Disclaimer:  I own nothing.  Everything belongs to Joss Whedon, etc.

Summary:  Set sometime during Season 5.  AU.  I changed Spike's past and made up some of Anya's as well.  Riley is still around.  Dawn exists and is good friends with Spike.  The Fang Gang makes an appearance.  Pairings:  S/B, some B/R, X/A, W/T.

Author's Note:  This is not the best BtVS story I've ever written, but I wrote it a long time ago and forgot about it.  I decided to post it anyway and let you decide if you like it or not.  Read and Review.  Please!

Escape to Survive By Anessa Ramsey

                It was the first time Willow had seen Spike in weeks.  "Now I know why," she thought to herself as she watched in dismay as Riley, Buffy, Giles, and Xander beat the defenseless vampire mercilessly.  Even from her hiding spot in the bushes she could see the blood oozing out of Spike.  Bruises covered his entire body and there wasn't a spot on him that wasn't bleeding profusely.  Some of the bruises were actually healing which meant that this had been going on for weeks. 

            Fighting the urge to throw up at what her friends had done, she crept out of the bushes and ran as quickly and quietly as she could back to Tara's room in the dorms.  When she burst through the door, Tara jumped up, instantly concerned.  But Willow ran by her into the bathroom, falling to her knees and retching into the toilet until she was dry heaving.

            "Willow?" Tara asked from the doorway.  "What happened?" 

            Rising shakily, she walked back into the bedroom and basically collapsed on the bed.  "They were beating him.  He was covered in bruises and blood.  He couldn't even stand up." Tears were running down her cheeks.  "I couldn't believe it.  They're my friends."

            "Honey, I'm not sure what you're talking about."

            "Buffy, Xander, Giles and Riley.  They were all beating Spike.  I couldn't tell why.  But it looked as if they had been doing it for weeks." 

            Tara stared at her in horror.  Thinking back the four of them had been patrolling together a lot lately.  No wonder they didn't want Willow tagging along.  She would have tried to stop them.

            "I need to make a phone call.  Now." Willow said, her crying slowing a bit.

            "Okay.  Who are you calling?"

            "Angel?"

            "Are you sure that's a good idea?  What if Buffy finds out?"

            "She will eventually, but she won't know that I told him.  She'll think he found out on his own.  Cordelia has visions.  We can use those to explain it.  And if she tries to stop Angel from helping him, then I'll make sure she doesn't get in the way, but I'll need your help."

            "Okay.  Spike was always nice to me.  I want to stop this."

            Willow picked up the phone and dialed the number that was sitting by her phone.  It took forever but finally Wesley picked up.  "Wesley, it's Willow.  I need to talk to Angel.  It's an emergency."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            "Willow?  Is it Buffy?" Angel said, picking up the phone.  Wes had said it was an emergency.

            "No Angel.  It's Spike."

            "What about him?

            "You know that he can't harm humans right?  Because of the chip?"

            "Yeah."

            "Well, I went to see if he was okay the other night, because we hadn't seen him in a while.  I was almost to his crypt when I heard it.  He was being beaten."

            "Who was it Will?" Angel asked.

            "It was Buffy." She paused, practically feeling the anger radiating through the phone line.  "She wasn't alone.  Riley, Xander and Giles were with her.  He looked awful.  It looked like it had been going on for weeks.  I hid in the bushes until I couldn't watch anymore.  I came back to Tara's and called you immediately."

            "Thank you Willow, I appreciate it.  He's my childe.  I am supposed to watch out for him.  I'll be up right away."
            "I want you to know, if it comes down to helping you get him out of town, I'm on your side and so is Tara.  If worse comes to worse, we can start over in LA.  I love Buffy and Xander, but I can't let them hurt him anymore.  He can't even fight back."

            "Thank you.  How about you both meet me tomorrow at seven at the crypt.  We'll get him to safety."

            "We'll see you then," she replied, disconnecting the line.

            For a moment after she had hung up, Angel just sat there, anger pouring through him.  What the hell were they thinking, beating on his childe!  Especially Buffy!  In the background he heard Cordelia and Gunn come in the door, laughing.  They stopped when they saw Angel, vamped out sitting at the counter, the phone dangling from his hand. 

            "I'm thinking it's not good news," Gunn said.

            Wes spoke up, coming out of the office.  "It was Willow."

            "Angel, what did she want?" Cordelia asked.

            "We're taking a road trip.  I'm going to need all of you.  Buffy, Riley, Xander, and Giles, have been beating Spike.  And you know he can't fight back."

            Cordelia gasped and Wes just stared at Angel in shock.  "Buffy and Giles would never…" he started.

            "Willow saw them.  She was going to see if Spike was okay.  She hadn't seen him for a while and was concerned.  That's when she saw them.  Her and Tara are going to meet us at Spike's crypt tomorrow at seven.  They've agreed to help stop Buffy if it comes to that.  It will help, having the witches on our side, just in case.  But be prepared.  By possibly betraying Buffy, they'll have to relocate to LA.  Sunnydale wouldn't be safe for them anymore either."

            "We'll do whatever we can to help them, should it come to that," Wesley said.

            "As much as I still hate Xander, I won't let Buffy hurt anyone else.  Willow included.  Who's Tara?"

            "Willow's partner."

            "Oh.  I didn't know…I mean what happened with Oz?"

            "It's a long story, Cordy.  And we need to be on our way.  It's a long drive. I'll tell you in the car."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Willow and Tara were already at the crypt when Angel, Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn showed up.  After greeting each other quietly, they entered the crypt.  Spike was draped across the sarcophagus his shirt and jeans dirty and torn.  He was bruised everywhere and dried blood was covering open wounds all over his body.  Willow and Tara immediately went to him and did a spell to help with the pain. 

            Angel sauntered over and whispered, "William."

            The swollen eyes tried to open, but were so bruised it was futile.  "Angelus?"

            "It's me, boy.  We're all here.  Willow and Tara are here as well."

            "They shouldn't be here.  She can't find them here," he said, panic rising in his voice out of concern for the wiccas' safety. 

            "They are going to help us.  They know the consequences of what this might mean.  Can you stand up?"

            "Yeah," he said, sitting up slowly, his ribs grinding.  He was a mass of broken bones, but his legs were fine.  He stood slowly.  He was being helped to the door when it happened.

            "It's time for your nightly beating dead boy," Buffy chimed out, walking into the crypt, her crew behind her.  She didn't see Angel and his team until it was too late.  "Angel?"

            "Slayer," he replied.

            She looked at him curiously.  He had never called her that before.

            "What are you doing here?"

            "We're here to take Spike to LA."

            "Why?"

            "Because he can't fight back against the four of you."  Buffy gaped at him.  How had he known.  "I know what you've been doing to him and it's going to stop.  What I don't understand is why?"

            "How did you find out?" she asked.

            Cordelia was about to take the blame when Willow stepped up and took responsibility.  She was proud to have helped him, even at the cost of betraying her friends.  "I told him." She was regal and commanding.  She wasn't going to back down on this.

            "How could you betray us Willow?" Xander cried.

            "I think the real question is how could you do this to him?  He's helpless against you, and yet you keep beating him.  You aren't my friends.  My friends would never have done this."

            "Do you honestly think we'll let you just take him?" Riley chimed in.

            "You won't have a choice," Tara said, standing next to Willow, equally as proud.  Together they raised their hands and the power began to flow from them as they chanted the spell they had found to keep their friends at bay.  Soon there was a thick bubble surrounding the group of people that had been their friends.  Buffy punched the bubble repeatedly to no avail, it was too thick.  The witchs' spell was too powerful even for her slayer strength to penetrate.

            "Angel," Willow said, "We should get him out of here.  The spell will last long enough for us to get lost."

            Gunn and Wesley were helping Spike to the door when the wizard stepped through the door.  Angel recognized him immediately.  "Lorcan," he whispered.

            "Angelus.  So you recognized  me.  I wasn't completely sure that you would.  After all it has been nearly a century since you and William there tortured me and turned Lucinda." 

            "You're the one who did this.  They're under a spell," he said, indicating the group in the bubble. 

            "Yes I did, and I won't let you or the witches take away my right to justice."

            The Witches banded together and focusing all their energy, launched a ball of energy at the warlock.  He sidestepped it and it flew past him, out into the night. 

            Again the witches tried to hit him, and this time they nicked his arm.  It was enough and soon light was pouring out of him as Angel embedded a dagger in his chest.  "No one touches my family," he growled, watching as Lorcan crumpled to the floor in a heap.

            The group behind the bubble were shaking their heads, and looking around, confused.  Buffy was to the first to realize they were encircled by magic.  When she looked up, Willow and Tara were tending Spike, who was near collapse between Wes and Gunn.  Buffy gasped, realization pouring through her.  She looked at Spike and couldn't believe what she was seeing.  It hit her then.  The memories came flooding back of Spike confessing his love, and of the numerous times she, Xander, Riley, and Giles had beaten him to a bloody pulp.  Even now, she could see the faded bruises that were covered with even newer ones.  There was blood everywhere and she nearly retched at the sight of him.  No wonder Angel was pissed.  And Willow had seen them doing this.  Oh God!  "Giles," she whispered, afraid that speaking any louder might cause a violent reaction from Angel.

            "I see him."

            "What are you guys freaking out about?" Riley asked.  "He's just a demon.  Hostile 17 is a vampire.  They're not supposed to be treated like children or part of a family.  They kill humans."

            Buffy stared at Riley in horror.  She could see it in his eyes.  He truly believed what he was saying.  He could actually look at the damage they'd inflicted on Spike and not care. 

            "Willow!" Xander called out.  The Witch turned and looked at the four people trapped by her magick.  "Spike," she whispered softly.  "Should I let them out?" 

            She was barely able to understand the answer that slipped through his swollen lips.  "Go ahead, red."

            "Are you sure that they are back to normal?" Tara asked, slightly concerned.

            Willow looked at Buffy, then at the rest of them.  "With the exception of Riley, I think that they are fine."  As soon as the barrier was lowered Buffy ran toward Spike.  Willow kept the bubble around Riley. There was no telling what the angry army guy would try to do to Spike or Angel.

            Buffy reached out, trying to touch Spike's arm lightly, but he cringed away from her.  "Don't touch me, Slayer," he hissed through his swollen, bloody lips.

            "Spike…"

            "I don't want to hear it Slayer.  Lorcan couldn't make anyone do what they didn't want to do, so somewhere in that body of yours, you're more screwed up than I am.  All of you are."

            Gunn and Cordelia looked at Buffy, gauging her reaction.  Tears filled the petite blonde's eyes, but she refused to let them spill over.  Angel stepped in front of his child and said to Buffy, "We're going.  And he is not staying in Sunnydale.  You three may be back to normal, but your boyfriend over there is still really ready to beat on Spike, spell or no spell."  He turned to Willow.  Don't let that bubble off of him until we get Spike in the car.  You can join us as soon as he is in.  Your bags are packed right?"

            "Yeah, Cordelia helped us load them earlier," Tara said.

            Buffy's head snapped up at the turn the conversation had taken.  So had Xander and Giles.  "Where are you going?" she asked, confused.

            "We're going to LA for a while."

            "Why?"

            "Spike needs magick to help him heal.  There's just too much damage for his body to try and fix on it's own.  Besides, neither of us can be here right now.  I watched as you beat him near to death and couldn't do anything to stop you.  I spent last night bent over a toilet throwing up.  You're my friends and I never thought I'd see anything like that.  I just need time to come to terms.  And I need you to give me that time."

            Xander and Giles stared at her. "Certainly, Willow," Giles said, his voice rough with emotion.  Xander just nodded silently. 

            "When will you be back?" Buffy asked, knowing that she had lost her best friend tonight. 

            "Probably next semester. Tara and I have already converted our classes to online courses.  We said there was a death in the family and we were needed out of town."

            "Willow," Angel said from the doorway.  "We should really get going.  Gunn and Cordelia have already put Spike in the car."

            "I'll see you guys in a few months."  Turning she walked out the door.  Tara gave them a small smile before following her. 

            Suddenly unsure of what to do, the three remaining members of the Scoobies looked around the crypt.  There was blood everywhere and all of Spike's possessions were trashed.  It looked as if a hurricane had whirled through the dark massoleum.  It took a minute for it to sink into Buffy's head that they had done this.  She sank to her knees and looked up at Giles, unsure of what to do.  Suddenly she noticed that the bubble around Riley was dissipating.

            "Are we going to try and stop them?" he asked, anxious to stake Spike. 

            "No.

            "What do you mean no?  You're just going to let them waltz right out of town with Hostile 17?  And you're not going to try to stop Willow and Tara from leaving?"

Riley exclaimed with outrage.

            "They are going and I'm not going to stop them," she said, rising to her feet. 

            "What do we do now?" Xander asked as they listened to the sound of Angel's car driving away. 

            "We wait.  And hope that giving them time is enough."

            "What about Spike?"

            "What about him?" Riley asked.  "He's just a vampire.  You've all said so before, I don't see what's changed."

            Who was this person talking to her.  He looked and sounded like Riley, but the hateful words flowing from his mouth were not the words of the man she had been dating.  Was he always like this?  Did I just not want to see it?

            "I'm going home now.  It's been a long night and I already miss Willow and Tara."  Oh god, how am I going to explain their leaving to Dawn?  How will I explain that Spike is gone too?  She's going to be destroyed. 

            "I'll come with you," Riley said, trying to put his arm around Buffy's shoulder.

            She shrugged it off.  "I'll be fine on my own.  I have to go home and explain to Dawn why three of her friends had to go to LA to be away from us.  And I'd rather she didn't have to listen to you bash one of them.  Frankly I'm sick of hearing it too.  I'm just sick period.  Do you even realize what we did?  He couldn't fight back.  We literally beat him to a bloody pulp.  Pardon me if I'm beginning to think that William the Bloody had nothing on us."

            "Buffy, it was a spell…" Giles began.

            "You heard Spike.  All Lorcan could do was take feelings you already had and amplify them to dangerous levels.  So somewhere, we souled ones wanted to beat him into oblivion."

            Silence greeted her remark.  They couldn't deny it.  They'd all thought about it at one time or another over the past several months.  "Now I'm leaving to go tell my sister what happened.  Be prepared.  She probably won't speak to any of us for quite awhile.  She holds grudges for a very long time."  She looked at Riley.  "I don't think we should see each other anymore."

            "Because of Spike?  You've got to be kidding?!" 

            "Not because of Spike.  Because of you.  I don't know you.  You aren't the man I thought you were.  The guy I began dating was sweet and understanding.  You're just a shell of what he was.  I lost my best friend tonight Riley.  She may not be dead but I lost her all the same.  Yet all you care about is the fact that Angel got Spike out of town and you can't hit him anymore.  The old Riley wouldn't have cared.  Everything has changed and it's never going to be the same."  Turning on her heel the others watched as she walked out of the crypt and headed home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            All the lights were on in the house as Buffy walked up the front steps.  Dawn was waiting up for her again.  * What will I say?  Hey Dawn, sit down while I tell you about the fact that we've been beating Spike for weeks and it took Willow, Tara, Angel and the rest of the LA guys to stop us.  Oh and Willow, Tara and Spike have now relocated to LA because of it.   I can really see that going over well. * 

            Opening the door she walked in and Dawn ran to greet her.  "Buffy, thank god you're home.  Willow and Tara haven't come home yet and I'm really worried.  What if something happened to them?"

            "Dawn, sit down for a second.  I need to tell you something."

            Dawn walked in and sat on the couch, her knees bouncing, a sure sign that she was really worried.  "Something happened to them didn't it?  They're not dead are they?"

            "No Dawn.  They're fine.  And you're right, something did happen tonight.  You know how Riley, Xander, and Giles have been going with me on patrol right?"  Dawn nodded.  "Well, there was this sorcerer and he put a spell on us.  It's been on us for at least a couple of weeks and it made us do something bad."

            "What did you do?"

            "We've been going to Spike's every night and…" she was trying to figure out how to put it gently, but Dawn already knew.  Her eyes widened and filled with tears.

            "You didn't kill him, did you?  Please tell me that he's not dead."  Tears were raining down her alabaster skin. 

            "No Dawn, we didn't kill him, but we beat him, very badly, every night."

            Dawn jumped up.  "I've got to go see him."  She was already putting on her coat when her sister said, "He's gone Dawnie."

            "What do you mean he's gone?  Where'd he go?  He was beaten."

            "Willow came across us beating him the other night.  We didn't know it but she called Angel and the gang in LA.  They all came up here to help Spike.  Tara and Willow used magick to stop us from hurting him again, while Angel and the others got him in the car.  They took him to LA.  Willow and Tara went with them.  They're not coming back for a while."

            Dawn was near hysterical.  "When?  When are they coming back?"

            "Willow and Tara might be back next semester.  It's going to take Willow time to get over what she saw.  But Spike's not coming back."  Even as the words came out of her mouth, she knew they were true and she felt something inside her crack.  It was painful, to think that she wouldn't see him again.  "I'm sorry Dawn.  I'm so sorry."

            Dawn had slumped against the front door and slid to the floor.  Her head was buried against her knees as she cried.  Buffy went to go to her, but before she could touch her, Dawn flew up the stairs to her room, the words, "Don't touch me," trailing in her wake.  As the door slammed, Buffy began to trudge up the stairs.  Every part of her ached. 

            As she passed Willow's room, she paused.  Most of Willow's things were still there.  All that was missing was most of her clothes.  She would be back.  She had to come back.  An image of Spike, bruised and bloodied flashed in her mind.  He would never be back.  Not now.  After everything she had said and done to get him to stop saying he loved her, she finally got her wish and it felt like she was dying inside.  She didn't know how to make it stop. 

            She went to her room and walked to her window, half expecting it to be some nightmare.  That if she looked down at the tree she would see the bright red tip of a cigarette as he watched her house, like he had been doing for months.  But there was no one there.  There never would be again.

            Taking off her shoes, she lay down on the bed and curled up into a ball, tears beginning to make their way down her cheeks.  "I didn't know…" she whispered softly, her eyes fluttering closed as she fell into a restless sleep, where the past few weeks had never occurred and Spike still loved her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A Week Later

            The Angel Investigations office was bustling with people.  Ever since their return from Sunnydale, Willow and Tara had been helping Spike to heal as well as assisting the gang in research.  They'd even helped drum up business.  They were also enjoying the LA club scene.  Sunnydale only had the Bronze, but LA was a plethora of changing nightlife.  It seemed like every weekend they went to a new club. 

            That night, after all their clients had left, they were all sitting around the television in the lobby watching the latest to do on Passions, an addiction they had all succumbed to, when the front door opened and Xander and Giles walked in. 

            The group looked up, surprised that the two men had the courage to walk into the office, knowing that they would not be well received.  Spike growled low in his throat and practically tossed Willow, who'd been sitting on his lap, on the floor.  He stood unsteadily, still bruised and limping.  Even his vampire healing couldn't hurry along the healing from the beatings he'd taken.  There'd been too much damage.  Willow and Tara had tried everything they knew, but it wasn't enough.  He limped out of the room, grimacing as his bandaged rips protested painfully.

            "What do you want?" Cordelia snapped.  "You interrupted Passions and pissed off Spike."

            "We need Willow and Tara in Sunnydale.  We wouldn't have come down here if it wasn't an emergency."

            "What happened?" Tara asked.

            "Dawn is missing.  She hasn't been talking to us since…anyway, two days ago, she said that she was going to stay the weekend with Janice, but this morning when she didn't come home, Buffy called Janice's mother.  Dawn was never there.  She's run away."

            Just as the words left Giles' mouth, the front door opened again and a young brunette girl came through, a bag slung across her shoulder. 

            "Dawn!" Xander cried.

            She stared at them in shock.  "No!  I'm not going back!  How did you know where I was going?  How did you beat me here?"  She ran to Willow and Tara.  "Please don't send me back.  I can't stand being there anymore."

            Willow looked up.  "What happened?" she asked Giles. 

            "Buffy's been a little despondent of late.  She broke up with Riley that night, and…er, she hasn't been herself."

            "I don't want to live with her anymore.  I can't even look at them without picturing…Spike!"  She pulled out of Willow's arms and launched herself at the still healing vampire.  She stopped short when she saw the bandages wrapped around his ribs that his open shirt revealed, and his face was still very bruised, though they were fading.

            "Oh my god…" 

            "It's fine, niblet.  Nothing to worry about."  He limped toward her.  "I'll be fine, don't you worry.  When have I ever not gotten better?  You'll see.  Give me a few more days and I'll be good as new."  He tried to sound positive, and Xander and Giles winced at his words, knowing that it would take more than a few days. 

            Dawn helped him sit down again and they watched as he hid a grimace behind an overly bright smile for the teenager.  "How have you been?  How's…" he trailed off.  "Never mind.  Old habits.  How are you?  You're not letting that Kevin bloke treat you wrong are you?"

            "As if he would after you scared him to death.  He's being a perfect gentleman."  She looked around.  "This is a nice place.  Better than the crypt.  Though I do miss being able to go there and talk, and not have to worry about Buffy overhearing us.  She just doesn't get me sometimes."

            "She may not understand you all the time, but that doesn't mean you should run away.  What were you thinking?  Do you know what kind of creatures there are out there?"

            "Don't freak!  I took a bus, during the day.  I got off right in front of dad's house and camped out there for two days before coming here.  It's cool.  And his place isn't far from here.  Only a couple of blocks."

            Xander and Giles looked at Dawn.  "We need to get you home, Dawn.  Buffy's really worried."

            "Worried?  Yeah right.  All she's done lately is mope.  She doesn't even know I'm there.  Not that I was talking to her anyway."

            "You're not speaking to big sis?  Why?" Spike asked.

            She poked him gently in the ribs and he gave a small his of pain.  "That's why.  All three of you left and didn't even get to tell me.  It was their fault.  She told me about what happened."

            "Dawnie," Tara said.  "They were under a spell sweetie."

            "I read up on Lorcan.  I know who he was and what his powers were…"

            "Oh!"  Willow sighed.  "But I'm sure she feels really bad Dawnie.  And you have to go back, because we'll be coming home in two months.  And I'd like you to be there."

            "Are you coming back too?" Dawn asked Spike, hopefully.

            He looked down.  "I don't think so niblet.  As soon as I'm all healed I've got a one way ticket home.  I was going to write you and tell you that I was leaving.  I've got a place, nice little estate in the motherland.  It'll be good for me to go there for a while.  I haven't been home in a long time."

            Willow and Tara looked at each other.  This was the first they'd heard of it.  He had an estate?  They looked at Angel questioningly and he nodded.  Spike had an estate.  Did that mean he was rich?

            Spike looked up just in time to see the exchange of expressions between the wiccas and Angel.  "Oh bloody hell, I'm worth a bloody fortune.  The estate is in Kent and through some wheeling and dealing with a very discreet law firm that helps us demons, I managed to hold on to my property, title, and inheritance when the line died out sixty years ago."

            Angel laughed.  Cordelia's eyes lit up and Gunn and Wes just stared at the vampire.  Who ever heard of a vampire with a fortune, aside from Dracula?

            "Oh.  Okay."

            "Not okay," Xander said.  "You're worth a fortune and we've been paying you to help us.  How screwed up is that?"

            "I'm a vampire, whelp.  Just because I'm wealthy doesn't change that.  You'd be wise to remember it."  His blue eyes were like diamond chips, hard and unyielding.  "Besides, I've more than earned the money you gave me."

            Xander looked away and Giles flushed.  "About that, Spike.  You know that we're sorry…"
            "Bugger off mate.  I don't want to hear it.  Honestly I really don't care.  So you can save your pathetic, insincere apology for the next defenseless thing you try to beat to death."

            "I think we should be going, Xander," Giles said, not responding to Spike's harsh words.  "Come along Dawn.  You need to come home."

            "Will you say good-bye before you leave?" Dawn asked Spike.

            "I may not do it in person, but I promise to let you know before I go.  As long as I have the word of all of you, she's not to know where I am.  Ever."

            "Done," Giles said, everyone else nodding in agreement.  Giles watched as the vampire hugged Dawn, slightly stunned at the vampire's attitude.  It was strange to see Spike so…adamant about anything.  They really did a number on him, and he wasn't speaking of the physical damage.  There were a lot of emotional issues there too.  But Spike needed to deal with those on his own.  And he would probably be able to do it better in England than anywhere.  England is always good for the soul…wait, Spike doesn't have a soul.  He looked at the vampire again, who was hugging Dawn, quietly whispering to her.  Maybe there was hope for him yet.  He may not have a soul, but he had been working hard to be something he wasn't.  Until we botched it up.

            Spike released Dawn and said, "You better go, ducks.  And don't run away again, it never solves anything."

            She looked up at him.  "Then why are you?"

            Everything stopped.  Time stood completely still as Xander and Giles contemplated her statement.  But Spike always had an answer for everything and this occasion was no different.  "I'm not running away, niblet.  I ran away years ago. So now I'm doing what I should have done a long time ago.  I'm going home.  I have some people there who I haven't seen in a long time.  Now get going, bit.  Sis is waiting."  Dawn kissed him on the cheek and gave him another hug before following Xander and Giles out the door.

            Spike looked at Willow and Tara.  "Once I leave I want you to watch her.  Make sure she stays out of trouble.  And make sure that Kevin bloke behaves himself."

            "Sure Spike."

            He walked from the room up the stairs to the room he'd been occupying.  Once he had closed the door Cordelia said, "How long do you think until he leaves?"

            Angel sighed.  "After this, probably before he's healed.  I'd expect it to be within the next couple of days.  He doesn't like good-byes so don't expect one.  He'll probably just be gone one morning."

            And that's exactly what happened.  A week after Dawn left, Tara went to give Spike his morning cup of blood, but when she knocked on the door, no one answered.  She went in, stopping short when she realized he wasn't there.  He'd gone.  There was a stack of letters on the bed and she went and picked them up.  There was one for all of them, and one for Dawn. 

            As she walked down the stairs, everyone was sitting around the office laughing at a joke Gunn had told them.  When they saw her, though, the laughter died and they knew.  "He left us these," she said, handing everyone they're letters.  Silence filled the air as everyone read the words that Spike had written to them.  Finally, Willow said, "I'm actually going to miss him.  And I'm not looking forward to giving Dawnie that letter.  I don't think she thought he'd really go."

            "It'll be okay," Tara whispered.  "She's strong, and she'll deal."

            "Angel, I know that I said we'd be staying a while longer, but…"

            "No need to say anything Willow.  I know that you want to deliver the news to Dawn in person.  And honestly, she's probably going to need you there."

            That night, Willow and Tara were finally heading home.  Unfortunately it was as the bearers of bad news.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Willow used her key to let herself in the front door of the Summers house.  Buffy, Xander, Giles and Dawn were all sitting in the living room watching a movie.  They all looked up when the witches entered.  But Dawn was the only one to jump up and give them hugs.  "You're back!  You are back right?"

            "Yeah, Dawnie, were back."

            "So how's Spike?  Are his bruises gone and his ribs healed?"

            They glanced at each other before Tara pulled the letter out of her bag.  "Dawnie, he said he'd let you know…"

            Dawn stared at the letter.  "He really left?"  She whispered so quietly it was as if she thought that if she talked any louder she would shatter. 

            "He said he was going to go, Dawn.  It was just a matter of time."

            Tears were flowing down her cheeks in tiny rivers.  "I didn't think he'd really go."  She took the letter from Tara.  "I'm going to go up to my room."

            Buffy looked at them from where she sat on the floor.  She was confused. "Who left?"

            "Spike.  We woke up this morning and he was gone.  He said he was going to leave and Angel warned us it would probably be without a good-bye.  Apparently he's not big on them."

            Looking down, Buffy asked, "Do you know where he went?"

            Lying to Buffy was going to be hard, and Giles and Xander shifted in their chairs.  Buffy saw them and Tara wasn't looking at her.  Something was up.  "I'm not supposed to know, am I?"

            "He told us not to tell you."

            "Oh."  She didn't think she could hurt any worse.  It was like a knife was stuck in her gut and she couldn't get it out.  This must be how Faith felt, except without all the blood.  When Angel had taken Spike to LA she'd been forced to admit that she had begun to rely on Spike in ways she hadn't even noticed.  Even after he told her he loved her.  At least before that sorcerer got a hold of them.  There'd been something…she couldn't exactly describe it, but there was something about him that had kept her from staking him all this time.  It wasn't a soul, but the hint of a possibility that he could be something other than a monster.  But he'd never stood a chance, because if he'd have changed, without a soul to help him, it would have complicated her entire way of thinking when it came to vampires.  Especially when it came to Angel.  It had taken his departure to make her realize that she'd never get to see if he'd really be able to do it.  He wouldn't have had a soul to help him, but he had loved her enough to begin to try. 

            "Buffy, you know he had to go right?" Willow asked. 

            "I do, Will.  I just didn't think it would hurt so much…after all, he's just a vampire, right?  I mean, that's what we kept telling ourselves.  But was it true?  Didn't he prove time and again that he could have been more?"  None of them said a word.  They didn't even look at her.  She was right and there was nothing they could say to make it better. 

            Finally, Willow spoke up.  "Buffy, we didn't know…"

            "Yes we did, Will.  And if we didn't we should have.  Every time he did something to help us he went against everything that he was.  And I stopped paying him months before he left, yet he still helped, because of me and Dawn.  Because he wanted to be something more than a monster in our eyes."

            Tears were forming in her eyes.  She had to leave before she started crying.  "I'm going to bed.  I'm tired and I just need to sleep for a while."

            "We'll see ourselves out," Giles said, contemplating his slayers words.  It was going to be hard not to tell her where Spike had gone.  She was beating herself with remorse and if it didn't end soon, she'd be as damaged inside as Spike had been physically.  He pulled Willow aside as soon as Buffy had disappeared upstairs.  "I want you to tell her where he went.  I don't care what he said.  She needs to know.  Chances are she and Dawn will be out of here on the first flight they can get, but it needs to be done.  She needs closure or she's going to die inside.  If necessary, we can make this a group trip.  Anya and Tara and all of us will go.  I'll take care of all the travel arrangements.  Just tell her where he is."

            Twenty minutes later Willow was standing in Buffy's doorway watching as her friend cried on her bed.  No one had been able to see that Buffy had begun to care for Spike, not even Buffy herself.  And it was killing her.

            "Buffy," she said softly, sitting next to her, running her hand over the soft blond curls, trying to be a calming influence.  "He went to England."

            Buffy stopped sniffling for a moment.  "Half a world away.  He certainly ran as far as he could didn't he."

            "He went home.  He has a house in Kent."

            "You know I'm going to go.  He knew I would.  That's why he didn't want me to know.  So why are you telling me?"

            "Because you need to tell him how you feel.  And that won't happen with you here and him there."

            "I don't know how I feel."

            "Sure you do.  You always knew.  So did we.  It was kind of obvious.  We just helped you bury it with all those remarks about him just being a vampire, until you believed it as much as anyone."

            "But what about Lorcan?  If it was true about him just amplifying feelings, then I wanted to beat him just as much as Riley."

            "Lorcan played on all those old memories of Spike.  Not what he is now."  Willow prayed that she would believe the words.  She needed to believe them.

            "So Giles is making the arrangements?"

            "Yeah.  Looks like were all going to England."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Surprisingly, the flight was not as long and boring as everyone had expected it to be.  They had watched a movie and sat and talked the whole way there.  Except for Buffy, who looked out the window most of the time, trying to figure out what they were doing.  He didn't want them coming.  They all knew it, that's why they didn't tell him.  But it needed to be done.

            It didn't take them long to get through customs and get on the road.  Spike had called Dawn and told her his address so that she could write to him.  He didn't know that she turned around and told Buffy. 

            Everyone is commenting on the beauty of the English countryside when they pull up to the gate at Spike's home at around seven o'clock in the evening.  No one says much of anything as they stare at the mansion sprawled out behind the thick iron bars. 

            "This is definitely not how I expected to see Spike living," Xander said.

            Giles pressed the button on the intercom and a voice said, "Who may I ask is calling?"

            Dawn leaned out the window, before Giles could say anything.  "Dawn Summers."

            "Come right in Miss Summers."  The gates opened and the rental car slowly made its way up the long drive.  Finally they pulled up in front of the house and parked.  Dawn was the first one out of the car and she ran up the steps to knock on the door.  The others were not far behind her. 

            The door opened and a young man, no older than twenty five opened the door.  "Miss Summers, what a delightful surprise.  Lord Devane has told us so much about you."  He paused spotting the group that was behind her.  "Oh dear, you all came."  What to do.  Will would not be pleased that not only had Miss Summers shown up unexpectedly but that she had brought her entire family.  Plastering a smile on his face, he said, "Won't you please come in?  Lord Devane is out at the moment but you may wait in the sitting room.  I will have tea and scones brought up for you."  He showed them to the sitting room, then headed for the kitchen, where Connor was waiting. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Buffy looked around the sitting room, amazed by the lavish furniture and remarkable paintings that adorned the wall.  Behind her Willow mused, "Did anyone get the feeling that the butler knew exactly who we all were and was not pleased to see us?"

            "You too, huh?  He seemed pleased enough to see that Dawn had shown up unexpectedly, but then his entire demeanor changed when he saw us."

            "So where do you suppose Spike got all the money for this stuff?" Xander asked. 

            "I'm assuming it is his family's original furnishings.  He did say that he managed to hold on to his family's estate after the line died out."

            "I wonder where he is?  Do you think he'll be long?" Dawn asked excitedly.

            "I hope so," Buffy mumbled, wanting to delay the confrontation as long as possible.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Nighttime in England.  This was where he belonged.  The light scent of jasmine and apple blossoms hung in the air like heavy perfume.  The pale silvery moon was high and full in the velvety black sky.  He raced across the dewy meadow, the bay stallion thundering powerfully through the grass.  For the first time in years he felt free and at peace.  He was no longer burdened with the responsibility of caring for Dru and he had escaped the insanity that was Sunnydale.  Turning Lord Byron, he rode, hell bent toward the stables, where his steward, Connor MacNeil was waiting. 

            Spike reined in Lord Byron and swung down to the ground gracefully.  "William, Duncan has just informed me that you have company.  They are waiting for you in the sitting room."

            "Tell them that I'll be there in a few minutes.  I need to freshen up." Spike said, striding toward the house.

            After changing into a dark grey sweater and a pair of jeans, he padded barefoot toward the sitting room off the main hall.  Standing in the hallway, pacing back and forth was a young dark haired girl.  "Dawn?!"

            "Hi Spike!" she said cheerfully, giving him a great big hug.  She pulled back after a moment and looked at his clothes.  "Okay, what happened to the big bad and all his leather?" she asked jokingly.

            For a moment he was speechless.  Then he said, "What are you doing here?  Does Buffy know where you are?  How did you get here?"

            She ignored his questions and opened the door to the sitting room.  There sat the entire Scooby gang.  Connor and Duncan were standing at the back of the room quietly talking.  He glared at them for not warning him, and they quieted immediately.  Buffy rose from where she was sitting in a tall, wing-backed chair.  Everyone else stood as well.  Dawn was standing next to him, smiling, clinging to his arm.  He could see everyone look him over as if they'd never seen him before.  It must be the clothes.  He knew he should probably say something but he couldn't force any words out.  Finally Buffy spoke, "Hello Spike."

            "Slayer," he hissed, not sure how to respond to such a casual greeting.

            "This is a nice place you have."

            "It suffices," he said sarcastically, ignoring the strange looks he was getting from Connor and Duncan. 

            She immediately retaliated with her own sarcastic remark.  "Yeah, I can see that you're really struggling."

            "Buffy…" Giles said warningly.  They hadn't come here for this.

            Spike looked at Giles, his eyes as cold as ice.  "What are you doing here, Watcher.  I'm no longer there invading your space or available for a good beating so you come here to do the job?"

            "No, not at all…I spoke to Angel."

            Buffy's head snapped up in surprise, even as Spike said, "And the wanker let it slip that I was all soul having?"  Gasps rang out from the women and Xander stared at Spike as if he'd grown a third eye.  No one told him anything. 

            "Well, yes, he did tell me."

"Giles, he can't…for how long?" Buffy asked.

            "For over six months, Slayer."  He turned to Giles again.  "Why did you come here?"

            Willow broke in, "Well Dawn missed you and…"

            "And you all wanted to see just how good ole' Spike was living.  You heard that I was rich, but that couldn't possibly be true.  So you had to see for yourself."

            "No.  That's not it at all…" Tara said.  "Come on Spike, you know Willow and I better than that."

            "Sorry ducks.  You, Dawn and Red usually have good intentions.  It's the rest of you I don't get."

            "We just wanted to see how you were Spike," Dawn said quietly.

            "I believe that you did niblet, but I don't buy it about the four of them," he said glancing toward Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Anya.  "You never gave a rat's ass in good ol' Sunnyhell, and I don't think you do now.  When are you leaving?"

            "In two weeks."

            "My steward will see you to the door.  I'll come into town to see Dawn and the wiccas.  There is no reason for you to come here again.  Where are you staying?"

            "Well, er…that is…"

            "You don't have a place to stay because you assumed I would be more than happy to house you?"

            "Well…"

            "Connor, please show my guests to their rooms.  You can put the wiccas in Lucinda's room and the Slayer can have Alice's room.  Put the Whelp and his demon in Merrick's and the Watcher will enjoy Clayton's room."

            "What about me?" Dawn asked. 

            "You, luv, will have the best room in the house," he said.  "Put her up in Mary's room," he said to Connor.  "Feel free to use anything in there.  I'm sure that you'll enjoy it."

            "Gee, Spike, who are all these people?  Are your lovers here so much they have rooms named for them?"

            He ignored the horrified looks on Connor and Duncan's faces' and said, "No, Slayer.  They aren't my lovers.  No one I ever see stays here.  They were my family."

He walked out, leaving all of them staring at his retreating back.

            "Nice going," Dawn said sarcastically, rolling her eyes.  "Great way to treat our host."

            "How was I supposed to know?"

            Connor and Duncan watched the girl as she turned away from her friends.  They could see the slight sheen of tears in her eyes and how she bit her lip to keep her friends from noticing.

            Stepping forward, Connor spoke up.  "Ladies, I will show you to your rooms.  If you will follow me," he said as he strolled from the room. 

            "What about our luggage?" Dawn asked.

            "It will be brought to your rooms for you."

            Slowly they followed him, heading for the west wing of the house.  "Well, I never thought I'd see the day where I'd be staying in Spike's house," Buffy whispered to Willow as they followed the steward, trying to taking in all the lavish decorations as they went.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Back in the sitting room Duncan stepped up to Giles and said, "I will show you your rooms now."

            But before Duncan could move to leave, Giles said, "His family?"

            Duncan paused.  "You want to know if he slaughtered them?"  Giles glanced away.  The butler sighed heavily.  What a group.  Why on earth was William allowing them to stay?  "Lord Devane did not murder his family.  That was Angelus' little sideshow.  When Lord Devane refused to kill his loved ones after he was turned, Angelus went to their London townhome and killed Lord Devane's brothers, Merrick and Clayton.  Stephen survived because he was in the country.  Lord Devane's sisters, Lucinda and Mary were turned, as was Lady Devane."

            "But I thought…that is the books say…"

            "Lord Devane did not murder his family.  He tried to save them.  He even went against his sire to do so.  But by the time he arrived it was too late.  The women were beginning to wake, so he burned his house to the ground, ensuring that his loved ones would not endure his fate."

            "None of that is written anywhere in the Watcher journals.  Why was this not known?"

            "I suppose that is because he did not wish it to be.  After all, he had gone against his sire.  That alone was punishable by death.  But if anyone had known that he tried to save his family, it would have ensured a quick death.  And despite his lack of soul, I believe he felt it was his punishment for not protecting them,"  the butler said, before turning and striding toward the door.  "I shall show you your rooms now."  Silently Giles, Xander and Anya were forced to follow, tons of questions still swirling in their minds.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Connor had led the four young women down the west wing, stopping in front of a large oak door.  He swung it open and four small gasps escaped the girls.  "Miss Maclay and Miss Rosenberg, this will be your room."  The two witches couldn't help but stare at the room in awe.  The walls were painted a dark, blood red and black sconces were hung on the wall, red taper candles resting in them.  More candles were scattered around the room and there was a small alter against the right wall.  The bed was quite large and was positioned against the left wall.  It was a four poster mahogany bed and scarves of red and black were draped between the posts.  There was a large window on the back wall overlooking the courtyard.

            "Miss Lucinda is quite a powerful witch.  Feel free to use magick here.  She will enjoy it."

            "You talk about her like she's still here."

            "She is.  She's a ghost.  All of Lord Devane's family is except for his brother, Stephen.  He was the only one not to encounter Angelus."

            Without any further mention of it, the butler continued down the hallway, Dawn and Buffy following behind him, completely bewildered.  They stopped in front of a door just down the hall from where Willow was.  This time when he opened the door Dawn stared in awe.  It was a large room, done mostly in purples and blues.  Again there was a mahogany four poster bed and large armoire, but there was also separate room where she could see easels and canvases sitting idly.  "Miss Mary was an artist.  She loved to paint.  Feel free to use any of her things."  He turned to Buffy.  "I shall now take you to Lady Devane's room."

            "Lady Devane?" Buffy asked as they turned a corner.

            "Yes, miss.  Lord Devane's wife."

            "He's married?"

            "He was, when he was…human."

            "Oh.  But I thought he was in love with a young woman named Cecily.  And what about all the 'bloody awful' poetry he supposedly wrote?"

            "Cecily Prentice?  Dear lord, how historians muck it all up is beyond me.  Miss Prentice was infatuated with Lord Devane.  He refused her.  As for the poetry, some of it was 'bloody awful' as you put it.  But I do know that over the years he has continued writing and is published in several anthologies."  They finally stopped at the end of the corridor and Duncan opened yet another oak door and allowed Buffy to enter. 

            "Oh…"  The first thing that caught her attention was the portrait.  It was hung directly above the fireplace and was clearly the focus of the room.  "So that was Spike's wife," she thought to herself.  It was a picture of a young woman, no older than herself, with dark, upswept hair and bright blue eyes.  She was wearing a long sleeved, midnight blue gown with white lace at the cuffs and around the square bodice.  She was beautiful.  Buffy couldn't help but feel sad that this woman had known Spike when he was human.  Had been able to touch part of him that none of them would ever know.

            She looked up when Duncan said, "Through this door is the parlor.  Lord Devane's room is also connected to it."  He saw Buffy's eyes widen and was quick to reassure her.  "Don't worry.  Lord Devane never uses it."

            "So are we free to explore the house?"

            "Yes, miss.  The only room that is forbidden is at the end of the east wing on the first floor.  No one enters it but Lord Devane and the maids."

            "God, Beauty and the Beast much!  And you don't always call him Lord Devane, do you?  Ten to one you usually call him Spike."

            "Spike?  I'm sorry, but no.  We call him William.  He prefers it that way.  None of his employees would dare to call him Spike.  Here he is William and has been for over a century.  Both my father and grandfather were employed by him."

            "Then you can tell me something.  What's he really like?  I barely recognized him tonight.  Where's all the leather?"

            "He wears that dreadful attire when he feels it is expected, as it was with Angelus, Drusilla, and you.  He never wears it here.  Here is the one place he can be himself.  He is not a murderer or vampire here.  He is an artist, a musician, a poet, and most importantly, himself.  We do not judge what he is or what he has done.  He does enough of that on his own.  Here he is William.  We do not know him as anything else."  Absorbing his words, Buffy opened her mouth to tell him exactly who and what Spike was, but she was cut off before she could even start.  "Do not think to tell me of his exploits or I will be forced to remind you of Angelus' past."  The words tumbled from the butler's mouth in a forceful, ice cold rush.  She just stared at him for a moment, stunned that he knew of Angel.

            "There will be a small meal served promptly at nine o'clock in the dining hall, just off the main hall, if you are hungry.  There will be no need for you to dress up, for we hold no importance on formality."  Having said his piece, he quickly exited the room, just as a young man brought her luggage into the room.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            Half an hour later, everyone was seated around the very long mahogany table.  Candle sconces lined the table, the candles casting a warm glow around the room.  Dawn turned to Connor and said, "When will Spi…I mean William, be joining us?"

            "I'm afraid, miss, that Lord Devane will not be joining you this evening.  He has gone out."

            "Where did he go?"

            "Dawn!" Buffy admonished.  "It's none of our business."

            "It's okay, miss.  Lord Devane went out riding, again.  That's what he was doing when you arrived.  Though I believe he went out with Shakespeare this time, instead of Lord Byron."

            "Shakespeare?  Lord Byron?"  Buffy said questioningly.

            "Yes miss.  They are his prize thoroughbreds.  He was out riding Lord Byron, a beautiful bay stallion, when you arrived.  Now he has taken Shakespeare, a black Andallusian, out for some exercise.  Shakespeare has sired two of England's most prominent race horses."

            "Spike rides horses?" Willow said, having trouble picturing it.

            "Lord Devane was master of the hunt for nearly five years.  Of course he rides horses."

            "He was master of the hunt for five years, you say?" The awe in Giles voice was palpable.

            "Yes.  From the age of twenty one to the time he was turned, Lord Devane led the hunt."

            Dawn looked at Giles.  "I take it that was a big deal?"

            "Back then it was quite an accomplishment, especially at such a young age.  He must be quite good."

            "Lord Devane used to train horses, but has long since give up that pursuit.  Now he just rides.  He is usually gone for several hours, so he will probably not be back until after you have all turned in for the night."

            Just then the first course was served and all thoughts of the errant vampire ceased for the time being.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            From the shadows of the main hall, Spike watched the laughing group of friends who were enjoying their meal. 

            "So are you planning on avoiding them for two weeks?"

            "Yes."

            "What about the child?"

            "She and the witches are the exception.  They are decent."

            "William, you cannot hide from them.  I know you.  You are in love with the lovely, sometimes sarcastic, Buffy Summers.  Why do you run from it?"

            "I don't run from it.  I accepted it long ago.  Even now after all that has happened, I still accept it.  It is she who does not love me.  Nor will she ever."  He spun away from the happy scene and strode quickly toward the back of the house, and out to the stables where Shakespeare was already saddled and waiting.  He swung himself onto the horse's back with one lithe movement and nudged the horse's sides, pushing him quickly into a full gallop, leaving behind all thought and emotion, except for the feeling of freedom that riding gave him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            "Oh my gosh!  Buffy look!"  Dawn cried, just as she was about to take a bite of her meal.  Everyone's head snapped up and turned toward the windows where Dawn was pointing.  It was just in time to see Spike fly by on Shakespeare.  The horse was at full gallop and Spike was bent low over the horse's back, his white shirt billowing out behind him, and his dark pants molding to his legs.  The watched in awe as Spike approached a tall hedge at full speed, making no attempt to turn or slow the horse.  Without pausing, Shakespeare easily leapt the hedge and landed without a problem on the other side.  Spike then turned the horse and headed out into the orchards.

            "Wow!  I want to do that!" Dawn exclaimed.

            Everyone at the table turned to face her and they all said "No!" at the same time.

            "Why not?  Did you see him?  That was so cool!"

            "Okay, is it just me or is anyone else completely stunned that we just saw the Big Bad doing something totally sissified?"

            "Oh yeah, Xander, that was really sissified.  I'd like to see you try it without falling and breaking your neck," Willow said sarcastically.

            Connor angrily stepped forward, forgetting that these people were William's guests for a moment.  "Listen Whelp and listen good.  Right now Lord Devane is all that stands between you and the local inn.  I know all about you, boy, and if I had any say in it, you would not have gotten through the front door.  So I suggest you refrain from insulting your host, before I throw you out, William's guest or not."

            "Thank you Connor," a new, very soft feminine voice said from the corner of the room.  A young woman, dressed in a beautiful green gown stepped forward and that's when they noticed it.  They could see through her.

            "Hello Lucinda.  How have you been?"

            "Oh, you know, kind of dead.  You?"

            "Wishing I was, with this group here."

            "I know.  I've been watching them.  Quite a motley, annoying bunch, aren't they?  Well, except for the child and the witches.  How is my brother?"

            "Stubborn."

            "Well that certainly describes Spike," Buffy muttered drolly.

            "His name is William!" the girl ghost said emphatically.  "Don't you dare disrespect him in front of his family."  Behind her two young men, a teenage girl, and the young woman from the portrait appeared.

            "Okay, how freaked is everyone right now?" Xander quipped.

            "You must forgive Lucinda and Connor," the teenager said.  "Both of them are very protective of Will.  I am Mary Devane, his youngest sister.  This is Alice, Lady Devane," she said, pointing to the dark haired young woman.  Everyone was amazed.  Spike's wife had been gorgeous. Mary continued.  "This brooding one is Merrick," she said, pointing to a scowling, dark haired man.  "And this is Clayton." She gestured to a smiling fair complexioned young man.  "We can't stay long.  Only Lucinda has the power to materialize for indefinite periods of time."

            "They should not be here," Merrick said, ignoring the group at the table.  "You know who they are.  You know what they did.  And you know what she is," he spat, glancing at Buffy.

            "Merrick…" Alice tried to calm him.

            Buffy looked straight at him.  "You were killed by a vampire and yet you have a problem with me being a vampire slayer.  How ironic is that?"

            "Some bonds are stronger than Death, no matter whether you're human or demon.  Your watcher can tell you that.  Your precious Angelus killed his soulmate.  Yet their bond surpasses this world.  How is Jenny lately, Watcher?"

            Buffy turned to Giles stunned.  "She's a ghost?"

            Giles said nothing, just stared out the window.

            "Merrick!" Alice cried.  "You are not supposed to mention the affairs of other ghosts.  It is their business."  Turning to Buffy and Giles, "You must forgive Merrick.  He knows not what he says."

            "I know exactly what I'm saying.  He should never have let them stay.  It is disrespectful to you, Alice."

            "I am not offended, Merrick.  Now kindly shut up."  She was still looking at Buffy.  "You are worthy."

            "Worthy?"

            "Of him.  He loves you, you know."

            "I don't think…"

            "I was married to him for four years.  We were friends years before we were lovers and we were lovers months before we were married.  I know him better than anyone.  I know what makes him laugh, what makes him cry, who he is inside.  I know his heart.  You could too, if you let yourself.  Believe me when I say that when he loves it is selflessly, and it is forever.  And he loves you.  Embrace it.  Cherish it.  I know you feel it."

            "Alice!" Merrick snapped.  "Why do you tell her this?  Are you trying to push them together?  The last thing we need is this girl causing him any more harm than she already has.  His fate is already in jeopardy.  Pushing them together could ruin all that we are working for."

            Buffy glared at Merrick, but caught what he said.  "His fate?"

            "Will has the chance of joining us in heaven one day.  But at the moment it is undecided.  He must prove himself.  I believe that you are essential to helping him do so," Alice said.

            Mouths dropped open in surprise.  "You mean the murdering vampire may get a ticket thru the pearly gates instead of a one way train ride to hell?  How screwed up is that!"  Xander said.

            Connor started toward him, ready to throw the boy out, but Merrick reached him first.  Merrick solidified, right before their eyes and grabbed Xander by the throat, raising him out of his chair and off the ground, toppling the chair in the process.  "I suggest you watch what you say in this house, boy.  If you disrespect my brother again, I will have no qualms in tossing you out on the street."

            Anya spoke up when she heard that.  "Um…I might object to that."

            Merrick turned toward her… "Anyanka?"

            "Hello Merrick.  I missed you.  You still look good."

            "How's my favorite vengence demon?"

            "No longer a demon."

            "Oh.  Were you okay, after…?"

            "I got by.  For several years after you…well, let's just say that they were filled with some of my more inventive, painful vengence spells."

            "I'm sorry."

            "Me too.  I'm engaged again.  To the guy who you are choking to death.  Please put him down, Merrick.  He's turning blue."

            Merrick set Xander on his feet and the boy took several gasping breaths.  "How do you know this guy?" he wheezed, staring at his fiancé.

            "We were engaged, right before Angelus…you know.  I was going to give up the whole demon thing for him."

            Buffy just stared at Anya.  Things just keep getting more complicated. She stared at Anya and could see the conflict in the former demon.  It was understandable.  She'd loved Merrick so much at one time that she had been willing to give up part of her identity.  Buffy understood that better than anyone.  She would have done it for Angel.  But there was Xander, who loved Anya, and she knew Anya loved him in return.  But was it enough?  Did it even come close to the love she had shared with Merrick?  Would it be enough if it didn't?

            "You're engaged to this child?" Merrick snapped at the same time Xander cried, "You were engaged to Spike's brother?"

            "Yes to both questions."

            "How is it that you or Spike never bothered to mention this to any of us?"  Xander snapped, angry because she'd been willing to give up being a demon for Spike's brother.

            "I told him not to bring it up.  Merrick was my past Xander.  I know how you feel about Spike.  Imagine how you would have reacted if I had told you I was engaged to Merrick."

            "I can tell you that finding out like this is ten times worse.  I suggest you find a different room for the night.  You won't be sleeping with me."

            Lucinda spoke up.  "Connor, would you please put her in the Lavender room."

            Anya was crying, trying to grab Xander's arm as he stalked from the room.  "Let him go, Anya," Merrick whispered.  "Give him time."

            "But I love him…"

            Merrick's eyes filled with sadness.  Buffy could see that he was still in love with Anya.  He had died loving her.  That would never go away.

            "Merrick," Alice said.  "We should go.  I know you don't want to, but you must remember that no matter how much we want to stay, we don't belong here."

            "Anya, I love you.   You know that.  I always did.  I only had one regret when I died, and that was the fact that I didn't get to say two words.  I never got to see you walking down the aisle toward me.  I never got to see you smile as you became my wife.  I never got to marry you.  That was my regret.  But in my heart you were my wife, and you always will be."

            "I know, Merrick.  And I'll always love you, but I'm in love with Xander.  I know that he and Spike don't have the best history, but I'll try to bring him around.  Or at least get him to stop making those sarcastic comments that seem to come out of nowhere.  He really isn't like that all the time.  You would like him."

            "I doubt it, but it doesn't matter as long as you're happy."

            "Merrick," Mary said impatiently.  "We have to go.  You'll see her again. 

            "Be happy," he said, solidifying long enough to kiss her gently on the lips.  "I love you."

            With that said, all of them but Lucinda and Alice disappeared.  Lucinda cocked her head to the side, as if she was listening to something that no one else could here.  "We must go.  William has returned early.  He is usually gone much longer than forty minutes.  But we must be ready.  Enjoy the rest of your meal.  We'll see you later."

            Then the two ghosts disappeared as well, and left everyone sitting or standing there, stunned.  Their meals were barely touched.  "I don't think I'm very hungry anymore," Anya said.  "Could you please show me to the Lavender room."  Connor led her out of the room and into the west wing.

            "Well, that's a way to clear the room," Willow said, trying to lighten the mood.  When everyone still remained stoic and unspeaking, she said, "Okay, so that wasn't the best joke in the world, but what are we planning on doing.  I mean, Xander and Anya probably just broke up because of a ghost and we just met Spike's long since deceased family.  "I don't feel very hungry anymore.  I think I'm going to go to my room and read for the rest of the night."  She stood and began to walk away.  Tara wasn't far behind her.  Giles and Dawn both excused themselves, leaving Buffy in the dining room alone.  She wasn't really that hungry either, so she decided to explore the house. 

            For over an hour she wandered from room to room, taking in all the antiquities that Spike had.  The library had fascinated her.  She had never see so many books in one place.  Giles and Willow would have freaked.  There were shelves on every wall, from floor to ceiling.  One of those rolling ladders was in front of the shelves.  In the far corner of the room there was a large desk with a plush leather chair, in case one wanted to do some reading.  She also looked in the ballroom.  It was like out of a fairy tale.  Mirrors lined one wall and there was a huge dance floor that she whirled across, pretending she was Cinderlla for a moment.

            After she'd explored every room on the first floor, including the kitchen, she found herself drawn toward the east wing, when she heard the soft, haunting sounds of a piano being played beautifully.  It was coming from behind the doors of the room that the steward had told her was forbidden.  She stood there for a moment, just listening to the sad melody echoing throughout the house, debating whether or not to open the door. 

            Finally she couldn't resist and cracked it open.  The last thing she expected was to see Spike sitting behind the keys of the grand piano that sat in the center of the room.  She could also make out the hazy form of Lady Devane sitting on top of the piano, her legs crossed and her hands propped on her knees, listening to him play.  When the song ended, the final notes fading into the night, Alice solidified long enough to wipe a tear from Spike's cheek.

            Buffy listened closely when Alice began to speak.  "Are you going to fight for her?"

            "No.  I'm finished trying to prove myself to her.  But you know this and you know I would rather not discuss it with you.  You're my wife and she…she should not have taken my heart from you.  Drusilla never accomplished that feat.  She should not have been able to either."

            "I will always be in your heart, Will, just as I know that you will always love me.  But I also know that I would see you happy.  It hurts to know that you love her.  Even after she has beaten you and done her best to make you feel like a monster, I know that she touches you in places that I never did.  But you are a different person.  And while we loved, we were not meant to be forever.  We were not soulmates.  I love you still, but I will not be here much longer and I refuse to leave you here alone."

            Buffy began a slow retreat, their conversation playing through her mind.  She had just managed to shut the door without a sound when a voice spoke up from behind her.  "Do you know it's rude to listen in on a private conversation?"

            Spinning around, she dropped into a fighting stance, but relaxed when she saw Merrick in front of her.  "Oh it's you.  Did you show up just to remind me again how I shouldn't be here, or how I am completely wrong for Sp…Will?  Well you needn't bother.  I already knew that."

            Merrick was slightly surprised by her words.  He'd expected more resistance or protestations that she loved him.  She continued though, before he could comment on it.

            "Do you really think that I would ever be able to live up to Alice's memory?  I doubt it.  She is so many things that I don't even come close to being.  I wouldn't even know where to begin to try to be worthy of his love."  She paused.  "I do love him you know.  I may not have known it, and I may have done things that drove him away, but I do love him.  The only thing is that now he no longer loves me.  So you see, there's nothing for you to worry about.  I'll be gone in two weeks and your brother is free to resume his effort to change his fate."  She was crying by the time she was done.

            He looked at the young girl in front of him and contemplated how hard it must have been to take on the responsibility she had at such a young age.  Her eyes were filled with endless pain and years of having to make decisions for the greater good, not being allowed a moment where she could just do something for herself and not worry about whether or not it would affect the rest of the world.  "I can see that you love him, but is it enough.  You loved Angel.  My brother told me once that he thought that you and his sire were soulmates.  That is why he believes you will never be able to love him.   Oh, he knows you could love him, but not to the extent that you loved Angelus."

            "I loved Angel.  Angelus is a stranger to me.  He is the murderer of my friend.  Angel is the one I gave my heart to.  But I don't believe he was my soulmate.  No being would be so cruel as to make me love someone I was never allowed to be with."

            "Sure they would.  Look at me.  I have loved Anya for over a century.  I think of her as my wife, though we never said I do.  Yet, because I am a ghost I must watch as she gives her love to another.  She will marry someone else and have his children.  And I must watch, and wait.  She is my soulmate.  And I will be waiting for her until the day she dies.  But I must also let her be free, to love him."

            "So what are you saying?  That I'll never be able to love Will as much as I did Angel?"

            "No.  I'm saying that you must decide.  You must figure out for yourself who you belong to.  Yes you loved Angel, but was he your soulmate?  If he is, then I am going to ask you to spare my brother.  I would not wish for him to live his entire existence believing himself a consolation prize to his sire.  And you know he would.  He is like that.  For over a century he was constantly compared to his sire.  And he was always found lacking.  It made him…different.  I mean, he was always self-conscious, but more so after Angelus got a hold on him.  And when Drusilla left him for Angelus, it was a bad scene."

            "So what if I decide that Angel wasn't my soulmate?  What would you have me do then?"

            "You do what you feel is right."

            "I already know that Angel isn't my soulmate.  I've know for a long time.  And I figured out too late who might have been.  He'll never love me again.  Not after what we did.  I spent six months telling him that he was a demon and couldn't love.  I tried my hardest to make sure no one cut him any slack, no matter what he did to prove that he was trying to change.  And then suddenly he was gone, and I was alone, more alone than I'd been in my life."  She paused.  "I found his poetry you know.  After that night, I went back to his crypt.  I thought that maybe he would be there, smoking and watching Passions, and that the previous night had been a nightmare.  But it wasn't.  Do you know how long I sat there, praying that he would have some idea how I felt.  That he would know, somehow, that I loved him.  I never told him or gave him any reason to believe it, but I prayed all night that he would somehow know."  She looked up at him, and he was watching her with sad eyes.  Immediately anger poured through her.  "Why am I telling you this?  It's not like it matters.  You'll still think I'm completely wrong for him.  And I am.  I know it.  But I can't help the fact that I love him.  Even though I don't stand a chance anymore."

            "It doesn't matter to me.  But I think it matters a whole hell of a lot to him," Merrick said, nodding to someone standing behind her.  She looked behind her and there was Spike, leaning against the wall.  Where had he come from?  There must be another entrance to the room.  How much did he hear?  She glared at Merrick for not telling her he was there. Turning away from both of them she walked away, not looking back at the blond vampire she was in love with. 

            "Now you know.  She loves you.  And Angel isn't her soul mate.  I can guarantee it."

            "So what do you want me to do about it?  If you remember, just about a month and a half ago she and her boy toys were beating me to a bloody pulp."

            "I always knew you were a bloody wanker.  You are one stupid git if you don't go after that girl right now.  She loves you.  You're here. She's here.  Do something about it.  No wonder you're attracted to each other.  You are both exactly alike.  Stubborn to the goddamn core.  Go after her.  If you don't I can easily make your unlife a living hell."

Having said his piece Merrick began to dissipate, but not before he saw Will head off in the same direction that Miss Summers had gone. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

            It took him nearly a half an hour to find her.  After the first turn she disappeared.  He'd looked everywhere and then realized that her room led directly to the garden.  She was there, standing under the pale moonlight, her hair streaming over her shoulders like rivers of gold.  He was about to approach her when she said, "So are you just going to stand there all night or was there something you wanted to say?"

            "Were you telling Merrick the truth?  And I don't mean any mights or maybes.  I want to know if you're sure."

            She turned to face him, then grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the shadows.  "Of course I'm sure.  I don't do anything half way, you know."

            "I don't know what you expect of me.  For once in my life I am bloody clueless as to what to do.  You know what I am.  I can't give you any sort of normality whatsoever.  But I'm not a nancy boy like Angelus.  I can't walk away if you really love me."

            "I do love you, but I want to know you.  I thought I did, but in just a day, I've found out that there is so much about you I had no clue was even there.  You can give me one normal thing…" 

            "What's that, luv?"

            "Dating.  I want us to date.  I never got to do that with Angel, or even Riley really.  I don't care that it would have to be at night.  I just want to do normal things with you."

            "What about your friends?  I know the witches and Dawn will be okay with this, but what about the others?"

            "Xander and Giles will just have to deal.  I don't think Anya will really mind.  She's got her own problems right at the moment.  Speaking of, why didn't you tell us that she used to be engaged to your brother?"

            "I didn't see how it was any of your business.  If she had wanted anyone to know, I wouldn't have denied it.  But it wasn't my place to say anything.  It was hers."

            "Oh.  I guess you're right."  Spike's eyes widened.  "What?"

            "That's the first time you've ever said I was right about something."

            "No it's not," she denied, but then tilted her head, thinking about it.

            "Pet, you have never told me that I was right about anything.  You always found a way to make sure you never had to say it."

            "Oh.  Sorry."

            He just looked at her.  Her hazel eyes were glowing and her golden hair was slightly mussed and framing her face.  She was beautiful.  But he wasn't ready to tell her that yet.  He wasn't ready to confess that despite the beatings, he still loved her.  It really was a shame.  This was the perfect opportunity.  Instead he bent his head and kissed her softly, lingering momentarily, before pulling away and stepping back.

            She just stood there, her eyes closed as if she was savoring his kiss, almost memorizing it.  But then those bright eyes opened and she said, "Do you think you might come back to Sunnydale?"

            "Let's see how things go.  I need time, luv."

            "That's fair enough.  As long as you consider it.  By the way, do you think you could ditch the leather permenantly?  Not that I mind it, but I really like these new outfits."

            "I'll see what I can do," he whispered, claiming her lips again in a passionate kiss.  All that mattered was that moment.  The future was uncertain, but they knew that despite what would come, they would face it together.

The End