“So where is this Angel?” 

“He’ll come.” 

Buffy trailed along at Spike’s heels like a faithful hound unsure why she wasn’t just running, but certain that it wouldn’t be safe to run. 

“And you’re sure about this?”

“He’s a vampire just like me. You’ve had no troubles slaying my minions.” 

“I’ve been put to a great deal of trouble slaying your minions,” Buffy said. “And you say this Angel will be harder?” 

“Nah,” Spike said. “It’ll be a doddle compared to fighting me.” 

Buffy wasn’t sure she liked that. The truth was, there were certain things that echoed in her head that didn’t fit with the person she thought she was. She believed women didn’t fight, but she knew how. She believed monsters didn’t exist, but she faced them without denial. And as for vampires, she knew they were evil, but there were things about Spike that made her twist up inside, and it wasn’t with revulsion. She feared this Angel for the same reason. He too had made her feel things when he grabbed her and carried her around. And he had been a vampire. 

Granted, he hadn’t bitten her like Spike had done. He hadn’t attacked her like Drusilla did. But he had manhandled her, and she did fear him, and she wondered again why she didn’t just run away. But every time she thought about that she’d become confused, and Drusilla’s blue eyes hung in her mind, and she’d find herself trotting after Spike again. 

She trotted right after him as he took her back into that “car” of his, and she trotted after him after he’d stopped the thing and took her with him into a mystic looking tavern filled with beasts and the stink of alcohol, and she sat down beside him and stared in bewilderment as he had a tankard of beer set before her, and because beer was something she recognized she drank it down nervously. It didn’t taste the way she expected it to, and she coughed.

“Spike, what you got the little lady for?” 

“Just wait,” he smirked. “You’ll see.” 

“You know, Spike,” said the tapster, a slimy looking fellow with a bit of a sneer. “Uh… I don’t know exactly what you’re up to, but… you know Angel’s been looking for you.” 

“Exactly what I’ve been counting on, Willy,” Spike said. “Excuse me while I top up the jukebox.” 

Buffy looked down at her beer and rubbed at her neckline. Spike had put her in Drusilla’s clothing for a day, taken her dress away, and had it washed. Buffy had spent most of the day hemming it to the unreasonable height that Spike had cut it to, but Spike said he wanted her dressed up and ready for her fight. Drusilla had done her hair, in a bizarre switch that had Buffy’s heart in her throat, as Dru’s fingernails were razor sharp, and they kept caressing Buffy’s throat as she had pinned up her hair. But there it was, Buffy’s hair was up now, and her dress was clean, and Spike had fetched for her a hot meal in a little box that squeaked when she handled it, of a material she didn’t recognize. There were times when she wondered if she’d been whisked away to fairy-land. But no. Fairy-land wouldn’t have so many vampires. 

Or would it? She knew little of fairy-land, only that fairies were dangerous beings. Perhaps vampires were really just evil fairies, and she shouldn’t eat anything he provided or she’d never get free. But she’d already given herself up -- and the more she thought about running away, the more she remembered Drusilla’s blue eyes, and she settled herself deeper into her seat. 

Her ankles felt terribly exposed. 

Spike came back as a kind of pulsing savage music began, echoing in Buffy’s head and making her cringe. “How long must we stay here?” 

“Until he shows.”

“How do you know he’ll show?” 

“I sent a minion to his apartment. He’ll come.”

Spike drank beer and bobbed his head to the pulsing rhythm, and Buffy sat more and more nervously, sipping at her tankard. 

Then with a violence that made Buffy start, the front door of the tavern was blown open, and in came that vampire, Angel, with a stake in his hand and his face twisted and fangfilled. “Spike!” he roared. 

Beasts and demons scattered like roaches when a light is shone, and Spike stood up from his chair. “Angel, mate. Pleased to see you.” 

“Your lackey told me you were here. Did you dare to show your face after you killed--”

Spike stepped aside revealing Buffy standing behind him. 

“B-Buffy!” Angel whispered. “You’re alive.”

“No thanks to you,” Buffy said. 

“Buffy, I’ve been looking all over for--”

“I’ve been with Spike.”

“You…” Angel searched her with his yellow-eyed gaze, his eyes catching at the marks on her throat. “He bit you.” 

“What do you think she’s for, mate?” Spike said. “Sweetheart?” He didn’t look at Buffy. “Why don’t you show Angel what you’re for?” 

Buffy knew her job now. She took the stake off the table and held it firmly in her right hand. “I have to slay you,” she said to Angel.

“Hey, look, guys, there must be some kind of rational solution….” 

The two vampires turned to look hard at the tapster. 

“Well,” he said nervously. “I guess it’s as if aliens have invaded Zimbabwe. There’s no time for rational solutions. Gotcha. Could you take it out to the parking lot, though?” Spike grabbed him by the shirtfront. “Never mind, you can go right here,” he finished.  Spike let him go. He ducked behind the bar and finally snuck out a back door. Almost all the other patrons had left by now. 

“You can’t fight me,” Angel said. “You don’t know how…”

“Spike taught me how,” Buffy said.

“Buffy, I’m not the usual vampire. I have a soul. We’re not enemies. We’re….” He paused, as if he were forcing out the words. “We’re in love.”

“We’re a slayer and a vampire,” she said evenly. “And I know what both of us are for.” She dove forward and attacked, trying to strike Angel in the chest with her stake, but he dodged out of the way. 

The fight was comical. Angel dodged and weaved and tried not to hurt Buffy, and Buffy jumped over tables and dove forward with her stake, punching him in the head. It made her uncomfortable. All the vampires she’d fought with so far were fighting properly, even Spike, who could have killed her many times but had always held back from the final blow or bite, saying she wasn’t ripe yet. Spike threw a few punches himself whenever Angel tried to back out of the situation, but mostly he was leaning against the bar, enjoying the show. He even drank more of his beer. 

Buffy was winded. She kept trying to stake something that wasn’t there to be staked, and her stake kept impacting on wood or air. Angel was harder to fight than the minions she’d been staking. And he barely laid a hand on her, mostly blocking her attacks more than countering them. But he did try to grab her, frequently. Fortunately Buffy kept hearing Spike’s running commentary and snide asides, and that assured her that she was doing well. 

She did so well, in fact, that she won. With a high kick that surprised her, she bashed Angel in the face, forced him against the bar, and followed by grabbing him and bringing down her stake. 

She knew what should happen next. The stake should go in, the vampire crumble into dust beneath her, and she’d be that much closer to her freedom. Except she couldn’t do it. The stake didn’t go in. She held it over Angel’s chest as he stared up at her, the music still blaring through the room. Buffy’s heart beat in time with the drums, a little too fast. Sometime during the fight Angel had put his fangs away, and he stared up at her with frightened brown eyes that confused her and twisted her up, and her face crumpled. She held Angel down with one hand, and turned to face Spike. “I cannot,” she said. 

“Excuse me?” Spike said. 

“I cannot do it, it isn’t just. He isn’t trying to kill me, just get away. I cannot slay him, Spike, I cannot!” 

“Bloody hell, I didn’t train you up to have you flake out on me, bitch! Now do it! Stake the bugger in the chest and we’ll get out of here!” 

“But I don’t want to!”

Spike sighed, a deep, grumbling sigh with a growl in it, and he flung himself off the bar to take the stake from Buffy. 

“No!” Buffy stopped him, tears in her eyes, and the stake fell to the ground. “Just don’t make me slay him, and I’ll do whatever you ask! There’s something inside me, I just cannot turn this creature to dust, it hurts to think it.” 

Spike cuffed her. “Damn you,” he said. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her behind him. “Damn you to hell, you weren’t ready yet.” He dragged Buffy toward the door. 

“I won’t let you take her,” Angel croaked. 

Spike kicked him in the head so that Angel slid down to the ground. He slammed his boots down on Angel’s neck, and stomped on him several times. “Don’t think this is over, Angelus,” Spike said. “Traitor to your species.” He kicked him again for good measure. “Come on, princess, you’re going back home.” He grabbed Buffy by the back of the neck and dragged her behind him. 

He threw Buffy into the “car” and slammed the door. A second later he had the thing squealing and bumping down the road. “Shut up and don’t talk to me,” he said darkly. 

“I’m sorry,” Buffy said. “I don’t know what came over me. I couldn’t do it.”

“Why the hell not?” 

“He… he wasn’t trying to kill me. Something told me he wasn’t evil.” 

“Something told you -- something inside you filled up with lies,” Spike snarled. 

“How do I know lies if I don’t know anything else?”

“You know how to kill vampires, and I knew you did. I told you, you’re still you under there. And that’s the thing, he’s still him under there.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“I know Angel. He was my sire, Dru’s sire, we ran together for years. He makes such a big noise about that soul these days, but it was just a window dressing he put on. Do you know what he did to you? Do you?” 

“I have no idea. I have no memory of my before life.”

“I know exactly what he did, because it’s what he always does. It’s how he hunts. He courted you. He lied to you. He seduced you into going with him, loving him, even. He probably even pulled the, Oh, you look cold, take my coat; what, these sexy wounds I’ve just revealed? They’re nothing, I just earned them being awesome. And all the while he’s as much of a vampire, as much of a killer, as me and Drusilla and those pissants you’ve been staking. He’s no better than them. He’ll still kill, he’ll still maim, he’ll still lie, he’ll still torture. I’ve seen him do all of those things and more, and that’s with this precious soul he goes on about. I’m all tormented, he says. Well, so? Journey of the vampire there. There’s always some little human voice in the beginning that says, Really? We’re killing now? But it goes away. His does too, if he’s not wallowing in self pity.”

“But he said--”

“But he lied,” Spike snapped. 

“And you don’t lie?” 

“I don’t need to. Have I lied to you yet?”

“You said you were going to kill me.” 

Spike hesitated. “Well, that wasn’t a lie. Just haven’t got around to it.” 

Buffy thought about this. On the surface she didn’t like the idea of being courted by a vampire, but when she thought about it it made perfect sense. The little voice inside her, the one that told her she could fight, the one that seemed to be slayer, the thing she tapped into when she would slay those minions of Spike’s, that seemed to be the same thing that was telling her not to kill Angel. But at the same time, she absolutely believed Spike. There was no reason to trust what Angel told her. “Are you sure he’s really a vampire underneath?” 

“I know him, lamb. I know him better than you did, even when you remembered him. I know what he does, how he does it, and why. He’s a self-centered ego-maniac who likes to pretend he’s in charge. He’s a murderer and a manipulator, and I don’t care if he claims he’s all better now.” The scorn in his voice was very biting with his lower British accent. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t kill him,” Buffy whispered quietly. “Please don’t torture me for it.” 

Spike glanced at her. His jaw twitched, and he quickly looked back to the road. “I’ll give you to Drusilla. She can choose what to do with you.” 

You don’t know what to do with me,” Buffy told him. “You bite me, but you let me live. You give me to Dru, but you don’t make her kill me. You want to fight me, but you set me to killing your minions. What do you want from me?” 

“I don’t know, all right?!” Spike snarled. “All I know is this is wrong, this, this whole thing,” he gestured to Buffy’s outfit and her elegantly coiffed hair and the tears in her eyes. “I don’t know how to make it right, it’s all broken.” He paused. “I should have killed you,” he said. “I shouldn’t have let this go on. It’s all confused now.” 

“I will gladly continue as Drusilla’s handmaiden.” 

“Oh, fuck off,” Spike muttered, making his “car” go faster. They drove the rest of the ride in silence, and Buffy wrung her hands in increasing consternation. Her failure to kill Angel might now result in her death.

They drove up to the lair and Spike grabbed her arm again to take her from the car. As Buffy was dragged down the steps and into the lair, she happened to look behind her and saw a figure running from the car. A half-clad girl in her underwear was scampering across the empty field beside the building, running through bracken and trees as if they weren’t there. A familiar half-clad girl. It was Willow. Willow, who had helped her the first night she found herself in this strange place. 

She opened her mouth to tell Spike about it, but… no. No. 

She might have been under the influence of Drusilla’s hypnotic eyes, but she wasn’t a suicidal fool. 

 

***

Willow poked her head out from the wall of the factory and scanned the room. There was Buffy. She was sitting at a table, her hair up and out of her face in a complicated do. Spike was somewhere near the entrance shouting at his minions, and Willow couldn’t see the other one, the one Angel had said was named Drusilla. He had promised that where Spike was, Drusilla couldn’t be far behind.  

“Buffy!” she hissed. 

Buffy looked up from where she was sewing what seemed to be a doll’s dress. She looked instantly back down at the work in her hand. 

Willow crept closer. “Buffy, we’re coming in to get you.”

Buffy shook her head quietly and didn’t look at Willow. “No, it’s not safe,” she whispered. 

“It doesn’t matter, we can’t leave you here.” 

“Just go. I’ve managed so far.” 

“We’re coming. Be ready, Buffy.”

“I said to not!”

“Spike’s going to kill you.” 

Buffy paused in her sewing. Then, almost imperceptibly, she nodded. Willow backed away and ran back out through the wall to where the others were waiting. 

“Buffy’s in the central room, Spike’s by the entrance with his goons -- you’re going to have to come in fighting. I don’t know where this Drusilla is, unless she’s at the entrance with the others. There were some females there. But Buffy’s sort of alone.” 

“You’re sure?” Angel asked. 

“I’m sure,” Willow said confidently. “I knew Buffy was alive, I knew it.” 

Angel stared across the parking lot at the abandoned factory, his eyes dark. “I didn’t,” he said quietly, too quietly for anyone but Willow to hear him. Giles and Xander were readying their equipment. “I was sure she was dead. I was going to let her go, but… she’s here.”

“Is that why you stopped looking for her?” 

“I didn’t stop looking for Spike,” Angel said with an edge to his voice. 

“But revenge can be cold. A rescue is immediate.” 

“I was helping you look for the Janus head, to bring you back to life.” Angel glanced at her. “Why are you being so hard on me? When I got Spike’s message, I did call Giles. It’s not as if I left you guys out of it.”

“It was Giles’ idea to put me in the trunk of the car when you got to Willy’s,” Willow said. “We should have gone in with all of us, weapons raised. Instead you had to go in alone.”

“It was Spike! He could have killed Giles or Xander. It was better that I face the danger myself. I didn’t know Buffy was going to be there.” 

“But we might have gotten Buffy-- never mind,” Willow said. Giles and Xander approached. Xander carried his ubiquitous gun, and a stake for good measure. Giles carried a crossbow and stakes. Angel, he was ready with just his fists. He was the one slated to carry off Buffy, in case she still didn’t want to go, or for some reason fought on Spike’s side again.

Willow considered this. Buffy was alive. Angel was there. Why didn’t she join forces with Angel and attack Spike? Clearly her memory wasn’t back yet, but obviously there was still something of Buffy inside her, or she wouldn’t have been fighting at all. How had Spike done that? Buffy hadn’t even been willing to pick up a rock to defend herself on Halloween. 

The last few days had not been pleasant. The monsters were still monsters and the missing children were still missing. The mayor had finally spoken up, saying there had obviously been a mass kidnapping, but not to worry, his people were on it. Xander’s mother, while still a princess, had at least deigned to accept that her circumstances had been reduced, and while she didn’t recognize Xander as her son or his father as her husband, she at least accepted that she needed to live in the “hovel” she found herself in for the time being. As for Willow, her mother had only noticed her outfit one more time, and this time, for extra confusion, had told Willow she was glad she was exploring her sexuality. Way to switch lanes, Mom, Willow thought ruefully. 

But they’d gotten no closer to finding the Janus head. The daily walks under the harbor had worn on both Angel and Willow. Giles was trying to invent a locator spell out of hope and trickery, but Ethan Rayne wasn’t helping. He’d been locked in the book cage for the last three days, only let out to use the school bathroom under the pointed watch of Giles’ eye and crossbow. 

“Are we ready?” Giles asked of Willow and Angel. Xander had his gun aimed and the safety off. 

“Let’s go.”

They all rushed the entrance. Willow entered first, calling out, “Fire!” Xander took down the minions by the door with a volley from his machine gun. It was nice, Willow had to admit, to not have to worry about friendly fire. That meant she could direct the attack from the thick of it without risk of being shot. Giles and Angel dove in together, Giles at the rear, aiming his crossbow methodically, since reloading that in battle was a trick. He had said he was specifically aiming for Spike, but Spike didn’t seem to be at the entrance anymore. Where had he gone?

Willow rushed for Buffy, convinced to where Spike would be, and sure enough he was there, with a hold on Buffy, dragging her across the room. 

“Angel, hurry!” Willow cried out. 

Angel roared as he bore down on Spike, but suddenly Drusilla popped up from behind a pillar and stood between Angel and Spike. “My Angel,” she said softly.

Angel stood as if paralyzed. “Just hit her!” Willow screamed. 

Xander turned from where he stood by the entrance, still battling the minions. “Angel, get down! Get Buffy!” 

The sound of Buffy’s name seemed to shake Angel out of his shock, and he shoved Drusilla to the side. She got up hissing and leaped on his back. Angel tried to shake her off. Giles was the one who got Buffy away from Spike. He ran up behind them and shot Spike through the back, or tried to. Spike shifted at the last moment, and the bolt only penetrated his shoulder, but it made him let go of Buffy. 

Then there was confusion after that, as Angel threw Drusilla across the room, ran forward, and grabbed Buffy. “We got her, go, go!” 

Buffy lay docile in his arms, staring wide eyed over his shoulder as Spike grunted on the ground. Xander and Giles ran back to the car, with Angel behind them. Willow was slow. She was trying to figure out what was happening, and by the time she got outside, the car had already started and was tossing gravel behind its tires. Minions were getting up, and Spike poked his head out the door and growled at Willow. Willow felt terrified. So what if he couldn’t touch her? She’d still been abandoned…. 

The car ground to a halt and Xander opened his door. “Willow!” he shouted. 

Willow heaved a sigh of relief and ran for the car at the same time as Spike did. Spike was faster, but Willow had a head start, and didn’t have to open the doors to the car. “Drive, drive!” she yelled, and dove head first through the back of the car. 

The car drove off just as Spike reached it. They actually heard the thump as Spike slapped his hand on the trunk. 

And then they were driving away, scot-free, with Xander jubilant at the success of the mission, Giles looking relieved, and Angel with eyes tormented and staring at Buffy. 

Buffy, who sat in the back seat beside him, crying softly. 

 

***

Buffy wouldn’t let him touch her. 

Angel knew he had no rights over her, that of course she must have been through terrible trauma at the hands of Spike, but that should mean she would need to be comforted, right? But no, she just sat there through the whole of the car ride to the library, weeping and cringing away whenever Angel reached out for her. She had walked docilely with them into the library, but she was still tearful even now.  

“Oh, Buffy, why? Are you all right? Did Spike hurt you?” Willow was saying all the things that Angel wanted to say, but felt too agitated to. The library seemed just as frightening to Buffy as everything had been that first night. Granted, the fact that Ethan Rayne was tied up and gagged in the book cage probably wasn’t helping their image. Buffy had stared at Ethan when she came in, but now she was just sitting there, occasionally wiping her eyes, sniffling.

“We have to be gentle with her,” Giles said. “The shock of the attacks. And there’s no knowing what they did to her while she was in captivity.”

“Nothing,” Buffy said. “They did nothing to me.” 

“Buffy, you have bite marks on your neck,” Willow said. 

“Oh, but that was just… well, yes,” Buffy said. “But he always stopped.” 

“Is she crazy?” Willow asked. 

“It’s Stockholm Syndrome,” Xander said decisively. “Where a hostage develops a psychological bond with their captor. They’ll fight for them, die for them, refuse to prosecute them. It’s a terrible disorder.” 

“Now don’t be too hasty,” Giles said. “That’s never been confirmed as a legitimate psychological diagnosis.” 

“It may not be for you, but we know what it is in the military. We’re trained to fight it.”

“Well, what do we do for Buffy?” Willow asked.

“I’m not sure,” Xander said. “I don’t know how to deprogram someone who’s had it done to them.” 

“Would you cease to discuss me as if I were not present?” Buffy said formally. She held her head up evenly. “I did not form a bond with my captor, I was trying to survive. I did whatever I was told. Wouldn’t you have done the same?” 

There was an awkward silence. 

“Well, I would have tried to escape,” Xander finally said with a shrug. 

“Oh, like your friend over there?” Buffy said, indicating Ethan Rayne with an elegantly extended hand. “How can you complain of them keeping me prisoner when you are clearly doing the same with whosoever that poor unfortunate is?” 

“You must understand, Buffy,” Giles began. 

“I understand that Spike and Drusilla left me alive when I did as I was told. When I fought who they put before me and listened to them when they instructed me. Drusilla wanted me to sew for her. Spike wanted me to fight for him. I did both, and I survived. If you’re going to judge me for that, then you may all go to the devil!” 

There was another awkward silence. 

“What about at Willy’s?” Angel asked. “Why didn’t you fight Spike there?” 

“What is it about you as a vampire that is any more trustworthy than him?” Buffy asked Angel. “You’re the same, with your violence and your fangs. As for why I did not run at the tavern, the female, Drusilla, she got into my head somehow. Running was impossible. I could not.” She glared at Angel. “I thought you would be grateful that I protested to keep you alive, sir.”

Angel looked down. “I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said. He knelt down before her. “Forgive me.” 

She gazed at him, and her eyes were soft, but she did not touch him.

“But now it’s even more important that we get the Janus head back,” Willow said miserably. “Buffy’s still not the slayer.”

“She fought pretty well at Willy’s.”

“Yes, how has that come about?” Giles asked. He turned to Ethan Rayne. “How is it that Buffy can fight when she’s no longer the slayer?” 

Rayne only glared at Giles. 

Giles unlocked the book cage and pulled down Ethan’s gag. “Why can Buffy fight?” he asked. “Is the spell wearing off?”

“Why should I tell anything to you?” Rayne said. “You’ve had me sat here in this chair for days. My whole body hurts.”

“It’s no more than you deserve,” Giles said. 

“I’m going back to the harbor,” Angel said. “We need to find the Janus head.” He took Buffy’s hand and held it hard. She let him, but he didn’t see the love reflected in her eyes. “I’ll get you back, Buffy. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get you back.” 

“And I got to get back home,” Willow said. “Even if Mom’s selective-visioning my outfit these days, she still notices when I don’t come home at all.”

“Do you need me for more?” Xander said. “If not, I’ll take the time for some shut eye.” 

“Yes, no,” Giles said absently. “Of course, return to your homes. I’ll let you know if there are any further developments.” 

The three left, leaving Buffy alone with Giles and Ethan Rayne. 

“Now that I am supposedly free, where am I to go?” Buffy asked Giles. 

“You are free.” 

“I feel just as much a prisoner here as I did there. Vampires manhandling me, bound victims tied in the corners, people telling me what to do. Can I go home?”

“Where is your home?” 

“Why, the colonies, of course. With my father, who wants me to marry well and….” She shook her head. “None of that is true, is it?” 

“No, I’m afraid not. And you can’t go home as you are,” Giles said. “Certainly not tonight. If there is any chance of this being long term we might persuade your mother you have amnesia, but as it is, she simply believes you’ve run away or been abducted.” 

“I was abducted,” Buffy said to him. “But who is my mother?”

“Ah. Her name is Joyce, she… it doesn’t matter right now. The important part is that we’d have to prepare her before we can send you home, which means… well, I suppose you’ll have to come home with me.” He paused. “Though that might be awkward, Willow’s body is… that is she’s in my living room, and….” He frowned. “Perhaps a hotel…. We need to find you some other clothes, and clearly you need to shower, and… let me make a few calls.” He went over to the desk and pulled up a device which he put to his ear. “Yes, I’d like to… what? No, I don’t mean to….”

“Are you talking to me?” Buffy asked. 

“No, I’m talking to…” Giles said. He looked down at the device in his hand. “Well, it works on the principle of….” He stopped and put the device down. “It’s hard to explain. I’ll just call from the principal’s office,” he said, and he left Buffy alone. 

Buffy sat quietly for a moment. 

“Hey, princess?” 

“I’m not a princess,” Buffy said quietly. “I’m only a noblewoman.” But Spike was right, she didn’t know what flavor, and so it wasn’t even true. She didn’t know what she was. She wasn’t the slayer. She wasn’t who she thought she was. Who was she? 

“Well, could your highness deign to get me some water?”

“I don’t know where the water is kept,” Buffy said. She turned to gaze upon the captive. “Are you one of the altered, too?” 

“They’re criminals,” said the captive. “They’re keeping me here against my will. When they’re bored with me, the tall one will eat me.”

“The vampire?” 

“Yes. You’ve been bitten by vampires. Is it not terrible? Come on. Let me go.”

“I believe they mean well,” Buffy said, gazing at the captor. “Which means they probably have a reason for keeping you captured.”

“I’ve been tied to this chair for days!”

Buffy stood up. “In the chair?” 

“It’s terrible. I’m only allowed to hit the can twice a day, and they’re barely feeding me. I’m in so much pain.”

“The can?”

“The chamberpot,” Ethan said. “The outhouse. What have you.” 

It didn’t seem right to Buffy. She’d been kept prisoner, and she’d have hated being tied to a chair. Her cage was bad enough. She came up to the captive and looked him over. “I understand,” she said. “I’ll untie you.”

“Bless you, sweet darlin’,” said the captive. 

Buffy looked around her and checked that the key was in the lock of the book cage. It was. She untied the captive’s arms and then, to his surprise, retied them in front of him while she untied the rest of the ropes. She was aware that the captive was looking for a way to overpower her, but that wasn’t her plan. She was just about to untie his legs when Giles returned. “Get away from there!” he shouted, pulling Buffy off. 

“I wasn’t going to release him.”

“That is precisely what you were doing,” Giles said, while the captive commented, “I thought it was.” 

“How long has he been tied up like that, sir?” Buffy asked Giles. “How many days? I’ve been a captive. Being able to move your body is essential. You have a whole cage here to keep this man in, why tie him up as well?”

“The lady has a point.” 

“Shut it, Ethan,” Giles snapped. “Buffy, this man is the reason you can’t remember your life. He’s why those children were ripped from their families. People have died. Willow is dead, and we don’t know if she can be brought back after all this time. And you were about to let him loose?” 

“I was going to treat him humanely,” Buffy said primly. “Freedom in the cage, someplace to lie down, enough food and water. It’s barely what a prisoner in a gaol gets. My captors were not human, and I’m certain they killed men when they went out, but as for my captivity I was safe, I was comfortable. They were going to kill me one day, but in the meantime they wanted me fit, and they treated me like a human being. If vampires can do that, why cannot men?” 

“Listen to the lady, Ripper. She’s more clever than you.” 

“She is not!” Giles said, glaring over Buffy’s head at the prisoner. “But she is kinder than I. Step away from him, I’ll let him loose.” 

Ten minutes later Ethan Rayne was stretched out in the bottom of the book cage, sipping tea that Giles had supplied, groaning over the freedom to sit back and stretch his legs. “I might even try lying down in a tick,” he said to Giles over his teacup. “I’m most impressed.” 

“Be grateful,” Giles said. “If it were left to me, you’d rot in there.” 

“Do you need aught to eat?” Buffy asked gently. “Or some water to wash?” 

Rayne looked at her softly over his tea. “You’re a remarkable creature,” he said. Giles was over on the other side of the room, looking at his books. “You know why I cast this spell?” 

“I have no notion of why you should choose to violate my life in this way, sir,” Buffy said to him through the book cage doors. 

“I was trying to get old Ripper there to notice me. There’s things we left unfinished, he and I. But he left to join the Watchers, those stodgy, poncy slave-traders with no sense of enjoyment in life. I recognized you in the costume shop, you know. I knew you were the slayer, that’s why I gave you such a good deal on that costume.” 

Buffy looked down at her stained and tattered and ill-hemmed dress that had once seemed fine to her. 

“I believed it would make you weak. The vampire slayer, just an ordinary girl. But you’re not an ordinary girl. And I haven’t made you weak, I’ve just revealed a different kind of strength.” He set down his teacup. “I’ll tell you where the Janus head is. It’s in my van, in long-term parking at the airport. Black van, somewhere in lot G, licence plate has two X’s in it.” 

Giles finally looked up at that. “You mean it’s not in the harbor?” 

“Why would I throw it in the harbor?” Rayne asked. “I’d never get it back that way.” 

“I need to call… no, I can’t reach Angel. And we haven’t time. We’re going to the airport now.” He opened the book cage and caught Ethan’s arms again, binding them together. 

“Oh, not again.” 

“No, not again,” Giles said pointedly. “You’re coming with me, and you will point out this van when we get there. Buffy, come with me.” 

“Come with you?” 

“If Ethan is telling the wretched truth for once, I want to be sure of it. Your transformation back to yourself will be the clinching factor.” 

“We should warn Willow. This might be her last moments.” 

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Giles said low. “Yes, I’ll call Willow and Xander, tell them to meet at my place, and to get Angel out from under the harbor if they can.” He held Ethan by his ropes and pushed him out ahead of him. “And you had best be telling the truth, Ethan. Or this time….”

“Or you’ll turn him in to the proper authorities,” Buffy said, with steel in her voice. 

“There are none to hold a warlock.” 

“Someone somewhere in the world must have an idea how to contain a creature of magic,” Buffy said. 

“I’ll think about it,” Giles said reluctantly. “I will… think about it.” 

They headed off to find the Janus head. 

 

***

 

Xander and Willow sat in Giles’ living room, staring at the uncovered corpse of Willow. She looked pale and blue and very dead as she sat in the easy chair in Giles’ flat, staring back at them with vacant eyes. “Do you think I’ll come back to life? Or do you think… it’s too late for me?” Willow asked. 

“It can never be too late,” Xander said. 

“But what if at the end of this I’m just dead?” Willow asked. “Just a dead corpse, no ghost at all.” 

“I told you, we do what we must. We’re soldiers, Will. If we have to die to save others--”

“Oh, I’m willing to do that,” Willow said. “I’m just… I’m scared.” 

“Think of all the other people who will be restored,” Xander said. “The little kids, the vampires, my mother.” 

“You.” 

“I could live the rest of my life as this, if I thought everyone else would be okay,” Xander said. “If I thought you’d be okay. But you won’t be. You’re not a full person like this, and Buffy isn’t -- none of us. We’re just a costume.” 

“But we’re us underneath,” Willow said. “I love you, Xander.”

“I love you, Will.” 

They snuggled as well as they could on the couch, with her ghostyness, and with Xander still not willing to put down his gun. They snuggled until Willow vanished from the couch, and Xander remembered his life with a gasp. He stared at the corpse of Willow which waited in the arm chair. 

Xander was back to himself. Willow was still a corpse. 

“Oh, no,” Xander said. “Oh, no, no. Will? Willow! Come on, wake up.” He rubbed the corpse’s hands and stared into her glassy eyes. When that had no result, he sat back on the couch and wept. He wasn’t a soldier anymore. He was allowed to cry for his friend. 

The front door opened some twenty minutes later and Xander looked up to see Giles and Buffy come in, Buffy blonde and fierce-faced again, Giles beaming. “I take it it succeeded here, as well!” he said, looking across the room at Willow and Xander. “That’s an excellent--”

He stopped at the look on Xander’s face, wet with tears. “She didn’t… didn’t make it.”

“Oh, no.” Buffy ran forward and grabbed hold of Willow’s body. “No, Willow! Willow, please, Willow, please.” 

There was no response from the corpse, except….

“Giles, she’s warm,” Buffy said. 

Giles came and looked the body over. “She is? Oh, bloody hell, I haven’t taken the stasis spell off!” He ran to his kitchen and took a covered bowl from out of the cupboard, “Now that all is right and mended, may this spell of mine be ended,” he muttered. Buffy looked at him. “Yes, fine, it’s not in Latin, it still works.” He scattered the remnants of the bowl of spell ingredients out the front door. 

With coughing gasp of air, the corpse who was not a corpse exploded from the chair, falling into Xander’s arms with a sob. “Oh, I was so scared,” she said. “I was still awake, but I couldn’t move, and I thought I was dead -- really dead! Oh, god, Xander, you cried so much!” 

Xander was still a little teary eyed now. “Oh, Willow.” He buried his head in her hair. 

“How touching,” said the bound Ethan. 

“You’d best be glad to see it,” Buffy said coldly. “If Willow hadn’t come back, she wouldn’t have been the only corpse in the room.” 

“You were kinder under the influence,” Rayne said smugly. 

Buffy’s fist clenched, but she didn’t hit Ethan. Neither did Giles, who seemed most tempted. “I’m putting him in my bathroom,” Giles said. “Then we can figure out what to do.”

Giles put Ethan into his bathtub, chained up with a cushion under his bum, and then came out. “It’s nearly dawn,” he said. “Angel should be here any moment.” 

“Angel?” Buffy reached over and pulled her wig into her lap. “Angel’s coming?” 

“I left a note at the edge of the harbor, where he left his shoes and coat. He should be here any--”

The door swung open. “Buffy?” 

Buffy froze. “Angel.” 

“It’s… it’s really you?” 

She shrugged. “So it would seem.” She hastily put down the wig. “I’m sorry I wasn’t, um… really responsive before when--”

Angel stepped forward and put his arms around her, and then stepped back when she didn’t respond again. “Are you…?” 

Buffy sighed. She sniffed. She closed her eyes. “Oh, Angel!” She started to cry, and the two of them embraced. 

Xander sighed. “I remembered I didn’t like this guy,” he muttered.

“I think it’s sweet,” Willow said with an aww to her tone. “I’m glad they have each other. He thought she was dead.”

Xander just rolled his eyes. “I guess if I can be happy for us, I can be happy for them,” he said, and pulled Willow back into a hug. “I thought you were dead, too.” 

Willow hugged him back, but then gasped. “We need to call the morgue,” she said. “Let out any other ghosts who woke up.” 

“Good point. I’ll get on that, and I’ll call the mayor’s office, too. Have them examine and let out the creatures in the jails. Hopefully most of the missing children are there.” 

“Hopefully.” 

“Ethan has a lot to answer for,” Giles said. 

“Buffy… I can’t stay,” Angel said. “The sun is nearly up, and unless Giles wants me to stay here today….”

“No, let’s get you back to your place, Angel,” Giles said. 

“So today’s out. But I say we attack Spike tonight.” 

“Attack Spike?” Buffy asked. 

“Of course. Now we know where he is, we have a decided advantage over him. And after what he’s done to you, Buffy -- the torture and the torment...” 

“I’m ready to taste a little dust,” Xander said. “I mean, I don’t have a fancy nifty gun anymore, but I’m not bad with the crosses.” 

“Yeah,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “I guess we can’t leave a nest of that many nasties just sitting here in Sunnydale, waiting to kill people.” 

“And after what they did to you, Buffy,” Xander said. 

“Of course,” Buffy said quietly. “After what they did to me.” She looked over at Angel and leaned her head against his chest. “We’ll go tonight.” 

“You know, Buffy, if you need to talk about it,” Giles said. 

“No, I don’t need to talk about it,” Buffy said quietly. “No one wants to hear about any of that.” 

 

 


Chapter End Notes:

 

Prompt Four: YOUR FIC MUST INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING LINE SPOKEN BY A CHARACTER: “ALIENS HAVE INVADED ZIMBABWE. THERE’S NO TIME FOR RATIONAL SOLUTIONS.”

Fulfilled paragraph: “Well,” he said nervously. “I guess it’s as if aliens have invaded Zimbabwe. There’s no time for rational solutions. Gotcha. Could you take it out to the parking lot, though?”





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