DISCLAIMER: The characters and surrounding universe are the property of Joss Whedon, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers Network, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar and Kuzui Productions. This story is not meant to infringe on those copyrights, and I can only hope they never decide to sue my sorry backside (and what a waste of effort that would be). This story is intended for an adult audience and features romantic depictions of women in romantic relationships (with each other). If you are underage, find this offensive, or it is illegal where you leave, please leave now.

This is a sequel of sorts, so you might want to read Spin, Spinning, Spun Out... if you haven't already.

Comments Welcome at pinkrabbit@altfic.com

Prologue

The beast was a beastly sort of beast, the kind of thing that usually only appeared in the worst nightmares of the very young, or the very mad; all horns and scales, and gold and crimson flesh, standing taller than a man, but slightly stooped, its massive knuckles not quite dragging the ground.

Even Spike found himself mildly nauseated, and he'd taken his girlfriend back after she kissed a chaos demon, and they were bloody ugly things. He was already beginning to wonder if this particular bit of fun Dru had arranged was such a good idea when a massive hand clamped down on his shoulder, nearly shattering the bones into several much smaller pieces. His eyes lifted, then his head tilted back on his neck until his gaze met the creatures' slitted reptilian eyes. God, there were some days he was tempted to avoid his fellow hellborne types altogether...especially if they were going to insist on looking like this one.

Heavy lips curved upward into a grotesque mockery of a smile, revealing jagged, broken teeth. "So, what's up, pretty boy?" the creature boomed, its breath nearly knocking Spike off his feet.

God, was decent hygiene completely against the demons' code of conduct? Spike straightened his immaculately groomed hair and resettled his expensive leather jacket. Pretty boy indeed. Didn't this creature realize what kind of fierce demon he was. "The staff of Eldrad," he snapped impatiently. "We've summoned you to help retrieve the staff of Eldrad during the Festival of Nagortathislaugenilfbaum."

The creature laughed, the sound echoing across the night. "So, where's the chicks? Can't have a festival without at least one."

"Right...chicks..." Spike exhaled and flashed a look of distaste at Dru, who, true to form, never noticed. She was too busy making up nursery rhymes featuring the words "bludgeon" and "decapitate"

"There was an old man bludgeoned his wife,
Loving his supper with red guts and strife,
There was so much blood he didn't know what to do,
So he decapitated her head and hid it in the loo."

Spike sighed softly. Well, at least she had a hobby. His attention returned to the black-horned beast as a few more shoulder bones were shattered in the name of demonly camaraderie.

"Well," the beast demanded, his breath wilting even Drusilla's dead roses. "let's go. Man, I ain't had me a virgin in a loooooonnnnnngggggg time."

Spike looked up, openly startled. A virgin? Drusilla hadn't mentioned that part when she planned this little gig. Bloody hell, where was he supposed to dig up a virgin in bloody Sunnydale, when the only thing the wankers had to do in this town after dark was have sex--well, that, and get killed by vampires--but mostly, they just had sex. He paused, dedicating all of his brainpower to the project. It was admittedly somewhat slow going. Suddenly, he grinned. He had an idea. A definite glimmer of a good one. He knew just the right person.

And Now...For Something Completely Different...

Willow Rosenberg eyed the ingredients on the shelves of The Witches' Brew--the newest supply store for the ambitious young wiccan in Sunnydale--with a jaundiced eye, unhappy with their probable quality. There had been several previous stores, but they'd all had problems of a demonic sort which left an open market. Unfortunately, The Witches Brew was not living up to its predecessor's eye to detail. Of course, in most towns, there isn't a lot of call for mandrake root and ground toad's foot, but this was Sunnydale after all, your basic Southern California town located right over a Hellmouth, a tunnel straight to the netherworld. "So, is this fresh?" Willow called out to the young Goth-wannabe behind the counter. She sniffed the contents of the package. "Because it really doesn't smell right."

The girl looked up from her oh-so-black fingers nails and sighed heavily as she set her file aside. "Look, I told you, I don't know. The owner doesn't tell me that stuff." She made a face and went back to her nails while Willow seriously considered casting a spell that would turn them bright fuscia for life and wouldn't let her paint them over. Before she had a chance to consider what might constitute an appropriate incantation, somebody goosed her ribcage from behind. Willow jumped straight up in the air with a noisy yelp.

"Hey, cutie," Buffy Summers' voice rang in Willow's ear as she pivoted to find her friend grinning at her.

Caught by surprise, the hacker was momentarily at a loss for words, then she snapped her mouth shut. "Buffy," she squeaked a moment later, her sides still tingling where the Slayer had tweaked her. "What are you doing here?"

Buffy shrugged a narrow shoulder. "When Giles told me where you were, I thought I should make sure you get back okay." She stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets, striving not to look overly worried without much success. "You know, with Faith out there and everything, things are kind of dangerous right now...especially for you," she added breathlessly. The Slayer couldn't forget that Faith had intended to murder her friend. She'd nearly lost Willow to Angelus' madness. She wasn't going to lose her to a psycho Slayer. "So, I figured I'd walk you back."

Willow's lips curved in the faintest of smiles, incredibly warmed by Buffy's caring. "Thank you," she said very softly. "But I'm okay."

Buffy's eyes were worried as she lifted a hand to brush her fingertips along the curve of Willow's jaw, brushing shoulder length red hair back from her face. "You just need to stay that way, okay?" she whispered, her voice rough with emotion.

Willow nodded. "Hey, how can I be anything else," she said in an attempt at lightness. "My best bud is the Slayer."

Buffy's expression remained serious. "I think that's more of a hindrance than a help in the personal safety department. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have every psycho on the west coast trying to kill you."

Willow dismissed that comment with a snort. "Please, this is Sunnydale. We've both seen what I'd be if not for you," Willow pointed out, then blushed bright red as she remembered that alternate version of herself. Sensual, sexual, and profoundly predatory, she'd laid her eyes on Willow and been interested in a very unique version of self-love. Willow shivered as she remembered the leashed power of her vampire self. Despite her best efforts to force the thoughts away, she couldn't deny that there had a been a moment--incredibly brief, but very real--when she'd been tempted.

"Yeah," Buffy exhaled, sounding shaken. "You have a point."

Willow glanced at her friend and found her blush deepening as she noted the Slayer's expression. "And I think I'm kinda gay," she'd said that night, uttering the words that were a teen's worst nightmare, then shared that guilty, Oh God look with Buffy. For just a brief second, she'd been sure they could all see the truth, then Buffy had covered by insisting it was a vampire after all, giving Angel a hard look when he might have argued. That had shut him up quickly enough, but it wasn't like it could undo what had already been done; that dangerous game of spin the bottle that had wound up with their tongue's halfway down each other's throats, their hands touching bare flesh and drawing shudders of thick arousal.

Willow's blush intensified another notch as she remembered that night--some two months before discovering her vampirish self was more open about her more alternate thoughts and fantasies--they'd spent a night of heady erotic explorations. But the next morning, in the cold light of day, they'd both agreed that it was just a one-time thing. Self-conscious, uncertain of what it meant, scared of where it might lead, they'd simply tacitly agreed that it never happened.

And never happened had worked surprisingly well, at least right up until Willow discovered she looked better than okay in leather and it had happened, and that--despite her best efforts--she still thought about it happening again. And none of it was making her life any easier. Denial had always worked for Willow Rosenberg and she missed its comforting presence in her life.

"Will?," Buffy's worried voice interrupted her train of thought, which was probably just as well as far as Willow was concerned. "Are you okay?"

"Huh, oh...yeah," the redheaded hacker and junior wiccan muttered, then sighed heavily and turned back toward the shelf full of strange sounding ingredients. She covered her momentary lapse in denial by grumbling, "I'm just a little worried about the quality of some of this stuff. I mean we're still not having any luck in the de-ratifying and I'm starting to wonder if the quality of the ingredients has anything to do with it, y'know what I mean?"

Buffy smiled, though worry still lived in her eyes. She slipped an arm through Willow's. "Well, no, not really, I guess. I tend to defer that sort of thing to you and Giles."

Willow looked over at her friend, her denial firmly in place once again, or at least it was until she got a look at the sweet smile and worried look aimed her way. Down hormones, she growled mentally as she felt her heart skip a tiny beat. It was no fair of Buffy to go smiling at her like that when she was trying so hard to forget seeing that exact same smile shining down at her between sweet kisses and soft--Stop that! she snarled at her very unhelpful inner voice.

"Will?" Buffy called her back from that distant place in her head yet again.

"I just...um..." Willow pulled her arm from where it was linked with Buffy's to reach for several packets on the shelves in front of her. "I just...uh...have to get this stuff..." she stammered, her voice unusually quavery even for her. She grabbed the things she needed with hurried movements and paid for them with hands that threatened to tremble, while the clerk grumbled and clicked her black fingernails on the counter.

Finally, Willow had her things and they were leaving.

"Can I just say how not impressed I am by the service in this place?" Buffy questioned rhetorically as they stepped onto the sidewalk outside.

Willow shrugged as she hitched her bag of supplies higher on her hip. "It's gotten worse since there's no competition in town."

"Spike?" Buffy questioned.

"Spike," Willow confirmed. The blond vampire had eaten the competition some months before, leaving Sunnydale and specifically Willow in something of a lurch. After all, the kinds of things she used in casting spells weren't exactly available at the local Kroger's. The niche had briefly been filled by a hole in the wall shop run by a pleasant middle-aged former hippie who, unfortunately had been run out of town when Buffy's Mom got taken in by Hansel and Gretel, who unfortunately happened to be directly from hell. "And also...well...your mom."

"Oh," the Slayer exhaled, sounding embarrassed. "Sorry about that."

"S'okay. Your Mom wasn't the only one with a torch that night."

They walked along quietly after that, Buffy alert to anything that might be lurking in the night, while Willow trusted her friend to sense any coming dangers.

"Will?" Buffy spoke as they entered a quieter part of town.

Willow looked over, noting the way Buffy was staring off into space, her expression pensive. "Yes?"

The Slayer glanced over at her friend, then turned her gaze back toward the street ahead of them. "Can I ask you a question?"

Willow shrugged uncertainly, wondering why she felt a sense of trepidation. "I guess," she mumbled.

Buffy pulled up short, forcing Willow to do the same, and pivoted to face her friend. "Do you ever think about it?" she abruptly blurted out.

Willow blinked in confusion. Usually she followed Buffy's sometimes off the wall reasoning, but it wasn't happening this time. "It?" she repeated. "Um, I think clarity's a little lacking in the question."

Buffy's face fell, then she drew a breath and tried again, "Yeah, I guess," she exhaled, sounding very uncertain and unBuffylike. She raked a hand through her hair, scraping it back from her face. "It's just that..." she trailed off as she stared hard at Willow. "I've been thinking about that night--That night," she repeated with added emphasis, staring at Willow until her friend's eyes suddenly widened with comprehension.

"Oh," Willow exhaled as though struck. "That night." She looked and sounded scared.

Buffy nodded and drug her hand through her hair again. "I know we agreed not to talk about it--"

"That it didn't happen," Willow corrected automatically.

"Right, that it didn't happen," the Slayer confirmed, her eyes straying away from her friend for a long moment before coming back. "But, Will, it did...and I'm not sure..." She fell silent again. "I'm not sure sometimes that denying it is the right thing." She finished the last syllables on a gasp, then stood silently as though it had taken all of her courage to say those simple words.

Willow could feel color crawling up her skin again. "Oh." She didn't know what else to say. Her brain had gone completely and none-too-mercifully blank.

Buffy let out a soft, ironic laugh. "Well, I guess that answers that question."

"No," Willow said instantly, regretting the impulse almost as instantly. "I mean...it's just...well, I mean...." She saw her friend's hurt and felt her stomach muscles clench. "It's just...." Buffy's expression was subtly accusing, but the redhead screwed up her courage and bumbled on. "This is easier for you...."

A pale brow lifted high on Buffy's forehead.

"I mean, you're cool...not like me..."

The Slayer's expression shifted to one of sympathy. Willow's raving inferiority complex strikes again. "Will, it's just as hard for me, you know...just as scary too," the Slayer added under her breath. "I mean you're with Oz...I know that...he adores you and...but...well...I just...." She shook her head as she ran out of words again. After all, as far as she could tell, Willow and Oz were batty about each other, yet sometimes, she felt so much closer to her friend than she could imagine her feeling with anyone else.

Willow seemed startled by that admission. It had never occurred to her that Buffy might be feeling shaken or uncertain. She was, after all, the Slayer; confident, beautiful, supremely in control, and able to throw out a witty remark at the slightest provocation. Willow, on the other hand, was...well...Willow. "Oh."

Buffy reached out to take Willow's free hand, holding it between her palms. "It's just that I've been thinking about it," the Slayer admitted in halting syllables. She exhaled heavily in an effort to release stress, but it didn't work very well. "I've tried to ignore it...pretend it didn't happen, but it's not working." Buffy fell silent, staring at Willow as though expecting her to say something.

Willow's brain was still having a hard time catching up. "Oh." She took a deep breath and let it slowly, trying to marshal her shattered composure. "Buffy, I..." Willow trailed off, suddenly uncertain exactly what she'd intended to say.

The Slayer's expression was fast becoming stricken as she gauged her friend's reaction as something akin to horror, rather than the totally overwhelmed that it was. "Look, just forget I said anything. I should have just--" she muttered as she started to turn away.

"No, wait," Willow blurted and grabbed Buffy's arm, tugging her back. "It's not you," she said hurriedly. "It's just...it's like my brain's not working very well at the moment," the hacker explained, then sighed heavily. She stared down at the ground between her feet, very much aware of the watchful eyes studying her. She snuck a glance at her friend. "I..." She couldn't think of a single thing to say.

"Look, Will, you don't have to be nice, okay?"

"I'm not," Willow insisted in a shaky voice, then repeated the statement. "I'm really not. I--you just caught me by surprise." She saw the look on the Slayer's face and quickly added, "A good kind of surprise...but...well...very surprising..."

"Look, I probably shouldn't have sprung this on you this way," Buffy said by way of apology. "It's just been on my mind a lot lately." She drew a little closer to her friend. "I guess it's a side effect of...everything...I mean, bad stuff's coming...you and I both know it...and..." She reached out to touch Willow's face with a gentle hand. "I wanted you to know," she whispered very softly, her voice choked with emotion. "How much you mean to me."

"Buffy," the name left Willow's lips on a sigh as she stared into deep blue eyes, her boyfriend totally forgotten. They were standing close, almost toe to toe. "I've been thinking about it too," she admitted, her voice little above a whisper. She slanted her head to one side, peering at her friend from under her lashes. "Lately, it's about all I've been thinking about," she admitted breathlessly.

Buffy's head canted the opposite direction as she breathed her friend's name, "Willow." Then, very abruptly, she tensed, looking away into the night.

Willow felt the change instantly. "Buffy?" she squeaked nervously, noting that they were completely alone on the dark street.

"Spidey sense is tingling," the Slayer clipped by way of explanation as she drew a pair of sharpened wooden stakes from inside her jacket. She passed one over to Willow with the brusque advice, "Try to stay out of it." She flashed a worried look at her friend. "If it comes down to it, run." Then there was no time for chatter as Spike and Drusilla appeared at one end of the street.

Buffy relaxed ever so slightly. The vampires' answer to Sid and Nancy were a royal pain in the backside, but she knew their moves well enough to regard them as little more than a middling threat. Buffy's expression became one of wry dislike. "I see you got your girlfriend back," she noted, then twitched as an odd scent teased her nostrils. Good God, had a rendering plant gone in somewhere close?

Spike shrugged, looking almost uncomfortable, though he did grin for a moment as he explained. "I grabbed her, tortured, had a wonderful time...so all's right with the world again." He wrapped an arm around Drusilla's waist, yanking her against his side, where she draped her arms around his shoulders, crooning sweetly in his ear.

"One two, bash him with a shoe, three four slam him to the floor, five six, stab him with sticks, seven eight now it's time to decapitate..."

"Hush, Dru," Spike chastised and flattened a hand across her mouth as he reminded her. "This is business ... remember?" He cautiously took his hand away.

"Oh yes," Drusilla agreed cheerfully. "Business." She pressed harder against Spike. "I love it when you do business for me," she drawled and licked crimson lips in a gesture of erotic promise and ran her hands over his chest.

Spike caught a wandering hand. "Not now, Dru," he said shortly. "It's really not a good time...what with the Slayer just over there and all. I promise...I'll torture you later." She licked her lips again and he instinctively leaned forward, momentarily caught in her spell.

"Look, I don't mean to interrupt the love session, but is there a purpose for this little reunion or can I just go ahead and get down to kicking your asses?" Her nose was still twitching like mad and the smell was only getting worse. "Geez, what is that stench?" Her gaze locked on the vampire, noting the way his expression went from Ozzie Nelson happiness back to shrugging uncomfortable-almost-guilt. Buffy tensed again. Something was definitely going on. Drusilla tittered happily, confirming her worries. "So, Spike, I know you're dead, but really, is the eau de corpse cologne absolutely necessary."

"Hey," Spike growled in response to the insult, "I use Aramis! If you must know, what you're smelling is--"

"Uh, Buffy," Willow interrupted and tugged on her friend's jacket sleeve. Willow had turned and was staring toward the other end of the street.

"Him," Spike confirmed as the Slayer pivoted and saw what was coming toward them. "And just for the record," he added sulkily, "this wasn't my idea."

Buffy's jaw hung open, a rare event after several years of slaying. It was hard to find something that surprised her these days, but this creature definitely made the grade. It was eight to nine feet tall with massive, knuckle dragging arms, a scaly crimson hide that look like it could withstand a nuclear bomb, and an impressive pair of curled ram's horns that topped its enormously ugly head. Buffy frowned suddenly as she noted something else. Oh yeah, it was wearing gold chains around its neck, at least one of which appeared to be sporting a shark's tooth. Great, not merely an extraordinarily large ugly-ass demon, but an extremely large, ugly-ass demon with lame taste.

As if in response to the thought, the creature smiled, at least Buffy thought the crack toothed expression that split slobbering lips was a smile. 

"Man, you got some cute broads around here."

Great, not just a lamer demon, but a male chauvinist lamer demon. Buffy was going to enjoy this.

The beast kept coming toward them. Buffy risked a glance back at Spike and Dru, but they hadn't moved, though Spike looked like he'd like to. Judging by the way his nose was wrinkling, away from the coming fight.

"So," the beast drawled, its voice booming off the nearby buildings as it did an obscene hip thrust that made Buffy all too aware of the fact that gold chains were all it was wearing. "Which one of you babes wants to fly to the moon for your first time?"

"Gods," Spike muttered under his breath. "No wonder he hasn't gotten in laid in ages."

Buffy gripped her stake a little tighter and dropped into a fighter's stance. "I think I'll pass," she snarled. "Since you don't look like you'd send a girl much farther than East Sandusky."

The creature's head cocked to one side as he studied Buffy carefully. "Now, that's not going to do," he observed with perverse calm. "Yo...vamp-dude...what's the jive? I thought these chicks were s'posed to be, like, totally cherry."

Buffy shook her head in confusion. It was as though Keanu Reeves had been demonized--and not during his Matrix period. No, this demon was pure Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. She glanced over at her friend. Willow was gripping her stake with one hand and rubbing her eye sockets with the thumb and forefinger of the other as though she had a headache or a vision problem. "Will?" Buffy snapped worriedly.

The redhead shook her head, then blinked as though trying to clear her vision. "I can't seem to keep things in focus...." She shook her head again and then there was no more time for discussion.

Somewhere in the distance, Drusilla sing-songed, "A tisket, a tasket, a Slayer's head in a basket."

While Spike called out to the advancing demon. "It's the redhead you want, you bloody idiot. The blond is the Slayer...also...she's the one who shagged Angelus...er...Angel...er...whatever..."

Another snaggle toothed grin. "Kewl. I always have had a woodie for reds."

"Now there's a detail I could have done without," the Slayer grumbled under her breath, then glanced back at her friend, noting the way she was still struggling with her vision. "Stay out of it!" she called out, then leapt into the fray. The Slayer swung, ducked a fist that was roughly the size of a side of beef and hammered on the thing with feet and fists.

"Go 'way, girlie...you ain't no virgin," the creature snapped impatiently and tried to shove her aside.

Buffy responded by slamming the stake in her hand into its chest with all her might. Caught between the Slayer and a hard place, the wood crumpled into little more than splinters without making a dent in rock hard flesh. Buffy tried to duck the blow that followed, but couldn't move fast enough. It caught her in the chest, and suddenly she was airborne. She hit a nearby wall hard and the world went black. As fights go, it was a less than spectacular performance.

"Buffy!" Willow shouted and rushed to her friend's side. Blood trailed freely down the side of the blond's face, running into her hair and following the line of her jaw down her throat and she was rag doll limp. Willow pressed her fingers against the carotid artery in her throat and found her pulse beating strong and steady. The hacker felt her own heart start beating again as she realized the damage wasn't fatal and, the thankfully, The Slayer's head was notoriously hard. A thudding footstep reminded her of their attacker, and Willow spun and rose in one move, brandishing her sharpened stake in what she hoped was a threatening manner. She heard a thundering chuckle, though she still couldn't force the thing into focus. "Stay back," she snarled. "I know how to deal with vampires."

Another ear-drum pounding chuckle. "That's nice...only one problem girlie..."

Willow's nose wrinkled and her eyes were tearing from the gut-rotting stench. Still, she tried valiantly to project a Buffy-esque aura of confidence. "Oh yeah, and what would that be?"

"I'm not a vampire. I'm an incubus--every man's nightmare and every woman's fantasy."

"An incubus?" the redhead repeated as she blinked away tears while struggling not to gag on the air that was now fouled by the beast's breath.

"That's right, my little redheaded cutie." A huge fist clamped down on Willow's shoulder, nearly driving her to her knees.

The computer hacker reacted on pure instinct, turning into the creature and hammering the stake in her hand into the general region of what had to be its chest. Only the wood splintered in her hand, and the creature only laughed at her.

"Man, that tickles...what're'ya tryin' to do with that l'il thing?"

"Kill you before you kill me...and my friend?" Willow croaked.

The creature made a pshawing sound. "Ah hell's breath, little girl, I'm not here to kill you. I'm here to ring your bell."

"Ring my--"

"I told you, babe, I'm an incubus," the creature griped. "Geez, doesn't anybody teach kids nothin' these days?" He dragged her close, his breath making her gasp for air as he whispered in what was apparently meant to be a suave voice, "I'm here to give you the ultimate sexual experience...make you cry out with ecstasy...hear you beg and moan..."

Willow still had the presence of mind for the bemused thought that it might just be hard to do all of that if she was holding her breath, but didn't give voice to the thought. After all, it--he--didn't seem angry or anything like that, no point making him that way...especially while Buffy still lay unconscious. Somewhere in the distance she could vaguely make out Drusilla's mad laughter and Spike's rather wry whining. And while they were the least of her worries right at that moment, with Buffy out of it, it would be all too like them to take advantage of her weakness. She had to think clearly and carefully to have any chance of surviving. "I won't let you hurt Buffy," she insisted, though it was hard to imagine what she could actually do to stop the thing.

The creature's laughter vibrated her from head to toe. "I don't want to hurt anybody...not my trip at all...I'm a lover, not a fighter," the creature explained, his cadences somehow reminding her of an old Saturday Night Live rerun...something about two wild and crazy guys, or maybe Keanu Reeves in that awful time travel flick he'd done in the 80's--before mistakenly deciding he was a serious actor. Suddenly, that thought was the last thing on Willow's mind as the thing grabbed her around the waist and yanked her close, so that she was breast to chest with a massive torso. "And I do love you my little redheaded sex goddess."

Willow didn't even have time to notice that being close hadn't improved her focus at all. She was too busy passing out as his breath washed over her.

The incubus chuckled good-naturedly and cuddled her close. "Man, you are an excitable little luv bunny, aren't you?" He used a massive hand to pet silky red hair back from the girl's face, still ignoring the vampires.

Drusilla tittered as she stared down at the unmoving Slayer, then launched into a fresh round of rhyming; this time a limerick;

"There once was a Slayer got knocked on the head
Then was decapitated and found herself dead.
She went off to hell with a scream and a wail.
While an ugly old incubus got her little friend's tail."

Then the vampire started to lean toward the unmoving girl, her eyes bright with lust. After all, Angelus had had this girl, had loved her enough to want to drive her mad.

"You go, Dru," Spike encouraged her. "Gonna bag yourself a Slayer." Though, oddly, there was a touch of reserve in his voice, as though he wasn't quite as thrilled as he ought to have been over the death of another Slayer.

Of course, in the end, it didn't really matter whether he was reserved or not. Drusilla leaned close, licking her lips hungrily as she neared the limp young woman.

And then suddenly, she went flying, backhanded by a crimson fist the size of a Chevy Impala. The vampire hit the street, rolled with the force of the blow and came up to her feet, features twisted by the face of the demon inside of her. Spike's features instantly shifted, revealing the demon that hid inside his once human body. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded of the creature that had just belted his girlfriend hard enough to make her head spin--or in Drusilla's case, to make it stop spinning for a moment.

The incubus turned toward the vampire, reptilian eyes narrowing to mere slits as he slung the girl up higher in his arms. "Dude, I don't go in for unconscious little girls."

Spike shook his head, not quite believing what he was hearing. "Are you daft?" he snarled. "That girl's a Slayer...an unconscious Slayer...now's the perfect time to--"

"She's a chick...a babe...a skirt...and I'm an incubus, fang-boy."

"What the hell?" Gods, this was all Drusilla's fault. He felt her press against his side and reached out, yanking her close. I'd torture her for this whole mess, he thought unhappily, if she didn't enjoy it so much.

"I don't kill girls...got it?"

Spike considered several responses and discarded them all. "You're a demon," he pointed out with professional pride. "We're all demons."

"I don't hit girls," the incubus insisted mutinously.

"You just hit Dru!" Spike exclaimed. "And you're the one who knocked the bloody Slayer unconscious in the first place! And when you're done with the bloody redhead, you'll have turned her into a succubus!"

The incubus just shook its head dismissively. "Your girlfriend's a demon--in case you hadn't noticed--she likes that sort of thing and I only hit the blond cos she whacked me with her stake. And, as for being a succubus, I have it on excellent authority that it's good work if you can get it."

"I don't believe this," Spike complained, suddenly wishing he'd never even heard of Sunnydale. Things like this had never happened before he came to this accursed little town. There was nothing redeeming in the whole bloody place...except maybe the Slayer's mum. He'd rather liked her. She even gave him the little marshmallows he liked. One day when he was feeling in need of a mum again, he supposed he might just go back there and have a go at her...though, if a demon took over her body, it might not be quite as amenable to the whole marshmallow thing. Spike was still contemplating the problem when the incubus suddenly cleared his throat, drawing the vampire's attention back to his massive form.

"Look, are we gonna stand here all night, or are we going to return your charming little abode?" the creature demanded, his breath once again washing over Spike and reminding him of another reason this was all a very bad idea. Demon's Breath, the city dump was going to smell better than the abandoned building they were holed up in after another day of that beast's presence.

"Fine," Spike growled at last. "We'll go back."

"But I thought we were going to kill a Slayer," Drusilla complained and leaned against Spike, playing with his hair as she rubbed her teeth against his throat.

"Sorry, luv...not tonight."

"Hey, maybe you could take in a movie," the incubus suggested as it took off in the direction of the warehouse. "I hear that Titanic flick is supposed to be pretty good...everybody in hell's been a Billy Zane fan since that Demon Knight flick he did. Did a nice job of playing a demon in that one."

"Oh demons, anything but that," Drusilla exclaimed in a brief and rare moment of coherency. "He always cries during the ending--"

"I do not!" Spike swore.

"Ha," Drusilla tittered. "Right during the end...glub, glub, glub...and there you are blubbering right along."

"Do not!" Spike continued to insist as the small group disappeared into the darkness.

* * * * * *

"You've got to survive, Rose," the voice growled insistently in her ear.

"I keep telling you my name's not Rose," Buffy mumbled, wishing fervently that Leonardo DeCaprio would just leave her the hell alone, but he just couldn't seem to get the fact that he wasn't her type. "Look, bud, I'm not interested, okay?"

A second later, Buffy Summers couldn't remember exactly who it was she wasn't interested in as she pushed into a sitting position, groaning softly as she massaged her sore head. Suddenly, her chin snapped up, eyes hunting the darkness desperately. "Willow?"

Nothing.

No sign of Willow.

Spike and Drusilla and that... thing....had taken her. Buffy bounded to her feet with surprising grace for someone who'd only just regained consciousness. Despite the throbbing pain in her skull and a knee that refused to work quite right--leaving her with a lingering limp--she reconned the area, hoping against hope to find Willow nearby and unconscious, terrified that she might find her nearby and already dead, her blood drained to feed Drusilla's desperate hunger. She was still searching when a hiss came at her out of the darkness.

"Pssst, little girl...."

Buffy pivoted sharply, automatically dropping into a fighter's stance as she demanded, "Who's there?"

Then it stepped from the shadows. For the briefest second, Buffy thought big 'n' ugly was back, but on second look, she realized that where the first demon had been large, red, scaly, and distinctly male--very distinctly male--this one was definitely female--very, very female. In fact, she was the sort of female usually only seen in the pages of comic books designed to appeal to very hormonally active fourteen- year-old males. Though, on the balance, she was still large, red, scaly, and more than a little ugly. Buffy felt her pulse pick up. After all, the male version had totaled her in a few seconds. "Well, well, if it isn't tall, red 'n' ugly...y'know, honey, plastic surgeons can work wonders these days. You should schedule an appointment."

A slanted gold eyebrow climbed high on a crimson scaled forehead, drawing Buffy's eyes to the almost delicate pointed horns that graced the edge of her hairline. The voice that responded was honey smooth, though the breath that went with it could kill a goat at fifty paces.

"Y'know, darlin', you catch more flies with honey than vinegar," the demon pointed out, her pose still relaxed.

"Wow, such sage advice...let me guess, you read Dear Abby every day," Buffy snarled.

"No," the demon chuckled, "though I was once her fill-in columnist--"

"Where's Willow?" the Slayer demanded, ending any pretense of banter as she prepared to start throwing punches.

The creature tut-tutted, waving a very long black nail back and forth. "You mean the little redheaded tart?" Something dangerous flashed in reptilian eyes. "Oh, she's what I need to talk to you about...because," the creature drawled, those eyes glittering with enraged lights, "if she touches Melvin, I'm going to take great pleasure in skinning her alive."

"Melvin?" Buffy repeated, completely nonplused. "Who's Melvin?"

The she-demon punched a finger in the air to make her point as she swore, "Do you think I don't know how much women want him...my God, give me credit for some intelligence--"

"Wait," Buffy broke in. "Just wait one minute...." She trailed off for a moment, running over the possible identities for the dreaded, irresistable-to-the-female-half-of-the-population, Melvin, and could only come up with one likely answer, but that was...was just...nope...her brain strongly resisted the whole concept. "Er," she began cautiously at last, while the she-demon stood rapidly tapping the toe of a spike healed pair of fuzzy pink mules. For a moment, Buffy's eyes were drawn irresistibly to the fashion nightmare, before she marshaled her scrambled brain cells and continued. "Melvin...he wouldn't happen to be a large, 10 foot, red guy with horns and a...um...shark's tooth type necklace?"

The sparkles took on a whole new light as the she-demon sighed. "That's him...every demoness' fantasy," before they flashed dangerously again. "Which is why your little friend is in serious trouble if anything happens between them during the festival of Nagortathislaugenilfbaum."

"The Festival of Nagortathislaug..." Buffy actually made it halfway through before she resorted to finishing it off with, "whoseewhatsis?"

"That's right. Which means you've got until tomorrow at midnight to explain to your friend why stealing another woman's demon is a very bad idea."

Buffy was still on a very witty and brilliant "Umm," when the thing disappeared in a burst of light and smoke that left her gagging and coughing and nearly knocked her unconscious again. Tomorrow, she realized as she gasped for air. I only have until tomorrow night.

* * * * * *

Rupert Giles glanced at his watch again, not the first time in the hour and a half since Buffy had gone after Willow. It wasn't that he was especially worried; at least not yet. After all, Buffy was the Slayer and quite capable of taking care of both herself and Willow. It was just that--

"So, how's it hanging, Giles?" Xander Harris interrupted the thought as he slapped Giles on the shoulder in what was meant to be a comradely way. "Since the girls are running late, maybe we guys should just go out on the town, pick up a few chicks..."

It was just that Xander's attempts at being friendly were driving him slightly insane. Giles glared pointedly at the hand resting his shoulder, his wintry look silencing the boy.

But only briefly. After all, it was Xander. "Or...not..." he allowed, then turned an overbroad grin toward the ever-laconic Oz. "How about you, Oz? What say we paint the town red...might feel good after spending the last few nights as a werewolf."

The bass player tensed, his expression frosty, at least for Oz--he hated being reminded that he was a werewolf--and shook his head. "I don't think so," he murmured, his voice cool.

Xander paced, burning off only a scant trace of his excess energy. Not having a girlfriend wasn't going over well at all. He was being even more annoying that his usual self.

Giles was just about to suggest to Xander that he go on home, since they'd already found all of the research needed and other than Giles, only Buffy and Willow were required for the ceremony; yet another attempt at turning the entirely ratified Amy human once more. He never got the chance.

Buffy came stumbling through the swinging doors that opened into the library. She was favoring one leg and breathing hard. She didn't have to say anything for them to know something was very wrong, her expression said it all.

"Buffy, what is it? What's happened?" Giles demanded, then pulled up short, noting that she was alone. "Willow?"

"They got her," Buffy said instantly. "Spike and Drusilla...and some giant red monster...the thing knocked me out before I could do anything...."

Both Xander and Oz were perfectly silent, staring wide-eyed at the Slayer, shock paralyzing them both.

Even Giles couldn't think straight. As close as he was to Buffy, sometimes he felt like he understood Willow better; the serious, quiet student who desperately wanted to be wild and unrestrained. Sometimes, he feared for her; that she might let go and give way to that urge to defy society. He knew how dangerous that temptation could be. He resisted the urge to drag a hand through his hair or bark orders. Losing control wouldn't help anyone right now. He was quite grateful that Wesley was nowhere in attendance since Buffy's Official Watcher's presence tended to drive him even crazier than Xander. At least Xander cared about his friends. His heart was in his throat as he croaked, "Is she..." he couldn't finish the sentence, but Buffy knew what he was asking.

"No...at least, I don't think so...there was some giant red guy with Spike and Dru...his girlfriend showed up afterward...." Oz grabbed a chair and slid it into place beside Buffy, who sank onto it with a grateful sigh, her battered body already healing, but hurting nonetheless. "After I woke up," Buffy clarified as she massaged her sore temple. She winced as she tried to remember the confusing array of details. "She was large, horns, red skin, big..." Buffy held her hands in front of her chest in an evocative gesture. "She said something about tomorrow at midnight and the festival of Naga...no, that's not it... Nagorta... Nagortalessalog...something like that...only with a lot more syllables...it was one way long word...the monster with Spike and Drusilla was the same, large, red, big-ass horns on that one...and it was male...very, very male...nakedly so, in fact."

"Red...with horns...like ram's horns?" Giles questioned and made a gesture up over his head. "Curled and black?"

"Yeah, that's it," Buffy confirmed. "You know what it was?"

"And a fierce stench...like rotting meat or--"

"Please, rotting meat's a trip to the perfume counter next to that thing." Buffy leaned her head back. "I think she said his name was Melvin," she mumbled, but Giles was already moving, grabbing for his books and flipping through pages as fast as he was able.

"Melvinathoraxisthulixis," the librarian muttered to himself.

Buffy shook her head. "No, I'm sure she just said Melvin."

"Well, if your name was ...what Giles just said," Xander said when he couldn't get his tongue around the word, "you'd probably just go by Melvin too."

"There," Giles said suddenly, and crossed to Buffy, holding out the book so she could see a wood cut of a giant horned monster. "Is that it?" he questioned.

Buffy studied the image for only a moment before nodding. "That's it. That's the thing that took Willow."

Giles nodded and pulled the book back, skimming through the information contained on the antique pages. "That means we have until tomorrow night to get Willow back and banish that creature back to the netherworld." He continued reading, obviously hunting for something.

"That's what she said...what happens then?" Buffy demanded sharply, bringing her Watcher's head back up.

Giles looked embarrassed, his brow wrinkling with worry lines. "Because tomorrow night, they'll perform a ceremony to celebrate the Festival of .Nagortathislaugenilfbaum...when it will...claim...Willow...and the resulting energy will free the staff of Eldrad," Giles explained in choppy syllables. "Which will give Spike and Drusilla the power to walk in daylight."

"But it's the creature that took Willow."

"Yes, but at Spike and Drusilla's behest. They must have summoned him. Melvinathoraxisthulixis is an incubus. The Staff of Eldrad is trapped in an alternate realm. They must plan on having the incubus claim Willow to open the doorway so they can retrieve the damn thing."

"And claimed means exactly what?" Buffy demanded raggedly, knowing instinctively it wasn't good.

Oz's jaw muscles clenched. "It means he'll rape her." The bass player's hands fisted at his sides and expression of fury briefly crossed his face before his features resettled into his normal expression of bland indifference. Since his entrance into the realm of otherworldly creatures, he'd spent some time reading up.

Giles flushed, while Buffy and Xander both stared goggle-eyed at their friend for a moment, before swinging their heads in tandem toward the librarian.

"Giles?" Buffy prompted, her voice thick with horror. No way was she going to let that happen. That was just not an option.

Giles shook his head jerkily. "Umm, no....that's not strictly true...technically, he will seduce her--"

"No way," Xander inserted, then when all eyes swung his way, quickly added, "I mean, Will's not what you'd call the seduceable type." Several gazes narrowed, and the teen looked nervous. "Not that I'd know personally or anything like that--okay, I'll shut up now."

"It won't be seduction in the human sense," the librarian explained, pointedly ignoring Xander. "She won't be able to resist the demon's wiles. She'll be drawn to him and it will change her. Unless his hold is broken, she will go him willingly."

Buffy snapped to her feet, shaking her head. "I don't believe that...Will wouldn't--"

Slayer and Watcher were standing close now, speaking as though the others in the room weren't there. "Buffy, she won't have a choice."

"Then it's goddamned rape," the Slayer swore furiously.

Giles frowned, not quite understanding the sheer intensity of emotion in his charge's expression. "Either way, she won't be able to resist," he said softly, his low voice firm.

Buffy's muscles were taut as she resisted the urge to act instantly with only the utmost effort. "Then we get her back," she whispered, her voice ragged.

"It's not that simple," Giles said carefully.

"It never is," Buffy growled. "But that's what we're going to do." She turned away as if to leave, but Giles' sharp voice halted her in place.

"We can't simply take her...not and expect her to live."

Buffy pivoted back around. "All right, I'm listening."

"He's marked her...laid a supernatural claim. If we don't perform the proper ceremony to break his hold, separating them will kill her."

"So we do the ceremony," Oz said simply.

"And we get her back," Xander added with equal determination. Their brief flirtation with being something beyond inseparable friends might have passed, but they were still lifelong buds, and he would die for her in a heartbeat.

"Of course," Giles confirmed. "But there are things...." He trailed off, pausing to strip off his glasses and begin polishing them in a nervous gesture. He glanced back and forth between the two teenaged boys standing ready to rescue their friend. "There are two distinctly different ceremonies. Perform the wrong one, and we'd lose her."

"So, the wrong one kills her," Buffy rasped. "How do we know which is the right one?"

Once again, the Watcher's gaze swung between the two boys. "Normally I wouldn't ask this," he began. "But under the circumstances, it's imperative to know the truth." His eyes hardened. "The absolute truth."

"All right," Oz responded, his tone flat.

"Hey, would I lie?" Xander demanded and got several raised eyebrows in response. Quickly, he amended the answer, "I mean about anything important?"

"Just say it," Buffy clipped, her eyes hard on her Watcher.

"I need to know if Willow is still a virgin...if either of you has...well...if either of you has ...." A half a dozen facial ticks and a very clean pair of glasses later, he cleared his throat and started to continue, but Buffy held up a hand stopping him.

"We get the idea," she said simply.

It was Oz who answered first. "We haven't," he told the librarian. "We've talked about it...even..." He paused and shook his head. "No."

Giles' gaze swung over to touch on Xander, who was blushing furiously. "No," the teen yelped guiltily, then intentionally lowered his voice as he insisted, "Never." His eyes darted nervously to where Oz was watching him with his particularly intense gaze. "Okay, there was a kiss. I admit that, but nothing more...really. I swear, I never touched her."

It was Buffy who put him out of his misery. "He's telling the truth. She told me."

Xander flashed a nervous glance at Oz, whose expression was still perfectly unreadable, though Xander fancied he could see the guitarist's lips pulling back from his teeth in the beginnings of a snarl. He pulled at his collar as he turned a grateful look on the Slayer. "You have no idea how thankful I am to hear you say that," he whimpered. Oz wasn't especially thrilled with him at the best of times, and he was sure he wasn't imagining the fact that as a werewolf, it was Xander Oz seemed most intent on taking a bite out of.

Buffy's eyes met Giles. "All they ever did was kiss," she told him, her tone flat.

Giles stared at the teen, searching her eyes as though he might find an answer to a question he wasn't even sure was there to be asked. Suddenly, he straightened and reached back for the book where he had laid it on the table. "Yes, well, that makes things much easier," he muttered, sliding back into his familiar role as the faintly flummoxed librarian. "The ceremony is relatively simple...a few incantations and the proper herbs. Xander, I'll write up a list of what we need--"

"That's me," Xander piped in. "I'm herb guy...just tell me what we need and herbs we shall have...." He knew he was babbling, but the whole situation had thrown his equilibrium.

Buffy watched silently as Giles read through the ingredients listed in the book, barely controlling the urge to get out and move, hunt, bring home her best friend. Her eyes met Oz's. He was having the same problem, though it was less obvious in his case. He frowned slightly, the tiniest of creases forming between his brows. She saw a flicker of something akin to realization in his expression. They were feeling the same things, the same desire to protect, and God help her, the same love. Buffy raked a hand through her hair as an image of Willow stretched out below her on her bed flashed in her mind. Dear God, what if.... She couldn't even finish the thought. She didn't think they'd done anything that might qualify, but it wasn't as simple as with a guy, where there was a distinctive cutoff point. Do this, you're over the line, don't do that, you're safe. This was nowhere near that simple and she'd never seen any rules to cover this situation.

And what if she was wrong and what they'd done did qualify? Then Willow was dead.

Buffy closed her eyes momentarily. It was a chance she couldn't take. "Giles," she rapped out as she opened them again. She didn't want to just announce her worries, but he had to know. The excuse slipped from her lips in an instant. "We were in The Witches' Brew earlier and Willow was worried about some of the stuff they're stocking. We need to talk about it." She nodded toward his office, hinting that she meant privately, but Giles' full attention was focused on the list he was building.

"I'm sure it will be fine. These are all pretty simple ingredients."

"No," Buffy disagreed. "It could be important. We need to discuss it. Now," she added sharply, her tone bringing his head up. "She was very worried," Buffy said now that she had his attention. "I think we should discuss it in your office." She knew Xander and Oz were watching the exchange, and they had to be picking up on the weirdness of the conversation, but couldn't do anything to change it. "Now," she repeated, silently sending Giles the message that she meant it.

The librarian nodded abruptly and snapped the book shut on the index card he was using as a marker. "Yes, perhaps that would be best," he murmured.

A moment later, they were ensconced in Giles' small office. Buffy was facing the far wall as she heard the door latch. She took a breath, not waiting before she told him, half afraid she might chicken out. "It's Willow...the virginity thing...she might not be one." The words came out in a stuttering jumble.

"Yes," Giles murmured, his tone gently sympathetic. He knew the girls were close, that Buffy might well know things the boys didn't. "I rather guessed as much."

Buffy folded her arms under her breasts as she stared at his degrees where they hung on the wall. "It's just that..." she trailed off, not certain how to phrase what had to be said.

Giles frowned, his expression compassionate. "Buffy, whatever you know, you need to tell me..." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If something happened to Willow...something you know about, it's imperative we know the truth...you must know that whatever it is, neither I nor any of Willow's friends will think any less of her."

Buffy pivoted, her eyes going wide as she shook her head. "God no...I'm not saying that," she exhaled heavily. "It's...I don't know how to...." She shook her head, at a loss for words.

"If there was some other boy...other than Xander or Oz...."

"How important is it, you know, whether she is or isn't?"

"Of the utmost importance," Giles answered very seriously. He took a deep breath before explaining, "If we can't rescue Willow in time she'll be devoured by the demon whether Spike gets the staff or not...he'll remake her as a demon..."

Buffy flinched, her hold on her midsection tightening. Willow, a demon? She wasn't sure she could live with herself if that happened.

"If we perform the ceremony to release a maiden wrongly, Melvinathoraxisthulixis will be freed into the world to devour women's souls at will."

Buffy ran a hand through her hair, gnawing on her inner cheek as she tried to formulate some kind of response. "What about the other one?" she asked at last. "What if we do that and she's still technically..." she trailed off meaningfully.

"According to the texts, Melvinathoraxisthulixis will be banished back to hell--"

"Fine," Buffy broke in hopefully. "Then we do that one--"

"No," Giles cut her off. "Because if it's not the right ceremony, even it banishes the demon, it would kill Willow."

Buffy's breath caught in her throat, and she had to swallow hard to keep her dinner down.

"So you see, you have to tell me what you know...if need be, we can contact him quietly...find out the answers we need...I can even hypnotize him if doesn't want to--"

"There is no him," Buffy forced out.

"Buffy," Giles chided. "It's obvious there was someone. If you know who it is, give me his name."

The Slayer shook her head. She'd already traded the Box of Gavrock and possibly the future of the world to save Willow. She would trade anything. What was a little personal embarrassment? "Don't you understand, Giles?" she demanded while he stared at her, still plainly confused. "It's me."

His jaw dropped and for a moment, he couldn't think to respond. His jaw worked momentarily, no sound coming out until he took another deep breath and tried again. "I see." He ran a hand through his hair. "If it's...I...then why don't you know?" he questioned logically, feeling totally flummoxed by this new piece of information.

"Well, it's not as simple...it's...I...I don't know," the Slayer babbled uncertainly, her skin heating as she remembered the things they'd done, the way they'd made her feel. God, none of it was simple. "We...one night things got out of control..."

"Obviously," Giles said dryly, then exhaled a heavy sigh. "What did you do?"

Buffy turned a horrified gaze his way, unable to believe he'd asked that question.

"If you think I want to know, think again," he growled unhappily. "But under the circumstances...well, perhaps I can answer the question...I mean about..." He paused for a long moment, debating his words before continuing. "The issue at hand."

Buffy turned away, squaring her shoulders before she began giving the details in the flattest, most clinical way imaginable. After she finished the halting uncomfortable recitation, she glanced back over her shoulder, making eye contact with her very discomfitted Watcher. "Well?" she questioned, her voice uncharacteristically small.

Giles sighed softly and shook his head, visibly uncertain. "I don't know," he admitted. "It's not really a situation I've run into before."

"Well, that was a study in useless personal embarrassment," the Slayer said dryly, then growled a soft curse under her breath.

"Buffy, we've got to know and I'm not certain what the answer is."

The Slayer speared him with a sharp look. "Well, unless you know of a book that deals with these sorts of questions, I don't have any brilliant suggestions." She ran a hand through her hair. "We'll just have to figure something out. In the meantime, get the supplies together for both ceremonies while I find where they've got her, since the rest is all academic until we know that much." It was time to deal with one problem at a time. Find Willow, and then figure out how to free her. The Slayer squared her shoulders once again. She couldn't afford to lose Willow. Not now, not ever.

Giles nodded. "All right," he agreed then paused for a long moment, carefully studying his young charge, noting her barely leashed energy with a raised brow. "Buffy," he began. "Perhaps you're too close to this situation," he suggested at last.

The Slayer's answering laugh was grim. "More than a little," she allowed, too involved in her own thoughts to notice the worried look on her mentor's face. "But we both know that I'm the only chance she has."

"I do suggest you speak to Angel. He may have some suggestions about where Spike and Drusilla might be hiding."

Buffy's shoulders shook with dark humor, but she nodded. "Right...Angel...you're right of course," she agreed after a brief pause. "He might be able to help find them..." The last thing she wanted to think about at that moment was her on again, off again, never again to be consummated relationship with Angel. They'd been allies, lovers, enemies, and now they were none of those things, leaving her uncertain exactly what they were. All she knew for certain was that her feelings about him hadn't been the same since his return from hell, but they were still close enough that she knew he would help her however he could. And at that moment, she needed him to help her find Willow. She moved to step past her Watcher, but his voice caught her before she could exit his office.

"You do realize, I hope, that the most imperative matter is that Spike and Drusilla are prevented from gaining the staff and Melvinathoraxisthulixis isn't freed into the world."

Buffy's eyes met his, her expression resentful. "Have I let the world come to an end yet?" she asked without specifically answering his question.

He faced her glare with an oddly sad look. "No...of course not...but, Buffy...you..." he trailed off and fell silent for a long moment before simply saying, "Be careful...I'll get things ready here."

The Slayer nodded and hurried out. He heard the soft sounds as she bid farewell to Xander and Oz. After she had gone, Rupert Giles dragged a hand through his hair, his voice low as he exhaled, "Dear God, what am I supposed to do now?"

* * * * * *

Willow Rosenberg groaned softly and rolled over, her body aching painfully. Her groan deepened as a hideous stench flooded her nostrils. "Aw God," she moaned and pushed upright, her all too unfocused gaze going to the large red blob not very far away before moving on to touch on her surroundings. "It wasn't a nightmare." She was lying on some kind of low slung cot in a large, high ceilinged room lit only by a single lightbulb hanging on a bare chain. A sulfurish odor assaulted her nose and she seriously considered fainting again if only to escape the gut ripping smell, but discarded the idea, suspecting that not even unconsciousness would protect her. Why was it demonic kidnappings never seemed to take place in rooms at the Radisson with sweetly perfumed sheets and gourmet food?

"Sorry, kiddo," the demon's voice echoed off the walls even though he'd moderated it slightly. "No nightmares."

Willow rubbed her eyes, which were still burning. She briefly focused on her hand, noting that it was perfectly clear. For the first time she noted that it was only when she tried to look at the demon that her vision seemed to go totally insane. "Maybe from your point of view," she grumbled.

"I guess I can see why you'd feel that way," her kidnapper allowed. "But it really is real enough."

"Look, my best friend is the Slayer, and she's not gonna like it that you've kidnaped me, and...and... dragged me off to...well...wherever we are...so maybe you should just--"

"That would be the cute blond last seen sleeping peacefully after being introduced to a wall," the incubus cut in dryly, easily taking the wind out of Willow's schoolground, my-best-friend-can-beat-you-up argument. "You're gonna have to do better than that..." he paused for a long moment, then questioned, "What's your name anyway?"

"Willow," she snapped, already trying to marshal her still shattered thought processes to figure a way out of her situation.

"Pleased to meet you, Willow. I'm Melvinathoraxisthulixis. My friends call me Melvin."

Willow started to toss off a grumpy retort, but fell silent as she suddenly realized that the whole Keanu Reeves from hell 'tude wasn't assailing her ears anymore. "What's with your voice?" she questioned abruptly, her brain not yet functioning on enough thrusters for her to hold back her thoughts. "I mean it's--well not normal exactly--but not so annoyingly...well, stupid." She knew she probably shouldn't have been quite so open, but just wasn't up to cunning at that moment.

The crimson blob shrugged. "It keeps the fang-faces happy. They all figure that incubi and succubi are nothing but sex-crazed weasels and sometimes it's best to just play along. I mean, don't get me wrong, the sex is great, but it's not all there is to us." His voice took on a resentful note. "But try and tell that to a vampire and all you'll get is snide jokes...this from a bunch of demons who can't even work up enough charm to seduce their victims. Just biting and raw thuggery."

"Oh," Willow exhaled, her tone plainly expressing that she had no idea what he was talking about. She considered his answer for a moment, then drew a breath to ask--after the coughing spell was over-- "So...um...why work with them? I mean, if you don't like thuggery, you're not really not gonna be happy working with Spike. He once helped save the world just so he could keep up his thuggery at its present level. Personally, I think he just didn't want any competition." She rubbed her eyes again, wishing they would clear, but her captor remained blobby and unfocused.

Willow covered her ears as Melvin laughed in response, then dusted plaster dust off of her clothes as the sound rattled away. He certainly seemed to be a cheerful sort. "Now I believe that," Melvin said, a chuckle still rumbling through his voice. "Never met a vampire who had much in the way of refinement."

The hacker considered that comment for a brief moment. Melvin wasn't exactly what she was used to dealing with in the way of vampiric enemies. For one thing, so far he hadn't shown much interest in eating her. That alone gave her some hope. "Well, unrefined...that would pretty much define Spike and Drusilla. They're kind of the if-you-don't-like-something-break-it types...or if you like it, break it...or if you don't even really have an opinion about it, break it. They're big on breaking...havoc...destruction...Spike tried to eat me once. We're not friends."

"His type don't have friends," Melvin dismissed with a wave of an huge red hand.

"Hard to argue that," Willow murmured, then fell silent for a long moment, her expression thoughtful. "I get the feeling," she began hesitantly, "that you're not exactly...um...on Spike's side...." She had a sense of a blobby red shrug and was assailed by a sigh that threatened to turn into a miniature hurricane. At least her sense of smell must have been numbing down under the onslaught of demonic B.O. because she was no longer possessed by the intense desire to strangle herself to escape the odor.

"We're not friends," he echoed her comment and added his own wry twist to the words.

"Oh," Willow breathed and considered his answer for a long moment. Finally, she spoke up hesitantly. "Then maybe you could consider just...well...letting me go? I mean, it would probably irritate Spike no end, and if you don't like Spike--"

"Sorry, kiddo." Even at the level of a whisper, the incubus' voice rumbled through the room, shaking the plaster off the walls. "No can do."

"Why not?" Willow wheedled, sensing a possible chink in her imprisonment. "I'm small...not very tasty if you must know the truth...very bony...hardly any meat...there are others you'd find much..more...delicious..."

That brought another booming laugh that left Willow banging plaster dust off her hair and jacket. "I like you, kid." The demon's voice dropped low, taking on a seductive note that startled his young prisoner. "Except it doesn't work that way. I have no desire to eat you, kid...at least not...that way." The creature punctuated the words with a soft chuckle that made the hair on Willow's neck stand on end.

"So what," Willow's voice threatened to crack, but she managed to get it back under control to continue. "What do you want to do then?"

"I'm an incubus," the creature told her, the low voice oddly patient.

"An incubus," Willow repeated, the word truly sinking in for the first time. "That's kind of like a succubus right...but male?"

"That's right," the creature confirmed.

Willow responded with a high pitched, nervous titter, before she swallowed down her very natural urge to panic to exhale, "So you...you're gonna...I mean, you...and I...and...oh no." She rubbed her aching eyes again, wishing she could bring him into focus. Then again, all things considered, maybe not. "I really wish you wouldn't," she whispered in a very small voice. Being with a demon that way was really not high on her list of desired experiences.

"You and me both, kid, but instinct is a funny thing and neither one of will have a lot of choice when it comes down to it." Oddly enough, the demon didn't sound terribly thrilled by the prospect.

"But...if you don't want to...and I certainly don't want to..." the hacker trailed off. "Why don't we both just leave?" she suggested hopefully. "I'll tell you what, we can go get a cup of coffee...and part friends. Why not give it a try?"

The demon--Melvin, Willow mentally corrected herself--sank down, or rather the blob that was all she could make out of him sank down, apparently seating himself on something. "Aside from the fact that we're locked in...well, unfortunately blond and pointy toothed--"

"Spike," Willow inserted and Melvin nodded in confirmation. At least that's what she thought he was doing. Or more correctly, that's what she hoped he was doing.

"Right...Spike...not that he bothered introducing himself to me after the summoning. Just yanked me here and bound me to retrieving the staff without so much as a by your leave." Melvin grunted a curse word in what Willow suspected was supposed to be an under his breath sort of volume. It left her only mildly deafened.

"Ummm...Spike summoned you?" she prompted timidly when the creature continued muttering in a language she didn't recognize for several seconds. There was a brief pause and then he straightened a little and continued.

"Well, Spike and that batty girlfriend of his--"

"Drusilla," Willow filled in.

The demon paused, the blob moving in a gesture that she was fairly certain represented his head canting to one side as he studied her. "So, are you on a first name basis with all of the local demons?"

Willow found herself unexpectedly blushing. "Well, no...but...well...with my best friend being the Slayer and all...." She shrugged. "It's kind of a case of know thine enemy or be on their lunch menu."

Another wave of plaster dust accompanied the incubus' rumbling laughter. "And I'll bet they're all hungry for you, little girl," he said, his voice dropping low in a way that sent unwanted chills down Willow's spine.

Willow couldn't decide quite how to take that, so she settled for rubbing her tearing eyes again while a long moment of uncomfortable silence followed.

"So...you play chess?"

The question caught the hacker by surprise and she looked up, blinking in confusion. "Chess?"

The blurry shape of the demon shrugged. "Yeah. I haven't had a good game in decades. It's not exactly a popular sport where I'm from...most demons are more into the whole flaying, and drawing and quartering sort of thing."

Willow blanched, suddenly reminded of just what the creature before her was, despite his civilized mien. Still, he wasn't exactly her enemy. He wasn't her friend, but he might still be an ally. "Umm, yeah...I play a couple of people on the Internet."

"The Internet," Melvin repeated. "You know about that then?" At her nod, he continued. "You'll have to tell me about it while we play. I haven't spent much time on earth for the last century, and it's all new to me."

"Ummm, sure," the hacker murmured helplessly, while the demon turned away and produced a hand carved chess set with pieces shaped like demons, skeletons and walking corpses. She found if she concentrated on the wall just past his shoulder or the chess set, her vision actually remained surprisingly clear.

"Sorry it's only a travel set," Melvin apologized as he set out the pieces, each of which was the size of her hand. "But the big one's kind of a pain."

Willow's mouth O'ed in surprise, but she covered quickly. "That's fine," she assured him, swallowing a rise of nausea as she noted just how detailed the pieces were. "I...uh...a good game of chess sounds good."

And so the hacker and the demon passed the hours with chess and tales of the Internet.

* * * * * *

"There's no screaming," Drusilla pouted where she stood next to the door the led down to the demon's prison in a sub-basement well below the abandoned rooms where she was making her home with Spike. "There was supposed to be screaming."

Spike sighed softly, wondering, not for the first time, if the whole summoning a demon thing was all it was cracked up to be. He eyed his girlfriend, noting the mad look in her eyes. Or maybe he was just getting old. Once upon a time having a certified lunatic for a girlfriend had seemed exciting, a little daring, even for a vampire like himself. Unfortunately, it was starting to lose its appeal as he was forced to follow her on one mad quest to destroy the world after another. He rather liked the world, thank you very much. He had the sort of career others could only fantasize about, plenty of food for the taking, and he could party anytime he liked so long as the sun was down. He had no desire to sacrifice that to bring any number of demonic hosts back into the world. As he was fast being reminded by the noxious odor that clung to everything in their current abode, his fellow demons didn't always make for the best company. Being able to walk in the sun again without being burned alive might be nice, but he was far from certain it was worth the rest of the hassle that went with it. He was still lost in his silent musings when Drusilla clawed his back, reminding him that she'd expected a response.

"There was supposed to be screaming," the vampiress repeated, her expression twisted into a demonic pout.

Spike offered a weak, forced smile. "Yes, I know, dear, and there will be...when the festival takes place. If he takes her before that, it's all rather pointless...remember?

"Oh...yes," she exhaled before continuing, her perfect ruby lips rounding in a feminine pout. "Still wanted screaming...wanted to kill a Slayer too...I never get to have any fun," she complained, then burst into crimson tears.

Great, wonderful

, Spike thought to himself as he offered his shoulder for her sudden sobs. He'd never get the stains out of his leather jacket if she didn't get the bloodworks under control. He patted her hair absently, muttering a few, "There, there's," to soothe her tears. God, the things one does for love.

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