Offers You Can't Refuse

By Sweetprincipale

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: Two or three chapters left after that, and maybe an epilogue with some of our side stories getting wrapped up, if people would enjoy that. This chapter uses some of the lyrics of Smashing Pumpkin's Bullet With Butterfly Wings.

Author's Second Note: Repeated promise: Unknown will have chapters again soon, I promise. This little story was supposed to be a two week quickie. Ha. I'm very bad at curbing my muse, but apparently no one minds! Don't worry though, none of my stories are abandoned.

Dedicated to: Skeezixx, Ginar369, Alexiarrose, Sirius120, Jewel74, The Three March Hares, micmoc, Embers and Flames, Omslagspapper, Rosalea12, Touch the Dark, hbmckidd, ValidescopeWest, Rachel, Alottalove, Cavementftw, ammuna, Seapea, Maire Ailbhe, Illusera, ShyL, mike13z50, Loverswalk89, Suzanne, KittenofDoomage, darkeyesgirl, LunaML, Traveler07, RedEclipedTwilight, CrazyforSpike, PeaceHeather, CailinRua, Kizzydg, Neinka, Jedi Steelwolf, cosmiclove, Haleycc, Slayergirl, shadowcat802, Bamboo Angel, N172Shay, jazzyjizzle1994, Treadingthedark, Loveisrealand4eva, kerry220, Clara Johnson, Kzal, Kerry220, Kathryn Merlin, Spit, Fatefox, and sbyamibakura.

I feel like every week a new reader joins this team! Thank you so much!

Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.

Part XXIX

"We got him. He'll talk." Buffy's voice was exhausted.

Giles' voice was exuberant. "She's got him! Oh, now do be careful. I have to call Wesley. Xander! Wake up and call Wesley!"

"I knew all those years of irresponsible partying would come in handy." Xander's faint, sleepy voice came from a distance.

"Giles-"

"We'll have to have someone meet you. He'll have to be collected. How did you do it? Are you alright?" Giles fumbled for a pen, for his glasses, stumbling over his words.

"Oh. We can be persuasive." Buffy said casually. "I don't think we're done being persuasive either."

"How long can you hold him? Did he hurt you?" Giles demanded. "I know they have someone posted here, keeping tabs on us, the matter will be to get them to hear new orders to move and meet -"

"Giles! Stop freaking." Buffy demanded right back. "Get those guys watching the house to keep watching." She paused, and swallowed, "I'm coming home."

"Buffy! You can't! Just because you've managed to convince Collins to speak, doesn't mean Travers hasn't already put another person on your trail, or had someone here in town this whole time, waiting for you to return." What a horrible thought. And why hadn't they considered that? Once they knew for certain she was alive, they must know she'd return eventually.

Buffy sighed. She hadn't discussed this with anyone, and hadn't thought too much about it herself. She'd just known. Behind her, she heard Spike's boots with their now familiar creaking, coming over to question her.

"Goin' back?" He asked softly. Go back. An' what does it mean, when you 'go back'? Do you go away?

No. No, you wouldn't do that to me.

Buffy didn't look at him. "Giles, I don't run away. I mean, I do, I did, but... that was a mistake."

"I'm not asking you to run again, merely to stay safe, for another day, two at the most, until they take him into custody, until we can get some answers about operatives placed in this area." But then she'll still be sitting on him. Well, I'd rather him be in danger than her, and with Spike there, I feel fairly certain I know who'd fare worse in a battle... "The Council has procedures, they have resources, they can-"

"No! No. It never felt right to leave in the first place, and now staying away feels worse. I'm done running. I'm done hiding. I'm coming home." Buffy said firmly. Then wavered. "I'm not going to put you in any more danger than you already are. I think. I mean, I hope. Right?"

Giles smiled tiredly. She would do what her heart told her to do in any event, even if it took days for her to hear it and listen to it. "We'd be happy for you to be home. This is where you belong. We miss you terribly." His own heart wanted her back desperately, but at the same time it had that father's protectiveness. "If you're certain that's what's best?"

"I'm the Slayer. I was meant to be there for the big battles. And apparently if I don't stay in one place, they just follow me anyway."

"This is true." He muttered.

"We'll leave as soon as we get packed." Buffy smiled.

"I can't stop you when you really want to do something, can I?" Giles shook his head in defeat.

"Not so far." Buffy giggled.

"Let me speak to the blighter. I'd feel a little better if I could at least threaten him myself." The Watcher's normally prim lips curled into a snarl.

"You'll have to do it later. He's kind of busy being unconscious right now. Seriously Spike, if you don't stop knocking him out, he's going to have brain damage and all he'll say is 'vampire bad, milk yucky'."

"Regular bleedin' heart you are, Slayer." Spike grumbled.

"Ah. You're back to normal, then." Giles said with a touch of relief. "Oh- I'd best let you go, Xander says Wesley's on the phone. Call and check in? Every few hours? Call when you're getting near to town so we can tell you where to head. And-"

"Giles! You're going to burst something." Buffy chuckled.

"I am a bit excited, aren't I? Hrm. Just let us know when you're near home."

"Will do. See you soon." Buffy hung up with suddenly weak fingers.


He coughed into his fist. "S'pose snark is normal for us, init?"

"Totally." She smiled wanly.

"You- uh- you sure you want to head back right now? You look peaky. Had a rough day of it. You oughta rest."

"You can drive until daylight and I'll sleep. I'll drive when it's light and you sleep." Buffy shrugged. He's putting it off. Because he doesn't want to leave. He'd never leave me. But maybe- maybe when we go back, he'll decide Sunnydale is no place for him to be.

Angel's face superimposed itself in her thoughts. You can say you love someone and still leave them, even if you promise you never, ever will.

"You know bloody well that won't work." Spike jabbed his finger against her chest.

"Hm?" Buffy jumped guiltily.

"You say you'll let me sleep, an' then you wake me up every ten minutes to ask if you're in the right lane or if you should take that exit, or to double check the map. It's a soddin' straight line!"

"Oh. That." Buffy swallowed a laugh. "I'm getting better at that. At all sorts of things."

"Sure are." He gave her a lopsided grin.

Silence. Little questions that both fearless warriors were afraid to ask.

So they asked other questions. "I'm new at this. How do you drive seventeen or eighteen hours with a hostage?" Buffy worriedly looked at Collins, still tied to the chair, head lolled back, a puffed up eye and split lip the only visible wounds on him.

"I'd keep him bound an' gagged in the trunk. Preferably in plastic, but since he's alive-" Buffy suddenly gasped and gave him an appalled swat on the arm. "Oi! You asked!"

"If I barf on you it's going to be your own fault- and oh my gosh I'm starving. We need to shop. We need gas."

Spike peered out the window and looked at their car, calculating the trunk to human ratio. He stared, peered into the darkness and frowned. "We need a late model Buick sedan oil pan."

"A what now?" Buffy shook her head in confusion, brows pressed together.

"I might've punched a hole in somethin' vital when I drove it halfway up that ruddy cliff. Prolly got a log and a boulder wedged up in there."

"No speak car. Barely drive car." Buffy sighed.

"I know, b'lieve me." Spike smiled faintly. This is okay. The back an' forth. The laughin' up our sleeves at each other.

"Can you buy those at a gas station?" Buffy suggested uncertainly.

The smile broadened. "No. You ever go in and see an oil pan next to the little pine tree air fresheners?"

"First- never looked. Second, probably wouldn't know what one looked like. Third- urgh. We have to find a garage then! Spike, we have to hurry and get him down there. He's star-witness boy!"

"So we'll speed."

"And what do we say when they pull us over and ask us why we have a man in the - wait, what are we doing with him?"

"I s'pose I can get a few rolls of duct tape at the store and then-"

"Don't tell me!" Buffy put her hands over her ears.

"You need to stop askin' if you don't want to know." Spike gave her a singsong rejoinder.

"Right. We need to pack and I have to charge the phone and you need more shirts and I can't-"

"Buffy." Spike seized her shoulders suddenly, stopping the torrent of worried chatter. Her eyes widened at the use of her real name. he paused, licking his lips trying to keep them from drying out with the lurking worry he felt. "Buffy, are you sure you wanna go back there? Your old man, much as I hate to say it, is a bright one. If he warned you to keep clear, he must not think it's safe." Blue eyes seared desperately into her, layers of silent entreaty in them.

Buffy's chin wobbled once as she tilted it up to him. "Are you going to be with me?" She asked softly.

"Of course I am, that's not the bloody point!" The point is, will I lose you so quickly, after I found you? You might never mean to, but you love a lot of people. Not just me.

"Then it's safe. I'm safe with you. Nowhere's safe, but..."

"You don't need me to be safe. You're an army in blonde, Cutie." He let his hands trace her arms, down to those small but surprisingly strong hands.

"I love you. I want to go home." Buffy gripped his hands tight, tugging slightly, saying the last part of her desires silently. I want you to come home with me. You are part of home, part of where I'd like to be, scary as that is.

Those needy little pulls on his hands. He leaned in and kissed her hard, kissed her like the rest of the world didn't exist, because it wouldn't without her, not for him.

"Spike," she licked her lips, wet and slightly puffy now, as they pulled apart, "we can make something work, right?" He looked so startled. Startled glad or just in shock? She covered with a sudden rush of color to her cheeks. "We can get the car fixed?"

His fingers tangled in her hair. Was always gonna deliver her safe. It was the contract. I finish the job. "I have a better idea. You get yourself sorted, Luv. I'll go wake up sleepin' beauty."


"Held at milk point. This is weird, even for us." Buffy held the carton in her hands, Spike's hands were full of semi-conscious hired gun.

"I imagine some poor dairy farmer is sobbing his eyes out." Spike grunted. "Must've hit him too hard the last time."

"We need to stop that. I mean you need to stop that. I just talked to him and he-"

"Damn near shit himself. But you got the job done. Badass." He smirked over his shoulder.

Buffy followed Spike, who supported Collins, pinned, hobbled, half awake, and under threat of death by dairy products. They stumbled over branches and skidded in wet leaves down three miles of rocky gradient, looking for a hidden car.

"Hey- he did that stuff I only told him about. He did it to me. All I did to him was tell him what it was like." Buffy shrugged defensively. And threaten to make sure he understood personally. But I knew I'd never hurt him seriously. Didn't I?

Spike paused and looked at her head on, draping the dragging figure over one strong forearm. "I think sayin' it all hurt you as much as it scared him." Another shrug. "You scared someone. He's gonna put a very, very bad man away because you did. Deal with it." He turned back around and gave Collins a little shake, both to get him back to full alertness and because his stupid actions were responsible for making his girl upset. "Bastard." Spike huffed softly.

Buffy caught up to him, fell into step beside him and pulled Collins between them, sharing the weight. "Know what? I'm the Slayer. If you're doing something bad, you'd better be afraid of me." She gave him a tired smile. "Otherwise, I'm pretty nice. Aren't I?"

"When you're not bein' an annoying little twit."

"Hey!"

"You're so sweet it hurts my fangs, Baby."

"That's better." She pouted at him. Between them, Collins moaned and mumbled.

"Wakey, wakey, or lose a leggy." Spike prodded.

"He doesn't mean that!" Buffy grabbed Collins' head and looked into confused, possibly concussed, eyes, "Seriously though. Wake up."


They found the car, parked in a verge off a heavily wooded piece of the mountain road. Spike had long since relieved Collins of his keys, and now he opened the black car."Now, a hit man is a bit like a boy scout." Spike began, running his hands along the insides.

"Some scout leader is sobbing now. Bad day for dairy farmers and scout leaders." Buffy mumbled, and tightened her grip on their prisoner.

"Meanin' they're always prepared." Spike ignored her and rummaged around in the trunk, then the floorboards, and at last, under the passenger's front seat, lodged behind the adjustment bar. He drew out a roll of soft black silk and leather, clinking softly. "Ah ha... pretty little sample case you've got there, Doc. Would one of these happen to be an antidote to the poison you fed the Slayer?"

"He didn't send an antidote. He wanted it to work." Collins grudgingly replied, his doubts growing about his employer, though he had far more doubts about his targets-turned-captors.

"Unfortunate for you. You'll have to play very, very nicely, because we can tell you first hand this stuff is very hard to fight off once it gets hold of you." Spike flicked through the few little vials, several empty, but one quite full.

"What are you looking for?" Buffy whispered.

"Something to help him have a nice, long nap..." Spike waved a vial of clear fluid under Collins' nose. "What's this do?"

"It- it's nothing. Just muscle relaxers. Powerful ones." Collins clamped his lips shut, thinking, Don't cooperate with the enemy!

What if we're the enemy? She's in contact with the Council. I should ask to speak to them, it's what she wants me to do anyway. But what if it's all some sort of double bluff? She is with the vampire. A savage, evil one.

"You don't write down any bloody dosages. This used on slayers?" Spike turned the bottle over and held it out to Buffy as well. Collins said nothing. "Oh really? You'll spill your guts about the big plan to murder the Slayer, but not about what you have in your stash?"

"I can tell you." Buffy handed back the vial. She'd seen one before. With an old fashioned syringe, just like the one in this case. Giles had showed it to her, part of his confession, his asking for forgiveness and second chances. Following orders then, too. Travers seemed to get some kind of sick thrill from making women weak and helpless, and asking men they should trust to do it.

Buffy pushed it away angrily. "They already put this stuff in me once this year. It's drugs for this sick test they do. They make you weak, steal your strength, then lock you in a house with a mad, crazy, vampire and see if you're alive in the morning."

Collins knew about the Cruciamentum. He'd just never met anyone who survived it. Never heard the anger in their voices. Well, sometimes things in life make you angry. You carry on. "Standard procedure." He said, albeit with a small prickling of discomfort.

"So when the vampire breaks loose, kills one of the Watchers guarding him, and then goes on a killing spree in town, ending with kidnapping a Slayer's mother and tying her up so he can use her as a model in a really sick photo shoot- that's standard?"

Those little details had been unknown to Collins, or to anyone not directly involved. "She passed the Cruciamentum, but Rupert Giles showed he cannot be trusted as he became overly emotional during the test's administration." That's what they'd been told. "I-"

Spike was busy now, with sharp agitated movements, fitting the needle into the tube, shaking up the vial. "You know, even when I hated the Slayer- I quite liked her mum. An' from what I remember about Watchers- you lot encourage Slayers to live lonely, miserable lives, dependent on one of you. I'm sure you broke your own rules... letting her mum be 'involved' in your little test."

"Spike, stop, not the whole thing!" Buffy held Collins back as Spike pulled the plunger back as far as it would go, draining the relaxant into the syringe. "I don't know how much they gave me, but I couldn't break a pencil after a couple doses! You could relax his muscles so much that his brain unravels!"

"Brain's an organ, not a muscle."

"Well, his heart could stop beating!" She backed up a few steps, Collins with her.

"Fine, fine, half a dose. This way we can tie him up, put him in the trunk, and he won't need to be knocked out. He'll just be too weak to get free."

"Can he breathe in the trunk?"

"For a couple hours at a time. We'll stop every now an' again. We'll have to. You an' your bladder."

"Me? I'm fine, it's needing to get fresh air after you go through one of your stupid stink-arette packs. I swear, you're trying to smoke me."

"Slayer jerky. Tempting. Now hold him still, Buffy. We're wasting time."

"I just want to know how much you should give him! You could kill him!"

"If you're alive at the end, I'm still okay with that!"

The man in the middle tuned them out at that point, lost in his thoughts, and the feel of a small, but infinitely stronger than his, body pulling him back, out of harm's way. At least to a degree. A most unorthodox juxtaposition...

Like them. Collins strained to see behind him, and to make out the figure in the darkness before him.

They way they moved and spoke to each other. It gave him the nagging reminders of being forced to train new members of his division. He was a loner and he hated training 'juniors' more than any other of his contractual obligations. The way these two acted... two people forced to work together, despite all other inclinations, with the bickering and insulting. Yet there was softness underneath it. He could not say that from his own personal experience in his career, but from watching them.

Part enemy, part friend, part lover. Hit men, as they kept insisting on calling him by that vulgar term, are at least very good at observing.

She was sitting him on the grass now, firm foot on his ankle. If he so much as twitched, he knew she'd break it under her heel. She was holding the milk and the other things from his injection kit, the vampire was back looking in the car, searching for instructions, he imagined. I could make a move now. They're distracted.

So why don't I?

He was afraid of being knocked out cold yet again, the other option for his travel, and afraid of being force fed poison, if something should go wrong. He knew their ultimate goal was to hand him over to Council, which would be good.

Sometimes you take your shot, and other times you decide to play for time, study your mark.

But you never switch sides halfway through a job!

What if I haven't switched sides, but Travers has? Collins looked up from his seat in the damp earth, two figures hotly arguing in hissing whispers. Why hadn't Travers said there were two vampires? Two vampires during a Cruciamentum was against the rules to begin with. As was involving a civilian. Why hadn't he ever said an innocent's life was on the line? Why hadn't he said Rupert Giles was just evening the odds? It's not like a stuffy middle aged man, one of the bookworms, would be much good against any vampire, even a newborn.

Why didn't he tell us there was a death on that assignment? Worse than a death? A turning? We receive training... training to avoid that eternity of being chained to a demon, of bodies never resting. Of becoming that which we hunt.

Dammit, I obey orders, but every soldier has the right to know what war he's fighting!

"It's in the dossier." Collins said quietly.

"You big bleached- huh? Sorry, what?" Buffy stopped in mid insult.

"Couldn't hear you over the stupid." Spike grumbled, rising from the inside of the car.

"The dossier. You already pulled it out." Collins jerked his head to the black leather folder lying several feet away. "There's a dosage chart in the very back. Under her photo. It's in Vulgate Latin, so-"

"I was choirboy once. I can muck it out." Spike gave him a sidelong glance and carefully retrieved the folder. "If this has some nasty jack in the box type of goody when I open it-"

"I'll break your nose. I'm really good at it." Buffy told him.

"She is too." Spike opened it, pointing it away from himself. Nothing happened. "Hm. On the level there at least."

He vamped, burning eyes lighting the dark like two candle wick flickers, scanning papers- "Ohh, Slayer, look at me. They've done me a sketch."

"Aww. Eww. You're holding a gunky stick and there's a head behind you."

"We could cut that bit out. Put it in a frame, yeah?" He was only half joking. He took the photo of her and discreetly slid into his inner pocket.

"Hm. Okay." Buffy discreetly slipped the crinkled sketch into her jeans.

Collins began to feel his doubts reassert themselves.

"Here it is!" He peered at browned, faded script. 'One quarter of a gram every twelve hours induces a - heaviness in the limbs and comatose state of being."

"How old is that stuff? You shouldn't use medicine that's past its expiration date."

"It's written in an old language so most people can't read it, Slayer. It's not from old times." Spike paused. "Right? Not like I care. It didn't seem to do you more damage than you could fight off in a few days."

"Oh God... just don't give him too much." Buffy hoisted him up with a wince, and appealed to him once more. "I don't suppose there's a chance you'd come quietly and not try to escape at rest stops, is there?"

Where's the girl who talked to me about living in a waking world of hell? Collins stared at her, speechless. Who seemed determined to put me there unless I gave them my cooperation? Where are the threats?

Perhaps my silence says more than all my protestations.

"It's a 20 hour car ride. More. 'Cause we have to shop. This trip was murder on our clothes. Not to mention some jerk poisoned our food so we have to get groceries." She gave him a pointed poke that felt nearly the same as jab punch.

"Don't offer him the option, Luv, that type would run no matter how deep in enemy territory they were. Good little soldiers, painfully loyal." Spike emptied all but a trickle of the drug back into its tube.

Collins remained mute. Given any chance to escape, he'd escape- provided he thought he'd have a better than even odds chance. In this case.

They'll take me back to Council. We'll sort this out. It may be considered sort of a namby pamby option for someone in wet works, but at least this way I'm on the scene. I'm undercover like this. I'm getting vital clues, just listening to her. Clues for which side, that's another matter.

No matter. I will simply ask to speak to Travers first. When I get there. After they put me on the phone. I'll use my distress code, every agent knows the standard signal...

"Just take me where you're taking me and be quick about it. I agreed to speak to someone at Council Headquarters. No more." He closed his eyes and sealed his lips tightly.

"Well. That does that." Before she could protest further, Spike jabbed the needle in on the man's upper arm, and scooped him up in a rough fireman's carry, tossing him in the back seat.

"Spike! Humans break!"

"Oh, I know. All except you." He shut the car door. Even you. I thought I saw you shattering. "I know you don't like it. I don't much like it either, for different reasons. You okay?"

"I'm fine." Buffy gave sudden shiver in the chilly mountain air. "It's just... strange."

"Then the two of us fit right in, Slayer." He moved to her side, then to her front. We don't stop and give long, sweet kisses. We start and then we finish, all the way, owning each other, spending all we've got on each other. Never just kiss her.

She had the same thought. We can't get all snuggly right now. Hostage handlers probably do not stop to make out.

We never do what we're supposed to do. But we always get the job done.

"You drive me mad." Spike grunted in a half pleased, half frustrated way when she pressed up against him with a sudden urge.

"But you love it?"

"No. I love you."

Two shadows crashed back against the side of the car, kissing, tangling, making up lost time, and all the other things almost lost.

Collins' last thought as a not entirely unpleasant, drowsy feeling began to over take him was that they really needed to get a room.


"C'mon. It'll be light soon. I'd like to get down this effing mountain before you take the wheel." Spike drove the car back up the track to the cabin, Buffy adjusting her clothes and tossing bits of leaves from her hair out the window as she did so.

"If we put him in the trunk, where are we going to put our stuff?"

"In the back."

"That's where you sleep."

"This thing has tinted windows. I'll be alright enough up front. You don't let me get any sleep anyway with-"

"I know, I know, I know. Are you ever gonna get off my back about that?"

"Out of gas. In Portland. During morning rush hour. Nope. Hurry up and pack. I'll babysit."


While Buffy hurried into the house, Spike made a few adjustments to the car and its occupant, as well as taking care of their old Buick.

Spike bundled odds and ends from one car to the next, placing a tightly bound and gagged Collins in the trunk, which he inspected thoroughly.

"C'mon Mr. Bond... I bet you took every precaution. You didn't even leave a butt in the ashtray..." Spike found what he was looking for hidden under the spare tire. Small tool kit and a dummy license plate. "Swopsit." Spike winked at the limp body. He dropped it in, took the tool kit out and went to work.


"Okay, I have a serious issue." Buffy trundled out of the cabin, arms full. "Two, really. My hair looks like a bad Halloween wig. I need deep conditioning therapy. I can not see Cordelia Chase like this."

"An' what's the other issue?" Spike rolled his eyes and stood up from the back bumper.

"We don't have any ice, or a cooler. The milk is going to go bad, and it's the only motivation we have."

He gave her an evil little smirk, "Well..."

"The only motivation we have outside of you turning him into a vampire which is not okay. So add ice to the list, but by the time any stores open it'll be-"

"Slayer. It's poisoned. The milk is poisoned. When it's warm it'll just be poisoned and curdled. If anything, more motivation. Now put the stuff in the back seat and go toss this in the lake."

"What's this?" Buffy dropped their bags, now more weapons than clothes or supplies, and held out her hand. "License plates?"

"Two of 'em. I feel bad for the poor little rental car agencies, but I imagine they'll manage somehow." He snarked and stood up, a different plate now on the back of the black sedan. "Assassins don't leave traceable records, no plates that match the cars they use. Neither should we." If a goody-goody like her librarian does it, I'm doin' it. i'm the bad guy after all. By definition, at any rate.

"Oh man." Buffy ran her hands through her dry hair. "Stealing cars. Kidnapping. Sleeping with the evil undead. My mom's gonna have a cow. I really am turning into a juvenile delinquent."

"You're over eighteen. You're just a delinquent now." Spike shoved half the bags in the backseat while she took the other.

"I feel so much better, gee thanks." Buffy groaned.

"You're still their hero y'know. I got good ears. I hear the sap they laid out on you." He grinned crookedly, looking at pink shafts of light beginning to break up the night and kept the smile on his face with an effort. By tomorrow's daylight, it'd be done. For weeks, he prayed that this damn show would close, and now he was worried about what happened after the curtain was rung down. "Let's get you home."


Joyce smiled calmly, in her best sweet, innocently maternal way.

"Wow. I'm seeing where Buffy gets the hidden personality thing." Xander watched Joyce smooth out her skirt and fluff her hair.

"Shh. And stop eating all the muffins. Those are bait." Willow smacked his hand.

"Making muffins before the dawn's early light. That's love." Xander kept chewing.

"Stop eating the love, Xander." Giles said crossly. "I'm not sure who these two are. I haven't seen Gervais and MacAndrews for several days. Not all Watchers are easily swayed by breakfast foods and kind smiles. They may not even show up. I've hardly seen a car in the area, and Fallows surely has-"

"They just drove past. I'm sure that's them. They stopped and looked at your car." Wesley twitched the curtain closed. "I don't think all this subterfuge is necessary, either. Fallows will order them to pick up Collins. It's simple."

"Getting anyone to speak to us is not 'simple'." Giles grimaced. "And when they see who's handing him over, when they see we've lied, when- oh when everything, Wesley, nothing is ever simple. You're still new at this, wait until you've been doing it for nearly four years..." He rose in agitation. "Joyce, I wish you'd let me approach them first."

"No." Joyce said simply and seized her plate of muffins from under Xander's nose. "You're the one who let her bring a hired killer back with her instead of making her drop that man off at a police station or - or something. Something safe. Now she's bringing him back, traveling all that way with a vampire on one side and a murderer on the other!" Joyce looked furious and near tears. "I would have stopped her. She listens to me."

"Not bloody likely." Giles murmured but then nodded politely. "I know, I have reservations as well. But I'm sure Buffy has her attacker immobilized."

"You mean tied up?" That was a horrifying, if comforting, thought as well.

"W-well, yes. Or in the um. Cargo area. Of the car." Giles polished his glasses.

"My baby wouldn't put someone in the trunk of a car!" Joyce shrilled indignantly. But I would. I'd tie him to the top like a hunting trophy rather than have him anywhere near my baby.

"No, of course not." Giles soothed. Then allowed himself a small, not entirely kind smile. "But Spike would. That's one reason he's with her." He's not afraid to do whatever needs to be done for the woman he loves. Oh dear. He rather changed the object of his affections, though. This changed from being about Drusilla somehow... As long as Buffy comes home alive and well, I don't care.

"The car stopped outside." Willow whispered.

Joyce pulled her happy mask back on, whisked open the door and strode into the street. "Oh, gentlemen," she caroled, muffins held out as a symbol of goodwill "don't you get hungry spying on people?"

"All of you are mad." Wesley shook his head.

"You have to be a bit mad to survive here." Giles straightened his tie and followed her outside.


"Are you sure you're going to be okay up front? It's getting really bright out." Buffy slid into the car.

"We're down the bloody mountain, I'm peachy." Spike turned up the collar of his duster and pulled his shades down low. "Jerky?"

"Yep."

"Smokes?"

"Nope."

"What?"

"Get 'em yourself, Sunshine Boy." Buffy backed out of the parking lot at a gas station. "Oh, and the only tee shirts they had said A Bad Day Fishing is Better than A Good Day Working."

"Think I'd rather go starkers." Spike looked into the bag, horrified. "Oh thank God, it's black, I can just turn it inside out." He sighed and handed her a pre-made, pre wrapped sandwich and soda.

"Thanks." She took it from him and bit into it ravenously- then frowned. "Oh. I was just about to say it was nice eating food that won't kill me. But I'm not sure that this isn't part rubber."

"It won't kill you. Just make you appreciate edible stuff when you get it."

They drove in silence for a minute.

"How's- um. How is-" Buffy felt weird asking about someone that was put in the back of a car. Showing concern and doing what they were doing to him didn't add up in her mind.

"Sleeping beauty is happily snoring away. Shook him an' all." Spike popped her soda top for her and held it out. "Hey. You got on the right exit to the highway an' everything."

"Yep."

Silence.

"So you can shut off the turn signal, unless you'd like to keep mergin' into that bridge."

"Shoot!"

He chuckled softly and closed his eyes, but he knew he wouldn't sleep.

She must've known it too. "If we're going to stay awake, somebody better start talking. Oh God. I can't believe I said that to you. Are you sure we were just in Oregon and not in some parallel universe?"

"Anything north of California feels like a soddin' parallel dimension to me."

"Hm. Point." She waited. "I know you're not sleeping."

"How? I don't breathe."

"I can just- tell. I slept in the same bed with you for a week, I know how you- feel beside me." She concluded in a rush. Why is this so hard? This is supposed to be the easy part. Back to reality, home, Mom, friends, mall, summer of goofing off legitimately... He doesn't fit in anywhere, but with me, Spike's starting to fits in everywhere. "Every other time I wanted you to shut up, you couldn't be quiet for ten seconds. Now you've lost your voice?"

"Nothin' to say, I'm nappin'."

"Nothing to say? You spent two whole hours on why British cigarettes are better than American ones on the way to Seattle. I threatened to pour holy water in your lap and you just said 'Bugger filters, what the world needs is smokes for vamps. No surgeon bloody general's warning for me.'"

"Aww, Pet. You do listen." Spike gave her a Cheshire grin.

"Ugh, never mind. You don't want to talk to me, fine." She flipped the radio on angrily and absentmindedly trolled through the stations, listening from something that wasn't crackling.

I want to talk to you and never shut up. An' I will. I'll talk your ears off your head. He looked at her with something like longing under the dark lenses. But I can't say the one thing I'd really want to say, 'cause I know what it's like to love someone to the point where you give everything. An' cause I've got to believe in someone someday, an' you're the likeliest one.

I can never ask you not to go home. I don't know how to ask what I get out of all this, without sounding like I don't believe in you. I believed in you when no one else did, at least more than everyone else did. I know who you are. I love who you are.


The world is a vampire, sent to drain

Secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames

And what do I get, for my pain?

Betrayed desires, and a piece of the game.

Buffy's fingers flexed on the wheel. Some until someday, that's what we said. It was a break. To kill the pain. Just a little piece. That's what we said, and we got caught up. Right?

Spike watched her thin leg press down and the needle jerk up on the speedometer. She must really want to get home. Or at least drop off the livestock. He strained his ears and heard two heartbeats, one faint and sleepy, one racing along. She doesn't want to get away from me. Even though she should...


Even though I know -

I suppose I'll show-

All my cool and cold -

like I'm told...

"Gonna take it past ninety, Luv?"

"Huh?" Buffy's foot bounced and skidded, hitting the brake, the car's engine echoing the wail of the tormented sound on the radio.

"I don't mind if you make good time. The sooner we're done this job from hell the better, yeah?"

"Yeah. Right." No. No, not at all. I mean, the 'job', yes. But I changed what I meant, both of us did. We did. If being out of my mind doesn't change things, then where we are shouldn't change things! It can't change things.

He'd expected her to deny it, at least tell him again that nothing would change, even if everything changed. We're both changed, and you bloody well know it, Slayer. The silence between them drew out as the angry background rose into a scream.

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage

Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved

"Spike." Buffy burst out suddenly, loudly. "I know you- you chose. Me. And - um. Thank you. For choosing. Me, I mean." Great. Brain to mouth failure.

Spike lifted his dark glasses. "Yeah. I did. Still do."

Her shoulders sagged as she let out her pent up breath- and the wheel twisted, setting off a blare of horns in the next lane.

"Y'know, eventually the police are gonna pull us over for somethin'. You mind if I kill a copper or two?" Spike slammed the wheel back straight, hand over hers.

She ignored the provocation. "I keep thinking you're suddenly going to realize what you gave up." Dru was yours for years and years.

"Keep thinkin' you're not gonna be able to keep me around. Wouldn't be the first time. Or that you think you owe me."

"I do!" You never let me down.

"I owe her." A challenge in his darkening blue eyes. "Does that mean somethin' between us?"

Buffy tore her eyes from him and focused them back on the road with an angry shrug.

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage

Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved

"Love doesn't have to mean together, that's all." Angel's retreating form blurred with the glare on the dark hued windshield. "Some people think other stuff matters more."

His hand gripped her wrist hard enough to make her gasp, bruised and bloodied knuckles on chafed raw skin. "Not. To. Me." He growled off each word. "You know that. You bloody well know it. Stop thinkin' about everything else and think about us, and you know that you know it. Somethin' inside tells you. You learned how to listen to that little voice, didn't you?"

Tell me I'm the only one

Tell me there's no other one


Him and me. She turned her wrist smoothly into his grasp, letting hands fall, lay between them."Hey, you had a century to get it right. I had a couple years."

"You mean I owe you ninety eight more years?"

She blushed slightly and rolled her eyes. "Don't say owe. Just have my back." The blonde finally whispered.

"Done." Spike agreed. He let her fingers drift away, back to the leather on the wheel. Watched her every move. She's mine.

"So. You said you like California, right?" She asked a lot in a casual question.

"I could live there. Pretty scenery." Spike angled himself back against the window, coat as a shade, and watched her take them closer to home.


Day Twenty Seven...

Sylvia stopped by the post office at the end of her shift, as she always did before heading home to the tiny short-term rental she'd chosen. A tired looking woman, pale in pale pink scrubs and sensible white sneakers, the only one standing in a deserted lobby. She unlocked the small silver box that was always empty- and her heart gave a thrill as she saw a single piece of mail.

Finally. Instructions. Orders. Something. Sylvia hurried to the small compact she'd bought since being placed on this assignment, tearing open the envelope.

Care coverage discontinued.

There was a sick twist inside her. Her keys fell onto the floor as she read the three words over and over, that tumultuous feeling warring with a long-awaited rush of power.

A promise given a mere month ago, from the highest official, to her, a Watcher-in-Training... always in training. She'd failed the active duty exam by a few measly points, and rules are rules. A trained Watcher without all the skills still needs a position in the organization, so she had been pressed into menial tasks for the last ten years. Until one day when Mr. Travers interviewed her for a terribly boring, sad sounding assignment, the observation of an unconscious, dying Slayer.

A month ago...

"But when she does die, Ms. Lewis, oh the tragic day, it is also a glorious one, for a new Slayer rises..."

She remembered a faint rustle of unease as he paused a little too long, staring a little too long, as if he owned this mousy employee. No, not an employee, a soldier, desperate for a battlefield promotion, her life completely under control of one charismatic, powerful general.

"The training at the Academy is rigorous. Not everyone makes it to that upper echelon, the coveted post of Watcher to a Slayer, or possible Slayer. There have been times in the past however, when the Head of Council, assigned someone to that position. Someone with a special quality that others may have, shall we say, passed over?"

Passed over described Sylvia perfectly. Frumpy and too short, and only growing dumpier and shorter with every passing year of disappointment on her shoulders and desk jobs under her hips. "Qualities, Sir?"

"Loyalty. Unbreakable, unquestioning loyalty."

"Sir, I am loyal to this cause, I am-"

"I know. Which is why I instantly thought of you."

He smiled so smoothly, she suspected him of lying, but then- why would he other to lie to her?

Perhaps because of what he said next.

"Faith Lehane must never wake up. To have her active again would be to have something stronger than a vampire, more evil too, since she's a human but she is willingly in league with demons. She is not soulless, she only acts as though she is."

"Maybe if she'd had a different Watcher, Sir, someone more- motherly, more-" Sylvia had mentioned eagerly.

"Unquestioning loyalty!" He roared, and Sylvia was silenced. Then he preened his waistcoat back down and looked at a pocket watch. For a horrible moment, she'd thought he was about to say the interview was over, that he would not need her services. Instead he gave her the job- and the promise of a far, far better one.

"It's cruel to let her suffer, fading for days, months, perhaps even years. But a recovery isn't a possibility either. I may never ask you to do this, but if I send you word- you need to... discontinue her care. Let her go. Find that eternal rest. Poor child. May she find peace in death that she never found in life." A crocodile look of mourning was burned away in an intense glare. The sorrowing voice turned hard and domineering. "But only on my orders, Lewis. No one else's. You answer to me. I am the Head of this Council, and only I have the power to override certain board decisions. Such as assigning a Watcher to the next Slayer called- provided that Slayer is instilled with the same loyalty. To me. No matter what else happens."

The present...

Sylvia was aware her car was pinging loudly in the empty parking lot, signaling her door had been open too long. She stopped staring unseeingly at the piece of paper and looked at the digital numbers on her clock radio. After midnight. Her shift had ended.

The problem with posing as a nurse was that eventually someone had noticed her working almost around the clock, and now they were watching her. Even fake credentials and an actual knowledge of patient care could only get you so far.

Tomorrow. It'll have to wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow they moved Lehane to long term care- the small, windowless rooms in the basement wing, for the ones they doubt will ever open their eyes again.

But it really doesn't matter, Sylvia forced herself to rationalize. It's all part of life and death. When one falls, another rises. The Council, we Watchers, we're what binds it all together.


"How much longer do you think they'll need?" A smartly dressed man, trying not to show his dislike for the California heat by remaining staunchly buttoned up to his chin, paced through Joyce's living room.

"You've been here for eighteen hours. You can sit down now." Xander let out a loud stage whisper.

Joyce hushed him and Giles cleared his throat.

"They'll arrive soon. They've had to make several stops." Giles answered from under a paper. "We'll call you when they let us know they're near, if you'd like to go back to your hotel."

"We don't mind the long hours. We've spent far too much time in cars, lately."

"Take the hint. Don't you guys export politeness?" Xander muttered.

Giles hastily spoke, "Xander, Willow, why don't you head home? Come back in a few hours. Get some rest. Goodness knows we could all use it."

"Are you kidding? This is like waiting for Santa!" Willow bounced, bright eyed on the arm of Joyce's sofa. "Only more inter-faith."

"And carrying prisoners instead of toy trucks and candy canes." Xander settled himself pointedly into the sofa. "I'm family. I'm not leaving."

"Ditto!" Willow raised her hand to be counted.

"I guess I'll make more coffee." Joyce wearily got up, and Wesley politely stirred himself from his stupor by the front window to offer his help. "I can manage. Seven cups?"

"Two cocoas?"

"Coming up." Willow trailed her, un-rebuffed, and then Xander after her.


"Good. Now that the civilians are gone." Martin and Quinn exchanged a glance. "You said Collins was subdued?"

"Apparently so." Giles and Wesley exchanged a glance with these new "guests". "Before you ask, no, I do not how that was accomplished. But I'm sure once he understands the full situation, he'll come along peacefully. He's not on trial. Exactly."

Another glance. "Fallows explained the situation as best he could. He'll speak to Collins before we take him to the airport for transfer, and explain how to handle it."

"He still told you to watch us, didn't he?" Wesley asked bitterly.

"You are certainly worth watching. You lied to the Council." Martin said warningly.

"No, we lied to Travers, even if we did it through others. We told the truth to the Council." Giles peered over the edge of his glasses. "Travers is one man. He is not an entire governing body. Don't begin to confuse the two."

Quinn gave his associate a brief shake of his head, to warn him from pursuing the conversation. "I'm sure the board can sort it all out. Especially once they let Collins hear an overview of the evidence, perhaps read the transcripts."

"Yes. Yes, that'll convince him." Giles rolled his eyes and concluded in an undertone, "Ruthless killer. Thinks with his gun."

Another set of furtive glances. "Hrm. Fallows told Gervais and MacAndrews to rendezvous with us. He said they were out in Washington state, near the Oregon border?"

Giles coughed on a sudden intake of air. "Were they really?"

"How odd." Wesley agreed completely unconvincingly.

It was Martin's turn to roll his eyes. "Based on their last contact, I'd say the girl-"

"She has a name."

"Ms. Summers, then, will be here several hours before they'll reach us."

"If it's strength of numbers you're worried about-" Wesley got to his feet, suddenly refreshed, "I've been getting quite a lot of-"

"Yes..." Quinn shook his head regretfully with an apologetic wince. "Sorry, old man. Still, as we are the only Watchers on this coast, - the only active ones- I suppose we'll have to scrape along as best we can."

"Hm. To transport someone from wet works across the bally continent and the Atlantic as well? I tell you, I'd feel a damn sight better if there were fourteen of us instead of four of us, say what you will about discretion."

"I suppose I could go. 'Inactive' as I am. If I can be trusted." Giles said with a not quite true smile to match the undercurrent of frost in his voice.

"We'll manage with who's available." Martin gave him the same sort of nearly-there, barely civil smile.

Wesley paused on his return to the window, a frown on his face.

"What's wrong, Wes?" Xander returned, two steaming mugs in his hands.

"Oh nothing." Wesley reassured him. "I just feel as if I'm forgetting something."

To be continued...