William and Buffy left as soon as the sun set. Despite Giles' complaints they went alone.
Only silence passed between them as they made their way to the abandoned building where the Master and Xander were.
"This is it," Buffy said softly. She was on edge, angry at Xander, but worried for him. She would save him or die trying.
William didn't wish to risk his neck out for Buffy's doughy pal, but if Buffy were going in, he would go along to keep her safe.
They stopped outsider the house and crouched at the bushes that bordered part of the yard.
"So," William whispered, "we sneak in?"
Buffy shook her head. "I've always preferred a dramatic entrance."
She lunged forward and ran to the door and leapt, executing a flying side kick that shattered the door frame. The door collapsed inward, and Buffy recovered her balance. Straightening her clothes, she sauntered in the entrance with William close behind.
A trio of minions shot from hiding and attacked. Buffy swiftly drew a stake from her belt and stabbed the closest one. She threw a forward kick through the dust that knocked the second one back several feet.
William jumped on the third, missing with a kick but following through with a punch that landed with a satisfying smack against his jaw. His opponent staggered, and William was about to attack when Buffy staked him from behind. She withdrew the stake and flung it at the second minion. The two burst into dust clouds simultaneously.
Without a word Buffy strode forward.
"Poetry in motion," William murmured as he followed.
They went down the main hall, searching each room together. After the first few Buffy said, "Maybe we should split up."
"Why, what'd I do?" he protested. Then, "Oh. You mean to search."
"You go upstairs," she ordered, "and I'll continue down here."
Not willing to leave her unguarded, William opened his mouth to argue.
"No argument, go. You find Xander, get him out of here quick. I have to kill the Master again."
He nodded, feeling that no reasoning would change Buffy's mind. As he turned to go she gripped his forearm. William turned to her, and their eyes met.
No words passed between them for what seemed a long moment. Buffy knew that if she died, there was something she wanted to tell William, but … nothing in word form popped into her head.
She gave up. "Thank you," she whispered, and let go.
William kept his eyes on her as he left the room, then he bounded for the stairs. In his imagination, he could almost hear her say, "I love you."
"Me too," he whispered.
William followed his instincts. His inner demon could sense the Master, therefore if he could plumb that demon maybe he could divine his location. As he trotted upstairs he let his mind clear, so that the demon voice could guide him with wordless words.
Darcy faced her sire, her eyes cast respectfully, lovingly on his form. "What will we do with the Slayer, Lord?"
The Master waved a dismissive hand. "I know she will come after me herself. When she faces me again, I will weave a web of self-doubt in her that will paralyze. It shall be easy to kill her, once and for all. And this time –" he picked a rose from the vase on the table – "I'll make sure no one can ever hope to revive the bitch."
William heard this while paused outside the master's chamber. He stamped in as he voiced this angry threat, and stopped with arms akimbo, puffing his chest out.
"You seem to have done the math, old Muster, but you left a variable out of the equation."
Darcy's face registered alarm. Her eyes shot from William to her master. The ancient vampire himself did not lose his look of contemptuous superiority.
"William," he purred in an unconcerned tone, "I felt certain you were dead."
If he thought that, William mused, then the Master probably had no idea his soul was returned. Maybe that fact could be turned to his advantage. Just how, he had no idea. I'm a poet, William told himself, not a warrior.
He walked to a comfortable looking chair and sat, then favored the two with an exaggerated smile. "You two want Buffy dead, I get it. But I'm in the picture too, and you can't ignore me."
Master crossed the room to an elaborately scrolled credenza and picked up a decanter. He pulled two crystalline glasses from a nook and poured.
"You're not the only one who can kill a slayer," he said with a crooked smile.
William didn't know what to say to that.
Darcy chimed in. "So, you're Spike? The one who killed two slayers?"
Why not. "Two and counting," William replied. He held up a palm. "No drink for me."
Master snorted from his nose. "I am not offering." He motioned for Darcy to come forward, and she took the second glass, filled to the brim with red liquid. Wine mixed with blood, William guessed from the aroma his sensitive nose picked up.
"Do you know where the Slayer is?" the Master asked, then drank.
"Of course. Right now she's searching for her friend. Do you know where he is?"
The Master set the glass down. William could see why his jowls were stained red; the drink now coated the area around his mouth, and it bothered him that the old vamp didn't wipe it off, lick it – something.
"The young man is here, and safe. And so, if what you say is true, the Slayer must be here as well."
William nodded. "Maybe she's downstairs, then. Maybe she's just waiting for you to come down."
The Master grinned, and his face resembled a death mask. "I should go down and oblige her. Must not keep a lady waiting."
William felt in his jacket pocket for one of his stakes. The tip came reassuringly between his fingers. "She can wait." He withdrew the stake meaningfully.
Master's grin did not waver. "I sensed you were against me. Are you working with her?"
"I'm disappointed, William. I will have to dispose of you, you know."
"I am with her, yes. And you won't touch a hair on her head. I swear that." He got to his feet, adjusting the stake in his fist.
The grin finally disappeared. "You can't stop me, William. Because I shall kill you first."
From the corner of his eye William saw Darcy bolt toward him. He made a move to lunge away then abruptly ducked toward her, and talons that might have shredded his throat just whipped the air over his head. He threw a shoulder into her and flung her several feet. She hit the chair and lost her footing. As she dropped the Master was on William in a flash. Without hesitation he rammed the stake at the Master's breast. The hands that snatched his forearm were like giant eagle claws. They compressed even his flesh and bone, and the nails dug deep, sending trails of fiery pain through his arm. William punched the Master's temple with his free fist. He landed once, twice, then the Master countered by thrusting a hand against William's side. He twisted the hand, and the horrible pain came as the Master gouged his way into William's body.
William howled in agony, and he felt his body go limp. The Master ripped his hand out. The thick odor of blood came in a huge wave to William's senses, which went teetering to the edge of blackness.
He was thrown across the room and hit the wall hard. Ribs cracked, and he tumbled to the floor.
"Master! Let me finish him?" Darcy hissed.
"Be my guest.." The Master started toward the door.
William clutched desperately at his body, as if trying to stop the flowing blood.
Darcy went for him on all fours, eyes alight and teeth bared in a feral snarl. She got near and soared over him, levered into the air by William's feet and fists. She landed nimbly, ready for another strike. But something was wrong.
She looked down. The end of a stake was jutting from her chest.
"Masterrr –" her eyes turned pleadingly to her beloved, who turned back to see Darcy poof into a cloud of dust.William collapsed, the effort too much. Great gouts of blood emptied from the wound in his side. The Master roared and went for William.
"You killed my child!" he roared. Grasping William's jacket by the lapels, he picked him off the floor as though he were a doll. Very deliberately, the Master slashed his face with a strike of his claws.
"William!" Buffy cried
The Master swung around. The Slayer was in the room, Xander by her side, leaning weakly against the wall. He tossed William to the floor and drew his foot back.
Buffy dropped into a fighting crouch. "Kick him and you lose the foot."
"Good," Master growled, and his foot thudded mercilessly into William's side.
Buffy leapt at him, throwing staccato kicks which he blocked with difficulty. She hit the floor spinning and knocked the feet out from under the Master, who fell back on the bed but recovered instantly.
"I shall feast on –" the Master began threateningly. Buffy shut him up with a double kick to crotch and teeth. A fang shattered. She hopped to one side and drove a heel into the big vampire's knee. As he sagged she punched his face and head with a lightning five punch combination that broke his nose.
Then she got too close. The Master got his hands on her, and his claws locked the grip so Buffy could not twist or fight her way loose. She tried to thumb his eyes, but he shook her like a rag doll and she cried out from the pain.
"When I'm done eating your throat out," he spat, "I'll bring you back. You will remain my loyal slave over a hundred centuries."
He dropped his face to Buffy's neck, his remaining fang poised to rend her delicate flesh.
He fell back. Xander gripped the back of the Master's leather overshirt, and he plunged a stake into his back. The stake stopped short of the Master's shriveled heart, and as he turned around to deal with the puny human, he had trouble withdrawing his claws from Buffy. He shook her off and raised a claw that would decapitate the shrinking Xander. William pushed inbetween them, groaning as his arm and shoulder took the blow instead. Still he managed to use his other hand to pull the stake from Master's back. Master threw a glance of disbelief at the critically wounded vampire. He put up an arm to deflect whatever weak attack William could make with the stake, dropping Xander to the floor.
William knew the best thrust he could manage would be easily blocked. He started a thrust anyway, then drew his thrust up and tossed the stake over the Master's head. The ancient vampire sensed danger and tried to move, but Xander clutched his legs in a death-grip.
"What? No!" the master roared, and he felt Buffy the Vampire Slayer ram the wooden stake deep and square into his withered, evil heart.
"Fools," he said, then realized he was dead. His formidable being, his eternal form, his durable and evil body disintegrated into unctuous clouds of dust and ash.
Buffy stomped her foot on the lumps of ash that gathered on the floor.
Xander and William exchanged a glance as they lay together in the remains of their vanquished opponents. Xander lifted his eyebrows on his forehead, twice.
William smiled weakly and dropped his head to his palm.
Buffy dropped down between them. She winced, feeling the wounds the master's talons had made.
"I need to lay down," she said. Xander nodded, turned and lay back with his eyes closed.
William pulled back, his arm extended. Buffy let herself droop, and rested her head on William's bicep.
"Just a minute to rest," Buffy sighed.
Much later, Rufus entered in search of the Master. He saw the mess left by the battle in the Master's chamber and suspected the Slayer had been there.
"I better see some damn bodies," he grumbled.
He stopped dead, staring at the ashes strewn across the floor.
"Well. So much for his help."