Offers You Can't Refuse
Late S. 3 AU. Buffy's only way to stay alive and expose a plot by the corrupt Quentin Travers involves staying out of Sunnydale and staying one step ahead while Giles finds a way to save her life and get the evidence to stop the corrupt Head of the Council. But who watches the Slayer's back when she's the prey? If the motivation is right, Spike will do anything to help the woman he loves.
Author's Note: Okay, because some people keep mentioning this in reviews, and then they have their private messaging turned off, meaning I can't answer them, I'm going to share my reasoning here. If you don't care, feel free to jump to the fic, I won't blame you!
Point: Buffy dying won't call a new Slayer.
Counterpoint: Why not? After Buffy died in season one, she didn't lose her powers. She was still a slayer. If she died again, a slayer still dies, her power still passes.
Point: But after her death in season five, a new Slayer wasn't called.
Counterpoint: This is non-canon season three, so Buffy hasn't "died" and stayed dead yet, so we don't really know what will happen. Just have fun with the plot.
Author's Second Note: Wordy and plot heavy, but it's the last chapter for a while that is so convoluted. Smut happens in the next chapter, hang in there!
Author's Final Note: I'm going through a very rough patch in my life. I apologize for the future delay in chapters, or shorter chapter lengths. I do appreciate your continued support.
Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of show's dialogue will be used.
Dedicated to: Skeezixx, Cosmiclove, Jewel74, The Three March Hares, Ginar369, Sirius120, ShyL, micmoc, Alottalove, Embers and Flames, ammuna, Omslagspapper, Rosalea12, SanityFair, Sushibar, jackiemack916,Touch the Dark, ValidescopeWest, Mike13z50, Rachel, Cavementftw, ammuna, LunaML, Clara Johnson, DragonMouse, Nosurprises, Blade Redwind and Hulettwyo.
More and more people keep reviewing for this piece! You are making my days, weeks, and months, folks! Much love and gratitude.
Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
This was the absolute best feeling in the world. Buffy sighed in her sleep, felt warmth touching her through the window's filtered sunlight, and felt coolness under her cheek.
Spike responded to what he felt in his semi-hibernated state. Warmth. Life. Familiar aromas. Smirked a little in his sleep and held it closer.
Wetness started to seep from her, but she didn't know why. Something primal that kept trying to give her the shove to wake up. Something that screamed "danger" and "enemy". Something that had been muted to simply "caution advised".
Could be the way arms locked around her waist, and the way a hand firmly redirected her drowsy head as she tried to raise it. The husky voice mumbling, "Not dark out yet, Baby, stay in bed."
That didn't make sense. Her brain knew that. It short circuited anyway, and ignored the message to investigate the matter.
Spike huddled deeper into the hot little nest. She'd never felt so good. Made all of him relax. He had rarely been relaxed with her, always worrying about her, or worrying for her. What she'd do next, what she'd already done, what would happen if she didn't come back, or if she came back injured. "You're so warm, Princess. You just eat?"
"No..." Buffy giggled, and burrowed into hard skin. Angel never called her princess before. Or baby. Or asked if she'd eaten. So this wasn't right. Her lids stayed shut but her eyebrows began to lift. "Angel?"
Even mostly asleep it tore through him, burnt him. "How the hell can you still want him after what he did to you?" He came angrily to his senses, shouting and shoving her back as his eyes flew open.
"What are you-" Buffy's lids parted instantly.
"Oh my God! Were we-"
"Thought you were Dru, I swear, I thought-"
Two figures scrambled off on opposite sides of the bed and stared, wide eyed, disgusted. "How could you?" Buffy demanded.
"You said his name, I didn't bring it up!" Spike protested, hand on his chest.
"Of course I still want him, I love him!" Buffy spat.
"I wasn't talking about you! I was talking about Dru!"
"You were thinking of her?"
"You thought of him, didn't you?"
"Of course, who the hell else would I think of?"
Tempers flared- and cooled slightly. "Oh."
"Right." Spike nodded curtly. "Bit of- confusion."
"I wasn't awake."
"Neither was I!"
"So... good." Buffy marched out of the room, heading towards the bathroom.
"Uh. Yeah. Good."
Buffy locked herself in the bathroom, and jumped back when she turned on the tap and brown water splurted everywhere. "Oh boy," she told her reflection, "it's gonna be a really great day."
"I didn't expect to find you after only a few days." Spears entered the basement apartment with obnoxious aplomb.
"You'd better leave. I have a soul, but I still can throw trespassers out." Angel looked over his intruder. "You're pretty short, I could get a nice spiral on you." Angel said, grabbing the interloper by the back of his pressed black suit.
"Of course you can. Only, you see, I'm not a trespasser. I'm merely here to offer my deepest sympathies." Spears humbly bowed.
Angel froze. "I don't know you. It seems like a lot of trouble for you to look for me for days, just to offer your condolences."
"Well, it's part of my duty."
It's a bluff. He's talking about Buffy. How'd he find me? Doesn't matter. "Uh huh. Well. Thanks." Angel turned him towards the door. "Bye."
"Goodbye." Spears bowed again. "We Watchers do want you to know- we are sorry. She was a wonderful girl. Though it is still our position that we do not associate with vampires, regardless of soul status, you were certainly of use in preventing this most recent coup in Sunnydale. We hope you'll offer the new Slayer your continued assistance."
Don't rise to the bait. Don't rise. "I'm done with slayers. She was- she wasn't just a slayer to me. She was the only one I'll ever love- ever loved." Angel murmured.
Spears hesitated. The pain and longing, the regret in him... So genuine. But you can't trust demons. Even ones who claim to be "reformed" in some way.
"I understand. However, your quest for redemption is admirable. If you should change your mind, you can get in touch with her through her Watcher, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. I believe you know him?" He waited for Angel to acknowledge him, but he simply stared, eyes unblinking, black, and frozen. Spears was playing a dangerous game, but he continued to play, unfazed. "She should arrive tomorrow, perhaps the day after. Well. It is a sad business, but not uncommon, unfortunately." He tipped his hat yet again, making as if to withdraw.
It's all a bluff. But why's he bluffing, aren't we bluffing them? No. No, oh God, it could be real. Sometimes guilt in abundance skews one's judgement. It might be real. This might be real. They could have gotten to her, Giles said they were trying. He said not to say anything.
"Was there something else?" Spears asked as Angel's grip loosened, but his hand still remained outstretched.
I could have stopped it. I should have run with her, I should have helped her. Oh God. No. No! Pain stabbed him, unrelenting and deeper than he'd thought possible. Stop it. Calm. Inhale. Exhale. Right, no breath. Just let him know you know he's not going to rattle you.
Do I act grief stricken? I would. I should.
But sometimes grief- grief you have that isn't pretend, fights with denial. I shouldn't have let her go. But I had to. Should have protected her, and if it's real... It's my fault. So it can't be real.
"No. Nothing else. Leave me alone. All of you. I won't be working with a slayer, ever again. I worked with Buffy. Buffy." He clarified firmly, something suddenly bright in his eye.
This is the one they called Angelus. The most hated and feared. Can the monster be grieving? Or merely shedding crocodile tears? Well, time to find out. Let's just detonate this glaring time bomb, shall we?
"I'm sorry to intrude on your grief. I mean no offense." This wasn't close enough to the mark apparently. "Oh- I spoke to Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. He couldn't find your contact information-"
"That's the way it was supposed to be." Angel growled.
"But he did ask me to tell you they'll be bringing the body back, services will be held on-"
Snap. Boom. "What?"
Spears gave him a sympathetic smile and murmured, "Shall I tell them to expect you?" A truly well bred and accomplished liar, he maintained his silence after that, knowing he had sown enough seeds to bear some sort of fruit.
"I don't- but... she was... no, Giles would have t-" Angel fumbled for words, and then shut his mouth swiftly when he saw a tiny triumphant smile flash to life on Spears' face, and just as quickly disappear.
"Good morning." Spears bowed himself out of the apartment gracefully- than ran like hell.
Angel tore after him, up the stairs, out into the morning sun, not caring for the pain as the light hit him, only caring that he said something, something to make that little worm smirk. Smirk like he suddenly had a piece of puzzle he'd been looking for. She's alive. She's alive and I screwed it up, and if she dies now, it's all my fault!
No matter what, things are my fault.
"Whoa, man, whoa! You're burstin' into flames there, Angel!" Doyle, a recent acquaintance, and apparent asset to his path for atonement, caught the vampire by the arm and hauled the flaming creature back under the shadow of the building. In the street, women screamed, watching a man running as fire seemed to erupt on his skin. Spears was already driving away.
"Get off of me! Get off of me, I have to stop that guy!"
"How? By turning into a pile of ash in front of frightened women?"
"You don't understand!" Angel shoved him away. Half charred, the pain on his body was no match for the pain inside it. "What'd I do? Damn it! I have to make a call, Doyle, so stay out of my way!"
"I found him, and secured the information, at great personal risk to myself, Sir." Spears spoke in a self-congratulatory tone.
"Yes, yes, well done. She's with him?"
"No, he's living in a small basement flat in a seedy area of Los Angeles. Alone. I was able to get in the apartment itself. I dropped the information that we had a new slayer coming, and expressed my condolences for the old one's passing. I even said Pryce had been searching for him, mentioned services that were to be held. He took the bait. He implicated Rupert Giles."
Oh Christmas, Boxing Day, and Bank Holiday all in one. "What? How? What did he say?" Travers demanded eagerly.
"He said 'Giles would have-' and then realized his error. But it was plain to see he was about to say 'Giles would have protected her', or Giles would have let him know, or done something. He acted as if he knew all along that she was alive, in hiding. As if her former Watcher knew it as well."
Travers felt his eagerness diminish. Then turn to anger. "That's it? That's all?"
"Well, surely that-"
"There are a thousand ways that sentence could be completed! Even if he was about to say either of those things that you've concocted, that is what anyone who knew of the close relationship between Rupert Giles and his Slayer would say! They would immediately refuse to believe he, as the over-involved Watcher he was, would allow anything to happen to the girl he loved as a daughter! He was expressing disbelief for something involving Rupert Giles and that's all you can infer from that partial sentence."
"Well- erm. He could have been expressing either, culpability or-"
"You cannot expect us to take a viable lead from that. You- you've always been overeager, Spears. Like a pathetic dog, bringing the master any old bone when he sends you for something specific." But that was why he picked him to search for Angelus. This agent was eager to succeed to the point of ruthlessness while still being obedient and giving the air of appropriate behavior, doing anything commanded. "You also spread a false story that we have another slayer arriving? That there is a funeral - a second one- planned?"
"He wouldn't crack, Sir, unless I played on his emotions a bit more." Spears informed him.
"He STILL didn't crack! He said one word that may mean something, but most likely does not. Why did you leave, why didn't you interrogate him further?"
"He's a vampire, Sir, he could've killed me."
And so may I. "You've compromised everything. If Giles wasn't involved in something questionable, he will most certainly start suspecting that we are. What's worse, you've left Angelus alive, and he may contact her friends, her family... Everyone. If they are in contact with her, they'll tell her. The girl will be driven farther into hiding. If they aren't in contact, we're about to have a massive issue on our hands when Giles hears from the vampire that we've found her body and a new slayer is arriving!"
"A lie to a vampire is nothing to concern ourselves with, surely. And Rupert Giles- he's a disgraced member, a former member, who would listen to him?" Spears began to sweat. "You told me to say whatever I needed to. I was following your orders!"
Travers' voice lost its rage, returned to a flat and emotionless timbre."You showed poor judgement. You didn't follow through. You have put us in a most untenable position. Spears- you're withdrawn. Get back to London." Travers hung up, seething quietly. He'd have to have him eliminated.
Implications indeed. And as if you could trust a vampire. No good searching for the girl with him anyway, even if they'd been on completely the wrong track and she was hidden all the time- the vampire was warned now.
They apparently were hiding in one of Giles' old friend's homes, her and one other, whether it was Angelus or not.
She must be found.
Rupert Giles must be kept away from those who might care to investigate the matter.
Travers sighed. Heavy lies the head that wears the crown...
This is the whole problem with having anyone else involved. That's why there is but one god per realm. The more you lose control of your power, the more you lose control, full stop.
Travers picked up his elegant receiver and pressed the extension to an office seldom used. "Collins?"
"Spears. Remove him. Nothing flashy. A suicide, if you would."
"Very good, Sir."
Travers sighed again. He'd keep MacAndrews and Gervais chasing phantoms and trails, he'd discredit spears, and the only one knew of his true intentions would be Wyndham-Pryce. Spears was too eager to be successful- Pryce was simply eager not to be publicly humiliated. That was the key difference, and he should have considered it when appointing Spears to look for the vampire.
No matter. He would spread some discrediting rumors about Spears going rogue, making up implausible tales, a desperate but unstable man. When the Council heard of his permanent removal, they'd understand, suicide, or execution, it makes no difference. You mustn't have someone like that handling such delicate tasks- if they might have enough backbone to start questioning your motives.
A click, and another dial, this time the extension directed him to the one secretary- or bookkeeper, whatever little clerical service person she was- he knew was already involved.
"Finance and Records, this is Eugenia spe -"
"Yes, I want you to do something for me." He snapped off impatiently.
"Of course, Mr. Travers."
"I want you to put a trace on Rupert Giles visa and passport. If he tries to leave the United States, or even to fly in within it, I want to be notified."
"I see." Ginny said slowly, trying to mask the sudden trepidation she felt. "I'm sorry, he's not coming up in the active files, so I can't really-"
"Simply go retrieve his information from inactive status and set the trace. It's only temporary."
"We don't need to discuss it. You needn't discuss it with anyone. Is that understood?"
"Because if I cannot trust my staff to keep confidential matters confidential- their services will be terminated. Clear?"
Ginny winced at the sharp click in her ear, and then punched in another number with shaking white hands.
"Robbie, listen. Is Rupert planning to- travel?"
"Why?" Robson asked guardedly.
"Don't start pulling that suspicious shit on me, Robbie. Or this ring comes right off."
"Darling, please, this is no time for hysterics."
"Oh, I'm nowhere near hysterics, though I should be. I'm trying to warn you- Travers just asked me to keep a trace on his visa and passport."
"Well for heaven's sake don't." Robson hated putting her in the middle of this. If Travers ever found out about her helping them... Widowed before a groom.
"Thank you, Darling, I wasn't planning to, but I needed to tell you! Is he on the run? Is he traveling?"
"Ah- no." Robson lied, safer not to speak the truth while talking to her at Council headquarters. The truth was, after researching and calling around, they'd found a few other members of the Council who they trusted, and who wanted to hear "interesting perspectives on current Council policies", was they way they'd phrased it. Should they be able to raise a group of six, they could call for a closed hearing of evidence from the full board- minus the one in question. If they found a need for further investigation, the "accused" would be informed. Rupert would have to come to England to give his evidence, and soon, as in this week.
"Right. That's the tone of voice you use when you tell me you've sorted out dinner and all it means is you've left money for take away." She bit her lip and looked over her shoulder. The best way of doing something behind the boss's back was to do it at once. In a few moments, if possible, before they had time to pop down and check in one you. Still, something was far wrong, and had been getting more and more so. "Look, I'll take care of it. But add this to the list of unusual things. And then- Robbie, I think I have to stop helping until whatever this is is over."
"You're a jewel for doing anything at all."
"I know, and you're lucky to have me." She smiled faintly.
"Took the words right out of my mouth."
"You be doubly so, my girl."
They hung up, Ginny turning back to her files and computers, and Robson to Aberswyth.
Hmm. United Kingdom passport, England, # 31- Ginny punched Giles' passport number carefully, entering one digit at a time. Except the last digit. That she deliberately made one higher, entering a nine instead of an eight at the end. Her database brought up the option to view details. She looked around. Her superior wasn't around, nor were any of the other clerical staff. She quickly hit the button.
"Mr. Brompton of Falcon Head, retired literature teacher- hasn't used his passport since 1979. That seems fairly safe." She ended her session with the touch of her mouse and went back to her filing, humming softly. This was a simple, single slip of a finger. A minor mistake on an inactive agent that no one would ever think to question her about. Travers would only look into it should there be movement. She smiled slightly as she considered the fact that Travers would likely be waiting a long time before he saw any movement on this particular quarry.
"What's the problem today?" Abby put down his paper and flicked cigarette ash haphazardly over the edge of their hotel end table.
"Travers wants a trace on Giles' passport."
"Shit. Still- that's fairly suspicious behavior for Travers, a man not involved in anything 'suspicious'."
"Oh, evidence-wise, this is lovely. Mucking about with an inactive member's personal life for no apparent reason? Horribly bad form. Getting Rupert over to testify, however...
"We ought to try to get things in motion today, while MacAndrews and Gervais are off his tail."
"Excuse me! What are you doing? This is private property. Beth, get your mace!"
"Oh, no need!" MacAndrews stepped neatly from the side of the house, and tipped his hat. "We're just friends of Mr. Edmundson. We were in the neighborhood, and decided to drop in. Looks as though he's not home."
Paul looked at them suspiciously. "If you're friends, shouldn't you have known that? If you're friends, why were you poking around the yard?"
"Well, we had business in Seattle, decided to drive up."
"Down. Drive down." Gervais corrected hastily. "He didn't answer his phone, but as we'd come all this way, we thought we'd just see if he was in the yard. but then- you know Geoffrey. Always out and about."
Beth looked suspicious as well. "He likes to stay home. Or at the museum."
"That's what we meant. Slave to his work. He's still on that lecture tour, of course. I told you we should have called Rupert Giles before we came. He would know Geoff's schedule."
Beth and Paul exchanged a glance, and a hesitant smile. "Do you know them?"
"Them?" MacAndrews looked confused before Gervais discreetly elbowed him. "Oh- oh. Yes. His- um- young friend."
"Shortish? Female, dark blondish brown, green eyes, no distinguishing marks, weighs about-" Gervais elbowed him harder as his colleague launched into her official description.
"Becky!" Beth beamed.
Paul got a knowing look. "Ah ha. Friend. No wonder they called themselves the Johnsons. Geoff told us he wasn't using his real name."
"Becky Johnson and Rupert Johnson? Ha, those- little devils." Gervais pieced it together quickly and tried to laugh.
"But Rupert's in-"
"Oh, no, he still wanted to be called Giles. Nice fella. Pale, but nice."
"Well... no offense. A lot of you English types are pale compared to the locals around here. I work with the fishing commission, so I'm out on boats all the time." He shrugged. "No offense." He repeated.
"Oh, sweetie, you don't think they were married? They seemed so happy together. I think they were."
"We'd always received the impression our friend was destined for bachelorhood. Waiting as long as he has..." Gervais fished for clues to the male's age. The wife took the bait.
"He couldn't have been more than thirty!" Beth poo-pooed them with a wave of her hand. "I think it's better to wait a few years, myself. Mid twenties, late twenties. Becky seemed young for it, but when you know, you know. Our niece-"
"I'm sure. My goodness, here we are chatting away, and all we wanted to do was pop in on Geoffrey. Oh, but if Giles and -Becky- are around, we'd love to see them, too. Old friends. Giles, that is."
Paul and Beth exchanged a look. "They left. Becky was sick."
Beth smiled broadly and leaned forward, dropping her voice, "I think she might be-"
"Sorry, sorry. My husband," she cast a long suffering look at Paul, "thinks because I'm intuitive that I'm 'nosy'."
"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing more than neighborly kindness, ma'am." MacAndrews smarmed. Gervais winced internally and smiled his sincere yet insincere smile as they backed up a few steps.
"We'll have to see if we can catch up to them. Ha," he chuckled aloud, although giving the impression he was more wondering to himself, "I wonder if he's still puttering about in the old Citroen?" Come along, be good oblivious little Americans.
Paul shook his head. "Sorry to disappoint you, friend. Just going around in a nice late model Buick. Missing the hood ornament, but I'm pretty sure it was a Buick. Sorta dark color. Not that I saw it for more'n a minute, passing down the street."
"That's not a color, Paul. 'Dark'? Honestly. It was-"
"You don't know colors, woman."
"I know colors better than you. You can't even tell your navy socks from your black socks."
"Beth, you're the one who-"
MacAndrews and Gervais left the couple arguing good naturedly on the front porch, and drove off, back towards Seattle, back to the airport.
"Someone claimed to be him."
"Used his name in some form."
"It couldn't have been him. Under thirty. He's certainly vigorous, but he'd never pass for a man in his twenties."
"No, definitely not him. And pale. Hm."
"Pale seems significant in this case, I admit."
"They said she was sick."
"They also said they acted happy together."
"That makes no sense."
"You think she's been taken by that vampire?"
"Perhaps he's drugging her."
"Slayer bodies work through most toxins."
"Not if the dosage is continually applied. Say in each meal."
"This is dreadful. Have we ever had a situation like this before?"
"There was that girl in the eighteen forties. Kidnapped from a railway line."
"Didn't she end up overturning a coal car?"
"As I said- this makes no sense."
"No, it isn't Angelus. I've just had Spears confirm a sighting of him in LA. Verbal, visual, and physical, if you listen to him whining on."
"Well if it isn't Angelus and it isn't Rupert, who is it?"
"It's some other pale man who's apparently under thirty. An unknown player. Possibly human, possibly vampire."
"Then what should we do?"
Travers hastily calculated a number of variables in his head. They had a direction, a vague description, possible aliases, a car model- a possible color, or shade at least, as well. They had a disagreement over Giles' involvement or not.
One thing he was sure of, one absolutely clear factor that was in no way to be tampered with, was that fact that she must be found. And killed. The more time that this horrible farce went on, the more people that were involved, the harder it would be to keep a quiet little assassination looking like an accident. Should this turn into a manhunt, involving local police, circulating photos and putting out those annoying little flyers, he shuddered to think. Fortunately- Slayers are supposed to remain a secret, and everything about them steeped in mystery. And most fortunately- no one dared to question him.
"I'm afraid that we'll risk creating a widespread hunt for her, driving her deeper underground. The majority of her family and friends are also convinced- or doing an unshakeable job of pretending to be convinced, that she is deceased. This has to be handled delicately."
"Of course, Sir."
"I've decided to call in a specialist." He reached slowly into the bottom drawer of his desk, finding a book that by rights should still be in the hands of the Council's head librarian. One of the benefits of having a master key. "You two should canvass the area- discreetly, perhaps drive back down instead of flying- look for signs of her trail."
Gervais frowned at the phone. "Ah- yes, Sir." Canvass? Her trail? What does that mean, we stop and look at every young blonde of her height and build? We'll be arrested. Or should we be looking for young pale men? We'll still get arrested.
We can follow the car. A possibly maroon late model Buick. There is no trail.
But one does not tell one's all powerful boss that.
"We'll get right on it."
Travers smiled contentedly. That's exactly what all his operatives should say.
"Remember how I said I was bored in Washington? I lied." Buffy groaned.
"Don't shush me, it makes me angry and bored. I would rather have one undesirable emotion at a time, okay?"
"I got you your groceries. Go make fried eggs or something."
"I'm not hungry. I want to go running."
"You hate running."
"I hate the cabin more."
"If I strangle you, will you be quiet?" Spike asked in a sinisterly sugary voice as he finished polishing his lighter, his knife, her knife, his new trophy. Well, the polishable one. Though I could polish her right off.
"Survey says no." Buffy smiled in the same sort of way.
"Why don't you go play in your room?"
"I'm not six!"
"Are you sure? Because you're acting like you're six."
"How can we get the same four channels? We're up higher, shouldn't we have better reception?"
"We get PBS Portland- you just have to turn the telly thirty degrees to the right."
Buffy stood up and looked at, adjusting it slowly, trying to look confident.
Spike sighed. "Hold onto it- pretend I'm behind you and I just did somethin' stupid." Her elbow jerked back reflexively.
The static gave birth to a smiling woman. "- is made possible by contributions from viewers like you!"
Buffy looked surprised. "Oh, that's thirty degrees!"
"Welcome." He smirked and laid the rag down.
"I don't want to watch Finance Weekly!" Buffy wailed as the sponsors disappeared.
"Oh for God's sake, it'll be dark enough soon."
"What happens then? We watch the ten o'clock movie and fight over the dictionary. I don't even want to risk calling home in case they're being watched..."
"Look, Slayer, I am not the entertainment director on the cruise ship, I am the muscle. You go entertain yourself."
She set her shoulders. "Fine. I'll take care of my plans, you take care of yours."
She walked away. He watched. He knew his words had probably been a mistake.
Three hours later...
He was right. She was the grudge holding type. It was dark, but she didn't want to spar. Didn't want to go climb the little peak over the lake, didn't want to go down to the lake, didn't want to eat, or talk, or even engage him after he was deliberately obnoxious.
He heard her muttering at one point, and shaking the mobile. The only thing she did say to him was "crappy signal."
"Willow? Wills! Oh God, I miss you so much!" Buffy gushed.
"I miss you too! Are you eating toast?" Willow asked over the muffled crackling sounds emanating from the phone.
"No, should I be?"
"You sound weird."
"Oh, crappy signal up here. And boring. Boring, boring, boring, oh my God. Are you guys totally at the Bronze every night now?"
Willow beckoned Xander over as Joyce and Giles continued to have whispered conversations in the kitchen of Buffy's house. "Uh- no. We just sit. A lot. Worry. I have to hang out with Oz, but-"
"Have to? Don't you want to?"
"Oh, no, I do! I just mean- it's not the same until you're back. I feel like I can't settle, like something is always worrying me. It won't stop until you're home."
"Seconded. I can't even start my trip to see America, until I know you're- y'know. Safe. Back. Fill in the blank with the appropriate comforting word. My parents are kicking me out at the end of the month though- they kind of invited my Uncle Mack to stay for the summer since they figured I'd be gone."
"Oh man. I'm sorry, I'm screwing everything up."
"No- see, it's okay! Because G-man is totally going to 'take me in' until you're back, and then Will will have the perfect excuse to hang there, hanging with yours truly. It's all gonna be okay. As long as you come back-" he swallowed, "everything will be okay."
Buffy's eyes filled. I'm not the only one who's life is on hold. "I miss you guys." She whispered, for maybe the hundredth time since they'd been apart.
"We miss you- wait, your mom is pulling rank on us."
"Sweetie? Are you okay? You're in the new safe place? And it's really safe? Have you- have you done a perimeter check?" Joyce pelted questions at her in a brisk voice trying to prevent emotion from overtaking her.
Buffy looked at the phone in amazement. "Is that my Mom? What do you know about perimeter checks?"
"I've been reading! Xander lent me a lot of books about the military."
"Wow. Um. That's great you have a new hobby, Mom."
"It's better than going crazy and I've finished writing all the thank you notes for all the casseroles and pies people have sent. I closed the gallery for a few weeks. So there's not a lot to-"
"You closed the store?"
"Honey, no one in their right mind would believe I could work with you ... Anyway, they'd be right. I can't concentrate on selling or buying pieces of paper and rock when my baby is hiding out from these awful people."
My mom just called art, the thing she probably loves as much as me, more than me on a bad day- 'pieces of paper and rock'. Oh boy. Damage control time. "Oh, it's not so bad. It's nice here." Buffy said brightly.
"Giles told me that someone found you yesterday."
"But Sp- uh, Spooky Dude is dust. He went poof." Spike killed him. Spike does a good job at the fighting stuff. Like me. No wonder we're going nuts. And then we take it out on each other, switching off on whose turn it is to be the nutcase.
"Vampires? And these men in suits? Buffy, these can't be good people if they can hire vampires."
"Mom- some of the best people in the world hire vampires." Buffy laughed softly, thinking about Giles. "It all depends on the vampire."
"Oh, Buffy, you're not with that Angel person, are you?"
"Hrrm. No, she isn't." Giles interjected. "Buffy, I rather need to speak to you regarding that."
"Give me a minute, Rupert." Joyce said firmly. "Buffy, if these people-"
"Mom, it's not 'these people', it's maybe one or two people. Two or three people in a big bunch of emotionally repressed, but basically good guys. Like the mayor, Mom. One civil servant turning into a building sized snake doesn't mean all your elected officials are secretly evil, devil worshipping immortal wannabes." Buffy paused. "I think that sounded better and more comforting in my head."
"I think I'll let you talk to Mr. Giles. Although- can I speak to this person protecting you? I don't like the idea of you moving to a place none of us know about with a strange man."
Oh he's pretty strange..."Mom, last summer I was somewhere you didn't know with strange people and I'm just fine."
"You're on the run from an assassin. You're not just fine. Bringing up last summer didn't help matters, either."
"You can't talk to him, Mom. It's safer if you don't know who he is. But you've met him, and - some of the time I think you liked him."
"Is- he- does he have a family to get back to?" Joyce ignored Giles turning shades of purple with anxiety behind her.
"Joyce, I must speak to Buffy and-"
"I want to make sure this man is as invested in her safety as we are!"
"He totally is, Mom. He has someone to get home to." Just like me. Only not just like me at all.
"Does he have a clean driving record?"
"You could have an accident!"
Really probable. But only when I drive. "He always pulls off the road in bad weather." Buffy smiled. To a little hotel. A little hotel that I'd never go into. Because people only go in there to- whoa. Okay, no more thoughts about that when my mom is on the phone. Moms have radar.
"You're not getting a crush on him are you? Because that's what happened with Angel, I think. The danger and the mystery, and he was able to - Buffy? Buffy?" All she could hear was wheezing and shrieking.
Buffy was laughing too hard to answer.
She'd taken the call up in the loft. Reception was better. What she didn't know was how well sound carried through the unsealed wood between it and the staircase, and the living room by default.
Spike had stopped his listless pursuit of a truly awful paperback romance to listen to her. Heard her start to snuffle when talking to the witch and the boy and her mum. Heard her voice get soft and serious when she tried to reassure her mother. About him, of all things! And now the hysterics.
"Do I need to come up there?" He finally shouted.
"I insist you give me the phone!" Giles wrested it from Joyce's fingers with an apologetic nod. "Buffy! Buffy stop that noise and listen. You're probably attracting attention from everyone miles around."
"Well, as we're the only ones around for miles, I guess I can live it up." Buffy wiped her eyes and sighed into the phone. "What's up, Watcher-mine?"
"Several things. I heard from Angel today."
"You did? Is he okay? Did he-" she stopped in mid-gush, heart suddenly crouching low inside her, "ask about me?"
No, he hadn't actually. Other than the demand, "She's still alive, isn't she?". He'd been too busy self-berating and worrying, and explaining. "Yes, he- he hoped you were well, hoped this would all be resolved soon."
Buffy knew that tone. The gentle, encouraging voice. Like when he told her all grown ups knew what they were doing and the heroes and villains were always clear cut, easily distinguishable. Well, if he lies, I lie, too. "That's nice. Tell him I said hi."
"Buffy." The knowing tone.
"I know, I know. So? News?"
"Angel was -ah- caught out by one of Travers' agents. He may have let something slip, although nothing serious. It may implicate-"
"Caught? He got caught? Is he hurt? Did they-"
"No, no, dear, caught out. He reacted badly, blurted out my name- in regards to this matter. At least that's his take on it. I think he may be overly concerned." Except when you only know half the story you become paranoid to begin with and when people've been in your house and gone through your records... "At any rate, as the Council is looking into my life and over my shoulder, I suppose he was wise to be concerned and let me know the possibility. But it does mean things have to happen as quickly as they can. I've got to fly to England to meet with a portion of the Council."
His voice was droning in her ear but made no sense. Angel almost got caught? He got Giles caught? Almost caught? Angel or Angelus, he's always hurting someone. "Are you going to be okay?"
Spike, outside the loft door, frowned. Go in or not? Sounded like something happened, something that could compromise his job so shouldn't he get in on it?
"I'll be in and out before anyone knows I'm there. Just a day trip."
"Who's going to watch your back? I have Spike, who do you have?"
"Wesley will come. The phone is going to stay at your mother's house. Erhm. We haven't figured out a way to offer you more protection on the magical realm as yet, but Willow and Xander are planning to spend the time researching alternatives to cloaking and glamours, things you can do without a specific casting or having a witch at your side."
"I can be by her side!" Willow's protesting voice piped up. "Totally able to be at the side. Sidekick. see, Giles, it's in my job description!" Willow frantically whined.
"No, now stop that." Giles said sternly. "The last thing I need is to sprout two 'someone I feel responsible for' ulcers instead of one. I already think I've ruined my stomach lining."
"No buts. Wesley's already had to concoct a family emergency to have a plausible excuse to fly home on such short notice, and your mother is having Willow and Xander stay the time I'm away, on the pretext of doing some joint grief therapy. I've got to go, I just wanted to make sure to keep you updated."
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm- I'm updated." Buffy answered in a numb voice. Angel screwed up. Giles is going into the lion's den with Mr. Peanut's British twin as back up, my mom's sitting at home going insane, and my best friends are wasting our last summer as irresponsible goof offs pretending to be in mourning so they don't end up in real mourning. "Everything sounds like it's moving along."
He heard her stop speaking. Heard that bloody awful sniffling start. The "I can't cry but I'm crying' sound. Some fighter. Maybe he'd been wrong about the stamina. Or maybe it's easier to lie about it, so you stop thinking about her in ways you shouldn't.
"Alright, what the hell's gone wrong now?" He demanded, barging in. He wished he hadn't. She was all bunched up, phone at her feet, tucked up in a corner in the dark. He kicked people when they were down. Part of being evil. But she looked like she was trying so hard to pull herself back up and he'd smashed it. He no longer enjoyed grinding her back down. Maybe because he'd been trying to teach her to build herself up.
"Oh, the usual. Family and friends in danger, keeping secrets, living lies, Angel screwed up- maybe- and he didn't think to ask about how I was because he was so busy freaking out that he'd made it worse." Buffy told her kneecaps, not looking at him. "You can get out now, there's nothing new you need to worry about. It's all me stuff."
But he didn't move. Looked for something to say. "Heard you laughing. Can't be all bad."
"My mom says funny stuff sometimes."
"I liked your mum."
"You mentioned that. But you can stop now."
"Can't turn off how you feel about someone." Shit.
What? Why's he looking at me like that now? "I guess not. Or I would so flick the Angel switch into the off position." Buffy murmured, pulling her knees in tighter, tried not to go into any other 'weird contexts'.
"Not me. I'd flip Dru's switch instead. Always could do that- well certain switches."
Buffy's insides suddenly knotted. Fingers, flipping, seeking, arching up, almost hurting and then wave after wave of pleasure, and feeling him close to her- without feeling like she was giving away everything. Oh it was too much, but her life was always about giving more than she could stand, right?
Think of other things. And don't look at him.
Don't stare! Do not think about the Slayer's "on switch". The one hidden up so high inside, so tight and tender, a ripe little morsel, a sweet little bud, a- Damn. I'm hungry. And horny. Shit.
"Leave you to your misery then." He left.
Misery loves company, Buffy thought, and watched him go, feeling grateful for his strange brand of quiet, abrupt empathy, and annoyed because she felt they could reach out to each other more. They had before.
She stayed. She thought.
Her crossbow was gone, which meant he was out hunting in the post-midnight hours. She didn't slide her jacket on, she didn't take the phone, stupidly. But I'll be right back. Just tell him what I want to say, so I can make peace and I can sleep. I should so not be worried about peace with Spike, but whatever. She felt oddly empty knowing he wasn't in the house, and he wouldn't be coming to lay beside her. She shouldn't want that, shouldn't feel like that. But you can't turn off how you feel about someone...
Spike roared over his kill. This was a whole different type of primal and he'd begun to enjoy it. Easier to enjoy things when you don't get your arse kicked in the process of gaining them. He looked up- saw her in the shadows, drawing back with a gasp and a wince. Okay- sometimes the violence between action and reaction made the victory sweeter. He licked his lips, and dove back down. She can stare if she wants. This vamp eats.
I'm now a vegetarian. I can be a vegetarian. Pasta, pizza, veggies, bananas, salads, peanut butter, chocolate, eggs- oh no, that's unborn chickens. Oh no, does pasta have eggs in it? Flour, water- She was trying not to be sick, She was looking anywhere but at him, and the massive shaggy furred deer- or deer thing- under him, with its lifeless eyes and twisted back head.
"You like venison, Luv?" Spike chuckled, seeing her suddenly turn and do a silent retch, though nothing came out. "It'll be a bit dry now, but I saved you some."
"Don't be gross. I'm considering becoming a vegetarian, okay?"
"If veg had blood, I'd drain them too." He rose from his knees, wiped his mouth with a wicked look. "Sorry. Gotta eat." He reminded her completely unapologetically.
"I know. I know you do, and I know you have to fight. I wanted to say- sorry. I guess. I don't know. In my head it was worked out better." She kept her distance from him and his meal.
"Sorry? For what?"
"You do good at what Giles asked you to do. Watch my back and make sure I don't get found and don't get killed. That's my job too- only usually on a big, world-sized scale. When we get cooped up, we get crazy, and drive each other nuts, and when we freak out at each other it doesn't help. So I'm sorry I wasn't very- I don't the word. Friendly? Nice? Not hostile?"
He might've just drained a bag of hallucinogen for as surreal as he felt. Words came out slowly. "You don't have to be nice."
"Just don't do any good to let ourselves rot. Cooped up. In chains." She'd be something to chain up, wouldn't she? Stop that!
"Hate chains." She muttered bitterly.
"Me, too actually. Prefer to be able to-" I think we were on different topics. Oh, bugger she just realized it too! "We're men of action, you an' me." He said hastily.
"Women and Vamps of action." She corrected. And darted. Not part of the plan, the plan was to apologize. But this was action, and that was them.
"Oi!" Spike blinked at the now empty space where she'd stood.
"Practice! Not getting caught. Not being found!"
"You make too much noise not to be found!"
She went silent.
"Won't say that again." He muttered. "Alright! I'm gonna get you!"
He heard a faint little laugh- and he smiled.
Okay, the good thing about being in the middle of nowhere is that no one is around to see you make an ass out of yourself and act like Tarzan slash secret agent man slash real badass. Or, in other words, like a Slayer who's been kept off the field and a vampire who's been playing good for a couple weeks.
"No fair, no fair!"
It also helps when the person you're trapped with is someone you've been wanting to kill for a long time- but you can't since you've been corralled into a sick partnership. You have all the drive, and still know you're not gonna die.
"Tree branches count as stakes!"
"Not unless I point it at your heart."
"Then I can pull out the fangs, as long as I don't aim them at your neck!"
They went from chasing to grappling and back, keeping silent and stealthy during the running and dodging, and switching to hissing and shouting when the contact started, running from the cabin through the dense woods, and fighting their way up the little leg of the mountain, and back down to the lake.
Hours of this "sport" and for no real purpose sent Buffy's "this is stupid" alarm off more than once.
Her adrenaline overrode it. She paused when she had him at arms' length.
"Ah- your game face is on, Luv." Spike, in his own, didn't punch her face as he'd planned, but instead patted her cheek, something covetous in his eye. "All steel under silk."
Oh. Oh no, bad feelings.
"Such pretty velvet over iron." He purred, letting his touch deepen, palm caressing. Don't think like that. Why not? Always complimented her- when it was worth complimentin', and this is.
Yes. Yes, bad feelings, but worth it feelings. Like when you know you're going to eat the whole pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream. "Shame you're not so pretty." She mocked, smiling, not moving her head away.
"But every bit as hard." He seized her hand and forced it to rest high upon his face, thumb to cheek, fingers to brow. "Strength is the same, it's all in how you use it, not how you wear it."
Run. Run away, he doesn't touch me, I don't touch him. Not face to face in the moonlight, panting like you're some animal, some freak, some- She blinked. The longer she stared in her eyes, the more she thought she could understand the mind behind them. Some warrior. It's always inside me, in both of us. Might as well learn to use it. No, not even use it, just- be it.
"You better stop admiring and start running." Buffy didn't shy from his hand, she took it down herself, soft skinned fingers lightly lifting it from her cheek.
"Oh, so now it's the other way? Spike runs and Slayer chases?"
She nodded. "Yep. And like you said- gotta learn not to back away from it, right?"
"That's right. Don't fight it off, fight with it."
He ran, and he tested her. He went on dangerous routes, routes she'd ignored before in favor of taking the "safer", more human friendly paths. She didn't do that this time, stayed right on his tail, chasing him to the ends of the earth- which meant right to the lake.
Buffy watched him dive in, coat leaving him in one smooth fling back with both arms, before they went forward, and broke the black water. Okay. He wins. That has to be slimy or about forty degrees. I mean, it's summer, but it's summer up in the mountains, in the relatively limited sun zone. And it's just a game right now, if it was serious, I'd totally do it. Diving into icy lake water is totally a Slayer thing and right now I'm not-
I am not supposed to pull back, and slide into normal girl mode. I'm not supposed to think there's "slay mode" and "normal mode", there's just supposed to be me- doing this.
She's the real deal. Spike watched her slow, stop, and start running again, harder than ever. She hit the water like a gymnast flying from her springboard, and popped up several yards in, gasping and shivering instantly. She is still human after all, and this isn't life or death.
"You have a- an evil streak." Buffy spat water and blinked, the cold water jarring her out of her confident mindset.
"I know." He swam over to her. "An' I broke one of my cardinal rules. Never get the boots wet if you can help it."
Buffy squirmed out of his arm as it wrapped around her. "I give, okay? Stop."
"Not fightin', helpin'. Your lips are blue." He pushed her into shallower water, as roughly as he could manage while still supporting her shaking body.
"I'm good, I can touch bottom now." She straightened up, and scraped her wet hair back from her face, and squeezed it out.
I've seen all of her, more or less. She looked good. She looks good this way, too. Spike eyed her clinging wet clothes. Cold, wet clothes apparently, he eyed her chest. "So- you took the plunge."
"I wasn't going to let you get away." She half-trudged, half- swam to the shore.
"Well done." He followed her, then stopped. "You idiot!"
"What? What'd I - ah!" She skidded in wet stones on the shallow's bottom, half falling. Spike roughly seized her by the elbow and hauled her up so hard she heard tendons pop.
"The phone! It's been mojoed or enchanted, whatever, so it's no typical little piece of wiring, but you bloody well submerged it!"
"I didn't!" She shook him off and pushed against his chest. Even with his vampiric grace he skidded on the smooth round stones, boots already full of water, weighing him down. "I was only planning to be out here for a minute, not an hour! It's still- still on the table." She gave another convulsive shiver and rubbed her arms.
"Oh." He hated when she was able to do the superiority bit. "You gonna help a man up, or not?"
"Not." But she relented all the same and pulled. Unsuccessfully. He was halfway up before she skidded, went down, and he crashed on top of her, both of them taking a dunking, then sitting up and spluttering. "Geez, Spike!" She wiped water from her eyes.
"If you weren't so puny..."
"I can lift you up!"
"I can lift you up, too, you're still tiny!"
"You're- ow. Hang on a minute, move your leg." Arguing and insulting was abandoned in favor of fixing discomfort.
"I'm caught in a branch on m'laces, give me a sec."
"No, no, I got it..."
Working together, tangled together, they felt themselves go back into their more companionable mindset. It was getting to be a familiar pattern- banter, hate, fight, comfort, hang together. Sometimes- okay, once- it went into some other category best left undefined.
"I think we scared all the fish- 'cept the blighter caught in my trousers." Spike shook out one of his legs, scooting up.
"Forget the fish, I'm sitting on rocks and they're bruising my butt. And there's one-" She reached down into the water, pushing at the offending object, "jabbing into my thigh."
"Whoa, Slayer." He caught her hand, but didn't meet her eye. "Not a rock."
"Oh. Oh? Oh! Really?" Buffy's cold cheeks became hot rapidly, and her arms, one in his grasp and one in supporting her, went wobbly.
Meaning she fell. Again. I am so not smooth.
"Well, you were all pressed up against me." Spike pointed out defensively, letting go of her arm.
"I wasn't upset!" Buffy said, just as defensively. Wait. That doesn't sound right...
"I- didn't think you did it on purpose."
"Right! Reaction. Strictly physical." Like noticing how you haven't gotten back up, and you're just lyin' on this pebbly beach, shivering and soaked... Every inch of those soft little breasts that I'm not supposed to look at screaming that you need warming up. And that you're lying down. With me. Again. It's gettin' to be a habit. In three different beds and now the shore of a lake. What the hell is happenin' here?
"Strictly physical." Buffy nodded after the words had a minute to filter. Shouldn't my brain be a lot more quiet if this is all lusty and nothing else?
He leaned in, she stayed still- and then she gave another convulsive shiver and reality snapped back in for a second. "You gotta get in the house. C'mon." He tore himself up, hauled her up too, footing suddenly sure because he couldn't afford another minute of being so close in that position.
"I'm good, thanks." Buffy didn't pull free, just let him let her go. His fingers left wrinkles in her wet sleeves. Another one lets go- still leaves a little mark.
To be continued...