The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XIII

On their return to the table, Buffy Rebecca and Spike realized that the Riggs and Oz seemed to have something to tell them...

Something clearly they felt young Tim should not hear...Just yet...

Oz took him to the bar for a quick drink run...

***

A Watcher?...thought Spike...As he listened to Lluwelyan...

Well, when you thought about it...Not really all that startling...

He certainly fit the profile...

Quiet, scholarly Englishman with no major visible demands on his time...

And his great times four grand niece Amelia had told them the Council intended to keep a close eye on them both while they were in Europe...

Nor was BR all that surprised on reflection...Although she would like some proof of Lluwelyan's status...Just in case...

The little town seemed full of surprises...She did not want any more unpleasant ones...

***
Before she could ask, the Riggs politely anticipated her request...

Lluwelyan suggested it was easiest to get confirmation of what he'd told them by contacting Giles and the Council via their computer/satellite link...Though he had the usual letters and seal of the Council which he passed over to BR...

Besides he and the Inspector were curious to see if there might be any new information from London or Sunnydale...

They agreed to head over to the Walthrop's inn after the evening was over...

***

Oz took on the formidable task of dancing with the redoubtable Inspector Rigg...
Whom he found surprisingly light on her feet...

While BR took young Tim, rather relieved to escape the other ladies' attentions, once around the floor...

And Spike discussed the situation with Lluwelyan...

Watcher to Watcher...

Not that either gentleman was foolish enough to try to make plans without their respective Missus...

Still...Spike couldn't help being pleased at the thought...My first non-Giles, non-relative Watcher meeting...Guess I really have finally made the team...

Hope he makes a good impression...Thought Buffy Rebecca as she watched Spike with Lluwelyan from the dance floor...

A recommendation from the Council as one of their own is sure to cinch his redemption...

Ms. Summers-Walthrop intends to get her husband through those pearly gates...

Whatever it takes...

***

Knew Rupert Giles?...Lluwelyan replied to Spike and the returned BR's question with a grin...

Tim now swirling round the dance floor in the capable arms of Inspector Rigg...

"I trained him...Quite a job I had too...The rake he used to be...I sometimes despaired of him quite entirely..."

"I can imagine..." Spike noted...He'd seen the Ripper side of Rupert...

Giles?...Oz wondered...

Really...BR thought...Well Buf and I knew Giles had had his wilder days...

Ok...Buf and I fantasized about his wilder days...

But after all, still waters run deep they say...We actually deserve commendation for our ability to see beyond the surface, I'd say...
Yeah...Our inner slut is fabulously perceptive...

Of course Sunnydale's collection of men of mystery...Even among the underworld dwellers...was not exactly...Until Angel showed up at least...

And one William the Bloody...

Take my William now...In his tweeds, glasses, and pipe, placid scholarly scientist, a regular Watcher...You'd never suspect...Though of course he retains that air of something...More...

Just like Giles, really...No wonder Basey went for him right away...That air of...More...

Of course 'Throp looks terrifically sexy right now...Out of uniform...Back in black...In character...And just the right size...

For me...

***

Lluwelyan had also known Max Creave, former Observer to new Slayer, Basey Granger...Who been killed saving her from the vampire lord who held her in his grip after the loathsome Mrs. Post had betrayed her...

He, Giles, and Max had formed rather a wild bunch in their time...

Oz tried to picture the Three Tweeders...Storming through merrie old England...

Still, having seen William the Bloody strolling around in glasses and tweed that morning...

Yeah...And Willow had mentioned once or twice she'd seen a little of Giles' dark edge...

Pretty dark...

Bet they were quite a crew at that...He grinned at old Llu...

Throw in Spike in his poet days and a certain werewolf-band leader...And...

Rather an inspiration to geek types around the world if you thought about it...

***

Tim having returned with the Inspector, the talk turned to Count Dr. Vitachi...

"Could you be wrong about him?..." Oz asked the Walthrops...After all, nothing disreputable or otherworldly had surfaced with regard to him as yet...Though the gang back home was checking...As were the Inspector's staff...

BR pondered...

"Well...We can't be sure of course but he kept us deliberately, I'm sure of that now...And I can't see what reason he'd have to do that unless he was connected with our shooter..."

"It does seem likely...But if not, at least we get the chance to all have a delightful time in one of the world's most beautiful cities..." Lluwelyan noted... "Where...I hope...My dear Buffy, you and the doctor will have a chance to put this unpleasantness behind you..."

Just like my Giles...BR smiled back at him...

How come the Council never sends people like him and Amelia to check up on Giles and me...er Sis and me?...

Tim thought it was logical that Dr. Vitachi was the culprit...After all, cybernetics is a competitive field these days...

***

They headed back to the McGregors' inn...Lluwelyan giving a brief but charming history of the town and area...Plus a few interesting local legends...The inspector contributing some tales of the antics of the Scotland Yard professionals in their investigation of the Winset blast...

Clearly she had little more use for the big boys than the gang at the pub this morning Oz and Spike noted...

They seemed to suspect...Without making any commitments of course...That it was the work of an anti-globalization terror group...Or perhaps a new splinter group of the IRA...Or just possibly a faction of the Red Army Brigade...Maybe industrial sabotage...Then again...

"In short...Not a clue, eh..." Spike noted...

Inspector Rigg grinned...

She wouldn't mind showing up those guys...The little country police chief...Solving this one on her watch, BR noted...Grinning at her...

Well, even Holmes and Lestrade worked together sometimes...

***

Willow and Giles in tandem had made several attempts to reach the Walthrops...Pity the computer unit wasn't pocket-sized portable...

Nothing new to report on the mysterious Dr. Vitachi...No records suggesting any past criminal or supernatural behavior...But they did want the Walthrops to know that Oz was in the area and should be hooking up with them soon...

Also an old friend of Giles had been assigned by the Council to assist them...

"Old news, both counts, Giles..." BR told Giles...Who was entertaining Ms. Basey Granger at dinner at his home...

Hmmn...Wilder side...BR thought...

With Buffy, Riley, Willow, Warren, and Angel...

Oh...Hmmn...I know one new Slayer who must be as frustrated as I am...

A little more of the wilder side, Giles...Life is too short...

Even for near-immortals...
***

Buffy was anxious to introduce her sis to Mr. Finn...Who seemed a bit overwhelmed...Though bearing up...

The events of the past months...Info overload...And all that competition...Poor Riley...BR noted...

"Riley..." she greeted him, waving at the screen...

"We've spoken, you know...Video tape, anyway..." she grinned at him...

No need to emphasize that she had every intimate memory of him Buf had ever had...

And was enjoying his obvious discomfecture every bit as much as her sister...

Not that she or Buf would ever want to hurt him...Just...
Nobody leaves Buffy Anne or Rebecca Summers flat...

Nobody...
***
The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XIV

"So..." Spike noted to BR after they'd completed their call...Giles having had the chance to greet his old friend Lluwelyan and the Riggs, Oz, and Tim all properly off to their respective beds...

"Guess old Warren is out of the Buffy races...What with Riley and Angel around..."

"Why do you say that?..." BR grinned at him...

"Well...I mean...You know I love old Warren like a brother...And father-in-law...But..." Spike hesitated...

"You think Buffy...And I...Go for the hunks only...?" she looked at him...Up and down his rather slight frame...With a rather pregnant pause...

"I just meant...He did leave...Tried to settle up with the old fiancee..."

"So...? 'Dad's back now, isn't he?...And he told Buffy he was going...And why...Face-to-face, not by letter..." she paused... "And he kept in touch...In case she needed him...Unlike some people..."

"Sis respects that...And that he wanted to make sure things were over with old Katrina..."

"Scratch one Finn, then?..." he asked...

"Nooo...But if Riley has any idea he has the inside track...That he just has to open his hand and Sis will fall into it...Then he'd better think again...We...Sis and I....Can forgive...We never forget..."

Especially you, love...With that supplemental memory...

"Of course...There were issues...We...Sis and I...weren't giving him what he needed...We hadn't put him first..."

Spike was fascinated...After all he waited for years to get this kind of information...

But...Angel...Surely he had the inside track...The first great love...

Nah...Angel, admittedly of necessity, had taken the slow track...He was, unless a redemptive miracle occurred fairly soon...Out of it for Buffy's current lifetime...

And, she confided...possibly for the whole shebang, frankly...

Buffy Anne...Or Rebecca...She noted, fixing him with a look...Summers likes her men to put her first...First...Regardless of whatever dutiful head-nodding she might do when Angel goes on about their joint responsibilities to the world...

But...Spike had become rather fond of his grandsire since his redemption...Angel had had to leave...Angelis...That Prophecy...

Prophecy...Schmaphecy...Since when do any of us put our trust in Prophecy?...At least since the good old Master's little game...And we didn't notice Angel searching the world for a faster cure...Did we?...She noted...

And Wesley has rather a big mouth...Angel seems to have been rather willing to risk Angelis' return while in LA...

Oops...Poor granddad...Spike thought...Busted...

Well, he told me about the thing with Darla...He was just trying to help her...Spike noted...

Uh-huh...Was he trying to help this Kate...Anne...etc?...too?...she asked sweetly...

Well...I doubt happiness was involved...Can't say as to sex...Ummn...

"I know he loves Buffy..." Spike said brightly...Thinking fast...

If anyone had told me two months ago I'd be speaking up for old Angel one day...he thought...

Well...BR reflected...Sis knows that...And she'll always love him...In some way...

Besides he still has a chance...If he has the brains to go for it all out...Now...Not whenever Prophecy...Or his datebook...allows it...If not...

We'll...er Sis and he will...always have Sunnydale...

Not that that has anything really do with us, she added...A trifle guiltily...

Whoa...

This is one scary woman...Spike thought...And I thought I had menace...

Poor Angel...And to think, once I would have rejoiced to hear this...

He had to put in a plea for old granddad...

"But...And not that I wouldn't be glad for Warren...Angel can't have...A relationship with Buf...Right now..."

And Buffy hasn't exactly been hunting for Angel's cure herself...He wisely did not say...

Males...Vampire or human, they sure stick together...BR thought...And they stay firmly focused on the one key issue to them in a relationship...

Sex...

"Buffy could deal with the sex issue...And find ways to prevent happiness from overwhelming Angel...It's just...Why couldn't he stay around?...Look at what happened after he left...Would you have run off to LA in similar circumstances?..."

And hooked up with every girl who came your way...Including your old vampire siress...She did not say...

Wait for all eternity Spikey?...Never, dear...

He couldn't help it...It was too much to expect from old Spike...The demonic fiend had to gloat a little...

So old Christ Jr...Fallen off his cross and caught with his pants down...

Still Walthrop felt genuinely sorry for the poor bastard...Must try to get a warning to him...At least in terms of the eternal rejection BR threatened...

It would work out nicely if Warren could take care of Buf for the current lifetime...Angel being quite willing to wait to get his batter-up with one of her reincarnations...

Well...she did say he still had a chance...

"So all bets are off?..." he asked BR...

"The game's afoot..." she grinned... "And Warren has as good a chance as any of them..."

Now, 'Throp...Your turn...she told him...

Ummn?...

"Spike, I just gave you top secret and very compromising info...None of which is ever to leave our bedroom, by the way..." she smiled...

"So...Your turn..."

Ummn...He could guess what she was driving at...

And trust was the basis of their lasting relationship...

"Ok..." he sighed... "You will keep this to yourself, right?....And I do mean, including Buffy..."

She nodded...Of course, honey...

"Well...Drusilla, Harmony...And if I remember correctly...And wasn't too drunk at the time...A 'lady of the evening' as we used to call them whom my college friends introduced me to..."

Dru...and Harmony...And maybe one one night...Well ten minute...stand?...That's it?...

"Well..." he looked a leetle embarrassed...The truth is out...

"Dru seemed to need someone steady..."

My Victorian...And if you drop the two vamp ladies...And I do...

...Strictly Spike's girls, after all...

My God, we...Buffy and I...were right...All that hyperventilating rage and desire, it had to be...He's almost a virgin...And I'd bet anything...He was too drunk that night...

I bagged an almost virgin...A good-looking, quite sexy in fact, non-gay almost virgin...Who makes a very decent income making something useful to the world...

And who no longer lives in a crypt...

Wow...

Mom must be so pleased...

"The world...Will never know..." she told him solemnly...Kissing him with the passion of three Slayers...Frustrated for several nights running...

Hmmn...Maybe I should take it slower...she thought...After all, almost virgin...

Nah...It would embarrass him...

William the Bloody can handle it...

"You're a terrific lover, William..." she told him...

Oh God...Now she's trying to encourage me...This is just too...

Oh the joy...
***

Florence...

[Suggested theme-Spike and Buffy Rebecca in Florence (Once Upon a Time in the West)]

Walthrop had managed to remember a good deal of his previous trips to Italy in general and Florence in particular...

BR and Oz were too polite to ask when he had traveled to Italy, both well aware it was unlikely a poor Cambridge student from a single parent working-class 19th century English family had been able to make many trips to the Continent...

Now you're talking...BR sighed contentedly...Italian honeymooning...

As concerned as she was regarding the menace facing her hubs, BR was now firmly in honeymoon mode and determined to give Florentine sightseeing her full attention...

Which sentiment her loving husband enthusiastically seconded...

And the sympathetic Riggs were equally eager to see their charming young friends enjoy themselves a bit...While they did what they could to gather information...

And as always the Walthrops were generously anxious to include their guests on all activities...

So Oz and young Tim found themselves facing a daunting schedule of museum tours, tourist walks, the whole Florence experience...

Starting bright and early...

Oz watched them delightedly...Spike having the time of his existence...The Cambridge scholar-husband, happily pointing out the marvels of Florence to his eager and excited young wife...

Buffy Rebecca, demonstrating a side of Buffy Summers Oz had never suspected, tirelessly combing through every palace museum, every dingy church, everywhere...

Buffy Summers, closet art lover...

But it made sense when you thought about it...After all, the mother ran an art museum...

Yet of all her boyfriends and lovers...Only William the Bloody had ever...Sensed a fellow lover of beauty and art...

My God, thought Oz as he trudged after them, Tim by his side...That Warren got it
right...Spike...Er, Walthrop at least, really is her soulmate...This was no accident...No lucky break for the Spiked One...This was the Powers That Be...Setting a serious mistake right...And Goddamned about time, too...

Of course, if you didn't know, all one would see was two rather short blondes, one male, one female...Young and attractive enough, but not so as to particularly catch a stranger's eye...At least in Italy, home of the beautiful...

Just another couple of happy American honeymooners in Florence...

***
The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XV

On their return to the Riggs' the Walthrop Florentine expedition learned that the Inspector and Lluwelyan had managed to come up with little so far on the distinguished Count Vitachi...Except for two interesting facts...He was back in town...And the phone number of his office...

Dr. Vitachi's secretary was happy to set up an appointment with the Count for the
Walthrops...He'd been expecting to hear from them...

Every maniac is always so anxious to meet us...BR thought...

***

And always so congenial...At the early stages at least...

Count Vitachi was delighted to see his young American friends...The outstandingly brilliant "cybergenius" and his gallant, courageous, and lovely, artificial-limbed wife...

So...They'd taken his advice and come to Florence...The one place in the world for a proper honeymoon...

Even more charming than Sir Harold of Wolfram-Hart, Europe...BR thought...

Of course...Things must be done properly...The legalist in the Slayer kicked in...Innocent till proven guilty...

It usually being easy to guilt-prove vampires and demons...

***

The Count provided "Dr." Walthrop with his cover before he could even work up to it...

"So, my boy...You two are here early to get a little edge on the competition at our cybernetics manufactures conference in Milan..."

Umm...Indeed...Walthrop nodded...Even partially true...

"But you must remember that you have more important matters than mere business..." he smiled at Buffy Rebecca...

"And with that in mind, you must come to us tonight for dinner...My villa has...I like to say, at least..." he grinned... "The most romantic views in Italy..."


Hmmn...BR thought...Dinner at the villa...Alone with the man who may have tried to kill William...

So...We go from Holmes to Poe...Both Walthrops thought...

I imagine he has a cask of amontillado in a small walled room waiting for us...BR thought...

"My dear wife and children will be so pleased to make your acquaintance..." the Count beamed at them...

Family, eh?...Well...Still, maybe we should think it...

"We'd be delighted..." Walthrop told him...

Really...

'Throp...I know you think it's what I'd want...I appreciate your instinctive assumption about my courage...But...Sometimes you take this 'Greatest Slayer of all Time' nonsense a leettle too seriously...she thought...

She beamed at the two of them...And gave her 'delighted' thanks for the gracious invitation...To the Count...

***

Oz, Tim, and the Riggs were not overjoyed to hear that the Walthrops had accepted the gracious Count's invite...

Trap...Unquestionably...Trap...

"He could be innocent..." BR had to follow the legal niceties... "And even if not, he's hardly likely to try to kill us in his own home when so many people know where we are..."

"You have a point, Buffy..." Anna told her...And...The Inspector kicking in... "It would be a fine chance to acquire more information..."

"And she is the Greatest Slayer of All Time..." Walthrop put in proudly... "Not much likely to take her on successfully..."

She grinned at him in spite of her previous annoyance...Hard to be angry at him when he talked liked that...Even if he was setting the expectations bar a little high..And waved her hand at him to indicate that William the Bloody would likewise prove a formidable foe...

Tim being present she wanted to avoid mentioning why "Dr." Walthrop might prove a powerful adversary...

For his part Tim wondered to himself how the dear miss' sports experience would help in this situation...Fast reflexes perhaps, he supposed...

"In short...The Summers-Walthrops can handle this..." BR concluded...But backed off the pedestal she erected to themselves with a ... "As long as you guys are watching out for us..."

"Have no doubts about that my dear..." Lluwelyan assured her...

***
A young...butler?...Must be...In that white jacket...Dark, rather handsome...BR noted...Greeted them at the Count's villa door...In Italian...

To which Walthrop responded pleasantly...Nodding to her...
Not sure what else to do, she nodded pleasantly back...Thank God
someone in the family at least knows Italian...

The young man led them in through a hallway decked with fine paintings and sculpture to a huge hall...Likewise filled with paintings and other works...Leaving them with a smile...

Hopeful...BR noted...At least Vitachi's got other interests...No single-minded fixation on us...

And he's quite a lot to lose, judging from this house...

***

The Count's wife, Chesra came forward from the depths of the hall and greeted them warmly...In English, to Buffy Rebecca's relief...Young middle-age, about 10 years or so younger than her husband...

Their son Enri and daughter Elisa would join them in just a bit...

Better and better BR thought...A family...Social ties and obligations...

Difficult to butcher guests in the midst of a family dinner...

Although, of course, it depends on the family...

And this is after all the home city of the Medicis...And not far from the Borgias' home town...

She was pleased to note that "Dr." Walthrop was up to his Victorian gentleman's mark...Quiet dignity, a little charmingly youthful enthusiasm in his appreciation of the artwork, a modicum of hand-kissing and slight bows...Not over doing it, of course...English Victorian here...

Just perfect...His mum would be so proud...Buffy Rebecca thought...Proudly...

She tried to take her cue from him and Countess Vitachi...

But mainly went with that old exuberant all-American girl charm...

***
The dark, handsome butler returned...

"And here is our Enri..." Countess Vitachi smiled at him...

Enri?...The son?...Not a butler?...BR thought...But in that white jacket...And he hadn't acted liked the son of a count...At least how she thought a son of a count would act...Shouldn't he have kissed her hand or something?...Walthrop seemed unsurprised...

You might have told me, William...she thought...Of course if she had taken Italian back at Sunnydale High...

***
Enri had brought out what was obviously a very old and very fine wine...

Fortunately Spike was one vampire who did drink...Wine...And appreciated this one...

The Count was slightly delayed...Cybernetics, the Countess sighed, smiling at "Dr." Walthrop, a competitive and time-consuming field...

"Are you...In the field?..." Buffy Rebecca asked...

The Countess smiled at her...Yes, actually, she had some involvement in her husband's work...As did their children...Enri, for example was quite skilled...

Enri smiled at his mother...And graciously dismissed her praise...Switching to very fluent English...

"But of course...It is my father who is the one true genius of our firm..." Enri noted...And smiled at Walthrop...

"I cannot tell you, Dr. Walthrop, how anxious he has been to meet with you and your lovely wife...He was so impressed by your presentation and of course the work your company has been producing...As am I..."

"Dr." Walthrop graciously declined the praise, noting that Dr. Mears was in fact the true genius of W/S Bionetics...Whatever small contributions he himself had made...

But he, like the Count, was fortunate in having a wife who shared in his work as a partner...

Well done, Walthrop...she thought...Just don't start showing off my arms and legs again...

She noticed Enri was looking at her...With professional interest?...

"Forgive me, Mrs Walthrop..." Well, at least he was frank about it... "I am aware that you possess bionetic limbs...I hope I do not embarrass you when I say that one would never know from observing you..."

Spike was complimenting the Countess on the magnificent art work in the hall...

BR nodded at Enri, smiling...No problem, we're all professionals here...

"We both appreciate the compliment...I'm sorry...Is it Count...Dr...?..."

"Enri is fine, although I do hold a doctorate...The title, however, remains in my father's capable hands..."

"And William and Buffy are fine for us as well..." she told him...

Now if you could just get Dad to explain why he or someone he sent was shooting at us...

***
Elissa Vitachi was strikingly like her mother...Perhaps a bit shorter...

Likewise quite involved in the family business...And as interested as Enri in meeting the distinguished Dr. Walthrop...

The Countess, however, thoughtfully turned the conversation to the Walthrop's honeymoon...

All were now sitting in a corner of the great hall...

Were they enjoying Florence?...

Indeed...BR told her...They'd been all over the city...

Walthrop, smiling, sat down beside her...Gave a hand squeeze...A-'Head's up'-squeeze...

What?...She wondered...So far, so good, right?...Did he sense something?...

"Malfunction...Now..." he whispered...And turned to Elissa to continue his conversation on their plans for the cybernetics conference...

What?...Was he getting in over his head with the young lady cybernetist?...
***
Buffy Rebecca stands up suddenly...Her left leg wobbling...Her concerned husband rises as well...

A slight malfunction in her left bionetic limb...No real problem...
Minor social faux pax...

The Vitachis are a bit startled but of course...Understand...

Gallant lady...

"A slight adjustment should take care of this...Might we use the...facilities?..." Spike asked politely...

"Certainly, doctor...Perhaps, though, the workshop...?" the Countess asked, concernedly...

"No, no...Just takes a moment to make the adjustment..."

Buffy Rebecca beamed an innocent...Gallant smile at them...

"I'm so embarrassed...But William can take of this in a moment...If we may..."

"Certainly dear, certainly...Enri..." the Countess asked her son to guide the Walthrops...

***

In the privacy of a bathroom worthy of a Renaissance prince, the Walthrops looked at each other...

Bugged?...BR mouthed, not wanting Spike to give anything away too quickly...

He shrugged a 'Who Knows'...and came to her and whispered...

"Did you sense anything?..." he asked her...

Sense...No...Nothing...

You sense vampires?...Demons?...she asked...

No...he whispered...But something's wrong...We're sitting with three people...I'm not sensing any other humans in the house...

So?...

So...Where are the servants?...And there's more...

Well, she reflected...Maybe with all this the Vitachis can't afford a staff...Maybe it's some kind of modern aristocrat democracy thing...Ummn...Servants' night out?...So what more?...

"I don't think we're sitting with three people..." he whispered...

What?...You just said you didn't sense vamps or demons...You don't think they're human?...

Oh...You think...

"I sense maybe one human...Not three...Though I'm not sure which..."

"But you can't be sure regarding robots...I've fooled you...Even April fooled you...Not to mention..."

"I’m guessing, sure...But then I wasn't expecting April not to be human...She didn't register as demon or vamp...But there was an emptiness in her...And in Buffy-April when she was up and running...As for you, sweet...You are human..."

I'll bet you say to all the human-souled robots...She thought, pleased...

"So you think two are robots..."

"It's a possibility...Unless they're some kind of ghosts or something else I can't detect..."

Well...Vitachi is a cybernetist...

"We'd better get back..." she noted...

***
Enri tapped politely at the door...He hated to intrude but his mother feared perhaps the doctor might need some assistance...If he needed any equipment?...

"All set..." Buffy Rebecca called cheerily as they emerged...

And accepted Enri's proffered arm...Looking inquisitively at Spike...

Well?...Him?...

They strolled casually back, Enri apologizing profusely for disturbing them...

Not at all, Walthrop told him...It was good to know experienced...human...help was at hand...

Ok...BR thought...
So...Here we are...In the home of a man...who may have tried to kill us...who has built himself a wife and daughter...

So much for the social ties and obligations restraint...Excepting Enri, of course...

And pretty true to form for male robotmakers...

From her admittedly limited experience they tended to produce either females or copies of themselves...

***

The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XVI

Buffy Rebecca and Spike were spending a pleasant evening at the rather palatial Florentine home of Count Dr. Salcome Vitachi...

With his "family"...Who, if Spike's unique sensitivities were correct, consisted of a human son and a robot wife and daughter...

And excellent robots at that, BR had to admit...With mild disturbance...

They seemed so...Human...

Yet, Spike had said...They had the emptiness of an April...Whereas she, Buffy Rebecca...Had a human, if artificial brain...And a soul...Proven after death no less...

The old nagging fear...Was she human, after all?...An independent human being?...Or...

She put the thought firmly aside...What more proof could you ask for than a soul's return after death?...And there were more practical issues immediately at hand...

Like the possibility of imminent death for instance...

And the need to keep up her end of the conversation...With three very erudite, despite the possible robotic nature of two, and sophisticated individuals...

After all, she did not want to come off as the dumb blonde Californian...Even the gallant...dumb blonde Californian...

Even with robots...

***
Oz was on duty with Tim and Lluwelyan Rigg in a car just down the street from the Vitachis' villa driveway entrance...

Spike was...If possible...To signal them by beeper if real trouble developed...

So far...So good...

No moon tonight...Likewise good...Although Oz felt his control was about back to normal...And Lluwelyan, as a Watcher...Would have been capable of understanding his plight...And taking appropriate restraining steps...

Still...Remaining human made for a much more pleasant watch...Lluwelyan's stories of his Watching days...Including those with Giles...Despite his censoring of some matters for Tim's sake...Being quite entertaining...

Tim, however, was clearly nervous regarding his hero's fate...Not to mention the young miss for whom he seemed to have developed an equally strong attachment...

Lluwelyan, natch...Watcher...thought Oz...also noticed Tim's concern...

"I'm sure they will be just fine, my boy..." he patted Tim's shoulder...

Tim nodded, but noted that he still couldn't help wishing they had more than Ms. Walthrop's sports experience behind them...

This Count fellow seemed a bit...Off his brass, if they were right about him...
***

Despite the possibility of great danger...The likelihood of imminent death and destruction...BR couldn't keep down one perhaps mildly embarrassing thought as she continued to chat pleasantly with Enri and the Countess...

What's for dinner?...

After all, she hadn't eaten since lunch eight hours ago...

And it sure would be nice to eat before any fighting and so forth began...

Especially considering what an aristocratic Italian family was likely to serve at table...

***
She felt a little...Hmmn...Should have eaten something...That wine was going right to her head...

Warren and his passion for accuracy...

Hmmn...Did Spike just say that wall hanging was a "beautiful shapestry..."?...she giggled, just a little...

Why is he shandinng...standing up?...

Uh-oh...

The Vitachis were eyeing him...Rather coolly...He wobbled a bit...And called out to her...

"Buffy...We'd shetter be going...I think we've been shrug...drugged..."

Elissa grabbed him...With rather surprising speed...And held him...As he passed out

"It's slow-acting, Mrs. Walthrop..." Enri told her coldly... "But I assure you not fatal...He'll be alright if you remain calm..."

She got up...Wobbling...Enri regarded her intently...Perhaps with a little surprise...Looking at the Countess who moved on her...

He's suzzled...puzzled that it's works on me...He...Guessed about me...She struggled to think clearly...And move on Enri...The one human in the bunch...

And passed out even before Chesra could reach her...

Hah...Shooled you there...Thought I shasn't shuman...she thought just as she went down...

"Shrug..my sis...drug me..." she mumbled, struggling vaguely to rise...

Just as Buffy would've...she passed out...

Good ole Dad...
***

"I suppose...They took your beeper away..." BR asked Walthrop who nodded...

Well, it least wasn't a walled-in room...And according to their watches, they'd only been out for an hour or so...

She and he were chained to the floor of what appeared to be a basement room...Stone walls do a prison make...She thought...

She could break chains like these...But they'd agreed they should wait a mo to find out if they could learn anything...Let the Count or Enri come in...Make the usual pronouncement of doom...And explain...Why...

Spike pointing out it usually worked that way...Even she...Buffy...Was fond of making her "Here's the deal" speech before meeting out her Gift to enemies...
"You make it sound like I'm...We're...Like these people..." she noted, a little peeved...

Not at all, dearest...Just...

Of course from his pov...His former pov, she corrected...She had to admit...

Anyway the large metal door to the room did not look like it would open easily in any case...

So they waited...

Besides...Oz and the gang would be sure to get them out if this lasted much longer...

Still...The chains were chaffing her ankles...Not very gentlemanly of Enri, she noted...

Not to mention ruining a perfectly good pair of stockings...

And...

The least they could have done was to feed them first...

A blot on Florentine hospitality, that's for sure...
***

Elissa entered the room carefully...Surveying the Walthrops...Enri and the Countess followed...

"I don't know suppose there'd be any point to asking why you drugged my wife and me, Dr. Vitachi?..." Spike asked him...

Enri looked at him for a moment, saying nothing...And moved to Buffy Rebecca...

"Mrs. Walthrop...I have a rather unusual question to ask you..."

Well...Considering what's being happening...

"I have a few questions myself, Enri..." BR told him...If he'd just move a leetle closer...And if Elissa would kindly move a leetle further from Spike...

Of course she couldn't be certain how strong Elissa and Chesra were...

"But...It's your house...Shoot..." she told him...

He smiled faintly...Americans...

"Are you a human being?..." he asked her...Looking straight into her eyes...
***

Lluwelyan suggested they drive by the gate again...So far, so good...But he'd like to see if anything had changed...

Oz agreed and they drove past the Vitachi driveway gate...Lights still on...All seemed well...

"So what's Mrs. Rigg up to?..." Oz asked, after they'd parked again...

"Oh...Anna's out gathering a bit of information...Meeting a few friends...Who may know something about the dear Count..."

Oz nodded...But he couldn't help wondering if the friends the Inspector was meeting were female...

Unfair, he admitted...She was a professional...Still, he liked Lluwelyan...And could sympathize...

Must be tough...He only loved Willow...Lluwelyan was married to Anna...

Still...They'd found some way to work it out...The affection was distinctly there...

And to be fair...Llu was hanging out with the boys...One might wonder...Though Oz had seen nothing to indicate...

In fact, Llu had seemed rather taken with Buffy...Buffy Rebecca...And his stories of Council days with Giles and Max Creave had a distinctly hetero favor...

Well...What love can overcome...Look at Spike and Buffy...er..Buffy Rebecca...

Kinda gives a guy hope, you know...

Hey, where there's life...Oz thought...
***
"I'm surprised you haven't examined me..." BR returned Enri's stare...

"I would never do such a thing...Without your permission..." he told her...

"My wife is quite human, Dr. Vitachi..." Spike told him firmly...

Enri ignored him...Elissa continuing to watch him carefully...

"My brain is artificial, but a perfect neural copy of my original..." BR told Enri...

"And from experience...My husband and I know that my soul is human..."

He regarded her...

"My father...Had heard of the work of your Dr. Mears...From his former employer..."

Good ole crazy Severn...Was he seeking second opinions while Warren was getting me up and running?...Him and his search for immortality...

Yeah, Severn was the type to hedge his bets...And being the administrative type, not a true expert...Would have sought expert confirmation...

"But we never thought it possible...A true human brain, but artificial?..."

"Does it matter to you?...Obviously you have some violence in mind for us..." she looked at him...

Enri looked at her solemnly...

"It might make a great deal of difference...If it is true..."

***

Enri told the Walthrops he would have Chesra and Elissa bring them back upstairs...Chained...So that he could speak to BR a bit more regarding her claims of humanity...But he wanted them to understand...His two "relatives" would take any action he deemed necessary to stop them if they tried anything...

And they were prepared to deal with Dr. Walthrop's unique nature...Motioning to Elissa who pulled a crossbow from just behind the open door...And pointed it levelly at Spike...

"So it was you and your father who tried to kill William in Britain?..." BR asked him...
"Did you kill that boy Edward as well?..."

"Forgive me, Ms. Walthrop...But I prefer to await my father's coming before we continue discussing these matters...However...I will say that we had nothing to do with that young man's death...He was a brilliantly promising programmer and a sad loss..."

Oh...She thought...So...She looked at Spike...Who was struggling just a bit with the
chain...Riveting Elissa's attention...To give her a chance?...

Please stop that Dr. Walthrop...Elissa told him...Looking at Enri...

"Yes, doctor...Please stop...You may force us to act prematurely..."

"Sorry, honey...You'd better stop..." BR told him...

Now all three were paying most of their attention to Walthrop...

She snapped her chains in a swift movement...

***

Chesra swung at her, knocking her down...

She hopped up and caught the robot on the neck with a high kick, tossing her across the room...

Chesra hopped up and came back in...

BR had no time for this...And had evaluated Chesra's strength as considerably lower than her own...Unless she was holding back...

She slammed down on the neck and suddenly felt a soft spot on the upper neck...Instinctively she pressed and the robot stopped and fell...

She'd found the off switch...Count Vitachi's "wife"...Had an off switch...

No doubt every male's fantasy BR thought...

Thank God Warren and Spike had never thought of it in time...

A quick turn and over to Spike...Oops...

A large robot, nothing human about this one...blocked her...She grabbed it and would have turned it on its side but...
"I would appreciate it if you would follow our friend to a seat, Mrs. Walthrop..." Enri called to her...Indicating the robot guard...

Enri now covered Spike with the crossbow...Elissa held him firmly...

She was too far to reach him in time, BR realized...

She came forward quietly, and they all went upstairs...Leaving the deactivated Chesra on the cell floor...

Back in the great hall, she and Spike sat down where the robot guard and Elissa indicated...

From the back of the hall, a loud, slow clapping was now heard...

"Bravo...An excellent performance, my dear Mrs. Walthrop...And you, Dr. Walthrop..."

The Count had arrived...

***
He'd seen all from security cameras in his study...

He was not angered by Chesra's deactivation...And any repairs would be easy enough to make...

Another remarkable demonstration of their workmanship ...

Warren's and Walthrop's...

The Count takes a conservative line with female robots, I see...BR sighed...

***
Unlike Enri, the Count seemed more interested in Walthrop and spoke to him directly...

And came right to the point...

"You do not remember meeting a young woman like my Chesra...Barely 25...in
1977?...Milan?...Both of you strolling in the early twilight...She with a small child..."

"Leaving her for dead..."

Uh-oh...BR thought...I knew this would be coming up...Sooner or later...
Spike's victims...Back to haunt him...

"Could you be more specific, Count?..." Spike asked politely... "I was rather busy in those days..."

***
"Your wife..." BR looked at the Count...

Count Vitachi nodded...

He rapped Spike on the ankles with his cane...

"Do you realize what it meant?...My wife's death in such a manner?..."

"The people there knew the signs...I was not allowed bury her in hallowed ground...In the church...For any sum...Her poor body was thrown in a grave for common criminals..."

"And then, when she...When that thing rose...I...Knowing nothing then of these things..Thinking it was all foolish superstition....Was not there to save her..."

"Or our daughter...When the...monster...That had been my wife...Killed her as well...A short time later..."

He gripped the cane, white-knuckled...

"And so...I learned about the supernatural...Of necessity, you might say..."

Buffy Rebecca pleaded with him...William Walthrop was not to blame...His demon...

He tapped his cane at BR...speaking in a tight rage...

"It is you I blame Mrs. Walthrop...You...And your original...had the chance to destroy this monster...And gave him love instead..."

***
Spike looked at BR...

"I'm not sure if I remember all the details of those days...But I rarely transformed people...I honestly don't remember transforming a woman like your wife..."

"That 'transformation' as you call it...Was accomplished by another...Your companion at the time..." the Count told him...

Uh-oh...Dru...Thanks for the parting gift, darling...Spike thought...

"I won't say...That my husband bares no responsibility, sir...But surely...If he didn't..."

"That means nothing to me, Mrs. Walthrop...He murdered her, the other finished her..."

"But were you there?...How can you be sure it was..." she pleaded, faintly...

"It was me..." Spike said simply...

Enri came closer...

"Yes...It was you, Dr. Walthrop...I was with my mother...I saw you...Even a child does not forget such a sight..."

He couldn't have been more four or five at the time, Buffy Rebecca thought...To have seen that...

How can I blame these people for wanting us dead?...Or worse...

Walthrop looked at the Count...And Enri...

"I'm truly sorry for your loss, doctor...Is she...Still?...If you let me, I will try to help her..."

"There is no need...My..." the Count paused... "Those...Creatures are safely contained...In a nearby place..."

Both of them...BR thought sadly...Mother and daughter...God, it could have been me...Buffy...Or Dawn...And Mom...So easily...

"Enri and I will deal with them...When the proper time has come..."

"I see..." said Walthrop... "Then...Will my death make some amends?..."

BR looked at him...William...

But what could she say?...Plead for his human soul?...His chance for redemption?...

"Count Vitachi...Enri...I love my husband's human nature as you loved your wife and mother's...Please...I know we have no right to ask mercy from you...But..."

"I have no interest in destroying your husband's...This creature's...husk...Mrs. Walthrop..."

He paused...

"But I offered you both mercy...In Britain...When I sent Enri to seek you out...And left it in the hands of God...The mercy of his quick destruction...Or my own desired path..."

So Enri had fired at Spike...Mercy...

"It appears God wills that we should have the full measure of our revenge..."

She looked at him...The cold gaze of an Italian aristocrat...

"So you're going to kill me..."

"You are a machine, my dear Mrs. Walthrop...It is true...I do intend to destroy you...As it will cause your husband some measure of suffering...But I wish to inflict an everlasting suffering on him..."
***
The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XVII

Spike looked at Count Vitachi...With sympathy...And resignation...

"Doctor, I understand your feelings...And if ending me will ease things for you...But I have to tell you...My wife and I...Are pretty well acquainted with death...And aren't afraid of it..."

Weell...BR thought...

"It's your soul in jeopardy, Dr. Vitachi..." Spike told the Count... "And your son's...Buffy Rebecca is human...And if you kill a human being..."

"How can one kill a machine, sir?...And much as I respect his genius, Dr. Mears has simply developed a more advanced computer...Perhaps capable of mimicking some human thought processes...Nothing more..."

"Leaving that argument aside, Count..." BR interrupted... "It's clear you intend to harm William's soul rather than his demon...The same principle applies...If you harm a soul...It's your own you place in jeopardy..."

The Count looked at her...And Spike...

"Can such a creature as he have a human soul?...Can God allow such a monstrous thing?...And yet...I believe you, Mrs. Walthrop...I believe your husband retains his soul...In some form..."

"And so, retains the responsibility of his crimes..."

She closed her eyes and struggled to think...

"And your wife...And daughter?...Are they responsible?..."

"No!.." Enri, firmly...

The Count looked at his son...Some disagreement here, BR noted...

"They...Whatever remains of them...Must also bear the consequences of their actions..."

Spike looked at him, clearly startled...

"You can't blame them for their actions?...They're innocent..."

Enri looked at his father...Who returned Spike's gaze...Inflexible...

"It is as I have said..."
***

But Enri was clearly interested in another matter...BR's neural transfer...

Both she and Spike could guess why...

And, in spite of his father's grim position, Buffy Rebecca sensed that he too...

Had the faintest hope...

However he might try to block it out...

***
Inspector Rigg had come to join the stakeout team...With hot coffee and, naturally...Italian pastry...

"Anna...Always to the rescue..." Lluwelyan gallantly noted...

She also had come bearing some information...

Dr. Enri Vitachi...Count Vitachi's son...Had just returned from his own trip abroad...Exactly where was unclear...

"But it could have been Britain..." Oz finished...

She nodded...But even more interesting was a note the Council had sent to Llu which she'd picked up on her way...Confirmed by their friends in town...

The Vitachis had considerable interest in the occult...Had consulted Council members several times over the last twenty-three years...Including requests for information on the Slayer...

"The occult?..." Tim asked, wondering...

"Bingo..." said Oz... And explained to Tim that it simply meant that the dear Count must indeed be off his rocker...Religious fanatic...Mystic type...you know...

Ah...Those types...Strange combination, though...Cybernetist and occult freak...And why bother the doctor?...

Well...Maybe he's out to get all nonbelieving colleagues...That sort of thing...Oz suggested...

Ah...Tim nodded...Like that Unabomber fellow in the States...

"Has there been any activity?..." the Inspector asked...

Not a thing as yet...Llu told her...

Perhaps...He glanced at Tim...He and young Oz should scout the place a bit...And while they did that...And while out in the clear air...They might try contacting the Walthrops' friends in the US...

She glanced at Tim as well...And agreed it was a fine idea...So long as they did not get too close to the house...

Tim would stay with her...A little protection for her, she told him...

Hmmn...Oz thought...Protection, eh...Are you sure?...He looked at Lluwelyan...

After all...

Lluwelyan nodded...They'd be fine...

Well...Oz doubted Inspector Rigg needed anyone's protection...

"Love...Careful...And look to our Mr. Osborne..." she cautioned Llu...

He nodded...And patting Tim on the shoulder with a smile, got out...

Oz urged Tim to keep a close guard...Which Tim solemnly promised to do...

They went off, Oz carrying the computer/satellite link...

Inspector Rigg watching them closely...Anxiously...She does love him, Oz thought, looking at the frail Llu, striding ahead...In her own way...

No form of love should be despised...Oz thought...As he looked back at the anxious inspector...

And noted Llu had stopped to let him catch up and was looking back at his Anna...Equally anxious...

No form...
***

BR was a bit more hopeful...Both the Vitachis were clearly interested in the neural transfer that had created her brain...

With an eye to saving whatever was left of their loved ones...

But Spike felt it his duty to be honest about the matter...And spoke up...

"Warren's process won't help your mother and sister..." he told Enri calmly...

BR looked at him...William?...

He looked at Buffy Rebecca and sighed...

"Warren and I discussed it...For me...And Angel...Just before our wedding..."

A wedding gift?...

A human...Well, robotic human...Walthrop...And...No need for me to live knowing I might have to stake Spike one day...

Risky of course...With considerable danger of failure...But...Surely, if the Vitachis wanted to try...

"I know it might be difficult...And it could fail..." she started...

"All you could hope for would be to copy the current mental profile...There's no way to separate the human and demon elements..." Spike told them, looking at BR...

He has been applying himself...she couldn't help thinking...A little more time and that "Dr." title would be deserved...

"When Warren recovered you, darling...He simply pulled all of Buffy's memories...Including yours that Willow merged in Buf...After all, you were one..." he explained... "I hoped, at least for Angel's sake...But..."

"Then...It would simply be copying Elissa and Mother...As they are now?..." Enri asked him...Looking at both of them...

"Yes..." Spike paused and looked at BR... "Sorry sweet...I couldn't let them hope...After what I've done to them..."

Well...He could have done the noble thing later...Still...

It was sweet of you to look into it, Will...she thought...But...We'll be together...Whatever happens here...

And Angel will find his way...Somehow...

"It was right of you to tell them William..." she told him...

Just wish you could have waited just a bit longer...she couldn't help thinking...

Count Vitachi did not allow his sorrow to show...But it was clear he had hoped...If only for an instant...

Poor, poor man...Buffy Rebecca thought mournfully...No...William was right to tell him...Even if he kills us...

Enri looked at them...Despairingly...

He's been dreaming of saving them all his life, Buffy Rebecca realized...

A four year boy who saw his mother die a horrible death...

***
The Count had recovered his balance...And masked whatever blow Spike's information had been to him...

Enri, BR noticed, was having a tougher time of it...

"I tracked you for some time, Dr. Walthrop...You and your former companion were quite the travelers..." the Count told Spike...

"Why did you wait so long?..." Spike asked... "Surely you've known where I was..."

"For much of the time since my wife and daughter were murdered...Concerned as I was with your fate...Securing the creatures using their bodies had my first priority...However I did make the attempt on occasion, fearing you might outlive my justice..."

He smiled at Walthrop...Just the lips...

"My compliments on your abilities, you escaped my operatives four times..."

"Particularly in Prague...In 1989..."

"That was your people...That mob..."

I always thought it was strange how they'd caught on to Dru and me...Spike thought...Well, one old mystery solved...

"An agent of mine in the crowd...A match to kindling...I had only recently discovered your identity...And thought it would be sufficient to simply destroy you..." he reflected...

"Perhaps...At that time it would have been..."

***
Then, through contacts in the occult world, built up over the past years, he'd learned of Spike's arrival in Sunnydale...Home of the famed Slayer...

And had assumed the matter could be left to her capable hands...Based on what he'd heard of her activities...

While he and Enri continued their hunt...Which had ended just one year ago...
***

"You see, Dr. Walthrop...I had been told a demon reigned in vampire bodies...That creatures like you were not in fact responsible for their actions..."

"I was willing to leave you to God's justice...Until I learned you had not been destroyed by Ms. Summers..."

"In fact, she seemed to be tolerating your existence quite well...I could not understand it...But I had to deal with our own problem..."

"Finally, about nine months after Enri and I had finally captured...those creatures...Dr. Severn contacted me...And I learned of your creation, Mrs Walthrop..."

He'd kept them hidden away for months...After hunting for twenty-three years...Praying, hoping, searching desperately...For a cure...A miracle...Which never came...She thought, bowing her head...

And now, a last hope...Gone...

He didn't have to show it in his face...Enri's sad, shattered expression said it all...

But...Maybe...
***
Enri was looking now at BR...The robot guard now covered Spike with crossbow...Elissa still holding him...Awaiting orders...

"So...We learned that William the Bloody had not been dispatched by the Slayer...Nor left alone to suffer in torment...You had come...To bring him happiness..." the Count smiled coldly...

"Perhaps...You can imagine that such news did not bring me joy..."

***

Lluwelyan and Oz had moved far enough away from the car to feel safe about using the computer/satellite link...

No need to upset poor Tim by adding another...supernatural...dimension to their hunt...

They reached a cheery Dawn who, with Giles' slightly reluctant approval, had been trying out the new system for some research...

Yes...Giles had come up with a little on the Vitachis...she told them...

But...How was Italy?...Was Buffy Rebecca there?...No?...Were she and Spike having a good time?...

Grand time, Oz told her...But could he speak to...

"One mo...Giles!!!!...." Dawn cried...Calling him to the screen...

"Guess he's in back...Hang on guys..." she told them...Going away from the screen...

Good old Dawn...Oz thought...Of course, if Willow is right...I never really met her...Though I can remember protecting her, playing with her...

Strange line of work we're in...

"So...That's Glory's Key..." Llu noted thoughtfully...And smiled at Oz...
"A strange field we're working in, eh...But, even with all the horrors...The wonders never end..."

Oz nodded...Llu was right...In a strange way, the wonders make it worthwhile...Like Dawny...

At least when no one's in imminent danger...

Giles arrived at the screen...

In addition to what Inspector Rigg had learned from the Council's letter...It seemed Dr. Vitachi had had dealings with Wolfram-Hart...

***

BR was considering another escape attempt...She could break the chains around her...But Elissa still held Spike and the non-humanoid robot held a crossbow...

"Count..." Walthrop looked at him... "Let this end with me...Destroy me and those others...And find yourself some hope of peace in this life...I swear to you...You will find your wife and daughter in the next...If you don't throw your soul away in this..."

"As I have said, Dr. Walthrop...Your destruction is no longer sufficient for me..."

"What has changed, doctor?..." BR asked him... "Why is his death no longer enough?..."

"You have given your husband the chance to escape his crimes and his punishment,
madame...That is what has changed..." the Count informed her...

Escape...He thinks William is escaping him...And his God...

"But his soul is innocent...As your wife's and your daughter's..."

"Indeed?..." said Count Vitachi coldly...Enri looking at him...

Definitely some disagreement here...

But she had one last thing to offer...

Courtesy of her favorite law firm...
***

"Do you think it's important..." Oz asked Lluwelyan as they packed up the computer and prepared to head over to the Vitachis' driveway gate entrance...

"It may be...It seems as though the Count may have been trying to save someone he lost..."

"And Spike would be what...Vampire consultant?..."

"Sadly...I doubt it...More likely William the Bloody is the cause..."

Oz looked at him...He'd nearly forgotten...After just a few days with the new Spike...

"So this is revenge...I guess we shouldn't have let them go..."

"It usually is, my boy...But the devil you know is always better than the one you don't know...And they were aware of the danger..."

He smiled reassuringly at Oz...

"And...If these people are still...Seeking a cure..."

Oz nodded...They won't move too quickly...

***

"Enri...There is one possible way...It was used to save...my original...When she was transformed a few months ago..." BR told him...

Count Vitachi regarded her with a faint smile...

Enri looked away from her...

What?...

"We are aware of the resurrection process, Mrs. Walthrop...It was I who gave it to the Wolfram-Hart firm...In exchange for their assistance in learning to use it..." the Count told her...

***
Spike looked at them...Willow...Willow had warned him...When she thought she might die at the vampire Leto's hands and that Giles and he might try the resurrection ceremony on her...

Without Wolfram-Hart's unique negotiating team to offer the demon inducements to stay in its home ground...Hell...A human soul stood little chance...

Even Buffy had won out only because of Willow's work and BR's spirit presence...And the immature state of her demon...

"You've tried it, haven't you?..." he asked them... "They aren't vampires anymore, are they?..."

He's right BR realized...And that's why...They're human again, but not...Human-souled...

Their demons couldn't transform the bodies under the ceremony spell, but they could win the race to control them...

What was it Red said?...Spike thought...It would be worse, more dangerous...To have the demon win control of a human body...Armed with the knowledge and memory...Able to try and deceive those...Who loved them...

She wanted me to kill her if that ever happened...Even if it turned Buffy Rebecca against me, it had to be done...And I knew she was right...

The others could never had done what it would take to stop her...Only me...The pure bred killer...

What have I done?...he thought...How many more are there like these people?...

If I...Had fought harder...Or better still, fought less...It could have ended so long ago...

The man is right, he thought, looking at Count Vitachi...It was mercy to offer me quick destruction...More than I deserve by a long shot...

"They...Are no longer like you...But they remain...Monsters..." the Count told him... "Their souls were too weak to resist the creatures that controlled them...Even in human form..."

"And so they are damned...Forever..." he smiled thinly at Walthrop... "And you...Are here...Your soul free...Your redemption secure..."

He blames them, BR thought...That they didn't fight harder to come home to him...And Enri...

He now turned to BR...

"Even your Watchers' Council now thinks highly of one they once considered a hideous menace...You and your original have achieved a great thing, Mrs. Walthrop...My profound compliments..."

"A tribute to the power of love..."
***
Back to the dungeon...The Count and Enri having preparations to make...

Too bad it was doubtful those included dinner...Buffy Rebecca thought...

Elissa, the other robot guard, and a reactivated Chesra stood in the room watching them...

Still early yet...Not likely the gang was too worried so far...

Spike was embarrassed about something she realized...

All those poor victims...And now these poor women...He must be in full remorse mode...Like our second night together after the wedding...

I haven't told even Sis about that night...Talking to him for hours...While he relived it all...

The price for letting Walthrop out of his prison...I'd thought I'd seen signs when we were together at the crypt...The more human he became...The more he suffered...

Just as Angel warned me he would...Sooner or later...

"Ummn...Sweet?...About that quote earlier...The 'fall of a sparrow' thing?..."

Hmmn...Oh, that...

"Oh, that was beautiful, honey..."

Ah...Well...

"Maybe not one of your very best...But considering you had so little time..." she continued...

Well...It...It wasn't one of my best?...

"Darling, that was one of Shakespeare's best lines...I've waited my whole existence to have the chance to say it..."

Americans...He sighed...

"Well...I still think you've done better..."

Really?...Oh come on...

Would she lie when they were both about to die?...

She had a point...

This is what he's embarrassed about?...She wondered...That I'll think he ripped off
Shakespeare?...

***
The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XVIII

Lights on as before, everything seems normal...Oz noted as he and Lluwelyan watched the Vitachi home from the driveway...

"Notice anything, my boy?..." Llu asked him...

"Seems the same...Ok so far..."

"But where are the flickers?..."

Flickers?...Oz thought...Do the Vitachis run movies at home?...

"No flickers...No shadows...No one moving about in there...Not for some time...Unusual for an aristocrat's dinner party, wouldn't you say?..."

"I suppose they could be using another room, down below or something..." Oz suggested...

"Possible...But why keep things so lit up for an intimate party in another part of the house?..."

"You think it's for us?...To keep us waiting out here?..." Oz asked Llu...

"Again, possible..."

A true Watcher...Oz noted...Sharp but as hard to pin down as Giles...

Yeah, he, Giles, and that Max must have made quite a threesome...

***
BR was nervous...Not so much about the Vitachis, dangerous as they were...As about Spike...Or at least, her William...

He was talking about his guilt again...Clearly anxious that the Count take him for his revenge and spare her...And had equally clearly been considering ways of presenting the Count with a fait accompli...

Fortunately...No wood available to him...Except in the crossbow now carried by Elissa, robot copy of the original Elissa Vitachi...Now under lock and key with her poor mother...Whose robot duplicate was likewise watching them...

She did not want it to end here and now, thank you...Much as she appreciated the sincerity of William's remorse...She'd put considerable effort into Walthrop's redemption and felt entitled to at least a few years with him...Before his demon re-emerged and broke free...And she would have to take action...To stop Spike...And protect Walthrop's soul...

Some emotional support was clearly called for...

"Will...Whatever Spike has done...Whatever these people accuse him of...It's not you...I couldn't...I wouldn't love a murderer..."

She looked at the two humanoid robots...Don't suppose you ladies would consider leaving us for a moment's privacy?...No, I guess not...

He looked at her...Torment in his face...What have I done?...To them...

To you...

You bastards...This is not fair...He's done nothing...Nothing...Goddamn You, whatever You are...she thought...This is Your guilt he's carrying...

The Powers That Be...

She tried again...

"Will...We'll decide when the time has come...Nobody else has that right...You've earned it..."

"If you love me you'll try to stay with me..." she told him... "Please..."

He looked at her a long time and nodded...
A true Victorian gent always bows to his lady's requests...

***

Enri returned about half an hour later...Examining the restored Chesra while Elissa and the non-humanoid robot stood guard...

"Our friends will be getting worried, Dr. Vitachi..." Spike told him coolly... "You might want to consider the consequences of our not returning..."

Enri smiled...With equal coolness...At him...

"I doubt your friends will intervene before we finish here...And our firm is quite prepared to pay any damages Dr. Mears may charge regarding Mrs. Walthrop's loss...As for you, sir...I believe my father has already told you he does not seek your life at this time..."

"Buffy Rebecca is a human being...And legally as well, if you check her documents...If American citizenship can be taken as a proof of humanity. You...And your father will be murderers...Here and in the hereafter..." Spike told him...

"I don't think it will be difficult to convince a jury of Mrs. Walthrop's true nature once she is disassembled...As for the hereafter...Perhaps we should leave that to God..."

"Her soul came back to us, Enri...After her death..." Spike told
him... "Her sister was saved with the resurrection process because
Buffy Rebecca's soul was there...Helping her..."

Enri paused from his work and looked steadily at him...

"If you are telling the truth...It would have to be merely a hallucination on the original Ms. Summers' part...A desperate fantasy on your own...She is and will remain, a marvelous piece of workmanship...Nothing more..."

But he looked again at BR...Carefully...Judging...

"No..." Spike told him firmly...

"Enri...Whether you think I'm human...Or not..." Buffy Rebecca looked at him... "William needs my help...His soul...His redemption...Are delicate things...If you take me and leave him here...Alone...You may do far more harm than you realize..."

"If it will condemn him...I will be content, I assure you..." Enri told her...

"You're the one who'll be condemned, Enri...And your poor father..." she looked him in the eyes... "You may still find your mother and sister in the next world, if not here...If you don't proceed...But if you do...I promise you...You'll never see them again..."

"I'm not asking you to release us...Just...Take us both...Together..."

Enri looked at her...And turned to Walthrop...

"She is a noble creature...I'd have liked to meet her original..."

"What will you...Your father...Do to her?..." Walthrop asked him...

"We'll destroy her in the way that causes you the most pain, Dr. Walthrop..." Enri told him evenly...

He finished his examination of Chesra and left...

But he looked back again at BR as he went out the door...

She returned his stare calmly...

***

Lluwelyan Rigg and Oz stood before the grand front door of the Vitachi
villa...

"Well?...Knock?...Ask if Spike and Buffy are here?..." Oz asked...

Llu considered...

"The direct approach is sometimes advisable..."

***

They were moving down a corridor in the basement, Elissa, Chesra, and the other robot having released their chains from the floor...And the ladies having requested that they move quickly and quietly along with them...

Naturally, Chesra had told them, Elissa would use her crossbow on Walthrop if they so much as hesitated for more than a moment...

Clearly they were receiving orders internally...

Pity Warren didn't outfit me with a transmitter...BR thought...I could try my hand at jamming and overriding their signals...
Musical ability...She thought...

Well...Spike's fault really...Him and his "special requests"...

Not that I don't like being able to sing...And Mrs Walthrop's...My Mum-in Law's... favorite song ... "I Know Where I'm Going"...is very sweet...

Thanks, Mum Walthrop...I may be seeing you shortly...

Matter of fact...I wish I knew where I was going right now...

"What did he mean...The "most painful way to me"?..." Spike asked her...

"You want me to consider this in detail?..."she asked him...

"Just...Wondering..." Walthrop looked at Elissa and Chesra, guiding them along...

"Don't suppose you ladies know what your brother and father have in mind for my wife?..." he asked them...

"That question is beyond the scope of our programming, my dear doctor..." Chesra informed him graciously... "Please keep moving..."

Hah...BR thought...Programmed...And limited to functions within their programming...I knew it...

The Vitachis are good...But...

My "Dad"...And W/S Bionetics, Inc...rule...
***
The knocking had proceeded up the scale from a pleasant rapping to full-scale "Your house is on Fire!...The Nazis are invading!..." smashing...

No avail...Though the lights remained on...

Hmmn...Oz looked at the windows...Break a pane maybe...Probably a couple to get those open...

He heard a sound from behind...He turned as Llu swung the door open...And grinned at him...

Flexing his fingers...

Special talents...And Anna's nail file...

He grinned back at Llu...

"So...Giles was the Ripper...And you were what...The Cracker?..."

"Strictly in the line of duty, my boy..."

***
They had gone through several doors which Chesra locked behind them...Deep below the grounds...Getting rather far from the main house, BR thought...A hallway tunnel...Leading?...

In the middle of the next portion, all three robots suddenly halted and froze...

Walthrop looked at Buffy Rebecca...She looked at him...

"Well...Shall we?..." he asked...

She looked at Elissa's crossbow...Still pointing at Walthrop...

Hmmn...The Count might be playing some game with them...

"Wait...Just a second, honey..." she inched over towards the frozen Elissa...

And snapping her chains, grabbed the crossbow from the robot's still frozen hands...

"We shall..." she grinned at Walthrop...

Enri emerged from a side door in the hallway, just in front of them...Hands raised...

"You haven't much time before my father learns what I've done...Go..."

"You deactivated them, Enri?..." Walthrop asked him...

BR looked at him...He nodded...
***
"Understand me, Walthrop...Or whatever you are...I have no sympathy for or acceptance of you...I do this solely for your wife...As my mother and sister would wish, I know..."

"And if I leave you...In this world...It is only with the hope that you will exist long enough to be condemned again...As they are..."

Spike nodded...

Enri led them into another long hallway stretch...With several rooms leading off...
BR closed the door to the section behind them...Blocking the stricken robots from them...

"Are we near the outside?..." she went up to Enri, whispering...

Just a bit farther he told her...

BR grabbed Enri and whirled him back, holding him firmly...
***

"Buffy?..." Spike looked at her...

"Do you sense Vitachi around?..." she asked him...Spike shook his head...

The robots in the rear area had come back to life and were advancing on the door just bolted...

They began pounding...It wouldn't take them long, Walthrop noted...

BR nodded...Still holding Enri firmly...He did not protest, staring fixedly at Walthrop...

"Come out to us, Count..." she called... "I know you can see that I have Enri...Call off the others and come out..."

The robots ceased banging at the door...

They heard the sound of an elevator...Spike began to sense another human presence...

While Enri struggled helplessly in her grip...

Count Vitachi emerged from a side door in the hallway...Which led to a small elevator...

***
"How did you know?..." Spike asked her...

Buffy Rebecca smiled grimly...

"If the roles were reversed...If it had been my father...My mother...Dawn...Or Buffy...I would never allow their killer to escape...And I knew he wouldn't...Even if he felt for us..."

So...Her tackling Dru wasn't all for dear Walthrop...he thought...
But I guess I knew that...

Count Vitachi nodded...

"Enri does feel for you Mrs. Walthrop...If it is of any comfort, he at least believes you may truly have a human consciousness of a sort...And he does regret your destruction...That much is sincere...But he loves his mother and sister...So he brought you both here...As I asked him to..."

"Why the playlet?...I have Enri now...I can take William and we can leave right now...If you want your son back unharmed..."

"I seriously doubt you would harm him, Mrs. Walthrop...It would exceed your capability..."

She looked grimly at him...The Count shrugged and waved his hand a bit...

"But in any case...You are quite right...You could leave immediately...As to why I would give you such an opportunity...That I choose to keep to myself at present...But, before you and Dr. Walthrop leave...As long as you are here..."

"I would like to introduce you both to my wife and daughter..."
***

The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XIX

Lluwelyan and Oz had entered the Vitachi villa...

Very nice place...Palace...The Count has here, Oz noted...

"My boy...As long as you are carrying that thing around...I think it might be wise to make use of it...If it can be used for a local telephone call..." Llu indicated the computer/satellite link...

A true Watcher...Oz thought...Always maintain contact and have back-up on stand-by...

That is...If you have back-up...Usually good old Giles was the back-up...

***
Lluwelyan reported to his wife that they'd found no one so far at the front of the house...And no signs of alarms, guards, protective devices...

So far...Oz noted...

But also...No Walthrops...

The inspector reported no trouble at their end...Tim was being quite vigilant...

"Take care..." Anna told them as Llu broke contact...

"She worries..." he smiled at Oz...

Lucky man...Oz thought...A little sadly...

I'm beginning to think...I'd rather not know this kind of relationship...This love...Is possible...he thought...

Might be easier to think there's only one barrier between Will and me...

***
Buffy Rebecca held Enri firmly as she and Walthrop followed Count Dr. Vitachi to his little "family get together"...

Neither could yet understand...Why had he and Enri staged Enri's phony assist, allowing her to grab him?...If they wanted her as dead as they seemed to...

Dead...Or worse...Thought Spike...

Yeah...There are worse things...he thought as he looked at his wife...Holding the handsome young man in her grip with one arm as if he were a small doll...

And I think we're about to get a taste of one of those "worse" things...

God, protect my sweet wife...From all things evil...

I told Dawn once Buffy Rebecca would do that for me...As she has...And will...

Always...
***

A through search of the house above the basement revealed no sign of the Count, his family, or their guests...

"Is this the Count?..." Oz pointed out a group of photos on the wall... Strong-willed looking, distinguished graying man...Rather like Burt Lancester...Lovely woman a bit younger next to him and a handsome young man and lovely young woman...Resembling their...Parents?...

"Can't say..." Lluwelyan replied... "I've never met him..." He looked at Oz...And smiled...

"You were testing me, weren't you, son?..."

Oz grinned...Well, one learns to be careful in our business...

"Well...You and Mrs. Rigg do have a house in Florence...The Count has had contact with the Council..."

"I will say...I sure would be disappointed if you were working with him..."

Llu nodded...A natural suspicion...Nice to see our immortal Slayer's friends watch out for her...

"For what it's worth, my boy...I understand there was considerable dissension over the acceptance of William's reformation...But no one on the Council wishes to risk the loss of our dear Rebecca...She's become the greatest asset we've ever had..."

"She's that powerful?..." Oz regarded him...

Llu nodded... "And her appearance means...For the first time...We can hope to see our human Slayers live past a few years..." he paused and smiled wanly...

"We're not all as callous about them as we may seem to be...But when you've seen them die one after the other...Nearly all brave-hearted, noble young women..One must develop a certain ability to take the long view in the fight..."

"You've lost a couple yourself?..." Oz asked...

Lluwelyan nodded sadly...

"I still see their poor faces every day...Or night rather, when I sleep..." he shook his head...

"No Watcher ever forgets...Their Slayers..." he looked fixedly at Oz...

"So...You see I have a stake in seeing our Rebecca survives...So that our other Slayers will live as well..."

Oz nodded...

"A sharp eye...And a focused mind...You know..." Llu regarded him keenly... "You'd make a fine Watcher yourself, young man..."

"If we could help you with that werewolf problem..." he smiled...
Well...Watcher...Oz noted...Nice to see he's on the ball...

Hmmn...Me on the Council?...They could use a little loosening up...And it would keep me in touch with Will...

"Was that Giles or your Council who told you?...Or do I give off the vibes?..." Oz grinned at him...

"Both Rupert and the Council felt I should be aware...In case of an accident, that sort of thing...You actually conceal it well...Your control is coming along nicely..." Llu told him...

"I've seen a few like you, never one so able to restrain it..."

"Thanks...I try...Don't always succeed..." Oz looked at the photos...

"You thought the Count might have lost someone...Any ideas?..."

Llu sighed...

"Probably one or more of the people in these photographs..."

"Spike..." Oz looked at the photos...

"I'm afraid so...But like you, he...Walthrop, at least, is trying...That's really all any of us can do in an imperfect world..."

Yeah...I guess it's true...If you think about it...I'm a step away from being a Spike myself...Or is he...Walthrop...Just like me?...

In any case...It's certainly not for me to judge him...

"And you, Llu...You and the Council can really forgive him...Spike...His crimes?..."

"It's not really a question of forgiveness for Dr. Walthrop, my boy...We've learned that several times in history...He is innocent, like others who have been saved...Like your friend, our dear human Slayer, Ms. Summers..."

"Buffy?..."

"She killed when she was transformed...Not the record of William the Bloody of course...But..."

Buffy killed people?...My God...Poor, poor kid...Thank the Powers That Be...Bastards...They haven't already asked enough of her?...
Llu pondered...

"We can't help them often, these poor trapped souls...Except to release them...Through the Slayer's efforts...But when it does happen...When they are brought back...And we can establish that they are free...How can we presume to judge them?..."

"But these folks appear to have..." Oz looked at him...

"If those people on the wall were your family?..." he smiled at him, faintly... "But let's press on..."

***
It was rather like a scene from those movies with Boris Karloff...Or Vincent Price...The dungeon in the castle, shrouded in darkness...Light dribbling in from the hallway door...And chained to the wall...

A young woman and a small girl...Perhaps late twenties for the mother, the daughter about seven years old...

Chesra and Elissa Vitachi...

They've only been human again a short time, BR noted...Only just started to age again...

For them it's still 1977...

She looked at Enri, tightly in her grip...Who looked at his family and said nothing...

"Why do you keep them like this?..." Spike turned to the Count...Who smiled coldly...

"You will understand that before you leave..."

***
They had seen their visitors and were speaking...Pleading, BR could tell...In Italian...

"What?..." she turned to Spike...

"They say...They're being held...Help them...Their husband...father...Is insane..."

"Are they?..."

He nodded...Demons in control...
No humanity left in them...However heart-rending their cries might be...

***
"We were fooled at first, of course...Enri and I...We wanted so much to believe...They were free at last..."

The Count smiled bitterly...

"Imagine our surprise when they turned on us...Tried to kill us both and flee into the world..."

Spike looked at him...

"But...They lacked their old power...And we were able to restrain them...And bring them here..."

"Dead...Forever...And Damned..."

"No..." BR told him... "These are only the shells of what they are...You are wrong..."

"It's admirable of you to try to protect Dr. Walthrop, my dear...You are a marvelous
instrument..." Count Vitachi told her...

"But we have brought you both here for a reason..."

"You want me to kill them..." Spike regarded the Count...

BR looked at him...

Enri was quiet and resigned in her grip...
***

The father and son...And the mother and daughter...

Separated for twenty-three years by Spike...And Dru...And more lost to each other now than ever...

He wanted Spike to kill them...It was true BR realized...He and Enri couldn't do it...So...They turned in desperation to the one who'd started the whole tragedy...

And yet, innocent as they...

"I should tell you Count...Neither I nor my wife is easily capable of killing humans...There is a behavioral modification chip in my brain...She has a block in her neural net structure..."

"But...I have crashed through the chip in the past..."

Will...BR looked at him...You're not thinking...

He looked back at her...

"They're my responsibility...Willow asked me to kill her if she was lost in this way...If I can give them peace..."

She looked at Vitachi...

"Please...Don't make him do this...Don't put this burden on him...Not on William..."

"Are you capable of helping us, my dear?..." the Count asked her...

Could she?...Even to save William and herself?...No...She looked back at him...

"I thought not...And the responsibility is his..."

"IT IS NOT!!!" she screamed at him...She turned to Walthrop...

"Will, this is not your duty...Leave it to the Powers That Be..."

"Leave them?...Like this?...And hope the boys and girls upstairs will get off their asses and help innocents for once?...In less than a century or two that is..."

What could she say?...she thought...What was there to say?...The Vitachis knew exactly what they were doing in confronting William with his poor victims...

They couldn't have hired professionals?...

This is his revenge...She thought...Looking at Vitachi...And Enri...

Their revenge...

And they know it will destroy William...Tear him apart...And the real evil...They know he will do it...And why he feels he must...They accept his redemption...Hell, they counted on it...

They have no right to do this to him...It is evil...

Still...Someone...someone must help these women...

And I can't let my poor Will suffer this...He'll never stop now until this crime is purged...

"I'll do it..." she told them in a small and weary voice...

***
The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XX

Oz and Llu began their probe of the basement areas...And found the doors leading to a network of tunnels...

"Well, that's one question answered..." Oz said... "They've gone in here somewhere..."

"Yes...Well...We'd better call Anna...Have her bring in help...The Vitachis may already have left these tunnels somewhere away from the house..."

Hmmn...By the time we get help...And yet...We'd never find them in this maze...Unless...

Unless we had a bloodhound...Of sorts...

"Llu?...Is Buffy's?...Buffy Rebecca's...coat still in your car?"

"I believe so, my boy...Why?..."

"Could you have Tim bring it in here?...I have an idea on how to find them..."

Oz looked round...There...A lamp...

Now...Just need something to cut the cord...

"What are you up to, my boy?..." Llu asked, watching keenly...

"Just a little something the US government taught me last year..." Oz told him...

***
"So this is why Enri 'helped' us...So you could get us to see them and..."

"The decision had to be made freely if you were to actually do it...You and your husband would have used any constraint as an excuse to refuse when the moment came..."

Freely?...she thought...And yet...It's true...We could just go now...Even if they tried to kill us
later...

But Will can't leave them like this...

And I can't let him be forced to do it...No...

He's suffered enough...I won't let him be tormented for this...Even if it's done for pity's sake...

***

Buffy Rebecca looked at Spike...No...He looked pleadingly at her...

"They're demons, Will...Only their bodies are human...I can do this...And I won't let you do it..."

She looked at Enri Vitachi...Locked in her grip...And released him...

She turned to the waiting Count...

"Will you let us leave in peace?...If I do this for you?..."

He nodded...

"If you can do this...If you will give them peace...We will not try to hinder you and your husband from leaving..."

It's what you brought us here for, after all...she thought...

And I was wondering why they didn't just get professionals...

But they did...They got the best...

Spike and me...Professional killers extraordinaire...

She looked at poor human...Demon, demon...she correctly desperately...Elissa...

Seven year old children our specialty...
***

Tim was concerned...Things seemed to be dragging themselves out in there, he noted to Inspector Rigg, looking at the Vitachi villa...

The doctor and the miss...Should have come out by now...

Patience, young man...She told him...Mustn't jump the gun...Just cause them more trouble than if we do our job and wait...

He nodded reluctantly...

Llu's call came through...

The Inspector passed Tim BR's coat and began dialing for the local police...

Tim, for his part, was rather pleased to have an errand to occupy himself with...And hopefully a chance to check on the Walthrops...

***
Oz had stripped the lamp cord...Just a matter of getting the coat...Then giving Llu and Tim enough time to get away from him...

His experience with the Initiative had taught him that his condition was by no means limited to the cycles of the moon...

At least in special cases...For brief periods of time...

***

[Suggested theme-Demons of the Past (Adagio for Strings)]

Walthrop was pleading with his wife to let him deal with the two demons...Their bodies were human...He couldn't let her take on such a burden...Spike was the cause...Let him be the cure...

Enri had gone over to where his father stood...And watched them carefully...

The two Vitachi females...Human demons...Were becoming more agitated as they sensed their danger...Crying out to the son and brother...

He covered his ears in desperation...And looked at Buffy Rebecca...And Spike...No vengeance in his face...Just...Pleading...

"I've done enough to you...And Buffy...Please, leave this to me..." Walthrop begged his wife...

She shook her head...And looked at him...No...

Spike...and a merciless God...have made my Will suffer enough...She thought.

She was on him and had put him out before he could dodge her...

The Count watched her as she pulled Walthrop out the door and locked it as she came back in...She returned his stare...And looked at Enri and the tears running down his face as he tried not to hear the anguished cries of the demons...
"Enri, you should leave too..." she told him, going over to him and putting a gentle hand on his shoulder... "Is there another way out?..." she asked the Count...Who indicated a door at the other end...

She helped Enri to the door and locked it behind him...

She returned to the Count...Who clearly had no intention of leaving...

"Before...I have a question, sir...Why did you destroy the Winset laboratory?..."

He regarded her...

"Yes...The facilities there were important in the final development of my Chesra and Elissa...But I had no wish for anyone to learn of their existence as machines...The laboratory and the work there...Was my own to do with as I wished...Besides...I knew it would fix your attention on me when you learned that I was associated with a place destroyed in such a manner..."

"And poor Edward..."

"I regret that fine boy's death...A brilliant programmer who helped to make my copies possible...But I had nothing to do with his end...In fact, Enri took great risk to ensure that no one was endangered by the blast..."

She nodded...That settles that, she thought...A little sadly...

She looked back at him...

"Are you...Absolutely sure?..."

He nodded...

"What will you and Enri do?...After this?..."

"We will take our new family...And go...Anywhere we can find peace...And forget..."
***
Tim and Lluwelyan had moved back upstairs...Listening...

Oz plugged the lamp in...Took care to throughly sniff BR's coat...And shocked himself...

Hearing his howls...Tim looked at Llu...Who smiled back reassuringly...Mr. Osborne was making use of some American Indian tracking skills...Involved a little extreme, perhaps to some, unusual, preparations...And required absolute privacy...For concentration...

After the sounds faded, they descended and followed Oz's sounds into the tunnels...At a discrete distance...

***

Buffy Rebecca looked up at the two chained figures...Now quiet since Enri had left...

"Tell them...Tell them that I am the Slayer..." she told the Count...Who spoke to the demons in Italian in a loud voice...

They had stopped their cries on Enri's departure and watched the two humans carefully...At the Count's words...They shook with fear...

"Tell them...I will send them back where they belong..." she told him...Wearily...

The little one looked at her...A child's pleading eyes...

"Miss..." Chesra the adult called to her...pleaded in broken, heavily-accented English...

"Please...Do not do this terrible thing..."

Buffy Rebecca looked up at her...Firmly, coldly, sadly...The demon eyed her...A demon, she could sense it now...There was no question...

It could see...No pleas would stop this Slayer...And cursed her...

As now did the little one...

She looked at the Count...Mounted the large stone steps leading to the platform where the two were standing side-by-side...And climbed slowly up to the first...The adult...

Even Vitachi couldn't look at them...

She reached Chesra...Who raged at her now...Clearly invoking all the deities of Hell...

I love you William...

She looked at the demon...Full in her furious eyes...

"Here's the deal..." she said to it quietly...
***

The Adventure of the Freckled Man...Part XXI...Conclusion

She climbed sadly down to the ground where the Count stood waiting...And looked at him...

The Slayer...Her Gift dispensed...

"Are we settled now?...Are you willing to leave us alone now?..." she asked him quietly...

He stared at her...And then at the lifeless bodies on the platform ledge above hanging limply from their manacles...

William pounded at the chamber door...

"REBECCA!!!" he screamed...In terror...Spike and Walthrop both...She noted vaguely...

"Well?..." she looked at Vitachi...Who said nothing...

Just continued to look at his dead wife and child...And back at her...

***
Tim and Lluwelyan had reached the long tunnel hallway to the chamber where the demon Elissa and Chesra had been imprisoned...Oz, still transformed, had reached a bolted door and was smashing and howling at it...

"Sir?..." Tim looked at Llu...Who clearly intended to press on despite the whatever-it-was waiting for them down the hall...

"We're needed my boy..." he patted Tim on the shoulder... And pulled a small pistol from his coat...

A little protection...Courtesy his dear Anna...he noted...

As for the howls ahead...Just young Oz...Continuing his unique form of tracking...

***
"I cannot prevent you from leaving Mrs. Walthrop...Take your 'husband'..." he smiled at the word... "Take him and go..."

"Not without your word, sir...That you and Enri...And your agents...Will leave my husband and me...And our family...In peace..."

She stared back at him...Rigidly...

She was so...Tired...Of it all...It seemed almost pointless...

If not Vitachi and his son...A thousand others...

Walthrop continued to pound...She called to him briefly that she was...Fine...Just fine...But not quite done yet...

Just fine...She looked at her hands...

Demons...They were just demons...She told herself...And one day I will have another demon to kill...

He did not stop...Calling to her to let him in...

Her poor sweet tormented Will...It was worth the pain, she told herself...It was...And it would be...

She'd known it would be hard...The hardest thing she...Buffy...Had ever done...

To save a soul...Not just release it and hope she'd done the right thing...Save it...Here...Now...

But she'd made the decision and cast the dice...A lifetime ago...Back at the Greenwood crypt...

Before her death...

And she couldn't have asked more of Walthrop than he'd already done to prove himself...

A decent and worthy human being...Worthy of being loved...In every way deserving of her efforts to save him...And her true soulmate...

Which somehow...Knowledge borne from wherever in Warren Mears' theoretically infinite universe she'd come from...She'd instinctively known...Almost from the start...And certainly from the moment she realized he truly loved her...

But even as she'd grown to love the human soul of William Walthrop...And rejoice in his salvation and their happiness...She'd known what shadows were lurking in their future...

And accepted them...As the price of his salvation and their union...

A match made both in Heaven and Hell...

But...Vitachi hadn't answered her...Yet...

And she intended to have an answer before they left...

***

"Mr. Rigg, sir...What's?..." Tim pointed at the rigid body of the Chesra robot...Standing in the hallway...

Apparently deactivated for the moment...

"Is she?..." Tim gulped a bit...No...The lady couldn't be dead...But so frozen...Lifeless...

Oh...Wait a mo...

"I don't think she's human, my boy..." Lluwelyan looked at him...

"No, sir...A robot...I think..."

Tim's professional curiosity kicked in...Remarkable piece of work, he noted to Llu...If only the doctor were here to take a look with him...But...Perhaps when things cleared...For now...

Duty calls...

Oz's howling was dying down...The brief transformation was ending...

Tim and Lluwelyan left the robot and hurried down the hall...

They found Elissa's robot double also deactivated and knocked to the floor near the next door...Smashed open, fortunately...

At the far end of this section...They saw a dazed looking Oz wobbly standing by a large, heavy ood door...Blocking their further progress...

"Behind there?..." Llu called to him...

"Yeah...I think so..." Oz told him...He grinned a bit shakily at Llu and Tim...

"A fine job, my boy..." Llu told him as he and Tim reached him...
And time to call in the reinforcements...Llu told them as he looked at the rather solid door...

From beyond which they could now hear Spike's faint cries to BR...

"Tim...I think we'll be needing the computer..." Llu told him...Indicating the satchel Tim had kept close by...

Anna answered immediately and with relief...

In a few moments the reinforcements were on the way...There now being a reasonable indication of a possible crime in progress...

And two British officers of the law...European Union law...being present to certify to that effect...

***

The Count rubbed his eyes...Suddenly...For a moment...He was a tired and defeated old man...

But inflexible...

"I will make no promises as to the future, Madame..." he told BR coldly...

So...It wasn't over...He wasn't satisfied...

She'd had enough...

"Do you mean?...You intend to hound my husband still more?..."

He smiled at her...Just the lips...

"I believe I told you that it was you I blamed Mrs. Walthrop...You and your 'sister'...You freed Walthrop...Gave him the happiness Enri and I deserved...What you did now...Was merely the smallest portion of your duty...And punishment..."

Buffy too...And Dawn, no doubt...And anyone else he could lay his hands on...

What had Enri told Spike?...Destroy her in the most painful way?...

She was on the old man in a moment...She had had enough...
***

They went up the stairs to the platform together...She half-dragging him...
She held him by the throat...Choking...She set him down on the ledge of the platform...Where the poor bodies of his family still remained chained in their shackles...

"Will you give this up now?..." she demanded...

He looked fiercely at her...

He'll never stop...she realized...

And stood a long time looking at him...While Spike's pounding continued below at the door...

Finally she sighed...And released him...

He caught his breath a moment and smiled at her...

"It appears..." he said, "That you are after all...incapable of true human murder, Ms. Summers-Walthrop...A machine bound by built-in limitations...And no more..."

He was trembling on the ledge...The platform was quite high enough above the main floor to do the job...Just a push...

Spike...Walthrop...smashed his way through the door...And saw the bodies...And his wife and the Count high on the platform...

She stared at the old man...She'd just killed...A woman and a child...Demons, perhaps...But...

Was this old madman anything but a demon?...Of the human variety...

One more enemy out of the way...Safety for William...Their friends...And any other family they might gather around them...Someday...

And this one would be back....She could tell...Haunting them again and again...

No...Enough...She'd had enough of mad fanatics pursuing them...Some dedicated to evil...Some, like the monks who'd created Dawn...And possibly killed Joyce...Supposedly good...All determined to allow...Even force...The Slayers and those they loved to suffer to achieve their ends...

That was their philosophy, right?...The ends justify the means...

Well...She had the means...And the justifiable ends...

This was one maniac she could deal with now...Right here and now...For good...

And prove...Beyond all doubt...That she was bound by no restraints...

Fully human...

It was in her eyes...From where he stood, Walthrop...Spike could see it and recognized it...All too well...

"Buffy Rebecca...Don't..." he cried out to her...Terrified for her...

She looked at him...And the mad old man...

"Love, it's not worth it...He's not worth it..." Walthrop cried...

He didn't need a mathematical analysis of possible damage to her neural net by Warren to know what would happen to a Buffy Summers who killed a true human being...Even an enemy...

He'd met Faith...
***

Vitachi eyed her carefully...

He wants me to...She realized...He's not gloating at the robot who can't hurt him...He wants me to kill him...He believes I can overcome my restraints...If he pushes me...Far enough...

He knows...He's always known...That I'm human...

And that I have a soul...And that what he's after...Eternal damnation...Not for William...

For me...

"You were testing me before...With Elissa and Chesra...To see if I could kill them..." she told him...

He returned her stare, saying nothing...

"You want me to kill you..."

And condemn myself...Cut me off from my loved ones...from William...Forever...

The most painful destruction possible...Eternal...
Like hell...

He stumbled...

She pulled him back from the ledge and set him down...Gasping...

Tears were running down her face, she realized...

He looked at her...Defeated...But with a faint sense of wonder...

***

He bowed...An Italian count must always show the right style...Especially in defeat...

"Many thanks, dear lady..."

Spike reached them a moment later...
***

They managed to keep Llu, Oz, and Tim out of the chamber...BR explaining the situation to Llu carefully after Oz and Tim had taken the Count in charge back to the main house...

She and Will would like a few moments...Alone with...Their victims...She told him...Trembling a bit..

Llu embraced her gently, kissed her, and promised to settle things for them, regarding...The poor...Creatures...Nothing to worry about...All part of a Watcher's duty, my dear Buffy...
***
They stood alone in the chamber...On the platform...

"I killed them...Not you..." William told her...

"If I believed that...I would stake you right now..." BR told him...

"Spike and the thing using poor Dru killed them...She's gone...And if he ever surfaces again...I will kill him..." she said... To both of them...

"For you, Will...For us..."

He looked at her...Tears in his eyes...

"I...Want to pray for them...But...I don't know...If I can..."
She took his hand in hers...

"Of course you can..." gently...

"All we human beings can pray..."

***

Enri had been taken by Anna's reinforcements as he waited in another section of tunnel...He did not put up any fight...And admitted to the attempt on Dr. Walthrop...On his instructions, the Count insisted when they were reunited in the main house a few minutes later...

At least a few years in jail for them...Inspector Rigg noted...

Consolation prize...Buffy Rebecca thought...Thank God for the Watchers' Council and their phony citizenship papers...

And their assistance in dealing with the poor bodies of the Vitachi women...Lluwelyan having made the arrangements...After getting a few moments with the Count and Enri before they were taken...

Fortunately neither Enri nor his father had any more desire than she and Walthrop for the bodies to come to light...And agreed to Llu's offer to see their sister and mother laid to rest properly...In hallowed ground at last...

Spike must be loving this...BR noted...Humans arrested for his attempted murder...

But leave Spike for the future...And the Powers That Be to deal with...She thought...

If not now...then it surely will come...

She looked at Walthrop...It had not been Elissa and Chesra Vitachi she'd killed...

And it would not be Walthrop she might have to deal with...Someday...

The readiness is all...And her love...Her sweet Will...Was always ready...

For eternity...

As she was...

Eternity is ours...Engraved on her wedding ring... From her favorite poem...By an unknown English poet...
But they had work to do...Humans and human Slayers to protect...

A life of their own to lead...Like any other human beings...

And when the time came for them to part...For however long or briefly...They would chose...No one else...
***

The policemen brought Vitachi and son out to their waiting cars...Along with some of their office staff who'd been implicated in preparing the Winset blast...
BR asked Anna if charges could be dropped...At least regarding Enri and his attempt on Walthrop...And their little dinner party here...

It was up to them...Anna told her...But the Count and his son would still face charges on the blast...And with regards to young Edward's murder...

"It wasn't the Vitachis who killed Edward..." BR told her...

Just as we thought...Ever since that night at the Winset lab...Anna noted...A bit sadly...

She agreed not to press the matter of Edward's death in the case of the Count and his son...

Inspector Lestrade bowing to Holmes' gallantry towards their joint foe...

***
"This is by no means over..." Count Vitachi smiled at the Walthrops...As he was taken to the cars...

"He'll be back..." BR told Walthrop, holding him gently...

"Aren't they always, love?...After all who can resist the Slayer's charms?..." William smiled at her...

He hugged her...

"But the only important thing is that we are still who we need to be...If we want to stay together..."

She smiled back...A little wanly, but some of the old spirit...

We can be happy...We deserve to be happy...

For as long as we can be...Like I told Xander once...
"You're quite an expert on the duties of do-gooders there, 'Throp...For someone who just joined the team a couple of months ago..."

"One learns a great deal studying one's opponent, dear..." Spike grinned...

So Gilesian...A born Watcher...She thought...

***
They returned inside with the Riggs and Oz...And Tim...Who was relieved at the rescue of his dear friends...But...

He was still concerned...

And when he and the Walthrops were alone for a moment...Turned to Mrs. Walthrop...

"But then Miss...What about old Ed?..."

"Count Vitachi says he and Enri had nothing to do with his death, Tim..." BR told
him...Regarding him...

"But..." Tim began...

"You killed Ed, Timothy..." Buffy Rebecca told him gently, grabbing him suddenly by the right arm and bending him over swiftly before he could move to stop her, pressed a hidden button on his back just below his neck...

The same button she had found on Tim Jr. during her examination...And on Chesra...

A Vitachi trademark feature, no doubt...

Tim collapsed...Deactivated...

Walthrop sighed...So much for my protege...

***
She called the others back in...

"Well...we knew he had to be involved in some way...William sensed his emptiness the first day but wasn't sure...And ever since that lab logbook indicated there were two robots..."

What could have been more impressive to Dr. Walthrop, the junior "king" of cybernetics?...Tim bringing in Tim Jr...An interesting if rather basic robot...But followed by Ed, the true master, revealing Tim as the true masterpiece...

But...She and Walthrop had hoped...That Tim, robot or no, was innocent of the crime...

Examination of Tim revealed the answer...And proved young Ed had indeed been the genius the Vitachis had recognized when they sought to finish their "family"...

Unfortunately Tim's programming had been a little too good...
Intentionally...Ed had planned it as the icing on the cake...Improving on
the basic program for months...With the Boss, Dr. Vitachi's enthusiastic
approval...Though he'd not known that young Ed was hoping to impress
the famed Dr. Walthrop...And when Tim realized he was to be shown off...
Like a trick dog...His programming would follow a natural stimulus
response route...Display an emotional response...

Anger...

Edward had succeeded all too well...Training Tim to act...And programming him to believe that he was the cybernetist...Treating him like a friend...A brother...And Tim had responded just as he wanted him to...As close to human as one might reasonably expect to get with a program...Unfortunately Ed had chosen to run a final test of Tim's emotional response to the revelation of his true nature at the wrong moment and place...And a little too close...With a sharp instrument at hand...

The built-in antenna of the microwave transmitter controlling Tim Jr...Which Ed had forced Tim to extend from his body to demonstrate to him that he was...Just a robot...

The cops hadn't been quite as clumsy as she and Will had thought...The murder weapon had been immediately placed back in its original place undetected...Inside Tim...

But it needn't be a total loss...

"How can we let him get away with this?..." Oz asked...

"He has no sense of what he did...He doesn't even remember it...If you could call what he does remembering...It was automatically erased when he shut down for a bit after Ed died..."

"The only mistake Edward made was not to include a safety program to prevent Tim from harming humans..." she looked at Spike but did not say... "like me..."

"It shouldn't be difficult to program in a safety feature...Once that's done...There's no reason not to let him go on just as he is...A monument to his creator, really..."
She looked at the inspector...

"I think you can put this down under the heading of "industrial accident"...not murder..."

The inspector nodded, looking at Tim...

"Well, Dr. Walthrop?...If you really feel you can restrain it..."
He nodded...

"Remarkable...What you scientists can accomplish..." she smiled at them...And shook their hands...Except for BR...

Whom she nodded to...In true Holmesian fashion...And then hugged...

Little Llu beside her...And Oz...Who was due to return to Britain...Band tour to continue, he noted to BR...

And...He might just possibly consider more work with the Council...If Llu was willing to come out of retirement for his training...

"I don't think there's anything much waiting for me back home..." Oz noted... "Guess I've known that since last year..."

BR sighed and hugged him...Oz...

"We all love you, you know...You better come home to us..." she mock growled and paused...

"And she's included in that..." she finished...

He nodded...Grinning at her...Yeah...

No form of love is to be despised...

He shook hands with Will...A new experience for both of us Walthrop noted...

And in daylight no less...Oz returned...

***
They left...

Waving at the Walthrops...Now bound for Milan, their conference...and then...Germany...And finally, Greece...

A brief trip to see the sights...And check on the rehabilitation of a certain Goddess of Glory and Victory...Now retired...

And say hello to her charming brother...

***

Spike looked at Buffy Rebecca...Who was looking at poor Tim...Whom they would pack up for shipment to W/S Bionetics and Warren's skilled reprogramming...

Well...Maybe Tara's and Willow's skilled reprogramming...Warren wasn't too good with computer programming...

What have I done?...he thought...To her...And to me...

I've made her kill for me...And doubt herself...

One day...One day she may...Must...Go...Just to prove to herself that she can...

"Buffy Rebecca...You know..."

"I have a human soul, I know, sweetheart..." she smiled at him... "Thank God I died and had a chance to find out for sure, eh?...Guess things really did work out for the best with us..."

He nodded...But...

She patted his shoulder...He had had to have help...Neither she nor her sister were angry at him once they'd come to understand his plight...A drowning soul, grasping at the first straw to float his way in a century...

Buffy...She...They...Would do it again...Had done it again, she pointed out...For him...

Though it was always preferable to have a chance to consent...

But she knew the fear gnawing at him...

"I won't leave you, William..." she told him... "As long as you keep trying for me..."

She grinned...

"However I did not say I would never stake you...So...Tell Spike...To behave himself..."

There was a grim edge to her words...

He shook his head...

"What did I ever do..."

"You took the wrong turn in London over a century ago...And, believe me, Will...I thank God for it...Sorry as I am for what you...And Spike's victims...Had to go through..."

She hugged him and he went out to get some tools to deal with Tim...

***
She paused to look at the deactivated Tim...

You are a machine...she told him... I am a human being...

I'm not like you...She told him... I'm not...

***

Closing theme, Spike and Buffy Rebecca love theme (Ebbtide)
Go Back