A pair of four-inch stiletto heels encased her small feet. Slender, strong legs balanced
perfectly on them, carelessly revealed by the short, emerald-sequined minidress she wore. Long
bronze hair hung in provocative disarray down her back. She pivoted, finding him instantly in the
crowd by the light glinting off of his glasses - //Giles, get with the program and just get some
contacts.// She didn't know the song she was about to sing, and yet she wasn't at all nervous;
these people watching her were in for a treat. His mouth never moved, and she couldn't really see
his eyes because of the reflection from his glasses, but she knew that somehow he was giving her
the words of the song, saving her from humiliation in this cheap karaoke bar. She opened her
mouth to sing, realizing too late that her song was a duet, and she was alone on the stage,
swallowed by the hot spotlight, trapped by the cigarette smoke and expectations of the bar's
patrons. When the music started, however, a male voice chimed in: *"Turn around . . ."* He
wasn't singing, really; it was more like he was speaking as if he had a melody in mind. It was
Spike, perched on a stool that looked like the seat of a poet at a coffeehouse. He was in the
shadows, tucked in the corner of the stage. She didn't need to look at him to know that two
cigarettes dangled from his lower lip, and that he was waiting for her to sing her line: *"Every
now and then I get a little bit lonely, and you're never coming round."* She gave it all she had.
* * *
She awoke in a panic, feeling not dread but considerable embarrassment. //What a bizarre
dream! What was with my tacky, tacky dress? And what's with the big 80's love-theme?// She
frowned, remembering that she hadn't been alone, but unable to summon up memories of who
else had been there. Suddenly she had an image of Spike smoking two cigarettes and speak-
singing around them. //What the hell?// And then she grinned, the grin of an impish girl just out of
her teens, the grin of a daughter who'd discovered an episode in her father's past that he'd sooner
forget. //Giles knew that song! Ooh, he's got some 'splainin to do!// Predatory smirk still on her
face, she snuggled into the blankets on her bed and fell back asleep.
Her dream had left her without any signs of fatigue, and she was bright-eyed (*"Turn
around, bright eyes"* she remembered suddenly) and chipper when she ran into Willow the next
morning. She related her dream as if it were the best joke she'd heard in some time. The two
girls came giggling into the Magic Box, determined to unearth a little more of Giles's closely-
guarded past . . . or at least to discover why he knew the words to "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
They entered the store together, the picture of innocence, and effortlessly cornered Giles. The
Watcher looked up as they came towards him, enjoying their rare good-humored ease; quite a bit
had been thrown at them lately, and he wished he didn't have to be the one to stop their smiles.
"Hey, Giles, does the name 'Bonnie Tyler' mean anything to you?" Buffy asked as Willow snorted
in laughter next to her.
He frowned, momentarily distracted. "'Bonnie Tyler'? Oh, you - you mean the singer?
The one who sang that god-awful song? Something adolescent and pretentious . . . 'You are my
eclipse,' or some such nonsense . . ." he broke off as Buffy and Willow exploded into laughter in
front of him, clutching each other just to be able to stand. He sighed in good-natured
exasperation, waiting for the explanation.
"Are you sure you hated the song, Giles?" queried the witch.
"Yeah, 'cause it seemed like you knew it awfully well," Buffy chimed in, grinning up at
her Watcher. She lost her beat when he refused to question her, forcing the information out of
her with only a raised eyebrow. "I . . . I had a dream last night that I was, um, at a karaoke bar,
and I had to sing that song, and you were my teleprompter, sort of." As he continued to look
rather balefully at her, she stumbled a bit more, lamely concluding, "I guess you had to be there."
In response, Giles turned slightly to face Willow, the interrogation clearly not over. "Oh,
no, I wasn't there," the redhead faltered, "in, in the dream bar. I wasn't wearing a spangly dress
and stiletto heels. It was just you and Buffy and Spike."
"That sounds like a fascinating combination, Buffy, and yet I might have an even more
intriguing topic to discuss with you," Giles replied, waiting until Willow had scurried off before
leaning into the slayer, murmuring, "at least tell me I wasn't the one in the dress and heels."
Buffy shook her head, biting back another smile, and turned her full attention to the man in front
of her.
"Buffy, I've had a warning that a bad time for Sunnydale - yes, another one - is coming
soon. It was cryptic, to say the least, but it seems to have something to do with the weather. I
don't have anything more specific, and I don't know quite how to prepare for some vague
meteorological danger, but I think some extra focusing and meditation exercises would not come
amiss."
"Giles, I've seen this *X-Files* episode. The culprit is the geeky weatherman."
"Buffy, do take this seriously. It came from the Council of Watchers."
"But don't they hate us? Maybe they're just yanking your chain."
"No, it seemed to slip out accidentally when I was on the phone with Thomas yesterday.
He's never lied to me, and I'd like to think we're still friends despite my . . . rocky relations with
his colleagues. Something bad is coming."
"Then let's go train." There was a spring in her step.
* * *
"God, it's muggy!" Buffy snapped, frustrated that she had to keep blinking to keep the
sweat out of her eyes as she patrolled the cemetery. //I hope none of these vamps thinks I'm
trying to bat my eyelashes at them.// She was alone, something that wasn't quite the norm these
days, and she missed being able to banter with an ally as she did her job. But Riley was visiting
family over fall break, Xander had yet another night-shift job, and Willow had looked like she was
ready to pass out from heat exhaustion before they had gotten very far from Revello Drive.
Something flashed in the corner of her eye, and she pirouetted to see three vamps fanning out to
catch her from all sides. She smiled her best Mona Lisa smile, inviting them to their doom. She
dispatched two of them almost instantaneously, but the third was elusive. He was quick, almost
graceful, and she admired the way that he moved, used to seeing only lunging, awkward undead.
He spun sharply just as she closed in and she found herself face-to-face with a fourth vampire.
She pulled an extra stake out of her waistband, and the fourth foe was dusted with a swift left-
handed blow that caught him just as he raised his arm and ran at her. She was shoved by the
graceful vamp, and the stake was knocked out of her right hand as her wrist smacked against a
headstone. Lying flat on her back, she raised one foot and caught him in the gut as he charged at
her, and his momentum and her strength forced him over her head in a demented parody of the
"airplane" games she'd played with Dawn when they were little. As he sailed over her, the stake
in her left hand caught his heart. But before he turned to dust, her shoe had gotten caught in his
belt buckle, and her leg, pulled too far from its normal course, snapped just below the knee. It fell
stiffly in front of her, the end of the bone straining to break through her skin, and her back arched
for a moment as the pain hit her. It didn't last long; she passed out almost immediately.
* * *
Spike could smell sweat and vamp dust in the air as he strolled through the graveyard, and
he headed toward the mingled aromas, knowing he would find the slayer there. He was
surprisingly content for someone that had been forced by a dream - a very good dream - to realize
that he was in love with his mortal enemy; he supposed the weather had something to do with his
ebullience. It didn't affect him or his kind, but it had sent the rest of the Sunnydale population
scrambling for their air conditioners, leaving the streets empty of those against whom he was
harmless. He could take on anybody he met on the streets these days, and have a good fight, no
chip interference. He finally felt like Big Bad again, and it was a welcome release.
He strode along briskly, leather duster stinging sharply on his jean-clad legs as he moved,
and nearly fell over the slayer, lying unconscious next to a headstone engraved with too many
words. Bone peeked out of her shin, and she was completely helpless. He sighed, too many
thoughts running through his mind to make any sense. //I wonder who did this to her? How come
they didn't come back to finish the job? Big Bad saving the Slayer's sorry hide. Damn, if I'm
going to save her, couldn't she at least be aware of it? I can't believe how light she is. Doesn't
she eat?// He scooped her up and headed for her house.
Joyce met him at the door, standing aside so that he could move past her with his precious
burden. Spike marched into the den, heading for the long couch. He was so intent on not jostling
her leg unnecessarily that he laid her down awkwardly. Her legs were straight, but she was bent
slightly at the waist, her left shoulder edging off the couch, one long curl of her hair touching the
carpet. He straightened her out as best he could and turned to face her mother. She pointed with
her chin to the kitchen and put the kettle on. He wrapped his hands around a mug of hot
chocolate and she seated herself next to him, clutching a glass that was more ice than iced tea.
"I wasn't there," he said, answering her silent question. "I'm thinking she got four or so
vamps - there was a lot of dust - and one of them managed to get close enough to hurt her. I
don't know how exactly her leg was broken, but with her healing powers, I'm sure she'll be right
as rain soon enough."
Joyce sucked on ice chips and watched his face as he talked, noting that he hadn't
answered the question she really wanted to ask. So she put it straight to him. "Why did you help
her? Your truce is over, isn't it? I know you can't hurt humans because of your chip, but that
doesn't mean you have to help, does it? Or is it some sort of Good Samaritan chip?"
"No, that's not it. I . . . I don't know. It just seemed wrong to leave her where any old
beastie could get her, no skill necessary. She's known for being the best slayer in memory - and
some of us have very long memories. I couldn't just let it end for her because of a bone that'll
heal in forty-eight hours. Plus this way I get marshmallows." He grinned cockily but endearingly
at her, suddenly not wanting to meet her eyes.
"If you come by again tomorrow night I'll make you another cup of cocoa," she offered
out of the blue. "Buffy can be a bit much when she's bed-ridden, and I'd appreciate all the help I
can get in keeping her distracted."
"Certainly. I'll be by after sunset. Night, Joyce."
* * *
"Beware of geeks bearing gifts!" Xander proclaimed cheerily as he, Anya, and Willow
marched into the air-conditioned Summers den the next evening. He was carrying a videotape,
Anya was clutching a finger puppet, squishing it out of shape, and Willow held out towards Buffy
a pint of chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream.
"Dawn! Spoon!" Buffy bellowed, awkwardly shifting her legs so that there was a bit more
space on the couch. "Thanks, you guys. This is really nice. But I'll be up and about tomorrow
probably."
"See, Xander, she doesn't need us. Let's go home and have more sweaty sex. This is
your only night off," Anya jumped in.
Willow rolled her eyes at Buffy, who merely shrugged and whispered, "Even this is better
than the Bonnie Tyler replay that's going on in my head." Willow's eyes gleamed conspiratorially
and she went to the kitchen to dig out a spoon for Buffy.
Clutching it, she went to the foot of the stairs and called out, "Dawn? Do you want to
come watch a movie with us?"
"What movie?" Dawn shouted back.
"I don't know, but Xander picked it out, so . . ." Willow was cut off by the pounding of
eager feet on the steps. Dawn appeared just as her mother pushed open the front door.
"Hi sweetie. Look who I brought home for some hot chocolate and to keep Buffy busy so
she won't drive us crazy."
Spike's sleek head appeared over Joyce's shoulder and he grinned at Dawn and Willow.
"Oi, Platelet, how's school? Any teachers I need to eat?"
"As if you could."
"Hey! I was bein' nice, not even mentioning what the humidity's doing to that nice
smooth hair of yours." Dawn stamped off towards the den, leaving the other three to follow.
Willow held the spoon out to Buffy. The tip of the slayer's nose was dark brown;
apparently she'd been licking the inside of the carton's lid, too impatient to wait for a proper
utensil.
"You're looking lovelier than ever, Slayer," Spike said sardonically, and Buffy's eyes
widened at the sight of him standing next to her mother as if he were family.
Xander jumped up to protest Spike's presence, but Joyce stopped him with a look, and
calmly asked, "So that's six of us for dinner, plus Spike? How does pizza sound? Xander, why
don't you put your movie in? I'll phone in the order."
"What did you get, Xander?" Buffy asked, trying to alleviate the tension in the room.
Willow seemed okay with Spike's presence, Anya seemed indifferent, and Dawn seemed almost . .
. excited by it. It was only Xander who seemed to have Spike stuck in his craw. He cleared his
throat, gamely ignoring the vampire.
"I got *Little Shop of Horrors*. I thought it would be fun to sing along, and you know,
be twelve again."
"Really? Does this movie somehow make one seem younger than one really is? Is there a
youth-granting demon released by the movie?" Anya wanted to know.
Buffy ignored the questions and simply said, "I've never seen it. It sounds like fun. Pop it
in."
//Who knew that Spike could sing?// Buffy thought. He'd been silent early on, clearly
unsure of how much of a friend he was supposed to be; watching Xander and Willow
enthusiastically sing the parts of Seymour and Audrey, he'd relaxed, realizing that they didn't care
that he was part of the audience. His eyes widened a bit when Willow let out a perfect Audrey
squeak, right on cue. The witch flashed a grin at him as he remarked, "Nice stuff, Red. I always
thought that squeak was added in later." So he was loose and nearly carefree when Audrey II
finally began to speak, and he jumped right in. He got an extra kick out of sliding his eyes
Xander's way as he recited the plant's lines: "Must be bloooood. Must be freeeeeesh." But he
didn't really want to spoil the mood, and he'd noticed the protective frowns the Niblet had been
shooting his way, so he gave up on oblique threats and simply sang along.
Buffy was taken aback, noting that his voice, while clearly untrained, was clear and strong,
with just a bit of rough smoker's edge to it. //So he can sing - why didn't he in my dream?// She
told herself to just let it go, and sank back among the cushions and listened to her friends sing
merrily along. Spike was especially good at "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space."
* * *
They were all a bit surprised when Spike got up abruptly just before the final confrontation
between Seymour and Audrey II. "Spike? Is something wrong?" Willow asked.
He grinned at her, "Nah, Red, I just don't like this ending. The original's better. And it's
time for a smoke anyway." He walked out to the porch, fished around in his pockets, and sat
down, inhaling the hot smoke. His mind wouldn't let go of the songs, and as he hummed them to
himself he remembered Buffy's surprised smile. And thinking of her smile made him remember
that dream he'd had, the one where they whispered words of love and desire to each other. His
grin faded, leaving him alone with his lonely thoughts. He was saved from total depression by the
arrival of the delivery boy.
He beckoned the boy to follow him and led the way into the Summers kitchen. He
stopped abruptly, blocking the pizza boy's view and path when he saw Joyce sitting at the kitchen
table with her head in her hands. "Joyce? Buffy being that much of a pain?" he awkwardly half-
joked, noting even as he spoke the fine lines of strain at the corners of her eyes, the way she held
herself stiffly, as if she were bracing against something.
"No, I'm fine. . . . Just an on-again, off-again headache," she tried to reassure him,
surprised by the concern he clearly felt.
"Ma'am, that's twenty-five ninety-nine," the delivery boy impatiently broke in.
Joyce nodded weakly and handed him three ten-dollar bills from her worn leather purse.
Spike inched closer to her, stopping only when he was close enough to murmur. "Can I get you
anything? Water? Those little pills?"
She smiled faintly and said "Water. Buffy knows where the aspirin is."
He nodded, closed the door behind the delivery boy, and then strode into the den, saying
firmly, "Slayer. Get off your behind and show me where the aspirin is kept."
She looked up at him, not catching the emotions running under his words, and smiled
haughtily at him, "Why? Is the chip giving Spikey a boo-boo? Anyway, *hello*, my leg is
broken."
"I'll bet you can stand on it by now. Now move, and get the pills! Your mum's not
feelin' so hot."
She hobbled off the couch, testing her injured leg, smiling slightly when it held underneath
her, and led the way up the stairs to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. She was disconcerted
when he followed closely behind her, hesitantly helping her climb; it was even stranger when she
realized she was alone in all of the mirrors, surrounded only by tile and chrome. She rummaged
quickly, and he snatched the bottle out of her hand as soon as she held it out. "Calm down,
Spike," she said. "It's just a headache, isn't it? She'll be fine in a few hours." He didn't bother
to answer as he disappeared, and she was left to make her own way downstairs, no strong arm
around her for support.
* * *
Dawn sat on her bed, diary on her lap. Her favorite pen was in her right hand, and she
flicked the feather that crowned it back and forth over her cheek while she considered her next
words. //Spike is so cool. He can't do anything to any of us, but he still seems to mean all of his
threats. How does he have so much self-confidence? And how does he dye his hair that wicked
color if he can't even see himself in a mirror? I wonder what Xander would look like with
bleached hair . . . no, that would just be weird and wrong. And sad. But maybe it would be
enough to make Anya stay away from him. What was up with that finger puppet she brought? It
just hung on her finger like a blob. She doesn't even know how to have fun. I bet she thought
playing with it would make her break a nail. I wonder how Spike gets his nail polish so neat. Is
he still dating that stupid ho who pulled Xander's hair? What is up with guys and not-so-hot
blondes?// She snorted, dismissing Anya and Harmony with a toss of her long dark hair. She
started to get up off the bed, then remembered that she couldn't play music or watch any more
TV because of her mother's headache. She lay on her stomach and turned to a blank page.
Frowning in concentration, she began to write a poem about the two men who'd been in her den
that evening. //They just can't stay away from me// she thought, wishing it were true.
* * *
Spike stalked back to his crypt, his strides lengthening with each step he took. The sting
of the duster on his legs was oddly satisfying. Joyce's headache had unnerved him, shattering the
ease that had been blossoming inside of him as he sang along with a silly movie. //Calm down,
mate. It's nothing to do with you. Medicine's advanced quite a bit since your day. She'll be
fine.// No matter how many rational, soothing words he offered himself, he couldn't forget the
sight of Joyce's face or the too-familiar mask of pain that covered it, just as it had his own
mother, over a hundred years before.
At the door of his crypt he paused and walked over to his car, opening the trunk and
pulling out two heavy packages. Once inside his lair, he unplugged the television and hooked up
the record player. He lifted the needle, but his hands were still trembling slightly from worry. At
least they'd been steady enough when he'd opened the aspirin bottle and shaken out two dark
pink pills onto his palm. He made an effort to control himself, and finally placed the needle
carefully in the first groove. The soothing strains of Bach's *French Suites* filled the crypt as he
pushed aside the soft, warm blankets, lay down on the cold stone bed, and closed his eyes.
* * *
"Buffy! Get up, sweetie!"
Buffy blinked herself awake, and rolled across her big bed to check her clock. "I'm up,
Mom," she called, breathing in the smell of apple pancakes. "I'll be down in a minute." She
brushed her teeth and pulled her flannel pajama top on, covering the tank she had slept in. She
skipped down the stairs and slid in her stocking feet into the kitchen, coming up behind her
mother who was facing the stove.
"You're all better!" they said simultaneously with relieved smiles.
"No more headache?" Buffy pursued, and her mom smiled and said, "No, thanks to Spike.
He's been quite the little do-gooder, hasn't he? Carrying you home, making sure I got some
medicine. All for the promise of cocoa."
"He carried me home?"
"Yes. Don't you remember? No, wait, you were still unconscious when he left." Joyce
smiled, remembering how gingerly he'd placed Buffy on the couch, not noticing that her daughter
was frowning in confusion. "Ready for pancakes? Go wake up Dawn and we'll have a real family
breakfast."
"Sure, Mom," she said absently, suddenly remembering that she'd had a dream that a little
baby Audrey II was growing in her yard - and smoking two cigarettes.
* * *
The minute she stepped outside, she groaned in frustration and went back inside to
change. The mugginess hadn't abated, but the air-conditioning had fooled her into thinking that it
had. She stripped off her leather pants and long-sleeved shirt and changed into a sage green tank
and dark grey jeans. She stepped back outside and looked up at the sky, noting the heavy cover
of clouds blanketed across the sky. //I sure hope Riley's having better weather in Bumblefuck,
Iowa// she thought with surprisingly bitter loneliness. //He's only been gone for four days - what
is my problem? And he deserves to have a break.// But not even having Riley at her side would
make her current task - thanking Spike - any easier.
She walked toward the crypt, knowing he'd have to be there, as it was daytime. She got
the feeling that he didn't sleep all that much, and there was a chance she could catch him and
thank him quickly. She pushed the door open, coming upon the wholly unexpected sight of Spike
doing some housecleaning while a Partridge Family song played on a record player she'd never
seen before. He was singing along, *"I'm sleeping, and right in the middle of a good dream, and
all at once I wake up from something that keeps knocking at my brain; before I go insane I hold
my pillow to my head and spring up in my bed, screaming out the words I dread: I think I love
you."* She started to laugh, but he didn't hear her over the song and the sounds of furniture
being moved. He went on, *"Believe me, you really don't have to worry, I only want to make
you happy, and if you say 'Hey, go away,' I will, but I think better still I'd better stay around and
love you - do you think I have a case? Let me ask you to your face: do you think you love me?"*
He turned just as he sang the last few lines, catching sight of her at last. She expected that he'd
be embarrassed, and then overly sarcastic to cover for it, but he merely grinned cheekily at her
and took a bow. She had to applaud, and he said, "Tickets are still available. Call TicketMaster
now!"
Buffy laughed, then sobered as she said, "Well, I really only came by to say thanks. You
know, for helping, and especially for helping my mom."
All the mirth left his face in an instant as if it had been wiped clean away. "She's alright
then, your mum? No more pain?"
"Yeah, she's fine. I think it's just stress - you know, her job, raising two kids on her own,
all that kind of stuff."
"Good to hear. She's a nice lady. I've never felt even the smallest desire to eat her."
"Yeah, you're a prince, Spike," she replied, rolling her eyes.
"Does that translate into 'thank you' in Buffy-talk?" he responded, equally snarky.
"No - but that's what I meant. Thank you, Spike," she said firmly, looking into his eyes.
He dropped his own in some confusion, and glanced back at her as the emotion in the air
lightened. "So, what's with the Partridge Family record? Don't tell me you're a fan. That's
worse than Giles music."
"Nah, it was Dru," he said, leaning back against the tomb with a fond smile that was
echoed by his eyes. "She thought it would be funny to make David Cassidy into a minion and
have him turn all the girls who were screaming for him. She said it was the quickest way to raise
an army of the undead."
"So what happened?"
He started at her question, clearly lost in memories. "Nothin', of course. She never
followed through with any of her grand schemes. They came to her, but she wasn't really
interested in world domination. All she wanted was someone to be with."
//That's all I want too// Buffy thought, tears unexpectedly springing to her eyes. //Great -
I'm just like the evil loony toon.//
She had to get out of there. "Thanks again, Spike. I'll see you around." She pushed out
of the crypt as abruptly as she'd entered. //What is wrong with me? I've got someone to be with.
Riley. He said he loves me - loves all of me, Slayer and Buffy. Why didn't I say it back?// She
was back in the humid air, threading a path through the graves toward the Magic Box, when a
vampire surprised her from behind. //What the hell! It's daytime!// Buffy staked the vamp
quickly, seeing long red hair and a party dress swirl into dust, before she let herself deal with the
implications of the attack. //If the sun isn't shining, they can come out and play, no matter what
time it is.// She began hoping even more fervently for rain, both to cool the air down and to get
rid of the thick, static clouds hovering in the sky. She made it to Giles's shop without further
incident.
Buffy breezed into the store and let her back rest against the door for a moment as she got
used to the beauty of the air-conditioning. She made her way to the back of the shop, unaware
that she still held a stake until she saw Giles looking at it as she approached. "Giles, did you
know that as long as it's not sunny, vamps can be out during the day? It was sort of a nasty
surprise for me, but I figured it out pretty quickly. I think I deserve an A."
"I wonder if this is the weather problem that Thomas mentioned," he thought out loud. "I
thought it was the heat - potentially enervating and all that - but it seemed to make Sunnydale
safer, since everyone was indoors and not really issuing vampire invitations. But this blocking of
the sun . . . that could be a huge problem. That would mean you'd have to be on patrol twenty-
four hours a day."
She didn't want to think about what he was saying, so she tried to joke with him. "Giles,
I've seen this *Simpsons* episode. The culprit is Mr. Burns."
He whipped off his glasses, ready to go into lecture mode when he stopped and read her
face. She knew, none better, what vamps on the loose meant, and she wasn't going to let that
happen. "I think we'll probably have a brief respite," he said finally. "After all, most vampires
won't come out during the day simply because they're used to sleeping then. And they can't be
certain that the sun won't come peeking through. If this weather persists, however, and they
become aware of it, they'll most likely throw caution to the wind and come out in full force. We
must be ready. We'll train now, and afterwards I'll call the Council and see if they're willing to
extend any help. I doubt it, but the effort must be made. And Buffy . . . I think you should take
Xander and Willow and the others with you on patrol, make sure they're on their toes. If the
weather doesn't change, we'll need them to patrol while you sleep." She nodded grimly and
moved into the back room.
* * *
She walked back to the house, keeping her eyes peeled for unseasonably active vamps, but
saw none. She was sweating more from the trip home than from her long workout; all she wanted
was to peel off her sports bra and bicycle shorts and take a long cold shower. She headed
upstairs and paused, thinking she heard crying. She saw her mother lying on her bed, sniffling
quietly as tears ran unchecked down her cheeks. "Mom? What's wrong? Where's Dawn?"
"I sent her over to Wendy's house when I felt another headache starting. But I'm fine
now."
"No, you're not. I've never seen you cry. Come on, we're taking you to the hospital."
"Are you going to call Rupert?"
"No, I can't," Buffy said in dismay, remembering that Giles had been heading out of town,
hoping to find some more exotic merchandise for his shelves.
"It's okay, honey. I don't need a hospital. All they'll say is get plenty of rest, don't let
your stress build, all that kind of stuff. Just get me some aspirin and I'll take a nap."
"Wait - Spike! He has a car. And I'm sure he'll do it. He said he likes you." Buffy
waited for her mom to agree, but Joyce had her sheets in a white-knuckled grip and was gasping
in pain. Buffy took off for the crypt at a run.
She broke into the crypt just as Spike was sitting down to watch *Passions*. "Spike! I
need your help - with my mom. She's sick again, and could you drive us to the hospital? I don't
know how to drive, and Giles is away, and Xander . . ." she burst out, babbling madly in her
panic.
"Shh, pet, of course I'll give your mum a lift. Is she really that bad?" he frowned,
something uncomfortable happening in the pit of his stomach, a kind of fear he hadn't felt in a
long time.
"Yeah, she's even crying with it . . ." she replied shakily, pushing panic aside as she saw
him pull on his coat and pat the pocket for his car keys. His face darkened, and he led the way to
his car.
* * *
Joyce was propped up in the front, Buffy sitting in the back but hanging over her mother's
seat as Spike pushed hard on the accelerator. After an agonizing delay in the emergency room,
Joyce was finally admitted, and Spike and Buffy were led to the waiting room on the same floor.
She slumped down on the love-seat, knowing that someone else had - temporarily - taken
responsibility for her mother, and that she didn't have to be strong for the moment. She couldn't
relax, however, and she suddenly bolted upright. "Oh, damn it! Spike, do you have any change?
I need to call home and leave a message for Dawn that we're here, and my money is in the pants
that I changed out of for training."
"Easy, love, don't fret," he soothed softly, recognizing her stream of words as a return to
panicked babbling. "I've got a quarter." She charged out of her seat towards the pay phone and
left a completely unintelligible message on the machine.
She returned and sat stiffly next to Spike. After a moment he ran a cool hand over her
hair, murmuring, "Come on, pet, relax. There's nothing for you to fight at the moment. Take
advantage of the lull, and be able to show your mum a cheerful face when she walks out of that
room." She nodded, and her adrenaline seemed to bleed right out of her; she sagged against his
left side, and he put a cautious arm around her, shifting so that she was more comfortable.
She was so still that he thought she'd fallen asleep, but then she spoke. "Thank you,
Spike," she whispered, her lips directly above his heart.
"You're more than welcome, love. Now rest."
She nodded sleepily, but continued talking. "I'm glad Dawn didn't have to deal with this.
I don't know what she would have done."
"Oh, she's a big girl. She'd have come through, right enough. She knows how to get
things done," he said, unaware of how much affection was betrayed by his voice.
Buffy heard it, and tilted her head and pushed back a bit until she could catch his eyes
without straining her neck. "You seem awfully fond of Dawn. What's the deal? And what's with
all those nicknames you have for her?"
"Not to worry, Slayer, Little Bite-Size is not on my grocery list. I just like her, is all." As
Buffy still didn't look satisfied, he sighed and admitted, "And she reminds me of my sister."
"What?!? I didn't know that you had a sister! Spill, Spike. What was she like, what was
her name, is she a vamp too, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." Her curiosity was winning out over
the dread for her mother, and he decided to indulge her.
"No, she's not a vampire. She died not long before I did. We were almost-twins, two
children born the same year, ten months apart; I was the younger one. We might as well have
been twins, though; we looked so much alike when we were little. She had long brown hair and
wide blue eyes, just like Dawn, but a totally different facial structure. Dawn's face is rounder, a
little softer of feature. But the Niblet reminds me of her anyway - they have the same spirit, the
same determination."
"So what was her name?" He shifted a little, not sure why he was holding that back. It
wasn't as though her name - or the memory of his family - was some sort of talisman to be held
onto in the harsh light of day, in the hopes that the happiness he had known with them would
return . . . was it? "Spike . . ." Buffy prodded, waiting not very patiently.
"Her name was Stella," he finally answered.
"It's a pretty name," she mused.
"I used to call her mica mica parva stella," he continued - in for a penny, in for a pound.

"That's . . . not so pretty," Buffy teased gently, waiting for the explanation to continue.
"'Stella' means star, Slayer, and 'mica mica parva stella' is the first line of Latin my da
ever taught me: 'twinkle twinkle little star.'"
"Oh, so you had a whole family tree? Tell me about them," she said, shifting so that her
back was pressed against one of the armrests, drawing her right leg up to lie flat on the cushion,
leaving her left leg dangling in front of the couch. Spike moved to mirror her, and their shins
pressed against each other.
He met her eyes, trying to read her thoughts. "It's not that exciting, Slayer, I assure you,"
he started, pausing when he saw only interest in her eyes, and perhaps a touch of compassion as
well. Nothing on earth would make him deliver his treasure - his memory of his dead family - to
someone who wouldn't understand that it was something precious. But her eyes were saying all
the right things, and he loved her. "Are you sure? It's a long story."
"No, I want to know," she said, surprising herself with her sincerity, "and, you know, we
have plenty of time before we hear anything about my mom," she added, her forced smile hinting
at sadness.
"My father's name was Robert Marlowe . . ." he broke off to smile at her, as he could
practically see the wheels in her head turn as she filed away his last name for future reference, ". .
. and he had a fairly normal childhood, I suppose. Not aristocracy, of course, but sort of gentry,
raised to work but also to have a gentleman's tastes. The only work he ever wanted to do was to
be a scholar, so he went off to Oxford and took a First in classics."
"So, he was, like, Giles-y?"
"No," he denied quickly, but then considered and recanted. "Yes, I suppose. But . . ." he
trailed off, suddenly unsure of what he wanted to say. "In any case, he had his degree, and no
idea what use he could make of it. He had just enough money not to work, but he loved what he
had studied. He finally heard that positions as private tutors were available in London, so he set
off for the city. He stayed at his uncle's house, and it turned out he was just in time for their
twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. All sorts of relations showed up, including my mum.
Elizabeth Dashwood. She was a niece on the other side; my parents had a cousin in common.
Every time he told this story, Da used to swear that as soon as he saw her everyone else seemed
to fade. It wasn't just her looks; it was the way she carried herself, the way she unwittingly made
every social blunder in the book, the way she had of saying what she thought. And she couldn't
flirt worth a damn. She was terrible at it. He said that's why he went over to her, to save her
from making a complete fool of herself with one of his cousin's friends. But by the time he
reached her side, she'd clearly put her foot in it, saying something that would have been treason
coming from a man."
"What? Wait, Spike, hang on. What did she say? What do you mean, treason?"
"Well, saying Indians ought to be allowed to govern themselves. She was born there. Her
father worked for the East India Company. He got married to a proper girl, but neglected to tell
her that's where they would be living. She was none too pleased. She had a child - my mum -
within a year of arriving in Bombay, and took to her bed after that. A lot of women did that in
those days, but I don't know how many took it to the extreme that she did. She simply refused to
hear about anything that had to do with the world outside of her bedroom door. My mum grew
up with pretty much no supervision, playing with the servants' children, learning Indian games and
songs and stories and dances. Her father was too involved in his work, and her mum was of no
bloody use, and she had no governess, so she grew up on her own. She wasn't even properly
educated, but she loved to read, and during monsoon season she sat and read all day long. Her
parents died when she was eighteen, of a fever that swept through the city; she nursed them both
but lost them in the end. Her mother's older sister wrote and offered her a home, and she sailed
for England. She wasn't exactly what anyone was expecting." He smiled, picturing her young,
independent, alone. "She horrified them."
"What did she do?" Buffy wanted to know, unable to narrow down the list of what would
have elicited horror from proper Victorian ladies.
"Well, she was dark-skinned, Slayer."
"What? So?"
"Living in India, staying out in the sun, had darkened her skin and lightened her hair. Her
aunt said she looked like a perfect heathen, and started pressing powder onto her immediately.
But she was just too dark; it must have looked awful on her. Anyhow, she was instant scandal.
Humming Indian songs, dancing along, all of that. But the dam burst when she said she thought
the stories in the Bible were nice, but not as exciting as the tales of Krishna and the other gods."
A smile began to form on his lips. "She told us that all you could hear for a moment was thud
after thud as her aunt and cousins fainted left and right." He looked like he wanted to burst with
laughter too.
"It all ended up with Da marrying her. He called her his golden girl on account of her
complexion, and he said she made all the society beauties, painted holding white roses next to
their skin to show off their own pallor, look dead. He loved her."
"So it was happily ever after?" Buffy asked, surprised, not knowing if her surprise was
caused by the idea that a Victorian marriage could be happy, or the knowledge that Spike was a
child of love.
"Well, not the way you're thinkin', Slayer. He loved her, and she loved him, but like
friends, like the way you an' Red love each other. They were more best friends than
melodramatic lovers. They were comfortable with each other. My da had never expected to meet
a woman he could talk to - about books, ideas, anything - the way he'd talk to another man, and
my mum had thought no man would understand how much the freedom of her old life had meant
to her. They just fit together. They were happy." She smiled, letting him know with her face that
she understood. He gleamed in appreciation at her, and she curled up against him once more,
ready at last to relax.
* * *
"Sir? Sir?" a voice repeated insistently. Spike, lost in thought, smoothing back the
slayer's hair, snapped into awareness, trying hard to ignore the pliant warmth of Buffy as she
leaned against him in sleep. He turned to locate the voice. "Sir, we're going to be keeping Mrs.
Summers here overnight. Why don't you and the young lady go home, and we'll give you a call
when she's ready to be picked up," the voice said softly, trying to be soothing but sounding only
impatient and overtired.
"Yes, all right," he replied finally, trying furiously to decode the words, needing to know if
there was bad news hidden under the calming tones. He turned to wake Buffy but couldn't bring
himself to do it. He scooped her up easily and minutes later he was tucking her into her own bed.
He made his way back downstairs and into the kitchen, noting the answering machine blinking.
He pushed play. All he heard at first was Buffy's garbled, hysterical voice. The machine cut her
off, and Dawn's voice came on.
"Mom? Wendy wants to know if I can sleep over. It's Friday, so please, can I? I told
Wendy's mom that you'd call to say yes . . . or no. Love you. Bye." Spike sighed a little in
relief, thankful that the Niblet was being spared what Buffy was going through. As big a girl as he
knew she was, she was still pretty young. //Buffy's not much older, and look at all she deals with//
an inner voice piped up. Nothing could change the fact that she was the slayer. //Poor girl. But I
guess that's destiny.//
* * *
Buffy slept for hours, awakening only when her internal alarm informed her it was time to
patrol. She stretched lazily, like a kitten in sunshine, before springing out of bed and nearly
tripping over Spike. He was sitting in the hallway outside her room, back against the wall, phone
an inch from his hand. His eyes were closed, but they slid open at her less than graceful approach.
"Spike?" she questioned. "Why are we at home?"
"Your mum's staying in hospital overnight. They told us to go home and wait for a phone
call," he replied as gently as he knew how.
Her face fell immediately; she'd imagined that her mother was safe and sound in her own
room, sleeping off whatever medicine she'd been given. "Oh."
"And the little one's at a friend's house and wants to spend the night. There's a message
from 'er."
"Okay, you call and say it's okay. I'm going to shower and then to patrol. I really need
to hit something right now . . . preferably with a stake." He nodded, not seeing a threat to his
own well-being in her menacing words; at first she was surprised, but as she headed for the
bathroom, she realized she really hadn't meant him at all.
* * *
The phone rang at ten the next morning. Buffy hurled herself at the ringing instrument,
nearly colliding with Spike, who was sleepily shuffling over to get it. "Hello? Hello?" But it was
only a telemarketer, interested in switching the Summers women's long-distance carrier. Spike
saw Buffy's face cloud over in confusion; she couldn't understand what the words "AT&T" had
to do with her mother's condition.
He snatched the phone from her hand, listened for a moment, then barked into the
receiver, "Stop tying up the bloody line! If and when she needs you and sodding AT&T, she'll
give you a call!" He slammed the phone down, only to have it ring again. It was the hospital; he
handed the phone to Buffy immediately and took a step back. She turned to face him and took
hold of the sleeve of his black t-shirt.
He paused, and she nodded up at him, but he had no idea what that was supposed to
mean. She hung up, her expression uncertain, and informed him, "They're ready to release her,
but they want to talk to us." He nodded and grabbed his car keys off the coffee table, thoughts
shamefully alternating between concern for Joyce's well-being and a little whisper of joy that
Buffy had said "us."
* * *
Buffy maintained physical contact with Spike throughout the drive and even once inside
the hospital. She didn't seem to be aware that she was doing it, and the state of her nerves was
worrying him. Right now she had a finger threaded through one of his belt loops as if she had
been told that the buddy system was the only way she'd make it out of the hospital alive.
As they approached the nurses' station, he drew her hand away from his waistband and
held it loosely in his own. "We're here to pick up Joyce Summers. The doctor wanted to talk to
us," he informed the pretty, slender nurse on duty. She nodded briskly, competently, and led
them down the hall to Joyce's room. Joyce lay on the bed, looking startlingly fragile and drawn,
her eyes tired.
He tugged at Buffy's hand to bring her to his side and then pushed her gently ahead of
him, releasing her. But she clutched blindly at him, and so he stepped into the room as well,
instead of waiting out in the hallway as he'd intended. Her grip on him was bruising, but her
voice was light as she faced her mother. "So, Mom? Ready to go?"
"Almost, honey. The doctor says there's something we should know. He should be here
any minute. Where's Dawn? Hi, Spike."
"Dawn spent the night at Wendy's. Don't worry about that - we'll pick her up on our way
home. How are you? Are you feeling better?" Again, the ease of her voice belied the pressure of
her fingers on his forearm, and he understood that his flesh was all she could grasp of reality.
Dr. Isaacs came in and closed the door behind him, gesturing for Buffy to sit down in the
hard plastic chair in the corner. She shook her head briefly and faced him straight on. He talked
for a few minutes, his voice low and concerned, but all she could hear was "brain tumor." She
hoped Spike was paying attention, because she couldn't. The two words echoed in her head,
growing frustratingly louder each time, and time seemed to drag to a near-halt. She saw motes of
dust as they fell onto her mother's blanket, she heard the rasp of one of her mother's labored
breaths, she felt Spike's arm, cool and malleable under her fingers. She looked at the doctor with
wide, uncomprehending eyes. He had shifted his gaze to Spike and was continuing his diagnosis,
his list of danger signs, of symptoms, of what needed to be done to care for her mother. Spike
was memorizing every word.
* * *
Buffy watched her mother change out of the hospital gown, feeling off-balance without
Spike's arm for support. She tried to shake herself out of her fogginess. She smiled at her
mother, and was relieved beyond measure when she smiled back. "Honey? It's going to be fine.
Didn't you hear what he said? It's operable - they caught it early. Thanks to you. You insisted
that I come down here." She paused, noting Buffy's uneasy silence, and teased, "You get a gold
star." Buffy smiled wanly at the familiar joke, put an arm around her mother's waist, and they left
the room together.
Spike was pacing in tight figure eights in the hallway; he stopped abruptly when he saw
them. His body was tense, and he stood perfectly straight, almost at attention, as Joyce came
down the hall. Buffy looked down at his arm and could see four purplish smudges on it where her
fingers had dug into his flesh, marring the pale expanse of skin. He looked taut, coiled to spring,
muscles bunched but ready to ripple smoothly. He started toward Joyce, holding out his arm in
an oddly formal gesture. She took it, smiling slightly, and he handed Buffy the car keys so she
could run ahead and have her mother's door open. Just before they stepped outside, he
murmured to Joyce, "Now, it's bloody hot outside. Might make you feel a bit dizzy. You just
take your time and hold on to me. We'll get you home." She wrapped a weak arm around his
cool waist, and let him guide her to the car and to Buffy.
* * *
Buffy was taking inventory of the people in the house. She had a feeling she'd be doing
that a lot from now on, if only to calm herself down. Dawn was upstairs in her room, probably
writing about the hospital visit and the sleepover in her diary, her mother was in the shower, and
Spike was sitting at the kitchen table, writing earnestly on a yellow legal pad. He didn't notice
her approach until she spoke. "Spike? What are you doing?" His handwriting was incongruously
beautiful, even upside down. She remembered that he'd been educated in the nineteenth century;
penmanship probably counted for a lot.
"I'm writin' down everything the doc said, so that you don't need to keep running to the
crypt. I wasn't sure how much you . . ." he trailed off, not wanting to make her feel under any
obligation to him.
"Heard? Understood?" she asked bitterly. "Not much. I was too busy freaking out."
"Easy, Slayer. It's hard to hear when it's your own mum that's bein' discussed. You
were there when she needed you."
"So were you," she responded quickly, knowing she probably wouldn't say the words
later. He looked surprised, then shrugged, as if he were just a worker doing the job he'd been
paid for.
"Now," he said as he stood up to go, "I'll drive you to hospital, should your mum need it,
day or night. Just come get me."
"No," she said, "I'll call you," and handed him her cell phone. He met her eyes as he
eased into his duster and slipped the phone into its pocket. He looked down at the pad and back
up at her, signaling her to read what he'd written. She bent her head to read, and saw a neat list
of all the things that Dr. Isaacs had said. At the bottom, underlined twice, were the words "Doc
says she'll be fine." She looked up to thank him, but he'd already slipped out of the house.
* * *
Buffy did a quick daytime patrol with Willow and Xander, since the clouds hadn't budged
and no sunlight filtered through. She lagged behind in the conversation, her face and voice
displaying none of the animation of her two best friends. "Buffy? What's wrong? You haven't
said a word since we got out here," Willow asked anxiously.
"Nothing," she replied pensively, the memory of her mother's overtired face filling her
mind to the exclusion of nearly everything else. //I need to reread Spike's list. How am I
supposed to take care of her and be on constant patrol too?// She said nothing, not wanting to
talk about it until she straightened it all out in her head.
Xander smiled, thinking he understood her absent-mindedness. "Isn't Riley coming home
tonight? Are you planning something special?"
"What? No, not really. I guess maybe the Bronze . . ." she broke off, her nerves tingling,
and spun around. Two lumbering vampires were heading for them, believing they were an easy
kill. Buffy's impatience at the vamps' slowness abruptly got the better of her. She threw a stake
with a flick of her wrist and the smaller of the two was transformed into a pile of dust. //That was
too quick// some hurting part of her mind said. //Better make this other one count.// Before
Willow or Xander could utter a rebuke or warning, she had launched herself at the larger, darker-
haired vampire, the heel of her hand cracking sharply on his jaw, making his head snap up. She
kicked at his gut while he was disoriented, breaking his nose with one hand. She was moving
with nearly blinding speed, weakening the vamp, letting out some of her pain and frustration on
his bruised and battered form. Just as tears started to rise in her eyes, she pulled out a stake and
plunged it into his heart. She swayed a little on her feet, emotions and adrenaline doing battle
inside her even as the oppressive heat clouded the air around her. She pulled herself together with
a monumental effort and turned to face her friends. "I don't think we'll be seeing any more
vamps for awhile, do you?"
They both shook their heads, looking worried. "I could really use some air-conditioning.
Let's go to the shop," Buffy suggested.
Willow immediately looked better, and Xander's face brightened at the thought of seeing
Anya, flushed and happy because Giles had left her in charge for the weekend. //What have I
done?// she asked herself silently as they headed for the shop, barely listening to Xander and
Willow chatting. //I've never tortured a vamp before. Killed them, yes. Made bad jokes, yes.
But hurt one when I could have easily staked it? This thing with Mom is really getting to me// she
realized grimly. //At least there's a phone in the shop. I'll be able to call home.//
* * *
"Oh good it's you," Dawn said when she heard Buffy's voice over the phone. "I'm on the
other line with the hospital. They said that if we bring Mom in today, at six, they can do some of
the other tests."
"Why, is she feeling bad again?" Buffy asked, guilt flooding her body. //Oh God, I
shouldn't have left the house. Xander and Willow could have handled patrol. Now this is going
to be my fault . . .//
"No, I don't think so. She's up, she looks fine. The hospital just said that the machines
for these tests are usually booked, but they had a cancellation, so they can take Mom today,"
Dawn answered.
"Cancellation? As in someone died?" Buffy asked sharply, her voice rising in panic.
"Oh my God, I . . . I don't know. They didn't say." Dawn's voice began to shake as
Buffy's words forced her to realize her sister's worst fear.
"Never mind. That was a dumb question," Buffy hastened to respond. "Just get back on
the line with them and tell them we'll be there at six. I'll be home soon."
* * *
She stood outside Spike's crypt; her feet, having taken her this far, refused to walk the
final few steps that would bring her to him. She looked around, feeling a bit dazed by the events
of the weekend. She smiled a bit when she saw that he'd hung house numbers on the front door
of the crypt, in a bizarre domestic fit: 666. She saw a few scattered cigarette butts on the ground.
She could see a slightly worn patch of grass, trod everyday by the heavy boots he wore. She took
a step forward and heard fragments of a melody. She lifted her foot to kick open the door and
then stopped. She was here as a friend; or rather, he had offered her friendship, and she ought to
live up to it. She knocked instead. He was wearing a carefully bored expression as he opened the
door, and it vanished as soon as he recognized her. "Is it your mum?" he asked, reading her
downcast face.
"Sort of," she said, trying in vain to produce a smile. "Can I come in?" Wordlessly, he
stepped back, holding the door wide open, and she ducked beneath his outstretched arm. As he
pushed it shut, the music began again.
He saw her looking at the record player and went over and turned the volume down. "I
didn't hear the phone ring, pet, I'm sorry. I thought vamp hearing would be enough . . ." he
trailed off when he realized she wasn't moving, that there was no urgency in her, just a slow, dull
ache.
"That's really nice," she said, pointing toward the record player with her chin in a gesture
that brought Joyce sharply back into his mind. She looked up at him, her face completely blank,
offering no clue about her muddled thoughts.
"It's Bach," he said, to break the silence growing larger and larger between them. "*Cello
Suites*."
She nodded once, as if to indicate that the information was being filed away in the
appropriate place. "So . . . what's the situation with your mum? Do you need me to take you to
hospital?"
"Later. At six tonight. They're going to run some test. Can you . . . ?"
"Six is fine," he soothed her. He'd have time to catch a nap, have a bag of blood, and then
go over to Revello Drive. He saw her shoulders sag briefly as if some great weight had been
lifted from them, and he started to smile at her, to reassure her that she wasn't alone. He stopped
when she bowed her head again, looking for all the world as if she'd just been beaten. //There's
something else - something besides her mum - eating at her// he finally realized. He waited for her
to speak, frowning when she simply stood in front of him, looking miserable.
Just as he opened his mouth to ask what else was wrong, she looked up, said "Thanks,
Spike," and turned on her heel. He closed his mouth only when the door of the crypt clicked
shut.
* * *
She walked into the house and saw her mother's smiling face. "Hi, sweetie. Are you in
the mood for Chinese? I had promised Dawn a take-out night in front of the TV, before the
hospital called. We decided that we'd just make it a late lunch. I sent her to get it; I think she
needed to get out of the house for a bit," Joyce said, reading the anxiety in Buffy's eyes. "Don't
worry, I feel fine. I'm sure this test is just a formality - Dr. Isaacs said it was to gauge when my
operation should be."
"Spike's going to take us over for the appointment," Buffy said, proud that her voice
remained steady. "He'll be by probably around five."
Joyce just smiled again. "I'd invite him over to share the food, but something tells me he
wouldn't really enjoy it. I'm just going to eat and then take a nap. You look like you could
probably use one too."
Buffy relaxed at her mother's joke, and felt the tiredness wash over her in waves. "I think
you're right, Mom. As a matter of fact, if Dawn doesn't get here soon, I'm going to fall asleep
right here. You'd better catch me." She sat next to her mother on the couch, leaning her head
against that comforting, warm shoulder, feeling her mother's deep, even breaths reverberate
through her head. They stayed that way until Dawn walked in holding yellow plastic bags filled
with white cartons of food.
* * *
Dawn protested, tears in her eyes. "But why can't I come with you, Mom? I want to be
there at the hospital for you!"
"Sweetie, I just don't think it's necessary. I feel bad enough making Buffy come. I'd like
to think that *one* of my daughters is not ruining her Saturday night plans. Just go do whatever
it was you were going to do. Just - no sleepovers, and no staying out past ten. Deal?"
Dawn looked to Buffy for help, but Buffy simply nodded at her in a way that meant to
give up and just listen to their mother. "Fine," she muttered, then relented and caught her mother
in a tight embrace. "I was just going to have Wendy and Heather over anyway."
"That's my girl," Joyce smiled down at her, smoothing back Dawn's hair, frizzy from the
humidity. "And no using my name to rent a dirty movie."
"I never!" Dawn began indignantly, then smiled sheepishly as she recognized the joke as
her mother's way of easing her mind. "Don't worry, Mom, the triple-X video store is too far to
walk to, especially in this heat," she smirked prettily.
* * *
Spike and Buffy were sitting on the same damn couch, waiting for the test to be over.
Spike at least was more relaxed than he had been the last time, having seen Joyce's clear and
untroubled face, knowing there was no pain for her at the moment. He watched Buffy fidget
restlessly, her nimble fingers picking at the ancient fabric of the couch, pulling it apart in
frustration.
"Talk to me, Spike," she finally asked, not caring how pathetic she sounded; she needed a
warm and caring voice in her ear, even if it were only spouting inanities.
"What do you want to hear?" he asked, forcing her to think about something, anything
other than her mother and the newfound vulnerability she represented.
"Um . . . I don't know." She looked down and saw the bruises on his arm, saw where she
had marked him with her pain. Something in the back of her mind clicked. //He said he was a
geeky poet when he was turned. But what kind of poet has muscles like he's got? It's not like he
could suddenly go the vampire gym and bulk up - you stay the way you are when you're turned.//
"Tell me about your life life - I mean what you were like, and what you did, before you were
turned."
"I thought we covered this already," he said, suddenly wary; he'd seen the wrinkling of the
nose that usually accompanied deep thought on her part, and he knew she would no longer be
satisfied with the bad-poet story he'd given her.
"Come on, Spike," she said, rolling her eyes, "I *am* taking a poetry class. No way was
Keats in the kind of shape you're in. What were you really doing?"
He sighed, resigning himself to spilling the truth. "My mum insisted that we - Stella and I,
both - do something with ourselves. She didn't want us to just sit around, wait for the proper
match, grow old, and die. Not that Stella would have been the proper maiden in any case - she
was a right hellion." He grinned at the memories. "But me - I don't know. Perhaps I would have
been ordinary, the sort of quiet scholar my da had been, but my mum wouldn't hear of it. She
was all for book-learning, but she said nothing would change if all the smart people stayed home
and read all day. Anyhow, Stella got involved in hospital reform, and when she came home from
the meetings at hospital, stories would just pour out of her, about all the suffering she'd seen. It
was like she was dying from the pain, but she was more alive too, because she was useful, she
was making a difference. She came home one day covered in filth, smelling like a sewer. She said
that a little boy had come to hospital, frantic because his mum was dying, and he just grabbed
Stella's skirt and tugged. She went with him, and he took her to his room in the slums. There
were twenty people all sharing the one room, and the boy's mother was lying in one corner.
Stella said the air was stale and thick with illness; all she could do for the woman was hold her
hand as she died. She covered the woman's face and asked what should be done, but no one
answered her. She said no matter how many times she asked, no one wanted to answer her
questions. But she came home so angry at the way those people had to live . . ." his voice trailed
off, picturing the ugly scene her words had painted for him so long ago. "I was at university, and
I knew some of the boys that fancied themselves revolutionaries. I went to one of their meetings
and said something about what Stella had seen, but they didn't want to hear it. They said certain
things weren't meant to be changed, that the poor were poor for a reason, and that I was starting
to sound like the crackpots who wrote for that radical newspaper *The Fortunates*. So of
course that was my next stop. I began to write for them, do the kind of work they were doing.
We did what you'd now call investigative journalism, doin' our best to expose the evils that
society turned a blind eye to, that sort of thing. My first project was to discover more about the
people Stella had seen. I wanted to know what kind of landlord would permit such squalor, such
a breeding-ground for disease; I didn't realize how common such a situation was. It took me
weeks, followin' people, talkin' to servants, but I finally was able to trace the ownership of the
building to one of the richest, most well-respected men in London, Jerome Whitely. It made me
sick; here he was, eating off fine china and dressed in silk, when he took all the money these
people had and gave them one corner of a dirty, unventilated room. I'd never felt anything like
the rage that coursed through me as I wrote my story. I came home with a copy of the paper and
read it for my mum and Stella. They were so proud of me; Mum started to cry as she said Da
would have been too. So it was the three of us against the world, fighting for things we believed
in. We used to come home every night and share stories about Stella's hospital, my latest piece,
or Mum's experiences as a suffragette. We had it good for a few years." He swallowed,
remembering the feeling of camaraderie they'd shared . . . and how deeply he'd betrayed it.
"What, Spike? What happened next?" Buffy asked softly, surprised by the pain on his
face. There was a long silence. Finally, he spoke.
"My mum died," he said harshly. "She was sick, and she just kept getting weaker and
weaker. None of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with her. It was scary, seein' her
look pale for the first time, seein' her just sitting there instead of doing something. But she held
out for longer than anybody thought she could; she was that strong. After she died, my work
seemed unimportant. It was Stella who kept me going; she said that we had each other, that we'd
be honoring Mum's memory only if we continued our work. She said she'd never leave me. But
then three months later, she was dead too." He drew his breath in sharply, surprised at how much
it hurt to be telling this story, telling it for the first time. "She was coming back from hospital.
She was crossing Union Street, when a horse took fright at something and trampled her. She was
dead before I got to see her. And it was just me. Alone." He sat back, his eyes closed tightly
against the pain.
She couldn't just sit there, ignoring his grief, but patting him on the shoulder or arm was
hardly adequate. She reached over and pulled him half onto her; his forehead was pressed against
her collarbone and his arm was draped loosely around her waist. She made soothing noises and
stroked his hair until she felt him relax. He rolled recklessly away from her, flinging aside the arm
that had encircled her, and resumed his story without opening his eyes. "I stopped working
completely. I just wanted to get away from anything that brought my mum and Stella back to
mind. And then I met her. Cecily. She seemed so fragile, so untouchable. She was as different
from my mum and sister as it was possible to be; to me, that simply meant that she wouldn't die
and leave me. I pursued her, writing her bad poetry, wanting to court her properly. But I wasn't
important enough for her. The night she finally, openly rejected me, I met Dru. And she was so
easy to love . . ."
Buffy tensed beside him, willing herself to keep quiet, but her mutinous mouth disobeyed
the SHUT UP order her brain was handing down. "What?!? How could she be 'easy to love'?
She's crazy, Spike, remember? She has tea parties with a damn doll! And she left you, for Angel,
even after you'd taken care of her!" Buffy cried out desperately, not understanding why she was
so worked up. Yes, Dru had taken Angelus back into her bed, but Buffy had already lost him at
that point, at the moment he'd lost his soul.
Spike's face hardened. "Yeah, Slayer, Dru was crazy, but it was your precious Angel who
made her that way. By the time he got through with her, she was lost. But there were moments
when she found her way again, and those moments made everything else worthwhile. And the
rest of the time, she was like a child, hurt but still trusting. How could anyone with any feeling at
all not love her?" He quieted, then added, as if it were an afterthought, "And she loved me too."
"But how can you say that if she went back to Angel?" Buffy was almost pleading.
His face was grim. "I know she loved me, Slayer. Me. But she was . . . helpless . . .
before Angel. He had a sort of thrall thing over her; it's something that most vamps can only do
with a childe."
"So how do you know that you loved her - really loved her? Maybe you were just under
her thrall."
Spike sort of smiled. "No, you see, I didn't really have a sire. She knew that Angelus
would destroy any childe of hers; he didn't want anybody taking her attention away from him. So
she drained me, but then pretended to collapse just as it was my turn to drink from her. Angelus
was spying on her and he saw her fall. My neck had the marks of her turning-bite - it was
different from a killing-bite - so he couldn't just let me die. I was turned by her drinking me and
me drinking the blood in his veins. So I was caught between two sires, neither bond strong
enough for the thrall. And Dru knew that, having half-sired me, Angelus would feel bound to
keep me. So he mostly left me alone, aside from forcing himself on me a few times, instead of
torturing me as much as he'd've liked. And Dru and I had all the time in the world to fall in
love." There was something in his eyes that made her breath catch in her throat. "We were
happy, Slayer. We had each other for more than a century."
Buffy could tell that he meant it. He had been secure in Dru's love. She swallowed back
tears; Spike's words had made her consider who Dru really was, and she saw with awful clarity
how monstrously cruel Angelus had been. She wanted to let him know she understood. She
smiled faintly at him and asked, "So . . . did you two have a song?"
He rolled his eyes at her, glad to be back on less emotionally charged ground. "We were
together for more than a hundred years, love. We had lots of songs."
"Yeah, but wasn't there one that seemed more right than the others? Which one was your
favorite?"
He took his time, considering. "Well, there was one . . . but it's more about her than
about us."
"What was it?" she asked with surprising eagerness.
"'And She Was' - Talking Heads," he replied.
"Hey!" she protested.
"Now what, Slayer?"
"I like that song! That can't be Dru's song!"
"Too bloody bad. The first time I heard it, I knew it fit her - beautiful, crazy, intuitive.
And there was one part" - he grinned salaciously - "that we made fit after we heard it." He sang a
little of the song, softly, reliving good memories: *"And she was drifting through the backyard,
and she was takin' off her dress, and she was moving very slowly, rising up above the earth."*
Buffy found herself blushing faintly at his suggestive tone, but she forced herself to look
unaffected as he turned his eyes her way once more.
She didn't really want to dispel his newfound contentment, but her curiosity was
overpowering. "So what happened with you guys, Spike? Why aren't you still with her?"
His smile faded, and she inwardly cursed her runaway tongue. "It just got to be too much
for me, Slayer. I mean, I knew she loved me, that the Angelus fixation wasn't really her, but it
hurt too bloody much to see her with him, mooning over him, blocked from even thinking about
me. I couldn't be second best - not with her, the one girl I'd really loved. I got her away from
him, but I couldn't make myself feel the same towards her, especially since the thrall hadn't been
broken. She kept crying out for him . . ." he choked a little over the words, "and all I could do
was take care of her. That's as close as she let me come to her. And after that it didn't matter
what her song was," he finished, something lonely and sad creeping into his eyes.
Buffy was shocked to find herself wanting to comfort him once more, to hold him tenderly
and reassure him he wasn't alone. She found herself wanting to rationalize the fact that he was a
vampire, a killer. "Is that when you started killing just to kill, not just to feed?" she asked,
offering him an out, already nodding in silent agreement with her own theory.
"What? No. Buffy," he said firmly, once he got over his surprise, "I started killing as
soon as I was turned. It was the first time I'd felt power - real power. For all the stories I wrote,
nothing much really changed. But once I was turned, I made things change. I killed Jerome
Whitely that night. I only attacked people callous to the suffering of others. That kept me busy
for quite some time."
Beside him, Buffy relaxed a bit. //Sure, it would have been great if he hadn't killed
anybody in cold blood. But I guess the next best thing is this, him being the Robin Hood of
vampires.//
He saw her relief and pushed on, unwilling to lie to her, to trick her into loving him. He
forced himself to enunciate, every word, as clear and vibrant as the tone of a church-bell,
dropping into the space between them. "But somewhere along the way, Buffy, I discovered I
liked killing, and soon it stopped mattering who was on the receiving end of my bite."
She was clearly shaken, but she lifted her chin and launched into her best junior-Watcher
lecture. "The demon inside you was what wanted to kill, Spike. Not you. You . . ."
"No," he cut her off without compunction. "It was me. The demon just made it easier for
me to kill, but I was the one that wanted to do it."
She felt lost, like she was drowning, and there wasn't a lifeline in sight. It felt like he was
pushing her head further underwater when he said, "You need to know, Buffy." He hesitated.
"You need to know what I really am," he was saying when suddenly his eyes softened at
something over her shoulder and he stood up, smiling slightly. Buffy turned to see her mother
being wheeled down the hall toward them.
* * *
Buffy helped her mother up the stairs and into bed, glad that the house was quiet. Dawn
had left a note saying that she'd gone out for iced coffee with her friends, and that she'd be back,
alone, by nine. Buffy stalked into the den and sat on the couch, shoulders tense, as she thought
through everything Spike had said as they waited for her mother's test to be over. She tried to
sort it all out in her head, but she couldn't concentrate. Once she had the carton of ice cream that
Willow had brought over in her hand, however, she found she was able to think a bit more
rationally. Much of what he'd said sounded startlingly familiar to her - he'd had a mother and
sister that he loved beyond measure, he'd dedicated much of his life and unlife to fighting the
good fight. //Where, then, do we differ? Obviously, I've never been a vampire. And I certainly
haven't been able to have a long-term relationship, like he has.// She smiled bitterly at the
thought. //And I've never killed out of the joy of killing.// But she knew even as she thought this
last bit that she was lying. //When I was patrolling with Will and Xander, I relished that last kill. I
wanted to keep hurting that vamp. Spike was right - it was him, not the demon. I know, because
I've done it too.// Hot tears flowed down her cheeks and into the ice cream, and the admission
seemed to break the tightness in her chest that had been crushing her for so long.
* * *
She stopped crying only when she heard Dawn's key being pushed into the lock on the
front door. She hastily wiped her eyes, tossed the ice cream carton in the trash, and went to the
door. Dawn was cursing the lock under her breath when Buffy pulled the door open. "I forgot to
lock it when I came in. That's why your key wouldn't turn," Buffy explained as her sister walked
in.
"How's Mom?"
"She's fine. We'll have to go back at some point to hear the results, but right now she
seems okay. She's even planning on going into the gallery tomorrow, at least for a little while."
Dawn smiled, reassured, not noticing in the dim hall light the redness of Buffy's eyes.
"Good. Do you think she's asleep? Or can I go talk to her?" Dawn asked.
"Why don't you go on up and see. I'm going out to patrol. I'll be back in a few hours."
She armed herself and stepped out into the humid air.
* * *
She was efficient but not brutal on patrol, dusting vamps left and right. //The more of
them I stake at night, the fewer Will and Xander have to deal with during the day.// She moved
like a well-oiled machine, and with about the same level of enthusiasm; there was no banter
tonight as she did her job methodically. She had finished her rounds when she spotted Willow in
the distance - there was no mistaking that red hair. "Will!" she called and jogged in her direction,
suddenly wanting to let everything that had happened that weekend spill out of her. She pulled up
short when she saw another girl with Willow, and automatically concealed the stake she was
carrying.
"Buffy! Hi! This is Tara, from my Wicca group. Tara, this is Buffy. She's my best
friend." Buffy smiled and gave Tara a friendly nod, inwardly screaming in frustration that Willow
hadn't been alone. Willow could see that Buffy was tense, not with the anticipatory tightness she
got when she was patrolling, but in a bad way. Pulling Buffy aside, the witch asked "Is everything
okay? Where have you been all day?"
Buffy softened a bit at her friend's evident concern, but only responded, "Nothing urgent.
We'll talk tomorrow. Go have fun with your friend. I'll see you at the shop after you and Xander
do a daytime sweep, okay?"
She turned away, and was surprised when Willow caught her arm a minute later. "Tara
said you looked really upset, and that she'd take a rain check on our . . . plans. Why don't we
talk now?" Buffy nodded in relief, and Willow steered them both to her room. "So . . ." Willow
began, and was interrupted by a rush of words from Buffy.
"It's my mom. She's sick. I mean really sick. She's got a brain tumor, can you believe it?
And we've been in the hospital all weekend, just waiting for her to come out of the room. And
Giles said that the weather is being magically manipulated, which means there are vamps running
around 24/7 now. The only good part has been Spike, and even that is weirding me out. I mean,
there I was, relying on him, trusting him, and he was living up to it, and then suddenly - wham! -
he says I shouldn't forget that he's a killer at heart. What am I supposed to do?" Willow sat
beside Buffy on the bed, and put her arms around her, but Buffy was too confused to even cry.
They sat together in silence, cheek-to-cheek.
* * *
Buffy didn't know what to think when she saw Spike sitting on her front porch, smoking
his last cigarette. She'd sat with Willow, been held and comforted, for only an hour, before she
remembered that she'd promised to be home by eleven. "Spike? What's wrong?" she asked, fear
clenching up her throat before his fairly relaxed demeanor registered.
"Your Watcher just called me," he replied, holding out her cell phone. "Was a bit
flustered when he got William the Bloody instead of Buffy the Slayer, but eventually he sputtered
out his message."
"And that was what?" she asked wearily, sure of hearing more bad news.
"That you've got to do the daytime patrol tomorrow, pet. Apparently the Council of
Wankers sent over a big box o' books on this weather situation we've been havin'. So he needs
Willow and the whelp to help him read, leaving you to do the slayin'. He seems to think three
heads are better than one, even if one of them is Xander's."
Buffy half-smiled at his derogatory tone and he smiled back. "But why did you come all
the way over here? You could have just called."
"I tried that, love, but I kept getting your soddin' machine, and it kept bloody cutting me
off."
"There must be a lot of messages on there. Dawn must have turned off the ringer so that
Mom could sleep. Do you want to come in?" He followed her in and sat at the kitchen table
while she played the messages. The first was from Xander and the second from Willow. She
stiffened in surprise when she heard her dad's voice next, leaving the phone number of his hotel in
Spain, where he'd be on business for a few months. Giles was next, and she relaxed slightly,
hearing in his voice all the paternal affection she hadn't been able to detect in the previous
message.
Her Watcher's speech sounded curiously flat coming out of her machine: "Buffy? Are you
there? Is everything all right? I tried your cell phone, but . . . Spike . . . answered it. He said you
offered it to him so he'd have a way to reach you if the Initiative returned. But, um, I have good
news. The Council has sent over some texts that they feel may help us with the meteorological
situation at hand, and I was planning on recruiting Willow and Xander to help me go through
them tomorrow. That means you'll have to do the daytime patrol as well. We'll meet at the shop
after that, at around two? I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy."
Spike could hear Giles's love for Buffy in his voice and smiled; too often the Watcher
seemed like only a stern taskmaster disciplining a wayward child, but that evidently wasn't the
case. //Good thing she's got him, considering that wanker that claims to be her father obviously
doesn't give two shits about Joyce and the kids.//
He frowned as Riley's voice, punctuated by several small gaps of static in which words
were lost, filled the kitchen: "Buffy . . . Riley . . . flight's delayed . . . tomorrow night . . . miss
you . . . class on Monday? . . . need to talk . . . do this over the phone . . . tomorrow." The
message was long, and filled most of the remainder of the tape. Buffy was guiltily aware that
she'd forgotten that Riley was due in that night, and felt even more ashamed that she was glad his
flight was delayed; after the Friday and Saturday she'd had, she didn't know how much more she
could take.
She stopped beating herself up when she heard Spike's recorded voice on the playback:
"Slayer? Niblet?" Quieter, he asked "Joyce?" He paused and then continued, "Listen, Slayer,
your Watch-" The machine cut him off. He was swearing as he started to leave his second
message, speaking more quickly this time: "The Watcher called your cell and got me instead of
you. So of course he thought I'd made away with you, despite the soddin' chip in my head. Like
I'd answer your phone if I'd just finished draining you! Really -" The machine cut him off again.
This time, as his third message started, his curses were more fluent. "So after a good bit of back-
and-forth, he says that no one's pickin' up at your house, and he needs to be certain you get the
message that you're on for daytime patrol tomorrow, and would I make sure you get the message,
as I've got nothin' better to do -"
Buffy waited for a fourth message, but there wasn't one. She turned and faced him, trying
to arch one eyebrow the way he and Giles could. //It must be a British thing// she decided when
she realized she couldn't do it. He looked slightly sheepish for having left so many rambling
messages, but instead of teasing him, she offered him a real smile. "What?" he asked, unsure of
what he'd done to merit that sweet smile.
"Thank you for not telling Giles or anybody about my mom, about this weekend."
"But you are going to tell him, aren't you, Slayer?" he asked, his brow knit with worry.
"Yes, of course. But it's just nice that it's up to me to decide when." He nodded in
understanding, knowing how much she cherished control. They sat in silence for a moment, and
then Spike pushed his chair back from the table and stood, ready to leave. "Do you want to come
with me tomorrow?" she asked. "To patrol? And then to the shop? You could help us go
through the books."
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why the hell he'd want to sit in the same room as
Xander, but then he looked at her tired face and found himself agreeing. "Don't know how much
help I'll be, though, love. The way the Council writes, taking eight pages to say what only needed
a few lines - it's enough to drive a bloke mad." She was looking at him questioningly, as if he
hadn't really answered her, so he said, "I'll pick you up here at eleven. That good?" She nodded
and walked him to the front door.
* * *
//She's lovely in the light.// That seemed to be all he could think as they patrolled the
cemeteries together at high noon. Of course, there wasn't any direct sunlight. It was just that the
air didn't have the dusky darkness that he associated with the sight of her. He watched her as she
moved smoothly among the headstones, her grace never quite concealing her strength.
He didn't realize that she was watching him too. She saw his loping gait, the power and
energy he held in check evident just in the fluid way he walked. She remembered his warning -
"You need to know what I really am" - and the fateful way in which he'd said those dangerous
words. But it was easier said than done. Who knew what Spike really was anymore? He was a
master vampire with a chip that kept him from hurting humans, a man and demon in one, and the
friend who'd done everything he could for her mother. She didn't know if Spike knew any better
than she did who he really was. She wondered why he'd uttered that caveat.
She spun as she heard him shout, "Buffy! Behind you!" Her right foot shot out
automatically, and she kicked one of the vamps that was heading for her to the side. She dared a
glance in Spike's direction, assessing their situation. He'd been jumped; one vamp was crawling
up him like a child wanting a piggyback ride, and another two were grinning at him, satisfied that
he was helpless. His stake had been kicked out of his hand. //No!// she refused to see Spike
beaten. Her newfound rage aided her attack, and soon all five of the vamps that had been gunning
for her had fallen before Mr. Pointy. Spike was still struggling, but there was a wicked glint in his
eye that gave her pause. He'd shaken off the clingy vamp and kicked her hard enough for her to
think that crawling away was a good idea, but he was still at a disadvantage, facing two big vamps
without a weapon. One of them reached out and pushed him on the chest, and Spike went down
easily. //That was too easy// Buffy thought. //He must be planning something.// And indeed his
fighting grin was suddenly plastered on his face. Half-sitting, half-reclining on his forearms,
Spike's hand moved to his waistband and he unfastened his belt with nimble fingers. He pulled it
free of his jeans and wrapped it around his hand a few times, letting the heavy buckle swing loose.
In one clean, forceful motion he swung it at his two attackers as they leaned forward to get him,
and the edges of the buckle, carefully sharpened for just such an occasion, sliced neatly through
their necks. They fell into dust before his eyes.
Buffy ran up to him as he was putting his belt back on. "You missed a loop," she said in
an overly dry tone.
He looked down at her, catching the uncertainty she thought she'd hidden. "What's the
matter, love? A bit too gruesome? I discovered last time that I don't like bein' left without a
weapon. So I made a virtue of necessity."
"I thought you always had a weapon. You know . . ." she gestured vaguely at his face.
"Oh, the vamp powers? Yes, they're all well and good, but drinking a vampire is like
drinking the Sahara. 'Sides, the belt comes in awfully handy." She was still silent, so he prodded
a bit more. "What is it that's botherin' you? Is it that they died because of a belt, or that the belt
is mine?" She felt strangely compelled to answer him.
"It's that you were enjoying it so much. And now I know what that's like. I did it too."
Her voice had sunk to a shamed whisper.
"Did what, love?" he asked, stepping close so that he could hear her quiet voice.
"The day we found out about my mom, I had to do a patrol. And there were only two
vampires. I dusted one quick, but then I . . . toyed with . . . the other one. I tortured him. I
wanted to inflict as much pain as I was in. It was like music every time I heard another of his
bones snap, every groan he made. I couldn't believe it was me doing all that, but it was." She
finally looked up at him, and he could see tears swimming in her eyes, waiting to fall.
"Shh, easy now, love," he murmured as she stepped into his arms. "So it's happened
once. And I doubt, from what you're sayin', that it'll ever happen again. You were hurt and
confused, and you had all of this power inside you, screaming to be let out. Usually you're able
to control it, but too much had happened, what with your mum bein' ill and your mortal enemy
bein' the only person who was around. Trust me, love, I've felt that bloodlust much worse, and I
haven't given in to it in over thirty years. Since before you were born. You'll never succumb
again, I promise you."
"No," she breathed.
"Buffy?" he questioned her, his head tipping to one side as he studied her.
"No, you're not my mortal enemy," she continued as if he hadn't interrupted. "We were
enemies at one point, but now . . . I don't know. I think we might be friends."
He stepped back and held her eye as he declared defiantly, "I'm not one of your bloody
Scoobies."
"No," she agreed. "You're special." He grinned at that, and moved forward once more
to hold her. He had the right to hold her.
* * *
They walked into the Magic Box together, Buffy feeling more relaxed than she'd believed
was possible. "We're done patrolling, and we're ready to read!" she announced in a voice that
was almost cheerful. Giles, Xander, Willow, and Anya all turned to look at her, and the odd
looks on their faces made her distinctly uneasy. "What? I'm not late, am I? Nope. It's quarter
to two. I'm actually early. What's the matter?" Xander and Willow looked down, and Giles
cleared his throat uncomfortably; only Anya maintained her level gaze.
Behind Buffy, Spike shifted uneasily. His first thought had been that it was his presence,
or rather the presence of him and the Slayer together, that was bothering her friends; he quickly
realized, however, that none of them had even glanced his way. He put a hand on the small of the
Slayer's back and guided her to a chair at the end of the research table. She sank into it slowly,
and repeated, "What?"
"Buffy," Giles began, "we need to talk to you . . ." He had been going to add "alone," but
then he noticed how she'd angled her body to keep Spike in her line of sight, how she leaned back
in her chair when he touched her shoulder briefly.
Buffy heard his unspoken word, however, and she said, "Spike stays. I asked him to help
out, and he agreed, so anything that has to do with this weather thing involves him too. This is
about the weather thing, isn't it?"
"Yes," her Watcher agreed quickly, then stopped, at a loss as to how to proceed. He took
a deep breath and pushed forward. "When we opened the box, there was a letter concealed
between two of the books. It was from Thomas, and it was addressed to me. It said that the
books would be a nice addition to my library, but that they wouldn't prove useful in breaking the
hold of whatever's got Sunnydale's weather in its grip. He said he did some unauthorized poking
around and found the prophecy that would help. He sent it in the letter - it's quite short. As
much as I hate it, Buffy, I have to believe that this prophecy is the one we need. Thomas's sister
called me this morning; he was found dead outside Council headquarters."
"I'm sorry, Giles," she responded immediately, reaching a hand out towards him.
The heaviness on the Watcher's face remained. "You still need to hear the prophecy,
Buffy," was his only answer. He looked down at the letter in his hand and opened his mouth, but
found he couldn't bring himself to utter those words. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the
back of his hand savagely across his wet eyes, holding out the paper with his other hand.
Xander reluctantly took it and stumblingly read it, his voice clogged with unshed tears:
*"Two souls, one of darkness, one of light, must ally. Their onion* - sorry - *union . . . Their
union alone can separate day in night and night in day."*
"Three guesses as to who the 'soul of darkness' is," Buffy said miserably, looking down at
the wooden table.
"What's this about 'union,' Watcher?" Spike asked, stepping forward.
"Union, you know . . ." Giles faltered.
"No, I don't know. That's why I asked. It can mean anything from simple alliance to . . .
sexual tie. Is that the best translation job they could do? We need to find the original text and
translate it ourselves."
"Spike," Giles answered, keeping his voice low, "this prophecy was written in English.
They're not all in dead languages. 'Union' is the word we have to deal with. My guess would be
that it means the sexual liaison that you mentioned, as Buffy and Angel are already, in a sense,
sort of allies, albeit long-distance ones."
Buffy flinched when she heard Angel's name spoken so openly, and Spike's eyes shifted to
her instantly. "Slayer?" He made it a question not with a lift in his voice but with the concern
written across his face.
She raised her eyes slowly to meet his, unable to look at anyone else in the room. "I think
I liked 'onion' better," she said softly before she ran out of the shop on unsteady legs.
* * *
Trembling or not, the girl was endowed with Slayer speed, and only Spike was able to
catch up with her. He caught her in his arms, allowing her to sag against him and beat oddly
harmless fists against his chest. "I can't do it, Spike," she said in a ragged whisper. "I can't let
him back into my life. Not ever, but especially not now, with everything else that's going on."
"I know, love, I know," he soothed, seeing her Watcher approach. The dismay on her
face as he let go of her nearly broke his heart, but Giles pulled her into an embrace before she
could say a word. She shifted in Giles's arms so that she could see Spike; satisfied that he wasn't
going anywhere, she closed her eyes and let her Watcher rock her gently.
"Giles," she said into his chest, hearing Xander and Willow come running up, "I have bad
news too." She could feel Spike standing next to Giles, and his presence gave her the strength to
continue. "It's my mom. She's got a brain tumor, and she needs to have an operation. I found
out yesterday." She kept her face buried in his chest as she talked, but she knew they'd heard
every word.
Giles abruptly stopped rocking and stepped back, putting his hands on Buffy's shoulders
so that he could look her in the face, but she kept her head down. Spike came up behind her and
looped one arm around her waist, offering her his strength to lean against. She drooped against
him, her back resting on his chest, and she finally looked up to meet Giles's distraught gaze.
"Buffy, I'm so sorry," he said. "Any help I can give you is yours - you know that." His words
were echoed by Willow and Xander, hovering anxiously over her.
"Thank you," she said, a small smile on her face at last. "I think we've got it covered, but
it's good to know there's always backup. I really wanted you guys to know."
She turned to Spike, ready to go, but he was looking at Giles. "What now, Watcher?
What are you going to do about that prophecy?"
Giles wanted desperately to avoid the question, but he forced himself to answer Spike. "I
suppose I'll call Angel, let him know what the situation is. Hopefully he'll understand that this is
not an invitation back into Buffy's life; it is simply necessity, a matter of life and death." Giles
looked up to see Spike's eyes meeting his sympathetically, as if they were allies, and he knew the
vampire didn't want Angel back any more than he did. The Watcher's eyes widened as realization
hit - Spike was in love with Buffy.
* * *
When he saw disbelief on the Watcher's usually impassive face, Spike knew his secret was
out. He held Giles's gaze, willing him to understand that he hadn't told Buffy; the last thing she
needed at this point was upheaval in her love life. Giles was startled by the message Spike's eyes
were sending him, and he kept quiet, knowing Buffy would need as many allies as she could
muster if she was going to deal with her mother's illness and the monumental awkwardness
brought about by the prophecy. Spike nodded, satisfied that the Watcher would keep his secret,
and steered Buffy home.
They weren't touching as they walked along, but each was acutely aware of the other as a
physical presence. //It's like there's a bubble around us, so that there's only us right now// Buffy
thought confusedly. //It's nice.//
Her mother met them at the front door, wearing a purple sleeveless dress, and Spike
brightened perceptibly at the sight of her. "Up and about, are we?" he grinned at her, pleased that
she looked strong and healthy once more. "Looks like you won't need a chauffeur for much
longer."
Joyce smiled at him, touched by his obvious pleasure. She turned to Buffy, still smiling.
"Sweetie, you've got a visitor. Why don't you go see him, and I'll make Spike some hot
chocolate," she said, winking conspiratorially at the vampire.
Spike's heart sank as he understood that Riley was waiting for Buffy //she's his girlfriend,
you wanker// inside the house. "No, thanks, Joyce," he said quickly. "Don't want to wear you
out. But I'll take a rain check, all right?"
"Are you sure? It's no trouble. And I'd really like to do something for you, after all
you've done for me."
"You already have," he said, turning from her to look at Buffy for a long moment before
he turned and walked down the front porch steps.
* * *
She couldn't believe she'd forgotten about Riley again, in the space of less than a day.
She'd spent the day thinking about her mother, slaying, crying in Spike's arms, dreading the
return of Angel, and crying in Giles's arms. //True, these aren't small problems, but what kind of a
girlfriend am I that Riley seems like just one more obstacle to face, one more problem to solve?//
She realized that there wasn't a single part of her mind that had whispered that things would seem
better once he came back; her mind had apparently chosen Spike to fill that role.
Riley stood when Buffy walked into the den, noting that her eyes were rimmed with pink,
matching the color of her tank top. "Buffy? What's wrong?" he asked, wanting to hold her and
kiss away all of her problems, knowing even as he thought it that she never had crises that were
so easily solved.
"It's um . . . nothing. Just with this weather, the vamps have been carousing around the
clock, so we're all kind of tired, and probably a bit on edge." She tried to laugh deprecatingly,
inwardly wincing as she heard how false it sounded, but Riley didn't seem to notice.
"Buffy," he began, and bent his legs and then straightened halfway up again.
"Yeah?" she asked, sitting next to him, and he finally decided to sit all the way down too.
"Buffy, we need to talk." Without meaning to, her head dropped toward her chest,
making it nearly impossible for him to see her face clearly. He moved off the couch and got on
one knee in front of her, peering up at her. "I did a lot of thinking this week. About us, about
what my life was before you, and what you've made of it since. And I love you; I want to be with
you forever." She hated that word, the word she'd used in her head every time Angel came near
her, the word that ultimately betrayed. All she had "forever" were memories, more painful than
not. "But I don't know if you want that too."
"What?" she asked, surprised by the turn in his speech. "Riley, I -" She paused, expecting
him to interrupt her, but he simply knelt and watched her. His silence unnerved her; she went on
the attack. "What do you mean? Of course I don't know about forever! We haven't been dating
for that long, and anyway, we're too young to be having this conversation."
"No, Buffy, we're not. People younger than us break up all the time." She gaped at him,
unable to believe she'd heard him correctly. He gave her a sad smile and continued. "It was
weird being home, staying in my old room. My folks hadn't changed anything. All my trophies
were still lined up against one wall, plaques hanging above them - debate, wrestling, football,
Olympics of the Mind, everything. And, dumb as it sounds, I thought I'd like to bring you to
Iowa someday, and have you see all these awards, have you meet my family, introduce you to my
friends." She looked like she was about to cry. He hastened on, "But then it hit me. What those
trophies really meant. All my life, I was an overachiever. I put my mind to it, worked hard, kept
my nose to the grindstone, whatever clich‚ you want to use. And I succeeded - the trophies
proved it. But at the end of the day, all they meant was that I was an ordinary kid who was just a
bit smarter or faster or stronger than the rest. They didn't make me special." She opened her
mouth to argue, but he didn't give her the chance. "*You* are special, Buffy. You're
extraordinary. And you don't have any trophies - people can't even conceive of what you do, let
alone design a hokey metallic commemorative figurine for it. Looking at those trophies, I realized
I'd never be special enough for you, that I wasn't the guy you were going to end up with. I mean,
they write prophecies about you! Demons the world over are gunning for you. I don't belong
with you; I'm just too ordinary." She couldn't find any words; she couldn't even hold onto any
one emotion long enough to recognize it. He stood slowly and bent to kiss her cheek. "I'm
sorry, Buffy."
* * *
She was numb. He'd closed the door quietly as he left, but she hadn't moved a muscle
since he'd kissed her. She got up and put the kettle on, moving dazedly about the kitchen, filling
a mug with cocoa mix and hot water, adding a splash of milk at the end. She finally came out of
her haze as the first gulp of cocoa slipped down her throat, scalding as it went. Buffy smiled
bitterly - //at least I didn't have to tell him about the Angel prophecy//. She sipped her drink
again, wincing at its heat even though the air conditioner was running at full blast. ////I wonder if
the Powers That Be did this - getting Riley out of the way so that I'd be free to have my goddamn
union with Angel.// She considered it briefly, then dismissed it - //no, he sounded sincere. And
the Powers would have done something more dramatic, like him dying in a fire, trying to save a
kitten. They'd never have him just . . . leave me.//
* * *
"All's well with you and Phineas?" Spike asked as he walked up the front porch steps that
night, ready to patrol with the Slayer.
"Who?" she mumbled, not really listening; she'd found that she couldn't seem to
concentrate on any one thing for more than a few seconds.
"Soldier-boy. Finn." When she still looked blank, he rolled his eyes and said, "You
know? Your ever-exciting boyfriend?"
//Oh, yeah. Him.// "*He* seems to be fine," she answered. "He apparently did a lot of
thinking while he was away."
"Yeah? Come up with anything earth-shattering?" he asked, sarcasm heavy in his tone
even as he talked around the cigarette he'd bent his head to light.
"Yup. He's not worthy of me, so as a favor to me, or the universe, or somebody, he's let
me go. Never mind *my* opinion of the whole matter. He's off like a speeding bullet." //Why do
they always leave me?//
The cigarette fell from Spike's mouth as he gaped at her. "He's gone? No more Mr.
Mazola?" Elation was building up inside of him until he saw how small she'd made herself by
hunching over like a mistreated puppy. "You alright, love?" he asked more gently. "Wait . . . " -
suddenly there was pure anger on his face - "this wasn't because of the damn prophecy, was it?"
//Damn him for hurting her *now*. It's not like she wrote the prophecy herself to get Angel
back.//
"No, he didn't stick around for story hour. He just went on and on about how I'm special,
I'm on a cosmic scale, and he's just a regular guy with some dinky trophies."
The last part threw him a little, but he smirked, "Maybe he was smarter than I thought.
Ordinary's exactly the right word for him."
She turned away, and what he could see of her profile betrayed the emergence of a long-
standing sadness. "Buffy? What is it, love?" She shook her head stubbornly, not wanting to
share what had hurt her the most about Riley's grand finale. But Spike was not about to be
denied. He stepped over to her and turned her to face him. "What? Tell me, pet. You're not in
any shape to go patrolling when you're wound this tight."
She knew he wouldn't relent, so she spoke quickly, in as flat a tone as she could muster.
"When he said he was ordinary, I was thinking that that sounded like a good thing. But then he
started saying that I wasn't ordinary. I knew he meant it as a compliment, but it felt like he was
calling me inhuman. You know, he's human, and I'm different, so what does that make me? As
much as I hate it sometimes, I don't want to stop being the Slayer, ever. But I wish it didn't
make me feel like a monster." Despite her best efforts, her voice fell at the last word, becoming
nearly inaudible, but Spike heard her anyway.
"Monster?" he repeated, taken completely aback. "No, not at all. Look, love, as big of an
ass as he was - *is* - he really was giving you a compliment. You *are* extraordinary. Bein' the
Slayer makes you so. You can do things most humans can't. But that's not what makes you
special - what makes you special is being Buffy, being the kind of friend and sister and daughter
you are. Even with the handicap of being the Slayer, you've held on to your humanity. And
that's something lots of *ordinary* humans can't do. Understand?" She nodded slightly,
marveling at his eloquence, at his defense of her. "Speak up, love, I can't hear you," he teased,
chucking her softly under the chin. When she rolled her eyes at him, he knew she was okay.
"You'll have to do better than that" - he mimicked her tiny nod perfectly - "or else I'll make you
write 'I am special' fifty times on a blackboard." She grinned at the *Simpsons* reference and
abruptly did a cartwheel on her front lawn.
"Better?" she asked, only half-joking.
"Yeah," he smiled, "and see? You always end up right side up."
* * *
They worked effortlessly in tandem as they patrolled and fought. Buffy could feel that her
mind was letting something simmer on the back burner, but it wasn't ready to become conscious
thought yet. She shrugged mentally; she felt surprisingly strong, and she knew she'd be able to
deal. Rounds done, they walked towards the shop, bantering as easily as they had in the
graveyards. They were having a discussion about each other's best moves of the night,
demonstrating them as they went along. "I liked this one" - Buffy crouched low, her weight
mostly on her left haunch, and then sprang up suddenly, right foot lashing out, leg hooking around
as she pivoted, aiming for an imaginary vamp's throat - "a lot."
"Yeah, it's a good move," he agreed with no false modesty at all.
"But you know what makes it even better?" she sidled up to him, giving him a sideways
glance. "The duster. The way it hid your legs from your opponent, the way it settled back
around you after you finished the kick. It just looked so cool, so *Matrix*-y."
"Yeah?" he queried, clearly pleased. "Wish I could have seen it, then." He paused, then
asked, "What do I look like?"
She was startled out of her ease. "What do you mean? You look like you did before you
were turned, when you could still see yourself in mirrors."
"Yeah, but it's been a long time, love. And mirrors back then weren't entirely reliable;
they were still figuring out the chemical processes needed to make glass reflect. I just want to
know."
"Um, okay. You've got dark blue eyes, a really noticeable scar on your eyebrow . . ."
"That part I know, Slayer," he said, sounding amused. "I very distinctly remember getting
that scar. I mean what do I really look like? Do I still look like this?" He dug in his pocket for a
slim, flat wallet, and pulled a small square of paper, folded a few times, from its recesses.
"Matthew - the man who did the illustrations for the newspaper - did a sketch of me the night I
finished my first story." She took the paper and unfolded it eagerly.
There on the page was Spike. He had longer, darker hair, and it was slightly curly, and he
wore a pair of thin-rimmed glasses; the eyes, however, were pure Spike. He had a look of energy,
of determination. Matthew had captured him in a few strokes of a pen. The hollow cheeks, the
direct gaze, the emotions in his eyes, all confirmed the latest version of his autobiography.
"Yeah," she said in surprise, "you do still look like that."
He glanced at her briefly, then shrugged and put the paper away again. "Just curious."
They walked along for a few minutes before he said, "Know which move I liked best?" She
shook her head. He jogged a little ahead of her to give himself room to demonstrate. "It was this
one." He planted himself firmly on both feet, right leg slightly behind the left. Without warning,
he delivered a snap kick to the chin of an invisible foe. "And you know what the best part is?
That you've got a stake in his heart even before your leg has come down. Now that's class." He
grinned at her and turned, surprised to discover that they were directly in front of the Magic Box.
He held the door open for her, and they went in to the sound of the door chimes overhead.
* * *
He plowed into Buffy, who'd gone stiller than a statue just inside the doorway. Spike
froze too when he saw Angel sitting in one of the work table chairs talking to Giles. Xander,
Willow, and Anya were standing in a stiff line, watching the two men. All five turned when they
heard the chime. Angel stood and walked toward the Slayer, unable to keep his eyes from her
beautiful face. She took an involuntary half-step back, and her heel ground down on the toe of
Spike's left boot. He made no move to release his trapped foot, remembering how desperately
she'd held his arm in the hospital; he wished he could touch her again, reassure her that she had
somebody unconditionally on her side. But he knew he couldn't, that she needed to appear strong
and independent in front of the man who'd broken her once before. "Buffy," Angel said with a
smile as he approached her.
She couldn't speak. Behind her, she heard a voice //Spike's voice// fill the void and drawl,
"Bit eager, aren't you, mate? Came rushin' down as fast as your little legs would take you?"
Angel stopped moving and looked at his impertinent childe. "Spike," he acknowledged
with a curt nod.
"Or did you tear off in the Angelmobile, braving that infamous L.A. traffic for a chance to
see her again, knowin' that this time she couldn't refuse you?" Spike continued without pause.
"Odds are, you're a bit early, mate. There's still rituals to be done, to determine the best night for
the prophecy to be undertaken, all that sort of thing. So you might have spared us, and only come
down at the last minute."
Angel's eyes narrowed, but Giles interrupted, surprised out of his silence. "How did you
know about the spells?"
"I've been around for a good long time now. I've got the order of things pretty much
down."
"Actually, Spike," Willow stepped forward, trying to ease the situation so that Buffy
would stop looking petrified and come sit down, "I'm not that experienced in casting these sort of
spells. It'll be easier for me if I've got both Angel and Buffy in the same room." Spike looked at
her and nodded, understanding why she'd spoken. He pushed Buffy gently to the table, pulling
out the chair that was the most removed from Angel's. She sank into it without a murmur.
Xander stepped forward and cupped her shoulder protectively, showing his disdain for
Angel by completely ignoring his presence. Spike backed off, wanting to give them a little
privacy, but Xander frowned as he moved away, and indicated with a jerk of his head that Spike
should stay right where he was; it was his intent to keep Buffy surrounded, to keep her from
having to look at Angel. He began chatting with Spike so that Buffy could follow their
conversation rather than be alone with the thoughts in her head. Spike kept up his end of the
repartee, his estimation of the boy soaring. Anya was moving excitedly about the shop, gathering
the items necessary for the spell, and Giles was coaching Willow quietly in one corner, referring
to a large leather-bound book on his lap.
Angel approached Buffy once more, saying quietly, "It's good to see you again, Buffy."
She nodded without looking up, and smiled wanly. "How is everything?" he continued.
"Fine," she said, not wanting to tell him the truth about her mother. //He and Mom never
really got along anyway. It's not like he'd really care; he's only making small talk.//
"School okay?" he asked, wanting her to look at him.
"Yeah, we start again tomorrow, actually," she said, looking up at last, but going no
higher than the third button on Angel's shirt.
"And how's, um, that guy - Riley?"
"Oh, he's super," she responded. "He's got lots of trophies."
Xander frowned at that, but Spike only shook his head at him in a way that discouraged
him from pursuing what Buffy had meant. "Great, that's great," Angel replied, unsure of what to
do next. He abruptly pulled out the chair opposite hers and sat down, moving so quickly that she
was startled into looking right at him.
At the sight of Angel, Buffy went into emotional overload. She realized again how
handsome he was, and remembered how charming he had been. She cursed the timing of the
prophecy, knowing that only a few years ago she'd have been more than happy to oblige the
Powers by jumping into bed with him. And then, suddenly, all she could feel was anger. This
man had once claimed her as his soulmate, as the love of his life, declaring that he was the love of
hers, and where had that gotten her? //If you're the love of somebody's life, you stay for *life*.
You don't make promises that you don't intend to keep.// She knew that she wasn't being
rational, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She remembered the way Spike had looked when
he talked about Dru; she had been insane, completely helpless at times, and still she had someone
with her, loving her, for one hundred years and more. //Maybe that's just his nature - to do
anything for love. And maybe Angel doesn't have that.// She didn't want to believe that; some
part of her wanted to believe that Angel had been everything her dreams and heart had promised
her first love would be. But now that he was gone from her life, she was able to see with clear
eyes where he'd fallen short of her wishes, and more importantly, of her needs. Something else
kept nudging at her brain; she couldn't catch it and keep it still long enough to identify it, but it
still eased her mind. She raised her gaze to Angel's, feeling suddenly calm and sure of herself as
she faced him, knowing that she'd laid the part of her that clung to his memory to rest. "Thanks
for getting here so quickly. I guess you were as shocked as I was at such a prophecy?" she asked.
"Oh yeah," he affirmed with a gusty sigh. "Somebody up there must really like the idea of
the two of us."
She nodded, adding, "It probably appeals to their sense of irony."
Anya returned, her arms full, and caught the last few remarks. "Oh, the Powers don't
really have a sense of irony. But I am surprised that the prophecy was so cheesy."
Angel looked up at her in surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked, looking to Giles, who
had risen at Anya's penetrating voice.
Anya saw that the whole group had gathered around her. She said, "You know,
Hollywood-ish. It's straight out of *Ladyhawke*."
"What's *Ladyhawke*?" Buffy asked.
Willow started to answer her, "Oh come on, Buffy, I even made you watch . . ." but was
cut off by Anya's gasp of comprehension.
"Of course! The Powers aren't stealing from Hollywood; Hollywood executives must be
the Powers in disguise." No one commented on Anya's theory, and Willow responded once more
to Buffy's question.
"Remember when I was going through my Matthew Broderick phase, and I rented
everything he was ever in? *Ladyhawke* was one of them. It's the one where there's a woman -
Michelle Pfeiffer - who's a hawk by day and her lover is a wolf by night. They were separated by
evil enchantment."
"And Matthew Broderick was the guy?" Buffy frowned, not remembering the movie at all.
"No, he was the thief," Willow responded, unaware that her answer didn't help in the
slightest.
Anya jumped in, "They needed to break the spell, and then there was an eclipse, and that
did it. End of story."
"Uh-huh," Buffy tried to look as if she were understanding the synopses flying through the
air.
Anya sighed in exasperation and grabbed the prophecy from Giles and read it aloud:
*"Two souls, one of darkness, one of light, must ally. Their union alone can separate day in night
and night in day."*
Willow nodded, saying, "Wow. That last bit's almost verbatim."
Giles rolled his eyes and took Thomas's letter back and said, "Why don't we get started?
Everybody's got an early day tomorrow, so the sooner the better. Are you ready, Willow?
Angel? Buffy?"
* * *
Drusilla frowned at Darla's back as the blonde vampire paced restlessly about the cramped
room. Miss Edith frowned too. All of that scrumptious Watcher blood had been theirs for the
taking, but Darla had said no. She didn't even explain. And Miss Edith would not have been
greedy. Darla was muttering to herself as she prowled, alternating words of frustration with
words of encouragement. Her plan couldn't fail; it had worked like a charm up until this moment.
Soon Angelus would be hers again.
* * *
Just as everybody had settled into their places for the spell - Willow, Angel, and Buffy
forming an isosceles triangle while Anya, Xander, Giles, and Spike hovered nervously at its edges
- Xander shattered the silence. "Wait! I just thought of something. What if the um, you know,
union causes Angel's soul to go bye-bye?"
They all stopped, dumbfounded because none of them had remembered the danger. Anya
grabbed the prophecy again and read it aloud once more, this time laying great emphasis on the
word "souls" as she recited.
"Yeah, An, I know, but there's no mention of 'souls' after the deed is done," Xander
responded. "It just says the weather thing will go away, but it doesn't promise that we won't be
left with yet another problem." His chin jutted unmistakably towards Angel's hulking form.
Willow looked worriedly to Giles, asking, "They wouldn't do that, would they? Make us
follow a prophecy that will cause even more problems? And what about Angel? He's . . . he's
been on the good path, haven't you, Angel? Were you told that you'd have to make this decision
again?" He shook his head silently.
Giles sighed heavily and tried his best to answer the witch. "I know it's not much help,
Willow, but I have seen the Powers That Be work in mysterious ways . . ."
"I think you mean Pimps That Be," Spike muttered just loud enough for everyone to hear.
Angel stood abruptly at the words, but Spike stared him down, then turned to the Watcher,
appealing to him with outrage evident in his eyes. "I mean, where do they get off, makin' the
Slayer into their personal prostitute? 'Shag this one and the end of the world won't be so nigh'?
She's supposed to fight evil, not have to seduce it! And did anyone think that she might not want
to do this? She's risked her life time and again, and it's still not enough! Now they're tellin' her
to sell herself when in fact she's been doin' quite well, slaying vamps morning, noon, and night -
she's countering the weather's effects already." He let his eyes fall at last on Buffy, and she was
staring at him, open-mouthed. He dropped his eyes quickly before she understood all of his
reasons for speaking out.
They turned as one in Angel's direction, and he directed his gaze at Buffy as he answered
them all. "I don't know why this is happening, or what will happen when we follow the prophecy.
All I can say is that I don't think that the one-moment-of-happiness punishment will activate this
time."
"Why?" queried Giles, honestly curious about what the large vampire would say.
Xander stood with his arms crossed, ready to lash out if Angel maligned Buffy in any way
at all. "Because I would know that she was with me because of a prophecy. Because it wouldn't
be about me, about us, but rather about saving Sunnydale yet again."
It didn't escape Spike's attention that Buffy was almost involuntarily nodding in
agreement with Angel's sad words, her eyes clear but fixed on a distant point. //She's not in love
with the wanker anymore.// He wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
Giles cleared his throat and focused on the Slayer. "Buffy? What do you think?"
She considered for a moment and then answered slowly, biting the inside of her cheek as
she spoke, "I believe him. I think he'll still be Angel afterwards. But I think Spike's right too. I
mean, so far, we've kept the vamp levels pretty much normal simply by routine slaying. And
Spike can do the daytime patrols while I'm at school this week. So I don't think we need to
bother with the prophecy after all. Do you?"
* * *
Spike felt like crowing. He was walking the Slayer home after she'd left the ponce with a
flea in his ear. Giles had asked Angel to stick around for a few days, just in case the situation
somehow worsened and the prophecy needed to be enacted after all, but Angel hadn't looked at
all happy. //Maybe he's finally figurin' out this is not a girl you can just love and leave. That she's
not goin' to sit by and wait for him when she's got a life of her own to live.// They reached her
house, and he walked up the steps with her.
She had her key in the lock before she turned to face him and said, "Thanks, Spike. It was
like everything became clear when you said what you said. I mean the whole prophecy was icky -
*hello*, emotional baggage! - but when I saw him, it was like I just couldn't think at all. I felt
sort of doomed to obey." He nodded in understanding as she met his eyes. She opened the door,
then smiled and said, "And sorry for volunteering you for daytime patrol, but I just wanted a good
reason not to go through with the prophecy-sex."
He grinned back mischievously and said, "Not to worry, pet. I've been handed worse
assignments . . . like washing Harris's delicates." He faked a shudder, and she had to laugh.
As she stepped into the hall, she heard her mother call out, "Is that Spike? If that's him,
bring him in, Sweetie."
She turned to him and said, "You heard the woman. Come in or I'll be grounded." He
laughed and stepped willingly inside.
They found Joyce in the kitchen looking enormously pleased with herself. She met
Spike's eye questioningly as he entered and at his slight nod she put the kettle on. "Mom?
What's going on?" Buffy asked suspiciously.
"Nothing. I just got Spike a little something to say thanks."
He backed up a step, shaking his head, "No, Joyce, you didn't have to do that. I told
you. I'm happy to be of service."
"Nonsense. And anyway, it really is a little thing." She reached over to a basket on the
counter and handed a fruit to Spike. He cocked one eyebrow at her and decided to play along.
He began peeling it, and his eyes widened as he pulled it in two.
"What is it?" he asked, sounding like a child.
"It's a blood orange," Joyce laughed at his surprise. "I saw them when Dawn and I went
grocery shopping today and we thought of you. You don't have to eat it. I just thought you'd
get a kick out of seeing it."
He seated himself at the counter and smiled up at her as he popped one sliver into his
mouth. "There's something else," she went on.
"Another gift? No. I can't accept it," he said firmly.
"But this one is for me, Spike," Joyce answered quickly. He was clearly puzzled, but he
obeyed when she said, "Just close your eyes."
He felt something being placed on his head and opened his eyes when he heard the
mingled laughter of mother and daughter. "What? What is it?"
"See for yourself," the Slayer answered, and he pulled it off his head to look. It was a
chauffeur's cap, black with a velvet visor.
"I couldn't resist," Joyce said, half-guilty, half-gleeful.
"Put it on again," Buffy said. "It looks good on you." He obliged but pulled it off quickly
when he heard Dawn coming toward the kitchen.
"Hey, Snicker-Snacker," he greeted her just as his mug of hot chocolate was placed in
front of him.
"Hey, Spike. Nice hair," she responded.
"What?"
He reached up a hand to smooth it back down, but Buffy said, "Don't. I like it better this
way." He shrugged and turned his attention back to his drink and the orange's sweet crescents.
Between sips of her own cocoa, Buffy eyed Spike surreptitiously. His tousled hair was catching
one of the bright kitchen lights, and it looked like straw that had been spun by magic into gold. A
knot was forming in her stomach; it almost hurt to look at him.
* * *
Buffy was making her way through toast and orange juice Monday morning when Dawn
suddenly gasped and dropped her spoon, splashing milk and Rice Krispies onto the tablecloth.
"Oh, crap! I forgot that our weekend assignment was to write a poem and be ready to read it out
loud for the class!" She yanked open her backpack and pulled out a notebook, flipping hastily to
a blank page. She tapped her pen impatiently on the paper, waiting for inspiration to strike, but
nothing happened. Then she remembered the poem she'd written in her diary on Thursday and
raced upstairs to copy it into her notebook. She had to run all the way to school, but she still
managed to snag a seat next to Kevin in homeroom.
* * *
Spike awoke to an unfamiliar sensation that at first he couldn't identify. After a moment's
reflection, though, it hit him. Some vestigial sense of responsibility, aided and abetted by his pride
in the Slayer's trust, had prompted him to wake up and do the morning patrol as he'd promised.
He pulled on his dark clothes, cheerfully recollecting Buffy's epiphany from the night before -
//she doesn't love him anymore//. He left the crypt with two stakes, whistling "Patience" as he
walked through the first graveyard.
* * *
Buffy was in class, trying half-heartedly to pay attention. //It's not like I'll ever need math
anyway.// She was too busy recalling the dream she'd had the night before, cut off abruptly by
her alarm clock's shrill insistence. She'd been dressed in liquid gold, watching a wolf prowl. It
was no ordinary wolf, but there was something about it that wouldn't allow her to classify it as a
werewolf of the Oz type either. It stalked almost impatiently in front of her, making tight figure
eights, although there were no chains or cages to keep it where it was, in the pouring rain. She
looked into its golden eyes as it came steadily towards her, padding softly on its powerful, precise
paws. She reached out and her slender fingers were lost in its dense, midnight-black fur, at once
coarse and comforting. Abruptly the dark fur had transformed into black leather . . . and there the
dream had ended as she'd been jerked out of sleep by the deejay's inane morning chatter.
Sitting in class, she felt her heart racing as it had the night before. She'd been having quite
a few odd dreams, and she'd been remembering them, which was unusual unless they were
prophetic. //But these aren't, and they're not important. I've got to stick to what's important
right now// she ordered herself sternly. She watched as the professor worked through a few
examples of integration before another thought popped into her mind. //I wonder how Spike's
doing on patrol.//
* * *
Spike had moved from Guns 'n' Roses to Widespread Panic, and was still whistling as he
worked. He'd only had a few vamps to stake, and it had helped that they'd been strangers to him.
He switched from whistling to humming as he made his way to the fourth cemetery. Nothing was
stirring, so after a quick walk around the perimeter, he headed for the gate once more. Something
glittered in his peripheral vision, and he walked toward the grave marked "Elizabeth Sumner."
There, dangling from the top of the tombstone, was a thin gold bracelet set with four small
emeralds. Spike shook his head in disbelief and backed away. He looked down and saw the
imprint of old-fashioned ankle boots on the dirt and sparse grass of the grave.
//That's got to be bloody Darla's soddin' bracelet.// He remembered the battles that had
raged, Dru tearfully trying to appropriate it, claiming Miss Edith was insisting it be her tiara. Miss
Edith wanted to be a princess just like Drusilla.
Spike had a clear picture in his mind of what must have occurred only a few short hours
before. He saw Dru traipsing through the graveyard, Miss Edith tucked under one arm and the
bracelet she'd stolen from Darla clutched tightly in her hand. She'd wandered until she saw this
grave, and she ran her fingers over the inscribed name, murmuring, "Nasty slayer." She arranged
Miss Edith prettily atop the tombstone and fastened the bracelet becomingly around the doll's
head. And Dru and her doll drank tea and ate cakes on the grave of a young girl whose name
closely resembled the slayer's.
* * *
//Deep breaths, Buffy. Come on, you can do this.// Buffy gave herself a wholly
ineffective pep talk as she approached the classroom door. //So what if Riley's there. You don't
need him.// She walked in with her head held high and her eyes found him immediately, staring
off into space as if he were building castles in the air. It took a while for him to notice her, and he
looked over at her with an uncertain smile. She nodded back and sat down as Professor Lillian
came in and started taking attendance. //Just get through these ninety minutes and you can go to
the shop// she promised herself. She perked up considerably at the thought.
She was utterly absorbed in class when suddenly her thumbs pricked. //Something's
coming.// There was a sensation along her spine as if three of her vertebrae had been struck with
xylophone mallets. //Vampire.// Her lips parted slightly as it felt like her stomach was filled with
butterflies. //Spike.// She checked the clock and the window. The moment class was dismissed,
she shot out the door and saw him, his long leather coat making him conspicuous among the
barely clad college students. "What's going on? What's wrong? How did you find me?" she
asked hurriedly, blinking in surprise when he put an arm firmly around her waist and walked
quickly down the hall.
"We need to get to the shop. I found something," was all he said.
"Well, I was going there after class anyway, after I grabbed some lunch."
"We should go now," he responded, scanning the crowd alertly, "while I can keep an eye
on you."
Giles was sitting at the research table, muttering under his breath, watching Anya with a
jaundiced eye as she moved perkily about the shop. His gaze lightened as it fell on Buffy, and he
appealed to his slayer. "Look at her! Says I don't arrange the merchandise properly, I don't deal
with customers well, I don't know what's in stock. She says I'm lucky I've got her. I'll tell you,
though . . ."
"Watcher," Spike cut in, "I've got bad news."
Giles fell silent and Buffy paled a little at Spike's somber words. He reached into his
duster pocket and out came a clenched fist. He opened it so that they could both see at the same
time the delicate bracelet lying on his palm. Buffy peered at it and then picked it up carefully,
saying, "It's gorgeous."
"It's Darla's," he answered shortly, and she dropped it as if it had come to malevolent life
in her hands. Spike told them what he'd seen and deduced while patrolling that morning.
"So Darla and Drusilla are back," Giles said, leaning back in his chair. "And they're after .
. ."
"Angel," Buffy replied, just as Spike said "Angelus."
Buffy looked at him in surprise. "Not you?" Spike frowned, not understanding her
question. She tried to clarify. "Wouldn't Dru be here to get you back?" she asked, her throat
clenching so much it cost her an effort to spit out the words.
"Don't know. Depends if the thrall's broken."
"Shouldn't it have broken as soon as Angelus became Angel again? Like, ten minutes
after you carried her away?"
"You'd think so, but it lasted well past that moment," he reminded her in a rigidly
emotionless voice.
Giles stepped back into the conversational ring. "But why are they back now? Could they
have gotten wind somehow of the prophecy? It can't just be coincidence, can it?"
"Doubt it, mate," was all Spike could say.
* * *
Buffy was at the door in a heartbeat. "Where are you going, Buffy?" the watcher asked,
worried because he wasn't able to discern what she was thinking.
"I'm going patrolling," she said tightly.
"But Spike just finished . . ."
"She means to go to the mansion," Spike interrupted Giles, his strong fingers flexing
unconsciously. "I doubt they'll be there, love."
She moved so fast that she was toe-to-toe with the vampire in less than a second. "Where
else would they be?" she demanded, her eyes getting frantic. "What if it's not just Angel they're
after? They could be plotting something even bigger. They're so powerful! Darla's his sire, and
Dru's his . . ." She broke off when Spike's face tightened at the mention of his ex-lover's name.
"Spike?" she asked in a small voice, "what happens if Dru wants you back?"
Giles frowned at the silence that followed that question. Spike was fighting for control,
trying to resist the urge to take her in his arms and finally tell her that he loved her. At long last,
he answered her. "Nothing happens, Slayer. I'm not getting back together with her. My love for
her is a thing of the past. I loved her, I lost her, I moved on."
"But you said that the thrall was Angel's - I mean Angelus's - doing," Buffy argued,
unable to believe she was virtually urging him back into Drusilla's arms. "That wasn't her choice.
Maybe she still loves you."
"I hope not, Slayer. I don't want to hurt her. But seeing her under his thrall nearly
destroyed me, and the only way I could put myself back together was by existing without her. At
least she didn't intentionally betray me," he said, his mouth twisting in a sad smile. "She didn't
make me regret being in love, and that meant I was able to do it again." Spike's eyes widened as
he realized how close he'd come to letting the cat out of the bag.
Buffy had her eyes down, so she didn't see Spike's panic, but Giles did and he interrupted
the tˆte-…-tˆte instantly. "Buffy? I'm sure Spike needs his rest, and Dawn needs to be picked up
from school in about fifteen minutes. Get her and go home. But come by the shop tonight before
your patrol and hopefully we'll have figured out where Darla and Drusilla might be hiding. All
right?" She nodded, and the slayer and the vampire parted at the door.
* * *
Dawn was talking to a tall boy with dread locks, laughing at something he'd said even as
she turned away, saying, "Bye. See you tomorrow." The carefree expression disappeared when
she saw her sister walking toward her. "Buffy? What's the - Is it Mom? Is she okay?"
"Yes," Buffy answered firmly. "It's just that there are 24/7 vamps, and now they include
Drusilla and Darla, so someone will be walking you home from now on."
Dawn's face dropped a little, but she understood the danger too well to argue. As the
Slayer's little sister, she was a prime target. Then she brightened. "Can it be Spike?"
"I don't know," Buffy replied, taken aback. She'd been prepared for Dawn to demand
Xander, not the vampire. "I can ask him, but we've already got him doing morning patrols. I
don't know when he's going to sleep, since I'm sure he'll want to do the night sweeps too."
"Okay," Dawn agreed amiably. "Just ask him. And if he can't, get Xander." Buffy could
only smile at her sister's resilience.
* * *
"Nothing? Nothing at all?" Buffy was asking incredulously. "Even with all these books?"
Giles felt horribly guilty, sending his slayer flying blind, when he knew Darla and Drusilla
were on the loose, but he simply hadn't been able to find anything, either in his books, or through
the demon grapevine, about where they might be.
As she stood, Spike was right there beside her. "Don't worry, pet, you won't be going in
alone."
Willow looked up from her seat next to Giles and smiled at them as they turned to leave
the shop. "Be careful, Buffy. You too, Spike," she called, and as they exited Xander entered to
pick up Anya.
When she saw him, she smiled but continued on with her enthusiastic restocking; Giles, in
an effort to win some quiet research time for himself, had capitulated completely to her demands
to reorganize the shop. Xander sighed, knowing he wouldn't be going home with her anytime
soon, and seated himself next to Willow. "Hey, G-man, what's with the frown?"
"It's Spike," Giles answered slowly.
"I know the feeling. The bleached wonder always makes me want to turn my smile upside
down."
"No, it's . . . it's . . ." Giles hesitated before taking them into his confidence, turning to
make sure Anya was nowhere near. "Spike's in love with Buffy," he informed her two best
friends in a low tone.
"What! Has the whole world gone mad! He can't!" Xander exclaimed, overturning his
chair in his rush to leap indignantly from it.
Willow looked taken aback, but she seemed fairly calm. "How do you know, Giles?" she
asked.
"I . . . um . . . deduced it," he finally responded, not wanting to say that he'd read it in the
other man's eyes. "And you can't deny that he's been acting quite differently around her for some
time now."
They were all silent for a moment. "He's been different around all of us, don't you
think?" Willow finally ventured, smiling a little.
"Will? How can you be so calm when you know he's out there with her now? *Alone*
with her *right now*?" Xander demanded frantically. "Am I the only one who remembers the
Angel saga in excruciating detail?"
"No," she replied a little defensively. "I just don't think that applies here. I mean, if
Spike's in love with her, he's going to be good. And the soul thing is moot, no matter what
happens. And, anyway, we've already seen the worst he can be, when he had the Gem of Amara,
and it wasn't that bad. He just went straight for the kill, no head-games, no torturing. And now
he's chipped. I don't see how this is a bad thing."
Xander could feel her logic squelching all of his arguments, but he hated to admit it.
When he looked into her eyes, though, he knew she'd seen his internal admission of defeat.
"Okay. He can be in love with her." She smiled. "But he can't do anything about it," he insisted,
just for good measure.
* * *
Spike was having a cigarette outside his crypt when Buffy found him the next morning.
"Slayer? What are you doin' here, pet?"
"I've come to patrol with you. My classes don't start until noon today."
He smiled and fell into step beside her. It took some time, but they finally came upon a
trio of vampires, all of whom charged at Buffy once they heard her heartbeat in the stillness of the
cemetery. Spike grinned and threw a crosscut at the blond vampire's jaw. He staked him and
turned to find the other two still advancing on Buffy. She was backing away, trying to get them
in positions where she could see them both simultaneously, and they were falling for it. Abruptly,
she stopped looking scared and lashed out with fists of fury. Her stake found one vampire's heart
even as her leg locked around the other's waist. He twisted to avoid the plunge of her weapon
and flipped her on the ground. She was up in an instant, panting hard.
Spike's grin was faltering. For anyone else, the moves Buffy was displaying would be
damn impressive, but something was wrong. She was a touch slower than usual, she wasn't
recovering from the blows she'd been dealt as quickly. He finally realized what was really
bothering him: she wasn't bantering at all. He stalked over and had his stake in the vamp's back
before he could land another punch.
As the dust between them fell, Spike faced Buffy and noticed the fine sheen of sweat on
her face and the slight trembling of her limbs. "Buffy? What's wrong, pet?"
"Nothing," she insisted, shaking her head as if to clear it. "It's just the heat."
"Well, if you're feelin' it, love, why don't you go home and rest a bit? I can finish up the
patrol." She shook her head stubbornly, but before an all-out argument could erupt, her eyes
rolled up and she collapsed.
Spike caught her as she hovered on the edge of consciousness, and picked her up to carry
her home. He was on her front porch, trying to pry the key out of Buffy's tight pants pocket
without dropping her or doing something that would make her slap him later, when a car pulled
into the driveway. "Joyce?" he called, surprised. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no. I'm just not feeling very well," she replied as she climbed the front porch steps.
"That seems to be going around," he replied, a worried look stealing across his face as she
unlocked the door. In his arms, Buffy began to stir. He stood her on her feet in the hallway and
said, "You two go right upstairs and get into bed. I'll make you some tea. I'll be up in a minute."
He watched in amazement as they turned to obey him instantly.
He ascended the stairs with a mug of chamomile tea in each hand. Buffy's bedroom door
was wide open, and as he entered to put the tea down on her dresser, he could hear her splashing
the water in the bathroom sink. He continued along the hall to Joyce's room and found her
propped up in bed in faded navy pajamas. He placed the mug on the coaster on her bedside table
and turned to see her patting the space in front of her. He sat gingerly, not wanting to rock the
bed with his weight. "Thanks, Spike," she said, and he smiled in a way that suggested
embarrassment.
"Joyce? Should you have been drivin', if you felt ill enough to come home?" he asked.
"No, I guess not. But it's not so far, and I just wanted to get home. And I couldn't ask
Carol to close the gallery just so she could drive me home."
"Buffy gave me her cell phone. If you need a ride, just call. I won't mind, I promise."
She nodded and took a sip of her tea. "I appreciate that, Spike."
He looked around awkwardly and was getting up to go when her face scrunched up in
pain and she pressed a shaking hand to her forehead. The attack subsided and she looked up to
see his wide eyes fixed on hers. He reached out a hand and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear
and froze when he realized what he'd done. She smiled up at him in realization. "What was she
like, Spike? Your mother?"
"A lot like you," he answered quietly, knowing he didn't need to say anymore to be
understood. They sat in silence as Joyce finished her tea. He reached out a hand for her empty
mug and said, "You need your rest. I'll be downstairs."
"No. Stay. Talk to me."
"Won't that hurt your head?"
"Nope. You've got a nice voice," she teased gently.
"And you've got two of the nicest ears," he responded in kind. "I remember how good a
listener you were when I came here after Dru left me."
"I remember too," she nodded. "But you never told me that much about her except for
how she left you. What was she like? What was it about her that made you love her?"
He looked at her askance, but her curiosity seemed genuine. "My da was a scholar.
Giles-y, as Buffy said. One of his favorite texts was Sir Thomas Browne's *Religio Medici*.
There's a line from it that explains Dru and me better than anything I could come up with. It says,
*'Certainly there is no happiness within this circle of flesh; nor is it in the optics of these eyes to
behold felicity. The first day of our jubilee is death.'*" He drew the words out slowly, like a
prize orator. "I'd been happy as a human until everyone I loved was taken from me. It was only
with Dru that I got that back. 'The first day of our jubilee is death.' When I was with her, I
reveled in being dead, in the way she made me feel. It was so intense, so unadulterated. And I
thought it would last forever. Dead with Dru, nothing without her. But," he laughed bitterly,
"that bastard Angelus changed all that. So that's it. End of story. I lost her, and I'm not in love
with her anymore."
Her hand on his knee startled him into meeting her knowing gaze. "But you are in love
again." His eyes got so round she thought they'd fall out of his head. She laughed at his
expression. "Mother's intuition. Go on, you can tell me," she encouraged.
Suddenly he felt fearless. He took a deep breath. "It's Buffy," he admitted. He waited
for Joyce to throw something at him, to pull a stake from under her pillow, to scream at him to
get out and never darken their doors again. Instead, she merely mulled over his confession,
thinking over the interaction she'd seen between him and her daughter.
"Yes, you do love her, don't you?" she finally said, and he flopped onto his back in relief.
Suddenly he could hardly contain himself. "She's the one, Joyce. You know? Dru made
me feel dead, like that was the best I could be, and for a while, it was. But Buffy makes me feel
alive. *'When I am from her, I am dead till I be with her.'* That's Sir Thomas again. That was
my da's favorite line. And now I finally know what it means."
He smiled his sweetest smile at her as she leaned down to stroke his cheek. "That's the
best thing I've heard in a long time, Spike," she said softly. "Now I'm going to sleep. Wake me
in time for *Passions*?" He nodded and closed her curtains. He came back around to her
bedside table to pick up her empty mug.
"I'm just going to check on Buffy," he said. "Sleep well."
Until she heard those words, Buffy was convinced that she'd been spontaneously
paralyzed. //Spike's in love with me! How? Why? God, how can I make him feel like that when
I'm so messed up?// But when she realized he'd be at her door in a matter of moments, she leapt
into bed and drew the covers up and got to work feigning sleep.
Spike paused at the doorway to her bedroom and noticed her mug was still full. He
sighed in mock exasperation //it's supposed to help her sleep//. He walked over to her bed and
saw that she was indeed asleep and smiled at the sight of her at rest. He frowned when he picked
up on her racing heartbeat. //She must be sicker than she thought if her heart's goin' a mile a
minute even when she's sleeping.//
* * *
Spike was walking back to his crypt, feeling more tired than he could remember being in a
long time. He was missing his regular daytime sleep. He'd taken Buffy to college, spent a
delicious hour with Joyce analyzing *Passions* and basking in her silent approval, and picked up
Dawn when it occurred to him that she should have an escort, given the vamp situation of
Sunnydale at the present time. He was ready to drop when he made the last turn and saw Willow
sitting in front of his crypt with a stake, a bottle of water, and a paperback novel. "Hey, Red," he
greeted. She waved back and stood aside so he could open the door. "Why didn't you just go in?
It's not like the place is locked," he queried.
"That would be rude!" she said, looking surprised. "You can't just walk into someone's
house uninvited."
"*I* can't, but you can. If you need it, you now have my permission to come in anytime
you want," he responded. She smiled up at him. He sighed inwardly, knowing he was destined
not to sleep that day; he recognized her "talk face." "So, what's on your mind?"
"Spike," she began slowly, "we're friends, right?"
"Sure," he said, looking surprised and even flattered as they sat on the tomb.
"And even before, when we weren't, we somehow managed to talk the way friends do.
When Dru left you and you . . . took . . . me, we ended up really talking. And then again when
you came into my dorm room to bite me, you listened when I needed someone to." She turned
slightly to see him looking wary but pleased, and she realized with a pang how lonely he must
have been, for so long. She reached out and clasped his hand. "So don't you think we should
talk now?"
He was still confused. "Umm, okay," he agreed, then waited for her to make the next
move.
Willow rolled her eyes; the subtle approach obviously wasn't going to work. "Giles told
us that you're in love with Buffy. Is that true?"
He shot to his feet in surprise, then mastered himself. "Yes," he said simply.
"Why haven't you told her?" He paused, trying to work out if her tone had been
disapproving or not. "Well?" she prompted.
"She's had a lot goin' on in her life recently," he protested. "Her mum being sick, school,
the constant patrols, that idiot boyfriend of hers dumpin' her . . ."
"What! Riley dumped her?!" Willow yelled, her voice echoing angrily in the stone
enclosure.
"Yeah, simpering prat said the Slayer bit was too much for him after all. It crushed her."
"Poor Buffy," Willow's face dimmed, then brightened. "But now you're here!"
Spike blinked. "Does that mean you're on my side, Red?"
"Of course." At his evident astonishment, she smiled and told him the same things she'd
told Xander. "Plus," she added, "I remember thinking you were a good boyfriend when you were
talking about Drusilla. I want Buffy to have that."
"Yeah, but does Buffy want it?" he said, his tone making it only a rhetorical question.
Willow smiled sympathetically.
"Well, what about you, Red? Any new blokes on the horizon?"
She shook her head. "Nope."
"Anything new and exciting in your life?" he tried again.
"Well, I joined a Wicca group at school."
"Nice."
"Yeah, and there's this one girl, Tara, who's really powerful, and we've been working on
some spells together. She's been really great." She smiled happily, dreamily. "Remember when
that thing with everybody's voices being stolen happened? She's the one who helped me. All we
had to do was clasp hands."
"And . . . magic?" he asked slowly, aware of the double meaning.
"Yeah," she agreed nervously, not quite believing that Spike was the person she was
suddenly coming out to. He saw her agitation and did his best to ease the tension.
"Red, you're not making this up to turn me on, are you?"
Willow looked up. His teasing words and kind eyes together allowed her, finally, to speak
the whole truth. "I'm in love with her." He smiled and nodded, but she was disconcerted by his
easy acceptance. "That's it? You're not going to try to talk me out of it?" she asked
disbelievingly.
"Who's been trying to talk you out of it?" he demanded, on the edge of anger.
"No one. You're the first person I've told."
"Oh." He was taken aback. "Well, look, I don't know what you want me to say, but give
me a little credit, ducks. I'm not some uptight, ultraconservative shit. Besides, isn't that what
we've been talking about? No one can choose who they fall in love with," he said as he slung a
companionable arm over her shoulder.
* * *
"Pretty Spike. Pretty Spike. Pretty Spike," Drusilla was chanting as she and Miss Edith
waltzed around the dingy room. Darla was ready to slap her, but knew she couldn't afford to
knock those precious visions out of Dru's feverishly bubbling brain. She looked over to the far
corner of the room, where Magda sat. They'd found her putting up flyers on campus for the
college Wicca group and Dru had immediately sensed great power lying dormant in the girl.
Darla had turned her, leaving Dru to feed on the leader of the Society for Creative Anachronisms,
who'd been captivated by her otherworldly demeanor.
Magda was good, but she was a beginner, both as a vampire and as a spell-caster. Darla
frowned, her optimism fading. Who knew how long the weather would remain this way? Magda
was tapping a fraction of the power that was blocking the sun for a spell Dru had found in her
cards. The spell to leech the Slayer's power needed to be done quickly, so that Buffy would have
no choice but to obey the prophecy and sleep with Angel. And then the real reign of terror could
begin.
* * *
"Hi Dawn. Is your sister home?" Angel asked.
"No, she's got class. She should be home in about forty minutes."
"Can I come in and wait for her?"
"Nope. My mom's not feeling well, so no guests, no noise. But you can wait out here on
the porch. I'll keep you company. Let me just get my homework."
She sat on the step next to him and pulled out her French workbook. He alternated
between watching her and thinking about Buffy. He saw her flick a long lock of dark hair back
away from her face. "You have pretty hair." She looked up with a smile. "Is that the color
Buffy's is naturally?"
"No, her hair is actually a little darker than mine," she answered, waiting for the next
question. But he was apparently done talking. She'd gotten through three of the workbook units
when he spoke again.
"Has Buffy picked a major yet?"
"Um, no, she doesn't have to declare until the end of this year. But she really likes her
poetry class."
"I gave her a book of poems once," he said, pleased by his foresight.
"Really," she said flatly. "That's great." Dawn finished her French and got to work on
her geometry. //God, he's boring! Buffy's life must really have sucked for a long, long time.//
With all of her homework done and Buffy still not home, Dawn needed something to do.
She turned to Angel. "What were you like as a vampire?"
He was startled. "I still am a vampire."
"Yeah, but I mean, a real vampire, without the soul."
"I don't think I should be telling you those stories."
"Why not? I'm the same age Buffy was when she was called."
"I just don't like to talk about it."
Dawn rolled her eyes in frustration and gave up. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Shouldn't Buffy be here by now?" he asked, his voice cutting over hers.
She checked her watch. Buffy should have been home twenty minutes ago. "She's
probably just slaying on her way home. I'm sure she'll be home soon." They sat in a bored
silence and waited.
The sound of a book falling drew the attention of both immediately. Buffy was coming
down the street, weaving almost drunkenly, her eyes fixed on the sidewalk. "Buffy? What's
wrong?" Dawn asked as she ran to meet her sister and pick up the textbook she'd dropped.
"I think I've got the flu," Buffy said as she wrapped her arm around her sister's shoulders
to steady herself. "So stay away from me. I might be contagious."
"Not to me," Angel said, and he lifted her arm off of Dawn and wrapped it around his own
waist. "Let's get you inside."
Joyce was sleeping on the couch in the den, so Angel took Buffy straight up to her
bedroom. Dawn appeared, holding the yummy sushi pajamas and a wet washcloth. Angel waited
in the hall while Buffy changed and got into bed, Dawn smoothing the washcloth on her hot,
moist forehead. "Buffy, I think we need to talk," Angel said as he stepped back into the room.
"About the prophecy."
Buffy tried to sit up and nod without dislodging the washcloth. Dawn was incensed.
"Can't this wait, Angel? I mean, she's sick. She needs to rest."
"You're right, I'm sorry. I'll come by before she patrols. What time will that be?"
"I don't know," Dawn answered for her already sleeping sister, crossing her arms
defiantly. "I'm not sure if she will be patrolling tonight. She looks pretty bad."
"Dawn, I'm in Sunnydale to help. I just need to talk to her."
"You want to help? Then help Spike patrol tonight and hold off on the conversation bit
until tomorrow," she responded, ushering him out of the room and closing the door firmly behind
her.
* * *
"Oh come on! Live a little!"
"I don't live at *all*, pet."
"Don't you want to see what it's like to be human in the twenty-first century?"
"And eating ice cream is going to trigger this epiphany?"
"Yes!" She leaned toward him and whispered, mock-confidentially, "It's home-made ice
cream."
"I'm not going to get any peace until I agree, am I?"
"Nope!" her hair was a blur of red as she shook her head like a three-year-old.
"All right then, but if I fall asleep, you have to carry me home."
They set off for the ice cream parlor, window-shopping along the way. He was punchy
from lack of sleep and she was wired from having finally confessed her true feelings for Tara, and
everything they said seemed to them uproariously funny. Spike was doing his impression of Giles
as a Fyarl demon ("It's a little tail. It hurts when I sit.") when they ran smack into Riley. He was
clearly on a mission, and his squad was following thirty paces behind him, dressed in civilian
clothes. Willow was a bit quicker on the uptake than Spike; she took his hand and pulled him into
one of the side streets before he could be identified conclusively as Hostile 17. "Thanks, pet," he
murmured when he finally realized what she'd done. "I guess a wanker's work is never done."
She squeezed his hand, and said, "Forget the ice cream. Do you want to meet Tara?"
* * *
*"What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?"* Tara could hear her mother's voice in her
memory, recalling the marvelous way in which her voice would bring to life words on a page.
*Romeo and Juliet* had been her mother's favorite play - the sole claim to romance in her short,
unhappy life. Tara began scrabbling through her bookshelves to locate the well-worn volume, but
gave it up in frustration. She was too restless to read. She needed peace. She put a CD on and
closed her eyes, willing calm throughout her body. Suddenly, there was a soft knock at her door.
She opened the door with a happy smile. As she'd sensed, Willow was there, but she was holding
the hand of a striking-looking man dressed in black. Tara dropped her eyes immediately and
started to stutter out her greetings.
Spike could feel Willow's hand trembling nervously in his own, and it touched him that his
opinion of Tara mattered to her. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and turned his attention to
the other witch.
Tara knew something was off with this man that Willow was clinging to. //Why is she
touching him? God, please don't let her say that's her boyfriend.// She decided to try a quick
spell - more a trick than a spell - that her mother had taught her to get a glimpse of someone's
aura. She looked up, needing to lock eyes with Spike so that a mental connection could be
established, only to find those clear dark eyes already on hers. //He knows the trick too.// She
wanted to blush, to squirm under that level gaze, but she didn't. He was watching her, clearly
assessing her, but with an air of wanting to be pleased. He wasn't sitting in judgment; he was
looking at her, *seeing* her.
Willow looked on silently as Tara and Spike examined each other, and she slumped a little
in relief when Spike's face, immobile as a mask, suddenly softened; he went from unblinking gaze
and sharp cheekbones to laugh lines and an easy grin. "Tara?" he asked, extending a hand for her
to shake. "It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you. And," he pulled on their
joined hands a bit so that she came a few steps closer as his voice dropped, "I'm a sucker for any
girl who listens to Bach."
Tara broke into a shy, lopsided grin. "He's my favorite! My mom and I knew the whole
*Notebook for Anna Magdalena* by heart."
"Mmm," he caught and responded to her enthusiasm. "I always liked the instrumental
stuff better than the vocal stuff, myself." He hummed a bit of his favorite minuet. They turned as
one toward Willow, wanting to include her. She nodded gamely, although what she knew about
classical music could have been written on the back of a postage stamp.
Spike had seen that Tara shared Willow's feelings, and the thought of his newfound
friend's potential happiness spurred him on. He decided to give her a bit of a push. "Bach wrote
a series of songs for a woman named Anna Magdalena Wilcke, who became his second wife." He
paused, knowing Willow would understand what he was really saying. "She was the love he
found when he'd lost the one before." He was intensely aware of the heat suddenly emanating
from Willow's slender frame. "I've got to go, ducks. I'll see you soon." He ducked out of the
room, leaving the two witches alone.
Alone with Tara at last, Willow couldn't seem to find words momentous enough for the
occasion, words big enough to declare her love. "Tara?" she asked with an uncertain smile,
"umm, about Spike? There's something you need to know about him?" Her nerves were causing
her voice to rise at the end of each sentence, making her sound fifteen again. "Just hear me out
before you say anything, okay? He's a vampire? He used to kill people - a lot of people. But
now he can't, and he doesn't want to either. And he's a friend."
Tara smiled reassuringly at the redhead. "I thought his hand seemed kind of cold. But no
one who knows his Bach could be that bad." The acceptance was simple and sweet, and all at
once Willow figured out what she wanted to say.
* * *
Buffy snapped out of sleep roughly, her eyes and fingertips tingling, scaring Dawn, who'd
been bent over her sister, changing the washcloth that still lay on the slayer's forehead. "Jeez!"
Dawn exclaimed as she jumped back, one hand on her racing heart, the other clutching the damp
cloth.
"Sorry," Buffy apologized in a near-shout.
"Hey, keep it down, okay? I think Mom's still asleep."
"How long has she been asleep? What time is it?" Buffy couldn't seem to modulate the
volume of her voice; it was still much too loud for the small room and the proximity of the sisters.
"Pretty much all afternoon. It's seven-thirty now. She was dropping off when Spike and I
got home, and she slept right through Angel putting you to bed. Hey, thanks for asking Spike to
get me, by the way. He walked right by Kirstie when she started to put the moves on him, and
she looked like she was gonna *die* when he came up to me. It was soooo great." She ended
her soliloquy when she noticed that Buffy's nose was wrinkled thoughtfully. "What?"
"I forgot to ask Spike to get you. In fact, I forgot to ask anybody to get you. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. Even if it was just a one-time thing, now everybody thinks I'm a bad-ass
because I was with him. It's kinda cool." She eyed her sister's face and tucked the blankets back
around her once she sat up. "So how are you feeling? Still flu-ish?"
"No, I feel good. Almost too good. It's like all the energy I didn't have this afternoon is
coming back now in spades. Still, no need to look a gift boost in the mouth. I can slay tonight."
Dawn knew better than to argue, and indeed Buffy did look remarkably better. "Can you
come downstairs and keep an eye on Mom? I'll make dinner."
Buffy turned on the den lamp and tilted the shade so that the light wouldn't hit her
mother's face. With a put-upon sigh, she pulled her math book out of her bag, turning to page
89. She stared blankly at the page and the symbols that adorned it. //What the hell is this? I know
I suck at math, but why doesn't *any* of this make sense?// She dug around in her knapsack until
she held the syllabus in one triumphant hand. //Oh. Section 8.9, not page 89.// She was about to
flip back the pages of the textbook when something caught her eye. There was a shaded box on
the page, the kind used to highlight important formulas, equations, and notations. This one was a
review of the symbols used throughout the chapter. "Remember!" was at the top. The first item
on the list was "ì is the symbol for infinity." //Okay. Great. I'll keep that in mind. Figure-eight
is about how long it'll take me to get through this stupid assignment.//
* * *
Spike walked to the Magic Box, trying to shake himself out of his sleepy state. He
entered to find Anya chatting with a customer in her over-eager voice and Giles mumbling to
himself as he paced the second floor with an open text in his hand. He nodded at the ex-demon
and went up to talk to the Watcher. "Well? Any leads on where Darla and Co might be holed
up?" he interrogated Giles.
"Ah. Spike. No, not as of yet. But I'm sure you and Buffy will find them, if not tonight,
then certainly in the very near future."
"Don't think Buffy'll be patrolling tonight. She damn near fainted this morning, and she
had an afternoon full of classes. She and Joyce and the Niblet are probably having a Summers
girls night in. S'alright. Not a lot due to rise tonight - I can take care of it by myself." The door
chime sounded, and they were surprised to see Angel walk in.
Spike would have been content to watch Angel try in vain to detach Anya from her
customer all night, but Giles called out a greeting from above. Angel took the stairs three at a
time, as a way of warming up before patrol. "I just wanted to let you know that Buffy's sick.
She won't be patrolling tonight. I'll take care of it."
"Bravo. Standing ovation. Very moving." Spike stood there in the shadows, his eyes
mocking, his body leaning indolently against a pillar.
Giles tried to preclude a confrontation by saying, "Yes, I know about Buffy. Spike told
me." Then he added mildly, "The two of you will patrol together."
It was hard for Giles to decide which vampire was more pissed off. Angel's eyes
narrowed but he stayed silent. Spike, as usual, did not.
"Are you daft? There's no way I'm going anywhere with this git!" He was rocking his
weight from his heels to the balls of his feet and back again, clearly itching for a fight. He didn't
notice Anya's customer looking up nervously at the second floor and backing away slowly from
the counter.
At Angel's low, sibilant hiss, "Spike . . ." the man turned tail and fled.
"That's it! If you two want to be stupid males, at least do it where the customers won't
hear you! Training room - now!" Anya shouted. She'd just been on the verge of convincing the
man that blue phoenix feathers, five times more expensive than the green ones, were five times as
effective. It was a lie, of course, but unattractive men were so gullible.
* * *
//No no no no no.// Buffy stopped again. //I haven't been splashed with demon blood. So
why am I hearing everyone's thoughts again?// All around her were whispers, voices.
"Hi, Marge."
"Why does that girl keep stopping and looking around?"
"If you'd done what I asked, you wouldn't be in this mess."
//Wow, these people must lead boring lives if these are their secret thoughts. Maybe I
should put one of them to the test.// She walked up to the nearest man. "Hi."
"Hello," he answered, looking surprised. She waited, but none of his thoughts transmitted
themselves to her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, reaching out a hand.
"Fine!" she blurted out - //God, I must look like such an idiot.// "I just wanted to know if
you knew what time it is."
He backed up a step and consulted his watch. "It's almost nine. Um, is there a reason
you're shouting?"
"Loud concert last night - still can't hear very well" was the best she could come up with.
//What am I hearing if not thoughts?// She picked up the pace and started to jog in the
direction of the magic shop. //Giles will know.// Suddenly it hit her. //I'm not Miss Cleo. I'm just
bat-girl. I've got super-hearing all of a sudden.// She needed quiet, a little island of peace so that
she could sort this out before patrol. She ducked into the alley behind the shop, heading for the
back door that led into the training room.
She paused with her thumb on the latch when she heard Angel's voice. "What's the
matter, Spike? Didn't you get the memo? I was in hell, and now I've been forgiven. I do good
now. And I don't particularly care if you don't like me being back in Sunnydale." His tone was
more than mocking; it was downright provocative.
Spike's voice was hard and flat and curiously hollow. "I'm not playing around. You can
taunt all you like. After what you've done, you think a little jaunt in hell is going to make it go
away? It won't - you left her behind to suffer."
Angel's smirk was apparent in his voice. "Don't tell me you've got a crush on Buffy?
Because that's just so -"
"I'm talking about Dru, you fuck!" Spike was choking with fury. "You got her under
your thrall . . ."
"No," Angel interrupted angrily. "That was Angelus. That wasn't me."
"Give it a rest, you bastard. You can't lie to me. You and I both know the soul is just a
crutch. Angel and Angelus are one. It's just a matter of who's in ascendence and who's in
abeyance. I've got both William and Spike inside of me; I call myself by the demon's name, but
you can't even admit that your demon is always with you. You bloody coward!" A harsh sob
ripped out of his throat, but when he spoke his voice was controlled, at once low and deadly.
"Rape." He over-enunciated, and the ugly word rang out so sharply that Buffy's head throbbed
as she crouched outside the door. "That's what it was. You got her under your thrall and you
raped her up and down. She had no will of her own and you turned her into your whore."
"Oh, she was my whore before then too," Angel responded, his own fury fully roused.
Spike's voice was suddenly weary and infinitely sad. "Not after she met me."
"Well, isn't this touching? A soulless murderer worrying about rape."
Buffy opened the door a crack and watched as Spike whirled and charged, his tears and
his left hook catching Angel by surprise. Every punch he landed was retribution, every blow he
received penance for not being able to shield his princess.
Angel's head thunked loudly on the wall, and Giles came running. Flinging the door open,
he cried, "Stop! I will not have you fighting over Buffy."
Spike clumsily wiped his face dry with his hand as Angel sat up slowly. "Buffy?" he
asked, his eyes darting from Spike to Giles and back again. Spike walked over to the
watcher and shepherded him gently out of the training room, closing the door after him. "I knew
you had a crush on her. Do you really think she'll . . ."
"I don't have a crush on her. I'm in love with her."
Buffy nearly fell over. She'd almost talked herself into believing that what she'd heard
him tell her mom had been a dream, or that she'd misunderstood. Angel was apparently having
trouble digesting this information as well. "So if you've got a thing for Buffy, what was all this
about Dru?"
Spike's rage rose again. "That was about you hurting someone who couldn't defend
herself. That was about me loving her and her loving me and you needing to destroy that even as
you hid behind your game face."
"And after all that, now you want Buffy?" Buffy couldn't help wondering if Angel was
being deliberately obtuse.
"Yes. People *can* fall in love more than once."
"Look at that. It thinks it's people."
There was a long silence after Angel's comment. "You know," Spike said finally, in a
voice that mimicked calm almost perfectly, "I think that's the first time that you've ever been
funny with your Angel-face on. Typical that it should be at my expense."
Angel had gotten his bearings back. He stood up slowly, and pushed into Spike's personal
space, deliberately looming over him. "You know you don't have a chance in hell with her."
"That's for her to decide."
"There's nothing *to* decide. She and I are soulmates. She'll never love anyone the way
she loves me."
"You *do* know she moved on, right?" Spike's voice was cocky, but he was shaken by
the certainty in Angel's eyes.
"To Riley? Please. Anyone can see that she doesn't really love him." Angel eyed his
step-childe narrowly. "Just like she'll never love you." Spike pushed against Angel's chest with
one hand, but the older vampire caught his wrist in a tight grip, not allowing him to leave. "We
were two halves of the same person. We were one. We *are* one."
Spike had thought his emotional roller-coaster had come to a complete stop, but with a
sudden jerk it zoomed forward again. He broke free contemptuously of Angel's restrictive grasp
and spat, "Listen to yourself! Do you know what you just said? You probably think you sound
like some fucking romance novel, but what you sound like is a bleeding idiot! 'We were two
halves of the same person!' So where did the other half of her go when she was with you? The
half you couldn't be bothered with - the person she was with her friends, with her family, with
people who didn't know she was saving their hides every night? You forced her to be less than
herself."
Angel stared at him in disbelief. "Wow. Talk about getting it all wrong."
"No, I don't think so, mate. I've seen you in action. You need weakness. And she was
ripe for the picking. Hell, she still had baby fat in her cheeks! When you met her she had a new
Watcher, new friends, and her mum didn't even know she was the Slayer."
"And now?" Angel's words were clearly a challenge.
Spike rose to meet it. "And now she's sure of what she means to all of them. She knows
her own value. And she's not going to fall for some pretty words and a melancholy face." He
bent his head to light the cigarette that was suddenly between his lips. "I'm going to patrol." He
turned and headed for the back door just as Buffy nudged it closed.
* * *
Buffy pushed open the Magic Box's front door and tried to look as if she hadn't been
shaken to her very foundations by the words she'd overheard. "We're closed," Anya sang out,
her back to the door. "But you can come back tomorrow with your money."
In response, Buffy locked the door behind her as she scoured the shop for her watcher.
"Giles?" she called, and Anya stopped counting bills long enough to say, "He's in the office.
Probably making more tea."
Buffy made her way slowly to the small room in the back, trying to give herself time to
think. Just as Giles emerged from the office, a wave of dizziness hit her and her super-hearing
was gone. Giles came toward her, catching her by one arm so that he could get a good look at
her face. "Buffy? Are you feeling well?"
"No," she admitted, her teeth close to chattering. "I think whatever I had this afternoon
just came back."
"Then I'm taking you home," he said in a voice that would brook no dissension.
Dawn answered the door in pajamas, wrapped in a blanket so worn it had holes in it. As
soon as she saw Buffy's glassy eyes and strange pallor, she moved out of the way so that Giles
could carry his slayer to her room, and followed him upstairs. "I'll put her in bed. Could you do
me a huge favor?" Giles nodded at once. "Could you carry my mom upstairs? She should be in
bed too."
"Of course."
As soon as he'd left, Dawn began stripping her sister, trying to dodge her weakly flailing
limbs. She pressed an anxious hand to Buffy's burning forehead. She heard Giles's step on the
stair and hastily began threading Buffy's arms and legs into her pajamas. Giles waited until Dawn
had tucked her mother in and gotten a fresh washcloth for Buffy's head before asking her how
sick Buffy had been that afternoon. Dawn relayed the whole story, including colorful commentary
on Angel. "Do your best to keep her in bed, Dawn," was all he said when she had finished.
"With two master vampires on our side, there's no need for her to patrol until she's completely
well."
* * *
He would never have heard the chirp of the phone if he'd remembered to take his duster
off before falling asleep. He fumbled briefly for it and pushed the talk button. "Yeah?"
"Spike?"
"Niblet?"
"Yeah. Are you doing the patrol this morning?"
"Sure am, pet. Why?"
"Can you put it off for a little while? Or maybe get Angel to do it?"
"What's the matter, love?"
"My mom's still sick, and Buffy relapsed last night and I can't wake her up. I think they
both need to go to the hospital."
"I'll be there before you know it. Just sit tight."
As they were entering the hospital, Spike turned to Dawn. "I'll take your mum up to the
sixth floor. Can you handle checking Buffy in? Good girl. I'll meet you on the sixth floor
waiting room couch."
Dawn had a fairly quick time of it. All she'd needed to say was "It might be the flu,"
before the nurses started clucking maternally at her and at Buffy, who was still not fully
conscious. "We'll take care of her, don't you worry. We'll page you if we need any more
information."
She stood up when she saw Spike finally heading her way. "Spike?"
"What is it, Munchkin?" he asked, his voice fond but preoccupied. He sank into the couch
with a sigh and she sat back down as well.
"I . . . I just wanted to say thanks. You've been so great with my mom, and I thought you
should get a thank you from someone, even if it's only me."
Spike sat up a little straighter and turned to face her. "You're welcome." She shrugged
slightly. "And there's nothin' *only* about you, pet." She looked up at him, a shy smile on her
face. He touched the tip of her nose with a cool fingertip. "Trust me." She laid her hand down
exactly halfway between them. He picked up on her cue and held it in his own. "And your mum
and sis will be fine."
Buffy padded softly across the linoleum floor. She'd promised the nurses she would come
back and be a model patient if they'd give her ten minutes to see how her mom was doing. After
a lot of whispered arguing, they'd finally given in, and she'd made her temporary escape gladly.
She stopped moving when she saw Dawn curled up against Spike on the couch. Dawn was
sleeping soundly after a night spent tending to both her mother and sister. Her chest rose and fell
with each deep breath. Spike, however, was perfectly still. His eyes were closed, but he hadn't
relaxed fully into sleep. It struck Buffy for the first time what an extraordinarily ascetic face he
had, all clean lines and sharp bone. And yet he could give off such sexual energy. //It's all in the
eyes// she decided when they suddenly opened and fixed on her.
"How are you feeling, pet?" he asked her, trying to make room for her on the couch
without jostling Dawn or removing the protective arm he'd laid over her.
"I'm a little tired, a little weak, but otherwise okay," she answered, perching on the arm of
the sofa. That brought her very close to Spike, and he blinked a little at her sudden proximity.
"Your mum's in the same room as last time. But the doctor from last time isn't here
today," he informed her. "And they don't have the test results back yet." She nodded and stood
up. She had only taken a few steps when she heard him call her name. "No tricks. When you're
done seeing Joyce, go back to your room and let the doctors fix you. Give the Niblet here one
less person to worry about."
* * *
"Rise and shine, Sugarplum," she heard a deep voice coax. She moaned and burrowed her
head deeper into the soft, musky material under her cheek. "Come on, Platelet. Here comes your
mum."
Dawn lifted her head from Spike's shoulder to see her mother being wheeled her way by a
friendly-looking orderly. "You must be Dawn," he said. "Your mom told me that you had the
biggest blue eyes anyone's ever seen. I told her I've heard that before. But she was right. You
take the cake." Dawn blushed a little and Spike grinned at her. He stood up to shake the man's
callused brown hand.
"Thanks. We'll get her home," he said, and the orderly winked as he strolled away.
Spike paced awkwardly in front of the vending machines as Dawn threw herself into her
mother's arms. He saw a tear leave a glistening track over one round cheek. He took his place
behind Joyce as they broke the embrace and wheeled the chair down the long hallway, leaving
Dawn to walk beside her mother and hold her hand. Every glance, every gesture betrayed their
love for each other, and Spike watched it all with a fiercely protective gaze. //There's just
something about these Summers women.//
* * *
//Where the bloody hell is he?// Giles was silently fuming. Spike had called to apprize him
of the hospital run, and they needed Angel to carry out the morning patrol. But the large vampire
hadn't told anyone where he was staying or how to get in touch with him. Giles sighed heavily
and began to prepare himself to walk Buffy's beat. He explained the situation to Anya and left the
shop, an overstuffed duffel bag slapping against his side with each step. He touched the cross in
his pocket, uttered a quick prayer, and headed for the nearest of Sunnydale's numerous
graveyards.
He was lucky at first. There were no vamps up and about for the first forty-five minutes
of his sweep. As soon as he stepped into Shady Rest, however, he could sense the presence of
one of the creatures he was seeking. She was pale to the point of being grey-tinged, and her
awkward, uncoordinated movements as she drank messily from a homeless man's throat indicated
to Giles's practiced eye that she was fairly newly turned. He stepped forward, the cross clutched
firmly in his outstretched hand.
Magda could feel the hot blood work its magical way down her cold throat. She was
thoroughly enjoying her first fresh meal. She'd snuck out while both Darla and Drusilla had
succumbed to heavy slumber, knowing instinctively that unless she fed she wouldn't have the
strength to maintain her spell.
Suddenly the blood lost its potent coppery tang, and Magda frowned, her fangs still buried
in the wrinkled flesh. She looked up to see a middle-aged man advancing towards her with a
cross. She snarled, confused, and clutched her prey closely to her chest as if he'd tried to run
away. Defiantly, she turned her back on the living man and began to drink again from the dead
one. At last presented with a clear target, Giles thrust his stake home, lingering only to brush the
dust from the dead man and gently close his eyes.
* * *
His lips were rough, urgent with need and desire, but as she slowly opened her mouth to
let him in, his tongue was gentle, confirming the love he'd declared and expressed for over one
hundred years. Dru moaned in her sleep, remembering the way she'd felt as Spike loved her. A
few tears escaped from beneath her long eyelashes when she remembered distantly that she hadn't
felt his touch for years. //What happened to my happy home? What drove my sweet William
away?// Try as she might, she couldn't remember, even in her dreams, and Miss Edith preserved a
discreet silence.
* * *
She kept seeing someone out of the corner of her eye. She'd take a few steps and sense
movement beside her, but every time she turned to look, there didn't seem to be anybody there.
She tried running, but couldn't seem to lose her fellow traveler. She tried the trick of stopping
and starting suddenly to flush out the other person, but his steps continued, sometimes slow,
sometimes quick, no matter what she did. Frustrated, she decided to ignore him and simply make
her way out of the lush, dark forest she was in. Looking down, she became newly aware that she
was stepping on scattered, oversized white and black piano keys. Buffy willed herself to
concentrate, going deep inside herself as Giles had taught her, and gradually she began to hear the
melody she was making. She stopped to catch her breath and heard another melody next to her.
She tried to move toward the sound, but something kept her on her own path, and her own music
began again. A strong, slim-fingered hand reached through some dense foliage, and she took it
without hesitation. They walked side by side, making separate melodies as they went. She saw a
clearing ahead, and when at last she stepped into the sunlight, she looked up and saw that her
companion was Spike.
* * *
Not even the loud scrape of the heavy door against the stone floor of the crypt could
awaken Spike. After running so long on a heady mix of love, rage, and guilt, he had finally
ground to a complete stop and abandoned himself to sleep. Angel stood next to the tomb on
which his bastard childe lay and looked down at his still form. His fingers twitched, and he
rummaged through Spike's stash of junk for a pencil and paper. He'd always wanted to draw
Spike, but the younger vampire never stayed still long enough, unless he was comforting Dru, and
then he'd always made sure there was a closed door to keep Angel out. Angel's long-standing
rage at Drusilla's betrayal surfaced again as he remembered how often she had turned to Spike.
//She was *mine*, my diamond in the rough. I found her, I made her. And she turned instead to
that pathetic poet.//
Just as he was seriously considering dusting Spike, he found a pencil and paper and turned
once more toward the tomb. His fingers flew as he sketched quickly, and he was done in a matter
of minutes. He looked at the drawing in his hand, marveling at how beautiful Spike appeared in
it. His sharp features were softer in sleep, his skin unlined, his eyelashes dramatic against his pale
cheeks. //He's the new Dorian Gray. And I'll make sure that people see this picture, this truth.//
He hastily added bumps and ridges on the smooth forehead and long fangs, crude but effective,
between the slightly parted lips. Angel grinned in satisfaction at the portrait of a monster. He put
it on Spike's pillow and then went in search of Buffy.
* * *
//If one more ice-cold stethoscope gets shoved down this stupid paper "gown," these
doctors will witness Slayer power firsthand// Buffy promised herself. The doctors couldn't figure
out what was wrong with her to cause her dizziness. They'd run every test they had on her.
They'd even checked for pregnancy. Twice. But to no avail. She shook her head experimentally,
trying to dislodge whatever was blocking it; remarkably, it felt like it had worked. She smiled in
relief as excess energy surged into her, and she hopped briskly off the bed to find someone who
had the authority to check her out of the hospital.
She caught the downtown bus from outside the hospital and was in front of Spike's crypt
twenty minutes later. She opened the door slowly, trying to be quiet in case he'd managed to fall
asleep. She saw a Spike-sized lump lying utterly still on top of the tomb, and she inched closer,
her face softening as she took in how dear and vulnerable he looked, asleep in the pearly light of
the crypt. He shifted restlessly so that he was on his side, and in the stillness she heard a crackling
sound. Curious, she stepped closer and saw that he'd nearly rolled right onto the business end of
a pencil. With trembling fingers, she eased it away from his body and looked around for a place
to put it. Then she saw Angel's sketch lying next to Spike's head.
Her gasp must have been much louder than it was meant to be, because Spike went from
lying down to sitting up so fast that he looked like a marionette whose strings had been yanked.
Even though she was still shaking from her discovery, Buffy couldn't help noticing the firm planes
of his chest and the tight definition of his abs, his adorable bed-head, and the fact that he was
blinking sleepily at her, a confused but happy smile stealing across his face. "Buffy? What is it,
love? How are you feeling?" he asked, the one thought clear to him in the jumble of his mind
being that he had left her in the hospital.
She tried to get herself under control and answer him. "I'm fine, Spike. What is that?"
she pointed to the space next to him.
He turned slightly and his eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw the wrinkled paper
on his pillow. He tried to play it off casually. "Looks like that pillock Angel got out his
sketchbook again."
Buffy was having none of it. "I know what this means, Spike," she said angrily. All she
could see in her mind's eye was that picture of Jenny Calendar. "Why is he drawing you? Why
did he leave this pencil next to your heart?" Her voice was shaking, and he laid one hand on her
arm to calm her. Her eyes slipped shut. "Just tell me why, Spike," she managed to say quietly.
"Were you fighting over Dru?"
He snatched his hand away from her as if he'd been burned, and said roughly, "I don't
know what you mean."
He'd been dreaming about Dru when the slayer had awoken him. Her bright face, her tip-
tilted eyes, her hand as it slipped confidingly into his own. She'd had a smile she kept just for
him. Sometimes she craved danger, sometimes she needed comfort, but it was always him she
wanted. He was getting lost in these thoughts again when Buffy spoke.
"I don't blame you for being mad. You told me what he did to her . . ."
"It's no worse than what I did to her," he muttered, not even aware that he was
interrupting.
"What? What did you do that was so wrong?" she queried in surprise.
"I wasn't there for her, Slayer," he explained angrily, his voice close to breaking. "There
she was, being raped by that pillock Angelus, and I wasn't doing a thing to stop it. I thought she
was betraying me." He couldn't believe now he'd been so stupid, when one hundred years of
evidence pointed against her infidelity. His face was wracked with guilt, his body held punishingly
tight.
Buffy sat next to him and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder blade. "No, Spike, I
know you did what you could. You even came to me with a truce, remember?"
He remained stiff despite her warm touch. "But she was hurting, and all I could think
about was how much it bothered me. I didn't get it, not even when she took off with that Chaos
Demon. Dru hated Chaos Demons! And still I didn't understand. I'd never had a proper sire, I
never sired a childe; I knew next to nothing about the thrall. But still, I should have known. I
should have saved her." His monotone recitation ended as tears streamed silently down his face,
and he hunched over, his face in his hands.
When at last he lifted his head, she could see trails of tears glinting silverly on his face. He
looked surprised to see her still there, even though she'd had her hand on his bare back the entire
time. She gave him a tiny smile when he finally met her eyes and dropped a feather-light kiss on
his shoulder. "I know it hurts when you can't save the one person you love with all your heart."
Her tone was low and intimate, acknowledging that the two of them were more alike than
dissimilar. "I know what it's like to fail. But you tried. You know that. And if she doesn't
already, she will someday. I promise, Spike." She was close to tears herself when he wrapped
himself around her in a fierce embrace. When he sank back down onto his pillow, she went with
him, cradling his head against her body. She felt the sketch crackle underneath her, pulled it out
from under her, and ripped it savagely in two, flinging the halves away from them. "I won't let
him touch you," she swore as she lay back down, their heads on the same pillow, their eyes level
for once. He nodded trustingly and closed his eyes in exhaustion. She kissed her fingertip, laid it
gently on his wet cheek, and then slipped out of the crypt.
* * *
The familiar smell of stale sweat hit her as she entered the locker room. Dawn's nose
wrinkled automatically as she made her way to her locker. She'd wanted to ask Spike to wait an
hour before dropping her off so she would miss gym, but he'd looked like he was ready to drop
from lack of sleep, so she reconsidered. She waved to Wendy, sitting on one of the benches.
Dawn was just tying the laces on her sneakers when she heard Kirstie's dramatic voice. "Well,
well. Look who decided to join us."
Dawn looked up, her lips pursed tightly together, trying to keep from responding to the
other girl's baiting. "Oh, Dawn, honey, did you have a late night last night? Because you've got
serious bags under your eyes." Kirstie shook her head in simulated sympathy. "I guess that *job*
of yours is keeping you busy, huh? Tell me," she said, leaning in confidentially, fully aware that
the gaggle of girls that surrounded her was leaning in too, "does the teen porn industry pay well?"
There were giggles all around.
"What?" Dawn was beyond surprised. "What are you talking about?"
"Your name is a dead giveaway. I mean, 'Dawn Summers'? Why didn't you just pick
'Misty Rainbow' or 'Kandi Kane'? And that guy you were with - Mr. Black Leather and
Cigarettes? Who is he, the director of your little movies?"
"Oh, Spike?" Dawn had recovered from the shock; she was even beginning to enjoy this.
"No, he's my bodyguard." She strolled casually out of the locker room, happy to have finally had
the last word.
* * *
He became aware that he was having trouble breathing; she was coming towards him. He
could feel the strength and passion of her like a wall of heat. And then suddenly she was right in
front of him, demure as a schoolgirl, her straight lips looking like they'd never been kissed. He
raised a hand to touch her, but there seemed to be a halo, a repelling energy field all around her,
contoured to fit her shape. She didn't lift a hand to try to touch him, and the sad smile of her eyes
remained constant.
The basketball hit him squarely in the side of his head. Riley looked up to see Forrest
striding towards him, pausing only to scoop up the ball he'd passed. Graham looked at Riley in
concern, asking quietly, "Is it the drugs, Ri?"
Riley could feel only tremendous relief at the excuse he'd been offered. "Yes, it's the
drugs. I guess weaning myself off them would have been smarter than going cold turkey. But
Professor Walsh wasn't obliging enough to leave any samples lying around."
He could see Forrest out of the corner of his eye watching him with contempt, muttering
bitterly, "Buffy." He slammed the ball down with all his might.
Riley felt like he'd been spat on. Forrest was right; the only drug he was experiencing
withdrawal symptoms from was Buffy. She challenged, confounded, eluded him. And all he'd
done was love her. Loved her knowing she didn't love him back. She'd tried, but her heart had
been absent even as she allowed him access to her body. He pictured her slender figure and vivid
face. //How could I have let her go?// A towel was flicked at his backside. He looked up to see
Graham looking worriedly at him, and a little further off, Forrest looking at him with disdain.
//No. You know she never let you be strong. You know she never let you in// he counseled
himself sternly. //You know she never treated you like a man, let alone like the man she loved.
You were right to leave her.// He raised his head proudly and met Forrest's eyes directly; he'd
made his choice. One last thought occurred to him as they walked off the blacktop court. //You
don't owe her a thing. It's time to be a man again. Take back what's yours.//
* * *
//That makes no sense.// Buffy was turning something over in her mind as she walked
home from Spike's crypt. Instead of feeling like his tearful confession was yet another burden
being placed on her weary back, she felt like she'd been relieved of a great weight. She hit upon
the reason without even realizing it. //I'm just glad I could be there for him, after all he's done for
us recently. Now I don't feel like such a freeloader.//
She walked up the stairs to the second floor, still pondering the extraordinary level of trust
that he'd revealed. She looked into Dawn's empty room, realizing belatedly that Spike must have
taken her to school after dropping their mother off at home. She moved along the hallway and
heard rustling sounds coming from the spare bedroom. She saw her mother, flushed with
exertion, surrounded by piles of clothes.
"Mom, what are you doing?" she asked, unsure if she should be concerned.
"Oh, hi, honey. I'm turning this room back into a bedroom. We've all got enough dresser
and closet space not to use this room as a walk-in closet."
"Should you be doing all of this?" Buffy asked. "I mean, shouldn't you be resting?"
"I'm fine. Really. The doctors said I'd have good days and bad. This is one of the really
good ones. And I'm almost done in any case."
"Why are you doing this anyway? Are we having company over?"
"Not 'company' exactly . . ."
"It's not Dad, is it?" Buffy blurted out. She didn't think she could deal with him right
now, even if it was nice for Dawn to have him around.
"No, Sweetie. I wouldn't ask your father back into the house without asking you and
Dawn first." Joyce pulled the last shirt out of its dresser drawer and folded it as she spoke. "The
room is for Spike."
"What?" Buffy was taken aback.
"I told him I wanted to do something for him, but he wouldn't let me before." Joyce
smiled to herself.
"Ooookay," Buffy said slowly. "I get it. But why didn't you just fix up the basement?"
"He's not a pet, Buffy!" Joyce said sharply.
"I know that! I just meant, you know, the less sunlight, the better."
"I know what you meant," Joyce replied quietly. "But I want to show him that he's an
equal here, that he's family. He's not just something handy we keep around, he's somebody we
want with us because of who he is." She gathered up a large stack of folded shirts and said,
"Besides, this room's only got one window. He'll be fine."
* * *
Buffy had just emerged from a steam-filled bathroom, showered and dressed, when Dawn
came home from school, escorted by Giles. Buffy could hear her watcher speaking patiently to
her sister. "I'll be happy to take you to the hospital to see Buffy, Dawn; let's just check on your
mother first."
"No need," Buffy called out as she made her way down the stairs. "We're both fine." The
happy surprise on their faces when they saw her was sweet to see, and Buffy realized that it was
that kind of acceptance and intimacy that her mother wanted for Spike. "Giles," she said, "do you
have your car here? Could you drive me to Spike's? Mom wants him to move in here."
Dawn's mind went into overdrive as it processed what Buffy had said. //Spike! Here! In
my house! That means I can see him whenever I want. That means . . . he'll see me with bed-
head, he'll see me in my jammies. He'll see me like a little sister.// She gave up the dream with a
sigh. //That's all he'd ever see me as anyway. It's so obvious he's into Buffy.//
Giles, meanwhile, was more calmly pondering Joyce. //It's so very like her. In the midst
of her own problems to be helping another. That's where Buffy gets her heart, her compassion.
It's not part of the Slayer package; it comes from family.// "Certainly I'll drive you there, but
then I really must get back to the shop. I imagine that if Spike's moving in here, he'll be bringing
his car, so you won't have any problem transporting his belongings?"
"Guess not. Thanks, Giles." Watcher and Slayer turned as one and headed out the front
door.
* * *
"I never thought I'd say this, but the constant kills are getting boring." Forrest was back
to his usual chatty self, now that Riley had committed himself wholeheartedly to the Initiative
once more. "You know? I mean at first, daytime HSTs were kind of a thrill, but these things
aren't even putting up a fight. Let's find a real challenge."
"Yes, let's," Riley agreed, adrenaline beginning to flow through him. "And I know just
where to find one."
"Remember, this is a capture, not a kill," Riley said to his squad. "Finesse, not force. Got
it?" He eased open the door of Spike's crypt and crept stealthily inside, his weapon at the ready
as he checked and cleared every dark corner. His shoulders slumped in disappointment when he
saw his target sound asleep on top of the tomb. Motioning for the others to follow, he walked
over to where Spike lay and looked down at him, noting the tracks of tears still evident on the
vampire's face. //You'll soon have much more to cry about. It's back to the lab with you, Hostile
17.// They surrounded the tomb, three of them ready with a net made of an Initiative-developed
alloy, four others finding fingerholds on the other side of the tomb. At Riley's signal, the four
lifted the lid of the tomb just enough to roll Spike into the net.
"What the fuck!" Spike roared as the net was closed behind him. Taking in his situation,
he forced himself to calm down and think. He stood, the net settling back around him when he
stopped moving. "Oh. It's you, is it then, Phineas?" he said almost conversationally to Riley, his
brain desperately engaged in trying to formulate an escape plan. "You needed all this weaponry
and seven of your wanker chums to collect one chipped vampire? Doesn't say a lot for you, now,
does it?" He continued talking when Riley betrayed no response. "But then, you're probably just
following orders. Very much the proper soldier. Programmed just so. Makes you wonder if I'm
the only one in this room with a chip in my head." He smiled mock-genially as Riley came closer.
"Doesn't it?" The only response he got was Riley's fist in his face. And then he lost
consciousness as bursts of electricity from eight tasers flowed into him.
* * *
They were driving along the road that circumscribed Spike's cemetery, heading towards
the main gate. The cemetery was bounded by a high wrought iron fence and ringed with
evergreen bushes. At the gap in the greenery, Buffy turned her head automatically to scope out
any graveyard activity. What she saw made her yell "Stop!" at Giles and run up to the fence to
get a better view. She saw Riley and several of his men carrying a net-bound creature. She
gasped when she saw the familiar platinum-topped head. She leapt back into Giles's passenger
seat, giving terse orders through clenched teeth. "Turn the car around and duck down. When the
Initiative van comes out, follow it without being obvious. They've got Spike again. Who knows
what they're planning on doing to him this time."
* * *
Spike came around to find himself lying on the floor of a moving van, still trapped inside
the net. Riley was watching him with an expression of chilling eagerness. The Initiative had
operated on the assumption that vampires and other HSTs were mere animals, incapable of
organized thought; as a result, all the experimentation had been only physical, never
psychological. The chip had been their first foray into mental manipulation. Riley was all set to
begin round two.
He allowed his team to rough the vampire up a little as they transferred him from the van
to an operating theater inside the building complex. He watched in satisfaction as Spike's bare
chest, wrists, and ankles were bound to the metal table, but held up a curt hand when they would
have strapped down his head as well. Riley remembered the sardonic look Spike had worn
whenever he saw the uneven interaction between him and Buffy. //He's seen too much.// He
motioned for his men to discard their weapons and gather around the table near him, knowing
Spike would be more humiliated at being held by unarmed men than by a team with weapons in
their hands. He leaned in and saw Spike clench his teeth in a concerted effort not to provide the
soldiers any amusement by ineffectually vamping out. Riley had just opened his mouth to taunt
the vampire, to begin the mind-games, when the heavy double doors at the top of the
amphitheater opened. Riley spun around to see a pretty Asian doctor making her way down the
steps, an armed guard at the door watching her hesitant movements.
Riley turned on his men and demanded in a low, tight voice, "Who called her in? Who?!"
"I did, sir," the youngest responded, standing stiffly at attention. "While you and the
others were containing the Hostile in the mobile unit, I followed 'capture' protocol and radioed
ahead for a doctor."
Riley was furious, but there was nothing he could do now without losing face, so he
nodded brusquely at the boy. Spike closed his eyes, relief that Riley wasn't going to have his way
with him warring with dread at the medical tortures he'd shortly be enduring. His nostrils flared
when a familiar, enticing scent made itself known to his fear-heightened senses.
Buffy knocked out the guard at the theater door, deftly catching his weapon as it fell out
of his unresponsive hands. She made her way to the side door and silently slid it open, moving
stealthily until she was between Riley's men and their weapons. She trained her gun on Riley's
chest and cleared her throat. The deliberately casual sound caused the squad to jump, Dr. Ng to
shriek in fear, and Spike to smile. "Hi guys," she said. "Remember me?" Forrest snarled at her
and Riley affected not to recognize her. She moved a step closer. "I've got an idea. Why don't
you guys go into that little soundproof room over there?" she said brightly.
"Or else what?" Forrest demanded.
Buffy pulled a disbelieving face. "*Hello*, I've got a gun aimed at your fearless leader,
here."
Riley spoke to his men, his eyes never leaving Buffy's face. "She's bluffing, men. The
Slayer is sworn to protect humans - *all* humans."
Buffy's eyes snapped up to meet his. "The thing is, I've always been a little different than
the average slayer. Didn't keep the secret identity secret, didn't jump when the Council said to,
didn't even stay dead. But that's not the point. The point is that all rules go out the window
when my family is hurt. So I've got no problem pulling this trigger."
Spike's eyes flew open when he heard what she was saying. Riley was scoffing as he
moved to stand at ease, his legs slightly apart, hands clasped at the small of his back. "Spike?
He's your family? What is he, the long-lost albino second cousin?"
Buffy had had it. "I mean in my heart. He's family. And that means no one touches him.
So are you going to do what I asked or are you going to get shot?" When they didn't move,
Buffy fired at the space between Riley's legs. "Move it. I'm not going to ask again." She herded
them into the small, dark room and bolted the door behind them, sealing them in indefinitely.
She turned to face Spike and saw the doctor, paralyzed by fear, still clutching a clipboard
and leaning weakly against the back wall. "Hi, Doc," she said, an idea coming to her. "Do you
want to do me a favor?" Seeing that the woman could barely breathe due to fright, Buffy
unloaded her weapon of ammunition and tossed it aside. She walked towards the doctor, her bare
hands clearly visible. She spoke in soft, soothing tones. "You're a doctor, right?"
A nod.
"You've worked here for how long?"
"Se-se-seven weeks."
"Have you ever performed any of the operations?"
Another nod.
"So you can do one more, okay? I'd like you to remove his chip."
"No," Dr. Ng shook her head, sounding horrified. "I can't do that."
"Yes, you can," Buffy urged, keeping her tone friendly. "He's not a threat. I would never
let a dangerous vampire loose." She saw that this line of reasoning was getting her exactly
nowhere. "Look," she started over, "do you have a family?"
The doctor nodded involuntarily, fear evident in her eyes. "A brother. My little brother,"
she said. "Please don't hurt him. I'll do what you . . ."
"I'm not threatening your family!" Buffy cut in, stung. "I'm explaining to you that this
vampire here is the one who helps me keep people in this town - people like your little brother -
safe. Now please help him."
"I'll do it," Dr. Ng said in a soft voice. "I want Nelson safe."
As Dr. Ng went to the sink to begin washing up, Buffy crossed the room and stood by
Spike's side. She was just reaching out a hand to undo his restraints when he looked at her and
spoke. "Don't do this, Slayer." It was half-plea, half-command. Her hand fell to her side in
bewilderment. He turned his head away from her before he spoke again. "Don't send me away."
Buffy was more confused than she had ever been in her life. "Spike, I'm just getting the
chip out. I'm not banishing you from the kingdom."
"Damn it, Buffy!" he shouted. "Didn't you understand what I said earlier? What I said
about Dru? *I can't trust myself to know - or do - what's best, what's right.* If you take my
chip, how can I be sure I won't hurt you or one of your mates? It's been so long since I've fed . .
."
Buffy turned his head back to face her and was startled by the tears in his eyes. She let go
of his chin and ran her thumb over his cheekbone. "Didn't you understand what *I* said just
now? You're family to me, Spike. I trust you. The chip is irrelevant to me, to us, but not to you.
It's not fair to you. Once it's out, you'll see I'm right." She squeezed his hand and smiled at him
as Dr. Ng approached them, ready to begin.
* * *
//Bloody technology.// Giles was sitting in his car, parked just outside the area monitored
by Initiative surveillance, worrying about his slayer. She'd been inside the building complex for
quite some time, and Giles was starting to sweat. He knew his logic was slipping, but he couldn't
stop himself from thinking //stupid cell phones. If I had one I could call Willow, get her over here
to do a sensing spell to make sure Buffy's alright. If they didn't make those phones, I'd have no
way to call Willow, and I wouldn't be worrying so much.// He cursed himself again for disdaining
the advances of the twentieth century. He was actually wringing his hands when he saw Buffy
and Spike, running hand-in-hand towards him. He turned the key and the engine turned over
smoothly. Giles grinned in appreciation of modern technology.
* * *
Spike was lying on his stomach, since the surgical scar at the back of his skull meant he
couldn't lie on his back for a day or so. That he was on a soft bed made up with clean sheets in
the Summers house was mind-boggling. He turned his head slightly to look over his shoulder
when he finally sensed Dawn behind him, admiring the nice rear view he was unwittingly offering
hallway passersby in his tight black jeans and t-shirt.
"What's up, Niblet?" he asked.
"Oh, I, uh, brought you this, 'cause the room's still kind of bare." She held out a plush
doll of the Count from *Sesame Street*. He grinned at her, but she still saw that something was
bothering him. "What's wrong, Spike?" she asked, perching gingerly next to him.
He moved over, ostensibly to give her more room, but really to keep himself from
touching her. He could hear the steady thrum of her heart. She bent over a little, looking
curiously at his still face. Her apple-scented hair bobbed in front of him when she moved. The
fragrance was so strong, the concern on her face so clear, that he tentatively felt his own face for
ridges, assuming his heightened senses meant his game face was on. His fingertips encountered
only smooth flesh. "What's wrong is that you all trust me, the lot of you Summers women.
You're trusting me right now, sittin' here beside me. I could have you bone-dry before you could
open your mouth to scream."
He was startled when Dawn only smiled confidently down at him. "Yeah, you could. But
you won't."
"How do you know that?" he cried out in desperation.
"Because I've seen you without your fangs. Because I know that you didn't have to help
Buffy patrol, or help me with my mom. Because I know you love us." She was getting
emotional, but though her voice got lower and lower, it carried the same tremendous conviction
of her earlier declarations. "I know what this town is, Spike. Believe me when I say that when
you're around, death seems to get farther away from us. You keep us safe." She stood up and
laid the doll in her place. "You should get some sleep. You've got a big day tomorrow."
"Yeah?" he asked, one eyebrow arched interrogatively.
"Yeah. Mom found out there's a viewers' choice *Passions* marathon on tomorrow
afternoon, which means Buffy and I are running away from home, leaving you behind as the
sacrificial victim." She grinned. "Enjoy!" she sang out as she left his room.
* * *
"Ah. The very best in brothel chic. Thanks, mate." He examined the round, red velour
throw pillows Xander had given him in disbelief. Knowing money was tight for the Summers
household because of hospital bills, Willow had suggested to Xander that they should get some
stuff for Spike's room that looked like it belonged in a house and not a crypt. The only things
Spike had ended up moving were his record player, his record collection, and his clothes.
"The pillows were Anya's idea. She told me to get either red or black. She says they're
your favorite colors, or at least the only colors you ever wear," Xander explained.
"Yeah," Willow cut in, "and she wanted to give them to you herself, only -"
"Commerce called," Spike finished for her. "I get it. Thank her for me, would you,
mate?"
"Sure," Xander answered, slightly thrown by the normalcy of it all. "I haven't given you
my present yet, Spike."
"Oh! Me neither!" Willow exclaimed, and darted off to Joyce's room to retrieve her
room-warming gifts. She came back with a tube of posters under one arm and a houseplant in her
hand. Spike unrolled the posters, grinning excitedly. He turned to examine the blank walls, trying
to decide on the placement of the images, when he heard something being thrown on the bed.
He pivoted again and saw an envelope on the bed and Xander refusing to meet his eye. "I,
um, talked to Buffy's mom, and she told me about everything you've done for her," Xander said
slowly. "My gift is to help you paint this room any color you'd like. She said it was okay."
Spike understood immediately; the boy's offer was less about individualizing the room
than about the promise of spending time together - time free of acrimony - as they painted.
"Thanks . . . Xander," Spike said, sticking out his hand.
They shook, and then Xander made his way to the door. "The envelope's got paint
swatches. You pick the one you like, and I'll go to the store and get a couple of cans. See you."
He left, leaving Spike and Willow alone together.
"So, pet? How's that pretty girl of yours?"
"Oh, so great!" Willow said, stars in her eyes. "She got you something too, but she said
she had to give it to you in person." She checked her watch and said, "I've got to go. Her class
gets over soon, and I'm moving my stuff into her place this afternoon. Bye, Spike."
* * *
Word had finally gotten out about the lack of sunshine, and vamps who'd always longed
for a taste of the hellmouth flocked there in droves. Darla smiled in wicked anticipation; some of
the vamps had had the foresight to turn fairly powerful witches, and the havoc they wreaked with
their spells meant that routine patrols, no matter how often they were carried out, were not going
to keep Sunnydale safe. Darla's eyes closed in bliss when she imagined what the very near future
would bring, and she whispered, "Soon, Angelus, soon."
Across the room, Drusilla heard the words, and fear gripped her. Her fingers tightened
convulsively in Miss Edith's hair as images, brighter than life, flashed across her inward eye:
Angelus, one hand clamped around her throat, the other reaching roughly under her velvet dress,
smiling when he realized that she couldn't scream unless he willed it so; a look from his eye
commanding her to kneel in front of him with her mouth open, his hands jerkily tangling in her
long hair. //No. This can't be.// She knew she wasn't remembering what Angelus had done to
her as his newly-turned childe; Spike had helped her heal all of that pain, kissing every spot her
sire had bruised, listening when she spoke of her family, holding her when she needed to cry. //But
where is he? Where is my pretty Spike?// One last memory pushed its way through the
cacophony of her mad mind, and she saw herself silently ordered to laugh, to kiss, to caress her
sire while her true lover watched helplessly from a wheelchair. She went cold inside and slumped
over on the dark wood floor. Now she knew what had driven her darling boy away.
* * *
Spike fingered the empty cardboard carton in his pocket. Joyce hadn't said anything
about his smoking; all she'd said when she pulled him aside the night before was that she really
appreciated him being there, but she knew he was used to his own space, so if living with a family
was ever driving him crazy, he should feel free to escape to his crypt for a little while. He'd bent
his head to kiss her cheek and whispered in her ear, "A bloke'd have to be mad, leaving a house
with three beautiful girls." //Three beautiful girls with healthy lungs// he reminded himself now.
He looked down at the carton in his hand for a moment before crumpling it and tossing it in the
trash.
The door opened, and Dawn made a beeline for the vampire while Buffy headed upstairs
to finish the reading for her five o'clock class.
"How was school?" he asked.
"Fine, fine," Dawn said impatiently. "How's your head?"
"Just dandy. Poke around all you like, Pixi Stik."
She took him literally, and crawled behind him on the couch and felt around his skull with
clumsily gentle fingers. "Really all better?" she asked, a smile growing on her face.
"Really all better," he confirmed with a nod. "How much homework you got, pet?"
"Not a lot. But I've got this stupid test on Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War
tomorrow. Help me study?"
"Of course," he answered, and held out his right hand. They had thumb-wrestled through
three study sessions, and Dawn's grades had never been better; Spike thought her concentration
was akin to the mental focus Buffy achieved when she trained her hardest physically. He grinned
when he captured her thumb and asked, "What was Florence Nightingale's nickname?"
Her brow furrowed as she tried to work her thumb free, and the answer slipped out of her
automatically, "The Lady with the Lamp."
He was smiling at her when they finally finished, their thumbs sore. "Looks like you're all
set to ace another test, Platelet."
She noticed that his teeth weren't quite straight, that when he grinned he looked
endearingly like a little boy. "Hey Spike," she blurted out, "how come your teeth are so nice?"
He looked completely confounded by her non sequitur. "I mean, Mr. Halloran is always telling us
really gross stuff about whatever time we're studying. Like he said people used to only shower
once or twice a year, and stuff like that. If you're so old how come you look like us?"
"My mum was very strict with us about that sort of thing, Niblet. She grew up in India,
and she noticed that the Indians, who bathed and cleaned their teeth everyday, hardly ever fell
sick. She was sure it was the cleanliness, so she made us do the same."
"She sounds smart."
"She was. And my da too. When it became apparent that I was left-handed, the parish
priest said that I must be trained to use my right hand instead; he said being left-handed was a sign
that I was a devil child. My parents heard him out, closed the door behind him, and didn't go to
church after that."
"Wow," she said, straightfaced, "who knew the priest was right?"
"You think I'm a devil child, do you?" he asked, one eyebrow beginning to arch. "Does
this seem like what a devil child would do?" He kissed her lightly on the temple, distracting her as
his nimble fingers found her tummy and began tickling her unmercifully.
* * *
"Where have you been?" Angel's accusing voice cut through the still, dark night as he got
up from the bench outside the Peaceful Slumber cemetery. Spike eyed Buffy quizzically, realizing
from her own puzzled look at him that she'd made no plans to meet Angel for patrol tonight.
Angel grew even more irritated when he noticed the silent communication. Of course he knew
why Spike was hanging around Buffy; the real question was, why was she letting him?
He stepped forward as if to greet them and wedged himself between them. Buffy, aware
of the tension between the two vampires, maneuvered herself so that they flanked her. Angel
immediately repositioned himself. //This is like life-sized three-card monte// Buffy thought crossly.
She shot a look at Spike, curious as to why he wasn't acting equally territorial, and a little peeved
that he seemed to be taking it all with equanimity, his fluid strides never faltering.
They walked for a little while in silence. They had just reached the top of a high but
gently sloped hill when they came upon a canoodling couple, both human. They turned away,
Buffy wistfully lingering a moment longer, and came face-to-face with a large group of vampires
and their witch-minions.
Buffy was getting incredibly frustrated. Angel used his bulk to great advantage, not only
against his opponents, but against her as well. He kept her shielded from the fray, and the tilt of
his shoulders kept her from seeing very much of it. She ran around so that she was next to Spike,
as far from Angel as possible. The blond vampire grinned fiercely at her, and they moved in
unison to stand back-to-back for the fight. Buffy and Spike finished off their attackers, and
turned to challenge Angel's opponents. He was fighting two at once, but it was the third creature
who caught Spike's attention. The figure raised its arms and chanted to the sky, and the tiny hairs
on the back of Spike's neck stood on end; it was as if the whole world had blinked at once. Twin
screams could be heard even as the power surge died away. Spike raced back up the hill and saw
the human couple they'd seen before struggling in vain with invisible bonds even as the creature
that had chanted appeared behind them and drained them both. Buffy was just in time to witness
the deaths. "Oh, God."
The sound of her voice seemed to recall Spike to the present moment. He turned to her,
his voice low. "We need the witches. We'll need them first thing tomorrow morning."
"What witches?" Buffy asked, confused.
"Red and her bird, love. I'll go talk to them now, get them started. I'll see you later,
Buffy." She nodded automatically in mute agreement despite her confusion and saw Angel, blood
dripping from his knuckles, ready to escort her home.
* * *
"What's an eleven-letter word for beauty?" Dawn shouted out from the den when she
heard Buffy's key unlocking the front door. She and Joyce were down on the den carpet, regular
and rhyming dictionaries scattered around them as they hunched over the Sunday crossword
puzzle.
Dawn let the thesaurus slip from her fingers when she heard Angel's voice and not
Spike's, as she'd expected. "How about 'Dawn Summers'?" the vampire joked.
Into the awkward silence that followed, Buffy spoke. "Come on, Angel, let me get the
first aid kit and clean you up."
As soon as they were out of earshot, Joyce closed her eyes and sighed, "Please don't tell
me they're together again."
"Not if I can help it," Dawn promised, and the two shared a secret smile.
Buffy got the gauze and ointment out of her first-aid drawer and motioned for Angel to sit
on her bed. She angled the lamp so that its light would hit his hands. She taped his knuckles until
he looked like a prizefighter. The sound of Dawn's laughter drifted up the stairs, and Angel said
abruptly, "Dawn seems really jumpy around me. Is something wrong?"
Buffy considered for a moment, then answered, "Well, I told her . . ."
"About the prophecy?!"
"No! About our history. About how we got together and then everything got bad." She
paused, assuming a spurious air of nonchalance. "I mean, she knows that *you* weren't
responsible. It was Angelus. Angel and Angelus have nothing to do with each other, right?" She
hit just the right note of idle curiosity, but she hadn't forgotten for a single moment the anguished
words she'd heard Spike choke out as she eavesdropped in the alley. She needed to believe that
he was wrong, that Angel's ignorance of Angelus's deeds hadn't been feigned, that the kiss they'd
shared before she plunged her sword into him had meant what she'd thought. //If it doesn't, then
fighting with Xander, lying to Giles, deserting Mom and Dawn, endangering everybody, getting
Kendra killed, would mean nothing. I did it all for him. That's got to mean something.// Angel
had just opened his mouth to answer when the phone rang, startling them both. They could hear
Dawn race to get it.
"Spike!" They heard her gleeful exclamation as they put away the medical supplies and
made their way down the stairs. "Mom!" Dawn yelled, pitching her voice loud enough to be
heard several rooms away, "he says it's 'pulchritude'!" She giggled a bit, then said, "Yeah, they
got here safe and sound. Well, he was hurt a little, but Buffy fixed him up." She listened for a
moment, then finished the conversation with "Okay. See you soon." She walked back to where
her mother and Buffy sat in the middle of a sea of books and papers. "He says he'll be home in an
hour."
She plunked herself down between them and whispered "Scooch over" to her sister just as
Angel, who'd been sitting on the couch, stood up.
He stood tall, looming in judgment over them. "'Home'? I thought he lived in that
crypt."
"He's got a crypt," Buffy agreed, narrowly avoiding an outright lie.
"Good," he relaxed, "because even with a chip, Spike's dangerous around humans."
Just before either of her daughters could leap to Spike's defense or spill the beans about
his de-chipped state, Joyce let out the loudest, fakest yawn in history. There was no way she was
going to let some jackass vampire who'd deflowered and betrayed her daughter lecture all of them
about trust and boundaries. "Well," she said, melodramatically feigning sleepiness, "it was so nice
to see you again, Angel." She began hustling him to the front door. "I'm sure we'll see you
soon. You have a good night." She closed the door firmly and secured the deadbolt. After all,
Spike had a key.
* * *
Crouched behind one of the bushes in the front lawn, Angel could hear the lock click as
Joyce turned it. He noticed, though, that she left the front porch light on. //Something's going
on.// He remembered the message that Dawn had relayed, and got comfortable, ready to wait an
hour for Spike's return. He settled down on the grass.
Fifty minutes later, he heard the sound of heavy boots scuffing along the sidewalk. He
raised himself back up into a crouch, grimacing when he heard a twig snap beneath him, but the
sound was masked by the shrill ringing of a cell phone. He could hear Spike answer it. "Yeah? . .
. Niblet, shouldn't you be fast asleep? It's a school night. . . . I'll quiz you tomorrow over
breakfast. Deal? . . . Night, pet." Angel's mouth hung open in disbelief as Spike snapped the
phone shut, unlocked the front door, went inside, and turned off the porch light.
* * *
Buffy was having caf‚ au lait while Spike heard Dawn recite her irregular verbs to prep for
her French exam. Joyce walked over to the table and set a full plate in front of her younger
daughter. "Here you are, honey. *French* toast."
"Ha ha," Dawn muttered sarcastically.
"So I think theme breakfasts are funny. Sue me."
Buffy drained her cup and stood up. "Ready?" she asked Spike.
"Yeah. Best o' luck, Jellybean. Bye, Joyce."
They walked to the Magic Box, going over what they'd witnessed the night before. "So
Red 'n' Tara said they'd spend the night looking up spells and such."
"Who's Tara?"
"Willow's girlfriend," he answered, surprised by the question. Off her look, he added,
"Pretty. About so high. Blondish-brownish hair. Nice voice."
"Willow has a *girlfriend*?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah," he answered, and left it at that.
When they entered, Giles, Anya, and Xander were sitting at the table. For once, Giles
didn't have a book in front of him. He was sipping tea, listening to Anya relating an anecdote -
something from her demon days - with a fixed smile; Xander did the same. "Morning, all," Spike
greeted them. Willow and Tara walked in with a few books.
The meeting began with Spike relating what had happened on the last patrol. "Good
Lord," Giles murmured. "They're using power from the sun-blocking spell to fuel their own
smaller, deadlier spells."
"Yeah," Spike affirmed, "and that's where the Wiccas come in."
Willow stood up. "Well, Tara did some sensing spells, but couldn't find the source of the
main spell. And I looked through every book we've got, but as long as the big spell is in effect,
there's pretty much nothing we can do about the little ones." She took a deep breath and looked
apologetically at Buffy. "So it looks like we'll have to use the prophecy after all." Buffy nodded
bravely. She'd dreaded that it would come to this.
* * *
Angel had worked himself up into a towering rage, pacing all through the night, when he
remembered Spike saying something about a meeting first thing in the morning. He ran to the
magic shop, slamming the door open so hard that it came off its hinges. The whole group looked
up, startled by the force of his entrance. His smoldering eyes narrowed when he saw Spike sitting
at the table between Buffy and Xander. "What's going on here?" he asked menacingly.
Buffy got up and walked toward him. "We were talking about the situation here." She
swallowed hard. "And about the prophecy. It looks like our only chance."
Angel straightened his body from its predatory hunch. "The prophecy? As in you and
me?" She nodded. "No dice."
"What?!"
"Not until *he's* out of your house." He pointed an accusing finger at his step-childe.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Buffy asked, torn between rage and
confusion.
"He's dangerous. I don't want him anywhere near you."
"But -"
"No, Buffy!" he interrupted. "*I'm* the one in the prophecy. *I'm* the one who can help
you. *I'm* the one who came down from L. A. the minute I heard. Not him. And *I'm* the one
you lied to last night." He paused before adding, "Just think of this as my payment."
They all gaped at him. Spike stood. "Fine," he said. He was seething at the stunt Angel
was pulling, but he had no choice since the larger vampire was, in effect, holding the entire
population of Sunnydale hostage. "I'll be out of the Summers house and back in my crypt this
afternoon."
Angel didn't bother to acknowledge him, but turned to Willow and asked, "So when's the
big night?"
Willow picked up the blue book Giles had used before and flipped to the right page.
"Buffy," she said softly, "you need to come too." She led the way to a corner of the room; Buffy
and Angel followed.
Giles, Anya, Xander, Spike, and Tara all stayed at the table. Xander said, "As soon as the
prophecy is completed, I say we stake him."
"But he said he wouldn't lose his soul," Anya reminded her lover.
"Soul, shmoul. Look at him. Even with a soul, he's evil."
Spike's mouth quirked in a half-smile. It broadened when he heard Giles mutter,
"Tosser!"
Tara sat in Buffy's seat, next to Spike. She got his attention by touching his arm gently.
"I . . . I . . . uh . . . know my timing's off, but I haven't had the time to do this before. Um . . .
after you move your stuff, could you come by my place? I want to give you my room-warming
gift."
"Sure, pet," he answered, gratified. "But you didn't have to get me anything. I mean,
we've only met the one time."
"But look what I got out of it." She smiled fondly at Willow, across the room.
The spell the redhead was working dimmed the lights. Colored balls of fire generated in
her hands. She chanted ceaselessly. Then it all spun out of control. Buffy had to dodge as the
blue fireball darted at her; the red one singed Angel's hair. Willow collapsed, panting. Giles
rushed over to her and carried her back to the work table. She came around when Tara held her
hand. "Sorry," she said weakly. "The spell didn't work."
Tara turned to face the group. "The full moon is in three nights. That's a night of natural
power. You should be able to do it then." She gathered Willow into her arms.
"Sounds fine," Angel said.
Buffy turned to Spike and said, "I'll call you for tonight's patrol, okay?"
"No need," Angel interjected quickly. "I think our boy Spike should take the night off."
He stepped close to the blond vampire and locked eyes with him. "Buffy and I need to get our
rhythm back" - he raised his eyebrows suggestively - "if we're going to save Sunnydale in three
days. We'll be better off on our own."
* * *
Spike stalked back to the Summers house alone. He stepped inside the kitchen to make
himself some hot chocolate and found Joyce hanging up the phone. "Oh, Spike, I'm so glad
you're here. That was the hospital. They've scheduled my operation for the day after tomorrow.
They want me there tomorrow morning."
Spike was startled by the suddenness of it all. "That's all the warning they're giving you?"
"Apparently this is how it works," she replied. "I'll have to let Carol know. At least I
don't have to worry about Buffy and Dawn, since you'll be here." She shot him a relieved smile
and went upstairs to finish getting ready for work.
As soon as she'd driven off, Spike loaded his car with his records, record player, posters,
throw pillows, and clothes. He tucked Xander's envelope in his duster pocket. He gave the room
one last look and saw the doll Dawn had given him lying on the bed. He picked it up, closed his
door, and went into her room. On a sheet of her purple stationery, he wrote a short note. "Hey
Twizzler - Long story short. That bloody sod Angel wanted me out of your house. According to
some prophecy, he's the one who can help your big sis save Sunnyhell, and he refused to play ball
until I promised to leave. Sorry to run out without saying goodbye. I've still got the phone, so
call me whenever you want. But do NOT come to me - ugly things are happening here, and I
don't want them happening to you. I'm taking your mum to hospital tomorrow morning, so I'll
see you then. Love, Spike." He tucked the note under the Count's cape and placed the doll on
Dawn's bed.
* * *
Giles hung up the phone and went back to the training room where Buffy was still
stretching. "Anything important?" she asked.
"It was Spike. He wanted to make sure someone picked up Dawn this afternoon. He said
she was expecting him to come get her."
"Oh." Buffy didn't know what to say. She looked up hopefully at her watcher. "Could
you?"
"Of course. I'll bring her back here so she won't be alone in the house." He paused and
then took the plunge. "Buffy, what do you feel about what happened this morning? About
Angel's demands?"
She looked surprised to hear such questions from him. "It made me mad." He nodded
encouragingly; Buffy was at her best when she knew her own emotions. "I mean, who is he to
question my mom's decision? And Spike has been great with Mom, great with Dawn. It's good
to go patrolling with someone who can more than hold his own. So, yeah, it got me mad." She
looked at Giles, whose eyes were fixed so intently on her she knew her other feelings had not
gone unnoticed. His paternal smile pushed her on. "And I guess I'm scared. What Angel did this
morning - it made me wonder if we're really on the same side. It made me wonder how much he
deserved the credit I've always given him. It really hurt, Giles."
* * *
Spike walked over to Tara's building and knocked on her door. It had only taken him ten
minutes to put away his things, ten minutes in which he felt acutely the disparity between his crypt
and a home. Tara opened the door and said, "Pe-Pe-Perfect timing. Willow's got classes the re-
re-rest of the afternoon, so we've got plenty of ti-ti-time."
"Plenty of time for what?" he asked.
"To make your p-p-present." She led the way past boxes of Willow's stuff to a large
circle drawn on the carpet in light green powder. They sat down Indian-style in the circle, and
Tara spoke without a stutter.
"Remember when you came here with Willow and you saw into my mind?" He nodded.
"Well, that spell went both ways. I got a peek into yours."
Again, he nodded; he'd felt her reciprocating, but it hadn't bothered him. "What'd you
see, pet?"
"Your family." He went still. "I found a spell about a year ago to translate thoughts onto
paper. It took me until now to become powerful enough to work it." She looked down. "I could
tell how much you miss them. If you want, if you trust me, I could be your conduit. You just
think of them, I'll look into you, and they'll come out on this paper," she explained, laying a large
sheet of heavy sketching paper between them. In response, he held out his hands. She clasped
them and looked into his eyes.
She could tell the moment he stopped seeing her. His eyes softened, and their dark blue
deepened. Images formed slowly in her mind as she concentrated fiercely. She saw a man and
two women. Sweat beaded on her face as dark lines began to form on the cream-colored paper.
When the spell was finally done, Tara was panting heavily. The sheet was covered with
images: his father with his nose in a book; his mother in the red dress she'd made from a silk sari;
his sister laughing; his father on horseback; his mother's darkly beautiful face; Stella as a child,
holding her little brother's hand. He looked it over wonderingly, and when he met her eyes again,
she thought she would cry. He knew he had to say something to acknowledge the enormity of
what she had done for him, but before he could even think of anything appropriate, she said
"Wait!" and stepped out of the circle. She took a large picture frame from her dresser drawer,
hastily scraped off the price tag, and handed it to him. "Now it's done." He stood up and saw a
similar picture of a woman on her desk. Understanding that he didn't need to say anything, he
kissed her cheek and turned to go.
* * *
Dawn was surprised, but a little glad, that it wasn't Spike who picked her up after school.
She'd finally gotten her poetry assignment back - word was that Ms. Okan had had a fight with
her boyfriend and accidentally left the assignments at his house when she stormed out - and she
wasn't sure if she wanted Spike to see it. The poem was, after all, a paean to him and Xander.
So she hopped into Giles's sports car cheerfully.
When she walked into the Magic Box, she was startled to find Buffy waiting for her with
her arms crossed. "Don't you have class?" she asked.
"In a little bit. Dawn, I need to talk to you. Could you please come back here?" Buffy
escorted her sister to the training room. "Um . . ." Buffy began, pacing nervously, "Spike's not
living with us anymore."
"What? Why not?!" Dawn was outraged. "Did you guys have a fight or something?"
"No, not at all," Buffy replied, taken aback. "There's, um, this prophecy that says that
Angel and I can fix the sun-be-gone we've been experiencing, and he said he wouldn't help unless
Spike moved out. Dawn -" she said, holding up a hand to ask for her sister's continued attention,
"that's not even the big news. Spike called. He said he saw Mom this morning. Before he got a
chance to tell her he was moving out, she said that she had to be at the hospital tomorrow. Her
surgery is the day after."
Buffy watched helplessly as Dawn's eyes filled with tears. "What do we do, Buffy?" she
asked, her voice shaking.
"We stay with Mom tonight, and tell her Spike stayed away so we'd have family time.
Then we go with her when he drives her to the hospital tomorrow morning."
* * *
Dinner was surprisingly low-key. They had comfort food - homemade macaroni and
cheese - they all made together, giggling as they added way too much grated cheddar. They
trooped into the den, Buffy and Joyce collapsing under the weight of so much food; their eyes
widened when Dawn appeared with bowls of ice cream-topped brownies.
They savored dessert slowly, talking incessantly between bites. Dawn giggled as her
mother told the story of her first haircut - at Buffy's hands, with a pair of orange-and-white safety
scissors. "You're just lucky I couldn't find the pinking shears," Buffy said with an evil smile.
"Hey, guess what?" Dawn jumped in.
"What, honey?"
"I, uh, won first prize in the poetry contest."
"Spike would be so proud," Buffy said wryly.
"Really, sweetie? That's great! Can we hear it?" Joyce asked.
"Yeah, of course." Dawn rooted around under the sofa for her knapsack, and finally
pulled out a piece of looseleaf. "It's about Spike and Xander," she admitted, blushing a little.
Buffy stopped hearing her sister's nervous voice after the first few lines: *"He moves like the
moon, / Body darker than night, hair brighter than lightning, / A walking eclipse of a man."*
//Think, brain, think// Buffy commanded herself. Dawn's words had set off an alarm
somewhere in her mind, but she couldn't locate it. //It'll come to me. Eventually.// She came
back to the reality of the den when she heard her mother's enthusiastic applause.
* * *
She felt it the minute Angel seemed to materialize next to her. He smiled easily at her as if
their confrontation that morning had never happened. "Hi, Buffy."
"Hi." They stood without speaking for a few moments while she searched desperately for
equilibrium. When she had a reasonable facsimile, she said, "I think we should go back to the
place we were attacked last night. We can do quick sweeps of the other cemeteries on our way."
He nodded agreeably and they set off.
It wasn't until the fourth graveyard that they came across some vampires. Buffy moved in
quickly for the kill, dusting three in a matter of moments. She brushed the dust from her pants
and tank top and headed for the exit. "Buffy, wait. What's the matter?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I've patrolled with you before, remember? You used to banter. You used to have fun."
"As I recall, you and I didn't patrol that strenuously. We were busy doing other things."
As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. She hadn't meant to sound like she was
issuing an invitation to a repeat performance.
She flushed hotly when Angel smirked knowingly at her and moved even closer to her. "I
can vouch for the fact that a good time was had by all." He laid one hand on her arm and ran the
other through her loose hair. "And soon we'll be together again," he whispered.
She looked down as she stepped back and hid the shame from her voice. "But not
tonight."
When they finally reached the scene of the previous night's fracas, Buffy could hear the
sounds of a struggle. She ran around a cluster of imposing mausoleums to see Spike, a stake in
each hand, fighting with a trio of orange-robed vampires. A lucky blow rid him of one of them,
and by the time Buffy reached his side, he'd managed to dust the other two. "Loser vamps 0,
fashion police 3," she quipped.
He smiled down at her. "All's well with your -" Spike broke off when Angel finally came
into view.
"Yeah," she affirmed quickly, trying to explain with her eyes that Angel didn't know
anything about her mother's health. Spike got the message instantly.
Angel stood next to Buffy. "Spike."
"Yeah?"
"Why are you here? I told you to take the night off."
"Shouldn't that be the Slayer's call?" Spike asked carelessly, as if it were all academic.
Angel grinned. "It is. I know you heard the prophecy - our 'union' binds us together."
He draped a heavy arm over her shoulders. "We are one," he said, remembering how much that
phrase had discomfitted Spike before.
When Spike hissed in disbelief and turned to Buffy, he saw two huge green eyes mutely
beseeching him to give in with good grace. "All right, then, Peaches. Playing field's yours. Take
care, pet," he said as he strode back to his crypt.
* * *
They were heading for the gate when Angel's cell phone rang. Buffy moved so that she
was out of earshot; she needed space from him and his high-handed ways. She looked around,
puzzled, when a faint electronic beeping reached her ears. She peered through some bushes to
see Riley in full camouflage gear, an infrared body heat sensor in his hand. Despite registering on
his screen, she still surprised him when she stepped up to face him. "Riley." She kept her tone
non-committal.
"Buffy!" His eyes widened, but then he got his reaction under control. "Figures I'd find
you here. I'm guessing the other little blip on my screen is your new boyfriend. God, what barrel
were you scraping the bottom of to find Spike?"
His assumptions were so off-base that she didn't, for a moment, know how to respond.
"Spike is not my boyfriend. And I know you must be itching to drag him back to your lab, but
here's a friendly warning: the chip is out." He stared blankly, not wanting to believe her. "And
the cold-blooded body showing up on your monitor is Angel, my ex-boyfriend, another vampire
I'm warning you to steer clear of."
"Why? Who's he? Your great-grandfather's twin brother?" Riley asked snidely.
"He's not family. He's an ally. So run along, soldier. No one for you to kill or capture
here."
Riley's silence convinced Buffy he was thinking over what she'd said. Until he muttered,
"Except you."
"Excuse me? When did you decide delusions were fun?" Buffy asked, laughter escaping
her. In response, Riley punched her across the jaw. She absorbed the blow calmly, not even
bothering to shift into a fighting stance. She questioned him, more curious than upset. "Why are
you hitting me? When did you decide we were enemies?"
"When you allied yourself again with the demons."
He continued to beat on her, but it seemed to have no effect. "Riley. Stop. You can't
win." He kept up his attack. She backhanded him almost casually, and the force of it sent him
staggering. She followed with a leaping roundhouse kick that left him sprawled on the ground,
blood pouring from a cut on his temple. The last thing he heard before he passed out was, "Next
time a girl says stop, listen to her." She knelt beside his body and turned on his walkie-talkie so
that his men would find him quickly.
Angel was still on the phone when she headed back in his direction, winding up a
conversation with Cordelia about the latest at the karaoke bar. Buffy mouthed, "I have to go
home" and pointed at his watch; without waiting for his response, she turned on her heel and
headed for Revello Drive.
* * *
The alarm blared insistently. One eye opened to a sliver, and she glared balefully at the
clock. //5 a.m.! What the hell was I thinking?// Buffy snaked one hand out from underneath the
covers to turn off the alarm when memory came rushing back in. //You were thinking that Mom
has to go to the hospital today, and you want as much time as you can get with her.// She rolled
onto her back, aware for the first time that something was holding her waist down as securely as a
seatbelt. She looked down to see Dawn's arm. Her sister was curled up next to her, looking
troubled even in her sleep. //I wonder when she snuck in here. Poor baby.// She nudged her sister
awake, and they got ready to face the day together. Brushing their teeth, taking turns spitting into
the sink, they moved with the silence and timing of a long-married couple. Showered and
dressed, they pulled their damp hair into tight ponytails and went downstairs.
Spike was sitting next to Joyce on the couch in the den, his hand cradling hers. A
comfortable silence reigned. "You guys eat something, and then we'll go, okay?" Joyce
suggested, as if their destination were the grocery store or the hairdresser.
They nodded obediently and went into the kitchen. Dawn got out the cereal bowls. "I'll
eat in a second. I just need to make one quick phone call," Buffy said.
* * *
Joyce rested as best she could in the inclined hospital bed, gauze pads taped to the insides
of her elbows. Her left arm dangled off the bed, and Spike's thumb and forefinger kept a gentle
grip on her pinky. As she'd asked, he'd seen the girls off to school and patrol, but then he drove
back to the hospital to stay by her side. He seemed to know when she needed speech, when she
needed silence. And he'd been so self-effacing that even when visiting hours were over, no one
asked him to leave.
Unbidden, thoughts of her ex-husband entered her mind. Hank had been nothing but
trouble when she was in the hospital. He was bad enough when she was in labor, but when she'd
had the appendicitis scare - about six months before he left her - he'd been a downright nuisance.
He had yelled at the doctors, paced the hallways, and ignored his daughters' fear. Even when her
life had seemed to hang in the balance, he hadn't been looking at her, holding her hand,
whispering tenderly to her; he'd been shouting at the top of his lungs that when the doctors had
killed her, he would sue.
She shook her head slightly to rid herself of painful memories, and Spike broke the silence
of his vigil. "Need anything, Joyce?" he asked.
"No. I was just thinking what an extraordinarily restful person you are to have here by my
side." He smiled shyly, his expression at odds with his bad boy hair and clothes. "Buffy's very
lucky to have you - to have someone so in love with her that he'd do all this for her."
He leaned forward, swallowing hard. "It's not Buffy. I mean - yes, I love her. But I'm
not sitting here with you because of her, or even for her. I - I love you too. I'd love you even if
you weren't her mum. Granted, I probably wouldn't have met you if you weren't, but still . . ."
He trailed off when she smiled and answered "I love you too, Spike. And not just because
you take such good care of my girls."
* * *
When Joyce's eyes began to close that night, and Dr. Isaacs finally suggested that they go,
Spike led the way to his car.
"So we can't see her until tomorrow?" Dawn asked plaintively, her voice high and lonely
as they walked through the parking lot.
"Your mum'll be out until then," Spike affirmed. "But you can see her as soon as the
surgery's over, Jujube."
Buffy squeezed her sister's hand. They reached the car, and Spike unlocked the passenger
door. Buffy climbed in, and turned to see Dawn following her, so she slid into the middle of the
bench-seat. When Spike got in next to her, her richness called to him. She smelled like rain. His
hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as he drove them home.
"Spike," Dawn began, "as soon as Angel leaves, you're moving back in, right?"
Spike was silent for a moment. His greatest fear was that Joyce wouldn't make it through
tomorrow, and he'd have to move back, if only to act as a second guardian for Dawn. He didn't
want to consider the possibility; he didn't want that to be the way he came back. "Course,
Niblet," he finally answered. "Who else is going to keep you on the straight and narrow?"
He met her eyes as he stopped at a red light, startled to see her tears; she'd figured out his
silent thoughts. Buffy sat quietly between them with downcast eyes. When they pulled into the
driveway, Spike put the car into park but left the motor running. "I'll pick you both up from the
magic shop at three tomorrow so you can see your mum," he reminded them.
Dawn tucked a folded piece of paper into his hand and leaned across Buffy. "Thanks,
Spike," she said, hugging him awkwardly. He turned his head to kiss her downy cheek. She
opened the door and stepped out of the car, and Buffy slid towards the exit.
She looked over her shoulder and saw that his lips had been dampened by her sister's
tears. She touched the shapely hand resting on the gearshift to get his attention. "Thanks,
Spike," Buffy said before her lips found his cool cheek.
* * *
Buffy went straight into the kitchen, Dawn on her heels. She checked the machine,
surprised that their dad hadn't yet called back. She turned to her sister and said, "I've got to go
patrol. Who do you want over here to stay with you? Xander? Willow?"
"Giles," Dawn answered.
Buffy called her watcher, then dialed the number Cordelia had given her that afternoon. It
was Angel's cell. "Angel," Buffy said when he came on the line, "my study group just left. As
soon as Giles gets here to watch Dawn, I can patrol. Meet you at the little graveyard in half an
hour?"
* * *
Spike spread his thickest blankets neatly over the top of the tomb and climbed up. He'd
patrolled briefly but found nothing, so he'd decided to go back to his crypt and try his best to
relax. He saw that Willow's tube of posters had rolled off the tomb so he bent down to retrieve
it. He unfurled the stack again, this time really looking at the images. She'd found old-fashioned
maps of all the cities he'd ever lived in, or at least been known in. //This must have taken her days
of going through Watchers' Diaries and the like.// When he recalled some of the gory details that
were surely recorded in such journals, his pleased smile faded. //Unless . . .// Unless Willow's gift
was an oblique way of saying she understood that his past was truly past, that what counted with
her was the present. //That would be lovely.//
He rolled the posters up again and slid them back into the tube. He'd only pin them up
once he was back home. He sighed when he remembered the Niblet's wistful question, and
recalling her face reminded him of the paper she'd slipped into his hand. He reached into his
duster pocket and pulled it out, shedding the coat. At the top of the page, in red ink and
deliberately dashing handwriting, were the words "Congratulations! First prize!" Beneath it, in
blue, was Dawn's familiar hand, small and loopy. He read the poem a few times, understanding
its meaning even as he noted the admirable metrical rhythm she'd achieved once she hit her stride.
Spike breathed in sharply; her love for him was right there on the page, and it warmed him up
inside. He found a pen and scrawled, "Ta, Rapunzel" across the bottom before folding the sheet
back up and putting it on top of his coat. He paced around the crypt a few times, too restless to
sleep, despite the fact that his time in the Summers house had transformed him back into a diurnal
creature.
On his third go-round, he saw Tara's gift out of the corner of his eye. He picked it up and
sat down heavily on the tomb, anxious exhaustion abruptly getting the better of him. With
delicate fingers he traced the beloved visages. Mourning for his lost family, praying for his new
one, he sank slowly to his side and drew his knees up towards his chest, falling asleep with the
frame clutched tightly in his hand.
* * *
Buffy climbed into her room through the window for old times' sake and found herself
missing Spike. Patrol with Angel had been quiet; in truth, it had been mind-numbingly boring.
Angel didn't like to chat while he was patrolling; Spike had told her the best dirty joke the last
time they'd patrolled together. In a way, Angel's determined silence had been a blessing, as it
meant she didn't have to lie about where she'd been all evening, her mother's health, or her fears
for the coming day.
She went downstairs and saw Dawn nodding off in front of the TV and Giles reading a
mystery novel. Buffy realized in a flash that Dawn had wanted Giles with her simply because he
wouldn't force her into conversation, when all she wanted was space to think about her mother.
//She's growing up so fast// Buffy thought, half-admiring, half-resentful of the circumstances that
had pushed her sister so far. "Thanks for staying, Giles," she said, walking into the den and
turning off the television.
"Of course. When - tomorrow?"
"Spike's getting us at three," she answered around the lump in her throat.
"Then I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy," he said, squeezing her shoulder as he headed for the
door.
Buffy climbed into bed, clutching Mr. Gordo for comfort, until Dawn crept in and asked if
she could stay. "Do you think it'll be okay, Buffy?" Dawn asked as she slid under the covers.
Buffy stroked her sister's hair tenderly before promising, "Yes." She could feel Dawn's
body relax gradually, as the single word somehow allayed her fears.
Dawn snuggled comfortably into Buffy's side, on the edge of sleep, and whispered, "I just
hope Spike's car is big enough for all of us."
"Mmm," Buffy absently agreed. "Dawn, what was it you called him? In that poem you
wrote?"
"'A walking eclipse of a man'?" Dawn answered wearily.
"Yeah, that's it. That's really good, you know?" Buffy kissed her sister's forehead and
felt her slide into sleep.
//Eclipse. That's it.// She remembered the dream she'd had days ago - lifetimes ago - in
which she'd sung "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a dingy karaoke bar. //And Spike was there.//
The dreams she'd had and couldn't forget began to flash in front of her mind's eye, at last
incredibly obvious. A tiny Audrey II smoking in her front yard. //Spike.// The golden-eyed wolf
whose black fur had become supple leather. //Spike.// Her fellow musical traveler in the deep
dark woods. //Spike.// A crazed grin spread across Buffy's face as she lay next to her sister in the
dark. //Is Spike animal, vegetable, or mineral?// She'd dreamt of him in so many guises that it was
a little bewildering. But what did it all mean? //I'll figure it out - after tomorrow// she promised
herself as she succumbed to sleep.
* * *
At noon, Anya rang up purchases with none of her normal good cheer. Giles saw the
customers out and then locked the door and hung the "Closed Due to Family Emergency" sign in
the front window. They settled down in silence to await the arrival of the troops. Buffy and
Dawn were the last to let themselves into the shop. They all sat without speaking or looking at
each other until the sound of Spike's horn broke the silence. They walked out into the heat of the
autumn afternoon and piled into the DeSoto, inwardly thankful for the black paint on the windows
that kept them from seeing the outside world.
* * *
//They look like zombies.// Dr. Isaacs surveyed the eight people huddled anxiously in the
waiting room. When he cleared his throat, eight pairs of eyes locked on his. He shuffled
nervously; public speaking had never been his forte. "Ah . . ." he began, unsure whom to address
- her daughters, the responsible-looking older man, or the leather-clad man who'd sat by her side
all day yesterday. "Ah . . ." he said again, and Buffy felt her stomach sinking as if she were being
whisked upwards by a demonic elevator. She suddenly wished she had a stake in her hand. Dr.
Isaacs met Spike's gaze and began to speak. "The operation. It seems to have been a complete
success. We have to keep her here for a few days, of course, but Joyce will be as good as new
very soon." He smiled awkwardly at the suddenly beaming group. It was only then that Buffy
began to sob.
Tears poured out of her as her frame shook with each harsh, hitching breath. Her arms
stretched out blindly for comfort. Spike wanted desperately to hold her close to him but held
himself back. //What you want isn't what she needs.// It was Dr. Isaacs who reached out to hold
Buffy's trembling hand. "Come on," he said, helping her to her feet, "you can all see her for
yourselves."
* * *
Giles sat in his apartment, playing the old records that Joyce liked best. Xander asked
Anya to marry him. Willow held her lover as Tara spoke of the domestic abuse and breast cancer
that had taken her mother's life. Dawn wrote frantically in her diary, the words coming in
torrents. Spike lay flat on his back on a patch of soft grass, staring up at the sky with wide eyes.
Buffy sat on the pommel horse in her training room and let herself think. Joyce slept a dreamless
sleep.
* * *
The crypt door slid open slowly as Buffy pushed it, and she found herself facing Spike,
pulling on a black t-shirt, his hair not yet slicked back. He looked like he was preparing to patrol;
he had a stake tucked into his back pocket, and a few more lay on top of his duster, draped over
the chair. At the sight of him, readying himself for a fight that wasn't really his, she found the
courage to say what she had never before been brave enough to utter. "Spike . . ." she began,
"you don't . . . you don't have to patrol tonight. I asked Angel to take care of it for this one
night." She didn't want to look up at him to see how he took that statement, but she found she
couldn't look away from his face. "I know you heard the prophecy, and I understand that I have
to . . ." she trailed off, cursing the fate that once would have been so welcome. "But that's not
what my heart is telling me is right. I want to be with you, Spike. And it's not about rebellion,
about going against the stupid Powers That Be and their prophecies. It's not about wanting to
hurt Angel - I realized I don't really care what he thinks anymore. It's not about gratitude for
what you've done for my mom. It's about love, Spike. I love you." He kept an iron grip on his
tongue, not allowing himself to interrupt her. He felt like he'd been broken into thousands of
pieces, each with a mind of its own, yet each clamoring confusedly for her, for the girl he'd loved
for so long. He thought he'd die as she moved towards him, whispering, "Do you still love me,
Spike?"
*
He held very still as she came to him, unable to believe in the truth of the moment. She
stopped in front of him, looking up at him, waiting until he finally met her eyes. She leaned in and
kissed the still pulse-point of his throat, the tip of her tongue darting out for a glancing taste. She
kissed along the underside of his jaw, at last reaching his mouth. He felt her tongue tracing the
outline of his lower lip, and she kissed his mouth open while he moved his hands to her back,
gathering her to him. Their kiss was fantastically tender, each holding back not in fear but from a
desire to cherish. His arms tightened around her, and she fastened hers around his neck in
response, letting her fingertips roam freely through the baby curls just above his nape. He swung
her around with a cry of delight, spinning madly with her, holding her waist until she wrapped her
legs around him, and he dropped his hands to keep her there. His hands clasped underneath her,
he walked over to the tomb he'd made into a bed, and let her perch on the side. Their eyes stayed
locked as they undressed each other. She made quick work of his clothes, but he took it more
slowly, murmuring, "Salom‚ and the seven veils." When he was finally done, he held her face
between his palms, kissed the tip of her nose, and whispered hoarsely, "Top or bottom, love?"
"Bottom," she answered, knowing that if he was going to take things so deliciously,
achingly slow, she'd need something to brace herself against, to keep from melting into him and
losing herself utterly.
Her head hit the pillow like a sunburst, dark golden hair flying in all directions, and she
kept her hold on him so that they were skin-to-skin along the entire length of her body. He
swallowed at the sensation of a warm and loving body beneath his, and she shifted so that his
strong legs lay between hers. She crossed her ankles across his back, and flushed at the rightness
she felt. Angel and Riley were both so broad that she'd usually been splayed wide open beneath
them, feeling like a frog pinned to a dissection tray. But Spike's slim length, his lovely litheness,
fit her perfectly. He could hear her heartbeat accelerate as she crossed her ankles, and he turned
his head to see. The sight of her rosy feet and slender ankles moved him inexplicably, and he
finally resumed kissing her.
He was moving so slowly, so voluptuously, as if they had all the time in the world to
discover each other, but he was doing so many things to her at once that she still felt she might
explode from his next caress. Soon she was producing a constant hum, dazedly moving her hands
and mouth on his body as he was doing to her. Her senses were on overload. She caught a
glimpse of a black-painted fingernail as it scraped gently across her breast; she heard him
murmuring his love for her continuously; she tasted the strong smooth skin of his throat; she
smelled arousal in the air; she felt his mouth on her everywhere. He never let up. His ears were
filled with the sound of her humming, broken only by moans; he saw the rich honey of her hair; he
felt her skin warming his with continual contact and excitement; he smelled how much she wanted
him; he tasted the proof at last, lapping her up like a man dying of thirst. He worked his way back
up her body and pushed into her, smiling as she opened herself up ever more, accommodating his
long, luxurious strokes. He didn't lose control until the very end, and then he unleashed his full
power, knowing she would meet it halfway.
He held her lovingly as she trembled through her third orgasm. He nuzzled her collarbone
as she quieted and propped himself up on one elbow, frowning suddenly as she opened her eyes.
"Spike? What is it?" she asked quickly, fearfully.
"Nothin', pet. I just got a shock. I think I saw my reflection in your eyes."
"Well, feel free to look. You've earned it."
That got her a grin. "Nah, love, I'd rather look at you any day."
She was just letting a slow smile spread across her face when he suddenly dove at her
neck. "What are you doing?" she asked lazily, feeling a delicious lassitude overtaking her.
"Never noticed before, but you've got these tiny birthmarks all over. One in your
eyebrow, one above your lips, one on your throat . . ." As he spoke, he placed a tiny open-
mouthed kiss over each point he mentioned.
She knew she should speak before she lost the ability. He found the one on the bottom of
her right foot, tickling her with the tip of his tongue. "Yes, but what are you doing?"
"Clearly, love, I'm playing 'Connect the Dots,'" he answered, waiting with an arched
eyebrow and a wicked grin for her to point out where else a birthmark lay . . . or where else she
wanted to be kissed. His mouth was at her navel when he saw her face crumple. "Buffy, love,
what's the matter? Did I hurt you? Shall I stop?"
"No, never," she responded quickly, continuing brokenly as he waited. "It's just that . . .
I've never had this before. The whole deal. You slay with me, you play with me, you make sure I
see the worst of you, you love my family. And you let me love you."
Her tears streamed down her face, and he kissed away every last one, waiting until they
had subsided before answering her. "You're my equal, the one who has all the same bits and
pieces as me, put together in much the same way. And you let me love you too." He watched as
a smile began to show on her face, kissed her sweetly on the mouth, and added, mock-gruffly,
"'You slay with me, you play with me'? There's only room in this bed for one bad poet, love.
Quit while you're ahead."
"Are you sure you want me to stop now?" she asked, rolling them over so that he lay
prone beneath her. "I was all set to try something new."
"Give it all you've got, love," he grinned up at her, and then all he could see was her, as
she bent down for another kiss.
*
Some time later, it was Buffy who propped herself up on one elbow to look down at her
lover's face. The tip of her index finger moved languorously over the marvelous architecture of
his cheekbones, the strong jut of his shark-fin nose, all of the thousand and one lovely kissable
spots she saw when she looked at him.
"Oh, no!" she said suddenly, "I did this all wrong!"
"On the contrary, love, it doesn't get any better than this," he grinned, knowing from her
tone she was being funny.
She continued as if he hadn't spoken. "I can't believe I slept with you before we went out
even once - we don't even have a song!" she pretended to sulk.
"Actually, I've got one in mind, Slayer," he confessed, reaching up a hand to thread
through her hair.
"Really?" she asked, a grin stealing across her face. She wiggled the tip of his nose with
her own. "Oh, look who's the born romantic."
He smiled up at her. "I'll play it for you sometime."
*
A little while later, Buffy lay flat on her back with Spike, lying on his right side, flush
against her. His left forearm lay between her breasts, and his fingertips smoothed over her
collarbone. They lay there in silence, breathing each other in. He reached down with his right
hand to clasp her left. Something about the contact jolted Buffy into laughter, free and delighted.
"What is it, love?" he asked, moved by her obvious joy.
"This. We're holding hands. It's so . . . normal. People do it all the time." Her eyes
drifted down. "Not usually when they're naked, of course, but still - we can hold hands." She
turned her head to face him, clearly intending what she said to be a promise. "And I want to walk
into the shop tomorrow holding your hand, Spike." She didn't say anything for a moment, then
grinned mischievously. "It'll be fun to see their faces when they realize what's going on."
He let her savor the scenes playing in her head for a few minutes before bursting her
bubble. "Actually, Buffy . . ." he cleared his throat, "they already know. About me, anyway."
"What? Who knows?"
"Giles figured out that I was in love with you. He told Willow and Xander, who told Tara
and Anya. And I told your mum myself. And my guess is that the Jellybean's got a bead on me.
Sorry to ruin your surprise, love."
"They all knew?" Buffy gaped. "Why am I always the last to figure this stuff out?"
"Oh, you knew. You just didn't know you knew."
Her pouty face became solemn. "I know now. And I'll always remember, Spike," she
swore as she pulled him into another kiss.
*
Buffy shifted so that her position mirrored Spike's, and they faced each other, heads on
the same pillow, her right leg draped over his left hip. There were no words as they stayed close
and let their happiness cordon them off into a separate serene world. After a little while, Buffy
spoke. "Not that I want to kill the mood, but I'm freezing."
Spike broke his contemplative silence with a spurt of laughter. "Can't have that, can we,
love?" He got to his feet and headed for the trunk that held the extra bedding. He was surprised
to find her right behind him.
When he arched his eyebrow at her, she said, "Oh, you're not getting rid of me that easily,
love." She did her best to mimic his accent on the last word. He grinned and pulled a soft quilt
from the trunk, looping it around her and using it to pull her close. She came willingly into his
arms. She looked up and saw his lovely face, half shrouded in shadow, half dimly luminous in the
pale, diffuse light. "What's that light?" she asked, and he pointed to the small opening time had
worn in one corner of the crypt's masonry.
"It's the stars, love." He took her by the hand and led her back to the tomb. He lay
down, and she stretched out on top of his lissome form and drew the quilt over them both.
*
//It's entirely possible I'll be a morning person from now on// Buffy thought. Spike kept
stealing kisses as she tried to get dressed and be ready to meet her friends at the shop. She had
just pulled her shirt on when he came up behind her and lifted her hair to kiss the nape of her
neck. When she bent down to slip on her shoes, he was crouched in front of her, capturing her
mouth in unmistakable invitation. "We can't right now," she gasped out, but she let him see the
fire in her eyes.
They were at the door when she turned and kissed him fiercely. "Mmm," he sighed into
her mouth. "Wait - my duster," he said, lifting his head just enough to speak.
"It's been like a million degrees out, Spike," she said. "You don't need the coat." She
reached behind her with one hand and slid the door open even as her other hand brought his
mouth back to hers. She backed out of the crypt, clutching at his t-shirt as he turned to grab the
duster. It was the fact that he was bent slightly backward, curved like a bow, that saved him; if
he'd stepped outside with her, he would have been burned to dust by the bright sunlight that
spilled over the cemetery.
* * *
He pulled, and she pushed, and their combined strength spilled them in a tangle of limbs
on the stone floor. She turned her head to confirm visually what she'd felt on her back: the
presence of sunlight. She looked down to see Spike smiling wistfully up at her. "What?" she
asked.
"Well, you're here with me. That's one. And the sky problem's been fixed. That's two.
But I wanted to go with you to the shop, pet."
She smiled down at him and lowered her head so that they were nose-to-nose. "You still
can - just take the underground railroad."
He was a little startled to see her waiting there when he pushed aside the manhole cover,
located in the darkest corner of the Magic Box basement. She grinned at his bemused expression.
"Yeah, I've been keeping an eye on you for awhile."
"I told you you knew," he shot back. She extended her hand, and he wrapped his around
her forearm and let her help him up and into her eager arms.
"Yes, you're very smart," she said against his mouth; "now shut up."
Their first entrance as a couple made virtually no dramatic splash. It was Spike alone who
seemed to cause a sensation. Thomas's letter was falling apart from being handled so much;
Willow looked up from reading it for the thirty-seventh time. "Did you know you had a soul,
Spike?" she chirped in lieu of a greeting.
"That's rot, Red," he answered amiably. "Don't you think I would've known?"
"But how else do you explain that the sun's out again?"
Buffy's hand stayed comfortably in his as he gestured his ignorance. "I don't know,
ducks, but there's got to be something else. Where's that big box of books?"
Giles emerged from the back room. "I just got off the phone with the hospital. They said
Joyce should be sleeping all day, so no visitors tonight. If she's alright today, we may be able to
bring her home the day after tomorrow." He smiled encouragingly at Buffy, who was looking
positively radiant. She lost a little of her glow, however, when he continued to speak, his
thoughts on what he'd heard Spike say. "So that means we've got all day to research what has
happened."
"Can't we just say 'yay for Buffy'?" she asked, trying to look as pathetic as possible.
"Take me to the back room and have your wicked way with me and I'll say it," Spike
murmured in her ear, and looking sad became impossible.
"Why don't we start with what you observed this morning?" Giles said, unable to keep a
slight smile entirely off his face. //I've never seen her like this. Not that I'm thrilled she's with a
vampire. Again. But the fact that she came here with him, that she's letting us all know they're
together, no coy pretense, no spurious disavowals. She's trusting us with her happiness. She
trusts him. And she's finally trusting herself again.//
Spike went first. "Nothin' unusual in the sewers. Same old lowlifes, same poker games
even."
Buffy chimed in, "Yeah, well above ground, it was like a big old vamp ring-around-the-
rosy happened."
"Meaning?" Giles frowned.
"'Ashes, ashes, we all fall down,'" Xander sing-songed, causing Anya to put her hand to
his forehead to check for fever, biting her lower lip worriedly.
"Piles of dust. Like everybody in Sunnydale dumped their vacuum cleaner bags out in the
street."
"So all the dumb vamps got burned?" Anya asked happily.
"Probably not just the dumb ones. I'll bet a lot of the rabble-rousers got crispy too. It's
not like there was a warning."
"Yes there was," Spike cut in suddenly as it clicked. "The stars, love. Last night was the
first time since this whole thing started that they've been visible." He pounded the tabletop in
frustration. "I should have realized sooner. Might have been able to skip the fright this morning.
Took twenty years off my life."
"So what's to research?" Xander asked. "If the sun is shining and the bad guys went poof,
what do we need to figure out? I say we play ultimate frisbee instead."
"We still don't know what brought the sun-spell to an end," Giles reminded him. "And I
don't know what that prophecy really means. Let's start researching." He divided up the books
and they all began to read diligently.
It was Xander who found the prophecy that the Council had insisted was in one of the
texts they'd sent. "I got it! Sweet merciful McGillicuddy, I found it! *'Two champions, broken
and reborn, alone can heal the skies. If affinity is understood, no power can harm the balance of
the world.'*"
"Yes," breathed Giles, "that's more like it. How ever did you find that?" he asked,
looking at the dense text that spilled into dark columns in the book he was reading.
"It was in a shaded box marked 'Prophecy,'" Xander answered, holding up his book so
they could all see. Tara was the first to give in and laugh.
* * *
Dusk was falling, Dawn had finished her homework, and Giles was getting ready to drive
her home and then take her to Wendy's for a second straight sleepover night. Once they were in
the car, Dawn had Giles take a slight detour, and together they packed Spike's stuff and brought
it back to Revello Drive.
Alone in the shop, Buffy and Spike were waiting for Angel to join them for a routine
patrol. "I'm glad it was you in the prophecy," she said softly as she climbed onto his lap.
"And I'm glad that sex wasn't included," he answered.
She halted her head's descent towards his. "What?"
"The prophecy said nothing about sex. And that means that what happened last night was
entirely ours. You came to me of your own free will. And -" he was cut off by the pressure of
Buffy's mouth on his.
She pulled back moments later, not wanting to start what they wouldn't have time to bring
to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. "Let's do some pre-patrol training," she said, and led the
way to the back room.
They were fighting with the same abandon that had been so exhilarating the previous
night. And yet the same tenderness that had dominated before still held sway; they allowed
themselves to get no closer than a hair's breadth to actually striking each other. Angel's entrance
startled them so much that Buffy's heel caught Spike squarely in the shin, and his fist crashed into
her cheekbone; they both cried out, more from surprise than real pain.
Angel darted forward. "Buffy, are you alright?"
"Fine, thanks," she said, "and ready to patrol."
He nodded but didn't move towards the exit. "Buffy, I came here through the
underground tunnels. I was going through the one that connects the library with the strip mall -"
"That's the long way round," Spike interrupted; "why didn't you just take the tunnel that
leads to the shop?"
Angel studiously ignored his step-childe, "- and as I passed the branch that leads to the art
museum, I sensed something."
"What was it?" she asked.
"My sire. Darla."
* * *
She was so wrapped up in bewailing the destruction of her plans to recover Angelus that
she nearly didn't sense the three of them approaching. Drusilla only had eyes for Miss Edith,
whose corkscrew curls needed detangling. Angel, Buffy, and Spike stood in the doorway for a
moment until Darla looked up with a deliberately casual smile. Angel was instantly weak-kneed.
Ever since he'd drunk the bright blood spilling across her breasts the night she'd turned him,
desire for her had coursed through his veins. She was more bewitching than any singing siren.
He stepped towards her. Buffy stood beside Spike, gazing, as he did, at Drusilla. The dark-
haired vampire looked warily confused when she saw Angel, but when she spotted Spike, her
trepidation vanished, and she whispered, "My Spike." He held his arms open, and she flew into
them, cutting off Angel's path to Darla.
Angel felt the old rage at Drusilla's defection burning through his desire for Darla. As his
creation, she should have stayed loyal to him. But she was murmuring, "Spike . . . Spike . . .
Spike," while her former lover held her close. Angel glanced at Buffy. //At least there's no way in
hell he'll ever get her. Not if he's going to let Dru slobber all over him.//
Buffy waited for the feeling of betrayal to hit her, but it never came. The arms with which
Spike held Drusilla were so tenderly fraternal, the expression on his face so sweetly solicitous,
that all Buffy could feel was wonder at his capacity for love, both giving and inspiring it. For
Drusilla was nestled against him, her cool cheek resting on his - //Dru must be a lot taller than me;
the top of my head only reaches to his chin// - and an expression of peace on her face.
The way in which she clung to him, trembling, alerted Spike to the fact that his princess
had suffered. For one brief moment, when she pressed her cheek to his, he thought that she'd
forgiven him for running out on her. But when she pulled back to look into his eyes, he knew
better. The expression in her violet eyes was all too familiar to him; it was the relatively carefree
gaze of lunacy. He was grateful that her broken mind had kept her from understanding the true
depths of degradation and extremes of torture that Angel had inflicted on her through the thrall,
but he was bitterly, guiltily aware that her madness, the madness Angel had sown, meant that the
woman supported by the protective parentheses of his arms had no idea that he'd betrayed her.
He felt emotion choking him up as Dru rested her forehead against his in the old familiar gesture.
It was Darla who broke the silence, wresting Spike's gaze from Drusilla, and focusing all
attention on her. "Isn't this cozy?"
Spike pushed Dru behind him as he turned to face Darla; Dru laced her fingers through his
as she stood at his back.
Buffy stepped forward to engage Darla herself. "What are you doing in Sunnydale,
Darla?" she asked, something primal uncoiling inside of her as she mentally prepared herself for
battle with the Master's favorite and most powerful childe.
"You're slower than I thought, Slayer," Darla sneered. "I've been here for weeks, just
waiting for you to obey the prophecy I wrote and jump your ex's bones and restore him to his
former glory - and his place by my side."
Spike couldn't believe what he was hearing. "For an emasculating bint, you're dumber
than dirt. It doesn't take a shag from Buffy to unleash your boy Angelus."
"No? What *does* it take, Spike?" she asked. A cold smile grew on her face at his
silence. "Cat got your tongue? How about stake got your heart?" she said, unsheathing a
hideously long wooden stake and pointing it at him. "I think it's long enough to get both you and
your little Ophelia behind you, don't you? Start talking."
Spike shot an anguished look at Buffy and began to speak, edging away from Dru as
subtly as he could. "Vamp powers," he said slowly, sensing Buffy preparing herself to attack.
"You can have Angelus whenever you want . . . any way you want. All you need is the thrall," he
said just as Buffy launched herself at Darla and knocked the stake from her hand.
Buffy heard Angel shout "Spike!" angrily, but then she heard a sound like she'd never
heard before. It was Dru's shriek of shame and rage when the word "thrall" unlocked her
memory, and images of her rape and forced submission burned once more into her consciousness.
Spike turned his attention from Buffy's battle against Darla to Drusilla just in time to keep
her from attacking Angel. "No, love, please, love, don't, pet, please, pet," he pleaded softly,
holding her close while she sobbed out her rage; he knew that in the emotional state she was in,
she'd be no match for her sire. "It's done, it's over, he won't hurt you again," he soothed, but
Dru knew he was lying, that there was nothing to prevent Angel from using the thrall again. Her
beautiful face was a mess of tears as Spike tenderly smoothed the hair back from her brow.
His gentle touch eased her shuddering sobs and restored to her the power of coherent
speech. "Angel hurt me," she told Spike. "He hurt me everywhere. And he made me hurt you."
Buffy heard Dru's words, the high, childlike voice in sharp contrast to the grunts she and Darla
made as they grappled fiercely. Angel stood paralyzed as the two most important women in his
life fought to the death.
Spike's reply was pitched low, meant for Dru's ears only. "Doesn't matter what he did to
me, love. Let me help you now," he said, clasping her hand.
She looked deep into his eyes and saw his love for her there. "Do you forgive me then,
my Spike?" she whispered in awe, her long fingers tracing his cheekbone over and over again.
Spike closed his eyes, unable to meet her candid gaze any longer, and his voice, choked
with the consciousness of her benediction and his own contemptible, galling guilt, grew louder in
a crescendo of fury. "I've got nothing to forgive you for. It was all him. Angel was the one who
used you. He raped you and took away your will. What he did is unforgivable. But I knew all
along that you loved me, pet. Rest easy on that score. But Angel . . ."
Buffy couldn't help hearing Spike's words, and Darla took advantage of her distraction,
beating on her mercilessly. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Angel square his shoulders
and pull out a stake, an unreadable expression on his face. Buffy maneuvered so that she was
facing him and he'd have a clear shot at Darla's back. But he marched past them and raised the
stake high, clearly aiming for Spike's unprotected back.
Drusilla was standing in the charmed circle of Spike's arms, his duster pulled tight on his
body to accommodate her slender figure as well. It was only at the last moment that she raised
her eyes from Spike's dear, pained face to see her sire looming over them, apoplectic with rage.
Angel was infuriated that Spike, having already taken Drusilla from him, was detailing the thrall in
an effort to steal Buffy as well. His stake began the downward plunge to Spike's heart. //No!//
thought Buffy, panting heavily as she delivered another kick to Darla's head. //No!// thought Dru.
She was not going to lose her darling boy to Angel again, not when she'd just found him, loving
her despite what she'd done. She twisted Spike away desperately, but the duster that enveloped
them both hampered her mobility, and all she could do was pivot them, leaving her in her lover's
place. She looked up into Spike's eyes just as the tip of Angel's stake found her heart.
The stake clattered noisily on the ground as she disappeared, and Angel stepped back in
shock. Spike sank to his knees, a cry of despair ripped from his throat, covered in the dust of his
first love. Darla hissed as the stake Buffy held missed her heart by inches. She swept Buffy's feet
out from under her and the slayer fell hard. Darla kicked her once more for good measure and
then fled the building. Buffy was in no shape to go after her.
She crawled over to Spike, still on his knees, his face grey and his brilliant hair muted by
the dust. She reached out to touch his shoulder blade, sharp and prominent even through the
duster, but he remained utterly still.
Angel ran up to Buffy, needing to explain. "You saw, didn't you, Buffy? You saw her
throw herself on my stake. I never meant to hurt her."
Neither Buffy nor Spike bothered to dispute him, despite their knowledge of how
intimately he'd hurt her with the thrall. "Buffy . . ." he tried again, only to be startled by her
shout.
"What the fuck were you going after Spike for?"
"I . . . I . . ."
"Darla's beating me to a bloody pulp three feet away and you decide to attack *Spike?!*"
Unwilling to admit his motives, Angel couldn't find an answer. He turned and left the
building.
* * *
Buffy unlocked her front door with relief. Spike was behind her. He was on automatic
pilot, following her blindly and silently. She watched him walk quietly up the stairs, and heard the
door to his room open and close. She hadn't wanted to force him to talk. She herself was
bruised and battered, and aching inside for his grief. And if she was in no shape to talk, he
certainly wasn't. He was so raw with pain that he'd slipped into numbness. She decided to let
him sleep as long as he wanted, then try to talk to him when he finally emerged from his room.
She climbed wearily into bed and laid her bloody face on the pillow and let sleep claim her.
* * *
Buffy awoke earlier than she had meant to. Unable to fall back asleep despite the lulling
warmth of her blankets and softness of her pillow, she got out of bed and showered. She noticed
the blood staining the bedlinens, and she stripped them away. She tucked fresh ones on her bed,
and fell into a sort of waking dream in which Spike's cool body slid and burned against hers under
these crisp sheets. Sternly, she shook herself out of that state. //No. Not until he's had a chance
to mourn Drusilla.// She went downstairs to call the hospital and check on her mother's
condition. Ten minutes later, she stood outside his bedroom door, but couldn't bring herself to
open it or cross that threshold, even if it was only to check on him. //I have to give him space.//
She left a note for Dawn on the back of the front door and went to find Giles.
Buffy found her watcher drinking tea and reading the paper in his apartment.
"Buffy?" he asked when she walked into his living room. "What's the matter?"
"I'll give you the good news first," she responded. "We can bring my mom home
tomorrow." She stopped, unsure of how to broach the bad news. "Last night, Spike and I went
out on patrol. With Angel. He'd found Drusilla and Darla. Spike was trying to keep Dru from
attacking Angel, and I fought Darla. And Darla said she wrote the 'two souls' prophecy.
Anyway, in the middle of it all, Angel tried to stake Spike, but Dru got him out of the way, and
Angel ended up dusting her instead."
"Dear God!" breathed Giles, an unexpected feeling of kinship with Spike stealing over
him; Angel had killed his lover as well. "Do you want me to talk to him?" he offered.
"No," Buffy said, surprised. "I just needed to let you know what happened."
"Go back a moment," Giles said; "why did Darla write and plant the false prophecy?"
"Oh - she said she wanted Angelus back, and the only way she could think of was to have
him sleep with me again." She frowned, trying to remember the rest. "But Spike said she could
do it with the thrall. Like the one Angel used on Drusilla."
* * *
Spike felt he was awake, but he couldn't stop the nightmare that was running on an
endless loop in his mind. Over and over Drusilla raised clear eyes to meet his, each time
exploding in a shower of dust. Everything he'd loved for a hundred years vanished in one grey
swirl. She'd just been starting to smile her slow-blooming smile at him when she was killed. He
awoke to find himself shaking violently. He remembered that he hadn't showered last night, and
so his tossing and turning in the night had ground her dust into his every pore. He shivered at the
thought.
* * *
Buffy was walking home from Giles's apartment when she heard a honk. It was Wendy's
mom, driving Dawn home. She climbed in next to her sister and they walked into the house
together. Before Buffy could warn her, Dawn ran up the stairs, shouting "Spike!"
"I'm in my room, Sweet Bit," he replied in a nearly normal voice.
"I'm glad you're back home!" she said.
"Yeah, me too," he said, adding suspiciously, "what exactly do you want, Niblet?" She
was looking up at him with hopeful eyes.
"Well, Wendy and I were talking about Halloween costumes, and her mom heard us, and
she said that a lot of the parents had decided that because Sunnydale isn't safe - I mean, duh -
there shouldn't be any trick-or-treating. Just a big lame party at the school." Sitting on the
landing at the top of the stairs Buffy could hear every word. She could imagine Dawn's pleading
expression. "Like costume contests - dumb. And bobbing for apples - unsanitary. Wendy's mom
said they were thinking of getting extra cops, but the town budget couldn't cover it. And she said
that there would have to be volunteer chaperones if we wanted to go trick-or-treating."
"What's the fuss, pet? Halloween, there's no vamp or demon activity."
"I know, but we can't exactly explain that to them. So I was hoping you'd take me and
my friends out."
"I wouldn't have to get dressed up, would I?" he asked, a note of alarm creeping into his
voice.
"No, you don't have to, but I was hoping you would." She gave him the puppy-dog eyes
again, and he smiled exasperatedly, realizing he was incapable of denying her anything.
//Especially now. This is what kids do. She needs to be a kid again after the whole scare over her
mum.//
Buffy wasn't surprised that Spike gave in - it was clear he doted on Dawn - but she was a
little disappointed. She'd allowed herself to imagine some private time for the two of them that
night, since for once patrolling was unnecessary. She heard a squeal and an excited clapping of
hands. "Okay, we've got just under two weeks to Halloween. Is that enough time for you to
grow a beard?"
"You could give me until the end of the universe and it wouldn't be enough time, Platelet.
My body is dead. My hair doesn't grow, my nails don't grow - nothing."
"Is that why you never have roots?" she asked, fascinated.
"Yep. The only way I'll ever get my natural hair color back would be to dye it again.
And that's not going to happen, Lollipop."
"Okay, scratch that idea. But I'll come up with something else."
* * *
Dawn was writing in her diary when Buffy knocked on Spike's door. "Got a new idea
already, Jellybean?" he called out.
"It's not Dawn. It's Buffy."
There was a long silence, and she jumped a little when the door opened suddenly. He
filled the doorway. She swallowed at the sight of him. "Thanks for agreeing to take out Dawn,"
she began.
He shrugged warily and finally looked her full in the face. He stretched out a hand
towards her only to let it fall before he touched her. "What?" she asked.
"You've got a bruise on your cheek," he said tightly.
"I've got a lot of bruises," she blurted out.
"This bruise is from me," he said.
"It was an accident," she said dismissively. "Spike - I was hoping we could talk about
yesterday . . ."
He backed up a step. "I can't, Slayer. I can't talk about it."
"Okay. I understand. But I'm here when you want to talk." He nodded automatically. "I
love you, Spike."
"I know," he said, and shut the door.
* * *
Giles jumped about a foot in the air when a familiar voice spoke from the shadows of the
training room. "Giles. I need your help." Angel emerged dramatically from the darkness, and
winced when the watcher sharply flicked all the switches, flooding the area with light.
"My help? With what - killing Spike?" Giles was giving no quarter.
"Believe me, I'd like to," Angel answered, not picking up on the vibe of Giles's
sympathetic alliance with Spike. "But it's not that. It's Darla."
"Ah - the thrall."
Angel nodded, sighing heavily. "You've heard. Well, unless we can figure out how to
block it, we're all in danger. Whatever Darla's got in mind - it can't be pretty."
"Murder so seldom is," Giles agreed with steely eyes. He faced Angel dead on. "But
then, neither is rape."
Angel's broad face showed only confusion. "Rape? What rape? What are you talking
about?"
"I'm talking about your own experience with the thrall - as a master. You raped Drusilla."
"Is that what Spike's been telling you?" The vampire chuckled. "And you believed him?
Come on, as a Watcher you should know better than to believe a soulless demon."
"Leaving aside the question of my credulity for the moment, why should I help you? The
spell blocking the sun has been broken, and you're free to return to Los Angeles."
"You can't afford not to help me. The first thing Darla would have me do is kill Buffy.
Who knows, maybe you too. I don't know what her specific methods would be, but I was with
her long enough to get the very ugly gist."
* * *
"Two research parties in two days? What have I done to deserve this?" Xander moaned,
slumping over a large pile of books.
"I know I say this every time, but our lives are on the line, so read!" Willow answered
without looking up. They read steadily for some time, finding nothing about how to block the
thrall.
"Break?" Xander asked, and Willow nodded. "So Buffy and Spike are really together,
huh? All hand-holding and smiley."
Willow beamed. "Yeah, actually I've never seen her that smiley. She was happy, but at
the same time relaxed. I think he's good for her." Xander grinned his agreement. "And did you
notice that when Spike smiles, his teeth are a little crooked? It's so cute," Willow added.
"I'll take your word for it."
"Giles," Xander said after a few more fruitless hours, "why don't we just do this the easy
way?"
"Which would be?"
"Stake Angel - then who cares what kind of mojo Darla's working?"
Giles was too lost in thought to answer. He got up abruptly and picked up the phone to
call Spike.
* * *
"No, she can't. Not on me," Spike said decisively, dismissively, standing in the shop.
"Two reasons. First, I haven't got a straight bloodline - I haven't got a proper sire. Second, she
doesn't know how to work it."
"Darla doesn't know how to enact a thrall?" Giles asked in disbelief.
"She never needed it. Vinegar bitch got by for hundreds of years just by being the
Master's favorite - everything and everybody she wanted handed to her like John the Baptist's
head - on a silver platter."
"Without that kind of power, why would she be the Master's favorite?" Willow asked.
"I've heard she was extremely . . . adept," Spike answered tersely.
When Buffy finally spoke, all eyes were drawn to her. Spike stared greedily, drinking in
the very sight of her. Standing there, looking at once formidable and vulnerable, her somber black
shirt and grey pants matching the expression of her eyes, she asked, "So should we stop
researching? Or do you think she'll figure it out?"
He took his time answering, wanting any excuse to keep looking at her. "I don't think the
answers will be in any books known to Watchers. But -" he paused as Xander made a great show
of pushing the pile of books as far away from himself as he could "- Darla's got nothing but time.
Unless she's dusted, she'll keep looking, and she'll figure it out eventually."
With a sigh Giles signaled the end of the research session. Xander jogged to the counter
and flirted with his fianc‚e. Willow smiled at Spike. "You want to get that ice cream I promised
you forever ago?"
He was on the verge of accepting when Willow turned to include Buffy, who nodded
enthusiastically. "Can't, Red, but thanks. Got to see a guy."
* * *
"I work from eleven to dawn. No overtime. I get paid in cash each night." His assurance
impressed the nightclub owner.
"Some of these are phony. Some are real. Sort them," he said, handing Spike a pack of
ID cards. Spike's slim, strong fingers moved like a casino dealer's, and he unerringly divided the
cards into two piles. "Impressive. But you don't look big enough."
"Bring in your biggest guy," Spike offered in a bored tone. "I'll have him on the ground
in two minutes flat." The owner took him at his word.
Spike's fighting grin was unnerving the no-neck bouncer who had already been hired.
Spike was agile, thorough, refusing to engage in a serious attack; had the chip still been in his
brain, it wouldn't even have jolted him. Nevertheless, the bigger man was on the ground in thirty
seconds, glued there by Spike's right boot lying across his throat.
"You're hired. When can you start?"
"Day after tomorrow," Spike answered; tomorrow night was for Joyce. "And I'm taking
Halloween off."
* * *
Hands on his hips, Spike supervised imperiously while Dawn turned blue in the face from
blowing up so many balloons. "Why can't you do some?" she complained.
"Don't breathe, pet," he said briskly, frowning when he saw how many were left in the
bag.
She handed him the one she'd just done, muttering, "Liar." He deftly tied a knot to seal
the balloon.
"Not lying. Vampires don't breathe."
"But you do it all the time!"
"Habit. But not necessity."
By the time they were done decorating the den, it was early evening. It was a good thing
it was October; the dark fell a little sooner in the fall, and Spike was determined to be the one to
bring Joyce home. Buffy and Dawn pressed up against each other in the back seat while Spike
drove them to the hospital. They barely had time to thank Dr. Isaacs and the nurses before Spike
had Joyce bundled up and ensconced in the passenger seat.
All the lights were on as Spike pulled into the driveway, and there was a round of
applause when Joyce walked in the front door. She was about to accept the glass of raspberry
punch Giles was holding out towards her when Willow jumped in front of her to hug her. Joyce
smiled and stroked the witch's bright hair, releasing her after a moment. She was nearly
clotheslined when Xander stepped forward to hug her, unaware that Anya had not released his
hand. "You're alive!" Anya exclaimed happily. "And we're engaged!"
"You're what?" exclaimed so many voices that it was hard to keep track.
"Congratulations to you both," Spike's voice filled the pause.
"Yes! That's what I meant! Congratulations!" the voices hastened to add.
A few hours later, the party was still in full swing. Buffy made her way over to Spike.
"When did you two become so chummy?" she asked affectionately, the tilt of her chin pointing to
Xander, his face dazed with happiness.
"Right about the time the oversized idiot started whisking you away for private patrols,"
he answered, his voice as suddenly taut as his body.
She moved so she was standing directly in front of him, so that he couldn't avoid her eyes.
"I wish he hadn't." His face stayed tight and immobile, so she tried again. "I -"
"Spike?" He turned to face Joyce with a fond promptness. "Could you get my red
sweater from my closet?"
"Of course."
Angel watched from the front lawn. He saw merriment, and was tempted to go in and
have some fun. But then he saw Spike inside, and he started in surprise. //Didn't waste any time
getting your foot back in the door, did you, Spikey?// He paced a little in frustration, and when
he looked back up, he saw Buffy talking to his step-childe. All Angel could see was her back and
Spike's tense face as he looked down at her. Something inside him relaxed. //He wouldn't look
so pissed if he had any kind of a chance with her.// He smiled. Buffy was still his, and it didn't
seem like that could ever change.
* * *
Angel left Sunnydale to track down some volumes of vampire lore that could help him
elude Darla's thrall. Willow and Tara brought a kitten home from the animal shelter. Anya read
bridal magazines out loud to Xander and Giles. Dawn flirted with Kevin every day during third
period. Joyce recuperated. Spike kept Vanitas free of underage kids and nasty drunks. And
Buffy found herself with plenty to think about.
* * *
"Niblet?" There was a knock at her door. "People are starting to pile into the den. Are
you ready?"
"Come in, and tell me what you think."
Spike entered her purple bedroom and saw Dawn in a green tunic, skirt, and opaque
tights. Her toy bow and arrow, glued together so that she'd have a free hand for snatching
Halloween candy, lay on the dresser. "You look just like Robin Hood. At least the Disney
version, if they'd had a pretty girl instead of a fox."
She was twisting her long hair into a bun on the top of her head so that her little green
triangular cap could cover it. She turned to face him as she reached for the feathered cap. "Did
you say pretty?"
"Splendid, I meant to say," he said almost sadly. She looked so much like Stella the night
she'd first been permitted to wear her hair up, the night of her first formal ball; the excitement in
the wide blue eyes was just the same. //God, I miss her.//
Dawn brightened at his words and a mischievous smile danced across her lips. "Are you
ready for your costume?" She ran to her closet and pulled out a faded pair of blue jeans and a
ripped navy blue t-shirt.
"I'm a charity case?"
"No! You're a roofer," she said, digging around for the tool belt Xander had lent her.
"You can change in your room, but come back for the final touch."
He was back so quickly that she only had one of her brown ankle boots on. She limped
over to her dresser and pulled a red bandanna out of her top drawer. She folded it deftly and tied
it on his head as she'd seen construction workers do to keep dust out of their hair. "I thought the
hardhat would be a bit too much. Don't you think?"
"Just as long as you're happy, Sweet Bit."
* * *
//Damn but it's good to be chip-free// Spike thought as he swung the boy into a brick wall.
He wasn't being very rough, considering the provocation, but he was firm enough that Mark
would remember this for a long time to come.
Spike had been a little dismayed by the size of the group he was expected to protect.
//Looks like I'm the only poor bugger who volunteered.// And he'd known immediately to expect
trouble from the tight knot of sixteen-year-old boys, protesting loudly that they were old enough
to be escorting groups of their own. But their parents had prevailed, and there was a curfew in
effect for anyone under eighteen not accompanied by an adult. So they swaggered along, always
at the back of the pack, trying to dissociate themselves from the rest. With his vamp hearing,
Spike could make out their whispers, mostly dealing with the availability of the girls in the group.
Mark made the mistake of not only singling out Dawn but actually trying to detain her physically
and get her into a shadowed alleyway.
Spike found them there in the dark, Mark's arm preventing Dawn from leaving. Spike
pulled a few bills from his jeans pocket and handed them to her. "Take all your mates to that
shop across the way for some hot chocolate, pet. My treat." She smiled in relief and scampered
off. Spike turned his cold eyes on the boy, and within moments Mark was ready to take a vow of
celibacy then and there.
* * *
Blood was delivered to the Summers house every morning, thanks to Spike's steady
paycheck. He spent the rest of it on his girls, resolutely steering clear of personal gifts, choosing
only things for the house. If he was aware that the things he bought - bone-china cocoa mugs,
scented candles, throws for the den couch - would be enjoyed by Buffy as well as Joyce and
Dawn, he refused to acknowledge it. He was treading a fine line, trying to be just her friend when
he wanted - and could have - her as a lover. //But not for me.//
Memory was at once searingly sweet and gratingly bitter. For she had come to him that
night, just two weeks ago, with something missing from her eyes. The constant fear, the
anticipation of a heavy, unavoidable blow, was gone. The wideness, the greenness, the openness
of her eyes said that with him the great struggle of her life had been laid to rest. She didn't have
to choose between her sacred duties and her love for her family and friends because he stood
beside her in both.
Even now, he was aware, those eyes followed him constantly, waiting for his guard to
drop. But he couldn't afford to. Drusilla's murder had been more than a rude awakening; it had
been a revelation. //I'm death to any girl who loves me. Friends are fine, but love is out. Better
she learns it now than later.//
* * *
Buffy couldn't deny it any longer. It had been two weeks since that terrible night and
Spike still hadn't talked about it. And while he seemed to be fine with everyone else from Xander
and Giles to Joyce and Dawn, the only person he shied away from was her. He was friendly
enough, but the tension that took hold of his body, the way his honeyed voice turned gravelly,
betrayed him. And yet she knew he still loved her, for his eyes, defiant, lonely, pleading, broken,
told her the one he was punishing was himself. And she couldn't think of a way to bring him
back.
* * *
So matters went on for a few weeks, but nobody seemed to notice how different Spike
was with Buffy, since he was his old self with everyone else. And then Angel came back to
Sunnydale, proud possessor of a text that would protect him from the thrall.
Buffy walked to the Magic Box with Spike. He was still holding back from her, acting
like he needed to win her, when she'd already been won. But he hadn't left, and he still watched
her back. He was keeping his unspoken promises. They walked into the shop, as usual the last to
arrive.
"There are three ways to avoid the thrall," Angel stood, clearly in lecture mode, holding
up his text for emphasis.
"One - kill you. Two - kill Darla. We know. What's three?" Buffy asked impatiently.
Angel turned in surprise at her tone. He couldn't figure out why she was being bitchy, but
he knew he couldn't afford to alienate her. He made his voice soft and wooing and bent to catch
her eye. "The third is to receive the blood of my true love. That's you, Buffy."
"Really?" She kept her tone cool. "Not Darla? You were with her for a hundred and fifty
years."
He really wished they didn't have an audience. "Buffy, when I was with her, I didn't have
a soul. You can't love without one."
"Hey!" Anya exclaimed.
"You are my soulmate."
"Hey!!"
"You're the only person I have ever loved."
"HEY!!!" Anya's cries grew louder and louder, and the finger with which she was poking
Spike moved more quickly and emphatically. She'd never mastered the art of whispering, so her
promptings were heard by the whole group. "Tell her! That's not how it works. Remember?
We talked about this!" Anya nagged until Spike stood up.
"She's right," he said as noncommittally as possible; he loathed having to play the older-
and-wiser being - Buffy had been through enough without being condescended to. "Dru and I
summoned the Judge," he began, his voice steady and clear, refusing to rewrite history as Angel
always did in order to shift the blame. "When he finally awakened, we were the first ones he
wanted to burn - the love we had for each other was a human weakness. It is possible to love
without a soul." Sitting at the table, Anya nodded emphatically. Spike paused. He knew he had
to continue, but his heart felt too bruised to take Angel on. He looked at Buffy's sad, wondering
face and took the plunge. "But when Angel showed up, the Judge said there was no humanity -
no love - in him."
"Because I didn't have a soul!" Angel shouted.
"No - the soul wouldn't have made a difference," Giles said, grasping Spike's point. "For
you not to feel love as a soulless creature means you didn't feel love with a soul." It wasn't until
he heard his own words that he understood all the implications, and his eyes shifted immediately
to Buffy.
"I loved you," she said quietly, looking up at Angel. "But it seems you didn't love me.
Guess I'm not your true love after all." She reached out and took the book from him and handed
it to Giles. "Can you see if there's some other way?" she asked her Watcher and turned and left.
Xander, Willow, Tara, and Spike caught up with her outside. Giles took the text into his
office to read, and Anya began straightening up the area with such pissed-off determination that
Angel decided to leave.
Buffy and her friends walked quietly. They were all surprised when the cell phone in
Spike's duster pocket rang. With a puzzled frown, he answered it. It was Giles. He handed the
phone to Buffy. "Buffy," the watcher began, "I've been reading this text Angel brought. The
third way to preclude the thrall wasn't exactly what he said. It was simply the voluntary gift of
blood from any human being."
"But I already did that," she said, surprised.
"I know. Before graduation."
"Why did he lie? Why did he say all that true love stuff?" she asked angrily, clutching the
little phone with tight fingers.
"I . . . I think he wants you back, Buffy. Though why he's willing to risk his soul . . ."
"Because it doesn't matter. It doesn't make a difference if he's got a soul or not. And
I'm not just talking about love. He kept working his thrall over Drusilla even after Willow
resouled him. The things that Angelus does have always been in the back of Angel's mind." She
stopped, then asked, "Have you told him you know what the third way really was?"
"No, he seems to have left. In high dudgeon, would be my bet. Do you want me to call
his mobile?"
"No. He's safe from the thrall and he's far away from me. What could be better?" She
could hear Giles's humorless laugh. "Thanks, Giles," she said and disconnected the line.
* * *
"That was a really dirty trick Angel pulled today," Xander said as he passed the salad bowl
to Dawn. The nine of them were sitting around the Summers dining table - lengthened by a few
leaves - having dinner. Joyce had felt marvelous and strong all day, and she'd celebrated by
cooking.
"Yes. He told many lies," Anya added. Her face lit up. "I know a vengeance demon
whose specialty was people who made insincere declarations of love. If you like . . ."
"No," Buffy smiled, "that's okay. That's not the part that bothered me, actually."
"What did upset you?" Tara asked, leaning forward as if she half-suspected the answer.
"It's sort of about what Spike said," she began, her eyes sliding sideways to take in the
vampire sitting next to her, "but more about Darla. He had no love in him. None at all. I guess it
wasn't such a shock to hear that he didn't love me - there have been other clues. But what does it
say about him that there was no love in him for Darla? How do you spend a century and a half
with somebody and not love them at all?" Spike kept his eyes down.
"He's a monster," Dawn said simply.
After dinner was finished and both the pecan pies were completely gone, Joyce stood.
"Before I ask who wants coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, I've got a request. Tonight has been
wonderful," she said, smiling when there was a chorus of agreement. "I'm glad you concur.
Because I want to make this a weekly tradition. Every Wednesday night we'll all get together
here; I'm home from work early, the shop is closed, and no one seems to have late classes. So
we'll make it set in stone. No excuses. Okay?" she looked sternly around the table and noticed
Dawn silently mouthing something to her. She smiled sheepishly. "Except next week. We'll
make it Thursday because it's Thanksgiving."
Buffy was carrying drinks to everybody in the den. Giles was talking to her mother,
Xander and Tara were Anya's captive audience as she explained problems with weddings through
the centuries, and Willow was impressing Dawn with her old levitating pencil trick. Spike was
standing slightly apart, his eyes on Joyce's animated face. Buffy took a deep breath and headed
over to him; she'd saved his drink for last.
"Spike," she said softly and he turned the bright angles of his face in her direction. He felt
a pang when he saw her eyes, looking like bruises in her worn face. He dropped his gaze to the
mug she held, and he did a slight doubletake when he realized it was blood, not hot chocolate. "I,
uh, put some of that spice that you got from the Indian grocery store in it," she said shyly.
"Ta, Hebe," he said, touched. He looked down at her small shape once again and knew he
had to speak.
"What you said at dinner," he began. "I know . . ." he faltered. "I know about losing the
person whose love was the center of your life." Buffy felt a tingle pass through her. Spike was
finally talking to her about that night that had pushed them asunder. "It must be even worse when
the person you loved didn't deserve you." He could hear her heartbeat accelerate, and she parted
her lips to speak. He knew she'd heard his words as a cue to pledge herself to him, so to preclude
that painful moment, he added with stark honesty, "You've never loved or been loved by a man
who deserved you." Her cry of protest stayed silent when she saw the dangerous jut of his jaw
and the fragility of his eyes.
* * *
She was more than a little surprised when he slipped on his duster just as everyone else
got ready to leave the Summers house. "Where are you going?" she asked. "I thought the club
was closed Wednesday nights."
"It is, pet, but I thought you might want some company on your patrol." She smiled in
acquiescence, an irrepressible bubble of hope floating inside her when he added, "Better grab a
coat, Slayer. Seems more than brisk outside."
She was learning her lesson, and her refusal to push him to speak was rewarded with a
companionable stroll. He held back and let her take on the first four vamps they spotted; a few
deft flicks of her wrist and they were history. Turnabout was fair play, and the next round was
Spike's. He faced three big vamps, the smallest standing well over six feet. He straightened his
spine and took them on. Buffy watched. She loved that he never let his size or the odds daunt
him. She loved that he was trying to be her friend when every other man she'd known had run
off. She loved everything about him.
* * *
Despite the awkwardness with Spike, everything was going well. Too well, Buffy
thought. All afternoon, the sounds of laughter and happy squabbling emerged from the kitchen as
they all tried to cook Thanksgiving dinner together. When Buffy, unconsciously exerting Slayer
strength, snapped the can opener in half, it was Spike who liberated the condensed milk with one
thrust of a fang. The carefree spirit lasted until the phone rang just when they were sitting down
to the meal. Everybody froze, knowing it couldn't be good news.
"Buffy, hi, it's Cordelia. Listen, not to be rude but L.A., even if it's not on a hellmouth,
has its quota of demons, and we think it's time for you to just slay whatever it is you're fighting
already, and send Angel home." All this was said without even the smallest of pauses. //Guess
being head cheerleader really did improve her lung capacity.//
"Cordelia. Angel's not here. We took care of the sun problem weeks ago." It took a
moment for anxiety to hit. "He still hasn't gone back to L.A.? Well . . ." she stalled, "maybe
that's a good thing. Maybe he just needed some time out of the office."
"He's on *vacation?!*" For the first time, Cordelia sounded truly outraged. "Tell him,"
she hissed, "that Gunn, Wes, and I all got hurt taking on a Neirax demon that he could have taken
care of in a heartbeat, seeing as how he doesn't need to breathe and all. Tell him Gunn's lungs
are filling with fluid, Wes's trachea nearly collapsed, and the migraines haven't left me. How dare
he!" She slammed the phone down.
When four sharp knocks were heard, Dawn flew to answer the door. "You didn't have to
bruise the wood. We've got a doorbell, you know," she muttered brattily as Angel treaded on her
heels.
"Buffy," he said, "I need to speak to you."
"Now?"
"Yes. This can't wait any longer. It's too important."
Dread ran through Buffy. This was not the fear of the Slayer, as when she'd faced the
Master or the mayor's reptilian incarnation. It was the pain of the girl, who had loved and lost
and been betrayed. The look on Angel's face warned her that this would be worse than the
heartbreak of killing him when his soul was replaced, worse than the splitting of her heart when
Giles washed his hands of her for shielding Angel, worse even than finally understanding that
despite the outpouring of her heart, he'd never really loved her. She couldn't do this again. "I've
got nothing to say to you," she informed him, lifting her chin.
"Then listen," he said, moving forward to clasp her arm, propelling her towards the den.
She jerked free. "If you're determined to have your say, you'll have to do it here. I need
my family near me." She looked at the people seated around the table and immediately felt
buoyed up by their silent support. Only Spike was looking down, his fists clenched and the cords
of his neck straining. //God. What must seeing Angel be doing to him?// All patience with her
first love fled. "What is it, Angel?" she asked, not bothering to soften her voice.
"Buffy, I shouldn't have tried to trick you with the thrall cure. But it's the only way I
could express what I wanted from you." He paused to gauge her reaction and took a step
forward. "And no matter what anyone says, I did love you. I do love you. And I know that you
still love me. I want us to be together."
"Long-distance relationships never work, Angel," she said. She clarified when she saw his
confusion. "I'm bound to the hellmouth. And you've got responsibilities in L.A.," she reminded
him, an edge to her voice.
He didn't hear it. "I'd give all that up for you, Buffy," he replied.
"It's not something you get to give up, Angel! You have a duty, and -"
"Buffy," he interrupted, "you're the one with the sacred calling. I can fight for you here in
Sunnydale. I deserve a second chance with you, and this time I won't walk away."
"No."
He saw, at last, that he was losing ground. "I'll do anyth- I'll even find another Mohra
demon and this time I won't give up being human. If being human means being with you, Buffy,
I'll do it."
Only Anya and Spike immediately understood what exactly Angel had revealed but it
didn't take long for the others to catch up. Buffy was the last, as she was still reeling from the
shock. "You were a human again?"
"Yes. The Mohra's blood mixed with mine and made me mortal. And we were together.
In the sunlight. In my bed. I'd never seen you so happy."
"How?"
"Your memories were erased when I gave it up."
She was trying so hard to fight him. She knew she'd only be able to get through this as
the Slayer. She stumbled backwards slightly and ended up leaning into Giles, whose arm moved
automatically to circle her waist.
"Why?" Buffy heard her Watcher's question only blurrily, as if her head were submerged.
"Why what?" Angel asked.
"Why did you return such a gift?"
"They said that it wouldn't help anything. Buffy would still die. And I would die too."
"How *dare* you!!!" Willow screamed. Angel blinked as the eight people sitting around
the table rose as one, Giles and Joyce supporting Buffy between them. Willow remembered with
almost unbearable clarity the agony Buffy had suffered because of Angel, how often she'd wished
that humanity might be granted her lover again. Her rage burst. "How dare you come here to tell
her you threw away what she wanted most? How dare you hurt her like that? You should have
been grateful that her memories were taken away because then she couldn't remember that you
valued your own life above whatever life the two of you would have had together. You know
what? I hope you do live forever, because I know you'll never have her. You deserve to live
alone."
Angel looked around the table for an ally but found none. He turned to Buffy and flinched
when she looked dead into his eyes. "Get out." It was Buffy's voice, but the authority of the
Slayer was threaded through it. She locked and bolted the door behind him and whispered to
herself, "It's over."
* * *
Buffy was going insane. Slowly. By inches. She was in the den, surrounded by her
friends and by piles of photocopied articles. She was trying to write a term paper, but Spike's
silent presence in the den was proving to be too much for her. She shifted her gaze to Dawn,
being quizzed on her vocabulary words by Tara. Buffy inwardly cried in frustration when she
heard the list the witch was going through. Every SAT prep word Tara uttered in her soft,
relentless voice - "halcyon," "evanescent," "azure," "limber," "uxorious" - seemed to Buffy's
mind to be about Spike. She snuck another longing glance at him as he sat sprawled on the couch
reading the mystery novel Giles had left behind weeks ago.
"Buffy? Dawn?" Joyce called as she hung up the kitchen phone. "Could you come here a
minute?" They walked past the table, still stacked high with empty pizza boxes. It had been
Xander's turn to provide the Wednesday night dinner. "Okay, now I'm not mad or anything,"
Joyce smiled a bit dubiously, "but which one of you called my cousin Ellie and told her I was
sick?"
The girls exchanged a glance. "Neither of us. Why?"
"That was her on the phone. 'I could see, Joycie, that you've recently walked in the
valley.'" Her voice took on a high, affected lilt as she did a dead-on imitation of her cousin's flaky
manner. "'But now I see you emerging triumphant to walk in the light.'"
"What?" Buffy and Dawn were torn between disbelief and laughter. "She really said
that?"
"Yes. Are you sure you didn't tell her - either of you?"
"Positive."
"Oh, damn. Maybe there's more to her psychic pretensions than we gave her credit for.
Anyway, she wants us to spend Christmas with her in Arizona."
"Cool!" Dawn was instantly in favor of getting out of Sunnydale for a few weeks.
"I don't know. Hellmouth - the ties that bind," Buffy said.
"Well, honey, your friends have managed before, like when you visit your dad. Let's ask
if they feel up to it again."
* * *
"This is a mob scene!" Joyce exclaimed as she was bumped yet again. "The flight is going
to be packed. I should get in line - get our boarding passes."
"Safe flight, Joyce," Spike said. She stepped into his embrace, her temple resting securely
against the incline of his cheekbone. He lifted a gentle hand to touch her hair, at last liberated
from a long line of silk scarves.
"Thanks for the ride, Spike."
"Take care of yourself," he answered and she headed for the gate counter.
"I wish you were coming with us," Dawn said.
"Love to, Sugarcube, but I've got a sacred duty." At her inquisitive look, he grinned,
drawling, "Gotta keep the drunken patrons of Vanitas from making complete asses o' themselves,
don't I?"
"Yeah, whatever. Send you a postcard." She pretended to turn away, and he caught one
long lock of her hair and tugged.
"Oh, I *know* you don't think you're getting off *that* easy," he said. From her vantage
point, Buffy could see the identical grins on their faces, which were quickly hidden when Dawn
turned to face the vampire again.
"Ow! That hurt!" she lied, reclaiming her hair. "Sometimes I wish you still had that chip
in your head."
"Now, now, Platelet. You don't mean that. Remember the fun we had with that pissant
Mark?" His voice was completely unrepentant, and she threw her arms around him.
"Bye, Spike."
"Have a good time, Niblet," he answered, hugging her back. She scampered off after her
mother, leaving him alone with Buffy.
Standing before him in a black and forest green wraparound dress, she was irresistible.
Until the thought of the pain he was capable of causing her returned to his brain. He ignored the
blood screaming inside him to work its will and took a step toward her. He saw her hesitant smile
and heard her galloping heartbeat, and knew he needed to make this quick. He clasped her in a
brisk, comradely embrace. She closed her eyes when he surrounded her, giving herself up to the
sensation. The briefness of the contact jarred her eyes open. She fumbled for something to say.
"I'll . . . call you when we get there," she finally said, and he nodded and pulled his duster more
tightly around his body.
* * *
Buffy's absence was more than relaxing; it was positively soporific. For the first time
since Drusilla's death, he was able to sleep soundly. He had been on high alert for too long,
constantly on guard against Buffy's love and the vulnerability she didn't bother to disguise.
He noted dispassionately that the patrons of Vanitas grew sadder as Christmas
approached. The women wore tighter clothing, the men spoke more loudly; their loneliness came
across in their brittle, frantic gaiety, the speed with which they went home with strangers. How
different from his friends. Anya, Xander, Willow, Tara - not one had a home except for the ones
they'd made for themselves. //Just like me.//
* * *
"A toast!" Anya exclaimed happily. Her New Year's party was turning out so well; she
was a natural at this hostessing thing. "Here is to the new year - a new year means we will all get
older and more wrinkly and more forgetful . . . Why are we celebrating this anyway?" she asked.
Giles, who'd been watching Spike's closed face - that face that would never change no
matter how many new years he saw - spoke up. "It's a celebration of togetherness. That we're
all here, ready to take on anything that happens in the coming year."
* * *
The Summers girls were glad to be home, and Spike was eager to show them his
Christmas gift. He pulled the DeSoto into the driveway and said sternly, "Now, no rushing inside
to peek. That means you, Bite-Size."
Her face gleamed with the thought of another present. "Give me a hint!" she pleaded.
"All right," he answered, disarmed by her eagerness. "They're usually green, but I had
them do this one in purple since that's your favorite color." Dawn turned for help to her mother
and sister, but they were as bewildered by Spike's clue as she was.
As soon as they were inside the house, Dawn dumped her bags and demanded, "Present!"
Joyce and Buffy's faces were equally alight with curiosity and anticipation. Spike opened the
door to the basement, flipped the light switches, and led the way downstairs so that they could see
the new pool table that dominated the space of the room. "Eee!" Dawn said, clapping her hands
excitedly and running her fingertips over the purple felt. "Can we play now? Please?"
Spike turned to Joyce, who was already shrugging out of her jacket in preparation. "Sure,
Rapunzel. Oldest and youngest versus the two in between," he said, picking up a cue. The three
of them moved to form the teams, all of them assuming he had paired Joyce and Dawn together
and partnered himself with Buffy. "No," he said, at once exasperated and amused, "*I'm* the
oldest, remember? It's me an' the Niblet."
Joyce especially looked startled by the reminder. In a low voice, she asked, "But are you
really? Older, I mean? If your body hasn't aged past twenty-seven, has your mind?" He didn't
know how to answer her; he'd had experiences she'd never dreamt of, but it was true that he had
always lived a young man's life. She continued when she saw his doubt. "I know how different I
am now than when I was in my twenties or thirties. And recently I've changed so much. Looking
death in the face does that to you." He realized then that she'd had experiences he could know
nothing about.
"I don't know, Joyce. Who's lived more? I'm older, but you're more mature," he finally
answered.
"What's the matter, Spike?" she asked, his heavy silence contrasting with Dawn's happy
chirping voice, exulting over the pool table with Buffy.
"I guess it's just hitting me for the first time," he said. "That my personal evolution has
been stopped dead in its tracks. That I'll forever be a twenty-seven-year-old vampire, world
without end."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"You didn't," he smiled into her worried eyes. "Now let's play. I have a sneaking
suspicion you're a hell of a player, Joyce."
* * *
Buffy was at Willow and Tara's place, and Dawn was in her room, reuniting with her
beloved diary, when Spike found Joyce in the den with the TV on. He settled down comfortably
next to her, both of them muttering the answers as they watched "Jeopardy!" on the new game-
show network.
At the first commercial break, Joyce asked, "Spike? Could you really afford that pool
table?"
"Yeah, Joyce, don't worry about it. Gary - my boss - was ordering new tables for the
club, and he gets them at a good deal." She nodded. "'Sides, the Sugarcube's been after me to
teach her how to shoot, and I figured better here at home than at the Bronze, where it's full of
smoke and drunken idiots. Don't want the wrong crowd to get a glimpse of our girl." He finally
noticed the smile creeping across her face. "What?" he asked, ready to share in the joke.
He was taken aback when she said, "I don't think your personal evolution stopped, Spike.
You're a better parent than Hank ever was." He didn't know what to say. She took pity on him
and turned back to the TV. "I hate Alex Trebek, don't you?"
* * *
Three days after New Year's Day, school began again for Dawn. She came home upset
and went in search of Spike. She knocked at his door. "Yeah?" he finally answered, his voice
sounding tight over the music pouring from his speakers.
"Can I come in?" she asked.
"Yeah."
Her tale of woe was already spilling out as she entered his room. "So I go to art today,
and there's a message on the board that Ms. Miniver is on maternity leave, and that all of her
students have been reassigned to music appreciation for the semester! I mean, what am I
supposed to do? I'm working on that portrait of Mom - I wanted to have it done before summer
vacation. And now -" she broke off abruptly when she finally noticed his unusual silence. Spike
usually was so focused, but now he seemed distracted. She peered more closely. No, he wasn't
distracted; he was focused on something inward, so intensely that she doubted even some crosses
and holy water would shift his attention. "Spike? What is it?" she asked, swallowing nervously at
the unshed tears that appeared in his eyes. "Spike?" She had to lay her hand on his shoulder to
bring him back to the real world. "What's the matter, Spike?"
He stared at her for a moment before shaking his head and saying, "I miss her, Niblet."
He closed his eyes again, and "Stella by Starlight," which was on instant repeat, began once more.
"My sister," he continued, his voice as plaintive as the sweet, drawn-out notes Miles Davis
coaxed from gleaming metal, "Stella. My big sister. Today's her birthday." He waited out the
rest of the song, and then in the pause between the end and the time it took the record player to
reposition the needle at the beginning, he added, "It's like this song was written for her. She
would have loved it."
She didn't know what he needed. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked tentatively.
He opened his eyes. "Please just go," he said softly.
* * *
Buffy walked into the house an hour later and saw a note from Dawn on the kitchen
counter. She snapped on the radio and a woman's haunting voice sang, *"Oh, your gaze is
dangerous, and you fill your space so sweet . . ."* An image of Spike, his wide eyes fixed on hers
as he held himself above her, came rushing into her mind. She shook her head to dismiss the
thought and turned off the radio - //he's been avoiding me - how can I get him to even talk to me,
let alone love me?// She flipped the light switch to read Dawn's note. A last-minute change of
plans meant Joyce was taking Carol's place on a gallery trip to L. A., so she'd only be back the
following evening. And Dawn was at the first basketball game of the new semester, cheering
Kevin on. Buffy looked up from Dawn's loopy handwriting with a smile. If Spike was in the
house, she finally had him alone. And she was going to win him back.
* * *
She became aware of the music as she climbed the stairs. It was coming from Spike's
room. Her pleased smile broadened; a plan of attack was forming in her mind.
She silently pushed open his bedroom door and poked her head inside. The curtain had
already been drawn, and the light was dim at best. He was sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to
his chest, his duster draped over him like a blanket. His back was to the door, but her own nerves
and hammering heart kept her from seeing the tension that stretched the muscles of his back and
shoulders, the grief his mind and body equally bore. "Is this the song you said you'd play for
me?" she asked, her voice only a touch higher than normal.
He was so startled that he leapt straight to his feet. The heavy leather coat slid slowly off
him, as if it wanted to linger against his body. She knew how it felt. His back was still to her, but
he turned his head just enough that he could see her out of the corner of his eye. "No."
The syllable was rough, and she mistakenly attributed his gruffness to being caught by
surprise. "Well, shouldn't you put our song on?" she asked playfully, inching ever closer to his
still form. "After all, you promised -"
He turned on her with savage ferocity, shouting as if she had maddened him past the
breaking point. *"I never promised!"* His strong hands were like vises on her arms, holding her
stiffly at arm's length. "I never promised you *anything*. What good would it have been even if
I had?"
Buffy was so thrilled at first that Spike was looking at her, speaking to her, touching her,
that it took her a few moments to understand what he was saying. She snapped out of her happy
daze and stared him in the face. "What do you mean, it wouldn't have been any good?" Her
voice hovered between menacing and hurt, and Spike took a step back shamefacedly.
One look at her blazing eyes and fragile throat, however, and he stepped defiantly forward
again. "What I mean," he hissed between clenched teeth, "is that I'm not going to be the one that
gets you killed. You've had incredible luck so far. You've made your own luck. But whether
your good luck outweighs my bad, I don't know, and I'm not willing to gamble your life to find
out."
"What bad luck?"
"Everybody I ever loved is dead," he ground out.
She tried to reason with him, aware that she had to tread carefully. "I don't know what
happened to your dad, but your sister was in an accident. That wasn't your fault. And your mom
got sick. That sucks, but it also wasn't your fault. You can't keep thinking you're to blame -"
"What about when it was *your* mum that was ill?" he interrupted. "I was standing right
there when the doc told you what was wrong, and don't you dare tell me that wasn't guilt I saw
creeping across your face!" he snapped.
Suddenly she was equally enraged. "You want to talk about my mom? Alright, fine, let's
talk about her! She's somebody you love, so why the hell isn't she dead? Why isn't Dawn a
corpse right now?"
He turned and pulled the plug on the record player.
Her words went relentlessly on. "You can't honestly think that there's some sort of curse
on you that dooms you to walk the earth alone!" her voice high and incredulous. He still was
refusing to look at her, so she slammed the door shut. The noise made her feel slightly better. "I
mean, you were with Drusilla for a hundred . . ." she trailed off, finding her legs no longer willing
to support her. She sank bonelessly onto the bed. "That's who you're really thinking of, isn't it?"
she asked, her voice low.
His jaw was clenched tight as he whirled to face her once more. "Of course it is! She
died *because* she loved me! You saw it - you were there - she sacrificed herself to save me.
And she had never promised me anything, but for a hundred years she saved me - she was
somebody to love. She loved me." He was frantic now, pacing madly in tighter and tighter figure
eights. "And the worst part is, I wasn't even worth it. The minute thrice-damned Angel started
working his hellish thrall, I lost my faith in her. Don't you see?" he cried in a tone of pleading
outrage. "*I'm* the one who promised *her*. I promised her the moon, the stars - and my
eternal love."
"But that's what you gave her, Spike," Buffy cried, frustrated that he couldn't see what
was so plain to her. "She was happy with you that whole time - you had to be giving her what she
needed. You kept your promises, Spi-"
He cut her off with a roar of anguish and yelled at her, *"DON'T!"* He made a visible
attempt to gather himself, and when he spoke again, the quiet rage was worse than any scream.
"Don't start that Hallmark bollocks. I did not give her what she needed. I failed her." Seeing her
stubbornly shake her head, denying the bitter truth, only made him blunter. "You don't think I
failed her? Take me out of the equation and think about it rationally, Slayer. What would you
think of a man who left his girlfriend because she'd been raped? A man who did nothing while her
abusive ex-boyfriend decided he hadn't hurt her enough the first time around?" She had her eyes
closed as if she were willing him out of existence. He stepped closer, his voice low in her ear,
"You'd think he was a cowardly, judgmental shit. You'd think the poor girl deserved better. And
that's exactly what I'm telling you - I agree with that."
He thought he'd achieved his pyrrhic victory until her eyes snapped open and he could see
a mutinous spark in their depths. "But she didn't know. She didn't know what she was doing
under the thrall. The whole time, in her heart, she was faithful to you. She never believed that
you betrayed her. She didn't understand . . ."
"Well, then, guess I was awfully lucky Angel made her a loon before he used the thrall,
wasn't I?" Spike sneered in the most self-loathing voice possible. "Do you realize what you're
saying? You're saying that because Angel broke her mind, she didn't know that I believed the
worst of her - and that that's a good thing! I'm glad she never knew, that she carried to the end
the image of me, as loyal and loving as she was, in her heart. But that's not really the point, is it?
The point is, *I* know that I broke my promises to her, and I can never make it up to her now."
Buffy felt as if a thick veil had dropped in her brain, cutting her off from all the truths she
had clung to before. All that she had left were the harsh words spoken in this room, words that
hurt and betrayed. She spoke as if she were picking her way across a bog, trying desperately to
feel solid ground beneath her feet. "She loved you. She died, loving you." All around her were
treacherous waters. "And I live, loving you." She took a deep breath and allied herself with
Drusilla, once a foe, and now, suddenly, an ally in her struggle to keep Spike from ruining himself.
"How could two such women be wrong?" He started a bit in surprise. "I feel like I finally know
my heart. She knew hers the moment she met you. And we both know yours. Please, Spike,"
she said, walking slowly towards him, "lay the blame where it belongs. With Angel, who kept the
thrall going until that demon made him human. You've got nothing to blame yourself for. Even
if you thought she was playing you, you still stood by her. You did everything you could to take
her out of his reach. You loved her, and you didn't stop. You still love her." He nodded nearly
imperceptibly, but she caught it. "You never, ever hurt her. I know, because I saw her face when
she saw you there, ready to fight for her again." He bowed his head, and she was struck
breathless by the beauty of him in a state of grace. There were tears on his face as he said
goodnight to his sweet princess at last.
Buffy watched him and tried to think of the perfect words to bring him to her. Nothing
came, despite her desperation not to lose him, her instinct that this was the moment on which
everything depended. Still nothing came, and she choked back a sob and headed for the door.
His quiet voice, at peace at last, stopped her. "I love you, Slayer," he rasped. He took a
step towards her, but she was quicker than he, her mouth on his, her palms on his cheeks, before
he could even think to take another step. At the touch of his lips, kissing her, shaping her name,
her own tears were released, and as she pushed him onto the bed, he could hear each tiny splash.
"I love you, I love you," she kept repeating as she cried and tore the clothes off their
bodies. The litany ceased only when they were both naked. She looked deep into his eyes. "I am
so in love with you. That's the only promise I make to you."
"I promise too," he affirmed, and strained upwards for her saving kiss. She met him
halfway, kneeling over him, pressing her palms against his, entwining his fingers with hers. She
was trembling slightly from desire and the last aftershocks of her fear that she had lost him, and he
resolved to make her shake in earnest. He freed his mouth from hers, raised her hand, still linked
in his, to his mouth, and with the very tip of his tongue traced the complicated patterns of her
fingerprints. She was lost in delight at his tenderness when without warning but without haste, he
surged forward between her spread knees, pushing himself off his back and laying her down on
hers. He kissed down the center of her body, savoring the salty-sweet sugared almond taste of
her, of her luxuriant skin, at last reaching his goal. On her and in her, his tongue moved in the
same loops and whorls and swirls he'd discovered on the pads of her fingers. She was keening,
teetering between pleasure and loss, and finally let go of both with a long cry.
He brought his mouth back to hers with dizzying intensity. Her breath caught in her
throat at the sweet friction of their legs, and his sea-bright eyes darkened at the sound. She
closed her eyes languorously and gave herself up to the wonder of the moment, of each successive
moment that he offered up to her like pearls on a string of gold. This time she was more
prepared, better equipped to handle what he did to her, what he drew from her, what he made of
her. //Surely no one has ever been as happy as I am right now// was all she could think before
sensation overwhelmed her again.
For Spike, Buffy's hitching breath had paved the way for memory. The disbelieving
rapture he'd felt on their first night together had given way to a wondrous certainty of joy. Their
second night was a palimpsest; he felt her every move even as he felt with equal conviction
everything they'd done together on that October night. They came together again and again with
the inevitability of oppositely charged magnets. And when at last he kissed her throat, flicking her
jaw with his sooty lashes and spilling his seed inside her, and whispered hoarsely, "I love you,
Buffy," she knew that her life had somehow been permanently, marvelously altered.
* * *
She awoke to see him sleeping on his stomach, one arm thrown across her waist. She
turned her head and traced the ropey, sinewy muscles of his back and shoulders with her eyes and
then her fingers. His throaty voice came out of nowhere. "Good morning to you, too, love," he
murmured, turning his head to face her.
It touched her ridiculously to see that his almond-shaped eyes had narrowed into joyous
little crescent-moons at the realization that she had awakened happily in his bed. Unable to resist,
she trailed one slender finger down the bridge of his nose, and then back up it. He sighed
contentedly and nuzzled her hand. His cheek scratched pleasantly against her palm, and abruptly
her eyes widened.
She sat bolt upright, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and grabbed his hand,
dragging him across the mattress with her. "Buffy?" he questioned cautiously.
"Mirror, mirror," she was muttering to herself. "Of course there's no mirror in this room!
Come on!" she said, and pulled him along with her across the hall to her room. "There!" she said
triumphantly, and propelled him to stand in front of her dresser mirror.
"Buffy, what's going on?" he asked as she pushed him to face the mirror and then took
her place behind him. She looked in the mirror and saw only herself on tiptoe, trying to see over
Spike's non-reflecting shoulder.
She sank back onto her heels dejectedly. "I thought maybe you'd turned human," she said
in a soft voice. "I felt stubble on your face, and I assumed that meant -" she broke off with a
gasp. Spike, who still wasn't showing up in her mirror, was nevertheless standing unharmed with
one shoulder in direct sunlight, waiting with uncharacteristic patience for her to finish her
explanation.
* * *
He didn't notice, and so was exasperated when she grabbed his hand again and started to
drag him out of the room. He dug in his heels, but only when he caught hold of the door jamb did
he succeed in getting her to stop. "Okay," he said, "what's gotten into you? I know you've got
super-strength, but today it seems to have increased exponentially."
"You must be good for me," she grinned up at him.
"And second, why are you dragging me buck-naked all over the house with your mum and
sis just down the hall?"
"Mom's not home and Dawn's got another half hour before her alarm goes off," she said
dismissively. "And I was only going to drag you once more place and then back to bed."
"Where?" he asked, resigned to his fate as her rag doll.
"Back porch."
"Naked?"
"I'll get us some towels."
Draped in bright terrycloth, they stepped onto the porch. She pulled him into a welcoming
kiss, and walked backwards until she felt the sun on her back. She released him then. "Notice
anything different?" He squinted a little at her, unused to the bright morning light, the way the
sun picked out the gold in her hazel hair. His eyes widened at the realization and he finally
became aware that the sunlight was washing over him as well. She smiled at him, tears of
happiness in her eyes, and said, "We'll go by the Magic Box later. But for now, let's just get back
to bed."
* * *
By the time they were walking to the shop a few hours later, they had managed to
establish a few things. Spike was immune to sunlight, and his hair was growing again (Buffy
swore she could see his roots coming in), but he was clearly not human. He could not be seen in
mirrors, blood remained his primary food group, his heart and lungs stayed non-functional, and his
body temperature was still low. Buffy, meanwhile, was still extra-strong. "Maybe it's the sex,"
Spike offered.
"What?" she was too giddy at the sight of him in daylight to pay proper attention.
"Last time, we cleared the sky. This time we both gained extra powers. Next time we'll
establish peace on earth."
"Shut up," she said tenderly, kissing him soundly as they walked into the Magic Box.
The shop was free of customers, so they spilled the story to Giles and Anya, both of
whom looked completely baffled. The Watcher nevertheless began gathering books that might be
relevant and dumped them on the big research table. Buffy pulled Angel's thrall-text out of the
pile and the four of them began to read.
A chill swept over her as she reread the passage she had just skimmed. *"The vampire
who sins against his kind, who breaks the two greatest laws of our glorious race, shall be
punished with death. The highest gift - immortality - shall be revoked."* It was too vague to
make sense to her, but she knew somehow she had found what they'd been looking for. She read
it aloud to the other three, then immediately appealed to Spike. "What are the laws you broke?
Are you dying now?"
He kept his place in his own book with a finger, then answered her. "My guess is (1)
never fall in love with a human - the food source. And (2) create more vampires - as many as you
can."
Giles blurted out in surprise, "Are you saying you *never* sired a childe?"
Buffy remembered suddenly Spike had confessed as much to her before, but before she
could corroborate his story, Spike replied, "I'm saying I never made so much as a minion, let
alone a childe."
"You never turned *anyone*?" Anya's question sounded almost disappointed.
"No. Never wanted to."
"Wait - what about Buffy's, er, friend? The one that made that deal with you?" Giles
asked.
"Dru turned him. She needed a proper feed."
"So now you're dying?" Buffy cut in, anxious to return to her main concern.
"Easy, love. I'm dying like you're dying. I'm not going to keel over tomorrow. I'm just
not immortal any longer. Hence the stubble and the roots - I'm aging."
"Why aren't you more upset about this?" she demanded suspiciously.
"Breaking the rules has its rewards," he grinned, and opened his book and read aloud.
"*'Only a vampire who has never sired a childe may father a child. Should such a vampire beget
upon a mortal woman a child, he shall have earned life with them in sunlight as well as
moonlight.'* Does that answer your question?"
"I'm pregnant?"
* * *
"Is it a boy or girl?" Anya asked eagerly.
Giles's worried "How do you feel?" came at the same time.
Buffy turned to Spike. "Like I can't wait nine months to hold our baby." He swept her
up in his arms and just held her as tightly as possible. "Hey, I still need to breathe," she said;
"*we* still need to breathe," she corrected, with a proud pat on her lower abdomen.
"How do you feel? Are you okay?" he was instantly nervous.
"Actually, I've never felt better. I think the pregnancy is what's giving me that extra
power."
"Really?"
"Really. But if it makes my morning sickness extra strong too, you're a dead man."
* * *
"So does this mean you guys are getting married?" Dawn asked just before Joyce walked
into the house, dumping her overnight bag at the foot of the stairs. She headed straight for the
kitchen, seeing Buffy and Spike sitting hand-in-hand at the counter and Dawn rummaging in the
fridge.
"Hi, Sweetie," she said, sharing the term of endearment among the three of them.
"Hey. How was the trip?" Buffy asked.
"Exhausting, but very fruitful." Dawn choked on the juice she was chugging straight out
of the carton.
"Mom, I've got news," Buffy said nervously. She clutched Spike's hand a little more
tightly before continuing. "I'm pregnant." Now that it was out there, she realized she had no
idea at all about how her mother would react.
"Do you want to have this baby?" Joyce asked.
"Yes," she replied without hesitation.
"Spike?"
"Yes, me too," he answered honestly.
"Then I guess I'll be a grandmother."
"That's it? No lecture?" Buffy asked in disbelief.
"Do you want a lecture?"
"Noooo."
"Buffy, look, I know you've had to grow up awfully fast. You are capable of making
your decisions and accepting all the consequences. But we do need to talk about this." She
sighed. "Have you thought about what's going to happen to your child if something happens to
you while you're patrolling?"
Spike shot Joyce a grateful look; he hadn't wanted to be the one to order Buffy to stay at
home. His face suddenly turned worried; Buffy wouldn't kick her own mom's ass, would she?
He hurried to back Joyce up. "Yeah -" he started, but then Joyce, unbelievably, turned on him.
"That applies to you as well, Spike. You're the father. Your baby will need you too.
You can't just rush off for a 'spot of violence' anymore." He gulped and sank back into his seat.
Buffy spoke up. "Believe me, Mom, I have no intention of risking this baby. I'll figure
out a way to have more magical protection - maybe get Will and Tara to whip up that ball of
sunshine, now that Spike's immune. More brain-work and less leg-work, I promise."
Joyce nodded, knowing this was as good as it was going to get; Buffy couldn't simply
give up her responsibilities. "Okay, we'll find you a good obstetrician and make an appointment
for this week." She hesitated, then asked, "Are we going to be planning for a wedding as well as
a new baby?" She noticed with happy relief that Buffy and Spike met each other's gazes without
skittishness or nervousness; they simply smiled into each other's eyes, knowing neither would be
hurt by any answer.
"Actually, Mom, I don't have any interest in getting married. I've got everything I want
already." Spike was nodding in emphatic agreement.
* * *
Anya was so relieved to be the only Scooby bride that she wasn't even offended that she
hadn't been named one of the baby's guardians. Joyce, Dawn, and Giles were sharing that
responsibility. Willow and Tara's ball of sunshine didn't quite succeed - the best they could
manage was a brief burst of illumination that terrified and immobilized the vampires they were
eliminating - but Buffy didn't need it anyway. Her pregnancy was giving her unprecedented
strength, more than enough to compensate for her dwindling mobility. And Spike was there, of
course, watching her back as she fought, holding her hand as she was examined by her
obstetrician. It was so surreal it had to be true.
* * *
"What do you think of 'William'?" Buffy called over her shoulder as she walked into the
kitchen, Spike a few paces behind her, still pulling on a shirt. The Sunday paper lay on
the table between Dawn and Joyce, and their heads were bent over the crossword.
"Can't say I was ever crazy about that name," Spike answered, trying his best to smooth
his dark curls into some semblance of order, since Buffy had long since confiscated his hair gel.
"So it's a boy?" Dawn asked excitedly; she hadn't been home when they'd returned
yesterday from the latest visit to the obstetrician.
"Actually, bossy here wouldn't let Dr. Lockhart tell us." She shot a mock-glare at Spike.
"Why do you want to be surprised anyway?"
"It won't be a surprise to me." Buffy was taken aback by his calm certainty.
Joyce steered the conversation back to where it had been. "So not William then? What
about . . . 'Charles'? That's what you would have been named if you'd been a boy."
Buffy wrinkled her nose, but Spike stayed silent. "Doesn't grab me. And maybe it's a
girl. So . . . 'Jennifer'?"
Spike rolled his eyes but still said nothing. Then he reconsidered. He shot a teasing
glance Dawn's way and asked, "How about 'Kevin'?" She blushed, and the tide of the
conversation turned to Dawn's budding love life.
* * *
"No, really, why are you all dressed up?" Buffy asked suspiciously. "And why are you
driving me to school?" Spike pretended not to hear her over the car radio, tuned to an R&B soul
station. He pulled up short outside the English building and gave her a quick kiss. She got out
and came around to his side of the car for a more satisfying goodbye, but as she popped her head
in, he just pecked her cheek and handed her what was clearly the large economy-sized lunch bag
brimming with healthy food. His foot was on the gas before she could say thanks.
//It's ridiculous to be this nervous// Spike chided himself. //It's just a job interview, not
another bloody apocalypse.// He parked the car, straightened his tie, and walked through the
front door trying to look like the best damn academic publisher in the world.
* * *
Not only had she stopped dyeing her hair, revealing that her natural color was even darker
than Spike's, but she was just beginning to show; Spike thought she'd never looked better. She
felt magical, had felt it since the moment of conception. She was dense, packed solid around the
fiery jewel inside her. She had been hollowed out to make room for the cosmos in her womb in
which her child, a lonely, pearly planet, spun. She was strong. She was serene. And she was
scaring the shit out of badasses the world over.
* * *
"I need help! I need protection! I - whoa, you're hot!" said the boy as he ran into Angel
Investigations and got his first look at Cordelia Chase. She allowed herself a small smirk but
made sure he didn't see it; she so didn't need another geekboy stalker.
"What's the problem?" Wesley asked, coming forward and perching on Cordelia's desk.
"Are you the boss?" he asked suspiciously.
"The four of us are equals here," Gunn answered.
"Where's the fourth?"
"Here," said Angel from behind the boy. "What's your name, kid?"
"Scorpion. And I'm not a kid."
Cordelia stood, claiming the boy's attention once more. "Okay, Scorpion," trying not to
laugh at the pseudonym, "why don't you tell us why you need help."
"Well, I was in this bar, and this guy came up to me and we started talking. He asked me
what I do, and I told him - I'm the world's greatest computer hacker." As he narrated, he drew a
business card out of the back pocket of his jeans and handed it to Cordy. On the card was a fire-
red scorpion, the word "hacker" embossed on it, one letter per body segment. "So then he says
he wants to hire me to do some research work, and do I know a guy who can help him out with
some magic stuff. So I say no problem. My girlfriend is this super-hot Wicca chick, so we can
handle whatever he needs. So then - and this is where it gets weird - he asks if I've ever heard of
'the slayer.'" He made air-quotes as he spoke, unaware of the new tension in the room. "So then
he tells me this long story about 'the slayer,' some chick - or maybe there's two - with
superpowers that have suddenly gone into overdrive and he wants to know why. He says the only
thing he can think of is this spell he found to combine several people into one, but he didn't think
it could last this long, and it's been about five months."
"Five months?" Wesley interrupted, thinking of how dangerous it could be to summon the
First Slayer for such a long time.
"Yeah, five months. So he gives me a list of stuff you'd need for this spell, and tells me to
see if any of this stuff has made it into a town close to here called -"
"Sunnydale," Angel supplied.
"How'd you know?"
"I've heard of 'the slayer' too," Angel replied, repeating the air-quotes gesture.
"So I get on it - the guy paid me a couple hundred in cash for starters - and there's
nothing. No movement of spell ingredients. And there's no way anyone could have had this stuff
lying around - some of the stuff has to be fresh. So when I see this guy again, I tell him that. He
gets pissed, starts beating me up, trying to get his money back. Won't listen when I tell him the
spell hasn't been worked. Then he says to get my girlfriend to do a sensing spell to check if that
magic has been used at all."
"Sounds like a good idea," began Gunn, only to be interrupted.
"Yeah, great idea, genius! Only I don't have a girlfriend!"
"Wait, what?" Wesley asked. "Not twenty seconds ago you were bragging about her,
now you're saying she doesn't exist?"
"Well, there's a girl online that I chat with - she's sorta like my girlfriend. And she really
is a Wicca."
"Whatever. So why didn't you ask her to help you out?" Gunn asked, losing patience
with their latest client.
"I did. She never got back to me," he explained sullenly. "But then I had this idea. Like,
what if this 'slayer' is on steroids or something - like sudden strength, doesn't it sound
suspicious? But I haven't been able to go home and check since that guy is always waiting at my
apartment. I think he's going to kill me."
"We've got a system you can use. Check and see if your friend left you a message. Then
I'll make sure you get home safe," Angel said, and led Scorpion to the back room.
"Oh my God, how sad was that?" Cordelia asked.
"What's really sad is that Angel, the detective, didn't realize we'd moved the computer to
the front room," Wes responded, leaning back slightly so that his spine just touched the monitor.
Angel and Scorpion came back to the main room, and the latter seated himself at the
keyboard as Wesley hopped off the desk. "No . . . no messages. But I can access hospital
records from here, see if this Buffy chick has had any appointments lately to get her 'vitamins.'"
Again he made air-quotes and Gunn was tempted to break his fingers. "Whoa, jackpot! She's
been to some Dr. Lockhart six times in the last five months. I think you guys should check out
this Lockhart guy."
"It's a woman. Look, her first name is Sabrina," Cordelia cut in, gasping when she read
over his shoulder the initials that followed the doctor's name. Dr. Lockhart was an obstetrician.
Buffy had to be pregnant.
* * *
Joyce poured three cups of hot chocolate and waited for Buffy and Spike, just back from
patrolling, to join her in the kitchen. "Hi, honey," she said when her daughter finally appeared.
Spike followed close on her heels, questioning Joyce with a look.
At her nod, he said, "Slayer, your mum may have come up with the perfect cure for those
backaches you've been getting," and took Buffy by the hand. He walked into the den and saw the
rocking chair he and Joyce had commissioned from Xander. He sat down and pulled her gently
onto his lap, making a cradle of his body. Between the pliancy of his body and the easy rocking,
Buffy lay soothed, her pain vanishing. Joyce surreptitiously got the camera and captured the two
lovers, their dark heads close together. The picture finished the roll, the ninth since she'd heard of
the grandchild on the way.
* * *
At Cordy's gasp, Angel, Gunn, and Wesley crowded around to peer at the computer
screen. "How?" Angel asked, discretion in front of Scorpion no longer a priority.
"You think it's supernatural?" Gunn asked. "Shit, man, girl's got a man. What's so
mysterious about it?"
"No," Angel responded, "I don't think he's been around for a while. I don't remember
seeing him, or smelling him on her."
"Well, it does raise interesting questions about Slayer lineage," Wes broke in pensively; "I
don't believe a Slayer has ever lived to bear a child."
"Well, I don't think it's a mojo baby," Cordelia declared. "No portents, no visions, no
headaches."
"We have to know," Angel cut in. "I think we should call her."
Gunn clearly thought he should mind his own business, but Cordy and Wes looked
curious. Scorpion watched them all with his mouth hanging open. "You guys know her?" he
squeaked. "Shit, I'm toast!"
"Don't worry. We'll protect you," Gunn assured the trembling hacker. Then turning to
his colleagues, he said firmly, "This isn't part of our job, and I don't think she'd appreciate it if we
butt in. Don't make that call."
Wesley looked rather shamefaced and Cordelia nodded. "You're right," she responded.
Angel turned to Scorpion with a dangerous glint in his eye; the boy gulped and nodded,
scrolling through Buffy's records until he found the entry under "Father's Name." Angel took
one look, let out a roar, and jumped into his car. Cordy, Wes, and Gunn read the screen, but
"Marlowe, W." meant nothing to any of them.
* * *
Spike carried Buffy upstairs to his room, helping as she sleepily took off her clothes. Last
to go were her socks, and as he knelt down to peel them off, he said, almost to himself, *"Vestem
induitur, formosa; extuitur, tota forma est."*
She smiled even as her eyes closed, then realized she had no idea what he'd just said.
"That wasn't some of Xander's Klingon love poetry, was it?"
"Nope. Latin," he said as he tucked her in.
"So, Mr. Fancypants, what does it mean? More stuff your dad taught you?"
"This isn't anything he would have taught me," he grinned. "It means, 'clothed, she is
beautiful; naked, she is beauty itself.'"
She snuggled luxuriously into the soft bed. "Why don't you join me, gorgeous?"
* * *
Angel was fuming. Only a few miles outside of Sunnydale and he got a flat. He couldn't
even walk the distance since dawn was about to break. He racked his brain trying to figure out
where he could take shelter. He called Lorne, remembering the host knew all the demon bars up
and down the coast - he'd be safe at one of them. He grimaced when Lorne's machine picked up;
if he was screening his calls, he'd only pick up if the person calling sang. Tunelessly, he muttered,
*"Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl."* He hummed the next bit because he didn't know
the words, then continued, *"At the Copa, Copacabana -"*
That's when the demon finally picked up. "Angel! Baby! Got to tell you, that's the finest
example of *sprechstimme* I've heard in a long time. What's up?"
"I'm going to be burnt to a crisp unless you can tell me you know a safe haven a few miles
outside of Sunnydale."
"Yeah, great place called The Concrete Blonde. You probably passed it a few minutes
ago. Purple neon sign. It's a bar *and* a bed-and-breakfast. They understand not everybody
wants to be a beach bum."
"Great. I better go."
"You're welcome, big guy."
Angel walked into the building just ahead of the sun. The cyclops at the front desk eyed
him as he signed in. "Bar's closed, but I can show you to your room right now," she cooed.
"Yeah. Could I get some room service?"
Her eyelashes fluttered as she asked coyly, "What did you have in mind?"
"Blood."
"Oh." The inviting smile left her face. "We're out right now but we'll get some by noon.
Do you have a preference? One of our other guests requested B-."
"Animal." He took the key from her hand, careful to avoid her fatally sharp nails, and
followed her up the stairs.
He lay restlessly on the bed for hours. His senses had been dulled by rage, so when there
was a knock on the door, all he smelled was blood. He opened the door incautiously and saw
Darla holding a large mug in her hand. "Room service," she said with a smile.
* * *
Spike checked the clock again, unable to concentrate on the collection of Browning-
Barrett courtship letters he was supposed to be editing. Tonight was the Niblet's surprise party.
She knew about the Sweet Sixteen bash planned for tomorrow night at the roller-rink (he
remembered exchanging a wry look with Joyce when Dawn exclaimed, "Just like we did when I
was young!") but tonight was a strictly Scooby enterprise. He fidgeted again; Dawn and Joyce
had a knack for picking perfect gifts, a skill in which he and Buffy were sorely lacking. He had no
idea if the dress Buffy had picked out or the Swedish Chef doll he'd selected would cut it in the
eyes of a newly-minted sixteen-year-old. He straightened the purple tie she'd given him - "it
totally makes your eyes look indigo" - and concentrated on his work.
* * *
//Is he looking at me? I think he's totally looking at me. Or maybe he's just looking out
the window.// Dawn turned a little, noting with delight that Kevin's soft brown eyes hadn't
shifted. //He's got the most gorgeous eyes.// She was barely listening to whatever it was Mr.
Nicks was saying about Gregorian chants and polyphony, but she heard enough to be irritated by
the distraction. //Music is to dance to, not something you have to think about.// The class finally
came to an end, as the strident bell signaled.
"Hey, Dawn," Kevin said.
"Hey," she responded, trying to sound casual.
"Tomorrow sounds cool," he said.
"Yeah, it'll be totally retro."
"What're you doing?" he asked.
"Umm, we're rolling-skating, remember?" her voice betrayed her confusion.
"No, I meant what are you doing *now*?" he asked, as if she should be able to form a
rational sentence when he was doing that goo-inducing thing with those chocolate eyes.
"I'm, um, well, I got, um, permission to stay late in the art room. I'm really close to
finishing that painting of my mom, and I want it done before summer vacation."
"Mind if I tag along?" She shook her head and followed him out of the room. She
grinned when she finally noticed that his shirt was purple. //It's a sign.//
They set up their easels close together and worked for some time in silence. When she
finally put her brush down, he came over to look at her canvas. Joyce was sitting on the couch,
leaning forward as if to continue a conversation with the viewer. In front of her, on the coffee
table, were a blue shirt of Buffy's and a pink dress of Dawn's that had long ago been deemed
dustrags; she was evidently using them to make patches for a quilt, half of which lay across her
lap. Behind her was a vase of daisies - Joyce's favorite - and a pair of small bronze statues -
Aurora on tiptoe, arms outstretched, and Diana with her bow at the ready. Dawn waited for
Kevin to say something, but he was silent for a few moments. She looked anxiously at him, and
he turned to face her, smiling. "I like her eyes," he said.
"I like yours," she blurted out. Panicking, she looked at his canvas, but she couldn't
pretend she had been offering artistic critique; he was painting a landscape, not a portrait, a snow-
covered scene with delicate, chilly birch trees and icicles made luminous by the sun. //I wonder
where that is// she thought just before he kissed her.
* * *
When she figured Angel had spent enough time gaping at her, unaware even that she'd
spilled most of the blood in setting down the mug, Darla launched herself at him, fastening her
arms around his neck and kissing him ferociously. He could taste the B- on her tongue, and the
feel of her, soft and yielding in his arms, intensified his pleasure. Darla had always been better at
this than anyone he knew. It wasn't so much her looks - the golden hair wasn't quite enough to
make the overlong nose and too-wide mouth fade into insignificance - but her supreme
confidence, the knowledge with which she moved her body against his.
She had her hands on him now, touching, teasing, goading him until he lost the will to be
anything but what she chose to fashion him into. He ripped open her silk bathrobe and clutched at
her flesh with greedy, grasping fingers. Her back was against the wall and she smiled as he
repeatedly rammed into her. The moment he was done, she shoved him away and kept her eyes
on him. "Welcome back, lover."
For every step forward she took, he took one backward. She didn't bother to close her
robe as she moved toward him. She scratched a shallow cut along her belly, and he was unable to
keep his eyes off the bright blood that flowed from her lush body. "Hungry?" she purred in that
distinctive, almost metallic voice. "Me too. Let's go out and get ourselves some fresh food."
"We can't!" he exclaimed. "This is a demon-bar. We can't feed on our own kind." He
knew there was another reason he should be protesting her plan, but he couldn't think when she
was on display and within arm's reach.
"We don't have to stay here. Outside of this place there are thousands of humans
practically lined up for us."
"No - sunlight. We can't go out," he argued feebly.
"Oh, if that's your only objection, I don't mind waiting until it's dark and we're back in
Sunnydale. I always preferred a home-grown meal to all this unhealthy take-out."
* * *
Buffy silently blessed Spike for coming up with an idea that would keep Dawn safely at
school while preparations for the surprise party were being made. Presents and snack foods were
piled high on the pool table; all that would have to be smuggled into the house were the Scoobies.
She heard his step in the hall and went to greet him. He swung her up with one arm, kissed her
soundly, and whispered, "Jujube home yet?"
"No, she's still at school working on Mom's portrait."
"Still?" he frowned. "It's six o'clock."
"Yeah, but remember Mom said dinner was going to be at seven 'cause she's working
late? And anyway, it's still light out. I love summer."
"Me too - now," he said with a protective hand on her belly. He picked up the bags he'd
dropped at her greeting and followed her up the stairs.
They were sprawled on the floor of his room, trying to wrap Dawn's presents. The dress
was packed in a standard rectangular box, but twenty minutes later, the first roll of wrapping
paper gone, it still wasn't properly wrapped. Bits of tape were caught in her hair, and he had one
dangling from his clean-shaven chin. "Sod it! Why didn't we just let the salesgirl do it yesterday?
She was practically begging to."
"Because you said if you had to stay in the mall one more second your head would
explode," she reminded him pertly as she removed his facial adornment. "Wait! One year Mom
and I had a fight and she made me cover my own textbooks. I think I remember how I did that."
Worrying her lower lip between her teeth, she made flaps and tucked and taped. When she was
done, it wasn't pretty but the box was completely covered.
She looked up in triumph and caught him looking at her with his whole heart in his eyes.
"Saw something at work today that reminded me of you," he said, his gaze locked on hers. Her
heartbeat accelerated slightly.
"Have I ever told you how sexy it is that you're a working man?"
He blinked in surprise. "Really? I was just trying to do the right thing. Got a family to
support, and I wanted to be able to patrol with you, so no more nightclub."
She smiled and leaned a little closer. "Really," she affirmed. "It's incredibly appealing."
"Yeah?" he asked, arching one eyebrow in his Big Bad way, and moving in for a kiss.
"Oh, how rude of me! I interrupted. You were saying?" she asked mischievously when
his face was only inches from hers.
Without moving or breaking eye contact, he began to recite the poem he'd found. *"Lying
asleep between the strokes of night / I saw my love lean over my sad bed, / Pale as the duskiest
lily's leaf or head, / Smooth-skinned and dark, with bare throat made to bite, / Too wan for
blushing and too warm for white, / But perfect-coloured without white or red. / And her lips
opened amorously, and said - / I wist not what, saving one word - Delight. / And all her face was
honey to my mouth, / And all her body pasture to mine eyes; / The long lithe arms and hotter
hands than fire, / The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south, / The bright light feet, the
splendid supple thighs / And glittering eyelids of my soul's desire."*
She shivered happily as his resonant voice, both dark and tender, played over her body.
"Nice," she breathed, and finally gave him that kiss. His hands came up to cradle her head. He
pulled away in surprise when his fingers got caught on a piece of tape stuck in her dark hair.
"Guess we should finish wrapping presents," she said, giggling. He grinned and got out the plush
doll.
It was infinitely worse than the box. Neither one of them could conceive of a plan of
attack, and another half a roll was wasted in their clumsy attempts to cover the doll. "This is so
frustrating!" she cried.
Finally Spike had had enough. Grabbing the doll, he wound it in the rest of the wrapping
paper, creating a tube with the Chef trapped inside. Then he twisted each end of the column and
tied it shut with ribbons. It looked like an enormous hard candy when he was done. "Good
enough. Niblet knows it's the thought that counts." He stood and reached down to help her off
the floor.
As she rose, she gasped slightly.
"What is it, love?"
"Baby's kicking!" she laughed.
* * *
Joyce walked into the house a few minutes later to see them sitting on the couch with
expectant faces, their eyes trained on Buffy's belly. "First kick?" she guessed. They nodded in
unison. "Trust me, the thrill will wear off," she smiled. "Spike, can you come help me get dinner
ready? Buffy, can you ask Dawn to come downstairs? The two of you can start working on the
salad."
"Dawn hasn't come home yet. She said she was staying late after school," Buffy
answered, trying not to be specific and reveal what exactly her sister was working on.
"It's almost dark out - she should be home."
"I'll go fetch her," Spike said, but then he heard movements on the back porch. He flung
open the kitchen door, and he, Buffy, and Joyce saw that Dawn was home. She barely seemed
aware of that fact, however, since she was too involved in kissing Kevin to notice.
* * *
"So what with all the fucking, you never told me why you're back in Sunnydale," Darla
continued. She remembered just how to play him, that he liked soft curves and a hard head, a
woman he could physically dominate but never have to coddle. He was vaguely ashamed that it
was so easy for her to use him, but he kept his mouth shut; he didn't exactly need her help in
killing Spike, and she'd only be in the way when it came time to deal with Buffy. He still didn't
know what he would do or say when he saw her. She walked her fingers up his bare arm and
cooed, "Angel? Don't you want to tell Mommy?" A vision of his mother's head, lying at his feet
seconds after he'd torn it from her body, flashed into his mind. And then he saw Darla in her
noblewoman's dress once again, the thin, distinct light picking out her form as she stood in the
alley, knowing he would come to her. He surrendered; it was his destiny to follow her lead. She
would know just what to do when they saw the slayer.
* * *
"You should know better than to spoil your dinner like that, Jellybean," Spike finally said
when it became clear that the participants in the tonsil hockey match were less interested in
oxygen than each other. Dawn and Kevin jumped apart at his voice; she blushed and was
mortified to see her mother and sister watching, but Kevin's dark brown cheek showed no change
in color. Spike could sense the blood rushing to the boy's face, however, and it reassured him
that the Niblet had not been making out with the Lothario of the high school crowd.
"Sorry about that," Kevin said, his charm beginning to show even through his
nervousness. "I hope I haven't made Dawn late. We were working on some stuff after school
and we sort of lost track of time."
"Come on in," Joyce said, trying to process the fact that her baby had apparently grown
up overnight. "Would you like to stay for dinner? We're just having salad and mashed potatoes
and veggie burgers, but you're welcome to stay."
"Um, thanks," he half-nodded.
"Phone's over here if you need to call home," Buffy volunteered. "By the way, I'm
Buffy."
He smiled shyly at her across the room, then realized he hadn't told them his name. "I'm,
uh, Kevin," he said, and stuck his hand out to Spike.
"Spike," he answered, and shook the boy's hand. Upon hearing that name, Kevin looked
questioningly at Dawn; there'd been a wild rumor going around school months ago that Dawn
was dating a biker-gang leader named Spike. He'd dismissed it as nonsense, but clearly there was
some truth to it, or else there wouldn't be a Spike in her kitchen.
He turned back to Spike and saw him slipping an arm around Buffy, who relaxed into him.
Kevin smiled again; this Spike guy had clearly picked his Summers girl, leaving the other one free
and clear. "Dinner sounds great, Mrs. Summers. Let me just call home."
* * *
Cordelia slammed down the phone. Angel's cell was still going straight to voicemail, and
she was tired of leaving messages imploring him to call the office. In a way, it was almost worse
to know that his unavailability was not due to danger - she'd had no visions of him in peril. But
she couldn't shake the feeling that trouble was brewing. She kept having brief flashes of
prophetic vision, images so short they made her more normal visions seem positively epic, of a
man with dark, curly hair in mortal danger. Three quick flashes later she'd seen enough to
recognize the setting as Sunnydale but not the man himself. "Guess where bad stuff is happening
*again*?" she asked Gunn and Wes, who'd returned from escorting Scorpion home hours ago.
They armed themselves and got in Gunn's truck, ready to face whatever Sunnydale had to offer.
* * *
Kevin left right after dinner, but he'd been a big hit, especially after a question of Spike's
revealed that he was a cousin of Bryan, the orderly who had taken such good care of Joyce on
each of her hospital visits. "Knew there was something familiar about you," Spike nodded.
Dawn walked him to the door, and he asked her to the spring formal, three weeks away.
"Yes," she smiled down at him from the top step. "See you tomorrow." He trotted off to the
curb, where his father had just pulled up.
"Well?" she asked when she returned to the kitchen.
"You have good taste, sister," Buffy said.
"He seems very nice," Joyce added.
Dawn turned to Spike, clearing away the dinner dishes. "Seems a good bloke, Sugarcube.
And he seems to appreciate his luck."
She grinned and threw her arms around her mother. "This is the best day ever!"
* * *
"First you said no. Now you're saying yes. Pick one!"
Gunn rolled his eyes at Cordelia's tone. "All I'm saying is, if Angel took off because he
knows the father of Buffy's baby, then she's directly involved. So we should call her, tell her
we're coming, give her a heads-up about her ex."
"Why? It's not like he went all Angelus again," she replied.
"No, but he always seems more capable of it when she's concerned," Wesley put in. He
dialed Buffy's number on his cell phone. When Spike answered, he spluttered a bit in surprise.
"Is this - ah - Spike?"
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"Wesley. Buffy's former Watcher."
"What can I do for you, mate?"
"What are you doing there?"
"I live here. Why are you calling?"
Wes was silent, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Spike was living in the
slayer's house. Suddenly, something he'd read long ago popped into his brain. "Spike. Is your
surname Marlowe?" he asked, as Cordy and Gunn turned to stare at him, comprehension
blossoming on their faces; Gunn stepped on the accelerator.
"Yeah - what of it?"
"Angel knows about the baby. He's coming to get you. We'll be there as soon as we
can."
"Bollocks!" was all he heard before the line went dead.
Spike took the stairs two at a time and went into the bathroom to talk to Buffy, soaking in
a hot bath. "Love, Hairboy found out about the baby somehow. He's on his way over."
Her eyes flew open in alarm. "Dawn - Mom - we have to get them out of here."
He pulled her out of the tub and wrapped her in her favorite towel, a plush lavender bath
sheet. "Where could we send them where they'd be safe? Besides, it's just me he's after. He has
no reason to go after them."
"Do you really think he'll be guided by reason?" she asked.
"Trust me, he won't touch them. He won't get the chance."
"Okay. Guess I should call Will and Xan and tell them the party's off."
"Why turn away our allies? They can help us fight the bastard. And besides, they're
probably already on their way."
* * *
"I don't get it. Where is he?" Buffy asked impatiently, training her gaze on Cordelia and
Wesley. They and Gunn were sitting with most of the Scoobies in the basement while Joyce kept
Dawn occupied upstairs.
"I don't know. He had at least a twelve-hour head start on us," Cordy answered.
"You don't think he's out recruiting, do you?" Gunn asked.
"Maybe. I'd better use the general invite-revoking spell," Willow said; she and Tara got
to work at once. Gunn went to his truck to retrieve the weapons.
When they had all regrouped, there was nothing to do but wait. In the meantime, the
party would go on as planned. Spike went to the foot of the stairs and called up. "Joyce?
Niblet? Up for a round of pool?" He ran back to the basement and gave the signal to hide.
When Dawn scampered down the basement steps, Joyce hot on her heels, they all popped out at
once, shouting "Surprise!"
Dawn shrieked happily. "Really? Another party?" She caught sight of Cordelia. "You
came down from L.A. for this?"
"Sort of," Cordy tried to play it casual, cutting questions off by pulling her into a hug.
CDs, a Magic Eight ball, the Swedish Chef doll, and plenty of wrapping paper lay on the
floor as Dawn got to work unwrapping Buffy's present. Her jaw dropped as she held up the dress
her sister had picked, a floor-length sleeveless navy blue satin with a V-neck. "I'm going to try it
on! Come upstairs with me!" she said, holding her hand out for Buffy. Joyce stood as well,
pocketing her gift. Dawn had just slipped on the dress and put on the antique silver earrings and
pendant that were her mother's present when they heard the front door being opened. The crowd
in the basement, shooting pool, chatting, and chowing down on Cheetos, was oblivious, except
for Spike, profoundly grateful that his ability to walk in the sun hadn't cost him his heightened
senses. When he signaled emphatically for silence, Gunn was immediately at his side. The two of
them, followed closely by the rest, ran up the basement stairs and came out to the front hall to see
Angel pressing against the invisible barrier that guarded the doorway.
Angel scanned the group quickly for Spike, not realizing at first that the man with the
brown curls and lightly tanned skin was his bastard childe. His mouth fell open in shock, then
betrayal. //Look at him. The dark hair, the dark skin. He's turned human! He's stolen my girl
*and* my destiny!// He tried to launch himself at Spike, but was kept in check by the deinvite.
"I'll kill you," he swore, looking at Buffy's lover.
"Come on, man, you don't want to do this," Gunn said, keeping his finger on the trigger
of the stake-gun Xander had handed him. "This isn't your fight - you've got no cause to be
starting trouble with him just 'cause he's with your ex."
"Stay out of it, Gunn. I don't need you telling me what to do," Angel snapped.
"Evidently not - when you've got Darla doing just that," said Wes, catching a glimpse of
her behind Angel.
The large vampire ignored him, his sights still fixed on Spike. "Come on out here and
fight me like the man you think you are," he challenged. Spike shrugged an acceptance, as if it
were all a lark, but he was on high alert. Darla and Angel backed up into the front yard, a wider
fighting arena than the porch, and Spike went out to meet them, flanked by Gunn and Wes.
Cordelia ran upstairs to give the Summers women - fiercely bickering about who was and was not
allowed downstairs where the action was - an update. Willow and Tara joined hands to begin
their semisuccessful ball of sunshine spell.
It wasn't hard for Spike to hold off both Angel and Darla. Not only were they
dangerously overconfident, since they clearly believed he'd become human, but they came at him
as two separate opponents instead of working together as a team. Out of the corner of his eye, he
sensed furtive movement. The bright light Willow and Tara produced flashed moments later, in
time for everyone to see Darla crumble into dust, Xander's stake stuck in her back. Angel stood
still in disbelief. "Funny how no one ever bothers to notice where I am, isn't it?" Xander asked,
locking eyes with Angel. Then he turned, grinning, to Spike. "She must've thought that nearby
heartbeat she kept hearing was yours."
"True. And that reminds me," Spike said, turning to his foe and vamping out, "I'm not
human, pillock. But I *am* a man. Come near here again and you'll see." Some part of his brain
couldn't believe he was actually going to let Angel go, this fiend who'd betrayed Buffy, who'd
broken, raped, and murdered Dru, but another part of him knew that whatever personal
vengeance he attained would never be enough to make amends.
Buffy, having finally won the argument, was just coming down the stairs with Cordelia
when Spike disdainfully turned his back on Angel, who was still standing motionless, staring at
the place where Darla had been killed. "Angel," Wes started, "if we leave now, we can be in L.A.
before dawn. We can call on the Powers tomorrow night and -"
Angel snarled viciously and ran after Spike, who was just walking up the front porch steps
and smiling at Buffy, waiting in the foyer.
She saw him coming towards her, and Angel charging after him with a stake held high in
his hand. Spike was at the open door when Buffy suddenly remembered that Willow and Tara
had set their spell for all vampires. There was no time even to shout a warning. "Spike! Come
in!" she cried, and her lover stepped through the barrier just before Angel slammed into it.
The force of impact was so great that the stake in his hand shattered into hundreds of
pieces. It felt like being pierced by the blessed sword all over again. He looked down to see the
largest fragment embedded in his chest. It felt like his insides were trying to swirl into dust; the
wood was a hair's breadth from his heart. He looked around for help. Cordelia's face was a
mask of hostility and Gunn's eyes were filled with disgust. It was Wes who finally approached
him. "I don't know how to extract that without endangering you," was all he said, but it was
clear from his tone that he was appalled that Angel had wanted to murder a man in front of the
woman carrying his child.
"I do," Tara said clearly. Without hesitating, she walked over to him and concentrated;
with her magic, the bulk of the stake dislodged and fell to the ground in front of him. Without a
word, she turned and entered the house.
"Hey!" Angel called. "What about - there's other splinters still in me."
Tara's voice was suddenly so cold it seemed to have hit absolute zero. "Wood's
biodegradable. You'll just have to live with it." Willow, Xander, Gunn, and Wes filed into the
house after her and closed the door.
Within a minute there was a knock on the door. "If that's him, I'm staking him right
now," Xander said, and flung open the door.
Giles and Anya, each holding a wrapped box, stood on the porch. "Sorry we're late,"
Giles began.
"Inventory!" Anya sang happily.
"Where's the birthday girl? We didn't miss all the excitement, did we?" he asked.
* * *
Rumors of Buffy's prowess had slowed the stream of vampires entering Sunnydale to a
mere trickle, and patrols became long walks hand-in-hand with Spike, occasionally punctuated by
a swift and unchallenging dusting. To their own surprise, neither of the prospective parents felt
bored or restless; they had enough to do, preparing for their child. They were redoing Buffy's old
bedroom, making it into a nursery; Buffy had hoped Spike's choice of paint color would give her
a clue about the baby's sex, but he'd picked a buttery yellow, rich and bright. He moved
Xander's rocking chair up there, placing it near the window. While he stripped off the wallpaper
and primed the walls for paint, he whistled along with Bach's *Two-Part Inventions*, switching
frequently and randomly between the two contrapuntal themes. The women, sitting in Spike and
Buffy's room to avoid the paint fumes, heard his schizophrenic snatches of melody and smiled.
They were examining the cradle Joyce had brought down from the attic.
It was made of cherry wood, and looked well-worn. "This is what you girls used to sleep
in," Joyce explained, her eyes growing misty. "I used to rock it with my foot while I was drawing
or sewing or reading."
"I can't believe we used to fit in that," Dawn remarked. "Ooh! I have to get ready! He'll
be here in a few hours!" She scampered into the shower and then pulled on the dark blue dress
and silver jewelry. Hair curled and lipstick on, she was just stepping into her heels when Kevin
rang the doorbell, tux on and a white lily corsage in his hand.
* * *
"He doesn't breathe, Giles," she said, sounding amused. "How do you expect him to be
my Lamaze coach?" Giles had to concede she had a good point. "So I want you to help me with
some breathing-concentrating-meditating techniques and stuff," Buffy continued. "You can even
throw in some Slayer stuff for good measure," she added, then grinned in a way that reminded
him how much he loved this girl. He nodded and pointed to the thickest training mat.
Obediently, she sat down and inhaled deeply.
* * *
"Oww!" yelped Wesley, caught by surprise as Cordy's pool cue jabbed him in the ass. He
turned to see her knees giving out, and he raced to catch her. Holding her with one arm, he
signaled to Gunn, getting a round of drinks at the bar, to bring some water.
Her eyes fluttered open to see both men's faces hovering anxiously over her. "Another
vision of Angel," she answered their unspoken question.
"He doing anything in this one?" Gunn asked; he was getting irritated with visions that
incapacitated Cordelia but offered no information on their former colleague's whereabouts.
"No," she answered, trying gamely to steady her breathing. She sipped water from the
glass Wes held up to her lips. "He was just sitting there."
"Any sign where he was?" Wes asked gently. She shook her head. "Anything different at
all?" he continued to prod.
"No . . . wait! This time he looked constipated."
Gunn laughed and pulled her to her feet. "It's still your shot," he said, handing her the
cue.
* * *
The nursery was ready; Spike had finished painting it, Willow and Tara had placed magical
protection over it, and Dawn had hung the framed portrait of Joyce on the wall. There were
flowers in a jar on the windowsill. Buffy surveyed the room, golden from end-of-summer
sunlight, with an incredulous smile. There were only six weeks left until the due date.
* * *
The seven of them were getting finger-cramps from gripping each other's hands so tightly.
Buffy had been in labor for three hours. She'd called Spike as soon as she'd felt her contractions
begin, and he'd stepped numbly into the crisp October air and driven home. Only after he'd
checked her in did he remember to pull out his cell phone to let Joyce and the others know. He
stayed in the waiting room just long enough to survey the assembled group before dashing off to
find Buffy.
She was sitting up in bed, her face tight with fear. She met Spike's eyes, extra blue over
the surgical mask he wore, and relaxed, remembering everything Giles had taught her. Her hair
was sopping with sweat, but her face was serene as she held Spike's hand and breathed and
pushed. The nurses were clucking encouragingly, Dr. Lockhart was giving orders, and Spike
watched his beloved girl perform a miracle. High-pitched cries, the mewling of an infant,
suddenly rent the air, and Buffy sank back against the pillows. Spike took his daughter from Dr.
Lockhart, marveling over her. He placed her in Buffy's arms. "Hello, Stella Marlowe Summers,"
he said, unable to tear his eyes away from the pair, glowing with vitality and incandescently
lovely. "Welcome to the world, acushla."