Author's Notes: headdesk You are correct, Imzadi; Lilah wouldn't say "You and HER" and I have corrected that (changed it to "you two"). However, as I said before, Lindsey will be absent from this fic.
On to the final chapter!
Chapter 4: Facing the Music
We stepped out of the van she'd called to take us to her apartment. I held a coolerful of bagged blood in my left hand, and Fred's hand in my right. She'd brought the Star Trek gizmo with her. "Well, this is it," she said. "Come on up."
Her second-floor apartment was small and cozy. O'Keefe and Picasso prints adorned her walls, and her bookcases overflowed with math and physics books, with a goodly portion of science-fiction titles thrown in for good measure. I recognized a few - Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Alan Dean Foster. Her taste in movies mirrored her taste in books; Riddick and Firefly ("Oh! I've wanted to watch that," I said) were fairly prominent in the DVD collection, along with Next Generation Star Trek and the original Star Wars movies. But not the prequels, I saw with a grin. A half-done puzzle of cats resided on a mat in the corner. Brightly painted wood carvings of animals decorated her shelves.
The first thing I'd noticed, however, was piles and piles of paper on every available surface, covered with formulas. A rainbow of sticky notes, scratch pads, and various-colored highlighters littered her coffee table, end tables, and kitchen table; and a white board, similarly covered with incomprehensible math, was propped up on the counter beside an open PowerBook.
She also had a few weapons here and there. A battleaxe leaned against a chair, and a cocked and loaded crossbow rested beside the door. Stilettos and throwing stars served as paperweights. And what looked like a half-finished construction - a trap? - of some kind took up a third of her living space.
"Um. Sorry about the mess. Why don't you take your duster off and hang it on the coatrack?"
"All right, pet." I set the cooler down and shrugged out of one sleeve, then we switched hands and the coat fell to the floor. We bent down together to pick it up, and banged heads. "Sorry," we said at the same time, and smiled. We both grabbed it and hung it on the coatrack.
"Ugh. I need to get out of these clothes." She blushed. "Well, and into something a little less...work-y, if you know what I mean."
"I won't watch," I assured her. "I can be a gentleman. When I want to, anyway."
"'Reaper,'" she said, looking at me sideways.
"Oh, you figured out that was me?" My turn to be embarrassed, as she led me into her bedroom, which was better organized than the living room, with more books and less paper.
"Wasn't hard. Who else would it be?" She opened a dresser drawer one-handed and took out a tank top and a pair of Marvin the Martian boxers. She noticed my amused expression. "I always thought he was funny. 'I'm going to blow up the Earth...'"
"'It blocks my view of Venus.' Oh, bloody hell, did I just say that?"
Fred's tongue showed for a moment between her teeth as she sat on the bed. "Yes. Yes, you did. And now we can revel in our shared geekdom."
"If you tell Angel I'll never hear the end of it." I averted my gaze and switched my hand from her hand to her arm to make it easier for her to change into the more comfortable clothes.
She didn't take long. I tried not to think about how cute she looked dressed like that, and we walked back out to the living room and sat on the sofa. She jumped up again almost immediately. "We forgot to put your blood in the fridge!" We took care of that little chore and returned to the couch. Her expression was thoughtful.
"What's runnin' through that big brain of yours, luv?"
"I just wonder. Blood has mystical properties, right?"
"Sometimes," I said warily.
"And we have a connection here." She nodded at our joined hands.
"Yeah..." Right, it was official. I didn't like where this was going. At all.
"We can't spend the rest of our lives attached at the hip. So." She took a deep breath and said what I was dreading she'd say. "You should drink some of my blood."
"Abso-sodding-lutely not. Look, Freddi, I appreciate the sentiment, really, I do. But even if I were to take you up on it, the others would never stand for it. Angel, Wes, and Charlie would have a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament to figure out who got to stake me first. If Buffy didn't do it before they did."
"We wouldn't have to tell them. None of their business anyway. And it's not like you'd have to drink it directly from me. It could go in a cup first. And it might only take a few drops."
That stopped me momentarily, and I looked at her sideways. "A few drops?"
"Sure. See..." She placed my hand on her leg and grabbed a pushpin from the end table. "I can prick my finger, like so - " A drop of blood welled up from the tip of her first finger, mesmerizing me. "No danger there, of you taking too much. Here."
She moved her hand toward my face, and my lips parted involuntarily. A tiny jolt of electricity shot through me as her finger touched my mouth, and I wrapped my tongue around the digit and sucked gently, keeping my eyes fastened to her face as I did so. Heat suffused me as I swallowed, and a pleasant tingle began at my extremities and moved inward to my heart. I released her finger and blinked a few times. "Oh. That was..."
"Absolutely marvelous," she finished.
"Yeah." My voice was husky, and suddenly we were kissing. Who moved first? I had no idea.
Nor did I care with my arms full of warm, adorable physicist. Time came to a complete and utter stop until, by mutual consent, we stopped with a series of small kisses. She gave me a shy smile. "Are you...solid?"
I took stock. I felt different than I had when it was just contact with Fred that was keeping me corporeal. More here, if that makes any sense. "You know, I think I am." I grinned roguishly. "Not sure I want to stop touching you just yet, though."
She grinned back. "Of course not. Can't take any chances." She reached over to the coffee table and picked up the scanner. It beeped reassuringly when she pointed it toward me. "You know, I think you're really real this time. I'll have to get you back in the lab to be sure, but it's looking pretty good. And nothing says we have to tell the others what really happened."
"Well. We might as well wait until morning, anyway." And I kissed her again.
Angel, Wes, Buffy, and Dawn looked on anxiously as Fred ran a series of tests. She finally stepped back with a satisfied smile. "He's as real as any of us."
"Does that mean he can come back to Rome with us?" said Dawn.
"Whoa! Who said anything about going to Rome?" I demanded.
"Well, Buffy and I were talking last night..."
"Sorry, Bit, but your big sis and I haven't discussed anything of the sort." I glanced over at Fred. "I've got ties here now, and I'm not sure I want to just pack up and move halfway across the planet."
"But - "
Buffy held up her hand. "Can we talk, Spike? In private?"
"Sure, Slayer. Back in a bit, luv," I said to Fred. She bit her lip and nodded.
We found an empty office, and I leaned on a corner of the desk and crossed my arms over my chest. "Making plans for me, Buffy? Not sure I like that."
"But I thought, now that you're all alive and solid, that we could - "
"Pick up where we left off? And where exactly was that?"
"I love you, Spike. Doesn't that mean anything to you?" Now her arms were crossed as well.
I sighed. "It would, if I believed you. But I didn't believe you the first time you said it, and nothing's changed."
Her face fell. "You really didn't? I convinced myself that you'd said that just to get me out of there. You, you really didn't?"
"Well, why would I, Slayer? What in our so-called relationship would ever lead me to think that you actually bloody meant a thing like that? You tossed me a bone to make both of us feel better while I was getting burnt to a crisp." I gave her a thumbs-up. "Good for you. Thanks for trying. Now take Dawn back to Rome with you before you both get caught up in whatever it is that Angel's doing here. The Senior Partners are sniffing around the Niblet and it makes me very sodding uncomfortable."
She looked alarmed at that, but plowed on. "It's Fred, isn't it? I saw the way you two look at each other. Don't think you're fooling anyone, because you're not."
"There's a bit of that," I admitted. "But even if Fred and I didn't have any feelings for each other, I still wouldn't go back with you. My place is here."
"Here? Why? Why can't you come back and help us find and train new Slayers?"
"Buffy..." I tried to organize my thoughts. "Have you noticed anything about Angel?"
She frowned. "He's changed. And not in a good way. And when did Wesley become all competent and stuff?"
"I don't know anything about Wes. But Angel needs me. He'll never admit it, I know, but someone needs to remind him about what his bloody goal was. He lost the plot somewhere along the way, I think. Because, this?" I waved my arm around the room. "Is not him."
"He hates you. You hate him. Why would you help him?"
"Oh, hate isn't a strong enough word, pet. But," I said pensively, "we have family ties. Strange, wrong family ties, true. But we are family, nevertheless. And we're the only vampires in the world with souls, so we've got this niggling little sense of right and wrong. And something tells me it's right to stick around."
She eyed at me sideways. "And it's not because of a certain hot science-lady or anything?"
"Freddi's part of it, like I said before; I'm not going to deny we've got feelings for each other. She's the only one that believed in me when I came out of that bloody amulet. She thought it was worthwhile to try to save me, when another nasty ghost was trying to drag me down into Hell. And if I can get her out of here before the place comes crashing down around their ears, I will."
"You're really concerned about this setup, aren't you?"
I reached into my duster pocket for a cigarette. "Well, how does it look to you, Buffy? What does Rupert say?"
"Oh, God, let's not even go there. I thought he was going to teleport to Rome and physically restrain me from coming here to see you."
"Well, you've seen me. And honestly, pet, it was good to see you. But our time passed about six exits back. And I really don't like Dawn being here. It's too close to the Senior Wankers by half."
"You're sure I can't talk you into coming with us?"
"Stop with the puppy eyes, Slayer. It doesn't suit you." I blew a mocking stream of smoke out towards her.
"Fine." She fired one last weapon. "Dawnie's going to be disappointed."
"She's going to have to be," I said heartlessly, "because I'm not going to Italy. And that's final."
Her shoulders slumped. "All right. I had to try, though."
"I know, pet."
I followed her back into the lab. "Go upstairs and pack, Dawnie," she said. "We're taking the next flight back to Rome. Without Spike."
"No arguing, Platelet. It's not safe for you here." Eve chose that moment to stomp into the room. "Case in point. Out. I'll talk with you before you go," I promised, relenting a little. But I really wanted her out of there. I jerked my eyes at the door, signaling Buffy, and she grabbed Dawn and they left. "Eve," I said, when they were safely gone. "To what do we owe the displeasure of your company?"
"I hear you're solid again."
"Yeah." I took a final drag on my cigarette and tossed it into a sink. "Fabric of the universe holding up all right?"
"For now. The Senior Partners would like to be informed of things like this when they happen, not several hours later. You kids are playing with fire here."
"Oh, sure. Next time something important happens off-campus, we'll all rush back here to inform you. Oh, wait. No we won't."
"They're concerned - "
"And I don't work for them. I didn't sign any bloody contract, so as far as I'm concerned, the Senior Wankers can bugger off."
She crossed her arms and tapped her foot. "Maybe I should have you thrown out of the building, then."
"I'd like to see you try, little girl."
"That's quite enough," Wes broke in. "Spike, a word in your ear, if I may?"
"Sure, Wes." We retired to the same room that Buffy and I had just occupied. "What's going on?"
"I had a talk with Gunn and Angel. Gunn thinks he may know a way to break Lilah's contract, and Angel approves. Do you think you can get her to come upstairs next time she contacts you?"
"If I tell her we have a way to break her contract, I might have trouble holding her back. Have you masterminds remembered that she's dead? Not much use breaking her contract if her head falls off and you have to bury her again."
He frowned. "At least she'd be free of the Senior Partners. But, yes, we've thought of that as well."
"All right. Her method of choice for contacting me before was to pull me through the floor." I grinned. "Not sure what she'll do now." I felt a hard yank on the hem of my duster. "That answers that question. See you in Angel's office in a few minutes. Oh, by the way? She said something about still having a dollar bill." I closed the door on his unreadable expression.
I took the elevator down to the basement and met Lilah in the middle of the floor. "You're solid again," she said without preamble.
"Already had this conversation with Eve, luv, so you're boring me. I do have something of personal interest to you, though." At her silent invitation, I continued. "Wes says he found a way to break your contract. Angel approves, and if you'd like to come upstairs with me, you'll be a free woman."
She surprised me by not jumping on the offer right away. "Will I still be dead?"
"Wes said they'd figured that out too. He didn't give me any details."
"And free as in 'free from the Senior Partners' or 'free from Wolfram and Hart'?"
"Look, I don't know, all right? But if you're employed by Angel's version of Wolfram and Hart, I assume that he'll let you quit without cutting off your head, because he doesn't operate that way unless you're, you know, sacrificing babies or something."
"Well, it's been a long time since I've done that. Hey, I'm already dead and condemned to an eternity in Hell. I guess working for Angel couldn't be any worse."
"You want me to do what?"
"A convent is being sued by a demon-rights group," Angel said patiently. Lilah and I had met Wes and Charlie in Angel's office. "Seems the sisters got a little overzealous in casting one out, and this group thinks they used unnecessary force, plus the fact that they're not licensed to do exorcisms. So I want you to take their case, pro bono."
"Shouldn't we be on the side of the demons? That's normally our purview," Lilah pointed out.
"The demon division of the ACLU is representing them. Jumped into the case with both cloven feet, as a matter of fact. I owe these nuns, Lilah. Are you going to take their case or not?"
She looked over at Wes. "Is breaking my contract contingent upon me doing this?"
"No, Lilah." He sighed. "But I really wish you would."
"Just like to know where I stand. All right, I'll do it." She picked up the file. "But I hope you realize that I don't like nuns very much."
"Eh. How much did you like your bloody clients before?" I asked.
"That's true, I guess. How do we do this?"
Wes held up her contract. "You signed on with the Los Angeles division of Wolfram and Hart. Which is now controlled by Angel."
Gunn continued. "Therefore, you work for him now. And he can do whatever he wants to with your contract."
"Including burning it," Angel concluded, flicking a match to life.
"Whoa, guys. Not so fast. I'm sort of dead here. What happens if you burn my contract?"
"First, you sign a new one," Charlie said.
Her turn to heave a sigh. "Enforceable in perpetuity, I suppose?"
"You can get out of it any time you like," Angel said. "Just let me know."
"You're sure this will work." For the first time, I could tell that she was letting herself hope. "Because usually, these contracts are airtight. For them to leave a opening like that is...unlikely."
"I've gone over it with all the shiny new legal mumbo jumbo they stuck in my head. It's as solid as I can make it," Charlie assured her. "I just don't think anyone's thought of exploiting the divisional loophole before, because it's not often that a branch of Wolfram and Hart goes through such a drastic change."
"All right. Here goes nothing." She signed the new contract, and Wes burned the old one ceremonially. We all cringed a bit, waiting for lightning to strike or Lilah's head to fall off, but atmospheric phenomena failed to materialize and her head stayed where it belonged, to everyone's relief.
Angel smiled a little. "Welcome to the team, Lilah. This doesn't mean I like you or anything."
She shook his hand. "No worries; I don't like you either. But I'm sure it'll be interesting for all of us."
After seeing to that little triumph, I wandered back to the lab. Fred was staring through a microscope at something or other, but she grinned at me as I walked into the room. "Dawn called down looking for you. They're leaving soon and she wanted to talk."
I wanted nothing more than to bask in the presence of my Science Goddess, but I had a good chance of never seeing the Niblet again, so I knew I needed to have one last chat with her. I pecked Freddi on the cheek. "I'll be back after I see them off, luv."
"Buffy didn't seem very happy with you when you guys came back from your conference."
"That's because I made a choice, and she came out in second place. Slayers don't like losing. She knows it's for the best, though."
"Oh? Oh! Ohhh..." Freddi's face ran a whole delightful gamut of expressions as she realized what I meant.
One side of my mouth quirked up. "Yeah. You're stuck with me. Unless you don't want - "
She pressed her fingers to my lips. "Of course I want, silly. I thought I made that perfectly clear last night."
"Just making sure." I glanced away. "I have a history of crossed wires and mixed signals with women. You wouldn't be the first I'd wildly misinterpreted."
She grabbed me by the arms and kissed me thoroughly. "Misinterpret that," she challenged.
"Well, no, I suppose that's pretty unmistakable." I collected myself, mentally beating back the part of me that wanted a lot more than kissing, just then. "Right. I'll be back in a bit, pet."
"I'll be waiting."
"Niblet?" I knocked on the door again, having not gotten an answer the first time.
"Fine. Come in, Spike." I opened the door to see her slouched sullenly in one of the big square chairs that were ubiquitous around the place, arms crossed over her chest, feet up on the coffee table.
"What's the matter, kitten?" I sat on the sofa opposite her.
"I can't believe you're staying here with the Devil's Advocates instead of coming back to Rome with me and Buffy. What's up with that, Spike?" I was making a bad habit out of pissing off the Summers women.
I took a deep breath. "What did Buffy tell you?"
"Oh, some utter crap about Angel needing you. Like I'm supposed to believe that. You two hate each other. So what's the real reason? It's Fred, isn't it?"
"Yeah, Dawn, she's a big reason. She's the reason I didn't get sucked into Hell when a particularly nasty ghost was trying to get me to take his place, and she's the reason I'm solid right now."
She wasn't going to let me off easy. "Do you love her more than you loved Buffy?"
I flinched at the past tense. "It's different, is all. I could never have what I had with Buffy, with anyone else. Just like I could never have what I have with you, with anyone else. I still love Buffy, and I still love you. I have ties here, though, and obligations. I can't just pick up and go to Rome with you. As much as I'd like a bloody vacation."
"Will you at least come visit? Sometime?" Her expression was wistful.
"I can't make any promises, luv. I'll try. Honest."
"I guess that's the best you can do. Especially with all the wonkiness around here. I'll take it," she decided.
"All right. How about a real hug? Haven't gotten one from you since I got all substantial again."
We stood and embraced. "I miss you," she said into my shoulder. When had she gotten so tall?
"I miss you too, Niblet." I stroked her hair. "More than I can say. But you go back to Italy with your big sis, and stay safe. As long as you're safe, I can carry on here. And you and Buffy will always have big places in my heart. I hope you know that."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
Buffy and Dawn had been seen to the airport, and night had descended upon the city. The four of us stepped out of the elevator into Angel's penthouse. "Come in, come in, my scrumptious cupcakes!" Lorne said. "Angel thought we should have some sort of party to welcome Spike back into the land of the corporeal and Lilah back into our personal sphere."
"Even though he doesn't like either one of us?" I asked. I had my arm wrapped around Fred's waist. Wes and Lilah hadn't gotten to the hand-holding stage, but they were standing closer together than was strictly necessary. "Tell the truth, Green-Jeans. This was your idea."
"Okay," Charlie admitted. "We had to push him a little. But hey, here we all are. Have seats, grab some refreshments. Lorne set up a karaoke machine for us so we can sing later."
"I'm not singing," Angel said, walking in from the next room.
"No one said you had to, Mr. Can't Carry a Tune in a Dooney and Burke." Lorne winced. "I'm really wanting to hear from this quartet, in particular. If you and Gunn sing, that's just bonus."
We arranged ourselves around the living room and fell to story-telling. Angel told them a funny anecdote about when I was a fledge, and I returned the favor by telling them about a time when Darla locked him out for a week. Fred had a tale of a tech making a mistake in the lab and creating a scary, self-perpetuating slime that could only be got rid of by pouring Mountain Dew Live Wire on it, and Charlie regaled us with the courtroom antics of one of our chronic clients.
Wes had one about a mystical weapon with the unexpected property of turning whoever got blasted with it into a sheep. Lilah went him one better with an account of a Border Collie that became a man, got frustrated trying to deal with the foibles of humans, and demanded to be turned back. And Lorne beat everyone with a story about Alec Baldwin and an irritated burro that had us rolling on the floor.
As we sipped drinks and wiped tears of laughter from our eyes, Lorne clapped his hands. "Okay, kids." Somehow, as offensive as it was when the Eve bint used that word, it wasn't bad at all coming from him. "Time to sing. Who's first?"
Fred frowned cutely. "How do you want us to do it? Alone, duets? All four of us?"
"Duets would be ideal. But any way you want to do it is fine, my little cream cheese blintz." She stood up and whispered in his ear. "Oh, sure, I have that. I have everything. But especially that."
She whispered in my ear next. "I can manage it, I think," I said. "Thirteen episodes of the bloody brilliant show, all in a row, I think I can remember how the theme song goes."
Lilah and Wes were having a rather intense discussion. I heard Wes say "Neil bloody Diamond and Barbra sodding Streisand" in an outraged whisper, and Lilah answered something like "Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius," then Wes responded "That doesn't help!"
"Maybe we should wait and let them go first," Fred said. "It'll be entertaining to see what they come up with, judging from what I'm hearing."
"Fine, fine." Wes was resigned, Lilah triumphant. "Lorne, if you don't have this, you'll make me a very happy man. Otherwise, I suppose we'll sing it."
"Sorry, Wesley, but Diamond and Streisand? It's a standard. I'm afraid you're stuck."
I don't know what I expected, but Lilah's rich contralto surprised me as she began: "You don't bring me flowers, you don't sing me love songs..."
Wes continued in a decent baritone. "You hardly talk to me anymore, when I come though the door at the end of the day..."
We applauded enthusiastically when they finished. "Very very nice," Lorne said. "Okay, Spike, Freddikins, your turn."
"Aren't you going to read them first?" I asked, not being in any hurry to get up there and sing in front of everyone.
"Two for one deal tonight."
"As I'll ever be," Fred replied. We took the microphones from Lilah and Wes and waited for the words to scroll onto the machine. Together, we sang: "Take my love, take my land. Take me where I cannot stand..."
As we sang the theme song for "Firefly," I watched Fred and marveled that such a smart, beautiful woman could ever go for a bloke like me. I didn't know how long it would last, but I'd cherish it while I had it.
"You four should start a band together," Lorne said at our conclusion. "Golden pipes, all of you. As for your destinies...well. It won't be smooth, because it never is. But I can safely say that of all the couples that were ever meant to be together, you guys have Romeo and Juliet and Rhett and Scarlett beat all to hell."
"That's bloody lovely," I whispered to Fred, "considering Romeo and Juliet died and Rhett and Scarlett broke up." She giggled.
"Hey! None of that!" Lorne said. He raised his glass. "To love."
"To love," we all chorused. Love had made me solid and brought Lilah back from the dead. I couldn't think of a more fitting toast.
Author's End Notes: Many thanks to the good folks who helped and encouraged me along the way. This story has been nearly a year in the making, with stops and starts and plot revisions and a lot of bad language on my part. Thanks to Liz Marcs and the others in our Writer's Workshop at WriterCon, mainly for not telling me I was on crack when I told them what this was about. Thanks especially to Jeri, who is a constant encouragement, gave me some excellent ideas, and told me what her apartment looks like so I could describe Fred's. Thanks to Illmantrim, who gave me the bloody marvelous idea of using the theme song from "Firefly" as Spike and Fred's duet. That song belongs to Joss, and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" belongs to Neil Diamond, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman. No infringement intended, no money made. And, um, I hope no one needed an insulin shot after that ending. Yeah.
Special thanks to my dear Hubby, who puts up with my rather odd hobby and gives me some very good ideas - such as Lilah's first assignment for her new boss. He's a most excellent bouncer-offer, and my life would be infinitely more boring without him.
Read, review, give me a happy. And if you liked this, you might like my other stories as well.