Little was said about the errand upon which Josiah had sent Buffy in his injured state. The concern when the two finally returned to the lawmen was to make a hasty return to Chris’ shack. Vin had already departed with Josiah so he could be treated for his massive injuries. Neither Buffy nor Spike spoke to each other when they rode back and the atmosphere in general was thick with tension. However, despite the silence, the riders were replete with their own thoughts. Chris was concerned about Josiah but his thought centered primarily on what was to be done about this situation. How he could continue to protect an enemy that they could not kill for fear of protecting some future timeline? Somehow, they had to come up with a different way of dealing with these vampires since their present tactics were getting them nowhere. They had to find a way to drive the demons from Four Corners and from Ezra permanently.

Chris glanced sideways at Vin and remembered the tracker had already ridden ahead with Josiah in order to reach Nathan quicker. It felt odd not having Vin by his side but then there had been no avoiding it. Chris, who thought he had seen the depths of human ugliness, had been shocked at Josiah’s condition. In every sense of the word, a monster had been unleashed upon him. So far, Ezra, Buck and Josiah had been hurt fighting these creatures and Chris was starting to wonder whether or not it was possible to defeat them, that the danger to the timeline had to be risked by killing one of them. However, once again, he was faced with the frustrating realization that anything that diverted from how it was meant to be could have untold consequences in the future. He liked Buffy. She was a spirited young woman with a terrible burden to bear. The weight of it on her psyche was evident in her eyes and he could not imagine how she endured it. Unfortunately, Giles was correct, the future needed her and her erasure from existence was simply not an option they could risk under any circumstances.

No, the key to this was not defeating the vampires; it was convincing them to leave of their own free will. From what Spike had told him about ‘the family’, it was clear that Angelus ruled things. If Chris wanted his friends free of this danger, then it was Angelus he was going to have to deal with. From Giles’ description, Angelus’ reign as a master vampire was bloody and brutal. He did not merely kill his victims, he destroyed them. A creature like this could not be reasoned with, not unless they had something to bargain with. Chris came to the understanding that this situation could only be won with cunning and for him to manage that little feat of magic, he was going to have to know his enemy a little better.

"Tell me about him," Chris broke the silence that rested over them like morning mist. "About Angelus."

Spike looked over his shoulder at Buffy, trying to determine which one of them should answer the gunslinger’s question. He knew Buffy would not be anxious to tell Chris all the details about he relationship with Angel, just as Spike was not eager to hear it. It was bad enough knowing that his grandsire was her greatest love and probably always would be without having to endure listening to her describe it from her own lips.

"What do you want know exactly?" Buffy asked first, her brow furrowing at Chris as if he had asked her something really personal.

"Tell me about him? Who he was, what he’s going to be." Chris returned, noticing the tension in her when he asked the question. Suddenly, he was filled with the notion that Buffy and Spike were not telling him all there was to know about Angelus. Even JD shot Chris a doubtful look, revealing that he noticed the hesitation as well.

"I know where he’s from," Spike volunteered, more intimate with Angelus’ early years than his latter ones. "He was Irish, think he said his name Liam."

"Liam?" Buffy rose a brow in surprise. She had not known that. Of course, Angel did not like talking about his past because inevitably, they would come headfirst into the brick wall that was the subject Angelus and Angel was reluctant to reveal anything about his life as the master vampire. "His name was Liam?"

"Yeah," Spike nodded, hating to talk about his grandsire when Buffy was present. It was bad enough the slayer had such an involved history with Angel but talking about it made Spike uncomfortable, not to mention jealous at her reaction. "He didn’t like to talk about his past much. His father was a preacher or something, pretty heavy with the bible I hear. Angelus didn’t like him at all, I think he might have killed his father and the entire family."

"His own family?" JD exclaimed aghast with horror.

"Yeah," Spike nodded, remembering that he could not bring himself to show his face to his mother when he had been turned. His mother had loved him and it was enough for Spike that she had lost her son without visiting any further misfortune upon her. However, it was different with Angelus, he had hated his father from all accounts and wanted to prove something to the man. "His father told him he’d amount to nothing, I guess Angelus took that personally."

"That explains why he treated Josiah the way he did. What else?," Chris retorted, having no wish to hear of every bloody detail of his victims. "What is he like?"

"Obsessive," Spike said quickly. "He used to drive his victims insane. For the rest of us, we like the clean kill. We need the blood to feed and that’s all there is to it. With Angelus it was more. He killed Dru’s family. He drove her mad before he turned her, ironically enough on the day she took her vows to become a nun. He was right bastard back then."

"How come you didn’t kill him?" JD inquired, unable to imagine that such evil could lurk in any creature’s soul.

"Good question," Spike threw her a nasty smile to which Buffy returned a venomous glared.

"There was a curse," she said softly after a little pause. She did not want to tell Chris about this but he seemed to have a point to his question. "Twenty years from now maybe a little less, he bites a girl in Europe, a gypsy. Her family apparently had something to do with magic and stuff. They put a curse on him. It brings back his soul."

"What does that mean?" JD blurted out with confusion, knowing that it was important but not how.

"When you get turned, your soul is gone and the demon moves in," Spike explained impatiently.

"In other words, Liam or what was left of Liam, came back?" Chris ventured a guess.

"Yeah," Buffy nodded slowly. "He got his soul back and he had to remember every terrible thing he had done for the last hundred years. He was sorry."

"He was stupid, that’s what he was!" Spike barked back in annoyance. "He had nothing to feel sorry for. He didn’t do anything! Angelus did it all! He spends the next ninety years trying to make up for something he didn’t do. Turns brooding and acting mysterious into an art form. You know what I’m taking about." He gave Chris a look.

"Spike shut up," Buffy snapped. "Look, Angel tried to make amends for what he did. He’s still trying."

"So he became good?" JD inquired, fascinated that a soul could return to a body after being driven from it, especially to the creature that had been attempting to kill these past few nights.

"Except for little lapse," Spike glanced at Buffy who swore under her breath for she had no wish to dredge up everything that transpired between her and Angel.

"Little lapse?" Chris stared at them. "What’s that suppose to mean?"

Buffy exhaled deeply and supposed that Chris had a right to know since he and his men were doing everything possible to keep her and her ancestor’s life safe. "It’s the curse that he’s under. He only has his soul while he’s feeling guilt for the terrible things he did. Once he doesn’t feel that way any more, the curse lifts and Angelus is back. Angel tried to make things right by helping me in Sunnydale, fighting evil, we became close."

She raised her eyes to Chris and in one moment of flickering despair, Chris understood everything.

"You fell in love with him and lost him." Chris said simply, sparing her the anguish of saying it. He could not even begin to imagine what the girl must have endured, to give her heart and her soul so some she obviously loved only to have that person snatch away by that very gift. It explained a great deal the sadness that was in her eyes and why she had been so struck when she had first encountered Angelus in this place. Chris knew all about losing the love of one’s life and he could tell by the pain reflected in Buffy’s eyes now that Angel had been that for her. How must it be for her to watch this earlier version of her love murder and torture so many? It was no wonder she was so afraid of allowing Spike, who adored her, close.

"Yeah," Spike muttered. "It’s a tragedy."

However, Chris saw through the vampire’s sarcasm to recognize the pain he felt of never being sure that he would ever be able to acquire Buffy’s love the way Angelus had. Despite the emotional turmoil that the two visitors from the future must have been experiencing, Chris had something of an idea forming inside his head. "What happens to Angelus in the future where Buffy doesn’t exist?" He asked Spike, hoping to propel them past this painful subject as soon as possible.

"Oh Peaches stays the same," Spike replied offhandedly. "He’s fighting evil, has no idea who Buffy is or the fact that if he met her he could be blissfully happy and that she could bring Angelus back because of it."

"Great," Buffy frowned, uncertain of how to take that.

Spike stiffened in response and Buffy knew instantly that he was hurt. Unfortunately, she knew of nothing she could say that would salve his pain because she would always love Angel in a way that Spike could never hope to understand, no matter how she might care for the vampire in the future. Angel was apart of her and that would never change. He did not look at her and though her arms were wrapped around him as they rode double, Buffy could tell that he was not happy at her touch. She groaned inwardly, wondering where Chris was going with this inquiry. "Is that it?" She stared at the gunslinger with no attempt to hide her discomfiture with the discussion of this particular subject.

"Yeah," Chris nodded slowly, his mind grasping the kernel of an idea that had formed at Buffy’s explanation regarding her history with Angelus.

"Was there any particular reason for that question or did you just want to know my deep dark secret for no good reason?" Buffy asked.

"I was just thinking that maybe what Angelus needs to know is the truth." Chris remarked.

"The truth?" Buffy exclaimed as all eyes turned to him.

"Without you," Chris reasoned his idea out loud. "He vanishes in twenty years and never surfaces again, is that right?" He stared at her hard.

Buffy found Chris’ gaze uncomfortable and found herself involuntarily flinching under his power glare. The man’s eyes were like high-powered sensors that bore into one’s soul. The only time she had ever felt this way was with Spike but she had no doubt that the man in black had the same ability to see through her as Spike did. Must be the long, black coat, she thought absurdly to herself. "Unfortunately, yes." She replied. "Did I forget to mention the whole ‘I don’t want to talk about this deal’ with you or are you a son of a bitch most times and couldn’t care less?"

"He’s a son of bitch most times," JD added with a grin. "But you get used to him though."

"Thanks," Chris flashed him a look.

"I had to say if for Buck," JD quipped mischievously.

"Fine," Chris grumbled, "The fact is we’re not winning any battles the way we’re fighting him. We’ve got to think of something different."

"Like what?" Spike stared at Chris, starting to see that the man might have an idea.

"Maybe we ought to just tell him that if he kills Ezra, he kills any chance of breaking the curse that might see him back to his murdering demon self."

"Hey," Spike nodded in understanding not to mention admiration, "that’s not bad. That’s not bloody bad at all."

"He wouldn’t go for it would he?" Buffy asked. If it was a question of how Angel would react, Buffy would have no trouble making an informed guess but Angelus was an unknown. All she knew of him was that he was brutal and sadistic, she had no idea how powerful his need for self-preservation might be. As Angelus, he had attempted to open the gates of hell by awakening Acathala. Buffy had no idea whether or not he would be swayed by the possibility of his own demise.

"Not unless we gave him proof," Chris retorted.

"How do we manage that?" JD asked perplexed.

"We could get the witch to do a spell," Spike pointed out. "Something to show him that we’re telling the truth."

"It’s a plan," Buffy stated with a smile, clearly impressed.

"It’s a long shot," Chris confessed because he was playing a hunch. Everything he knew about Angelus gave him a feel for the creature he was dealing with and short of killing him, nothing else they attempted would work except for this. At the moment, Angelus pride was hurt and that was fueling his determination to kill Ezra, without even knowing why. However, if he were to learn that in less than 20 years, he would be imprisoned inside a body possessing a soul, with no relief in sight except for the tragic love its owner would have with Buffy, perhaps, Angelus might see that there were worse things than injured pride.

"Its a better than nothing," Spike commended. "It’s bloody better than anything we’ve come up with so far. I saw how much Angelus hated it when he lost control, he hated being trapped with no way to kill or do the things he did to get his rocks off. Knowing that you’re the only way out he has, might actually give him something to think about. Angelus may be a bastard but he’s a smart bastard at that."

"Let hope he’s smart enough to know what’s good for him." Chris retorted.

+ + + + + + +

They reached Chris’ shack with the dawn nipping at their heels. Towards the last leg of their journey home, they had hastened their pace considerably in order to reach the shelter before the sunlight harmed Spike. Chris had decided that they would move into town sometime today since there was little reason to use the shack as a hiding place when Angelus knew about it. Besides, things had transpired last night that made their continued stay at the shack somewhat redundant. The most obvious being that Angelus knew where they were. However, with the attacks on Buck and Josiah, Nathan would want to be near his infirmary and Chris believed at this point, that was not a bad idea. However, Chris now wanted to be in a place where Angelus would find them easily, in order to make their plan work. They would have to bring a covered wagon for Spike to travel by day.

When Chris and the others returned to the shack, they saw Ezra and Giles at the front porch, armed with guns and stakes respectively, in case Angelus should attempt to make an encore appearance. Seeing that their friends were safe, the gambler and the librarian abandoned their watch for the moment and joined them inside. Chris found Vin was at what passed for his supper table, having been provided with a hot meal by Tara, who was looking down at the handsome tracker with the same affection that he was giving her. Buck on the other hand was lying on the spare coat, his throat bandaged the way Ezra’s was and appeared to be in a fitful sleep.

"How is he?" Chris asked as soon as he and Vin made eye contact.

"Josiah and Mary are with him now," Vin stood up upon seeing his best friend. "We don’t know much yet." He confessed.

"What about Buck?" JD inquired as he hurried to the big man’s side. "Is he gonna be okay?"

"Yes, fortunately," Ezra replied. "Mr. Jackson tells us that he lost some blood but not enough to impede his recovery once his wounds were treated."

JD lowered himself into a seat next to Buck, resolving himself to remain at his side until Buck woke up. It was not often that JD openly showed his age or his affection for Buck as a paternal figure. However, there was no mistaking it now as he stared in worry at his friend. Chris knew that nothing short of the world coming to an end would remove the young man from Buck’s side now. He supposed Vin had the same attitude towards him although their relationship was far different. They were comrades in arms, who understood each other, not the fatherly affection shared between Buck and JD. It was Buck’s goal in life to keep JD alive long enough for him to become a man in his own right. At this stage, the boy was all too fired up with romantic notions of what the West was about and there were too many young men like him lying in graves on Boot Hill.

Chris let out a sigh and poured himself a cup of coffee as the others around him settled in. "We’ll get a few hours rest and then move out. We’re heading back to town."

"Hallelujah!" Ezra cried out with relief. "Finally a sensible suggestion."

"I thought the plan was to stay out of sight?" Giles spoke up.

"Not much point to it Watcher," Spike retorted. "Peaches knows where we are and the cowboy here has a plan."

"Oh you’re a dead man," Vin retorted automatically as he saw the scowl on Chris’ face.

"I’m already a dead man," Spike returned, a little bewildered by the tracker’s remark.

"You’ll be a deader one if you don’t stop calling me cowboy," Chris growled in a response that was worthy of any vampire.

"Yeah," Buffy nudged him in the ribs before glancing at Chris, "just call him Billy Idol."

"I am not like Billy Idol!" Spike glared at her.

"People!" Giles burst out in a loud voice. "I think we are losing focus here!"

"Thank you," Ezra retorted gratefully at the librarian, glad that he was not the only adult in the room. "You have a plan Chris?"

"Yeah," Chris nodded shaking his head of their previous conversation. They were all tired and biting at each other but he needed to tell the others present what he had had planned in order to see if it was possible. "I got something of a plan, not sure how it will work though."

"We need your help Tara," Buffy replied.

"Me?" Tara’s eyes widened.

"She’s done enough," Vin countered. "These spells or whatever they are, they hurt her! When she brought you back, she was knocked out from the trying. I don’ think she should keep doing them."

Buffy glanced in Spike’s direction regarding the vehemence of Vin’s protectiveness for the young Wiccan. She knotted her brow in confusion because if she did not know better, she would say that there was more than just a general feeling of concern motivating Vin. Spike shrugged, a gesture she knew to mean they would discuss this later because now was not the time. Buffy turned back to Vin, preparing to say something about Tara being the only one who could do this when Tara spoke up herself and ended any need on Buffy’s part to speak for her.

"Vin," Tara placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, feeling her heart swell at his concern for her. "They wouldn’t ask me if there were any other way. I want to hear what Chris has in mind."

"Are you sure?" Vin stared at her worriedly. He didn’t know anything about magic but he had seen the effect it had upon her after she performed the spell to bring Buffy to the past. He could not help being afraid for her life if she continued.

"Yes," she kissed him gently on the cheek, drawing an expression of surprise from the tracker who seemed embarrassed by the action. The others in the room averted their eyes and tried to focus their attention elsewhere as the young couple took a moment for themselves. After a few seconds, Tara faced Chris again.

"What do you want me to do?" She asked.

Chris saw the troubled expression on Vin’s face but knew they had no choice. The plan he had was already a gamble to succeed, they needed some assurance and unfortunately, Tara seemed the only one who could provide it. He explained to her what needed to be done and she listened intently, her concentration wavering only when Giles, Vin and Ezra chose to comment because they were in the dark about Chris’ plan as she. What he was proposing was difficult but it was no harder than anything else she had to do since this had all began. Besides, the spell he wanted was no less complicated then the one that had brought Buffy here from the future and if all went well, then the situation in Four Corners would be resolved once and for all.

"Can you do it?" Chris asked when all was explained to her.

Tara considered the question for a moment. "Yes," she nodded. "I think I can."

"Are you sure Tara?" Giles looked at her with concern. He knew that they had been using her magical abilities more than they should and he hated asking for its assistance again but Chris was right, this plan as risky as it was had a chance of working.

"I’ll be fine," Tara assured her.

"Young lady, "Ezra spoke up. "As much as I would like to be free of this burden of being the one to sire the slayer, I do not wish it to take place at the cost of someone else’s well being."

"The lady said she’s fine already!" Spike groaned at all this talk. It was not as if they had not been told numerous times already. Besides, they didn’t have a choice in the matter and the witch seemed more acceptable of that fact then everyone else around her.

"Spike, I could slap you." Buffy rolled her eyes in annoyance.

"Steady there love," he smiled cockily at her. "We’ll play later."

Buffy’s jaw dropped open in outrage but she had no chance to tell Spike what a pig she was because Nathan emerged from the next room with Mary at his side. The healer kept the door behind him closed, indicating that he wanted no one to disturb the preacher while he recovered. However, that did not mean he was not inundated with questions about Josiah’s welfare as soon as he was seen. Heading these demands for information was Chris and Spike, both equal in their concern and their guilt for Josiah’s current state.

"He’s gonna be okay," Nathan said first and foremost, drawing a collective sigh of relief from those who knew the preacher well and those who had only recently come into his knowing. "He’s been hurt pretty bad. If we hadn’t found him when we had, he’d be dead by now. There’s lot of cuts and burns, Angelus apparently was at it for quite some time. He’s sleeping now and I suggest we leave him be for the next day or so. I don’t think he had can handle travelling just yet."

"I’ll stay with him," Spike offered.

"Not for long," Chris retorted and saw Nathan starting to protest but he cut off anything the healer was going to say, "Nathan I want Josiah and Buck back in town. We got something planned and its going to be risky as it is without us being scattered all over the place. So Spike can stay with Josiah for awhile until we ride into town for a wagon. Then we’ll move both Buck and Josiah. Is that clear?"

Nathan frowned unhappily but he conceded to the gunslinger’s order. "Alright but I want to stay here with them."

"You can keep me company," Spike grinned, enjoying taunting the righteous healer to no end. "We’ll have loads of fun."

"Oh hell, kill me now," Nathan groaned.

"Don’t worry," Buffy quipped. "I’ll leave you Mr. Pointy." She produced her lucky stake and winked at the healer. "You can stake him if he gets too much for you."

"The rest of us," Chris spoke loudly to get their attention back on the subject at hand. "We’ll head back to town. Mary, can the girls stay with you for the day?"

"Sure," Mary smiled warmly at Tara and Buffy. "You can clean up and get some rest."

"That would be good," Buffy replied. "It feels like the day hasn’t ended." In truth, it had not. The night seemed endless to her after being spirited away from the future to this recent past, then encountering her ancestor and dealing with Angelus’ attacks on his friends, not to mention keeping Spike from committing suicide, at the very least a few hours sleep was not much to ask. "If you could just wake me before the night time, that would suit me fine."

"I think we can manage that," Mary replied, "I could use some sleep myself."

"Well it’s settled then," Chris declared, glad that this part of the plan was met with approval. "We ride at first light."


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