Never Send A Psychotic
To Do A Lunatic's Job


by Saber ShadowKitten




Part Thirteen



Spike glanced at the clock, then looked over towards the hotel room door when he heard a passkey in the lock. Only Giles had a key to the room, unless it was the cleaning staff, and he could've sworn he put the 'Do Not Disturb Because I'm Getting A Leg Over' sign out. The blond frowned in concern when the door opened and Xander's head popped into view. "Xan, what's wrong?"

"Hey," Xander said, coming further into the room. "Can I talk to-- oh." He stopped abruptly and stiffened. "Never mind. I didn't know you were busy."

Spike glanced down at the dark head pillowed on his bare chest and the large arms encircling his bare waist. A tender smile graced his lips before he turned back to Xander. "I'm never too busy for you," he said, beckoning to Xander.

Xander hesitated a moment, then joined Spike on the bed. He rested his head in the crook of the other vampire's shoulder, careful not to bump the other brunette. Spike put his arm around Xander's broad shoulders, hugged him briefly, and asked, "What's wrong, Xander?"

Xander sighed unhappily. "I like Cordelia."

"Hate to tell you this, luv, but everyone knows that," Spike said with a chuckle. "Everyone also knows that the busty bint likes you back."

"That's the problem."

"Huh?" Spike was confused. Maybe nine o'clock in the morning was too early to be having sire/childe conversations.

Xander sighed again. "Xander is a woman in disguise alert; I'm just not ready for another relationship. Sex is sex and flirting is fun, but Anya eviscerated me, and it still hurts. I'm afraid of that happening again."

"Love is not without risks, pet," Spike said softly. "But if you're not ready, you're not. There's no need to rush. If Cordelia likes you now, she needs to get her head examined...," Xander growled and Spike grinned, "...but that means she'll still like you later."

Xander snuggled against Spike and was silent for a moment. Then, he whispered, "Thanks."

"S'what I'm here for," Spike told him. He pressed a kiss to his childe's forehead and nuzzled the boy's short, dark locks.

A knock at the door roused Xander. "I got it," he said as he extracted himself from Spike's embrace. Spike looked towards the door as the younger vampire opened it to reveal Oz.

Oz's fuzzy brows went up when he saw Xander and the two on the bed, but that was the extent of his commentary. "We got a hit," he reported. "Meeting next door in ten."

"You hear that?" Xander asked over his shoulder.

"Yeah," Spike said. Xander nodded, then joined Oz in the hallway, closing the door behind him. The blond vampire poked the dark-haired one using him for a pillow. "I know you're awake."

Angel tilted his head to look up at Spike. Sleepy amber eyes reflected pride and sadness. "You're a good sire," he said.

"Learned from the best," Spike said with a wink.

Angel snorted. "Yeah, I was the epitome of wholesome goodness. I only hit you because I loved you."

"You loved me?" Spike was stunned. Angelus had loved him?

"No."

"Oh." Spike felt as though someone skewered his heart. He looked away, his eyes stinging. Buffy suddenly appeared beside the bed, dressed in blue and clutching a stake, an angry expression twisting her features.

Angel shifted, moving atop of Spike, blanketing the younger man. Supporting himself on his forearm on the pillow beside Spike's head, he grasped Spike's chin and forced the blond to look at him. Spike wished he hadn't tears in his eyes; to show such weakness would mean that he had actually cared about what Angel had said. And he didn't care. He didn't... he didn't...

"Spike... William," Angel said, his tone slightly rough. Deep mahogany eyes caught and held watery blue. "I'd always wished that you were my mate."

Buffy's heart stopped beating in Spike's chest as the words sunk in. Angelus hadn't loved him: Angelus had wanted to be his mate. That meant what Angelus had felt for him went far deeper than love, far deeper than he'd ever hoped. Love was a paltry emotion in comparison to what it meant for vampires to have a mate. Mating was for as long both partners lived, and for a vampire, that could be for centuries or longer. It was a vampire's Valhalla if the chosen mate reciprocated the feelings.

"Wha- what about Darla?" Spike asked in a trembling voice.

"I was her mate; she was only my sire," Angel confessed. He rubbed his thumb across Spike's lower lip. "She would've killed you if I would've taken you as my mate. So, I did nothing."

"I... I..." Spike floundered, and he looked helplessly towards Buffy. She gave him a thumbs up and faded out of sight. He took a fortifying breath, and blurted, "I'd wished that you were my mate, too."

Angel's jaw dropped slightly in shock, then an enormous smile spread across his face, his eyes crinkling in the corners. Spike hadn't known Angel possessed so many teeth. It was... freaky.

"What about Drusilla?" Angel asked, although the smile never left his face.

"I loved her," Spike answered truthfully. "She was my sire and my girl, but I never wanted to mate with her." He lowered his eyes, his voice dropping to a sorrowful whisper. "I mated with Buffy, though, during those last few...," he trailed off, pressed his lips together, and swallowed back the tears.

"I'm glad," Angel said quietly. Spike's eyes shot to his sire's in surprise. "Not that she's dead," the dark-haired man continued. "But that she wasn't alone in the end."

"She was, though," Spike's words were rife with pain. "They took her away from me, and I couldn't stop them. I failed to protect my mate, sire. I failed..."

"Sh-sh-sh," Angel bent and brushed a kiss across Spike's lips, tears sliding from his own dark eyes. "It wasn't your fault. I'm sure that you did all you could."

"Spike, you moron." Buffy appeared beside the bed again, hands on her hips. "You're supposed to be getting it on with Angel, not weeping like a sissy-boy over me."

"Can't help it, luv," Spike said, glancing over at her. "I failed you."

Buffy threw her hands in the air. "Men! You are such idiots! You think you have to protect me, when I can take care of myself!"

"Um, Slayer? You're dead," Spike pointed out. He looked back at Angel, lifted his hand, and dashed the tears from the brunette's cheek. "And what're you crying about?"

Angel shook his head slightly. "Nothing."

"He's crying because you're acting like a goober," Buffy said. She wagged her finger at Spike. "Now, you listen to me, Mister, because we are not going to have this conversation again. It. Wasn't. Your. Fault. So stop blaming yourself, pucker up, and kiss Angel's tears away before he starts blaming himself for my death."

"You're not, are you?" Spike asked Angel. Angel frowned in confusion, and Spike added, "Blaming yourself for Buffy kicking it?"

A flash of pain ran across Angel's strong features, and Spike growled. He brought his other hand up and cupped both of his sire's cheeks. "Oi, don't you dare go thinking you had anything to do with it," he said gruffly. "You weren't there, and hadn't been for years. Shit happens, Angel, and there's nothing that can be done about it. The past has passed; it's the now that we have to live in, and blaming yourself for something that you had no control over won't... do... any... good..."

Spike blinked. Blinked again. Blinked a third time as it dawned on him that what he'd said to Angel could be applied to him. Spike looked over at Buffy and saw that her clothes had changed. She was dressed in pure white: white trousers, white lacey camisole, white boots, and her blond hair curled around her shoulders.

The smile she sent him was as blinding as her clothing, and her voice was full of life as she spoke. "'Bout time you figured that out, doofus," Buffy said with a light laugh. "I thought you were supposed to be a brain."

"Buffy?" Spike questioned in bewilderment.

"Do you know how much of a pain in the butt it is to be a ghost?" She sighed forlornly. "All those shoes I saw, and I couldn't wear a single pair."

Spike stared at her in disbelief. A ghost? She was a ghost? She wasn't a figment of his deranged imagination?

"Yes, sweetie, I'm a ghost," Buffy said, as if reading his mind. "You kept my spirit bound to you by your totally unnecessary feelings of guilt. Which is so weird, because, hello?, you're a soulless vampire, you're not supposed to feel guilty." She shook her head at the absurdity. "But, now that you finally understand that it wasn't your fault, I can go."

"You're leaving?" Spike said with a wavering voice. His hands fell from Angel's face, and he pushed the other man off him and sat up. "But you can't leave. I'll be alone."

"Spike?" Angel questioned, sitting up beside the blond.

"Oh, I don't think you'll be alone," Buffy winked. Bright specks of light began dancing around her body and she slowly became translucent. "Take care, Spike. And behave, or I'll have to come back and stake you."

"Buffy...," Spike breathed.

Buffy smiled tenderly, waved, and burst into a shower of golden pixie dust. The illuminated dust faded as it floated to the floor. Spike stared unblinkingly until every speck had vanished. Then he turned to Angel and whispered, "She's gone."

Angel reached over and placed it against Spike's chest. "Didn't you say it was her heart that beat in here?" he asked softly. Spike nodded, and Angel gave him a half-smile. "Then she'll never be truly gone, will she?"

Spike sniffed and rubbed his hand across his face. "You're a bloody poofter, you know that?"

"Learned from the best," Angel teased, and started to drop his hand.

Spike caught Angel's hand and pressed it back over his heart. "Insulting your lover won't get you very far."

"Then, I guess..." Angel lightly pushed Spike down onto the pillow and moved over him again. "...it's a good thing you aren't my lover."

"Um, Angel," Spike frowned in complete confusion, tear tracks still etched on his face. "Unless I've totally gone 'round the bend, I'd say last night proves differently."

"No, last night, I made love to my mate." Angel dropped his gaze and nibbled on his lower lip. "That is, if you want to be m-mmph--"



Chapter Fourteen





Giles was about to send Xander to forcibly retrieve Spike and Angel when the two vampires entered the room. The Watcher immediately noticed that the blond vampire held his security blanket -- Buffy's shirt -- in one hand, and Angel's hand with the other. There was a large smile on Spike's face but his lips trembled, as if he couldn't decide whether he was happy or sad. Giles's irritation at the two for being a half-hour late instantly changed into concern. The fate of the world wasn't nearly as important as one of his children.

Giles stopped his journey across the hotel room short when he saw Angel lean against the wall and pull Spike back into the shelter of his arms. The blond vampire's trembling smile became blinding for a moment, pure joy lighting up his features, before he relaxed against Angel and slipped on his 'I'm Being Serious, Now, And Listening' expression.

It looked as though Spike was no longer simply one of his children, Giles thought, his brows climbing high above the rims of his glasses frame. It also looked as though someone had sneaked into Spike's room after the Watcher had put the blond to bed, if Angel's less that perfect hair and rumpled clothing were any indication.

Giles cleared his throat. "Right, then, now that we are all present...," he began with a pointed look at the vampires. He received a part-wolfish, part-sheepish grin from Angel, which was actually quite disturbing to see. Giles went on. "We have had a bit of luck. Earlier this morning, one of the bugs at the Council's headquarters picked up a conversation regarding something called the Gnorican Staff."

"How do we know it's what we're after, and not just another Council toy?" Cordelia asked from her perch on the edge of the bed.

"Because there's no such thing as a 'Gnorican Staff,'" Willow said, poking at keys on her laptop. Oz was on the floor near her feet, sorting through the weapons they'd brought. "At least, not that I can find through our usual sources."

"I have not heard of it, either," Giles said, dragging a worried hand through his thinning hair. "But, as Cordelia said, this could just be another un-cataloged find and, therefore, discretion must be utilized."

"No storming the castle, huh?" Xander said. He sighed dejectedly and slouched back on the pillows propped against the bed's headboard. "And I was so looking forward to some senseless violence and mayhem."

"There might be that, yet," Giles said. "Because we are perilously close to the line, I would like as many of us to search the Council grounds as feel comfortable doing so. The faster we find and identify this staff, the better, especially in light of the fact that it might not be what we're searching for."

"Isn't that kinda reckless?" Willow said. "The more of us that go, the more chances there are of getting caught."

"I have thought of that, but I see no other alternatives," Giles replied. "We are simply running out of time."

"What if they call the police on us?" Cordelia asked. "They could have us arrested for trespassing, and we'd be stuck in jail while they're off destroying the world."

"If they do have you arrested, I will have you out within an hour," Lilah spoke up, from her position nearest the door. "Wolfram and Hart is not without power here in the United Kingdom."

"Thank you, Lilah. That is reassuring." Giles gestured to the building plans spread out on the bed. "We shall divide the Council's headquarters into sections. Be sure to watch for hidden caches in the most innocuous of locations."

As Giles detailed their evening activities further, he kept a surreptitious eye on Spike and Angel. Neither had moved from their spot, nor had they asked any questions or put forth any suggestions. They seemed to be in their own bubble, with Angel whispering into Spike's ear every-so-often and Spike responding with a glance back at the taller vampire and a tender smile. Something had happened between the two of them, of that Giles was certain, and it was more than simply having sexual relations. Whether that was a good thing, or bad, was yet to be determined.

"I think that's everything, for now," Giles concluded the impromptu meeting. "We shall meet up again at four this evening for any last minute preparations before we leave. I would suggest you utilize this time to rest and, ah, eat." He realized how ridiculous he sounded, instructing a group of almost thirty-year-olds, who'd been fighting evil for half of their lives, to have a nap and a snack before going out to play. Should he remind them to wear their slickers, too?

"Er, I need to talk to you guys," Spike spoke up for the first time. He stepped out of the circle of Angel's arms, holding his security blanket against his chest, his knuckles white as he twisted the worn shirt in his hands.

Giles's worry for him instantly shot back to the top of the Importance Meter, and the greying Watcher cursed himself. He knew he should've asked Spike what was wrong the moment the blond entered the room. "What is it, Spike?" he prompted.

"Cordelia, Lilah," Angel said, nodding towards the door. "I need to talk with you, as well."

"Why am I hearing wedding bells?" Xander joked nervously as the two brunettes followed Angel out of the room.

Spike shook his head, but grinned lopsidedly at the younger vampire. "That's not what I wanted to tell you, but that's true, too."

"You're getting married?" Willow asked in surprise. "To... to Angel?"

Spike ducked his head, almost bashfully, and kicked at the carpeting. "We've, uh, mated."

The reactions to the news were varying. Xander hugged his knees to his chest and turned his face towards the curtained window. Willow squealed and practically flew across the room to hug Spike. Oz rose from the floor, folded his arms across his stocky chest, and growled softly. Giles himself was torn between happiness for the blond and fear that it was a mistake, in light of Spike's mental status.

"Thanks, pet," Spike said to the redhead. He cleared his throat and quickly wiped his cheeks. "I'll be moving to L.A. after this trip. Rupert, you'll need to give Angel a Nanny's List on taking care of little ol' me," he said. "Although, um, I guess I'm not as insane as everyone thought."

Giles removed his glasses and began wiping the lenses, like he did whenever he needed to occupy his hands while his mind fretted. "What do you mean?" he asked, pondering the ramifications of Spike's announcement, not only in terms of the vampire's well-being but for the Hellmouth.

"Buffy's gone."

Everyone's focus snapped to Spike in shock. Giles put his glasses back on and forced himself to speak. "G-Gone?" Had Angel finally accomplished what Giles had been trying to do for years, in only a few days?

"Yeah," Spike looked down at the shirt in his hands. "Turns out she was a ghost. I was keeping her stuck here because I thought what happened was my bloody fault. I guess I finally got that it wasn't, and she started whining about not being able to wear new shoes, then said goodbye and... and left me."

The last was said so quietly, it was barely discernable. Spike sniffed and wiped his eyes again, shirt clutched tightly to his chest. Without a word, Giles walked over to the blond and opened his arms. Spike fell into his embrace with a muffled sob, and the Watcher held the supposedly soulless demon as he cried his heart out over his deceased mortal enemy.

*****

"Doesn't it make your stomach turn?" Cordelia whispered to Xander, leaning closer to the brunette vampire in the rear seat of the van. She nodded towards the front of the van, where Angel had his arm draped over Spike's shoulder, holding the blond snuggled against him.

"No," Xander answered sullenly.

Cordelia studied her seatmate in the semi-darkness of the van, noting the hard set of his jaw. "What crawled up your butt?"

"Nothing," Xander growled. "Leave me alone."

"No," Cordelia stated. "Something's wrong, and I want to know what it is."

"You're not my girlfriend," Xander snapped at her. "So shove off."

Cordelia reared back, hurt piercing her heart. She ground her teeth, and said tightly, "No, I'm not. But I thought I was your friend."

Xander shot a glare at her, opened his mouth, then abruptly closed it and slumped further on the seat. He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you."

"You should be sorry," Cordelia said, sliding down low on the seat, mimicking his position. "Now, are you going to tell me what's wrong, or do I have to get out the tools I use to pry answers out of Angel?" Xander growled, and her eyebrow raised. "Was that for me?"

"No," Xander grumbled, looking out the side window. "That was for your esteemed boss."

"Angel?" Xander growled again, and a look of understanding passed over Cordelia's features. Duh, she thought. Who else but the tall, Irish idiot could provoke growls out of those around him. "What did he do this time?" she asked with a sigh.

Xander glanced at her, looked towards the front of the van, then down at his lap. "He's taking Spike," he mumbled in reply.

"And adding blondie to his harem, I know," Cordelia said. "I'm so looking forward to having another vampire staring at my neck while I'm trying to work."

"Spike can't bite, and even if he could, that ring of crosses is quite a deterrent," Xander said, his tone still sulky. "I thought necking with you before was dangerous; now it takes on a whole new meaning."

"Xander Harris, have you been thinking about my neck?"

Xander's fangs lengthened and ridges formed as he returned his gaze to her. "I'm a vampire, Cordy. Of course I've been thinking about your neck. Having a soul doesn't stop me from wanting to taste you, it only stops me from actually doing it without your permission."

His words instantly painted vivid images in Cordelia's mind that left her breathless and pressing her thighs together. She could've sworn she'd had the No Xander Sex conversation with herself, but it seemed as though her body hadn't been listening. Her hand reached out on its own accord, and her fingers traced over his ridged brow and down along his cheek. Golden eyes watched her intently as she brushed her fingertips against his lower lip, barely touching his sharp canines.

"I probably shouldn't be saying this, but you make a very sexy vampire," she whispered. "Almost as sexy as you were as a human."

"You...," Xander swallowed and cupped her hand to his face, "...you aren't disgusted?"

"Far from it," Cordelia said. A tiny smile curved her lips. "Maybe working with vampires for the past decade has warped my brain."

She leaned towards him, and he licked his lips. "I- I don't think I'm ready for another relationship, yet," he said quickly.

"Me, either," she told him. "'But one kiss a relationship does not make.'"

"Pretty," he rasped, their mouths almost touching. "Who said that?"

"Drusilla... just before I got the tattoo," she replied, and kissed him.

*****

It had just hit him. Really hit him.

He was mated.

He had a mate.

He was someone's mate.

Mated was what he was.

Taken a mate was what he'd done.

A mate was what he had.

A mate was what he was.

Mated.

Wheeeeeee!

Angel felt like throwing his arms in the air and dancing in a circle. He didn't, though, because that would ruin his entire tough, stoic persona. He'd look kind of ridiculous, too, bouncing around like a loon in a water sewer. Still, it was very tempting to say: "Fuck it," and just grab Spike up and wheeeeeeee!

"Erm, Angel, you can put me down any time."

Amused yellow eyes stared into his from mere inches away. Angel glanced past the blond vampire in his arms to see four sets of eyes focused on him with varying degrees of horror. He gave them all a sheepish look, set Spike on his feet, and loudly cleared his throat. "Sorry," he apologized, in a deeper-than-normal voice.

"And you lot think I'm the lunatic," Spike said with a large, fangy grin.

Angel kept his chin down as he fell into step with Spike again, following behind Oz, Willow, Xander, and Cordelia as they traipsed through the water sewer to the Council headquarters. Embarrassment burned his cheeks. Big vicious vampire, was he. Whee?

Spike snagged his hand, entwining their fingers as they continued to walk. A completely girlish gesture. Angel's insides turned to mush.

To think, it had only taken a little more than a century and a quarter to finally have Spike as his own. Angel could barely believe it. All the years that had passed; having had to deny his desires to take William for more than just a lover; gaining his soul; Spike growing from a fledgling to a master vampire in his own right; Sunnydale; the jealousy; the hatred; Drusilla; Buffy. And after everything that had happened in Los Angeles, the threads keeping his soul together were so frayed they barely held, and he no longer believed in redemption.

But who needed redemption when he finally had Spike?

"Hey, peaches," Spike's laughing tone pulled Angel back into the water sewer. The blond vampire pointed up. "It's your turn."

Angel looked up. The grate that they'd used last time to get into the Council of Watchers' headquarters was right above them. Oh, they were there already, Angel thought. He shook the glow-bees from his mind and swallowed Spike's bemused grin in a voracious kiss, before climbing out of the sewer.

*****

"Mr. Giles, I didn't expect to see you again," Quentin Travers said as he met Giles at the door to the Council headquarters.

"Yes, well, I've come to utilize the library," Giles lied, briefly shaking the elder Watcher's hand. "You needn't guide me. I still remember the way."

"Anything you need assistance with?" Quentin asked.

"No, just looking," Giles replied offhandedly as he headed towards the library without a by-your-leave. Quentin was right on his heels, and Giles had to hide his smile. The other Watcher reminded him of a yappy little dog. Giles wondered if he offered the older man a treat, would he play dead?

Upon entering the library, Giles's not-nice thoughts about Travers the dog stumbled to a halt. Giles blinked several times, staring at the object on one of the tables. It couldn't be. He cleared his throat and approached the table. The three at the table looked up. "New find?" Giles asked, hopefully in a subtle manner.

"The Gnorican Staff," Quentin said, coming up next to Giles. "Fancy name, but about as useful as a pretty walking cane."

Oh, dear heavens, it was, Giles thought in shock. The Gnorican Staff, the object he had come to the headquarters specifically to find, was sitting out in the open. Roughly three-feet in length, the staff was made of a light-colored wood and carved with intricate ruins. Giles couldn't believe his luck... which meant either the staff truly was useless, or Travers was getting careless in his old age. Unless the old goat actually thought Giles wasn't a threat.

Giles surreptitiously studied the other three Watchers at the table. They were tense, and each wore bland expressions. It could be that they didn't know who he was, Giles told himself. Or--

Giles didn't have a chance to complete his ponderable, because Quentin Travers walked out of the stacks and demanded: "What is going on here?"

The three at the table gasped. Giles, himself, was stymied. He stared at the old man partway across the room, then turned to the old man standing beside him. Two Traverses?! It was Giles's worse nightmare come to life.

"Don't just sit there," the Travers next to Giles addressed the three Watchers. "Sound the alarm!"

"Grab that imposter before he gets away!" the other Travers ordered.

Giles's gaze flitted between the two, taking a quick stock: identical voices, features, and hair; even their clothing was the same. Only one was the real Travers... which meant the other was the "possible assassin" Lilah had warned the group about. Oh, bugger!

"It's an assassin! Everyone disperse!" Giles snatched the staff off the table and bolted for the library doors. The hired gun would most likely come after him -- heaven, help him -- because he had the staff. The assassin, or more appropriately, the mercenary, had most likely allowed him and the others to do the work of identifying how the Watchers were going to rid the world of demons, and had appeared now to put a stop to it. It would be too expensive to hire an actual assassin to terminate every Watcher. The mercenary was probably to be paid extra to retrieve what the Watchers were using, as well.

Giles ran further into the bowels of the headquarters, rather then heading outside. Whether or not the staff was actually the root of their problems didn't matter, the mercenary would kill for it, of that Giles was certain. Outside, Giles would be alone, while further inside lay protection -- Angel and his wards... one of whom just latched onto his arm.

"Woah, G-man, this way to the exit," Xander said, yanking Giles's arm practically from its socket.

"Tell me, quickly," Giles panted -- he was getting to old for this bollocks. "Who's heart does Spike have?"

Xander frowned at him as the brunette led the way towards the basement. "Non-relevant question in the middle of what I suspect is a chase scene. I've seen this episode of Star Trek. Shapeshifters? And the answer is: Buffy's heart."

"Yes, possibly," Giles replied, glad that Xander was quick on the uptake, even with the unnecessary babble. "Or heavy magicks. Glamours."

"Oh, shit."

"Precisely what I was thinking."

"No. Shit!" Xander suddenly latched onto Giles's arm and flung the older man through an open doorway. Giles stumbled and fell to the carpeted floor in a lush dining room, the staff tumbling from his hands.

Gunshots rang out in the hallway.

"Ah -- 'shit.'"



Part Fifteen





"Giles?" Cordelia spotted the Watcher on the floor as she peered around the swinging door between the dining room and kitchen. She jumped at the sound of more gunfire, and rushed into the dining room to assist Giles to his feet. "What's going on?"

"We have a bit of a problem," Giles said, giving her an assessing look. "And before I say more, I must ask you to tell me what species Xander is."

Cordelia's sculpted brows drew together. "Species? Like vampire species, you mean?"

Giles shook his head. "Never mind."

Xander suddenly dove into the room in a roll, rising up to his feet, his ridged features twisted in an angry scowl. His white shirt was littered with holes and bloodstains. "I hate it when they shoot me," he snarled.

"Xander!" Cordelia gasped, hurrying to his side.

"We gotta jet," Xander said, waving away her probing hands. "The bad guy looks like you now, Giles. And he's got a crossbow."

"Bugger all," Giles cursed, picking up the staff. "Let's go."

"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Cordelia asked as Xander quickly shepherded her through the swinging door into the kitchen.

Xander pointed over her shoulder at Giles. "Staff. Shapeshifter. Shooting."

"Oh. The usual," Cordelia said. She took the lead, bypassing Giles and opening the back door that led outside. She pulled up short. "Willow. Hi." Cordelia frowned. "What are you doing out there?"

Willow opened her mouth to answer, but was cut off by Xander slamming the door in her face. The brunette vampire locked the door and pressed his back against it. "That's not Willow."

"How do you know?" Cordelia said.

A loud crack resounded in the kitchen, and Xander jerked. He blinked a few times before sinking to his knees. There was a hole in the glass window where his head had been. "That's why," he replied, and collapsed forward onto the floor.

"Xander!" Cordelia screeched, dropping to his side. There was a hole in his head, and it was bleeding. She felt faint. Pressing her hand over the wound, she cried again, "Xander!"

"Cordelia!" Giles exclaimed, grabbing her under the arm and hauling her up. The window on the door shattered and glass rained down on Xander's prone form. An arm snaked inside and groped for the door lock. "We must leave, now!"

"But Xander...," she sobbed.

"Will be fine," Giles told her in a hushed, harried voice. "And he's safer than either of us, right now. That thing outside will think she killed a human and leave him alone."

Cordelia nodded and pulled herself together. They had to get out of there before Not Willow put a bullet in her head. Unlike Xander, she wasn't a vampire, which she had forgotten in the utter fear that came over her when she thought him dead. When he came to, she was going to kill him for scaring her like that.

The door between the kitchen and the dining room swung open and another Giles appeared with a pistol and a crossbow in his hands. Cordelia blanched, grabbed her Giles's hand, and bolted for another doorway just as Not Willow opened the back door. She swallowed her squeak of distress when bullets cut into the wall beside the door, inches from where she was.

Cordelia and Giles tore out of the kitchen and down the portrait-decorated hallway. Giles took over the lead, darting into a room off the hall with an anxious: "Through here."

If she had more time, she would've ooh'd and aah'd over the decor of the parlor. But, in her rush not to become a homicide statistic, all she saw was a flash of green and gold as Giles pushed her through a section of wall he'd opened. A secret door, which led her directly into the next room over. Not very imaginative, but useful in this instance.

Giles quickly crossed the room to a large portrait of an ugly man in a hideous uniform. He pushed on the man's elbow, and the picture swung on a hinge, opening another secret passage. "Come along, quickly," Giles prompted. "This will take us upstairs. Hopefully, the mercenaries won't know of these passages, and will contain their search for us on the main floor, enabling us to escape via one of the fire ladders."

Cordelia stepped over the picture frame and into a cramped passage. A ladder was set into the wall in front of her, and she immediately began to climb. "Where does this come out?"

"The linen closet in the loo," Giles replied from below.

"I hope it's not in use," Cordelia made a face. "That would be very yuck."

No one was utilizing the facilities, and Cordelia spared a glance at herself in the mirror above the sink. Her mascara had run when she cried over Xander, giving her racoon eyes. Yep, when he healed, she was going to kill him. She purposely ignored the ball of terror that had settled in her stomach that told her he might currently be dust on the kitchen floor.

"This way," Giles said after discreetly checking the hallway. He held the carved staff like a weapon as they crept rapidly, but stealthily, down the hall.

Cordelia couldn't stop the scream that erupted from her throat when a hand closed over her shoulder. She clamped her hand over her assailant's wrist and used her body weight to toss him over her shoulder. He landed on the floor with a startled, "Oof."

"Angel, you idiot," Cordelia kicked the prone vampire. "You scared me."

"Good to see your self-defense skills are on par," Angel said wryly.

"Wait..." Cordelia abruptly put her foot down on Angel's neck. "Name the person who calls you 'Broody Buns.'"

"What are... Broody Buns?" Angel looked horrified. "Someone calls me 'Broody Buns'?!"

Cordelia removed her foot and looked at Giles. "It's Angel."

Giles's laugh was muffled, and he had a hard time speaking. "We really do need to leave."

"Problem?" Angel stood and dusted off his -- Cordelia giggled -- Broody Buns. The tall vampire shot her a glare that promised retribution.

"Mercenaries," Giles replied. "Possibly shapeshifters, currently masquerading as Willow and myself. Xander has been grievously injured--"

"Grievously!" Cordelia's eyes grew panicked. "You said he would be fine!"

"And he will be, once he's had time to heal," Giles said in a calming tone. He turned to Angel again. "The Willow look-a-like shot him in the head. We had to leave him in the kitchen."

Angel nodded and gestured to the staff. "Is that what we came for?"

"The Gnorican Staff, yes," Giles said.

"Okay," Angel took command. "You and Cordelia get out of here, take the van, and go back to the inn. Stay with Lilah and Dru. I'll round up the others, including Xander, and we'll meet you back there."

"I don't think that will be happening."

The three spun toward where the threat emanated from, to find the Giles double at the top of the stairs a short way down the hall. His arm was across Willow's neck, holding the redhead against him, and the barrel of his pistol was pressed against her temple. Her eyes were huge, her skin ghostly pale, and her hands were tied with duct tape in front of her.

"Is that Willow, or is that Memorex?" Cordelia whispered, taking a step closer to Giles.

"I- I'm not sure," Giles replied worriedly.

"Well, ask her a question only Willow would be able to answer," she prompted.

Willow squeaked as the other Giles tightened his hold. "If she says a word, I will not hesitate to shoot," he said coldly.

"Let her go," Angel demanded, his hands clenched into fists, his body poised to strike.

The other Giles laughed. "Like I would do something as stupid as that. I think not." The man had no British accent when he spoke. "Put the staff on the floor, step into the bedroom, and shut the door, please."

"A polite mercenary," Angel said. "An oxymoron if there ever was one."

"Big word," the other Giles taunted. "I thought all you knew how to say was: 'There. Harder. Oh, God, Spike. Harder, harder.'"

Cordelia took another step back at Angel's furious growl. She was as fluent in Angel growl as she was in Angel grunt, and that shapeshifter-thing was about to have his tongue wrapped around his head.

Willow made a noise of distress again as her captor jammed his pistol harder against her temple. "Don't even think about it, vampire," the man said. "You're not Superman."

There was no warning. One second, Cordelia was staring at the gun in the other Giles's hand, wondering how they were going to save Willow, whether she was 'theirs' or not; the next second, the guy had no arm. Cordelia blinked several times, rubbed her eyes, and looked again as the man screamed bloody murder. Nope, he still had no arm, and was now spurting blood everywhere.

Cordelia watched in confusion as the guy's detached arm whapped him on the head. The bound Willow scurried to Angel as the man dropped like a stone. Cordelia slumped in relief. "Oh, hi, Oz," she said.

"Hey," Oz grunted. He gestured with the arm stump in his hand at the man on the floor. "Hope you didn't need him."

"Ah... no," Giles said.

"Good." The half-wolf tossed the arm over his shoulder, stepped over the unconscious Giles, and hurried to Willow. Angel had unbound her hands, and she fell into Oz's arms. Oz nuzzled her neck, humming in an almost sub-vocal manner.

"I take it this is Willow, Version Real," Cordelia surmised.

"Which means the other one is still around," Giles said. "And, again, possibly other mercenaries."

"Same plan," Angel began. "Only take Willow--" Oz raised his head and snarled. "--and Oz," the vampire added hastily, "along with you."

"Take care, Angel," Giles said. "The mercenaries aren't the only ones you need to be wary of."

Angel nodded, then disappeared down the stairs. Cordelia bit her lower lip, silently praying that her boss rescued Xander and brought him safely back to the inn. Then, she squared her shoulders and pointed to the felled man. "What do we do with him?" she asked, all business.

"Leave him," Giles said. "The Council members can clean up the mess."

"Okay," Cordelia readily agreed. "Let's get out of here. I so need to fix my makeup."



*****



Spike was crouched beside Xander, his arms around his knees, rocking slightly back and forth on his toes. His childe refused to wake up, and he didn't know what to do. He knew the rules if someone got hurt: find the nearest shelter, wrap his shirt around the bleeding part, and wait until he heard one of the other's calling his name. He wasn't to try and find help, because he'd just end up getting lost, and then the one who was hurt would be lost because he wouldn't remember where he'd put them...

Where was Buffy when he needed her?

He'd stumbled onto Xander while trying to find the basement. He'd made a left instead of a right at one of the hall junctions and had gotten hopelessly lost, as usual. Undaunted, he'd kept wandering, looking for a set of stairs going down. The basement was in the basement, and if he couldn't find the stairs, he would've made a hole in the floor and jumped down.

Instead of stairs, though, he'd found Xander in the kitchen, bleeding from his head, and his childe wouldn't wake up. Spike had wrapped his shirt around Xander's head like he was supposed to, and had waited for help to come. Spike's eyes drifted to the other body sprawled across the floor. His help had come, all right.

Footsteps. Spike tensed and raised his gaze. His first priority was to protect his injured childe, no matter what. Just like he had a short while ago.

"Spike?"

"Angel?" Spike jumped up and rushed into his sire's arms. "Angel, Xander won't wake up. And- and I broke Willow."

"That's not Willow," Angel said, holding him close. "Willow is with Oz, Cordelia, and Giles."

"But... but...," Spike made a motion towards the redhead on the floor, "...she's right there. I broke her." He looked up at Angel with teary eyes. "I didn't mean to break her. But she started shooting at me and Xander, and I couldn't let her hurt Xander, even though she's Willow..."

Angel put a finger against Spike's lips. "Hush. That's not Willow, okay? That's a shapeshifter or something that Wolfram and Hart sent to stop the Watchers."

"So, I didn't break Willow?"

"No," Angel smiled gently. "You didn't break Willow."

Spike slumped in relief. Oz would've been really mad at him if he had hurt Willow.

"C'mon," Angel said, urging Spike away. "We need to leave. You carry your boy, and stick close to me."

Spike nodded, adjusted his duster over his bare shoulders, and returned to Xander's side. Carefully, he picked up Xander and, cradling his precious childe in his arms, followed Angel out of the Council of Watchers' headquarters.



Continued