Disclaimer and details see part 1
Author's Note: I have NO idea what happens to my formatting each time I upload a chapter of this story. Seems it's shot to hell. I will try to do it differently this time and hope it'll work, but just in case – I want to apologize in advance because there is no space between paragraphs. I'm sorry. It's really not my fault.
Author's Note 2: I want to thank all of you who sent feedback for this story so far. WhiteWolf, thanks for reading the story, Tommy14, thanks so much for your praise, lunerbrittania, the space between scenes is one of the things uploading seems to swallow up. Sorry! I have them in my original. txgrlf, mo and Ayleen, thanks.
And to my readers on the Babbleboard, namely Sara-Lee, Kim, cherylforba, Marie, Alley, and to those on the lists. You know who you are! Thanks so much for staying with me even though I update so irregularly, but I can't help it. I have to go where the muse takes me.
Giles wasn't sure what to feel when he found himself face to face with Riley Finn. To tell the truth, his feelings towards the young man had always been … well, a little cock-eyed, if he wanted to be completely honest with himself. At first he hadn't been all that pleased to see Buffy spend time with him. Granted, the fact that Riley was actually breathing and had a heartbeat was a plus compared to her former boyfriend, and also the teensy little detail that whatever happened between them there would be no soul lost and no people slaughtered as a result.
Yet, Buffy had seemed oddly distracted. And that was a definite minus in Giles' book. Unlike Riley, Angel with all his baggage had kept the Slayer focussed on her work, had supported her when he was in possession of his soul and even managed to discover important information. Not to say that he had helped to save this world now and then.
It wasn't Riley's fault that Adam had used him, of course. Neither was the fact that Maggie Walsh had used him and his comrades as lab rats without their knowledge. Riley had helped Buffy, had been a good addition to the team – at least for a while – and had been a partner for Buffy, had managed to give her the normal relationship she so desperately craved.
Giles never doubted that Riley loved his Slayer.
And yet – Giles couldn't help to wonder if bringing Riley into the mix had been the wisest decision.
"Hello Giles." He still sounded like the Riley Giles remembered. He looked different, though. The others had told him that there was a scar on Riley's face now, and that his hair was shorter. But other things, not as easily notable Giles saw too. Eyes that were far more serious, held secrets that hadn't been there before. And a woman who wore his ring, seemed steadfast and friendly, and extended her hand with a smile.
"Hello, I'm Sam. Riley's wife."
Giles stepped back but didn't invite them in. There weren't a lot of vampires in Rome these days, but old habits never died. "You're early. We expected you tomorrow morning at the earliest."
"We managed to catch a red-eye from Rio to Madrid," Sam explained. Giles was impressed with her easy demeanour, the way she seemed confident in her own skin. There was a lot that reminded of Buffy, and a world between them.
"After your phone-call, we thought that coming rather earlier than later was necessary." Riley turned and looked at Giles, "I'm worried. This isn't like Buffy. Not," he paused, and rubbed his forehead, "that I really know her these days but … Something must be wrong."
"That's what we all think." Willow stood in the open doorway towards the living room, an inscrutable expression on her face. It had been her idea to call Riley and yet Giles had the feeling that she wasn't all that happy with his presence. It was rather odd, and Giles made a mental note to pursue that subject later.
"Willow, hey." Sam smiled at the witch and the two women shook hands. "Great to see you again."
"Yeah," Willow agreed, more comfortable with Riley's wife than with him. "It is. I just wish circumstances were different."
"Don't we all." Giles felt strangely left out and stepped back to allow Riley and his wife entrance to his apartment. They stepped inside, and Riley nodded at Willow. They did not shake hands.
"Where is everyone?" Riley asked, looking around. "From what you told me I assumed they were all here, joining forces so to speak." He grinned a little at his own joke, but nobody joined in. Riley coughed, suddenly embarrassed. "Uh – where is Dawn?"
"At school," Giles stated matter of factly. "She wanted to stay but Buffy wouldn't want her to ignore her education. Xander and Kennedy went to do a little research at the national library. So Willow and I and-"
"Look who's here. Iowa corn-bred boy."
"- Spike are the only one's left for now," Giles ended on a sigh. He sent the former vampire a nasty glance before turning away. "I think tea is in order now."
"Yeah, tea. Cure for all ails in the world," Spike joked, never taking his eyes off Riley Finn, who stared openly at the man in the wheel-chair. "Yeah, it's me. Looky, looky, farm-boy. It's Spike, in the new, beating heart, but not so improved version."
"You're human?" Riley gasped in shock, turning his gaze to Willow. "He's human?"
"He is still in the room," Spike snapped, hating his wheel-chair more than ever. "And now, be a good boy and close your mouth." Looking over his shoulder, he yelled, "You really expect that loser to find our missing Slayer?"
"Shut up," Giles said mildly when he returned to the group. "Yes, Riley. Spike returned human, with paralysed legs though. Hence the wheel chair."
"What do you mean – came back?"
"Just for the record, I came back before. It was a bloody nuisance being a ghost, but this," Spike touched the wheels of his chair, "is fucking bloody unfair."
Keeping his voice in the same mild manner, Giles didn't spare the former vampire a glance. His eyes on Riley he said, "That is certainly open for discussion. As for the come back," he sighed, feeling more uncertain than ever about Riley's presence. "Spike returned from only the Powers know where. First as a ghost who then gained corporeal existence, and the second time as a human."
"Talk about strange things." Riley rubbed his forehead in distress, while Sam gave the former vampire a shrewd look. "Alright. I accept that, but never," his voice turned wry, "tell any of my superiors."
"Believe me, we wouldn't think about it." Willow gave Riley a grin. "It not as if anyone would ever believe anything that's happened to us."
"Yeah, and we won't even mention bad-ass Willow in leather."
"Xander, where did you come from?" Giles gave the young man a stern look.
In response Xander held up a key. "Remember? Hey Riley. Sam."
"Hey Xander," the couple said unison.
There was no hand-shaking – and again Giles made a mental note to pursue the subject later. It seemed a lot more hand changed with Riley than anyone had told him. Interesting.
Giles cleared his throat rather loudly. "Riley," he looked at the young man and blue eyes turned his way. "We need information to help Buffy. And according to Willow you have access codes we can only dream of."
Riley blinked, exchanged a glance with his wife, then pulled something out of his jacket. On closer inspection it turned out to be a compact disc. "There you go," he held the disc out to Willow, "knock yourself out."
It was a sleazy bar, even worse than Willie's had ever been, and only one customer raised his head to look who had entered in the middle of the night. The guy behind the bar wore a dirty shirt and an even more dirty towel hung over his left shoulder. His face wasn't quite human but not quite demonic either.
Buffy only glanced at him, then let her eyes do a short sweep of the room. At one table three demons were playing a quite game of poker, and apart from the Kevlar at the bar, she couldn't see anyone else frequenting the dump.
She heard footsteps behind her and sensed Connor standing close. It was a weird feeling. She ignored the painful clenching of her stomach and walked towards the bar.
The Kevlar looked at her again, and his eyes widened ever so slightly.
"Hey little one. It's a little late for good kids to be out – especially in this part of town," the bartender told her with a leer.
Buffy kept her voice even, "I need information. I was told this was the place to get it."
"That your boy toy?" he asked, indicating Connor who was still standing close by.
"It's none of your business. I'm inquiring about a vampire."
The bartender's non existent brows went up, "A vampire? Girl, I gotta tell ya. All those mushy novels aren't the truth. Vampires aren't a cuddly bunch. They kill – for real."
Buffy sighed, annoyed with the guy's attitude. But she had come for information, and unlike Willie this guy probably wouldn't appreciate to get beaten up. "Look, I didn't come to make trouble. Angel. What do you know about him?"
"Angel?" The barkeeper tilted his head ever so slightly. "How would you know Angel?"
"Hollis, are you stupid or what?" the Kevlar said finally, sounding annoyed. "This isn't a little girl. She's a Slayer. Can't you feel it?"
Hollis shrugged, "Not a thing."
The Kevlar made a disgusted sound. "That comes from diluting good demon blood with humans." He shook his head, then looked at Buffy. "What do you want to know, Slayer?"
It had been a while since someone had called her that. "What you can tell me."
The Kevlar nodded at Connor. "Who's he?"
"Someone who can kick your ass," Connor replied, inching closer.
"Down boy." Buffy held up a hand. "He's with me. So, what about Angel?"
"There's been a rumor he got himself killed for good this time," the Kevlar said. "I'm not into prophesies and that kind of shit but this chick I once, you know," he made an upward motion with his groin and Buffy nodded. "Well, anyway, she was working for them lawyers, Wolfram & Hart, she was a vampire. And one night she told me all about some hot shot prophecy about the vampire with the soul."
"What about him?" Connor was standing next to Buffy and the Slayer held out a hand to hold him back.
"Connor. Let the guy talk."
Connor spit out in disgust.
"Hey, I have to clean that later," Hollis complained and Buffy shot him a dirty look.
"That floor hasn't been cleaned since the crucifixion. Now," she turned back to the Kevlar, "talk."
"It was all about some word in a foreign language. They weren't sure if it meant to be death or life."
"Shanshu," Buffy whispered to herself, wondering if maybe there would be a moment, a second in her life where she wouldn't be haunted by that word.
"That's it. Sounds stupid if you ask me."
"What else?" She knew she was sounding irritated but Buffy didn't care. She was long past caring. That day, that night something had died inside of her, and she hadn't been able to recover it. Giles was right, she was abusing herself but she simply couldn't help it. She knew Dawn was her responsibility, but it didn't matter. She knew her friends, hell all Slayers, counted on her. She couldn't bring herself to care. Not deep inside where it mattered. Nothing was inside of her, just a big, gaping hole that refused to be filled.
The Kevlar shrugged, his scaly shoulders whipping with the motion. "Nothing. That's it, really. The chick got too clingy if you understand what I mean." He turned his head and Buffy saw two tiny puncture wounds on his neck. "I send her packing."
"I thought vampires only drank from humans."
The demon grinned knowingly, giving Buffy's own neck a closer look. "They can only live on human blood, but sucking is kind of a second nature to them."
"You know," Connor had turned green, "that just sucks – no pun intended. This whole conversation is disgusting and I don't see how it brings you any closer to finding my … Angel, I mean."
"He was in here regularly." Hollis suddenly joined the little group. He sighed, "He used to beat up the customers a lot. Those were good times. Now," he sighed again, "it's downright boring. With the vampire population so low nothing's going on anymore."
"Buffy, I really think we should go."
"Shut up, Connor," she snapped. "I told you, if you don't want to help, just leave."
"Hey, aren't you Angel's kid?"
Another demon came over from the poker table, his eyes narrowed.
"Uh-" Connor stared at him. His skin was green and decidedly not human. His most prominent feature, apart from the loud suit were his red horns and eyes.
"Who are you?" Buffy demanding and stood straight, not sure if this newcomer was a threat.
"Wow," the demon looked at her in awe. "Are you Buffy?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Lorne," he said. "My name is Lorne."
"How are you today?" She was pretty, in a cool, contained kind of way.
"Tired. Why do you keep asking me how I am?"
She gazed at him solemnly, looking translucent. The way ghosts did. "Because I'm curious."
"Yeah, that too."
"Why are you keeping me here?"
She laughed. It sounded distorted, not like the laugh he remembered. But he was used to it by now. "Because I can?"
"Do you have some kind of personality problem?"
"Now, that's not exactly news. Of course I'm crazy."
"I can't believe Wesley actually loved you."
She laughed again, but without humor this time. "He never loved me. He was always hung up on sweet Fred, may her soul rest in eternal damnation."
"You've got that one wrong. Eternal damnation, that's our spot."
She sighed. "True. Oh well, can't have everything."
"Lilah, don't you think this is getting old?"
"Nope. I'm feeling exceptionally well today."
"You don't look so good."
"I'm a ghost. Duh."
"Alright then. If it turns you on." He turned away as far as the shackles on his arms and legs would permit. "Enjoy yourself. It's not as if I'm getting any older."
to be continued …