Three for a Secret by Lilachigh

One for Silver, Two for Gold, Three for a Secret that Shall never be Told

Here is the final chapter of this sequel to my story Cousin Arabella. I do hope you have enjoyed it.

Chp 13 Hope

Buffy linked her fingers tightly through Spike's and faced the two shimmering figures. They looked vaguely human but the surface of their bodies moved like water with colours - gold, silver, ice blue and palest green flickering across them, so brilliant and so beautiful that it hurt to look. This world had produced some strange things, but this was amazing. And, strangest of all, she didn't feel the slightest bit of apprehension.

"Who are you?" she said eventually.

The reply when it came was soft and musical, like bells chiming far away. She knew she shouldn't be able to understand what was being said, but she could. "We call ourselves Arrangers."

"And you're what, spirits, angels, gods?"

The colours fluttered into primrose, pink and lilac. The bells laughed. "Gods? Oh no. We're Arrangers. If you come to this world, we take it for granted that even if you are not aware of it, there is something wrong with your life that needs "re-arranging"'.

Buffy started to say that not everyone came here of their own free will when Spike interrupted. "I've come to find my sister. She – "

"We know all about your sister, William," came the reply.

"What happened to her?"

There was a silence, then a second set of bells began to chime. "Patience, vampire. You did not wish to know her in her other life."

Buffy felt Spike tense and for one awful moment thought he was going to launch himself at the glowing figure nearest to him. She tightened her grip on his cold hand and held him back. Somehow she knew that violence was not going to be the answer in this world.

"Bloody hell - !"

"Spike – don't! Listen, Arrangers, I'm sure you mean well, and okay, we don't understand exactly what you do, but we don't mean any harm. We're not staying, we didn't come to get our lives rearranged, we just want to discover what happened to Hope."

"You can discover many things in this world."

Buffy sighed. She had the feeling that talking to the Arrangers was going to be like one of those tests you get given where you have to tick different boxes and they tell you in advance that there isn't a correct answer. "We've noticed your world seems very different whoever is looking at it. Is that what you mean?"

The bells chimed together, high and low. "Yes, who you are inside, what you have experienced, how you see life, if you come through the portal, that is how the world will appear to you."

"Well, I see it all in Disney, but I definitely don't see life like that!"

"But your life is all make believe, Buffy Summers. You are the Slayer. You pretend to be an ordinary girl, you are not. You pretend not to love this vampire, but you do. You pretend that you are happy when you're sad. Death sits on your shoulder but you laugh at it. This world chose Disney for you."

Spike's grip was almost crushing Buffy's hand. "Look, mate, can we get to the soddin' truth about Hope! What happened to her?"

"She was sent here a long time ago."

"We know, by Darla, a vampire, one of my family, an Aurelian."

"We were surprised that a vampire could work the magics needed to transport a human here by herself. Usually the magics relate to the person using them. We were - puzzled when Hope arrived. We had no experience of children. Although many would benefit from having their lives rearranged, only a few manage to find us."

"My cousin Arabella said – "

"The vampire who is running?"

Spike and Buffy stared round at the endless white shiny space. They hadn't even realised that Arabella was no longer with them. There was no sign of her at all.

Buffy shuddered. She could see an awful long way; it would have been impossible for Arabella to have moved so fast that she was already out of sight. Okay, she hated the vampire ho, but if anyone was going to deal with Cousin Arabella, it would have to be her, not some mystical energy thingies. "Where is she? What have you done with her?"

One of the bells sounded suddenly cracked and old. "Running and running – until we wish her to stop."...

...The shiny room had been left behind, thank goodness. Arabella had found the place terrifying and didn't even know why. But now the ground was hard and stony under her feet. It was uncomfortably hot and Arabella glanced up occasionally towards what should have been the sky. The sun in this world hadn't killed her yet, but she didn't trust magic, she never had.

She needed to get under cover, think, plan, make things right. But she had to keep running. It was as if she had no control over her legs. She wanted to stop, but couldn't! Arabella winced as a heel broke off her shoe as it jammed between two rocks and pitched her forward. Struggling to her feet, she kicked off both shoes and began to run again. She had to – what – get away – or get closer – she wasn't sure. All she knew was that this world was hard and ugly and she had to escape.

Faint memories of people sifted through her mind: a large green demon, a man with brilliant blue eyes – had she loved or hated him? The Slayer – what did that word mean? The faces were fading, fading and she felt tears running down her cheeks because she knew that they were important, she should try and remember them….but they danced, just out of her memory's reach, and it hurt so badly to bring them closer….

She winced as the rocks cut her bare feet, but she couldn't stop, not even for a second. She had to run...

...Spike whirled round to the Arrangers. "Listen, I don't know what the hell you're doing to her but stop it! Arabella might not be the nicest person in the world, but she's my cousin, she tried to help me. She told me about Darla and Hope, she brought me the locket – "

The lights flickering over the figures suddenly went dark – grey, black, maroon and indigo. The very air felt colder. "She helped Darla send Hope here," the bells said.

"What?" Buffy felt the surge of feelings race through Spike - anger, grief, betrayal, despair. And she realised they were now so close that she could sense everything he felt.

His voice was hoarse, incredulous. "She helped Darla? But how? She told me – I thought – she's my cousin, my childe. I turned her. She – I thought she loved me."

The bells sighed. "You killed many members of your family, William. Do you even remember who they all were? You killed your cousin's parents and sisters, but you turned her. Why was that?"

Spike vamped into game face and once again Buffy tightened her grip on him. "She was the only sodding person in the entire world who'd ever been nice to me, except my mum, of course."

"So with all your family gone, who do you think told Darla about your father's mistress and your half sister?"

Buffy felt Spike sway and she slid her arm round his waist, bracing herself against him, feeling the shock run through his body.

"You and Drusilla were busy on your first killing spree. You had turned Arabella but you had also exterminated all her immediate family. Oh your cousin loved you, that is true, but she hated you as well. She loved her family. She wanted revenge. She had listened to family gossip, knew about your father's mistress and illegitimate child."

"I don't want to know any more!"

But the Arrangers carried on, relentlessly. "Arabella thought that one day you might remember Hope. You had pushed her out of your mind, William, hadn't you? Dismissed her from your life. But with everyone else gone, you might have recalled her. And Arabella could not take that chance that you would have family when she didn't. So she told Darla about Hope and helped her with the magics to send the child here. The rest – well, you know the rest of the story."

Buffy licked her lips that were suddenly very dry. "So this has always been about love?"

The colours on the figures lightened, softened, lilac and lavender appeared amongst the purple. "Love, well now, that is what we Arrangers understand. Humans, demons, even vampires, take love and twist it. Then they come here for us to sort things out. Love is very simple, very uncomplicated. We like things to be straightforward. Look – "

The shimmering air seemed to split in two and widen, making a window. Buffy stared – she was looking at Anya and Div'vid, sitting on a grassy hillside. Div'vid was laughing, happy, unconcerned, his head resting on Anya's lap. She had a small shiny yellow flower in her hand and was tickling him under his chin.

"Happy?" the Frovlax said and even through the magics, Buffy and Spike could hear the rumbling as his three stomachs digested what had obviously been a huge meal of fresh grass.

"Very." Anya sighed. "I think we should build ourselves a holiday home first. Just here, on this hillside. It would be a good investment."

Div'vid mooed his agreement. "And we could use it as a Show Home to attract more customers."

"Customers!" Anya hugged herself with joy. She obviously loved the word. She bent her head and kissed Div'vid as the window shimmered over again.

"Wait – Anya can't – she's Xander's girlfriend. And Div'vid is married to Arabella."

"He no longer remembers Arabella. Their pattern wasn't right. We have arranged it better. Two demons – well a demon and an ex-demon, but scratch the surface and your friend is all demon still. They match, they will be happy together, they love."

Buffy was getting angry. She didn't care about Arabella. Everything these Arrangers had said only convinced her that all her dislike and distrust of the beautiful vampire girl had been justified. But they had no right just to go around rearranging people's lives. "But it isn't real if you've just interfered and made it different."

The colours on the Arrangers shimmied into brilliant ruby and emerald and the bells rang louder. "We do not interfere! We never ask people to come here to our world, but when they do, then we arrange the patterns correctly. We cannot make people do things they do not wish to do. Look into your heart, Buffy Summers. Have we made you fall in love with the vampire whose hand you are holding so tightly?"

"But poor Xander – "

The window closed briefly then opened again. The inside of the Magic Box appeared. Xander and Willow were sitting at the table, talking.

"These two are great friends. It is the most important relationship either will ever have. They love each other deeply. They need to be together, for a while at least."

"Reckon they've got everything worked out, pet," Spike said, wearily. "It's no good arguing with mystical beings. I've learnt that enough times through the years. Perhaps they'll tell us how to bloody well get home now. I've had enough."

"So, you no longer wish to know about Hope?" the bells said.

Spike tensed and ran his fingers angrily through his hair. "Of course I do. I suppose you're going to tell me you looked after her until she died."

The bells chimed violently, almost as if they were arguing between themselves. The colours rippled and coiled, sapphire and peach, crimson and apricot.

Then – "Hope was with us for a while. We cared for her. We made her world a happy one. The children we have here have no place else to go. We cannot Arrange their lives until they are bigger. So Hope grew. Slowly, because that is the way here. But she was never happy. She started to fade. We thought that she would die. Then a man came to this world – a man of god – he needed our help, he desperately needed a child."

"You sold my sick sister to some religious freak?" Spike lashed out at the nearest Arranger, but his fist sailed straight through.

The Arranger didn't react and the bells chimed on. "How do you remember your sister, William?"

Spike scrubbed his knuckles down the planes of his face. Buffy touched his lips with her finger. She could feel how difficult this was for him.

"I only saw her once. She was slim, tall for her age, long dark hair, big eyes. I can't picture her face. And that's the worst thing of all. She was my sister and I can't remember her face!"

"But you see it almost every day."

"Hey, vampire here. Mirrors don't work for me."

Buffy felt a sudden chill fizz and buzz through her veins. "The man who came here looking for a child – you said he was a man of god – do you mean a monk?"

"Ah, Miss Summers, your instincts are finely tuned. Indeed, we did mean just that. A monk whose brothers were about to make some magics that were advanced, even by our standards."

"Dark hair, slim, tall – oh god – Spike! They're talking about Dawn!"

"The monks had a Key they needed to hide. This Key was energy but they were going to make it human. For that they needed shape and form. They needed a brain they could implant with memories, veins they could fill with your blood: they needed to make your sister, Miss Summers. We gave them Hope. We knew she would not survive for much longer in this world and there was nowhere else we could send her."

Buffy felt a huge surge of laughter and happiness welling up inside her. "So Dawn isn't just my sister, she's Spike's as well? Spike – Dawn's your Hope!" She caught his shoulders and shook him gently. He stood there, looking stunned, and then a soft expression she had rarely seen crossed his face.

His hands cupped her face between them, his thumbs running gently, lovingly over her cheeks. "My sister, Buffy! Bloody hell! But since the first moment we met, she was never scared of me," he whispered. "She should have been. Big Bad. Little Girl. I never understood why she wasn't. Yes, she was your little sister, but somehow she always seemed like mine as well. And all this time, she was!"

"Telling Hope how and why her life was Arranged is a decision we leave up to you, vampire." The bells chimed again and Buffy realised the shimmering figures were growing fainter, the colours paler.

"Hey, don't go. We need to know more. Wait! What about Arabella?"

But it was no use. The Arrangers disappeared and the shiny white room blinked twice and vanished. Buffy and Spike were back in the jungle, outside the Magic Box.

Spike pulled her into his arms and kissed her – his lips soft and tender at first, then harder, more demanding, until she felt his tongue on hers. Then all restraints vanished and she dug her fingers into the back of his neck, pulling him closer and closer, giving every inch of herself to him.

At last they broke apart, grinning shakily at each other. "Can't wait to get home," Spike muttered. "Get you somewhere private, Slayer. Private and secluded. There's going to be screaming, lots of screaming."

Buffy felt a surge of heat race over her body. In the past she had tried to persuade herself that this feeling for him was lust, but knew it now for what it was, love. The Arrangers were right about that – they hadn't needed to alter her life, the right pattern was in front of her eyes all the time.

She refused to pretend any more. She was the Slayer, Spike was a vampire, she loved him, he loved her - the rest of the world would just have to deal with it and if they didn't - ? Too damn bad!

And even as she thought it, the Disney jungle vanished and the shining white room appeared again, with the entrance to the Magic Box open and inviting.

The sound of footsteps made her turn to see Div'vid and Anya making their way towards them. Anya looked tiny against the huge green demon, but her face was serene. Div'vid looked like a Frovlax demon who'd just swallowed a very large dose of indigestion medicine. He wasn't just bright green, he was glowing.

Buffy turned to Spike, her eyes dancing. "Time to go home. We've got a sister to see, privacy to find!"

Spike smiled, then it faded and he frowned. "What do I do about Arabella?"

Buffy hesitated. The temptation to say 'leave her to the Arrangers' was overwhelming, but she'd grown up a lot in the past few weeks. She knew that no matter how much Spike hated his cousin at this moment, sooner or later he would hate himself even more for abandoning her.

"What can we do? Try and rescue her? Is that what you want?"

Suddenly the Magic Box began to shake and tremble. Obviously the Arrangers hadn't liked the sound of her plan. "Looks like an invitation to get the hell out of Dodge," Buffy said. "We'd better get inside."

Spike stared round at the vast shiny white space that had replaced his earlier visions. Somewhere out – there – wherever there was – his evil, double-dealing cousin was running away. She'd sent his little sister to this world out of revenge and as much as he hated her for that, he could understand how she'd felt. But now he was going to have his own revenge. He would leave her here, lost in this eternity, running and running through a never-ending nightmare.

"OK, let's go, pet," he said. "I want to see Dawnie Hope!"

Buffy turned, then hesitated. She couldn't believe what she was about to say, but knew it had to be said. "When you think it through, we wouldn't know about Hope if Arabella hadn't brought you the locket."

Spike strode towards the shaking doorway. He could see Willow and Xander beckoning urgently. Anya and Div'vid were running now. They would get there first.

He glanced at his lover and read something in her eyes that hadn't been there before; well, not for him. A compassion, an understanding, an acceptance that whatever he did was okay by her, and a love that cleared his mind, pushing the hatred and revenge to one side.

He let Buffy pass him and go inside, heard her greeting Willow and Xander. The whole world was shaking now. They were going home, him and his Slayer to the sister they now shared. He'd been without Hope all these years and now, thanks to Arabella, he'd found her again.

And just before the shop blinked out of the Arrangers' world, Spike took the two magical carved lockets from his duster pocket, the keys to the way home, and dropped them on the ground.

One for silver, two for gold, three for a secret that shall never be told.

The end

Author's note: Do hope you have enjoyed this story. Not too many of you have commented but perhaps you were waiting until the end!