The price is right (10), by dutchbuffy2305

Rating: R

Timeline: Season 7, AU after Showtime, some spoilers of eps after that

Summary: How to get everything back former goddess Artemis took in exchange for the girls?

Disclaimer: All Joss's

Feedback: Yes please, to dutchbuffy2305@yahoo.co.uk

Author's note: My apologies for some mixing up of Greek goddesses, for those who know about that stuff. When I had the idea for this fic, I didn't bother to check up the myths I was using, and it appears now I've mixed things up. Oh well. Pretend it's all made up, will you?

 "Hey, B."

"Faith."

"Jeez B., you working and doing dishes? Are none of these girls housetrained?"

Buffy smiled vaguely. "Being alone somewhere isn't of the bad…doing dishes drives them away nice and fast, every time."

"Need a hand with them?"

"Um, sure. There are towels over there."

"So, B., what's the story with you and the vamp?" Faith asked casually.

Buffy flicked a glance Faith's way, but the other girl had her eyes on her own hands, carefully drying the dish.

Buffy cleared her throat. She never liked opening up to people, but if anyone could get it, it was Faith, no stranger herself to dark impulses. "Long story. He fell in love with me. Got a soul. We got together."

"As simple as that?"

Buffy smiled to herself. "No. Of course not." She flicked another quick glance at Faith, who was now looking at her steadily. "I mean, vampires and vampire slayers – not natural love-buddies."

"Uh-huh," Faith said non-committal.

"Did you know I died again? Willow resurrected me and I was pretty depressed for a while. Spike – helped me, um, work off the depression."

Buffy looked at Faith again to see if she had understood. Yes. The dark eyes did not condemn. Buffy took a deep breath. "Yeah. I guess you might be the only one who gets it. The need for something dark, for violence – for someone who can take what you dish out."

She saw Faith's eyebrows rise, and she blushed in spite of herself. Damn. She was still ashamed of it.

"Must have been hard for you, B. Never were comfortable with the whole grunting and horny thing, huh?"

Buffy just shook her head, wordless.

Faith went on. "You got yourself the perfect fuck-buddy, though. A vamp can take everything a slayer's got to give. Cool. Gets worked up himself after a good hunting."

Buffy frowned a little. How would Faith know? Then she sighed. "More than a fuck-buddy, Faith. That's what I thought I could keep it to, that level. Just not me, though, gotta do the whole love thing, too." She felt the blush rise again. This must be the first time she'd said it to someone. She hadn't even been able to use the 'L'-word to Willow.

"Love?" Faith sighed a little. "Lucky girl. And what's with the soul deal? He got one for you and Artemis stole it?"

"Yeah, that's basically the story."

"So…you got together after the soul?"

Buffy chewed on her lower lip. "Um, no. We had, um, something going before that. And it got kinda destructive on both sides." Faith still looked completely understanding. Figured. "I dumped him. He freaked, stuff happened. He knew he couldn't control himself enough and went to get the soul."

"But now he's lost it. Are you afraid he's gonna freak again?"

Faith tossed the towel, grabbed a rag and started cleaning the sink and the counter. Buffy took in all the easy domesticity without comment.

"Well, strangely enough, no, I'm not. I'm more afraid of me, actually." Buffy took a deep breath. "'cause, ya know, it's kinda seductive, letting yourself go. I'm a little afraid he's not gonna say no and I'll go too far."

"There's lots of stuff you can do about that, B. Safety words and all."

"Hmm. Maybe. He might not use them."

"Well," Faith said in a matter of fact tone, and tossed the rag, "in that case you didn't go too far yet, right? He can take a lot more than your average human."

"Yeah."

They looked at each other for a long time, it seemed.

"Trust yourself, B. You know you're a good girl. There's no bad in what two people like to do to each other, don't let anyone convince you otherwise," Faith said softly.

"Yeah. Thanks, Faith."

"Five by five, B.!" She left the kitchen, leaving Buffy with a clean kitchen and a strangely relieved feeling.

*****

The living room was completely transformed. All the furniture had been shoved to the side, so that the middle of the room was bare. Willow and Giles had made a magic diagram in the middle of the floor again, and they hadn't closed it yet.

The potentials were arranged in a circle around the room, with Anya, Xander and Dawn placed at strategic intervals between them. Willow was sitting on the floor. There had been some discussion on the living circle of potentials, but Buffy had been adamant.

"Willow, you might as well admit to it and prepare for it, okay? You are gonna need extra power, and instead of just grabbing it from the nearest person like you did last time, we're gonna make a circle of everyone who's not fighting, with everybody linking hands, so you can tap into all that power. We can hope you won't exhaust or kill anyone that way."

"Hope?" One of the potentials squeaked.

"Yes, hope. There's always a risk in what we do, guys. Get over it. Giles will do the summoning again. Willow will bind her with magic, Faith, Spike and I will try to use force on her."

Willow closed the circle with a last handful of herbs.

"Everybody set and done? Okay. Giles, you can start," Willow said with a nod and grabbed the hands of the potentials next to her. They all followed suit. Spike's hands tightened on the axe he was holding. He really hoped Willow could perform, because Giles' previous attempt at binding Artemis had been a massive failure. He glanced at Buffy and Faith. No lack of confidence there, anyway. Of course, they hadn't been present when Artemis had swatted him away as casually as she would a fly, and with as little effort.

A crack of thunder sounded suddenly overhead.

"Was that you, Willow?" Xander asked jokingly.

"Um, sorry guys, just a little nervous," Willow said.

Xander paled and looked up at the ceiling. "Oh."

Giles dipped his fingers in the glass of Zinfandel he was holding and flicked the drops on the wooden floor. Without the electrical buzz of before, Artemis appeared. Her white Greek dress was spattered with blood. A wave of shock went through the potentials. Willow chanted a few short phrases, and a net of glowing golden energy descended on Artemis. She looked at it in disdain, but was very careful not to let it touch her.

"I was about to visit, anyway," she said. "Why did you disturb my ritual? I needed the blood to make the earth flower again! Pretty red lilies for spring…The king must be killed before he can return again."

"Well – we don't care about your ritual – we want our friend back, we want Spike's soul back, and my knowledge. Oh, and Xander's flesh," Giles said.

She looked around at them in surprise. "These things are gone, used up. What's been surrendered to the earth cannot be returned. We made a fair deal, did we not?"

"No, we didn't," Giles said strongly. "We had no idea what we were agreeing to. You tricked us."

"That is the risk of dealing with the Gods, that you may not comprehend our true meaning, foolish mortals!" She shrugged. "I cannot help you. The things you wish for are beyond my reach."

"I won't accept that. Willow?" Giles said.

Willow said a word and the gold net tightened. Artemis writhed, and screamed in fury and pain.

"Cease your torture!" she screamed.

"NO," Willow said. As before, the sound reverberated in Spike's skull with painful intensity. "Yield what's ours, Artemis. Yield." Spike gritted his teeth against the pain. He risked a quick look around to check who was having trouble with Willow's voice. Only Giles and Xander seemed unaffected. Buffy and Faith were looking especially pained, the potentials less so. All those with demonic origins, then.

"I can restore the flesh," Artemis pleaded. "Not the souls – I cannot reach the souls! All your gifts have been given as a sacrifice to the earth, and are forfeit."

Willow eased the net. "Andrew's body? Completely restored?"

"Yes – but not his self, not his soul."

Willow looked at Buffy. "No point, then, is there?"

Xander spoke up suddenly. "I want my flesh restored."

"Huh?" Willow said. "What? Xander, you a look lot better without all the, um, flesh!"

"It's my flesh and I want it. And if I need to lose weight, fine, than I'll lose it myself. No demon or god gets to put her hands on my body."

Spike kept his face absolutely straight.

"Okay," Willow said, "Artemis, restore Xander to his original form."

Artemis sighed, and waved her hand once. Xander's breath left him with a loud puff, and he sagged, almost going down before he caught himself.

"Christ, that's hard on the thighs," he moaned.

"Join the Weight-Watchers?" Anya suggested.

"Guys!" Buffy said warningly.

"So? Will you return my sacrifice to me and release me?" Artemis demanded.

"Well, since you have no power over souls…" Giles began.

"Willow, why don't you pull that net a little tighter? " Spike interrupted. "People, and I suspect Gods, don't always tell the truth without coercion."

Willow nodded, and with a single word and a tightening of her hands set the golden net to contract.

Artemis screamed, higher and higher, hurting in the ears in a different way than Willow's magic voice. At last, one of the potentials broke and put her hands against her ears to protect them against the sound of Artemis' screams. Willow could not sustain the magic with the circle broken and had to let go. Artemis shattered in a thousand fragments of green light and disappeared.

"Wow!" Molly said. "Did we vanquish her?"

"Wrong show," Xander said.

"Willow?" Buffy asked. "Is she gone, or what?"

"I don't know! I might have killed her – I didn't know I could…" Willow sounded a little upset.

"Giles? What do you think? Did we kill her, or did she leave?" Willow asked.

"I have no more clues about this than you, Willow," Giles said tiredly. He started nervously rubbing his face again. "Buffy?"

"Let's assume that what we see is what we get. She looked killed to me!" Buffy said practically.

"Yes. Well. It's a bit anticlimactic, really. All this ruckus, and Willow is simply able to kill her!"

"Hey!" Willow said, "I am the most powerful person in the room, you know."

Giles dipped his head, as if looking over spectacles, and looked Willow in the eye. "We haven't forgotten, Willow," he said. "We never will."

"Hey!" Xander said this time. "Lay off Willow! She's done her penance, okay!"

"I admire your loyalty," Giles said. "I deplore your blindness."

 "I think you two need to back off," Buffy said carefully, looking at the downcast faces around her.

"Hmph," Xander said. He sank down heavily on the couch. "My knees are killing me already."

"Well?" demanded the English Slayer in training. "We're not gonna leave it at that, are we! We haven't got the vampire's soul back yet, or Andrew! We're not just gonna let her go!"

She looked around for support at her fellow trainees. Most of them nodded. Dawn stepped forward and confronted Willow. "So? You're stronger than she is! You can defeat her and force her to return Andrew to us!"

"You think so?" Willow said. She was lying next to Xander, draped over the couch like an old rag, and hardly able to keep her eyes open. "I don't agree. I think this was the limit of my powers and that I wasn't even near breaking her. She left of her own accord."

"I think we should count ourselves lucky to have gotten this far, and not taunt fate anymore by seeking another encounter with Artemis," Giles said. "I am truly very sorry about the boy, but I think we've done all that is humanly possible.

"In that case, "Xander said, "I think we should make it clear to all the girls, and I mean everyone lese, that it is over. We need to provide closure."

"Psychobabble is it now?" Giles said dismissively.

Xander ignored him. "Buffy? We need to hold a service for Andrew. The real thing, or as close as we can get. Read the bible, throw clods of earth on his casket, only he hasn't one, but um, say stuff, leave flowers. We all need to know what really happened. That we lost a, a comrade, in the battle with evil. I think just throwing him into the earth in the backyard is a mistake."

Willow sat up, shamefaced. "Shouldn't we tell his family? Didn't Tucker and him have a mother?"

Xander sank back in the chair with a defeated air. "I don't know any way around that, " he admitted. "If we do that, everything would have to be official. Police, producing the body…We just can't – I don't think we want the police here. We must be breaking a dozen zoning and sanitary ordnances. Not to mention Chloe."

"I think you're right, Xander," Buffy said, pacing. "We'll think of something. Write an anonymous note to his mother or something. But first we should organize the funeral. Xander, could you? I really hated it with Mom, and I –"

"Hey. It's okay, Buff. No problem. "

Buffy nodded at him gratefully. Spike thought of telling her it had been Xander who'd been the steady organizing guy when she herself had died, and this was asking a lot of him, but thought better of it. Harris was a big boy.

******

The silence in the backyard was eerie, because it wasn't a real silence. There was the occasional natural night sound, a sleepy bird calling out, a breath of wind rustling the leaves of the trees, a few cars driving by on Revello. But mostly the shuffling of girl's feet could be heard, and the rustling of their clothes, and soft whispers. They were all gathered outside, trying to be silent.

At last Xander's voice, unexpectedly solemn, broke the silence.

"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. …."

Spike shifted his weight to his other foot. He hadn't known Xander had it in him to preach. But he actually did a bloody good job, he had to give him that. Amazing.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…Let us now all say goodbye to our friend, and hold him in our memories as a guy who tried hard to become a better person, and who was a pretty good cook. If you want, you can all say something personal now."

Xander nodded, and stepped back. Spike was probably the only one who could have seen the nod in the darkness of the yard, and that's why he stepped forward first.

"He genuinely tried to help us," he said and stepped back.

"He was really sorry he killed his friend," Dawn said.

One by one, about half of the potentials stepped up. Not all had known him well enough to speak for him. At last Giles walked to the edge of the grave and said, "We are deeply sorry, Andrew, brother of Tucker, that we weren't able to save you. I hope you can take some comfort from the fact that we tried as hard as we could. I hope that you may eventually see the light. We will remember you as a comrade, and for the fact that in real life, people sometimes die, and that death is final."

A girl started to sniffle. She was shushed by her friends, but when Dawn walked up to her and threw her arms around her, there were several girls who broke down and cried, too.

Spike saw by the way that Buffy held her head that she was trying not to cry. She started to walk away, but he stopped her.

"Let them see it, Buffy," he said in her ear. "Let them see you cry over him. That'll let them know you'll grieve over them if we lose them in battle. They need that."

She cried in his arms, and if was perhaps not entirely over Andrew, nobody would know. The girls filed past them silently, the mood of the funeral still wreathed around them. Most of them touched Buffy briefly, or said something to her in subdued voices. Buffy had never felt more like a general, or a mother.

"Still want your soul back?" she asked when they were alone again, her voice still a little thick.

"Suppose so," he nodded. "So, it's off to Africa, then, love?"

Buffy said, "Yeah. After the apocalypse I'll win your soul back for you." She stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, "It' a great excuse to get out of Sunnydale, don't you think?"

*********

Who was he, really, Spike thought as he woke once more in warmth and bliss, his nose in Buffy's warm smooth neck. Wasn't a proper vampire anymore, was he? Didn't feel the slightest desire to bite her, nor was he mesmerized by the rushing of her blood. He could sense the myriad things going on under her skin it as acutely as ever, and he remembered wanting it yesterday, but it was with a sense of detachment.

He only wished to lie here peacefully, enjoying the rhythms of her sleeping body, and make love to her later, if she allowed it. That pricked the demon into action. It reared its head and muttered something about being its own master and taking what it wanted. He reined it in and it quieted again.

He turned on his back and lay wondering. What exactly had reined the demon in? Couldn't be the soul, obviously. Which part of the peculiar amalgam that was Spike – the identity that had remained mostly intact with the sudden addition of the soul, and the even more sudden loss of it – had learned to keep the demon in check? And when had it learned that? Some of it was the elementary control every vampire must learn or perish, like being able to walk through a crowd without molesting the humans. Some of it due to the chip, perhaps. Even the soul, though only in residence for about eight months – and by god, did he not miss its somber weight – must have contributed to the overall edifice of Spike.

Buffy stirred under his fingers and he softly kissed her nape. They were equally warm now, after a night spent so close together. He knew she was never cold, due to that hot Slayer energy fizzling away in her, but sometimes he felt shy of laying his icy fingers on her. Didn't like to see the skin crinkle up in gooseflesh, although it made her giggle and squeal, often. Anyway, he was warm now, and could touch her anywhere he wanted without chilling consequences. He cupped a warm breast and pulled her up tighter against him.

He must have fallen asleep again, for when he woke up again, he could see by the slant of the light it must be late afternoon. He showered and dressed, and sauntered down to get his breakfast. Wherever he looked, his eyes met frantic activity. All the girls were sharpening swords, counting arrows or braiding battle hair. He finally located Buffy in the basement, conferring with Willow and Giles.

"What's the hullabaloo, love?"

"We think this is it. Wood came by this morning to tell us there was heightened occult activity over the Hellmouth. We're going in."

"Wood. Hrmph."

Buffy didn't react to his dismissal of the principal. He bent over the table where Giles and Willow were poring over what looked like meteorological maps.

"What's that, then?" he asked.

"Confluences of magical energy," Giles answered. "If we manage to short-circuit it at the right spot, we might disrupt the whole flow and give Buffy a chance to kill whatever needs to be killed."

"Uh-huh."

"You ready?" Buffy asked, looking up at him.

He shrugged. "As you know, always got my weapon with me, love."

She smiled at him. He dropped a kiss on her neck, admiring the tight French braid.

They all went upstairs. Buffy rallied her troops.

"Time to go, boys and girls!"

The army that trooped out of the front door of 1630 Revello Drive looked grim, but prepared for everything.

Spike drew Buffy back against him for a moment. "I believe in you, Buffy," he whispered into her ear.

He felt her stand up straighter and step away from him. On the low rise in front of them, the first black shapes could be seen against the last reddish black tatters of the sunset.

"It's beginning, guys. Let's go save the world."

THE END