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The Road to Hell... by All4Spike
Chapter 1
Chapter 1
Spike clenched his jaw and gripped the steering wheel so tightly that it creaked in protest. Pressing relentlessly upon the accelerator, he scowled at the moonlit road ahead and ground out, “I will not turn back again. I. Will. Not. Bloody. Turn. Back. Again!”
At the last second, he swerved the DeSoto and felt the solid old vehicle shudder slightly as he smashed through the sign. He expertly steered back onto the road and let out a triumphant whoop of delight. He had finally done it! He was back in Sunnydale at last!
He took one hand from the wheel and with his thumb, traced the symbols engraved on the smooth surface of the talisman in his pocket. The mage in New York who had prepared it for him had more than earned his fee. As promised, he had been able to withstand the mounting pressure to divert away from the town over the Hellmouth. Then as soon as Spike had passed into the city limits, the compulsion to stay away from Sunnydale had faded to a faint unease, allowing him to relax his constant effort to resist the effects of the spell.
Now, if he could just find the slayer…
Spike drove slowly through the quiet town. As he had expected, the streets were practically deserted. It wasn’t yet midnight though, so he knew that the slayer would most likely still be patrolling.
As he passed the Sun Cinema, he noticed the first few patrons emerging from the late evening screening so he parked and waited for the slayer to show up. If his patchy memory could be relied upon, she would be close by, checking that none of the clueless residents of her town would end up being vamp snacks before they could reach the comparative safety of their cars.
When the small crowd had dispersed with no sign of the slayer, Spike sucked on his teeth and tapped the steering wheel thoughtfully. For her to miss this stop on her patrol, something must be going down in another part of town.
With a resigned shrug, he got out of the car and ambled along, quartering the town centre and then checking the closest cemeteries. Occasionally he lifted his face and flared his nostrils to scent the air, seeking any fresh trace of slayer musk.
Finally, he turned towards the warehouse district. It wasn’t long before he heard the sounds of a scuffle in the distance. Reasoning that a fight at this time of night would very likely involve the slayer, he trotted towards the source of the noise.
Turning into a dark, smelly alley, he came upon two women engaged in a vicious hand-to-hand battle. His heart unaccountably lurched in his chest as he caught sight of the tiny blonde slayer. Grinning, he paused to watch her in action.
He frowned in confusion when it quickly became apparent that despite its slender human form, not much taller than the slayer herself, the demon she was fighting was far stronger than the slayer who, despite her best efforts, was coming off second best by a wide margin.
Spike instinctively started forward to intervene, but before he had taken more than two steps, the demon caught the slayer in the chest with a massive punch. The small, leather-clad figure flew back to slam against a brick wall and crumpled to the ground to lie quite still.
Spike was slightly surprised that rather than taking the opportunity to finish the slayer off, the demon ran its fingers through its tousled hair and straightened its figure-hugging dress before stalking off down the alley away from Spike, muttering incoherently about needing a brain.
He cautiously approached the slayer, reassuring himself that her heart still beat strongly and she was merely knocked unconscious. He found himself brushing a wisp of hair away from the cut on her forehead. It had already stopped bleeding. He ghosted his fingers over the yellowing bruise on her cheekbone. That wasn’t fresh; given the rate of a slayer’s healing, it had to be a day or two old at least. Had that come from this demon as well?
He turned to assess the retreating form of the demon in time to see it pause in its stride and suffer some form of seizure. His eyebrows shot up when, accompanied by the harsh sound of tearing fabric, the blonde with the unfortunate perm abruptly morphed into the form of a well-built young man at least six inches taller.
Spike blinked. It was a shape-shifter! He impulsively decided to dispose of the demon who had been giving the slayer so much trouble. He was going to need her full attention and she wouldn’t be much help if she was distracted by a super-strong shape-shifting demon on the loose.
He gently moved the unresponsive form of the slayer into a patch of deep shadow beside a nearby dumpster where she should be safely hidden from any casual passing demon, and then ran after the shape-shifter.
In its male form, it was very conspicuous in its torn dress and flimsy high heeled shoes which caused it to totter and stumble until it huffed in frustration and kicked them off. Understandably therefore, it was keeping to dimly lit streets and alleyways, which suited Spike just fine.
Spike silently caught up with it and tapped it on the shoulder. When it turned to face him with a startled yelp, he smirked and said brightly, “Sorry, mate. Nothing personal, but I can’t have you going around beating up my slayer. I’m gonna be needing her alive and well.”
The demon opened its mouth to respond, but before it had a chance to speak, Spike gripped its head in both hands and twisted, wrenching it to the side. The satisfying crunch of bone and gristle informed him that its neck was well and truly broken.
Spike allowed the lifeless form to drop to the ground and regarded it in puzzlement. He could have sworn that it had had a human heartbeat. It had smelt human too. Giving a little shrug, he dismissed the thought. It had clearly been a very gifted shape-shifter.
He left the body where it had fallen and retraced his steps to where he had left the slayer, only to find the space beside the dumpster empty. Growling in frustration, he tested the air to catch her scent trail. This was a simple matter now that she had been bleeding and he quickly set off in pursuit.
It didn’t take long for Spike to catch up with her. She was limping along, cradling one arm to her chest. She hesitated for a moment and turned to scan the street behind her, an expression of pained resignation on her face.
Realising that she had sensed his presence, Spike stopped and stood utterly motionless in a patch of shadow.
Her gaze passed over him with no hint of recognition. After a few seconds she turned and resumed her halting pace.
As Spike watched her walk away, he reconsidered the wisdom of his plan to confront her tonight. She was tired and injured and very unlikely to be in the mood to hear him out. He would have to try again tomorrow night.
Once he was certain she had got far enough ahead so that he would no longer register on her slayer senses, he cautiously followed her to ensure that she didn’t fall prey to any other demon while she was vulnerable.
When she turned into a quiet residential street, he paused on the corner to see where she went. He stood under a tree, hesitating to light the cigarette dangling from his lower lip until she had passed safely out of sight into a house. He blew out the first plume of smoke just as a light flicked on in an upstairs window.
With a satisfied little nod, he made a note of the house number and street name and then turned away to find a place to crash for the day. Coming to a cross street, he paused and changed his course. Perhaps it would be a good idea to drop into Willy’s for a drink first, to catch up with all the local gossip…
Sipping his mug of blood, Spike wandered from room to dusty room of the empty mansion. After what he’d learned at Willy’s the night before, he had been mildly surprised to find the building still vacant. It was unusual to find such a prime residence unoccupied. It made a perfect nest, particularly as the water and power that Angelus’ minions had hooked up were still functioning.
He paused in the great room and pushed the French windows open. He smiled sadly when he remembered how much Drusilla had loved the fragrance of jasmine in the small courtyard garden. It was a relief that it was the wrong time of year for the heavily scented flowers to be blooming. His memories of that period were vague at best but were so painful that he wasn’t particularly eager to regain more of the same. It was mostly the completely blank months following Dru’s desertion that he was so desperate to retrieve.
Spike turned to look back into the room and tried to make sense of the rambling snippets of information he had gathered at Willy’s once his cash had bought enough alcohol to loosen a few tongues.
How did a vampire get out of Hell anyway? He shrugged. At least the bastard hadn’t hung around for very long.
He had taken some convincing that Angelus had his soul back and was in L.A. running a detective agency. A vampire P.I. He snorted in derision. Only in California…
He frowned at the idea of a secret government agency attempting to build an army of controllable demons. He shuddered at the thought of being captured by crackpot scientists and being subjected to their sadistic experiments, glad that the slayer had put paid to that little venture before he had made it back to town.
It appeared that while he had been attempting to fill the holes in his memory and struggling to make his way back to Sunnydale to confront the slayer, who he was convinced was behind the enchantments he was under, he had missed some interesting times.
Finding his mug empty, Spike made his way back to the kitchen, dumped it in the grimy sink and grabbed his duster.
Time to go find the slayer and get some answers.
Checking that he still had the amulet and the card bearing its activation spell safely tucked away in his pocket, he set off on foot through the cool February evening towards Revello Drive.
Perhaps he’d get there early enough to catch the slayer as she set off on patrol so that he wouldn’t need to waste time scouring the whole town for her.
Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Buffy closed the front door behind her, jumped lightly down the porch steps and walked briskly away from the house.
Once she was certain she was out of sight, she let out a long weary breath and slowed her pace. Her shoulders slumped and she allowed a slight limp to show in her stride. She had been unable to hide the cut on her forehead, but she thought she’d succeeded in concealing the rest of her most recent injuries from her mother. It would take a day or two yet for the big bump on the back of her head to go down and the cracked ribs and bruised hip and shoulder to heal completely. Being flung into a brick wall by a Hell God hurt!
She paused under a street light to roll some of the tension out of her neck and shoulders and take a deep breath of cool fresh air. It was so good to get out into the night again, away from the demands her family and friends made upon her.
Then she immediately felt guilty for needing this time alone, out in the darkness where all she had to deal with was the comfortable routine of slaying.
She knew they meant no harm, but nevertheless they all unintentionally increased the pressure she was under. Her mother couldn’t help being anxious and over-protective and Dawn was still acting out, struggling to come to terms with the discovery that she was a mystical key thingy that Glory wanted to stick in some kind of lock.
She loved them dearly, but Xander and Willow never seemed to understand that not every problem could be solved by a silly joke, a box of doughnuts or a night out at the Bronze, and as for Riley… She was sure that he didn’t mean to be such a clingy dead weight, but recently she’d had neither the time nor the energy to devote to their relationship and pander to his need to be needed. When she did cave and allow him to come with her on patrol, she had to spend half her energy watching to make sure he didn’t get hurt. He distracted her from her slaying, and that put them both in danger.
Above all…
Buffy was jerked out of her thoughts by the quiet voice. She spun around, instinctively slipping the stake from her sleeve and taking up a defensive posture.
Oh, great. Another vampire stuck in the eighties. Although this one was hot. Dismissing the passing thought, she responded calmly, “Vampire,” and waited for him to attack.
She was taken aback when he took a pace backwards and held his hands up, open palms outward in surrender.
“Not gonna fight you, slayer,” he said quickly. “Just wanna know what you did to me, and how I can reverse it.”
Well, that was… new. “Huh? Did to you? I haven’t done anything to you.” She screwed up her nose in confusion. “What is it you think I did to you?”
“The spells, slayer.” Now he was looking just as confused as she was. “You didn’t…? I don’t understand… Don’t you recognise me?”
“Never saw you before in my life.”
Buffy relaxed and folded her arms, watching in bemusement as the vampire lit a cigarette and began pacing back and forth in front of her, puffing away and waving his arms in the air.
“Bloody hell! It had to have been here… The spell made me forget you, so I was sure it had to be you! I can’t feed; I’m killing my own kind… Who the hell else would…?” He abruptly stopped pacing and turned to face her again, pointing at her with the cigarette. “It’s not just me is it?”
“What’s not just you?” This was getting weirder by the second.
“The forgetting spell. It made me forget a bunch of stuff about what happened to me in Sunnydale—and you—and everything for months afterwards. And there’s a spell trying to keep me away from Sunnydale…”
“Someone put a spell on you and you thought it was me?” Buffy asked. “I don’t do magic. I’m the slayer, not a witch. Anyway, even if I did meet you before, which I so didn’t, I wouldn’t have put a spell on you. I’d have staked your vampire ass! Slayer here! That’s what I do!”
“Right then. Wasn’t you. Got that bit wrong. This changes things.” The vampire scrubbed his face with his hand and taking one final draw from his cigarette, tossed it away. He took two purposeful strides towards her and Buffy immediately brought the stake back up to ward him off.
He stopped and again raised his hands. “Sorry, pet. Still don’t want to fight you.”
“Why not?” Buffy asked, by now totally intrigued. “This is ridiculous…”
“Looks as if you’re under the same spell as me, slayer. Except for the stay away from Sunnydale part, obviously.” He took something from his pocket, turning it over and over in his hand. He tilted his head to one side and asked thoughtfully, “Anything that you feel you should know, but you just can’t seem to remember, slayer? Any bloody irritating holes in your memory?”
Buffy gaped at him. How could he possibly know…?
“Aha!” He said triumphantly, cocking a finger gun and pointing it at her. “Now then. I might be able to help with that. I call truce, slayer.”
“Yeah, truce. No trying to kill each other ‘til we’ve sussed this thing out. What do you say?”
She hesitated, chewing on the inside of her cheek. What if he could truly help? Of course if it turned out to be a trick, she could always stake him later. She gave a little shrug. “Okay, truce. What did you have in mind?”
The vampire held up what looked like a large silver coin that glinted in the lamplight. “Got me a talisman to help me work past some of the soddin’ magic. Doesn’t totally cancel it, just kinda weakens it enough to let me know it’s there and helps me fight it. Seems only the original spell-caster can reverse it completely. If you’d take it…”
Buffy cautiously held out her hand, and he dropped the heavy, engraved disc into her palm. She looked down at it, expecting to be swamped by lost memories. Absolutely nothing happened. She glanced up to see him holding up what looked like a large business card.
“Hold it tight in both hands and read out what it says on the card, slayer.”
Buffy scanned the words on the card. They looked pretty harmless. In fact, she couldn’t see how they could be anything but beneficial. She looked back up at him, catching his piercing blue eyes. He quirked one eyebrow, the one with a scar through it, challenging her to take a leap of faith.
“Okay…” She tucked her stake away and clasped her hands together, pressing the amulet between her palms. She took a deep breath and read:
“Guiding spirits light the trails
Clearing mist, the truth unveils

Help me fight this obfuscation
Work against malign compulsion
By your grace, the conjure fails.
So mote it be.”

The amulet suddenly warmed in her hands, although not uncomfortably so. The half-expected flood of memories failed to appear. Instead, Buffy was assailed by a series of flashes, like brief out-takes from a movie in which she had the lead role.
A confrontation with the bleached blonde vampire in a school corridor:
“Do we really need weapons for this?”
“I just like them. They make me feel all manly.”
In a filthy warehouse, wearing a period gown:
“Hi Honey, I’m home.”
On a gantry overlooking a room packed with vampires and teenagers, restraining a female vampire and pressing a stake to her chest:
”Let everyone out or Dru fits in an ashtray.”
In a church amid a confused battle, a clever gymnastic move and she faces him:
“I'd rather be fighting you anyway.”
In the street beside a police car, he smirks and says:
“I wanna save the world.”
They’re outside her house and her mother is there:
“I'm, uh... in a band. A… a rock band with Spike here.”
“Right. She plays the, the triangle.”
“Drums, yeah. She's, uh, hell on the old skins, you know.”
“Hmm. And, uh, what do you do?”
“Well, I sing.”

Inside her house:
“Be ready to back me up when I make my move. If Giles dies... she dies.”
Buffy waited for endless seconds, eyes squinched shut, hoping against hope that she’d be able to remember….. but no. That was all there was. It was enough though. Enough to convince her that he was right. That somebody had deliberately screwed with her memory.
She became aware that he was gripping her by the upper arms, effectively holding her up. She opened her eyes to see him regarding her with concern. She straightened her back and gave him a little nod of thanks.
He stepped back, releasing her arms, and she felt unaccountably bereft.
“Yeah. Remember me now then?”
“Yeah.” Buffy chewed her bottom lip. “You tried to kill me.”
“Well, to be fair, love, you tried to kill me too.”
“And then you helped me to save the world.”
He glanced around anxiously. “Not so loud, slayer. Got my reputation to think of.”
He held out his hand, and after looking at it blankly for a moment, she realised what he wanted and handed back the talisman.
“So what now, slayer?”
That was a very good question. Exactly what was the standard procedure when you discovered that someone had put a spell on you and stolen a bunch of your memories?
She grabbed him by the sleeve of his leather duster and started dragging him down the road. “We need to go see Giles.”
“Oy! Watch the leather, slayer!” He batted at her hand until she realised he was willingly keeping step with her and released him. “Who’s Giles?”
“My watcher. You don’t remember him?”
“Don’t remember much from that year…” He admitted reluctantly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Might recognise him if he was in any of the memories the amulet gave me, but they mainly focused on you.”
Buffy glanced sharply up at him. There was no way she was telling him that without exception, all the memories the amulet had given her had featured him.

A/N Some snippets of dialogue borrowed from the following episodes:
‘School hard’ – written by David Greenwalt
‘Halloween’ – written by Carl Ellsworth
‘Lie to me’ - written by Joss Whedon
‘What’s my line? Pt2’ – written by Marti Noxon
‘Becoming Pt2’ - written by Joss Whedon
Chapter 3
Chapter 3
They walked in an awkward silence until they neared the apartment complex where Giles lived, at which point Buffy mused aloud, “I wonder if Giles will remember you…?”
“Guess we’re about to find out…” Spike muttered in wry amusement as Buffy flung the door open without knocking and burst into her watcher’s apartment.
“Giles? We’ve got a big problem!”
Giles gave a startled squeak, put down his cup and hurriedly pulled out a handkerchief to blot the spilt tea off the book he’d been reading. He then looked up at Buffy and asked sceptically, “Bigger than a Hellgod intent upon creating hell on earth?”
“Yes! Giles! Someone put a spell on me to steal my memories!”
While Giles regarded her in silent amazement, a throat was cleared pointedly behind her.
“Oh, and him too,” she added offhandedly, waving vaguely over her shoulder to where Spike was hovering just outside the mystical barrier preventing him from entering the watcher’s home. “He’s the one who figured it out.”
Giles stood and asked sympathetically, “Do you think that might include…?”
“Oh, god, I hope so.” Buffy said with feeling, then turned towards the door and pointed at Spike. “Do you recognise him, Giles?”
Giles peered at Spike and slowly shook his head. “No… no I don’t believe I do. Do you have reason to think that I should?” He beckoned to Spike and added kindly, “Come in young man. Close the door. You’re letting all the warmth out.”
Spike smirked, stepped into the apartment and turned, with his duster flaring out behind him, to close the door. He began wandering around the room, idly touching things, flipping through the LP’s in the rack and reading the titles of the books on the table.
When she realised that she had basically caused her watcher unknowingly to invite a vampire into his home, Buffy tittered nervously. Then she realised what Giles’ lack of recognition meant and her face fell. “Yeah. I think you kinda should. I guess that means you’re affected too.”
“Really? Oh, dear Lord. That’s not good. Well, never mind. It should be easy enough to deal with,” Giles said confidently. “What we need is a general reversal spell.” He headed for the bookshelves.
“Won’t work,” Spike said glumly. “First thing I tried.” He looked up from the book he was flicking through. “When everything else failed, I went to see a demon mage I know in New York. He tried all the counterpells he could think of. Nothing worked. Eventually told me that it’s the kind of spell that you can only have reversed by finding the original spell-caster.”
“You’re English?”
“Yeah. What’s it to you?”
Giles waved away Spike’s suspicion. “Oh, nothing.” He cleared his throat. “So what led you here then…?” He hesitated and looked at Buffy, waiting for her to provide a name.
“Spike. His name is Spike.” Buffy turned to the vampire and snatched the book from him, tossing it carelessly onto the table. “Stop interfering with Giles’ stuff and show him the coin thingy.”
Rolling his eyes, Spike took the talisman from his pocket and handed it to Giles, who grabbed a magnifying glass and peered closely at it.
“Had vague memories of being in Sunnydale a couple of years ago, then everything is blank for months. When it clears up again, I’m baggin’ it and killing my own kind. No soddin’ clue why, but I still am. It’s all very wrong, but it feels right, which in itself is utterly wrong. The mage made that thingamabob for me. It helped me remember a few things, including the slayer here, so I figured it was her fault. Had to fight a compulsion to stay away from Sunnyhell, but finally got here last night. Turns out she’s under the same spell—and now you too.”
“Fascinating, utterly fascinating,” Giles murmured absently, turning the talisman over to examine the reverse. “I must say this is some of the most elegantly skilled workmanship I have ever seen. I would be curious to know the craftsman.” He looked up at Spike. “And this artefact somehow helped you regain some memories?”
Impatient for Giles to get past the boring research and into the spell-breaking part of the evening, Buffy thrust her hand into Spike’s duster pocket and withdrew the card, holding it up for Giles to read. “You have to hold the coin thingy between your hands and read this out loud, Giles. You should get some flashes… kinda like movie trailers of what’s missing.”
“Ingenious…” Giles murmured as he silently read the spell. Then after clearing his throat, he recited it out loud.
Buffy anxiously chewed her bottom lip and shifted from foot to foot while Giles stood motionless, his eyes tight shut. His face paled, then he opened his eyes and immediately reached for the crossbow that was propped up against a chair. He levelled it at Spike, saying ominously quietly, “You stupid girl. Have you learned nothing? You brought a vampire into my home? Have youtotally taken leave of your senses?”
“Oy! Don’t talk to the slayer like that, you git!”
Buffy glanced at Spike in astonishment. He looked just as surprised as she was at his outburst.
After a second she recovered and protested, “Truce, Giles! We’ve got a truce!”
Giles’ tone was scathing. “And you honestly expect a soulless creature such as this to be honourable enough to respect a truce?” He gestured with the crossbow. “Do you know what this vampire did? He persuaded his consort to hypnotise me into thinking she was Jenny so that I would tell Angelus how to awaken Acathla and send us all to Hell.”
“Did I? Don’t remember that. Neat. Would you rather Angelus had tortured it out of you?” Spike drawled, “’Cos I’d wager he’d have enjoyed that a lot more than you. Seems to me, I prolly saved your ungrateful arse.”
Buffy raised her chin defiantly and declared, “Yes, Giles. I do expect Spike to stand by the truce. Like he did last time, when he saved your life and helped me stop Angelus.”
“Didn’t need to come here,” Spike pointed out sulkily. “Soon as I found out the slayer wasn’t the one who put the spell on me, I could’a left. Found another way. But no, discovered that the girl was in the same boat and decided to help.”
Buffy exchanged a speculative look with Giles when Spike scowled and muttered in a puzzled tone, “Dunno why I did that… ‘t’ain’t natural…”
Giles blinked and the crossbow wavered. “Do I remember you saying you weren’t hunting?”
“Yeah.” The vampire sounded almost embarrassed. “I’ve been baggin’ it for a couple of years now.”
“Do you think…?” Giles allowed the hand holding the crossbow to fall so that the weapon pointed at the floor and tentatively began again. “Is it possible that you have a soul?”
Spike reared back in disgust. “No I bloody haven’t! What would I want with a soddin’ soul?”
“Giles?” Buffy cried, raising her hands and stepping between the two men. “Focus! Can we just accept the fact that for whatever reason, Spike isn’t about to slaughter us both, and get back to the reason we’re here? The magical erasing of vital Buffy memories?”
Giles gave a resigned shrug and laid the crossbow down, taking his glasses off for a thorough polish. “As you say, Buffy. Perhaps that would be best, for now.” He took a seat at the table, surreptitiouslychecking that the crossbow was still within easy reach, and gestured for Buffy and Spike to join him.  

“Hmmm… How to begin? Perhaps if we all pool the new information that the talisman revealed to us and place it in context with what we were allowed to retain, we might be able to deduce what specific experiences the spell-caster wanted us all to forget? There must have been a trigger event. If we can figure out what that was, we’ll have a starting point. My watcher diaries should be able to help us there, assuming they haven’t been tampered with as well. Then, Spike, if you could itemise the reversal spells your mage friend has already tried…?”  

“Can do better than that.” Spike said. He pulled a chair out, reversed it and straddled it, resting his arms on the back. “After he’d eliminated everything else, Lanaro said that as far as he knew, the only thing it could be is what he called a Tabula Rasa spell. Designed to remove specific memories from the named subjects and trap them in a crystal. He said the only guaranteed way to restore our memories entirely is to find the witch or sorcerer responsible and smash the crystal.”


Buffy yawned and rubbed her aching forehead. “Guys?”
“Don’t care what you say. I’m tellin’ you I would want to have the glory of killing a slayer with my own two hands. I’d never get someone else to do it for me! Where’s the honour in that? The bragging rights come from a hand to hand battle, fists and fangs and sod all else, otherwise what’s the bleedin’ point?”
“Look, you’ve read it for yourself. This entry clearly tells us you contracted The Order of Taraka in an attempt to kill Buffy. Three assassins turned up and were summarily dealt with.”
Intent upon their argument, the two men hadn’t heard Buffy. She raised her voice. “Hey! Guys! Way off topic here!”
Silence fell at last and one pair of weary green eyes and one pair of stormy blue were turned upon her. “I don’t know about you two, but I’m all recapped out. We’ve agreed that the spell has stolen memories from all of us starting in September of ninety-seven, shortly before Parent Teacher Night. Right?”
Giles nodded. “So it would seem. And it’s becoming evident that the focus was for us to forget Spike’s existence and for him to forget ours. However the end point appears to differ for each of us. According to my diary, my memory returns to normal very quickly after the Acathla affair, while you two both continue to be affected all through the following summer.”
“Yeah, that summer is almost completely missing.” Spike agreed. “After Dru ran off…” He paused and then shook his head, murmuring thoughtfully, “Wish I could recall what she said about that.” 

He gave himself a little shake and his voice returned to normal. “Anyway, after she buggered off, I mostly come up empty until about October of ninety-eight. That’s a whole year that’s screwed.”
“Me too,” Buffy grimaced. “I dimly remember waitressing in L.A., as you know, Giles, but I’m all blurry with blanks until just after I came back home.”
Giles let out a quiet groan as he straightened his back, and took his glasses off to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Very good. I think that’s probably as far as we can get tonight… and besides, I need to shower and have something to eat before I leave for the shop. I’ll see if the books there contain any mention of this Tabula Rasa spell.”
“Luckily I have no classes today, but I do need to spend some time at home before work…” Buffy added.
Spike gestured towards the brightly lit window and put in cheerfully, “Sun’s up, so I’m stuck here for the day.”
Giles glared at Spike. “Do you honestly expect me to leave you at large in my home in my absence?”
Spike smirked. “Think I might do evil things to your vinyl collection? ‘Course I am evil, so I’d probably play them all at full volume to annoy the neighbours and get you evicted. I could scratch any records that I don’t like. I might even go rifling through your porn collection… and make you an apple pie bed, and… and… put salt in the sugar bowl and sugar in the salt cellar.”
Giles refused to be amused. “The fact remains that I do not trust you here alone.” He turned to Buffy. “You’ll have to stay here with him, Buffy. Keep an eye on him.”
Chapter 4
Chapter 4
“Oy! I don’t need a bleedin’ sitter!”
Buffy’s protest was just as loud as Spike’s. “Giles! I really need to get home! And what about my shift at the store? I need the money…” She glanced meaningfully at Spike. There was no way she was going to let him in on that particular aspect of her life. It would be giving him far too much power over her. “You know why!”
“Be that as it may, Buffy, I really must insist. Don’t worry about the money; I’ll pay you for a regular shift. You’ll have to ring your mother before she needs to leave for the gallery and make alternative arrangements for...” He broke off at Buffy’s frantic warning glare. “Uh… Perhaps Tara or Willow could…?”
Buffy heaved a resigned sigh. “Okay. I guess…” She headed for the phone while Giles started gathering all their notes together.
“You may sleep on the couch, Spike. If Buffy tells me you have been the perfect house-guest, I might pick up some blood from the butcher’s for you. I assume that pig blood will be acceptable?”
“As it happens, I prefer cow, watcher. And make sure it’s fresh!”
Giles snorted. “You’ll get what I bring, and be suitably thankful.”
Buffy hung up after giving her mother an appropriately abridged version of the night’s events. She had explained that a possibility had arisen that a way might soon be found to restore her Swiss cheese memory. She had, however, managed to avoid mentioning Spike by name, or the fact that the individual assisting them was in fact a vampire. She may just have allowed her mom to gather the impression that the ‘out of town visitor’ was one of Giles’ friends from England.
“So… full Scooby meeting at my house tonight then?” She suggested to Giles’ back as he prepared the two of them scrambled eggs and toast and a pot of tea. “Willow and Tara may be able to help with the spell stuff.” She glanced over her shoulder to where Spike was lolling on the couch, idly flicking from channel to channel on the TV. “Although I dunno how I’m gonna explain the presence of the bleached menace here.”
“I generally find that the truth serves best,” Giles said with a smile, handing her a heaped plate. “It avoids the necessity for potentially upsetting revelations later on.”
“Dunno why you feel the need to explain anything,” Spike contributed. “You’re the slayer. That means you’re the boss. All you gotta do is tell them what’s what. If they don’t like it... sod ’em. You can do without them.”
“But they’re my friends,” Buffy began. “It’s important for me to make them understand…”
“Why? Can’t say I’ve had much experience of having friends, but I was under the impression that good friends were supposed to stand by you without question through thick and thin and the occasional vampire ally?”
Giles chuckled and nearly choked on mouthful of toast. He sipped from his cup of tea to clear his throat. “He has a point, Buffy. They supported you all through…”
“Yeah… I know,” Buffy sighed, absently pushing her largely uneaten egg around her plate. She was still hungry, but just couldn’t face eating it. “Well, except for the without question part. I clearly remember there being a great many questions.”
“Which with any luck, you should soon be in a position to answer to your own satisfaction, if not theirs.” Giles cleared away the plates and on his way to the kitchen, added, “Now I must just take a quick shower and be off to the shop. I trust you’ll escort Spike to your house after sunset, Buffy? I’ll look out the disinvitation spell and use it here this evening, then I’ll have it ready to use at your house after the meeting.”

Giles juggled with the package of butcher’s blood, the bag of Doublemeat take-out for Buffy and an armful of books in an attempt to get his key into the lock of his front door. He had become concerned when Buffy had failed to answer the telephone, so he had decided to pop home during his lunch break. Now that his knock at the door had gone unheeded, he was beginning to panic.
He swore when his keys slipped through his fingers to fall to the ground. Why on earth had he insisted that she should lock the door after him? He took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself, muttered, “More haste, less speed, Giles old man,” settled his load more comfortably, retrieved the keys and finally managed to open the door.
He didn’t know what he’d expected to find. The bruised and broken body of his slayer and/or a pile of dust had featured highly in his imaginings. He had tried to prepare himself for demolished furniture and a lot of spilt blood.
What he was not prepared for was the tranquil domestic scene that met his eyes.
The television was playing quietly in the corner, heedless of the fact that its audience had lost interest in its programming.
His slayer and the vampire were lying spooned together on the couch, Buffy’s back to Spike’s front. Buffy’s head was pillowed on Spike’s arm and Spike’s face was buried in Buffy’s hair. Spike’s free arm was draped over Buffy’s waist, holding her close. Her hand lay over his upon her stomach, their fingers intertwined.
“Buffy?” he asked in quiet bemusement, dropping his forgotten encumbrances onto the table.
There came no response.
With an anxious gasp, Giles dashed forward and gently brushed Buffy’s hair away from her neck to press trembling fingers against her pulse point. “Oh, thank the Lord,” he murmured in relief when Buffy’s warmth and vitality were proved beyond doubt.
Ruthlessly pushing aside his impression that the sleeping pair looked very cosy together, he placed his hand on Buffy’s shoulder and gave her a little shake. “Buffy?”
He stepped back expectantly when Buffy stirred, but instead of becoming instantly alert as he’d hoped, she merely wrinkled her nose, smacked her lips and snuggled further into Spike’s embrace, moving so that the clasped hands were cradled between her breasts. “Five more minutes, honey…” she mumbled sleepily.
Giles forced down the sudden urge to giggle hysterically and watching Spike warily for any sign of wakefulness, shook Buffy’s shoulder more firmly. “Buffy!”
This time the tactic was more effective.
Buffy opened her eyes and blinked. She glanced down curiously to find herself holding somebody else’s hand close to her chest and lifted it away from her body to get a better look at it. At the sight of the chipped black nail polish adorning the elegant, long-fingered masculine hand, her eyes widened comically. Then with a manoeuvre that would be impossible for anyone other than a slayer, or possibly an Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast, she spun and flipped and was instantly standing on the far side of the room.
“This isn’t what it looks like!” she cried pleadingly, frantically finger-combing her dishevelled hair and smoothing down her clothes.
“Really?” Giles tried to keep a straight face as he teased his slayer. “So you weren’t both exhausted after a long night of research and dozed off all snuggled up in front of the television?”
“No! That is, yes! Only without the snuggling part. I so didn’t snuggle.” Buffy examined her hand, apparently to check that it was still intact, then looked across to where Spike had stirred at the disturbance. He wrapped his newly empty arm around the cushion she’d been lying on, pulled it to his face, nuzzled into it and with a sigh, subsided back into deep sleep. She pouted and crinkled up her nose, looking up at Giles through her eyelashes. “There was snuggling?”
“I must honestly say you looked very easy together. Very relaxed.”
“I didn’t have the dream about searching for something in the fog… first time since… like… forever,” Buffy mused.
“Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“I guess.” She went on to whisper in incredulous disbelief, “He insisted we watched that stupid show, Passions! My mother watches Passions!” She turned to regard Spike thoughtfully. “He’s not exactly what you’d call your average vampire, is he?”
Giles took his spectacles off for a polish and impulsively resolved to be open-minded. This one vampire was single-handedly challenging every Council tenet regarding vampires that he had always accepted as unassailable fact, and he found it intriguing, if somewhat unsettling.
“I’m beginning to recognise that, Buffy. The thought that he is willing to continue to go against his natural inclination to kill and feed, even when he can’t remember why he originally made that decision, is remarkable. And look, he’s assured enough to sleep in the presence of his most fearsome enemy,” Giles gestured at Buffy, “and what’s more, despite having the perfect opportunity, he made no move to take advantage of the situation to drain you in your sleep.”
“So what do you think? I know I said I believed him about the truce, but should we really trust him?”
“Well, Buffy…” Giles tapped the arm of his spectacles against his teeth and then put them back on, nodding decisively. “I think that going by his behaviour in the past few hours, he has earned the benefit of the doubt until and unless he proves otherwise. At least until our memories are fully restored. Then we’ll have to reconsider.”
“Fair enough.” Buffy sniffed the air and gestured hopefully towards the packages Giles had abandoned upon his arrival. “Do I smell fries?”

Spike rolled his eyes and made a frustrated noise. “Is that rule twelve or rule thirteen, slayer? You’ve started repeating yourself, so I’ve lost count.”
Buffy stopped in her tracks and turned to face Spike, who was trailing a couple of paces behind her. She prodded him in the chest with one strong forefinger. Hard. “This is not a joke! It’s going to be hard enough getting them to accept that you’re trying to help and resist the urge to stake you, without you behaving like a pig and getting their backs up!”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it.” Spike started counting off points on his fingers as they resumed the walk to Revello Drive, side by side. “No eating the slayerettes; no eating your mum or your little sis; no rising to the provocative comments made by somebody called Xander—and what sort of poncy name is that for an all-American lad, I ask you? No using obscure British swear words in front of your mum or little sis; we don’t want to let on right off that I’m a vamp, so no going into game face and being menacing; no making obscene sexual innuendos in front of your mum or little sis…” He broke off and looked across at her, grinning teasingly. “Not sure you needed the ‘obscene’ there, slayer. If a sexual innuendo is done right, it can’t help but be obscene. And I do them right.”
Buffy threw her hands up in desperation. “See, that’s what I mean! You have a definite tendency towards pigginess! Try to practice the manners your mother taught you—assuming you can remember that far back in the mists of time. Look… my mother had brain surgery a few weeks ago and I need for her not to get upset. At. All. Okay? Just… try to be considerate?”
Spike pouted and hunched his shoulders. “Seems I’m banned from doing or saying anything that could be remotely fun!”
Buffy heaved a resigned sigh. “Okay then, how about… if you behave yourself, you get to come with me on patrol later and help me kill things? That should allow you to let off steam and get rid of all those pent up frustrations and irritations.”
“Sounds like the voice of experience there, slayer,” Spike chuckled. “Accumulate a lot of pent up frustration and irritation to take out on some poor demon, do you?”
Buffy glanced up at him in surprise and tried not to grin back at him. “No! Well… sometimes…”
Spike nodded knowingly. “Okay then, slayer. I’ll try to play nice. I should warn you though, I’m not exactly renowned for my patience and if they try me too far… I am evil, don’t forget.”
“I know. Just try, okay?” Buffy gestured towards the brightly lit house ahead and the cars parked at the kerb. “Here we are. We’re later than I meant to be, thanks to your insistence upon taking a detour. Looks as if everyone’s already here.”
“Well, the watcher said he wanted all the stuff Lanaro gave me about the spells he’d tried. Figured the sooner the better…”
“I know. It’s all good.” Buffy paused on the front porch to number 1630 and took a deep breath, looking up at him apprehensively. “Ready?”

Chapter 5
Chapter 5
When Spike hesitated before entering, Buffy held the front door open for him and quirked an amused eyebrow.
He looked offended, even hurt, when she didn’t issue the required verbal invitation. Then she smirked and pointed at his feet.
He already had the toe of one boot over the threshold.
“I did wonder.” She glanced over her shoulder to check that nobody was close enough to hear then whispered conspiratorially. “You know that memory we both had of the time we had the truce and you came into the house? I didn’t know whether I’d ever gotten a disinvite done for you. Guess not.”
“Bloody hell,” he whispered back, taking the momentous step into the slayer’s home. “You took a risk there, pet. Could have killed you all in your sleep.”
Closing the door behind him, Buffy shook her head. “Would you have, though? I don’t think so. You like a challenge; a battle to the death. That would have been cheating.”
Spike returned her smile. “Yeah, got that right.”
Buffy moved to the entrance to the crowded living room and gave her assembled friends a little wave. “Hi guys!” She turned her attention to Giles. “Giles? Sp… uh… William has brought that spell stuff you wanted to see. Perhaps you could look at that while I go freshen up?” She made a face. “Thirty-six hours in the same underwear does not a happy Buffy make.”
She lingered for a few moments at the foot of the stairs, watching while Giles drew Spike into the living room and encouraged him to spread the documents out on the coffee table. With Tara and Willow, they started to sort through them and make critical comments, of which Buffy only understood one word in three.
Although Willow looked very jumpy and edged around the table away from Spike, everything seemed to be going well so far, so Buffy darted upstairs, quickly gathered a change of clothing from her bedroom, and locked herself in the bathroom.
A little while later, still glowing from her shower and dressed in comfortable yoga pants and a long-sleeved turtle neck top to conceal her lingering bruises, she knocked softly on her sister’s bedroom door. At Dawn’s quiet, “Come in,” she opened the door and peeked in. The room was dim, the only illumination a small pool of light from a single lamp directed onto the books and papers spread out on the desk.
Buffy looked around, checking that all was as it should be. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I just need to finish copying out the last couple of pages of this English paper. Somebody decided that it was perfect for crayoning on.”
Dawn gave a resigned shrug. “It’s okay. It’s not like I have anything more exciting to do. I still have almost two weeks grounding to go.”
“Well, that’ll teach you for sneaking out and getting everyone worried and leading us all into a big fight.”
Dawn heaved a dramatic, long-suffering sigh. “I guess. And by the way, it’s like, totally not fair the way I got grounded for being found out just this one time while mom never even noticed you sneaking out every night for like… years.”
Buffy smirked. “But I had a legitimate reason for my sneakage, and slayer stealth for getting away with it.” She gestured towards the hallway behind her. “Gotta go. Scooby research party.”
Dawn’s eyes widened excitedly. “Key related? Have you found out more about Glory and…?”
“Sorry. This is something else. I’ve found out there’s a forgetting spell on us. We need to figure out who did it so we can reverse it.”
Dawn pouted her disappointment. “Oh. Okay.” She waved dismissively towards the open doorway. “Go on then. Oh, and eat something. Mom saved some dinner for you.” Her eyes raked up and down Buffy’s form. “I keep telling you. You’re getting too skinny. Even for you.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yes, mom.”
Half way down the stairs, she paused with a weary sigh at the sound of raised voices coming from the living room.
Willow was whining, “…but if they’re bad memories, wouldn’t you rather forget them? I don’t understand what’s so wrong…”
“You just don’t get it, Red,” Spike countered irritably. “I have no idea whether the memories they stole are good or bad. It doesn’t matter. They’re my memories and I have the right to them!”
“Quite.” Giles added with exaggerated patience, “Willow, you have to understand that our experiences shape our personalities. Every choice we make in life is determined by what has gone before. For someone to deny us access to even one of those memories is an unconscionable violation.”
“He’s right, sweetie,” Tara said quietly. “C-controlling people’s memories is like taking away their free will. It’s hugely dark magic. Very dangerous.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps…”
Buffy didn’t need to hear any more. She descended the last few stairs and turned into the living room. “Willow? Remember how torn up you were when Oz left? You did that My Will Be Done spell to try to make yourself feel better and you had Xander and Anya fighting for their lives with all those demons?”
“And Giles was blind, and I’m never going to forget Buffy going all B.F.F. with Harmony and deciding to move out of home and set up home as room-mates with her,” Xander put in with a dramatic shudder. “All that giggling scarred me for life. And I’ll never get over all the unicorns. I know Harmony was chipped and unable to bite, but that didn’t stop her being, well, Harmony.”
“Yeah… Anyways, what if someone had wanted to help you feel better and decided you’d be happier without the memory of Oz leaving?” Buffy asked. “Of course that would have meant taking every single memory of Oz, good and bad…”
“No!” Willow cried, eyes wide in alarm. “Oh, no! That would be awful!”
“But that’s like what’s happened here. I have whole chunks of my memory missing, you know I have, and now I know why. Good or bad, I need those memories back!”
“Ah, there you are, Buffy,” Joyce said as she entered the room. “I thought I heard your voice. I’ve saved some pot roast for you. It just needs a couple of minutes in the microwave.” With a vague nod to the rest of the group, she grabbed Buffy firmly by the arm, led her into the kitchen and pushed her onto a stool at the counter.
Turning to press the start button on the microwave, she said, “I know the meeting is important, Buffy. I’m just as anxious as you are for you to get your memories back, but your health is important too. I would have said it was impossible, but I think you’ve managed to lose even more weight in the last couple of days.”
“Mo-om,” Buffy protested. “I wish you’d stop fussing. I ate at Giles’.”
“Yes, Mr Giles told me what you ate. Half a piece of toast and a mouthful of egg this morning, and a little of one of those revolting Doublemeat things and a couple of fries at lunch.” The microwave pinged and Joyce placed a covered plate in front of Buffy. When she removed the cover, steam savoury with the fragrance of beef and vegetables rose, and Buffy’s stomach rumbled loudly. “I want to see you eating at least half of this.” She sat on a stool on the opposite side of the counter and Buffy realised that she intended to do just that. Sit there and watch her eat.
“I worry so much, Buffy.”
Heaving a put-upon sigh, Buffy picked up her fork. “Way to go with the emotional blackmail, mom.”
“Whatever it takes, honey,” Joyce murmured resolutely, sipping her cup of coffee. “Whatever it takes.”

Spike folded his arms across his chest and stretched his legs out, crossed at the ankles. He was getting bored. He’d been sitting listening for what felt like hours while the watcher and the children had talked themselves in circles around the problem for which they were supposed to be finding a solution.
It was becoming more and more difficult to remember his promise to the slayer not to harm any of them. Surely if he were to rip the spine out of one of them, the others would buckle down and something would finally get done? He scowled in frustration. Not that he would. Probably.
He just happened to be looking at the redhead when the slayer came back into the room.
“Hey guys, have you worked out who the evil magician is? I wanna know who I have to slay so I can get my memories back!”
The little witch visibly flinched. Her eyes went as big as saucers and she squeaked, “Evil? Slay?”
The watcher smiled, but shook his head. “I wish we had an answer for you so that you could, Buffy. Unfortunately it’s very likely that the evil witch or sorcerer is human.”
“Phooey. So, not slayworthy then?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Besides,” Tara put in sympathetically, “If William’s friend is right about the spell that was used, that wouldn’t help anyway.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. I need to smash his crystals.” Buffy slumped down in a chair.
Spike had taken in everything that had been said, but his focus had remained on Willow. She had paled and her heart rate had soared. She was practically shaking apart with nerves and at Buffy’s mention of crystals, her hand had gone to her neck, where a narrow ribbon and a fine chain hung, dangling pendants under her clothes. Surely girls preferred to wear their jewellery out in the open where it could be seen?
A fledgling suspicion hatched in the back of Spike’s mind. His eyes narrowed as he drawled, “Don’t suppose any of you could come up with any likely suggestions? There must be a few spell-casters you’ve come across who are powerful enough to have done this?”
“Well there’s Ethan Rayne,” Xander offered. “He of the Halloween fun and Band Candy and the turning Giles into a Fyarl demon.”
Giles nodded. “Yes, I’m sure Ethan could have done it, but somehow I doubt that he is at fault. If he had wanted to manipulate our memories, it’s most likely that he would have caused us to forget him. That would have given him far more freedom to cause mischief.”
“Ooh!” cried Willow excitedly, drawing everyone’s attention. “Amy! I bet Amy…” She folded in on herself. “But. Well. Rat.”
“And none of you can think of anyone else who has the power to do it?” Spike asked.
“Michael might,” Willow said quickly. “You remember? Michael from the MOO: let’s burn all the witches at the stake, Hansel and Gretel thing?”
“Didn’t his family move away, South somewhere, after everyone came to their senses?” Buffy asked with a frown.
“Yeah, Oxnard,” Xander provided. “And he said he was going to give up the magic thing altogether. It had gotten too scary.”
“Maybe it’s like you said about Ethan Rayne, Giles. Whoever did it has made us forget him as part of his evil plan?” Buffy asked dejectedly.
Giles took his glasses off for a polish. “I’m beginning to fear so, Buffy.” He sighed. “And until we can discover who has tampered with us, I cannot foresee any way of reversing the effects.”
Buffy leant forward in her seat and clutched at her hair in frustration. “Aaargh! We can’t break the spell until we know who did it, and we won’t know who did it until we break the spell! It’s like… one of those circumcision dilemma thingies.” Buffy pushed the sleeve of her sweater up to her elbow and made a whirling gesture above her head.
Spike reflexively crossed his legs and shot a startled glace at Giles who had mirrored his action, as had Xander. Giles looked just as shocked for a moment before the light of understanding dawned in his eyes. “Uh, I think you mean a circular dilemma, Buffy.”
“Oh, yeah. One of them too.”
Spike was distracted by Buffy’s newly exposed forearm. It was twig thin. It was the first time he had seen any of her body not muffled up in trousers or thick sweaters. In his recovered memories, she had been slender, but with a healthy covering of well-toned flesh. Upon closer examination, he saw that her cheeks were sunken and there were dark shadows under her eyes.
Without thinking, he burst out, “Oy, slayer. When did you get so thin? You look like a famine victim from one of those dusty countries.”
Chapter 6
Chapter 6
“Oh, don’t you start!” Buffy rounded on Spike. “I get enough from Mom and Giles.” She sighed. “Whatever I do, I just don’t seem to be able to stop losing weight. As I keep telling them: however hungry I am, I can never eat enough to fill me up. I felt so hungry just now, I could have eaten five times as much pot roast as mom just tried to feed me, but when I’d only half finished the plateful, I just couldn’t eat any more!”
“Oh, but it’s not healthy for you to eat so much in one sitting!” Willow exclaimed. “That’s bingeing! That way lies badness and eating disorders!”
“Right now, Wills, I feel as if I could eat burgers and fries and pizza and ice cream and cake… oh, and chocolate…” Buffy’s voice trailed off as her eyes lost focus and a dreamy smile tugged at her mouth. Then she licked a little drool from the corner of her mouth and pulled herself together. She said flatly, “But after a couple of mouthfuls, I wouldn’t be able to eat any more.”
“Well, that’s good!” Willow insisted. “A healthy adult female of your height and build only needs a maximum of fifteen hundred calories a day to maintain optimum bodyweight. I looked into it that summer between High School and College when I saw how much you were eating.”
“You mean that incredibly busy summer after Faith and Wes had gone off to Cleveland and I was slaying all night every night as well as working shifts at the Espresso Pump?”
“Yes. Your diet was… well, it just wasn’t normal!”
Buffy got up and raised her sweater just high enough to display her concave stomach and prominent ribs. “And this, Willow? Do you call this normal?”
Willow’s eyes went wide and she slowly shook her head.
Spike’s suspicions were growing apace, and it looked as if Buffy was beginning to share them when without taking her eyes from Willow, she asked, “Giles? Explain again about the recommended diet for active slayers. You know, like you did right back when I first started training with you and I complained of always being hungry.”
Giles glanced between Buffy and Willow and said, “Why, certainly, Buffy. If you feel it’s necessary.” His voice took on a lecturing tone. “The slayer has an elevated metabolism to provide for her enhanced strength, speed and stamina, and accelerated healing. To fuel this metabolism, when the slayer is undertaking regular training and nightly patrols she should consume a recommended daily average of approximately two and a half to three and a half thousand calories.”
Over Willow’s quiet exclamation of shock, he continued, “If she experiences a particularly prolonged or strenuous combat situation, or has been injured, she may need to consume between five and seven thousand calories per day in the short term. This will enable her body to heal itself and regain optimum fitness as quickly as possible.”
“Oh, my goddess… You never said…”
“Why would I, Willow?” Buffy shrugged, allowing her sweater to fall and retaking her seat. “There are many drawbacks to slayerdom and I didn’t feel the need to share all of them.” Her eyes narrowed. “Or perhaps I should have. Willow, did you do something to control the amount of food I could eat?”
“I was helping!” Willow cried. “You were eating so much!”
“Whoa! I’m thinking not so much with the helping, Wills,” Xander put in.
“Oh, Sweetie. What did you do?” Tara’s voice was shaky with apprehension.
“It was nothing. Well, practically nothing…” Willow protested feebly.
“Giles?” Buffy asked with deceptive casualness. “What would happen to me if I was permanently limited by an outside force to fifteen hundred calories a day?”
“You would slowly starve to death, Buffy.” Giles glared at Willow who had shrunk back in her seat and gone as white as a sheet. “Willow? I must insist that you break forthwith whatever spell you used on Buffy.”
Movement in the doorway caught Spike’s eye and he turned to see the slayer’s mother standing staring at Willow in dismay. “Willow? How could you?” she cried. “You know how worried I’ve been for months! I don’t know much about magic, but don’t Wiccan ethics stipulate that you should never put a spell on someone without their full knowledge and consent?”
“Th-that’s right, Mrs Summers,” Tara confirmed, shifting uneasily in her seat on the couch so that none of her person came into contact with Willow. “I didn’t know…”
Joyce smiled at Tara. “Oh, Tara, honey. I know that you’d never…” Her gaze switched back to Willow who was now blushing furiously and she snapped, “You heard Mr Giles, Willow. Undo your spell now!”
“Um... I don’t have any of my stuff with me,” Willow stammered nervously.
“What do you need?” Joyce asked grimly.
Willow glanced warily at Buffy. “A teensy lock of Buffy’s hair…”
Buffy deliberately gripped a tuft of hair at her temple, yanked it out at the roots and held it out. “What else?” she ground out.
“A pure white pillar candle…”
Joyce turned and trotted upstairs and quickly returned with a candle. “Will this one do? I light it sometimes when I take a bath.”
“Y-yes, that should be fine.”
“What else?”
“S-salt and lavender. Oh, and some sage.”
“There’s salt and sage in the kitchen and I have a lavender sachet in my underwear drawer,” Joyce declared.
Once everything was assembled, Joyce placed a metal tray on the coffee table and stood back. She crossed her arms over her chest and fixed her ‘Momma Bear’ glare firmly upon Willow.
Willow took a deep breath. “Okay. This should just take a second.” She scribed a small circle on the tray with the salt and placed the candle in the centre. “I need a match…” Spike took out his cigarette lighter and flicked it alight, reaching to light the candle. “Or, I guess that’ll work.”
She started chanting quietly:
“Buffy Summers’ diet is restricted,
Let my charm be contradicted.”

As she recited the first couplet, she touched the wisp of Buffy’s hair to the flame and the acrid smell of burning hair filled the room.
“By the dark and the light
My spell ends tonight.”

With the second couplet, she crumbled a pinch each of the sage and lavender into the flame of the candle, so that aromatic smoke curled into the air.
And then she blew out the candle.

Buffy looked around at her friends, who one by one had drifted into the dining room, transfixed by the feat of gastronomy in progress. She found herself unable to look directly at Willow, who was sitting opposite her. Willow’s tear blotched face was still flushed as she persisted in alternately apologising and attempting to rationalise her actions as ‘trying to help’. Buffy wasn’t ready to forgive her yet.
Finally, smiling contentedly, Buffy sat back and rested her hands over her taut stomach. “Hoo boy, that feels so good.”
“Have you had enough now, honey?”
Buffy nodded happily back at her mother. “Couldn’t eat another bite.”
“Not even another slice of pie? I think there’s some whipped cream left too?”
“Perhaps later?” Buffy suggested hopefully.
“Whenever you’re ready, Buffy. I’m just so happy to see you eating again.” Joyce looked around at Buffy’s audience and asked, “Perhaps I could make us all some hot chocolate? Then I’ll leave you to get on with your meeting. I think I’m going to take a bath and have an early night.”
While everyone made appreciative noises, to Buffy’s surprise, Spike, who had remained in the living room lolling on the sofa and flipping idly through the books on the coffee table showing an utter lack of interest in the proceedings, poked his head out into the hall and smiled broadly at her mother.
He tipped his head to one side shyly and raised a questioning finger. “You got any of those little marshmallows?”
Joyce chuckled. “Let me look, William. I think I could probably put my hands on some.”
While Joyce bustled about in the kitchen, everyone drifted back into the living room.
That,” said Xander admiringly, “was the most impressive thing I have ever seen. I’ve never seen anyone eat so much in one go they had to go to the bathroom in the middle to make room for more.”
“You should start entering those competitive eating contests,” Anya said brightly. “You could make a fortune!”
Buffy blinked in surprise.  Although Anya had been very vocal when Xander had first introduced her to the group, it had quickly become very rare for her to speak out in meetings, even when she was addressed directly. Buffy grinned back at her. “Yeah, I totally could!”
“Well, now that’s settled, perhaps we could get back to the main order of business for the evening,” Giles said, accepting a steaming mug from the tray that Joyce was passing around. “We really must try to work out who could have tampered with our memories.”
As she took a sip from her own mug of warm, chocolatey goodness, Buffy caught Spike’s eye. Raising an eyebrow, he subtly nodded towards Willow.
Buffy’s eyes widened in understanding. Surely not. Willow would never do such a thing. Would she? After glancing around to check that nobody else was looking at her, she mouthed, “Do you really think so?”
Spike slowly nodded back, one finger tracing around his shirt collar as he once more nodded in Willow’s direction.
Buffy’s forehead creased as she looked closely at Willow. She had become accustomed to seeing the narrow satin ribbon around her friend’s neck, but had never questioned what it was supporting. It suddenly struck her as strange. If Willow liked this pendant so much, why did it never hang outside her clothes where it could be seen?
“Willow,” she began uncertainly. “I don’t suppose you’ve done any other uh… helpful spells you haven’t told us about? Spells that might have gone just a little bit wrong?”
Spike snorted. “From what I’ve heard, the little witch’s spells don’t go wrong. Her trouble is they work too well!”
“Nuh huh.” Willow shook her head frantically. “No sirree. No helpful spells. Except, you know, when I helped with the spells.” As she spoke, her hand went straight to her throat and touched a small bulge in her sweater, right where the ribbon would dangle a pendant.
“She’s lying.” Spike said flatly.
“Look, I know you don’t know us yet,” Xander said irritably. “But if you did, you’d know that Willow doesn’t lie. If she said she didn’t do any other spells, then she didn’t!”
Buffy wasn’t so sure. Without taking her eyes from Willow, she asked, “Giles? That table razor spell. Didn’t you say that you could tell when it’d worked because the crystal would turn black?”
“Yes, that’s right, Buffy. Why do you ask?”
“I thought so. Willow, could I see that pendant you keep fondling? You wear it every day, but I don’t remember ever seeing it outside your clothes.”
Willow clutched at the pendant through her sweater and clamped her lips closed, shrinking back into her seat. Her eyes crinkled anxiously and a tear slid down her cheek.
“I - I never thought…” Tara whispered hoarsely. “It – it’s a black crystal. T - two of them, actually.” She turned to face Willow and asked sadly, “Oh, Will. Tell me you didn’t…”
Willow suddenly sat up straight. “Well, what if I did?” she asked defiantly. “You have no idea what was going on.”
Giles took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I think that is the very crux of the problem, Willow.” Putting his glasses back on, he gestured towards Spike. “I’m guessing that you are the only person here whose memories haven’t been affected. That means you will have recognised our… uh… visitor.”
“Yeah.” Willow’s brow creased in puzzlement as she turned to look at Spike. “As a matter of fact, I’m kinda surprised to see him again.”
“So that means you were behind the Stay Away From Sunnydale compulsion as well. Right, Red?”
Willow nodded warily. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Undo it!”
“Um... I don’t need to. You’re here now, so you’ve broken it yourself. Any lingering effects will fade in a few days.”
Willow turned back to Buffy. “I’d just found this old herbal in the second-hand book store and one night when I was looking for a spell I could try out, I was flipping through it. When I saw the list of spells that Lethe’s Bramble could be used for, that’s what gave me the idea of doing something magical to help you. Look, I’m sorry, okay? I thought I was doing the right thing under the circumstances.”
Buffy was growing increasingly angry. “I think it’s time we all learned what those circumstances were, don’t you, Willow?” She got up and approached Willow, her hand out, open palm upwards. “Give me the crystal.”
Willow’s hands shook as she slipped the ribbon over her head and untangled it from her hair. She started crying again. “Please, you have to understand… I was only trying to help! Then when I realised…” She gulped down a sob. “It was too late to do anything about it.”
As the long shiny crystal emerged from the neckline of Willow’s fuzzy pink sweater, Buffy spotted the second, smaller, black crystal that Tara had mentioned, suspended from a fine silver chain. Buffy resolved to address the issues that that one raised as well, but later. First, she desperately wanted the holes in her memory to be filled.
As soon as she grasped the angular crystal, still warm from her friend’s body, Buffy looked around for the best means to break it. With a little shrug, she stepped to the edge of the rug and carefully placed it on the hardwood floor. Then she straightened up, raised her foot, and stamped on it.
Chapter 7

Chapter 7
Buffy gasped as she was swept away by a relentless tsunami of memories.
The events of the previous three years tumbled about and were rearranged in her mind. As the mists of confusion cleared, a stream of additional experiences slotted neatly into the unexplained blanks that had troubled her so much.
Almost all of them featuring Spike.
After a few moments, when the initial shock had worn off, and oblivious to the tears streaming down her cheeks, she turned to meet Spike’s eyes.
He gazed at her in awe, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. Without a word, he opened his arms to her.
She quickly took the three steps she needed to close the distance between them, slipped her arms around his waist under his duster and laid her forehead on his chest. She inhaled deeply of the comforting, familiar scents of aged leather, cigarettes and whiskey, and the unique spicy tang of Spike.
He rested his cheek upon the top of her head and wrapped his strong arms around her. “Missed you, love,” he whispered hoarsely. “Even when I didn’t know that it was you I was missing.”
“Missed you too,” she mumbled into the soft, damp cotton of his t-shirt. “Missed you so much.”
Buffy could have happily remained standing there enfolded in Spike’s arms for hours, but it was mere seconds before Xander’s high-pitched, panicked cries intruded.
“Spike? That’s Spike! What? Why? How?” He took a deep gasping breath and in a slightly more controlled tone demanded, “Willow? Why is Buffy cuddling up to the evil dead… again? You said she needed to forget an unsuitable boyfriend, you never said it was Spike!
Buffy couldn’t ignore that little revelation. She turned in Spike’s arms and glared at Xander, dashing her tears away with her hand. “You knew? You knew all this time and you never said anything?”
Xander held up his hands defensively. “I knew then. Then I didn’t know.” He turned accusingly to Willow. “Why is it you made me not know?”
“You know perfectly well you’d never have been able to keep it a secret for long. I was doing you a huge favour!”
Willow faced Buffy and tossed back her hair defiantly. “You were so unhappy, Buffy! You kept bursting into tears! You told me all about your summer with Spike and how you were afraid to tell your Mom and Giles about him.”
“Of course I was unhappy!” Buffy yelled. She pressed her fingers to her lips and took a deep breath before continuing more quietly, “I’d just said goodbye to my lover and I knew I wasn’t going to see him for a while! I knew Giles and Mom wouldn’t like it at first, but I also knew that they loved me and would want me to be happy.” She glanced at Giles and admitted sheepishly, “I figured that by the time Spike got back into town, I’d have talked them around.”
Giles slowly shook his head and returned a wry smile as he frantically polished his glasses.
“Well, you didn’t tell me Spike was supposed to come back too! Since you’d come back without him, I decided it would be better for you to make a fresh start without those memories. Can’t you see? I did it for you!”
“No, you did it for you, Willow. To make me over the way you wanted. How dare you…?”
Willow waved away Buffy’s protest and defensively added, “Of course, you didn’t tell me about…” Willow broke off with a guilty grimace.
“Well, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about that! There was the small matter of the fact I didn’t know myself yet!” Frowning, Buffy asked, “Why didn’t you break the spell when we found out?”
Willow gave a guilty little shrug. “If I’d broken the spell, you’d have known I did it? Besides, you know, evil vampire. You were so much better off without him.”
While Buffy spluttered helplessly, speechless with indignation, Xander pointed at Buffy and Spike and exclaimed, “Oh god! No! Does this mean…? It’s impossible! Someone please tell me it’s not so!”
Nodding at him, Buffy said sarcastically, “Yes, Willow. Thank you for blocking that out for me. You know how bad it was when I had no idea how it happened. I’ve been going crazy not knowing who or how…”
An insistent tug on her trouser leg broke her train of thought and caused her to look down.
Smiling, she slipped from Spike’s embrace and crouched down. “What are you doing out of bed, Jellybean?”
The little girl in the Winnie the Pooh footie pyjamas held up the huge, garishly coloured stuffed tiger she was dragging by its tail. “Mister Tigger wants a dink’o water.”
Chuckling, Buffy stood and hoisted the curly haired blonde toddler up to sit astride her hip. “Well, perhaps we should get Mister Tigger his drink, and then you can both go back to sleep.”
She looked up to see Spike’s expression of wide-eyed astonishment turn very quickly to a scowl of hurt and anger. She realised that she owed Spike an explanation.
He took a step away from her and folded his duster around himself in a gesture she immediately recognised as him trying to cut himself off from a painful situation. She laid her free hand on his arm and said quietly, “It’s not what you think. I can explain…”
Before she could say anything else, a chubby little finger tapped her on the cheek.
“Mommy? Why’s dere a nampire in our houst?”
Buffy glanced at her daughter. Her big blue eyes were fixed upon Spike in total fascination. “Don’t worry, Jellybean. This is a special vampire.”
Buffy looked between her daughter and Spike then threw a quick glance over her shoulder at Giles who gave her a resigned little nod. She’d been thinking that she should tell Spike on his own first, and then explain to her mother and Giles, but this was the perfect opportunity to get it out in the open once and for all.
She took a deep breath.
“Annie, this is your daddy.”
She looked up to see Spike’s angry, sceptical frown.
Annie’s rosebud mouth formed a perfectly round O of surprise. Then she whispered excitedly, “I has a daddy!” Cocking her head to one side coquettishly, she shyly asked Spike, “Is it p’tend, or is you my really real daddy?”
When Spike directed a desperately pleading look her way, Buffy smiled and nodded in confirmation.
Spike broke into a broad grin and tentatively raised a hand to touch Annie’s head. “Well, Moptop. Not sure how, but yes. Seems I’m your really real daddy.”
Buffy let out an explosive grunt when a small foot dug into her stomach. Mister Tigger fell forgotten to the floor and Annie lurched forward in her arms, launching herself at Spike who was so startled he barely managed to catch her.
With her arms wrapped tightly around Spike’s neck, Annie declared, “I did missded you!”
“I missed you too, pet.” Spike’s voice was thick with emotion. He looked at Buffy and asked in disbelief, “You called her Annie? Like my mum?”
“Yeah.” Buffy smiled. “It’s Victoria Anne, actually, but we decided to go with Annie. It’s a Summers family name too. It just felt right.”
She transferred her attention to Annie. Having completely accepted Spike as her daddy, she tenderly patted his cheek and calmly asked, “Can I sees your scary face?”
“I don’t know about that, pet. Mummy might not like it.” Spike’s eyes flicked warily to Buffy. “I don’t want to frighten you.”
“I’s not scared. ’Sides, if you turn into a bad nampire, my mommy will hit you wiv a stick and you’ll go ‘way.” Annie shook her head vigorously, causing her Shirley Temple curls to bounce madly. “But I don’t want you to go ‘way, so don’t be bad.”
Fresh tears came to Buffy’s eyes as for the first time she realised just how much her life as the slayer had impacted on her daughter. She nodded permission to Spike.
“Better go back to your mum then, Miss Victoria Anne. You’ll feel safer with her and you’ll be able to see me better.”
“’M’kay, Daddy.”
Once Buffy had Annie comfortably settled on her hip, Spike slowly allowed his face to change.
Buffy gripped Annie securely, preparing to soothe tears of distress. She didn’t need to.
Utterly unafraid, Annie leant forward in her arms, reaching out to stroke Spike’s lumpy forehead. “Does it hurt?”
“Does what hurt, pet?”
“When you go all grrr…” She scrunched up her face and bared her tiny teeth. “’ike ‘at.”
Spike chuckled. “No, doesn’t hurt. Feels a bit strange at first, but you get used to it.”
After a while, Annie relaxed back against Buffy’s shoulder and nodded that she’d finished her examination. “You got pitty lellow eyes, but I like your blue eyes better. Dey’s like mine.”
Smiling, Spike allowed his face to revert to his human mask. “I think you have pretty eyes too, Moptop.”
“Uh, Annie dear, just how did you know that William is a vampire?”
Buffy hadn’t noticed Giles coming up behind her shoulder, but now that he’d asked, she was curious to know as well.
Annie shrugged disinterestedly. “Dunno.”
Buffy exchanged a startled look with Giles but before either of them could comment, their attention was drawn back to Spike.
With his gaze fixed upon Annie, he had vamped out again and looked as though he was trying to bite a chunk out of his own wrist.
Ignoring the exclamations of horror and fear behind her, Buffy kept all her focus on Spike, wondering what he was intending to do.
“Blood of my blood,” Spike intoned. He dipped a finger in the raw wound and glancing imploringly at Buffy, raised his hand towards Annie.
“Trust me, slayer?” he whispered.
Buffy smiled. “Always.”
“Scion of the Aurelian line.” Spike dabbed a single smudge of blood onto Annie’s forehead between her wide, excited eyes. “My blood for your blood until the end of time.” He casually licked away the blood smeared from the already closing wound on his wrist and shifted back into his human face.
Buffy had the feeling that she had just witnessed something of momentous importance. “Uh, what just happened?”
“A blood oath!” Anya whispered reverently. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never…”
Buffy turned to see Anya shaking her head helplessly, her lips pressed together in a thin line. She was clinging tightly to Xander’s arm. Xander’s face was flushed and angry and he was straining against her grip. Anya had clearly held him back from interfering in Spike’s vampiric ritual.
Sensing movement to one side, Buffy looked and saw Tara releasing her grip on Willow’s shoulder and taking several steps away from the redhead.
It was evident that Xander and Willow didn’t trust Spike as much as she did, and Buffy understood why that may be. She had a whole heap of explaining to do.
But first, she had a question. “A blood oath?”
Before anyone could speak, a loud yawn at her shoulder distracted her. “Hold that thought,” she said, raising a finger to forestall any response. “I’ll be back in a minute. Someone needs to have her drink and get back to bed.” She turned towards the kitchen, grabbing Spike by the sleeve of his duster. “Come on, Daddy. Time for your introduction to the nightly battle of bedtime.”

‘Mr Tigger’ is of course a soft toy in the form of Tigger from the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ stories by A.A. Milne. I’m not sure who currently owns the rights, whether it is the estate of A.A. Milne or Disney or someone else, but whoever does, it’s certainly not ickle me!
You may well think that Annie is verbally very precocious for a not quite two year old. You may well be correct. Please could you just go with it?

Chapter 8

Chapter 8
Spike was still reeling from the news that he was the father of the slayer’s child. He didn’t know how it could be possible, but the slate blue eyes, the tumbling honey-blonde curls and the cheekbones, still partly obscured by baby fat, were compelling evidence that it was true.
As they approached the room which Buffy shared with her daughter, he was so entranced by the impish eyes peeking at him over Buffy’s shoulder that he didn’t notice the person on the landing until she spoke.
“I’m sorry, Buffy. She must have snuck past me. Again.”
As she led Spike into her room, Buffy grinned back. “Not your fault, Dawnie. She seems to have inherited my slayer stealth.”
Dawn looked Spike up and down with open appreciation. “So this is William. Mom said he was a hottie.” A crease furrowed her brow as she asked, “Why does he look familiar?”
Spike smirked and cocked his head to one side as he frankly considered the teenager in return. “So this is little sis. All grown up since she peeked at us from the top of the stairs that time.”
Heralded by a cloud of jasmine-scented steam, Joyce came up behind Dawn, who hovered in Buffy’s bedroom doorway, mouth hanging open in surprise. “Buffy? What is William doing up…? Oh! You’re that vampire! The one that helped Buffy that terrible night.”
Buffy dampened a tissue to wipe the dab of blood from Annie’s forehead, then paused in confusion when she noticed that it had totally vanished. “Uh, yes. William is Spike, and Spike is that vampire. It’s a long story. I’ll explain if you could just wait outside…” She indicated Annie who, despite drooping eyelids, was eagerly taking in everything that was going on around her. “Little pitchers…”
However, as Joyce pulled the bedroom door to, the most critical piece of news was divulged when Annie raised her arms and said, “Nigh’-nigh’ Daddy! Kiss!”
Amused by the whispered speculations taking place on the landing, Spike knelt beside the bed to accept a hug and bestow a kiss upon Annie’s chubby, sweet-smelling cheek. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the day was becoming more and more surreal.
He’d fought the compulsion to stay away from Sunnydale so that he could seek out the slayer, his mortal enemy, and somehow force her to remove the spell he thought she’d cursed him with, and then finally kill her. And now, just two days later, here he was. In love with the slayer who had presented him with a ready-made family. Having a family was a possibility he’d discounted since the night he’d been turned.
He stood by the door and watched Buffy get her daughter—no, their daughter—snuggled warmly under the covers with Mister Tigger tucked in by her side, and a hot fury began to boil in his chest.
Willow, in her arrogant, unthinking attempt to help Buffy, had robbed him of something irreplaceable. He should have been there to support Buffy through her pregnancy and protect her while she was vulnerable. He should have been there to share the pain and joy when Annie was born. He should have been able to witness the first time she’d crawled; her first tooth; her first word; her first steps. He should have been there every bedtime to kiss his daughter goodnight.
He admired the way that Buffy’s soft words and gentle hands were lulling the tired child to sleep and realised that Willow had also deliberately left Buffy to struggle as a single parent in ignorance of how she had got into that situation.
His jaw tightened, his hands clenched into fists and he seriously regretted giving his word to Buffy not to hurt any of her friends. That young witch needed to be taken to task for her high-handed use of magic, and he was just the vamp to do it. He sucked his teeth thoughtfully. Since his promise meant that he was unable to do her bodily harm, he’d just have to be a little more creative than usual in his methods.

“So the new boyfriend you started telling me about when you came back from Los Angeles. The one who helped you get over sending that Angel to hell and encouraged you to come home again; that was William, uh, Spike, and Spike is Annie’s father?” Joyce said in bemusement.
“That’s right Mom.”
“But after you and that Angel… When you finally explained about him, I thought you told me that vampires couldn’t father children?” Joyce looked accusingly at Spike, as though he had somehow betrayed her.
“That’s what the lore says Joyce,” Spike said, shuffling his feet nervously. He had a flashback to Joyce standing over him like an avenging angel with an axe, demanding that he should stay away from her daughter, and rubbed the back of his head at the memory of the painful goose-egg she had left him with. “This human body is dead. It’s only the vampire demon keeping me going. Looks like there’s something else for the watcher to look up in all those musty old books of his.”
Joyce looked earnestly between Buffy and Spike. “And what do you both intend to do now? Are you a couple again? Are you going to be staying with Buffy to help raise Annie, William? If so, how do you intend to support them?”
“Mo-om,” Buffy whined. “We’ve only just found out! We haven’t talked about any of that stuff yet!”
“I’m gonna stay,” Spike insisted. “Whether Buffy wants us to get back together or not, and whether or not she wants me to be a part of Annie’s life, I’m here for the long haul. I’m a vampire, Joyce, and my demon is possessive. Annie’s mine and I’ve sworn to protect her with my life. If I have to do that from the outside, then that’s what I’ll do, and I already have a plan to get the funds to support them, if Buffy’ll let me…”
“Legally, I hope?” Joyce interjected.
“Yeah, don’t worry, Joyce. It’s all above board.” He gestured towards Buffy. “As to the rest of it, that’s up to the slayer.”
“I’m very glad to hear it.” Joyce smiled and patted him on the arm. “I’m just so relieved that if Buffy does choose to be with a vampire, it’ll be you rather than that Angel.”
When Joyce had retreated to her room, reassured by the promise of the full story later, Buffy looked up at Spike with a resigned shrug and gestured to the stairs, up which the sounds of an animated discussion were floating at an increasing volume. “Ready to face the music?”
Spike dropped a quick kiss on her pouty lips and turned to lead the way down the stairs, pulling up short when he heard Buffy giggle. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Dawn poking her head out of her bedroom door, grinning like a loon and giving her sister the ‘thumbs up’ sign with both hands.
Still smiling, Buffy took his hand, and together they made their way back to the living room.
“There now!” Willow exclaimed smugly, pointing to Spike. “We don’t need Anya to explain anything. Spike himself can tell us all about this blood oath thingy.”
Spike glanced at Anya. She was scowling angrily and clearly trying to say something. “Think I’d rather hear it from Anya. Don’t know so much about it myself,” he drawled, looking pointedly at Willow.
Willow pouted. “But…”
“Anya has been trying to tell us something, but she appears to be suffering from some kind of speech impediment,” Giles explained in exasperation.
Rolling his eyes, Spike pointed out what, to him, was obvious. “Girl’s clearly under a muting spell.” He glared at Willow. “Want to tell us what you’ve done to her?”
Willow opened her eyes impossibly wide and pointed to her own chest in an exaggerated expression of injured innocence. “Me? I haven’t done…”
Spike strode across the room, gripped her by the shoulders, lifted her out of her seat and pushed his face into hers. “Shouldn’t try lying with a vampire in the room, little girly. Your body’ll give you away every time.” He roughly spun her to face Anya and said grimly, “I think you’d better undo it now, don’t you?”
The shoulders under his hands slumped and Willow sighed. “Do I have’ta? It’s been so peaceful without her constant stream of inappropriate comments in Scooby meetings.”
“Willow…” Giles said in an admonitory tone.
“Oh… phooey.” Willow raised her right hand and casually gestured at Anya, who was glowering at her in fury. “Free speech,” she said then wrested herself out of Spike’s grasp and plopped back down on the couch muttering sulkily, “Don’t blame me if you come to regret it…”
As if propelled by Willow’s arrival next to her, Tara leapt up from the couch and retreated to the other side of the room.
“Tara, sweetie…” Willow began, raising a hand in a pleading gesture, but she was cut off when Anya leant down and dealt a hard slap to her cheek.
“You should think yourself lucky I’ve lost my powers,” Anya hissed. “I wouldn’t have been able to exact vengeance on you for myself, but I would only have had to petition D’Hoffryn and he’d happily have sent one of my friends to punish you on my behalf.”
A moment later, Anya startled Spike into immobility by flinging her arms around him in a tight hug and crying, “Thank you! Thank you so much!” Then she flounced back to Xander’s side and poked him in the chest, saying, “I told you she’d done something to me, but did you believe me? No of course you didn’t. In your eyes, your precious Willow could do no wrong. Well, I hope your eyes have been opened now!”
She turned to Giles and quickly said, “A blood oath is a ritual by which a vampire swears to protect a member of his or her bloodline with their life. It’s an oath that includes any individuals closely connected to the protected individual by blood. In this instance, I imagine that would mean Buffy, Dawn and Joyce, and very probably Annie’s children and grandchildren, if she should go on to have any. Oh, and what’s more, it’s an unbreakable oath. Spike can’t ignore it, even if he tries. That’s why it’s so rare. It’s a massive commitment.” She gave a self-satisfied little nod.
“Thank you Anya,” Giles said. He glanced briefly at Spike who gave him a confirming nod. “That was a very clear and succinct explanation.”
He removed his glasses, produced a large white handkerchief from his pocket and began his customary ritual of polishing the spotless lenses. He frowned down at Willow, who was continuing to try to attract a tearful Tara back to her side.
“Willow, I’m very disappointed in you. It would appear that you have been continually putting spells on us all to adjust our memories and behaviour to suit your own ends. This is utterly unacceptable and simply has to stop.” He replaced his glasses on his nose and pursed his lips in disapproval. “Please tell me that all of these spells have now been cancelled.”
With an anxious glance at Spike, Willow nodded quickly. “Yep, all gone.” She rushed on to say, “But I honestly never did anything except try to help everyone…”
Spike growled in irritation and reached down, snagged the silver chain at her neck and easily snapped it. “Told you once, witch. You can’t carry off a lie with a vampire in the room. Your breathing changes, your heartbeat speeds up, and your skin flushes and you begin to sweat. I can literally smell it when you lie!”
He raised the broken chain in front of him, displaying to the other occupants of the room the small back crystal dangling from it. “Anyone else dying to know who else has had their mind raped by this arrogant little chit?”
Chapter 9

Chapter 9
Willow leapt up so quickly, it was as though she’d levitated herself. “No!” she cried as she reached out for the pendant.
Spike spun to one side so that Willow’s grasping hand missed its aim.
“Give that back!”
Spike twisted rapidly back and forth, easily evading Willow’s attempts to grab the crystal. “Uh… let me think. Okay, I’ve thought. No.”
Willow shuddered and pursed her lips in anger. The pupils of her eyes expanded to obscure her irises, a couple of veins in her forehead pulsed black and inkiness began to creep up her hair from the tips. “The magicks I use are very powerful. I'm very powerful. And maybe it's not such a good idea for you to piss me off, vampire.” She raised her hand to gesture at Spike.
For the first time since Buffy had known Willow, she began to feel real fear of her friend. She took a step forward to intervene, but hesitated when Xander moved to place himself between Willow and Spike.
“Okay, I think we’ve all had enough of the magic for one night, Will.” He gestured at her eyes and hair. “And I’m not liking the Darth Willow look at all. All this… this puppet-mastery of your friends. This isn’t you, Willow. What’s happened to you?”
“I grew up!” Willow spat. “I discovered that the world is a place full of real scary monsters and that I have the power to do something about them! Everything I’ve done has been to help! Why can’t you people see that?”
“Stealing our memories wasn’t helping, Willow, neither was the spell to stop Buffy eating. And I know that sometimes Anya can say something that we think is cringeingly tactless, but that was no reason to gag her! She’s been acting so unAnya-like, I was beginning to wonder what I’d ever seen in her!” He smiled broadly at Anya. “You’re gonna start saying just what you think again, right?”
Anya grinned and wrapped her arms around him, pulling his head down for a passionate kiss. “I love you, Xander Harris,” she said breathlessly when they finally broke apart.
“Xander? You’re turning against me too?” Willow asked in disbelief.
Giles addressed Willow, his expression furious.  “I couldn’t agree with Xander more.  All of these spells have done nothing to help us. All they have done is adjust our behaviour to suit you and put us in even more danger than usual due to our own ignorance.” He nodded to Spike. “Go ahead, Spike. Break it.”
The heel of Spike’s heavy boot made short work of the crystal. Almost lost under Willow’s desperate wail of “Noooooooo!” was a faint whimper from Tara as her legs gave way beneath her and she sank to the floor.
After a quick glance at Willow who, with tears streaming down her cheeks, stood stretched a pleading hand out to her girlfriend, Buffy moved to kneel beside Tara. She wrapped her arms around the quietly sobbing girl and drew her face into her shoulder.
She glared up at Willow. “Tara? You put a spell on Tara? How could you, Willow? I thought you loved her!”
“I do!
“So then… why…?”
Tara raised her head. “I th-think she does love me, in her own way. As long as I don’t go against her.”
“I just wanted us not to fight any more,” Willow cried.
Tara swiped away her tears and stood up to face Willow. “If you don't wanna fight, you don't fight. You don't use magic to make a fight disappear.”
“But I just wanted to make things better. Make us happy again.”
You don't get to decide what is better for us, Will. We were in a relationship, we were supposed to decide together.”
“Okay. I'm… I realise. I, I did it wrong.”
“You did it the way you've started doing everything. When things go in a way you don’t think is right, you… you don't even consider the options. You just… you just do a spell. It's not good for you, Willow. And it's not what magic is for.”
“But I… I just wanna help people.”
“Maybe that's how it started, but… you're helping yourself now, fixing things—and what’s even worse, people—to your liking. I… I can’t do this any more, Willow.”
Tara turned to Buffy. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I have to go. I can’t be here with…”
Buffy nodded and hugged her. “I understand. I’m so sorry.”
“Tara? Sweetie? Are you… Are you breaking up with me?” Willow reached out to take Tara’s arm.
“Don’t touch me!” Tara flinched and pulled away. “Yes, Willow. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am. I’m going back to the dorm to pack my stuff and then I’ll go over to Terri’s. I can stay there until I find a place of my own.”
Willow collapsed into helpless sobs while Tara stoically gathered up her possessions and left, with a promise to Buffy that she would keep in touch.
Anya stood with her arm linked possessively through Xander’s and regarded Willow who sat curled up in the corner of the couch, crying her eyes out. “Well, I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” she said scornfully. “You’ve managed to scare off your girlfriend and piss off every single one of your friends, not to mention a century old master vampire.”
She raised an eyebrow at Giles. “I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you to see that she was properly trained so that she’d actually understand the ethics of magic and the consequences of what she was doing?”
Giles cleared his throat and looked down guiltily, taking his glasses off. “Ah, well…”
“Please tell me that at least you explained the Wiccan rule of three? Because she doesn’t appear to have given that a moment’s thought while she’s been manipulating us all up the Wazoo for the past couple of years.”
“Hmmm… It may not be too late,” Giles tapped one arm of his glasses against his pursed lips for a few seconds as he contemplated the redhead. Replacing them upon his nose, he said, “Uh, Willow, would you be willing to spend some time as a trainee of a coven I know in England? I think you could benefit tremendously from the experience.”
That caught Willow’s attention and brought her out of her personal pit of self-pity. She raised her blotched face, sniffed, and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “England? You want to send me to England? I can’t go to England! You need me here! What about Glory? Don’t you need…? And… Oh! School!”
“It need not be immediately, Willow, as long as you are willing to assure me you will refrain from casting any more frivolous or self-serving spells in the meantime. I believe I could arrange for you to spend the summer there. I have a feeling that a couple of months under Ms Harkness’ tutelage would be very… uh… enlightening for you. In fact, I fear I must insist.”
Willow looked at Giles suspiciously for a long moment, then her attitude melted away and she sighed. “You’re not gonna trust me with the magic unless I do, are you?”
“Well, no. To be honest, probably not, but that’s not the main reason why I think it would be a good idea. I’m very much afraid that if you continue using magic in the same thoughtless, self-serving manner to which you have become accustomed, it won’t be too long before you do some irreparable harm to yourself, or to those close to you.”
“I… I’ll think about it, Giles,” Willow said sullenly. “And I promise I won’t do any more spells unless there’s a demon or something. Now, I think I’d better leave too,” she said, standing and picking up her backpack. “After everyone has added their ten cents worth to the whole ‘Willow is a bad person who has done everything wrong’ lecture, I can see I’m not welcome here.”
Buffy stepped forward and held up a hand to stop her. “I’m not happy with you, Willow, and I’m not ready to forgive you, but for now, I need you to stay. You need to hear what happened to me that summer and understand the reason why what you did hurt me so much.”
She grabbed Spike by the hand and led him to the armchair that Giles had vacated, pushed him down into it and climbed into his lap. “Get comfy, people. I’ll try to keep it to the Cliff notes version.”
As her friends settled down, Buffy mused aloud, “Now then… where to begin?”
“How about you start with why you left in the first place?” Xander suggested.
“’Kay. That’s as good a place as any.” Buffy cast her mind back. “Well, you all know what happened with Angelus. So many people died because I couldn’t kill him.” She gave a little shrug. “After I had to send Angel to hell with his soul, I guess I was kinda broken. I decided I was such a bad slayer, it would be safer for all of you if I stopped being the slayer and got far, far away from you all.”
“But…” Xander began.
“Please, Xan… let me get this all out? We can do the Q and A thing when I’m done, ‘kay?” Xander nodded and Buffy continued, “I needed to just be Buffy for a while to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Then when I got to L.A, I made up my mind I didn’t really want to be Buffy any more either, it was too painful, and so I tried to make a new life for myself.
“I decided to call myself Anne, found a room in a cheap boarding house and a job as a waitress in a diner that wasn’t too fussy about hiring people with no IDs, and tried to disappear.” She paused for a few moments, gnawing on her bottom lip as she tried to figure out how to explain the next part without freaking everyone out.
“And that’s where I came in,” Spike said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
Buffy rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Yeah, drunk out of your skull.”
“Not too drunk to track you down once I caught your scent!”
“But too drunk to fight. ‘I’m gonna kill you and then she’ll love me again’. Pfft! You swung at me twice, missed, fell on your ass and passed out cold.”
“And you just scarpered and left me there by the dumpsters! I could have dusted when the sun rose!”
Buffy looked across at her audience and explained, “He came to meet me after my shift every night after that. Usually too drunk to fight properly and…”
“And you still didn’t even try to stake me. A couple of punches, a fancy kick or two and you were off. Took me a while to notice that you weren’t even carrying a stake.”
Buffy shrugged. “Like I said. I didn’t want to be the slayer any more.”
“Trying to commit suicide by vamp, more like,” Spike muttered darkly.
“And what about you? You’re one to talk, you never even went fangy. You were so destroyed by Dru dumping you that you were trying to commit suicide by slayer!”
Willow had been sufficiently drawn out of her own misery to become interested. “Wait! Drusilla dumped you? I thought you’d been together for like, a thousand years?”
“Well, nearly a hundred and twenty,” Spike said. “She was mad at me for betraying bloody Angelus and spoiling her party. The poor thing was too loopy to understand that if the world had gone to Hell, the food supply would have dried up. Found her making out on a park bench with a Chaos demon, then when I’d killed it, she went and turned a hulking great Angelus lookalike to be her new pet and took herself off with him. Said I wasn’t hers any more, that all she could see when she looked at me was the slayer.”
Buffy patted his hand. “She didn’t deserve you, honey.”
“And now that’s the part I don’t get,” Xander said. “How did you go from fighting all the time to…” he gestured at the couple wrapped up together in the chair, “this?”
“One night while we were having our daily fight, this herd of Polly demons appeared and decided they wanted to kill us both.”
“Polgara demons, slayer.”
“Yeah, whatever. Anyway, we ended up fighting together to kill them all.”
“Good fight, that was,” Spike grinned.
“Yeah, it was. Well, except for the dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs and sprained ankle.”
“I fixed you up good and proper though, didn’t I pet?”
It was Giles’ turn to comment. “You administered first aid to the slayer?”
“Carried me home too,” Buffy said with a smug grin. “And then I had to patch him up as well. He’d managed to get himself skewered in three places. Then by the time we were both mummified with bandages, the sun was up and he was stuck at my place for the day.”
“Yeah, and I had to sober up,” Spike added with a grimace.
“I couldn’t go back to work until I’d healed up enough to walk, so we spent the day together. It wasn’t long before we both got bored and actually started talking instead of fighting. The next day when he came to meet me after my shift we didn’t fight, we just kept talking. Then before we knew what was happening, we discovered we were friends.”
“That was when the rules according to Buffy made their first appearance,” Spike mock complained with a roll of his eyes.
“Rule number one: No killing people,” Buffy said. “I may have been fighting my destiny as the slayer, but I couldn’t allow him to keep feeding. It was butchers’ blood or the stake.”
“And you agreed to that?” Giles asked Spike.
“Yeah. Gave my word. It wasn’t so bad. I did miss the violence for a few days, but then I managed to persuade the slayer she should start patrolling. Much more fun hunting and fighting demons than pathetic weak humans anyway.”
“It kinda started as a comfort thing, but we soon worked out we had both developed uh… feelings,” Buffy said, feeling her cheeks heat up as she tried to explain how their relationship had evolved without actually saying the words. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Well, except for that little trip we took to a Hell dimension to rescue a bunch of people from slavery.”
“Oh yeah.” Buffy grinned at him. “It turns out that slaying is so much more fun with my own tame vampire to watch my back.”
“Oy! Not tame!”
“Uh… domesticated?” Spike pouted, and Buffy chuckled, ruffled his hair and gave him a quick kiss. “Anyway, it was then that we decided that we should come back to Sunnydale.”
“Was gonna give the slayer a few days to get settled in and break the news gently, while I did a bit of detective work before joining her.”
“And that was when I did the spells,” Willow whispered guiltily.
“Yeah, so I didn’t remember the getting over killing Angel part, and the being happy and falling in love again part, and the finding slaying fun part…”
“AndI couldn’t remember why it was so urgent for me to get to Sunnydale, which was why it was so bloody frustrating and confusing when I couldn’t get to Sunnydale!”
“And he had to go through the whole missing Dru thing again, but alone. He couldn’t share it with me,” Buffy said with a sympathetic squeeze of Spike’s hand.
“And so that’s why you were so miserable, Buffy. I’m so sorry.”
“And then of course when I found out I was pregnant…”
“Major trauma time.” Willow nodded. “I get it, Buffy. I totally get it. I really am sorry.”
Giles cleared his throat. “And do you intend to continue…” he took his glasses off and used them to gesture at Buffy and Spike. “That is…”
“You mean are we a couple?” Buffy smiled softly into Spike’s wide, hopeful eyes. “Oh yeah. No way am I gonna lose him again.”
Spike cupped the back of her head and drew her into a tender kiss, so that she almost missed Anya’s question which wasn’t quite drowned out by Xander’s exaggerated groan of disgust.
“So what do you think Riley’s going to say about all this?”
Buffy finally had to break the kiss to breathe and while she panted desperately, Spike asked, “Who’s Riley?”

A few lines borrowed and partially adapted from:
S6 Ep4 ‘Flooded’, Written by Douglas Petrie & Jane Espenson.
S6 Ep8 ‘Tabula Rasa’, Written by Rebecca Kirshner
S5 Ep7 ‘Fool for love’, Written by Douglas Petrie
Chapter 10

Chapter 10
Buffy gaped at Anya for a few seconds. Guiltily, she realised that she hadn’t given her boyfriend a single thought since Spike had turned up. As the silence stretched out, she tried to affect an air of nonchalance and turned to met Spike’s eyes. “Oh, he’s just this guy I’ve been kinda seeing for a while.”
Spike tensed beneath her. “You’ve been dating…?”
“Not really dating. Just kinda…”
“You have so been dating him,” Xander put in unhelpfully. “The guy is so into you, he even turned down the offer to go back into the military when Graham came and told him about that new unit. Come to think of it, where is he? Didn’t you tell him about the meeting?”
“I don’t know where he is. I never thought…” Buffy began hesitantly before steadying her resolve. “It doesn’t matter what he thinks anyway. Now Spike’s back, I’m going to break up with Riley for good. I’ve tried to do it a couple times, but somehow he keeps hanging on. Kinda like a puppy that follows you home and you don’t have the heart to take it to the pound and you start feeding it and then it just kinda stays and becomes part of the family, even though you never had any intention of having a puppy in the first place.”
Spike let out a sceptical grunt and relaxed slightly, but when Xander started going on about what a great guy Riley was, Buffy decided she’d better get Spike out of there before Xander revealed information that she wasn’t ready to share. Besides, they’d all been looking at her as though she’d suddenly sprouted a second head since she’d revealed her relationship with Spike and it was freaking her out. She needed to get away.
She directed a ‘pissed off slayer’ glare at Xander which effectively shut him up for a minute, climbed out of Spike’s lap and said brightly, “Well, now the spells are all broken, I hereby declare this Scooby meeting adjourned. I promised Spike he could come on patrol with me, so… we’re just gonna go do that. Now.”
She grabbed Spike’s hand, dragged him up out of the chair and tugged him towards the front door.
“But we still have so much to discuss, Buffy! For one thing, we still have no idea how you became pregnant with a vampire’s child!”
Buffy shrugged into her coat and checked that the pockets contained their usual complement of stakes. “Well why don’t you start looking into that, Giles? You’re the researchy one. You know I’m not into all that, I’m the fighty one.”
Xander and Giles both called for her to stay, Giles citing the need for immediate research and Xander objecting to her going anywhere with Spike and continuing to talk about Riley.
Willow was frowning at her, absently gnawing on a hangnail, and Anya was grinning happily as she made apparently random comments, probably just because she could.
Buffy ignored them all.
She grabbed an axe from the child-proof weapons chest by the hallstand, raised her hand to give them a jaunty little finger wave and escaped out into the night, taking Spike with her.

Laughing gaily, Buffy ran to the corner of the street, pulling Spike along by the hand. Once safely out of sight of the house, she drew him to a halt and turned to look up at him.
Her face was flushed from the exertion in the cool night air and Spike found her dazzling smile infectious.
“Is this a dream? I can’t believe you’re really here,” She whispered breathlessly, reaching up to touch his cheek.
“If you’re dreaming, then so am I. Having a bit of trouble believing it myself.” He mirrored her action, cupping her cheek then stroking her silky hair, freeing it from its constricting scrunchy so that he could comb his fingers through the full length. He inhaled deeply, the sweet scent of her rose hip shampoo, at once fresh and familiar. “You grew your hair. ‘S gorgeous.” He cupped the back of her head and pressed a kiss to her upturned lips.
He had just pulled her closer and tilted his head to deepen the kiss when she moaned and pulled away from him, pressing her palms against his chest to put a little distance between them. “No,” she gasped.
“No? No what?”
“Much as I want the smoochies, and oh boy, do I want Spike smoochies, I can’t do this.”
“’Course you can.” Spike reached for her again, only for her to take a step back and hold up a hand to stop him.
“No, I can’t. Not yet. I might not want to be with Riley any more, but I’m no cheater. I know you remember what it felt like when you found Drusilla with that Chaos Demon. I can’t do that to him. He doesn’t deserve it.”
Spike remembered only to well and despite his eagerness to show Buffy just how much he’d missed her, he sighed and muttered sulkily, “Better tell the git soon.” He folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head to study her closely. “Tell me about this Riley bloke.”
“Uh, okay, but let’s talk while we walk. I really do have to do the patrolly thing.” She grabbed his right hand with her left and started along the street towards the closest cemetery. “The most important thing for you to keep in mind when I tell you what happened is that I didn’t remember you. At all.
“Okay, so Angel left for L.A. as soon as we defeated the Mayor…”
“That was when you blew up the school, right?”
“Yes. Well, no. Not me personally. I was kinda on maternity leave. That was Faith with Angel and the gang.”
“Faith. That’s the other slayer, yeah?”
“That’s right. She was called when Dru killed Kendra. Faith arrived at exactly the right moment for me. My pregnancy was beginning to slow me down and everyone was nagging me to give up patrolling. Faith stepped straight into the active slayer slot and I went into a more backuppy support position.
“When Angel came back from Hell all wild, Faith and Cordelia had to look after him because he really couldn’t handle the fact that I was pregnant. It was even worse when he got his wits back and found out I didn’t know who the father was. Mucho brooding and disapproving frowns. He kept saying that the baby had to be demonic or at least mystical since I didn’t know how I got pregnant.” She took a deep breath and focussed on her boots, quietly saying, “He told me I should get rid of it.”
“Bleedin’ wanker.”
“Of course I didn’t even consider that, not when the first scan had shown I was carrying a perfectly normal human baby. He kept his distance after that. He agreed to stay on until we’d dealt with the mayor, but then he couldn’t get away fast enough.
“Anyway, to get back on track; Angel went off to L.A. and I quickly got back into active slayer mode over the summer. I met Riley in the college bookshop at the start of freshman year when I dropped some books on his head. He turned out to be my T.A. in Psychology class. He was nice enough and seemed to like me…”
“Wait a minute. You’re dating your T.A? Isn’t that kind of thing frowned on over here?”
“I guess. I never really thought about that. He totally freaked about the teenage unwed mother thing, but he was nice and normal and what everyone said I should want, particularly now Annie was in the picture. But there wasn’t much chemistry, you know?”
Spike couldn’t hold in a derisory snort. “In other words he was boring.” Buffy tried to hide her little smile at that, but Spike saw it.
“Uh… when I started college, Giles said I had to be all secret identity gal again, so I tried to do the normal thing. We had coffee a few times and he even made me a totally lame little picnic once. Then we kinda decided that we weren’t a match made in Heaven and that we’d do better as friends.” Buffy frowned thoughtfully. “Not quite sure why we started dating after that, but it seemed to go well, although we didn’t get physical until…”
Buffy paused and looked up at Spike warily and he realised he was growling low in his chest. He tried to suppress the surge of jealous rage, forcefully reminding himself that she hadn’t deliberately cheated on him. She hadn’t even been aware of his existence. “Sorry, love. Go on.”
“You sure you really want to hear this?”
“Think I need to, Buffy. I need to know exactly what that meddlesome witch screwed up.” He smirked down at her. “You sure you don’t want to take back that rule about not eating your friends? The more I hear, the more tempting a prospect that becomes.”
Buffy let out a wry chuckle. “No, you can’t, but I’m beginning to consider killing her myself. How could she…?” She shook her head, took another deep breath and started gabbling, “It was during a frat party. There was a kinda spell thingy on the house freeing lots of wild sexual energy and Riley and I got caught up in it. Afterwards everyone just assumed we were together and were happy for me, and Riley was eager for us to stay together. I couldn’t face disappointing everyone so I just kinda went with it.”
She fell silent; the only sounds the rustling of the trees in the breeze and the occasional vehicle passing close by.
Spike strode on, hardly noticing his surroundings, as he pondered Buffy’s confession. He knew deep down that he had no right to be angry or hurt, but he was. The sensation of bones shifting in his grip drew his attention back to Buffy herself, and he became aware that he was squeezing her little hand with all his might. “Sorry love,” he muttered as he released his grip, stuffing his clenched fist deep into his duster pocket.
Buffy shook out her hand and immediately slipped it into the same pocket, teasing his hand open again and weaving their fingers together. “S’okay.”
One question nagged at Spike, but he was reluctant to ask it because the answer could change everything. Finally he summoned up the courage. “Do you love him?”
“What? No! I love you!”
“But before…”
Buffy paused for a few seconds’ thought before answering, “No. No, I didn’t love him. I guess I was… fond of him. He’s really a nice guy. He’s just not…” Her voice trailed off and her pace slowed, then stopped. “Oh, crap. I am so not in the mood…”
Spike glanced down at her disgusted expression then looked around to see what had disturbed her. They were in the middle of a cemetery, surrounded by half a dozen scabby demons wearing brown robes.
“I'm so sorry to intrude, oh Heavenly Slayer, but I wonder if I might beg a moment of your time?” the lead demon said obsequiously, with a little bow.
Well, Spike thought, that was... original. “Friends of yours, slayer?”
Buffy snorted. “Not so as you’d notice. Look, can we not do this now?” she said to the demon who had spoken, taking up a fighting stance and flexing the arm holding her axe. “You have to know I’m not gonna let Glory have the Key, whatever you do to me.”
Spike withdrew a combat knife from the leather sheath at his hip and took a step away from Buffy to give them both room to manoeuvre. He turned slowly to pinpoint the position of each of the demons and noted that none of them was carrying weapons. He grinned. There was very little that he found more fun than fighting alongside his slayer. He was eager to see how her fighting skills had matured during the time they’d been apart. “Got your back, slayer,” he murmured, bouncing slightly on his toes as he tossed the knife low in the air so that moonlight glinted off the spinning blade before he neatly caught it again.
“The Key will remain the Key, oh Celestial One, but the Mighty Glorificus has no further need for it. Your custodianship will continue, untroubled.” The lead demon bowed again and took a step back.
Buffy relaxed her posture slightly and cocked her head to one side in puzzlement. “Huh? You don’t want to fight?”
She sounded almost disappointed, and Spike chuckled quietly. However much she protested to the contrary, his slayer did love a good rough and tumble.
“To fight would be superfluous at this point, your Gracious Slayerness, for the most Glamorous, Magnificently-Scented Glorificus is no more.” A tear slipped from his eye and trickled down his scabby cheek. He sniffed. “We conferred and decided that you should be made aware of this calamity before we performed the ritual to sacrifice our miserable, pathetic selves in Her Splendiferous Memory for our dismal failure in Her service.”
A muffled sob came from behind Spike and he glanced back to see one of the demons mopping his tear-streaked face with a large, very grubby handkerchief.
“Wait, Glory’s dead?” Buffy asked in hopeful disbelief. She scrubbed her hand down her face. Her shoulders slumped and she swayed on suddenly unsteady legs.
Spike wrapped a supporting arm around her shoulders and steered her to sit on a nearby headstone. “You okay, slayer?”
“Hmmm? Yeah, I’m fine.” Buffy straightened her spine and looked up. “I don’t get it! How…?” She twisted and looked around, Spike following her gaze. The demons had melted away into the shadows, a single quiet sob in the distance the only sign that they had ever been there.

A/N a couple of lines borrowed and partially adapted from S5 Ep18   ‘Intervention’, written by Michael Gershman.
Chapter 11

Chapter 11
“You want to tell me what just happened here, slayer?”
Buffy stood, flung her arms around Spike and squeezed. “Glory’s dead!” She released him before he could respond and danced away, twirling with her arms spread wide. She sing-songed, “Glo-ry’s de–ead! Glo-ry’s de-ead!”
“Yeah, kinda picked up on that. Who’s Glory?”
She stopped twirling and swayed slightly, waiting for the world to stop whirling. “I have to call Giles!”
“What, now? I thought we were going to find something to kill?”
Spike was pouting. It was so cute. “Oh well, I guess it’s not that urgent. I can tell them all tomorrow.” She hooked her arm through his and urged him forward to resume their progress through the cemetery. “Let me tell you a story about a Hellgod in exile and a swirly green ball of energy…”

When the last of the group of vampires turned into a shower of dust floating on the breeze, Spike turned to check on Buffy. She was leaning against a stone angel, catching her breath and combing her fingers through her dishevelled hair. He tucked his stake into his duster pocket and shook his head, bewildered. “I still can’t believe she’s not real.” He fished a finger around under the stake until he found the scrunchy he’d pulled from her hair earlier, and tossed it to her.
“Oh, thanks! I wondered where that had gone.” She bent forward to gather her hair in a single bunch and then straightened up to fix the scrunchy in place to form a high ponytail. “But she is real. She’s very real. She just… hasn’t been real for very long.”
“So when…?”
“Best we can tell, she arrived about six months ago. About the same time that Dracula was in town.”
“Bloody hell! Did I miss him too? It’s been all go here, hasn’t it, slayer? Wish I’d been here then. Poncy bastard owes me eleven pounds.”
“What’s that? About twenty dollars? That’s not much.”
“Reckon it’d be a tidy sum when you factor in compound interest over nearly a century, love. Would have been a good foundation for the Supporting a Family Fund.”
Buffy straightened her clothes and brushed a patch of vampire dust from her sleeve, then gestured that they should move on. “Well, I’ve done my duty for the night. I should get back. I need to get some sleep. I have classes in the morning and I’ll need to get there early so I can get Annie settled in the crèche first. And of course I still have to have The Talk with Mom.”
Spike trotted to catch up then slipped his hand into hers as they turned out of the cemetery gate onto the sidewalk.
“Oh! I meant to ask you about the money. You told mom you have a plan…?”
Spike grinned. “You remember what we were researching just before you came back to Sunnyhell, love?”
Buffy stopped and looked up at him with an eager smile. “The gem? You found it?”
“As good as. Found a map.”
Buffy giggled. “A treasure map? Oh, Spike! Please say that X marks the spot! I’ve always wanted to say that!”
“More of a blot, but yeah. Shouldn’t be too hard to find, and then… you know what that scroll said…”
“About the gem being in a hidden tomb with a whole bunch of treasure? Oh! I get it! The treasure is the Supporting a Family Fund! Where is it? When can we go get it?” She bounced excitedly, like a child who had been promised a special treat.
Spike chuckled. She was so adorable when she allowed the girl within to shine through the slayer shell. “Well, that’s the neatest part. The scroll says it’s in The Valley of the Sun, and what’s another way of saying The Valley of the Sun?”
Here? It’s here in Sunnydale?”
“Yeah. Looks like it. I’ll just need to compare the map with a current map of the area and align them to match a couple of landmarks that haven’t changed…”
“We have maps! We have loads of maps! I can give you one now!” Buffy broke into a run and raced down the street. Spike chased after her and arrived at the house just as she was emerging with a folded map. She thrust it into his hand. “Here you are! When are we going to look?”
Checking that the picture of the front of the map depicted the entire town of Sunnydale, Spike slipped it into his pocket. “Well, you may need to get some sleep now, Buffy, but for me it’s the middle of the day. If I can pinpoint the spot, I could round up a few minions to do the grunt work and start looking tonight. And if it’s a tomb, that means it’s underground so we won’t have to stop at daybreak…”
“It’s so exciting!” Buffy beamed up at him, wide eyes shining and full lips moist and inviting.
He respected what she’d said about not cheating, he really did, but he simply couldn’t resist. He gripped her upper arms and drew her to him, lowered his mouth to her upturned lips and captured them in a kiss.
Within seconds, he had her pressed up against the porch pillar.
As the kiss continued and quickly became deeply passionate, he ground his erection into her hip and his hands roamed her body, becoming acquainted with her new contours. Motherhood had blessed her with fuller breasts than those he remembered, but the rest of her body was still painfully thin. He looked forward to watching her fill out and regain her sleek, toned figure.
After a few minutes, Buffy pulled her mouth from his. As she gasped for breath, he began to nibble down her throat, growling in frustration when he encountered the collar of her turtle-neck sweater. Her winter clothing wasn’t nearly as accessible as the flimsy summer garments he had been accustomed to during their time together in L.A. He sent one hand questing up under her sweater to stroke the soft warm skin of her waist and edged it slowly higher until his thumb brushed the underside of her lace-clad breast.
Buffy threw her head back with a quiet moan and pressed his head against her throat, her other hand busily tugging his t-shirt out of his waistband at the back.
When Joyce’s anxious voice floated down the stairs, they both froze.
“Buffy? Is that you, honey?”
Buffy looked up at Spike, her eyes wide with alarm. She gave an embarrassed little cough and blushing furiously, called back, “Yeah, it’s me mom!” She immediately stepped away from Spike and hurriedly adjusted her clothing.
“Oh, that’s good, honey. I’m having trouble sleeping, so I thought we could have that talk now, while the girls are asleep?”
Buffy crinkled her nose in dismay but she didn’t let her reluctance colour her voice when she replied, “Uh, that’s great mom. I’ll just grab a snack and I’ll be right there.” To Spike she whispered. “I can’t believe we almost… I mean right out here on the porch! Anybody could have…” She shook her head and sighed. “This can’t happen again, at least not out in the open and not until I’ve spoken with Riley.”
Spike’s ardour was effectively doused by her mention of her boyfriend.
She went on tip toe and kissed him quickly on the lips. Grinning widely, she said, “This has been just the best day!”
Spike had to agree. “Best day since… well, since that bloody spell.”
Buffy stepped back in through the door and slowly began to close it. “Look, I’m busy all day tomorrow. First with classes and then my shift at the store. Why don’t you come meet me there at sundown? I’ll get everyone together to tell them about Glory and you can join the celebrations. Oh! And you can tell me how the treasure hunt is going.”
“Uh… store, love? What store?”
“Sorry, of course you don’t know. It’s the Magic Box on Maple. Giles owns it and Anya works there too. It’s kinda Slayer Central.” She stepped back outside and pointed down the street. “If you go…”
“Don’t worry, slayer. I’ll find it.” Spike took the opportunity to pull her into another clinch. He bent to kiss her again but she effortlessly wriggled out of his arms.
Evil, Spike! Evil! I gotta go!” She skipped back indoors and blew him a kiss around the door. “Goodnight, honey. See you tomorrow. Love ya!”
He placed one hand flat on the door, preventing her from closing it all the way. “The last couple of years… I knew there was something missing from my life, something I was searching for, but I never once imagined…” He paused to take a deep shaky breath. “That empty hole inside me? It was where you fit. I love you too, Buffy. So much…”
Buffy tilted her head to one side and smiled softly. “I know, Spike. You fill my hole too.” Her eyes widened comically. She squeaked, “No! You don’t! I mean… well, you do, or rather you did and I hope you will again, but that’s not what I meant. I meant…”
Spike burst out laughing.
“Oh, stop it!” She covered her eyes with her hand, shaking her head in despair. “I’m just going to stop talking now. Go. Go find the treasure.” She flapped her other hand in a shooing motion.
“’Night slayer.” Still chuckling, Spike hopped down the porch steps and giving her a backwards wave, headed off in the direction of Crawford Street.

Spike growled in frustration, swept up the maps and scrunched them up into a lopsided ball. He then threw them across the room with all his strength. He lit a cigarette and stared out of the window for a few minutes, waiting for the nicotine to do its work and calm his shredded nerves.
Then he tossed the cigarette butt into the sink, heaved a resigned sigh, crossed to where the map ball lay and picked it up. Thankful that the treasure map had been drawn on well cured vellum and then stored in an air-tight tube to preserve its suppleness, he carefully smoothed out the creases and laid the maps side by side on the big scrubbed pine refectory table in the mansion’s kitchen.
He rolled his neck until the bones cracked and then leant over the maps again, peering through the magnifying glass he’d lifted from the watcher’s place.
So much for his comment to Buffy that the treasure ‘shouldn’t be too hard to find’.
The first problem had been that apart from a faint similarity in the shape of the coastline and the presence of a small creek and lake, at first glance there seemed to be no correlations between the two maps at all. It had made him begin to doubt his own certainty that the ‘Valley of the Sun’ mentioned in the scroll did in fact mean Sunnydale.
He had begun to wonder whether all the features marked on the ancient map had been obliterated by the construction of the sprawling town and its associated infrastructure such as the hydro-electric dam and reservoir, the dockyard and the railway.
Not to mention the changes wrought by the frequent earthquakes that plagued the region.
And he had the growing suspicion that they had been drawn to two very different scales.
As soon as he’d realised that it was going to be a difficult search, he’d given up the idea of going to Willy’s to recruit minions for the menial labour part of the search. Instead, he had spent a couple of long hours laboriously studying the old map, trying to interpret the faded hand-drawn symbols and match them to possible locations on the modern map. If he could accurately identify just one of them, he would have a place to start.
Up to now, he hadn’t had much luck. It seemed that the longer and closer he looked, the less sense the sepia spiders’ tracks made.
The clearest symbol, the one to which his attention kept being drawn, was the tiny outline of a pyramid. In an archaic script, it was labelled ‘Fanum’. Spike’s vague memories of schoolboy Latin furnished him with the translation of ‘temple’ or ‘shrine’.
He knew of numerous modern churches in the town, but he couldn’t recall ever seeing any pyramid-shaped temples. There was certainly none marked on the modern map.
Finally, Spike decided that he’d had quite enough of boring research for one night and resolved to spend the rest of the night searching for his elusive pyramid.
He also needed to locate a butcher willing to sell him some blood. His trip to Sunnydale had only been supposed to be for a couple of days and his coolbox was nearly empty. As an afterthought, he flipped the switch to turn the huge fridge/freezer on, then checked that the little light came on when he opened the fridge door. Perfect. He’d be able to buy in bulk and save money, now that he had something to save up for.
He carefully rolled up the treasure map, slipped it into its case and tucked it safely into the back of a kitchen drawer full of cooking utensils. He then grabbed the modern map, folded it untidily and stuffed it into his duster pocket.
Out on the street, he turned in the direction of Maple Court to locate the magic shop before beginning his search. He would then find the nearest manhole and investigate to see whether the place was accessible from the tunnels. If the shop was Slayer Central, it was likely that he’d need to get there quickly at any time of the day. Sewer access would make his unlife a lot less hazardous.
“Now then, let me see,” he murmured to himself. “Pyramid temple. Won’t be in an obvious place or it would be marked on the map as a place of worship, or at least an archaeological site of interest.” He sucked his teeth. “Now, if I was a lost little pyramid temple, where would I be?”
After a few moments thought, he gave a decisive nod. “If I haven’t been buried by a bloody earthquake, I’d be hidden in the woods or an overgrown corner of a park or disused cemetery.” He paused under a street light, dug the map out of his pocket and looked for the closest cemetery. There were so many to choose from, he decided he’d try to be methodical and cover each one in turn. If he had no luck, he’d do the parks, and then start looking further afield and explore the wooded areas surrounding the town.
Cemeteries, parks, wooded areas. He sighed. It was beginning to look as though he might need some help.
Chapter 12

Chapter 12
Buffy stood in the open doorway to the training room and watched, entranced, as Annie held a very serious, largely incomprehensible, one-sided conversation with Mr Tigger and Cup Cake Chloe over a toy tea-set laid out on her child-sized table in the play corner.
“Buffy! We need more sandalwood candles! Better get some more patchouli and jasmine too. You were right. Setting them out on the display with the love tokens and massage oils is working!”
With a small sigh, Buffy turned to see Anya finishing her transaction with the latest customer. Giles was sitting at the research table engrossed in his books, oblivious to the sporadic bustle around him. Although she’d set her mother’s mind at rest the night before, and Dawn’s that morning, she hadn’t yet told Giles or Anya about her encounter with Glory’s minions. She’d decided to wait to tell that story until the whole gang was assembled otherwise she’d end up telling it a hundred times.
Besides, when she’d arrived, Giles had already been deep in research into her ‘impossible’ child. She didn’t mind. She was curious about the topic herself, not that it would make any difference. Just as long as his explanation didn’t come with the ominous word ‘prophecy’ tagged on.
She shouldered herself off the door jamb and made her way down to the basement store-room to collect more scented candles.
While Anya had fitted seamlessly in to the running of the store, it had taken Buffy longer to find her own niche. Her first few weeks’ employment had consisted mainly of fetching and carrying and tidying up as instructed by Giles and Anya, only dealing directly with customers when the shop was particularly busy.
For a while, she had seriously considered quitting and trying to persuade the Espresso Pump to give her a second chance. Preparing coffee in its many and varied forms had come as second nature to her and although the pay wasn’t too great, the perks had been good. How likely was it that they’d have a second infestation of Davrok demons in the basement that she’d have to burn out, sending all the patrons high-tailing it to get away from the acrid fumes?
Then one day she had made a random comment regarding the display of a particular range of spell components that hadn’t been selling well. Anya had agreed and persuaded Giles to make the change and four days later they’d had to order more stock to keep up with demand.
With this boost to her self-confidence, Buffy had begun making more suggestions and was gratified when Giles and Anya took her seriously. One thing she had always been good at was shopping. It turned out that this talent transferred to the related art of designing the layout of the shop floor and product display to maximise sales.
Her new-found assurance had been transferred to her dealings with the customers. With her encyclopaedic knowledge of the stock gained from all those trips to the store-room, she had quickly settled down to become an effective part of the team.
As she transferred a selection of scented candles to a box ready to carry upstairs, Buffy’s mind began to wander. The day seemed to be dragging interminably. She wasn’t looking forward to seeing Riley. She’d never had to end a relationship before; all the guys she’d dated before had dumped her! She didn’t want to hurt Riley, but she had an uneasy feeling that he wouldn’t react well whatever she said.
A little smile crossed her lips. She was looking forward to telling everyone that the threat from Glory was over. Particularly because by then, Spike would be there. She’d checked; sunset would be at about five-thirty. She pouted. At least half an hour still to wait.
As had been happening all day, once Spike had invaded her thoughts, he set up camp. Buffy was still assimilating and working through her recovered memories and now one interlude thrust itself forward in her mind. It had been the night they had made love for the first time. Oh, they’d had sex before and it had been a revelation, but this one night they’d both said the words and it had been so very different. So much more fulfilling.
Then afterwards, as they lay entwined on her small, lumpy bed, Spike had started reciting a poem to her. She couldn’t remember the words; she’d been too enthralled by the rhythmic rise and fall of his voice rumbling through his chest under her cheek to listen to the actual poem. One day she’d have to ask him what it had been.
“Daydreaming, love?”
Buffy yelped at the unexpected sound of Spike’s deep, husky voice right by her ear and the sensation of his body pressed lightly against her back.
A warm flush spread outwards from her core and her breath caught in her throat. “Spike? What? How?”
A long-fingered hand reached over her shoulder to take a candle. “Essence of slug? You can’t be serious.”
Buffy sniggered. “One of Anya’s few mistakes. A customer wanted some for a spell and Anya thought she’d ordered six. She’d checked the wrong box and ordered a gross.” She dumped the box of candles on a handy shelf, twisted in his arms and wrapped her arms around his neck. “It’s still daylight, how did you get here? Have you found it yet?”
“Came through the tunnels.” Spike huffed. “The search is gonna be tougher than I thought. Decided to recruit some help. Do you reckon the watcher might be up for a puzzle?”
“I think I can safely say that Giles is always up for a puzzle. Kinda comes with the whole watcher gig.” She looked up as he looked down and as if drawn together by a gravitational force, their mouths met.
It could have been a minute or it could have been an hour before Anya’s strident voice from the top of the basement steps startled them and made Buffy break away.
“Buffy? Are you making those candles? Giles is being useless so I need your help with customers. Oh, and bring some more sandalwood massage oil too.”
Buffy gulped desperately for much-needed oxygen, straightened her clothing and smoothed her hair. The day before, she’d been reminded that Spike kisses were one of her favourite things, but she was desperately trying to keep to her resolution to forego Spike smoochies until after she’d broken up with Riley. Her visceral reaction to Spike every time he came within range was making that difficult, however. She rolled her eyes and gave Spike an apologetic little shrug. “I’ll be right there!”
She quickly finished filling her box with candles, tossed half a dozen bottles of sandalwood oil on top and turned for the stairs, grabbing a grumbling Spike by the hand and dragging him after her. “Come on honey. Smoochies later. For now, you can give Giles your puzzle to look at while I’m busy. Anyway, I’m guessing that by now he has, like, a gazillion questions for you.

“Well, that explains what took you so long,” Anya said with a grin as Buffy led Spike down the steps towards the research area at the rear of the shop. “Now please could you attend to business?”
Buffy grinned back, blushing slightly. “Sorry, Anya.” She gave Spike’s hand a squeeze, then released it and quickly went to refill the Valentine’s Day display.
Spike took a moment to look around and take in his surroundings. It was a very professional looking magic shop. Just the job for a town built over a Hellmouth.
Anya handed a customer her change, wished her a nice day and urged her to come back and spend some more money soon. Then she regarded Spike thoughtfully. “Spike? It’s a shame you didn’t claim Buffy while you were in L.A. As mates, you’d have been drawn to each other despite the forgetting spell and you’d have figured it out a lot sooner.”
“Thought about it, but the Slayer wanted to wait until her eighteenth birthday. Just to be certain that was what she wanted too. After all, a claim’s unbreakable, not something you do on a whim.”
Anya nodded knowingly. “Of course. Inconvenient under the circumstances, but very wise.” She then turned her attention to the next customer.
Spike headed over to Giles at the research table. He withdrew the ancient map tube from an inner pocket of his duster and deliberately placed it on the open book that Giles was concentrating on. “Watcher? Was wondering if you could give me a hand with something.”
Giles started slightly, but didn’t look up. Instead he picked up the map tube and slowly turned it over in his hands. “Ivory?” he mused quietly. “No, not ivory. The engravings are nautical so that means it’s most likely to be whalebone. Scrimshaw. An excellent example.” He looked up at last. “With what do you need my help, Spike?”
Rolling his eyes, Spike took the tube from Giles, pried out the waxed wooden stopper and tilted it so that the map slid out onto the table. “Not the scrimshaw, you twit. The map!”
Spike stood and watched as Giles cautiously unrolled the vellum map and bent to examine it.
“Oh, my. This does look old,” Giles murmured.
“Daddy! Mine daddy!”
Spike glanced over his shoulder to see Annie emerge from the training room, head down and chubby little arms and legs pumping madly as she ran straight for him. He automatically took a step back in surprise, so that when the toddler collided with his legs and wrapped her arms tightly around his knees, he overbalanced, toppled over and sat down hard on the chair he had backed into.
After a moment’s stunned silence, Spike gathered his wits and ruffled the curly head. “Well, hello, Moptop. I’m happy to see you too!”
Annie released his knees and grabbed his leather duster to help her haul herself up onto his lap. When first her elbow and then her knee jabbed him in a very tender place, Spike hastily gave her a boost and helped her to get settled comfortably.
“You did came back!”
“Yeah, pet. You won’t get rid of me now.”
Annie graced him with a blinding smile, curled up and nestled into his chest, grabbed a fistful of his t-shirt with one hand, jammed the thumb of her other hand in her mouth and promptly fell asleep.
For a few moments Spike just sat there, his arms out to the side, in total bemusement. What on earth was he supposed to do now? Where was he supposed to put his hands? He tried to clear the unaccountable lump in his throat, and Annie shifted slightly. His right arm went instinctively to wrap around her shoulder and back and he gently gripped her leg to stop her from slipping off him. Well, that felt all right. He glanced up to see whether Buffy was okay with the new development. Surely she’d want to take Annie off him?
He was surprised to see her smiling at him, her head tilted to one side and her eyes suspiciously shiny. He raised an eyebrow questioningly and she gave him a little nod of approval before turning her attention back to her customer.
Ignoring Giles’ contemplative muttering about the map, Spike focused upon the warm weight in his lap. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply to imprint her scent on his memory. Under the smell of baby lotion, milk and peanut butter, Annie’s personal essence was fresh and clean. A filtered, immature version of the slayer musk with which he was so very familiar, with an added hint of spiciness that for a moment he couldn’t place. Then it hit him. The basis of her scent was a blend of Buffy’s and his own. He swallowed hard. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t believed Buffy when she had announced that Annie was his daughter, but at the back of his mind there had remained the ‘known fact’ that vampires couldn’t father children, so a niggling doubt had persisted. He could doubt no longer.
“VampDaddy. You’re here. Uh… why are you here, exactly?”
Spike looked up to see Xander Harris scowling at him. “Where the hell else do you expect me to be, Special Ed? Better get used to seeing me around ‘cos where Buffy and Annie go, there go I.”
Giles sighed. “He’s right, Xander. Like it or not, from now on, Spike will be a permanent fixture in Buffy’s life, and therefore in ours.” He adjusted the position of the map and bent over it again.
“Well, for the record I don’t like it,” Xander grumped. “But last night Anya helped me work out a few things. Buffy loves Bloodbreath here and he’s sworn an oath to stay around and protect Annie. If I want to stay Buffy’s friend, I’m going to have to accept that, so I guess I’ll just have to suck it up and deal.” He plopped down in a chair by Giles and finally noticed what was holding the watcher’s interest. He leant forward. “Great jumping Jehosaphat, Giles! That must be the oldest map of Sunnydale I’ve ever seen, and I have seen some very old maps! Where did you get it?”
Giles glanced up in surprise. “Sunnydale? You say this map depicts Sunnydale? How on earth can you tell?”
“My Granddad collected maps of Sunnydale and I have them now. This is even older than the oldest of his.” Xander pointed to an area of coastline. “Look, this is Kingman’s Bluff before the big earthquake of eighteen twelve. This whole section here fell into the sea. There was another one in the thirties that did almost as much damage on the other side. Granddad had a whole story he used to tell about that one. He was a kid when it happened and it scared the bejesus out of him. And over here, these little tufty thingies show the swamp, near where they built the dam for the reservoir…”
“Then this must be the Hellmouth,” Giles put in excitedly, pointing to a small spiral symbol further inland. “I was trying to make out what this caption is, but now I see it must be ‘Ore ad Inferos’.”
Delighted that his search had abruptly taken a giant leap forward, Spike reached over to tap his finger on the little pyramid symbol. “Found this last night. It’s a tomb of some kind in a fenced off enclosure behind Shady Hill cemetery.”
He was about to go on to explain about the treasure, carefully omitting any reference to the Gem of Amara, when his attention was drawn to the front of the shop.
“Riley!” Buffy cried. “You’re here! Well, of course you’re here. I called and asked you to be here, and here you are!” She tittered nervously.
Spike frowned when Willow stepped out from behind the hulking great lummox and Buffy’s voice lost all its forced joviality. “And Willow. I’m not happy with you right now, but something’s happened and I need to tell the gang, so you should be here for that. I figured you deserve that much.” She flipped the sign on the door to ‘closed’ and turned to lead the newcomers down towards the research table.
“You know I’ll always come when you call, Buffy. And who’s this?” Riley asked suspiciously, gesturing at Spike. “Is he the something that has happened?”
Spike instinctively went to stand up to face the challenge that Riley represented, only to hurriedly sit back down when Annie stirred and started slipping off his lap. He sent a pleading glance to Buffy who darted forward.
She gently took Annie from Spike, careful not to wake her, and headed towards the training room. Just as she disappeared through the doorway, she gabbled, “This is… uh… this is William. He’s uh… he’s Annie’s father.”
‘Cup Cake Chloe’ is a soft doll in the Cup Cake range from the Early Learning Centre. I don’t own the Cup Cake doll company (if that’s even what it’s called) or the Early Learning Centre. I also don’t know if these dolls are available in the US (I can’t find a US based ELC website), or even whether they existed in 2001. Let’s just pretend…
I don’t know any Latin. I Googled like mad and ‘Ore ad Inferos’ is the best translation I could find for ‘The mouth of Hell’. Apologies if I have got it wrong.

Chapter 13

Chapter 13
Buffy settled Annie on the pile of exercise mats that served her as a nap bed, pulled a fleecy blanket over her and dropped an absent-minded kiss on her forehead. Then she straightened up, took a deep breath and went back into the shop to face the music.
“So that whole story you gave me about not knowing who it was; that was what? A pack of lies?”
Buffy sighed wearily. “No, Riley. There was a spell…”
“Oh. And of course that explains everything,” Riley said scathingly. “You were dating me, but you wouldn’t back me up and let me do my duty and recapture Hostile Sixteen. You protected her, and even announced you were going to move in with her. And then you told me you didn’t mean it because it was all a spell. We made love…”
“Lust,” Buffy broke in quietly.
“…and then you never… Huh?” Riley glanced around and flushed when he noticed their very attentive audience.
“We didn’t make love, we made… lust. It was ‘cos of the whole haunted sexy frat house thing. I explained…”
“Yeah, I know what you said, but…”
“But nothing, Riley. That’s really all that was.”
Riley heaved an exasperated sigh. “Maybe for you, that’s all it was, although I guess it explains why you never let me get that close again. But that wasn’t the end of it, was it? You let Dracula bite you, but you didn’t mean to, it just happened because of his magic thrall.” He folded his arms across his chest and said indignantly, “It seems to me that any time you do something you later wish you hadn’t, you blame some kind of magic.”
Buffy could only gape at him. Suddenly, finding the right words to break up with Riley wasn’t going to be hard at all.
Giles cleared his throat. “What Buffy has said is true, Riley. We were all affected by the memory spell, not just Buffy.”
Riley didn’t appear impressed. He still stood rigidly facing Buffy, tight-lipped and defiant.
With a little shrug, Buffy simply said, “Well, I’m sorry, Riley, but if it hadn’t been for the spell making me forget Sp... uh, William, I never would have started dating you in the first place. I love him.” A crease furrowed her brow. “For that matter, I’m not sure why I did go out with you. Remember that picnic? Didn’t we decide then that we were going to be just friends?”
Riley relaxed slightly and unfolded his arms. “Yes, we did, but then…” He scratched his head. “I don’t know. I suddenly found myself asking you out again. It seemed like something I had to do.”
“And… and I suddenly found myself saying yes. I do like you, Riley, but the magic was just never there and if you’re totally honest about it, you know that.”
Xander burst out, “But the two of you have been so happy together! You were made for each other!”
Buffy gave a little shrug. “Not so much with the happy, Xan. Riley could never get past the teenage single mother thing…”
“And Buffy never really loved me. She certainly never needed me. She’s right. We should have stayed just friends. It would have been far less…”
“Awkward? Uncomfortable? Unsatisfying?” Buffy finished for him. “So you understand, then? Now William’s back and I remember being in love with him, what you and I had, whatever it was; it’s over.”
“Yeah. I guess. Actually, it’s kind of a relief. Things haven’t been right for a long time. Well, from the beginning, really. I just couldn’t seem to end it.” Riley sighed, gave a little wave, turned and headed towards the shop door. “Bye, Buffy, everyone. I think I’m gonna contact Graham and find out some more about that new unit. I’ll see you Friday night as usual for our regular movie date, okay Buffy?”
“Yes, of course.” Buffy clapped a hand over her mouth in shock. “I don’t know why I said that. What’s wrong with me?”
Riley pulled up short with his hand on the door and turned back. “I don’t get it. We just broke up, right? So why am I asking you out again? And why did you say yes?”
“Oh for Odin’s sake,” Anya said impatiently. “Can’t you tell? It’s obvious there’s a spell on you both!” She directed a meaningful look at Willow who was sitting quietly in the corner, trying to shrink down behind Giles. “Isn’t that right, Willow?”
Buffy spun on her heel and looked at Willow in disbelief. “Oh my god! Willow?”
“I’m sorry, Buffy! I’m so sorry!” Willow cried, grimacing anxiously. “I totally forgot about that one!”
“What did you do? And for god’s sake, why?”
“After losing Angel and what you’d told me about Sp—uh William, I thought… Well, you were so sad and Riley liked you so much and you needed a boyfriend, a nice normal human boyfriend and...”
“And so… what? You pimped me out? Willow! How could you?”
“Buffy! No! It so wasn’t like that! It’s only… you were hesitating so long with the likeage and dithering about the dateage and I just kinda gave you both a teensy tiny nudge in the right direction. Then when there was the Annie freakage, I just kinda gave the spell a little boost so he wouldn’t leave you, ‘cos you hurt so bad when guys you like leave you and…”
Buffy’s eyes went wide with horror. “What? You took it upon yourself to decide I needed to date, appointed yourself as matchmaker to select my boyfriend for me, and thenforced me to date him?”
“But Buffy, I was only trying to help!”
“Enough!” Buffy closed her eyes, clenched and unclenched her fists and took several deep breaths, desperately trying to resist the overpowering urge to beat Willow to a bloody pulp. When she thought she’d managed to control her rage sufficiently, she opened her eyes again and glared at the girl who for years she had regarded as her closest friend. In a quiet, restrained tone she said, “You need to undo it. Now, Willow.”
Willow edged out of her chair and sidled across the shop floor towards the counter, keeping a wary eye on both Buffy and Riley, who was staring at her in shocked disbelief. “Yeah, sure, Buffy. I’ll get right on that. I… I’ll just need a few things. Uh, Anya? Have you got any essence of rose thorn? Oh! And... and a feather?”
“Raven, canary or dove? And will that be cash or charge?”

In an attempt to distract himself from his almost overpowering desire to snap Willow’s neck, Spike tuned out the discussion about spells and their components, and contemplated the young man standing looking lost in the middle of the floor. He gave the impression of being an all-American good old country boy, but Spike had the feeling there was something off about him. He got up and slowly circled the taller man, employing all his enhanced senses to evaluate him.
Now he recognised what had seemed wrong. Riley didn’t have a trace of Buffy’s scent on him. That was a welcome relief, but the odd thing was that he did have the scent of another… no two other females on him. And blood, some fresh and some not so fresh, centred around his arms. The blood could be explained if he’d been injured while patrolling, but the feminine scents…
“William? What are you doing?” Riley asked warily, turning to follow Spike’s movements.
Totally ignoring him, Spike said, “Oy, slayer. Seems your boy here doesn’t have the same scruples as you do about cheating. He stinks of two other women.”
Buffy sounded wounded and insecure, and Spike winced when he realised that his discovery had hurt her.
“Buffy! No! It’s not what you think!”
When Riley spun around to defend himself to Buffy, Spike caught a glimpse of a healed scar on his neck, half hidden by his collar. A scar that, to the initiated, could never be mistaken for anything else.
All the clues fell into place. Spike grasped Riley by the hand and roughly shoved his sleeve up past his elbow.
“No!” Riley tried to twist his hand out of Spike’s grip and when Spike released him he went to pull his sleeve back down. Before he could complete the move however, Spike repeated the action on his other arm. Both arms bore bite wounds in varying stages of healing, one on the inside of each elbow still covered by bandages through which fresh blood was seeping.
“Brainless bloody wanker!” Spike snarled, allowing his demon to surface in his anger. “How long have you been dicing with death in the bite shops?”
Riley skittered away from him and ran towards Buffy, putting himself as a barrier between her and Spike. “Oh my god! Buffy, look out! He’s been turned! Where’s your stake?”
Impatiently, Buffy pushed him away from her. “I know that, Riley. Spike was turned over a century ago. Stop avoiding the subject.” She gripped one of his arms and examined it closely. “What’s a bite shop?” She flung the offending limb away from her in disgust. “As if it isn’t totally obvious. God, I knew you could be a little naïve where demons are concerned, but I never pegged you for suicidally stupid. You could have been killed! Or even worse, turned! Then you’d have put us all in danger!”
“I think when this thing started it was just some stupid, immature game. I wanted to know what the attraction was with Angel. Why instead of staking her, you protected Hostile Sixteen…”
“Harmony,” Buffy ground out. “Her name is Harmony.”
“…And I needed to know what you felt when Dracula bit you. I wanted to know why vampires seem to have so much power over you.” He gestured towards Spike. “And now it turns out…” In horrified disbelief, he said, “My god, you really do have a sick thing for vampires.”
Buffy slowly shook her head. “You so don’t get it.”
Riley sighed and subsided wearily, pulling his sleeves back down. “No, no I don’t get it. I don’t think I ever will.” He turned to Willow who was standing watching wide-eyed, her arms full of magical supplies. “Do your thing, Willow, then I’m out of here. I’ve had it with this hellish town. I can’t get away soon enough.”
A few minutes later, while the smoke was clearing and Willow was scurrying around clearing up the residue of her spell, the shop bell tinkled as the door closed behind Riley.
Buffy turned towards Giles, her arms folded firmly across her chest. “So, bite shops. How come you never told me about them before?”

Buffy was finding it difficult to understand Giles’ point of view. “You’re saying what? That because these people are too stupid to understand how dangerous it is, they deserve to die?”
“Of course not, Buffy. It’s just that I'm not sure this is where your efforts are best spent at the moment. Perhaps you should focus on a less ambiguous evil. Glory, for instance?”
Buffy waved that suggestion away. “Oh, Glory’s not a problem.” She turned to Spike. “You know where these bite shops are?”
“When I was here before, there was one down behind Willy’s. I don’t know if it’s still there, but I can easily find out.”
“Okay then. You up for a little mayhem later? I need to send a message that these evil… leeches aren’t welcome in my town.”
Spike leered and waggled his eyebrows at her. “You know me, love. Always up for wreaking a little mayhem.”
Buffy smiled at him and nodded her satisfaction, then directed her gaze at Willow, the smile fading from her face.
“Will, give me your word that there aren’t any more ‘let’s screw with Buffy’s life’ spells floating about out there that you’ve conveniently forgotten about.”
“I promise, Buffy. That’s all. No more, honest. I know I keep saying sorry, but I am. I just wanted to help you to be happy and…”
“And tried to control every aspect of my life to suit you. You’ve been a good friend, mybest friend since I first arrived in Sunnydale, and I’d hate to lose you, but you do get that I don’t trust you any more, right?”
“You… you want me to go?” Willow’s eyes welled up and she sniffled.
“I need you to stay away from me for a while, Will. Well, at least until you’ve been to that coven that Giles was talking about and learned the witchy rules. Then… well, then we’ll see.” Willow brightened up and opened her mouth to speak but Buffy held up her hand to stop her. “But understand this. If I ever find out you’ve done another spell on me without discussing it with me first…”
Spike put in grouchily, “Or me! Bloody manipulative bitch.”
“Or Spike,” Buffy nodded in agreement, “or anybody else for that matter, we’ll be done. Get that? No more second chances, Will.”
“But Buffy! It’s Willow, you can’t…”
Sniffing back her tears, Willow laid a restraining hand on Xander’s arm. “It’s okay, Xan. I deserve that. I did it all wrong. I got carried away using the magic and even though I had the best of intentions, I ended up causing nothing but badness for Buffy. I’m just grateful that she isn’t giving up on me altogether.” She sighed sadly, stood and started gathering up her possessions. “I understand, Buffy. I’ll go. You know where I am if you need me for Glory or anything.”
“Okay. That’s settled then. Now, Mom will be here shortly to collect Annie, so I’m gonna go deal with these bitey places. Coming, Spike?”
“Wait a minute, Willow.” Giles held out a hand to stop her. “Buffy, when you called this meeting, you said you had some important news for us. It obviously had nothing to do with Willow’s spell since you didn’t know of its existence. I wonder… Earlier you made an offhand comment to the effect that Glory isn’t a problem. What precisely did you mean by that?”
Buffy’s eyes went wide in surprise. “I said!”
Giles shook his head.
“I didn’t say? I thought I…” She frowned and chewed the inside of her cheek as she went over the evening’s events in her mind.
Giles heaved one of his best long-suffering sighs. “No Buffy. We have yet to discuss the Glory situation.”
“Oh. Sorry. My bad.” Buffy grimaced guiltily. “Well, last night on patrol, Spike and I found a bunch of Glory’s scabby minions. Or rather, they found us….”

Some dialogue borrowed and partially adapted from S5 ep10 ‘Into the Woods’ written by Marti Noxon.
Chapter 14

Chapter 14
Giles finished jotting down the details of Buffy’s patrol the night before and tucked his diary away. “Utterly remarkable,” he said, polishing his spectacles for all they were worth. “Are you positive he said that Glory was no more? It does seem to be rather…”
“Too good to be true?” Xander put in.
“I was going to say fortuitous.” Although Giles admitted to himself that Xander’s comment was equally apt.
Grinning, Buffy nodded vigorously. “Uh-huh. He said I can keep the Key, that Glory was no more, and that they were going to sacrifice themselves for failing her. There was sobbing. Neat, huh?”
“And they gave no indication of how Glory met her end? Given what you told me of her, it’s difficult to imagine.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “No, Giles. I’ve told you everything he said. They did their disappearing act before I could ask any questions.”
Willow said excitedly, “Oh! That must have been me and Tara with our teleportation spell! Oh, boy! I always knew we were awesome, but wow! Yay me! I killed a Hellgod!”
“God, will you ever get over yourself, Will? I don’t know where you poofed her to, but wherever it was, it didn’t kill her. I’ve had a run in with her since then.”
“Phooey.” Willow slumped back in her chair and stuck her bottom lip out in a pout. “That would have been so cool.”
“This is good, right?” Anya asked, looking up from where she was counting the day’s takings. “If Glory’s dead, that means the apocalypse has been averted and none of us has been brain-sucked or met a grisly end. And we can stop mollycoddling Dawn. Frankly, that has become boring.”
“Yes, Ahn, except that I guess those Ren Fair knights that attacked Buffy are still out there,” Xander pointed out. “They’ll still want to destroy the Key. That can’t be good.”
“But they don’t know Dawn’s the Key.”
Buffy made a face. “I don’t think we can count on that for long. From what Dawn said, one of them was in the crazy ward at the hospital and when he saw her, he started babbling that he’d found the key. Perhaps if we tell them that Glory’s dead, they’ll pack up and disappear back down whichever time-warp hole they crawled out of?”
“I suppose it’s worth a try,” Giles allowed. “But you should remain vigilant, Buffy. Fanatics are rarely dissuaded from their goals so readily.”
“Reckon I could dissuade them right bloody quick if they dare to come anywhere near Dawn or the Little Bit,” Spike snarled, slipping into game face for a couple of seconds.
“They may be crackpots, Spike, but they’re human. I’m the slayer. I don’t kill humans.”
Spike smirked. “I’m not the slayer.”
Buffy looked at him, biting her bottom lip uncertainly.
Spike placed a hand on her arm and said with quiet sincerity, “Buffy, tell me that if it came down to Dawn’s life or those nutters’, you wouldn’t kill to protect her.”
The uneasy silence was broken by the loud clang of the shop bell as Dawn clomped in, followed closely by a sombre-looking Joyce.
Buffy reluctantly nodded. “Last resort, Spike. No killing unless it’s literally her life or theirs.”
“I hear and I obey, oh magnificent Chosen One.” Spike swept her an elegant bow, prompting her lips to twitch into a little smile.
Giles glanced up and smiled a welcome to Joyce, then turned his attention back to Spike. The vampire seemed sincere but Giles couldn’t help wondering how long his promise would hold up in a confrontation. At every turn, Spike continued to confound him.
“We have some news, honey.” Joyce placed a folded newspaper on the research table.
“Gamma!” Annie stumbled out of the training room, fisting her eyes sleepily. “Potty!” She raised her arms in the universal signal for ‘pick me up now’.
Joyce nodded to Dawn. “Go ahead sweetie. It’s your story anyway.” She gathered Annie up and headed behind the counter to the staff cloakroom.
Dawn picked up the newspaper and clutched it to her chest, preening smugly. “Okay. There was a story in the paper this morning that upset Mom. She showed me and… Buffy? You remember Ben, that nice doctor from when Mom was in the hospital? Well, he’s dead.” She handed the paper to Buffy and pointed to a short item with a photo beside it. “He was found in an alley with his neck broken. Here’s the kicker; he was wearing a dress!”
“Good Lord!”
“Oh no! Poor Ben. But he was nice!” Buffy bent to read the article. “Who would want to kill him?”
“Someone with a thing about transvestites?” Xander suggested with a snigger.
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Well, as soon as I read that and saw the picture, I remembered something. You know at the hospital I said that Ben was there, but he must have gone before Glory arrived? That’s not how it happened. It was like, I was chatting with Ben and there was hot chocolate and he was trying to be sympathetic in a feeble kinda way. Then he started freaking out and suddenly, right in front of my eyes, Ben turnedinto Glory! So I guess it’s like, when Ben died, Glory died?”
Joyce returned with Annie and Buffy reclaimed her daughter then ushered Joyce into her seat and casually went and sat on Spike’s lap. Frowning, Buffy asked, “Dawnie, are you sure?”
“So she was what?” Xander said. “Doing the Clark Kent and Superman thing? Ben was her incognito identity?”
“Not really, Xan, ‘cos anyone who can like, see, can see that they’re the same person. This was more like Bruce Banner and the Hulk, except that she didn’t know what I’d been talking about with Ben.”
“Is that possible, Rupert? It seems so unlikely, but Dawn is adamant that’s what happened.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing, Joyce, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Particularly on the Hellmouth.”
“But even though Glory’s gone, I’m still the Key, right? So I still need to know what that means, Giles. Do I have cool powers, or what? Can you help me find out?”
“Of course, Dawn. Under the circumstances, I’ll switch the focus of my research from Glory herself to the Key.”
Spike gestured to the newspaper and said quietly to Buffy, “Let’s have a look.” Buffy passed it to him and he examined the poorly reproduced photo. Then he chuckled and tossed the paper onto the table, saying, “Thought that story sounded familiar. She’s right. That’s the shape-shifting demon I offed the other night after it beat up the slayer. That switch is exactly what I saw, except in reverse.”
Everyone began speaking at once. After a few seconds, Giles grew frustrated with not being heard and cleared his throat noisily. Everyone fell silent except Buffy.
“I thought I felt a vampire close by. That was you?” Her face fell. She asked in a very small voice, “And you killed Ben? I thought you were keeping your promise not to kill humans any more.”
Spike shrugged. “Far as I knew, he wasn’t human. Doubt if he was, a hundred percent, if he had a god hiding inside him. I’d just seen that blonde with the bad perm trouncing you and then when she turned into the bloke it was obvious to me that it was a shape-shifter. Couldn’t have it distracting you while I was trying to get you to help me, so I figured I’d take care of it for you.”
“So Glory reallyis gone. What a relief! Thank you so much, Spike.” Joyce stood and reached for Annie. “We’ll be off home then. Come on, Dawn. Do you have Annie’s stroller, Buffy?” After a sly sidelong glance at Spike, she added, “I hope you’re not going to be hometoo late tonight? Don’t forget you have class in the morning.”
And before Giles knew it, the meeting was breaking up. He tried to make himself heard several times but each time, he was interrupted by goodbyes and invitations to dinner and comments upon the likelihood of encountering the knights, and above all, cheerful arrangements for celebrating at the Bronze the following evening.
Finally the shop door closed behind Anya and Xander and as the sound of the bell faded way, he was left standing by the table in the abruptly silent shop with only Willow for company.
“Uh, Willow? I wonder if you might help me with a couple of spells?”
“Me? But yesterday you said…” Willow said doubtfully, looking up from the research volumes she was sorting.
“I merely wished you to refrain from frivolous spells, Willow. This is important.”
“Well, I guess.” Willow put down the book she was holding.
“First, I need a locator spell to find these blasted knights.”
“But won’t we need something that belongs to one of them?”
Giles went into the training room and returned brandishing the sword that Buffy had picked up from one of the knights. He smiled grimly. “I think this should suffice.”
“Okay, if you say so.” Willow began gathering the required components.
Giles finished clearing a space on the table, absently noting the absence of Spike’s map and its exquisite case. “And once that’s done, I need you to help me find a way to mask Dawn’s Key qualities, both from magical detection and from those poor deranged creatures who can naturally recognise her true form.”
“Oh, okay. I’ve actually been researching that for a while.” Willow reached into her backpack and withdrew several notebooks of varying colours, separated out a shiny green one and tucked the rest back. She held the green one out to Giles. “My notes on what I’ve found so far.”
“Thank you, Willow. That should be very helpful. Now that the threat from Glory has gone, I’d also like to speak to you about possibly moving up your stay with the coven. What would you say to going over at Easter, that is, Spring Break? I really think it is vital for you to begin your formal training as soon as possible.”
“But… but school?”
“Well, I may be out of favour with that pompous prat Travers, but I still have some friends with influence on the Council. Would you agree if I could arrange for you to spend the Summer term attending lectures at the University of Bath?”

“Do you think she meant it?”
Buffy threw her head back and strained to draw air into her oxygen-starved lungs while Spike nibbled along her jaw and down her throat. Did he honestly expect her to form words when he was doing that? “Ungh,” was the best she could manage.
Spike chuckled and wrapped his free arm even more tightly around her, slipping a second finger inside her. “Your mum. Did she mean it?”
Buffy opened her mouth, fully intending to ask what he meant, but only a low moan came out. Then his thumb landed dead on her clit and all the air that she’d managed to accumulate was driven out of her in one massive grunt. “Gah!”
“Uh… miss? Are you okay?” A tentative voice invaded their privacy in the shadowed doorway of the April Fools dress shop.
“Sod off!” was Spike’s predictable response.
Buffy looked past Spike’s shoulder. There was a man on the sidewalk shifting nervously from one foot to the other. She cleared her throat and forced out a weak, “I’m fine, thanks.” He looked as though he was about to protest, so she hastily added, “No, really.” Then Spike did that thing with his thumb ring and she lost all interest in the potential Good Samaritan. As waves of pleasure pulsed through her, her eyes closed, her legs turned to jello and her head fell forward onto Spike’s shoulder. “Oooooh god!”
It seemed like hours before she could breathe normally and her legs began to obey her instructions to hold her upright. Then she remembered the man who had interrupted them and her face flamed hotly. She pulled her arms from around Spike’s neck, batted him feebly on the shoulder and pushed him away. “I can’t believe you just did that!” She was torn between laughter and anger. Only the fact that the precise details of what they’d been doing had been shielded from the stranger by Spike’s duster allowed her to come down on the side of laughter.
“Figured you needed to take the edge off, love.” Spike smouldered at her as he very deliberately sucked the two fingers that her movement had pulled from within her body, slowly drawing them out of his mouth and moaning dramatically. “God, you’re delicious!” He sent his tongue out to lick his thumb as though it was a lollipop and Buffy almost melted again. He cocked his head to one side and smirked. “Reckon from how quick you got off, you could do with a few more. Why don’t we go to the mansion so I can give you a proper seeing to?”
Buffy was tempted. So very tempted, but she took a deep breath and stiffened her resolve. She refastened her pants and regretfully shook her head. “Not tonight, Spike. Sorry. There isn’t time. I really need to deal with these bitey places and then I have to get home.”
“Bugger it. Can’t wait ‘til we can get a place of our own. I miss you, Buffy.”
“I know. Me too.” By way of offering an olive branch, she pointed at his groin. “If you like, I could return the favour?”
Spike unhurriedly adjusted the bulge straining the button fly of his jeans. “Don’t worry ‘bout me, love. I’m willing to wait for the main feature. And you didn’t answer me, love. Did your mum mean it?”
“Mean what?”
“When she told me to come to dinner tomorrow night. She does remember I’m a vamp, doesn’t she?”
Buffy took him by the hand, dragged him out of the doorway and headed towards Willy’s, glancing around to make sure that the witness to their little tryst wasn’t hanging around. “Oh yeah. She meant it all right. Be prepared for the third degree.”
“Bloody hell.”
“I’ve already had to suffer it, so it’s only fair.” Buffy smirked up at him and squeezed his hand. “Don’t worry; I’ll make it up to you. Tomorrow’s Friday, so after dinner we can drop into the Bronze for a little while to celebrate with the gang, then we’ll have the whole night together. If I can, I’ll find a way to get mom to suggest she should mind Annie all day at the gallery, so I won’t need to be home until Saturday night.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Goldilocks.”
After a few minutes they reached Willy’s and Spike said, “Best for me to go in alone. They’ll talk more openly without the slayer hanging off my arm.”
Buffy hated it, but she was big enough to acknowledge that he was right.
A few minutes later, Spike emerged from the bar amid a gust of smoky beer fumes and grinned smugly at her. “As I thought. The bite shop down the block is still up and running. They tell me there was one across town close to the college campus for a while, but the G.I. Joes cleared that one out. Wouldn’t be surprised if that was where your boy got the idea.”
“I expect so.” Buffy automatically checked that the several stakes secreted about her person were still intact. She returned his grin and eagerly reached for his hand. “Okay honey; let’s go kill us some vampires.”
Chapter 15

Chapter 15
Spike silently led the way up the steps to the dilapidated building and stood with his hand on the door, eyebrow raised.
Buffy slipped the first stake from her sleeve and gave the nod.
Spike pushed the door open. “After you, milady,” he said softly.
It took a few seconds for Buffy’s eyes to adjust to the dim lighting provided by a couple of low wattage light bulbs. Then details began to emerge out of the shadows. It was a large space, furnished with half a dozen couches and mattresses scattered around the otherwise bare room, all but one of which were occupied. Her attention was drawn to one side by a moan, which she recognised as a moan of pleasure rather than pain. Or, she quickly realised with distaste, possibly a combination of both.
Buffy made a gesture for Spike to go left, and she headed towards the tatty red velour chaise longue to her right. She thrust her stake into the back of the female vampire whose fangs were buried in a youth’s arm.
“Wha’?” gasped the dazed young man, blinking up at her. He wasn’t much more than a boy really. His eyes widened as he belatedly became aware of what had happened.
Buffy pressed her fingers to his lips to stop him from raising the alarm, and whispered forcefully, “Get out of here. Now.”
After watching him stumble towards the exit, she looked over to see that Spike had mirrored her action with the male vampire feeding on the girl on the filthy striped ticking mattress on the left, then she crept on to the next couch.
Between them, they’d sent four ‘customers’ scuttling to safety before the inevitable happened.
Hey! What’d you do that for?” shouted a well-endowed red-head, whose vampire parasite had just been transformed into a shower of greasy grey dust settling on her bare breasts. Buffy winced at the sight of blood trickling from the latest in a long series of bites around her nipples. The girl batted Buffy’s hand away from her mouth, but it was too late anyway. “Whip! Help! She just killed Jake!”
“Hush now, you daft cow,” Spike said, stepping up behind Buffy to grab the girl’s hand and haul her to her feet. He leered at her exposed breasts. “Look as if they used to be nice tits. Shame nobody will ever want to look at them twice now they’re all scarred up. Now, get out of here and go find yourself a new hobby. One that won’t end up with you dead.” He shoved her towards the door and she fled, pulling her shirt closed.
Buffy raised an eyebrow at the sight of the burly vampire clattering down the bare wooden stairs. He looked as though he’d escaped from a Village People tribute band. Bare chest, leather vest and steel studs. All that was missing was the big moustache and the cute little cap.
“What the…?” He pulled up short at the foot of the stairs. “Slayer! You’re not welcome here!”
Buffy snorted. She wasn’t looking for a welcome. She flexed her shoulders and shifted her grip on her stake in preparation for the expected fight.
Instead of attacking her, Leather Guy turned to Spike and said, “You’re that Spike. I remember you. You used to be badass. Now you’re hanging around with her?” He gestured wildly at Buffy. “And what were you thinking, bringing her here?”
Spike laughed, “Got that wrong, mate. I didn’t bring her;she brought me.”
Buffy was offended at the sneer in the vamp’s voice when he referred to her as ‘her’, and at being ignored while he spoke to Spike, so she gave up waiting for an attack and leapt forward.
A second later she sat slumped against the wall, fingering her jaw to check that it was still intact as she waited for her head to stop spinning. The stupid vamp had casually backhanded her away like an irritating fly. Okay. Now she was pissed. Mostly at herself, because she’d been overconfident and hadn’t seen it coming.
At least her training had held and she hadn’t lost her grip on her stake. She surged back to her feet, stake raised... and stopped dead.
Spike was gripping Leather Guy by the throat, holding him up one-handed so that the larger vampire’s feet dangled a couple of inches off the floor. Spike was batting away the fists pounding at his head and shoulders and ignoring the kicks aimed at his shins.
He twisted to one side, neatly deflecting the knee aimed at his groin so that it slid up his hip instead, and simply continued to squeeze.
Buffy relaxed. “Stop playing, Spike. Finish him off, we aren’t done yet.”
Spike glanced over his shoulder and quickly looked her up and down. “You okay, love?”
“I’m fine. Come on, we need to check upstairs.”
Turning his attention back to Leather Guy, Spike snarled, “Nobody gets away with hurting my slayer.” He grimaced with the effort of closing his fist around the vampire’s neck. A second later he was brushing dust from his sleeve.
At the top of the stairs, Buffy hesitated, chewing her bottom lip. It occurred to her: what if Riley was here, in one of these rooms with one of his vampire hoes latched on to his arm? What if he’d come straight here from their break-up scene at the Magic Box to get his bite on? It was bad enough finding out that he’d been doing it. Sheso didn’t want to come face to face with it.
She gave herself a little shake. She couldn’t let the possibility distract her from her purpose. Besides, if the idiot was here, her duty decreed that she should save him along with all the other idiots.
She cautiously moved forward along the passage, stepping over and around piles of foetid trash that nobody had cared enough about to clear away.
The first door she came to was open. Moonlight streamed in through the grimy window revealing an unoccupied room furnished with only a broken down dresser with a cracked mirror and a stained mattress piled with pillows.
She moved across to the closed door opposite and twisted the doorknob. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open. Her attempt at stealth was thwarted by the screeching of the hinges, which immediately drew the attention of the three occupants of the room.
Suddenly Spike was shoved into her back. She took a couple of steps forward to recover her balance, then the small room seemed as though it was full of people and she was fighting for her life.
Kick, jab, parry, punch, ouch, duck, kick, twist, stake—and damn, she’d left the stake in her attacker’s chest for a second too long and it had dusted along with him. Before she could slip the next stake from its hiding place, she received a hard blow to her right shoulder which numbed her arm for a few seconds, so suddenly she was very much on the defensive.
Buffy ducked and dodged and kicked out, at last managing to shake feeling back into her arm so that she could grab the stake from her waistband at the small of her back and take the initiative once more.
Punch, head-butt, knee to the groin, parry, roundhouse kick, lunge and stake. Whew, managed to retain the stake that time.
Deep breath and focus on the next opponent.
Buffy was sizing up the situation when she was distracted by the unmistakable ‘poof’ of a vampire being dusted immediately behind her. “Spike?” A sudden panic caused her stomach to churn and her heart to thud in her chest. She turned to check that Spike was still there, still fighting at her back the way she had become accustomed to during that long hot summer that now seemed so long ago.
He was glorious, with a grin of sheer glee lighting up his face and his duster flaring dramatically around him as he engaged the vampires crowding the doorway, preventing any more of them from coming into the room. He met her gaze for a split second and winked at her before returning to his task.
Her moment of inattention had not gone unnoticed by the two remaining guys in the room, however. She was suddenly jerked backwards into a hard body by a painful yank on her ponytail. Before she could recover, a hairy muscular arm clamped across her chest. She froze in shock when her head was roughly yanked to one side and a vampire’s cool, foul-smelling breath wafted over her shoulder.
“Slayer,” he gloated, his voice as rough as his breath. “I’ve wanted to do this for years.”
Buffy was galvanised into action by the distinctive sound of facial bones and cartilage shifting.
She raised a foot and thrust it back down, raking the edge of her boot down his shin and stamping on his instep. At the same time, she rammed her left elbow back into his solar plexus and dropping her stake, she reached back between his legs with her right hand. She caught hold of a handful of soft flesh and squeezed. Hard. Something popped.
A high pitched scream filled the room and she was abruptly freed. She spun on her heel and found Leather Guy Two hunched in front of her, clutching his privates and hopping to keep his balance on his uninjured foot. He could have been the twin brother of the vamp they’d encountered downstairs, except that if anything, he was even bigger.
To one side, a skinny guy hefted a jagged length of two by two and swung it at her head. She parried it with her arm then grabbed it, pulled it out of his grasp and tossed it away. With an uppercut to the jaw, she sent Skinny Guy flying across the room to land in an ungainly tangle of limbs on the mattress, allowing her to focus on Leather Guy Two.
His hunched posture meant that she couldn’t get at his chest and he was too big for her to reach over to stake him through his back, so she planted her hands on his shoulders and vaulted over him. Before he had a chance to react, she turned and pulled a stake from her jacket pocket. She rammed it into his back and the constant screaming was abruptly cut off.
Skinny Guy was only just beginning to clamber unsteadily to his feet, so she took a few seconds to roll her neck to ease the strain from Leather Guy Two’s violent treatment and check that her hair was still attached, despite the burning in her scalp at the base of her pony tail.
Relieved to discover that she wouldn’t need to borrow one of her mother’s wigs, Buffy glanced over her shoulder to check that the latest sound of a disintegrating vampire had left Spike intact. Seeing that he was okay and had run out of opponents, she strode across the room to deal with Skinny Guy.
She hesitated for a few seconds, slightly puzzled by the fact that rather than attacking her again, he just stood there with his arms wrapped around himself, tears flowing freely down his cheeks.
Shrugging off her uncertainty, she raised her stake and thrust forward.
The stake was a fraction of an inch from his chest when a hand clamped around her wrist and held her arm motionless.
“You don’t want to do that, slayer.”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder to see Spike at her side. “Spike? What…?”
“He’s human, love.”
“Huh?” Buffy examined Skinny Guy more closely and belatedly noted the pulse pounding in his throat, the sweat beading his brow and the blotchy flush of his face. None of which would have been present in a vampire. “Oh god!” She stumbled back in dismay, her stake falling forgotten to the floor. “I’m so sorry! But why did you attack me?”
When Skinny Guy just stood there shaking his head in abject misery, Spike said, “I think the vamp you just dusted was his uh… special friend, slayer.”
“Oh!” Buffy thought for a moment. It occurred to her that the bite might not be the only attraction for the human visitors to this establishment. “Oh!”
Spike gripped Skinny Guy by the shoulders and propelled him out of the room. “Time to go home. Nothing for you here any more.”
The reality of what had nearly happened suddenly struck Buffy. She broke into a sweat, bile rose in her throat and she clamped a hand over her mouth. She had nearly killed a man. How could she have been so careless?
“You all right, love?”
Buffy looked up at Spike in horror. “I can’t believe I nearly…”
“But you didn’t. He’s just a bit bruised. He’ll be fine, slayer.”
“But if you hadn’t been here, I could have…”
“But I was and you didn’t. And even if you had, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Everyone makes mistakes, love. Even you.”
“You don’t get it. I can’t afford to make mistakes. When I make a mistake, people die.”
Spike cocked his head to one side and tenderly stroked her cheek. “And that’s one of the reasons I love you so much, Buffy. You hold yourself to standards no human can possibly maintain.” He took a step back, looked down at the floor, hunched his shoulders and thrust his fists deep into his duster pockets. “I know I don’t understand what you’re going through, that I can’t ever hope to meet those standards, but…”
“Oh, Spike. I don’t expect you to. It means everything that you’re even willing to try.”
Spike raised an eyebrow and smirked at her.
Buffy rolled her eyes and tried not to smile at his teasing expression. “And yes, I do realise I’ve just admitted to a double standard. I have to hold myself to a higher ideal. Kinda comes with the whole slayer package.”
“Look, love. I’m not the best person to talk to about this. I might not get why you’re so upset, but I can see you are. All I can suggest is; go talk to your watcher about it.”
“Giles? I can’t do that!”
“Why not? Isn’t that what your watcher is for? To advise and assist you?”
“Yeah, but…” Buffy shook her head. How could she tell Giles she’d almost accidentally killed a man? He would be so disappointed in her.
“Afraid to admit that the mighty slayer might be fallible?” Spike leant forward and whispered into her ear, “Believe it or not, love, I don’t think it’ll come as that much of a surprise.”
Buffy swatted him on the arm then wrapped her arms around him, luxuriating in the comfort of his embrace.
“You always seem to know what to say to make me feel better.”
“So you’ll go and talk to him?”
“I’ll take the suggestion under advisement.”
“Does that mean yes?”
“Don’t push me, Buster.”
Spike simply chuckled at her pouty tone and hugged her tighter.
Chapter 16
Chapter 16
Spike lifted his face into the shower spray and luxuriated in the warmth.
He’d spent the best part of the night prospecting for the Amara treasure. Upon selecting the most promising location to begin his excavation, he’d decided to clean up before heading to Willy’s to recruit a few minions before the bar closed for the day at sunrise. He would need to project an air of authority and confidence, something that would have been difficult when covered from head to toe in rock dust, mud and sewer slime.
His motivation for finding the treasure as soon as possible had been reinforced when he had once more been forced to part from Buffy for the night. Something that was becoming as upsetting and frustrating for her as it was for him. The sooner he could convert some valuable items into cash, the sooner they’d be able to get a place of their own.
He shook his head and chuckled ruefully as he turned the shower off and reached for a towel. He was getting excited by planning to set up home with a human woman and their child. He could hardly believe it himself.
Over the past couple of years, he’d been forced to get accustomed to being alone for the first time since he had been turned. Now though, he remembered what it was like to love and be loved in return. To be with someone who regarded him as an equal partner whose opinions counted for something. After living with Buffy, he understood that Drusilla hadn’t truly loved him the way he’d loved her. It had come as a rude awakening to realise that she’d always treated him as a cross between an attentive slave and a wilful puppy.
He’d finished towelling his hair and begun to dry his chest and arms when he heard footsteps in another part of the mansion. He froze and listened intently. There it was again. He fastened the towel around his waist, slipped into his bedroom and picked up the double-bladed battle axe he had left propped up against the bedside table. He’d learned long ago always to have weapons readily to hand when there were no minions to stand guard.
Axe raised high, he silently padded towards the source of the noise. He cautiously peeked through the doorway into the great room and immediately relaxed. Resting the haft of the axe on his shoulder, he walked up behind the intruder who was standing at the table bending over the maps.
From about a foot away, he quietly said, “Watcher.”
He smirked when Giles jumped about a foot, let out an unmanly squeak and clutched at his chest.
“Oh! Damn it Spike, you startled me. I did knock, I assure you…”
“But when I didn’t answer, you decided to barge in and nose about in my home anyway.” While Giles dithered and frantically polished his glasses, Spike swung the axe down and propped it against the table, cocking his head to one side. “To what do I owe the pleasure so early in the morning? No, let me guess. You’re here to give me the ‘hurt her and you’re dust’ speech, right?”
“No, as a matter of fact that’s not... Well, perhaps that was part of it, but…” Giles broke off and gestured helplessly at Spike’s near-nakedness. “Do you think you could put some clothes on? It’s impossible to hold a serious conversation with so much blindingly white flesh on display. And do please call me Giles. It is my name, after all.”
“Now where would be the fun in that?” Spike chuckled as he sauntered back to his bedroom. Out of sight of the watcher, his smile faded and he berated himself for having left the maps out. Thankfully, he’d managed to resist the urge to dash in and bundle them away. If he’d done that, he knew the watcher’s curiosity would have been heightened to an impossible degree. He was just thankful that none of his clear notations on the modern map included the words ‘Amara’ or ‘Gem’. Thus far Giles had accepted him as well-intentioned, but if he got wind of the possibility that Spike might soon become invulnerable, there was no telling what his reaction might be.
A few minutes later he returned to the great room, fully dressed except for his duster which he had yet to clean. “Let’s take the fatherly warning as delivered and accepted in the spirit in which it was intended and get down to the real reason you’re here, Roopert.”
Giles pursed his lips impatiently, but made no protest about the mode of address. He gestured at the maps. “I meant to ask you before. It’s obvious you’re looking for something here in Sunnydale. What could possibly be worth you going to all this effort?”
Spike regarded the man thoughtfully, trying to decide how open to be. Apart from the questionable matter of the Gem, the proceeds of his quest would be for Buffy’s benefit, so with a little smirk he said, “Joyce wanted me to ensure I could support Buffy and the Bit, so I’m on a bit of a treasure hunt.”
“Good Lord!”
Spike leant forward and placed his finger on the ancient map, making sure he obscured the almost illegible word ‘Amara’. “All I have to do now is start digging.” He straightened up and casually rolled up the treasure map and slid it into its tube. “And that’s not why you’re here either.”
“Well, no.” Giles removed his glasses again and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Spike took in his appearance; hair tousled, clothes rumpled and shoulders drooping. “Heavy night? You look bloody knackered.”
“I am, rather. I’ve spent the past few hours trying to persuade a group of particularly tenacious fanatics that their entire purpose in life has been accomplished and they are free to move on. Regrettably, I’m not entirely certain I succeeded.”
It occurred to Spike that the watcher would be a major presence in his unlife now that he and Buffy were intending to be together. Consequently, that unlife would run a lot more smoothly if he could manage to keep on the man’s good side.
“Come on old man, I know what you need.” Spike led the way into the kitchen and gestured for Giles to take a seat at the scrubbed pine table while he bustled about. He was glad that along with his blood, he had had the forethought to buy a few basic groceries in preparation for eagerly anticipated visits from Buffy.
A few minutes later he placed a big mug of strong tea in front of the watcher, and beside it he laid a packet of Ginger Nuts. “There you go.” He sat at the opposite side of the table, tore open the packet of biscuits, dunked one in his own mug and crammed half of it into his mouth.
Giles gaped at him in astonishment for a few moments, then with a small smile he picked up his mug and cradled it between his palms. “You can take a man out of England…”
Spike snorted. “Yeah.” He shoved the rest of the biscuit in his mouth then broadcasting a fine spray of crumbs onto the table, said, “Come on then, man. Out with it.”
Giles took a sip of his tea, let out a long satisfied breath and set his mug down. “Well, I feel I must act upon the assumption that I haven’t managed to convince the Knights of Byzantium that Glorificus is dead and the Key has been destroyed. The General assured me that he would pray upon the matter and consult his clerics before determining his next course of action. However, we can be sure that they are certainly not going to desist in their quest until they’ve made their own investigations.
“With Willow’s help, I have devised a spell to shield Dawn’s Key attributes from magical detection to help reinforce my assertion. However, there is one factor that might overturn any decision he might make. At the moment, they have no idea what form the Key was given…”
“Precisely. If they had any idea that the Key still existed and was housed within a human being with all the vulnerabilities that entails…” Giles started absently fiddling with a biscuit and very deliberately looked Spike in the eye. “Dawn will never be wholly safe while the knight in the mental ward of the hospital, the one person outside our group who knows that she is the Key, is capable of passing on that information.”
“And why are you telling me this?”
“You’re not stupid, Spike. I think you know exactly why I’m telling you.”
“Riiight.” Spike had just witnessed Buffy’s distress at the mere thought that one day she might accidentally kill a human, so he knew she would be appalled by what her watcher was so carefully avoiding suggesting. “And what do you think Buffy will say about that?”
“Buffy doesn’t need to know. In fact, I must insist that she never finds out. She could never accept that sometimes a human being has to be sacrificed for the greater good. She's a hero, you see. She's not like us.”
Spike hadn’t known the watcher had such pragmatism in him. His respect for the man was raised several notches. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
“Or in this case, the one.”
“And when one person has to die, the slayer’d want to find a way to protect everyone else by sacrificing herself. Since that is totally bloody unacceptable, better the brain damaged knight than Buffy’s beloved little sister.”
“I knew you’d understand.”

Spike looked down into the wide, uncomprehending eyes of the brain-sucked knight and pressed the pillow harder over the young man’s nose and mouth.
By the time that Giles had finally departed after a second cup of tea, the sun had been well on its way into its daily climb into the heavens and Willy’s had been closed. Consequently, Spike had figured he might as well act upon the watcher’s implied suggestion immediately.
It had been ridiculously easy to use the tunnel system to sneak into the hospital that was only just beginning to come alive for the day. Spike had made a brief stop in a deserted locker room to secrete his duster in an empty locker and appropriate a set of scrubs. He’d pulled on a surgical cap to cover his striking hair then he’d followed the signs towards the mental ward. On the way, he’d effortlessly lifted a stethoscope from a dozing intern’s neck to complete his disguise.
He’d had no trouble identifying his target from Giles’ description of the intricate tattoo that each of the knights sported on their foreheads.
He monitored the helpless man’s heartbeat as his chest heaved, his lungs instinctively struggling for the air that they were being denied. In his weakened, confused state, the knight put up no real resistance, unable to defend himself with his arms strapped to the bed frame.
Spike heard a low murmured, “Look out for the purple sunflowers,” and looked up to see one of the other patients shifting uneasily in his sleep. When the man didn’t wake, it occurred to Spike that with the ward full, these patients had very likely been sedated to allow the overworked staff to enjoy an undisturbed night.
After only a couple more minutes, the knight’s heartbeat stuttered to a halt and his chest stilled. Spike cautiously lifted the pillow and waited a few seconds to check, then nodded to himself and tucked the pillow neatly back under the knight’s head. He closed the staring eyes, smoothed the distorted mouth and cheeks into a more natural, relaxed expression and turned the head so that the man faced away from the door, then straightened the bedcovers to make it look as though the knight was sleeping peacefully.
Exiting the hospital unobserved was slightly more problematic now that there were more people about. Patients had started wandering the halls in their nightclothes and extra members of staff were arriving to take the day shift.
Spike had removed the scrubs and stuffed them into a laundry hamper but had yet to retrieve his duster when a couple of young doctors who were complaining loudly about their working hours burst into the locker room.
He vaulted up onto the dusty top of a bank of lockers and lay motionless while the pair changed and greeted another young man who arrived as they left. When the room was once again empty, Spike rolled off the lockers, brushed himself down, grabbed his duster and edged out of the room before he could be delayed again.
A few minutes later, he was whistling merrily as he navigated the tunnels back to the mansion.
He had time to grab a few hours sleep before making preparations for Buffy’s stay and getting ready for the Summers family dinner. He fell silent and frowned as he contemplated how he could make a good impression on Joyce. He had very little practice in socialising with humans who weren’t Buffy. He didn’t want to screw up and embarrass her. Perhaps it was time to consult the memories of his life as William. Social attitudes had changed drastically in the intervening years, but with a bit of thought he might be able to come up with some kind of workable plan.
I have borrowed lines from BtVS S5 Ep22 The Gift written by Joss Whedon, and the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (a line which was quoted in the movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).
Chapter 17

Chapter 17
Buffy trudged home in a foul mood.
Her mom still hadn’t gone back to work full time so she’d taken a half day and picked Annie up at lunchtime. This had given Buffy no excuse to take a play break in the training room and Anya had kept her constantly occupied during the afternoon, serving customers and hauling boxes up and down the basement steps.
Then there was Spike.
Or to be accurate, there wasn’t Spike. All afternoon, Buffy had half expected him to appear through the tunnels. Then, as soon as the sun had gone down, she had fully expected him to arrive in a flourish of black leather to escort her home. Every time the shop bell had rung to announce a new customer, her breath had caught in her throat and she’d looked up, only to feel increasingly let down when it proved to be yet another person who wasn’t Spike.
At last, six o’clock had come around and she’d been freed. Surely Spike would be outside with the car, ready to save her aching feet and whisk her home; the same way that in L.A, he’d always waited for her to emerge from that crummy diner. She’d searched up and down the street and even in the alley, but no. No big black car. No Spike.
Hence the foul mood.
“Stupid vampire,” she muttered under her breath. “He’s forgotten that mom invited him to dinner. What’s he doing that’s so gosh-darned important that he’s gonna stand mom up? He knows how important it is to keep her happy.”
A few minutes later, her insecurity took over from her irritation. “I know what he’s done! He’s found the treasure and decided he doesn’t want to share it!”
By the time she arrived home, she’d convinced herself that: “He’s had second thoughts and decided he’s not interested in me now he’s found out about Annie. Why didn’t I figure that out? He’s a guy, and guys don’t want to be tied down by sudden, out of the blue fatherhood! He’s got the gem and is on his way out of town, back to his evil ways.”
She couldn’t allow herself to believe the tiny voice in her head that protested, ‘But Spike wouldn’t do that. He loves me. And besides, he’s sworn to protect Annie with his life and he needs to stick around to do that.’
She hesitated on the front porch, key in hand. “Idiot vampire. What am I gonna tell mom?” High girlish laughter rang out from inside the house. “And oh god! Annie! She was so excited to discover she had a daddy and now he’s gone and bailed on her.” Tears started trickling down Buffy’s cheeks. She closed her eyes and leant her forehead against the cool, solid wood of the door. “She’ll be devastated. It’s all my fault. I should never have told anyone he was her father. They say you can’t miss what you’ve never had.”
She couldn’t put it off any longer. She dashed away the moisture on her face with her sleeve, took a deep breath, put on an ‘I’m fine’ smile, and opened the door.
She dumped her backpack on the floor, hung up her coat and paused to admire a vase of flowers on the hall table. It was a huge bunch of daffodils with a couple of different types of foliage. “Ooh pretty!”
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Annie cried, appearing at Buffy’s side. She grabbed Buffy’s hand and dragged her into the living room. “Look! Look!” Once through the double doors, Annie released Buffy’s hand and threw herself prone on the floor amid a scatter of colourful pieces of paper.
Buffy smiled at her daughter’s enthusiasm, exchanged a nod with Dawn who was sitting to one side, then froze in shock.
“’lo love.”
“Spike?” Her eyes welled up again. This time with tears of relief and joy. He hadn’t given up on her. He’d stayed and was here, playing on the floor with his daughter like any other father.
He lay on his side, propped up on one elbow, red crayon in hand, clearly as engrossed in the childish activity as Annie. He wore his customary black jeans, but instead of the plain black t-shirt and open red over-shirt that she’d always thought was his only outfit, he wore a deep violet button down shirt that looked remarkably like silk, tucked in and buttoned up, but open at the neck.
What’s more, his hair wasn’t slicked back in his preferred helmet style, but was tousled into loose curls, the smear of bright pink at his temple showing that it had been mussed by chubby toddler fingers. It made him look oddly boyish, but utterly scrumptious.
Annie dropped her green crayon and held out her hand to Spike. “Lellow,” she demanded.
He placed a yellow crayon in her hand and she rewarded him with a blinding smile before adding a patch of yellow swirls in one corner of her drawing.
“What do you say?” prompted Dawn, looking up from her own artistic effort.
Annie rolled her eyes in a very familiar way but said, “Fankoo, Daddy.”
“You gonna join us, Buffy?” Spike asked, riffling the papers. “I think there’s still some blank paper here somewhere.”
“You’re here!” was all that Buffy could think of to say.
“Well, yeah. Invited to dinner, if you remember.”
“Oh, I know! It’s just…” She waved her hand helplessly. How could she tell him she’d doubted him? Well, that was simple; she couldn’t. “Oh, nothing…”
She was saved by Joyce calling from the kitchen, “Ten minutes, everyone! Time to get washed up for dinner!”
Buffy held out her hand to Annie. “Come on, Jellybean. Hand wash time.”
“Meant to ask,” Spike said as he eased a reluctant Annie to her feet. “How come Jellybean?”
“Um, when I finally admitted to myself I might be pregnant, I did one of those home tests, you know? Well, actually I kinda did six. Then after I’d finished freaking out, I went to the doctor. She gave me a little booklet explaining all the stages of development and I worked out the baby was about the size of a jellybean. It kinda stuck.”
Buffy supervised Annie’s hand-washing, responding automatically to her excited girly chatter, then handed her daughter over to Dawn. She then quickly packed her overnight bag and brought to the front of the closet the outfit she’d chosen to change into after dinner. She had been thinking about it all day so it only took two minutes to arrange the black leather pants, the satiny crimson shirt and the lacy red underwear so that she’d be able to do a quick change once Annie was asleep.
On the way downstairs, she grinned, acknowledging that she’d deliberately chosen Spike’s favourite colours.
And he always did like her in leather.
Twenty minutes later she was splitting her time between helping Annie and eating her own meal.  Annie had done well feeding herself with most of her dinner, but was having trouble with her mashed potato.
Paused with her hand raised with a loaded fork, Buffy stared in bewilderment at Spike and her mom. All through the meal, Spike had been ignoring her in favour of devoting all his attention to her mother. They were dominating the dinner conversation with a discussion of the goings on at the gallery. Spike seemed to know more about her mother’s business than Buffy did herself. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
“But what they didn't get was; that it was a copy of the bill of lading. They thought that it was another order form. So now I've got two shipments of Greek amphorae on my hands!”
Dawn chuckled politely, but Spike laughed as though it was the best joke in the world. “That's funny, Joyce. And really, how many do you need, amphorae?”
Joyce’s disturbing giggles subsided and she said, “That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask Xander to drop in and see if he can devise a display stand for them.”
Spike nodded knowledgeably. “Yeah, the decorated ones from the Iron Age and later are easy enough, but those Bronze Age ones with the pointy bases must be tricky.”
An urgent tug at her sleeve brought Buffy’s attention back to Annie. “Mommy! Tater?”
Buffy looked around to see wide, pleading blue eyes and a mouth gaping like a nestling bird anticipating a juicy worm. “Sorry, baby.” She filled the waiting mouth with potato then prepared the last forkful and laid it down, ready for Annie to help herself.
“I don’t suppose Buffy told you about the incident with the Nigerian tribal masks and the zombie attack? Not one of my wisest primitive artefact purchases, I’ll admit. It was just after Buffy came home from L.A…”
Buffy rolled her eyes and got up to clear the plates and bring in the banana cream pie for dessert. She didn’t need to hear about the creepy zombie cat and the welcome home party from hell. She’d lived it.
Dawn caught up with her in the kitchen with the empty serving dishes as she scraped plates and stacked them in the dishwasher. “Is it weird?”
“Having a boyfriend who gets along so well with mom. Is it weird?”
“Did you see the pretty flowers he brought her?”
“Spike brought those?”
“Yeah. Mom went all misty-eyed and gushy about the Victorian language of flowers. Who knew a vampire would know all that stuff?”
Buffy whispered, very conscious of Spike’s vampire hearing. “Don’t tell anyone, but it’s just the kind of thing that William... before he was vamped, you know? Just the kind of thing that he would know all about.”
She grabbed the pie and Annie’s special plate with her sliced banana and a token dollop of whipped cream, and bracing herself for further embarrassment, led the way back into the dining room.

Spike had been very jovial and chatty over dinner and had taken his leave of her mom with sincere thanks for the meal, but he’d been very quiet and thoughtful in the car on the way to the Bronze. “Is it like that every night?”
“Is what like what every night?”
Spike parked around the corner from the club, turned the engine off and sat back in his seat, gesturing helplessly. “The kiddy kerfuffle. Dinner; quiet time with story; bath; milk; bed; another story then lots of pleading and procrastinating and resisting going to sleep for as long as possible.”
Buffy chuckled as they got out of the car. “Yeah, pretty much. Except that sometimes there’s tantrums too. She was on her best behaviour tonight ‘cos you were there. It’s only since I had Annie that I’ve realised how demanding and time-consuming children are. I’ve been so lucky to have mom and Dawn and the gang to help. I don’t know how other single moms do it.”
“Hmmm? Oh, nothing. Just thinking.”
“Big thoughts, huh?”
Spike slipped his hand into hers and led her towards the club entrance. “Come on, love. Let’s get your celebration with your mates over with then I’ll have you all to myself at last.” He tucked his tongue behind his teeth, waggled his eyebrows and looked her up and down with an evil glint in his eye.
Buffy pulled his head down for a kiss. “I know. I’ve missed you too. We won’t stay long, promise. A drink with the guys and a couple of dances and we’re out of here.”
The Bronze was packed, as always on a Friday night. There was no live band but the DJ was playing upbeat dance music, so the floor was heaving with bouncy sweaty teenagers and young adults.
Buffy stretched up to peer around in search of her friends and quickly found Xander and Willow on the couch under the stairs. Xander spotted her at the same moment and raised a hand in welcome, gesturing excitedly at the vacant places beside them.
At the sight of Willow grinning and beckoning to her, Buffy felt a surge of the same cold rage she’d felt when she’d first learned of Willow’s high-handed manipulation of her life. How dare Willow behave as though she’d done nothing wrong? Did she honestly expect Buffy to go and sit beside her and talk to her as though nothing had happened?
She deliberately turned her back on the pair and caught a brief glimpse through the dancers of Tara and Anya at a small table on the other side of the club.
She gave Spike a nudge towards the bar. “Get us some drinks, honey. I’ll be over there.” She pointed out the two girls who were huddled together in intense conversation.
Buffy skirted the dancers, snagging two unoccupied chairs on the way. She slid the chairs into place at the girls’ table, sat on one and kept a firm grip on the other. “Hey guys. Why the glum faces? I thought we were here to celebrate the deadness of Glory?”
Tara flushed and looked down at her hands, clenched in her lap, but Anya said, “We were trying to decide what the perfect wish would be to punish Willow for her abuse of you and Tara. Oh, and Spike as well, of course, but wronged women were always my speciality.”
“We… we weren’t really going to make a wish,” Tara hastened to add. “It’s just that… I’d had a fight with Willow and I was going to stay at a friends’ for a few days for some thinking time. She made me forget about that and then when we went to bed…”
“And there’s a name for people who trick people into having sex with them,” Anya broke in. “She did the same thing with you and Riley.”
“But Riley and I… we weren’t… we didn’t…”
“You know when that frat house got all sexy? If you hadn’t been influenced by Willow’s spell, would you have been able to resist fornicating with Riley?”
“Oh. I don’t know. I never thought of it like that…”
“So that’s why we’re being creative with the theoretical vengeance.” Anya said with a grim nod. “Also, I’m pissed at Xander for sitting with Willow even when I said I didn’t want to, so I’m taking suggestions for how I’ll make him pay for that.”
“It’s very cathartic,” Tara said with a sly grin. “I never suspected I could be so vicious.”
“Ladies,” Spike said as he arrived with three brightly coloured drinks complete with swizzle sticks, fruity garnish, curly straws and umbrellas. “Buffy didn’t specify, but I figured that averting an apocalypse, even by accident, calls for something fun and festive. We have a Blue lagoon—that’s kinda orangey; a Purple rain—that’s peachy, and a Sex on the beach—that’s all tropical fruit. Choose your pick.”
He sprawled beside Buffy, put one arm around her shoulders, dropped a quick kiss on her lips and withdrew a bottle of beer from an inside pocket of his duster. He took a drink and then gestured with the bottle. “And I’m telling you now; don’t expect me to get such girly drinks on a regular basis. The barman gave me a very funny look.”
Buffy giggled and said, “You do know we’re not twenty-one yet, don’t you? We’re not supposed to have alcohol.”
“Speak for yourself,” Anya said, eagerly reaching for the Sex on the beach. “Thanks, Spike. I haven’t had one of these for years.” She took a long sip. “Oh, yum.”
They chatted for a while and then when the music changed, Buffy leapt up. “Oh, I love this song! Dance with me Spike!” She took hold of his sleeve and pulled him to his feet.
“Well, if you’re going to dance,” said Anya, getting up and straightening her skirt. “Come on Tara. Since Xander’s being stupid, you’ll have to dance with me. But not in a lesbian way.”
Tara chuckled and stood, taking Anya’s outstretched hand. “Not in a lesbian way. You gotta deal.”
The group was easing onto the edge of the dance floor when Xander came up to them. “Buffy! Why didn’t you come and sit with us? I thought we were going to celebrate Glory’s doom. You upset Willow so much, she started crying. And now she’s gone home!”
“And of course, we mustn’t upset your precious Willow,” Anya said scathingly, brushing past him with Tara in tow. “Even when she totally deserves it.”
“We are celebrating, Xander,” Buffy said. “But there’s no way I was ready to be all friendy with Willow yet. Not after everything she’s done.”
“But it’s Willow!”
“Look, you might be ready to forgive what she’s done to us, Xander, but I’m not. She’s just gonna have to deal until I am.” She spun into Spike’s arms. “And for now, I’m gonna dance with my guy and then…” She looked up into Spike’s smiling face, got lost in his adoring blue eyes and forgot what she was going to say.
“And then they’re going to go and have sex to get reacquainted. Lots of sex,” Anya said, twirling Tara and swaying her hips to the beat. “Hours of sweaty sex with superpowers…” She heaved a wistful sigh. “I remember what that was like. I miss it.”
Spike’s bouquet for Joyce:
Daffodils – Respect; Ivy - Fidelity & friendship; Fern – sincerity.
You might recognise a couple of lines borrowed from: S5 Ep14 ‘Crush’,Written by David Fury
Chapter 18

Chapter 18
Spike turned the car onto the drive of the run-down mansion on Crawford Street and parked neatly. Buffy opened the passenger door and looked up at the stark grey building with a discontented moue. The place didn’t exactly hold the happiest of memories for her. For Spike either, come to think of it.
Spike closed the driver’s door with a loud clunk. “Give me a couple of minutes, love?” He disappeared into the house in a swirl of black leather.
“Huh?” Slightly disappointed by his unromantic behaviour, Buffy got out of the car, stretched, and then shivered. In L.A. she had complained about the lack of air conditioning in Spike’s big old beast of a car. She shouldn’t have been surprised that there was no heating either.
She pulled her jacket tighter around herself, reclaimed her overnight bag from the back seat and followed her vampire.
Entering the huge, echoing building, she was suddenly hesitant. They had instantly reconnected emotionally and it was obvious that Spike was still attracted to her, but having Annie had made some changes to her body that she was still coming to terms with herself. She was suddenly anxious about how Spike would react. She could hear him moving around upstairs, but didn’t immediately follow him. Instead, she dumped her bag at the bottom of the stairs and walked further into the house.
In the great room, the big fireplace was alive with a cheery blaze and there was a big, thick-pile rug placed in the perfect position between it and a huge, comfortable-looking couch. The main overhead lights were dark, but a lamp on an end table added enough warm light to make the area around the fire in the chilly, cavernous space feel cosy.
Buffy knelt on the rug, holding her cold hands out to the flames. Very quickly she warmed up and shed her jacket, moving back from the heat.
She leant back against the couch and removed her boots and socks. Then she stretched out her legs, gave a contented sigh and gazed into the dancing flames while her toes defrosted.
“Warm enough, love?”
Buffy started. She hadn’t heard him coming. She raised her feet and wiggled her toes in demonstration as she smiled up at him. “Toasty.”
Spike had removed his duster, untucked his shirt and undone the buttons to reveal a pale strip of lickable chest. “The electricity and water are still hooked up from before, but vamps never bother with the heating. I didn’t fancy risking tampering with the gas supply to get the bloody boiler working, so this was the best I could do.”
“It’s fine, Spike. The fire is totally relaxing. Come sit down.” She patted the rug beside her.
“Don’t wanna relax. I had something a little more… energetic in mind.” He began to slink towards her, his eyes smouldering and his tongue curled behind his top teeth.
Buffy’s heart accelerated until it was thundering in her chest and her breathing quickened. She rolled to her feet and slowly backed away, smirking playfully. “You’ll have to catch me first.”
Spike chuckled. “Challenge accepted.”
Buffy stepped off the rug onto the cold stone floor and squeaked in surprise. In the second of her distraction, Spike darted forward and she barely avoided his grasp by grabbing the back of the couch and swinging around behind it. She ran on tip-toe in a full circle back onto the rug where she paused with relief. She’d intended to allow Spike to catch her eventually, but the soft rug was a far preferable location to the cold bare floor.
Arms like steel banded around her waist and chest from behind, clamping her arms to her sides. “Gotcha,” he breathed beside her ear.
She writhed, rubbing back against him. “Oh no!” she cried in a high, overdramatic tone, trying to hold in a giggle. “The Big Bad vampire has me in his evil clutches. Whatever is to become of me?”
“Gonna ravish you,” Spike growled, turning her in his arms. Their mouths met in a hungry kiss and Buffy struggled to free her arms so that she could touch him in return. Finally, his hold loosened and she wrapped her arms around his neck and hung on.
When she was forced to break the kiss so that she could gasp for breath, she shoved Spike’s shirt down his arms and ran her hands over his bare shoulders and chest. She was desperate to feel his cool, smooth skin.
He reciprocated by shrugging out of the sleeves and tugging her shirt over her head. He fumbled with the fastenings of her leather pants. “Bloody hell, woman! Are these things painted on? Why couldn’t you have worn a skirt? I like you in skirts.”
Buffy unbuckled Spike’s belt and ripped the fly open, the buttons flying off to clatter around the room. “Don’t pretend you don’t like watching my ass in these pants - and you can talk, ‘Mister my jeans are so tight everyone can see the size of my… uh, bulge’!”
Spike chuckled, then gave an impatient huff and muttered, “Bugger this for a game of soldiers.” He stopped trying to push her pants down past her hips and cradled her face in his hands. He pressed a kiss to her lips then gripped her by the waist - and Buffy suddenly found herself flying backwards through the air and landing softly, flat on her back on the rug.
“Spike? What?”
Spike toed off his boots and quickly shed his jeans. He stood between her legs, looking down on her with a predatory gaze. Buffy thought he looked more beautiful than one of those naked Greek marble statues. Even though he was whipcord lean, he still had muscles galore. Her eyes strayed downward and she licked her lips. A totally porntastic statue.
Suddenly he crouched, grabbed her feet and raised them over his shoulders. He then grasped the waistband of her pants and underwear and standing, peeled them up her legs.
He flung the inside-out garments away and dropped to his knees, snapped open the front fastener of her bra and flipped the cups to the sides. He murmured, “And there you are. My glorious slayer.”
He cupped a breast, flicking the distended nipple with his thumb. “Love the new boobs, pet. Motherhood has done you a favour.” He traced a prominent rib with one gentle finger. It tickled and she wriggled slightly. “Gonna have to feed you up, love. Damn that bloody interfering witch.”
When his fingers began tracing downwards from her ribs to her belly, she shyly tried to cover herself, but he batted her hands away.
She panicked, reached up and grasped his shoulders, pulling him down onto her, simultaneously spreading her legs wider and raising her knees to cradle him.
Supporting himself on his elbows either side of her, he claimed her mouth in a deep kiss while gently rocking, sliding his erection up and down her soaking crease.
By the time she was forced to come up for air, she was frantic for more. “God, Spike. Stop teasing me! I need you in me now!”
“As you wish, my lady.” Grinning smugly, Spike positioned himself at her entrance and slowly pushed into her.
Buffy felt long-unused muscles stretching and pulsing around his girth in a most delicious way. Her breathing hitched and her eyes closed as she relished the exquisite sensations that such a simple, natural process generated.
After what felt like hours, but must only have been seconds, Spike was fully buried within her and Buffy opened her eyes to see his face hovering over hers. His eyes were squinched closed and he was panting raggedly.
She stroked one hand down his back to hold him close and with the other, grabbed him by the back of his neck and drew him down into a deep soul kiss. “God, I’ve missed you. Missed this,” she murmured when their lips finally parted.
“I’d forgotten…” Spike gasped. “Never get over the heat…”
In an attempt to heighten the feeling of being filled to the limit, Buffy deliberately contracted her inner muscles around him, then relaxed and did it again.
That was when Spike lost it.
With a groan, he rocked back and thrust forcefully into her, making her yelp in surprise as she slid a couple of inches across the rug.
She panted, “Oh yeah…” and clung to his shoulders as he repeated the movement.
It wasn’t the romantic, gentle reconnection she’d anticipated. What it was, was wild and passionate and exciting, and as Spike pounded into her accompanied by the sounds of flesh slapping against flesh and breathless moans and grunts, Buffy realised it was exactly what she needed.
She hung on to him tightly with arms and legs as the force of Spike’s thrusts gradually slid her further and further across the rug until her shoulder caught on the corner of the heavy couch. At last she had a solid enough purchase to be able to respond with her own demanding counter-thrusts, her hips rising to meet Spike’s at full power as she ground against his pelvis.
Unsurprisingly, after such a long wait and having set such a frantic pace, it wasn’t long until they both crashed over the edge into spectacular, noisy orgasms.
As she came down, Buffy lay splayed out gasping for breath with the comforting weight of Spike pressing her into the floor. “Oh Boy!” she finally panted.
After a few moments, Spike lifted his head from her shoulder and raised a hand to brush her hair from her sweaty brow. “Sorry love. I didn’t mean to… but when you did that thing…”
“I know. It’s fine.” Buffy giggled. “More than fine actually.” She struggled to take another breath. “Uh… this is great, but seriously needing to breathe here…”
With a grunt of protest, Spike drew out of her body and rolled to one side, allowing Buffy to take a long deep breath.
Lying on his side with his head propped up on one elbow, he gently ran a hand down her chest to her belly, and began tracing patterns in the slick sweat that covered her. She shivered, partly from the tickling sensation and partly from the rapidly cooling sweat.
After a minute, she recovered sufficiently to raise her head to watch what he was doing and cringed when she saw he was tracing the silver spider’s web of stretch marks marring her belly and the tops of her thighs. “Don’t…” She whispered uncertainly, reaching down to still his hand. “They’re ugly.”
“Are you totally daft? They’re as far from ugly as you can get!”
“You don’t get it, do you, Buffy? They’re like… like a medal of honour. You should wear them with pride. They’re the symbol of the most wondrous gift that any woman can give her man. Uh, her vamp. You’ve taken my essence and from it created new life and nurtured it within your body. I still can’t believe…” He shook his head, his eyes looking suspiciously bright.
“Oh!” Buffy gulped and her own eyes teared up. “I… That’s beautiful. I never thought of it like that. I just thought…”
“Well, don’t.” He smirked and tapped her on the forehead with one finger. “You know, I read somewhere that too much thinking is bad for you.”
Buffy giggled. “Well, that explains a lot about you.” She shivered again and her skin broke out in goosebumps. She crossed her arms over her chest in an attempt to hold in the warmth.
Spike frowned at the fire which had burned down to a deep red glow. “You’re cold. Come on slayer, got a way to fix that.” He clambered to his feet, grabbed her hand to pull her up after him and led her towards the stairs.
Again, Buffy squeaked when her bare feet met the cold floor and without breaking his stride, Spike caught her around the waist and hoisted her over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift.

Spike took the stairs two and three at a time, ignoring Buffy’s laughing protests, and headed for the room he’d selected for them. Not one which had been used during the Angelus days, but rather one which had lain empty throughout. He’d cleaned it as well as he’d been able, aired it out and made the bed with fresh linens. He just hoped that Buffy would find it acceptable.
Just inside the door, he stopped, swung her down to stand on the edge of the area rug and pulled her back against his chest.
“Oh,” Buffy exclaimed softly.
Spike glanced around to check that all the pillar candles were still lit and that although the fire in the decorative little grate had burned down slightly, there were still enough flickering yellow flames to add warmth to the ambient lighting.
“Is it okay, Buffy?”
“Okay?” She twisted in his arms and raised a hand to cup his cheek. “It’s lovely. You did all this for me?”
He took her hand in his and kissed her palm. "Wanted tonight to be special."
“I’m with you. That’s special enough for me.” She turned back and gestured widely. “But this just makes it extra special.” She hunched her shoulders into a shiver and scurried across to the bed. “Time to get warm…”
Spike grinned smugly when she paused and exclaimed, “Oh! Pretty!”
She gathered some of the pink and red rose petals that he’d scattered over the coverlet, raised them to her nose to inhale their sweet fragrance and then let them fall again. With a happy sigh, she burrowed under the covers and holding up the corner of the comforter invitingly, reached a hand out to him. “What are you waiting for, honey?”
Spike didn’t need to be prompted twice. He closed the bedroom door and loped across the room to slide into the bed beside her and into her waiting arms.
They lay nose to nose, kissing and fondling each other as Buffy warmed up, all urgency gone from their love-making after their frantic, pressure-releasing coupling.
“Been thinking, love.”
“I thought you said that was bad for you?”
Spike snorted a laugh. “Yeah, well…” He was abruptly serious. “I’d been thinking we’d look for a small place. You know, just for us and the Bitlet. But that’s not going to suit, is it? I’m new to all this so I didn’t realise that she can’t be left alone when we patrol.”
“God, no. She’ll need a sitter.”
“Well, what I was thinking was; we should get a three bedroom place and ask the Turtledove to move in with us.”
“The Turtlewho, now?”
“The shy little Wicca. What’s her name?”
“Oh! You mean Tara!”
“She needs a place now that she’s left the bloody witch, and she’d be kinda like a resident sitter. The babe does get on okay with her, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, Annie loves her. You’re so sweet. That’s a wonderful idea. I’ll have to ask her, but I can’t see her refusing.” After a minute she added, “Although… perhaps we could try for a four bedroom house? Do you think we’ll be able to afford that? Dawn is definitely gonna want to come stay over now and then.”
“Have to wait and see how much treasure there is, but you never know…”
The kissing and fondling continued for a while, gradually gathering passion until Buffy moaned, “O, God. Love you so much. Gonna have to start looking for somewhere now. Now I’ve remembered this… it’s gonna be hell spending nights apart.”
“God, yeah. Have to get working on finding that treasure soon then, love. I know where to start, but I’m gonna need all kinds of excavating equipment and some minions to help with the heavy work…”
Buffy grinned at him. “I guess you didn’t know, but Xander works in construction. I bet he could find us all the stuff we need—and why bother with minions you’d just have to kill afterwards, to keep the secret? Totally motivated super-strong slayer here. I bet we could work just as quickly without.”
She suddenly sat up in bed and looked around. “Where’s my jacket? I need my cell phone. It’s not too late to call Xander and tell him what we need and see if he can help. We could start with the digging tomorrow!” She grimaced and wriggled. “But first… I really need to pee.”
Spike chuckled and pointed to a door in the far corner of the room. “Bathroom’s over there, pet. Have at it.”
Buffy made a dash for the bathroom and Spike lay back with a sigh. He’d thought they would spend all weekend in bed, but perhaps that had been unrealistic of him. He had to admit that finding the treasure quickly would be good too. The sooner they could move in to their own place, the better he’d like it. They’d been apart for far too long already. He started making a mental list of the equipment he thought they’d need.
Buffy’s hesitant voice from the bathroom broke into his musings.
“Uh, Spike? Where’s the toilet paper?”

Chapter 19

Chapter 19
Spike had scoured the mansion for toilet rolls, looking in vain in the various storage areas, eventually finding two dusty, half-used ones in other bathrooms. When he had returned and proudly presented them to a highly mortified Buffy, she’d been horrified to discover that he’d gone prospecting for them stark naked.
That was why she’d insisted that he should get dressed to go downstairs in turn to fetch her jacket and bag, and then the maps.
Her argument had been that he wouldn’t be able to wander around the house naked once they had their own place because of Annie’s presence, and potentially Tara’s and Dawn’s, and the sooner he broke the habit, the better. There had been the threat of robes. And even pyjamas. He shuddered at the memory.
He huffed in exasperation and tossed the phone onto the bed. “You talk to the git, slayer. He said he can get his paws on a truck and the range of stuff we’ve decided we’ll need, but now he’s whining about losing a day’s overtime tomorrow and saying he can’t help ‘til Sunday.”
Spike took off his jeans and slipped in beside Buffy who was sitting up in bed, legs crossed Indian style, wearing only a sweater she’d pulled from her bag. She was leaning forward over the map, her bare rump sticking up in the air in a most tantalising manner.
He tuned out her persuasive wheedling and cupped one peachy buttock. Then with a mischievous smirk, he twisted sideways, gently grasped her hips, ducked his face underneath her and gave her glistening pink petals a leisurely lick.
Her reaction was perhaps extreme, if not totally out of character. She yelped, reared up on her knees, flung her free hand out and shoved him out of bed.
He lay on the floor, speechless with shock. Then her flushed little face peeked over the edge of the bed and wide-eyed, she whispered, “You pig! You can’t do that when I’m on the phone to Xander! Ew!”
Spike got up, chortling at her scandalised tone. Buffy eyed him warily as she made feeble excuses to Xander for the interruption and resumed her pleading for him to meet them in the morning.
Impatient to get to the more fun parts of the night, as he climbed back into bed Spike suggested, “Look, if he’s so hung up on losing a few quid, Valentine’s Day’s coming up. Tell him that once we’ve found the treasure, he can have his pick of gaudy trinkets for his bird.” Buffy looked at him in disbelief and he added hastily, “But only after we’ve found my gem and you’ve picked out something for yourself.”
While Buffy continued her conversation, Spike curled around her, slipping his hands under her sweater to caress the warm silky skin of her back. He was careful not to startle her again, not wanting to repeat his undignified exit from the bed.
“Yes, Xander, I know exactly what I’m doing,” Buffy said, absently reaching back to run her fingers through Spike’s tousled hair. “I know it seems sudden, but it isn’t a Riley reboundy thing. It was always Spike, even when I couldn’t remember him. Can you just give him a chance? For me?”
Spike grabbed her hand and kissed her palm, going on to nibble at her fingertips. “There’s my slayer,” he murmured fondly, “you tell him.”
“Oh, that’s great! Nine o’clock at the corner of Oak and University Row. Got it. See you then, Xander. Thank you so much.” Buffy ended the call and pressed a few more buttons on her phone before putting it on the night table. As she folded up the map and laid it aside, she said, “I’ve set my alarm for seven thirty. That should give us enough time…”
She tugged her sweater over her head, dropped it beside the bed and snuggled down into Spike’s arms. They instinctively adjusted their positions until they lay chest to chest, legs entwined with Spike’s growing erection pressed between their bellies.
Buffy leaned forward to kiss him, but just as their lips were about to make contact, her mouth opened wide in a yawn. She pulled back slightly and brought her hand up to cover her mouth, flushing in embarrassment. When her mouth finally consented to close, she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
“’m I boring you, love?” Spike said with a mock pout.
“No, not boring. Never boring.” She leaned towards him once more. “Let’s try that again…” This time their lips made contact and they both relaxed into the embrace, hands beginning the familiar gentle inventory of each other’s bodies.
Spike had drawn Buffy over to lie on top of him in preparation for the next stage in the expected activities when a kiss suddenly went wrong. Instead of continuing to tangle with his own, Buffy’s tongue abruptly disappeared and she broke contact, raising her head and once more covering her mouth with a free hand.
Spike could clearly hear the joints each side of Buffy’s face creaking with the strain. So that’s what they meant by a jaw-cracking yawn.
“Oh my god!” she sighed when she was finally able to relax. “I’m so sorry! I guess it’s been a long day.” She slowly crumpled, half onto him and half beside him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she buried her face in the crook of his neck. Sheepishly, she said, “Would you be very mad if we didn’t…? I really am kinda beat.”
Spike stroked her hair back from her face then wrapped his arms around her and settled her more comfortably into his side, with her head pillowed on his shoulder.
One thing that he had come to realise once he’d got to know Buffy in Los Angeles was that he’d never truly experienced emotional closeness with anybody before. Even with Drusilla, he’d always felt a certain distance. The level of fulfilment and companionship he’d experienced with Buffy by the time they had parted had been a revelation.
Inevitably, he was going to be left a little frustrated, but just having her here, spending the night in his bed, in his arms, meant more to him than he could possibly put into words.
“You sleep, Buffy love. Plenty of time for the other.”
“M’cue,” she murmured.
Almost immediately, her breathing slowed, her body slumped in total relaxation and she was fast asleep.
For several hours, Spike revelled in simply watching her. Occasionally he couldn’t resist the urge to stroke her warm cheek tenderly or kiss the top of her head, taking care not to disturb her. However, as the night progressed, the steady double beat of her heart, and the luxurious warmth, gradually lulled him to sleep.

Buffy shivered. She pulled her jacket tighter and wrapped her arms around her middle, peering out of one of the little holes she’d scratched in the paint blacking out the DeSoto windows. Still no sign of Xander and his truck.
She sighed then shivered again. Having to wash in cold water then eating a cold cereal breakfast was not her ideal way to begin the day in February. She hunched her shoulders against the draught from the ill-fitting car window.
“Cold, love?” Spike asked absently, eyes glued to the rear-view mirror. “Should have had a hot shower to set you up for the day.”
Buffy slowly turned to him and glared. “Hot shower? And how exactly do you propose I should have had a hot shower in a house with no hot running water?”
“Shower’s electric. As long as we’ve got power, the hot water’ll never run out.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed dangerously at her vampire who seemed oblivious to the heinous crime he had committed. “And you choose now to share that little snippet of information? You couldn’t have told me, I don’t know, when I was shivering in the bathroom, washing in freezing cold water, for example?”
He shrugged carelessly. “You never asked.”
“I never…?”
Buffy’s incipient rant was interrupted when Spike abruptly sat forward and turned the key in the ignition. “And about bloody time too. Your boy’s here, slayer. Give him a wave to follow us, yeah?”
Taken aback, Buffy did exactly that. She forced the stubborn window down just enough to get her arm through the gap and waved in the traditional ‘follow me’ gesture.
Once their mini convoy was established, she jiggled the window closed again, turned her attention to Spike and stammered, “But I thought…” She gestured over her shoulder at the rapidly disappearing manhole cover which she’d assumed would be their access point to the tunnels. “Manhole!”
Spike chuckled and she subsided in her seat, pouting.
“I don’t get it.”
“Can you really see us getting all the boy’s gear down that itty bitty hole, slayer?”
Buffy felt a little foolish that she hadn’t actually considered that point.
“So where are we going?”
“You’ll see…”
Once clear of the college campus, Spike sped up and Buffy swivelled in her seat to check that Xander was keeping up. The big flat-bed truck had scaffolding poles and planks tied to the roof of the cab and slanting down to the rear, each end adorned with big flapping pieces of red cloth.
With her attention focused to the rear, she was startled when the car lurched as Spike turned off the road onto hard-packed earth and they began slowly bumping up a rocky slope, swerving to avoid scraggly shrubs and jagged rocks. After a quick glance ahead to see where they were heading, she turned again, anxiously watching Xander’s progress. He handled the laden truck with professional ease, despite the rough going.
Suddenly everything went dark and looking up, she saw that they’d driven straight into a big cave, which looked vaguely familiar. A few seconds later, Xander drew in behind them.
“The Initiative?” Buffy asked, looking around as she climbed out of the car. “You’ve brought us to the Initiative?”
“Thought that was probably what it was. I was looking for easier access for the equipment when I found this place.” He pointed to the wide entrance to a tunnel at the rear of the cave. “A little way down there, there’s a massive metal door set in the rock. There’s a narrow passage going off to the side. That’s where we’ll be heading.”
Spike began to help Xander untie the ropes securing the scaffolding so that they could remove it and stack it to one side. He smirked as he indicated one of the pieces of equipment revealed by the removal of the big planks. “When I saw that, I figured there’d be some handy electricity in there to nick for the drill.”
“Yeah, Buffy. We can’t use a diesel powered compressor for the jackhammer in an enclosed space. This is an electric one. I’ve got a bunch of long extension cables for it. There’s some flashlights and battery powered floodlights too,” Xander said.
“Wow,” Buffy said. “Go Xander! You’re like a constructy Boy Scout. All prepared and everything.”
The next hour or so was spent humping everything through the tunnels to the cavern that Spike had pinpointed for the start of the excavation, setting up the lighting, and stacking the tools and equipment in neat piles.
Xander straightened his back after adjusting the last floodlight to an angle to illuminate the remaining shadowed area of domed cavern roof. Looking up, he clapped his hands and rubbed them together briskly. “So, where do you want to start, then?”

“Not like that, you bleached idiot! Do it the way I showed you!” Xander yelled up to Spike who was fumbling with a stubborn scaffolding connector.
“No! No buts! Use the freaking spirit level! If the uprights aren’t plumb and the platforms aren’t level, the whole thing will become unstable. Trust me when I say you really don’t want that!”
Spike glared down at the young human who had somehow assumed the status of foreman of the project. He fidgeted with the stupid, uncomfortable, yellow hard hat the boy had insisted they all should wear and clamped his mouth shut around his irritation. When they’d got up to the second level and he’d refused point blank to wear the security harness, the boy had nearly had an apoplectic fit. Spike had reluctantly admitted that they really needed Harris’ expertise to help them get the treasure and so it wouldn’t do to piss him off again.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered. He reached for the long spirit level and made a big show of laying it along the scaffolding pole he was trying to attach to the corner upright. He surreptitiously lowered his end several inches until the bubble was dead centre and the connector which had previously refused to lock, fixed easily into place. “There. All done and level,” he called down. “Satisfied now, General Harris, sir?
At Xander’s nod and hand signal for A-OK, Spike looked over to where Buffy was standing next to the pile of scaffolding parts. “Send up the next pole, slayer!”
Buffy easily lifted one of the long aluminium pipes and raised one end into the air like a pole vaulter preparing for her run up.
“Not that one, Buffy, he needs a couple of the short cross bracers diagonally across the end next, with these swivel connectors,” Xander instructed, directing Buffy towards a different pile.
Spike was frustrated by how thorough the boy was insisting they should be, which made progress frustratingly slow. He was impatient to get going. He called down, “But…”
“I told you,” Xander raised a warning fist, “but me no buts. There’s no way I’m gonna risk Buffy on an unstable platform.” He added slyly, “I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to either.”
Well, that was downright underhanded. Spike subsided sulkily and obediently crawled into position to attach the cross bracers at the end of the structure.
Buffy lifted one of the smaller poles, cocked her head as she squinted to aim, and then expertly shot it up to arrive neatly in Spike’s outstretched hand.

“To your left a little,” Xander panted, twisting to get a better look at the readings.
Shuffling across the planking on her shoulders, butt and heels, Buffy edged the cumbersome device over a few inches and held it up so that the wheels were firmly in contact with the rock above them.
“Okay, now push it slowly towards me.”
The pair wriggled awkwardly along the wooden platform, with Buffy manoeuvering the machine while Xander kept his eyes locked on the little screen.
“Stop! There!” Xander pointed to a spot on the rock. “That’s the thinnest place.”
“So I can drop this stupid thing now then?” Buffy asked hopefully.
“No! For god’s sake don’t drop it! Those things cost a fortune and if we break it, I’ll be paying for it out of my wages for years.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and squinted down to her side. “You there, honey?”
“Yeah, let it go, baby.”
Buffy rolled to the side and swung the GPR trolley over until it cleared the side of the scaffolding, then released it to the accompaniment of an anxious whimper from Xander.
There was a quiet grunt from below as Spike caught it. “Don’t get yer knickers in a twist, Harris. Not a scratch on your precious radar doohickey.”
Puffing out a quick breath in relief, Xander reached into his pocket, produced a small spray can and painted a big yellow X on the rock overhead.
He then expertly swung himself off the platform, adjusted his safety harness and clambered down to the ground.
Buffy crawled to the edge and jumped, landing lightly beside him.
The three of them looked up at the mark which was towards one end of the scaffolding platform.
“You’d better hope that void is your mystery crypt.” Xander unfastened and shed his harness. “If it’s someone’s stinky septic tank, I will not be a happy Xanderman.”
“You’re not the only one!” Spike said.
Buffy suddenly started laughing.
The two guys shared a look then regarded her in bemusement.
“X marks the spot!” she gasped out between giggles, pointing up to the big yellow X. “It really does!”
Spike shook his head fondly and patted her on the shoulder. “Yeah, love. That it does.” He headed towards the pile of equipment, picked up the jackhammer and carried it across to the tower. “Time to get cracking at last!” he announced gleefully.
“Uh, not quite yet,” Xander said, tapping the pile of reels of extension cable with his foot. “First we need to go prospecting in the Initiative for power.”
Chapter 20

Chapter 20
With the personal LED lamps Xander had provided strapped to their helmets like miners, and high-powered flashlights tucked into their pockets ready for when they had their hands free to use them, the trio set off back along the tunnels.
Buffy and Spike pushed wheelbarrows piled up with reels of extension cable, while Xander relieved them of their loads one by one. He unwound each reel as they went, connecting the ends together to leave a long cable trailing behind them back into the cavern.
By the time they finally turned into the wide entrance tunnel and reached the big steel door to the Initiative complex, there were just four full reels left.
“Okay,” Xander said. “We’ve got two hundred feet left. That means we need to find somewhere close to hook up or I’ll have to go find more cable.”
Spike examined the very solid-looking door for potential weaknesses. There was no obvious lock, or even handle, a fact which had escaped his notice the first time he’d seen it. “So, what can we expect in there?”
Buffy shrugged. “I dunno. Riley said they were going to fill it in with concrete but the place was humungous. It would have taken hundreds of loads. I never saw any trucks or anything. Did you, Xander?”
“Nope. That’s why I’m hoping that everything was just shut down and we’ll be able to switch something back on to uh… borrow the power. Remember the way to the control room, Buff?”
“Well, I know where it is. I guess it’s more a question of if I can find my way there from here.” Gesturing to the door, she added uncertainly, “Wherever here is.”
Spike stood back and studied the wall of rock surrounding the door. A shallow depression a little off to one side caught his eye and he went over to investigate. He discovered a metal panel with a speaker grille, a red button, a small fish-eye lens and at the top, a tiny red light. “Well, there’s got to be electricity switched on somewhere in there to run this,” he said, pointing out his find to the others. In a resigned tone, he added, “So to get in, it looks as if we need to find someone with security access. Bugger.”
Xander turned to Buffy, “I wonder… Do you think…?”
“Nah. They’d have taken my name off the guest list when everything went kerblooey.”
“Maybe they were too busy figuring out the mess to think about it?”
Spike looked from one to the other. “They gave you clearance, slayer? You said you’d been in there but I didn’t realise you’d gone so far as to join up.”
“It was only for a little while.”
“Yeah, until the evil boss lady got upset at Buffy asking too many questions and tried to kill her.” Xander nudged Buffy towards the panel. “Go on, give it a try.”
Buffy faced the panel, going up on tip-toe to line her eye up with the lens, and hesitated. “What if this doesn’t work?”
“Then I guess we’ll either have to find somewhere else to connect to the grid or give up and start digging with the hand tools,” Xander said.
“So… no pressure then,” Buffy mumbled.
She took a deep breath, held it, and pressed the button.
For a couple of seconds nothing happened. Buffy let her breath out in a disappointed grunt and slumped back down onto her heels.
Then a feminine computer voice came from the panel. “Retinal scan accepted. Please state your name for vocal identification.”
Buffy broke into a wide grin. “Buffy Summers.”
The little red light disappeared to be replaced with a green one and there was a loud click.
Spike quickly stepped forward and pushed the door which easily swung open.
“Yay me!” Buffy punched the air in triumph.
The first thing that struck Spike was that the space in front of him was so dark that it felt solid. Then a waft of stale air flowed over them carrying with it a noxious stench.
While Xander coughed and hastily buried his face in his arm, Buffy covered her mouth and nose with her hand. “Oh my god! What’s that smell?”
“Something in there has been very dead for a long time,” Spike said. “I hope you won’t object if I don’t talk much from here on in. If I don’t speak, I won’t need to breathe.”
“Some of us are human and aren’t so lucky,” Xander grumped, his voice muffled by his coat sleeve.
“Could always turn you, if you’d like?”
“Uh… thanks but no thanks. I happen to like me as I am, all warm with a heartbeat, having to breathe bad smells and everything.”
“Suit yourself. Not sure I’d fancy you hanging about for eternity anyway.”
Xander snorted then gave up trying to keep from breathing the stink and turned to indicate the cable reels. “I think we’d better leave those here until we find somewhere to plug in. Maybe prop the door open too. It might get the air circulating and help get rid of the pong.”
“Good idea, Xan.” Buffy dug a rock out of some rubble and wedged it by the door.
Spike dug the big flashlight out of his duster pocket and swept the beam into the darkness ahead of them. “After you, slayer.”
They took up a loose V formation with Buffy in the centre, and walked slowly into the cavernous space. Buffy pointed her beam into the area immediately in front of them, while Spike and Xander played their lights to either side of her.
It quickly became apparent that they were in a vehicle maintenance area since there were a couple of inspection pits off to one side, and a load of abandoned equipment and tools. No vehicles though, which had presumably been too valuable to leave behind.
Xander turned around slowly, illuminating the walls. “No junction box in here. Looks like we’re going up.” He went across to the elevator and pressed the call button. Nothing happened. Slightly sheepishly, he said, “Oh, right. No power. I guess that means we use the stairs.” He led the way across the space to the door labelled Emergency stairs. “Uh, Buffy?” he whispered, halting in his tracks. “Over here.”
A huge grey demon lay spread-eagled upon the ground near the door. His abdomen had been ripped open and most of his internal organs had been removed. There was also a great chunk missing from the meaty part of one thigh.
 “Oh my god!” Buffy cried. “They just left it here?”
“Well, that explains the smell,” Xander muttered.
Spike stepped closer and examined the demon’s injuries. The fatal wound had clearly been a wide slash across its throat which had bled out, leaving a spreading dark stain on the concrete. The demon’s torso had been shredded by powerful claws but the wound on the leg showed very clear tooth marks. It was as though a shark had simply bitten off a mouthful of flesh.
He directed his light up the stairs behind the demon and spotted the carcase of a different species of demon which showed very similar wounds.
“Scavengers,” he muttered. “Slayer, something tells me that not all the demons in here died in that battle you told me about.”
“Uh, you don’t suppose whatever did that is still here, do you?” Xander started whirling about, sending his flashlight beam into every cranny. “What if it’s got friends?”
Luckily, he revealed no more bodies and there was nothing nasty lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on them.
“How long ago did you say they closed this place down, slayer?”
“About nine months.”
Spike gestured at the demon. “He hasn’t been dead that long.”
“I can’t believe it! They just locked the doors and left them trapped in here?”
“Looks like it. I’d wager that when they found themselves trapped and started getting hungry, they started fighting amongst themselves. The vamps wouldn’t have been strong enough to fight after a while without blood, they’ll have been picked off first.” Spike cocked his head to one side and shone his flashlight on the demon’s intact thigh. “Still plenty of meat left. Enough to keep a scavenging demon or two going for ages yet.”
“Oh, gross.” Xander shone his flashlight up the stairs, past the dead demon and into the darkness. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any weapons on you, Buffy?”
Buffy reached into the thigh pocket of her cargo pants and produced a stake. “Never go anywhere without it.”
“No offence, Buff, but I think I’d prefer something a little more weapony.” Xander headed for one of the workbenches.
“Gotta agree with the lad, pet.” Spike waggled his eyebrows at Buffy and patted his hip where the sheath for his combat knife hung from his belt. “I’ve got my knife, of course, but you know how much I like my weapons.”
Buffy chuckled and nudged his arm. “Come on then, let’s go find something to make you feel all manly.”
They followed Xander and joined him in sorting through the abandoned tools.
Spike picked up a big tyre iron and hefted it experimentally. “Not as good as an axe, but I think this’ll do me.”
“Here.” Xander held out his hand.
With a raised eyebrow, Spike passed it over.
Xander fixed one end into a clamp on the bench and quickly used duct tape to strap a heavy wrench across it a few inches in from the other end. He handed it back saying, “There you go, dual function weapon. Stabby with a hand guard or reverse it and you can beat their brains out.”
He then picked up another tyre iron and repeated the process. “You want one, Buff?”
“No thanks. I think I like this thing. Whatever it is.” She swished a long tool through the air and made a stabbing feint.
Xander glanced at her. “Windshield cut out knife. Good call. Watch the blade in the end.”
Buffy grinned. “Nifty.” She picked up a spray can of auto paint and held her hand out to Spike. “Lend me your lighter, Spike?”
“No.” Ignoring Buffy’s indignant “Hey!” he picked up a chunky butane blowtorch. He tested the ignition and when it worked, he killed the flame, took the spray paint from her, tossed it away and passed her the blowtorch. “Here, hang on to this.”
She nodded and put it in her pocket. “Thanks.”
Xander said, “Watch where you point that thing. There’s still a lot of fuel about. That gives me an idea, though.” He unhooked a nearby fire extinguisher from its wall bracket. “Not exactly a hand-to-hand weapon but I bet a face full of foam would slow a demon down.” He handed Buffy the duct tape then held the extinguisher behind his back with the hose dangling in front of his shoulder. “Tape me?”
Buffy walked around and around him, securely strapping the extinguisher to him.
Spike touched Buffy’s arm to attract her attention as she passed him. He cocked his head towards Xander and said, “Seems like a handy bloke to have around.”
She directed a dazzling grin up at Xander. “I’ve always thought so.”
Xander preened. “Handy is me. Someone’s got to be the practical one around here. Fixing stuff that the slayage breaks; that’s my speciality.”
When the reel of tape ran out, Buffy patted the end down then picked up her weapon.
Spike took one last look around, pocketed a useful looking utility knife then with his tyre iron in one hand and his flashlight in the other, he directed the beam towards the stairs. “All set, Harris? Slayer?”

Buffy led the way up the stairs, daintily stepping around the dead demon. Xander followed her and Spike brought up the rear.
Xander was used to Buffy taking the lead but having a vampire watching his back was unsettlingly new. It made him tense his shoulders and the back of his neck itched.
Buffy pushed the door open at the top of the stairs and Xander stepped up beside her to add the light from his flashlight to hers. They had emerged mid-way down a short passage. There were several closed doors on either side and one at each end, each with a small identifying label.
“Store rooms?” He whispered.
“Could be.” Buffy turned to Spike. “Stay here and watch the stairs? Xan and I’ll just check a few doors.”
Seeing Buffy moving to the left, Xander turned right and started trying doors. They were labelled with an incomprehensible combination of letters and numbers. “No joy,” he said with a shrug when he came back to where Spike was standing watching Buffy.
Buffy had also gone the full circle of her end of the corridor without success. She stopped, scowling at the last door. After a moment, she reached out and gripped the handle again. With a grinding crunch it came off in her hand, allowing the door to swing slightly towards her. She turned and grinned at them. “Yay for slayer strength!”
Xander thoughtfully glanced back at the doors he’d tried. He’d assumed that they would open inwards; he’d pushed rather than pulling when he’d tried the handles. Perhaps he should…
“Hey, you guys. Come and look at this!” Buffy cried, having pulled the door wide.
Three flashlights played over an array of metal shelving clamped to the rock walls. It was crammed with sealed jars of various sizes filled with a cloudy yellowish fluid and… Xander stepped forward and shone his light directly into one of the larger jars. “Body parts.” He made a face. “Demon body parts,” he qualified, identifying an arm covered in scales in that jar and a pair of spiral horns in the next one over.
“That is so gross,” Buffy said. “You’d have thought they’d have cleared out their specimen collection.” She turned and played her flashlight over the door directly opposite. “Do you think…?”
The store-room was left in deep shadow when she and Spike went to investigate.
Xander belatedly realised that he had been left alone among all the Frankensteiny gruesomeness so he hurried out of the store-room just in time to see Spike grimace as he tried in vain to force the door handle.
He sniggered when Spike stood aside for Buffy when he couldn’t break in. “So, vampire strength doesn’t match up to slayer strength, huh? Bet that smarts…”
He was surprised when rather than act offended, Spike beamed proudly at Buffy as she wrenched the door open. “My slayer’s stronger than any vamp.”
More icky parts,” Buffy said in disgust when shelves groaning under the weight of even more full jars were revealed. She made a gesture encompassing the entire corridor. “We’re so gonna come back and deal with these later.”
“What about Giles? Won’t he want to see?” Xander stepped into the second store-room and started examining the contents of the jars.
“Maybe, Xan. I’ll ask him before we start with the clean-up. I’m thinking along the lines of smashing and burning.”
Xander played a game with himself, trying to guess whether any of the parts he could see came from a species of demon that he’d come across. A few minutes later, he abruptly became aware that once again, his was the only flashlight illuminating the space and he looked around anxiously. Yup, he was alone.
He stuck his head out into the corridor and saw blackness, relieved only by wavering brightness coming from behind the slowly closing door to the stair well. It was getting fainter.
“So I guess it’s onwards and upwards…” Xander muttered. He pushed the store-room door closed and trotted to catch up with Buffy and Spike, trying to calculate in his head the distance they’d travelled from the entrance.
“Wait up!” he panted when he caught up with them at the top of the next flight as they opened the door. “You went off and left me down there all alone!”
“Aw diddums. Did the widdle carpenter get left behind and get all panicky then?” Spike sniggered. “That’ll teach you to keep your wits about you and follow your leaders.”
“Stop it, you two.” Buffy played her flashlight beam along the aisle between two rows of glass-fronted cells. “God, is the smell even worse here?” She shuddered but continued regardless. “I never came down this far myself but going by the way Harmony described it, this is where they kept the demons between experiments. Now I know where I am. We just need to go up one more level.” She confidently turned around and then stopped short with an embarrassed squeak. There was no second door marked ‘up’ at this location, only the one leading back down the way they’d come.
Folding her arms across her chest, she batted her eyelashes at Spike and Xander. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find some stairs going up.”
“You gonna self-destruct in five sec…” Xander’s quip was cut off in mid flow when something powered into him from behind, sending him crashing forward into Buffy. His tyre iron sword went flying in one direction and his flashlight in another as he thrust his hands out in an attempt to save himself.
He tumbled across the floor, arms and legs flailing and when he finally came to a halt, jammed up against the glass front of one of the cells, he felt as though the fire extinguisher had made a permanent dent in his back. He simply lay there for a few seconds, trying to decide which way was up.
“Xan, get off me!”
He became aware of something pushing at his arm and shoulder and rolled away to discover that he’d landed half on top of Buffy.
As they both staggered to their feet, he noticed that their only source of light was now Buffy’s helmet light. His own had been ripped away in his spill and both their flashlights had gone out, wherever they were.
He was crouching to feel around the floor for them when Buffy’s shrill voice broke the silence.
Xander tried to follow the tiny light from Buffy’s helmet lamp as it flitted around the space. The movement became faster and more frantic by the second until he started to feel dizzy. He saw no sign of the vampire, although he caught a brief glimpse of one of the flashlights.
“Spike! Where are you?”
Buffy turned to look at Xander, momentarily blinding him. “Where did he go?”
Chapter 21

Chapter 21
Xander took in Buffy’s panicked expression and had a momentous revelation. “You really do truly, madly, deeply love the guy, huh?”
“Well, duh! I told you…”
“Yeah, I know. I guess it took a while to sink into this thick skull.” He rapped his hard hat with his knuckles. “It’s just… vampire.”
“I know, okay? It took me forever to accept it, but Spike’s… different.”
Xander clapped his hands and rubbed them together saying decisively, “Okay then. I guess we’re going vamp hunting.” He took a few cautious steps towards where he thought he’d caught a glimpse of a flashlight. “Look over here, Buff.” When she turned and the glow from her helmet lamp shone by his feet, he quickly bent and picked up the flashlight it revealed. He gave it a firm shake and grunted in satisfaction when its powerful beam penetrated the gloom.
Now they could see properly, it was the work of a moment for them to gather up the rest of their scattered equipment and determine that Spike wasn’t lying unconscious anywhere close by.
“Which way?” Xander asked, shining his flashlight from side to side. “Can’t you do that… super-slayer vamp sensey thing and find him?”
Buffy sighed. “That’s an emphatic no can do. You know I never got the whole spidey sense thing down, however often Giles tried to get me to focus and hone. And on top of that, I’m Stupid Buffy. I was going to ask Spike to claim me last night. According to Anya, that would’ve let me find him right away, but I was so beat, I decided it could wait.”
Buffy regarded Xander nervously. “Yeah. It’s a vampire ritual.”
Xander made a face. “Like that icky blood oath?”
“Not exactly. More like a… a kinda commitment ceremony.”
“You’re gonna marry the guy? Seriously?”
Buffy smiled. “I never thought of it like that, but yeah. I guess I am. I really am. Are... are you cool with that, Xan?”
“I have one question. Does he make you happy?”
“He truly does. He gets me, you know? The slayer me and the Buffy me and all the bits in between.”
Xander nodded. “Then I’m cool. But if he hurts you…”
Buffy wrapped her arms around him and gave him a quick hug. “I know.”
She took a deep breath and set off. As she led the way down the aisle between the side wall and the first row of glass-fronted cells, she checked each tiled alcove in turn. “Guess we’ll just have to be methodical about this. Don’t forget we’re looking for a way up to the next floor as well.”
After a few minutes, she muttered irritably, “If the idiot’s gone and got himself dusted just when I’ve found him again, I’m gonna have him resurrected just so I can stake his vampire ass.”
Xander failed to suppress a chuckle which earned him a fierce glare, the effect of which was slightly spoiled by the smile which twitched at Buffy’s lips.

Spike came to with a start and was immediately made aware of a sharp pain at the base of his skull. When he automatically moved his hand to feel the injury, he set himself swinging. He was startled by the discovery that he was hanging upside down.
Unable for a moment to work out where he was, he had a flashback to the so-called games that Angelus had enjoyed playing with him. He froze, concentrating all his senses on his surroundings.
It was dark. Not the natural not-quite-darkness of a moonless night but the dense, almost tangible darkness of a totally enclosed space. It was also very quiet. The only noise he could hear was a low mumbling coming from somewhere in front and to the right of him. The sound echoed slightly, so he could tell that he was in a virtually bare room.
At least he didn't appear to be in any immediate danger, despite his vulnerable position. He heaved a sigh of relief. When he inhaled again, the vile smell hit him full force, reminding him that he was in the disused Initiative complex.
Suddenly anxious about Buffy, he set to freeing himself. He bent at the waist, flinging his arms back and forward to build up momentum. His duster was draped down behind his head and caught on something with each pass so he slid it off and allowed it to fall. After several swings, he chose the optimum point of the arc to tense his stomach muscles and throw his arms and head up, jack-knifing to grab his legs.
Spike bent his knees and reached up to discover he was tied in the traditional method. A rope bound his ankles and one strand was looped around an overhead service pipe. He caught hold of the pipe with one hand and reached back to his waist to see if his captors had had enough sense to relieve him of his combat knife. Thanking his lucky stars that they hadn’t learned their restraining technique from Angelus, he slid the weapon from its sheath then easily sliced through the loop of rope.
His feet swung down and he hung there for a second before releasing his hold. From the noise he made, he realised that he was clearly not on the floor. He crouched to investigate and learned that he was on a long, narrow metal table.
He cut the rope binding his ankles and climbed off the table. After fumbling around on the floor, he found his duster almost immediately and slipped it on. The familiar weight of the vintage leather on his shoulders and the sensation of its hem sliding against the back of his calves were very reassuring.
Cocking his head to one side, Spike concentrated his hearing. He could make a rough estimate of the size of the room from the faint echoes set up by the rumbling sounds that had been his constant companion since he’d awoken, but it was clear that the source of the noise was not in the room with him. Besides, if any demons had been close enough to hear the clatter he’d made when he’d landed on the metal table, they would have come to investigate.
Taking a chance, he dug his lighter out of his pocket and holding it up high, flicked it alight. He’d been prepared to douse it immediately if he had to, but that proved unnecessary.
He slowly turned a full circle and shuddered at what he found. It was a clinically bare, tiled room with the grubby steel table in the centre. The walls were lined with cabinets. Benches held computers and scientific-looking equipment.
Its most notable features, however, were the demons strung up by their feet to the overhead pipes. Besides several unfamiliar species, he recognised the characteristic triple horns of a Bohg'dar demon. Every one of them was missing one or more body part.
This was evidently the scavenger demons’ larder. He understood then that he hadn’t been personally targeted. He had simply been collected since he inhabited a dead body and therefore qualified as food. He shuddered again, thankful that at the time they’d captured him, the demons hadn’t been hungry.
It only took him a minute to negotiate around the dangling demons and reach the door, which had been propped ajar by the simple expedient of placing a demon’s head on the floor between door and frame.
He flicked the lighter closed before cautiously sidling through the gap into the corridor. He noted the tell-tale light on a security lock on the wall beside the door. Deciding to remove his captors’ access to their larder, he nudged the demon’s head away from its position as doorstop and the door closed with a distinct clunk.
He paused, wavering in indecision. Should he go and deal with those demons first or seek out Buffy and the boy?
As his eyes readjusted to the darkness, a dim strip of light became apparent at one end of the corridor, and he made his decision. Engaging what Buffy jokingly termed his vampire stealth mode, he moved soundlessly towards the light which denoted another partly open door, the constant mumbling gradually getting louder as he went.

Buffy shone her flashlight into the final cell on the last row. They’d come across a few messily decomposing demon corpses in their search, but like most of the cells and side rooms had been, this one was empty. She heaved a dejected sigh and her arm dropped to shine her light at the floor. “Well, that’s that. He’s not on this level.”
“So it’s back to those stairs we passed,” Xander said. He put an arm around her shoulders and steered her back the way they’d just come.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Buffy paused with her hand on the door. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“I’m not sure. There was something…” She turned off her flashlight then jammed it into her jacket pocket. Shifting her make-shift weapon to her right hand, she said, “Wait here. I’m gonna sneak a quick look.”
Xander extinguished his own flashlight then gestured to Buffy’s helmet lamp which still dimly lit the narrow landing. “If you wanna be sneaky…”
Once the darkness was complete, Buffy pushed the door open just enough to enable her to sidle through. She stood blinking as her eyes adjusted. She felt Xander’s hand slide along her arm to the door. He pushed it a little wider.
“I need to know if I have to come help,” he whispered.
In utter silence, all that met Buffy’s eyes was blackness. After a few moments, she said, “I guess it was nothing.”
Xander stepped out of the stairwell and switched his flashlight back on, allowing the door to close behind him.
Buffy followed suit and looked around. “Okay, now I know where we are.” She gestured. “The armoury’s right over there, and down that way is what they called the pit. You know, where we had the big battle on the way to fight Adam? And off that are the labs where they did all the squicky testing and experiments. We just need to go up one more level for the offices and the control centre.”
“So what’s first? Go get the power on or find Bleach Boy?” When Buffy hesitated, he pointed out, “Of course, it’d be much easier to find him if we could get some lights on.”
Buffy nodded. “Good plan, Xan. Come on.” She turned towards the armoury, remembering that there was a stairway close by.
A few seconds later, a shriek from behind her split the silence. She froze. This was closely followed by a vicious snarl and a loud crash. A very familiar snarl.
She turned on her heel and set off at a flat run towards the pit.
Xander puffed along after her, quickly falling behind.

As Xander jogged after Buffy, he thought guiltily, How come I’m already out of breath? When did I get so out of shape? Gonna have to start doing something about that.
When he turned into the open area of the pit, he paused to catch his breath and take in the sight before him.
In addition to his own flashlight, two other sources of light illuminated the area. A hard hat lay on the floor, its LED lamp pointing up at an angle towards the mezzanine. Also an abandoned flashlight’s powerful beam shone across the room at floor level. Together, they produced weird, multiple shadows flitting across the floor and walls as several forms moved around the space.
Xander took a couple of steps forward, directing his flashlight beam at one of the figures.
“Oy! Mind where you’re pointing that bloody thing!” Spike yelled. He twisted and ducked to avoid the light shining in his eyes. Unfortunately, his momentary distraction gave the demon he was fighting a brief advantage and its claws slashed down, coming uncomfortably close to disembowelling him. Instead, it gouged three six inch gashes in his duster.
“Sorry!” Xander hastily swung his arm around and highlighted Buffy, who was tag-teaming Spike with the demon.
Xander spotted another demon which was creeping up behind Buffy from the shadows. When it found itself suddenly bathed in light, it stopped for a second then made straight for Xander.
“Uh-oh…” Xander said, retreating until his back was against a wall. He placed the flashlight on the floor and hefted his tyre iron sword. He gave it an experimental swing. The movement caused the hose of the fire extinguisher strapped to his back to flap against his cheek, and he smirked.
He put his sword down and took the hose in his hand. He stretched his other hand up to pull out the safety pin then grasped the scissor-style handle and discharge lever of the extinguisher. “Just come a little closer… said the spider to the fly.”
When the demon was about fifteen feet from him, Xander squeezed the lever and a jet of foam spewed out, catching the demon in the chest. Xander quickly deflected the flow upwards into the creature's face and then down again, blanketing it in foam.
Expecting the demon to simply pause for a few seconds to wipe the foam from its face, Xander readied his sword. He hoped to fend the monster off until Buffy and Spike could come to his rescue.
However, that’s not what happened.
The demon stopped moving and started making hoarse gurgling noises. Then it slumped and did a very realistic impression of a melting snowman. After about thirty seconds, all that was left in a spreading patch of foam was a puddle of slightly luminous chartreuse goo.
For a moment, Xander could only stand there, gaping in astonishment. Then he grinned and said, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!”
He looked up. “Hey, guys! Send your demon this way! The Xan-man has the answer!”
For a few minutes, he watched as Buffy and Spike fought the demon, waiting for them to steer it over to him.
He had always been in awe of Buffy’s fighting skills but his breath caught in his throat as he beheld her working with Spike. It looked for all the world as if they were performing a well-choreographed and rehearsed ballet around the demon. Their fists and feet lashed out in a syncopated rhythm, keeping the creature constantly off-balance.
Buffy had lost her windshield cut-out knife and her stake was embedded in the demon’s chest. This had left her unarmed so she was nimbly dodging the long, razor-sharp claws, kicking and punching for all she was worth.
Spike was also totally focused on their opponent. He was taking advantage of its distraction every time Buffy scored a hit to lash out at it with his big combat knife. The demon was bleeding from several gashes, but they didn’t appear to be slowing it down.
After a while, Xander realised that they were both so intent on the battle, they couldn’t have heard him.
He dumped his sword and strode forward.

When the demon had knocked the knife thingy out of Buffy’s hand and then her stake had become jammed in the demon’s ribs, she’d remembered the blowtorch in her pocket. However, even with Spike keeping the creature occupied on the other side, it hadn’t allowed her a free second to use it as a weapon.
“Why. Won’t. You. Die?” she panted, directing a crescent kick at the demon’s head. Again, she barely avoided the three-inch claws which reached for her leg.
“Buffy, down!”
She acted instinctively upon Xander’s cry, dropping to the floor and rolling to the side. She immediately leapt to her feet and assumed a defensive posture, preparing for an attack from behind.
She was taken aback when she was confronted with not another demon but with Xander, gleefully squirting his fire extinguisher past her. She turned and watched wide-eyed as the demon dissolved in the foam.
When there was nothing left but a pool of slime, she stepped daintily through the foam and nudged it with her toe. “How cool is that?” It gave slightly under the pressure and a ripple spread across the surface. When she realised that the stuff was beginning to stick to her boot, she hastily pulled her foot back.
“What’s in that thing?” She asked, indicating the Fire extinguisher. “Acid?”
“Mostly water, with a few chemicals… which I’m not even gonnatry to pronounce.”
“Well, that was fun, wa’n’it, slayer?” Spike said with a grin. “Nothing like a good rough and tumble to liven things up!”
“Spike!” Buffy threw herself at her vampire and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Where did you go? Are you okay?”
“Took a little mystery tour of the place, courtesy of these bloody wankers, that’s all.” He cupped her face and planted a gentle kiss on her upturned lips. “Came to in their larder but I got out right quick and ’m fine, Buffy love. No harm done.”
“I thought I’d lost you again. I was so scared!” Buffy took a step back out of his embrace and thwapped him lightly on the arm. “But that settles it. As soon as we get back tonight, we’re doing that claim thingy. Then I’ll be able to find you if you get yourself vampnapped again.”
Spike gaped at her. After a few seconds, he gave himself a little shake and said, “Are you sure, love? Before… you’d never even heard of a claim and I still can’t tell you how it would affect us, what with you not being a vampire.”
“Yep. Positive.” Buffy smiled at his delighted reaction. “I heard what Anya said to you in the Magic Box, so I asked her about it. She loaned me a book about vampire social traditions that explained everything and then she answered my questions.”
She ticked points off on her fingers. “I’d belong to you and you’d belong to me and nobody would ever be able to keep us apart again, not even with magic. I’d live as long as you live and stay looking the same age as I am now. We should be able to feel each other’s emotions, and possibly even communicate mentally once we grow into the claim. She said we might have even more benefits, what with me being the slayer. See? As long as you can keep avoiding the dustiness, it’s all upsides and no downside. So can we? Pretty please?”
“You’re amazing, you know that?”
“You’re pretty special yourself.”
“But what about the watcher?”
“What? Ew! I don’t want to claim him, I want to claim you!”
Spike snorted. “Daft bint. You know what I mean. What does the watcher say about it?”
“I haven’t told him. It’s none of his business.” Suddenly hesitant, Buffy asked, “You do still want to? I mean, I know I’m…”
“Now you’re just being barmy. You know there’s nothing I want more. I was just checking that you…” His voice cut off abruptly when Buffy grabbed his head in both hands and pulled it down to claim his lips with her own.
Lost in the sensation of Spike’s soft lips on hers and his reassuring arms crushing her against his muscular body, it took Buffy a little while to register Xander’s fake coughing. Beginning to get a little light-headed from oxygen deprivation, she gasped for breath then loosened her hold on Spike.
“I don’t mean to interrupt the smoochies,” Xander began, but then broke off and started again, “Okay, that’s a downright lie. I totally mean to interrupt the smoochies. I had to stop you before any clothes started coming off.”
Feeling her face heat up, Buffy pulled away from Spike and smoothed down her rumpled clothing. “Sorry Xander. Kinda got caught up in the moment.” She turned and sent Spike a teasing smile. “Later, honey. Let’s get some power on and go find the treasure first, okay?”
Spike heaved a resigned sigh, leisurely adjusted his jeans and bent to sweep up his hard hat. He plonked it on his head and rammed it home. “As you wish, kitten.” He waggled his eyebrows at her and tucked his tongue behind his teeth. “Sooner we’ve found it, sooner we can get back to uh… discussing… that claim.”

Chapter 22

Chapter 22
Xander swallowed a mouthful of his ham and Swiss sandwich and shook his head. “Who knew it would be that simple once we got there?”
“I know,” Buffy said, yelling over the noise of the jackhammer. “Just flip a switch, and presto! All the lights come on. Then you boot up a computer, press a few keys and ta-da! There’s a handy diagram which shows us where the closest power thingy is.” She took a giant bite of the fat tuna salad sandwich which Xander had thoughtfully brought for her.
Spraying crumbs, Xander shouted, “I think it was the same schematic Willow was looking at when she found out where Adam was hiding.”
Buffy gulped her mouthful and shook her head. “I never knew you were so good with computers, Xander. In High School…”
Xander shrugged. “Yeah, well… It turns out that Miss Calendar was right when she said we’d need to know about them. I was having trouble with the laptop they gave me at work. So much stuff is on the computer now, I had to figure it out or I wouldn’t have a chance of being promoted, so Willow gave me Diablo Two for Christmas.”
“That’s a game, right?”
“Yeah.” Xander’s voice fell to normal speaking volume when the jackhammer abruptly went quiet. “Believe me, when your Barbarian gets killed for the twentieth time and you have to start over yet again, you’re very motivated to get to know all the keyboard short cuts! Then you get bored and go exploring to see what else you can do…”
On the platform at the top of the scaffolding, Spike rolled onto his side and noisily dislodged a mound of rocky debris which had accumulated on his stomach. “And then you find the location of the handy power outlet right behind the bloody door where we came in!”
“Hey! It’s not my fault I didn’t see it at first,” Xander called back. “Dark, remember? Besides, we’d have still had to get to the control room to turn the power on.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll give you that,” Spike said. He went on grumpily, “Could do with a little help up here, when you’ve finished stuffing your faces.”
Buffy playfully batted her eyelashes and said, “But it’s so much more fun watching you work! Plus, only room for one person to dig, and only one jackhammer.” She brushed the sandwich crumbs from her lap and reached for a chocolate cream doughnut from the open box on the ground between her and Xander.
Now smirking, she added helpfully, “I’ll just wait here out of the way, all ready to help when it’s time to gather up all that heavy treasure.”

When the jackhammer dislodged a large lump of rock from the cavity Spike had excavated in the roof of the cavern, the machine abruptly shot upwards. Spike grunted with the sudden jerk, and killed the motor.
He roughly shoved off the boulder which had landed heavily on his chest amid a shower of smaller particles, then rolled his head to the side to spit out the grit which had fallen into his mouth. After brushing the dust off his safety goggles, he peered up into the highest point of the hole.
In the centre of the area of crumbling brown rock, a small black hole had appeared.
“Oh, yeah!” he yelled in triumph. “Hey, kiddies! Looks like I’m nearly through! Up off your arses!”
Buffy and Xander jumped up and began clearing away the worst of the rubble which had accumulated around the base of the scaffolding.
Now that there was enough room, Spike got up onto his knees. The new angle made it possible to put more pressure behind the machine so when he pressed the power button, his extra effort was rewarded very quickly.
Small chunks of rock rained down to be deflected off his hard hat and shoulders on their way to the ground, and he smiled in satisfaction at his accelerated rate of progress.
This continued for a few minutes until a noise like a gunshot sounded above him. He stopped the jackhammer and peered upwards. By the light of his helmet lamp, he could make out a two foot long, narrow crack in the rock, showing black against the brown.
Spike was getting into position to place the chisel of the jackhammer into this crack to widen it, when another gunshot sounded. The crack suddenly expanded into an inch-wide rupture in the rock and stretched another foot.
The next second, the whole mass of rock above the break shifted slightly and a trickle of dust and pebbles began falling on him.
“Uh-oh…” Spike muttered, his eyes widening in alarm.
With another loud crack the rock shifted again. The cleft spread further and lengthened until it extended beyond the width of the hole he’d excavated.
“Spike, what’s that noise?” Buffy called.
Spike dropped the jackhammer and sank to his hands and knees. He scrabbled through the debris on the scaffolding platform in an attempt to avoid being crushed, mentally thanking Xander for insisting that he should wear the hard hat.
“Look out below!” he belatedly yelled. “It’s gonna go!”
“What’s going to…?”
Buffy’s voice was drowned out by the thunder of falling rock.
Spike grunted in pain when a huge chunk glanced off his hip and crashed over the safety rail at his side. This was followed by a veritable avalanche of smaller pieces, some of which settled heavily on his back and legs.
He held his breath anxiously until he felt no more bruising impacts and the scaffolding stopped shuddering and swaying.
All was once more quiet and only the finest of dust still trickled down.
“Spike! Spike, are you okay?”
Buffy’s voice sounded unusually panicked so Spike coughed the dust out of his throat and croaked, “Yeah, love. I’m fine. Just a bit battered and bruised.”
Noisily dislodging some of his burden, he twisted to one side and squinted upwards to see a wide black hole above him, easily big enough for even Xander Harris to climb through. He grinned. “And feeling a whole lot better now that we’re well and truly through!”
“That’s good, Spike, but the treasure can wait. Quick, get down here and help me. I think Xander’s hurt!”

While Spike clambered down the scaffolding, Buffy knelt beside Xander and brushed the dirt off his back. When he stirred, groaned and tried to roll over, she firmly pressed her hand on his right shoulder to keep him prone on the ground.
“Keep still, I think there’s something wrong with your arm.” She carefully felt around Xander’s left arm, trying to figure out why it looked wrong.
While she worked, Xander muttered, “God, I hurt all over. And you know what? The roof caves in and who gets hurt? One of the guys with super-fast healing? Of course not! It has to be Normal Guy here who… Ow! Hey!”
“Ooh! Sorry. Looks like I was right. There’s a couple of big lumps here I don’t like the look of. I think something might be broken.”
Xander sighed. “Dammit. A big rock landed on my shoulder. I guess that would do it.”
“Shame it didn’t land on your thick skull.” Spike put in, shedding his hard hat and safety goggles. “It would’ve bounced right off, no problem.”
Buffy rolled her eyes at Spike’s attempt at humour. “Come on, Xan. We’ve got to get you to the hospital. Do you think you can walk? If not, we could carry you.”
Xander cautiously rose to his knees and with his left arm dangling uselessly, pushed himself up with his right. With Buffy’s help, he came to a hunched standing position and tucked his injured arm into the front of his jacket to support it.
Buffy fastened a button over it to keep it in place.
“I think I’m okay to walk, Buff. Damn, I wonder how long this’ll take to heal? I can’t work like this!”
Buffy tucked herself under his uninjured shoulder and supported him. “Come on, Spike. You’ll have to drive. Oh, rats. It’s daytime!”
“No problem, love. That’s why the DeSoto’s windows are blacked out.”
They’d all only gone a few steps before Xander suddenly stopped. “Ah. We do have a problem. My truck is blocking Fangface’s car. To get it out of the cave, he’d have to drive the truck out into the open.”
Buffy looked at Spike anxiously. “We do have the heavy blanket…”
Spike shook his head. “Can’t drive from under a blanket, love.” He turned to look up at the new opening in the cavern roof. “Of course, if I were to have…”
Buffy nodded. “Go. Find it and catch up with us.” She eased Xander forward into a slow shuffle. “Let’s go, Xan. It’s okay, everything’s going to be fine.”

Spike watched their halting progress until they disappeared from sight around a bend in the tunnel, then grabbed one of the powerful flashlights and headed for the scaffolding. As an afterthought, he turned back and selected one of the boxes they’d brought for carrying the treasure.
A few seconds later, he pulled himself up into the musty space above the cavern, dropped the box beside the hole, and shone the flashlight around the tomb to get his bearings.
It was like a cliché creepy crypt from the corniest of the B movie horror genre. There were a couple of altars covered with dusty artefacts, several stone sarcophagi, ghoulish carvings, and many cobweb-covered skeletons, some laid out on top of stone biers and others slumped randomly around the walls.
Spike shuddered. The casually positioned skeletons would likely have been the builders of the tomb, sacrificed to keep its location secret.
Then he smirked. The ruthless stratagem had worked just long enough to allow him to be the one to find it.
Remembering the urgency, Spike directed his flashlight towards the skeleton lying in state on the bier in the centre of the floor. By his logic, this would be the most important individual and therefore the one most likely to be buried with a magical jewel.
Immediately, the powerful beam struck something on the hollow ribcage which gleamed a rich green.
Spike cautiously reached out to touch the large oval cabochon-cut gem which was mounted in a gaudy golden pendant, the long chain of which encircled the skeletal neck. He had thought that the fabled gem would feel special, but it remained disappointingly inert, simply cool under his fingertips.
He wrenched the chain through the crumbling vertebrae and reverently dropped it over his neck to rest the pendant on his chest. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply, revelling in his new-found invulnerability.
He had naively expected to feel different. He didn’t.
Suddenly flooded with uncertainty, he looked around for something with which to test his supposition. On one of the altars lay a jewelled golden cross. He strode over and grasped it, only to drop it again with a pained yelp when his palm immediately began to sizzle.
Growling in frustration, Spike yanked the pendant from around his neck and tossed it into the box.
Now he began searching methodically, tossing all valuable-looking items into the box while putting on any item containing a gem and tentatively touching the jewelled cross. Each time he was disappointed when it burned, and added another bauble to his accumulating hoard.
“Bloody scroll,” he muttered after yet another failure. “Couldn’t give a description of the sodding gem, could it? Even its colour, or what kind of setting it was in, would’ve helped!”
Soon, the box was over half full of precious items including a diamond tiara and a fistful of gold coins. There was also a pair of daggers with jewelled handles and a golden chalice.
Then he came across a business-like looking short sword which had a large, blood-red gem set into the pommel.
He swished it through the air and smirked. Now, this was something he could wear without looking like a right poof, unlike some of the more poncy pieces. He slid it through his belt and yet again reached for the cross.
Accompanied by a stream of curses, the sword rapidly joined the other things in the box.
In his frustration, Spike swept his arm across the closest altar, brushing everything remaining on it onto the floor. As the dust settled, there was a light metallic tinkle as one item rolled across the floor. He shone the light on it and was rewarded by a golden glint.
He picked up the ring which held a shiny green gem in a cage-like mount, and thrust it onto his finger. With little hope remaining that the gem of Amara even existed, let alone was in this room, he resignedly reached out for the cross.
Just before he would have made contact, he noticed something curious, paused, and turned his hand over. The palm which had been burnt by first contact with the cross was no longer red and sore. The fingertips which had been singed by later attempts were also healed. He pressed a hand to his hip which had been bruised by falling rock, and felt no pain.
A hopeful grin spread across his features and he eagerly grasped the cross.
He held his breath in anticipation.
There was no smoke, no agonising sizzle. The religious symbol was now simply a piece of ornamental metal in his hand.
Still grinning, Spike tossed the cross into the box then jumped down through the hole in the floor.
As soon as he hit the ground, he set off through the tunnels at a flat-out run.

It started getting lighter as they approached the cave’s entrance and Buffy anxiously glanced up at Xander. They had started off at a steady pace but they’d gradually got slower and slower and Xander had become paler and paler. She could see the tension in his jaw as he fought the pain in his shoulder.
“Almost there, Xan.”
“Yeah. God, this hurts.”
“I know. I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t persuaded you to…”
“Not your fault, Buffy.”
“But if…”
“Stop it. You know I was happy to help.”
Buffy stopped protesting her guilt and led him to the DeSoto. She opened the rear passenger door. “Let’s get you comfy in here then as soon as Spike gets here, we’ll be ready to go.”
Xander eased himself into the dim interior of the car, shifting awkwardly as he one-handedly tried to find the least painful position. “I still don’t get how fang face is going to move the truck out without turning into a big pile of dust in the driver’s seat.”
Buffy eyed him warily and pointed back down the tunnel. “Well, you see, we found a scroll. There’s supposed to be a magical gem...”
Xander squinted up at her. “A gem? What does it do?”
Buffy accepted that Xander would never stop asking until she’d explained, and besides, he’d earned the right to the truth. “It’s called the Gem of Amara. If a vampire wears it, it’s supposed to make it so that sunlight and crosses and holy water and stuff won’t hurt them.”
“What about stakes?”
“Those too, I guess.”
Xander just looked at her for a long moment then said, “And you think we can trust him with that?”
“I know we can. I believe in him, Xander.”
“And if it turns out you’re wrong?”
Buffy sighed. “If you can’t trust him, trust me. I know what I’d have to do, I’ve faced that possibility every day since we got together in L.A, but I also know I won’t have to.”
Xander subsided into the seat and closed his eyes, murmuring wearily, “For your sake, I hope you’re right, Buffy. I really do.”
She turned and gazed out at the sunlit desert slope, once more contemplating the possibility that she might be making a colossal mistake, and yet again resolving to give Spike the benefit of the doubt. She would trust him until he gave her cause not to.
Buffy was so deep in thought that she didn’t hear Spike coming. When he sped straight past her, she started.
He skidded to an abrupt halt inches from the boundary line between sunshine and shade.
She unconsciously reached out to him and opened her mouth to speak, then forgot what she was going to say when he slowly reached out a hand until it was in full sunlight. She gasped and her hand went up to cover her gaping mouth.
When she tapped on the car window to draw his attention, Xander leaned out just in time to see Spike stride out onto the rocky slope and stop, arms spread wide and face turned to the sun.
His hair was always a pale beacon which helped Buffy to identify him in a crowd, but under the brilliant Californian sun, it was blindingly bright.
“Oh my god,” she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Spike spun on his heel and beamed at her. Without making a conscious decision, she ran toward him. She flung herself into his embrace and wrapped her arms around his neck.
She hadn’t realised that she was laughing until her breath caught in her throat when he caught her around the waist and whirled her around and around.
As soon as her feet returned to solid ground, his mouth descended upon hers. It was a short kiss as their kisses went; they were both grinning too widely to make it last.
Buffy cupped his cheek and whispered, “You found it. You really found it.”
“Innit a fantastic day? I can't wait to see if I freckle.”
She giggled then guiltily remembered Xander, waiting in the car. As Spike’s lips returned to hers, she managed to gasp between kisses, “Xander… car... hospital…”
With one final peck to her lips, Spike released her and turned to the truck. “Right. Let’s get the poor wounded builder seen to, then.”
Chapter 23

Chapter 23
A nurse wheeled Xander down the hall to Radiography. When he disappeared around the corner, Buffy reluctantly took out her phone to call Anya as she’d promised, since Xander said he’d listed her as his next of kin.
“Miss? You can’t use that in here,” an E.R. nurse said, tapping Buffy on the shoulder. “It could interfere with the equipment.”
 “Oh, sorry. I knew that.” Buffy turned and headed for the main exit.
Outside, she found Spike sprawled on the bench on the small patch of lawn beside the footpath. His face was turned towards the lowering sun, his eyes closed and his smile beatific.
As she approached, without opening his eyes, he asked, “Got Harris squared away then, pet?”
“He’s gone up to X-ray.” She slumped beside him on the bench and pouted resentfully at her phone. “Any idea how I should break the news to Anya?”
“She struck me as a forthright type of girl. I reckon plain, honest facts would be best.”
“Right. Plain, honest facts. I can do that,” Buffy muttered as she navigated her contacts list for the Magic Box number.
“Hi Anya, it’s Buffy,” she said when she could break into Anya’s annoyingly perky answering spiel. “Um… I’m sorry, but Xander’s been hurt…”
Anya went into a long panicked rant. Eventually, Buffy managed to make herself heard over Anya’s somewhat dramatic monologue. “Yes, Anya. I’m afraid we might have broken Xander, but I don’t think it’s very serious. We’re at the hospital and he asked me to...” She broke off when she realised that the line had gone dead.
“She hung up on me! I can’t believe she hung up on me!”
Spike shrugged. “You told her all she needs to know. She’s probably already on her way. We gonna go get the treasure now, then?”
“I guess we ought to stick around until Anya gets here. Plus, since Xander was hurt helping us, I want to wait ‘til we find out how badly he’s injured, so I know how guilty I need to feel.”
She grabbed Spike’s hand and examined the ring. “It’s a bit… flashy, isn’t it?”
Spike scowled at it. “Yeah. Soddin’ girly bauble.”
“It’s certainly not Big Bad-y. I wonder…”
“Well, if it’s just the jewel that has the mojo, perhaps we could have it reset in something a little more masculine?”
Spike turned his hand this way and that, thoughtfully. “Of course it would be best if it wasn’t on view at all. Just one demon has to see me out and about in daylight and word’ll get around…”
Buffy’s eyes widened in alarm. “And they’ll try to take it! Oh! That would be majorly of the bad!”
“Have to find a way for me to keep it on me, but out of sight.”
“I’ll get Willow onto… Oh. Well, normally I would. Perhaps we could ask Tara, or even Giles?”
“Yeah. Sooner the better.”
With time to kill, Buffy hit the speed-dial button on her phone to see if she had any messages.
“Buffy!” Tara sounded flustered. “Oh dear. You’re not p-picking up. Uh… Look, I don’t think it’s urgent, at least I hope it isn’t, but p—please could you call me when you get this? I’ll be at Terri’s all afternoon.”
“Wonder what’s got the Wicca’s knickers in a twist?”
“I don’t know, honey,” Buffy said as she dialled Tara’s number. “And stop thinking about Tara’s underwear.”

Spike spotted movement out of the corner of his eye, which drew his attention to the doorway to the waiting room, but it was only a nurse and she walked straight past.
“How much bloody longer?” he grumbled.
A small hand rested on his knee, stilling his leg which was bouncing with pent-up energy. “We need to give them time do their job, honey. It always takes longer than you think, and the time always passes more slowly than you’d like.”
Spike realised that this had to be only one of many visits to the hospital for Buffy, most recently during her mother’s illness. He picked up her hand, interlaced his fingers with hers and squeezed gently. “Sorry, love. Sitting here waiting can’t be much fun for you either.”
Buffy heaved a sad little sigh. “You could say that.” She leaned towards him, rested her head on his shoulder and whispered, “I so hate hospitals.”
They sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes until Spike was alerted to Anya’s arrival by the shrill sound of her voice approaching. “Builder’s bird’s coming, love.”
Buffy just had time to sit up straight and smooth back her hair before Anya burst into the waiting room.
“Where’s my Xander? What did you do to him? I keep telling him he shouldn’t help you; he’s too breakable!” She promptly burst into tears.
Buffy leapt up and patted her awkwardly on her shoulder. “It’s not bad, I don’t think. The roof caved in and a rock landed on his shoulder. They’ve taken him to be X-rayed, it shouldn’t be long now.”
Buffy had just managed to get Anya calmed down when Giles arrived.
He was a little out of breath. “You could have waited until I’d found a parking place, Anya. What happened to Xander? Is he badly injured? Have they told you anything yet?”
They were saved from going through the whole explanation again for Giles’ benefit when a doctor came in. He glanced down at the folder he held and then peered around the room. “Is there an Anya Jenkins here?”
Anya jumped up and rushed him, grasping his arm. “Yes! That’s me! Where’s my Xander? How badly broken is he?”
When the doctor winced and took an alarmed step back, hampered by Anya’s crushing grip, Giles gently but firmly unclamped Anya’s hand and returned it to her, then squeezed her shoulder and left his hand there in a reassuring manner.
He made a wide gesture to include the whole group and addressed the doctor. “We are all Mr Harris’ friends. What can you tell us of his condition?”
The doctor said, “Well, I’m happy to say your friend is a very lucky young man. There was a possibility that he had multiple fractures, but upon further examination, we have determined that apart from some severe bruising, his only injury is a total dislocation of his left shoulder. We gave him a mild sedative so that we could safely manipulate the joint back into place. He should be back with you shortly, once his shoulder has been immobilised. If he continues to wear the sling and restricts his activities, undergoing physiotherapy as instructed, he should be fully healed in a few weeks.”
“Thank you, doctor.” Giles said.
“Yes, thank you,” Anya echoed with a sob. She shrugged off Giles’ hand and lurched forward to give the doctor a stiff hug.
Once he’d extricated himself from her arms, the startled doctor slipped a piece of paper from his folder and held it up warily. “This is a prescription for painkillers which he’ll need for a while; you can fill it at the hospital pharmacy.” As soon as Anya had plucked it from his hand, he hurried out.
Between them, Buffy and Giles got Anya settled again. She immediately began to express her concern about how long Xander’s arm would need to be ‘immobile’, and how this would impact upon their sex life.
Spike immediately tuned out the excruciating conversation. He had accepted that Harris was a decent bloke, but he had no interest whatsoever in speculating about the nature of his sex life.
His mind drifting, he didn’t realise that his gaze was focused on Buffy until his attention was drawn by movement when Giles leant over and deftly plucked a pebble which was caught in her pony tail scrunchy, and dropped it into her hand with a little smirk.
She frowned at it for an uncomprehending moment then her eyes widened in alarm. Dropping the pebble, she jumped up and turned to look at her reflection in the window. “Oh my god!” she cried.
Her hands fluttered over her head and shoulders, brushing dust and rock debris away. Suddenly she stilled. Her head swivelled and her eyes narrowed as she glared at Spike.
“Spike? Why didn’t you tell me I’d gone out in public with half the cavern roof all over me?”
Her tone was eminently reasonable but Spike instantly understood that he was in deep water. How could he have forgotten how much value she placed on her perfect appearance, particularly that glorious shampoo commercial hair, painstakingly maintained even under the worst of conditions? All he could think of to deflect her ire was to turn it around on her.
He shrugged. “Well, you were there, love, when the roof caved in on us. I figured you’d realise some of it fell on you as well as on Harris an’ me.”
Buffy huffed and then deliberately turned her back to him and strutted towards the door. She calmly announced, “I’m going to the ladies’ room to clean up. Please could someone come get me if there’s news about Xander?”
With her hand on the doorknob, she paused and scowled back at Spike. “You’d better hope that you were telling the truth when you said that shower never runs out of hot water. I’ll be putting that to the test when we get home.”
As soon as she’d disappeared down the hall, Spike looked at Giles and said, “You right bastard. You just couldn’t resist doing that, could you?”
“I couldn’t leave her in ignorance,” Giles said. With a twinkle in his eye, he added, “It wouldn’t have been gentlemanly.”
Taking in the watcher’s smirk, Spike muttered, “Something tells me you’re not always the perfect gentleman.”
He pondered the method by which Buffy might try to get even for his oversight. He blinked as his mind played back the words she had spoken as she left the room.
Had she called that draughty old mansion home? Surely not. Slowly, a smile spread across his face. It was him. He was her home. And she hadn’t even realised what she’d said.
He sat back, a smug grin fixed in place.
Anya leant forward and spoke across Giles. “Your shower never runs out of hot water? How?”
“’s electric, pet. Water heated as it’s needed. No tank.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” she said. “Very efficient and economical. Thank you, Spike.”
She sat back then after a few moments, her little tear-splotched face popped out from behind Giles again. “This doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you for getting Xander hurt,” she declared.
“’Course not, pet. Never thought you had.”
Shortly, Buffy reappeared. Her face and hands were pink and freshly scrubbed, her hair once more smooth and largely debris-fee, although by no means as immaculate as usual. She totally ignored Spike. Walking with her nose in the air, she went to sit at the other side of Anya.
The long wait resumed in a slightly uncomfortable silence.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before Xander hove into view. He was riding in a wheelchair, pushed by an orderly. He was slumped to one side in the chair, his left arm strapped into a contraption which held it at what appeared to be an extremely uncomfortable angle.
Spike hung back while the others all dashed forward to greet him. While Anya began fussing over him, Buffy nodded knowingly. “I see they’ve given you the good drugs, Xan.”
“Yeah…” Xander slurred through a distinctly loopy grin. “I totally feel no pain.” He struggled into a more upright position while Anya fluttered around him, ineffectively trying to help.
Xander said, “Hey, Buff. When you’re done down in the tunnels and you’ve loaded all the equipment back on the truck, give my friend Richard a call. He’ll take it from there. Remember, it all has to be back where it came from before seven Monday morning with the batteries recharged, or I’ll be screwed.” He handed her his phone so that she could copy Richard’s number into her own.
While the girls fussed over Xander, discussing the best way to proceed, Giles edged over towards Spike. “I gather that you’ve found the treasure?”
With his attention firmly on Buffy and her effusive apologies and offers of help, Spike absently said, “Yeah.”
Giles pointedly looked at the window behind Spike, through which the setting sun was throwing a golden ray of light directly onto Spike’s shoulder. “And am I to understand that you’ve also found a magical artefact?”
“Huh?” Spike looked around and noted his position then rolled his eyes when he realised that he had effectively given himself away. He regarded Giles warily. “Yeah. What of it?”
Giles whipped his glasses off and took out a large white handkerchief to polish them. “And does it do anything other than give you immunity to the sun?”
Since Xander already knew and would be only too willing to tell all, Spike decided he might as well come clean. “Uh, yeah. Gem of Amara.”
“The Gem of… but that’s not real. It’s only a legend; a vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail!”
Spike smirked, deliberately moving so that the strip of sunlight fell full on his back. “If you say so, watcher.”
After a thoughtful pause, Giles quietly said, “And Buffy trusts you with it.”
Spike shrugged. “It was her idea. Soon as we found the scroll in that demon’s lair and I told her what it was supposed to do, she insisted I had to have it.” As far as he was concerned, that said it all.
After a tense moment, Giles put his glasses back on and said, “Do you think there might be other magical pieces among the treasure?”
“Never thought of that.” Spike frowned. “The scroll didn’t mention anything else.”
“Perhaps it would be wise to have Willow test everything you’ve found, just in case.”
Spike snorted in disgust. “Not having that bitch anywhere near Buffy and me with her spells. Might ask the Turtledove if she’d have a look though. There’s something else we want to speak to her about anyway.”
“The turtle…? Oh, you mean Tara. Yes, she should be quite capable of determining whether something has mystical qualities.”
Spike could see that the watcher had more questions, but he didn’t get a chance to ask any because just then, Buffy grasped the handles of Xander’s wheelchair and pushed him towards the door.
“Giles, bring the car to the entrance,” Anya said, walking beside Buffy. “I want to get Xander home. I’m going to stay with him so I won’t be back to the store today.”
Giles blinked in surprise but followed without protest, and Spike fell in behind.

Buffy watched the little red sports car ease into the traffic and turned to link her arm with Spike’s. “Treasure time!” she announced excitedly.
They’d taken only a few steps towards the DeSoto when Spike stopped her and drew her attention to Tara, who was on the opposite side of the road, waiting for a break in the rush-hour traffic so that she could cross.
“Oh! You should have reminded me that Tara said she’d meet us here.” Buffy jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.
“Your watcher said we should get her to look at the stuff we’ve found in case there’s anything else with mojo.”
“Oh! That’s actually a good idea. Perhaps if she has time, she could come with us now?” Buffy said as Tara finally arrived at their side.
“How’s Xander?” Tara said. “And come with you where?”
“It’s gonna take a while, but Xander’s gonna be fine,” Buffy said. “His shoulder was dislocated but they’ve fixed it and he’s already gone home.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“Why were you so eager to meet us?” Buffy asked.
“I-I really have to talk to you both, but if you’re too busy…?”
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but Spike got in first.
“Never too busy for you, pet.” He said with a twinkle in his eye.
Seeing Tara blush slightly, Buffy threw Spike a glare for flirting and added, “Well, we are a little busy, but we wanted to talk to you too, Tara. About a couple of things, as it happens. If you’ve some time to spare, why don’t you come along with us to the treasure cave?”
“I don’t have anywhere I need to be. Treasure cave? This sounds exciting!”
Buffy hooked her arm through Tara’s and set off again, with Spike on her other side.
Spike reached over and relieved Tara of her bag which she was struggling to hold with her free hand. Finding it heavier than he’d expected, he staggered for effect. “Bloody hell, woman! What you got in here? Rocks?”
Tara smiled her lopsided smile. “No. Just some books. And crystals. And herbs. And candles. And incense. And some sand.”
“You’re getting ready to do a spell?” Buffy asked anxiously. “What’s happened? Is there something wrong?”
Tara looked down at her feet. “I-I don’t think so. I hope not. It’s just…” She took a deep breath. “When Giles told me that Willow had helped him do a spell to hide Dawn…”
“Wait! They did a spell on Dawn?” Buffy burst out angrily. “What…?”
“Oh! No, Buffy! A good spell! They figured out how to hide her keyness from the Knights and the crazies so everyone would stop coming after her! Don’t worry, I tested it. It really works and Dawn is perfectly okay!”
Buffy heaved a relieved sigh but then frowned. “And Giles couldn’t tell us what he thought we should do? Doesn’t he understand what we’ve gone through with spells done on us in secret?”
“He probably didn’t want to wait.” Tara paused for a moment and then continued, “Anyway, I wasn’t too concerned then, but later when Anya made an offhand comment about a few things being missing from her inventory, I began to wonder…”
Buffy’s heart sank. Spike opened the car door for her and she slumped into her seat. “Oh god. Willow’s doing another spell on us.”
“I-I don’t really know. It’s just…” Tara patted her bag which Spike had dumped beside her in the back seat. “I’ve prepared some protection amulets, just to be safe, but I need to check that she hasn’t already done something before activating them and linking them to you. See, this is mine.” Tara showed Buffy a small, sweetly scented muslin sachet pinned inside her top, over her heart.
Spike slid in to the driver’s seat and turned to regard Tara warily. “So you want to do a spell on us to find out if Red has put a spell on us? And then you’re going to do a spell on us to stop her from putting a spell on us?”
“Yes. Well… no. Not exactly. This isn’t really a spell as such. Buffy, it’s what you did when you found out about Dawn. Remember?”
“Oh! Yes. Old Silk Knickers and his stinky incense!” Buffy patted Spike on the arm. “It’s okay, honey. Tara’s not going to do a spell on us. If anything, the spell will be on her. She’s going to go into a trance so that she can see traces of any spells on us.”
Tara nodded. “All spells leave a trace signature, and if I can shift my perception just right, I should be able to see if anything’s affecting you. And then the spell to link the pouches to each of you is completely harmless. But you must remember, to be completely safe, you should keep them on you at all times.”
Spike looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. “Fair enough; that sounds as if you know what you’re doing.” He started the car, muttering, “Unlike some people.”
Buffy turned and gave Tara the thumbs up and an encouraging smile.
“Hey!” Spike cried. “Giles said we should ask you to check if any of the treasure had its own mojo. Would you be able to see that at the same time?”
Tara’s eyebrows went up. “Uh… I don’t see why not. I guess it’s worth a try.”

“So, what do you think?” Buffy asked as they neared the cavern. “I know we won’t even know kind of place we can afford until we know how much the treasure’s worth, but when we find one, would you like to be our room-mate?”
“I think I’d like that.” Tara smiled shyly. “But it all depends upon how much rent you’d want me to pay. The dorms are…”
“The rent is simple,” Spike broke in. “Watch the babe while we’re patrolling, cook the occasional meal so that our culinary-challenged Slayer doesn’t have to live entirely on cereal and pizza, and we’ll call it square.”
“We wouldn’t need you to look after Annie every night,” Buffy quickly qualified. “If you have a study group, or a date, or you just need some time for yourself, we can just bring her to mom’s or ask Dawnie to babysit.”
Tara brought them to a halt at the entrance to the cavern. It was still lit by the floodlights, although when Spike turned off his flashlight and helmet lamp, he noticed that they weren’t quite as bright as they had been.
“Oh, wow!” Tara breathed. She looked up at the big hole in the roof and then anxiously regarded the pile of rubble around the scaffolding. “Are you sure it’s safe in here?”
Spike looked at the scene and tried to see it from a fragile human’s perspective. “Hmmm… For you? Probably not. I’ll go up and get the treasure. Best you and the slayer stay over here to the side.”
“But if it’s not safe for us, it’s not safe for you!” Buffy protested.
“If it goes again, being buried in a rock fall isn’t gong to kill me, love. Worst that could happen is a few broken bones. Nothing I haven’t had before. ’Sides, if I do get buried, I’m gonna need you safe away from it so you can dig me out.”
“Weeell, okay,” Buffy said. “While you’re up there, I’ll help Tara get set up for her trance. I can do the spooky sand circle. Be careful!”
Spike turned his flashlight back on, swarmed up the scaffolding and pulled himself up into the crypt. He hastily grabbed every single item that looked as though it might have any monetary value at all. Before he’d got half way around the room, he’d filled the box he’d left there so he dropped down into the cavern with it and grabbed a second box.
He threw a quick glance over at the girls in the corner. Tara sat cross-legged in the centre of a ring of bright orange sand while Buffy circled her, lighting four sticks of incense.
He gathered up the rest of the loot. Just as he was leaving, he spotted a couple of fragile-looking scrolls which had been tucked behind a decorative plaque, and snapped them up. When he descended, Tara was sitting motionless and breathing deeply while the smoke from the incense rose in steady columns in the still air.
Buffy was busy arranging the items from the first box into neat rows on the ground. She had the diamond tiara perched atop her head, several rings gleamed on her fingers and there were three necklaces dangling around her neck. When she stretched to place the pair of daggers off to one side and her jacket sleeve rode up, Spike saw she was also wearing a bangle and a couple of bracelets.
She looked up when he approached and whispered, “I thought this might make it easier for Tara to see at a glance if anything had mojo.”
“Good idea, love.” As he bent to add the new items to the others, Spike pointed to her head. “Fancy playing Princess, then?”
“Huh?” With a puzzled little frown, Buffy reached up and felt her hair, dislodging the tiara. She gave him a sheepish smile. “Oh. Um… yeah. Pretty, isn’t it?” She carefully placed it with the rest of the treasure and then shed all her other adornments in turn.
When the display was complete, Spike looked over at Tara. Nothing seemed to have changed; her heartbeat was still slow and steady, as was her breathing. “How long do you reckon she’ll be?”
“I’m not sure. It took me a few hours, but I’ve never been much good at the meditation thing.”
“Might as well get on with dismantling the scaffolding while we wait, then,” Spike said. “Now she’s under, the noise shouldn’t disturb her.”
It turned out that taking the scaffolding apart went much more quickly than setting it up. When they’d finished and Tara still hadn’t roused, they began carting all the equipment back to the entrance and loading it on the truck.
After about an hour, they returned to the cavern yet again to find Tara crouching by the treasure. She’d already set several pieces to one side and was turning the jewelled short sword over and over in her hands.
She finally nodded to herself and added it to the pile at her side. She briefly passed her hand over each of the remaining pieces before looking up to see them.
“Oh, Goddess!” she said, her grey-blue eyes going wide. “I’ve never seen anything like that before!”
Chapter 24

Chapter 24
Buffy panicked. “What? Oh god, what’s she done to us?”
Tarasmiled dreamily and shook her head. “It’s not that, Buffy. It’s just… I can’t see you very clearly. Spike, I’m distracted by something on your hand. It must have some very powerful magic, it’s so bright!”
“Oh!” Spike slipped the gem of Amara off his finger and placed it on the floor beside him then carefully kicked it a few feet away. “Okay?”
“Oh, yes.” Tara walked slowly towards them her eyes tracing their figures. “There’s something else,” she said with a puzzled frown. “Spike, do you have something in your pocket?”
Spike thrust his hands into his duster pockets and came up with the engraved silver disc which Lanaro had given him. “Sorry, pet. Forgot all about that,” he said, and sent it to join the ring.
“That’s better. Now, let me see…”
Buffy anxiously clutched Spike’s hand and held her breath as Tara slowly circled them, examining them closely. “Can you see anything?” Buffy blurted.
“Relax, Buffy. Willow hasn’t done anything. Well, not yet anyway. I can’t find traces of spells on either of you.”
Buffy relaxed her shoulders which she hadn’t realised were tense. “Oh, thank god.”
Tarawent on, “But… did you know it’s like you’remade of magic? So are you, Spike. There’s nothing specific I can put my finger on, but you both have this kinda faint… glow… over your hearts.”
Spike nodded. “Makes sense.”
Buffy looked up at him in bewilderment. “Huh? I’m human. Nothing magic about me.”
“Human, yeah. But also slayer. When you think about it, neither of us is what you could rightly call normal, love.”
Buffy reluctantly accepted that Spike was correct. No matter how much she constantly protested otherwise, when she was being totally honest with herself, she couldn’t deny that her calling as the slayer made her fundamentally different from the rest of humanity. As Tara had just discovered, she was as supernatural as the vampires and demons she fought. She heaved a resigned sigh. “Oh, I guess…”
“Now then,” Tara said, “I’ve checked all the treasure for you but I’ll have to wait until the effects of the trance have completely faded before I can do the protection spell.” She looked around at the almost empty cavern. “Why don’t we finish the clearing up in the meantime? Besides, I think that one would go better out in the fresh air than down here.”
“Okay, thanks Tara,” Buffy said. Seeing Spike already packing up the treasure, placing the magical items in a separate box, she went to switch off the floodlights and stack them on one of the wheelbarrows.
“Ow! Bloody Hell!”
Buffy turned to see Spike glaring at the jewelled short sword and sucking the heel of his hand. “What’s up, honey?”
“Cut myself on this flaming sword. It’s bloody sharp!” He held up his hand to display the blood trickling from a nasty gash and then put it back to his mouth.
Buffy went over to have a look, asking, “But isn’t the gem supposed to heal things like that?”
“Forgot to put it back on,” Spike grumbled. He retrieved the gem and silver disc and slid the ring back onto his finger. He frowned. “Humph. Seems not.” He held out his hand again, showing blood still dripping sluggishly from the cut.
Tarasaid, “Well, the swordis magical. Perhaps that’s why?” She crossed the cavern and joined the research huddle over Spike’s hand.
Spike pursed his lips thoughtfully then slid into game face briefly and sank his fangs into his wrist. Cocking his head to one side he displayed an unblemished arm. “Could be right.”
Intrigued, Buffy reached for one of the twin daggers, which had also found their way into the magical box. “What about this one?”
Spike watched warily as she drew the point of the blade lightly across his wrist. The cut closed and vanished as quickly as it was inflicted. “Curiouser and curiouser,” he mused, automatically shifting the short sword to his injured left hand. He winced and hissed, immediately switching it back again.
“Do that again!” Tara said.
“Hold the sword in the hand with the ring. Make sure they touch.”
With a little shrug, Spike complied.
“They’re connected!” Tara said. “There’s a fine thread of magic sparking between them when they touch!” Indicating in turn the blood red jewel in the pommel of the sword and the green gem in the ring, she said, “Red and green, opposite sides of the colour wheel. I wonder…” She took a deep breath. “What if this sword was made specifically to be the only weapon that can harm a vampire who’s wearing the ring?”
Grasping Tara’s point, Buffy said, “Like an insurance policy, in case the gem gets into the wrong hands. Cool.”
Wide-eyed, Spike thrust the weapon into Buffy’s hand. “Here,” he said. “We don’t give this one to the watcher to research with the rest. You have to keep it, Buffy.”
Horrified that Spike thought that she might ever want to hurt him, Buffy cried, “What? Me? No! I don’t want it!” She tried to shove it back at him but he ducked out of the way.
“It’s gotta be you, Slayer!”
Buffy melted when Spike cocked his head to one side, cupped her cheek and added softly, “Who else am I gonna trust with it, love?”

They were on the final trip through the tunnels and about halfway to the entrance when Spike abruptly straightened up and raised his hand as a sign for the girls to halt. “Shh.”
He was rewinding the extension cables onto their reels and stacking them on top of the boxes of treasure in the wheelbarrows which Tara and Buffy were pushing.
“What…?” Buffy asked so loudly that the word echoed back from the rock.
Spike turned and scowled at her, hissing, “Bloody Hell, woman. Don’t you know what shh means? I can hear footsteps!” He drew his combat knife. “Something’s coming.”
Buffy immediately abandoned her wheelbarrow and stepped forward, producing the unused blowtorch from her jacket pocket. “Flashlights out,” she said, killing her own and dumping it in her wheelbarrow. “Let’s not give them an easy target.”
Tarafollowed suit and edged behind Buffy and Spike, murmuring under her breath in a language Buffy didn’t recognise.
Only their fading helmet lights dispelled the gloom. They waited in silence as the footsteps steadily approached. Before long, there was the flicker of a moving light from ahead.
Spike raised his head and flared his nostrils as he took a deep breath; a sight that never failed to make Buffy grimace with distaste. She so hated the gross smelly thing, even though it had proved convenient on more than one occasion.
After a moment, Spike relaxed his defensive posture and slid his combat knife back into its sheath. “Old Spice after shave, Imperial Leather soap and a faint whiff of musty books” he said with a smirk. “S’okay, ladies. It’s only old Rupert.”
“Giles? What’s he doing down here?” Buffy asked.
At that moment, Giles appeared around the bend in the tunnel. He started when he saw them lying in wait for him. “Oh! You’re here!” He took in the wheelbarrows and the partially rewound power cables. “Ah, you’ve finished then. Good.”
“Why are you here Giles?” Buffy asked. “Is there something wrong? Xander! Is he…?”
Giles held up his free hand to stop her. “Xander’s fine, Buffy. During the drive to his flat he told me about the demon parts you’d found in the Initiative so when I closed the shop, I decided to come and take a look.” He glanced behind him in confusion. “I followed the cable, but since you’re coming this way while packing up, it would appear that I turned in the wrong direction.”
Buffy tried to disguise her amusement by busying herself with turning her flashlight on and getting the little procession moving again. “Okay, Giles. We’ll have to go in there again anyway, to turn the power off.”
Tarasaid dubiously, “Demon parts? I don’t think I…”
“You don’t need to come in with us, Tara. We’ll probably only be a few minutes. You could get ready to do the spell. I can show Giles the specimen rooms and turn the power off. Spike’ll stay with you.” She sent Spike a fierce glance which told him in no uncertain terms that he had to look after Tara.
“Spell?” Giles asked.

Leaning against the laden truck, Spike blew a stream of smoke to the side and pensively regarded Tara, who was calmly setting out her crystals and candles and mystery herbs under the bright gibbous moon. Her heartbeat was slow and regular, showing absolutely no sign of nerves.
He sighed. “You’re not even a little bit afraid of me, are you?”
Taralooked up at him through her hair. “No. Did you want me to be?”
“Might be nice,” he groused. “Aurelian Master vampire here. Used to be the Big Bad. It’s getting to be so that I can’t even remember the last time I made anybody scream and run. Chasing them was so much fun,” he said wistfully.
“Sorry,” she said, unable to disguise the smile in her voice. “It’s just that after seeing how you are with Annie…”
“I don’t exactly make you quake in your boots,” he finished for her.
“Not exactly, no.” She went on, “But I’m sure you were terrifying before Buffy… uh…”
“If you say tamed or domesticated me…” he growled.
“I—I was going to say she gave you a reason to change your ways.”
Spike snorted. Tara was obviously humouring him. He lit a fresh cigarette and gazed blindly out into the desert, contemplating the transformation of his life, while Tara put the finishing touches to her sacred circle.
He quickly came to the conclusion that there hadn’t been a single moment when everything had changed. It had been a gradual process. A series of incidents from that first encounter with Buffy in the alley behind the Bronze up until he’d run into her in L.A. after Dru had deserted him. After his Sire had made it crystal clear that this time the break-up was permanent.
Yes, he’d miss the freedom to indulge his impulsiveness; he’d miss dropping everything when he got bored and travelling to a new city, a new country, just to see what he could find there. In particular, he would always miss the hunt and the chase culminating in the sensation of hot, living blood pumping down his throat.
But in exchange, he’d gained a mutually devoted love, a level of respect he’d never before been granted, an enchanting miracle child and a life rich with possibilities for both joy and excitement.
He wouldn’t go back for a second. Perhaps it was finally time to accept that and dive headlong into the future with Buffy and her friends. He was coming to see that with a little effort on his part, they could become his friends as well.
He’d never had friends before. Occasional allies, temporary travelling companions, random minions, yes. Not true friends. He couldn’t wait to see how that worked.
He’d only just ground the spent filter under his boot when Buffy and Giles emerged from the cave.
Buffy came immediately to duck under Spike’s raised arm and cuddle into his side, while Giles approached Tara and examined her preparations.
After a minute, he took his glasses off and began polishing them. “Tara, Buffy was telling me…” He began again. “Are you absolutely sure that even after everything that’s happened, Willow is preparing to do another spell on us?”
Tarastood up to face him. “But I’m not sure, Giles. That’s the whole point. When Anya said she had inventory missing, a spell was the first explanation that popped into my head. It seemed so obvious. I don’t like being so suspicious but given Willow’s history…”
“Ah. Yes, I can see why that might be so, but surely…”
“Can we take the risk?” Buffy broke in. “Tara might be wrong, and I hope for all our sakes that she is, but I for one would feel a lot safer if I had one of Tara’s protection thingies.” After a pause, she added, “I really think you should have one too, Giles. And Tara? Could you do them for Mom and Dawnie too? Just in case?”
“I made enough amulets for all the Scoobies,” Tara offered. “I was going to come to you, Giles, and then Xander and Anya, after I’d seen Buffy and Spike.” She turned to Buffy. “Sorry, I never thought of Dawnie or your mom. If you’d like, I could make a couple more tonight then do the spells for them tomorrow?”
Buffy smiled. “Yeah, that would be great. Thanks, Tara.”
Giles frowned around at them. “You’re really that worried?”
“I can’t believe you’re not,” Spike said in disbelief. “I’m not afraid to admit I’m bloody terrified. I don’t know the witchlet as well as all of you, but perhaps that’s an advantage. It lets me view her more clearly. From what I’ve seen, she’s a manipulative little control freak who can’t handle negative emotions. Now she’s been found out, not only is she feeling guilty, but she’s also upset that Buffy hasn’t immediately forgiven her and is giving her the cold shoulder. Bearing all that in mind, what do you think she’s most likely to be tempted to do?”

Chapter 25

Chapter 25
Giles stiffly clambered to his feet. He winced when his joints reminded him in no uncertain terms that Father Time was inexorably creeping up on him. He could no longer take in his stride an extended period of sitting cross-legged on bare rock.
He felt a twinge of envy as Spike and Buffy both rose to their feet with graceful ease and stepped out of the spell circle.
Giles was putting the herbal-scented muslin pouch Tara had given him into his jacket pocket when she stopped him.
“Uh, Mr Giles, you need to keep it in contact with your skin. And don’t take it off for anything. That would leave you vulnerable.”
He glanced at Buffy, who was casually tucking her pouch into her bra. He flushed and looked away and began to feel a little silly. “Tara, I went along with this to appease your fear, but I really don’t think…”
“Well, I do think,” Buffy broke in, taking the amulet from his hand and hooking a finger in the neckline of his t-shirt. She tucked the pouch down inside the garment and he wriggled slightly at the sensation of it sliding slowly down his chest to lodge at the waistband of his trousers.
She wagged a finger at him, at which he was ready to take offence until she said gravely, “Take this seriously, Giles. Take Willow seriously. You know that Tara isn’t the type to panic for no reason.”
He couldn’t deny that. “Well, no. But…”
“No buts,” Buffy insisted. “And I think you should consider looking out some kind of… I don’t know… Is there a ‘stopping you from doing any more magic’ spell you could get ready, just in case?”
Before Giles could react, Tara astonished him by saying, “I – I’ve already found a binding spell. It won’t be any good if I cast it on my own, though. Willow has so much more power than me, she’d be able to break it easily.” She looked at him hopefully. “But by combining our powers, you, me and Anya might be able to hold her long enough to bring her to her senses.”
Giles took out his hanky and polished his glasses to give himself a few moments to think. Surely the young people were over-reacting. Although… could he in all conscience take that risk? Perhaps he should trust their instincts after all.
He sighed and put his glasses back on. “Very well. I still hope you’re all mistaken, but I shall make preparations for the possibility that you’re not. I left my car down on the road, so if you’d like, Tara, I could give you a lift to Xander and Anya’s flat. Then we could discuss it with Anya while you get things ready for their protection spell.”
Taralooked up from where she was gathering up her spell components and gave him a relieved smile. “Thanks, Giles. That would be great.”
After a few seconds consideration, Giles added, “Perhaps I should contact the Devon coven and ask for their advice. They might be able to lend us some power if we should need it.”
He suddenly found his arms full of a heavy box of assorted artefacts.
“A spot of research for you, Rupert,” Spike said. He pointed his thumb over his shoulder towards Tara. “Her ladyship reckons they’ve all got some kind of mojo on them.”
“Really? All of these? Good lord.” Giles peered down into the box, utterly fascinated.
“Not the scrolls. I just figured they’d suit you better than the slayer’s mum.” He smirked. “Thought they might be worthy of a watchergasm or two. But the rest, yeah. Tricky stuff, magic. Can’t cash in on ‘em ‘til we know what they do.”
Giles couldn’t take his eyes off the top scroll. He squinted slightly and turned his head at an awkward angle, trying to figure out what language it was written in. However the scroll was discoloured with age and the ink faded, making it impossible to distinguish in the moonlight. He was so engrossed, he hardly noticed when Spike took his elbow and steered him to the big black car.
“Need you to drive the DeSoto down to the road for me, mate. I’ve got to get this bloody thing to somewhere that Harris’ mate can collect it from.” He gestured at the heavily laden builders’ truck.
Giles took a good look at the vintage car as he placed the box on the back seat, and said, “But the windscreen is obscured. How will I see to drive?” After a beat he added, “For that matter, how do you see to drive?”
“I kept a bit clear where it matters. ‘Sides, you don’t need to worry about looking around for traffic and such. You’re only going straight down the slope onto the road and all you gotta worry about is avoiding the rocks in the way.”
With a resigned sigh, Giles closed the rear door and opened the driver’s door, but before he could get in, he was distracted by Buffy speaking to Tara.
“Does it matter if the protection thingy gets wet? There’s distinct need for a Buffyshower.” She toyed with a strand of grimy hair.
“Oh! No, you mustn’t get it wet! That would encourage mould on the… never mind.”
“So, what then? Should I take it off when I shower?”
“No! Don’t take it off until we know Willow’s safe!”
“So… wrap it in cling film?”
“Not that either. That’s synthetic and would disrupt the effect of the spell. It would need to be a natural waterproofing material.”
For a few seconds, Tara was deep in thought. “Latex!” she said. “That’s natural, it’s made from tree sap. A condom, Buffy. Wrap the pouch in a condom and tie it tight with a silk ribbon or leather thong, then wear it around your neck. Although… are condoms even made of latex any more?” She giggled. “It’s not exactly a field I’m familiar with.”
The two girls turned and looked expectantly at Spike.
He held his hands up defensively and took a couple of steps back. “Bloody hell! Don’t look at me, ladies! Never even used one of those contraptions!”
As one, three pairs of eyes turned their attention to Giles, who suddenly craved the ability to teleport himself elsewhere.
He cleared his throat and suddenly found his spectacles of immense interest. Was that a speck of dust on the lens? A good polish with his clean hanky would take care of that. He cleared his throat again and without looking up to meet any of the enquiring eyes focused on him, he ventured, “I believe they are now made of a variety of materials. I would advise reading the labels on the packaging.”
Buffy climbed up into the passenger seat of the truck saying eagerly, “Come on then. Time for a Scooby field trip to the twenty-four hour pharmacy!”

Buffy felt another laugh bubbling up and now that they were alone in the car; she allowed it full rein. “Oh god!” she gasped when she caught her breath. “Giles’ face when you shoved that package of extra-large black condoms under his nose and asked him whether the ribbed ones really did give your partner more pleasure! I thought he was going to faint on the spot!”
“Well, it seemed like a perfectly natural question to ask. How else am I supposed to learn these things?” Spike affected an innocent air but Buffy could hear the humour in his voice.
She batted him on the arm. “You’re so evil.”
Spike gave her a duh look. “Well… yeah.”
“Oh, my stomach hurts,” Buffy moaned breathlessly through a giggle, wrapping her arms around her middle.
They exchanged a look and both dissolved into helpless chuckles.
“It was even better than when I use the word stevedore.”
Buffy saw that they were approaching her mother’s house. “Tell you later. Remind me.” As Spike parked the car she swiped the laughter tears from her cheeks and made an effort to pull herself together.
Carrying a box each, they climbed the porch steps and after a few seconds of awkward fumbling, Buffy shouldered the front door open.
“Hey, Mom! Come check this out!” She led Spike into the dining room and dumped her box.
Following her lead, he started unloading items and arranging them on the table.
“Buffy!” Joyce said as she turned the corner into the dining room. “I didn’t think that I’d see you until…. Goodness! Look at you! What on earth have you been up to?”
Buffy placed the last item from her box on the table and stood aside. “Ta-da!” she announced, and spread her arms wide like a hostess introducing the star prize on one of those corny TV game shows.
“What…?” Joyce picked up the diamond tiara and examined it. After a few seconds she looked up, eyes wide, saying softly, “The treasure?” She dropped the tiara and turned to give Buffy a big hug. “You found the treasure! Oh, how wonderful!”
Buffy said, “Giles has all the things that gave Tara the magic vibe.” She exchanged a smile with Spike. “We thought you’d be the perfect person to deal with everything else, and get the best price for them.”
“For a fair commission, of course,” Spike added, and was subjected to an enveloping hug of his own.
Joyce grinned. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun! I know just the person to value the jewellery and help me find buyers.”
She picked up a small, shiny statuette of an African woman in a scanty leopard skin costume. “But it looks like I’m going to have to look out a couple more experts as well. This looks old,” she said.
“It all is,” Buffy said, waving her hand over the table. “It’s been in that crypt since before Sunnydale was even built.”
“No, I mean old old. And from the weight of it, I think it could be solid gold!” Joyce turned the figure over and studied the base. “No marks at all.” She peered closely into the statuette’s face. “And I think these eyes are made of… no, they’re not jet. They might even be black diamonds. Real ones, since the piece is far too early for them to be synthetic. Very rare.”
“Worth a bit then, d’you reckon?” Spike asked.
“It has to be.” The words emerged as an awed sigh.
Buffy spotted an item which must have been in Spike’s box since she hadn’t previously noticed it, and said, “Look!” She held up another, smaller statuette, this one made of wood so dark it was almost black. “Isn’t this the same person?”
Joyce compared it with the one she held. “I think so.” She put the golden figure down and took the wooden one from Buffy.
“But if that one’s old, this one’s ancient,” she said in wonder. “See how smooth and polished the wood has become? I can only make out faint traces of what must once have been some very intricate decorative carving for the hair. That means it’s been handled for centuries, the oils from people’s hands has worked right into the grain of the wood.”
She shook her head in bewilderment and carefully replaced the statuette on the table. “It’s not a style I recognise, so I can’t imagine who she might be. All I can say for sure is that she must have been revered for a very long time.”
Buffy reached over and took the wooden figure, affectionately stroking the curves of the woman’s body. “Do you think I could keep this one? She feels… special. I don’t know… It’s majorly weird, but as soon as I touched her, I felt as though I knew her.”
“’Course you can, love,” Spike said. “Pick out anything you want to keep. While you’re at it, why not pick out a little something for each of the others? You too, Joyce. There must be some trinket that takes your fancy.”
“Are you sure?”
“As long as there’s still enough left to sell so we can buy a place of our own and live until we can work something else out, sure.”
“Perhaps I’d better get everything valued first, then?” Joyce said. “You wouldn’t want to give away something that was worth a fortune.”
“Good idea, mom,” Buffy said.

Spike jumped up onto the plinth of a stone angel memorial, the better to follow Buffy’s scrap with a particularly agile vampire. With his arm draped around the angel’s torso, he swung around the statue to keep her in view as she fought her way across the cemetery.
Although it was technically the equivalent of mid-morning in vampire hours, he had been up all day performing an unusual amount of manual labour and now he was becoming cranky.
While in the initiative, Buffy had said that tonight she would accept and return his claim. That thought had kept him going all day, so when they’d finally got back to the mansion, he’d been all set to whisk Buffy to bed immediately to initiate the claim.
To his disappointment, Buffy had insisted that she had to patrol since she hadn’t the night before, and she’d led him straight back out into the night.
This was the fourth cemetery of the evening and Spike’s limited patience was at an end. He called, “Come on, love, stop playing with the bugger and finish him!”
“What d’you think… I’m trying to do?” Buffy grimaced in frustration when yet again the nimble vampire evaded her stake.
Spike gazed around the moonlit cemetery and satisfied himself that there were no other demons or vampires in the vicinity. He slipped his stake from his duster pocket and the next time that the battling pair came close enough, he took aim and shot the sliver of wood across the space, straight into the vampire’s back.
Buffy was in the middle of a high kick when her opponent suddenly disappeared, sending her into an off-balance tumble through a cloud of dust.
When she rolled into a seated position and took a few seconds to scrape her hair out of her face and catch her breath, Spike leapt down from his perch and went over to offer her a hand up.
“Reckon you’ve done enough for tonight, slayer? The Hellmouth’s down five vamps and a Serparvo demon. Good haul in anyone’s book.”
Buffy took his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. “I guess…”
“So… back to the mansion then?”
“Now, I wonder why you’re so eager to get home?” Buffy teased, brushing vampire dust off her clothes. She linked her arm through his, turning towards the gate.
“As if you don’t bloody know…” he grumbled.
“Yeah, I do. Me too. That’s why I begged mom to look after Annie for an extra night. But I promised to be back in the morning!” she said, releasing his arm and breaking into a run.
Laughing, Spike gave chase and in no time, they were bursting into the mansion.
To Spike’s confusion, Buffy didn’t continue up the stairs but headed straight for the kitchen. She calmly took the casserole dish Joyce had given her from the fridge, and put it in the microwave. When she’d set it going, she took off her grubby jacket and hung it over a chair.
“You go on and take the first shower,” she said. “I’ll have mine after my dinner.”
Spike pouted. He’d been looking forward to sharing his shower with a naked Buffy all covered with slippery suds. “You expect me to shower alone?”
Buffy held out a hank of admittedly filthy hair and scowled at it. “Trust me. This is not going to be a fun playtime kinda shower. This is going to be a multiple lather, rinse and repeat kinda shower. All I want to do is get clean!”
“I could help with that…” Spike said with a hopeful leer.
“Go. Shower!” Buffy pointed upwards, a very determined look on her face. The kind of look which in L.A, Spike had come to learn meant that she wasn’t willing to be seduced into doing things his way.
He spun on his heel and sulkily went to comply. “Fine. You win. This time.”

Chapter 26
Chapter 26
Spike was half way up the stairs when he heard Buffy’s voice behind him.
He stopped and looked down.
“Have you got the condoms? Don’t forget what Tara said.”
“Yeah, got them here.” He patted the bulge in his duster pocket.
Buffy held up a length of ribbon. “Here, you’ll need some of this too.”
Spike’s eyes went wide. “I’m not using that!”
“But… to tie the condom and put it around your neck…”
“Buffy, it’s bleedin' pink! The Big Bad does not do pink!” He turned and continued up the stairs. “Don’t worry love, I’ll find something else.”
Spike scouted around for a while, but came up with nothing suitable. Finally he stood in the doorway to the room into which Drusilla had moved while he’d been confined to that bloody wheelchair. The one she’d shared with Angelus.
He’d avoided this room since he’d returned to Sunnydale and moved into the mansion. In his experience, smell was the sense which prompted the strongest memory recall, and he had no wish to pick up the faintest whiff of what might linger of the shared scent his sire and grandsire would have left behind.
Clenching his jaw, he deliberately stopped breathing and entered the room.
They’d abandoned a lot of stuff when they’d left town in such a hurry, so it didn’t take him long to find one of the slinky silk nightgowns that Dru favoured when she was intent upon seducing her precious Daddy.
Spike pushed aside the mental image which the thought prompted, and quickly ripped off the narrow ribbon shoulder straps. They weren’t black, but the deep crimson was almost as good. He dropped the remainder of the garment on the floor and left the room, closing the door firmly behind him.
A few minutes later, he’d shed his clothes and was standing under the hot spray of the shower, willing the soap and water to obliterate Dru’s scent. It had no place in what was about to happen.
He rinsed thoroughly and turned the water off, then chanced a shallow inhale. Nothing but the herbal scent of the shampoo and the sandalwood soap he’d used. He closed his eyes, lifted the ribbon-tied condom directly under his nose and took a deep breath, mouth slightly open to catch the slightest hint of scent. There was an echo of Buffy’s musk from that morning, but otherwise there was nothing but the usual smells he would expect in a bathroom.
Satisfied, he quickly towelled off and gelled his hair back as usual.
When he emerged into the bedroom, he looked around and clicked his tongue at the mess. Not an issue he usually bothered about but tonight was special. For their claim, Buffy deserved to have her surroundings presented like a human’s honeymoon suite.
First order of business was getting the fire relaid and lit.

Buffy flushed when she realised that she was scraping out the last tiny remnants of lasagne from the dish. It was the same quantity her mother always prepared for freezing, intended to provide a satisfying comfort meal for all three Summers women.
She furtively glanced around, checking for witnesses to her greed, then rolled her eyes at her own silliness and got up to put the dish in the sink to soak.
Picking up the extra bag she’d brought from Revello Drive, she climbed the stairs.
She paused in the doorway to their bedroom and smiled appreciatively. Spike was naked. He was crouched before the fireplace, cautiously nursing the fire into life. His skin was still slightly pink from the heat of the shower and while his hair was slicked back, it was still damp so the soft curls at the nape of his neck were beginning to spring to life.
Oh, and he was naked.
Buffy licked her lips and stepped forward.
“See something you like, love?” Spike said without looking around, deliberately rotating his shoulders and tensing his thighs to highlight the powerful muscles of his back and buttocks.
She walked towards him, saying, “Oh, yes.” At the last moment, she quickly ruffled his hair to release his bouncy curls and said, “But I prefer it curly.” She evaded his reaching hand, giggled at his frustrated growl and darted out of his reach to lock herself in the bathroom.
It turned out that rock dust was easier to wash out of her hair than greasy vamp dust or sewer slime, so she only needed to shampoo, rinse and repeat three times before she was happy. Eager to get back to Spike, she quickly conditioned then lathered herself with her favourite bodywash. After rinsing, she wrapped herself in a fluffy towel, shaking her head with a wry smile when she saw the hotel monogram on the corner.
After she’d combed the tangles from her hair and expertly wound it around her giant rollers, she dug her hair dryer out of her bag.
That was when she hit a snag.
She looked everywhere, but there was no power socket in the bathroom.
She realised that she’d have to go and dry her hair in the bedroom, but she was nowhere near ready for Spike to see her in her rollers!
With a resigned sigh, Buffy abandoned her plan for a bouncy, wavy hairstyle. She ditched the towel and put on her new sexy chemise. It was ivory satin with gold lace trim and was barely long enough to brush the tops of her thighs, and it had a very deep V back, only held together by a criss-cross of fine spaghetti straps. She struck a provocative pose in front of the mirror. She grinned. Spike was going to drool. She made a disgruntled moue when she realised that her hair was unfortunately going to ruin the overall effect by being… totally random.
She slipped on her warm robe and draped a dry towel around her shoulders before unwinding her hair and combing it out again.
Without thinking, she tucked the little wooden figure of a woman into the pocket of her robe.
Armed with her hair dryer in one hand and her round styling brush in the other, she opened the door to the bedroom.
She gazed around the room in wonder. “Oh, wow!” The bed was freshly made and turned back, and the sour crushed rose petals from the previous night had all been cleared away. All the clothes which had been scattered about had been picked up, and the brightly dancing fire and lots of candles were making the room feel warm and welcoming.
“Love what you’ve done with the place.”
Spike turned from lighting the last of the candles and smiled. “All finished, love?” he asked, flicking off the ceiling light and approaching her.
“Uh, not so much.” She held up her hair dryer, blocking him from embracing her. “I need to dry my hair before it does its own thing and dries into a haystack on my head.” She looked around. “Uh… is there a mirror in the house?”
“Sorry, love. All the mirrors tend to get smashed or chucked out when vampires take over. You’re lucky this room wasn’t used before, or there wouldn’t be one in the bathroom.” He glanced around and indicated a handy socket beside the bed.
“Here you are, love,” he said, taking the dryer from her and plugging it in.
He sat her on the bed and took her brush, then clambered up to sit behind her. “Let me help.”
“Wait… you know how to style hair? Some Big Bad you are,” Buffy sniggered.
“I’ll have you know I used to do Dru’s all the time,” Spike protested. “Ate a posh hairdresser in Paris in the twenties. Maybe something stuck."
Buffy scrunched up her nose in distaste. “Okay, that’s a visual I could’ve done without,” she muttered as Spike switched on the dryer and set to work.
After only a couple of minutes, the hairbrush caught in the damp pink ribbon around her neck so she reached up to untie it and take it out of the way. While Spike carried on with her hair, she carefully unwound the ribbon and pulled the condom off the amulet before retying the ribbon around the little muslin pouch. With her neck currently inaccessible, she bound it around her left wrist and tied it neatly, pulling the knot tight with her teeth.
The fire had warmed the room sufficiently for Buffy to be able to relax into Spike’s gentle pampering. She wondered how he was managing to style her hair, occasionally winding strands around the brush to dry them, without tugging on a single tangle. She’d never even managed that herself.
She suddenly realised that Spike’s occasional feather-light caresses of her throat, neck and jaw as he handled her hair weren’t accidental. A cool finger stroked from the sensitive spot behind her ear down to her jaw, and a delicious tingle shot straight to her core.
Resolving to return the erotic teasing, she undid the tie belt of her robe and then casually tugged off the towel. She reached to put it at the end of the bed, making sure that as she did so, her loosened robe slid down to expose her bare shoulders.
The way the robe fell lopsidedly to one side brought her attention to the little statuette weighing down her pocket. She dug it out and placed it on the night table, giving it a tender little pat on the head.
When Spike dropped a kiss on her shoulder, following it up with a playful nibble, Buffy responded by stroking up his leg. She deliberately stopped short of his groin and left her hand resting lightly on his thigh, feeling the muscles under her hand twitch as she continued to tantalise him with gentle touches.
It seemed that in no time, Spike was giving her hair one final pat and turning off the dryer. “There, love,” he said. “All done.”
Buffy made the decision to extend the teasing. She stood up, allowing her robe to slide completely off to display the spaghetti straps criss-crossing the deeply cut V which displayed her toned back to perfection.
She threw the robe across the foot of the bed then added a little seductive sway to her hips as she walked across the room, causing the silky fabric of her chemise to swish deliciously over her skin. She raised a hand to feel her hair and as she passed into the bathroom, she said airily, “I simply gotta check this out!”
She headed straight for the mirror and was instantly transfixed by her reflection. Spike had created a style similar to her favourite loose bouncy waves, but at the same time was totally different. He had given her a low, straight side parting, and while the left side fell past her shoulder in natural-looking waves, the fuller right side had a defined smooth wave that curved in, almost hiding her eye, before curling back towards her shoulder.
It was utterly gorgeous.

For a few seconds after Buffy had disappeared into the bathroom, Spike sat motionless in shock, bereft at her sudden desertion. Then with an impatient grunt, he dumped the hair dryer and brush and followed her.
He found her staring at her reflection in the mirror. She slowly raised one hand to stroke back the wave beside her eye and smiled when she released it and it fell straight back into place. There was no sign of the slayer. This was the pure California girl, intent upon her appearance. He didn’t get to see her very often.
He stepped up behind her and looked into the mirror over her shoulder. “Looks even better on you that it did on Veronica Lake. D’you like it, love?”
She gave a little start then turned to glance up at him. “Does it? Who?”
“The peekaboo look, love. Veronica Lake. Film star in the forties.”
When Buffy continued to look at him blankly, Spike said, “Ask your mum. She’ll have heard of her.”
Buffy turned her head from side side, examining her reflection with a contemplative expression on her face. Her pretence of gravity was blown when a smile tugged at her lips and she nodded, announcing, “It’s perfect, honey. You’ve passed the boyfriend hairstylist test. You’re hired.”
Spike chuckled. “Very glad to hear it, love.”
His gaze strayed downwards from the reflection of her face to the golden lace confection which did little to conceal her delectable breasts. His suspended desire was instantly rekindled.
He kept his attention focused on her reflection as he brushed her hair from one shoulder and bent to kiss her. He turned the kiss into a nibble of the lobe of her ear, and then the pulse point in her throat. He gently stroked her shoulders and upper arms, brushing the narrow shoulder straps of the chemise off and down as he did so.
Buffy gasped when he released the fabric to allow the garment to slither to the floor, leaving her completely bare before him. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her back into his embrace, warm skin to cool skin, continuing to lavish kisses and nibbles to all the exposed flesh he could reach, while still keeping his eyes glued to the vision in the mirror.
“This is so weird,” Buffy whispered. She giggled softly. “It’s such a turn-on being sexed up by the invisible man.”
The heady aroma of her arousal rose up around Spike as her head fell back against his chest, her skin flushed and her heartbeat and breathing accelerating tantalisingly. Then she reached around to grasp his hips and pull him even tighter into her back.
The pressure against his erection increased until it was on the verge of pain, forcing a pleasurable moan from him.
Buffy abruptly released him and twisted in his embrace, raising her arms to twine around his neck. Spike bent his head to kiss her, but she tilted her head away, saying, “Now’s good. Can it be now?”
For a second, Spike couldn’t grasp the meaning of Buffy’s apparently random question. Then with a rush of warmth to his chest, he realised. “The claim?” he said, his voice shaky with emotion. Then the conscience that he wasn’t supposed to have kicked his selfish, possessive demon aside and he heard himself asking, “Are you absolutely sure you want to, love?”
She cupped his face in her hands, gazed directly into his eyes and said earnestly, “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”

Buffy suddenly found herself swooping through the air until all her breath whooshed out of her when she landed on her back among the pile of soft pillows on the bed.
She licked her lips and held her breath in anticipation when with eyes flashing between blue and amber, naked Spike prowled panther-like up the bed towards her. He paused astride her hips with his fists planted in the mattress either side of her shoulders.
And did she mention that he was still naked? And phwoah! Very aroused.
“You remember what you have to do?” he asked.
When she reached up and ran her fingernail down the side of his neck, he shuddered, closed his eyes, and turned his head to give her a better angle. To her surprise, the pink line which followed her nail faded in less than a second. “You bite me, drink some of my blood and say ‘mine’. I say ‘yours’. Then I bite you, swallow some of your blood and…
“Yeah, you got it.”
Mystified, Buffy said, “It’s really kinda… simple for something so important, don’t you think? It feels like it should be some big elaborate ceremony.” She repeated the scratch, across the spot where she intended to mark him. Again, the faint line puzzled her by disappearing instantly.
She quickly forgot that when Spike slipped his knees between her legs and lowered himself onto her, supporting his upper body on his elbows. She instinctively spread her legs to cradle his hips and her hands went to his shoulders.
“It doesn’t need to be fancy,” he said quietly, stroking her hair back from her face and neck. “That’s for humans who need to make their marriage ceremony lavish because they want to make it the happiest day of their lives. They don’t get it. The claim is simple, because that’s all we need. Because for us, every day after that, when we’re sharing it with the person we love, is the happiest day of our lives. Can’t get any better than that.”
“Oh,” Buffy breathed, a tear leaking from her eye. “That’s beautiful.” This violent, romantic, loyal vampire of hers never stopped surprising her. And this is what she had to look forward to for the rest of her life. She couldn’t wait!
“Ready, Buffy?”
She found herself so choked up that she couldn’t speak. She simply nodded and then took a deep, steadying breath.
Spike adjusted his position slightly and slowly pushed into her. He began rocking slightly, simply tensing and relaxing his hips. Buffy was already so sensitised that she found herself tipping her hips up in response, already more than half way to an orgasm.
Spike tilted his head to one side and presented her with the unmarked side of his neck. “Ladies first,” he said in a trembling voice.
“Oh! Okay.” She nervously licked her lips and teeth. She raised her head and delicately placed her open mouth at her chosen spot. Closing her eyes, she bit down as hard as she could, feeling her teeth penetrate his flesh. Withdrawing her teeth, she tried to suck some of Spike’s blood, but there was nothing there. She drew back slightly and peered at the place where there should be an open bite, only to see utterly unblemished skin.
Buffy frowned for a second, then rolled her eyes as she realised what the problem was. She thwacked Spike’s shoulder and teasingly scolded him, “Idiot vampire. It’s not going to work while you’re wearing that pesky gem!”
Spike stilled and gave an embarrassed cough. “Bugger! Right. Sorry, love.” He leaned to one side, slid the ring from his finger and placed it on the night table then with a shimmy, settled back into position and with a wry grin, resumed his delicious rocking movement. “Uh… Shall we try that again?”
Buffy went through the same actions again, this time hearing a moan of pleasure from above her as her mouth filled with rich, coppery fluid. Screwing her nose up a little at the taste, she gulped it down and shuddered slightly before declaring, “Mine! You’re mine!”
Spike’s hips jerked forward as he gasped, “Yours! God, Buffy. Everything I am is yours!”
Quickly, Buffy closed her eyes and turned her head to the side. She tensed in anticipation of a similar agonising pain as she’d felt when the Master had bitten her three years before.
Spike didn’t bite immediately, however. His thrusting increased in speed and strength for a couple of minutes, until the first tantalising tremors pulsed through her. Then at last she heard the tell-tale crunch of shifting bone and cartilage.
“Love you, Buffy,” Spike lisped. Then as he added a little twist to his hips, he sank his fangs into her throat. Instead of pain, she felt unbelievable bliss which sent her flying over the edge into paradise.
As if from a million miles away, she heard, “Mine! God! You’re mine, slayer!”
It took her a second to catch her breath enough to gasp out, “Yours! I’m so yours!”
Then Spike began to snarl as he increased his tempo yet again and her head went back and her back arched and she hung on for dear life as she was driven to the most powerful orgasm she’d ever experienced, and she felt Spike pulsing inside her.
Panting, sweating and quivering with aftershocks, Buffy couldn’t move or speak as Spike slowly pulled out of her and slumped to one side. He drew the covers over them, wrapped his arms around her and snuggled her into his side so that her head was pillowed on his shoulder.
She allowed herself to relax into the waiting darkness.
As the candles guttered and went out one by one, leaving the room lit only by the glowing coals in the hearth, the slayer and her vampire slept.
Chapter 27

Chapter 27
Buffy woke with a start. Sometimes, a slayer’s dreams were just weird and icky. This time there had been loads of violence and floods of blood. And oddly enough, poetry.
She turned her head and found herself gazing into sleepy pools of blue. She brushed a tendril of hair from her face, set her head back down on his shoulder and settled her upper leg more comfortably over his thigh, absently rubbing her heated centre against him. “Morning,” she murmured.
“G’morning, love,” he replied. He stroked her leg then raised it as he turned onto his side to face her. It felt like the most natural thing in the world when, as their mouths met, he slipped smoothly into her and started rocking his hips slowly.
After a couple of minutes, Spike pulled her over on top of him. She threaded her hands into his hair to hold his head in place for her kisses, leaving him to concentrate on controlling their joining. It was slow and tender but by no means lacking in passion.
When her orgasm began, it didn’t crash over her in a dramatic fashion, causing her to seize up and scream as she had come to expect. It crept up on her with gentle quivers and throbs of pleasure and seemed to last for hours before Spike finally tensed and pressed her down on him as he pulsed within her. Then he relaxed, his hands going up to her hair as their mouths continued to make love to each other.
When she next needed to breathe, Buffy raised her head and said with a smile, “Well, that was… different. Can we do that again some day?”
“How about every morning? Best way to start the day.”
“Oh, yeah. I could so go for that.” Buffy lay still for a moment then sighed. “I wish I could stay here snuggling like this all day, but my stupid bladder won’t let me.”
As she carefully extricated herself from Spike and the tangled bedding, Spike asked, “What time are we due at your mum’s?”
“I said we’d be there by ten at the very latest.”
She’d done her business and was preparing to take a shower when Spike’s voice came through the closed bathroom door.
“Buffy, love! You might want to get a wriggle on. Your phone here says it’s already after ten!”

Buffy wrestled her socks onto her feet, thrust her feet into her boots then grabbed her hairbrush from the dashboard.
When Spike chuckled, she snapped, “Stop laughing, just drive!” She started struggling with a nasty snarl in her bed hair. “It’s okay for you. A pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a quick comb, boots and coat and you’re all done.”
Still smiling, Spike turned the car into Revello Drive. “Your mum’s a nice lady. She won’t mind us being late.”
“But when she agreed to the extra night, I promised!” Buffy sighed. “She’s so wonderful with Annie, doing so much more than she should have to so I can keep on with the slaying and school and stuff. I can’t help feeling like I’m taking advantage, ‘specially since she’s been so sick.”
“So we’ll make sure that on top of her commission, she gets to choose a pretty from the treasure for herself, by way of thank you,” Spike said. He pulled in to the kerb as close to number 1630 as he could get, considering there were more cars parked in that part of the street than usual.
“Oh, what a good idea! She’ll love that!” Buffy peered up into the rear view mirror but it was useless. “Is my hair okay? I can’t see.”
“C’m’ere,” he said, taking the brush from her hand. He swept her hair forward over her face and quickly made a parting then with a couple of swift brush strokes, arranged her hair. “There you go, love. All ship-shape and Bristol fashion.”
Now what was he talking about? It was sometimes as though he was speaking a totally different language. “Ship… Bristol… huh?”
Spike shook his head at her. “You’re gorgeous, Buffy. Come on, time to face the music.”

When Buffy opened the front door, Spike saw past her to where Joyce stood by the entrance to the dining room, making notes on some papers on a clipboard.
Buffy hesitantly said, “Hi, mom. Sorry…”
Joyce looked up. “Oh! Hi honey, is it ten already? I’m busy here, so Dawn’s been watching Annie. Could you take over? She’s bored, and a bored Annie…”
“Is never a good thing,” Buffy finished with a knowing look at Spike. She dropped her bag by the hall table and went into the living room. “Hi, Dawnie. Sorry to leave you holding the baby. Consider yourself relieved.”
“Oh thank god, Buffy. She’s being impossible and I have algebra homework to finish.”
Joyce continued, “And William, do you think you could put coffee on for us? I’m sure we could all do with some.” Joyce looked around the dining room and Spike became aware that several other people were present, all nodding in agreement as they looked up from examining the treasure laid out on the table and floor.
“Uh, of course, Joyce,” he said, bemused.
As Dawn thundered up the stairs and Annie started gabbling excitedly at her mother, Spike went through into the kitchen and looked around. It had been a good few years since he’d made coffee, and the last time, he’d used a percolator on a coal fired range. That method clearly wasn’t going to fly here.
There was a steel and glass contraption already set out on the kitchen counter. Luckily, it was easy for him to identify from having seen similar ones on TV. Now all he needed to do was figure out how it worked.
Cautiously, he raised the lid and peered in. It seemed straightforward enough. Water in the tank and coffee in the receptacle in the centre.
He slipped the jug out of the machine, filled it under the cold tap, emptied it into the tank then replaced the jug on the hotplate. He looked for the coffee, but there wasn’t any in evidence. Then he had a vague memory of watching a presenter in a TV infomercial putting a filter paper in a machine similar to this one. He couldn’t see any of those either and he didn’t think Joyce would want him to go rummaging through her cabinets.
He poked his head around the doorway into the dining room. “Sorry, Joyce. Need a little help here.”
When she came into the kitchen, Spike gestured at the machine. “I got the water in but can’t see the coffee, and what do I do about filters?”
Joyce shook her head, distractedly glancing over her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’m a little flustered this morning, I should have realised that you don’t know where anything is yet.”
Spike watched closely as she quickly began opening and closing cupboards and assembling the required items then with a practiced hand, got the coffee machine going. Once it was making reassuring gurgling and plopping sounds, she opened another cupboard and took out a number of mugs which she arranged on the counter. Then she turned to face him and leant back against the sink with a weary sigh.
She waved her hand in the general direction of the dining room. “I made a few calls yesterday, reaching out to my contacts to ask for help with cataloguing and valuing the treasure. I never expected all of them to turn up first thing this morning, raring to go!”
Spike chuckled. “The irresistible allure of the word treasure.”
“I guess that’s what is must have been.”
Buffy appeared around the corner from the living room. “Do I hear coffee in the making?”
Joyce smiled at her. “Yes, honey. Do I take it that you’d like a cup?”
“Please. I overslept and didn’t get a chance to have any yet.”
Annie had an arm wrapped around her mother’s leg. She swung around and peeked shyly at Spike “Mine daddy!” she said in wonderment. “Daddy play?”
Spike winked down at her. “In a sec, kitten. I’m just talking with your grandma for a minute. Okay?”
“’kay.” Her wide eyes swept the kitchen and fixed on the cups set out ready on the counter. “Chock lit, gamma?” she asked eagerly.
“Of course, sweetie.”
With a happy little squeal, Annie tugged Buffy back into the living room, just giving her mother time to direct a helpless roll of her eyes at Spike.
When Joyce turned to get out a pan, milk and the chocolate mix, she said, “I guess I’d better make enough for Dawn too. She’d never forgive me if Annie got hot chocolate and she didn’t!” She sent a knowing look Spike’s way. “And I don’t think I need to ask if you’d like some too?”
Spike smiled and shrugged. “Human or vamp, I never could resist cocoa. ‘Specially with the little marshmallows on top.”
“Well, these are all for you then,” Joyce said, taking a partly used packet from a high cupboard. “Dawn doesn’t like them and I can’t put them in Annie’s because they clog up the mouthpiece on her sippy cup.”
When she’d reached up for the marshmallows, her hair had fallen back and Spike had spotted the bare patch at Joyce’s temple where a short fuzz of hair was just beginning to grow back over her surgery site. He tapped his own temple and asked, “How’s it going? All sorted now?”
Joyce’s smile was glorious. “Oh yes! It was sore at first, of course, but I haven’t had a single headache since the operation. Such a relief. The doctor made an appointment for me to have a follow-up CAT scan, just to check that everything’s healed properly. It’s supposed to be tomorrow morning actually, but I’m feeling so well, I think I’ll call first thing and cancel it.”
Spike cocked his head to one side in consideration. “Is that wise? In my human days, any kind of surgery was a chancy proposition, and when I think they actually cut into your brain…” he shuddered. “I reckon if the doc planned to check you over, he thought he needed to.”
“You really think so? Well, Dawn does have school tomorrow, and Buffy has class in the morning so Annie will be at crèche…” She gave a little shrug. “Perhaps I’ll go after all. I guess it can’t do any harm.”

While kneeling beside Annie’s bed, watching closely to be sure that their daughter was genuinely asleep at last, Buffy clearly heard Spike saying, “How could this adorable child have come from me? I still don’t get it. She’s a miracle! How can I possibly live up to that? I’m bound to bugger it all up sooner or later.”
Buffy silently stood and tip-toed towards the open door where Spike was silhouetted against the landing light. She gently pushed him back so that she could close the door. “Shh… I know exactly how you feel,” she whispered. “I worry about that too. I’ve had her for two years next month, and I still haven’t got used to the fact that I’m her mommy and they trust me to take care of her.”
Spike stammered, “Huh? Buffy, how…
Buffy stretched up and cut off whatever he was going to say by planting a kiss on his lips.
She stroked his cheek, murmuring, “We’re so lucky. For once, something of the good came out of my slayerness.”
Spike suddenly cocked his head to one side, a sure sign that he was listening to something.
All Buffy could hear was the soft murmur of voices and then the front door opening and after a few moments closing again. She raised her eyebrows at him questioningly.
“Sounds like the last of the treasure seeking hordes leaving, love. And if I’m not mistaken, the watcher arrived at the same time.”
“Giles?” Buffy grabbed Spike’s hand and pulled him towards the stairs. “I wonder what he wants.”
At the foot of the stairs, Joyce stood clutching her clipboard to her chest as she greeted Giles. As one, they looked up as Buffy and Spike descended.
“Oh, there you are, Buffy,” Giles said. He held up the jewelled daggers. “I thought I’d bring these over to add to the rest of the treasure. As it happens, immediately I saw them, they rang a vague bell. It gave me a place to start researching. It didn’t take long to identify them because they’re well documented until they were lost sometime in the seventeenth century. They were commissioned by a prosperous Venetian merchant in the thirteenth century. Fine, best quality Toledo steel with jewelled hilts and sheaths.”
“But… the magic Tara saw?”
“Quite harmless. It’s merely a stay-sharp charm. It’s quite fortunate really. The blades kept their fine edges through the centuries after the weapons became separated from their sheaths. Even so, they should still have considerable commercial value, particularly as they’re a matched pair. Unless you wish to keep them for yourself?”
“No thanks, I have enough daggers.” She patted her stomach where the little wooden figurine was safely tucked into the kangaroo pocket of her hoody. “I have what I want, my little wooden woman.”
“In that case, Giles,” put in Joyce, “they should go in here with the rest.” She gestured towards the dining room. “It’s a shame my weapons expert has just left, but the provisional date we’ve agreed for the auction isn’t until next month, so there’s plenty of time yet.”
Buffy followed Giles and her mother into the dining room, where Joyce carefully nudged a couple of items aside to make space on the table for the daggers.
“Goodness!” Giles said. “I didn’t know there was so much!” He slowly walked around the table, deftly stepping over the larger items on the floor, occasionally picking up something to examine more closely. When he came to the statuette of the warrior woman, he came to a dead stop and his face drained of colour.
He picked it up and slowly turned it in trembling hands. “Can it possibly be…?” he murmured. “Dear lord, I believe it is! Buffy, have you any idea who is depicted here?”
“Uh… actually, no. But I have her older, chunkier twin here.” She produced the small figure from her pocket and held it up. “She feels like mine.”
Giles glanced at it and his mouth fell open. After a moment, he gave himself a little shake and said, “That’s because she is yours, Buffy.” He looked back and forth between the two figures and said, “I can’t believe you have both of them! It’s remarkable! They’ve been lost for so very long. It was thought they’d been destroyed centuries ago.” He staggered slightly. “I’m sorry, I think I may need to sit down.”
Joyce took him by the arm and led him into the living room, guiding him to the armchair.
Consumed with curiosity, Buffy followed and sat on the couch facing him. Spike settled beside her and took her hand.
Joyce perched the other side of Buffy and asked, “You know who it is? None of my contacts could put a name to her.”
Giles put his handkerchief back in his pocket, replaced his spectacles on his nose and held up the statuette to face them. He took a deep breath. “Buffy, I’d like to introduce Sinara, the patron goddess of the slayer line. This one,” he indicated the one he was holding, “was traditionally entrusted to the watcher of the active slayer while the one you hold… well, that is yours by right for the duration of your term as the slayer.”
Buffy was struck dumb.
Giles turned to Joyce. “Joyce, I’m afraid I must insist that neither figurine is included in the catalogue for the forthcoming auction. Buffy will naturally keep the original, and I’ll hang on to this one.”
“Worth a bit then, are they?” Spike asked suspiciously.
“Utterly beyond price,” Giles said. A mischievous expression crossed his features and he held up the tall statuette. “In fact, since this one was commissioned by the Watchers’ Council, centuries ago, to be the watcher’s companion to the ancient original, and I am only officially entitled to hold it while I supervise an active slayer, I have no doubt that they’ll pay whatever you demand to reacquire it. They’ll do anything so that they have the right to reclaim it and pass it to the next active watcher.” He turned to address Joyce. “However much you ask.”
“Oh, how very tempting,” Joyce said with a matching smirk. “At last I have a way of getting back at that insufferable toad who was in charge of that murderous… test on poor Faith’s eighteenth birthday.”
Giles suddenly laughed. “Indeed! Oh, how I wish I could see old Quentin’s face when learns of this. Every graduating class at the Watchers’ Academy receives a lecture about them and is charged with bringing them back into the fold. Since Quentin’s grandfather’s time in the Academy, each member of the Travers family has made no secret of the fact that their life’s quest is to locate both of the figures and restore them to their rightful places. And you, Buffy, with all your unorthodox methods which so infuriate the council, have found them! Travers will have a fit!”
Buffy grinned back. “We found them, Giles. You’re the one who recognised them. Feel free to go into full gloat mode.” Fondly caressing her little wooden friend, she asked, “Sinara? Isn’t that what the First Slayer was called?”
“Uh, no, Buffy. The First Slayer’s name was Sineya. According to the legend, Sinara was the warrior goddess of her tribe and the child was named in her honour. When she was called, Sineya adopted Sinara as her own personal patroness and took possession of the focus from her family shrine, which you are holding. The goddess has been linked with the slayer line ever since.”
Buffy pondered. She had instantly accepted the sense of familiarity and belonging she’d experienced the first time she’d held the small figure, but she’d never thought to consider the implications.
She was so preoccupied, she barely registered her mother asking Spike to fetch something, then hardly felt him leaving her side and returning.
She was startled out of her introspection a few minutes later when her mother cried out.
“Oh my god!”
Buffy looked up to see her mother toss her calculator onto the coffee table and gape down at the papers in her lap.
Joyce looked up wide-eyed and swallowed hard. “Take a guess at the estimate we’ve reached for the minimum sum we could raise from auctioning off the treasure. That’s from conservative estimates for reserve prices, not including what we might be able to get out of the Council for the statuettes, or anything which can be raised from the magical items you have, Giles.”
Buffy tried to think of an optimistic figure that might justify her mother’s reaction. She offered, “A hundred thousand dollars?”
Joyce turned to Giles with raised eyebrows.
“Two hundred thousand?” he suggested with a shrug.
When she looked at Spike, he said, “I’ll go with two-fifty.”
Joyce swallowed again and took a deep breath. “Try close to a million dollars. At least!”
In the ensuing shocked silence, Dawn clattering down the stairs sounded as though the house was falling down.
“I finished my book and looked up, saw it was dark and realised I was starving! What’s for dinner?” When nobody answered her immediately, she looked around anxiously. “What’s wrong? Why all the turned-to-stone impressions?”
Joyce blinked and gave her head a little shake. “Nothing’s wrong, Punkinbelly. We’ve just had a shock, that’s all.” Dawn looked even more worried and she quickly added, “A good shock. Uh, I haven’t had a spare moment to think about dinner. Would take-out be okay with you?”
“Pizza?” Dawn instantly asked. “I can make the call!”
When her mother nodded her approval, Buffy said, “Pizza’s fine with me. Mine’s a Pepperoni with extra cheese.” Sending her sister a warning glare, she added emphatically, “No anchovies.”
“Giles, have you eaten?” Joyce asked. “Would you like to stay?”
“Oh, don’t worry about me, Joyce,” he said, getting to his feet. “I really should make a call to England about the figurines, and I still have a lot of research to do. I’ll have something at home with my books.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” Joyce accompanied him to the front door to see him out as Dawn made a bee-line for the phone.
Buffy snuggled up against Spike. “We’re gonna be rich,” she quietly said. “Can you believe it?”
Spike kissed the top of her head. “Gonna have your pick of houses, love. Better start checking the property pages.”
Buffy grinned. “I’ll get Tara on the case with me. This is gonna be so much fun!” She glanced up at Spike through her lashes and added guiltily, “But you can have the final say. Is that okay with you?”
Spike chuckled. “I’ll be fine with whatever makes you ladies happy, love. Now I have the gem, you don’t even have to consider big windows and sunny rooms, or sewer access.”
“I knew there was a reason I loved you,” she said with a happy smile.
“Why don’t you pick yourself a pretty, love?” he asked. “Now we know we can spare it.” He leant close and murmured, “I know you fancy that tiara.”
Buffy spluttered a laugh. “When would I ever get to wear a tiara?”
“Well, at least pick something to keep for the babe.”
“Oh. That’s different. I’ll think about it.”
Dawn came and plopped down in the arm chair opposite and announced. “The pizza’s on its way. Now tell me what’s going on.”
“Speaking of Tara…” Buffy looked her sister over. “Did she come over to…”
“Yeah, yeah.” Dawn pulled at the neckline of her shirt to reveal a ribbon suspending a familiar-looking muslin pouch. “She was here when I got up. I’m all protected against Evil Willow and her runaway magic. So’s mom. It’s about freaking time too!”
Buffy slumped back in relief. “Oh, thank god. Don’t forget, keep it in contact with your skin and never take it off. And when you shower…”
“I know, I know!” Dawn giggled. “I get to legally use condoms!” She leant forward with her elbows on her knees and glared at Buffy. ”So, spill! What was with all the shockiness?”

In the timeline of this story, Buffy was heavily pregnant at the time of her 18th birthday, and on maternity leave from active slayer duties. She was not therefore subjected to the Cruciamentum.

According to the Buffy wikia, Faith was born on December 14th 1980. Other sources cite the year 1982. Upon investigation, I discovered that both dates are mere speculation since as far as I can discover, no definitive canon birthdate has ever been given for her.

Given Faith’s sexual activities during S3, and her stories of her previous behaviour, for the purposes of this story I have chosen to accept 1980 as accurate. This means that Faith turned 18 in December 1998, shortly before Buffy.

Since during Buffy’s pregnancy Faith was the active slayer, with a watcher who habitually stuck to the rules, (because early Wesley) she underwent the test instead.
Chapter 28

Chapter 28
For the first time, Spike could see the sun-drenched town clearly through the DeSoto’s newly cleaned windscreen and open windows.
The streets were full of people. Normal people doing normal things. Mothers with small children strolled along, shopping bags on their arms. They stopped to gaze into shop windows or to chat with their friends.
Men and women in smart business suits went in and out of buildings.
Delivery vans drove up and down the street, occasionally pulling in to allow a uniformed driver to dash into an office or shop with a package.
It was all in marked contrast to the dimly lit streets, sparsely peopled with nervous scurrying figures, to which he was accustomed.
He was suddenly assaulted by the warm, heady aroma of fresh baking, chocolate and coffee. He instantly experienced an unaccountable wave of hunger and an image of Buffy walking along, chatting to Tara and pushing Annie’s stroller. He swerved into the kerb, blinked, and it was gone.
Weird. He knew it wasn’t his own hunger he’d felt. He’d filled up with blood before leaving the mansion. On top of the incident outside Annie’s room the previous evening when Buffy had responded to his thoughts as though he’d spoken aloud, his nebulous notion now became a distinct theory. The effects of the claim were beginning to make themselves felt.
They were definitely going to have to speak to the watcher about this. Spike wasn’t particularly looking forward to that conversation. Meanwhile, his slayer was hungry and she was only a short walk away.
A few minutes later, Spike shouldered the Magic Box door open and swept in. “Afternoon,” he said. “I come bearing gifts.”
Giles looked up from his book and eyed the big brown paper sack, bakery box and tray of take-out cups. “Is it lunchtime already?”
“It is if we decide it is,” Spike said with a shrug. “As soon as I passed that deli on Thousand Oaks, I figured that Buffy was hungry and decided to get her a cheese sandwich. My idea was to get lunch for her and the bit, ‘cos they’re gonna be here in a minute. But there was a bloody queue and while I was waiting, I had a momentary lapse of sanity and ended up getting enough for all of you.”
Giles quickly moved a few books to make room on the table.
Once Spike had set everything down, he settled on a bench. “So what’s the topic of the day?” he asked, gesturing at the books.
“Take your pick! The issues keep accumulating.” Giles indicated the separate mounds of books in turn. “We have books which might be able to tell us about Dawn as the key. These might have information about the biologically impossible child that you and Buffy have produced. And last but not least, it’s possible that any of these might contain references to the magical items you found.”
“Fair enough,” Spike said. He impulsively selected a fat book from the miracle child pile, flipped to the index and looked for any mention of slayers or vampires.
Giles’ eyebrows shot up and he asked, “You’re going to help research?”
“Yeah. She’s my daughter, isn’t she? I need to know. You have a problem with that?”
“Uh, no. Not at all,” Giles said, pushing a pile of books towards Spike. “Feel free to carry on. Please!”

Buffy’s pace faltered for a second and her stomach rumbled loudly.  Recovering her momentum, she turned to Tara in confusion. “Did you smell that?”
“I could have sworn I just caught a whiff of that mouth-watering smell of the deli on Thousand Oaks.” Buffy gave a confused little shrug. “It’s gone. I guess it was just a smellination brought on by extreme hunger.”
Tara giggled. “Smellination?”
Buffy pretended to be serious, but couldn’t suppress her smile. “That’s like a hallucination, only you smell it instead of see it. You didn’t know that?”
“I can’t say I did. I’ll have to add it to my vocabulary.”
Ten minutes later, Tara pushed the Magic Box door open and held it so that Buffy could wheel Annie in.
“Daddy! Annie cried. She instantly struggled to free herself from the safety harness. “Mine daddy!”
Buffy chuckled as she bent to unbuckle the straps and lift Annie out of the stroller. “Hi Spike. Look out, your number two fan is on her way!” She hovered behind Annie as she navigated the steps, ready to catch her if she tumbled in her eagerness.
“Hello, love. Number two, huh?” Spike grinned. He put his book down and swivelled around on the bench, holding his arms out to catch the toddler dashing towards him. “Hello, Moptop. I’m happy to see you too.” He settled her on his knee and quickly pushed the ancient book away from her reaching fingers.
He looked up at Buffy, a teasing twinkle in his eye. “So who’s number one, then?”
“Need you ask?” Buffy simply stood there for a second, smiling fondly. Then she frowned and followed Tara forward. “You’re researching? Really?”
“You too?” Spike affected a hurt expression. “I’m not stupid, I can read, you know. In more than one language too, unlike a certain slayer of my acquaintance.”
“Okay, okay,” Buffy said, wrapping her arm around his shoulders and giving him a quick kiss. “Don’t get all offendyvamp. I was just surp—” She spotted the food containers. “Ooooh! Lunch! Yum!” She reclaimed Annie, hoisted her up onto her hip and headed for the cloakroom. “Time to wash our handies for lunch, Jellybean. You hungry?”
Annie nodded her head emphatically. “Uh-huh.”
When they emerged, Spike was standing, taking an individual wrapped package from the paper sack and placing it in the middle of the table. He looked around. “Where are the builder and his bird? I expected them to be here.”
“It’s always slow Monday morning so Anya took the morning off, but since Xander can’t go to work, she said they would both…”
Buffy settled Annie on a chair next to Spike, and sat the other side of her. She cleared a space in front of them, and waited to see what weird and wonderful creations Spike had brought.
Annie’s eyes followed every package as it appeared, her fingers twitching expectantly.
The shop bell rang to announce a new arrival. “And here they are,” Giles concluded with a wave towards the door as Anya ushered Xander in, his left arm still held out in front of him in the weird sling.
“Excellent!” Spike said. “Now I know nothing will go to waste. I got a selection. They wrote on the paper what’s in them. You’ll have to fight among yourselves for what you want. Same with the drinks.” He tapped the box. “Cakes and pastries.”
Giles and the scoobies scrabbled for their favourites, and Spike ruffled Annie’s curls saying, “What about you, Moptop? You ready for yours?”
“Uh-huh!” Annie said with an excited smile, holding her hands out eagerly. “Peese!”
“Well, have we anything left in here?” Spike teased, rummaging about in the bottom of the bag. After a moment he produced a smaller package than the others. “For our mini slayer, we have a lovely peanut butter and banana on a soft roll.” He looked up at Buffy. “That okay, love?”
“Perfect, honey,” Buffy said. She helped Annie unwrap her sandwich, and spread out the wrapper to catch the inevitable crumbs. Annie immediately took a Herculean bite, leaving a smear of peanut butter across her cheek up to her ear.
“And finally,” Spike announced, “we have a slayer special.” With a flourish, he handed Buffy a package, considerably larger that the others. He dug a wad of paper napkins out of the bottom of the brown sack, dumped them on the table, and sat back down.
“It’s huge!” Buffy cried. “I can’t eat all that!” When she saw the disbelieving expressions around her, she shrugged and reluctantly admitted, “Well, okay. Maybe I can.” She noticed that the wrapper was only marked with a cryptic SS and asked Spike, “What’ve I got?”
“Well, what did you fancy?” Spike asked.
Buffy thought back to the deli-smell incident. “Cheese,” she said. “On the way here I thought I smelled the deli for a few seconds and decided the perfect sandwich definitely featured cheese, but I couldn’t decide which kind I wanted.” She carefully opened the tightly wrapped package. When the fat sub was revealed, she turned it to see the side. “Cheese salad!” she said with a happy grin. Then she looked closer. “Lots of different kinds of cheese.” She glanced up at Spike’s smug smile.
“I just told them to stick in some of every cheese they’d got. Is it okay?”
Buffy responded by squishing the roll so she could get the end in her mouth, and biting down. With spicy pepper jack melting on her tongue, she hummed her pleasure and nodded her thanks at Spike, who had claimed a cup of hot chocolate and between sips, had resumed studying the old book.
After a few minutes, Buffy had to take a break from her sandwich to give Annie a hand reassembling hers, which had disintegrated in her hands, and she had a chance to look around at her team. She felt a sharp twinge of regret at the all-too-obvious gap in the group, but then she was distracted by a puzzled look from Giles and speculative glances from Anya.
When Anya nudged Xander and tilted her head towards Buffy and Spike, swivelling her eyes to attract Xander’s attention to Spike’s throat, where there was a clearly visible imprint of human teeth, Buffy strove for a distraction from the inevitable questions, and said the first thing that came into her head.
“So, has anyone seen or heard from Willow recently?” She pointedly looked at Tara and Xander, the people whom she thought most likely to have been in contact with the missing scooby.
“No, and I don’t want to, thank you very much,” Anya said immediately. “An absent magic-crazed witch is a good magic-crazed witch, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Me neither. I did call the other night, and I left a message when she didn’t pick up, but she never called back.” Xander frowned. “She must be feeling so lonely.”
Spike looked up from his book. “And something tells me that’s probably not a good thing.”
Tara swallowed her mouthful and shook her head. “No, probably not. I haven’t seen her either. But then, I’ve been deliberately avoiding the places I usually see her around college. That’s why I’m not having lunch on campus. Are you still worried, Buffy?”
“Yes, I am.” Buffy fingered the amulet bound to her wrist and voiced a thought that had been niggling at her for a couple of days. “I can’t help wondering whether instead of shunning her, we should be keeping her close. You know…”
“You mean in order to monitor her behaviour,” Giles said.
“Kinda, yeah.”
“Well, perhaps I can set your mind at rest,” Giles said. “I’ve made contingency plans in case your concerns turn out to be valid.” He took a slip of paper from the breast pocket of his shirt and held it up. “Since there was no way to guarantee we’d all be together should it become necessary to act, I’ve prepared this variant of the spell Tara found, which I can perform on my own to temporarily bind her. All I’ll need to do is utter the trigger word for it to take effect.”
Anya looked over his shoulder and rolled her eyes. “I hope you don’t think you’ll hold her for more than a couple of minutes with that. Have you any idea how powerful she is? She’ll be free and squishing you like a bug before you know it.”
“And that’s why I have made other arrangements, Anya. This would only need to hold her for a minute.”
Buffy regarded him thoughtfully. “And these… other arrangements?”
“Are not something which I intend to go into at present,” Giles said in a tone which discouraged further discussion. Tucking the paper away again, he said, “Just rest assured that experienced assistance is available at a moment’s notice.”
Trusting that her watcher knew what he was talking about, and the experienced assistance he spoke of could be relied upon, Buffy gave him a little nod and took another massive bite of her sandwich. She couldn’t hold in a small moan of pleasure as the perfect combination of salty sharp cheddar, juicy sweet tomato and crunchy lettuce hit her taste buds.
“I trust you know what you’re talking about, watcher,” Spike said. “We’re all relying on you and your experienced assistance.”
Startled at the echo of her own thoughts, Buffy shot a glance at Spike. With her mouth full of food, Buffy was helpless to comment when Anya crowed and pointed between her and Spike.
“I knew it! Spike just said exactly what you were thinking didn’t he? That proves it! You’ve done it, haven’t you?”
Accepting that now there was no way of getting out of the dreaded inquisition, Buffy reached out and took Spike’s hand. As well as she could while still chewing, she gave him a fond smile then nodded at Anya.
Anya prodded Xander and said gleefully, “I told you they would, didn’t I?”
Xander chuckled and hugged her with his only operational arm. “As I remember it, I told you they were going to, Ahn.”
Giles stared around in confusion as Xander and Anya stood and came around the table, and Buffy found herself enveloped in a double hug which drew her up out of her seat.
“Congratulations, Buffy!” Anya cried. “I’m so happy for you!”
Xander broke off to give Spike a hearty pat on the shoulder. “Congratulations, man. Just a friendly warning, if you do anything…”
“Yeah, yeah. No need to say it. I know how lucky I am,” Spike said, standing to awkwardly accept Anya’s stiff hug and then Tara’s soft hug and kiss on the cheek.
Annie gazed happily up at the outpouring of affection around her and raised her arms, making kissy noises and looking expectantly for hugs and kisses of her own.
They chuckled and obliged in turn, until they were all embellished with smears of peanut butter.
Giles stood and cleared his throat. “Am I to understand that something…?”
The shop bell rang to interrupt him, although nobody had been paying him any attention anyway.
“Mom!” Buffy cried. “You’re early!”
Joyce approached the happy scene and Giles gave up and slumped back down into his seat.
“I haven’t come for Annie, honey. I just need to speak to you and William for a minute.” She gestured at the animated group and said, “But from what I can see, can I assume that you’ve done it and celebrations are in order?”
Buffy suddenly felt guilty. She had this momentous good news, and she hadn’t told her mom first. And Dawn was going to kill her. “Well, kinda, yeah,” she said. “Sorry, we should have told you yesterday but what with the treasure and the experts and everything…”
“I understand,” Joyce said, giving her a hug. “It was a little frantic, wasn’t it? Congratulations, honey.” She turned to Spike and gave him a hug too. “Congratulations, William. I know you’ll do everything you can to make them happy.”
Released from Joyce’s arms, Spike looked down and shuffled his feet. His voice was hoarse with emotion when he said, “Thanks, Joyce. You don’t know how much that means to me. Know I don’t deserve her. Them.”
“Now, now, none of that,” Joyce said in her ‘mum knows best’ voice. “You’ll do just fine.” She took a deep breath and, in a more serious tone, went on, “But I do still need to talk to you both.” She sent the scoobies an apologetic glance and added, “In private.”
“We’ll go into the training room,” Buffy said, pointing the way. While Spike ushered Joyce towards the rear of the shop, Buffy turned to Tara and gestured at Annie. “Tara, could you…?”
“Of course, Buffy.” Tara moved around and took Buffy’s place at Annie’s side, picking up a napkin to dab at the worst smears of peanut butter on the little girl’s face and hands. “I hope there’s nothing wrong.”
“Me too,” Buffy murmured as she followed her mother and her mate.
As she closed the training room door behind her, she heard Giles explode with, “Now, will somebody please have the common decency to tell me what the bloody hell is going on?”
Buffy gave a guilty little smile that she wasn’t going to have to face her watcher when he learned how she’d claimed, and been claimed by, a soulless vampire. Albeit her own very special soulless vampire. Hopefully, he’d have calmed down enough to be reasonable by the time they returned.
Spike settled her mother on the little couch in the corner, and Buffy walked forward to join them. “What’s wrong, Mom?”
Joyce looked down and fidgeted with the hem of her skirt. “Wrong, Buffy? Why would you think there’s something wrong?”
Buffy merely raised her eyebrows and gave her mother the classic ‘are you kidding me?’ look.
Joyce looked up at her then sighed deeply. “I don’t want you to worry, Buffy.”
“Too late, Mom.”
“Yeah, Joyce,” Spike put in. “The we need to talk thing is never about hugs and puppies.” He cocked his head to one side and went on, “Is this by any chance anything to do with what we talked about yesterday?”
Buffy looked back and forth between Spike and her mom in bewilderment.
“Yes, William.  It is. And before I forget, I need to thank you for talking me into going. If it wasn’t for you….” She shuddered. “Well, let’s just say you might just have saved my life.”
“Mom? Really scaring me now.” Buffy said, kneeling in front of her mother and placing a trembling hand on her knee.
Joyce squeezed Buffy’s hand and smiled. “It’s okay, Buffy. Or at least, thanks to William it shortly will be. This morning I had an appointment at the hospital for a check-up and they discovered I’ve developed an aneurysm at the surgery site. I need to check in this evening and stay overnight so I’m ready for the surgery first thing.”
“Another operation?” Buffy became aware that she was beginning to hyperventilate and made a conscious effort to try to control her breathing.
“Oh, Buffy! Don’t panic, honey! They assured me it’s a much simpler procedure than the tumour. They know exactly where it is and can get to it easily, so it’ll be a quick in and out to clip the damaged blood vessel. Then less than a week in recovery, an angiogram just to double check it worked, and I’ll be home again, all fit and well and with no more sneaky ticking time-bomb in my head.”

“I still say we should take you straight home to rest,” Buffy said mulishly as they moved into the shop.
“I told you, I don’t have time for that, Buffy.” Joyce patted her on the arm. “I have too much to get done. I’ll explain to Dawn when she gets home from school, and then after dinner, William can give me a ride to the hospital to get settled in. Nothing will happen until morning, so there’s no need for anyone to hover.”
She turned to look up at Spike. “You’ll look after my girls for me, won’t you, William?”
Spike noted her earnest expression and understood that her request didn’t simply concern the period while she was in the hospital. She was checking that Buffy, Dawn and Annie would have support if something went wrong the next day.
He didn’t even have to think about it. He gave her a similarly solemn look and said, “You have my word, Joyce. Until the end of the world.”
Joyce gave him a grateful nod and turned to address Giles, who was sitting with his arms crossed, glaring at them. “Don’t give them a hard time, Rupert. They’ve followed their hearts, as should we all. Plus, William’s actions have probably saved my life. You should know that for that, among other things, he has my wholehearted support.”
Without giving the spluttering watcher a chance to respond, Joyce gave Buffy a quick hug and said, “Please try not to worry, honey,” and left.
Tara got up to return to her previous seat and Spike put his arm around Buffy and steered her back to her place beside Annie, then sat down himself.
In his practiced, long-suffering tone, Giles began, “Buffy…”
“So there is something wrong, isn’t there?” Tara asked. Your mom’s going back into the hospital?”
“Yeah,” Buffy sighed, absently picking at the remains of her sandwich. “She needs another surgery. They found an acronym in her brain where the tumour was.”
Spike turned his badly timed chuckle into a cough. “Aneurysm, love.”
“Yeah. One of them.”
“Oh, dear lord,” Giles said. “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?”
“Thanks, but no. There’s nothing any of us can do. This is one of those things you can’t research and I can’t slay.”
Spike didn’t like Buffy’s despairing tone and sought to distract her. “There is one thing you can research,” he said. He glanced at the mounds of books which had been pushed to one side during lunch, and corrected himself. “That is, one more thing.”
“So I gather,” Giles said, his tone resigned. “Buffy, you couldn’t have consulted me before you entered into a vampire mating claim? I could have helped you…”
Buffy pouted. “You’d have been all disapprovey and tried to talk me out of it.”
“Very possibly. Do you think I’d have succeeded?”
“No way!”
“So then…”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” Buffy said in a very small voice.
Giles shook his head. “I seem to remember having told you once before that all you’ll get from me is my support and my respect. Nothing has happened to change that. As your mother said, you have followed your heart, as you invariably do. I can’t fault you for that.”
“So you don’t hate me?”
“Oh, Buffy, I could never hate you, my dear.”
“So, that’s all settled then.” Spike said with relief. “You gonna help us find out what’s gonna happen to us? Never came across a vamp mated to a human before, let alone the soddin’ slayer.”
“I don’t know very much either,” Anya said. “Although the book I showed Buffy set out a few likely possibilities.” She got up, fetched a slim burgundy coloured book from the restricted section and plonked it in front of Giles just as the shop bell announced the arrival of the first customer of the afternoon.
“Thank you Anya.” Giles took a small, leather-bound notebook from his pocket, unsnapped the elastic holding it closed and withdrew the attached pencil from its loop. “Now then, Buffy, Spike, I need you to tell me any changes you’ve noted since you performed the claim. Even the most insignificant-seeming thing could be critical. Oh, and please don’t forget to keep me informed of any new developments.”

Chapter 29
Chapter 29
Giles looked around the shop as he sipped his afternoon tea. Everything looked reassuringly normal. Anya and Buffy were dealing with customers while Tara sat to one side, quietly working on a college assignment.
Xander gave every impression of being deep in research, but Giles had no doubt that he had picked one of the larger books so that he could hide one of his extensive collection of childish comics inside. The wide grin the boy sported would never have been inspired by a tome cataloguing cursed amulets. Besides, the book propped between his lap and the edge of the table was clearly upside-down.
Then the surreal intruded when Spike came out of the training room, quietly closing the door behind him, and resumed his place at the table.
Giles leant forward and quietly said, “Buffy prefers to leave the door ajar so we can hear Annie if she wakes.”
“No worries Rupert.” Spike tapped his ear. “Vampire here. I can hear her breathing and her heartbeat through the door. The problem is that bloody bell above the door. It disturbs the bit every time it rings.”
Giles blinked. “Oh. I didn’t know. That explains a lot, actually.” The vampire’s behaviour continued to baffle him, but Giles was coming to accept him as not only his charge’s chosen partner, but as a potential friend. He very nearly choked on his tea at the realisation.
In an attempt to get to know Spike better, Giles decided to draw him into conversation. He gestured at the book about the Aurelian Order and their traditions which the vampire was flicking through, and asked, “Any answers?”
Spike snorted and carelessly tossed the book aside. “Bugger all. You do realise that about four fifths of the stuff about vampires in these books is utter bollocks, don’t you? Can you believe that this one says I’m two hundred and eight years old, that one says Dru was dusted in Prague years ago, and the one over there says I sired Dru as a gift for Angelus. And as for the things they say about the history and organisation of the Order… most of it’s total codswallop!”
Xander tapped Spike on the arm. “Might want to keep it down, Spike. House rules… ixnay on the ampirevay and emonday talk where the customers can hear. Not to mention the weird British cursing! Scares the muggles away. That loses us their business and their money, and that upsets Anya.”
Giles smiled when Spike huffed in frustration and rolled his eyes. When the vampire went on to pick up another book, he turned his own attention back to the learned treatise on inter-dimension travel with which he’d been wrestling for a couple of hours, and lost himself in the intricacies of portal creation.
He was so engrossed, the occasional sound of the shop’s bell as customers came and went only vaguely registered in his consciousness. That’s why he was startled when Willow spoke behind him.
“Hey baby! I looked for you after your morning class, but I must have just missed you. Then you weren’t in the library or any of our other hang-outs on campus. How come you’re here?”
Willow dumped her book bag on the floor and cheerfully plopped down on the chair next to Tara, who was looking between Willow and Giles, wide-eyed. From Tara’s body language, Giles wasn’t sure whether she was simply bewildered or actually alarmed.
“Uh… I had lunch here, Will, then I had a p-paper to write,” Tara said. “Did you want me for something?”
Willow pouted and Giles almost snorted at the studied artifice she was using in a bad attempt to appear casual and spontaneous. Thank the lord she was such a bad liar.
“I kinda thought we could’ve had lunch together and hang out, but if you wanted to come here, that’s okay too. If I’d known, I could’ve come with you.” Willow lowered her voice. “Maybe we could Bronze it tonight? Or we could have some alone time in the dorm? It feels like we haven’t had any just us time in forever!”
Tara looked down at her lap without responding and it was clear to Giles that she was becoming increasingly upset and was unable to continue playing along.
Before he could intervene, Spike took the initiative by standing up and taking a few steps toward Willow. “What’re you doing here pestering your former, Red? You know you’ve blown it. Matter of fact, I’m surprised that you dare to show your sneaky little face here at all after we cottoned on to the way you tried to control us all.”
Willow turned to face the vampire, all round-eyed and innocent-looking, and spluttered, “Former? Control?” She looked around at the hostile expressions facing her. Her shoulders slumped and she made a disgruntled face, muttering, “Oh, botheration. It didn’t work, did it? Talk about awkward.”
In the blink of an eye, her manner changed entirely. With narrowed eyes, she leapt from her chair and advanced on Spike. “It’s all your fault! If you hadn’t come back, everything would still be the way it’s supposed to be! Why couldn’t you just stay gone? Better yet, why couldn’t you get yourself dusted?” Her naturally beautiful face turned ugly as she sneered. “Of course, I could just fix that here and now…”
She raised her right hand and intoned, “Stauros.” A wooden stake materialised in her grasp. She focused on the stake and released it whereupon it began to accelerate through the air towards Spike’s chest.
Tarajumped up and called out, “Willow!”
Completely forgetting the green gem on his ring finger, Spike acted on pure instinct. He flailed out at the stake, but it dodged to evade his hand and immediately got back on course. He stumbled backwards and fell on his back, gaze fixed on the piece of wood which would deal his final death.
No!” Buffy charged forward.
Giles lurched to his feet and raised his hand towards Willow, palm outwards and fingers splayed. “Vincire!”
Willow froze, and as the stake fell harmlessly onto Spike’s chest, everyone paused and held their breath.
“Well, that’s inconvenient.” Willow’s tone was slightly bored, as if she was commenting on bad weather. “You know you can’t match my power. This won’t hold me for long.” She flexed her fingers. “In fact I can feel it weakening already.”
Giles struggled to maintain the binding spell while he took the required three deep breaths to centre himself. “Portare,” he gasped. His legs gave way and he sat down with a thud. Although the binding spell flickered alarmingly, he just managed to keep it from collapsing entirely. He closed his eyes and concentrated his entire being upon sustaining the spell.
After a few seconds a loud pop filled the room and a slight breeze ruffled his hair.
“Thank you, Rupert. You can let go now. I’ll take it from here.” The familiar, self-assured voice brought him a surge of relief and he relaxed, allowing his spell to dissipate.

Buffy gaped up from her position on the floor, cradling Spike’s head. Giles had certainly kept his word and brought somebody to help… somehow… but how much use could this little old lady possibly be? She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, with short white tightly permed hair, vintage cat-eye glasses, thick tweed skirt, stack heel, lace-up brogues, and to top it off, a classic twin-set and pearls.
Spike clambered to his feet and Buffy rose with him, keeping a tight hold on his arm. She couldn’t believe that she’d nearly lost him when she’d only just found him again! And to Willow, of all people! Feeling the comforting weight of Spike’s arm around her shoulders, she relaxed and chanced a quick glance around to check that the others were all okay.
Tara stood panting, her face streaked by the tears which still trickled down her cheeks. Giles was slumped in his chair, pale-faced and breathing heavily, while Anya and Xander were standing by the table, clinging to each other in shock.
The shop door stood wide open. The customers must have fled. Buffy didn’t blame them. “Anya,” she nodded toward the door. “Better shut up shop for now.”
Then she turned back to look at Willow. The witch was still upright, but floating a few inches above the floor. The only sign of life were her eyes, which constantly flicked back and forth in their sockets.
“Well, what do we have here?” the newcomer mused as she slowly circled Willow. “I see power, yes. No doubt about that, but such reckless and profligate use. You’re like a two year-old throwing a tantrum because you can’t have your own way. Magic is not intended to be used for such selfish ends.
“It’s a wonder that you haven’t either flattened the town or burnt yourself out completely. And you really should be more discerning as to the source of the power you soak up so greedily. You’ve absorbed far too much of the darkness which exudes from the Hellmouth. Since you haven’t tempered it with Air, Earth, Fire and Water, it’s distorted your spirit. It’s no wonder you’re so out of control. A typical novice’s mistake.”
She turned to address Giles. “Rupert, I feel compelled to say I think you’ve been very remiss. You should have called us in long before this. Or at the very least, found the child a competent mentor. So much of her waywardness could have been prevented if she’d had even the slightest basic training.”
As a chastened Giles started giving his glasses a thorough polish, she faced Willow again. “I’ll have to discuss it with my brothers and sisters, but I think your first lesson should be to spend a month using exclusively the forces which rise from our dear sweet Mother Earth. She should help purify you and get you back onto an even keel.”
Buffy loosened her grip on Spike and took a step toward the old woman. “Excuse me, I don’t know who you are, but you’re encouraging Willow to use more magic? I thought the idea was to stop her from using it, like… take it out of her?”
The old lady smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry, slayer, but that would be impossible, the magic is an integral part of her. If we were to remove it, your friend would fall into a deep depression and eventually will herself to die.” She turned back to Giles. “You didn’t explain, Rupert?”
Giles gave a guilty little shrug and cleared his throat as he replaced his spectacles on his nose. “I’m sorry, I was still hoping against hope that I wouldn’t need to call upon you.”
“Then the least you could do is introduce me to these remarkable young people. And a cup of tea would be nice before I make the return trip with our delinquent,” she said as she sat at the table. “I’ve come a long way and it’s getting on for midnight at home, you know. It was long past bedtime for most of us, and the circle supporting me will be tiring.”
Giles gestured weakly at the visitor. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet my old tutor Ms Agatha Harkness from the coven in Devon. She is a good friend and a very capable witch and magical counsellor.”
Anya gasped. “Not the Agatha Harkess?” She giggled nervously. “No, you can’t be. She’d be more than three hundred years old.” She suddenly sounded doubtful. “You aren’t, are you?”
Ms Harkness’ laugh was light and tinkling. “That’s sweet of you my dear, but no. I admit that I’m old, but I’m not quite that old. However I’m proud to say that the original Agatha was a multiple great aunt on my father’s side. I was named in her honour.” She narrowed her eyes and cocked her head to one side. “You’re that old, though, aren’t you my child? Even older. How very curious. However did you manage that?” She waved away Anya’s eager attempt to answer. “Not now, dear, we have more urgent matters to attend to. I’d love to hear your story some other time though.”
“It would be my honour, ma’am,” Anya said respectfully. “I’ll just go and put the kettle on for your tea. Giles taught me how to make it the way British people like it.”
“Drinks all around, I think, please,” Ms Harkness said. “I believe we could all do with a little restorative.”
As Anya obediently trotted off into the office, Buffy gazed after her in utter disbelief. Ma’am? Wasn’t that what British people called their queen? And since when did Anya defer to anyone? She turned to study the enigmatic Englishwoman more closely, but before she could voice any of her questions, Spike spoke softly in her ear.
“Little bit’s awake, love.”
“Thanks.” Buffy darted past Ms Harkness muttering, “Excuse me,” and went into the training room.
She whisked Annie into the staff cloakroom for a wee and a wash to complete her waking up process then hurried back to the others.
She found them seated around the table, while Anya served up the drinks. They all seemed to be ignoring Willow, who was still immobile, floating off to one side facing away from them. Curious, she plonked Annie onto Spike’s lap and went around to look Willow in the face.
She’d expected to see fear or regret, but her friend’s eyes blazed back at her with white hot rage.
“What an adorable child!” Ms Harkness said. “And you really feel comfortable leaving her in the arms of a vampire?”
Distracted by Willow, Buffy answered automatically. “Of course, he’s her father after all.”
“Really? How very intriguing.” She looked Spike over, concentrating on the space around him. “Well, you’re a very rum vampire, aren’t you, young man? Although of course, like Anya, you’re not nearly as young as you appear. You’re another one I’d like to speak with when I have some spare time.”
“Sure pet,” Spike said. “Pop over any time. We’ll have a chinwag over a cuppa. I’m sure you’ve got some tales to tell too.”  He handed Annie a sippy cup of milk and helped her drink.
Ms Harkness’s eyes lit up. “Rupert! You’ve been holding out on us! You told us that the slayer had had a child, but you didn’t mention this intriguing fact! Hold on, there’s something niggling at the back of my mind.” She paused, deep in thought. “No, it won’t come to me. I’ll meditate about it when I have time.”
While Giles filled in the details of Willow’s transgressions for Ms Harkness, Xander came up beside Buffy. “Is she all right?”
“I can’t tell,” Buffy said. “She looks so angry.”
“Do you think she’ll ever forgive us?”
Surprised, Buffy turned to look at Xander. “Forgive us? I’d think she’d be more concerned about whether we’re ever going to forgive her! She did another spell on us, Xander! It’s only thanks to Tara that it didn’t work. Then she tried to kill Spike! Does she really hate me that much?”
“She doesn’t hate you!” Xander said. “I think she’s just… lost. All twisted out of her Willowness by the Hellmouth magic, as Her Witchiness said.”
He looked back at Ms Harkness. “Can you make it so Willow can talk to us?”
“Ah, so this is the unusual young man you told me of, Rupert. So courageous of you to choose to stand and fight alongside your friends despite having no supernatural enhancements of your own. The definition of a true hero.”
Xander stood noticeably straighter. “Me? A hero? Nooooo, Buffy’s the hero.” He waved his arm to encompass the rest of them. “We’re the sidekicks.”
Ms Harkness smiled. “If you say so. And are you certain that you want to hear what Willow has to say? You may not like what you hear.”
Xander shrugged. “She’s my Willow. My best friend in all the world. I’ve loved her since the first day of kindergarten when she got upset because she broke the yellow crayon and thought she was going to get told off. A few bad spells and a bit of cussing and yelling won’t change that.”
“And admirably loyal too. An increasingly rare trait nowadays.” Ms Harkness stood and approached them. She looked up at Willow and said. “I’ll allow you to talk, child, but only because your friend spoke so eloquently for you. However, rest assured that if you attempt any spell, which for your information wouldn’t work anyway, you will be rendered unconscious until we have you safely ensconced at the coven’s retreat in Westbury.” She stretched up, lightly touched Willow’s lips with a single forefinger then as she returned to her seat, she made a subtle gesture which caused Willow to pivot to face the group at the table.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Willow’s tone was furious.
Buffy was flabbergasted. She stepped around so that Willow could see her and said, “You’re seriously asking that? After everything you’ve done to us? The promises you’ve broken? What I’d like to know is who the hell gave you the right to take control of our lives?”
“I don’t understand, all I’ve ever done is try to help you!”
“And yet,” Anya said, “none of the spells you’ve done on us have helped us at all. They’ve hurt us!”
“They’re right, Willow,” Tara said. “You’ve strayed from the right hand path. You need to detox and go back to the beginning with the magics. If you don’t, I’m afraid you’ll be lost to the darkness forever.”
Willow gazed desperately at Tara. Her voice was pleading when she said, “And if I do? If I get it all under control? Will you…”
Tara shook her head. “More control is the last thing you need. You need to reconnect to the pure energies. To learn personal responsibility and the ethics of magical use. The things I didn’t even realise my mom taught me as I was growing up. It all comes naturally to me, so I let you down. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you didn’t know…”
“But when I’ve done all that..?”
By now, Tara was crying openly. “You can’t do it, any of it, just to get what you want. Not for me, Willow. I don’t know if I’ll ever….” She took a deep breath. “You need to do it for you, or you’ll never get it.” She sat back, sobbing quietly and Ms Harkness put her arm around her and murmured quietly in her ear.
“It’s hard, and I probably don’t do it as often as I should, but believe it or not, I’ve been thinking,” Xander said slowly. “Anyway, Will, here’s my thought, for what it’s worth. I think maybe that first big spell you did, the one to curse Angel, is what let in this bad stuff Ms Harkness was talking about. Cordy told me that towards the end, you went all weird and scary with the strange voice and the alien language…”
Xander clearly had more to say, but Ms Harkness gave Tara a last pat on the shoulder and stood to meet Willow’s eyes. “The first powerful spell you performed was a curse? As an untrained novice? On the Hellmouth? Oh, my dear child, no wonder you’ve been having problems. Now I know where we need to start. Don’t worry, we’ll soon have you restored to the dear sweet girl you used to be.”
Willowlooked as if she was about to cry. “But without the magic…”
Ms Harkness waved away Willow’s fear. “Oh, you’ll still have the magic. It will just be the right magic, and you’ll have the correct attitude to wield it at your full potential.” She grinned. “I think it’ll be rather exciting to discover just what you’re truly capable of without the warping influence of the Hellmouth intruding. I can’t wait!”
The old woman moved to stand immediately beside Willow and turned to Giles. “I think it’s time for us to leave. You’ll arrange to have some of Willow’s belongings transported?”
“I can do that,” Tara said. “I know what she’ll need.”
“Thank you, child. I know this has all been very hard for you, but don’t forget what I said. A standing invitation. Any time you feel you’re ready to advance in your studies, or even if you just feel the need for a retreat, don’t hesitate to get in touch.”
Ms Harkness turned to Buffy. “And when the child comes into her own, we would be honoured to be selected to supply an elementary tutor.”
Buffy gaped. “Wait. What?”
Without warning, there was a loud pop and an inrush of air, and the space where Ms Harkness and Willow had been was abruptly empty.
Into the shocked silence fell the happy sound of Annie laughing and clapping. “’gain! Do it ‘gain!”

Xander’s Yellow crayon speech from BtVS S6 ep22, Grave, written byDavid Fury, was too perfect for the situation to ignore. I tweaked it a little to make it fit.

The following are accurate to the best of my knowledge (aka my Googling abilities)

Stauros= Latin for stake

Vincire= Latin for bind (as used by Giles in BtVS S6 ep22, Grave.)

Portare= Latin for bring


Wearing nothing but the black t-shirt that Spike had taken off when they’d gone to bed earlier, Buffy wandered into the practically empty family room waiting for Spike to attend to their crying daughter. She munched happily on a fat sandwich she’d suddenly had a craving for.
She gazed through the French windows out into the moonlit back yard, wondering whether to ask Xander to build a tree house and swing for Annie in the big old tree in the middle.
When Spike came up behind her, she leant back against him. He slid his hands up her sides under the t-shirt, and then around to cup her breasts. They were a little tender, which she put down to their earlier energetic christening of the huge new sleigh bed.
She wiggled to manoeuvre his hard cock into a more comfortable position, pressed into the crease of her ass, and quivered at the erotic sensations shooting through her as he continued to stroke and fondle her.
“Annie asleep?” Buffy crammed the last of her sandwich into her mouth so that she had both hands free to reach back and return his petting.
“Yeah. Finally. Typical first night in a new place. She woke up and the window was in the wrong place so she couldn’t remember where she was. Then there was a scary monster hiding in the dark corner behind the dressing table.”
“But she’s okay now?”
“She settled down as soon as I moved all the soddin’ furniture around so there’s no shadows for the monster to hide in.”
Buffy turned her head and smiled up at him. “Aw, that’s so sweet. You’re the perfect daddy, you know that?”
Spike scrunched his nose up and reared his head back. “For crying out loud, woman, what the hell have you been eating? Your breath stinks!”
“Only a PB and J.”
“Not what it smells like.” He firmly turned her face away from him. “Breathe away from me, love. ‘less you wanna go brush your teeth?”
“Want more sexing now,” Buffy grumbled, sliding her hand inside his robe and down his belly to grasp his erection and give it a firm squeeze.
Spike gasped then asked huskily, “Wanna christen this room too, then, ‘fore the turtle-dove moves in tomorrow and cramps our style?”
“Mmmmmmm….” Buffy pumped his cock a couple of times and then slipped the tip between her legs and slid it back and forth through the slickness that had gathered there, feeling him harden even more, if that was possible. “The guys are patrolling for us tonight to let us get settled in. Now school’s out, it’s gonna be a long summer with a house full of people so let’s tick off as many rooms as possible while we have the chance.”
Spike gave a low chuckle which vibrated deliciously through her. “I can go with that.” He grabbed the hem of her t-shirt and whipped it up and off, and then she felt the soft fabric of his robe fall around their feet.
He guided her a few paces over so she could lean on the arm of the only chair in the room, the classic high backed leather wing chair she’d spotted in a yard sale and fallen in love with. She helpfully spread her legs, went up onto tip-toe and hollowed her back to open herself to him.
Spike took her hips in a firm grip and groaned as he slowly pushed into her.
“You sure you don’t mind Dawn staying over next weekend after the housewarming party?”
“You really wanna talk about this now, baby?” Spike panted, resting his forehead between her shoulder blades.
“A simple yes or no will suffice,” she gasped, wriggling in invitation for him to start with the thrusting. When he still didn’t move, Buffy pushed back against him and tightened her inner muscles around his cock, squeezing as hard as she could.
He gave a strangled moan and reflexively rammed himself even deeper into her. “Course she can, slayer,” He growled breathlessly. “Mind you, might be a good idea to buy a bed for her room first. Doubt if she’d appreciate being the only member of the family sleeping on bare boards.”
Buffy grabbed his hand from her left hip, glanced down at the gem of Amara on his third finger and rubbed her thumb over the smooth surface of the new, understated platinum setting before guiding his hand to her breast.
“That’s good, I’ll tell mom,” she gasped. “She has the feeling that Brian is getting ready to propose, and when he suggested a weekend away up at Big Bear Lake…”
“He’s a decent bloke,” Spike said, stopping all movement. “And I think he’ll do her proud, ‘cos he knows damn well what’ll happen if he hurts her.”
Buffy sniggered. “What, did you put the fear of Spike into him?”
“Bloody right, I did! Your mum deserves a man with guts and determination who’ll stand by her, not like your wanker of a dad. Your mum’s beau was quaking in his size twelves, but he proved himself when he stood up to me. He’ll do, but I really don’t want to be thinking about him while we’re doing this!” He pulled back and emphasised the this by driving hard into her.
“Sorry, honey.” Buffy mimed the zipping of her lips and throwing away the key, then gripped the chair more securely and gave herself up to her mate’s enthusiastic attentions.
They comprehensively christened the family room, transferring first from the chair to the coffee table, and then to the floor when Buffy’s legs had become too unsteady to support her and she’d sunk to her hands and knees.
Feeling pleasantly loose and tingly, but still eager for more, and desperate for Spike kisses, Buffy headed for the downstairs cloakroom to finger-brush her stinky teeth then went to join him in the kitchen.
She found him standing, in all his unashamed nakedness, on the deck outside the wide open back door, surveying the yard and puffing away at a cigarette.
She stopped well back from the door and crinkled her nose. “Okay, now I’m all minty fresh and you’re going to taste like ash tray.”
“Sorry, love.” Spike flicked the butt away. He half-turned, revealing that he was still at half-mast, and held his hand out to her. “C’m’ere then.”
Buffy folded her arms across her chest and flushed at the thought of going out into the yard in bright moonlight where any of the neighbours could see. “But… naked!”
He turned to face her and put his fists on his hips. “Back garden is like another room, innit? We not goin’ to christen it, then?”
“Not naked, mister exhibitionist!” Buffy said in horror. “Yard sex should be all… furtive and… secret and… and not naked!” When Spike pouted, which was always totally adorable, she relented and decided to offer a compromise. “We’ll have yard sex another time, when it’s dark and we’ve finished patrol and we can sneak in and be sneaky. And quiet. I’m positive that quiet is also required for yard sex.”
She backed away so that she was leaning against the end of the big pine refectory table they’d… uh… salvaged from the Crawford Street mansion. She hitched her butt up onto it, legs apart.
She tried to disguise a smug smile when half-mast instantly became three-quarters mast.
She lay back and wriggled seductively. “Seems like it’s the perfect time to christen the kitchen.” She put her forefinger into her mouth and slowly drew it out again, wetly circled a nipple then trailed her finger down her stomach and belly before sliding it between her nether lips. Feigning nonchalance, she said, “Of course, if you’re so all-fired eager to play in the yard, I guess I’ll just have to christen it by myself.”
Sometimes, even now, she forgot just how fast vampires could move. It seemed that less than a second passed before Spike was kneeling worshipping her with his fingers and tongue.
When he lifted her legs to rest her thighs over his shoulders and pulled her a little forward so her butt jutted out over the edge of the table, she allowed her head to fall back and her hands to fall to her sides, closing her eyes to relish the sensations.
“What you gonna wear for this patrol, then, slayer?” he asked huskily while two fingers prospected for that spot inside her. “Can I pick out your outfit?”
She’d agree to anything while he was doing that, and he damned well knew it. Nevertheless, she panted out, “Yeah, okay. Let me guess, the red leather pants.”
“Nope.” She could feel him smile against her thigh as behind her closed eyelids, she saw a flash of her fighting in a skimpy scarlet cropped halter top over bouncing bra-less breasts, a tight black leather micro-skirt, and thigh-high stiletto-heeled boots. What was even freakier, she could sense his excitement as he stroked himself while he watched her fight, eager for her to dust the vampire so that he could have his wicked way with her there and then.
Their new connection had turned out to have a multi-functional benefit. Both while slaying and in their personal relationship. She had to admit that this time, his imagination was highly erotic, although typically… kinky. Coupled with the sensation of his tongue thrusting into her, the anticipation of realising his fantasy triggered her orgasm.
As she came down, she had a stray thought; perhaps she could go shopping in the morning while he waited in for Tara and the first load of furniture to arrive? She’d looked totally hot in those boots!
Then she gave way to the giggles. “Pervert,” she gasped out.
“You’d better bloody believe it!” He chuckled and stood up, lifted her back so that she lay full length on the table, then climbed up to kneel between her legs.
Suddenly he froze and she opened her eyes to see what was going on. He was propped up on one arm over her, examining his other hand. Then he sniffed it. He made a disgusted face and turned away, looking for something on which to wipe his hand. “Anchovies, slayer? Really? You hate anchovies!”
“Yeah, I know,” She said guiltily as he leaned over to grab a piece of kitchen roll. “I didn’t know we had any but Dawnie must have put them in the shopping cart when we were stocking up. It turns out they go really well in a PB and J. They add a certain something I never tasted before.”
Spike scrubbed at his hand then a patch of table beside her head. “Yeah, they add stinky bloody fish!”
Buffy sniffed disdainfully. “Well, I like it.”
Spike tossed the paper away and settled down between her hips, nudging against her opening. He leaned down and their mouths met. This is what she wanted! She lost herself to the delicious Patent!Spike!Kisses and sighed in pleasure as he filled her again.
They worked up into a regular rhythm but after a few minutes Buffy began questioning her choice of locations. The surface of the old table wasn’t quite as smooth as she’d thought, and her shoulder blades and butt were starting to protest.
Then a phone started ringing. Loudly. Close by.
She considered its unfamiliar ring tone for a few seconds before coming to a sudden realisation. She grabbed Spike’s shoulders in an attempt to slow him down. “Honey,” she gasped. “It’s the house phone… I meant to tell you they’ve connected it.”
Spike kept going, merely grumbling in bursts between his thrusts, “Soddin’ thing… Ignore it… Buffy, love.”
Can’t,” she grunted, tightening her grip. “The extension… upstairs…. We leave it… it’ll wake… Annie.”
“Bloody buggering hell!” Spike stilled and abruptly pulled out of her, leapt off the table, strode across the kitchen and grabbed the cordless phone from its holster on the wall. He barked down the mouthpiece, “What?
He listened for a moment then in a slightly more moderate tone he said, “Yeah, she’s here. This’d better be bloody good!” He stalked towards her and held out the phone. “It’s the watcher. He says it’s important.”
Buffy sat up, and crossed her arms over her chest. Spike wanted her to talk to Giles now? “I’m naked,” she hissed in dismay. She turned to sit at the edge of the table and put her feet down on a chair, legs pressed tightly together.
“For crying out loud, it’s not a bleedin’ video phone!” Spike muttered and marched off into the family room saying, “’ang on a tick, Rupert.”
He reappeared almost immediately and tossed her the t-shirt discarded at the beginning of their sexcacapades.
She just had time to pull it on before Spike thrust the phone into her hand. She shifted uneasily on the hard table and compulsively tucked the hem of the t-shirt down between her legs. “Giles? What’s up?”
“Well, for one thing, Spike’s telephone manner. Can’t you do something about him, Buffy?”
Buffy laughed. “Sorry, it’s just, you interrupted us. We were… uh…” Oh god, what could she say? Think, Buffy, think! “…busy, you know? All with the… uh… Oh! Unpacking boxes and… stuff.”
“I see.”Giles paused for a moment then muttered, “Oh I say.” He cleared his throat. “In that case, I’m terribly sorry I disturbed you, but I felt that you should know… Uh, is Spike still there?”
Buffy glanced around and saw that Spike was gone. She concentrated for a moment and when she could sense Spike, she said, “No, he’s gone into the family room.”
“Good. That’s good. Buffy, Quentin Travers’ assistant finally got back to me…”
“Wait a minute. You do realise that if something concerns me, it involves Spike too. That’s how this thing works. I won’t keep secrets from him. You can either tell me now and I’ll immediately go and tell him, or you can keep it simple and tell us both together.”
Giles heaved a heavy sigh. “Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but I had hoped…” he took a deep breath.“Do as you must, Buffy, but it is important.”
“Hold on, then…” Buffy hopped down from the table and went through into the family room. Spike had put his robe back on and was slouched in the chair, restlessly tapping his fingers on the arm. “You heard?” she asked quietly.
Spike looked up at her. His eyes were suspiciously bright. “Yeah, love. You mean it? No secrets? Not even with slayer stuff?”
“Damn right I do. We’re in this thing together now.” She climbed into his lap, cuddled down and held the phone so that they could both hear clearly.
“Okay, Giles. Now you’re talking to both of us. You said Old Jerkface’s assistant called…”
Giles spluttered a laugh. “Uh, yes Buffy. Quite. Uh… It’s about the golden statuette of Sinara. He utterly ignored the figure we’d quoted and said he was authorised to offer you twenty-five thousand pounds for it.”
Buffy opened her mouth and took a breath.
“And before you ask, that’s forty thousand dollars, or thereabouts.”
“Really?” Buffy turned to raise a questioning eyebrow at Spike, who merely shrugged.
“However, I have no hesitation whatsoever in advising you to turn the offer down flat. On the open market, the thing would probably fetch ten times that sum. I think I may suggest that your mother offer it for auction after all. Then Old… uh… that is, Quentin will be forced to pay the going price for it, whether he bloody likes it or not.”
Buffy giggled. “That’s great. That amount would give the support a family fund a hyooge boost. I would probably be able to set up a college fund for Annie.” She frowned in puzzlement. “That’s all? How come you felt that was so important you had to call this late? You could have told me that at the store.”
“Well, no, not entirely. I’ve also spoken to Ms Harkness in Devon…”
“Oh! Willow!”
“Willow’s fine, Buffy. Apparently, she’s still making satisfactory progress. Agatha has simply offered me a very fair price for a few of the enchanted artefacts you found. Should I send them to her?”
A quick glance at Spike confirmed Buffy’s opinion. “Yes please. But still…”
“Why don’t you stop faffin’ about and get to the bleedin’ point?” Spike said. “You know none of that warranted a phone call after midnight.”
“Yes… well… The fact is, when I spoke to Agatha... you remember that when she was here, something occurred to her but she couldn’t remember what it was? She said she’d meditate on it.”
“Uh huh.”
“Well, she finally got around to that, and what she told me… Well, I’ve been examining the scrolls you found in the crypt with the treasure, Spike. Putting the two together…”
“The chase, Giles,” Buffy snapped. “Cut to it.”
Giles heaved a sigh.“You’re not going to like what I have to tell you, Buffy.”
“Giles, late night watcher calls are never cause for celebration. Kinda already prepared for bad news.”
Very well. First, the scrolls. Once I’d figured out which language they were written in, an archaic form of Farsi used during the Persian Samanid Dynasty, they were fairly straightforward to decipher. One is simply a list of names. Spike, how many sets of human remains did you see in the tomb?”
Spike shrugged. “Didn’t exactly stop and count them, Rupert, but I reckon about half a dozen? Certainly no more than ten.”
“So that could fit. I suspect the names relate to the people interred with the treasure. I’ll look into those later. If I can find reference to any of them, it’ll help us determine a more precise date. The second scroll, however, is a different matter entirely. It appears to be a personal account of the events leading up to the digging of the tomb and the concealment of the treasure.”
He paused for a few seconds and Buffy heard him take a long breath.
She was just about to ask what was wrong when he said bluntly, “A personal account purporting to be written by a vampire.”
“A vampire buried the treasure?” Buffy said in disbelief. Why would a vampire bury the gem of Amara which could give him virtual immortality?
“So it would appear. Let me summarise the account for you. Some of the tale might seem… uh… uncannily familiar to you. It seems that this vampire sought out the slayer of the period, intending to kill her. They fought several times, but neither was able to kill the other. Then… the account doesn’t exactly go into detail with events here, but apparently the two eventually became lovers, claimed each other, and the vampire joined her as a partner in her slaying duties.”
Spike sniggered. “Hear that, slayer? You’re not unique, just following a pattern.”
Buffy pouted and poked him in the chest. “Shut up Spike.”
Giles chuckled.“Spike may be correct, Buffy. Your situation does appear to run in parallel with this couple’s, because they also produced a child.”
“Oh. My. God.”
“Precisely. Anyway, when the slayer’s watcher discovered that she was pregnant by a vampire, he tried to kill her.”
“What? Why?”
“The vampire relates that the watcher, for whom he uses several less than complimentary epithets, considered that his slayer was tainted and that the child would be accursed. Of course, he failed and died in the attempt and the couple went into hiding. She had the child and they kept on the move, but it’s unclear for how long, while the Council continued to pursue them.
“Inevitably, a team of Council operatives eventually found them. Buffy, I’m afraid they not only killed the slayer, but also her child. The vampire only just escaped with his own life.”
Buffy gasped. “They killed her baby? Oh my god, the poor little thing.” Her hand went to her mouth to hold in a sob, but tears began trickling down her cheeks.
Spike squeezed her against him and she snuggled into his comforting embrace. He took the phone from her and demanded, “Where was he while his family was being murdered? Why wasn’t the bastard fighting for his family?”
“Believe me, he is very clear in the account that he blames himself for their deaths. He says he’d been out with a couple of his cohorts investigating an account they’d received of a demon massacre. After he got home and found them, he went on a rampage, as you might expect, and by enthusiastic questioning of the messenger, he discovered that he had been deceived by a false report, and that it was a deliberate ploy to separate them.”
“Slayer’s upset, you berk. As you knew she would be. Let’s have the rest of it. Give us the punch line and be done with it.”
“There’s not much more. He set sail into the unknown with his remaining associates. He was determined that the Council would seize none of the artefacts they’d collected in their travels and avoided all populated areas. They must have arrived on this continent centuries before any other explorers. I simply can’t imagine the hardships they must have suffered during the voyage. And of course, we know what they must have done when they arrived.
“He explains how once the tomb was ready, he killed the locals whom he’d employed to assist with the excavation, and finally sacrificed his willing companions, and buried them all with the treasure to keep the location a secret. Then there is a dedication of the enterprise to the memory of his beloved slayer. His last words, written as he prepared to seal and conceal the tomb, were a statement to the effect that having fulfilled his vow, he intended to take off the Gem of Amara and go outside to sit and watch the sun rise.”
Buffy only had one question. “What was her name?”
“Her name? I don’t…”
“The slayer who the damned Council murdered. What was her name, Giles?”
“Ah. She was called Naghmeh. The closest translation into English would be Tune. Or possibly Melody.”
Buffy smiled sadly through her tears and said quietly, “Melody. That’s a pretty name.”
“Is that it?” Spike asked. “Slayer’s had enough.”
“I’m so sorry, both of you, I really am. Please rest assured that the Council will not take similar measures against you and Annie. You see, this is where Ms Harkness’ memory comes in. You probably weren’t aware that the Coven’s retreat welcomes seers as well as witches. They crave the balanced, tranquil atmosphere of the place which helps keep them sane as they experience their visions, which are naturally recorded for posterity.”
Buffy suddenly realised where Giles’ explanation was leading and sat up, grabbing the phone back from Spike and clutching his hand in a crushing grip. “It’s a prophecy, isn’t it? You’ve gone and found another prophecy about me. What does this one say? Am I going to die again? Now that I have everything I wanted, it’s all going to be…”
“Buffy… Buffy! This one’s not about you, my dear.”
Buffy heaved a sigh of relief then had an even more terrifying thought. “Oh my god. If it’s not about me, it’s about Annie, isn’t it?”
“That does seem to be likely, Buffy. I’m sorry, but I had to let you know…”
“We don’t need to know the details, not unless there’s something we need to do now. I just… is it a good prophecy or bad, Giles?”
“Calm down, Buffy. It’s nothing bad, I promise. In fact if it truly is about her, she will one day save the world all by herself. Possibly more than once. That’s why the Council will not be persecuting you.”
Hope blossomed in Buffy’s heart. “If? You said if. You’re not sure?”
“Well, you see, there’s one curious factor. Both the scroll and the prophecy use an ambiguous wording. That is, they don’t specifically use the term child. The prophecy uses offspring while the corresponding word in the scroll translates as progeny. Both of these terms are customarily used when referring to children in the plural. You see my point? That’s the reason I felt it was so urgent to ring you as soon as I realised. I needed to check… that is… it was something Spike said the day you found the treasure. Uh… you’ve proved that you and Spike can have one child…”
Giles took a deep breath and muttered as if to himself, “Just spit it out, Giles, old man.” In a desperate tone, he asked,“Please tell me that since you resumed your relationship with Spike, you’ve been taking precautions.”
“Precautions? Giles, I don’t understand…”
“Bloody Americans… Birth control, Buffy! Please tell me you’re using some form of birth control!”
Buffy found herself speechless for a moment. She glanced at Spike’s face and realised that he was just as shocked as she was. The phone dropped forgotten to her lap as she whispered, “Oh my god. I never even thought…”
“Not something I’ve ever had to worry about,” Spike said with a little shrug.
Buffy tried to hold in a hysterical giggle as random little things fell into place like an automatic jigsaw. She placed a hand over her belly and gazed into Spike’s eyes, wordlessly transmitting her awe and joy.
“Ready to face the whole daddy experience?” she whispered. “This time you’re in it from the start and you won’t get to miss a second.”
His mouth fell open and he glanced down at Buffy’s abdomen. He gently rested his hand over hers. “Do you really think…?”
Buffy simply nodded.
“God yes,” he whispered back, grinning from ear to ear.
“Buffy? Buffy! Are you still there?”
She put the phone back to her ear.
“Sorry, Giles. Thanks, but I think you’re a little late. Remember when I was expecting Annie? The pickles topping on chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream with a glass of pickle juice on the side?”
“How could I ever forget? I’ve never been able to eat either since then.”
“Well, I’ve just had a lovely peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
“I don’t understand, Buffy. What relevance…?”
“With a whole can of anchovies.”
“But you hate anch…” Giles gasped a quick indrawn breath.“Oh dear lord.”
And there it is. All done. Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed. Please rest assured that every single one has meant the world to me and has encouraged me to keep plugging away when the inspiration dried up.
Yes, I know there are loose ends and teasers for the future in this ‘verse. The story is just begging for a sequel. However, to write a sequel, first I would need a story to tell. I have a few vague ideas, but the muse is thus far refusing to amalgamate them and flesh them out into anything remotely resembling a plot.
However, you never know…..