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: One or two chapters to go! Things are wrapping up, folks, so pardon the jumping around. We have a lot of resolutions to make and loose ends to tie up- or cut off. Also, I'm sorry if nothing "big" that you were waiting for happened here, but it's already about 11,000 words, and if I'd kept going this would be a ridiculously long read!

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, Maire Ailbhe, Illusera, ShyL, mike13z50, Loverswalk89, Suzanne, KittenofDoomage, PeaceHeather, CailinRua, Neinka, cosmiclove, Haleycc, Slayergirl, Bamboo Angel, Loveisrealand4eva, Clara Johnson, Kathryn Merlin, Spit, kse93, and Tawny.

The best of the best! I love and thank you for all the unending support!

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

Part XXX

Day Twenty Seven, mid morning...

"You have to get out of the car."

"I don't! Which reminds me- does your place have a garage? Can we just pull in? Looks a little less police worthy if we don't drag a body out of the trunk in broad daylight."

"Yes it does, and good point- but you have to get out of the car now." Buffy insisted, looking furtively around the rest stop. "We haven't stopped since we switched."

"Which reminds me- you look like hell. Didn't you sleep at all?"

"Uh- no. It was hard over the all grunge death metal station."

"I kept it down!"

"It's all screaming. There is no such thing as 'keeping it down'." Buffy pulled the keys out of the ignition. "I have to pee, and so does he."

"How do you know?"

"'Cause he's a human!"

"Well then-" Spike looked out at the bright sky, "I say lucky me an' my dead water works. He can hold it until we get to where we're goin'. I've already done enough human chores to last me a decade between him and you."

"If we get there- and he does something on my mom's carpet- she'll probably hit you with an ax again." Buffy said in a little sing song voice.

Spike swung himself out in a waft of smoking leather and sunglasses. "Pop the goddamn trunk."

Ten minutes later...

"Valet service. Nice." Spike hid in the tree line, Collins, now awake and hopping mad- with his captor in not much better of a mood- watched her pull the car up- only scraping the tires slightly. "Open the boot. Trunk to you."

"No." Buffy held open the back door.


"Put him in the back."

"In the back?" Spike looked horrified at the mention. "No! He'll bust out a window, he'll -"

"Be with you, and you can keep him in line." She marched over to Collins and grabbed him by his scratchy, graying chin and peered into his bloodshot eyes. "You. You're going to my mom's house. She FREAKS about blood on the carpet, or mud, or demon guts. Even ash would piss her off."

"An' she swings a mean ax, mate." Spike roughly punched him on the shoulder- the guise of a friendly gesture meant to cause a hairline fracture.

Collins, since gagged, could say nothing, but raised his eyebrows and coughed in pain, looking at her.

"I just spoke to my Watcher. He has a bunch of other Watchers, 'official' ones, the kind you are- only not trying to kill me- waiting for you. You tell them the truth- and we're going to show them this stuff." Buffy gestured to the car, to all the proof it held, the dossier, the drugs. "And then you leave with them." She motioned to Spike with a single tilt of her head, and they half shoved, half dragged Collins into the backseat, Buffy temporarily on one side, Spike on the other.

"Do you think you can be good for an hour?" Buffy smiled sweetly.

"Or do you want to get pulled out of the trunk like a piece of human luggage?" Spike hissed.

Collins looked on either side of him. Then closed his eyes and sank back.

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Yes, I'm sure she said they were within an hour." Giles spoke to Fallows on the phone. "I'm sorry to delay, but we haven't passed the deadline until midnight your time, surely?"

"No, you've got the time. It isn't the time constraints, it's the waiting. Travers seems oddly calm. I can't imagine why. I swear, Giles, Wyndham-Pryce... if this has somehow been a colossal misunderstanding or anything of that sort-"

"How can you suggest that after all the evidence? How can you imagine we would go to all this effort for a set up? With as much we stand to lose!" Giles demanded.

"It's not as though we have the resources you have at your disposal!" Wesley chimed in, offended.

"I hope Mrs. Summers gets reimbursed for all these angry long distance calls." Willow muttered.

"Your father, Pryce, your father, is on this board. He's incensed. If Travers wiggles out of this somehow- he'll have your family stricken from the rolls, from the halls-"

"And I'll never get asked round to Christmas dinner again." Wesley said with something that approached sarcasm. "Oh dear, oh dear." Inside, his stomach clenched. His father's anger had terrified him his entire life.

Fallows sighed. "I'm sorry. I can't imagine there being a way he's innocent in this. He clearly is not innocent, but it's the question of how far in it is he? What in the world has he got to be calm about?"

"Stop snarling, I keep thinking I ran over a cat." Buffy glared into the backseat.

"He keeps lookin' at the doorhandles!" Spike pointed angrily at Collins. "We should have taped the locks down. Or disabled them. They can do that in specially rigged cars."

"This is not specially rigged. This is just really annoying. We just stopped for gas, how many miles does this thing get per gallon?"

"Well, miracles still happen. The Valley Girl now knows that these things travel in miles- and on gas." Spike snarked. Babysitting in the backseat without the benefit of a blanket, blood, or darkness had put him on edge. Every tiny twitch the cramped and bound Collins made was met with violent suspicion.

"We should have stopped at a gas station, not a rest stop. Why don't they build malls by the highways?"

Spike and Collins made twin groans, and Spike elbowed him sharply. "Oi. She's my Slayer. I get to groan. You shut up."

"Mmmf!" Collins kicked the back of the seat in front of him, making Buffy turn and horns blare as two tires wandered into the next lane.

"You wanna get back in the trunk?"

"Mm! Mmf!" Collins mumbled something angrily and jerked his head towards Spike who was sliding into game face.

"Stop vamping, you're scaring him!"

"Bloody right I should! An' I'm hungry!"

"Don't make me come back there!"

She had to get back there. Sooner, not later. The waiting to do it, to put the plan in motion was worse than actually doing it. Once she was done it, it would be over.

"It's Sylvia. I called to see if you needed any shifts covered today?" The pseudo-nurse paced her rented room and talked to her station captain on the cordless phone.

"You've only been off for a few hours!"

"Well, I know there's a bit of a bug going 'round." Sylvia bluffed easily.

"I know before you came here, you were an agency nurse, but hospitals have rules about how many hours someone can work before they're considered too tired and nothing but a liability. After the amount of time you've spent in here, you're lucky I don't keep you off for thirty six hours instead of twenty four!"

Sylvia forced herself to laugh at the good natured scolding. "I'll see you tomorrow then." She hung up quickly and went back to pacing in silence.

The living room became a somber farce. Five adults pacing, criss crossing, not looking at each other, grunting civilly if their paths collided, while two teens sat on the sofa and watched them move back and forth like a five-sided tennis match.

"What's the name of that big tennis game? It's like the super bowl of tennis?" Xander asked in an undertone at one point.

"Wimbledon?" Willow asked, inclining her head, her eyes never leaving the action.

"Yeah..." He watched Wesley and Giles start at the sound of a car driving up the street, then keep moving. "Where do they have that?"

"England, I think."

"Thought so."

Are you sure the garage is open?" Giles suddenly demanded, for perhaps the third time in the last fifteen minutes.

"Yes, I am sure!" Joyce snapped back, hands on her temples, also for the third time.

"Very emotional people, aren't they?" Quinn remarked to his partner.

"Thoroughly unsuitable."

Wesley whipped around on his heel, glaring, "Watch your mouths, or I'll be putting those old school ascots right up your-"

"They're here! They're here! Car's pulling into the driveway!" Willow yipped excitedly and pushed through Giles' arms and bolted to the door.

"That's not them, that's not the right sort of car and- oh dear Lord- Buffy's driving!" Giles forgot all his worry, all his fear, and everything but the sight of her face.

"She's driving!? I told her she couldn't take her license test until she paid me back for the repairs on the Jeep!"

"How about we act like we care after we're busy removing her from the guy trying to murder her, huh?" Xander pushed past her as well.

"I care because I don't want her to run the car straight through the house and get hurt when she's almost safe!" Joyce angrily cried, and then impulsively grabbed Giles hand as they were scampering out the door. "She's home!"

"She's home!"

"We're home!" Buffy accelerated joyfully into the driveway.

"Slayer! Slayer, that garage is coming up awful fast. Slow down."

"Giles' car! Hi Giles' car!" She beamed over her shoulder at the old citroen parked in front.

"Yes, yes, brilliant, Luv, but- brake! That's the left pedal, idiot!" Spike met Collins' darting eyes. "I always thought she'd kill me one day." He mumbled and then braced himself against the backseat. "Buffy, brake!"

"Say stop next time!" Buffy crashed her foot down and the car juddered into the garage. She threw it into park with a minimum of screeching and without touching the back wall of the garage.

Collins and Spike did not share the full joy of the situation. Buffy sprang out of the car as her family and friends flooded her, a mass of happy tears and shrieks no one could fully understand.

"You drove!"

"You're home!"

"Missed you!"

"Love you!"


"Thank God!"


"See? Aren't you glad you didn't finish her off?" Spike stood slowly, keeping one hand in Collins' collar, dragging him with him across the backseat. Collins didn't give any indication either way. "Well, you should be. I am." Spike concluded softly and hauled him out. "Oi! Somebody wanna take this?" He held Collins aloft by one hand, making the man wheeze through his gag.

Gasps of horror echoed around the cramped garage, and Martin and Quinn rushed forward.

Buffy rushed back. Giles, Wesley, and Xander somehow seemed to end up in the middle.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Buffy looked at the new people. "Who are you and how do I know you're playing on our team? Giles? Introduce me?"

"She has a vampire holding a human hostage and she wants to know what team we're on?" Martin demanded.

"A hungry vampire." Spike sang idly, eyes rolling up to the dangling captive. "But I haven't bitten anyone." Buffy's eyes flickered to his and he smoothly kept speaking, "So lets not bring demons into this. Or I'd have to ask you lot about the devil-dealin' bastard you work for."

"Spike, put him down, you're freaking people out." Buffy tugged Collins back to his feet, and pushed him towards Giles. "Like I said- introduce me?"

"This is Mr. Martin and Mr. Quinn of the Internal Affairs Department of the Watcher's Council." Giles said quietly with a terse nod at each.

"Like-if Watchers are dating other Watchers? Giles, this guy had more weapons in his suitcase than I do in my whole house. You can't hand him over to them, this is not a case of sleeping around!"

Collins jerked free suddenly and scooted himself to Martin and Quinn's startled figures. "Hm! Hmph!" He made a frustrated, querulous sound. Martin reached for his bound wrists and Quinn pulled off his gag.

"I want to call headquarters before I speak to anyone about anything! I'm talking, but only to Travers!"

The Watchers exchanged glances. "That may be difficult. To speak to him directly. But a phone call seems a reasonable request."

Collins gave everyone a look of pure venom. "I'm not going to be fobbed off with underlings, I want Travers."

"Then you'll have to hope they let him take calls in his cell." Wesley spoke calmly, that polite, polished voice sliding smoothly under the anger he was radiating. "I recorded a majority of the conversations he had with me the week leading up to Buffy's disappearance, and the week after it. Including the one where he believed she was still clinging to life- just trapped in the wreckage of the high school." Wesley watched Collins' face slacken, and smiled sadly. "The one where he said I didn't have to fight her... just finish her off. They consider recordings like that enough evidence to keep him from leaving head quarters."

Collins didn't believe. Refuse to believe. But words still managed to seep out of the confused brain and into the air. "He asked you to... but you were her-"

"Watcher? I think Quentin lost sight of the job definition awhile ago. By all means, ask him to explain his reasoning to you." Wesley held the door open for the trio, looked longingly back at the knot of people forming around Buffy, then followed the outsiders into the house.

Faith blinked once as they removed her from the bright, white room. No one noticed. No one cared. They were all staring at little monitors and little tubes.

"You sure we need to move her down to long term care? She looks better than she did."

"How can you say that? She's been in a coma for a month. She's a stick. A dead, white stick. Her vitals might be a little better today, but we're moving her around, it's not like she's getting better. Body has to show some response. It's only outside forces."

Outside... forces. Her eyes were too heavy to open again. Dying. Dead, white stick. Only outside forces ever moved her. Needing to get away, needing to stay alive, running, fighting, hiding. From whatever.

Did I ever have any choices?

Yeah. But I was usually scared to make the hard ones. Her first and last thought in a month of black slumber. Brain waves dipped back down once more.

A single tear went unnoticed down her cheek and into the tangled mat of her long brown hair as they bore her into the shadowy depths of the building.

"Should go in the house. I don't think we ought to leave him alone with Heckle, Jeckle, and Poindexter." Spike also didn't think he could take being near her. Watching her slip into her old life, the life he wasn't part of. He moved forward, skirting Buffy, skirting glares from her mother and the boy, curious looks from the old man and the redhead. He spared her a smile. "Red." She returned it with a tiny wave. He risked more. "Joyce. Watcher. You." Buffy punched him in the side and he looked defensively at her, "What? I forgot a name, three outta four isn't bad!"

"When are they leaving? Giles, please make them leave, I just want this to be done! Please tell me it's done!" Buffy tugged on Giles' shirt like an impatient three year old, pleading in every line of her tired, darkened face.

"Two other Council members will be here soon, a few hours at the most. They'll receive instructions for transport, and take Collins away. Hopefully his evidence will be enough to-" Spike shoved something in his hand, a black folder and a small case.

"Evidence." Spike smirked.

"Oh yeah. Milk." Buffy looked at her mother. "Do we have any really, really strong Tupperware?" She reached carefully back into the car and pulled out the container, wrinkling her nose. "Don't touch. It's been in the car all day, so it's gone bad. Not to mention it'll kill you after slowly turning you insane."

"That's the- that's the stuff that makes you...?" Willow's agile mind stumbled in horror. "Put that down!" Willow shrieked, and frantically waved at her returned best friend.

"It's fine unless you swallow it. So- Mom? Any titanium lying around?"

"I'll get something." Giles deftly removed it from her hands. "Taking care of all this unpleasantness is part two."

"Of what? What's part one?"

"This." Giles put his glasses up on top of his head and bear hugged her. "You're alive."

"You're back!" Xander piled on.

And all the happy little hugging continues, Spike thought bitterly, resentfully, shuffling back, lighting up a smoke and looking off to the side. Drusilla all over again. Save her life, get her exactly what she wanted and then she'd be distracted by the next pretty little-

She was pulling him in, pulling him over.

Buffy's not like that. Buffy's never been like that. Slayer is-

She jumped up, into his arms, and kissed him, cigarette thrown under foot and stamped on as an afterthought.

Slayer's kissing me. In front of everyone. Because she's mine.

An' I'm hers.

"Thanks for getting me home." Buffy pulled back and looked up at him with quietly sparkling eyes.

"Always." Spike swallowed and looked over her shoulder at the four faces which wore expressions ranging from shock to disgust. "I wanted to bring you back more'n anything."

A pause, a moment where no one seemed to be able to make words which would accurately convey the jumble of thoughts.

Willow only needed one word. "Tea?"


"Tea." Willow tugged Giles' arm with one hand and Xander's elbow with the other. "Tea!"

"Oh yes. Oh, of course, you must be hungry." Giles seemed to wake up.

"I made muffins." Joyce also blinked rapidly, as though coming out of a stupor.

"There's casserole. In the freezer. There's casseroles to last until doomsday in the freezer." Xander shared his intimate knowledge of the food supply.

"You mean they'll last a year?" Buffy teased and sighed, letting the fear go, all of it. Everyone laughed or groaned. "We have to go to the butcher's later." Spike let her lead him into the house, finger laced. "Can I borrow the car, Mom?"

"I want to speak to you about that young lady- but not today." More groans, laughter.

"You can borrow my car, Buff. If you can get the scary secret agent man and Fangs here in one piece-"

"Oi! I have a name!"

"Spike is so much prettier than Fangs, isn't it?" Xander remarked caustically.

"It isn't as glamorous as 'Xander', I'll admit." Spike snarled.

"So you do remember my name, huh?" Xander slammed a frozen casserole down on the counter top. "I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if you forgot, how many people have you knocked unconscious?"

"Plenty. If I do it to you again, do I get to add one to the total, or doesn't it count the second time around?"

"Everyone be quiet! There's a long distance interrogation happening in the next room." Giles ordered. "Sit in the dining room, I'll fetch the tea things. Xander, get plates."

It can't be this easy. Buffy let her giddy best friend pull her into a chair, noting that Willow did avoid touching the vampire who was linked to her.

"I better shut the blinds. So Spike doesn't catch on fire." Willow coughed nervously.

"Thanks, Red." Spike coughed as well. He watched Buffy's eyes following her hungrily, the friend she'd been pining for- who was edging around her. Because of me. He was selfish. He wouldn't have minded if Slayer wanted a life of running through long nights and loving through days, just the two of 'em. But she doesn't. She wants it all, and the more I get to know her, more I think she ought to have it.

The redhead closed the last blind and hurried to scoot a chair beside the girl, but then inched it back, eyes darting to him. "Hey. I did that bit where I helped save the world. An' got Slayer back to you. Can I get some sort of... clean slate deal?"

Willow looked at him from the corner of her eye. He'd been part of some of the most terrifying moments she'd ever had.

So has Buffy. But, y'know, in a good way.


Buffy's face fell, as his hardened. Well. We tried. I guess I'll deal. I'm alive. I'm home! That's a big jump from yesterday.

Willow took a deep breath and managed to look Spike in his dangerous eyes for just a moment. "You can have a smudgy slate that I won't look at too hard. R-right now." Willow stammered and fled back into the kitchen.

"Mighty nice of-" She was gone. "You." He shrugged. "Maybe it won't be as bad as we think." Spike smiled and lied.

"Don't count on it." Buffy whispered.

"Was afraid you'd say that." The lighter was fast making a reappearance.

"Don't be. Think about us." The tired girl smiled and sat up straighter. "I'm the Slayer. I've got this."

"I've got the wrong address on that parcel Headquarters sent me." Collins said the vague-sounding distress code clearly into the phone. What a mockery this all was! Had to be. There was feasting and laughter one room over, with a disgraced Watcher, a run away Slayer, and one of the most notorious vampires in the world - while he sweated, still hobbled and with an unfriendly grip on one arm, waiting for the voice of reason to come through on the phone.

"Mr. Collins to Mr. Fallows, right away, Sir." The voice answered.

"Fallows? Not- not Travers?" Collins faltered.

"Mr. Fallows is temporarily in charge of this Council, Sir." The voice became puzzled. "Unless you really do need to speak to the mail room?"

"No!" Collins groaned and went to sink back into a chair. The only flaw being that when you're bound at the ankles and knees you just sort of fall on your arse.

"Are you there?"

Wesley retrieved the phone. "Give him a moment- he's taking a seat."

"Shall I connect him to Mr. Fallows? He's still here. In fact- everyone's still here." It was past six in the evening, but they were still all there, reading, re-reading, sifting, and trying to make something definite stick, something more than petty infractions and indiscretion.

"I imagine they are." Wesley murmured, then collected himself. "Yes, please. We have Collins. Tell him that, if there's any delay."

There wasn't. In the space of three seconds an urgent but controlled voice identified itself. "This is Fallows, is this Collins?"

"This is Collins. Sir, I don't understand what's happened. I wasn't gone for more than a week-"

"But what a week it was, Collins. I understand you requested Mr. Travers?"

"I did..." Collins felt the world floating away from him. How was he suddenly on trial? How was he bound at the hands of the woman he'd defended through his small sacrifices? How was a vampire a guest and he the one with a noose waiting for his neck? Why were his fellows acting like this?

"Do you object to speaking him on speaker phone?"

"Ah- yes."

"Why is that?"

"I have information only to be relayed to Travers." And what a farce this is. Obviously they'll know whatever I know and soon. The gods of protocol are hurling thunderbolts at us all... "I don't suppose it matters now. I was unsuccessful."

"Unsuccessful at what?"

"My mission, Sir."

"Which was?"

And they'll ask her! She's alive, she's one bloody room over. They'll ask her, so why am I bothering with this charade? "Killing the Slayer, Sir. She's switched sides, she's in league with a vampire. William the Bloody. Also called Spike."

"That is not true!" Wesley cried angrily. "I-"

"My Wyndham-Pryce! Your evidence was already submitted and you have not been brought in to speak on this date! Say nothing. The Council clerk will let Mr. Collins hear the evidence. And please note, Mr. Collins, that this was after Ms. Summers fled, because of a prior warning she had been given. We can read you anecdotal evidence but I think this might be more convincing." A pause. A shuffle. "The first recording, please."

Collins, Martin, and Quinn all sat raptly, ears straining. As they had been on out on assignment, taking the place of MacAndrews and Gervais, this was their first time hearing the damning tapes as well. Wesley pushed the speaker button on their end of the line, and shoed no emotion. He'd already heard this before.

"Don't be a fool! It's not as if I've asked you to battle her hand to hand, simply finish the job."

Wesley's voice, wounded sounding, "I mean, there is no body."

A pause. Tape spools wound and creaked.

"You said she died."

"She has. She chased the demon into the building right before it blew up. Waves of fire, an explosion- the building began to fall down, there were-"

"Spare me the poetry, Wyndham-Pryce. So, she's trapped inside?"

"I- I hope not. The police said no one could possibly survive."

"Have they checked the wreckage? Slayers are like roaches- so difficult to kill by ordinary means."

"What? Why did he-" Martin made a flabbergasted sound.

"Silence, please! Rewind, Clerk."

"The heat was too intense, and the building too unsound. It's most likely rubble now, but I haven't been back to check."

"Then go back and check. She must be alive."

"Why do you say that, Sir?"

Why can't he hear the trap in that voice? That caution, that leading? Collins shook his head in a horrified realization. He must be mad not to have noticed... He must be mad. Full stop.

"No one's been called to replace her! I've been up all night, called every Watcher in the world, and none of the girls we have under observation have been called!"

"Doesn't it often take a few days to be sure? Maybe she hasn't come into full realization of her abilities, looking normal to the outsider."

Another pause. Clicking of spools."Hmm. Possibly."

"It could be a girl who hasn't been recognized as having the potential to be called yet. It is sometimes."

"Highly unlikely. We're much better about surveillance than we used to be."

"Still, it did happen. In Stockholm in- was it 1897? And what about that girl, what was her name, the one who was only active for a month before she fell into a den of-"

"Yes, yes I suppose it's possible!"

Quinn winced. Shouting. Mr. Travers seldom shouted. A bad sign. Losing his temper - losing his grip. Still, he could just be frustrated that a new Slayer hadn't been called, it was puzzling, it was wrong.

"Very well. We'll have to utilize all our inactive agents to locate an unidentified potential if I don't see a Call in the next day. Such a waste of manpower! But you, Wesley..."

He called him by his first name. Collins, Martin, and Quinn exchanged a shocked, faintly hurt glance.

"You go, and you find that body. If she's not dead, make it so."

"Please stop the tape." The recording clicked off. "Mr. Collins? Would you feel comfortable speaking to Mr. Travers on speaker now?"

He told her Watcher to kill her. And he obviously didn't know she'd run off or was in league with a vampire then, he thought she was helpless- trapped in a building, trapped in a building so badly damaged they'd said no one could survive inside it.

Lies! All lies he told me! What he said to me, didn't match what they said to me. But it matches bloody well what he told Pryce to do. A Watcher, turning on his Slayer...

Lies. I killed Spears. For a lie, ten to one. Nothing but lies.

Seconds ticked by. Travers' face became more strained. Fallows cleared his throat. The board room was still with tension.

"Collins?" Martin gently shook his elbow.

"He told me she'd run off with a vampire. And that she'd gone evil. That she was a threat to be removed. And I am the best man in Threat Removal." Collins' voice seemed to come from his stomach up, as if it were something foul he was trying to expel. A calm voice only slightly shaking, but the shaking was like an earthquake tremor of rage.

"That's true." Fallows said quietly.

"But he asked her Watcher to finish her. To finish her when she was supposedly dying. That. Is not. What we do." He spoke in three snorting breaths, barely able to control his anger. "We are meant to help. Protect them in the small ways, like the books and spells and ancient lore, or in removing other threats, human threats to their lives or their secrets!"

"Steady on, old man." Quinn looked alarmed. Giles poked his head around from the hallway with a worried frown.

"You told her Watcher to take her life when you thought she was weak and helpless!"

"She wasn't though." Martin shook his head.

"He didn't know that! He wanted her dead, not because she was evil. Not because of- Because... why? Why did you do this?" He looked at his hands. For the first time, he could see the blood on them. "Why did you ask me to hurt an innocent? Someone good?"

"I think we should move to the kitchen." Giles murmured and began ushering the group at the table farther out of earshot. They don't need to hear the explanation. They know it.

Travers said nothing at first. "Testing the loyalty of this Council. Sometimes one down in the field cannot see the same view as those siting in command."

"Loyalty? In the field! What about Spears?" Collins asked desperately. "Was he really insane, a danger to the Council, or did you just want him dead, too? Is it a test of loyalty to see who we'd kill for you? Even each other?"

The room erupted.

"We have enough! Quentin Travers, you are held for another three days, until the completion of Mr. Collins' written and sworn testimony." What happened after that was much less pleasant and wouldn't be shouted out in the middle of a board room. "Collins- you are to be brought to London Headquarters to -"

"Oh, don't even tell me." Collins groaned, too sick of these rules, these rules made of shadows and never asking, just obeying. "I'll come and I'll talk and you can do what you like with me." He shoved the phone away.

Later I'll be mad. Later I'll be worried about what they do to me, what the penalty is for obeying the orders of a madman. A traitor. Oh bloody hell. I'm a traitor. He made me a traitor. "One thing."

"Quiet! Quiet in this room, or everyone but the board leaves!" Fallows bellowed. The silence descended once more. "Yes, Collins, one thing?"

"I want it in the records. That I did my job. I removed threats, or I did my best to. It's not my fault if information was withheld - or falsified- about what constituted those threats."

"That will be discussed when you arrive, Mr. Collins." Fallows said firmly, then relented. Collins was an unemotional chap, and his tones were positively livid. "But it shall be entered into the records- preliminarily, of course."

"When are the other guys supposed to get here?" Buffy and the others hovered, both trying to hear, and trying not to. They wanted the whole horrible mess to be done with, but they wanted the knowledge that something conclusive was finally happening even more.

"Shortly. If not already, I should imag-"

"They've arrived." Martin slid from the silent Collins' side to answer the door. "If I may, Madam?"

"Now you care about manners in my house?" Joyce asked coldly. "Yes, go ahead. Just get him out of here before I-" She soothed herself with a shaking sigh. "Just get him out of here."

"Will do, Madam." Martin opened the door, and MacAndrews and Gervais came in, eyes darting wildly. "She's here, safe. And so is he."

"And so is that." Gervais saw Spike step into the foyer, still mainly in the shadows.

"That is Spike. Who helped keep me safe when no one else in your little boys' club noticed everything was fishy." Buffy said sternly.

"Ms. Summers!" MacAndrews looked genuinely pleased. "You're back, and you're well!"

"Excuse me, no one?" Giles gave her a look of mock injury.

"When none of you guys noticed anything was wrong." Buffy amended, pointing at the quintet of men in the living room, four standing, one sitting and miserable looking.

"That's better." Wesley sniffed in, wounded pride healing a tad.

"You're not defending this murdering demon?" MacAndrews looked very worried at the thought. Perhaps she's not as well as she looks.

"Don't see why she shouldn't," Spike leaned against her with a smirk, but blackness in his eyes, "I defended her plenty from you lot lately."

"He did." Collins' hollow voice seemed to erase the mounting tension forming between the two camps.

Looks were exchanged. "He is with the Slayer, and if she wanted to kill him, she would." Wesley said quietly.

"Oh believe me, I wanted to." Buffy gave Spike an almost playful look under a grim smile. "Amazing as it is, the longer you put up with him- the less killable he gets."

"Mutual." Spike winked.

There was a stiffness in the quartet of standing Watchers, all of whom had come prepared for a battle with Collins, only to find that he was in some sort of silent shut down mode. Now they faced a notorious vampire, known for his evil towards Slayers in particular, and they were being told to stand down.

"We haven't asked for any orders from the Council regarding him." Martin finally spoke for all of them.

"No, you didn't, and they didn't issue any except to get that man to headquarters." Giles reminded them. Which you'd better do swiftly. Cooperative or not, vital as he is, he almost killed her, and I can't stand to look at him for much longer.

"A jet's being hired. They have to find one suitable for our needs, one with the right gate clearances to depart quickly. They said it would be arranged in a few hours. Less now."

"Surely you have someplace suitable you can go?" Giles insisted, sparing a second to look at Joyce, who was barely holding herself in check, same as he was.

"Aside from my living room." Buffy crossed her arms menacingly.

"You can use my flat." Wesley volunteered.

Another pause. "They will ask questions about him, you know." Quinn addressed Buffy as if Spike weren't there. "It isn't natural."

"Neither is drugging women and locking them in the house with vampires, then giving them a grade for how little they die." Put like that, the Watchers had the grace to look abashed. "Let them ask questions. I have answers."

That's my girl." Spike beamed and bounced on the balls of his feet, looking like he could crow.

"Give us a minute to call and relay our new location. We don't want any slip ups, not this late in the game." Gervais said stiffly, and turned from them.

"I think we could all use a minute." Joyce took Buffy's arm and tugged her pointedly from the room. As if she were the moon and they were the waves, the others trailed slowly after her.

"Buffy, this has gone far - Spike, would you mind waiting outside?"

"Bit sunny out there." Spike felt something in his chest suddenly crunch. She was doing better than he'd imagined. All of them were doing their best good little pals act. But Slayer's mum was a fierce little thing, like her daughter. And the look in her eye... it stilled his already dead heart, that had been coming back to life again.

"You're right. And you can hear what I have to say. It concerns you." Joyce forced a smile to her face. "Thank you." The group gave her a surprised look, and her smile left, but the expression of sincere gratitude remained. "Thank you. For bringing her home. I know- I know you were promised something to keep her safe, and you gave it up to save Buffy. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that."

"You don't have to." Spike didn't smile, didn't respond to the kind words. He knew the next part. The push.

"I just wanted to let you know before you left."

"Thought I might stick around." Spike replied in an expressionless voice, hard featured, shuttered eyes. Buffy looked at him furtively.

Oh man. I'm the one who who holds in everything, he's the one who shows everything. When he gets closed over... it hurts so bad they don't even make an expression for it. "Mom, I don't think we need to have this-"

Joyce rounded on Giles, speaking over Buffy. "He's evil. He's acting good now, but that doesn't last! I've seen it before, and I've seen what happens to people when they change back! You involve vampires and then they don't know when to leave!" She hissed.

"No. They don't." Buffy looked angrily at her mother, and widened that look to her friends and Watcher. "They leave when you need them most. To worry about themselves when you need someone to watch your back."

"Honey, Angel wasn't a good person to have helping you anyway. You saw what he could become."

"This isn't Angel!"

"Bloody right!" Spike looked mortified.

"Isn't this worse?" Joyce cried.

"I'm the Slayer! I say who I have on my team!" But this isn't just about defenses and putting people on the good guy or bad guy team! This is about love. How can she not see that? I don't go around kissing everyone who lends me a hand.

"You're also an eighteen year old girl! You can't keep giving your heart to these pretty monsters and then letting them tear you apart!"

Oh. So she does get that part. "Mom, I'm not going to get torn apart, I just-"

"I'm seeing the point there." Xander ventured.

"Xander!" Willow smacked his elbow.

"All of you calm down. Spike has had just as trying journey as Buffy and no one expects him to suddenly leave."

"I am in the room, y'know!" Spike gave an aggravated cry.

"Everyone just shut up!" Buffy stamped her foot, and dishes rattled in the dining room. Frustration and anger, and a little worrying voice that wondered if she was making a mistake, all vied for position. Then a sudden unexpected rush of quiet, confident strength took place in the lead. "I love all of you. So much. And every day apart killed me, and when I started to die- for real... all the fears that were chasing me... circling around me... making me crazy? All of them were about hurting you, letting you down."

"Sweetie, no." Joyce shook her head. "That's not what I'm trying to say."

"Buffy, no way do you ever do that." Willow reached for her hand.

"Then don't make me feel that way now." Buffy ignored the outstretched hand, kept her fingers curled into her palms, every ounce of willpower needed so she wouldn't just avoid this, or give in, go back to the far less morally worrying life of good girl searching for good boy.

"It's not a question of letting us down." Xander didn't look at Spike. "More like wondering if you're insane. Oo, bad choice of words there..." He winced and gave Buffy an apologetic look.

"I'll deck you in a minute." Spike snarled.

"Perhaps is we could discuss this later?" Giles was uncomfortably aware that they would soon be under scrutiny from the next room.

"No! Not later, not insane, and not letting anyone down! I don't always do what you want, but I'll do what I think is right, and I'll try my best and- and-"

"And you'll finish the job. You'll never be beaten." Spike prompted quietly.

"That! I'll do my job and I'll win! I'll be your daughter, and your friend, and your student, and the Slayer! And I'll be..." Girlfriend sounds so not-major enough. "I'll be his."

"Mine." Spike mouthed soundlessly, to himself, staring at her in awe. That was a popular look. All of them had gobsmacked looks on their faces, faces that were slowly fading to looks of questioning acceptance. Or resignation. "An' I'll be hers." He stepped up to the plate. "Do my best to make sure she stays all those things, Slayer, best mate, your good little pupil-" he tried to laugh off the heaviness he felt. These were some sort of effed up vows they were making, promises that should be made to each other, and here they were being made to the lot of them.

Oh well. Gotta say, like the family she comes with better than the one Dru came with. Visions of Angelus and Darla and a weeping, scattered raven haired girl stuck in his mind and he blinked. "I'm givin' up a lot for her. A lot. But I think she's worth the trade."

"Awww." Willow looked touched. Giles stared at the pair curiously, contemplating, and Xander rubbed his temples with the familiar "I will never understand her" look on his face.

Only Joyce seemed unmoved from her original position. "A trade? You'll stop killing people and being a demon and being evil? For her?"

"Well... the killin' part, I guess. You know, 'cept in a pinch where it's someone gonna hurt my Slayer, 'cause then-"

"Your Slayer! My daughter! Buffy, think about what you're trading."

Loneliness. Never fitting in. Always feeling like a weirdo in my own body. Trying to be good all the time, and feeling like a failure when I can't. Failing. Helplessness. Having an empty space in my heart... He can take all of that from me, just by giving me himself. "I have thought, Mom. I like what I'm getting."

"A normal life! Walking outside in the daylight! Marriage! Children! Grandchildren!" Joyce clutched the sides of her slightly frazzled hair. "You're a teenager, you think in the now. All you see is how much you want him. You never think about something else you might want a little later, like a family!"

A derisive snort emerged under Joyce's heated cries. She continued her berating, only dimly aware of the men in the next room being able to hear her.

But Spike and Buffy could overhear every word they said, Spike more so as he wasn't staring into the desperate eyes of his mother.

The phone call and any subsequent discussion must've been finished, for the Watchers were idling in the doorways, looking lost and yet they couldn't leave.

Quinn made the noise. Something in an undertone, then louder. He knew it was loud enough to hear, he'd just stopped caring. "Ha. She's a slayer." He inclined his head to Martin. "What's she going on about? Not like she'll live long enough to bear children, let alone see a 'family'."

Joyce's words tumbled to a halt as she caught the last sentence.

"See here!" Wesley drew himself up angrily.

Spike didn't ask him to see. He preferred when they weren't looking. A black blur, a chorus of gasps, and Quinn was lying on the ground, clutching a fast bleeding lip and a bloody white incisor. "You keep that mouth shut before it does you anymore damage!" Spike snarled, shaking his hand out. "She's gonna outlive all of you! All of you!" He spat at the assembled men, now drawing weapons. "You know, this is what you've been doin' wrong," he scoffed at them, "you don't use men in suits to help girls kill vamps, you use vamps to kill vamps!"

"Spike." Buffy came up and laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"Not that a Slayer needs help or-" He gave her a look over his shoulder. "Gimme one more sec, Luv?"

"Go for it." Buffy rolled her eyes, but secretly liked having someone defending her.

"She's gonna outlive all of you!" He leaned forward threateningly- and then slid back into an almost nonchalant stance, something still coiled in him, but chained for now. "By how much... that's your choice."

Silence filled the space after his not so subtle threat, until Buffy proclaimed, looking at her mother first, then the Watchers, and her friends last. "He stays. I'm the Slayer. What I say about my life, little or long as it is- goes. He stays." She looked pointedly at the Watchers, slowly replacing their weapons. Except for one.

Joyce pushed past her child. Her daughter. There is a difference between those terms, isn't there? An aching difference, but that ache was better than being without her. Her life had almost been taken. Over. And this man fought to help her keep it. Passionately wanted it to continue.

We have something in common.

Martin's fingers froze around the trigger on his small crossbow, as a delicate, artistic hand crushed his wrist back inside his jacket pocket. "Don't you dare pull that thing out in my house." Joyce Summers whispered threateningly.

"No, ma'am."

"In fact, you'd better leave. Everyone who isn't welcome here better leave." Joyce withdrew her hand, still staring at the man. "Buffy? Go make some cocoa. See if we have any little marshmallows."

"What?" Buffy looked utterly confused. "Does that mean something?"

Spike shoved her along. "It means I'm on the good side of welcome, now get in the kitchen."

With the two stars of the little drama temporarily out of the room, things relaxed and life seemed to return to normal speed. "We're cleared to leave." Wesley nodded. "We'll go back to my flat."

"I'll go with you."

"We need the car. It's the only one big enough to take five of us."

"I'm not going to run. I don't need an armed escort. " Collins, a silent spectator for this tableau, finally spoke. "Certainly not four of you." As if I couldn't kill all four of you weak, soft bookish lads in moments. If you were a danger. Although I suppose that code of killing only to protect doesn't matter anymore. I've stained my hands with innocent blood now. "I won't be running." Collins repeated in an exhausted voice.

"It doesn't matter, old man. I'm afraid Mr. Fallows insists that you do need an escort, and he believes that- well." Gervais cleared his throat, "Safety in numbers, don't you know."

"Ah yes. Get the car ready then." Collins replied in a flat voice.

"Don't sweat it. I'll get Buffy's stuff out of the car and then it's all yours." Xander shrugged angrily and huffed away, glad to leave the room.

He banged past them in the kitchen, not looking at the couple standing by the stove, hands on each other's faces and necks as if they'd been about to kiss or just finished. "Don't mind me." Xander said sarcastically, and slammed into the garage.

"Oh no..." Buffy bit her lip.

"Can I punch him, too?" Spike asked hopefully.

"No." Buffy patted his arm.

"I'm still evil! I'm not goin' good, y'know." He huffed after her.

"Be good for a minute- and I'll be bad later. For longer." Buffy smiled back at him.

Well, that caused a reaction. "How bad are we talkin'?" Spike licked his white lips as they curved in desire.

"Shut up, Spike." She swung her hair and strode off, ignoring the tingling that promise caused.

He smiled happily as he watched her glide away. Mm. Very.

"Xander, don't leave." Please don't leave. If you leave it means I'm wrong about everything. About not letting you down. About being myself. I have to be who I am, and you're part of that. Buffy stood in the garage doorway, watching him root around inside the black sedan.

"Not leaving. The boys from MI- 5 are leaving, and I said I'd get your stuff. They need this car since it's the only one big enough to comfortably let you enjoy a luxurious ride while still pointing a gun at the guy in the backseat." He gave her a bitter smile and moved a duffle bag out of the way.

"You hate this." Buffy was behind him, silent and swift, making him stand up quickly. With a yelp as his scalp met the edge of the trunk, Xander turned to face her. "Yeah. I think I do. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually feeling some warm fuzzies for him because I know he saved your life. I heard him saving it. I know that wasn't an Oscar-winning performance, it was actually real. But, Buff- he wanted to kill you last year. Kill. Now this year, you're- what's the word? Dating?"

No one understands. Which is why I like having Spike around. He is actually getting really good at understanding the non-understandable. "Yeah." Buffy managed to laugh. "Sounds like you and Cordelia junior and senior year."

"She's not evil. Not all the time. She's- she's got a heart under there!" Xander defended his ex.

"He's got a heart too. It didn't stop working... it just stopped beating." Buffy tried to explain.

I heard him calling her back. Pulling her out of death's arms. I did the same thing once. I can tell when it's B.S. This isn't. Still. "I really, really don't like this."

"Downgraded from hate. It's a start." Buffy shrugged.


"You know what? I really, really don't like being the slayer sometimes- but I am. And I can't run away from that, can't hide from it. Tried both." His hazel eyes widened a fraction as he listened to her, looked at her. "It's something I can't choose, but I know I have to be pretty damn grateful about what things I can choose. People in my life. I'm choosing him, Xander." Buffy said seriously. "I choose you too, and I'm not changing my mind. I'm not backing down-" she wallowed, "even if I'm scared to death."

He grabbed her hands and shook them slightly. "If he scares you, you shouldn't-"

"Not him." Buffy squeezed the hands holding hers. "You. Wills. Mom and Giles. I'm scared of you hating me. But I know what I'm supposed to do. I just know." She touched the space above her heart. "In here."

He didn't seem to particularly care for that poignant statement of self-awareness. The teen boy was stuck on the horrifying words right before it. Buffy's scared of me? She's my best friend! She's my hero. She's the anti-bogeyman, and come on, she's gotta know that I'd die for her! Knew I should have kept a list of times I almost did. But friends don't need to do that! It's basic friend mechanics. Friend equals of the good. Scared equals of the bad and shitty. "Scared? Of me?"

How do you sum of the nightmare world you lived in, where everyone you loved turned on you, or you'd turned everyone from innocent bystander to innocent victim?

Simply, because talking about it hurt too much. And because my best friends speak fluent Buffy-ese. "Mhm. Scared. That you won't- you know. Like me anymore." She finished in a small whisper. Love me anymore. But love is even scarier to think about losing.

Xander shook his head. "Here all this time I thought I was the stupid one. I will never, ever not like you." He blinked, considered, and shook his head again. "Whoa. I need Wills to check my grammar on that, but I will never, ever not- wait two negatives- makes a positive... or is that when you're multiplying..." Xander trailed off for a moment of mumbling and counting on his fingers while Buffy chewed her lips to keep from laughing. Or crying. "Screw it. I will always like you."

"Xan!" Buffy breathed out in relief, but he wasn't done speaking.

"I will probably always hate his undead guts though." The young man swallowed and looked at her nervously. "Is that a deal breaker?"

Buffy didn't even have to consider, just had to throw out one condition. "Promise not to stake him?"

"If he promises not to bite. If he bites- boom. I'm breaking out the holy water hand grenades." Xander chuckled.

"I think we can work with that." I think we can work. She hugged him impulsively, hard, making his bones creak and his voice wheeze out,

"O-kay, found another reason for Spike to stick around. You can give him the boa constrictor hugs."

"Sorry!" She released him and helped him straighten up as he rubbed his bruised ribs.

"But don't get all touchy-feely with him when I'm around. Save the hugging- and stuff- for when I'm not in the room." Buffy blushed slightly and nodded. "Friends?"


Day Twenty Eight...

"Willow? Hey, come on in." Oz was unloading his van, carrying his amp into his parents' garage. "The Bronze was dead tonight. Set finished before midnight. But no vampires."

Willow let out a frantic, high-pitched giggle and helped him grab the van's sliding door. "Yeah. Yeah, that's good."

"You okay?" Oz put down his case quickly and looked at his girlfriend. She had barely cracked a smile in a month, and now she was giggling. Giggling like an insane person. Probably not a good sign.

"Yeah! I'm fine! I'm really great. Really!" I'm going to puke. He's going to break up with me. I lied to him once, and now I lied to him again and he's going to say he can't trust me and why didn't I think of this before I agreed not to tell him? I guess it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because between Buffy dying and maybe Oz dying if they found out he knew- I'd pick a break up any day.

"You sure?" Oz was not given to questioning actions and feelings of people. Very anti-flow. A person says fine, you say, "cool".

"No." Willow bit her lip and her eyes suddenly overflowed.

"What happened?" But he knew. Buffy's gone. Since graduation, Willow was like a shadow, always slipping away, silent, and not in the "I'm thinking with my ridiculously amazing brain" way. "Did they...?" But what's worse, man? She's dead.

"Buffy's alive."

The stoic teen showed one of his rare bursts of emotion. "What!?"

"She- she - okay, first there was the thing with Angel, and she got mad, and then she-"

"Willow, stop, you're not making any sense!" She snapped. Should I call her parents or Giles? Definitely Giles.

"I know!" Willow groaned.

"Willow, I know life isn't the same without her. Life doesn't feel like life. But-"

She interrupted, blurting,"The guy who fired Giles? He tried to kill Buffy."

The reddish brown eyebrows blended in with his hairline. "Wow. Harsh."

"That's what I said. He's insane! When Wesley told him Buffy wasn't going to obey orders anymore, because he wouldn't help Angel when Faith shot him, then the guy- Travers- he was like 'She's disobedient. I'm crazy. Let's kill her'. Then Wesley was all 'Never!' , but he didn't tell Travers that, he told Giles. He was waiting until Buffy stopped the Ascension, but then he was going to send Spike after her. You know Spike- the vampire who- right, never mind, you know him." Willow took a half breath and kept speaking, speeding up, not quite meeting his eyes. "So they figured the only way to put him off the trail was to act like she was already dead, and then by the time he figured she was still alive she would be far enough away to-"

Oz's frown had deepened until Willow, even lost in her frantic, confused babble, her relief at finally being able to tell her secret, and her fear at what the revelation would lead to, was forced to notice it. She guiltily met his eyes, her voice abruptly dying, sticking in her throat.

"Giles knew?" Oz's voice was stunned, but had an edge, an angry edge. Willow nodded. "You knew?" An even smaller nod. "You knew she was alive? Since when?"

"All the time." Willow whispered.

The anger was on the surface. A little bit of the wolf, but tempered by the oh-so-placid demeanor. "Why? Why didn't you tell me? You knew? Willow- we had a memorial service! I -I -Buffy's my friend too! I mean, I thought she was. Dude..." Oz sat on the bumper of the van suddenly. "Dude. Heavy..."

"Oz, listen-" Willow came to sit beside him, but he didn't look at her. "Please? Look at me?" He glared briefly from the corner of one eye. "I wanted to tell you. I swear I did."

"So why didn't you?"

"Because they've been snooping around, all month. Agents. Watchers. They tapped Giles' phone and searched his house... They kept coming to see Joyce. We think they looked at all our phone records, and we didn't know-" Willow's strained voice made an effortful heave- "what they'd do if they ever found out it wasn't real. Giles said we could either have real mourning for a fake death, or a real death and we wouldn't have to fake anything."

Oz's pale skin blanched further. "Did you think you couldn't trust me?" He asked quietly.

"I knew I could trust you with my life. Hers too." She looked at her hands. "I-I just didn't want to gamble with yours. Everyone who knew wasn't just putting her in danger if they slipped up, b-but they were in danger too." His eyes slid to hers and locked. "Seriously. No one hurt us, but I think it's 'cause they believed us. If they hadn't, if they thought we were hiding Buffy... I don't know what they would have done." Willow thought of the scowling, bound figure she'd kept clear of. Humans who kill other humans, and feel nothing. What's that evil about? "They can be pretty scary."

Oz processed emotions either slowly or quickly, either extreme, but was always fairly quiet about it. "I could have helped you. I could have protected you. I know that's kind of old fashioned, maybe retro manly or something, but- I love you. I would have helped."

"I liked it." Willow gave him a watery smile. "You save me all the time. Buffy, too, you totally help. I guess for once, I wanted to do some saving. At least some proactive-anti-endangering. 'Cause I do too. Love you. And want to save you from all the scary guys."

He marveled a little, even under the anger and the confusion. "You're the good witch, huh?" He cracked a fractured smile.

"With the sparkly wings." Willow returned it. "I knew m-maybe you wouldn't trust me anymore. Or you'd be mad and n-not want to be around me for a long time." Or ever again. "We still thought it was the safest thing. And tomorrow, or soon, people will find out that she's back and she's alive. I just came over to tell you first. I can leave now." Willow rose on shaking knees.

Oz let her. Let her take a few steps, too, before he couldn't stand it anymore, watching her walk away, breaking heart trailing after her like a shadow.

"Next time- I'm one of the risk-takers. If you do it, I do it."

Willow spun, and fell into his arms as he was rising. "I promise!"

He pulled her back, into the van, over tangled cords, old gig flyers, and mike stands. "We have to go see Buffy."


"But... not now." Hands pulled scarlet strands out of the way of her tear streaked face and he gave her a kiss between muffled words. "Buffy's probably asleep, right?"

"Right." Willow said between kisses. Which was a lie, and she knew it. No more lying. "Well no, probably not yet. She's probably trying to work out a couple things."

"Hm?" He paused in mid- tug at her sweater.

"Let's do this first, then go see her. You can see for yourself."

"Is it something bad?" He paused, eyes fluttering back open, suddenly alert.

Spike. Very bad. But saved her life. And punched that mouthy Watcher dude who said she was gonna die. "Kinda. But nothing she can't handle."

"Think we can handle a night apart?" He asked it playfully, sarcastically, as if it wouldn't matter a bit.

"Not really." Buffy admitted.

"I was hopin' you'd say that." Spike wound his arm across her back. "Your mum isn't gonna like me hangin' about." 'Specially not doin' what I want to do to you.

"We have a guest room. More like a big dusty boxes room, but-" She shrugged.

"I don't think your mum'd sleep a wink if I were in the house over night. 'Sides, this is my daylight. I gotta get somethin' to eat, an' you oughta lay low until that bastard's safely over the briney."

"Over the what now?"

"Ocean. 'Til he's over the ocean! Dammit, we're gonna need a whole new sorta dictionary for you, Bubble Brain."

"Yeah, the Old British Words to Normal People Words version." She snapped back. Then smiled. "Hm. I kinda miss watching the Spanish channel with you." Buffy cuddled up to his side as they walked through the yard, walking in the wee hours, in the shadows, keeping her cover maintained until they got some sort of all clear, him silently refusing to abandon his post until the danger passed, and her declaring loudly his place was with her even when it had. Danger never passed for good, it merely made circuits, leaving them with happy moments of peace.

Happy. And pretty peaceful. "I love you." Buffy reminded him.

"I love you. Only thing I might love more is hearin' you tell me." He preened and confessed. What she does to me... Who's the devilish one now?

"I don't want you to leave tonight. Unless you're really hungry?" Giles had gone out and brought back bags of blood from the butcher, Joyce had outdone herself with a banquet of donated casseroles and roasts.

"Just peckish." He inhaled her scent, and some other hunger manifested. "You gotta be exhausted though."

"You haven't slept much either."

"Don't need to. Much."

"Me, either."

"You'll wear yourself out."

"You'll wear me out faster."

"Slayer!" He chuckled.


He moved her body to his, turning her hips and half picking her up, letting her feel the outline of his bulge.

She pressed her breasts into his chest. A few weeks ago, she'd never have done this at all, with anyone. Too dangerous to tempt her only other lover, too shy and uncertain to be provocative with the human boys she'd liked, aside from an occasional dance.

"Ever done it outside? Under the stars?" He growled and nipped at her throat.

"Outside yes, under stars, not so much. It was starting to get light out yesterday, remember?" She nudged her knee along the growing rise between his hips.

Oh yes, unforgettable. "Mmm, Kitten, you don't know what you're missing."

"No, but I bet I won't be missing it for very -"

"Eh-hem!" Giles' strident cough echoed from the back porch.

"Oooh, busted." Buffy hissed regretfully and slid down the vampire, who hastily swung his coat closed.

"The neighbors are bound to be wondering who has been wearing down the grass for the past several hours. I think you'd best come inside." The Watcher's precise tones meant it wasn't really a suggestion.

"Coming..." Buffy dragged herself along moodily. "But Spike's going to sleep here, right?"

"I suppose. If he likes. I'm also planning to stay until I hear Collins is safely at Headquarters." Giles held the door for them as they came into the house.

"So you can make sure I don't suddenly snack on anyone, more likely." Spike grunted.

Giles regarded him, then her. A strange sort of- almost a kinship, he thought, like a symbiotic strand- seemed to exist between them. Hunter and Hunted locked in an unending truce, now partners at being both predators and prey. Her defense of him, his protectiveness of her. The bickering. Lord, the longest evening of his life, with the constant, unending snarking- all of it accurate and quite sharp, and none of it taken with any offense.

They do seem to show some love for one another. Not the painful, obsessive love he showed for Drusilla, or the tragic, star-crossed love she had for Angel. Just something.. strangely undefinable. "I don't believe you'd do that." Giles murmured, removing his glasses from the heavily seamed and bagged eyes. "As for you," he addressed Buffy, "I'm so happy to have you back, you can get away with almost anything for a few days."

"I almost die, and I only get a few days off for good behavior?" Buffy pouted up at him and let herself fall against his chest, hugging him tight.

"Let's say a long weekend." Giles kissed her freshly washed and conditioned hair. "Spike, you can take the sofa. I'm in the guest room. And Buffy-" Giles headed upstairs, "the recent stress of the past few weeks has trained me to spring to alert at even the slightest sound." He smiled paternally at her before begin to trudge wearily up once more. "Have a good night's sleep, you two."

"Night, Giles!" Buffy waved and waited until he was gone before she turned to Spike with a pout. "I guess that means we wait."

Spike pulled her back from dining room, down through the kitchen, looking around as he went. "No..." He flung open the basement door noislessly, with a naughty grin, "I guess that means we're dead quiet."

With a hot rush in her stomach, she let him lead her down.

To be continued...