17

It was time to go home. The last two days had passed by easily enough. After they got the children back to the hotel, it was rest and eating that followed. The children were still traumatized—as they should be, but the atmosphere they were brought to did them good. It had benefited Jade as well. Now, as she was getting ready to pack it up and return to Haven, her stomach wounds were almost healed. It would be still be a few days yet, maybe even a week, but it no longer pained her as much. Willow had helped with that, which Jade had contributed to gratitude or maybe as compunction, with the latter being due to Kennedy's treatment of Jade when she had told them about Sophie. Or perhaps that she had lost Neva. Jade had said nothing about it, but the Slayers who were there had treated her kindly enough, and even Buffy had refrained from making any more remarks. The blonde had simply let her be, which did well for Jade's rest. She wasn't one of the Slayers, who had duties and obligations and things to do. She had been a guest, as the children were.

But they were slowly being returned to their homes, and Jade was taking her Orphanage's children today. It was found that some of the children taken had families, those that missed them, not all were Orphans like Sophie, Rachel, Lisa and Gunner. Those would return with her. Well, most of them. As soon as the red-headed witch had seen Sophie, she had quite visibly melted, and Sophie, the endearing child that she was, had returned the affection in spades. Willow had decided to keep Sophie with her for the time being, whether it was just because Sophie was in need of a loving family, or because she was Tara's family—though slightly stretched—Jade was glad the young girl had found a home. The little Maclay girl didn't deserve to be abandoned because her family was superstitious about demons, and the way her own mother had died, possessed by one.

It wasn't all rainbows, however. Willow's partner, Kennedy, hadn't been so open-armed about the whole thing. Jade had been given an hotel room beside the two women, and had heard their debate—argument—about it more than once. It had never seemed to go anywhere, and although Willow seemed like the more pliable one, in this case she was just as stubborn as Kennedy, unwilling to budge on the subject of her late girlfriend's cousin's child. It was a mouthful, really, and even without putting her ear to the plaster that separated them, Jade had heard the words quite clearly.

"But you don't know for sure that Sophie's even related to her." Kennedy had brought up, more than once, to which Willow had responded, just as vehemently.

"I know, alright? I just know. There's Maclay blood in her, I've done the spell."

"Okay, then so what? You just want to take a four year old along on all our trips?"

"Well I can't just leave her there! She's family."

"No, she's Tara's family."

"That makes her mine."

It was somewhere in this fight that Kennedy would make her exit, fuming and muttering all the way down her hall, if she didn't make a comment about contending with Tara's ghost even after all this time. But she had always come back, at some time, and the two had reconciled, if not quietly, and finally, Kennedy had acceded. Jade doubted it would end there, that the buried feelings wouldn't come back, but she trusted Willow. Willow was enamored of the little girl, and Sophie had been just as captivated. Whether or not Slayer bases were the most appropriate place for a four year old to live, Jade knew the witch would keep the girl safe with all her might. And that was a far better fate than going back to the Orphanage. Ah, the Orphanage. That was going to be a mess putting that back in order. Jade had finally managed to call Lythia'l when she had a moment, and after getting chewed out by the demon for leaving her with the kids for so long without even letting her know what was going on, Jade had eventually calmed Lyth down enough to get Eddie to watch over them instead of Sheriff Hazim that Lyth had called in a fit of desperation and impatience. Not that Jade had much against the Sheriff, he and his deputy managed to balance their human-demon composition as about as well as the rest of the town, she still was hesitant about leaving him with children for long. He was a Prio Motu demon, strong and noble, but his focus was more on weeding out the immoral and wrong rather than protecting the weak. It was a part of Haven, just as much as the magic was, that kept the rather disreputable folks of Haven in charge. There were fights and disturbances, as was to be expected, in a territory with so many different beings, but Sheriff Hazim always managed a balance that kept the town from all-out war. But he wasn't the friendly type, and his intimidating stature and appearance served to scare the children, even though some of them were half-demon theirselves, even full. No, none of the children in Haven's Orphanage were simply normal, but even after all this time, Jade didn't find normal as desirable as perhaps she should. She wouldn't have been able to help save the children, the Slayers, if she had been. And Spike.

She hadn't seen much of the blonde vampire over the last two days. The truth be told, she was rarely alone, with Lisa and Rachel acting as her shadows until her patience wore out. She was more tolerant than she normally was, considering what they went through, but she didn't want to bond any more than she had. When she returned to Haven, she was dropping them at the Orphanage, and that was it. She didn't need to get close to anyone else, and God knew she didn't want them around her permanently. She was too cynic to be around children, she didn't know how to laugh and play with them. Even Spike was a sight better with the children, who all clung around him whenever he was around. And he even looked intimidating as hell, with his full black ensemble, but his natural charm seemed to emanate a lot stronger than hers. And Buffy had noticed. Jade had seen the blonde with him more and more. Jade hated to be jealous, and as curious as she was, but to her selfish relief, it didn't seem any more intimate than talks between old friends.

He still hadn't answered about returning to Haven, and Jade found herself hoping that he would. It seemed strange to be drawn to a person after little time together, especially since she didn't seek close relationships, not anymore, but that charm that captivated the children, it had a hold on her too. He was just… heroic. He loved the fight, she could see that in his expression, hear it in his triumphant calls. He had taken blows time and time again, for the sake of the fight, and to protect. She had found herself intrigued by him when she had first laid eyes on him, that pure, animalistic glee and fierce elation, a passionate fire, while she was just ashes. Still, she thought of him more than she'd like to admit, which made her guilty. And also a fool, for she saw the way he looked at Buffy. Though by their conversation they seemed exes, it was obvious his feelings for her had yet to vacate, and as for Buffy, she seemed to care just enough to keep him after her. It would make her jealous if she thought about it enough, and she had no reason to. She'd be gladdened if he came back to Haven, for her friends were few, but it'd be fine if he didn't. There was a reason she depended on others as little as possible, if she took care to remember it.

"Do we have to go?" Rachel whined, while Lisa stood quietly, silent and obedient. Jade glanced at the van that waited for them. A couple of the slayers were heading near Haven, and they were dropping Jade and the children off there first. Jade missed her motorcycle more than anything, but she wouldn't have been able to take the three children on it, and the opportunity to get a ride was a fortunate one, though it was likely she'd have to remind the drivers where they were heading at least once. Haven had a habit of slipping from the minds of people who didn't live there, or didn't think on it enough. Just one of the mystical quirks of the town, which Jade had welcomed wholeheartedly upon learning it.

Jade narrowed her eyes as she glanced up at the sun. The parking lot was wide open and defenseless to the rays of the bright sun, except for the few trees that littered there. Jade glanced around, seeing Willow, Kennedy and Sophie approaching. Buffy stood a hundred feet away, talking with one of the Slayers that would be accompanying them, and Jade didn't even see Spike. She tried not to be disappointed, but it invaded her anyway. She wasn't surprised that he wasn't coming along, but she would have at least liked to say goodbye. However, there was a more important goodbye happening. Sophie, as happy as she was to have found her new home with Willow, had glistening blue eyes as she stepped over to Rachel, Lisa and Gunner. At the orphanage, the children had made their own family, and the children embraced each other tearfully.

"We're grateful, you know." Willow spoke, looking fondly at the little Sophie before turning her hazel green eyes on Jade. Kennedy was more silent, but Jade chose to focus on the more amicable red-head anyway. She felt another stab of regret that she was indeed leaving. She didn't know about the rest of them, but she felt an affinity towards the witch. Willow was down-to-earth and kind, instead of being superior about her powers. And they were immense. Jade was impressed, and a little envious of the witch's capability. Sometimes Jade had felt, in her weakest moments that being a Slayer was a curse. It could still be one, but it wasn't hers to bear alone. "For all that you've done. You were a big help."

"I'm glad we could help each other." Jade said sincerely, with a light smile. "And I'm glad you could give Sophie a home. She's a good kid. She deserves it."

"Yeah, haven't quite worked out the details of all that yet. Whoops. But we'll make it work. The coven takes in witches, you know. Although not usually that young. Don't worry! I'm not going to drop Sophie off on them. Babysitting at the most." Willow nodded her head fervently, and Jade couldn't help but grin a little wider at Willow's animated expression. The red-head smiled herself, and then making a face at Kennedy, not so subtly indicated her head in Jade's direction, prompting her.

The native American looked uncomfortable, then with a sigh and a roll of her eyes spoke. "And sorry about the whole pinning you to the wall thing. You were just trying to help. And thanks for all you did in the fight. You saved our butts out there." Her words grew more sincere as she went along, giving her a grudging smile and offering her hand as she finished.

Jade nodded, accepting the handshake. "We worked well together."

"Yeah, it was alright." A voice pierced the sound, matter-of-fact and energetic, Buffy joining the conversation as her Slayers stepped into the van, starting it. "You were a lot of help. If you don't have to go back to—whatever it's called—"

"Haven." Willow helpfully supplied, to which Buffy shrugged.

"You could do some good here. Probably."

"I'm not the team type. I appreciate the offer." Jade replied, seeing a bit of relief flash in Buffy's eyes. Jade had a feeling that Kennedy wasn't the only one Willow was urging to extend an olive branch, but forced or not, Jade did appreciate the gesture. Still, she had ruffled enough feathers in her time here. She was ready to go home, rather than treading in very shallow waters with the blonde.

"Well, I offered." Buffy spoke, more to Willow, who made a sympathetic face at Jade at Buffy flounced away, back to business.

"Take care of yourself." Willow said to Jade, more seriously. "Come on, Sophie. We have to let them go, now." With a sob, the four year old tore herself away, burying her face in Willow's leg. Willow touched the girl's head with tender affection, brushing the soft strands of hair.

"You too. And if you ever are in trouble… Let me know." Jade said, meaning it. In a world crisis, she couldn't just say no, as much as she wanted to ignore the Slayer life for as much as possible, apocalypses were a bit of a buzz kill. She wanted to avoid the outside world, not see it burn. So as much as she didn't want to go to Slayer-school, she could still help. She had proved it, at least. Perhaps there was no 'being rusty' excuse for being a Slayer, no matter how much of a hiatus she had taken.

"We will." Willow said, with Kennedy's nod. "Well, we're heading back to Brazil, but if you need something too, just let us know." She produced a phone, which Jade hesitated for only a moment before accepting it. It couldn't hurt. She pocketed it before stepping away to join the children in the back of the van. She glanced once around, waiting to see the Vampire in all black, even if it was silly, to expect that in the sunlight. She prepared to close the van doors when she heard a "Ow, ow, ow." There, streaking across the parking lot was a wooly blanket that appeared to cover a man. Jade couldn't help but smile when she saw who it was. With a bit of smoke, he made it to the shadow of the van.

"Spike!" Rachel and Gunner cheered, while Lisa watched with a quieter affection.

"Ello Kiddies. Thought I'd give you off a grand farewell." Spike said languidly, half leaning in to the van to avoid the direct sunlight. "Almost lit up like fireworks though. Well, the cinders they leave behind."

"Fireworks are great," Gunner trilled.

"Not Spike-fireworks." The blonde vampire corrected him. "Or Spike cinders." His gaze left the children then, turning to Jade, who he acknowledge with an awkward nod, looking as he might want to say something else.

"Staying then?" Jade said, keeping her voice warm. "Good luck."

"Thought I'd give the good guy hero bit another go. See how long it sticks."

"Probably for as long as you want it to."

Spike acknowledged that with a light grin. "Well I'm not married to the place. Might go seeking trouble some time. Find myself back in Haven." He said that part slower, attempting to sound casual, and Jade's disappointment that he wasn't coming with her faded to an accepting smile.

"Definitely. If you have trouble, you know where to find me."


A/N: And that ends the introductory arc, like a two-parter, or possibly more episodes. The next arcs are smaller, like a single episode, and they tie into each other a little, until the next big plot arc. I hope it's still enjoyable, and thank you if you'd made it this far!