"I know. That you can't. But that's just a saying right. All metaphorical and stuff. I mean you can go home," she paused before continuing, her voice shrinking. "Can't I?" It was halfway between a statement and a question, full of fear and uncertainty and the beginnings of panic.

"Friad not love. Sunnydale's sunk pet. Collapsed into the hellmouth. Closed the damn thing up, my work, actually, but didn't leave much of a home to go back to."

She felt her face fall, tears coming again to her eyes. Gone. The home she had run away from for so long, just gone.

"Surprised you didn't hear bout it," Spike continued. "Made national headlines. Some rubbish about a bleeding sinkhole swallowing her up."

She hadn't heard about it. "And everyone?" she said softly.

"Survived. For the most part. We lost a few in battle. No one you'd know, actually. Well I died, but it didn't take."

"Didn't take," she echoed.

"Came back as a ghost for a while. Haunted Wolfram and Hart for a while. Drove Angel nearly round a bend. Good times, those," he smiled languidly. "The got myself all recorporalized and almost threw my life away again on Angel's hair-brained plot to overthrow his bosses, Circle of the Dark Thorn or some equally affected rubbish like that."

"You worked with Angel. Like on his team."

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm all Team Angel. And I'm still not overly fond of the git or his stupid hair. But, yeah, we worked together to save the world and everything. Soul, now remember. Officially one of the good guys."

"Still trying to mind wrap around that one." She put her head between her hands. "God, I've missed so much. I can't believe… gone…" She started to sniffle again. Not with the violence of before, but with the silent and heartbreaking despair of someone who had lost something they had just imagined returned.

He couldn't do this anymore. This wasn't the bleeding mission. Wasn't what he had been sent to the middle of this middle of bloody no-where to take care of. This was supposed to be conducting a fairly routine heist, interrupting the transfer of a couple of mystical doohickeys that Willow had her eye on. Apparently the trinkets held some powerful mojo. The kind of magics that end the world if the wrong person or demon or thing got a hold of them. Red had wanted him to intercept them from a couple of demons who were planning to sell the amulets to a couple of other equally unsavory sorts on the black market. She had called him this morning, telling him that she had found out that the transfer was supposed to take place tonight in about an hour and fifty miles away. Plenty of time for a vampire who wasn't too keen on speed limits to make it there in time to interrupt whatever deal was going down and negotiate a more favorable transaction.

By which, of course, he meant that he was in for a bit of violence and slaughter and general good times. All sanctioned by Red, Rupes, and the other members of the Council. (Not that he waited for them to give him the okay every time he took on demons or vampires or whatever nasties came his way. That was definitely not on his style. But this was official business. A bit of freelance work to keep him in blood and whiskey and smokes for a few weeks.)

Which meant that he better not bugger it up. (Didn't want to piss off Sabrina. She only played Glinda for those who were on her good side, otherwise she was all flying monkeys. Not bringing home to the goods, letting them slip through his fingers and back onto the black market where they could do some real damage, hurt someone or lots of someones, end the sodden world (which seemed to happen with down right astounding frequency) was one way to get off her good side in a right hurry. And he had seen what happened when she went all Wicked Witch of the West. It wasn't pretty.)

(He wasn't sure what side bringing home Buffy would put him.)

He sighed. "Listen Slayer, do whatever you want. But as much as I would love to sit here with you and chit chat playing catch-up and the like, I have places to be, demons to kill, maybe a bint to save. You know, the usual heroics and all."

Buffy looked startled. "No," she said shaking her. "You can't. You can't just leave."

He stood up, pulling out his wallet, putting a twenty on the table. "Actually, I can. Time constraints, you see. Have to see a couple demons about a talisman or some rubbish. Fate of the world hanging in the balance, you know. Your old line." He glanced down at the money on the table. "Keep the change."

She blanched. Anger and sadness and desperation and aggravation and annoyance and shame and guilt and some other emotions she couldn't name at the moment overwhelming her.

He had been so nice. Weirdly nice. And now it was like all the warmth had left him and had left her doubting if he had ever had a soul at all.

He was being a bastard, he knew it. Falling back on old roles, playing the bit parts that he remembered. (Only he remembered them being a lot more fun. There had been a point when he would have, had indeed, relished in torturing her. Each dig, each barb had been delicious, softening her up for when he would sink his teeth into her neck and take her, end her, and drink deeply from her. He had never been as good at the whole bit as Angelus, but he had learned from the best.) Easier to act the demon than to answer the questions in those green eyes. Better to have her hate him now than to break her more than the world had already. She might be bored and dying and hoping that he, that anyone, would give her life some purpose again. Well, she had the wrong bloke, and it wasn't hope that he could give her but only more pain which she didn't look much like she could handle. It was for her own bloody good and she should be bloody thanking him, and this would be a whole lot easier if only she didn't look so damn hurt.

Or did look hurt. Now she looked angry. Scary Slayer angry. It was a look he knew all too well.

"How dare you? I gave everything to save the world," she hissed. "I sacrificed everything that I had that was worth living for."

"Yeah, well, I died and I didn't turn tail and give up."

"I died too."

"Yeah, for like a second. It doesn't count. I died and came back as soddening spook. Do you have any idea how much it blows to pull a Casper. But I kept fighting. And you didn't. So you can stay here if you like or move on if you'd rather, but I've got somewhere to be."

"Take me with you, then."

"What's that, luv?"

"Take me with you. I'm the Slayer. You're slaying. I can help."

"You sure about that? You've been out of the game for a while. Sure you're not all rusty, out of practice."

"I almost staked you."

"Well, you caught me off guard was all. I was minding my own business, having a smoke. Wasn't expecting a wooden spoon attached to some dust-thirsty bird coming at my chest."

"I can help… And then you can tell me everything."

"Not sure that a deal I'm willing to make. There are things, Slayer. Things you don't want to know."

"News flash blondie. The whole you-don't-want-to-knowness. Not exactly abating my curiosity. Besides, did it ever occur to you that just because I might not want to know these things, it doesn't mean that I don't need to. I mean, I know this might just be a coincidence, but something tells me that there is something a little bit fatey about you showing up here like this."

"Right. So I was sent here to show you that it is a wonderful life after all," he scoffed. "Listen, Slayer, you need to look elsewhere for ZuZu's petals, because this vamp's not got them."

"I'm not letting you leave without me."

She wasn't sure where this determination had come from. She didn't want to be the Slayer again. It had been too long ago. Another life. But one not so long ago that she didn't remember how hard it had been. She hadn't been lying to the stupid over-bleached vampire. She had given everything, sacrificed everything, in the name of duty and destiny and the good of the world and other abstractions that she didn't, couldn't, possibly understand as a girl of fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and still didn't understand now. (And then when she thought that she had given everything she could the powers that be had demanded, taken, even more and had left her with nothing but the need to get away and stay away and not look back. But now she was looking back and she didn't want stop.)

She didn't want that life back. The one that she had refused to live, had spent her entire life running away from. She wasn't sure what she wanted. But she knew that she needed to be around this vampire (no matter how angry and sad and desperate and aggravated and annoyed and ashamed and guilty and some other emotions she couldn't name at the moment he made her).

He must have sensed something of this in her because he relented.

"Balls. Fine. Slayer, you can tag along. But we leave now. And you better not slow me down or get in my way." He tried to sound like he wasn't giving in to her (he suspected he always would), but he didn't think the gruff swagger bit was convincing anyone. "Or get yourself killed." He didn't need her death on hands just because he apparently had a soft spot for over-the-hill Slayers who wanted to come out of an early retirement. (He had too many deaths on his hands already. There had already been too much blood and pain and death because of him. Too much to atone for. All he could do now is fight the good fight and try his best not to inadvertently add to the body count.)

"I won't." She looked around the empty restaurant. "I just need a minute."

"One minute, then."

Buffy raced into the kitchen. "Robbie?"

"Yes, Bethy girl?"

"I need to go. I know my shift isn't over for few more hours but I need to leave. Now."

He looked at her, concerned. "Is everything alright?"

"Yes. No. I don't know."

"Doesn't sound all that promising," he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

"I know it doesn't. But it is. Or at least I think it might be. The point is that I need to find out. Which means that I need to go. Nowish." She paused. "And I don't know if I'll be back."

"You know that boy out there? You two go way back or somethin' like that?"

"Yeah," she saw Robbie nod, as if that one word explained everything. "Oh. No. It's not like that. Not at all."

"I'm not going to pretend to understand you, girl. But I will let Russ know that you had to take care of some personal business. And that you don't know when you'll be back. If you'll be back. But you listen to me, Bethy. You need anything, you give me a call, you understand?"

"Thanks Robbie." She said and then hugged him. And even though it was soggy (the kitchen was not exactly cool and Robbie's girth didn't do much to lessen perspiration), it was nice to know that he cared.

"You break my heart every time," Robbie said. "Good luck. And you remember, you need anything you call me."

"That was more than a minute," Spike said when she came up out of the kitchen. "Plus you smell like Jabba the sweat. I've meet sewer dwellers with a nicer smell. Just make sure you stay down wind of me."

"Real mature."

"So now that you've had a chance to coat yourself in Pillsbury's B.O. you're ready to go then?"

"Not quite."

"I thought I had made it clear that we are on a bit of a schedule here, Goldilocks. Don't have time for you to fuss around until it feels just right for you to leave."

"I know. Just one more thing. Then we can be off to face the terrible wizard of Oz, or whatever you have to take down." She headed out the front door. "What is this mission any way?"

"Nothing to exciting. Need to nick some amulets."

"Like magical bling?"

"That's one way of looking at it, I suppose. Dangerous stuff though. Might not be then end of the world if we can't get it off the black market, but it is not going to be pretty. Anyway, the Council figures it's safer to get the stuff off the underworld streets, and figured yours truly was the vamp for the job."

"The council? Like the Watcher's Council?"

"No. The school board. Of course, the Watcher's Council."

She hadn't had much contact with the council, which she had personally been pretty pleased about. From what she vaguely remembered reading and from what Giles had said, they didn't seem like the types to reach across the supernatural aisle for much bi-partisanship. Giles had said something about them being too stuffy and old fashioned, which coming from Giles meant that the kettle had too be really really black.

"I don't know. They always seemed like they weren't the types to get much in the way of warm fuzzies when it came to creatures of the night. Seems odd that they would entrust something so important to a vampire. Even one with a soul."

"Yeah, well. I'm reformed and so are they. Ran into some nasty business a while back. Made some serious improvements in the leadership. Now we've got to go."

She wanted to ask him more and press him further and keep him talking and find out as much as she could her curiosity growing with every bean she got him to spill, but they had come to Ali's car in the parking lot. She was dozing, peacefully, Buffy was happy to see, curled up in a sleeping bag, the front seat of her car pushed back. Buffy hated to wake her up, to interrupt the other woman's much needed nap, but if she wanted to leave with Spike, she didn't have much of a choice.

Buffy tapped gently on the window and Ali's eyes sprung open. Years of motherhood had made her wake-up reflexes pretty spry. She threw the sleeping bag off of herself and quickly got out of the car. "Is everything okay?" she asked her eyes heavy with sleep, but her brow creased with worry.

"Everything is fine," Buffy said in a tone that she hoped was soothing. "But I have to go. I don't know when I'll be back."

"What? Everythings okay, but you have to run off into the middle of the night… with some man?" she seemed to have suddenly noticed Spike. "Who is this guy?"

"Brother," Spike said, offering her his hand, hoping to speed this along. "Younger brother." Red would not be pleased if he dropped the magic ball because of this rubbish. Didn't want to let her down. Plus, he had a reputation to maintain and letting two-bit smugglers squirm past him wasn't part of it. Wouldn't be very heroic, would it?

"I didn't know you had a brother," Ali said, looking at Buffy while limply shaking Spike's hand. "Why is he English?"

"Spent a lot of time over seas. Schooling and business and the like. After I lost touch with big sis here. But since I was heading through on very important business acquisition which we need to leave right now for, I figured I'd stop in and see how the old girl was doing."

"It's true," Buffy said. "Except for the big sis part." She gave Spike a pointed look. "He is actually much much older than I am."

"Well, you haven't aged half as well."

"Alright." Ali smiled. "You two definitely have the rivalry thing down."

"Good. Let's be going then. Lovely to meet you."

"Will you be okay here by yourself until the morning crew comes in?"

"Sure, Beth, I'll be fine. Will you be?"

"Yes," Buffy assured her. "Better than I have been in a while, I think."

Ali smiled. It was true. This was the happiest she had seen Beth. Ever. Whoever this man was, and it definitely was not her brother (women did not look at their brothers like that no matter how long they had been away. Ali had five of them, she knew), he had ignited a spark in her that Ali had never seen before. In fact, she had never really realized how miserable Beth had been until now that she saw her actually alive. She wouldn't be back, Ali understood. Even if Beth didn't realize it herself, Beth knew that her friend was leaving, with this man, for good.

"Okay," she said. "Be safe." She gave Beth a big hug. "Thank you so much for everything."

"So, it's hugs all around then, is it?" Spike said, interrupting the women's embrace.

"I know, I know," Buffy said. "We have to go. Broken record much?"

"Well, if you had better listening skills, I wouldn't have to be on repeat would I?"

"Take care of yourself," Buffy said to Ali, ignoring Spike. "I'll be in touch." (She knew she wouldn't.) "I can't wait to hear about Dean's first steps." (She knew she wouldn't.)

"You take care too. Good luck," She said, and then walked inside.

"Can we finally go, then?" Spike said. "Or you have more fond farewells to take."

"No I'm ready."

"Which car is yours?"

"I don't have one."

"Well, that's grand isn't it? How did you reckon you were going to tag along then? Because if you think you're going to ride on the back of my bike, you're out of your gourd." He glowered at her, he didn't need her slowing him down. (He wasn't thinking about her body pressed against him, her around encircled around his waist. Her legs, her thighs, grazing against him. He wasn't thinking about that at all no matter how easy on the eyes this slayer might be.)

Buffy rolled her eyes and walked farther into the parking lot, deeper into the shadows. "I said I didn't have a car. Tried to learn how to drive. Turns out Buffy and cars are, like, unmixy things. But this," she said, swinging her right leg over a Harley Davison, "it turns out I actually mix pretty well with." She had slipped on a leather jacket and a pair of gloves. "Well, weren't you all White Rabbity about how we are late for a very important date?" She gestured toward the road.

He grinned to himself, making sure that she couldn't see, as a swung his leg over his own bike. Bird was full of surprises. "Hope you don't mind a bit of speed, pet," he called over the roar of their engines. "We've got some of time to make up." And with that his bike screeched out of the gravel parking lot.