Jan K.
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 Miz Thang
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We'd like to extend an invitation to all of our readers to check out the site we have created at It houses a huge gallery of photos of James Marsters plus screencaps of Spike from the TV series. It also has a posting board where fans of Joss Whedon's TV series, as well as fans of the characters, actors and writers from the series, may post and read messages about a variety of topics, including our Spike: Soul Survivor series. In fact, we'd like it very much if anyone would care to discuss our series on this board. Feel free to either register and become an actual member of the board or just read and post messages there as a "guest". We have plans to add other special "extras" to this site in the future. Hope you enjoy the new site, again at:



Split Decision
Myfeetshowit, Yours Truly, Jan K. , Kathy H. ,
Melanie, Miz Thang & Ldynwaitin


After reading the newspaper headline, the hotel bellboy chuckled and shook his head over the incongruous idea of a famous opera star singing the Star Spangled Banner at the Houston Dog Show. Then he moved on down the hallway, dropping a copy of the paper in front of each of the rooms.

On another floor in the same hotel, Spike whistled happily as he strolled into the room that he and Xander would be calling home during their stay in Houston, which, according to their sources from the Watchers' Council, was where they would find their next artifact.

Xander eyed the whistling vampire suspiciously as he came through the door. "You aren't possessed by The First, are you? I mean, not that it isn't great to see you in a better mood, but Spike and cheerful are not mixy things. You don't want to kill me in my sleep, do you?"

"No, mate. If I wanted to kill you, I wouldn't bother waiting till you were asleep. Just reacting to the pleasant sights of Texas, is all. Really should have come here before. Bet this artifact will be a relatively easy one to find," he said with a smirk.

"Why is that?" Xander asked bitterly as he recalled his last quest for an artifact and how poorly that had gone. After all the wild goose trails he, Mena and Haley had pursued, it sort of ticked him off that Spike had just stumbled upon the artifact right in his own cousin's home. Hardly seemed fair.

"Just can't imagine that a state with women as pretty as the ones here in Texas could prove to be much of a threat. Hey, you should find yourself a girl while you're here. I mean, if they don't all take one look at you and run the other way," Spike joked.

Xander rolled his eyes but did not respond to the jibe. To be honest, a part of him was still very afraid of the idea of bringing another woman into his life. He couldn't handle the risk of losing another love; that possibility was just too much to bear. But he did have something to say about the artifact hunt.

"Well, I actually agree with you on this artifact thing; apparently, it's just some big rock. Haley wants us to meet Mena and her for lunch downstairs in the restaurant," Xander said as he went to open the door.

He stumbled over the newspaper that had been left outside for them and tossed it back into the room and onto the nearest bed. Then the two of them walked downstairs to the hotel restaurant where they found Mena and Haley already seated at one of the tall tables.

The restaurant had a sports bar atmosphere, with large-screen televisions surrounding the tables and set to various channels, mostly sporting events, as well as a full bar. Xander took a seat in a chair where he had a clear view of the TVs that were placed conveniently along the top of the bar.

"I sincerely hope that you pay less attention to the telly and more attention to what it is I have to say," Haley told Xander frankly.

"I don't know, Haley. I have a nice view of a Texas Rangers game right in front of me, but I shall endeavor to divide my attentions," Xander said, mocking her accent as he spoke the last phrase. Then he sarcastically added, "You know, they did teach me how to do that at the academy."

"I'm sure they did," Haley said with feigned sincerity. "Now then, because I know we all want to get this mission over and done with as soon as possible, I figured I would just get right down to business. Um, Miss, we are ready to order now," Haley said, flagging the waitress who was at a nearby table.

The group gave their orders to the waitress; luckily, the menu had fairly standard dishes, and they hadn't needed much time to contemplate what to select.

"Sorry for forcing you to order so quickly. It's just that with the sensitive nature of our discussions, it's best if civilians are kept out of the way," Haley said, once the waitress had left the area.

"Giles faxed me some additional information on the new artifact this morning," Haley continued, placing a picture of a very large, blue gem on the center of the table.

"Oooh, it's pretty," Mena said as she moved the picture closer to her.

Haley laughed. "It's called the Gem of Illyria. It is very beautiful, much like the recent incarnation of the god that it was named after," she said matter-of-factly. "Although sketches of the original god suggest a more insect-like form."

"Illyria, eh? From the Illyrian dimension? I bet that's worth a pretty penny," Spike said. "Makes sense that it's blue."

Haley nodded. "It is a very valuable gem. One the Council has had on its radar for years, even before Illyria's recent human manifestation." Her voice trailed off as she thought of how powerful the human manifestation must have been. Or perhaps, still was, since no one was certain of her demise.

"The gem was acquired through legal, though morally questionable, terms by a famous opera singer named Red Sovaine," Haley said as she placed a photograph of the man on the table next to the one of the gem.

Spike stared at the photo of the man. Although Spike figured that Red was considered to be an attractive man, he could not help but find him rather strange looking.

Must be the fact that his smile is wider than his entire face, he thought.

"Wow! You know who he kind of reminds me of? That Defense Against the Dark Arts professor from the Harry Potter books. Oh, what was his name?" Mena wondered aloud as she searched her memory for the name.

"Gilderoy Lockhart? Yeah, he kind of does. Let's hope he's as easy to defeat as Lockhart was," Spike said with a laugh as he recalled the image he had of the professor from the books.

"You read Harry Potter?" Xander asked, laughing.

Spike glared at him. "Hey, I was stuck babysitting Dawn that whole summer Buffy was dead, wasn't I? And besides, they're bloody good books. Isn't that right, Mena?"

Mena just smiled and chuckled.

"As thrilling as this discussion of children's literature is, I think we really should get back to work," Haley said, eyeing the vampire and the Slayer with a look that clearly indicated that the female Watcher meant business.

Spike and Mena exchanged glances that indicated they would discuss their enjoyment of the Harry Potter books at a later time.

"I'm still a bit confused," said Xander. "I mean, yeah, I remember reading the Watcher reports that came out several months ago about Illyria. She's that Hell-bitch god from some demon dimension, kind of like Glory, actually, except Illyria took human form in L.A. and has been living ever since in the body of one of Angel's colleague's. A girl named Winifred Burkle, right?" he asked, turning to Spike for affirmation.

"Yeah. Do you actually have a point to this lovely tale, or are you just proving you learned something in wanker training 101?" Spike snarked, irritated by Xander's need to repeat Illyria's history when he was fairly certain that everyone knew at least that part of the story. He really didn't like to be reminded of the tragic loss of sweet Fred to that arrogant, blue-haired ex-god.

"Well, it's just that I'm a bit confused about what Illyria has to do with this gem. I mean, besides that it's blue and pretty. But, you know, since Illyria, in its truest form, was supposedly male, I highly doubt "pretty" is a word I would use to describe it. Or him. Or her. So, anyway, is this gem the source of its, that is, her powers? Are we going to need her at all in this?" Xander asked.

He was curious to learn more about the origins of the gem and its connection to the entity that had taken over the body of Angel's friend. He remembered that Willow had been fond of the girl. He had never even gotten an opportunity to meet her before she became the unwilling host to this demon parasite.

"You really are an ignorant chippie, aren't you? The Gem of Illyria is called that because it is from the ancient dimension of Illyria."

Mena chimed in with, "In our own historic times, when Greece was the big hotspot of civilization, a region of the Hellenic world was named Illyria because the god had followers there who were devoted to her. At least at that point, they referred to the god as a "her".

"At any rate, the current embodiment of Illyria did not have the gem in her possession," Spike said with a laugh. "Believe me, I would've noticed. And if we did need her help, I'd have no way of knowing how to reach her. Not even sure she's still around, although a right dodgy and totally unreliable source told me that Illyria left the site of our final battle in L.A. in good condition. Got no bloody clue where she is, though."

"Giles said the Council has recorded no recent sightings of her," declared Haley, "but that doesn't really matter because finding her is not our mission. We do suspect, however, that there may be some evil entities that wish to acquire the gem. And that, of course, is a matter for our concern. When the gem was first unearthed in Kosovo and subsequently purchased by Red Sovaine, the Council wanted it placed in one of our safe, approved museums anywhere in the world where it could be well-protected, while still being available for public viewing. Of course, Red would have nothing of this, and he turned the gem into a pendant for his personal use."

Haley could tell by the three pairs of eyes looking at her that her team was having the same reaction to this opera singer as she had when she first read the memo. They weren't sure if they should laugh or be disturbed by the man's actions.

"Excuse me, Haley, do you mean to tell me that this Red Sovaine walks around with a rather large and very powerful, blue pendant around his neck?" Mena asked, trying very hard to keep a straight face.

Haley laughed. "Oh, no, Mena. Red, himself, does not wear the pendant. He has given it as a gift to his pet." Haley held up a picture of a poodle.

"This, my good gentlemen and Slayer, is the lovely Bubbles Sovaine, current owner of the Gem of Illyria," Haley said, making a great effort to control herself from breaking into a fit of laughter due to the utter absurdity of what she had just said.

Of course, it was safe to laugh once she was finished with the statement, since the entire table had erupted into laughter.

"Well, it looks like you all are having a fun time. It's always good to see that," their waitress said as she approached from behind them.

The group started to slowly collect themselves and politely thanked the waitress as she placed their orders on the table.

"Oh, are you all here for the dog show?" she asked, after noticing the pictures that were still sitting in the middle of the table.

"Dog show?" Haley ask quizzically.

"Oh, I guess not. It's just I assumed you were, considering you had pictures of Red and all. Just big opera fans, then?" she asked curiously.

Haley continued to stare in confusion, but Spike covered and poured on the charm, saying, "Why, yes. In fact, I was just showing my friends, here, this picture of Red that I had acquired through an acquaintance of mine. We didn't know he was in town. A dog show? Is there any way a lovely lass like yourself might be able to provide us with some information on this dog show?"

The waitress laughed and joked that clearly they hadn't picked up their complimentary newspaper yet today, or they would already know the information. However, she did acquire a copy for them within seconds, even showing them the exact location of the article.

Mena picked up the newspaper and started to read aloud in an authoritarian voice.


Reliant Park, Houston. Red Sovaine, opera tenor and quite possibly Houston's most infamous celebrity, will open the 27th annual Reliant Park World Series 2004 Dog Show with what is sure to be a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

"We are very excited to have Red here with us this year," exclaimed Julie Weber, who is the coordinator for this year's dog show. "Not only has Mr. Sovaine been a long-time supporter of dogs and this particular event, he is also a wonderful example of how true talent can take you far in life. And he's a local celebrity, which is always a plus!"

Sovaine is expected to appear with his highly-pampered poodle, Bubbles. Sources close to Sovaine claim that we may get a glimpse of the Gem of Illyria, a valuable gem that caused quite a controversy for the singer a few years back, when he chose to turn it into an elaborate dog collar ornament instead of handing it over to a museum collection.

The event is scheduled to take place at Reliant Park over a three-day weekend starting at 9:00 AM on Friday and expected to wind down around 4:00 PM Sunday afternoon. It is appropriate for family members of all ages and, of course, your four-legged canine friends as well.

Mena finished the article and looked at the rest of the group, all of whom seemed extremely pleased at how easy Sovaine had been to locate. He'd practically fallen into their laps.

"You know, part of me thinks there has to be a catch. I'm waiting for the catch," said Xander.

The rest of the group did not respond, but he could tell by the looks on their faces that they were also thinking this mission now seemed to be just a bit too easy. Things generally didn't go that way for them.

"Bloody hell, I don't see why we have to question a lucky break. Maybe it's our reward from those Powers that Bugger. They could actually be giving us a hand this time by allowing us one easy mission. Especially after all we had to go through in Nebraska, perhaps they're showing us that not every artifact has to be that sodding difficult to obtain. Come on, we deserve at least the possibility of a little free time to do whatever we want," Spike smiled, convincing himself that this scenario was indeed very logical.

Mena's face lit up as Spike spoke of free time to do as they pleased. "Oh, do you think it may even be possible to go swimming? When I was online, I found out there is a nearby amusement park called Astroworld. It includes a section of water rides that sound like they'd be very exciting. I really want to check it out. That is, of course, if we have time," she added, giving a glance to both Haley and Xander so that they knew she had every intention of fulfilling her Slayer duties.

By Miz Thang

Xander smiled. "Well, I guess Mena and I should head over to the Reliant Center hotel and scope out the place. See what information we can find out about Red. What type of security he has -- that sort of thing. You're welcome to come with us if you like, Haley, but I am assuming Spike would rather stay indoors, seeing as how the sun is still blazing."

Spike smirked. "Think I'm going to enjoy Houston's night life more than any excursions into their fiery sunshine." He turned to Haley. "Are you staying here or going with them?"

"Oh, I figure I'll stay and keep you company. Maybe see if there is any more information we can discover about the gem or those evil entities who desire it. There is no need for us all to go to the Reliant Center until we figure out how to appropriate the gem."

Spike nodded a little awkwardly, uncertain how he felt about the Watcher staying around all day. He wasn't sure what he really thought of her as of yet, but did not actually have any reason not to trust her. She seemed friendly enough and was certainly intelligent. He also enjoyed talking with someone who reminded him of England, not that he really thought of that country as his "home" anymore. He'd been traveling constantly for too many decades to think of anywhere as "home".

As for Haley, it was just his nature to wait until he knew someone better before considering them an ally, let alone a friend. So maybe he just needed to spend some more time with her.


FLASHBACK - Ancient Time of the Greek Gods

Thero, son of Keithos, felt as if he were dreaming as he watched, transfixed. Moonlight reflected off the marble curves of the temple before him, accentuating the unreal-quality of the spectacle he was witnessing. Countless robed figures in white moved quietly through the halls and the gardens of the city's temple, never stopping, like ghosts that returned to this realm to celebrate this time of joy.

Chanting voices rose in the air as the figures walked, carrying the prayers of his people who were gathered, at last, to complete the ritual.

For She was coming. And they were here -- unworthy mortals at Her disposal, showing Her the road into this world and gathered to rejoice in Her glorious Awakening.

"My son," a gentle voice called from a distance, and Thero whirled around, ripping his eyes from the scene in front of him to be met with the welcome sight of his father approaching him, attired as the others, in a long, flowing robe of white.

"Joyful is the night, dear Thero, that sees you return into this land as the preparations conclude. You shall not miss a moment of Her coming. For a time, I must admit, I worried over your wanderings."

"Father," Thero greeted warmly, receiving a hug before he stepped back, engrossed eyes turning back towards the temple. "I did not think the time so near; else I would never have delayed my return. But my mission is completed, father. The ritual shall proceed as the Seers have foretold."

"You brought it?" Keithos whispered, blue eyes shining with pleasure.

"The gem resides safely with our Seers, father," Thero informed him calmly, smiling when his father's face lost some of its tense lines, the expression softening into one he could remember from distant childhood days. "I fail to think of a better moment in the history of our people; to think our Goddess will walk among us."

"Illyria shall wake, my son, but She shall always walk above us." His father spoke calmly, gently leading him forward into the temple, where the echoes of the chants hummed louder and the reality of the Awakening seemed more tangible. "We are unworthy of even speaking Her name."

"It was Her gift to us, father," Thero told him, repeating an argument they'd held endlessly, since his young mind had first grasped the importance of his people's cult -- honoring the greatness of Illyria, both King and Queen of all immortals, rightful ruler to this realm. Put to sleep by Her rivals, yet nonetheless, the most powerful of Them all.

"And the Illyrians shall prove their worth as the ritual takes place."

"Centuries of preparation," his father agreed quietly, nodding to himself as they entered the main room, brightly lit by endless torches.

Thero looked around in bewilderment, noticing every change since he had last stood within this room. Every wall, every surface, once pristine, now was painted with symbols that hummed with energy. With power.

"Our ancestors have prepared us well, my son. Now that you have safely brought the gem into our city, the Illyrians shall wake Her from Her forced rest. And the lesser gods will tremble."

Thero smiled to himself, nodding along to his father's words. "She shall reward our loyalty, Father, you will see. Generations of worshipers shall be gifted with--" He broke off his words suddenly, when a sound reached his ears.

"Father, what is that?"

"The guards!" his father called out in fright, already running towards the gates of the temple, and Thero followed behind him in bewilderment, heart thumping in his ears.

"The guards are giving the alarm, my son; Illyria is under attack. Run to the Seers, Thero. Protect the gem!"

"Attack?" Thero whispered numbly, looking around him as the serene, robed figures shed their cloaks to reveal their faces -- his fellow countrymen, tense with the call for battle that hung foreboding in the night air. "But the night still cloaks us, father. The gods do not allow war beneath the stars!"

"They hold no such qualms, my son," his father hissed to him, leading towards the gates. "Hurry, Thero, there's no time! The gem must be protected!"

And that was all that mattered. Thero nodded grimly to his father's distressed face and moved to run back towards the Square, where the Seers were gathered on this eve, ready to lead the Awakening to its conclusion. Only once, he turned around to see his father leading men to arms, watching as the perfect vision of the sacred temple shifted into a fortress readying for war.

Then he ran faster, calling as he went. "Illyrians! Arise! The enemy has come! Rise to war! We're under attack!"

But as he got closer to the Square, his heart stopped in his throat, and he could run no further. Fire shrouded the walls of his city, and countless men were coming in, as shadows, weapons at the ready.

The carnage before him was astounding. Women and children ran past him to escape the coming hordes, and as he watched, men fell, left and right, defending their posts. The roar of the guards' alarms was dwindling, as one by one they fell beneath the enemy's hand.

"Goddess, protect us," Thero whispered numbly, then with a cry of outrage, he ran into the midst of it, taking up a spear from one of the fallen guards. The glow of the fire around them made blood seem dark in the soil as he advanced, ducking beneath the swings of weapons that sought to stop him.

Thrust, parry, avoid, his father's voice whispered in his mind, and he obeyed, paying no heed to the scream of the dying around him.

Stomach, legs, arms, shoulder; disable the enemy, his father had said, long before this day, when Thero was but a lad, learning the way of his people. Head and chest, my son; mind and heart, if you are to take them down and send them to meet their gods.

Then he was there. The Square. He ran blindly forward, ready to protect the Seers that stood there, weakly battling back as a circle of men surrounded them, ready for the kill. In a whirl of motion, Thero ran forward, taking two men down before they saw him and taking out another two before they stopped him.

Legs, arms, head, chest...

A huge man stood staunchly before him, a killer's gleam in his eye as he pointed his spear at Thero's heart.

"What's your name, son?" The stranger spoke calmly, voice strong among the dying cries that surrounded them.

Thero looked up at him in blind hatred, trying to quench the flow of blood that escaped him through the wound in his side, but he didn't answer.

"I'm giving you a chance at being remembered, son. What's your name?"

Just then, Thero heard a gurgling cry, and he tore his eyes away just in time to see the Elder Seer fall to his knees, spear piercing him through. The Seer looked up at Thero in his dying moments, mouthing Illyria's name as he fell forward into the soil, forever silent.

"NO!" Thero cried out, ready to leap to his feet, but a solid kick sent him flying back, and he landed at the stranger's feet, looking up at him through shock dilated eyes.

Thero, protect the gem! his father had shouted. Closing his eyes, he tried to stand once more, only to be shoved back onto the ground. The Seers had the gem. The Seers were dying. If the invaders took it...

"Who are you?!" Thero demanded. "How dare you?! This was our moment, our celebration."

"My name, young one," the man told him, and Thero shivered at the coldness in the words, "is Hyllus. Leader of the worshipers of Zeus. And Illyria, stubborn child, has no place in this realm. We are here to ensure her captivity is eternal."

"She cannot be stopped!" Thero screamed at him, choking on the blood that clogged his throat. "She is beyond us. Above us all! Above your gods and above your power!"

Hyllus watched him rave in silence. Thero glared back at his enemy, tears clouding his vision as the sounds around them dwindled. The battle was lulling, and he could no longer hear the city guards' valiant cries; even the frightened screams went out like flames.

And the gravity of their failure weighed him down, made his body heavier, colder, weaker. He spit out the blood pooling in his mouth and did not flinch when the spear was raised above Hyllus' head. He never broke eye contact with his killer.

"You are brave," Hyllus told him. Then the spear came down, and Thero knew only agony. "Yet I fear that holds no value. Men! Find the temple and destroy it! There shall be no remains of the ritual by dawn. Illyria shall remain silent in her grave."

Through glazed eyes, Thero watched Hyllus walk away from him. Shadows ran past him, armor tinkling as the soldiers moved in every direction, spreading through Illyria's streets. It was only a matter of time before they found the Temple.

Hold no regrets, my son, his father had once told him. For if you lived well, death holds no shame.

The Seers laid sprawled before him, blood pooling in their robes until the white was washed away in its dark stains. Hyllus stood above them, searching, and Thero was not spared the pain of watching him find it. The gem. Amidst the Elders' robes, its glowing surface emerged, a soothing blue balm to Thero's soul.

He smiled through the pain when Hyllus struck it with his axe with no result, when he threw it against a rock with no result, and as he tossed it into the fire that burned away the remains of his city.

For Illyria's power was greater. And lesser beings would never destroy it.
She shall always walk above us, his father's voice whispered in his heart as Thero, son of Keithos, ceased to exist.

Hyllus spared no second glance to the broken carcass of his young enemy while he watched in disbelief as the accursed blue gem of Illyria's power protected itself within the flames, still intact. With a cry of rage, he thrust his spear into the fire, tossing the jewel out, watching as it landed a few feet away. Unmarked. Untouched by his hatred. Its smooth surface gleamed, lit by a soldier's torch, as if mocking him.

"You shall not win," Hyllus vowed out loud, listening to the cries of victory of his men. Zeus had lead them on this night, protected them all, urged them forward in this necessary carnage. He was the most powerful of the gods, the rightful ruler of this realm and Illyria's greatest foe. Their god.

"Zeus shall triumph and we shall prevail." When he took the jewel back into his hand, it was ice cold. Without another word, Hyllus grasped it tightly against his palm and walked away, losing himself in the midst of the chaos that had once been the great kingdom of Illyria.


Spike decided to make the best of being alone with Haley by trying to get to know her a little better, while doing the research and devising their plan for "liberating" the gem from the poodle pendant. He had enjoyed conversations with her over meals or while driving the lengthy miles from one state to another, and Mena seemed to really like her. It was only Xander who continued to have trouble getting along with her.

Spike had easily figured out that Xander was needlessly worried about his position on the team once the additional Watcher had been added. Xander was always right easy to decipher, actually. No real depths to plumb there; his feelings were pretty much always flailing around up there on the surface of his psyche.

But Xander had also brought up Ethan Rayne during their drive to Houston, as if he were another reason to distrust Haley. Spike didn't remember who Ethan was until Xander told Mena about the Halloween night chaos Rayne had caused with his magic costumes that turned the wearer into whatever the costume represented.

Xander continued condemning Ethan by explaining how he returned the next year with magic band candy that regressed all the Sunnydale adults to a somewhat exaggerated and unrestrained version of themselves as teens. As if that wasn't bad enough in itself, the ruse turned out to be in order to gain access to infants for some kind of baby-eating demons.

Then Spike joined in to tell the tale of Giles being turned into a Fyarl demon by another magic spell of Ethan's, induced by lacing Giles' drink with a transformation potion. Although there was a certain element of humor to all of these stories of chaos, and they all laughed a bit as they recalled them, Haley had remained entirely silent.

When Xander pushed her for her opinion of these activities, all she said was that she hadn't seen her Uncle Ethan since she was a child. Relentlessly, Xander tried again and again to get more of a response from her, until Haley simply turned the music up to a volume level that defied any conversation.

Spike wondered if she might be more forthcoming without Xander's judgmental presence and determined that he would find a way to work Rayne into the conversation at some point during their research. Research in which Haley seemed almost beatifically engrossed. She definitely had the joy of Googling in common with Mena.

Spike had already learned more than he ever wanted to know about the dog show. Its official name was the Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows ~2004~, and it would run for four days, starting the very next day, Thursday, July 15 through Sunday, July 18. Thousands of dog show lovers attended this show every year at which a number of doggy adoptions were sometimes arranged. This would be its 27th year, and it was the second largest indoor show in the U.S.

"I just hope it isn't a bench show," said Haley. "I think those can be too hard on the dogs."

Spike couldn't refrain from standing in for Xander's style of humor by asking, "Why do they call it a bench show? Do they make all the doggies sit on little benches like athletes waiting for their turn to cry, 'Put me in, coach?' Or do they make all the doggies do weightlifting exercises and bench presses? That might be amusing to watch."

Haley chuckled good-naturedly before explaining what she'd learned on her laptop. "At a bench show, the dogs arrive early in the morning and are caged in benched areas all day, so that the public can walk by and see the various breeds and talk to the breeders. Some of the dogs are even dressed up in funny clothes. Ah, now I see that the Houston Dog Show is not a bench show. That's good."

"So what happens when the dogs are bench-less?" joked Spike.

"At a non-benched show, you bring your dogs, you show them, you go home. People with Poodles, or other breeds that need intensive grooming, get there hours ahead of ringtime so their dogs can be properly 'poofed'. Breeds like Labs can get there ten minutes before ringtime, pick up their armbands, and go right into the ring, although most people like to give themselves a little time to settle in. If you're showing 'in breed', the only reason for you to stay all day is if you win Best of Breed, stay for Group judging and win that, and then stay to try for Best in Show."

"So everybody just watches the dogs strut their stuff in the rings and get judged like at a bloody beauty contest?"

"The Reliant show has four sports: Breed (the beauty contest), Obedience, and Agility (a timed obstacle course - very fast and fun to watch). The last event is Flyball. And before you make a wisecrack, Flyball is a relay race with four dogs on a team. It's very fast paced; each dog runs over four jumps to hit a box that pops out a tennis ball, then brings it back over the jumps. Each dog covers 102 feet round trip, and the fastest teams complete the run in less than 16 seconds for all 4 dogs. World record right now is about 15.5 seconds. Each team has 5-8 races scattered throughout the day."

"Now that might actually be worth watching for a while," Spike acknowledged.

"This promotional article says Houston's show is very well-publicized and very well-attended."

"How well-publicized?" asked Spike. "You talking just advance advertising or will there be TV film crews and suchlike for us to contend with?"

"Oh, there will definitely be newspaper and magazine photographers there as well as TV news crews. We'll have to be very careful when we go after the gem."

"Right. Not just when we take the bloody gem, but afterwards, too. We should use the same techniques that world-class pickpockets use. You know, pass the gem from one person to another rather quickly, and each of us keeps walking in a different direction, trying to lose ourselves in the crowd."

"That's brilliant! And the last one of us in the chain should be outside in the Land Cruiser, ready to drive off as soon the gem gets passed on. I'll volunteer for that duty," said Haley enthusiastically. "I've always wanted to drive a get-away car."

Spike grinned back at her smiling face. Haley seemed easy enough to get along with. Spike vowed to talk Xander into easing up on her. Then he continued their plan by stating, "One of us should maybe try to create a diversion, too, if it looks necessary to distract either Red's personal security team or the guards working for Reliant Center."

"You're right on the money with that idea. And I do mean money! The gem is so valuable that there is likely to be more than the usual amount of security on hand. Some of the dogs are extremely valuable, too."

Haley continued chatting about the various breeds that would be shown by the breeders, but Spike lost interest quickly and found himself nodding and uttering basic responses, like, "Uh, huh. Sounds good." All without paying much attention to what she was saying. Then his mind wandered further due to noticing something odd about his duster.

He was almost sure that there had been some acid burns on the leather. His encounter with Holly, once she'd been lost to her true form as the Frivolix Demon, had caused some tiny splashes onto his duster that had saved his skin from contact with the dangerous liquid.

Yet now there were no burns to be found.

He squirmed around a little and checked as much of the duster's surface as he could without calling Haley's attention to his search.

No. Not a burn in sight.

That was really odd. He could have sworn there had been permanent damage. Perhaps the residue from the acid had just turned into flakes of matter and blown away, leaving his duster unscathed.

Or maybe he had imagined the damage. He had been quite disturbed by what he'd had to do. Seeing the lovely Holly and his beloved cousin Nigel transformed into beasts had upset him enough, without having had to be their executioner.

Spike knew that it was the combination of the traumatic experience in Nebraska, plus his unsettling struggle with his own demon in Memphis, when he had found himself desiring to bite both Dana and Andrew, that had made it difficult for him to sleep lately. It had certainly increased his urge to smoke almost to the point of having nicotine fits, and it had caused a little of his hair to fall out and his sodding teeth to ache. Bloody hell.

He also knew that he was beginning to put that all behind him because those symptoms seemed to be lessening. None too soon as far as he was concerned. He had enough on his plate with trying to find all these bloody artifacts in time to meet up with Buffy's team and save the world again by performing the Ritual Offering on September 22. So many of these damned apocalypses seemed to be tied in some way to an equinox or solstice or some such bollocks.

So he needed to get over his own inner despair or depression or whatever the bloody hell it was. Right quick, too. He needed to keep his mind focused on protecting his teammates as well as acquiring the artifacts. He also needed to stop thinking of Buffy so much, at least until they were together again. Then he'd have to add her protection to his plate as well.

Maybe they should cut down on the number of phone calls and e-mails they were exchanging. No. Buffy would never agree to that. And he enjoyed them so much, too. Besides, if he didn't have his fairly regular communications with her, he'd probably think and worry about her even more.

Spike looked up to see Haley gazing at him, but she immediately refocused on her laptop as soon as he noticed her. He wondered what she had been thinking about.


Haley wondered what Spike had been thinking about as her eyes sprang back to her laptop. He had seemed so far away during the last several moments. Was he trying to figure out why his duster no longer had any remaining scars from the acid burns it had when they first met up with him at that diner on the edge of Nebraska?

That's certainly what she had been thinking about. He had told them what she was sure was a judiciously abridged version of what had happened to him with his cousin as well as with Dana and Andrew in Memphis. They had all gone through several cups of coffee during Spike's very revealing and upsetting stories.

Mena and Xander had given him their full sympathy and support, and she had been comforting as well. At the same time, her mind had raced with possibilities. What could it have meant for the dead Slayer Nikki to have returned to Spike the leather duster he had once removed from her dead body as some kind of souvenir or hard-won battle trophy?

Surely, The Powers That Be had been involved in that entire escapade in Memphis. It seemed that Dana, Andrew and Spike had all received something of immense value to them. And now Spike's duster apparently had the power to heal itself! She couldn't help wondering if it might actually be the mystical artifact that they were supposed to find in Memphis.

She needed to call Rupert and discuss this with him as soon as she got the chance. Haley glanced up from her laptop monitor to find that Spike was now watching her. Before she could think of something to say, Spike grinned.


"So Haley," he said, "tell me about your Uncle Ethan." The hell with finding a convenient opening to bring up this topic. If she was going to watch him while he was in deep contemplation, well, he was only too happy to turn the tables. And now that he'd caught her off guard, he just jumped right in with the topic he wanted to discuss. No way was he ready to discuss anything concerning himself.

Haley hesitated for a moment, but then she began to speak. "I really loved my Uncle Ethan when I was a little girl. He was a bit of a rebel and very fun-loving. He'd always rile things up a bit when he visited, but in a way that was really enjoyable for us children. He'd tease the grown-ups, you know. Something that we certainly couldn't get away with doing."

"Sounds like the kind of mate that would be fun to go out drinking and raising a little hell with. The fun kind of hell, I mean."

"Yeah, I think he was. Of course, by the time I was old enough to go to a pub with him, he had stopped coming around entirely. But I remember him fondly from my youth. He'd take me to films -- you know, the kind that my parents would never let me see. Horror and fantasy. All that really adventurous, exciting stuff. And he bought me the best books! He always remembered that I loved to read and never showed up without a lovely book wrapped like a gift, but usually in newspaper cartoons. The ones in color from the Sunday papers and sometimes with an origami animal attached to it like a bow."

"The perfect uncle."

"Yeah, he really was at the time. He always had fantastic stories to tell, too. I don't know if he really went to all the faraway places his tales described, but he made them come alive for me."

"So it must've really been a blow when he turned out to be a bit of a baddie, then?"

"It hurt a lot. I had admired him so much as a child. I thought he'd be thrilled when it was made clear that I was a potential Slayer, that I could live a life of adventure, too. But I had no way to alert him. Then when I started studying with the Watchers and found out the trouble he had caused around the world, I was devastated."

"Can see that you still don't like to talk about it, Haley, so tell you what I'll do. I'll find an appropriate moment to share this information with Xander and Mena. If that doesn't hit home with Xander, the next time he tries to put you on the spot about your uncle, I'm sure Mena will help me distract him. Of course, she'll probably rip him a new one, so they'll be no more need to distract him a second time. She knows how to get him where it hurts."

"Thanks, Spike. I'd really appreciate that."

Haley and Spike began to discuss their plan in more detail, so they'd be ready when Xander and Mena returned from their attempt to gain information about Red and Bubbles.


Xander and Mena parked the car in a lot a few blocks away and walked toward the hotel. No sense in letting the security people see their vehicle.

"I don't get it," Xander shook his head. "This guy's an opera singer, a multi-millionaire. He ticks off whole countries because he buys a rare and priceless pretty for his pink poodle, yet he says he's just a cowboy at heart. Who does he think he's fooling? What kind of cowboy has a pink poodle?"

He glanced at the little map on his hotel advertisement and checked it against the address in front of him. 'You are here' is where they were, and that was about five blocks from Red Sovaine's hotel.

"Roy Rogers had Trigger. Brisco County had Comet. Cowboys always have a beloved animal companion."

Xander faltered at Mena's response. Anya had loved Roy Rogers, and as always, the memory of her brought a pang to his heart. All the more reason to set Mena straight.

"No, no. Not the same. Those are horses. A dog might be an acceptable cowboy companion but only large, manly dogs."

He mimed whacking someone over the head and explained his theory. "See, the bank robber attacks from behind, and Roy is left bleeding and unconscious. A miniature pink poodle can't valiantly grasp him by the back of his shirt and drag him out of the burning barn. Just not possible."

"But it sure would be fun watching him ride off into the sunset on the back of his trusty poodle, spurs dragging in the dust." Mena giggled at Xander's look of horror.

"Travesty! You defame the cowboy and the American way." Xander staggered as though taking a blow to the heart.

"Well, at least a poodle is a living creature. Based on what I'm seeing in Houston parking lots, here's the new and improved Trigger." Mena pointed to a gleaming, gold SUV parked amid a herd of dusty, but sturdy older SUVs.

"Also not a good choice for burning barns and faithful companionship. The cowboy way of life may be doomed."

In spite of the imminent death of cowboy culture, there was a spring to Xander's step, and he felt young. The sun was bright, and he was enjoying the warmth. For once, Mena seemed like the teenager she was, rather than a Slayer, and he savored every uncharacteristic giggle that bubbled from her lips. He'd been trying to encourage her to lighten up since becoming her Watcher, and it finally seemed to be working.

They were probably going to steal again, possibly some kind of hotel heist -- like Bobby Comfort or something. Bad, true, but kind of exciting. After werewolves and ghosts and Native American artifacts, pretty jewelry and puppy dogs just

Even Spike had been more cheerful this morning. Maybe, just maybe, this would be the easy mission it seemed, and they would have a chance to enjoy what Houston had to offer. Mena deserved some typical girl time.

He peered into the golden SUV. Air conditioning, GPS, stereo, but still-- "SUV trucks instead of horses? That is so wrong on so many levels. If you're alone in the desert, an SUV truck won't carry you that last mile to town after you've collapsed from thirst and starvation!

"Or provide life lessons in morality by abandoning you when you're being stupid and returning only at the very last moment to save you from the consequences of your stupidity.

"And don't forget tricks," he added. "The cowboy's animal companion always does cool tricks. Do you think he can do tricks?"

"Who? The opera star or the dog?"

Xander smiled and adopted his best John Wayne pose. "Well now, little lady, I reckon that poodle is decked out fancier than a Christmas tree with popcorn and too darn pretty to do tricks." Xander noticed an elderly matron staring at him with pursed lips. She was shaking her head slowly.

"Xander, I haven't heard one person talk like that since we've been here. Or walk like that, either." Mena laughed. "That's it. No more television for you."

"No. I'll be good. Promise." He pointed his finger and made slashing movements across his chest. "Cross my heart and hope to d..." Mena's face sobered and he took a breath. "Okay, not so funny. It doesn't mean anything. I mean, what can we possibly have to fear from pink poodles and blue gemstones?"

"And security guards. Why tempt fate?" Her voice was quiet, and Xander wanted to kick himself for spoiling the mood.

"No fate tempting, then. Security guards aren't as scary as demons, but guns are every bit as deadly. And that's why we're here. We figure out who has the guns, who's likely to shoot them, and if we can't avoid them, we just shove Spike in their direction."


"No kidding, Mena. I've seen vamps take full automatic fire that should have cut them in half, and yet they shake it off like it was rain. If a gun leaves the holster, you hit the deck and let Spike save the day."

Mena's face was doubtful. Xander turned to her and looked directly into her eyes. "Spike and I still have our occasional problems, but in this, I can safely speak for him. He'll be your shield and glad to do it. Even when I hated him most, I had to admire his willingness to take pain for someone else."

"He could be seriously hurt. A bullet to the head."

Xander bit his tongue to keep back a flip response. "Yes, but his odds are way better than yours. You could be killed. I've seen one Slayer shot already, and only magic saved her. I don't want to repeat any part of that experience."

Mena pointed. "That's the hotel we're looking for, isn't it?"

They fell into the working routine which had become second nature. Xander allowed Mena to take the lead, let her Slayer senses be their guide. They communicated without the need for words.

Xander followed Mena's gaze toward a gardened walkway between buildings. Shaded, private, a good place to meet if they were separated.

She peered into a window as though admiring furniture. Good, sturdy, wooden furniture. No vamps expected this time, but it was always wise to know where you could find material for a hefty stake.

He cocked his head in the direction of a manhole cover, and Mena nodded. They would mention it to Spike. He wasn't certain how accessible Houston was via sewer lines, but he was pretty sure Spike would know.

The temperature was icy as they entered the hotel, and they both sighed. Mena hadn't felt properly warm since leaving Africa, and she was enjoying the heat. Xander, on the other hand, had never become accustomed to the Kenyan heat and had been sweltering in the July Houston temperature.

Bellboys hustled smartly across the lobby, pushing carts of luggage, and guests trotted to and fro with briefcases and coats hanging over their arms. A few sat browsing the newspaper or examining the brightly colored pamphlets that listed the exciting offerings available to a tourist in Houston.

Several of the hotel staff were eyeing them, and for a moment, Xander wished Spike were there. He might not look like someone who stayed at 5-star hotels, but he'd know exactly the right attitude for someone who did. Haley would have been even better, but Xander couldn't quite wish she were there.

He adopted a 'Haley pose'. He scrutinized the hotel lobby with curled lip as though deciding if this establishment was posh enough for his exacting taste. He sneered at the decor, sniffed at the art on the walls, and ran his hands across the furniture. He rubbed his fingers as though flicking dust away and scowled.

"Xander, are you all right? You look like you have a bad case of indigestion."

He sighed. So much for his acting skills. On the other hand, Haley frequently looked as though she had indigestion.

An elevator opened, and a flash of pink caught his eye. He stopped and Mena bumped into him. He pointed urgently and spoke in a low voice, "Is that--? It has to be. How many pink poodles are there going to be in one hotel?"

A Slayer is always prepared, and Mena slid into her act without a qualm. "How in the world did Bubbles get down here?"

She headed toward the dog. "Red must have left the door open."

"That crazy dog. You can't take your eyes off of her for a minute," Xander followed her lead. Sometimes a Watcher's best choice was to learn from his Slayer.

The poodle had noticed them noticing her, and her little body quivered with excitement. She picked up each paw in a happy little kick dance. Her tail was whirling so hard that her rump bobbed up and down with each rotation. Xander marveled. This artifact was being handed to them!

He looked for the ginormous gem, but the poodle was an exploding pink puffball. Puffballs, actually. A series of puffballs all tied together. He couldn't see a neck, let alone a collar or gem.

Xander shook his head. Cowboy companion, indeed. Maybe for a cowgirl. In case she needed to powder her face or something before lassoing a calf. He decided not to offer that opinion to Mena. Or any of the women he knew.

The poodle was still dancing with delight, but her steps were moving her away from them. Xander turned on his manly charm. "Nice pooch. Isn't she just so sweet? Such a good little girl." Xander turned to Mena and stage-whispered, "What was her name, again?"


"Ah." He turned back to wooing the pooch. "Here, Bubbles. Come here. Come on. Bubbly, bubbly Bubbles. Scrub-a-dub-dub and Bubbles in the tub."

Mena rolled her eyes. "She's a dog, not a rubber duck."

"Same diff. Both toys and meant for the tub. Get it? Bubbles, tub, rubber duck."

"Your dufu jokes are going to frighten her. I know they frighten me."

"A stand-up comedian is never appreciated by his own Slayer. And my jokes are not stupid!"

The poodle chose that moment to skitter toward Xander, and he beamed. "See, she appreciates a good joke."

He bent over and rubbed her ear as a reward, noticing the dampness of her coat. "Ooh, da little Bubblebutt's had a liddle bubble bath. Did she play with her little rubber ducky?"

Xander bit his tongue -- hard -- stifling the scream that bubbled into his throat as little Bubblebutt's teeth sank into the web of flesh between his forefinger and thumb. His own teeth were larger; he'd bitten himself harder than Bubbles had, and he thought he'd done more damage with his own bite. Until he saw the rivulets of red streaming through his fingers.

He gasped and his vision swam.

Mena was making a strange sound, and he peered at her with shock. She was laughing! He was bleeding profusely, and she was shoving her hand up against her nose so her snorts wouldn't get free.

Now Mena laughed even harder at the expression on his face. Sniggers broke free and reverberated against her hand. After a riff of particularly pig-like sounds, she looked away for a moment to get herself under control.

"It's pink dye, Xander. They must have just redone her dye job. You've been caught red-handed by a pink poodle!"

Xander blushed a brighter pink than Bubbles. His hand was turning a yellowish-pink where the dye had set. Two single dots of blood were already drying on the tiny teeth marks. He truly had done more damage to his own tongue.

He sniffed at his fingers. Food coloring? Mena snickered again.

"Hey, it hurt! There are a lot of nerves running through the hand right there."

Mena composed her face and nodded gravely. "Uh-huh."

He decided to give in gracefully. "It's a sad day when the pooch gets a bigger laugh than I--" He whirled around. "Where is the pooch?"

They both caught a glimpse of powder-puff tail as the elevator doors slid shut.

"Damn! What floor? Where's it stopping?"

"It stopped on it's on three. How will we know where she got off?"

Another elevator door slid open, and Xander hopped in, holding it for Mena. "We'll start with the second floor. Damn. This started out so well."

There was no sign of Bubbles on the second floor. After a quick scan up and down the hall, they moved back into the elevator and rode to the third. They stepped out just as the elevator doors on the other side began to slide shut. The poodle inside jumped up and popped her nose against a button.

Mena dashed across, almost losing fingers to the snapping doors. She hissed and mouthed one of Spike's favorite expressions. None of the elevators were available.

"Back to two. Stairs."

The stairs were around the corner and down the hall, but Bubbles was waiting patiently and squeaked with delight when she saw them come into view. She skittered one step forward, her rotating tail taking her one step to the side. And repeat. For such an odd form of locomotion, it was surprisingly fast.

She entered the nearest open door and disappeared from their sight.

Xander and Mena played, 'You first. No! You first!' at the door and then quickly looked around. Empty. Xander pulled the door shut. He couldn't see the pesky little puffball, but she had to be in here, and he didn't want her getting out.

They were in a lounge/sitting room. Plush chairs and couches with plump pillows were crowded around coffee tables, and a grand piano sat in the corner, top propped open.

Lots and lots of chairs and couches and tables, all low to the ground, but only one had a hidden poodle underneath.

Mena balanced on one leg and bent down with the other in the air until her head was touching the ground. She lifted the corner of a couch, dropped it and spun on the one foot to check another couch.

"Show off," Xander huffed. He got onto his hands and knees and began shuffling awkwardly through the close-set furniture. His head was down, his ass was up, and he peered underneath a chair, then shuffled on to the next.

Three table corners to his temple, one tipped lamp and an open drawer to the ribs later, he stood up, rolling his swollen tongue over his lips.


Bubbles was on the piano bench, propped up with her forelegs on the piano's rim. She squeaked and wagged her tail so hard, she came crashing down on the piano keys.

Mena flipped through the air, clearing the furniture that separated her from the dog, and landed neatly beside the piano. Bubbles squeaked, popped into the piano innards, then popped right back out. She knocked the pin out of place, and the top smashed down, catching Mena's hands at the wrist.

Mena gasped and snatched her hands free.

"Are you all right?" Xander asked. "Nothing broken?"

"It would take more than a piano top or a pink poodle to break Slayer bones. Where did the little wretch go? I need to get the circulation back into my hands." Mena curled her fingers and mimed crushing something.

"I'm not sure. Tell me again, how badly do we need this gem?"

"Who cares? You want to go back and tell Spike and Haley we let a poodle run circles around us?"

"Maybe." Xander shrugged sheepishly but got back down on hands and knees.

His new point of vision allowed him to see Bubbles trotting toward the door. The one they hadn't shut.

He grabbed a round, yellow pillow and threw it as hard as he could. His elbow rapped smartly against a table lamp, and the pillow went wide. Bubbles dodged the lamp it knocked over and pattered through the door.

"Damn!" He charged to his feet, moving in the direction where the culprit had last been seen. The lamp cord wound around his foot was fairly short, and he achieved only two steps before his feet were pulled out from beneath him. The chair was well-cushioned so his chin was only lightly bruised. He did manage to bite his tongue again, however.

After three more rounds of 'follow that elevator', Xander and Mena were back to the lobby. The staff stared at them once more but evidently knew it was not wise to question anyone whose pupils were completely surrounded by white.

Mena's nostrils flared, and she pointed toward the restaurant entrance where Bubbles sat up on her haunches and waved a friendly pink paw. She growled -- Mena, not the dog. She hadn't spoken in actual words for the last two floors.

Xander was surprised when Bubbles pounced from behind a table, peppering the floor with prancing little paws and peering up at him as though begging to be picked up. He flinched back. The wound on his hand could barely be felt when considered against the other bumps and bruises, but he still remembered that bite. Fool me once, shame on you. Bite me twice, ouch.

He looked at Mena. He hated giving her the dangerous duty, but that's what Slayers were born for, after all.

Mena snarled at him but moved in to pick up the poodle.

A waiter approached from behind, and Xander was startled when he spoke. "I'm sorry, sir. Animals are not allowed inside the restaurant area." The words were polite, but the expression on the waiter's face was adamant. "Also, dogs are required to be on a leash while in public areas of the hotel."

Xander forced his teeth to loosen so that he could talk. "Oh, of course. I'm sorry. She's family, you know. We tend to even forget she's a dog." He smiled cordially and looked down at Bubbles. He hoped the expression on his face was fond.

The poodle leapt to her hind feet and twirled in a circle, her tongue lolling and eyes sparkling. She ended her twirl at Xander's feet, wrapping her torso around his leg and gazing up with adoring eyes.

The waiter's expression thawed. "She's a cute little thing. It's the law, though. We can't allow her to stay."

"Oh, I completely understand. I don't know what I was thinking." Xander shot downward, eager to take advantage of Bubble's proximity.

His hands touched fur, wrapped around the poodle's midsection, and then encountered thin air. The poodle had wriggled out of his grasp at the last moment and bounded to the door.

"Damn." Xander smiled apologetically at the waiter's expression. "I mean, poopsie, wait for Daddy."

Bubbles stopped and wagged her tail. Mena was several steps ahead of him, and Bubbles scooted off just as she came within arm's reach.

He caught up with Mena outside the restaurant door.

"Xander, I swear that dog just winked at me."

"Why don't I find that hard to believe? Where did she go?"

"Over there. The little...stinker. She's waiting for us." Mena's face was grim.

Xander followed Mena's out thrust arm and saw Bubbles poised at one of the hotel exits. Her pink tail did its thing, and she was out the door.

"Oh, yeah. She's having way too much fun. Would it be evil to strangle a poodle?"

"Yes. But it might be necessary for the greater good."

They found themselves in a secluded pool area. Sunlight rippled across the water, extending its bright fingers into the shade from several small cabanas. Dots of color, chairs with bright blue fabric, and flower boxes of verdant fern and pink blossoms vied with the textures of spiny-barked trees and patterned tiles, combining into a surprisingly quiet and relaxed atmosphere.

Xander imagined lying back with a cold one after a refreshing dip, but he didn't allow himself to fantasize for long.

Mena was already advancing to the far side of the pool. Bubbles was nestled among bright pink flowers. She could have passed for a paler version of the blossoms.

Fortunately, no one else was currently enjoying the peaceful little spot.
Mena moved toward the objective and glanced pointedly toward the end of the pool. Xander understood. She was going to keep the target's attention and drive it in that direction. He headed that way, already crouched so he'd be closer to ground zero.

By Ldynwaitin

Bubbles' ears were set high with anticipation, her eyes twinkling. Mena dived and Bubbles danced out of reach. Her tail never stopped spinning like a rotor blade, and Xander wondered why she didn't become airborne. He held himself still and let Mena absorb the poodle's attention. "Come on, Bubbles. Wouldn't you like a nice tummy rub? How about a steak? I'll buy you a nice, big steak if you come see me."

Xander grimaced. Mena's tone was sweet enough, but her stance was all Slayer, coiled like a spring and menacing. He would think twice about accepting that invitation, and he was a pushover when it came to females. Still, it had the desired effect; Bubbles was headed in his direction and hadn't noticed him.

Closer, just a little closer. Xander steeled himself against anticipation. He didn't want to move too soon. He held his breath and tried to think himself invisible. He chanted to himself, "Move along. There's nothing here."

Bubbles danced, hopping backwards, keeping the distance between Mena and herself.

Xander pounced.

He spun forward, driven with the power of muscles held taut, and then released. He envisioned himself as a panther, sleek and graceful and--

His foot slipped on a wet patch just as it left the ground, turning his graceful leap into a pratfall. He came down hard on the tile, and the power he'd put into his forward momentum sent him sliding across the rough surface.

He didn't grab the poodle so much as push her into the pool. He followed close behind, entering the water head first. He could see Bubble's shocked expression.

At least if he drowned, he'd have that.

The wake of another body sliding into the pool washed against him. Mena had jumped in. He caught her eye and shook his head. He was okay. He oriented himself and pushed to the surface. Pulling himself to the edge, he coughed, expelling water from his lungs. He hadn't taken in much, but each cough set his arms and belly on fire where he'd burned along the tile.

His eyes were blurred from pain and moisture, but he saw Mena pull herself out of the water, poodle in hand. The dog was shivering, and Mena patted her on the back. Bubbles wasn't coughing though, Xander noticed between his own rough hacks. She must have had the sense to keep her mouth closed.

Xander's breathing evened. Why wasn't Mena grabbing the gem?

He pulled himself over to the pool steps, uncertain of his ability to get out of the pool with his remaining strength. His wet clothes dragged against him, but he could already feel the moisture evaporating in the oppressive heat.

"Mena, where's the gem?"

"She's not wearing it."

"What? She's not the right poodle?"

"Or maybe they took it off for the dye job. Are you okay?"

"My dignity's drowned, and I won't be sleeping on my stomach for a while, but, yeah, I'm okay." Xander stretched his arms cautiously. His clothes had taken the brunt of most of the friction.

They looked up at the sound of footsteps and saw a distraught man hurrying in their direction. Two black-suited men followed in his wake.

Red Sovaine descended on Mena and swept the sodden poodle into his arms.

"Bubbles, you wily coyote." He gave the poodle a kiss and turned to Mena. He took her hand and spoke in a slow drawl. "Saw the whole thing, little lady, and I want to thank you for saving my poo-poo here. Little rascal keeps slipping out of the corral and poking into the strangest places."

Mena blinked. Her shoulders were shaking, but her features were schooled into an expression of adoring interest. Xander quickly turned his snort of laughter into a cough.

"Now, I don't reckon a fine young woman such as yourself would take money as a reward, but I'd feel much obliged if you'd let me show my appreciation. Don't know if you know who I am..."

"Red Sovaine, the cowboy opera star. You're going to be singing at that dog show tomorrow." Mena managed to say her lines with breathy fervor.

Red straightened a bit and smiled benevolently. His drawl deepened even as his accent wavered, "Well, that's absolutely right, Miss. You interested in dogs?"

"Oh, yes. I lo-o-ve dogs." She patted Bubbles' head, deftly moving her hand away from snapping teeth.

"Why then, how about I give you two passes for the show."

"Might I have three? My...uncle isn't here at the moment, but--"

"Tell you what. I'll leave word at the door that you're to be expected. I'll just say..." Red waited expectantly for a name.


"Now that's a right purty name for a right purty girl. I'll just say Mena and her posse will be arriving, and they'll give you however many passes you need at the door. That way you can invite a passel of friends. I'll tell the wranglers to steer you in my direction, and we'll make sure you get right up front. How's that sound?"

"I'm so honored, sir. Right up front?"

"First class. Now, you know, I'd like to keep this pow-wow going, but I've got to look after my poo-poo here. Trembling like a little lamb, and I reckon I better have a sawbones check her out."

Xander and Mena glanced at one another. It would be too much to bear if the gem wasn't at the show because Red left the poodle home to recuperate.

"Oh, I'm sure she'll be fine. She seems so healthy."

"She's good livestock, that's for sure." Red squeezed Mena's hand and drew it close for a courtly kiss. "I thank you again, ma'am. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow."

He withdrew and entered the hotel. His entourage was a little slower. One followed, but the other stood for a moment, staring at Xander and Mena as if to memorize their features. He lowered his glasses and gave them a pointed stare before turning to go.

Xander held his aching stomach and tried to stay sober, but a glance at Mena proved to be too much. They burst into laughter. Snorts and giggles grew into full-fledged whoops, and soon they were teary-eyed and wheezing.

"His John Wayne imitation was worse than yours! 'Miss' and 'Ma'am' and 'Little lady'! Don't opera stars study accents?"

"Guess there isn't much call for cowboy lingo on opera nights." Xander was in real pain now and bent over, but he couldn't stop the convulsive giggles that forced their way out of his throat. "It isn't actually funny. We can't come back here. They're probably already running ID's on us."

Mena wiped her eyes. "We might try sending Spike in."

"Oh, yeah! Black leather coat and platinum hair. All swagger and attitude. They won't give him a second glance."

Mena threw him a rueful look. "It's going to have to be the show then. Let's hope Red remembers those passes."

"I think the show's a better bet anyway. Less chance of gunfire and more crowd to crowd into." Xander started toward the outer gate. He tried not to limp. "I hate to admit it. Red's no cowboy, but Bubbles might qualify as a cowboy companion after all."

"But what about pulling cowboys out of burning barns after the bank robber coshes them over the head?" Mena imitated the head bashing motions of Xander's rescue scenario.

"Wouldn't be a problem. Any bank robber going up against Bubbles would just turn himself in. Save Roy or Brisco a hell of a lot of troub--" He stopped.

A young woman stood at the gate, a fierce, malevolent scowl wreathing her face. Xander thought she looked familiar but couldn't remember where he'd seen her before.

The woman lifted her arm and jabbed it in Xander's direction. "I can smell the blond-haired one, and you spoke his name. You will take me to him immediately."

Xander blinked twice before his brain caught up to him, and by then, the woman was moving forward, advancing slowly towards them in a predator's stalk. He saw Mena tensing beside him and immediately jumped in to try and stop the situation from escalating, as well as to try to understand exactly what the situation was.

"R-right, the what you say? The blond-haired-- Oh! You mean Spike. Well, yes, you could say I know him. And you would be...?"

The woman stopped a few feet away, brown eyes boring into Xander's. The blankness there made him nervous and utterly aware of the various aches his body already sported, should a violent confrontation with this strange woman arise. As he edged closer to Mena, though, the woman merely tilted her head to the side in one crisp motion, as if studying him closely and finding him lacking.

"Where do you hide him?" she asked again, frown still firmly imbedded in her expression. "I have no time to waste on idle chats."

"Xander, this woman gives me a bad feeling," Mena whispered to him, leaning closer to his side. "There's something off about her. My Slayer senses are all on edge; yet, she looks--"

"Familiar." Xander nodded to her, studying the brown gaze that was zeroed in on them, as if the girl was listening to every word they spoke, even though from the distance that separated them, that was highly unlikely. "I don't know who she is yet, but something tells me we ought to be careful."

The silence stretched on, and Xander took the opportunity to look around, measuring possible escape routes. The main door leading to the hotel, though, was directly behind the woman, limiting their choices greatly if they wanted to get to their car.

And running? So not a good prospect after his earlier encounter with the hard cement and subsequent swim in the pool.

"You work for Wolfram and Hart?" Mena asked finally, bringing Xander back into focus. That was a sound assumption, and he made a mental note to commend Mena on her quick thinking as soon as the circumstances permitted it.

He put all his efforts into studying the woman who stood passively in front of them, a faint confusion displayed by her features that did nothing to soften her aggressive stance. The woman didn't react to the accusation. Not even a twitch on her impassive face.

"Is this their new game?" Mena ploughed on when she got no response. "Trying to make us lead you straight to Spike just so you can kill him? We're not that stupid."

The woman blinked once, twice, before her lips twitched in what could pass as amusement.

"You have fire, young one, yet your beliefs are unfounded," she said at long last, her wavy brown hair moving over her shoulders as she tilted her head the other way, still studying them, as if Spike was hiding somewhere behind them.

"The Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart do not control me, for nothing controls me; they were, once, the foe my powers battled against. They are the shadow of this realm. And the half-breed cannot be killed, young one, for he rises from the dead. You should know that."

"Okay," Xander conceded, floundering for something intelligent to say in the face of her appraisal. No matter how hard he tried, he found he simply couldn't read her, or even recognize why her face seemed so familiar. "What are your motives, then, if not to kill him? We can't just take you to Spike unless we know you're not going to harm him."

"He amuses me," the woman declared, as if that answered all his questions. After a moment, she continued her explanation. "Pain does not restrain him. Hopeless odds encourage him. He is a passionate fool, and yet, he thrives despite his weaknesses. And..."

Here, she paused, and a perplexed expression briefly twisted her cold features into those of a truly confused young woman who didn't look much older than Buffy. "I have...missed...his company." She managed to make that sound as if it were the most baffling concept ever expressed.

Xander shrugged at her uneasily, beginning to think that this acquaintance of Spike's might be just as insane as Drusilla ever was. He stole a glance at Mena's perplexed expression before turning back to face the woman who seemed to be trying to come to terms with missing Spike.

"You know, he kinda does that to people. We'd be glad to help you find him if you really...miss him. But we haven't been properly introduced yet. I'm Xander, and this is Mena," he said slowly, making the appropriate introductions before turning to her expectantly, waiting to find out her identity. "You haven't told us your name yet."

"No," the woman said after a moment. Her expression still held the hint of amusement that, somehow, seemed out of sorts in her. "I have not."

"That's enough of this! Xander, who is this--?" Mena trailed off, staring open-mouthed, as did Xander, while the woman...shifted before them. Stance straightening, her eyes seemed to dilate before the brown irises turned ice-blue, unnatural highlights of the same color appearing in her hair as her skin lost the healthy appearance of a young woman to take on the coloring of a demon.

Her comfortable clothes transformed into some sort of leather cat-suit that stuck to her like a second skin. She radiated power, and that was when the pieces connected, and he finally realized who they stood before.

Xander took a step back, taking Mena with him as they watched Illyria straighten up, glaring at them with obvious impatience.

"...person?" Mena finished slowly, flinching when Illyria immediately pointed a threatening finger in her direction.

"I am no person," Illyria declared clearly, spitting the word as if the mere idea disgusted her. And, Xander thought, it probably did. "I am Illyria, God-King of the universe. The end and the beginning. The most powerful of the Old Ones. And you are mere mortals, a speck of dust in my path. I tire of this play of words. Where hides the blond-haired one? I seek him."

Xander reached out a hand to stop Mena from charging Illyria as the icy tones of the being in front of them dripped with superiority, antagonizing the young Slayer into yearning for a good fight. But if the information they had read about Illyria was true, then that would be a very bad idea, and Mena seemed to know that as well, for she stepped back, contenting herself with glaring at the Old One.

Xander was suddenly very glad they were alone in this part of the hotel as the blue-haired female turned her attention back to him, glaring in obvious displeasure.

"Spike isn't here," he told Illyria as calmly as he could muster, trying not to flinch as she moved again, tilting her head to the other side to regard him more closely. Her doll-like eyes were an unreadable shield, but her stance anticipated danger, loud and clear. "And we don't know where--"

"Do not lie to me, human," Illyria warned him, advancing slowly towards where he stood with Mena. "I can see your mind floundering for excuses. I can smell the blond-haired one on you as clearly as if he stood before me. Lead me to him. Now."

"Why should we?" Mena asked forcefully, stopping Illyria in her tracks with her challenging tone.

Stealing a sideways glance at her ready stance, her ramrod straight posture, and the flare of annoyance in her eyes, Xander could already tell Mena was set on defending Spike against Illyria, damned be the consequences. This couldn't be good.

"Spike is his own ma...vampire. How do we know he'd even want to see you?"

Illyria didn't answer. Instead, she closed the distance between them, staring directly into Mena's eyes, making Xander shift uncomfortably, unsure whether or not he should be intervening.

"Mena, Illyria, maybe we should just..." But he was wholly ignored.

Illyria reached out a hand and stopped just short of touching Mena's cheekbone, eyes narrowing. "You are a Slayer. A Hunter. Yet you protect the half-breed. That pleases me," she announced calmly, before stepping back and looking at Xander. "I lose patience, mortal. Where is my vampire?"

That made him pause, and he could see Mena beside him, opening and closing her mouth in shocked silence.

"I'm sorry, did you say your vampire?" he finally asked, his voice half-choked, though if by his own shock or just laughter, he couldn't really say.

"Spike," Illyria confirmed with a curt nod. "My pet. Where is he? I tire of this game."

"Your what?!" Mena exploded beside him, but Illyria didn't blink or even glance in her direction; she merely stared at Xander, waiting.

And Xander was very reluctant to annoy her.

"Did you just say--" Mena was asking, but Xander waved her off, offering Illyria a mock bow that seemed to please her.

"Well, I cannot be held responsible for keeping a god away from her...uh." And this time it was definitely laughter that choked him up. ""

"Very well," Illyria said, still waiting, ignoring the teenager now that the young man had acquiesced. Meanwhile, Mena was turning all kinds of interesting colors, glaring at Xander as if he had betrayed their blood-sworn oaths. Not that they had blood-sworn oaths. But that was the look she was giving him as he began to lead Illyria to Spike.

"Xander, how can you possibly--?" she began to hiss at him, but was interrupted by a polite clearing of a throat from behind them.

As one, the Watcher, the Slayer, and the...god-king whirled around to come face to face with a bald man in his late forties who was giving them a very openly hostile glare. The man's attire distinguished him clearly as one of the hotel's employees, and as he stood there, his gaze was far from hospitable. Xander immediately opened his mouth to try and explain the blue-haired demon that stood beside him, but the man spoke first.

"Excuse me, people, but you are standing inside one of the most exclusive hotels Houston has to offer," the man informed them, his nasal and obviously annoyed tones rattling Xander's nerves. "You are neither current clients, nor potential guests, and as such, I require you to leave."

Then he stole a glance in Illyria's direction and turned his nose up at her in a potentially deathly gesture of displeasure. "And I'll ask that you take your...'friend' over there as well. This hotel does not cater to rock stars."

Then he was off, leaving Xander to stand in Illyria's path as she moved, ready to go after the man and quite possibly tear him to pieces.

"So!" he said loudly, ignoring Illyria's icy glare. "Spike! All right then, we'll take you to him."

"Rock star, he said?" Illyria demanded of him instead of following his lead, pointing a gloved hand in the retreating man's direction. "I am unfamiliar with the concept. There can be no likely connection between an earthly petrified material and the self-luminous bodies scattered through the universe of this dimension."

"Well, a rock star would be--" Mena began to explain, then trailed off as Illyria made another move to dodge Xander's desperate attempts to hold her back.

Mena tried to reason with her instead. "Right, to you the term would make no sense; as nonsensical babble, it should then be ignored, and there would be no reason to harm the poor man."

Illyria stopped pushing Xander long enough to glare at Mena, before staring at the spot the man had last occupied as if she could have vaporized him where he stood. Xander briefly worried if she could.

"That speck of a creature referred to me as 'rock star' -- an ignominious epithet," Illyria said at last. "The title holds no honor, holds no glory. He deserves a fate worse than death."

"Sure he does," Xander agreed easily, carefully taking hold of one of Illyria's arms and vowing to never try that again, as she shook him off with a dangerous glint in her eyes. "Shall we go, then? No point in slaughtering humanity when there are vampires to be found."

"Xander," Mena called to him, and he met her worried eyes with an encouraging little smile. "Are you quite sure we should be bringing her to Spike? I--I mean, what if she attacks him?"

"I shall not," Illyria interrupted, looking pointedly at Xander until he finally started leading them towards the door. He turned to look back once, only to be met again with the womanly façade Illyria had first sported, walking beside Mena.

Winifred Burkle's face, his memories told him, and the reminder that the woman had once been alive and a friend to Spike sobered him slightly.

"The half-breed has other uses," Illyria was saying when he started paying attention again.

And that, Xander decided as he climbed into the driver's seat of the car, was something he did not want her to clarify.


"Spike, look what we found on the way home." Xander's voice was gleeful, but Mena's face was wary. Spike took his cue from her and prepared himself to move quickly if need be. Xander stepped aside with a flourish and a bow.


Haley rose from her seat and moved closer to her bag in the corner. Spike knew she kept a supply of stakes in it. Not that they would do any good, but at least she recognized what Illyria was and understood how dangerous she could be.

Xander was still waiting for Spike's reaction. Mena took her Watcher aside and suggested he make coffee. Spike blessed her silently for getting Xander out of the way and turned his attention to Illyria.

"Blue." Spike was surprised by the strength of his feelings. She had killed Fred, whether with malice or not. He hadn't thought he'd developed any fond feelings for her. Illyria was unstable, dictatorial and dangerous.

And even so, he was happy to see her.

Spike smiled at this unexpected realization. Maybe it was only natural. They were the sole survivors of a deadly battle, comrades in arms. You could overlook a lot about someone--

"I wish to copulate with you."

On the other hand--

Spike heard a thump. Xander was at the sink filling the coffeepot and had dropped it. Git never could hold his water. The faint smell of blood in the room heightened minutely, and he knew that Mena was blushing. He heard a small cough from Haley.

Spike, however, kept his eyes locked on Illyria's. Maybe the others in the room thought this was funny, but Spike knew Illyria was serious, and Her Worship didn't take to being told no.

"It's usual practice to at least say 'hello' before asking someone for sex, Blue."

Illyria cocked her head and studied his face. "Hello. I wish to copulate with you."

The muscles in Spike's jaw jumped. Had Illyria developed a sense of humor, or was she just attempting to be sociable? He hadn't expected either one. Her main weakness had been her inability -- her refusal to change. Now he had to question everything he thought he knew about her.

He was uncomfortably aware of the size of the room and the presence of two fragile humans. Mena would be able to hold her own, but Xander and Haley would just be in the way if the situation turned violent.

"How about we just get reacquainted? Reminisce about old times. Make sure the spark is still there before we do anything hasty."

Spike kept his gaze directed towards Illyria but allowed himself to blink and kept his tone light. His attitude was relaxed. Non-threatening but alert. Unafraid but not belligerent.

"You wish to observe social amenities. Very well. Do you wish to buy me a drink?"

Spike studied Illyria's posture. He could see signs that she was schooling herself as much he was. She stood at a half-angle instead of facing him full on. Her mouth was slightly upturned at the corners instead of twisted into her usual perpetual scowl. Her tone was demanding, but she spoke in a lower pitch.

More alarmingly, however, her shoulders were rigidly straight, her feet placed wide apart, and her fingers were thrust out as though she intended to use them as weapons. This body language he definitely remembered.

He moved back slightly, very casually, so that he could see any movement she made from out of the corner of his eye. A twitch of those fingers would probably be the only warning he could count on should she decide to attack.

He suddenly realized why he was so glad to see Illyria. He was hoping she would attack. A full-out, no-holds-barred fight actually sounded good. He'd done some sparring with Mena, but a real fight where he could use every dirty trick, every ounce of strength? Where he could try to hurt someone and feel no compunction about it?

He wanted it. He needed it.

His own fingers were twitching, but he stopped them. Another wave of fondness swept over him, and he decided to go with honesty. It had worked as well on her as anything, in the past, and it was always his preferred style, even when he was evil.

He smiled. "I am glad to see you, Blue, but I'm not having sex with you. I'm already taken. Probably wouldn't take you up on your offer even if I weren't."

"Taken? By the Slayer?" Illyria turned her head and stared at Mena. "I can smell her on you."

"The Slayer, yes. Not that one, though."

"All Slayers are present in any Slayer." Illyria tilted her head and her pupils dilated. "Their Line is not as it was. The thread has divided and multiplied, but they have not yet realized their new power. They would make a worthy army."

"They wouldn't make an army at all. Too independent. Tend to lead, not follow." Spike wanted to get that Slayer army idea out of her head as soon as possible. "Mena, why don't you take Xander and Haley and check out the dog show place - Reliant Center? Not much more we can do here till it gets dark."

"But what about her?" Mena glared at Illyria.

Xander set down his coffee pot. "Yeah, what about her? We're the ones who brought her home, so we should get to play." He stopped for a moment and blushed.

"Not in a sexual way, of course. I just think we should all get to watch. Again, not in a sexual way. I'm going to stop talking now."

Spike wondered if Xander had actually read any of the Watcher files on Illyria or just looked at the pretty pictures. Having lived peacefully with a Vengeance Demon for so long, he was probably underestimating Illyria's capability for destruction. Spike ignored him and spoke to Mena.

"Blue and I have a lot to catch up on, love. She's never done me any real damage." He looked at Xander and Haley. "Just think we need a bit of time to ourselves."

Mena sighed but hooked her arm around Xander's. He protested but allowed himself to be dragged out the door.

A very intellectually intrigued Haley hesitated a moment before leaving. "You're sure--"

"As can be. You three go have a good time."

Haley's lips twisted into something that resembled a smile. "With Xander?"

Spike shrugged and she left.

"They are gone. We could cop...have sex now, and they would not know."

"I would know. Not going to have sex with you, so get that idea out of your head. What have you been doing? How'd you get away from the hordes of Hell?" Spike's voice lowered. "Wasn't sure you were even alive. Eve said she saw you leave, but you can't believe a word that bint--"

"Your Slayer would not know if you had sex with me. Men have told me what their mates do not know will not hurt them."

"Give it up! I'm not interested." Spike threw up his hands. Maybe he should attack her. A good fight might take care of her problem. On the other hand, he remembered where his fights with Buffy had led to in the past. He remembered the fight with Dana, too. Bloody hell. He didn't dare fight with her unless she forced the issue. He looked up at her in horror.

What if she tried to force the issue? The sex issue. He wasn't positive he could stop her if she tried. He wasn't positive he would want to stop her if she tried.

He felt the first stirrings of fear and clamped down tight. If she caught a whiff of it, he'd be doomed.

"So. How'd you get away from the big fight?"

Illyria rotated her head as if scenting the air and moved closer to him. "I was much damaged. Angel was dust, Gunn was dead, and I could neither see you nor sense you. I assumed you, too, were lost." She lowered her head, allowing her hair to fall about her face and peered up at him.

"I have never run from any enemy before, but I noticed that once all of you were gone, the demons began to fight among themselves. Perhaps the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart did not specifically seek my death. I determined that I could protect Gunn's body for the burial rites which the humans observe. I gathered his corpse into my arms, and I ran from the battle to the place where I had left Wesley's corpse. I buried them side by side with much tribute and honor. I felt shamed at leaving the battlefield, but I do not regret my actions."

"Me neither, pet. In fact, I'm much obliged. They were both good men and deserved your tribute." Spike fought the urge to stroke her hair.

"Later, I returned and killed as many of the remaining demon soldiers as I could find. The streets were filled with the dead, but then human soldiers arrived to remove the corpses. I found shelter when daylight came. Although I do not sleep, I entered a...maintenance mode. Much linear time passed as I regathered my strength." Illyria placed her hand on Spike's shoulder and ran it down the length of his arm.

Startled, Spike stepped back and tried to distract her onto other subjects. "Yeah? So what did you do when you woke up?"

Illyria followed Spike, maintaining the closeness. She took his hand and ran her finger along the lines of his palm. "Although they had roamed far, I tracked down all the remaining survivors among our opponents and killed them."

Spike liberated his hand. "Good on you, then. Painfully, I hope."

"Yes. I tortured them and sent them back to the Hells in which they were spawned, with the names of our fallen on their lips."

Illyria allowed Spike's hand to escape but placed her own on his chest. Spike threw his arm up to block her access, but she took advantage of his move to wrap her fingers around his. She brought his hand to her mouth and ran her tongue across the knuckles.

He convulsed and jumped back, intent on keeping her talking. "Good. Good on you. Wish I could have been there." He laughed and winced at the tinge of hysteria in his tone. "What-- What did you do then? What brought you to Houston?"

"You brought me here. One of the last demons I killed in Los Angeles tried to bargain for his life with information. He told me you had survived, though he knew not where you could be found. After I eviscerated him, I discovered that demons in bars talk freely. Alcohol makes them even more stupid. Rumors of your exploits set me on your trail. I came here to find you."

Illyria moved close to Spike once more and grasped his belt to hold him in place. Spike jerked free, and the back of his knees collided with the bed. He fell back, his legs hanging over the edge.

Illyria reacted swiftly. She leapt over him, straddling him between her knees. Spike let his legs relax and gravity pulled him downward. He slid through Illyria's legs and onto the floor, landing on his rump and ending with his face buried in the junction between her thighs.

She wiggled, and he flailed his legs wildly until his feet were beneath him. He pushed himself back with enough force to scoot the bed away, and Illyria fell forward. His arms touched the floor. He braced himself, gained his balance and shot upward.

His sprint to the bathroom was neither brave nor graceful.

Even as he shut the door and set the lock, he realized the futility of the action. Illyria could take out the door with one powerful punch. Mindful of that fact, he stepped back. It would take only a splinter through the heart to dust him.


He took a deep breath. So much for not showing fear. "Illyria. Was there some confusion about the 'you and me not having sex'?"

"I am not confused. You merely need the proper persuasion." Her voice became throaty. "You know you want to."

A laugh - another one of those hysterically tinged ones burst from his lips, and for a moment, Spike felt giddy. Was this karma for all the bad pick-up lines he'd gotten away with in the past? It certainly sounded as though Blue had had some coaching.

"Where are you getting this stuff from? You been hanging around horny men in singles bars or something?"

"Bars. Taverns. Parties. The shell's memories indicate that people go to these places to find sexual partners. You will come out. The memories I am accessing indicate that smashing doors is not an action conducive with sexual activity."

"You just stay with that reasoning. We need to talk."

"You can speak during sex if you wish. Fred had pleasant memories of your voice. She sometimes wondered what it would be like to hear you verbalize unclean words while engaged in--"

"Stop right there. I don't want to hear about Fred's fantasies. I don't-- Fred thought about sex with me?" Spike's voice was quiet. "She never seemed interested."

Spike saw the doorknob move and hoped it would hold. Most of the locks in these hotels were easily forced. He should know.

"Do you wish me to assume the shell's exterior?"

"No! Illyria, you aren't getting these moves from Fred's memories. I know that. You've been hanging around in all the wrong places." Spike grimaced. Stupid song. "Look. Just stop and listen to your inner Fred, right? Run this scenario past her. Get the sense of what you're doing."

There was no reply, and Spike stopped breathing, realizing he was working himself up to hyperventilation. Maybe someday he'd give up breathing altogether. Wasn't sure why he'd continued the practice after he became a vampire; other than that it helped when you tried to blend in with humans. Buffy said he rarely breathed at all while he slept.

Realizing that Illyria hadn't spoken for a few moments, he focused on his hearing and tried to figure out what she was up to.

"You may exit the room and approach me safely now."

Spike sighed with relief but made no move to 'exit the room.' "If you don't mind, I prefer the décor in here. I can hear what you have to say just fine."

"I do not understand the shell's logic. A warrior must pursue her mate, convince him she is worthy to be fertilized. My experiences with human males have not contra-indicated this reasoning. I do not understand why this could be construed as...I do not understand."

The sentiment in Illyria's voice was something he had never heard from her before, but his heart twisted with recognition. Who would have thought that an Old One could be lonely?

"Pet, you got your head on straight? I'll come out, but you keep your hands to yourself, yeah?"


Spike opened the door and peered out cautiously. Illyria was sitting on the bed. He steeled himself. She would only be offended by sympathy, and he didn't want to encourage any lingering notions about copulation. He sat down in the kitchenette, keeping the small table between himself and her.

"Not to be offensive, but you've changed."

Illyria lifted her chin. "I take no offense at your mistake. I have not changed. I have simply accepted that I am trapped in this world with humans. I must learn how they have come to dominate the earth. I can access the shell's memories--"

"Fred's memories. The shell was named Fred."

"Very well. I can access Fred's memories, but they make no sense to me. I cannot assume my rightful place as conqueror of this world unless I understand humans."

"Nothing to do with being lonely?" Spike's eyes were soft, and his head drifted into a tilt.

The tilt of Illyria's head was sharp, and her eyes drilled into Spike's. "When I was repaired and returned my consciousness to this world, I had purpose. Hunting the soldiers of the Wolf, the Ram & the Hart filled my days. My opponents gave little enough challenge, but there was much satisfaction in rending them into pieces. Too soon, I had killed them all."

"Got bored, eh? Know the feeling," Spike commiserated.

"I considered continuing the hunt with humans, but they pose no challenge as individuals. I resumed hunting demons, although they were not, specifically, soldiers of our enemy. Perhaps for that reason, their deaths gave me no satisfaction. I tried becoming a protector of the humans, as you and Wesley and Angel had done, but the humans annoyed me. Their danger was always a result of their own stupidity. They deserved to die."

Spike snorted. "Can't entirely argue with that, Blue."

"The more I observed the humans, the less the shell...Fred's memories made sense. I determined that it was necessary to understand the dichotomy. I will learn to understand humans, so that I can decide what needs to be done with them. I can best do this by emulating their behavior, but I do not understand what makes them care for one another."

"So it has nothing to do with being lonely?"

"I have answered that question."

"Have you, pet?" Spike rose. He couldn't resist preening, just a little. "You did come here looking for me. I don't think it was just for my body. You must care for me a little."

"I did not come here looking for you."

Spike was startled. "But you said--"

"It was meant to inflame you with sexual desire. My past partners have instructed me that such words are greatly stimulating. I did not find them so but judged that you might. You seemed to be easily stimulated in the past. Perhaps I did not say the words correctly."

Spike was unsure whether to be offended or hurt. He decided he didn't have time for either but couldn't quite prevent the pout from appearing on his face. "Yeah? So I appreciate a good-looking woman or a good fight. Doesn't mean I'm easy."

"You were frequently aroused by the sight of mammary glands or a female's buttocks, even if there was no sexual invitation. You lusted after me when we fought."

"I never!" Spike tried to sound convincing but gave it up. "I had been a ghost for months. It was a bit much when I came back solid, that's all. And a good fight? Always stimulating, yeah. But it's just the fight. Blood pumping, senses honed. The Dance. Gets a fellow going but it wasn't personal. I wasn't lusting after you."

He peered at Illyria from under his lids, hoping he'd made his point. Shown her who wanted who. "So why are you in Texas, then?"

"Fred had many memories of her past relationships. The sexual encounters were among the most powerful. I determined that sex was the most logical place to begin my study of humans. I wore Fred's guise and allowed men to know me carnally. I did the things that Fred did. The men seemed to find it highly pleasurable, but I was unable to reproduce the feelings of pleasure or emotion that Fred had felt. She had often talked to her parents when she was puzzled. I decided to question them."

"You were going to ask the Burkles how to go about getting yourself off?"

"Yes. I came to Texas to visit their home, then sensed your presence when I met your human friend and the Slayer. I spoke truth when I said demons had told me of your recent exploits, but they had not known exactly where to find you. Once I discovered you were indeed nearby, I decided to seek you out. Next to Gunn and Wesley, Fred found you the most sexually appealing."

"Oh, I came in third? How flattering."

"You have always been mildly intriguing to me as well as to Fred. Since both Welsey and Gunn are gone, and you were not at hand, I looked for others who might have appealed to Fred."

"So you've been mucking about in the slime pits and trying to learn human behavior by picking up whoever is interested?" He shook his head. "You're way off the mark, pet. Confusing sex with love. Of course, you have that in common with nine-tenths of the human race."

He reached into his pockets for a cigarette and cursed when he found none. Mena must have taken them out. She'd been ragging on him to stop smoking again. She just didn't understand that a bloke needed something to focus on. To help him think.

He ran his hand through his hair and stopped, remembering the strands he'd seen in his comb that morning. Not as many as there had been every day last week, at least. Fat lot of good he was going to be to Illyria. His symptoms of stress revealed he was still struggling in his attempt to find his own sense of purpose.

He began to pace. "You interested in knowing what I've been doing since the fight?"

Illyria considered before answering. "I will listen."

"Kindly of you. I've been doing a lot of the same things you have. Not the picking up of men in bars, mind you. Looking for a purpose. Understanding humans. Understanding myself. And don't try to tell me you already know yourself."

Spike was quick to cut off Illyria's protest. "You don't. You have changed. At first it was just physical, but now it's more. The universe has also changed, Blue, since you entered the Well. I don't care how vast and all-powerful you once were. You can't function in the here and now unless you adapt. And one of the things you must have found is that you can't do it alone. You need others, if only to pull you up when you're down. I just realized that myself, not too long ago."

"This is why you surround yourself with inferiors? The young Slayer might someday be your match, but the male is weak and foolish."

"Don't underestimate Xander, pet. Big mistake. He's still young. Got a lot to learn, but he's got some of the best of human nature. He'll stick to you like a burr when there's trouble and gladly throw himself into harm's way to protect someone else. He hasn't quite figured out how to love successfully yet, but there's no end to his capacity for it."

"I saw no indication of this."

"Well, I didn't say he wasn't a tosser. He's picked up some nasty habits fighting alongside the Slayer. He may not have been my first choice for a friend, but I'm learning to appreciate him. And a Vengeance Demon fell in love with him. Turned her whole life around for him. That alone has to tell you there is more to him than meets the eye. And, really? That's humans for you. Each one is more than the sum of their own parts. Not that I'm quoting Spock or anything."

"Who is Spock?"

"Never mind. Am I making sense to you?" Spike had relaxed his vigilance, turned away from Illyria as he paced. Suddenly, something told him to throw up his guard - some change in energy and in Illyria's aura. He wasn't sure what it was, but his turn to face her was deceptively casual.

"I understand what you are saying." Illyria's words were now spoken in a snarl, and Spike recognized her change in stance. She faced him full on now, her very posture a challenge. She had no body temperature, but her presence was cold. There was nothing human in her now. No loneliness. No sexuality. No comradeship. This was fresh-from-the-coffin Illyria.

Spike was face to face with an Old One.

"You have allowed the humans to make you weak, and you wish to make me weak as well. I will eliminate this possibility."

Her fingers twitched.


Xander, Mena, and Haley entered Reliant Center together, more specifically Reliant Hall. The dog show would later be held there, though that wasn't what held their interest in the place. No, they were all intent on something else about the Hall. All except for Haley.

Haley didn't have their upcoming task in the forefront of her mind. As she walked alongside her two teammates, she was more preoccupied with what she'd witnessed earlier that day. She was absolutely and completely sure that she had seen acid burns on Spike's duster when they met up with him in Nebraska.

And now they were gone!

She'd been racking her brain since she'd noticed that phenomenon, trying to figure out how the burns could have disappeared. Spike seemed totally clueless, or else he was being purposefully close-mouthed about it.

"Xander," she said, suddenly turning to face him. When she had his full, albeit reluctant attention, she continued, "I need to speak with Rupert. There are a few questions I must ask."

"I'm not your keeper," Xander retorted.

She gave him a stern look. "I never implied that you were. It's just more adult to alert your team when you are going to do something. This means I am leaving you and Mena to discover exits and plan escape routes on your own." She gave him a smile that seemed a bit condescending.

"Are you able to handle that in my absence?"

Xander's eyes narrowed, almost unnoticeably. "It's possible. Go ahead and make your call. Mena and I worked without your expert assistance for a year. I think we can handle this reconnaissance assignment without you, too."

"Fine. We will meet here later," she practically ordered and then felt childish about her reaction. "I'm sorry if that sounded snippy. It's just that I thought we were beginning to get along better, Xander. But you continue to say things sometimes that seem designed specifically to push my buttons."

Xander opened his mouth to utter a snappy comeback, but Mena very pointedly cleared her throat. One glance in her direction convinced Xander to make an effort to play nice.

"You're right, Haley. It's just something I do. I have chronic foot-in-mouth disease and have a little trouble curbing my tongue. I know I can be annoying. I assure you I do realize we're on the same team; I'll try harder to show it."

"While you're at it, try to loosen up on the holding grudges issue, too, Xander. You can be such a great guy when you want to be," said Mena encouragingly. She smiled at him and gave his shoulder a friendly pat of approval for making his apology.

"Thanks, Xander," said Haley. "I know that I could certainly try to lighten up a bit, too. I swear to you that I am usually much more friendly and fun-loving. I think you and I just started things off on a bad footing. Let's both try a little harder. We might just become friends yet."

With a thankful parting glance at Mena for her support, Haley disappeared, turning a corner and leaving them behind. She paused, taking a look at her surroundings. Years with the Council had taught her that there was always a need for discretion when discussing something of potential significance. This being one of those instances -- at least she thought it might be -- prompted her to look for an isolated area where she could contact Giles and alert him of her findings.

Soon enough, she found an area where there were no people nearby. She walked over to a corner, then leaned against the wall as if to signify a desire for privacy and pulled out her cell phone. She dialed Giles' cell phone number, hoping that she wasn't catching him at an inopportune moment in his team's exploits.

"Rupert Giles."

Since he answered his phone after the first ring, she figured she must have caught him at a good time.

"Rupert, it's Haley Rayne," she said, her good breeding making itself obvious with good telephone etiquette and pleasantries, despite her eagerness to get right to the topic at hand. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything or disturbing you with this call. I don't remember which country you're in at the moment, so I have no idea what time it might be there."

"Haley? It's good to hear from you. We're at our hotel in Lima, Peru, having recently succeeded in gathering an artifact that gave us a particularly difficult time. So now we're about to celebrate. As soon as Buffy and Vi finish dressing to the nines, we're going out for dinner. Andrew's here with us, too. Is something wrong?"

"I don't believe so." She paused. "At least not that I'm aware of. I'm calling because I believe something I've seen is an important matter we should discuss."

"About your assignment in Houston?"

"No. Not the gem. But it's something that has me rather gobsmacked."

"I see. Then it involves Spike in some way, I assume."

"Yes. Is Andrew present?" she asked. "I regret admitting this, especially out loud, but he may be quite useful in this matter. In fact, he could be the only one, other than Spike, with any information on this subject."

"Actually, he is. I'll put you on speaker. Is that all right?"

"Yes. It's fine."

There was a moment where she heard a bit of shuffling from the other line, as well as what had to have been Giles telling Andrew that he would be included in the conversation. Then, she heard Andrew say, "Haley, long time, no see."

"Yes. It's been a while," Haley replied. "Dawn was the only one in London when we needed a courier for the Nebraska artifact. And since you're in Peru now; Dawn will probably be the courier for our Houston artifact as well. I'm sure we'll see you eventually. Now, business, please?"

"Very well," said Giles. "Continue, Haley."

"I was discussing methods to secure the gem with Spike earlier today when I happened to notice his leather duster. I'm not sure if I mentioned in my Nebraska report there being acid burns on his coat from a mishap during the visit to his cousin. If I didn't, it's because it seemed insignificant -- until I noticed the burns being non-existent today."

"Non-existent?" Giles echoed. She could practically hear the wheels turning in his head down there in the Southern hemisphere.

"Yes. As if they'd never even occurred. I found it highly suspicious, but it seems as if the coat has healed itself."

"I knew it!" Andrew exclaimed. "Spike's duster is the Memphis artifact."

By Ldynwaitin

There was a moment of silence before Giles said, "An artifact? Spike's leather coat? Andrew, that's--"

"Very much possible, Rupert. I wouldn't doubt it so quickly. After all, there is no other way to explain this phenomenon," Haley said.

"What did Spike tell you about the coat?" asked Giles.

"Very little, actually. He seemed rather disturbed and out of sorts when he returned from Memphis. Wasn't his usual talkative self. He just gave his other duster to Mena, saying that now that he had his own coat again, he didn't need the other one. He never explained exactly how he got his old one back. Andrew, can you give us some insight?"

"I already told Mr. Giles and Buffy and Vi and Dawn. The girls all thought it sounded cool, but I don't think Mr. Giles entirely believed me before. Right? But I'll bet you do now! It was returned in such a magical, mystical way that I just knew it had to be the Memphis artifact. And that means that Dana and Spike and I succeeded in obtaining one of the artifacts for the Ritual Offering, so you can cross that one off your list now! I'm so excited I can hardly--"

"Andrew, you're prattling. We talked about that, didn't we?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Giles. Sorry, sir."

"Well, certainly a leather coat that has acid burns one day and none the next is rather remarkable. However, I believe that a conversation with Spike is in order before we make any assumptions about the mystical attributes of his coat."

"Excuse me, Rupert, but I don't know what you and Andrew are talking about. Would one of you please inform me about what took place in Memphis? All Spike said was that Nikki very briefly appeared and handed him the coat. Despite our questions, he refused to say more. Except that The Powers That Be might have been involved and that both Dana and Andrew received something as well. He said it was up to them to share details should they wish."

"Oh, let me tell her, please?" begged Andrew. "After all, I was the one who witnessed the beautiful, former Slayer Nikki present Spike with the very same duster that he had once removed from her dead body. It was the exact same coat that was blown to smithereens in Rome several months ago, yet it was somehow back in the non-tattered condition it had been in when Spike wore it in Sunnydale last year. And, Haley, it really was a gift from The Powers That Be! See, there was this statue of an angel, and--"

As Andrew related the whole story to Haley, her eyes widened, and her jaw opened slightly in awe. This certainly did need to be discussed in more detail with Spike, and Giles insisted that they arrange to get both teams together via speaker phone as soon as possible to thoroughly examine the matter as a group.

Haley added that they should also analyze Spike's unusual reaction to the wolf mask from Nebraska because he seemed to feel a connection to it, as if he had some kind of inner wolf spirit guiding him.

Andrew loved that idea, chiming in that he had always seen a bit of wolf in Spike. Giles was the most reticent of the three, appearing to prefer contemplation while Haley and Andrew continued to exchange ideas.


Meanwhile, Xander and Mena explored Reliant Hall, the latter holding a chart that she had downloaded off the internet. It gave them an extensive layout of the dog show, making it all that much easier to plan the details of their mission.

She studied it for a minute before saying to Xander, "I'm glad I printed out this copy. It really helps to have this diagram while we're here at the actual site for the dog show."

"No disagreement here. I think the most important thing is to make sure Spike avoids the windows there and over there. Only certain areas are going to be safe for him, but the rest of us can cover the other sections of the Hall." Xander pointed to the map, and Mena looked ahead, matching the locations on the map with the physical ones.

"I'm sure you're right." She paused as she caught sight of something, or someone, familiar. "Xander, isn't that Clem?" she asked, as her mind caught up with her eyes, and she recognized him as Spike's demon friend that they had met in Gilroy.

Xander looked up from the map. "Actually, yeah. Wonder what he's doing here?"

"We should go say 'hi.'"

As they neared, they noticed that Clem was with his girlfriend, Clara, and both were dressed as circus clowns. They held a Sharpei puppy and were taking turns posing for photographs.

By Ldynwaitin

Clem noticed them once they were close and gave them a surprised grin and a wave. "Xander! Mena!"

His girlfriend waved also, and Mena waved back, saying to Clem, "We didn't know you moved here."

"Oh, we didn't," Clem replied. "Clara and I absolutely love Gilroy, and we'll be back there as soon as we can. I just bought this cute little thing," he indicated the dog in his arms, "from a breeder. She's showing her dogs at the show."

"You came here to buy a dog?" Xander asked.

"No. My cousin Clyde, he's a clown for Ringling Brothers Circus. It's here in the Reliant Center Stadium, you know. Clyde's ill, so I'm filling in for him. We got bored and came over here to check out preparations for the dog show."

"So, does that mean that you may have an idea about how the security works around here? And where the building has exits that could be used in an emergency situation?" Mena asked, her mind working.

She and Xander were like tourists. It didn't matter how many times they circled the building; only someone on the inside, who'd been working in the Center for a while, would be able to expertly dodge security.

"I guess." Clem shrugged. "Why?"

Xander expanded on his partner's lead. "We need your help. If you could point out places we could use to our advantage -- like hiding spots, or ways to get out of the building quickly if we were to...oh, let's chased."

Clem gave him a bit of a surprised look before reminding himself who he was dealing with. There must be something important here if they were going to, very obviously now that he thought about it, steal something. He pointed to what Mena held. "Is that a map of the Center?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"Can I see it?"

She willingly handed Clem the map, and she and Xander stood close, watching as Clem pulled out a pen and marked their map, highlighting all the nooks and crannies of the Center that would work to their advantage. He then handed Mena the map.

She took a look. "What about for Spike?"

"That's easy. Spike will be safe as long as he's in one of the inner rooms. The windows are along only the outside corridors, so that makes it easier. Also, if you need to be unseen, there are the loading docks. You can use them as an exit. They're usually locked during the show, but I'm pretty sure anyone with super-strength can break the lock."

Xander nodded. "That certainly makes our job easier."

"You're doing this in the day, right?" Clem asked. At their nods, he said, "I could make myself available, maybe with a van, in case Spike needs help getting out of here."

"We'll definitely take that into consideration," Xander replied. "We'll get back to you if we need more assistance. Thanks very much for your help today."

"Anytime, Xander. Say hello to my good buddy, Spike."

"Tori will be so excited that we ran into you," added Clara, smiling. "She really enjoys your e-mails, Xander. You two have become regular pen, or should I say 'net' pals, haven't you?"

"Yeah, we have," confirmed Xander. "It's kinda fun."

"When you get back to Gilroy, tell Elias that we use his stakes on a regular basis," said Mena. "Oh, and let Doc Morton know that his garlic darts and spray have been extremely useful."

Clem and Clara nodded and waved goodbye as they moved on with their newly purchased pet.

"So, should we go back to meet Haley?" Mena asked, folding up the map that had become very valuable toward their success.

"There's nothing else to do now," Xander replied. The two retraced their steps, arriving right near the entrance just as Haley was also reaching their meeting place.

"Did you find anything useful?" she asked.

"We ran into Clem," Mena said.

"Oh, that must have been quite a surprise." Haley had heard a few stories about the genial demon, but since she'd never met him, she refrained from commenting further. "Maybe we should return to the hotel room then."

The three left Reliant Hall, intending to meet up with Spike and Illyria to finish working out any final kinks in their plan.


Spike was flying through the air before his mind even registered Illyria's blow. He'd forgotten how bloody fast the bitch was. The irrelevant thought that they would be kicked out of the room for making too much noise went through his mind; it was quickly forgotten when he slammed into the wall.

He anticipated her next blow. She liked to rattle your brains with a solid left-handed thump and then meet your head with the other fist so the dents would match.

Illyria wasn't a fancy fighter, just incredibly quick and powerful. He anticipated correctly but failed to move fast enough. The impact was deflected, but he was already against the wall, and his head bounced against the plaster.

Yep. This was certainly sexy. His brain was buzzing, he could feel blood pouring from his ear, and he couldn't feel his body, let alone feel aroused.

Her boot loomed into his view, and he flattened himself to the ground. Think like a rug, Spike. Let her walk all over you and then just roll her up.

Her foot grazed his head, but he was already in too much pain to notice. He swiveled around before she could put the foot down and swept his lower body against her other leg. She stayed upright but stumbled. It was enough.

Memory was certainly a fallible thing. He got onto his hands and knees and scuttled across the room. This wasn't the way he remembered their fights, but he supposed he had willfully forgotten being tossed about like a bloody beach ball. Ego. He was going to have to get over his someday.

Haley's umbrella was the closest thing he could reach, and he rued the softness of cheap metal alloy. He put all his strength behind it and jabbed it out and upward directly into Illyria's midriff. It crumpled as he had expected, but he heard a definite 'whoof' as it connected. That was more like it. It never rains in Southern California. Good thing Haley didn't know that. On the other hand, perhaps she kept it around for situations exactly like this.

His respite was brief. Nanoseconds. This time her foot landed solidly against his chin, and his vision went black. His reaction was instinctive, and he grabbed her foot. He was too woozy to think what he was doing, but Illyria landed on the floor beside him, so he must have done something.

He spat out a tooth and hoped it wasn't one of the ones in front. He hated it when he lost one of the front ones. They took so bloody long to regenerate.

Where did Illyria go?

The sharp crack of wood breaking alerted him to her location, and he jumped to his feet. She had broken the leg off a chair and was smiling that smug, condescending smirk - the dozy bint was serious. This wasn't one of their sparring matches where they were testing each other's moves, trying their strength and endurance.

By Yours Truly

She meant to kill him. She would quite likely succeed.

Spike wondered who would vacuum up the dust -- Xander or Mena? His wits sharpened. If Illyria killed him, Xander and Mena would come back, and she would be waiting to kill them, too.

Over his dead body.

Gallows humor but maybe something more. He couldn't do anything once he was dust, but maybe he could take Illyria with him.

He scanned the room. What did he have? What could he use? Maybe she would burn. He could lure her to the window and throw open the curtains. Make sure she was close enough so he could embrace her just as he combusted. That might just work.

What is she doing now?

Illyria threw down the chair and the stake and smiled at him. The smile seemed familiar but was certainly nothing he'd ever seen on Illyria's face before. The room wavered as he braced himself against the wall, prepared to leap toward the window, and...

He stared at the person standing in front of him. Not Illyria.

"Hi ya!" She waved cheerfully.


 ARF! Follow me to Page 2.

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Split Decision Page1, 2, 3


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Never Give Up - Pt 1
Never Give Up - Pt 2
The Mission Mission
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Against Your Will
Just Like Old Times

The Big Ten
You Can't Always Get What You Want
The Meanness of the World -
Rated R for language and violence
Split Decision

 Gypsies, Vamps & Thieves
   Part 1
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Hearts of Darkness
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Holiday images

Hoodoo You Love?
The Offering
To Dream Again - An Epilogue


Spark and Burn
by Diana G. Gallagher

Angel Season 5

Selected audio commentary by Joss Whedon, David Boreanaz, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Sarah Thompson, Christian Kane, Juliet Landau, Adam Baldwin, Skip Schoolnik, David Fury, Steven S. DeKnight, Jeffrey Bell,and more.
Featurettes: Hey Kids! It's Smile Time, Angel 100, Angel: Choreography of a Stunt, To Live and Die in L.A.: The Best of Angel, Halos & Horns: Recurring Villainy, Angel Unbound: The Gag Reels

Angel: Live Fast, Die Never - Music from TV Series

Music for Elevators
Anthony Stewart Head, George Sarah

Tales Of The Vampires
Ben Edlund, Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
New stories set in creator Whedon's "Buffyverse" continue to appear in comics published by Dark Horse. Whedon and several of his shows' writers—Ben Edlund, Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard—contribute to this new collection of stories about vampires, set in disparate times and places.

by Joss Whedon
Tough but reluctant vampire-fighter Fray lives in the bad part of town and makes a living doing heists for Gunther, a blue and scaly criminal operator who directs operations while submerged in a living-roomâ€"sized tank. So when an enormous, goat-hoofed demon shows up at Fray's apartment, she's not terribly fazed, but she certainly isn't ready for his message: she, Melaka Fray, is destined to kill vampires.

by Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy and Angel, is finally coming to the big screen with his directorial debut, the blockbuster sci-fi adventure Serenity.Titan’s official companion contains a preface from Joss, his in-depth account of the making of the film, and his full screenplay, illustrated throughout with stills, storyboards and production art.

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