PART EIGHT
Destiny


When Josiah finally woke up, he discovered that he was rather grateful to find the vampire looking over him was Spike, not William. The vampire was staring into the sunshine that was beyond the corner he was sequestered admiring the daylight like a man thirsting for water he could never drink. Josiah wanted to speak but the urge to do so was momentarily swept away by the pain that coursed through his body when it remembered the trauma it had been forced to endure. Josiah sucked in his breath audibly as he closed his eyes and tried to force the pain to recede to manageable levels. His slight reaction was not enough to escape the notice of a vampire with heightened senses and Spike’s immediately averted his eyes from the reach of the sunshine back to the man whose bed he had been sitting next to most of the night, keeping a vigil

"Settle down preacher," Spike warned gently as he saw Josiah’s face twist in pain. "You’re not doing yourself any bloody favors by getting worked up."

"I’m alive," Josiah grunted through his teeth, "I think I’ve used up all the favors I’ve got to manage that."

"Yeah," Spike nodded in understanding. He could smell the fresh blood even through the bandages, despite Josiah’s wounds being cleaned and treated. "I won’t argue with you there, it looked pretty rough."

"Buck?" Josiah turned an eye towards him and raised himself out of his bed, despite the pain of effort. "Is he alright?" The last thing Josiah remembered of the ladies man was his cries as the other vampires were attacking him. He prayed Buck had fared better than he.

"He’s alright," Spike quickly reassured him with a cool hand on the man’s shoulder. There was just enough strength behind his touch to indicate to Josiah that was as much movement as he was allowed from his bed. "Your healer patched him up right and proper. Just like you. Pretty handy bloke for someone who hasn’t spent a day in medical school."

Josiah let out a sigh of relief upon learning that Buck had survived the night. There was an instant there when Buck was genuinely fearful that he might not. "I’m glad to hear that."

"I take it Angelus did this to you." It was not a question and it was spoken with such cold fury that for a moment Josiah might have been forgiven for thinking that it was Chris Larabee that uttered the question.

"Yeah," Josiah answered after awhile, his stomach knotting at the memory of pain and the fear he had felt. Even though he had held up bravely against the Master vampire, he could not deny that he had been frightened for his immortal soul throughout the entire ordeal. If Angelus had threatened to turn him, Josiah was not certain he would not have succumbed to save himself. It was fortunate that William had made his play when he had. Josiah did not know how much longer he could have prevailed.

"Bastard," Spike hissed under his breath. "You have any idea how lucky you are to be alive?"

"I got some idea," Josiah met his gaze. "He alive in your time?"

"Yeah," Spike nodded. "But if it makes you feel any better, the pillock gets his soul back in about 20 years. Put a right stop on his murdering and puts him on the road to redemption for the next 100 years. Spends most of it trying to make up for all the death he caused."

"I guess everyone has to pay penance some time," the preacher mused taking in that bit of news.

"I’d prefer him a pile of ashes myself but that will do for now," Spike replied.

"I’m glad to see you’re still around," Josiah remarked as he relaxed into the soft mattress of his bed, determined to remain as still as possible so the pain would subside to tolerable levels. "You gave me the impression that you might not be."

Spike shifted uncomfortably in his chair, unhappy that Josiah had brought up that subject. A part of him still was uncertain whether or not it might have been the best thing all around if he had allowed himself to die as intended. Spike had no doubt that it was Josiah who sent Buffy after him and Spike did not know if he ought to be grateful or not. There was something overwhelmingly comfortable about disappearing into nothingness, to be free of this ache for Buffy that would never go away even if she continued to have sex with him. To Buffy, it was just sex, an exchange of pleasure that meant nothing. To him, it was a physical expression of his deep abiding love for her. The one was not equal to the other and he did not know how long he could continue to go on with her feeling less for him than she would feel for any stranger.

"I’m belong to her," Spike said quietly. "Even if she doesn’t want me."

"It might not always be that way." Josiah reminded, seeing an agony more intense than his present discomfort, appear in Spike’s expression.

"I have to decide soon," Spike swallowed thickly. "I can’t go on this way."

"I know," Josiah said sympathetically. "I wish I knew what to say."

A small smile crossed Spike’s lips, "the listening helped."

"I used to be pretty good at it," Josiah muttered returning the effort with one of his own.

"Don’t say?" The vampire crooked a brow at him before adding, "I’m sorry about all this."

"Not your fault," Josiah retorted giving him a look. "You weren’t the one who did this to me."

"I had a part in it," he confessed. "If it wasn’t for me, none of this would have happened."

"You were trying to help her," Josiah replied firmly with what strength he had. "You shouldn’t have to be sorry because an act of kindness was repaid with vengeance."

"You’re bloody forgiving for a man of the cloth," Spike pointed out. "Preachers back in my day weren’t so friendly, always raining fire and brimstone and filling up the coffers at the same time. Never had much time for it when they were preaching."

"I’ve been in need of forgiveness myself," Josiah admitted. "I won’t cast the first stone, not from my glass house."

"Josiah!" Nathan voice filled the room with exuberance. "Thank Chris you’re awake, now I can stop talking to him." The healer gave Spike a look of mischief. "I never thought I’d say this but he’s even more annoying than Buck."

"Now that’s harsh!" Buck Wilmington croaked as he stood by the doorway. The tall man had a bandaged wrapped around his throat and appeared weak. Spike immediately got off his chair and gestured at Buck to plant himself into it. Once again giving the ladies man a fierce enough stare to ensure he was to be obeyed on this point.

"He’s just angry because I said he was pretty," Spike grinned at Nathan.

"Well you are kind of," Buck teased. Not even a near fatal injury was enough to keep Buck Wilmington from remaining in bed once he heard Josiah had returned to the land of living.

Nathan had appraised him of what had happened to the preacher since he was injured and secretly Buck cursed his own stupidity for allowing himself to be swayed by Darla. Josiah was alive, no thanks to him and the least Buck could do was tell the preacher to his face, how grateful Buck was to see him in one piece. In truth, he had suffered much worse injuries in his time. When he had been hurt in the Seminole village, he had managed to ride all the way back to Four Corner, even though that crazy Confederate colonel had come damn near to spilling his guts all over the ground.

"It ain’t wise to mess with your healer," Nathan pointed out as he went to Josiah and made a perfunctory examination of the man.

"Then it’s a good thing I’m not hurt," Spike flashed him a devilish smile. "That means we can spend so much more quality time together."

"Don’t bet on it," Nathan glanced over his shoulder. "Buffy left me Mr. Pointy."

"Please tell me that’s a stake," Josiah drawled and sent Buck into a chortling fit, something which the man regretted doing because his throat was still rather tender.

"She named her stake?" Buck managed to say.

"The Slayer’s got all sorts of strange habits. Sleeps with something called Mr. Gordo too." Spike added and knew the Slayer would be thrilled to learn that he had shared that with these men.

"Mr Gordo?" Nathan was almost afraid to ask.

"It’s a doll." Spike informed dutifully.

"She a strange little girl," Buck confessed shaking his head.

"You have no idea," Spike sighed. "Not a bleeding one."

+ + + + + + +

Time was running out for them and they both knew it. The future that had seemed so distant when this had all begun had suddenly hastened its pace and now they were faced with it, with nowhere to turn. At first Vin did not think it was possible to care for someone in so short a space of time but the truth was, he was lost in the feeling long before he realized the extent of his affections. Despite his usually serene and unflappable manner, Vin ached inwardly knowing that anything between them could only end in tragedy. She was not of his world and he could not even begin to understand hers. Still with everything reaching an endgame of sorts, most likely tonight, Vin suddenly felt urgency pressing against his chest, each time he tried to draw breathe. If everything went according to plan tonight as Chris explained it, then the danger to Ezra and the Slayer would end and the visitors from the future would return home.

As they rode back to Four Corners with the sun climbing across the sky towards noon, Vin sensed that Tara too thought deeply about their unfortunate situation. He knew she cared. He could tell by the corresponding expression of feeling whenever he stared at her that she did. However, there was no denying the impossibility of any life together. What could he offer her here? He was a man with a price on his head, knowing freedom because Judge Travis who had appointed him one of the seven lawmen to Four Corners, chose to ignore his situation. Unfortunately, the Judge could not secure his freedom and while his friends were not bothered by the charge of murder because they knew him to be innocent, the same could not be said for the rest of them. Vin lived with the uncomfortable notion that one day, his fragile existence would come to a crashing end.

Despite all his rationalization, he still did not want to imagine the morning he woke and knew that Tara was gone.

The ride home had consisted of lively chatter, with Buffy and Ezra engaging in conversation Judging by the chagrin on the gambler’s face, it appeared that the young woman had inherited her ancestor’s ability to annoy and justice had a sense of humor, since it was Ezra she chose to vex. Chris and Mary on the other hand were talking quietly and seemed as if they had reached a watershed moment in their relationship. It was just as well since Vin did not think he could take much more of their quarrelling and would have likely hog tied them together in order to inspire the mating process. Vin supposed with everything that had transpired these past few days, even someone as stubborn as Chris Larabee had to see that the future was closer than he thought and it was time to start living for it, instead of existing as it had been since his family’s demise.

"Vin," Tara spoke softly in that endearing way that he had come to appreciate so much since meeting her. "We have to talk."

Vin sucked in his breath, knowing that this was probably the conversation he had been dreading since learning of the possible solution to their troubles with the vampires plaguing Four Corners. "I reckon we do."

Tara wished she could ignore the aching in her heart each time she looked at Vin and knew that very soon, she would never see him again. In her life, there had not been many people with whom she had a great affinity, even less than she cared for as she had come to do for him. Her natural shyness made it difficult to reach out to people and yet since meeting him, it was as if they had known each other forever. However, he knew as well as she that they had no future together and the pain reflected in his eyes as she met his gaze.

"I like you a lot," she said first, needing to get that off her chest so that there was no mistaking the purpose of this discussion.

"I like you too," he confessed and Tara could tell that it took a lot for the tracker to make even that small admission. Unlike the others whose personalities were easy to decipher, Vin was rarely vocal enough to give anyone a fleeting glimpse into his psyche.

"If the spell works tonight, we’ll be going home." She met his blue eyes sadly.

"I know," he nodded. "I wish it wasn’t that way."

"Me too," she replied. "But it’s not possible."

"What if you stayed?" He found himself asking even though logically he knew that it was simply impossible.

"I can’t," she blurted out on first impulse. However, less than a split second after the words had left her lips, she was suddenly struck with the notion of whether or not it was as impossible as she thought, especially when she had been so obtuse about the subject to not have considered it beyond her initial response. "At least I don’t think I can."

"Are you sure?" Vin asked, his eyes full of hope that there might be a way for them to be together.

"I don’t know," Tara stared back at him, never realizing until this moment just how much she wanted to stay and be with him. "I mean if we fix things, I may not even exist."

Vin froze and met her eyes with growing tension. "What do you mean?"

"If we change things, neither me or Giles will exist. The Tara and Giles that Buffy remembers will the ones who remain."

"Then why go back?" Vin demanded, unable to wrap his mind around the whole concept of erasing time lines but any threat to this Tara, the one he cared about inspired his full attention.

"Because I can’t stay here," she insisted weakly. She wanted to badly but she would not commit herself on something as uncertain and as fragile as her emotions.

Vin swallowed, not wishing to say more than he had to but having no choice in the matter because they were at a watershed moment in their relationship and the words to make her stay where inside him, he needed the courage to speak them out loud. "You can," he looked at her unable to believe that he was saying this because it was insane but then everything about the last few days had been a lesson in insanity and who could blame him if he had learnt well. "You can stay with me."

Her eyes widened in surprise. Perhaps because she had never really expected him to say it even though it was implied in every look he gave her. "With you?"

"You can stay with me for awhile," he offered, finding more courage and more answers now that he had started down this course. "You don’t have to decide anything right away. We could just be together for a while. I could take care of you."

Tara did not know what to say. Actually she did know what her heart wanted to say but her mind was still reeling from the offer and the impossibility of what he asked. "I have to think about this," she stammered. "I don’t even know if it can be done."

"Don’t make excuses," he said firmly and suddenly, she was reminded of why he held such presence over the others in Larabee’s absence. "What do you want to do?"

Her eyes glistened with her answer and her heart brimmed with hope. She did not have to speak it.

He just knew.

+ + + + + + +

Upon arriving at Four Corners, the group broke up in order to get some rest. There would be much to do tonight, especially if they were going to play their endgame with Angelus and his family. Even though Buffy knew she should get some rest, she could not fall asleep. Her mind was too filled with Spike and the situation she now found herself in. Mary and Tara had taken the opportunity to catch up on some sleep but neither of them was the Slayer. Instead, Buffy liberated the long cloak that Mary had worn during her nocturne at Chris Larabee’s shack, from the coat rack and wrapped it around herself so she would look a little respectable in comparison to the folk of Four Corners.

Stepping out into the sunshine made the problems of the night feel so far away. She looked up to the sky and felt her face bathed in the warm of the day and smiled with pleasure because here, she was truly safe. No vampires in this heat, she smiled as she walked into the sunlight, relishing the feel of it against her skin. The town of Four Corners was like another planet in comparison to Sunnydale. Even though she had known that she was in the Old West, the reality of it did not hit her until she walked the streets of the small frontier town. She was reminded of those westerns Xander would make her and watch and until now, she was certain that the ‘real’ West’s interpretation in those films was laced with Hollywood make believe. Now that she saw it, she knew the picture perfect vision of the movies was merely a one-dimensional showing of a world devoid with smells, colors and atmosphere. Buzzing flies brought out by the heat and the manure left behind by horses, not to mention the overwhelming presence of dust drove home the fact that this was not some nostalgic time where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. Of course in this instance, the good guys definitely wore black if Chris Larabee was any indication.

As she walked down the boardwalk, she noted that she caught the stares of some of the townsfolk even if her clothes were hidden by Mary’s cloak. Buffy soon came to the realization that in a small town where everyone knew everybody, the presence of a stranger in their midst was bound to raise a few curious glances. In Sunnydale, there was no such difficult because for a small town, it had none of the earmarks of a normal Californian community, not when it existed above the Hellmouth. No one paid much attention to the faces that came and went in Sunnydale because more often than not, it was safer to be oblivious and curiosity usually led to some pretty lethal consequences. However, here in Four Corners, there was none of that indifference and Buffy wondered if it was such a bad thing to live in this world.

"Aren’t you supposed to be getting some rest?" Chris Larabee’s voice suddenly emerged from behind her.

Buffy looked over her shoulder and saw the gunslinger had just left the saloon she had just walked past during her travels around Four Corners. "At least I’m not drinking." She pointed out with a teasing smile

Chris fell into stride with the young woman, wondering what she was doing out on her own. "Does Mary know you’re out?"

"She and Tara are getting some zeds," she remarked nonchalantly as she continued her sightseeing tour of the town. "I decided to skip out and take the tour."

Chris assumed that zeds meant sleep. "I kind of thought after the night we had you’d be doing the same."

"Not sleepy yet," Buffy retorted. "Benefit of slayerness is the fact that I don’t tire easily. I’ll keel soon enough, just wanted to look around first."

"Not much to see," Chris pointed out. "Kind of dull actually."

"Says the man who spent most of the night fighting vampires," Buffy retorted with a little smile. "I kind of thought you’d like the peace and quiet."

"I don’t want any peace and quiet until this is all done," Chris said tautly. "I’ll relax then."

"Gee, you’re grouchy guy aren’t you?"

Chris looked at her with a brow cocked; "you don’t the half of it little girl."

"Little girl?" The slayer stared back at him. "Those are fighting words, Tex."

"Tex?" Chris drawled with mischief because something about Buffy allowed him to be himself, without having to be the one in charge. He supposed because on some instinct level they were equals in more ways than one. They were both dominant members of their packs and that kind of equality was not something they experience often. "Shot a guy who called me that once, never done it to a girl but that don’t mean I wouldn’t be willing to try." He offered her a menacing smile.

"I never kicked cowboy butt either so I guess we’re even." She battered her eyes at him with innocence in direct contradiction to his dark look.

Chris chuckled and Buffy found the sound rather strange coming from him. In that way, he was a lot like Spike, other than the obvious fact that they both dressed from the same school of fashion. Spike did not laugh much. He teased and he sniggered but he did not really laugh. It was strange how she had suddenly noticed that. Would Spike have been like Chris if he had not been a vampire? Buffy shrugged at the thought because she never really wondered about Spike as a human being. It was mostly because she knew him as nothing else. However, she had pondered on numerous occasions of what it must have been like to know Angel as a human. She had never had the question cross her mind about Spike even though she was sharing a far more intimate relationship with him then she had ever experienced with Angel.

"That’s a nice family you got there," she found herself saying to him.

Chris stopped laughing and nodded in agreement and warm affection. "Yeah they’re something. You got something like that at home, other than Spike?"

Buffy frowned at the mention of the vampire’s name. "I do," she answered, suddenly wishing she could share all this with the rest of the Scoobies, particularly Willow and Xander. They had been such a big part of her life since coming to Sunnydale that it felt odd to be alone. "I miss them," she confessed.

Chris could appreciate the sentiment; never imagining when he had first came to Four Corners that he would become so attached to the six men who were like brothers to him now. "They do get under your skin when you’re not looking."

"Like that pretty lady you keep making moon eyes at?" Buffy teased with a smile.

Chris stiffened. "That’s none of your business," he said brusquely.

"Defensive much?" She retorted and continued on the subject, fearing nothing. "I mean it’s so obvious you dig her."

"What?" He crinkled his brow at the term.

"You LIKE her," she repeated herself.

"It is not," he replied uncomfortably, having no desire to discuss something so personal with a stranger. He did not care who she was. And he was not obvious.

"Its alright to like her," Buffy rolled her eyes, never having seen a worse case of denial in her life. "Might even do you some good. You’re way too intense."

"I might say the same for you and Spike," Chris replied, capable of giving as good as he got.

"Spike is not human. He’s a vampire." Buffy responded with a voice that could cut stone.

"Makes it easier for you to push him away thinking that doesn’t it?" Chris replied, not about to relent. He liked Spike and he could see that the vampire was hopelessly lost. He could tell that Buffy’s indifference to Spike’s feelings hurt the vampire even if he was too proud to admit it.

"Since when was this about me?" She pouted.

"Since you stuck your nose in my business," Chris pointed out triumphantly.

"Consider it out then," Buffy sighed not wanting to talk Spike to anyone.

"Coward," he accused with a hint of a smile.

Buffy was about to respond when she caught sight of a man and woman further ahead on the boardwalk. The man was clutching the woman by the elbow and escorting her rather roughly towards the nearby saloon. Obviously, she was not inclined to go because she struggled out of his grip. However her freedom was fleeting. Within seconds he had caught up with her and in retaliation for her defiance, struck her clean across the jaw in full view of everyone on the street. Chris was already on his way to make his displeasure known when Buffy took off first ahead of him.

"Buffy!" Chris called out but she was not listening. Hell, he thought to himself.

Buffy arrived as the woman was weeping into her hands, her face hidden in embarrassment and fear as the man shouted at her and resumed his grip on her elbow. "You’re my girl Jenny! Don’t you forget it!"

"Hey, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?" Buffy tore his hand from her and stepped in between them. She felt her anger bubbling at the shattered slump of the woman’s shoulders, like she was defeated in spirit not just body.

"Stay out my business little lady," the man warned, not at all taking the small blond girl seriously. "Or you’ll get what I’m giving her."

"Ooh," Buffy cried out tauntingly, holding her hands to her chest as if she were mortally wounded by his barb, "the big bad man is going to hurt me." Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him and noted that the woman whom she was trying to rescue was now looking on at the situation in astonishment.

"Miss, you don’t want to get involved in this…," she started to say, her lips quivering as she spoke.

"Shut up!" the man barked. "Shut your mouth! I can deal with this myself."

With that he turned to Buffy and raised his hand to strike. The blow never connected with Buffy’s face for the Slayer’s hand intercepted his fist and caught it without much effort. Her other hand gripped his arm and Buffy flipped him unceremoniously to the ground. He let out an indignant cry of shock and pain as he slammed hard on the boardwalk, with her only reaction being to step back as he unsettled the dust that covered the floor. A crowd of people had paused to look at the petite young woman who had shown quite clearly that looks and size were no way to judge a person.

"You shouldn’t let this guy treat you like this," Buffy said to the woman.

"I don’t!" The woman responded in frustration. "I’ve been working in the saloon and he seems to think that he’s my beau!"

"Is that right?" Chris Larabee stepped in and hauled the man to his feet. The gunslinger had allowed the Slayer to handle things until this point, mostly because he enjoyed seeing how she took care of things when she was not fighting vampires that is. Since his curiosity in that regard was more or less satisfied, Chris turned his attention to the man who would have been handed his head if it had been Buck who had witnessed his brutality. Not that he was in much better luck because Chris did not think too kindly to men who raised their hands to a woman either. Although Buffy’s intervention was more of a lesson and an injury to his pride then anything Chris could do to him.

"Bitch!" The man hissed at both Buffy and the object of his unwanted affections.

"Leave," Chris ordered with a voice colder than ice.

"You can’t make me!" He shouted defiantly.

Chris turned the infamous Larabee glare in his direction and shot him a look that would have melted the resolve of even the bravest men. "You think so?" Chris asked so menacingly that the skin on Buffy’s hair stood on end. "Better be sure."

Buffy saw the man shudder in reaction to Chris’ treat and she took could feel the darkness emanating off him. Spike said that people had darkness in them. In some it was so slight that it was seldom noticeable. Obviously it was not the case for Chris Larabee or herself for that matter. The bystanders watching the altercation between the four people held their breaths in anticipation of what would happen next. There was also something else in their eyes as they watched on, an unfailing expression of nothing less than unswerving faith in the dark clad gunslinger. Without doubt, they believed Chris was capable of protecting them from anything. If the look in his eyes was any indication of how he dealt with his enemies, Buffy could well believe it.

"I didn’t want her anyway!" The man spat at her and pulled away from Chris, the naked desire to be well away from the gunslinger as he departed.

"You okay?" Chris turned to the woman.

"Yes," she nodded wiping her tears and staring at them both gratefully. "Thank you so much."

"Come see me if you have any more trouble with him," Chris instructed her.

The woman offered them a little smile of thanks before she went on her way, understandably wanting to be as far away from the scene as possible, not to mention the curious eyes of the community at large. With the commotion more or less over, the bystanders evaporated into the street, returning to their own affairs, even though it was obvious that Buffy had inspired their curiosity by their lingering looks in her direction as they departed. Once they were alone, Chris turned to the young Slayer.

"Wow," Buffy replied, clearly impressed by how he had sent the enemy scurrying without raising a hand. "You sure are the Big Bad."

Chris chose to ignore her quip and gave her a hard stare before remarking, "what part of low profile did you not get?"

+ + + + + + +

There was a finality about tonight that seemed to seep into all their bones when the night descended upon the town. Within her house, Mary Travis awaited with abated breath for the night’s events to unfold while she kept Buck Wilmington and Josiah Sanchez under her care. While the former had complained bitterly about not being allowed to participate in the final showdown with the vampires led by Angelus, he was forced to begrudgingly admit that his injury made him a liability if her were allowed to join them. Josiah had made no such arguments because he was sensible enough to know that he was in no conditions to fight. Mary had bid Chris goodbye, mindful that the lawmen would not doubt be keeping her home under close surveillance as they waited for Angelus to appear. He had said little as they faced each other but she saw the warmth and concern in his eyes and words were not needed after that.

Chris and Vin sat on top of the granary for that was the highest structure in Four Corners and it gave them a sweeping view of the town’s boundaries. No one would be able to sneak into town without them knowing about it. Chris knew that Angelus would be back tonight. The vampire was probably rather mystified as to why none of the seven or the slayer had come after them upon learning the whereabouts of their lair. Angelus struck him as one who would make a pre-emptive strike. He was too smart and too arrogant to wait around for a bunch of humans to come finish them off. No, they would be here tonight. Of this Chris had no doubt.

Vin was silently watching the terrain, using the same stealth he employed when he was tracking buffalo. The sharpshooter kept his keen eye on any sign of movement and remained still at the edge of the roof, saying little. Chris could tell even without Vin saying it that the outcome of tonight weighed heavily on his best friend’s mind. Inwardly, Chris ached for his friend because he knew that Vin had lost his heart to the sweet young woman from the future.

"You okay?" Chris found himself asking.

"I’m fine," Vin said shortly in a tone that indicated that he was far from it but was too strong to let it show.

"I’m sorry about how its gonna go Vin," Chris answered. "I wish it were different."

Vin’s gaze shifted slightly from his surveillance and touched the gunslinger’s, "I know but it ain’t so that’s all there is to it."

Chris wanted to speak but the opportunity to do so was lost when Vin’s eyes shifted quickly to the distance once more. "Someone’s coming." He gestured dead ahead.

Chris came up along side him and stared out into the direction of Vin’s stare. A group of horses were thundering towards town, kicking up a cloud of dust with the dark hardtop carriage they were pulling Vin and Chris exchanged a brief glance but they both came to the same conclusion.

Angelus was here.

+ + + + + + +

"Chris just gave the signal!" Nathan cried out running back into Josiah’s church.

"Are you sure?" Tara stammered as she sat in her circle, candles surrounding her with other talismans she had brought from the future laid out in accordance with the ritual she needed to perform. At Nathan’s announcement, Giles and JD checked their weapons, being stakes and holy water since it was conceivable that the four vampires would have brought minions with them.

"Pretty sure ma’am," Nathan responded as the healer checked for the stakes and knives he carried across his back in a neat leather holster.

"We do as Chris says," Giles looked at them all. "We stay here and wait for him to come to us."

"Do you think it will work?" JD asked a little anxiously.

"It will," Giles replied with more confidence then he actually felt. "Buffy and Spike will see to it that it does."

"I hope you’re right," Ezra remarked, silent until now because he hated the fact that he was trapped in these hallowed walls unable to fight because he was deemed too important to do so. At the moment, he felt far from that and more like a coward. It was not a feeling he detested intensely. He had his fill of running and hiding since coming to Four Corners. "It would not please me to see her hurt."

"She won’t be," Giles gave the man a look of empathy because he understood Ezra’s anxieties all too well. Even though he did not share the blood connection that the gambler did and he had no memory of being Buffy’s watcher, he was her Watcher in every sense of the word. He had no doubt that she had made his other self infinitely proud because he felt proud at how strong she had become and felt gratified to know that he had some part in all that.

"This had better work," Ezra retorted, not about to be consoled. "I do not plan on running from these creatures for the rest of my existence and I will not allow those who come after me to suffer the same nightmare."

"It will work," Tara spoke up silencing all the men in the room. "I will make it work."

The young woman seemed extremely confident in that statement alone but had no further opportunity to speak because the sound of glass shattered the quiet in the room. Tara let out a short scream as a vampire that none of them had seen, landed on the floor of the room. His tumultuous arrival was followed by the bolted door the church heaving with the power of forced entry. The wooden bolt across the entrance held the door in place but would not do so for long. Already it was jumping out of its catch, propelling both Nathan and Giles to run forward to reinforce the barricade.

The vampire landed right in front of Ezra and hissed at him, recognizing the gambler for who he was. As he stepped towards Ezra, the southerner held his ground not moving.

"EZRA!" Tara shouted. "MOVE!"

Ezra did not. Instead he waited until the vampire was close enough. The creature approached him fearlessly, seeing little threat in the human. In life he might have been a Mexican but not much remained of that when it snarled at Ezra, bearing fangs ready to tear out the southerner’s throat. Instinct made Ezra want to run but he knew that he had hold his ground, at least until the vampire had closed the distance between them. He noted that JD was running towards him but Ezra did not pay the younger man too much mind, instead he produced the bottle of holy water in his burgundy coat and sprayed its contacts across the creatures face. The splash of fluid against the vampire’s skin caused it to howl in fury as the holy water sizzled into his skin. Taking advantage of his disorientation, this time it was Ezra closing in and instead of his usual Remington, the weapon of choice was a sharpened wooden stake. Plunging it into the vampire’s chest, the creature’s eyes widened in fury and pain before his entire body exploded into a cloud of dust.

Ezra stepped back, breathing hard as he allowed his fear to abate. It was the first time he had killed one of these things and he was still rather overwhelmed by it all.

"Jesus Ezra!" JD scolded. "How long were you gonna wait to do something! That thing could have killed you!"

"I had it all under control," Ezra said smoothly even though he was a series of quivering nerves under his buttoned up shirt.

"Any more under control and it would have been fatal," JD retorted. However, there was no further opportunity for reproach because another was soon clambering through the window, followed by others. Tara screamed in fright at their appearance.

"We need to barricade the window!" Ezra cried out, hurrying to one of the pews in Josiah’s church. "JD help me!"

JD wasted no time in aiding Ezra with the length of wooden seating, using it to force the vampire that was attempting to climb into the church out the window again. However, as a barricade it was insufficient and while they had vanquished the immediate threat, it did not take long for the vampires to recoup to make another attempt at penetrating their defenses. The cloves of garlic hanging on the window did little to deter them other than to force the creatures into giving the vegetable a wide berth. Unfortunately, their determination to reach Ezra was overriding their natural fear and they continued to slam against the doors and the makeshift barrier, Ezra and JD had erected against the window.

"That’s not going to keep them out for too long," Nathan remarked as they were surrounded by the sounds of vampires seeking entry into their haven.

"It will have to do," Giles said grimly, his hand gripped tightly around his stake. "We have to hold them off until Buffy can bring Angelus here."

Giles hoped that it was easier said then done.

Continue

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