Coming Back Wrong by dreamweaver
Summary: SunnyD Icon After the destruction of Sunnydale and the Hellmouth, Spike comes back wrong. Runner Up Winner of Best Pairing and Best Post-Series at the Sunnydale Memorial Fanfiction Awards!
Categories: General NC-17 Fics Characters: None
Genres: Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Sexual Situations
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 8 Completed: Yes Word count: 48870 Read: 25237 Published: 11/14/2009 Updated: 11/20/2009

1. Chapter 1 by dreamweaver

2. Chapter 2 by dreamweaver

3. Chapter 3 by dreamweaver

4. Chapter 4 by dreamweaver

5. Chapter 5 by dreamweaver

6. Chapter 6 by dreamweaver

7. Chapter 7 by dreamweaver

8. Chapter 8 by dreamweaver

Chapter 1 by dreamweaver
R19BestPairingRU R19BestPostSeriesRU

Chapter 1


“What do you mean, there’s something dangerous in the crater?” Buffy exclaimed. “Willow! Can we be a little more precise here?”

Willow made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know what it is, Buffy! Something in that crater that used to be Sunnydale is putting out a lot of power, but I have no idea what it could be.”

“Maybe the Hellmouth isn’t really closed. Could it still be open in some way?”

Willow shook her head. “Absolutely not. The Hellmouth’s destroyed. That I do know. This is something else. I need to go and take a look.”

“No!” said Buffy sharply. “That’s too dangerous. That whole area’s unstable.”

“I must, Buffy. We’ve got to find out what it is.”

“Then I’ll go. I’m the Slayer. Well, one of the many now, but still. I’m the most experienced. You’re needed here in London. Giles can’t do without you. He’s got too much on his hands setting up the new Council. He needs you to get the Wicca slotted properly into place. I’m not needed that badly. Xander and the Potentials can keep an eye on all these new Slayers-in-training for a few days.”

Then she clicked her tongue irritably. She had to stop calling them Potentials. They were full Slayers now that they’d gone through that fight in the Hellmouth. That distinguished them from the SITs, who hadn’t.

Willow nodded, not really that unhappy about Buffy going instead of her.

Buffy hated having to return to that empty pit that was all that was left of Sunnydale. She was so reluctant to get there once she was back in the States that she almost crawled down the highway from L.A. and other drivers honked irritably at her, wanting her to speed up. But she couldn’t dump the dirty job of going back on Willow. Buffy had spent the seven most important years of her life in Sunnydale, but Willow and Xander had lived all their lives there before its destruction. Every single one of them, even Giles, had memories of Sunnydale that were both joyous and painful. All four of them had lost loved ones there.

But now even the graves were gone, Tara’s and Joyce’s and Jenny Calendar’s, while Spike and Anya didn’t even have graves unless one thought of the entire crater as one huge grave.

If she never went back, never saw the devastation there, she could hold on to the comforting delusion that nothing had changed. That none of the events of the last few years had happened and life was still going on as usual in Sunnydale and the only thing different was that she had just decided to move away. Could pretend that her mother was still living at 1630 Revello Drive, Tara still taking classes at the college, Jenny still teaching at the high school, Anya still running the Magic Box...

And Spike...

She wasn’t going to think about Spike. It hurt too much.

She let out a shuddering breath and parked her car well away from the crumbling edges of the pit. Even though she had seen the crater when all of them had stopped to look back while fleeing Sunnydale, the sight of it now was still a blow to the heart. She felt as if a wrecking ball had just slammed into her breastbone. That vast, vast, shattered hole in the ground. That yawning emptiness. Nothing left. Nothing at all. Just a pit, with only boulders and rocks and ruin at the bottom.

Willow had magicked an ordinary compass so that, instead of pointing to the north, the needle would point to wherever this unknown thing that was emanating power would be. Buffy checked to see where it was pointing, then climbed carefully down the side of the crater. It took her some time to reach the bottom, then over an hour to work her way through the tumbled mass of rocks and debris to where the compass indicated the power thingy was.

In this empty hole with no landmarks whatsoever, it was impossible to tell where anything had been, but she guessed she was close to where the Hellmouth had been located. Willow had not been mistaken: it was collapsed and gone. Buffy moved cautiously forward, then saw the needle on the compass suddenly start spinning in circles. She walked straight ahead a couple of yards more to test it and saw with satisfaction that the needle reversed itself and settled down pointing back the way she had come. She went back to where it started spinning again and looked around. Rocks and rubble, nothing else.

The source of whatever power the compass was picking up seemed buried under all the junk. Anticipating that, Buffy had sensibly picked up a shovel and a pair of heavy duty work gloves in L.A. She started to dig.

Half an hour later, she was still digging. The hole was more than shoulder high now and it was getting harder and harder to dig as everything was more and more compacted the further down she went. She was hot and sweating and fed up. What if the thing were yards down? Stupidly, she had never thought of that. Geez, it might take a backhoe or something to reach it. Maybe she should have brought Willow with her after all.

Something glinted in the earth at her feet. At first she thought it was just a crushed tin can, then realized it had links. It was a chain. She tossed the shovel aside and squatted down to scrape the earth and rubble away.

It was definitely a chain, attached to something still buried in the ground. She scraped with one hand and gently tugged the chain back and forth with the other, trying to work whatever it was loose. It came free suddenly with a jerk.

It was the amulet. The one Spike had been wearing. The one that had called the sunfire down, blasted the Turok-Han and the Hellmouth out of existence and...burned Spike to ash.

It hung from her gloved hand, green and gaudy, catching the sunlight as it swung to and fro, but not focusing it into that destructive beam. It was Spike who had done that. Spike’s soul, that had powered it.

Her face was wet. She was weeping.

All these months, she hadn’t cried. She had gone through the days with her eyes wide-open and dry and burning. She had gotten the Potentials and the Scoobies to safety, helped Giles as he arranged new quarters for them first at Angel’s Hyperion hotel in L.A. and then at the new Council headquarters in London, later on collected SITs for him, set up the routine of training them...Kept herself busy. Too busy to cry. Because she didn’t deserve to cry, didn’t deserve the release of tears.

Now she couldn’t stop crying. She flung the amulet violently away from her and leaned against the side of the hole she had dug. She didn’t sob, didn’t make a sound; but the tears just kept falling, flooding down her cheeks even as she swiped at them, the cheap leather of the now dirty work gloves smearing them across her face.

That ugly, gaudy, hateful thing! How could it have survived when so much else had been destroyed? Some spasm of the collapse must have thrown it out of the caverns and flung it this far, to be buried when the town folded in on itself. It lay there, winking in the sunlight, looking totally innocuous, completely undamaged even after all the destruction that it had caused.

Destruction of evil, yes. But also destruction of the one thing that she hadn’t even known was precious to her and, with that, all the rest of her life.

She wanted to smash it right where it lay. But she couldn’t do that. Who knew what energies still existed in it—something strong enough for Willow to pick up from London, half the world away. She had to get it back to Willow. She swung the compass around, just to check whether the amulet really was the freaking power source. Sure enough, it was. The needle pointed straight at it unwaveringly. No getting around that.

She swung herself out of the hole and yanked the folded cloth tote bag that she had brought with her out from where it was stuffed into the belt of her jeans. She flapped that open, caught up the amulet by its chain, dropped it into the bag, then tore off her gloves and threw them on top of it so that she wouldn’t have to look at the thing.

Then with all her strength, she flung the shovel away from her. It made a sweeping arc in the air, then clanged down upon a boulder. Its handle broke in two. Shouldn’t have taken her frustration out on the shovel. But it was either that or smash the amulet. She yanked the bottom of her T-shirt out of her jeans and wiped her face with it, coughed, then shoved it back into her jeans. Then she began the long trek back up to the top of the crater again.

A black and white pulled up beside her rented Ford just as she unlocked its door. CHP logo on the side; cops in khaki with the blue and gold trouser stripe. Highway patrol.

“Having car trouble?” asked the older, blond one, getting out. His blackhaired partner stayed in his seat, studying her with remote, suspicious eyes.

Buffy tossed the tote into the back seat of her car and shook her head. “No. Just...I used to live here. Back when it used to be a town.”

“Ah.” The cop looked at the tear stains on her face, then tactfully declined to comment. “Not a good idea to go down there. The ground’s still pretty unstable.”

“I won’t.”

“You did though,” his partner said, frowning at her dirt-smeared jeans. “People got no sense. This ain’t a tourist area.”

“I didn’t go far. And I’m leaving now. Won’t be coming back.” She smiled weakly. “Can’t be many people wanting to climb down there anyway.”

“You’d be surprised,” said the older one. “There was this one guy, first couple of weeks after the subsidence. Kept crawling all over the place. Thought he was a looter, but he turned out to be a rep from some big firm instead.”

“Doesn’t something like this get classified an Act of God?” asked Buffy wryly. “Do insurance companies pay out for that?”

“Wasn’t an insurance company. Something else with a weird name.”

“Wolfram and Hart,” muttered the other.

“That’s it.”

Buffy’s brows went up in surprise. Angel’s firm. Searching for the amulet maybe. Angel had given it to her, but maybe he wanted it back. She’d give it to him once Willow had checked the thing out and said it was okay. She didn’t want it anywhere near her.

“I’ve think I’ve heard of them,” she said vaguely. “Well. I’d better be going.”

“Put it behind you,” said the older one in a fatherly voice, meaning Sunnydale and what had happened there.

She nodded, smiling twistedly. “Good advice.”

She called Willow on her cell as she was driving up Interstate 5, heading back to L.A.

“It was the amulet,” she said curtly over the phone. “The one...the one Spike was wearing.”

“Oh!” Willow sounded at a loss for words. “I thought it was destroyed when he...when the Hellmouth collapsed.”

“So did I. The thing’s pristine,” Buffy said bitterly. “Cataclysms don’t seem to bother it. I’m bringing it back for you to look at.”

“Yeah, I really need to check it out if it’s putting out that much power.”

“You’ll have it tonight. I’m heading back to L.A right now.”

“To do what? Take a flight right back? That might not be such a good idea, Buffy. You just flew in to LAX last night and, if you’ve found that amulet that soon, you must’ve driven down to Sunnydale bright and early this morning, probably in the middle of rush hour, and then started digging around there. You’ll be worn out right now and jet-lagged on top of it. I really don’t think it’s a good idea to fight your way back through L.A. traffic and then have to sit through an eleven-hour flight back.”

Buffy was tired and sad, and the very thought exhausted her. “You do have a point...”

“Your return flight’s a few days from now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I didn’t expect to find the thing so fast. Once we finished talking, I was going to call and get my flight moved up. It wouldn’t have cost all that much more. But maybe you’re right...” She checked to see where she was. “I’m coming up on San Clemente now. I’ll book into a motel there for the night.”

“San Clemente? You should go surfing,” said Willow, amused, and Buffy laughed wryly.

“Surfing capitol, right. Nah, I’m rusty.”

“Take a few days off,” Willow said. “You’ve been rushed off your feet these last few months. And seeing Sunnydale like that must have been traumatic.”

“It was,” muttered Buffy.

“Couple of days on the beach might do a world of good. You never took time to grieve, Buffy,” said Willow, abruptly serious.

She didn’t specify exactly what Buffy would be grieving for, but the tone of her voice, careful and delicate, conveyed her thoughts. Buffy realized with a shock that Willow was aware of how she felt about Spike, however much Buffy had tried to hide it. Losing Tara had made Willow much more perceptive to loss. Buffy’s eyes blurred.

“I think you should,” said Willow gently. “Nothing’s going on right now. The SITs are getting along fine without you and you can always borrow the Wolfram and Hart company jet from Angel if some apocalypse comes up and you have to get back here pronto.”

She laughed a little and wiped at her eyes. “Guess I can. Yeah, okay. Keep me posted though.”

“Will do. Take care.”

She found a decent enough motel in San Clemente and checked in. Couple of days, said Willow. No. She couldn’t handle that. She had to keep busy, had to keep from thinking. She didn’t dare let herself grieve. That would break her. She’d call and get her flight moved up to tomorrow and sleep tonight. She’d be back in London and her duties by tomorrow night. But right now she just wanted to sleep. Pull the covers over her head and not think, not feel, just fall into oblivion. Didn’t ever want to wake up.

You have to go on living,’ Spike’s voice said softly in her head. 'So one of us is living.'

But, oh, she hadn’t realized how hard it would be to live without him.

She wished she had stayed with him, gone with him, instead of following his instructions and running out of the caverns.

Leaving him to die alone. Stupid, stupid, moronic fool!

Going through the motions. She had done that before, back when Willow had resurrected her. But she hadn’t felt anything then, had come back in a haze of apathy, hating having been dragged out of heaven and back into the world by Willow. But it was Spike who had really brought her back into the world, made her feel again, live again. Fucking Spike, fighting Spike, destroying Spike.

Hadn’t even understood what she had been doing to him, hadn’t really understood that even when she told him she loved him. No wonder he hadn’t believed her. ‘No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.

She’d only realized it after. Finally seen it once he was gone, in all those agonizing months after. Now she finally understood. And now she was going through the motions of living again. But this time she felt. Couldn’t stop feeling. Didn’t even want to—because to stop feeling would be to lose him. Lose even the memories that were all she had now. If she stopped feeling, they would fade and blur and finally dissipate to nothing.

She wouldn’t do that, whatever the pain; couldn’t lose those memories. She would live with the pain and the loss and the guilt and the self-loathing.

So she gritted her teeth now and went stolidly through the motions as always, showering off the dust and grime of her trek across the crater, then pulling on a robe from the suitcase she had yanked out of her car and, because she knew she had to eat something, nibbling desultorily at a old candy bar she found in her purse. There was a diner not too far away down the road, but the very thought of shoveling down greasy burgers and fries or whatevers made her feel nauseous right now.

Something green winked at her from the worn carpet. It was the amulet. She had thrown the tote bag onto a chair when she had entered the room and hadn’t noticed that it had tumbled onto its side. Both the amulet and her work gloves had fallen out of it and were now lying on the floor.

She stared at that gaudy, glittering thing twinkling there, unable to take her eyes away. She had once come across Spike sitting on his cot in her basement, holding that thing up by its chain and studying it with a pensive, incomprehensible expression on his face as it dangled and swung from his fingers. Had he known that it would kill him? That his life would be the price of victory?

Even if he had known, he would have done it anyway. He had always been willing to sacrifice himself for her. But she had never seen that, had always been so blind.

She wished it didn’t exist. Had never existed. She’d rather be fighting the Turok-Han again than lose Spike. Why hadn’t she ripped that filthy thing off him? The Turok-Han had been destroyed. The danger had been over. There had been no need to close the Hellmouth. They could have stopped right there. There had been no need for him to die! ‘I want to see how it ends.’ The hell with that! She should have yanked the thing off his head and dragged him with her up through the Seal and out to safety, instead of running as he told her and hearing him say that behind her. The last thing he ever said.

She hadn’t thought, had just reacted. And now she was paying for it. She hated herself for having failed him. Hated that thing lying there winking at her. She felt as if it were grinning at her, as if it were mocking her pain.

She jerked forward and snatched it from the ground, intending to throw it back into the tote where she wouldn’t have to look at it. The minute her fingers touched it though, it heated up and started to vibrate in her hands. She gasped and dropped it. It bounced onto the carpet, but didn’t stop vibrating.

It hadn’t reacted like that before when she had picked it up in her gloved hands. The touch of her bare skin must have done something, set something off inside it.

A black tornado erupted from it, blasting at the air in the room so that the curtains snapped and Buffy’s robe whipped about her legs. Within the whirlwind, orange sparks flared into existence, then began to coalesce into a shape, something beginning to materialize within that swirl of black.

A man’s skeleton. Sparks flashed to it, filling it out. A form, his head back, screaming in agony, the sound tearing the air. Black leather duster, black jeans, black T-shirt, platinum hair...

“Spike!”

The whirlwind vanished. Then Spike was standing there, doubled over in pain and gasping, staring about him with glazed, unseeing eyes. She leaped forward, grabbing at him.

“Oh, my God! Spike!”

His legs folded. Under his weight, she went down with him to the floor, holding him tight.

“Fire,” he gasped, sagging against her as she braced him, both of them on their knees. “Fire...”

“Not now! It’s over! It’s over! Oh, God, Spike! You’re back!”

“Hurts...”

“I know. Oh, I know. Sshh, sshh. I’ve got you. It’s all right...”

Everything was all right now. He was back. The amulet had given him back to her. She knelt there, holding him fiercely to her as he panted against her collarbone.

Oh, God, to have him back, solid and real in her arms! She could feel his chest and stomach heaving against hers as he fought for breath, his face in the curve of her shoulder, his hair against her cheek, the texture of his skin against her lips, the scent of him, leather and cigarettes and whiskey and beneath it all that unique, particular scent that was Spike himself...She could have held him like that forever, not asking for more, just knowing that he was alive.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered and she nearly laughed, nearly cried, at that oh so familiar expletive.

His breathing was steadying now, the pain fading away. He drew back a little, bracing his weight upon his spread hands on the ground, still resting his forehead on her shoulder. She felt him turn his head to look around.

“Where...?”

“It’s a motel room in San Clemente. I know that won’t make any sense to you. But that’s where you are. The Hellmouth’s gone. And so were you—for months! You brought the Hellmouth down, but you burned, Spike! You burned!”

“Fire...” he whispered again. That recollection was vivid for him, the last thing he had known.

“Yes. I’m so sorry, Spike! I never thought...I never intended...No one knew how that amulet would work, that it would bring the sunfire down, channel it through you. You destroyed the Turok-Han, destroyed the Hellmouth. You saved all of us, Spike. Saved the world!”

“Saved the world?” He sounded utterly bewildered.

“Yes! But you died! We thought you’d gone forever!”

He drew back completely at that, sitting back on his heels and staring at her.

“I died?” He looked down at himself, brows rising. “But I’m not dead. How...?”

“I don’t know. Something to do with the amulet. I touched it and there was this whirlwind and you came out of it. We’ll have to ask Willow about that. Or Angel. That amulet was Wolfram and Hart’s property. Maybe Angel will know.”

“Angel...” he muttered blankly. “Willow...”

“Willow made it out of Sunnydale. So did Xander and Giles. And most of the Potentials. They’re all Slayers now. Willow’s spell worked. She activated all the potential Slayers right across the world. Giles says there’s over eighteen hundred of them. We’re collecting them at the new Council headquarters in London.”

“Slayers...”

“I’ll tell you all about them later. Right now all that really matters is that you’re back!”

He smiled a little shyly at that. He was studying her intently, that vividly blue gaze moving over her face, searching and puzzled.

She caught his face in her hands, needing to touch to believe that he was really here, her fingertips delicately stroking the planes of his face—his temple and that scarred eyebrow, those spectacular cheekbones, the hollow of his cheek, the strong jaw, his mouth. She leaned forward helplessly and kissed him gently, tenderly, just a brush of the lips, just tasting him.

She felt him smile. But he didn’t kiss her back, the way she had expected. Before, just that light brush of their mouths would have been enough; Spike would have been all over her the next second.

She drew back and looked at him in bewilderment. He was looking at her with that familiar tilt of the head, his lips smiling, but a tiny frown in his eyes.

“That’s nice,” he said. “I like it. But...who are you?”


TBC
Chapter 2 by dreamweaver
Chapter 2


“For that matter, who am I?” said Spike, his eyes widening.

“What do you mean?” Buffy whispered in shock.

He jerked to his feet, stood there clutching his head. His eyes were blank and panicked, his gaze turned inward. “I can’t...I can’t remember who I am!”

“Spike..!”

“You keep calling me that and it feels right. But it doesn’t mean anything!” He fell suddenly into the room’s one armchair, sat there with his elbows on his spread knees and his head in his hands. “Wanker,” he muttered at himself. “Get a grip. Just breathe. Get your head together...”

She scooted over to kneel beside him. “You can’t remember anything?”

He shook his head helplessly. “Not a thing.”

“But...”

“Oh, I know where San Clemente is and who’s the sodding President and that Man U lost this year and that this is a motel room.” He cast a disparaging glance at their shabby surroundings. “But I don’t know anything about myself! I don’t know anything personal! It’s all a blank!”

“Trauma,” she said slowly, trying to work it out. “It must have been traumatic, burning up like that, resurrecting...It took me a while when I resurrected. I didn’t know where I was, who I was. It will come back, Spike. It did for me. Just give it time.”

He was staring at her. “Wanna run that by me one more time? Most of that, what you said, it doesn’t make any sense, yeah? You resurrected?”

She let out a little rueful breath. “It’s, uh, complicated. I’ll explain later. Let’s just concentrate on simple things right now. Way I see it, you went through some pretty serious shit. And it kind of wiped your memory. But we’ll get it back. I know people who can help.” She gripped his knee and shook it lightly, reassuringly. “And I’ll help, Spike. Any way I can.”

He dropped his hands from his head and caught her hands in his, held on tightly.

“You know me,” he said. “You can tell me things.”

“Yes. It’s not like you’re all alone somewhere being amnesiac where nobody knows you.”

“What’s your name?”

“Buffy.”

“Okay, that’s even worse than Spike,” he muttered and she couldn’t help laughing.

“Elizabeth Anne Summers. That’s the whole monicker.”

“Buffy.” He turned that over. She could see him trying to make connections in his head and failing. “So we know each other pretty well.”

“Several years.”

“So what’s my whole monicker? Spike. That’s a nickname if ever I heard one.”

“William.” She shrugged helplessly as he waited for the rest, his brows up inquiringly. “I, uh, I don’t know the rest.”

“You say we’ve known each other for years and you don’t know my full name?”

“You never told anyone.”

“Didn’t think anybody could make it in the world these days without a full name coming to light some way or the other.” He gave her a puzzled look. “How about a little more gen, pet? I can tell right off I’m a Brit and you’re a Yank, just from our accents. But what am I doing on this side of the pond? What do I do at all? What’s my job? How old am I? Bitty factoids like that would be much appreciated, luv.”

She could see the pitfalls opening up at her feet. “Whoa. This is gonna be a lot more complicated than I thought.”

“What’s so bleeding complicated about it?” He jerked to his feet and started to pace restlessly around the room. “Stuff like that’s bloody small talk, not a sodding state secret!”

“I know.” She ducked her head and rubbed at her forehead nervously. “We’ve got kind of a major problem here. This is gonna be really hard to explain.”

“Uh, Buffy?”

“Yeah?”

“Why am I smoking?”

She looked up in surprise and saw him standing in the sun rays pouring through the open blinds of the window. He was already smouldering.

Aiigh!” She tackled him, throwing them both onto the bed and out of the sunlight. “Never ever go out in the sun, Spike! It’ll kill you! You’ll catch fire and burn up!”

She bounced off the bed and ran to the window to close the blinds. When she turned around again, he had pushed himself up onto his elbows, one knee bent, and was lying staring at her.

“Something I should know, pet? Guessing this is not just some kind of skin allergy here.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay, you are so not gonna believe this. Gonna give it to you straight.”

“Lay it on me then.”

“Spike, you’re a vampire.”

He just looked at her, his mouth open on a laugh of disbelief. “Yeah, right. Like vampires exist.”

“They do and you’re one.”

“C’mon, pet! Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”

Great. Now she had to convince Spike that he was a vampire. She reached out, grabbed his hand and yanked him off the bed. Grinning, he let her drag him over to the dresser.

“Look in the mirror, Spike. Vampires don’t have reflections, right? Where’s your reflection?”

He stared at the mirror over the dresser, where only her reflection showed, not his. After several blank moments, he went to stand right in front of the dresser, angling his body so that it should have blocked out her reflection. Of course it didn’t. He peered around the back of the mirror suspiciously.

“Some kind of gag,” he mumbled. “Trick mirror. Gotta be.”

“Oh, yeah? Pick me up, Spike.”

He frowned, then scooped her up. She settled her arms around his neck to balance herself, then nodded at the mirror.

“Take a look.”

Her reflection looked as if she were hanging weightless in midair.

“Bloody hell!”

“See?” She snapped her fingers suddenly. “Put me down. I just thought of something.”

She had a digital camera in her suitcase. She dug it out and checked the memory card. Plenty of space.

“Hold still.”

She took some shots of him, both full length and close-up, then showed them to him. He squinted at the camera’s miniature screen.

“Look like Billy Idol,” he growled. “Shouldn’t it be Bela Lugosi?”

“Billy Idol stole your look,” she grinned and he was surprised into a laugh. “Okay, now go into gameface.”

“Huh?”

“Right. You don’t know how.” She thought about it. “Gimme your switchblade.”

He searched the pockets of his duster and came up with it. “That kind, am I?”

“A lot worse. You’re really into the illegalities, buster. That blade’s nothing.”

She sliced the ball of her thumb with the switchblade, then pressed her thumb lightly to his lips and watched with satisfaction as his fangs emerged and he went reflexively into gameface at the scent and taste of Slayer blood.

“Perfect. Now don’t move or relax or do whatever you normally do to lose that look.”

She took a couple of rapid shots before his puzzlement made the gameface wear off and fade back into his human features.

“I felt...” he whispered.

“Hunger, right? It’s the blood. You’re a vampire. You want the blood.”

She held the camera up for him to see himself in all his glory of fangs, yellow eyes and ridges.

“Having trouble getting my lobes around this,” he muttered, staring hard at the tiny screen.

“Let’s see whether I can get you a better view.”

The room’s TV had the right hook-ups. She connected the camera to it by the AV cables from the camera’s accessory bag in her suitcase and called up Video 2 with the remote. The TV screen provided a large, clear view of the gameface. Spike sank down on the foot of the bed and stared at it.

“Vampire,” he said at last. “Bloodsucker, huh? So do I also turn into a bat and sleep in a coffin?”

“No bats. No coffins. But you do have extra strength and speed and you heal fast. And you can only get killed if you’re staked through the heart or set on fire. Or walk into the sunlight. That’s why I shoved you out of it. The sun will fry you. You gotta stay in the shadows.”

“Creature of the night. Got it. And what about you?” He turned his head to frown at her. “Why are you so matey with a vamp? What keeps me from drinking your blood?”

“I’m a Slayer.” She explained what that was.

“So I’m a vamp and you kill vamps. So how come we’re so cozy like?”

She sighed. “Long and very complicated story. I’ll explain it in detail later, but the main thing is you started helping me. And that’s how you died.”

She explained what had happened at the Hellmouth. He sat listening to her intently.

“So I’ve got a soul.”

She nodded. “Only two vampires with a soul in the whole world.”

“Do I still have it? Being resurrected like this?”

Buffy blinked at him. That hadn’t even occurred to her. “Gee, I don’t know. I guess that’s one of the things we’ll have to find out.”

“What if I don’t anymore?”

“It doesn’t matter.” It had always mattered to her before. She had never let him get close to her precisely because he had not had a soul. And then when he made that enormous, terrible, magnificent sacrifice, going against his very nature as a demon to get a soul just so he would never hurt her again, she had still not been able to forgive him for the attempted rape that had driven him to that point of desperation. Now she understood clearly what he had done, valued it more than she could say. With or without a soul, he was precious to her. “Just don’t go killing people.”

“Not feeling the urge right now,” he said dryly.

Buffy smiled a little wryly. “You might. You’re a vamp. Don’t. I’d have to stop you.”

The scarred eyebrow rose mockingly and she nearly wept at that familiar sardonic look. “Would you stake me?”

She shook her head. “No. Can’t. I’d have to fight you though. I’m the Slayer. I can’t let you hurt anybody.”

“I might hurt you.”

“You probably would. You’re the best fighter I know, Spike. It’s always been a stalemate between us, even when we were enemies and seriously trying to kill each other. Neither of us could get the upper hand. But now you’ve got the advantage. I can’t kill you. So if you wanted to, you could probably kill me.”

There was a little silence.

“Wouldn’t,” he said suddenly. “Wouldn’t hurt you.”

His eyes were very grave and still. Her own eyes blurred. With or without a memory, he would still never hurt her. She smiled shakily.

“Thank you. I’m glad.”

“Trust you,” he muttered and looked away, embarrassed. “Still tabula rasa here, pet. Nothing’s coming back. Anything else you can tell me?”

She realized suddenly how little she really knew about him. All these years and she knew almost nothing about him. She knew more about Willy the Snitch than she did about Spike. And that was her own fault. He would have loved to tell her. He’d even told Dawn stories about himself. But Buffy had never listened, never let him talk, always cut him off whenever he even tried to talk to her. “Are we having a conversation?” he had asked in amazement the one time she had relaxed and said something personal. Something silly about redecorating her room, it had been. Something that unimportant and it had both pleased and surprised him. The only time she had allowed him to say anything really important was that one night when she had been kicked out of her house and he had come after her. She bit her lip painfully hard.

“What is it?” he asked at once, sensitive to her reactions as always.

She shook her head, blinking back the tears. “I know so little. My bad. You would have told me, but I wouldn’t let you.”

“It’s all right, pet. Tell me what you do know and we’ll fill in the blanks later.”

“Angel would know,” she muttered, almost to herself. “Angel’s the one to ask. We’ll go to L.A. tomorrow, to Wolfram and Hart. The amulet came from there. Maybe they might have some answers.”

“Angel,” he said slowly, testing the name. “Who’s she?”

“He. It’s another nickname. His real name’s Liam, but just like with you I don’t know his last name. He’s a vamp too, the other one with a soul. I guess vamps don’t like to give away their family names.”

She thought suddenly that Angel was the wrong one for Spike to ask about himself. They had always been rivals, with a long and painful history between them. On top of that, Angel with his guilt and angst, resented Spike’s very existence. Angel had turned Dru who had turned Spike. The way Angel saw it, that made Angel responsible for all the killing both Dru and Spike had done. Every death Spike had caused was on the debit side of Angel’s ledger, essentially Angel’s fault. That logic was flawed, of course. The chain went further back than that—to Darla, then to the Master, then to whoever had turned the Master and so on back into the depths of time. But Angel, guilt-ridden as always, took the blame on himself.

Anything Angel said about Spike would be heavily biased and negative, would give Spike a distorted view of himself—and Spike wouldn’t know that, would have no defenses against it. Crazy as she was, Dru would have given him a more balanced picture. But no one knew where Dru had vanished to these days.

“Liam. That’s Irish,” Spike was saying. “He connected with me somehow?”

“Sort of. A vampire called Darla who’s dust now turned him. He turned Drusilla. Dru turned you. You ran together as a pack for decades. They called you four the Scourge of Europe.”

He grinned. “Flattering.”

“You would think that.” Buffy grinned back. “Let’s see. You were a poet and a gentleman. Dru turned you when you were twenty-eight, in 1880 in London. You stayed with her for a hundred and twenty years until she dumped you for a chaos demon.”

“What the fuck’s a chaos demon?”

“Has antlers, slime.” She shrugged. “That’s what I hear. Never saw one myself.”

“Charming. So I was hung up on this Dru bird?”

“Oh, yeah. You loved her. Your dark princess, you called her.”

“Pretty?”

Buffy nodded. “Sleek, sexy, slinky, seriously psycho. I mean like way psycho.”

“You sound jealous.” The blue eyes were vivid with laughter.

Buffy blushed and hurriedly changed the subject. “So, does that bring anything back?”

He shook his head.

“Your mother’s name was Anne. You really cared for her.” She looked at him hopefully.

“Sorry, pet. Still nothing.” He was looking thoughtful. “So I’ve killed a lot of people?”

“You’re a vamp. Rest of us are happy meals on legs. At least one a night for a hundred and twenty years. You do the math.”

He was frowning at her. “But you’re a Slayer. You protect humans. Why didn’t you kill me?”

“I tried in the beginning. But you’re a damn good fighter. Then this government agency put a chip in your head that kept you from killing people. You weren’t hurting anyone, so I didn’t dust you. And then you started helping. You like fighting and at least you could fight demons.”

“I’ve got a chip in my head?” His hand went unthinkingly to his temple.

“It’s gone now. But then you got a soul and didn’t kill anyone, so...”

She could see him putting it in order, trying to make connections. He shrugged finally.

“Oh, well.” He tilted his head curiously. “Why Spike? As nicknames go, that one either sounds like a dog or has a real Freudian connotation.”

She laughed involuntarily. Trust Spike to notice a sexual innuendo. “I understand you used to go around driving railroad spikes into people’s heads in the beginning.”

“Can’t say I lack originality, can you? Talk about making a name for myself.” He was grinning. “So what do we do now?”

“We’ll stay here today. I’m tired and you can’t go anywhere while the sun’s up. We’ll rest for most of the night, then drive up to L.A., time it so we’ll get there before dawn. Go see Wolfram and Hart and find out if they can give us any answers.” She got up. “Are you hungry?”

He thought about it. “Yeah.”

“So am I. I’ll go get us something.” Her appetite had come back. She just felt so happy. It didn’t matter that he didn’t remember her, that he didn’t love her. It was enough to have him alive. She looked at him suddenly. “You don’t have to stay with me. You know that, don’t you? You’re a free agent. You can go anywhere, do anything. Don’t feel you’re obliged...”

“Rather stay with you,” he said. He looked up at her, his eyes very blue. “Until I get my memory back. Or even if I don’t. It just feels right somehow.”

It felt right to her too. She couldn’t help smiling at him. “Okay.”

She called Willow on her cell while driving to get pig’s blood for Spike. Willow was as shocked as she had been.

“From the amulet? I’ve never heard of something like that happening! Buffy, are you sure it’s Spike?”

“It’s Spike,” said Buffy positively. “He may not have his memory, but it really is Spike.”

“Does he have his soul?”

“I don’t know. It’s one of the things we’ll have to find out. The amulet belonged to Wolfram and Hart, so we’re going to take it to Angel tomorrow and see whether he can tell us anything.”

“I’ll do some research on this side too. What if Angel comes up empty?”

“I’ll ask Spike if he’ll come to London with me and we’ll take it from there. Will you tell Giles and the others for me? Kinda cushion the shock?”

“It will be a shock,” Willow agreed. Her voice became suddenly gentle. “I’m really glad for you, Buff.”

“Thanks, Will.” Buffy choked up a little. “If his memory doesn’t come back, he...he may not stay with me. But it’s enough that he’s alive. You know?”

“I know. If Tara...” Buffy heard Willow swallow hard. “It would be enough to know that she was alive even if I never saw her again.”

“Yeah,” said Buffy softly. “I’m not asking anything of Spike. I cut him up too much before, hurt him so much. Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t remember. Losing his memory has saved him all that pain and ugliness. Maybe it’s better if he never gets his memory back. I don’t care if he never cares for me again. I just want him safe and happy.”

“Yes,” said Willow. “I understand completely.”

“So you tell the others.” Buffy’s voice turned suddenly hard. “And you tell them anyone gives him any grief, they’re in for a world of hurt. I’m not taking any crap this time around.”

“I’ll tell them,” said Willow.

Spike was still staring in fascination at his gameface on the TV screen when Buffy got back. He had taken more shots of himself with the camera while she was gone.

“I can do it now whenever I want to,” he said and went triumphantly into gameface as she put the paper bags of food down on the dresser. It was a novelty to him, she saw. Something majorly weird and fun.

She laughed involuntarily. “You sound about two.”

He licked his fangs pointedly, then laughed as well and shook the gameface off.

“I got you some blood,” she said, handing it to him. “I’m sorry it’s only pig’s blood. I don’t know San Clemente that well. But I know a couple of blood banks in L.A. where I can get human blood that’s expired, so you’ll have that tomorrow. This is just for today. But I did manage to get it heated up for you. And we’ve got some wings as well. I know you like them.”

“I eat wings?” He looked interested. “So vamps don’t have to live on just blood.”

“Vamps can’t get any nourishment from regular food, so most of them don’t even try it. Angel won’t drink human blood, only animal blood now that he’s got the soul. But you eat all kinds of things. You’ve always liked variety.”

“So I’m the adventurous type?”

She grinned at him. “In spades.”

“Good.” He made a face over the pig’s blood. “Sodding hell! This is disgusting! That Angel wanker lives on this?”

“I think he adds stuff like otter. Is it really that bad?”

“Fills the void,” he said and sipped at it determinedly. “Didn’t mean to sound ungrateful. Was just surprised, is all. And it’s only for one night.”

“Let me try something.”

She took the styrofoam container and his switchblade over to the sink in the bathroom, cut the side of her palm and let her blood drip down to join the pig’s blood in the wide cup.

“Try it now.”

He tasted it and his brows went up. “Now that’s a hell of a lot more...” He stopped abruptly. “What did you do?”

“Added some flavor. You always liked stuff like burba weed spicing it up. Or Weetabix for texture.”

“So what did you add?” He caught the hand she was trying to hide and turned it over to expose the gash. “Your own blood?”

She flushed. “It only needed a little. Slayer blood’s powerful.”

His eyes were ablaze, their pupils widening over an intense darkness. “You didn’t have to do that!”

“No big.”

“I could have drunk it the way it was! You didn’t have to hurt yourself!”

“Cut’s already clotted. Slayers heal fast. The mark will be gone in less than an hour.”

He lifted her hand to his mouth, kissed the gash. “Buffy...”

“Didn’t cost me anything,” she muttered, trying to keep the color out of her face.

He was watching her intently. “Did you do that for me before?”

“Never.” She laughed a little bitterly. “Everyone, including me, would have had a fit. I told you things were complicated.”

“Slayer feeding a vamp. I can see how they would be.”

“Yeah.” Now things were very simple for her and she had no qualms at all about feeding him. Anything he wanted. Anything to make things easier for him. “Forget it. C’mon, drink that, then let’s try the wings. I’m starving. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

He drank the blood, then ditched his boots and duster. They both ended up sitting cross-legged on the bed, working their way with relish through the wings.

“Garlic,” he remarked. “So that’s another myth, huh? That vamps are allergic to garlic.”

“Actually, they are . But you like the taste, so you built up a tolerance over the years.” She smiled fondly at him. “You always like taking risks.”

“Well, good. I’d have hated finding out I’m some kind of wimp.”

Buffy snorted. “Reckless idiot, more like. Angel always thinks things out carefully. But you? You go throwing yourself headlong into trouble. God knows how you’ve survived all these decades!”

He grinned at her. “But you like it.”

“Yeah.” She always had, but never admitted it to herself. Giles and Angel were conservative, always telling her to think first and act later. She had always had a redwood up her tush. But somewhere deep inside, she had envied the zest with which Spike threw himself into things. That sheer enjoyment of life. She had never let herself enjoy life, had always been so caught up with the duties and responsibilities of being a Slayer. But now she was just one among many. She was free. She could do what she liked and she would.

Willow’s spell activating the other Slayers was what had made it possible. But it was Spike who had really given that to her, with his sacrifice at the Hellmouth that had defeated the ultimate enemy.

She couldn’t take her eyes off him. It was still a wonder to her that he was here. She leaned back against the headboard, watching the play of expressions across his face as he asked questions and listened to the answers. She tried to explain how life had been in Sunnydale these last few years, answering his questions honestly but carefully avoiding any mention of that tortured relationship of theirs. She didn’t want to lay the burden of that on him once more, didn’t want the chains of that painful, twisted, ruined passion between them to fall on him again. He was free now. She wanted to keep him that way.

Just watching him laugh underlined that for her. When he had first come to Sunnydale, he had laughed like that, easily, joyously. But once he had fallen in love with her, that laughter had turned wry and rueful, had come only rarely, and then she had always angrily said something to kill it. Only when he was burning up in the Hellmouth had she heard him laugh once again with pure enjoyment and triumph, that last gleeful defiance thrown in the face of annihilation.

She cherished it in him now, watched him under her lashes. She had never allowed herself to see quite how beautiful he was. Now the turn of his head, the movements of that fluid, supple body, the line of his straight shoulders or lean back, even the shadow cast by his thick lashes down the flat plane of his cheek, caught painfully at her heart.

“You’re tired,” he said suddenly and she jumped. He reached out and touched her face lightly, his thumb stroking her cheekbone. Her breath shook in her mouth. “You’ve got shadows under your eyes. Why don’t you get some kip, pet? We don’t have to leave for hours.”

“You’re right, I should sleep,” she agreed. “I think I’ve still got jet-lag and it’s been a stressful day. You’ve got shadows too.”

If the amulet had caught him and released him at the exact point when he had burned up, he too must be exhausted. That last day at the Hellmouth had been more than stressful, what with the preparations for the battle and then the fight itself. And the strain of his channeling the sunfire energy would have been a powerful drain on top of it all.

His eyes went suddenly dark. “No. Not sleepy. Think I’ll watch a little telly if that won’t bother you, pet.”

“It won’t. You don’t have to turn down the sound. I can block it out without even thinking.” She glanced at the king-sized bed. “Bed’s more than big enough for two. We can share it if you find you do want to sleep.”

“Okay.”

She dumped the remains of the wings and their cartons, then set the alarm on her tiny travel clock to wake her early enough for them to reach L.A. before the sun came up. Spike had detached the camera from the TV and was flipping through channels with the remote when she climbed into bed.

A clatter woke her a couple of hours later. It was dark now outside. The lights were off and the sound on the TV was turned down to the tiniest whisper that wouldn’t bother her, but could still be picked up by Spike’s vampire hearing. In the flickering light from the TV screen, she could see Spike slouched down low in the armchair, his legs stretched out in front of him. He was asleep and the noise had been the remote falling from his hand onto the floor.

He muttered something in his sleep and moved restlessly. One hand rose, palm outward, as if he were thrusting something away, fell back against his forehead. He shifted again uneasily, his movements agitated and struggling.

Buffy switched on the bedside lamp next to her, then got out of bed and went over to him.

“Spike? Are you all right?”

His eyes opened a little, glazed and blind, their blue almost swallowed up by the enlarged pupils.

“Fire,” he whispered. “Fire.”

No wonder he hadn’t wanted to sleep. He had been afraid of this, that sleep would take him back to the only personal memory he had left—that of burning into ash.

“It’s all right. It’s over.” She bent and pulled him onto his feet, braced him as he sagged against her, still really asleep. “Come on, dear heart. It will be better in bed.”

She got him into bed, slid in beside him, leaving the light on so that he would know where he was if he woke up. His arms came tightly about her waist; his face burrowed itself into the curve of her shoulder. His body was tense as a violin string, shivering. She held him close, stroking his shoulders and back, soothing him.

“Shh. Shh. It’s over,” she murmured. “No more pain, Spike. I won’t let anything hurt you. Ever again. Not even me,” she vowed grimly, more to herself than to him. “Go to sleep. Trust me.”

“Yes,” he muttered and she felt the tension run out of him, felt him relax against her.

He had slept in her arms like this once before, head on her shoulder, arm about her waist. But she had spent that time not really aware of him, staring up at the ceiling and planning her next move against the First. Now she thought of nothing but him—his body in her arms, his hair soft against her cheek, his weight, the scent of him, the smooth texture of his forehead against her lips. All precious to her, the way they had never been before.

She must have fallen asleep too in the end, because she woke with a start some hours later to find him watching her intently, his head on the pillow beside her. The alarm clock hadn’t gone off yet and it was still dark outside.

“What are we to each other?” he asked.

She didn’t know how to answer that. “Nothing. Everything. It’s hard to explain.”

“Were we lovers?”

She closed her eyes in pain for a moment. “For three months.”

“Only that? What did I do wrong?”

Her lips trembled. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I did. I screwed things up. So badly.”

“Was it because I’m a vamp?”

“Don’t care about that now. But it mattered then. So many issues. I had so many stupid, stupid issues. I hurt you so bad. I hope you never remember that. Don’t want you to remember all that pain.”

“It’s over. Just like the fire. Not gonna let that eat away at me either. It’s done. It’s all done. Can start fresh now.”

“Can you? But you want your memory back, don’t you?”

“Sure. But that doesn’t get in the way of a fresh start.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“No. One learns, one adapts, one moves on. That’s the way of it.”

Spike’s genius. That ability to adapt.

“I’m trying to learn that,” she whispered.

He reached out and stroked her hair delicately. “It’s simple really, pet. If you want a fresh start, you make it. Do you want it?”

“Oh, yes. So much.” Her hand rose and touched his hesitantly. “Do you?”

“Yes.”

Their hands folded together, interlocking. No sunfire flames this time as there had been at the Hellmouth. But a rightness.

“But you can’t really know,” she said worriedly. “I don’t want to cheat you. The best fresh start for you might be a complete break from everything.”

“We’ll find out, yeah?” He was watching her thoughtfully. “You’re scared. Take the risk, pet.”

She had never done that before. Always held back. Now she didn’t care. She had already been hurt so badly when he was gone that she had wanted to die. Didn’t matter what happened now. Every day, every moment, was a gift.

“I’ll take the risk.”

He smiled at her, his eyes soft. “That’s all right then, innit?”

Oh, she hoped so. But so much still stood in the way.



TBC
Chapter 3 by dreamweaver
Chapter 3

Spike insisted on driving the Ford up to L.A. He remembered both the way and the city since neither had any personal connotations for him. Since Buffy wasn’t the best driver in the world— an understatement, as anyone who knew her would have said—she let him. He inevitably and unerringly found some weird oldies station on the radio and now had ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ blaring at top volume, happily singing along with it. Buffy had her hands to her ears, but was so pleased that he seemed to remember at least something about his taste in music that she didn’t protest. As memories go, this was utterly insignificant; but it was a start.

They got to L.A. before dawn. The first sun rays were only just coming over the horizon by the time they reached the tall steel and glass structure that was Wolfram and Hart’s base in L.A.

“Suits,” said Spike scornfully, shorthand for the kind of people he despised. He switched off the radio and looked the tower over, distinctly unimpressed.

Buffy laughed. “Evil law firm means suits. Can’t get away from that.”

“So what’s this Angel git mixed up with them for?”

“Well, that’s the question. My Watcher, Giles, doesn’t trust him now because of it. But I know Angel’s a white hat. Appearances can be deceiving. Something’s going on that we don’t know about. Turn in there,” she indicated. “That’s the entrance to the underground garage.”

Angel had given her the codes that would allow her to access the private section of the garage if she ever needed it. She punched them in now and Spike drove the car through when the door rose, then found an empty parking space and slid the Ford into it.

“What now?” he asked, turning off the engine.

“We’ve got some time to kill. From what I hear about Wolfram and Hart, they’ll have people there working round the clock. But the ones we want probably keep regular business hours, so we’ll go up then.”

“Right. That’ll give you time to brief me. Tell me about this wanker.”

“Um.” She gave him a condensed and very neutral version of Angel’s history, carefully keeping anything about herself out of it.

“So he gets cursed with a soul and spends a century beating his breast about it? Not exactly pro-active. Seems an unenterprising kind of bugger.”

“He is trying to make amends now. Helping the hopeless.”

Spike’s brows rose. “Maybe he was doing that before, when he was on the streets. But now he’s CEO of a multi-billion dollar firm, the one he’s been fighting for several years. Evil Incorporated, for God’s sake. Sounds like he’s sold out, pet. Made some kind of devil’s bargain.”

“That’s what Giles thinks. But I know Angel. He’ll be trying to change things from the inside.”

“Yeah, right. All that happens when you’re in the belly of the beast is that you get digested.” He shoved the driver’s seat back as far as it would go so that he could stretch his legs out a little better. “How come I didn’t spend a hundred years guilt-tripping when I got hit with this soul thing?”

“Maybe you don’t have a conscience?” she teased and he laughed. “You spaced for a while, but then you came out of it. I don’t know what the difference is. Maybe because of the way you adapt. Maybe because you were caught up with my fight and had a goal. Maybe because he was cursed with a soul, while you fought for yours, and that gave you an edge. I honestly don’t know, Spike.”

He thought that over, then shrugged it away. “So is he my rival?”

“Well, you’ve got a long history. He sired Dru and Dru sired you. But you weren’t the typical vamp. Always had to be a rebel.” She grinned at him when he laughed with satisfaction. “So the two of you have been pretty much in each other’s faces right from the beginning.”

“Gives me an idea of where I stand. But that’s not what I really meant, luv.” His eyes were very blue and mocking. “Is he my rival with you?”

Buffy blushed vividly. “Uh...”

“That means he is.” He was watching her intently, his gaze quizzical and his lids down. “What is he to you, Buffy?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “An old flame. My first love.”

“There are hooks in first loves. Like burrs, the memories cling.”

“Oh, yeah. They did for a long time.” She made a wiping out gesture of her hand. “No longer.”

The scarred eyebrow was flying sardonically and his lips were pulled back into a tight grin that showed his teeth.

“Did you sleep with him?”

“Spike...”

“I need to know, pet. Sure it’s none of my business and I got no right asking you about it. But I’m trying to build a picture here and that’s part of it.”

She bit her lip. “Once. Just once.”

“Well, at least I had three months,” he muttered.

She sighed ruefully, thinking back over her years with Angel. “I was sixteen when I met him and here was this tall, dark, mysterious stranger right out of every teenager’s fantasy. We had this whole Romeo and Juliet thing going, vamp and Slayer. But then it got complicated. The nasty sting to his curse that we didn’t know about is that, if he’s ever completely happy, he loses his soul. We slept together and he did. Willow got it back for him, but we couldn’t stay together after that. Too much of a danger.”

“In case he got that happy again? Might do that just jerking off, f’God’s sake.”

Buffy couldn’t help giggling. He grinned at her.

“Nothing to keep him from giving you a happy, was there? That’s what I’d have done. Woulda stuck around just for that, pet.”

She flushed a little. “You’re hard to get rid of, that’s true.”

“Feels right when you say that,” he said, considering it. “But this Angel wanker left, huh?”

“For my own good. Went to L.A.”

“Was it for your own good?” His lids had dropped again, turning his eyes into narrow, shadowed, cynical curves.

“I don’t know. It sure didn’t feel good to me,” she muttered. “Hurt a long time.”

“Beginning to see, yeah. Issues, you said. He the reason you dumped me?”

“I...”

“Yeah,” he said softly. “Makes sense now. Not exactly the glamorous type here.”

“No, you’re not. You’re real. It got messy between us, but you’re real, not a fantasy.”

He looked at her thoughtfully and she looked back unwaveringly.

“You still carrying a torch for him, Slayer?”

“No.”

His brows rose disbelievingly. “No?”

“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not a teenager anymore. Lost my rose-colored glasses a while back, but wouldn’t admit it. Now I know what real love is and it isn’t what I had with him. But he still means something to me. You never forget your first.”

He gave her a swift, sideways glance, vivid with sardonic mockery. “He got that too, did he? No wonder there were issues.”

“Oh, yeah. It wasn’t just my hangup on Angel that ruined things for us. There was a whole world of other issues. Couldn’t deal. Hadn’t grown up. Have now.”

“So what made you grow up?”

“You died,” she said. “You died.”

He turned his head and they stared at each other.

Someone rapped peremptorily on the glass of the car window beside Buffy’s head. She jumped, then found herself looking at a security guard’s frowning face.

She rolled the window down. “Don’t freak,” she said dryly. “We’re just waiting to see someone.”

“Who would that be, miss?”

“Angel.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, but I’ve got a standing invitation. Name’s Buffy Summers. Call up.”

They both got out of the car while he did so. When he turned back to them, his attitude had changed markedly.

“Mr. Angel says to go right on up, Miss Summers.”

“Oh, he’s in his office already then?”

“He and his team just got back from a case, ma’am. If you’ll come this way, there’s a private elevator will take you right to his office.”

“Thank you.”

“Private lift,” remarked Spike dryly as the elevator doors shut behind them and they started to rise. “All the perks.”

Buffy touched his arm. “Something you have to understand. He’s not your friend, so don’t buy everything he says. Also, he’s got this habit of doing things for my own good. Taking things into his own hands whether I like it or not. He lays something on you, check with me first.”

“Getting the picture.” He had a reckless, dangerous look on that made her uneasy, his eyes half-lidded.

“Spike. Chill.”

He widened his eyes at her. “Of course, Slayer.”

She realized suddenly that he had started calling her Slayer again, even without his knowing the significance of it. Before, that term on his lips had been both endearment and challenge. She didn’t know whether it was another memory surfacing like his taste in music or whether it was a reflexive response to a situation he instinctively felt held both tension and threat. But it was sweet hearing it. Her heart hurt her.

The elevator doors opened and Angel was hurrying towards them.

“Buffy! I’m glad you...” Then his gaze went over her shoulder and his jaw dropped in shock. “Spike?”

“That’s what I came to see you about, Angel,” said Buffy. “Spike’s back.”

“Can’t keep a good vamp down, mate,” smirked Spike. He dropped an arm across Buffy’s shoulders, his forearm across her collarbone, and stared around at the luxurious surroundings. “Gone up in the world, haven’t you, Grandpa?”

Angel was looking thunderstruck. “But how...You all said he burned in the Hellmouth!”

“Yeah, he did,” Buffy agreed. “Remember that amulet you gave me, Angel? We thought it had been destroyed when Spike burned. I found it again by accident and Spike popped up out of it.”

“Hear it should have been you that burned.” Spike gave Angel a mocking glance. “But you skedaddled, didn’t you? Just cut and ran, as usual.”

Buffy winced. When she had told him today about Angel’s leaving her for L.A., she had forgotten all about telling him last night about Angel’s giving her the amulet. Of course he would put the two things together and come up with that perspective, then happily use the opportunity to hit Angel below the belt.

Angel glared at him. “It was Buffy’s choice! She made me!”

“And you’re so good at doing what you’re told. But I guess it suited you to do that this time. Didn’t have to be the one who fried.”

Angel gritted his teeth. “Frying doesn’t seem to have made you any less of a pain in the ass.”

“Why mess with a good thing?” He tilted his head curiously. “How come you’re standing in sunlight? Thought you were a vamp.”

Buffy too stared at Angel standing full in the rays of the early morning sun pouring through the glass wall of windows that lined the huge room. “How on earth...?”

Angel waved an irritable hand dismissively. “Necro-tempered glass. Why is he...”

All the perks, is it?” Spike turned to survey his surroundings, looking sardonically at the wall of weapons, the spotlighted artwork, the vases of flowers, then pointedly at the elegant desk, empty right now except for a heavy crystal paperweight. “Get a lot of work done?”

“That’s why it’s empty,” snapped Angel, then scowled at having responded to the provocation.

Under the cover of his duster, Buffy thumped Spike’s thigh in warning. He glanced down at her, his eyes dancing. He knew very well that she wanted him to knock it off, but he wasn’t going to stop any time soon. His arm was still crooked around her neck, holding her to him with an easy familiarity that she realized was designed to rile Angel. Angel was indeed glowering at it.

Spike was moving towards the wall of windows, drawing her with him. She dropped down into an armchair on the way and frowned at him as he grinned down at her.

“‘Top of the world, Ma,’” he said in a Jimmy Cagney voice, looking at the view, then at the busy streets below. He slanted a mocking glance over his shoulder at Angel. “King of a thirty-storey castle with the peons crawling like ants way down there. How much of your vaunted soul did you have to sell for it, Grandpa?”

She realized that he had called Angel ‘Grandpa’ twice now. She looked at him sharply, wondering whether his memory was returning. But then Spike always picked things up with remarkably few clues and she had told him about Angel’s and Dru’s connection to him. He was certainly not using the other far more insulting names he usually called Angel.

“I want an explanation,” said Angel flatly, choosing to ignore Spike.

Spike turned and looked him over scornfully. “So would we. Get in line.”

Buffy waved an exasperated hand at him and told Angel what had happened—about her search for the energy that Willow had picked up, how it had turned out to be the amulet and how Spike had appeared out of it, but without his memory.

“No memory?” Angel’s brows had gone sky high. He glared at Spike who had come to sit on the low back of Buffy’s armchair, his thigh behind her head and one hand playing with a strand of her hair. “His memory seems all there to me.”

“No, it isn’t,” sighed Buffy. “Everything he’s said so far is just Spike being Spike. He really doesn’t remember anything.”

“Hassling you just comes naturally,” murmured Spike and Buffy reached back over her shoulder to slap his knee, an unthinkingly affectionate movement that made Angel glower even harder. She took her hand away quickly.

“Shut up, Spike. Angel, we need to investigate this amulet and Spike’s connection to it. Another thing is that a cop said someone from Wolfram and Hart was searching for something in the crater and now I’m wondering whether it was the amulet he was looking for. Did you send someone down to find it?”

“No.” Angel frowned. “Are you sure it was someone from Wolfram and Hart?”

“That’s what the cop said.”

“I’ll put enquiries in motion. And we’ll get Wes and Fred in here. Do you have the amulet with you?”

Spike pulled it out of the pocket of his duster and dangled it. “Yeah.”

Angel gave it a resentful glance, clearly wishing it had never been found, then headed for the door. “I’ll be right back.”

“Behave,” muttered Buffy to Spike once he had gone. “He might not help us if you’re too much of a pain.”

“Think he’s really gonna be any help?” retorted Spike. “Doubt it. More like he’ll be trying to figure out a way to make the amulet suck me back in.”

She tipped her head back against his thigh to look up at him. “I won’t let him.”

“How you gonna do that?” He frowned in the direction Angel had gone. “Can’t remember him. But a few minutes of that wanker is more than enough for me. Don’t like him. Don’t trust him. By the way, I meant to ask you. Why Angel?”

“Huh?” Buffy looked at him in bewilderment. “What do you mean?”

“Well, they call me Spike and you told me why. So why do they call him Angel?”

“Oh! I heard it was because he looked like one.”

“Come on, Slayer!” said Spike in blank astonishment. “Are angels supposed to have neanderthal foreheads?”

Buffy had to stifle a giggle. That was so Spike. Inaccurate as that was, on the whole, she had to agree with him. Spike was the one who looked like a fallen angel.

“Play nice,” she said under her breath as Angel came back into the room. Spike gave her one of his gorgeous smiles, then looked with interest at Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Winifred Burkle and Charles Gunn trooping in at Angel’s heels.

They were all staring at him, Fred in bewilderment, Wes warily and Gunn, who hated vamps, with a sneer.

“This is Spike?” said Gunn. “The Spike?”

“The one and only,” purred Spike.

“Doesn’t look like much.”

“Could demonstrate,” said Spike softly and Buffy grabbed the sleeve of his duster to hold him where he was.

“You will not.”

He shrugged indifferently. “Whatever you say, Slayer.”

“I don’t understand,” said Fred hesitantly. “Who is Spike?”

“William the Bloody,” said Wes grimly. “One of the worst recorded vampires around. Second only to Angel.”

“Maybe in that, but in nothing else,” murmured Spike.

“The Scourge of Europe. Responsible for an unbelievable number of deaths.”

“Please. The flattery will go to my head.”

Wes gave Spike a cold, hard look. “I think I remember my father saying he ran across Spike in 1963 while he was slaughtering an orphanage.”

“Your father slaughters orphans?” Spike shook his head reprovingly. “Really not a nice thing for him to do, Percy. Shame!”

Wes’s lips tightened into a harsh line.

“Everybody chill,” said Buffy sharply. “And nobody make any move towards stakes. Spike’s reformed and I’m not going to let anyone hurt him.”

“Reformed?” said Wes disbelievingly.

“You mean, he’s another good-guy vampire?” groaned Gunn. “Like Angel?”

Angel glared. “He’s nothing like me!”

“Got that right,” snapped Spike.

Buffy looked sternly around at all of them. “He’s helped me avert four apocalypses and he saved the whole world in that last one when he destroyed the Turok-Han and closed the Hellmouth. He died doing that!”

“He did that?” said Fred in astonishment. “We never knew! Angel never told us. Why would Spike do that if he’s a vampire?”

“He has a soul.”

“He...has a soul?” Wesley stared at her, then turned to Angel. “Another vampire with a soul? You never said.”

Buffy’s brows rose. “He never said? But Spike has had a soul for ages! For almost a year before the battle with the First.”

Angel shifted uncomfortably when everyone stared at him.

“Guess it wasn’t worth mentioning,” said Wes dryly.

Gunn was frowning. “Seems to have been a lot not worth mentioning.”

“Maybe because he was just cursed with one, but I fought for mine,” said Spike softly and with malice aforethought.

Angel scowled at him. “I thought you couldn’t remember.”

“I told him,” said Buffy. She looked around at all of them. “And that’s why we’re here. Because he’s lost his memory. We want you to help us find out what the amulet did to him.”

“Do you have this amulet?” Wes asked and Spike handed it over. “Why don’t we go up to the lab and take a look at it?”

In the science lab, Wes went straight over to a microscope and began examining the amulet. Fred brought out a scanner and started checking Spike out with it.

“And what are you, Texican?” grinned Spike as she circled him. “Not just scanner girl, I’m thinking.”

“I’m Fred. I head up the Science Division.” She smiled at him. “And how’d you know I’m from Texas?”

“Been around long enough to recognize that soft voice and accent when I hear it. What does that thing say about me then?”

“Everything seems normal. No obvious physical damage of any kind. Nothing unusual. Well, except for being room temperature of course and not having a heartbeat. Typical vamp.”

“Never typical, luv.”

“Could there be a physical cause for his memory loss?” Buffy asked.

“Let me check.” Fred started running the scanner carefully around Spike’s head.

“You say Willow picked up energy from this amulet from London?” Wes said to Buffy.

“That’s right.”

“It’s not putting anything out now. It’s dead. Well, that’s not strictly accurate. There’s a small amount of stored power in it, though not very much. But it’s not broadcasting it now. It’s just neutral. I understand that it was the focal point in the Hellmouth.”

“Spike’s soul activated it, called the sunfire down, channeled it through that amulet. The fire came out like a beam, very intense and concentrated, killing all the Turok-Han. Then it...burned Spike to ash,” said Buffy with difficulty, “and brought the caverns down.”

“Spike’s essence, for lack of a better word, must have been caught and held within it.” Wes looked over at Spike. “Spike, do you have any memory of a strange sensation when it released its energy?”

Spike looked at him scornfully. “What? You mean my skin and muscle burning away from the bone? Organs exploding in my chest? Eyeballs melting in their sockets? No. No memory at all. Thanks for asking.”

Wes looked away in embarrassment, Fred caught her breath and Angel frowned.

Buffy bit her lip hard. It had been bad enough when she had just thought of fire. That graphic description was infinitely worse.

“Oh, Spike, I’m so sorry!” she whispered and Spike’s eyes widened.

“No, I’m sorry, pet! God! I wasn’t thinking. Shouldn’t have said that. But it was such a sodding stupid question. Brought out a kneejerk reaction. I mean, how did he think it bloody felt?”

“I should have pulled that thing off you. The Turok-Han were dead. There was no need to take it further than that!”

“Hey, no.” He put his arms around her, held her tightly as she clung to him. “Worked out, dinnit? I’m here. No worse for wear except for a bitty memory loss. And that’ll go in no time. You said it yourself. Your memory came back after your resurrection.”

“So much pain,” she whispered into the curve of his shoulder.

He kissed her hair gently. “It’s over. It’s in the past. Doesn’t matter any more. Hear me?”

She nodded and drew back, wiping at her eyes. He smiled down at her. Over his shoulder, she saw Angel watching them with cold eyes.

Wesley cleared his throat awkwardly. “The amulet must have captured Spike’s essence and released it when you picked it up. You said nothing happened when you touched it with gloved hands. I wonder whether the touch of anybody’s skin would have released Spike or whether it had to be you specifically.”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not,” said Wes dubiously. “But one can’t tell what might be relevant.”

“There doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong,” Fred said, putting away the scanner. “The memory loss could be mental trauma, but it also could have something to do with the amulet.”

“It will take some study,” Wes agreed.

“Let’s go back down to my office,” growled Angel. “I need a drink.”

Spike grinned. “First good idea you’ve come up with, Grandpa.”

“Will you stop calling me that!”

“What do you want me to call you?” He grinned down at Buffy as all of them left the lab. “What do I normally call him?”

“Well, uh, usually a lot worse.”

“I can believe that.”

“Try my name,” growled Angel. Spike had taken Buffy’s hand as they walked along, their fingers interlinking, and Angel was trying not to look at that.

“Liam?”

“Angel!”

“Nah. Doesn’t feel right.”

Buffy hid a grin. Spike had hardly ever used Angel’s name if he could get in an insult instead. Getting Angel’s goat seemed to be hardwired into him. Even the memory loss made no difference.

As they crossed the lobby, one of Angel’s lackeys came hurrying up and whispered something in his ear. Angel nodded brusquely.

“Mind if I take a call in your office, Wes? I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said over his shoulder, striding away without waiting for Wes to nod.

Buffy and Fred had soft drinks, but Spike, Wes and Gunn all took whiskeys.

“End of the day for us,” said Gunn, noticing Buffy’s surprised glance, “not the beginning of one. Most of the time we’re on regular business hours, but since ninety percent of the clients are demons we work nights a lot. Our body clocks are used to being totally screwed.”

“We’re keeping you out of your beds. We’re sorry.”

“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” said Fred, her eyes bright. “This is fun!”

Spike grinned at her as he sat down on the arm of Buffy’s chair and laid his arm across its back. “Like mysteries, do you, Tex?”

“This is either a magical or a scientific puzzle and that gets both Wes and me interested.”

“I’ll have to go through a few books.” Wes had a gleam in his eye that Buffy recognized. She had seen it on Giles’s face a million times—Watcher in research mode. Wes might not be a Watcher any longer, but that scholarly reflex was still there.

“If it turns out to be another freaking prophecy, I don’t want to hear it,” she groaned.

Angel came in and glowered at where Spike was sitting playing with Buffy’s hair again. “There are chairs,” he said pointedly.

“Comfortable here,” said Spike lazily. Buffy glanced up at him and saw the wicked enjoyment in his eyes. He knew very well that Angel noticed and was resenting how close they were staying to each other throughout this visit. Spike was having fun rubbing that in.

Angel poured himself a whiskey, then went to his desk and sat down behind it. He was making a statement by sitting there, instead of on a couch or an armchair. That this was not a social occasion, this was business and: ‘I’m in charge,’ he was saying. Buffy gave him a cool look. It didn’t matter what he thought. He might be in charge of Wolfram and Hart, but when it came to herself she was in charge. She was the Slayer and she wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone any longer.

Angel was glowering at the amulet lying on his desk where Wes had dropped it. “Officially, that thing is Wolfram and Hart’s property. But no one here went looking for it, from what my inquiries have come up with so far. And I didn’t order anyone to.”

“Could be someone using Wolfram and Hart as a front,” suggested Gunn.

“How’d they know about it?” challenged Spike. “How many people have you told, Grandpa?”

Angel glared at him. “Only the people who tracked it down for me. They wouldn’t talk.”

“That scared of you, are they? Wouldn’t count on it, ponce.”

Angel’s eyes narrowed sharply. “It’s a con, isn’t it? You do have your memory. You’ve got some kind of agenda and you’re using Buffy.”

“What? Just because I called you a ponce?” Spike snickered. “That was an observation, not a memory, boyo. And sounds like it might be an accurate one, if you’re getting all hot under the collar about it.”

Buffy jabbed his hip with her elbow. “Shut up, Spike. Angel, he doesn’t have his memory. I know.”

“That searcher might not have had to be told,” Wes interjected hurriedly. “The amulet is a magical construct. Someone sensitive to power could have...”

“How do you know?” Angel snapped at Buffy as if Wes hadn’t spoken. “You’re just buying what he tells you!”

Buffy shook her head. “It’s more than that. The kind of relationship we had, I’d know if he remembered any of it.”

We had a relationship! He just has history.”

“I had her,” said Spike with soft, deliberate viciousness. “Lots of times, the way she tells it.”

“Spike!” Buffy thumped his shoulder hard with her clenched fist. “Not for public consumption!”

“Sorry, pet,” purred Spike, not sorry at all. He was looking with satisfaction at Angel halfway out of his chair and snarling.

“Angel, sit down,” said Buffy sharply. “I told you Spike was in my heart.”

Angel fell back into his chair, breathing hard as he tried to control himself. “You also said your cookies weren’t done baking.”

“Well, they’re done now.”

“Cookies?” exclaimed Spike incredulously. “Of all the sodding dumb similes...”

“Yeah, that wasn’t my best,” Buffy agreed wryly.

“Um, getting back to the point,” muttered Wes uncomfortably. Fred was blushing and Gunn grinning.

Spike laughed. “Fun day for you sods, yeah? Scandal really livens things up.”

“We really should be looking at what the next step should be,” said Wes repressively.

“We investigate the amulet and Spike’s connection to it,” Angel shrugged. “Giles just called from England...”

“Oh, he did?” said Buffy sharply. “And why would he call you, Angel? You’re not exactly his favorite person.”

“I asked him to call,” said Angel, meeting her stern gaze steadily. “I wanted to tell him about Spike returning.”

“He already knew. I told Willow and had her tell the rest of them.” She looked at him, tight-lipped. “I wish you would stay out of my business, Angel.”

“Spike is my business. He’s family.”

“Which you choose to ignore unless it suits you. Don’t try to snow me, Angel. What you want is to run my life. Doing things for my own good again? I don’t appreciate it.”

“Your Watcher had to know about a dangerous vampire returning!”

“And you couldn’t trust me to tell him.”

“It’s not like that!”

“Isn’t it? And now, I suppose, something urgent’s come up and Giles wants me back in London pronto,” she said sardonically.

Angel avoided her eyes. “You can take the company jet. Spike will stay here and...”

“No,” said Spike flatly.

“No,” said Buffy at the same time. “Spike stays with me.”

Wes threw a swift glance at Angel’s stony face and said quickly, “We really do need to keep Spike and the amulet together while we study them.”

“Willow and Giles are just as qualified as you are to study them.”

“The amulet is Wolfram and Hart’s property,” said Angel. “It stays here. And since Spike seems to be tied to the amulet somehow...”

“No bleeding way!” said Spike, jerking to his feet. “I go where I please! And where I please to go is wherever Buffy goes!”

“If you’re tied to that thing, it might not let you,” said Angel with satisfaction. “It stays here and so do you.”

Spike just looked at the triumph in his face for a moment, then took one swift stride to Angel’s desk, snatched up the heavy crystal paperweight and smashed it down on the amulet.

There was an explosive sound and a blinding flare of white light. Everyone rubbed their eyes, then gaped at the amulet. Its light was gone now, the metal setting badly cracked, and the green stone at its center was crushed to powder.

Buffy flung herself at Spike and held him tight. “You idiot! You reckless idiot! You could have been killed!”

“No one’s bloody property here!” he snarled. “Not gonna be a slave to a sodding rock! Die first!”

“Well, that’s that,” said Wes ruefully, looking at the ruined amulet. “It seems you aren’t tied to it after all, Spike, since you’re still around. Rather a drastic way of testing the issue though.”

“Yeah, well. It got the job done, dinnit?”

“Spike...” Buffy was shaking and couldn’t seem to stop.

Spike hugged her. “Still here, pet. Don’t seem to be that easy to kill, yeah?”

“The risk!”

“Don’t like chains around my neck.” He grinned at her. “Except yours maybe, with a leather collar to go with it.”

She laughed involuntarily.

Angel rose to his feet, scowling. “Buffy, I want to talk to you.”

“If it’s about Spike, I’m not listening. We’ll take that jet you offered though, but not today. We have arrangements to make if Spike wants to come to England with me and I want to talk to Giles first as well.”

“Buffy...”

“I’ll talk to you next time I’m back in L.A., Angel. I’ve kinda got a lot on my plate right now.”

“Buffy, wait!”

Spike looked back as Buffy pulled him into the elevator. His eyes were dancing and vividly blue.

“Don’t be a sore loser, Grandpa.”

“This isn’t over!” exclaimed Angel angrily as the elevator doors closed on them.



TBC
Chapter 4 by dreamweaver
Chapter 4


“Well, you had fun,” said Buffy dryly as they headed to the house the Council of Watchers kept for their purposes in L.A. Buffy was driving and Spike lay comfortably on the back seat, his duster over him to shield him from the sun. It was still very early in the morning and the slanting rays were no real danger to him, sliding through the car but not falling directly on the back seat.

Spike snickered. “Oh, yeah. Is he always that easy to get a rise out of?”

“You have a genius for it,” sighed Buffy. “Even with no memory. Being a pain seems to come naturally to you.”

“Git’s an authoritarian sod with a god-complex, a stick up his arse and no sense of humor. Brings me out in hives.”

“You just like causing trouble.”

“Always.” He reached out teasingly to run his fingertips lightly down her arm, bare under the short-sleeved T-shirt she was wearing.

She shivered involuntarily under that caressing touch and glanced back at him over her shoulder, shaking her head. “Not while I’m driving.”

“When you’re not driving then?” he purred.

“Spi-ike.”

He just laughed. She couldn’t help smiling too. It was a pleasure to see him this lighthearted. He had been so quiet and quenched in those months after he got the soul, struggling with the burden of guilt it had laid on him. He hadn’t really recovered himself until that very last moment before he burned in the Hellmouth. The year before that had been all anger and desperation, that long ugly struggle between the two of them. And prior to that had been the chip and the way he had felt emasculated by it. She had only seen him like this right in the beginning, when he and Dru had first come to Sunnydale.

This was Dru’s Spike, she realized. The Spike he had been for a hundred and twenty years before events in Sunnydale had hurt him, scarred him. At once violent and gentle, mocking and tender, volatile and stable. That contradictory mix that was so compelling.

Easy, relaxed and in command of himself. He had always been love’s bitch, but with Dru there had been a balance. He had grounded Dru from flying off into the clouds, provided the care and stability that she needed, while Dru had provided the emotional center that he needed. He had wanted to give Buffy what she had needed too—emotional stability. Would have, if she had let him. But she had never let him, always cut the ground from under his feet, rejected the balance that he could have been to her—dark to her light, warmth to her coolness, the shadow sides of each other, mirror images, their individual strengths and weaknesses merged into what could have been a formidable force if she had only allowed it.

Well, she had thrown that away. And she didn’t want to bind him again, wanted him free to find himself. Maybe this was the Spike he should be and maybe it was better if his memory never came back if it threatened to take this away.

She worked her way through the maze of residential streets that led to the house the Council kept in L.A. She’d been there before in her search for SITs. She parked the car in the attached garage and went to lower the garage door to shut out the sunlight so that Spike could get out of the car.

“So what is this place, Slayer?” he asked as she unlocked the door at the back of the garage that led into the house.

“The Council keeps a house available for their people visiting L.A., same way they keep a service apartment in New York. Cheaper than hotels.”

Spike looked around the elegantly furnished three-bedroom bungalow, his brows rising. “Spiffy. Got money then, the Council?”

“Watchers have been around as long as Slayers and compound interest accumulates. Oh, they’ve got money. They just never gave it to Slayers until Giles took over.”

“What’s wrong, pet?” Spike was watching her intently. “You look pissed.”

“I am pissed. Why didn’t Giles call me instead of Angel? He was really suspicious of Angel before, but now suddenly he’s all good pals? And I’m suddenly urgently needed back in London?”

“Yeah, they’re trying to split us up. I can understand the ponce, but why’s this Watcher git so shirty? Because I’m a vamp?”

“Yup. And because of what we were to each other. Giles doesn’t approve.”

He tilted a sardonic brow at her. “Vamps and Slayers aren’t supposed to mix, right? I can see where he’s coming from.”

“He’s wrong,” she said flatly. “And I’m done with people doing things for my own good. But what do you want, Spike?”

He gave her a sudden sweet smile. “Want to stay with you.”

“Even if it means coming to England? I don’t want to force anything on you, the way they’re trying to do to me.”

“Feels right being with you.”

She realized that right now she was the only stable point in a bewildering universe for him. That would change later when his memory came back or if he found his feet without it. But until then he needed her.

“Okay,” she said, reaching for the phone. She would help as much as she could, protect him from Giles and Angel until the time came when he would leave her. “Let’s have it out with Giles.”

Gone were the days when she could just pick up a phone and call Giles. His officious Council of Watchers’ secretary advised her that he was in a meeting. If this had been an emergency, Buffy would have insisted on being put through immediately. But it wasn’t, so she just left her number and a message to call her back.

“Might as well get comfortable,” said Spike, shedding his duster and Docs, and sprawling onto the couch in front of the TV. “How much you wanna bet it’ll take him at least half an hour to get back to you? Just to let you know who’s boss.”

Power games. In the blank numbness in which she had existed since the amulet had destroyed Spike and the Hellmouth, she hadn’t noticed the shape of the world forming around her. She had just gone along with the current, unseeing, unresisting. Was there something intrinsically wrong with the Council of Watchers that Giles would start turning into Quentin Travers once he himself became the head of it? Or was it just that any organization would inevitably fall into a standard, repetitive, repressive pattern? Buffy found herself reminded of Wolfram and Hart, despite all Giles’ antagonism to it. Worse, she found herself being reminded of the Initiative.

She didn’t want Spike caught up in anything like the Initiative again.

When the phone finally rang, Spike gave her a flickering grin and reached for the remote to turn down the sound on the TV. He had been right in saying Giles wouldn’t call her back right away, but he had underestimated the time. Not half an hour, but forty-five minutes.

“Buffy,” said Giles over the phone, in a cool, distant voice. “I understand you wanted to speak to me.”

Buffy leaned back on the couch, stretched her legs in front of her and smiled tightly at the ceiling. That headmaster-like attitude didn’t play with her. She wasn’t a schoolgirl anymore.

“Why, yes, Giles. Angel gave me to understand that something urgent has come up and you wanted me back right away. Is an apocalypse happening?”

“Very amusing. A portal opened in the Lake District. Willow and the Wicca managed to close it, but now we have a rash of demons in the area.”

“What kind?”

“Chiriwan. They’re dangerous, as you know.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much, Giles. Vi or Rona can handle them.”

“I want my most experienced Slayer on the job.”

“If Vi is going to head up the New York branch that you’re planning on opening, I’d think she’d be more than experienced enough.”

Giles’ voice hardened. “I’d rather have you on it.”

“Well, I’ll come as soon as I can, but it might take some time.”

“Angel’s jet could get you here before nightfall,” said Giles sharply.

“Spike won’t be ready to travel for a while.”

“Spike’s presence is not necessary!”

“It is to me.”

“Buffy, why are you being so recalcitrant?”

“I think you know, Giles.”

Straight to the heart of what Giles didn’t want to admit or discuss. There was a taut silence while Giles rethought his position. Buffy smiled grimly.

Giles started over, now taking a carefully paternal tone. “Willow told me that he has lost his memory. I understand that you’re concerned, Buffy, but surely it’s not necessary for you to stay with him. Angel has the resources to provide all the medical care that anyone can want. Also he is far more suited than you are to help restore Spike’s memory since he has known Spike for a hundred and twenty odd years.”

“I disagree,” said Buffy coolly. “For various reasons I’m sure you’re aware of, Angel won’t do. I’m not willing to turn Spike over to his tender mercies. At the very least, he’s not going to be as motivated as I am for Spike to recover his memory.”

“Buffy...”

“So Spike stays with me. Spike needs papers to enter the country, so...”

“We can provide them. But you know how long it takes to get passports and visas, especially when the backup documentation itself has to be made up out of whole cloth. It could take several months.”

“Really.” Buffy thought wryly that Willow could cook them up and poof them over in no time at all. But she didn’t mention that because she didn’t trust anything that Giles could come up with not to have some kind of sting to it, even if it was Willow handling the matter. Willow in all good faith might not recognize some minor but critical error in the documents given to her as an example and that error could end up in Spike being tossed into a holding cell with a window that just happened to let sunlight in.

It was painful to distrust Giles, but she hadn’t had confidence in him since that time he and Robin Wood had conspired together to dust Spike.

“The time factor is why I’d like you to leave Spike with Angel,” Giles was saying. “We need you here.”

“It’s both or neither.”

“You can’t stay in the States for months! There’s too much work to be done!”

“Plenty of work here too, Giles. Faith might like help with the Cleveland hellmouth. Or we could go get the New York base set up properly. I understand that’s having a few problems. Or Spike and I could wander around being rogue demon hunters like Wesley used to be.”

She smiled at the long silence that followed.

“You’re giving me an ultimatum, aren’t you?” Giles said at last. “Either Spike is accepted under the Council umbrella or you leave it.”

“I knew you’d catch on. I’ve always had faith in your intelligence.”

“You leave me no choice.”

Which could mean anything. Her lips tightened.

“In or out, Giles.”

There was another long silence. Then he said reluctantly, “In.”

“Your word?”

“Yes.” Then with bitterness, “All this for Spike.”

“He’s owed that,” she said harshly and heard the little, sharp breath of surprise he took.

Giles hadn’t been down in the caverns when Spike destroyed the Turok-Han and defeated the First. Spike’s sacrifice wasn’t real to him because he hadn’t seen it for himself. But he had been told about it by all those who survived. He had no excuse for dismissing it. The reminder was needed and maybe would make him think a little.

“I’ll take care of Spike’s papers on this end. I’ve got contacts and Angel will help of course.”

“Yes, of course,” said Giles at once. “Angel will help.”

“Angel will?” said Spike once she had hung up. “More likely throw a spanner in the works.”

“Agreed. That was just to get Giles off my back.” She frowned. Giles had been anti-Angel ever since Angel took over Wolfram and Hart, but now he seemed to be the good guy in Giles’ eyes. Which meant that Giles saw Spike as far more of a threat than Angel. “I don’t like the way things are shaping up.”

“Should be interesting,” said Spike dryly. “Sure you want me around, pet?”

“Yes. I trust you more than I trust them,” she said bitterly and saw his eyes widen.

“They mean well,” he said gently.

“They always do. But it doesn’t end up that way for me.” Looking back, she could see that Angel and Giles had caused her far more damage than Spike ever had at his worst. Spike had only tried to kill her. Angel and Giles had twisted her whole life. “Don’t leave me, Spike.”

He frowned, the creases between his brows deepening. “I won’t.”

“Don’t let anyone talk you into thinking that leaving me is in my best interests. They’ll try. When they can’t get anywhere with me, they’ll start on you. Don’t let them snow you.”

“No.”

“Let me decide what’s for my own good.”

“That works both ways, you know,” he said quietly. “Don’t you start doing things for my good. I like that even less than you do, luv.”

She met his level gaze and smiled a little crookedly. “Deal. Cards on the table between us.”

“Fair enough.”

“Once the sun goes down, we’ll look into getting you those papers. I’ll go make a few inquiries right now. Will you be okay alone here for a while?”

“Yeah, I’ll watch the box, get some kip. Won’t go walkies, if that’s what you’re worrying about, pet. I do understand about the sun.”

He was laughing at her. She shook her head at herself. There was absolutely no need to get all over-protective about him. He had always been one of the most dangerous vamps around. But she couldn’t help it. Without his memory, he was vulnerable and, after having lost him once, she was reluctant to let him out of her sight even for an instant. She knew it was silly, but couldn’t suppress the reaction.

“Sorry,” she said wryly and he grinned at her.

“‘S cute, you worrying like that.”

“Yeah, right,” she muttered ruefully and headed out.

L.A. had several covens of Wicca. Buffy wanted one that had power but no ties to the Council. During the last few months tracking down SITs, she had made contacts she had never needed in Sunnydale. In not time she had the name of the head of the most powerful uncommitted coven.

“Come on over,” said Bronwen Evans when Buffy called her. “Slayers are always welcome.”

Bronwen turned out to be a tall, dark beauty with green cat-eyes under heavy lids that curved so that she looked as if she were always smiling. She moved like a languid, slumberous cat too so that, if one weren’t careful, one would miss the cool intelligence behind her lazy eyes.

“And what would the Slayer want with our coven?” she asked once the formalities were over and they were both sitting down over a cup of coffee.

“I need a favor. I need papers to get a vamp into England.”

Bronwen’s brows rose. “A vamp? I’ve heard of only two vamps with...friendly connections to the Slayer. But Spike no longer exists and Angel presumably has his papers already through Wolfram and Hart.”

“Spike exists. He’s come back.” Buffy explained what had happened. “I’d like to get him over to England with me. Giles wants me there and Willow can help with his memory loss.”

“Why doesn’t your Council provide the papers?”

“Giles says it will take months,” Buffy said dryly.

“I...see.” Bronwen looked amused. “I sense a division forming. Is that why you contacted our coven rather than one of the others?”

“Yes,” said Buffy straight out. “I heard that your coven has chosen not to align itself with the Council.”

“Your new Council has ambitions. It wants to create a network of all the Wicca across the globe. A laudable goal and many of the covens have chosen to join. We however prefer our autonomy.”

“I’m beginning to understand why.”

“I have never liked being told what to do and neither do the members of our coven. Paternalistic papal ambitions don’t sit well with us and neither does the pressure that is now being brought to bear to bring people into the fold.”

Buffy sucked in a sharp breath. “Is it becoming that bad?”

“It’s not at the witch hunt stage, but it’s getting there.”

“I wasn’t aware...” Buffy bit her lip. “I’ve been existing in a kind of limbo, not aware of anything outside my necessary duties.”

“That kind of narrow focus was understandable when you were the only Slayer. But now there are several hundred. Politics becomes inevitable in the new situation. There is always a balancing line between rule and anarchy, control and freedom. A loose confederacy with each member of the association having the ability to make their own choices is acceptable. Heavy-handed, repressive authority is not. Why did you come to us rather than one of the Council-associated covens? What does that say about your Council?”

They looked at each other grimly.

“Autonomy is preferable to servitude, however benevolent,” said Bronwen. “Those of us who wish to remain free are not being heard. We have no voice. Will you be that voice?”

“Yes, I will,” said Buffy and Bronwen let out a little breath of relief.

“Good. About those papers, if you bring Spike around after sunset, I can look into getting them for you.”

“Are his papers contingent upon my taking your side in this debate? Because I too have to be free to make my own decisions.”

Bronwen shook her head firmly. “The papers are a gift. Not for you, but for Spike. What he did in the Hellmouth was for all of us, for the world. The fact that he didn’t do it for us makes no difference. The result still is that we are in his debt.”

Both Giles and Angel had chosen not to see or admit that. Bronwen saw. Buffy was beginning to get more and more uneasy about the two of them.

Spike was napping when she got back to the house, sprawled across the bed in his room, fully clothed except for his Docs. She leaned her shoulder against the doorjamb and just watched him for a while as he slept, unaware of her gaze and relaxed. She had never done so before, never really allowed herself to see him as he was, without all those labels fixed upon him—Scourge of Europe, killer, no soul. Her gaze lingered on that quiet, sleeping face now, seeing its beauty, seeing the potential she had violently rejected before.

He had changed for her. Changed his very nature. Fought for that soul that would prevent him from ever harming her again, uncaring of the anguish and the guilt that soul would force upon him or that his demonic nature would be painfully lacerated by it. She had never really seen what he had gone through, never really even acknowledged that soul in him.

It would be so cruel if, after all he had gone through for it, that soul was lost now, taken away by the amulet. She didn’t care whether he still had it or not, but it was unfair that such a magnificent achievement should all have been for nothing. But even if the soul were still there, that potential in him for good was still just that: potential. His memory loss put it in doubt. He could go either way now, go back to the dark side, everything he had learned over the last several painful years wiped away. And she couldn’t even mourn that, because it was better for him if he never remembered those lost years.

She had been so blind. She had breezed through the last seven years being the Slayer, killing demons and averting apocalypses and never seeing that the world around her was being shaped by everyone except herself. That she had never been in control of it, had only reacted unthinkingly to it, permitting herself to be shoved this way and that by outside pressures, blindly accepting the world rather than affecting it.

Giles and Angel had shaped her world. And in doing that, they had shaped her. And they were still doing it. She didn’t like the world that they had shaped. Or the one that they were presently shaping.

She went and napped a couple of hours herself to make a reasonable compromise between her own body clock and Spike’s nocturnal one. In London, they might have to adjust that, but this way they were both wide awake and energetic when dusk fell and they could make their way to Bronwen’s house.

Bronwen’s eyes went even more languorous and catlike when she saw Spike and, with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, Buffy watched Spike’s eyes light with appreciation when he saw Bronwen. The two of them started a lazy flirtation as they discussed what documentation Spike would need and what name to put on it since Spike couldn’t remember his own. Neither of them was serious and it was all just enjoyable fun, but Buffy could see a time coming when Spike, sensual and with a strong sexual drive, would pick up on the offers that would certainly be made.

She didn’t know how she would be able to stand to see that or to know that he was sleeping with someone else. A cold shard of ice stabbed her heart at the thought. But she would have to get used to that, because it was either seeing Spike with other women or not seeing Spike at all, which might so easily happen if he chose to take off on his own. She’d rather he be around, however hurtful it was. Now she knew what he must have felt like about Angel and Riley and she deserved to be feeling like this, all sick with jealousy and despair. Payback time.

“Let’s go all the way, look you,” Bronwen was saying. “The whole enchilada, birth certificate, driver’s licence, social security, passport, everything once and for all, with a set for both the States and Britain. If we’re going to fake this, let’s go the distance.”

“Like the way you think, pet,” said Spike and Buffy bit her lip. Spike called every female ‘pet’, but previously that purring, provocative sound behind it had been reserved only for her, she realized, now that she heard it turned on Bronwen.

Bronwen brought out a digital camera and a couple of sheets of paper. “I need some pictures and a few signatures.”

“Wrong kind of camera,” Spike objected and Bronwen smiled.

“Oh, I know. This is just to give me a template. I won’t be using the actual pictures, just the images. Does it bother you to have your picture taken?” Bronwen gave him a teasing glance. “Or do you think the camera will steal your soul, like some of the primitive tribesmen believe?”

Spike tilted an amused eyebrow at her. “Buffy and I were already fooling around with her camera. Besides, vamp here. Who knows if I have a soul? That’s another thing that might have gone bye-bye with that amulet.”

Bronwen blinked. “You mean you did have a soul?”

“Slayer says so.”

“He got one about a year ago,” Buffy explained.

“Extraordinary!” Bronwen’s eyes were wide. “Why?”

“For her,” shrugged Spike and Bronwen’s gaze rested thoughtfully on Buffy’s averted face.

“I see. I didn’t think such a thing was possible. How was it done?”

“No idea. No memory.”

“He didn’t tell me much about it,” said Buffy, looking down at her tightly clasped hands. “But he went through some difficult trials with this demon in Africa. It would really be unfair if, after all of that, he’s lost it because of that amulet.”

“Would you like me to find out?”

“Can you?”

“Oh, yes. Let me just get these pictures first.”

“It would take some of the heat off him if Giles and Angel know he still has a soul. They couldn’t use the excuse that he’s soulless to dust him.”

“Would they?” asked Bronwen, snapping away with her camera. “Don’t smile, Spike. Passport people don’t like smiles.”

“Couldn’t help it. Know the poof would like to see me dusted. Getting the idea the Watcher would too.”

“Is that the way of it then?” Bronwen’s gaze met Buffy’s. “It seems you may have a lot of things to mull over.”

Buffy sighed. “Looks like.”

Bronwen put away the camera and the sheets of paper on which Spike had scrawled his new signature, then came back with a small wooden box.

“This should work well enough once I’ve adjusted its reading,” she said and murmured a few words over it in a musical language that Buffy thought was Welsh. Then she flipped it open. Inside was a rough white crystal. She held the box out to Spike. “Take it.”

Spike tilted an eyebrow wryly, but picked up the crystal without hesitation. It flashed once in his hand, then turned a clear, bright gold.

Bronwen smiled. “Oh, aye. Soul he still has, no question.”

Buffy sighed with relief. “Good. That gets rid of one excuse they might have used against him.”

And it also explained the way he was acting. He wasn’t that lethal, dangerous Spike who had first arrived in Sunnydale. The humanity and vulnerability in him now should have told her he still had his soul.

Bronwen was watching her thoughtfully. “You didn’t care either way.”

“No.”

“Unusual for a Slayer.”

There was a tap on the door and Bronwen went to answer it while Spike dropped the crystal back into its little box. There was a murmur of voices, then the sound of more than one set of footsteps and of a door opening and closing as Bronwen ushered her visitors into another room.

Bronwen came back into the living room.

“If you care to wait, I’ll have the papers ready for you in an hour.” Bronwen hesitated a little. “I told a few of the other covens about you. The ones who’ve been bypassed like us. I wonder if you’d care to talk to them. A few of their leaders are here and they’d like to meet with you.”

Buffy nodded. “That’s a good idea. I need to know what’s going on and the more information I have the better.”

“Politics,” said Spike, wrinkling up his nose in distaste. “All that chinwagging. You don’t need me for that. Think I’ll do a pub crawl instead.”

She glanced at him worriedly. Maybe he would just head over to the nearest bar. He had money; she had split what cash she had drawn out of the ATM this afternoon with him. He hadn’t liked taking the cash from her. She had seen the faint contraction of his brows. And she hadn’t liked giving it to him, because who knew what kind of trouble he would get up to with it? But they had both known that he needed the funds should something happen and he had to take cover on his own.

The trouble was he had this reckless glint in his eye. He looked like he was planning something and one never knew how Spike’s plans would work out. But she couldn’t babysit him all the time. He’d never stand for it.

“See you back at the safe house,” he said breezily over his shoulder as he headed for the door.

“Be good,” she muttered, reluctant to let him out of her sight.

“Never.” He smirked at her. “But I will be careful.”

Which was definitely not reassuring. But there was no help for it with Bronwen already ushering Wiccas into the living room.

It wasn’t just a couple of covens, but several. It seemed that word had got around and the heads of every ignored coven on the western seaboard had made a point of arriving to air their grievances. These were all well-intentioned, experienced Wicca and Buffy was appalled that they had been left out of the accounting. She wondered whether Willow was even aware of what was happening, that these people were being deliberately bypassed, or whether she agreed with Giles’ flat refusal to even acknowledge their existence unless they would take his orders.

“We could create a secondary network tied in to you,” Bronwen suggested.

But Buffy was a Slayer, not a witch. For speed of communication, any network needed a Wiccan focus and also Buffy might be busy with slayage when some urgent message needed to be passed on.

“I have to discuss all this with Willow,” Buffy said and everybody nodded.

It was past eleven by the time she got back to the safe house, Spike’s papers safely in hand and looking completely credible. Bronwen had done a great job.

Spike was not there, which was no surprise at all. She couldn’t even go look for him. L.A. was a sprawling city and he could be anywhere at all. She hadn’t picked up his signature at any of the bars she had passed near Bronwen’s place on her way home. He had probably grabbed a cab to somewhere only he knew about and was now having whatever he considered was fun, which, knowing him, was anything from booze to broads to gambling.

By midnight she was pacing the living room, unable to settle and getting more and more worried and angry as the hours wore on.

It was past three a.m. when the lock clicked and Spike came sauntering in.

“Where the hell have you been?” she yelled at him.

“Out.”

His lip was split, his face bruised and, from the way he was holding himself, the rest of his body hidden under his clothes had also taken some damage. He’d been in some kind of major fight.

“Just look at you! You’re all beat up! Geez, can’t I trust you to stay out of trouble even for a second? Of all the brainless, stupid, irresponsible...!”

She was screaming at him, the words just tumbling out of her, all her terror and anger finding voice.

“Am I your prisoner, Slayer?” he asked suddenly, cutting off the diatribe. “And here I thought I was a free agent.”

The coldness of his voice was like a slap in the face. She caught her breath and stared at him.

He had turned away, not looking at her, his face a cool, remote mask. Withdrawing himself. She suddenly recognized this. Before he had his soul, Spike had always let his emotions show, everything he felt being right out there as always. After he had gained his soul though, that last year, he had closed himself off, never showing what he felt, silently enduring whatever came. That silence had masked pain. She hadn’t seen that then, only realized it later in the long, agonizing nights after he was gone, the loss of him finally making her think.

She was doing it again. Hurting him. But this time he didn’t have to take it. This time there was no memory or love to hold him, make him forgive her as he had always done whenever she lashed out at him. This time he could walk right out of the door, leave forever. She’d never see him again.

“Oh, God, I’m sorry!” She’d never said that to him before and now she meant it desperately. For all the things she’d put him through. “Spike, I’m so sorry!”

“It’s all right.” But there was still that stiffness, that distance.

“No, it’s not. I should never have yelled at you. I was just...” She wiped at the tears suddenly welling up in her eyes. “I was just so scared! I....”

“Hey.” His face suddenly went soft. He came and put his arms around her. “Don’t cry, pet. Really don’t like that. Should have realized you would be worried.”

She leaned against him, her face pressed into the soft cotton of his tee, hands clenched on the leather of his duster. The skin of his neck was cool against her temple. She breathed in his scent, thinking maybe this would be the last time. He was recovering his independence, already finding his feet. He didn’t really need her any more.

“You are a free agent, Spike. You can go anywhere you like. Your papers have come. You can take them and leave.”

“Don’t want to leave,” he said quietly.

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did, the way I’m acting.”

His hands cupped her face, lifting it. He smiled down at her, his thumbs lightly brushing away the tears on her lashes.

“Kinda like having someone crying over me. I somehow get the feeling that nobody ever has before.”

Her hands tightened on his upper arms, then jerked away as she felt him flinch involuntarily.

“You’re hurt!”

“Just bruised. It’ll all be gone tomorrow.”

She touched his split lip delicately. “But what happened?”

He grinned lopsidedly at her. “Put that money you gave me to good use. It earned me a whole lot more.”

She stared at the roll of bills he pulled out of his duster pocket. It would have choked a rhino.

“How...?”

“There’s this fight club here in L.A. that only us demons patronize. I remembered it, because it’s not personal maybe. The top prize is nothing to sneeze at and I bet on myself as well.”

“You won that in the ring?”

“Oh, yeah. Last demon standing. Y’know?” He smiled smugly at the roll. “Paid off.”

Buffy had heard of those demon fights; they were vicious. “You could have been killed!”

“Still here. Was worth the risk.” He began to peel off bills. “Half of this belongs to you. Your money gave me my stake. Couldn’t have bought in without it.”

“I’m not taking it! No way!”

He frowned. “Why not? S’not like I hurt anyone but demons for it.”

Yes, but he had hurt himself. She didn’t want to take the money he had earned with his blood and his pain.

But he wouldn’t understand that and might be hurt by her refusal.

“I’ve already got so much in my bank account,” she explained. It was the truth. “I don’t spend half the salary Giles gives me. It’s all just sitting there. You keep it, Spike. It’ll make you independent of whatever Giles might plan for you, let you walk out on him if you have to.”

He thought that over, then nodded abruptly. “Got a point. But I’ve got to pay you back for...”

“Everything I’ve spent on you so far has been on the Council’s account, even the money I drew out of the ATM this afternoon. Only fair that they should pick up the tab.”

She smiled nastily and he laughed.

“That Giles bloke is gonna love seeing those charges come up on his monthly statement.”

Buffy grinned at the thought. “And I hope I’m there to see it when he does. Oh, here.”

She handed him the forged identity Bronwen had created.

“She’s good,” he said appreciatively, looking over the various cards and documents. “So do we go to the UK now?”

“Is that okay with you?” She let out a breath of relief when he nodded. “I’ll contact Wolfram and Hart and see if we can get that jet.”

He gave her an amused look. “How much you wanna bet the poofter’s gonna give us trouble about that?”

She stopped short. Would Angel really refuse them the flight? Or worse, would he use Wolfram and Hart resources to have Spike end up in that holding cell with that window that just happened to be open to sunlight?

Surely he wouldn’t! Not Angel. But could she take the risk?



TBC
Chapter 5 by dreamweaver
Chapter 5


In the end she called Wesley, not Angel, taking the chance that their group would still be up and in the middle of their work cycle, as Gunn had mentioned. To her relief, Wes was available.

“And why are you calling me?” asked Wes, though he didn’t sound surprised.

“Well, I thought if I called you, I wouldn’t be told that the plane was suddenly out of commission for some unknown reason.”

“Um, yes,” said Wes. “Angel does seem to be acting strangely.”

“He’s jealous,” said Buffy flatly. “I want to get Spike to England and I don’t want any unnecessary obstacles being placed in our way.”

“You don’t trust Angel.”

“At this moment, I don’t. Or Giles. I don’t like the way either of them are acting.”

There was a long pause.

“It troubles me as well,” said Wes at last. “But why are you trusting me?”

“Because you and Fred want to do the right thing. Fred because she’s emotional and cares. You out of an innate sense of fairness.”

Wes let his breath out in a little sigh. “I can have the plane ready for you by five. You’ll arrive at Heathrow around midnight their time. I know that gives you only a couple of hours to get ready, but you can sleep on the plane. Leaving at five gets you away fast and it’s safely in the dark for Spike both here and when you get to London. I’ll have a car waiting for you to make the rest of the trip to Hertfordshire.”

“Wes, thank you.”

“No,” said Wes. “Thank you for trusting me.”

“Don’t tell Angel about it until after the plane has landed.”

“I won’t,” said Wes, sounding as grimly concerned about Angel as she was.

“Will this get you in trouble?”

“No,” said Wes. “I’ll simply ask him why I should have refused you. I don’t think he’ll have a satisfactory answer.”

Buffy smiled wryly. She didn’t think so either. And she did feel that she would have an ally in Wes, should one be needed.

The papers Bronwen had provided held up. They got through without a hitch both stateside and in England. A man came up to them as they were heading for the exits at the terminal.

“Miss Summers?”

“Yes?”

He had clearly been shown a picture of her; he knew who she was. “I’m from Wolfram and Hart, UK. Mr. Wyndam-Pryce sent me to deliver a car to you. If you would come this way?”

She could feel Spike tense a little beside her, as wary as she was of any Wolfram and Hart representative. But nothing happened on the way to the car park.

“I am to tell you that you have the use of the car for as long as you wish,” the guy said when they got to the car, handing over the keys. “Mr. Wyndam-Pryce also said to say that the windows are...tempered?”

He was also clearly just an errand boy since he didn’t know that meant that the windows were necro-tempered, just like the ones in Angel’s office, the car safe for Spike to drive.

“Thank Mr. Wyndam-Pryce for me.”

“I will do so, miss.”

He left and Buffy turned and gave the keys to Spike. “All yours.”

“Oh, yeah,” purred Spike, looking over the black Viper with immense satisfaction.

“Guys and cars,” she said, amused. “Do you know the way to Hertfordshire?”

“Pet, I know the UK like the back of my hand.”

“Remember anything?”

He shook his head. “Nothing personal. Not so far anyway.”

She sighed. “I was hoping just being here might bring something back.”

“Sorry.”

The only thing even vaguely notable about the village of Caxley in Hertfordshire was Caxley Hall, a huge old house set in the midst of sixty-three acres of grounds and dating back to the seventeenth century. It had fallen into severe dilapidation before the Council discovered it and took it over. Giles had turned it into their new base and all of the SITs lived there, except for a couple like Buffy who had found other lodgings nearby.

“We’ll go to the Hall tomorrow,” Buffy said. “Right now, I just want to go to my place. Vi and I rented this small converted house together. Kind of like a duplex. I’ve got the upstairs flat, Vi’s got the downstairs ’cause she likes gardening.”

“Who’s Vi?”

“She was one of the Potentials you and I trained before the fight with the First Evil. She was really timid in the beginning. You nearly scared her out of her mind. She’s a full Slayer now after Willow’s spell and she’s a wicked fighter. So good that Giles is thinking of having her head up the New York branch once it’s up and running.”

A light came on downstairs when they pulled up in front of Buffy’s house, then a window opened and Vi leaned out.

“Buffy, is that you? I didn’t think you’d be back so fast.” Then the moonlight caught Spike’s platinum hair as he got out of the car. Vi yelped. “Spike?”

Vi vanished from the window. There was a clatter of racing footsteps, then the front door opened and Vi fell through it, yanking a robe on over her pyjamas.

“Oh, my God, it is you!”

She let out a squeal that probably had the ears of every dog in the neighborhood ringing and flung herself on Spike. Buffy leaned on the roof of the car and laughed. The expression on Spike’s face was priceless—shock, disbelief, embarrassment and finally gratification at being hugged nearly to death by a pretty, darkhaired female totally unknown to him.

“Um, Vi,” she said at last. “He doesn’t remember you.”

“Oh! Sorry, sorry.” Vi pulled back, flushing. “Willow did say...But, you know, we didn’t really believe her. I mean, it’s so weird Spike coming back like that. Everyone thought it was a mistake. But it really is you!”

She kept patting at Spike. Buffy had felt the same way, needing to touch to know that he was real. Spike was grinning. Vi’s joy and delight were so obvious.

“And you really don’t remember anything?”

“Not a thing. Wish I did.” Spike’s gaze moved up and down her appreciatively. Vi’s eyes widened and she blushed.

“Now that’s different.” She glanced at Buffy who gave her back a faint, wry lift of the eyebrows. “Ohh-kay. But we’ll get your memory back for you, Spike! All of us. We’ll all help. You’re special to us, Spike.”

She hugged Spike again, then stepped back hurriedly.

“But you must be tired after that long flight. Why don’t both of you get some rest and we’ll talk in the morning...Oh!” She snapped her fingers. “That’s why Willow was here this afternoon. She brought stuff. I wondered why because you hadn’t been gone long enough for things to go bad in your fridge, Buffy. But she must have brought blood.”

Willow had indeed stocked the fridge with blood. She must have come over right away once Buffy had called to say she was on her way home with Spike. The guest room was also made up, with every little amenity provided, and all the things Buffy had left lying about had been neatly tidied away.

“Will’s trying to say she’s glad you’re here,” said Buffy. “Even if Giles is agin us, it looks like Willow might be on our side. Don’t know about Xander. He might go with Giles. Still, if Vi is anything to go by, all the Potentials will be with us. They know what you did in the Hellmouth. They’ll tell the SITs.”

“Sounds like there might be a rift forming.” Spike was frowning at her. “Maybe I shouldn’t stay here, pet. Don’ wanna cause trouble for you.”

You’re no trouble. They are, anyone who doesn’t want you around. After what you did for us and for all the world in the Hellmouth! Didn’t you hear Vi? You’re ours, Spike!”

“What, the Slayers’ pet mascot?” he mocked. “The tame vamp?”

“Our friend,” she said fiercely. “The man we all owe our lives to.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He shrugged that away. Without his memory, it was meaningless to him, just something he was told. He could remember the fire, remember burning up, but it didn’t have any significance to him, was just something that had happened to him, the reason for it lost in the black hole that was his past. “We’ll see how things go.”

She didn’t like the sound of that.

“You don’t walk out of me, Spike! Not without discussing it first. I don’t want to wake up one morning and find you’ve taken off because you’ve convinced yourself or someone’s talked you into thinking that it’s for my own good. I fucking get enough of that from Angel!”

“You swearing?” He grinned at her. “You really must be mad. I promised, din’ I, pet? Don’t you remember? Cards on the table, we said. We’ll talk about it first.”

The treated windows of the Viper let Spike drive them to Caxley Hall in full daylight. In his capacity as head of the Council, Giles kept business hours. Nine-thirty seemed a reasonable time to turn up.

“Go around the side there,” Buffy pointed. “There’s a back entrance that’s always shaded. Nobody uses it, so you can park right in front of the door where the sunlight won’t hit you.”

She frowned at the gracious, three-storey, grey stone building. Giles hadn’t changed anything on the outside, but the inside was completely different, even though this was only a temporary base. Giles was planning a more permanent and much larger base in a citadel up in Scotland. That would have all the bells and whistles, and be far more technologically advanced. Even this one had a lot of the toys that he wanted: the three above-ground storeys held the dormitories and dining rooms and reference rooms, but hidden underground were the Slayers’ training rooms, the computer rooms and the security section with its screens and monitors.

Gone were the days of the vague Watcher with his beloved books and musty old library around him. Buffy missed that Giles. This place suddenly reminded her of the Initiative, with its dorms above ground and the hidden labs and holding cells and security beneath.

“What is it?” asked Spike and she realized that he had been patiently waiting for her to come out of her abstraction.

“I never really looked at this place before.” She shook her head at his lifted eyebrow. “Bronwen got me thinking. Still working things out here.”

“Okay.” He was looking at the Hall as dubiously as she had. “Big place.”

“It won’t be big enough once all the SITs are here. Giles is going to buy this castle up in Scotland and fix it up with everything we need.”

“He’s got that kind of money?”

“We’re gonna hit a couple of banks and get it.”

He looked around in surprise. “You’re gonna rob a bank?”

He was frowning, she saw uneasily.

“We’re not going to take ordinary people’s money. We’re going to hit those offshore or Swiss numbered accounts where the Mafia and drug dealers hide their stash.”

“Like Robin Hood? Stealing from the rich to give to the poor. But you’re not giving to the poor. You’re giving to yourself, aren’t you, Slayer? Dunno. Doesn’t sound quite right to me.”

It hadn’t sounded quite ethical to her either when Giles had suggested it. But she hadn’t said anything, had shoved her disquiet away because surely Giles knew what morality was better than she did who had never really considered it. But here was a supposedly evil vampire looking at her disapprovingly. But Spike had always seen things far more clearly than any of them. He might not have a memory now, but he had a soul, and that soul was telling him that this was wrong.

“A Slayer shouldn’t steal,” he was saying now.

When Joyce had died and Buffy had to find a way to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, she could have taken the money from drug lords and their like. But instead she had left college and found a job flipping burgers to earn it. That was what had felt right.

“Just like a Slayer shouldn’t kill even bad humans,” said Spike.

The crease between his brows was deeply indented. She could see him working his way through concepts he hadn’t had time to think about after he came back, though he had probably worked them out back when he had his memory and had dismissed them when he was evil, accepted them when he was trying to be good.

“Even in the comics,” he said slowly, thinking it out, “Superman or Batman turn the human criminals and murderers they catch over to the cops. They don’t kill them. You Slayers have to stay within the rules even more than ordinary people. You’re too powerful. Break the rules and the next step is you’re thinking you’re God and can do anything you like. And then you become the bad guy, don’t you?”

Whoa. The man was right. How could Giles miss something that Spike could work out so easily in almost childlike terms and that sounded so simple and obvious?

“I have to think about this,” she said worriedly.

“Kind of important, what you stand for, innit, Slayer?”

So many issues and she couldn’t keep ignoring them the way she always had, couldn’t keep going with the flow and accepting other people’s value judgments just so she wouldn’t have to think. If she had sat down and really thought things out years ago, she would have saved both Spike and herself so much pain.

The hallways were busy with SITs coming and going. They all glanced sideways at Spike, staring while trying not to show it. They knew who he was. Vi must have set the grapevine going.

Giles’ office was on the top floor. They took the elevator there and announced themselves to Giles’ secretary. There was a fifteen minute wait before they were formally ushered into Giles’ office which was all dark wood paneling and bookshelves and a huge desk behind which Giles was sitting. The curtains over the leaded windows had been drawn closed in consideration of Spike’s vamp status. Buffy hoped that was a good sign.

Willow and Xander were both there. Willow came running forward at once, beaming, and Xander followed more slowly.

“I’m so glad you’re back!” exclaimed Willow, hugging Spike. Then she let him go hurriedly and stepped back. “But you won’t remember me. I’m Willow. I’ll start work on that memory loss problem right away. We’ll have it fixed for you in no time! Oh, and this is Xander.”

Spike held out a hand and Xander shook it awkwardly. Spike cast an interested glance at Xander’s eyepatch, but didn’t remark on it. The two of them just nodded brusquely to each other, then Xander backed to take a seat to one side of the room, remarkably silent for once. His silence went unnoticed in Willow’s happy chattering.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you, Spike! Where’s that amulet? I really want to take a look at it and see what...”

“It’s gone,” said Buffy. “Spike destroyed it.”

“What? Why? But...”

Spike shrugged. “That Angel ponce said it was his, wouldn’t let it go. Said I was tied to it and had to stay too. So I bust it.”

“A reckless thing to do,” said Giles. “Why am I not surprised?”

Spike gave him a cool, amused look. “Seems you know me.”

“All too well. Do sit down,” said Giles. He hadn’t risen or extended his hand, was still behind his desk. Wanting to be in control, thought Buffy, just like Angel. “What do you intend to do now? Have you any plans at all?”

His tone implied that he didn’t think so.

“Well, he has to get his memory back first,” said Willow quickly. “I’ll work with him on that.”

“I was thinking that you could put him on the payroll, Giles,” said Buffy. “I can’t think of anyone who could train the SITs better. Most of them have never even seen a vamp and they have no idea of what one is capable of. Some of them have been on training runs in London and have staked the odd vamp or demon, but they still don’t really know too much about it. Slaying in a group is not like slaying alone.”

“And Spike was good at training the Potentials before they became Slayers,” Willow nodded. “It’ll be a big job though. We’ve got over three hundred SITs now, nothing like just that handful of Potentials we had before. Vi and Andrew are planning a television commercial that will alert the recently activated Slayers to what they are and what the Council is. That means there’ll be more arriving. You may end up run off your feet, Spike.”

Spike shrugged, not showing even by the tilt of an eyebrow that this was the first he had heard of his working for the Council. Buffy slanted him an apologetic glance and he smiled crookedly.

“Always willing to try anything once. Should be fun. Can always call off the deal if it doesn’t work out.”

“I can’t put these children at risk,” said Giles sternly. “He’s a vamp.”

“He won’t hurt them, Giles.” Buffy looked him straight in the eye. “He’s got a soul, remember?”

Giles’ brows lifted in pointed disbelief. “Does he?”

“Oh, yes. The leader of one of the covens in L.A. looked into that for us. The soul is still there. You can have Willow do a spell to check if you don’t believe me.”

A momentary flash of disappointment went through Giles’ eyes and Buffy was glad she had Bronwen do that check. She had a feeling Giles really would have used that excuse to dust Spike.

“Spike’s more at risk than the girls are,” said Willow, grinning. “I mean, think of it! One poor vamp in the middle of three hundred plus Slayers. Spike, you should be screaming and running!”

Spike laughed. Giles was frowning, his hands clasped in front of his mouth.

“Well, why not?” he said at last. “We’ll try it for a while. Never let it be said that I’m not open-minded.”

Buffy and Spike glanced involuntarily at each other, but managed not to laugh.

“Why don’t you take Spike down and introduce him to the girls, Buffy?” Willow suggested. “The speed the grapevine works around here, there’s probably all sorts of gossip and speculation about Spike flying around. Much of it dangerously wrong.”

“Dangerously?”

“What if some of them think he’s an evil vamp without a soul? Better lay it all out so no one has an excuse to take matters into their own hands.” Willow got a faraway look in her eye. “Vi says they’re all collected down in the main gym.”

“We’ll do that then,” Buffy agreed, getting to her feet. Then she saw that Spike was frowning a little as he looked at Willow. “Um, if that’s okay with you, Spike?”

“What? Oh, sure.” He got hastily to his feet. It was obvious that he had been thinking about something else.

“I’d like to be there too,” said Willow. “But give me about ten minutes, okay?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll take Spike onto the mezzanine.”

Willow was watching Xander slide quietly out of the room. As Buffy and Spike went out the main door, Willow followed Xander through the side door.

She found him sitting in an empty office, his elbows on his knees and his head down.

“Xand, what’s wrong?”

He looked up and Willow saw that there were tears in his one eye.

“Why him, Will? Why’s he the one to come back? Why not Anya?”

“Because he was the one wearing the amulet,” she said gently.

“It just doesn’t seem fair. I mean, she sacrificed her life too.”

Willow pulled up a chair in front of him, sat down and took his hands in hers. “No one knows how these things work, Xand.”

“It’s not that I think anything would happen between Anya and me if she came back. I knew everything was over when I left her at the altar, that she’d never forgive me for that. But it’s not right that she should be dead. She should never have been near the Hellmouth. She was a justice demon. The Hellmouth had nothing to do with her. If we hadn’t been her friends, she wouldn’t have fought the Turok-Han. She got dragged into that whole mess because she cared for us. She didn’t deserve to die. Why didn’t they bring her back too?”

“I don’t know, Xand.”

He turned away, wiping the heel of his hand over his eye. “I’m being stupid. I know that. No one deserves to die. It’s just the breaks. But seeing Spike alive again, it just hit me. You know?”

“I can understand, but...” Willow looked at him worriedly. “Are you going to hold it against Spike that he’s the one who came back?”

Xander shook his head. “No. No. I know it’s not his fault. It’s just that...”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, damn. I should have thought. I’m probably opening some old wounds for you too. Tara...”

“That wound is always open,” Willow said under her breath. “Tara didn’t deserve to die either. But that was my fault.”

Xander jerked around to stare at her. “How is it your fault? It was an accident! Warren Mears just shot blindly into the air and the bullet happened to hit Tara. That’s not your fault!”

“I keep feeling that it’s payback. That resurrection spell that I did on Buffy called for a life. Life for a life, do you see? But I cheated. I took a fawn’s life. I thought I’d gotten away with it, but karma...demands full payment. Maybe Tara died because of me.”

“That not so, Will! That’s your guilt talking! It’s gonna drive you insane if you keep thinking that way!”

“I know. So I try not to think. Try to accept. And not make the same mistake the next time.”

Xander’s head went down again.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said very softly. “Never really learned from them. Until Anya died. I’ve learned now. I’m not gonna hold Spike’s coming back against him. I swear, Will. I just...It’s just...Why him, Will, and not the others?”

“He saved the whole world by his sacrifice. Maybe that’s the reason. Or maybe it’s not him at all, Xand. Maybe it’s Buffy. Maybe he’s the PTB’s gift for everything Buffy’s done all these years as a Slayer.”

Xander’s mouth fell open. “Spike?

“Didn’t you know she’s been grieving all these months? Didn’t you ever look at her?”

“I didn’t,” whispered Xander. “I was so caught up in my own...”

“Yeah. We all keep doing that. We never look. We never see.”

“But I thought Angel...”

“What did Angel ever do but hurt her? If she wanted him, she could have gone to him right after the Hellmouth collapsed. Asked me to find a way to stabilize his soul so it wouldn’t disappear if they slept together. With these new abilities, maybe I could have found a way. But she didn’t. She doesn’t want Angel. She wants Spike. She loves him.”

Xander was trying to take it in and clearly didn’t know whether he could accept it or whether he should be upset.

“And now he doesn’t love her because of that memory loss,” said Willow sadly.

“We screwed it up for her. Especially me.” Xander rubbed his hands over his face. “I’m so ashamed. I’d be completely blind right now if he hadn’t stopped Caleb from taking out both my eyes. And that was even after the things I did to him. Like trying to kill him after he slept with Anya. Or telling Dawn about him trying to rape Buffy and putting it in the worst possible light.”

“Yeah, you wanted to cause trouble that time. And you did hurt Spike when you told Dawn that. But you hurt Dawn worse.”

“Does she know he’s back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let me tell her.”

“Uh...”

“I need to, Will.” Xander looked at her intensely. “Trust me. I’ll make things right.”

“Okay. You do that.” Willow stood up. “I’ll go and see what Buffy and Spike are doing.”

Spike was looking around warily as Buffy led him down the hall from the elevator towards the main gym.

“Dorms up top and gym down here. Why?”

“Giles didn’t want any outsider wandering in and seeing us training.”

She opened the door to the mezzanine halfway up the two-storey gym wall. The gym took up that entire floor from end to end, more than enough space for the three hundred odd SITs collected there, lounging around and talking. The full-Slayers were also there, all the surviving Potentials, grouped against the wall, close to the mezzanine.

“Our small army,” said Buffy proudly. “And by the time we’re through with them, they’ll be ready to take on any force in the world.”

“Army, huh? Is that why the uniforms?”

“What uniforms?” Then Buffy realized all the girls were wearing the close-fitting jumpsuit that everyone used for training. It was made of a breathable material, but had a shiny surface that gave it a catsuit look that most of the girls liked. Only the colors were different, so she could see what made Spike think it was a uniform.

“Superhero time,” said Spike dryly. “All you need is a big red S in a yellow triangle on the front. At least it’s not Spandex. Otherwise they might get mistaken for Spiderman or the Fantastic Four or something. Do they go outside in those togs?”

“Well, yeah. It’s just like any tracksuit, Spike.” But she remembered Giles encouraging the girls to wear these because he said it would give them a sense of community. Maybe there was some justice to Spike’s crack about uniforms.

Spike was looking amused. “Must stick out like sore thumbs. Do they wear it when they go out slaying?”

It was comfortable, so a lot of the girls did. “I guess.”

“Vamps take one look at that and they’ll haul ass. Word gets around, you know. You might as well be wearing a sign that says, ‘Slayer here, come and get staked.’”

Which might be the explanation for the low dusting rate of the SITs when they were taken out hunting in London.

Buffy sighed. “The next time a bunch of them goes out hunting, they’ll wear regular clothes.”

“Then you’d better train in regular clothes. Trackpants and tanks. Jeans and a tee. Don’t want some dissimilarity that would throw you off. What did you train in, Slayer?”

Trackpants and tanks. Jeans and a tee.

“Why did I never think of that?” she muttered.

“Indoctrination?” he suggested and grinned at the sharp glance she threw him.

The mutter of sound from the gym floor suddenly got louder. Willow had arrived and was looking up at them. The SITs had seen them now and were all staring and whispering and elbowing each other. The full-Slayers smiled.

“Another damn speech,” she muttered. “And I suck at them. Well, here goes.”

She caught Spike’s arm and drew him to stand beside her in full view of the SITs. They all stared at him in silence, their eyes wide and their faces wary and nervous.

“Okay, I’m here to introduce you to someone who’s going to be working with us for a while,” she called, projecting her voice so that they could all hear her. “This is Spike. He’s a vamp. You probably all know that already and you’ve probably all heard conflicting things about him. I don’t know what you’ve heard or what the rumors are. What I’m going to tell you is the truth. If you don’t believe me, talk to the full-Slayers or Willow. They all know him and they were with him in the battle at the Hellmouth.”

She had their full attention now.

“He’s a vamp. And he’s deadly and he’s dangerous. Make no mistake about that. But he has a soul and he’s on our side. He fought for us in the Hellmouth and he died for us there. Without his sacrifice, none of us would have survived. And neither would any other person on the whole planet.”

She saw them glance at the group of full-Slayers for confirmation. Almost all the surviving Potentials were there, except for the few that were away on duty, and they all nodded.

“He doesn’t remember any of that,” she went on. “The amulet which resurrected him took away his memory...”

“We remember!” called someone from the middle of the Potentials.

“Yeah!” others in the group called out.

“Tell them what he did, Buffy!”

She laid it all out for the SITs, what he had done, what he was, and what had happened, the Potentials calling out confirmation every step of the way.

She could feel Spike’s discomfort. He had no trouble meeting challenges head on, but praise embarrassed him. He started to back away unthinkingly and she had to grab him to keep him where he was. The Potentials noticed and laughed a little, their laughter warm and affectionate.

“So no one harms him and no one tries to stake him.” Her gaze went past them to Giles who had now arrived and was standing in the open main doorway of the gym. “Anyone who tries is gonna be very, very sorry.”

“Guaranteed,” called Rona and there was laughter, but also murmurs of agreement from the other Potentials.

“Consider that a warning from all of us,” Vi added. “We’re all Slayers here and we heal fast, but a broken arm’s still a broken arm and very painful for that week you’re in a cast.”

“Or traction,” someone else muttered.

Even the SITs had to laugh at that. Buffy was grinning now, happy with the way things were going.

“He’s going to be training you,” she went on. “Many of you SITs have never even seen a vamp, let alone know what they’re capable of. Spike’s the best fighter I know. If you can keep up with him, you can keep up with any vamp or demon on the planet. You’ll never get better training.”

“So use the opportunity,” said Willow, nodding approvingly at Buffy.

Buffy let out a little breath of relief. At least Willow thought she had gotten everything across. Glancing at the SITs, she thought she had. They all looked more relaxed than they had before, their nervousness now changed to curiosity.

“Let’s go down,” she said to Spike and turned towards the mezzanine’s stairs.

Spike gave her a sudden grin, put one hand on the balcony railing and simply vaulted over to land lightly on the gym floor. It was a challenge. She couldn’t go tamely down the stairs when he had made a demonstration like that. Drama-king. She sighed and vaulted over as well.

The SITs had drawn back, still wary. But the Potentials were all coming forward. They didn’t crowd Spike, just came up to say their names and a few words about their previous acquaintance with him. Every single one of them touched him lightly on sleeve or shoulder, as if, like Buffy and Vi, they all needed to touch to assure themselves that he was real.

“A demonstration might be useful,” Giles said suddenly. “So everyone can see how the two of you measure up against each other.”

Buffy wondered whether he was trying to frighten the SITs by showing what Spike was and could do, or whether he was trying to reassure them that Buffy, the best and most experienced fighter of all of them, could take Spike. She didn’t think he realized how evenly they were matched.

“I don’t know...” she began, frowning.

“Why not?” said Spike. His eyes were vivid with laughter and defiance. Trust Spike never to back away from a challenge. “Let’s do this all out, Slayer. Got your weapon? I’ve always got mine.”

He went into full gameface—yellow eyes, ridges, fangs, the whole deal. Buffy could hear gasps among the SITs, most of whom had never seen the reality of a vamp. She saw the little tight smile of satisfaction on Giles’ face. He wanted them to be afraid of Spike.

“Here, Buffy,” called Willow and tossed her a stake.

Buffy frowned, but the moment the stake touched her hand, her frown vanished and she smiled. Spike glanced at it and Buffy held it out on the flat of her hand so that he could see it clearly. It was the rubber one that the SITs used for training.

“Not going to risk using a wooden one,” she said simply and he smiled.

“Appreciate that, Slayer.”

The SITs backed against the walls of the gym, leaving the center clear for them. She swung the stake with blurring speed at his heart and he blocked it equally fast. Even if his mind didn’t remember, his body did. They were off, throwing punches and kicks at each other, full power and with blinding speed. It had been a long time since they had fought and always before he had held back a little with her, at first subconsciously when he wasn’t aware of his attraction to her, then later consciously when he was. But she had seen him in action fighting demons and she knew what a superb fighter he was. He loved fighting and for a hundred and twenty years he had made an art of it.

It was a real pleasure not to have to hold back, to use her abilities to the fullest. It was exhilarating, this deadly, dangerous dance of theirs. She could see the laughter and enjoyment in his eyes, the rising heat. Fighting always turned both of them on, that necessarily intent focus on each other, the give and take of their movements. Action and reaction. Like making love.

They were moving too fast now to actually see anything coming and block. They blocked by instinct, by the sense of movement and momentum. She wasn’t striking at him now, but at where he would be by the time her fist or her foot arrived. It was a perfection of motion and balance and power, a purity of skill and strength.

She had no idea how the SITs were reacting to this. She could hear gasps and cries, but paid no heed. All her attention was locked on Spike. He was too deadly an adversary to allow her focus to wander even for a millisecond.

She flung herself at him, feet first, her body parallel to the ground. Her feet smashed into his chest, knocking him down, but he only used his position on the ground to try to sweep her legs from under her as she landed. It was a distraction that would allow him to kip back onto his feet while she was avoiding that. She jumped over his legs and came down in a fighting position, expecting to find him on his feet in front of her. But he was still on the ground and his legs came swinging back. One foot hooked around her ankle, the other around the back of her knee. He yanked and she was falling onto the ground herself.

Then she was flat on her back and he was over her, his hands pinning her wrists to the ground.

“Game over, Slayer,” he laughed and bent, his fangs flashing towards her neck.

She heard exclamations of horror and several of the SITs surged forward. The Potentials moved smoothly in between, holding them off.

“He’ll never hurt her,” she heard Vi say.

“You sure about that, luv?” Spike murmured to Buffy. But his gameface was already gone and his fangs had retracted. She just laughed at him.

“I’m sure about that,” she said and raised her head and kissed him.

He made a sound of pleasure in his throat and kissed her back.

“Okay, that’s even hotter than the last time they did that,” Rona remarked and the Potentials all laughed.

Buffy suddenly flipped them both over. The next moment Spike was flat on his back, Buffy was sitting on top of him, and the point of her stake was over his heart.

Now the game is over, vampire,” she said, then looked up, grinning, at their cheering audience. “Okay, just so you all know. Making out only works with Spike. This vamp’s easily distracted.”

Everyone was laughing now, even Spike. She slid off him, got to her feet and held out a hand. He took it and pulled himself to his feet.

“I’m easily distracted, huh?” he said and yanked at her, taking her by surprise.

She fell against him and his arms swept about her, holding her tilted backwards at such an angle that it was either grab at him for balance or fall on her ass. Her hands caught his shoulders; his arms tightened. Then his mouth was on hers.

There was clapping and laughter. But that was far off and distant. All she was aware of was him.

The kiss meant nothing to Spike, was simply an expression of pleasure and excitement. She knew that. It didn’t matter. Just the taste of him was enough, the feel of him solid in her arms after having thought he was gone forever. She kissed him back helplessly, her mind blanking out to nothing but sensation.

He had always been a wickedly knowledgeable lover, knowing just how to set every nerve in her body on fire. Hating him, resenting him, she had still responded to him. Even when her mind and her body were numb from having been brought back into the world, he had made her feel. She had used him for that, for the feelings, the sensations that she needed to tie her to the world once again. And she had given him nothing back in return, not even a crumb. Only scorn and hatred.

Now his mouth on hers, the thrust and slide of his tongue against hers, his body in her arms, was everything she wanted. She strained against him, up on her toes, her body one rising flame of agonized joy, so sensitized to him that it was both ecstasy and pain at once.

Her eyelids shuddered open and she saw his eyes vivid with amusement and enjoyment above her, the laughter in them underlaid now with a heavy sensuality. She was bent back over the iron bar of his arm at a deliberately theatrical angle that had everyone laughing because it mocked all those movie kisses. But the full length of his body was hard against the full length of hers from breast to knee. She caught her breath with delight.

“You’re something else, Slayer,” he muttered, an intimate purr that only she could hear. “Don’t need that damn amulet. You could burn me into ash all by yourself.”

She saw the pleasure and the heat in his eyes. What she didn’t see was that look—that look that had always been there for her before, the look that said she was the center of his universe. She had always shut that out, rejected it, telling herself that he couldn’t love because he was a vamp, because he had no soul. Now she saw the difference, now when the love wasn’t there, only the desire.

She didn’t care. She meant nothing to him now, but he meant everything to her. She understood finally what he had gone through with her before, loving her and unable to stay away even under the worst of insults, the most complete rejection. She felt that now. And one thing was better for her than it had been for him. At least he didn’t hate her, wouldn’t abuse her as she had hated and abused him. She was spared that.

“Well, now you all know why he’s willing to work with us,” Willow was saying teasingly behind them.

“This has potential, Slayer,” said Spike softly, laughing down at her.

“If you want it,” she said, smiling painfully.

“Oh, I think I want it.”

She’d learned. She wasn’t going to throw away her opportunities this time. She would take whatever she could get.



TBC
Chapter 6 by dreamweaver
Chapter 6


The shape of the world was strange. He knew it and didn’t know it. He knew the ins and outs of it, but not how he connected to it, those connections lost in the vast darkness that was his memory.

He was like a cat though. He tended to fall on his feet. Roll with the punches. Adapt to whatever was thrown at him. He felt that about himself. Buffy had said that about him and it had felt right. This strange new world was just another thing to adapt to and hopefully turn to his own ends. He was a survivor. He would survive.

Brave new world though? Hardly. He didn’t like much about it. This odd...school?—it wasn’t really a school, but he didn’t know what else to call it—with its hordes of pampered, powerful children made him uneasy. Not that he didn’t like those kids. He found them charming and they seemed to be willing to like him, which was nice. They were like a bunch of half-grown kittens, just finding their feet (and their claws), but unsure of where they wanted to go, what they wanted to be.

Slayers, of course. But what did that really mean? What was the purpose of an army of Slayers? All that power accumulated in one place under the control of one man. And that man not someone he could trust. Not that Rupert Giles was a bad man. Spike didn’t get that feeling from him. But he didn’t seem...wise. Albus Dumbledore, he wasn’t.

Giles was gathering the newly activated Slayers together because it was safer for them that way, because they needed to be trained in the use and the dangers of their powers, and because they needed to be given a purpose. But Spike didn’t think that even Giles had worked out what that purpose might be.

He kept feeling sorry for these kids though. What had Willow’s spell activating all the potential Slayers been for? It hadn’t really helped at the Hellmouth from what Buffy had told him. It had given those Potentials who were there the extra power that had possibly kept them alive, but from what he could make out, it was the amulet powered by him that had really wiped out all the Turok-Han.

All Willow’s spell had really achieved was to trigger the latent Slayer abilities in eighteen hundred girls worldwide. And under the lure of those abilities and the compulsion of that new, strange Slayer drive they found rising within themselves, these children had left their parents and their loved ones and their homes. He found that sad. He honestly didn’t know whether their new powers and the duties and responsibilities that went with those powers were worth the loss of love and family and home.

Bad enough dumping all of that on one girl. But what was the purpose of having eighteen hundred Slayers around? Depriving them of all they might have had otherwise?

If he had his memory, he’d be out of here right now. He didn’t like collections of people. He liked his independence, liked being able to go where he wanted, do what he wanted. He didn’t need a memory to know that about himself. The odd poker game, the occasional bender with a mate down at the pub, that was fine. That demon fight club, for instance, had satisfied the need for violence in him. He grinned, thinking of it. Buffy had freaked about it, but Spike had enjoyed himself. That was the kind of socializing that was fun.

But surround him with crowds of people all the time, say they were his duty, his responsibility, and he found his skin starting to crawl. Probably a vamp thing. Things were coming back and he was starting to make sense of them. Vamps didn’t give a damn about duties and responsibilities; dump that on them and all you’d get was a messy pile of shredded bodies and those ‘responsibilities’ would no longer exist. Even minions were for use, could be tortured and dusted and discarded at will. But even the thought of having minions made his skin itch.

As a vamp, he really should be tearing them all to shreds. That wanker, Giles, was afraid of that. But Spike found that he didn’t have the urge. Must be this soul he had in him. That was also what probably kept that ponce, Angel, from eating the ones that surrounded him. Spike wasn’t quite sure exactly what the soul did. No one really seemed to know. Sure didn’t stop humans from doing horrific things, as witness the genocides and murders and rapes that happened. Maybe it just made you aware of the difference between good and evil. Vamps didn’t give a damn about good and evil. If they wanted to do something, they just did it. But in the last few days Spike had found that when he knew something was bad, he didn’t care to do it. So that must be what the soul was for.

And having friends was nice. He felt oddly protective of this collection of orphan baby-Slayers that he found himself amidst. They’d been cheated of so much and didn’t even know it. Maybe there was a way to ease that for them.

And those Potentials, full-Slayers, whatever the hell they were called, he had to admit he liked the way they looked at him. Like he was someone they respected and cared about. Yeah, that gave him a good feeling and made him think that it wouldn’t be such a chore to stick around.

But still he could live without all that. What he needed, what felt right, was being with the one person he cared about.

That was it. He’d finally worked it out. That was why he wasn’t leaving right now, memory or no memory. Because of Buffy. She was what he needed.

From what she had told him and what he had read between the lines, there had been a shitload of problems between them. Maybe when he got his memory back, he’d have a correct perspective on things and realize that they had been right to break up.

But something in him rejected the very thought of leaving her. She was where he belonged.

He couldn’t remember any of what they said he had done. But when they said he had done it for her, it felt right, natural. He could see himself doing that. The necessary death, to preserve that which he cared for; another way of fighting.

Everything in him responded to her, homed in on her. He couldn’t conceive of being anywhere else. Even thinking of being away from her brought a twist of furious negation somewhere deep in his gut. There was a rightness to his being with her. She was necessary to him in some profound, mystifying way. He wanted her with a powerful desire. Maybe that was all it was. And from the way she kissed him, touched him, she wanted him too.

He was impatient for the day to be over, to have the chance to talk to her without all these people around. But she seemed to have a lot of duties and, while she was busy with those, Willow grabbed him.

Red wanted to look into his memory loss, so she pulled him into a workroom and started doing witchy things with spells and whatnot while he watched her uneasily. Spells made him nervous somehow. He didn’t know why. Maybe something in his forgotten past. Or maybe because her abilities had so much potential for misuse. The way Willow had so easily gone into Vi’s mind when Willow was in Giles’ office and Vi was down in the gym bothered him. It didn’t matter that Vi had probably agreed to that. Spike didn’t like the idea that Willow could just casually walk into his mind if she felt like it. A person’s mind should be private, for heaven’s sake, if anything was. The idea of someone nonchalantly reading his thoughts whenever they felt like it was distasteful.

For all her spells, no memory came back today, for which he didn’t know whether he was glad or sorry. But Willow assured him that this was just the beginning. Oh, joy.

Watcher was next. Apparently there was a lot of paperwork to be done before he was an official employee. Buffy joined him for that. Seemed she didn’t trust Giles alone with him. Spike didn’t either, but he didn’t think Giles would make any overt move on him. Nothing so obvious. It would be something sneaky and, because Giles didn’t want Buffy to walk out on him, it would be done by a third party like Angel, with Giles apparently in no way involved. Buffy had mentioned in passing that Giles had done something like that before, staying out of the way while some git named Wood did the actual dirty work, which was why she was so wary about the Watcher now.

Once that was over, he thought they might actually be able to get away, but people kept running up to Buffy with this problem or that.

“Why don’t you go home?” Buffy suggested. “You don’t have to be here. We’ll start you training on Monday, once the weekend’s over. That will give everyone time to settle down and get used to the idea. Vi will give me a lift home.”

“Yeah, okay.”

But when Vi got home, she was alone.

“Willow’s going to bring Buffy back,” she said when he called down the stairs to ask what was up. “Something came up.”

“Is that usual? Something coming up?”

“Oh, yeah,” sighed Vi. “That’s why we rented this house. Self defense. The kids can come up with crises even at two in the morning. Keeping tab on them is a twenty-four hour job. Some of the full-Slayers who aren’t squad leaders don’t mind acting as den mothers and they’re the ones who sleep in-house. Squad leaders like me would end up exhausted if they had to be always available like that. Buffy of course gets the worst of it, being who she is.”

“Bet she had an easier time of it when she was the only Slayer around,” he muttered.

Vi gave him a rueful look. “You may be right. But least now she gets a salary and doesn’t have to flip burgers to keep a roof over their heads for her kid sister and herself, like she did before.”

“Buffy has a sister? Was she one of those SITs back there?”

“No, Dawn’s just a regular girl. She’s in this really nice boarding school that Giles arranged and she loves it there. She comes down here on weekends and holidays. You’ll probably see her around.”

When Willow’s car pulled up in front of the gate a couple of hours later, Willow didn’t just drop Buffy off. She got out too and she was carrying a pizza box, so Spike figured she was going to stay for a while. From what he could overhear as they came up the walk, it sounded like Buffy had just told Willow about Bronwen and the other Wicca that Giles had left out of the loop and Willow was upset about it. As she should be. It was good that Willow didn’t seem to be party to Giles’ machinations, but it looked like Wiccan politics were going to take up the rest of the evening.

A lot of talk about what seemed to him a perfectly simple decision. Did Willow like what was happening? If she did, she just had to tell Buffy so; if she didn’t, she just had to contact Bronwen and set up a pipeline with Willow or some other Council Wicca as the focus. What was there to natter about for hours?

He wondered whether to sneak out the back while they were coming up. It looked like the evening was going to be sodding boring and even exploring a two-bit little town like Caxley looked like it would be a riot in comparison. But the door opened before he could make up his mind and then he was stuck.

Vi had come up with them. Spike grabbed a slice of pizza, then removed himself to the other side of the living room to watch the telly while the three of them talked.

Buffy was aware of the way Spike had taken himself off to one side. This really wasn’t his problem and she was sorry he had to be bored listening to it, but with all the interruptions back at the Hall, she and Willow didn’t have a chance to talk in peace. Buffy had called Vi up to sit in on the discussion because Vi was going to head up the New York branch and Buffy wanted Vi’s take on Giles’ decision to leave out any Wicca who refused to be under his control. Maybe Buffy was overreacting.

But Vi was just as appalled as she was.

“We can’t throw away a resource like that!” she exclaimed. “I don’t understand why Giles is insisting that they can’t join unless they take his orders.”

“Control,” said Willow thoughtfully.

“Megalomania, Spike called it,” Buffy said wryly. “God! What is it about the Council of Watchers that turns them all into Quentin Travers?”

“It’s insecurity.” Willow flushed a little. “I was like that. I needed to be sure that everything was under my control. You never really took Giles’ orders, Buffy, and he was always frustrated by that, especially that last year with the First. And the Council never was able to tell Slayers what to do. They could watch and suggest things, and maybe some of the more submissive Slayers like Kendra would allow themselves to be indoctrinated and take Council orders. But that was a very small percentage. The Council never really controlled things. And they must have hated that.”

“Oh, yeah,” muttered Buffy, remembering how Travers and the Council had always tried to control her.

“And now we’ve got all these baby SITs and more coming. Plus all the Wicca. It’s a humongous responsibility. And it’s all on Giles’ shoulders. No wonder he wants to be sure nothing gets screwed up.”

“Well, he could share the load, couldn’t he?” muttered Vi. “We’d all be glad to help. It doesn’t have to be just his way or the highway.”

“I’ll talk to him,” said Willow. She had her resolve face on, Buffy saw with relief.

“And think of what to do if he keeps having issues,” she said. “I want Bronwen and the others like her in the loop, even if it means setting up a secondary conduit somehow.”

Willow nodded. “I’ll look into that.”

“You expecting visitors, pet?” Spike asked suddenly from where he was sprawled in an armchair.

Buffy turned, surprised.

“No.” She went to look out of the window. There was a car parked now in front of the cottage. She recognized it as Xander’s. “Now what?”

She could hear two sets of footsteps coming up the stairs—one set hurried and stumbling, the other slow and reluctant. Behind her, she sensed Spike coming swiftly to his feet.

“It’s all right,” she said quickly to prevent Spike going into fighting mode and doing something rash. “It’s only Xander.”

She went to the front door. When it swung open, she found herself staring at her sister.

“Dawn? What are you doing here?”

Dawn bent to snatch up the key she had dropped when Buffy had opened the door.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she flung at Buffy. “You should have told me!”

“I was going to,” said Buffy weakly and frowned at Xander over Dawn’s shoulder.

“Someone had to tell her,” said Xander defensively, “and it was better face to face than over the phone.”

Well, maybe he was right. But:

“You should have asked me!”

She was getting sick of having tons of silly, unimportant problems constantly dumped on her by everyone while always being left out of any decision that directly concerned her.

Dawn had pushed past her and was standing staring at Spike. He was looking back with curiosity, frowning a little.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Dawn gulped, barely holding back the tears.

“Sorry, no, pet. Kinda having a lapse of memory here,” he said dryly.

She stumbled forward and put a hand on his chest, wanting to be sure that he was really there, as everyone else had.

“The things I said! And after you...after you did all those things for me when Buffy was gone...I’m so sorry! And now you don’t remember and you don’t even know what I’m talking about when I say I’m sorry. I can’t even apologize properly!”

“Well, I’m sure you didn’t mean whatever it was, Bit,” he said comfortingly, and Dawn gave a great wail and collapsed against him, crying her eyes out.

Buffy tried not to laugh at the wild-eyed look he gave her over the top of Dawn’s head.

“What did I say?” he asked blankly.

“You always used to call her Bit,” Buffy explained, coming forward to rescue him.

“Well, she is only a bit of a thing, so I would, wouldn’t I? Uh, pet,” Spike patted Dawn’s back awkwardly, “could you maybe turn off the waterworks? I’m getting soaked here.”

Dawn gave a little, hiccuping laugh through her tears. Buffy put her arms around her and drew her towards the couch. But Dawn refused to let go her death grip on Spike’s lapel. He gave Buffy a ruefully amused glance and sat down beside Dawn on the couch.

“I thought you tried to r...” Dawn stopped abruptly when Buffy’s hand clenched hard on her forearm. “...Thought you did something really bad. But you didn’t, not really, and I should have known it wasn’t like what I thought, otherwise Buffy wouldn’t have forgiven you...”

“It was both our faults,” said Buffy fiercely when Spike threw a questioning glance at her. “And I don’t want you reminded of it!”

Dawn wiped at the tears on her face. “It wasn’t that anyway. I just convinced myself that it was. It was because you left me, Spike. It had nothing to do with Buffy. It was just easier to blame you for Buffy than to admit I was mad that you left me. So I said all those nasty things and...and...”

“Look, pet,” said Spike gently. “I haven’t got a buggering clue what you’re talking about and it’s all in the past anyway. So just put it behind you and forget it.”

“But it’s not right I should just get away with it like that...”

“Well, you can apologize all over again once I have my memory back, yeah?” He grinned at Willow. “Red here’s working on that.”

“I am. We’ll have Spike’s memory back in no time,” said Willow firmly. “No point in getting upset now, sweetie.”

“Yeah, save it for when I can get mad at you.” Spike grinned as Dawn smiled tremulously through her tears. “So dry off and have some pizza, yeah?”

“Okay.”

But Dawn just nibbled at her pizza and kept staring at Spike who had gone back to his armchair. Willow and Xander kept staring at him too, Buffy noticed. She could understand that because it was so weird that he was back, but it was getting Spike edgy and uncomfortable.

Willow was filling Xander in on what they had been discussing.

“It does sounds a bit screwy of Giles,” agreed Xander, but didn’t seem that concerned. “But it probably all fits into his master plan.”

“What is his master plan?” asked Spike.

Xander shrugged. “I don’t know, but he must have one.”

“I mean, what’s the point of all this?”

“Well, we can’t leave all these potential Slayers wandering around not knowing what they’re capable of and what their purpose is,” said Buffy. “They could get into trouble that way. We have to get them together and train them properly.”

“Got that. But what for?”

“Huh?”

“What are you going to do with them once they’re trained? An army of Slayers, you said. But what for? You told me that Caxley Hall is only temporary, that the Watcher is planning an even larger base somewhere in Scotland. Some place big enough to hold all these Slayers. Eighteen hundred of them.”

“Well...”

“What are you expecting? A demon invasion from another dimension? Or Plan 9 from Outer Space? There isn’t some kind of war going on where you all have to be dedicated soldiers. One Slayer—you—was enough to take care of an apocalypse. Several apocalypses, the way I understand it. What the hell do you need an army for?”

He looked around at all of them and they all stared back at him, totally at a loss.

“You planning to take over the world? Wipe out every nation’s army, navy and air force and handle things yourselves? Eighteen hundred Slayers could probably do it. That’s one way to make world peace happen. Too bad it would be a military dictatorship with the Slayers as the military and Giles as Stalin.”

“You know that’s not what we’re after!” said Buffy in exasperation. “All the potential Slayers have to be trained and, once they’re trained, we can’t let them run loose with no guiding hand at the helm!”

“And the Wicca? They’ve been functioning fine on their own until now. But now you’re shaping them into an army as well and penalizing the ones who won’t fall into line.”

“But...” Buffy put a hand to her head. “But...”

“Look,” said Spike wryly. “I’m not accusing Giles of anything but letting his need for order and control get away from him. But he hasn’t thought things through. And neither have you. There’s got to be a goal, Slayer. Otherwise you’re all floundering around and getting into trouble. Which is what’s starting to happen with the Wicca already, innit?”

“Well, what would you do with eighteen hundred trained Slayers?” Vi asked. “We can’t just leave them sitting around twiddling their thumbs.”

“Put them to work,” said Spike promptly. “The minute a SIT is properly trained, send her out to live in some major city somewhere on the globe and patrol it. Take care of any problems that arise in that area. Oh, not all by herself because Buffy told me how having friends and back up makes things easier. Send them out in twos with a Wicca to help each pair. The three of them would back each other up and always be able to call in to HQ for help if they needed it.”

That way they would have both independence and community. They’d be able to make their own mistakes while still having solid back up when they needed it. Could have their own lives and lovers without having eighteen hundred other girls interfering or a bunch of mother hen squad leaders and an authoritarian father-figure telling them what to do. The Hall reminded Spike all too much of a convent or a girls’ restricted boarding school, and that castle Watcher was planning in some remote fastness of Scotland was worse, isolating them even more. This way these children might have the best of both worlds and possibly some kind of personal life.

“And if a Plan 9 from Outer Space really did turn up, you can always bring them all in to deal with it as a group, couldn’t you?” he finished.

“You know, that actually makes sense,” said Xander blankly.

“A loose confederacy,” muttered Buffy, remembering what Bronwen had said.

“All I’m trying to say, Slayer,” said Spike, “ is that maybe you might want to consider end results rather than just letting things happen. Way to get yourself burned, that is.”

He got to his feet, grinning a little at the stupefied looks on their faces.

“Well, now that I’ve put my ha’penny’s worth in, I gonna go out and take a constitutional. I’m getting antsy and I need to have a recce around the place anyway.”

“Be careful,” said Buffy automatically and he laughed.

“In a half-arsed sleepy little town like Caxley? Yeah, right.”

Spike always liked to check out any territory he was in, not liking surprises. It was only sensible to know the ground and all the ins and outs in case of attack. It wasn’t the kind of action he had hoped he would get tonight, but he got restless just sitting around doing nothing, and being on the move got rid of some of his excess energy.

“Avoid any SITs you see wandering around,” Buffy said quickly.

“Yeah, yeah.” He waved that off with amusement. “Won’t hurt your fledglings, Slayer. Where’s the fun in that? It would be too easy.”

Trouble was, Buffy couldn’t be sure that all the SITs knew that Spike wasn’t to be touched. There had been some that would have been on duty and therefore missing when she told everyone about him in the gym and she couldn’t be certain that the grapevine had advised them. She didn’t want Spike getting staked by some over-enthusiastic SIT. Sure, he could take care of himself, but she knew he would hold back in order not to hurt them and not fighting full out might get him dusted. She would have preferred him to keep his head down until everybody knew who he was, but when was Spike ever not reckless? And she had no rights over him. She watched him a little helplessly as he sauntered out.

Everyone was silent when he had gone and Buffy could see that they were all thinking over what he had said. The meeting broke down into mere repetition and she was relieved when everyone finally began to leave, Willow back to Caxley Hall, Vi to her flat downstairs, and Xander driving a sad Dawn back to her boarding school.

“He took care of me like a big brother that time you were dead,” Dawn said to Buffy under her breath while the others were getting their things together. “Spike, I mean. We had something special, the two of us. I should have known there was more behind his...Sure, he shouldn’t have tried to...to...But he was hurting and...”

“I know.” Buffy put an arm around Dawn’s shoulders. “He didn’t mean to do it, Dawnie. He was just confused and so was I. The whole thing just blew up in our faces.”

“I shouldn’t have believed the worst of him. I mean, I knew him better than that. Or I should have. And now...”

“If Willow manages to bring his memory back, he’ll forgive you, Dawn. He always forgave both of us, didn’t he? He loved us.” She hugged Dawn as Dawn’s tears spilled over. “And if he doesn’t remember, well, we’ll just have to build a new relationship, that’s all. He’s willing.”

“Yes, but it’ll never be the way it was.”

“No, it won’t. But at least it won’t hurt him. That’s all I care about right now. That he be happy.”

“Oh, yes. Oh, you’re right, Buffy. I was thinking only of myself again. He’s the one who matters.”

It was past eleven and Spike still wasn’t back. But this wasn’t L.A. with its millions of people sprawled over hundreds of square miles. This was Caxley where one could drive from one end of the town to the other in five minutes. She could go out looking for him with a fair expectation of finding him. She didn’t care if he didn’t like it; she just wanted to be sure he was safe.

She headed out on foot rather than taking the Viper, since it would be easier to pick up his vamp signature that way. After a while she sensed it, then frowned when it seemed to be coming from under the ground. A moment later, a manhole cover in the road shifted, then was pushed sideways and Spike levered himself out.

“You’ve got K’lar,” he said in the same tone that he would have used to say, ‘You’ve got rats.’

“What the heck are K’Lar?”

He shoved the manhole cover back in place. “Vermin. Kinda like three-foot giant spiders, all legs, eyes and fangs. Found a nest of them down in the sewers. Their bite is poisonous, so I wiped them out. But I’d tell your baby Slayers to keep an eye out for more, just in case. A metal rod through the midsection kills ’em, but tell the kids to try not to get bitten.”

“I will. What were you doing down in the sewers?”

“Best way for a vamp to get anywhere during the day. I always memorize the sewer pathways and accesses.” He grinned at her. “Y’know, I really don’t need babysitting, Slayer.”

Buffy blushed. “I was just taking a stroll before bed.”

“Sure you...” He broke off suddenly, his head jerking around. “What was that?”

A flicker of blue-white light had stabbed the night, then had disappeared just as quickly. It was like a bolt of lightning, except that there was not a single cloud in the starry sky.

A creek wandered down the eastern side of Caxley and the town fathers had chosen to preserve it and build a park around it. In the middle of the park, something moved. A huge, lumbering shape.

Buffy and Spike exchanged glances, then moved towards it.

“Chiriwan,” said Buffy when she got a clear look at the thing. “Darn, there’s more than one.”

“Ugly buggers, aren’t they?” remarked Spike, considering the massive, hulking forms. The Chiriwan were eight feet tall and looked like a bunch of boulders thrown together inside gray, warty skin that looked mildewy in the moonlight. There was no sentience in their reddish-orange eyes, only the irrational, unpredictable belligerence of an irritated bison.

“Powerful too,” Buffy murmured, keeping her voice down. “And their talons are poisonous to humans.”

“You go up against things like that all the time?”

“Oh, yeah. Been doing it for years. I’ve got to get rid of them.” She frowned. “Another portal must have opened in the park. Remember Giles saying that one opened in the Lake District and let out Chiriwan? I’ll need a weapon.”

“Yeah, a stake wouldn’t be more than a pinprick to that hide. What do you have in your arms chest, Slayer?”

“A couple of axes that should do. I’d better go get one. Keep an eye on them, Spike.”

“I’ll go.”

With his vamp speed, he was back in minutes.

“There’s four of them,” said Buffy who had been studying the Chiriwan in his absence.

“We can take them.”

“This is my business, not yours, Spike,” said Buffy quickly, seeing that he had brought not one axe but two.

“You said their talons are poisonous to humans,” said Spike flatly. “Slayers are humans. That means they’re poisonous to you. Think I’m gonna stand around doing bugger all while you put yourself at risk? Sod that!”

It looked like that protective instinct was hardwired into him as well. Buffy sighed.

Spike however was grinning with anticipation. “What say I take the one on the left there, Slayer, and you go right?”

“They’re faster than they look,” Buffy warned as the two of them ran forward. “And watch that reach of theirs.”

The Chiriwan had long arms like orangutans, tipped with four-inch talons that looked black in the moonlight. They did move fast, but Buffy’s Slayer and Spike’s vamp speed kept the two of them ahead, and unlike wolves the Chiriwan didn’t band together against a foe. They were normally solitary predators. It was unusual to see more than one of them at a time.

Buffy managed to flash around to the back of hers. She hamstrung it and it toppled with a roar and a huge thud, bringing it down to where she could slam her axe through its neck, cutting off its head. It dusted the same way that vamps dusted and out of the corner of her eye she saw Spike throw himself into a diving roll that flung him between and past the legs of the Chiriwan he was facing. The next second, he was up on its back, his axe chopping through its neck. That Chiriwan dusted as well and Spike landed neatly on his feet beside her.

“Two down, two to go,” he said with relish. “This really is fun, Slayer!”

The other two were now wary and Buffy and Spike had to chase them through the park. At the same time, they needed both their axes and their speed to keep the Chiriwan at bay as the creatures roared and slashed at them.

“Switch!” gasped Buffy, ducking the talons that raked the air barely an inch above her head. She grabbed the huge forearm swinging past and used its momentum to catapult herself at the one Spike was facing.

Spike did a sideways cartwheel that allowed her to sail over him and slam her heels into the chest of his opponent, knocking it to the ground. Spike landed facing the back of her Chiriwan and swung his axe into the base of its spine. It howled, bending backwards in agony, and Spike’s axe swept through its neck at the same moment that Buffy’s hammered down into the heart of the one on the ground.

Dust exploded.

“You get to do this all the time?” Spike asked, grabbing at her for balance as they both staggered. He was laughing and so was she. “Sweet!”

She grinned at him. “You would think so.”

His eyes were alight as he looked down at her. “Come on, Slayer. Don’t tell me you don’t enjoy it too.”

“Well, yeah, I do.”

“It’s kinda funny two portals should open so soon upon each other. Or are portals a common occurrence?”

“No, they’re not. Something weird’s going on.”

“I’d put out a red alert or something. Those things could have done a lot of damage if we hadn’t been out here and noticed them.”

“I’ll do that right away.” Buffy thought that a warning should have been sent out the minute the first one appeared. But they were still working out glitches in the system and it must have been overlooked.

She called Willow the minute they got home. Luckily Willow hadn’t gone to bed yet.

“I’ll call the Wicca on duty at the Hall and have her put out that alert,” said Willow. “We’ll have people on the watch for portals everywhere.”

“Call Bronwen too, Will, and have her put out the word among the unaffiliated covens as well. We don’t know where one will turn up.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Bathroom’s free,” called Spike as she put down the phone. He had taken a shower while she talked to Willow.

She took her own shower and had just finished blowdrying her hair when Willow called back.

“Faith says another portal opened up near Cleveland yesterday,” Willow reported.

“More Chiriwan?”

“Yup. Faith took care of them. It’s odd. Three in just a few days.”

“It needs looking into.”

“I’ll do some research,” agreed Willow. “And I’ll contact Wes and get him on it as well. Maybe there’s some kind of prophecy involved and he has access to a lot of Wolfram and Hart books and material that we don’t.”

“Good idea.”

She put down her cell phone and turned to leave her bedroom and tidy up the flat before bed time, then almost ran into Spike as he turned up in the doorway. He gave her a quizzical look.

“Duty finally done? Or can we expect more interruptions all through the night?”

Buffy laughed wryly. “There used to be, until we got a system of house-mothers set up. No, we can count on a little sleep tonight.”

“Is that what you want to do, Slayer? Sleep?”

She looked up at him in surprise, unsure of what he was getting at. “It’s way past midnight...”

“You’ve got no imagination, pet.” That purring, provocative note was back in his voice. “Snap.”

Buffy stared at him. “What?”

He grinned, long creases slashing down his cheeks, and flicked the lapel of the white terry bathrobe that he too was wearing. “We match. It’s a kid’s card game here in the UK. Guess you don’t know it.”

“Uh, guess not.”

His head was tilted a little and he was watching her intently, his eyes very blue. He had simply towel-dried his own hair and strands were falling over his forehead. It made him look very young. He looked good. Delicious. She could have eaten him up. Her hands closed into tight fists, nails digging into her palms.

He reached out and sieved his fingers through her hair, taking her by surprise.

“Spun gold. I do like your hair, Slayer.”

“You’ve mentioned that before,” she mumbled.

“Not surprised.”

He was suddenly too close and that light was in his eyes, that intensity and heat.

“Wanna finish what we started earlier in the gym?”

“Spike...”

He took the lapels of her bathrobe delicately between finger and thumb and drew her towards him. She was intensely aware of the cave of his open mouth a millimeter away from hers, his breath on her lips.

“It’s been lying there between us every second since I came out of that amulet, Slayer. The heat.”

The heat had always been between them from the very beginning all those years ago, even when she tried to deny it. But it wasn’t right. She couldn’t imprint herself on him, bind him to her when he finally had a chance at freedom.

“You don’t have your memory back.”

“So?”

“I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve hurt you really badly. You might not want me when you have your memory back.”

His brows rose in amusement. “What does that have to do with anything? Maybe I’ll be mad at you when my memory comes back. Maybe I’ll even hate you. But that’s not gonna make me regret a really good fuck.”

And that’s all it would be to him now—a really good fuck. There was no love in the blaze of those eyes looking down at her, no softness and cherishing as there had been once and she had rejected so adamantly. Just heat and desire. But he was being straight with her—no lies, no pretense, no pretty words. Always said things wrong, did Spike, she thought with painful amusement; but always said the truth.

She leaned helplessly against him, so aware of his body even through both cross-wrapped thicknesses of heavy terry bathrobes that her knees were weak and her bones were liquid. Aware of the texture of his skin and the scent of him, knowing how he would feel against her, in her, remembering...

“Maybe I’m a lousy lay,” she mocked. Her heart was hurting her. She didn’t know what was right anymore. She just wanted him.

“Oh, I don’t think so, Slayer. Not when I sodding well spontaneously combust every time we even touch.”

Well, maybe he did know the right things to say.

“You catch fire too, Slayer.” His open mouth brushed hers. “You want it.”

She did want it. She couldn’t see anything but him. That beautiful face filled her vision, strained with passion, all that clear bone-structure sharply visible, eyelids heavy over an intense darkness of widening, enlarged pupil, his irises now only thin rings of burning blue. She lost herself in that blackness, that smolder of heat and desire.

“I want...” he began, then stopped, frowning. “Something. I don’t know what. Something more. I want...”

She saw the movement of bewilderment and uncertainty in his eyes.

“It was my fault we broke up, wasn’t it?”

“Spike, no. It wasn’t!”

“I did something. Dawn said...”

“She was wrong. It wasn’t you. It was all my issues.”

“I feel...sadness. A weight. Here.” His hand spread over the center of his chest. “My heart hurts. Guilt?”

“No!” she said fiercely. “No guilt! There’s nothing to feel guilty about! If anyone should feel guilty, it should be me.”

He was struggling, searching for something. “Was I a monster?”

Of all the things she had flung at him, she didn’t want him remembering that! Why did that have to be the thing that came through?

“No! I was.”

“Never you.” Absolute conviction, a flash out of the darkness of his memory, something he totally believed.

“Spike, stop thinking!”

“I have to think. Don’t you see? I must.”

“Wait for it. Don’t force it. If you get it in little bits and pieces, you’ll get it all wrong! It was such a mess, so complicated, you’ll need the whole of it to understand.”

“Then I was at fault.”

“We were both at fault. Isn’t that the way it is? It’s never just one person’s fault. Wait for the whole of it before making judgments, Spike, either about you or about me. Because I’m guilty of a lot more than you are.”

“I don’t feel that.”

She could feel the tension in him, saw the shadow in his eyes, the pain beginning to come back when all had been clear before.

“Feelings can be wrong, Spike,” she said urgently. “You took too much of the blame on your shoulders. And that’s what you’re feeling now. It’s wrong. It’s not the truth. And I was happy to dump it all on you, refused to admit then that I was mostly to blame. I know it now and I won’t let you do that.”

She didn’t want him taking up that load of guilt again, didn’t want him suffering all that pain. He had to be distracted from it. And, oh, wasn’t it also what she wanted? She reached up and laid her palm against his face.

“In the meantime,” she whispered, “we could make new memories, couldn’t we?”

He looked down at her, that hesitancy still in his eyes. She wanted to take that away, bring him back to that bright laughter that had been in him at the gym, that unshadowed enjoyment.

“Don’t think. Just feel. Can we do that, Spike? Just enjoy? No worrying about past or future. Just being in the now. Just savoring the moment.”

He smiled suddenly. He had always been able to do that, focus on the one shining moment, everything else thrust aside. She was the one who could never let things just be, who insisted on bringing in all the darkness.

He bent and kissed her. Her mouth opened to him without a thought; her arms wrapped tight around his neck, holding him fiercely close. Her whole awareness suddenly telescoped down to nothing but the feel of him—the taste of his mouth and the scent of his skin and the solid reality of him against her as his arms gathered her up against his hard body.

He kissed her slowly and with deep enjoyment. She had never allowed that before; it had always been raw urgency and greed, pushing feverishly to that hurried climax when she could tear herself away and flee. This was so different and she found herself drowning in it, losing herself in him and in sensation and the sheer, exquisite delight of it.

His hands were stroking her face, sliding through her hair, exploring her in delicate, lingering caresses. She was all new to him, unknown. And he was new and unknown to her too, even though she knew every inch of him so intimately. She had never let him be more to her than a cock thrusting her to climax.

But this! She clung to him, aware of nothing but him and his tongue thrusting and sliding against hers. They kissed and kissed again, the languorous sensuality turning more urgent with the rise of passion. His smile was gone now and his eyes were heavy-lidded and rapidly darkening into a black smolder of heat.

He pushed her head back and his mouth worked its way down her throat, sucking and drawing upon her flesh. She shivered and melted helplessly against him, her bones turned to water and her whole body thrilling with painful joy. Not just because of the sensation, intense as it was, but because it was him giving it to her. His lips and his hands and his eyes looking at her with passion and hunger. Because it was Spike, whom she had thought lost to her forever.

She wanted to give him pleasure too, wanted to give him everything she had denied him before. He might not realize and value it the way he would have valued it before, when it would have meant everything to him and when he had desperately needed it. But she could give it to him now with overflowing hands, and he could take what he wanted of it and it wouldn’t matter if he discarded the rest, because she deserved that for having robbed him of it before.

Her hands caressed him, sliding beneath the bathrobe to find that alabaster satin skin, rediscover the beautiful lines of his body, the deep resilience of the ripped muscles of his chest and abs, the solid planes of clean, fine bone, all that gorgeous landscape of his body that she used but never appreciated before.

She felt him shudder against her. His eyes had been half-closed, heavy with passion. Their lids lifted now and his eyes were all blue light and burning darkness, their pupils hugely enlarged. Something moved within them, intense and painful.

“The way you touch me,” he whispered. “As if it...mattered. As if I...”

Some profound internal emotion was racking through him, deep and seismic.

“I don’t think anyone ever...”

“I love you,” she whispered.

“Buffy!”

For a moment, it was Spike looking at her with those incredulous, astonished eyes. Spike with all his memory.

Then he caught her up against him, just about eating her alive, and the moment vanished in the flare of passion for both of them.

He scooped her up. The next moment she was being dropped on the bed and his weight was settling down upon her. His hands untied the belt of her robe, then the robe was pushed open, exposing her breast, and his head was coming down. She cried out in delight as his mouth closed upon her nipple, suckling and drawing on it. Her back arched without volition, thrusting her breast into his mouth; her hands dug into his thick hair to hold his head to her.

So different, such an intensity of sweetness, because now it meant so much. His hands moving over her, kneading and caressing. His mouth tracing inflaming, unbearably erotic patterns over breast and belly and thighs. Even the mothwing flicker of his lashes against her skin.

That vamp vibration that she always felt whenever he was near suddenly intensified. The tongue sliding over her turned rough and sandpapery like a cat’s. It rasped over her nipples and she nearly screamed with the sheer pleasure of it, her nipples pebbling into points so diamond-hard it was painful. He had never done that before, knowing that to remind her of his vamp side would be to disgust her, that she would have immediately thrust him away and run. Now he didn’t know and the sensation was unbelievable, taking her to a whole new plane she had never experienced.

Fangs joined that raspy tongue, another shock and another excruciating pleasure, small sharp pinpricks that were hopelessly erotic. Her brain fried, sparks scorching through her every nerve; her whole body writhed and arched to him, flaming into white heat; she was biting him back, her nails clawing at him.

“Yes,” he purred. “Just like that.”

That slight sting of pain was only another incitement for both of them, adding another, even more ruthlessly arousing dimension of pleasure.

“Oh, love...”

She was mumbling helpless endearments into his flesh, felt him shudder and surge against her as he heard them, his eyes widening, softening as helplessly into tenderness. Those eyes were all gold now; he was all gold in the lamplight, his shoulders blocking out the world, his face filling her vision. Nothing existed but him. She wasn’t even aware of the bed beneath her or the breath in her own body.

“Want you in me, Spike!”

“Yes.”

He took her in one strong thrust, going all the way in and then just that little bit further. She cried out with the sheer ecstasy of it. To have him in her again, filling her again. She had never really valued that before, only the sensation he had brought her. Now it was the height of joy just to have him within her, stretching her the way he always did, just that little bit too big, her Slayer muscles just that little bit too tight. She clenched upon him involuntarily as he began to withdraw for the next stroke, wanting to hold him where he was.

He gasped with shock and pleasure, his forehead falling against hers, his breath a harsh pant against her face. He had forgotten what Slayer muscles could do.

“God, Buffy!”

He’d been in control of himself until now, focused as always on giving her pleasure, that intent care that made him such a fabulous lover. Now he lost control, powering into her, his eyes going blind with pleasure. She wanted him that way, wanted to give him pleasure, met his every thrust as fiercely, as violently, the two of them driving each other into that maelstrom of exquisite, ecstatic sensation.

His head dropped, their cheekbones pressing hard together. She felt his mouth against her neck, the prick of his fangs on the skin above the vein. It was unthinking, the drive of that vampiric instinct that he now didn’t remember was forbidden. She would never have allowed it before. Now she didn’t care, wanted him to have anything he desired.

“Take it,” she whispered and pulled his mouth down upon her neck.

His fangs slid in painlessly, as smooth as silk, and the draw started. And instantly she was rewarded for her impulse. Pure ecstasy. Pure fire blazing through her every vein. Her eyes shot wide in shock and rapture. Nothing like the other times she had been bitten, by the Master, by Angel. Those bites hadn’t happened during lovemaking and she hadn’t known, hadn’t even dreamed what it could be like.

An exaltation, that double penetration of his cock and his fangs, driving her higher and higher until mind and body could bear no more and her brain blanked right out in the most shattering climax she had ever experienced. She felt him jolt and pulse within her.

They fell over the edge together.



TBC
Chapter 7 by dreamweaver
Chapter 7


He was happy. The darkness was still there, hovering on the edges of his consciousness, freighted with its weight of pain and guilt. He ignored it, drifting in this bubble of sensuous pleasure, their bodies easy and relaxed in satiation, lying on their sides, her thigh across his hip, her head in the curve of his shoulder. Her hands stroked him in long slides across his shoulders and back and torso, petting him as if he were a cat and, like a cat, he couldn’t help purring and arching to the caress.

“Was it like this before?” he asked dreamily.

“No. Never.” She looked up at him and the darkness was in her eyes too. “You wanted to make it so, right from the beginning. I wouldn’t let it happen.”

“Because I’m a vamp.”

“Yes. So many stupid issues. I blame myself. For not thinking, not seeing.”

“Don’t. It doesn’t matter.”

“It might if your memory comes back. I don’t want you remembering the way I acted.” Her arms tightened fiercely around him. “You might leave me then.”

“I don’t leave.” That came out of the depths, with absolute conviction.

“No. You never do, even when you should.” Her lips brushed his throat, her breath shuddering against his skin. “I’m not totally selfish. I want you to have your memory back, to be able to make informed decisions. I want you to be free. I used to be so scared of being left. Everyone I’ve ever loved has left me. But now I’ve grown. I’ve learned. I could bear it if you left. As long as you’re not dead. As long as you exist somewhere.”

“Buffy...”

“I just want you to be happy.”

“I am happy.” Something in him said that he had never been happier, that this was new, her arms enfolding him like this, cherishing him, the love in her eyes, the sweetness and the wonder of it. His heart hurt him. “I don’t think I’ve ever been. I’m not going to give it up.”

“When you remember, all the bad things I’ve done will come back. All the years of them.”

“Won’t compare to what we have now.”

“A few short days of acting properly don’t make up for years of...”

“You gonna change then?” he murmured into her hair. “You gonna go back to the way it was and break up with me again?”

“Never!”

“Well, then. The rest of our lives is pretty fair compensation.”

She looked at him worriedly. “You might not want that. You might forget all this. No one knows how amnesia works. You might remember all the bad things and forget these last few days.”

“Then remind me.” He rolled onto his back and pulled her upon him, a light sweet whispery weight. “Jump my bones. This vamp’s easily distracted, remember?”

She laughed involuntarily. He kissed her, smiling.

“Tell me you love me, pet. That’s probably all it would take.”

Oh, she hoped so. Buffy wasn’t taking anything for granted. Not this time. So many things could still go wrong.

She watched him over the next few days. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Whatever doubts he might have had about himself, about her, seemed to have been dismissed. He had always had a talent for living in the moment and that seemed to be what he had decided to do. He was even enjoying training the SITs, his reservations about the school laid aside.

It had been decided not to waste his time with the SITs just starting their training. He was given the ones close to graduating, to put the final polish on them and get them accustomed to what a truly dangerous vamp could do. Buffy wondered whether Giles also hoped that one of them might accidentally dust him in the process. But Spike was too good for any of the SITs to take him.

She leaned on the railing of the mezzanine, watching them trying to beat him one on one and failing. She dropped in at least once a session to keep an eye on things. Giles, still worried about Spike’s vamp side despite the soul, insisted that the leader of each squad always be present when Spike was training that squad.

This time it was Kennedy, standing against the wall, pulling on a strand of her long black hair and frowning as she watched Spike take one of the members of her squad through her paces. She glanced up as she felt Buffy’s gaze. A flash of hostility went through her eyes, then she looked back to Spike and the SIT.

Always that hostility from Kennedy. She was Willow’s new lover, but anyone less like Tara Buffy couldn’t imagine. Tara had been shy, quiet and giving. Kennedy was brash, loud and a taker. Even before the battle at the Hellmouth, she had established herself as the foremost of the Potentials, turning drill-sergeant, chivvying and ordering them around. Here at the school, she had kept that up, using her access to Willow and her own aggressiveness to make herself the most dominant squad leader.

Kennedy wanted to be top dog. But she never would be, because there was always Buffy in her way. Buffy was acknowledged by everyone as the leader of the Slayers. Her experience and the reputation that she had earned over the years ensured it. It wasn’t that she sought the role the way Kennedy did. She just was. And Kennedy hated it.

Buffy sighed. She had never wanted to become some general responsible for scores of troops. She would have been happy to turn the job over to Kennedy, but neither Giles nor the girls would agree to that. Spike’s idea of Slayers scattered across the globe on their own suddenly seemed very attractive. She didn’t mind training the SITs, but she would have preferred to be independent again. She found herself looking back on her years at Sunnydale with nostalgia.

Spike’s scenario would give her that, once the last of the SITs had been trained and dispatched. She could have a roving commission then, go where she wanted while still being in contact with Giles and his Council. Kind of a troubleshooter, straightening out problems anywhere in the world. She liked that idea.

Willow came in the main doors of the gym, looked around, then located Buffy on the mezzanine and gave a tiny, beckoning jerk of the head. Buffy went down to join her.

“What’s up, Will?”

“I talked to Giles about the Wicca.”

“How did he take it?”

“He wasn’t happy, but I talked him around.”

“That’s great news!”

“I just have to work out a viable plan to get them all slotted into place with the others.” Willow looked at once rueful and pleased. “A lot of work, but it’ll be worth it. But then I got so blissed about him finally agreeing that I went and said the rest of it. Really boneheaded.”

“What do you mean?”

“I talked about Spike’s idea of dispersing the trained Slayers instead of keeping them collected in a group.”

“Whoa. And of course Giles didn’t like it.”

“To put it mildly.” Willow winced at the memory of how cold and hostile Giles’ eyes had gone. “He asked how I’d come up with the idea so suddenly since I’d never mentioned anything like that before. And I didn’t see the way he was looking and I was so enthused that...”

“That you said Spike suggested it.”

“Yeah. And he said...” Willow’s voice dropped into an imitation of Giles’ tone, an ominous, grating sound, “‘So it was Spike’s idea.’”

Buffy bit her lip. “Well, it was. But it was only a suggestion. You know Spike. He just throws things out there.”

“That’s what I told Giles, but...” Willow gave her an uneasy look. “You didn’t hear the way he said it. Or the way he looked. He was really mad, Buff. I could tell.”

“Do you think he’d hurt Spike?”

“I don’t know. What would be the point? The idea’s already out on the table. And it’s not like Spike could make it happen.”

“That’s true. But...” Buffy rubbed a hand worriedly across her forehead. “It’s just...It’s just that I don’t seem to know Giles anymore.”

“He wouldn’t hurt Spike just for a suggestion. He knows you wouldn’t stand for it, Buffy.”

“Stand for what?” Spike asked.

They looked around. The session was over and Kennedy was shepherding her squad out of the gym.

“Giles causing trouble,” Willow explained.

Spike dropped his forearms over Buffy’s shoulders and pulled her back to lean against him, his wrists crossed under her chin.

“He does, I walk,” he said simply.

“We both walk,” said Buffy, but he shook his head.

“Your life’s here, pet.”

“My life’s with you.”

He turned his head so that his lips brushed her temple. “Become rogue demon hunters, shall we? Might be fun at that.”

Willow looked at both of them with affection. There was a shine to them, a softness in the way they touched and smiled at each other. They had clearly become lovers somewhere in the last few days. She had never seen Buffy so happy. ‘If we Scoobies hadn’t interfered,’ she thought, ‘Buffy would have been this happy years ago.’

Was it the soul that had made the difference? She looked at the way Spike was cradling Buffy against him. No, it wasn’t that. Spike might be different after he had won his soul, but this care and tenderness had been there with Dru. Spike had always had that heart of his. We changed, Willow thought. If only we had taken our blinders off earlier; we would have saved them so much pain.

A sharp pang pierced her. Now she could understand Xander wishing it was Anya who had come back. Willow wished it was Tara. It was disloyal to Kennedy to wish that, but Kennedy had never truly replaced Tara in her heart, just in her bed.

There was an explosive crack of sound and a glare of white light. They all flung up their arms to shield their eyes.

“What the fuck?” exclaimed Spike.

Then the light was gone and a bunch of Chiriwan were milling about in the middle of the gym.

“Portal!” gasped Willow.

“Weapons cabinet, Spike!” snapped Buffy, uncaring how the Chiriwan had got there and at this moment concentrating only on how to remove them.

The weapons cabinet on the wall of the gym was locked. Spike smashed it in with the heel of his booted foot, snatched out a sword and threw it to Buffy. He grabbed one for himself just as a couple of the Chiriwan moved towards them. The others were already lumbering out of the gym, escaping into the corridors.

“We’ve got to stop them! Alert the full-Slayers, Will,” Buffy called over her shoulder as she moved to intercept a Chiriwan. “All the squad leaders. Tell them to grab a sword or an axe and get down here!”

There were already shouts of outrage coming from the corridors as the SITs realized what was in their midst. Not screams of fear, Buffy noted with satisfaction; just surprise and anger.

“Intruder alert,” Willow was snapping under her breath behind her, a mutter that might be soft to the hearing, but would be loud in the minds to which she was projecting. “Chiriwan. Squad leaders to Level 3 asap.”

Buffy ducked the talons whipping at her, flung herself in a controlled slide past the legs of the Chiriwan attacking her and sliced her sword through the tendons at the back of its knee. The thing roared in pain and sat down abruptly. That brought its head to her level and she decapitated it with one stroke. Spike had already dusted his. They had both learned a lot from killing the ones in the park.

But there were still more out in the corridors. She grabbed a few more swords out of the weapons cabinet and ran out of the gym, Spike racing after her.

The corridors were a whirl of yelling activity. SITs were surrounding each Chiriwan, weaving around them in dizzying circles, ducking the blows as the roaring, rampaging creatures slashed at them. Only a few of the SITs were armed, but the squad leaders racing out of the elevators and stairwells certainly were.

“Twylla, Kim, Andrea!” Buffy threw them swords. “Hamstring them! Bring them down to where you can cut off their heads. You others, distract them!”

She and Spike flung themselves at Chiriwan. So did the squad leaders and the armed SITs, while the others spun around the beleaguered monsters, shouting to confuse them.

It took some doing, but finally the last of them was brought down. The melée ended with the Chiriwan no more than piles of dust on the floor. The tumult and the uproar ceased and everyone caught their breath. Buffy and Spike had accounted for two more Chiriwan, the armed SITS had brought down another and the full-Slayers had taken care of the rest.

But it hadn’t been without cost. One of the squad leaders had been badly gashed and some of the SITs had broken bones or were bruised from being knocked into walls. But they were all grinning in triumph, aware that they had all behaved as Slayers and were blooded now.

“I am so proud of all of you!” said Buffy fervently and they beamed.

“Someone aimed them at us,” Willow said behind her. “Chiriwan don’t group together like that. Just opening a portal wouldn’t get them falling through in a bunch. They were collected and sent!”

“Find out who sent them,” said Giles from where he was holding the elevator doors open, having rushed down from his top-floor office.

Willow nodded. “I’ll get the Wicca on it right away.”

Giles nodded brusquely and stabbed at the elevator buttons. The doors closed and the elevator carried him away.

He should have said something to the SITs, praised them, Buffy thought worriedly. They had done an exemplary job. Buffy had seen that preoccupied look on his face before when he was absorbed in some research, so she knew he wasn’t consciously ignoring the SITs. But they didn’t and a lot of them were looking hurt that he had been so curt and abrupt.

But then, Lord, she had made the same mistake that last year fighting the First, so worried and engrossed in plans that she hadn’t realized that a simple word of praise or encouragement, even a smile, would have been a bigger boost to the Potentials than all the tubthumping she had done.

“Okay, let’s get everyone patched up,” she said, “and then we’re gonna have a celebration. Forget about even guard duty, just lock down the whole place, break out the snacks and drinks and music, and let’s make whoopee.”

“Yes!”

Buffy grinned at the yell of approval that went up.

“We should ask Giles,” said Kennedy repressively beside her, scowling at the SITs flying off jubilantly in all directions to bring out hoarded stores of food and CDs.

“When it comes to the Slayers, Buffy makes the decisions, not the Council,” said Willow.

Kennedy frowned at her. “We’re being attacked. What if there’s another intrusion?”

“A couple of Willow’s Wiccas can keep a lookout,” Buffy shrugged. She glanced at the squad leaders and den mothers who nodded back to indicate that they would all keep an eye out on both the SITs and any outside trouble. “They’ll warn us. The rest can come join in the fun. Come on. Three hundred SITs can handle anything. Haven’t they just proved it?”

“It’s an unnecessary risk.”

“No. It’s a necessary one,” said Buffy flatly

Willow nodded. “It’s good for morale. And we can all use an afternoon off.”

Kennedy didn’t like it. But then Kennedy wasn’t a pat-you-on-the-back type. Kennedy was more a drop-and-give-me-fifty.

In no time at all, the place was rocking with the blare of voices and bodies gyrating to music at full volume with the bass turned all the way up so that the vibrations just about shook the Hall off its foundations. Giles turned up in shock to protest and was soothed by Buffy and Willow before finally fleeing the Hall entirely in his quest for peace and quiet.

“You gonna run out on me too?” Buffy yelled to Spike who was grinning and wincing at once, his vampire hearing severely lacerated by the noise.

“I don’t run, Slayer. Mind you, this is really over and above the call of duty, but I’ve got your back.”

“You say that from the position you’re in?”

They were both sitting on the floor in the rec room, leaning against the back of a couch. The party had now spread to all three of the below ground floors. Buffy had pulled Spike back to rest against her, sprawled comfortably in the circle of her arms, his head in the curve of her shoulder. She had his back, not he hers. They both laughed.

Xander gave them a sideways glance as he passed. It was totally obvious to everyone that the two of them were lovers and Xander was still not really sure whether he was reconciled to that. The SITs were all taking it completely for granted now.

“Some...interesting dance moves,” remarked Spike, smirking up at him.

“All original and out of my own head.” Xander hunkered down on his heels beside them and surreptitiously passed Spike a flask.

Spike took a long slug. “Glenlivet.”

“For us grownups. On this job, one needs it.”

Spike handed back the flask, one eyebrow raised in amusement. “A real chore, that is. Being the only male in the middle of three hundred teenage girls and all those raging hormones.”

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

“I feel for you.”

Several slender hands snatched Xander up and off into a cluster of dancing bodies. They both had to laugh at the expression of sublime satisfaction on his face.

“Not a bad guy,” remarked Spike.

Buffy looked down at him ruefully. Was it the soul making him so accepting of Xander? He would never have said that before. More likely it was the lack of memory. Xander had always been rude and insulting to him in the past and of course he had sniped back. They had never been anything but enemies. But Xander had learned his lesson during that last year after he had left Anya at the altar and then when she had died. He’d grown and changed as they all had. She thought that even without a soul Spike would have been willing to be friends back then if Xander had permitted it.

Her arms tightened around him. All of this was so much better than the way it had been. She just hoped it wouldn’t all vanish when his memory came back.

She was holding him with one arm over his shoulders and across his chest, and the other around his waist. He stroked her forearm over and over where it lay across his chest, his hand sliding back and forth from her elbow to her wrist in an absorbed, lazily sensual caress that sent little subterranean shivers along her nerves.

“Do you like it here?” he asked.

“I have to show my face here for at least an hour more. We can’t leave yet.”

He laughed under his breath. “Glad you’re thinking the way I’m thinking.”

She turned her head so that her lips brushed his neck just under his ear and smiled when she felt the responding quiver that went through him.

“Don’t you ever get enough of that?”

He slanted her an amused, sideways glance. “I thought you knew me.”

“I do. Hedonist.”

“Wow. A more than two syllable word.” He laughed at her and she grinned. “No, I meant this school. Do you like it?”

“I guess.” She thought about that. It was nice having friends around, solid support, a good salary. “Don’t you?”

“Too many people.”

“Yeah.”

Ever since the Potentials had first started turning up, she had been in the middle of a crowd of people. First the Potentials, then later collecting the SITs, then this Hall and training all of them. The responsibility. The lack of privacy. So many more burdens than she had ever had back in Sunnydale when she and the Scoobs had faced all those apocalypses.

“Being a rogue demon hunter has never been so attractive before,” she muttered.

She had just been going along with the flow before, as she always had. Now she thought that training SITs was not what she wanted to do.

It wasn’t how she had thought her life would end up. What had she really wanted? A normal life? A house with a white picket fence, two point five kids, a dog? That was just silly. She was what she was. The Slayer in her enjoyed conflict, enjoyed testing herself, living to the fullest. Fighting demons and apocalypses was fun. Normal would be dull for the kind of person she was. A normal life was not what she really wanted.

But neither was the school. So what did she want?

Family and friends around her and someone to love who would love her back, who would be lover and partner and dearest friend. She looked down at Spike. There he was. There he had always been and she had never seen it. Her equal. Her mate.

“I love you,” she said.

His hand tightened on her forearm. She could see the struggle in his eyes.

He didn’t know himself yet, who he was, what he was. How could he know what he felt towards her? And he wouldn’t say it unless he meant it. How many times had he said it to her before and she had rejected it, dismissed it as mere obsession? If he didn’t love her now, if he walked away, she would deserve it.

“I know you can’t say it back,” she said. “That doesn’t matter.”

“It touches something inside me,” he said under his breath. “It hurts.”

“I don’t want it to hurt you. I just wanted you to know.”

He turned his head to brush his lips over the inside of her elbow where it lay across his shoulder. She shivered at the touch of his mouth against her skin, bare under her short sleeve of her tee, dropped her head to press her lips to his cheekbone just in front of his ear.

He gave her a sudden, sideways, laughing glance. There were gold sparkles going off within the vivid blue of his eyes. She felt the prick of his fangs against her skin, the flicker of a raspy tongue within the hollow of her elbow. Then his fangs slid painlessly into the vein there.

“Spike! We’re in the middle of a crowd!”

He just gave her that sideways, sloe-eyed look and the draw started, that shining thrilling rapture singing through her every nerve. He wasn’t drawing strongly, just suckling, taking hardly a trickle from her, almost drop by drop. But pleasure shot through her entire body.

“God, Spike!” She cast a wild glance around. But no one had noticed. It looked like he was just kissing the inside of her elbow, an intimacy, yes, but no more than that. “Wicked!”

She felt his breath cool against her skin as he laughed around his fangs. He was shuddering too, his muscles tensing against her. Taking her blood was as much a turn on for him as it was for her.

Orgasmic. An extended, drawn out, unending orgasm. Her senses swam. She lost all sense of time.

Someone tripped over their legs. She came back to herself with a jolt and looked around. Spike lazily retracted his fangs from her flesh.

“You guys gonna go on cuddling forever or you gonna come dance?” asked Vi.

Cuddling! That couldn’t have been more intense and intimate if he had taken her right there. Spike was laughing. She could feel him vibrating with passion like a plucked guitar string against her. She was shuddering too.

“I think...we’ll just be leaving now,” she muttered.

“Yeah, the party’s gonna go on all night,” agreed Vi. “Most of the squad leaders have gone and the den mothers have taken over. I’ll probably leave in half an hour too.”

It was...my God, it was over an hour later! She gave Spike a wild glance and he grinned at her.

“See what a vamp can do for you?” he purred in her ear.

She had never thought, never experienced. She had never let him be the vamp he was. And even Angel had remained human that one time they had made love. The vampire side, the demon, had horrified her. But, God, what it could do!

“Wait till I get you home,” she muttered.

“Looking forward to it.” His eyes were shining.

That extended, excruciatingly sensual build up had set them both shatteringly on edge. Clothes got shredded in their haste before they fell into bed, naked and laughing, kissing ferociously. Raw, animal greed.

But it was more than that. Spike could feel it. It was passion and greed. But it was also love and tenderness.

He was beginning to realize how precious that was to him. The way she looked at him, the way her arms and body enfolded him, cherished him, the way she said she loved him. Something in the black void that was his memory rejoiced, some deep yearning fulfilled.

He took her deeply, groaning with pleasure at the resistance of those incredible Slayer muscles, feeling her sheath surround and clench fiercely upon him, her body arch and writhe against his, her nails claw down his back with that stinging pain that was not pain but intense stimulation. His fangs slid into her neck almost without his volition, the natural reaction to that stimulus, returning it, the draw of her blood taking them both higher into that mindblowing plane of agonizing rapture.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Oh, yes.”

He raised his head, the taste of her Slayer blood filling his mouth, singing through his veins, looked down and saw that complete, devastating love and caring in her eyes. It broke him—that look. It harrowed his soul. Something in him rose up violently to seize it to him, that surrender that was everything he ever wanted

“Mine,” he whispered. “Buffy, you’re mine.”

Something complicated flashed across her face—laughter, triumph, satisfaction.

“Yes!” she said intensely. “Yes. I’m yours.”

That was when he realized what he had done on taking her blood this time. Claimed her. And she had agreed. She was his.

Inside that darkness, something exulted, something nearly wept with joy.

“Now you,” he breathed, drawing her mouth to his neck.

“No.” She kissed his neck, wound her arms fiercely around him. “I won’t bind you to me until your memory comes back. I won’t chain you. I’m yours. I wanted your claim. But you might not want me when you remember everything I’ve done. You might want to repudiate the claim when your memory comes back. I want you to be free to do so.”

“Buffy...”

“I won’t use you. Not again. I’m yours. We’ll wait to find out if you’re really mine.”

Her mouth took his; her sheath clenched upon him. He lost the ability to think, could only feel, losing himself in the driving rhythms of their lovemaking until he heard her scream, joined her in that ecstatic, shattering climax that nearly turned him inside out.

Maybe he would stay, Buffy thought, watching him over the next few days. She had resigned herself to his loss, because accepting what might happen was less painful than hope. But now she was beginning to think that she hadn’t given either of them enough credit. Now she was beginning to hope.

He was adjusting to her; adjusting to the SITs and enjoying himself training them; even adjusting to the school, though she could see that he still had reservations about it. The SITs all seemed comfortable with having a vamp around. They liked him. But then Spike could be charming when he wanted to and when those he was trying to charm had no prejudices against him.

She thought he might stay now, memory or not. Everything seemed to be working out.

“Buffy!” screamed one of the SITs, racing into the secondary training room where Buffy was taking a squad through its paces. “Vi wants you in the gym!”

Buffy spun. “What’s wrong?”

“They’re killing Spike!”



TBC
Chapter 8 by dreamweaver
Chapter 8


The gym was a storm of furious activity, SITs fighting each other across the length and breadth of it. And in the middle was an embattled Spike struggling to defend himself while still trying not to damage his assailants too badly.

Buffy fought her way towards the core of the fight where a group of SITs were attacking Spike. Girls kept being flung out of that whirlpool, but they were Slayers and he wasn’t trying to kill them. They hit the floor, rebounded onto their feet and flung themselves back at him. They had stakes in their hands, Buffy saw. Real wooden stakes, not the rubber practice ones. They meant to dust him.

Other SITs were trying to stop them, but they were outnumbered. More SITs were running through the main doors of the gym, shouting questions. Vi was already there in the midst of the storm, yelling at the attackers and fighting to keep them away from Spike.

Buffy reached that seething mass and grabbed a SIT in her path. She didn’t know whether this one was on Spike’s side or not; she just flung her out of the way and bored right in, spraying bodies to right and left. Spike and Vi were handicapped by trying not to hurt their attackers. Buffy, in a perfect rage, had no such compunctions. If there was a doubt whether someone was friend or foe, she just struck her to one side. If they were clearly attacking Spike, they got knocked cold or flung clear across the gym. She didn’t care if any of them broke bones. They were Slayers. They would heal. And they had dared to try to kill Spike.

In the center of the melée, Spike was battling Kennedy while Vi tried to keep other SITs away from him. Kennedy’s face was contorted with fury and murderous intent. With her long black hair whipping around that snarling mask, she looked like a gorgon, more like a demon than Spike did because he still hadn’t gone into gameface. His tee shirt was ripped both front and back from where Kennedy had slashed at him. There were bleeding gashes on his jaw and chest and back where the point of the stake had cut his flesh.

There was a flash of blinding light.

Everybody stop!” Willow’s voice commanded, hugely amplified.

The gym was shocked into stillness. Except for Kennedy. She was intent on dusting Spike and nothing was going to stop her.

Buffy did. She grabbed Kennedy’s right arm as it slammed the stake down straight at Spike’s heart. With complete deliberation, Buffy broke Kennedy’s arm in two places. Kennedy screamed. The stake fell from her suddenly powerless hand and clattered onto the polished wooden floor.

There were gasps of shock and horror. Everybody was frozen, SITs still holding each other in furious grapples. Only Spike moved. He raced across the gym and took one flying leap up onto the mezzanine. In a blink of time, he had ripped the mezzanine door open and grabbed at someone behind it. The next moment, two snarling, entangled bodies rolled across the mezzanine, then fell over the rail and onto the gym floor. They separated for a second on impact, then rebounded to their feet and flew at each other in full gameface. Spike and Angel viciously trying to kill one another.

“You broke my arm!” Kennedy screamed at Buffy. “What kind of Slayer are you?”

“I told you. Anyone who tries to hurt Spike gets busted up! I don’t care if you’re a Slayer or not.”

“He’s a vamp!”

“Yeah,” one of her followers hissed. “Vamp lover!”

The SIT holding that girl struck her across the mouth. “You shut up! He helped us! He killed two of the Chiriwans trying to kill us! How could you try to kill him?”

“We had orders!”

“My orders were that no one hurts Spike,” Buffy snarled. “You took Kennedy’s orders? I rank Kennedy!”

“You rank nothing!” Kennedy snarled back. “You’re just another Slayer, no different from the rest of us, for all you go throwing your weight around.”

“She’s the Slayer,” said Vi. “We take her orders, not yours.”

“Yeah,” said Rona behind her.

Kennedy looked around. All the full-Slayers were there now, ranging themselves at Buffy’s back, and the rest of the SITs were hurrying into the gym. Kennedy and her followers were now vastly outnumbered, though most of the SITs looked bewildered, not committed one way or the other.

“She doesn’t give the orders here,” Kennedy snapped. “She’s not our boss. Giles is.”

Buffy turned slowly to stare at her. “Giles ordered you to kill Spike? Giles authorized this?”

“What did you think he’d do with you buying everything that vamp says? The way you’re acting, it’s like that thing has got a thrall on you. Or maybe it’s just the way he fucks that makes you willing to sell us all down the river.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Did you think we wouldn’t find out?” Kennedy flung at her. “Willow told Giles. You’re planning to split us all up, so we wouldn’t be an army anymore. And it was all his idea. Spike’s. Willow admitted it! Of course a demon wouldn’t want an army of Slayers. His kind wouldn’t be able to fight us if we’re grouped together. Of course he wants us alone and vulnerable. Together we’re powerful. Invincible! He doesn’t want that.”

“Power,” said Willow, putting down the megaphone she had used and coming slowly across the gym. “That’s what you want. Just like Giles. I never saw that before. I shut it out. You want to be top dog, want to have that power. If the Slayers were spread out across the globe, you’d lose that. You’d only be one among many.”

“You’re taking her side, aren’t you?” Kennedy accused. “You always take her side!”

“I’m not choosing one of you over the other. I never would,” said Willow sadly. “I just try to choose what is right.”

Kennedy laughed scornfully. “Would you have said that to your sainted Tara?”

Willow stared at her as if she had never seen her before. “Loyalty is of the good. But not when it conflicts with what is right. Tara taught me that. She walked out on me when I was doing wrong, even though she loved me. Tara would never have wanted me to choose her above what’s right.”

“So you’re saying I’m always wrong?”

“Not always. But this time you are,” Buffy said quietly. “Dispersing the Slayers was only a suggestion. You’ve all overreacted. You because you didn’t want to lose the power. Giles because he wants to stay in control. Angel because he wanted an opportunity to dispose of Spike. Willow, break them up, would you?”

Angel and Spike were still trying to kill each other on one side of the gym, but they were so evenly matched that neither could get the upper hand. It hadn’t seemed urgent to stop them.

But now when she turned to look at them, she realized that Spike had somehow achieved a choke hold on Angel. He had an arm around Angel’s throat from the back and he was steadily bending Angel into a backwards arc despite Angel’s attempts to throw him off. In a few seconds, Angel’s spine would snap. It wasn’t a killing move and Spike clearly did not mean to kill. But he definitely meant to break Angel’s back. Even for a vamp, that would be painful and Angel would be months recovering. Buffy knew that because she had once put Spike in a wheelchair with just exactly that.

“Whoa! Willow, now!”

Willow hurriedly whispered a few words under her breath, then placed her hands together and slowly spread them apart. Spike found Angel suddenly pulled out of his grip. Angel whipped around to face him, then found his feet sliding on the polished wood of the gym floor. Both snarling furiously, they found themselves pushed inexorably away from each other.

Spike realized what was happening first and spun to face Buffy.

“Saving him again, Slayer? You realize that’s he’s the one who set this up, don’t you? Watcher might have ordered it, but I’ll bet you anything Peaches is the one who talked him into it.”

Buffy knew he was right.

“Where is Giles?” she asked grimly.

“Up there.” Spike jerked a thumb at the mezzanine. “He was hiding with Peaches before I yanked the poof into the open. He’s still there.”

“Giles, come out,” Buffy called. “You wouldn’t like it if I have to come up there and drag you out.”

Giles walked through the mezzanine door and crossed to set his hands on the railing. He had his head raised proudly and there was no trace of shame or guilt on his face. He made an actually quite impressive figure, standing there glaring down at them from on high. Buffy looked at him reproachfully, coldly angry and bitterly hurt.

“Why, Giles?”

“You let him claim you,” said Giles harshly. “Angel knew it the minute he walked into the Hall. You couldn’t hope to keep it hidden from another vampire.”

There were gasps of shock all across the gym. The SITs let each other go and stood staring. Even Kennedy, hugging her broken arm protectively to her, looked stupefied.

“A Slayer letting a vampire claim her!” Giles’ voice rang through the suddenly completely silent gym. “Letting him have power over her like that. You crossed the line when you consented to that. Did you actually think that such a thing would be permitted? What a blessing I asked Angel to come over for a consultation! We would never have known otherwise!”

“Traitor!” whispered Kennedy.

Buffy looked around at all the horrified faces. All the SITs were in the gym now. So were the full-Slayers, their duties abandoned, and even some of the Wicca, their eyes holding that faintly distracted look that said they were relaying what was happening to the others.

“That’s between Spike and me! It’s no one else’s business!”

“It is our business!” thundered Giles. “A Slayer—and that one you, our most influential Slayer!— under the control of a vampire? That cannot be allowed!”

“He tricked you, didn’t he, Buffy,” Angel said.

“Maybe he thralled her,” whispered one of the SITs, trying to find some excuse.

“Spike doesn’t have a thrall and he didn’t trick me.” Buffy turned to look at all of them. “I chose to let him claim me! I love him and I want to be bound to him.”

“No!” said Angel. “He’s done something to you, Buffy!”

“Why should you think that? Because I choose him over you? I told you he was in my heart, Angel. But you didn’t want to know what I meant by that. You managed not to hear, just as you always do, to just ignore whatever you don’t want to have happen. Well, I’m telling you flat out. I love him.”

“What you think you feel does not matter,” said Giles. “A Slayer cannot be tied to a vamp. Especially with a one-way claim, as you have allowed.”

“You don’t understand, Buffy,” said Angel. “Of course he wouldn’t have told you. If it had been a full claim you would both have power over each other and the holds would have cancelled each other out. But a one-way claim like this allows him complete control over you.”

“The claim must be broken,” thundered Giles.

“A one-way claim can be broken,” nodded Angel. “It’s not like a full claim, which is unbreakable. But there are only two ways. Either by death or by the vampire relinquishing his claim.”

“And since it’s unlikely that Spike will relinquish the claim,” said Giles grimly, “the only option is...”

“I will not let you kill him!” snarled Buffy. She looked angrily around at all of them. “He died for us in the Hellmouth! Only a few days ago, he put his life on the line one more time defending all you SITs from the Chiriwan! How can you think he wants to hurt us now? I won’t let you hurt him! I’ll die first!”

“I relinquish the claim!” said Spike suddenly.

Ever since that night there had been that thread of connection between them, a warmth, a little sizzling electric shiver of awareness and joining that hinted at the far more profound joining that a full claim would be. That died now. Abruptly, as if a cord had been cut, and the emptiness that was left after it was gone was shocking.

Buffy spun to face him. “Spike!”

“They won’t ever let it go, pet.” He took her face gently in his hands. “A Slayer can’t be tied to a vampire. Peaches, the Watcher, the Council, they won’t let it happen. Not gonna let you sacrifice yourself for me. Your life is here. You have to live with these people.”

“My life is with you!”

“No, Slayer, it isn’t. I guess I always knew that.”

“Always?” Then her eyes widened and her hands closed suddenly on his wrists. “Peaches! You called Angel Peaches! Your memory’s come back, hasn’t it?”

He nodded. “Most of it.”

“You remember!”

“Too much. We’ll talk about it later. I’m going back to the flat.” He looked around at all the hostile faces. “All of this, it isn’t my business. It’s an internal matter for you Slayers. I’m only a vamp and I’ll make things worse for you if I stay. I have to think. When you’re done, come home and we’ll talk.”

He kissed her lightly, his lips cool and sweet. But she could feel him withdrawing himself. Then he was stalking out of the gym, scooping up his duster on the way.

No one made a move to stop him. They all knew she would have killed anyone who tried.

“Well, that was easier than I thought,” said Angel with some surprise. “He relinquished the claim. I didn’t think he would do that. I thought we’d have to dust him to set you free.”

He came and set his hands lightly on her shoulders, smiling widely.

“But you’re safe now, Buffy.”

Buffy hit him. He staggered backwards, tripped over his own feet and fell flat onto his back. Buffy swooped on him like a striking hawk. The stake that she had scooped from the ground swung high, then slammed down.

Angel yelled in shock. So did everyone else. Then everything went breathlessly still. Except for Angel’s gasp of pain, the whole gym was totally silent.

“I didn’t want to be free,” said Buffy.

She looked down with cold satisfaction at Angel pegged to the polished wooden floor of the gym. She had driven the stake right through the hollow of his shoulder and deep into the wood, fastening him to the floor like a butterfly on a pin.

“Maybe now you’ll listen,” she said. “I am tired of you interfering with my life. I am tired of you doing things to me ‘for my own good’. I am tired of you always doing what you want and never caring what I want. I keep telling you to butt out, but you never listen. Maybe the pain will finally make it get through to you.”

“Buffy!” exclaimed Giles, appalled. “He was only trying to help you! It was for...”

“If you say it was for my own good, Giles, I’ll pin you to the floor right next to him.”

“For God’s sake, Buffy! This is barbaric! You can’t do that to a man who...”

“But he’s not a man, is he? He’s a vamp. A disgusting thing. He’s not human. He doesn’t feel pain. He doesn’t feel love. He doesn’t feel at all. Isn’t that what you keep telling me about Spike?” She gave him a bitter, furious smile. “What’s the difference, Giles? What makes Angel worthy and Spike not?”

“Buffy!” Angel gasped. “I love y...”

“Do you? Your definition of love doesn’t gibe with mine, Angel. But who cares who you love? What matters to me is who I love. And I love Spike.”

“You can’t!”

“Want me to drive that stake even further into the floor? What has your ‘love’ ever done for me, Angel? Spike died for me. He got a soul for me. He sacrificed himself for all of us in the Hellmouth. You? All you’ve ever done is run out on me.”

“Buffy, that’s not fair!” Giles protested.

“I really wouldn’t use that word, Giles. When have you ever been fair to Spike? You’ve never given him a fair chance. The claim. Did you even consider waiting to see whether he would force me into evil? Make me to do wrong. No. You didn’t want to wait for proof. You just decided on a pre-emptive strike. You were going to dust him just because you were afraid. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply to demons, does it?”

“Uh, Buffy,” Willow murmured hesitantly, wincing at the sight of Angel struggling to pull the stake out of his shoulder. “Can’t we discuss all of this after...?”

Buffy shrugged indifferently. “He’s a vamp. He’ll heal in no time. It’s just at an awkward angle so he can’t pull free easily. It’ll keep him out of the way for a bit.” She looked around at all the SITs. “What were you all afraid Spike would make me do? Smuggle demons in to kill you all in your beds? Get a grip!”

“He wants to split us up!” Kennedy flung at her.

“He wanted you independent, standing on your own feet!”

“We’re powerful when we’re together! An army of Slayers! A real threat to demons! He didn’t want that. So he was going to neutralize that threat! Make us just nothing!”

“We don’t need an army,” said Xander unexpectedly from the main door of the gym. “One Slayer by herself is an army. You don’t need to be all clustered together. I mean, I like having you girls around. It’s like being turned loose in a chocolate factory. But Spike did have a point. You’d be more effective spread out across the globe. Merciful Zeus, Kennedy! We were just kicking ideas around. All he did was suggest something and you want to dust him for it. Whatever happened to free speech?”

“That’s the first thing to go in a totalitarian regime,” said Willow. “And that’s what the Council is starting to turn into. I found out who sent those Chiriwan. They were sent by a group of Wicca Giles was harassing. Retaliation. They wanted to make our lives as miserable as we were making theirs. And they are white Wicca, not black. They were driven to it.”

“God!” Buffy flung up her hands. “We’re not fighting demons! We’re fighting each other! I’m done.”

“Buffy!”

“No, Giles. I told you I’d walk if you tried to harm Spike. What does the man have to do to prove himself to you? He went and got a soul, he’s trying to do good, he sacrifices himself in the Hellmouth, he saves the SITs from Chiriwans, he relinquishes the claim that we both want. But it’s never enough. Well, I’ve had enough. I am so outta here.”

“And I’m coming with you,” said Willow, stepping forward to join her.

Buffy grinned at her. “We’ll be rogue demon hunters together.”

“All three of us,” said Xander from her other side.

“And it seems you have company, Will,” said Buffy, looking at the five or six Wicca who had filtered through the crowd of SITs and were forming themselves up behind Willow.

“The other Wicca are with us too,” said Willow in surprise as messages were relayed to her. “And, look, you’ve got your own company, Buff.”

The full-Slayers were arriving beside Buffy—Vi and Rona and Chao-Ahn and all the other Potentials. There was also movement among the SITs. An area of clear floor was emerging, a demarcation line between where Buffy was standing on the side of the gym near the main doors and where Kennedy was standing below Giles on the mezzanine.

When the movement finally stopped, there were only a handful of SITs hesitating beside Kennedy and most of those looked as if they weren’t too happy to be there.

“Money is definitely going to be a problem,” muttered Vi, looking around.

“We’re Slayers,” retorted Rona. “We’ll find a way to support ourselves.”

“Not by stealing,” said Buffy firmly.

“Of course not. Maybe we could hire out as bodyguards or something. Personal security. Hey, we could open our own security firm. That would be so cool!”

“Look at Giles,” murmured Xander. “He thinks the inmates have taken over the asylum.”

“Giles,” Buffy called. “Have we made our point? Or do we all walk?”

Giles’ lips compressed tightly. Then he raised a hand in defeat. “You’ve made your point. Do you want me to resign?”

“Can’t think of anyone better to run admin than you. But major policy decisions will be made by all of us. We’ll create a board or something. Maybe vote reps onto it. Slayers, Wiccas, SITs. A democracy, not a dictatorship, Giles.”

“You know, this might actually work out,” muttered Xander.

“I’ll want suggestions,” said Buffy. “Everybody think about the way they want things to go and pass along any ideas to me.”

“We’d better get anybody who’s hurt patched up,” said Willow. She didn’t look at Kennedy who was refusing to meet her eye anyway.

No one else was looking at Kennedy either. But there was a space around her as SITs stepped away. In a sense, she was being shunned. She had lost her ascendancy over them and would have to work to recover it.

The squad leaders moved to identify the wounded and get them over to medical. Buffy walked over to Angel and reached down to pull the stake out of his shoulder.

“Go back to L.A., Angel. And stay there. I don’t want to see you around for a while. If you try to hurt Spike again, I’ll put that stake through your heart, not your shoulder.”

Angel staggered to his feet and walked away without a word.

“Where are you going, Buffy?” asked Xander as Buffy headed towards the gym doors.

“Where do you think? I’ve got a vampire to hunt down.”

***

His memory had returned. Somewhere amongst all the crazy events—Buffy and the claim, the fight with the SITs and with Angel, all those strong emotions battering at him—somewhere in there something had broken through the block. Everything came cascading back, all of it, the whole bloodsoaked history of his life. He leaned against the mantlepiece at Buffy’s flat, his temple against the cool marble, his eyes closed, sorting out the memories.

It was both easier and harder this time. Easier because his soul had already had to go through this once, adjusting to the memory of a hundred and twenty years of blood and death. In that last year before he had burned up in the Hellmouth, he had come to terms with that. That balance that he had reached then came back to him now. He had adapted then. He just recovered that position, accepted what could not be changed.

What he could not accept was what he had tried to do to the woman he loved. Flashes were coming back to him—vivid, annihilating. That bathroom with its cold, sterile tiles. Her face, tearstained and desperate. And he trying to force himself upon her. Thinking that her ‘no’ would turn to ‘yes’ if he only persisted, because it always had whenever he had tried before. Thinking in his desolation and his despair that everything would be all right if he were only within her again; she would see then, she would understand that they loved each other.

Great love is wild and passionate and dangerous,’ he had said to her. ‘It burns and consumes.

It had consumed him, turned him destructive to the one being he wanted only to cherish.

I could never trust you enough for it to be love,’ she had said. ‘Ask me again why I could never love you.

She had been right not to trust him.

She had changed since he came back out of the amulet. She said she loved him now; she let him make love to her. But his memories of the past couple of weeks were blurred and fragmented. There were holes there. The past had come back in agonizingly vivid focus. The present was fuzzy. And the appalling vision of that bathroom kept superimposing itself over everything he looked at.

He heard her footsteps hurrying up the stairs and turned his face away. He should have gone. He had been so off-balance he hadn’t thought, had needed some quiet place to hide in, lick his wounds, sort his head out. But he should have left before she came back.

But when had he ever been able to leave her?

Buffy flung the door open, gasping from her run to get here. Spike had taken the car because its necro-tempered windows shielded him from the sun and she had had to come on foot since Caxley’s winding bus route was too slow. She hadn’t wanted to wait to call a cab to the Hall and she hadn’t passed one on the way. Slayer speed was enough anyway.

She had been really afraid that he wouldn’t be at the cottage, that he might have collected his things and gone. But he was there. She saw his duster thrown over a chair in the small hallway and his Docs lying on their sides below it. There was blood on them, his own blood, and he must have yanked them off to avoid spoiling her rugs.

“Spike?”

There was no answer. Then she saw him, leaning against the mantlepiece, his head down, not looking at her.

“I thought you might have gone,” she said breathlessly.

“When have I ever gone, Slayer?” he said. “Even when I should.”

“Spike...”

The phone rang.

For a moment she was tempted to smash it. Then she gave a little hiss of exasperation and picked up the receiver.

“What!”

“I’m s-sorry to interrupt, Buffy,” Willow stuttered. “But I’m in contact with that bunch of Wicca. The ones who sent the Chiriwan? And I need to know what you want me to do with them.”

“Mend fences.”

Willow gave an audible sigh of relief. “Oh, good. They were worried about punitive action. I told them that there’s been a...a palace coup.”

“Willow.”

“Well, a change of management, if that sounds better. I told them that everything’s different now and you wouldn’t punish them. They want to talk to you.”

“Fine. Set up a meet. For tomorrow, not today. Anything else?”

“Nothing we can’t handle. Oh, by the way, the consensus of opinion among the SITs so far is that they like Spike’s idea. They don’t want to be an army. They like the thought of being independent.”

“Well, good.”

“There will always have to be a core support group of course. Wicca, admin, researchers, that kind of thing.”

“Giles and you can handle that. Caxley Hall can be headquarters.”

“Xander wants to stay with the support team. He says he likes having a lot of girls around him.”

“I should be surprised? Look, Will, can’t we discuss this all tomorrow?”

“Oh, sure! Sorry!”

“If there are any more crises, you handle them. Just don’t call back.”

“Er...right.”

Buffy hung up the phone, then yanked the cord from the jack. Her cell was in the back pocket of her jeans. She pulled it out, removed the batteries and tossed them out of the window.

“No more interruptions.” She turned and locked the front door. “There. They’ll have to break it down. And if they do, I want you to gut them.”

She hoped he would laugh, but he only said in a dull voice, “Whatever you say, Slayer.”

“We have to talk.”

“If you want.”

“You’ve remembered, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“All of it?”

“Enough.” He turned his head and looked at her, his eyes haunted. “All too much.”

“And all the wrong things,” she said under her breath.

“Don’t!” he said, jerking away as she put out a hand to him. “Don’t touch me!”

“Spike...”

“How can you touch me? How can you even want to look at me after I tried to...” He broke off, unable to even say the word. “After that bathroom.”

“That doesn’t matter any more.”

“It mattered. That last year. You couldn’t look at me without seeing it.”

“But then you died, Spike. And I wasn’t able to look at you at all. Beside that, nothing mattered. All I wanted was to see you again. See you in front of me. See you alive. ”

He turned to stare at her. “You’ve forgiven me. How can you forgive me?

All that guilt and self-blame back again. What he had laid upon himself. What she had laid upon him.

“We were both at fault, Spike. I have so much to be ashamed of myself.”

“No. What I put you through...”

“And what did I put you through? I used you and didn’t care about how that made you feel. Hit you and scorned you and abused you even though I knew you loved me. While fucking you the whole time. I drove you to it. Drove you right around the bend.”

He shook his head. “I was a monster.”

“No! Or if you were, so was I. Three months of abuse. Three months of...of emotional rape. Can you forgive me, Spike?”

“Buffy...”

“And then the year after that. Still letting you carry all the blame. Loading more on you. Doing so much that hurt you. And then you died. You sacrificed yourself in the Hellmouth. For me. I knew then. I knew...” She came and took his face in her hands. “I meant what I said in the Hellmouth. I love you.”

“Oh, God!” His hands covered hers, pressing her palms to his face. There were tears in his eyes. He closed them to hide that, breathing harshly through his mouth. His forehead fell against hers and she felt his breath shake against her face.

“I love you, Spike. So much. When I thought you were dead, I didn’t...I didn’t want to go on.”

“Oh, God, Buffy! I love you so much!”

And there it was in his eyes. That love and tenderness and devotion she had always dismissed so cavalierly. She had found it so easy to call it obsession. But now she knew the difference. Now that she loved him. Now that she knew what love really was. The change was in her, not him. That tenderness, that caring in his eyes had been there even when he didn’t have his memory back.

He caught her to him. She met him halfway. Their arms closed tightly around each other with a force that would have broken bones on anybody human.

“It’s a bloody miracle,” he muttered.

“No, the miracle was you coming back. The miracle is that you love me again.”

He kissed her desperately hard. “I wouldn’t know how to stop loving you. Even when I didn’t have my memory, something bound me to you. I couldn’t break away, didn’t even want to. Couldn’t leave even when I knew I should, after I remembered.”

She held him fiercely close, her arms tight about his neck. “No guilt. None. We’ve both made mistakes. We’re both at fault. Can we forget all of that? It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. Can we start fresh?”

“Not if it means going back to the beginning. Can we go on from here?”

“Oh, please.”

She leaned against him heavily, her bones turning to water. He laughed a little and scooped her up, headed towards the bedroom.

“I can always count on you to know what I want,” she murmured and kissed him.

He nearly walked into the door frame, banged his shoulder against the jamb and laughed aloud. She watched his eyes turn at once black and vividly blue as his pupils widened and the irises narrowed. The shadow in them was gone, she saw with delight.

They lay on the bed, caressing each other delicately, still too caught up in wonder for urgency or haste. Rediscovering each other in slow kisses, hands drifting over each other’s faces and bodies, stroking away clothes, sliding with tenderness and love over bare skin.

“Giles and Angel,” he said suddenly.

“Don’t think about them. They’re no danger now. Angel’s gone back to L.A. Giles has resigned himself to no longer being the boss. I think he’s even relieved the weight’s off and everyone’s sharing the load.”

He shrugged them both away. They weren’t what he was thinking about. “We did it the wrong way around.”

“What do you mean?”

“You should have claimed me, Buffy. Then they wouldn’t have thought I could control you. You’d have been able to control me and they wouldn’t have felt threatened by that.”

She started to smile, rolled him over onto his back and slid her lips over the underside of his jaw, down the long cord of his neck, felt him shudder violently against her.

“I don’t think I need to ask what you’re getting at.”

“Take me, Slayer.”

“A one-way claim? You’d let that happen?”

“You let that happen. You own me, Buffy. You always have.” He drew her head down and kissed her painfully hard. “I want it.”

“Mm. You know what I want? A full claim. A mutual claim.”

“Buffy!”

“You wanted it before.”

“Of course I want it! I’ve always wanted it! But...”

“It would keep you safe. When we’re linked in a full claim, if you die, I die. Isn’t that right? Giles, Angel, Kennedy, anyone—they couldn’t kill you without killing me.” She bent and kissed him lovingly. “But that’s not why I want it.”

He rolled her over until she was lying on her back, smiling up at him. His eyes were an incandescent blaze of blue light as he looked down at her. She could feel him vibrating with intensity against her.

“Why then?” he whispered.

“Want us joined forever. Want us mates. We belong together. You’re the other half of me and I’m not losing you again. If you die, I die. That’s the way I want it.”

“God, Buffy! I’ve wanted it all my life! It was worth burning up in the Hellmouth to have this at last.”

She kissed the junction of his neck and shoulder, then smiled at him and bit hard, licked at the slight seep of blood that welled up. “Mine.”

“Oh, God, yes! Always yours!”

“Now you.”

“Buffy,” he breathed. Then he pushed her hair aside, stroked her neck.

She saw the look of helpless wonder and awe on his intense face. Then he bent and his fangs slid painlessly into the vein. She felt that rapturous draw as he sipped at her blood. He raised his head, his eyes flaring.

“Mine,” he said.

“Yes. Yours.”

Something caught them up, far more piercing and profound than even that unbearable rapture that came when he took her blood. An ultimate joining, like their hands interlinking and those sunfire flames burning around and through them.

“Spike!” she gasped in shock.

She saw him smile, then his mouth was on hers and he took her hard.

“Oh, yes!”

That was right. That was what was needed. Mind and body and spirit all linked, every cell mating and re-tuning itself to align with the other. Becoming one being. Driving each other higher and higher towards that pinnacle of joy.

Perfection.

Her brain splintered, whited right out.

Eons later, she came drifting out of that blankness to find him lying heavy and spent beside her, holding her tightly and looking as thunderstruck as she felt. He too hadn’t known what it would be like.

“Everything I ever wanted,” he was muttering. “To come back to this! It was worth dying.”

“Nothing’s worth your dying. I have you now,” she said fiercely. “Next time we go together.”

“That next time’s gonna be a long time coming if I have anything to do with it,” he growled. “Not gonna let you die.”

She wound herself around him, purring. “We’ll have each other’s backs.”

He was smiling oddly. “You’ve mated with a vamp.”

“Really? I didn’t realize. Gee, what a surprise.”

He bit her shoulder lightly in punishment, his fangs pricking but not breaking her skin. “Slayer with vamp. There might be repercussions.”

“We’ll deal.”

“One of which might be that we may pick up each other’s traits.”

“I’m gonna pick up your taste in music? Eww.”

“Hey!” They grinned at each other. “No, listen. You might pick up my immortality.”

“What!”

“The claim linked us completely. You might be an immortal Slayer now. And I might be able to walk in the sunlight.”

She stared at him. “Are you serious?”

“Oh, yeah. You can be killed, I can be dusted, but neither of us is gonna die of old age.”

“When you said we’d be together forever, never to be parted, you meant it literally,” she said with blank incredulity.

“I’m never gonna lose you,” he said with satisfaction and kissed her.

“Or I you. I like that.” Then she laughed. “Giles is gonna have a cow.”

“There is an upside for him. We’ll always be around to take care of his baby Slayers.”

“Then we’re going to have to make sure things go our way. Eternity’s a long time to live with certain mistakes.”

“But it also gives us plenty of time to deal with them.”

They looked at each other with confidence and hope and shining joy.

“This brave new world. We’ll shape it,” she said and kissed him. “Together.”


The End
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