Somewhere in the Old World a dark figure crouched on top of a crossbeam high above a warehouse floor with no lights only shadows. Her information had been good. The vampire count in the warehouse was now at twenty, with four more to come. Then there was a crack as the beam started to give away.
"Shit, shit, shit," the pitch of the voice gave away the gender of the watcher as a stream of curses followed her when she jumped of the beam, did a flip and landed in the middle of the group gathered below her.
"Hey sorry for dropping in like this," she apologized as she staked the first one and the reflection in her sunglasses showed it turn to dust.
What followed was perfectly rehearsed ballet of slaughter. She caught sight of two more coming in fast. She fell down in a split, thrust her stakes up and was on her feet before the dust started falling. A kick sent another flying into a stack of crates and dust followed.
"Who are you?" bellowed the leader as another vampire charged her and got dusted with ease.
"Willow," the girl greeted, "the Wiccan," she added and threw fireball at him.
"Get her�" the leaders command turn into a scream of agony when he was engulfed in flames.
"Great now the rest will run," she muttered as the host in front of started to retreat and soon she was alone with the shadows.
"Willow the Wiccan, yeah that�ll but the fear of god into them" she muttered and removed her cap.
The girl known as Willow then dusted herself off, removed the sunglasses, thus revealing a pair of green eyes and ran a hand through her short red hair.
"Well, lame nicks aside, I�m going home," she said to the darkness, turned on her heel and walked out of the warehouse.
The sun came crashing in through the windows, streaking the apartment with streaks of light and thoroughly annoying the bed�s single occupant.
"Go away," Willow muttered and rolled out of the beam.
Outside the city was pulsing with its steady rhythm and the lights shone on the mirror above her dresser, on it hung four pictures. The first, from top to bottom, was of herself, her best friend Buffy and Buffy�s watcher slash mentor Rupert Giles taken two days before she�d left for the Old World to teach and slay vampires on her own, the slay part took up the better part of her time though. The second picture was black and white of a young man with sharp features, blue eyes and bleached hair, Spike he had been fun, but currently he was on walkabout something he said he did every decade or so to refresh his feel for the world. This walkabout actually entailed burning rubber from London to Moscow and get plastered in as many cities as possible. The third picture was group shot of everyone that made up the Scooby Gang, both active and reserve members, the four and final on was of her parents, which they�d sent it to her on her twenty fourth birthday.
In the bed Willow rolled over and came face to face with what she�d declared loudly to be the most hated object in her apartment. The alarm clock.
"Eleven AM, school, teaching" then her brain made the connection, "Class!" she exclaimed and jumped out of the bed.
Clothes came sailing from the drawers and landed on the bed. Blouse, jeans, bra, panties, shoes�
"Shoes�" she said in a panicky voice and dove under the bed.
She dressed in hurry, putting the blouse on inside out, tripping over a stake as she pulled on the jeans and the hobbling into the kitchen while putting on the left shoe.
"Laptop�" she stated as she closed the laptop on the kitchen table.
"Coffee�" she mumbled and dumped two spoonfuls of instant coffee into her "As matter of fact I am a rocket scientist" mug.
"Car keys�" she said thoughtfully, looked around and spotted the keys on upright stake on the counter. Out the door she went, grabbing a black leather jacket with her, down the stairs and onto the street.
"Hot seat, hot seat," she exclaimed when she sat into the car.
She pulled out onto the street, there never was much traffic in the street where she�d made her home. It was in one of the oldest part of the city and it only went one way, it came to an end at plaza, where on every Sunday there was a market. The houses weren�t tall only two stories, maybe three and sometimes she could swear that time stood still here, but today it was moving way too fast.
She pulled into the University parking lot with a shriek and the students and teachers alike smiled as she ran past them, the fact that she was always in the nick of time was the stuff of staff room legends. She came to a stop in front of her lecture room, she ran a hand through her hair, took down the sunglasses and put on her teaching glasses. The sign said Professor Rosenberg, advanced computer theory.
"Morning Professor Rosenberg," her class greeted as she walked into the room.
"Morning class," she replied as she placed her laptop on the desk, two roses and three apples adorned her desk.
"Now last time we were talking about fractal mathematics and how they could apply to codes and code breaking�" she started her teaching.
As soon as the class was over, she was out the door and back on the road. Now heading for the Church Library, on of the main reasons she�d decided on this city.
A large black car with darkened windows drove past her on the way there. She looked as if in thought for a moment, but then shook her head.
"No this isn�t the Hellmouth and therefore hellmouthy things don�t happen here," she said to herself.
Behind her the same black car, did a U-turn and stopped traffic for miles behind it. The driver just ignored the shouts and honks and drove on.
"I think this years walkabout is at an end," the driver said to himself. Back at Willow�s apartment the black and white picture of Spike came lose.
The Church Library was located in a massive building that had originally been planned as cathedral in the early fifteen hundreds. But during its construction it became apparent that the dome the architect had designed could not be built, so the roof was leveled off and the massive building turned into a library, with a smaller church next to it.
Some said that the library resembled a prison, with its large courtyard like reading space and the towering bookshelves that reached the fresco painted ceiling. The bookshelves themselves were a masterpiece of craftsmanship. All wood with five floors of walkways that went around the entire building and across it at one point, so if you were going to get something from the top shelves you'd better be ready to carry it down the narrow stairs that linked the walkways together.
Amidst all this at the center table of the reading circle sat Willow surrounded by big, musty tomes and her laptop. She seemed strangely at home among the high bookshelves that towered all around her. With her black leather jacket draped over the back of the chair and the sleeves of the blouse rolled up, she paged through the latest tome.
"Well it's not in here," she muttered, carefully closed the tome and checked off the list on her laptop.
"Something troubling you?" asked a low feminine voice.
Willow grinned and looked up from the computer screen.
"Same old, same old Sister Agnes, teach, research, kill vampires," Willow answered.
Willow had met the Sister on her first day at the library. She'd lost her way and Sister Agnes had taken pity on the lost yank and given her the tour, even helped her get in after closing hours when Willow desperately needed some books. Sister Agnes had kind brown eyes and soft features and was a true believer in God above and well aware of the things around her that most people ignored.
"So then fight goes well?" Sister Agnes asked with a small smile and sat down in the chair next to her.
"As well as to be expected, but these Old World vampires are tougher then the ones around the Hellmouth," Willow answered.
"And the ones last night?" Sister Agnes asked.
"Heard about that did you?" Willow asked with a measure of pride.
"The newspapers think it was a Russian Mafia deal gone affray," Sister Agnes answered.
"Well they were right about one thing, they were not our local stock, probably the reason they fled," Willow stated and there was a bleep from Willow's screen as cartoon drawing of Giles stepped onto the screen.
"Remember to slay and be careful," it said in a digitized voice.
"That's my cue," Willow said and started stacking the tomes, but was stopped by Sister Agnes's hand as it covered hers.
"Allow me to do that for you. You have more pressing matters to attend to," Agnes said with a caring smile.
"Thanks Agnes, you're the best," Willow said and closed her laptop.
"Thanks I'll need it," Willow said, placed a small peck on the nun's cheek and then babbling Willow made a comeback.
"Oh I'm sorry I didn't mean to. I mean I sometimes forget that you're a nun and you're always so nice, too."
Sister Agnes smiled and waited until Willow's babbling subsided.
".and I'm sorry. Did I say that already?" Willow asked and looked up.
"Its quite all right Willow I'm not offended. Now go and save our lord's creation," Sister Agnes said and patted her shoulder.
"I'll just be going then," Willow's said and pointed towards the doors.
Sister Agnes watched as Willow retreated towards the door and shook her head with a smile as she picked up the tomes. As she looked up into the fresco she sent up a small prayer.
"Look after her, for old times sake?" she asked.
Willow walked out of the library and along its walls until she came to the church that had been built next to it. She looked up at the church doors.
The sun had set maybe ten minutes ago, and the stars were coming out.
"Well it couldn't hurt," she thought to herself and entered. The church seemed small compared to the library it was built to serve, but it was still impressive, even to a Jewish girl like herself.
"Same god, different savior," she mumbled as she lit a candle and looked up at the crucifix.
"I'm sorry I pecked Sister Agnes okay," she said with a smile as she thought about how truly ridiculous this was.
When she turned away from the burning candles she could have sworn she saw a man kneeling in front of the altar out of the corner of her eye, but when she looked better there was nobody there.
"This is not the Hellmouth," she reminded herself and strolled out of the church.
Inside the Church, the man who had been kneeling in front of the altar stepped out of the shadows, looked up at the altar and crossed himself.
"Thanks," he said with distinct British accent and placed a gold coin in the collection box on his way out into the night. The black and white picture on the mirror in Willow's apartment fell down onto the dresser at the same time the coin made a clanging sound at the bottom of the collection box.
Another night came after the day as it always has been and as it always shall be. The city was bright even during the night, but the narrow alleyways between the houses in the old town were dark and cloaked in shadows. A perfect place to hide and wait for prey. In one such alley between two tall gothic buildings a battle was being fought.
"How many times have I got to tell you this," Willow said as she kicked the vampire again her coat flapping as she spun.
"Just give it up," she exclaimed and elbowed it in the face. Five minutes out of the quiet street where she lived and she�d met her first vampire of the night and this one was definitely of the local stock, tough, old and with fierce left hook.
"You really think you can kill me?" it asked in a voice that carried to accent.
"As matter of fact," Willow said as she ducked another swing and then landed a punch in his side. "I do," she added and followed through by grabbing him, falling down and throwing him into the wall.
"You�re good kid, real good," the vampire said, "but time is on my side. While you may have ruined my dinner for the evening, it matters not, so I bid you good night," he said and was gone.
"Damn," Willow cursed and hit the wall.
The vampires of the Old World weren�t stupid, probably came from living for so long. The one who had just pulled a Houdini on her was Michael, perhaps one of the youngest of the cities elders. She�d staked his sire after a week of constant hunting. The elders were refined and at times they could even be charming. Kind of like those that Anne Rice wrote about and Spike cursed about.
So, factor in their high intelligence and the fact that they were few, but powerful. Willow was happy if she got maybe one a night, but there was always a childe somewhere to fill the gap. Last evening had been dump luck and she�d probably done the locals a favor by eliminating the competition before it got settled in.
"One more circle around the old town and then home to bed," she mumbled.
The major plus of the city�s elderly population of vampires was that they didn�t sire children in great numbers, they were more into snacking, and that made cemetery patrolling a thing of the past for Willow the Wiccan.
She�d found out early that each vampire had it�s own hunting ground and many were located in the old town. Her street was marked as her terrain and no vampire stepped on it, after she staked the vampire that hunted there of course. There were three save havens in the city that no one fought or fed on: her street; the Church Library and the church that served it; and finally the spot called the Meeting Place located in cave under the city and accessible only through its vast network of tunnels and catacombs.
Willow looked up at the mark on the wall as she entered the territory of a vampire named Nathaniel. Each vampires territory was marked by their symbol or glyph, hers was marked with an ankh. Nathaniel was old vampire and a true gentleman, but a fierce fighter nevertheless. He thought of her as sport, a slight amusement to lighten his evenings.
"Well, well. What do we have here?" he asked as he stepped onto the street with a smile on his face. His staff made a clicking said against the brick laid street.
"Swords or fists?" Willow asked calmly.
She�d given up the crossbow a while back, since they just seemed to either sidestep the bolts or just catch them. So she went back to basics.
"Swords tonight I think," he said and drew a blade from his staff.
"You know this isn�t the way it should be done," Willow stated as she drew a slim sword from her coat.
They were in stark contrast to each other, he with his top hat and in his dark nineteenth century clothing and she in her a all black assemble, black waistcoat and sunglasses. They truly were from two completely different eras..
"But it is so much more civilized," he stated as they started walked towards each other.
"My offer still stands," he said as they met in the center of the
street, "come work for me and I assure you that you won�t regret
"Very well then. En garde!"
The fights with Nathaniel were always fun and Willow confessed that being on first name bases with vampires wasn�t idle and having fun wasn�t something a designated honorary slayer should be doing, but that was just the way the game was played here.
"Good form," Nathaniel commented as he blocked her strike and their swords crossed.
"Not good enough if I�m going to kill you," Willow gritted through her teeth and pushed him away.
"Well it�s been fun, but I really have to go now," he said, disarmed her so she fell on her butt and was gone.
"Damn, damn, damn," she cursed as stood and rubbed her sore behind.
It would take some time before she could take down Nathaniel, but the real problem was that they weren�t the psychopathic killers like the vampires around the Hellmouth Granted they did kill, but otherwise they made no plans to jump start the Armageddon They didn�t even sire that many children. Still, it was a mission.
"Some mission," Willow muttered as she picked up her sword.
"Surrounded by vampires that think I�m incapable of killing them and regard me as late night entertainment at best," she muttered as she strolled along the street.
This was true, the vampires did consider her entertainment. That was until she�d landed enough punches or had stolen away one meal too many. Then they got kind of angry, but they never banded together and so far that fact had kept her alive.
"What I would give for some action," she said and went into her inner pocket in search for her palmtop, but found a letter with the seal of Nathaniel instead.
"Son of a bitch," she cursed as she opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. It was writing in flowing letters and read:
It has been brought to my attention that one of our kind entered the city no more than two nights ago. He�s an elder, although not by many years, but likely to cause trouble and therefore upset the status quo. Would you be a dear and take care of this. If you do so I�ll be in your debt.
Yours truly, Nathaniel De�Night."
"The nerve of that guy," she muttered as she folded the letter.
Still a new master in a town of master vampires could cause a stir and she liked things as the were. She wasn�t proud of it, but the death count was low and the fights clean.
"I�ll think about it in the morning," she said and put the letter back in her pocket.
Once she was home she changed out of her hunting clothes into a pair of boxers and baggy t-shirt. As she turned down her bed she noticed that the picture of Spike had fallen off the mirror. She walked over and fastened it again.
"Wonder what they�re all doing?" she thought as she looked over the pictures.
Somewhere in the city a dark figured walked out of a pub, music flowed from the inside as he opened the door.
"The sun will be up soon," he muttered in his British accented voice as he swaggered down the narrow street without a clue that he was being watched. Maybe, just maybe, if the alcohol level in his blood were lower he would have noticed and taken instant action. But being on walkabout, well kind of as it was almost over, Spike or William the Bloody, the scourge of Europe and parts of Asia Minor was too plastered to notice the female form that followed him.
Willow loved the Sunday markets, they came as a blessing after the Saturdays spent reading through term papers. The people on her street knew that she was responsible for keeping the vampires out, although they would never admit to believing in them. All they knew was that since the young American girl had moved in, there hadn�t been a single killing.
She was sizing up water melons at Old Mary�s market stand. It had a wide variety of gardening produce from melons to herbs that the old woman kept under the table for special customers (mainly women who needed something to help their men�s problems). Everybody called her Old Mary, well, because she WAS old. There was a young Mary of course, who was the grand-daughter of the older. Both had the same brown eyes, but Old Mary�s hair was gray with age. Willow suspected that the old woman was wiccan.
"Will there be anything else dear?" the old woman asked as Willow placed the coins in her palm.
"Nothing more for me today, Mary," Willow answered with a smile.
"You sure, if your boyfriend isn�t up to par then I have some roots that might help," the old woman said and reached under the table.
Willow smiled. Old Maria did this every Sunday and she admired the old woman�s straight forward attitude.
"You ask me that every Sunday and, as always, the answer is the same," Willow answered in a gentle voice.
"You don�t have, nor desire a boyfriend. Yes I know, but you can�t blame an old woman for trying. Such a nice girl you shouldn�t be alone," Old Maria answered.
"See you next Sunday Mary," Willow�s said with the same silly smile.
Without Willow noticing, Old Mary slipped on envelope with some herbs into her basket as she turned, the envelope also contained info that she and young Mary had gathered during the week.
"Good morning father Ezekiel," Willow greeted as she past the church steps.
"Morning, Miss Rosenberg," the middle aged man greeted. Father Ezekiel was in his late fifties, with graying hair and eyes that just screamed confess. He had frowned upon many things in his congress, young Mary and some of the younger women being one of them, but Willow was in his good graces and frankly out of his jurisdiction.
"So any new gossip," Willow asked with grin.
"Nothing you don�t already know Miss Rosenberg," the priest said in weary voice.
"The database holding up?" she asked. She�d designed a church database for the church to keep track originally of the body count, but now it was mainly used to log marriages and births.
"No new entries on the funeral list thank god," the priest answered and handed her a bottle of water.
"Have a nice day father," she said with nod and placed the bottle in her basket.
She�d only gone few steps from the steps when the local girls caught up with her. Sure they were nice enough, but had no clue what went on in the city. They also seemed to idolize her.
"So flirting with father Ezekiel again," Little Mary asked, she was the youngest of the Mary women and a spitting image of great-grandmother
"Just keeping him on his toes," Willow answered innocently.
"He�s too old for you, but if you�re into that sort of thing I guess it�s okay," Sarah, the storeowner�s daughter stated. She was tall, almost regal, with blond hair and blue eyes and rarely sat on thoughts. She reminded Willow of two girls he knew.
"I�m standing right here," Faith the daughter of said priest exclaimed. She was short with powder blond hair and gray eyes and much to Willow�s pleasure the name was the only thing the girl had in common with Faith.
"Don�t worry, what feelings I have for the old man are purely platonic," Willow assured the girl.
"It wouldn�t hurt if he�d get some though," Sarah stated.
"Sarah!" both Faith and Little Mary exclaimed.
"Look boys," Sarah exclaimed and Little Mary sighed.
"Take care girls," Willow said with a smile as she went on with her shopping.
"Keep up the good work," Mary said as Sarah dragged her and Faith towards three fine, or at least in her opinion, specimens of the human male.
"Some things never change," an unknown voice said from behind her
and Willow had to fight the urge to spin around. Instead she calmly turned
around and faced the owner of the voice. It was a young woman, barely twenty,
with dark hair and brown eyes, hidden under delicate glasses and she had an aura
about her, something Willow couldn�t quite put her finger on.
"Where are my manners," the woman said and offered her hand. "My name is Susan Swift," she said.
"Willow Rosenberg," Willow said and shook the offered hand.
"I was born here you know," the woman said as she looked around.
"Here?" Willow asked and pointed down.
"No actually over there," the woman said and pointed towards the church steps, "I�m here to find father Ezekiel," she said.
"Well he�s probably still on the church steps," Willow said.
"Nice to see things are still the same," the woman said, "well I�ve taken up enough of your time. Have a nice day," she said.
"See you around," Willow said and made mental note. Check up on one Susan Swift.
"Well, what more do I need?" she said to herself as she looked over her basket. When she saw she had everything she needed she strolled out of the market and saluting the local police officer that stood guard at the entrance to the square. The night�s patrol waited.
It was well past three in the morning when she got back from her rounds and started hacking away, looking for information on Susan Swift. Unknown to her, the house was being watched. Across the street, somewhere in the shadows, a man from her past looked up at the light in her window.
"Bloody hell, why won�t you let me be?" he cursed and lit a match that illuminated his face for the moment. Spike had given up smoking at her request and never started again, but the habit of lighting the match stuck, maybe it was his way of remembering her.
It�s nice to be a world class computer wiz on a teaching scholarship that includes the clause: No work on Mondays. Willow thought so too. Monday for Willow meant staying in bed and also the day specially designated as call home day.
"So how are things back home?" Willow asked as she tangled from the ceiling. It helped her thing and she needed that since she�d found nothing on Susan Swift.
"Eat, sleep and kill world threatening demons," Buffy answered.
"Faith behaving?" Willow asked as she hauled herself up.
"More or less, you seeing anyone" Buffy answered and her smile could be heard.
"No, don�t have the time, but five students have a crush on me and three of them are girls," Willow said with a grin,
"Bisexuality is a wonderful thing," Buffy stated.
"Bi till the day I die," Willow exclaimed proudly.
"It�s a slayer thing," Buffy deadpanned, "See Spike recently?" she then asked.
"No, why do you ask?" Willow asked in a tight voice.
"Last time mom talked to him he was on his way through your part of the world," Buffy explained.
"No, haven�t seen him and trust me I would have noticed if someone of Spike�s calibre blew into town," Willow stated.
"And you know all about his calibre," Buffy giggled.
"Die Buffy, die," Willow cursed.
"But I�m right," Buffy stated.
"Memories of my misspent youth," Willow stated.
"Hey, it wasn�t all badness!" Buffy stated"
"We did have some good times though," Willow said with wistful smile.
"I could come visit sometime when things quiet down here," Buffy said.
Willow allowed herself a small smile, they always talked about visiting but they both knew that it was just a dream, something to fantasize about.
"That would be nice, I could take you to the Library," Willow said.
"And we could go to the market together on Sundays," Buffy added.
"Shock the hell of Father Ezekiel," Willow added and they shared a laugh.
"I really miss you, you know," Buffy said.
"Miss you too Buff," Willow said softly.
There was a moment�s silence before the ever-cheerful slayer broke the silence.
"Well that was a dull moment," Buffy stated, "How are the slayings?"
"Hard, Nathaniel gave me good run for my money last night," Willow answered.
"I still can�t get over the first name thing you have with your vamps," Buffy stated.
"Well when you fight the same goddamn bastard night after night for months you kinda can�t avoid it," Willow stated.
"I bet you have dinner with them," Buffy stated.
"That happened only once," Willow snapped.
"Touchy," Buffy retorted.
"Well you should meet them, they�re really very Anne Rice like," Willow explained.
"Tell me about the plaza outside the church again?" Buffy asked.
Willow sighed at the sound of her friend�s voice, but then started to retell the count of the church plaza.
"You walk up a small hill. To the east about five hundred yards away from my house, if you walk in the late afternoon the sun hits you in the face just as you reach the top of the slope. The church rises just above the buildings around it and just across the plaza from the church there�s a restaurant were you can sit and watch the sun set over a glass of red wine," Willow paused as Buffy sighed.
"Sometime my old friend," Willow said.
"Hey I�m not old?!"
Willow smiled as Buffy launched into a full argument mode about who was old.
"Now Angel he�s old, Giles is old, but I�m not�"
* * * * * *
It was night by the time William the Bloody or Spike left his hotel room in order to seek out another bar to spend the night. A shadow appeared out of an alley as he passed it.
"William the Bloody?" a soft female voice asked.
"Who wants to know?" he asked as calmly turned around.
"A friend of a friend," the woman answered.
"Well I have no friends in this city only memories," Spike answered as he felt a cold shiver go down his spine.
"Willow is just a memory then?" the voice asked
The transition from being calm and in control to rage was always something that happened in an eye blink with Spike and now was no exception.
"Touch and I will rip your head off," he exclaimed in a frosty voice.
"Don�t worry my temperamental friend I mean her no harm and this is why I�ve sought you out," the woman explained.
"You better talk fast then, because there�s a bottle of strong whiskey waiting for me after this conversation," he said calming down somewhat.
"I just want to know your intentions with her?"
"I�m going to stay away, I�m no fool and I know that she doesn�t want to see me," he answered.
"Will you aid her in times of trouble?"
"Of course," Spike answered with a measure of pride.
"Good," the woman said and like she�d appeared out of the shadows she disappeared back into them.
"Make that two bottles of strong whiskey," Spike mumbled.
* * * * * *
Willow did a complete back flip before landing with her sword pointed outward in one hand and a spell ready in the other, but there was none there.
"Damn you Danielle," she shouted.
"Leaving a good fight like that," she then mumbled.
"Snap out of it girl," she cursed to herself.
She heard a familiar sound and smelled dirt. Her eyes lit up at the smell and sound.
"Fresh ones," she said with a predatory grin.
* * * * * * *
Spike stumbled out of the drinking establishment of choice for the evening, he carried a bottle from the bartenders special stock. The only thing strong enough to get him drunk and fast. The familiar sounds of battle.
"Never a moment�s peace," he mumbled as he swung himself into the alley.
"Bloody hell," he cursed.
A young woman was fighting what appeared to be freshly risen vampires. She was in no danger of losing, well except for the bastard trying to sneak up on her.
"Aye," Spike called out as he grabbed said bastard and slammed him against the wall.
"Don�t go anywhere," he said as he took a sip of the liquid in his hand then smashed the bottle.
"Release me," the vampire demanded.
"Sorry no can do," Spike said as he lit a match.
"Oh shit," the vampire cursed as Spike blew the liquid onto the flame.
"Bye now," Spike said in a cheerful voice, then upon feeling a hand on his shoulder he started turning around to except gratitude from the woman he assisted, but instead he found himself spun around and felt a fist land on his cheek. Lying on the ground he kicked up at his attacker sending her flying into the nearest wall. As he got up she tackled him to the ground and pummelled him with lighting quick punches then suddenly stopping.
"Spike?" she asked looking over dark sunglasses with green eyes.
"Red�" Spike mumbled before passing out.
"Bloody hell," Willow cursed as he she hauled Spike over her shoulder.
Spike opened his left eye, then his right, closed his left and then his right.
"I saw that," Willow said from her seat next to her bed.
Spike opened both his eyes and tried to sit up, but quickly realized that he was in no small amount of pain.
"Oww! Luv, Red. What did you hit me with?" he asked as he grabbed his head and lay back down on the bed.
"Just my fist," Willow answered innocently.
"So you still wear that bloody stone?" Spike asked with a sigh and turned on to his side.
"If you mean the Stone of Destiny then yes. I�m good Spike, but not that good," Willow answered.
"Enhanced strength, speed, endurance and agility, all wrapped up in a nice little talisman," Spike counted of on his fingers.
"You never did like talismans did you?" Willow asked with a grin.
"Not after that damned ring," Spike answered and flopped back onto his back.
"It did come in handy when you had to help me out didn�t it?" Willow asked.
"Yes it did, but it also drove me insane," Spike countered.
"Well, bygones," Willow said.
"You beat the hell out of me that day," Spike stated.
"And I�ve said time and again that I�m sorry, but you were in the way," Willow stated firmly, but couldn�t help but let a small smile slip.
"Council holding up their part of the agreement?" Spike asked.
"More or less, I haven�t been assigned a watcher and the covens are keeping an eye on them," Willow answered.
"Ever take it off, the stone I mean?" Spike asked covered his eyes.
"When I train of course, but otherwise no. You�ll never know when the next crisis might occur," Willow explained.
"Well I�m going back to sleep, slash coma, then," Spike muttered
and closed his eyes.
As Willow worked on her Slayer journal, her thoughts kept straying to the vampire and what had happened in the past. "I must focus my thoughts, or empty my mind is more like it, or I will never get this done. It was four years ago that I became a slayer through the pact forged with the Council of Watchers. I received my training from Spike, a vampire that has once again entered my life through circumstances that don�t seem coincidental, but then, nothing ever is."
"Buffy went off to fight a demon named Trask, and nearly died. Only Faith�s fortunate return to the light saved her from death. That and Spike�s Gift of Life. Spike is no longer immortal, and will die one day. But the damage to Buffy�s body was too severe. Her spine needed to heal, so Faith went out to attempt to kill Trask, only to have her ass saved by Spike, myself and the rest of the gang. So there we were, alone and without a slayer and there was only one thing to do. Call the Council and ask them for the Stone of Destiny.
The Stone is an artifact that�s been in the Council�s possession since the Council�s foundation back in the gray past. It was meant for use if there was no Slayer for the current generation. It has happened before. We cut a deal; we would be accepted back into the Council. They kind of had to now that we had both Slayers on our team and they promised to make changes to their traditions. Wesley is overseeing them. That�s how I, Willow Rosenberg, became the third Slayer of my generation.
Then the real fun part began, training. We had to cram a year�s worth of training into four weeks. That�s when Spike came into the picture he knew all the dirty tricks. Under the observation of Buffy and Giles we trained together from dusk till dawn. Then one night about three weeks into our training we became lovers, it was not something either of us had planned it just happened.
Then came the time of the new moon and I set out armed to the teeth with Spike by my side. I looked back at my friends as they watched me go, Buffy in her wheelchair with Giles standing behind her. Faith, supported by Xander and Anya, insisted on seeing me off, (I�ve never asked her why). Tara, my beautiful Tara was there, our love hadn�t lasted. I think my becoming a Slayer had a lot to do with it, but she came nonetheless. I knew Angel was driving like a maniac up from L.A. along with Wesley and Cordelia. Still I didn�t have time to wait�
I will someday write about what transpired that night when we fought Trask together, but not tonight. I�m not ready and I never will be.
Willow looked up from her thoughts and just watched Spike for a long time.
Willow saved the entry, closed the laptop and placed it on the nightstand. Then stood and slipped out of her clothes and tugged on her pajamas. Granted they weren�t used as much as they once were, but she sure as hell wasn�t going to sleep next to Spike in shorts and a top.
"Good night Spike," she said and kissed his forehead.
The night grew colder, much colder than usual.
Willow woke and closed the window.
Somewhere in the city a vampire was being killed and it wasn�t her doing.
Michael was old, very old and now he was scared because he knew his existence was coming to an end. So he did the only thing he could. He turned and faced his attacker.
"Death, I do fear thee," he said as the first arrow hit him.
"I give you credit Michael, you�re one tough bastard," a voice devoid of an accent stated.
"We Old World vampiri live to serve," Michael gritted.
"Well, at least you die with class�"
* * * * * *
The alarm blared. Willow turned it off and laid her head back down. Then Spike poked her in the shoulder.
"Red," he whispered in an unusual fit of being nice.
"Sleep," Willow mumbled.
"Red time to, oh hell," Spike cursed, stood up and tipped the bed over sending Willow crashing down on the floor.
"Spike you jerk," Willow shouted as she jumped up.
Spike just smiled and tapped his watch.
"Oh, shit," Willow asked as she lifted the broken remains of the alarm.
"You�re going to be late," Spike sing sang.
"Pardon me," Spike said as he connected with the wall.
"Out, out," Willow exclaimed as she dumped a pile of clothes on her bed.
"Aren�t we forgetting something," Spike stated
"Storage room, next door, go," Willow blurted and threw his coat at him.
"Thanks," Spike said and opened the door.
Spike slipped quietly in the storage room, there he found a chair and sat down."Well what to do," he muttered as he pulled out a worn pocket book, it�s black cover faded and some of the pages sticking out.
"Now were did I put the damn thing," he muttered and patted his pockets.
"There we go!" he exclaimed and produced a piece of what had once been a number three pencil, now almost worn down to the stump. He placed it at the top corner of an empty page and started to write in small, yet flowing letters. This was his journal.
"To whomever who reads this battered book,
I sit here and listen as the third Slayer I�ve opted not to kill prepares herself for the day ahead. Bloody hell, that girl makes a lot of noise. Time to recap; the lack of entries over these past months is not an issue right now. My problems lie in the here and now. This city is all wrong, Slayers casually fighting the Masters and note the plural dear reader."
Willow burst into the room now fully clothed, carrying two mugs and her precious laptop slung over her shoulder.
"Here�s some blood for you, now I�ve blanketed the windows and while I�m gone you can look through the database on the mainframe," she said.
"Will do Red and when can I expect you back?" he asked as he accepted the mug.
"Come find me at the Church Library after sundown. I�ve got info that says something bad is blowing into town," she stated and was out the door before Spike could reply.
"There goes my vacation," he muttered and continued writing.
I�m back with my one time arse-kicking partner Red and as usual I get drawn into her mess.
Spike stood up and made a beeline for the computer room. The door opened as slowly as it pushed piles of paper along with it.
"Bloody hell, the girl is a complete techno freak," he cursed as he viewed the computer-lined wall topped off with a wall size monitor.
"Nobody needs this much speed," Spike muttered as he pulled out a chair.
"Let�s see Master List," he muttered as he clicked the folder.
"Well this is awfully personal," he exclaimed as he read through a list of vampires, their addresses, power and profiles. He pulled out the notebook and started writing down names and notes for himself as he read through the list.
People to look out for:
Spike didn�t stand up from the computer until several hours had passed.
He made his neck crick and straightened his back.
"Lets see what else this place offers," he stated.
* * * * * *
After having spent an hours going through Willow�s underwear drawer and raiding the fridge Spike was watching a horribly dubbed episode of Passions.
"It�s a good thing I knew this one by heart," Spike thought to himself.
There was a knock on the door and letter bearing the seal of a Master Vampire was slipped under the door.
"What the," Spike muttered as he stood and crept towards the door.
"To Willow Rosenberg," he read.
"Well dye my hair and call me Red," he said as he broke the seal.
"Bloody hell," he cursed after having read over the letter.
He took one quick look out the window and saw the sun low in the sky.
"If I stick to the shadows I�ll make it to the library," he thought and grabbed his coat. Laying the letter on the table as he checked his weapons. The letter read:
If you are reading this I�m already dead, but not by your hand as I would have chosen. There is a new master in town and it is my last wish to you that you protect my heir. Her name is Susan Swift, she does not know about my kind and I do not wish her drawn into our world.
Goodbye for now
Willow turned around and the fading rays of the sun hit her face. First she planned on seeking counsel from Sister and then she and Spike were going on the hunt for the new player in town.
"Sister Agnes," she whispered as she made her way between the bookshelves.
"Here my child," Agnes said and closed a book she�d been reading.
"We�ve got a�" Willow trailed off when she saw Susan Swift.
"Willow I�d like you to meet Susan Swift," Agnes introduced.
"We�ve already met," Susan explained as they shook hands.
Agnes look up as person walked through the front doors with his coat pulled over his head.
"Spike?" Willow asked in an amazed voice.
"Aye luv," Spike said as he put the coat back on.
"Have you completely lost you marbles," Willow whispered as she drew him away from Agnes with an apologetic look.
The shock of seeing Spike distracted her so she didn�t notice the recognition in Spike�s eyes when he saw Agnes, nor did she see the glare Agnes shot Spike.
"Well, I thought this was urgent," he said and handed her the letter.
Willow quickly scanned the letter, then look up at Spike who just nodded and the she looked back at Sister Agnes and Susan Swift, distant relative and soul heir of Michael Swift.
"Bloody hell," Willow cursed.
"You think she knows?" Spike asked.
"Only one way to find out," Willow stated as she pulled him over to the two women.
"Sister Agnes, Susan, this is Spike," she introduced.
Spike flashed his trademark grin that always did one of two things, either charm women, or scare men shitless. Susan seemed to show the standard response, but Agnes, well she was a nun after all.
"A pleasure," Agnes said with a nod.
"So Susan what you brings to the Library?" Willow asked.
"I got a call from a lawyer that a distant relative of mine, Michael Swift, had died and that he�d named me as his sole heir, " Susan explained. "You knew him didn�t you?" she asked Willow.
"We did businesses few times," Willow stated.
"Pardon my bluntness, but did you know him at all?" Spike asked.
"Nope, only that he owned several business in town, here you take a look," she said and handed him a paper.
"Interesting, these are some of the best clubs and restaurants in the city," Spike nodded as he ran town the list and then handed it to Willow.
"Could you show them to me?" Susan asked.
Willow looked slowly up from the paper and Spike gave her a curious look.
"Well I�m kind of lost, seems that the city has changed quite a bit over the year," she explained.
"Consider it my pleasure," Spike said before Willow could comment.
"Willow is invited too," Susan said with a knowing grin,
"Of course," Spike said and saved himself.
"You go ahead and wait by the car. I need to talk to Sister Agnes," Willow offered.
"It was nice meeting again Susan," Agnes said.
"You, too, Agnes and I promise that I�ll be around more often," Susan said.
"Ready?" Spike asked and offered his arm.
"And I thought men like you were extinct," Susan said and took the offered.
"Vampire?" Agnes asked.
"Yep and full of it, but he�s harmless," Willow answered. "Michael is dead." .
"You got a letter I presume?"
"Respect his wishes," Agnes answered calmly.
"That�s it?" Willow asked with a raised eyebrow.
"The same as he did you, asking me to look out for Susan," Agnes answered.
"How do you know her anyway?"
"Well I better go catch up with them before Spike starts putting the moves on your friend," Willow said.
"Go with God, Willow, and good luck," Agnes said.
"Gonna need it," Willow answered with a grin.
Susan was enjoying the company of the British gentleman that had literally burst into the Library a few minutes earlier.
"So are you and Willow�" she asked.
"No, we were but that�s in the past," Spike answered.
"Why? You look so natural together."
"Our lives are too different," he stated.
"She won�t change for you and you won�t change for her," Susan suggested.
"Something like that," Spike chuckled.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Willow said as she came walking out of the library.
"Speak of the devil," Spike stated.
They passed the mark of Michael�s territory and after giving Susan the tour of Michael�s businesses, both Spike and Willow got the distinct feeling that things were about to go to a hell in a hand basket. They shared a confirmative look.
"Here we are," Willow said as the came to stop in front of a three
story stone building that had been Michael�s home.
"James should have it ready by now," Willow said.
"James?" both Spike and Susan asked.
"Michael�s butler, I called him after you left the Library," Willow explained as she knocked on the door.
"Miss Rosenberg, always a pleasure," James said as he opened the door, he was and elderly British man that Willow always joked that he looked like Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Days.
"James this is Susan Swift and Spike," Willow introduced.
"Miss Swift my condolences," James nodded.
"Thank you," Susan said with a small smile. It was undoubtedly
strange mourning for someone you never knew. Quick movement from Spike
interrupted her thoughts as he caught a flying arrow.
Susan slowly turned around and her eyes widened but nothing much else happened,
"We�ll be right back luv," Spike said as he handed her his coat.
"Miss Swift inside quickly," James stated and Susan was pulled across the threshold.
Susan watched as Spike and Willow strode with confidence towards the rather sizeable group of what she�d concluded had to be vampires. She clutched onto Spike�s coat and found something hard within it.
"What the�" she wondered as she pulled a wooden stake from one of the pockets.
"Bloody hell," Spike cursed loudly as he kicked a vampire into a wall.
Susan looked up and then down at the stake.
"Spike," she shouted over the noise of the fighting.
Spike turned around and saw her waving the stake.
"Throw it," he shouted.
Susan nodded and threw the stake into the air, it glided in a wide arc, spinning and then landed smack middle in Spike�s outstretched hand.
"Okay who�s next?" he asked as he spun around.
Willow was cursing herself for forgetting her sword in the trunk of the car.
"Damn it," she cursed as she twisted the head of the latest vampire.
"Feeling a little violent tonight?" Spike asked as he backed up next to her.
"Left my stake in the last one," Willow explained.
"Well better start thinking up ways to explain this to Susan," Spike stated as he staked his latest attacker.
"We tell the truth," Willow grunted as she dropkicked a vamp, "and I think they�re backing away," she added.
* * * * * *
Later in the library of Michael�s house, Susan�s nursed a cup of tea as Willow explained her and Spike�s story.
"I came here four years ago to teach at the University and kill the
local vampires. We�d figured out that eliminating the power base the vampires
had in Europe would ease things back home�"
"Correct, now this city is ruled by several masters and one of them was your relative Michael," Spike explained.
"But how can�"
"It�s not all that uncommon really," Spike interrupted and got a curious look from Willow.
"�but the fact remains that you�re now the Master of his territory," Willow stated.
"The markers?" Susan asked.
"So were do we go from here?" Susan asked.
"We�ll take you to see Nathaniel, he�s the defacto leader around here," Willow said.
"But how can I�" Susan paused to consider her words, "rule this," she then said.
"Well Spike could�" Willow trailed off.
"Oh no, my master days are behind me," Spike said and raised his hands.
"You�re a vampire?" Susan asked, pointed and slumped to the floor.
"She took it well," Spike nodded.
"Well past the point when most people faint," Willow nodded as he picked her up.
"James is the room ready?" Willow asked.
"Of course Miss Rosenberg," James nodded.
"We�ll be back before dawn, she shouldn�t be left alone right now," Spike said and it earned him another curious look from Willow.
"What? Can�t a bloke like me nice from time to time?" Spike asked quite offended.
"Not you Spike, now get her into bed. I�ve got to get something from the trunk," Willow stated.
"This way Mr. Spike,"
"Call me William," Spike said as he followed the butler up the stairs. "You are English after all and that gives you the right," he added.
Willow rummaged through the trunk of her car pulling out her sword and the coat. This was a mess all right. A bloody stinking mess.
"Got one for me?" Spike asked as he came walked down the stairs.
"Catch," Willow said and threw up a simple short sword.
"Small, but it will do," he said.
"Lets go," she said and opened the car door.
"This thing�s got you pissed," Spike stated.
"Michael asked me to keep her out of our world and I managed to screw it up within three hours of meeting her," Willow stated.
"Good point, but now we must protect her," Spike stated.
"We?" Willow asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes, we," Spike stated thus ending all debates for now.
They didn�t have to search long for Nathaniel. He was standing at the edge of his territory. Under the light of a streetlight, with his high hat and cane he looked like something straight out of mystery novel.
"Hello Nathaniel, I take it you�ve heard," Willow said as the approached him.
"An unfortunate turn of events," Nathaniel stated and cast a glance at Spike.
"Spike didn�t kill Michael," Willow stated in a firm voice.
"How can you be sure?"
"Very well," Nathaniel nodded. "Step forward and let yourself be known," he then said in a stately voice.
"I�m William Croix, killer of two slayers, allied on the site of good and Master without a land," Spike said and bowed. Willow tried desperately to suppress a chuckle.
"Welcome William Croix to our fair city, it�s good to see that some of us still fight for the light. Too many off us choose to remain gray these days," Nathaniel stated and that made Willow finally burst.
"You find this amusing, Miss Rosenberg?" Nathaniel asked.
"Sorry� it�s just�" Willow said clutching her stomach.
"Can we move onto the business at hand?" Spike asked.
"Of course, William Croix, I wish to offer you Michael Swift�s territory," Nathaniel stated.
"What?" both Willow and Spike asked and Willow quickly stopped laughing.
"Miss Swift will of course remain in control of the businesses, but I want a vampire there to make sure�"
"That the balance is kept," Willow stated.
"Precisely," Nathaniel stated.
"Does Susan have a say in this?" Spike asked.
"Of course, but it�s my belief that you will be able to convince her," Nathaniel stated.
"You�ve been checking up on me?" Spike asked, but got no response.
"Bring Miss Swift to the Meeting Place tomorrow night at midnight so that she can taken into the community," Nathaniel said and handed Spike a card.
"You�re not going to turn her?" Willow stated firmly and went for her sword.
"Wouldn�t dream of it, but she has to accepted into the community," Nathaniel explained.
"We�ll be there," Spike said and started dragging Willow away.
"Goodnight Miss Rosenberg," Nathaniel nodded.
"Spike, wait," Willow said.
"This is politics Red and this discussion is over," Spike explained and they stared each other down for a good while.
"Very well, let�s hunt," Willow said and strode to the car.
It was a tired pair that dragged themselves back to the Swift mansion. The night had been long and hard fought, but not sign of the new master, just minions, more than ever before.
"I have never seen so many newborns in the city," Willow stated as she flopped down into an armchair and accepted a cup of coffee from James.
"Not local," Spike nodded and sipped his blood, "You look like shit Red. Why don�t you head home?" he added.
"I don�t have classes until one p.m., but I guess I could use the sleep," she said and stood.
"I�ll stay here and guard Susan," Spike said.
"Your room is ready sir," James announced.
"You went behind my back," Willow exclaimed.
"Of course, now get going," Spike said as he lazily stood.
"Behave," Willow warned as she pulled her coat on.
"No promises," Spike replied.
* * * * * *
Spike watched from the door as Willow got into her car and drove away,
"Spike?" came from the stairs.
He turned around to see her in a short robe with her hair tousled and he had to send a firm order to his libido.
"Susan, what are you doing up?" he asked.
"Couldn�t sleep," she answered with sheepish grin.
"Understandable," he nodded as he guided her back upstairs.
"You don�t have to stay," she said as he guided her to the bed.
"Willow will have my head if I leave," he answered.
"I�m going to need a partner you know," she stated as she slit under the covers and moments later the robe slit to the floor.
"What�s in it for me?" he asked.
"A healthily salary, free room and board," she answered sleepily.
"We�ll talk about it in the morning," he said as he walked to the door.
"Leave the light on," she mumbled after he�d turned off the light.
"Good night Susan," he nodded and closet the door.
Spike leaned his head against the door.
"Bloody wiped dope," he cursed.
"Your room is this way sir," James said and startled Spike out of his silent cursing.
"You ever sleep?" Spike asked.
"One must adjust to the strange hours sir," James nodded.
"Good enough, lead the way," Spike said in resignation.
"This was Master Swift�s room," James stated as he opened the door.
Spike looked into the windowless room and the freshly made bed.
"It will do, wake me at noon," Spike stated.
"Very well sir," James stated.
"Good nigh James," Spike stated with a laugh in his voice.
"Good night sir," James stated in a flat voice.
"I think this is the start of beautiful friendship," Spike said to himself as he jumped onto the bed.
Spike woke up in the same position he�d gone to sleep in, another side-affect of being livingly impaired. He sat up and found a mug of blood and the morning paper on his nightstand.
"A bloke could get used to this," he muttered to himself as he sipped his blood.
There was a soft knock on the door moments later as James entered looking as crisp as the night before.
"Miss Swift would like to see you in the library at your earliest convenience," he announced.
"Very well, tell Miss Swift that I�ll be ready in twenty
minutes," Spike stated."Very good, sir, and I�ve taken the liberty
of washing your garments. You�ll find fresh clothes on the chair by the
counter," James said and was gone.
"Red, you owe me," he muttered as he inspected the clothes James had laid out for him.
Twenty minutes later Spike stepped into the library, dressed in a white suit and cursing James�s lousy fashion sense.
"Spike you look� different," Susan exclaimed as she turned away from the bookcase holding a book in her hand.
"And a good bleeding morning to you, too," Spike said and scowled.
"Sorry, please sit down. We need to discuss business," Susan said and pointed to an armchair.
"You being Master," Spike nodded and sat.
"We being Masters was what I had in mind," Susan stated.
"Then I�d ask again what�s in it for me?" Spike asked.
"You get to hunt on my territory, a healthy salary and free room here if you need it," she stated.
"And the catch?" he asked and leaned back.
"You protect the territory and me, so that I can handle the businesses in peace," she answered.
"Fair enough, but we still need to go to the meeting tonight. Together," Spike stated.
"I know, I mean I think I can handle the fact that they�re all vampires. I mean you�re here and I�m not running," Susan explained.
"Which is quite remarkable. Red was scared to death when she first met me, but then again I was threatening to rip out her heart or something," Spike explained off hand.
"Okay, too much information," Susan exclaimed.
"Sorry, bluntness seems to run in my blood," Spike said with a grin.
"Talk about something you ate," Susan chuckled.
"One more thing?" Spike asked ignoring the pun.
Willow stepped into the near empty library after her classes needing some advice on how to proceed. Her instinct told her to make the most of being invited to a meeting of all the top masters, but her conscience told her not to.
"You look troubled," Sister Agnes stated over her shoulder, but for once she didn�t spin around.
"I�m dealing with a moral dilemma and I could use some� heavenly guidance," Willow answered.
"Let�s sit down then," Agnes stated and pointed to and empty table.
"I�ve been invited to attend a council meeting at the cave and I�m torn between my duty as a honorary Slayer and my sense of honor and the� friendships I�ve formed with them," Willow explained.
"Understandable, given the fact you could rid the city of the vampires in one blow, but need I remind you that there are always those who seek to obtain power," Agnes stated.
"So if I eliminate all the masters at once I could induce a civil war among the remaining vampires?" Willow asked, but it was really more of statement.
"It has happened before and the Church has no desire to witness such battles again," Agnes said.
"When was the last time it happened?" Willow asked a little confused considering she�d studied the history of the City.
"You�ve read the history of the City, do you remember the passage
about the Great Fire of 1801?" Agnes asked.
"They burned the city to the ground," Willow exclaimed.
"The death toll would be much higher," Willow murmured and stood.
"Thanks, you�ve helped me a lot," Willow said, "as usual," she then added with a silly grin.
"The doors of the Library and its church are always open," Agnes stated.
"I know, wish me luck?"
"Good luck Willow," Agnes said in a soft voice as she watched her walk out into the sunlight.
* * * * * *
By the time Willow arrived, the sun had set and Spike had Susan decked out in black.
"Now you look like a Master vampire," Spike exclaimed as he backed away.
"It�s tight," Susan stated and pulled at her pants.
"That�s the point," Spike said as he handed her a leather jacket.
"Miss�" James started, but paused when he saw Susan, "Rosenberg," he finished.
"So we ready to�" Willow trailed off.
"What?" Susan asked
Instead of speaking Willow turned and gave Spike a look that made him take a step backwards.
"Spike," Willow growled deep in her throat.
"She needed a makeover, she was just so� soft," Spike offered with a flourish gesture of curves.
"She looks like a�" Willow paused and looked Susan over again.
"You think they�ll buy it?" Susan asked.
"That you�re a vampire, not for a second," Willow stated, "but you do look the part," she added and gestured at the leather pants, black blouse and matching jacket.
"Thanks, I just don�t know how to get these off," Susan said with a half smile and pulled at the black leather.
"It�s an art form," both Spike and Willow said.
"I don�t want to know," Susan exclaimed and raised her palm outwards.
"So are we ready?" Willow asked again.
"As ready as we�ll ever be," Spike stated and smoothed down his suit.
"Let�s go then and you can explain the white suit on the way," Willow said with a grin as Spike growled slightly.
They pulled up next to a large building, which Willow had up to this point thought to be a roman temple with a domed roof and huge columns.
"Wow, why don�t they just put out a sign? Vampire hideaway," Susan exclaimed.
"This building has been in the city for over a thousand years, as far as the inhabitants are concerned, they think it�s a roman temple. They even have tours inside it for tourists," Willow explained and cursed herself mentally for not figuring it out earlier.
"And there�s our guide now," Spike said as the door opened and a short and compact ghoul motioned for them to enter.
"You armed?" Willow asked.
"Always," both Spike and Susan stated.
"Good," Willow nodded as they stepped through the door.
The inside of the temple was huge and torches lit the walls, in the center of the chamber a staircase decanted down into the ground.
"Follow me," the ghoul said as he took a torch from the wall and let them down the stairs.
The cave that they entered was for lack of a better word, massive, the stairs crisscrossed along its wall until it finally ended at a narrow bridge that lead to a raised rock platform. There sat a massive meeting table carved from the rock.
The Masters of the city were gathered (seven at the current time), but Willow knew that nine made up the council in all and only four chairs remained. Two were marked with the symbol that now belonged to Susan and the third marked with an elaborate W that was freshly carved into the stone. Nathaniel�s chair turned away from the table and appeared to be empty.
"That�s strange," Willow muttered as she sat.
"Who brought the Wiccan in here," a vampire that looked like a younger version of Nathaniel stated.
"I did, got a problem with that," Susan replied as they took their seats and before Willow got a chance to retort.
"And you are?" the same vampire asked.
"Alexander, please," the only other woman at the table groaned.
"Yes, Alex give them a chance to explain themselves," the man next to her said.
"Very well," Alexander stated, "Speak, human."
Susan stood up with an air of authority that neither Spike nor Willow would have thought her capable of.
"My vampiri name is Susan Swift. I�m the heir to all of Michael Swift�s assets within this city. This," she said and motioned Spike, "is William Croix, but you can call him Spike, he�s my partner and will deal with� well lets say the bloodier side of the job. Willow Rosenberg is here at the invite of Nathaniel De�Night and also as my bodyguard and therefore fulfilling her promise to my predecessor," Susan stated and sat back down.
"If you are all done here," Nathaniel stated as he turned around in his seat to face the table, "Perhaps we could get started on matter of Miss Swift assuming control over Michael�s territory. Now, it is within our law to allow humans to serve as Master as long as they pay tribute and keep the peace, so shall we vote and then perhaps Miss Swift would be kind enough to tell us her plans," Nathaniel offered with a diplomatic tone.
"Let�s get this over and done with," Alexander grumbled.
"Miss Rosenberg what�s your vote?" Nathaniel asked.
There was a collective rumble around the table.
"Excuse me?" Willow asked.
"Come now Miss Rosenberg, you�re a major player in the city. You getting a seat at this table as only been a matter of time," A vampire that according to Willow�s database name was Leonardo stated.
"Very well," Willow said as the shock passed, "Susan Swift and William Croix have my vote as Masters over the territory formerly under the control of Michael Swift," Willow stated.
"Thank you and you Leonardo what�s your vote," Nathaniel asked.
The voting passed quickly, most of the Masters wanting to keep the status quo either voted with Susan or refrained from voting.
"Then it is confirmed, Susan Swift and William Croix are herby accepted into our council and Willow Rosenberg is also granted a seat through force of action," Nathaniel stated.
"There has to be a catch," Willow whispered to Spike who nodded.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," a loud, but smooth voice echoed across the cave.
"What the," Willow stated and was on her feet looking for the owner of the voice, Spike pointed to the stairs and Willow turned to see a figure step down the last step and into a narrow beam of light.
"Allow me introduce myself, I am Crimson and this city belongs to me now�" she said with grin and threw the head of the ghoul that had escorted them in onto the table.
The assembly stared at the severed head that lay on the table and then all eyes turned to the newcomer.
"Miss Crimson, please have a seat," Nathaniel offered and motioned to the empty seat.
"No thanks I�d rather stand," she stated and Willow took the time to take in her features. She was tall - six foot six at least- with a soft round face, long red hair tied into a ponytail and a coat concealed the rest of her body.
"What is your business here?" Nathaniel asked calmly.
"I�m taking over, plain and simple," Crimson explained in the same smooth voice she�d introduced herself.
"And you expect us just to quietly step down it that it?" Leonardo asked calmly.
"Well� yes," Crimson stated.
"And if we refuse?" Alexander asked.
Crimson smiled at him and then made an off with his head gesture.
"No they are," Crimson stated and pointed at something behind Alexander, "I hate killing," she added.
"Oh, please," Alexander stated and turned around.
"Not smart," Willow muttered and there was a crack as a stake was embedded into Alexander�s chest, he managed to turn around before exploding into dust.
"You really shouldn�t have done that," Nathaniel said as everybody around the table jumped to their feet.
"And you bore me," Crimson stated and walked towards the stairs. "Kill them all," she ordered and within seconds the cave was floated with minions and she was gone.
"Oh shit!" Susan muttered as the first vampire started to jump the gorge onto the meeting platform.
"Teleportation," Willow muttered as she drew her sword.
"Never thought I�d have to say this, but� Get out now I�ll cover you!" Willow shouted and the masters most of them didn�t things twice and ran, but three stayed, Nathaniel, Leonardo and Danielle.
"Didn�t you hear me," Willow shouted as she staked the nearest vamp and watch as Spike nearly carried Susan up the stairs.
"We did Miss Rosenberg," Leonardo stated blowing a lock of hair out his eyes, "but we also take care of our own," he said as he punched a vampire into the gorge.
"Okay, then let�s cover their escape," Willow stated and took a stance in the center of the group.
"Never thought I�d be fighting alongside you Willow," Danielle stated.
"Well there is always a first time," Willow stated and sent a head flying.
"I suggest we give pursuit," Nathaniel stated as he disposed of his latest foe and the pack started to back away.
"Agreed, Nathaniel and I will kill the stragglers, you two head back up to the temple and keep them at bay," Willow ordered and jumped on a nearby ledge.
"Never argue with a lady," Leonardo stated and headed for the stairs.
"You sure this is wise?" Danielle asked and grabbed Nathaniel�s hand, as he was about to jump.
"No, but it�s as good as any and we need Miss Rosenberg�s allegiance at this point in time," he explained.
"Very well," she nodded kissed him and ran after Leonardo.
"Nice girl," Willow shouted from her ledge.
"Indeed," Nathaniel stated and jumped onto ledge.
"Understand that this does in no way affect my desire to dust you," Willow stated firmly.
"The feeling is mutual," Nathaniel stated as they moved towards along the ledge that then ended at a narrow tunnel just big enough for a person to crawl through.
"So tell me about you and Danielle?" Willow asked after a few minutes of silence as they crawled through a narrow passage.
"Americans," Nathaniel snorted.
"What?" Willow asked in confused, "and stop staring at my butt!"
"We�re walking, well crawling into a highly lethal situation and you inquire about my love life," he stated, "and I�m in no way interested in your behind."
"No actually I just want to know how pissed off Danielle will be when I finally kill you?" Willow asked, "and what�s wrong with my butt?"
"Nothing, just not interested and she�d be� very upset, but avenging me wouldn�t be a priority," he stated.
"I�ll throw fire spell at them and then we follow in its wake. With luck it should take out at least half of them," Willow whispered and closed her eyes while working the spell through her mind then slowly opening them.
"On three� One� Two� Three, go, go," she shouted as a ball of flame erupted from her hands and exploded into the center of the cave. Hell was breaking loose.
* * * * *
Susan cursed her choice of footwear and Spike just plain cursed as they ran for Willow�s car. They came to a halt at the sight of the smoldering wreckage that had been Willow�s car and Spike�s curses started to switch languages.
"We�re in deep shit right?" Susan asked in voice that was surprisingly calm given the circumstances.
"You could say that, Crimson has got us outnumbered and out planned," Spike stated he started walking quickly towards the general direction of the Library.
"What do you mean out planned?" Susan asked.
"Her entrance, everything leading up to the meeting tonight including Michael�s Swift�s death, the killing of that Alexander kid, it was all planned," Spike stated.
"To what end?" Susan asked.
"And Micheal�s killing?" Susan asked.
"Killing Michael drew Willow into the fight, so Crimson had opportunity to take out all the big players with one blow, " Spike explained.
"So what do we do?" Susan asked.
"We head for the Library, plan our course of action and wait for Willow cause she�s probably thinking the exact them thing," Spike stated.
"Plan? What is there to plan? We should just kill them," Susan exclaimed.
"If we�re just thinking of the short term effect, yes. But this is also an opportunity to secure our power basis within the city," Spike stated as they turned a corner.
"You are ruthless. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"Oh bloody hell!" Spike cursed he drew the short sword, but then noticed that they hadn�t been spotted.
"This is the point were the female sidekick screams right?"
Spikes looked at the group and then back at Susan.
"How�s your stamina?" he asked.
"I ran the three mile run in collage," she answered.
"Good, because we�re going to try and sneak over to the Library which is about ten blocks south. But if we�re spotted we might have make a run for it" Spike said and placed the sword back under his coat.
"Let�s go then," Susan stated as they crept down the street.
"Oh bollocks, run," Spike cursed as they took off.
Willow�s head hurt from all the signals she was picking up through the Stone of Destiny and from the magical energies she was expending with each fire blast. After she and Nathaniel had battled together through the cave, they�d managed to crawl out to the street above through a manhole. Now they stood surrounded on the street by Crimson�s minions.
"Any more ideas Miss Rosenberg?" Nathaniel asked just as he swung for a vampire�s head.
"One, can you handle things here?" Willow asked back as she ducked a blow.
"Nathaniel!" Danielle shouted as she and Leonardo came running from the temple.
"I believe so," Nathaniel answered with thin smile and his fighting seemed to become more focused.
"Good cause I need you to rally the Masters as soon as I take out Crimson," Willow stated as she kicked a vampire into the ones behind it.
"Go, do what you must," Nathaniel stated.
"Thanks and try to stay alive," Willow said back and made a break for the nearest alley.
"Where�s the Slayer going?" Danielle asked as she and Leonardo joined Nathaniel on the street.
"Going to the source of the problem," he stated.
Willow pulled the Stone of Destiny from her blouse and looked into it, focusing its forces and weaving them together with her own Wiccan powers.
"I hope this works," she muttered as she closed her eyes and felt the familiar surge of energy as the magic flowed through her being and in a flash of light she was gone.
Spike had long since given up any rational thought, his only concern was to get to the safe grounds of the Library, carrying Susan over his shoulder as he ran didn�t affect his speed.
"Spike put me down," Susan stated firmly as they burst through the Library doors.
"Sister!" Spike shouted has he dumped Susan on the floor and went to close the doors.
"William is there a�" Agnes stopped when she saw Spike dragging a cabinet in front of the door and Susan standing, looking rather pissed off, decked out in black leather.
"Explain later," Spike stated and started dragging Susan and Agnes further into the Library until he found the door connecting it to the church.
"Stay here and don�t come out until dawn," he stated and pushed them inside.
"What about planning?" Susan asked.
"Change of plans," Spike stated and drew the sword.
"Spike what are you doing?" Susan stated firmly.
"Fulfilling my end of the bargain, protecting the territory and if I recall correctly our territory begins just outside the Library," Spikes stated.
"What about me, shouldn�t I�" A cold finger pressed against her lips silenced Susan.
"My job, now stay here and I�ll be waiting for you at the mansion," Spike said and walked away.
"Sister Agnes?" Susan asked.
"Let him go," Agnes stated as she turned towards the altar." Won�t you pray with me?" she asked.
"Sure," Susan muttered as she watched Spike disappear into the night.
Spike let his coat fall to the ground as he stepped out of the church. The white suit was about to get dirty and James would be pissed as all hell if� when he made it home. Spike looked around before stepping onto the street. Standing under a streetlight he drew a circle with his sword on the pavement.
"I am Master William Croix," he shouted, "and these streets are now under my protection from now until the ends of the Earth!"
Willow opened her eyes and found herself in the familiar sewers under the city with their high curving ceilings and worn stones. They were like the City, old and comfortable, if you could say that about a sewer system.
"I must be going nuts," Willow muttered as she fished a small flashlight out of her coat.
"Simple plan; kill the big bad vampire and then sit down with a glass of chilled white wine and watch the sunrise," Willow said to herself.
She tiptoed along the narrow walkway avoiding the sewage and the occasional rat as best she could.
"At least there are no frogs," she murmured.
Coming to stop in front of steal door, newly installed and in stark contrast to everything around it.
"Locked," Willow muttered as she tried the handle.
"Wow that was fun," Willow stated as walked into the room.
Gathered at a long meeting table were Crimson and her top henchmen and from the looks of it Willow had just crashed a war council meeting. Sometimes you just get lucky.
"A Slayer oh this is going be fun!" Crimson stated as she stood.
"Killing me won�t do you any good Crimson, the fight above is lost, the Masters are killing off your foot soldiers by the dozens;" Willow stated.
"Still killing you would be fun and yes I know that the cannon fodder is doing its job," Crimson stated.
"What�s your game here Crimson, this isn�t making sense?" Willow asked and probably wondered why she wasn�t killing somebody.
"Not telling," Crimson answered with a girlish grin, "that would destroy the fun," she added. There was a long pause as Willow stared at her foe, then she just sighed and charged.
"Kill her," Crimson said off hand and the henchmen launched themselves at Willow. The first went down rather easily, but the rest were awfully stubborn and before she knew it Willow was ducking and weaving between blades and bullets. The minutes seemed to drag on. Maybe it was only a few seconds, but for Willow it must have felt like an eternity.
"Shit, shit, shit!" she cursed as she jumped off one of the walls and took a head while flying backward over one of the attackers. A bullet grazed her shoulder and drawing a trail of blood and angering Willow more. The second bullet grazing across her thigh didn�t help her mood either.
"Burn you son of a bitch!" she screamed as small ball of fire erupted from her outstretched had and engulfed the shooter.
"I�ve had enough of this!" she screamed as winds started blowing around the room. Chairs took flight and were torn apart by the force of the wind and Willow�s mind. The henchmen found the surrounded by a whirlwind of flying wood and when it settled only dust remained under a pile of rumple. Willow sank to her knees as and her sword fell to the floor. Breathing heavily she looked up at Crimson who stood calmly only a few feet away from her. Blood dripped from various cuts on Willow�s body, while Crimson seemed unharmed.
"Mistress," a vampire with a stake in it�s back uttered as it stumbled through the door.
"You lose," Willow said with a grin as blood dripped from her nose and splashed on the stone floor.
"Miss Rosenberg always a pleasure," Nathaniel said as he stepped into the room with Danielle and Leonardo close behind.
"Well it�s been fun," Crimson said with a wave and clicked her heels together three times.
"Not again!" Willow stated as she lunged for her enemy, landing flat on the floor, clutching a piece of paper.
"Just once I would like to actually kill the bad guy," she stated as she read the message, three words in red ink and flowing script.
"BE SEEING YOU." Drops of blood fell from her nose onto the paper. Willow just sighed and looked up to see Nathaniel�s offered hand.
"We won," he stated and handed her a handkerchief.
"We won," Willow said and grasped his hand.
Willow crawled up through the manhole about an hour before dawn. Nathaniel and the others had taken the sewers back to their perspective territories and the issue of Crimson would be discussed at the next meeting. Willow looked around and smiled as she saw Spike swaggering towards her, his sword hanging loose in one hand and a bottle of scotch in the other.
"Red," he greeted and offered her the bottle.
"Spike," Willow stated and accepted the bottle and took a swig.
"The City has been cleansed," Spike stated with flourish and looked up at the fading stars.
"Crimson got away," Willow stated and took another swig.
"We always do," Spike said, "the bad guys I mean," he added.
"We�ll see her again," Willow stated and handed him the bottle.
"We always see them again," Spike answered, "the bad guys I mean," he added again.
"Spike shut up and go home before Susan gets worried," Willow ordered.
"You going to be okay, luv?" Spike asked.
"I�ll get by," Willow stated, "but I could use a hug," she added and opened her arms.
"I live to serve," Spike stated as he wrapped his arms around you.
"Thank you Spike," she whispered.
They just stood there for a long while as friends in all things knowing that love can be fleeting, but true friendship is forever.
Willow strolled through the City, her city. She owned a part of it now, as far as the vampire community went anyways. She ended her walk at her favorite caf� it was located close to her street�s church. She placed her laptop on the table next to a cup of steaming coffee and opened her Slayer�s Journal file.
"Weeks have past since the defeat of Crimson and her hordes, but the community is preparing for her eventual return. First law of vampires though makes her immediate return highly unlikely. It goes something like this: The best way to defeat your enemy is to outlive him, but I never established whether or not Crimson is a vampire. Susan and Spike are getting along without killing each other, maybe they�ll get together, then again maybe not. I�ve promised Spike I won�t "help" him."
Willow sipped her coffee with a smile.
"I must admit that I�m feeling a little lonely. Seeing Spike and Susan at the beginning of something more and then witnessing the� thing Nathaniel and Danielle share makes me long for someone to cuddle with. Sister Agnes tells me that I should go looking for it, as does Father Ezekiel, but they also believe that you should be a virgin at marriage, well Father Ezekiel does, Agnes is more of a realist."
"I�ve made explanations to the Council that my temporary alliance with the Masters was necessary to save the City and that my seat at the Masters Council is necessary for me to function in this city. Still I believe we must rethink our strategy here and I�ve sent memos to various Watchers on the subject."
Willow saved her entry and closed her laptop.
"I�ve heard that there is a restaurant around here were you can watch the sunrise over a glass of red wine," a voice that sounded like silk to Willow�s ear said from behind her.
"Given I�m a little new to the city I could use a guide," it said.
Willow eyes were wide with amazement as she slowly stood and turned around.
"Hey Wills," Buffy Summers, Slayer Prime and her best friend in the whole world and beyond greeted with a beaming smile.
"Come on say something?" Buffy asked after Willow had stared blankly at her for way to long given Buffy�s attention span.
"Dance with me?" Willow asked and offered Buffy her hand.
"Humor an old friend," Willow said as she led Buffy onto the plaza.
While they danced all seemed to fade away around them, the loneliness disappeared and was replaced with joy.
"Willow, why are we dancing in the square?" Buffy asked as they waltzed around the church plaza.
"Cause I feel like it and because we need the practice," Willow answered.
"Is there going to be a dance?" Buffy asked.
"Yep and I want to show up with the most beautiful woman in the world, but I had to make sure she knew how to dance first," Willow answered with a grin.
"Well I�m in the City for three hours and already being asked out on a date," Buffy stated.
"Were are you staying?" Willow asked.
"Spike�s and yes he did arrange for me to come here," Buffy answered.
"I�ve got to remember to thank him," Willow said as their dancing slowed and ended with Willow playfully kissing Buffy�s nose.
"Now I want to hear everything," Buffy said with a laugh as Willow
led her back to the table.
They sat and watched the sun set as friends, slayers and later lovers. Time changes people and it had changed them. Love can, as it had with them, be realized through the pain of separation and though their time would be short they�d lived each moment to the fullest, as it has always been with their kind, the Slayers of myth. Their parting would be filled with tears, but not sadness. Never again with sadness. Because now they were fighting, as they always had, for that finer world and now also for that single moment of peace, that brief elapse in the never-ending battle in which they could lay down their weapons and rest within each others arms, if only for a moment.
"Cause sometimes fleeting moments is all the time we have to love," Willow said as she studied Buffy�s sleeping face.