Is there really a need for a disclaimer? Does anybody out there actually believe that I'm posting fanfiction because I'm bored of cashing checks from my Buffy-related day job?

Special thanks to my beta, The Imperfectionist. I absolutely could not have done this without your guidance and amazing eye for detail.

Thanks also to AllyPetals , my advocate to the muses, for the hours of 'rubber balling' ideas.


"When the Furies be your ushers and the shadows be your guide

The best way out of hell is through the other side."

-Roger Clyne


Prologue:

The Cave Demon considered the two vampires before him. One he'd seen before- recently, in fact- the other, he knew only by reputation. He decided he would give them whatever they'd come for- within reason. Oh, he'd make them work for it, but he knew that his fighters would fall to Spike and the Scourge, who was ironically called Angel these days.

Finding the balance of granting or refusing wishes was tricky, but after more than a millennium, the Cave Demon had worked out a nice system. Beings with a nasty enough reputation would have their wish; the wimpier ones were dispatched of. Those who fell in between the two categories were given the opportunity to win their prize.

It was terrible that such calculations and machinations had to go into it. Once, there was a time when any being would be in for the fight of their lives, but the Cave Demon and his soldiers had been tied to this cave for nearly fifteen hundred years. If a few visitors weren't allowed to leave and carry the tales of this place, they'd never have a break in the monotony. Of course, if just anybody's wish were granted, word would get out that he was a captive, and soon enough he'd go from Cave Demon to Slave Demon.

Though the Cave Demon had already made his decision, the old forms had to be recognized. They would 'talk demon' for a bit before the fighting began, his men would get a good workout, the "triumphant" demon would tell them what they came for, and the deed would be done. He hoped his men remembered to stay down after they fell, at least until their guests were gone.

"You seek," he began in his gravelly voice, the one he saved for company. "But are you willing to pay the price for your desires?"

"I bloody well paid it the last time," the blond one snapped, lighting a cigarette.

The other responded only with a steely gaze. The Cave Demon sighed inwardly. The strong silent types weren't nearly as entertaining.

"To earn what you seek-"

"We have to pummel those nancy-boys you keep hidden away in here. I know the drill." He tossed his barely smoked cigarette into the sand. "Now, can we get on with it?"

For Spike's impertinence, the Cave Demon waved forward almost twice as many fighters as he'd originally planned. If what he'd heard about the two of them was true, they probably wouldn't die.

The battle raged intensely and before long the air was filled with the stink of vampire blood. The ground, however, was littered with the remains of his soldiers, and that pile was growing steadily. Interested in the strength of the two vampires who fought back to back, he motioned the rest of his men forward. It would do them good, he decided, to get off the proverbial bench, and it wasn't like they wouldn't rise as long as he lived.

The vampires' swords struck home with nearly every swing, but his men only managed the occasional glancing blow with theirs. Of course, their swords were flaming, giving them an extra edge.

Finally, it was done. The vampires were singed and bleeding, but they lived.

The Cave Demon scanned their thoughts to find what it was they'd come for, and stopped in shock. For over a thousand years, he'd granted power, objects, and magic, but this pair, arguably two of the most powerful vampires in the world wanted-

"And no tricks, either." Spike growled menacingly. "No rigged souls or nothing like that." He gave a meaningful glance at Angel, who still hadn't spoken. "And don't make us old. I don't fancy looking like a mummy."

"Very well." The Cave Demon used his most menacing voice, and he threw in a little light show for added oomph. Not a bad spectacle, if he did say so himself.

Angel and Spike, however, were in no position to appreciate it. If becoming a vampire is a painful business, losing that shell is worse. Each man felt as if every cell in their bodies were razed to ash, and then healed with vampiric speed so it could burn again.

Angel grunted against the pain before sinking to his knees.

Spike, on the other hand, screamed and chose violence as his outlet, flipping rocks, and throwing himself against the cave walls.

The pain went on for long minutes, or maybe hours. When the demons had been burned from their bodies, the two stood, panting, enjoying oxygen in their lungs for the first time in over a century.

The Cave Demon surveyed his handiwork, and turned away from the two mortals he'd recreated. He'd had a better than average show; now all that was left was some taunting, and he could go back to his game of checkers.

"All of this trouble for a girl?" he growled with just the right amount of menace in his voice, "Perhaps it's time to meet this Slayer for myself."

There, that would help keep them from figuring out that he'd been spell bound to this cave, he thought with satisfaction.

Behind him, Spike and Angel looked at each other with grim determination. There was no way they could let a threat against Buffy go unpunished.

They each hefted their swords, and with a whirl for added speed, swung towards opposite sides of the Cave Demon's neck.

They no longer possessed vampiric speed and strength, but they were strong, and they were fast. Still, it was lucky they'd coordinated their attacks; each sword cut halfway through the demon's thick neck and met in the middle. With a wrench, they finished severing his head and left it lying on the ground next to his body.

"Think he's actually dead?" Angel asked as they made their way out of the corpse-littered cavern.

"Of course not," Spike replied, "Everybody knows the bugger's bound to the cave."


Close your eyes, give me your hand... Do you feel my heart beating?

-The Bangles


"Dawn! Could you get the door?" Buffy called to her sister when the bell rang. "Dawn?"

There was no answer, and at the second ring, she abandoned the groceries she was putting away and went to do it herself. The new house was bigger than the one they'd lost in Sunnydale, so she'd had a little time to grumble to herself before she threw the door open.

Her irritation was forgotten when she saw the man standing on her stoop. He slouched a little, with his arm resting against the doorframe, but his tall, muscular body still filled up most of the space.

"Angel?" Buffy breathed the name.

Before he could reply, she launched herself into his arms. As always, being near Angel filled a long-cold part of her with warmth, and she wasn't sure if it was the fire between them or the sun that beat red against her closed eyes.

Very slowly, her thoughts penetrated the shock of seeing Angel. She pulled back and peered into his eyes.

"We're standing in sunlight."

Smiling broadly, Angel took Buffy's hand and pressed her fingers to his neck. She gaped at the feeling of his pulse beating against his skin.

"You… You're…"

"Human," he finished for her.

Buffy stood there dumbly, fingers still pressed against his pulse, trying to take it all in. She could still hear the kids next door playing in the yard and a lawn mower backfiring down the block, but they seemed far away. The world swam before her eyes, but the steady beat beneath her fingers tied her to reality, and slowly she focused on the man she'd loved since she was sixteen.

"Can I come in?" Angel asked with a half-smile. "I don't actually need the invite to come through the door. I could stand here in the sun for the rest of the day, for that matter, but it would be nice to know I'm welcome."

"Angel!" Buffy came back to her senses. "Of course you're welcome."

She stepped aside to allow her one-time lover into the house. When he'd stepped across the threshold, she turned back to close the door.

And then, she saw him. She shook her head, sure that she must be hallucinating from the shock of Angel's appearance. He tilted his head and they looked into one another's eyes for a long moment.

"Buffy," Spike said in greeting.

She took one hesitant step through the door, then another until she was only an arm's length away from him. Still their eyes held.

Buffy reached out a tentative hand and cupped his jaw. He was really there; bathed in sunlight and warm against her hand.

"How?" Her voice cracked, and tears streamed silently down her cheeks.

"It's a long story, love, and this is the important part."

Buffy fell into his arms, sobbing. She hadn't realized how big a hole losing Spike in Sunnydale had really left until she felt his arms around her and it began to close.

Spike comforted her with gentle words while she cried. He also ignored the pained look on Angel's face. He didn't quite feel bad for him, but he knew what Buffy-related pain was like, and he actually didn't wish that on his worst enemy.

Finally, her tears subsided, and she stepped back from his embrace.

"Four hundred sixty-eight days yesterday," she said, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand, "Four hundred sixty-nine today, but today doesn't count, does it?"

"No, pet, today doesn't count." He smiled at her one last time before he looked away from her, to Angel standing in the doorway.

Buffy couldn't believe she'd forgotten him standing there. Forgetting Angel was something that was hard enough when he wasn't close, and she'd never been less than hyper-aware of him whenever he was around. But then, dead lovers didn't just come back from the dead every day, even in her world.

She led the two men- thinking of them as men instead of vampires would take some getting used to- into the kitchen. "Are you two hungry? I could make something."

"No, thank you, though," Angel said politely.

"Well, I'm bloody starved," Spike said, throwing himself onto one of the barstools that lined the kitchen island. "We haven't eaten today, or most of yesterday, for that matter."

"Are you sure you don't want something, too?" Buffy asked Angel. She planned to make him a plate anyway, but she thought she'd give him the chance to get over being polite first.

He responded with a shrug and an apologetic look that she took for a yes. But when she turned to the groceries to outline the possibilities, he gave Spike a sound slap on the back of the head. Spike turned on him with narrowed eyes, but just before he lunged, Angel gave a meaningful look at Buffy. Spike rubbed the back of his head and hoped that his eyes were promising his grandsire death at the next opportunity.

"I could do cheeseburgers, if you wanted, or BLTs, or quesadillas." When Buffy turned around the two men were the picture of innocence.

"Anything's fine, really," Angel told her, still not wanting to be a burden.

"I fancy a cheeseburger, myself. With French fries if you've got 'em." Spike told her with a sideways look at Angel. Truthfully, he didn't care what they ate, but now that he knew it was going to piss Angel off for him to have an opinion, he planned on riding that pony into the dirt.

"Sure. No problem." Buffy looked between the two men awkwardly for a second before she dove into the task of making the food. She decided it was good they were hungry. It gave her something to do besides gawk at Angel and Spike, or even do something more embarrassing. She was having uncomfortable visions of throwing herself at the two men. Hey, it had been a while.

"Is there something I can do to help?" Angel started to move from the doorway to the sink to wash his hands.

"No!" Buffy yelped. "I mean, no thank you. Just sit, over there. By Spike."

Angel knitted his brow while Spike smirked at him. Buffy had seemed glad to see him just a few minutes before, but now… well, things had always been confusing where the Slayer had been concerned. The time apart hadn't changed that, unfortunately.

Conversation was stilted at best. Buffy babbled while she cooked, and Angel replied in nervous monosyllables. Spike was the only one who seemed comfortable, but Angel had spent enough time with him to know when he was trying to cover up a bad case of nerves. This seemed to be one of those times.

When she was done, Buffy slid onto a stool across from them, watching the two men scarf down the food she made. There was something surprisingly domestic about the scene, and Buffy felt herself relax while she watched them.

"Buffy? Do I smell cheeseburgers? It's way too early for dinner, but I thought-" Dawn's words cut off as she came around the corner. "Angel? Spike? "She turned to her sister with a helpless look on her face. "Buffy?"

"Hey, Dawnie, um, this is kind of hard to explain, but-" Buffy's mind was a complete blank. She didn't know enough details to be able to explain what was going on.

"I was dust, and then I wasn't. Now we're both human and we came to find your sister," Spike simplified things in his sardonic way. "You been taking care of yourself, Bit?"

"Oh, boy. I, uh… uh-huh." Dawn finished lamely. Spike, she noticed, was just as good looking now as he'd been when she was fifteen, and he was concerned about her. He'd always watched out for her.

"Hi, Dawn," Angel said with one of his half-smiles.

"Hi, Angel," she replied shyly. Dawn's memories of the Angel were mostly just of his eyes. She'd always thought they looked so sad and gentle, even when he smiled. It was odd to think that she'd never actually met the tall man in front of her.

Angel and Spike went back to studying Buffy, who was looking down at her hands. "I'm just going to go hang out with some friends at the mall, or something," Dawn told them, even though nobody seemed to notice her. "I'll be home late, Buffy. Angel, Spike, it was really good to see you both."

"Can we be expecting a Scooby meeting, then?" Spike asked with a nod at the door Dawn had just disappeared through.

"No, I don't think so. If she tells anybody, it'll be Willow, and she'll know to give us some grown-up time." Buffy reached out, and touched each man on the back of the hand, savoring the warmth they gave off. Their skin, she noticed, seemed more pliable now than it had before. "I just can't wrap my head around this." She smiled at them. "How is it for you? I mean, to me, it seems like it would be a dream come true, but… was it worth it?"
"Yes. No." Angel looked down at their hands. "I honestly can't decide. Sometimes it feels great to not be inherently evil. I'll never have to worry about Angelus again."

"Are you sure?" she asked him, wondering what he wasn't telling her, and ignoring the sickly look on Spike's face. "I mean, are you positive the curse doesn't still hold?"

"An unflawed soul was part of the prize. Spike thought of it."

"What prize?" Buffy addressed the question to Spike, guessing he'd be more forthcoming with the details.

"We fought the Cave Demon. Same bloke who gave me back my soul two years ago. We beat his boys, we got our wish, and voila."

"And you wished to be human?"

"Yeah, but we weren't stupid enough to not list some qualifiers. We didn't want to be old, and no two-bit souls, either. We're just a couple Joe Regulars, now."

Buffy snorted at the thought. "I have my doubts about that."

"Well, Angel is, anyway. I still have my good looks and charm."

"I have my doubts about that, too."

"You wound me, Slayer. Remember, it doesn't take a wooden stake to hurt me now."

"I'll try to keep the differences between vampires and humans straight, Spike."

"So, tell us what's been going on here." Angel tried to tell himself that he was making conversation, but he knew that he was just trying to keep the banter between Spike and Buffy to a minimum.

"We've spent the last year organizing the Slayers and rebuilding the Council. We're trying for more of a work-together approach between Slayers, Watchers, and Wicca than the Slayer equals slave one they used to have. Most of the original texts are gone, but the Council made digital copies of a lot of it, and some of the really important stuff was locked in vaults, so it didn't all go boom.

"Kennedy heads up the training grounds in Vermont. We have Slayers of all ages running around there, so the Watchers have to teach regular people classes, and Slayer stuff. When the girls are ready, we send 'em to Faith in Cleveland. They keep the demons from getting too frisky with the little Hellmouth, and when they're ready, we give some of them a town of their very own. There's no lack of things going bump in the night."

"What do you do with the other ones?" Angel asked her, catching the little slip.

"We bring them here, to the big Hellmouth, if they still want to fight the good fight."

"Miami has a Hellmouth? How in the bloody hell did I miss that?" Spike asked in shock.

"Good question. I thought it was pretty obvious after Will Smith wrote that song. Only dark magic could make something that catchy."

"So basically," Angel said, "nothing's changed. We're sitting on top of a Hellmouth trying to save the world."

"We're sitting on the big Hellmouth." Buffy corrected him, "And a few things have changed." She gave them a meaningful look. "For one thing, I absolutely forbid either of you to sacrifice yourselves to seal anything." That earned disdainful snorts from both men. "Also, there are a dozen Slayers in this town. All of them are younger than me, and nearly as good in a fight. I mostly watch them slay and offer constructive criticism."

"I'll bet you're just loving that, aren't you, Slayer?" Spike asked, and for once Angel seemed to agree with him. "Being relegated to a figure-head in a war you've been fighting for a decade. Do you sneak out when nobody's watching to patrol some of the nastier parts of town?"

"Patrolling's not my job, anymore. I train the Slayers of tomorrow. I rally the troops. I make speeches. I-"

"You're bored as hell, is what you are. And I'll bet to keep yourself occupied you're taking crazy chances with your life," Spike growled, standing.

"Who the hell do you think you are? You just come waltzing back into my life and think you know what's going on."

"I know you!" Spike shouted, slamming his hand onto the counter. "Sometimes I know you better than you know yourself, and I bloody well know you aren't happily retired like everybody thinks."

Angel threw himself in front of Spike, who had taken an angry step toward the shocked Slayer.

"Everybody, just calm down. Buffy, as much as I hate to admit it, Spike's right. We both know you aren't going to just sit down and take up knitting because it would be the sane thing for you to do. You might fool them, but we know better."

"So what are you going to do?" Buffy snapped. "Turn me in? Tell everybody about my late-night vigilante… vigilante-ism?"

"Oh, that's a good one, Slayer. Stayed up all night thinking up that snappy comeback, did you?" Spike snarled, "What the hell does that even mean?"

Angel looked smug. "You know, Slayers are like vigilantes, so that makes her a vigilante among vigilantes. I got it, but if you don't really understand Buffy, I can see how it would be confusing."

"Sod off." Spike spat the words through a clenched jaw. His eyes still blazed at the Slayer. But at least, Angel thought, he stopped talking.

"We aren't here to make your life more difficult, Buffy," Angel told her in what he hoped was a soothing tone, "We're here to help you."


A/N: Please Read & Review, because reviews are like sunshine and glitter and good, expensive tequila to fanfic writers.

This story is follows the canon Buffyverse up to the comics Angel: After the Fall #16, including Spike: After the Fall. It ignores the Buffy Season 8 comics completely.

Also, after a great deal of contemplation, I've decided to give a warning to my readers, because the epilogue could be considered misleading. I don't like spoilers, so I was hesitant to take this step, but it seems appropriate. This story is an alterverse fiction, but it is not an all-human alterverse. Spike and Angel not being vampiric is a catalyst, not the basis for my story.

Edited on 5/9/2011