FATE

Patrol had been annoying when she was sixteen. It had been a drag then, when she would rather have been down at the Bronze, partying with her friends and pretending that she was normal. When she was seventeen it had been a hard time, never knowing when Angelus would emerge from the bushes, reopening old wounds with his very existence. When she was eighteen it had been about learning her limits, covering new ground, working as a free agent without the interference of the Watcher Council. Immediately prior to that there had been Faith to deal with, and a mayor facing an imminent transformation into a giant snake. Slayage was less a way of life, more the whole of her life - period. All Slay and no play, as Xander no doubt would have phrased it. Even Graduation Day had been more of a busman's holiday than a genuine celebration.

And now she was nineteen, with twenty looming ferociously on the horizon. The big number, no longer with a 'teen' after it. She wasn't sure how she felt about that, except that it brought adult things closer and closer. Jobs, houses, cars and pension plans. And how was she supposed to feel about that, when it was all part of a life she might never get to live? She tried not to think about it so much these days, unlike when she had been younger, and the whole Slayer thing had been such a recent revelation. She tried to concentrate on the positive aspects of her life, and to forget that she had a mighty destiny few could know about, and a life she wasn't always sure that she wanted to live. She was trying to come to terms with it all, trying to learn to accept it; to face her responsibilities with something of the gentle air of sufferance Giles displayed. Or seemed to display. Most of the time.

Patrol, however, was still annoying. You could accept things all you liked, but when your heart was on a dance at the Bronze, or at the very least on a talk at the Bronze, surrounded by friends, music and chocolate milkshakes, there really was no replacing it. Walking up and down the darkened streets, doing the occasional sweep through a graveyard or two, and waving a sharply pointed stick at anything that rustled in the bushes was, by nobody's imagining, really a fascinating way to spend an evening. Even when the rustling in the bushes turned out to be a vampire, or even an eight foot demon with slobbering fangs and horns that stretched halfway to Pennsylvania, there was precious little sense of accomplishment. Most of the time it turned out to be a dog, anyway, or more usually somebody's sleepy-looking pet cat. They sat on the grass, blinking up at her out of luminous yellow eyes, purring very loudly, and she stared back at them with her hair awry, and a large pointed stick aimed straight for them. That was usually the moment when she would straighten her hair, straighten her clothing, put away the stake, and then glance around in the greatest embarrassment in the hope that nobody she knew had seen her make such a mistake. Then she would turn to go about her business and walk straight into a whole gang of the undead. Apparently they liked sneaking up when she was flustered. She couldn't exactly say that she appreciated the joke. If it was a joke, anyway.

Brushing a few clinging ashes from her shirt - remains of her last kill, an almost insultingly easy one - Buffy Summers took a moment to check her reflection in the window of a derelict shop. It was a 'mystical phenomena' type of establishment - or had been at any rate - which had been forced into closure following the previous year's anti-magic fest, led by Buffy's own mother. Under the influence of a demon disguised as a pair of small children, Joyce Summers had led most of the town's adult population in a crusade against witches, warlocks - and Slayers - which had culminated in the near burning to death of Buffy, her best friend Willow Rosenberg, and would-be witch - and currently rat - Amy Madison. Buffy didn't hold any grudges about that particular episode, and she certainly didn't blame her mother for all that had happened - although she did like to mention it every now and again. There was nothing quite like the satisfaction of capitalising on a little maternal guilt.

"Looking good..." Buffy almost always looked good, but it was nice to hear it on occasions, even if she did have to say it herself. When you'd spent the last couple of years living under the shadow of the legendary Cordelia Chase, it was necessary to ring one's own bell every now and again. Cordelia was gone now, though. She lived in downtown Los Angeles these days, working with Buffy's ex... sometimes ex... possibly maybe ex boyfriend.

Brushing a few loose strands of long blonde hair back over her ears, Buffy spun her stake in her hands, breathed a heavy sigh, and then stuck her traditional weapon into her belt. There was no point in keeping it ready all the time. She couldn't hear anything, she couldn't feel anything. There were no vampires in this street at least. She was bored, and she very much wanted to go back to the Bronze, or back to her room at the university campus, or even to the coffee bar to see if Giles was playing that night. Anything was better than being the sole inhabitant of Sunnydale to spend the midnight hours prowling around graveyards and abandoned shops, looking for dead people with fangs.

She turned the corner in full casual mode, not bothering to use her senses to detect for trouble ahead. She wasn't expecting any, which was - and no doubt Giles would have said as much, she mused later, had he been there - exactly why she suddenly found herself right in the middle of a powerful burst of full-honed Spidey-sense buzz alert. Her head leapt back out of its waking dream tailspin, and for a most disconcerting second her heart throbbed against her ribs. Very slowly she drew her stake and looked around. She could see no one.

"Where are you, you undead loser?" Even her most disparaging tone - usually guaranteed to bring incensed vampires scrambling from their hiding places - failed to secure a response. She took a few more steps forward, gazing into the inky blackness, and wondering why a town as lethal as Sunnydale couldn't come up with the funds for a few more streetlamps. Given how many murders happened in dark and badly lit alleys, it only seemed natural that lights would be top of the local agenda. Everybody seemed more interested in buying new uniforms for the Sunnydale Razorbacks and their cheerleaders, though. Football scores were obviously more important than combating serious crime.

"Come on you pointy toothed sun-worshipper you. Come and say hi to Buffy." She waved the stake around, but still there was no response. There was not so much as a whisper, or the scrape of a foot on tarmac. Nothing. Then why did she feel so powerful a vampiric presence? She walked on further, to where the streetlamps again took over, and the darkness of the alley faded into the background. She could see somebody now, sitting cross-legged on the cold, hard ground, resting his head on his folded arms. Buffy walked closer, moving very carefully, aware and alert that this could be the start of a mob attack. Her hand twitched around the stout stake she held at the ready.

"Hey you. Undead guy." She was close to him now; almost close enough to be within staking range. He didn't move. Was he just some dead victim? Was the vampire feeling coming from somewhere else? It didn't seem likely, and as she gave a moment to some careful concentration she had to conclude that this person was most definitely a member of the pointy toothed undead. She moved closer still, and gave him a sharp nudge on one knee with the toe of her boot. His body twitched and she jumped back, shoulder screaming to bring the stake hurtling down. Slowly, very slowly, the figure on the ground raised his head to look at her.

He was about seventeen at a guess, with skin just a shade paler than she thought of as the norm for a healthy white teenager. Large, dark eyes stared unblinkingly at her, gazing steadily out of a face that was immature and innocent, yet also very old and jaded. There was fear in his face, and a sorrow that was almost heartbreaking. Buffy didn't understand why. Certainly she owed sympathy to no vampire. There was something about this boy though. Perhaps it was the soulful expression in those dark green eyes. Soulful? Could a soulless vampire look soulful? And yet somehow this boy managed it. He made no attempt to rise, and showed no sign of changing his smooth, childish features into those of the demon within. Instead he just stared.

"Are you going to bite me or not?" Frustrated, and beginning to feel just a little foolish in her battle pose, Buffy relaxed the merest fraction and let her irritation show in her face. The boy frowned, the expression just the tiniest flicker in his sorrowful countenance.

"I don't want to attack you." His accent was English, although closer to that of Spike than of Giles. Somehow that didn't surprise Buffy. After all, Sunnydale attracted demons from all over. The guilelessness of his voice did surprise her, however, and so did the way in which he looked at her; the way that he was watching her, with an almost disturbing degree of focus. "I don't want to attack anybody."

"Yeah. That's convincing." She made an upward gesture with her stake. "On your feet. I've never staked somebody who was just sitting doing nothing. You may be dead, but at least try to act like a man."

"Yeah." She thought that she saw tears cloud his eyes, and her readied and raised arm faltered in its position. The boy looked away, for all the world as if it had truly been tears that she had seen, and he now was trying to hide them. "I may never get to be old enough to shave, but at least I can pretend to be a man." He stared up at her, a sudden panic chasing through his eyes - a desperation that was almost shocking in its intensity. "Will it be quick? Will you make it quick? I'd rather... I mean, instead of... you know. I don't want to bite anyone. I don't want to have to do that."

"Huh?" She blinked, then in one of her moments of instinctive action, began to lower her stake. "Are you okay? I mean, you haven't been running into any weird men in uniform, with nets and stun guns? Underground laboratories and little itty bitty microchips?"

He shook his head. "I don't understand. I haven't seen anyone. Except for ZoŽ of course, and she was gone as soon as..." He shook his head, and his black hair danced. As it moved she could see a white streak in the fringe that she had not noticed before - a thin, yet striking mark in the darkness that stood out almost as though it were framed in neon. Slowly his pale face lifted towards her again. "Am I a vampire?"

"You don't know?" She didn't understand why she didn't just stake him and be done with it; but for some reason, something in his voice or in his eyes had stayed her hand - and was compelling her, by increasing degrees, to believe in his strange words and attitude. "Who's ZoŽ?"

"I thought she was my girlfriend." He rubbed at his face, in another vague attempt to hide tears without her knowledge. It didn't work, but she made no mention of it. "She brought me here tonight, and she bit me." He sounded vaguely incensed, and also deeply confused. "I thought I was imagining it, but then there was blood around her mouth - her own I think, and she kissed me... I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't pull away... and then she was gone, and I was just lying here in the road, and I could feel everything changing..." He wiped his eyes more openly now. "I knew. Or at least I thought I did. I felt something. Like a voice in my head..."

"But you don't feel like a vampire? You don't feel like there's something inside you?"

"I should be dead. Something else should have taken my soul." He was staring at her very intently now. "You know, don't you. You can sense that I'm not human anymore. So why don't I feel inhuman? Why don't I feel evil? Why am I still myself?"

"How can you prove to me that you are? For all I know you're as evil as the monsters I kill every night." She stared hard at him, for all the world as though she were trying to stare directly into his soul - if, indeed, he truly had one. The boy shook his head, and his curls flopped over his fringe, the white streak breaking free from the rest of the massed tangle to lie starkly on top of the pile.

"I can't. I can't tell you anything, or prove anything to you. I don't understand anything, or - or know anything even. I just know what happened to me, and what should have happened to me - and what didn't." He frowned, staring at the ground at her feet. "You know about vampires. You must do. You saw what I was. Isn't there something you can do? Something that might help explain what's going on? I just want to know what's happening to me. I want to know, if - if I'm suddenly going to flip, and start drinking blood..." The mere idea of this seemed to bring fresh waves of sadness to the fore, and although he tried to stop the sigh from breaking forth, it came nonetheless. Buffy felt her heart swell with the sound.

"I don't know anything." She stared at her stake, and then at the boy. "But I think I might know somebody who does. A friend of mine. He's... well, he knows about these things."

"Really?" The boy brightened at the suggestion. "Will he be able to tell me what's going on?"

"I don't know." She stuck her stake into her belt, and then made a point of aiming her cross right at her newest acquaintance. "But I'd suggest that we go and find out. We're right in the middle of an undead thoroughfare just here, and I'd prefer not to tempt fate. Things might get sticky, and then I'd probably have to stake you." She shrugged, all affability and casual offhandedness. "No offence."

"Where does this friend live?" He was climbing to his feet, revealing himself to be a little below average height, with a build that suggested more at stamina than definite strength. He was dressed in blue jeans that looked as if they had been bought ready-faded - hardly a fashion guru then, she couldn't help thinking, which almost made her panic about the likelihood of Cordelia residue infesting her psyche - and a Kula Shaker T-shirt that positively glowed with echoes of Eastern mysticism.

"It's not a long walk." She gestured with her cross to the damp walls of the buildings that ran adjacent to the road in which they stood. "Head down that way. There's an abandoned shop just around the corner. The back door should be unlocked."

"A short cut?" He sounded more as though he was trying to make polite conversation than as if he was trying to dig for information. She shook her head.

"Not exactly. I need some rope, and I happen to know that there's some in there."

"Rope?" Trepidation coloured his voice now. "What do you need rope for?"

"Because I'm really into bondage, and this is just the right spot to play games." She gestured with her cross to make him start walking. "You're a vampire, I'm not a vampire fan. I don't know if I can trust you, and you don't seem to know whether you're a good guy or not. You figure what the rope's for."

"Oh." He turned away and began to head in the direction she had indicated. "I suppose you've got a fair point. I could promise--"

"I don't take promises from vampires. Not unless I'm really sure that I can trust them." She frowned. "And that doesn't happen very often."

"Oh." Resignation mingled with the trepidation in his voice. "I see. Aren't you scared that I'll use my bloodsucking super-strength to break the ropes?" He frowned suddenly, glancing back at her over his shoulder. "Do I get super-strength if I'm not a proper vampire?"

"I don't know." She smirked. "But if you do, and you try using it, I'll stake you. So get moving."

"I'm moving." The sorrow and self-pity was beginning to creep back into his bearing, and she felt a moment's regret for her uncompromising attitude. Regret quickly gave way to frustration. She needed to talk to Giles. This whole night was turning into something very weird indeed.

**********

It was a very dishevelled Giles who opened the front door of his house, peered out at Buffy as though it were normal practice for her to report to him with a bound youth every night, and then nodded and stepped aside so that the pair could enter. Buffy pushed her charge ahead, watching him eagle-eyed as he took a bold, confident step forward, only to crash headlong into the invisible barrier that guarded the entrance to Giles' home. The former Watcher frowned.

"Is he...?"

"He is." Buffy shrugged. "Long story."

"Very probably." He frowned, clearly considering matters, then gave a small shrug and invited his unexpected guest to cross the threshold. The boy, now thoroughly confused, if looks were anything to go by, did as he was asked and wandered into the large front room. He stared about at the myriad books, the highly polished guitar and the dangling, rainbow-inspired crystals, and looked up at Giles with an odd kind of respect.

"This place is cool."

"I'm glad you approve." Giles' tone was guarded. "Er, Buffy..."

"I know." She threw herself into the nearest chair and put her cross down beside her. "He's a vampire, but he doesn't seem to be very... vampirey. Go figure."

"I beg your pardon?" The old expression of mild confusion, which had once been as much a part of Rupert Giles as his habitual tweeds, made a welcome return to his intelligent face. Buffy shrugged.

"He's a vampire, there's no denying that. I mean, you saw the doorway thing. He just doesn't seem to have his own personal demon installed inside him just yet. He's still himself."

"Still alive?" Peering what might have been dangerously closely at the boy, Giles frowned once again. "Still in possession of a soul?"

"I think so." The boy seemed a little overwhelmed by all of the attention. "I - I don't feel different. I - I mean, not entirely. I am different. I know I am. I felt something when she pointed that cross at me... It felt like I should be scared of it. And I know things. I know that I have to stay away from daylight." His eyes widened. "I love watching the sunrise. I love watching it set. I love walking in the sunshine. I can't do that anymore, can I."

"Apparently not." There was nothing else to say in answer to so plaintive a question. Giles lowered himself down into a seat, near enough to the boy to be able to study him, and yet far enough away to be out of reach should he prove to be more dangerous than he appeared. "I wouldn't recommend daylight, or garlic, or Holy water. Unless all of this is an act, in which case you're likely to encounter all three in pretty short order."

"I'm not acting." There was real frustration and anguish on the boy's face and in his voice. "I swear. I wouldn't... I mean..." He shook his head, eyes clouding once again with tears. "I just want to understand what's happening to me. I want to know. I have to know what I am."

"Yes. Of course you do." Giles looked convinced, which was enough for Buffy. She glanced up from her contemplation of her stake, and feigned a kind of interest.

"Book time?"

"For me, yes. I rather suspect that you have other places that you'd rather be?"

"I can bail?" She frowned, eyes straying to the rope-bound boy. "What about...?"

"I think I can handle him if needs be - and you do seem to have quite a way with knots." The one-time Watcher smiled fondly at her. "You go ahead. But if you should happen to run into Willow, you could suggest that her assistance might be appreciated in the morning." He frowned. "If you don't have any lectures that is."

"Full marks Giles. You remembered that we actually have classes on occasion. But no, nothing tomorrow. At least, Willow hasn't, 'cause she said so earlier. I don't actually remember if I do. Never could get the hang of the timetable thing."

"Hmm. I remember." Giles began to accompany her to the door. "I'll see you in the morning, yes? Oh and you might ask Willow to bring the book that she borrowed from me last week. I think it was something to do with ritual curses. It might be useful to us here."

"Sure." Her eyes trailed back to the boy, but he showed no signs of being dangerous. "You will, er..."

"Be careful?" He put his hand on her shoulder. "I shall be very careful, Buffy. I promise. But I do genuinely believe that that young man is telling us the truth."

"Me too." She was rather sheepish about it. "He looks so... so hopeless. Pathetic almost."

"Indeed." He gave a little shrug. "Like Spike perhaps, only somewhat less obnoxious."

"Or like Angel must have looked, in the early days after he was first cursed by the Calderash." It was a comparison that had begged to be made. Giles, however, made no comment on it, which Buffy found to be an odd relief. Instead the Watcher merely opened his front door.

"Be back here as soon as possible in the morning. Bring Xander as well if you can. More eyes make for lighter reading." He frowned. "Actually they usually don't, when one pair belongs to Xander... but I live in hope." She returned his smile and he gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

"We'll get to the bottom of this, Buffy."

"I hope so." She forced her eyes not to stray once again to the bound figure sitting huddled up in a chair on the other side of the room. She could sense his sorrowful dark eyes on her, and in her mind's eye could see his pale face, so young and apparently innocent, made all the more so by the wild tumble of short black curls, and the streak of shocking white. "Somehow I just... I just feel like we have to look after him."

"Yes." He followed her out into the arched passage, where the gentle breeze was playing a tune on the wind chimes. "I know what you mean. But maybe it'll look different in the morning."

"Maybe." She took a few steps away, then glanced back to make some further comment - but Giles had already gone. She was just in time to see the front door click shut, and she thought that she heard the rattle of the chain being slid into place. Giles was never the most security conscious of men, and she wasn't sure if that chain was a good omen or a bad one. She decided not to think about it. Instead she thought about all of the things that she had planned to do with the night. They had all gone now. All that she wanted was to go back to the dormitory, where she could curl up in her bed and close her eyes. Fun and parties seemed to have evaporated from her mind now; for all that she wanted was to sleep.

**********

Seven o'clock in the morning had always seemed, to Xander, to be a particularly unsociable hour. It was different, he reasoned, if you had to get up for school. There was that whole legal requirement thing for starters, and the tendency to make your parents very angry if you stayed in bed. Once school was a thing of the past, though, it followed that seven o'clock starts should also be consigned to the dustbin of history - unless, it seemed, you liked to hang out with a gang of vampire-busting, spell-casting university students. He wondered if Cordelia still had to drag herself out of bed at seven o'clock in the morning, in her new, downtown LA vampire-busting, spell-casting life - and then quashed the thought. He didn't want to think about Cordelia and beds in the same thought train. That particular combination just spelt 'ouch'.

"This is so amazing." Willow, as usual, sounded excited by the prospect of hours - possibly days - of extracurricular study. "I mean, okay, there was that whole Angel thing, but he was cursed, and - and that was years after his Becoming. This new guy sounds like something went wrong during the actual Becoming itself." She waved a hand in the air, growing increasingly excited as it became clear that she had just thought of something. "I wonder if Giles thought to look in Phenomena Of Transcendence Into Undeath."

"Sounds like some fun light reading." Xander raised an eyebrow. Was he really the only member of his circle who was still reading The X-Men? Buffy smirked.

"He's probably thought of everything, Will. I mean Giles does kind of live for books. All books, especially the spooky kind."

"I guess." Willow sighed rather heavily. "I miss the old days, when I could go into the library and find books he hadn't even got around to reading yet. These days all his new books go straight to his house, and he's already read them before I get near them. That way he has time to hide all the really interesting ones."

"Yeah, it's tough leaving the High School library behind you." Buffy raised a sardonic eyebrow, and then promptly wondered if she was beginning to develop a few too many of Giles' traits. "No more getting attacked by giant tentacled monsters when you're trying to have a quiet read... No more invasions of the Hellmouth incarnate from the depths of the chemistry section..."

"Hey, the library may have had its drawbacks - the Hellmouth being, admittedly, about as drawnback as you can get - but it had its cool points too." Xander frowned hard, trying to think of one. "We had many a groovy study party in that place."

"True." Buffy could think of many rather less happy moments, not the least of which was arriving far too late to prevent an attack by Drusilla and her minions, and finding Kendra on the floor, long since dead from blood loss. Somehow the safe old library had never seemed quite the same after that - and less so still after the evil Mayor had penetrated its sanctity, strolling in one day to confront the gang and swap idle insults. Blowing the place up had been almost a relief, even if only to a limited degree. "But now we get to do the groovy study party thing at Giles' place. Nearly as many books, much easier access to snacks."

Xander nodded. "But is it just me, or are the subjects we research these days getting hard to... well, research?"

"That's life in the fast lane." Buffy glanced up at the building that housed Giles' abode. "Maybe we're too early."

"We're never too early." Her enthusiasm giving no chance of further delay, Willow marched up to the door and rapped on the wood. There was the sound of scuffling from the other side, and the door was pulled wide open.

"Willow!" Giles looked surprised to see her, although the confusion was only momentary. "Hello. Buffy, Xander, come on in."

"Anybody would think you weren't expecting us." Buffy sauntered further into the room, drawn, as ever, to the pleasant feeling of similarity between her former Watcher's home and his one-time work place. Just as she had commented to Xander and Willow on the way over, there were almost as many books in Giles' house as there had been in the library at Sunnydale High, and there was the same darkness of colour and preponderance of polished wood. The weapons were there too, from the spare stakes to the well-oiled crossbow; from the vials of Holy water to the swords, staves and daggers that made up the rest of their arsenal.

"Of course I was expecting you." He followed her towards the living space, where the collection of furniture was at its most dense, and where today there was an even greater array of books than usual. They were piled on chairs and in teetering towers on the coffee table, vying for space with sheets of paper torn from notebooks, all bearing the ink marks of an increasingly erratic hand. "Take a seat. Feel free to take a book. Or several."

"Where's the house guest?" Expression cool and indifferent Buffy glanced about. She thought that she caught a glimpse of something in Giles' eyes - the hint of guilt, perhaps, as though he had been caught out. Abruptly her eyes switched to the kitchen, where a figure wandered into sight in the doorway. He was holding a bowl and a spoon, busily munching breakfast cereal as if food had not passed his lips in a week. His gaze met with that of Buffy, and a look flickered across his face that was almost identical to the guilty unease the Slayer had seen on the face of her mentor.

"Giles!" She was incensed, and it showed in her mere poise. "What's he doing free? And why is he wandering about the place eating Rice Krispies? He could have--"

"Buffy..." He held up his hands for silence, waiting patiently for her to quieten down. "He was no threat to me, and that was very obvious. As for the Rice Krispies... he was hungry, that's all. Spike used to enjoy Weetabix when he was staying with me."

"Yeah, but Spike is revolting. And he used to eat them with blood. Is weird guy here not a vampire after all?"

"I am." Swallowing a mouthful of cereal so quickly that he almost choked, the boy put the bowl down on the nearest available surface. "Giles says so. I'm just a... a different kind of vampire." Clearly he didn't understand this at all, but did not appear to be letting such a minor point bother him. He stepped towards her, right hand extended. "You're Buffy, aren't you. I'm sorry about last night. I should have introduced myself properly. My name is David Maxwell."

"Hi." The Slayer did not sound especially happy with the state of affairs, but nonetheless she accepted his introduction with good grace, and then turned to gesture towards her friends. "Xander and Willow. Friends." She said it as though she were emphasising a stranger's good intentions, to let a guard dog know who not to attack. David nodded a brief greeting.

"We didn't make much headway with the research last night. I got tired. I guess being turned into a vampire takes a lot out of you."

"Made plenty of headway in other areas though, didn't you." Still smarting from her discovery that David had been freed from his bonds, Buffy glared ferociously at Giles. "He could have killed you."

"But he didn't." Giles tried to continue with his protestations of innocence, but Buffy merely glared all the harder.

"And how do I know that? For all I know, he turned you last night, and you're demon Giles now. You might just be waiting to put on your game face, so you can take a bite as soon as I turn my back." He raised an eyebrow in amused reprove, which was as much proof as she would ever have needed to be sure that he really was still Giles. Exasperation flooded her. "Oh, you know what I mean. You shouldn't have untied him. Not without me here."

"I know." He shrugged. "But he looked innocent. I have instincts too, Buffy. Every so often they even work. I knew that I could trust him, and it didn't seem fair - or sensible - to leave him tied up when there was so much reading to be done. I thought that he could be useful, and - and he was. We were able to get through twice the material that I-I'd have been able to look at on my own."

"Oh!" Willow immediately looked excited again. "Did you check Phenomena Of Transcendence Into Undeath?"

"I did." David made a face. "It took me half the night. I only understood about one sentence in four, and then the whole of the middle section was in Latin. I swapped with Giles in the end. I decided that Read It Yourself Witchcraft was probably more my line."

"Nonsense. You were very useful." Giles waved at the book in question, sitting on a chair all by itself, and taking up most of the seat. It was a leather-bound book of gargantuan proportions, with gold leaf on the cover, and pages that were gilt-edged. A long, tasselled scarlet bookmark poked out between two pages, waving its dangling end in the faint crosswind. Buffy had to wonder how Willow managed to make headway with such a volume, especially given her sizeable studying workload. It made her own repeatedly delayed attempts to read the set texts look rather hopeless in comparison.

"So basically we're still looking at an all-day seminar?" The Slayer hefted the large book in her arms, startled by its weight even with her super-strength to help balance the top heavy tome. Giles nodded.

"I've looked at all of the, er, the curses I could find, and I-I really don't think that it's what we're dealing with here. This is more like an accident, or perhaps even some kind of natural immunity - and if that's the case, we need to know about it. It could be a powerful weapon."

"Maybe." Buffy didn't sound convinced, but then in most of the cases that she came across, those who were turned into vampires invariably wanted the change. Finding a way to prevent it wasn't going to save the hundreds of innocent people who were devoured annually, by marauding vampires looking for a quick meal. "Okay, point me at a book I guess. What have we got to choose from?"

"Oh, er, any number of texts actually." Giles spoke with the guarded enthusiasm he had come to use whenever Buffy professed an interest in a subject. Usually her interest was almost entirely false, for she never seemed to share his genuine desire to investigate the written word. "I thought perhaps you might like to start with this one. Er... Tenets Of Mystical Belief, by um, by an American author writing in the nineteenth century. It's a little dry in places, but it does have its more interesting moments. It's a diary of his observations of vampire behaviour, and, er, h-he did actually witness a Becoming, in - in 1876. Might be useful."

"Roll on lunch break." Throwing herself onto a relatively book-free chair, Buffy curled her legs up underneath her, collected up a soft looking cushion that happened to be lying nearby, and lifted her assigned text. It smelt musty, and several of the pages appeared to have been stained by ancient inky fingers. The words had clearly been created by printing press, but the font used was so much like some curly and ostentatious handwriting that it was almost impossible to read. She leaned closer to it, frowning at the old-fashioned letters and unaccustomed grammar. And to think that she could be in a lecture right now. She scowled. What depth of choice her enthralling life did provide.

"Willow?" Giles was still handing out books, hunting them out from the piles on the tables and chairs. Clouds of dust rose from some of the older volumes as he walked amongst them. Xander coughed, trying to hide his growing trepidation. Suddenly he was thinking of many, many places that he would rather be in - not least of which was scraping chewing gum off the stools at the bar where he sometimes worked. It had definite points in its favour, especially when compared with fighting through books he could barely lift. "Here. Mythology, Magic And Mysticism, curious little oddity from 1752. I think you might enjoy chapter seven, although, er, some other time perhaps. It's about young witches, and ways in which they can develop their power." He frowned. "When properly assisted by those who are older and wiser, of course."

"Of course." She took the book, opening it at its first page. "It's signed by the author. Cool."

"Signed by the author in 1925. Not so cool." Giles had one of his semi-mock serious expressions on. "He became a vampire. Was eventually staked, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, if legend is to be believed. Shame actually, he writes really rather well."

"Remind me only to Slay illiterate vampires from now on," Buffy piped up from her chair. Giles raised an eyebrow, but declined to comment.

"Xander, you'd best try this one. It's rather simplistic, but I'm hoping that could be its forte. It's called, er... oh, here it is. It's called Birth Of A Vampire."

"I get the simplistic one. Just listen to the faith in my reading ability." Xander took the book and sat down on the thick rug that covered part of the floor. "What does our latest tame vampire get to read? Or do we get to do gruesome experiments on him instead? Do you still have that Play Medicine kit you used to have at Junior High, Will?"

"He's joking." Giles had spied the alarmed look on David's face, and glared daggers at an unrepentant Xander. "Here. Read this, and see if anything rings any bells. Anything at all that might shed any light on what happened to you, from things that ZoŽ said, to - to things that she did... even atmospheric conditions, or other things that might have been going on around you. Any other people you saw."

"Okay." Taking the book, David flipped through the first few pages. They were twice as thick as the pages of an ordinary book, coloured a dull yellow and curled at the edges. He blanched. "Yuck. This isn't vellum is it. Because if it is..."

"Hmm?" Giles, who already appeared to be engrossed in the pages of at least two books of his own, glanced up in momentary confusion. "What? Oh. No, it's not vellum. It is skin though. Um... human skin actually. Stretched very tight, and written on an ink made from crushed charcoal and beetlejuice. It was written by a man incarcerated in Bedlam. He became aware that some of those in charge of the place were part of a particularly deadly coven, but of course no one would listen to him. In the end he used the skin of the coven's victims to write a book cataloguing their acts of depravity, and listing everything that he learnt about their practices, and the evil company that they kept. The last few pages were written on his own skin, after his work was discovered and the coven began subjecting him to the most unimaginable tortures." He frowned. "So I'd, er, I'd skip the last chapter if I were you. Bit on the voyeuristic side. Just stick to the earlier sections."

"He wrote a book on his own skin?" Buffy, who had been listening to the tale with undisguised revulsion, looked as though she were about to be violently sick. "And the winner of the Grossness Award of the Year goes to..."

"Can I ask exactly how you come to own some of these books, Giles? I mean, what kind of a book club is it that you belong to?" Xander, clearly, was fully in agreement with Buffy and her evident distaste. Giles glared.

"If it's really of any relevance to the subject at hand, the book found its way into my grandmother's library thanks to her uncle, who was an archaeologist. He dug it up in 1914. Legend has it that, er, that the coven tried to destroy it, but the author had thrown up such remarkable spells of protection that even liquid fire proved incapable of damaging the pages. In the end they apparently buried it, alongside the author himself. My grandmother's uncle found him too." He winced slightly, indicating clearly that the find had not been a pleasant one, and that he was not going to go into details. "Now if that's everybody's inquisitiveness dealt with, we do have a completely different subject to think about."

"What happened to the coven?" Willow, who had not glanced up from her book, had obviously been listening in too. Giles sighed.

"They were never discovered, or identified. As far as I'm aware, they got clean away. There were reports of six mysterious women seen at a field hospital at Flanders in 1917, but nothing concrete. It depends on their degree of mortality I suppose, or on whether they had apprentices or descendants. And anyway..."

"Yeah. We know." Buffy was smirking teasingly. "It's irrelevant." She sighed and turned her attentions back to her allotted text. "If rather more interesting than mystical beliefs in America in 1876. Isn't it snack time yet?"

"Buffy..." Giles didn't bother to glare - his words did that for him. The Slayer sighed.

"I know, I know." She flipped over another page, and began to read from the top line, through lists of unexplained events and curious sightings. Most of it read like an average week in Sunnydale, and none of it seemed even remotely helpful. She read it anyway. You never knew what might turn out to be useful in the end.

**********

"Ow." Xander's left leg had gone to sleep, and his right arm, he now discovered to his consternation, no longer seemed to be speaking to the rest of his body. He tried stretching it, but it protested loudly. "Ouch, ow, ow, ow, ouch." He massaged his stiffening neck with his still mostly serviceable left hand, and then glanced about at the rest of the room. His throat was dry from too much silence, and his eyelids felt heavy. "That's three books. I've read three books, and now I want a break."

"Hear hear." Unfolding herself with difficulty from her armchair, Buffy stretched out her legs and threw her books aside. She had long since finished with Tenets Of Mystical Belief, and had moved on, through two other volumes of similar subject matter, to a short paperback of oddly modern and commercial appearance, called merely Blood. It had been published, she had discovered, in 1952, and was the diary of a British priest on a walking holiday through Eastern Europe at the dawn of the Cold War. "Somebody fetch me some caffeine before my head caves in."

"I'll go." David was on his feet before Giles had even looked up from the comprehensive spread of mammoth texts he appeared to be in the midst of reading. Five or six of them were spread across his desk, their dusty pages showing faded print, scrawled hand-written notes and awkward line drawings of a selection of demons and monsters.

"Hmm?" Raising his head momentarily, Giles watched David disappear into the kitchen. "Oh. Is it that time already?"

"It's past noon Giles. We've been here since seven." Buffy gave another long stretch and then stood up, stamping her feet in an attempt to annihilate the pins and needles currently threatening to engulf her legs. "I think I need doughnuts. Preferably lots of them, with sugar and chocolate and anything else that's going. I may also need ice cream, if this day gets any longer. Sugar staves off the book allergy."

"I think I may have some biscuits in the kitchen." Giles shrugged at her disparaging stare. "Well I'm not all that used to company during my research periods. These days you lot are usually off doing something else."

"I could sneak into the high school and get something from the canteen." Xander glanced about, unperturbed by the distinctly unimpressed looks he was receiving. "What? Study-buddying calls for high school canteen food. It's a tradition thing. My brain requires inedible food in order to function."

"Somebody mention food?" As the sound of a loud crash signalled the slamming of the front door, the inordinately cheery tones of Spike rang through the room. Hurried footsteps suggested a hasty, foot-smouldering entrance, and the vampire, draped in his usual daytime coverlet of moth-eaten blanket, erupted into the midst of the book-strewn living room. As ever there had been no preliminary warning of his entrance, for naturally he ignored the custom of door-knocking. Willow had still been lost in her reading, and at the sudden interruption she gave a violent start.

"Spike!" Gaining control, she let out a long breath. "I thought for a moment..."

"What? That it was somebody dangerous?" Buffy glared at the vampire, her irritation and general dislike rather diminished by her curiosity. "What are you doing here? Isn't it a bit sunny out there? Or did you decide to do us all a favour and see if you could end it all?"

"Very funny." Sweeping a pile of books onto the floor he threw himself into a chair, lifting up his feet to drop them on top of the coffee table. Another pile of books slid onto the floor as his boots knocked them skidding aside. "Actually I was doing you a favour. Being a team player."

"Meaning that something was threatening you?" Giles was as disparaging towards the 'de-fanged' vampire as was the Slayer, and it often amused Buffy to see just how Spike managed to bring out the sarcastic side of her Watcher friend. She smirked. Spike glared.

"Big thing. Ghosty. Sort of... walking shadow, but without legs. Dark and scary, but not at all hairy; about five feet top to bottom, 'cept it was floating about two feet off the ground. It dropped by for a visit earlier, just before daybreak. Growled a lot."

"A big dark thing that floated?" Giles put on his thoughtful face, apparently intrigued. "Let me think... no, I have to conclude that I don't care. Come back if real people are in danger. Goodbye." He made a big show of picking up the nearest book and beginning to read it. Spike stood up, walked over to the desk, and forcibly removed the book.

"Listen. Big scary thing. Hellmouth. Weigh the two together, see if you make something important." He sighed. "I didn't have to come here today you know. I could have stayed at home. Scary shadowy thing disappeared when the sun came up." He frowned. "Well actually it growled a lot first, and floated around quite a bit, and then there was like this big rush of heat and it vanished. Took out part of my wall, and the sunlight nearly toasted my feet." He pointed to his right boot, which showed clear signs of smoke damage. "So I thought I'd come round here and report in, and maybe help save the innocent citizens of Sunnydale from yet another dastardly menace. I could have stayed home and watched TV."

"And I'm sure we all appreciate your new sense of community spirit. Some of us may even ignore the fact that mortal fear prevents you from coming to visit us during the day unless you're totally petrified." Buffy was never especially disposed to be kind towards Spike, but for him to pretend that general good feeling had brought him to visit in the middle of the day was insult enough to make her more harsh than normal. Just the fact that he had contrived to appear casual as he had entered the house was not reason enough for her to believe that he was being honest about his visitor not being any kind of a threat.

"Well somebody got out of bed on the wrong side this morning." Spike was grinning, the chance of a shot at some verbal venom - the only kind he could throw at the Slayer for the time being - brightening his spirits no end. "Or was it something to do with who you got out of bed with?" As if on cue there was the sound of footsteps from the kitchen, and everybody looked immediately towards David. The boy had just appeared with a tray bearing mugs of coffee, and looked decidedly thrown at the sudden attention he was receiving. He hesitated on the threshold, his eyes drawn towards Spike with a clear measure of uncertainty showing within them. Buffy wondered if vampires had some in-built way of telling when another of their kind was nearby.

"Hey David." She tried to lighten her tone to put him more at his ease. "This is Spike. He's our care in the community basket-case."

"David?" Spike was eyeing the new arrival with undisguised suspicion. "Have I met you before?"

"I don't think so." Perhaps it was Spike's pale complexion that had stirred David's suspicions, for he looked straightaway towards Giles. "Is he...?"

"Unfortunately, yes." Giles smirked. "But don't worry, he doesn't bite. Spike here met with a little accident at the hands of some not-so-friendly neighbourhood commandos. They took his..."

"Manliness?" offered Buffy. Spike growled. Giles considered for a moment.

"I was going to say 'potency', but yours is better." He shared a grin with the Slayer. Spike threw himself back into his chair.

"One of these days..." He let the threat trail off, for there did not appear to be any quick route to making such threats happen. David frowned.

"You have a pet vampire? I kind of assumed I was unique."

"You are. You don't want to hurt people. Spike does, he just can't quite manage it." It was Xander's turn to put in a shot, and then smirk at the irate vampire's evident anger. "Sorry Spike. Can't seem to help it."

"I shouldn't have come." Spike chose to ignore the chorus of nods. "Look, I did actually come here to do the help thing. Is anybody going to share my concern that there's some big floaty, growly thing out there that likes blasting holes in people's walls?"

"Actually, yes." Giles stood up, directing David into his chair and taking the tray. He handed around the coffee and disappeared into the kitchen momentarily to fetch the promised biscuits, and also a bottle of beer for Spike. Perhaps it was a peace offering, or perhaps it was just a proven method of shutting the vampire up. Either way Spike accepted it as though it were nectar of the gods. "Whilst it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, it really doesn't surprise me that there should be such a manifestation. It, er, it would seem to fit in with our current situation, if not exactly explain it. Just for the record, Spike, do you happen to know of a vampire named ZoŽ? Possibly a local, looks about eighteen or nineteen in human years."

"ZoŽ?" Spike made a face that was obviously an answer in the affirmative. "Sure I know ZoŽ. Freaky little vixen. Likes to cut up and run, in the very literal sense. Makes a hell of a mess when she feeds. Likes to play with her food too, almost as much as Drusilla..." His voice trailed off as he began to look sorrowful and reflective. Buffy nudged him with her foot to start him off again, but apparently he had finished. "Why do you ask? She the latest enemy of the people?"

"She tried to turn David last night. In the early hours of the evening, in an alleyway just past that little magic shop your weird girlfriend used to like buying potions from." Buffy had slipped into action mode, the fatigue from hours of study slipping away with every sip of her powerful coffee. Spike took a long pull on his beer.

"I remember that place." He laughed. "Once Dru bought this potion there - bright green it was, fizzed something terrible. One mouthful and your stomach would explode. Made a hell of a mess, but Dru seemed to like it." He gave a contemplative sigh. "Then Angelus came back from the realm of tortured immortal good guys, and suddenly it wasn't so much fun anymore." He shrugged. "Still, happy days. You have no idea how much fun it can be, dragging some unexpecting bank manager down into your lair, and feeding him fizzy green stuff to make his stomach explode. They used to look so surprised..." He caught the ferocity of Buffy's glare, and sighed. "Yeah, I know. Nice fluffy stories only. Blood and guts make the Slayer an unhappy bunny." He slapped his wrist in mock contrition. "Where was I? Oh yeah. ZoŽ. You say she tried to turn this kid into a vampire? I can't see her failing. She's the efficient type. Gory, but efficient. I've seen her take apart whole rooms full of you walking blood bags."

"Well one way or another she definitely failed - to a degree at least." Giles sipped his coffee thoughtfully for a moment, oblivious to the fact that everybody was waiting on his next word with bated breath. "He is a vampire, to all intents and purposes - we did some experiments last night, he and I, and he can't tolerate any kind of Holy symbol, although his repulsion d-doesn't seem as marked as, er, as that of a more ordinary vampire. Certain scriptures repel him, and his blood is no longer entirely human. I imagine that sunlight would pose a-a threat to him, although we haven't tried it... Holy water hurts him, but doesn't seem to cause any serious damage. He has no killing instinct though, and appears to be unable to make the metamorphosis into the, er - well, Buffy likes to refer to it as the 'game face'. I have to imagine that ordinary food will no longer sustain him, but he apparently has no thirst for blood."

"You're kidding." Spike looked disgusted. "Kid, take it from me, you do not want to be toothless out on those streets. It's a free for all pick-and-mix, all shapes and sizes. This is the restaurant town of the west for our kind. Bloodsville, with gore to go." He smacked his lips. "You can't tell me it doesn't sound even a little bit tempting?"

"I'm sorry." The failure to wish to tear throats out seemed an odd thing to apologise for, but David sounded apologetic nonetheless. "It just isn't my thing. I've been a vegetarian since I was four years-old, and to be honest eating any kind of blood is..." He looked faintly green. "I don't want to try it, that's all."

"You're a vegetarian." Spike sounded stunned. "Okay, not a problem. You can learn to love it. Just make your first kill, Davey. You'll never look back. The warm, sweet blood, the scent of a neck so close to your mouth... The thrill, the excitement; the fear of your victim driving you onward..." He sighed, evidently missing it all greatly. "It's gotta stir something inside you. Wake up to your inner demon, man. Feel the darkness. Don't give me any of that 'I've got a soul', crap. I had enough of that with Angel the Nancy-Boy."

"Sorry." David gave a vague-looking shrug. "I just... don't feel hungry I guess."

"You need to feel hungry?" Spike gestured at Buffy. "Just look. Soft neck, young blood. Doesn't it just get you drooling with anticipation?"

"Er..." David had blushed a violent shade of red. "Actually I, er..." He gestured helplessly, leaving Giles to come gallantly to his rescue.

"We were talking about ZoŽ," he interjected firmly. Spike sighed.

"Yeah. ZoŽ. Well she's the efficient sort. About four hundred years old I think. She claims to remember the black Death anyway; 1666 and all that. Hungry time for vampires. Plague victims don't exactly make a tasty meal. Anyway, she once told me that she had turned a whole army, or a section of it at any rate. Twenty-seven men, one after the other. She set them all against an immortal enemy of hers, name of Fitzgerald. He was a warlock of some kind - human dealing in the dark side of whatever, you know the score. She won anyway, turned all of Fitzgerald's supporters that she could get her fangs into. Legend has it that that couple of days saw more new vampires born upon the Earth than at any time since the original demon dimension parted company with this one.

"Black Yuletide." Giles seemed to be conversant with this topic, and waved a finger in the air to signify his triggered memory. "Yes yes yes... um... a female vampire of, um, reputedly ancient strength turned sixty-three men in less than forty-eight hours. The vampires descended on a nearby town and massacred the inhabitants - two thousand men, women and children in the space of a few hours. After that they, they parted company and spread out into the world. Most travelled towards the west, where there was a higher concentration of, um, of edible citizens. Some twenty-seven arrived on the coasts of Britain on the same day... January 3rd, 1787. Fortunately the Slayer was on hand at the time. The Watcher of the day was an ancestor of mine. I think I have his diary somewhere."

"Er... maybe another time, Giles." Buffy had to smile at this sudden enthusiasm. Her Watcher frowned, and then nodded.

"Yes. Yes of course. At any rate I-I would never have connected that vampire with ZoŽ, here and today. My ancestor's accounts of the incident don't mention any names; just places and details. He does, however, mention a curse placed upon the vampire - ZoŽ - by Fitzgerald."

"And that's why she couldn't turn me properly?" David had followed this conversation with close interest, although not without a little difficulty and confusion. Buffy could sympathise. She remembered when she had first been called upon to believe the tales of vampires, demons and magicians, and allowed herself a little smile. Poor old Merrick. She had thought that her first Watcher was a madman, given to dangerous hallucinations. Perhaps David was struggling with much the same thoughts now - although he didn't appear to be nearly as bewildered as some might have been in his position.

"She's turned people since. Has quite a reputation for it." Spike sounded quite enamoured. "Most of us just kill for food, but she reckons she turns about one in three of everybody she attacks. She goes for young guys. Reckons they make better vampires. It's a hormonal thing." He frowned at the now pacing ex-Watcher. "You reckon that's what the growly shadow thing was, don't you."

"Great." Xander sounded unimpressed. "Now even the dead guy has it figured out. Would somebody like to tell me?"

"Hmm?" Giles paused in his pacing, swung around to face Xander, hesitated, frowned, and then resumed his pacing once again. "Yes. Quite."

"Quite what?" Buffy's prompt was amused but firm, and Willow had to stifle a giggle. Giles was still frowning.

"Consider." He sounded like a college professor about to descend into some complex theorem, and Buffy wondered if she was going to regret having pressed the point. "A boy-" here he nodded at David by way of illustration- "attacked late at night by a vampire, who plans to turn him into one of her own. Now something happens, and the boy remains human - to an extent at least - retaining enough of himself to prevent the vampire from taking over his form."

"So where did the vampire go?" Willow was sitting upright, hands clasped tightly around the book she had been reading. Xander and Buffy eyed her with a familiar look of faint envy, and she blushed slightly. "I mean, if David isn't a vampire, but isn't a human either, the change must have started to take place. So if a vampire came out of hell to take over David's body, and then couldn't take it over.... where did it go after that?"

"Precisely!" Giles sounded like a proud tutor revelling in the brilliance of a favoured pupil. "And I suspect that that is exactly what our, er... our 'growly, shadowy thing' is likely to be. A formless demon, cheated of its promised shell. It can't get back into the demon dimension without the proper gateway being open, and therefore it has no choice but to wander."

"Is it dangerous?" Buffy didn't like the idea of a vampire that was more cloud than being. It would be harder to fight, and therefore harder to destroy - and it would also be considerably more lethal given its ability to disappear. Giles shook his head.

"I'm afraid I have no idea, Buffy. I've never encountered anything like it before, and I've never heard of anything like it either. I wouldn't know where to start looking in terms of research."

"Try my place," Spike muttered, "as soon as it gets dark. Bloody thing looked like it was moving in for the duration."

"That's not quite what I meant, and at any rate I--" Giles broke off. "What did you say?"

"That it was..." Spike trailed off. "Oh."

"You said it had vanished." Buffy rose to her feet, doing her best to tower menacingly. It was not easy, since she was considerably smaller than Spike; but she had long ago learnt to use to great effect what little height she did have. Spike, who was so pale skinned as to make blanching well nigh impossible, managed to turn himself a little paler still.

"Well I might have lied a bit. Bloody hell, woman; did you think I'd come round here in the middle of the day if everything was peachy?" He scowled around at the sea of angry faces. "Okay! Look, I feel just terrible about lying to you all. Honest."

"Just talk, Spike." Giles had ceased his thoughtful pacing, and stood now with his arms folded, a thunderous frown showing starkly on his forehead. Spike sighed.

"Okay. I was sitting in my crypt, minding my own business - reading a newspaper actually. I like to keep up to date on what goes on in the world - anyway, there's this... fuzzy feeling in the air, and all of a sudden this cloudy thing appears. Big, dark, no legs... all growl and shadow. Actually, now I think about it, it did kind of look like the Toothless Wonder over there. Anyhow, it was trying on the tough guy act - like some big, floating night-club bouncer or something. I fought it off, it disappeared, and I figured I was safe - with the sun coming up and all - but then it came back. It started bouncing about the place, blasting holes in the walls. It was getting pretty dodgy, sunlight wise, so I decided it was time to go seek out the cavalry." He scowled. "Not that the cavalry was very helpful."

"Can you blame us?" Buffy sounded outraged, as well as incredulous, but Spike merely glared in his usual, now ineffectual manner.

"For all I know, that thing was trying to take my body, since it couldn't seem to find its own; and I don't think much of that idea. I like my body the way it is with me in it. I like the way I make the hair stick up." He rose to his feet, trying in vain to intimidate Buffy; but had to give up when his implant caused him to wince in pain. He sat back down again, looking miserable, and took a swig of beer to help wash away his sorrows. "What's your problem, anyway? You're supposed to help people."

"If it found you before, maybe it can find you again. You have a microchip in your head, which for all we know can be sensed on a paranormal level - electrical signals have been known to attract certain demonic life forms." Giles frowned. "It may be that that chip makes you a possible candidate for possession. Perhaps this bodiless vampire focussed in on you, and realised that it could take you over, in place of the body it had lost."

"Oh great." Spike looked even less happy than before.

"Yeah. Especially if you've led that thing to David." Buffy's scowl was of a ferocity that Spike could only dream of matching these days. He glared at her.

"It's daylight. There's nothing it can do."

"If it can appear in your crypt the way it said it did, it's probably capable of some form of instant transportation. Since it appears to lack any real solidity, I-I'd say that's very likely, wouldn't you? It needn't so much as set eyes - should it have them - on daylight. Or moonlight for that matter." Giles sounded just as incensed as Buffy. Lately he seemed to be taking any sign of apparent betrayal on Spike's part as an almost personal insult - as though he expected some kind of solidarity from a fellow Englishman. Spike, however, was unrepentant.

"Well so what if it did follow me here? At least it'll get its proper body, and won't come scrounging round after mine." He glared at David. "Stupid kid can't get himself turned properly, causing trouble for everybody. He'll feel better with a few gallons of warm blood in his stomach, and then we can all go home. You can stake him if it makes you feel better. I don't care. Just as long as I don't get pushed out of my body by some growling cloud with an attitude problem. I'm a hundred and twenty-six. I have squatter's rights."

"You do until I stake you." Buffy had drawn her favoured weapon, the stout Mr Pointy given to her what seemed like centuries ago by her fellow Slayer Kendra. Spike held up his hands.

"You do and you'll never defeat growly guy, and it'll take over your boy's body for sure. Not that I want to boast or anything..." he grinned in his customary manner, just to prove the inherent lack of truth in this claim, "but I reckon I'm providing a pretty heroic service just by being in Sunnydale right now. If it can't get what's-his-name over there, it's going to go for me, and if there's no me, there's no distractions. It'll home in on David, and your sweet little vegetarian will bite the dust." He smirked, but Buffy seemed unconvinced.

"Yeah? I'm just not buying this, Spikey. It all spells out 'big fat lie', and I think we've had enough lying for one day. It's stake or run, and since I'm the one with the stake, I'd suggest you start doing the running."

"Yeah?" Spike sat up straight in his chair, anger and defiance beginning to bubble over, and hiding the cocksure smirk of before. "Your Watcher's never heard of anything like this, but I have. Age has its advantages you know. I might just be able to help deal with this thing." He folded his arms in an unconscious imitation of Giles' own stance. "You need me. This isn't something that you can stake, or defeat with crosses and Holy water. It doesn't have any form that can be attacked. You can't stake it unless it gets itself a body, and it's not going to settle for just any one of those. I'm assuming that you'd prefer it if it didn't take Davey here, and I'm not planning on letting it take me. That means we have to tackle it as it is." His smirk came back out for an encore. "You do want to tackle it, right?"

"Save the gloating, Spike." Giles sat down rather slowly, staring at his cup of coffee as though wondering how it had found its way into his hands. "I suppose we need some kind of a battle plan."

"Yeah. We go to the crypt, we find the cloud guy, I waste the cloud guy, and then we all go home." Buffy toyed with Mr Pointy. "Any objections?"

"Only a few." Giles had to smile at her determination. "Number one being that we don't actually know how to, er... to 'waste' this presence. Certainly staking it is unlikely to have any effect."

"Staking David might work." Spike suggested it with a malicious gleam in his eye. David looked uncertainly from Buffy to Giles, but neither seemed much inclined to offer him anything like reassurance. It was left to Willow to smile pleasantly at him, and to Xander to offer him another biscuit, which was pure distilled comfort as far as Xander was concerned. After all, the biscuits were made almost entirely from chocolate.

"Staking David is not an option." It was a belated comment from Giles, but a happy one nonetheless, at least from David's point of view. The boy looked decidedly relieved, and turned back to his coffee and biscuits with new gusto. He had not mentioned it so far, but he was beginning to realise that no matter how many biscuits he ate, there was no end to his growing hunger. He eyed the rest of the packet with mournful eyes, and thought about his recommended diet of blood. The two really did not compare.

"What about ZoŽ?" He had no real desire to run into the vampire again, but he could think of no other alternatives. "She might know something. She might even know why I didn't turn properly."

"She might. But it's doubtful that she would tell us anything." Giles looked at Buffy as though communicating by silent thought. She frowned.

"I could try to make her talk, but if Spike's right about her being the tough kind, I don't know that it would work. She'd probably die before she'd spill the beans."

"I could talk to her." David didn't sound at all certain, nor even remotely enthusiastic, but evidently felt that he should make the offer anyway. Buffy smiled and shook her head.

"She might know that you haven't turned properly, or she might guess when she sees you. She'd probably just stake you herself as soon as you get close enough. If anybody's going to talk to ZoŽ, it'll have to be me."

"I guess." David stared dolefully at his cooling coffee. "I feel pretty useless right now. It must be cool to be a Slayer. Better than being half a vampire, with no taste for blood."

"Slaying has its drawbacks, believe me." She glanced around at her friends, all loyal companions whose lives had been put in terrible danger on more than one occasion, just because of her unique calling. "Um... how much did Giles tell you last night?"

"About what?" He was playing with his coffee mug as though only half paying attention to her. Willow frowned.

"I think Buffy means about being the Slayer. It doesn't sound like Giles to have mentioned that bit to a stranger."

"Hmm?" The mention of his name dragged Giles back from whichever reverie had claimed his attention this time, but seeing no immediate call for his presence he turned back to his books. He was scanning through them with distant eyes, clearly on the hunt for a reference to a bodiless vampire. Spike hung over his shoulder, pointing out things of no earthly relevance, and suggesting at any number of potential leads and likely blind alleys.

"Giles didn't tell me anything about you last night." David was frowning, surprised by the sudden attention. Even Xander was watching him closely now, his previously genial expression hidden behind unexpected suspicion. "You haven't exactly hidden what you are..."

"I didn't exactly point it out, either." She eyed him with a hard look that was part anger, part lingering trust. "So how did you know?"

"I'm not some innocent, Buffy. I do know about vampires. Remember that I've just turned into one - nearly - and haven't once asked whether or not that's possible. I didn't give you any of that 'vampires don't really exist' rubbish, did I. I haven't questioned anything you people have said here today. I may not know as much as you do, but I certainly know a lot more than most of the locals seem to."

"Which leads us to a whole different question." Xander's suspicions now showed in his voice, lending a harshness to his words that had once been reserved solely for matters relating to Angel. "Who are you, and what are you doing in Sunnydale? You're certainly no local."

"True enough." David glanced around at the little group - at Willow, quiet and unassuming, and yet extremely attentive - at Buffy, standing before him with her arms folded, and Mr Pointy gripped noticeably in one hand - at Xander, doing his best to appear intimidating, clearly acting on some long held desire to be in a position to protect Buffy and Willow - and at Giles and Spike, beginning to take an interest in the unfolding events once again, as they emerged from an argument about whether or not Spike was still going to be in possession of his head by the end of the afternoon... The boy sighed.

"I'm a Watcher." He said it in a curiously offhand manner, as though it were the most normal thing in all of the world - and, in this little group, it very likely was. "Or at least I sort of am. I will be, when I'm older. I was supposed to be doing a tour of some of the undead hotspots of the world, with my mentor Gerard Kingsley, but he was killed by a vampire in New Orleans, and I decided to continue on my own. I couldn't face going back home so soon, and Mr Kingsley had been quite adamant that I should see Sunnydale. ZoŽ met me at the edge of the town, and claimed to be a Watcher..." He shrugged. "Well it's not as if we have a tattoo, or a secret handshake or something. I didn't know. She showed me around over the next couple of nights; gave me a great time. I've spent my whole life in boarding schools, and she..." He blushed, momentarily losing the pallor that had been creeping steadily over his skin. "Well. She showed me a good time, anyway. Then on the third night she took me to that alleyway where Buffy found me, and she tried to turn me. I didn't see what she was doing until it was too late. I'm sorry if you think I should have told you all of this earlier, but you are the first Slayer ever to secede from the authority of the Council, and I didn't think you'd be pleased to know the truth. And Giles... well he's pretty famous in Watcher circles, and he's known for his... discomfort with Watcher hierarchy." He summoned up a little smile at this remarkable feat of tact. "I thought it was best to keep quiet. My status as a Watcher-in-training has no bearing on why I was able to avoid becoming a true vampire. Watchers aren't immune to turning; not by any means. As far as I know it's happened twice just in the course of the twentieth century."

"Three times." Giles closed his book with a snap. "The first is something you'll probably not learn about until your glorious leaders consider that you've learnt everything else." He didn't elaborate - and Buffy did not fail to notice his use of the word 'your' rather than 'our'. "You should have told me this earlier, David. Just because the Council and I have experienced a slight... schism... is no reason to have kept the truth from me. I wouldn't have held it against you. It's not your fault that you are what you are, after all. None of us has any say over that." He pulled off his glasses, rubbing heavily at his eyes, and then equally heavily at the glasses themselves with a cloth that had lain on the desk. "ZoŽ clearly knew what you were, and we have to assume that that was why she took an interest. Quite why is anybody's guess."

"Maybe he's just somebody that she liked the look of? It does happen." Buffy smirked at the memory of a tale once told, practically in the strictest confidence. "That time Xander got mobbed by every woman in Sunnydale; Drusilla wanted to turn him then." She had to grin at Xander's discomfort, and also at Spike's clear jealousy. Giles raised an eyebrow, showing that this story was new to him at least.

"Possible." He looked towards Spike. "What do you think?"

"Suddenly I'm the expert giving consultations?" Spike scowled at him, still smarting from the reference to his beloved Drusilla, and her interest in another man - and, of all people, Xander at that. "ZoŽ doesn't do that kind of thing. She isn't interested in... the ways of the flesh." A lascivious grin escaped him. "Vampires don't do love. It's a human emotion - a soul thing. You can't be truly evil if you love somebody." His voice trailed off slightly, as though he were realising some admission that he might have been making in saying such things. "She's never even looked at a man or a woman in that way, for at least the past four hundred years."

"Then that's another theory thrown out the window." Buffy was feeling decidedly restless. "And meantime, the day's wasting. We should be looking for the shadow monster, not talking about who ZoŽ The Vampire fancies most. Say the word Giles. I want to go hunting."

"You don't need my say so any more Buffy." He toyed with his glasses, deep in thought. "Supposing we split into two teams. Buffy, Willow and Xander can seek out the - the, er... bodiless vampire... and in the meantime Spike and David and I will... look for other alternatives." He frowned, for it was one of the least inspiring plans yet. "Or perhaps we could look for ZoŽ?"

"No." Buffy was adamant. "Nobody tackles vampires but me. You stay here, where there's plenty to defend yourself in case the shadow comes to you. I think it's best if David stays here too. You can look for something to use to get rid of this thing, whatever it is. Maybe Will can help best here as well, and Xand and I can take Anya to boost our numbers. She's always up for a fight."

"I'm coming with you." Willow, who had put in several years as Giles' head research assistant, was determined to use her time now to more practical effect. "I might be useful. I could use some magic. I've been working on a binding spell." Her eyes sought out Giles for a sign of approval, for she was aware that he knew much more about such things than he would ever admit to - even if his experience was more in the dark arts than in those that were her growing speciality. "We've been using St John's Wort for calming, and Tara even has a way to use hazel against a magical foe without letting it effect our own powers. Well, actually that one's more in the pipeline, but it's a pretty good theory."

"Not much use against a vampire though." Giles had to smile at her enthusiasm. "Willow is right, Buffy. She has enough of a practical knowledge of magic now to be of some use in a potential conflict, even if it's only to cause a distraction."

"Yeah. I could do that." Willow nodded hard. "Distraction girl, that's me. May-maybe we could call on Tara. She might help. We could ask..."

Buffy shook her head. "I think we should cut down on numbers, Will. We can't sneak up on things if we go in mob-handed. No offence."

"No offence." Willow seemed happy enough. "Ooh! Ingredient check! I need powdered oregano stalks." She caught Buffy's inquisitive expression and waved her hands a little in the air in lieu of an immediate explanation. "Oh, er - effective deterrent. Don't know why. Traditional Italian herby thing, so maybe it's like with garlic. I don't know."

Buffy frowned. "Evil creatures can't eat lasagne? I'm sure that's worth knowing... although I can't quite decide why."

"Oregano has no effect on its own, Buffy. It boosts the abilities of its fellow ingredients. I can assure you that demons have no strange intolerances concerning Italian cookery." Rolling his eyes, Giles directed Willow to an ancient wooden cabinet on one wall, and she began rummaging through its contents with the look of an excited child playing with much longed-for gifts on Christmas Day - or Hanukkah, perhaps, in her case. The cabinet revealed apparently endless treasures - vast quantities of various powdered and leafy substances arranged in glass jars, all labelled in what appeared to be Latin - pouches of leather and silk that carried any number of additional ingredients... books and scrolls and candles, feathers and chalks and sticks of incense. Buffy wondered if Giles had bought up the entire stock of that abandoned magic shop near where she had found David; either that or he had been hoarding these mysteries for years. She imagined it was more likely to be the latter. Willow was looking lost, but Giles was able to direct her to her required substance without looking. "Third on the right in the front row, Willow. Beside the toadstones."

"Thanks." She tipped some of the dry powder into a matchbox. "You've got some great stuff in here Giles. Willow leaves! Were these picked at midnight? And - wow." She looked tremendously impressed. "Are these black things what I think they are?"

"No comment." He strode over and closed the cabinet, trying to look stern. "And even if they are, you - you shouldn't know anything about what they do. I'm sure I've never lent you any books that mention those spells."

"You didn't." She flashed him a typically endearing smirk. "But I borrowed them anyway." He frowned.

"Well be careful. Very careful."

"Tara knows what she's doing." She said it with a warm sense of loyalty, and the former Watcher gave a slow, rhythmical nod.

"Indeed. Perhaps I should, um, have a chat with her some time. It might be, er, mutually beneficial."

"Maybe." She looked delighted at this possibility of increasing her girlfriend's involvement in the gang's activities, and then promptly reddened in embarrassment at her own exuberance. "Well, I'm ready." She gave her matchbox a shake to demonstrate. "Shall we move out?"

"Yeah." Buffy had to smile. "Let's move out." She waited for her troops to head for the door before she looked back at Giles. He didn't need to tell her to be careful, for his words were written clearly in his eyes. She gave him a brief smile that said You too, and then she turned and headed for the door herself. Only when she was nearly there did she hesitate. "Giles... find something to help us. Even if we do find this thing, we might not be able to fight it without knowing its weak spots." She couldn't help the way that her gaze turned itself towards David, sitting on his chair, holding his mug of cold coffee, staring at the floor with a terribly lost expression painted so painfully onto his face. If the shadow found him before she could do anything to control it, they would lose David. The vampire would take him, and then his soul would be gone forever, and he would be just another slavering, blood-seeking monster. Another Angelus; another Spike - except that there was something, however small, that was human about Spike. David wouldn't even have that. She didn't want to let that happen. She liked him. He was another innocent, tainted by Sunnydale. Someone else she hadn't been quick enough to save... except that with him she was perhaps to get another chance.

"We'll find something, Buffy." Giles' calmly confident voice brought her back down to earth, and she nodded hard.

"Yes. Of course you will. Just... find it quick."

"We will." He was smiling at her in that tight, firm way that told her he wanted to be doing so much more - but that, whatever he could do, he would do fast and he would do well. She felt her own confidence rise.

"Thanks." With that she was gone. Giles watched her depart, hearing the door shut behind her. Through its thick wooden solidity, he couldn't hear the faint sound that he knew her hurrying figure drew from the wind chimes. He couldn't see her and her two closest friends as they hurried up the wide stone passage that led back to the road. For what felt like the zillionth time, he wished that he was with them... and then, also for the zillionth time, he cut the thought off before it could develop further. With a newly refocused mind he turned back to his books.

"Where do we start?" David sounded unsure, dragged back from a deep reverie by the sound of the door slamming shut. Giles glanced across at him, worried by the exhaustion in the boy's dark eyes. They seemed darker than ever now, affected by deep confusion and cold fear. There was something else in them too - a hunger that seemed to be growing. Giles saw then, in that brief moment of eye contact, that no matter how much he fed this boy, David would continue to grow ever more hungry. He needed blood to sustain him now, and that meant that the hold of the vampire was perhaps stronger than they had initially thought. Giles wasn't sure what that meant - or even if it meant anything at all. He dropped his hand onto the boy's shoulder, and gripped it tightly.

"Keep reading the books that the others have been searching through." His own eyes were already looking inward, searching his well-trained memory for anything that might be useful - for any book title that could point him in the right direction. A quote he might once have read - a passage he might once have skimmed over, as he searched for some other reference, on some other lonely quest. David nodded, the movement coming from miles away, back in the real world. Giles let his hand fall away from the boy's shoulder, and turned away to head towards his endless stacks and shelves of dusty books. He was surprised to hear Spike's footsteps behind him.

"If you're planning to gloat, Spike, kindly go and do it somewhere else." His voice startled him with the strain it showed - the need for sleep, or at least for rest. There had been so much going on of late - so many long nights spent reading, so many longer days. It was beginning to add up.

"Actually I was going to help." Spike pushed past him, pulling a particularly large and heavy book out of a shelf. A great plume of dust rose up into the air, and they both coughed. "So long as I have this chip in my head, I'm in as much danger as that kid over there. I don't plan to lose out to some... growly thing. I want to help fight it."

"Now why do I find that so hard to believe?" It was impossible to keep the sarcasm from his voice. Spike was just so... so very Spike. It was impossible to believe him when he claimed to be on the side of right. It was impossible ever to trust him. He reminded Giles just that bit too much of himself - of that side of himself that he still liked to keep hidden.

"I'm on the level." Spike pulled his cigarettes from his pocket, sticking one into his mouth and flicking on his lighter. Giles didn't bother telling him not to do it. The vampire wouldn't take any notice anyway. "I want to help." He threw the book down onto the top of the bookcase, and began flicking through it. "Could be I even know what I'm looking for."

"You said that you might have seen something like this before..." It was a slim chance, especially given Spike's record on telling the truth; but any lead was better than none. The vampire nodded his spiked, bleached head.

"Yeah. About a hundred years ago. 1906. A vampire tried to turn a priest - a Jesuit. He was protected by some kind of litany, and the Becoming never... became. There was a growly thing then, roaming about the streets for days. In the end it found its way into its promised host, and took him completely. I was with Drusilla then. She's older than I am, and she knows all kinds of things... things that Angelus told her, before she lost him to that Romanian curse, and things that she learnt before she was turned. Her family was big on superstition and folklore. She said that there were tales of things like that happening. They always end the same way."

"The vampire always reclaims its promised host." Giles knew the way that the story was going, long before Spike reached the end of his ill-told narrative. "Well that's not going to happen here."

"Maybe not." Spike shrugged. It mattered little to him of course. He didn't care what happened to David - so long as he himself was not taken by the bodiless demon first. "We'll see."

"Did Drusilla tell you anything else?"

"One or two things." He had finished flicking through the pages of the book, and it lay open now at what was roughly the middle. Ancient pages of thick yellow parchment carried faded ink in murky blue. Hand-written, shaky, old; the language one that Giles could not even name at first, much less begin to translate. He saw a picture though, drawn by the author in that same murky blue - a picture of what seemed to be a cloud, with eyes sunk deep into its insubstantial self, burning with a rage that told even through the primitive style of the drawing. Spike tapped the picture with his hand, puffing a cloud of smoke into the air that seemed almost to mimic the shape of the creature in the book. "It's not what you want to hear."

"I don't care." Giles picked up the book, beginning to read the words awkwardly, finding himself out of practice with the language, and with the dated syntax. "Perhaps I'm not quite as much of a defeatist as you are, Spike."

"Perhaps." Spike had turned away, heading now towards the kitchen, in search of more beer. "Or perhaps I'm just more of a realist."

"Maybe." Giles sat down on the stairs, holding the heavy book awkwardly on his knees. David was watching him, having heard only snatches of the conversation, his eyes wide with worries and fears. He was wondering if he was already lost, and Giles didn't know what to say to make him feel any better. In the end he settled upon nothing at all. There was nothing that he could say that wouldn't sound empty or contrived. Nothing that he could do, either - except leave David to his lonely speculations.

So in the end, that was what he did.

**********

Buffy approached Spike's dusty mausoleum with a distinct feeling that she was going to regret this particular daylight excursion. She had become so used to graveyards at night that they held almost no mystique for her now. By darkness and shadow they were merely an extension of her own world - a stage upon which she played out the battles of her destiny. By day though, the cemetery looked different - unfamiliar. The stones were clearly visible, forming stolid, stoic reminders of the vastly unnatural number of premature deaths that so plagued the unfortunate town of Sunnydale. At night she could ignore their presence, save for the few that marked the graves of those waiting to be newly risen. By day there was no hiding from it - from names that she recognised, engraved upon cold marble slabs - kids she had sat with in class; kids that she had stood next to during graduation; kids who hadn't lived much past the first days at UC Sunnydale. Far too many kids altogether.

"Alright Buff?" As swaggeringly confident as ever, Xander was already in the lead, once again ignoring his own safety. Xander wasn't so much reckless as just plain thoughtless, but Buffy wouldn't have had him any other way. Xander's courage was just one of the things that helped her stay ahead in her little - or maybe not so little - war.

"Yeah." She drew Mr Pointy, although she was fairly sure that everything should be safe at this time of day. "Let's see who's at home shall we?"

"Sounds good to me." With steady determination he stepped up to the doors and knocked heartily. There was no answer, which was rather as all three of them had expected. Buffy moved into the lead, and without further preamble she pushed the door open. It crashed back against the stone walls of the mausoleum, the sound ringing out across the quiet graveyard. Willow winced.

"I hope there are no mourners here today," she commented. If it was meant to be a joke, it was told with little humour. Buffy nodded.

"Good point." She scanned the sculpted grounds, searching for any sign of sorrowful relatives, come to lay flowers on the graves of dead and undead. She could see no one. A relief, given that she was here in apparent desecration of one of the biggest memorials in the whole cemetery.

"What's the plan?" Xander had moved up to stand alongside her, peering past her into the grey murk inside the building. "We do have one right?"

"Kind of." She waved Mr Pointy. "I was thinking 'see it, stake it', but I am open to suggestions."

"No suggestions." Xander was faithful to the last. Willow shrugged, and then accompanied her own interjection with a few vague hand gestures, as hesitant as her words and her body language.

"Except that, you know - big cloudy thing - no substance. Might be kind of hard to stake it."

"True." Buffy pushed on into the mausoleum. "But it's still the best bet we've got. It might even be harmless, you never know."

"I'm thinking not." Xander's voice sounded unnaturally loud in the echoing confines of the mausoleum, even though he had spoken in barely more than a whisper. Buffy nodded.

"I'm thinking you're right." She glanced about. "Man, Spike could use some serious tips in home decorating."

"Actually I think it's kind of cool. Like my basement, only a little more homely." Xander wandered further into the room, staring around at the bare stone walls, grey streaked with brown, cracked here and there by occasional earth tremors. There was a scattering of posters - The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Boomtown Rats - a clashing, jarring testimony to a part of the seventies that the world's current trend for nostalgia had not even touched upon. There was the scent of stale cigarette smoke in the room, that somehow went with the collection of posters on the walls, and mingled with the slightly less familiar, but somewhat more distinctive, odour of another kind of tobacco. Xander coughed.

"Oh Spike. You party animal you." If this was where Spike held his wild parties - supposing he had any - Xander couldn't exactly congratulate him on having chosen the best place in which to entertain his lady friends afterwards. In place of a bed the room boasted merely a long stone monument, much like a simple rectangular sarcophagus. Xander wondered who, if anybody, was inside. He decided that he was better off not knowing.

"This place makes student accommodation look like the Ritz." Surveying the damp stone wall, with its decidedly non-luxurious sleeping facilities, Willow wrinkled her nose. The single sleeping bag, at present rolled up at one end of the sarcophagus, was the sole nod to any sort of comfort, save for a plastic box in one corner of the room, that evidently served as a refrigerator. Xander peered inside and discovered a couple of bottles of beer, and a small polystyrene carton containing a packet of blood. He winced.

"Anybody fancy a snack?" There were no takers, so he threw the packet back into cold storage, and closed the lid. "I never thought I'd find a place that made me glad to be living in a basement. It's no wonder he can afford his own pad without a salary."

"I shouldn't think there were many people fighting over the deeds to this place." Buffy was peering expectantly into every corner. "I can't see anything that looks like a shadow. Can you?"

"Nothing that shouldn't be here." Willow gave the sleeping bag a shake, but no growling bodiless vampire was unearthed from its shabby depths. She gave a shrug. "Plan B?"

"Did we even have a Plan A?" Xander gave the sarcophagus an experimental kick. "Maybe growly guy's inside this thing. Do we want to risk taking the lid off?"

"I have a feeling that whatever was originally put to bed in that has long since woken up and gone to find somewhere else to sleep." Buffy joined him beside the sarcophagus. "I doubt that Spike's shadowy friend would be bothered with getting inside, though. If it can transport itself anywhere it wants, it's more likely that it went in search of somebody."

"ZoŽ?" The answer seemed obvious to Willow. Buffy nodded.

"ZoŽ. She's this thing's sire, and from what we've seen, there's some kind of a bond between vampires that have created one another. If it isn't able to home in on David, or it doesn't feel that that would be sensible, chances are it's gone in search of ZoŽ herself. Maybe it's hoping for help, or advice."

"Or maybe to report in." Willow was frowning. "I know it sounds pretty unlikely, but supposing this was the plan all along. Okay, so growly cloud thing is kind of disproving that theory, with having gone after Spike and all - but maybe it didn't know the plan. I mean, ZoŽ could hardly have told it the plan, since it was in hell at the time... so maybe it's kind of playing guessing games, and--" She broke off. "I think I'm going in circles."

"Not necessarily. I think I follow you." Pulling herself up onto Spike's stone bed, Buffy sat above them, kicking her legs in mid air as though that would somehow help her to think. "David is a Watcher, and I'm betting that ZoŽ knows that - after all, she met him at the city limits and claimed that she was one too. There's got to be a link there."

"You mean she intended for David to be only half-turned?" Xander was frowning heavily, as though the strain of suggesting a likely theory had taken a lot out of him. "That way he could... what? Get close to the Watchers before his vampire caught up with him?" He whistled. "Inside man with a difference."

"An inside man who didn't know that he was an inside man." Buffy was nodding slowly. "Works for me."

"Yeah." Suddenly sounding excited, Willow practically bounced up and down on the spot. "And-and it would have worked for ZoŽ too, except Buffy found David before he could go anywhere... a-and ZoŽ didn't know about Spike and his head chip thing, so she had no way of knowing that the vampire cloud whatever-it-is would go after him while it was looking for David."

"And help tip us off in the process." Xander offered her a high five. "You're a regular pocket-sized Giles, you know that Will?"

"Oh." In the midst of blushing at the praise, Willow looked suddenly disheartened. "But how could she have been sure that the vampire wouldn't find David too soon?"

"She couldn't, but I guess she figured it didn't matter. She could always try it again if it failed. Sunnydale doesn't exactly breed Watchers, but they do come through here with a certain kind of regularity - and she could always go and look for them somewhere else if necessary. She probably figured that the vampire wouldn't be able to find David immediately, and that it would go to her instead. Then she could explain the plan - always supposing you can talk to these things - and then she'd be all set." She jumped down from the sarcophagus. "It's a bit of a gamble I guess, but she didn't stand to lose anything if it didn't work, did she. It's not like she'd be broken hearted if David died too soon."

"She must be pretty certain that he will though. It looks like she's not doubting that bit at all." Xander sounded decidedly dispirited. "If we don't find a way to kill that thing, it's going to kill David."

"Yeah." Buffy didn't look at him. "I know."

"Well we've got to stop that from happening!" Willow was a bundle of excitable energy again, her face aglow with righteous motivation. "I mean, I like David. He's... well - okay, I don't know him at all, but he's nice, and he's got a nice smile, and he - he doesn't deserve to die." She folded her arms, and put on her determined face. "We have to stop this cloudy thing. It's, like, a symbol, of everything we do. David's Symbol Guy, and we have to save him."

"Yeah. I know what you mean Will." Buffy looked thoughtful. "So do we search out ZoŽ, or do we report in to Giles first?"

"Giles. He does kinda like being reported to; and he might be able to suggest something that'll help." Xander frowned. "Or on the other hand, going to see him might waste time."

"Thanks Xand." Buffy clapped him on the back. "Helpful as ever." He smiled in cheerful pride at his lack of use, and she gave a thoughtful frown. "Decision time."

"We should warn Giles. Maybe if he knows what we think ZoŽ's plan is, he can come up with something." Willow's faith in Giles, and in his ability to drag relevant information from any printed material, was almost touching. Buffy nodded slowly.

"But we can call him. Make a phone call on the way. No, I think ZoŽ's our best bet. We go right to the top, straight away. If we're right, and she's planning to use David to gain entrance to Watcher HQ, we've got some time before we need to worry about that cloud thing going after him. I say we use that time."

"Yeah." Xander gave a brisk nod. "So, er... does anybody actually know where to find ZoŽ?" There was a silence. Buffy tapped a loud crescendo on the sarcophagus with the widest end of Mr Pointy. Willow kicked at the accumulating dust on the floor of the mausoleum.

"Willy?" she suggested at length. Buffy shook his head.

"He's been a little hard to get hold of lately. I think the Initiative have got something to do with that. No reason why we shouldn't check out his bar though, I guess. Might be somebody there that can help us."

"Great!" Xander sunk his hands into his pockets, trying to make himself look bigger than he was. "Can we play Good Cop, Bad Cop? And can I be Bad Cop?"

"I was thinking of just playing Good Slayer, Bad Vampire actually Xand." Buffy had to smile at his enthusiasm. "But we could make it Good Slayer, Bad Assistant Slayer if you want."

"I like the sound of that." He nodded, obviously running it over in his head, and then adopted a deep, pseudo tough-guy tone that echoed about the empty tomb. "Yeah. I'm Bad Assistant Slayer. One wrong move and I'll stake the whole lot of you. I don't take no flak from demons."

Willow smirked. "If Giles was here, he'd probably point out that that was a double negative." Xander frowned, and she pretended to hide her smile. "But I wouldn't do that of course."

"Of course." He led the way to the door, stepping aside to let her leave the mausoleum first, and then leaned closer to his other companion. " So Buff... explain 'double negative'."

"Don't look at me." Buffy smiled in sympathy as she followed him out into the sunlight. "World Save-age always seemed to happen during English lessons. It's a wonder I even managed to make graduation." She shrugged, in an attempt at consolation. "Maybe you can beat it out of one of the demons at Willy's bar."

"Yeah." He nodded, clearly pleased with this idea; although the notion of him beating anything out of anyone was somehow absurd. "Lead on."

"Thanks." She stole a quick glance at the sky, checking to see how much daylight there was left. According to her watch the time was fast approaching two o'clock, which left them with another three hours before they needed to worry. It was best, after all, to make as much headway as they could before the streets once again filled up with vampires. She allowed herself a moment of reassuring optimism, and smiled around at her comrades. Three hours was enough to accomplish anything. David was going to be fine.

She didn't even want to think about failure.

**********

Giles hung up the phone feeling a little drained. Buffy's explanation had been typically hurried, and interspersed with enough slang and jargon to keep a professor of such things happy for some time. Spike appeared to be trying to raise an inquisitive eyebrow.

"Any luck?"

"Just a theory." He explained it all, trying to keep words to a minimum, as Buffy had done. "It all sounds quite probable. Horribly probable in fact. I only wish we could work out quite how she's managed it."

"A charm of some kind usually works. They used to sell them, back in the nineteenth century - 'wear this and be vampire proof'. No bloody good of course, at least where getting bitten was concerned, but they did seem to have a limited kind of a deterrent if somebody tried to turn you. It was a bag sewn into a cross shape, filled with leafy things, and something that smelt rotten. There was some kind of an incantation that the guy who made them used to say, whenever he made them. Something Latin." He shrugged, and waved a dismissive hand. "Never did pick that stuff up. I always meant to ask him what it meant, but Drusilla tore his throat out." He grinned, the memory a pleasant one. "She grabbed him by the ears, and he swore that she couldn't do anything to him, 'cause he was wearing one of these bag things, and she--"

"Spare me the details, thankyou." Giles glanced over at David, who was still immersed in reading the various vampire texts. "He's not wearing a cross-shaped bag, rotten-smelling or otherwise. He doesn't have any charms, and he doesn't know any spells. He's wearing a crucifix, but that's not proof against a turning."

"Unpleasant surprise though, when you're feeding." Spike was evidently speaking from experience. "One minute it's tasty nibbles, the next it's burning pains all over. Kind of like eating a really strong curry, only with a bigger element of surprise." He took a swig of his beer. "Does it matter how he's managed not to be a vampire? I thought you were only worried about making sure that he's stays that way."

"I am. But all of the information that we've found so far suggests that the battle is futile - that there's no way he can avoid turning in the end. If I can find out how he's fought off the Becoming, I might be able to find a way to keep him human. It's a long shot, perhaps - but it's the best I've got."

"Then find ZoŽ." Spike took another swig of beer. "I'll look after Davey and the house for you - and when you don't come back, I'll carry on looking after it." He threw himself into a chair. "Say hi to ZoŽ for me. It's been a while since we met."

"Buffy has gone after ZoŽ." Giles pushed Spike's feet off the coffee table, before sitting down in an adjacent chair and taking a long drink from his own beer bottle. "My job is trying to find a way out of this for David. Some way to kill this vampire thing, so that it can't take him."

"It can't be done, Rupert." Spike's lack of concern was impressive. "It's just a cloud - a gassy collection of swirly black molecules, kind of like tobacco smoke. You can't stake it, you can't burn it - you certainly can't behead it. Holy water will hurt it, but it can't destroy it. It'll just split up and drift away. Hardly get singed."

"You do so love to help, don't you Spike." Giles was very quiet for a few minutes, sipping thoughtfully at his beer without really tasting it. "There has to be some way out of this."

"Maybe." Spike was frowning. "But I think that the Slayer's off on the wrong track with this one."

"You would." Giles was determined not to be distracted by an ally who was, by his own admission, anything but allied. "Just shut up. I need to think."

"Think all you like. It's not going to help you. This isn't the kind of thing they teach in Watcher school, Giles. It's not your average good versus evil battle, with certain victory for the guys in white hats. It's a little more complicated than that." Hauling himself upright in his chair, Spike sighed heavily, as though it pained him to play the good guy by explaining all of this. "You said that David was starting to act odd around crosses. Did you have to invite him into this place before he could enter?"

"Yes." Giles narrowed his eyes. "What's your point?"

"My point is, he would never have worked as an inside man for Watcher HQ. He wouldn't have made it in there. By the time he made it to England, he would have known himself that he was changing, and they certainly would have noticed it. How long would a vampire manage to go unnoticed in Watcher Central - especially if he needed to be invited in? That is kind of a give-away." Spike's tone had become heavily disparaging. "Look at me, Rupert. I don't exactly have a stunning suntan, and that's even before we hit the bit where crosses send me running for cover - and you people have them hanging from every available surface. Watcher HQ might just as well be a crucifix factory."

"Watcher HQ is a crucifix factory." Giles took the sarcasm with no apparent ill feeling, although he did sound increasingly concerned. "Okay, fair point. So what is ZoŽ planning? I have to go along with Buffy on this one, and say that she's definitely planned this somehow. Creating a vampire who hasn't fully turned seems like a perfect ploy, and I don't think that it was coincidence that David is a Watcher."

"Probably not." Spike put his feet back up on the coffee table, kicking aside a few of the books that had managed to escape his earlier assaults. "But there are other organisations he could gain access to, by his identity and by his current pretty unique condition." He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. "Here, for instance. Buffy finds him out in the street; does her predictable good guy act and brings him to meet her friends... you lot all join together, swear to protect him, look after him... you're bound to invite him in - only polite, after all... and all the time he's about to become a fully-fledged - fully-toothed - vampire, right in your midst. It's your inside man theory, but I don't think you're right about where he was supposed to get into. It's the Slayer's Circle ZoŽ was after, not Watcher HQ."

"Maybe." Giles frowned for a moment, and then shook his head. "No. Doesn't work. Buffy knew that David was a vampire - or more or less at any rate - from the moment she first laid eyes on him. She knew even before then, because of her sensory capabilities. The Slayer knows vampires. ZoŽ couldn't have planned to get David in here, because she would have known that Buffy would have realised what he was."

"True, but that's no reason to change the theory. Come on Giles. Think about it. You knew what he was, but you still brought him in here - because like a predictable bunch of do-gooders, you wanted to help. That just what ZoŽ would have been counting on." He grinned, clearly having just thought of something that he could milk for some time to come. "And if it hadn't been for me coming to tell you about my visitor earlier on, you'd be none the wiser. You'd still be thinking that he was just some kid who'd managed to resist the turning, not that he was a pawn whose turning was delayed. You'd still be harbouring a viper in your nest. Nice to think you owe me something, isn't it."

"Hmm." Giles did not sound as though the possibility of owing Spike pleased him much at all. "I have a nasty suspicion that you may be right. Watcher HQ does seem a little... ambitious a goal, for such a plan." He took off his glasses, toying with them thoughtfully, leaving the bottle of beer to fend for itself in an awkward balancing act on the arm of his chair. "Which leaves us with the question of what to do next."

"That's simple." Spike, clearly, had no such concerns about possible courses of action. "Stake him, before he turns completely. It's only a matter of time before he makes the change. ZoŽ will have planned it that way."

"You can't write him off like that." Giles did not sound shocked by the vampire's callousness, either because he had come to expect it, or because it mirrored his own way of thinking at that moment. If nothing else, Spike's suggestion had to be taken into account as a possible last resort. "He's still alive."

"He thinks he is. There's a difference. He could begin to turn gradually, or that thing could materialise in here at any second, and take him over straight away."

"It can't be that simple. It hasn't found him yet."

"And that's reason enough to take the chance that it won't? Giles, that thing should be able to home in on him - and if it doesn't find him, it'll find me. This chip in my head is like a bloody homing beacon for a bodiless vampire floating about the place looking for a home."

"Then leave." Giles tossed his glasses onto the coffee table, then grabbed his beer and rose to his feet. He was beginning to feel rather more than mildly irritated by Spike, and the feeling was growing all the time. "It can home in on you when you're on the other side of town."

"And you want to be left alone with a kid who could turn into Dracula at any second?" Spike sounded amused. "Sure, if you want. I'll walk out on you now, and come back to pick up the pieces later."

"Are you really saying that you'd stay here and help me fight if necessary?" Giles was not in the mood to fall for that one. "I don't think so, do you? The only reason you want to stay here is so that you can hide behind that boy i-if it comes to a fight. You're scared of that - that... thing. To be honest with you, if I have to protect David or you, i-i-it's him I'm going to be helping, and I don't much care if that cloud takes you over. With that chip in your head you would be consigned to an easy defeat, and that couldn't be better from my point of view."

"You're all heart."

"And you're not." Giles turned away from him, looking back at the books which had claimed his attention for so long before the telephone had rung, to bring him Buffy's theory about ZoŽ's intentions. "Now we have work to do - or I do at least. Let me get on with it."

"You're sure that's what you want? Giles, if I'm right and Buffy's wrong, we could be in very real danger here. That thing could come looking for David, now that he's installed in Chaos Central - turn him completely, probably without you even realising that it's happened. Without Buffy here to watch your back you'd be a sitting duck."

"And that worries you?"

"It does if your toothless wonder decides to take me out too, when he finally finds his teeth. Tie him up, so that he'll be contained when he does turn. It's the best plan."

"No. I-I-I won't treat him as though he's-he's guilty of some terrible crime, when right now there's nothing wrong with him. I think Buffy's right, and that there's no immediate danger. ZoŽ will, will bide her time, and make her move when she thinks it's best. That's not yet - if ever, now that we've realised what she's up to. She's going to know that, once she sees Buffy coming after her. There'd be no point in going through with the plan then."

"There'd be every point, for revenge's sake alone." Spike sighed. "Giles, this isn't as straightforward as you like to think. Yes, when that vampire can't take over the body it was supposed to use in this dimension it'll go to her. You've got that bit right. But what then? Maybe she will persuade it to stop looking, and to wait for a better time. Thing is, Rupert, it can't do that. Not for ever. Time's gonna come when it's going to be here whether it likes it or not. There's a limit to how long a demon can stay in this dimension without some kind of form to contain it - and pretty soon it's going to take over David. Not because it wants to, or because ZoŽ thinks that the time is right - just because it can't hold on any longer. David will begin to turn, as the demon force gets a hold on him. That cloud doesn't even need to materialise here. It'll just gradually begin its rebirth within its host."

"Nothing like optimism to make your afternoon start with a smile." Giles picked up a book and gave it to Spike, pushing it against the vampire's chest with a purposeful force. "Read this. Find something helpful. Otherwise shut up. It's daylight out there Spike, so I would hate to have to throw you out. But I wouldn't hate it much, understand?"

"I understand." Spike took the book, beginning to flick disinterestedly through its ageing pages. "And if you want to go on deluding yourself, that's fine. But when he turns into a vampire and comes running after your neck, don't come crying to me. And when you're dead, and Buffy and her friends come back to find poor, innocent little David just waiting for his chance to split them up and kill them one by one..." He shrugged, with a lack of concern that was almost comic. "I hope somebody in the next life forgives you. 'Cause personally I'll be having a right old giggle."

"That's not going to happen, Spike. None of it." Giles stole a sideways look at David, apparently floating on the edge of sleep as he pored over his own difficult texts. "I'm going to save that boy. The Hellmouth is not going to have him."

"Commendable sentiment, Giles." Spike rested his book on his lap, and began to feign a studious conscientiousness towards his given task. "But it's going to get you killed."

"You're wrong." Giles turned back to his books, trying not to look again towards David. Spike's words were horribly prophetic - horribly easy to believe. He didn't want to believe them, but doubt would not leave his mind alone. David looked harmless, sounded harmless, acted harmless - was his turning really so inevitable? The Watcher would have liked to trust in the chance that it was not, but he found that he no longer could. He was starting to suspect that it was all just a matter of time, but he couldn't bring himself to take the necessary precautions. Not yet. There was still time yet. But he knew that he would still be thinking that right up until the moment David took his first bite - and by then it would be much too late.

**********

Evening fell quickly, as it always did in Sunnydale. It began as a line of darkness across the horizon, and soon the whole town was gone from view. The ill-maintained streetlights illuminated only the more populous sections, and the graveyards and disreputable clubs began to thrum with the movements of the freshly awakened undead. Buffy didn't like to dwell on thoughts of how familiar it had all become - how comfortable she now felt with the streets and cemeteries at night-time. It was almost like being part vampire; which was something else that she didn't like to dwell upon. She wandered down the streets now, accompanied by Xander and Willow, and tried not to wonder just how many of the young people beginning to head out for an evening's entertainment would not be heading home again afterwards.

"Do you know where we're heading?" Xander sounded tired, and Buffy could sympathise. It had been a long day, and showed every sign of getting a lot longer. She nodded.

"Ruling out the obvious red herrings we got from that crowd at Willy's bar, I did get one or two leads. There are a few places near to where I found David last night that I want to check out. It seems like the most obvious place to start looking for ZoŽ."

"Obvious isn't necessarily right." Willow was playing with her bag, which contained an eclectic collection of magical ingredients, with which she hoped to help Buffy should such things be required. "She might be nowhere near here."

"True. But even a town as small as Sunnydale can take more than a night to search, so we might as well start with the obvious and then track back." She glanced at her watch. "It's pushing seven. I wonder how David is."

"Not good, from what Giles said when I just called in." Willow managed a small smile. "He was trying to sound positive, but you know Giles. He thinks he hides his feelings really well, but they're not that hard to see."

"Meaning David could turn into a vampire any time soon." Xander looked decidedly unimpressed. "I'm not believing in Spike as much of an ally if that happens. Maybe we should go back there, and worry about ZoŽ later."

"Giles can take care of himself." Buffy sounded a little uncertain, but more or less resolved as to how the night should progress. "Besides, if we can handle ZoŽ and her cloudy pal, maybe we can stop David turning altogether."

"I hope so." Willow held up her bag. "And this'll help. I know I've got the right ingredients, and with a bit of time I think I can do a binding spell that should slow that cloud down long enough... well, for a bit anyway. Then you can do your stuff Buffy." She flashed her two friends a shy yet more or less confident grin. "Any thoughts yet on how to do that?"

"Well so far Giles has ruled out stakes and Holy water, and we can't behead it 'cause it doesn't have a head." Buffy shrugged, trying on a wry smile. "Doesn't leave us with much, really."

"Maybe we can talk it to death. You lull it into a false sense of security with a friendly smile and a show of your feminine wiles, and then I'll bore it into a coma with my amusing family anecdotes." Xander sounded as enthusiastic as ever, and Buffy had to smile.

"Maybe later Xand. When we've tried a few more likely methods first." She pulled a stake from inside her jacket, and tossed it spinning into the air. It returned to her hand as though attached by an invisible elastic cord, and she stuck it back inside her jacket in the manner of a gunslinger of old re-holstering a six-shooter. "In the meantime, our first stop is the old cinema. I'd like to get there before it gets much darker, or we're going to have to fight our way past thirty generations of undead cinema-goers before we can get anywhere."

"They all go there for reshowings of Nosferatu." Willow smiled at her own joke, although not with any real humour. "They do a special deal for Dracula theme nights over Halloween."

"They would do, if the equipment still worked. Last time I was in there, there wasn't even a screen, let alone a projectionist."

"Yet still the vampires like to hang out there." Xander shrugged. "Go figure. Maybe they like the feel of the place. All the cobwebs and creaky floorboards."

"More likely they just like all the little rooms and winding corridors. It's not the easiest place to attack without some kind of an army." Buffy was beginning to wonder if it had been such a good idea insisting on taking only a small force with her in her pursuit of the now infamous ZoŽ. "Maybe I should have called Anya earlier. She might be useful."

"She'd have been driving us crazy all day. Anya likes to be in the thick of things, and wandering around checking out leads isn't her style." Willow could only imagine the frictions that such an endeavour might have caused. "She's not exactly Patience Girl."

"You can say that again." Xander rolled his eyes, thinking back over the short, tempestuous days of his love affair with the former demon. Awkward, difficult days, of almost unendurable pressures, which he would probably return to like a shot if the chance arose. Demanding she might be, but she also bordered on irresistible - and Xander was very fond of irresistible girls. Given that Anya also seemed to find him irresistible in return - a hitherto unknown experience in Xander's relatively short life (discounting certain magical influences) - the attraction was made all the greater. Their relationship had been through some rocky moments in recent times, but if there was one thing that near death experiences and violent battles against bloodthirsty denizens of hell could be counted upon to do, it was to help improve relations with those who were nearest and dearest. Xander had learned that in the earliest days of his associations with the Slayer, and he couldn't help pondering the phenomenon now. Reconciliation was worth thinking about certainly - and was definitely better than any other thoughts he was currently having - such as a horrible and bloodless death at the hands of a twisted vampire and her growly cloudy friend. Then again, anything was better than thinking about that. Well, nearly everything. There was always the thought of suddenly developing an intense sexual attraction towards Mrs Bennett, the old woman who liked to invite herself round to tea with Xander's parents on a Sunday evening. He closed that thought off before it could become a fully fledged flight of the imagination.

"Is your spell more or less ready to go, Will?" Buffy could see the old cinema up ahead, and could already pick out the presence of a scattering of vampires about the front entrance. There were three of them that she could discern with definite clarity - two male and one female. The latter was dressed like some starlet of the nineteen twenties, complete with short skirt and close-fitting hat, and her companions were both wearing decidedly old fashioned tuxedoes. The taller of the two sported a long white overcoat with a flower in the top buttonhole, whilst his smaller confederate was wearing a white silk scarf and a monocle. The muted yellow wash of the street's one sole streetlamp picked out the single round lens, and flashed out nonsense messages in morse code.

"Check out the pastimes brigade." Xander couldn't help but grin at the three vampires in their dated evening finery. "When did those three get turned?"

"Before the Wall Street Crash by the looks of things." Buffy scowled. "Not necessarily great for us. If they've lived this long, there's got to be a reason for it."

"Oh." Willow's shoulders slumped briefly, then recovered their bounce. "Magic time?"

"So long as you're not planning to float feathers at them." Buffy smiled. "You can give it a shot if you'd like."

"Cool." She rummaged in her bag and produced her matchbox of oregano, along with a small plastic bag of something that looked suspiciously like cannabis, and a round, silver cigarette lighter. She pulled some of the contents of the plastic bag out onto her hand, and rubbed the long green-grey leaves into powder.

"That what I think it is Will? Only if you're planning to set alight to it, make sure I'm standing downwind. I could do with the Dutch courage." Xander didn't smile, although the sound of amusement filled his words. Willow pretended to scowl.

"I know what it looks like. It's really quite harmless though, at least to us." She put her powdered leaves onto the ground, and then lit them with her lighter. A small spiral of faintly green smoke began to rise heavenward, and she sprinkled a little oregano on top. "Okay, er... oh, nearly forgot." There were a few seconds of vaguely embarrassed rummaging, followed by the sudden unearthing of a little earthenware container. From the confines of this she produced a few pinches of a silvery looking powder, that glittered in the faint light, and turned the greenish smoke of the little fire to a faint, wispy pink. She took a deep breath.

"I hope this works."

"So do I." Buffy frowned at the diminutive bonfire. "How do we know if it does?"

"We'll know." She hunched her shoulders, her face taking on an expression of deepest concentration. "Latin bit next. Bit unsure about what it all means actually, but Tara says I do pretty well on the pronunciation." She made a few passes with her hands over the smoke, and began a deep-voiced muttering. Xander and Buffy glanced towards each other in a mixture of amusement and alarm, but try as she might Buffy could not catch enough of the words to be sure of what they were. She thought that she heard ignis, firmare and perhaps defendere, but anything else was lost in the uncertainty of her friend's confused mumblings. It meant nothing to her anyway, since her understanding of Latin was considerably less than Willow's own. After all, why else did one have a Giles?

"Is she done yet?" The whispers had ceased, and Xander looked to Buffy in confusion. The Slayer shrugged.

"I think so." She was about to step forward and ask Willow if there was anything else to be done, when the young witch whispered a final, jubilant Ignis! and then stepped aside. The gentle pink smoke gave a dramatic splutter, burned for a second in a furious, potent red, and then faded. Over by the cinema, the taller of the two male vampires shouted something indistinct. The female spun around to face him, indignation clear even on her bestial, demonic face. She roared something in a deep growl that rather destroyed her image of early twentieth century sophistication, and then slapped him hard. The second male laughed, and earned a punch on the jaw from his comrade in response. The female shouted something that might have been an encouragement, and the smaller vampire, rising to his feet with a snarl of irritation, turned on her with his monocle flashing wildly in the half-light. She gave one brief yell before his fist caught her neatly under the chin, and she flew backwards through the air to land in an ungainly heap several yards away. The taller of the two male vampires cheered, then clapping his companion on the shoulder, he turned about and walked away. His friend chased after him, their brief spat apparently forgotten, and soon only the female was left. She shouted a few impotent obscenities after her erstwhile consorts and then climbed back to her feet, brushing herself down with her gloved hands. After a quick glance up and down the street, as though to be sure that no one had witnessed her ignoble downfall, she turned about and vanished inside the cinema. The street was left deserted.

"Alright Will!" Clapping her on the back, Buffy had to restrain herself from letting out a shout of excitement. "That was incredible!"

"Yeah." Willow was frowning, as though the effects of her spell had not entirely been what she had expected. She gave her friends a bright grin, however, and kicked out what was left of the smouldering fire. "Now what?"

"Now we head inside." Buffy was frowning up at the peeling faÁade of the once grand cinema, her instincts stirring within her, telling her things that lent her new confidence. She was certain that ZoŽ was inside. She knew it the way that she knew many things, despite never understanding quite how she came to be so sure. Perhaps it was all a part of being the Slayer. Either way she was certain that her instincts were not failing her now. She drew her stake once again, and straightened her jacket in determined resolve. She was rather looking forward to this.

**********

David's mind stirred unwillingly, turning itself away from the book the way he had so often dragged himself lethargically away from sleep. He blinked down at the words, his conscious mind now seeing them for the first time - examining each tiny, beautifully rendered scarlet letter, watching the way that the words formed patterns of ink and paper across the many pages. He smiled. The effect was a pleasant one, and one that it was worth taking a few moments to admire - a few moments when he was not caught up in studying the text for reasons beyond the presentation - a few moments when he was not concentrating on memories of ZoŽ, and the night in the alleyway. He wanted to know what was happening - he wanted to understand the situation that he was in - but for a few quiet moments, he just wanted to look at the words, and to run his fingers across the thick, dry parchment of every page. There was no publication date printed in the front of the volume - no publisher's name, and list of legal rights of the author; just a simple scrawled message - Arthur Gordensson, Glasgow, 1888. David traced the message with his fingers, feeling the slight indentations in the page, where Arthur Gordensson had pressed just that little bit too hard, as he had written his name all those years ago. The scarlet ink stood out sharply against the pale tips of David's fingers, and he wondered what had led Gordesson to choose the colour; such a deep shade of scarlet, looking so very much like blood. Deep, rich, red blood, that seemed to stain David's hands as he ran his fingers across it... rich, smooth, warm blood, that coated his skin, and poured in gentle rivulets along his palms... He jumped, and the illusion vanished. The blood was just ink again, and the words were nothing more than long-ago written imaginings of a man who had come from Glasgow. David let out a long, shaky breath.

"How's it coming along?" Giles sounded full of false cheer, as though he assumed that David hadn't heard any of his discussions with Spike. David had heard every one of them, even when he hadn't been aware that he was listening. He had heard them saying that there was no hope for him, and that he would soon become a vampire. He wondered how he felt about that, but the truth was that he was too numb now to be sure of exactly what he did feel. He knew that he was hungry - but that was about the only real certainty. Everything else was just a blur, like a fast forward preview of all the books that he had read so far today, mixed in with all the concerned faces, and all the reassuring smiles, and all of the muted, overly-friendly tones of Buffy and her friends. Too much confusion to be sure of anything. Too much lack of understanding to know anything at all.

"I'm fine." He smiled up at Giles, frowning inwardly at the strange sight of the man staring down at him. The bright lights of the room reflected through the crystals hanging from the ceiling beams, shining on Giles' glasses, hiding his eyes, sparking fingers of bright illumination back into David's vision. He fancied that he saw monsters in the lenses of those glasses, twisting and writhing in the disks of light that he couldn't penetrate. He wondered what Giles' eyes were doing behind those illusionary monsters. Was the Watcher smiling at him, or mocking him? Was he afraid of what he thought David was soon to become?

"Can I get you something to drink?" Giles gestured towards the tray David himself had brought into the room some time previously. The coffee pot was sure to be cold now. David thought about coffee, and he thought about the beer that Giles and Spike were drinking; but neither option seemed to inspire any thoughts of thirst within him. He was hungry, and that was all - a deep, gnawing hunger that went further than just his stomach. It seemed to fill his entire body - to suffuse every inch of his being with its gnashing, clawing anxiety. He needed food; but the only food that seemed likely to sustain him - the only food that he could think about - was blood. Unconsciously he licked his lips.

"Er... sorry?" Blinking in confusion, he frowned up at Giles. "What did you say?"

"Coffee?" Giles was smiling his pleasant smile, although the effect was somewhat dimmed by the invisibility of his eyes. He pulled off his glasses, and suddenly the twisting monsters were gone, as the bright light left the glass lenses, and went to dance somewhere else. "Or I could make a pot of tea perhaps? Orange juice, milk, beer? You've been working for a long time, and we've all missed lunch... and tea, it would appear."

"All?" He frowned, stifling a yawn and looking around. He had expected to see Buffy and the others returned, but 'all' appeared only to mean the three of them still in the house - the British trio, hunched around the piles of ancient books. "Oh. Actually, no. I'm not thirsty thanks."

"Hungry then? I could make some sandwiches if you'd like, or we could call somewhere? Order something?" He was trying to be accommodating, and trying to help David to relax, but David didn't feel ready to relax for anybody. His mind was calling out in gratitude for Giles' offer of food, but sandwiches, he knew, were not going to satisfy that need for sustenance. He managed a distracted smile.

"I'm not hungry thanks. I'd, er... I'd just as soon carry on reading. Maybe I'll find something."

"Maybe." Giles reached out, seemingly about to put his hand on David's shoulder; but he changed his mind at the last minute and moved aside. "We will find something, David. We're going to find out what's happened to you, and we're going to find a way to help you."

"Yeah." He smiled a shy little smile, all the while thinking of the blood in Giles' veins, and whether or not, if he really was prepared to drink it, he would somehow grow the means with which to get at it. Would he find that he had a vampire's teeth within his jaw, if he prepared to take somebody's life? Would he be able to bite into that warm, gently throbbing jugular vein, if the desire for food finally became too much to bear? Or would he still be human, with a human's flat, uninspiring teeth, unable to bite through the skin and drink his fill? A cold sweat began to break forth across his forehead, and his mouth went painfully dry.

"So what will it be?" Turning away rather suddenly, Giles gestured towards his kitchen with the hand that still held his glasses. Shafts of light shone through the lenses, creating little dappled patterns that danced on the floors and the walls. David felt hypnotised by them, and he could feel his pulse begin to pound with greater fervour. His own blood, driving on within him, just like the blood that he so craved to drink. Something to assuage his hunger. He blinked, and swallowed hard, rubbing his eyes with his hands.

"No thankyou. I'm really not hungry right now." He called up a smile from somewhere deep within him, and ran the tip of his tongue across the roof of his mouth, trying to call up some moisture from somewhere. He tongue strayed, unbidden, towards his teeth, searching them, examining them, looking for the first traces of the fangs that he felt sure were coming. There was nothing. His teeth were just as they had always been. Relief made him smile; and then new waves of hunger stole the smile away.

"Okay." Giles put the glasses back on, and once again his eyes disappeared behind flashes of refracted light. There were no hallucinatory monsters in those blank lenses now though - just sharp teeth, and yellow, bestial eyes that gleamed and flashed - reflecting yellowed fangs and pools of thick, mineral-rich blood. David took a deep breath, and rubbed very hard at his eyes. Giles frowned in obvious concern.

"David? Would you like to get some sleep?"

"No." He said it forcefully - too forcefully - and had to take another deep breath to control himself. "I don't want to close my eyes right now." I'm too afraid of what I might be when I wake up. "I just want to carry on working." He dredged up an uncertain smile. "I've finished these books over here. What should I read next?"

"You've finished all of those?" Giles ran surprised eyes over the piles of strewn texts. "Okay, well, um... y-you could always try the Walhorn Chronicles. They're pretty, er, pretty heavy going; but there's a lot of information in there, once you've worked out how to get to it. I've never made it through all the volumes... all twenty-five thousand pages, so there's no telling what might be written in there. There could be something of use to us."

"But you don't really believe that there is." David dredged up another smile, more melancholy, and a good deal more heartfelt that the last. "You don't really think that there's anything that will help, do you."

"I didn't say that."

"No." David rose very slowly to his feet, and walked towards the nearest bookshelf. There were countless books within it; books standing up and books lying down; books balanced on top of each other, and books that seemed poised and ready to fall. He grabbed the first of them, digging his fingers deep into the soft leather cover. Gilt-edged pages stared mockingly at him. "All of these books, and you don't have anything that can help me. Nothing at all in any of these books that can stop me turning into a vampire. Pretty soon I won't be me anymore, will I. I'll be a demon, and I won't even remember what it'll be like to be me. I'll be dead, and something else will be standing here. Something that looks like me, and speaks like me, but isn't really me at all. I have to wait here for that to happen, like somebody sitting on Death Row waiting for the executioner to come." He threw the book back at the bookshelf, watching it skid across the polished wooden surface and collide with the wall. "I don't want to die, Giles. It's not a lot of fun sitting around here waiting for that to happen. I don't even know how it's going to happen. Is some big black cloud going to float into the room, the way Spike said it appeared to him? Or am I just going to die quietly, with something taking over my body, without me even realising it? All these books, and not one of them can answer a question like that. Not one of them can help me stay alive."

"We don't know that." Giles pulled off his glasses, hesitated, pondered, then put his glasses back on. "David, we are going to find something. We're going to help you. That's what Buffy does. She saves people - all kinds of people - from all kinds of monsters, every day of her life. She's going to help you, and I will do everything in my power to help her to do that. Nothing is certain yet."

"No? I've heard you, talking in corners, thinking I can't hear. I've heard him - Spike, your... your tame demon. He knows that there's no hope for me. He knows it. And I know it too. If there's still hope for me, Giles, why can't I stop thinking about blood? Why can't I stop feeling so hungry? It's like a knife inside me, twisting around inside my guts. I need food, but nothing I can eat is going to take that hunger away. I need blood. I have to have it." He dashed the nervous tears from his eyes, and slumped heavily back into his chair. "Don't tell me it's all going to be alright, Giles. I'm already dying. I think there's already a demon inside me, or part of it at least. It's under my skin, and it's starting to crawl even deeper."

"David..." Giles turned away, looking towards Spike, but the blond vampire gave him no sign of solidarity or support. Instead he merely raised his beer bottle in a sarcastic form of salute. Giles glared at him. "Listen, David - you're still you. For the time being at least, you're not a demon. Maybe you do want blood; but that's just, j-just an echo. It - it - it's just... well it's not you. You're not dead yet. You can't give up hope."

"How long?" David was looking at him with a fearful intensity. "How long do I have before I die?"

"I don't know." Giles toyed idly with his glasses, which he had once again removed. It was a nervous habit, which was supposed to draw attention away from his growing unease. "Minutes... hours... p-possibly years. Maybe." He shrugged, and nearly dropped his glasses. I really don't know." He paused, meeting David's eyes for the first time in several minutes. "And I'm sorry. Really."

"Yeah." David turned back to the bookcase, and sought out the first volume of the Walhorn Chronicles. It weighed heavily in his hands, and the metallic spine felt cold to his touch. He wondered if this vast text had been written by some quiet and lonely scholar, like Arthur Gordensson, sitting in Glasgow, noting down everything that he knew. He opened it to the first page, and stared into the black and grey eyes of the author's lithographed face. His mind filled in new detail - sharp teeth, glinting yellow eyes, a heavy and protruding brow ridge. He blinked away the mirage, and began to flick through the pages. Hovering nearby, Giles eventually turned his back and walked away. David didn't stop him. He was glad to see him go. All that he wanted was to be left alone with his reading, and with his waking nightmares. All that he wanted was to be left in peace, to await the end that he felt sure was already on its way.

**********

The cinema had a grand foyer, with high walls that tilted towards a domed ceiling covered with plaster bosses painted in white, silver and gold. There were scarlet curtains with gold braiding, each tied back against the wall with great, thick ropes of plaited gold thread that seemed festooned with newly-hatched spiders. The draught that crept in through the door following the entrance of Buffy and her friends made the curtains wave softly, and great clouds of dust rose up into the air from the heavy folds of the scarlet material. Willow tried not to cough.

"Hi!" Buffy was as bright as ever, unperturbed by the three vampires stationed in the foyer. One was the fashion escapee from the nineteen twenties, who had been so unceremoniously dumped by two consorts outside, courtesy of Willow's well-timed spell. She was still looking disgruntled, and the sudden arrival of a girl with a stake was clearly doing nothing to improve her mood.

"What do you want?" She moved forward to intercept Buffy, but made no threatening move as yet. The Slayer gave her stake a demonstrative waggle.

"I should have thought that was pretty obvious. Hi, I'm Buffy. I'm the Slayer. You might have heard of me, not that I like to blow my own horn." The other two vampires exchanged a fearful look, then bolted for the door. Xander made a half-hearted attempt to trip one up as the panicked creature ran past him, but the vampire avoided him easily, crashed into the doorframe, ricocheted impressively, then dashed like a startled deer into the street. Buffy nodded slowly.

"Guess they've heard of me."

"You shouldn't have come here." The female vampire, who cut a less than frightening image in her short, layered dress and matched gloves, licked her perfectly painted lips with a hungry tongue. "But I'm glad you did. I haven't eaten since last night."

"Still keeping to the diet? Congratulations. You have great will power." Buffy twirled her stake through her fingers like a drummer playing with his sticks. "But I didn't come here to discuss night-time snacking. I want to see ZoŽ."

"I don't know any ZoŽ." The vampire folded her arms, doing her best to overcome the shortcomings of her outfit in order to appear truly threatening. "Why don't we go upstairs and see if any of the others has heard of her."

"Gee, let me think..." Buffy's sarcasm was strongly evident in her voice. "Do I want to go up stairs and get ripped to shreds by a crowd of hungry vampires? No, I don't think I do." She brandished her stake. "Now tell me where ZoŽ is. I don't want to have to get unfriendly."

"Er... Buffy?" Willow's attention had been drawn to one of the curtains, from behind which there now emerged a pair of muscular vampire guards. Close on their heels came a second pair, larger than the first, all four dressed in black suits with gold jewellery in great abundance. They had the look of Mafia hitmen, or perhaps would-be models on the rampage. Once in the foyer they began to fan out, each one morphing into his vampire face as he took up his position. Xander, who still carried with him some residual memories of a unique Halloween celebration two years previously, recognised the manoeuvre of a well trained military unit. Certainly the four appeared to act as one. With enough of the military strategist left inside him, or perhaps through his years as Slayer's Assistant, Xander knew enough to respond to the advance of the undead troops. With speedy discretion he withdrew into the nearest patch of shadow.

"Reinforcements. I'm touched, but you really shouldn't have bothered." In a flash Buffy had moved forward, and without hesitation caught the twenties renegade in a stranglehold that would have made Giles proud. The woman struggled, but Buffy tightened her grip, pressing the stake against her hostage's prominent ribcage.

"Tell your men to back off." She put as much vehemence and viciousness into the demand as she could possibly summon, although that was not so great an amount. "Come on... be the nice host."

"Do you really think that threatening to kill me will make them surrender?" Her prisoner struggled briefly, then gave a low and menacing growl. "You're a fool if you believe that."

"I don't need to believe it." Buffy pressed down hard with the stake, and her hostage vanished in a burst of ashes. "I just like causing a distraction."

"What?" The biggest of the four vampire guards took a step forward, confused by this talk of distractions. Buffy batted her eyelashes at him.

"Well don't tell me that you weren't watching me when I had your girlfriend?"

"I was waiting for the right moment to tear out your throat and drink your blood." He cracked his massive knuckles with a sound like firecrackers at Chinese New Year. Buffy winced at the visual image.

"Whatever. Either way, you weren't watching my friends." She raised her stake-free hand, and waggled the fingers in farewell. The big vampire frowned, opening his mouth to add some new threat to his previous promise of violence. Behind him, having worked his way into position during Buffy's moment in centre stage, Xander raised his stake. Off to his right, somewhere in the greater shadows, closer to the heavy scarlet curtains, was Willow. She held her own stake, and was similarly ready for action.

"Time for you to die, Slayer." Stepping towards her, a second vampire opened his mouth wide in an impressive display of teeth. His long tongue ran along the length of his fangs. Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"I hope you floss regularly."

"Say your prayers, Slayer." He reached out for her, and she dodged aside, eyes seeking out Xander. Hidden in the scant cover of a large potted plant on a faux marble column, he caught her roving eye and gave a brisk nod.

"Here's goes nothing." It was something he had heard Face shout out on The A-Team, when just about to leap into battle, and he had always thought that it sounded good. Heroic, but in a modest sort of way - or, alternatively, merely resigned to a likely fate, which just about summed up how Xander felt at that precise moment. The nearest vampire swung about in the direction of his yell, saw Xander hurtling towards him with stake upraised, and leapt aside in a moment of commendable agility - to say nothing of lamentably bad planning. His manoeuvre, whilst carrying him neatly out of the path of Xander's thrusting stake, sent him directly into the line of fire of Willow's own descending weapon. It struck him in the heart, and with a look of abject surprise spread starkly across his face, he burst into ashes and faded from view. Willow let out a long breath.

"Behind you Will!" It was Buffy's last shout before she went into battle herself, meeting the onslaught of two of the black-clad vampires.

"What?" Willow spun around, looking to see what threat Buffy might have perceived that had made her call out. The fourth vampire, which so far had chosen to remain in the background, took a step towards her with teeth bared.

"Perhaps you want to try your tricks with me?" His teeth seemed longer than those of any vampire she had ever seen before, and she swallowed hard.

"Hi." The word came out as a squeak. Xander stepped forward.

"Think you can take on the both of us pal?" His voice and stance were typically determined, although he felt anything but fearless on the inside. The vampire grinned at him.

"Two appetisers, before the Slayer makes the main course." He rubbed his hands together. "My pleasure."

"You could at least look scared." Xander adjusted his grip on his stake. "Okay... come on. We're ready for you."

"Then you're more of a fool than you look, human." With a deep-throated growl that made the gold chains around his neck vibrate in sympathy, the vampire took a step towards his intended victims. "My mother told me not to play with my food, but I'm willing to make an exception in this case. I don't think my mother would mind."

"Xander!" Speaking through a mouthful of ashes as she disposed of the first of her own attackers, Buffy tried to sound admonishing, but failed. "Stop playing with that guy and get a move on!"

"Easy for you to say." Regarding his large opponent with increasingly visible nervousness, Xander gave a mental shrug. "I'm waiting, pal. Come on... try your luck. Did anybody ever tell you that you look like you belong in some eighties movie?"

"Xander, just stake him okay? Forget the fashion tips." Buffy was having trouble with her second opponent, but showed no signs of tiring. Xander sighed.

"Hey, there's only one Slayer, remember? And I'm not her." He dodged as his attacker lashed out with one club-sized fist, and glanced towards Willow, who was busily scrabbling in the depths of her equipment bag. "Anything in there for bad-tempered demons Will?"

"I don't know." She dropped her matchbox of oregano onto the floor, and hurried after it. The vampire saw her close to his feet, let out a roar, and made a grab for her as she passed. His lashing fist caught a handful of her hair and she let out an involuntary squeal.

"Hey! Let me go" She waved the matchbox. "Scary spell ingredients. You'd better let go or - or I'll turn you into a Fyarl demon." She nodded hard to emphasise her point, and then fervently wished that she hadn't, as the vampire's firm grip on her hair threatened to tug it out by the roots. "Or - this is full of garlic powder, mister - and don't think I'm afraid to use it."

"Garlic." The creature gave an unpleasant snorting growl and tried to shy away - no easy feat whilst he was still gripping Willow tightly by the hair. She waved the matchbox closer to his face, and he let out a snarl, swatting her hand to send the box once more into flight across the room. "Now where are your weapons, human?"

"Here." Xander's voice sounded from close beside the vampire, and it spun around to face him, dragging Willow about with it. Her feet all but left the floor with the speed of the unexpected revolution, and Xander's poised stake began to fall towards her own chest. She let out a cry.

"Will!" He changed the direction of his blow not a second too soon, twisting his arm to try to turn the stake towards the vampire instead. Anticipating such a move, the demon swung its free hand about, unleashing a solid blow that connected with Xander's head and sent him stumbling back across the room. He collided with Buffy's opponent, and the pair of them crashed to the floor. Behind him his former attacker drew Willow closer to him, pushing her head to one side and opening his mouth for a deadly bite.

"Willow!" Buffy, galvanised into action by her friend's impending doom, despite her considerable confusion following the unexpected cessation of her own skirmish, threw herself forward. Willow found herself swung once more into the line of fire, but Buffy, being possessed of rather more intuitive instincts than those of her friends, had expected that move. She dodged aside, bringing her stake around to attack the vampire from the side. Her weapon, long as it was, passed easily through the creature's exposed armpit, and travelled at speed onwards towards its heart. There was a roar of fury, and Willow collapsed to the ground in a shower of falling ash. She spluttered.

"Thankyou Buffy."

"No problem." She leaned down to haul her friend back to her feet, then turned back towards the one remaining vampire, just in time to see it vanish in a similar display of exploding dust. Xander brushed the resulting mess from his clothes and grinned.

"I really like doing that."

"Nice move." She helped him straighten his shirt. "What happened?"

"Oh, you know. Dazzling display of combat expertise, an impressive array of martial arts. Finally it crumbled under the pressure and made a fatal mistake."

"Lucky blow?"

"Very lucky." He shrugged. "But hey, dead guy's dead again. That's good enough for me."

"And me." Willow retrieved her fallen oregano leaves, checking to be sure that she had not lost any in the matchbox's headlong flight. "I guess we're still looking for ZoŽ though."

"I guess so." Buffy picked up Willow's fallen bag. "Are you ready to try out some kind of spell on that cloud creature?"

"Cloud creature will be contained." She shrugged. "If I've got the ingredients right. I'm a little unsure about the St John's Wort/clove mix, but it should be okay."

"You're the very image of reassurance, you know that?" Xander brushed the last of the dust from his trousers. "Now can we get on to the next bit of this plan before I see sense and run home in a blind panic?"

"I'm right behind you." Willow appeared to be busily mixing dry ingredients in an empty ice cream tub, stirring with a pencil that had lost its lead. "Maybe we could try asking this cloud nicely if it'll just go away and leave David alone?"

"Nice try Will." Buffy gave her a dry smile that might have been a habit picked up from Giles. "But I don't think that would work, do you?"

"We could ask it very nicely. Maybe give it a cookie?" The young, would-be witch heaved a sigh. "Oh well. I guess it's magic time in that case. I hope I can remember the words."

"How about 'Powers of darkness, bind my foe?" There was a loud sound of cracking wood and the lights dimmed. A low laugh filled the deserted foyer, and Buffy watched in horror as her stake leapt from her hand and spun away across the floor. She stared after it, transfixed, and heard an exclamation from Xander that told her her companions' weapons had gone the same way. When at last she could drag her eyes away from her retreating stake, it was to see Willow standing in a heap of dried magical ingredients, her ice cream tub upended on the floor at her feet. The discarded contents were smoking gently, sending plumes of a faint blue smoke into the air in answer to the gentle cackling of some mirthful female. Buffy frowned.

"Who's there?" She was still raising her hand in a battle pose, and realised quite suddenly that it looked faintly silly without a weapon. She tried to force herself to relax and stand down. In answer to her question the laugh increased briefly in volume.

"Who do you think?" There was the sound of footsteps, crossing the stone floor in a casual saunter. "You asked to see me."

"ZoŽ?" Buffy spun around, trying to gauge the direction from which the voice had come. "Where are you?"

"Here." A set of curtains moved, as though a figure were about to step through them, but when Buffy spun around to face them there was nobody there. Instead the footsteps came again from the opposite direction, and this time the Slayer turned about much more slowly. A single footstep sounded out, much louder than the previous ones - and suddenly the vampire she was seeking stepped through a small, cobweb bestrewn, wooden door. She had to duck to pass under the lintel, but she was not tall. She seemed to be barely the same height as Buffy.

"ZoŽ?" She felt foolish repeating the same question again so soon, but the figure now standing in the foyer was so completely against all of her expectations that she felt as if she should query the matter. Instead of the fearsome creature painted by Spike; deranged perhaps, and filled with venom and rage; there stood before the Slayer now a young girl, apparently of no more than about eighteen years. She was slim, almost to the point of ridicule, her figure so perfectly that of an hourglass that Buffy's memories were drawn back to the pictures she had once pored over, of the women of Angel's youth. Dressed in a full, deep blue skirt that bounced and danced above a pair of fluffy white ankle socks and gym plimsolls, the girl also wore a sleeveless shirt of sunny yellow, with frills around the neck. Her black hair was drawn back into a simple ponytail, tied with a plain red ribbon. There were a few trace marks of lipstick around her mouth, like the first attempt at proper makeup by a young girl still inexperienced in such things.

"That's me." Her voice sounded too old for her somehow, hinting at the real demon behind the absurdly innocent faÁade. She smoothed her skirt. "You must be Biffy."

"Buffy." She stared after her stake again. "What did you do to our weapons?"

"I hijacked your little friend's spell, before she could turn it against my partner." ZoŽ gave a little shrug, and her ponytail bobbed. A girlish smile crossed her face, filling it with an even greater innocence than before. "It seemed only fair. After all, it's my house."

"Yeah. Well by that token, try telling your 'partner' that it's David's body he's trying to raid." Buffy was finding her irritation growing to previously rarely touched upon levels. There was something about this vampire that was contriving to make her deeply vexed. The almost shy giggle that came in response to her demand did nothing at all to lessen that increasing sense of annoyance, and instead made her long for a nice sharp stake. She thought about the one across the room, and wondered if there was any chance of reaching it.

"I think it's a little bit late to start worrying about who's body it is." ZoŽ ran her tongue across her carefully painted lips, and quite suddenly there were teeth behind the lips, and fangs that gleamed in the light from the foyer's solitary, much-dimmed chandelier. "I'm a little disappointed that my plan didn't work out quite the way I planned... but I do get some satisfaction in knowing that it didn't fail completely."

"What do you mean?" Taking a step back, Buffy began to wonder about creeping surreptitiously towards her stake. Willow was already beginning to show signs of making moves towards her various ingredients. ZoŽ gave another girlish giggle, which left Buffy with a desperate desire to punch her very hard. Instead she forced a much-strained smile. "Your plan has failed completely. We know what you're up to, and we're here to stop you. So far your guards don't seem to be doing such a good job of keeping you safe."

"Perhaps." ZoŽ took a lazy step forward, toying with her wide white belt, and smoothing out the ripples of her skirt yet again. "But keeping me safe was never my plan. I can do that without needing guards to do it for me. The plan was just to make sure that that young man had enough of his old self about him in order to allow him access to the Slayer's domain. He's done that, and now the demon is growing within him. Soon he'll be on my side completely, and he'll kill your Watcher friend." She smiled at what was evidently some response she had seen on Buffy's face, even though the Slayer herself was sure that she had let no such response show. "The friend who is with him now, in that nice house with all of the books and the candles. Giles, isn't that his name? He'll be dead soon. I don't think there's much point in turning him." She brushed a speck of dust - some relic of her former guards, presumably - from the front of her sleeveless yellow top. "And he won't stop there. All those friends of yours - the ones that like to visit. All the ones whose names are in Giles' address book - the ones I've seen you all with. Anya, Tara; isn't there one called Oz? And the girl that moved to Los Angeles... although quite why anybody would move to a city named after angels is beyond me. Cordelia." She nodded. "I think we'll include her. Maybe even that dim-witted excuse for a vampire that she hangs around with. You used to have a thing going with him, didn't you Biffy?"

"You're lying. There's no way you can be planning anything like that." Buffy glanced back towards Xander, checking on his position with a view to planning some kind of a tactical manoeuvre. "You're not going to get David."

"I'm not?" ZoŽ sounded confused, and with an almost lazy movement she clicked her fingers. The noise rang out through the dusty room, as though it had been a drum beat rather than a simple finger snap. There was a faint gust of dry air, and some of the dust on the floor swirled into a new pattern. Buffy stared past ZoŽ, back towards the low door through which the vampire had entered the foyer. There was a new shape there now; something that she could only just see in the shadow - a faint spread of grey against the wall, that seemed to be hovering some two feet above the ground. It had no real shape, nor any particular form, but it sent her senses spinning in a way that was entirely new to her. Intrigued, she took a step forward, all thought of regaining her stake thrown aside.

"Is that what I think it is?" She had to strain her eyes even to see the creature, but as she moved towards it, so too did it move towards her, hovering in the air like some digitally rendered ghost in a horror movie. A pair of blurred eyes stared back at her, yellow against the grey of its insubstantial body. She could see more detail now, and could recognise a few facial features - the shape of what might have been a nose beneath the shadows, and the marks of a basic jaw line. She could see something else too - a streak of white on top of the creature, standing out against the drab grey. It was only an image - like a drunken rendition of a well known painting; an inferior copy of some famous masterpiece that hinted at the glory of the original, whilst hiding most of its splendour behind clumsy work and spilled paint. It was David's face that stared at her through the wisps of shadow, and the sight made her stop in her tracks.

"This is my demon." ZoŽ's voice and expression were one of gentle affection, almost like some warped kind of maternal feeling. "I summoned him to take the place of your friend David. He's already moving in quite nicely, as you can see. A few hours ago he was much more solid, but right now you can almost see through him. It won't be long now, and then you won't be able to see him at all. He'll be in residence."

"I don't believe you." She reached into her jacket, tugging out a vial of Holy water. "That thing can't take over David's body. Not from here."

"Is that what you believe? Then you're wrong. The turning, such as it was, created a link between David and his new tenant. All that remained to make the union complete was to allow David's soul to drain away. That's happening now; and with every little moment that passes, your friend David becomes your friend a little less, and my demon a little more. Very soon now. Very soon. I'd tell you to race home and say your goodbyes, but by the time you get there it'll be too late - for David and for Giles. And besides, I'm not planning on letting you leave anyway." She smiled her fresh and innocent smile, the effect of the wide-eyed girlishness only slightly diminished by the demon face that existed within her own. Her heavy brow ridge and glittering yellow eyes merely seemed to emphasise the sense of immaturity in her stance, and in her many tiny gestures and habits. "You can plead if you'd like. I'd quite enjoy that. But just so long as you know that it won't make any difference. I can be so very cold-hearted when I want to be." She smiled. "We could chat, though, if you like. While we wait for David's ignominious end. I'd be interested to know how you worked it all out so soon..."

"You're weird." Buffy unscrewed the lid of her vial of Holy water. "I'm the one with the weapon. I can get rid of you and your creepy friend with one throw - and you want to talk about how I figured out your plan?"

"Well we do have a few minutes to kill." ZoŽ's smile was bright and friendly enough to have warmed Buffy's heart, had it not been for her deep dislike of the unpleasant vampire.

"Forget it." She hefted the vial of Holy water. "Or maybe you think you can disarm me again?"

"By all means, try your Holy water. Watch me smoulder, watch me burn. Watch me burst into ashes before your very eyes." ZoŽ's smile took on a fanatical shine. "It won't change anything." She gestured at the vague shadow beside her, a strangely pathetic image of fading strength and presence. "It won't change anything at all."

"And you don't mind dying, even though your plan has been about as fruitful as a place with no fruit at all?" Buffy shook her head. "Maybe David will become a vampire. Then what? I'll kill him, and life goes back to normal. That's the way it goes."

"And your friends? Giles and Anya and Tara... What about them? By the time you get back, your Watcher will be dead, and David will have gone. You'll never get to him in time. He'll have one purpose in life, and that will be to kill as many people as he can that mean anything at all to the Slayer. When was the last time that you visited your mother, Biffy? She still lives in Sunnydale, doesn't she. For the time being, at least. When you walk up to her house and find her body lying on the front steps, will you be able to remember the last words you said to her? Or will you just be thinking of all the time that you wasted. All of the time that you spent standing here talking to me, or trying to fight my guards, when you could have been somewhere else." She gave a high-pitched giggle. "Don't tell me my plan has been fruitless, Slayer. I planned to leave the forces that guard the Hellmouth reeling in despair from an attack that would steal their very heart. By the end of the day I'll have done just that." She made an exaggerated show of looking at her watch. "Oh, and look. The day's almost over. Well fancy that."

"Buffy?" Willow sounded concerned, and Buffy could sympathise wholeheartedly. The vampire, with her gleeful crowing and her fearless posturing, was worrying the Slayer a great deal. Her eyes drifted towards the floating, fading creature that was intended to take David's life. She could still see it. She told herself that with the sort of firm and determined surety that she always used in a tight spot. Think positive. Be positive. Maybe Giles had told her that, or maybe Merrick had. Maybe it was just something that her father had used to say to her, in the old carefree days of her life as a would-be skater. She felt the coolness of the glass bottle in her hands, and let her mind rest with the powerful liquid that lay within it. Cool and reassuring, strong and effective. Her eyes hardened, as her voice, in contrast, turned soft and low.

"Willow? Be ready." There was no answer, either in the affirmative or the negative. She didn't need to tell her friend what it was that she had to be ready for. Willow gave no sign that she felt herself incapable of the task, although Buffy had no way of knowing if her friend's magical ingredients were still in any condition to be used. There was a faint smell of burning herbs in the air, which suggested that some of the leaves and dried powders had been destroyed, most probably when ZoŽ had 'hijacked' the spell.

"What are you whispering about?" ZoŽ had taken a step forward, her floating shadow at her side. Buffy smiled.

"I was just saying that I love the dťcor in this place." She took a step forward herself, the seemingly casual stride taking her very close to the prowling vampire. "I wondered who your decorator was. I'd love a chandelier just like that one. It's so charmingly passť."

"If you're trying to get me angry enough to make a mistake, it won't work." ZoŽ's smile was infuriatingly smug. "Nothing will work now. I'm going to rip your heart out, Slayer - in the figurative sense if not in the literal. Sunnydale will be left with a guardian who won't be worth the wood she carves her stakes out of. It'll be my town then. Mine, and all the other vampires who deserve to inherit the Hellmouth." She reached out, and the long, neatly shaped fingernails of her left hand stroked Buffy's wrist. The vial of Holy water wobbled, as the vampire tried to force her foe to drop it. Buffy smiled.

"Funny thing about vampires. They have all this undead super strength, but they're still not strong enough to beat me in an arm wrestling contest. Not that I like to boast..." she twisted her arm and knocked ZoŽ to the floor, "but the truth is, I'm just better at this than you are."

"Killing me won't solve any of your problems." ZoŽ seemed to spit fire from her eyes, but sprawled on the floor her arrogance was more of a joke than a threat. Buffy shrugged.

"It'll help."

"Buffy. Shadow guy's fading." Xander's voice, so often one of fun, now sounded as hard and as serious as it had ever been. All of Buffy's instincts screamed at her to turn and look, but she dared not take her eyes off ZoŽ.

"Willow?" She didn't wait for an answer, and didn't need one. "Deal with it."

"I'll try." There was the sound of scrabbling and scratching on the floor. ZoŽ laughed.

"You'll never do it. Not in time."

"Yes we will." Buffy tilted the vial of water until the level inside was poised and ready to fall. "We always do."

"Not this time." ZoŽ began to giggle, her eyes standing out starkly from her head as her manic laughter began to grow in volume. Buffy felt a strange urge to shiver.

"Haven't you heard? Bad guys only do insane giggling in James Bond movies; and do I look like Pierce Brosnan?" She tilted the vial just a little bit more. "Only similarity there is that we both always win."

"Not this time." The repetition of the words did not serve to make ZoŽ's mania seem any less intense. "Not this time."

"Oh... shut up." At a loss for a suitable pun, Buffy gave up. There was just no talking to some people. She tilted the vial the rest of the way and let the Holy water come fountaining out. It cascaded in a brilliant rivulet towards the fallen vampire, striking her chest directly above her heart. Buffy felt a smile breaking free across her face, and savoured the moment for the triumph it was. Below, ZoŽ spluttered in rage.

"It won't work, Slayer." Smoke poured from her mouth as she coughed out the words. "David is mine now."

"David will never be yours." Buffy could smell more herbs, and she felt sure that Willow was getting to work with her spell. "We're the good guys, and we always win, haven't you heard? You're not getting David."

"No?" A final gush of smoke tore its scalding path up from deep within the dying vampire's burning throat. "Wait and see." There was another gasp, then a rush of heat. Buffy stepped back, watching dispassionately as her foe collapsed into dust. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thank goodness for that. I really, really hate the mad ones."

"Yeah. At least the just plain evil ones don't want to talk you to death." Xander retrieved their fallen stakes. "We'd better get out of here. Something tells me there's more than one reinforcement hidden in this place."

"I think you're probably right." She turned to Willow. "How's it going Will?"

"Not sure." The trainee witch gestured towards the floating shape before her, glowing faintly blue now, and apparently unable to move. "I think I got it."

"Then it should be safe for the time being." She sighed, her only concession towards showing her fatigue, and then reached over to collect her stake from Xander. "We should get back home to Giles. Perhaps he's found a way of killing it. Think one of us should stay here to watch it?"

"It'll be fine." Xander hid his own stake inside his jacket. "Let's just get out of here. I can't shake the feeling we're about to get swamped by a band of undead usherettes."

"Yeah." Buffy glanced one final time at the floating creature before them, then turned and headed towards the door. "You're right. It's time we were getting back."

"I hope David's okay." The look that Willow gave the imprisoned shadow was a doubtful one, tinged with no small amount of worry. Buffy grinned, and threw an arm around her friend's tense shoulders.

"He's fine, Will. We got here in time. The good guys won out, and the bad guys went 'poof'! We won."

"Yeah." Willow allowed herself a little smile of satisfaction. "We did, didn't we."

"Don't we always?" Xander took the lead as they strolled out into the street. "I like this bit. This is definitely the bit that I like the best."

"Me too." Buffy took a deep breath of the cool, still night air. She was looking forward to going back to report in to Giles. By now, she was sure, he would have found a way to destroy the demon shadow. She was going to take great pleasure in shaking David by the hand and letting him know that he was cured. That was what she did, after all. She was the Slayer. And the Slayer protected the innocent, and helped them to stay safe. It was the very heart of her meaning; the very centre of her purpose upon the Earth. She could already see the moment in her mind's eye, and it put a bright spring into her step.

Some days it was just great to be the Slayer.

**********

David was hot. He was sure that he shouldn't be, for he could see a faint wind blowing outside, and he was aware that neither Spike nor Giles seemed to be showing any sign of undue warmth. Nonetheless he was hot, and he could feel his heart beginning to pound against his ribs in response. He wanted to soak himself in cool water, or drink gallons and gallons of iced liquid... except that the only liquid he was able to think about was blood. It was his every thought now - the core of every strand of his conscious. The desire for blood made his pulse race, brought his temperature up, made his eyes shine with an unnatural glow. It made him want to scream, and to roar, and it made him want to turn about and tear his two companions apart. He was starting to see that now; to picture it in his mind. It would be so easy, so refreshing. It would cure this desperate, hopeless longing for blood. He found himself smiling at the thought; a ragged, half-formed smile that spoke of madness. His dry tongue ran its way across lips that no longer felt like his own. Everything felt dry and unnaturally hot. Everything felt like it was no longer his. He was in somebody else's body, fighting alien urges, battling unfamiliar desires that led into a downward spiral of confusion. His head hurt. So did everything else.

"Okay David?" Giles sounded as friendly and as pleasant as ever, although the slight edge of concern was growing more evident with the passing of time. "Can I get you something?"

"No. Thankyou." The voice sounded hoarse and strained, and he barely recognised it. When had he got so old and so tired?

"Are you sure? Perhaps another cup of coffee? Or tea?"

"No." He had to concentrate with all of his being just to keep from snapping. The questions made him want to bellow his answers in rage. Couldn't Giles see that he had no interest in cups of tea or coffee? Couldn't the man tell that all he wanted was to be left alone? Left alone to dream illicit thoughts of blood, fountaining slowly through his mind... He coughed, and ran his tongue across his teeth once again, almost too afraid to do so in fear of what he might find. Giles put a hand on his shoulder, the warmth of his touch making David think once again of the blood that ran so closely beneath the skin. Easy to get to. Easy to drink. His stomach curdled. What the hell was he thinking of? Killing a man? Drinking his blood? Even aside from the implications of murder and cannibalism, his vegetarian instincts were revolted by the thought. He shivered, and so powerful was the convulsion that it shook Giles' hand away. The Watcher knelt down beside his chair, but David refused to look at him.

"David." Giles' voice was soft but firm. "What's going on?"

"Nothing." He was sweating profusely now, terrified of being found out. If they knew how he was feeling, and if they knew about his desires, they would kill him. He was sure of that, and it terrified him as much as did the idea of becoming a vampire. He didn't want to die. He just wanted to be left alone.

"David..." There was a hand on his arm now, slowly turning him with a strength that Giles didn't look as if he possessed. David let the older man turn him, but still refused to meet his eyes.

"Leave me alone." He was staring at the words of the book still open on the table, just as he had been staring at it for the past two hours. He didn't know which page he was on, and he didn't know what any of the words said. He hadn't been able to see any of them so far. Each one had merely blurred into the next, each time he had attempted to make any sense of it all. It had become a vast, churning mass of black and white before his eyes, swirling and unwinding every so often into demonic faces and laughing skulls. Some part of him was aware that he should be very worried about that. Hallucinations could not be a good sign. The rest of him just wanted to ignore it, and to curl up in some deep dark place where the hallucinations wouldn't be able to find him. Somewhere where there was no temptation - no warm, living human body waiting patiently so close to his own. Giles' warmth was reawakening all kinds of new hungers, and David found that the shivers now would not stop at all.

"David..." Giles' other hand reached out, touching his cheek, gently turning his face until their eyes met. The boy was shaking so hard now that the Watcher could barely see any kind of life in those eyes. They were half-closed, blurred as though through heavy use of drugs. Sweat poured freely down the boy's face, drenching his shirt; but his face, when Giles put his hand gently against the quaking forehead, felt almost inhumanly cold. It was all that the Watcher could do not to tear his hand away as though stung.

"Please..." David was staring at him now, his eyes widened although no less blurred. "Don't kill me. Please."

"I'm not going to kill you." He didn't know what to do now. How much longer before the boy turned completely? How much longer before Buffy found ZoŽ, and dealt with the shadow creature? When Willow had made the last phone call to report on their progress the group had been just about to start out for the old cinema. They should almost be there by now. Giles glanced at his watch. Call it an hour, perhaps, to deal with ZoŽ and work the binding spell on the bodiless vampire. David should be able to hold out for that long. All that they had to do until then was to keep his mind occupied. Prove to him that he was still a human, and not a demon.

"I warned you." There was no triumph in Spike's voice, nor even any sign of his usual smug glee at being right. Giles didn't look at him.

"This isn't like before," he mumbled, more to himself than to anybody else. "It's not like any turning I've ever seen before."

"I told you this wasn't anything that you would know how to deal with." Spike was puffing on a cigarette, sending clouds of smoke floating into the air. David seemed to be transfixed by them, his eyes wide and bulging as he stared up at the twisting strands of rising smoke. His lips moved soundlessly, as though he were singing in his head. Faint whispers came to Giles in broken pieces, but he couldn't hear what the boy was saying.

"How long?" He stared at the floor rather than at either of his two companions. Spike gave no immediate answer.

"He won't see the morning. Beyond that I can't tell you."

"Then I have to call somebody." Giles pushed himself to his feet and turned towards the telephone. "There has to be someone who can tell me something."

"I have no idea what Drusilla's phone number is." Spike put out a hand, catching hold of Giles before he could go any nearer to the phone. "There isn't anybody. You can't call up the Spirit Guides on that, and they wouldn't be able to tell you anything anyway. Not about this. Who else is there? A bunch of Watchers in London who know less about this than you do, and probably wouldn't speak to you anyway? They'd tell you to stake him, if they told you anything at all."

"Anya then. She knows all kinds of things." Giles tried to move past Spike, but the vampire held him back. Perhaps it was true that his intentions were good, for he showed no sign of suffering from the effects of his behaviour chip.

"What are you hoping she's going to tell you? Something different to everything I've said? Something different to everything you can see happening right before your eyes? There isn't anything to say, Giles, and there isn't anything to do. He's dying. End of story."

"I have to try." He pushed off the restraining hand and caught up the telephone receiver. "Tara knows things too. Willow often mentions things that she's learnt from her... all kinds of things. I-I've been meaning to have a proper talk with the girl. Maybe now's the ideal time."

"Ideal time for what? To bring her here so she can make things worse? She doesn't know anything, Giles. Nobody does, 'cept maybe me. 'Cept maybe Drusilla and Angel, who have seen something like this before. Drusilla's out of the picture, and I don't know how to get in touch with Angel. Do you?"

"Not exactly." He stared at the receiver in his hand. "But I have to try something."

"Then try your books. Right now he's fighting bloodlust. You think you're going to help matters if you bring some kids in here? Teenagers and young adults attract vampires for a reason. It's..." He flushed, as though fighting a feeling brought on by the thought. "It's all about heat and hormones. Blood like that is like fine wine, aged in oak. A vintage savoured by generations..." He sighed, looking disconsolate. "Somehow 'yum' just doesn't cover it. If you bring any more of Buffy's little buddies here, he's going to find it a whole lot harder to fight whatever he's fighting."

"You could be saying that because you want him to turn. You might be a familiar figure in the gang by now, Spike, but don't think I've forgotten what you really are. How do I know you're not just trying to make sure I'm alone here with him, if he does turn?"

"When he turns, not if." Spike sounded firm, which was something of a new situation since the metaphorical loss of his teeth. "I'll bet ZoŽ put in an order for a strong one to take that kid's body. She's got the magical know-how to be able to choose whichever demon she wants to make the crossover into the Fun Dimension. Maybe it would be better to have a whole host of allies to help you kill him. But if you want a chance to keep him alive, you need to limit his temptations. You don't have to trust me, or believe me. Just think about it logically. That's what you're so good at, right?"

"I suppose what you're saying does make an unfortunate kind of sense." Very slowly Giles returned the receiver to its cradle. "Okay, so it's just the two of us. What next?"

"Hope that the Slayer and her wannabe witch manage to get a binding spell on that walking storm cloud out there. Other than that..." Spike made a vaguely helpless gesture with his hands. "Sorry Giles. But all we can do is sit back and wait to stake." His eyes drifted across to David, who sat slumped in his chair just a few feet away. The boy had gone very pale, and was whispering harder and faster than before. His words were still a mystery, but Spike doubted that he was praying. He was too far gone to the other side now to be able to do that. His eyes were fixed open, staring widely at some invisible point close to Giles' feet, and it seemed to Spike, as he watched the fading human, that a flicker of bestial yellow passed across the dark green irises. It was gone in a second, but he was sure of it all the same. He frowned. Time was running out. He was going to have to decide very quickly which side of this he wanted to be on.

**********

Time seemed to pass much more quickly than it did; for it seemed as though hours were passing in the time that it took the hands of Giles' ancient-looking mantle clock to march out the length of one full hour. Spike spent the time sitting cross-legged on the settee, an ashtray nestled beside one knee, containing a growing pile of still smouldering butts. A pyramid of beer cans was slowly building its way up before him, its base on the floor and its teetering summit now above the level of the vampire's seat. They were not all his cans - a few of them belonged to Giles - but Spike's own growing level of intoxication suggested that by far the lion's share of the beer had indeed been drunk by him. Certainly it had been he who had finished the supply of bottles, necessitating the move onto the canned drinks. If he hadn't seen it for himself he would never have believed that there would be so great a stash of alcohol in the former Watcher's house. A bottle of sweet sherry perhaps, or possibly a single bottle of a fine malt whisky; but then these days there was little about Giles that really surprised Spike. At that particular moment, as he added another can to the pyramid, and another butt to the ashtray, he was firmly convinced that he would not so much as blink if his apparently-not-so-stuffy fellow Englishman produced a joint from somewhere about the room. Having said that, Spike mused with a wry, self-deprecating smirk, right now he probably wouldn't blink if the March Hare raced into the room, and asked the way to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. It had been one of those sorts of days.

Giles, for his part, was not nearly so relaxed or accepting. He had spent much of the past hour sitting on the stairs, reading his way through three books at once, although fast losing any hope that there would be anything of use in any one of them. He turned the pages with a listlessness that was nothing like his usual vigour. A can of beer stood on the step beside his feet, gradually growing warm as the heat of the evening progressed. He reached out for it as he read, drinking without tasting, not noticing that David was watching him all of the time. Giles did not lift his eyes from the pages before him, and failed to see the hesitant tongue that licked its way across the boy's lips, nor the frustrated and miserable way in which he brushed the sweat-soaked strands of hair away from his eyes. Confusion and exhaustion was written on every inch of his face. He rubbed at his eyes as he watched the Watcher work, and the yellow flashes Spike had first noticed in his irises an hour previously, returned now with a greater intensity.

"Giles?" David's voice came out hoarse and dry, and did not carry well at first. Giles didn't look up from his books. Even Spike, usually possessed of the amplified hearing boasted by all predatory animals, showed no sign of having heard, and instead concentrated his attention on the lighting of another cigarette.

"Giles?" He put more urgency into his voice the second time, raising the volume as much as he felt able, without causing his voice to crack. His throat was too dry to form the words at a normal volume without running the risk of breaking into a coughing fit. Thirst was now becoming a torment that he was scarcely able to bear.

"Hmm?" Giles looked up, dropping the first book, and catching the second only just in time to prevent its tumbling down the stairs. The can at his feet, still half full of beer, slipped from its perch as the corner of the first book caught it a square blow on the side, and a cascade of brown liquid poured down the steps. Giles barely seemed to notice. "Oh, David. Are you alright?"

"Yes." He managed a small smile, that carried more than a trace of bitterness. "Well... no actually. I think I'm starting to lose it."

"Define 'lose it'." It was with a precise slowness that Giles rose to his feet, skirting the sticky patches of beer on the stairs but not seeming at all inclined to do anything about them. Spike glanced up with a morbid kind of interest, but his surly face showed no sign of betraying any feelings he might have had about David's predicament. Instead he blew a string of smoke rings, then swatted them aside with an irritable hand.

"I don't know. That's just it. I think I'm starting to run a fever." The boy looked as white as a sheet, although loss of colour had been a growing symptom that he had displayed since first arriving at Giles' home. "I've read all the books that the Watchers have in the library at Council Headquarters, Giles. All the classic texts on the time of the Becoming. I thought that I knew all about it, but none of that seems to fit what's happening to me here."

"I know." Giles checked the boy's temperature with a hand on his forehead. Sure enough, the heat was building there, reaching a level that was far beyond normal for either a human or a vampire. "Are you still hungry?"

"And thirsty. I can't think of anything but food." The boy screwed his eyes up tightly for a second, clearly having to recompose himself at the mere mention of sustenance. "What do I do?"

"I'll find you some blood. I usually have some lying about the place, since Spike started to hang about here so often." Giles glared across at the blond vampire, who showed no sign of having heard the conversation. Instead his attention seemed now to have been captured by the chest of weapons in the corner of the room. Giles wasn't sure that he liked the way in which those pale eyes focussed themselves so intently on the box of crossbows and hand-carved stakes.

"I don't want blood!" The words exploded out of David like the cork from a bottle of warm champagne. "Please Giles! I - I know that I need it, and I know that I'm going crazy without it. But to drink it? I don't know what would happen to me then. I don't know how much more I would lose. I can't give in to this. I can't let myself turn."

"Drinking blood needn't make that happen. It needn't be a, er, a-a capitulation. You need to do this."

"I need to be normal, that's all." He leaned forward, and one of his hands, unnaturally strong, grabbed hold of Giles' wrist. "How long, do you think? Before Buffy and the others come back, I mean. How long?"

"I don't know. An hour perhaps. I suppose it depends on how soon they're able to find ZoŽ's hideout, and on the scale of resistance they find there."

"But then they'll find the thing that's trying to take over my body, and they'll kill it. Won't they." Excitement lent his face and eyes an unhealthy flush. Giles hesitated.

"They'll contain it certainly. I don't know about killing it yet. I haven't been able to find a way to do that. It's, er... it's possible that if we contain it, w-we could use Holy water to destroy it, but we'd have to be sure that it was unable to dissipate. If the binding spell is incomplete, the creature will just change shape to prevent the water from damaging it in any way. I've been looking for a spell of some kind. Something more powerful than Willow's know how. Perhaps something to skip the middle man and kill it outright. So far I've had no luck."

"But Buffy's going to contain the creature, and then it won't be able to take me over. I'll be safe."

"Yes." Giles smiled at him, although the smile in no way reached his eyes. "Yes, of course."

"Huh." Spike still didn't look towards them, although he had at least pulled his eyes away from the array of deadly weapons. "Safe maybe. Not cured."

"Spike." There was a hard edge of warning in the Watcher's tone, but the vampire ignored it.

"Well there's no point in lying to the kid, is there. So you contain the thing - so what? He's still more than half gone, isn't he. That's not going to change, just because you've got the rest of that thing trapped in some magical whatsit. If you're going to cure him, you'll have to find a way to get the vampire out of him, and to the best of my knowledge nobody's found a cure for death yet - because that's exactly what possession by a vampire is. Maybe your little friend over there doesn't realise it, Giles, but he's dying. More than that, he's nearly dead. He's still fighting a kind of infection, but he's losing that battle. You could contain the virus by bewitching his vampire, but that's not going to remove it from his system. Or maybe you think he wants to live to a ripe old age in the condition he's in now?"

"Giles?" Panic lit David's eyes from within. "What he's saying... Is it true?"

"I don't know. Nobody knows." Giles' glare towards Spike was thunderous. "Much less him. He's not half the expert he likes to make himself out to be."

"But it sounds logical, doesn't it. It sounds likely. I am turning, and I can feel it happening. I've been feeling it since last night, when Buffy first found me. That's not going to go into reverse, just because you've found a way to kill the creature that's doing this to me. Is it." There was no answer, and his grip on Giles' wrist tightened. "Is it? Giles, speak to me!"

"I don't know." Giles wanted to pull away, but he didn't. Instead he forced himself to relax a little, trying to add a soothing note to his voice. He seemed to be failing dismally in that respect, but he had no idea what other kind of reassurance there was for him to give. "You're a little fraught, David. You should have something to eat. It might help you to relax."

"Blood." The boy's shoulders slumped, and his grip on Giles' wrist slackened. Giles did not need to try hard in order to release himself, and with the grip gone he sat on the arm of a chair near to the place where David was sitting. "You want me to drink blood. You want me to be just like him." He nodded at Spike, who stubbed out his latest cigarette, grinned encouragingly, and stood up to stretch. The pyramid of empty beer cans fell over at his sudden movement, bouncing all over the floor in a clatter of protesting aluminium and steel.

"Giles is right, no matter how much I hate saying it." He wiped the last of the beer from his mouth. "Your best chance to fight this is to meet it halfway, and that means having a drink. It's not all that bad really. It's actually a very underrated foodstuff - blood, I mean. Great taste. Everybody's a little nauseous the first time out. It's like taking your first puff on a cigarette. Might make you green, might make you sick, but if you keep at it you'll soon get addicted." He gestured towards the kitchen. "I'll do the honours if you like."

"You really felt nauseous the first time you drank blood?" David's eyes were widened in interest, but Spike merely grinned.

"Are you kidding? I was a hungry demon. Still am, but I can't bloody do anything about it these days. No, I was just trying to mke you feel better." He disappeared into the kitchen, and re-emerged seconds later with two plastic packets filled with blood. He held them up.

"I'm assuming you won't be joining us, Rupert."

"I think I can bear to manage without." Giles took one of the packets nonetheless, and handed it to David. "It's quite easy. There's a tab at the top that pulls aside. You can drink it like you might drink from a carton of orange juice, or you can pour it into a mug if you'd prefer."

"Or you can put in a bowl with Weetabix." Spike tore open the top of the packet, taking great care not to spill a drop. "Open wide and down the hatch. Tastes pretty good, although it's hardly the same as it is when it's fresh. Nothing beats good fresh blood, from an organically grown, free-range human." He licked his lips and gave an exaggerated sigh. "I miss the gourmet days."

"You're not helping, Spike." Giles could no longer be bothered to glare, and instead took David's bag of blood, pouring the contents carefully into the long empty coffee cup sitting on the table beside the first volume of the Walhorn Chronicles. The boy had gone extremely green, and his hands were shaking like those of an alcoholic caught in the grip of a hasty withdrawal. It was all that the Watcher could do to force the cup into the shaking hands, holding them to ensure that the boy didn't lose his grip and smash the cup.

"I can smell it." David was almost in tears, his pale face tinged with noticeable green, his eyes almost closed. He didn't want to see the blood before him, and Giles could sympathise. To take such a step as to begin drinking blood was something that was beyond the comprehension of most people. "Please take it away."

"If you're sure." Giles put the cup down on the table nearby. "But if you don't drink it, you're only going to feel worse. It's the only thing that can sustain you now. The only substance that can end the hunger you're feeling. Without it, I-I can't help thinking that your confusion, and your frustrations, are just going to increase."

"Give in and become a vampire, or give in and go mad. Is that what you're saying?" David tried to smile, but didn't quite manage it. He was biting his lip in an effort to retain control, but his shaking was growing rapidly out of hand. "Either way I lose who I am. I'm seventeen, Giles. I don't want to have to do this. I don't want to have to think about dying."

"Nobody said anything about dying. There'll be adjustments, perhaps. Your life will have to be different, certainly, and I can't see the Watchers letting you continue as one of their number. For all you know, that might be something of a blessing. So long as the vampire causing your turning remains contained, or is destroyed, you needn't die. Once you conquer your unwillingness to drink blood, you might find some of the pressures that you're feeling right now beginning to fade. I can't promise that of course, b-but I... I imagine that--"

"Give me the mug." He was reaching out for the drinking vessel, his own lips already flecked with redness where his teeth had bitten too hard. Giles hesitated.

"Are you sure?"

"If it'll stop the world spinning, yes I'm sure. I just want to stop feeling like I'm about to explode." He stared up at Giles, eyes feverish and intense. "If I don't like it, I can always go and watch the sun rise."

"David, suicide really isn't--"

"I'm not going to commit suicide. I don't even know if sunlight will kill me. I'm not a real vampire, remember? I don't know what I am. How's that for teenage disaffection?" Giles handed the mug across, and the shivering boy managed to take it, bringing it slowly up to his lips. "What kind of blood is this, anyway? And if it's human, please lie."

"It's pig's blood I think." Giles managed a small smile. "I'm actually not all that sure."

"You buy it from the milkman?"

"Not even Sunnydale is that weird." They shared a smile, before David, finally beginning to bring the shaking of his hands under control, lifted the mug to within reach of his mouth. It knocked against his teeth with a hard, heavy sound.

"Right now Sunnydale is the weirdest place in the world." He hesitated still, staring into the mug at the swirling redness inside. He could smell it strongly, and the mere closeness of it seemed to ease some of his inner turmoil. He knew that Giles was right, and that he needed to drink the stuff. He needed to do something if he was to remain strong enough to continue fighting his ongoing Becoming. He needed to conquer his raging confusion, his desperate sense of hopelessness, his fever-ridden hallucinations. If he didn't find a way to do that, he would be too weak to fight anything, and then he would turn in a flash.

"The milkman used to deliver fresh blood to my last place in London." Spike drained his packet of blood and then tossed it aside. The last few drops mingled with the pool of beer at the bottom of the stairs, adding a new odour to the smell of dusty books and musty old pages too rarely turned. "Every morning without fail, some guy from the dairy used to turn up. Drusilla used to lure them inside, and then we'd have our delivery. They kept on coming. Never suspected a thing. I used to hide the bodies three streets away. Some local layabout got arrested for the killings in the end. He even confessed, but there was a lot of that about in those days. Don't remember what happened to him." To his surprise David managed a short laugh.

"I always thought that London was the straightest city on Earth."

"Don't you believe it." Giles folded his arms, half-closing his eyes as the conversation brought back a million memories. "There are night-clubs run by werewolves, restaurants run by sorcerers, discos where the dancing girls burst into flame at the final stroke of midnight... There are more covens per square mile than in any other European city. Never been many vampires though. For some reason they prefer Liverpool."

"And Cardiff. Used to be an annual vampire convention there." Spike was smirking, which might have been because he was joking, or might just have been because he was in that sort of mood. "Lots of seminars on stalking technique, lessons on ways to train yourself to conquer your fear of crosses. That sort of thing."

"Shut up Spike." Giles was watching David closely. "Are you still feeling okay?"

"Better I think. A little." He stared a the mug, still hovering scant millimetres from his lips. "It... takes a moment."

"Of course. I understand." Giles was staring at the mug with more than a hint of empathy colouring his vision. Memories of his own youth, though not quite when he had been so young as seventeen. Memories of initiation rites, and demon possession; soul rites and drinking the blood of his coven mates. He knew exactly how it felt to take that first sip, although he would much rather that he didn't. "To your good health?"

"To my good health?" David smiled around the rim of the coffee cup. "I don't know what that is anymore." He gave a short, restrained shrug, that moved only his head. "To somebody's good health anyway." He glanced up at Giles, and their eyes locked. "Yours, I hope."

"Thankyou."

"Yeah." David reached out tentatively with his tongue, feeling the unfamiliar texture of the liquid, tasting it and feeling his body respond. "Better stand back. I don't know what's going to happen next."

"It'll be alright."

"Yeah." He wanted to take a deep breath, but his body was screaming its need for the new resources waiting so close at hand. "I guess." He took his first sip.

At first it seemed as though nothing was happening - a silence, stretching out as he tipped back his head to drink in the warm redness. Giles watched him carefully, seeing the tightly closed eyes relaxing slightly, the straining muscles in the boy's face and neck lose just a little of their tension, as the life-giving force of the blood ran into his system. The heaving chest lessened its desperate gasping, and the heavy lines on the smooth young forehead slackened, eased off, and finally disappeared. Giles breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it would be okay now. Maybe the boy had a chance to get a grip.

"Giles, there's something you ought to know." Spike's voice came from a million miles away, or possibly further still. The Watcher was too caught up in his vigil to lend any more of his attention to the vampire, and instead kept his mind focussed elsewhere. It was fluctuating between memories - thoughts of his own past, snatches of his reading during the course of the day and the previous night, ideas that might help him now in his battle to save David. Spike reached out for him.

"Giles, there's something I didn't tell you before."

"Not now Spike. I have to watch him. He's not out of the woods yet."

"I don't think he ever will be."

"He could be. Now that he's getting control, he could be." He took a step forward, reaching out in readiness to take the empty cup away from his young charge. Perhaps he should offer a refill. David had been hungry, and in desperate need of sustenance. It was possible that one packet of blood would not be enough - although he didn't want to pressure the boy too much. He might not yet be psychologically up to the suggestion of drinking even more blood so soon.

"I saw something earlier. Something inside him. Something in his eyes. I really think you need to know this." Spike's voice sounded the way it had done on so few occasions in the past - times few and far between when he genuinely wanted to help. Giles remembered it, vaguely, from some of the times he had spent alone with the vampire before; when it was just the two of them, and they both relaxed a little. He didn't like to think of it as like recognising like; but he knew that there was something that changed in the vampire's voice. He heard it now, but he didn't want to listen to it.

"Spike, I know your feelings on this. And since when do you care anyway? What does it matter to you if this doesn't work out? He's hardly going to kill you."

"Maybe it matters more than I want to say." Spike's hand was hard on his shoulder. "Listen to me, Giles. I didn't say anything before because I wasn't sure that I did care - or that I wanted to. Maybe I do now, or maybe I've just had second thoughts. Maybe it's just a case of better the devil you know. Just listen to me, and back away from him."

"What?" Quite clearly, the Watcher had not heard a word. Watcher he might be - or might once have been. Listener he most definitely was not. Spike tried to pull him back, away from David, and away from those tightly clenched eyes that hid who knew what; but the chip in his head made it all but impossible to act. Giles tried to shake him off. "Get away from me Spike."

"Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you." The vampire let go of him, backing away across the floor, heading towards the weapons chest in the corner. His head struck the dangling crystal weight of a set of wind chimes, and a string of light and breezy notes filled the heavy, tepid air. For the first time, he wondered if the air conditioning was working, for the music of the wind chimes fell through the air as though it were forcing its way through a choking fog. Giles jumped at the sound, so unexpected was it - so different was it from the thickly silent air that had clogged the room before. He started to turn his head to see what had caused the sound - to follow the direction of the notes to their source - when something caught his eye. A sudden movement - a sharp, abrupt jolt that brought him up short. David had finished drinking. He lowered his mug, drawing in one deep, soothing breath that brought new composure to each and every part of his nerve-wracked body. His fingers flexed, and the cup fell to the ground, striking a piece of carpet, jumping onto the bare boards of the floor, rolling away under the nearest table with a grating, scratching, hollow sound that broke the last of the silence into heavy, sodden chunks. The deep inhalation ended.

"Giles." He spoke the word in a voice that was calm and composed. "I feel different."

"In control?" Wind chimes and Spike both equally forgotten, Giles closed the last few feet of distance that remained between himself and the half-demon boy.

"In control of something." His hands were shaking slightly, but a good deal less than before. "Different. Very different. New."

"Can you open your eyes?"

"My eyes?" Puzzlement showed on the smooth brow. "They aren't open already? I can see so much. I think I can see the way to the demon dimension, Giles. All darkness and shadow, and so many dark lights. Pink and silver mists, and fires burning in the eyes of a thousand skulls. You can't imagine."

"I rather think I can." He could imagine it because he had seen it, more than once. He didn't think that he had spoken the words aloud, but perhaps he had, for David seemed to react to them.

"Perhaps you can." He leaned forward, reaching out for Giles as the Watcher knelt beside him to check him over more thoroughly. His blind hands touched the older man's shoulders, drawing him close. "Perhaps you can imagine all kinds of things." He cocked his head on one side. "My troubles are slipping away, Giles. Falling away like great pieces of history, floating into the past. Every single thing that ever bothered me. Everything little thing that was ever a concern. They're all gone."

"You should take it easy, David. Rest for a bit. Get some sleep perhaps. We - we've all been neglecting that these last twenty-four hours or so. I'll show you where you can lie down for a while."

"No. Not yet. Plenty of time to lie down later. Graves, and coffins. The cemetery. Those are the places to lie down in." The boy's head cocked on one side, sharp and sudden, like the movement of a predatory creature catching a scent. "Buffy's coming. The Slayer. She's close by."

"You can tell that?" Giles peered more closely at him, wishing that he would open his eyes. "How?"

"I have eyes inside." David smiled at him, and the light from the soft ceiling lamps caught the edges of his teeth. If they were a little sharper, a little longer, Giles did not notice. "Not like the eyes on the outside. Better." He blinked, and beneath his darting eyelids flashes of a brilliant yellow flickered and shone. Giles looked up at him, and his own sharp eyes caught the brief image, registering it for what it had to be. He stifled a gasp.

"What's wrong?" David's voice came harshly, surprising Giles. "What is it?"

"Nothing. I was, er, I-I--"

"You're betrayed by your voice, Giles." The hands on the Watcher's shoulders tightened their grip. "Tell me what it is."

"I thought I saw something. Your eyes."

"My eyes?" A dark frown crossed the boy's forehead, and for a second the smooth skin was tainted. Lines criss-crossed the pale skin, and the brow, youthful and untroubled before, bulged suddenly in a dark corruption of the shape of David's face. The forehead rose and grew, and jutting ridges of bone pushed forth against the skin. David's open mouth showed the points of new teeth, and Giles pulled back in sudden shock and surprise.

"Giles?" The demon was gone from the face, and in its place was nothing but a boy. "Don't tell me it's nothing. What's wrong?"

"It's... really nothing." He tried to smile into those wide yellow eyes, watching as the last of the feral madness drained away. David's own dark green irises were visible again, bright and staring beneath the floppy fringe of black and white. "Nothing at all."

"I'm changing, aren't I. You can see it."

"David..."

"I was hoping that the Slayer was in time." His head snapped around, looking in the direction of the door even before two sharp raps sounded upon the wood. "That's her. That's Buffy. I don't want her to see me like this."

"Like what? David, you're human. Look in the mirror. There's nothing on your face now but humanity. She'll have contained the demon that tried to possess you, and it won't be able to move against you again. Listen, if I can talk to you now, you're not lost."

"I suppose..." His eyes were trailing away, looking at the mirror hanging nearby. It was a pa kua mirror, hung for a reason that escaped Giles now. Olivia had hung it, he thought; saying something about helping to protect him from some of Sunnydale's unpleasantries at least. "I'm really human?"

"You look like it to me." He rose to his feet, helping David to do likewise, guiding him towards the little mirror with its simple, decorated frame. "Just look. Your face is your own."

"My face is..." He looked into the mirror, seeing only the Watcher standing behind him. "Where is my face?"

"It's right--" He stopped, the words unable to speak themselves. "Your reflection..."

"Is gone." David spun about to face him. "I've gone. I've gone or I'm going, it's all the same."

"No."

"He's right, Giles." Spike's voice was hard and sharp, and as Giles turned around to face him he found the blond vampire with a crossbow held firmly in his hands. Whether or not he was pointing the weapon at David or at Giles himself, the Watcher didn't know. He wasn't sure if Spike was hoping that he could withstand the effects of his head chip for long enough to shoot a human, or even if David was human enough now to count in the doctored vampire's programming. "Let Buffy in."

"Why? So she can kill me?" David's eyes were yellow again, but the demon's touch did not prevent the tears from beginning to fall. It seemed extraordinary to see a face that was half-vampire in the thrall of emotions so entirely human. Giles wanted to reach out for the boy, but when he did so all that he got for his troubles was a snarl - a long, bestial, threatening snarl that brought David's new teeth into full effect. The heavy brow ridge emphasised the warning in the yellow eyes, and behind him, Giles heard a second snarl coming in answer. He turned. Spike had turned too, his own young face now changed into something different - the yellow eyes empty of the humanity he sometimes seemed so very much in touch with.

"Spike..." Giles took a step forward. "Don't hurt him."

"I can fight him. My chip isn't getting in the way." Spike was grinning, his eyes glinting with the evil light Giles had grown to know long before growing to know the vampire himself. "I can hurt him, because he's not human. Not anymore. He'll turn on you, and he'll kill you."

"Giles?" The sound of running feet attracted the Watcher's attention, but he didn't turn to look at Buffy as she ran into the room. "You didn't answer the door. I was worried."

"Keep worrying." Spike raised the crossbow again, this time pointing it squarely at David. "Vampire Boy's about to move out."

"No." Giles stepped into the line of fire, Buffy leaping into position beside him.

"I don't understand." Her eyes took in the fully morphed David. "We contained Cloud Guy. You should have seen Willow. She was great."

"I'm sure she was." Giles did not take his eyes from Spike, even though he could now hear David growling fiercely behind him. "You just weren't quick enough, that's all. It had already taken too great a hold before you reached it. It's nobody's fault, Buffy. We all did our best."

"But we won. We killed ZoŽ, we fought off her creatures that Time forgot. We won, Giles." She stared back at David, seeing his human face flickering into vision for a few seconds, before the demon within him exerted its control once again. Another snarl filled the room with its unchecked volume, and she found herself reaching by instinct for her stake. "What do we do?"

"We let me kill it." Spike stepped forwards, heedless of Buffy's threatening posture. "It's trying to win you over. It's trying to fool you."

"And what's that to you, Spike. Scared you'll lose your position as head conversation piece if you stop being our only tame vampire?" Buffy waved her stake at him. "Back off. Giles?"

"I don't know." He turned around to face David, staring into the inhuman yellow eyes. "I'm so sorry David. Maybe i-i-if I hadn't given you that blood. M-maybe..."

"It wasn't the blood, Giles. All that gave me was the chance to fight the possession. It wasn't enough, and that's hardly your fault." The voice was that of the demon, but the words, and clearly the personality behind them, were still David's. "I can feel it so strongly now. It's taking me away. I can feel myself draining... floating..."

"We can still destroy that cloud thing." Nobody was sure quite when Willow had arrived, but she was there now, standing several feet away with Xander by her side. "Maybe then--"

"No. It's too late, and there's no way we know of to kill it anyway." The yellow eyes fluttered and changed back to green, although the teeth and the jutting forehead remained demonic. "I don't want to be a vampire. I don't want to let it take me. I don't want to risk hurting one of you when I turn completely. Please..." His wide eyes turned to Buffy, and quite suddenly his face was human again, and innocent and young. "End it. Please."

"Kill you?" She was horrified, but the look in his eyes was so pleading and desperate that she felt she could not refuse. "I can't kill you. It - it wouldn't be right."

"Then let him do it." David gestured to Spike. "He needs a kill. It's a part of life for him. I can understand it. I can feel it becoming a part of life for me too. I can feel myself becoming like him, understanding the way he is. I know how much he needs this sort of thing... Please. I don't want to be a vampire."

"And then what?" Giles' voice was so soft that Buffy barely heard it at all; but David seemed to, with his increased hearing. The predator in him heard every sound now, more clearly than ever before.

"I'll be gone, won't I. Dust and ash. There won't be any 'then what'. But... I do have a father back home. Don't tell him what happened. Just tell him..." He shrugged. "Just tell him something. The Watchers will put you in touch." He managed a smile. "That's if you haven't forgotten all the old passwords."

"I haven't forgotten." He matched the weak smile with one of his own. "David, be sure. Really sure. You haven't turned yet and there might still be hope..."

"I'm sure." He moved forward, close enough to Buffy for her to hardly need to thrust if she really was to stake him. She stared at the familiar weapon as though she had never seen it before in all of her life, and had not the slightest clue how to use it. "There isn't any hope."

"There should be." She stared into his eyes, watching the flickers of yellow return. The teeth were growing back once again, and his eyes widened.

"Please. While I'm still a little bit human. Before I turn completely. I don't want to get dragged into hell."

"I understand." She glanced up towards Giles, but he was merely staring at David. Behind them Spike was breathing hard, faint growls telling them that he was still looking for a fight. Buffy wasn't going to give him one. Not when David was his intended victim. She latched her eyes onto the mirror on the wall behind her, seeing her own eyes staring back at her through the empty space that should have been David's reflection - and then she pushed her stake home. There was a second - a brief space of time - a fleeting moment when dust filled the air. She thought that she heard a shout of rage, although it might have been her own. Her eyes lingered on the mirror, staring through the dust, seeing, for one, brief moment, the reflection of the back of a head - a figure clearly shown in the mirror who had not been there before. She knew that it was David, or the last of him at least. Then it was gone, and the ashes drifted downwards onto the carpet. Nearby Willow gave a sob.

"You should have done that hours ago." Spike had not yet morphed back into his human face. Buffy didn't look at him.

"And I should have staked you three years ago. Who cares?" She turned away and walked over towards Willow and Xander, sharing a brief hug with them both. Now should have been the time for mourning and contemplation, but she had other things she had to think about. "Giles? Cloud Guy. Will he be dead now?"

"What?" He looked distracted, and hurt beyond measure. "Oh. Yes. He, er he-he'll be gone. He was part of - of David. They'll have died together."

"Good." She stuck her stake into her jacket. "I'm going home. I'll, er... I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll walk you back to the campus." Xander wasn't making the offer out of gallantry, but through a faint unwillingness to be alone. Buffy shook her head.

"I'm not going back to the campus. I'm going back home. It's where I want to be right now. But... walk Willow back. Please." She squeezed his hand, and he nodded. Looking after Willow was something he had been doing all of his life - but never had it seemed so important as it did right now.

"Will you be okay Buffy?" Giles' soft voice caught her attention, and she nodded without looking at him.

"And you?"

"Oh, fine. Ab-absolutely, er... fine, yes." He looked about at the room. "There's some tidying up to do. Books to put back. I'm, um... I'm good at putting books on shelves." He managed a small smile, typically capable of masking all that he felt. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah." She headed the exodus towards the door. "Tomorrow." With that she was gone, and Willow and Xander with her. Giles let out a long, slightly shaky sigh.

"You want me to stay?" Spike sounded human again, and when Giles turned he saw that the vampire had lost his demonic appearance. The Watcher shrugged.

"If you want. Don't lose track of the time. You'll be stuck here if the sun comes up before you're back home."

"I know." He turned back to the weapons chest, throwing the crossbow away. "I tried to warn you, Giles. I almost feel sorry."

"Almost?"

"Yeah." He shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a demon. I'm supposed to delight in your misfortunes. I'm evil, remember?"

"So you are." Very slowly the Watcher turned to the beer crate Spike had dragged into the room at the start of the evening. It seemed like a long time ago now, and probably was. With a long, drawn out sigh he reached into the crate and pulled out a can, tossing it to his sole remaining companion. For some reason Spike's presence - and more, his incorrigible, unhidden vices - were something of a comfort. He tore open his own can, and raised it to the mirror, where he had last caught a glimpse of the boy he had been so helpless to protect.

"To David." He sat down in the nearest chair, and drank half of the can in a single breath. "And to whatever it is, wherever it is, that one day is going to wipe this whole bloody town off the map. Evil or good. I don't care."

"Evil or good." Spike matched the toast. "I'm beginning to lose track of the difference. Maybe there isn't one anymore."

"Oh there's a difference." Giles finished the can and screwed it up, tossing it across the room just to hear the sound of its rattling tumble. "Buffy sees to that. I'm just glad I'm not in her shoes tonight."

"Or any night." Spike threw himself down into a chair and swung his feet up onto the coffee table. For once Giles didn't glare. "I'm just glad to be evil. It's easier than the alternative."

"Yes." Giles didn't look at him. "It most certainly was."

**********

"Buffy?" Joyce Summers didn't know why she voiced it so much as a question. After all, who else would be walking into the house at such an hour? She knew enough about Sunnydale to be wary of night-time visitors, but also knew enough to sure that most of them couldn't harm her. They needed permission to enter before they could do that. Granted both Spike and Angel had such permission, and admittedly one of them was sometimes dangerous... actually both of them were sometimes dangerous, but that had all become far too confusing rather a long time ago, and she didn't bother to think about it these days. All the same, for Buffy to turn up at the house now was rare indeed. She had her own life, that revolved around the campus at UC Sunnydale.

"Hi Mom." Buffy wandered into the kitchen, pleased to see the familiar walls and counter; the familiar lights even; and to experience the warmth and the smell of the place. In a way it would always be home - no matter where she ended up in the future.

"Hi." They hugged wordlessly, before Joyce took a moment to size her daughter up. "Have you been eating properly?"

"Yes. One thing about the campus - the canteen is a whole lot better than the old one at the High School."

"Does that mean that you won't be blowing this one up when you graduate?"

"I was kind of hoping not." They shared a smile.

"Then to what do I owe the honour of this little visit? If not food..." She trailed off. "Oh no. Not Willow? Or Xander? Mr Giles?"

"They're all fine. Well... sort of." She couldn't help wondering why it was always 'Xander' and 'Willow', and yet somehow always had to be 'Mr Giles'. Maybe that happened when you accidentally turned sixteen again, and had sex on the hood of a police car. Had the circumstances been different, she might have smiled at that deduction. "It was just a rough night, that's all. And a pretty rough day too."

"Slaying wearing you down?"

"More than you know. Some days... some days I don't think I like being the Slayer very much." She leaned into her mother's waiting embrace. "Do you ever think about dying, Mom?"

"Dying?" Cold fear lanced through Joyce's heart. "Every day since I found out what it is that you do. Buffy, honey..."

"Don't worry. It was just a question. I had to watch somebody who knew he was dying, and... and I didn't know how to handle it, that's all. I've seen so many dead people. Just not all that many who were still dying. At least... not that I knew of at the time. It kind of made me think."

"Then don't think too much. There's no sense in it. Not that kind of thinking, anyway."

"That's pretty much what I figured." She smiled, and rested her head on her mother's shoulder. Was she imagining it, or was her mother's shoulder a little closer than it had been the last time? Maybe her mother was shrinking. An unseen side-effect of life in the Hellmouth perhaps. Either that or she herself was actually growing. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be glad about that. Actually growing. There had been a time when she had thought that she would never get the chance to grow up. She remembered David, lamenting the fact that he was never going to grow old enough to shave, and she didn't know how she felt about that, either. "Mom?"

"Yes?"

"Do you have any ice cream in the house?"

"I have chocolate with pecan nuts, and I have fudge with toffee pieces." Her mother smiled. "I keep a supply. Just in case."

"Good." She smiled happily, feeling like a kid again, the way that she had before the days of her Slayerhood. It was rare, these days, that she ever felt like that. "I'll get the spoons."

"Ice cream feast on the sofa?" Even her mother sounded like a kid again, and Buffy nodded hard.

"Sounds good. No, sounds great. Extra great."

"Extra great." Joyce sounded touched. "Then what are we waiting for?"

"Nothing." Buffy took two spoons from the drawer nearby, meeting her mother at the kitchen door as she collected the ice cream tubs from the freezer. There was no need for bowls. "Thanks Mom."

"For what, honey?"

"You know." She shrugged, and disappeared into the living room, leaving her mother to follow in her wake. Joyce smiled.

"Then you're not worried about being with your mother, when you're supposed to be all grown up now and living at college?"

"No." She threw herself onto the sofa, and curled her feet up beneath her, waiting for her mother to sit down as well. "Sometimes it's good to forget that you're growing up." Or that maybe you never will.

"I agree." Her mother sat down, and handed her one of the ice cream tubs. "Here's to never growing up."

"And, oddly enough, to growing up as well."

"I suppose." They ate their ice cream in silence for a while. "Can I ask? Who it was that you had to watch die?"

"Yeah." Buffy took a thoughtful mouthful of her ice cream, savouring the coldness, and the chunks of toffee and fudge. "His name was David. He had a nice smile."

"I see." Mother and daughter lapsed into silence, sharing the sorrow that only the Hellmouth could bring - or perhaps it was a sorrow that was universal, and in Sunnydale the Hellmouth was only an excuse. "I'm sorry."

"So am I." She was thinking back, unwillingly, to the moments before she had found David - to her thoughts of the inconveniences of her life. Thoughts of reaching twenty, or of never reaching there at all. That all seemed part of another world now. Another worry. Another person. Growing up wasn't meant to be this hard.

Or maybe it was.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" Her mother's voice came from far away, and Buffy took a moment to react to it.

"Yeah. That'd be good. Do we have a choice?"

"Not really, unless you want to order pay-per-view. Do you want to look at the TV guide?"

"No. You choose." She stretched her feet out, sure that they hadn't reached that far the last time she had sat this way, on this very sofa and in this very room. Maybe her mother had moved the sofa slightly. Maybe the room had shrunk. Or maybe she really was growing. She felt a sudden urge to smile.

"I'm feeling kind of Disney-minded actually. Something cute and cuddly to make the demons go away?" Her mother turned the television on, and began flicking through the channels as she talked. "I think Bambi is on."

"Bambi is great." Buffy leant back into the embrace of the soft cushions on the sofa, and watched the familiar characters bounce across the screen. Sometimes she wasn't sure if she was ever going to grow up. Sometimes she wasn't sure if she ever wanted to. But it was nice to know, when she needed to, that it was something she was doing anyway. It was also nice to pretend it wasn't happening at all. She just wished it was something that David had got the chance to see more of - but then she could think the same of a hundred other kids that she had met since moving to Sunnydale. It was all a part of life on the Hellmouth; or maybe it was all just a part of life. Either way, it was something that she was lucky enough to be in a position to fight. Something that she could help to change, even if only in a small way. It was what she did - who she was - maybe even why she was, and why she ever had been. So why was it that growing up felt so scary, when she spent most nights fighting some of mankind's greatest fears? Maybe it was her link to her old life - the one thing that linked her to the pre-Slaying days that she could never reclaim. Maybe it was what helped her stay Buffy, as well as being The Vampire Slayer. Maybe it was what helped her stay alive, when so many of her predecessors hadn't even reached eighteen - let alone the looming verge of twenty. Maybe being the Slayer wasn't all that bad. Maybe it wasn't really even all that scary. Maybe there were just too many maybes.

And maybe that was the point.

"I used to want to be Thumper." As before, her mother's voice seemed to come from far away. Buffy blinked.

"Huh?"

"When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be Thumper. I thought he was cool."

"Oh." Buffy had to laugh, so serious had her mother's voice been. Joyce scowled at her in mock irritation.

"Here I am opening up my heart to you, and I get mocked. So go on. What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I think I've already grown, Mom." Now that was one weird suspicion to hear herself affirming.

"Is it everything you expected it to be?"

"There was a time when I didn't expect it at all. But yeah, it's everything I expected." And more. So much more.

"But are you what you wanted to be?"

She had to think about that - but not for long. Not when it really came to the crunch.

Some days it was just great to be the Slayer.

"Yeah." She kicked off her shoes, and curled up again, happy for the first time in days. "I think I am."

THE END