Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by TalesofSpike
 
 
Chapter #1 - Chapter 1.01
 







The story so far...

Okay, everything went the same way as the show at least as far as Entropy, except for one slight difference. When Buffy had her magical clear out in Gone, instead of throwing everything out, she gave the box to Spike for safe-keeping.

This resulted in a rather different set of events when Spike hit "rock-bottom". By the time he reached the Magic Box, he already knew exactly what spell he wanted and was sobering up in preparation for casting magic. He took some time out to comfort Anya, and while they were indulging in some innocent mutual consolation, Spike wished that Buffy and Xander had the courage to follow their hearts rather than always worrying about what could go wrong all the time. As Anya would say, "wish granted".

Xander got all splotchy and possessive when he saw them dancing at the Bronze on the nerds' cameras, so much so that he whisked Anya off from the Magic Box the next day for a Vegas wedding. (Anya gave her power centre to Xander as a wedding gift, on the proviso that he didn't break it.) Spike cast the "Will Be Done" spell and made three wishes, that Buffy would be honest about her feelings, that she would work out exactly what she really wanted and that she'd really understand his feelings for her.

Before the first two wishes could have too much effect, the third one kicked in, and Buffy found her consciousness hitchhiking in Spike's body for a while, leaving her body conspicuously vacant. Eventually everything got sorted out but not before Buffy found out she'd been jumping to conclusions over the demon egg affair.

This, the insight she had into Spike's feelings and the wish Anya granted, led her to actually give him a decent chance. One thing led to another, and the "ripples" caused by that first change continued to spread outward. The nerds were captured and subdued before they could follow through on their plan for the armoured car heist, so neither Buffy nor Tara were ever shot. Willow never went on a rampage. Instead of the orbs being destroyed, Spike managed to take them from Warren and gave them to Xander as a wedding present. That sort of takes us up to the end of 'Spike's Will Be Done'.

Buffy and Spike are now engaged, something most of the Scoobies have come to accept. Xander, however, is caught up in some inner turmoil about the whole thing. He knows he has to come to terms with the relationship if he wants to remain friends with Buffy. However, he still doesn't trust Spike, and he keeps putting his foot in it.

Things in LA also turned out just a bit differently after Buffy and Spike decided to pay Angel a visit. Spike managed to point out to Connor (Buff and Spikey were introduced to him as Stephen, and as far as they are aware, that's the name he's using.) that Justine's attempt to fake something that looked like a vampire bite wasn't really very convincing. Though he still wouldn't let Angel help with burying Holtz, things certainly weren't so bad between father and son as they would have been. Buffy managed to come to terms with her feelings for Angel, and Spike and Angel managed to part on neutral terms.

Buffy also talked Giles into offering Wesley a job at The Magic Box. Though at that point we didn't yet know if he would take up the offer, he and Spike seemed to get on quite well with each other. Buffy was intending to invite the LA gang to the wedding, but then Dawn pointed out that Angel's presence might be distressing for Giles, so now she's not so sure. Preparations for the wedding, which by then was about two months off, were and still are ongoing.

On other fronts, the gang have begun to put two and two together from Riley's earlier visit and have decided he must have access to some sort of surveillance on the Scoobies. They also know, thanks to Buffy being in Spike's head, that he isn't the Doctor. Once Buffy remembered Sam's comment about working in an infirmary, they began to have their own suspicions. Anya confirmed, from Buffy's description that the hatchlings weren't suvoltes, but a relatively harmless scavenger species. The only reason they would have swarmed was if they were using a pheromone signature to find their mother. As Spike pointed out, the smell wasn't coming from her underwear, so that only left the clothes Riley supplied. All things considered, Iowa Boy and Wonder Wife aren't exactly popular, and Spike is getting a bit paranoid. He's even suspicious of Dawn's new boyfriend, a new arrival in town. He also thinks the government knows about Dawn being the key and is worried that if she shows any sign of being anything more than a normal teenage girl that they could view her as a threat to national security.

Buffy got to meet some of Clem's family, his mother Lily, who is an extremely gifted empath, his niece Rosa and her mother Marie, who is human. When Clem says it's nearly two years since Rosa's father was killed, Buffy begins to suspect that he was a victim of the Initiative. She also reassesses her own actions and who she has become.

Spike also got Giles to investigate any possible occurrences where a vampire and a slayer made a mutual claim, or where a human and a vampire were bonded. So far his research has been inconclusive, and he warned the pair against making Spike's claim on Buffy (which happened in the heat of passion) mutual until he can research further. Buffy never really was that good at following the watcher's advice, though. When we left the story, the couple had done just that and experienced a number of shared flashbacks to scenes of them together, topped off with a seemingly prophetic vision of their wedding reception. The overall effect was similar to what happened when Buffy tasted Dracula's blood.

The day after the claim was made mutual, while on an LA shopping trip Buffy, Spike and Dawn run into Drusilla. Spike pushes the two girls into a taxi before he leaves with his former paramour. Unlike Dawn, Buffy believes that he was trying to protect them both and that Spike is in danger. Before events reach their climax, she's proven right, when they discover that Dru turned Lindsey McDonald as a gift for Darla, and the lawyer has been turning A list former clients... granting them immortality in exchange for a percentage of their wealth. Dru wants to get her family back together. Lindsey wants Spike around to take care of Dru but Angel is not part of the deal so far as he's concerned, though stripping away everyone Angel cares about one by one might be.

Buffy ropes in the AI team (minus Lorne who went missing later the same night as Spike) to help, and Clem and Lily make the trip to help out getting Spike back.

Dru tortures Spike holding him in the same place where Lorne is held along with several homeless kids the vamps have picked up as food supplies. Spike refuses to renounce his claim, even after Dru burns away the scars with holy water, but she has one more trick up her sleeve. Using a Tabula Rasa Spike is made to forget all his sire's slights and sins.

Spike, Dru Lindsey and the other vamps arrive at The Hyperion ready for all out war, but Angel has arranged to have the building enchanted with a sanctuary spell that prevents demon violence. Despite the loss of memories Spike still recognises Buffy as his mate and is half way up the stairs with her when he feels Drusilla's death and the return of the lost memories since the crystal the mage used crumbled to dust with her.

Buffy, Spike, Angel, Gunn and Willow borrow a helicopter from David Nabbitt and save Lorne and the kids in the nick of time. Spike and Angel bond over Drusilla's death (at least a little).

Wes comes back from LA with Tara and Willow, thinking he could stay for a week or two and decide after that if he wanted to make the move permanent. Things go a little more smoothly for a while and the biggest problem is having Dawn's boyfriend over for dinner, and dealing with some of Spike's issues, both from his past and from Buffy's treatment of him earlier in their relationship.

Making the most of her new boyfriend, Brandon, Dawn went out for a night at the Bronze with him when she was meant to be at home. Soon she suspected that she'd been drugged and as she tried to get away from Brandon , she was picked up by a military team led by Sam Finn. Brandon, who had also been drugged, was badly injured trying to protect Dawn and if Willow hadn't intervened using magical healing, he would have died in hospital.

As Buffy and Spike returned home from a trip up the coast, Spike was shot at (with bows) by another team, led by Riley Finn, who thought that Buffy needed rescuing from the vampire's thrall. Fortunately, after some previous trouble Spike had borrowed the orbs of invulnerability from Xander and when he discovered that they protected him from the sun's rays he had been reluctant to rush to return them.

Finally, once the soldiers had been overpowered and the two groups compared stories, they worked out that, unknown to Riley, Sam had been the Doctor all along and her most recent experimentation subject was a Key. Appalled at the idea of his wife experimenting on a little girl, Riley, along with Graham and some others, helped Buffy, Spike, Wes and Willow to get her back, though Angel and AI crowd were first to get their hands on Sam.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy picks up as Dawn began her recovery from the kidnapping ordeal and the Glargh Guhl Kashmanik venom that Sam had injected her with. Sam had reasoned that this would prevent her from being able to tell her story, and also ensure that Buffy would be too busy looking after Dawn to investigate either this or any future dealings she might have in the area.







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)





Chapter 1.01
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Spike looked up from his seat in the waiting room when Buffy emerged from the curtained space to come over and sit by him, shaking her head as she made her way over. He had purportedly been helping Brandon back to his room after his chat with Dawn. In reality, he'd been clearing the area of his potentially embarrassing presence in order that Buffy could discuss what had happened with her sister. Anyone unfamiliar with the vampire might have been surprised by how keen he was for the teenager to receive professional counselling. Buffy knew that he simply wanted the best of all possible treatment for her.

"No go?" he asked.

"It's not just our men that are stubborn." Buffy shrugged. "She says she doesn't want to talk to a stranger about it." Buffy took Spike's hand in her own, making his heart swell at the simple gesture, even as he felt her own uncertainty.

"It's not going to do her any good to bottle all this up."

"I know. I know." Buffy turned her head to look at the vampire eye to eye. "She says she's not ready to talk about it, yet. She says when she is, she'll talk to you."

"Bloody hell. What does she think I know about the subject? It's a woman... thing."

Buffy ran her fingers through his hair, a seemingly random caress, yet her fingertips played precisely over the scar tissue where his chip had recently been removed. "Everything. She thinks you know exactly how she feels about it. And I agree with her."

Spike winced, but didn't disagree.

"So what happens now?"

"Well, she won't let the doctors here examine her to see if there's any damage. She said that would be like the same thing all over again. Said it doesn't hurt as such, maybe a little bit of discomfort, but that's it and she's got no desire to relive the experience.

The army doctor says she's stayed... What did he call it?"

"Cognitive?" the platinum blond suggested.

"Yeah, he says she's been cognitive for long enough now that he thinks a relapse would be 'highly improbable', so if she won't submit to any other tests, he said we might as well take her home and let her rest up there for a couple of days."

"So what do we do about school?" Spike asked. "How much trouble are we in if she doesn't show?"

"I really don't know," Buffy admitted. "I mean they basically told me if she missed any more classes then they would have to take her away, but that was a few months back and she hasn't been missing any more classes since then. I mean it was because she was playing truant... well, mostly. I just don't know."

"What if we got Brandon's dad to go along with the story that they were mugged. It's close enough to the truth without going into embarrassing detail or saying anything that'll set off alarm bells with social services. I mean they're not going to doubt the word of one of their own teachers, and you could pick up her assignments. Surely that would keep them quiet at least until Monday?"

"Maybe." Buffy shrugged. "Maybe I should just ring the social services office when it gets to office hours and ask to speak to her case worker. The new one's not so bad and maybe if I explain, rather than them hearing from the school... and I've been thinking I should probably inform them of my changed status anyway."

"Changed status?"

Buffy wiggled her ring finger in front of him. "Kept woman. Unemployed. Returning to college. Those are all the kinds of things they like to keep pretty close tabs on."

"Bollocks. I guess I better chase up those passports and stuff, then."

"Guess so. Is this going to start a whole Green Card issue, as well?"

"Shouldn't. It'll just mean the old toe-rag'll probably want payin' extra for hurryin' them up. I've told him to set it up as if I'm eligible for dual nationality. Born in Washington to British parents, theoretically, anyway."

"And that'll work?"

"It better. Otherwise they could end up deporting a pile of dust."

"Will you not joke about that? It wasn't funny the first time we got engaged and it's not funny now."

"I'm sorry, pet. I'm confident it'll be okay."

"That makes me feel so much better, given how your plans normally work out."

Spike deliberately didn't rise to the bait, knowing it was Buffy's fatigue and concern for her sister that were making her snappish. Instead, he changed the subject. "So, what've we got to do before we can take Bitty home, then?"

"Just some bits and pieces of paperwork, and I might need to give her a hand getting dressed."

"It'll be okay, you know, love. No one can take her away from us. If they try, we'll tie them up in so much red tape, she'll be twenty-one before they can find a way round it."

Buffy's voice sounded eternally tired as she responded, rising to her feet once more, "I wish I could believe that. I really do."

However, when she went to the reception desk to get the necessary documentation for her insurance company, she was informed that the account had already been settled in full. She looked across at Spike, who shook his head, denying responsibility, which only left the army.








As office hours rolled around Buffy decided to make the more difficult call first. She allowed ten minutes to let Dawn's case-worker settle in and make a start on her first cup of coffee and then dialled the direct line to her office.

"Ms. Siembeda?" Buffy was so anxious she didn't even wait for the social worker to give her name.

"Speaking. How can I help?"

"Ms. Siembeda, this is Buffy Summers."

"Buffy, hi. I've told you, you should just call me Kathy. I gather there's been some sort of an upset with Dawn?"

"Well, yes. It's just I'm going to have to keep Dawn off school for a couple of days on doctor's orders."

"Buffy, it's okay. Agent Miller was here first thing to explain. He was waiting here when my supervisor came to open up the office. In fact, he's sitting here having a coffee as we speak, and I believe one of the other agents was going to clear things with the school.

Mr Miller has made it very clear that Dawn's injuries in no way reflect on you, and that you have shown the proper concern for her welfare throughout the whole affair, even if he is unable to provide any specifics about what happened."

"So, you won't be taking Dawn away?"

The case worker chuckled. "No, Buffy. Even us cruel, unforgiving social services types understand that just because something bad happens, that doesn't necessarily mean a child's guardian is to blame... especially not in this town. Besides, considering he hasn't actually told us anything Mr Miller makes an exceedingly good case on your behalf."

Buffy gulped down a huge gasp of air as she suddenly realised she had been holding her breath. "So would now be a good time to tell you I got engaged, we're planning the wedding for July, I quit my job at DMP and my fiancé's going to provide for me and Dawn, while I go back to college after the summer?"

This earned Buffy another laugh from the other end of the phone line. "For news like that, any time's a good time. I'll have to arrange a visit so that I can meet him and get some details for the file. And this may sound rather forward, but it would probably be no bad thing to invite someone from the department, which would most likely be me, to the wedding itself, if not to the reception. It helps make everything look official on the file.

Is your fiancé currently living with you and Dawn?"

Buffy hesitated, unsure if this was a trick question, but decided the truth was probably her best option. "Not normally, though he has occasionally stayed overnight, but right now a friend of the family is visiting for a couple of weeks, well maybe not really visiting because he might be going to stay, but then he'd get his own apartment, but for now he's staying at Sp- Will's so Will's been staying with us. You see?"

"I see." The woman's amusement was evident in her voice. "And how's Dawn taken the news?"

"Really well, Spi- I mean Will's always been like the big brother she never had, though she can get a bit snippy if he tries to forbid her doing something. Mostly, she's pleased for us both and pretty much making the most of having him and his cooking around more often."

This earned Buffy another chuckle. "Sounds perfect. He doesn't have any eligible brothers under fifty, does he?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Look, if Dawn's going to be off school tomorrow anyway, is there any chance I could make an appointment to see the three of you together? Maybe Will could get away from work early or something?"

"Well, actually, Will isn't really employed as such. His primary income is from investments." Buffy sounded hesitant, not wanting to make Spike sound like some sort of slacker, but then, basically he was, so there wasn't really a way around it. "What I mean is, it isn't a problem, if you just want to pick a time."

"Buffy, stop worrying. It isn't a problem. It's providing Dawn with a more stable environment. It's a good thing that there will be another strong parental figure there for her... unless of course we find out that he's really a psychopathic child murderer or a serial bigamist or something."

Buffy's laugh at the social worker's witticism was slightly forced, but the other woman apparently didn't notice. "What say I come over tomorrow at about half past two?"








"No, Wesley! You're supposed to smile pleasantly at the customers - like this, not scowl at them. And if we don't have the book they want you should offer them an alternative, not tell them the book of prophecies they asked for was written by a madman in the final stages of syphilis and nothing he's predicted has ever come true. You English people always go all sarcastic when you're grumpy. And we could have ordered that for them in any case."

"Yes, well, maybe you can manage to be pleasant to uncouth imbeciles on two hours sleep, but I'm afraid it's beyond me. And I do think it's rather a sweeping generalisation to say that all English people are sarcastic."

"Well, in a survey of you, Giles and Spike- Ooh! And that Travers guy. All sarcastic. I think my point is made."

"I hardly think that classes as a random sample of the entire English population-." Wesley paused as his cell phone began to ring. When he recognised the voice that replied to his greeting, his scowl turned to a smile at the prospect of finding alternative employment.

"Marie. Hi."

"Hi. Lily told me that she'd said I would call you last night, but we figured you would have been a little busy."

Wesley's smile cranked up a notch at the understatement. "You could say that," he responded.

"See," Anya pointed. "Sarcastic."

"Anyway, I was wondering, since I've got appointments booked for most of the day, if you would mind having that chat over lunch," Marie continued.

Wesley glanced over toward the counter where Anya was busy tidying the impulse-buys section. "I don't think that will be a problem. What time?"

"Well, my last appointment before lunch is at twelve-thirty. I should be clear by about one and then I'm free until two-thirty."

"Your office is by the courthouse? Why don't I wait outside for you? Say ten past one? We can work out where we want to go when we meet up."

"See you then."

Wesley put away his phone, looking rather less down in the dumps than he had five minutes earlier.

"So? You and Marie?" The former vengeance demon gave the ex-watcher an appraising look. "Quite the family package for a watcher, what with Rosa and Lily and Clem."

"Marie and I are meeting for a business lunch. That's all. We're simply going to discuss whether she thinks the D.A.'s office could throw enough work my way to make it viable for me to set up as a Private Investigator."

"What's to discuss? Either they can or they can't. Yes or no. Not exactly something you need to take a whole lunch hour for.

I think you've got a date."

Wesley returned to his self-appointed task of trying to memorise the locations of different items of merchandise, but his attention was on assessing the likelihood that Anya was correct... and trying to decide how he felt about it if she was.


 
 
Chapter #2 - Chapter 1.02
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.


SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand

(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)


Chapter 1.02
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

"You all phoned out, then, love?" Spike asked from Buffy's bed, where he was lounging, fully dressed apart from his boots and socks.

"Mm-hmm. Graham and Riley apparently paved the way for me with Social Services and the school, but I guess they're not omnipotent so I actually had to arrange myself for Reverend Hamilton to come over here instead of us going there. You?" Buffy moved to the bed and slid easily into the vampire's waiting arms.

Spike nodded. "I.D.'ll be here by this time tomorrow morning UPS. You ready to turn in?"

"Nearly. I'll just check on Dawn again and then I'll get ready."

"Save you a trip?" Dawn stood in the doorway dressed in a pair of short pyjamas that exposed the dressing on her thigh. She nibbled gently at her lower lip. "I was wondering if maybe I could sleep in here with you?"

Buffy's eyes flicked to Spike but she answered without hesitation. "Of course, you can. Can't she, Spike?"

Spike's support was unstinting, even if his disappointment was apparent. "Goes without saying. I'll just grab some stuff and get out of your hair."

"I meant can I sleep in here with both of you," Dawn made the vampire pause as he reached the closet where Buffy kept the spare bedding.

"You used to hold me till I'd go to sleep last summer." Dawn pushed her advantage.

"Yeah, pet, I know, but that's just it. You went to sleep. I didn't. And I was dressed and on top of the covers. And I'm gettin' a mite too used to sharin' the bed with your sister for that. God only knows where my hands would wander to when I'm half-asleep, never mind anythin' else."

"Please, Spike."

The vampire looked askance to her sister, but when the slayer shrugged he knew he was lost. Shifting back to his previous position on top of the covers, he pulled the corner of the duvet aside, in an invitation to Dawn to join him.

The smile that Buffy gave him as she paused before leaving the room would have been sufficient reward. The mumbled, almost inaudible "love you, Spike," from the duvet-swathed form in his arms, was pure bonus.

When Buffy returned, teeth brushed, face washed and dressed for bed, she wasn't overly surprised as she slipped under the covers, curling against her sister's back, to find them both already asleep. She reached across to wrap her fingers around Spike's forearm, so that between them they formed a barrier between Dawn and the outside world.








"So, what happened last night?" Anya asked, having finished instructing Wesley on the use of the various forms the shop used.

"We found Dawn. We brought her back and took her to the hospital."

"That's it. No big fight to get her back?"

"No. Sorry to disappoint. She was already free when we found her."

"But she's okay. I mean, when Xander and I found Tara's note, this morning, it said Spike had the antidote. So, she would be okay?"

"Why don't you try ringing the hospital? Tell them you're a friend of the family and see what they say?"

"You're hiding something." Anya pounced.

"Yes, I am but I honestly don't think it's my position to tell you," Wesley demurred.

"Piffle. If Tara had woken us up before she left, or if Xander had remembered the password for the barrier spell so we didn't have to wait for it to wear off, we would have been at the hospital, instead of some uptight English guy they barely know."

"Be that as it may, it doesn't change my feelings on the subject."

"Maybe I will just ring the hospital." Anya almost threatened.

"You do that. I'm going for my lunch." Wes pulled his jacket and helmet from under the counter.

"It's only twelve o' clock."

"And since you're not paying me by the hour and the only point to my being here is to become sufficiently proficient with shop routine to hold the fort for one day, that would make a difference how?"

"You can't just take a two-hour lunch break. It's unethical and bad for business."

"Don't worry," Wesley replied as he pulled open the shop's front door. "I was actually planning to take a two and a half hour lunch break, possibly longer."

Wes fired up the bike and after making a couple of stops at the mall he turned and headed for the hospital. When the receptionist informed him that both Dawn and Brandon had been discharged that morning, he used his cell phone to call Revello, but after the events of the previous night, it wasn't too much of a shock to find the phone had been unplugged.

He tried Tara's cell, feeling ridiculously relieved when she replied.

"Hi, Wes."

"Hi. I was just calling to see how Dawn and Willow were."

"Well, you know Willow, not even a mega headache could keep her away from classes and Dawn and the others, I think, were just going to crash until it was time for their visitor."

"But the antidote worked?"

"Sure. Dawn was a bit the worse for wear, but just from the whole experience. The doctors were pretty confident that they had dealt with the poisoning."

"I guess that explains things. Look, tell them I'll ring this evening to see how everyone is."

"Sure, but you might catch them before I get in. Will and I were planning on staying late to work on our projects at the library."

"I'll just take my chances then. Bye."

"Sure. Bye."

Wes checked his watch. There was still over half an hour before he was due to meet Marie for their... was it a date? He turned the bike toward Revello. Stopping outside 1630, he pulled a pen and a pocket notebook from his jacket pocket. He scribbled a note and then slid it under the front door, leaving the bunch of flowers and the more girlish of the stack of magazines he had bought at the mall in the shade of the front stoop.

Then, he leant against his bike to survey the property opposite in the light of day. Someone had already been out and boarded up the window that Spike had smashed his way through. The paint was a little faded, but not peeling and at first glance, the woodwork looked sound. It could probably benefit from some routine maintenance. Nevertheless, it was a decent size. Wes was also willing to bet that if he put in an offer to lease the property, bearing in mind that it had now been on the market and sitting empty for four years, that he could probably get it for less than he was currently paying for his apartment in LA. He jotted down the name on the mailbox and the name and number of the realtor before turning back towards the centre of town.








"Xander? Wesley's hiding something. Something to do with Dawn. He kept telling me if I wanted to know how she is I should ring the hospital, but they just said she had been discharged earlier this morning. And no one's answering the phone at Buffy's. And he just walked out when I tried to find out what was going on and he said he was going to take two-and-a-half hours for lunch. He can't take that long. And why should he know what's going on with Dawn when you're practically family and he won't say?"

"Ahn, honey, take a breath." Xander sighed into his cell phone. "What exactly did Wesley say?"

"Well, I said he was hiding something."

"Yes?"

"And he more or less admitted it, but he said something like he didn't see that it was his position to tell us. What does that mean?"

"Just what it says, honey pie. Look, I'll swing by Buffy's when I finish work and see how Dawnie and Wills are doing. Wes just doesn't want to put his foot in it by saying something that maybe Buffy or Dawnie would want to tell us personally. I'm sure that's all it is."

Xander didn't catch the next thing Anya said as the phone fell from her hand with a clatter.

His voice sounded tinny as it came from the earpiece of the handset, but Anya's attention was focussed on the man who had just walked into The Magic Box.

"Hello, Anya," he said in his smooth, educated accent. "Or do you prefer Mrs Harris, these days?"

His words seemed to break through Anya's shocked veneer and she ran across the floor to throw herself at him. "Giles, you're back!"

"So it would appear," the watcher answered, his amusement plain in his voice, as he dropped his bags and his arms enfolded the slight form of the young woman.

"You can make Wesley tell us what's going on when he gets back. You have seniority, don't you?"

Giles looked down at the woman with a wry smile. He hadn't been back on the Hellmouth for five minutes.

"If you mean that I'm older than him, yes, but since neither of us are in the council's employ, I doubt I can make Wesley do anything by any means short of physical violence. And from what I heard about Faith's attempts at torture I'm not sure that would work particularly well either.

Now, why don't you stick the kettle on and make a pot of tea and then you can tell me why I would want to?"

After several shouted hellos and Anyas failed to re-attract his wife's attention, Xander tried shouting money a few times instead. When that didn't work he pressed the button on his cell that would end the call.








Spike threw himself repeatedly against the cell's glass front, uncaring of the electrical charges, which jolted through his body at every attempt. Instead of a corridor and an identical row of cells facing him, he looked down on a view of the pit. As he watched impotently, the white-coated doctors had Dawn's upper body strapped down to a cold steel table. Her feet were strapped into a set of stirrups, her body from just below the collarbone to mid thigh draped in a green surgical sheet that hid what the men and women did to her from Spike's view. Just the same, every agonised look in those blue-grey eyes tore at his heart, even from fifty feet.

"Spike, stop it. You'll hurt yourself." As he rebounded off the glass again a small hand caught at his arm. "It's like this. You just have to believe."

Slowly Buffy reached out a hand toward the glass. Electricity arced and crackled but didn't come within six inches of the point where her hand passed through the clear surface. Her wrist followed then her forearm. As her bicep was swallowed by the barrier, she reached out to Spike with her other hand. "These cells are for monsters, Will. If you believe in who you are they can't hold you. You don't belong in a cage. You belong with me. You belong with us." Spike was mesmerised by the gentle words the slayer spoke. His gaze locked on hers, still awed and amazed by the love that shone from her greenish eyes. He didn't even realise that he was free of the cell until she tugged at his arm, yanking him towards the pit. Before he matched his pace to her own he had to look back at the seemingly impenetrable glass wall behind him, still unable to comprehend the miracle that his woman's faith in him had wrought.

"No!" The cry brought all three of the bed's occupants from their sleep.

Dawn's eyes were bright with unshed tears and Spike pulled her to him as he stroked her hair and whispered soothing words.

"Shhh, pet. It's alright. You're home now. Everything's going to be alright."

Dawn pushed herself forcefully away from his arms. "No. No, it's not okay. I'm not okay. Do you know what she did to me? Do you understand? You swore that you would die before you let someone hurt me. You swore." Her words died away to be replaced by sobs.

Buffy's arms wrapped around the tearful teen, but her eyes were fixed on the horrified face of her fiancé. Dawn was simply acting out, but her words couldn't have hurt the vampire any more had they been chosen with that specific purpose in mind. Buffy could see the pain on his face clear as day. Then, he rolled from the bed and picking up the orbs and his cigarettes, he left. Even when he was no longer in the house, she could feel his pain and his regret, as she was sure he could still feel hers.
 
 
Chapter #4 - Chapter 1.03
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)





Chapter 1.03
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Buffy cradled her sister in her arms until her sobs died away to hiccups.

"Want to talk about it?"

"No-o." Dawn's reply was immediately followed by a huge sniff that had the elder girl reaching for the box of tissues that she kept on her nightstand. "I don't even want to think about it. I just want it to have never happened."

"Me too, Dawnie. Me too. And not just me. I'm so sorry. I keep thinking if mom were here, she wouldn't have let it happen."

"That's not true," Dawn told her. "Mom couldn't have done half the stuff you and Spike did when you came for me."

"It feels true. You feel like it's true. You feel like we let you down. It feels like we let her down."

"It still isn't true. It's more my fault than anyone else's. Brandon wanted to call you, but I wouldn't tell him your cell number because I thought you'd be mad that I didn't get permission before I went out."

"Yeah, well, I think maybe you've learned that lesson without being grounded. And since by the time you had reason to ring you would already be drugged, what say we put it down to that?

Look, if we'd known you wanted to go to the Bronze, chances are we would have skipped dinner and gone there ourselves. I know you think we're paranoid, but we just worry. I mean we don't want to stop you having a good time. We want you to have a social life, and believe it or not Spike came pretty close to admitting that he liked Brandon while you were out of it. It's not even as if you have to sit with us."

"I know but it just doesn't feel like a real date when your big sister's playing the chaperone all the time."

"Dawnie, I don't know what to tell you. We try to walk a line between giving you your freedom and keeping you safe, but the truth is it's a trade-off. There's nothing anyone can do to take back what happened last night. All we can do is try to help you pick up the pieces and do what we can to help you feel safe again, even if it means giving Sam a taste of her own medicine. And, yes, thanks to Spike you can take that literally. And as to the chaperones, I reckon you've pretty much shot yourself in the foot."

"What?"

"Well, you told a certain someone it was his fault. You think he's going to let the same thing happen again? I wouldn't be surprised if he's phoning the school right now to sign us up as chaperones for every event between now and your graduation."

"What? No. He can't come to prom."

"Dawnie. I don't know what he's going to want to do, but you need to talk through what you're feeling with us, especially with him. If he thinks that you hold him responsible for what happened then you probably won't leave this house outside school hours again without your very own stalker."

"God, no." Dawn started to deny the possibility and then remembered exactly who she was talking about. "He.would. Is he on the porch?"

"Nope, moving around outside. I guess maybe I best go start a bath running."

"Huh?"

"He didn't stop long enough to grab his boots and the sprinklers have been on."








Xander pushed open the door of The Magic Box cautiously, keeping the length of three by two, which he was carrying, out of sight behind his back. He had been forced to use the key that Anya had had cut for him to open the shop's front door as in a rare spontaneous moment Anya had stuck up a sign saying they were closed for lunch. This alone was enough to worry her husband, even if it hadn't been for the aborted phone call earlier.

He moved as cautiously as he could through the seemingly deserted shop until he was stopped short by a naggingly familiar snort of laughter.

"Ahn, honey?" he called out, as he moved rather more confidently toward the training room.

He pushed the door open to find Anya and Giles sitting on the sofa, tea in hand as Giles dabbed tears of laughter from his eyes.

"You couldn't answer the phone?" Xander asked.

"Hi, honey!" Anya rose from her seat to plant a kiss on his cheek. "Shouldn't you be at work?"

"I could say the same to you."

"Oh, I was just filling Giles in on what's been happening, or as much as I know about what's been happening. I just got as far as telling him about how you're going to be ring-bearer at the wedding."

"I still haven't definitely agreed to do it."

"Fiddlesticks. You told Dawn you would do it. You think you have a hope of backing out now, then I suspect you're sorely mistaken."

Xander gave up on getting an answer as to why he had had to stick his fingers down his throat until he threw up half his lunch in an effort to convince his boss that he was ill and needed to leave. It obviously wasn't going to happen.

"So, G-Man, what excitement and derring do brings you back to good old Boca del Infierno?"

"Well, I suppose you could say it was the wedding." Giles seemed reluctant to clarify matters further.

"Wedding's not for another two months, and I don't seem to recall the bride-to-be mentioning that you were expected."

"Since it would appear that our every communication is likely to be intercepted, I deemed it better to present our listeners with a fait accompli." Giles balanced his teacup carefully on the arm of the sofa. "I think perhaps I should go and find myself a hotel and get a few hours rest until such time as the occupants of Revello Drive are receiving visitors."

As he reached the door into the main shop, Giles turned to address the younger man once more.

"Xander. Those orbs. Where are they at the moment?"

"Well, Spike has them, actually. He-."

"Good. I suggest, for the present, you leave it that way. I'll be in touch."








"I didn't mean it." Dawn took a seat on the porch and waited for Spike to join her. Instead he stood several feet away, smoke curling up in front of him every so often as he exhaled.

"Yeah, string bean. You did. You meant every last syllable and you were right."

"But it wasn't your fault."

"S'got nothing to do with how you feel. I made you a promise I couldn't keep an' I shouldn't have done that. You've got every right to feel betrayed."

"Doesn't give me the right to hurt you."

"Comes with the territory, kitten." The vampire finally turned and came to sit beside her. "We always hurt the ones we love."

"You caught that, huh?"

"You meant me to, didn't you? 'Course I caught it.

Anyway, you think when those wankers got their mitts on me I was prepared to admit to myself that it was my own stupid fault for being too distracted to notice six clod-hopping army boys in hob-nailed boots coming up behind me?"

"So who did you blame?"

Spike treated her to a lascivious grin. "The distraction."

Dawn gave a sigh. "Do I even have to ask?"

"What?" Spike teased with a false innocent air. "Was just doin' a bit of recon to see if her fightin' had improved any."

"You are so."

"So charming, debonair and roguishly attractive?"

"You want to go with debonair, lose the muddy feet."

"Critics, always critics."

His arm slipped around the teenager's back. "Look, if you need somebody to shout at, to blow off steam about this little lot, then that's understandable. Just make sure that it's me and not sis'. She might not cope too well with it at the moment."

"So how do you cope? What's your secret to dealing with assholes who treat you like you're less than human?"

"Joyce wouldn't be very happy to hear you using descriptions like that even if they are justified, pet. And, I pretty much ignore Harris as much as possible. The rest, I spend many a happy hour plotting in great detail how I'll exact my bloody revenge, but you're one up on me there. Finn's rebound bitch should be locked up for the rest of her natural with any luck."

"Buffy said you gave her a dose of her own medicine."

"Yeah, well, at first I was going to use her to test the antidote, then when I heard that tape, I decided I wasn't in a hurry for her to get better."

"What happened to that tape?"

"Still in my coat pocket. GI Joe wanted it for evidence, but I told him that was up to you. If you wanted it destroyed, it would be destroyed."

The vampire drew deeply on his cigarette and then exhaled in a long grey plume before he continued.

"Bitlet, you have to know she was wrong. You may not be average. You may have been made rather than being born, but you're all human. You're your mother's daughter and sometimes you're so like Buffy it just wrings my heart out.

All the Key stuff, it means you're special. It doesn't make you a freak or give anyone the right to treat you any differently, and it's not what defines you as a person. It's not why we love you."

"Are you sure? You were all programmed to love me before I even existed."

"Me? Are you kidding? How long d'they reckon you've been around now?"

"Maybe coming up on a couple of years."

"Events, pet. What was happening?"

"Dunno. Maybe round about when Drac paid a call."

"Right. And before that, how often had you and me hung out? I remember you peeking round the corner the night your mum found out about vampires. I remember you feeding me blood when I was chained up in the watcher's tub. An' I guess I thought you were a gutsy little thing, but that's about it. The monks didn't bother givin' you memories of me. I was beneath their notice. They had you following droopy boy round as if the Summers women's taste in men was a genetic flaw.

I don't love you because of any false memories, I love you because I'm a soft-hearted wanker that you personally wrapped right around your pretty little finger. Nothin' to do with no monks. Nothin' to do with anyone 'cept you and me, baby doll."

"I think I'm going to have to tell Brandon." The statement apparently came out of nowhere, but the vampire had a feeling that if he listened long enough he'd find out how his future sister-in-law's mind had made the leap.

"You sure about that, Bitty?"

"Well, I think he already sort of knows. He just doesn't understand."

Spike gave her the questioning eyebrow.

"I didn't know whether he was just going out with me because of his dad sort of watching us, except I suppose he wasn't really, but you know what I mean."

"I know."

"So, it seemed kinda unlikely that out of all the girls in high school he would just decide to ask me out. I mean I'm not Miss Popularity. I'm not on the cheerleading squad. I don't have the right clothes or whatever. I'm the freaky loner, who cuts herself, with a freaky sister who's in a gang or something and always starting fights. So maybe it's kind of hard to accept that out of all the people he could hang out with, that a cool guy like him would want to hang out with me."

"Not so tough, platelet. Haven't I told you before that when you're done growing you're going to give Buffy a run for her money?"

"Yeah. Biased or what? Anyway, I asked him just why he did ask me out. He said, first time he saw me, just for a couple of seconds he said it was as if I glowed. He said I looked like an angel."

"Okay, so the guy's a lunatic?" Spike's face twisted into a teasing grin. "More reason not to tell him, I'd say."

Dawn slapped the vampire on the leg. "Stop it. I'm trying to be serious. He says his maternal grandfather is known to have a touch of the second sight as he put it. What if it's common to all the males in the family?"

"What if it is, love? Like you say he doesn't understand it."

"He thinks it's this whole love at first sight deal. I'd feel like I was lying to him if I let him keep thinking that. And I'm scared, maybe, that if he realises later he was wrong. That if. I mean if I wasn't the key he wouldn't be going out with me."

"You don't know that, honey. For all you know he could be as psychic as house brick. Maybe what he saw is precisely what he thinks he saw. Even if what he saw was the Key, don't you think it's more than coincidence that that would be just the thing to set him off? And for just long enough to make him really take a good look at you? A very clever man once said, "God does not play dice with the universe." If the kid saw you that way, it's because he was meant to see you that way."

"So what're you saying? That it was pre-ordained that he would ask me out?"

"No. We've all got free will. I'm saying that maybe someone somewhere figured it was about time some good-looking guy who isn't about to become your in-law noticed you. The fact that once he did, he's taken the time to get to know you and to learn about who you are, is nothing to do with you being the Key. And if that guy is still interested after getting shot, then, take it from me, he thinks you're pretty special."

"So would you mind if I wanted to tell him?"

"Personally, no, but I think this is one of those situations where your sister would plain overrule me if she disagreed. And if she does, I'll back her up absolutely, regardless of what I think."

"How can you say that?"

"Because when it comes down to it, it's a decision about your safety and the safety of those around you. As you so ably pointed out the other day Buffy is the one who is your designated guardian. If she chooses to err on the side of caution, I will stand up for her right to make that decision."

"So, if Buffy were to say that she didn't think you needed to follow me round everywhere, you would go along with her opinion as my designated guardian."

"That depends. If you've learned your lesson and you're going to act responsibly, by which I mean you let us know where you're going and when you're going to be back, if you call us at the first sign of trouble, then, yes, I would probably go along with it. If you're going to sneak around behind our backs, then, I would just have to err on the side of caution."

Dawn seemed to consider this for a time. "Cool. I guess. So no grounding or anything?"

"Would that teach you anything you haven't learned the hard way? And there's no point stopping you seeing the kid, 'cause he's probably a better influence than Janice."

"Hey." Dawn protested before their discussion moved off into a whole different territory.
 
 
Chapter #5 - Chapter 1.04
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support. Special thanks on this chapter to the real Lori for her help and input on all the theological stuff. I'm sure she must be tired of waiting for it all to bear fruit since it's about four months since we started discussing it all, but then Spike's kidnapping overran and the bible study got bumped back a few days, which given how long it takes me to cover a week in this universe... Let's just say that without her I wouldn't have been confident enough about not offending anyone to have the minister make a re-appearance except for the wedding.

SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)





Chapter 1.04
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

"Hey there!"

Marie's greeting pulled Wes out of his daydream.

"Somebody looked to be thinking big thoughts."

"Oh, just trying to get my head around the idea of moving back here."

"And the idea makes you look that serious?" the tiny woman teased him. "I thought you wanted to move back here."

"I do... or rather." Wes gave a sigh. "I thought I was settled in LA. Worthwhile job, good friends, someone I cared about. Leaving all that behind is a big step, even if the fact of the matter is that none of it's there any more."

"Ok-ay. I was going to suggest we grab a hot dog from the stand at the entrance to the park, but I think this calls for some spiritual chicken soup, instead. Come on. My car's parked out back."

Wes heaved a mental sigh of relief. Hot dog stands sounded far more like a couple of friends meeting up and getting some food than a date. At least that cleared that up.

Before she started up the car, she tossed her cell phone to the watcher in the passenger seat. "If you hold down the six key, it'll put you straight through to Domino's. Get a family special, you pick the topping as long as there's no anchovies and have them send it to Lily's. You remember the address?" Marie asked as she pulled up to the entrance of the parking lot.

"Sure." Wesley made the call and then turned to watch Marie as she drove. "Em, we're going to see your mother-in-law?"

"Yep. Real food, she's not so hot. Spiritual sustenance, she's a five star restaurant."

She pulled the car up in front of the block of flats and waited for Wes before heading in. "If anyone can help you figure out whether this is just a case of cold feet or whether you really should be staying in LA, it's Lily."

"I don't really see that a quick chat is going to do the trick."

"Then, I guess that no one's really explained to you about Lily. From what I've heard she's sort of like the guy who was kidnapped with Spike, only no need to sing."

She pushed open the door of the ground floor flat and called out as she walked along the corridor to the main room. "Lily, I've brought someone home for lunch. I think maybe the two of you should have a little talk." Wesley followed on, unsure what to think of this latest development.

Lily came bustling through from the kitchen to greet Wes like the proverbial prodigal son.

"Wesley. Is good for you to be here."

"Food's on its way. I'm going to go have my own personal PTA meeting, while you help our friend here work out what he wants to do. He's feeling kind of homesick for LA." With that the young woman headed toward the exit.

Lily's gaze pinned the watcher as she took a seat in one of the armchairs at the far end of the room, gesturing him toward the sofa.

"Sit! Sit! Marie she say you homesick for LA, but LA no home to no one, so I think you missing the people."

"I suppose so," Wes admitted as he settled into the soft cushions. "That and being part of the whole Champion thing."

"Pffft! Champion for the Powers is no so big a deal." The demon dismissed Angel's claim to fame in an instant.

"I beg to differ," her guest argued. "What can be more important?"

"You choose what more important when you choose to walk away. You choose to follow your heart. You humans, you talk about the Powers as if you talk about God. Powers are just that. They not good or bad. Mostly, they selfish. If power corrupt then they more power than most. They arrange things to suit them. Where is big deal for being their peon?"

"But aren't they a force for good?"

"Some, if they seek adoration, love. Some seek fear, some no care at all. It is a better man who sets his own course according to his creed, than who follows blindly on the orders of one he neither knows nor comprehends."

"You really believe that?"

"I know that. I think you can do good work here. I think already you help William's little sunrise." It took Wes a second or two to realise that she meant Dawn. "I think if you stay you can help many people, many demons who no have no one to turn to. If you follow your heart. You good man, Wesley. Here is place where we need good men."

"And what if my heart is in LA?"

"The baby horse?" Lily asked. "She choose, my friend. Is done." The demon held Wes's gaze as she continued her sympathy evident in her gaze. "She is little girl. Is right for now that she should be with little boy. You no little boy. You need woman, to be your wife, to have your children, to make life with, no little girl for you to be knight. Is time to put away childish things.

Is not to be easy, but you stay, we help. My Marie help with work. We help you find office, new home. Is new start, new beginning but many people to help, us, William, Buffy, Dawn. Is better not see pony. Is better to forget. Clean slate.

I think in time have better life here than you think. I make tea. You think about what I say. Is true, but men they need time to think through what woman knows." With that she bustled back to the kitchen, leaving a somewhat shell-shocked Wesley in her wake.

"Hello!" Clem's voice sounded from the doorway. "Rosa said there was a pizza delivery on its way."

"Is coming," Lily shouted back from the kitchen.

Clem came in and claimed the other armchair but Wesley hardly noticed, as Marie came through the door after him. She carried Rosa on one hip, her love for the child evident in every glance her way. As she looked up to see Wes watching them her smile seemed to include him in their family unit.

"I don't think you two have been formally introduced. Rosa, this is Wes. Or do you prefer Wesley?"

"Wes is just fine."

"Okay. Wes, this is my daughter Rosa."

Wes heard the introduction, but his brain was too busy providing another soundtrack for the admittedly beautiful mother and child portrait in front of him, Lily's words of a few moments earlier. 'You need woman, to be your wife, to have your children, to make life with.'

He began to have a feeling that, true or not, Lily's advice wasn't entirely impartial. His gaze flicked briefly to the older demon, catching the merriment on her features before he held out his hand to the little girl, who was obviously amused to be asked to shake hands.

"Pleasure to meet you."

A smile broke across the little girl's face. "You talk like Unker Will reads," she told him, unwittingly giving away one of Spike's fluffiest secrets.

"Do I indeed?" Wes asked.

It was some time later before all the pizza was eaten and Rosa was due to be returned to the care of her tutor.

Lily diplomatically offered to escort the child back upstairs, to allow Marie to chat to Wes about the business of setting up and some of the legal necessities involved. She had one last trick up her sleeve before she took the little girl away, though.

"Wesley, is good that you stay. Is so good, I think maybe we have party here for dinner Saturday night. We ask William and the girls, too. You come."

The sight of the little girl dancing on the spot in excitement made it impossible for Wes to refuse, as he was sure the old demon had known it would. "Of course," he answered. "What time?"








"Hi, come on in. Can I take your coat? Maybe you'd like a drink? Some coffee? Or maybe a soda? We've got some ice tea in the fridge."

"Yes, you can take my coat. As to drinks, whatever you're having will be fine. How's your sister, by the way?" the young cleric passed over his jacket to Buffy, who hung it up on one of the pegs in the hall.

"Oh... you know. Physically, a couple of weeks and you'd never know anything happened. Mentally, we could be catching the fallout years from now."

"I'm sure you'll give her all the support you can."

The minister waited in the hall for Buffy to return from the kitchen with a selection of sodas, before heading up to the teenager's room.

"Is your sister going to be up to this?"

"Oh, she might have been told to stay home from school and rest up, but I assure you a bit of reading won't be beyond her." Buffy pushed open the room door to reveal Dawn sitting in bed, headphones on, tray full of magazines on her lap, painting her fingernails silver. A vase of white spray carnations with red edging on the petals stood by the side of her bed. Thanks to Spike's intervention she was dressed in her most concealing pair of pyjamas underneath the bedclothes, and he'd even made her put on a bra, which in her mind sort of spoiled the whole idea of lazing round in pyjamas, but the vampire had been adamant.

She looked up, startled, as the door pushed open, tipping the bottle of polish over the topmost magazine. Buffy snatched at it, picking it up before it could pool onto the tray itself. The teenager pulled the headphones from her ears, and Buffy grimaced at the music that came from them.

"Has Spike been making tapes for you again?" Buffy asked, holding her hand out to take the bottle cap from her sister.

"Brandon, actually." Buffy rolled her eyes. Sometimes she wondered if Dawn realised that she was basically dating a young human Spike. "Didn't realise it was that time. Sorry." Dawn ripped the cover off the soiled magazine using a delicate precision to avoid smudging those nails she'd finished painting. She scrunched it into a ball, sending it sailing to bounce off the rim of her waste paper basket and onto the floor. As Buffy hastened to rescue it before the polish stained the carpet, Dawn treated the minister to an apologetic smile.

"So, are you ready to start now?" the preacher asked as Buffy passed around the sodas and he passed a gospel in booklet form to each of the girls.

"Well, I've kinda got a couple of questions before we start the lesson proper." Buffy bit at her lip.

The young man gave her an understanding smile as if this were par for the course. "Fire away."

"Not that I'm not grateful, but I just wondered why you're prepared to do this. I mean the wedding, not the bible study. When Spike said he would only get married in church if the minister was prepared to do it, knowing what he was, I was sort of ready to head for the Vegas wedding chapel. I didn't really expect that the first guy, em, reverend that I asked would say yes."

"Buffy, I could tell you it's because it's patently obvious to anyone who sees the two of you together that you love each other. I could tell you that it's obvious that Spike understands fully the commitment he is making before God and I believe he takes it very seriously, which is more than can be said for some couples who come to me. I could also tell you that I believe his motives are just. I could tell you that since he basically intimated to me that you were sleeping together and that the situation wasn't going to change that I felt it was my duty to sanctify the union-."

Buffy looked shocked. "But, but I heard every word he said. He didn't mention anything about that."

"Not unless you knew the context of the passage which he quoted, and he knew that I would. Buffy, I could give you all these reasons and any one of them would be almost enough to justify my decision, but the fact of the matter is that in the end it came down to one thing.

There are several constants throughout The Bible. One is the tenet of 'Judge not, lest you shall be judged.' It's not my place to decide whether Spike or even you are worthy or unworthy in the eyes of God. He is the only one who can do that. This is illustrated time and again throughout the bible, and more often than not those who think they are guaranteed a place at God's right hand are condemned for their greed, their vanity or some other sin and those who deem themselves unfit for whatever reason are generally wrong, too. No one can know whether they will see heaven, all anyone can do is try to be worthy."

"But, isn't it all a soul thing? And Spike doesn't have one of those."

"How do you know? Do you know exactly what a soul is? Because I don't. The same word that's often translated from Greek to mean 'soul' in The Bible could just as easily have been translated to say 'life'. The Hebrew word for 'spirit' can also be translated as 'breath'. When you start to look at things in that light, you realise that some things which are commonly misconceived to have their origins in The Bible are nothing more than dogma."

"So you say that Spike isn't by his nature inherently damned?"

"Jesus says, 'Whosoever believes in me shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.' Not those who believe and have a soul, whatever you take that to mean, and I defy you to prove who has one and who doesn't by the way, or who happen to be the same species as the guys who wrote the book. Just whosoever."

"Em, well, this kind of leads me to the next question. I'm guessing from that, that you wouldn't have any objections if a couple of the attendants and a guest or two weren't entirely human as such?"

"No, Buffy, I don't have a problem with that. I was more or less expecting it, though you will need two witnesses whose identity is... legally established, I guess is the best way to put it, to sign the register."

Dawn gave her sister a questioning look. "A couple of the attendants?"

"Oops. Guess I didn't mention asking Marie about having Rosa as a flower girl, huh?"

"Guess not," the teenager mock huffed, but then couldn't contain a grin. "She is going to be so cute."

The minister cleared his throat. "Well, if that concludes the question and answer for just now, maybe you'd like to open the gospels I gave you at the beginning?"

A calm settled over the group as the minister read from the tracts that he had given the girls, pausing every so often to discuss the passages with them. Everything seemed to be going rather better than Buffy had expected. That was before the sound of two male voices bickering and then shouting carried through the house to Dawn's room.
 
 
Chapter #6 - Chapter 1.05
 








Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)







Chapter 1.05
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Spike cocked his head and listened as he heard the car draw to a stop nearby. When he confirmed that the footfalls were moving toward the Summers' house, he abandoned his current chore of scraping the paint from the windows of the DeSoto to make his way around to the front of the house. He knew he had to intercept the visitor before they could reach the front door, or more importantly, the doorbell.

Even as Xander reached for the door handle, Spike called out in a voice he hoped wasn't loud enough to carry up to Dawn's room and disturb his girls, getting quieter again as he got closer to the carpenter. "Wouldn't bother. Should be locked. Finally managed to convince Buffy that leaving the door open to all and sundry, while it may occasionally save on the replacement bills, wasn't really the best idea in the world."

Xander's eyes narrowed as he replied, trying the handle anyway. "I get it. All and sundry meaning me."

"No-o-o. All and sundry including you. There's a difference."

Spike fished in the front pocket of his jeans to pull out a key for the door, waiting for the young man to step aside so he could open it.

"If you're lookin' for Red or Glinda you're out of luck 'cause they're supposed to be workin' late at the library on some project or other." Spike pushed the door open and stepped through. "Point of fact, unless you want to grab a beer and keep quiet while I catch up on Passions, you're out of luck all round, I'm afraid."

Xander followed the vampire in, protesting as he did so. "But the hospital said that Dawn was discharged. She's got to be here."

Spike shifted, whether intentionally or instinctively to block the stairs.

"You're not listening, Special Ed. I didn't say they weren't here. I just said if you wanted to see them you'd have to shut up and wait."

"What do you mean wait? Wait for what? Dawn hasn't had a relapse? You haven't had to get the doctor out, have you?"

"No... No doctor. They're just busy. Like I say, if you want to see them, you'll have to wait or come back later." The tightly clenched muscles in Spike's jaw left no doubt as to which of the scenarios he would prefer.

"How much later? And what do you mean busy? What are you trying to hide?"

"Bugger all." With two words Spike managed to convey his disdain for the Scooby's insecurities. "But if Buffy or Dawn had wanted you to know what they're doing, they've had more than ample opportunity to tell you, so I can only assume that they don't want you to know."

"So you're not hiding anything. I guess, in that case, you told us all everything there is to know about what happened to Dawn last night?"

Spike's temper flared in defence of his adoptive daughter. "No, I bloody didn't, and I don't bloody intend to."

Xander nodded his head as if coming to a realisation. "I know what you're up to, Spike. Calling meetings at demon's houses, bringing in your biker, English, leather-wearing sidekick. That's why he gets to know about Dawn but none of us do. You've always wanted to break us up and when that didn't work you're just replacing us, instead. We're being supplanted by a bunch of demons and English guys and your harem. You just want it to be all your friends telling the slayer what to do. That's why we didn't get invited to LA until it was all but over."

Spike's jaw had literally dropped open halfway through Xander's tirade, but it didn't take him long to recover. "Have you listened to yourself? I have never met such a self-important, paranoid wanker in my life." 'Mostly because Angelus was never that paranoid,' he thought to himself. "Does it even occur to you that we might simply not be telling you every detail of every last trauma Bit endured because it is simply. None. Of. Your. Business? I know and Red knows because we were the ones who found the evidence. The only person I told was Buffy and if her or Dawn chose to tell Wes, or if he overheard anything at the hospital, then I'm glad he's not shouting his mouth off. It shows he has some respect for other people's privacy, which is a damn sight more than I can say for you.

And as to replacing you so that my friends can tell the slayer what to do. If, by that, you're saying that you and Red have been using Buffy like some sort of trained dog for the last six years, then I'd really like to hear what she thinks of that.

And I suspect the reason you weren't asked to LA until it was all but over is that chances are Buffy didn't ask anyone in Sunnydale for help to begin with. I suspect that unlike you, the others actually decided for themselves to come help out when they heard what had happened, so if you're feeling left out about it then I suspect it's all your own fault."

"Enough!" Buffy's voice carried down from the upstairs hallway, where she, Dawn and Reverend Hamilton now stood. Neither man had any idea how long they had been there. Xander gave an audible gulp as he saw the minister in his distinctive garb, his eyes seeming to lock onto the man's dog collar in horror.

"Spike, just back off... please. Xander, you leave or you wait quietly with Spike for another hour. Those are your only two options. Didn't you listen when he told you we were busy, or were you too busy letting your demon paranoia take over your mouth to use your brain? And in future maybe you could call."

"What? No, I just wanted to see Dawnie and make sure she was okay."

This time it was Dawn herself who replied. "No, Xander. No, you didn't. You were just feeling sorry for yourself because someone else knew something you didn't. Boo hoo. So Xander felt like the odd man out. Well, does it make you feel any better to know that she taped me down to a table and stuck some thing inside me and then jacked it open nice and wide so she could have a good look and check everything was in working order? Does it?

Does that make you feel like a big man? Maybe you and Anya can use it in one of your little role-play sessions." As soon as her pain stopped providing fuel for her mouth the teenager broke down in tears. Xander stared at her tear-stained face and would have given anything to take back his shouted words so that she wasn't hurt and he could have remained in ignorance.

The minister cleared his throat. "I think those of us who aren't family should leave now, don't you?" He looked at Xander, who belatedly realised that the wooden banister was making cracking noises under Spike's fingers and the eyes that stared angrily at him were golden and not blue.

"Yeah... yeah... I guess so." Xander backed the few feet to the door, afraid that if he turned his back on the vampire that he would miss the moment the demon's control snapped. In his present state, Xander was sure that the vampire would happily beat him through the pain.

As soon as Xander was out the door Spike practically flew up the stairs to wrap himself around Dawn's back, so that she was held securely between him and Buffy.

The minister placed a gentle hand on Buffy's shoulder. "I'll just fetch my Bible and then I'll let myself out. Why don't you call nearer the time to confirm whatever arrangements you want to make for next week?"

None of the three people remaining really noticed when he let himself out, and neither did the young man who sat outside in his car with his head resting on the steering wheel.








Spike teased the puffy-eyed teenager as he and the two girls lounged across the youngster's bed.

"I could give him a great big snog and then bite his tongue out. That would shut him up a bit."

Dawn's mouth twitched upwards slightly despite herself. Her voice still held a gentle tone of reprimand as she voiced her disapproval. "Spike, you're an engaged man. You're not meant to 'snog' anybody but Buffy ...though I would love to see the look on Xander's face if you tried."

"Okay, scratch that one. I could rip his balls off. It's meant to work with cats, makes them less territorial and prone to get in fights and stuff."

Dawn giggled. "Yeah, then Anya would rip off yours. Don't think she'd be very keen on being married to a dud."

"Hmm, good point. Doubt Buffy would be thrilled about it either."

Now that some of Dawn's earlier good mood had been restored, Buffy decided it was time to intervene. "Don't you think it's about time you two stopped discussing which bits of my best friend you could remove by various means?"

Spike looked at Dawn's alarm clock. "We've only been at it for ten minutes. We could keep it up for hours yet."

"Yeah? Well, me and Dawn have got more important things to do." Buffy picked up the bottle of silver nail polish and indicated Dawn's unfinished manicure.

"Makeover time, is it? I guess I better scarper before you pair have me looking like Tammy Faye Bakker." With a last stroke to Dawn's hair Spike rose from the bed. "Just shout if you want me."

"As if!" the teenager replied, but the look in her eyes said otherwise. "Back to work, vamp boy. You know it's not that long until my sixteenth birthday, and I need to be able to see what I'm doing if I'm going to learn to drive before Buffy."

"Y'know a man can only be pushed so far, Bitlet."

"I know, and the rest he does because he loves us."

With a quick growl the vampire left the room, letting Dawn have the last word, just because he could.








It was half an hour later when the sound of the phone had Spike dashing into the kitchen with a shout of, "I've got it." After only a few brief exchanges Spike replaced the phone in the receiver before heading upstairs to pass on his news.

"That was the watcher. Wanted to know if it was okay to come over later, so I told him he might as well come over and stay for dinner as eat on 'is own. That okay with you two?"

"I kinda thought it would be just the three of us tonight," Dawn sounded disappointed.

"Well, if you want I can ring him back and say it's a no go. And I guess that idea I had about seeing whether Brandon's dad would let him come over if I picked him up would be a non-starter as well." The vampire gave a theatrical sigh. "I'll just go let him know that the Summers household is not at home to visitors this evening."

"Did he say what he wanted?" Buffy asked, sounding concerned.

Spike gave a quick shake of his head. "Just that he had some news."

"It's probably just another Apocalypse." Dawn snorted derisively. "Big news. Get with the dad calling already."

The vampire raised an eyebrow. "Number one, I had a feeling you might want to make the call. Number two, it's still school hours, so if he got someone else to look after the kid and went to work he won't be there. Number three, I am about to nip out and buy a few beers and some extra bits and pieces for dinner. And number four, I am not your unpaid servant, whatever you might think."

The last point seemed totally lost on Dawn, however. "Ooh, can you get some more cookie dough mint fudge, and some diet seven up. Oh, and some chocolate would be good, or maybe some chocolate ice cream? Something chocolatey anyway."

Spike turned on his heel and began to walk away. The last thing he caught before Buffy closed the bedroom door was Dawn's anguished cry of, "heyyy, I wasn't finished yet!"








A couple of hours later Spike was busy in the kitchen when the doorbell rang.

"Buffy, pet, can you get that? It's probably our dinner guest. I've kind of got my hands full."

Buffy's eyes widened in surprise as she pulled open the door. Her joy and surprise were both evident in her voice as she said his name before, with a welcoming smile, she wrapped her arms around the man's neck and hugged him until he was gasping for breath.

Her cry was closely followed by a small crash from the kitchen and a much louder, "bloody hell!" Seconds later, the vampire appeared in the living room doorway.

"Spike!" Buffy berated him as she clung to Giles' arm. "You let me think you were talking about Wesley."

Her fiancé nodded his head toward the open doorway, from which the distinctive sound of a large motorbike engine could be heard for a second or two before it was cut off.

"That would be because I was talking about Wesley. Guess you better set an extra place at the table, pet.

So?" He turned to Giles. "Two watchers at one time? I guess this means it really is an apocalypse."
 
 
Chapter #7 - Chapter 1.06
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support. I guess Josephine Martin and her fic "Seeking Vengeance" shiuld get a mention here as well. Those of you familiar with the story will understand why.

SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)





Chapter 1.06
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Tara had a bad feeling. According to the plans they had made the previous afternoon Willow should have met her here almost three quarters of an hour ago. Up until their LA trip Tara might not have worried unduly about a relatively short delay, but since they all had cell phones now there was no good reason for Willow not to have contacted her. She knew that Willow had recharged her phone the previous night, and she could remember seeing her pack it in her book bag this morning.

Tara had tried sending her a text message when half an hour had gone by with no sign of the redhead. When no response was forthcoming after a further ten minutes, she discovered when she tried to speak with her that her phone had been switched off in the intervening period. Willow didn't want to be found, and if that were the case, Tara could only think of one reason.

She tried the number for the Magic Box, hoping that Anya would still be there, but there was no response other than the answering machine. Next, she tried to catch Anya at home. Instead, she found herself speaking to another recording device.

Little did she know that Xander was sitting in the darkened room with a half-finished bottle of bourbon in his hand, listening to every word she said. It didn't make much difference anyway as he was too far gone in his depression to make a move for the phone in any case. Besides, Tara hadn't wanted him. No one ever wanted him any more. Then, he corrected himself. Anya wanted him. Even when he was stupid and tactless and useless Anya still wanted him, had been prepared to forgive him even for leaving her at the altar.

And still, he couldn't. give when she had called him on his attitude to demons. Dawn had warned him less than a week before that if he didn't change he could end up losing all of them, and now he wasn't entirely sure if her prediction was already half true. The way things had gone this afternoon he didn't know if Dawn and Buffy would give him a chance to explain. Then again, he had a feeling he might just have to fight his way past an overly possessive vampire before he even got to see them again. And since said vampire was in possession of the orbs of Nezzla Khan, even if he couldn't hurt Xander, it wasn't going to be like Xander could hurt him or do anything to make him move out of the way, or so the carpenter reasoned.

All he had left for sure were Anya and Willow. The funny thing was that, of the two, surely he should be more certain of keeping his wife than his friend. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter was, if he could alienate Dawn and her sister in just a few minutes, he could probably count himself lucky that so far he hadn't managed to do the same with his highly volatile spouse.

When had it become so wrong to hate the demons? Riley had got it, except Riley was supposed to be one of the bad guys now, or was he? A week ago they had said, or rather Spike had said, he was. Then, last night if Xander hadn't got totally lost, which he admitted to himself as he took another slurp of whiskey from the bottle was definitely not outside the realms of possibility he seemed to be back on the home team. Of course, the away team was his wife. And she had hurt Dawnie, hurt her bad in the sort of ways that took longer than any physical wounds to heal.

Xander knew all about being a victim. You couldn't grow up in the Harris household and not know about it. For sixteen years, Jesse's home had been his refuge when he just had to get away. Whenever trying to make his dad laugh so that he wouldn't get pissed off and take it out on him or his mom got to be too much, Jesse's bedroom window had always been unlocked. An inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag had always been tucked under his friend's bed in case he needed them. Not that his dad had ever actually hit him. Sometimes Xander almost wished that he had. Some bruises that he could somehow have shown to someone, so that they would have to do something to get him out of that house, would have been a blessing. Instead, his father had used words to cut him and his mother down and to keep them there. His father was a failure whose only two pleasures in life were drink and making his wife and son acknowledge that they were even bigger failures than he was.

They all forgot about Jesse. All of them, even Willow, but Xander couldn't forget. He sure as hell couldn't forgive. Yet, Buffy seemed to think he should be okay about dealing first with Angel and then with Spike. Didn't she get it? Wasn't the fact that they were vampires bad enough, even if at first he'd been kind of forced to give soul boy the benefit of the doubt? The fact that they were direct descendants of the bitch that killed his best friend was just the extra icing on the cake.

And all those other demons? Okay, so far, he hadn't actually caught Clem attacking anyone, or anything other than a bucket of southern-fried chicken, but the fact of the matter was he'd never met a demon that could hide it's true nature for long. Sooner or later Buffy was going to discover that all these things she kept treating like animated teddy bears actually had some damn sharp teeth and claws.

Then again, Anya had asked him to the wedding. She said that some demons were productive members of society. And Buffy, Miss Demon Kill Kill herself, seemed to be going all "grey area" on him. Okay, so part of the reason that he'd been proud to help Buffy. Never mind that there was the whole knowing that whatever his dad told him, he helped keep Sunnydale safe part. That was the part that let him believe that he didn't have to grow up to become his father.

'Good one! Way to prove you're not a useless drunk!' he thought as he took another gulp from the bottle. The thing was there was another part of him where every vampire he helped stake, every demon he helped kill was a tribute to Jesse and to the others who would be spared his fate. It used to be simple. Demons bad. Slayer kill demons. Xander help slayer. Buffy happy. Xander happy. Hell, there had even been a point he'd considered it remotely possible that Buffy would give Xander a happy. Okay, Buffy had given Xander multiple happies, but there had been a time he'd considered the possibility of mutual happies.

Now, there was every chance he was married to a demon. His best friend was dating a demon and the demon hunters were the bad guys because somehow they had got their wires crossed and gone for Dawn, but Dawn was human, or he thought she was, and if she wasn't would that make her evil?

This was all Spike's fault, anyway. Whatever he said, that thing with the front door had just been designed to piss him off, and he could just have said that Buffy and Dawn were talking to the priest or minister or whatever. He'd deliberately goaded him into making a fool of himself so that he could look like the big hero defending his women. What Xander didn't get was how come it was Dawn and Buffy with the priest and not Buffy and Fangless. Come on! The guy could be human and he would still hate his guts. Everybody said he had a thing against demons, and, yeah, they were probably right, but he would hate Spike anyway, just on principle. How the hell could Buffy let him put his cold dead hands on her, in her? How could she be excited by a walking corpse? Not that he was the first one.

Xander decided that he really needed to simple this all up.

'Okay, me like Buffy. Me like Dawn. Me love Anya.

Me argue with Fangless or me no play nice with demon people. Me lose Buffy. Me lose Dawn. Me lose Anya.'

Xander really didn't like where this logic was taking him. He commiserated with himself by taking his longest slug from the bottle yet. If only Evil Undead hadn't borrowed the orbs, from what Willow had said, Riley and his men would have had him bang to rights with those bows. Problem, or at least ninety percent of problem, solved. It was just his luck. He could have been the one doing the whole heroic rescue gig. He should have been the one doing the whole heroic rescue gig. It was only because Dead Man Walking had taken back his supposed present that it hadn't been him doing the rescuing. And to think he'd chipped in to get the bloodsucker a microwave.

The outer door of the apartment was pushed open and Xander found himself suddenly blinking in the glare of the lights that Anya put on.

"Xander? What are you doing sitting on the floor?" She eyed the bottle in his hand. "Are you drunk?"

"Hi, Ahn. I'm thinking. I'm thinking that since I'm kinda drunk the floor's not so far to fall, but you know what else I'm thinking?"

Anya's mouth pursed together in irritation before she took her cue. "What else are you thinking, Xander?"

"I'm thinking that maybe I've already lost Buffy and Dawn, but I'm thinking that what's real important is that you know how much I love you. You're this incredible, beautiful, unpredictable, intelligent woman and I am so lucky that you forgave me for that whole wedding thing and if I have to spend the rest of my life making that up to you, I will, because you know something, without you the apartment, the job, none of it, is worth anything, and if I have to be civil to Spike and kiss Clem's wrinkly butt to keep you, then I will. Just please don't make me apologise to him. Oh and Tara wants you to ring her on her new cell phone that Buffy bought her when they were all in LaLa Land without us. Before Spike she'd have bought me one, too, but now-."

"Xander, you already have a cell and before Spike she couldn't even have bought herself one."

"But she'd have wanted to buy me one."

"H-o-kay, Xander. Time for you to go to bed and not in a sexy way."

As she tried to lever Xander's considerable weight off the floor, the carpenter whispered in her ear, "I love you, Mrs Anya Emanuella Jenkins Harris."

"And I love you, too, lambikins, but you really need to lose some weight." Giving up on moving the apparently immovable object she lowered him back to the floor and stoppering the bottle once more, she moved it out of his reach before pulling the duvet and a couple of pillows off their bed. Silently, she placed the cushions under his head and tucked the quilt around his recumbent form. It didn't matter. She didn't have to say anything. The way she felt about him, despite all his shortcomings was evident in every tender gesture, Even the fact that she fetched a bucket from under the sink and put it next to his head, just in case.

As soon as his eyes drifted shut, she called Tara back.

"Hi, Tara. It's Anya. Xander said you needed to talk to me."

"Yeah. I need to know whether Willow was in The Magic Box today."

"Well, yes, but Xander could have told you that. He was there, too."

"Anya, did she buy anything?"

"Pffft!" Anya's instantaneous reaction came out before she could even think about helping it. "You know whatever she gets she always says it's to help Buffy and that Giles won't mind. One of these days, Giles is actually going to read the paperwork that comes with his cheques and send her a hefty bill. Of course, it all comes out of his share. I suppose in theory he could claim it back from the watcher's council, if he could prove it was a legitimate expense, which, of course, I'm sure most of it isn't."

"Anya, did Willow get anything today? Any crystals? Any Lethe's bramble?"

Anya gave another unladylike snort. "Like I'd ever sell Willow any more Lethe's bramble!" The former demon then paused uncertainly. "She did take a quartz though, a really big one. And she knows that I'd know what she was up to if she wanted more of that, so maybe she would just take it. Who does she want to forget something?"

"My guess? All of us. What happened last night, she sent Sam an email, now I think she wants us all to forget all about it, because she feels like it's her fault. She was supposed to meet me and she never showed. I sent her a text message. It was delivered. Ten minutes later when I tried to ring her she'd switched her phone off. I think she hopes if she can hide out until she completes the spell, then none of us will ever remember what happened."

"But, she can't do that. Someone needs to remember so that they can get vengeance on Sam because otherwise she'll get away with hurting Dawn."

"Well, I can't say we're working from the same motivation but we're on the same side. The thing is, I'm on campus and I've got no components or anything. I cleared just about everything out of my dorm room and it would take me a while to get a bus back to town. Do you think maybe you could get a hold of Wes and see if he could do a locator spell for us while I check out some of the labs? She wouldn't do it back at the house, and I don't think she'd risk The Magic Box, but she's used the labs before."

"What about the others? Giles and Buffy and Spike. Should I tell them, too."

"Giles?" Tara noted the watcher's inclusion but decided other things were more important at this stage. She hesitated, her relationship on the line. "W-we could be wrong, but w-we can't afford to risk it. Tell them. The more people we have looking for her, the more chance we have of finding her before." The thing that worried her most however was if Willow had been acting on this for the last twenty minutes, then why hadn't they already forgotten.

"Before she turns us all into mindless vegetables," Anya answered with typical bluntness.

 




 

"Ho-kay," thought Willow. "Nearly there." The spell was an incredibly complex one and timing was crucial. She wanted to erase back to before she sent the email, but only just before. The spell worked in terms of complete days, so she had to have everything ready and then wait until the correct time.

It would all have been so much simpler if Dawn and Brandon hadn't been taken to the hospital. With Lethe's bramble, she could probably have affected the memories of all the Scoobies, Riley's men, Brandon and his dad, but the large numbers of hospital staff involved and the proliferation of both admin and medical records made it impractical. Of course, Sam would go free, but maybe Willow could track her down herself and somehow make sure she wasn't able to do the same again.

She'd do whatever it took to stop Dawn from looking at her with hatred when she found out what had brought Sam back to the Hellmouth, to stop the teenager from being hurt and for Tara to look at her without showing her disappointment.
 
 
Chapter #8 - Chapter 1.07
 









Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

There's also a special disclaimer for this chapter. I didn't make up the bit about what Spike did during the war. That's down to Christopher Golden, in his novel "Pretty Maids All in A Row".

As to any authenticity regarding the wiccan bits that's all down to Cherie, whereas the mistakes and the entirely made up bits are mine all mine.




SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)







Chapter 1.07
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Spike's comments regarding the world's impending doom didn't seem to receive what the vampire considered to be due attention from the older of the two watchers. This was mainly because he was somewhat preoccupied by what he could see through the still open front door to the house.

He managed to last until Wes removed his helmet before, aghast, he removed his glasses to clean them.

"Wesley?" He imbued the other watcher's name with such utter incredulity that Spike couldn't control a smirk.

"Hey," the slayer teased. "If you could be a closet mod jogger, what makes you think Wes wouldn't make a biker. You had your secrets."

Spike snorted his amusement at a mental image of Giles perched atop an over-laden Vespa wearing an olive drab parka with The Who's logo on the back, but didn't say anything.

"That can't be Wesley Wyndam-Pryce!" Giles replaced his glasses, only to confirm that his view was unchanged, except that the object of his amazement was now making his way through the doorway.

"Giles! I thought you were in England."

"Yes, well... Up until this morning, I was." The watcher looked uncomfortable, almost as if he was looking round the hallway for listening devices.

Buffy quickly came to the rescue. "Spike's been busy stocking up the fridge with bottles of some beer or other for him and Wesley. What say we relieve him of a few and go make use of that garden furniture out back, for once?"

Spike gave another snort. "I think on your track record you better stick to the Budweiser, pet. Newkie Brown's for the grown ups, love. Just because Clint Eastwood imports it by the crate, doesn't mean the rest of you Yanks are up to it."

"I am so tougher than Clint Eastwood!" Buffy protested.

"Well seein' as how he makes Rupes here look like a spring chicken, I've got no doubt that you could beat him to a pulp, but I bet he could drink you under the table without even trying, besides..." the vampire bent over to whisper in his fiancée's ear.

"Ew, Spike! Gross." Buffy slapped the platinum blond in the stomach hard enough to produce a startled exhalation of air.

"Giles, come and provide me with some civilised conversation." Buffy tugged her father-figure off towards the back door.

Wesley hung back until Spike recovered from the blow, hanging his jacket up in the meantime. "What on earth did you say to her?"

Spike smirked. "I told her if she tried to keep up with us drinking that stuff she'd have the shits for a week."

Wesley smiled. "A slight exaggeration."

"Well, if I'd said for a day she'd probably have tried anyway, on principle, and I'm already sharin' out what I bought for the two of us between three. If she was drinkin' it as well, it wouldn't last no time. Not to mention it's kind of hard to keep an eye on Bit if I spend all night in the bathroom holdin' Buffy's head while she throws her guts up."

Wes shook his head. "I guess I won't be taking the Harley home tonight, then."

"Probably not. Well, we best go raid the fridge and then see what brings the watcher all the way from the Georgian terraces of historic Bath." He gave Wes an appraising look. "Not to mention what happened to bring you clear across town." Spike shifted through to the kitchen with Wes following. He cleared up the broken pieces of a bowl, picked up a half-empty pint beer bottle from the counter and extracted another two similar but full ones from the fridge along with a bottle of Bud lite. He pulled out a tray and placed the bottles and four half-pint glasses on it.

"Yes, well I suspect that Giles' news may be rather more urgent," Wes admitted, as they moved to join the slayer and her former watcher, giving the older watcher his second shock of the day.

"S-spike!" Giles' eyes widened as he watched the vampire approach across the lawn.

"Yeah?" the vampire pretended ignorance of what was freaking the watcher out, even as he took a seat in the sun next to his fiancée, passing out the full bottles of beer and keeping the half-full one for himself.

"You-you're not burning!"

"Funnily enough, I was actually aware of that little detail. Nice, isn't it? Kind of handy when social services comes to visit tomorrow, too. I figure once that's out the way I'll have to hand them back, though."

"You mean... The orbs? They..."

"Well, considerin' you were the first one to start hollerin' about invulnerability you took a while to work that out.

So, Rupert, You've got a beer. Give it half an hour and you'll get some dinner. Let's skip the rest of the make nice bollocks an' get to the point. What dire catastrophe brings you rushing from the motherland?"

"There's actually a couple of things." Giles addressed his answer not to the questioner but to Buffy. "Firstly, and arguably most importantly, there's a coven based in Devon that I've had dealings with since I returned home."

Even though they weren't physically touching, Spike picked up on the disappointment and hurt that Buffy felt when Giles described England as his home. Giles carried on oblivious.

"They haven't been able to come up with any detail, but they have some gifted prognosticators and it would appear that a dark power is about to rise in Sunnydale." Giles removed his glasses, rubbing at them again with his handkerchief before replacing them.

"Very Kendra," Buffy commented dryly. "And secondly?"

"Secondly, news of your engagement has somehow reached the ears of Quentin Travers. A friend who still works for the council says he's determined that the wedding won't go ahead. I have no idea what form his intervention may take. He may try sending a special ops squad. He may simply have Spike deported, or he may arrive on your doorstep with another of his delegations."

"He can't do that. No one and no thing is going to stop this wedding. This is going to be my special day." Spike reached an arm around Buffy to gently stroke her back, trying to soothe her, as she became more irate. "What gives him the right to be arbiter of our lives? Who does he think he is to interfere with our wedding? What have we done to him?"

"Actually." Wesley interrupted, "I think you may find that Spike at least has actually given him some provocation."

"I've never even met the old bugger," Spike denied.

"No," agreed Wesley. "So far as I'm aware you never have. Nevertheless, you did briefly make the acquaintance of his grandfather, one Harold Travers. It was admittedly a rather brief meeting. You remember visiting London, 1940?"

"Spike, what's he talking about?" Buffy asked.

"He's saying that Travers' grandpa was one of a bunch of Watchers that me and Dru killed one time when we paid a visit to Wanker Central."

"Of course!" Giles muttered. "I'd heard the stories, but it was so long ago, I never put it together that it was you."

Wesley shrugged. "There was a girl training as a watcher the same time I was. She wrote-."

"Wrote her thesis on me," Spike finished for him in an almost bored tone of voice.

"Well, when I was first assigned here, in light of your time here the year before, I checked out a copy. It was quite fascinating, as a matter of fact."

"Hey, don't I get a copy?" Buffy asked. "No fair with the Council knowing more about my husband than I will. And how come you knew about this?" she asked as she turned to her fiancé.

"Well, it was you that sent the dizzy bint and her crossbow wielding cronies to the crypt to bat her eyelashes at me an' get her tweed knickers all wet."

"Spike!" Buffy administered a swift but not particularly forceful elbow.

"What? 'S not like I encouraged her." He gave a smirk. "If I'd been interested, I doubt I'd've had to."

Giles gave an impatient sigh. "I think we're getting side-tracked here. I think the more immediate threat is that represented by whatever the coven predicted. As Spike pointed out earlier, while he is in possession of the orbs he is invulnerable, so whatever Quentin may try his life is under no immediate threat."

"Okay, watcher, we'll take this 'dark power' seriously when you tell us what you're hiding?"

"Who says I'm hiding anything?"

"You did. No sooner did you spit out the little line than the glasses were off and you were tryin' to wear a hole in them. A convenient little trick for when you don't want to look people in the eye, isn't it? So spill, Rupes. What do you know?"

"I don't know anything," Giles stated firmly. "I'm merely concerned as to one of the possibilities."

Spike's thoughts flicked back to an argument that he and Buffy had overheard one night when they were on the back porch.

"I see. I guess we'll need to watch our step, then."

"What?" asked Buffy. "What's he getting at? I don't get it."

"He's trying to avoid saying that this is the sort of thing that might be the result of a lot of magic." Spike answered.

Giles' beer suddenly seemed to demand a lot of his attention. "It is simply one possibility, Buffy."

"You think Willow's this 'dark power'?" she asked, apparently dumbfounded.

"Or she may inadvertently raise it," Giles admitted. "But it's no more than a hunch. Not even that really, more like a bad feeling. It's probably just paranoia."

"Or you could view it as the answer to the questions, 'Who has enough power to do something like this?' and 'Who's arrogant enough to play with those sort of forces?'" Spike suggested. "I think the world is safe for tonight, though. She's meant to be meeting Glinda in the library.

So, I'm guessing that we've got time for Wes's news before dinner."

"I'm afraid my news isn't anything like so dramatic. Just that I think I've found somewhere to live and in all probability run the agency from, though there's a bit more paperwork to do on that."

"So you're definitely staying in Sunnyhell, then?" Spike asked with a grin.

"I should be able to sign the lease tomorrow morning, but I wanted to make sure none of you would object to a new neighbour."

"Neighbour? Where neighbour?" Buffy asked.

"Across the road. The old Kalish place." Spike looked blank. "The house where you smashed in the window last night."

"Wes, that's great. You'll be right across the street if we need you... and vice versa. And we'll be so close by, any time you feel like company you can just pop over."

"Not to mention giving me a bolt hole for when the oestrogen levels over here get too much to bear," Spike joked.

"Hey," exclaimed the slayer. "You love it round here. You know you do. You think you're Hugh Hefner."

"Hugh Hefner, am I? Then where are we going to-."

"Have you guys all gone deaf?" called a voice from the porch and Dawn appeared around the corner of the house carrying the handset for the cordless phone. "I'm supposed to be the invalid here, not the servant."

"Sorry, pet. I was going to head back in in five minutes to finish off in the kitchen."

"Yeah? Well, you've got quarter of an hour to get it all under control before you go to pick up Brandon." She passed the phone to Buffy. "It's Anya, something to do with Tara and Willow. She asked if I knew where Wes was as well, but since I didn't realise we were having an English embassy tea-party on the back lawn, I told her I didn't know."

"Anya, hi! How's Xander?"

"Drunk, affectionate and currently unconscious, but he's not our problem."

"What's up?"

"Willow never showed up to meet Tara. She rang me to see if Willow had taken anything from the magic shop. She thinks she's going to try to use that forgetting spell to make us forget that she sent the email to Sam, and to make Dawn forget what happened to her."

"Surely she wouldn't try that again after the last time?" Buffy argued.

"You mean, she wouldn't mess with people's brains again without their permission after her delusting spell and her will be done spell and her making Tara forget about them arguing and then making us all forget who we were and then conjuring demons and grand theft auto by magic. No, of course she wouldn't. What was I thinking? Willow's your friend. Of course, she wouldn't endanger us all... Again."

"What do you want us to do?"

"Well, not that it's much of a hope, but if we split up someone may be able to find her and try to talk her out of it. Of course, if we're all over the place when our memories go then it's even more dangerous, but Tara's got no hope of getting back here to get the ingredients she'd need to do a locator spell in time, so for now she's checking some of the buildings on campus."

"Wes is here. So is Giles. If they met you at The Magic Box they could do it, couldn't they?"

"Either one, I think."

"Anya, hold the line a minute. I just want to check something.

Giles? Wes? Anya and Tara say Willow never showed up to meet Tara this evening. They think she's going to try to make us all forget about last night and that in a way it's her fault."

"What do you mean it's her fault?" Dawn asked in a suspicious tone of voice.

"Later, Dawn. Please ," Buffy pleaded. "But that wouldn't be a dark power, would it?"

"No, there has to be something else. Ask if she got any components?" Giles suggested.

"And there's no way she'd be able to make everybody forget," Spike argued. "We're talking troops, doctors, nurses... and then you'd have to get rid of all the physical records. X-rays, notes, bills. Red's little trick wouldn't cut it. 'Sides, twice in one week is too much to expect anybody to put up with." Spike gave his opinion while Buffy questioned Anya.

"Just a big quartz. That's why they thought it was the memory spell. They figured she probably took some Lethe's bramble while Anya was busy with something else."

"Quartz? As in common ingredient between magic and watches?" Spike asked before Buffy could finish relaying what Anya had said to the two watchers. "Big as in big enough to use as an offering to some demon demi-god you might want to conjure up if, say, you wanted them to take back time. There's your dark bloody power. She's not trying to make everybody forget. The stupid bint! She's trying to make it never have happened."

Spike winced suddenly as Buffy's arm impacted once more with his stomach. "You had to go and jinx us by saying we'd be safe for the night, didn't you, Einstein?"








Up in the clock tower where Buffy and Riley had once fought The Gentlemen and their minions, Willow sat cross-legged with a ceremonial circle in front of her. Its design was complex and looked like a Celtic knot pattern, so that the single line in cobalt blue edged finely in the gold of yellow sandstone, circled the area which it bound, seven times over. It had taken her over an hour to draw, for the areas that represented where the line crossed under itself had to be represented precisely. The blue of the line's centre had to meet the gold at the edge of the line it travelled under or the circle would be broken. Overlap too far, so the blue in one strand met the blue of the next, and the circle's potency would be reduced. The whole design was traced in sand. The same sand as would once have filled hourglasses. In the very centre of the circle sat the huge quartz crystal, so translucent you could almost see through it, about the size of a catcher's mitt.

Between the witch and the circle were placed the spell book from which she had taken the design, several crystals and a freshly sharpened, silver letter-opener. The star garnets were for empowerment and productivity. They also represented glory, but Willow wouldn't admit even to herself that she might use them thus, as that would be contrary to the workings of white magic. The sulphur crystals were for wish empowerment, white stones with pale yellow pieces all through them, almost as if someone had taken a bag of sherbet lemons and crushed them before trying to glue the end product back together. The letter opener? Well...

Everything was ready. Willow simply meditated to clear her mind. She needed to dismiss the thought of the look on Tara's face when she had first suggested that she take back time. She tried to forget the look of disappointment on her face when she told her about the email and the hurt, lost look on Dawn's face when Spike and Buffy brought her back from the hospital.

Most of all, she tried to ignore the whining and the scrabbling that came from the now urine-stained cardboard box in the corner of the tower. After all, once the spell was cast, she would be totally blameless, because she literally wouldn't have done anything.
 
 
Chapter #9 - Chapter 1.08
 








Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)







Chapter 1.08
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

"So who exactly do you think she's going to try to summon?" Giles asked Spike.

The vampire turned on him irritably. "Do I look like the bloody watcher in the pack? I thought that was what you were here for? Better yet, ask demon bint. She's been to half these places. Probably used to go to the same bloody parties as half the things Red might conjure up... Or maybe Tinkerbell'll know what's in the books they've got between them.

All I know is the so-called Master's meant to have tried the like after that earthquake, an' before they managed to send the bugger back where it came from the Brotherhood of Aurelius found themselves short a couple of dozen flunkies, Darla not included, unfortunately. Mind you, he was a soulless, evil , arrogant sociopath rather than just an amoral one, so at least he had an excuse.

Bit, go get dressed and when you've done that, come back down and bring your cell and an overnight bag, just in case. Quick as you can. Reckon as we're goin' to have to see if lover boy's okay with a change of venue."

"Right, Giles, Wes, you get The Magic Box." Buffy fell into organising mode. "We'll drop Dawn off and then head for Willow's parents.

Anya, you're at yours, right? I can't think of anywhere else in town itself that we need to check and Giles can let him and Wes into the shop. So, if you can call Tara back and bring her up to date with what we think and then stay there for just now, you're not too far from either the campus or the town once we have a definite location."

"Buffy, if you're right, anything that would do what she wants..." Anya told the slayer, knowing that she was asking to get her head snapped off. "It's going to want a sacrifice in return. That kind of magic can change someone. If you do find her she may not be the Willow you know."

"Thanks, Anya." Buffy answered, too calmly Anya thought for her to have fully absorbed the import of what she had told her. "We'll be in touch."

"Okay, guys. More bad news. Anya says the spell would need a sacrifice. I'm guessing you guys all know more about the significance of that than I can tell you."

"Not so much, pet." Spike gave her an uncomfortable look. "Won't bother her half as much this time as it did the first time around."

Buffy and Wesley both looked shocked. Giles, Spike noted, did not.

"Willow's done this before?"

"I suppose I can't say for certain, but you tell me anywhere you know where you can buy the blood of a pregnant doe? I mean, reckon there's quite a few folk of the fanged variety would pay for a delicacy like that but I've never heard tell of anywhere sellin' it. What about you, Rupes? You heard tell of anything like that, bein' in the trade an' all?"

"No, Spike. You know I haven't."

Spike shrugged. "Like I said, second time'll be easier, an' if she thinks she can take that back along with everything else, she might not even think twice."

"You say that like she won't be able to." Buffy asked her voice concerned.

"You know they say there's no such thing as a free ride, pet. If you're talking about magic you can take that and double it. Actually, depending on the school of thought you can either triple it or multiply it by seven. Whatever stunt she pulls, it'll come back on her."

"Then we've got to stop her before it gets that far." She looked over at the two watchers. "We're waiting for Dawn. What's your excuse? Call us as soon as you have a location."








Buffy and Spike drove away from Brandon and his father's house having promised, if possible, that they would be back to pick up Dawn at ten, otherwise they would call to let her know what happened and pick her up at seven the next morning.

"It was for me, wasn't it?" Buffy asked as they pulled away.

Spike shrugged. "What other spell of hers d'you think I'd bother to check out?"

Buffy sighed. "All the lines she's crossed with her magic. They're all my fault, from putting Angel's soul back to ritual sacrifice. They've all been for me."

"Pet, the way I recall it, you were restin' happily up in heaven. You didn't ask her to do what she did... And if you want my opinion, that whole crock about thinkin' you were in hell was just a smokescreen Red put up t'con the others into goin' along with her.

I dunno, maybe by the time she got around to actually doin' it she convinced herself as well. Thing is, are you tellin' me a witch as smart as Red couldn't have found a way to check? Are you tellin' me someone that bright couldn't figure out that dyin' for your little sis and the rest of the world would get you a ticket to heaven, even if you hadn't been an angel all along?" He gave her a flirtatious grin, trying to lighten the mood just a little.

"In my book Red brought you back for one reason. She thought bein' the slayer was this great important destiny. Well, two reasons. Anyway, when she got left to run things she found out the difference between goin' with you on an odd patrol and fightin' the demon's night after night and she didn't want to carry that responsibility any more. She did it for her, not for you.

Y'know at the time I didn't get why Red didn't grieve, not after the first couple of days. Guess she just couldn't take it, so she was plannin' on bringin' you back almost from the start. It was always all about her, pet.

Don't you think that if she'd done it for you she'd have been there for you when you came back? Or that if she was worried about you that they'd have helped out on patrols to give you time to readjust? Or that maybe she could have paid a bit of extra rent and got an upgrade or something instead of a whole new laptop?

I know you hang onto those bloody 'best friend' labels. I'll even admit with Harris he had good reason to be a bit preoccupied, an' when all's said an' done if I got staked tomorrow it'd make me feel better to know he'd be around for you, even if I can't stand the prick. All the same, it seems to me that the person who's actually been your best friend for the last year, is the one you don't bother givin' the title to. An' Red gets the credit, but I doubt she's done anything to suit anybody but herself in a bloody long time."

Silence filled the car and Spike began to think he'd overstepped the mark. Just the same, the fact was whatever else came of this night's events, the only way that Willow and Tara would still be a couple at the end of the night was if Willow succeeded in her goals and no one but her was ever any the wiser. This time, if Spike had any say in the matter, it would be the aggrieved party who got the support of her friends not the person who he considered was as guilty of rape for what she'd done to Tara as Sam was for what she'd done to Dawn.

Seconds ticked by and the overly tense muscles in Spike's jaw ticked along with them. Then, Buffy's fingers brushed against his face. In her touch, he could feel her regrets and her reluctance but also her understanding and her acceptance.

"You're right. Last time this all fell to pieces, we none of us treated Tara as well as she deserved. I hope when this is over that she'll choose to stay with us. Either way, I put Willow's feelings over Dawn's after the car wreck and I told myself she'd get over it. After this though, I just don't think Dawn's ever going to feel secure living in the same house as her. I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't feel the same even if I didn't have Dawn to consider. I think she has to leave."

Spike pulled the car over in front of Willow's parents' house and turned to take Buffy's face in his hands.

"It's your house, love, and whatever you decided I wouldn't interfere, other than maybe to express an opinion, but I want you to know that I understand this was a hard decision for you. I'm proud of you for making it and I agree with you one hundred percent."

Buffy's eyes were bright as she looked up into his. "That's just it. It should be hard, but you know, it's kind of not. Sometimes it's like I don't know her at all. Sometimes she scares me."

Spike pulled her into his arms, holding her close and under cover of the embrace, his light-fingered left hand slipped the orbs from his own pocket into Buffy's.

"Sometimes she scares me, too, love," he whispered in her ear. "Sometimes she scares me, too."

As they pulled apart, Buffy looked the vampire in the eye. "You know, you make a lot bigger shield to hide behind than I do, and we still don't know what Travers is up to."

"I'm still only worrying about staking, beheading, fire and sunlight. You could get hurt a whole pile of other ways."

Buffy sighed. "I suppose I'm just lucky that you waited till after sunset to be all chivalrous."

Spike gave a snort of amusement. "Chivalrous is one thing, pet. Suicidally stupid is another. Speaking of which, let's go see if the red witch is making a parental visit."








Giles unfurled his arms from around Wesley's waist, giving the bubble gum pink helmet the same disgusted look as he took it off as he had when Wesley had first passed him the monstrosity. 'I knew I should have got a hire car,' he told himself.

He found that the motions of opening up the store were no longer second nature to him. He had to think about which keys to use, and fumbled through fitting them to the locks. Once inside, everything was much as he remembered, however. Between the two of them they quickly found the relevant spell book and started pulling the required crystals and powders from the shelves.

"Do you really think we can do this in time to stop her?" Wesley asked the older watcher.

"Stop her turning back time, or stop her summoning something powerful enough to kill us all?" Giles asked.

Wesley looked the older watcher in the eye. "You know none of us believe that she can actually summon something that powerful and have enough power left to make it obey her."

"I'll assume you meant the latter, then. Prophecies can be thwarted, but... in this case, I have my doubts about it happening quite so conveniently," Giles explained even as he arrayed the spell components as shown in the book.

Several minutes later, Giles snuffed out the latest conflagration to take hold on the magic shop's Sunnydale street map. The paper sheet looked as if it had long been owned by a group of particularly careless stoners, but only the latest "spliff burn" was of interest to the two watchers.

"You ring Anya," Wesley suggested. "I'll call Tara. Whoever finishes first can get Buffy."








"Let me just ask one little tiny question here, Giles." Anya spoke in her best 'Are you all complete imbeciles?' voice.

"Yes?"

"I get the whole talking her out of it idea... but what exactly am I meant to do if I get there and this thing is already chewing on her bones?"

"Well, in that case, I would say you have two options," the sentence became more laced with sarcasm as the watcher continued. "You either run, or if you prefer maybe you can die just a little sooner than the rest of us."

"There's no need to snap. I just wanted to know if you had actually made any plans for that eventuality.

I shall go now and steal Xander's car keys and drive illegally to my inevitable doom."

"Anya," Giles tried to interrupt but the former demon was on a roll.

"When Xander sobers up tell him I said I love him too." With that somewhat melodramatic exit the line went dead.








"You know, Bunny, I'm sure my husband will be able to tell you where we put all that stuff of Willow's when we converted her room into a study, but it's so nice to see you again. Willow said that you'd got engaged last time she called. I assume this must be Mike.

How is your mother? We never did get around to doing lunch after that whole thing at the town hall. You know, I really meant to call her but everything was just so hectic, and with Willow dating that rock musician we were so worried about her." She cast a worried glance at Spike's coif as if she were suddenly wondering whether such a style was possible for someone who wasn't in a band. "Why don't I get you both a soda? I'm sure Ira will be home in a couple of minutes and he'd be so disappointed to miss you."

"Really, I think we should be going. Maybe we can find a pet store that's open at one of the out of town malls or something. It's just when the heater blew, Willow said that all the bits for her fish tank were packed away over here and that it would tide us over till we could get to the store." Buffy raced through her cover story again. "'Cause the fish might get cold... at night... because it's colder then than during the day."

Buffy had never been so pleased at the prospect of facing a hostile demon, as she was when her phone rang and Wesley told her where to find the redhead.

"We, em, have to go. That was my little sister, well, her date actually," she amended when Spike's raised eyebrow intimated that the timbre of Wes's voice had probably been heard by Willow's mother. "They've, um, broken down and we need to go pick them up. So we have to go... now."

"Okay, dear. Well, if Ira knows where that heater is should we drop it across for you?"

Buffy tried to think of a good excuse for the house being empty and failed. "Why don't you do that?" she replied with a false smile instead.

As they opened up the DeSoto again, Spike passed Buffy ten bucks. "You're right," he told her. "I didn't think anybody could suck that bad at the undercover stuff."
 
 
Chapter #10 - Chapter 1.09
 








Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)







Chapter 1.09
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Willow began to chant. The language was demonic and, if she had but known, her accent was abysmal. Unfortunately, to the demon she was trying to summon the words were more than clear enough. Just when a demon finally got some time for herself, there was some no-account mortal trying to interrupt her night off. She only just had time to rinse off her face pack before she could feel the magic pulling her to another dimension. Whoever was doing this was going to be very sorry indeed, unless of course they had an extremely nice present, and even then she wasn't so sure.

Thank goodness these mortals didn't know the difference between a dressing gown and a ball gown. At least she wasn't wearing pyjamas.








Murphy's Law said that Tara had to be on the absolute opposite side of the campus when she got Anya's message. She forgot all the things she'd ever learned about how to conduct herself when she had to travel alone at night, warnings about appearing unusually hurried or flustered. Instead, she ran until she was gasping for air and then she ran some more. She ran until her throat and lungs burned and she had to stop, doubled over with her hands on her knees, but her objective was just within sight in the distance. That was when the vampire stepped out of the bushes beside the path to confront her.

"Hey, little girl, did you know that I could hear your blood pumping when you were still twenty yards away? I can smell your fear... and it smells good ."

The vampire's gaze was fixed on the luscious curves of Tara's breasts as they heaved with every hyperventilating breath that the witch took, her normally modest clothing affording the demon an excellent view given her current pose. Every ounce of physical effort she could muster was focused on simply regulating her breathing once more, so that she could speak.

The demon seemed to be aware of this, and even paused in his approach, toying with her as she was obviously in no condition to get away from him.

"I-it's n-not you I'm scared of." Tara stumbled over her words but not out of nervousness, simply because she was still so short of breath.

"You should be. I'm going to kill you... but I might just play with you a little, first."

"I don't think so," the witch replied as she levitated her stake through his heart. Physically, she might need some recovery time. Magically, she hadn't even started.








Anya fumbled through Xander's trouser pockets, getting a gentle swat from his sleeping hand for her efforts, but unfortunately no car keys.

'Okay, if they're not in his jacket pocket, I'm going to have to wake him up and ask. And if I wake him up and ask he's going to want to come. But he's still drunk and he really shouldn't be going near anything that Willow might have summoned in that state, not without the orbs. And why didn't Giles want Spike to give them back? They were supposed to make me not worry about Xander. Then, just when he might actually need them, Giles said Spike has to have them. And who made Giles the boss of us, anyway? ...Well, except in the sense that he pays me to work for him.

Drat! No keys.'

"Xander, honey. Where did you put the car keys?" Anya tried to shake him awake as gently as possible and when that didn't work she became progressively louder and the shaking became progressively more violent.

Finally, Xander jerked awake as his brain told him that his wife had just bellowed that his best friend was about to cause an apocalypse and she needed the car keys because Giles wanted her to be the first to die when she didn't manage to talk her round.

"Wh-. Ahn," he mumbled. "Did you say Willow was going to end the world?"

"Yes, but you missed the important bit," his wife replied impatiently. "Just tell me where the car keys are."

"Top dresser drawer. What's that about Giles wanting you dead?"

Anya pulled open the drawer and brandished the keys with an air of triumph. "Don't be silly, Xander. Why would Giles want me dead? I'm his star employee. You must be dreaming. Why don't you dream the one about the Princess Leia outfit again? You know the one where I'm dancing and I have a chain around my neck and you keep pulling me closer and closer."

"Mmmm, good idea," Xander replied, already half asleep again as he nuzzled his face into his pillows.

Anya sneaked from the room as quietly as she could without slowing down too much. At least, if things were as bad as they thought they might be, Xander would be safe a little while longer in his makeshift bed.

Anya easily found her way to where she wanted to go. She pulled up the mauve sedan before the rather forbidding-looking building with a slight screech. She hadn't quite got the hang of smooth deceleration yet. Nevertheless, considering she'd never actually taken the class, she was doing a lot better than Buffy.

It would have been too much to expect for the front door to be open and, after trying it and finding it locked, Anya began to work her way around the building, hoping to find the same way in as Willow.








Wes pulled the bike over next to the front entrance of one of the university buildings. He checked the building's name and then held his hand out towards Giles.

"Give me the map."

"It's quite alright. I'm sure we're nearly there now."

"Giles..." The other watcher pointed at the intersection fifty or sixty yards ahead. "We've arrived at that junction three times from three different directions now, one of which involved driving the wrong way down a one-way street, so perhaps if you would be so kind as to pass the map we won't end up visiting it for a fourth time."








"I should have known she wouldn't have been at her mother's. Now we're going to be too late. What if she's already summoned it?" Buffy asked the vampire as they headed toward campus.

"Then, we'll do what we always do. I'll stand back and cheer you on while you kick its butt."

Buffy couldn't help but smile. "And if it whoops..." Buffy made a swirling gesture in the air with one finger. "Time back on us, then what do we do?"

"Nothing. Like as not we won't know she's done it."

"And there's no way to write ourselves a note or anything to say what's happened."

"Nope, 'cause if she turns the clock back we won't have been here to do it."

"Spike, what if it sends us all back years instead of days? What if we end up fighting again? What if I lose you?"

"Not gonna happen, princess. Didn't I tell you it was fate? Things between us would work out just the same in the end no matter how often we had to do things. We're meant to be."

"Like Romeo and Juliet?" Buffy asked.

"They died, pet."

"Okay, like Bogart and Bacall?" Buffy suggested, remembering the pictures on the bedroom wall of Spike's apartment.

"Like Bogie and Bacall. I'll give you that one," Spike conceded with a smile.

"What about Dawn?"

"She's meant to be, too, love." Despite the vampire's reassuring words and calm demeanour Buffy could feel his own anxiety rise. There were times when she wished the bond didn't tell her quite so much about his feelings.








"Evania, demon lord of time and illusions, I call you here and hold you by my will and the circle that surrounds you seven times over. Meet my bargain and you may leave." Willow intoned the last words of the actual spell in the demon tongue, but she knew that was more or less what they meant.

Aside from her slightly bluish skin tone and seemingly natural whiter-than-Spike hair, the demon could have stepped from the cover of a forties film magazine. Her ankle-length dressing gown was made from a material that had the sheen of midnight silk and clung like cotton jersey. It buttoned with delicate pearlescent fastenings from her ample cleavage to mid-thigh, exposing a well-turned leg, set off by a pair of high-heeled mules. Willow found her heart beating faster and it wasn't entirely because of the power and hostility that rolled from the creature in waves.

The demon simply crossed her arms, drawing even more attention to her well-proportioned chest and raised a delicately arched eyebrow as if to say, name your terms but don't expect me to like them.

Willow was slightly thrown by the stony silence from the demon and wasn't entirely sure if the creature even understood English.

"I wish for you to take back time, for two rotations of this world upon its axis. In return, I offer the sacrifice of precious stone and innocent blood." Without moving from where she sat, Willow used her mind to peel back the tape that bound the box's occupant inside. As soon as she did a dark grey head peered over the rim of the box. Its bone structure and the shape of its ears suggested a parentage that was part labrador and part great dane, but the colour and wiry texture of its coat suggested there was a bit of wolfhound in there as well.

The wicca then began to levitate the trembling puppy toward the circle; its oversized and probably clumsy feet paddling at thin air as if it were trying to swim.

The demon gave a dismissive snort. "For one thing you'd be lucky if quartz even counts as semi-precious, though it might make a pretty paperweight. And for another, don't they teach you people to read these days?

Sac-ri-fice. Look it up. It means something you will actually miss, not some mongrel stray that was probably slated to be put to sleep anyway."

"The book said a young animal of medium size," Willow protested.

"Yeah, and it was probably written in an age when most people measured their worth in pigs and cows and chickens. Inflation, honey. Ever heard of it?" For several minutes the demon seemed to look into Willow's eyes as if she could see straight into her mind.

"The lover would be a fitting sacrifice, but she's not yours to bequeath. What say you run fetch that laptop you're so fond of?"

"L-laptop? B-but, what about this?" Willow gestured at the floundering puppy.

"What about it? I don't want it." Just as the demon was refuting any claim to the animal, not unnaturally for a young animal being levitated in mid-air, the beast chose to display its nervousness in a tangible manner.

The demon stepped back as far as the circle would let her to avoid the golden spray that splattered over the boards of the clock tower and over Willow's carefully drawn sand circle. Then, as the stream washed through the lines, creating gaps in the design, she backed away even further, stepping out of the circle altogether.

Willow was too busy scrambling to her feet to avoid the flow herself to notice at first, but when the demon stepped free from both the circle and her will, the wiccan staggered to a nearby wall. She needed its support to stay upright. The dog landed sharply on its feet and scampered for the nearest exit, the stairway down.

"You think you have the power to bind me, little girl. You want me to tinker with time to do your bidding... I'll tinker, then, but you won't like the result."

The demon extended a delicately manicured hand, index finger outstretched toward the redhead and began a guttural chant in the same language the witch had used to summon her.

The redhead smiled a smug grin. Whatever the demon was doing obviously wasn't working. No lightning bolts, no balls of fire. This demon wasn't so tough.

"Is that all you've got? I don't think you're trying," she taunted, knowing if not for her fatigue, she could put up a far showier display. Then, she realised that her view of the demon seemed to be getting slightly out of focus. She looked down at her hand and didn't recognise it. The skin seemed drier, the fingers pudgier. Her clothes started to cut in under the arms and at the crotch as if they were a couple of sizes too small. She tugged at her hair, pulling a small section down taut in front of her face, squinting at it until she confirmed the presence of white strands between the now dull and lifeless reddish brown.

"Stop it. You can't do this!" she ranted at the demon.

"Yes, you stupid mortal, I can. If I wanted I could take you through to your deathbed or maybe just to the borders of senility where you're just aware enough of the fact that your mind is going for it to upset you in your lucid moments. Then again, your body could give out first so that you're all too aware of the indignity of having to be escorted to the bathroom by your mother. Or do you think they'd put you in a nursing home and forget you?"

The demon could have kept up her end of the conversation a bit longer, but Willow had slumped into unconsciousness, and she really didn't see the point.








Anya was struggling with the back door of the building when Tara found her.

"Thank whoever!" the ex-demon said when she saw the witch. "I think she went in this way, but it's bolted from the inside."

Tara held her right hand up, palm toward the door as if she could use it to "see" through the wood. She ran it up and down near the door's outer edge a couple of times, and then moved it to the left. As she did so, both girls could hear the sound of metal against metal. She raised her hand to release a second bolt when there was a frantic clawing sound from the other side of the door. Tara gave Anya a puzzled look and, since there was nothing in the back alley where they were that they could use as a weapon, Tara pulled her stake from her bag, passing it to the other girl.

She pushed the door open, working at first against the weight of the puppy that was behind it until the dog saw its chance for freedom and tried to wriggle through the gap as it opened.

Once they saw the nature of their assailant, Tara forced it back into the room as she squeezed through the partially open door, and then prevented it escaping by virtue of a firm grip around its chest while Anya made her way in.

"I guess since it's still alive we're in time?" Tara conjectured.

"Not necessarily," the former demon replied as the pair headed for the stairs. "I eviscerated quite a few people that summoned me before they got as far as doing anything like that, but then any man that summoned me was asking for trouble. I'm still not quite sure why I left Giles alive, you know, but I suppose it was for the best."

When they heard Willow's cry, they broke into a run, grabbing at the staircase's supports so that their momentum would swing them around corners and taking the stairs two at a time.

Tara almost ran into Anya's back as the other girl stopped dead in shock at the scene before her eyes.

"Evie? What in Arashmahar are you doing here? And why on earth are you only wearing your dressing gown?" she asked.
 
 
Chapter #11 - Chapter 1.10
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)








Chapter 1.10
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

"Anyanka? You're all mortal. What happened to you?"

Anya sighed. "Long story. We could go for a drink? Maybe a frappuccino?"

"Frappuccino?"

"Cold frothy coffee. It's nicer than it sounds."

The demon looked unconvinced. "It's ideas like that that remind me why I haven't visited this dimension since you started the War of the Roses."

Anya gave a wistful sigh. "Honestly, you would like it if you tried it. And what about you? You were working as a mischief demon last time I saw you."

"It's been three hundred years and change, Annie. A girl picks up a new skill every once in a while... Then, a community here and there actually starts worshipping you and whoo, power here I come... You know how it is."

Tara cleared her throat slightly. "Em, Anya, is your friend going to object if I check on Willow?"

The demon turned to Tara and gave her what she probably considered was a winning smile. "No need, dear. She's just fine other than being unconscious. Of course, she is a little bit older than she used to be. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that she'll end up any wiser, but we can hope."

Turning back to Anya she continued. "Can you believe she tried to offer me some mongrel mutt to take back time? Don't these people have any standards? And then she levitated the poor beast and was surprised when it peed all over her precious circle. Some people just shouldn't be allowed near a spell book."

"She certainly shouldn't. If she wasn't my husband's best friend since kindergarten, I'd probably have nothing to do with her."

"You got married? That's not very appropriate for the patron saint of scorned women."

"Times change. I have an idea." Anya linked her arm through the demon's. "I've got a car outside. We can go back to my place, and prod him awake so you can meet him. Then we can order pizza, drink what's left of his booze and watch his porn while we catch up."

She turned to Tara. "Buffy and the others will be here soon. They can help you with Willow and the pooch. You can tell them they don't need to worry about Evie any more."

They got about half way down the first flight of stairs when there was a resounding crash from beneath them.








Wesley had just worked out where they were on the map and was about to work out the best route to where he wanted to be when a distinctive, black, finned car drove past them. He thrust the map back at Giles and pulled out, determined not to lose sight of the DeSoto. Buffy had lived on campus. She had to know where she was going.

When the DeSoto pulled up next to Xander's Ford, Wes was still right behind them. Wes and Giles just managed to get their helmets off before Buffy used her previously untested orb-given strength to kick open the front doors of the clock tower as if they were the door to Spike's old crypt. She stood for a second, framed by the doorway, listening to hear what was going on. Then a dark grey streak pelted past her at such a speed that if she hadn't had the orbs she would probably have been knocked off balance.

Spike simply turned to watch the dog go, but both watchers tried to catch it, much to his amusement as she dodged them both with ease. His amusement wasn't to last long, however.

"Oh, crap!" Buffy turned to him. "You can track it later, can't you? Once we deal with... Anya's new friend?" The slayer and the others stared incredulously as Anya made her way downstairs arm in arm with a rather attractive demon.

"Anya, pet, I don't believe you've introduced us to this stunning lady." The vampire smiled and sauntered over to where the two women now waited at the bottom of the staircase. The demon adjusted her slightly longer than shoulder length hair, brushing it away from her face at one side.

Anya rolled her eyes. "Evie, this is Spike, a.k.a. William the Bloody, and the possessive-looking, little blonde next to him is his fiancée and mate , Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer." Anya stressed Spike's relationship with Buffy as if to remind the vampire, who was displaying all the gallantry of his upbringing and none of the awkwardness. "The other two are Giles and Wesley. They used to be her watchers before she outgrew them."

"Charmed, I'm sure," Spike replied. "Everythin' with Red all sorted out, then?"

"Tara was keeping an eye on her until you all got here. So, since you're here now... we'll leave."

The men in the group all stepped back to allow the two women through before they and Buffy began to make their way up the staircase to see what awaited them.

As Anya started up the car, Evania cast a glance back toward the double doors. "You know, it must be nearly thirteen hundred years since the last time there was a slayer mated to a vampire," she said.

Anya shrugged. "Spike'll be so upset when he finds out. He always wants to be unique. So what happened to them? The other two."

This time it was the demon who shrugged.

"No one knows. One day, there was a new slayer and no one saw them again. There were plenty of theories. Some people said they were killed "on the job". Well, her job, anyway. Some say he turned her so that they could be alone together and they're still living the dream. Some say it was some sort of suicide pact but my personal favourite was the one where the Council of Watchers killed them both."

The demon turned to Anya with a raised eyebrow, "Strange that your slayer's got not one, but two, watchers in tow when you say neither of them are really her watcher any more."








As Buffy and Spike made their way upstairs hand in hand, followed by the two watchers, Buffy resumed her interrupted conversation.

"You can find the dog, can't you? Sniff it out or something?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "I could . What makes you think I will ? Do I look like I work for Animal Control?"

Buffy let her lower lip form into a pout, her eyes wide and innocent. "But Dawn's always wanted a dog. That story about the Saint Bernard? She meant it. And it was pretty big for a puppy. I bet it could grow into a decent-sized guard dog. Help keep Dawn safe when we're out on patrol."

"Bloody hell! Leave off with the emotional blackmail, love. You do realise with our luck that the damn thing's more likely to chew all the furniture, pee on Joyce's rugs and we already know it'll run like the blazes at the first sign of trouble."

"But Dawn'll love it, anyway."

"Yeah," Spike's tone softened. "She probably will, but first we've got to have things out with Red."

Buffy gave a nervous swallow. "I guess we do."








Without a word Buffy made her way to where Tara was kneeling beside Willow's horizontal form. As she made her way to sit opposite the blonde, fussing over the witch's unconscious form, Spike released her hand to place an arm around Tara's shoulders as he dropped to his knees next to her. Giles joined the group and began a check on Willow's vital signs whilst Wes hung back just slightly.

"So, how're you doin', pet?"

Tara turned her head to look at him through a veil of tawny-blonde hair. "Don't you mean how's she doing?"

"Nope. Can see and hear as much as you're like to be able to tell me about Red an' seein' as she's out for the count, I reckon as I might as well see how my favourite non-Summers Scooby's takin' this whole situation."

Tara seemed almost flummoxed by the question. "I-Uh-I, well, I-." Her eyes pooled with tears. Spike's arm pulled her closer as they both twisted their upper bodies until they faced each other. His hands stroked her hair as she tried again to frame an answer to his question. "You-. Sorry for the weepy, it's just people don't normally ask about me."

"Then people are idiots!" Spike's impatience about Tara's past treatment was evident before his voice softened again. "Besides, you were the first person to stick me with the Scooby label, weren't you? That means you were like the first one to adopt me into the "family", so to speak, so it's your own fault if you get Big Brother Spike instead of the Big Bad. You tell us what we can do to help you through this, and then you consider it done. Okay?"

Tears flowed freely down Tara's face now. "It's okay. I mean, I wouldn't say no if you offered me a lift back to the dorm with my stuff, but I don't really think I can be around Willow, so it's awkward. I'll be okay." When she saw Spike's sceptical look she continued. "I will... in time. I was doing okay before. I guess it just wasn't meant to work."

"I guess not, pet. Sometimes, though, these things? They turn out for the best. I thought my world had ended when Dru left me but it ended up bein' a new beginning.

An'..." Spike listened closely to Willow's breathing and heartbeat for a few seconds to confirm that she was still sound asleep. "That dorm idea, if that's really what you want, then you've got it, no questions asked. Thing is, Buffy and me were talking about this in the car, an' well, when it comes to Dawn, we're not prepared to give Red any more chances." Tara's eyes flicked to Buffy, the slayer's tiny nod confirming that Spike spoke for them both. "Bit's already feelin' vulnerable an' I reckon when what happened tonight sinks in, it's goin' to make things worse. The bottom line is that Red's dangerous and it's our job to keep Niblet safe. We're going to have to ask her to move out. She hasn't left us any other option.

So, if you can put up with the rest of us fussin' around you an' hoggin' the bathroom, not to mention Bitty's new puppy that to judge by round here doesn't appear to be housetrained, and it's really just because you can't be 'round Red, we'd both be happy if you'd consider staying. I know the Niblet would be right gutted if you disappeared again, especially with things the way they are.

Okay?

Chances are Niblet's gonna want company tonight, so you could always have Buffy's bed for the night and think it over. I mean, if Red doesn't come round soon and whatever so we can't get it sorted out tonight." Having done so well for most of his little speech Spike suddenly found himself babbling.

"Hell! I'm makin' a right arse of this. What-.

We, all three of us, like havin' you around, and we'd miss you if you left and we'd worry about you bein' on your own, an' that's about the size of it."

Spike pulled her close again, letting her bury her head on his shoulder as she cried tears that stemmed as much from relief that she wouldn't have to face emotional exile again as from her shattered heart.








Buffy watched as her friend cried herself out on her fiancé's shoulder, marvelling at how easily he had extended the nurturing side of his nature to include the other girl simply because she had demonstrated her acceptance of him. They waited for some time to see if Willow would come round before Buffy finally spoke up.

"Spike? We're going to have to make a move if we want to have a chance to catch that puppy and still pick up Dawn at ten."

Spike nodded and looked over to Wesley. "Think you can drop off Glinda and we'll take Red and Rupes in the car?" Spike acted almost without thinking to spare Tara from having to cradle her unconscious soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend in her lap on the drive home. Then, he passed his car keys to Buffy before scooping up Willow's form into his arms.

Wes somewhat self-consciously placed an arm around Tara's shoulders as he escorted her downstairs. His concerns about his own romantic life seemed terribly petty under the present circumstances.

Ten minutes later, Willow was ensconced, still unconscious, in the bed that had once belonged to Buffy's mother. Joyce had always been fastidious about her hair colour and her moisturising regime so that she had always looked younger than her true age. If she had still been alive, it seemed likely that anyone comparing her with Willow would have mistaken her for marginally the younger of the two.

Tara retreated to Buffy's room while Wesley was left to ring Dawn to explain that Spike and Buffy would be along shortly to pick her up, but they had an errand to attend to first so she shouldn't worry if they were a little late. He was going to avail himself of another beer and see if Giles cared to join him again in the still of the garden, but the limit of the older man's diplomacy had been reached and he had slipped upstairs to interrogate Tara.

He knocked gently on Buffy's room door.

"Tara?" he paused trying to pick up some clue as to the well-being or otherwise of the room's occupant from the sounds from the room. "Tara, I was wondering if you might be able to provide any illumination as to what's actually wrong with Willow?"

Slowly, the door to the room was pulled open and Giles followed Tara into the room when she moved to sit on Buffy's bed, her eyes fixed on the carpet.

"Do you know what happened to her?"

"I think Evie cast a spell of some sort on her, but it was really all over before Anya and I got there. She said there was nothing wrong with her other than being unconscious and a bit older, though she couldn't guarantee she'd be any wiser."

"Anya's friend stole her youth?"

Tara shrugged dejectedly. "That makes it sound like Evie had something to gain from it. I don't think she did. I don't know why, but I think it was more like it was her way to try to teach Willow to have the proper respect for the power she uses."

Giles gave Tara a contemplative glance. "This demon has almost certainly shortened Willow's life-span by more than twenty years, yet you seem to be relatively unconcerned."

"I just see it differently. I think she spared Willow's life when she could easily have taken it. She tried to teach her a valuable lesson and if it has worked then maybe Willow will actually make it through the next year without getting herself killed in some equally stupid stunt, but if I'm honest I doubt even this will be enough. Chances are Willow's first reaction will be to try to magic things better.

You can't tell me that you approve of what she did, can you?"

"No, of course not, but I do feel that we're obligated to at least explore all the options. There may be some less drastic alternative that could be considered."

Tara sighed. "I disagree but if you mean it, I suggest you talk to Evie before she leaves. She should be over at Anya's."

Tara lifted her head to look Giles in the eye for the first time since the start of the conversation. "Willow knows way too much about the theory of magic, but she understands nothing about the spirit of magic. Spike was right. She's dangerous. I've tried and tried to get her to understand till I'm just too tired to keep trying. Maybe Evie's way will work, maybe not, but if Willow gets out of this with no more serious consequences than baking cookies then just think what she might try next time.

I really think, for her own good, that you should leave things as they are, Giles."

"I see," Giles removed his glasses but instead of cleaning them he let them dangle between his fingers and pinched the bridge of his nose between the thumb and first finger of his free hand. "You really think such a step is necessary?"

"I really do."

Still not entirely convinced, Giles turned toward the door, wondering if he rang up Spike on his mobile to ask where he'd stashed his supply of bourbon in the house, whether the vampire would actually tell him. He needed something stronger than beer. He felt like he had been complicit in starting Willow along the path that had led to this. Right now, that thought bothered him more than a little. He had a feeling it was going to be on his conscience for a very long time. Later, he might try to ring the coven to see if they had any suggestions. How do you help someone if they won't or can't accept that they have a problem? For now, he had to come to terms with his part in Willow's transformation from shy, awkward schoolgirl to the magical equivalent of an idiot savant.
 
 
Chapter #12 - Chapter 1.11
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)







Chapter 1.11
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

"Xander, honey," Anya called, as she pushed open the apartment door. "I've brought a friend to meet you."

She turned to whisper to Evie. "He seemed kind of down when I got in. He doesn't normally drink, but I didn't quite get time to work out what was wrong, what with having to go look for Willow and everything. And the extra weight's kind of a recent thing."

"I'm assuming he's mortal, too?" Evie half-asked and half-commented.

"I plan to grow old with him," Anya announced proudly.

Evie gave a grin. "It could be arranged. I could give you a preview if you wanted?" Her eyes travelled to the still unconscious form of the brunette in the middle of the floor.

Anya tilted her head to one side and considered. "Nah, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise. I'll take my chances."

The former vengeance demon leant over her husband's slumbering form and blew into his ear. Xander's hand came up and brushed at the area like a dog scratching at fleas. Anya leant over and shook his shoulder before kissing his cheek.

"Xander? Wake up, cookie-face. There's someone here to see you, well to see me really, but you can't just lie in the middle of the floor."

"Ahn?" Xander groaned. "I don't feel so good."

"Well, you wouldn't, hon, not after half a bottle of bourbon. I'll get you some water but you've got to sit up. We've got company. Once you meet Evie if you still don't feel so good you can go to bed."

Evie cleared her throat. "Annie, are you sure you don't want me to do my little post-party trick?"

Anya looked from the demon to her husband. "It might be an idea. Xander, you know how you feel real bad. Would you rather feel like this for hours or would you rather feel like you're really going to die for about five minutes and then be better?"

"Hon?" Xander looked at his wife as if she were talking a foreign language.

Anya rolled her eyes and started again. "Evie, my friend, can make you feel better quicker... but, she can't make you suffer any less. So basically all the after effects you'd get over the next day or so, they'd be... condensed. You see?"

"Huh?"

"Not the brightest star in the sky, is he?" Evie asked.

"He's better when he's sober... well, a bit." Anya defended him.

"Hey, sitting right here. Well, lying right here, actually. Ahn, honey, why does your friend look like an extra from Babylon 5?"

Anya arched an eyebrow. "Xander, you spend your whole life on the Hellmouth and you still believed that all those extras were people in make up?"

Comprehension finally dawned and Xander jumped away from the Evie as if she was about to bite him. "D-demon!" Then, he noticed Anya's less than amused expression and forced himself to smile at their guest. "Of course, obviously a friendly demon, who is your friend and not going to kill us."

Evie grinned. "How big an us are you talking about? I mean, you and Annie are pretty safe, but your little witch friend could be dying right now."

"Evie!" Anya reprimanded. "Don't tease. Xander's not very good at reading demon folk. He'll think you mean it.

I know it's theoretically possible but Willow would have to be really stupid-."

"And what she did tonight wasn't? Bet she puts another ten or fifteen years on the clock before she stops trying to magic it away."

Anya gave an irritated toss of her head. "Like I'm just going to throw away money."

Xander sobered up in an instant, though that didn't prevent his brain from feeling like it was being crushed in a vice every time he moved his head to look from one woman to the other.

"What are you talking about? Did your friend hurt Willow?"

"Relax," Evie replied. "She's totally uninjured, and if she gets her life in order the effects are entirely reversible. If on the other hand she continues to misuse her power, she'll age herself into an early grave."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that your friend is lucky I'm the one she chose to summon up. Most people who could do what she wanted would rip her apart for having the nerve to do such an insulting summoning."

Xander levered himself into a standing position, only to discover that he didn't tower over Evie as he'd expected. Instead, he still had to tilt his head back to look her in the eye.

He couldn't help but think how much her eyes reminded him of Meg Foster's even as he demanded a clearer response, enunciating each word with as much menace as he could give it when part of his brain was telling him how close he was to a truly remarkable cleavage.

"What did you do to my friend?"

"I taught her a lesson. I linked her ageing to her moral decay. As she becomes more corrupt she'll become physically older."

"But Willow isn't corrupt."

Both women snorted their disbelief. "I told you before that when the quiet ones get a whiff of power they just run wild. All Evie's done is put the brakes on."

"I can't believe you." Xander turned on his wife. "You know what Willow means to me and you bring home someone who's done some sort of spell on her and expect me to make friends with her."

"Technically, it's a curse. And you expect me to be friends with Willow even after she manipulated Tara's memories so that Tara would stay with her and have sex with her. At least there's a reason other than pure selfishness behind what Evie did."

"Actually," Evie admitted, "I was mostly just pissed at the whole ruining my night off and thinking I'd want some stupid puppy. I guess I just spent too long as a mischief demon to go straight for the kill."

"Willow was going to give you a puppy?" the carpenter asked, confused once more.

Anya sighed again. "Willow was going to ritually sacrifice a puppy."

"No, I'm not listening to this. Willow wouldn't do that."

Evie caught Xander's gaze and held it. "You want to see what your Willow would do? Let me show you what your Willow would do."

Xander's eyes glazed over as Evie chanted once more in the demon tongue that she had used earlier. Anya watched as her husband's expression turned to one of horror before Evie passed the palm of her hand in front of his eyes and he blinked several times before shaking his head as if to clear it.

"It's lies. Willow's not like that. It's just an illusion."

Evie shrugged. "An illusion, yes, but an illusion based on what would have happened if things had gone to plan for your little witch tonight. And what could have happened after that.

Annie, I think I'm going to cut this visit short. You know how to get a message to me. If you want to arrange something for another time maybe the two of us can do something." The demon stepped forward and Xander noticed as she took hold of Anya by the shoulders that despite his perception earlier she wasn't more than a couple of inches taller than his wife. She placed a gentle kiss on each of Anya's cheeks before she disappeared, leaving Anya to glower at her husband.

"I'm going to go see what your friend did to Willow," Xander announced, pulling open the dresser drawer to look for his car keys.

"Fine," answered Anya. "Go see your little witch, but you won't get far without these." She pulled her hand from a pocket, letting his keys dangle from her fingertips. She walked into the bathroom, slammed the door behind her and locked herself in.

Xander didn't have a clue what he should do when the sound of sobbing reached him from the other side of the door.








"What should we call it?" Buffy asked sort of skipping backwards so that she could face Spike as she walked.

"Isn't that Bit's job if it's meant to be her mutt?" Spike asked.

"We can make suggestions. I like Byron."

Spike gave a snort of amusement. "Well, I reckon given our luck the 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' quote would probably be appropriate but that was Lord Byron, and your little stray just happens to be female."

"Oh..." Buffy sounded disappointed but this quickly passed. "Ew! Gross, Spike. Sniffing doggy sexy smells."

"You know, seeing as you forced me into tracking her, it's not like I could just not pay any attention."

"Alright. Hypocrite Buffy. Can you tell if we're getting any closer?"

"Trail's still fairly old, but a dog that age, it's probably scarpered like the blazes and then curled up for a kip because it's knacked itself."

Spike grabbed at Buffy's arm just in time to stop her tripping over an exposed tree root. "Watch you don't drop that bloody tub." The vampire indicated a large Tupperware dish that the slayer was carrying. "Bad enough cookin' for two hours to give the stuff to a dog without droppin' it before we even find the mutt." He took the container from her hands and placed it on the ground before pulling her close.

As Spike's lips neared her own Buffy teased the vampire. "It's just some stinky old beef casserole."

Spike nibbled gently at Buffy's lower lip before responding. "That is not some stinky old beef casserole. That is prime steak cooked in brown ale, and if we hadn't had to race off before I got time to add the finishing touches it would have been Flemish carbonnade of beef."

"Phlegm-y, carbonised beef? How appetising." Spike was captivated by the laughter in her eyes. His hands came up to cradle her face as he made to kiss her again and his love for her arced through her whole body like a massive power surge. She felt revitalised, as if with this man beside her she could do anything.

Buffy opened her mouth in a low moan as the sensation flowed through her and Spike's mouth covered hers in a passionate but tender kiss. Buffy was unable to prevent the swell of her own feelings of love and desire from engulfing both of them, nor did she want to do so.

When he finally drew his head back, Spike scooped his woman into his arms and spun her round until her laughter reached the sky.

"You are insane," Buffy told him as he finally slowed to a halt, letting Buffy slide down his body as he returned her to her feet.

"Uh-huh," conceded the vampire, "but only when it comes to you." Buffy made no attempt to move away from the circle of his arms. In fact she pressed against him until something hard ground into her hips.

Her tongue flicked out to moisten her lips before she asked in an arch voice, "Is that half a set of manacles in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

"Both," Spike answered in a huskier voice than his normal. "Now, unless you want me to drag you into those bushes over there, we'd better go find that mutt."

"Well, not that I would mind... but Dawn is waiting. And who knows what could happen to a poor defenceless puppy on the streets of night-time Sunnydale?"

He scooped the container up from its place on the ground and passed it to her. "Let's make this quick, then. You never know. We might squeeze a minute or two for ourselves once we round up all the waifs and strays."

"Yeah, like anything we can do in less than a couple of hours doesn't leave us both just wanting more?" All the same her free arm slipped around Spike's waist under his coat, her thumb hooking onto his belt loop so that it was anchored firmly, and Spike wrapped an arm around her shoulders to hold her near as they set off once more at a slightly brisker pace.

They were almost back at Stevenson Hall when Spike announced that the dog was nearby, hiding in the bushes.

"Near enough?" Buffy asked.

"Probably... Won't hurt to try, and I'd rather not crawl round on my hands and knees trying to drag the thing out."

Buffy opened up the Tupperware dish and set it on the ground a few feet from the bushes. Soon a snuffling could be heard nearby and then a canine nose appeared from under one of the nearby shrubs. The nose was followed by a head and shoulders and the dog regarded the pair suspiciously, though it was patently interested in the tub of food.

Buffy picked up the container and began to move very slowly toward the wary pooch, holding out her hand so that she could get her scent. Spike held back, knowing that some dogs were spooked by the scent of vampires.

He waited until the dog was completely out from under the bush and wolfing down what had been intended as dinner for five before he slipped the chain he carried from his pocket. At one end of the chain was a wrist cuff and at the other was a large metal ring that had once been used to fix the bindings to a wall or floor. Buffy had pulled apart the first link of the other chain that had until recently graced the hoop, thanks to the orbs. Now Spike let a loop of chain drop through the ring to form a crude, bulky, but hopefully effective improvised choke chain. He passed it to Buffy who managed to slip the noose over the dog's head whilst she was busy trying to lick the last of the gravy from the dish.

The dog looked up, obviously hoping for more, but when Buffy simply took the time to rub behind her ears and pet her she seemed content to stay there, trying to lick any bare flesh of Buffy's that came within reach of her mouth. Spike moved forward, holding out his hand to the beast, who sniffed it curiously before deciding that it, too, needed a coating of dog spit.

The vampire grimaced and rubbed his hand on the dog's coat to dry it off a bit.

"See?" Buffy asked triumphantly. "She might only be an adopted Summers woman but she was bound to like you."

Their new four-legged friend trotted after them quite happily until they got within a block of the clock tower at which point she sat down, began to tremble as if the temperature was sub-zero and refused, even when the chain pulled tight around her neck, to move another inch. Finally, Spike had to pick her up and carry her to the car, with her struggling all the way to get out of his arms.

"Whatever Red was up to before we got there, she certainly had the poor bugger spooked as hell. Don't know what the mutt's going to make of being in the same house as her."

"We'll just have to see." Buffy shrugged. "I guess if it's too bad we'll have to move her to Giles' hotel or something."

"Are we talking about Red or the dog, pet?" Spike asked as he pushed the dog into the back seat of the DeSoto and slammed the door shut before she could make a dash for it.








"What kept you guys?" Dawn was sitting with Brandon on a swing that hung from the front porch of his house, her bag at her feet. "You're twenty minutes late."

"We had to find something," Buffy answered. "Check out the back seat of the car." A wet nose was pressed against the newly-cleaned glass.

"A dog? You guys have got yourselves a dog?"

"Actually, I was thinking that you might want her. Of course, you would have to walk her before it got dark and clean up any mess she makes and stuff like that. Otherwise, I guess we'll have to take her to the pound tomorrow."

"The pound? You can't do that. They put dogs to sleep there."

"So they do." Buffy's face cracked into a grin. "I guess that means you want to keep her, huh?"

A suspicious look crossed Dawn's face, and she looked from one of the pair to the other. "What brought this on?"

"We'll tell you when we get home. For now, why don't you say goodbye to Brandon? We'll wait in the car."

She pulled an obviously reluctant Spike away from the younger couple. As they got back in the car the vampire mused, "I wonder how you'd go about training the mutt to growl at him every time he kisses her?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Why bother training the dog to do it when we've got you?"
 
 
Chapter #13 - Chapter 1.12
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND

It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again

Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind

Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand


(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)








Chapter 1.12
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

"Wesley?" Giles called softly from the back porch.

"Back here," the younger man replied from his seat in the back garden.

"You wouldn't happen to know where Spike keeps his stash of hard liquor, would you? "

"Back at his apartment, I believe. I don't think he trusts Dawn enough to leave that sort of stuff lying around the house. Probably with good reason."

"You're saying Spike doesn't drink when he's here?"

Wes shrugged. "Beer, an odd bottle of wine with dinner. Can't say that I've seen him with anything stronger and considering the look on his face when Dawn turned up on her boyfriend's motorbike, if there had been something stronger in the house, then he would have been drinking it."

"Good lord!" Giles didn't know which part of that last sentence shocked him more. Spike had obviously cut down on his drinking, Dawn was dating, Dawn was dating a biker and Spike was back in his protector role, apparently with Buffy's consent.

"So that's where they left Dawn?"

"I believe so."

"And how long has she been seeing him?"

"You know, I've no idea. I did get the impression that dinner the other night was his first visit."

"But Buffy already trusts him enough to leave Dawn with him?"

Wes gave a wry smile. "I think getting a mortal wound trying to defend Dawn bought him a certain amount of leeway."

"What on earth has been going on around here?" Giles asked, suddenly realising that perhaps he had left this afternoon before Anya had reached the more important pieces of exposition.








Willow came to gradually, the sound of muffled voices drawing her from her sleep. She struggled at first to remember why she should be asleep at such a time. Then her recollection returned. She opened up her laptop and checked the date on its clock. Still Thursday, May 16th, 2002. It seemed to taunt her. All she had wanted was a couple of days.

She moved to the mirror, seeing a face she didn't recognise. She sat for some time looking at the new lines and wrinkles that marred her skin. That demon had a nerve doing something like this to her. Next time she summoned her she would make sure she was better prepared. Then, they would see who came off best. She would show her no one bullies Willow Rosenberg any more, mentally, magically or physically. First though, she had to recover her energy so that she could fix this.

She wondered who had brought her home. The voices coming from the garden drew her to her window, but she could only see the two former watchers. There was no sign of any of the house's actual residents. Had they been the ones to find her? Maybe it wasn't too late for a forgetting spell or two. She couldn't believe that Giles would actually understand what she had attempted. He kept trying to put boundaries around her, but the Goddess would never have gifted her with such power if she were meant to keep within the confines that were set to protect lesser practitioners. Giles would pretend he didn't understand that, though. It was jealousy, pure and simple. Not only had Buffy outgrown her need of him, but little Willow had so far surpassed him in the magical arts that it was him rather than her who was shown up as the rank amateur. Still, he insisted on trying to act the father figure.

Maybe Buffy would let him step back into the role as if nothing had changed when he left them. Willow wasn't inclined to be so accommodating.

First though she had to find out what exactly everyone knew. Otherwise, when word got back to Tara all the recriminations would start all over again. Willow really loved the other girl, but she was so prissy when it came to magic...








"It sounds like it's been quite a week," Giles commented.

"Well, on the up side, no apocalypse, so far," Wes replied.

"Quite. Nevertheless, one would have thought with events of this magnitude that Buffy would have tried to get in touch."

"I don't think she felt there was a secure means to speak to you. As things were actually happening she was probably too busy dealing with them and telling you after the fact probably didn't seem quite so important. Besides, there's hardly been breathing space between one crisis and the next."

"You told her she needed to grow up." Willow's voice made her presence known before she stepped from the shadows. "It's not exactly going to encourage her to be forthcoming with the confidences. It's either going to look like she's needy or she's gloating about not needing you. Either way, you get to be all disapproving."

Giles turned his attention to the not-so-young witch. "I think that assessment is a little harsh. I've seldom criticised any of your choices, a fact that I deeply regret given your recent actions. Perhaps if my guidance had been a little firmer earlier, then we wouldn't find ourselves in our current situation. You were very fortunate that the consequences of your actions were no worse than they have been."

"And what would you know about what I've done?"

"Let us say that in addition to you, we also picked up the book you were using and an eight hundred dollar quartz that no doubt I would have found deducted from my share of the profits from The Magic Box."

"No, you wouldn't. Not if the spell had worked, and besides you got it back, didn't you?"

"That is beside the point. I am merely making the observation that I am probably more aware of what you have been doing than you might think. Are you really going to tell me you can justify the fact you were about to sacrifice an innocent animal?"

"It didn't count. It wouldn't have happened. And it was for Dawn. Surely Dawn's innocence is more important than some animal?"

"I somehow don't believe that had you explained the options to Dawn that she would have felt her innocence would be preserved by killing a young dog. In fact I'm inclined to believe that she would find the idea somewhat abhorrent.

Which leads me to believe that your motives were rather more to do with what you wanted than what Dawn would have wanted. "

"How dare you come back here and try to tell me what to do? You gave up any right you had to interfere in our affairs when you walked out on us. You wanted your 'new life'. Well, go back and live it. You made it plain that you didn't care about any of the rest of us the first time you left, and then the second time just made it clear you didn't care about Buffy either. Well, if you can't be here when you're needed then don't expect to play the preacher when you do make an appearance.

I think you forget that I'm not some fifteen-year-old anymore. I am an extremely powerful Wicca, and you would do well to remember that you're not powerful enough to want to piss me off."

A fourth voice joined the conversation. "No, Willow, you're not a fifteen year old. You're not even the eighteen-year-old that I fell in love with, and you have no idea how much I wish you were. You're not a Wicca, either. You don't heed any of the teachings. You use magic for all the wrong reasons and you never think of other people or the consequences of your actions. You're certainly a very powerful witch, but you're not a Wiccan.

You're threatening one of the people who mean most to you in this world, just for speaking his own opinion, which happens to agree with mine, so maybe you want to threaten me, too?"

"T-Tara, I didn't know you were here. I'd never have said any of that stuff if I'd known you were around. You know I would never hurt you."

"I was sleeping in Buffy's room until I heard you arguing, and no, Willow, none of us knows that you wouldn't hurt them. You already hurt Dawnie when you took her to Rack's. You know that you hurt me. What you did to me wasn't just a mental violation. It meant when we made love after that it was rape. I thought you had put it behind you, but you just don't get that the things you do are no better than Jonathan and his attempt at being a superhero. It's all self-glorification, and we're all just your puppets.

And whether you would like to hide the side you've just shown to Giles from me or not, it'll still be there. Somewhere along the way, the wonderful, sweet girl I fell in love with has got lost and I'm done setting myself up for more pain by trying to find her because I don't think I ever will."

"Y-you're leaving me again? B-but we just. It was good. I mean we were good. You can't leave. Just think how much Dawnie would miss you."

"We weren't good enough for you to want to keep things as they were. We weren't even back together for two weeks before you chose power over me. You knew that what you were doing was black magic, and you knew I wouldn't approve. That's why you hid and turned your phone off. And my relationship with Dawnie is for the two of us to work out."

"Tara? Wait! Please... I can fix it. I know I can."

"Willow, don't you understand. There is no 'it' for you to fix. It's you. You're what needs fixing, and you can't just magic it better."

"It's the ageing thing. I can fix the ageing thing. It's simple, just a general reversal spell and I'll be right back. I just did a spell that went wrong. That's all."

"You still don't get it. You could look eighty and be stuck in a wheelchair or something and if you were still the same inside as you were when we met, I'd count myself lucky to push you around for the rest of my life. It's not what you look like. It's who you've become.

That first argument we ever had was because I said you scared me. Well, now, with the possible exception of Xander, I don't think there's anyone who isn't a little bit scared of who you've become. Is fear what you really want from people? Because, personally, I'd rather have friendship and trust."

Tara looked sadly at the other witch before she returned inside.

"Tara, wait!" Willow moved to go after her but was prevented by Giles' hand, which clamped around her upper arm.

"I think she's said as much as she wants to say."

"Well, maybe it isn't just about what she wants."

"I disagree. I think you've caused her quite sufficient pain for one day, and unless you really are about to start throwing spells in my direction, I would strongly suggest that you leave her alone.

I would also suggest that when you speak to the others you think very carefully before you say anything which would alienate them further than you have already."

Willow turned, trying to stare down the former watcher but finding that it wasn't as easy as she might have thought. The two were still glaring at each other, with Wesley taking a supportive position at Giles' right shoulder when the quiet was broken by the sound of a car pulling up.

Soon Dawn could be heard making encouraging noises, and then a loud whining followed.

"Buffy, what's wrong with her? Why doesn't she want to go in the house? It's like she's scared."

"It's not what, pet, it's who," Spike answered. "Go fetch some of your clothes or something. Not the clean stuff, the more it's got your scent on it the better."

"Em, I haven't washed my gym clothes from yesterday, yet."

"Perfect, pet. Go get them."

"What if it doesn't work?" Buffy asked, after the teenager had run inside.

"I guess we work that out when we get there. Even if you sent Red packing tonight her scent would still be all over the place. Thing is I was countin ' on bein ' able to lock her in the bathroom overnight till we get her housetrained but since that's only a connectin ' door away from Red I can't see that workin ' too well. I guess it might have to be the basement."

"We can't lock her in the basement!" Buffy protested.

"Well you come up with a better suggestion, then, and bear in mind that you get to clean up wherever it craps or pisses and don't even think about suggestin ' it shares a room with us."








Dawn bounded downstairs only to almost bump into Willow and the two former Watchers.

"Guess you didn't manage to screw up the whole world, then. Looks like you did a pretty good job on yourself, though." The teenager's greeting to Willow was terse. She didn't, yet, know any more than she had when Buffy and Spike had taken her to Brandon's, but she knew that the witch had wilfully acted in a way that would hurt Tara, again.

The contrast to her welcome for the two watchers couldn't have been more evident. "Giles, Wes, Buffy got me a puppy. Come meet her. She's kind of scared to come out of the car but she's really sweet."

"I think we've already met." Giles replied.

"Perhaps it might be an idea if you were to retire to your room for now, Willow?" Wes suggested.

Willow's face turned so pale that her freckles stood out as if she had measles. It was one thing for her to shrug off the idea of performing a sacrifice. It was another to deal with an animal who was obviously scared to death of her. Pride dictated she should hold her ground, but in this instance pride lost out. She dashed upstairs even quicker than Dawn had come down.

"What's up with her?" the teenager asked.

Wes grimaced. "I'm sure Spike and Buffy will explain before the end of the night. Why don't we see if we can coax your dog into the house?"

Dawn rolled her eyes as she headed out of the house with Wes. "Why am I always the last to find out everything?"

"Actually, I thought that was Xander," the watcher replied.

Between the four of them, with Dawn practically burying the dog's nose in her bag of washing, they finally coaxed her into the house.

"Where's Red?" Spike asked when they were all in the living room.

"I believe she went up to her room," Giles replied.

"She's up, then."

"Long enough to argue with both Tara and myself."

Dawn's eyes turned to Buffy at this news. "Don't let her make Tara leave, again. Please, Buffy."

"Shh , love. Don't get yourself all worked up. Tara's not going anywhere she doesn't want to. Okay? Now, let someone tell you what you've missed."

"Well, I've seen the hag so you can skip that bit."

Gradually, with bits and pieces from everyone, Dawn got the story of what had happened that night. By the end of the tale the teenager was angrier than any of them had ever seen her and she was holding onto the dog so tightly it was struggling for breath.

She turned to her sister. "Buffy, this house is half mine. Guardian or not, I still have a say in how this house is run, and that bitch is not staying one more night under this roof. And if you don't have the spine to throw her out then I will."

Releasing her grip on the dog she made a dash for the stairs, the speed of her actions causing the scar on her upper thigh to start bleeding again. Buffy was only a couple of steps behind her and Spike was not far behind that, determined to be there for both his girls in the coming showdown. Most surprisingly of all, a grey shadow didn't so much dash as slink up the stairs behind them.

Dawn slammed open the door to what she still thought of as her mother's room.

"Get out of that bed!" she screamed at the witch when she saw her lying there. "You don't deserve to touch anything of my mother's. You make me sick. Buffy might not have the guts to tell you that you're not welcome, but I just found out what you did, what you were going to do, and I do.

I want you out of here now. You can come back tomorrow and we'll have your things all packed for you, but for now just get enough stuff for tonight and get out. Go to Xander's. Go to a hotel. Go to hell. I really don't care. Your stuff will be on the porch waiting for you by eleven tomorrow morning, and I suggest that's the last time you pay us a visit."

The redhead turned to Buffy, plainly expecting her to contradict Dawn, but she didn't. Instead, Spike spoke up, his hands firmly on Buffy's shoulders. "Dawn's jumped the gun a bit, I reckon, but the fact of the matter is you've overstepped the line once before and you got a second chance. When it comes to Dawn's safety, nobody gets third chances. We can't have you livin ' here any more. It's not a choice Buffy wanted to make, but until you get your act together you're just not safe to be around. 'Course Buffy would have given you long enough to pack, but I reckon since Bit's so determined she'll concede the point.

If you get what you need for tonight together, I'll drop you off at Harris's or Giles' hotel or wherever you want to go.

Come on, Bit. Let's get that leg of yours fixed up again." Spike turned and pulled Dawn with him. He wasn't surprised when Buffy didn't follow them.
 
 
Chapter #14 - Chapter 2.01
 








Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.01
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Xander hovered anxiously outside the bathroom door for several seconds before he turned on his heel, picked up his apartment keys and headed out. He got as far as turning the handle of the front door before he broke and turned back.

"Ahn, honey, don't cry. Please don't cry."

"Why?" Anya's wail couldn't quite be muffled by the door. "Isn't that allowed when a woman's husband leaves her?"

"Ahn! I'm not leaving you." Xander gave an exasperated sigh. "Why would you think I'm leaving you?"

"Oh, that's right. I suppose you'll be kicking me out instead."

"Anya, what are you talking about?" By now Xander stood with his ear to the door trying to catch what his wife was saying between sniffs.

"She's not gay, you know. She says she is, but you don't just grow up being all attracted to men and then suddenly, whoosh attracted to women instead. She might prefer sex with women, and be more inclined towards finding a female partner but if she were totally gay instead of bisexual, she would never have been attracted to you and Oz in the first place. I hope you'll both be very happy."

"Alright, Anya, this is getting surreal. Would you please come out of the bathroom so we can talk about this."

"No."

Xander looked heavenward and muttered a plea for patience. "Why not? We obviously need to talk and I'd much rather be able to see your face while I do it."

"No, you wouldn't."

"Yes, I would. I love your face."

"Not when it's all red and puffy."

"Even when it's all red and puffy. Please, hon, come out. Come talk to me."

"So that you can tell me how much you like Willow again?"

"No, so you can tell me why you think I would ever leave you."

"You hate me." Anya gulped through what were obviously more tears.

"Ahn, I don't hate you. Why would you think I hate you?"

"You hate demons. You said you would be nice to my friends, so I brought Evie home, but you were just like normal. You can't help it. You just hate us all, and now that Tara won't be staying with Willow, I guess you two will be free to do all the footsie stuff you haven't done yet."

"Anya, Willow might be free. She might or might not be gay. I'm kind of inclined to think she might actually know her own mind on that one. I'm not and I don't want to be."

"Well, if you were gay you wouldn't be leaving me for Willow, you'd be leaving me for one of the guys on your construction crew or Spike. You were attracted to Spike."

"I was never attracted to Spike. I meant I'm not free. I'm not free. I'm married to you, and if I'm very lucky I will be until I die."

Another loud gulp came from beyond the door. "Then why did you lie about being nice to my friends?"

"I didn't lie. I-."

"You said you would be nice to my friends."

"Yes, but-."

"And you weren't. So you lied. I think you were worried about being left all alone, but now you don't need me because you'll have Willow, till she ages herself to death at least."

"Now, see, that's why I wasn't nice to Evie. I don't generally sit and have a beer with people who want to kill my friends."

"Pfft! If Evie had wanted to kill Willow you'd be ordering flowers for the funeral already. She's never been one for the kill. More the embarrassing situations and stuff. That's why she was so tee-ed off at Willow and her more powerful than thou attitude."

"Look, Ahn. Why don't you unlock the door, come on out and explain exactly what happened from the beginning? Please... Maybe once I know what's going on I'll be giving you a nice big apology."

"And maybe, we'll just argue about it all over again."

Xander played his trump card. "Or maybe I'll admit I was totally wrong and we'll have make up sex. The kind where I prove again and again exactly how sorry I am."

"And you'll write a full letter of apology to Evie and invite her over for dinner or something?"

"If I'm convinced that I made a mistake."

"Really?"

"Really."

"And you're not just saying that?"

"I'm not just saying that."

"And next time you have to choose between Willow and me or Buffy and me, you'll choose me as if you were really my husband?"

"Ahn. That's not-." The stony silence from the other side of the door made him shut him up before he could protest about the unfairness of having to give such a guarantee. "I am really your husband." Xander changed tack, sounding puzzled as the second half of what Anya had said sunk in.

"Then, you'll back me up like a husband should? Like I deserve? Instead of treating me like my opinion's worthless. We get to have a proper marriage? Because right now you act like you're the chief executive and Willow and Buffy are the junior partners and I'm just the stock boy. You never listen to me."

"I want to listen to you now."

"And what happens if when I tell you what happened, you understand my viewpoint, but you don't actually agree with it?"

"Then I apologise for being a total boor instead of being an idiot. You still get the make up sex and your friend gets a slightly less grovelly letter of apology for me being rude, even if I wasn't wrong."

There was a click as Anya unbolted the door. Xander noticed as she drew the door open just a crack that she was right. Her face was all red and puffy. He didn't care a bit.

"Come here," he asked her softly, holding his arms wide. "You are my number one girl. You are the one I come home to. You are the one I hold in my arms before I go to sleep. You're the one I dream about. It's your face that I see when I wake up in the morning. It's your voice that makes me smile when you call me at work.

Willow and Buffy are important to me. I guess I'm kind of hoping, recent mistakes not withstanding that we'll always be friends, but you are my wife . Maybe I got cold feet first time around, but that was because of how seriously I take those vows that we made. If I was the kind of guy who could go into marriage thinking that if it didn't work out we could get a divorce somewhere down the line, then there would have been no reason for me to back out. I'm not. I made those vows for life, and I will do whatever it takes to make this marriage work. I love you. I may not show it very well, but if you can be patient with me when I do something stupid, I'll never stop trying to make things right."

He kissed her on the forehead; a chaste and reassuring caress. Anya tilted her head back and returned the kiss with an equally tender one on his lips before she led him through to the bedroom where they curled together fully clothed as she began her tale.

"I guess it kind of goes back to the meeting after the engagement party. You know, if you'd gone..."

Xander kissed the back of her neck. "I'll go to the next one, wherever it is, okay?"

"Well, we all discussed what to do about Riley and the Initiative listening in. It turns out that after we all talked it over and decided to wait, Willow decided she knew best, and that's sort of your fault because you always let her tell you what you should do, so she sent an email to Sam, instead."








"So, is it your turn to tell me what a bad witch I am?" Willow glared at her friend, who surprisingly found a wet, trembling nose pressing into her hand. It seemed that the dog might be scared witless by Willow, but she still wasn't prepared to leave any of her new "family" alone with the witch.

"No. That's not why I'm here." Buffy leant against the doorframe at one side while her other hand scratched the puppy behind the ears, trying to reassure the beast, who stood with her tail tucked right down between her legs.

"Then, why are you here? To tell me I lost out on a personality contest between me and a dog?"

"Will, you know that's not what happened."

"Isn't it? You're moving me out so that you can move the dog in."

"We couldn't just leave it to get picked up and taken back to the pound."

Willow affected a nonchalant shrug. "It's where it came from."

"I'd never have guessed," Buffy replied, Willow's hostility pushing her into sarcastic mode. "Look, I have to think about Dawn's welfare first and foremost. You have a tremendous gift, but right now you don't seem to be using it responsibly. I know, whether you live here or not, it doesn't actually make a difference. If you wanted to, you could wipe us all out with hardly any effort at all, but appearances are everything as far as Dawn feeling secure is concerned. She was only just starting to come 'round after the whole crash thing. This, on top of what happened, is just too much to expect her to put up with. She needs to feel this is a place where she can heal, where she isn't threatened in any way."

"And you're saying I'm threatening?"

"Not directly. I don't think you would deliberately set out to harm any of us, but people around you get hurt when these things go wrong. I can't tell Dawn that she has to share a house with you under the circumstances, or I should say that I won't."

"So, it's all for Dawnie's sake, is it?"

Buffy looked at her shoes. "No- No, it isn't. There are times I don't recognise you. Times, like when I saw this dog, that I don't think I know what you're capable of.

Spike said you would have had to kill a deer to get me back. I'm not sure the Willow I remember could have done that."

"Probably not. I guess we had to make some hard choices while you were dead."

"No harder than I had to make when I came back, or is it just coincidence that you got me back on the scene just as the money ran out?"

"Is that what you think? That I got you back to make life easier for me?"

"Well, you were certainly too busy wallowing in your own problems to even notice mine. You could at least have got me out the damn coffin. Do you have any idea what that is like? Forget it. There's no way to know unless you have to do it."

"I'm sorry. We didn't think..."

"Yes, and all your magic is like that lately, but it's not just the magic that's the problem. We discussed what we should do about the Initiative. We came to a decision as a group , to wait things out a bit. You don't have the right to decide you know better than everyone else. You seem to think you're equipped to run everyone's life for them, but I'm responsible for Dawn and her safety. If you wanted the job, you should have left me in the ground, but then you might have ended up having to work in a burger bar and quit college."

"It wasn't like that," Willow protested. "We just didn't realise."

Buffy gave a sigh. "This isn't what I wanted to say."

"No, but it explains why you haven't been talking to me all this year. Maybe you should have said it all sooner. Got it out in the open? So that you didn't have to pretend to be my friend any more."

"That's not it. I wanted to tell you that I agree that we had no option but to ask you to move out, but I do still want to be your friend. I don't know how exactly we can make that work yet, but when you cool down and you have time to think, I want you to call me."

Willow continued to glare back at Buffy, but the slayer couldn't tell whether her hostility was genuine or just a surface patina that she kept up as a form of defence.

"Yes, I guess I have issues about last summer and it probably would have been better to have a rant and clear the air, but I knew you'd take it personally and I figure a lot of it is post-grave paranoia... But we've been friends for six years now. I don't plan on giving up on you if you'll stick with me."

This time Buffy didn't wait for a reply, she simply backed out of the door, her canine "protector" coming with her all too gladly.








Xander froze in position when the phone rang. Anya moaned in protest. "Don't stop. God! Don't stop."

The carpenter threw back the sheet, which had been covering him, and crawled up his wife's body, stopping to plant kisses on his wife's abdomen and chest then finally neck and face as he explained. "It's late, hon. No one would be ringing after eleven if it wasn't something important. I've got to answer."

He picked up the receiver by the bed just after the answering machine message had kicked in, cutting it off in mid-sentence.

"Hi. We're here." He paused to pull a stray hair from his mouth as he listened to the person on the other end of the line.

"No... I'm really sorry, but I can't. We're kind of busy... Well, yes . We were, if you must know... No, it is not. There is far more to Anya and me than our hormones, and that's exactly why I can't come and you can't stay here... No, Willow... It just happens that the one thing that is more important to me than our friendship is my marriage and since me and Anya have already had one major row about this whole thing tonight, there is no way I'm doing anything that's going to lead to another... Yes, well, we were until you rang. Why don't you go to your parents?... They did, huh?... What about your bed and all the other stuff from your room?... The basement?" Despite himself Xander couldn't prevent a small smile as he remembered Willow's comment, at around the time she'd split up with Oz. 'You live in a basement? That's dire. ' It sounded like that particular chicken was coming home to roost.

"Look, Will. I get that you don't want to turn up on their doorstep at this time of night. Why don't you go to a motel? The one I went to after the BLF, as you called it, is kind of a dive, but it's cheap, and if you don't have the cash I could ring up and book you a room using my credit card... Well, I guess I could probably run to wherever Giles is staying, for one night, if you let me know which one it is, but how come if Spike already offered you a ride, you were wanting me to come out?... You think this whole thing is because Spike's turning Dawn and Buffy against you?" Xander gave Anya an enquiring look, to which his wife emphatically shook her head.

"Look, I admit I don't know the full story. What say I come over between when I finish work and when Anya shuts The Magic Box tomorrow? Then, we can talk... Yes, Willow that is when I can fit you into my busy schedule, but if you would prefer me not to come, at all, then just say so... Fine, if that's how you want it, but don't forget I offered." Xander returned the phone to its cradle.

"Where were we?" he asked his wife, kissing her first on the lips and then down the side of her neck.

"You were just about to give me an orgasm, but I think saying no to Willow was even better. You really chose me."

"I really did, and unless you're way in the wrong I'm going to try to make a habit of it. Okay?"

"Well, obviously, I wouldn't expect you to compromise your integrity."

"I have integrity?" Xander asked in a teasingly incredulous voice. "Then, I guess I better live up to that promise I made earlier.

"Which promise was that?" Anya asked.

"The one about making you scream so loud we'll get complaints from everyone else in the building."








Willow packed an overnight bag, throwing in her laptop, the phone that Buffy had given her, an oversized T-shirt that she used as a nightshirt and some clothes for the next morning.

She couldn't believe that they had all betrayed her... Even Xander. Goddess, were they fickle? And both of them with their crumbs as if she should be glad to take the scraps of friendship that they offered. Well, maybe she was better off. Amy would understand. She'd been so holier than thou, sending Amy away, but of all of them Amy was the one she could trust to know how she felt.

Well, for now, it would have to be a motel, She really should have let Xander cough up for Giles' hotel before she told him he was offering too little too late. She couldn't change that now, though.

She picked up her bag and made her way downstairs, before dropping it on the floor and waiting in the hall. The dog's growl informed everyone that she was there and the chatter that had been coming from the room fell silent. Spike came through and picked up the bag, carrying it for her as they made their way silently to the car. Giles followed him out, taking the front passenger seat. No one else in the room spoke to her at all.
 
 
Chapter #15 - Chapter 2.02
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)


(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])



Chapter 2.02
Thursday, May 16th, 2002

Spike looked in the rear-view mirror. "Where to, Red?"

"I guess it'll have to be the Motor Lodge."

Spike nodded and put the car in gear, preparing to drop her off before taking Giles to his hotel. The drive was completed in an awkward silence. At the Motor Lodge, Spike got out of his seat and made his way to the trunk, opening it up before he said anything, just in case the Watcher could lip-read.

"You got enough money for this? Buffy owe you any rent money back?"

"Probably less than I owe on my share of the bills," the witch admitted.

"Right, then. I'll say my piece and let you go.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for you, Red. There's not many as I would offer to turn. I'm kind of picky that way, unlike some folk. That doesn't matter, 'cause I also, as you may have noticed, have soft spots for the slayer, her sis an' your ex, an' right now they're all hurtin' 'cause of that stunt you pulled tonight. That makes me a mite pissed off with you and that pissed off is not goin' to go away until they all feel better about things. When you make things right with them, then you'll be right with me, but for now I'd give Revello a wide berth unless you know for a fact that Glinda, Bit and the mutt are all out of the picture."

"Tara? But-."

"We asked Tara if she would stay. Having her around'll be good for her and good for the Niblet. And you're goin' to give her all the space she needs to make a clean break."

"And if I don't?"

"Then, you'd best be prepared to deal with someone who's pissed off and invulnerable, cause you won't catch all of us on the hop."

"Are you threatening me?"

"I'm stating a fact. You harm any one of us, in any way, and whoever is left will come after you. Well, maybe not Glinda, but I'd lay bets on me and Bit and I've got a feelin' Buffy will only give so far.

If you take my advice you'll let things lie between you an' Bit, an' you an' Tinkerbell for a while."

Willow hardened her mouth into a sneer. "I'll never want your advice, Spike." She snatched her bag from his hands without touching it, using her power to levitate it, so that she needed only the lightest grasp on the handles to fool the clerk into thinking she was carrying it as she entered the motel.








"Tara?" Dawn knocked on the door of Buffy's room. "Spike said I should bring you some hot chocolate and let you know he's taken Willow away. Can I come in?"

There was just a small sniff before the Wiccan answered. "Sure, sweetie. The door's open."

The teenager made her way into the room followed by her canine companion. The dog immediately stood in front of Tara and pushed her nose under Tara's hands, which had been resting in her lap as they mangled a semi-soggy tissue.

"I brought a friend. We've all been sitting downstairs trying to come up with a name for her." Dawn handed over one mug of chocolatey goodness and took a seat next to the witch while she took a sip of her own.

"Buffy says if we don't name her soon, the way Spike's going, she'll think her name is Mutt."

Tara's lips curved up into the slightest of smiles.

"So, who's still around?" she asked.

"Well, Spike was going to drop off Giles and the hag, and then he was going to swing past The Bronze and get mine and Brandon's jackets and helmets from last night, but he shouldn't be long. Wes seems to be hovering for some reason. I kinda think he wants to talk to Spike, but I don't know why. He keeps coming up with prissy names. Things like Calliope and Persephone and stuff. Having said that, I think Callie quite suits her.

Do you like that, girl? Want to be called Callie?" Dawn lapsed into baby talk as she reached across to fondle the puppy's ears. The dog meanwhile had succeeded in getting Tara to scratch at her head with one hand but now seemed intent on getting her nose under the blonde's other hand, as well, the one with the cup in it. Tara was having quite the time trying to stop the puppy from tipping hot chocolate over her nose.

"What about Buffy? What did she suggest?"

"Well, first she was wanting Byron, even though she's a girl and then she got all witty and decided we should call her Creed. 'Cause of that song of theirs. My Sacrifice. Then she said Deefer, like D for dog. We could use some sensible ideas."

"From the person who called her cat Miss Kitty Fantastico? What did Spike say?"

"He said since she was a bitch we could call her Darla, but that seemed kinda cruel... to the dog, I mean, plus if Angel and his son end up coming up for the wedding not very tactful."

"What about Rogue? Like from the X-men but 'cause she looks sort of like a rogue, too?" Tara suggested.

"That's cool." Dawn turned to the dog again. "Rogue? You like Rogue, girl?" The puppy ignored her completely.

There was a crash from downstairs as the front door slammed closed and the dog turned and went running downstairs. This was followed by a muffled, "bloody hell!" before Dawn was summoned.

"Bit, get your arse down here an' take your mutt away before she slavers all over the leather, will you?"

Dawn laughed as she made her way down the staircase, with Tara behind her. The puppy was leaping all over Spike, obviously delighted that he had returned without Willow.

"Just wait till she's big enough to put her paws on your shoulders and lick your face," the teenager taunted, as the vampire tried alternately to back away and to push the excitable dog back down without hurting her.

"Guess who's going to be a daddy's girl?" Tara teased the vampire.

"Don't start." He turned to Dawn. "D'you leave any of that for me?"

"In a mug, in the microwave, with the monkey brains already in."

Buffy's voice sounded from the kitchen. "Already heating it up for you."

"Excuse me, ladies. Duty calls." Spike grinned and pulled his duster off, draping it over the banister in preparation for making his way through the dining room to the kitchen.

"What's up, Spike? Cramp?" Tara asked.

A twinkle appeared in Spike's eyes, and he turned back to kiss the Wiccan on the forehead before he went looking for his fiancée. "Maybe, Tinkerbell... If I'm really lucky."

"Okay," Dawn turned to Tara as the pair made their way through to join Wes. "Why did that last conversation sound like it was in code? And how come my dog is following him ?"








"You two are pathetic. You know that, right? He was only away for twenty minutes and we can all see you from here."

"And that's why the G rated greeting, Bitlet."

"Can you two physically be in the same room without holding hands or something?"

Buffy looked down at where their hands were clasped together as they joined the others in the living room. "Guess not."

The teenager gave a snort. "Well, I guess that's kinda cool... just so long as you do keep it G rated in public." She grinned at their surprised faces. "Caught ya! Now, give me back my dog."

"I'm glad you like her, but isn't it about time you were getting ready for bed, platelet?"

"No point. Way too excited to sleep."

Buffy stepped in at this point. "Excited or not, go get washed up and changed and no letting the dog lick you after you've washed." The teenager headed upstairs with obvious reluctance.

Buffy then smiled at Wes. "What about you, Wes? I'm not too sure where everyone's going to be sleeping tonight, but at worst there's the sofa. Then, come morning, you'll have sobered up enough to take the bike back.

We'd normally offer to walk you back, but we don't want to be too far from Dawn. Spike could give you a lift, though, if you'd rather."

"The sofa's fine."

"I'll get some sheets and stuff."

"Don't go to all that trouble. All I need is a blanket or two to keep the draughts off."

"Pet, why don't I take the mutt for a tour of the block, while you sort out where you're puttin' everyone and every... thing? An' aside from Dawn gettin' her dinner at biker boy's, nobody else has eaten. Maybe you could order somethin' up before everywhere shuts for the night."

"Mm-hm. Chinese? I'm getting near my weekly pizza limit."

"Didn't know you had such a thing. Don't mind what you get, just so long as you get me something sort of spicy. You and Tinkerbell work it out between you. Just make sure you all eat something. If you skip any more dinners you'll disappear."

Wes looked vaguely embarrassed as he almost stuttered. "Em, well, I could do with stretching my legs a bit. if you don't mind the company?"

Spike gave the former Watcher a curious glance. "Sure... More the merrier."







Friday, May 17th, 2002

"Here, grab this a minute." Spike passed the dog's chain to the other man, freeing up both his hands for the task of lighting a cigarette. Once he had returned his lighter to his pocket, he took the dog back from the Watcher.

"So, what's up that you don't want to mention in front of the slayer?"

"What? Well, nothing really. It's not that I don't want her to know, it's just sort of personal and if I'm wrong..."

"If you've picked up some unfortunate disease it's really a doctor you need to talk to, mate."

Wes was about to protest, when he saw the laughter in Spike's eyes and gave a wry smile instead. "If I had, according to what she told the assistant in the bike shop yesterday, your future sister-in-law would have it as well."

"You what?"

"Dawn said it was her boyfriend that owned the bike. The salesman jumped to conclusions, which she then proceeded to pander to in a quite outrageous fashion."

Spike shook his head. "That's the Bit, alright." He took a long draw at his cigarette, releasing the smoke slowly before he continued. "But that's not what brings you out here to walk round in circles until this beast craps out what should have been our dinner."

"It's Lily, actually."

Spike gave the man an appraising look. "What about her? She been doing her Madame Zelda routine for you?"

"If you mean has she been handing out advice, then yes. The problem is I don't think it was entirely unbiased."

"In what way?"

"Well, there's this girl in LA-," Wes started.

"Texas belle, yeah?"

"Does everybody know?"

Spike shrugged. "Seemed obvious to me. Can't say I've discussed it with any of the others."

"Anyway, Lily told me that I should make a clean break of it, move up here and forget about her. She told me I should be looking for a wife, a woman to start a family with, not a little girl."

"Sounds like the sort of advice that's all very sensible, but the heart doesn't necessarily work on logic. She told me to give up on Buffy at one point, too. It all depends how much you want something and how much you're prepared to go through to get it."

"Yes, well, that's not really the problem. The problem is, I have a feeling that she wasn't just talking about any woman and I think the family she had in mind is at least partially ready-made."

"Oh!" Spike smirked as he raised his cigarette to his mouth.

"That's it? Oh?"

"Well, I don't know that there's much else I can say... other than 'Congratulations'."

"That's not very comforting."

"You want comforting or you want the truth? If Lily's picked you out to be the father of her grandchild, at least I assume Rosa's the ready-made family you were talkin' about rather than Clem..." A look of distaste crossed both men's faces. "Then, you might as well go out, buy the ring and enjoy the ride, as fight her on it."

"And Marie? And Rosa? I know nothing about children, well, except those few weeks when Connor was a baby."

"Well, I don't think the old bat'd be pushin' the idea if she didn't think Marie was ready to be seein' someone and no first-time father knows what he's doin'."

"Did you... When you were human, did you have any children? I mean... People married younger then."

"No." The vampire's tone turned serious and he stopped walking, turning to look Wes in the eye as he addressed him. "No, I didn't. Look, mate. I don't know what the deal is with you, whether in a few years time you'll be like Rupert an' get a yearning for England's pastures green and go home to the family manor and find somebody called Deirdre with another double-barrelled name. Maybe bein' the demon hunter is just a game until daddy's ready to pop his clogs an' leave you the whole shooting match an' you can go raise the eighth generation of Wyndam-Pryce Watchers."

He cast an appraising eye over the man beside him. "I don't think that's who you are any more, but if it is, then just stay the hell away from them all. If, on the other hand, this is where you choose to be, an' if you can look at Rosa for who she is, not what her father was, then I think what you'll find is a wonderful but a lonely little girl. A little girl who's more than willing and able to return any affection that happens to come her way.

Marie? Well, she's the kind of special that doesn't come along too often, an' more often than not it's gits like Hank Summers that snatch them up. Any man would be lucky to end up with a woman like that.

Neither of them would fit in if you tried to take them back to the home counties and the polo-playing prats and afternoon tea in the drawing room. They'd be stifled to death, but I figure any man worth his salt as they would include in their lives would have more sense than to leave.

An', of course the fact that Marie happens to be the sort of drop dead gorgeous that means she'd stand out in a room full of women doesn't hurt a bit."

Spike took one last draw on his cigarette before he flicked it away across the street, the orange glow splintering into pinpricks of light as it impacted with the asphalt.

Wes fell into step beside him again as the vampire resumed his promenade.

"So, was that your way of commiserating with me, encouraging me or warning me off?"

"That was my way of saying that if Lily gets her way, I think you would be a damn lucky man, but if you can't make a commitment for whatever reason, then just stay away because, well, Marie can make her own choices, but if you hurt that kid, let's just say I wouldn't be happy."

"But do you think Marie's in on it? Do you think she likes me?"

Spike frowned. "Let's say, I don't think she finds you unattractive. I'd say she's noticed you, but I wouldn't count on a lady like that doing any of the running... Probably, without Lily stickin' her oar in, you'd both play coy an' nothin' would happen or Rosa would be age for goin' to college by the time it did. Does that help?"

Wes glanced across at the vampire. "I really don't know. Ask me again on Saturday night."

"What's Saturday night?"

"Apparently, you, me and the girls are to be invited to a dinner party. Lily's efforts on behalf of the Sunnydale welcome wagon."

"Balls!"

"I didn't think it was that bad."

"For you, it's not. For me it's torture."

"I don't understand."

"First time I went there, Clem warned me it was probably best not to let slip that I ate human food, well, food that was for humans rather than food that was humans. A tip for which I have frequently been very grateful, given what I've seen of Lily's cooking, but Lily doesn't cook at the weekends. Marie does, and it all looks and smells bloody gorgeous."

"Well," replied Wes with a smile. "If I'm going to spend the evening as Lily's prey, at least I know I won't be suffering alone."
 
 
Chapter #16 - Chapter 2.03
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])



Chapter 2.03
Friday, May 17th, 2002

"I guess we better sort out what food we want before everywhere shuts, and then when Dawn gets back down, we can see whether she's going to want to share a bed with Spike and me or whether Wes gets to sleep on the sofa." Buffy crossed to the kitchen cupboard where the various food delivery menus were tucked away, picking up the handset for the cordless phone on the way.

Tara followed her and they pulled out stools so that they could spread out their array in front of them. "You know, about who's sleeping where..."

Buffy gave the girl a soft smile. "No, you can't volunteer to take the sofa."

"You think I'm that much of a martyr, huh?"

"Nope, I just know you're that nice a person."

"Not quite. It wasn't really tonight as such I wanted to talk about. What I was going to say was, assuming I stay, I wouldn't feel right about having the master bedroom.

I mean, I don't know if you'd want to move in there until the basement's ready, or whether you'd rather just wait and move once. Either way, it seems as if it should be someone who's really family who has that room. I guess it made sense when Willow and I were sharing, but not when there's just me."

"We've got plenty of time to sort all this out tomorrow, when Dawn and Spike are here. I guess, since the teenage terror volunteered us to do Willow's packing for her, that'll be the first priority. Then, we can work out whose things get moved into the space and fetch the rest of your things from the dorm, if that's okay with you.

Apart from anything else, it might depend on how things go with Social Services tomorrow. One of the reasons Spike took his apartment was that he was worried what they might say if he just moved in, but the case worker doesn't seem to have a problem with him being around, so if he's going to be here more, then it might make sense for us to have the bigger room, but if he's going to go back to only staying a couple of nights a week, then I guess whoever is going to be there in the long term should just move in.

And for the record..." She waited until she was sure the other girl was looking her squarely in the eye. "You are really family. In every way that counts, you're family."

With that matter resolved, Buffy moved on to more immediate concerns. "So, I know I said no more pizza, but with pizza comes Ben & Jerry's. Chinese means fritters. Not such a good score on the comfort food scale. And I'm guessing some comfort food would be good 'round about now."

"Ice cream sounds good," Tara agreed. "Or I could make pancakes, if you'd rather?"

"Nope, cooking... or housework of any kind is forbidden until tomorrow morning. We want food that comes in boxes and doesn't leave any more washing up than one spoon per person, which I guess means we get a pint of ice-cream each."

Dawn called through to the kitchen at this point, having made her way downstairs without either of the others noticing. "Did you guys mention ice cream? I had pizza at Brandon's but we didn't get ice cream."








"So, Giles is back. Is this just to help you out with the wedding stuff, or is it that apocalypse time of year again?" Tara asked.

"The latter. I don't think my wedding warrants two months of his precious time. He'll probably make time to give Spike 'The Talk' while he's here, though." Buffy gave a smile. "But then, if he does, I have a funny feeling he might end up on the receiving end of a lecture or two, himself."

"So what are you meant to stop, this time?"

"That's the thing. We thought it was the whole Willow, demon summoning thing... But Giles was doing the 'dark power' and I'm not even sure Evie would qualify as dirty grey."

"So, it's got to be Willow, then." Dawn added her bit to the conversation. "She's going to go majorly bad."

"Dawn..." Buffy's tone betrayed a level of exasperation. "Willow may have made mistakes, but she played a big part in finding you and she pretty much single-handedly saved Brandon's life. You can't just forget that as if it didn't happen."

"I'll have him send her a card," the teen responded bitterly. "It doesn't make her any less dangerous. She's still a manipulative, power-crazed, puppycidal bitch."

The sound of the front door opening temporarily caused a break in the conversation.

The puppy came bounding into the kitchen followed only seconds later by Spike and the former watcher.

"But you've got to reckon they've at least got a decent chance this year," the vampire was arguing.

"I'm not saying they don't have a chance-."

"Come on. If the bloody Yanks can qualify, anything can happen."

"As I said, we have a chance. I just think that realistically, in the end it's going to come down to either Germany or Brazil. Beckham's good, but he's not a miracle worker."

The puppy made her way around the group of women, while the two men were speaking, going from one to the next, getting very excited at Dawn's new apple-fragranced scent. Buffy treated the girl to a warning frown, to prevent her from fussing over the puppy when she'd supposedly washed up ready for bed. The frown was replaced by a look of dawning comprehension at the mention of Beckham's name. "Soccer. World cup, I think. Beckham's that one who married a Spice Girl." Her explanation was followed by the same look appearing on the other two girls' faces.

"So? Like you girls've been discussin' world politics?"

"No, but we have been discussing the fact that we don't really think Evie qualifies as a 'dark power' so you might not make it to your precious World Cup."

"Hey, now. You're even worse than him. Your lot's got a stake in this too, you know. You're just goin' to have to find this 'dark power' that Rupert's so fond of 'n' explain that we just can't be havin' any doin's with 'im... or her until the traitorous watcher 'ere 'n' me 'ave settled our little wager. Or you can kick his arse. That works too. We'll even help... if there isn't a match on."

"So, I have your endless devotion and support, just so long as twenty-two men aren't running round in shorts chasing a ball that isn't even the right shape?"

"Hey, she's learning. She knows how many are on a team now. But you forgot the ref, pet, so twenty-three really."

"Am I going to have to put up with this every year?" Buffy asked with a resigned expression.

"Hell, no, pet. You'll learn. It's every four years. Course, the Premier League runs every year. We'll have to get the sports channels added to the cable subscription before that starts."

She almost believed him before she caught the teasing glint in his eye. "Evil vamp!"

"Bad to the bone," Spike concurred as he swaggered across to take hold of Buffy by the waist, spin her so that she had her back to him and then picked her up as he turned round himself to rest his back against the kitchen units. His cheek brushed against Buffy's, stubble grating lightly against her soft skin, and his arms wrapped around her waist. Buffy was all too aware of the affect her proximity was having on the vamp and was torn between pulling away before it became even more obvious and staying where she was in order to hide the evidence. Her decision was further complicated by the fact that the pup seemed to find the pair of them very interesting.

"So, if Anya's luscious blue friend isn't Rupe's 'dark power' where does that leave us for suspects, other than Red?" the vamp asked, shifting his weight slightly so that Buffy felt his cock twitch against her ass. Dawn took on a smug expression at the vampire's words.

"Nowhere, exactly nowhere," Buffy said as she struggled to hide her reaction to what would appear to be a chaste and fleeting kiss to her neck, so far as all the others in the room were concerned.

"Once I pick up the keys for the house tomorrow, I was planning to head for LA to get my car and the rest of my things," Wes offered. "Once I have my books I can start checking for prophecies. There may be something I've missed until now."

"We'd offer to help but we've got the SS coming tomorrow, after we get Willow's things moved out." Buffy looked apologetic,

"I could go, maybe," Tara offered. "I only have a couple of classes tomorrow. I'm finished at eleven. I've got my driver's licence, and if it helped I could probably handle the Harley though I'm kind of more used to dirt bikes. I mean I'd rather bring the bike back than drive a car with a trailer... if you need a trailer. And it would still save you from having to get a flight down there."

All eyes suddenly focused on the shy blonde.

"Joys of an American rural upbringing," Spike suggested. "Let's guess. Come their sixteenth birthday, Donny was it? ...and all the other men in the family got cars and bikes, and all the women got something useless like a pair of earrings, but our Glinda borrowed brother's bike and taught herself, anyway."

"Pretty much." Tara blushed under the attention she was receiving.

Spike reached in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys, tossing them to her. "Might do better to take mine rather than watcher boy's pristine machine. It'll get you there and back. It runs fine, but nobody'll notice an extra scratch or two. I'd loan you the car but we're goin' to have to do some shopping tomorrow, maybe take the mutt to the vet's an' get it checked over.

Bloody hell! I feel like I'm living in the middle of the Waltons or something. You know dogs are supposed to come under the heading of food for vamps, not pets. You see what you've done to me, woman?"

Buffy shifted against him, just slightly, but enough to prove her point. "I know exactly what I've done to you... And you love it all."

The vampire merely grunted in response. "Pet, how long have we got before the food arrives?"

Buffy checked the kitchen clock. "Another fifteen minutes unless they're early."

"In that case seein' as I think we're out of 'dark power' candidates to discuss, I'm going to go grab a shower and get rid of the dog smell before I eat."

Spike stuck his hands in the pockets of his coat making sure that when he sidestepped from behind Buffy the leather would screen from view the tangible evidence of his arousal.

He had been upstairs less than a minute when Buffy made her excuses and followed him. "He's going to need some fresh towels. I best go find some."

"Like he couldn't find the linen closet on his own." Dawn snorted as her sister headed upstairs. "At least they're not quite as obvious as Xander and Anya. And Buffy doesn't send me off to spend the night at other people's houses any more."

Wesley flushed slightly. "I'm sure they're not..."

"Okay." Dawn suggested. "It should take Buffy two minutes to go up there, find some towels, and give them to the pseudo-albino. Ten dollars gets you twenty that neither of them shows until after the pizza."

"I really don't feel that this is a seemly topic for a wager," Wes argued.

"Or you think I'm right but you don't want to admit it?"

"Or I think you're right and I won't admit it."

Tara gave a quiet smile but her eyes sparkled behind her curtain of hair. "I'm sure she's just going to help him with those hard to reach areas."








Buffy checked her own room first, but found only a pile of discarded clothing. Scooping an armful of fresh towels from the closet on the landing as she passed, she pushed open the bathroom door to find the naked vampire just turning on the shower to let the temperature stabilise before he got in.

"Need a hand scrubbing your back?" she asked, as she set the bundle of towels on the floor beside the bath.

"That depends. Bit sleepin' in her own bed tonight?" Spike asked as he tenderly brushed a stray hair from her cheek.

"She's going to give it a try."

"In that case let's not start anything that we're not going to have time to finish properly. Remember the last time we got carried away in here, and how you felt after. This time the whole house would know." His tongue ran along his upper teeth. "Not that they won't all know later, anyway."

With a good-natured swat to his behind Buffy turned to go. "You know, if you build up all this anticipation then the main event's going to have to be pretty spectacular, or it's going to seem like an anti-climax."

"Have I ever given you reason to doubt?"

"We-ell... There was that one time when Xander interrupted."

"Hey, now! Extenuating circumstances. He'd make anybody lose the mood," Spike protested. "Well, except the demon bint."

Buffy dropped a kiss on his cheek. "Best hurry. Food'll be here soon. And before you come to bed tonight...get a shave."

She turned away from him, drawing her eyes from his nakedness with obvious reluctance. She hesitated for a second or two with the door ajar before she closed it once again, and locked the two of them in together. Spike's head tilted to one side and that deliciously scarred eyebrow arched upwards. She reached toward him, her fingers skating over the still shiny scar tissue where his neck met his shoulder. The tantalising touch was enough to break the demon's reserve even before her mouth replaced her fingertips.

His hands pulled her close against him, then slid over the rounded curves of her butt to part her denim-clad thighs and lift her until she wrapped her legs around his waist. The change in their relative position not only made it easier for Buffy to kiss and nibble and bite at that area of flesh where, despite Dru's efforts, he still appeared to be singularly attuned to his mate's touch but brought her own neck easily within Spike's reach at the same time, and the vampire wasn't slow to return the favour.

Each touch of his tongue, his lips and his teeth seemed to pull at the muscles of her womb, leaving her wet with desire. Her jeans crushed her lower lips so tight that the whole area seemed to burn. The rush of hot water against her skin made her gasp and she renewed her efforts with increased vigour, goaded on by the knowledge that for Spike to have carried them to the bath his legs must still be considerably less unsteady than her own. Then, her back was slammed against the cool tile of the wall.

Spike growled in her ear even as his hands massaged her breasts his thumbs tracing her wet hard nipples through the translucent fabric of her top. "Clothes, off, now, love. Or I rip them off." As if to emphasise his point his hips ground hard into hers where he had her pinned.

"Do it!" Buffy ordered, inciting him even further. One long sensuous rip split her top from hem to neckline and cool hands slid it from her shoulders. Sharp demon teeth teased at each of her nipples in turn. The knowledge that one extra ounce of pressure could leave her scarred for life only excited her further as her fingers wrapped themselves into his white-blonde curls.

"Stand up, baby." Buffy somewhat belatedly mourned the fate of one of her favourite pairs of boots as she realised why her feet failed to find purchase against the slick porcelain of the bath.

She expected the blonde to start at the fly of her jeans. Instead, he swiftly removed her footwear, kissing each bare toe before returning her foot to the surface of the bath. Then he gripped the bottom hem of one of her jean legs, ripping apart the heavy wet denim along the outer seam as if it were no more than thinnest muslin. The other leg swiftly followed, and Buffy was left in no more than a scrap of scarlet lace. Two taloned fingers flicked out with unerring precision to slice through the delicate fabric while leaving her flesh unmarred.

The display of tempered strength and violence had her panting in anticipation as he scooped her from the bath, laying her on the floor so that her hips were cushioned by the bundle of towels that she had brought him earlier.

As he came to lie above her his dick was pinned between their bodies and he supported himself on his elbows. His eyes were a glowing gold as he teased her.

"Tell me what you want, baby. Tell me... Do you want my fingers?" As he spoke he matched gestures to words, morphing back to human form so that his talons wouldn't graze her sensitive flesh he slipped a finger between her outer lips, spreading them open as he savoured their dampness. His thumb found her clit, grinding it in slow circles against her pubic bone until her muscles loosened at his touch and he slipped his middle two fingers into her moist heat. He moved them in slow circles, stretching her open wider before he added a third finger, beginning to piston them in and out.

"Is that good, my love? Is that what you want?" Even as he spoke the first flutterings of her vaginal muscles told him he was unlikely to get a coherent answer. His poor baby had been all wound up for nearly three days now. She was so ready for him. "Who's your man? Who makes you feel good?"

Buffy tried desperately to hold off her climax, knowing if she let the moment pass it could be a long time before she plucked up the courage again.

"Spike? Want you... Want your dick inside me. Want your teeth in my neck. Want to put my mark on you again."

The vampire had to bite down on his tongue to prevent himself from coming all over her stomach.

"Whatever you say, love." In one deep thrust he buried himself inside her. He withdrew slowly, only to ram home forcefully once more as Buffy flattened her feet against the floor and pushed up with her hips to meet him. She reached to twine her fingers with his then spread her arms so that he collapsed against her, his full weight pressing her to the floor as they moved. Buffy soon found herself teetering once more at the edge of the precipice as Spike moved gradually faster and harder inside her and against her.

She raised her head to capture his lips and he knew that it was time. He switched to his demon face as he teased Buffy's tongue with his own. When she pressed her tongue against one of his fangs spilling precious slayer's blood in his mouth his hips seemed to press into her with even more vigour. Then as they simultaneously bit into the other's neck with one last thrust he spilled his seed inside her as her spasming muscles milked him dry.

"Mine." Spike was the first of the two to collect enough brain cells to speak before lapping softly at her wound with his bleeding tongue.

"Always..." Buffy gasped. "Mine?"

"For eternity and beyond."

"Even if there's soccer on the TV?" Buffy raised an eyebrow in a gesture that imitated his own.

"Even when there's footie on the telly."

"Oh God!" Buffy's words mirrored the vampire's own thoughts as a pulsing began in his temples and his eyes locked with hers for a second before his lids closed and he felt the visions start.

This time, they were a warning and from the emotions that were coming from his fiancée as they clasped each other's hands even tighter, it was one that they had both heard loud, if not exactly clear.
 
 
Chapter #17 - Chapter 2.04
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.04
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Willow stared at her face in the mirror. If she didn't know better, she'd say that some of those lines seemed to be etched just a trace deeper than a few hours ago, but that had to be her imagination.

Just the same, it looked like she was going to have to head for home, at least until the start of the fall term and that meant she had to do something about how she looked before she met her parents.

A general reversal spell should do it. She could wait, endure Anya being patronising and get the necessary ingredients to do it the easy way. Components and the like might help. Nevertheless, if you had enough raw power, then most of the time, for the simple stuff you could just bulldoze your way through. Of course, that way of doing things had the no waiting, no Anya, no money to spend bonus going for it, now that Giles seemed to be getting snippy about her using things from the shop. It fleetingly crossed her mind to wonder who had actually paid for that Urn of Osiris.

She shifted into lotus position on the bed, albeit with a little more difficulty than was normal, trying to ignore the protesting squeaks that the mattress made with her every move. She focused on her reflection in the mirror and began to chant.

She tried the simplest spells first, telling herself that it was just her imagination that the grey in her hair seemed to be getting denser and her skin drier as she continued. As to her nightshirt getting tighter, that was preposterous. It was four sizes too big, designed to incorporate an array of shoulder pads. There was still plenty of room in there.

Then, when these simple hexes failed to have the required effect she moved on to bigger and more complex magics, or at least normally, using all the correct components they would be more complex. After a couple of these she could no longer deny the cumulative ageing effect. Obviously, this wasn't going to be quite so easy as she had thought.

Switching tactics, she tried a simple glamour. Her relief, when the spell appeared to work, was tempered by what she was now sure were half a dozen additional grey hairs when she allowed the illusion to drop.

Oh God! She was going to be stuck like this forever. Or not. It seemed like every time she used magic she was worsening the effect. Maybe she'd eventually just shrivel up and die. Maybe if she called a Scooby meeting they could... But that was right. She wasn't a Scooby any more. No doubt she wouldn't even be invited to the next meeting and if she tried to call one they would probably all be busy having sex and playing with puppy dogs and wouldn't be able to come.

It wasn't like she had wanted to sacrifice the dog, but that had been what it said in the book... And it had been to help Dawn, even if Giles had denied it. She had heard her and Buffy that morning. Spike had left the bedroom door ajar when he headed out back. She'd heard both of them say that they wished it had just never happened. Then they had turned on her as if she were a criminal when she tried to make their wishes come true. It really wasn't fair to put the blame on her for doing what they had wanted.

And Tara. What was she going to do without Tara?

Suddenly, what she looked like, what her parents were going to say and what her friends thought, didn't seem so important.

How did everything get to be so screwed up all at the same time? Relaxing from her upright position she curled into a foetal ball and cried herself to sleep.








Dawn was looking rather pleased with herself by the time the pizza arrived without an appearance from either her sister or their live-in vamp. When the couple did arrive, her sister looking just as freshly scrubbed as the vampire who had professed his wish to clean up, it was only the serious expressions on both their faces that prevented her from taunting them openly. Instead, she stuck to the safe topic of food.

"There's a couple of slices of the hot and spicy and a couple of the pineapple in the oven keeping warm, and there's a pint of Phish Food in the freezer."

Spike ruffled her hair as he passed en route to the oven. "Thanks, Bit." Buffy took a seat on the sofa next to where her younger sister was loading up on Chunky Monkey straight from the carton. She pulled up her tanned legs toward her chest hugging them against the black satin of her pyjama top. Her eyes rarely left Spike, except when the kitchen counters obscured her view of the jean-clad, shirtless vampire.

"Is something up?" Tara just beat Wes to the question.

Buffy managed a half-hearted smile. "Just the fact that me and Spike seem to be giving the old slayer dreams package a whole new twist. It'll keep. We can do the whole Scooby meeting thing when you and Wes get back from LA."

"Are you sure?" Wes asked. "If this really is a slayer dream then perhaps we should be working on it straight away."

Spike came back into the living room at this point, a plate laden with pizza in one hand and a couple of spoons and an ice-cream carton in the other.

"Feel free. Why don't you ring up and have a word with any of your ex-brethren that might just be lurking in Istanbul? See if they've got any news," he suggested as he took a seat on the arm of the sofa next to Buffy, one arm wrapping around her shoulders once his burdens had been safely deposited on the coffee table in front of the couch.

"We don't know..." Buffy interrupted and then tailed off. "Maybe it was a warning. Maybe it hasn't happened."

"'F you say so, pet. I guess you've been having these things long enough to know." His tone, however, held none of the hope contained within his words. Spike knew that the girl they had seen was already dead. What he didn't know, yet, was why Buffy was more than normally freaked by what had killed her.

"It's the First Evil, or at least it was one of its minions who attacked the girl. A bringer, harbinger, something like that," Buffy told the watcher.

"And that was all you saw. A girl attacked by one of these harbingers? And how did you know it was Istanbul?"

Spike simply gave the watcher a look that said as clearly as if he had spoken that he hadn't spent his entire unlife in London and California. Then, he elaborated on what they had seen. "Just that and some freaky goat head pentagram thing, looked like it belonged in an Alchemy catalogue."

"Wasn't there something like that in that old Dan Ackroyd movie, with the satanic cult or something," Dawn asked.

"Hardly a stellar point of reference, pet."

"And what makes you think this has anything to do with the Council?"

"Can you think of any other reason why Buffy would be dreaming, 'bout a girl that age? 'Sides, she had the look."

"But why?" Wes asked. "There will always be more girls to take her place. There's no guarantee that the girl would ever have even become a slayer."

Spike shrugged. "Demon I knew thought he could end the line, or even just weaken it. Get a run of untrained eight-year-olds and your slayer brand is going to suffer significantly. Might even get themselves a slayer they can control, keep prisoner, whatever."

"So you're saying they're going to kill all the girls who could become slayers?" Dawn asked.

"We're guessin', pet, but I think they're goin' to try."

"And then? What happens then? These eight year-olds you're talking about are only going to be called if the slayer dies... Right? They're going to come after Buffy, aren't they?" Dawn sounded panicked.

"No, love. They're not. No reason why they should, unless Wes's old lot's been keepin' secrets and they've got another slayer stashed away in Cleveland or somewhere."

"Not that I'm aware of," Wes admitted. "Though it's not outside the realms of possibility."

"Then, Buffy is irrelevant to the continuity of the line. Soon as Miss Trinidad & Tobago got her calling, any extra that Buffy did was just icing on the cake. When she died last year, no new slayer. That means it's our little jailbird who's at the end of the line." Spike defied anyone to refute his logic and of course Dawn did.

"But how do we know there isn't another slayer? She could just be in the middle of communist China, or one of those places in Africa where there's some sort of civil war going on all the time. We didn't know Faith existed until she just turned up, or Kendra. We don't know."

"His lot knew." Spike nodded toward Wes. "And the demons knew. I should've picked up on it before slayer number two showed her face in Sunnyhell that first time, but all that 'There can be only one' stuff didn't exactly encourage me to listen to any rumours. I mean, so you hear there's some slayer down in the Caribbean. If you know for a fact that there's one in California, you tend to just think someone somewhere's tellin' porky pies. 'Course I didn't realise that Buffy had actually died. You Scoobies just never thought to ask. I trailed my butt round every demon haunt within half a night's drive last summer. No one knew anything about a third slayer."

"Either way, it would seem wise to alert Faith and the Council to our suspicions. I'll speak to Angel tomorrow. I believe he has kept in contact with her." Wes volunteered to pass on the news.

"Are you sure you want to do that? We could call him just as easily," Buffy offered.

"It's okay. I need to fetch some of my books, anyway. Somehow when they packed up my things for me, they failed to take into account that most of their reference materials were actually my reference materials."

"That was rather remiss of them," Spike observed with a sly grin.

"But not entirely unexpected, given Angel's past actions," countered Wes, remembering how he had marched into their interim LA office to claim some book. "He never did grasp the finer points of ownership, though I doubt he'll make the trip all the way to Sunnydale when he needs a book."

At this point Spike just happened to glance across at the plate he had, mere minutes earlier, stacked with pizza. Only the pineapple slices remained, but he knew that Buffy had been too preoccupied to bother eating any. He bent over and craned his neck to look beneath the table.

"Bloody hell!" he swore at the sight of the puppy crunching the last of the crust from his hot and spicy. "Angel's not the only one, neither. Bit, your damned mutt's just eaten my bloody dinner... again!"

Dawn just smirked. "Well, I guess that settles it. Rogue, it is."

"She's your dog, Niblet. That means it's your job to train her, which also means you're the one that gets to smack her or blow up her nose or whatever you do when she pulls a stunt like that."

"You can't smack her," Dawn protested. "And what's with the blowing up her nose?"

"I'm not going to smack her. Just told you that's your job, and the blowing up its nose, can't remember really if that's for dogs or horses but if it works don't knock it. So?" The vampire stared down the teenager until she finally conceded defeat.

"I'll shut her in the bathroom, okay? Does that class as punishment enough?"

"No. It's not. The mutt's going to be sleeping in there at night until she's housetrained. You start using that as a punishment, and she's going to think she's done something wrong when she hasn't."

The vampire seemed to give up on getting the teenager to discipline the pup. Instead, he pulled the dog out from under the table, pointed her head toward the half-empty plate, hoping she would understand what she was being reprimanded for. Then, with a curl of his lip and a flash of fang he gave a growl that had the pup whimpering and dashing to the safety of Dawn's shadow when he released her.

The vampire's attention returned to Buffy. She still hadn't touched any of her food. "Come on, pet. Why don't you head for bed? Me an' Bit'll get the watcher and the mutt settled. I'll stick your ice cream back in the freezer an' you can get it another time. Okay?"

"I guess. I put us in mom's room. I figured that way, since I don't need so much sleep, I could get an early start on the packing."

"That's fine, love." The vampire picked up the remains of the pizza, and the ice cream, dumping the former in the trash and the latter in the freezer. He returned to the main room to extend a hand to the slayer, pulling to her feet. His arm wrapped around her shoulders and he walked her up to her mother's room and tucked her up in the freshly-made bed like a little girl.

"Won't be long, precious." He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

A dim smile flickered across her lips for an instant. "I'll be right here. Gollum."

The vampire immediately dropped into a hunch-shouldered, semi-upright stance as he made his way to the door. "Yesss, masster" he replied in passable impersonation of Tolkein's unfortunate, only to run into Dawn on the landing.

"Okay, I knew you guys were weird, but Quasimodo and Esmerelda. That's just warped. And shouldn't you have the bumpies for that?"

Spike raised his eyes heavenward. "Wasn't-. Never mind... Let's just get everybody to bed, right?"

Soon, Wes had phoned Giles at his hotel to inform him of the latest developments and everyone except Spike was settled in their respective rooms, but the vampire had one last task in mind before he retired for the night. He knocked softly on the door to Buffy's room.

"Come in," Tara answered equally quietly.

Spike opened the door, leaning against the frame as he spoke. "Hey, love. Just me. How are you doin'?"

The Wicca gave a brave smile. "Better than if I was in a dorm all on my own. It's not like you get the chance to dwell on things, with everything that's going on."

"Yeah, well, from experience, the dwelling'll probably start round about when that damp patch on the ceiling loses its fascination. An' if it does, remember we're always there. The door's always open." He flashed her a lascivious grin. "Just make sure you knock before you come in.

Seriously, though, any time you want to talk, or just some company watching the telly, or a hug, whatever... you know you've got an open invitation, day or night, right?"

"I'll bear it in mind."

With what he hoped was a comforting smile and a nod, Spike pulled the door closed as he left.

He slipped quietly into the darkened room where his girl was waiting for him. Before he pulled his jeans off and changed into the pyjama bottoms Buffy had brought through for him when she organised the sleeping arrangements, he checked that all the curtains were firmly closed. A dark lump at the bottom of the bed caught his attention and he realised that the connecting door to the bathroom was open.

"We have to have the mutt?" he asked.

"She was whining. At least now she's quiet."

With a sigh the vampire slipped into bed, pushing the dog out of his way with his feet, his arms wrapping Buffy round from behind, with all the strength and comfort he could give her.

"So, love, what's the big deal with this First guy. Seems to me, if you know him, that means you already sent him off once with his tail between his legs. You'll do it again."

"The deal." Buffy turned in his arms her eyes searching for his in the darkness. "The deal is that last time, it went after someone I loved, and if it wasn't for some freak weather, they would have killed themselves.

The deal is. I can't lose you. Not now. Not ever. I need you."

"No, Buffy, you don't. You're strong. If something happens to me, you'll do just fine. I'm bettin' you would kick the ass of whatever was to blame from here to hell and back.

But so long as I have any say in the matter, I won't be goin' anywhere. Like I said earlier, I'm yours, body, spirit and mind, and so long as I have any choice at all, I won't ever leave you. Unless this thing or its guys come and stick a stake through my chest, I won't be leaving. I'll never just quit on you. I'm not planning on any daylight walks without those orbs around, or at least a good thick blanket."

"It can't be killed... So long as there's evil inside any of us, it will exist."

"But it can be beaten," Spike insisted. "You've done it before. And these harbingers, they can be killed, and whatever the deal is with the goat thing, we can deal with that."

"You make it sound so simple."

"Because as long as I have you, then everything else is simple."

His lips met hers in a tender caress that swiftly became more passionate as Buffy returned the kiss. As always, the bond between them relayed their feelings and in the depths of their hearts they were each a little afraid, but more importantly they had a confidence built on their mutual faith and love and a determination to see this through. Spike was right. At the end of the day one or both of them might fail, but neither of them were about to quit. So, the First Evil was going to have a real fight on its hands this time.

Soon, all thoughts of anything other than each other were banished from their minds, even the thought that they had a canine voyeur sharing the bed with them.
 
 
Chapter #18 - Chapter 2.05
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.05
Friday, May 17th, 2002

"Hey, lazybones. Time you were up." Buffy tried to gently chivvy the vamp into wakefulness.

"Wha'? Whatimesit?" Spike stalled pulling Buffy closer.

"Em, well, it's five thirty two."

Spike pulled the covers back over his head. "In the a.m.?" he asked.

"Well, yes, but I need you and your amazing vamp climbing abilities."

"At this time in the morning, unless I haven't actually been to bed yet, I can tell you there's only one thing I'm interested in climbing."

"Well, Mount Buffy is about to get up and start dealing with this room so that we have a hope of getting everything packed by the time Dawn said it would be ready."

"And where are my climbing abilities supposed to fit into the picture? You want me to hang a trapeze above the bed, now that we've got the room to ourselves?"

"No. Does your brain ever get out of the bedroom?"

"Not when you're in it."

"The bedroom or your brain?"

"Either," the vampire responded with a wicked grin.

"And why a trapeze? I never really got that."

"Then I guess we'll have to find different accommodation next time it's just the two of us in LA so that you can see for yourself."

"You know hotels with trapezes in the bedrooms?"

"Well. I never said it was a hotel as such. More like a brothel, but we can rent the room without the room service."

"You!" Buffy's gasp of outrage was swiftly silenced as Spike wound his fingers through her hair and pulled her close for a kiss, but as soon as she was able to regain her breath her protests continued.

"I can't believe you think I would go to a brothel with you. That is so humiliating."

"And that is so narrow-minded. Guess I better cancel the booking for the first night of our honeymoon, then."

"Did your brain get fried with all this going out in the sun or something? Why would you ever think that I would go to a brothel with you?"

"Looks like it did." Spike rolled to the edge of the bed and stood up, going in search of the jeans he had abandoned last night. As soon as he spotted them he pulled them on, the rip of his zipper being pulled up sounding a death knell for the discussion.

"So? What was this climbing that you wanted doing?" Spike asked his tone harsh.

"When we moved in, we flattened all the cardboard boxes and stored them up in the crawlspace."

The vampire grunted and had left the room before she could respond. Needless to say when Buffy moved to follow him, pulling the top sheet from the bed to wrap around herself, she was almost run over by the puppy in Rogue's effort to beat her out of the door.

When she made it to the landing, the hatch to the crawlspace was already open and cardboard boxes were raining down through the hole. However, only a fraction of the boxes she had expected appeared before the vamp swung down and tipped the hatch cover back into place as he dropped silently to the floor again.

"Is that it?" she asked indicating the sparse half dozen boxes.

"I'm goin' to go with yes, seein' as how the rest of the boxes up there were all between the leak in the roof and the damp patch on your ceiling, but if my word's not good enough then feel free to climb up there for yourself."

"Spike? Please." Still clutching the sheet with one hand, she reached out with her other to try to smooth away a patch of dust that decorated one of the vampire's sharply defined cheekbones.

"Please, what? What would madame like now? Let me guess it must be my job to clean up the dog crap in the bathroom, after all it was my dinner it ate so it must be my job. Or did I miss doing the breakfast in bed? Can't be that you've got an itch needs scratchin' 'cause I'm sure I offered just before you got all 'Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' on me."

"Well, pardon me if I don't want to spend the first night of our married lives in a brothel."

"Don't worry about it. I'm sure we can get a nice room at a nice suburban Holiday Inn instead. I'll give the contract to Anya. I'm sure she'll appreciate the thought even if you're too damned uptight."

"Well maybe in that case you should have beat Xander to it and married her instead of me."

"Well, you know, there's times I think I'd be better off."

The words sank into a well of silence and when Buffy finally spoke her voice was tremulous and unsure. "Really?"

Spike's voice softened in return. "On a very rare occasion when I've fried my brain from too much sun, but soon as I see you smile the idea goes straight out of my head."

"So you don't really wish you'd married Anya?"

"Pet, if you don't know by now that I love you in a way I have never loved anyone else in my entire existence then I've obviously been inadvertently speaking Swahili for the last two years."

Dawn's head appeared at the doorway to her room. "You know, arguing at this time of the morning in public is way antisocial, but can you at least do the making up in private?"

"Not really," Buffy answered, "seeing as how you're going to be in the bathroom cleaning up the mess your dog left last night."

"Hey, I'm not up. I'm supposed to be resting. I was just wanting you two to be quiet so I could go back to sleep."

"Think again. For one thing, if Spike ends up being the one to clear that up then I would suspect that dog might well be making a return visit to the pound. And for another, you're the one that said we would pack Willow's stuff so don't think you're going to sit in bed and paint your nails while we do all the work."

"I was thinking more of lying in bed and sleeping." Dawn's protests died at the expression on her sister's face. "But I guess I'll just get dressed and clean up the bathroom."

"Good call, Bit."

Buffy waited until Dawn had gone and then led the vampire down to the kitchen, taking him through the dining room to try to avoid disturbing Wesley. She got him to sit down while she put the coffeemaker on and set a mug of blood to microwave. Then, while they waited, she came to stand between his knees, her arms wrapping around his neck, so that they were eye to eye.

"Now, were you serious about having booked us in at a brothel for our honeymoon?"

"Just the one night," Spike grudgingly admitted.

"Why?"

Spike shrugged. "Look, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Just forget it. We'll do something else. It doesn't matter."

"But it obviously does, otherwise you wouldn't have got all uptight about it."

"I wasn't the uptight one. Just forget it, pet. I'll give it to Anya like I said. Her an' .him'll have a hell of a time."

"Look, I'm sorry. Another time maybe. just not... not then." Buffy's eyes implored him to understand, to lose the kicked puppy air that seemed to hang over him. "Our wedding night should just be about you and me and how we feel about each other. Not sexcapades hanging from a trapeze."

"Which bit of "forget it" didn't you understand, Buffy? Just drop it. I get the message. I fucked up. Why don't you just arrange whatever you want? Just so long as it doesn't involve me turning into a big pile of dust, I don't really care. I'm obviously just too incompetent to be left to organise anything on my own."

The vampire pushed his stool back away from her and grabbed a roll of trash bags from under the sink before heading back upstairs. Buffy was grateful, despite the early hour, when the phone rang giving her something other than the circling mug of blood in the microwave and holding her sheet up for her to concentrate on.

"Hi, Summers residence."

"Buffy, it's Anya."

"Talk of the devil," Buffy muttered under her breath but the former demon seemed oblivious.

"I wasn't sure if you would be up or not, but I thought if you were, since Xander said you were moving Willow out that you might need help. Moving's a friends thing, right? Oh and I found out some news last night that you might be interested in."

Then Buffy heard Xander's voice in the background, a much beset moan of, "Ahn?"

"Oh, and Xander wants to know where Spike took Willow last night. She's not answering her cell and he wants to make some futile effort to stop her before she tries to reverse Evie's curse, but I told him he was bound to be too late already, but he's all guilty because he didn't think to tell her about how the curse worked when she rang last night. So now he's trying to take it out on everyone else."

"And just out of curiosity, how does the curse work?"

"Well, it's really clever. But are you sure you don't want me to save this for when I come to help? That way I can tell you all at once."

"Sure, that sounds good."

"Should I bring doughnuts, too?"

"Doughnuts would be the best thing about this morning so far," the slayer sighed.

"I'll get Xander to drop me off on his way to work, then."

Xander's voice sounded in the background again. "Ahn? Willow?"

"Look, Anya, how about I track down Spike and get him to call you back?"

"I thought he was staying with you until Wesley either went back to LA or found a place of his own."

"He is. He's just-. Wait a minute." Buffy turned her attention to her sister, who had just walked through the living room into the kitchen. "Dawn, go see if you can find Spike and find out where he dropped Willow last night."

The teenager rolled her eyes and passed Buffy a newspaper wrapped bundle. "Hold this till I get back."

Buffy tried to work out how to hold the sheet, the phone and the bundle of dubious provenance that she had been given by her sister. The longer she held the parcel the more sure she became of what was in it, and the more sure she was that she didn't want to be holding it at all. Maybe this whole puppy deal had been a bad call.

Dawn came trundling back downstairs with a slight limp that reminded Buffy that maybe she shouldn't be running messages after all.

"Have you opened up that scab on your leg again?"

Dawn shrugged. "It's just a little bit. Spike'll clean it up for me after breakfast. And he says she's at the shitty motel by the off-ramp."

"The Sunnydale Motor Lodge."

"Well unless there are suddenly two shitty motels by the off-ramp, I suspect that would be the one."

"Is this what I think it is?" she asked as passed the bundle back to the teenager.

"Well, you're the one who told me to clean it up."

"Outside bin, now."

"Where did you think I was going when you interrupted me? And what the heck have you done to him this morning? If he wasn't a vampire and a guy I would swear he had PMS."

Buffy waved her sister toward the back door. "Anya, hi, you can tell Xander she's at the Sunnydale Motor Lodge."

"Okay, I'll see you in about half an hour."

"Sure... and Anya?"

"Mm-hm?"

"In case I forget to say it later... Thanks."

A bleary-eyed Wes, stumbled into the kitchen at this point, dressed in a more rumpled version of yesterday's clothes. "I guess it's officially morning, then?"








"See? Like I said it's really clever. It means if she goes really bad, then, she'll probably kill herself before she can kill too many other people. And... if she actually studies all the proper books and learns all the stuff about the nature of magic and how to use it properly and she isn't too conceited to pay attention to it, then she'll be back to looking her own age within a couple of years of study. Well, near as she can, with the blood on her hands."

Anya, along with all the current occupants of the house were gathered in the living room, having coffee and doughnuts before the serious business of moving Willow's stuff could begin. Wes had retreated to Spike's apartment, in search of a shower, some clean clothes, and Buffy suspected another hour or two of sleep. Noticeably, the engaged couple were separated by most of the length of the sofa, one dog and one teenager. Spike had already filled several trash bags with clothes and bedding and deposited then on the front porch, but that was as far as anyone had got by the time the former vengeance demon arrived.

"B-but didn't we stop her? I thought we got there before she could..." Tara began to argue and then realised that everyone else in the room seemed to know something she didn't.

"Well," Anya continued. "According to what Evie saw in her head, you know that Madre de Dios or Sangre de Madre or whatever that she told us she bought on the black market? Guess what? It just slipped her mind that she went out that morning and murdered Bambi's mom."

Tara looked even more crestfallen than the others.

"You all knew. Didn't you?"

Buffy sighed. "Spike and Giles suspected. The rest of us found out last night."

"I don't get it," Dawn announced. "You knew that she would have killed Rogue, but you're acting like this is a bigger deal again."

"Because to a Wiccan it should be. The deer is a symbol of innocence and purity. It's probably about the worst sort of sacrifice she could have made, short of human."

"So, like I said," Anya continued. "In theory, she should be able to reverse the ageing, but in practice the only way to overcome the blood on her hands would be some sort of massive sacrifice on her part."

"So, your friend Evie is basically forcing her to be good?" Tara asked.

"Well, you could say that, but it's not so much about forcing her to be good or evil as forcing her to examine her own actions in comparison to a code she claims to adhere to.

I mean Evie has no qualms about the men I've tortured and killed. She wouldn't think twice about the stuff that Spike's done, either. I mean it's not her personal style and Willow should be grateful for that, but she's not the type to condemn anyone for a bit of slaughter. I think it was the hubris of the whole thing that tee-ed her off, especially coming from someone whose supposed religion is all about the opposite."

"The who-what?" Dawn asked.

"Hubris. Prideful insolence," Anya explained.

"And you say the more she tries to reverse it, the worse it'll get?" Dawn asked.

"Well, of course, because that would be a selfish use of magic. And to judge from what I heard of her conversation with Xander I was right about him being a bit too late with the warning."

"Cool."

"Dawn!" her sister reprimanded the teen.

"I don't see what's wrong with speaking my mind. Seems to me that Willow had it coming. It also seems like you promised days ago to tell me how this was all her fault and you never have."

It was Tara who answered the teen. "After the meeting at Lily's, Willow sent Sam an email. I think she thought she could warn them off."

"But it had the opposite effect." The teenager finished for her. "That's what she meant about me being an object lesson. I got to pay the price for Willow's arrogance."

"That's the way it looks from here, love." Spike spoke for the first time since Anya had arrived.

"God... I wish I hadn't kicked her ass out already, so that I could do it again."

Spike bent over from his position on the arm of the sofa to kiss the teenager on the top of her head and drape an arm around her shoulders. Buffy looked on and was ashamed to find that she was jealous of her own sister as the vampire gently stroked her hair.

"Oh, and I've got some other news," Anya babbled. "Evie could remember the last slayer and vampire who were mated."

"So what happened to them?" Buffy asked

"That's just it. Nobody knows. Just one day, next slayer appears and no one ever saw either of them again, dead or undead. Evie said there were all sorts of theories. She thinks the Council killed them both, but that's really just one possibility. This was all about a couple of hundred years before my time, though, so it's not as if I can make any sort of first-hand assessment."

"That settles it then, pet. Once this woman from Social Services has been, you get to keep the marbles."

"Don't be silly. They're far more useful to you, with the daylight thing."

"Reckon I'll just have to be silly, along with all my many other faults, 'cause being able to go out in daylight won't mean a damn to me with you dead."

"Em, guys. Weren't you meant to be not discussing the daylight thing in the house?" Tara reminded them.

"Balls! Well, I guess if that wanker Finn's still listening, he can go shag a sheep or whatever it is that they grow in Iowa."

"Look, remind me when I get back from LA," the Wicca told them. "I think I can disable any bugs or cameras they have in the house. I wasn't sure how to do it without taking out the phones and stuff as well but I think I have a lead on how to adjust the spell. I just need to do some more research before I try it."

"Thanks, pet," Spike smiled over at the Wicca and it began to seem to Buffy that everyone in the room was basking in the warmth that was non-sarky Spike except her.

"No biggie. I mean I'll be living here, too, so it's in my own best interest."

The rest of the "meeting" passed in a blur for Buffy as she got to watch the vampire seemingly manage a half-hearted smile for everyone except her. Then, when Anya volunteered to do the washing up, she saw how he slipped from the room when he thought no one was looking. And to judge from the smile on the former demon's face when she opened the envelope that he gave her and read what was inside, the vampire might have given her The Hope Diamond rather than a night for two in a whorehouse.

Buffy even began to wonder if he was right. Maybe it was her who was being uptight, or maybe it was some shard of self-respect that you lost along the way if you were ever demonised. Doubtless Xander would have something to say on the subject, but then she wasn't sure if it would help her case or destroy it.
 
 
Chapter #19 - Chapter 2.06
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.


SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])



Chapter 2.06
Friday, May 17th, 2002

"Here, pet," Spike told Anya as he passed the former demon a towel.

"I'm not finished yet, Spike." She indicated the coffee cups that remained in the sink.

"Please, for chrissake, at some point today, will one of you women just for once do something when I ask without makin' a bloody great palaver about it?"

Anya snatched the towel, and dried off her hands. "There's no need to snap at me just because you and Buffy have had a fight."

"I'm sorry, pet. It's just been one of those days and it's not half past seven, yet."

"So, what's so important that you had to interrupt my washing up? It really won't look good if there are dirty dishes lying around when Dawn's caseworker gets here."

"I'll give you a hand with them in a minute. I just wanted to talk to you before them three fill all the boxes we've got and head back down here."

"So talk."

"Well, it's like this, we've got this wedding gift, and it's kind of a couple thing, for the night of the wedding, but Buffy has different ideas about what we should be doing, so basically, since it's non-refundable, and you an' Harris seem to be the only other bona fide couple we know. I wondered if you two might want it instead."

"What are we talking about?"

Spike pulled a thick cream coloured envelope from the back pocket of his jeans.

Anya turned it over in her hands admiring the quality of the writing paper and noting the lack of name or address on the front before she slid a nail under the edge of the flap.

"Can I?" She hesitated to rip into the pristine packaging.

"Go right ahead, love. No one else is going to be opening it."

"So how do you know what's in it if you haven't already opened it?"

"Covering letter."

Anya couldn't contain her curiosity any longer and ripped into the envelope. The contract she found inside was several pages thick, but the front page told her all she needed to know. The remaining pages were just a series of schedules, translating the plain English of the front page into the sort of legalese that eliminated any loopholes. Her eyes lit up and a massive smile appeared on her face.

"Are you sure you don't want this?" Anya asked.

"I'm sure Buffy doesn't an' I'm damned if I'm goin' to spend our wedding night without her."

"But-."

"Look, she's made her opinion abundantly clear. Now, do you and your considerably less appealing other half have a use for it, or should I just use it for kindling the next time we want a fire in the dining room?"

"Well, if it's going to waste. I mean, if you're sure, but it just seems like this..." She peered at the almost indistinguishable signature at the bottom of the contract. "This L. Hood seems to have gone to an awful lot of trouble over everything. Take the champagne they've ordered for you. I know you're a beer and bourbon guy, but that is the good stuff and a very good year. You wouldn't get much change out of three hundred dollars a bottle. And all the other little extras."

"I know what it says, pet. That's why I don't want it to go to waste."

"Don't you think, maybe you should give it back to this L. Hood, then?"

"Look, he won't be going anywhere near the place. You can take it from me. Please, will you just take the damn thing? I never want to see it or hear about it again. Okay?"

"You're really sure?"

The vampire pulled his lighter from his pocket and flipped it open, turning the wheel against the flint to produce a blue-yellow flame.

"Either you take it, or I set fire to it. You choose."

Anya pulled the pages in towards her body in a defensive gesture. "Alright, then, Mr Grumpy Pants, consider it taken."

Spike flicked his lighter closed and returned it to his pocket. "Right then, just stick it in your bag or your coat or somewhere and just don't mention it again. I'll get the rest of these, if you want to go see how they're doing upstairs."

"You know it won't get any better if you avoid her."

"Yeah, well, at least there's less chance of makin' it worse."








"Tara?" Dawn stopped packing the contents of the bookcase into one of the few strong boxes that they had. "Why would Willow have books down the back of the bookcase so that you would have to take all the other books off the shelf to get at them?" Flicking through the pages of the book the teenager gave a sigh of comprehension before continuing.

"It's okay, it's just early porn. Bondage and stuff, and big groups."

Buffy reached over her sister's shoulder, having re-entered the room silently, and pulled the book from her hands. "Since when did bondage include pulling someone's heart out of their body?"

"Is that what that is? Isn't that too low?"

"No, see you go in under the ribcage and then reach up. It's way easier than carrying round rib spreaders all the time. And you probably didn't need or want to know that."

Buffy passed the book to Tara. "So, is this just gross or is it dangerous?"

Tara began to flip from page to page, skimming the text and occasionally pausing to look at some of the illustrations before she laid it on the floor.

"Well, there's only one good reason I can think of for keeping a book like this, and that's the argument about knowing your enemy. What that doesn't explain is why she'd hide it. But it kind of figures. If she had the book with the summoning in, then she was going to have others." The Wiccan looked disappointed but resigned.

"So what do we do with it? Just pretend we didn't see it? Pack it away with all the others? Or do we burn it or something or give it to Giles or Wesley?"

"I'd give it to Giles," Anya offered from the doorway as she arrived from downstairs. "He did pay for it, after all... And probably most of her thaumaturgical collection."

"You mean you sold it to her and then billed Giles? How long has that been going on?" Buffy asked amazed.

"Oh, since he went away that time and she conjured up Olaf, trying to make that ball of sunshine of hers."

"So you're telling me Willow hasn't paid for anything from The Magic Box-."

"Since Giles bought it, basically."

"But when we cleared everything out there were hundreds of dollars worth of magic books alone."

"A couple of thousand, actually. Magic books don't run cheap. It's kind of a specialised market."

"But isn't that sort of like she's been stealing from him for years?"

"Well, that's what I said, but I detailed everything for Giles in his profit share statements and he's never queried anything. I assume he must be claiming it back from the Council, but I don't know for certain. It could just be that the only numbers he understands are the ones in the Dewey Decimal system."

"Wait a minute!" Dawn interrupted. "You're telling me that I had to work to pay off all that junk I stole, and Willow's been ripping you off ten times worse for years, and you've known about it."

"Well at first, when Giles got back from England, he said it was okay. Anything she wanted that was to help Buffy could come out of his share of the profits as goods for own use. Then, once that was established, everything she wanted turned out to be to help Buffy and the price tags just got gradually bigger and bigger, but that quartz was excessive even for her. If I had known where he was staying I would have called Giles to ask him about that one, but he hadn't booked anywhere when he was at the shop."

"That is so unfair," Dawn protested.

"Yes," Buffy stopped her before she could say too much. "But Willow at least technically had permission to take things, whereas you didn't. Anya would have been within her rights to have you prosecuted, so you were lucky."

"Guys?" Tara interrupted. "I think the point is what we should do with these books."

"Well, I could go through them and the rest of her magic stuff and put to one side the things that Giles paid for and then he can decide what to do with them. I know personally that I will feel much safer when these things are restored to more responsible hands."

Buffy looked vaguely uncomfortable, but she didn't see what other options she had. "Do it. We'll bring the other boxes across from Spike's apartment later and you can check through them."

"Does that mean we can have Kokopelli back, too?" Dawn asked, receiving a nod from her sister in reply.

Anya began to sift through the box that Dawn had just packed, removing several items that had escaped the earlier magical clear out. She was still in the middle of doing this when Tara had to make her excuses. "Look, I'm going to have to go and get ready for class."

"Sure. You're meeting Wes back here?" Buffy asked.

"That's the plan."

"Well, I guess we'll see you later. Do you have to go as well, Anya?"

"Oh no. I told Giles yesterday that I was taking a day off. This will be the first time in months, well, except for the two weddings, that I haven't had to work a six-day week. Of course, I was thinking more along the lines of a manicure and a facial, but they can wait."

Tara hovered in the doorway before she left. "Willow used to keep all her magic stuff in the top couple of drawers of the dresser. You might want to check there, but then most of it should have been cleared out."

Buffy gave her a reassuring smile. "We'll have it all sorted before you get back."








"Anything to take downstairs, yet?" Spike asked when he could no longer find anything downstairs to legitimately occupy his time. The kitchen and living room were spotless, ready for this afternoon's visit. He'd taken the dog out for a walk. Though he knew that at some point soon a trip to the mall was called for to pick up some puppy essentials, food in particular, he couldn't stall any longer.

"There's a couple of boxes, but you'll have to hold them underneath when you pick them up in case they give way." Buffy's voice was tentative, unsure of what sort of response she was going to get but the vampire kept his response neutral.

"Right. Guess I best take them one at a time, then."

He stooped to pick up the first of the boxes and found himself looking into Buffy's eyes as he straightened up again. "I'll get the other one," the slayer said as she picked it up.

Spike raised his eyes heavenward at the prospect of the argument being renewed, but didn't make any further comment as he headed downstairs, Buffy following on behind. With the boxes deposited on the porch, Buffy reached out a hand to the vampire, to prevent him going back in.

Her grip faltered as she became aware of the enormous well of pain that the vampire seemed to be carrying round with him, mixed with a streak of anger she was sure was aimed at her. Her hesitation only lasted a fraction of a second.

"Tell me what's wrong... please."

Spike's mouth opened and then closed just as decisively before he finally spoke. "It'll just wind up in another fight. Leave it, pet."

"I can't leave it. I can feel what it's doing to you. And you should be able to tell that not being right with you makes me miserable."

"How the hell am I meant to feel?"

"I just don't get what I'm supposed to have done. I'm the one who should be going round feeling sorry for myself, not you."

"I am not feeling sorry for myself. Hurt? Yeah. Betrayed? A bit. Mad? More than a bit, but nothing that isn't natural when you find out you're engaged to somebody who thinks you're some totally insensitive, incompetent, idiotic bastard and you're too much love's bitch to even call her on it, because you know that'll just start a whole new fight."

"I've never said that I thought you were insensitive... or any of the rest."

"No, you just explained to me what our wedding night should be like as if you were talking to a retarded three-year-old. Aside from one word, that you seem to have an unreasonable fixation on, have I ever given you any reason at all to think that I wanted our wedding day to be anything other than the most perfect day of your god damned life up until that point?"

"Well, no."

"Then, why the hell would you assume that I would turn our wedding night into some bloody perverted circus act?"

"Because you seem to have a taste for perverted circus acts." Buffy answered sounding considerably less sure of herself than she had previously. "You're the one that mentioned a trapeze."

"Not for the wedding night, I didn't, and for your information the whole swing thing doesn't make that much difference for blokes. It's the women who get the bloody benefit so I really couldn't give a toss if you never find out."

"Now, I know that's not true. You get off more on getting me off than you do on getting off yourself."

"Well, right now, this minute, it feels true." Even as he finished speaking Buffy could feel the last of his anger dissipate as if it had never been.

"I'm sorry." Buffy leant in to place a gentle kiss on his lips.

"I'm sorry, too. I guess it was a stupid idea."

"Tell me about it." Buffy asked him, pulling him down to sit the low wall that edged the porch.

"Not much point. Already gave it to demon bint."

Buffy's hand reached up to stroke his face. "Tell me, anyway"

"What do you want to know?"

"Well, how about you start with where we leave the reception and just tell me how you thought things might go."

"That would kind of depend on you, love."

"You start things off. I'll fill you in on what I think as we go along."

"Well, were you planning on having a separate going away outfit or are you still wearing your wedding dress?"

"Wedding dress. Definitely."

"Well in that case I would have to carry you out to the car, so that you didn't get your pretty dress dirty. An' then I guess the next bit depends on what you want to be doing for the rest of the honeymoon. I guess if you want to fly somewhere we'd get a limo, but if we're going to do the sort of touring thing and take the car, then I suppose I'd be driving."

"Don't know yet. Assume you're driving, but I'll be lying against you with your arm around me, like when we went to the beach." She matched her movements to her words so that she had to tilt her head back to see his face.

"Okay, so I'll ask you whether you want to take the coast road or the freeway."

Buffy seemed to consider for a while. "Coast road. We're in no hurry. We've got our whole lives together."

"So, two or three hours later we arrive in LA. Are you going to be all sleepy?"

"Well, I would be normally, but this whole day's just been unreal and I'm still buzzing."

"Okay, so we pull up in front of this building, and I haven't actually been there so I'm kind of fuzzy on the description, but it's sort of old, twenties, Art Deco, but well kept up. Maybe a bit like Angel's place could be if they hadn't kept the same wallpaper and carpets for fifty years. Now, we have to ring a bell to get in. There's a sign on the front door. It says they're closed for a private party, but we ignore it.

So, someone opens the door. It's the owner. She's kind of attractive for an older woman and pretty glamorous, but I couldn't care less because I've got all the woman I want right beside me. There's a guy there as well, and as soon as he takes our bags, I pick you up in my arms and I carry you upstairs when the owner shows us to our room. I don't put you down until she opens up the room for us and I've carried you across the threshold.

There's a big old-fashioned bed and it's got rose petals all over it. Not red ones, but white because that's for purity, and for all I'm not, the way I feel about you is. There are a couple of bouquets of white roses in the room, too.

There's an ice bucket beside the bed with two bottles of champagne waiting for us and a couple of crystal champagne flutes.

There's some food laid out on the dresser, strawberries and some other fruit, stuff that won't go off, if you just fancy a snack. You can have almost anything you fancy though, because the kitchens are fully staffed, all just waiting for you to call and tell them what you want, just in case maybe you were too nervous to eat properly through the day. And that's all good. At least I'm hoping you think it's good."

"It sounds like heaven."

"But that's not what makes it special, because all that you could get in a good hotel. What makes it really special is the fact that the room's enchanted. Whether it's a matter of perception or whether it really does, time seems to flow more slowly when you're in this room. Every smile, every glance, every kiss, every sip of the very fine champagne, it all seems to last so much longer. It's the only place like it on the Western Seaboard and for that one night, it's ours to share... or it would have been." The vampire's voice was wistful and Buffy could see the tension in his jaw as he gazed off into the distance, with his mind clearly on what might have been.

Tears had welled up in Buffy's eyes as she listened to this vampire that so many would say could know nothing about love.

"I'm so sorry," she told him.

"Doesn't matter. Like I said, most of it you can get at any decent hotel. If you're lucky you can even get a sea-view as well."

"I don't want a sea-view. I want the perfect night that my perfect husband-to-be planned for us." She reached under the heavy sweater that she wore to protect against the early morning chill and pulled a familiar envelope from where it was tucked in the waistband of her jeans. "I want this. Exactly how you planned it."

"So you'd already read it then? That's why you came to make up?"

"No, I admit I got a hint as to just how extravagant it was when Anya borrowed a calculator and went into the bathroom and came out shaking, and started trying to give it back to me. I don't know what the figure she came to was, but enough to send her into shock at the idea of that you might really burn it."

"Guess I should have known if anyone was going to know how much those compensation payments came to, it'd be Anya. What with her former calling, I guess she'd be familiar with those places."

"Compensation payments?"

"Loss of earnings for the girls, disruption to trade for the house, after all it's not good for business to turn people away and I'm informed Saturday nights are generally busy."

"Oh! ...Anyway, I didn't look. I wanted to hear it from you. So, will you take me?"

"Anywhere you want to go, love. Anywhere you want to go."
 
 
Chapter #20 - Chapter 2.07
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support. Thanks also to Lori for stepping in again when I started to panic because of delays in reaching Chris. Of course, Murphy's Law being what it is they both replied within a minute of each other.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.07
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Tara looked at the meagre pile of trash bags and boxes that were arrayed on the front porch of the house. Considering that Willow had lived there for almost a year, she really didn't have much that was her own. Or was it that she was prepared to let whoever was around her provide for her? The Wiccan chided herself for the ungracious thought.

She caught sight of a corner of fabric peeking out of the top of one of the bags and picked it up, carrying it back into the house. She had felt when she moved out before that it would have been petty to strip the comforter that she'd brought from her original dorm room from the bed. She had been moving into single accommodation. Now that she would be in need of double bedding again, it wasn't like she could afford to simply replace it.

Her mother's will had provided a small trust fund that was helping to pay her way through college, but it only went so far and, unlike Willow, Tara was going to be left with some hefty loans to pay off by the time she finished college. Her father had made it clear that he didn't hold with wasting money on a college education when she would be getting married soon enough. Until then, there was work enough around the house that needed doing, or so he had asserted.

She'd packed her things and left anyway. He hadn't bothered to stop her. Tara was sure it was because he thought she would be forced to go crawling back sooner or later. After the revelations of her twentieth birthday Tara had known that, come what may, she would never go back to the town where she'd been born and raised, or any other town like it.

She opened up the front door and called out to let the others know she was there, before her eye was caught by an array of items that were spread out on the stairs.

"We're in here!" Dawn called back from the living room, where she and Anya were sorting through the contents of a couple of cardboard boxes that Spike and Buffy had brought from his apartment.

"Buffy's." The girl pulled out a couple of candles from one of the boxes and added them to one of several rapidly growing piles.

Anya on the other hand sorted through a stack of books she had next to her. "Giles, Giles, Giles, pre-Giles, Giles, pre-Giles, present from Tara, Giles, Giles, Giles."

"What's with all the stuff on the stairs?" Tara asked, putting her bags down on the floor.

"It's for you. In case you leave before Buffy and Spike get back." Dawn answered, leaving Tara almost more puzzled by her explanation than the lack of one.

Spotting her confusion, Dawn continued. "Spike says he can't have anyone being a bad influence on me and riding a motorcycle without wearing the proper gear. This from the guy who refuses to wear a helmet. He said, since me and Buffy were a couple of stick figures, you wouldn't be able to borrow our leathers but that our 'heads were likely big enough' that you might be able to borrow one of our helmets.

Anyway, he left his duster for you to try, and the biker's jacket and the other helmet are Brandon's. I checked with him. He's cool if you need to borrow anything of his. Spike had them in the trunk of the car from when he picked them up from The Bronze. Basically, help yourself to whatever fits best, and if neither of the jackets fit, Spike left two hundred and fifty bucks for Wes to take you to the bike shop before you head to LA. And he said to make sure you knew that he'd 'have your guts for garters', if you dared go any further than the bike shop without proper gear. And what the heck does that actually mean? Are garters something else in England or is he really threatening to use your insides for women's underwear? 'Cause the idea of Spike in stockings and a garter belt is just weird, even if they are made of entrails, and he couldn't make Buffy wear them, well, not ones made from anyone's guts.

Anyway... Congratulations! I think you've officially joined the ranks of 'Spike's women'. Prepare to be harassed at frequent intervals by an over-protective vamp."

Tara shook her head. "No, I'm sure it's just like he said. He doesn't want to have me setting a bad example for you... And I couldn't take his money anyway."

Dawn tossed her hair. "Yeah, right. He went out... without... his... duster... Spike. Outside. No duster. Think about it. On the off-chance that it might fit you better than Brandon's jacket.

You might as well just go and change your name by deed poll to either Summers or Giles, because like it or not, I'd say you've been adopted... sis."

Tara opened her mouth to argue, but realised there really wasn't much she could say. Instead, she moved onto the next most obvious question. "So where are Spike and Buffy?"

Dawn gave an evil smirk. "At the mall. Shopping for Rogue. Come see the stuff I picked out for her on the store's web site. Good job we never got round to shifting Spike's PC to his apartment. I wish I could've gone with them, but Buffy said resting did not mean going to the mall. I mean she had me helping clear Willow's stuff out all morning, but I suppose it means I get out of carrying, but I wish I could see Spike's face."

"Em, weren't they worried that Willow might turn up when they were gone?"

"Phht!" Anya's snort of derision was loud and clear. "That would mean she would have to do something for herself. Why would she do that when she can rant at Xander for half an hour about not telling her about the curse and then turn round and get him to borrow one of the vans from work and move her in his lunch hour? ...Which he could have spent with me, on my day off." Then the former demon seemed to calm down slightly. "But he did tell her that he wasn't coming to get her last night, and he said she couldn't stay with us, not that any of you aren't welcome to stay at our apartment any time you need to, just not to move in."

"And they took the dog?" Tara asked.

"Well, Buffy said it was the only way that they'd find out how much they should be feeding her, and it'd be easier to pick a basket and stuff.

Oh, and this is for you." Dawn picked up the front one of three almost identical envelopes that were propped up on the mantelpiece. "They came in this morning's mail. Oh, Spike's fake papers came earlier, too. It's so not fair. He even looks cute on his passport photos."








"The pet store is that way," Buffy said, tugging at Spike's arm. "Even the dog knows where it's going better than you."

"We've got somewhere else to go first. Trust me. That bitch of Finn's made my girl feel like a freak. We're going to get her something that'll make her feel like she's a girl again, and a damn special one at that."

"And the puppy doesn't tell her she's special?"

"Well, she needs a necklace and some earrings to go with that dress you bought her, and a purse." Spike pulled up in front of a jeweller's store that Buffy had never even dared to set foot in and began to peruse the window display. Within seconds he had seen what he wanted.

"Those." He pointed at a simple set of diamond studs in a cylindrical white gold setting that came with a matching pendant. "What do you think?"

"They're beautiful. She'll love them."

Spike could feel the smallest hint of disappointment that Buffy was unable to contain emanating from his mate, even though she was happy for her sister.

"Look, love, another time I'll get you somethin' real nice. I promise. I know it's kind of crass bringing you here to help me pick this sort of stuff for your sister and I wouldn't normally do it without getting' you somethin' as well. It would just sort of defeat the purpose of the exercise if the Niblet ended up feelin' like she got the consolation prize."

"It's fine, Spike. Really. Besides, I think maybe you just found my 'something borrowed'."

"You're sure?"

She stood on tiptoe to kiss his lips as his answer, letting him feel how much she loved his concern and thoughtfulness regarding her sister. "I think it's a great idea, not that extravagant gifts are going to cut it on their own. It's going to take time and patience, but I think it's a nice touch."

"What about a watch? Does she have a proper watch? She can't be wearin' some stupid Swatch thing with that dress."

Buffy smiled. "Mom had one that'll fit with them, a vintage one, with marcasite around the face and on the band. So, if you want to spoil her then just admit it. Don't blame the dress."

"Well, she'd probably like the idea of having something of Joyce's."

"And I just happen to have this diamanté purse back at home."

"So, if we get those, then she's sorted."

"If that means that she'll have everything that she needs, then yeah. Come on, or Willow and Xander will be turning up before we get back. And if Dawn keeps running that smart mouth of hers, then Willow will probably turn her into a toad or something."

The disdainful looks, that most of the assistants gave the blonde duo as they walked into the shop with their chained mongrel, lasted right up until the point where they caught a glimpse of the ring that Buffy was wearing. By then the blond vamp had already decided that the young girl who had actually made an effort to greet them as they entered the store would be the recipient of any commission that was to be made on the sale. He stated what he wanted, making it patently clear from his description of the pieces in question that he knew at least as much about their business as the sombre-suited salesmen.

"Perhaps the lady would like to try them on before you buy them," one of the suits asked ingratiatingly whilst the girl was busy removing the jewellery from the window, obviously hoping to share in the sale.

"The lady probably would, but seein' as the lady in question doesn't happen to be here, then it'd be a bit difficult now, wouldn't it?" Spike practically snarled at the suddenly obliging man. "Now, if you'd be so kind as to excuse us, Miss Seymour was attending to our needs, and will be attending to all our future needs for as long as she continues to be employed here."

He smiled sweetly at Buffy. "You know, pet," he continued loudly enough for the staff to hear. "We're really supposed to buy gifts for all the bridesmaids, too. I don't suppose we have time today, but maybe we should check what days next week Miss Seymour will be here."

By the time the pair left five minutes later, Buffy was having a hard time restraining her giggles. "You are such an inverted snob," she accused the vampire.

"Well. Snotty buggers assumed that just because we haven't got a proper lead for our mutt an' we're wearin' jeans instead of Armani crap that we've got no money and don't know our arse from our elbow. Sod them. Least the bint was willing to speak to us before she saw what was on your left hand."

"So are we really going back next week?"

"Don't see why not. Do you?"








"So we tell her it's out of stock."

"She'll never believe you."

"I am not going to be seen walking the mutt when it's wearing that." The vampire picked up a glittery purple dog collar, holding it at arm's length as if he could catch something from it. "All the other dogs'll laugh at her, never mind if I meet another vamp."

"So buy both and swap when you take her out." Buffy passed him a heavy black leather collar with shiny studs and a nameplate after checking its size in comparison with the dog's neck. "I like it actually."

"You would." Spike tossed the purple collar into the bottom of their shopping cart, nudging a sack of dried kibble so that it fell over on top of it. He swiftly added a proper choke chain and also a black extendable lead for once the puppy was better trained. The cart was overflowing and Buffy thought that it would take both their supernatural strengths to get everything back to the car in one trip. "An' try an' keep the mutt away from the trolley. At least let us get the stuff through the till before she chews it."

Spike managed to stop complaining for a full ten yards. "Where's that book?" the vampire asked. Buffy pulled a volume entitled 'So you own a puppy' from the front end of the cart and flicked to the page listing all the paraphernalia necessary for a young dog, ticking off the various items that filled the cart. All that was left was to visit the engraving bar and get a couple of tags and the collar done. "An' no, before you ask, we're not getting' the ones that are shaped like a bone."

Buffy simply smiled at the vamp's brusque act as he felt his manly image was under threat. "Actually, I was going to ask what name we should put on the tags. Summers 'cause it's Dawn's or Giles 'cause we'll be the ones paying all the bills? Or both?"

The vampire had to deliberately force down the grin that decorated his face at Buffy's casual use of the pronoun 'we' in relation to his new name.

"If it'll fit, you might as well stick Maclay on there as well, pet. Way I see it, there might be three names, but it's one family. Was thinkin' you might want to look at doin' the same with the mailbox as well. Sort of let people know where things stand."

"Let Tara know where she stands, you mean?"

"That too."

"Ah! 'These are my women. Mess with them and deal with me.'"

"Anything wrong with that?"

"I prefer 'This is our family. Mess with one, deal with us all.'"

"So you're saying you want Bit and Glinda getting pulled into our fights?"

"Okay. 'This is our family. Mess with them, deal with us.'" Buffy's eyes sparkled with laughter. She couldn't help it. A weaker woman might have felt overpowered by the protectiveness that Spike displayed. She knew that while the vampire's nature made him assume the role of patriarch, if it were necessary, or even if she simply wanted it that way, he'd follow her lead instead. It didn't threaten her or stifle her as she'd occasionally felt stifled by Angel. It comforted her and gave her a security she hadn't felt since her mom first became seriously ill.

"Too right." Spike leaned forward as Buffy smiled up at him. Only his lips touched hers, but she felt a series of tremors pass through her whole body at the emotion that lingering, tender touch managed to convey. Likewise, Spike would never admit it, but when they parted, his grip on the shopping cart was playing no small part in hiding his own unsteadiness.








Tara looked at the other two women dubiously.

"You look good. You know, I don't know why I never realised that you and Spike are the same height," Dawn admitted.

"It's one of those personality things." Anya announced. "Spike is always trying to overcome his basic insecurities with the whole bravado thing, and he does have charisma to spare, so he comes across as being larger than life. Whereas Tara chooses to be pretty quiet. Then, there's the whole male personal space being bigger than women's personal spaces. It's all just psychology. You do know that for the era he was brought up in, Spike would actually have been quite tall. Angel on the other hand would have been a massive freak. It's only really after the Second World War with the improvements in nutrition over the last few decades that the average height has risen considerably. And of course Tara does wear slightly higher heels."

"So you're saying Spike isn't really a short-ass?" Dawn asked.

"Even up to about a decade ago, he would have been classed as average height. It's just one of those things about being over a century old."

"What if said heels catch in the hem?" Tara tried to shift the conversation back onto its original subject. "He'd kill me if I rip it."

"You have his keys. Why not take his hog for a spin round the block and see?" Dawn suggested. "If you think there's a problem, there's always the money, and since I can hear Spike's pile of junk pulling in, I think you'll be leaving with one or the other."

Anya squinted against the late-morning sun to make out the shape of Xander's car parked in the driveway. "Oh crap! That isn't Spike and Buffy. That's Xander and it looks like he's driving Miss Daisy."

The two women who were sitting on the floor sifted through the last few items in the boxes somewhat faster than they had been doing and then began to heap Anya's 'pre-Giles' pile into one of the boxes. In just a handful of seconds the last of Willow's things were ready. Tara meanwhile made a quick check to ensure that the bag she had brought in didn't have anything of Willow's in it.

Dawn rose to her feet. "I'll take it." She stooped to pick up the box.

"No, Dawn. I'll do it." Tara insisted, taking it from her. "If resting doesn't include going to the mall, it certainly doesn't include getting in an argument with a potentially unstable and very powerful witch."

Dawn let Tara take the box, but when the honey blonde exited the front door the teenager was straight behind her and Anya right behind that.

"Shouldn't you still be at work, honeylamb?" she asked her husband. Dawn meanwhile was trying her best to see if that thing about looks killing was another one of those things that worked differently on the Hellmouth. Willow meanwhile was only interested in Tara.

"Well, I got to feeling kind of guilty about last night, and I took the rest of the day off. I figured even if we had to make a couple of trips by car rather than just one with the van, since there wouldn't be any furniture or anything, it wouldn't be a problem, and then we could help Willow set up."

"We?" Anya asked.

"What?" the man asked obviously confused.

"You said we could help Willow set up?"

"Well, I figured you've got the day off too and you said that moving was a friend thing."

"Yes, Xander, but I don't count people who treat me and my loved ones as if our lives are theirs to manipulate and who have a reckless disregard for the safety of those around them, not to mention the rest of the world, as my friend."

"Ahn." Xander moved forward and took Anya by the elbow drawing her toward the side of the house.

"You're not helping her, you know," his wife informed him.

"That's the whole point. No one is helping her. Everyone is treating her like she did something unforgivable. Don't you think that curse of Evie's is punishment enough?"

"Xander, she did do something unforgivable. Do you know how unpredictable these time spells can be? Don't you understand chaos theory? Once you take time back even a few minutes there are so many things, tiny little details that can change and affect thousands, millions of people's lives that you just don't do it without good reason."

"And Dawn isn't good reason?"

"No one person would ever be good reason. And I'm talking about minutes, she wanted days. She's like a toddler playing with a nuclear bomb.

She's manipulated you into helping her even though you know you've had too much time off work lately. Your boss is going to start thinking you're undependable and you won't get that promotion you wanted and it'll be her fault. She uses people and even if she's using psychology to do it rather than magic it'll still be picked up by the curse. The effect might not be so profound but it will still be there. The more you let her manipulate you, the worse you're making her because as long as you let her get away with it she'll keep doing it."

"Anya, Willow is my friend. I am going to help her, even if you won't. End of story."

"Fine. But are you helping her because she's your friend, or because she made you feel guilty?"

"What sort of question is that?"

"The sort of question a wife asks when she sees her husband being taken advantage of, when she's worried about him being hurt, and when she knows that he'll go ahead anyway whatever she thinks." Anya turned and went into the house through the nearby back door closing it firmly behind her.








"You know, at first when Buffy got together with Spike I was a bit worried, but she seemed happy, so I left it." Willow addressed her softly spoken words only to Tara, ignoring the teenager who stood beside the blonde on the porch.

"Then, there was all the trouble with Xander. Next thing I know, Spike's turned you all against me. Don't you see, because we're her oldest friends he thinks we're a threat and he's trying to cut us out of the picture? As soon as he thinks you're a threat, you'll be gone, too."

"Willow, don't." Tara's voice was firm.

"I'm just trying to explain."

"No, Willow. You're trying to shift the blame. You aren't a threat to his relationship with Buffy. Even before they made the claim you could see it in their auras. They belong together and if you or Xander choose not to see that, all you will do is drive a wedge between you and Buffy. If Spike has influenced Buffy in this at all, he's done it with her interests and Dawn's in mind."

"And yours. I see Buffy wasn't the only one to get a new leather coat."

Dawn could contain herself no longer. Tara wasn't going to resolve anything with the former redhead today and the teenager felt she was due her say. "That is so much B.S. Are you really deluding yourself that there's some sort of conspiracy against you, or are you just feeding Xander that line so he keeps thinking you're the same poor, little, victimised Willow that he knew in first grade? Spike has never been anything but fair to you. Well, not for years anyway.

The only reason you don't get it is that you've never cared more about anybody else in your entire life than you care about yourself. If Spike treats Tara like she's family, it's because she is. He knows she loves me and Buffy just as much as if we were blood-related. He knows that she'll be there for us when we need her because that's what family does. That's enough for him to give part of his heart to her. He would have done the same for you, but not only were you too busy with your little power trip to notice that anyone else might be in trouble, you put the rest of us in danger. He knows that Willow's first priority is always Willow.

You never had a real family and you don't understand the concept. Families are meant to look after each other, even when it's hard for them. From what I heard, you tried to say that you wanted to do that spell to save me from what happened. If you really cared about me then you wouldn't have been trying to undo it, you would have been trying to help me get over it, and not with magic or quick fixes, but with long-term support and long-term care. You just didn't want to be looking at me and still feeling guilty tomorrow, never mind years from now. Not that you'd remember to be guilty for long. When you broke my arm, as soon as my cast came off, you thought everything between us should be back to normal. The minute there wasn't a physical reminder of how you hurt me I was supposed to be being petty not to welcome you with open arms.

You didn't get that you betrayed our trust, and just when we were thinking maybe we could begin to trust you, you did it again. I'm not talking about all this 'end of the world' messing with time, either. You used black magic. You knew if Tara found out it would break her heart and you did it anyway. You hurt my family. You saved Brandon, and I guess I should thank you for that, and I would, if it wasn't for the fact it was your arrogance that got him shot in the first place.

The blame for all this lies squarely on your own shoulders and if I hear you or even hear of you trying to say that it's Spike's fault ever again, I will make sure that Buffy knows that as far as I am concerned, you are never to set foot in this house."
 
 
Chapter #21 - Chapter 2.08
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.08
Friday, May 17th, 2002

“Bollocks!” The vampire balanced on one leg in the middle of the still mostly empty parking lot, bringing his other knee up so that he could rest the dog basket that was filled with dried kibble and canned dog food on his thigh. This freed one hand to try to pry his phone out of his now rather awkward to reach front jeans pocket. Just as he managed to locate the object of his search, the technological wonder stopped ringing.

“Serves you right for wearing pants that are so tight,” Buffy told him. “Who was it?”

Spike checked the missed calls option and shook his head. “New one on me. Leastways, it’s not in the directory. Prob’ly some telemarketing git. An’ you’ve never complained ‘bout the pants before.”

Buffy leaned back slightly to catch an appreciative glimpse of vampire butt. “Not complaining now, either,” she teased. Just then, Buffy’s phone began to ring. “Or not a telemarketer,” she added. Somehow her struggle to cope with the carriers filled with the remaining purchases and Rogue herself, on her new choke chain was far less amusing than Spike’s one-legged balancing act. Spike had refused to take the dog while he was using the orbs. He said that the original chain they had used was so short, Rogue couldn’t really pull too far or loosen the chain around her neck very much. With the longer chain he was aware that too sharp a jerk, especially with more than vampire strength, might actually injure the dog, which rather neatly left Buffy to keep her under control. Again, by the time Buffy managed to retrieve her cell, the caller had rung off.

“It’s Clem. He’s using one of the cells we got in LA. That’s why you didn’t recognise the number. We still need to program all the new ones into your phone.”

“Let’s get this stuff back to the car before we ring him back. He’s probably just checkin’ numbers for tomorrow night. Lily’ll be goin’ into overdrive in preparation.”

The pair had just settled into the front seats of the DeSoto and Spike actually had his phone in his hand when it rang again.

“Clem, mate. Good job we weren’t doin’ anything that needed peace and quiet. What’s up?” The vampire’s face took on a more serious expression. “Human?” he asked.

After another couple of seconds, Spike took the phone from his ear and turned to Buffy. “Anya reckoned Red an’ Harris wouldn’t be comin’ till after half twelve, right?”

“That’s what she said,” Buffy sounded slightly puzzled.

Spike shifted the cell back into position. “Yeah, Clem? We’re comin’ over there now. Talk to Dave ourselves. Thanks for the heads up.”

“Dave?” Buffy asked as Spike started up the car and swung it from the lot with a screech of tyres, sending Rogue sliding along the back seat.

“Manager at that bar I took you to. The one where you met Clem. Turns out Wrinkly decided to keep out the way of the women by spending the next couple of days over there, which is lucky for us, because now we know that there’s some new wanker in town who seems to think we’re his business.”

“We? As in the two of us? Or as in the Scoobies?”

“As in the two of us.”

“So, what did Dave tell him? Who is he?”

“Human or at least he looks and smells that way. Not of the normal ethnic persuasion for Sunnyhell. Other than that, I guess we’ll find out when we get there and talk to Dave.”










“So what’s this guy look like?”

Dave shrugged as he poured a brace of tequila to go with Clem’s beer. Putting the bottle down he raised his right hand to indicate a height a few inches taller than Spike and then held both hands apart at shoulder height to give an idea of build.

“Black,” Spike kicked Buffy as gently as he could on the shin, as soon as he saw her mouth begin to open. Dave continued, oblivious to the hour-long lecture on political correctness he had just escaped. “Bald, late twentiesss, early thirtiesss, earring, attitude.” The bartender’s forked tongue gave him a slight lisp, but it wasn’t like anyone was going to call him on it. The demon seemed to consider. “You want a drink for the dog?”

“Not if you’re talking about a swap,” the vampire replied, “but I don’t suppose a half pint of beer’ll do it any harm.”

“Spike!”

“What? The guy’s got to make a livin’. The dog’s takin’ up space in his pub. It’s not unreasonable to expect it to drink.” Spike tossed a generous bundle of notes on the bar. “Get yourself one as well. So when was this?”

The barman paused again. “Tuesssday.”

“An’ when he was askin’ ‘bout us. What exactly did he say?”

The barman looked uncomfortable and developed an undue concentration on Rogue’s beer which he was in the process of pouring as he spoke. “Sssaid he was lookin’ for the Ssslayer and her pet vampire.”

A muscle ticked in Spike’s jaw. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before, or wouldn’t hear again.

“So what did you tell him?”

“Asked him if thisss looked like a place the Ssslayer would hang out.”

“And what did our friend have to say to that?”

This time the barman gave a hurried glance at Buffy before jerking his head to indicate he wanted to speak to the vampire on his own.

When Spike finally made it back to where Buffy and Clem were waiting, he paused just long enough to knock back one of the two tequila shots and pass the other to Buffy. “Drink up, pet. We’ve got another bar to go to.”








“So, what did he say?”

“You don’t want to know, pet.”

“Yes, I do. I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t.”

“Okay, you want to know, but I’m damned if I’m going to tell you. Joyce would’ve been lookin’ out her axe if she heard me use language like that in front of you. Let’s just say that when I catch up with the guy he’s going to have a messy meeting with my fists.”

“And that’s as much as you’re going to tell me.”

“Except for the fact that we’re going to go look for that wanker that got chucked out the poker game that night you were here.”

“Okay, I’ll go for the diversion," Buffy conceded. "Why?”

“Because after Dave fobbed the guy off as best he could, certain others were seen having a lengthy discussion with him.”

“And you think we’re going to find him where?”

“Well, if he isn’t here, that leaves Willy’s and a couple of other less salubrious establishments where I wouldn’t take a lady to check out,” Spike replied without taking his eyes off the road.

“Isn’t it kind of early to assume that he’s started drinking for the day?”

“If he was just likely to be drinking, then, yeah. What you’re failing to take into account is that a dealer goes where his market is.”

“And what does he deal in?” Buffy inquired.

“Anything and everything he can get his hands on and in this case I suspect it was information.”

“You didn’t mention this before.”

Spike's left eyebrow lifted a fraction. “As I recall I introduced the whole bunch as lowlifes.”

“Yeah, I remember and then you brought one of them to my birthday party and he turned out to be one of the good guys.”

“So… I guess in Clem’s case I exaggerated," Spike admitted, "but it doesn’t make it any less true ‘bout the rest of them.”








The occupants of Willy’s fell silent as the blonde pair made their entrance, this time without the pooch in tow. If there was going to be a fight, then a dog tangling round their legs was going to be nothing but a nuisance. Spike might not be happy about the risk to the DeSoto’s upholstery, but that was something he was going to have to live with, or not. It was the fact that the demon tried to get out in those first few seconds that gave him away. Everyone else had frozen in place when the duo entered, knowing that their arrival meant trouble for someone.

Spike was across the room in a fraction of a second. The demon’s feet left the floor as Spike picked him up by the scruff of the neck and slammed him face first into the back door of the bar.

“Was that what you were looking for?” he asked as he rammed the craggy faced demon again and again into the metal reinforced wood.

“You shouldn’t -.”

“Shouldn’t what?” Buffy asked, joining him. “Shouldn’t peel your face a bit at a time as if it were an incredibly ugly artichoke until you tell him what he wants to know? I think he should. Seems to me you should just about be softened up ready for the peeling.”

“Dave’s. Tuesday. You were seen talking to a big black guy who’d been asking about us. I want to know what you told him,” Spike informed the demon, as yellowish green ichor oozed from between the plates which made up the dealer’s face.

“Didn’t tell him nothin’,” the demon slurred.

“You know, when Pinocchio lied, his nose got bigger. I guess this works in reverse… Can I?” Buffy asked.

Spike took a firm grip on either side of the demon’s head. “Go ahead, pet.”

As the Slayer’s hand reached out toward the most central of the chitinous protrusions that made up the demon’s face he suddenly found a streak of previously unknown loquaciousness.

“I just told him what any demon in town could have told him. Mostly it was just a case of confirmation.”

“Like what?”

“About the chip. How you’ve been batting for the wrong side, so that between the people you pissed off when you had a pair, and the demons who don’t appreciate traitorous little bastards, there’s no one left save her who’d have anything to do with you. That for the last few months you’ve had her scent all over you. That maybe some time last century you might have been the slayer of slayers, but now you’re just her fuck-toy. And you’re easy meat for any human that wants you. And believe me, this guy wants you.”

Buffy punched him so hard that the armoured plate on his nose actually cracked in two and fell off, but she grazed her knuckles at the same time. It was probably the fact that Spike was instantly more concerned about her than their ugly friend that saved the demon from a broken neck.

As Spike released the demon to check on her hand, Buffy gently placed a hand on his chest to stop him coming closer. “In a minute, Spike. I’ve got something I want to make very clear to this guy, and to anybody else who might have anything to say on the subject.” Buffy’s voice rose so that it could be heard by all the bar’s occupants. She held up her left hand, palm inward, so that the diamonds on her finger caught what light there was in the dingy bar.

“This tells those of you who hold with human convention that there’s a lot more between me and him than just a whole bunch of incredible sex… But seeing as most of you in here don’t hold with human convention, maybe this is something you understand a bit better.” She pulled aside her hair so that the recently renewed claim scar was in plain view. “Now, all you people had better get the picture real quick. I am his, he is mine, and anyone who messes with either one of us had better be ready for all the hurt that a master vamp and a slayer can do between them. Are we clear?”

She turned back to the demon whose offensive remarks had prompted the outburst, screwing up her face at the sight of the open sore where his nose used to be.

“That has got to hurt! I figure unless you want to hurt some more you should come up with a name and a way to get in touch with him.”

“Don’t know how to get in touch with him. Figure he’s probably checked out as much as he’s goin’ to.”

“But you do know a name…”

“Said his name was Wood, Robin Wood, like Robin Wood, Robin Wood riding through the glen, but not.”

“Believe me, this guy is not goin’ to look like Richard Greene when we’re done with him,” Spike retorted.

“When your girlfriend’s done with him, you mean.”

“Maybe, but, hell, as long as I’ve got scum like you to cope with, I can let her have the humans.” Spike rammed the demon’s head into the door one last time, only this time he didn’t make quite so much effort to hold back. There was a loud series of cracking noises, almost like the noise of someone breaking into a lobster shell and when Spike released the demon he slumped to the floor.

Spike slid an arm around Buffy’s shoulders. “Let’s go home, kitten.”








“What the hell?" the vamp spat out. "I guess nobody bothered to explain to micro-brain that it isn’t half past twelve until the big hand’s on the six and the little hand’s between twelve and one!”

Spike pulled up in front of the house, taking care not to block Xander’s car in, since he expected the carpenter to be leaving very soon. Buffy wondered why the vampire was suddenly keen to take the dog after his previous reluctance until he marched up to where Dawn and Tara were standing and turned the lead over to the teenager.

“Why don’t the two of you take the mutt inside and see if you can get her calmed down?” he asked, thereby creating the perfect excuse to get the two people he most wanted out of Willow’s way safely out of the picture, before he turned his attention to the witch.

“Just where exactly in my little speech did I lose you yesterday, Red? I thought I made it clear that I didn’t want you 'round here when you were goin’ to be upsetting Bit and Glinda. So is it that you don’t understand English or you can’t work out how to use a phone?

And you,” his gaze bored straight through Xander. “Even if she didn’t tell you that she’s not supposed to come round here without calling to make sure Glinda and Bit aren’t around, it didn’t occur to you that we would want to be here when she turned up?”

“Since when did you end up in charge, here?” Willow asked.

Buffy took her stance next to the vampire, linking her hand with his. “Since I agreed to marry him. That puts him on an equal footing with me, and so far, he hasn’t said anything I’ve got a problem with. Your things are all on the porch. If you find there’s anything missing when you get where you’re going you can give us a list, but as far as all the stuff from the shop is concerned, if Giles paid for it, it’s his and it’ll be returned to him. For now, I’d like the keys to our home back.”

“Buffy?” Xander tried to intercede. “Isn’t that kinda harsh? Don’t you think she should at least get to pack her own stuff?”

“What the hell do you think we’ve been doin’ here all mornin’, you stupid wanker?” Spike exploded. “That is it.” He waved an arm toward the bags and boxes on the porch. “Now, just take it, and get the damn crone the hell away from Bit and Glinda.” Spike picked up a nearby box and shoved it into Xander’s arms.

“Or you’ll what, Fangless?”

“Or I’ll build a bloody bonfire on the front lawn and burn the whole bloody lot.”

“Xander…” the witch tried to get her friend’s attention, but he was only interested in Spike.

“You and what army?”

“If there’s only you tryin’ to stop me it won’t take an army.”

“Xander!” Willow’s voice rose in volume. “Spike isn’t chipped any more.”

“I can stop you … Huh?” The brunette spun to face his childhood friend, dropping the box he carried with a crash as he turned to stare at her. “What the frick did you just say?”

“I said Spike isn’t chipped any more. He hurt Sam and his chip didn’t go off. You know he bit Buffy.”

“But-but that was just. I mean, endorphins, ‘cause it... If it had… he would.”

“What? If the chip was gone I would have killed you all in your sleep, already? Yeah, right. Some of you ain’t worth the effort. And some of the rest I even like.”

“But, you knew.” The carpenter stared at Willow. “You knew and you didn’t tell me.”

“I only found out on Wednesday.”

“This is Friday, Will. Anya’s been in that house with him all morning. Buffy and Dawn and Tara are all living in that house with him. How could you keep this from me?”

Buffy slapped the near hysterical man, finally getting him to shut up. “We didn’t tell anyone. I made a decision that it was something I preferred to be kept secret, and, given your reaction, it would seem that I was right about the fact that if we told you all you would broadcast it loud and clear for Riley, the Initiative and whoever else might be eavesdropping to hear. Congratulations. You’ve just put my family’s lives in more danger than they already were.”

“I’ve put your family in danger. What about the fact that Dawn’s sharing a house with an unfettered murderer? What about the fact that that’s my wife in there?”

“Get this straight, Xander. One thing I would never compromise on is the safety of my friends and family. I know that Spike is not a danger to the people around him, but if you keep pushing this, I wouldn’t blame him if he felt compelled to kick your ass and I might even be inclined to help.

Take Willow and her things and go, and before you come back, just get your head around this concept. I would never have agreed to marry Spike if I hadn’t believed that with or without the chip, I could trust him.”

Buffy turned to Willow and held out her hand. “Keys?” She waited until the other woman pulled her keys, still on Joyce’s key-ring, from her pocket and passed them over. Then, she tugged at the arm of her vampire. “Come on, fang boy. It’s nearly lunchtime and there’s a puppy in there that hasn’t had its breakfast, yet. We better unpack the car.”
 
 
Chapter #22 - Chapter 2.09
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])








Chapter 2.09
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Xander took a couple of seconds to use his cell phone before he found himself following the heavily laden blondes through the back door of the house. Spike didn't say anything when he noticed the man following them, but he made sure that the door was shut and locked behind him so that Willow didn't follow him in.

Anya looked up from her spot on the sofa as her husband entered. "I've said my piece, Xander. I'm not getting in the car with that woman, so you might as well go. I'll make my own way home later."

"Anya, you have to come with me. You're not safe here. None of you." He looked round at Dawn and Tara. Obviously Buffy was a lost cause and way too strong for him to manhandle, but he had to get the others out of there before something awful happened.

"We have another apocalypse? Are Riley and his friends going to come back?" Anya asked.

"No, but that thing," he said nodding at Spike, "is back to his old self."

"Really?" Anya turned to ask Spike. "You're back to the killing?" She sounded no more than mildly curious. "I mean you wouldn't want to kill me, would you? And if you hadn't wanted to keep Xander safe for me, you wouldn't have given him those orbs, even if Giles said that you had to keep them now, you wouldn't have given them to him in the first place, if you wanted him dead, would you?"

"No, pet. I prefer the world when you're in it and happy. Might wish you'd found somebody better than this wanker to make you happy, but unless you were to ask me, or he lays hand on any of my women again, I wouldn't hurt either of you."

"So why do you want to take me away?" she asked her husband.

At this point the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," Tara said as she headed for the door, opening it to admit Wesley.

Anya used this interlude to quietly question Spike. "You'd really hurt Xander for me if I asked you to?"

"Hell, pet, the state the bugger had you in that last time, I'd've beaten him bloody, chip or no chip, if you'd asked me to."

"Well, thank you. If Xander ever shows the bad judgement to leave me again, I may take you up on the offer."

Xander simply stared back and forth between the pair as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Wesley, you're a watcher. Tell them they have to get out of the house. They can't stay here, not with him. He'll kill them all."

"Who?" the watcher asked calmly, trying to make sense of the younger man's apparent ravings.

"Who do you think? How many ravening vampires do we have around here?"

Wes looked over to where Spike stood on the borderline between the kitchen and living room, his arms around Buffy's shoulders as he pressed a kiss to her hair, trying to calm the small woman as she seemed almost ready to explode.

"None," the watcher answered, entirely unruffled by the question.

"But he's not chipped any more!" the carpenter insisted.

"Well, I had surmised as much when Lindsey put him in charge of the attack on the hotel. It hardly made any sense if he was going to collapse in pain the first time he hit someone and Lindsey has never been stupid. Then, when Buffy sent him to deal with Sam, that confirmed it."

Tara nodded, as if to indicate that she had come to the same conclusion. Spike caught her eye and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and gave him an encouraging smile in return.

"Am I the only one here that hasn't checked his brains at the door?" Xander demanded, looking round the room. "Dawnie, you must see that you can't stay here?"

"Why? Now Spike can protect us all from humans, same as he could from demons. That makes us even safer than we were before." The teenager moved to link her arm through the vampire's. "Did you get the collar I wanted for the poor little puppy that Xander's best friend Willow was going to kill, Spike?"

The vampire nodded but his eyes did not leave Xander's face. "Course we did, sweet thing."

Xander noted that said puppy was also standing just to one side of the group, lip curled back at the outsider's hostility to her new people. "I don't believe you guys."

"And I don't believe you," Buffy finally intervened. "You've had your little rant. No one, I'm glad to say, is interested. Perhaps, now you would stop insulting my fiancé and my hospitality. You came here for Willow's things. They're on the porch. Take them and go."

"Buff, are you throwing me out of here?"

"I told you to think about things before you came back here. Instead you charge in here and make doubly sure that if the eavesdroppers couldn't hear you from the garden then they would hear you in here. You act like a total..." Buffy paused.

"Arsehole? Fuckwit? Wanker?" Spike gave her a few suggestions.

"All of the above, and then you act surprised that I don't want you in my home? Just when did you get the impression that the title friend gave you the right to treat me, my home and my loved ones with disrespect? When you can be civil, when you're ready to apologise, then you can come back."

"Look, Buffy, I'm sorry if I upset you-."

Buffy cut him off. "When you're ready to apologise to Spike, Xander. To me is good, too, but Spike's the important part."

"No way. That guy is death on legs and when he kills you all it won't make me happy, but I will say I told you so."

"Fine, but you won't say it here. Get out."

"Anya?" Xander turned to his wife.

"I'll see you back at home, Xander. You choose your friends. I choose mine. Spike was the only one who really stood by me when you walked out on me and assuming I'm still welcome here, I'd just as soon stay around."

"You're always welcome," Buffy told the woman in a gentle voice. "And thank you."

Xander looked round the room filled with determined faces and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. His reinforcements would be here soon. For now, he would gather Willow's things and wait.

"Fine, I'll see myself out."

When he left he couldn't resist slamming the door violently. He was surprised to find the porch clear, the bags and boxes all packed and Willow waiting in the front passenger seat of his car.

"What the? I mean I know there wasn't much, but?"

Willow wiggled her fingers as if that were answer enough.

"Will, should you be doing that? Curse an' all?"

"It's not black magic. It's just convenient."

"Isn't that meant to be the point? That you're using magic to suit you rather than when you should?"

"So now you're a magic expert? Are you going to tell me what I'm doing wrong, now? How I'm supposed to be a danger to everyone?"

"Willow, will you just be quiet? We have more to worry about than your bruised ego. All the people in that house, in this town, even, could be in danger. You know what Spike was like before he got the chip. How on earth could you leave me out of the loop on this for two days?"

"Anywhere I've seen you have been all the places we think they had bugged."

"And you didn't think that it was more important? You didn't think that it might be a good idea if maybe Riley and his people did know? That maybe they should come in there and drag that bleach-blond freak out into the sun without his precious orbs?"

Willow opened her mouth to tell her friend what he wanted to hear. He was the only one who had stood by her. If she admitted now that the real reason she hadn't told anyone about Spike's confidence was that she really didn't believe the vampire was a danger to anyone then Xander would turn against her like all the others,

"Xander..." She hesitated briefly. "He won't hurt anyone. I know you don't want to believe it, but..."

"I thought you said it was Spike that caused all the ruckus. I thought you-."

"I was mad at how things turned out, okay. I was mad that he tried to warn me away from people I care about, but that doesn't mean I think he would kill again. He... after he saw Dawnie, if he didn't kill Sam, then he won't kill anyone."

"Will, are you really telling me that you trust that killer?"

"Enough to sleep in the same house as him, knowing that the chip was gone," Wilow admitted.

Xander could only sit and stare before he rested his head on the steering wheel to await Giles' arrival.








Spike looked on while Dawn put the purple collar on the puppy, who was too interested in her kibble to realise what a heinous fashion crime was being perpetrated against her. "I was dealing with it," Dawn pouted.

"And if your big sis had heard half of what I heard you say as we were pulling up I don't know whether she'd hug you or ground you," Spike told the girl. "I'm going to go with the first one. C'mere, you."

The teenager moved into his open arms. "So why'd you send me inside? I can cut it." She looked up into his face as she protested. "I'm not twelve any more."

"Pet, it's nothing to do with what age you are. You want the truth, if Red put her mind to it there isn't a one of us she couldn't wipe the floor with. Not as I really think she would, not deliberately, but when people are hurtin' sometimes they do things they wouldn't otherwise. So indulge me, huh?"

"So I'm supposed to hide because you're a wuss?"

"When it comes to my girls gettin' hurt? Yeah."

"And I'm your girl?"

"You know it, love. So, how did you sleep last night?"

"You mean did the Olympic sex games keep me awake?"

"'Mongst other things."

"I don't think I'd have slept much, anyway."

Spike took the youngster's chin gently in his hands and turned her head until she could see his face. "You do know that you're way more important to us than... well... You know that whatever we might be doin' we'd come runnin' if you wanted us."

"It's okay. I figured you two could use some alone time and I thought Tara might be glad of someone to talk to for a bit, which she was, so..."

"Well thanks for the consideration, Niblet, but just remember you're our priority. Okay? If the only way you can get a decent might's sleep is sharing with us..."

Dawn made a face at the vampire, her eyes gleaming wickedly. "As if I'd have been able to sleep between those sheets!"

"We could've come an' messed up your bed."

"Gross. You and Buffy are not doing anything in my bed. If anyone is going to make my bed all wet and sticky, it'll be me."

"Better bloody not. I smell anythin' in that room that I shouldn't be smellin' an' lover boy'll be goin' home with a knot tied in it. An' as for makin' the bed wet an' sticky, that damn dog of yours drools in her sleep."

"Thought she was supposed to be sleeping in the bathroom."

"She was until your sister decided to open the connecting door. Then, the mutt decided it was sleeping with us. I suppose I should just be thankful at least she didn't crap in the bed."

Spike grabbed one of the kitchen stools and pushed another toward Dawn. "You talked to your big sis about taking young Mikey with you tomorrow, yet? Come to that, d'you even know how much his dad's told him? Does he even know that demons exist?"

"No, no, and I don't think so."

"But you think he'll cope?"

"I'm hoping. I thought, maybe, if he comes over tonight, if you need to help me prove the point, you could flash a little fang. That way he's got a day to think about it and take in everything before he meets the others."

"Well, I guess it makes sense, unless you wanted to wait till after the dance in case he gets cold feet."

Dawn gave a little smile and shook her head. "He won't."

"You seem mighty sure about that. You best go find your sister, then, run your plan by her and tell her you're goin' to need some jewellery to show off that dress before next Friday. See if she can come up with anythin'. I think she mentioned some watch of Joyce's."

"What about you?" Dawn asked.

"I'll be through in a bit, when I've cleared this lot up." Spike indicated the various bandages, Band-Aids and ointments scattered around. As soon as Xander had been expelled from the house Spike had applied his efforts to tending to Buffy's grazed hand and then the renewal of the dressing on Dawn's thigh and a check on the cuts on her feet. Then, he'd found time to feed the dog.








"Let's just go," Tara decided. "I don't know what they're up to or what they're waiting for, but I don't see why we should change our plans."

"Are you sure?" Buffy asked the girl.

"Sure. Besides, Wes'll protect me, won't you?"

"Protect you from what?" Dawn asked joining the huddle at the front door. She stood on tiptoe to peer through the distorting glass panes. "What are they still doing here? You don't think they're going to hang around until the caseworker gets here and cause trouble? That's our driveway, right? If they don't go, we can get the police to come and take them away for trespassing or something? Buffy? I want to stay with you and Spike and Tara. Make them go away."

"Dawnie, I don't know. It seems like if we go out there and tell them we want them gone before the caseworker gets here, then, if it turns out that's not what they're waiting for, we've just given them the perfect ammunition."

"I'll go," Anya offered. "I shall tell Xander that Dawn finds his continued presence upsetting and request that he leave immediately."

Just then a very tired, hot and rumple-suited Giles jogged into view, one hand clutching at his side as if he had a stitch. He didn't even see the two people sitting in the car in the driveway, he ran straight to the front door, which Buffy pulled open when he was about two feet away, so that when the man looked up he found five people looking back at him from the doorway.

Spike came sauntering through from the kitchen to join the group. "Afternoon, Rupes. Nice of you to drop by, saves me from ringing you later. Are you available to go for a fitting for your suit tomorrow morning? ...Shit, love. We didn't ring Marie last night. She's goin' to think the vicar said no."

"You're all alive?" Giles asked.

"Ye-e-es," Buffy answered, unsure why he might think that they wouldn't be.

"And well?"

"Aside from Dawnie's bits and pieces and some grazed knuckles I picked up from a demon's face this morning. Any reason why we shouldn't be?"

Xander by this point had left his car and joined Giles on the doorstep.

"You said something terrible had happened and that I needed to get here right away."

"It has. Spike's not chipped anymore."

Giles pulled his glasses off and turned on the young man. "You are aware of the fact that I don't have a car at the moment."

"Well, I knew, but until I saw you running up the street I kinda forgot," Xander admitted sheepishly.

"And you just thought it would be an amusing pastime to see if you could make me have a coronary. I thought they were in real danger, not just something your fevered brain came up with."

"But it is."

"Xander, surely even you must have realised that Spike has changed over the last few years? If Buffy chooses to put her faith in him, knowing him more intimately than any of us could ever hope to, or even want to, then, we must simply trust her judgement.

For heavens sake, just grow up and let the past go. We don't have time for you creating scares where there are none. This is the Hellmouth. There's quite enough genuine mayhem."

"Actually, real scares too. Creepy guy asking round in demon bars about me and Spike. Of course, I don't know what he actually said as Spike thinks it's inappropriate for a lady's ears, but I get the impression that we're at the top of this guy's hate parade. And the only advantage we did have was the fact that he thought Spike was chipped. So I guess it depends who sent him whether he heard Xander's little hissy fit or not."

"It was not-." Xander tried to deny the infantile nature of his outburst, but caved at the glowers from Buffy, Dawn and Anya and a knowing smirk from Spike.

"I don't care any more, Xander. It's over half an hour since I asked you to leave and you're still parked in our driveway. Why is that?"

"Well, Giles..."

"Giles is a guest. Giles is welcome to stay. You know the conditions you have to meet before the same can be said for you. Dawn is supposed to be resting. You and Willow being around is making her tense. She can't rest when she's tense. Go away." Taking Giles by the arm and drawing him into the house, she let Dawn get the door. The teenager slammed it just as loudly as Xander had when he left, this time it closed about six inches from his face.

"Wes, before you go, since Giles is here, we may as well go through this once rather than twice, just in case either of you recognise the name or the description or anything," Buffy suggested.

"If it's a single man, it's unlikely he's actually a Council operative, but I wouldn't put it past them to employ a freelance or point a loose cannon in your general direction."

"He's Council alright," Spike interrupted. "One way or another. He's got to be. Who else but that bunch of wankers, no offence, would talk about slayers betraying their mission?"

"Is that what you wouldn't tell me?"

"That, pet, is about as much as I could repeat of what he said."

"It does sound fairly watchery. I mean uptight Travers watchery, not rebel watchers watchery..." Buffy's voice faded away.

"You said you had a name and a description?" Giles queried.

"Black bloke, maybe Wes's build or just a bit broader in the shoulder. We've got a name. If it's real his parents must have been either a right pair of sadists or a couple of morons," Spike gave his opinion.

"Just tell us, Spike," the elder watcher responded wearily.

"Robin Wood," Buffy answered. "Mean anything to anybody?"

"Oh dear lord!"

"Care to enlighten us, Wes?" Buffy asked as everyone turned to stare at the man.

"I'm only guessing, but, Spike, that second slayer you killed. Her name..."

"Was Nikki Wood," all three men chorused together, as realisation dawned.

"Spike!" Buffy's irritation was evident in her tone. "Is there anyone remotely connected to the Council whose family members you haven't killed?"
 
 
Chapter #23 - Chapter 2.10
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.


SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)

(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])



Chapter 2.10
Friday, May 17th, 2002

“Spike! Is there anyone remotely connected to the Council whose family members you haven’t killed?” Even if Buffy’s irritation hadn’t been evident in her voice, Spike would have felt it through their bond, though he took it as a good sign that she left her fingers twined with his as they sat beside each other on the sofa.

“Hey! You make it sound as if I did it with the sole intention of pissin’ you off. You weren’t even born.

She was the Slayer. I was a vampire. When one meets the other, one of them is goin’ to wind up dead. Personally, I’m rather pleased it was her an’ not me. I can understand if you an’ the watcher boys don’t exactly feel the same way but I’m not goin’ to start apologisin’ for not bein’ dust. It was a one on one fight. She was good but she lost. End of story.”

“That doesn’t help us now,” Buffy almost whined. “You know you can’t kill him?”

“Actually, I know no such thing. If it comes down to me or him or you or him, pet, don’t expect me to act all noble, ‘cause I won’t. If you want some self-sacrificing wanker, you best head down to LA.” Spike knew he had said the wrong thing as Buffy’s frustration at the situation gave way to anger toward him when he alluded to her former lover. Thankfully, she was able to pick up on his genuine contrition in the same way.

Giles sighed and interrupted before the discussion could become any more heated. “No one expects you to stand there arms akimbo and let him stake you, Spike. Buffy just means that perhaps you should show some restraint in dealing with him.”

“Look, watcher. If he comes after me, he’ll regret it, but I’ll give him one chance to walk away, on account of his mum. If he so much as touches Buffy, then all bets are off. Comprende?”

“But, Spike, it’s not like he could really hurt me.”

“No, it’s not, ‘cause like I said, you’re goin’ to be wearin’ those orbs as soon as we get rid of Mrs Social Wanker, but I know too damn well from both sides of the equation that if you beat somebody an’ let them live, that next time they just do whatever it takes to shift the odds a bit more in their favour. So, if he touches you, as far as I’m concerned, there is no second chance.”

“How about we change that to if he tries to kill me?” Buffy negotiated, knowing she had almost no hope of getting him to change his mind if he felt that her safety was at risk.

“Slim difference, pet. An’ I’ll be the one judgin’ what he’s tryin’, not you, but I’ll give you that much.

So, Rupes? I’m still waitin’ on an answer…”

“What?”

“Can you make it for a suit fitting tomorrow morning?” He turned to his two ushers. “I’ve got measurements for you two, but if either of you want to come and have a look at the fabrics and stuff, feel free.”

“Don’t I get an invite?” Buffy pouted. “Besides, maybe I’ll get him to do Rosa’s dress as well. I’ve got a perfect idea what I want. I just need someone who can make it, and if Clem’s going with you, he can bring her along. Maybe, I’ll get him to do our dresses as well, if you think he’s so good.”

“Never said you couldn’t come. Only, don’t think you’re coming with me when I go to get my hair done afterwards.”

“Why?”

“’Cause I’m not about to have you stakin’ the only hairdresser in Sunnyhell that won’t have a fit ‘cause I don’t have a reflection.”

“I thought you did your own.”

“Yeah, that’d be right. Hairdressing by Braille… though it does explain The Poof’s elegant coiffure.”

“Well…” Anya began. “I would like to go, but that wouldn’t leave anyone to mind the shop.”

Wes rolled his eyes. “I’ll do it.”

Anya looked suspicious. “But I thought you hated working in the shop.”

“I did. But I’m sure I can manage to fill in for an hour or two. And with a decent night’s sleep, I’m sure I can even smile pleasantly at the customers.”

“Alright, then.” Spike seemed to assume that this settled the matter. “Everyone as is coming and Wes, meet at the shop at half ten tomorrow morning and don’t wear shoes that you ain’t goin’ to want to go through drains in.”

“Aren’t you taking Mr Wood’s presence in Sunnydale rather lightly?” Giles asked.

“I don’t take anyone as might be a threat to my girls lightly,” Spike answered. “An’ once that woman from Social Services has been an’ gone, I’ll be seein’ if I can come up with any more info on our newest inconvenience, but we’ve still got a wedding to organise, an’ less than two months to do it. And a certain someone would be right pissed off with me if I didn’t sort out my end of the arrangements, which includes seeing to our suits and Glinda an’ Anya’s outfits.”

Buffy smiled and snuggled half an inch closer on the sofa, even though their thighs had already been touching, knowing that Spike would do whatever it took to see she had her perfect day.

“Yes, well. Let me know if your ‘research’ throws up any new information. In the meantime, I’d best get back to The Magic Box.”

Spike took pity on the watcher after his earlier dishevelled appearance. “I’ll drop you off.”

“We really should be heading off, as well,” Wesley added, looking across at Tara.

Anya, who by now had heard about Wes’s new address, volunteered. “Maybe if you left your keys, I could tidy up a bit for you. I really shouldn’t be here when Dawn’s case worker arrives, anyway.”

“If you’re sure?” Wes seemed surprised by the offer but readily handed over the keys.

“You help with the shop, we help out with your house,” the former demon replied.







“Spit it out, then, watcher.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do. You’re itching for it.” The vampire did a fair approximation of the watcher’s rich tones. “If you don’t justify the faith that she has put in you I will find you and make sure you die a slow lingering death. If you ever make her regret that she agreed to marry you I will introduce the colonials to Bonfire Night with you as Guy Fawkes. If you so much as leave the top off the toothpaste I will douse you in holy water. Just get it over an’ done with, an’ then we can get to the bit about you leavin’ her in the lurch.”

“That wasn’t precisely the chat I had in mind.” Giles pulled his glasses off to polish them.

“But it came close enough that we can take it as read?”

“I suppose so, but don’t assume I’m not serious about this.”

“Everybody’s serious about it, but I reckon Glinda’s the one that actually has me worried.”

“Really?” the watcher asked curiously. “Why’s that?”

“Well, figure I’m more worried about bits droppin’ off than I am about a good old fashioned stakin’. Anyway, you, I figure, are pushin’ it with the fatherly concern considerin’ how you upped an’ left her. You know when she got word back that they weren’t goin’ to take her back at that crappy college, she had no one she could talk to about it. No one. Just bottled it all up inside for months, ‘cause even though Giles would understand he told her to stand on her own two feet. Have you any idea how bloody alone she was when you buggered off?

Harris tryin’ to work out just how he could screw up worse than his father. Demon bint too busy with her wedding plans to notice if the bloody Chippendales were strippin’ off in front of her. Red either mopin’ or whacked out from whatever she was up to at Rack’s. Glinda out of the picture because she couldn’t be ‘round Red. An’ the last person she could let know how bad things were was the Niblet.”

“And just where did you fit in to all this?”

“I didn’t. We started something and we had totally different expectations as to what it was and where we wanted it to go. So I guess I ended up being another problem… for a while. But that’s not the point.

What I’m getting at is, more than the bloody Atlantic, you put up emotional barriers between the pair of you an’ unless you do something about it, that girl will never tell you again when she’s really hurtin’. An’ just in case somethin’ does happen to me, I’d kinda like to know that she’s not goin’ to be alone again.”

“I was always there at the end of a phone line if she needed to talk.”

“But you made her feel as if she was letting you down if she showed she needed you. Didn’t you get suspicious when she never had anything but good news?”

Spike sighed. “Look, she’s better now. Maybe still not quite her old self, maybe she never will be, but it’s no thanks to your sink or swim approach. She came damn near to drownin’, so maybe before you start on how I should treat her you should have a think about how you should make that up to her.”







“So, are you and Spike going to move into mom’s room until the basement is ready?” Dawn asked as the puppy scrambled onto the seat Spike had vacated so that she was within easy petting distance of both the Summers women.

“That was what I was thinking, but after our little spat this morning, I didn’t even want to ask whether he was planning on staying in the house now that Wes’ll be moving out of his apartment.” Buffy gave her sister a wry smile.

“Yeah, like you could chase him away with a flaming torch and a river full of holy water,” the teenager replied.

“Nope, but plain old know-it-all Buffy might manage the job all on her own.”

“Yeah, well she can be kinda tough to live with, but from what I overheard of this morning’s argument, I think she might have had a point, even if maybe she should have given him a chance to explain before she went ballistic.”

“So does that mean we don’t need to start moving your things, yet?” Anya asked.

“I think we just wait for Spike to come home, work out what to do about lunch and try to relax until Miss Siembeda gets here. I’d rather not be in mid move when she arrives,” Buffy admitted.

Dawn stifled a yawn. “I can live with that.” Dawn cast an appraising eye over her sister. “So you and Spike are all of the good again?”

“So long as the blond one can lay off with the Angel paranoia. Why?”

“So no more bad-mood Buffy?”

“No more bad-mood Buffy. I say again, why?”

“I just wanted to see what you thought about letting Brandon in on the whole demon, key thing.”

“Whoa there. Hold up. Those are two totally separate issues.” Buffy reacted on instinct, temporarily blindsided.

“But Lily’s invite for tomorrow is an ‘and guest’. She obviously wants me to take him, and it’s not like he hasn’t proved that he can be trusted and that well, I know it’s early days, but he does seem to care, and he sort of knows about the key thing anyway ‘cause of the whole second sight deal.”

“Dawnie, slow up. Yes, I get that Lily seems okay about you asking him, and given what his dad already knows about the demon thing, I guess it’s not like he’s a total ‘civilian’. You’re right. He’s earned a degree of trust, and as long as Lily and her family are okay about it, I guess there’s no harm in the demon telling. I’m just not so sure about this second sight, key thing. You’re going to have to spell it out for me.”

“The first time he saw me, just for a few seconds Brandon saw me as the Key, or sort of anyway. He said I looked all glowy like an angel. I feel bad about it, ‘cause he thinks it’s this whole romantic deal, but his grandfather has second sight so I figure, it isn’t and I feel like if I don’t tell him the truth then this whole thing between us is kinda based on a lie and I don’t want to be lying to him.”

Buffy frowned and pressed her teeth into her lower lip as she considered. "Let me have a while to think about it. Okay? Maybe see what Spike thinks."

"Spike said that he was okay with it, but that it was up to you. If you said no then he would totally back you up."

"But he trusts him?"

Dawn nodded solemnly. "I told him that I thought maybe we could have Brandon over tonight. It seems like if he's going to sometimes be in danger because of what I am, he should at least understand why and if he needed some convincing Spike said he would flash some fang."

"I bet he did. Leave it with me, okay?"

"Sure." Dawn answered, confident that if she gave Buffy time to consider things that she would get the answer she wanted. She'd heard her sister complain long and loud enough about Spike's ability to read people to know that she trusted his opinion.

"So, are we allowed to discuss the Key thing again? I mean..." Anya looked around the room as if searching for bugs.

Dawn smiled at the currently blonde woman's concern. "They're not hearing anything they didn't already know, believe me."

"I'll still be happier when Tara gets that spell sorted out," Buffy muttered.

"Should I go sort out some videos or something for when he gets back?" Dawn asked.

"Well, I guess that depends on how you feel about Passions." Buffy nodded towards the only tapes that were in proximity to the VCR.

Dawn rolled her eyes and paused only to call the dog from her spot on the sofa before heading upstairs.

Buffy pottered around in the kitchen for a while, putting on a fresh pot of coffee and putting together a bucket of cleaning supplies that Anya might need before she finally got the nerve to say what she wanted. "Seems like you and Xander are having a few issues. I hope we're not making things worse for you."

Anya sighed. "It's not your fault that Xander's being an ass. I love him. I do. He'll eventually come round. It's just having the patience to wait."

"And if he doesn't?"

Anya shrugged and then gave a resigned smile. "Who do you think is more stubborn out of the two of us?"

Buffy couldn't help but smile in return. "He doesn't stand a chance, does he? If you do ever want to talk, though, it's not just Spike who's here for you, you know. I'm sorry if that's how it's seemed. You've been playing a valuable part in this whole demon fighting thing for a long time, but some of us took a lot longer than we should have to see beyond the Xander's girlfriend thing. You, Tara, Riley even and then Spike, none of you really got treated as equals. For my part, I’m sorry, but I want you to know that we appreciate you for you, even if it took us a while."

Anya’s smile brightened by several watts. “Thank you, Buffy. I think that may be the nicest thing anyone other than Xander has said to me since I became human, though Spike was very comforting when Xander cast me off like an old shoe.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty good at that. It’s probably years of practice on drunken women, lulling them into a false sense of security before he lured them off to their doom… And I really wish that thought hadn’t occurred to me.”

“Local Hero, The Quiet Man, Casablanca, The Usual Suspects or The Princess Bride?” Dawn interrupted Buffy’s depressing turn of thought with a selection of videos that had all belonged to her mother.

“I don’t think I’ve seen Local Hero,” Anya offered. “Or The Quiet Man. Are they any good?”

“Em,” Buffy hesitated and drew a dirty look at her sister. “I don’t think Local Hero is exactly your sort of film.”

“What?” the teenager mouthed.

“Rabbit,” her sister mouthed in reply before continuing her conversation with Anya. “And if we put on The Quiet Man, ten to one John Wayne would be dragging his wife along the ground when the social worker arrived and we’d be accused of encouraging domestic violence.”

“Just lucky neither of you have a black eye. Or is that tempting fate the first time Spike and Giles have been left alone? Casablanca?” Dawn asked. “No one could get upset about Casablanca. Well, other than the normal multiple tissues upset.”

“Thanks for the comforting notion of my watcher and my fiancé in a battle to the death, Dawnie.”

“Think nothing of it,” the teenager responded as she flopped back onto the sofa having pushed the required tape into the VCR. “That’s what sisters are for.”

When Spike arrived back, Ilse and her husband were just making their first visit to Rick’s. “Hope you’re okay with KFC for now,” the vampire said, dumping a family bucket from the said establishment on the table before getting hold of the dog by her glittery collar and dragging her behind him as he headed for the basement with a brown paper sack tucked under his other arm.

“What’s he doing?” Dawn asked as she peered after the vampire.

Buffy smirked. “I suspect he’s making sure that this time he beats your beast to the food.”

“He wouldn’t… Okay, yes, he would, but that’s so unfair.”

“You can complain when it eats your dinner, Bit.” The vampire was back before Dawn had finished her moan. “For now, I’ll just eat my Zinger strips in peace.” He pulled a separate package from his jacket pocket, and covered the chicken pieces with chilli sauce before taking the empty spot on the sofa and tucking in. “I picked up another week’s worth of blood while I was out, but I figured best to stash it out the way in the cooler in the basement for now, just in case your woman follows you into the kitchen when you get her a drink.”

“Well,” said Anya. “I think it’s safe to say that he’s not planning on going back to his apartment any time soon.”

“What?” Spike looked to Buffy, suddenly on the defensive. “I just thought when the one watcher moved out, the other would probably move in. If there’s a problem though, I mean if you’d rather I left so the Watcher can stay here…”

Buffy would have let her touch give him his answer, if it weren’t for the teenager in the way, but Dawn answered for her before she could.

“Don’t be stupid. Why would we want you anywhere else? We just didn’t know whether to shift your stuff into mom’s room or not.”

Spike still looked to Buffy for confirmation. “What do you think?”

“I think it would be nice for us to have a bigger room, so you can have more of your things here.”

Spike looked from one Summers woman to the other. “I’ve already got everything that counts.”
 
 
Chapter #24 - Chapter 2.11
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])





Chapter 2.11
Friday, May 17th, 2002

"So have you got much stuff to pack?" Tara asked between bites of her burger. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from Wes's apartment and he had suggested they stop for something to eat before Tara began packing, while Wes went to pick up a trailer.

"I suppose that would depend on what you call a lot. I leased the apartment furnished, but you tend to accumulate quite a lot of odds and ends over three years, especially when you think you've settled."

"And I suppose if you're anything like Giles you'll have a massive amount of books?"

"It never hurts to know about what you're up against, but actually the majority of my reference books are still at the hotel. I think it may be best if I go on there alone after we've packed the apartment. It might get a little unpleasant."

"All the more reason you should have back up. Of course, it's not like I'd be much help in a fight and when it comes to magic Willow has me way outclassed, but they don't know that. And the whole moral support thing is way more important anyway... I hope."

Wes smiled at the self-effacing woman in front of him. "As you say, moral support should be all that's required."

"And if not I can manage a couple of handy spells." Tara's mouth formed an asymmetric smile that Wes could only just make out through her hair. "So what about the stuff that demon had at his shop?"

"Well, I still have the keys. I'll probably try to get the largest trailer possible and we can always fill up any space that's left with the things from there after we've got everything else, and if that plan doesn't work, I should be able to fit in another run after I've done my stint at The Magic Box tomorrow." Wes seemed to pause as he chewed on his pizza. "Actually, on second thoughts, maybe we should go to the hotel first."

"If you're expecting trouble, it could be a mistake to go when you'll be tired."

"That's settled then. We'll drop the bike at my apartment, pick up my car and then go fetch my books."








Wes pushed open the hotel door and then held it for Tara to follow him in. Somehow she found it was impossible not to 'live-up' to the coat and she moved with a confident façade that belied her normal retiring manner.

Gunn looked up from his position at the desk. "What are you doin' back here, English?"

"You know despite what your tone would tend to imply, 'English' is not actually an insult. There's no need to let your insecurities get the better of your manners. I've simply come to collect what's mine and pass on a personal message for Angel."

Wes strode toward the office that had once been his before Angel recovered from his fleeting bout of humility.

"You can't go in there. Fred's busy working on something," Gunn insisted.

"I suspect that will cease to be a problem once I get my things." Wes's gaze lingered briefly on the woman behind the desk before shifting to confirm his suspicions. All the texts which Fred was using as references were his. Leaving those aside for the moment Wes removed a stack of books from the shelves behind the girl, testing their weight before passing them to Tara. As she turned to take them to the car, he selected a slightly larger stack for himself.

"What y'all doin?" Fred asked bemused. "You can't take all our books."

Wes steeled himself not to give ground before the girl who had so callously told him not to return to the place that had been more his home than his own apartment. He rested his burden on a corner of the desk to pull a comparatively slim volume from the shelf, dropping it in front of the girl. "On the contrary I wouldn't dream of taking all your book ." The former watcher emphasised both the pronoun and the single status of the Thomas Brothers street atlas to which it referred. "I do, however, intend to leave with all of mine ."

"B-but, how're we-." The Texan flapped in the face of this news, only to be cut off by her boyfriend.

"We'll get by. We don't need nothing of his. Just let him take them and get out."

"But the translation..."

Wes looked over her shoulder. From what he could tell, for a physics major, she had done a fine job but occasional words and phrases were incorrect.

"I think you'll find that that particular passage has already been translated somewhat more accurately into just about every modern language conceivable. Unless I'm mistaken, provided your employer hasn't thrown them away you should find a copy in every bedroom in this place."

"You mean-."

"Someone is having some fun at your expense. That passage is straight out of the Bible."

Before Fred could protest or question him further he swept from the room with the first of several loads. When he and Tara returned for the second load, Wes was unsurprised to find that Gunn was nowhere to be seen. No doubt he was off in search of back up, hoping that Angel would gainsay Wes's claim to the volumes. He was doomed to disappointment. Since the demise of the original offices of Angel Investigations, Wes had had two years to rebuild the somewhat esoteric collection of reference materials. Some he had sourced from the various rare book dealers with whom he had connections, having them shipped from far and wide around the world. He had traced others through his Council contacts, following up leads from one old acquaintance to another as to which group members might have spare copies of the volumes in question. He hadn't reclaimed a penny from Angel towards their cost, a habit formed over his years with the Council when each Watcher was expected to maintain his own collection and took a certain pride in doing so.

As the witch and the watcher were leaving with their fifth and last loads, Angel finally made an appearance.

"I suppose it would be too much to expect you to leave us the reference materials we need to do our job?" the vampire asked in a none too friendly tone.

"As doing so would leave me unable to do mine, I'm rather afraid that even were I to be so inclined, it would."

"So, what job would that be? I only know one other employer in LA who would be interested in your particular skills."

"Very true, and a lucrative offer it was too, but after my recent experiences I decided that there were other factors that were more important than money. As you were quick to realise, working for someone else is less then ideal, so since I happen to be a licensed investigator, I shall be setting up in my own right."

"You're going to set up in competition?"

"And if I were?" Wes arched an eyebrow at the vampire, a gesture so reminiscent of his grandchilde that it seemed to Angel he could almost smell the younger vampire's scent in the air. Then, he realised that he could. It was there on Wes, faint but detectable, but the girl who was with him was steeped in it.

"That's Spike's coat. You're from Sunnydale. Willow's girlfriend."

"Former girlfriend, actually," Tara informed him, her stutter so inconceivable for anyone in that coat that even the touchy subject of Willow failed to make it appear. "Two out of three isn't bad." The blonde carried off the confrontation with a bravado that would have made Spike proud.

"You've been in Sunnydale. You're moving back to Sunnydale?" the vampire asked Wes incredulously.

"At Buffy's request," Wes confirmed. "It seems there are those fighting the good fight who can find use for my talents." He considered before he continued, knowing that at least initially what he had to say would be seen as sour grapes, but he felt it would be petty not to pass on a warning. "I've also been presented with an alternative view of the Powers That Be. It would seem that they aren't the benevolent masters we've been led to believe. In this particular case, I am told, Higher Powers simply means more powerful, not more enlightened or moral. The title of champion may be nothing more than a device to make you their pawn."

"You don't know anything about the Powers That Be."

"I know I believe the person who told me, but I suspect that it will be some time into the future, if ever, before you take this warning to heart."

Wes placed his stack of books on the lobby floor and pulled a small spiral notebook from his inside pocket. Tearing out several closely written pages, he passed them to Angel. "I trust you won't allow your bias toward me to prevent you from doing what is required with this information."

The vampire was about to tear the pages to shreds without even looking at them, when at a word from Tara, the air around him became incredibly dense, slowing his movements as if he moved through tar.

"Read it. It's important," she told him before turning on her heel and making her exit, followed by Wes, who only just managed to get out of view of those in the lobby before his supercilious expression gave way to an old-fashioned grin.

"You think he'll read it?" Tara asked.

Wes nodded, knowing just how sharp the vampire's hearing was. "That depends on whether he really is a champion, or whether it's all about his ego, doesn't it?"

Tara waited until the car was in motion and well away from the hotel before she asked, "So what exactly did I tell him was so important, then?"

Wes couldn't help but tip back his head and laugh.








"It was a nice apartment," Tara commented as the pair made their way to the car with the last of the things from Wes's apartment. "I hope we can get the house looking just as good for you."

"I'm sure, in time, it will." He smiled at the girl beside him. "And at least I know I get on okay with the neighbours. That has to be a major bonus."

"Well, it's not like we're in any position to complain about the biker type across the street, or the demon company he keeps," the blonde responded with a teasing lilt in her voice.

"Indeed." Wes shook his head. "I think if my father had ever thought that I'd end up in a position where demons would be rolling out the welcome wagon because I was moving in, he would have made sure I never left England."

"And if you'd known where you would be three years on?"

"It's tempting to say that I'd forego the whole LA experience, but it helped make me who I am today. I can't even honestly say that I regret doing what I did. Spike was right. I did what I thought was right based on the information that I was able to find. That's all anyone can do. I certainly don't regret the fact I've made new friends and I'm getting another chance to make a difference somewhere else. All in all, it's far healthier than hanging around here, taking the scraps of work that Angel won't or can't do. No, I think I can honestly say that given the choice I'd do it all again."

"That's got to be worth something."

"Yes, but without the welcome I've had in Sunnydale I might have had a far more bitter and pessimistic view of things." Wes closed up the trailer and waited for Tara to put her helmet on.

"I'm glad Buffy and Spike headed to LA when they did, then."

"As am I."

Wes waited until she had managed the kick-start on the heavy bike before he even thought about getting in his car to lead the way to 'Doc' Holliday's shop.








Wes looked at the mangled mess of metal that had once been a set of security shutters.

"Looters?" Tara asked, knowing even as she made her way into the barren interior of the formerly packed store that the odds were against such a thorough job being the work of amateurs.

"I can think of a couple of other possibilities that are more likely."

"You think Angel's people might have taken them?"

"It's unlikely they would think to conceal them if they had. They would probably just have left them all in the office for Fred to work her way through.

No, I'm fairly certain that it wouldn't be them. For one thing had that been the case, Angel would have been gloating that my texts were superfluous.

I'd say either there's a link between Sam and Holliday that the military has uncovered under interrogation, leading them to this place, or..." The watcher pushed the "No sale" button on the antediluvian cash register, noting that this was one area where not only were the shop's original contents intact, but there were also two additional items. Pulling out an envelope that was marked William and placing it in his inside pocket, he left the one with Angel's name where it was. "...Given the fact it would take several supernaturally strong beings to make that much of a mess of the shutters and he knew precisely where we were when he called, even before we found the little family notes, my money would have been on Lindsey."

"But why?"

"I suspect at first he was simply checking to see what had brought us here, but when he realised the mystical potential of the items here, he would be quick to appropriate anything which might allow him some sort of advantage." Wes shrugged. Maybe they could have checked back there sooner, but he couldn't help but think that given the choice between books and being there to help Dawn the other night, the girl won hands down every time.

"On the plus side, no need for a second trip now."

"Indeed. With some reorganisation we might be able to get the bike in the trailer, if you would rather come back in the car?"

The Wiccan looked at the boxes filling the front passenger seat and foot well and then glanced up at the almost cloudless early evening sky.

"Looks like the kind of day that's made for either a horse or a motorcycle to me. Besides, after loaning me his hog and his coat, I kind of feel like I owe it to Spike to make the most of them."

Wes looked at the car with its ponderous trailer and considered the not quite rush hour traffic they would have to negotiate. "You're sure you wouldn't consider a swap?" he asked.








Angel stared at the piece of paper in front of him, trying to make things make some sort of sense. He started with the notes he had made on the right hand side of the page.

Right at the top of the list in capital letters were the words "LOVE'S BITCH". As far as Angel was concerned it was well nigh impossible to dispute Spike's right to the self-proclaimed title.

Just below this, he had written "claim". A vampire claim did not of necessity preclude sexual activities with other partners. However, it did mean that since Spike had given himself over to Buffy, she would have to theoretically grant her approval for any such activity on his part and vice versa.

Third on the right hand side was simply the word "coat" though to be fair this appeared on the left hand list as well. The vampire would swear that the scent of sex, Spike and Buffy had come from the girl's very skin, and since, unknown to him, she had spent the night in the bed they had previously shared, rightly so. However, he was prepared to consider the slight possibility that his senses had been fooled because the scents were simply ingrained into the leather that she had worn.

"Buffy - bi???" was his next entry on that side of the page, closely followed by "Buffy - threesome???" And "Buffy - unfaithful???". Buffy might have changed since he and she had been lovers, but he really doubted that the changes had been significant enough to render any of these ideas as remotely plausible under normal circumstances.

Next he had written "Engagement = wedding = vow of fidelity" and below that just for good measure he had reiterated "LOVE'S BITCH."

There was one entry in the centre of the page, circled round again and again as he had contemplated all the different ways that it could potentially be significant. It read simply "Willow?"

On the left hand side of the page the word "coat" appeared again. The vampire was honestly stumped as to why this girl he had barely noticed before, except in a "Did they just say Willow's girl friend?" way, would have Spike's treasured keepsake. Unaware of its significance he had once tried to get Dru to dispose of the ancient apparel, which to a vampire's sensitive olfactory system had reeked of smoke and soot long after Dru had pulled her lover from the ruins of that church. Both Dru and Spike had been adamant that he would not under any circumstances part with it for anyone but his princess, and even then any loan was strictly temporary.

His next entry was "summer in LA". Unless it was a trophy, why would anyone alive even consider wearing a full length leather coat in this heat?

"HELLMOUTH " came next. Angel was well aware that that particular factor prevented many other ideas from being ruled out.

"Spells?" If a spell could result in Buffy trying to seduce Xander while dressed in nothing but a short coat and a pair of stilettos, then anything was possible.

This was followed up by the related comment "attitude". The girl who had arrived with Wesley seemed totally different from the one he had seen, if not actually spoken to, during her earlier visit. This seemed to make the possibility of magic being involved so much more real. Coupled with her announcement that she was no longer seeing Willow, this was doubly suspicious, considering the two had seemed almost like honeymooners in the way their eyes were drawn to each other and the simple touches and closeness they had shared scant days before.

Angel sighed. He was no nearer to discovering what lay behind this puzzle than he was to finding Cordy or Groo or even the present location of The Axis of Pythia. The difference was that he had ways to investigate this particular mystery further.

Somewhat reluctantly, he picked up the phone on his desk and dialled the number for 1630 Revello Drive.
 
 
Chapter #25 - Chapter 2.12
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])








Chapter 2.12
Friday, May 17th, 2002

"Okay, so am I imagining things or did that seem to go rather well?" Buffy asked as she and Spike stood on the front porch to wave goodbye to an apparently satisfied caseworker.

"It went fine, love."

"Maybe. Maybe she's going to go back and start a background check and then when she can't tie things up.-" Buffy couldn't believe that things had gone so smoothly and now began to panic as she dwelled on the more frightening possibilities.

"Love, she won't find anything wrong when she checks. Trust me. It's not the first time I've done this."

"Got married?"

Spike shook his head. "Changed identity, dozy. It's all taken care of."

"Sure?"

"Cross my unbeating heart."

"So what now?"

"I guess that depends on Bitlet. She looks as if she's about ready to fall asleep on her feet. Reckon if she's okay to crash out for a couple of hours we could go give demon bint a hand for a while. The estate agent might have sent someone 'round to put a new window in and reconnect the electricity this morning, but it didn't look like Cardboard's soldier boys had been busy with the housekeeping."

"Realtor, and you don't look all that well rested either."

"Well, seems like some wench kept me up most of the night and then woke me up at some ridiculous hour of the morning."

"Why don't you grab a couple of hours as well? I'll help Anya, but I think we've skipped about as many patrols as we dare, and I don't want you getting hurt because you're fighting tired."

"What about Bitty?"

"We'll wait till Tara gets back so she's not alone and get back before she goes to bed."

"Promise if there's anything you need help with, you'll fetch me." Spike couldn't deny just how tired he was and he knew it. Buffy's suggestion made sense. After this morning he wasn't going to risk another argument by refusing, especially as he suspected that Dawn might just sleep more readily if she had company.

"I promise." Buffy stretched up on tip-toe to place a chaste kiss on his lips. "I'll take the cordless over with me, just in case."

"Reminds me, I best ring Lily and see what she says about Red's half of that invite. Should I tell her we'll swing by before patrol to see Bite-size?"

Buffy smiled as she imagined the little girl's face when they asked her to be a flower girl. "Sure. We might even have time for a story, if you're lucky."

"I think you mean, if you're lucky. I don't know which one of you was more interested in Bilbo last time, you or the sprog."

"That is so not true. I mean I like hobbits as well as the next girl, but that wasn't what was keeping me so interested." Buffy's eyes gleamed as she teased him.

"Do tell, pet."

"Well, I'd consider it... if you weren't conceited enough already."

"With a girl like you, I'd say I've got reason to be." Spike drew her back into the house, his arm resting around her waist before he pulled her to him in a lingering kiss.

"Just because you're in the hall doesn't make you invisible, you know," Dawn chimed from her seat on the sofa, after she had given them a count of five to remember that she was there.

Spike raised his head and gave a sigh. "You know I loved Joyce, right, so don't take it as disrespectful if I wonder why on earth she couldn't have bought a house with a few more doors."








Spike didn't bother to head for bed when he had made his phone call to Lily. He simply got Dawn to shift forward slightly so that he could spoon against her back on the sofa as she watched The Quiet Man. Telling Dawn to go to sleep, he figured, would be counterproductive. There was far too much scope for thoughts of Sam and her ordeal to intrude as she waited for sleep to come. It was far better if she could just drift off while her thoughts were occupied by John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. So, he stroked her hair as they lay together, until her eyes drifted closed.

Buffy wasn't the least bit surprised to find that by the time she had made a thermos of coffee for her and Anya and raided the kitchen for some more rubber gloves, a couple of diet sodas and some cookies, both of them were out for the count. She pushed her swag, her cell and the cordless phone into a small backpack, dropping it by the front door before she turned back to place a kiss on the forehead of each of her loved ones, neither of whom even stirred at the caress, though the dog curled at their feet did raise a sleepy eyelid.

She made a last double check on the curtains in the room, ensuring that there were no gaps that might allow a beam of sunlight to fall on Spike as the sun shifted around while he slept. True to his word, he had insisted that she take the orbs, a situation she wasn't entirely happy with, but like Spike, she was reluctant to bring any more friction into the relationship until the backwash of this morning's events had fully dissipated. She looked at the two of them, so at peace together and wondered why she had ever thought she should keep them apart.

It took all her willpower to turn away from them, closing the front door behind her as gently as she could. Spike's eyes stayed closed, his features relaxed and stunningly beautiful, but as the door closed with a gentle click, he whispered softly, "Bye, baby."








Dusk was turning to darkness as Buffy and Anya decided that their job was done. Windows gleamed. Kitchen cupboards were scrubbed and opened up to air. Varnished floors and kitchen linoleum were mopped and waxed and the bathroom no longer looked like a grimy left over set from a horror movie. Buffy doubted the watcher would be able to move in tonight in any case without any furniture, but at least he wouldn't get four years of dust all over his things when he dropped them off.

She and Anya were just about to head back to 1630 for a well-earned shower and change of clothes. Buffy had assured Anya that her taller sibling would have no objection to lending her something. That was the point when the phone rang.

Buffy grabbed the handset from the pile of things she had emptied out of her bag. "Summers residence, well sort of." Buffy scooped the other bits and pieces back into her pack as she spoke.

When the caller made himself known, she rolled her eyes and passed the phone to Anya.

"No, dear. I won't be back for some time. Yes, I had noticed that it was dark. That happens every night after sundown. I'm sure Buffy or Spike will see that I get home safely, or Wes, if he's back by then. No, dear, Buffy's invited me to eat with them. Why don't you microwave a TV dinner or two?"

Buffy's eyes widened at that. "Two?" she mouthed.

Anya nodded in confirmation as she listened to Xander's next comment. "Honey, if you feel like that, why don't you just come over and apologise to Spike for this morning and to Dawn and Buffy for whatever got you all sappy about having lost them yesterday and I'm sure that they would invite you to dinner, too. I hear Spike is a wonderful cook."

"Well, if that's how you feel, I'll see you later. Lots- ."

Xander obviously tried to stall before Anya could hang up on him. "You don't say? An expensive looking cream envelope with the address in black fountain pen, all very ornate? You thought I would want to open it myself? That's sweet, but it's quite alright. I already know what it is. Why don't you open it and do the R.S.V.P. thing. You can call Lily and tell her that we would both be delighted to join her in welcoming Wesley to Sunnydale tomorrow evening. No, Xander, you don't have to. I suppose I can call her later, but you did promise you would go with me, wherever the next meeting was and this is pretty much a Scooby meeting with drinks and food. Willow? Well, I don't know. The envelope was addressed to both Tara and her... Hang on. Buffy's shaking her head."

"Spike called Lily and told her that they had broken up and that Tara was moving in with us and Willow was moving out, and she said if it was going to make things awkward for Tara and the rest of us that we shouldn't pass the invitation on, that she would maybe have Willow over another time to make up for it."

"You heard that? ...Fine. Xander, I haven't pushed you over any of your problems with Spike or Buffy, but if you try to pull that 'if Willow's not welcome then I'm not going' crap to cover up because you're being paranoid and racist about going to a party thrown by perfectly charming people then you will be sleeping on the sofa for at least a month. Goodbye."

With that the former demon hung up on her husband and passed the phone back to Buffy.

"You sure you can hold out that long?" Buffy asked as she slung her backpack over one shoulder and the two women made for the door. Before Buffy had even finished her question the phone began to ring again.

"Tell him his attendance tomorrow night is non-negotiable and I don't care if he's starving to death. I'll be home when I'm ready and not before and I want him to stop calling me."

"Just stop calling. If you have any sense at all you'll go tomorrow night and Anya will be home if and when she decides to come, okay?" Buffy responded, her voice raised as soon as she picked up the call. Her face blanched as she watched Anya lock up behind them.

"Oh, hi, Angel. Sorry... I thought you were Xander."

"You and Xander are fighting now?" Angel scribbled another note on his piece of paper.

"Only about the important things. To what do we owe the honour?" Buffy waited as a car made its way down the street before she and Anya crossed over.

"Oh, I just wanted to say thanks for the heads up, and see maybe if next weekend was okay for that meal Spike mentioned, and whether it would just be you two, or whether you would be bringing Dawn and Willow or any of the rest of the Sunnydale crowd down with you again?"

"There's supposed to be a meal? And well, Willow moved out this morning."

Angel made another scribble. "Spike didn't tell you? Maybe I should speak with him. I might have misunderstood."

"Em, you'll have to hold on." Buffy rummaged in her bag for her keys. "He and Dawn were sleeping when I last saw them. They were both pretty tuckered out 'cause I got them up early this morning. I don't know if they'll be awake yet?"

"Spike and Dawn are sleeping together?" Angel couldn't keep the mix of anger and surprise out of his voice any longer. "What the hell is going on up there? First there's the blonde in Spike's coat, then you tell me Willow's moved out, you're arguing with Xander, and Spike's sleeping with your sister because you woke them up early this morning?"

Buffy held the phone away from her ear with an evil grin on her face. "Anya, why don't you take the first shower? I'll be up to get those things for you in a moment."

Buffy peered through the doorway into the living room. She saw that Spike had moved and that only Dawn and Rogue remained curled up on the sofa. Making her way towards the sounds of movement coming from the kitchen, she pressed the receiver to her ear once again. "Angel, I guess Spike must have got up. There's just Dawn and the latest member of his harem all curled up together."

Spike appeared, raising an eyebrow at her words and wondering what was going on as Buffy tried desperately to stifle her giggles. She shifted over next to the blond vampire and held the receiver out so he could hear as well.

"Buffy, something is obviously going on up there. I think maybe it's some sort of spell. Just please, don't let Spike sleep with anyone else before I get there."

"Grandpa, nice to hear from you. What's up?"

"Spike? What the hell is going on with you and Willow's girlfriend? She came swanning into the hotel, like her and Wes own the place, wearing your coat and reeking of yours and Buffy's cum!"

"Well, she would do seein' as she spent last night in our bed!"

Buffy doubled over gasping for breath.

"But I think maybe you're getting' a little over excited about it, considerin' we weren't in it at the time.

Bloody good job we hadn't christened the sofa before last night or you'd have been thinking I'd buggered the watcher an' all." Buffy slid to the floor clasping her stomach.

"Then, what did Buffy mean about your harem?" the older vampire asked his still-grinning counterpart.

"I do share a house with four females, you know, the latest of which just happens to be canine before you get any more ideas."

"And the coat? You wouldn't let anyone except Dru touch the coat."

"Glinda's family. She was the closest thing Bit had to a mum while Buffy was gone. Red played house, but she never got over bein' nervous at bein' in charge. Her and Bite-Size never got close. Glinda was the one that helped the Niblet through. She could have anything of mine that she wanted that isn't already promised to a certain other blonde who is crying her eyes out on the floor here, 'cause she's laughing so hard at the very idea of me and Tinkerbell , especially seein' how in all the years I've known the witch she's never even shown the slightest sign of bein' attracted to anyone as didn't come with a pair of boobs attached."

"So she just decided she wanted to borrow your precious coat in the middle of summer for no reason and you said 'fine, pet, there you go'?"

"Would you like me to draw a diagram and email it down to you? Her and Wes took the bike so that he could bring his car back. Because she didn't have any leathers of her own, I loaned her my coat. As to her smellin' like anything else, she spent the night in Buffy's room because now that Red's been kicked out on her arse, an' I'll leave explainin' that till we're face to face otherwise you won't believe it, Buffy thought, for now, me an' her should have her mum's room. Now, did you understand that or were the words too big?"

"So Buffy was joking when she said you were sleeping with Dawn and some other woman?"

"I was curled up on the sofa giving Bit a cuddle to see if she would sleep, and when I woke up I had a soggy patch on my leg where the great drooling lump that is Bit's puppy had used me for a pillow. Does that answer your question?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Did the watcher pass on the message?"

"Yeah, he did. Thanks. I'll see to it."

"Don't think we'll be down this weekend but we should be able to swing it for next, if you want to sort out a reservation," Spike suggested.

"How many from your end?"

"Probably four."

"Lorne knows a nice place that serves demons but you might want to take the girls dress shopping first."

"Like they need an excuse? See you a week on Saturday." Spike hung up the phone and pulled a still tearful and hiccupping Slayer to her feet.

"Don't know whether to be pleased or insulted that you find the idea of me and another woman so funny," he told her as he kissed away her tears, savouring their salty flavour.

"Spike, even Angel thought if you were cheating on me it had to be because of a spell. That should tell you something.

I love that I absolutely don't have to worry about you ever doing more than look at another woman... And of course, you know if you did, I'd have to castrate you," she added with a wicked smile.








"Hey!" Tara tossed Spike's motorcycle keys to him as she stood in the doorway of the crowded living room. The vampire only just grabbed them from the air before Rogue could intercept. "I'd forgotten how much fun that could be."

"Well, you made an impression on The Poof, love. Said that you and Wes went swanning into the hotel as if you owned it. Made me feel right proud that did."

Tara's mouth quirked upwards at the corners before she looked down at her feet, embarrassed to be the centre of attention. "It's the coat. You just have to act Bad," she mumbled. Spike heard her clear enough, though.

"Can't argue with that, pet. Leastways, it always worked for me." He gave her a welcoming grin. "'S the watcher with you or did you leave him behind?"

Her eyes met his again and she smiled her lopsided smile. "Left him in the dust back in LA."

"Well, now we know why grandpa thought I'd been corruptin ' her. I guess I'll just stick the pasta on and if he doesn't show by the time it's ready we'll stick his in the oven and tell him it's 'al forno'."
 
 
Chapter #26 - Chapter 2.13
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Disclaimer: Okay, this is a little bit late, but I never said I was organised. For those of you not on the mailing list, this is to let you know that the whole Angel quandary/ phone call idea didn't come from my imagination, but from that of my beta reader t_geyer. It was her email entitled "A silly idea" that brought so many of you so much enjoyment.

 

Chapter 2.13
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Buffy was thinking that this could rapidly become one of her favourite pastimes. There was something both restful and arousing about watching Spike at work in the kitchen. His movements were so concise and efficient, not to say that they were without his usual flare, but he always seemed to be in perfect control of what was going on around him. It was a total contrast to the bombsite that the kitchen became when she endeavoured to cook.

"Earth to Buffy! Tara was trying to tell you something. if you can take your eyes off Spike long enough to notice that you're being spoken to."

"Wh-what? I was listening. I just... I mean..." Buffy stuttered in her confusion.

"She said, pet, that Doc's shop had been cleared out and that the watcher thinks my newest baby brother is responsible," Spike informed her as he brought a plate of pizza garlic bread through to deposit it on the coffee table. He snagged a single slice to munch on as he made his way back to the kitchen.

"I thought vamps and garlic weren't supposed to mix?" Tara asked a question that had been troubling her for some time.

"That does seem to be the general consensus. I mean, to a vamp, the smell can be pretty overpowerin'. Peaches used to have a fit if he smelled the stuff. Thing was, I got into all the spicy food. Chilli, curry, piri-piri, buffalo wings, you name it. Then, when I had a go at cookin' for myself, I realised that every single one had garlic in. Go figure. Never bothered me, yet."

"Wait up, galloping gourmet. Doc's shop is empty?" Buffy asked as the conversation finally permeated her Spike-addled brain.

Tara nodded. "The shutters were ripped apart and the shop was totally emptied, except for the cash register. They left it. And there were two envelopes, one marked William, which Wes has, and one marked Angel, which he left."

"What about the body and the apartment in back?" Buffy asked

"The body was gone, and they left the sort of day to day stuff, groceries, clothes and stuff, but it looked like they took any books or papers they could find."

"Guess we're goin' to manage two LA phone calls in one day then, pet."

"Why?" Buffy asked, sure from Spike's smile that there was more to the answer than just letting her ex know of the letter's existence.

"Well, if there's some nasty trick on those envelopes, I'd just as soon Peaches opened his first," Spike responded with a smirk. "We've got a guinea pig. Might as well use him."

"Spi-ike. That's..."

"Evil? Unscrupulous? Downright naughty?" The vampire cocked an eyebrow at her, his tongue running across his upper teeth before he went back to stirring the pasta sauce he was making.

"You can't set Angel up like that."

"Can't?" Spike asked in a tone that plainly wanted to know if that were a dare.

The discussion, however, was interrupted by the doorbell.

Dawn dashed for the door with Rogue following behind, barking her head off at the interruption.

"So did the- Wes manage to load everything in one trip, or is he going to have to head back up there?" Spike managed to change the topic of conversation to something more suited for general consumption before Dawn ushered in her boyfriend. Rogue immediately proceeded to try to lick the newcomer to death. Spike tossed his head in disgust at the dog's perfidy.

"One life, all packed up and space to spare."

"Hi!" the youth greeted the others in the room. "Dad's just parking the car and getting Dawn's assignments." He gave Dawn an apologetic glance. "He said he'll be in in five minutes, just that there's some guy trying to reverse a trailer into the driveway across the street and not having much luck so he's kind of blocking the road."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Glinda, can you keep an eye on everythin'? Make sure nothin' sticks, but no testing the sauce in the small pan. It's got my secret ingredient in. Me and Buffy best see if we can give our new neighbour a hand. Niblet, mind your manners and take Brandon's coat for him. We'll be back in a minute."

 




 

It didn't take long for the two superhumanly strong beings to uncouple the trailer and manhandle it to the far end of the driveway, though Buffy was more grateful than she would have liked to admit that she had the orbs. Soon, both the trailer and Wes's car were safely parked on the driveway of his new home, leaving space for Mr Michaels' pickup on the street outside Buffy's house.

Spike hung back to speak to Wesley, informing him that if he cared to leave the unpacking for an hour or two, then he would be able to eat along with everyone else and most likely get a helping hand when people were done.

Buffy meanwhile moved to intercept Mr Michaels as he climbed out of his pickup truck, offering to carry the books and papers he had with him.

"It's really good of you to come, Mr Michaels, and it's a huge help picking up Dawn's assignments and her books from her locker. Thank you."

"It's Andrew and, the way I see it, I brought Brandon here knowing it wasn't an ordinary town. I owe it to him to tell him, but it would be pretty difficult without exposing him to sensitive material. I guess with your help I can bring him up to speed without him thinking that I've gone too crazy."

"We just want Dawn to feel like she doesn't have to be ashamed of her family and their friends. She was pretty disappointed when we wouldn't let her bring him to our engagement party because some of the other guests were demons. Since then, from what we've seen, we think Brandon will probably take our friends as he finds them. We think he's earned a degree of trust, and it's not fair to him if he's going to find himself in certain situations because he's dating my sister for him not to have any understanding of what's happening. And, Dawn's got an invite to a party tomorrow night and she wants to take him. But, I guess before we get that far we get to have dinner. And by the way, I'd pass on Spike's 'special' sauce, unless you're keen on pigs' blood."

Spike gave a derisive snort and Buffy turned to find that he and Wesley were just behind them. "As if I'd offer my special recipe to just anyone. That'd be right."

"It didn't stop you getting Dawn to taste it."

"Served her right for putting extra salt in the other sauce before it had reduced down."

"I sometimes wonder which one is older, him or Dawn." Buffy commented. "Sometimes they make me feel about a thousand. You must feel the same living alone with a sixteen-year-old."

"Well, I would, if it weren't for the fact that Brandon's eighteen."

There was a sighing as Spike drew in a huge breath, but instead of bellowing like he wanted to, he exhaled again quietly. "That girl is going to be the death of me. So help me, if she knew he was three years older and didn't even tell us, I am going to..." Spike paused, his eyes looking heavenward for inspiration as his nails bit into his palms.

"Yell at her for five minutes and then end up cuddling on the back porch?" Buffy suggested.

Spike hunched his shoulders. "Probably... Come on, if we don't get back in there, Bit'll feed all the garlic bread to that bloody dog. He is in her year at school, though, right?"

"Yes," Brandon's father agreed. "What with getting dragged all over between me and his mom they ended up placing him a couple of years behind most kids his age."

"Well, at least she didn't flat out lie about it, then. That's something, I suppose."

"Spike, we're hardly in a position to complain." Buffy tried to make a case for the defence.

"No, you and his serene Angelicness were in no position to complain. We are two adults. There's a world of difference." Spike turned to Brandon's father. "Look, actually, against my better judgement, I quite like the kid, though I'd never tell him to his face. I can't say I'm happy about the age difference, but I can see that in his position it's probably difficult to find common ground with girls his own age who're looking to go off to college, but if he does anything to encourage my Bit to grow up too fast, I will tar the living daylights out of him. I'm sure you understand where I'm coming from."

"I think any father would."

"Right then. Welcome to Casa Summers." Spike pushed open the front door of the house and stepped back to let Wes and Mr Michaels through ahead of him and Buffy.

 




 

The meal passed with a nervous anticipation as everyone waited for the main entertainment for the night, or rather everyone except Brandon. Even the teenager was aware of the tension in the air, however. For once Dawn was eagerly clearing away plates, almost before people had finished with them, in her effort to have the meal over as soon as possible, only to be thwarted when Spike announced that dessert would be another ten minutes.

Finally, everyone had had their share of baked Alaska with fresh raspberries and then coffee, and Spike excused himself for long enough to top up the nicotine in his system before "the talk". Buffy helped her sister and Tara to clear the table, leaving Wes to entertain their other guests for a few minutes. When she slipped onto the porch to wrap her arms around her vampire from behind, he simply sighed and leaned into her touch.

"So, you're happy with what we all discussed earlier? No last minute second thoughts?" Spike confirmed the limits of just how much information the group were currently prepared to share with the Michaels men.

"Nope. For now, at least."

"You do know that Bitty could probably carry this off better than either of us?" 

"Rogue could probably carry it off better than either of us, but since we didn't brief Wes, we're all we've got unless you fancy making Tara do it."

"I guess not. Think she'll float a pencil or something to help make the point when we tell him about magic?" Spike threw his half-smoked cigarette across the yard and turned within the circle of Buffy's arms, a gentle hand pushing her hair back from her forehead so that he could press his lips against her temple.

"If you ask her nicely," Buffy assured him. "I think she might."

The vamp pulled back from her embrace, tilting his head to either side until his neck clicked and then he rolled his shoulders back, straightening to his full height. "Okay, love... I guess it's time to do this." He took a deep breath and made his way back through the kitchen to where their guests were now congregated in the living room, drawing Tara and Dawn from their kitchen chores en route. "The dishes will still be there in the morning, ladies. Time for Doctor Spike and his travelling medicine show. Performances twice daily, Monday through Friday and three times a day on weekends." All of a sudden the bombast of Spike at his evil best was back with a vengeance. Buffy didn't even complain as Spike lit a fresh cigarette one-handed as he swaggered into the living room with his other arm still wrapped around her shoulders.

Tara took up position in an armchair flanking the blonde couple as they took centre stage in front of the fireplace. Dawn moved Rogue out of the way so she could sit next to Brandon on the sofa.

"Alright, kiddies. Time for show and tell. Who here believes in magic, real magic not David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy bullshit?"

Tara tentatively raised her hand, Dawn raised the hand that wasn't attached to one of Brandon's like an arrow, Wes raised a casual forearm from the arm of his armchair and Anya nodded her head emphatically. Brandon looked around the occupants of the room as if they had all sprouted extra heads, finally turning to where his father sat beside him.

Spike gave Mr Michaels a sardonic glance. "Guess you didn't tell him what happened while he was unconscious at the hospital, then?"

Mr Michaels tilted his head on one side, raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "He thought he must have got hit on the head and imagined being shot. I couldn't really come up with a better explanation. I guess later tonight I'll tell him the truth." Brandon looked at his father as if he were speaking some strange foreign language.

"But I did get hit on the head. I have the lump. What's going on here?"

"I guess we have a sceptic in the house, so maybe it's time for a little history lesson. This little burg wasn't always known as Sunnydale. The first settlers here were Spanish. They called it Boca del Infierno. How's your Spanish, Brandon? You know what that means?" The vampire raised a questioning eyebrow.

"The Mouth of Hell?" the teenager asked, still unsure where this was going.

"Well, I guess the education system isn't totally up shit creek. So, back in the day the locals called this place the mouth of hell. These days the Anglos stick a pretty name on it, and try to pretend they don't know what happens here. Sunnydale, sounds like some nice leafy meadow where it only rains if the people living there give their permission, but there are some of us who remember the real name, some of us know that the forces of magic, good and evil, are stronger here than almost anywhere else on the planet.

Glinda, care to give our guest a demonstration? Doesn't have to be big or flash, just a little something he can't explain away."

Tara shrugged and levitated an ashtray from a side table to hover in mid-air by Spike's hand. The vampire's cheek muscles tightened on one side as his eyes gleamed with amusement at the witch's choice of demonstration. He moved his cigarette to his mouth drawing deeply on it and incidentally freeing his hand to take the ashtray from the air and place it within easy reach on the mantelpiece. He drew the cigarette from his mouth and flicked the sizeable quantity of ash that had accumulated at its tip into the receptacle. "Thanks, pet, couldn't drop ash on Joyce's rugs."

Brandon looked from Tara to the vampire, and then at all the faces around the room, seeing that he and his father were the only people in the room who didn't seem to regard floating ashtrays as a run of the mill part of life.

"I think we finally have his attention, Niblet. Better hold on tight to that hand of his or he might be about to make a run for it.

"See, the thing is, it's not just magic that's stronger. There's an energy to the Hellmouth. It draws to it those demons and creatures of the night who have evil in their blood. I mean, compared with humans there really aren't that many demons in the world. Some of them live in seclusion in the forests, in the mountains, in the seas where they don't have to deal with the ever-spreading tide of humanity. These guys, they don't bother anybody. They live their lives and some of them probably have never even heard of the Hellmouth.

No, the ones who come here are the vampires an' the other evil bastards, the ones who want to open up the Hellmouth and destroy the world. You don't find too many friendly demons in Sunnydale. To most of them, human equals food or prey of one type or another..." He let his gaze travel slowly up Buffy's body. "Or most humans. Wes, I think this would be your cue. You know the speech we're lookin' for."

Wes gave a sardonic smile at being drawn into the carnival, but at the same time the speech was one he had learned by heart in childhood and never yet had the opportunity to use. He didn't so much speak the words as orate, but his amusement at Spike's overblown production number never left his eyes.

"Into each generation a slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil."

Spike took a last draw on his cigarette as the watcher spoke, stubbing it out as he neared the end. "So, one girl, in the whole damn world... Why, you say, are we even bothering with this? Chances are she's off in the Philippines or sipping wine in Paris. No such luck. See, that one girl is right here in front of you. She's got the strength, she's got the skill, she's got the sacred duty and she's also, like it or not, got us.

She's got Watchers, guys like Wes here, big with the languages and the demon lore and she's got Anya here, who probably knows even more about demons than Wes does, seein' as how she was one for a little over a thousand years, so you know who to speak to when you're havin' problems with your history assignments.

She's got Glinda an' Red with their magic. An' she's got me." Spike finally shifted into game face. "I watch her back. Actually, I watch as much of her as I can any chance I get, but you've probably already noticed that." Spike gave a rueful smile and extended a hand toward the younger Summers, slipping back into his human visage as he did so. Dawn released her grip on Brandon's hand and rose to her feet, slipping under the outstretched limb and wrapping an arm behind his waist. Her changed position gave her the perfect view of Brandon's shocked face and she smiled softly at him, mouthing the words, "It's okay. Promise."

In contrast, Spike gave a deliberately unsettling grin before continuing in his oratory. "Now you know why I'm not about to insist that Buffy here demonstrates her demon-slaying talents for you. So, this all brings us to the stuff that Bitty here really wants us to tell you. Like I say, most of the demons hereabouts aren't exactly nice guys. Hell, I'm not a nice guy, but there are a few who are. Bit's got an invite to a party tomorrow night, and she's kind of hopin' that you'll accept what we've told you, and that you'll act as her escort for the event so you can meet some of our friends.

There's one other thing she wanted explainin'. She didn't feel right 'bout the fact you've leapt to some conclusions that might not necessarily be the right ones.

Last year, we ran across some trouble in the form of a hellbitch called Glory. She decided to use the Niblet here as a sacrifice in this big ritual she had all set up. Buffy, bein' Buffy, showed up in the nick of time and saved the day, but you get someone who's lost their marbles or someone with second sight an' to them Bitty here looks like a great green light. To us, she's the same annoying smartass she always was." Spike's teasing grin took the sting out of his words. "People like the woman who kidnapped her see her as... Well, who knows how their minds work? But if anyone or anything is different from them, as far as they're concerned, it's fair game to treat them however they want. Some time, Bit or your dad will explain why I have my own little grudge against people like her, but that's beside the point.

If you think Bit here looks like an angel, then no one in this room with the possible exception of the lady herself is likely to argue with you. Personally, I feel that way about every woman in the room. They're all something special.

Now, I know this is a hell of a lot to take in, but what I want you to really understand is the amount of trust that we're putting in you. In a lot of ways, we've just put ourselves at your mercy. I just hope I read you right and Dawn read you right.

Bit, there's some sodas in the fridge. I reckon maybe you might want to take your fella out to the back porch so he can see the stars while he thinks his big thoughts. Help him keep things in perspective. See if you can answer any questions he's got, within reason." Spike flashed from solemnity to wicked humour in an instant. "But just remind him if he tries to run off that we're holdin' his dad hostage an' it's a long walk home.

So, Andrew, fancy a beer?" 
 
 
Chapter #27 - Chapter 2.14
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.14
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Tara volunteered to fetch the beers that were left in the fridge. Spike sank into the armchair that she vacated and pulled Buffy down into his lap.

"Thanks for steppin' in to give us a hand there, slayer!" he groused, doing his best to sound ticked off instead of just relieved. It was over, and Brandon and his father seemed to have accepted without question the half-truths that they had been told about Dawn, or at least with no more questioning than anything else he had told them. Spike's hands drifted to Buffy's midriff, suddenly tickling his fiancée until she squirmed on his lap.

"But I didn't want to interrupt when you were obviously on a roll," Buffy gasped between giggles.

"Thought you'd leave me all the dirty work, you mean. If I didn't know better I'd say you were being a coward."

"Nope," Buffy's responded breathlessly. "Just an opportunist. And you're so good when you go all Big Bad."

Spike whispered something in Buffy's ear that only she could hear and the slayer flushed red and slapped ineffectually at the vampire's chest.

"There's one bottle of the brown stuff and three bottles of Bud. As far as sodas go we've got regular Coke, diet Coke, diet 7 Up or Jolt." Tara's voice carried through from the kitchen.

"I don't mind sharing the last bottle of Newkie Brown if Spike wants the other half," Wes suggested.

"I'll take the Coke without the yummy artificial sweetener aftertaste," Mr Michaels told her, having already established that he didn't drink when driving.

"I guess that leaves the Budweisers for you, me and Buffy," Anya announced cheerfully. "Problem solved."

Once everyone was provided with suitable refreshments Wes looked at Spike with a sly smile. "Actually, you managed quite a creditable show with the exposition, Spike. You're well travelled. From what I've read you seem to pick up languages reasonably well, when you make the effort. You know it makes me wonder if you've ever considered a career as a watcher."

Spike head spun toward his fellow Englishman. A stream of words that were totally unintelligible to Buffy left his mouth. They were, however, enough to cause Wes to almost choke on his beer.

"Was that some English swear words that you just hadn't felt compelled to use until now?" the slayer asked.

"No, pet, I was just confirming Boy-Watcher's assessment of my language skills," the vamp replied content that he was definitely ahead of the Watcher on points.

"I believe it was actually an Arabic dialect of some sort," Mr Michaels told her. "But I couldn't quite catch the actual words."

Anya looked over. "Really? What he said was that Wesley should be sodomised by an extremely well endowed camel until his bottom-."

"Anya, luv, the whole point about saying it in Bedouin was that the watcher was meant to be the only one who understood."

"Really, Spike, you should remember that vengeance is a multicultural business. Besides, the Arabs are extremely inventive when it comes to cursing. I spent a lot of time in that part of the world. Though, I must say, I did like your bit about the sand storm. That would be very painful and not normally possible without some form of extra-planar assistance. Also, I'm sure it wouldn't taste very nice, though by that time it is likely that he would have passed out."

Wes by now seemed to have recovered from his earlier shock. "You know it would have been much more succinct to simply say 'bugger off'."

"Very true," responded the vampire. "But I don't suppose if I'd said 'bugger off' that I'd have got to see you snort your beer instead of drinking it."

Spike caught the gaze of Mr Michaels for just a fraction of a second before he let his eyes drift to the back door. In the general teasing that was going on, Spike doubted anyone other than Buffy and he noticed the man slip out to talk to his son.








Dawn opened one of the two cans of soda and passed it to Brandon before opening the other. The boy automatically took a sip from the can in his hand, but he couldn't have told you whether it was cola, lemonade or root beer.

"I know it's a bit of a shock, and I'm guessing I should have held out for a year or two if I was going for the 'I'm so in love with you I don't care who your family is' vote, but I really didn't want to lie to you all the time." Dawn's eyes seemed bigger and bluer than ever as she gazed imploringly at the face of the boy sitting on the step beside her.

"You know, I think you're the first person any of us has ever actually told, except maybe Buffy telling Riley but then he already knew all about the demons, so Buffy just had to tell him the slayer part, but that was kind of unavoidable. You're the first person we chose to tell. I've known Janice like forever and I've had to tell her lies and half-truths every step of the way. I just didn't want things to be like that between us."

"What did you want? You thought if you introduced me to Lily and Herman that we could all live happily ever after?

Why am I even answering you?" The boy dropped his head and ran a hand through his hair, wincing slightly when it came to the bump on the back of his head.

"What? I'm still the same person I was an hour ago when you were playing footsie under the table."

But Dawn's words weren't to be heard by the boy. "No, you're not Dawn. You're just a figment of my imagination. Dawn's real. She has a real family not some bunch of comic book superhero rejects and Halloween boogey men. Dad always said I should read more 'proper' books and less of the Forbidden Planet crap."

"Hey, Buffy and Spike are not rejects. If it weren't for them you would be in hell several times over." Dawn grasped the back of his neck and used it to pull his face in towards hers, kissing him forcefully to cut off his objections, not releasing him until he began to respond to her. "Did that feel like some figment of your imagination? 'Cause if it did I want to swap dreams with you."

"Look, Dawn, whatever you are... The simple truth is demons aren't real. Magic isn't real. I know this. I've known this, well, maybe not my whole life, but it's a good few years since I gave up on Santa Claus. My father definitely knows this. So, if I can feel the great big painful lump on my head and I'm seeing my dad going along quite happily with a bunch of wackos trying to tell me that every fairy tale and dime store horror novel bad guy I ever heard of is living right next to me, I'm going to take the option where I believe it's the concussion talking."

"And you know what? In any other town, that would go down just fine, but in this town that sort of thinking can get you killed, because while you're thinking, 'this can not be happening' some vampire will be chowing down on your neck.

Haven't you ever thought it was weird that all the cabs in Sunnydale disappear when it gets dark? No one will do it. They know that sooner or later they'll end up food for some vampire who decided to order in.

Have you wondered why your dad's paying out five times the old amount for life insurance since you moved? The only reason we don't top Washington on the per capita murder rate is that if someone gets vamped and staked then there's a convenient lack of bodies. Also, not much in the way of bodies when a giant snake decides the graduating class should be his lunch and the whole school pretty much gets blown up along with him."

"She's right, son." Brandon started at the sound of his father's voice behind him. "It's part of why I was asked to come here."

"That's ridiculous," the youth snapped back at his father.

"Dawn," the older man suggested. "I think you might want to go inside in case Brandon says something he might regret later. It's not really you he's angry with, but I don't think he's seeing things too clearly at the minute."

Mr Michaels waited until Dawn had moved into the house and took her place on the step next to his son. Dawn pressed her ear to the kitchen door trying to work out whether they had just made a huge mistake.

"How could you bring me here? How could you get me involved in all this and not even warn me?" Brandon shouted at his father.

"How could I warn you? What could I have said that would have made you believe me, rather than ringing up your mom and telling her I belonged in Bellevue?"

"You could have at least tried. I just can't believe you knew all this and you still brought me here."

"I warned you as best I could, told you to be real careful especially after dark. You know how to look after yourself. I just never thought until you picked that girl to ask to the dance that you could possibly end up in so deep. Even then, I never thought that the people involved would kill a kid just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Well, I guess you thought wrong. So tell me, dad , just who were these people that you misread so much?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that. If, however, you were to find out by some other means, I guess there's not much I could do about it." Mr Michaels looked toward the door that was closed behind them.

"So it's up to them to tell me that as well? How about what did happen in that hospital, 'cause come to think of it, it's the first concussion I've picked up where they put me on a drip."

"Well, you were right when you thought you were shot. You lost a lot of blood and the bullet was lodged too close to your heart for them to risk operating. The doctors had pretty much given up hope, but then Miss Summers showed up with her friends, and from what I gather, Miss Rosenberg drew energy from myself and the others, which she then used to magically remove the bullet and heal the wound as if it had never been there."

"So, a fatal bullet wound, they make like it never happened, but a bump on the head is beyond them?" Brandon ranted.

"Apparently so. It appears the workings of the brain and magic don't mix particularly well. Miss Rosenberg thought it was best to let the head injury heal in its own time."

"But playing hocus pocus with my vital organs, that's okay by you?"

"Brandon, they were the only chance you had. I'd have tried anything if it meant I could keep you alive. Your mom was sitting in an airport before I could tell her that you were going to make it through. Can you imagine how that felt having to tell your mom while she was thousands of miles away that her son would probably be dead before she could even get here?"

"No, I probably can't, which again begs the question, what the fuck are we doing here."

"I really can't tell you that, son. You know who asked me to come. That should tell you how important it is."

"I'm sick of this damn military, need-to-know bullshit, dad. You quit the army when I was about two, but you still jump every time that guy has some favour he can't find any other schmuck to do. Well, in my book, this was one damn favour too many." The boy pushed away from the porch, and set off full pelt, making his way through the bushes at the far end of the yard as if they weren't there, heedless of cuts and scratches.

While his father was still recovering from his surprise at the boy's abrupt departure, the kitchen door was pulled open and two figures exited, each pulling on a long, leather coat as they ran in the same direction as Brandon.

"We'll make sure he gets home okay," Buffy shouted as she and Spike left, both hurdling the bushes with ease.








"If we want to get to see Micro Bit tonight, this is goin' to have to be a retrieval rather than just waitin' the boy out an' keepin' an eye on him to make sure there aren't any other Big Bads around."

"I know. I just don't know which way I want to play it. I don't want to disappoint Rosa, but if we screw this up. I don't know what we should do."

Spike gave a humourless laugh and pointed to indicate that Buffy should angle slightly to the left of their current course. The scent of Brandon's blood from his various abrasions guided the vampire through backyards and alleys as clearly as if it were an illuminated highway. "That makes two of us."








Brandon's trail had followed the same alley for a couple of minutes now. If he didn't change direction soon his route was going to take him straight to the Greyhound bus depot. Buffy knew this. What worried her was the possibility that Brandon might know, as well. Could he possibly be planning to just hop the next bus out of Sunnydale, or had he just got too tired to keep cutting through people's yards? How far could he get on just the cash he had in his pockets?

'And this kid seriously ought to be trying out for track. Definite scholarship possibilities,' Buffy thought.

"Think he-?" Buffy slowed to a halt, puzzled to realise that even though she hadn't been running flat out, Spike had dropped behind. It only took him seconds to catch up, but she could tell even as he approached that something was wrong.

"What's up?"

"S' nothin', slayer. Just a stitch. Guess vampires aren't meant to eat that much human food an' then go for a run straight after."

"Has this happened before?"

"No. But then I've never pigged out on brown ale, pasta and ice cream and then tried to run a marathon either." Spike nodded in the direction they had been running. "Go find the kid. Keep an eye on him. I'll catch up with you at the depot. He's just takin' the path of least resistance. He's getting' tired. If the trail veers off I'll find him and bring him to you. Okay?"

"Sure?"

"Go on, love. Before he finds himself in more trouble than he's already in for insultin' my slayer."

Buffy turned to go after the boy, but spun back again to press a ferocious kiss to the stunned vampire's lips. As she finally did take off at speed Spike called after her. "What was that for?"

She turned to face him again walking backwards as she replied. "I'm making sure you've got plenty of incentive to keep yourself in one piece till you catch up." She blew him a final kiss and then turned on her heel once more and ran as fast as she could for the bus depot.








"You got any spare change, son? Buy an old man some coffee."

Brandon was doubtful that any money he gave the old panhandler would ever make it to a coffee vendor, but he wasn't unsympathetic. "I could do with a coffee, too, but I don't have change. How about you come with me and I'll buy yours?"

The bum seemed to consider. "There's a diner two blocks up does free refills. If we went there, I could stay till closing time."

Buffy almost ran into the pair as they were about to leave.

"Prithee, fair lady, what causes thee to travel with such unseemly haste?"

'Great. A whole bus station full of people, and he hooks up with Crazy Larry,' she thought. 'Guess I'm going to have to play along.'

"My sister's suitor hath left our abode in much distress and without any word of farewell. She was sorely vexed and bade myself and my companion follow after him and watch over him to ensure he reached his father's mansion without mishap."

"I think perhaps, lady, that thou art off thy rocker, for thou speakst of a companion who can be neither seen nor heard, unlike thy habitual companion, the vampire, who ist oftimes more vocal than is seemly."

"I think, perhaps a knight known far and wide as Crazy Larry would be better acquainted with such a malady than I. And my companion shall in time be both seen and heard, when he ceases to be afflicted by the malady that slows his progress so greatly that he bade me travel ahead, so that the squire here would not fall into bad company."

"The squire and I were to share refreshments at a nearby eatery."

"Perhaps you will accept this token of my regret, as he will be unable to join you, for my companion is to meet us here." Buffy pulled a ten dollar bill from her wallet and pressed it into the old man's palm.

The bum gave a low bow and raised an imaginary hat. "The lady is most kind."

Larry turned to leave the bus station by a different exit, one that came out nearer to a liquor store.

"What? You think I need defending from some old bum? I was going to take him for a coffee, maybe buy him something to eat. You give him money and he'll just buy alcohol."

"Brandon. It's up to him. Crazy Larry has been hanging round here nearly as long as I can remember. Somehow, he manages to stay alive and in one piece when by rights someone should have picked him off years ago. One more bottle of whatever is not going to kill him... And they're what I think you need defending from." Brandon followed Buffy's gaze to see a group of about eight youths move from their seats by the wall to intercept a young girl who was struggling on her own with a heavy suitcase.

She'd picked up on their presence as soon as she arrived, but she had hoped they would wait until Spike arrived before making their move. "Go sit in the waiting room. Any of them come near you or anyone else in there, then use this." She pulled a large wooden cross from a coat pocket.

A block away, Spike pushed his protesting body back into a run. As when he and Buffy had been under attack from Riley and his men, he could see what Buffy saw as she moved to defend the young girl. He knew that while his girl was invulnerable, it would be difficult to adequately protect the young girl from eight attackers all at once. He pushed his body to its limits in order to get to Buffy while he could still make a difference.
 
 
Chapter #28 - Chapter 2.15
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.15
Friday, May 17th, 2002

As Spike pushed his body towards its limits he could feel the change begin to come over him unbidden, and for once despite the fact he normally kept the demon trapped within, he let its strength infuse him. It was far better to aid his love as a demon, than to fail her as a man. Heavy boots pounded the sidewalks that separated him from his girl, eating away at the distance between them.

Buffy ran for the girl as fast as she could, but she had a greater distance to cover than the vampire gang. Maybe it was time for some taunting.

"Hey! Guess you guys were so caught up in how much you were attracted to Kiefer Sutherland, that you missed out on the fact that a) if The Lost Boys were ever cool it was a couple of decades ago, and b) he died."

"But after he died he got to stay young and look pretty, which is more than you will, little girl, unless we decide we want a new sex toy." Four of the vampires, including one who did indeed look a bit like Kiefer's taller, long-haired, blond side-kick in the movie, turned aside from their original prey to intercept what they thought was a new plaything.

Buffy rolled her eyes in despair. "So, which bus did you guys just come in on? Figure it must be somewhere big, open and empty like your heads, otherwise you'd know to stay clear of this particular town. Iowa, maybe?"

Even as she stalled, hoping the remaining four vamps would content themselves with cutting off the girl from any obvious source of aid until their buddies had dealt with her, she knew that Spike was rapidly closing on the bus station and that his chosen route was going to bring him running over the roofs of several nearby buses to land on top of the two vamps nearest the girl.

"San Fernando, actually."

Buffy closed the gap between herself and what she now thought of as her half of the group. "And as to me being your sex toy, try using your noses and you might realise I've got way better than you to keep me hot and bothered at night. You Def Leppard wannabes aren't even in the same league."

For just a second after he sniffed the air, the leader's expression of equanimity crumbled to betray a look of fear. Then, his mask of bravado slid back into place. "I don't see any man of yours here now. All that scent tells me is that you like something cold and hard between those skinny little legs of yours. I'm sure we'll all be happy to oblige before we drain you."

"Puh-lease. As if... The closest any of you are going to get to my butt is when your dust coats my clothes." The slayer suddenly shifted into attack mode, fists and feet flying as she pulled Mr Pointy from the back of her jeans waistband.

Without a glance in his direction, Buffy was aware of Spike's approach as he launched himself upward from a distance of about six feet away, clearing the chainlink fence surrounding the depot, to land gracefully on the roof of a bus that was parked at the edge of the station, his duster billowing behind him. Her sudden activity bought him just the distraction he needed.

Three more graceful leaps from roof to roof and he dropped just behind and between the two vamps that were closest to the girl, snapping one of their necks with a vicious twist as soon as his feet were placed firmly enough on the ground to give him the leverage to do so. Ironically, it was his arrival that caused the girl to abandon her suitcase and flee, having been only slightly worried by the approach of the four still apparently human youths. After all, nothing was going to happen to her in full view of the waiting room.

"Bloody hell!" the vamp swore. "Some people just don't know when they're bein' rescued."

Spike didn't have time to check her progress as she ran for the waiting room. Instead, he dropped and spun, an outstretched foot taking the legs of his remaining opponent out from under him before his colleagues could join the fray, leaving him lying flat on his back as Spike completed the three sixty degree turn and plunged a stake into his chest.

After that the remainder of the fight turned into a speed-staking competition. Buffy was all for a bit of fun and banter with her prey, but there was no way she was going to risk letting Spike deal with all of his opponents and then 'come to her rescue', especially when he'd kept her waiting, and of course, she had the orbs.

As two of her opponents were dusted in rapid succession, the Lost Boy look-alike pushed his remaining follower into the slayer, who hadn't quite regained her balance after a spin kick, causing both to fall to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Reaching around the deceptively heavy vampire that lay atop her, Buffy gave him a hard poke in the ribs with something sharp and tree-derived. As he turned to dust, she held her breath and flipped to her feet, but the glam-rock vamp had too much of a head start and scooped up the girl as she ran for the waiting room, one arm wrapping around her waist and his other hand covering her mouth. Buffy slowed, knowing that until Spike dealt with what was now his one remaining opponent, she and the vamp were at an impasse. A single twist of the vampire's arm and the girl would be nothing more than an oversized rag-doll, limp and lifeless in his arms.

Even as she walked slowly toward the vamp and his hostage and Spike took his last remaining opponent, punching through his chest to pull out his heart and crush it between his fingers, the couple formulated routes by which Spike could come up behind the hostage-taker.

Suddenly, even as Spike began to circle round taking advantage of the cover provided by various vehicles that were parked for the night, the other vamp sank to his knees, loosening his hold on the girl.

Buffy's mouth dropped open in shock as she saw Brandon's head appear over the vampire's shoulder. The wooden cross she had given him was clutched in his right hand like a punch dagger, two fingers curled around either side of the crosspiece. He had obviously made a valiant attempt, but failed to hit the heart.

Buffy spun around in a kick that connected with the vamp's head so hard that its neck snapped from the force. However, she was still unused to the extra strength she gained from the orbs. She expected the vamp to be no more than stunned and was already yelling at Brandon to grab the girl and get her to the waiting room.

Both he and the girl were too transfixed by the sight of the vampire turning to dust before their eyes to heed the slayer's instructions.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Spike landed behind the two. He took a second to light a cigarette, exhaling in a satisfied manner before he greeted both the youngsters in a sardonic tone.

"Welcome to Sunnyhell."

Buffy launched herself at him, her arms wrapping around his neck as she pressed her lips to his. Spike's hands gripped her bottom, the cigarette thrown away in an instant so that he could raise his girl to a more accommodating height. His tongue probed her gum line inviting her to allow him further access. She opened her mouth to him, their tongues teasing and stroking. They were lost to everything but each other in the desire that had been kindled by the fight. It was only the taste of Buffy's blood in his mouth that caused the intoxicated vampire to reluctantly pull his head back and force his features to return to normal. He let his woman slide back down his undoubtedly aroused body until her feet touched the ground once more.

"I think you cut your tongue, love."  He reached out a gentle hand to her face, his thumb caressing her cheekbone as she pressed into his touch like a kitten.

"I'll live," the slayer responded. Reluctantly, she turned to the two teenagers.

"Brandon, why don't you fetch the lady's suitcase? I think she left it over there." Buffy pointed to where said item lay on the ground.

"Hey there," she turned to the girl. "I'm guessing that you're new in town. Is someone supposed to be meeting you?"

The girl nodded solemnly. "My uncle said just to get to the waiting room and stay there till he came. He couldn't get off work early to meet the bus coming in but he said if I was in the waiting room I'd be okay." The girl's words were for Buffy, but her fear-filled eyes were locked on Spike.

"And he'd probably have been right, if you'd actually made it to the waiting room, but once Brandon gets back with your suitcase, we'll see you get there safely. Okay, honey?" the slayer tried to comfort the girl after her ordeal.

Noting the girl's discomfort, Spike lit another cigarette. "Why don't you take her inside, pet? I'll have a check around and make sure there aren't any more of those guys around. I'm sure Brandon can carry her suitcase to the waiting room."

Buffy placed a quick peck on his cheek before he walked off, his gait still somewhat awkward as his erection rubbed uncomfortably against his jeans' zip. His only consolation was that Buffy's brief caress had betrayed the fact that her feelings exactly matched his own.

 




 

Some ten minutes later Spike swaggered through the waiting room doors. Buffy rose to intercept him, leaving Brandon sitting on his own temporarily. It seemed the girl's somewhat tardy uncle had finally shown up.

"Hey, good-lookin'," the vamp greeted her before kissing her on the forehead. "See you managed to get rid of one of the waifs."

"Hey, good-lookin', yourself. And yeah. Uncle arrived about five minutes ago, and promptly turned a whiter shade of pale when he heard what nearly happened to his brother's little girl. Mucho apolgetico."

Spike smirked at the way Buffy just made up words when she felt like it.

"Any more?" she asked.

"A couple of look-outs who would have done better to be lookin' in. Nothin' to bother about."

Spike looked over at Brandon. "How's the kid?"

"Kinda shaken, partly from the whole 'this is really real' thing, and partly because the second the girl and her uncle left, I bawled him out good and proper for not staying in the waiting room like I told him."

"Pet?"

Buffy could tell from the tone of his voice that Spike was unsure about what he was going to ask.

"What is it?"

"You know, if you get just the right angle between the processing plant and that warehouse, you can see the back of Marie's apartment building from out in the lot. The light's been on in her bathroom for the last five minutes. Reckon she's probably getting snack-size all cleaned up and ready for bed."

Buffy looked over to where Brandon was sitting. "Think he can take it on top of everything else tonight?"

"I think it's what he needs to put everything else tonight in perspective."

Buffy nodded. "You want to ring his dad and let him know he's safe and that we'll bring him home once we've paid a call on the way."

"Already did, pet. Or at least I told him he was safe but that we might be a while before we got him home. I know how you get when Bitty does her Houdinis. Figured you wouldn't want Mikey senior to be worried any longer than he had to be. 'Course I rang the Niblet first, but..."

Spike looked over to where Brandon was watching the blonde pair and beckoned him with a sharp jerk of his head. "Come on, junior. You nearly managed to make us break a promise to some ladies, an' that's not somethin' I like to do. As it is we've only just got time." As the boy drew level with them Spike caught the boy's eye, his gaze not hostile, but deadly serious. "We're supposed to drop in on some friends of ours tonight. Thanks to our little detour 'round town we're only just going to catch them before one of them turns in for the night as it is. That means you're comin' with us.

Now Buffy and I understand that you've had a bit of a shock tonight and we're not goin' to hold anythin' you might have said earlier against you... much, but these are our friends and you will treat them with the same respect you'd give to any of your father's friends. There will be no comments about the Munsters or the Addams family or anything like that.  They are all good people, human, demon or in between. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir."

The vampire rolled his eyes. "Okay, I guess now there's no harm in tellin' you that, yes, I am old enough to have been in the First World War even though I wasn't, but I still don't look it and I still don't answer to sir. It's still Spike."  

"Yes, Spike."

The boy glanced nervously at the couple as he matched their pace through the back alleys toward their goal. "So who are we going to see?"

Buffy smiled. "You're going to see three women that can kill the Big Bad stone dead."

Spike grunted but couldn't refute the claim. Brandon in his naïveté had no idea what she meant.  As they approached the apartment building from the rear, Buffy got Spike to point out which were the windows of Lily's, Clem's and Marie's apartments.

"So do you know any of the others?"

Spike nodded. "Dare say as you'll meet them all tomorrow, from the cat lady to the bug man."

"What is it with the Hellmouth and insect people? And I didn't know that you could get cat demons."

Spike laughed out loud. "Those are just Rosa's names for them. The cat lady isn't a cat, she owns one and the bug man is the kid brother of some guy Marie went to college with so she lets him rent cheap while he does his doctorate in entomology, hence, the bug man."

"I've been on the Hellmouth too long. Ooh, did you know that the preying mantis can rotate its head a full hundred and eighty degrees either way?"

"I have to admit that I neither knew nor cared, love, but since you chose to inform me I shall treasure the knowledge forever."

Buffy lifted the hand she'd been holding, to drape it around her shoulders, letting her own wriggle its way around his waist under his coat.

"How's the stitch?" Her finger stroked his side in a soothing gesture.

"Fading away nicely, thanks for asking.  I was too busy to pay much attention to it during the fight and after that we got to take things at a walking pace and it's eased right off. I told you that it was nothing."

Spike led them through a brightly lit alleyway that ran from the back yard of the building through to the front, bringing them out just to one side of the main door of the apartment block. Buffy noted that all the lights were mounted on the side of the apartment building rather than being the standard city lighting.

"Bat sonar drives preying mantises, or is it mantii crazy, too," Buffy chirped as they reached the door. Spike pressed the intercom button for Marie's flat, speaking loudly and clearly into the mike. "Marie, love, it's Spike and Buffy. We noticed your bathroom light on, so I reckon you've got a bathtub full of trouble, so we're going to go see your old lady till you're ready for us. Oh and we've got the Niblet's other half with us."

Faster than Buffy's eyes could see the vamp typed in an entry code for the main door which had always been open on their earlier visits. There was a click as the lock disengaged and Spike pushed it open before it could lock once more. He gestured to Brandon to go ahead.

"What is this place?" the teen asked.

"Exactly what it looks like. A block of apartments." Spike walked up to the nearest door, his arm still around Buffy's shoulders, and rang the doorbell.

Lily pulled the door open, her smile full of welcome for both Spike and Buffy, as she could feel the air of contented happiness that emanated from her favourite vampire and his bride-to-be. She turned to the confused boy who stood at the other side of the door and then her gaze flicked back to Spike.

"Who your guest, William?"

"Lily, this is Brandon Michaels, the young man who up until tonight was seeing Dawn."

Brandon and Lily both turned to look at Spike. The boy's lip trembled slightly before he asked, "Up until tonight?"

Spike answered the question almost as if Lily had been the one to ask it. "Reckon the lad took it as a bit of a surprise when he found out the whole story on Sunnydale. Said a few things as maybe he shouldn't have and then took off like a jack-rabbit without even saying goodbye to the Bit or stoppin' to get his coat.  An' the Lord only knows where these Summers women get their temper from. Must be from their dad 'cause their mum was a right lady. Bit's had a hell of a rough week. I reckon by now, she's probably past the breakin' her heart stage and 'round about wondering if his liver really would go with a nice Chianti."

Brandon's face paled, as he realised just how rough both the revelation and his reaction to it must have been on the young girl. "Um, has anyone got a phone I could borrow? I left my cell in my coat pocket back at your place."

Spike passed his cell to the young man as the group made its way into Lily's apartment.

"Press 2 and hold it down," Buffy told him, knowing that the house on Revello was at the top of Spike's speed dial list.
 
 
Chapter #29 - Chapter 2.16
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])







Chapter 2.16
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Brandon looked around uncomfortably at the three "people" with whom he shared a hallway.

"Em, I don't want to seem rude, but is it okay if I make this call in private?"

Lily shrugged. "Sure, sure. Young man, he want to speak to pretty girl, no old demon grandma." Lily put a world of disappointment into her tone, as if she were some neglected, old woman who yearned for the arrival of the census taker to ease her boredom. Then, she caught Brandon's eye and winked at him, her face creasing into a smile. "You tell pretty girl Lily say we want to see her tomorrow's night, with happy smile on face, puppy dog on lead and pretty boy on arm. We go here." She gestured through to the flat's living room. "You go there." She pointed back out into the main stairwell of the apartment block. "You come later."

Buffy and Spike followed the old lady into the living room and took seats on the sofa at the far end without ever letting go of each other. The slayer's fingers continued to brush against Spike's side and she hooked her left leg over his right as she turned to her companion. "So just how tee'ed off was Dawnie when you rang?"

"She wasn't," Spike answered. "She was just real disappointed, kinda hurt and doin' her best to put a brave face on it, but headin' for depression anyway. Just figured the idea she might kick him to the kerb would get the daft bugger on the phone sharpish."

"Isn't that kind of manipulative?" Buffy asked.

"Bitlet was hurtin'. Now she isn't. Leastways, not about junior. The kid's hers to play with anyway. He got himself shot and still came back. Quicker he realises his life's not his own any more, the simpler it'll be for all concerned. I just gave him a not so subtle nudge in the right direction."

Buffy rolled her eyes in despair, not knowing what to do with him. Lily chuckled at the pair. "Sometimes is frustrating to be in love with such a bad man with such a good heart," she told the woman.

Buffy couldn't help but smile at the demon's description of Spike. "Always," she corrected the old woman before placing a kiss on the arch of Spike's unmarred brow.

"So, is now a good time for your bad man to admit to ringing his poof of a grandsire earlier or not?"

"Spi-ike!" Buffy began in a plaintive tone, but then she just shook her head before letting it come to rest on Spike's shoulder. "You're a bad, bad man." The reprimand might have had a bit more of an effect, if it wasn't for the unspoken, 'but I love you,' that resounded into his being so that it swamped every part of him, only to be amplified and returned to his lady love.

Lily settled back into her seat with a contented sigh. There were times when being an empath demon was incredibly difficult. To feel another's emotional pain as if it were your own, diluted, but no less real, would make some of her kind turn inward, isolating themselves. Lily strove to remain always open for those she could help, and it was in moments like these that she took her reward.








Brandon's father had left very shortly after the boy himself, saying that he wanted to be at their home if Brandon headed back there and asking the girls to get in touch if Brandon made his way back to Revello Drive.

After that, Wes had been going to go and unpack the car and trailer, but the girls had all volunteered to help. The watcher had felt compelled to point out that Dawn probably shouldn't be doing any heavy lifting and that someone should stay in case Brandon came back or anyone called. In the end, a compromise was reached where Dawn and Tara dealt with the aftermath of the meal, while Wes and Anya emptied the car and the trailer. Since Wes basically decided that he would just leave everything in the hall overnight, it really didn't take that long to unpack. The time consuming part of allocating the boxes to the different rooms and setting things up properly would come later.

So, by the time Brandon rang to speak to Dawn, Wes had been informed that for the purposes of the evening he was now an honorary girl, and got to join in the fest of the lovelorn and their shared tub of ice cream.

"Summers residence."

"Hi. Can I speak to Dawn, please?"

"Who's calling?" Anya asked from her position at the kitchen counter, knowing full well the identity of the caller. She pointed at her watch and wiggled her fingers at the other three people positioned around the island. Each pulled out a five dollar bill and passed it to the former vengeance demon.

"It's Brandon."

"Oh." Anya let an uneasy silence fill the air between them for several seconds, waiting until she could almost hear the shuffle of the boy's feet. Finally, she asked, "Have you called to apologise?" Tara shook her head at the way the former demon tortured the poor boy. Dawn simply helped herself to some more cool, creamy comfort food. Wes wondered if he'd ever been on the other end of one of these calls.

"Yes. Please, can I speak to her?"

"You're not going to snap at her or call her family rejects?" Anya brought forth promise after promise from the young boy before she even passed the phone over. No, he wasn't going to call any of her family or friends anything rude. Yes, he was going to take her to the party tomorrow night. Yes, he would take her anywhere she wanted to go tomorrow and do anything she wanted so long as he could afford it. Yes, he would hire a limo to take her to the formal and buy her a white corsage. Yes, he would do his very best to see she had one of the best nights of her life.

"I suppose I'll see if she'll talk to you." She rested the phone on its side and then called out Dawn's name as if she were in a separate room rather than right next to the receiver. "Phone. It's him." Dawn scooped another spoonful of ice cream from the tub and let it melt on her tongue before she picked up the handset.

"Hi. It's me." She climbed off her stool and took the phone out onto the back porch to get some privacy.

As the kitchen door closed behind her, Anya let out a sigh. "That boy is nearly as whipped as Spike. Why doesn't Xander call to apologise like that?"

"You do know that what you just did was pure emotional torture?" Wes asked.

Anya nodded. "But Dawn found out exactly how far he was prepared to go before she had to speak to him, so now she can be all magnanimous and forgiving instead of worrying if he's really going to be all anti-demon like Xander but try to cover it up."

Wes looked round the table. "I'm beginning to think that thing about vampires being inherently evil was a mistake. It's actually women."

"Only to men, though. Tara would never do something like that to another woman. And now that you have seen this at work I must call upon one of my former colleagues to turn you into a woman." Anya waited until Wes's mouth fell open at her matter of fact tone before she smiled widely and blinked at him a couple of times. He turned to Tara, finding her having difficulty containing her amusement. Only then, was he really convinced that Anya had been joking.

"I think I stand firmly behind my last comment," he muttered with a smile.








"Should we ask where Clem is?" Buffy asked his mother. "Or will he still be where we left him this morning?"

"He stay gone now till party time. Otherwise we find work for him."

There was a quiet knock at the living room door before Brandon pushed it open and joined the group.

"So, did you get things sorted out with the Niblet, then?" Spike asked.

"Well, she said to tell Lily that she, the puppy and I will all be here tomorrow night. And she said something about wishing she could see Rose's face."

"Oh!" Buffy's mouth formed a perfect circle as a thought occurred to her. "Would it be really rude if we asked whether we could invite someone else? There's a friend of ours and sort of Wes's, but he just got back into town from England yesterday."

"Don't know as Watcher senior would take kindly to bein' described as a friend of mine, pet."

"Well, maybe, Mr Smartypants, when I said ours, I meant mine and Dawn's. Not everything revolves around you, you know," Buffy teased. "Besides you and Giles aren't just friends, you're old roomies."

Spike sighed. "Do us a favour Lil. Just tell her she can ask the old codger. An' park yer arse somewhere, kid. You're makin' the place look untidy." Brandon took a seat on the sofa next to Buffy still looking slightly nervous.

Lily smiled. "I think maybe I should meet this old roomie of William and if he friend of Wes, he welcome." She bustled over to a bureau that rested against the room's side and pushed back the roll-top front. Pulling out the chair that accompanied the desk she sat down and called across to Buffy. "What is your friend's name. Mr What?"

"Mr Giles."

"Mr Giles what?"

Spike smirked. "That would be Mr Rupert Giles, Lil, love. He doesn't use the Rupert on account he doesn't want people to know he's named after a cartoon bear with yellow tartan pants."

Lily was in the middle of writing out an invitation for the watcher when Rosa came running into the room.

"Unker Will! Auntie Buffy!" The girl ran around the end of the sofa and climbed straight onto Spike's remaining leg that hadn't already got Buffy's slung over it. "I told mommy that you would come before bedtime."

"Well, kitten, sometimes Uncle Will has to help Auntie Buffy when she's got important things to do, but if we had to break a promise we'd always do our best to at least ring. And you know I wouldn't break a promise unless I really, really had to."

Spike took in the maroon and gold pyjamas that the little girl was wearing, emblazoned across the back with the legend "Gryffyndor". He shook his head at the little girl. "Everybody wants to be a white hat these days."

"Silly! All the best characters are in Gryffyndor."

"Are not. That Snape guy's a right interestin' bloke."

"He's mean. I don't like him." Buffy sat up, watching the dialogue between the two with a huge smile on her face.

"He saved Harry during that snitchy game of theirs in the first book."

"He picks on Harry and he's head of potions but he can't even use shampoo properly. And if you went to Hogwarts you'd be in Gryffyndor, too. All the bravest people are in Gryffyndor."

Buffy giggled at the look of absolute shock on Spike's face as he fishmouthed "Take that back, munchkin. Only the goody-goody types are in Gryffyndor. I'd be head of house in Slytherin."

"Shan't. Auntie Dawnie told me all the stories about the nasty woman who was inside the nice doctor like Voldemort was inside that professor and how she was trying to find her and how even when she held you prisoner for days and wouldn't let you eat or sleep, you wouldn't tell her where Auntie Dawnie was. And about how you looked after her and her mommy for Auntie Buffy and how you fought the nasty old-man demon and you nearly won but he cheated and pushed you off the tower and even though you were hurt real bad and your heart broke because you thought they'd taken Auntie Buffy away for good instead of her just being trapped in another dimension for a while you still looked after Auntie Dawnie. You would too be in Gryffyndor."

"I guess it was too much to expect your Auntie Dawnie to just read to you like a normal person?"

"This was better," Rosa insisted. "She can't do voices like you do, but 'cause these were about you and Auntie Buffy and her I knew what you all should sound like." The young girl suddenly noticed the youth beside Buffy. She seemed to study his face intently for several seconds, before she made her eyes cross slightly and stuck her tongue out at him.

"Rosa! Apologise right now." Her mother scolded her from the doorway of the room where she'd been leaning to watch Spike's discomfiture. "That's not polite."

Rosa watched the boy. "Sorry." She turned to her mother. "I just wanted to see if he was Auntie Dawnie's boyfriend. She said her boyfriend had pretty eyes like your jade tiger and long eyelashes, but I couldn't tell if he had a cute smile or not because he wasn't, so I thought maybe if I stuck my tongue out he would and then I'd know." She turned back to the youth. "And see... He has. Hi, Brandon."

"You could have just said hello and maybe he would introduce himself," her mother sighed at the little girl's logic.

"I guess I'm just a little late with the formal introductions," Buffy excused herself. "Brandon, this is Rosa. The lady in the doorway is Marie, her mother. Lily is her grandma and her Uncle Clem, who is apparently in hiding at the moment but who you should get to meet tomorrow night, is going to be Spike's best man at the wedding. And for those of you who hadn't already worked it out, this is Dawn's boyfriend Brandon."

The little girl smiled at her mom as if to say, "Told you so."

Spike cleared his throat slightly and looked back and forth between Buffy and the little girl a couple of times.

"Me?" Buffy asked, half-awed and half-excited at the idea.

"Honey, your Uncle Will and I have got a real big favour to ask you and your mommy. See, we just realised that we've got lots of grown up lady friends to help us out being bridesmaids and stuff, but we only know one special little girl who could be our flower girl. So, do you think your mommy would let you stay up late the night we get married so you can do that for us?"

"Mommy?" The little girl's deep brown eyes looked over to her mother imploringly. "Please, can I?"

"No more rude faces?" her mother bargained. "You have to be good from now right up until then."

"Promise." Her mother nodded, smiling as the little girl ran across the room to express her thanks in the form of a hug. Then, the girl started dancing round the room singing, "I'm going to be a flower girl," in a sing-song voice, until all of a sudden she stopped dead. "Auntie Buffy, what's a flower girl?"
 
 
Chapter #30 - Chapter 2.17
 







Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL

So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)



(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])






PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND CHAPTER I HAVE POSTED TODAY (BST). I HAVE POSTED THIS ONE EARLY AS I EXPECT TO BE BUSY TOMORROW MORNING, SO PLEASE CHECK YOU HAVE READ CHAPTER 2.16 (WHERE ROSA AND BRANDON MEET) BEFORE YOU READ THIS ONE.

Chapter 2.17
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

"I so need a shower." Buffy pulled a strand of mud splattered hair down in front of her eyes. Their patrol, after they had dropped off Brandon at his father's house, had proved to be considerably more detrimental to her clothing than their encounter at the bus station earlier that evening.

"Uh-huh." Spike agreed with her, but it didn't deter him from continuing to hold one very muddy hand in his own rather cleaner one.

"You could at least have helped."

"I held your coat. I'm still holding your coat. And with the cheering... I like to think I gave you some very constructive advice."

"Well, maybe if I'd known what goolies were and my feet hadn't been mired in nine inches of mud, then I could have kicked him in them."

"I did everything but wave pom-poms. 'Sides if I'd joined you in all that mud neither of us would have ended up bothered about catching our semi-aquatic friend... And I can definitely help with the shower thing."

"Gross. What is it with men and icky stuff?"

"So the idea of me all wet and slippery does nothing for you?"

"Soapy bubbles slippery? Maybe. Stinky, muddy slippery? That's just stinky."

"Not even a little bit?" Spike's lower lip curved into a slight pout.

"Can it, id-boy. You are not going to get me all hot and bothered when my two hundred dollar boots are oozing mud out of the seams and making squelching noises every time I move. And I smell."

"C'mon, love. You could be encased in Fyarl snot and smell like beef dripping and I'd still want you. At least it's not as bad as the smell of those veggie burgers you used to cook."

"I didn't think we told you about the burgers."

"What didn't you tell me about the burgers?"

"That they were veggie."

"Puh-lease. I have got a nose." He half-towed her the last few yards before the turn for the path leading to the front door.

"But Willow analysed them and everything. We thought they were human."

Spike snorted his amusement. "I suppose on the Hellmouth stranger things have happened, but it really didn't occur to you to ask the one person you know who could tell you exactly what human flesh smells like. I spent hours next to those bloody vents waitin' for you to sneak out the back. I think if they were servin' up long pig, I might just have mentioned it to you... after I emptied the freezers. If nothing else it might have got you to quit."

"Hey. It's not my fault we weren't big with the talking."

Spike gave her a quizzical look.

"Okay, yes, it was my fault we weren't big with the talking."

As they approached the front door Spike seemed to slow. "Look, love. Why don't you head on upstairs and get in the shower, rinse off what you can and then run yourself a nice, hot bath with plenty of bubbles?"

"I thought you were volunteering for back scrubbing duty?" It was Buffy's turn to pout.

"Let's just say that something came up... other than the obvious. Leave the door from the bedroom open and if I don't come up before you finish, I'll just be out back."

"I'm guessing this isn't a slayer something?" Buffy almost whispered.

"Not an ooglie-booglie in sight, but if I haven't got it sorted by the time you get out the bath, it might turn out to be a Buffy something."

"You need a kiss for luck?" she asked, even as she raised herself up on tiptoe.

"Always." Spike's hands cupped her face unmindful of the mud splatters that adorned it, as he drew her into a deep and tender kiss, still tinged with the copper of her very special blood. Spike pulled his keys from his pocket and opened up the front door for her, draping her coat over the banister at the bottom of the stairs before he backed out of the door, pulling it gently closed between them and finally breaking their locked gazes.

 




 

"Hey, sweet pea." Spike took a seat on the back step of the porch leaving about a foot gap between him and the girl with the red-rimmed eyes and tear-damp cheeks.

 He glanced briefly in her direction before gazing off into the darkness as he spoke, giving her the privacy to cry or pull herself together as she wished. "It's the quiet times that get you. When there's people around and stuff to do, you can pretty much lose yourself. I mean, you don't really forget, not for more than a couple of minutes at a time, but you can pretend you do." He pulled out his pack of cigarettes, looking to the girl for permission before he lit one. Then, after a second's consideration he held the pack out, quick to play the gentleman and raise his lighter to the tip when Tara accepted one and put it to her lips.

She coughed slightly as she took the first deep breath into her lungs, but with the second she blew a series of delicate smoke rings that drifted off and upward into the night sky widening as they moved away from them until they dissolved into nothing.

"How did you know?" she asked, tilting the hand that held the cigarette to demonstrate what she meant.

Spike shrugged. "Father like that, make any kid with a lick of spunk like what you've got want to rebel a bit, but you're not the type to do anythin' hurtful. So smoking, maybe a bit of pot, nicking that brother's bike and clearing out for the day to leave them to wash their own skivvies an' cook their own dinner. I mean that's why you learned, isn't it? The only way you could get out of that house free and clear where he couldn't find you. 'M I right?"

"That obvious, huh?" Tara gave him a watery smile.

"That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. You're one of the strongest people I know. And the most wonderful thing about you is you never let it make you hard. I bet your mother must have been really something."

Tara's smile softened. "She was. I mean, my father he tried to break her, to curb the demon as he called it, but she never let him. She was beautiful."

"An' so's her daughter." Spike shuffled a little closer and brushed away the last traces of her tears with the ball of his thumb, using his clean hand. "I meant what I told junior tonight. All you girls are special, but if we're talking on a straight personality thing, much as I love Buffy you outshine her by far. You know who you are and what you believe in. You have a purity to you that should drive a demon like me to despair, but instead I can't help but love you for it. I took a beatin' for the Niblet that time, but what you gave up was far worse an' yet people seem to forget about it. Great wet sod that I am, you remind me of me mum. An' in a way that's what this all comes down to, your mum, Joyce, mine maybe if Buffy's right, and Red's."

Tara gave the vampire a curious glance. "I don't get you."

"Red turning out like she did. There was bugger all you could do to stop it. The behaviour patterns were all coded in way before you arrived on the scene.

The only thing her parents ever told her was bad was coming second in anything instead of first. They never paid attention to anything she did unless it was shoved under their noses, so she was never punished for anything, hence the idea that cookies make everything better and if you can hide the evidence then no one needs to know if you screw up. She was only ever praised for excelling at things. It's no wonder when she got into magic that all she could think about was learning to be the most powerful witch around. It never even occurred to her that magic's different from chemistry or physics, that you can know too much and not enough at the same time.

They never let her close. They never loved her the way your mum loved you, or Joyce loved Buffy an' the Niblet. An' so she never really learned about being happy because you can make the ones you love happy. Her only happiness was in pleasing herself an' she never hurt for them or got hurt by them, because one way an' another, it's the people you love that hurt you the most.

So, when dog-boy upped an' left, she just didn't have a clue. She couldn't see that these things just have to be borne one day at a time, so she tried to make it go away. An' she's never changed. Whenever anything hurts she just tries to magic it better. An' if you ask me that's why she brought Buffy back. It's just that she's got so damn powerful there's nothing much as could stop her these days.   

Factor in Harris and the fact that the stupid wanker basically let her do his thinking for him for eighteen years till Anya appeared on the horizon, and I'll admit that Buffy probably helped that along a bit, too, so that she thought she had the god given right to make decisions for everyone because they're just stupid sheep and she's the shepherd an' you have her benevolent dictator syndrome covered, or theoretically benevolent anyway.

As soon as she picked up her first magic book, it was a foregone conclusion that one day she'd push things too far."

Tara obviously considered most of what he had said, but balked at the last statement. "I don't know. It changed after the resurrection spell. She changed."

"Consequences, pet. There's always consequences. You ask something huge like you guys did and the price is goin' to be huge as well, but Red was too damn sure of herself to believe that."

"Maybe I should have talked her out of it." Tara looked guiltily at the vampire, knowing that if she had he would never have found the happiness that was now his. "Maybe I should have told Giles."

Spike gave her a rueful half smile. "I have every faith in you, pet, but with the best will in the world you couldn't have stopped her. She'd have been out with the Tabula Rasa crap as soon as she thought you weren't on side. An' selfish bugger that I am, now that Buffy's back and happy, I can't say I'm too fussed about what Red's set herself up for. I mean there was a couple of times when I knew where Buffy'd been, an' she was stuck in that bloody awful job, an' I just couldn't seem to get through to her, that I would have quite happily strung the bitch up for bringing her back and then ignorin' her like she did. But now she seems to be happy."

"She is happy, you know. And it's because of you. I mean the stuff with Dawn and you being kidnapped and everything, it all gets to her, but her aura. You can tell that she's basically content, more than content."

"Well, I guess, if it's workin', then this frog's goin' to have to keep doin' his damnedest to convince her he's actually a prince."

"Or maybe we all need to convince the prince he isn't a frog," Tara responded.

Spike shook his head and drew deeply on a cigarette that had half burned down unnoticed between his fingers while he talked. "I try not to kid myself, pet. I'm not a good man, and she deserves way better than I can give her, but I think I have it in me to make her happy an' if that's all I do for the rest of her life, then maybe I won't have made such a hash of things after all."

"Don't you see? If Willow had cared a quarter as much about making me happy as you care about making Buffy happy, then we probably wouldn't be having this discussion."

"Probably not, puss cat, but I happen to think that the reason you an' Red didn't make it, other than her obvious character flaws, is that all them goddesses of yours have someone special in mind for you, but it just isn't their time, yet."

"And why would you think that?"

"Because it would be a sin to put someone as loving and beautiful as you in this world and then not give her someone who can really appreciate her." The vampire placed a chaste kiss on the girl's forehead.

"Now, how do you fancy washing the taste of that cigarette out of your mouth with some cocoa? I'm led to believe that there's some chemical in chocolate that's the same as your brain produces when you're happy, so not only does it taste nice but it's medicinal, too."

Tara looked over at the vampire, as she rose to her feet letting him slip an arm around her shoulders to guide her back into the house. "Did you have little sisters when you were growing up?"

Spike shook his head. "Only child. Father died when I was young and after that there was just me and mother. She never remarried.  If I had had though, I'd have wanted one like you and one like Bit, a dove and a wild thing, both with hearts as big as the sky."

"Did anyone ever tell you that you've got the soul of a poet?" Tara asked.

Spike smirked at the irony of the comment. "No, love, I don't think they ever did."

 




 

Buffy looked round the room that had been hers for years. It looked so different with her mother's furniture instead of hers. Tara's knick-knacks, few as they were, adorned the room's surfaces and the blankets that Buffy had covered the windows with had finally been taken down when the sun dropped behind the houses opposite. It had taken them all most of the day, barring a couple of hours for the visit to the tailor and for Spike's coiffure, but now everyone was in their new homes.

"Seems strange, doesn't it?" the Wiccan asked, nodding not only to what was now her room, but also the house across the street. Some phone calls to determine which stores actually sold beds and other basic furniture from stock rather than ordering them in, had resulted in some rushed shopping on Wes's part before he was due to drop off the U-haul trailer at their nearest branch, but he now had most of the basics covered. There hadn't been anything arranged the previous night, but somehow everyone from the two houses and later Brandon, too, had ended up pulling together, first to get Wes settled in, then to move Buffy's things into the master bedroom and get Tara's things from the dorm.

Spike had sent Buffy out with Wes on one of his trips to pick up a bookcase and a desk and chair for Tara's room as a surprise gift, mindful of the fact that the Wiccan's end of year exams must be fast approaching and she would need a proper place to study. The desk she had found had a matching chair and a tooled, maroon, leather top, which had obviously been lovingly cared for as not a single blemish marred its surface despite its age. It was made from a rich dark wood that matched her mother's bed. Once, it had graced the office of the local bank manager, before homogeneity became the order of the day and it was sold off simply because it didn't tie in with the latest theme. It was a little on the large side and the room seemed slightly overcrowded but homey as a result. She had had to settle for a plain pine bookcase, but she thought the Wiccan would prefer the natural material to a more finished looking product made of melamine. Actually, she knew that she could have brought back a wooden orange box for the girl to store her books in and Tara would have been pleased at their thoughtfulness, which was part of why Buffy was so pleased to find something like the desk which she knew the Wicca would love.

Funnily enough, even though Buffy and Wes had been the ones to unpack the furniture from the trailer Tara had known without asking, exactly whose idea the gift had been, and the first of many tearful hugs had been for her freshly bleached and trimmed male housemate.

"Good strange, I hope," Wes commented as he and Spike made their way back into the room each carrying several cans of soda, which were swiftly passed out between the room's occupants though Spike didn't bother.

"Definitely good strange," Buffy answered for all of them before moving to stand where Spike could wrap his arms around her like an animated stole. "For the first time since mom died, it seems like we're a family. All of us." Her gaze rested on Tara in particular and Spike's arms tightened into a hug for an instant in acknowledgement of her words, knowing that they were meant for him, too. She lifted her free hand and wrapped it over his before turning to Wes. "And of course it's a novelty to have neighbours who don't avoid us, let alone ones we'd call friend. and I'm not just saying that because of the spa we found hidden away in your back yard."

"It's only mostly because of the spa they found hidden away in your back yard," her fiancé teased.

"Spike. Stop it. He might believe you."

"I think he's already had some pretty fair indications of how much he's appreciated round here, pet. He's bright enough to work out when I'm just yankin' your chain."

"That would be most of the time, I believe," his fellow Englishman responded.

"See... Now, who's first for the shower? 'Cause I make it about an hour an a half to go before we're all due at Lily's. An', Wes, do us a favour and take the kid across to yours when you go. That way, I can concentrate on gettin' ready without havin' to worry about what state of undress him and the Niblet are in. She can ring an' let him know when she's decent again."

Tara glanced round the room, seeing both couples seemed reluctant to part. "I guess I'll take that first shower."

"Then, I guess we should all give you some privacy to get ready." Wes was the first to excuse himself from the room, but the others soon followed, dispersing to make their own preparations for the party.

Spike drew Buffy into their new bedroom. "Happy?" he asked indicating her furniture that now filled the room.

Buffy's reached up with a fingertip that was damp from the condensation on the soda can she had been holding and traced the outline of his lips. "Let's see, today's been quite the day. I've got a wonderful man who has shown he can be nearly as considerate to my friends as he is to me. I'm going to have a wonderful dress and so are all my bridesmaids, assuming, of course, that Willow is speaking to me again by then. I have my loved ones around me and a night with friends ahead. I think that's enough to make anyone happy. Providing Xander doesn't do anything to mess things up tonight."

"I have a feeling Anya will be keeping him on a tight leash. I don't think you need worry."

"Then, yeah, Will," she replied pushing him gently backward until his legs pressed against the side of their bed and he pulled her with him as he tumbled backwards. "I'm happy."  She nestled her head against his shoulder curling up on the bed next to him like a contented kitten until it was their turn for the shower.
 
 
Chapter #31 - Chapter 3.01
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me



(The Associates)





Chapter 3.01
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Wes looked at his reflection in the mirror, surveying his open-necked, navy, silk shirt and dark blue jeans, still not convinced that he'd made the right choice.

On the one hand the party was in his honour, so he felt obliged to make himself presentable. Also, while his heart was still in the keeping of another, Marie was a very attractive woman and Wes was not without a certain quota of male vanity.

Then, on the other hand there was the fact that if he was going to be set up as the sacrificial lamb, then he really didn't see why he should makes Lily's scheming any easier for her. It would also be unwise to forget that Spike seemed to regard both the woman and her daughter as being under his protection. If the vampire so much as suspected he was doing anything to lead Marie on, either intentionally or unintentionally, then Wes had no doubt that the heretofore welcoming Brit would be quick to make his displeasure felt in any number of ways.

Hmm. Maybe he shouldn't have shaved, and perhaps he should ditch his contacts for the night and go back to his glasses.








Xander looked at the clothes Anya had laid out for him before going to work that morning. She'd made it pretty darn clear that by the time she came home from work, she expected him to be washed up, shaved and smelling pretty, leaving the bathroom free for her. She'd picked out her favourite of his shirts, a forest green one made of soft, brushed cotton. It seldom actually stayed on very long because Anya was so fond of how it felt against her skin. Come to think of it, Xander had more than a few pleasant memories of a post-coital Anya padding round the apartment in nothing but that shirt. He glanced downward to where his best black dress pants did nothing to disguise the effect those thoughts had on him. And now he could definitely think of better things to do than to go party with the horned, the fanged and the wrinkly.

He glanced over toward the bathroom door, listening to the splashes and cheerful singing that were coming from the other side. He sighed and pulled the shirt from its hanger. If he played Anya right, he could probably make her forget all about this party until it was too late. The trouble was he really didn't want to play her. He wanted to make her happy. How hard could it be? It was just a party, right? A party in honour of an even more Pierce Brosnan-y Wes than he remembered in High School, granted, but just a party. At least Anya wouldn't be drooling over the damn Brit pack like Cordelia had. And Giles would be there. The G-man wouldn't spend the evening socialising with the demons. He could hang out with the old guy, dance enough dances with Anya to keep her happy, a few trips to... Wait a minute. What the literal heck got served up on the buffet table at a demon soiree? He so was not up for kitten ribs.

"Ahn, honey, I was thinking." He pushed his way into the bathroom. "Maybe we should stop off at KFC or somewhere on the way?"








The door to Lily's apartment was pushed open and a tiny platinum blonde made her way in backwards carrying several dishes. "Desserts are here!" she called out as she made her way toward the kitchen with an easy familiarity.

Marie came to meet her part way, only to pause, stunned by what she saw. "You cut it all. How the heck do you have the guts to go from waist length to that in one go?"

The woman shrugged. "Felt like a change. Patrick did it. You like?"

Marie tried not to screw up her face at the name of her tenant's latest boyfriend, grabbed a couple of the dishes and led the other woman through to the kitchen. In the brighter light, she could see that the platinum blonde of the classic jaw-length bob, was interspersed with fine streaks of honey gold. It set off her heart-shaped face with her kohl-rimmed hazel eyes and bright red lipstick to perfection and contrasted sharply with the unrelieved black that the woman always wore.

"Okay, Patrick's a jerk, but he's a jerk who can cut hair. You look great."

"I guess you won't be upset that we broke up, then."

"That depends. Are you?"

"He kicked Rupert," the blonde replied as if this answered everything. Surprisingly, to Marie, it did.

"He kicked your cat. Deliberately?" Marie pulled a pitcher of margarita from the fridge and poured a little into each of two glasses. "This is where we hope the guest of honour has some cute friends. or you could take Clem up on his offer?"

"No offence, but Clem's just like this huge wrinkly teddy bear. I'd feel like a child molester or something. So, I guess that means the guest of honour himself is taken? Who is he anyway?"

"Not as such. though if Lily has her way..." Marie reddened slightly at the woman's knowing smile. "And a friend of Spike's or Spike's fiancée at least. I don't think Spike's known him long."

"And what brings him to sunny Sunnydale?"

"The other usual."

"Ah. The hero syndrome. Fighting the good fight and all that. So just how well would the new boy in town fill Errol Flynn's tights?"

"Bee!" Marie's voice betrayed her shock at the question and she covered by checking on all the various pans that were on the stove top. "It's a good thing Lily and Rosa are upstairs."

"I was just asking how dashing, manly and heroic he was."

"Emphasis on the manly, and as to that, I haven't been looking that closely and, as to heroic time will tell, but he can do dashing. Now behave."

"Yes, mommy." The blonde replied. She pointed at one of the two dishes of brownies. "Best keep those ones somewhere where the kiddie can't reach them."

Marie rolled her eyes. "Do you have any idea what it would do for my career if I got busted for handing out hash brownies?"

"Guess it would depend whether you gave your boss any or not," the blonde answered with a grin.








"Buffyyyy!" Dawn called upstairs to her sibling. "Tell Spike I can wear that dress you bought me in LA!"

Spike looked again at the lavender knee high boots and matching mini-dress that barely covered the dressing on her upper thigh. "Niblet, we agreed that maybe you could wear it where we'd be able to keep an eye on you. No one agreed that you could wear it to go on a date."

"It's not a date. It's a party."

"An' Junior is actin' as your escort, therefore it's a date. So go an' put on something that covers up more than half your legs. In fact all of your legs. Trousers are good."

"Bu-u-ffyyyyy!"

Buffy appeared at the top of the stairs, a thick, white, towelling robe disguising her outfit for the night until she was ready to make her proper entrance. She had applied mascara to one eye but not the other and she looked a little impatient at the interruption to her preparations.

"Can't you two just settle things between you?" she asked.

"Sure we can. Go get changed, pet."

"Spi-ike! I bought her the dress so she could wear it, not so it could collect moths in her wardrobe."

"But you didn't buy it so she could flash her legs at teenage Romeos three years older than her."

"Yes, Spike, I did. I bought it so she could feel like a pretty, attractive, young girl that teenage guys would notice. If she wants to wear it, it's fine by me, so just leave your Victorian double standards back in the eighteen hundreds where they belong."

"But, love, he'll have his grubby teenage hands all over before you know it," Spike's voice rose into a whine.

"Spike. Twenty-first century. Deal with it." Buffy turned her back and flounced back into their bedroom.

The teenager grinned and made her way into the living room where she stared suspiciously at the puppy curled up on the sofa asleep, having apparently tired itself out trying to keep track of all the comings and goings earlier.

"Where's Rogue's collar?"

Spike made a disingenuous attempt to pretend he didn't know exactly what the girl meant. "She's wearing her collar, Bit. Got 'er name on it and everything."

"I put on my purple dress to go with Rogue's purple collar. Now, she's wearing some black thing. Where's her purple one gone?"

Spike moved through to the kitchen and pulled a packet of blood from the fridge, tipping it into a mug and setting it to microwave. "I'm sure it'll turn up, pet. But here's a thought, I'm sure you must have a pair of black trousers and maybe a long sleeved blouse, then you'd match right in again."

Dawn pursed her lips and folded her arms over, glaring at the vampire as he waited for his meal to heat. "You are so lucky my sister likes you, Fang Face." Her glance swept disdainfully over the vampire's black jeans, black New Rocks and still unbuttoned, black shirt. "And for your information, normal, real people don't go around trying to look like they've just come from a funeral."

Spike looked up as Brandon made his way in through the back door, dressed from head to toe in ebony, even down to the nail varnish. "S'that right, pet. Must just be freaks like me an' Mikey here, then." The vampire smirked as he pulled his mug from the microwave and left it to Dawn to explain to her bemused boyfriend.








Giles tried unsuccessfully to remember the last time he'd been to a party where he hadn't felt as if he were playing the part of chaperone for Buffy and her friends. It was even longer, probably back in his Ripper days, since he'd actually socialised with anyone of the demon variety. It was all rather exciting and vaguely intimidating at the same time. He just hoped he wasn't going to be the oldest person there. well other than Spike who didn't really count since on occasion he seemed to have a mental age of about twelve. He glanced again at his watch. He had another three quarters of an hour before Anya and Xander were due to swing past so they could walk over to Lily's together. He picked up the handwritten journal that sat on top of his bedside table and continued reading from where he had left off at The Magic Box that afternoon.








Tara looked at the large, sad eyes of the woman in the mirror as she put on her make-up and wondered if Spike was right. Was there really someone else out there for whom she could care as much as she had cared for Willow? Even as she thought it, she berated herself inwardly for being so harsh as to put her feelings for Willow in the past tense, but she knew that in the past was where they belonged. It wasn't that her feelings had ceased to exist, that she suddenly didn't care. It was simply that the shy, sweet girl she had loved had lost herself in the power that had lain within her. Willow's power came so close to being absolute that if the old saying had any truth in it at all, Willow had long ago set herself on the road to perdition. Finally, Tara allowed herself to relinquish responsibility for trying to pull her back. She had done all she could in their time together. She had hoped that perhaps Willow had learned from their time apart. Then...

There came a time when you had to let go.

She forced a smile onto her face, knowing that with her friends around her once more, chances were it would soon be replaced by a genuine one. Pulling open the door of what was now her room she made her way toward the sounds of homely bickering coming from the kitchen.








"Spike. This isn't funny any more. You cannot follow the two of us round like some great big freak all night."

The vampire looked at Dawn from his seat in the centre of the sofa and raised an eyebrow. "You want to make a bet, Niblet?"

"Fine. If I go put on some pants, then will you stop following us?"

"You better already be wearing some bloody pants, missy, but if by that you mean jeans or something similar, I'm sure we could come to some arrangement."

Dawn shot up the stairs, passing Tara on her way, her voice echoing all the way down to the living room. "Buffy, your boyfriend is a freak. You know that, right?"

Tara smiled at the vampire as she walked into the room. "What have you done now?"

"Just gave her a demonstration of how closely I'd have to keep an eye on her if she wore that dress tonight. And speaking of dresses." Spike let his gaze travel up and down the Wiccan's length in an appreciative but brotherly way. "You're lookin' pretty good yourself, in a Stevie Nicks kind of way, except that probably means nothin' to a youngster like you."

Tara smiled. "I know my Fleetwood Mac from my Britney Spears," she teased. "My gran had a copy of Rumours."

"Save a dance for an old man, anyway?"

"I thought your dance card would be all booked up."

"I'm sure she'll let me off with one, or should she be the one dancing with you? What's the proper etiquette?"

"We all go out. We all enjoy ourselves and hang the etiquette."

"Sounds good to me."

Buffy picked this moment to make her entrance. "Am I intruding?" She raised an eyebrow, smiling at the pair as she swayed into the room in her high heels.

"Well, I was goin' to try to convince Glinda here to give the other side of the tracks a try and see if maybe she'd run off with me, but then you turn up, lookin' gorgeous as ever. an' well, who could expect anybody to look twice at some old codger with dangly bits when you're about?"

His eyes showed his approval of the short, fitted dress in shimmering pale green, even more than his words, and with her hair piled casually atop her head his mark was bared for all to see. Spike looked at her footwear. "My guess is you're not planning on walking anywhere tonight?"

Buffy turned to Tara. "Would you believe it? Not only does he have a certain rough charm, but he's psychic as well."

Spike very temporarily fixed his attention on Brandon. "You got your car licence as well as your bike one?"

"Yes, sir-Spike."

"Well, since you're under age, I guess that makes you our designated driver for the night." Spike tossed him his car keys. "An' since you don't even want to think about what might happen to you if there was a scratch on my baby tomorrow, or I decided you were a bad influence on the Niblet you won't even consider drinking anything other than soda."

"Can you fit four in the back of your car?" Tara asked.

"Legally, no. But do you really think there are any cops on night time traffic patrol in Sunnydale? So the real answer is... you can if two of them are built like Buffy an' the Niblet. Guess the hero of the hour gets to ride shotgun." Dawn came clattering downstairs. Spike gave the inch of bare flesh between her top and her jeans a pointed glance, but decided to pick his battles. He grabbed his coat and began to usher the others out. "Niblet, get the dog on that extendable lead an' put her in the front of the car. Reckon she'll have to sit between the Watcher's feet. Buffy, you lock up, love. I'll go see what's keeping the guest of honour."








Wes hesitated as the doorbell rang and then grabbed the Aran sweater that lay on the bed, pulling it over his head as he made his way downstairs. Spike gave an amused half smile as he pulled open the front door and he just knew that the vampire had picked up straight away on his ambivalence about the evening.

"Trying to hide the sex appeal under a fuzzy jumper, are we?" the vampire asked as Wes locked up.

"I really don't know what you find so amusing."

"How about the sight of a man who's old enough to know better trying to run for his life?"

"This is all your fault, you know?"

"Yeah," the vamp drawled with a smirk. "I worked that bit out all on my own. Hate to say it, but the idea of bite-size with a proper dad again kind of gives me the warm fuzzies."

"For God's sake, don't you start!" the watcher told him.

"But it's just so much fun watching you squirm," the vamp responded and then effectively ended the conversation by joining the women in the back seat of the car.








Marie helped her friend transfer all the hot food into casserole dishes and placed them atop stands designed so that small night-light candles would keep the food warm while it was on display. Everything was put out ready on tables in the living room which was lit by several strategically placed table lamps. The exception was Bee's "special" brownies, which had been stashed away in one of the kitchen cupboards that was too high for Rosa to reach.

A music system had been set up in the yard, and was currently blasting out one of several compilation CDs that Bee had provided. The doorways from both Lily's kitchen and the main stairwell had been wedged open, probably contravening several fire regulations but allowing access to the high-walled yard for all once they were actually through the main door into the apartment block.

A large jam-making pan of Lily's had been filled with ice and then topped off with a case of beer. A cooler held cans of soda, and Marie's margarita mix had been bulked out with crushed ice until it now filled two large pitchers next to which there were a stack of plastic glasses, half of which had been rimmed with sea salt.

Bee looked round. "Okay. Everything's under control. This place looks like the eat all you can buffet at Chiquito's, only better. Lori'll be here soon, and you've got ten minutes before the first guests are due to arrive. Go find that little angel of yours and get your party clothes on, girl. I'll cover for you if anyone shows, and if you see the cat point him in this direction."

"Your cat worked out where you were a while ago." Marie nodded to where a Siamese cat lay sphinx-like on top of the wall surrounding the yard, watching them as if they were only of mild interest to him.

The blonde frowned. "I'm sure he only goes up there because I can't reach."

As they were talking, the intercom for the door buzzed. "Go and get changed. I'll see who that is, and unless it's something incredibly evil like The Jehovah's Witnesses, I'll let them in and feed them alcohol."

"Just so long as you card them first. Rosa isn't the only underage guest that's coming."

Marie dashed for the stairs to her own apartment, and Bee made her way to the front door. The party was about to officially begin.
 
 
Chapter #32 - Chapter 3.02
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me



(The Associates)





Chapter 3.02
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Spike pressed the keypad sequence that would open up the lock on the apartment block's main door and then held the door open for the others to precede him. A firm but gentle hand at Wes's back prevented him from hesitating as he reached the threshold. "Just give in and enjoy the ride," the vampire whispered at the watcher's ear making the other man startle slightly.

Spike scanned the room for familiar faces and had almost given up when he recognised the small woman with the bob. Even then, with her newly cropped hair, it was the black, vintage fifties dress with its fitted bodice and flared skirt and the impossibly high stilettos that gave her away.

"Hoi, titch. Where are the people in charge of this here shindig, then?"

Bee turned at the voice, a smile on her face. "Less of the titch, short ass. And Marie went upstairs to get changed twenty minutes ago, but apparently Rosa waited till the first guests arrived to spill juice all down herself. Lily's out in the yard."

"There's something different, but I can't quite place it," the vampire teased as he pulled her into a hug before looking down. "Nope, got it. You're wearing a wonder bra. Very Jessica Rabbit, pet."

Bee gave him a gentle slap on the arm. "You don't have to broadcast it, bitch. And engaged men aren't meant to go looking at other women's cleavages."

"Hey, if it's on display men are goin' to look. There's something else, though. Got it. I know you said the paintings weren't shiftin', love, but selling your hair went out back in my day." He gave her a big grin. "You look gorgeous, pet. Fancy meetin' the future missus?"

"That depends. Is she just incredibly brave and forbearing or is she certifiable?"

"Come judge for yourself, and you can meet the rest of her crew."

"Wow! Her crew? That almost sounds like humility coming from a vampire. If it meant anything I'd be checking your temperature. So, where do you fit in with this crew?"

"Wherever she wants me," Spike admitted.

"Okay, this is a woman I have to meet."

Spike held out his arm in an old-fashioned courtly gesture, lending his support as Bee teetered across the room to where the group were still hovering.

"Buffy, meet the cat lady, otherwise known as Bee to her friends. Bee, this is my fiancée Buffy, her sister Dawn, her boyfriend Brandon, Tara who's one of the family in all but blood and their new neighbour Wes, the guest of honour at this here event."

Buffy was caught off-guard by the name and found herself becoming defensive for no good reason. "B as in the letter B?"

"Bee as in bumble, flitting from one thing to the next and always busy. Actually, Marie says it's short for Beelzebub, but my parents named me Bianca."

"Sorry, it's just someone used to call me B... bad memories."

"Well, Lily and the drinks are all out in the yard. Food's in here." Her gaze travelled to Wes as she continued. "And Marie and Rosa will be down in a few minutes." She took Wes's hand and shook it politely. "I'm sure we'll be seeing more of you 'round here."

As she returned to the group she had been chatting with before Spike's arrival, Dawn berated her sister. "Way to go, Buffy, so every time Spike introduces one of his friends, are you going to act like a total bitch, or is it just if they're prettier than you?"

"It's... I didn't mean... I just."

Spike slid his arm around his fiancée's shoulders.

"Just the shock of meeting an adult who's actually shorter than you... I know." Buffy's expression changed to one of exasperation as he teased her. "Don't worry, you'll get to chatting later an' it'll be fine. Bee's not the type to hold grudges. Just so long as you don't say anything nasty about her cat, you'll be okay. In fact, tell her that her cat's gorgeous an' she'll be your friend for life. Come on, let's go pass over the booze to Lily an' get the mutt away from anywhere with carpets and then we can start to enjoy ourselves an' Wes can network."

"I don't get to enjoy myself?" Wes asked.

"Well, I'm guessin' that Marie's boss is here so that you can meet him. Whether you can make it fun is up to you."








Before the group had even all made it out into the yard, Lily came bustling toward them. For once, she almost ignored Spike, uttering no more than a brief greeting and an indication of where the drinks and the food were and issuing instructions for them to help themselves. Her attention was almost fully focused on Tara. She drew the girl into a motherly hug and then towed her off to a bench in the corner of the yard, shooing away the young couple who had been sitting there as if they were unwelcome pigeons, so that she could chat to Tara in privacy.

Looking round the yard, Dawn picked a spot where Rogue could have some freedom to move on her lead, but not enough to let her near any of the drinks or anywhere else where she could cause too much mayhem. Then, she tied off her lead to one of the many hooks along the high wall that supported hanging baskets after testing it to make sure it was strong enough to hold the large puppy in check. Kneeling to fuss over the dog, she turned to Brandon. "Mine's anything they have in diet, and food would be good too." She gave him an appealing smile and looked across at Rogue, as if to say she couldn't leave the pooch.

On the wall above them, Rupert the Siamese commando-crawled until he was looking down on this strange new beast in his territory and gave a warning hiss that went totally unheard amidst the music that was playing, before settling in to keep a close eye on the four-legged competition.








"So, did I come across as a total bitch?" Buffy asked apologetically, her head tilted down slightly so that Spike got the full benefit of the through the lashes stare.

The vampire's fingers drifted across her jaw in a soft caress that somehow seemed warm rather than cool. "Just a tad on the defensive side."

"I'm sorry. She's your friend. I should go and apologise."

Spike dropped the bottles that they had picked up at a liquor store en route into the cooler alongside the beers and poured two glasses of margarita, passing one to Buffy.

"Relax, Buffy. It's a party. You can chat when you meet up again. An' I've met the bird about twice when she's been visitin' Marie an' I've popped in. I'd rate that at more of an acquaintance. You've pretty much already met everyone I'd call friend. Speakin' of which, I'd have thought Clem would have shown 'is ugly mug by now."

"I'm guessing where there's a buffet he'll show up sooner rather than later." Buffy gave him a half-teasing smile. She slipped her free hand around his waist. "Now, I need you to escort me to somewhere where my stilettos aren't going to disappear into the lawn."

"As you wish, love."








"I'll get it!" Rosa dashed downstairs ahead of her mother as the intercom sounded.

"Check who it is first, baby. Remember."

"Uh-huh."

Marie followed more slowly, half expecting Lily to tell her to go get more dressed up when she did get downstairs. The old demon was in for a fight though. Marie reckoned Wes had seen her in her office clothes, with all the formality that entailed.

She wasn't going to pretend to be something she wasn't. When she had the choice she was a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. So. the jeans might sit low on her hips and hug her figure to the knee like a second skin before flaring out to go over her Cuban heeled boots and the T-shirt might be one that she'd bought because Rosa had liked it and then she'd never worn it because it showed a couple of inches of trim golden stomach, reminding her of the skimpy tops she'd worn when she waitressed her way through college, but that was as much as she was prepared to concede.

"Mommy, it's an old man. He talks like Unker Will and the new man that's Auntie Buffy's friend."

"Hold on, baby. I'll be there in a second." Marie made her way down to the front door, just in time to hear Anya's impatient voice.

"Rosa, honey, it's Anyanka. The strange man is with us. It's okay. You can let us in."

"Go on, honey. You can open it."

"Hi, sorry to keep you waiting," Marie told her guests as she joined her daughter. "It's just we spend too much time telling her not to open the door for strangers to start making exceptions. I'm Marie and this is my daughter Rosa."

"Giles, Rupert Giles, but everyone just calls me Giles."

"Or G-man," Xander added. "That's a favourite of mine. Xander Harris, I think we saw you at Buffy's engagement party, but we didn't actually get to speak."

"That was because you spent half the night with your foot in your mouth, sweetie, and the other half falling on your butt when you tried to catch up and apologise," his wife pointed out.

"Rosa, why don't you take everyone's coats and put them on the bed in your grandma's room, while I show them through to the yard?" Marie prompted, leading the group towards the door off the stairwell. "I'm guessing this is the new husband?" she asked Anya.

The former demon nodded. "Yes, but I'm afraid he's not very well trained, yet, so I'll just apologise to everyone in advance as we go 'round before he insults them."

"And you must be the friend of Wes and Buffy who's just arrived from England ?"

"Yes, that's right," Giles told her.

"Well, I can see Dawn and her boyfriend, and it looks like Lily has got hold of... I think it's Tara. The others must be inside. Anyway, drinks and loud music out here, but if you go through that door there, it'll take you into the kitchen and the other side of the kitchen is the living room with the food and without the loud music."

Rosa came running out the kitchen door as Marie explained the layout to her guests. "Mommy, Uncle Clem's back with the extra ice but he doesn't know where to put it."

"Okay, honey, I'll come sort it out. Excuse me. Just help yourself."

"Gi-iles!" The watcher looked up to see Dawn beckoning him. "Come meet my boyfriend and my new dog."

'Oh, no-o-o-o,' he thought sarcastically. 'I'm not going to go to a party and chaperone Buffy's friends. This time I get to hang out with her younger sister and her boyfriend, instead.'








"Well, I thought by six it would be safe to head back and get first dibs on the chilli," Clem explained, as he shifted a large sack of ice cubes from shoulder to shoulder to prevent freezer burn. "But I guess I was wrong."

"They were waitin' for you?" Spike asked, before taking the sack from the demon and resting it on his own shoulder.

"Mom had taped a list of chores to the door of my apartment. with duct tape, just in case I thought about saying it fell off."

Spike couldn't help but smirk and Buffy had to cover her mouth with her hand.

"This is the last one, though, so now I guess I get to get some food." Clem looked longingly at the buffet table which was already surrounded by people, human and demon alike.

"Go help yourself while there's still some left. I'll take this through to the kitchen or wherever."

"Kitchen. Chest freezer. Goood vamp." Marie gave him a peck on the cheek, as she arrived to point him in the right direction.

As he made his way to deposit the bag of ice it wasn't hard for either of the women to hear him muttering, "How often do I have to tell these bints that I'm bad ?"








Xander looked over at the buffet table. There seemed to be humans eating whatever it was that was available. That didn't mean that he wanted to eat it, though. I mean, look at the slime dripping off that guy, oops gal. So it looked like she'd been using the tongs and spoons and stuff but who knew what else from whatever else could have dripped its way onto the plates? His stomach vetoed his objections by grumbling loudly. It turned out that Anya hadn't thought much of his KFC suggestion. Maybe, if he checked the kitchen cupboards, he could bogart a packet of Graham crackers or some unopened chips or something before they were put out on the table.








Rogue bounced up and down, her paws scrabbling against the wall's brickwork as she tried to reach the source of that interesting scent. Rupert watched from his perch atop the wall, content in his superiority. If the canine hadn't worked out by the fifth try that she couldn't reach and that she was irritating her humans, then she was never going to.

"Rogue, will you behave? You can't reach no matter how hard you try or how loud you bark." Dawn admonished. "And good dogs don't chase kitties."

Giles sighed. "I really don't think trying to sit down and explain things to an over-excited cur is going to work, somehow," he pointed out to the teenager. "Maybe you should smack it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper or something."

"Wow, Giles, look what I have in my pocket. Gee, no, I thought it was a newspaper but turns out it's a dime."

"There's no need to be facetious. I was merely trying to help."

Spike slid out the kitchen door unnoticed as he watched Bee making her way over. A huge smirk settled on his face as he waited for the inevitable.

"Rupie-bear?"

"What?" Giles turned to stare at the woman as if she were demented. "Do I know you?"

Bee continued to make her way toward the group, somewhat hampered by trying to walk on her tip-toes so that her heels didn't sink into the grass. "Rupert baby, come to mommy."

"I'll have you know that I'm not in the habit of answering to Rupie-bear, or calling anyone half my age mommy, even if it weren't such a blatant Americanism!" Giles blustered by now quite upset at the offence to his dignity.

"And why should you?" she asked, catching the cat as he leapt into her arms and draped himself so that he could watch over her shoulder, whilst getting the maximum fuss made over him. "You need to calm down a little." She turned to the former watcher. "I recommend one of the brownies in the top kitchen cupboard. Come on Rupie, baby, we'll take you away from the nasty doggy. Did it frighten you?"

As she walked away Giles could have sworn that the beast with the sky-blue eyes was smirking at him just as much as the vampire who had materialised from nowhere, a wreath of smoke around his head.

"Glad you could make it, Rupie-bear."

Anya came over from where she had been discussing the possibility of a volume discount on bile with a regurgitating demon. "I guess maybe someone should have mentioned what Bee's cat's called. Apparently she read some newspaper article on Rupert Murdoch just after she bought him."

"So not only do I share my name with a cat, but with a cat named after an obese, uncouth Australian. Is that what you're saying?"

"That pretty much sums it up from where I'm standing." Spike smirked again.

Giles put down the can of beer he'd been drinking from. "I don't suppose there are any spirits round here?"

Spike leant against the wall to finish his cigarette before he returned to the main room, letting the wall take the strain after what seemed like an incredibly long day.








"He's never going to accept that he's a white-hat now, is he?" Buffy smiled at Marie.

"All it took was the right woman," Marie offered.

"Women," Buffy corrected. "Maybe I'm the one he's marrying but there are a lot more who help him be who he is. He does it for all of us. I mean who could let down a little cutie like this one? Do I get a hug?" she asked as she swept Rosa into her arms, taking care not to overdo the slayer strength.

"Mommy, the cat lady had to get Rupert down off the wall 'cause Auntie Dawnie's puppy was barking at him and the old man thought she was calling him Rupie bear and he got all proper."

Buffy flinched on Giles' behalf, hearing him described as the old man, but then she realised that if she hadn't watched the grey creep into his hairline, and the pounds gradually accumulate around his waist that she might think that way about him herself.

Moving back to England and Olivia really was his last chance at having a family of his own. She'd wanted to think that she was his family, but she knew it wasn't the same. Somehow, it seemed right that there should be a whole new generation of rebel watchers, to polish their eyeglasses and tut disapprovingly at a whole new generation of slayers. Buffy began to take the first few vital steps towards forgiving her former watcher for leaving her... not quite alone.

 
 
Chapter #33 - Chapter 3.03
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me



(The Associates)





Chapter 3.03
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Xander was just about to go for the Doritos family size bag when he noticed the stoneware dish with its clear wrapping. Peeling back the plastic, he inhaled the chocolatey scent. Breaking off a piece from one of the finger-sized blocks, he raised it tentatively to his mouth. His eyes widened at the moist rich taste with a faint undercurrent of spiciness. He quickly stuffed the rest of the brownie into his mouth before looking round guiltily in case he was discovered.

It wasn't as if he was really having more than his share of the food, just that it was all in the form of brownies. Taking the dish with him, he headed toward the yard, where he found a dark corner and quickly tucked away enough of the chocolate goodies to still the rumbling in his stomach before spotting an empty plate. He decided on the grounds of being less conspicuous to transfer the remaining chocolate fingers.

Well, it seemed like a good idea until he dropped one. Flicking it guiltily across the grass in Rogue's direction, he left the stoneware dish lying on the ground. When he straightened up he had a normal plate, with half a dozen brownies on it. Okay, so it still looked slightly gluttonish, but if he didn't have anything else, it was understandable for a growing boy. Guiltily clearing his throat, he made his way back to where he could see Anya chatting away to what looked like a Fyarl demon.








"Hey, Giles."

A genuine smile settled on the Englishman's face at the gentle tones and he turned to enfold Tara in his arms.

"Hello." His gaze was full of concern as he searched her face. "How are you holding up?"

Tara's gaze flicked to the side, where Lily stood, before she answered. "A lot better than when we split up before. Everybody's been really supportive.

Giles, Lily asked if I would introduce you. She said she wanted to meet William's roomie."

"William's roo- Ah, Spike. You'll forgive me if it seems unusual to hear him referred to by anything other than his sobriquet."

Lily shrugged. "Marie and Clem, they call him Spike. To me, he William, Rosa, he Uncle Will. Is all same. You Watcher like Wesley, no?"

"More of a former Watcher, actually. The Council seemed to regard my departure from Sunnydale as being synonymous with my resignation. Understandable, really, I suppose. But I'm surprised you know so much about Watchers."

"No so surprising," Lily told him. "Is good to know who wants dead demon. Even if sometimes reasonable men get tied up with bad men."

"And you're sure that Wesley and I are 'reasonable' men?"

Tara's smile gave her face a gentle glow. "Maybe I should have explained when I made the introductions. Lily is empathic. If you were harbouring any hostile feelings toward her guests, she would know about it."

"Empathic?" Giles' face brightened considerably. "That's fascinating. I'm sorry, but I didn't realise. I'm afraid I didn't recognise your species. Most remiss of me, I know."

Lily chuckled at his enthusiasm. "Lily like... How William say? Mutt?" She nodded toward Rogue who was licking at something no one wanted to investigate too closely. "She many species all in one. Clem he one species more and Rosa she one more again."

"Rosa? I thought she was human?"

"Only on mother's side, so we no hold it next to her." The old demon's eyes twinkled with laughter. "Come, old legs need chair and old ears no like this boom-boom music."

Tara smiled. "I'm heading for the drinks table. Can I bring you anything?"

Giles lifted the tumbler of straight tequila he had poured from one of the bottles Spike had brought, showing that he was amply catered for. Lily smiled wickedly. "Marie, she make a mean margarita."

She hooked her arm through Giles' and bustled him toward the living room. "Is long time since this old demon have handsome young man on arm."

"And it's a long time since anyone has called me a young man."

"Pff. You no look older than forty. In home country, you barely aged for vote. Lily, she drink wine older than you." Giles blushed under the praise, but smiled just the same. Maybe this wasn't going to be such a bad evening, after all.








"I don't think I made a very good impression on your friend the cat lady, earlier," Buffy admitted as she balanced Rosa on her hip to watch Bee enter, still carrying Rupert.

Marie noticed Bee head for where Wes was lurking in a corner with a plate of food. "Well, if you want a second attempt, I'm overdue to introduce Wes to my boss. He's only meant to be popping in for an hour or so to meet Wes before he takes his wife out to dinner, and his hour must be nearly up. So, if you can keep an eye on this little terror, while I play the hostess, I'll re-introduce you to Bee."

Buffy was a little intimidated by what she could hear of Wes's conversation with the even shorter but distinctly bustier blonde as they approached.

"I thought that was in Dralius VIII , not VI but then I haven't read them in years," the blonde chatted away as if they were discussing what volume of Harry Potter they crashed Ron's dad's car instead of dusty tomes that Buffy seemed to recall even Giles had admitted he found difficult to get through.

"It's quite amazing to find someone outside the Council who's read them at all, and I don't think I've ever seen a copy in the original Latin."

"Pops wouldn't buy anything that wasn't in the original language, if he could help it. He used to say that you never knew what some idiot could have translated wrongly."

"I quite agree."

Buffy whispered to Marie. "She doesn't look the bookish type."

Marie smiled. "Bee's a lot more than she seems at first glance. Her career of choice is as an artist. She's had two or three shows at your mom's old gallery, as a matter of fact, but when things are quiet on the art front she falls back on what her father taught her and gets work as a translator. She minored in ancient languages but she can speak a bit of at least a dozen demon languages and she's fluent in another six. So long as she doesn't lose what she's meant to be translating, she does fine. She spent a whole day, one time, trying to work out where she'd left some ancient scroll and then found it in the freezer next to the Ben and Jerry's. So yep, very bright, but incredibly ditsy and she dotes on that cat to the point that any sane man runs a mile within the first two weeks."

"Seriously?"

"Promise. She only looks perfect. Word of warning. Lesley Anne Ivory is the devil and anyone trying to paint or otherwise reproduce any artwork, other than photographs, of any feline is doomed by their human nature to produce a flawed product which insults said felines."

Buffy looked at Marie in amazement and then thought of the hideous piece of so-called art that Willow had put up on the once tasteful walls of her mother's bedroom. Maybe she had a point, but just the same it did sound a bit extreme. "Again, I say, seriously?"

Marie nodded and guided Buffy across to meet the erstwhile artist again. "Bee, I hate to do it, but I need to borrow Wes and take him to meet Walter before he leaves. Buffy says you've already met. Maybe you can find something to chat about for a while."

"That's okay. I was just keeping him warm for you, and possibly talking my way into being able to make the rent on time next month, without the letter to Pop."

"Hi." Buffy's gaze slipped to her tan high heels. "I kinda wanted to apologise if I came across as some sort of. rhymes with witch." she glanced at Rosa. "I'm not normally like that, at least not with strangers. It just kinda caught me off-guard when you said your name was Bee, but that's kind of a long story and not for small ears, so maybe you'll let me off if I save it for another time."

"Mommy says little jugs have big ears," Rosa pointed out, wiggling hers in a way Buffy found adorable.

"And your mommy's right, but that's not what Buffy meant," Bee pointed out with a smile. "How about we start from fresh? I'm Bee."

"And I'm Buffy, nice to meet you. Rosa said the cutie on your shoulder's called Rupert."








"Hon, can we go sit on that bench over there? I'm feelin' kinda tired."

"Sweetie, I was in the middle of talking to Kalish and his wife." She indicated a large demon whose skin reminded Xander of a grass snake, and his wife who had hidden behind her husband for almost the entire duration of the discussion. "He was telling me how he plays the futures market."

"D'you mind?" he asked the couple. "Say, why don't you two have the bench? I'll take the grass. I bet I can still sit cross-legged. I used to be able to do the lotus-position but I'm not so sure on that one any more."

Anya glanced suspiciously from her suddenly affable husband to the plate he had left sitting on a nearby table. While her companions were watching Xander she pressed her finger down on one of the crumbs and transferred it to her mouth, confirming her suspicions.

"Kalish, I'm really sorry, but I just realised we haven't said 'hi' to the guest of honour, yet. We really must go find him."

She looped an arm through Xander's and led him into the kitchen. "Xander, how many of those brownies did you eat?"

"Just a few. honest."

"Xander, even when I was human the first time, I knew if a man put honest at the end of a sentence he was lying. I know how long a batch of muffins last in our apartment, or a box of doughnuts. How many did you eat?"

"I didn't have all of them. It's just they were sort of more-ish, and that Fyarl guy he had one when I brought them out and Dawn's dog had one?"

"You gave one to the dog?"

"Well, more sort of dropped it, but it's just a brownie. Maybe not best nutritional content, but it's not as if it's going to hurt."

"It might hurt you, if that dog gets sick in Spike's car. You do realise that those brownies had marijuana in?"

"Wh- If they had dope in I'd be stoned."

"Well, gee, I guess it's normal for you to want to go sleepy-bye at half past eight and for you to treat demons like real people."

Xander held his hand up in front of his face and marvelled at how far away his fingers seemed. "Hey, I think maybe I'm just a teeny bit stoned."

"So I ask again, how many brownies did you have?"

"All of them. Well, except the one that demon had and the one the dog got." Anya rolled her eyes and dragged him into the main room behind her.

"Clem, can you baby-sit?" she asked, wrapping Xander's arm around the demon's shoulders. She spotted a dish with some familiar looking crumbs on the buffet table and double-checked, but the crumbs that were all that was left in that dish tasted of the finest cocoa and nothing more.

"Say, Clem," Xander asked. "Did I ever tell you about the visions I saw that day me and Anya were meant to get married? Anya had a daughter and she had ears just like Rosa. D'you like Anya, Clem? 'Cause it'd be real good to know that if something happened to me there'd be someone around to look after her and you seem like a pretty cool sort of guy, I mean demon, but that's not exactly your fault exactly. It's not like you chose to be a demon, and you seem like a decent guy, cheating at poker, not withstanding. So what about it? If I buy it in the next apocalypse, will you see Anya has everything she needs? I mean. I got insurance. I got boatloads of insurance so it's not like the cash thing would be a problem but she needs a good guy to be there for her. What d'you say, dude?"








"Marie, can we talk for a second?" Anya pulled the girl away from the group of people including Wes, her boss and his wife.

"Marie, were you serving dope brownies?" Anya whispered as soon as they were out of range of the DA's hearing.

"No, well, I mean Bee brought some, but we hid them in one of the kitchen cupboards where the kids couldn't get them. Bee might have told a few people where to find them, but it's not like they were out where people could just eat them without knowing what they were."

"Not unless they were going through your cupboards instead of going to the buffet table like any civilised guest. Yet again, I have to apologise for Xander. I don't suppose you've got any idea how much might have been in them."

Marie shrugged. "You'd really have to ask Bee. Is he going to be alright?"

"Not when I finish with him," Anya replied.








"Bee, say someone ate all the brownies that were in the kitchen cupboard, what's the worst that could happen?" Anya asked, careful not to word the question so that Rosa would understand.

"This isn't a rhetorical question, is it?" The platinum blonde sighed and set Rupert down on the floor.

"Assuming they didn't have any sort of allergic reaction, they'd probably just sleep for a day or so straight and then wake up with the mother of all hangovers, but especially if they've been mixing it with booze it's probably best to get them to throw up as much as possible and then get them home to sleep it off, but someone's going to have to keep a watch on them to make sure they don't barf in their sleep or anything and the allergic reaction, always a possibility. If they have any sort of problems, you'll have to take them to a hospital."

"And if they gave one to a dog, say?"

Buffy's ears pricked up.

"One the size of the one in the back yard by any chance?" Bee asked.

"That would be the one."

"You'd probably end up with a very mellow pooch. There shouldn't be enough in one to have much effect on something that size, again barring allergic reactions."

Buffy looked at the little girl in her arms. "Rosa, honey, why don't you go look for your Uncle Will, he must be in the yard, and tell him I said he should look after you for a little bit. I think I need to talk to Bee and Anya about grown up things." As soon as the little girl scooted off through the kitchen, Buffy turned to Anya. "What exactly has Xander been feeding to our dog?"

"Marijuana."

"He got our dog stoned! I'm going to kill him!" Buffy hissed so that her voice wouldn't carry beyond their circle, forgetting, of course, the sharp hearing of the various demons in the crowd.

"Right now, I doubt he'd notice. Do you think Spike would give him a lift home to sleep it off?"

"Once he finds out about Rogue, I sorta doubt it, but you're in luck seeing as how he gave his car keys to Brandon for the night. If we're lucky you might be able to get him in the car before Spike knows anything's going on. Bee, d'you think you could go fetch Brandon from the back yard? Teen, all in black, spiked hair, black nail varnish, green eyes."

"I remember. Little sis's boyfriend, right?"

It took about twenty minutes for Anya and Buffy to get Xander into the car and take him home. Buffy left Anya preparing a solution of lukewarm water and salt, once they had managed with the help of slayer strength to get him into bed. Buffy couldn't quite manage to hold Xander and the clutch purse where she'd tucked away the orbs at the same time.

"I'll call later, okay, and see if you need anything," Buffy offered.

"I'll be fine, but thanks. You best get that car back before Spike realises it's missing and check on the pooch."








Rupert eyed Rogue disdainfully from just outside the range of her tether. The big mutt was decidedly less excitable than earlier and her tail swished softly as the cat moved closer. After several minutes, the cat finally deigned to come close enough for canine and feline noses to almost meet. The dog's tail wagged faster and faster.








Buffy had barely got back to the party, only to discover the incongruous scene of Rogue and the cat that had been "rescued" from her curled up in a huge, sleeping ball of grey and brown fur. She was just making her way over to speak to Dawn, when Rosa came running up to her. "Auntie Buffy, I checked everywhere, but I can't find Unker Will. He's not in the yard or in grandma's apartment or our apartment."

Buffy tried to concentrate on the vampire, willing him to be nearby. It suddenly struck her with chilling clarity that the pain in her gut was still a day or two early to be the onset of PMS.
 
 
Chapter #34 - Chapter 3.04
 





Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me



(The Associates)





Chapter 3.04
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Spike knew he'd been busted when his cell phone started ringing. Everyone who had the number was at the party, so when that phone rang, he knew he'd been missed. The aggressively cheerful ring-tone informed him that whoever was calling was using Dawn's cell, but right at that moment he was more preoccupied with the blood that was splattering its way into and around the drain by his feet, painting pretty Rorschach pictures, than answering the device, not to mention the fact that said blood was actually spilling from his mouth in waves, so that answering was sort of impossible. The fact that he was bent nearly double and using both hands to brace himself against the wall so that the blood wouldn't get on his clothing, and also just to stop him sliding to his knees, could also have been a slight hindrance.

'For Chrissake, how long can it take to puke up one lousy pint of pig blood?' Spike asked himself, the sensation of being sick so long forgotten that the total discomfort as his diaphragm continued to heave even after he had no more left in his stomach hit with all the impact of a fatal illness. Finally, his retching stilled and for now the pain receded. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his lips clean, the sight of bright blood against the white cotton triggering memories of his mother's long infirmity and he shoved the cloth out of sight as if he could push away all other similarities in their situation. He checked what he could of his appearance. A few small spatters had caught on his jeans, but at night on the dark material no one would notice. His brow was slick with sweat, but if his tormentor had given up for now, it would soon dry in the night air.

He sighed and hit the speed dial button for Dawn's phone. He could make a good guess at Buffy's reaction to what was happening, and he really didn't think it was a brilliant idea for her to dive off the deep end, or ruin the party for anyone else. Vampires simply don't get sick, not in the normal run of things. They can be injured, starvation can have all sorts of nasty side-effects as when Dru had been weakened, but one thing Spike knew from nearly a century and a quarter of first hand experience was vampires as a rule do not get sick.

Once upon a time, Spike had known two people who could work this sort of magic, but the last one had died more than thirty years ago. He'd thought the workings had been lost. These weren't the prim note takers of the Watcher's council, these were the priests, the oungans, guys who 'served with both hands' as they put it down south in areas where, unofficially at least, vaudun was as much a religion as orthodox Christianity.

If the artist formerly known as Red was playing with that sort of magic, even after what Anya's little playmate had pulled off, it was a Hail Mary. It would age her into the ground. It might just take him out first though, and it wasn't like they didn't know she was capable of it. It was exactly the same as she'd done the last time she had thought that Tara had slipped beyond her reach. She'd gone all out to get the person she thought was responsible, even if it killed her. That time, Buffy had gone in to pull her out. This time, he had a suspicion that if she got in the way, Buffy would be the one who needed help.

To stop her, they were going to need someone as skilled and powerful in the vaudun as she was, or, more likely, given her recklessness, as skilled and powerful as the loa riding her. They were going to need someone who worked only for good. Despite vaudun's depiction on the silver screen, this wasn't the hard part. Most sorcerers worked only in white magic. More importantly, they needed someone who worked for good but would help to save a soulless vampire. Add to this that those practitioners who had an affinity for working with the dead almost invariably were drawn to the darker side sooner or later, and Spike didn't know if the person they were looking for even existed. He did know that the place to start looking was New Orleans. First though, he had to get Buffy to accept that simply trying to kick the shit out of the bad guys wasn't going to cut it. Best of all he had to try to sort all this out with Buffy without Niblet finding out 'cause she'd more than her fair share of problems already, and without telling Buffy who he thought was behind it. Not without proof.

All this had been running round his head for longer than he cared to think. At first his idea had simply been to weather the attack and try to push it from his mind before he went back to the party in the hope that neither Buffy nor Lily would pick up on his worries, at least until he and Buffy had a chance to discuss it in private at home, but he had been gone too long and now he was going to have to face the music.

"Spike?" Buffy answered the phone and the vampire didn't know if this was good or bad.

"Yeah. Sorry I couldn't answer before... love."

"Where are you, Spike? What happened to you?"

"I'm fine, pet. You haven't got everybody all worked up lookin' for me have you?"

"Well, no, but only because we'd no idea where to look."

"Pet, I can hear you worryin' from here. Now, tell them I just went to the liquor store because I fancied some bourbon an' I couldn't answer because I was in the middle of bein' served an' I'll be back in a bit, okay?"

"Spike?"

"Look, love, I need to talk to you, but other than you an' maybe the watcher boys, it's somethin' as there's no need to go spreadin' around and there's definitely no need for gettin' Niblet excited, okay? You with me?"

"Spike, promise you're okay. I felt something before."

"So did I, love, but it's gone now. When you get a chance to slip away, come out the main door of the building, turn left and keep walking. I'll meet you."

"Spike, why don't you just come back?"

"Because the two of us need to discuss this together before it ends up being open for debate and as soon as I get in that door Lily is gonna start wantin' to know what's happenin'."

"Okay."

"An' Buffy."

"Yeah?"

"Love you."

"Love you, too, even if you do cause massive dramas, not telling people where you're going." Buffy's tone was light but he could hear the underlying tension and he knew that she was trying to reassure those around her.


Spike clicked the phone closed and started to walk slowly back toward Lily's apartment, stopping when he was half a block away to wait for Buffy to meet him.








If Spike could have blushed at the way just seeing Buffy made him feel better, he would have done. 'Gettin' near as bad as the bloody poof,' he thought to himself. Her walk-jog pace, the eternal mark of a high-heeled woman in a hurry, betrayed her own eagerness to reach him, and Spike let instinct take over, breaking into a jog of his own to meet her half way.

"Wha-." Buffy tried to question him about his disappearance, but his lips mashed against hers in a greedy welcome. His touch, as always, echoed his love and desire, but also fear and uncertainty and yet beneath them was an underlying determination.

Faced with a multitude of questions she wanted answers to, Buffy chose one at random when she finally pulled back enough to let her read his face, even as his hands on her bare arms let her read his emotions. "Why do you taste like you just ate a whole pack of breath mints?"

"Probably because I did just eat a whole pack of breath mints. Look, love, you know that vampires don't get ill, right?"

"Yeah, part of the whole undead deal. So?"

"So, if last night's stitch wasn't a stitch and it came back worse so that I just spent half an hour pukin' my guts up, it's because someone's makin' me ill, and the only people I've ever known who could pull that sort of stunt were hardcore voodoo priests."

"Wood. It's that Wood guy! Gotta be. So, we get Wes and Giles and Tara and we find out where he's staying and we."

"We what, love? I'm not goin' to be up for much for a while and I don't see as any of the rest of you are goin' to be killin' a human. An' besides, I've pissed off a lot of people in my time. No guarantee that it is him."

"It has to be. Look we can do the magic sand thing. Giles will be okay with us getting the stuff and we can-."

"Get the Niblet all upset again?

Leave it for tonight, love. Seems to me like it probably takes it out of them near as much as it's takin' it out of me. Don't reckon as they'll try it again tonight, whoever it is, an' you can get your stuff an' do your thing tomorrow without getting' everybody all worked up."

"At least let me get Tara to do a protection spell."

"After Niblet's in bed asleep. Not as it's like to help much."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean voodoo doesn't work like normal magic an' it's like as not gonna take another voodoo priest to break the spell."

"But we don't know any voodoo priests."

"Then come tomorrow maybe it's time we widened our circle of acquaintances but for tonight how's about we see how much we can distract each other from worryin' about it and head back to Lil's before they send out search parties?"

"Problem. Weren't you supposed to be buying bourbon?"

"There's a bottle in the trunk of the car, under the jack."

"The car that Brandon has the keys for."

"Just the one set. There's a spare in one of those little magnetic boxes tucked under the sill. We're covered. All we've got to do is make sure we're thinkin' about nothin' but each other by the time we're close enough for Lily to pick up on anything. If, of course, you think you're up to the challenge of distracting me that much." Spike's eyebrow swept upward and the tip of his tongue swept across his upper teeth.

"Huh, I thought the problem was keeping your mind on anything other than sex? Heck, you probably get turned on watching the nature programs on the Discovery channel."

"I do not!" the vampire protested. "I never watch the Discovery channel... And I am not constantly horny. just semi-constantly horny... and only when you're around."

Buffy's eyes drifted down and her reply was husky. "I noticed."

"Have I told you how incredible you look in that dress, how it brings out the green in your eyes and makes you look like a golden goddess?"

"You do realise, Wordsworth, that while we're alone out here, Dawn and Brandon are alone back there, unsupervised."

Spike considered this fact for a millisecond. "I hope you're wearin' knickers under that thing, pet."

Before Buffy could even ask why, he had her hoisted over his shoulder and was running for the car. When they got there he spun round a couple of times, till Buffy's protests turned to giggles before he set her back on her feet.

"You are a positive Neanderthal," Buffy told him.

"I just take my fun where I can find it, love. And there's not much I like better than hearin' you laugh. Actually, no, I think I might even rate that higher than seein' you come, feelin' it, whatever..." He paused and licked his lips, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "Damn close run thing though."

"You are a sex addict, you know that?"

"Nope. I'm a Buffy addict. Wouldn't look twice if Liv Tyler climbed into my bed." This time it was Buffy who raised a sceptical eyebrow. "Oh, alright, I might just sneak a peak but I'd never touch."

"So, it's just coincidence that you were moaning 'Liv' in your sleep the other morning while you were groping me."

"I did... not," Spike's denial stalled midway as Buffy's face creased into laughter once more. "You know fine well I was saying 'love'."

"Yeah," Buffy admitted. "But you're so cute when you get all flustered, kinda like a cooler baby Giles."

"You are so gonna suffer for that comparison later, missy," Spike replied even as he pulled the spare key from its hiding place and opened up the trunk. He pulled out a full bottle of bourbon and passed it to her before shutting the trunk and sliding the key back where it came from.

"How are you going to do that?" Buffy teased.

"I'm going to take you home and make you come in ways the librarian's only seen in his damn books until you scream for mercy."

"Actually, I have it on good authority that Giles is like a stevedore in bed and you wouldn't believe where he's done it."

Spike's arm slid around her shoulders and he reclaimed the bottle of bourbon. "I knew there was something goin' on between the pair of you. Lolita." His eyes danced with laughter as he teased her. "Maybe you really were thinking about Giles that time in the Bronze."

"Eugh, and still gross. You really think I could look into your eyes and ever think of anyone else?"

"You tell me, pet."

"Well, for one thing, you have the bluest eyes I've ever seen, and you can read your every thought, your every feeling in them. No guy has ever made it so obvious, just with a glance, that he is absolutely and completely in love with me, so, no I could never think about anyone else while I'm with you." She stretched to put her arms around his neck, nibbling gently at his earlobe as he opened the apartment door. "And I'd never want to," she whispered.

He just managed to drop the bottle of bourbon into a pocket rather than letting it fall to the ground before he picked Buffy up, with one hand on either side of her waist. He kissed her with all the tenderness and devotion she had claimed to read in his eyes as he carried her through the entrance hall and out toward the rear door, only putting her down as they reached the yard itself.








Spike and Buffy watched from where they lounged on the grass, using Spike's duster as a blanket while Dawn and Brandon danced to a pounding electro beat. Rogue and Rupert were still curled up in a heap just a couple of feet away.

"Feeling your age?" Buffy asked as Spike screwed up his face at the inhuman noise.

"Music should be about playin' not programmin'. That's where the energy comes from, not uppin' the beats per minute till women wobble like jellies tryin' to keep up."

"I'll take that as a yes, shall I?"

"Unker Will," Rosa threw herself into his arms. "Mommy says that if I want you to do our song I have to get you to do it now so I can get ready for bed."

"Alright, munchkin. Where's the guitar?"

"Mommy's got it inside."

"Don't suppose I can talk you into stayin' out here an' keepin' an eye on Romeo an' Juliet?" he asked Buffy.

"And miss this? I'll get them to come and watch, too."

The vampire tilted his head to the side and pursed his lips. "Thanks ever so," he grated sarcastically as he got to his feet and helped Buffy up.

"So, what is it we're about to be treated to? Puff the Magic Dragon?"

"Credit me with some taste, love."

"I just don't know what could possibly fit in your repertoire and still be suitable for kiddies."

"You'll just have to wait and see, won't you?" Spike smirked and swept his coat from the ground and tossed it to Buffy.

Buffy fetched Dawn and Brandon inside just in time to see Spike check the tuning on an acoustic guitar before he started playing a vaguely country sounding tune, nodding to Rosa to give her her cue to start singing along with him.

"You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you."

Buffy couldn't help but notice how the pair seemed to lose track of everyone else in the room, or so she thought until Spike looked up and seemed to catch Wes's eye. Buffy would swear that the watcher shifted awkwardly under the vampire's gaze.
 
 
Chapter #35 - Chapter 3.05
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me



(The Associates)





Chapter 3.05
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Lori sidled into a gap next to where Tara stood with Wes to watch the vampire perform. "Hey there. I didn't know Spike could play," she whispered.

Tara turned with a smile. "Neither did we. So far as I know, he doesn't even own a guitar... but I kinda get the impression that Cutie there, gets to see a whole different persona from the Big Bad."

"I won't even ask," Lori replied.

As Spike finished, tossing the guitar to Giles with a, "Hoi, Rupert, you're up," Tara turned to chat to the other woman, missing the gentle prompting that Lily gave the older watcher. "Have you just arrived?"

"I wish... I got cornered by the boss about ten minutes after I got here, wanting my opinion on whether we should upgrade to Windows XP or not, as if I'm going to know without ever having seen it."

"I think that's what's on Spike's new PC at our place if you did want a look."

"S'okay, I eventually convinced him to speak to the IT team and go with whatever they recommend." The brunette gave Tara a curious look.

"You look a bit different. I think it's the lack of a redhead on your arm."

"W-w-we broke up." Tara watched Lori through a curtain of hair as she spoke.

"Permanent or break?"

"I think this time it's beyond anything a break could fix."

"I'm sorry," the older woman offered. "When you get to the stage where you begin taking an interest in other people again, I know a couple of nice women who're fairly cute, and if you like men I've got a younger brother who's just transferred to UC Sunnydale for his final year."

Tara shook her head. "Not into men at all, and I think it could be sometime next decade before I'm looking to start dating again."

"Don't you know? Romance only comes along when you don't expect it. It's a statistical impossibility to find a decent guy, well, partner, when you're looking for one. As soon as you decide you're off the market. up comes Mr or Ms Right.

Isn't that right, Wes?"

"What? I'm sorry. I didn't catch what you were saying." Wes drew his attention away from where Giles was singing, 'Love the One You're With', apparently inspired by Spike's foray into the works of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The younger Watcher was beginning to feel that there was a conspiracy against him, which was only confirmed when Lori repeated her question.

"I was saying to Tara that it's generally when you swear off love that you finally meet 'The One'?"

"I'm afraid as a bachelor, I can't really comment."

"Not even any near misses?"

"That would very much depend on how you look at it," Wes replied thinking of the night, not even a year ago when all the AI staff except Lorne had attended the ballet. "I think maybe I missed my chance."

Having seen how the former watcher's glance had strayed in Fred's direction whenever he wasn't otherwise occupied during the long hours while they had waited for Lorne to be rescued, not to mention the obvious tension between him and Gunn, Lori's words weren't really a stab in the dark. "My mom used to say that dating's like opening up one of those parcels where you've got boxes inside boxes and layers and layers of wrapping. The more layers you get off, the better chance you have of guessing what's in there, but you never know till you get to the final layer of gift-wrap and open it on up whether it's gonna be something you want to keep, whether it's something good but maybe it just isn't you or whether it's something you'd just as soon drop straight in the trash. Seems to me like you might be hankering over some pretty gift-wrap and a nice bow."

"I think she's a pretty special package," Wes said sadly. "I just hesitated too long and didn't say anything."

"If you're talking about the twig with the excessively hostile boyfriend in LA, I take leave to quote something I overheard one of our esteemed hosts say earlier. Now, I'm paraphrasing here. 'She's an incredible woman, but I'm still hoping that I'll find an incredible woman whose first choice is the cute, wrinkly guy with floppy ears'."

"But that's only fair if you can give the other person the same thing in return."

"True, but if you keep chasing after someone when you never even got to know her well enough to see her bad habits, you're gonna miss more than one chance."

"Have you been talking to Lily?" the Watcher asked.

"Not tonight. I guess she's been giving you the same advice?"

"You could say that." The Watcher glanced over to where Spike was holding Rosa in his arms, as he chatted with Buffy and Marie. Lori caught the direction of his gaze and realised that maybe all her groundwork was going to end up benefiting someone else. Then again, maybe this was one of those parcels that held something nice, but it just wasn't for her, and Rosa could really do with some little brothers and sisters.








Bee walked up to the group including Spike just as the vampire was giving the young girl in his arms an Eskimo kiss. She swatted him hard enough on the butt to make her palm sting.

"You could have told me your friend's name was Rupert. Now I'm going to have to wait till he finishes and go and apologise for treating him like some sort of lunatic."

"Hey! Trespassin' on the slayer's property there, short stuff." The vampire nodded toward Buffy. "'Sides somebody needs to take the starch out the Watcher's knickers now and again."

"Spi-ike!" Buffy protested. "Unwanted images."

"You're talking to a guy that you helped force into sharing a basement with Harris. Don't talk to me about unwanted images until you've been around when the builder's changin' his grunties."

Bee cleared her throat.

"Alright, pet. Yes, I should have told you, but are you tellin' me you wouldn't have done exactly the same anyway."

"We-ell... Maybe... but at least I'd have been in on the joke."








"What d'you say, mite? Who's doin' the honours tonight? You've got a whole house full of people to choose from. Who d'you think's gonna do your bedtime story?" Spike turned so that Rosa could see almost everyone in the room.

"Think your Uncle Clem might be a bit busy." He pointed to where a small group of people seemed to have picked up on the fact that Giles' rendition of 'Freebird' might be their only chance for a slow dance. Clem was trying to waltz with a slim, young demon, who was a couple of inches taller than him and dressed in tight blue leather. Her pale, yellowish skin formed three small pouches on either cheek and her dark brunette hair fell forward over both their shoulders as she rested her forehead against Clem's. "What about Glinda? Remember her from this morning? Auntie Buffy's witch friend." Tara seemed to notice the attention in her direction and waved at the youngster.

The little girl nodded. "She's nice."

"You want her to read to you?" Rosa seemed to consider, glancing toward her mother and frowning slightly almost as if she were trying to work something out before she answered. "Want him. It's s'posed to be him."

Marie leant forward. "What do you mean, it's supposed to be him, baby?"

"He was in the picture, reading Willow book."

The gaze of all the adults in the group seemed to meet over Rosa's head before turning in Wes's direction. "Willow book?" Buffy asked.

"The Wind in the Willows," Marie answered. "It's one of her favourites."

"Come on, munchkin. Let's go tell Wes he's the lucky winner. Now, if you see any pictures of the winning lottery numbers, you'll ring Uncle Will and let him know, won't you?"

"Silly!" The young girl shook her head as if to say that the vampire didn't understand at all.

"Guess it doesn't work like that, huh?"

She, again, indicated a firm no. "You need to put me down. If you ask he'll get grumpy."

"Well, we definitely can't have that." Spike lowered her to the floor and sent her off with a smile.








Wes tried to pretend he wasn't aware of the attention of the group of people and demons. It was ridiculous. He was actively avoiding a woman who he actually liked, and who by all appearances found the situation almost as awkward as he did. Spike had said that, of her own volition, Marie probably wouldn't push the situation and it seemed the vampire was right. She had been polite and friendly but she had seemed relieved when her duties as hostess took her elsewhere. Perhaps, she too, was suffering from 'panda' syndrome. Wes was definitely feeling as if his whole life was on display, with all his friends and Marie's watching to see if there would be a successful 'mating'.

He saw Rosa heading his way, but assumed she was going to bypass him and go to Tara until she tugged at his hand. "Would you dance with me?"

Wes looked down. "I think the song's just about to finish."

"If I ask mommy, she'll play, and then the cat lady can get the old man to dance, too, so she can say sorry."

Wes looked down and found himself unable to deny the pleading eyes that looked up at him. Certainly, compared with dancing with Marie, this seemed the lesser of two evils. "Okay, you go see if your mommy will play and I'll do my best to dance, but I'm not very good."

"It's okay. If you pick me up, then you can't step on my feet," Rosa answered before running back to her mother.

There seemed to follow a brief discussion, Wes getting particularly wary when he saw the blond vampire conferring with Marie, even more so when the vampire gave Buffy a parting kiss and accompanied the young girl when she returned toward him and Marie and Bee moved toward Giles. However, as it turned out, this one time, Wes really was being paranoid.

Spike extended a hand toward Tara. "Marie tells me she thinks she can manage something from 'Rumours'. How about that dance, gorgeous?"

Tara smiled. "Best offer I've had all night, so long as you're allowed."

"Allowed and even encouraged. Buffy says she wants a chance to talk to Lily." Spike smiled and led the Wiccan toward the impromptu dance floor, where Clem and his lady friend were still swaying gently. The vampire held her in a soft embrace, his hands on her back as Marie began to play. Nearby, Wes swept Rosa into his arms, and the girl knew that before the end of the song he would agree to read to her.

Soon, Bee and Giles joined them, though Giles was more than glad to end their sojourn on the dance floor at the end of the song. He found it hard to believe that such a small woman could exert so many pounds per square inch of pressure when she stood on his toes, at least until he got a decent view of her footwear. By then, however, Bee had managed to find out about Giles' former employment at the British Museum and was regaling him with the sort of intelligent questions he had once dreamt of Buffy asking. As far as the former watcher was concerned, the party was definitely looking up. The only thing that could have made it better was if Olivia could have been there.








"So, has Clem found himself a date for the wedding or is it going to fizzle?" Buffy asked Lily as she gave the small demon a hug.

Lily shrugged. "They like. They hopeful. Is early days."

"I wanted to say thanks for talking to Tara earlier. I think it probably helped a lot. We're kinda lacking in the mom area, and I think sometimes it's good to get advice from someone with a bit more experience."

Lily shrugged again. "Tara, she already wise. She no need advice. She need friends and hugs and maybe little mothering. You , I think need advice. You look at our William and you scared."

Buffy sighed. "Don't suppose we had you fooled for a minute?"

"For while you hide feelings, but William he take ten minutes to go to shop and back, no long time like before."

"I don't suppose you've got any blood in that kitchen of yours?" Buffy asked.

"No fresh. Just frozen." Lily got to her feet as she answered and began moving toward the kitchen.

"As long as we heat it up to body temperature, I'm sure 'our William' will like it fine... And maybe we can talk."

It took a little time to find the blood-bags at the bottom of the freezer and set a couple of them to defrost in the microwave allowing Buffy to delay for a while before telling Lily what the problem was. "Spike didn't want to say anything to spoil the party or worry Dawnie, but he's ill. He had stomach pains last night and then again tonight and he threw up earlier, so it's like he hasn't eaten today at all. I guess there's a chance he won't be able to keep this down either. He thinks it's some sort of voodoo thing.

He's being all British about it, but I know he's more worried than he wants to let on, and what if we're in the middle of a fight or something and he starts throwing up?" she asked. "What if he gets hurt or worse? I know he won't stay home."

"So what he say to do?"

"Well, I'm going to try this trance thing tomorrow to see who's doing it. I mean, I think I know. There's this guy who's been asking questions about us, but Spike doesn't seem to be convinced. After that, I don't know," the slayer admitted. "I guess it'll depend what Tara and the Watchers have to say. Spike seems to think we might have a problem in a direct confrontation with anyone who can do this."

Spike pushed the door open and slid his arms around Buffy's waist. "Blabbermouth," he whispered in her ear before nipping gently at her earlobe with blunt teeth.

"She pretty much knew, anyway."

Lily smiled consolingly at the vampire. "No much go by this old woman. You need to find people who know vaudun, maybe Marie she can help. She still speak to lot of her and Thomas's friends down in Miami. Many people in Miami from Caribbean. Maybe one of them know someone who know someone."

"Thanks, Lily. If maybe you could mention it to her tomorrow, see if she can come up with any contacts. I've seen the spell or curse or whatever before. I just don't know if there's a way to counter it."

"So what happened to the guy who was cursed?" Buffy asked.

"After a month of starving, not being able to hunt, throwing up anything she did manage to catch, she eventually took a walk in the sunlight."

"It must have been agony."

"She tried to kill Dru," the vampire announced flatly. "Thought she could step into her shoes. She deserved it."

"Oh!"

"Look, pet. You want to stay at the top of the food chain in vampire circles, you make sure that if someone messes with you, then you see to it that they wish they hadn't and you make sure that everybody else knows that they wish they hadn't.

I'm sorry if it upsets you, but I'm not sorry I did it. After that, no one even tried to hurt Dru again, which was pretty much the point of the exercise."

"So this could maybe be someone to do with her?," Buffy asked. "Someone she sired, or her sire or something?"

"Can't rule it out, love."

"I guess now I know why you didn't want to go straight after Wood. How the heck did you stay alive this long when you seem to spend all your time making enemies?"

"Well, up until I met you," Spike pointed out, "it's not like I left many of them alive."








"I normally make Spike some hot chocolate so that it's ready when he's finished," Marie mentioned nervously. "I don't know if... I mean, would you like some?"

Wes considered for a few seconds. "I think maybe I would."

He read to the little girl until her eyelids were drooping shut and then he checked that she was still snugly tucked in, before he asked her a quiet question. "Rosa, what made you ask me to read to you tonight. Did your gran say you should, or your Uncle William?"

"Nobody told me. It was just right."

"And what about things between your mom and me?"

"You're not ready for kissing and things, but you should still come visit and take mommy out and stuff. She never gets to go to the cinema to see grown up films or go dancing or anything since daddy went away. You like us, don't you?"

"Yes, Rosa, I do. I think I could get to like all of you very much indeed. I just don't want to build up either your hopes or your mommy's and then let you down."

"Just be mommy's friend, then."

"You think that would make your mommy happy?"

Wes became aware of a strange echo and Marie appeared in the doorway, two mugs in one hand and the other half of the baby monitor that lay on Rosa's bedside table in the other.

"It's sort of routine. I guess I should have mentioned it. I wasn't deliberately eavesdropping."

"It's okay, mommy. Just tell him."

"Tell him what, honey?"

"I think she means tell him whether you think it would make you happy, if say we were to start going out now and again, just as friends."

Inside, Marie heaved a sigh of relief. It was fine for Lily to wish she would find a new husband, but Marie didn't feel that she could afford to get Rosa tangled up in a romantic relationship with someone they barely knew. If Lily was right about Wes, then things would fall into place in their own time. For now, she was more than happy to simply get to know the former watcher better. "I think maybe it would."

Rosa gave a contented smile. "'Night, mommy. 'Night, Wes."

"Goodnight, Rosa," the watcher said softly taking one of the cups from Marie's hand as he left the room.

"Goodnight, baby. and don't think I won't be asking why you didn't tell Wes about the monitor in the morning."

"Maybe I forgotted," Rosa suggested.

"And maybe you're as bad as your grandmother," Marie countered. "Sleep tight, honey."
 
 
Chapter #36 - Chapter 3.06
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me




(The Associates)



Chapter 3.06
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

"So-o-o? Have you had a good time?" Dawn asked as she led Brandon back through the main stairwell into the yard, avoiding the kitchen where her sister, Spike and Lily were talking.

"It's been... interesting. Not bad... for an oldies party. I think it's probably a good idea if you don't mention in front of my dad that one of your sister's friends got stoned, though."

"Okay, if it comes up, you took him home because he had stomach flu. What about the whole demon thing?"

"Check on the stomach flu. Can't really say that other than the fact the guests look kinda unusual that it's really been any different to ma or dad's parties. I'm definitely not going to complain about the company." His eyes locked on her face as he moved closer, a gentle finger brushing a stray hair from her face. "Even if your future brother-in-law is just a touch on the over-protective side."

"A touch? If that's a touch, I'd hate to see a full on grope."

"He cares. No bad thing considering he's going to be family. And it's not like he doesn't have reason to worry... in general, I mean, not about me. I figure it makes you kinda lucky. A lotta guys would just figure you weren't their responsibility. He's looking out for you so much it makes me kinda paranoid but I guess he's busy for now."

"You better kiss me before he comes to check on us, then."

"Anything you say."








Spike sipped blood from a huge breakfast mug, watching the young couple through the kitchen window, ready to intervene if Brandon's hands slipped into any of the areas he deemed as forbidden.

"There's no point being Mr Paranoid, you know?" Buffy told him. "It's not like you can follow them 'round everywhere."

"I know. It's just... I'll feel better when I know he cares more about what's right for her, than about lettin' their hormones get out of control. My gut tells me to trust the pair of them. I mean, Bit's smart enough. Just 'cause her sister fell for a git at that age." Spike's mouth twisted into a smirk which was soon hidden behind the mug, even though the mischief in his eyes was apparent as he peered over its brim. "But it doesn't mean I wouldn't rather barricade her in her bedroom till she's fifty."

"He no mean no harm. He protect her," Lily told them both.

"You can feel that?" Spike asked.

"No need to feel. Boy who want to take liberty of pretty girl, he go find other pretty girl after he meet you. Yes, William, I feel it. He already love your little sunrise. He just no know it." The demon grinned at the vampire taking the sting from her next words. "Men, they stupid."

"And her?" Spike asked.

Lily shook her head as if he should know the answer to that already. "She fifteen-year-old girl. Fifteen-year-old girl, they fall in love five times a week, until right boy come along."

"And he's the right boy?" Spike probed.

"He pretty. He new in town. He have bad boy look, like her William. He have eyes like jade and cute smile and he notice her. She love him way before he play the hero."

"So, you're telling me that we're lookin' at Romeo and his bloody Juliet, here? Tell me why don't I feel better?"

"Because you her big brother and you worry about her, you know that most young girls get their hearts broken at least once. and you little jealous that some day maybe he take her away from you."

"So, basically, he's being an ass?" Buffy asked.

Lily shrugged. "Lovable ass."

"Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, girls!"

"Just telling it like it is, Blondie." Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist and nuzzled against his back.

Spike tipped his mug right back, draining the last of the fluid before emitting a long, loud burp that made Buffy wrinkle her nose and pull back in disgust. "Okay, maybe not so lovable," she teased, though her eyes told a different story.

"Wha'? You drink blood out of a cup, it's bound to get a bit of air in, now and again. Gotta come out somehow. You tellin' me old poker-hair never burped in front of you. What was he? Master of the Silent Fart?" Lily took his mug from him, refilling it using the second pack of blood from the microwave.

Buffy couldn't help but smile at the idea of Angel trying to look serious while he clenched his butt cheeks to avoid letting rip, but she still felt obliged to defend him in his absence. "Old poker-hair, as you call him, never drank in front of me. Not blood, anyway, and now you mention it, I'm kinda struggling to even remember him drinking coffee."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Caffeine makes him hyper, so I was informed," he told her, his voice softening until he seemed to shake away whatever memory had come to him. "Never bothered him before the soul. Come to that, I'm pretty certain he wasn't drinkin' decaff the other week. Must be another of those LA lifestyle changes."

Lily pushed the mug back into his hands. "Drink. Not talk about old boyfriend. Is not becoming."

"Yes, ma'am." Spike took the cup, his free arm wrapping around Lily to stop her stepping away before he placed a kiss on top of her head right between her horns. "Thanks, luv, for everything."

The vampire turned toward the window again. "Isn't it about time for Bit's curfew? Come to that, what about his?"

Buffy sighed. "He's eighteen, Spike. If things were different he might even be in college. He doesn't have a curfew Fridays or Saturdays, he just has to call before half past eleven, if he's going to be any later than twelve."

"So tell me, how on earth did I manage to deserve him?" the vamp asked.

Buffy just grinned back at him. If Spike couldn't see that Dawn had found herself a younger, human, version of him, she wasn't about to enlighten him.








"So when his father's illness got worse, my Thomas moved back here to help Lily and Clem look after him, and then when I graduated a couple of months later, I followed." Marie used the Spanish pronunciation of the name that was shared by Clem's brother and father even though it was spelled in the English manner.

"Is that when you got married?" Wes asked, noting the way Marie turned the heavy gold band on her wedding finger.

"No, Thomas and I, we never married." Marie covered her confusion by taking a sip from her mug, only to find it empty.

"I'm sorry. I-I just assumed." Wes stuttered as he was caught off guard. "I mean, you obviously cared about him a great deal, and with Rosa and the ring."

Marie shrugged. "Thomas bought me the ring. We hoped my family priest would marry us. It wouldn't have been legal, but it would have meant something to us, and to Lily and his father. Instead, the priest said that I consorted with the devil and had me excommunicated. After that, my mother more or less followed suit. So, I just wear the ring as a sign of our commitment to each other."

"I'm sure as far as he was concerned, you were his wife. Lily certainly seems to regard you as if you were, and it's hardly your fault that you weren't."

"I'm the mother of her only grandchild. That buys a girl a lot of leeway, a lot of help getting over good old-fashioned Catholic guilt, but I don't know if anything ever makes it entirely go away."

"I would have thought it would be difficult to feel guilty about a relationship that resulted in someone as beautiful as your daughter."

"That's because you are a good man who judges people on their merits. There are plenty of people who wouldn't find her beautiful."

"Then that's because they are ugly, on the inside, where it counts."

"Like I say, you're a good man."

"And you're a strong, brave, loving woman who has nothing to be ashamed of. The prejudices of those around you are their problem." Wesley seemed to consider for a moment before he placed his mug on the floor and looked straight into Marie's eyes. "My father worked long and hard to make me feel ashamed of myself for being a disappointment to him. If I hadn't come to America, I think I would still be trying to live up to his expectations and still feeling ashamed I can't meet them. No one ever could. I've learned over the last couple of years that what's important is to live by your own standards. It doesn't mean that when I phone my father that I don't end up feeling like some sort of inadequate, but I don't let it overshadow my whole life any more."

"It sounds like your father is the sort of man who would say that I am a demon's whore and my child is an abomination."

"He probably would... And I'd probably knock him out cold for saying it."

"So? Does he come to visit often?" Marie asked with a smile.








"And you say you have this book, just sitting in your apartment upstairs?" Giles was almost drooling.

"Well, unless the other Rupert's gone and loaned it to one of his friends." Bee answered calmly. "He does that sometimes."

The momentary look of confusion on the former Watcher's face earned Bee a lopsided smile from Tara. "You shouldn't tease him about books," the witch told her. "He'll get over-excited."

"Really!" Giles protested. "As if one of you weren't bad enough."

"Yes," Bee told her, "it's upstairs and since I haven't read it for a while, it might even have made its way back to the bookcase. Every so often I do a round up and put back any I can spot."

Tara grinned as the ex-librarian winced.

"Perhaps you should be a little more careful with them," Giles suggested. "Some of these texts sound as if they might be unique."

"No, it's okay. Pops only lets me use the ones he has duplicates for... at least since the incident with the magnifying glass."

"I dread to think," Giles countered sarcastically.

"There were only three caught fire. It was the ones that got wet when I tried to put them out that got him really pissed. I mean who really wants a copy of Malus Maleficarum, anyway, even if it is a third edition? It's all a bunch of hooey, but no, he wouldn't talk to me for hours after that, though I suppose he did have a point about Nostradamus's notebook, but it wasn't like you couldn't still read it once it dried out. It just took a bit more work."

"For God's sake, woman, tell me you're joking."

"I'm joking," Bee replied with a huge grin. "That one is kept in its own special glass case in Pop's library and I don't even have a key. I do have photocopies though... somewhere."

"I have a feeling I'm going to regret asking this, but what exactly does your father do?"

"He's head of the languages department at a university, but he runs the family business as well. Most of the mystical texts have been in the family for generations."

"You come from some sort of warlock dynasty?"

"Yep, but to use common parlance, I'm a squib. I turn purple just trying to float a twig big enough to stake a vamp. Besides, I prefer to paint."

"So you're an artist?"

"Sort of... Unless you think that to be an artist, you should actually be able to make a living at it."

"I don't see why," Tara countered. "Quite a few of the great masters actually died destitute. It was only after their deaths when their works became a finite commodity that the prices went up."

Giles looked surprised at Tara's contribution.

"I'm taking history of art. It's really interesting... and slightly discouraging if you happen to be an artist."

Bee gave a slight nod. "Hence the working as a translator or an interpreter most of the time."

"So, you're a frustrated artist, who happens to have the sort of skills that some Watchers would devote their lives to developing, but all it means to you is that you have a means to avoid penury?" Giles asked, not sure whether he should be impressed or horrified.

"That pretty much covers it, though my father has been known to bail me out for the rent money now and again, since he says it just means there's a bit less to inherit in however many years, so it's more the means to save my pride than a means to avoid starving.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against doing that sort of work," Bee told him. "There are times when it's even interesting, but most stuff that was written a thousand years ago is basically relevant to a thousand years ago. When people ask me to translate stuff, it more often turns out to be some old shopping list, or somebody's old accounts. It's not like anyone's going to hand me a copy of The Lost Scrolls of Aberjian and say, 'There you go. Translate that.'"

"And from what you've said I can see why," Giles observed dryly. "Other than the fact they're not called the lost scrolls for nothing."

"Well, there is that, but you may well find that most of the so-called 'lost' stuff tends to accumulate in the vaults of the sort of people I prefer not to work for."

"The Council of Watchers has any number of unique texts that might be considered lost to the world at large," the watcher protested.

"Uh-huh. A bunch of holier than thou, genocidal, male-dominated prigs who look down on any of their own number not born within the bounds of England's green and pleasant land, and who would hide or subvert anything you might happen to find if it didn't meet with their political agenda, even if that meant eliminating the translator. Why wouldn't I want to work for them?" she asked sarcastically. "No offence."

"W-well," Giles stammered. "I su-suppose that would be one way to look at them, but it's not as if they haven't done a lot of good over the years."

"And no small amount of harm. How many histories of their conflicts with the demon populations have you actually read that weren't written by the Council themselves?" Bee asked.

"Well, none, b-but I'm sure that for the most part the accounts are written fairly."

Bee snorted, her scorn for Giles' remark obvious.

"Giles, maybe you should retire gracefully at this point," Tara suggested. "It's not as if you haven't had your own differences with the Council."

"B-but..."

"Look, I'm sorry if you feel my description of the Council sums you up so well that you have to take offence," Bee interjected. "I was under the impression that you were a reasonable man, capable of intelligent thought, who no longer paid allegiance to the elitist principles in which he had been indoctrinated from youth."

"Wh-what?" Giles was momentarily disorientated whilst he tried to work out whether he had just been complimented or insulted.

"You're at a shindig thrown by a demon. You obviously don't buy the party line," Tara translated for the flustered watcher.

"Well, no," Giles responded. "I'm well aware that demons come in all manner of forms, not all of whom are inherently hostile to the human race. I'm also sure that the Council has made mistakes in the past, but I happen to believe that the majority of its members are well-intentioned."

"There would be far more species of demon who aren't inherently hostile to humans if it hadn't been for your well-intentioned Council of Watchers and their kill on sight policies," Bee argued, her chin tilting upward as she glared at the far taller man

"I sincerely doubt that you can back that up convincingly," Giles replied, his enunciation getting more and more precise, "and even if you could I would have to point out that there would also be far fewer humans."

"I can back it up," Bee refuted. "The problem is that none of you Council types can actually read the languages that the texts are written in. Why bother to understand someone when you can simply annihilate them instead?"

Tara intervened between the two. "Maybe we can just leave the past in the past and agree that Giles was never responsible for Council policy."

"Well, I can, if this harridan can stop acting like a rabid pitbull for five minutes," Giles offered less than graciously.

"At least I didn't stoop to personal insults, and given our respective ages and your apparent lack of the normal male equipment, I would conclude that you are closer to being a harridan than I am." With that Bee turned and headed for the yard. Her confrontation with the overwhelmingly uptight, arrogant (and possibly in a mature sort of way ruggedly handsome) Englishman left her with the desire for another stiff margarita.

"I say." Giles' mouth opened and closed a couple of times as he watched her retreating back sashay across the room like a mini Marilyn Monroe with straight hair.

"Well, you did kinda ask for that one." Tara gave him a semi-sympathetic look. "You'll never get to see her library now," she teased.

"No book in the world could possibly be worth it... unless of course she was serious about that Nostradamus notebook." Still, his eyes lingered on the small woman, as she made her way outside.
 
 
Chapter #37 - Chapter 3.07
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 3 - PARTY FEARS TWO

And what if this party fears two
The alcohol loves you while turning you blue
View it from here from closer to near
Awake me



(The Associates)





Chapter 3.07
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Bee gave a sigh of relief when she saw Lily, Spike and Buffy in the kitchen.

"Spike, you couldn't be a gentleman and fetch me a stiff drink, could you? That insufferable friend of yours is driving me to distraction."

"What the hell has Harris done now?" the vampire asked.

"Not a lot I suspect," Buffy answered, "given the fact that Brandon took him home while you were still on walkabout."

"Then who the hell's pissed on your chips?" Spike turned to Bee.

"Get me a margarita or two and I'll tell you."

"Alright, pet. I can take a hint... eventually."

As Spike turned to leave, grabbing a tray from one of the kitchen cupboards before he did, the blonde rummaged in a small drawstring bag that she carried. Buffy had to smile at the view through the kitchen window. Brandon and Dawn seemed to almost teleport to a distance of three feet apart when they saw who had opened the back door, only to then be ignored by the vampire. Bee pulled out a silver cigarette case and an ergonomically curved chrome lighter, which to Buffy's confusion seemed to light the cigarette without any actual flame.

"Okay, process of elimination..." the slayer suggested, as she watched Spike load up the tray with half a dozen glasses of margarita before topping one up with extra orange liqueur. "It isn't going to be Tara-."

"Tara's an absolute honey. Of course it's not her. It's that damn English stuffed shirt of a Council lackey."

Buffy's jaw dropped slightly and then she stifled a smile. "I'm guessing since Wes is still upstairs going beep beep and otherwise impersonating Mr Toad's motor car that you must mean Giles."

"Who else? Or are all your friends that rude?"

"We know the culprit, then?" Spike asked as he rejoined the group, smirking at the sight of the low-hanging cloud that was rapidly forming around Bee's head as she puffed away at her cigarette.

"If it wasn't for the fact he would get annoyed, I'd have to rename Rupert. And I thought the name had a certain genteel quality to it. Not when it comes attached to that man, it doesn't. Can you believe he had the nerve to call me a harridan?" She turned to Buffy. "Do I look like a harridan?"

Buffy's eyes widened as she was caught off-guard. "Em, well, I'd kind of have to know what the word meant before I could comment."

Spike passed out the drinks, one each to Buffy and Lily and two each for him and Bee. "That one's to knock back and take the edge off, then that one's for sippin' while you cool off." He indicated the fortified cocktail. "Cheers, kitten."

He raised the first of his tumblers to the small woman, draining it as she did the same. "And, no, you don't look like a harridan."

"Thank you." Bee began to mutter under her breath, but Buffy couldn't catch the words and she began to suspect that they were, in fact, in at least one of those six demon languages in which Bee was reputedly fluent. They definitely seemed to cause a certain amusement on both Spike and Lily's part.

"Keep that up and I'll have to concede that you might sound like one, though," the vamp commented.

"It's that abysmal excuse for a man. I should never have even tried to apologise. I mean, it was him who was rude in the first place. I should just have left it alone. Once a watcher, always a watcher. It's people like him who can't get over the fact that Britain doesn't have an Empire any more. If he thinks he's getting to see my Ruchenbach now, he's sadly mistaken."

"Don't worry, pet. You'll find someone who isn't just after you for your books... or to cut your hair and then sell it."

"You're joking.?"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Have you checked how much wigs made from real hair go for these days? How soon after he hacked that little lot off did he wait before he broke the news?"

Bee gave a snort of triumph. "I split up with him, actually!"

"Yeah? And why was that?"

"He kicked Rupie."

"And then you dumped him. How long do you think it would take him to work out that the one thing would follow straight on from the other?"

"You mean he got me to dump him?"

"Well, it was either him or the cat deliberately provoked him," Spike responded facetiously.

"Well, Rupert did bolt his food and then he was ill over his trousers, but I don't care what he says they were not Armani... and he did like to pee on the Lotus's hubcaps. Poor Rupie was jealous. Poor little thing." Bee picked up her bag shoving her cigarettes and lighter back in and bustled out of the kitchen in search of her beloved Siamese.

The door had barely closed behind her when Spike let loose a snort of laughter.

"What's so funny?" Buffy asked.

Spike looked at her in amazement. "You really don't know?"

"No, I really don't know. So why don't you enlighten the girl on the short bus?"

"Okay, love, think back, 'round about Thanksgiving 1999. Now, does the way she's been banging on about the watcher remind you of anyone?"

"What? Ewww. No-o-o. That's freaky. She can't be that much older than me. Eugh."

"Well, what did you say when he was singing earlier about Red having a thing going on for him at one point? An' be careful what you say next or you'll bruise my ego."

"But you're..." Buffy paused trying to think of a word that wasn't going to exacerbate Spike's already inflated ego. "You don't look like someone's dad?"

"And? I'll bet you a date, where we do anything you want, that Harris had at least one wet dream about Joyce."

"Get real, fang face! Even I'm not going to give a hormonal teenage Xander the benefit of the doubt on that one, especially not after that mind-reading, aspect of the demon thing, but girls are different." Buffy pouted. "How can I have a step-mom that's young enough to be my sister?"

"You already do , love."

"Ew, Marlene doesn't count. She's just living with Dad. She's not real family, not like if Giles settled down to make mini-Gileses."

"We-ll... I hate to point out that a pre-requisite for mini-Gileses would be that Giles picked someone young enough to have kids to settle down with."

"Well, Olivia's young enough. if they started soon... they could..." Buffy's face flushed several cumulatively darker shades of pink.

"Olivia's also in England, pet. And like Bit said, Olivia never got him all flustered."

Buffy turned to Lily, who had remained silent throughout the discussion. "What do you think?"

"I think they would make each other crazy, if that cat no get him first," the demon answered with a wicked smile. "I just no know if it good crazy or bad crazy."








Dawn stifled a yawn. "Sorry. I know it's still earlyish but I'm kinda beat. I guess maybe I should go see if anybody else is ready to go home."

"Not a problem." Brandon took her hand in his as they headed toward the door leading to Lily's kitchen, their pace about as slow as humanly possible without actually being stationary. "You going to be too busy with all that homework dad brought over for you to go out tomorrow or not?"

Dawn shrugged. "I haven't actually checked to see how much there is, or when any of it's due, yet. Maybe I could give you a call, or you could come over, study together and then if we get enough done... go out later."

"Your folks won't mind me hanging out?"

"Well, I suspect we'll have to study in the dining room rather than my bedroom, but as long as assignments are getting done, Buffy will probably keep Spike in check. And strange as it might seem, I think they actually like you."

"What makes you think that?"

"Well, so far, I don't think Spike's even really tried to scare you... well except about the bike and what he'd do if I got hurt."

"That's okay. He does it anyway without making an effort."

"Not enough to keep you away, though."

"We-e-ell," Brandon tried to play it cool, but his eyes gave away the fact he was only teasing. "I've got to hang in there now at least until I see if this prom dress really is all that... and I've paid for the tickets and everything, so I think I might be pushing it to find another date before Friday. And then if I left you in the lurch, I really would be terrified of what Spike would do to me. He knows where I live remember."

"So, let me get this right. If we ever break up, then I get to ditch you, because you're even more scared of what Spike would do if you ditched me than you are of what he's like when you're going out with me?"

"Yep!" the boy conceded. "Sad, isn't it? I'm a pathetic excuse for a boyfriend. Maybe you should trade me in."

"Nah." Dawn leant in towards him, only having to tilt her head back very slightly to press her lips against his. "You don't get off that easy." She tugged on his arm until they were moving again, getting her own back for his earlier teasing. "I mean, cool bike, which you are going to teach me to ride. You don't wear clothes that clash with mine. Smart enough to help out with homework. I think I'm gonna keep you around... at least until college. Then, I suppose I might give you a few years off for good behaviour, if you just have to go to a different one."

Spike could tell from a hundred minute signs that the pair would have been quite happy to make out for hours. Not to mention the fact that even if he hadn't been able to hear everything they said as they approached the door, their teasing tone would have been ample intimation of how at ease they were together. Yet, somehow, the vampire managed to convince himself he didn't need to worry about how Brandon might corrupt his Niblet. It was only the idea of his beautiful but undeniably clumsy Bit in charge of a motorbike than was scaring him halfway to a second death. After all, there's not much scope for misbehaving in hospital beds.

"Hey," Dawn greeted Lily with a hug as she checked in with Spike and her sister. "I think all the packing and shifting stuff's caught up with me. I was thinking I'd get Brandon to take me home, if that's okay with you, but I didn't know if anybody else would want to come, or if you want to stay here or what."

Spike shrugged and raised an eyebrow in Buffy's direction, as if he wasn't bothered either way, but Buffy knew his earlier illness had taken its toll on him too.

"Sure. I could use an early night," she covered for him, only to find his features forming a familiar leer at the prospect of getting her to himself.

"Why don't you get the pooch and we'll find Tara and Wes and see what they want to do and then meet you at the front door?"

"Well, we might as well talk to Tara, then. Last I saw, her and Bee were making a fuss over the animals while they talked art. You go see if Wes has made it back downstairs, yet."

"D'you think we should maybe check how Giles is getting back to his hotel?" Buffy asked. "I mean he's had a few drinks and he came with Anya and Xander and they've gone home already?"

"We all make space if anyone want to stay," Lily offered. "You tell Rupert that, Bianca, she has extra bed in studio for her naked people."

"Pardon?" Buffy's expression was nearly as priceless as Giles' would have been if Spike had followed up word for word on Lily's shameless suggestion.

"Her models, love. She paints nudes."

All the colour drained away from Buffy's face in an instant. "Nudes?" She was so going to kill Xander. When Anya had interrupted Bee and her earlier, Buffy had cut short Bee's explanation, assuring her that she'd posed for a couple of artists that her mother knew in LA, making a few extra bucks. Buffy had thought that Bee was going to warn her about the aches and pains you got from maintaining one pose for so long. It had never even crossed her mind that she would want to paint them nude.

"Oh, crap!"

Spike gave a gentle chuckle. "Been makin' promises you don't want to keep?"

"Well, I don't know what you're laughing at. I volunteered both of us."

"Yeah? So I get to be starkers with my favourite company rather than just watch. Bonus."

"You... are shameless."

"Well, I'd damn well hope so, pet. Otherwise, I'd be all broody and soul-having like the Poof." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Let's go round up the watchers."

"B-but nude pictures of us... in someone else's house."

Spike drew her toward the living room, waving the teens in the direction of the backyard. "Not gonna happen, beautiful. Not unless you think we should get a print made for grandpa's Christmas present?"
 
 
Chapter #38 - Chapter 4.01
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.01
Saturday, May 18th, 2002

Dawn was already washed up and waiting in her shortie pyjamas when the DeSoto pulled up in the driveway to the side of the house on Revello for the second time. She pulled the kitchen door open as Spike, Buffy, Wes and Brandon got out of the old car, Brandon passing the keys back to Spike.

"Tara's making hot chocolate if anyone wants some." Her words were for everyone but her gaze remained fixed on the teenage boy.

Wes shook his head. "I'll skip it, thanks. I already had some earlier. Time to try out that new bed." He checked his pockets until he found not only the keys for his new home, but those for Spike's apartment, as well. He tossed the latter to his former host with an underhand throw that the vampire easily intercepted. "If I haven't thanked you before for ...well, everything, just assume I'm doing it now."

Spike smirked. "Not exactly a hardship doubling up with my lady, here."

"Probably not." Wes gave a wry smile of agreement. "...But thank you all the same."

Meanwhile Brandon was also saying his goodbyes. "I better go. I didn't call to say that I'd be late and it's quarter to twelve, now." He cupped Dawn's face with one hand, his fingers tangling in her hair as he leant in for a kiss, the younger couple taking up the entire doorway so that Spike and Buffy had no choice but to wait for them to finish before they entered the house. Spike tried to summon up at least a snarl, but it was all too obvious that the kid was going out of his way to make Niblet happy and he seemed to plan to keep right on doing it for the foreseeable future. "Call me tomorrow, once everybody's up and about, and we'll sort out the homework thing. 'Kay?" he told Dawn in a soft voice as he rested his forehead against hers at the end of the kiss.

"Will do." Dawn pulled reluctantly away, Brandon's fingertips trailing lightly over her cheek as she did so. She reached over for the helmet that they had left on the kitchen counter when they went out for the evening, passing it to him.

"If you two would stop blockin' the door, then we could get in and leave you in peace to say goodbye," the vampire finally growled.

"Wh-." Brandon actually jumped before shifting guiltily out of the way, and Dawn followed him onto the porch.

Spike drew Buffy into the house with her hand wrapped in his and pushed the door to behind them with a booted foot.

Buffy looked up at the grumpy vamp, her eyes alight with laughter. "You do realise that you just left Dawn outside with her boyfriend unsupervised with all of her legs showing and no bra on."

"Yeah, well, I guess if Lily says we can trust him, I'm goin' to have to try. 'Sides, Bit's less of an exhibitionist than the pair of us." He turned to Tara who stood, stirring a pan of milk on the stove. "Have a good night, Tinkerbell?"

"Different..." Tara's gentle smile warmed the whole room. "Definitely different, but fun. Did either of you guys get a chance to talk to Clem's girlfriend? I'm kinda curious but I didn't want to interrupt."

"Can't say as we wanted to get in the way either, but I've bumped into her before. Seems nice enough, she plays poker once in a while. But she cashes her winnings in against her bar tab, before you ask... not big on kitty snacks. Works security at a club a few miles out of town."

Buffy looked puzzled. "Which club's that?"

"Not one you're going to be going to in a hurry, pet. Even if it catered to humans, it's the sort of place I wouldn't want my lady goin'." Spike seemed unusually firm in his response and he appeared to be glad when that Tara intervened, changing the subject.

"I don't know if we've got any marshmallows, Spike. Can you live without?"

Dawn slipped back into the room and leant against the door till it clicked shut, an enormous smile on her face

Spike wrapped his arms around Buffy's waist from behind and rested his cheek alongside hers. "I can do without anything but my girls." Buffy could feel the tiredness that he hid beneath his bright façade. "Well, now that not so tall, dark and pimply's headed off for the night, if Buffy'll bring mine up when it's ready I'm going to go get a bath."

"He is not pimply. And if you're going for a bath, at least leave mine and Tara's toothbrushes and toothpaste outside the bathroom door."

"Alright, sweetness. Where's the mutt? Or shouldn't I ask?"

"She's already in the bathroom and I put some paper down, but she just went back to sleep on the bathmat as soon as I left her alone."

"That seems like even more sleepy than the normal puppy thing. You didn't feed her booze, did you?" Spike asked.

"As if! Bla-." Dawn was cut off by her sister.

"Later, Spike. She's going to be fine, okay? Go, get that bath, and I'll explain everything when I bring your hot chocolate."

Spike smiled down at his fiancée as she craned her neck to speak to him. "Ah-hah! So there's something to explain."

"Just go get yourself cleaned up, Vamp Boy."

Spike placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. "As you wish, pet. 'Night, you two." He gave Dawn and Tara an amiable but half-hearted wave before he headed upstairs.

Dawn watched, waiting until he'd long cleared the room before she commented. "He seems kinda quiet. He wasn't on the brownies as well, was he?"

"Not that I know of," Buffy answered.








Buffy kicked her shoes off and dropped her wrap on top of Spike's duster as she made her way through the bedroom, a cup of hot chocolate in either hand. Spike had left the connecting door ajar and she pushed it open with her hip.

The vampire reclined in the cast-iron tub as the water level rose toward the overflow. Instead of his normal bustle, he simply lay there letting the warmth from the water soak through to his bones. His head swivelled slowly to watch Buffy's approach. "Hey, love."

"Hey, love, to you, too." She placed both the mugs by the side of the bath and stepped back a few feet. She watched Spike's face as she reached to slowly undo the zipper on her dress, letting its straps drift from her shoulders and then unhurriedly pushing it down her body to reveal her ivory lace lingerie. She tossed the dress back through the doorway, not looking to see where it landed as she stepped free. "Don't want it to get wet." she explained as she sat down on the bath's edge, reaching across to turn off the faucets.

She slid back towards the head of the bath, her sheer panties already rendered transparent in places by water splashes as she turned to face Spike once more. She reached out with her right hand to cup his face, loving how he nuzzled into her touch as her fingertips pushed into his hair and her thumb traced the scar that marred his eyebrow. Still, her eyes remained fixed on his features, automatically checking for visual cues to his feelings, even though she could feel his love for her in the depths of her soul. Nevertheless, as she leaned forward to press her lips to his, she knew that this was as right for him as it was for her. It didn't matter whether their lovemaking reached a climax, or whether they simply conveyed the gentlest aspect of their feelings for each other. All that mattered was that they exploited this shared moment of calm in the eye of the storm that seemed to be their lives.

Even as she used her right hand to push against the wall and bring herself back upright, her left hand trailed down Spike's near arm until she reached his fingertips and they twined with hers, maintaining the contact necessary for their communion.

"So, were you planning on joining me in here, love, or are you just going to tease me to death?" Spike asked his eyes alight with humour, even if his actions were more subdued than normal.

"I think it's a bit late for that, dead man. I just figured you looked kinda tired for washing yourself, and I owe you one for the other week. And I doubt even..." She paused as her eyes slid down the planes of his chest and even lower, the unadulterated water that filled the tub doing nothing to disguise the effect her semi-nudity had on her lover. "Okay, so maybe you're not as ill as I thought ...though I suspect that under normal circumstances you would probably have just pulled me in rather than issuing an invitation."

"Guess I'm turning into a predictable old man. An' the day I don't stand up an' salute when you walk 'round the room in your sexy undies is the day you'll be able to wash me down the plug-hole with the bathwater."

"How romantic," Buffy gently teased, knowing that even if certain parts were willing, it was still more of an automatic reaction and not an indication that the vampire was really well enough to follow through. She lifted their joined hands to her lips pressing butterfly kisses against the back of each finger before turning his hand over to nibble at his extremely sensitive palm. "Just relax and let me do the pampering for once, okay?"

"Like I'm going to waste energy arguin'."

"Good. Now, stay put, and drink your cocoa or whatever it is you Brits call it. I won't be long."

Buffy picked up her own cup and padded back through into the bedroom pulling the door over behind her, so that he could hear little bits of what she was doing, but in his less than perfect state it seemed like too much effort to do more than simply wait and see. After several minutes, he heard the first strains of some hauntingly soft music, 'The Theme from Harry's Game' by Clannad, the first track on the tape he had had made up for their night at the ice-rink. Then, Buffy doused the lights in the master bedroom. As she came back through to the bathroom, she flicked the light switch there, too, leaving the tray full of tea-lights that she carried as the only illumination. There were more than twenty of them and she spread them around the room wherever surfaces allowed, in groups of three and four and five.

Rogue never even stirred.

"This so you can't see how rough I look? I look bad, right? Promise you'll sort me out with some make up tomorrow so Bit doesn't notice."

"You look fine," Buffy reassured him. "Damn fine, in fact. And I think Dawn would be even more likely to notice the unprecedented event of you wearing "Golden Glow" foundation than if you look a little pale, though she already commented that you seemed quiet. I really think it might be better to tell her. And even when you were halfway starved, when you just escaped from the Initiative, you were hot as hell. Losing your appeal for this particular member of the opposite sex is the last thing you have to worry about, and you started looking better after you managed to eat something and keep it down.

Now duck." She set a hand on top of his head, only pushing hard enough to let him know she wanted him to soak his hair. When he re-emerged she tenderly stroked the wet curls back from his forehead and asked the all important question. "Menthol dandruff or camomile for blondes?"

Spike gave a half-wattage version of his normal grin. "I know you like things to co-ordinate, pet, but I never thought you'd be matchin' up my fags to my shampoo. That said, since it's a choice between that and smelling like silage I'll go for the minty fresh."

"You know, not that this thing is going to drag out any longer than I can help... and by the way, Tara is hopefully working her Wiccan way and chanting the chant even as I speak. but purely on the grounds of scientific curiosity, if you did get worse, it'd be interesting to see which quit first, your overly smart mouth or the part that does most of its thinking for it.

Now lean forward just a little bit..."

"Bossy, little ch-."

"...Love."

Buffy could see what was coming and placed a finger on his lips before he could say anything. "Yep, I called you love. No, I don't think I've used that particular endearment before, at least not without it being a direct response to you, but it's not like it's news, and yep, quite possibly I am being more demonstrative than normal because I'm worried about you, but it doesn't mean I feel any less for you the rest of the time, just that I'm not so comfortable saying it all the time as you are."

"You don't have to, cherry pie. I feel it every time we touch, but it doesn't mean that hearin' it once in a while isn't a good thing. A very good thing."

'Okaaay!' Buffy thought, as she watched the tip of his tongue glide over his upper teeth. 'I'm thinking sexage of some description is most definitely now on the menu for tonight.'

"Slow down, there, cowboy. I've got all of that nicely-packaged body of yours to get cleaned up before we start getting you all hot and sweaty again," She squirted out a little of the jade green liquid onto her palm and having placed the bottle back on the counter she rubbed her hands together before massaging the shampoo into his hair. Her fingertips seemed to knead away tense knots that he hadn't even known were there. When she had finished to her satisfaction she dipped her hands in the water near his feet to rinse off the excess soap, letting her fingers trail up the inside of his shin and then his thigh as she straightened back up.

Then, somehow, she was in the bath on top of him. Her underwear was soaked, and her hard, dusky pink nipples were clearly visible through the thin, wet lace. She was excruciatingly aware of the way his warm, smooth cock pressed against the bare flesh of her stomach as he ground his hips up against hers.

They were suddenly startled by a loud yelp, and Rogue stood up, shaking violently to rid herself of the water she had found herself lying in, causing Buffy to raise her hands to shield her eyes as water splashed everywhere. The dog gave the couple a baleful look and ambled off into the bedroom out of their line of sight.

"Reckon you can do the rest just as easy from here." Spike told Buffy as he raised his head for a kiss, finding her palm in the way.

She pushed his head back under the water, running her fingers through the sensuously clinging strands as they were buoyed by the fluid, until the lather had been fully dispersed. Her tiny hands tangled in the wet curls to raise his lips back to hers, claiming the water-warmed flesh in a tender open-mouthed kiss for a never-ending instant. "Reckon I can."

She reached out to find the citrus scented body wash that seemed to be the least girly alternative within arms' length. The movement prevented her from supporting her own body weight, and Spike gave a slight gasp as a sharp hipbone seemed to find a delicate spot. Instantly, Buffy's concern overrode her desire. "Are you okay?"

By way of an answer, Spike let his gaze fall to where her perfectly rounded breasts pressed against his chest through their lace confinement, and bucked his hips, making his dick twitch against her. "I'm more than okay," he answered in a husky whisper. "Stomach's just feelin' a teensy bit worse for wear."

"Sure?" Buffy double-checked, waiting till he nodded to shift back to her knees. She squirted some of the fruity gel onto a sponge, working it with her hands to make a lather. She lifted one of his legs from the water, washing it with soft, careful, circular motions working her way from his foot to where his thigh was covered by the water, before lowering it again, only to do the same with his other leg.

She kept one hand on the edge of the bath as she leant forward, letting the tips of her breasts brush against his legs and then his body, the lace of her bra scraping delicate trails against his skin, until she could reach to resume her task once more, working from his shoulders down to the water level.

Spike watched as she worked, driven to distraction equally by the tantalising rasp of her nipples against his skin and the look of intense concentration she wore. He pulled the sponge from her hand, letting it land wherever it wanted so long as it was out of her reach.

"Don't think we want to go testing my will-power too long right now, beautiful." He slid down enough to rinse away the bubbles from his shoulder. "Let's take this somewhere else?" Spike asked in a husky whisper.

"Whatever you want, Will." Buffy stood up, offering a hand to help him do likewise, but still somewhat surprised when the proud vampire accepted her help without a fuss. She stepped from the tub, lifting the bath towel that lay neatly folded on the counter and passing it to Spike as he joined her.

She watched his face as she removed first her bra and then her panties, that same look of awe in his eyes as had been there the first time they had come together. She drew the remaining towel from the counter, amused to see that it was much larger than the one Spike was currently using to dry his hair. He'd been pretty confident that she was going to get wet, or maybe he'd been a boy scout in his former life.

She wrapped the soft cotton around her body and then pulled the vamp toward their bed. Spike paused to take in the changes she had made to the room. Clannad had faded out but another ballad had replaced it, the female singer's voice rich with feeling. There were tea-lights on almost every available surface and the covers on the bed were turned down ready. He smiled as his hearing caught the soft snore that provided a counterpoint to the music, but even when he noticed the wet puppy curled up on the armchair where he had draped his duster, he couldn't summon up the desire to wake her again and move her.

"Trying to seduce me, baby?" he asked as Buffy led him to the bed, clambering on to kneel in its centre. Spike crawled after her and then over her until she fell back to land with her head amongst the pillows. The vampire wiped a few clinging strands of hair that had become damp from the bathroom's steam away from Buffy's face as she considered her reply.

"Yes and no, I thought we deserved a bit of romance. Whether I got lucky wasn't so important."

"God, I love you, woman." The vampire's words were accompanied by a wash of emotion that had Buffy blinking away her tears before they could fall.

She parted her lips even as he bowed his head to hers, the intensity of the emotions behind that tender taste enough to cause the first spasms to run through her body as it anticipated their union. She slipped an arm around his neck, the other wrapping around his waist as she drew him down to her before rolling them both onto their sides. She hooked a leg over his and pressed against him, her wet lips coating his dick. She rotated her hips slightly as the head of his shaft pressed against her opening.

She drew back from their kiss long enough to whisper in his ear. "Do it, baby."

His eyes searched her face for affirmation before he pushed with his hips, driving into her with a slow, deep thrust. As Buffy felt him enter into her inch by inch, his girth stretching her, she gave a low moan of satisfaction. She felt safe, cherished even, within his arms. Joining with him was like being home, and she knew he felt it, too. Even as he gave a slight roll of his hips to finish the stroke, pushing that extra few millimetres, making his whole cock move slightly inside her and grinding her clit between them, she felt the first tremors begin. Spike closed his eyes and bit down on his lower lip, focusing on the pain until her first, small orgasm had passed, before he began to move within her, concentrating on making her feel every tantalising inch as he moved in and out, trying to draw out this perfect interlude as long as he could, his pace unconsciously matching the tempo of the music that filled the room.

Buffy's mouth captured his once more, her tongue finding where he had bitten into his own flesh and he knew she must be able to taste his blood. Her hips met his with perfect timing over and over. Their hands skated over the other's bodies, first in light caresses that ruffled only tiny hairs and made the skin tingle, later those same fingers clutching tight in the intensity of the emotions around them. Spike's digits curved over Buffy's shoulders from behind, anchoring her as he pushed up into her. Buffy had one arm wrapped around Spike's neck, the other she used to grip Spike's perfect ass, using it as well as the leg that hooked around him to draw herself to him again and again. All the physical sensations were as nothing though, beneath the waves of love, need, passion and joy that reverberated through and around the couple.

Buffy shivered in anticipation of the climax she knew was coming soon. She stretched out the hand that was wrapped around Spike's neck until she could feel where her claim scar had yet to heal. At the first touch, Spike froze inside her for a second and then he shifted his grip on her shoulders so that he could follow her lead, using the acute sensitivity of the spot that symbolised the bond between them so that they both came together, Spike's roar as audible to everyone in the house as Buffy's scream.

"I love you so much, baby," Spike whispered as they both collapsed back onto the pillows.

Buffy didn't say anything. She simply put her efforts into using the empathic bond between them to convey to her lover how she felt right that instant, and for all the vampire liked to hear the words now and again they could never have intimated quite so clearly the intensity of how she felt.
 
 
Chapter #39 - Chapter 4.02
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.02
Saturday, May 18th, 2002


Buffy melted against Spike's body as he pulled her tight against him, before rolling from his side onto his back, so that she lay atop him. It was a gesture that was swiftly becoming a habit. The vampire was always so reluctant to break apart when they made love, and at the same time didn't want to crush her beneath him. She tucked her head under his chin, her hands making a delicate tracery over his shoulders.

"Sometimes I think I like this part even better than the actual... you know," she half-whispered against his chest.

"And the other times...?" the vampire teased, his dextrous fingers combing soothingly through her hair, freeing it from the pins that had held it.

"The other times, I pretty much don't think much of anything except 'Spike' or 'Oh god'," she admitted with an embarrassed smile. "You?"

"Me? When you're done with me, I feel like I haven't got a single functioning brain-cell left, but, yeah, it's the times like this..." Spike's voice faded away, but thanks to the bond between them Buffy could feel the undercurrent of regret for wasted time without him saying anything.

"I'm sorry." Buffy twisted her neck to brush her lips against his throat.

"Shush, pet. Nothin' to be sorry for. We sorted all that out ages ago. And we're here, now, together... with candlelight and music. I figure this is about as close to heaven as I'll ever get. So no apologies."

"Even if I am sorry?"

"Spilt milk, sweetness, an' if you're gonna dwell on it, then I'm just gonna have to see what I can do to distract you." The vampire flexed his hips and Buffy could feel him stiffening inside her.

"No-o, Spike, please. No more apologies. I promise."

"Well... that's gonna do wonders for a guy's ego," the vampire teased, "when the love of his life is beggin' him not to shag her."

"It's not like that, Spike. I just think maybe if something's attacking you, that perhaps you should conserve your energy a bit."

"An' if I can't keep my woman happy and sated then what the bleedin' hell is it meant to be worth conservin' it for?" the vamp responded grouchily.

"Okay, Spike, look, easy way round this... Change."

Buffy found herself unceremoniously dumped on her own side of the bed with a suddenness that made Spike wince as they separated.

"Spike?" Buffy was puzzled by the vampire's violent rejection. "What did I say?"

"It's not what you said. It's what you were about to say. And it's not goin' to happen, alright? For one thing I'm not about to start a trend where every time I'm less than a hundred percent I start suckin' on you. It's not what the sharing of blood between mates is about. For another thing, will you try to remember that your blood is like a soddin' drug to vamps. If I start when I'm not... right, there's no damn guarantee that I'll be able to stop. An' for another, even if I did , makin' you weaker in the process, who's to say that Nanny Og wouldn't have me spewin' it up five minutes later, an' we'd both be worse off? Forget it, love."

"So at least I still rate a 'love'?" Buffy teased, as the anger in the vampire's eyes faded as quickly as it had bloomed.

"You always rate a 'love'." Spike reached out a hand toward her and Buffy took it, shuffling back until she was tucked up against his side, once more. "I'm sorry for snappin' at you, but you're just too damn precious for me to risk doin' somethin' stupid. Okay, baby?"

"Okay... for now, but if there comes a stage where I think it's necessary, I'll do whatever I have to."

"You really think you can make me bite you?"

"It's worked before."

"Not with me it hasn't, an' since I can't imagine Drac or Batfink bein' backwards at comin' forward that only leaves gramps an' I think you'll find I can be a bit more stubborn than His Poofiness."

"And I can be more stubborn than you, or at least an ill you, so-o-o... I win. When and if it gets that bad." Buffy announced.

"Don't count on it, beautiful."

"Hey, if I have to, I'll get Angel to come up and obliterate your claim. Then, you'd have to bite me."

Spike's voice was harsh and cruel as he forced her chin up until he stared into her eyes. "Look at me, Buffy. Don't you ever forget that I mean what I am saying now... If you ever willingly forsake my claim on you, there will no going back, no forgiveness. You are either mine and only mine, of your own accord, now and forever, or you're not. I love you more than life itself and so long as you are faithful to me I will do all I can to give you the best of everything, but I am through being cheated on. Do you understand?"

"B-but?"

"It's simple, Buffy. I know you're the slayer and I'm not about to hold you responsible for what might happen in a fight, or if you're under a spell or a thrall, but if you give your consent to another vamp desecrating the mark which binds us as one, then we are through, just as surely as if you take another man to your bed. Have I made myself clear?"

"You are so not going to boss me around," Buffy protested, pulling away from the vamp. "I'm not going to be the scapegoat for how Drusilla treated you. Maybe she let you get away with the major league 'tude, and it's not like she didn't deserve it, but I haven't done anything to give you reason to treat me like this."

"Drusilla never let me claim her. You did, though I'm beginning to wonder why, since despite me trying to explain it to you in plain English, and despite what we've shared because of it, you seem to give it about as much importance as something that comes free in a box of cereal."

"That is so not true..."

"Isn't it? Then tell me why you would even talk about betraying me with that sod of a grandsire of mine."

"I didn't mean it as a betrayal."

"So if you found me with another vamp's teeth in my neck, it wouldn't bother you?"

"You know it would. It was bad enough with Riley... I couldn't bear it if you..."

"Then don't expect me to feel any less, especially not if you're talking about bringing Angelus into the mix."

"Spike, what I was talking about, it wasn't because I wanted to share anything with Angel, it was me trying to tell you that I will do whatever it takes to keep you with me, because I really couldn't bear to lose you."

"An' I'd be a right sorry wanker if I lost you, too, but I can't do that again. Either you love someone enough to be faithful to them or you don't. I am yours, body, spirit and mind. Now... are you mine or not?"

"Always, you stupid vamp, as if you didn't know."

"Then come back here, and don't ever talk about gettin' rid of that mark again."

Buffy shook her head. "Mmm-hmmmh... Your turn to come to me, blondie."

Spike gave a grin. "What on earth did I do to end up with a bossy little chit like you?" he asked as he closed the gap between them, pulling her into his arms.

"Everything you could think of that had the slightest hope of working, as I recall, up to and including the Black Arts."

"Yeah, well, lucky for you that I don't give up easy."

"Lucky for us b-." Buffy's response was cut off as Spike's lips covered hers, her words becoming nothing more than a moan of acquiesence. The tip of Spike's tongue teased at her gumline until she opened her mouth and met it with her own. A sure hand cupped her left breast, long, pale fingers kneading gently at the rounded flesh and his thumbnail dragging circles over the tender skin of her nipple until the sensations made her gasp and arch against him.

"Sp-Spike, please," Buffy struggled to pull away before things became too intense. "Spike, please..." She raised her hand to stroke his cheek. "I love being with you. You know I do, but I really don't want to wear you out when you're kinda ill."

"I'm fine, love, really. An' vampires don't get ill. Just maybe cursed a little bit... 'S nothin'."

Buffy poked him in the stomach where her hipbone had caught him earlier and the vampire couldn't help but flinch. She raised a sceptical eyebrow.

Spike reached out and caught her hand drawing it across to cup his erection, pumping slowly but firmly up and down. "'S not botherin' me half as much as other things. Please, love. Later, we can go downstairs and I'll feed you ice cream an' you can make me drink blood by the bucketful until it's all better, but right now I want to make love to you. I want to make you come, screaming my name."

Buffy's response was teasing but he could feel the real concern that underscored it. "You mean you don't think we were quite loud enough for Wes to hear last time?"

Spike sighed theatrically. "I'm just gonna have to try harder."

"You make me come any harder and you'll end up singing soprano. You promise you'll do the blood thing?"

"Promise, baby. Anything my lady wants, within reason," the vamp answered, wriggling closer until his nose brushed hers in teasing caresses that made her pout for the feel of his lips on hers, but there were more important issues to be settled first. Buffy drew back until she had a clear view of those wonderfully expressive, blue eyes.

"Your lady wants you to know that she's never cheated on anyone in her entire life. She saw what that did to her mother and she wouldn't make anyone she cared about go through that. Your mate can feel your jealousy and she knows it's her fault for bringing up Angel the way she did, because she should have known that even if you weren't ill, it would make you overreact." Spike opened his mouth to interrupt but was stilled by a finger on his full lips. "She wants you to know that she's sorry, and to tell you again that anything she might once have shared with him is ancient history. She wants you to know that even before he left her, what they shared couldn't compare with what she feels for you, because she's in love with you, as you are, flaws and all, not with an idealised image you hide behind. She wants you to know that she can never imagine a time when she won't be in love with you, when she won't belong to you, body, spirit, mind and soul." Buffy reassured her mate until all that she could sense through their link were the same positive emotions that had accompanied their earlier lovemaking. "I'll be yours until the day I die, Will, and quite probably beyond."

"As I am yours," the vampire vowed with a long-forgotten Victorian eloquence, as he scooped her into his lap. "I'm sorry, my heart. I should know by now-."

"Spike, I think we've got it covered already, now shut up and kiss me." Buffy's arms wrapped around his neck as she drew herself up to claim his lips. Long fingers drifted from her knee to her inner thigh, causing her to gasp and arch upward even as the vampire's other hand supported her crown and held her close for a kiss that knew no restraint. With a practised twist of their bodies, of which Buffy was barely aware, the vampire laid her on her back before letting his mouth work its way along her jawline to nibble at her ear. Buffy's thighs parted instinctively, allowing him to rest between them in the same way her head tilted back to offer him her neck. Spike used both reactions to his advantage.

His human teeth nibbled and sucked at the sensitive flesh of her throat, working his way from her earlobe down to her collarbone avoiding the side where he had marked his claim. A gentle hand pushed between her thighs and parted her outer lips so that as he slowly moved his hips up and down, the head of his dick brushed at her clit over and over. Then, that same hand moved to mirror its counterpart, as it cupped her breast, rolling and squeezing her nipple between thumb and forefinger.

Buffy moaned her frustration, as wave after wave of pleasure washed through her, leaving her trembling and boneless, unable to retaliate, her hands twining in his hair as she mindlessly reached for her mate, even as he continued his trail of tiny bruises down the centre of her body and in a spiral that finally led to her right nipple. The shocks as he sucked hard on her breast seemed to flow down into the pit of her stomach and make her lower body tingle in anticipation. "Slow down," she gasped, pulling Spike's head up as she panted for air. The vampire raised himself up on his elbows, his eyes searching her face to see what was wrong as Buffy finally drew sufficient breath to reassure him. "Want it to last, baby," she told him in a breathless whisper.

"I can make it last... I can make you come all night."

"I remember, but I had something else in mind." A second later he found himself on his back with Buffy straddling his chest.

"My turn to pamper you, remember?" She stretched out on top of him, taking his hands in her own and drawing them up until they touched the iron bedstead. She wrapped each of his hands around one of the narrow bars.

Spike looked at the flimsy ironwork that seemed to be more decorative than structural. He hoped Buffy wasn't going to take things too far or they were going to end up needing a new bed, and though he wouldn't admit it, he got a certain kick out of being allowed in Buffy's little-girl realm after being so long denied. However, all thoughts of anything other than Buffy were soon forgotten, as the tiny blonde peppered kisses along the underside of his arms and down his sides. She let her hair fall forward, trailing along his skin after her as she moved. Its tantalising touch made the ticklish vamp squirm beneath her as if she rode a bucking bronco, his lips pressed firmly closed to prevent his pleas for mercy being heard far and wide and his knuckles turning white as he gripped hard on the wrought iron above his head.

She shifted backward, settling over his hips, so that his dick brushed against her butt, seemingly by accident, as she moved over him, her agile tongue seeking out and teasing his nipples, every touch light and playful, when she knew that what he really craved was the same sharp pain that he had used on her. She used the very tip of her tongue to trace damp circles on his responsive skin, blowing softly to make them pucker even harder. Her teasing glances were met by indigo pools of indecision as the vampire debated just how far to let her game go before he let go the bars above him and got his own back for her taunting ways. She tilted her head up as her pristine white teeth finally closed over a hard pink bud, barely biting hard enough to keep it in her mouth as she met the vampire's pleading gaze, before slowly pressing down to make him arch in pain and pleasure beneath her, stopping just short of where her teeth would break the skin.

Tiny hands brushed against his sides as she rained kisses on the firmly defined lines of his abdomen, her caresses especially delicate as she took care not to put pressure on the area that had proved to be tender to the touch. At the same time she shifted her hips until the tip of his dick pressed against the folds of her sex, cool and firm against her moist heat. She slowly pressed down on him, swallowing him inch by inch as the vampire moaned, unable to control himself any longer. His hands reached out for her even as she intercepted them with her own, twining their fingers together.

She lifted her head, the unspoken message in her eyes, 'Trust me.' Spike stilled his movements, letting her keep control. She laid her head on his shoulder and relaxed, bringing her legs down to lie on top of Spike's, so that they were like two lovers crucified on the same cross. The vampire gasped as she began to slowly massage his cock, using only her internal muscles. It was as if she had somehow managed to combine the stillness and serenity of their post-coital calm with the euphoria that immediately preceded it and Spike found himself astonished all over again by his good fortune in loving this woman, and others' stupidity at ever leaving her.

He freed his hands from her own, but only so that he could wrap his arms around her tiny body, holding her close as he whispered words of love and amazement in her ear. He waited until he could barely hold off any longer before he craned his neck to nuzzle gently and brush open mouthed kisses against Buffy's claim mark, his caresses bringing her to a silent climax only seconds after his own.

As the final tremors faded from their joined bodies, Buffy looked up into his eyes with a shy smile. "Did I tell you I kinda love this bit?"

Spike pressed a kiss to her forehead, his arms holding her even closer than before, as if he feared that she would turn out to be a figment of his imagination, or some sort of hallucination. "You may just have mentioned it."
 
 
Chapter #40 - Chapter 4.03
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.03
Sunday, May 19th, 2002


"This is mindless garbage, you know that?" Buffy gently berated the vampire who was stretched out behind her on the sofa.

"But it's fun, mindless garbage," Spike responded, holding another spoonful of strawberry Häagen-Dazs level with her lips and waiting for her to suck the softening confection into her mouth.

"My brain is going to melt if you make me watch any more, and I get enough with the dumb blonde jokes as it is."

Spike gave a gentle chuckle, but conceded the point. "Switch it off then, and see if you can find anything on cable. I guess I can leave catching up on Passions until you go back to being college girl."

"You find something. I'm going to go heat up mug number four."

Spike raised his eyes heavenward, but dutifully started flicking through the channels, as Buffy pulled away from him and picked up the oversized breakfast mug that the vampire had adopted as his own. Buffy didn't know whether he was aware that it had been a favourite of her mother's, but it seemed right somehow that he should use it, rather than it sitting at the back of a cupboard, gathering dust.

He was still flicking his way through the channels when he heard quiet footsteps padding their way downstairs. Dawn hovered in the living room doorway, unsure if she was interrupting Spike and Buffy's travelling sexcapades. Spike's bare arms and shoulders peeking out from underneath the afghan the family occasionally used during their late-night viewing did little to assuage her doubts.

"I thought we were past the shy phase, Niblet." The vampire glanced away from the television to see what was troubling the teen.

"There's shy and there's shy... Are you actually wearing anything under there?" Spike flipped back the blanket to show the same pyjama bottoms he occasionally wore for breakfast before sitting up to make space beside him for the youngster.

"And Buffy?" Dawn nodded toward the kitchen, from where the hum of the microwave could be heard.

"Robe and everything. Cross my heart... So, are you goin' to tell me what keeps you awake till half past two in the morning, or should I just assume it's the obvious?"

Dawn smirked unconvincingly. "Well, it's a good hour or two since that bellow that half the neighbourhood must have heard, so no, not the obvious... unless you mean the other 'creepy, government scientist who pretended to be our friend' obvious."

Spike patted the gap next to him. "That would be the one I meant."

Dawn finally moved from her position in the doorway, taking the remote from his hand and placing it out of reach on the coffee table before swapping the tape in the VCR for the tape of 'The Princess Bride' that she had brought downstairs the day before. "Is that ice cream up for grabs?" she asked as she finally settled beside the vampire, tucking her legs underneath her and pulling an end of the blanket over her lower body.

"That would be a matter for discussion with your sister."

"You can share it," Buffy answered as she returned to the room, setting Spike's mug on the floor by his feet before taking the ice-cream carton from his hands and passing it to her sister. "I'll go fetch another spoon."

"You wanting to talk about anything, or do we just happen to be in the same room as the telly?" Spike asked the girl who came a very close second in his affections.

Dawn shook her head. "Just TV and company. No big deep. Not in the dark, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, Bit, I know what you mean... Just don't forget that we are here for you whenever you need us."

"I know. She just has me a little spun."

Buffy came back from the kitchen, spoon in hand, and Spike shuffled along the couch so that she could sit next to her sister. "I'm not real good with the talk. It's more Fang Face's department, and I know as far as families go, ours is unconventional and it's kinda early days but I'm hoping it's going to work. I know you must feel like things would be easier if you had a normal mom and dad and brothers and sisters-."

"Buffy, I wouldn't have traded the time I had with mom for anything, and you guys being together and getting Tara to stay, is like... If I can't have mom back, it's the next best thing. I wouldn't change any of you for any other lifestyle you care to mention... And it's not like I'm little Miss Normal or like a normal family could have had a hope of coping with all the things you guys have had to deal with because of me... or even like they'd want to."

"They'd want to, Niblet. It's only losers like your dad who could know you and not do everything in his power to keep you in their lives."

"Spike?" Buffy asked. "You think now might be time for what we hid away on the shelf in mom's old armoire?"

"That parcel in the black bag with silver lettering, you mean? ...Nah. It's too far away. I don't think I could lever myself off this sofa to go get it, and you've only just sat down... It'll keep." Spike's eyes gleamed with mischief as he watched the teenager's impatience mount.

"Buffy, what is it? Did you get me something? Can I have it, pleeeease? I'll go fetch it."

"I gue-ess ... If you go fetch it." Buffy's smile was good-natured. "But the ice cream stays here and you have to bring it down before you open it. No peeking."

Dawn's curiosity had the better of her in milliseconds. Buffy leaned back into her fiancé's arms, scooping ice cream into her mouth with obvious delight.

"You better hurry up or the Columbo bit'll be finished and we'll be into the film proper before you get back!" Spike called after the girl. "An' tell Glinda she's not foolin' anyone. We can hear her movin' around in her room, so she can leave the revision books for a few minutes and come see what you got."

Dawn came bouncing down the stairs in no time, with Tara following rather more sedately behind.

"It's supposed to be Tiffany's where you take your Cracker Jack ring to get engraved, not this place."

"I'm afraid that Tiffany's has yet to display the incredible lack of business sense required to set up shop in Sunnydale mall, so you'll have to make do," Spike told the teen.

"So can I open it now?"

"Give Tara a chance to grab a seat so she gets to see how disappointed you are when it is a Cracker Jack ring," Buffy teased.

"I don't believe you, so you can quit now," Dawn told her. "And even if it was, I bet it'd say something real nice."

Tara joined the couple, taking the spot Dawn had vacated on the sofa while the teen sat on the coffee table, narrowly avoiding the remote, and pulling pieces of silver tissue from the tasteful gift bag that was decorated with the store's name. After about three seconds she found the small leather case that housed her gift. rattling it and looking at the size, she hazarded a guess. "Bracelet."

"Nah..." the vampire demurred. "You can tell junior that he's buyin' you a wrist corsage, 'cause his hands ain't goin' anywhere near where he'd have to go to pin one on that dress."

Dawn shook her head at the vamp's protests and flipped open the lid of the box. A card, with the store's name and address printed along the bottom edge, rested on top of the gift itself, a message inscribed in a formal hand.

"A precious gift for our precious gift.

Diamonds are forever, just like family.

You, Tara and us."

The teen passed the card over to the Wiccan. "I'm guessing you've been summoned down here because that message is as much for you as it is for me." She watched as the quiet girl read the words on the card. That endearing smile of hers, combined with the tears that welled in her eyes, had her being hugged by both Dawn and Buffy.

Spike simply leaned back against the arm of the sofa and forced down some more of the blood that Buffy kept fetching every time his mug was empty, even though he was feeling rather bloated by this point. "Don't know what you girls are gettin' all blubbery about. You'd have to be totally insensitive to need tellin' what it said on that card, anyway," he mock grumbled, but when the witch cast an eye in his direction he gave her an extravagant wink before returning his attention to the mug of blood he was struggling his way through.

"Honestly, women... More interested in the damn card than they are in the present!" he mouthed off again when he realised that the girls were in no hurry to give up on the group hug thing.

Dawn looked honestly startled. She'd been so preoccupied with watching Tara's reaction to the card that she'd neglected her gift. She cast her gaze on the box's contents for the first time, her jaw dropping open.

"Are they really diamonds? For me? You're not kidding? This is a joke, right? They're paste, right? You couldn't trust me with something like these if they were real."

Buffy smiled at her sister. "You're right. I don't trust you with them, that's why they don't leave the house, except on very special occasions, like say... prom ...or maybe a wedding. And you can thank Spike. It's his idea. He said Sam made you feel like a freak, so you needed something to make you feel like a girl... a really special girl... who may now own more carats than her poor, deprived sister."

"Well... I might let you borrow them now and again... if you help out with my chores." Dawn turned the tables on her elder sister for years of domestic extortion, her grin letting Buffy know that she wasn't entirely serious. She was already fumbling with the catch on the necklace when Spike rose from his seat and took it from her hands.

"Pretty girl should never have to do that for herself," he told her as he slipped round behind her to drop the pendant over her head before fastening it in place. "An' I don't think it's really designed to look its best with Raiders pyjamas." Dawn could hardly stay still long enough to take out the plain gold studs she wore for bed and replace them with the diamond ones before she dashed off to check her appearance in the mirror in the hall.

She returned almost as quickly as she left, throwing herself first at Buffy and then at the vampire. Spike winced as he caught the teen. "Slow up there, stringbean."

Dawn gave the vampire a curious look. "Are you injured? Did you get in a fight? Is that why you disappeared for so long?"

"If I am and you can't see it already, Bitlet, then you ain't goin' to. This is as much as little sisters get to see. And, no, I haven't been in a fight."

"Humph! Well I can't see anything, but you sure as heck act like that hurts." Spike didn't quite manage to grab her wrist before she prodded him in the stomach again.

The vampire almost doubled over. "Look, it's nothing you need to worry about. You're missing your film. Your sister's makin' sure I drink enough blood to heal up a vampire elephant. So why not park your butt? An' by the time we get to that greatest kiss in all history or whatever they call it, I'll like as not be all better."

"You're covering something up."

"We just thought you had enough worries of your own, love. If this is what I'm pretty sure it is, then it might be unpleasant, but it's got a long way to go before it's gonna be life-threatening. Okay?"

The teen looked like she was about to argue but then she changed her mind. "If you lie down like you were before. Me and Tara can take the armchairs... If Tara's staying to watch the film."

"I think I should maybe get a glass of milk and then head back to the books," the Wiccan demurred. "I'm going to have to pretty much cram full time between now and the exams."

Dawn turned to the vampire, her arms folded and a pout he recognised all too well on her lips. "So... Are you going to lie down like a good deceiving, secretive, hypocritical future brother-in-law or not?"

Buffy smirked as the vampire muttered away under his breath while he got back into his original position on the sofa. "I told you you should tell her."

Dawn waited until Spike and her sister were both lying side by side on the sofa and then tucked the afghan in around them before finding another blanket to cover herself up with and rewinding the tape to the start of Buttercup's story. Tara, meanwhile had fetched her drink and paused as she was about to head back upstairs to ruffle the vamp's hair. "Take care of him, and if he gets worse again, come fetch me. I don't know if there's anything I can do, but..."

"I'm right here, you know, Glinda."

Tara gave a disarming smile. "Yeah, but everybody knows that you don't pay any attention to a male when he's sick. They either want tons of sympathy when there's nearly nothing wrong with them, or they start being all brave and saying that it's nothing when they're really ill."

"Hey, that's a vast generalisation, an' it might be true of humans, but... but..."

"But what?" Buffy craned her neck to ask.

"But I'm not going to win this argument in a room with three women, so I'm going to shut up now."








The film had been running for about three quarters of an hour when Buffy registered the stillness of the body behind her and the absence of a gentle breath stirring her hair. She pulled his arm tighter around her waist and pressed even closer against him. She was almost tempted to wake him up so that she could have the reassurance of his breathing and moving to know he was alright, but sleep could only do him good and so long as he wasn't dust, he wasn't dead, however much his stillness might worry her.

By the end of the film, the niggling pain in her gut that Buffy had first noticed back when Spike had gone missing from the party was back. So far, however, the vampire seemed to be sleeping through the worst that this attack had to offer. She was debating whether she should try to move him to their bed or leave him where he was when her own movements made the vampire stir.

She rolled in his arms to check on him as Dawn got to her feet with a yawn and popped the tape.

"Hey there, sleepyhead. I'm guessing you didn't see much of the film.

"Not a vast amount. Hope I didn't snore."

"Very funny. How's the stomach?" she asked, waiting to see what he would say before she let him know that she was aware another attack had begun.

"'S been better."

"You want to move this upstairs?"

"Upstairs could be good," Spike answered, but as he pushed himself into a more upright position, it seemed to trigger a bout of nausea. Seeing him struggling to hold in a mouthful of vomit, Buffy quickly rolled off the sofa. As soon as she was clear of his path the vampire stumbled to the kitchen sink, Buffy grabbing his elbow and lending him support as he staggered the last few feet.

Buffy looked on in horror as the vampire retched helplessly, his hands gripping so tightly on the edges of the sink that even though he was in human form they looked like claws. She was sure that even including what he had drunk at Lily's he had to be throwing up more than he had ingested.

"Buffy?" Dawn stood in the no man's land between the living room and the kitchen, looking on in horror as her superhuman champion succumbed to some unnamed and unexplained horror.

"Dawn, fetch Tara and then I want you to see if you can get Wes. If he's going to have to help us figure out how to deal with this, it might help if he sees what's going on... Now!" she added when the girl seemed to be rooted to the spot. "Dawn, if you want to help, then the best thing you can do is get Tara and Wes." This finally seemed to galvanise the teen into action and she raced upstairs to Tara's room.

Buffy felt a bit of a hypocrite sending Dawn away when she felt so useless herself, but she couldn't leave him. The thought of Spike suffering through this on his own earlier was almost physically painful to her, but Spike needed her strength not her fears and her worries, so she stood beside him, her hand firmly over his and pretended not to be as worried as she suspected they both knew she was. Maybe if she was lucky Spike would be too preoccupied to know how afraid she was of losing him.

"You know, you're one up on us humans there... At least you can't choke on your vomit, but it's going to take more than a few breath mints before I kiss that mouth." She waited until there was a slight lull in his being sick to crack a joke and her vamp even managed to give her a half-hearted smile before the nausea took hold again.
 
 
Chapter #41 - Chapter 4.04
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.04
Sunday, May 19th, 2002


"Spike?" Tara bent over, trying to look the vampire in the face. "I'm going to put this pendant round your neck. Okay? It's an agate. It has protective properties. I know it's not your normal style, but..."

Tara fastened the delicate gold pendant with its orangey brown banded stone centre around the vampire's neck. "Tomorrow there's a working I can do to make its protection more potent, but I need sunlight for that, so for now we'll have to make do."

Spike managed to nod his acquiesence. "Anythin's worth a-." The vampire doubled over the sink, another bout of nausea hitting him in midsentence.

"Isn't there anything else we can do in the meantime?" Buffy asked, obviously frustrated by Spike's renewed incapacity and her own inability to do anything to combat it.

"I've already tried the only other protection spell that I had the components here to do and it doesn't seem to have helped any. If I can get the ingredients I can do that trance to see spells thing and then we'll at least know who or what is causing it. Maybe we can do something to stop them."

"Then call Giles at his hotel and get him to bring whatever you need from The Magic Box!"

Tara looked uncomfortable as Buffy snapped at her. "I don't know if Giles..."

"Giles will do whatever needs doing. He's part of the team, and if he decides that Spike isn't worth saving then he's turning his back on all of us as far as I'm concerned."

"I'll call him," Dawn volunteered. "Will he know what to get?"

"He sells the stuff to people. He should!" Buffy snapped.

"What's going on?" Wes demanded as he pushed through the door that Dawn had left ajar. "Dawn said it was an emergency." The former watcher was still pulling a sweater over his head as he made his way into the living room. He stopped dead when he saw the vampire stooped over the sink, still throwing up blood, though to those who had been there since since the beginning of the nausea attack it seemed that it might now be waning.

"What on earth?" the man looked on amazed at what he saw. "I didn't think vampires ever got sick."

"We're thinking curse." Buffy went into command mode. "Spike says he's seen it done before, but only using voodoo, and the people he knew who were capable of it are long dead. This is the third time it's happened in the last two days. First time, it was only stomach cramps. Earlier this evening, he was ill but didn't tell anyone at the time, and now again. Whoever is behind it, they're escalating the attacks. I'm betting on this Wood guy. From something Spike said earlier, I'm guessing his money's on Willow. Or we could both be wrong and it could be someone Quentin's hired. Could be Giles' wonderfully vague warning coming to fruition. Tara's done everything she can with what she has, but Dawn's calling Giles to get him to open up The Magic Box and bring some things. Is there anything to be gained from you being here while this is going on, or can you go pick up Giles from his hotel, take him to the shop and then bring him back here?"

"I think between you, Spike, Dawn and Tara I should be able to get all the eye-witness reports I need. Try to keep note of how long the bouts of sickness last for and whether they're getting worse or better... I haven't brought my car keys. I'll have-."

"Grab Spike's. They're on the hall table. It'll be quicker. Dawn! Tell Giles that Wes is coming to pick him up." Buffy turned back to the stricken vampire, her arms wrapping ever so loosely around his waist as she pressed against his back, only to draw back and touch a hand to her face and look down at the damp patches which showed on her robe.

"Spike, did you know that you're sweating? You're burning up."

Unwilling to speak, the vamp gave a gentle nod.

"Did this happen last time?" Another nod. "The time before." This time the vamp managed a soft, "No."

She enfolded him once more in a careful hug and whispered against his back, "We'll find a way to stop this. We've got Giles and Wes and Tara. We'll..." She paused, seeming to consider something. "Dawn, try calling Lily's place. There might still be people around from the party. See if you can get hold of Marie and then bring me the phone, okay?"








"If anyone had told me... even two years ago that Buffy would be pulling two watchers out of their beds to get them to help Spike of all people, I would have told them that they were completely barmy," Giles muttered as he pulled book after book from the shelves, trying to find the elusive one with Cloutier's spell.

"Malachite pendant?" Wes asked, pulling said item from a tray of multi-coloured stones which had been prepared ready to be worn on either a leather thong or a chain. "And if anyone had told me that Buffy could look as happy as I've seen her over the last week or two, I would probably have said the same to them."

Giles considered for a moment, wondering if he would ever be recompensed for the items, but then shrugged. If Wes was right about Spike making Buffy happy it didn't matter. "I don't suppose it will do any harm. See if there's anything else lying around that you think might prove useful." He stopped searching through the book shelves long enough to look at Wesley questioningly. "You really think Spike is in love with her? It's not just some obsession that will completely slip his mind the next time Drusilla waltzes into town and crooks her little finger."

"Drusilla is dust, Giles, and a large part of the reason for that is that even when he was under a spell where he had no memory of his relationship with Buffy, the bond between the two and his mark on her throat was enough to make him abandon his sire in favour of someone he remembered only as his adversary. What they share is uncanny from a purely emotional standpoint. As a watcher I have to say that seeing them in combat together is incredible. They know each other so well, it's as if they think as one."

Giles snorted. "You wouldn't say that if you heard the pair of them arguing."

"So they bicker a little. Then, they kiss and make up. It lets off steam and lets Spike convince himself that he hasn't gone good in his old age. There's never any lingering bad feeling. Everything is out in the open or it will be as they get to know more about each other's pasts. I have absolutely no doubt that the two of them care deeply about each other, or that Spike also has feelings of a familial nature for both Dawn and Tara. Though I suspect he wouldn't actually care for the term, I would say that Spike is as much a Champion as Angel. He's also far better suited to the role of consort, if you will. Spike will happily do Buffy's bidding, play second fiddle even though he is formidable in his own right, which isn't to say that he won't make his opinion known if he disagrees with her. Angel is happiest when he's at the centre of things. He does not conform well to the role of subordinate. If Angel had been the vampire who was here rather than Spike, I wouldn't have given it six months before he left her for some noble reason he made up. Buffy has become an extremely resourceful, self-possessed individual. Angel needs to be needed. He wants to be revered by the women in his life. However much Buffy may love Spike, or may have loved Angel, she doesn't ultimately need either one. Spike can cope with that. Angel would never have been able to.

Strange as it may seem, I think..." Wes paused as the shop's phone rang, the answering machine intercepting the call on the second ring. "That's probably her ringing to tell us to get a move on."








Spike tried to calm Buffy slightly as she put him to bed in her mother's old room. The bed had been pulled into the very centre of the room, to allow Tara to draw a protective circle around it. The ring of scented oils was indistinguishable by sight on the carpet's pattern, but the scents of primrose, lime, lavender and sandalwood were heavy in the air. "Look, I'm fine now," he insisted.

"Yeah? Then how come there was more sway than swagger to how you made it up the stairs? I was walking right behind you, remember. I could see you clinging to the banister trying to look like you were fine for Dawn. Well, I don't know if she bought the act, but up close and personal, I didn't. You're still burning up and you're starting to look like an extra in a George Romero film."

"But at least I stopped throwing up while I still had something to throw up this time, so that means I kept some of it down, so that's an improvement."

"Honey, no offence, but if this is the new improved Spike, I prefer the original formula."

"Pet, bottom line... It's not pretty but it's not directly life threatening. I have faith in you guys. You'll fix it, and you've already got Marie ringing round her contacts in Miami. Maybe she'll come up with something, and Tinkerbell's still tinkering, even though she should be either back in bed or hittin' the school books. You've got two of the Council's brightest, least the two that were bright enough to tell the Council to go stuff themselves. You're the crack team that sends all the bad guys packing, though technically I'm not entirely sure where you would actually place this particular bit of magic on the good - evil continuum seein' as how it's aimed at the Evil Undead. I'm a long, long way from being a goner. Maybe I'm not really in the mood for a bit of rough and tumble right this second, but as you told me once, 'I'll live'."

"You better, buddy, or I'll come hunt you down wherever you end up and sue you for breach of promise or whatever they used to call it. We've got a binding verbal contract for us both to be in that church on July twentieth, and I'm not letting you off the hook, even if I need to visit another hell to fetch you back."

"It's a nice thought, love, but even though I'm sure I'll end up payin' for my many and varied sins sooner or later, I've got no intention of bein' first to quit the dance floor."

"Just keep it that way, then." Buffy pressed a kiss to his damp brow, noting the dark circles under his normally vibrant eyes. "I'm going to go check to see whether they've come up with anything or if they're still not making with the progress. I'll be back soon."

"Stay... They're just getting ready to try that 'tirer la couture' thing. I kinda got the impression that would take a few hours."

"Well, it did when I did it. Maybe they're quicker at getting trancey."

"Come to bed, love. They'll come find you if there's any news and I can't sleep without you any more. Besides a rested slayer will kick butt so much better when they do find out who it is."

"You're just laying on the charm so that I come to bed."

"Is it working?" the vampire asked with a cadaverous shadow of his normal teasing smile.

"Yeah..." Buffy crawled onto the bed and climbed underneath the covers curling close enough to the vamp to stroke his hair back where it stuck to his forehead. "It always does, doesn't it?"








"I simply feel that perhaps your energy isn't as focused as it could be right now, with the break up, and that it might be better if Wesley or I were to perform the actual trance. It's very-."

"Giles, I understand what you are saying and if we didn't need to know soon who is doing this and exactly how they're doing it, I would even agree with you, but we do need to know, and given what Willow had to say on the subject of Spike the last time she was here, I think I'm the only true magic-user who can and will do it. I don't mean to be rude about you guys and I know in a pinch you can pull it off, but really you're more book guys whereas I'm practical magic girl.

How often do you meditate, Giles?"

"Well, that's beside the point, and for all you know either one of us could spend half the day, every day, in a trance."

"Only when someone mentions some rare old book, and then there's the whole drool thing. It could take you hours to reach the required level of consciousness. Do you really want to sit in the lotus position for that long?"

"I'm not as decrepit as you-."

"Giles!" Wes looked up from his appraisal of the spell book they had brought back from the magic shop. "Perhaps I might make a suggestion?"

"Well, what is it, man?"

"I've had a look through the spell, or trance. So far as I can tell there would be no adverse effects if one were to be roused from the meditative state before the process were completed, and if as you say, Tara's energy may not be sufficiently focused, I believe that she would simply fail to reach that higher state of consciousness required. I don't believe there is any risk.

In short, I believe it would be advantagous if we were all to attempt to perform the ritual. If one of us meets with success, they can rouse the others from their meditation or if they feel they require corroboration they can let the other two-."

"Three," Dawn stated flatly in a tone that should have warned anyone about even thinking of arguing with her.

"Dawn, I..." Giles tried, nevertheless.

"He just said it wasn't dangerous. This is our family, Giles. Buffy is going to want to be with him, but if this has a hope of working, the odds have got to be better with four trying, than with three. He would do anything he could to help me. It's time he learned it's a two-way street." Tara nodded her agreement, and Giles finally conceded total defeat.

"So how do we do this? One big circle for all of us, or four little ones?"
 
 
Chapter #42 - Chapter 4.05
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.05
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Tara's eyes flicked suddenly open. She looked around the room. Dawn, Giles and Wes were still seated, each within their own individual sand circle. The first light of predawn had given way to full mid-morning sun, but the light seemed grainy, almost sepia toned, though she supposed that perhaps the pall of incense smoke in the room could be partially responsible. She pushed herself to her feet, aware of a disorienting fuzziness to her actions. The normal, everyday sounds of the house seemed muted somehow, the hum of the refrigerator, the noise of children playing in the street outside. All seemed distant, as if somehow, she existed on the border between their reality and another.

She turned toward the kitchen, thinking to check through the house for other influences before finally going in search of the vampire, and froze in terror. A demon stood behind the island in the middle of the room, his head only an inch or two short of brushing the ceiling. He wore armour in a style that Tara knew from her art history course had not been widely seen since the time of the crusades, though the helmet, which he carried tucked under one arm, had to be more ceremonial than functional, as the 'wings' on either side of the piece would be more likely to deflect a blow towards the top of the head than away from it. His eyes were pools of darkest ebony, with no obvious irises or whites, and Tara knew she should find them unreadable, yet after her first initial shock, she found that she began to be drawn toward the figure. His pose seemed both at ease and alert, as if he waited to be needed, his huge right hand resting on the pommel of what to a human would be a claymore, but to the figure before her, seemed more in the nature of a bastardsword. Tara reached out toward him, knowing that he meant her no harm, but also knowing that a great injustice had been wrought and would have to be corrected soon if the cosmic balance were to be maintained.

She picked up Buffy's purse from the island, her eyes flashing violet as she did so. She watched as the demon put on it's helmet and changed it's grip on the huge sword. Then, the image of the demon began superimposing itself over her own body, so that to the witch, it now seemed as if she had donned the winged helmet and accompanying armour. The whole process took just a fraction of a second. The spirit who now imbued her with his strength and invulnerability had shifted into a state of combat readiness. Tara was aware of the puzzlement of the spirit within her. He... no, it, she realised, had no concept of how it had been separated from its people, or what might be happening to them now that their guardian had been stripped from them. It bore no ill will toward those in whose company it now found itself, but its over-riding concern was to return to those for whom it had given its life and over whom it had sworn to keep watch, even in death, taking on the role of warrior and protector so that the rest of its kind might live lives of meditation and study.

Tara opened up the purse and taking out the orbs, held one in either hand, separating them until the purple light flashed once more in her eyes before the spirit left her body, and she could see clearly once more instead of feeling as if her view was restricted to what she could see through a visor slit. She made her way to the dining room, pausing to look at the photographs there and how in some Dawn's image seemed to fade in and out, even though in the later ones she was as real as anyone else. Having exhausted the possibilities of the ground floor, Tara turned for the stairs even as Wes's eyes flicked open to see the Wiccan apparently being stalked by the huge sword-wielding demon.








"Oh god, Spike. Ah, Spike, please..."

The demon's gaze met that of his lover across the lusciously curving planes of her upper body. He loved it when she became incoherent, when all that remained for her was him and surges of sensation. He watched her face as he pushed her lower lips open with a broad stroke from his tongue before making teasing forays around her swollen clit. When he finally took the bud between his lips, sucking gently at first, Buffy thought she was going to die. Surely, such a rapid heartbeat was a sign of arrhythmia. Then, two slender fingers pushed inside her warmth, gently curving to find her G-spot and stroke it with a sensually circling caress. As he increased the pressure from his mouth, sucking harder, so that the lines of his perfectly crafted cheekbones were emphasised even more prominently than normal, he could feel the first fluttering of her vaginal muscles around his fingers. He lifted his head, returning once more to a gentle licking motion, letting her body shift slightly back from the brink even though his skilled fingers inside her wouldn't let her slip too far.

Buffy gasped for every breath and her eyes finally flickered shut. She caught the delicate scent of cherries in the air as his fingers left her and strong arms pulled her up to her knees, wrapping her arms around his neck as her breasts were crushed to his chest. She gasped as she felt his cool member push between her thighs from behind, the coarse mat of his pubic hair brushing against the curves of her ass, and the head of his generous shaft teasing her over-stimulated clit. Her eyes opened wide once more as she realised the impossibility of what she was feeling.

"Spike?"

"Here, love." The gentle whisper in her right ear was echoed by the lips in front of her just before they claimed her own. A familiar hand reached from behind her to cup her breast. As Spike continued she heard him not with her ears, but in her mind. 'Relax, love. It's a dream. Doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. It's all me. You're safe.'

"But whose? I mean, is this your fantasy, or mine?"

'Does it matter? Seems pretty good to me. Something about the idea of making you come every which way at once really turns me on, but I think that's hardly news. Personally, though, I suspect I would have conjured up multiple Buffys. Who knows? It could be my way of compensating for not being able to keep you awake all night.'

Buffy's eyes widened as she felt the cock behind her being replaced by a finger that pressed gently on her anus coating the puckered opening with lubricant before easing smoothly inside. "Chill, honey, nothing we haven't done before, just not all at once," the voice at her ear whispered huskily before she felt a sharp tweak at her nipple and arched back, letting her head drop onto the shoulder of the Spike behind her. The demon at her back was unable to resist the temptation and kissed and nuzzled against her collar bone and the smooth column of her golden neck, paying particular attention to her claim mark, nibbling at the flesh there with blunt teeth.

"Oh god. You really are going to kill me."

"There's a reason the French call it 'Le Petit Mort', pet."

The finger inside her began to shift from side to side, loosening her tight muscles until there was enough space for a second finger in the narrow cavity. Spike in front of her dropped his head to her free breast suckling there as he had earlier on her other perfect pink bud. Once more, Buffy could feel herself approach the edge of climax. A thumb moved within her lips, grinding her clit against her pubic bone in circles that began slowly but as she panted harder and harder began to speed up. At the same time a third finger joined the first two in her ass and they began to thrust in and out in place of their previous motion.

Buffy's whole body began to tremble and she knew the only things holding her up were the hard bodies on either side of her, even as she thought this, some agreement seemed to be reached between the two Spikes. 'Open your eyes, baby. See what's yours.'

With some effort Buffy pushed open lids that she hadn't been aware of shutting. The man behind her was in complete control of her body now. His arm around her holding her up, his mouth on her neck making her shiver uncontrollably and his fingers bringing her to orgasm in a way that only he ever had. 'Look at me, honey.' Her eyes finally focused on the man in front of her, making her gasp as she realised what he was doing. She watched, fascinated as dextrous fingers massaged his penis, spreading lubricant thickly over its silky length as he pumped slowly up and down. 'You know what's coming, don't you? You know what I'm going to do? Think you can take it, baby?'

Buffy barely managed to nod. The combined sensations the other Spike was causing enough to make any thought difficult.

'Do you want it, Buffy? You're as ready as we can make you but it's probably still going to hurt a little.'

Again she moved her head to show her assent, unable to form words. The men shifted until they were right and left of her instead of in front and behind, holding her up on either side. the Spike who had been behind her continuing to lavish attention on her claim mark and to thrust in and out of her in a slow rhythm until the other Spike took position on his knees behind her. Buffy gasped as he took over from his doppelganger, his languorous thrust taking him far deeper then his counterpart had penetrated and stretching her so taut that it did hurt, but she knew that the pleasure to come would far outweigh any pain. Spike wondered again that such a tiny woman could accommodate him so completely, sliding slowly deeper and deeper as the other Spike watched.

Buffy could feel his satisfaction as he seated his dick inside her, and was glad again for Riley's prudery that meant this one thing was his and his alone. She gasped one word, letting him know how she felt. "Yours."

"That's right, baby. You're ours and we're going to take real good care of you, but you have to stay with us. You have to try to hold off coming as long as you can, in case you wake up."

"Spi-ike..." she moaned as if he asked the impossible.

A hand settled on each of her hips as Spike began to withdraw, but before she could miss the feel of him inside her the other Spike moved round to face her.

"Don't worry, love," he reassured her, his fingers gently stroking her cheek. "We love you. You're safe with us. We'll take everything nice and slow." The vampire behind her showered her shoulders in feather-light kisses and nips that left pink marks that would have faded in a few hours, if this were real, as he moved inside her, pausing when only the bulbous head of his cock was left inside her before pushing back into her welcoming warmth unbearably slowly. The Spike in front of her reached between her legs, positioning himself at her opening. Waiting until the other Spike paused again, barely inside her, he thrust up into her, withdrawing almost completely before the one behind her took his turn once more.

As the vampire had promised they built up a tortuously sensual rhythm until Buffy relaxed completely, only tensing slightly when one of the four hands and two mouths found a new way to make her gasp and moan. At first one vampire would wait until the other had almost completely withdrawn before he thrust into her, but as they slowly gained momentum they could feel one dick sliding past the other with only a thin tissue membrane separating them, and Buffy could feel them, too. She had never felt so completely filled in her life.

"Not going to break, Spike. Want it faster, harder. Want to feel all of both of you inside me at once."

At her request, the vampire behind her paused once he was buried deep within her. The Spike before her searched her face, making certain she was absolutely sure before he gave a savage push into her. Buffy's head dropped back, onto the shoulder of the man behind her, once more, a low moan of satisfaction escaping from her throat. As both men began to withdraw simultaneously she could feel them press tight against each other. The vamps began to push into her harder and faster swiftly reaching the frenetic pace and savagery she had wanted.

Finally, she could bear it no longer. "Spike... gonna come... real soon..."

However, she should have known that the vamp could read her pulse and respiration as if it were as clear as a road map. "We know, baby. We know. It's okay. You, come for us. Come for your boys. Let us know how good we make you feel. Let it all out."

His words of encouragement were all she needed to tip her over what by now was not so much the edge as a precipice, her teeth embedding themselves deeply in the flesh of the vampire in front of her, as all three of them came with a breathtaking ferocity.








"Tara, look out!" Wes called, trying to pitch his voice so that the witch couldn't fail to hear him, but also so that he wouldn't rouse Giles or Dawn from their meditation before they were ready. Tara, spun on her heel to see what the danger was, as the watcher made to make a grab for the demon.

"No, Wes. It's just these." She held up the orbs, one in either hand, still keeping them several feet apart. "The orbs are imbued with the spirit of the demons' racial guardian. That's where their power comes from."

Her warning came a little late as Wes discovered the yielding nature of what was after all, simply a visual manifestation of the magic of the orbs. Tara went to grab Wes's arm before he could fall and then realised that both her hands were already full. Fortunately, Wes's dignity was the only casualty. "I'm guessing some invulnerability isn't going to go amiss if we can get Spike to hold them. I feel kinda stupid that it took an eight foot tall apparition to remind me."

"At least you worked out where the apparition came from."

Tara shook her head. "I just had longer to adjust than you did. Come on. I couldn't see anything downstairs, well nothing I didn't expect, but I haven't checked on Spike, yet."

Tara knocked quietly at the couple's bedroom door, reluctant to awaken them if they were getting some much needed sleep. When she received no response, she pushed the door open. The protective circle around the bed shimmered with a buttery yellow light that rose to a height of about five feet slightly obscuring her view of the bed, so that it was only when she stepped within its bounds that she realised it was no longer occupied. If it hadn't been for the missing comforter and pillows she might have been concerned. As it was, she simply strolled around to the far side.

What she could see from there, however, caused her to blush profusely and wave Wesley back toward the door. So far as she could tell, beneath the haphazardly draped covers, both Buffy and Spike were dressed as they had been earlier with the exception of Buffy's robe, but the figures that floated in the air above their heads were wearing nothing at all. Tara determinedly searched the area around the vampire for signs of hostile magic, even, finally, pulling back the covers to his waist to search his flesh.

She swore under her breath at what she saw there. There was no tell-tale pointer to indicate magic, just red-purple bruising that covered the vamp's abdomen, which, to her, indicated some form of internal haemorrhage. She leaned forward to press the orbs into the vampire's hand where it wrapped around Buffy's waist.

Rogue watched her every move from where she lay by the couple's heads, as if she felt that Spike required a canine guard in his weakened state. The orbs slid from the vampire's hand almost immediately, but when Tara saw the figure of the demon merge with Buffy's sleeping form, she simply picked up the orbs and placed them by Spike's back instead of in his hand. As the armour wrapped itself around Spike's body, Tara breathed a sigh of relief and backed away toward the room door.

"What's wrong?" the former watcher asked as she pushed him back onto the landing. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Spike's getting worse. His face is starting to look like a skull. He's still running a fever and I think from the bruising on his stomach there's internal bleeding. The thing is that there's absolutely no sign of anything magical, except some very personal astral body type stuff that seems to be going on between the two of them."

"The shared dreams?" Wes asked.

"That could be it. Let's just say, if Dawn makes it into a trance, she isn't old enough to go into that room."

"Ahhhhh."

"So how long exactly does the REM state last?" the Wiccan asked.

"Long enough for us to make a pot of coffee and some toast," Wes suggested.

The pair made their way downstairs and through the dining room into the kitchen.

As Wes rinsed out the filter from the coffee-machine, Tara pulled open the fridge door to get the coffee canister and the milk. What caught her attention was the icky green glow around the jug of blood that sat in the fridge. A small seal decorated the side of the jug, a mark personal to the mage who had altered the liquid, a mark the Wiccan recognised all too easily.

As she let the door swing open and stepped back to let Wes see, she sighed her disappointment. "Oh, Willow!"
 
 
Chapter #43 - Chapter 4.06
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.06
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

"Oh, Willow!" Tara stood back to let the former Watcher see the jug of blood in the fridge.

"I see it," Wes confirmed. "I'm assuming the seal is Willow's mark."

The Wiccan nodded. She pulled the jug from the fridge, setting it on the counter. Then, she pulled open the salad drawer, revealing a few sealed bags of blood. They, too, had the same sickly green aura surrounding them as the jug, Willow's mark appearing on each one. She removed those, too, placing them next to the pitcher.

"I don't understand. Willow had gone before Spike even bought all this blood. She hasn't even been in the house."

"Are you sure about that? There isn't a spare key hidden somewhere outside in case someone gets locked out? Assuming, of course, that Willow would actually need a key to get in, or even that she would need to be here to do the magic. It's entirely possible that she wouldn't even need to be anywhere near the house."

"But if the blood's magically poisoned, shouldn't there have been some sign when we looked at, well, when I looked at Spike?"

"Not necessarily. She could easily have used magic to create a mundane poison. There are, in fact, certain similarities between Spike's symptoms and arsenic poisoning, for example. In the days when it was commonly available, almost all cases of arsenic poisoning occurred 'within the family' as the poison had to be administered at a low dose over a period of time before the target became immune to the emetic effects of the drug. Only then, could a larger, fatal dose be given. Spike said when he was ill during the party that he voided his entire stomach contents. After that he seemed to be almost his normal self. Last night, he managed to keep down a portion of what he'd drunk, and now he's running a fever and has bruises consistent with internal bleeding. None of this necessarily suggests that the toxin would have to be magical in nature. There are a few poisons which are effective against vampires. The poison's actual creation could be magical, but the substance itself obviously is not." Wesley picked up the jug, tilting it slightly to stare at the liquid inside before lowering his nose to sniff the contents. "Or that may not have been Willow's intent in the matter at all..."

Tara frowned in puzzlement as she watched Wes carry out his olfactory test. "I could be wrong, but if there was anything to smell, wouldn't Spike be the first to notice?"

"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Wes countered as he pushed the jug over toward the young woman. "Nevertheless..."








Buffy came awake with a start and immediately felt bereft. There was no Spike in front of her. Her renewal of her claim on him was nothing but a dream. She began to wonder how much of the rest of the experience had been real as she realised that her slip had been pushed up far beyond her waist. Her thighs were damp and sticky, and as she flexed her vaginal muscles she realised Spike was still inside her.

"Morning, love." The voice at her ear was more croaky than his normal, husky whisper, reminding Buffy that he was ill and probably shouldn't have been doing what they appeared to have just done.

She moved to ease away from him so that she could roll to face him, but his arm held her to him with a strength that seemed at odds with his infirmity.

"Stay... please, love... for a few minutes."

Buffy relaxed back against him. "Oh-Kay. You can have a few minutes, Mr Snuggles, but after that I get to roll over and see how the patient is doing and make a start on my Florence Nightingale routine. I've not had much practice, but I learned from the best. And, bonus... if you make it downstairs, we can see how often we can make Giles clean his glasses."

"Don't you ever dare call me that in front of anyone else, pet."

"Giles? It's going to be your name. Actually, according to all the papers we have downstairs, it already is."

"You know exactly what I mean. Now shhhh. See, in my version of what just happened, you should be too knackered to move for at least half an hour and too high to get all chatty and torment your man for... well, days?"

Buffy sighed, easing their bodies apart and then rolling over. Before she could even speak, her shock at Spike's haggard, hollowed out features silenced her. Tears filled her eyes and instead of words she let her fingertips brush gently at his face as she bestowed a longing kiss on his fevered lips. "Spike, when you're well, I'll lie here, well, actually the bed itself would be more comfortable, but I'll happily spend hours, days even, basking in the afterglow of our incredible sex, real and imaginary, but I don't do sitting around watching the people I love die. I need to be doing whatever I can to help you get better. I need to go see if they've come up with anything, find out what's happening, see if we know whose butt needs kicking, yet. You understand?"

"Sure, love. But you're forgetting one thing. I already told you I'm not planning on dying."

"And I'm not planning on letting you."








"Heyyy, you two," Tara called as the couple made their way to the living room, accompanied by Rogue.

The dog hadn't strayed more than a few feet from the vampire since the couple woke, following him around as he got dressed.

The back door stood open to allow the egress of the smoke from the incense and Tara was in the midst of vacuuming up all the magic sand. "We were just about to send a search party to see if you were awake yet?" Tara did her best to look cheerful, but though the vampire didn't look worse than when she had seen him earlier, he certainly didn't look better.

A sheen of perspiration coated his face, his eyes seemed to have sunk back into his head and were underlined by dark purple bruises and his cheek bones no longer looked sexy, but gaunt.

"Darn. Did we miss the start of the meeting?" Buffy looked round the room. Giles was still in last night's clothes, his glasses in one hand as he pinched the bridge of his nose with the other, a cup of black coffee in front of him instead of his normal tea. Dawn was seated next to him on the sofa. Her expression gave away little but the barely touched stack of pancakes on the plate in her lap said a whole lot more.

"What's up, Dawnie?" her sister asked. "Don't tell me you've gone off Tara's pancakes."

"If Spike can't eat, it doesn't seem right that we should."

"Rubbish, Bitlet. Get them down your neck before you end up lookin' even more like Kate Moss, or bloody Social Services'll think we're starvin' you and that dress'll fall off an' end up in a puddle round your ankles come Friday.

What'd you do with Junior Watcher? He gone back to his for some kip?"

"He's gone to get some things for breakfast," Tara answered gravely.

"Alright! What the bloody hell is going on? I gather since we had a visit from the Orb Fairy that somebody's been checkin' up on us, but you three are actin' like your damn dog died, which seein' as she's right here, doesn't make much sense."

"It's complicated, Spike. Willow seems to be involved-." That was as far as Giles got before Buffy exploded.

"Willow? She is so going to get her octogenarian butt kicked. I am gonna-."

"Buffy!" Giles shouted to get Buffy's renewed attention. "Willow would appear to have a hand in events, but as things stand, we don't know whether she is trying to harm Spike or aid him."

Dawn snorted. "Like she needed to use magic if she was on our side..."

"Dawn, there is such a thing as giving someone the benefit of the doubt," Giles insisted. "I can hardly believe that Willow would feel welcome here at the moment, or..." The Watcher put his glasses back on, pushing them up his nose with one finger before he fixed his gaze directly on the teen. "...That she would expect you to put your trust in any explanation she might give."

"Well," Buffy interjected. "Why don't you bring me and Spike up to speed, and then you and I can go and ask her?"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "I told you guys not to say anything before she had her second coffee."

"Before we do that, Buffy. I'm led to understand that Spike is manifesting more symptoms. I think it would be advisable, if you expect us to find out how this is being achieved, if we were to see what we're talking about."

"We know what they're doing, Rupert, and if you say Bathmorda's involved, what's the big discussion?" As the two men argued, Tara slipped into the kitchen unnoticed by anyone.

"That's where you're wrong. There is no sign whatsoever of any magic being used to directly affect you."

"So, I'm imagining it, am I?"

"That is not what I said," Giles argued.

"No, but then you've always been quite good at not quite saying outright what you mean. Or maybe I'm meant to be faking it, some huge ploy for attention, is that it? Or maybe... just maybe like I told you stupid buggers in the first place, vaudun doesn't work the same way normal magic does and maybe mon-sewer Cloutier's little acid trip doesn't work with it."

"You know if it wasn't for Buffy, I'd quite happily let whatever this is take its toll, but Tara assures me that the only sign of any magic to do with you was the visual manifestation of your shared dreams, and I choose to have faith both in her and a sorcerer of the highest renown in preference to one of your hunches any day."

Tara walked up to the two men who had somehow managed to end up nose to nose. "Stop it, both of you. Spike, have some blood." She pressed Spike's mug into his hand.

Spike hadn't even raised the mug above waist height when he frowned. "What in blazes did you put in this, Glinda? Essence of skunk? It smells like somebody's cess pit."

Tara took the mug from him again. "Thank you. Now, if I tell you that blood came from the same pitcher you were drinking from last night and I've added nothing to it, perhaps you'll sit down and listen."








"Everywhere?" Buffy asked.

"I've been to every butcher's shop and packing plant in town. They all say the same thing. When they got in to work this morning any stocks of blood that they were holding on the premises had curdled overnight. Everything else was fine, but they had to ditch all they had. In the end I had to wait while they butchered a pig at one of the plants and have them collect the blood there and then, but considering more goes over the floor than gets collected, I don't think that will keep him going for long." He held up a plastic carton, holding a little over a quart of the precious liquid, before setting it on the kitchen counter beside the box of doughnuts he'd brought.

Spike gave the Watcher a weary smile. "Thanks for tryin' anyway."

Wes grinned back at him. "As I was saying, I didn't think that would keep you going for very long, so I made a detour via the bloodbank, where I found that one of their employees was willing to be very helpful... for a small fee."

Wes pulled at least half a dozen blood bags out of various pockets, and Spike's smile ratcheted up a notch. "How much do I owe you?"

Wes shook his head. "Call it an engagement present. Heaven only knows when I'd have time to buy you anything else."

Buffy mouthed a silent "Thank you," over Spike's shoulder, before she scooped up the carton, pulled Spike's mug from the cupboard, filled it and put it in the microwave.

"So... curiouser and curiouser." Spike tilted his head on one side. "Seems to me, if Red was doin' some mojo that turned the blood rancid as some sort of time-delayed side-effect that she'd hardly bother goin' round all the butchers in town when she could achieve what she wanted just by tamperin' with our fridge."

"The same thought had occurred to me," Wes confirmed. "I believe that Willow deliberately made the blood undrinkable, and while it is possible that this is some sort of prank, I'm more inclined to believe this is a warning."

"Which begs the question, a warning about what," Giles commented. "What does Willow know that we don't?"

"Let's go find out, shall we?" Buffy asked, sliding off her stool. "Dawn, when that blood's heated make sure he drinks it. When he's drunk that one, heat some more and make sure he drinks that. Repeat until you run out of blood or we get back."

"Got ya," the teen responded, glad to have something concrete to do.

Spike followed Buffy as she went upstairs to fetch a jacket, Rogue still shadowing him as closely as if she were on a very short lead.

"You're not coming with us," Buffy told the vamp before he could argue otherwise.

"I'm not stupid, pet. I know right now if push came to shove I'd be a liability. I'm in even less of a hurry to get you killed than I am me, but if Giles is right, there's just as likely people after you at least as much as me." He loosened his belt.

"Now's not the time, honey."

"Ha bloody ha, pet," Spike responded as he slid the pouch that held the orbs off the leather strap and pressed it into Buffy's hand. "If the Watchers are readin' this wrong, or even if they're right, Red's not exactly in the most rational frame of mind right now. You want me to stay here and drink up, then you're going to have to take them."

"Spike, they could be the only thing that's stopped you keeling over already."

"Or they could be making no difference at all, but we know if there's a fight, or some bastard with a gun or a bow, then they will. Don't make me worry about you, love... please."

"Okay, but if you get worse I want you to call me on my cell."

Spike leaned in to press a lingering goodbye kiss to her lips, lifting her slightly so that they were closer to being level as the kiss deepened and became more passionate.

"Mmm," Buffy drew her head back for just a fraction of a second before the vampire swooped in to claim her lips once more. "Spike..." She pushed him gently away. "Gotta go. Wes and Giles are waiting and the quicker we find out what's going on, the quicker we can get you fixed."

She pulled open the door on one side of the armoire and grabbed the first jacket she could see, tugging it from its hanger as she turned to go. "I'll be back as quick as I can. Don't go anywhere." She paused briefly with one hand resting on the door, returning his gaze. "Love you, vamp-boy."

Spike waited until he heard the front door shut behind her before he allowed his legs to give way and fell back onto the freshly made bed. "Love you, too, Buttercup," he whispered. The vampire rolled onto his side, drawing his knees up as he clutched at his stomach. Rogue jumped onto the bed from the other side, crawling until her face was only inches from Spike's before she lay down, a soft whining coming from her throat.








Dawn muttered to herself as she carried the mug of blood upstairs. "Like it would have killed him to come back downstairs and get it." She pushed open the door to the master bedroom.

"Hey! You! You could at least answer when I shouted you."

"Buffy?" Spike's voice was little more than a dry whisper.

"No, himbo. Dawn. Buffy left, remember? Gone to see the Wicked Witch... Oh boy!"

"Shut up! She meant it... No! She changed, I changed, I can be-."

"Tara!" Dawn shouted downstairs. "I need you."

"No, I don't do that any more, Dru." Spike's eyes seemed to be following someone's movements around the room, only there was no one there. Even more strangely, Rogue now stood on the bed, hackles raised, and a low growl rumbled through her body as she bared her teeth in the direction that Spike seemed to be looking. "Can't have pretty girls. No, Dru, no. Hers." Spike seemed to paw at his neck, his fingers pulling aside clothing to bare what to Dawn looked like a recent bite mark, pulling at the healing flesh until it began to bleed. "Hers..." Spike seemed to be almost sobbing as Tara entered the room.

"Tara, what do we do? He was fine when Buffy left. Five minutes later... What's going on?"

When Tara noticed the vamp's eyes gleam with a hint of gold she decided to take no chances. "Dawn, go downstairs and find some straws. He should feed as a natural instinct, if we present it properly."

As soon as the younger girl left the room, Tara sent up a brief prayer to Morpheus, Lord of Sleep, asking him to claim the vampire. In his weakened state Spike soon succumbed to the effects of the spell, and when Dawn returned with a handful of plastic drinking straws, he was once again quiet. Thankfully, when the Wiccan managed to get him into a position where he could suck the blood in the mug through a straw, he started to feed without regaining consciousness. Tara only hoped that the blood Wes had managed to procure would be enough to allow him to heal himself. If not, she didn't know what they would do.
 
 
Chapter #44 - Chapter 4.07
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.07
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Tara pinched her nose and rested her head against the PC's monitor. Wes had called up the Council's database on poisons using his father's ID and password. There were, as Wes had said, relatively few poisons that were effective against vampires, so you would have thought that her task would have been an easy one. However, it would seem that installing any sort of search engine was either beyond the Watchers' capabilities, or more likely, not considered an appropriate use of Watcher resources. Nevertheless, Tara was confident that she had found all the references to poisoning vampires. The problem was that none of the toxins listed seemed to exactly match Spike's symptoms.

Tara had a couple of theories as to why that might be. Either way she had more or less reached the limits of her capabilities. She could try to isolate the poison from the blood they had found in the fridge this morning, but freshman chemistry didn't really cut it and she had no idea if whatever Willow had done might have altered the poison as well as the blood. Tara tried a mental review of the people she knew from the Wiccan Society and from her dorm, trying to think of any chemistry majors she might be able to approach with a suitable cover story and coming up blank. Even if she did find someone who could help, without samples of the relevant materials to compare against, there was little they could do to identify the poison, assuming they could isolate it.

She supposed that at least they could now rule out a few of the possible suspects. She neatly added a few brief notes to her notepad on the last of the poisons she had found and switched off the computer. She could hear the microwave humming in the kitchen and made her way through to check with Dawn on how their patient was doing.

“How are things on your end?” she asked the teenager.

“No better than your expression says they are on yours... but Brandon's coming over. He said if nothing else he can at least keep me company.”

“Is he still drinking? ...Silly question, sorry. You wouldn't be heating more unless he was drinking it.” The Wiccan answered her own question before Dawn could. “He's still asleep though, right? You would tell me straight away if he woke up again.”

“Still asleep. Muttering away to himself... but as far as I can tell he's still out of it. At least Rogue's stopped growling at things that aren't there. This is the second to last pint of that stuff that Wes brought, though, and there's no sign of the fever breaking... So... what's with the database?”

“I guess I know a few things it can't be.” Tara's smile barely merited the name. “That's something, I suppose. The thing is I think they might either be using a cocktail of a few different things... or-.”

The phone rang before Tara could finish what she was saying and both girls dashed for the receiver in case it was Buffy or one of the others calling with some news.

“Summers' residence,” Tara answered as she put the handset to her ear.

“Might one inquire if I am speaking to Miss Buffy Summers?” the voice on the other end of the line asked in clipped, formal tones.

“I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that Buffy isn't at home and we don't know how long it might be before she comes back.”

“No matter. It's not actually her who I'm trying to reach. I'm trying to contact Rupert Giles. The young lady he employs told us if he wasn't at his hotel to try this number.”

“Giles is actually with Buffy. Wes, too. I assume he was going to be your next choice...” Tara wished the Englishman would hurry up and get to the point.

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce? His father never mentioned that he was in Sunnydale... Nevertheless, my message was supposed to be delivered to Mr Giles himself. Perhaps you could tell him that he was correct and that the Council is looking into appropriate action. They are most anxious to speak to him to ascertain how he came to know about this.”

“Well, when he gets back here, I'll be sure to pass on the message. Do you have a contact number Mr...?”

“Howarth. Everard Howarth. Mr Giles will know where he can contact me.”








Wes's eyes met Buffy's in the rear-view mirror. “Are you alright, Buffy?” The slayer looked somewhat paler than normal, and Wes remembered the story about the night that Spike had been kidnapped by Drusilla.

“I will be...”

Wes couldn't say he was happy with Buffy's answer, but he could see her point.

“Look, Wes, it's not like if it came to a fight any of us could do much against Willow's magic, anyway. You know how the link works. As long as it keeps hurting I know he's still hanging in there, and the fact that it seemed to get worse the second I walked out the door is just because I'm more aware of it when I can't just check up on him directly. It's just psychosomatic. It's not that bad ...really.”

Giles turned in his seat. “Buffy, you really should be careful. It seems as if you may be at a disadvantage until this thing is resolved.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Have I suddenly had 'Poor, defenceless female' tattooed on my forehead or something? I mean love you guys, all of you, but Spike's enough with the over-protective for all the women in that house, never mind little ol' me. So much so, that I'm the safest of all of us.” Buffy dipped her hand in the pocket of her creamy suede jacket, pulling out the pouch containing the orbs. “See, all protected and invulnerable. Now can we go do this thing so that I can get back home and give these back to the guy who actually needs them?”

Buffy clambered out of the car waiting for the two men to join her. “Willow's room has its own door. If we go round the back we should be able to get her to let us in without having to disturb her parents.” Buffy led the way around the side of the house, but what she could see through the patio door, caused her to revise her plans. The room that had belonged to her friend had been refitted. It now hosted a large desk, several bookcases and an armchair, but there was no sign of a bed or any of Willow's computer equipment. In fact, there was nothing in the entire room that she recognised as belonging to her friend.

“Change of plan. I guess we need to go to the front door. If Willow is living here, then she's not in her old room.”

Giles barely had time to ring the doorbell before a figure appeared on the other side of the glass expanse. It was obvious that she hesitated before she opened the door a scant six inches and took position blocking their way into the house. “Well, what d'ya know? Didn't think you'd have the nerve to show your face around here after your little display of solidarity with the undead...”

“Willow, we so don't have time for the amateur theatrics.” Buffy's tone warned all present that she was at the end of her patience.

“Willow?” Giles conveyed his astonishment at how much the witch had changed, even since they had brought her back from the clock tower. His dealings on the following day had been principally with Xander, Willow having stayed in the car outside Buffy's house, and her ongoing ageing had passed the elder watcher by. If the watcher hadn't known differently, he would have assumed the woman who barred their entry was in her late sixties. Her hair flowed to her waist, where it looked to have been hacked off fairly roughly, but the mass of hair had none of the lustre of the auburn locks she had sported less than a week before. Most of the hair looked a dull brown which caused the man to wonder if the girl had ever been a natural redhead, and the grey hairs that gave her a salt and pepper look outnumbered the Watcher's own. The witch's cheeks looked hollowed and when she spoke there were occasional gaps visible in her teeth. It seemed that Evie's curse took account of forty years worth of wear and tear, but not forty years worth of regular dental and hairdressing appointments.

“I think you would be well advised to invite us in,” Wes suggested in a tone that made it sound more like an order.

“And if I don't choose to?” the Wiccan asked, lines etched deeply into her face as her lips twisted into a bitter grimace. “After all, it's hardly as if you've made me welcome in your homes.”

“Will you get off the self-pity train for one moment and just consider how cranky I get when people mess with my boyfriends? And then multiply anything you've seen in the past by at least a factor of ten and you might get some idea of what I'm prepared to do,” Buffy warned. “...And the way I remember it, I made it perfectly clear that I still wanted to be your friend. I just couldn't keep putting our relationship above Dawn's safety, and as far as I could make out all Spike told you was to call first before you came round so that you didn't upset Tara or Dawn or the dog.”

“So now you're threatening me? Again? You have a strange definition of friendship. All over a vamp you've wanted to kill for more than half the time you've known him,” the witch sneered. “It's real good to know that I've got at least one friend who'll stand by me.”

For a fraction of a second Buffy was tempted to punch the twisted look off of Willow's gap-toothed face. Giles' hand resting softly on her shoulder was all that kept her from it.

“Willow, there's no point prolonging this display of petulance. The way I understand this curse to work, it judges your actions against your own standards i.e. the Wiccan code. 'An' it harm no other do as thou wilt.' Every minute that you keep us waiting out here, Spike is suffering, possibly dying and Buffy, Dawn and Tara are suffering because strange as it may seem to any right-minded person, they care about him and they have to watch. We already know that you intervened to prevent Spike from drinking any more of the blood that was at the house. We just need to know why you think it's tainted and whether you know who is behind it.”

“What makes you so sure that I think the blood is tainted? How do you know I'm not just going to see to it that Buffy's necrophilia-enabling sex toy starves to death?”

“Because people don't fundamentally change to that sort of extent. You may have made mistakes, but, so far, you've never been malicious, and I happen to feel that if you were to act in such a manner you would come to deeply regret it.”

Willow gave a sigh and stepped backward holding the door wide. “I suppose you better come in, then,” she told the group.










“I know you’re awake, my William. You can fool the little girl but mummy knows when her boy is faking. It’s not nice to try to fool mummy.”

Even with his eyes closed Spike couldn’t mistake the voice with its hint of the East End that no amount of elegant dresses or fine jewels had been able to hide. Even after a century away from the place of her birth, she managed to make girl rhyme with foil.

“Dru, go away, you’re dead dead. You can’t be here, kitten.”

“But I can. I am here. Look… Even the bow wow knows I’m here.” The figure at the bottom of the bed tutted at the growling canine and waved a finger, keeping the metal bedstead and several feet between her and it nevertheless. “Naughty doggy! …And I know what you need to make you better.”

“You’re dust, Dru. Dust an’ ashes, feedin’ the bloody jasmine in Peaches' yard.”

“I can still look after my beautiful boy. All this blood, but it won’t help. Like filling a bath with no plug in. Not good enough to fix my golden childe.”

Spike finally opened his eyes, unsure which would hurt more, his sire’s presence or her absence. The sight that met his eyes tore at his heart strings. Dru wore an elegant white blouse and skirt. Her hair was pinned away from her face, but then fell in curls over her shoulder. He recognised both the clothes and the hairstyle and could remember clearly the last time she had worn them, that long ago night in China when he had claimed his first slayer. His bloody hand prints on the white cloth had never washed out and the garments with their delicate lace trimmings had been discarded.

“Dru, love, s’always the blood. Never anything else. Now run along like a good spook. You belong back with him, now. You need to go. She’ll be back with more soon,” he almost pleaded.

“You think you can be good? When the pain is eating you from the inside as if you swallowed a live rat then my wicked Spike will come home. He’ll take the pretty peridot.”

“Kitten, it’s been a long time now since I’ve jumped through your hoops and worked out your riddles. You don’t own me any more, princess. My best night with you is just an echo of a whisper of the worst night with her. I’d rather her fists than your kisses.” Spike twisted his head as he spoke, trying to keep Dru in sight as she turned to pace the room, but weak and barely conscious he couldn’t keep up and in that instant the voice of his tormentor changed.

“Still so tender, William? At least you’ve given up on that poetic twaddle. That would be truly disgusting, wouldn’t it? To have you touch her, pretending she was me, and to make her listen to your pathetic spouting while she waits for you to sink your teeth into her. Does she realise where she fits? A limp... sentimental fool indulging his oedipal urges on a trollop his own grandsire deflowered and who’ll only stay with him because no other man would want her…”

Spike watched aghast as his mother once more spouted the vitriol that had poisoned his unlife almost from the point he was turned. Like Dru she was dressed in white cotton and lace, this time the nightdress she had worn both times he had killed her. Her hair spilled around her shoulders like pale spun silk and as she turned toward the window Spike was horrified at how much it looked like Buffy’s luxuriant tresses before his remarks had driven her to cut her hair short. As if the thought had fed his dreams when the woman turned from the window she wore Buffy’s face and the white nightdress was a silken wedding gown.

“…How could I not know? You cling to me like an infant trying not to slip from that place between his mother’s legs. Or the other place between her legs. What sort of sick, twisted freak dreams of doing that to his mother? My dark little prince. You pretend… you tell yourself that you can be good, but when you feel it …when you know that all it costs is an image, you’ll do anything to keep fucking me and pretending it’s the one who got away…”

“Noooo! It’s not true. It was never true. It never will be true.” Spike wanted to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse croak. He screwed his eyes up, determined not to look at the women who tormented him, but this just made it easier for them to switch on him.

“Really, I think I’m lucky that tumour came when it did. If I’d had to watch you with my daughters… Debasing one and pretending to care about the other so that you can paw all over her while she thinks you protect her…”

Spike pressed his eyes tightly shut and tried to cover his ears, but it was as if the words came fully formed into his brain, swirling pools of hatred and humiliation eddying unendingly around him in the voices of those he loved.
 
 
Chapter #45 - Chapter 4.08
 



Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.


SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?

(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.


Chapter 4.08
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Willow preceded the group into the house and Buffy took care to position herself between the bitter witch and her Watchers. Willow seemed to be helping them but Buffy didn't want to take any chances.

"I guess you're not in your old room, then?" the blonde asked.

"What gave it away?" Willow countered sarcastically, as she pushed open a door on the corridor that ran through from the front door to the kitchen. Pulling a cord to put on a light, she led the way down a set of cold, concrete steps into the house's basement. Looking around the cramped room, Buffy could see that much of the room's content had been hastily stacked against one of the walls, making barely enough room to accommodate the witch's old bed and desk. "Maybe it was the fact that mom told you she'd converted my room into a study when you came snooping round the other night, huh?"

"Actually, I'd kinda forgotten, or at least I thought if you moved back in they would shuffle stuff round again."

"Well, you thought wrong."

"Willow..." The blonde shook her head, at a loss for words. "Really, if the situation were different I'd love to sit here and let you vent and get whatever is bothering you off your chest, but right now I need to know what's going on with Spike. He's really ill and I'm scared I'm going to lose him and you seem to know more about what's going on than any of us."

"The mighty Slayer reduced to begging-," the witch drawled before Giles cut her off.

"Willow, this behaviour is-."

"Yes, Will, if that what it takes, I'll beg." Buffy overrode the oncoming lecture. "If that is what it takes I will get down on my knees and beg you to tell me what's wrong with Spike." To Giles and Wesley's shock, she matched gestures to her words, kneeling on the cement floor.

"Buffy..." Willow's facade of indifference cracked at the sight of her friend humbling herself in a way she should never have needed to and her tears fell like the first trickles of water seeping through the cracks in a dam before it disintegrates completely. "Buffy." the witch took her friend's hands and pulled her from the floor to a sitting position on the bed, taking a seat facing her. "I don't know. I'm sorry. I just don't know."






"Hi," Tara's greeting betrayed a certain nervousness. "It's Tara. We met last night. I didn't get you up, did I?"

"Not yet. The phone's next to the bed. What time is it?"

"A little after nine."

Bee groaned and pulled her quilt with its broderie anglaise cover back over her somewhat tousled head but kept the phone to her ear. There were whole mornings when the Barbie pink of her bedroom walls was too much to bear.

Rupert gave a small "rowl" in protest at being woken by anything other than breakfast before he settled back on the pillow opposite Bee's. "This isn't just about going out for a drink or helping you prep for your Art History, is it?"

"No, sorry, it's not. I need some help on the research front. So far, I haven't been able to come up with anything here and I wondered if perhaps you might have any books over there that might help."

"That watcher isn't there, is he?"

"Giles? Not at the moment... No."

"And it's really urgent? It couldn't wait until... say noonish?"

"Spike's been poisoned. He's hallucinating and running a fever. He's lost a good deal of his body weight overnight and however much we feed him it doesn't seem to help. I can't find an exact match for his symptoms in any of the references we have here, and Wes has gone with Buffy to check up on a lead so if he has any others we can't get to them."

"Give me the address. I'll be there in half an hour with any books I have that might help."

Bee pushed the duvet back and padded to pull open the room's white curtains which did little to block the morning sun in any case. Picking up a pencil she scribbled the slayer's address on the inside cover of a sketchbook that lay on a table. Rupert followed her, brushing in between her legs until she opened the fridge, removed a braised chicken breast she had prepared the previous evening and sliced it up to go in his bowl.

She threw aside the black knee-length nightshirt she'd been wearing, tossing a pair of slacks and a tailored blouse on the bed. By the time Rupert had finished his breakfast she was dressed, wearing her trademark red lipstick and black eyeliner and had a stack of half a dozen books, ready to take with her. She jingled the metal on the strap she held in her hand and Rupert trotted over, waiting patiently at her feet as she made her final preparations to leave before he stalked downstairs at her side.






Rogue backed away as Buffy lay down on the bed. The dog kept her head down low, her growling more pronounced than ever and as she shuffled back her hindquarters nudged the fevered vampire further away from his mate.

"Shhh, you dumb dog!" The slayer held out a hand toward the growling bitch as if to let her sniff it and check her scent, but it did nothing to calm the beast, who backed away further, torn between her apparent fear of the woman on the bed and her need to defend her master. Buffy still wore the boots and jacket she had donned for her trip to Willow's, not even bothering to take them off before she made her way to Spike. "I'm not going to hurt him.

Will, you don't look good. How do you feel? Did the blood help any?"

"Buffy?"

"Right here, baby. I'd give you a hug, so that you could feel that it's me but your new girlfriend seems a bit jealous this morning."

"I'll get rid of her." Spike tugged at the dog's collar, but in his weakness, for every inch he pulled her back the dog struggled forward another so he couldn't shift her from her self-appointed guard post. "Sorry, love."

"It's okay. Nothing matters except making you better and I have to say you don't look any better."

"Sorta think that's a bit of an understatement, kitten."

"It's the blood. You need something stronger."

"Buffy!" The vampire's tone held as much exasperation as he could muster. "I already told you..." Spike's eyes changed to swirls of gold as his anger brought on the change to demon form that in his debility he was unable to prevent.

"Wait! Not me. Just listen... You can smell it, can't you? She's just the other side of that door, changing the dressing on her leg." Buffy nodded toward the bathroom, smiling like the cat that got the cream when Spike responded with a feral growl. "You said it sings. Her blood calls out to you to take it. She's made from me you said. It's not like you'd be hurting a real person. She's just a part of me, like an extra limb or something. Just slayer blood in human form. She doesn't even have a soul..."

Spike struggled to regain his human form as his hands reached up to cover his ears. For an instant as he shook his head in denial, he managed to shrug off the ridges that had risen on his brow. Mere seconds later, they returned.

"...Only real humans have souls. There's no way those monks could give her one. All she is is an extra bit of me. If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for us. We should be free. You could show me the world while I'm still young enough to enjoy it. New York... Europe... Asia... a never-ending honeymoon. We could have it all if we didn't have to play mommy and daddy. She's stealing away my youth, just like she killed mom. They made her live and mom paid the price. The cosmic scales had to be balanced. I'm a slayer. There's almost no hope that I'll survive long enough to see her through college. We're never going to be able to have time for ourselves. If you don't do this my whole life is going to be used up looking after her..."

Buffy dripped one poisoned thought after another into his fevered brain, using just enough truth to stop him from being able to come up with a convincing argument against her.






"Perhaps you could tell us what exactly you do know, then," Giles suggested softly, taking over as Buffy seemed to have been stopped in her tracks by Willow's denial.

The onetime redhead looked slightly embarrassed as she watched her questioner through her eyelashes, gauging his response to her reply. "When Xander brought me over to pick up my stuff, I sorta listened in on what you were all saying inside... even after we left. I guess I was feeling... well... victimised. I was sure that you were all going to be talking about me behind my back, so I listened in... When you were talking about this guy from Willy's..." she clarified, noting their lack of comprehension as to what she was implying.

"I guess I probably wouldn't have bothered too much about what you were saying, but there's not a lot to do down here of an evening and I was bored. I guess it sort of let me test myself as well. I mean it wasn't much of a description but I managed to find your guy just the same." For an instant a look of pride settled on Willow's face before she saw the disapproving look both the former watchers treated her to.

"It wasn't all magic." The witch tried to justify herself. "He was mentioned in the council minutes and stuff. That's how I found his address."

"You have access to Watchers' Council minutes?" Wes interrupted, sounding slightly concerned at the apparent breach in security.

"Not the Watcher's Council. Sunnydale City Council. Robin Wood is Snyder's replacement. When the High School re-opens, he's going to be the one in charge. According to the minutes I read, his contract began early, to give him a chance to recruit the staff he needs over the summer. What I don't understand is how he managed to get the job, considering I can't find any record anywhere of him ever having got so much as a teaching certificate."

Buffy blanched visibly. "You mean I'm supposed to send my sister to a school where the principal has a grudge against my family?"

"Well, I guess with Spike helping out you could send her to Miss Porter's..." Wes suggested.

"I'm not sending my sister to some girls' school. She's a kid, not some proto-Watcher."

"Buffy... Perhaps for now we could hear the rest of what Willow has to say."

"There's not much more to tell. I thought I'd check the address from the council's HR records. They have him listed as staying at a motel not far from the centre of town and I thought he might have moved on. So just in case maybe he had found something more permanent I figured I should check it out. I was hoping if he was still there and he'd been going round bars checking up on Buffy and Spike that I'd see him when he was coming back. As it turned out I guess he'd been having a quiet night in. I'd almost given up when he decided to go for a midnight stroll." The witch shrugged. "I figured there could only be one reason why he would be visiting all the butchers' shops and packing plants when they were all closed for the night, but I couldn't risk getting close enough to see what he was doing."

Willow looked Buffy straight in the eye as she finished speaking. "I know since we started college we haven't been as close as we were in high school. I mean, Spike pulled all our strings back when he sided with Adam and we all said we were going to work things out and make things better again, but then with your mom and stuff and then... And well, me and Spike, not exactly best buds... especially the last couple of days, but it's not like I could ignore what he was doing. He Wood he, not he Spike he. And it's not like I could pick up a phone and warn you either. I suppose I was still ticked at Spike, too, so I didn't want you to know I sorta helped him. I mean Spike. I didn't help Wood. I mean with the making the blood go off so Spike wouldn't drink it.

It was only later that I realised whatever he was doing, it might not be the first time he had tried it."






Dawn had just finished taping down the fresh dressing on her leg when the shrill chirp of the phone had her dashing into the room now occupied by her sister and her boyfriend. Snatching the handset from its cradle without so much as a glimpse in the direction of the bed, she couldn't prevent her voice from betraying her anxiety and impatience.

"Buffy? Is that you?"

"No," a rich male voice replied. "I'm guessing by now that you've got one sick vampire on your hands. If you want to know what's wrong with him I suggest that he comes alone to 1570 Maple. You've got a hour and if anyone else interferes you'll never find out what's wrong with him... At least, I suppose you might eventually, but by then it'll be too late for him."

"Who-."

"1570 Maple. One hour. Him. Alone." The words were immediately followed by a sharp tone. Dawn looked at the receiver in panic as if it could provide an answer to her dilemma.

A squeaky mattress spring made Dawn turn as she called Tara's name. She stared straight into a pair of golden eyes from less than a foot away and the Wiccan's name died on her lips.
 
 
Chapter #46 - Chapter 4.09
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.09
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Angel slid the envelope through his fingers. However, his mind wasn't really on it or its contents but on the previous night's futile search. Yet again, they had found a lead on the whereabouts of The Axis of Pythia, only for the trail to peter out far short of their goal. They had been looking for the axis for what seemed like months now. He couldn't believe that it was only a week since he had sought out Dinza, in hope of being able to locate Cordelia. He hadn't found the missing girl. He hadn't even managed to find the axis, which he had been told would help him find her. Yes, they knew where it would be in three months time. The picture on the front of the glossy auction house brochure taunted him. In three months, Cordy could be dead or worse.

Angel sighed and picked up a letter opener. Until they came up with a new avenue of investigation there was no more they could do for Cordy. If Wesley was right, which the vampire grudgingly conceded he normally was, she had literally disappeared off the face of the earth.

He pulled the thick pages from the envelope and read the words written within.

"What does it say... dad?" Connor still stumbled over the word but Angel appreciated the fact that he used it anyway. Some day, somewhere down the line he would say it without the hesitation, the way Angel had dreamed he would.

"Nothing. It's not important. He's gone for now. We can worry about him once we find Cordy."

Even Connor wasn't naïve enough to believe the vampire's platitudes. "Fine, Angel." The youngster turned and stormed from Angel's office, exiting the hotel in short order.

"You know, Angel-cakes, a big part of this whole family thing is trust. He's never going to accept you as his dad if you keep telling him you don't trust him," Lorne pointed out. "So what does it say?"

Angel hesitated for a second before tossing the heavy cream writing paper to the anagogic demon. "See for yourself." He jogged to the main door of the hotel, knowing he was already too late, but calling after his son from the doorway's shadow, just the same.








Xander rolled over in his sleep. The motion set off enough pain signals to his abused brain to end his period of blissful unconsciousness. He reached for Anya only to discover that her side of the bed was cold and empty. He reluctantly opened his eyes to look for evidence to explain her absence. The bright mid-morning sunlight made him roll instinctively, shielding his eyes with his forearm, as it streamed through the open blinds. This brought him face to face with the bucket Anya had placed on the floor next to his side of the bed the previous night. The sight and scent of semi-digested chocolate brownies mixed with both bile and the salt water Anya had made him drink after Buffy had left, brought on an attack of the dry heaves and refreshed his memory of the previous night.

Anya had been far from happy. Xander swiftly decided that his best course of action was to cultivate selective amnesia. Obviously, one of the other guests had slipped him some sort of Mickey Finn before loading his plate with the offending brownies. He had no memory whatsoever of searching Lily's cupboards for undemonised foodstuffs, or at least that was going to be his story when he spoke to Anya or anyone else for that matter. The tactic had already worked to get him out of one sticky situation when he was involved in that hyena possession incident. It would work again. Only this time, instead of possession, he would firmly blame the drugs... And who the heck mixed chocolate with other mood enhancing substances anyway? It all just went to show how right he'd been to mistrust these demon types in the first place. In fact, ten to one, if Anya hadn't got him out of there in time, some demon woman would have been forcing him to impregnate her before the end of the night. Xander Harris was like catnip to the demon babes after all...

The bedroom door pushed open and he heard his wife's voice gently say his name. "Xander, honey?"

"Ahn..." Xander whimpered in his own particularly nasal fashion.

"You're awake?" the former demon asked her voice solicitous in the extreme.

"Sure." As Xander's stomach recovered from its upset he decided to pre-empt any questions Anya might have. "What happened? I feel like I have the entire cast of a Buzby Berkeley musical rehearsing in my skull."

"You don't remember the party?"

"I remember going to the party. I remember meeting Spike's bella senorita, but that's about it. I think maybe someone spiked my drink. After that ... nothing. I coulda been doing the horizontal mamba with Clem for..." Xander paused as the image of him perhaps not getting naked with the wrinkly demon but certainly indulging in a manly hug returned to him. "...All I know."

"You poor thing. Let me take care of you," Anya crooned. "How about I make you breakfast for starters? ...I'll do all your favourites. You can have devilled kidneys, or maybe those kippers from the hamper Giles had sent from London. How about some blood sausage with nice fried tomatoes?"

Xander rolled over and tried to control his stomach once more as he clutched the pail with both hands out of reflex, even though he knew there was no more for his stomach to disgorge.

"You would do well to remember that I am neither an amnesiac nor an imbecile, Xander, and I do not appreciate it when my husband lies to me and besides you already admitted what you did last night. You embarrassed me in front of my friends with your gluttony and your bad manners. You should know better than to ransack someone's house when you are there as their guest. It's inexcusable. Your feeble story is insulting, both to my intelligence and to Lily and her guests. It's also in very poor taste given the current circumstances which I only hope you are genuinely unaware of because I'd really hate to believe that you were malicious rather than misguided."

Xander coughed a couple of times before he managed to ask, "What circumstances?"

"I don't know exactly. Willow might have poisoned Spike ...or not. Last I heard, Buffy and the Watchers were headed over to the Rosenbergs' to beat the truth out of her. Well, that's not exactly how Tara put it when I rang her to see if that other Watcher whose email I answered spoke to Giles, but you know Buffy when it comes to family..."

"What other Watcher? What do you mean family? Who's family?"

"Well, Spike, of course. You don't get much more family than a husband."

"She married him already?"

"No, silly, but I mean it's all over bar the ceremony. We all know Spike isn't going to do a disappearing act at the altar."

"Thank God!" Xander sighed his relief that Buffy's marriage was as yet not a fait accompli. "So how sick is he?" Xander failed to totally eradicate the glee from his voice. "Worse than I am?"

"No, Xander." Anya answered coldly. "I'm ashamed to say I don't think anyone could be sicker than you."








Bee and Brandon both pulled up outside the Summers' house within seconds of each other. Brandon cast an admiring eye over Bee's classic convertible. Its rich cream coloured curves effectively matched it to the same decade as the dress she had worn the previous night.

He let out a low whistle. "Nice wheels. Can't say I recognise the model, though."

"1953 Sunbeam Alpine Sports."

"Need a hand with those books?" Brandon asked as he saw the stack of reading material when Bee opened up the car's trunk.

"Thanks." Bee passed off the stack of heavy books to the boy, making him gasp at their weight before she walked round to the car's passenger side, lifting the end of Rupert's lead and opening the door for him to step out of the vehicle's passenger seat.

"You brought your cat?" the teen asked as Bee delicately shut the car's door behind the feline.

Bee sighed as if she'd had this conversation many times before. "I always take him with me when I'm working. I don't like leaving him on his own for long periods of time. He gets lonely. Besides he likes the drive."

"And he always comes on a lead?"

"Well, you don't think I'm going to carry him round in one of those silly baskets when he's perfectly capable of walking on his own four legs, do you? It's comparatively common for Siamese cats, you know. They're more intelligent than your average felines. Rupert knows that if we go somewhere, he needs to wear a lead or people will freak, but I'll take it off when we get wherever we're going. He doesn't mind... much. Well, he prefers it to being stuffed in a box."

Rupert led the way to the front door of 1630 Revello as Bee explained.

"I'd say you were insane, but judging by the car, I should say eccentric instead."

"Oh, the car was a birthday present from an adorable man who knows my tastes very well, but the truth is I spend money as fast as I make it, so feel free to say I'm a mad old coot."

"Mad maybe, but even from the dizzy heights of eighteen I wouldn't have used the word old."

"You're so-." Bee paused as a shrill scream rent the suburban Sabbath morning.

"Dawn!" Brandon dropped his cargo of precious books to the ground and dashed toward the front door, yanking it open when he got there. Bee skirted round the scattering of reference materials as quickly as she could in her high-heeled ankle-boots, following as closely behind the teen as she could manage. This still placed her third behind Tara in the dash for the stairs. Brandon rushed up the stairs three at a time, colliding full speed with Dawn as he reached the landing. Turning them, so that he was between her and the perceived danger, he watched along the corridor as he spoke.

"What is it? Are you okay? What happened? That scream scared the hell out of me."

"It was Spike. He's hallucinating and stuff. I don't think he knows what's going on or who anyone is."

"Did he hurt you?"

"No-o-o-o, Brand. Well, I guess my knee might bruise but you're not getting me. The scream? That was Spike! I kicked him, just like he taught me. Tara, we've got to get Buffy back here. That last phone call was from someone who says he knows what's wrong with Spike. He says unless Spike meets him alone within the hour he'll be dead before we can find out what's wrong with him. She is so going to kick this creep's butt."








"Glinda?" Spike groaned from his foetal position on the floor. Even in demon form Tara could see that the bruising she had witnessed earlier had spread to his face and extremities.

"It's me, Spike," the witch answered. "You know who I am?"

"Course I bloody know who you are, you silly bint. Where's the Bit?"

"She's just outside. Her and Brandon and your friend, Bee."

"Stubborn little madam. Get the kid to get her out. Now. She doesn't understand."

"Doesn't understand what?"

"That the monster wants blood. That he can smell her wounds and that he'll do anything to taste her. He knows her blood is strong enough to make him better, just like Buffy's. I can't keep telling her no. I can't fight the evil inside me and her as well. He has to take Bit away or I'll give her what she wants."

Unaware of the presence lounging on the bed, watching the scene and urging Spike along the path to damnation, Tara misinterpreted his words. "All she wants is for you to get better. That's what's important to her. That's all she wants."

Spike covered his ears, doing his best to block out what sounded to him like the gentle Wiccan bidding him to commit murder. "Get out!" he yelled at the witch. "Get out and get her out! Now!" Tara stepped back, more from shock at the vehemence of his words than out of any will to do as he said. She watched as Spike crawled along the floor to the armchair where he had left his duster the night before. Using the chair, he pushed himself to his feet and wrapped the leather around himself.

"Tinkerbell," Spike lowered his voice to somewhat less than normal conversational level, somehow making it seem all the more chilling. "Unless you want to share responsibility when I drain her dry, you will get that Andrew Eldritch wannabe that she calls a boyfriend to get her the hell out of the house, out of town and preferably out of the state before I leave this room. Am I making myself clear? You've got five minutes." He turned toward the bed. "And you know damn fine I'd do anythin' for you but will you take five minutes to think what Joyce'd have to say if she could see you now?"

Something finally clicked in Tara's brain as she saw for herself the way Rogue reacted to Spike's hallucinations. In fact, in retrospect even when Spike had been talking to her, Rogue had seemed to be trying to hold something or someone at a distance.

"Spike, if you feel that Dawn is in danger I will make sure that Brandon takes her away somewhere. Okay? But you can't go anywhere. You need to go back to bed."

"I got a place I need to be, luv. Seems I need to have a bit chat with some bloke."

"At least wait until Buffy can help."

"Buffy's got other things on her mind and this is my score to settle."

"Think about this. Dawn put you down on the ground."

"I'm not planning on letting the wanker kick me where she did."

"And you planned on letting Dawn do it?"

"Course I bloody did. You think if I'd really let him out that I could have put him back in his box? I had to let her do it. Now tell that daft bugger of hers to get her the hell out of here before Buffy talks me into doing something we'll both regret come morning. You've got five minutes at most before I leave this room and I don't know if it'll be me in charge of this body or the demon so you better get a move on."
 
 
Chapter #47 - Chapter 4.10
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.10
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

"Brandon, take Spike's car and Dawn and just get away from the area."

"Isn't he going to be pissed when he finds out we took it?"

"Probably, but then you got the lecture about Dawn going on a motorcycle without the proper gear and he isn't exactly giving her time to change." Tara picked up the vampire's car keys from the hall table and tossed them to the teenager. "Go! I'll call your cell when it's okay to bring her back."

"But," Dawn tried to argue even as Tara passed her a jacket and pushed her out the door.

"Until those wounds heal, sweetie, having you around is like waving double chocolate gateau in front of someone who's on a diet. It's not fair to test him like that when he's ill. Go with Brandon. As soon as he's well enough to cope or too out of it to be a danger we'll let you know. I promise."

Dawn gave up her argument. If the best thing for Spike was for her to leave she was already gone.

Tara turned her attention to the other woman. She picked up one of three cell phones which were sitting on the same table where Spike's car keys had been and passed it to the other woman. "If you go through to the kitchen you'll find a pint of blood in the fridge. I want you to stick it in the microwave for about a minute. That way, if the worst happens, at least he's as strong as he can be before he goes. While it's heating you'll find the number for Buffy's cell in the directory. Tell her what Dawn said about the guy calling to arrange a meet and tell her I'll talk to her once I finish upstairs or when she gets here, whichever is sooner. I better go. By my reckoning we've got at most three minutes before he gets out of here, assuming Spike's patience can actually last five minutes."

"What are you going to be doing?"

"I'm going to be trying to put up a barrier spell strong enough to contain a desperate master vampire without him realising what I'm doing and leaving before I finish it." Tara whispered as quietly as she could before dashing back upstairs.








"Buffy?" Willow's voice sounded hesitant, knowing her friend was in a hurry and probably would prefer to save the conversation for another time. "Tara? Is she...? I mean-."

Buffy turned back to look at her friend standing in the doorway of her parents' house, and her heart twisted in her breast. She had been wrong, very wrong, but she had lost so much because of it. "She's hurting, Will, but we're all doing our best to help her through. She's made her choice. She's making a fresh start."

"B-but, I love her."

"Will, you can't keep hurting people over and over and always expect them to forgive you. If you really love her, you'll let her move on. You've broken her heart twice over. This time let it be a clean break." The sound of Wes turning over his car's engine drew Buffy's attention away from the witch as she realised that she was holding up their investigation. Turning back toward the house, Buffy hurriedly made her goodbyes. "Look, I've got to go. I'll try to call tomorrow after Dawn and Tara have gone. We can..."

"Go, Buffy. There's no point in both of us losing the people we care about." Willow twisted her face into a bitter-sweet half-smile and Buffy ran the remainder of the distance to Wes's car with her friend's blessing.








"Hi?" Buffy was slightly bemused when her caller ID said she was speaking to one of the spare cells she had brought back from LA. She couldn't understand why anyone at the house where she had left said phone, wouldn't be using the land-line.

"Buffy, it's Bee-."

"Bee? As in bumble? How did you get this number? How did you get that phone?"

"Tara rang, said she needed help with the research. I came. Listen, we've got a problem, a couple of problems. Tara says she'll speak to you when she finishes upstairs or when you get back here, whichever is sooner, but right now she's trying to stop Spike heading out on his own for a rendezvous with some guy who called and spoke to your sister."

"Where?"

"I don't know. Don't know if Tara does either. She packed Dawn up and sent her off with her boyfriend as soon as I got here. I'm not sure what the deal is with that. Tara seemed to think Dawn was in danger but from the scream I heard seems like she did a pretty good job of defending herself."

"Scream? Who screamed? Where's Brandon taking Dawn?"

"Yes. Spike. Away."

"Wh-?" It took a while for Buffy to put together Bee's answers with the relevant questions. When she had, the ease with which her sister had dealt with the vampire seemed out of place. "Bee, how sick is Spike? Put him on the phone."

"Are you sure? Tara was trying to do a barrier spell to keep him in without tipping him off. If I go up there now, it might give the game away."

Giles winced as he heard the tone Buffy took for her next comment. "Put Spike on this phone now."

Bee heard a scratching sound and looked over to see Rupert standing by the back door. With a muttered, "Already?" she pulled the door ajar before teetering towards the stairs.

When she saw Tara kneeling on the upstairs landing she hissed to the other girl, while covering the phone's mouthpiece, "Buffy wants to talk to Spike."

Tara frowned. "I'm not sure that would work right now. I'll take it."

The Wiccan rose to her feet, incanting a few words in Latin before she took the phone from Bee. "Buffy?" As the witch reached out a hand the air in front of Buffy's bedroom door shimmered and resisted her. She leant against the barrier with all her weight and when it didn't give she turned her full attention to the phone conversation.

"Tara? Where's Spike? I want to speak to Spike."

"Buffy, I don't think that's a good idea until you can get back here to do it in person. I think there's something or someone here in the house, playing with Spike's head. Just after you left he seemed to get a lot worse and he started hallucinating, or so we thought, only Rogue seems to be aware of whatever it is he's seeing, at least some of the time, so maybe he is hallucinating but I think there's something there, too. From what he said when I was talking to him, I think he thinks that something is you. I think it tried to make him hurt Dawn."

"That's ridiculous. I'd... I mean."

"Buffy. I know, and if Spike was in his right mind he'd know too, but he's not. He's running a fever so high that if he was human he'd probably already be dead, and I just don't think until you can actually get here in the flesh that you're going to convince him that you're the real you and whatever is in there with him and Rogue is the impostor."

Wes pulled over at the next intersection, waiting to see whether Buffy would want to head for Revello. He was stunned when instead of giving directions, Buffy pushed open her car door before he had even come to a complete stop.

"Buffy?"

"You guys find this Woody guy. I've got to go home. Spike's... The First is there and it's messing with him."

"But-." Giles tried to reason with her.

"I'll run. If I cut across a few yards it'll be just as quick as the drive." She raised the phone again as she scrambled out of the car. "Tara, I'm on my way."








Even as he made his final preparations, Spike used his full concentration to listen in on what was being said downstairs. As soon as he heard Tara banish Dawn and her boyfriend from the house he pulled Buffy's motorcycle helmet on, forcing it down over his head with leather-gloved hands. As protection went, it was by no means fool proof. Even this early in the day, he would have to keep his head well down to avoid his face being burned behind the plastic visor but Buffy had banished his scruffy, singed and slightly smelly blanket to the basement, so for the sake of a quick exit he would take his chances with what was to hand. He knew the others would try to stop him from going alone. This time, though, he had to clean up his own mess. Buffy might be joking now about always having to rescue him but if he let the trend continue he would be nothing but a millstone round her neck like Harris, a handicap, a vulnerability her enemies could rely on being able to exploit. Her gentle teasing would give way to scorn. Instead of love and desire, when they touched he would feel her discontent and eventually her hatred.

He opened the sash window as far as he could, but climbing out would still have been clumsy and time consuming and for all Glinda allowed herself to be overshadowed by her former lover, she was a powerful Wicca in her own right. In fact, Spike was willing to bet that in her purity of spirit the witch had access to far more power than she gave herself credit for, if only she had the confidence to use it. Willow drew the bulk of her power from the darker magical elements. Her magic was showier and more obvious. Spike believed that when his wild dove grew into her power, or when necessity drove her to test her own limits she would prove that though she wouldn't use her power to harm others, in every respect bar that, she was more than Willow's equal. He wound a black scarf around his neck, covering the last of his visible flesh before he let his demon take charge. Taking as much of a run-up as space would allow he dove through the window, somersaulting once before he landed on his feet just beyond the bounds of the strip of ground that Joyce had planted with roses and other flowers. Staggering slightly before he regained some semblance of his normally perfect balance he lurched off in the direction of the nearest sewer entrance.

Rogue jumped up, her front paws resting on the open windowsill as her master left her behind. She whimpered, trying to coax the vampire into coming back to fetch her, but when he didn't relent, she scrambled up onto the sill and then through the window, landing clumsily with her right front leg twisting under her. Her pained yelp finally made the vampire turn, trying to wave her back toward the house. He should have known better. Even favouring her injured leg slightly, the bitch seemed determined to maintain her vigil over what she regarded as her vampire. She covered the distance between them in a blink and Spike had to concede defeat rapidly or risk attracting Tara's attention, thereby causing the confrontation his ultimatum was designed to avoid. The whole point of telling the witch he would be coming out in five minutes was to give him the chance to sneak out the back in two, that and making sure Bitty Buffy got her arse out the way before anything happened. He swiftly returned to his original route with the puppy easily keeping pace with a three-legged lope.

Looking down from the bedroom window, The First Evil gave a satisfied smile. It would have been easier if those three bunglers had managed to stay out of jail and maybe, somehow the demon could have been reclaimed. Too bad that he would have to be sacrificed instead, but there was no way he could be allowed to remain with the slayer. Who would have believed that a soulless vampire could resist evil's lure, whilst humans with the full quota of free will were so easy to manipulate? It gave one last Buffy smile before folding in on itself, only to appear at Robin Wood's shoulder on the far side of town.
 
 
Chapter #48 - Chapter 4.11
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.11
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

"So, who's a gal gotta sleep with around here to get a bed for the night... or day?"

Angel looked up from the sketch he'd been working on, having been totally caught off guard by the woman's approach. The first genuine smile to grace his face in several days welcomed her to his office. "I'd settle for a hug."

The woman tilted her head to one side and gave the vampire a quizzical look. "If you're gonna go all fuzzy on me maybe it's time I was movin' on already." She picked up the legal pad and looked at the likeness there. "Still jonesin' for the cheerleaders, huh?"

"We-ell, it's..."

"Chill. Just makin' conversation. It wasn't meant to be Final Jeopardy. Now, not to be pushy but d'ya think you could point me in the direction of a shower and maybe some clothes that look less like I work in a garage? Oh, and you might want to get someone to ditch the car that's parked out back. I would have caught a bus but that would have been wicked conspicuous."

"Anything else you want?" the vamp asked sarcastically.

"I could murder a Big Mac and fries, but it'd get a bit wet if I took it in the shower with me. Feel free to have one waiting when I get out, though. Heavy on the pickle."

Angel shook his head with a wry smile. "I'll see what I can do. Here." He tossed her a set of keys, the room number inscribed on the tag. "It's mine so don't go getting too comfortable. Cordy left a couple of changes of clothes in her locker in the basement. She won't mind if you borrow something... Actually, she will. She'll probably tear me a new one if... well... when she finds out."

"I won't tell her if you don't."

The woman headed for the stairs.

"Faith?" The escaped felon turned back to see what her only friend had to say. "It's good to see you again."

"Yeah, well, thanks to the heads-up you gave me it seemed like a good idea to be seen. Come nightfall I better be on the move again. It's only a matter of time before they track down my only visitor other than my lawyer, even if you have moved up in the world since the last address they have for you... but I figured you'd get all grandma if I slid through town without saying hi."

Before Angel could think of a reply she was gone, bounding upstairs with an energy the vampire envied.








"Summers Residence, Bee speaking. Everybody that actually lives here is either really busy, not here or dying so if you'd like to leave a message after the tone, I'll scribble it down and if we get five minutes and it's important and I remember I'll tell someone. Beep."

"What?"

"Beep. Now have you got something to say or not? ...because I really have better things to do than answer the phone to people who don't speak English."

"Who's dying? And who are you?"

"Well who did you think you called? I really don't have time for prank callers." Bee stuck the phone back in its cradle and pulled open the back door. "Rupert? Rupert?" She looked all round the back yard and then balanced on tip-toe, trying unsuccessfully to peer into the adjoining yards. "Rupert! You better come back here now. " She looked around again, checking the area for passers-by and then once she was sure that there was no-one who could see her she gave a shiver as if someone had walked over her grave and inhaled deeply through her nose. Shaking her head as if to clear it, she swore under her breath in a particularly guttural demon tongue before turning back to the house. The open bedroom window did nothing to alleviate her suspicions even though with her eyes half-closed she could see the faint shimmer of Tara's energy barrier, just inside it.








Spike ducked from one patch of shade to another until he could make his way underground. The fact that he was fairly certain that at present lifting a manhole cover single-handed was not within his capabilities complicated matters slightly. He had to make his way to a point where a storm drain let out into the river, and he was somewhat discomfited when he finally reached the shade of the sewer system to realise that he had not one but two animals in tow. Pulling off the uncomfortably tight helmet and placing it on the tunnel floor open side up, he turned to berate the animals.

"What the bleedin' hell do you mangy beasties think this is? A casting session for The Incredible Journey? Well, newsflash, I don't think we're goin' to meet Walt Disney. Bugger off, the pair of you!"

Rogue looked guiltily up at him, as if she assumed she'd done something wrong since he was shouting at her but didn't know quite what. Rupert showed his disdain for the vampire's tirade by sitting down and licking his genitals.

The blond gave a disconsolate sigh and picked what seemed like a marginally cleaner section of "wall" to rest against while he lit a cigarette and gathered his strength for the next section of the journey. This day was getting ridiculous. Followed by a dog was one thing, but followed by a dog that was followed by a cat... If this guy actually showed up he was going to have to kill him just to stop word getting out. As he drew deeply on his cigarette he noticed how Rogue kept one paw not quite touching the ground.

Tossing the half-smoked butt aside with a guilty look, he muttered as he knelt to check the dog's leg for broken bones. "Dr William bloody Dolittle an' I don't think."








"Tara?" Bee called out to the witch as she made her way back through the ground floor of the house towards the stairs. "Tara?"

The witch emerged from the dining room where she'd been looking through her notes again. "What's up?"

"You know that nice magical barrier you put up? Is there any way to check Spike's actually inside it?"

Tara dashed for the stairs even as she argued. "But he didn't come down. We'd have seen him."

"Only if he used the stairs and don't you think if he was still in here that there would have been at least a few 'Bloody Hell's... unless that barrier does soundproofing."

Skirting past the bedroom door, Tara headed for the bathroom. The connecting door there opened outwards into the smaller room and Tara had set the barrier on that wall so that it ran just inside the confines of Buffy and Spike's room. She pulled the door open and looked around. When she saw the open window she began the invocation that would dispel the magical energy. The barrier should have prevented Spike from being able to touch the window, let alone open it. He had to have gone before the spell was even cast.








Buffy lengthened her stride to clear the pile of scattered books that lay on and near the path. She pushed her way into the hall, darting toward the stairs just as her cell phone began to ring. She pulled it out of her pocket but let it ring until she had thrown the door to her room open, finding it empty except for Tara and Bee who was in the process of shutting the window.

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I thought he was inside. I should have checked."

"He's out there? On his own? In the state he was in this morning?"

The Wiccan nodded. "Only he actually got worse almost as soon as you left."

"Stupid darn vamp... Hello?" She snapped impatiently at the caller on the other end of the line.

"Buffy? What's this about Spike and some voodoo curse?"

"Angel? Who told you about Spike? He's not-. We don't think it's a curse any more."

"Buffy, when I called before I got some madwoman. She said he was dying and then hung up. Then I spoke to his Quarnoth demon and she said he was ill but that he would be alright."

"We found out he'd been poisoned, but we don't know yet what the guy used. Except for the arrow wound, he had every symptom you had three years ago and then some. Look, Angel, he's gone AWOL and he's really not fit to be walking round, let alone heading into whatever trap the guy who poisoned him has set up, but the absolute kicker is that the spirit of Christmas past is back for a return engagement. Now's a really bad time to chat and Lily's only half Quarnoth."

"The First? ...Is after Spike?"

"I thought I just said that. Look, I've really got to go. If we don't find him before he walks into whatever this guy has planned, it might not be suicide, but it'll be close enough. I'm sorry, Angel."

"Buffy, whatever you have to do, do it. Just let me know how it comes out."

"Sure. Bye." Buffy was already dialling the number for her sister's cell before Angel had even replaced the receiver. It never occurred to her that she didn't know why Angel had called in the first place.








The more Angel went over his recent conversation in his mind, the more four words seemed to repeat in his head over and over. If there was the least chance that he was right, the last thing he wanted to do was tell Buffy under the present circumstances. On the other side of the glass that separated his office from the main reception Faith was chatting to Connor between bites of burger, getting the basics of his life from him in her usual teasing way. Angel couldn't quite work out whether she was actually flirting with his son or if she just didn't know another way to talk. At least the teenager had been on his quest to McDonald's when she walked into reception wearing nothing but a very short bath towel. As he pondered the reasonableness of his assumption, Gunn and Fred made their way back into the hotel via the garden, which meant that the car Faith had stolen had been dropped off somewhere out of the way. If it was still there in a few days, Angel would have to notify the police anonymously, but for now it was no longer a problem.

He picked up the phone on his desk and rang through to Lorne's room. He drummed his fingers on the desktop as he waited for the demon to answer. "Lorne, I need you to hold the fort. The rest of us are going on a road trip."

Lorne hung up, wiped the sleep from his eyes and opened the room's curtains, blinking in the bright light. "A road trip? In daylight?"








"You're sure that's what he said?" Buffy quizzed her sister.

"I'm not deaf, Buffy. That's what he said. 1570 Maple."

"But there isn't a Maple. I've been all round this town on patrol and there is no street called Maple."

"That doesn't change what he said."

"Buffy..." Bee interrupted.

"What?"

"Not all the 'streets' in Sunnydale are on the maps. The signs are a bit more discreet as in near-invisible and they aren't in English or any other human language for that matter, but as far as Spike... or Clem are concerned they're just as much part of the town as the ones above ground."

"You're telling me that sewers have names?"

"To the right people they do. You can thank Mayor Wilkins for that."

"So where's Maple?"

"I said they have names to the guys who use them. I never said that I was a sewer rat. You want a guide to subterranean Sunnydale, talk to Clem."








Clem lay as still as possible trying not to awaken the woman in his arms. He found it difficult to believe that she had stayed. It was stranger still that he found himself pleased that they had done nothing more than talk and lie together, even though there was a not inconsiderable amount of frustration involved in being so close to an attractive female who was dressed only in her underwear. This wasn't meant to be just a one-night stand. Somehow, the more unhurried progression of their relationship promised a greater emotional intimacy and he told himself yet again that that was more important than any immediate gratification. All his efforts turned out to be in vain, however, when he noticed a gleam of amber through the darkness of her lashes and felt her stretch into wakefulness beside him.

"Hey, you." Ha Nath smiled shyly after greeting him, revealing teeth that were perhaps more pointed than those of an average human but straight and gleaming white, just the same. She ducked her head slightly in her nervousness so that she watched his face through the veil of her hair though she made no effort to move away from him.

He slid a gentle hand under her chin, tilting her head up so that he could press his lips to hers, letting her know she had nothing to be nervous about. "Morning."

Along with the uncertainty the tension left her body and Clem, all too aware of every toned but passive muscle that rested against him, had to remind himself, yet again, that while rolling them both over and screwing her senseless might seem like a reasonable idea, it wouldn't necessarily help the longevity of the relationship.

"You sleep okay?" he asked.

Her smile brightened and she nodded. "Sure. Seems like we fit together pretty good."

A small voice inside Clem muttered, 'if only.' That didn't mean that the answer he gave out loud was any less sincere. "Yeah... I think we do." This time when their mouths met, the caress was anything but chaste and as his fingers stroked the hollows between the folds of skin on her cheek he could sense her desire flare to more than match his own before she pulled back to search his face.

There was a mixture of hope and anxiety in her voice as she sought reassurance from him. "This... the talking and the dancing and the just being together. It means something to you, too? I'm not imagining it? I mean if we... if... I'm not going to look back tomorrow and think I've been some sort of incredibly naive slut. I mean I don't expect you to guarantee happy ever after or anything just-."

Clem placed a finger on her lips. "It-you mean something. I'm not planning on letting you go any time soon."

A slender yellow-skinned hand slid under his T-shirt and Clem found himself rolled onto his back, dainty white teeth nibbling at his ear and a cascade of shimmering mahogany hair smothering his senses as it surrounded him in its fragrant softness. A teasing whisper in his ear made his dick stand even more erect than before. "So, is your skin like this..." The hand under his clothes stroked softly over the folds of his stomach before reversing direction, lifting each fold one by one then letting it fall back into place. "...Everywhere?" Her gaze dropped below his waistline, her meaning, and its significance, very clear.

He gave a slow nod. "Everywhere." Her anticipatory smile was enough to drive him wild and with a growl he reversed their positions so that he could look down into her face, her hair spread across his pillows in disarray.

"Guess it's time I quit poker." He cringed inside as the thought slipped from his lips unbidden but instead of the incomprehension or the adverse reaction he more than half expected, her reply showed they were very much on the same wavelength.

"I'm feeling pretty lucky in love myself."










"So you want Clem to be guide to try find William before he meet this Robin?"

"Yeah, where's best to meet up?"

Lily concentrated on her son's half of the floor above for a few seconds. "I think best you meet me here. I take. I think Clem no need to be there."
 
 
Chapter #49 - Chapter 4.12
 








Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.



SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.







Chapter 4.12
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Buffy replaced the phone in its cradle and turned to Tara and Bee. "Sounds like Clem is getting stuck with the clean up from last night. Lily is going to take me. I have to meet her at her place."

"I'll drop you off," Bee volunteered before Buffy had a chance to consider how to get there.

Buffy continued with barely a glance to acknowledge Bee's offer of help. "After that I'm not sure how far it is. How long have we got to find him before he's due at this Maple place?"

Tara lifted her bare wrist and looked uncomfortable. "I don't know exactly. We wasted a chunk of time when we thought he was sealed in, and I think Dawn was with him for a while after the call before... well. Then, with all the phone calls... Not long."

"We better-." Buffy looked up as Wes pushed through the front door.

"He's gone. Paid his bill this morning and left. Either he spotted Willow following him last night or he just wasn't taking any chances on being tracked down once he showed his hand. We managed to bribe the manager into letting us check through his room before the cleaning crew went in, but other than a taste for expensive aftershave there's not much we could tell you. They couldn't even come up with a better description of his car than silver."

"Where's Giles?"

"Em... there were some books lying on the path as we were coming in...."

Bee looked over at Buffy. "Time we were both at my place, anyway. I'll pick the books up later and skip the lecture."

She strode toward the front door and Buffy was swift to follow, but just as they reached it Giles appeared in the doorway, Bee's books cradled protectively in his hands and Bee had to brush past him to get out of the house, her breasts rubbing against his arm as she turned sideways. Giles, however, was not to be stopped.

"Buffy, why on earth were these books lying in the middle of your yard? Some of the pages have been creased and there are even grass stains on two of them."

Before Buffy could say anything Bee yanked her after her, calling back towards the house as she stomped to her car and started it up. "Ever so sorry that someone screaming seemed more important than a pile of leather and paper. Tell you what, since you prefer them to actual beings with feelings and emotions why don't you go ahead and help Tara with her research while we find Spike? And if the nice Rupert gets back before I do, assure him that I will leave him in your dubious care no longer than is necessary. Better still, leave him with Tara and, you, stay as far away from him as possible."

The classic car roared into life, and Bee pulled out with more speed than finesse, her driving reminiscent of Grace Kelly's in the film 'To Catch a Thief', which had been responsible for a great deal of that particular model's cult appeal.

Giles looked on, stunned into silence once more until Tara tugged on his sleeve. "Come on, Giles. There's not much else we can do at the moment. We might as well do as she says."

Giles sighed. "An excellent idea in theory, but in practice, I must admit that I don't even recognise the languages that most of these books are written in and those I do recognise I'm not exactly fluent in."

"Oh!" One word conveyed the Wiccan's disappointment. "Maybe you can look over the notes I made from the council database, then and see-."

The phone rang, yet again, and Wes who was nearest to it was the one to answer. "Summers residence. Wes speaking. How may I help?"








"Wesley Wyndam Pryce? No, I don't think you can help me. You've betrayed the Council's mission just as much as the necrophiliac slut you choose to associate with."

"I may no longer be either naive enough or paid enough to follow blindly Quentin Travers' political agenda, but I assure you that neither Buffy nor I are the ones who have lost our moral direction."

"Lies." Robin listened to the First as it stood at his shoulder, wearing his mother's face. "He associates with demons. He calls them friend and does their bidding. He's abandoned the mission I died trying to protect."

"You're lying. My mother lived and died according to her mission in life. You betray everything that she and the Council stand for. First you beg the Council to spare Angelus' life, then you become his lackey and when he had enough of you, you come to whore yourself out to his grandchilde and that degenerate bitch of his. Watchers are supposed to aid slayers when they hunt vampires, not hump them. Or maybe she thinks if she rakes enough scratches in his back she'll claw out his heart or if she rides him fast enough and hard enough he'll burn up in her filthy cu-."

"Enough!" Wes spoke loudly but with a chilly authority. "I don't care who you are, or what happened in the past to turn you into the obviously bitter and depraved individual you would seem to be today. I don't even care that Spike is responsible for your mother's death. I won't listen to any more of your twisted ramblings. Buffy lives by her mission, just as your mother did. She isn't hung up on the letter of that old piece of propaganda that watchers have been ramming down the throats of their charges for centuries. She doesn't kill for the sake of killing... but where demons threaten the community, she is there and she does not stint in her duty. The fact that she has brought Spike onside is a far greater victory for the forces of light than if she had merely dusted him. It is you, in your hunger for a pointless revenge, who would rob us of a warrior both fearsome in his own right and invaluable as the slayer's ally. You distract her from her calling by threatening her mate. You allow evil breathing space. You would break both her heart and her will to continue the fight, even though she's the only slayer since to rival your mother's longevity and success. Or is that the real reason for your actions?"

"She doesn't even deserve the title slayer," Robin argued spurred on by the figure at his side. "...But my fight is not with her, unless she chooses to make it so and if she does, then she sentences herself. I will have revenge for my mother, one way or another, though since your slayer of slayers has now failed to make it to his rendezvous, I may have to settle for simply causing his painful and lingering death rather than seeing it. If he lasts that long, have him make another try tomorrow, same time, same place. In the meantime, why don't you check out w w w dot painful dash vampire dash death dot org? Since your undead friend or is that master? ...didn't make it in time to see his little playmate in person, you'll just have to make do."

Wood terminated the call from the cloned cell phone and switched it off. He flicked through the cameras he had positioned around the network of sewers and other tunnels that made up Sunnydale's underground. Most of them had the green tint of low-light footage, but one was in normal colour. It showed a female vampire lying on the bed in a basic but homey looking room. Half the room looked like your average studio apartment except for the absence of windows. The other half, which looked as if it could be separated off by a rich burgundy floor to ceiling curtain, held a variety of paraphernalia and magazines that made it obvious what trade the vampiress plied when she wasn't bleeding out from her ears, eyes and mouth and running a temperature so high that the chill air of the underground room seemed to steam around her. Her body was one massive reddish bruise and her face was contorted in a rictus of pain that made it hard to believe that she'd once been a beauty queen, despite the pictorial evidence on the walls. Robin gave a satisfied smile and then flicked through the other feeds until he came to the one that showed his adversary slumped on the tunnel floor.

"You can't really wait until tomorrow," his mother told him. "It needs to be done today."

"I know that. The construction crew would make life slightly inconvenient but I don't see any harm in letting his whore and the turncoats stew for a while."

"That's my boy. Now, switch back to the other channel. We don't want to miss the best bit. You know once the bleeding starts there isn't long to go."








"May I?" Wes gestured to where Tara sat in front of Spike's computer.

"Sure." She stepped aside to make room for the former watcher. "What did he say?"

"Nothing worthy of being repeated, other than the fact that he claims that Spike failed to make the appointed rendezvous. He also seems to think that that will force us into waiting for another game of cat and mouse tomorrow but I'm afraid I don't believe he has any intention whatsoever of telling Spike what the cure is. He also provided a... somewhat... macabre... web... address." As he finished speaking Wes hit the return key, bringing up the site's main page. He clicked the mouse over the link saying enter and found himself looking at the same video feed that Robin Wood and the First Evil were currently watching.

"What is this?" Tara looked over his shoulder.

"If the clock on the wall is anything to go by, I would say that it's a live video feed. I think it's where Spike was supposed to go, a demonstration of what he's likely to face if he doesn't play along."

"But how? I mean did he ambush some vampire and force feed her the poison instead of just staking her just so he could make his little film or are there vampires dying all round town because they chose to buy animal blood rather than attack humans?"

"I don't know if we'll ever know, but I think perhaps we should let Buffy know the current state of play."

"I can call her on my cell," Tara offered.

"Wouldn't it be cheaper to use the land-line?" Wes asked.

"Free minutes," the witch pointed out, turning to the elder watcher. "...But Giles is going to need the land-line in any case to call... Everard Howarth." She read the name from the sheet of paper she took from her pocket. "He says you were right . That the Council is looking into appropriate action and that he was anxious for you to get in touch so that he could find out how you knew. He also said that you would know where to get in touch with him and that Wes's father apparently hasn't broadcast the fact that he's in Sunnydale."

Wes's attention seemed to focus on an imaginary speck of dirt on his jeans as he made his shame-faced reply. "That would be at least partly because he was unaware that I had relocated from LA."

"Oops. Sorry, Wes. But what does all this mean, Giles?"

"The Council has confirmed what Buffy and Spike saw in their vision the other night. The First Evil has begun what would appear to be a war on the slayer line."

"So if that's the plan, why's it taking time out to play with Spike's head?" Tara asked. "You would think it would be kinda busy."

Giles removed his glasses and rubbed at them with the bottom of his shirt. "That is another piece of the puzzle that I suggest we work on after we discover a cure."








"Back there, you said after we find Spike."

"Well, it's not like I'm in a great rush to share table space with that watcher friend of yours and I'm not totally incapable when it comes to looking after myself. I'm stronger than I look and if, as I suspect Rupie has followed him, then..." she leaned over and pulled open the glove compartment, pulling out what looked like a PDA. "...This might prove useful."

"I don't think we're going to find Robin Wood in your contacts list." Buffy tried again. "Look, I'm the last person to judge anyone for being short and female, but I'm already taking Lily, who isn't really a combatant, and those shoes aren't really what you need for a good old fashioned sewer hunt. Trust me. I know this.

I also know that by all accounts there's stuff that you could read as easily as your morning newspaper that grown watchers would struggle with. I can find Spike without your help, but the answer as to what to do with him after that could be in your books and no one is more familiar with them than you. Of course, if your palmtop has a map of the sewers..."

"No such luck. Rupie isn't normally that keen on getting dirty. Just standard GPS, same as you can get in a newer car except it shows you how to get to Rupert instead of some destination you type in."

"Huh? I never heard of anything like that."

"Well, dad helped out with miniaturising the bits that go on his collar. Not all that diamante is actually diamante."

"So, it would show us what's above us and where the cat is. Or where his collar is. No offence, but I've never known a cat to be much for following a relative stranger." Buffy took the device from Bee and replaced it in the glove box.

"Rupert isn't a typical cat."

"Which makes it all the more likely that he'll find his way home on his own."

"At least take the tracker with you. It's not like it can do any harm."

Buffy screwed up her face and left the unit where it was. "It's too Initiative-y. Look, if you don't hear from us in the next hour you can give it to Wes and he can come look for everyone, but for now, please, just see what you can find in your books."

Bee gave a grim-faced nod, obviously not relishing the prospect. Nevertheless, it wasn't as if Lily wouldn't be able to pick up the vampire's scent as soon as they crossed paths or as if Buffy didn't have her own unique bond with him. When the car stopped in front of Lily's apartment, Buffy climbed out and then bent over to say thank you one more time. "I know you want to do the wade in and help thing, but brains are going to help more than brawn - and don't tell Giles I said that. I know sitting reading can be the boring end of the job and I tend to let others get on with it whenever I can get away with it, but you have skills in that department that I'm never going to have-."

"It's okay. I get it, Buffy. Lily's waiting for you. Go find him."








Bee knocked gently a couple of times before letting herself back into the house on Revello. When she saw Giles pacing the living room, phone in hand, she abruptly turned toward the dining room.

She could hear Tara discussing her research of this morning with Wesley. "These symptoms suggest that one, but there's no mention of the vomiting and the progression of the other symptoms seems to be slower than the database would suggest... but the database talks about the bruising spreading out from the poisoned wound, so I'm wondering if perhaps the vomiting and the slower progression are because it's been ingested rather than going straight into the blood stream or maybe... see, this one causes vomiting, but not the bruising or the fever so maybe it's a combination of both or maybe it's something that isn't even in the database."

The witch's voice seemed distant, however, the words not making any sort of unified sense as Bee's attention was riveted to the computer screen. "Stella?" She turned to Wesley. "What is that? Why are you watching it?"

"You know her?" Wes asked.

"Yes, now I asked you what the hell this is." Bee's eyes betrayed her fear, darting back and forth between Wes and the computer screen and when Giles moved towards her she began to sidle away from the door, getting a solid wall at her back so that she wouldn't find herself trapped between the two watchers.

"Bee, I know this looks suspicious, but it's not our doing." Wes kept his voice as level and calm as possible. "Do you really think we could have fooled Lily last night if we were planning something like this?"

"There are drugs. I'm not stupid or I suppose I am for thinking that watchers could ever change."

"Bee, if you know her, maybe you know where she is. Maybe if we get to her we can help her. You have to believe that we didn't do this. Bee?"

Bee stared at the screen in horror as first one then two small licks of flame appeared on Stella's body and in seconds the bed was an inferno, clouds of dark smoke obscuring the camera's view. A few seconds later the feed changed. The room was as it had always been. The clock on the wall had jumped back ten minutes and Stella was lying there once more, her bedroom intact.

"Bee, I-."

The small woman was startled by Giles voice next to her. She grabbed the nearest thing to hand, a small framed print from the wall at her back, and smashed him over the head with it before darting toward the front door.
 
 
Chapter #50 - Chapter 4.13
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.13
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Giles dusted the pieces of broken glass from his hair as Wes dashed after Bee, hoping to stop her before she left the house. Tara's eyes glazed over in concentration and she raised a hand, gesturing at the air in front of her. Heavy bolts fell into place with a series of loud clicks just as Bee's hand came to rest on the door handle. Wes placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, trying once more to reassure her, even as she looked around for another means of escape, but Wes was now between her and the door into the living room.

"We aren't the ones who set that up. The man who poisoned Spike called again. He told us to look up the web address. It was his way of letting us know what will happen to Spike if we can't find a cure. If you want to, you can leave now but, given the fact neither I nor Giles are likely to find what we need in those books of yours half as quickly as you would, I think Spike would have a far better chance if you stay... please."

Bee's eyes became slightly less wild as she considered his words, but her indecision was still obvious. "If I can go, why's the door locked?"

Tara reversed her earlier hand gesture and walked into the hall. "It's open now. I just didn't want you to rush off in some sort of panic. We wouldn't hold you against your wishes. How about we go through to the kitchen and I make us some camomile tea and you can tell me about Stella while Wes takes Giles upstairs and cleans up those cuts?"

Bee's eyes were drawn to where Giles leaned against the doorpost, dabbing at a cut near his hairline with what had recently been a pristine, white, cotton handkerchief. Like all head injuries, the amount of blood seeping from it seemed disproportionate to the size of the wound.

"Oh god! I'm so sorry. It... I saw Stella and the rest was pure 'fight or flight'."

"Or in this case both." Giles gave a dry smile. "Find Spike's cure and we'll call it even. It wouldn't be California if someone didn't hit me over the head. At least, this time I'm still conscious."

"Come on," Tara almost whispered, taking Bee by the arm and leading her toward the kitchen, trusting Wes to see to getting Giles patched up.

"Did you know Stella well?" she probed gently, ushering Bee to a seat at the counter while she put the kettle on.

"Barely at all, if I'm honest. We have maybe a couple of friends in common. Lily takes-... took Rosa there for her haircuts. It doesn't make it any easier to watch a person go up in smoke. It's really strange what you remember, I mean she looked so feminine but she was way into football. Steelers fan. I can remember being at the same Superbowl party the year they won. It must be nearly ten years ago now..." Bee's words petered out. She was obviously having problems reconciling the past with the footage she had just seen.

"We... well, we wondered if maybe she had been poisoned the same way as Spike, or if maybe this guy Wood had chosen her specifically, as an example for some reason... like say if Spike knew her."

"Probably," Bee speculated, "so far as I know there isn't anyone else in town cutting hair for the reflection-free, but they weren't close, I don't think. Clem or Lily might know better. As to the other, she probably got caught the same way Spike did. I'm not saying she didn't hunt, but she's been around too long to have been making a habit of it with a slayer in town."

"Spike got a haircut yesterday after we went to sort out the wedding outfits. He told Buffy she couldn't go with him because he wasn't having her stake the only hairdresser in town that wouldn't freak because he didn't have a reflection."

"I guess that tells us why she's the one on film, then," Bee answered with a sigh. "If he's keeping tabs on Spike... and I guess her having the video set up there for the vamps would make life easier for him. Chances are he got her the same way he got Spike, but if he hadn't, your guy would probably have helped her along anyway."

"Do you know where the film was made?" Tara asked.

"Judging by the hairdressing stuff, it'd be her place. There's a dam outside of town. There used to be a hydro plant there, but after the 'quake in '78 they decided that it wasn't safe. They had to drop the water level and they filled the top two levels of the dam with rebar and concrete to reinforce it. The power plant is gone, but the dam still acts as a reservoir. From above ground it's sealed up tight, but from what I hear there are tunnels that lead straight from there to the middle of town. Stella's supposed to use some of the rooms on the lower levels."

The kettle boiled and Tara turned her attention to sorting out a range of mugs, teabags, milk and sugar. "You feel up to doing some research while you drink this or do you want to stay here and have some time to pull yourself together a bit?"

"I think, if it means I don't have to see anyone else that I know go up in flames, I can hack the research." Bee pushed her way to her feet and picked up two of the four mugs before heading for the dining room.








"Be careful, will you?" Giles protested as Wes used a pair of tweezers to pull a sliver of glass from his scalp.

"That's the last. They're all pretty superficial from what I can tell. That one at the front could do with taping up. The rest will probably be okay to heal up on their own once we put a bit of iodine on."

"Well, get on with it then, man. That damned woman. I should have known she was nothing but trouble the minute I saw her."

"Really?" Wes drawled raising an eyebrow. "I must say, I found her quite charming. Perhaps you have some irrational dislike for pretty, well-educated, intelligent women."

"When they cast me in the starring role of their persecution complex, I consider it to be a very rational dislike."

"And yet, when you were talking to her last night I would have bet my shirt that you were attracted to her..."

"That does nothing to change the fact that the woman is pathologically insane, violent and far too young for me, not to mention the fact that I have a very intelligent, attractive and discerning young lady who means a great deal to me, waiting back in England."

"This is just a flying visit, then?"

"That depends on the opposition, I suppose, but once The First is dealt with, there should be no more reason for me to stay. Buffy no longer needs a father figure."

"That doesn't mean that there isn't a place for you here if you chose to stay."

"There's a place for me in England, too."








"Do another sweep, baby. We gotta stay on the ball." The First gave Robin the same dazzling smile he remembered so well from his brief childhood.

"Sure," he answered as he began flicking through from camera to camera, pausing when one of the feeds showed Lily leading Buffy through the maze of tunnels below Sunnydale's streets.

"They're too close. Way too close." Robin wasn't sure whether the words were his own thoughts or whether the approximation of his mother had placed them straight into his head. It didn't matter because she was right. Unless he did something soon, the bitch was going to spoil all his fun. So much for letting the demon come to on his own. He was going to have to go fetch him. He checked the relative location of the two cameras, planning his route so that he would hopefully be able to get to the vampire and spirit him away just in the nick of time. He took out a package about the size of a pack of cigarettes from a drawer of the desk his computer sat on and pushed it into the back pocket of his jeans. If the slayer was searching for her fucktoy in the sewers, then it was time he got him back above ground. The race was on.

"Wait a minute, honey. There's one more thing you gotta do for mommy before you go..."








Giles took the phone from Tara's hand with an expression of distaste. "You took longer than I expected, Quentin. Did Everard have problems getting through? Or did you have to get the board in for a discussion before you had the nerve to phone?"

"Everard said that you refused to discuss how you knew about Istanbul with anyone other than myself."

"That is because I believe you and you alone are responsible for the fact that that particular source of information may soon no longer be available to us."

"And if I said I had no idea to what you are referring?"

"I would say you are a bloody liar." Giles veneer of chilly anger slipped. "You forget that I know how you work. I know that it takes your sort of political maneuvering to put a headmaster with no teaching qualifications whatsoever into a high school on the hellmouth."

"Ye-es, well, I don't recall you having any teaching qualifications when you were placed there either."

"I was, however, amply qualified for the position which I held. From here, the only qualification that Robin Wood appears to have is his willingness to act as your assassin."

"You used to believe in our mission, Rupert."

"I still do. I simply disagree with your implementation of it. What did you supply him with?"

"I may not have had this discussion with you directly, but I believe young Wesley passed on the Council's view when it comes to saving vampires."

"I suggest you reconsider that policy if you want access to our information source. Otherwise, William's contacts may not be so helpful in future."

"I'm sure Ms Summers would be able to persuade any contacts the vampire might have to cooperate , Rupert."

"And I'm sure that now you've as good as implicated yourself in Spike's attempted murder that Ms Summers will have no incentive to do any such thing," Giles informed his former boss.

"However far Ms Summers may have slipped from the ideal, I doubt that she will allow the slaughter of innocents simply to satisfy a vindictive streak."

"Spike may not be innocent but having him on our side certainly means that more innocents get a chance to live. If you're prepared to ignore that, why should Buffy be any different? I believe it's time you had a rethink regarding your policy on saving vampires and if you don't wish the hellmouth to get out of control I suggest you arrange it so that Buffy doesn't feel compelled to relocate her family out of the area in order that her sister can attend a less hostile school. Until you do, I think that there is little point continuing this discussion further. Good day, Quentin."

Rupert replaced the handset in its cradle. "Let's just wait and see how much Quentin is prepared to gamble."

Bee looked up from the book she was currently comparing with Tara's notes, giving Giles an apologetic smile. "I guess I need to apologise for calling you a council lackey now, as well.

If it helps, this text describes a poison known in Recendist, at least, as 'The Harbinger of Second Death'. It seems to be identical in every respect to what is described in Tara's notes as 'The Killer of the Dead', except my text makes clear reference to how to prepare it and the effects both when it's ingested and when it contaminates the bloodstream directly. Tara says you've had experience with it before, so if it had been missing entirely from the database you would presumably have noticed. My guess is that they just took out the references to what happened if you swallowed it and hoped you wouldn't catch on. All of which, I gather, leaves you with a bigger problem..."

"Marvellous!" Giles sank into one of the dining room chairs and dropped his glasses onto the table in front of him. "Absolutely, bloody marvellous! Well, we all know what Buffy is going to say to that." The Englishman's tone betrayed that he thought the news was anything but. "Would anybody care to tell me how this day could get any worse?"

"Em, guys, you know that painful vampire death site? They're not showing that loop of tape any more." Tara sounded nervous. "It's a bit grainy, and it's that green low-light type thing... but it looks like Spike... I think. It's kinda hard to tell."








Lily somehow managed to speed up even further, despite the fact that Buffy was already pleasantly surprised by the grandmother's bustling pace. "I think wind carry William's smell. We close."

"How can you smell him? We're in a sewer. Are you sure?"

"I sure and this no sewer, this storm drain. If sewer no could smell him." The old demon paused suddenly and Buffy almost ran into her. She peered at a far distant junction before pointing at what looked like a heap of rags or perhaps an abandoned carcass lying half in half out of a side tunnel. "I think maybe that is William."

Buffy pushed past her in an instant, her legs swiftly eating up the tunnel between her and the figure on the ground, though without the advantage of Lily's nightvision Buffy had to get far closer before she could make out any detail.

Lily called after the slayer as she ran. "Be careful. Could be trap."

Buffy ran heedlessly forward. The armies of hell could be waiting in that side tunnel and she wouldn't care.

"Spike!" Her voice echoed up and down the tunnels over and over and the scarecrow figure seemed to try to move, raising his face from the muddy water at the bottom of the tunnel.

"Buffy?" His voice sounded weak and only the tunnel's amplifying accoustics allowed her to hear at all. His next words chilled her to the bone. "Goodbye, love."

If it was possible, Buffy ran even faster as she saw his head slump forward once more but the tunnel seemed to stretch ahead of her for miles and Spike was still so far away. Even as the first flames appeared on his hand he reached out toward her, and Buffy told herself that he couldn't burn, not while he was lying in two inches of water. He couldn't burn.

And still he did.
 
 
Chapter #51 - Chapter 4.14
 





Thanks to Vladt catching me in a good mood, and thanks to the fact I'll probably have a busy day tomorrow, I'm posting Friday's chapter early...

Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.14
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Tara watched the figure on the screen as it reached out to one side. A single tear trickled down her cheek as the vampire's lips moved to form his fiancée's name. The picture was indistinct but nothing could disguise the look Spike reserved for one woman alone, not even the amber glow of his demon eyes or the combination of muck, blood and old rainwater that streaked his features.

"He knew." The thought slipped from her lips. "He knew." The first flames appeared on his hand and the low-light camera swiftly whited out so that those at the house on Revello were not subjected to the sight of the fire consuming the flesh from Spike's body or his bones turning to dust that was already indistinguishable from the silt in the bottom of the storm drain by the time Buffy reached the spot where he had lain. They watched a silent movie that only caught a fraction of the show. They couldn't hear how Buffy cried out a massive, "no," to the world or how she swore at Spike, even as he burned, for not somehow resisting harder and holding out till she could get there, for insisting she take the orbs but most of all for daring to leave her alone when their time together had so barely started. When the screen cleared all they saw was Buffy kneeling on the floor of the tunnel, trying to scoop up handfuls of debris from the bottom of what was in effect a very shallow stream only to have it slip through her fingers. The screen went dark and they knew that their enemy thought he had got his point across.








"What did you mean? When you said that he knew..." Giles' voice was as soft and comforting as a velvet wrap as he placed a tumbler of Wes's brandy into Tara's shaking hands.

"H-he knew what the cure was. I thought he was rambling, generalising, but h-he knew. He said we h-had to send Dawn away because his demon knew that her blood would heal him, just the s-same as B-Buffy's... and it was only when I s-saw that look on his face that I realised... he knew... and he chose to die rather than to hurt either of them.

For years, everyone except Dawn and Joyce just used him and we said he didn't... he couldn't love her. We treated him like his feelings didn't matter, like they were less real than ours... like he couldn't be hurt but if he..."

"...But if he could care enough to make that choice, then every petty cruelty that we visited upon him more than likely made its mark on his..."

Bee raised sad eyes to the grey-haired watcher. Her grief mingled with her disappointment that even with the greatest of all possible proof he still couldn't bring himself to say the word. "...On his soul," she finished for him.








Minutes passed in silence as the quartet perched on the edges of their respective seats, each of them cradling a glass in their hands from which they took occasional sips.

Finally, Tara spoke again. "What about Dawnie? Do we get her to come back? Do we tell her? Do we wait for Buffy to get back? I mean she was supposed to be getting as far away as she could, but somehow I don't think she would stray too far."

"How about I try Lily's phone and see where they're going?" Bee suggested. "Lily might take Buffy back to her place or they might be coming here."

"Or Buffy might be looking to find Robin Wood and get some payback," Giles added. "She had a shock and it hit her hard... but Buffy is incredibly resilient and she has a particularly vindictive streak towards anyone who targets the men in her life. She's quite capable of setting her grief to one side until she has exacted vengeance.

More to the point, convincing as the footage was, we are dealing with at least one enemy who specialises in mind games and illusion and added to that we have no real way given the poor quality of the footage to tell if it has been digitally altered somehow. The last thing we want to do is tell Dawn that Spike has gone, only for him to then walk in through the door like the proverbial bad penny."

"But if there's a chance he might be alive and if what he said was true, isn't that all the more reason to get her back here?" Bee asked.

"He wouldn't do it. He wouldn't risk hurting either of them. Not so long as there was the smallest bit of him still in control," Tara offered.

"And Buffy would never let Dawn put herself in that sort of danger," Giles added.

Bee shook her head. "You're all just making difficulties where there needn't be any. I assume if Spike somehow knows that Dawn's blood is the same as Buffy's that they're both the same group?"

"Well, yes, they're both AB+, but I don't see..."

"You don't have to. Tara, why don't you call Dawn? Be honest. Tell her that Spike sneaked out and Buffy went out to look for him. Tell her what the poison is and that you think her blood may be at least partially as effective as Buffy's. Let her make her own choice about it. She's not a child... Then, when she gets here, you can explain about the web site face to face."

Tara nodded and picked up the cordless phone from where Giles had left it on the coffee table.

Bee made her way through to the entrance hall, picking up one of the spare phones and tossing it to Wes. "It didn't look like Spike made time to pack, but you never know. His phone might have been in his coat pocket. It's worth a try. If you hear it ring rather than getting a message to say it's switched off or whatever, try to rule out him having left it in the house somewhere. When you've done that, go over to your place and wait for a visitor. If Spike really is gone, the last thing Buffy is going to want when she comes home, is to find a house full of strangers. I'll follow when I'm finished with my own calls."

"No instructions for me?" Giles asked dryly.

Bee gave him a half-smile. "You can stand around and look pretty... or if you prefer, you can contact the people Buffy will want around her on the off chance that the worst does turn out to be true."

She picked up another phone from the hall table and, to the puzzlement of the others, wandered out the front door, getting into the passenger side of her car and apparently rummaging through the glove compartment, all the while pinning the phone in place between her ear and a shoulder. Soon she had a lit cigarette in her mouth and seemed to be talking around it, at the same time holding something in her right hand and hitting it with her left.

"That has to be the most peculiar woman I've ever met. Look pretty, indeed," Giles muttered to himself as he turned away from the window and tried to get hold of Anya using the last of the spare phones.








"Oh!" Anya's delicately boned face seemed to somehow crumple and she caught her lower lip under her upper teeth to still its trembling.

"We don't know anything for sure, Anya." Giles tried to comfort her, wondering how the vampire seemed to have the affection of all the women in their circle while at the same time inspiring quite the opposite in the male of the species. "It's entirely possible that it was a ruse on the part of either Robin Wood or The First or not inconceivably both. They may have wanted to halt our research or distract Buffy. However, if it does turn out that the worst has happened, then Buffy and Dawn will need their friends around them. Please tell Xander that I trust him to realise this is an opportunity for him to rise above any pettiness and do whatever may need to be done in order to comfort his friends."

"You mean no gloating, right?" Anya asked, the couple's earlier conversation fresh in her mind.

"I mean no gloating and if Buffy or Dawn feel that they or Spike are still due any apologies then I suggest that Xander be prepared to give them, otherwise his presence may be less than constructive... How is Xander faring this morning after his misadventure last night?"

Anya looked over to the still firmly closed bedroom door. "Nauseous... and less than constructive."








Lily physically ached to rush forward and comfort the grieving girl but something here was not right. The light produced by Spike's immolation had revealed something which shouldn't have been there. She kept her distance and reached into her jacket pocket, pulling out a roll of fruit flavoured chews that she kept there for Rosa. She unwrapped several of the sweets, popping them into her mouth one after the other and chewing on them until they made a pliable, sticky mess only to then delicately remove the resulting ball from her mouth. Next, with a move she hoped was swift enough to fool anyone watching, she reached up from under and behind the camera that had been attached just above average head height on the wall of the storm drain and used the glob of confectionery to obscure the lens.

She was just moving forward to take Buffy in her arms when the girl looked up. First a look of hope appeared in her eyes and then a huge smile brightened her tear-stained face. "It wasn't him." Her voice was full of absolute certainty. "I mean it looked like him and I can even still smell his aftershave and it had me fooled for a minute or two but he said I would know if he died and it just doesn't feel like he's gone and the pains, kinda spread a bit since this morning but not enough for him to have gone woof..." Buffy used her hands to mimic the flames that had appeared to consume Spike almost instantaneously. "And Rogue was so not leaving him alone, not to mention he made a promise."

"Is good but someone, they watch the tunnels." She pointed to the disabled camera. "And I no think it City Engineers."

"So we keep going until we find him and we don't stop again for anything unless it physically makes us."

"You go on. This is Maple, just make straight line. 1570 maybe mile that way. I no keep up with young girl, but I no be so far behind if-." Lily paused as the sound of a dog barking echoed its way from somewhere up ahead and Buffy took to her heels.

Every time she came to an intersection, Buffy would pause just for a moment or two to check that the sound came from neither right nor left before continuing on. The animal sounded frantic and Buffy feared that The First's little stunt might have delayed her just that bit too long, so that whatever events were being played out up ahead would already be concluded by the time she got there. She cursed herself for not reaching inward earlier to find the truth through their bond, but the fact of the matter was that she had simply been so devastated by the scene that had played out before her eyes that she hadn't been able to function on any sort of level.

The tunnel's echoes and the splashing of the water beneath her feet as she ran, all made it nearly impossible to judge just how far away the dog was but Buffy just ran as hard as she could, hoping against hope that she would arrive in time to make a difference. Then, abruptly, the barking stopped.

She wanted to run even faster, but without the sound to guide her she had to be even more careful when she checked every offshoot to the main tunnel looking for the smallest sign that someone had passed that way. Long minutes later, when she did find it, it seemed almost blinding. A spear of daylight probed its way into the tunnel from high above, its rays illuminating Rogue's limp body at the ladder's base while Rupert licked blood from the fur at the side of the dog's head. As she approached, Rogue struggled to her feet with an obvious effort, whimpering and despite her injuries, looking guilty, as if she felt she had failed.

Buffy hunkered down, scratching the dog behind her ear on the uninjured side of her head before checking the wound. The cut was little more than a graze, but any open wound was bad news in this sort of environment and a large area around it seemed to be tender to the touch. "Shh, honey, it's not your fault. You've been a brave girl. I'll call your Uncle Giles and he'll bring the DeSoto and take you to the nice veterinarian who we'll probably have to pay in cash because it will look too damn suspicious to claim on a two day old insurance policy. Just stay here while I climb up there 'cause I don't think I'll get a signal this far underground." She bent over and stroked Rupert, too, trying to settle the animals so they would wait for her to come back. The cat stood from his previous seated position revealing a small cellophane wrapper. Buffy picked it up and read the writing on it. A thermal blanket. Whatever Wood was planning, at least it didn't involve Spike getting a suntan, just yet.
 
 
Chapter #52 - Chapter 4.15
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.15
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Bee took one last draw on her cigarette before she tossed the lipstick-stained butt into the street and made her way back into the house. Tara was still on the phone to Dawn but Giles had already finished his calls and replaced the phone he had used back on the hall table and Wes was coming back downstairs as she opened the front door.

He shook his head. "It's ringing, but there's no reply and if it's in the house it's been muted."

The woman shrugged. "It was worth a try... and it's another pointer in favour of that web site being a pile of horse crap. How did you get on?" She turned to Giles.

"I've told Willow what's happening and she's going to stay by the phone so she can come over if Buffy asks for her, but otherwise, considering the situation with Tara and Dawn, she'll stay where she is. Anya's coming over and she says if he promises to 'act civilised' she'll bring Xander. Other than Dawn, I think everyone else she'd want is already here. And you ?" Giles raised an eyebrow in Bee's direction, trying to regain some control of the situation.

"Well, I couldn't get through to either Lily or Buffy's phones. I doubt they'd switch them off, so that makes me think that they're too deep to be any use. All of which means, I could use a car larger than a two seater and one of you strapping men to come with me. The other one gets to wait for Wes's guest, who by the way is a demon, so if anyone has any problems with that..." She raised an eyebrow of her own in retaliation.

"Are we allowed to ask what it is that whoever goes with you will be doing?" Giles queried.

"We're going to go find my cat."

Giles' jaw dropped a fraction of an inch. "At a time like this?"

Bee took on a teasing tone. "There is a time factor involved. He's going to miss his lunch if we don't find him soon."

Wes interrupted at this point, his intuition telling him that there was more to this than Bee was letting on. "My car's sitting in the drive across the road. Why don't you go wait in the passenger seat while Giles and I sort out the division of labour?" Wes passed her his car keys.








Wes climbed into the car's driving seat. "So where are we going?"

Bee had already memorised the address. She didn't bother looking at the device she held in her hand but Wes had already noticed the little blip on the screen's streetplan and guessed its significance. "Riverside Industrial Park. Area 3."

Wes reversed the car out of the drive and set off at a pace that would only just avoid the attention of the average Sunnydale traffic cop. "And the guest who is going to be arriving at my house?"

Bee made a grimace. "He's the brother of my date for tomorrow night, apparently."

"Well, I hope Spike gets the opportunity to tell you how grateful he'll undoubtedly be, but it still doesn't let me in on why he's there."

Bee sighed before she replied. "He's my GP."

Wes frowned. "You choose to visit a demon doctor?"

"Not so much choose..." Wes gave her a sideways glance before returning his attention to the road and had to slam on the brakes to avoid driving into the back of a slow-moving child on his bicycle.

"I could demonstrate, but then you'd probably hit the next kid. Is this going to be an issue?"

"N-no, no issue, just a surprise, though the linguistic skills and your defensiveness regarding the council all make rather more sense now.

I shan't pry, and if you want, I won't even mention it to the others unless it becomes relevant."

Bee shrugged. "It's no state secret. I'm pretty certain Spike knows, anyway. Vampires tend to be able to spot the scent thing.

Swap parent gender and I'm pretty much in the same position as Rosa except I can pass for human, kind of like a vengeance demon. My parents choose to live in mom's dimension but dad was brought up in Laurel Canyon and you can tell your friend that if he's talking chronological age, mine is probably much the same as his, though subjectively I might have just a little catching up to do... and I also have excellent hearing if I concentrate, say if I want to know if someone's really forgiven me for being an ass or if they're just being polite," she added with a grin.

Comprehension suddenly dawned for Wes as to why they needed the demon doctor. "You're going to get him to transfuse Buffy and Dawn!"

"You watcher types might not be quite so slow as I'd heard, after all," she teased. "Of course, after you draw the first couple of pints from each they'll need to be transfused before they can give any more or there's a risk of them going into shock and from then on in, the blood they donate will become progressively diluted, but as long as Spike doesn't feed directly there's practically no risk to either of them, so unless Spike really wants to be the martyr and I'm thinking not on that one, he's got no reason to object."

"It seems rather as if we were all making a major drama out of a minor difficulty. We didn't even think about alternatives to Spike feeding from them."

"Well, it tends to hinge on knowing a medic who can understand why you're drawing blood out of them just to transfuse it straight back in and let's face it, a human doctor is not going to understand... so I guess you guys have got an excuse." With what had seemed to be a vast stumbling block now removed, Wes couldn't help but find Bee's grin infectious. "And if he hadn't left his cell in the house but it hasn't gone dusty..."

"Then the situation in general looks a lot less bleak than it did an hour or so ago," Wes finished for her.

"And all we need now... is Spike." Bee looked down at the GPS screen in her hands. "It says to take a right at the next junction."










"Tara, what's going on? The phone's been busy forever."

"Buffy, where are you? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, but it looks like Wood got Spike and Rogue's hurt. I think she tried to get in the way. Can you get Giles to bring Spike's car and pick us up? ...and tell Bee her cat's here too."

"Well, Brandon took Spike's car before and Giles is over at Wes's house waiting for someone. Would you settle for Wes and Bee in his car?"

"Sure. We just need to get Rogue to a vet. I'm in the middle of some sort of industrial estate. All these buildings look the same..."

"They left a few minutes ago. Bee seemed to know where she was going. Buffy, we know what the poison is. It's the same one Faith used on Angel. Wes and Bee will fill you in when they get there but Dawn's on her way home. I think the whole tower thing proves your blood is the same and she wants to help."

"Well, she can't. I'm supposed to keep her safe and that idea is not safe."

"Safer than him draining you. Besides, unless we can find Spike kinda moot."

"So make with the location spell, Tabitha."

"Consider it done." Tara replaced the handset with a slight frown, not entirely certain that she could do a location spell that would work on a vampire on her own... but then Giles was only on the far side of the street. She dashed up to her room and found the bag of spell components they had brought back from LA. She added her own cell phone to the bag and pausing only to scribble a quick note and stick it on the front of the fridge, she headed for Wes's new home.








Dawn and Brandon were the first to arrive back. As Tara had anticipated, Dawn had refused to go further than a coffee shop in the next town over. Dawn called out to the empty house, "I'm ho-o-ome." When no one answered she wandered from room to room until she found the note on the refrigerator. Her curiosity temporarily assuaged she pulled a couple of cans of soda from the fridge and passed one to Brandon.

"Tara says she'll only be a few minutes and that Wes and Bee have gone to pick up Buffy and Rogue."

"No word on Spike, then?"

"Nope, but Tara's on the case. She'll whip up a location spell in no time. Then, Buffy can charge off again to find him and give him a good spanking for not staying here like he was supposed to."

Brandon gave her a lascivious smile. "They into that, then?"

"What?" Dawn's eyes widened as she realised what she had said. "No-o-o. Well, at least I don't think so... but then they do seem to kinda get off on sparring together... Tell you what, when Spike's better why don't you ask him and see how long you last before you get a spanking for even thinking anything like that within a 50' radius of me?"

"I think I'll pass on that tempting offer. Don't suppose there's the least possible chance that you're going to actually look at any homework?"

"I could look . There's not the slightest chance I'd be able to concentrate to actually do any, but I could stand about six feet away and point at the stack of books and say 'Oooh, there's my homework.' 'Sides I bet with all this I'm good for another day off tomorrow, especially if I limp a bit."

"Or you could give your sister one less thing to worry about and do your assignments so that you don't need another day off and they don't decide I'm a bad influence and ground you before Friday."

"Like they could stop me going... but I get the point, teacher's pet." Dawn glanced at the books and the computer occupying the dining room table. "Guess if they're using the table in there we'll have to use my room."

"I thought you weren't allowed boys in your room."

"I said they probably wouldn't let us study in my room. They never actually said I couldn't have boys in there. Xander was in Buffy's room all the time when they were younger."

"Buffy dated Xander?"

"Eugh, no. Not that Xander wasn't totally into her, but no. Just come on." Dawn started pulling Brandon toward the stairs, despite his protests.

"It's alright for you. You're not the one he's going to eat."

"You don't think tapping a vein counts?" she teased.

"Not compared with him ripping my throat out."

"I don't think your throat would be his target of choice," Dawn answered as she closed her room door behind them.








It was almost three quarters of an hour later before Buffy and Wes got back, having dropped Lily off at home and left Bee at the veterinarian's with Rogue. Rupert leapt down from Buffy's knee as soon as she opened the car door and strolled straight up to Buffy's front door, looking as much at home as if someone had rolled out his own personal red carpet. "I better go see what's happening. I thought Tara might have called to let us know where he is by now."

Wes eyed the rather battered VW camper occupying half of his drive. "Ditto. I'll round up Giles and Bee's future brother-in-law and meet you over there."








Buffy could sense the tension the second she walked into the living room. Looking round the room, the reason was all too apparent.

"Hi, Anya. Xander, I assume if you're here, you're ready with those apologies for everyone."

"Heyyy! I'm not the bad guy in this. Dawnster's just ticked that we barged in on her smooch session with lover boy before he hit third base and dragged the two of them down here."

"Dawn?" Buffy's query was swamped by Dawn's rebuttal.

"That is so not true. We've been studying and, yeah, maybe we kissed once or twice but even if we'd been stark naked and going at it hammer and tongs he still has no right to set foot in my bedroom without my permission or even knocking. I could have been getting changed or anything."

"No, Dawn, he doesn't." Buffy turned cold eyes on Xander making sure he got the point before returning to her sister. "But, that doesn't get you off the hook so I guess when this business with Spike is settled we're going to have to go through some ground rules with the pair of you. Starting with if no one else is home Brandon is not allowed in your room and if Brandon is in your room the door stays open. Deal?"

"Riley was allowed in your room."

"I was like twenty when I was going out with Riley."

"Nineteen."

"Nineteen and like anything was going to happen with you snooping round? Deal?"

Brandon nudged his girlfriend and she grudgingly conceded the point. "Deal. I thought you were bringing Rogue home?"

"Bee's waiting with her at the vet's until they get the x-rays back. She took a nasty bang on the head. I'm sorry, Dawn. She'll call as soon as there's any news. Now where's Tara? I was hoping she'd be done with the hocus-pocus so I could go get medieval on this Wood guy's ass."










"What the-?" Wes instinctively reached for one of the rapiers he kept in the umbrella stand in the hall as he took in the scene in the living room.

A pile of charred paper, ashes and various spell components were spread around on the parquet flooring along with Giles and Tara's inert forms. A grey-skinned demon in a long trench coat straddled Tara's body and seemed to be pressing something to her face. At Wes's appearance, he gave a whistle of alarm and rapidly stood. He backed away from the girl as he made a series of clicks and tuts, stretching out his right arm and twisting the bottle he held so that the label was facing toward Wes. It didn't matter. He'd already recognised the acrid scent of smelling salts. He returned the sword to its normal place and nodded to the people on the floor. "You understand me?"

The demon nodded.

"They were like this when you found them?"

Another nod.

"How long ago?"

The demon set down the bottle of smelling salts and then held up both hands, six fingers and two thumbs spread before lowering one hand whilst keeping the other raised.

"Twelve minutes... And you haven't been able to bring either round?"

The demon shook his head.

Wes peered at the charred scraps of paper that had once been a map but the entire area for several miles outside the town itself had burned up, and all without leaving a single mark on the wooden floor. It seemed that Giles and Tara had fallen foul of magic gone awry. They could wake up five minutes from now, five days or never and the only thing anyone could do for them was wait.

Wes frowned. "Do what you can to make them comfortable. I'll be back when I can. Help yourself to anything that's in the kitchen. Bee's been held up but she shouldn't be too much longer. Okay?"

The demon nodded again, sagging to his knees when Wes closed the front door behind him.










Robin Wood dashed a bucket of ice-cold water in Spike's face. "Wakey wakey. Rise and shine. It's a beautiful day to die... Well, for you to die, or can you really call it that since you're already dead?"

Spike was weak, but his senses were instantly alert, taking in his surroundings, knowing that his life depended on it. He recognised Wood from his description and he knew too well the coldness that showed in his eyes. Wood would say it was simply that death was Spike's due, but Spike knew that even if he died today Wood would find another excuse. He was feeling what it was like to be god, to have the power of life and death over another being and he was already hooked.

Spike scanned the 'room' where he found himself. It seemed to be some sort of half-finished basement. The ceiling overhead only seemed to stretch as far as this room, two doors standing open but not offering freedom, just a dusty death. Crude crosses had been nailed to the walls on every side, but in the middle of the room where Wood stood dressed in Spike's duster pushing back the leather sleeves to strap on some home made combination of brass knuckles and wrist brace was the pièce de resistance, the goat-headed pentagram that had featured in his and Buffy's waking nightmare.

Spike pushed his way to his feet, singeing his palm as he made use of the wall behind him for support. "Well look who's all grown up? Wouldn't mum be proud of her little boy takin' down the vamp that killed her? Actually, I think she'd be pretty disgusted. See, your mum, she had a bit of class. She knew the gig and she met it head on. She had style. You? You're just hidin' behind a pot of poison same way you hid behind that park bench."

Spike goaded the other man until he charged at him head down, driving him back against the wall and holding him there until smoke rose from his back where the crosses burned into his flesh but that was what the vampire wanted. There was no way he was going to meet the younger man over that seal. Like he'd tried to explain to the Scoobies these things are always about the blood, and sooner or later in this fight they were both going to bleed but if Spike had his way, they wouldn't be doing it anywhere near that thing.
 
 
Chapter #53 - Chapter 4.16
 





Sorry, I could have sworn that I posted and checked this twelve hours ago... but since it isn't coming up, I guess either I can't have or there's been some sort of glitch.


Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.






Chapter 4.16
Sunday, May 19th, 2002

"Where's Buffy?" Wes asked as he made his way into 1630's living room.

"And hello to you, too, Wesley." Xander let his hangover show.

"She's changing into some dry clothes," Dawn informed him. "Couldn't get Miss Stinky to go for the shower though. She said she had to be ready to move as soon as Tara and Giles tell her where she's headed."

"I doubt that there's going to be any rush to action on that account. Tara and Giles are indisposed. I think the location spell had some unexpected side effects. We're on our own. So I guess we're going to have to rely on good old fash-."

"High school construction site. Everyone that's coming, grab a weapon and MOVE!" Buffy flew down the stairs so fast her feet barely made contact with the boards.

"...Or Buffy could come up with a location out of thin air," the Englishman suggested even as he grabbed an axe from Buffy's weapons chest.

"Wh- How?" Xander stammered.

"Weapons. Cars. Now."

Wes was already pulling the front door open and jogging for his vehicle before Buffy could get there. Anya had decided that she was weapons monitor and was passing out swords and axes to all, though she hesitated briefly before passing a weapon to Dawn. In less than a minute she pressed the last sword into Xander's unresisting hand and pushed him out the door.

Brandon and Dawn were already climbing into the DeSoto and the only evidence that Buffy and Wes had ever been there was the set of tyre tracks in the middle of the street.








"Not that I want to sound like Xander... but how?" Wes asked as he negotiated the shortest route to the site of the former high school, which considering Buffy used to walk it in less than ten minutes was a pretty short route.

"Wood hasn't realised that when he picks a fight with one of us, he picks a fight with us both. As soon as the adrenaline kicks in I can see what he sees, hear what he thinks. I think with him. He's at a construction site. That pentagram we saw is there. It's got to be the Hellmouth. Spike's trying to keep him away from the thingy. He knows we're coming, but he's weak, the walls are covered in crosses and the only thing he can do is try to keep Wood so mad he forgets what it is he wants to do and keeps pounding on him instead."

"I guess we're crashing the gate then?" Wes put his foot down as they approached the chain link fence, aiming the centre of the car at the point where the gates were held shut by a chain and padlock. "Brace yourself. Maybe we should have taken that extra few seconds for seat belts."

Wes thanked his lucky stars that the chain was the first thing to give and that the car's airbags didn't go off. The two gates swung apart with enough momentum to bounce back, close and then half open again, but by then Wes and Buffy were already making their way along the muddy track to the main structure.

Buffy twisted her head, comparing her view of the sun with Spike's until she could tell which way the vampire was facing. "We're looking for a room at this side of the building. Dirt floor, so it's a fair bet to say basement. The room he's in has a roof. The rooms that way and that way don't." She pointed first to her right and then ahead of the car before Wes pulled to a stop with a handbrake turn. Buffy stepped out of the car to find herself standing next to a gap that at some point would house a window. She pulled herself easily through the high opening before grabbing Wes's hand to help him through. "Neat driving, Wes. Gonna give me some lessons?"

"That, I think, would be an unequivocal no," Wes answered, following Buffy with his axe in hand as she dashed through the skeleton of what would once again be a high school.








"So... what's this really about, then? Is it about the big bad vampire killin' yer mum, 'cause newsflash your mum was never gonna make it to your fifth birthday. We fought. We drew. We fought again and I won." Spike managed to maintain a sneer right to the end and then his lungs, long disused except for talking and drawing in smoke, forced him to cough up mouthfuls of blood while the larger man rained metal reinforced punches on his ribs, and Spike took another couple of blows to the jaw while he kept his face turned into the corner. Buffy and Wes were already in the car.

Not that a couple of punches in the mouth were enough to keep Spike quiet even if almost every sentence was punctuated by him coughing and spitting up blood. "Or are you coming after me because you're still pissed that you just didn't mean enough? After that first time in Central Park, she could've upped stakes and headed for Philadelphia, Jamaica, bloody Brixton even, any number of places where no one would pay her a second glance, where her poor misfit kid could grow up to be normal, to fit in. She could have said she'd done her part, she was going to retire and look after her son. Instead she came after me. That's not my fault. Yer mum was a slayer." On Hadley and heading this way.

"Half of it comes natural and half of it that bloody council brainwashes into 'em if they give 'em that chance. But she believed that claptrap about doing what you can and then the next one takes over. She believed that there was only one way to stop having to look after some accident of a brat whose dad had long jumped ship, if she ever knew who he was. She was sick of wiping your nose all day and then kicking vampire butt all night. Between you and the hunting she couldn't have a proper job, she didn't even have a friend that would look out for you when she did her patrols. You and the slaying were her life but you weren't enough to make her want to live." Two more minutes. Another hundred metal edged punches. Spike gripped the wood at his hand, crushing it until it cracked along the grain as he spoke, but Wood was too far gone to notice an extra plume of smoke, too far gone to do more than pummel Spike's bruised form as the vamp just refused to be silenced.

"She was just waiting for it to be someone good enough as come along that you an' her Crowley would blame whoever did it rather than know the truth. She quit. She gave up. Suicide by vamp. She could've staked me back then... if she'd wanted it enough. I wasn't better than her. I wasn't stronger than her. I wasn't faster than her. I just wanted it more." Spike's agile fingers pried the cross free from the wall, not quite loose enough to fall, but where he could grab it if he needed it.

"She wanted to die, she wanted to know how it felt, this sensation she meted out every day to my kind and more than anything she wanted it to be over... She could have run and taken you with her. Millions of people just get lost every year... but she chose death, just so some poor ginger-headed bint from Anchorage that was still in pig-tails and braces could take over. Your mom might as well have killed the poor bitch herself. Don't think she lasted any longer than the bloody Northern Lights they get up there before there was another chosen one being all chosen." At the gates an' Bob Vila was gonna have a bitch about that given half the chance.

"An' you got stuck, not only with bein' the only black kid on an overprivileged block but with having to explain at every football match and parents day who the pasty-faced English guy was. Bet half the kids you knew assumed he was your real dad but was too ashamed to admit it. How'd that work out for you?

And where was your real daddy? Did she even know? Hell, there was times we were rolling round that train it was more like wrestling than fighting and I swear... you know when a woman's so wet you can smell it?"

Wood stepped back, swinging into a spin-kick that Spike knew would break his neck if he let it make contact. Somehow, Buffy loaned him the strength to make the block. They saw it almost in slow-motion, the way Wood's leg came arcing round, the way Spike reached out, the shattered cross burning deeper into his palm even as Wood's momentum drove the splintered point through the inside of his thigh and out the other side.

And she was here. His golden angel.

"You fucking bastard." Wood dropped to his knees struggling to remove the wood from his leg.

"I wouldn't be doin' that if I were you." Spike nodded toward the man's hands. "'Round about now, that bit of wood is the only thing that's stopping your entire blood supply from droppin' out through your femoral artery. You pull that out and you're good as dead, so unless that death wish of your mum's is hereditary, I suggest you leave it well alone. An' just to set the record straight, I might not have known my dad any better than you knew yours, but he did have the decency to wed my mum before he kicked the bucket, unlike some."

"You're lying." Wood kept trying to work the cross free.

"Sorry, mate. Was a bit early for photos but I've seen the certificate. Even used to go to the same church when I was a kiddie, though I can't say I blame you if you find that hard to believe."

Buffy stepped up behind the man, Wes to her right. "I think he meant about the bleeding to death, Spike, not the bit about your mom and dad being married."

"Well, I thought one warning on that was pretty good of me, considering."

"I do feel that was rather generous," Wes concurred on that point.

"Nice of you to drop in, love. And you brought good company."

"I would have been here sooner, if your directions had been better."

Dawn appeared in the doorway at the far side of the room, Brandon just behind her. "I would just yank the thing right out, personally. I think anyone that would pick on a puppy deserves to bleed to death in the dirt."

"You know, if being human doesn't work out for you, Dawnie, you would make a wonderful vengeance demon." Robin swivelled on his good leg to see Anya in the other doorway, soon to be joined by a panting Xander.

"Now I know that thing wasn't on the plans. And if I haven't made it clear enough before now, when I start work on that basement, bleach boy, you stay away from all the tools and building materials or next time you could hurt someone."

Buffy walked around the wounded man as Xander spoke, slipping an arm around Spike's back and pressing the orbs into Spike's hand. Those in the room who had yet to witness what happened when someone picked up the orbs watched the purple lightning sizzle through the pair in amazement. The mystical electricity seemed to symbolise their scintillating symbiosis. Spike rose to his feet with a new strength, his demon features melting into those of his human counterpart.

"You got this, honey? Or should we take over?" Buffy asked.

Spike turned in toward Buffy, damaged fingers tangling in her hair heedless of the strands sticking to the liquid that seeped from his burns. His lips opened and, uncaring of their audience, he lowered his head to meet Buffy's own. He tasted her sweetness and her strength, savouring everything that made her precious to him. Finally, lifting his head, he stared Robin Wood in the eye. "I think , for now, this is over. I think, our friend here is going to take his little DIY accident to the hospital and I think when he's been patched up, he's going to hand in his resignation and leave town. I know if I see him in this town again that he will die."

"There's a slight flaw in your plan," Wes pointed out. "So serious a wound may well require days in hospital. I believe by the time he concludes his stay, his resignation will be unnecessary. Mr Giles, I believe, has ensured that much."

"Even better. As to the rest, I assume I was correct?" Spike pinned Wood in place with an angry ultramarine glare.

"I don't owe you anything."

"No, you do, actually." Loosing his hold on Buffy's hand, he grasped the lapel of the coat that Wood still wore and pirouetting around him he swept it from the man's shoulders and wrapped it around his own in one fluid motion.

"That coat belonged to my mother," Wood argued.

"Yeah, funny enough I was aware of that... but I earned the right to wear it and I still wear it now, even though I've had plenty of opportunity to replace it ...because I respect your mother. I respect her as a worthy opponent, in a way that your actions make it obvious you're incapable of understanding. She would be disgusted to have a craven poisoner as her supposed successor. You would make her sick.

Right now..." Spike gave a self-deprecating bark of laughter. "I'm a damn sight closer to carrying on where she left off than you are. I'm not the one that was plannin' on summoning up whatever that oversized Alchemy trinket summons up. Maybe, I'll keep tabs on what you're up to. Maybe, some day, if you ever turn into the man your mother would have wanted you to be, you'll find a little something in your mailbox."

"You can't-."

"I'm done bein' polite." Spike's hand hovered over the cross that impaled Wood's thigh. "Get the hell out of our town. Then, stay the hell out of our town because if you ever come near me or any of my family again the first thing I will worry about is protectin' them an' next time I won't make any allowances for what happened with yer mum 'cause you don't deserve any. An' the same thing goes if I hear about you gettin' your jollies with a repeat of this on some other poor bugger."

Wood snorted. "You won't be doing anything. By the time I get out of hospital you'll be dead. If the poison doesn't run its course one of these guys will finish my job for me. You-."

Wes's cool tones cut across Wood's rant, just as Spike's hand gripped the cross, over the top of Wood's own, briefly twisting it within the wound until Wood screamed. "Spike will not be dying any time soon, neither will Buffy and none of us are going to feel any need for revenge because you haven't backed us into the corner that you think you have." Spike's eyes flew to the watcher's face, hardly daring to hope until Wes gave him an infinitesimal nod to let him know that this was no bluff. "Even if you had, might I suggest that we would be more inclined to lay the blame at your door rather than Spike's, which would make you the one in danger of retribution. However, your information is erroneous. We have the means to cure Spike's poisoning without endangering the life of anyone else. Now, I suggest that you stop whining and leave in the next ten seconds or I might be tempted to pull that cross out myself."

Buffy shifted from Spike's side for the first time, her hand hovering over the kneeling man's head, clearly frustrated by the fact he had no hair to grab until she decided to make do with an ear. She pulled his head back roughly, forcing him to look into her eyes so closely he could make no mistake about whether she meant what she had to say.

"I'm a slayer, Mr Wood, not a killer. As a rule, I let human justice take its course for human crimes. I make one exception to that rule. If someone threatens those people I consider part of my family I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Spike is part of that family and if you try to hurt him again I will beat you so far into the ground that they won't bother with the gravediggers, they'll just hold a service and cover you over... and no one here would stop me." Buffy put enough of a swing into releasing her grip that the man fell face-forward into the dirt and lay there. "Xander and Brandon will help you to your car."

Wood finally realised that there was nothing he could do that would gain him an ally. No chinks in the group dynamic that he could exploit. He was alone and just when he needed her, his mother had returned to the grave. He called out to her, as Xander and Brandon each took an arm to escort him, not unsympathetically, from the building to where his car was parked alongside the trailer that was his temporary office.

As Xander helped him into the car the younger man had some words of his own to say. "Spike, he used to be everything you think he is and I never will like the guy. I never will forget the things he's done... but my best friend is in love with the creep and he worships the ground she walks on. He looks out for her and he makes her happier than I've seen her in a long, long time and you should know happy isn't a huge part of the whole slayer gig. For that alone, I have to side with Pierce Brosnan, in there. Maybe, some day, after she's gone, he'll go back to how he was before and if he does, I'll look you up and help you hunt him down myself. Doesn't change the fact that until he does, he sure as hell isn't my friend... but he is family, with everything that goes with that.

Are we clear?"

"I'm all the family my mother had."

"Then, maybe like Spike said you should worry less about how she died and more about the life she wanted you to live." Xander closed the car door and rejoined Brandon before the pair watched the silver car make its way down the track, turning in the direction of the hospital when it reached the gates.








Xander and Brandon headed back down to the basement, only to find the others making their way back upstairs.

"We better go, Xander. Wood might not stick to his part of the bargain about that being a DIY disaster," Buffy told him as she walked upstairs, Spike's arm around her shoulder. "...And we better take care of Captain Gullible, here, before he goes up in a ball of flames, not to mention checking on Tara and Giles."

Xander shook his head. "You guys go ahead. If the police show, I spotted the gate was open and I was checking for intruders. In the meantime, I have the urge to reappropriate some of the concrete we were going to be using tomorrow for the foundations of the science building to make sure that if that thing ever sees the light of day again, then it's a long time coming."

Wes reassessed his former opinion of the construction worker. "Do you need any help with that?"

"Nah, it'd be harder to explain away if anyone else is here. Non-union workers are a big no-no. I've got it covered."

Dawn's eyes met those of her former infatuation. "You're still a jerk," she told him, "and I don't forgive you, yet... but this helps."
 
 
Chapter #54 - Chapter 4.17
 




Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.

SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE

I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in

I believe
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?


(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.





Chapter 4.17
Sunday, May 19th, 2002


“So what's this miracle cure that you've found, love?” Spike asked as he and Buffy slid into the back seat of the DeSoto, leaving the front for Dawn and Brandon.

“Same thing that cured Angel. My blood.”

“And mine,” Dawn interrupted from the front seat.

Spike almost snarled, “Stay out of this, Niblet. And you ... I seem to recall we already had this discussion once this morning.”

“And you said you wouldn't take a chance on hurting me. I remember... And I told you that I would do whatever had to be done to get you well.”

“Well, you can fuck right off.” Spike reached for the door handle despite the fact the vehicle was now in motion.

“...Even if it meant finding a safe way to do this.” Buffy reached across Spike's body and pulled the door shut again before he got it open more than the first few inches. His eyes swivelled to meet her gaze. “Or rather Bee found a safe way to do it. There's a doctor waiting at Wes's place with a cooler full of AB pos and saline so that he can keep topping us up as we go, so the whole blood loss thing is covered and I won't let Dawn give more than a couple of pints anyway and you don't need to feed directly from us. We don't even need to be in the same house if you don't want, though I can't say I'm all that keen on letting you out of my sight.”

Spike's voice was hoarse with emotion. “Me neither, love.” Under the guise of a kiss he whispered in her ear. “Was so afraid I was goin' to have to leave you. Didn't want to break my promise but I just couldn't risk hurtin' either of you.”

“Don't ya know us hero types always come up with the goods in the nick of time? That's what we do,” Buffy whispered back before letting her teeth barely graze his earlobe in a gentle nip. She drew back, looking at the bruises all over Spike's face and body. “Does it hurt when I kiss you?”

Spike reached out a hand to cradle her face as he drew her back in toward him. “Not half as much as it hurts when you don't.”








Buffy looked up from her haven in Spike's arms as Brandon pulled into the drive at the side of the house and slammed the brakes on rather more quickly than she was expecting.

“What the-?” Spike spat out, as the classic car nearly hit the black convertible that was occupying the space behind the pick-up truck that was in the DeSoto's normal spot. The vamp's eyes narrowed and Buffy could feel the rage that sprang instantly to life in his veins as he recognised his grandsire's car.

“Why do I even bother trying to talk to you? You don't listen to a bloody thing I say, do you?”

Buffy tried to convey a sense of calm to the touchy vamp. “Will, I never asked him to come. Whatever reason he's here, it's not what you're thinking. You made it clear how you felt on that score and there's no way I would risk what we have. I don't know why he's come, but even if Bee hadn't found us a demon doc, I wouldn't do what I said about getting him to bite me. Not after you made it clear what it meant to you. Okay?”

In the face of Buffy's honesty Spike's anger died as quickly as it had flared. “'Kay. Sorry, love. He just-.”

“He pushes your buttons. I know. Dawn, you want to see what he wants while I get Spike over to the doc and make a start on the whole blood donor thing?”

“No-o-o, but I-. Skank alert.” Dawn switched topic mid-sentence as Faith walked out onto the back porch and lit a cigarette.

“Old friend, pet?”

“Only in a wishing her dead kind of way...” Buffy told him.

Spike sniffed the air. “Seems like you and the 'Fabulous Watcher Boys' weren't the only ones as worked out what was up. Didn't figure his High and Mighty-ness for a meals on wheels volunteer though.”

“You have got to be joking. He thought I was going to let you put your teeth in that ho?”

Spike's mouth curled into a swollen-lipped smirk at Buffy's possessiveness as she pulled him from the car rather more forcefully than she probably intended.

“Come on, Spike. The doctor's waiting.”








“You understand that?” Buffy asked after Spike relayed the doctor's instructions for Buffy to lie down on one of Wes's new sofas, the other still being taken up by Tara's unconscious form. The slayer settled herself and Spike kneeled on the floor in front of the couch so that he could hold her left hand while her right arm was being connected up to an empty blood bag. The doctor pressed a plastic grip into her hand and curled and uncurled his fist until she caught on.

“Understand, sure. Speak it, different matter.”

“At least someone knows what the blazes he's saying,” Giles muttered from his perch on the arm of Tara's sofa as he adjusted the ice-pack that he had pressed to his forehead. “I had no idea what the dickens he was wittering on about when I came to. Nearly jumped a mile when I saw that face bending over me.”

“Watcher, just because you don't understand him doesn't mean that he doesn't understand you an' since he's the one as is goin' to be lookin' after the ladies maybe you could be a bit more polite.”

“Quite.” Giles looked over at the demon. “Sorry, old chap. No offence intended, I'm sure.”

The doctor replied with an extremely lengthy stream of clicks and tuts that made the smile that already adorned Spike's face grow even larger and even drew a throaty chuckle. Giles looked across to the vampire for a translation.

“He says none taken neither... So, pet, how come the Dark Slayer's got your panties in a bunch?”

“She... she terrorised mom and held her hostage.”

“Did she now?” Spike's voice took on a menacing tone at the very idea of anyone laying a finger on Joyce.

“Uh-huh.” The slayer nodded her head emphatically.

Giles took off his glasses and rolled his eyes. “And the fact that she borrowed your body and used it to sleep with Riley in no way has anything to do with your antipathy for her, does it ?”

“Well, maybe...” Buffy conceded.

“An' what?” asked Spike. “You think if she tried it with me I wouldn't notice the difference? Come on, love. Have a bit of faith.”

“It's you having a bit of Faith that I'm worried about. You thought that thing was me.”

“Only 'cause I was bloody delirious, love.”

“She always goes after what's mine. She seems to think that because we're both slayers that we should be the same. That it's somehow my fault that she had a screwed up home life and is incapable of having a meaningful relationship, so she'll take mine instead.”

“Cardboard was a meaningful relationship? P-lease. If she wanted him she must've been hard up.”

“And Angel and Xander and Giles-.”

“I beg your pardon?” the watcher interrupted.

“Okay, okay, so she didn't actually sleep with you... but she tried to convince you that I was the murderer and get you to side with her.”

Spike simply leaned over toward her, his fingers gently turning the ring that decorated the hand he held as he lifted it so that her fingertips brushed the scar at the junction of his shoulder and his neck.

“Yours, beautiful,” he whispered. “Absolutely, totally, irrevocably and eternally yours. Never doubt it.”

“How sweet! Bit of a change from the last time I came through town.” Faith's voice carried from the doorway. “Gee, B, you know all the best vamps.”

“Faith, quit with the wise-cracks and get in there,” Angel snapped from just behind the slayer's shoulder. “And can someone invite me in before I fry?”

“Actually, gramps, for the moment that would be a no, seein' as the man of the house is elsewhere. Come to that, I'm not too sure he'd invite you in even if he was here... and if you put that blanket down for a second you'd realise you're in the shade. The house faces north, you big drama queen.”

The elder vampire turned to Dawn, who pushed past both him and Faith to get into the house. “Oopsie. Did I forget to mention that the neighbour that was helping out is Wes. Bad me.”

“Dawn,” Buffy's voice held more than a hint of reproval. “Try to remember that you haven't said thanks to Angel or any of his friends for the assist getting you back from Sam and be nice.”

Faith turned to Angel. “Wesley? You didn't mention anything about seeing him. It's- I-.”

“You can do it, Faith. Don't worry. Wes is in no position to take the moral high ground,” he told her, his voice at once offering reassurance and yet sounding grim.

A sliding-pitched whistle interrupted the debate and Spike returned his attention to Buffy. He reached over and took the grip from her hand. “Relax for a minute, pet. Time to swap bags, love.”

“Look,” Angel suggested. “Why don't you let Faith take over?”

“I can do it, Angel. We already had the situation under control,” Buffy argued.

“Shh, pet. Gettin' all wound up won't help with the blood pressure.” The doctor hesitated over switching in a new, empty bag until Spike gave him the nod. “Giles, why don't you take the doc and Bitty upstairs and get her set up in the spare room? ...And make sure she gets a pint put back for every one she takes out. Can't take any chances after the blood she lost when that bitch had a hold of her. Angel, there's bugger all you can do here until you get an invite, so why don't you check to see if any of the rest of that bunch you brought with you are the same type as our jailbird here? ...if we decide to take things that way, which is something me and Buffy need to discuss before this goes any further.” The vampire turned his attention to Faith. “An' I'm led to believe that hot, sweet tea and biccies are the order of the day for these situations. Kitchen's that way.”

Faith opened her mouth as if to protest but Spike wasn't about to let her.

“...Assumin' you're here on some mission of restitution or redemption or to say thanks for the heads up or whatever.”

Everyone, finally and in some instances reluctantly, went about their appointed tasks and Spike smiled over at Buffy, still holding her hand in his. “You don't want her to be any part of this, do you?” he asked, pitching his voice so that it wouldn't carry through to the kitchen.

“No, for some reason I have this whole misguided thing about you getting off on drinking her blood. Duh?” Buffy answered sarcastically. “Or did you think I'd forgotten the effect slayer blood has on you?”

“Buffy, with her, that's just a fact of life. Her blood means no more to me than Harris's little, blue pills mean to him. It's you and how I feel about you that makes sharing blood between us special and you know that when I get like that there's only one woman that I'm thinkin' about...

Now, I say let her match you pint for pint 'cause the more of your own blood you have left at the end of this the more stamina you're going to have left for when me and not so little Spike finally get you alone...” The vampire's eyes twinkled with glee at the prospect. “...But the decision is yours. If you don't want her involved, then I understand.”








“Guess we should get our canine heroine back to her master then so she can see he's okay for herself... Well, hopefully okay?” Bee suggested to Wes.

The watcher gratefully rose from his spot in plastic sea