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: Creole/vodoun terms are used in this chapter. I've used most of them before, or you can figure them out from context, but "Reler" means "to call".

Author's Second Note: Thank you, thank you, thank you. That is all.

Dedicated to: Skeezixx, Ginar369, Alexiarrose, Sirius120, Jewel74, The Three March Hares, micmoc, Embers and Flames, Omslagspapper, Rosalea12, ValidescopeWest, Rachel, Alottalove, Cavementftw, Maire Ailbhe, Illusera, hbmckidd, mike13z50, Loverswalk89, Suzanne, KittenofDoomage, PeaceHeather, CailinRua, Neinka, cosmiclove, N172Shay, ShyL, LOVEisRealand4eva, Kathryn Merlin, Kerry2202, marty powell, slayergirl, Beige Flicka, Seapea, kse93, Spit, nrs, and Tawny.

Thank you to the faithful ones who are hanging in there until the very end!

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


Day Twenty Nine...

Giles' car turned onto the street where Wesley's neat, modern block of flats was located. "I don't think this is a wise idea."

"Someone who flips plates like you do doesn't have any call having second thoughts." Spike grinned.

"That was in my sordid past- and for emergencies." He mumbled.

"My mom is going to consider it an emergency if I want to borrow her Jeep all the time." Buffy chimed in from the backseat.

"This one was a nice smooth ride- even the way she drives." Spike gave her a smirking glance. "A little paint, a new plate-"

The Watcher rolled his eyes. "Amateurs. File the numbers off the engine and- hrm. We're not keeping the car." He concluded, cheeks turning a ruddy shade.

"Giles!" Buffy giggled. "I'm beginning to have serious questions about your 'boring, tweedy' past. Ooh, and that reminds me- your friend? Mr. Museum Guy? Had an incredibly dull looking life based on the pictures in his house. All work and no play leaves not a whole lot behind. We're going to the mall, and we're getting in the photo booth. Maybe Disneyland next. I bet you'd look cute in one of those Mickey Mouse hats with the big ears."

"Did you train her in the art of torture?" Giles groaned to Spike, but he was smiling in the darkness.

"She has it nailed without my help. Doesn't even have to use anything but that pretty little mouth and that clever little-"

"Stop! I don't want to hear this!" Giles missed a gear and stalled as he jerked into a space in the lot.

"Brain. I was gonna say brain." Spike looked maliciously pleased at the Watcher's discomfort.

"Say all you want later, when I'm not around. I want to do this and get back home. Did your mother get hold of your father?"

"He's back in LA, she thinks." Buffy sighed. "But the way she was talking, it sounds like he never knew?"

"Hrm. Not as such."

"Well... good. Less awkwardness. There is going to be major awkwardness as soon as I see anyone. I mean- the mall alone. Ooh. People might faint. I mean- dead shopper walking." She gave an apprehensive glance at Spike.

"You'll fit in fine in this town." Spike reassured.

"We'll find a way to explain it effectively, but for now-" Giles stepped out of the car, "I'll get Wesley, you two wait here. I don't know why you insisted on coming anyway."

"To get away from the constant staring." Spike mumbled. Joyce never took her eyes off of him, and it was beginning to make him twitchy.

"Watcher-bonding, duh." Buffy teased and stepped out of the car as well. She looked around and frowned.

"We'll bond later, let me go get the keys." Giles began slipping swiftly away.

"Um. Giles?"

"Buffy, it'll take two minutes, I'm sure he's eager to get the vehicle off his hands."

"Very eager." Spike looked through the small lot. "The car's gone."

The flat was empty. No clothes missing, nothing out of place. Keys to Wesley's car were found under a sofa cushion. The phone was on its side on the floor.

"He's not dead. I can't come in, so he's alive, someplace." Spike murmured from the doorway.

"No sign of forced entry. At least until we got here." Buffy flexed her foot, recently used to kick open the door. Despite her action-packed role, her voice wobbled. "Giles... do you think he...?"

Giles blinked hard. "Little twerp." He swallowed. "He probably just wanted to dispose of the car himself. Prove he was still useful." He clasped the keys tightly.

"You used to lie much better." Buffy fled to Spike's arms.

"Parts of the world didn't used to be so ugly." Giles swallowed rising bile. They got him. Someone must've gotten to him. "His Academy tie! He wouldn't have left without that. Maybe he's coming back." Giles hurried to the bedroom, mumbling to himself, as Buffy snuffled and walked away from Spike.

"Nothin' looks broken." Spike comforted awkwardly. "He was the whiny one, Luv, maybe he just had to go out and ditch the car on his own, prove he was one of the big boys."

"I hope so." Buffy absently bent and hung up the cordless phone back in its base. "Anything?" She called towards the bedroom.

"A collection of ties so neatly organized that it surely points to some form of acute childhood trauma."

"Including the special sacred tie?"

"Including that tie. His monogrammed cufflinks as well." Giles came back into the living room with a grave expression. He tried to hide it. "We're all being a bit overreactive."

"You live on a Hellmouth. People been tryin' to off Slayer all month, and he's the biggest whistleblower they know of." Spike looked up and down the hall. "I think you've got reason to react, over or otherwise."

"Should we call the police?" Buffy asked worriedly.

"We should call your mother first, perhaps he went there. We should stop by my flat as well. He may have thought he was saving us time by meeting me there." Giles muttered distractedly, keen eyes raking over surfaces, looking for clues.

Spike sniffed in. "No other human scent in here, but his. Not in the last half day or more anyway."

"Giles..." Buffy gave her Watcher a look that showed her fear. "What do you think happened?"

"I think- Buffy, did you put the phone back on the hook?"

"Yeah. Oh! Crap. Fingerprints? Giles, if we're going to worry about fingerprints, we're kinda late!"

'No, not that, the little light is blinking."

"There's a message. The kidnappers? Could they want ransom?"

"The Council, perhaps." Giles frowned. "One of Travers' loyalists. Dear Lord." Do they want a trade? Slayer for Watcher's life. But he wouldn't let Buffy know he'd had that thought. "Or it could be something as simple as a reminder to pick up his dry cleaning."

"Or... you could stop playin' guessin' games and push the soddin' button." Spike growled dryly. "Bloody hell, it's a good thing I can't get into this place or I'd shake you both."

"Real evil." Buffy winked, but reached out and pushed the button.

The sound of loud trucks and the blare of a diesel exhaust crackled across the line. "I imagine it's after midnight, and you're wondering where I am. Obviously the car isn't there either." Wesley's voice was calm and collected, almost amused. "Well... it'd be safer for you if you don't know too much. I'd like you to know not to worry, though. We're fine. We'll be fine. You'll see." Another scream of a large engine made them cringe away.

"He's being awfully guarded."Giles murmured.

"I guess he has good reason to be." Buffy folded her arms and hugged herself.

"I won't say we'll be in touch," a muffled mumble offside, then the voice was clear and close again, "but I imagine if things go the way I hope that we will be, someday. Take care of each other. You've all been... well. Take care. Goodbye."

The trio left the apartment in puzzled silence. "He took the other car deliberately."

"Couldn't find his own keys." Spike said with certainty borne of long observations of humans. "He was in a bloody big hurry if he didn't take his precious ties and all the rest."

"I suppose." Giles was more affected that he'd thought he would be. He moved almost in a trance, only half listening to his two companions.

"Truck stop pay phone." Buffy nodded to Spike.

"How can you be so sure?" Giles asked, stirred back to full focus.

"We know!" The duo said firmly, with twin eye rolls.

"Alright, alright, you know."

They stood by Giles' Citroen, looking worriedly back at the flat, now locked behind them, though the lock wouldn't hold under much pressure. "I supposed he couldn't be certain we'd be the ones to hear the message."

"He sounded relaxed. That's not at all Wesley-ish." Buffy planted her feet, refusing to move further.

"He's not entirely the person you knew, Buffy. He risked more than we can imagine, in at least one way. His father's a very-" He's a very big git, full of his own importance. "He's very rigid in matters pertaining to the Council."

"So Watcher Jr. risked brassing off the proud patriarch. Is that likely to make him flee to parts unknown in a stolen car?"

"Who can say?" Giles smiled vaguely in the darkness. "I think it might be something a little more important than that."

"Like what?"

"He said 'we'." Spike recalled. "Watcher's got himself a girl?"

Buffy looked startled. "You think?"

"I think," Giles loudly spoke over the speculation, "that we all have to get home. Tomorrow- today rather- is going to be a very busy one."

Several hours later...

"It's a busy day here at Sunnydale Six, your station for local news, weather, and sports. Colleen, what's happening today?"

"Well, Todd, it's a miracle for students and staff at Sunnydale High School, and the community in general. Almost a month ago to the day, Sunnydale High School was destroyed when a gas main exploded under the school during the graduation ceremony. The explosion caused a fast burning fire to consume the building in a matter of moments. The community was shaken by the loss of Mayor Wilkins, the school principal, Mr. Snyder, and over a dozen high school seniors. But there's good news for one family."

"Why's that, Colleen?"

"It's a wonderful story that's still breaking, Todd, so we'll keep updating you throughout the day. It seems that early this morning Mrs. Joyce Summers woke up to find her daughter, presumed dead, standing on her doorstep in the company of a good Samaritan who wishes to remain anonymous."

"Presumed dead? After all this time?"

"That's right, Todd. Buffy Summers, eighteen, claims she was hit on the head by a flying piece of debris during the explosion. Stunned, and in the ensuing confusion, she wandered away from the commencement area, passing out a short way up the highway. A passing motorist picked up the unconscious girl and drove her to safety. For the past month, Ms. Summers has slowly been recovering from her injuries in the care of this highway humanitarian, until a few days ago when she was able to tell her anonymous rescuer what happened and where she lived. He brought her safely home. We now have a crew over there hoping to interview the family at this joyous time. Let's go live to Revello Drive. Bob?"

"Well, Colleen- the Summers family reported the good news, but they'd like us to respect their privacy at this- very special time of reunion." Bob kept his face turned to the side and smiled stiffly.

"Were you able to speak to Miss Summers or her mother?"


"You can't see the black eye." Xander pointed to the screen.

"You shouldn't have hit him, Mom!"

"He was trying to get picture of Spike!"

"Spike can look after himself." Giles sank back on the sofa and took the glass of orange juice out of Xander's hand and drained half of it. "Joyce, would you happen to have any aspirin?"

"Maybe a shot of vodka?" Spike suggested with a snarl, trailing Joyce, but speaking back into the living room. "Bastard almost fried me, crashin' through the door like that. Good thing I still had my coat on."

"The phone is gonna start ringing soon." Buffy watched the news shift back to the studio.

"This is a nightmare! All I did was call the police and the insurance people."

"You didn't have to tell them the whole thing."

"They asked me for information! They said they needed it for the case file and the coroner, or they had to come over and take statements." Joyce handed Spike a bottle of something alcoholic, she didn't notice what, and thrust the aspirin at him as well. "You said that was the story!"

"The story for people we know!" Buffy exclaimed.

"Then what was the story for people we don't know?" Joyce threw a dishtowel down angrily.

"This is starting to sound like my parents' place!" Xander yelled over both of them. "Kill the shouting! Who cares what they know, as long as they know you're back and alive? Who cares about ANYTHING but that you're back and alive?"

The screen shifted from commercial to studio with a flash of background music, and the occupants of the living room were oblivious to it. "You make a wonderful point, Xander." Giles rose from the couch. "Buffy, Joyce? Sit down and catch up. Xander and Spike and I can go see to-"

"Another unbelievable story, although this one is somewhat more sinister."

"Yes, Colleen. Police report that a patient disappeared from the long term care last night. The woman- you can see her image on the screen-"

"Faith! Faith, Giles, Xander, it's Faith!" Buffy gasped and pointed, and the room was riveted to the screen again.

"-has been in a coma for about five weeks. Her disappearance is baffling hospital administrators. When a nurse made her rounds shortly before midnight, they found another unconscious nurse lying in her bed, all the life support systems unhooked, and the patient missing. A blood stained cloth was found on the nurse's body. The patient's blood and the blood on the cloth seem to be a match. Police aren't releasing names at this time, but we'll keep you posted folks. If anyone has seen this woman, you can call the hotline number rolling on the bottom of your screen. She is believed to be in need of serious medical attention."

"Such a sad story." But they'd gotten used to it, covering the news in Sunnydale, and so it was quickly glossed over, large smiles replacing the serious faces they'd worn in a matter of seconds. "But I know what news won't make you sad. Let's go to Sharon who has this week's forecast. Sharon?"

"It's going to be beautiful, Colleen."

"I believe we've just figured out who Wesley is with." Giles clicked off the set.

"Why would he kidnap her?" Buffy looked aghast.

"Why would I ask you to fake your own death and run off with a dangerous vampire?"

"To protect me from something worse?"

"I can only imagine."

"Yeah, but wait- Faith's on the bad guy team." Xander reminded them.

"That poor girl!" Joyce said sharply.

"Mom, you don't know..." Buffy shook her head.

"I don't believe any of us know." Giles corrected, but impulsively let his hand rest on Buffy's shoulder. "Sometimes there is just a voice inside that tells you when you have to protect someone important in your life."

The room was a chorus of mumbles and mutters of agreement, everyone there understood that feeling.

"Let's all sit down. Some of us had a rather late night." Giles put the aspirin to the side, suddenly feeling as though he no longer needed it.

"That sounds like a good -" The phone interrupted Joyce, but she smiled. "I bet that's someone welcoming you home."

Buffy darted toward it. "Hello?" She immediately had to hold the phone away from her ear. "Hi Jonathan. Yes, it's really me. Yes. Really, really. Um. Maybe not right now, but soon. I'm not up for visitors just yet. I just got home. What? Oh yes. I think I'm going to be okay." Buffy smiled at the people behind her, beaming mom, relieved looking Giles, Xander who was smiling like a fool, and Spike, seeming to lurk effortlessly in shadows, always seeming to position himself wherever her eyes would meet his. "I think things are going to be better than ever."

"We have never, in all our years, had this situation arise. And therefore, it is with heavy hearts that we are pressed into meting out this unprecedented punishment." Fallows summed up, after hours of deliberation, addressing all available Watchers and Council Board, handing down their decision.

"First. In the matter of Aberswyth, Robson, and Greer- oh, soon to be Robson, I see. Congratulations." Fallows smiled briefly at three people he addressed. "We find you acted in all good faith and as upholds the honor of our Council, and the sacred mission of our calling as Watchers. Ms. Greer- the skills and quick thinking you showed indicate that you have potential better suited to the field and less suited to a ledger. We'd like to assign you to an active position in Surveillance. You have one week to accept the offer or retain your current post. Please be seated."

With sighs of relief, Robson and Ginny clasped hands and sat, and Abby sank back beside them. He crossed himself before slipping his flask from his hip pocket.

"The matter of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. We find he acted in all good faith and as upholds the honor of our Council, and the sacred mission of our calling as Watchers. He retains his position as active Watcher. Hrm. However... the matter of Rupert Giles. This board has heard new evidence from Mr. Collins regarding the Cruciamentum. The Council at this time votes that Mr. Giles' involvement was both appropriate and warranted, and that his 'fatherly affection' as it was termed by Quentin Travers, may have been the deciding factor that saved his slayer's life on multiple occasions. Therefore, we reinstate him, as Watcher to Buffy Summers."

In his seat, Quentin Travers turned a deep brick red, and forced himself to focus on thoughts of his wild card option, a Slayer that would take Lehane's place, and one day come for him, rescue him- if he was not given the death sentence immediately.

"That being said, we shall notify Mr. Giles and Ms. Summers of this, and place Mr. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce with a potential to be named at a later date, or if he so chooses, to remain Watcher to Ms. Lehane, though - well, yes, we know that's a short-lived position." Grave nods all around. From a seat in the front, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce Sr. looked murderous at having been overruled, eleven to one, regarding his son's fate. Prickles of doubt tortured him, for now he saw reproach and questioning in the eyes of his peers, and he knew it was for him, not his incompetent offspring.

"That brings us to the matter of Mr. Collins. Please rise."

Collins rose, unshaven and gaunt, already a gaunt man to begin with. Dark hair had gone gray at the temples in the space of a few days, and his eyes seemed hollow and lifeless.

"We believe you acted under orders, not through any maliciousness or impure intent. In your particular department- hrm- the removal of threats, including threatening persons, is expected. Orders are not usually questioned or delved into, for the containment of those threats."

"No, Sir." Collins replied in a hoarse whisper, staring blankly ahead.

"Be that as it may- in the case of being requested to kill a Slayer, we find you negligent for not confirming orders with another member of the Council board besides Travers. We also find the money you accepted and other various arrangements you made exceed the normal practices of someone in your department, or any department."

"Yes, Sir."

"Let me finish, Collins." Fallows said sharply, and he regretted it, for Collins was already a shadow of himself, and clearly his own guilt and remorse were turning him into a skeletal mockery of a human with no help needed from any outside source. "You are hereby stripped of your post in Threat Removal." Collins' head jerked once, as if he was at the mercy of a puppeteer making a marionette nod. "However, your full and frank cooperation, your obvious remorse, and your ample evidence have prompted the board to offer you a position in Tactics and Training."

Collins looked up, a small hint of light in each eye, hardly daring to believe it. He had been sure... well how could they not kill him? He'd killed a fellow Watcher, nearly killed the Slayer, his hand had dealt the killing blows, even if they didn't come off in her case.

"We believe that your information and skill are invaluable. You are however - er-hm- furloughed for a period of one year, during which you will remain at your residence and surrounding areas, and submit yourself to continued surveillance. If at the end of that time you feel as though you'd like to accept a position that places you behind a desk instead of active in the field, it will be yours."

"Thank you, Sir." His knees gave right out, and he sat down with a silent jar to his frame. Furloughed for a year. A year to think of what he'd done, to prepare for life in the cage of a classroom, a workshop, but never out in battle again. Purgatory.

If I live through it... if one night I don't cave into the old ghosts that circle me... I'll take the job. No one will ever make my mistakes again, not if I can train them how to do it better.

"Finally, the matter of Quentin Travers. Please stand."

Travers stood, icily arrogant. He prepared for a long, mellifluous speech and summation, as befit someone of his rank and his power, the commanding presence he knew he still was. He looked loftily around the silent room, demure nods at some, unruffled and bored as he locked eyes with Fallows.

"You have committed the grossest crimes against this Council, ordering the death of an innocent Watcher, and Slayer, and embroiling many other innocent members of this body in your plans as you did so. You acted unilaterally, without consulting with your board members, and without full disclosure. You possess too many secrets for us to merely dismiss you, and too much valuable knowledge for us to simply end your life and cut off our access from it." Fallows continued over the rustle and murmurs his words created.

"You acted in a way that would be punishable in any court of law. We are not the law. Nor are we fully above it, as you seem to believe. You are sentenced to a life of confinement at a location known only to the board members and Security forces. There will be no appeal, there will be no early release. From this day, until the day of your death, you remain a guest of the Council you have abused." Fallows shut his book of order, and the clerk paused in typing. "This meeting is adjourned. Gentlemen," he nodded to two burly guards on either side of the condemned man, "take him to be transported."

Travers wanted to bolt as they lead him through corridor after corridor, down to the underground garage level. It'd be terribly undignified, and they'd catch him. No question of that. And that brief little sentencing- hardly a minute long! He'd suffered enough humiliation for one day. So he swallowed and said nothing. He hadn't even had time to glory in reactions. Curse Fallows. Curse all of them. When I'm in power again- and I'm sure there are still many who consider me in power now- I'll have them removed. Quietly. Quickly. Without time time for consideration, and I'll do it in a most embarrassing way. Like they've done to me. Hustled me off, open to public ridicule, as if I were a common thief, when in reality, I am the visionary. I'm the only one who can see the situation for what it is. The tip of the iceberg. Beginning of an end. They'll bring anarchy on all of us, and when I rise again they'll realize I was right all along.

"In here, Sir. You'll be leaving soon. The contents of your quarters will be sent presently."

"Thank you, gentlemen, most kind." Travers said with a false graciousness. He was led to a gray limo, though it was hardly your standard luxury vehicle. It was more of a steel cell on wheels, with a seat for prisoners, and a seat for guards, and heavily fortified partitions between the driver and his cargo.

"One moment, please, Sir." One guard was pinning his hands in front of him, and one was snapping steel circlets around his wrists. He could feel the snap of cold metal and a burst like a shock running all the way around his hands.

"Or, surely now..." Travers frowned. Magically immune. These wouldn't come off without the incantation and a key, and no spell the wearer cast would work.

"I'm sorry. Orders. Powerful things, orders." One guard paused before pushing him into the car. "You know all about that, don't you?" He slammed the door, leaving Travers alone in the darkness.

Enclosed in the darkness, muffled in the soundproof steel, he began feeling the surges of panic and unease, finally penetrating his delusions of success.

He sank back, and groaned. Knowing this car would be soundproofed to outsiders, he allowed himself to curse heatedly in private. His eyes adjusted to the pitch black- and that was when he noticed something, a vague shadowy shape in the corner across from him.

"Hello?" He demanded.

Green flares, glowing jade almonds seared him, and the form eased forward. A caramel colored demoness with raw hunger in every inch of her, and eyes that made the interior glow like phosphorus.

"Hello. I don't b'lieve we've met. You killed my boy. I've come to return the favor."

Travers swallowed a cry and outside, his two guards stood sentry watch on the vehicle, waiting for the man's belongings to arrive. They heard nothing from inside the gray car.

"You- you're in Watcher Headquarters. You'll never get out of here."

"I don't intend to." Jezza lifted her half-dagger, half-stake, the twin of her late beloved's, and held it longingly to the flesh of her bust. "I been waitin' days to see my last moment on this planet. Just had to make sure you see yours first." The warm honey of the Creole voice wound around him, lulled him into blinking stupidly instead of screaming for help. Not that it would have mattered.

"How did you get in here?"

"Bones." Jezza dropped a handful on her lap. "They tol' me you'd be leavin', all I did was get in back first." She waved the slender fingers before her face and smiled. "No one sees me until I want to be seen. 'Specially not if they don' look for me. They don' know what you did, bad man. Not all of what you did." Her voice shook, and the fingers clenched. Bones crunched to powder and spilled onto her layers of shawls and skirts.


"Shhh. You talk enough. Big man." She was out of her seat, kneeling near him on the wide floorboards, something scattering from her hands, things moving, always moving, a mist rising, and yet she never took her eyes from his face. "You had a deal. You'd leave us alone! He do work for you and you let my Meph come home!"

"Mephistopheles." Something clicked. The fact that realization just now shone in his eyes added insult to the rage the woman already felt. With a snarl, eyes changed from green to red, and her fangs protruded, brow ridged, pushing up the crown of delicately woven bones further into her tangled locks.

"My Meph never made it home." She let out a strangled sob of rage. Travers kicked fiercely against the door panel now, only to find his foot yanked back firmly to the floor, her talons pressing into the fabric of his trousers enough to tear them. "He made it for a second, to tell me to run! To run from you, but he did your dirty work. You- you asasen!"

"Your 'Meph' didn't complete the task. Nor did I come after you. His death, if he did indeed die, as you claim, is not directly related to me, but his skill when facing an opponent. So really this is simple bad luck."

She stared, and smiled slowly, a smile that was inhuman, all teeth and eyes, and could comfortably rip your head from the spine and swallow it whole. "Oh no, mede. I conjure. I run the luck. My baby an' me, we have all the good luck. A happy home. Safe. Then you-" she dug her talons into the skin now, drawing blood, and looking ill that it touched her, "came an' took him from me!" She squeezed three red drops from between his leg and her fingertip, and spread it in the concoction she'd made at his feet.

Dignity be damned, he didn't want to die, he still had pawns in play! "Guards!"

"Oh, they'll come. But not until I'm finished." Something coursed through her veins, and her hands made patterns on the floor. "They'll find you sittin' here, same as you ever were." Her body swayed.

"You don't intend to..." He couldn't finish the sentence.

"Kill you? No, that'd be too good for you." The swaying was now a forceful rocking, everything she had in her was being used to pull forces through wards and barriers of good protection and white magic, for this magic was black as it gets.

"Enough of your spells and chants." Travers spat at her.

"Enough for you." The smile was gone, and the eyes bored into him. "Reler..." Her fingers traced a new vévé, one never made before, one made with his blood. One to call a new being, not quite a Loa, something far less majestic, but just as ethereal. "Reler..." She called again, beckoning it, looking into his eyes.

He blinked. Something happened. Inside. Something moving in him, out of him. "What?" He gasped.

Her hands came to rest on either side of his head, rolling it in time with her own as she chanted, "Reler... reler..."

"What are you doing?" He gasped out. Was this what a heart attack felt like? His chest contracted in agony, and his eyes seemed to blister.

"Reler!" She screamed it and the car rang.

"You hear something?" A tiny, faint pinging sound came from the car's interior.

"Him screaming and banging. He doesn't like to be cuffed and waiting like a common criminal."

"You heard? He ordered Spears dead. Make it look like a suicide, he said. Told Collins he'd gone barmy. Poor thing. Innocent to the last."

"Bastard. Let him scream a bit."

"Death is too quick. Even pain, she hurts a bit, and then she's done." Jezza wept now, now that her call was done, and all that was left was to capture what was coming out of him. "Broken heart... to know he gone... the only thing you ever loved..." She was sobbing now, tears making the reddish sand into clay, "You make him fight for you, but he was fightin' for me! For home!"

"You... are demons." Travers gasped out, wondering why he hadn't fainted by now, because the pain was steadily increasing, and wondering no one was coming to help him.

"We were in love!" She snapped her fingers, stained with the sand, his blood, and her tears. She yanked his gaze down into the design she'd drawn. The symbol for a loa, yes, but not a deity, not a spirit to call forth to ride you, but rather one created to be ridden. One called to bear those in flight.

"I don't want your life... I want your soul." Jezza hissed, and watched the almost invisible strings of his being slipping from his eyes, into the pattern. "I make you a servant for the loas themselves, a permanent cheval, loa for loas. You go on an endless journey, the cheval for any damned souls in flight."

He made a strangled noise, thoughts whirling, panic, pleading, fear, everything spiraling out of him and he could do nothing to hold onto it. His world was ripped away. Like he'd ripped away the worlds of so many others.

"No..." He managed to beg.

She had no mercy. "Don't ask me to save you. God knows," She watched the eyes turn black, "even a demon has more soul than you."

Jezza pushed him back against the seat now. The eyes were vacant, two black, staring holes, limp, slack face, loose muscled body, lolling and sagging. The heart still beating. A living zombie.

None of it helped. Revenge didn't help. Satisfaction- there was none. She sniffed in and scraped the mess from the floor and his clothes and face into her shawl and skirts. Whatever was on her when she went, that would be nothing but ash. She wanted them to wonder. Like she had wondered.

"I'm comin', Meph." Jezza felt herself going into a trance, putting herself in it, letting herself be taken over, or in this case, overtake. A soul forced to do her bidding. In this case, to be ridden through the depths of the underworld and never stop until she found her mate. She hoped for her sake it would be a quick ride.

The jeweled skull fit into her palm perfectly, after days of pointless clutching. The stake honed in over a broken heart, and she smiled peacefully at last. "Take me to him." She whispered, and plunged.

They found him non responsive ten minutes later, with only dead black holes where eyes belonged, a fine sprinkling of white ash beside him.

Late evening, Pacific time...

"I didn't expect to see you here." Giles opened his door to find Buffy standing alone on his doorstep. "Willow just left. I understood there was a party at the Bronze to welcome you home?"

"Yep." Buffy nodded, beaming. "No one believes that 'head injury' story though. They think I was secretly battling another big evil thing."

"Weren't you?" Giles raised one perfectly aquiline brow and motioned her inside.

"Guess so." She shrugged.

"Willow just left. She said something about cake and pointy hats?"

"Oh, not pointy hats." Buffy winced, but laughed. "Aren't you coming?"

"I thought perhaps you- um- I thought perhaps you-"

"You aren't getting out of wearing the hat." Buffy said with mock severity. "Plus, you and I have serious welcome homing to do." She hugged him hard. "Thank you! Thank you, thank you thank you! Mr. Behind-the-scenes- pulling- the- strings-master-planning guy!"

"Ooof!" Giles clutched his solar plexus as she let him go. "You're very welcome. I do believe that we make a good team."

"The bestest." Buffy bounced on her toes. "So, come on. Club clothes. I know you own jeans."

"Ah Buffy, I wanted to do a little more book work before I devoted myself to frivolity for the evening."

"Frivolity? What's that, Calvin Kline for librarians?"

"I'm beginning to have grave doubts about your SAT reading scores." Giles paced around his desk, shifting papers, moving a book or two. "Willow was over."

"You keep saying that. I didn't just come to see Willow, I came to see you!"

"That's very sweet of you, Buffy. Where's Spike?"

"Butcher shop and then he's going to visit some of his old hang outs. Hear demon-y scuttlebutt." Buffy prepared to defend him. She preempted it. "He's not going to bite anyone, okay? If he bites people, I have to stake him, and then we both lose, and we're both way too competitive for that. You should see us play chess. We're turning it into a bloodsport. You'd need a helmet." She babbled.

"Buffy, I'm sure Spike is doing just what he told you." Giles was sure. It was an odd sensation, this semi-trust for Spike, but he'd been carrying it about with him for a month, and then it had strengthened when Spike stopped doing the job for a price, and was clearly doing it out of some intrinsic motivation. Still unsettling, and he doubted he'd ever get used to him.

This one did seem to have have staying power, though, more than could be said for the other. And able to perform small miracles, apparently. "What was that? He persuaded you to play chess?" Giles looked shocked.

"I know, he doesn't look like the chess playing type, but he's good at it."

"My incredulity was less about him and more about you. Buffy!" He dodged a playfully thrown pillow as she sat on the couch. He joined her, leather case from inside his desk retrieved and on his lap, along with a book. "May I speak now?"

"Man, if this was you not speaking-" Buffy caught the serious expression on his face and fell silent. "Yeah, sure. I'm listening. Speak away." She mimed zipping her own lips and gestured for him to begin.

"With everyone welcoming you home today, Xander, Willow, and I decided to make ourselves scarce, give others a chance." Buffy nodded. "I believe Xander ventured over to his parents' to see his uncle and do laundry- and thank heavens for that. But Willow came over here to help me look up a few things about Menfra's Eye." He opened the leather box and held out the glittering gold and green creation. The stone didn't gleam with power, but appeared like any other piece of jewelry.

"Wow... pretty." Buffy allowed herself to whisper, taking it from him.

"Indeed. Now, I knew a lot of the basics about this piece, but I hadn't planned on using it. It's a rare collectible, a curiosity, and doesn't have a lot of occasion for use." He flipped through the book. "But I figured I'd best know everything I could about it before passing it on."

Buffy's face lost the admiring sheen and turned guilty and sorrowful. "What good is it going to be? He wasted it on me."


"No, not like that! I know he doesn't think he wasted it, but..." Buffy caressed the gold oval longingly, "if you could hear how much she hurts sometimes. If you could hear him talk about what it's like inside her head."

"She seemed quite whimsical and pleased when I observed her." Giles muttered bitterly.

"For most of the time, yeah, she's happy nutso gal. But she can't ever love anyone. She can't ever really grieve and mourn and move on, either. Demons are supposed to do that, Giles."


"No. Well, yes, sometimes, but move on, yes. Angelus made sure she was the most broken she could be when he turned her. To keep her insane forever, and never- never let her deal." She shook her head. "He's a sick bastard, you know?"

"Oh, yes. I know."

"And did you know vampires are half human?"

Giles blinked. "Did you truly hit your head?"

"I'm serious! They're more human than you think! They can live like demons, or live like humans, but they're really a big blob of both, and if you live with one for a month you get to see it up close and personal!"

"Alright, I believe you." He soothed.

"Spike isn't all 'Now I'm human, now I'm vampire.' He's just himself. I am really finding a whole new appreciation for men without split personalities." Because Angel is good, and he's very, very good, and Angelus just needs to get killed. Soul or not, Spike's a jerk, but he's a jerk who's pretty consistent. And sometimes not much of a jerk, either.

While she was having her inner soliloquy, Giles was putting pieces together. He smiled and closed her fingers around the jewel. "You admire that about him? Because he helped you achieve it in yourself."

Buffy looked startled. "Did he tell you that?"

"No one told me. I just watched you."

"It's true." She admitted. "I don't feel so much like I have Slayer Buffy and Normal Girl Buffy waiting to take turns anymore. Now we're- there is no more 'we'. I'm just me."

"I thought so." The way she stood up to her mother... the strength of Slayer, with all the emotion of a woman in love. Blended.


"It is my sacred calling to be observant. As well as- hrm, smart." His fingers lingered on hers, and they shared a smile.

"Beautiful moment aside, he earned this, and it's broken."

"Not broken, simply not recharged, and that leads me to the research. Look." He held out the book, pointing excitedly.

"Giles, that's in- what is that in? Not English. I can't read that."

"Ah. Latin and Etruscan. Yes, well the point of it being that this tells of how Menfra's Eye was used to cure those with 'brain fevers', born with some mental defect, injured in battles, and," he flipped a page, "poisoned."


"Willow thinks it won't take years and years to regenerate, as I had told him. Oh it will take a year or two, but not ten or twenty. Your brain was affected, yes, but by a toxin. Menfra's power cleansed it, removed the poison. But it didn't alter your entire state of being. It was like healing an injury, not systematically treating a disease. That is the hope anyway. It's not much to go on, but I thought it would help you and Spike have less- well, have less conflicted feelings."

Buffy's stomach clenched and she nodded. Less guilt, yes. Less conflicted? Not so much. "That's great." He thought he had to make a choice, one or the other, one sane, one crazy, unable to love him. What if he has to choose between two people who both love him, on who made him immortal, one who was with him for a century? Broke his heart on and off for a century What if she wants to fix it?

He would give her a chance. He would have to, he's wanted this for so long.

I guess we have until the Eye kicks back in. A year or two? Better than nothing.

"Buffy?" Giles reclaimed her wandering mind.

"Huh?" Buffy looked at him in surprise, as if she'd forgotten he was there.

"I've been thinking about this situation. Your decisions regarding Spike."

Buffy shook her head vehemently. "You can stop. I want him, Giles." That sounds all lusty. But I do want him. I choose him. Want him here. "I want him with me."

Giles nodded, hiding a flicker of a smile. "As wrong as it seems, Buffy, I am comfortable with that."

Buffy continued, voice raising as she passionately defended her choice. "I'm the Slayer, and I know in myself what is- what did you say?" His words sank in and erased the rest of hers.

"Angel walked away from you for nothing other a selfish desire to preserve himself." Buffy opened her mouth, but he held up his hand. "No, I know if he'd turned he'd have hurt you too. He did it for you in that aspect. But in another respect- I was desperate to shield you and save you. I needed someone who could equal you in terms of defenses to give you a chance. A fighting chance to save your life and protect you, run with you, defend you. He wouldn't do it."

Like I don't know that? I thought about it so much I wore a groove in my brain, and now I can't even bear to think about it for one more second. I would have done anything for him, and I did. Stupid, dangerous, painful- I didn't just think about doing it, I did do it. Sucks to love like that, and find out the other half has a cutoff point somewhere way before yours. Buffy blinked and her mouth tightened. Wiping at her eyes hastily with her sleeve, she tried to silence him. "Giles, please-

He ignored her, because he knew what she was worried about him saying, and he had no intention of continuing on that path. "Spike came to me out of respect for you. He wanted nothing to do with you outside of that. I offered him the Eye of Menfra as a way to cure the woman he loved. A woman who had hurt and betrayed him, but yet he loved her enough to work for her cure."

"He's not all bad, Giles." Buffy whispered.

"Oh no. But he wasn't doing it for the sake of a pure and noble love. He was being selfish."

She put her hands to her head. "I'm sorry, are we Pro-Spike or not tonight?"

He didn't want to answer anything so simply. He wanted her to see what he meant. "He wanted her to be better- but was it so that he could have another chance with her? Wasn't that the goal? Not so much her health but her love restored?"

"No! See, he even told me, even if she never looked at him again, he wanted to buy her peace. She was hurting sometimes, even though we always thought vampires don't feel pain the same..." Buffy looked at the cold piece of gold in her hand. "He did want her back. But even more, he wanted her better."

A small smile fastened itself to his distinguished face. "Yet when you were the one he needed to make better, and we had nothing else to use, he didn't hesitate to give this to you. I told him, you know. Before I used it. That it wouldn't work anymore, that the contract between us would have lost the terms. Protecting you wouldn't bring him anything."

Buffy nodded, turning it over and over again. She knew that. She knew it from Spike's rapid, 'not really wanting to talk about it' description of what had transpired. Hearing it from Giles worked a raw spot in her heart, somehow connected right to her eyes.

"He wanted you to live. He wanted you alive, no matter how it changed his plans, no matter the cost to himself, or even the cost to her ." He gave her a melancholy smile. "I wish I could say the same for our 'good vampire', the hero, the one with the mission of redemption. But Angel cares about his mission, more than yours. Even if yours is simply staying alive for the moment."

She knew that. It hurt to hear anyone else point it out all the same. "He helped us." She looked down, working to control her suddenly overflowing eyes.

"Because it's part of what he does. Spike helped you even if it meant going against everything in him! Spike will move heaven and earth for you, and never look back, never stop trying." He tilted her chin up. "I think you would do the same."

It came out as a wet, shaky whisper he read in her eyes more than heard in her lips. "I love him."

He removed his hand from her chin and put it on her arm, giving her a little shove. "Then you'd better get moving. Have a wonderful time, but don't dance until dawn. Your boyfriend's got a very fair complexion."

Spike loved watching this, enjoyed it with a mixture of pride and amusement he'd never experienced. He watched from the shadows this time. She tried to pull him in, but he wanted to watch her hero's welcome from the sidelines. He enjoyed watching her flush and fluster when no one bought the story of her disappearance.

"You? Running away from danger?" One of her former fellow students shook his head and hugged her enthusiastically. "The Class Protector?"

"Well... you know me. Um. Protecting. You can get hit on the head." Buffy stammered.

"Yes, frequently." Giles murmured in passing.

"It wouldn't make you run away though. Nothing would."

"Nothing will anymore." Buffy looked past him, towards the white-blonde figure nursing amber fluid out of a glass, pale lips wrapped sinfully around the edge. "Everything I need is right here."

The guy followed her gaze. "The goth dude?"

"More like Victorian Punk." Buffy answered thoughtfully. "Thanks for coming." Her body followed her eyes' lead, and Spike grinned up at her, his own eyes knowing and teasing.

"Someone miss me?" He began as she neared the edge of his table.

"Yes! You know I-"

A flying form in designer clothes came out of nowhere and wrapped Buffy in a strangling hug. "You're alive! I saw the news and then I called Audrey to find out what was happening, and of course, this was like the only thing happening, because, hello! One horse town. So not like L.A., which by the way, to drive here from there uses like -a whole tank of gas, but I don't care because you're not dead!"

"Hi Cordy. Nice to see you, too." Buffy giggled and smiled over the brunette's shoulder as Spike rolled his eyes.

"Intercepted again." He whispered and knew she heard. He winked and slid off his chair, leaving her squashed against the brunette.

"Um. You do know you're hugging me, right?"

"I know! Weird, right? I'm not a hugger, usually, but I made an exception. I totally hated it when you were dead." Cordelia pushed her back and straightened her clothes and smoothed her hair while smiling widely.

"Yeah. It screws up your summer."

"Right!" Cordy stood back, crossed her arms and gave her a critical look. "Aside from the hair, the dark circles, dry skin, and some serious manicure needs, you don't look like you had too bad. So, what really happened?"

"Uh. About that- I thought Xander called and talked to you?" Buffy said evasively, looking around furtively.

Cordelia waved her hand dismissively. "He tried, yesterday, I think. I was getting another call from my agent, so..."

"Ah. Priorities."

"Well, he didn't say 'Buffy's alive!', or I would have put my agent to hold."

Buffy grinned and laughed softly. "That's love."

"I knew you'd understand." Cordelia gave her a final brief hug.

He smoked in the balcony, and watched the sea of people on the dance floor, drinking whiskey like he didn't really want to be sticking a straw in some tasty young thing down there.

Look at her. Like the sun's back, all the little flowers bloomin' around her. She sparkled, and the sadness was out of her eyes, the hunted look gone from her face.

That's what a Slayer is supposed to look like. Knows she's the goods. My goods.

The dreamy smile left his face as she switched from dancing with the giggly red head, waving at the shrimpy little guitarist, then swaying between the boy and a crowd of kids in lettered jackets. The champion.

A snide little voice whispered inside his head, You expect to fit into all this? The jocks, the wannabe bands and this sorry club, her gooey little friends, her mother?

He turned away from the crowds. Well, I'm not gonna leave. I love her. I'll have to bloody well fit. She loves me. Wants me here.

Watched her smiling and spinning under lights, all the gold, diamond, and emerald highlights he'd always seen in her, shimmering and glinting.

Such a bright beauty. Effulgent.

He silently slunk down the backstairs of the balcony, and outside, recalling how all the truly glorious lights in his life seemed to go out around him, and trying to hope that this fire, painful to kindle and made up of long smolders and sudden flares, would keep burning.

Her eyes were no longer hunted, but they were hunting. "Where did Spike go?"

"I haven't seen him." Willow shouted over the amplified sound of the Dingoes.

"You trust him, right?" Xander did not, and he looked around worriedly.

"He isn't going to hurt anyone!" Buffy hit his elbow. "Not in the 'grr! vampy" way. Maybe punch a couple people. But only if they deserve it!"

"Can we get his definition of 'deserves it' sometime?" Willow bit her lip. "Not that- that we're worrying. Or saying -um- Xander?" She called on him to bail her out of the verbal hole she was digging.

"I have to go back and disagree with the 'not worrying' part. I'm worrying."

"Guys, stop! I just wanted to know where he was." Buffy looked annoyed. Her friends sobered immediately.

"Sorry, Buffy."

"We'll look for him, Buff. He stands out. Like a platinum billboard. We'll find him in ten minutes." Xander put his arms around the girls and briefly reveled in his friendship sandwich. "I was way more worried I'd never do this again. Way more than I'm worried about Fang."

"Spike." Buffy leaned her head to one, then the other. "I don't want this to be like Angel."

"A-to-the-men!" Xander cried emphatically.

"I mean,he wasn't exactly.. fun. Not that I think fun is the most important! i'm mature." She felt Willow pinch Xander behind her back to keep him quiet. "I'm more mature, okay? But Angel never really made with the joining in. Or the smiling. In public, anyway. He was... kinda moody." Buffy was forced to admit with the awkward realizations of hindsight and letting go.

"Broody." Willow added.

"Silent." Xander tossed on.

"Serious issues with happiness."

"In comparison, Spike is a cheery party animal."

"I know!" Buffy stopped the back and forth of her friends as she pushed through the crowd, nodding and smiling. "I thought he'd love this. He loves concerts. He used to go to them all the time."

"He does? He did? H-hey, we can still do that. We can double! Oz has tickets to an all day jam band fest in August."

"That's great, Wills. You guys can go rollerblading at the pier, too." Xander rolled his eyes. "The three of you and a bucket of ashes."

Willow blushed. "Oh. Yeah."

Buffy ignored them and kept working her way out of the packed party on the dance floor. "This is different for us, I guess."

"He stalked the Bronze all the time." Willow pointed out.

"Looking for food. Maybe he got the munchies-"


"-so he left to avoid temptation!" Xander finished in an injured voice. "I was defending the guy!" He winced and seemed to suddenly choke. "I can't believe I'm saying this stuff! Ugh." Another wince and swallow. "Chili fries are only good in one direction."

Buffy let out a low, miserable moan. I'm happy to be back home! Home means all of them. But it also means he's with me. It doesn't have to be all the time. But he could at least say goodbye before he goes. Her heart thudded uncomfortably. Say goodbye before he goes. Unlike someone else who disappeared from my life. She moaned again, sparking her friends into babbling supportively.

"Maybe he ran out of cigarettes."

"Maybe he didn't want to interrupt."

"Maybe he's walking down the street and punching the parking meters to see how many quarters he gets back." Giles appeared behind them with a puzzled look between his three young friends. "Honestly, Buffy you just told me how sure you were of him."

"I am!" Except when in the back of my mind I'm wondering if when I give him what he earned, he'll decide to leave. Not because he doesn't love me, but because he never quits. Never stops fighting, and he was fighting so hard to make her better.. Everything she and Giles talked about, every confidence she felt still sagged slightly under the weight of years of love gone wrong.

Giles, slightly tipsy on good news and several whiskeys, persisted."What happened to the girl who told us all off yesterday?"

"She's had a busy week." Buffy sighed. "Have fun guys. Everything's fine, I just want to see what's up, I guess."

"Be careful." Three instantaneous cautions.

"I will. I'll be back in in a couple."

Giles watched her walk away, then excused himself to trot after her. "Be alert. You haven't patrolled, well, not that this is a patrol, but-"

"Giles. Spike is out there. That means this town is as safe as it gets, at least for me." She smiled up at him, a smile that was small and worn out. "I'm safe. With him." In spite of her doubts, she still believed that, felt it, and it left a stead calm in her eyes.

Giles shook his head bemusedly. Such implicit trust in him. She must have a good reason. I have reasons of my own, reasons I told her. The tireless hunter. He'd pursue her to the end of the world. Ordinarily, that would make me furious. Right now, it makes me see he's the only one in the world who stands a chance to keep up with her. "It's like that, is it?"

For now. And probably forever. "He has my back, after all."

Day Thirty, just after midnight...

He heard her soft steps before he turned to face her. "Hello, Cutie."

"Don't call me that." She responded automatically.

"Hello, Sexy. Like that better?" He teased and punched another meter, then caught a shower of coins.

"Mindless vandalism? You do realize you are seriously not at your criminal best, right? All I had to do was follow the quarters. You're like Hansel and George-el with silver bread crumbs."

"D'you know that's not really such a cute little ditty, Slayer?"

Buffy winced. "Believe it or not, yeah. I found out I prefer my stakes slaying- sized, not witch-burning size. Even though I did manage to kill a demon with one of those, too." She made a face and shuddered at the memory.

Spike's dark brows lifted. "Tell that one to me sometime soon."

"Will do."

She smiled, and he smiled back. For a second, it had been easy between them, nothing complicated, two people who enjoyed each other's warped sense of humor.

"So... whatcha doin' out here, instead of in the Bronze?" Buffy asked nonchalantly.

Spike shrugged and pushed a handful of quarters into his jingling pockets. "Stir crazy. No action for a few hours, now that the job's done."

Buffy paused in mid step, then took a quick hop to catch up. "Job's done." She repeated. She cleared her throat and dug into the tight pocket on the inside of her jeans, nudged aside the stake in her waistband. She held out a silk wrapped bundle. "Time to get paid."

Spike cocked his head and frowned at what she offered. "You keep that. Not gonna work, is it? An' it's a bit gaudy for me." He teased, flicking open the cover, seeing the gold eye with the glittering stone in the center.

"It'll work someday, just not right now." Buffy swallowed. "I was talking to Giles and he-"

"He told me, Luv, he warned me. Once every couple decades. He's not a bad bloke- although sounds like he wasn't lily-white in the past. I could get to like him." Spike pushed her hand back to her side. "You know I got what I wanted." His smile was soft and crooked. "Saved you. Wasn't too late to save you."

Buffy swallowed, feeling hot, sweet tears prickling under her lids, but smiling them away. "It's not to late to save her, either." She whispered. "The Eye will work again, and it's going to be sooner than we thought. We think."

Spike's scarred brow arched, then lowered skeptically. "Come again, Slayer?"

"Yeah, how about that." Buffy stared at it instead of at him. "Giles and Willow had a research spree. I guess they couldn't take more than a couple days off without getting all bookish." Buffy gave a nervous laugh. "It'll still take awhile, years maybe, but not like twenty or however long he said at first. Looks like when the Menfra lady heals you by taking the poison out of your brain, it's not on the same level as doing a complete system overhaul. Or something like that."

"Meanin' she had days of damage to fix, a dose of demon juice to sort out, not decades worth of torment to erase." Spike's eyes were also focused on the glittering gem in her hand. "It'll be back in workin' order pretty soon. Relatively speakin'. A couple years, maybe?"

"Maybe. A year or two. These things really ought to come with some sort of timetable." Buffy risked a look up at him, saw the deep, intent stare he was giving it.

"What's a couple years when you don't plan on dyin'?" I can still do it. Maybe it'll take longer than I thought, but I can still- What is it I'm gonna do exactly?

"Um. Yeah. I guess it's like a couple months to you. Weeks even." Buffy murmured.

He sucked in the midnight air and let it come out slowly, only half-hearing her. He'd known for days, even weeks, the longer he spent with her, the more they talked... Little pieces, little doubts that he kept having, that she kept giving him, everything adding up, until he suddenly knew the fine line between wanting to heal Dru, and wanting to "fix" her. He studied the night sky that he so often watched with his dark goddess. "I miss her. I'm not gonna lie."

"I- I know. You told me." You told me other things, too. Her heart gave a rebellious ache, but she fell silent as he kept speaking

"She goes back to her old family place- what's left of it- every few years. Stops and sees the old church she was plannin' to take her orders in. Angelus burnt it to the ground, but they built it up again."

"Okay... I'm not following. You told me she loved going to old churches, but-"

"She gets an urge and off she goes. Sometimes she eats a nun. Sometimes she just lights candles. Always visits the family graves. I think she set fire to the vestry once, but-"

"Spike! I'm starting to think you need this doohickey! Why are you telling me all this?"

"Thinkin' aloud. Sorry, Luv. Vamps move around a lot, an' I'm tryin' to think of one place I can leave it for her where she'll definitely get it- and she'll be the only one that gets it." He finally took it from her hand, closed his own around it, and heard the incantation whispered in his head, just like the Watcher said he would. "It's mine. I'll give it to her. Maybe get one of those Watcher johnnies to deliver it. Or Rupert himself. He'll probably be going back to merry old England before I do. Like I told you, I like California." He gave her a significant glance.

The ache in her heart muted, and surged into sort of a numb, questioning throb. "I thought maybe you weren't- maybe you weren't ..." Words wouldn't come. "Maybe you weren't." It was the beginning to so many sentences, and he knew her surprisingly well, she'd let him fill in the blanks.

He knew the rest. "Maybe you weren't going to stick around after you found out you had a fast track back to Drusilla. Maybe you weren't happy here. Maybe you weren't in love with me, maybe you weren't so sure now that the adrenaline and adventure is over with. Maybe you weren't doing it for me, maybe all of this, even the loving part, was just a substitute for Drusilla." Stupid girl. "You're blind, Slayer. You know once I start somethin', it takes a hell of a lot to make me stop it."

"I know. I know everything we said. Then you left tonight and it reminded me of other people who decided to leave without saying goodbye."

He scowled and snarled instantly. "I oughta slug you for comparin' me to that - that big hulkin' forehead with a vamp underneath!"

"You never acted like him before! Right until tonight." Buffy protested.

"An' I will never act like him. Ever." He reminded her hotly.

"Good! Because as much I loved Angel, I suddenly realized he used to do things I really hated."

"Well, I didn't do it! I didn't leave the place without sayin' goodbye, like I wasn't comin' back! I went for a bloody stroll!"

"I wanted you to be with me! You kept slinking off! I didn't push you away, and you don't have to go brood over your dark past and atonement-filled fate like-"

"Don't you bloody dare!" He hissed violently.

"I wanted you with me!" I always want you with me! I chose you, in front of everyone. Please don't let this end like Angel and me, like him and Dru. We can get through all the battles, all the time alone, but we can't make it work in "real life"? "I hardly saw you tonight."

"I saw you plenty! Dancing and sparkling. Everything bright in this world, all you." Love and smiles and sunshine. Sounds like a bloody hippie, but they were smart to want that stuff. I want that. I want her. The way she dips her head when you tell her the simple truth, that she's beautiful. Like she doesn't know it. His features softened. All that power and just enough soft stuff inside to make her damn near perfect for someone like me. Soft and hard collide- oooh. He swallowed a lustful image and continued to explain. "I wanted to let you have your homecomin' with all your little mates, not havin' to stop every three minutes and say, 'Oh, let me introduce Spike, the anonymous gentleman with a suspicious lack of reflection who rescued me in my fake story. You may recognize him from the times he terrorized your neighborhood, school, or local business.'."

"I wanted to-" She paused. "Oh. That was- thoughtful." She said hesitatingly, torn between realization and remembering.

"Don't sound so thrilled, Luv, a bloke can only take so much admiration." Spike snorted sarcastically at her unconvincing comment.

"It's sweet. From you. It's also what Angel did. That 'I can't be with you, you're normal and must lead a happy normal life, which I can never be part of.' thing."

"Wanker." He huffed.

"Whatever. It made me worry. 'Cause now you have a chance to get what you really want, and you don't have to wait much longer to- oooo!" Buffy let out a startled screech as Spike finally gave up on words and tried actions, tackling her in a struggling push, walking her back into the alley between two darkened stores, then kissing her hard and relentlessly. Best thing in the world, she kissed him back.

"I'm not going anywhere." He promised for the hundredth time.

She believed him... yet, it's hard for the savior to deal with being saved, especially at a price to someone else. "I didn't want you to have to choose between saving me and helping her in the first place! I don't want you to leave, but I didn't- I don't know, I didn't want to make you unhappy, either."

"You make me very, very happy. Annoyed, brassed off, violent, and happy. And other things." He rubbed pointedly against her, and let her claw her way over his lean chest and shoulders, to pull herself up his waist and lock her wrists behind his head for another bout of kissing. "All good things."

"Annoyed and violent are good?" She couldn't help but laugh breathlessly as he worked his mouth down over her neck.

"With you, yes." He nipped her throat and wondered about the logistics of a hasty back alley bedding. Hm. Maybe on another night. When the entire teenage population wasn't going to be passing by on the way out of the club, overhearing the recently resurrected Slayer screaming. Last thing he needed was a mob scene walking in on a shag.

Hm. But she's so pretty when she blushes...

"You better put me down. I don't know what you're thinking-"

"Yes, you do." He obeyed and let her drip down him slowly.

"But I know it better wait until we get home." A happy chill shot along her spine. Home.

Home. Dru an' I never had a home. We had nests and places to hide and sights to see and destroy, and the whole bloody world was our palace. Never did feel like home though. "Gonna find someplace in town." He mentioned casually, slipping his hands down her sides as they parted bodies.

"Good." Buffy whispered, and side stepped him, tucking herself under his arm automatically as he fell into step with her. "I am sorry though. About- things that didn't work out for you, about you not getting to help her right away. Happy for me. Sad for you."

"Hm. Thanks, Pet, you're a sweet one."

"Not so bad yourself."

They walked several steps in silence.

"You're not talking. I've come to associate that with you planning to shoplift stuff or start beating me up." Buffy rocked her hip to bump his and he laughed.

"Not plotting. Thinking."

"That's worse sometimes." She teased.

"Shut up." He pinched her rear affectionately, and reached into his pocket, absently rubbing the talisman he'd worked so hard for.

She waited. "Remember when we didn't have anyone else to talk to?"

"Before we learned the joys of the Spanish channel?"

"Yeah, then. Talking to you wasn't so bad..." She nudged him.

He gave in. Had no trouble giving in and opening his mouth, his trouble had always been with keeping it shut. "Was just thinkin' know what's funny, Luv, in a way that makes you cry, not laugh?" He did laugh, once, short and ruefully, "Much as the Eye'd help her, I wonder how much it'd hurt her?"

"You'd never hurt her." Buffy said with depths of loyalty she didn't even know she felt.

"Never meant to." He tore his eyes from the spread of stars and down to her sweet face. "She'd miss her fairies and her dollies and listening to her cherubs burn and shadows speak."

"Wouldn't she still have visions? Is that part of being 'crazy'?"

"I dunno. They've always been a part of her, crazy or not, since she was young, before she'd even heard of Angelus." Her face twitched in a mirror of his. "You know what'd it be like to have someone try to take away somethin' you always knew, always had as part of you."

Her strength. Her Chosen One's right. Drugged it, crippled it, brought under rule, tried to be replaced. She'd never asked for it, a lot of the time she didn't want it- but it was hers and now it was her. It didn't come with a side of murder and torture, though. If it had, maybe it'd be better to erase it. "I guess it might be worth the risk. To her."

"Yeah, but I don't know that." He shook his head and cursed himself for being deluded for so long. "I thought I was doin' it purely for her, and now I think maybe I was doin' it mostly for me. Like you said."

"Hey, I'm stupid about stuff! You tell me that all the time."

"This time you were right. I didn't want to heal her so she'd be better, even though I know it'd help her. That's about half of it. The other half- it'd be for me, more for me, to get her back. My Drusilla. But she'd be a different person, maybe she wouldn't even like me anyway."

I did say that. I don't know if it's true. Heck, I liked him after a couple weeks. she'd probably like him in a couple days. Or seconds. Her hand found his, and then traveled up the sleekly scuffed leather, to gently come to rest on his back. I'm here. "I think she would."

" 'Preciate the sentiment, Slayer." He shook his head ruefully. "But a smarter bloke might've realized the bloody great holes in that plan before he almost got himself killed by sheer air-headedness and big nasties. Realized that after a century of it never feelin' quite right, that it wasn't gonna be right, no matter what you do to it."

"People can change."

"They can, Pet, but they oughta be the ones makin' the choice. It doesn't matter to me anyway." He shook her hand off so that he could face her squarely, smiling in a relaxed way, with tinges of sadness underneath. "I'd do it a hundred times over, all of it, 'specially the last bit." He circled his thumbs on her shoulders gently. "It wasn't too late for you. An' I wasn't changin' you, or makin' you over for me. I was jus' bringing you back to yourself."

"You- you don't know what would happen with Drusilla, either. Maybe this would be bringing her back to herself. A self she didn't even... know... hm."

"You tried, Luv." An' that's love. Unselfish style. She's gotta get over that, it's a bad habit between us. "You played devil's advocate, good guy style. I think I'll find her, send it to her, in the place where only she ever goes. Write her a note. I'll explain what it does, give it to her. Once it's 'given', she'll hear these little magic words, an' she can use it if she wants to. It only heals, it can't hurt, so not like she could ever hurt-" he paused and looked at the girl in front of him- "anyone with it."

Buffy nodded slowly. "It's a good plan." She murmured.

"You were right. What you told me up in Washington, maybe the second night we were hiding out? 'Happy is better than at peace'."

"We need to get that in writing. Spike says I was right about something." Buffy mumbled hazily.

"Shut up and listen, 'cause after tonight, I don't think we're gonna talk about this anymore." He said with finality.

"Shutting." Buffy pursed her lips.

"I think this was always about me bein' happy and her bein' at peace. Not necessarily as a set. An' like you said- happy is better. Give you all the bloody chaos in the world, you said, but give you happiness with it."

"I did say that. Not the bloody part. But I didn't know. You said... you said she's in so much pain sometimes."

"Yeah. Sometimes. But I don't know what's better for her, what would make her the happiest. Her dollies, her dreams, her fairies whisperin' in her ear. The thing is - I wanted to get back the girl I fell in love with. Only I'm pretty damn sure, no matter what I do, what tricks I use, that the girl I was lookin' for doesn't exist." He gave Buffy another penetrating stare. "Or maybe I wasn't sure exactly what I was lookin' for, either."

Their path brought them back to the Bronze, and they walked right past, the wails of amped basses and guitars a backdrop to the sound of their boots on gritty sidewalks.

"This is where I met you." Spike jerked his head towards the alley as they turned the corner.

"You were looking for me. You found me." Back then. Now too.

"I been lookin' for you a long time." Real Slayer. Real love. Really for me.

"Been looking for you, too." Buffy tightened her grip on his waist and he pulled her tighter under the grip of his arm. All they'd been through seemed in another world, and this was going to be their real life, cold, hard life with so much to consider besides him and her. But when the chips are down, sometimes you can only think in terms of "him and her". "Stay? For good?"

He hid a grin. "I'm not good."

"Then stay forever."

She wants me to stay. Wants me to stay. All I've ever wanted is to be in love and stay in love, and love stay with me. He could overwhelm that little nervous smile of hers with a blown away grin and swinging her around in giddy joy- and she'd still love him. So he could afford to play it cool. "Hmm. Stayin' in Sunnyhell..." He gave her a wink as he let a half smile play across his lips. "Findin' this girl I've been waitin' for. Well, now..." He leaned down forehead to forehead. "Not exactly an easy add-in to her white hat life. Sure she's okay with that? I'm not necessarily her type."

"You're you. I want you, that strange one who doesn't make me feel strange, who has my back, and loves me like I am. Who I can just be me with and- oh Spike, geez!" The Slayer was back and tired of being cautious, tired of being good, complete with the double time heartbeat and the little push she needed to do the hardest things in life. "You are mine. You're mine, and I am yours. Forever. Or until I die, and since you're around- that isn't gonna happen for a long, loooong time. So we're calling it forever. Deal?"

I've been waiting an eternity for this. "Deal."



More feet scuffing. Small smiles breaking until they were replaced with wide grins that couldn't be hidden, that then gave way to laughter that couldn't be stopped.

"My girl." He swung her up and held her against the moon, with her head thrown back, laughing and pressing her hands into his shoulders. "Say it."

"I'm yours."

"Not that! The other thing."

"You're mine?"

"Slayer..." He shook her playfully once, made her squeal.

"Spike..." She bent forward, head resting on top of his.

"Say it or I'll drop you right on that pretty behind of yours." He let her fall an inch, but pulled her closer so she knew not to worry. His hands dug comfortingly into the small of her back as she cradled his head.

"Threats don't work on me, remember?" She winked, eye to eye.

"Say it and I'll never stop sayin' it back."

She'd never turn that kind of offer down. "I love you, Spike."

"I love you, Slayer. C'mon." He spun her around and set her down, now facing back towards the Bronze. "Dance the rest of the dances with me?"

"All of them." She held his hand with possessive tightness. All mine.

"The way it should be." They squeezed through the doorway together, welcomed by a chorus of calls and waves, but she didn't leave his side, just pulled him along with her, proud to be on his arm, and nothing was going to sway her, he'd seen that for sure. "Know what, Slayer?"

"What?" She shouted over the music, leading him onto the floor, past a relieved looking trio of Giles, Willow, and Xander, into a widening, welcoming circle.

He smiled as they spun together. "I'm glad I took the job."

So are we all, Spike. So are we all.

Thank you for reading.