jealousy. The Wolf, him...over the past 2 years the distinction has ceased to mean much. If they were separate beings once, they aren't anymore. They are one in their desire to tear and rend and it makes it so much worse that there is no suitable target for his fists, his teeth, his claws. This time Xander is blameless, his scent coolly innocent when he looks at Willow. He's done nothing to give Oz an excuse to rip his throat out. Willow is his mate. He can't hurt her. Can't even hate her.

Daylight is beginning to filter into the room. He rises up on his elbow to look at Willow. She looks so innocent sleeping there, as though she had never, would never, rip his heart out by the roots with her faithlessness. He doesn't know what to say to her. Or what to do. But he knows he can't stay like this much longer, lying here silent in this cold hell.


"Joyce," Giles says sitting up in bed. Vague memories of soft hair, warm skin, an eager mouth pressed to his, dissolve as soon as he opens his eyes. He stares in bemusement at the tent between his legs. Goodness, it's been… well, longer than he wants to dwell on since he's seen the flagpole raised for reveille.

Joyce, he'd been dreaming about Joyce. His hand, with a life of its own moves under the sheets, takes hold of his cock, it's been so long that even his own touch feels slightly unfamiliar. Joyce, he thought, I wonder how she's doing, and was startled as his erection grew rock hard at the thought of her. I should call her, he thought, starting to stroke himself. It's been so long since they had a chance to talk...


Cordelia had just come out of the bathroom with her hair wrapped in a towel, on her way to the bedroom to get dressed when it hit her like a razor edged thunderbolt. She dropped to her knees as the pain overwhelmed her and she fell into the too–familiar clutches of a vision.

It's like a roller coaster ride in hell. Down now, into darkness felt as well as seen, illuminated by flashes of: pale liver-spotted demons with full heads of hair, wide shiny grins and tentacles instead of arms. Spike, in game face, raising a sword. Angel, cutting a swathe through half-seen opponents, the love of destruction she saw in his eyes belying his grim expression. Wolf-Oz, fighting, blood in a bright spray around him. Buffy, golden, killing demons, her lips skinned tight over her teeth. Oh look, the Hellmouth itself, opening in the ruined library...

Then a quick twist and down to a vision of something with way too many legs, a spider? A hurtful instant of clarity and Cordelia wants to scream, it's not a spider, nothing half as pretty as a spider; and she has the uneasy feeling that it saw her... deeply grateful as it blurs, and the vision moves on. A jolting change of view, a fast montage of: The back of a human mask gleaming with colorless slime. A leopard, its muzzle soaked in blood. Buffy screaming, enraged. A wave of spotty little demons filling her view, attacking. Angel, blood on his mouth, in his mouth, swallowing with a smile a little too close to Angelus. She was detecting a theme here.

The pain making her nauseous, as her point of view plummets in a final burst of speed, images blurring so that she can barely tell them apart: Buffy, Angel, Giles, Xander, Demons, the faces of total strangers, screaming in pain or rage or ecstasy...what looks like an outtake from some zombie clear flash of a woman silhouetted in a window, her hair haloed...more blood, gouts of it, smearing familiar and anonymous faces. And then finally, it's over in a burst of white light, as Cordelia landed back in reality with a metaphorical thump.

Her head felt like it was going to explode, and her heart was pounding like she'd done 30 minutes with the stairstepper set on 'extreme'. Shaking, she used the wall to stand. "On a scale of 1 to 10 on the suck-o-meter, I think that was an 11," she muttered as she went back into the bathroom in search of her trusty 600 mg Ibuprofen. She looked at her face critically in the mirror, she could see that there were lines around her eyes that weren't there when she'd checked this morning, luckily enough moisturizer should take care of those. She hoped. The bruised look around the eyes, however, was starting to be permanent. It was so unfair. Why the hell couldn't the Powers That Be pick on someone who was already ugly? Or old? Or who just didn't give a damn about their personal appearance. Many more of these and she'd have to start hanging out in front of the exit to San Quentin to get dates.

The headache ebbed slowly but surely as she drove across town; she was feeling almost human again by the time she got to the office. She went straight downstairs. Angel was still in bed. He cut short his yawn and stared at her in surprise.

"Cordelia? What's wrong?" He asked, the black silk sheet sliding off his ice-smooth chest as he sat up.

"Another migraine-mail from the PTB." She hesitated for a moment, remembering all the blood and that *thing* looking at her, but she really didn't want to find out if the PTB had a resend button; once was enough, thank you. She took a deep breath and told him everything she remembered. He showed no reaction, her words seeming to drop into the dark pools of his eyes without a ripple even when she said the magic B–word. When she was done, Angel sat for a long moment, apparently thinking, then got out of bed, and headed for his bathroom.

"I have to go to Sunnydale," he said. Cordelia nodded, no surprise there.

"I figured. Well, have a good time. Do you want me to cover for you with Wesley? Cuz he's going to have a fit when he finds out." She turned to go back upstairs when she heard him clear his throat. Uh–oh.

"Uh, Cordelia. I don't want to wait till sundown, can you drive me?"

She turned back and saw Angel looking up at her, making with the big puppy dog eyes, like *that* was gonna work. It had taken her 18 years to get *out* of Sunnydale, why would he even think she'd ever go near it again. She opened her mouth to explain this to him, in words of one syllable, when she remembered the white-hot sense of urgency in the vision, and thought about how Angel would look at her if something happened to Buffy because he hadn't been there... Damn.

"Sure. It's been, hey, *months* since anyone tried to sacrifice me. How could I pass up the chance to see the good old Hellmouth?"

It only took a few minutes for Angel to pack a few changes of clothing and a select arsenal into one large leather bag. Before they left, he called Giles, but got his answering service.

"Giles. This is Angel. Cordelia had a vision; Buffy's in danger. I'll tell you more when I get there." He hung up.

They headed over to Cordelia's "to pick up a few things."

A half-hour later, Angel was still sitting on her futon sofa, trying not to splinter the armrest, when the doorbell rang. He answered it and Wesley rushed in waving the note Cordelia had left for him.

"Angel, please tell me you're not going to Sunnydale." The former Watcher was in a state of high indignation.

"Hi Wes," Angel said calmly.

"You can't be serious."

"I'm going Wes. She needs my help." A simple statement of fact.

"Doe's Giles know about this?"

"I phoned him."

"Hi Wes," Cordelia said as she emerged from the bedroom with an overstuffed suitcase in one hand, a garment bag slung over her shoulder and an overnight case clutched uncomfortably to her chest. She raised her eyebrows significantly at Angel. Taking the hint, he relieved her of two of the bags.

"You sure you have everything?" he murmured. Cordelia considered the question seriously.

"This won't take more than a couple of days, right?"

"It shouldn't."

"Then I'm good. Let's go." She headed for the doorway and stared in amazement when Wesley blocked their way.

"Angel, you can't go! I understand your feelings, but surely Giles is capable of taking care of the situation, or I could…"

"Wesley. Move," Angel said firmly. Wesley looked and saw no give and a certain dark promise in Angel's eyes.

"I…" Wesley stopped talking, and got out of the way.


Xander spread the classifieds out on the kitchen table and glared at them. Sure, there were lots of help-wanted ads in the Sunnydale Daily Express, but none of them were a damn bit of use to him. Either they wanted actual skills, or they paid right around minimum wage, which made changing jobs kinda pointless. At least he already knew the job at Burger Barn. He needed something better, needed to make some real money, contribute. Not that Alice was complaining. She seemed perfectly willing and able to support him as a toy-boy for the foreseeable future.

He glanced through the sliding glass doors where Alice was kneeling in the grass, a big straw hat shading her face. She had started transplanting flowers from the flat into the newly dug beds. He lost his thread of thought as he admired the swell of her ass in the tight cut-offs, the way her shoulders moved under the thin white t-shirt. With a body like that, who cared if she was evil?

And that was definitely a thought he'd better keep to himself.

His reverie was interrupted by the doorbell. He goes to the door expecting a salesman, Jehovah's witnesses, maybe Ed McMahon, but instead it's Giles standing there. A rumpled Giles, looking downright naked without his jacket, but he is holding a musty old book, so it is probably him and not pod–person Giles. Xander looked at him, and waited. Giles took a deep breath.

"Xander. I just wanted you to know…that. I'd like to apologize for last night." Giles was relieved when Xander's expression changed to something more like the boy he knew, not the hostile stranger that had opened the door.

"Yeah, well, I guess from your point of view, you kinda had cause. So...accepted. Come on in."

"I've done a bit of research on your friend," Giles said stepping inside. "Is she at home, by the way." Xander raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, she's in the back. Want to say hello?" Giles nodded.

Giles glanced at Xander's new home as they passed through. From what he could see it was a nice place, with a tiny patio and its own garden out back. A woman, Alice, he presumed, carefully transplanting flowers from a flat. She looked up as they stepped outside, the hat casting a deep shadow over her eyes.

She was quite tiny, he realized and she certainly didn't look dangerous. In fact, she barely looked old enough to be involved with Xander. Pretty, of course, but not a patch on Joyce. Joyce...

"Giles, Alice; Alice, Giles." Xander said.

Alice looked up reluctantly from the soothing earth at their visitor. Rupert Giles, the Watcher. He looked nervous but as far as she could tell he wasn't carrying any supernatural antidotes or heavy artillery. She smiled. Look harmless, she thought.

Watchers, Slayers, Hellmouths, Demons, the plural of apocalypse. Last night after he came home Xander had told Alice about all of it. She wished she didn't believe him. It amazed her that he'd experienced more danger in his short life than she had in all of her own long wander through the century. And equally appalled her that he and his friends had saved the world, repeatedly, and were gearing up to do it yet again. She supposed she should feel grateful to them, but mostly she wished they weren't dragging Xander along with them.

"So, what's the verdict? Am I evil?" Her tone is blithe, but Giles's eyes narrow slightly as her dark gaze suddenly reminds him of other dark eyes in another apparently youthful face. Not evil, as such, but still a long way from harmless. He's aware of Xander's worried gaze, aware of the tension.

"Err, no. Not as far as I've been able to uncover. What do your people call themselves, by the way?"

"I'm a Smith. And before she married my father, Mama was a Casey." Behind her she heard Xander snort at the expression on Giles' face. "Sorry. But I really can't tell you much. I was born in St. Louis, like my dad, and my mom was born in Sylacauga, Alabama; I'm not sure about grandma. We've been here awhile. Just people, trying to live normal lives."

"No myths about your, er, origins, then?" He wasn't buying it, she realized. She hadn't really expected him to be stupid, but it never hurt to try.

"Apparently our African ancestor followed a group of kidnapped villagers from Africa to America -- or was captured with them -- and just never went back." Giles nodded and looked pleased, at having his research confirmed.

"If my research is correct, your ancestor - and you for that matter are !kangate, a sort of guardian, or minor goddess."

"Say what?" Xander interrupted. "Alice is a goddess? Like on Xena?" The thought of Alice overflowing a leather bikini shorted out his brain for a few pleasant moments.

"Not precisely," Giles said dryly. He opened the book he was holding and read. "The !kangate hath two forms: that of a beautiful woman, and also a savage leopard. They are the village guardians, they ensure that its warriors are victorious, its women bear many and healthy children. Where they are, the crops are bountiful and illness never troubles the people." He looked up, adjusting his glasses. "It's quite interesting, there are definite parallels with Sekhmet, an ancient Egyptian deity who…"

"Not evil then," Xander cutting him off before he could go into full lecture mode.

"Rather the reverse, in fact," he admitted.

"So everyone should be smiling, right?" Giles hesitated a moment, looking at her. On principle, he didn't approve of inter-species dating… but she seemed harmless enough. Forewarned is forearmed and, of course, he would be around to keep a close eye on the situation. Besides, the morning was wasting, he needed to get home and call Joyce. So he smiled, as though the matter was settled.

"Er, yes. Welcome to Sunnydale Miss Smith."

"Thank you." Her smile was more relaxed this time.

"I'm afraid I have to go now. Nice meeting you." And to Xander's relief, he left.

After he was gone, Xander turned to Alice and met her eyes, shrugged. He hoped she wasn't too upset.

"Well, that was interesting," Alice said, deadpan, but he knew her well enough now to read the amusement in her eyes.

"And educational," he said, relaxing.

Matching his lovely wide grin she took off her hat and fanned herself. Watched him watching as the beads of sweat coalesced into a trickle and disappeared between her breasts.

"I'm feeling a little hot. Want to go inside?" He swallowed hard.

"Uh–huh," Xander said reaching down to help her up.


Once the weekday morning exodus is over, it's very quiet in the neighborhood where Buffy lives. There are few people to notice the unmarked white panel van parked a few houses down from the Summers residence. Even if they notice they don't think anything about it, or the identical van parked on the other end of the block on Elm. The third van parked on the street behind Buffy's house also goes unremarked.

Inside each van, waiting unhappily in the soothing darkness, a squad of Capteniel waits with their tentacles entwined for courage. Nervous slime etches the metal floor as the morning wears on, and they wait for her to come back. They'd nearly had her, had just missed her, literally: the huge station wagon nearly sideswiped the first van as they arrived.

There is dissention in the ranks. A ripple of discontent moves through them as they watch a human female, the Slayer's parent, come out of the house, get in her car and drive away Why not kill her? Several of them mutter, bored and eager for amusement. Questioning, again, why they didn't attack last night, in their strength. But the squad leaders reassure them, reassert the importance of following the plan. A daylight attack gives them the element of surprise; she'll be off her guard. And there are more than enough of them to take her. It's just a matter of a few hours at most before the Slayer is dead. Once she's gone, there is nothing to stop them from bringing beautiful darkness to spread over the earth.


"I think this piece would be just right for you," Joyce said, pretending not to notice the color swatches the customer was holding up to the hanging. She had no delusions that she was in the high art business, but still... "It's hand-woven by the Mayan Indians in Peru and I think..." Joyce broke off her pitch as her assistant signaled that she had a phone call. She smiled at the customer apologetically. "Excuse me Mrs. Taylor. Jim? Can you take over for me? Thank you."

She disappeared gratefully into her office. As she picked up the phone, she realized that she'd forgotten to ask Jim who it was. "Hello?" she said.

"Hello, Joyce? It's Rupert Giles." Sounding as though he wasn't sure she'd remember him. Well, he certainly seemed to have done his best to forget about her.

"Mr. Giles?" Why on earth was he calling? Then a jolt of panic shot through her as a solution to the mystery reared its ugly head. "Oh God, has something happened to Buffy?"

"Oh, no, no. Buffy's fine."

"Thank God," she said feeling sweet relief, then anger that she couldn't keep from tingeing her tone. "Why are you calling?"

"I, just thought...perhaps we ought to get together, I'm concerned about Buffy, she's been slightly..." Unhappy. Miserable. Depressed. Pick all that apply. Still, it made her feel better about him to know he was thinking about Buffy, and had remembered that she had a mother.

"Yes. I know. You're right. When do you want to meet?"

"Would lunch be possible?" Still tentative.

"Today?" She glanced at her calendar, unsurprised to see it clear. "Sure, today's fine."

"Excellent. I–I could make lunch for you here." Now there was an image, Giles in an apron? Cooking? Well, how bad could it be.

"That sounds nice. Is 1:30 alright?"

"1:30 is excellent."

"See you then. Bye." She hung up wondering what the hell was that? Oh well, she'd find out soon enough.


Angel cautiously pulled the blanket away from his face and flinched. It's still daylight. They are about halfway there on the narrow highway between Los Angeles and Sunnydale, boxed in by the dry hills. The reflective film he had applied to the side and back windows of the convertible blocks most of the deadly light but it pours unimpeded into the front of the car. Sunlight gilds the dark swan curve of Cordelia's neck, the dark luxury of her hair. The smell of her fills the car, the scent of a healthy young woman, only slightly marred by the expensive scent she favors. She's a few days from the start of her flow and he knows how deeply embarrassed she would be if she realized just how much he knows about her, just by being near her. He'll never let her know. He closes his eyes again, relaxes. There's only comfort, no temptation in this unavoidable intimacy. She's beautiful, but he has no more carnal interest in her than mortal Liam had in his little sister Kathy. Cordelia is a welcome distraction from thoughts of Buffy, drawing closer with every turn of the wheels. He's grateful for his inhuman certainty that she is equally uninterested in him. She cares about him, but not in that way. A blessing. Something to be grateful to the Powers for, he thinks and lets the steady motion of the car lull him back to sleep.


The sun is directly overhead and most of the squad has drifted off to sleep when the lookout stiffens and hisses in excitement. A large station wagon lumbers up the block and parks in the Summers's driveway. The Slayer. The occupants of the van come instantly alert. Head-spines erect, a steady drumbeat of mucus thudding onto the floorboards as they watch their prey, oblivious, walk up the steps and disappear inside.

The squad leader hisses the news into the cellphone and the other two vans converge on the house as the door of the lead van slides open and the demons get out and head towards the house, gargling in excitement.

Buffy set her books down on the kitchen counter and opened the refrigerator. It had been a long and boring morning, and for a change she was actually hungry. She was thinking about making herself a sandwich when with a crash the back door exploded inward. The next thing she knows ugly, slimy, tentacled demons are cramming through the doorway and into the kitchen. The Capteniel she presumes. Not apparently into fair fights, on the other hand, they are kinda small.

Adrenaline burned her moodiness off in a flash. She grinned and grabbed the knife block sitting on the counter. One-two-three she skewered three demons, wanted to hold her ears as their inhuman shrieks echoed in the narrow space. Winced as she heard glass and wood giving way behind her as a second team came through the front door. Apparently these guys weren't worried about keeping a low profile. She slammed the door shut and wedged a chair under the knob, knowing it was a strictly temporary measure.

Before she can turn around, a slimy tentacle grabs her hair, and jerks her backwards. Pissing her off, she'd just washed it last night. She jabs her elbow into it, feels something give, it's grip loosens and she spins around, brings her hand up under its chin and !crack! its head snaps back way further than it was designed to, and it drops. The skin of her neck is stinging painfully where the slime touched it. Great. The next one has a knife, and it's either grinning or snarling with needle teeth, oooh, scary. She shows her own teeth as she snatches up the toaster oven, evades its lunge .. it's quick, but not nearly quick enough... she slams the appliance into its gut, then onto its head, ruining both.

Behind her, she hears the chair leg snapping as they force the kitchen door open. Mom's going to be really pissed, she thinks as she grabs her bag, jumps over the casualties and heads for the back door.

There are more demons in the back yard, she plows into one coming up the steps and knocks it into its buddies, deliberately stomps on an unprotected throat in passing, and then she's outta there, over the back fence into the Wilson's yard, past the cowering Doberman and gone.

A van squeals away from the curb and tries to follow her when she emerges on Maple, but she dodges through backyards, doubles back, reaches the shelter of the park and loses them.

She could stop running, now she's sure she's lost them, but it feels so good to just run. She keeps on through the trees, emerging on the far side of the park, enjoying the simple pleasure of stretching her legs, feeling the good pull of her muscles flexing, feet pounding the pavement, sucking in great lungfuls of clean air. She's not dressed for running, but so what. The few people she passes don't seem to be bothered. They smile, she waves. More men than women, OK, but the imbalance isn't too blatant.

Slayer stamina makes the two miles to Giles' apartment an easy workout. Flushed with exertion she doesn't bother ringing the bell, just uses her key and steps inside. And stops dead. Turned to stone by the sight of her mother and Giles. Kissing. Touching each other. Rubbing... Not a bad memory hastily repressed, but the thing itself, in Technicolor, in broad daylight. Suddenly, she can't catch her breath.

Joyce was the first to realize that they weren't alone anymore. She pulled away from Giles's hungry lips and looked over his shoulder to see Buffy in shock. Oh Hell.

"Buffy," she said, and felt Giles jerk in shock. Ooops. But she also felt the hesitation before he stepped away from her, and it felt good. Almost as good as when she realized that he hadn't really asked her over to talk about Buffy, though they had discussed Buffy through most of the quiche and salad lunch he'd served up. Still, she'd hadn't missed the way he kept looking at her. The way he kept creeping closer to her where they sat on the couch, sipping tea, trying to keep the pretense going that this was about Buffy. She'd been utterly unsurprised, but pleased, by that first awkward kiss.

"You..." Buffy gurgled.

Joyce watched, caught between amusement and embarrassment as her daughter's mouth opened and closed, like a goldfish. Both conflicting emotions vanished abruptly as Buffy's flushed face, the stains on her clothes suddenly registered.

"Buffy, what's wrong? Are you alright?"

"Yes, what's happened?" Giles had put some space between him and her mother, and Buffy managed to take a deep breath, and talk.

"Demons, attacked me, at the house." As she explained about the attack, spinning it out to give her brain a chance to settle down, mom grew more and more upset on her behalf. Buffy could see Giles itching to comfort her and moved in herself, blocking him out. Joyce hugged her, oblivious to the interaction.

"Obviously then, they know who you are...and probably about the rest of us." Giles said at the end of her recital. "I'd better call Xander and Willow and warn them."

"Sounds like a plan," Giles hurried to the phone, leaving mother and daughter to slowly pull apart and look at each other speculatively. Buffy tried to convince herself it wasn't so bad, Giles and Mom *kissing*, as long as she didn't think too much about what kissing had led to a few months ago. As long as they didn't let it get out of hand.

Joyce's cellphone buzzed, and she answered it grateful for the diversion.

"Hey, boss," it was Jim, hyperventilating. "We've got a problem with that shipment of pots from Oaxaca?" Joyce sighed as he explained the situation. Apparently Customs was questioning the valuation on the import declaration. Not a new problem, but one that she knew she'd have to take care of personally. She told Jim to calm down, she'd take care of it and hung up with a sigh.

"Baby, I'm sorry. I've got to go take care of some business... unless you really need me to stay?" This last directed at Rupert, who had just hung up the phone.

"No," he admitted reluctantly. "I suppose not. But whatever you do don't go near your house."

"I won't. I promise I'll come straight back here." She glanced at her watch, did a quick calculation, the Custom's office closed at 5... "I'll be back by 6 at the latest." After sunset, but nothing she could do about that.

"Call if you're going to be late." Joyce nodded.

"Of course. Bye honey."

She left. Watcher and Slayer looked at each other and didn't say anything.

Buffy went upstairs to take a much-needed shower and Giles put the water back on for tea. He'd rather have whiskey, but under the circumstances tea would have to do. He had just laid out the pot and cups, when the phone rang.


"Giles," said a voice he hadn't heard in months up till this morning. A voice that still caused his ribs and kidneys to ache with remembered pain.

"Angel," he said softly, listening for Buffy. "I got your message. Where are you?"

"At the Sunnydale Hilton. Is Buffy alright?"

Giles sighed, and told Angel about the attack; reassured him that she was fine.

"I've warned the others and they're meeting here. It's the safest place, Willow has cast protective spells over it and I've invested in a really excellent security system."

"Good. What do you want me to do?" Die, an unrepentant part of Giles's brain whispered.

"I don't know. I've been unsuccessful in finding out where they're holed up."

"Cordelia saw them at the Hellmouth. I'll check out the school for you."

"Good. That will be helpful." Giles heard footsteps, coming down the stairs. "I can't talk now."

"I'll come by tonight." Giles hung up hastily as Buffy walked into the kitchen.

"Hey, tea. Got anything to go with that? Chocolate chip cookies?"


Spike pulled the bottle out of his pocket and took another swig of whiskey. It was the only thing keeping him from going mad, trapped again in a room full of idiot cattle when he needed to be out killing something. Instead he was forced to listen to the worried twittering of the Slayerettes about what they were going to do about the Capteniel. The room buzzed with emotional turmoil, on the edge of chaos. Normally just his cup of tea, but he'd had enough of it, was full up with the whole thing.

He was especially sick of Queen Buffy, who was fizzing, bouncing around the room, ready and willing to go out and slaughter demons *Right Now*. She couldn't seem to keep away from the dining room table where Giles had laid out the weaponry, and lifting one bit of edged metal after another, admiring the way the light ran along the edge, testing the weight, making practice swipes at the innocent air. Despite a shower, and clothes borrowed from Willow he could still smell traces of inhuman body fluids and adrenaline on her. Slayer-smell, it made his teeth ache.

The look she'd given Spike when she'd opened the door had been distinctly -- hungry. He'd shut his mouth on his usual jibe, slid past her into the house and headed for his usual seat, half expecting to feel a stake sliding into his heart all the time his back was to her. He was keeping a low profile out of her way here by the kitchen counter.

"Maybe I could do a spell to locate them," Willow offered, not for the first time. Not getting that no one who knew her record wanted her doing magic anywhere near them. There was something wrong between dog-boy and the witch. A certain separateness, at least on Wolfie's part. Oz watched her constantly, with a look like a storm about to break, but the redhead seemed oblivious. As per usual.

Giles, now there was another one. The Wanker had been noticeably distracted until Joycey came back safe and sound, shortly after 6. Hilarious, the two of them, circling each other, trying to maintain physical distance while lust rippled the air between them like heat. Spike smirked. Geezers in love, bloody hell. From her expression, Buffy was not amused by it, not even a little, and that was worth another nip from the bottle.

"Or maybe not," Xander said, and Spike didn't look at him. He refused to look at that little waste of skin or his girlfriend, the cat. They'd been the last to arrive and Buffy leapt to answer the door, her expression obviously disappointed when it turned out to be just Xander. Spike, on the other hand, had perked up when he saw who was with him: *hello* kitty, he thought. She made a large cat but a smallish woman, black as the ace of spades and quite a shape on her.

"Hi, I'm Alice," she said offering her hand to Buffy, who accepted after a nano-hesitation.

"Buffy, hi." Buffy smiled at Xander over her shoulder and mouthed "Not bad."

Spike agreed. He wouldn't mind getting stuck into that. Maybe, if he was very good, the Mistress would let him play with kitty cat. As though she'd heard the thought the chit turned her head and looked directly at him. He grinned in anticipation and waited for her to recognize and react to him. Fear? Anger? Both were good.

Instead she'd looked through him as though he was as invisible as his reflection. Calmly turning her back on him as she was introduced to Joyce.

Only two things had kept him from crossing the room and ripping her smug little face off. Firstly the Mistress wouldn't be pleased if he blew it now, got thrown out of the meeting, and probably the group. And secondly, the Slayer, who was just itching for an excuse to kill something, would probably dust him.

So he sat down, seething, and held his peace. Later, he promised himself, he would make her pay. And felt a sense of approval, a buttery contentment flow through him as he did so. Yes, that was right, that was what the Mistress wanted him to do. Felt good to be doing the right thing...

Fuck. Spike froze. He needed to get out of here. Now. He started to get up, but the fuzzy pleasure he was feeling promptly changed to a grating pain as the leash administered a correction. He sank back down, and the pain receded, and was slowly replaced by that same honey sweetness, like a pat on the head. Good dog, he thought.

The worst of it was he almost didn't mind. He had another drink, sat there and listened attentively, despite himself, as Giles told them that he had information indicating that they were almost certainly lurking in the ruins of Sunnydale High, convenient to the Hellmouth.

"Well, let's go then," Buffy said, eagerly. Xander hoped she didn't notice the sidelong look of disbelief Alice gave her.

Giles sighed and explained, again, why it would not be a good idea to attack the Capteniel at night: that they were literally a different species in the dark. Much more dangerous than the diurnal forms that had attacked Buffy's home. They needed to make their move in daylight. Which left him comfortably out of it, Spike thought.

"So, what do we do?" Xander asked.

"I'll know more tomorrow," Giles promised. "Until then, I think we should stay together, here."

"Oooh, a sleepout." Xander said.


2 A.M.

Strange, having so many people here in his house, their soft breathing in counterpoint to his own in the darkness. Xander and Alice are in the study. Willow and Oz are sharing a sleeping bag in the dining room. He is very careful not to disturb them as he quietly rises from his bed on the couch and creeps to the front door and slips outside. He's given up his own bed to Joyce and Buffy and he pauses for a moment to wonder if the smell of Joyce will linger on his pillow. Joyce, who didn't hate him after all. Who had not rejected his kiss, but welcomed it, matched his passion, sweeping away the last vague rationalizations that had kept them apart for more than a year. It was just as well that Buffy hadn't shown up 15 minutes later..

The night is cool, the half-moon providing scant light. Giles jumps when Angel steps out of shadows that shouldn't have been anywhere deep enough to conceal him.

"Dammit, would you not do that?" Giles snapped.

"Sorry." He stood there waiting.

"So, what have you found out?" Giles finally asked.

"You were right, they're at the school, and there's at least a hundred of them, maybe more, I couldn't get that close."

Giles frowned, his head filled with the vision of the ruined school, of them trying to fight a hundred odd demons in the dark, rubble filled interior. Of them dying and the Hellmouth opening to swallow the world.

"That's bad news. That's too many for us to deal with. They're vulnerable to edged weapons and brute force, but are largely immune to fire."

"Guns?" Angel asked.

"Possibly, but unfortunately all of the texts that mention the Capteniel are from the 14th century and earlier." Giles said unhappily.

"I'll check it out."

"Good. Thank you. By the way, how did you get here so quickly?"

"Cordelia brought me. She's staying with a friend of hers. I don't think she's on speaking terms with her parents yet."

"So she should be safe enough."


Angel looked toward the house. "How is she?" he asked softly.

"Fine. Eager. Perhaps a little too eager. This first year of university hasn't been easy for her," Giles said. Thinking, she misses you. You tore a hole in her heart when you left, even leaving was the best thing you ever did.

"Have you told her yet?" Angel asked quietly.

"That you're here? Not yet. It's been a bit...hectic. I'll tell her tomorrow."

Angel nodded. "I'd better go now." Giles nodded and the next minute he was alone again.


2 a.m. Willie's Bar

This was good, Spike thought smashing another bottle against the bar. Good to know that some things never change. Good, the feel of meat giving under his claws, bones shattering, skin ripping. Blood in his mouth, rank demon blood, but Good. Even the pain as they recover, rush him, deal out payback with their own claws and teeth and fuck! that hurt as a crowbar slams into his side, but it's all Good, anything is better than the memory of that servile crawling voice in his head, that sticky sweet pleasure he'd felt at the thought of pleasing *Her*.

Inevitably Spike goes down under the mass of them, and is beaten down, and when they grow tired of mauling him, tossed out into the alley. He lies there in the stinking garbage, wondering if he'll have the energy to crawl away before sunrise catches him. Trying to decide whether it's worth the effort, or if he should simply wait and let the light burn her out of him and set him free.

END part 3

Next: part 4, The Big One


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