Master of Puppets


by Saber ShadowKitten
The Game, story 7
PG-13 Version





Part Ten




"Willow, you're blushing and smiling like a mad-woman," Buffy commented as she finished cleaning herself up in the ladies' room. "I take it you're not mad at Angel anymore."

"Nope. Not mad," Willow replied. "Definitely not mad. He has in no way made me mad, unless you count making me wait until we get out of here for the good stuff. If you mean that, then I'm mad."

"The good stuff?" Buffy asked. Willow's blushed deepened. "Willow! You were doing naughty stuff with Angel in that office!"

"Yeah," she answered. "Very nice naughty stuff. Stuff I wouldn't mind having him repeat soon." The hacker leaned closer to her best friend and whispered, "I was Angel's midnight meal."

Buffy giggled as she slid her cleaned and finally dry tank top on. "So, does this mean you two have a thing?"

Willow nodded enthusiastically, her hair swaying wildly with the movement. "He's my new snuggle- vampire."

"Care Bear with fangs, eh?" Buffy said. She surveyed herself in the mirror, then made a face at herself. "Come on, my naughty friend, let's go win this game so you can go home and get to the good stuff."


*****


"Well?" Spike asked, leaning up against a sink in the men's restroom.

"Well what?" Angel said, drying off his face with a paper towel.

"Are you still all soul-having?"

"Would I be standing here talking to you if I wasn't?" Angel replied with a smirk. Spike continued to stare at him with a tense expression on his face. The older vampire sighed. "Yes, Spike, I still have my soul. It's just something I'm going to have to deal with on a permanent basis for the rest of my unlife."

"Good," Spike said, turning to face the mirror. "I like this you better."

"I thought you didn't like me at all," Angel commented as he studied the younger vampire.

"I don't," he replied. "You're annoying and pompous and smug and egotistical. You brood too much. You take no time out to have a little fun. You're too serious. You care too bloody much about others, even when I don't want you to care about me..." Spike's voice became softer as he continued, staring at the lack of reflection he made in the mirror. "You don't want to see me hurt and want to protect me. You are glad that Buffy loves me, even though that means she doesn't love you. You think a pathetic demon like me is worth the trouble of going against Dru." His voice hitched on her name, silent tears rolling down his cheeks.

Angel put his hand on Spike's shoulder and turned him until they were facing each other. "I need to know what you want me to do about her," he asked seriously.

"I don't know," Spike said, wiping his face with the palm of his right hand. "I just want her to leave me the bloody hell alone."

"Are you prepared for me to kill her?" Angel said. Spike flinched. "You know she's not going to stop until she has you back or you're dead."

"I know," Spike replied, slumping his shoulders as an air of depression settled around him. "Cor, why did it have to come down to this?"

Angel pulled his childe into a comforting embrace and was not surprised when he felt Spike's arms around his back, holding him closer. The ties of blood and history between them were re-woven with this small action, becoming stronger as his soul and Spike's uncommon depth of emotions merged with the strands.


*****


"Giles, can I talk to you a second?" Willow asked.

"Certainly, Willow," Giles replied, rising to his feet. "What can I do for you?"

"Why didn't you tell Angel his soul was permanent?"

Giles frowned. "What do you mean? I told him back in-in May after I confirmed that it was indeed permanent."

"Don't lie, Giles, it's not nice," Willow scowled.

"I assure you, I am telling the truth," Giles said, offended. "I remember distinctly picking up the phone and dialing Angel's new number a-and...oh dear."

"Oh dear what?"

"And then Faith came into the library a-after fighting that Kairneo demon," he continued, shaking his head with defeat. "We immediately got to-to work and I plum forgot to tell, er, him."

Willow folded her arms across her chest and gave him a patient look. "I think you owe someone an apology, Giles."

"Er, y-yes," Giles replied, nervously playing with his glasses. Angel walked into the main room at that moment and over to them, his hands going to rest on Willow's shoulders. "Um, Angel? I, er, must a-apologize for my absent-mindedness. It seems that I neglected to-to tell you about the condition of-of-of your soul."

"Don't worry about it, Rupert," Angel said, shaking his head.

"Yes, right. Well, um, right," Giles said. "Do you know how-how Spike is doing?"

"He's ok for now," the vampire replied, pulling Willow back to lean against him. "I don't know how long that will last, though. Drusilla is really working a number on him."

"Be sure to let me know i-if there is anything I can do," Giles said.

Angel nodded and looked over his shoulder as Spike and Buffy entered. Faith was sharpening a knife, her foot tapping to a beat that came over her walkman, as she waited for the game to continue. "Where are Xander and Cordelia?"

"You don't think they killed each other?" Willow asked, looking up at Angel with a grin. "I hope, I hope."

"That's not nice, Willow," Angel scolded before dropping a kiss on her lips.

"Hey, no PDAs in the gaming room," Buffy said, smiling as she and Spike joined them.

"And what did you call that small display earlier?" Giles asked. Buffy wrinkled her nose at her Watcher.

Three short bells rang in the air before a voice came over the loud speaker. "Players, the game will continue in one minute. This is your one minute warning. Thank you."

"Geez, you'd think we'd have more than one minute to get back into place," Willow said as the black team filed out of their own rooms. "What if we were busy doing...stuff?"

"Then you'd have to finish really, really fast," Angel whispered in her ear, sending shivers down her spine. Cordelia and Xander entered the room together and all eyes turned to them.

"I still hate you," Cordelia said as she moved towards the giant board.

"I still hate you, too, Cordy," Xander replied, a small smile on his face. "Very, very much."

Faith turned to the five standing together with a pout on her face. "How come everyone has someone to play hide the salami with but me?"



Part Eleven




Everyone retook their places on the board and Xander surveyed the computer console to ensure each ‘piece' was in the correct spot. He was in square g1 with Spike still next to him in f1. Buffy was suppose to be two over from the blond vampire in d1, but she was standing with him instead and Angel was in his starting square at the end of the rank at a1. There were still six white pawns on the board, at a2, b2, f2, g2 and h2, and a lone pawn was at d4 catty-corner to Willow, who was at c3. Cordelia was two in front of Spike at f3 and Giles was in his spot at g5. Finally, Faith had taken over the square at e6 because she won the challenge from the last round of play and the funky rules of the game permitted her to stay in her original spot or take the challenger's spot.

On the black team, Xander noted that the black king was still at his starting spot at e8 with Drusilla next to him as the black queen at d8. Both black rooks were in the corners at a8 and h8 respectively. The black pawns were set up like the white paws at a7, b7, c7, f7, g7 and h7. The ugly green demon bishop was between Faith and the black king at e7 and a lone black knight, another vampire, was in square c6.

It was Xander's turn to move again and he whistled tunelessly as tried to map out what he wanted to do. "Spike, move one over," he finally instructed the vampire.

Spike took the square at e1, enabling Buffy to stand in her own square, d1. They were both facing away from the opposite team, holding hands, but not speaking to one another.

"Ho-boy," Xander breathed as black made their next move. He raised his head and looked across the board at Giles. "Um, Giles? You might want to kill that ugly green demon coming at you."

"I see him, Xander," Giles said.

"What?" Buffy said, rising to her feet to see what was happening. "Oh god, Giles."

Giles watched as the ten-foot tall, green, disgusting-looking creature came towards him. His mind searched for any sort of relevant information on how to defeat such a demon. "Beheading, yes. But I don't have a-a sword handy. Knife to the heart, but where is it? Er..."

The demon snarled and the Watcher reeled back from the stench. "Ee-gads. Haven't you ever heard of a toothbrush?" Giles muttered as he drew his knife in one hand, a stake in the other. Suddenly, a light went on behind his eyes and he smirked.

Ducking under the creatures first swing, Giles let his alterna-persona loose and let the magick he'd long ago used to create chaos come back to him. "Janus, god of mischief, hear my calling," he chanted under his breath. "I bid you to work your magicks through me." The demon tried to grab him and he quickly darted behind it.

Giles felt the power of dark magick start to burn under his skin as he cut the black bishop across the back of the knee. He loosed his tightly controlled Watcher nature and let the words of magick flow. "A demon like this is a creature of might, change this demon into a sprite."

A purple light formed around the demon, first faint and then growing brighter and brighter as the magick engulfed it. The black bishop roared in anger, but the sound was suddenly cut off in a flash of blinding white light.

Giles blinked rapidly, his knife ready as he tried to clear his vision. "It worked," he murmured as he searched the air around him for the little creature that should be in the giant demon's place. His gaze drifted down to the floor in front of him and he let out a loud, un-Giles-like snort. "Dear heavens, this is one for the books."

Instead of a little creature he expected called a sprite, sitting before him was a green and white can of Sprite.


*****


After everyone, save Spike, stopped laughing and the five-minute allotted time for clean-up of the remains, which consisted of Faith popping the top of the can of Sprite and guzzling the soda down, the game resumed. "Mr. Magic, if you'd please move to f4," Xander instructed with a grin.

Giles moved so that he was now in front of Cordelia, who gave him a patronizing shake of her head. "Only you would turn a demon into a can of soda and only Faith would drink it." Faith let out a loud belch in retort and the former cheerleader sighed. "Why do I put up with you people?"

"Must be our charming wit and sparkling personalities," Xander commented as the black king moved from his spot at e8 to f8. The teen frowned at the action. It was the first really bad move either team had made thus far. "It would have been smarter for the black king to castle with the black rook...wait, what am I saying? Please, play bad and make more mistakes," he muttered to himself as he surveyed his options. He raised his voice and called out to the brunette Slayer, "Faith, move catty-corner and make that pawn disappear at f7."

"That's no fun," Faith grumbled as she stepped towards where she was instructed. The black pawn vanished beneath the floor before she got into place. She eyed the black king hidden behind his computer console and dark robe with an evil glint in her eyes. "Hey, Xand. Can I kill the king?"

"No," Xander called across the board to her. "But you can taunt him mercilessly."

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries," Faith said, deadpan.

The result -- all hell broke loose. For the black king moved the black queen from d8 to d4, capturing the white pawn.

Drusilla was now catty-corner to Willow, one square away from Giles and two squares in front of Buffy. Her eyes met Spike's, who had turned to look when everyone gasped, and she smiled evilly. "Hello, Spike. Would you like to play a game with mummy? I promise it will be such fun."

Spike was frozen in his spot, his hand clutching Buffy's tightly as he fought against her pull in his mind. He started growling deep in his chest, the sound slowly filling the room. Then he suddenly stopped as Buffy stepped in front of him and yanked his face down to hers, pressing a hard kiss on his lips. When she broke it, she stared into his eyes and he could see her fire and anger at what was happening.

"Buffy," Xander interrupted, nervously running his hand through his short hair. He looked up and met Cordelia's worried gaze, then looked over at the blond Slayer. "Move to capture d4."

"With pleasure," Buffy replied, a hard look coming over her features. She turned to go, but Spike's unbandaged hand shot out and grabbed her arm, pulling her back roughly against him. His mouth descended upon hers and she was swept away in a violent, possessive kiss which was over as swiftly as it began.

"I love you," Spike whispered harshly.

"I know," Buffy replied with a small smile. She squared her shoulders and turned to face her opponent. "Drusilla, you've messed with my men for the last time. It's time to say goodnight, Gracie."

Striding across the floor, stake in hand, the tiny, blond Slayer met the tall, brunette vampiress. Willow moved to the very edge of her square, trying to give them as much room as possible as the fight began. Without another word, Buffy shot her leg out, trying to clip Drusilla in the knee. Drusilla stepped back and avoided the blow, lashing out with a clawed hand.

Buffy caught her wrist and twisted it back, but had to drop it as the vampiress' other hand came up to strike. She blocked the attack and dropped down into a fighting stance, bringing up her wrists for another block. Spinning, she kicked at Drusilla's head, catching her across the face. Drusilla reeled with the blow, but did not falter as her eyes flashed an eerie green.

The vampiress' hand shot out faster than a cobra strike, her nails ripping across Buffy's exposed cleavage where the as yet unhealed marks from Spike's earlier mating with her still lie. The Slayer grunted in pain as new blood began to flow, her fist flying out to connect with Drusilla's mid-section. As she bent over, Buffy went to grab her hair, but Drusilla latched onto both of her wrists and flung her head upwards, clipping Buffy under the jaw with her head.

The Slayer's teeth clacked together, sharply biting into her tongue, as her head flew back on impact. Her mouth filled with her own blood and she had to blink away her tears of pain. Throwing her foot up in a snap-kick, she pushed Drusilla back a few steps in order to gain control.

That's when the images started.

In her mind, she saw Drusilla and Spike entwined together in front of a fireplace, the glow from the embers highlighting their pale skin as he moved in and out of her. The Spike in her mind was telling the vampiress over and over that he loved her and only her with each thrust. He climaxed, calling out Drusilla's name, then he tenderly cradled his mistress in his arms, placing loving kisses all over her face.

Buffy tried to shake it off as she barely dodged Drusilla's next attack. She swung her legs around, trying to knock the vampiress off of her feet, but once again she was unsuccessful. Rising quickly, she threw her hand out to grab Drusilla's swinging arm and yanked her closer, sending a palm strike up towards the vampiress' nose. Drusilla moved swiftly out of the way, then ducked under the hand that was holding her arm, bringing Buffy's up sharply behind her.

Angel moved behind Spike while the fight was happening, never removing his eyes from the two combatants. He could hear his childe muttering something over and over as he got closer. "She's let go of me, she's let go of me, she's let go of me, she's let go of me, she's let go of me, she's let go of me..."

He put his hand on Spike's shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"She's fucking let go of me," Spike replied in a harsh voice. "She's not in my head anymore."

"Oh God," Angel said, dread washing over him.

A new picture formed in Buffy's head, this one vicious and cruel. Blood and bodies were everywhere and she watched as Spike cut people down left and right, his fangs gleaming in the night, his face and chest covered with gore. She could hear the victims' screams in her mind, agonizing wails of death and misery. Spike held one blond girl, that looked almost exactly like her, by the back of the neck and savagely ripped out the girl's throat with his fangs. He then shared a hot, passionate kiss with Drusilla, the girl's life blood pumping from her neck and bathing them with the thick, red substance.

Buffy let out a cry of rage as she forced the vision from her mind. She spun out of Drusilla's hold and sent a back kick to her, followed quickly by a powerful drop kick. The vampiress was knocked back with the blows and the Slayer kept after her, sending punches and kicks flying, the stake still clutched in her hand. With an expert twist, Buffy managed to grasp Drusilla's arm and send her over her shoulder where she landed on the ground with a thud.

Buffy dropped down on one knee next to Drusilla and was about to plunge the stake home when a shot rang out.



Part Twelve




Buffy blinked in shock. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as she lowered her gaze from Drusilla's triumphant eyes to the small pistol in her hand. Her head continued its downward movement until she could see a circle of blood, growing bigger as she watched, right in the middle of her chest.

Dimly, she heard Willow scream and she fell backwards onto her butt, the stake dropping from nerveless fingers. She started to see black spots swimming before her eyes and she turned her head to find Spike standing so close, yet so far away. She blinked a second time, then the world went dark.


*****


Spike just stood there. He couldn't feel anything, couldn't think anything, and couldn't say anything as the people around him erupted in chaos. All he could do was stand there and stare at where Buffy had fallen onto her side, a large, red stain visible in the middle of her back.


*****


Angel moved across the floor in an instant, grabbing the gun out of Drusilla's hand and flinging it across the room. It hit the complex wall with a loud crack before falling to the ground. Drusilla started to laugh as Giles and Xander dragged Buffy's body off the board, her blood leaving a trail in her wake. Willow ran with Cordelia into the other room to get the medical supplies out of the refrigerator while the Watcher tried to staunch the flow of blood. Faith came up behind Drusilla as the vampiress stood, stake in hand, but Angel's shout startled them all.

"No!" he yelled sharply, grabbing Faith's wrist. "If you kill her, we're all dead."

"But she shot Buffy!" Faith yelled back.

"Faith, he's right," Xander called over to them. "If you kill her out of a capturing challenge, all of us forfeit our lives."

"Xander, see how much time we have left," Giles said as he slit Buffy's tank top down the center and pushed it away from her body.

Xander stood and quickly ran over to the computer console. "Fuck, only two minutes," he swore, slamming his hand down on the machine.

"Angel, I need you," Giles called to the vampire. Pulling Faith with him, Angel rapidly made his way over to Buffy's side. "The bullet passed through her body, but I do not know what it hit."

"Dammit, she stopped breathing!" Cordelia suddenly yelled from her position by the Slayer's head. She tilted Buffy's head back and started mouth-to-mouth. "Come on, Buffy. I'm not kissing you for nothing," she said between breaths.

Giles checked her pulse and found that it was still there, but very thready. "Xander-"

"One fifteen," Xander replied.

"I'm not going to be able to keep up mouth-to-mouth," Angel said quietly as he helped Giles patch the wound on Buffy's back so she wouldn't bleed out on the floor.

"I know," Giles replied.

"Here, this should help stop the bleeding," Willow said, handing Giles a quickly construed herb compound from the supplies in her bag. "I wish I had time to do a healing spell."

"I doubt it would work on a wound of this magnitude," the Watcher told her as he applied the compound.

"Forty-five, guys," Xander said.

"Yes, that's right Buffy, breathe for me," Cordelia said, listening to the shallow breaths the Slayer was taking on her own.

"Forty."

"Faith get back to your spot," Angel instructed. "Don't touch Drusilla."

"Thirty-five."

"Willow, there is nothing else you can do," Giles said as he set the compound on the floor next to the fallen blond.

"Thirty."

"I can pray to the goddess," Willow replied as she made her way back to her square.

"Twenty-five."

"Don't you die on me, Buffy," Cordelia said. "You still owe me for coming here and I aim to collect."

"Twenty."

Cordelia stood and walked to Xander, giving him a tight hug before returning to her square.

"Fifteen."

"Rupert, go," Angel said quietly. "I've got her."

"Ten."

Giles nodded and stood, wiping the blood on his pants as he headed back to his spot.

"Five."

Spike still stood there, staring at the spot of blood on the ground where Buffy had fallen.

A short beep sounded on the computer console, signaling the restart of the game.


*****


"Xander, end this game as quickly as you can," Angel said to the teen who had retaken his seat at the computer console.

"Right, quickly," Xander nodded. He looked at the screen and realized that the black king made another stupid move by not moving Drusilla to Buffy's square, as was the victor's choice. Instead, the black king chose to move the black queen to d1 on his turn and the teen hoped to use the mistake to his advantage. However, the black king's move put the black queen in a position for a possible checkmate.

And it put Drusilla right next to Spike.

"Wasn't that a fun game, luv?" Drusilla asked the blond vampire, who still had yet to move. "The Slayer made such a funny noise. A little pop, then a whish, like a balloon. And then she turned such a pretty red. It made me hungry."

Spike slowly turned his head until he was looking at the vampiress. His eyes were icy and lifeless, his face was expressionless as he stared at her.

"End the game quickly," Xander mumbled to himself. "Ok, I can do this. I just have to put myself in discovered check and hope that Miss Looney Tunes doesn't come after me." With a final glance at the screen, he made what he hoped to be his last move. "Spike, move straight up the board to e8."

Spike blinked slowly, acknowledged Xander's instruction with a barely perceptible nod of his head, and headed across the board. The black king was now in check. The black king would be forced to move out of check by having his black rook at a8 challenge Spike -- then either he or Xander would win. Which meant that the game was solely in the blond vampire's hands.

The same vampire who just saw the love of his unlife get gunned down by his old love.

Spike stopped walking, turned and stood facing the black king, his eyes closed. Faith was catty- corner to him in f7 and she was giving him part worried, part confused looks. "Hey Blondie, are you ok?" she asked.

He did not even acknowledge that she spoke.

"Xander, get over here!" Angel shouted, his voice carrying easily across the board. Faith turned and saw the dark-haired vampire compressing Buffy's chest as the teen skid across the floor to her head, immediately starting mouth-to-mouth.

Still, Spike did nothing.

The black king made his move. Behind the blond vampire, a blue, multi-armed creature, who was the black rook, came running at Spike from the square a8. Two of its arms held short swords and one carried a small shield. The fourth, fifth and sixth arms were all free, the large, multi-digit hands prepared to grab at its opponent.

It came at Spike without a noise, his horned head raised with an evil smile on his face. With an extra burst of speed, it seemed the creature would mow down the blond vampire. In reality, things turned out very different. For at the last second, Spike turned and grabbed the creature by the throat, using its momentum to throw him towards the black king.

And Spike stood there, still holding the creature's esophagus with his white, bandaged hand.

"Checkmate," Faith whispered as she stared at the body part in the vampire's hand.

A loud buzzer sounded, then a voice came over the loudspeaker. "Congratulations white team! Please step off the board for your own safety. Thank you."

Willow, Cordelia and Giles were all at Buffy's side before the announcement was even complete. Xander and Angel were still frantically trying to keep the Slayer alive through their combined efforts. Faith grabbed Spike's arm and began to drag him towards the opposite side of the board. "Come on, Spike. Buffy needs you."

At the sound of her name, Spike's stunned frame of mind gave way to all-consuming rage. He slammed the esophagus onto the floor and disentangled his arm from Faith before striding purposely across the floor, directly towards Drusilla. Without stopping, he grabbed his former love by the throat and lifted her clear off the floor.

"YOU STUPID BLOODY BITCH!" Spike screamed as he threw her to the floor right where Buffy had lain. He stalked over to her and dropped to his knees, scooping up the fallen stake in his good hand. He leaned forward until he was less than an inch from Drusilla's hypnotizing eyes. He could feel her trying to capture him again, but this time it wasn't going to work. "I. Hate. You," he finished with barely a whisper, his blue eyes hard as steel.

Then Drusilla was nothing more than a pile of dust.

Spike stood and dropped the stake into the pile. Without a second glance, he walked off the board just in time, for the entire floor dropped out of the center of the room, sending the rest of the black team members and leftover pawns down into a spiked pit. The screams of pain echoed throughout the room until the floor reassembled itself.

Then there was silence, save for the frantic sound of Angel and Xander trying to save Buffy's life.



Part Thirteen




Spike's steps slowed as he got closer to the blond on the floor. He took in the scene before him as if it were a movie; the rage he'd felt only moments before vanished into a feeling of nothingness and detachment. He stopped abruptly, pausing two feet away from where Buffy lay, and looked at the others with casual disinterest. Cordelia was behind Xander, rubbing his back in encouragement as he continued to administer mouth-to-mouth. Giles was half-standing next to Angel with Willow and Faith hovering behind them both.

"Willow, pull the van up as close as you can to the doors," Giles instructed, handing her the keys. The redhead ran out of the room without hesitation, bypassing a small, human male dressed in a suit who was entering.

"Congratulations and sympathy all in one," the man said, walking over to the group. Faith grabbed him by the throat in an instant and shoved him up against the wall, lifting him until his feet were off the ground.

"Who the fuck are you and what the fuck do you want?" Faith spat.

"I've come to tell you that the white team has won the Endgame and, because of the Slayer's death, the Vampire need not worry about any further Games. His participation has ended," the man replied calmly, even though the brunette Slayer was choking him.

"Anything else?" Faith said coldly.

"That is all, you are free to leave," he answered with a gasp of breath, his face turning red from lack of oxygen.

"Giles, can I kill him?" the brunette Slayer asked over her shoulder.

"No," Giles replied. "Let him go and get our things together. We are leaving immediately."

Faith snarled in disgust and dropped the man. He straightened his suit, tipped an invisible hat to the group, and left the room. Willow bypassed him again as she ran in. "Van's at the door," she said, grabbing her backpack off the floor. "It's really sunny out there already, but Angel and Spike should be able to make it without a problem."

"Good thing I put up that paper," Giles said mostly to himself, putting his hand on Angel's shoulder. "We need to get her to the hospital."

"I know," Angel grunted between compressions. "I still have no pulse."

"We'll just have to rush her to the van and start again," Giles said wearily. A depression settled over him and he looked up at Spike, who was standing there with a blank look on his face. He lowered his voice and said to the dark-haired vampire, "I think Spike has gone into shock."

"I'll deal with him as soon as I can," Angel replied, stopping his attempts to revive Buffy. "Xander, stop." The second the teen stopped his ministrations, Angel scooped up the blond Slayer and ran for the exit, Willow on his heels.

"Xander, go with them," Cordelia said. "Faith and I will follow." Xander nodded and rose shakily to his feet, quickly leaving.

Faith had her bag over her head and grabbed Spike roughly by the arm. She nodded at Giles, who took his other arm, and they forced him into a fast walk towards the exit. Cordelia looked around the empty game room with its checkered floor, then turned and left.


*****


The van ride to the nearest hospital in Chesterton was made in tense silence. Willow was the one administering mouth-to-mouth as Angel continued CPR. Spike sat on the floor in a corner of the van under a blocked window, his arms wrapped around his knees as he stared at Buffy. Xander sat next to Giles, who was driving pedal to the floor, and had his head leaned against the glass of the side window with his eyes tightly shut.

With a squeal, the Watcher stopped the van under the overhang outside of the emergency exit. Thankful for small favors, he burst from the automobile and flew into the hospital as Xander opened the side door. Angel didn't bother to wait for the gurney as he picked Buffy up once again and ran into the hospital.

"Here!" a doctor yelled as he came through the emergency doors. Angel laid his precious burden down and watched as the medical team swooped around Buffy and wheeled her quickly away.

"Angel," Willow said quietly, taking his larger hand in hers. He looked down at her tear-filled eyes and the weight of the situation came crashing down upon him. All the thoughts and feelings he had blocked off as he worked on Buffy flooded his system and he let out a choked sob. Gathering the redhead in his arms, he held her tightly as the tears came.

"Excuse me, you need to move your van," a nurse said to Giles, who was staring in the direction that Buffy had been wheeled.

"What? O-oh, yes. I shall move it directly," Giles replied. He slowly turned and made his way out of the electronic doors, his body on automation. Cordelia passed him with a distressed look on her face and he absently noted that she went directly to Xander and they embraced like long-time loves.

"Giles," Faith said, bringing his attention to her. She was standing in front of the open side door to the van and gestured with her head to the interior. "Is it safe to bring Blondie inside?"

"Yes," Giles answered, coming to the quick realization that they had forgotten about Spike once again. He looked through the open door and saw that the blond vampire had not moved from his spot, still staring at the floor where Buffy had lain minutes before. "Um, I-I believe your strength may be needed for-for-for this."

"Got it," Faith replied, crawling partially into the van and grabbing Spike by the arm. She shook him hard, trying to get his attention. "Spike, get your undead ass out of the van." When he didn't respond, she sighed and yanked him out. Luckily, he put his feet under him so she didn't need to pull him into the hospital dragging on the ground behind her.

Angel raised his head when Spike and Faith entered. He gave Willow a final squeeze, then stepped away from her. He opened his mouth to say something, but she shook her head. "Go," she told him, her arms wrapping around herself. He gave her a depressed smile and turned to the other vampire.

"Spike," Angel said, moving to stand directly in front of the peroxide-blond. He put both hands on Spike's shoulders and bent to look him in the eyes. "Spike, are you ok?"

Spike heard Angel speaking, but it sounded as though he was speaking in slow-motion. The hospital sounds around them were muffled and, except for his sire, everything he saw was shaky and blurred, as if he was looking at an out-of-focus photograph. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out because he didn't know what to say. His brain seemed to have shut down and, though normally he would be upset with this occurrence, right then he found it comforting.

Angel led him over to a row of chairs in the waiting room and pushed him down into one. His sire then took the seat next to him and laid his hand over Spike's unbandaged one, entwining their fingers. A rush of comfort and protection filled him, but he couldn't fathom why, nor did he seem to care. So, he let the feeling be and instead closed his eyes to block out the blurry images assaulting him.

"I called Buffy's mom," Faith said, joining the group in the waiting room. "Glad she had her cell phone on. She didn't seem too surprised when I called, though. It was almost as though she knew already."

"But will she be here?" Willow asked from her seat on the other side of Angel, her hand holding his other one.

"As soon as she can," Faith replied.

"We should probably get our story straight," Xander said suddenly. Cordelia lifted her head from where it rested on his shoulder and turned so that his arm was around her waist. "This isn't Sunnydale. The cops are going to question us."

"Y-Yes," Giles said, removing his glasses to rub his eyes. "I suppose we stick to the truth as-as much as, er, possible."

"Buffy and this girl were fighting, she pulled a gun and shot Buffy," Cordelia said. "Then what?"

"Well, considering she's dust, I'd say she just ran off," Xander replied. "We can give the cops a perfect description, even a name if we want, and they'll never find her."

"Why were we all out anyway?" Willow asked. "Field trip?"

"That doesn't matter, since none of you are minors anymore," Angel answered. "Because of how early it is, we can just say we were on our way to Disneyland and stopped off for something to eat."

"This means I get to be G-man's ho?" Faith said. She sidled up to Giles and linked her arm with his. "Take me, baby-cakes."

Giles replaced his glasses with a shake of his head as the others chuckled slightly. "With great regret, I would have to say yes." Faith gave him an overly dramatic, fake pout and dropped his arm. "As for Drusilla, I agree with Xander. Angel, do-do you recollect her, uh, surname?"

Angel shook his head. "No, I never learned it and once she was turned, I doubt she even remembered."

"I'll draw her," Cordelia said. "That way they won't pick up anyone by mistake."

"Good idea," Giles said. "But wait un-until they question us."

"Damn, I just realized something," Xander said. "They're only going to let family in to see her."

"That's easy, Xand," Faith said. "You be her bro, I'll be sis, Angel can be her big bro and Spike can be her man."

"We're all brunettes and she isn't," Angel told her. "Plus, no family resemblance."

"Well, at least one of us should fake being related to her," Willow said. "At least until Mrs. Summers gets here."

"Angel, I agree with Willow and I think it should be you," Giles said. "You look young enough to be her older brother without causing too much suspicion."

"Ok," Angel replied. "I can also try to overrule the ‘family only' policy."

The group fell into silence and a depression settled over them now that they had nothing left to distract them. Cordelia and Xander took seats opposite Angel and Willow, their positions mimicking the vampire and the hacker. Faith paced behind them in the next row, her heavy boots beating a constant rhythm on the floor with her steps. Giles sat on the other side of Spike, his forearms resting on his knees, glasses dangling between his fingers as he closed his eyes and willed for his Slayer to live.

"Slayer."

The word was barely a whisper after an hour of quiet, but everyone heard it. All eyes turned to Spike and they watched as his human face flickered to that of his demon before returning to its smooth planes. Angel let go of Willow's hand and moved so that he was crouching in front of Spike, his hand now turned so it was grasped around the younger vampire's palm. "Spike?" Angel said quietly.

Spike began to visibly shake as the fatal scene played out in his mind in slow, agonizing detail. He saw the bullet enter Buffy's body and come out the other side; her stunned expression; the light going from her vibrant eyes as she fell to the ground; the blood on her shirt. "No," he whispered. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, No, No, No, No, No, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!"

With his scream of agony, Spike's demon face came forth and he stood abruptly, knocking Angel over. He took one step forward and collapsed onto his knees as his legs stopped working. His body shook violently as he curled over his knees, a loud, pain-filled, animalistic sound emanating from him.

Angel closed his eyes in pain at his childe's cries; the sound meant much more to another vampire than simply the grief-stricken anguish that the humans might have interpreted it as. It was a death wail, rarely heard. Vampires did not normally form attachments that ran so deep that they became a part of the demon's very being, but it was possible. Even if Angel did not possess a soul, his response to Spike's pain would have been exactly the same, the ties of blood between him and Spike moving him to act.

He moved behind Spike in an instant, covering the younger vampire's body with his own, almost as though he were forming a protective shell. His arms were wrapped around Spike's, his hands holding the blond's wrists, as his chin rested on Spike's shoulder. He started making an unusual sound in Spike's ear -- a cross between a purring and growling sound - and held him as tightly as he could.

The others watched on with fascination, knowing they were witnessing something no humans ever see. Xander and Cordelia held hands tightly and Faith moved around to block one side of the aisle, preventing curious onlookers from seeing them. Willow did the same on the other side, glaring at anyone who dared turn in their direction. Her own heart was breaking with the primal sound, wishing she didn't realize that Buffy may very well be gone forever this time.

A doctor came over accompanied by an orderly in blue scrubs. Giles rose to meet them, standing in front of Faith. "Is there a problem here?" the doctor asked.

"No, no problem," Giles replied. As the doctor tried to look around him, the Watcher continuously shifted to block his view. "Do you have any news on Buffy Summers?"

"She was taken up to OR, that's all I can tell you," the doctor said. "We can administer a sedative..."

"Er, hold on," Giles said. He looked over at Xander and Cordelia who were watching him expectantly, waiting for instruction. "Ask Angel if-if we should sedate Spike."

Xander nodded and leaned forward in his chair. "Deadboy? Hey, Angel." He tried to get the dark-haired vampire's attention, but was unsuccessful. He reached out and touched Angel's shoulder and his head shot up, his demon eyes flashing as he let out a snarl at the teen. "Woah, Angel, buddy, it's Xander."

"I got it," Willow said, kneeling next to the two vampires. When she laid her hand on Angel's upper arm, he turned to her and snarled as well, but then she raised her other hand and brushed it across his cheek. Recognition flickered behind his yellowed gaze and she asked, "Angel, the doctor wants to know if we should give Spike a sedative."

"No," Angel answered over Spike's cries, his voice thick with pain. "He should stop any minute."

Willow raised her eyes to Giles and shook her head no just as the blond vampire did as Angel predicted. She stood and looked about, prepared to glared at any onlookers who dared to stare at the couple, while Angel's features smoothed out. Dropping his head again, he returned to his vocalizations of comfort by Spike's ear, the younger vampire's body reduced to trembling under his sire's hold.

The doctor was apparently satisfied and he left with the orderly in tow, promising to bring news of Buffy's status as soon as he heard. Giles swallowed heavily and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to push away his own pain. Turning back to the others, he surveyed the mis-matched group of individuals that meant everything to him, the two vampires included. Except for the aforementioned two, they were looking to him for guidance on what to do next.

"Cordelia, why don't you and Xander see about appropriating some sort of beverages and food for us," Giles finally said.

"Ok," Cordelia replied, slowly rising to her feet with the dark-haired teen and leaving the waiting area.

"Faith, will you call Mrs. Summers again and find out her location?" Giles asked.

"Sure, Giles," Faith said, giving a quick look over her shoulder at the vampires on the floor before leaving.

"Giles," Willow said. "Angel and Spike are going to need to know where the windows are located so they can avoid them, maybe even a place to go that's private."

"Yes," Giles said. "I suppose I'd better go check."

"I'll stay with them," she told him. Giles nodded and walked away. Willow knelt on the floor again and Angel raised his head, meeting her eyes as he continued to make the low purring/growling sound. She reached out and brushed the lone tear that rolled down his cheek, giving him her strength and comfort so he could concentrate on Spike.



Continued 1