Disclaimer: see chapter 1

Death Awaits: chapter 14 - Going Home

Xander runs up to us, panting a little. "Last one set on my side."

Riley nods, and looks at Giles, who fiddles with the fuse box and closes it firmly. "I think we're ready."

Buffy takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders. "Okay. Okay."

"I can set it off," Giles says gently. "You don't have to do it, Buffy."

"I want to," she replies. "I do. I . just . give me a second."

"I'd do it for you," I tell her, "but -"

"No hands," she agrees. "I know. Okay." She fixes her gaze on the shape of the mansion, partially hidden by trees from this spot a hundred yards away. We hope that the trees will afford protection from what might be a sizeable blast. Riley has apologised several times for not being able to find more wire, and now he fidgets and watches his girlfriend as she steels herself.

Buffy puts her hand to the lever, and pauses again. Then, she murmurs, "Bye, Angel," and pushes.

The shock wave from the explosion throws us all to the ground. Riley manages to move so he is covering Buffy's slender body with his own. I land in an undignified heap, banging my shoulder which sends a new wave of pain through me. The bang comes a moment later.

We sit up and watch as pieces of debris sail down towards the ground again, and the flames start to lick upwards into the sky. Giles rests his elbow on his knee and slowly cleans his glasses; Buffy buries her head in Riley's solid shoulder and begins to cry.

* * *

"You could stay here longer," Buffy says, leaning on the table in the centre of the Magic Box. "Stay at my place. Mom won't mind. Dawn might, but she doesn't matter."

"I'd love to," I say, smiling at her. "I wish I'd had a chance to meet your mum and your sister. But I have to get back, or I really will be out of a job."

"It's the Council!" Xander exclaims, putting down a can of fizzy drink. "Why d'you want to go back anyway?"

"I don't want to," I explain. "But I can't do anything else. It's all I'm suited for, working for them."

Giles closes a book. "I doubt that very much, Mike, but I do understand. They cling, don't they?"

I nod. "I know that half of what they do is wrong, but some people still believe in morals, and the power of good - and the Slayer," I add, directing the words at the girl in question. "I'll work on convincing a few more. Maybe they'll take you back, Rupert."

He shakes his head, smiling. "I don't think so. Have you got everything? We should leave now, if we're going to catch your flight."

"It's all in my case." I gesture with an elbow towards it, lying on the floor by the counter.

Buffy springs up from her seat and comes to hug me, clearly trying to be gentle and only just failing. "Thanks. I mean it. Write?"

I wish I could hug her back, and content myself with another smile. "Yeah."

She produces a stake from a pocket, and pushes it into my less-injured hand. "I carved this one myself."

"I'm really touched," I say, and I am. It has been a difficult time, these days on the Hellmouth, but meeting the Slayer - no, meeting Buffy Summers - has helped make it worthwhile.

Willow follows her friend, hugging me more carefully and pressing a rose- coloured crystal into my hand along with the stake. "It's a protection crystal . from me and Tara."

"It might help," Tara offers, smiling her shy smile, and I thank them both from the bottom of my heart.

Xander gives me a manly pat on the back, and Anya waves a laconic hand from behind the counter. "You did good," she says. "Make sure those stories I told you are in the Council archives."

"I'll have a look," I promise, and Giles picks up my case.

Riley nods at me, putting an arm around Buffy, and I get the feeling he is quite glad I am going home. I follow Giles from the shop to a chorus of farewells.

At the airport, Giles stays with me until my case is checked in and I can manage without his hands. We pause at the entrance to the departure area, neither of us sure what to say. Finally, he studies his hands.

"Whatever . whatever the Council have to say, Mike, whatever they threaten to do, don't listen to them. Travers knows he has little support."

"He'll have less, soon," I say, and Giles smiles briefly.

"Good. An - and . if you ever need to talk . about . about it, about him, call me. Maybe it'll help." I manage a nod. Giles goes on, hurriedly. "It might help. I'm here."

"What helps," I say, "is knowing he's dead. That helps. I'm sorry I had to bring this to you, Rupert."

"You did the right thing," he says, and although I am still not sure I did, I am grateful for his words.

"I'd better go," I say, and he nods. "Thank you," I add, empty words, but all I really have.

I turn, and go through the doorway into the departure area. As I let the security guard take my passport from my hand, I look back and see Giles walk away, his head bowed.

FIN

Author's note: and so Mike's voice comes to an end, for now. You'll just have to wait and see if there's any more. (Cue evil laugh.) Apologies for a) the lack of Lindsey. He didn't fit; and b) the lack of Mike fighting. I just wanted his injuries to be real, and it takes a good six weeks to recover from a broken bone, never mind severe trauma to several bones, joints, and so on.

Coming next from me, as I promised at the end of 'The Breton'; more from the AU Connorverse. Connor, now eighteen, heads off to university. With the age of majority, what lies in store?