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Hero's Reward by pfeifferpack
In the Mist
Won Best Long, Best Sleeper and Judges choice at the FFA!


Prologue, In The Mist

“You’re not her.” The battered warrior used his enhanced vision to make out the figure through the swirling white mist. “I may be dazed, but I’m not daft.”

“True. You see well, vampire.” The voice was rather melodic with a hint of amusement. “We come in a form that you equate with acceptance, kindness and even affection. We can take another form if that is what you wish.”

“No,” Spike shook his head quickly. “Kinda nice seein’ Joyce again, even if you aren’t her.” He took a moment just to enjoy the view of the one person who had always treated him with fairness and compassion. The vampire doubted he’d be seeing the real Joyce anytime soon, owing to his vampiric nature placing him among the damned and thus denied heaven no matter how many apocalypses he helped stop.

He ran a weary hand over his eyes and brushed away the blood that still trickled from his forehead. “What in the bloody hell happened? Fight over already? Only got a few dozen of those lumbering beasties before it got all misty-like. Where’s the Great Poof?”

“Your grandsire is still fighting his dragon. His weariness with the constant battle has led to a great disruption. The time for his great choice is not now though soon enough. That apocalypse is yet to come and at a time of OUR choosing.” The voice held a slight reprimand, but Spike knew it was not directed at him.

“Choice, yeah?” Spike snorted. “That the choice that’ll lead to his great reward? Make Angel a real boy again with that wayward soul of his all shiny clean? Hope I didn’t just help the wanker get that early.”

The being that appeared in the form of Joyce Summers smiled and nodded. “You are most perceptive. The reward Angel may or may not achieve has yet to be determined. He will survive this current battle, however.” The being seemed to be having some sort of internal conversation with many a nod and head shake.

“You are the true rebel,” the voice continued. “The one who chose to forsake your very nature. There is no doubt the side you have chosen. Angel has yet to decide.”

“Yeah?” Spike huffed, “Unless you want a taste of that rebellion up close and personal, I’d like some answers. Where am I, and why am I here and not skewering uglies in the alley with my mates?”

Another figure moved in the mist. This one was smaller, but Spike couldn’t see well enough to even try to identify the being. The Joyce-like being nodded in the direction of the approaching figure. “You are here because this one erred badly.”

The second being emerged from the swirling white wisps. He was an odd-looking fella. Spike could sense that he was a demon of some sort. He had a nearly round face under a battered fedora. He was short and dressed in clashing colors in a style that seemed to be a bad merger between used car salesman and mafia street punk. He also had a pungent odor that made Spike nearly gag.

“Hey now! You guys were the ones all vague with the orders!” The newcomer sounded indignant. “I did what I was told: ‘Go seek the vampire who will fight on the side of goodness for the love of the Slayer.’ And that’s what I did. It made sense to me that the vampire in question must be the souled one.” He spared an apologetic glance at Spike. “Excuse me…at the time…the only souled vampire. No one stopped me when I tracked Angel down in that rat-infested alley and took the road trip to sunny California. How was I supposed to know it was this one you wanted?”

The Joyce being scoffed. “The key word was LOVE, Whistler! Liam is only beginning to learn how to love even now. THIS one never forgot!”

Spike had watched the interplay as if watching a tennis match. “’This one’s’ standin’ right here, still waitin’ for an answer to my questions.” He fixed his glare on the one looking like Joyce and said, “I take it the Poof got drafted for a slot meant for me?”

Whistler shrugged. “That pretty well sums it up, yeah. Angel took a look at the girl and signed right up. Course, that led to him losin’ the soul, and a world of nastiness. Didn’t see that coming. I expected him to actually help the Slayer, you know--kill the Master, save the girl, that kind of thing. Turns out he was more interested in dropping hints as vague as my orders and pullin’ a Houdini routine. Man of mystery routine gets the young girls every time, that and the bad boy vibe.”

The first being sighed in exasperation and then turned to Spike. “So now the question is what is to be done about YOU?”

Spike wasn’t too sure he wanted to know the answer to that, so he volunteered another choice. “If I get a vote, I’d say send me back into battle. With Oxford dead, Charlie close to it and me gone, there’s only Blue and the Poof against that horde from hell.”

“You are outside of time, vampire; no need to worry about your fellow warriors.” The being smiled. “They won’t even know you are gone.”

“So that whole bit about me throwing everything out of balance because it screwed up the Shanshu prophecy was a crock of shite then?” Spike was still a bit bitter over the whole Cup of Torment that turned out to be Mountain Dew. He had been willing to pay the price to give Buffy what she wanted: a normal man without the baggage of a century of sin. He’d even detoured from his plan to seek her out just to battle his grandsire for it.

“Angel is the vampire of the Shanshu, provided he chooses correctly. It was always about him. He is the souled vampire who could easily choose either side in that apocalypse, whose loyalties would be in question. You made your choice even before you dared take Legba’s trials to regain your soul.”

The voice continued softly, “You were to give your heart to the Slayer while hers was yet soft, before all her losses made it impossible to see you clearly. You were to pledge yourself to her and her cause out of your love for her.” She looked at Whistler again and shook her head sadly. “Instead, that which was to be your reward was thwarted. So now we are to discuss what sort of reward YOU desire for the many times you have fought on the side of light and goodness. The records show you to have stood at the Slayer’s side through several apocalypses, as well as everyday battles between good and evil. You even sacrificed your entire existence to close the Sunnydale Hellmouth. What would you desire, vampire?”

Spike didn’t know what to say. He beat back the selfish urge to ask for Buffy’s love. No, she had made her choice by telling him to move on while she shagged the bloody Immortal. Spike had also heard from Angel how Buffy had practically promised herself to him after she finished ‘baking’, whatever that meant. The last thing Spike wanted was a woman who wanted someone else; he’d done that with Dru. Aside from Buffy’s love, though, he was at a loss to think of anything he wanted.

After what felt like an eternity of thinking, Spike asked the only relevant question he could come up with: “Is she happy, she and the Bit?”

The being smiled fondly on Spike. It was clear that his requested reward would likely be more of a prize to the Slayer than to himself. “Happiness is relative. She maintains and matures. She does her duty, finally embracing her specialness, but she is not fulfilled.” She leveled a pointed glare at Whistler that Spike didn’t notice as he digested her response.

She didn’t want Spike to ask for something that didn’t remedy the situation, so she decided to nudge him in the right direction. “If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?”

Spike didn’t hesitate. “I’d do it right. I’d go back to where it all buggered up and do it right this time, not hurt the girl.”

The being frowned slightly and sought to clarify the point, “You mean the incident that led to your soul? You would undo that?” She sounded shocked.

“No!” Spike replied quickly. “Before that. Hurt the girl before that. She needed me to help her, turned to ME and not the mighty Scoobies. I was doin’ okay for a soulless vampire ‘til I got a taste. Like to think I was really helpin’ her adjust ‘til I got sidetracked with my own desires. Got my crumb and lost my focus. Tried to drag her into the dark just to keep her with me, make her see how good we could be together. Made a bad situation worse, hurt the girl.”

The higher being became a bit teary-eyed at the vampire’s self-reproach. Clearly he didn’t see how extraordinary it was that he had even tried to help the Slayer of his kind at all. Indeed to have inflicted as little pain to the Slayer as he had when he had no soul to guide his movement was astonishing.

“I wish I could have helped her, REALLY helped her when she needed me most. I didn’t have the soul then to tell me what to do. I loved selfishly, grabbin’ for all I could get, whatever I could get. Buffy got hurt. Bit got hurt. Hell, we all got hurt.”

“So the moment your focus changed after her resurrection is what you would alter then?” the being prompted.

“Better if she hadn’t died, yeah…that’d be my wish there,” Spike amended. “Then she wouldn’t have needed my help at all for me to bugger it up.”

“That we cannot undo. There are too many issues, eternal balances involved,” the being said sadly.

“You asked me what I wanted and then tell me I can’t have it?” Spike snorted. “Typical. Offer a bloke a carrot but never let him eat it.”

“I said we could not undo the sacrificial death of the Slayer for her sister. We could, however, allow you to undo the damage you feel you did upon her return,” she said gently.

“Yeah? How’s that work then?” Spike asked and then felt a sensation like falling as the mist began to swirl about him, blocking the other beings from view.
Chapter 2, Repaired

Spike found himself slammed into a fireplace as the Slayer advanced on him, fury in her eyes.

“Your job is to kill the Slayer. But all you can do is follow me around making moon eyes.”

Even as disoriented as he felt from the abrupt change in settings, he knew where he was and when. This was one moment in his long life that would forever be imprinted on his memory. The house was still fairly intact and he had just told Buffy that she had come back wrong.

“I’m in love with you,” he responded, just as he had the first time this scene played out.

“You’re in love with pain. Admit it. You like me because you enjoy getting beat down. So really, who’s screwed up?” Buffy was staring at Spike, who had managed to get up from where she had thrown him.

“Hel-lo…vampire!” This time he didn’t take a swing at her but pulled her to him. “I’m supposed to be treading on the dark side.” He did not, however, ask her what her excuse was.

Buffy shoved him away forcefully, causing him to crash into the far wall. Spike shook the plaster dust from his frame and tried to reason with her. “I wasn’t planning on hurting you. Don’t want to ever hurt you, Buffy.”

Buffy snorted, “You haven’t even come close to hurting me.”

Spike couldn’t help himself as he asked, “Afraid to give me the chance?” Buffy’s face showed she understood they were talking about an entire different sort of hurt now and she responded physically by shoving Spike’s back against the wall. “You afraid I’m gonna….”

Spike never got to finish his question as Buffy crushed her mouth to his in a passionate kiss. Her hand slammed into the wall next to his head as she sought to get her arm around his neck.

They continued the kiss as Spike strove to move away from the wall. He had to get this situation under control before history repeated itself and all the pain began again.

Just as she had the first time, Buffy tossed Spike against the far wall and leapt upon him, wrapping her legs tight around his waist as she began to kiss him again with more fire than before.

Spike felt as if he would combust from the combination of the kiss and the memory of what soon was to follow. He could feel the internal argument already. Much as he was determined to do things right with this apparent second chance, he was tempted by the feel of her sweet body pressed against his, the clear memory of how it felt that first time. The voice within him kept reminding him that no good could come from following his own desires. This wasn’t what Buffy needed, not yet at least.

As Buffy’s hand began its descent towards his zipper Spike grabbed the hand before it arrived at its intended destination. He didn’t break the kiss just yet; he was only so strong, after all.

Buffy pulled away and scowled at him for interfering. “Maybe I’m not the one afraid, huh, Spikey? What’s the matter? I thought you wanted this.”

“I do,” he started, “I want you, Buffy, more than you’ll ever know…but not like this. I want you when you want me, all of me.” Spike eased the Slayer off of his body reluctantly.

“Then you’ll never have me, Spike,” Buffy taunted. “Now’s your ‘one time only’ deal. Take it or leave it.”

“Guess I’ll have to leave it then, pet, because I think having a go with me will do you more harm than good and you’ve got enough to deal with without all that baggage.” Spike spoke softly with a pain-filled voice.

Buffy was shocked out of her blind fury and raging hormones by his rejection of her offer of sex. “I don’t get it. You say I came back wrong but you’re the one not acting normal.”

Spike closed his eyes and sighed. “Yeah, about what I said before…about you comin' back wrong…I didn’t mean it the way you took it, love. I just meant that the chip isn’t working where you’re concerned, that’s all. Maybe Red can figure out why since she’s the one who did the whole resurrection in the first place.”

“Okay,” Buffy narrowed her eyes suspiciously, “what’s the deal, Spike? Suddenly you’re all with the not pushing things and with the splainy for the jabs you made earlier. What are you REALLY up to?”

Buffy was angry and frustrated. Had she bothered to analyze her emotions, she would have been shocked. She wanted Spike, really wanted him as she had never before desired anyone in her life.

They had been flirting across this particular dance floor for so long that now that the music had overtaken her she wanted nothing more than to grab on and do that tango. To have Spike, of all people, turn her down made her want to scream. ‘Isn’t this what you’ve been pushing for all along?’ “You’re not Mr. Patience, Spike, so what’s with all the ‘hurry up and wait’?”

Spike sighed deeply, his voice ragged with the companion to her frustration. “You will never know how much I do want you, Buffy. God, I’m burning up inside with need!”

She narrowed her eyes and glared at him. “So, what’s stopping you?”

“You are.” Spike gently pried her off of his aching, throbbing body and set her apart from him. “Last thing I ever want to do is hurt you. Want to love you, want everything to be good for you. If we do this, I want it to be out of joy, not out of you wanting to punish yourself in some way. Don’t want to take something that should be so good and make it bad.”

Buffy looked at him as if he had grown a second head. This was different. Where was the guy who followed her everywhere demanding she explain all the kissage, wanting some sort of advance in their weird relationship?

Spike put as much distance between himself and Buffy as possible. “You’ve been comin’ to me since you got back. We’ve started to be friends, or at least it feels that way to me. I want to be there for you, Buffy, help you want to live again, but this isn’t the way. It’s a try for a quick fix that’ll only confuse everything.”

Buffy snorted. “Nothing could make my life any more confused.” Suddenly the fire was out of her and she deflated like a hot air balloon with the burner off. “I don’t want to be here, but no one gave me that choice.”

“I get that, I do. I’m not gonna say I wish you weren’t here, love.” Spike held up a hand to forestall her interruption, “But I do get it. You’ve had a nasty run of things the last few years and precious little joy. You were done, happy. Now you’ve got more weight on you than ever before and all your little slay buddies have left you to it. Gotta make you feel crushed and alone, and more than a little angry. Still, pet, I’m not gonna let you take that anger out on me. Gonna help you, yeah, but not enable you.”

“So I’m what, ‘Anger Anonymous’? You my sponsor?” She was irritated that once again Spike seemed to understand her better than she did herself.

There was a core of rage in her that desperately needed to flame out. She was furious with Willow and Xander, and now Giles as well.

How had Willow ever thought she was in hell? How dare someone once again make a life-altering decision about HER life without even considering her wants and needs? It was becoming a really bad pattern for her.

Giles hadn’t been part of the resurrection party, true, but he seemed to think that saving the world nightly, controlling the hellmouth, running a household, raising a teenaged sister, dealing with crumbling finances with no job and only a high school education weren’t responsibility enough. Oh no, she was ignoring her needy friends and their issues! Heaven forbid Buffy have anyone to lean on while she found her own feet again!

“What the hell is wrong with them?” she blurted out against her previous determination to end the odd close relationship that had been developing with Spike.

“Wrong one to ask here, pet. Likely to say all kinds of politically incorrect stuff in answer.” He grinned wryly.

“Nothing I haven’t thought,” Buffy whispered. This was feeling too comfortable by half; time to change the subject and get the hell out of Dodge.

“So what’s up with the chip?” Her tone was all Slayer.

“Not sure. When I hit you back earlier I didn’t get my brain fried. Tried it out on some stupid bird in an alley and got more than a few volts,” he risked total honesty.

“So you tried to dine on the population?” Buffy sounded heavily disappointed.

“Only half-heartedly. ‘Fraid I’m not the vamp I used to be. Had to really try to talk myself into it. Kept reminding myself what you’d said about bein’ evil and disgustin’ and all. Silly cow must think I’m a ravin’ loon with all the rantin’ to myself tryin’ to work up the desire to bite her,” Spike shook his head in amazement at his moral conflict. He still remembered it clearly. No soul then, yet he hadn’t really wanted to kill the girl.

Buffy had a mental image of Spike in full rant and had to suppress a laugh at the picture. She sobered remembering the bottom line: “Still, you did try to kill again.”

“Don’t think I would’ve, not really. Not sure what I am, Buffy, but I’m not what I was.”

“It really is just me that you can hurt?”

“Seems like.” Spike sat down hard and tried to decide just what he should share with her. Should he tell her he had come from the future and had his soul now? Should he tell her he was there to fix the mess he’d made the first time? No, she had enough to deal with already, he decided. Best keep to the issues at hand and suss out the whole soul issue later.
“Went to that nerd boy who made the soddin’ bot and had him run some tests. Chip works fine.”

“You let someone know you’re chipped?” Buffy was shocked. If people knew Spike was harmless, he was putting himself at risk.

“Didn’t exactly tell the bugger what the chip did. Gave him plenty of ‘grrrrr’ to make him think I could still rip his throat out.”

“Thank you for that image.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Planning on killing me?” Buffy’s question was far more hopeful sounding than Spike wanted to hear.

“Planning on helping you if you’ll let me.” His reply was so soft she barely heard it.

“What, you’re suddenly ‘Sigmund Spike, analyst to slayers’?” Buffy snorted. “Then again, the damage some shrinks can do would be one way you could keep on wreaking havoc without actually killing me.”

“’S what I’m trying NOT to do, pet. Don’t want to drag you into the dark where I scuttle. You don’t belong there. Won’t mind meeting in the shadows once you’re whole--if you still want me then--but not like you are now. You’re wounded. I never played those kinds of games, even back in the day. Like my fights with uncertain outcomes, not easy pickin’s like you’d be right now.”

Buffy blinked back the sudden tears that seemed to appear from nowhere. “Thought you wanted that ‘one good day’.”

“Not with you, Buffy, never with you.” His face was solemn and filled with emotion. “Kinda good day I want with you's different from any I’ve ever had before, more than any I’ve even dreamed of. Killin’ those other Slayers was a battle win. Don’t know how to explain it right, but it was something to be proud of for me, pittin’ my skills against the best and comin’ out on top. Took on a few other Slayers in my time and let ‘em go; they would have been too easy to off. Know this makes you go all queasy, but that’s the truth of it. It was winnin’ in battle against the Chosen One made it a good day. Don’t want to battle you, Buffy. Want to love you, see you grow old. Guess I’m just not in the war anymore, least not on the same side as I was.”

She wasn’t sure what to make of that and didn’t really want to dwell too much on Spike’s notorious history with her sister slayers either…after all, she had just nearly…nope, best not go there either!

Spike broke into her musings with a question she would never have expected from him. “Mind givin’ me the Watcher’s number? Think he’d be the best bet to suss out why my chip isn’t registerin you. Red might figure it out, but that might mean admittin’ she cocked things up in some way and I can’t see her doin’ that right now. Bird’s gone into some scary territory of late.”

“You want to tell Giles that you can kill me if you want to?” Buffy could just imagine THAT conversation.

Spike let out a burst of laughter, “Not really, but it seems the best idea if we want to figure out what’s happenin’ to cause it. Got a continent and ocean between me and any sharp pointy objects he might start to fondle, so it’s not that risky.” He smiled tenderly at the wide-eyed girl.

Why the thought of Giles trying to stake Spike would cause a wave of panic in her, Buffy could not understand, but it did. “Guess I should be glad he decided to abandon me for the old country then.”

“Happy me, not fittin’ in a dust buster after the start of this lovely evenin’ looked to be going,” Spike grinned. “Buffy, I think you’re fine, nothing wrong with you. You gotta wonder, though, about how you were brought back. Willow’s magic’s mighty powerful but about as dependable as nitroglycerine on a roller-coaster ride. Magic, even in careful hands, has consequences. I just think it needs lookin’ into to be sure. Don’t go thinkin’ there’s something wrong with you. Probably nothing any worse than a batch of the witch’s cookies needed to make it up to you.”

“There IS something wrong with me!” Buffy felt like shouting and it came out with a sharp edge in her voice. “I don’t want to be here, but I’m not sure I want to die again. I don’t know what I feel…or IF I feel. I’m angry most of the time and I’ve been avoiding Dawnie ‘cause I’m afraid I’ll take it out on her and she hasn’t done anything to deserve that. I…I’m…I’m overwhelmed by everything. Even little things just…I can’t cope anymore and I’m tired, so tired, all the time.”

“You can rest with me, Buffy. I’ll watch over you while you do.” Spike vowed.
Somehow she knew she could count on him to fulfill that promise and felt the first glimmer of light in her world.

“So how ‘bout I walk you home, see you get all tucked in right and proper, then I make the rounds to see what I can find out about that frost demon that’s got you all a-twitter? You get some rest and let Spike carry the load a while.” He put out his arm in a purely Victorian manner and nodded for her to link her arm through his.

Buffy was silent but thoughtful on the walk back to Revello Drive. Spike was thoughtful as well, trying to remember the events as they had played out the first time so the nerdlets three could be dealt with in the best way possible. He’d developed a small soft spot for Andrew that last terrible year in Sunnydale and wanted to find a way to keep the boy from the road that nearly destroyed him once before. The annoying twink had, after all, been the only being truly happy to see him when he returned from the beyond to the wonderful world of W & H. Still, if it came to helping the future watcher trainee or his Buffy, it would be no contest.
Chapter 3, Restored

Buffy felt lighter than she had in the weeks since her return to life. She poked through the cupboards looking for something other than cold cereal to fix for her little sister’s breakfast and wished for the millionth time that she had paid a bit more attention to her mother’s domestic skills over the years. Of course she hadn’t expected to be the mother of a teenager before her twenty-first birthday either!

“Willow didn’t come home last night,” Dawn managed to sound miffed through her yawned comment. “Tara and I waited up for her after you went to bed and she never did come in. Think she’s all right?”

And here was someone else who seemed to think she was the one who should be responsible for reigning in Willow from her galloping run with magic! “I’m not HER mother too! God, isn’t it enough I have to have a teenager to be worried about without adding a juiced-up, almost adult witch to the mix?”

Dawn looked as if she had been slapped in the face, “Well, EXCUSE me for existing! I didn’t ask those monks to make me your sister and I sure didn’t ask for you to have to take Mom’s place.” The hurt girl fled the kitchen, heading loudly for her recently abandoned bedroom. The slam of her door knocked the ‘The Kitchen is the heart of the home’ plaque from the wall, sending it to the floor with shattering accuracy.

“Way to go, Buffy. Good way to start fixing things with Dawnie,” she grumbled to herself as she swept up the fragments. As a shard pierced her finger, drawing blood, Buffy mused on the symbolic perfection of the moment. Her mom had been the real heart of their home and all that was left of it, and of Buffy’s life itself, was a broken mess of pieces that could never be put back together again. She stared at the dripping red droplets of life that exited her body and wondered how she might convince Spike to just drain all of it from her once and for all, now that he could. “Just my luck, stupid vampire doesn’t even want a taste now that I’m offering.” Whether she meant her life’s blood or her sexual favors, Buffy could not be certain.

Her previous night’s encounter with Spike had been both comforting and confusing. She had immediately gone into her defensive mode of denial and refused to think much at all about their conversation. Instead she nursed her feelings of rejection like a cherished babe at her breast. She let her bruised ego whine as she finished tidying up the mess. ‘Yeah, like the real mess can be just scooped up and tossed,’ she snarked as the back door opened with a force usually reserved for Dawn’s comings and goings.

Willow looked wild yet exhausted at the same time. It took Buffy a moment to remember that Amy had been de-ratted after all those years in a cage and the sight of the girl gave Buffy a bit of a start before her mind supplied the missing pieces. “You two look like you’ve been painting the town red. Hope you picked a different color though. Painting in red here at the hellmouth is usually of the bad,” she quipped.

Amy looked avid, a bit like a junkie onto a good source. “Willow is AMAZING! I mean I knew she’d developed ‘cause, you know, no wheel and pellets anymore, but wow! Last night was nuts!” She looked at Willow and grinned. “She’s a FREAKING amazing witch now. I couldn’t even keep up with her last night.”

Willow had the grace to look a bit uncomfortable with the dubious praise. “Amy…”

“No, really, it’s true! I mean, I can do some transmorgraphy, but she’s messing with dimensions and everything. It was awesome. This creep, first she made his mouth disappear…thank God…then….” Finally Amy noticed the chill in the room and tried to pull her foot from her mouth. “And I’m talking too much. Sorry…too many years in a wire cage, that’s all.”

“I thought you were going to go see your dad,” Willow encouraged her fellow witch. The last thing she wanted was a lecture from Buffy, or for Tara to find out about her wild night of spell casting at the Bronze. “I’m pretty wiped and Buffy isn’t interested in silly little spells, right, Buffy?”

On one hand, Buffy thought that since everyone seemed to think she should be fixing Willow’s problem with magic, maybe she should listen to more of her wayward friend’s exploits, but she just couldn’t summon up the energy to tackle that problem. “As long as no one got hurt, I’m willing to wait to hear the tale.” She could see Willow visibly relax at her sidestep and nearly changed her mind. If Willow were that reluctant to talk about it, the previous night’s events might come back to bite them in the butt all too soon. Maybe Spike calling Giles wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

After Amy left the awkward duo alone together, Willow tried to laugh it all off. “Heh, heh. We went out, guess we kinda lost track of time.”

“You made some guy’s mouth disappear?” Buffy tried to wrap her mind around her oldest girlfriend having that kind of power but then remembered that Willow had just managed to pull HER out of heaven. ‘Guess a simple mouthectomy’s nothing after that.’

Willow looked sheepish as she tried to downplay her part in the magic fest of the night before. “I had a few too many smiley drinks and he was a total jerk--one of those guys that think they’re a gift from the goddess and a woman’s place is worshiping at their feet.” She spotted the pursed lips of disapproval on Buffy’s face and added, “It was only for a minute. I fixed him right away.”

“Amy’s right,” Buffy answered, but not with the tone of awe the former rat had displayed. “You are one powerful witch lately. Guess we’d all better hope we don’t piss you off.” As Buffy said it, she felt a slight shiver that might be an omen or might just be thin blood. It was much easier to go with the thin blood angle and she decided to buy a multivitamin with iron supplement at the store later.

“You know I’d never hurt you!” Willow looked shocked at the idea.

The look on Buffy’s face made it clear that promise had already been broken in the most tragic of ways. Willow looked shamefaced as she amended, “Not on purpose.”

“I know, Will.” Buffy sighed deeply. “Look I have Dawn crisis number twelve to fix. Mind if we talk about stuff later?”

Willow nearly cried with relief. She was so blasted tired of everyone judging her and telling her she was overusing magic! With any luck Buffy’s normal apathy would swallow any conversation they might have had over her night out with Amy. She’d have to talk to Amy about her big mouth later.

“No problemo. Think I’ll take a shower and hit the sheets. I don’t have class today, so it’s the perfect day to sleep in, recharge those batteries.” Willow smiled and turned to go upstairs, missing the flash of concern on Buffy’s face over her choice of words.

Buffy watched the flame-haired blur of Willow making a fast retreat and sighed wistfully. ‘Right. You only have a higher education to worry about! I’ve got a stack of bills and no money to pay them, a teen bomb to defuse, the world to save on a regular basis and one massively confusing vampire to figure out. Enjoy your sleep, Will. I’d say rest in peace, but you evidently don’t believe in that…at least not for me!’

Ah, confusing vampires.

Angel turning her world view upside down was just another day at the office, but Spike had always been so easy to read until now. It was all too much. The rushed meeting with Angel had not led to the peace and comfort she had expected. She had listened to him detail how he had anguished over her death at some monastery somewhere and how he had left Cordy with so much responsibility. He could hardly wait to get back to L.A. and, Buffy suspected, Cordy. ‘He never even came to the funeral! Didn’t try to help with Dawnie or the Hellmouth…nothing! Just went off to dally with some llamas or something.’

Then there was Spike, suddenly a vampire full of surprises. The first was realizing he had been fulfilling his promise to take care of Dawn while she had been in heaven. Dawn had let those details slip; none of her friends said a word. Evidently he had also helped patrol with the gang. She would have expected Spike to leave before her body had even cooled. He could’ve headed back into Dru’s waiting arms, sought out a doctor to remove the chip and let the festival of blood begin again.

The first clear thought she had after clawing her way out of the ground had been amazement at the look of awe on Spike’s face as he realized it really was her walking down those stairs. She had been self-conscious as never before in front of the vampire. His tenderness and understanding had left her even more confused than before. Since then he had become her confidant, her sounding-board, her…friend. Last night he had nearly become her lover, and it had been HIM preventing it, claiming it was Buffy’s best interests he was guarding! Sometimes she wondered if she were in another dimension altogether.

She heard Dawn banging things around in her room and shook her head in frustration. “No time to even think around here,” she muttered to herself as she stood to go address her duties as substitute mother.


Spike figured the time difference in his head and decided Giles would likely still be sober enough for his call even if it was the middle of the night for a vampire. “’Lo Watcher?”

There was dead silence on the other end as Giles wrapped his mind around just who it was that had called him. He wasn’t sure which surprised him more, that it was Spike calling him or that it was not a collect call. His frenzied mind sifted through all manner of dire reasons the vampire might have for calling him at all. At the same time, the shopkeeper within dreaded the notion Spike was likely calling from the Magic Box and that was the reason for no reversal in charges. Thus, with double urgency, he finally spoke, “What new disaster could possibly be at the heart of your calling? We are hardly phone pals.”

“Miss you too, Rupes,” Spike smiled at the memory of the man Giles had been at this point in time. Not nearly the wanker who later betrayed him to the cross-happy principal. This was still the Giles at whose side he had fought all summer, one he had even joked with and come to admire. ‘Wonder what the old geezer would think if I told him where I’m really from and what’s ahead? Likely wouldn’t believe me anyway.’

“Wondering if you looked into that little ritual your redheaded wonder girl pulled off getting Buffy back? You and I both know magic always has a price and that was some mighty mojo; likely to be a bundle owed."

Giles instantly became alert. Something had to have happened for Spike to call him about this now. “What’s happened?”

“Not so much what’s happened as what COULD have happened if I wasn’t an honorable bloke in love with your Slayer.”

Giles snorted, “Obsession! And as for the ‘honorable’ portion of that tripe….”

“Look, you wanna give over and listen for a minute, old man?” Spike was sick and tired of every one of these humans trying to tell him what and who he was all the time. Seems a bloke would know himself a bit more than some tweed-bound twit who believed everything he read in a bunch of flawed books! If Buffy didn’t need all the help she could get, he would have hung up on the wanker. Instead he sighed audibly and continued, “Something’s different about your Slayer. Not just depression and the like either. My chip don’t work on her. Got into a tussle with her and it didn’t fire when the punching bag punched back. Works on everyone else; got the soddin thing checked out and I’m fine. Nothing wrong with the hardware, I just don’t see Buffy as something on the menu’s all.”

Giles automatically reached for his crossbow, forgetting for the moment that he was five and a half thousand miles from the Master Vampire renowned as the Slayer of Slayers. He got a grip on his emotions before the panic could set in. “And you are telling me this…why? Do you intend to torture me knowing it will take hours for me to get there and make a dusty end of you, while all the while you are taking advantage of Buffy’s indifference to drain the life from her?” The Watcher gritted his teeth.

Spike was deeply hurt that Giles would immediately suspect his intentions, but then the man never had seen him as someone separate from the mighty Angelus. He fought to keep the emotion from his voice as he answered as coldly as possible, “NO. Wrong vamp, gramps. I’m the one that loves Buffy, no matter what you lot choose to believe. Would never hurt her…not now anyway. “ He had a slight guilty start as he remembered just why he was back in this torturous year and how he had, indeed, hurt the girl. “She’s safe as houses, always will be. Thing is, I suspect something went wrong with the witch’s spell, not that that should come as a great shock to anyone. Maybe Buffy isn’t adjusting to being among the living again because of it. Need you to do your geeky best to suss out the whys. Think someone ought to look into just what Willow did to get our Slayer back and what she likely messed up this time.”

“And I should take your word that Buffy will be safe from you, why?” Giles was already looking up the number for the airline to book passage immediately.

“’Cause it’s the truth, but don’t think you’ll accept that. Look, Watcher, just get your wooly-suited self over here and help put her back to right, you bloody berk! You scarpered off like that no good dad of hers right when the girl’s at the bottom end of things, leavin’ her care and tendin’ to a well meanin’ vampire who’s still not sure how to go about bein’ human, and you were expectin’ nothing bad to happen? The girl’s drownin’ in something and I can’t pull her out by myself, so get your arse back here and do more than watch.” Spike slammed down the phone, sure that the Watcher would be on the next plane out--if for no other reason than to see to his quick dusting.


“So my guess is your Watcher’ll turn up on the next possible flight with a trunk full of sharp pointy prezzies for yours truly,” Spike finished relating his phone conversation to Buffy. “We’ll get on the whole thing right away, unless he has me blowin’ in the breeze too quick.”

They were in the training room of the Magic Box and had begun to spar without even discussing the idea. It felt good to fight a worthy opponent and they fell into a natural rhythm of give and take, punch and parry. Part of Buffy was still resentful enough of her Watcher having deserted her that she wanted to tell him to get back on the next plane and never darken her door again, but the needy little girl that she became when Hank Summers exited her life wanted to chain Giles in her attic lest he leave again. Like all her other emotions since returning, she was left scattered and adrift. The only sure thing she had felt had been that crystal pure moment of want when her legs wrapped around a certain vampire.

“Course he might just make me get a job to pay that long distance bill first,” Spike chuckled. He had no doubt the Watcher guessed that his call had been made from the office of the shop.

Buffy was too distracted to pay full attention to the conversation and only caught part of Spike’s narrative. “You can’t get a job Spike. What would you do anyway, snark at people for pay?”

“Might look into that possibility, pet. Solve all your money troubles and make a tidy fortune with my natural talents, yeah?”

The smile that briefly lit Buffy’s face would have been worth every cent of it had he that fortune easily at hand.

“Looked into that frost monster thing too.” Spike smiled to himself at the memory of the research challenged Scoobies during those bitter months without the Watcher. “No such thing. Word is the theft was all human, so that takes it out of your hands, Sheriff Andy.”

Buffy began to think about all the odd incidents since her return. It was as if the demon population were on holiday and Marvel Comics had set up shop in Sunnydale. “Lots of really stupid things have been happening. That whole day from hell here and the demons at the construction site…oh, and time going all wonky at school too! There was that bank robbing demon while I was trying to get a loan, that’s not something you see every day. I’ve got a feeling it’s all tied together somehow ‘cause it all has that key element of…lame.”

“Like something Harris might put together if he went over to the dark side, you mean?” Spike couldn’t help putting in a jab at the boy who was still dead set on making him as uncomfortable as possible in their company.

“Yeah, like that…dangerous, but silly too. The only thing missing is a jet pack or death ray or something.” Buffy grimaced. “And now I’ve just jinxed the whole thing and I’ll have to deal with just that.” Her sigh came from the soul and made Spike tired to hear it. Suddenly she had a terrible thought. “You don’t think one of those magic consequence thingies you were talking about could be Xan going dark, do you? I mean. he IS marrying Anya and God knows he’ll be looking for a way to come up with lots of cash pretty soon. That diamond was big enough to keep even her happy for a few weeks at least.”

Spike had to laugh at how quickly Buffy had come to this entertaining thought. He was half tempted to encourage it just to watch the fallout but then remembered that, as much as the boy annoyed him, Harris was still a steadfast friend to the Slayer and she needed all of them at her side. He’d already made the mistake of planting seeds of distrust among the group before and knew how easy it would be. ‘No, I’m here to help the girl, not mess with her mind.’ “No, pet, think this is a different geek…maybe a gaggle of geeks. I’ll keep askin’ the right questions and you can figure out what to do with the info.”


Amy popped her head in through the back door and startled Willow as she was finishing the dishes from her meager late lunch. She was still tired, even after having slept the day away. She wanted to conjure something, anything, to take her mind off the dull grey her life had become without Tara. The sparkle had gone out of everything when her beloved had walked away in a combination of disgust, hurt and worry. Surely there had to be some spell to make everything better! But if Tara ever suspected she had done such a thing, she would be lost to her forever. What good was magic if you couldn’t use it to make life better anyway? There had to be some way to convince her precious to return to her.

“So what do you wanna do tonight? Gonna be hard to top last night though.” Amy had that hungry look again, the look that vaguely unsettled Willow and made her flesh crawl. It must have something to do with Amy’s years spent as vermin.

“I don’t know if I’m up to it. I feel awful. I couldn’t even do a simple spell all day. I think we should just take it easy.” Willow hated to admit being tapped out, but that was the bald truth. She felt drained after her excesses of the previous night.

She hadn’t slept well in ages, not since her bargain with the otherworld that let Buffy return to them. There was a constant feeling that she was needed somewhere or that there was a task needing to be done. Her dreams were troubled and muddy and she remembered none of them the next morning. Willow assumed it was some post-traumatic stress from having to slit the innocent fawn’s throat to have the necessary sacrifice for her ritual. At the same time her dream time drained her, the opposite was happening in her waking moments. She was on fire, filled with magic energy that demanded use. She had never felt so powerful, so in charge of her own destiny. That such a miracle should cost her the very heart of her, her Tara, was unfathomable to her.

Amy licked her lips and slyly hinted, “I know a guy and he knows spells that last for DAYS. The burnout factor is, like, nothing! He’ll blow you away with the places he can take you…you can’t imagine!”

To feel that power course again! Willow heard the song of the serpent and bit. “Is it dangerous?”

Amy giggled. “Would that stop you?”

They headed to a part of town that even Willow had never explored. It was the human side of dangerous in Sunnydale, a place to avoid if you wanted to keep your wallet or your virtue. Amy was nearly skipping in anticipation, keeping up a patter of small talk about all the fun they would have once they had tapped into the power this guy, Rack, had at his command. “He’s kind of sexy too, in a dark way, even if he is way old and a little creepy. I know you don’t swing that way anymore, but there’s something about him, the power…it rolls off of him, gets me hot.”

Willow avoided showing how disgusted she was with that description. Dark and creepy did not sexy make. Even when Willow HAD swung that way her taste had been the sweet and clever. Oz and Tara had much in common, their unassuming ways hiding pure gold beneath the surface.
Amy pulled to a sudden halt in the middle of the street and closed her eyes, swaying slightly. “This is it. Can’t you feel it?”

Willow could feel something, it tingled and caused the hairs to raise on her arms while making her blood heat up. Yes, there was lots of power here in this unseen place.

“Come on,” Amy urged and tugged Willow forward into the rippling air.

One moment they were in a dimly lit street and the next they were in a rather seedy parlor filled with anxious, desperate-looking people who could all have stood a good scrubbing down. It looked like opium dens from the history books Willow had read, only with the people in modern dress.

“Cool, isn’t it? He keeps it cloaked.”

“Hope he keeps it fumigated,” Willow said under her breath as the door to another room swung open and a man every bit as dark and creepy as Amy had said came into the room. He was greeted like a mighty religious leader by his adoring unwashed flock. They all jostled one another, claiming to be first in line for his attentions.

Something inside Willow screamed for her to run and not look back, but then Rack turned his eyes on her and smiled. He looked every bit as unwashed as his followers and his eyes were wrong in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on until she realized they each looked in different directions, making it impossible to look him square in the eye as her father had once said was the measure of a man.

He motioned for Amy and Willow to follow him to the inner room and Amy began rattling off her adventures as a rodent.

“Hope that taught you not to mess with spells you can’t handle. You should leave that in the hands of a professional.”

Amy looked a bit crestfallen, as though a special hero had found her wanting.

As he rubbed his hands together, never taking his eyes off of Willow, sparks flew from the tips of his fingers. Willow could feel the magic, so much magic one man could not contain it all.

“You have power, girl. It comes off of you in waves,” Rack whispered far too close to Willow’s ear for her comfort. Fortunately, he didn’t smell as bad as he looked. Funny, the one giving off magical power was her host, or so she had thought.

“You’ve been interesting places and touched some very powerful beings, haven’t you, little girl,” He ran a dirty finger down Willow’s cheek as he asked. “Met Taweret, didn’t you, while raiding Neter-Khertet, bargained for her to let you bring one of hers out, a rebirth of sorts? There’s a price, you know. You’ve violated the universal order and there’s always a steep price for that, little miss. Are you here for protection or to offer your services to balance things?”

“What?” Willow was panicked. Something in his words touched on her unremembered dreams and it made her squirm in fear mixed with eager anticipation. “I don’t know what you’re talking about…Jewish witch here. Haven’t met any old Egyptian goddesses.” ‘How did I know who Taweret was?’ Willow was pretty sure she hadn’t paid so much attention to Egyptian mythology that one or two names would stand out now.

Rack curled his lip and let out a chuckle. “Never mind, you’ll get it in time. Wasted some of that power, didn’t you? Amy here never did learn how to value it. Want a recharge from one of Set’s sons now, don’t you?” He licked his lip in a way that reminded Willow far too much of boys who needed their mouths removed. She suddenly wanted nothing more than a long hot shower and lots of soap.

While she shuddered at his whole presence, Rack had moved closer into her personal space, holding a hand out to her. “Relax. I’m not going to hurt you. You gotta give a little to get a little, right?”

Amy saw the terror starting on Willow’s face and jumped in. “It’s okay, it’s over fast and doesn’t hurt at all.”

Before Willow could decide what she really wanted to do, Rack had ghosted his hand over her chest, not actually touching her but she could feel it as clearly as if he had. It was loathsome. Sparks began to fly between his hand and her body as the light took on a blood red glow. Willow stood as if in a trance. Finally he released his hold on her and backed away. “You don’t need any recharging, little lioness, you just need to let it flow and stop trying to dam the river.” He leaned in closely and whispered, “You taste devine, just like what’s in you.”

Willow had ceased hearing anything, not even the keening of a whirling Amy as she spun in a circle like a Turkish Sufi in religious ecstasy, less the religion of course. When she opened her eyes she was startled to discover she was plastered to the ceiling looking down upon the spinning form of Amy and a smug-looking Rack. Her blouse was nearly completely undone and she felt GOOD, as powerful as the warlock had implied she was, as powerful as she often felt of late. She writhed in pleasure as sensation after sensation flowed through and out of her. She felt as if she could summon entire universes into existence!

When she finally came back to herself, she was in the middle of the Bronze and had she seen how black her eyes were at that moment she MIGHT have lost the contented smile she wore.

Again, the scene shifted and she was outside the Magic Box watching Xander and Anya work on inventory and give each other subtle touches they thought no one would see. Once more, it phased and she realized she was in her own bedroom on Revello Drive. “Cool! Teleportation! Gotta do that more often!” As the words left her lips, she felt the beginnings of nausea and rushed to the bathroom. After losing what little had been in her stomach, she rinsed her mouth out in the sink and gazed in wonderment at her black-eyed visage looking back at her in the mirror. Finally, fear and a sense of violation ran through her and she trembled.

As she cried under the shower head, Willow began to wonder if all this power was such a good thing after all.


Buffy had Spike pinned on the mat of the training room. He couldn’t help his body responding to her warm Buffy parts right on the source of his current discomfort. Buffy had made a second attempt to turn their slaps into slap and tickle and he was holding her as far from him as he could in that position, trying to remember just why he was so against letting her have her way with him. ‘Oh, yeah! It’s poison right now.’

“Buffy, I already told you, it’s not that I don’t want you. God , I’ve wanted you for what seems like forever, but tumbling you in my bed isn’t gonna help you. It’s not what you need, pet.”

“And suddenly you’re the expert on what Buffy needs like everyone else? Who died and left you in charge…oh, yeah, that was me. So Mr. Expert, what is it you think I need?”

“You’re broken, love. Back in the day, I had the best teacher anyone could have in how to break a person--Angelus.” That led to Buffy getting off his prone form like a shot.

“Don’t bring Angel into this. Your stupid vampire jealousy…” Buffy was ready to rip into Spike, but he didn’t want to get completely off track. The Watcher was on his way and Buffy had to be kept from pulling down his defenses long enough for them to figure out what was really going on.

He rolled his eyes and let out a sigh of deep frustration. “Look, I can call the sod Mr. Potato Head, but you and I both know Angelus was the vamp that showed me the ropes…literally. Not the point of who he is or if you ever even met the Wanker, the point is the lessons I learned.” He had to make her see that now was NOT the time no matter how their bodies denied the truth of it.

Buffy was still feeling the sting of his rejection but decided to hear him out. She nodded for him to continue. Her narrowed eyes gave silent warning, however, that he was on thin ice.
Spike sat up and began, “I was never interested in torture.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and started to interrupt him, but he didn’t give her the chance.

“Not saying I was less evil or anything like that, ‘cause we both know better. Fact is, I never had the patience for it. Give me a full-out fight, fist and fang, where it’s not a cake walk and I’m your vamp. Takin’ months to turn some poor bugger into a quiverin’ mess just beggin’ to be put out o’ his misery and I get bored. Never learned, even though the ‘great artist’ tried his best to show me the tricks of the trade. Point is, I had the lesson given often enough to understand it, even if I don’t want to try my hand at becoming some undead Picasso.

First you take away everything that gives the person security. Then you work on the person so they can’t even remember who they really are anymore, or what they want, who they care for. You chip away at their soul. When you’ve got them down, then you make them think they are responsible for every bleedin’ bad thing that’s happenin’ to the ones they love and to themselves. Do it right and you wind up with Dru.”

Too much of what he had just said resonated deep within her and she rushed from uncomfortable and slightly afraid towards a feeling she was better able to deal with. Buffy began to get pissed. “So you’re saying I’m what…crazy? Thought we already decided you’re not Freud.”

“NO, I’m sayin you’re damaged, but Dru was destroyed. Life and Glory came along and did a number on you that you haven’t had a chance to deal with yet. You were halfway there before you took that header off the tower and got some peace. Bloody meddlers dragged you back and just added more to it without meanin’ to. You’re lost, Buffy. You don’t even remember who you are. Not the Slayer part, the Buffy part. ‘Til you get that sorted, you’re just goin’ to keep on hurtin’, and hurtin’ everyone around you.”

The anger and hurt she had felt the day she last tried to let Spike make her feel came back full force. “So you’re saying I’m crazy. Need to be locked up. Came back wrong.”

“You came back hurt, not wrong,” Spike repeated patiently. “You need help, pet. You’re reactin’ in a normal way and you need a hand findin’ your feet again, that’s all.”

“And you’re suddenly a psychologist? Why even call Giles since you’ve got it all worked out?”

“I’m just a mite older, pet, and I’ve seen a bit more. Also lived for over a century with someone too far into it to be fixed.” Spike wasn’t really sure WHAT was going on with Buffy, but he somehow knew all that happened before she died played some part in it. After all, the girl had completely collapsed not long before taking that final dive off the tower.

Buffy was getting royally pissed. “Really not liking this. First rejection and then being compared to your nutbag of an ex.”

Spike was losing her. If he weren’t careful, she’d push him away and then he couldn’t even help her this time. He’d never been more frustrated. The first time he’d tried to love her back to life. Now he was turning down the best sex he’d ever had and he was still blowing it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Buffy, I want to help you, really help you…not take advantage of the fact you’re so desperate to feel that you’d sleep with someone you weren’t too sure you even wanted in your life not that long ago. There’s counselors can help you deal.”

Buffy sputtered with laughter. “With having witches pull me out of heaven?”

Spike saw her point. Even in Sunnydale it wasn’t likely there was a professional ready for that. “Maybe, but that’s not what I meant. I was thinkin more about dealing with losin’ your mum like you did. About havin’ the responsibilities of a middle-aged woman tossed on your shoulders, raisin’ a teenage hormone bomb with attitude, payin’ a lifetime’s worth of bills. Havin’ to carry your friends and the whole world on your back while everyone expects you to be perfect and not mess up.”

Buffy had begun to cry as he spoke his litany of her pain.

He pressed on. “Someone who can help you remember the strong, loving, fun woman you are in there. Help you see that even if they tell you it’s all up to you, it isn’t and you can let some of it go.”

Buffy slumped in defeat and despair, “I can’t let it go. Even Giles said I need to assume my responsibilies.”

As much as he was glad Giles was coming back to help figure this out, Spike wanted to twist the Watcher’s head off for that! “Bloody git! Like he has room to talk, scarpering off to Merry Ol’ and leavin’ the bloody hellmouth to you when you’re all wobbly legged! Look, some of the crap burying you I can help with. I can do some patrols, give you rest time. I can figure a way to help you with the mountain of bills. Hell, I can even help get through to the Bit. Made her listen to me all last summer.”

Buffy drew herself up and said in indignation, “I’m not crazy, Spike, and I’m not going near any of those places ever again,” before huffing off. Spike wondered if some of the damage had begun long ago when her mum and dad had put her in that hospital when all the girl had done was say creatures like him existed!

“Okay, that went a bit better than last time…I hope,” he tried to reassure himself. At least she had listened and hadn’t staked him. Spike needed the Watcher here to check all the mystical stuff she had to be dealing with, while he tried to break down the walls that kept his Buffy from feeling again. He remembered that the first time it had taken Buffy nearly dying again to finally begin to live. He’d be double damned if he let it get that far this time.
Chapter 4, Returned

“How short you thinking of going, honey?” The hairdresser ran appraising fingers through Buffy’s long honey hair. “This is real pretty, but I think an update is just what you need, am I right?”

“Not too short,” Buffy had no plans on emulating Dorothy Hamill’s famous wedge look from years gone by, but something near her shoulders wouldn’t be too jarring. ‘Maybe some lighter streaks too,’ she mused. “I’m thinking about here.” Buffy motioned with her hand to a place just above her shoulder, right about where a vampire might find their eyes drawn to the neck it would curtain. ‘Way to go, Buffy, why not just go get an arrow tattoo or a ‘bite me here, you sexy vamp” one?’

Buffy felt vaguely ashamed of herself for going out of her way to try to spiff up her appearance just because an annoyingly stupid vampire had taken up a new habit of rejecting her! She really didn’t get this new attitude of Spike’s. She had practically served herself up on a silver platter to the very vamp who had professed over and over again to be in love with her, to desire her. The frustration had nearly overtaken anger in the ‘I’ve only got limited emotions’ race going on inside of her. The idiot had even suggested therapy for her! What, was he saying that now she had finally seen what a hot male body he wore and that he wasn’t a complete waste of space she had lost her mind?

Deep down, Buffy knew that there was a lot of truth in the things Spike said. She HAD been utterly lost since her mother died and all that happened in the time since then had only managed to overwhelm her. Everything was too much and yet not enough. Easier to dwell on her waning powers of attraction than to think about the long laundry list of things gone bad in Buffyville.

Giles had arrived the night before and was sleeping the sleep of the jetlagged in her mom’s old room even now. Willow had somewhat less than graciously moved in with Dawn for the duration of his visit. ‘I should have just ended the whining by reminding Will that she isn’t paying room OR board.’ Buffy sighed deeply and thought about the money she was spending on this unnecessary haircut. It could have been better used for some decent groceries, but there was just something about rejection that made a girl want to do something to get the attraction back on track.

So many urgent situations all clammering for her attention and action! Feeling the hairdresser’s hands work magic as they massaged the shampoo into her hair was downright decadent under the circumstances. Just this morning she had to deal with a stiff-rumped social worker who seemed to think Dawn was not being properly cared for while Willow whined and moaned about having to move her things into Dawn’s cramped quarters. The little slip about Willow being gay and the raised eyebrows on Mrs. Kroger as she speculated if Buffy was encouraging these sleeping arrangements had been icing on the cake. ‘Geez! As if! Willow thinks of Dawnie as her little sister, or my little sister at least. Since when is being gay the same as being a pervert? Mrs. Kroger needs to move into the right century.’

Buffy remembered the conversation with the old cow clearly. There had been the lecture on Dawn’s falling grades and absences. ‘Let’s see, Mom dies, a hell god kidnaps her, I die…..I think there are some good reasons for that, you sow! Wish I could list them for you.’ Then she’d had to make Buffy feel like one of those welfare moms minus the welfare. ‘Let’s see how well she can provide with a high school education and a middle-aged woman’s responsibilities before she’s twenty-one!’ The worst part was that the bitca was going to recommend that Dawn be taken away, sent to a father who had no interest in his REAL daughter, let alone one gifted to him post-divorce by a bunch of monks! “Gonna be watching!” Who knew big brother was actually a chubby, middle-aged Nosy-Nelly!”

“Excuse me, miss?” The confused hairdresser didn’t know if she had been insulted or not. Surely that extra five pounds she was carrying wouldn’t make her chubby and forty was hardly middle-aged any longer! Didn’t the latest Vogue magazine have an article that forty was the new thirty?

“Oh, sorry,” Buffy blushed and apologized. “I was talking to myself about this busy body woman I had to deal with this morning.”

The hairdresser smiled in relief and evened up the sides of Buffy’s new haircut. She might have been tempted to leave it had she actually been the target of the comment. Working in a service industry where people were often terribly rude was taking its toll on her. ‘I need a vacation!’

Buffy looked in the mirror and smiled at her new look. “Cute! Spike called me ‘Goldilocks’ the other day. Bet he’ll still like it, even if it is shorter.” It would at least get his attention.

“I’m sure your boyfriend will love it. You look like a doll, if I do say so myself,” beamed the proud hair artist.

“Spike’s not my boyfriend,” Buffy rushed out. “He’s just this…this….” She stopped when she realized she had no idea how to classify the vampire. They hadn’t really been enemies in a long while and since the whole ‘Glory using him as a pinata’ episode he had at least earned the title of friend and comrade in arms. She’d like a lot more of Spike’s arms; they were nice as she recalled from Willow’s screwed up spell.

“I see.” the hairdresser nodded sagely. “He’s the one you want to dazzle.”

Buffy sighed in confused sadness, “I guess. Used to be I dazzled him no matter what, but now I’m all ‘forgettable Buffy.’ Stupid vampire!”


“Uh…umpire, I said ‘umpire’…um…he, uh, does stuff with the little league,” Buffy covered. ‘Probably ate a team somewhere at some point.’

“Oh, athletic! Nice.”

Buffy had sudden visions of Spike’s buff body and his grace in a fight and sighed dreamily, “Oh yeah, nice. Worlds of nice.”


The Three Stooges of Nerdom stood in front of a shop with the enticing sign in the window, ‘Spa. Women only. Bikini Wax Wednesdays’. Warren was carrying a long object wrapped in black and was nearly salivating.

“What if we get caught?” Andrew twitched from foot to foot, looking like he was more interested in whether the establishment had a public restroom than any bikini wax.

“No way! We’ll be invisible, and besides, we cased this place for, like, weeks,” Jonathan was as excited as his goofy friend but trying to remember to put his cool on. He remembered how suavely he behaved when he had cast that spell the year before. He was hoping to show off at least a tiny bit of that image in front of Warren today. The genius, their elected crime lord, was always putting him down and Jonathan was getting heartily sick of it.

Warren pulled off the cloth and the shiny, awkward device came into view. The large stolen diamond glistened in the sunlight.

Andrew was looking across the street, ogling a rather buff in-line skater wearing the tightest running shorts he’d ever seen, when he noticed Buffy exiting the beauty salon. “Slayer alert!!!!! Headed our way! Don’t think she’s seen us yet.”

As Buffy began to cross the street, heading right towards the trio, Jonathan and Andrew began to try to wrestle the invisible ray gun from one another in a desperate attempt to use it before the Slayer arrived and caught them in the act.

“I need to be invisible,” shouted a panicked Andrew.

“I need it more. Buffy KNOWS me. She’ll go all vigilante and I’m too fragile for jail!”
Jonathan was in a frenzy, desperate not to be seen by the girl he once idolized.

As they played tug-of-war with the cumbersome machine, the diamond on top began to spin and the soft purr of the device began to grow louder. Lights as red as poppies burst from the end and hit Buffy as she walked blythely down the street and past the alleyway where the boys stood.

As they looked on in horror, Buffy disappeared, along with a maintenance cone, a dumpster and the fire hydrant.

“Shit!” Warren spoke for them all.


Anya and Xander were going over wedding reception plans for the millionth time. Xander somehow wondered if he were under a curse of his own as he listened to Anya talk of this demon and that demon and where to seat them! Bad enough, Anya had suggested Spike for Best Man since she had asked the newly returned Giles to walk her down the aisle.

“No, Ahn! No to Spike as best anything! I’ll let you invite him only because he’d crash it otherwise and probably cause trouble, but he’s NOT in the wedding party. Besides, I’ve already asked Willow to be my Best Person. She’s my oldest friend and it’s only right.”

“She’d look good in a tux, but then so would Spike,” came a voice out of nowhere that sounded suspiciously like Buffy.

“Buffster? You hiding somewhere?”

“Nope,” she popped the ‘p’ and tweaked him on the cheek. “Nothing to hide here.” She giggled. Somehow she had become invisible and had never felt more free in her life. She wanted to do nothing more than play for a while.

“Um…have you been feeling neglected lately? Because we’ve just been working on the wedding and really meant to come over more often.” Xander was a bit frightened of this development. Surely it wasn’t a side effect of the resurrection spell! They couldn’t lose Buffy again, not now.

“Nope, no Marcie repeat here. I don’t know what happened. I left Main Street after getting my hair cut…,” Buffy started to explain only to be interrupted by a suddenly interested Anya.

“You cut your hair?”

“Yup,” Buffy sounded downright giddy in a way that further unnerved Xander.

“How short, ‘cause I’m thinking about getting my hair cut before the wedding.” Anya began to thumb through one of her limitless magazines looking for the style that had caught her eye earlier.

“Um, up to here…well…if you could see my hand, it’s kind of just above my shoulders and flips up on the ends.” Buffy tried to describe the new her.

“Oh, like Mary Tyler Moore! How precious!” Anya frowned as she tried to decide if she should make Buffy wear it up for the wedding so none of their friends would focus on the cute, perky Slayer instead of the sexy bride who was supposed to be the center of the world that day.

Xander would never understand the workings of his Anya’s mind. How could she NOT be freaked out by an invisible Slayer? “Hey, guys! This is serious stuff. The Buffster is all ‘Invisible Woman’ and not even wearing a trench coat so we know where to look!”

Anya huffed, “ How do YOU know what Buffy is wearing?” She turned in the direction where she last heard Buffy speak, “You ARE wearing clothes, aren’t you? Because it would be very bad if you suddenly became visible and weren’t wearing anything.”

Buffy giggled. “No worries. Got all my clothes on. They disappeared the same time I did, so I think they’ll turn up when the rest of me does.”

“Did you see anything odd or make a wish or something before you zapped out?” Xander was on the case like a dog with a bone.

“Didn’t see anyone. Now no one sees me. You know there may be an upside to this whole thing…”
Anya nodded in agreement. “True, an invisible Slayer has to be lots more effective than a regular one. You could sneak up on all the vampires and demons and poof them before they know you’re there! This could be a good thing.” She frowned when she realized just how powerful that might make a Slayer. “Hmm…why would anyone want to give you that advantage?”

“I’m less with the why and more with the how,” mused a worried Xander. Why was he the only one to see the seriousness of this whole situation?

Buffy was busy playing with the merchandise making things seem to float and fly. “Buffy, will you please focus!” Xander was getting annoyed.

No one could see the cute pout on her face, but they could hear it in her voice, “I am. It’s just that this is kind of fun. I don’t have a lot of fun usually.” She moved a skull directly in front of Xander and opened it’s jaws and shut them in a biting movement. Xander dodged the macbre toy and tried to get them back on track.

“I could go check the spot where Buffy disappeared, Mulder out some clues,” he offered.

“Okie dokie, you do that,” Buffy said lightly. “I think I’m gonna….” Her mind raced with a menu of things she could do while invisible. There was the bank that had refused her loan and the siren song of free money, but she reminded herself of how wrong that would be. Spike! Oh, yeah, he’d never see THIS coming…literally! Yes, Spike was definitely on the menu, but first, a bit of a necessary visit to the Social Services office. Mrs. Kroger said she was going to be watching everything Summers--well, let her try now! Buffy thought it was about time to do some watching of her own.

As the ringing bell over the door alerted the engaged couple that they were once more alone, Anya voiced her suspicion, “It seems pretty obvious to me that it’s some kind of spell.”

“Spell? Who? You said yourself that it makes no sense for one of her enemies to make her invisible.” Xander looked clueless.

“Well, maybe it’s a mistake, a magical mistake,” Anya suggested.

Xander mulled that over and laughed nervously, “But who would have that kind of…oh, God! Will! Look, Ahn, I’ll be back as soon as I can. Gotta go see an old friend.”

“Willow had better not try any magic on our special day! You tell her that,” Anya ordered. “I’d hate for her to try to whoo hoo up some gift and send us all into another dimension or something. It would probably be one filled with bunnies.”


Giles sipped his tea and cleared his throat. Willow had been difficult to corner, seemingly avoiding the Watcher who had last called her an arrogant amateur when they discussed her ritual for bringing Buffy back to them. In the time since that argument, Willow had learned the harm she had done to her best friend and she really didn’t want to revisit that place of shame with Giles.

“I recall that you indicated the ritual had been interrupted when we last spoke of this,” Giles began. “Demons, I believe you said. Certainly a practitioner as well versed as yourself knows the importance of continuity in a successful ritual. One must have every precaution put into place; all i’s must be dotted and every t crossed.”

“But it worked,” Willow had a slight whine to her voice that even annoyed her! “I mean, yes, there was a little oopsie at the very end, but all the real work of the ritual was already done.”

“Even the dismissing and cleansing rituals vital for a rite of that power?”

“We-ell….” All that stuff was just window dressing, in Willow’s opinion. The important part was the meat of the ritual and Buffy was living proof that it had worked!

“Judging by your hedging, I assume you did not.” Giles sighed deeply and began to think Spike might be onto something. In magic, there were specific things that could not be ignored if one wished the results to be correct. Any deviation could lead to chaos and disaster. “Am I to assume you used a ritual from the Osirian Grimoire, the rites of Osiris?”

Willow blanched. “Yes. We had a real urn of Osiris, Giles; we didn’t substitute anything!”

“And what, precisely, did you offer as a blood sacrifice?”

Willow felt her lunch rise in her throat at the shame of the memory. She’d murdered Bambi! “I did a spell to call a sacrifice. It was….a fawn.” She noted the look of horror on Giles’ face and added, “I was quick and careful. It didn’t suffer!”

“And how did Tara feel about this use of magics?”

Willow whispered, “I didn’t tell any of them. They don’t know where I got the blood.”

“And you think Osiris would think the blood of a fawn a fair price for what you were demanding?”

“Buffy’s back!” Willow was getting indignant. She had been avoiding magic ever since her trip to Rack’s, feeling guilty even, but this cross-examination was putting her on the defensive. “Must have worked for him.”

Giles raised an eyebrow in skepticism. “Indeed.”

There was a deep silence between them that spoke volumesbefore Giles asked his next question. “Just how did you word your request, Willow? And I really do need it verbatim.”

“I’ll get the notes so you can see for yourself,” Willow got up and headed for the stairs before Giles could stop her. With any luck she could compose herself before she had to return to the table of inquisition.

Giles closed his eyes and sighed wearily. This might well prove to be a tangle he alone could not undo. Really, the young witch was completely irresponsible!


Buffy chuckled at the results of her visit to Social Services. Mrs. Kroger should thank her, really, for the paid time off due to her little pranks. Buffy hadn’t felt so lighthearted in…well, ever! There was a lot to be said for being a ghost. ‘That’s what I am, anyway. I was dead, should still be dead. I’m finally in this world the only way I should be…a ghost haunting the living!’ “Hmm…maybe I should also haunt the dead,” she decided and headed towards Restview Cemetery and a surprise visit with a certain resistant vampire.

She hummed to herself as she made her way across town. Really, why was Spike suddenly so reluctant to take what she had been offering. He had been flirting with her, toying with her, for years! Since he decided he was in love with her, he’d become a puppy dog, following her looking for any crumb that might fall his way. This was just silly. “Well, let’s just see how he deals with Invisi-Buffy!” She was a girl with a plan.

The crypt door opened with a slight squeal and Buffy worried her entrance might be given away by it, but Spike was nowhere to be seen. “Probably downstairs,” Buffy surmised. “Well, that’s convenient. Bed, hot vampire, free Buffy…sounds like a good recipe to me.”

She lifted the trapdoor and made her way stealthily down the ladder in quest of her reluctant suitor.

The bed sheets were rumpled from sleep. ‘Nice! Satin,’ Buffy could almost feel them caress her body already. No Spike though, and it was HIS caresses she really craved. ‘Now where would any self respecting vampire be at this hour?’ “Spike?” she gave up the surprise factor in favor of locating him and finally getting this dance off the ground. No answer. Buffy sat on the end of the bed and pouted.


The door crashed open and a smoldering blanket covered vampire rushed into the living room of the Summers house on Revello Drive. Giles watched in bemusement as Spike beat the smoking relic and cursed. ‘He really is the most astonishingly odd vampire in all my memory. Should be fast asleep now, not running through town making a spectacle of himself!’

“Oy, Watcher,” Spike blurted out, getting right to the point. “Just the bloke I need to talk to.”

“Whatever could be so urgent that you could not wait for a less flammable hour should prove interesting. Do come in, Spike.”

“Figured Buffy was more likely to be out and about and really don’t want her knowin’ ‘bout this conversation,” Spike confided. “Twisted her knickers enough already by tellin’ the bint she should see ‘bout getting some help.”

“Yes, she was quite prevoked. Jet lag is bad enough without being wakened to the sounds of cursing and various beauty products being flung about in the loo.” Giles still had a bit of a headache from that. “If you ran all the way over here to ask me if I have discovered the reason for your chip malfunctioning, you’ve wasted your time. I have begun research into the ritual, yes, but as much as I am flattered at your confidence in my ability to sort it out quickly, it will take some time.”

“Know that, you git.” Spike rolled his eyes. “Here for a different reason. Well, same reason…Buffy..,different problem though.”

“I’m listening.”

Willow was too. She had never had a great aversion to Spike, in spite of his murderous past. Aside from the bottle incident a few years before and the embarrassing attempt to bite her that one time, he hadn’t ever actually hurt her and that bottle thing really could have been much worse! Right now, though, she positively loved the undead menace. As long as he distracted Giles, she was off the grill! Maybe now would be a good time to slip out the back door and avoid the Spanish Inquisition a while longer. She crept down the stairs and made a mad dash out the back door and smack into Xander.


“Will,” Xander began carefully, “You haven’t been…um…doing any creative mojo lately to… you know…help Buffy or anything, have you?”

Willow looked at her oldest friend and gave him a gimlet-eyed stare. Why was everyone always questioning her use of magic! Couldn’t they see she was only trying to use her powers to help everyone, to make things better? “Why do you ask?”

“Well, Buffy’s kinda invisible,” Xander blurted out. “Anya and I thought--well, we figured the only witch we knew with that kind of power….”

“Maybe she’s just feeling ignored,” Willow offered. She didn’t want to discuss why she hadn’t been using the magic lately. No one needed to know about her trip to Rack’s.

“I asked that same question, and no, that’s not it. Buff said she just came out of the hairdresser’s and suddenly…poof…no Buffy.” Xander sighed in frustration. He had really been hoping it was a spell gone wrong because Willow was always able to fix those…eventually.

“Not me. I’ve been trying to save the good stuff for emergencies. Tara left because she said I used it too much and I’m conserving,” Willow hedged. “Maybe Amy …”

“Whoa! You mean ‘I was a teenage rat’ Amy, ‘cause I’m not liking where that thought is going. I always got some weird vibes from that chick even before her mom wound up in the trophy case,” Xander also remembered the ill-fated love spell she had managed to mangle for him years ago.

“Let’s go ask her,” Willow latched onto Xander’s arm and steered him away from the prying eyes and inquiring mind of Giles.


Giles motioned to the chair the furthest from the sunlight that still managed to bathe the majority of the living room. Spike took a seat and began to fidget.

“Look, I’m not proud of a lot of things I’ve done, but I can’t see any way around this.” Spike had his eyes closed as he spoke. He was clearly uncomfortable. “If you were a reasonable duffer, I wouldn’t have to go into the details, but I know you lot. I don’t lay it out there, you’ll be makin’ a million excuses not to take it and then I’ll just have to admit it in the end. But,” he glared at the Watcher, “this never leaves this room. I mean it. Not to Buffy, not to that council of idiots you serve, not in some bloody journal for posterity either. Stays between us, I mean it.”

“Go on.” Giles steeled himself to play priest to Spike’s implied confession.

“Buffy needs money.” He saw Giles nod and realized the man was aware of the Slayer’s dire straits. “Gonna go off and throw herself away in some dead end job, slavin’ away and getting buried under unpaid bills and guilt. What kind of life is that for someone like her?” He looked at Giles with defiance. “Girl’s special--not just Chosen. Special. Job like that’d suck the soul from her faster than I used to drain necks. Still out savin’ the whole bloody world every night, raisin’ her little sis--it’s not fair!” Spike looked around the comfortable but less than new surroundings. “Got upkeep too. Witch isn’t payin’ her way. Council just looks on her like another weapon in the drawer to use and replace. Girl’s got needs.”

“I know all of that, Spike. We discussed this, remember? I felt it incumbent to come here and see to this other issue first. I fully intend to plead her case before the Council upon my return. Perhaps a stipend of some kind can be arranged.” Giles had serious doubts about that, but he did intend to try. Maybe Buffy would only need a part-time position if they could be convinced. “What has that to do with your shamefully checkered past, to phrase it politely?”

“I can fix it,” Spike began. “Tried to tell her money wasn’t a problem.” Of course, that had been the first time around as she toiled beneath the cow hat of shame. She hadn’t listened then and doubtless wouldn’t this time either. No, this required stealth. “Silly bint won’t take it from me, but I’ve no use for it.”

“Are you saying you have money?” Giles fumed at the memory of all the times the vampire had leeched from all of them. The demands for payment for his help in the early days and the outright pilfering that had continued even while Buffy was dead. Suddenly, he had a thought that made his blood run cold and his back stiffen. He turned cold eyes on Spike and demanded, “If you think any of us will touch your blood money, your ill-gotten gains taken from God alone knows how many innocent victims--”

“And so he proves my point,” Spike muttered but Giles heard him. “Nothin’ like that. Like I said, not my proudest moment.” He took a deep breath and began his unlikely tale. “Back in the 20s, it was. Me and Dru were in Chicago. Great times! Bootleg, Capone, lots of mayhem in the streets, perfect pickings for a pair of clever vamps and we were that pair. Long story short, picked out a ripe tasty nibble one night, but before I got my fangs in her she started crying and begging. Nothing new there, spiced up the kill usually, but I was in a sentimental mood that night, I guess, and her words stopped me. Plain little thing, all worn lookin’ but well dressed, she was. Gave me this story about how her mum was sick and she was the only one there to tend her. Begged me to let her live, show her mercy. I’m a vampire, damn it! Mercy’s not one of our prime virtues! Like I said, not proud of actin’ out of my nature, letting Dru down, but there you have it. I let the little wren go.”

Giles quirked an eyebrow. The story was anything but what he had been expecting. “Do go on.”

“Don’t know how she found me…it was a few years later,” Spike continued. “Dru and I were livin’ in the open with a false name. Dru was havin’ one of her bad spells and we had to stay in one place for a while, easier to do with some fake papers and all. Dru was getting some treatments for the worst of her inner voices, psychiatry was new then and worth a try. Anyway, this chit I let go spotted us and asked about. Seems her mum finally passed. She had the same sickness and wasn’t long for the world. No family left, she was all that was left. Anyway she left her estate to me, or to William Benedict, at any rate--that’s the name I was using at the time. Tidy sum, not a massive amount of weath but nothing to sneeze at either. I had no use for it, prefer to take what I need, or did in any event. Set up an account and that was all the thought I gave it.” Giles noticed that Spike’s accent had changed slightly in the telling, as if the story was touching some part of him that was not the standard Spike personae.

“Are you offering that money to Buffy?” He wasn’t particularly surprised if Spike were doing so, but he wanted to be clear. Indeed, there was no moral reason for anyone to turn down the offer if Spike’s story of how he got the money were true.

“I am, but I need help.” Spike had figured it all out, what would be need to be done. He had also checked on the account and was impressed at how much it had increased over the years. “Need to get some papers done so I can lay claim to it. Make me my own heir. I’ve got that in the works now. What I need is to get the money to Buffy without her knowing it’s coming from me. That’s where you come in.”

“Just how much are we talking about?”

Spike quietly stated the amount.

Giles whistled and sat down hard. That sum would certainly remove any need Buffy might have for a job. She could even return to school if she wished, and ensure Dawn’s future as well. All they needed was to find a way to explain the windfall and set up the necessary accounts.


Willow felt like Nancy Drew solving the ‘Mystery of the Disappearing Slayer’ using only the clues at hand and not one whiff of magic. ‘Maybe Tara was right and I’m using it when I don’t need to,’ she mused. ‘Too good to waste on the trivial.’ She returned to Revello Drive with an oddly quiet but totally visible Buffy only to meet Giles’ raised brows both at the day’s events and at Willow’s crafty escape from his questioning earlier.

After they explained it all to the Watcher, a slightly sullen Buffy headed to her room with claims of a slight headache. “Probably a side effect from those idiots and their Star Wars toys.”

“Undoubtedly. Rest is just the ticket.” Giles commiserated. He was not as quick to release Willow from his company though. “Willow, those notes you promised failed to appear even if Buffy has. I would appreciate them now, if you please.”

“Sure thing,” she said with a rueful grin. Willow scampered up the stairs and gathered the papers she had used in her research for the ritual to return Buffy to the land of the living. “Nothing wrong here. Giles will see that I was super-duper careful. That’s me, no mistakes on the big spells! Nope, I covered all my bases.”

She handed the notes to Giles and headed out the door in a rush for a pre-arranged meeting with Xander, leaving Giles to sort through the various papers for himself.


Buffy lay in bed and tried to figure out what was going on with herself. She had actually been angry that Spike was not in his crypt earlier. What was currently shocking her was admitting what her plans had been had he been at home like a good little vampire was supposed to be in the daytime.

‘I was going to force myself on him if I had to! Just keep quiet and…and…molest him!’ She felt the beginnings of deep shame and for once not about the attraction she had to admit to feeling but for thinking of forcing the vampire against his stated will. No amount of ‘he really wants me’ excuses made that okay.

‘I was all about the “Eww, Spike kissage!” until he turned me down. How sick is that? I don’t want to admit I want his hot body ‘til he doesn’t want me? Maybe he’s right and I do need help.’ Buffy felt ready to cry. On some level, she knew that she had tons of issues, a veritable black hole of issues going on. ‘Enough to make a psychiatrist wealthy…if I could afford one that is. Wonder if that’s why Spike was attracted to me? Dru was a nutcase and I’m two thirds of the way there myself.’ She was well on her way to a real headache with all the thoughts spinning in her mind. “Buffy and self reflection? Not mixy,” she said and got up to take a couple of aspirin before the ache took root.

“Well, Dru was crazy thanks to Angelus….” Buffy stopped abruptly and realized that at least some of her tonage of issues had Angel’s return address on the label. ‘And I really don’t want to go there.’ She hated to think her perfect yet doomed great love had left her with the inability to be in another relationship. How could any love that was right and good and pure do that? Still, she had to admit that since Angel walked out of her life in a cloud of smoke and angst, she had guarded her emotions like the crown jewels without the benefit of tourists. She had called Spike’s emotions for her a freak show and those had been Angel’s exact words when describing their relationship. She had yearned for a ‘normal’ relationship with a ‘normal’ guy only to find such a relationship lacking in the extreme. Riley hadn’t been exactly normal, but close enough--and that had been a big bust. As much as she had wanted to love him, it hadn’t happened, not really.

When had she decided that she wanted normal anyway? Oh, yeah, right after Angel told her that was what she should have when he said he was leaving! Her mom had wanted normal too, but then she had also wanted Buffy to just give up being the Slayer. When HAD Buffy decided she wanted normal? HAD she ever really decided that? If she had wanted normal, why hadn’t she given Xander a go? Was she really just attracted to vampires?

The attraction she had felt for a long while towards Spike was the most frightening thing to admit to. She had always found him hot; any female would. All the time they had known one another they had never been able to kill each other, never really tried a hundred percent…why? She had never even had his invitation revoked after they had stopped Acathla, although it left her mom vulnerable had the vampire decided to return and finish the truce at the end of his fangs. Why?

She remembered the night she died, how she had trusted SPIKE to care for her sister if anything had happened to her. Why Spike? Why not Giles or the gang? The funniest part was that he seemed to have been as good as his word. She hadn’t been told too many details about that summer when she was in heaven, but she knew enough to know that her trust had not been misplaced.

“Too many questions,” Buffy mumbled into her pillow. “Don’t wanna think, wanna sleep.”

Live With Some Missing Pieces
Chapter 5, Live With Pieces Missing

Giles had been up all night looking at the notes Willow had taken on her botched ritual. He had managed to piece together the sequence and form enough conclusions to prevent any sleep for a good week to come.

“Oh dear Lord!” Giles sat down hard as he read the words scribbled by the amazingly powerful Witch he had failed to mentor. “She bloody well made a mess of this!” He stared at the words ‘warrior of the people’ and shivered. “The Slayer is the warrior part. It’s no wonder Buffy is feeling disconnected! The way this is worded merely added to the interruption in the ritual. It would be a bleeding miracle if Buffy weren’t completely fragmented! How much is still in flux, that is the question.”

“So the witch DID make a muddle of it after all,” Spike’s voice, spoken so quietly still managed to startle Giles. “Figured there was something wrong. Fixable?”

“I’m not sure,” Giles admitted. “I’ll need to so some tests, some research, and more magics than I would wish. I believe Buffy is mostly intact, but it is possible that some elements that make up the whole didn’t return with her. This would explain her behavior.”

Spike thought about those months that first time and shuddered. No wonder she had been so filled with violence, so unable to love. She must have eventually returned to normal at some point or learned to function without those bits. Come to think of it, that last year had shown Buffy to be emotionally cut off from even her friends. At the time he had chalked it up to the FE and the impending apocalypse instead of a continuation of the problems she had upon her return from death. He had no idea what she was like after the hellmouth fell. Still, the Buffy he knew would never have been cuddling and partying with the bloody Immortal if she HAD been all right. She had even blown off the Great Poof there in Italy and that wasn’t like her at all!

“I shall have to cancel my return ticket and see about a permanent place to live, it would seem. “ Giles began making a ‘to-do’ list for his return to Sunnydale. “I daresay Anya will be less than pleased at this turn of events.”

“Should never have left her, Watcher!” Spike remembered the toll his leaving had taken before and while he glad that wouldn’t be repeating, he still resented the fact that it would have happened without his intervention. “What did you think would happen with you not here to do your job? Buffy’s strong and her instincts are good, but aside from dumping even more weight on the girl, you left her without the benefit of your education, you bloody berk! The daft buggers wasted days researching a frost monster with an appetite for diamonds! Witch got it in one when she called you blind. What did you expect with you gone, puppies and ice cream? Girl’s ready to collapse; witch is ready to go world class big bad; carpenter’s bloody useless. All that worth havin' your tea made proper?”

Giles looked suitably chagrined in spite of his desire to deny the vampire’s charges. So far this evil creature had managed to address the very issues that a proper Watcher would have caught immediately. He felt a failure, just as he had when Buffy died. “I let her down again. You are quite right. I thought my failures as her Watcher got her killed and that I’d do her more good to both get out of her way and refresh my own training back at headquarters. All my good intentions seem to have worked against her instead.” Spike stared in shock at the humbled Watcher. Giles sighed deeply and did the right thing, “I cannot believe I am saying this, much less that it needs saying, but thank you, Spike, for taking the initiative here. Had you not pointed out what should have been obvious, I have no idea how badly things might have gone.” He looked at Spike with a tiny bit of the old suspicion left in his gaze. “I have no idea what you expect to gain from all your help where Buffy is concerned and have no doubt there has to be an ulterior motive, but still I am grateful.”

“The only thing I want is for Buffy to be happy and whole. Know you don’t believe me, but I love the girl.” Spike closed his eyes in frustration.

“I accept that you may believe yourself capable of loving her. I wouldn’t count on her returning your feelings, whatever they may be, however. Buffy will not lower herself to consort with an evil and soulless creature, even if she may have cause to feel gratitude.” Giles looked the vampire clearly in the eye as he made these pronouncements. It had been bad enough that Buffy had fallen in love with a souled vampire, but it was unthinkable that she might so much as dally with one only an electronic appliance away from mass murder. “Do not think that you are making me a champion for your suit by being so helpful. You are completely unsuitable for Buffy. She deserves much better than a damned creature such as yourself. Buffy is of the light and there is no place for darkness with her. Not now, not ever.”

The harsh words made Spike angry until that last part hit him and caused his guilt to scream in agreement. He clearly remembered his manipulation on the balcony of the Bronze that first time around. “But you always end up in the dark,” he had whispered in her ear, “with me.” He had even rubbed salt in that wound further by pointing out her friends below and offering a vague threat of revelation along with an indictment of their relationship, “What would they think of you if they found out? All the things you’ve done? If they knew who you really were?” He had tried to drag her into the dark with himself rather than join her in the light! Giles might be an insufferable prig to not understand that he DID truly love Buffy, but he was right: Buffy deserved better and she surely did not belong in the dark.

Giles looked at the vampire, puzzled at the wafting emotions playing over the creature’s face. The expected anger had been replaced with something that looked, much to Giles’ confusion, mightily like shame.

“Got the legal bits figured out for getting that money to Buffy,” Spike abruptly changed the subject. “Figure we can disguise it as a trust set up for her to be released on her birthday. Lots of people come into an inheritance on their twenty-first. Might want to put that on your list of tasks to do since her big day’s only a week away.”

“As to that matter, I think I have an even better idea. Buffy asked me just this morning about the proceeds from the sale of her mother’s gallery. In truth, I had quite forgotten all about it until she asked.”

“What DID happen to it? I seem to remember Joyce havin’ a pretty impressive inventory,” Spike narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Really, this lot had truly muddled Buffy’s financial affairs badly.

“That’s just it,” Giles sighed, “No one thought to do anything with the bloody place. I’ve arranged for an appraiser to meet me there later to see what can be done with the pieces she had on hand. Once the back rent for the gallery itself is settled, there should be a sum to add to what you are offering.”

“I might want to drop by, make sure you get a fair estimate,” Spike growled.

“I doubt that will be necessary,” Giles began.

Spike looked up with a gleam in his eye and nearly shouted, “Brilliant! Yeah, you do that Watcher. I think we can add a few pieces while we’re waiting. Remember that tomb where I found the imaginary Gem of Amara?” Giles nodded. “Well, there were plenty of gallery worthy pieces of bling there to add to the pot. This all works out and Buffy’ll never have to do a thing except patrol and look pretty well into old age! Might even keep the Bit in boy band CDs and lip gloss.”

With that, Spike turned, tossed his trusty blanket over his head and headed into the sunlight. He had a present of his own to arrange and some nerds to eliminate before they killed an innocent girl and tried to lay blame on his Slayer.


Meanwhile at Nerd Central, plans were afoot.

“Couldn’t we have at least gotten a lair with a view?” Andrew was whining again and driving the other two crazier by the minute.

“We’re on the lam, you moron, it’s not like we have a choice.” Warren swatted the youngest of the trio on the back of the head as if to knock some sense into him.

“Yeah! If you hadn’t caused the Slayer to go poof, we wouldn’t have to be hiding in Warren’s mom’s basement, dorkwad,” Jonathan added.

Warren was tinkering with a small device as the other two bickered. “Look, you losers, we’ve got much bigger fish to fry, so shut up and let me concentrate. This is delicate work here.” He lay down his tools and turned to see his companions in crime in a hair pulling fight over an old Bee-Gee’s record. “When you girls are done touching each other, the cerebral dampener’s ready to be charged.”

Andrew let go of Jonathan’s hair and pulled free of the older boy’s grasp. “This is soooo cool. It’ll be like when Cameron Hodge kidnapped Storm, Rictor, Wolfsbane, Warlock and Boom Boom and turned them into mindless mutant slaves on Genosha!”

“This isn’t the X-Men, numb nuts! Besides, that stopped being cool after Claremont quit writing it. This is the real deal, coolness all in one small silver ball and a dash of demon musk gland.” Warren took a plastic bag out with a foul smelling glob of indescribable yellow goop inside and sprinkled it while Jonathan chanted something in Latin. Light and smoke caused the ball to glow and spin slightly as Jonathan’s hand issued smoke.

“Gentlemen, the dampener is operational!” He pocketed the ball and grinned wickedly. “With this little beauty we can make any woman our willing sex slave. Let’s go shopping.”

They headed out to select their prey.


Spike had two boxes of jewelry and antiques before the appraiser had arrived at Joyce’s gallery. When the inventory she had left behind had been totaled and added to the stash provided by Spike, both of Buffy’s protectors were well pleased. There would be no need for Buffy to enter the work force, now or ever. Indeed, there would be no need for Giles to hector the Council to do the right thing by the girl. She would be well provided for, even if she were to live to a very old age. Dawn’s future was secured as well.

“No need for you to even touch that account,” Giles suggested.

“Got no reason to use it. May as well just add to this pot. Can always make my way without the dosh,” Spike reasoned. “This way there’ll be plenty even if every friend of the Slayer’s decides to leech on her good nature for the rest of her life.” It rankled that Willow had not offered so much as a spell to fix the pipes, much less contributed any money to the household all the months she had lived at Revello Drive.

The appraiser left, having arranged for a proper auction of all the items on hand. Giles then turned to the vampire and began, “I think there may be a need for me to leave town for a short while after Xander’s wedding. I need to check some avenues regarding the mess Willow has left in the wake of that ritual. There is a shaman who owes me a favor and may hold the key to setting Buffy right again.”

“Long as she knows you’ll be back. Girl can’t take people she loves leavin’ all the time.”

Spike bit his lip and offered, “Look…not likely she’ll care if I disappear for a bit. Want me to go see this shaman for you? You stay here and make sure Buffy gets some help dealin’ with the other problems she was havin’ before she took that header off the tower?”

Giles scoffed, “He is not likely to deal with a filthy demon!”

Spike refused to let Giles see how the words had wounded. ‘Never be good enough in his bloody book, no matter what I do or don’t do.’ “I can shower first,” he smirked.

“I told you earlier that your recent assistance will not lead to a path to Buffy. There is nothing that can change that situation.”

“Don’t expect it would,” Spike said sadly. He remembered how singularly unimpressed Giles had been with his having fought for a soul the last time around. He also remembered how the Watcher had been less than pleased to find out that he had returned after burning up in the hellmouth. In the Watcher’s mind, even his immolation to save the world hadn’t burned away the guilt of a century of bloodletting.


The bar was filling with customers just off from work. The clientele was upscale and the nightly search for Mr. Perfectly Fine was beginning. Not a woman gave Warren the first look as they scanned the likely objects of girlish fantasy.

In the van, Andrew and Jonathan watched the monitor and slobbered at all the possibilities.

Andrew had noticed a bartender who looked like he’d been working out and mused, “We can really have anyone we want?”

Jonathan was more interested in a tall, redheaded woman with a skirt slit to the thigh. ‘I could always use a stepladder,’ he thought.

They were riveted to the images of the possible love slaves passing before Warren’s camera and didn’t notice the door of the van wrench open until the imposing figure in black was already at their backs. “Thought I recognized this rolling rat trap. You two idiots watching computer porn?”

Andrew paled and trembled as Jonathan backed as far into the corner as possible. Spike smashed the communications console before either could tip off their fearless leader that they had company of the undead variety. “Now I’m thinking we need to have a friendly chat while lackbrain is in there being ignored by all the ladies, whaddaya say?”

“S-s-s-sure, Spike, what’d you want to talk about?” Jonathan prayed the warmth he was feeling in his trousers was merely sweat. The vampire was in demon face and that didn’t bode well. This was far worse than when he had threatened the Fett!

“Your little crime spree is over.” Spike’s hand shot out and stopped Andrew from slithering towards the open door of the van. “Over. Now you get to decide if you want to be blushing brides at Folsom with Lex Luthor there or if you want to have a chance to save your scrawny arses instead.”

“You’ve got nothing on us!” braved Jonathan.

Spike laughed ruefully. “Let’s see…one missing diamond, one frostbitten guard, a fairly sizable stash of money that’s likely got serial numbers on file from the bank… Are you starting to have your memory working yet? No? Hmm. Well, the police have already been to Mears’ cellar and have it already. Game he’s playin’ right now’s likely to add rape to the charges, maybe even murder. You want part of that, it’s fine by me, but if I were you I’d start spillin’ my guts to the cops now, turn state’s evidence and cut my losses. You clue them in to his little dating game and set up a sting and you might even get off with probation.”

Suddenly he had their undivided attention.


Tara dropped Dawn off at home but hadn’t gone far down the sidewalk before she heard Buffy call to her softly.

“Tara, it’s really good to see you again.”

“Good to see you too, Buffy. You look better, more at peace. I hope you know how sorry I am that we acted without thinking.”

“I know. Well, I know you’re sorry anyway. I don’t think Willow’s quite ready to admit it might not have been her brightest idea.” Buffy felt bad bringing up Willow’s continued intransigence regarding the use of magic. She claimed to be staying away from it, but Buffy knew Willow was still going out evenings and meeting with Amy, and that had to be a world of bad news.

Tara squirmed and ducked her head in misplaced shame. “Um, I don’t think I can stop her, Buffy. Even leaving hasn’t made her see what she needs to do.”

“I know. It’s not your responsibility, Tara; not mine either, really. Willow’s a legal grown-up and one of the smartest people I know. Somehow she has to know she’s making bad choices.”

“Choices!” Willow’s voice broke through. “You think I chose to see my best friend die? You think I chose to have her mad at me because I didn’t want her to suffer in some hell dimension? Okay, so you weren’t in one, but how was I supposed to know that? I’ve only ever tried to make things better for you, for everyone, and no one appreciates the pressure that puts me under!”

Buffy looked at her wide-eyed, amazed at her nerve. “You wanna talk about lack of choice? The only choices I get are what toothpaste to use or what to wear and both of those are getting to be smaller choices each day. You think it’s a picnic going out every night since I was fifteen to get my ass kicked by big nasty demons? I didn’t ask to have to save the world once a year or more. I didn’t ask to have all this responsibility dumped on me. I didn’t get to choose a life that includes Social Security. No one gets that I’m not supposed to have the shelf life of a bag of Cheetos. I’m supposed to show up every night and kill the nasties so YOU can life a long life filled with choices. Then, when I finally DO hit that expiration date, I don’t even get to stay in peace because of one of YOUR choices!”

Tara placed a consoling hand on Buffy’s trembling arm and furrowed her brow. “Maybe it would be better to try to talk about this calmly.”

“Sorry,” Buffy shook off Tara’s hand while glaring at Willow, “Can’t choose to chat right now. I have to head out and kill some more monsters before they take away all your freedom.”
Tara watched sadly as Buffy stalked off towards Restview cemetery.

“Headed off to the great bleached wonder again. She’s been spending all her free time with the evil undead.” Willow snorted in disgust.

Tara looked at her former girlfriend in confusion, “I thought you kinda liked Spike? Willow, why are you so angry?”

Willow turned her head slightly and was grateful for the dark of night. She had a feeling her eyes weren’t their normal lovely shade with all the anger she was feeling. She could feel it fuel the power within her. “He interferes. I know he’s manipulating Buffy. No way would my best friend still be mad at me without someone telling her what a bad friend I am. The only one I know who would do that is the same one who turned us all against each other once before!”

“I really don’t think Spike would do that now, Willow. You remember how good he was all summer with Dawn and helping us. He saved all of us at least once.”

Willow used all her self control to disguise her rage. “You’re right, of course, sweetie. I just overreacted. It’s making me all jumpy, going cold turkey this way--you know, with the magic and all. You’d be really proud of me.” She smiled sweetly at her love. “Did Buffy mention that I helped get her all visible again without so much as one spell?”

“Dawn told me. I haven’t really talked to Buffy much until just before you came out.”

“Hey! Next week is Buffy’s birthday. I’m going to throw a party for her. Please say you’ll come. Absolutely no pressure, but I know she’d want you here; I sure do.” She looked up at Tara through her lashes, blatantly flirting.

“Well…maybe…it is her birthday, after all.”


The sting was nearly perfect. Katrina had followed Warren’s every command with zombie-like obedience, proving the information from the two bumbling budding criminals was not as insane as it had first sounded. The officer who took the confession from the duo wondered why they both were constantly looking over their shoulder as they detailed the brief yet peculiar crime spree they had enjoyed.

They watched in amazement as the geeky boy ordered the lovely woman about. “You should never have left me. Say it!”

“I should never have left you, master,” she dutifully replied in monotone.

“Tell me you love me,” he smirked and reached for his zipper.

“I love you, master.”

The police prepared to move in.

“I love you too, baby. Get on your knees.”

As the door burst in, Warren missed Katrina reply, “Yes, Warren.”

Suddenly, the basement was alive with activity. Police were wrestling Warren to the ground and reading him his rights as Katrina was shaking off her stupor, looking about her in awareness at last. “What the F ---? What did you do to me, you creep?” She began to cry. “You’re sick! I’m going to make sure you get locked up for this, then we’ll see how YOU like getting raped!” She collapsed on the stairs as Warren was led to the police car waiting outside.

“Miss, we’ll need your statement at the station,” the officer said kindly. Lucky for you, this jerk’s former pals clued us in or it might have turned nasty for you.”

“Yeah, I feel REAL lucky,” she muttered.


Buffy didn’t kick in the door to Spike’s crypt. In fact, once she got there, she began to feel slightly unsure of her welcome. Things had become so strange with the vampire lately that she didn’t know if he would want to hear about her latest row with Willow.
She thought back to a conversation the last time she had come here to seek the calm she only seemed to feel in his presence.

“Do you even like me?” The look on his face had been so desperate, so hopeful.

“Sometimes,” she had admitted after a long pause. It was strange but she had to admit that she really did like him. He was nothing like she had thought, nothing like any other vampire she had ever taken the time to know, nothing like…‘no, not naming names,’ she insisted. He had been nothing but kind and helpful to her, even before she died. Really, from the time Glory had beaten him to a pulp, he had been beyond reproach. She had finally come to see that what he felt for her must be love, in spite of what the supernatural authorities seemed to think about it. It didn’t seem right to take advantage of his feelings this way, always going to him, taking from him and offering nothing in return…nothing that he wanted anyway.

She didn’t know WHAT she felt for him. She felt something. Lust, for certain. Attraction, sure, if she were honest with herself, she had found him attractive for a long time. Somehow she knew that was just not enough. For once it wasn’t just about her. He deserved better from her. ‘Maybe I should stop dumping on him like this.’

Still, he had said he wanted to help her adjust and listening to her daily dramas was part of it. She rested her palm on the door and tried to decide if now was a good time to start respecting Spike’s privacy and actually knock.

Spike stiffened and put the mug of blood down mid-sip. He could sense her before she even reached the door. When Buffy didn’t kick in the door and barrel in as usual, he moved swiftly and softly to the door and for once didn’t draw unnecessary breath. She was there, he could feel her. His hands rested on the door in a caress as if it were her warm flesh rather than aged wood. He could hear her rapid heartbeat, smell her delicate scent, hear her shallow breathing, and he yearned for her as time stood still.

With a sigh, Buffy turned and rushed towards home and the safety of continued denial.

This time Spike knew there would be no dead girl to push Buffy off the edge into manic rage, no desperate trip to the police station and nothing for her to regret the next morning. This time he had fixed things the right way and not just been around to try to dispose of a body and become a target for all her anger and fear. He’d saved the girl, maybe even saved HIS girl too. This time he had gotten it right.

Older And Coming Closer
Chapter 6, Older and Coming Closer

Dawn watched as Willow conjured up yet another birthday cake, the fifth thus far. Each time she decided it had some defect that had to be improved on. “Geez, Willow, Buffy won’t care as long as there’s ice cream to go with it!”

“NO!” Willow exploded in exasperation. “It can be perfect. I can make it perfect. Buffy deserves perfect. This is the first birthday since….” She paused and a fleeting look of guilt crossed her face before it was replaced with determination once more. “Besides, how often do you get to turn twenty-one?”

“Well, if you count my time I don’t remember as a ball of green energy, I might get to twice,” Dawn giggled. “Don’t think I celebrated with booze that first time though…or at all. I mean, what do you get for a key anyway?”

“Maybe a lock?” Tara had just entered the kitchen and joined the conversation with a smile. “I thought you could use a hand getting the party ready for tonight.” She peered at Willow with a hint of her old shyness.

“I could always use your hands,” Willow whispered.

“Okay, kid here and that’s just way TMI for me,” Dawn rolled her eyes. “Why don’t I just go shopping and leave you two at it.” Realizing how that could be taken, she revised, “To the party stuff, I meant, not any other ‘it’.”

“Do you need some money for the gift?” Tara knew things were very tight in the house before she had moved out. She had felt guilty not contributing to the household expenses but had tried to make up for it by playing cook and housekeeper.

“Nope, Spike’s got me covered.” She didn’t notice the grimace the vampire’s name caused on Willow’s face. “He slipped me enough I can get something really nice for a change.”

Willow’s hard look was out of place under the circumstances. “Where’d HE get the money? Stole it from somebody? I’d say killed someone for it, but that chip makes that impossible…now.”

“God, what’s your damage?” Dawn immediately felt defensive for her surrogate brother’s reputation. “Spike’s been good for a long time now, you know that! He doesn’t even steal from the Magic Box anymore.”

“Not since Anya threatened to neuter him for real,” Willow snarked.

“Even before! Really, what’s the reason for the Spike hate?” Dawn hadn’t expected this from Willow. She had never been anti-Spike like Xander or Giles and had appreciated Spike’s help all summer long.

“Not hate, just sick of hearing about Saint Spike,” Willow said in a tone of voice that contradicted the words. “Buffy’s always over at that crypt listening to his poison. Half her problems adjusting are probably his fault. Who knows what he’s been saying to her. When she’s not there, Spike is over here with his head next to Giles checking on things that aren’t his business.”

“Whoa! Sorry I asked,” Dawn said as she backed out of the kitchen. She turned to Tara and snarked, “Someone got up on the wrong side of the caldron this morning.” She glared a threat at Willow. She knew that Willow did NOT want Tara to know the current birthday cake candidate had been thin air only moments before.

Willow met the stare with defiance. “Didn’t you say you were going to go shopping for a birthday gift?”

Dawn raised an eyebrow in a decidedly Spike-like way and retorted, “You finally settle on that cake?”

“Yes. I’m not going to bake another one, that okay with you?”

“Is…everything all right between you two?” Tara had watched the exchange and knew there were undercurrents that she was not picking up on.

“Fine,” They answered together.

“No problem,” added Willow. “Is there, Dawnie?”

“Not with me. Buffy’s even been paying attention to me lately so it’s all good,” she smiled at Tara, her contentment showing through.

“Be careful at the mall,” Tara warned. “No picking up boys!”

“As if!” Dawn snorted out as she left the house.

“So…um …been baking all morning?”

Willow gave a slightly guilty start before lying, “Yup. Dawnie’s irritated that I went through a few boxes of cake mix before it turned out right.”

“Oh, well, that happens. It is a special birthday after all.”

“You betcha,” Willow beamed, “That’s exactly what I said to Dawn. I want it to be perfect.”
“It will be, just because we’re all together. Even Giles is here.” Tara knew how the loss of her Watcher had hit Buffy and how glad she must be that he’d returned.

“Yet another ‘yay Spike’ issue,” Willow muttered bitterly. She wished she had thought to urge Giles to return before the vampire had lured him back.

“Huh?” Tara hadn’t been able to hear the comment but could make out from the tone of voice that Willow was either angry or frustrated.

“Just irritated that I didn’t get pink frosting for the roses, that’s all.” Willow was getting too good at the smooth lies. “Buffy used to wear a lot of pink and I think she’d really like that.”

“I’m sure it will be perfect no matter what color you have.” Tara could feel the pent up emotions in her former lover but wasn’t able to pinpoint what they were exactly. Her aura was all over the place looking more like chaos than anything Tara could put her finger on.

“Think I’ll let this cool longer anyway.” Willow hoped to mojo the finished product after Tara left but was in no hurry for her beloved to leave. She placed the cake in the nearly empty refrigerator and turned a smiling face on Tara. “Want some tea while we figure out how we want to decorate?”

“I got that vibrator for Buffy’s back aches as our gift,” Tara ventured. It had been so long since they had a normal conversation that it felt strained.

“Great! I was going to ask if you had the chance to pick it up.” Willow thought how well it was going. Before long, Tara would be home where she belonged, as long as she didn’t know that the magic use was still an issue. “Xander and Anya are bringing a blind date for Buffy. Some guy on Xan’s crew. That should perk up our favorite Slayer.”

Tara bit her lip and looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know about that. Seems like it would be a bit awkward to have some stranger for a date on your birthday, especially with all your friends there.”

“Trust me, this is just what Buff needs. A new boyfriend will be just the ticket to stop all those crypt visits. She needs to be back in the land of the living. Hanging around a cemetery, you know, when not patrolling or anything, is not what she needs to feel all alive again.”

“If you say so,” Tara said uncertainly, still thinking it was not a great idea.


“I’m telling you Richard is perfect for Buffy! He’s a really nice guy, normal in every way. He’s got one of those California pretty boy looks--kinda like Val Kilmer--you girls always seem to find strangely appealing.” Xander hadn’t introduced his co-worker to Anya yet and she wasn’t sure if Xander had a clue about Buffy’s taste in men. “He’s buff too, with all the construction stuff and all.”

“He sounds nice enough, but I still think Buffy has a thing for Spike.” Anya didn’t notice Xander flinch at that thought. “What if she’s invited him to the party. It could get awkward is all I’m saying.”

“Undead, Jr. may be at the party, but there is no way the Buffster is interested in him except as extra muscle now and then.”

“Yes, but just which muscle?” Anya had to get a glass of water to stop Xander’s choking fit at that.

“I’m just saying that you all thought Riley was ‘the one’ for Buffy and she never really sparked with him, except that one time in the frat house and that was ghosts.”

Xander regained his breath at last. “They sparked plenty! If Buffy had just run a little faster, he’d he here sparking right now. Speaking of Ri, I need to e-mail Sergeant Rock and invite him to our wedding.”

“Who is this sergeant, and you do realize that I’ll have to rearrange seating again if you keep adding people,” Anya huffed.

“Sergeant Rock was a comic book…oh, never mind, I meant Riley.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Anya put down the dry erase pen she had grabbed intending to alter the white board schematic of the reception seating. “I have him at the table with Hallie. I thought it would be amusing to have him partnered with a demon. I plan to tell her to keep the human face on to see if he can figure it out.” Anya chuckled at her own private joke.
“About this friend of yours…,” Xander began hesitantly. With all the demons on the guest list and now this one in the bridal party, he was sure the whole day would be a giant fiasco. It was a near guarantee just with his parents in the picture.

“Did someone mention me?” The doe-eyed vengeance demon appeared in a poof, startling Xander into dropping his empty glass.

“Hallie!” Anya threw her arms around her oldest friend in delight. “Actually we were just talking about blind dates. I think I have one for you at my wedding, but you’ll have to act human.”

Halfrek tossed her head imperially and sniffed. “Is he a bigot? Too good for a mere working demon?”

“No, well, he might think he is, if you get down to it. He was with that group that kidnapped and experimented on demons a couple of years ago.” Anya had always held that against the soldier on principle.

“I can bring my own date,” Hallie decided.

“He’s may be an idiot, but he’s a hunk of yummy manhood,” Anya tempted. “Just think of the fun you could have before you let him see your real face?”

“Well…maybe,” replied the suddenly avid-faced demon. “There could be possibilities. It might just educate him to his blindness. I’d be doing a public service to the whole demon community!”

“That’s the spirit,” Anya smiled back.

“So what’s the other blind date?”

“Oh, it’s a guy Xander’s decided to hook up with Buffy at her birthday party tonight. I think we should just put a bow around his neck and make sure she realizes he’s part of her gift.” Anya smirked at her fiancé.

“Hey, the Buffster has been all doom and gloom since her return ticket to planet earth. She deserves some love action,” Xander defended. “She hasn’t had time for any of us because she patrols too much and when she’s not patrolling she’s looking for work. She needs cheering up and some serious down time.”

“So,” Hallie said in a calculated manner, “She’s been neglecting her friends? Her little sister?”

“Not neglecting, just busy. I wish she’d just take some time for nothing but enjoying herself, like at this party,” Xander said.

“Wish granted,” Hallie whispered as she turned her back on the pair.


Spike was mentally preparing to face the party from hell. ‘Maybe this time Cecily won’t keep us locked up since the Bit isn’t being neglected.’ The last thing he wanted was to be forced to watch that William-like boy Xander had dredged up as Buffy’s date trying to make time with the Slayer. ‘Can’t even corner her for a little tease this time.’ Really, this keeping his hands off was harder than he had thought it would be. For some reason telling Buffy ‘no’ and sticking to it had set something loose in her. Buffy had been using every excuse to touch him, attempting to seduce him more than once since his return to this time and place. He’d need more than Tara’s ice offer to get rid of his ‘cramp’ this go-round if Buffy tried that at the party.

Thinking back to that endless party, Spike remembered the uninvited demon and determined to drop by early to remove the sword from Buffy’s house so that part of the nightmare wouldn’t repeat. “I might not mind the pretty boy meeting the sharp end of a sword, but Buffy wouldn’t like it much.”

He and Giles had all the official paperwork done to gift Buffy with the end of her financial woes. Of course Spike wouldn’t be mentioned as a benefactor, so he did battle with the tape dispenser as he wrapped his official gift for the love of his life.

He had selected one of the pieces of jewelry from the cave that didn’t have any magical attachments and was not as gaudy as some of the big items. It was a delicate gold chain with a small but perfect emerald pendant. It brought to mind the shade of Buffy’s eyes when he looked at it. Those orbs were changeable but the green moments had an emerald quality to them. The pendant would look lovely against her skin.

He planned to lie and say it had been in his family so Buffy wouldn’t reject the gift out of hand. Make it seem a trifle. Sadly, the humans seemed to think him incapable of being sentimental and it should be an easy sell.

It was wearying to have to explain every single thing he did, or had, to people, but the assumption that everything in his possession had to be ill-gotten still prevailed. This time around wasn’t any easier than the first in getting the group to see him as anything other than just another evil demon. ‘Forgot to add the soulless part. Always callin’ me everything I’m not anymore.’ Strangely, ever since he had resisted Buffy’s advances she had kept from name-calling.


Buffy prepared to go be the star of the hour with a bit more care than of late. ‘Really, I’ve let myself go. I haven’t been this unfashionable since those horrible overalls back in High School!’

She ran her fingers over the soft fabrics of her more carefree life when her mother had still been there and the future was full of possibilities. The clothes were a couple of years out of date, but most didn’t show it. She selected a lacy black off-the-shoulder top that clung to her curves beautifully and paired it with tight black leather trousers and boots. She gave her reflection a critical go over and decided she might still turn a head or two yet! She felt her eye drift to a long strip of red leather and artfully tied it around her neck in a makeshift necklace before applying more make-up than she’d worn since her return from heaven.
A full hour after she had gone into her room, Buffy was satisfied with the final product. The red of her lips and necklace were the only real color and it was striking. ‘Spike colors,’ she thought to herself and rolled her eyes at her own subconscious choice. ‘Like he’d notice. Not anymore.’

She had been thinking a lot about the vampire lately. It seemed a bit strange that in all the years she had known Spike she had spent more time trying NOT to think about him in some way. She had always directed her thoughts toward him being irritating or evil or some other unpleasant description. It was safer that way. The truth, she had to finally confess, if only to herself, was that Spike had barreled into her life and fixed himself in her thoughts in one way or another. On the most basic level, she knew that he had fired her up from the beginning. Dusting him had seemed like destroying a lovely piece of art and she had done all in her power to avoid doing it. He was funny too, quick witted with a delicious side of snark. As for his fighting form…. She drew in a sigh and realized that he could hypnotize her if she let him. Ever since Willow’s spell two years before, she had become even more conscious of his lips and hands as her body demanded she remember the feel of them on a regular basis.

All of that she might have admitted to herself even before, but since her resurrection there was more to her attraction than those superficial things. He was loyal and strangely honorable. From the time Glory had tortured him mercilessly, she had realized he could be trusted with her very life and the lives of those she held dear. He had been willing to die for Dawnie. It had been the easiest choice she had ever made when she entrusted her little sister to his protection that night before she died. He had not disappointed her either, having stayed to care for Dawn and even watch out for her friends and do her duties with slayage. Since she had been back, he had been gentle and concerned with her best interests, even passing on her many offers of sex because he thought it wasn’t something that would be good for her! He had said he loved her and his actions had proven it over and over.
Spike was one of the only men in her life not to leave. Looking at his long affair with Dru, he wasn’t likely to leave in the near future either.

She had to really try hard to find a reason not to let herself fall in love with him. She had told herself that he was evil, a mass murderer on a leash, soulless. She had tried to picture the carnage she had read of in his past and seen in vampires every day and had no trouble developing a sense of disgust. Then she’d see his so expressive face as he watched her come down those stairs the night she returned, or his battered countenance after Glory had him, or the awkward but sincere caring the night she found out her mom was ill and she couldn’t stay disgusted. Truthfully, she had to work at it to bar him from her heart. Then, when she finally gave in to the physical desire and he took the high road, she had to look at what she really was feeling beyond lust and was startled to find he had already found a place in her heart while she wasn’t noticing. ‘Not sure when that happened, but I think it was that day in his crypt when I was pretending to be the Bot. It sorta grew on its own after that.’

Each step he had taken toward the light had served to shine that light on parts of his basic character all the blood of his past couldn’t cover. There was good in him that had never died and Buffy knew that there would be more if he were given encouragement. She wanted to be part of that process.

She looked at her face in the mirror and smiled weakly, “Now that I want him, he may not want me back. Way to go, Buffy!”

That was the thing she had finally admitted to just that day: she wanted him…not just in her bed and life, but in her heart. She knew her friends would throw a fit and as for Giles… well, that was a storm waiting to break, and possibly break her or Spike for that matter.
“I’m twenty-one today, all legal and adult. I’ve got the responsibilities of an old person, even if I’m not likely to ever live to be one. Time I start acting like it, suck it up and make my decisions based on me, not my friends or Watcher. I’m the one that has to live my life, not them. Xander never asked me if it was okay to marry ex-demon Anya and Willow never came to me to find out if it was okay with me if she switched teams for Tara. Why should they have veto power on who I love?”

Somehow, during the party, she hoped to find out if Spike might still have a strong enough interest in her to give it a try. With that resolve, she straightened her shoulders and headed downstairs to party central.

“Free, legal and twenty-one…here I come!”


Willow looked fairly smug. She had managed to get everything just so even with Tara nearby. It had been so simple to ask her lover to pick up a few last minute items while she used a spell to decorate that final cake and get the house decorated. By the time Tara had returned with the extra sodas and dip everything was just as it should be. ‘What’s wrong with using magic to make sure everything is perfect? I have power; I should use it! No wrongs there. They’re just jealous of my power, that’s all.’ Her eyes flashed black as thoughts of her power filled her.

“You did such a nice job, sweetie.” Tara smiled at her. “Everything looks so pretty. I know Buffy is going to be really touched.”

Giles entered the room and Willow felt a surge of annoyance. ‘I hope he isn’t planning on another round of Salem Witch Trials, Sunnydale Division. That was already old when he called me an arrogant amateur.’ She pasted on her widest grin and turned to face the man she had once so admired. “Hello, Giles. Glad you’re here for this birthday.”

“As am I. I really shouldn’t have left in retrospect,” Giles had taken Spike’s words to heart about the trouble he had left in his wake.

“Well, I’m always willing to forgive mistakes, and so is Buffy,” Willow made no attempt to hide the double meaning. Giles understood her point even if he saw her misuse of magic as far more than a simple error in judgement.

“Yes, well, mistakes often have consequences, some not easily remedied.”

“And sometimes things work out for the best,” Willow answered quickly, her eyes narrowing in silent warning.

Any further snarking was put to an end by the appearance of the birthday girl. Buffy had a glow about her that had been missing for a long time, even before her death.

“Buffy, dear, you look lovely. Very grown up.” Giles smiled fondly on his charge.

“Thanks, Giles. That’s me: Buffy Summers, all growed up and womanly,” She ended that on a slight giggle.

Xander and his small entourage hustled through the door, chattering like mad squirrels. His arms were laden with bags of snack foods. Besides his ever present fiancé, there was a strange woman and young man, both looking a bit uncertain of their welcome.

“Guys,” Xander did the introductions while putting his bounty on the already filled table, “This is Richard--he works with me. A real craftsman and a gentleman.” He looked pointedly at Buffy, trying to convey Richard’s suitability to his old friend. With a slight fading of his smile, he pointed to Hallie next. “And this is one of Anya’s old pal’s, Halfrek.”

“Hallie is my oldest friend in the entire world. She’s going to be in the wedding party and I thought you should all get to know each other before the big day,” Anya’s delight was fairly beaming at the thought of the upcoming wedding.

“The more, the merrier,” Buffy said, patently ignoring the obviousness of Xander’s matchmaking attempt. “I don’t mind another couple at the party.”

Xander’s face fell slightly at Buffy’s assumption that Richard was Hallie’s date. “Well…um…Richard and Hallie aren’t a couple, except in the ‘there are two of them’ sense. I kinda thought you and Richard might like, you know, meeting each other?”

The man in question looked like he wanted the floor to swallow him whole.

Buffy was bemused and it showed. “Oh, if he’s a friend of yours, I’m sure he can become a friend of mine too.” She put out her hand in welcome, “Nice to meet you, Richard. Goodies are on the table, help yourself.”

Before Xander could make his meaning embarrassingly clear to everyone, he was saved by the bell, or rather the entrance of Spike and an odd-looking demon. “Hope you don’t mind, but I brought Clem along for the ceremonial first legal drink of liquor. Since the first time he met you was the night you were illegally sloshed.” He grinned at the memory of a charmingly drunk Buffy.

“I remember you! Kitten poker. You were the one that said my skin was too tight,” Buffy smiled at the affable demon.

“Kitten poker?” Richard was looking at the floppy eared, loose-skinned man with the red tinted eyes in complete confusion.

“Skin condition. Doesn’t like to talk about it,” Buffy whispered to him before saying in a normal tone, “Kittens, chips, pretzels…poker works with about anything, right, Clem?”

Clem nodded, his ears flapping with the movement. “Hope you still like the little grey ones ‘cause that’s what I brought for your gift.” Dawn squealed and grabbed the grey bundle of fur before Buffy could even get a look at it.

“Oh, Buffy, she’s precious!!! Can she sleep in my room? I know it’s your kitty, but just for tonight?” Dawn hadn’t looked so excited since she had been nine.

“Okay,” Buffy was really thinking about how she was going to add cat food and kitty litter to her already impossible list of things to buy when Clem dragged in a cat bed that had a bag of each in it.

Tara whispered to Dawn, “Be sure all the crossbows are put up. I’d hate for another innocent to meet with an accident.” She had always regretted letting Miss Kitty Fantastico spend that tragic last night in Dawn’s room.

It was all Spike could do to keep from growling at the vapid youth standing at Buffy’s side. The boy did not improve on second viewing. ‘Wish she’d see that another couple of words for normal are ‘ordinary’ and ‘common.’ Silly chit deserves better than that.’

Buffy was delighted to notice the stiff posture in the vampire as he looked at Richard. Maybe it wasn’t too late after all, maybe he was still interested. “Glad you could make it, Spike, and yes, Clem’s always welcome too.” She smiled her most engaging smile and was rewarded with a look of awe from her vamp in shining leather.

“Looks like everybody’s here. Let the party begin!” Willow gestured to the decorated living room with its pile of presents. “Dawn picked out some games and I’ve got the CD player all queued up with the tunes. Everybody already knows where the food is, and the drinks and ice are in the kitchen.”

Spike raised his eyebrow sardonically at Willow’s acting as woman of the house. ‘Made herself right at home, hasn’t she. Sleepin’ in the master bedroom and takin’ charge. Rent-free too.’
“Yes,” Buffy urged, “Everybody make yourself at home. Very casual around here.”

Hallie had already zeroed in on Clem in a moment of demon solidarity and led him to the snacks. “So how long have you known William?”

Spike heard his name mentioned but realizing the vengeance demon was present didn’t distract him from heading straight to Buffy’s side in the living room. “Well, pet, how’s it feel to be all adult-like?”

Buffy laughed in genuine pleasure. It was amazing how freeing it was to stop fighting her feelings. “Feels the same and completely different at the same time. It’s nice that I can make my own choices now,” she hinted.

Spike grinned at her happy mood. He’d been right to hold her at arm’s length if it had this result. She looked at peace, the dark cloud that had accompanied her since her mother had died wasn’t around, at least not at the moment. “That so? What are some of these choices that have your pretty eyes dancing?”

“Maybe later I’ll tell you a few, when it’s less crowded,” Buffy said, playing the coquette. If Spike hadn’t already given her his heart and soul, he would have been completely smitten by this version of the girl he had known for years. She was flirting! With him!


“Ooh, prezzies!” Buffy’s eyes gleamed as she looked at the booty just waiting to be unwrapped.

“Mine first,” Dawn insisted. She lay the gaily wrapped present on Buffy’s lap and bit her lip in anxious excitement. The money Spike had given her had allowed her to buy what she really wanted and now she was going to see if Buffy would love it as much as Dawn hoped she would.
The paper flew and box was wrenched open with the sound of popping tape. “Dawn! God, this is beautiful! Do I want to know where you got the money for this?” Buffy looked slyly at her Watcher in question. To her surprise, Giles seemed as clueless as she was. She rubbed the buttery soft leather of the black coat in delight. She hadn’t had a new coat in ages and this was far too good for a cool night’s patrol. “Thank you. This is for my ‘not going out to slice and dice’ moments; it’s too pretty to risk ruining it.”

Dawn was thrilled that she had nailed her sister’s taste so well and handed Buffy a second package. “You might want these to go with it then.”

The boots were of matching leather and the heel made them impractical for patrolling. The box showed them to be from a discount shoe store but the quality looked excellent. “You’re spoiling me! New boots to go with the coat. I’ll be stylish Buffy again before you know it!” She threw her arms around her little sister and thanked her again. Leave it to Dawn to realize that the best way to cheer this girl up was a new pair of shoes.

Tara shyly handed Buffy their gift as Willow hovered at her side. They had talked a lot while getting the party ready and Willow had high hopes that her girl was close to coming home! The joy nearly counterbalanced the undercurrent of anger she felt each time she looked at either Giles or Spike.

Buffy looked at the gift in a bit of confusion. It looked like the head of ET the Extra-Terrestrial, in a way, with the two large protruding balls that could be mistaken for red eyes in the grey alien-like mounting. “It’s a vibrator,” Tara explained. “It does deep massage. You know, for your back when you’ve been fighting demons and it’s too sore for you to rest well.”

Spike hid a smirk as Buffy blushed. Clearly the word vibrator caused his Slayer to go someplace where bad backs didn’t exist or at least didn’t matter.

“That’s really thoughtful, thank you.” Buffy wondered how she was supposed to contort herself to use it on her back and then had an image of long talented fingers attached to a yummy vampire doing the job for her and valued the gift even more.

Xander and Anya hauled in a large and welcome weapons chest that he had lovingly made and carved with clever designs. It had been hand polished to a high gleam and lined with soft material. “This is beautiful guys and means even more because you made it for me yourself. Thank you.”

It was turning out to be a lovely birthday after all.

Giles cleared his throat and pulled out an attaché case.

“Um, Giles I don’t think I’ll be getting any job that needs a briefcase,” Buffy teased.

“Indeed,” he began unable to stifle his wide grin. “I believe what this contains may well make any job hunting unnecessary… well unless you have a strong desire for a career, of course.”

“You got the council to pay me!!!!” Buffy fairly shot off the couch in excitement.

“Not exactly. Those prats don’t part with a farthing without getting a pound out of it somehow,” Giles said in disgust. “No, this is yours by right. In our grief and desperation to cover up your… passing…we neglected to remember your mother’s Gallery. I took it upon myself to have an appraiser come and look over her inventory after I checked her records and determined she had ownership of it all and was not holding anything on consignment. What I have here is an offer from a rather prestigious auction house to handle the sale of all the items. They were very impressed with your mother’s good taste and wise investments. Some of the pieces have nearly quadrupled in value since you mother purchased them. This is their estimate of the base amount you will likely receive from auction. The final figure may well be more. If you agree to allow them handle it the money could be in your hands within a month.” He handed her the proposal and sat next to the shocked girl. “All you need to do is sign this agreement. The percentage they will take as a fee is minimal and they have an impeccable reputation for both honesty and success.”

“God, Giles, did you see that figure? I can pay off the house, not just play catch up on the mortgage. I can go back to college. DAWN can go to college without a student loan! This is….” She began to cry, suddenly feeling the weight of the non-supernatural part of her world lift from her shoulders.

Thanks to Spike’s bequest, Giles was able to give her some immediate relief from her financial woes. “There is also a good-will check enclosed to tide you over until the final sale,” Giles handed her a check that would get everything caught up until the larger amount was in her possession.

Buffy took the check and thought of the groceries she could buy after all the urgent bills were paid. There would even be enough left to get a few new items to wear with her new coat and boots, some things for Dawn as well. It was a generous enough check to let her at least entertain the idea of finding a counselor like Spike had suggested too. Maybe dealing with losing her mom and all the baggage left behind by Angel would make this new life one to enjoy instead of merely trudge through. Spike had a point that not all her troubles began with her resurrection.

“If you will trust me to act on your behalf, I can make the final arrangements for you when I travel to London after the wedding. I have a bit of business with a shaman there that requires my personal appearance,” He hastened to reassure Buffy that he was not deserting her once again. “I shan’t be gone longer than a couple of weeks and then I can look into some property to settle in here properly.”

“You’re staying?” Her small voice betrayed just how much she wanted him to stay in her life and nearby. Having Giles there was just the security she needed to start to feel like she might just make it after all.

“As long as you need me or want me…yes.”

Buffy flung her arms around Giles and nearly knocked him from the couch. “Yes, well,” he responded in embarrassment. He looked toward Spike in desperation. “Um, Spike deserves some of your thanks. He’s the one who reminded me of the Gallery and set this all in motion.” Giles was so relieved to have Buffy turn her gratitude toward the vampire, allowing him to return to some sense of decorum, that he didn’t mind in the least sharing the glory.

Buffy launched herself into the surprised vampire’s arms with a muttered “Thank you so much”.
Spike wasn’t sure quite how to react to a grateful Buffy. This was a new beast entirely, so he merely replied with a whispered, “Didn’t do much. Just ran my mouth is all.”

Finally, the sight of Buffy in Spike’s arms managed to make Giles more interested in parting them than in preserving his own dignity, and he reached for his own birthday gift. “I did actually bring a gift, however.”

Buffy reluctantly released Spike and turned back to her Watcher. She radiated joy as she took the proffered package. Tonight was turning into a dream come true with Giles staying, her financial woes at an end and Spike returning her embrace. The gift was a small, delicate-looking dagger with a jeweled hilt. “I thought this might be easily hidden if you need a backup weapon.”

“It’s beautiful,” Buffy ran an appreciative finger over the blade. “I don’t think I want to have to bloody it up, but it really is lovely.”

“I had it enchanted as well. It can never be used against you.”

“That is always of the good,” Buffy grinned.

“Guess that leaves me,” Spike reached in his inner pocket for the gift he had rewrapped ten times until he had been satisfied with the look. “’S not much, an old piece from my human days,” he offered the lie he decided had the best chance for winning acceptance.

Buffy looked at the lovely if small emerald and gasped. “Oh, Spike, are you sure you want ME to have something from your family?”

“No other, love. You’ll do it justice.”

She lifted her hair and tore off the leather strip at her throat as she spun her back toward Spike and asked, “Please, I’d like to wear it.”

He fumbled a bit with the clasp but finally secured the necklace his fingers lightly grazing her skin as he worked the catch. Something about this girl could turn him back into a nervous youth in the space of a breath. As she turned back to face him, he congratulated himself on having chosen wisely. The piece looked like it had been made to flatter her. “Gorgeous,” he rasped softly, clearly not only meaning the jewelry.

Buffy blushed, pleased at both the compliment and the present. “Thank you again. Part of me wants to say this is too much, but I like it, and am going to let myself be selfish Buffy and keep it. Thank you for everything.” She was thinking of his every kind and thoughtful act since her return as she said the words.

The room was filled with awkward silence as each of her friends tried to process the subtle undertones of the exchange. Xander finally cracked a joke that neither Buffy nor Spike heard but it served to break the tension.

“Time for cake!” Willow headed to the kitchen with Tara in tow to light the candles and bring in the dessert.

“I already have all I could wish for right here,” Buffy looked pointedly at Spike as she said it causing his dead heart to leap in his chest at the possibilities.


Richard had grown bored before the cake had even arrived. Clearly any thought that Xander’s friend might be a good hook-up faded the moment the too pale punk arrived with the freak show guy with long ears. Buffy Summers was constantly shooting looks in the Brit’s direction when she thought no one was looking. There was more subtext between them than in an indie film. He yawned and checked his watch before announcing, “Well, it was nice meeting all of you, but I have an early day on the site tomorrow.”

Halfrek had been huddled in a corner with Anya discussing the upcoming wedding, but she turned when the young man headed for the door. This was the first person to try to leave the party and now was the moment of truth for the revelers.

The door opened but Richard found himself unable to move forward through the opening. ‘Come on. Don’t need to hang around like a fifth wheel. Scoot!’ Still his body refused to respond to the orders his mind was shouting to it.

“Hey,” called a giggling Dawn, “Just ‘cause big sis is soon gonna be rich doesn’t mean we can afford to heat the outdoors.”

“Dawn!” Buffy felt bad for having virtually ignored the young man all evening. He was probably very nice…in a rice pudding way. “Thank you for coming, Raymond. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk a little.”

“It’s Richard,” hissed Xander.

“Of course I meant Richard!” Buffy was mortified at her mistake. First she ignored him then didn’t even remember his name. “It’s been a long night for all of us, I guess.”

“Yes, I should be going as well,” Giles agreed. “I just can’t see myself sitting on the floor being trounced by Anya at Monopoly when I could be comfortably sipping a nice single malt and reading a bit of Proust.”

“Yeah, I’d rush home to that,” Spike chuckled.

“Once upon a time,” muttered Hallie.

Now both Giles and Richard were standing at the open doorway, unable to cross the threshold for unknown reasons. “Well, this is simply…unexpected,” Giles declared as he tried to get his feet to respond yet again. “I don’t seem to be able to actually leave for some reason.”

“Yeah, me either,” Richard said with a spooked look. “Is this some kind of trick maybe? A hidden camera?”

“Magic, possibly,” Xander glanced at his oldest friend who had claimed to have sworn off the spells. “If anyone actually did that kind of thing, that is.”

“Not me!” Willow hastened to reassure Tara with a squeeze of her hand. “No cameras either.”
Soon everyone had attempted to exit the Summers home with no success and puzzled looks were exchanged among the partygoers.

Spike looked at Halfrek knowingly, having already figured out that someone had to have made a fateful wish just as before. He doubted it was Dawn, however, as the teen had been quite happy tonight. “Somebody here make any wishes lately…other than Buffy’s when she blew out the candles?”

Hallie was pretty certain she didn’t want her demon nature exposed this way and immediately sought to deflect the conversation. “Well, William, maybe Buffy wished for her good time to keep going?”

“William?” Xander jumped on the name. “You’ve met Spikey before?”

“You could say he and I go way back,” Hallie hinted.

Spike narrowed his eyes and did his best to look threatening.

“Hey, how nice to meet old friends in Sunnydale, of all places,” Clem stepped in and tried to maneuver Halfrek back to the snack table.

“What was that all about?” Buffy knew there was more to the story than just a chance encounter with an old friend. She could see from Spike’s face that the word friend didn’t even enter into it; he was fuming. “Never mind, I probably don’t want to know. But I DO want to know why you think Anya’s friend might know why no one can leave my party.”

“Bint’s a vengeance demon. Seems like a good bet she’s up to her oversized ears in this little problem.” He glared at the back of Hallie’s head. ‘Can’t believe I ever thought her the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen!’

“Oh, all right! Yes, I’m a JUSTICE demon.” Halfrek blurted out, much to the confusion of Richard. “I thought you said Buffy needed some down time with her friends. I was only trying to give her a nice evening that lasted longer than just a quick cake and presents sort of thing.” With that, she transformed and ended the magic.

“You can leave now if you want to abandon the birthday girl,” Halfrek said sarcastically.

“What is a justice demon?” Richard looked from one face to another searching for some sign of sanity. “Magic…demons….” Then he looked pointedly at Clem and added, “and I’m not buying that bit about a skin condition either.”

Anya decided that her little group should call it an early night before Hallie dug a deeper hole for herself. “I mean it, Xander, I won’t have my maid of honor killing off my bridesmaids. We need to just wish Buffy a good night and leave before she tries out some of those weapons she put in your nice chest.”


The tension seemed to leave the room with the exit of Xander, Anya, Richard and Halfrek. Clem and Dawn began a game of Hearts with Tara and Willow while Buffy settled on the couch between Giles and Spike. “So you’re going to London right after the wedding. Isn’t it usually the bridal pair that go someplace cool?” Buffy teased.

“I believe Anya is holding out for a Honeymoon lodge at Niagara Falls, one of those with heart shaped beds and fake champagne glasses for a bathtub. She showed me a picture in a magazine. I think the red walls are way too much.”

Buffy looked at her little sister in horror,“PLEASE tell me she didn’t go into details about all her honeymoon plans with you!”

“As if!” Dawn laughed. “I plugged my ears and sang all the ‘N Sync songs I could remember. That usually works to shut her up.”

“I loved ‘Gone’ by them! They’re really good singers and they dance well too,” Clem nodded enthusiastically.

“Nice guy, but I can’t seem to teach culture and taste to the bloke,” Spike shook his head in despair as Giles snorted in derision.

“So what’s with this shaman visiting?” Buffy had a feeling it had something to do with her. Most of Giles’ actions seemed to be about her lately.

The mood turned somber.

“As you know, I returned because Spike called to let me know there was something amiss beyond mere depression with you. I’ve researched the ritual used to return you to us and am fairly certain that between the poor choice of words in the ritual itself and the interruption that took place during its performance may have caused a flux that is the root of your difficulty in readjusting to life.” He gave a stern look at Willow, noting the way that girl’s eyes narrowed in anger at the very suggestion that she had erred in any way. “If I am correct, there may need to be mystical intervention to set you to rights.”

“I came back wrong,” Buffy slumped in her seat, looking defeated all over again.

“No, love, not wrong, just not completely right,” Spike tried to clarify. “May not sound like it, but there is a difference.”

“What was it that we did wrong?” Tara was shocked to realize that the interruption of the ritual hadn’t even registered with her until now. She had trusted Willow implicitly at that time.

“Willow chose to call back the ‘warrior of the people’ as opposed to Buffy Summers,” Giles explained.

“SO!” Willow sounded indignant. “Buffy is the Slayer, and that’s the warrior of the people. It’s semantics.”

“Actually, Buffy is far more than merely the Slayer, Willow, and you know that well. It is clear to me that you didn’t think it through fully.” Giles reminded her.

“I checked and double checked everything. All the details were exactly the way the books said they had to be to bring her back to us and here she is,” Willow stubbornly insisted.

“And she’s been bloody miserable ever since, not even able to know what she’s feelin’ and mostly not feelin’ a thing!” Spike had risen and faced the witch full on. The animosity was palpable.

“She’d be fine if you’d just butt out! Every time she starts to get back to normal, there you are making her question everything--herself, me, her friends,” Willow accused. “You’re the one luring her to a crypt all the time. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how much time she’s been spending there not patrolling. How’s that healthy?”

“Least I don’t ask anything of her or add to her load. Let her be and feel whatever she wants and don’t make her pretend to be happy when she’s not.” He was full steam now and in the old days would have gone for her throat by now. “Don’t eat her food and use her electricity and water without giving her any help either. You lot handed her that stack of unpaid bills and skipped off to your own interests, not me. Notice you only buy groceries you like for yourself too with nothing for Buffy or the Bit.”

“Oh, so you’re saying I’m using Buffy, is that it?”

“Your words, witch. Got yourself a nice setup here too. Living in the master bedroom like the woman of the house, go to your classes and out to the Bronze and wherever else you’ve been gettin’ to with that ex-rat friend of yours while Buffy’s worryin’ and patrollin’ and feelin’ numb.”

Spike saw the eyes go black as his words hit Willow. The energy fairly crackled between them. “I think you have too many opinions for a dead man.”

“That’s right! You don’t like to hear anyone else’s opinions, do you? Think you know best for all. All last summer you were the one givin’ the orders and expectin’ even Rupes here to follow ‘em.”

“Hey, guys, can we not do this?” Buffy looked desperately between her oldest female friend and the vampire she wanted to have at her side. It was going to be one of her regular birthdays after all at this rate. “Please.” That last word was a near whisper, but it got through to Spike nonetheless. How could he deny her anything?

“This isn’t finished. You’d best hope whatever the Watcher finds out helps fix your mess,” Spike threatened and headed to the door.

“Or what? Last I heard you were toothless or is the part about it only being Buffy you can bite a big lie. Hate to have to see you dusted--oh, wait, maybe not,” Willow seethed.

“Just watch yourself,” Spike countered then turned to Buffy with, “Sorry ‘bout this last bit, pet. Hope you had a good birthday,” and left.

“I think I’d better get going too,” Tara bit her lip and looked at her love with worry. She had never known Willow to be as harsh as she had been lately. All that anger was toxic and Tara just couldn’t deal with watching her Willow so filled with it.

With Tara going without so much as a hug, Willow felt the last straw had been laid upon the camel’s back. “I’m going to bed. Happy birthday, Buffy,” and headed upstairs.

Clem looked around nervously and realized the party was well and truly over. “I’ll just be going then too, Slayer. Thanks for having me.”

Dawn saw Giles out while Buffy picked up the grey kitten and rubbed her tear streaked face against its soft fur. “Spike left before I could even tell him.” She knew there should be more than that bothering her but somehow all those decisions she had made before the party had started had made her feel so connected with the world again that not being able to clue the vampire in to her feelings just made everything else less important. After all, Giles would figure it out and fix whatever needed fixing and Willow would just have to deal. “I guess I’ll just have to go by in the morning and talk to him, hey, kitty? You need a name and I’m thinking one word will work for both of us. How about I call you Hope?”
All things considered it hadn’t been a bad birthday at all.

As It Could Be
Chapter 7, As It Could Be

Buffy woke with a sense of mission. She had planned to tell Spike of her epiphany the night of her birthday party, but the argument between him and Willow had made that impossible. Then it seemed as if everything conspired in the following week to keep her from having any private moments with the vampire to offer him her wary heart, should he still want it.

Spike had been scarce at best and Buffy wondered what could be keeping him from her side. He hadn’t even shown up for help with patrol in several days.

Willow had been keeping to herself as well. Clearly she was affronted by the accusation that she had not properly done the ritual when Buffy had been wrenched from heaven. Everyone gave the angry witch a wide berth.

“Today,” Buffy promised herself. “I’ll hunt him down if I have to and tell him today.” She was pretty sure he still wanted her. Now all she had to do was convince him that it wasn’t just sexual release she wanted but all of him.

“Oomph!” She had been so intent on the words she needed to make Spike believe her that she hadn’t even seen the large, looming figure in her path to the gates of Restfield. “Sorry,” she muttered without looking up.

“You can run into me anytime, Buffy,” a familiar voice sounded with an amused tone. “In fact, you’re saving me from a walk to your house. I was headed there to ask you to give me a hand.”

Buffy stood in gape-mouthed amazement, taking in a person she never had expected to see again in this life. “Riley?” She craned her neck to look at his now battle-scarred face. “Were you always this tall? What…who…how…why?”

“All very good questions.” He laughed outright. “Why don’t we go somewhere and talk, and I’ll explain all.” Buffy let herself be led back in the direction from whence she had just come.

Riley answered his cell phone as they walked briskly and Buffy dull noted the ringtone was the theme from the James Bond movies. Actually, Riley looked like he had just stepped out of one of them with his flak jacket and high tech tools. He was more geared up then he had ever been in his old commando days. She only heard bits of his stilted and short conversation.

“Fine. Operation RTS in place then …. Yes … I have made contact with the operative. …. Roger that.” He replaced the cell on his belt and gave a pained smile to the girl at his side. “Sorry about that. Coordinating a search and capture like this one can be a pain. I always hate it when people take cell calls while talking to me, but this time it can’t be helped.”

“’S okay.” Buffy smiled back in reassurance. “So, on a mission here at the Hellmouth, eh?”

“Tracking a real big nasty. Major mindless killer. We traced it here and think it’s planning to spawn at the Hellmouth.”

“What is it?” Buffy hadn’t heard any rumors of big uglies new to town.

“Suvolte demon. Rare, lethal and nearly extinct. I know I’m putting you on the spot showing up out of the blue like this, but I need the best and this IS your backyard. I need you, Buffy. Can you help me?” He pulled out another device from his belt and flipped it open. There was a radar screen with two large blinking red dots showing. “It’s on the move. We chased this thing all the way up from South America, taking out its nests along the way. You put down one and a dozen take its place. They’re breeders. If it gets out of hand and there’s a war with humans, the humans are going to lose. You’ve seen the Alien movies? Kind of a scaled down version of one of those.”

“Sounds like it’s time for me to slip into my best Sigourney Weaver mode and take this bitch out.” Buffy found it easy to slip into quip mode with Riley now that she knew her own heart. Easy to forget and forgive how Finn had left her to face Glory alone because she couldn’t just get over his dangerous addiction to bities. Knowing she loved Spike took the sting of his abandonment right out.

Riley smiled in anticipation of seeing the Slayer in her natural element once again. She really was a sight to behold, especially when you didn’t have to feel guilty if she got hurt.
“There’s this dealer in town. Sort of a demonic broker of weapons of mass destruction. Calls himself ‘The Doctor’. Think my people may have a lead on him. This guy is buying and selling dangerous demons to unfriendlies. Nasty business.”

“Hmm,” Buffy mused for the first time, “Imagine a government interested in using demons for evil purposes! Who’d a-thunk it?” She saw Riley flinch slightly at the pointed reminder of the underlying purpose of the Initiative.

“Maggie was rogue, Buffy; the government didn’t authorize what she was doing with Adam.”
“Uh huh.” Buffy raised a brow in skepticism. “Well, we’ll nip this one in the bud before it tunnels under all of Sunnydale.”

Riley steered her towards a large black SUV with darkened windows and held the door for her like the Iowa gentleman he was raised to be.

“Looks like command central in here with all the screens and keyboards,” Buffy noted.

“We managed to hit this hostile with a tracker. See that red dot moving near the water treatment plant?” Buffy noted the speed of the dot as it raced on the screen. “We think it’s planning to spawn there. Plenty of organic material to feed young there; not too populated either.”

“Charming. Just where I’d want to set up my nursery.”

“These things aren’t great thinkers. They act on instinct and that food source is a real lure.”

“What, there aren’t sewage treatment places somewhere between here and Paraguay?” Buffy was sick of every demon in existence making Sunnydale the Mecca for all things demony.
Riley gave her a sideways glance and grinned. “We think it’s the Hellmouth more than the climate.”


Spike sighed wearily and put a bit of burba weed in his mug of warm Wilbur. It was becoming harder and harder to be around Buffy and keep his hands to himself. She had definitely set out lures aplenty at her birthday party.

‘M tryin’ to be good here,’ he silently railed at the Powers That Loved To Torment. He’d spent the better part of the week making sure he had no one-on-one time with Buffy. Still, the urge to say ‘sod it all’ and sweep her into his arms was overwhelming at times.

Thinking about his girl, Spike felt the anger rise. “Bloody witch should’ve known she was riskin’ a mess. Not just what went wrong, but what went right! Gonna call back the Chosen One, you need a big sacrifice, not Bambi. And you have to make sure everythin’s perfect doin’ it. Just lucky Buffy came back with all her parts.” He found his mind drifting to a remembered inventory of those parts and sighed again, this time wistfully. ‘Thought souls were supposed to make all this doin’ the right thing easier!’

“Knock knock,” a voice complimented the rapping sound on his crypt door and Spike remembered inviting Clem over for West Wing. “Don’t want to miss the start. That Rob Lowe is almost as good an actor as David Hasselhoff, but I don’t think he can sing like the Hoff! Now THERE’S a performer!”

“Make yourself at home, Floppy. Got us some wings to go with the Wing,” Spike passed the bucket of still hot chicken wings to his only friend. Remembering what a good friend the dermatologically challenged demon had been right to the last during the previous run of this year from hell made Spike fonder of him than he had been the first time around. Hell, he looked at all of them more fondly with the gift of hindsight…‘well, all but the bloody Watcher.’

Between the conversation and the loud volume Clem insisted he needed to not miss a word of the dialogue, neither demon heard the faint noises coming from underground. The slight scuttling that was too quiet for any but a demon to hear.

“So how’s your Slayer lately? I think she’s kinda sweet on a certain vampire, if you know what I mean,” Clem teased.

‘Yeah, likely the grandsire at this point. She was to the end, after all.’ Spike’s insecurities where Angel were concerned had been the main reason he hadn’t sought out Buffy after his miraculous recorporealization. Angel had managed to find that one spot of doubt and play it to his full benefit.

Watching Buffy dance in abandon with the bloody Immortal had only clenched Spike’s belief that her last words to him had been an act of charity rather than a true declaration. If there were a vampire that she was going to love forever and eventually be with, it would be the Flintstones reject. She had never managed to get over her damned Romeo and Juliet dream.

Angel had taken great delight in letting Spike know that Buffy had as much as promised herself to him. Told him some nonsense about an oven or something along that line. That wasn’t quite what the sod had quoted, but it was lame enough to sound like something Buffy would say. Spike added that tidbit to the tonsil hockey he’d watched that night in SunnyD and resigned himself long before that last death to the old man’s getting the girl in the end.

“Where’d you go there for a minute, bucko?” Clem had seen the vampire’s always expressive face go someplace dark and painful as he clearly checked out mentally. “I’d think you’d be happy your lady is starting to notice the compact but sexy catch in front of her.”

“Buffy sees the package and wouldn’t turn down some cold comfort, but I’m afraid her heart wouldn’t be part of the bargain. I’m a greedy bloke, want it all or not any of it.”

“I think you’re reading her wrong, pal. Looked like it was more than ‘Sexual Healing’ she was singing. More like ‘Love Me Tender.’ I think the girl’s got it bad for the Big Bad.”

“I wish,” Spike said forlornly.


Buffy and Riley rapidly caught up to the demon being tracked by the red blip on the screen. She was out of the vehicle before it came to a complete stop and ran to the edge of a tank filled with sludge. “Look!” She pointed to a lumbering demon across the tank and began to run around the smelly pool of goo towards her target with Riley hot on her heels.

The demon was seemingly oblivious to its company and came to a stop on the other side of a large drainage pipe that was pouring its contents into the festering pool beneath. Buffy was gasping for breath as she halted a few feet from the creature that looked like something out of a SciFi film.

Wrenching a taser from his utility belt, Riley circled around the back of the Suvolte. The demon finally showed awareness of the humans and lunged at Riley first, as if sensing the girl was unarmed and a lesser threat.

Buffy, affronted, complained to the demon as she attacked in full force. “What, see a small girl and think I’m not a threat? Slayer here. You really are too dumb to be allowed to breed!” Lack of brains notwithstanding, the Suvolte proved to be as tough as a tank and easily tossed the Slayer aside as it continued to launch an attack on Riley, hitting him in the stomach forcefully.

“Riley!” Buffy used her comrade’s prone form for leverage to do a two-legged kick that sent the demon to the ground this time. “You okay?”

Riley wasn’t sure what hurt more: the pain from the demon attack or the portion of his chest that Buffy had used as a springboard for her gymnastics. “I’ll live.”

As the pair took a moment to catch their breath, leaning on one another, a third human clad in black raced to join them. Seeing only a blur of black, Buffy thought, “Spike,” relieved to finally have some help that she wouldn’t have to worry about.

Their back-up, however, turned out to be a rather pretty woman with long hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. “Hey, can anyone join this party?” She smiled with clear affection at Riley before turning to address Buffy. “What exactly are you doing with my husband?”
Riley had the grace to look embarrassed.

“Something you forgot to mention?” Buffy wondered when her ex had planned that little reveal. She turned to the woman with a quirked brow, motioning between her and Riley while asking, “Husband? Wife?” The evident Mrs. Finn nodded. “And those aren’t code names like Big Dog or Falcon?” At the woman’s bemused look, she concluded, “I didn’t think so.”

Riley put on an air of nonchalance and did the introductions, “Buffy, meet Sam…Sam, Buffy.”
Sam gave the Slayer a broad grin and offered her hand in greeting. “Pleasure.”

“Demon,” Buffy replied, not looking at Sam at all but behind her at the now rising Suvolte.

Sam threw herself into the fray before either of the demon hunters could make a move. She was holding her own with well-placed punches and kicks, so Buffy took the opportunity to ask, “How long have you been married?”

“Four months,” Riley replied sheepishly.

‘Huh, not too hard to replace, was I?’ Buffy felt peevish. “Mazel Tov. Any children?”

It wasn’t hard to tell Buffy was miffed, and Riley hustled to make peace. “Buffy, I meant to tell you when the time was right…you know, after we had the hostile neutralized. Sam caught up to us a hell of a lot faster than I would’ve guessed.” He smiled fondly at his wife while making sure she was still more than holding her own.

“So she’s a soldier too? You’re an army of…what…two?”

“Not a soldier, a demon hunter. It’s what brought us together.” He noticed that Sam had finally been felled by the large demon and moved toward them, taser at the ready.

Buffy shoved him to one side and grabbed the demon by its head. “Call this your wedding gift,” she offered as she twisted and snapped the demon’s neck, killing it.

Sam looked more shocked than grateful as Buffy gasped out, “Guess that’s mission accomplished then.”

Riley knelt and checked the Suvolte’s vital signs and sighed wearily. “She killed it.”

Sam put a sympathetic hand on her husband’s drooped shoulder and offered a whispered, “It’s okay.”

Buffy caught on that something was amiss and ventured a guess: “You didn’t want it dead then?”
Sam rolled her eyes at Riley and tried to placate the Slayer. “Let me guess. Mr. Operation here forgot to mention that little bit?” Riley looked even more embarrassed than before. “It is nice to finally meet the legend though.” She reached out a hand for the knife that Riley had removed from his belt and knelt beside the Suvolte, neatly slicing it open to reveal a thick yellow substance that trickled slowly and pooled on the ground.

“I should have explained,” Riley admitted.

“That might have saved me some trouble, yeah,” Buffy agreed.

“Maybe we could talk about this at your house?” Riley suggested. “I’ll fill you in on everything.”


Lights were already ablaze on Revello. Between Dawn cunningly inviting Tara over in hopes that her sweet disposition might defuse the walking bomb that was Willow and the Xander and Anya pre-wedding show, the house was lively. Giles was holed up in the dining room writing notes about Willow’s botched ritual so he would not forget any details for his upcoming his meeting with the Shaman.

When Buffy and the Finns walked through the door, Dawn was already on the defensive, having seen them come up the walk.

“Hi, Dawn! Wow, you’ve sure grown in the last year.”

“No thanks to you! Some people just left when the kitchen got too hot,” Dawn grumbled with a narrowed glance.

“Uh…,” Riley was surprised at the hostility in the teen. “Guess lots happened after I left. Sorry?”

“You knew there was an uberbitch after Buffy and that Mom was still recuperating. You sure picked one hell of a time to get huffy and leave,” Dawn accused.

“DAWN!” Buffy was appalled at her little sister’s lack of tact.

“Well, it’s true. If Riley had sucked it up and stayed, maybe you wouldn’t have died.” Dawn folded her arms across her chest and glared daggers at the soldier. “Guess he didn’t love you as much as Spike does.”

As if on cue, Xander wandered in from the kitchen, Anya in tow. “Hey, it’s the man! Back like the prodigal son?” He eyed Sam with interest. “Recruiting looks like they upped their standards.” He put out a hand and introduced himself. “Xander Harris, man of many trades, bon vivant, and provider of sustenance for the troops. This lovely maid is soon to be my blushing bride Anya.”

“You’ve been hanging around Giles too much,” Buffy commented with a slight giggle.

Sam shook his hand firmly. “I’m Sam. Sam Finn, actually, and Riley’s blushing bride. Nice to meet you.”

“Wow, that was fast,” Dawn snarked. “Oh yeah, broken heart, my….”

“Dawn, enough!” Buffy ordered and her eyes flamed with anger. “I’ll talk to you later. Isn’t it time for you to work on that term paper, preferably in your room?”

Riley and Sam pretended to not hear the less than friendly mutterings of the snarky teen as she stalked her way up the stairs.

Xander had been watching Buffy for signs of a broken heart and was glad to note she seemed okay with this bit of news. “Congratulations! Well, this is just like old times, except with all the married and soon to be married additions. Nice to meet you too, Sam. You’ve got a great guy there--a real, long haul keeper.”

Anya had already corralled Sam and was peppering her with questions about all things weddingish. “So will you be staying for the wedding?”

“I doubt we’ll get to stay. We’re here for a capture-and-contain mission and then they’ll probably send us to some far off corner of the world right after.” Sam looked genuinely sorry to miss the event.

“We’ve been tracking a Suvolte demon through most of Central America and Mexico. Finally cornered it tonight with Buffy’s help, but I forgot to tell her we wanted it alive. My bad.” Riley grimaced and shrugged. “Now we just hope we can track this demon weapons dealer called ‘The Doctor’ and put him out of business. He’s got the Suvolte’s eggs and the bidding has probably already started.”

No one noticed Giles, who had heard the commotion and moved into the doorway of the dining room. “I doubt they would fetch much. Suvoltes are large and lumbering creatures, but if their nesting places aren’t threatened, largely harmless. They tend to keep as far from humans as possible unless forced to defend their young. The young are rather skittish but not dangerous. Rather like crabs on steroids, although I suppose if you were to get pinched with their claws, you might not view them as harmless.”

Riley looked utterly shocked, “Giles! I thought you were in London?”

“I was. Now I am not.”

“He’s going back after the wedding though, at least for a while,” Anya added. “Before he goes, Giles is going to give me away!”

Not to be distracted by Anya’s obvious glee, Giles was interested in more information about this supposed broker. “Why don’t you tell us about this Doctor then, and we can sort it all out. Truthfully, I’ve heard nothing about any such organization or person. The Council keeps close watch for any sign of trafficking in demons.”

Riley looked flummoxed and actually stammered a bit before replying. “Well, this guy is new to the scene. Probably an idiot looking to make some quick cash.” He looked pointedly at Xander, “We all know…people…like that, right, Xan?”

“Oh yeah. Hey, you don’t think it’s Spike, do you?” Xander took the bait as Riley had hoped.
“Sounds like his style. We’ll have to check it out,” Riley rushed to agree.

Buffy furrowed her brow and immediately rejected the idea. “I can’t see Spike calling himself ‘Doctor’ after what that demon called Doc did last year, and he’s not looking for money all the time anymore. In fact, since Dawn and I have free reign at his crypt, I can’t see him having anything like demon parts laying around for us to stumble over. Besides, didn’t you say this Doctor is some big shot international dealer? That is SO not Spike!”

Giles was thinking of the money Spike had available to him and doubted his involvement as well. “As much of an idiot as Spike can be, I must say I agree with Buffy. This is the Hellmouth, however, and there may be any number of demons seeking a path to riches by preying upon other demons.”

“Maybe we should pay Hostile 17 a visit, just to be sure. Want to come along, Buffy?” Riley put a hand under her elbow and urged her to the door.

Sam was looking at Giles oddly. “Are you sure about the Suvoltes? Ri said they were nearly unstoppable and really deadly.” She turned to her husband with a question in her eye. “That IS what they said in the briefing, right?”

“Um, yeah. Maybe they got their facts wrong though. Military intel isn’t perfect. Sometimes we’ve had false information about weapons that looked pretty convincing. Giles knows his stuff, so I’ll take his word for it.” He smiled ingratiatingly at the Watcher. “Spike--or whoever this Doctor is--might not know that though. Or it could be a scam and this broker knows he’s got duds on his hands. Either way, he’s bad news. Evil. Needs to be stopped before he gets his hands on something that really is deadly.”


“Okay, Doctor, where are the demon eggs?” Riley demanded as the trio crashed into Spike’s crypt. Buffy had the decency to look at Spike with a silent apology for the harsh entry and words.

“Well…Cardboard and…,” he tilted his head in curiosity as he spied Sam. “Got yourself a groupie then.” Spike looked at Buffy to see if Finn’s surprise bride produced the same amount of hurt as it had last time. She didn’t seem nearly as concerned about her ex-boyfriend’s having moved on though.

Sam Finn held a crossbow pointed in Spike’s direction. Buffy noticed and carefully placed herself in the line of fire, as if by accident.

“I’m chipped, luv, or didn’t Tweedle-Dee tell you ‘bout the first chapter of our little story?”

Buffy turned to Sam and agreed, “It’s true. You don’t need to worry about Spike. He can’t hurt humans.” She winced slightly at the memory that he could hurt her, if he so chose.
Sam kept a tight grip on the crossbow but did stop pointing it at the vampire.

“Now what’s this about eggs? Don’t generally eat ‘em myself. Prefer a nice rare steak or some spicy wings,” Spike quipped. He hadn’t let G’Rogrik talk him into egg-sitting this time since he neither needed the money nor was deluded enough to think that he wasn’t being set up. Clearly Finn hadn’t gotten that memo.

“Hey, Spike, what’re these giant eggs doing in your bedroom?” Clem popped his head up from the trap door, narrowly missing Sam’s left foot. “You’re out of Cheese Whiz too, by the way.”

Spike looked at his wrinkled friend like he had lost his mind. “What the hell are you going on about? Don’t have any stinkin’ eggs, with or without Cheese Whiz.”

“Sure you do. I don’t recognize the kind, but they look about to hatch.”

Spike couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There couldn’t be demon eggs in his basement. He had known well enough to steer away from doing that little favor.

“Stand aside,” Riley ordered and muscled his way past Clem and into the basement.

Buffy looked at Spike in confusion and noted the look of real puzzlement on her vampire’s face. Something wasn’t right here…a whole lot of somethings.

“Spike, Riley says you’re this international demon broker and you’re selling these Stewbolt demon spawn. I told him there was no way.” Buffy looked at him with a plea in her eyes.

“Damn straight there’s no way! If Clem’s right and there are eggs--even chicken eggs--down there, I sure as hell didn’t put them there! Got more bloody sense than that. What if the Bit dropped in? Only demon I let come over’s Clem and that’s ‘cause he’d never hurt either one of you.”

“That’s pretty much what I said,” Buffy nodded in agreement. She believed Spike. Something was fishy about the whole deal. “I believe you, Spike.”

His eyes softened into awe at her avowal of trust. ‘Lots different than last time. She wouldn’t even listen to me then.’

Riley shouted up to Sam and Buffy, “They’re here! We need to blow the whole nest before they hatch!”

Sam detached a grenade from her service belt and moved toward the trap door.

“Whoa, sister,” Buffy laid a hand on Sam’s wrist before she could touch the detonator. “Let’s just check this out a bit before you go blowing up my friend’s home.”

Spike was struck dumb in amazement at the Slayer’s attitude. She might not love him, but she evidently trusted him and that was something he could build on.

“Hurry up, will you?!” Riley yelled up at the women overhead.

“No rush. Remember what Giles said…cranky lobsters even if they do hatch.” Buffy reminded Sam.

“This Giles, can his information be trusted?”

“With my life,” Buffy reassured the other girl.

“Wow, sorry, Spike. I didn’t know anyone else was here,” Clem whispered.

“No problem. See anything else while you were poking around the tunnels?”

“Just your stash of Weetabix and burba weed. And like I said, you’re out of Cheese Whiz.” Clem looked fairly crushed at that thought.

“Only keep that crap in for you, so if I’m out you’ve got no one but yourself to blame, mate,” Spike snarked. “I’d rather eat paste.”

Buffy and Sam had already joined Riley below when Spike headed down. “What the hell are these?” he demanded when he reached the bottom of the ladder. “I can guarantee they weren’t here when I rolled out of bed after my afternoon kip.”

“Yeah, like I’d believe that,” Riley said at the exact time Buffy was reassuring Spike with, “I believe you.”

Sam merely looked from her husband to the Slayer and vampire and back again, trying to puzzle it all out.

Buffy began to do her best Jessica Fletcher imitation and looked toward the tunnel entrance to Spike’s underground. Faint tracks that were visible in the dirt floor looked fresh. “Looks like this is how the eggs got in here. Did you hear anything, Spike, or did you go out earlier?”

“No, Clem and I were watchin’ the telly. Daft bugger can’t hear worth shit, even with those long ears, so the volume was loud enough to wake my dearly departed neighbors.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy noticed Riley squirming and began to get a picture. It wasn’t pretty. “I’m not math girl, but I think I can put two and two together pretty good. Riley, what do you know about these eggs? And if you want to leave the Hellmouth in one piece, don’t give me the line of bull you did earlier. You know I can just have Willow do a truth spell on you. She’s mega powerful now that she’s brought me back from the dead.”

“You were dead?” Sam looked horrified. “And Willow is a witch?”

“Yes and yes, but no time for chit chat at the moment, Mrs. Finn.”

Riley sighed and gave it up. “I wanted to protect you, Buffy. I know Spike; he’s up to no good. Told me he was going to make a play for you, and when I found out you were back and vulnerable, I just knew he would get around to taking advantage. We really did have to track this thing and it seemed like a good way to beat him to the punch, prove he’s still the evil bastard he always was.”

‘So THAT’S what happened!’ Spike let out a derisive snort as he contemplated this new revelation. ‘Didn’t take the bait like last time and accept the buggers for some dosh, so he just had ‘em put in my crypt anyway! Gotta give it to him for creativity.’

“Who I chose to be with is MY business. It stopped being yours when you decided to get on that helicopter and fly out of my life,” Buffy fumed.

“But I still care…you know, as a friend,” Riley quickly amended after catching the glare of death he was getting from Sam. He glared at Spike, “I told you I’d not stand by and let you hurt Buffy.”

“Yeah, I remember you makin’ that…point.” Spike glared right back. “Still carryin’ that plastic stake?”

“WHAT?” Buffy shouted. She gaped at Spike in horror at the implications. “We WILL talk about this later, Spike. For now,” she returned her murderous looks to Riley, “I want you to explain to me just why you thought it would be a good idea to set it up for me to have to kill Spike. You KNOW the story of how killing Angel broke me and you were setting me up to go through that again! WHY? Because you don’t approve of my choice in boyfriends?”

Sam added her own question: “So what exactly was operation RTS?”

“Nothing important. Just dealing with a dangerous hostile.”

“Hostile 17 maybe?” Buffy guessed correctly. “I mean it, spill or I’ll get Willow involved.

“All right. Stands for ‘Remove the Scum.’ That’s what I was doing, Buffy, nothing wrong with that. Technically, Spike’s government property anyway…just because he escaped…. He’s not even real, Buffy! He’s a vampire, a monster, a killing monster without our chip.”

“I know who and what Spike is, Riley. Chosen One comma The, remember?” She was utterly disgusted.

“Why does everyone think they have a right to tell me who I can and cannot love? Who made you my keeper? I don’t remember you asking me if Sam was an okay choice for you. Xander never cleared Anya with me and Willow never got around to that, ‘hey, is it okay with you if I decide to be gay?’ speech. NO! Everyone else gets to love who they want to, but when I do, you all think you know what’s best for Buffy. Well, you don’t!”

Spike had been in a fugue since Buffy had called him her boyfriend and was rattled back to awareness when the ‘L’ word popped up. “Pet, just what are you saying? Please spell it out.”

“I’m saying what I wanted to say to you on my birthday, you dope. But no, you had to go get into a fight with Willow and ruin my chance. Then you avoid me like the plague ever since! I love you, you idiotic vampire. And I don’t just want to jump your bones; I want a relationship!”

For once, Spike’s crypt was as silent as the grave it had once been.

Something Old Something New Something Borrowed
Chapter 8, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed….

Oh, they all knew all right. While Buffy was busy reassuring Spike that she A. hadn’t lost her mind; B. was quite serious; and C. was fully sure she didn’t need any more time to think it through, Riley had dropped by Xander’s on his way out of town to drop the bomb. By the time she got back home, everyone was there already and all ready to pounce on her.

“But, Buffy,” Xander began, “You haven’t even adjusted to being back yet. How can you suddenly know you love SPIKE? I mean, this just sounds like more proof that the spell thing went really wrong. Giles said not all of you made the return trip. I’m thinking good sense is one of those things that missed the bus.”

“Xander,” Buffy sighed impatiently, “I know what I feel. That’s just it. Spike makes me feel. Since the night I came back he’s the one that made me comfortable, never asked me to pretend. He just accepted me and helped if I asked. I don’t just love him; I’ve learned to like and appreciate him too. I started to look at him differently the night I told him about my mom being sick. He was so sympathetic and kind. Little things just kept happening to show he was trying, and even though it didn’t seem like it, I did notice. You all saw what he went through protecting Dawn and me from Glory!”

“Will!” Xander grabbed at the witch’s arm tightly. “Come on, you have to sense something wrong here, some left over mojo that went kerplooie.”

“You’d have to ask Giles.” Willow glared. “He seems to think I messed up when I obviously didn’t. Buffy’s problem is that she’s been brainwashed by that pile of walking dust she’s been spending all her downtime with, that’s all.”

“Hey, watch what you say about Spike,” Dawn leveled a threat-filled stare at her sister’s friends. “He saved both your lives and Anya’s and Tara’s and even Giles’ when Buffy was dead, and he had nothing to gain from it. If Buffy loves him, maybe that’s part of the why.”

Buffy smiled at Dawn and had to agree, “Yes, that is a part of why, but while I’ve been trying to work out just what I feel, I realized that I was starting to kinda love him even before I died. This is just a natural progression.”

She looked pleadingly at her disapproving Watcher. “Not part of the ‘Buffy’s messed up’ part, but the ‘Buffy’s gonna be okay’ part. So yay me. Remember how I was so afraid I couldn’t love, Giles?”

The Watcher reluctantly nodded at the memory.

“You took me out there to meet the tribal queen and get some answers. I got so stuck on the ‘death is your gift’ and then dying that I forgot all about the rest. She told me that I pull away from love and that I had to risk the pain, that I had to forgive and that love would bring me my gift. Then she went on about death and then everything else happened so fast. I think she may have meant Spike.” Buffy was looking straight at Giles and saw him squirm at the thought that he had helped her arrive at this conclusion to her love dilemma.

“I mean, it fits. It makes even more sense than ‘hey you’re wondering if you can love and if you’ll ever be loved, so go jump off a tower.’ That didn’t make lots of sense if you think about it.” Buffy really wanted this third degree to be over so she could go to her room and remember the pole-axed look on Spike’s face as her admission sank in. She hadn’t been able to stay as long as she wanted to, because she knew the villagers would be coming with pitchforks and fire if she didn’t head them off at the pass herself. She had reluctantly left Spike, with his mouth still gaping in amazement, after a quick kiss and promise of further discussion and kissage later.

“I think it makes lots of sense,” Tara offered. “Spike has changed so much and, if we stop holding his past against him all the time, you have to admit that he’s done lots of good. Forgiveness is hard but not impossible.”

“You were never hit over the head and threatened by the undead menace,” Xander pointed out.

“No, but from what Willow told me about that, I was more surprised Spike didn’t just kill you then. If he were so terribly evil and beyond forgiving and change, he would have.” Tara quirked her brow in challenge. “A desperate, drunken, unchipped vampire hit you and knocked you out, then carried you to his lair and just laid you down without even taking a drink. That’s not exactly the stuff of horror novels.”

“Don’t forget the bottle,” Willow sidled up to Xander to bolster his side of the discussion. “Not very non-threatening there.”

“True, but again, he never even gave you a surface cut, did he?” Tara drew in a breath and decided she wasn’t going to back down on this. She had seen the light back in Buffy’s eyes, the light that had been missing since her return, and now that she knew why it was there, she was going to make sure no one snuffed it out again. They had done wrong in going along with Willow, she more than the others because she knew witchcraft well enough to know the dangers and yet had remained silent about bringing the Slayer back into such misery. No, she owed it to Buffy to support her in her choice. “Really none of this is even our business. Buffy says she loves Spike. Buffy LOOKS like a woman in love and at peace. We love Buffy. The end result is we should be happy for her and not try to tell her how to live, especially since we’re the ones who made her have to live again.”

There was utter silence as everyone digested Tara’s words. Clearly Xander and Willow still had objections, but this time they kept them to themselves. Giles at least appeared to be weighing the words. Perhaps his love for his charge would win out in the end and the unusual couple would find some support there as well. Tara could but hope.


Spike couldn’t believe what he had heard. Her whisper of a kiss and vow to return later merely added to the feeling of unreality. Buffy loved him! All the sex and pain of the first time had never led the girl to those feelings, and yet this time she was reassuring him that she had started to feel them before her death! It made no sense to him. He had fully expected to help her heal and then watch as one day she rode off into the sunset with some normal guy…or, in his worst nightmares, the Mighty Poof…anyone getting the girl except him! He had merely wanted to do right by her this time, no trying to draw her into the dark or the horrors that came later.

At first he had thought she was saying what she did to show Captain Cardboard that his moving on hadn’t hurt her. Then he thought it was frustration that he had been turning down her advances. He knew she was lusting after him heavily; he could smell it on her. Buffy had claimed that none of those doubts were worthy. She had actually thought her feelings through and was speaking from her heart and her mind when she said she loved him. Could he dare believe her? Could he survive it if she was wrong or misguided? Could he go on if she changed her mind?

Spike would never have expected that a vampire could actually go into shock, but he knew that was the state that best described his condition at the moment. Buffy had dropped that flower soft kiss on his lips and said she would be back, then slid into the night before he could so much as shake himself back to sensibility once more. The crypt door was still standing open from her exit.

She had said something about getting home to tell Dawn before anyone else did. Dawn didn’t despise him in this time period. In fact, Spike liked to think she’d be happy with Buffy’s news. The Watcher would likely be by soon with threats and sharpened wood. As for the witch and Harris, well, he didn’t want to think of what Buffy would have to put up with when she broke the news to them--provided she was going to break the news to them. ‘Didn’t exactly say much to them last time round. Might want me to be her dark secret this time too.’

Could it be possible that in seeking Buffy’s own good he would find his happiness in the end? Was it ever that simple for him? He trembled at the possible outcomes of this night’s revelation.

He was in new territory now. Everything had just changed. Maybe Buffy would get that counseling he had suggested for all her issues and she’d be talked back into her right mind and he’d be out in the cold once more. ‘Be my luck to get the girl only to lose her because of my own advice.’ No, Buffy’s problems had been there before she got involved with him the last time. She had to deal with losing her mum, losing Angel--hell, all the men who’d mattered to her. Maybe Giles coming back had helped heal some of that already. Lots had changed, after all. She wasn’t getting her soul sucked dry at the Doublemeat either. All the advantages he had coming from the future just went up in a puff of smoke as he realized he had no clue where things were headed now.

“Gonna have to walk carefully from here on. No benefit of hindsight to make the decisions and just following my blood won’t do it either. Gonna have to force myself to think things through.” He sighed in frustration and fear, “Shit! Ask me to kill somethin’, I’m good at that. Not so good with thinkin’ things through. Oh balls, I’m bloody buggered!”


“See, now you’ll have to include Spike in the wedding party. If he and Buffy are a couple, he’ll want to escort her down the aisle as a groomsman.” Anya prattled on about the parts of the revelation that mattered to her. “He’ll look nice in a tux and at least he’s not a hard-to-fit size like Riley would have been.”

“I don’t want Spike walking Buffy down anything, and certainly not our aisle. Blrrrrrgh!” Xander shuddered at the image of the Slayer and vampire taking part in any wedding ceremony, much less his own.

“Don’t be silly, this has been coming for ages.” Anya couldn’t believe how dense her beloved could be. “You could feel the sexual tension for miles around them. I’m just glad Buffy will be having regular orgasms now. Maybe she won’t be mad at us for bringing her back again and we can all move on from that unpleasant memory.”

Xander felt torn in half. He truly wanted Buffy to be happy. He had moved on with Anya from his early crush on the Slayer, had been delighted when it looked like she might have found Mr. Right in Riley Finn even. Still, it had been such a disaster with Angel. Vampires were bad news--evil and not able to be trusted. Even before Angel lost his soul, there had been something ‘off’ about him with Buffy, something more than just jealousy that made Xander hate the thought of them together. Spike was way worse. He was an evil, disgusting dead thing! Buffy had to be under a thrall or a spell of some kind. Maybe Giles was right and she came back wrong. He’d have to talk to Willow after the wedding, sort it all out, fix it.

“So did your mother finally accept that I come from a circus family?” Anya had been fairly impressed with Xander’s lie that served to explain the odd-looking group of friends that Anya had converging on the town for her wedding.

“Actually, yeah. Helps growing up in Sunnydale, that little known Egyptian city on the very banks of the Nile.” Xander smiled winningly at his bride-to-be. “Of course, if you hadn’t decided to invite every demon you ever knew to the wedding, we wouldn’t have had to explain a thing to anyone.”

“Xander, you can’t just wipe out over a thousand years of life and friendship just because it isn’t convenient at the moment! I have friends that would have been really hurt if I hadn’t invited them to share my special day. Would you have felt right if I asked you to tell Willow not to come because her moods have been making my skin twitch for months now? No, you would not. She’s your best friend and even if she has never been very nice to me, I welcome her because of you.” Anya nodded, quite pleased with her graciousness and benevolence. “I even agreed that she could be your Best Person, although I doubt that’s true in any way lately.”

“Point, except for that last bit. You have to admit it was kinda weird seeing my Cousin Carol making a pass at Krelvin at the rehearsal dinner. Although,” he continued after some consideration, “He would be a step up from the guys she usually goes for.”

“Krelvin is actually quite successful in his line of work. Carol could do lots worse, I agree.”

“Okay, this is just starting to creep me out a bit. Ex-demons and humans, I’m down with, marrying them even, but the whole Kumbaya feelings about demons of the not-so-ex variety and humans…I don’t know.”

“Some demon species have been marrying humans forever--very happily too, I might add. You need to broaden your view. So typical of someone who grew up in a small town and never ventured far!” Anya said disapprovingly. “In big cities you see lots of mixed marriages and no one thinks a thing of it! There are plenty of half-breeds here in Sunnydale too, but I doubt you know anything about the demon community right here in your home town.”

“Community? There’s a community now?”

“There always has been, you dope!” Anya was amazed at the blind spots the human population of Sunnydale had when it came to their own fellow citizens. “How to you think demons buy and sell? Why isn’t there more demon-on-demon violence? Of course there’s a community, businesses, even a certain amount of government. Most demons don’t want humans just killing them all off, for the love of Pete! Just look at Willy’s to see how they pick places where no one goes on a rampage but can drink in peace. For that matter, Willy’s is a good example of how they get along with some humans.”

“So our wedding going to be one of those ‘no violence’ zones?”

“Naturally!” Anya rolled her eyes at the silly question. “I want lots of dancing on my perfect day, not a bunch of brawls. I have to say some of the guests I invited were more than a little put off at my having the Slayer in my wedding party, but I explained that Buffy was not planning on any bloodletting on my big day. Her bringing Spike as her date will actually help calm some nerves.”

“I’m telling you there will be no dating of Spike by Buffy,” Xander began again.

“You aren’t her father. Neither is Giles, for that matter.” Anya tried yet another hair arrangement, trying to decide just what look flattered her gown the most and promptly forgot the entire discussion. “I’m thinking curls.”


Buffy was worried when she saw the crypt door still standing wide open, just as she had left it. She nearly expected to see Spike standing where she had left him too, even though it had been several hours since she headed for the blow-up on Revello. Spike was sitting and staring straight ahead of him at nothing--or nothing Buffy could see at least. His usually expressive face was blank.

“Hey,” she spoke softly, but it still caused a start in the vampire. “Didn’t mean to sneak up on you. Door’s open. Not such a good idea, do you think?”

“Didn’t notice,” Spike looked like he’d been wakened from a deep sleep. “So you’re back then.”

Buffy smiled broadly. “Can’t put anything past you tonight! I told you I’d be back after I had a little talk with Dawn. Riley beat me to it though, and well, you can imagine the little scene that caused. Took me a while to make sure everyone knew my love life isn’t a democratic process and then get back here to you.”

Spike had bitten his lip in trepidation at the words ‘love life’ and he raised his eyes to stare into hers. “So I didn’t just dream all that up then. You…,” he closed his eyes and savored the feeling of the words, “you’ve decided you…,” he couldn’t bring himself to finish the statement.

“Love you,” Buffy finished for him. “Yes, Spike, I, Buffy Anne Summers, love you, William the Bloody, also known as Spike, also known as the Slayer of Slayers. I really don’t know how to get more specific than that.” She laughed lightly, “Wow, I’m usually the one who’s no good with words while you hear things I don’t say, and now I have the right words and you’ve developed a hearing problem.”

“I hear, just having trouble wrapping my brain around it’s all,” Spike admitted. “Havin’ everythin’ I ever wanted just handed to me without a fight’s somethin’ I never…lots of things I never.” He looked at her as if she were every good and lovely thing that had ever existed. “’Cept for my mum, no one’s ever….” He closed his suspiciously wet eyes. “Takes some getting’ used to’s all. Half afraid you’ll change your mind, or those friends of yours will shake some sense into you, and I’m just not sure I can handle that.”

“No changing, no shaking.” She sat down next to Spike on the loveseat and looked him in the eye. “I told you it started before I died. I really don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t jumped and was brought back like I was, but I do know this isn’t something that I’m just starting to feel. Just starting to admit, yeah, but feel? Nope. You kinda grow on a girl.” She tapped his arm playfully.

“After you pushed me away,” Buffy continued, “I started to see that you really care about me, not just getting in my pants like Xander is always saying. If you really care that much that you’d turn down what you want to be sure things are right for me…well, that’s love isn’t it? Putting someone else and their needs above your own? I guess I saw that in the way you were with Dru too. I had to do a lot of thinking and then it all fell into place finally. I was going to tell you on my birthday, give myself a present, but it all went crazy as usual.”
A moment of insecurity born of her romantic history reared its head. “You DO still want me, don’t you?” she fairly whispered. “I’m not too late?”

Spike ran trembling fingers through her soft hair as he drew her close to his breast and gently spoke, his tone honeyed and deep.

“At last, when all the summer shine
That warmed life's early hours is past,
Your loving fingers seek for mine
And hold them close at last at last!
Not oft the robin comes to build
Its nest upon the leafless bough
By autumn robbed, by winter chilled,
But you, dear heart, you love me now.”

“You write poetry?” Buffy was awed.

“I write doggerel. That’s just a poem I once read by Elizabeth Akers Allen, an American poet. It’s called ‘At Last’.”

“More, please.” Buffy snuggled deeper into his embrace as he continued.

“Though there are shadows on my brow
And furrows on my cheek, in truth,
The marks where Time's remorseless plough
Broke up the blooming sward of Youth,”

He dropped a kiss on her brow and jumped ahead,

“Despite my sad and faded face,
And darkened heart, you love me now!

I count no more my wasted tears;
They left no echo of their fall;
I mourn no more my lonesome years;
This blessed hour atones for all.
I fear not all that Time or Fate
May bring to burden heart or brow,
Strong in the love that came so late,
Our souls shall keep it always now!”

“So I’m not too late? You still love and want me?” Buffy hated the ‘little lost girl’ sound to her voice.

“Buffy, I’ll love you ‘til I’m dust and then beyond, and want you every moment ‘til then.” His voice shook with emotion.

His lips met hers in sacred union as he shared all that he felt for her in any and all lifetimes--past, present and future. Her response was all he could have dared hope. The tenderness of this communion quickly ignited the embers of raw passion they had both been suppressing for so long and hands joined lips in exploration and celebration.

This was far different from those shame-filled bursts of want that Buffy had allowed before. These kisses held all the promise of forever that Spike had yearned for and Buffy had felt beyond her grasp.

“Want you,” Buffy whispered huskily.

“Want you too, petal, want to make it good for you,” Spike breathed before allowing his tongue to once more plunder her mouth.

“I know you will. I’ll make it good for you too.”

The years of rejection and loss slipped from them both as they loved one another as only those who have found their true home can.


“She didn’t come home last night.” Willow sounded harsh and disapproving bordering on shrill.
“Buffy’s a big girl. I’m the little sister; it’s not up to me to set curfew.” Dawn dropped another Pop Tart in the toaster and looked to Giles for support.

“You know full well how I feel about this situation, but I must agree with Dawn. Buffy is an adult and has the right to make any mistake she chooses regarding her personal life.” He ignored the dirty look coming from the younger Summers girl.

“We need to get ready for the wedding. I have to prepare Xander for his march to doom and say all those Best Person things he’ll be expecting. I don’t have time to worry about Buffy and if she’ll pull away from the walking dead long enough to see a real friend on the most important day of his life.”

“Oh, come on!” Dawn was out of patience. “Buffy’ll be there for the wedding. So will Spike.
Just because she’s been over there every night since Riley left doesn’t change anything for anybody else. She still lives here and still patrols and everything else she’s supposed to do. She just spends quality time macking on her hottie after. I think you’re jealous.” She slammed the refrigerator as if in punctuation.

Willow’s eyes flared black, but she bit back her answer. ‘First get Xander married to that moron he’s insisting on loving, then sort this mess out.’ She turned a brittle smile on the girl. “Tara and I are doing fine, thank you for asking. In fact, she should be here any minute so we can head to the Bison Lodge to get this show on the road.”

“Yes, I suppose I need to get myself ready as well. I dare say I hope no one actually thinks me old enough to be Anyanka’s actual father,” Giles groused. “Clearly her demon friends know better, but the humans might give it a thought in passing.”

“Wear your earring and ruffle your hair and no one will believe it,” Dawn teased.

“And who better than Ripper to walk a former vengeance demon down an aisle? You may be correct.” He grinned rakishly at both girls. “I believe I may have some jewelry in my valise.”

Dawn snorted. “You were doing great ‘til you said valise too!”

“I shall endeavor to channel my inner Roger Daltry then,” he promised.


Willow had already left with Tara by the time Giles reappeared and, true to his promise, sported a small diamond stud in his left ear with his thinning hair lightly mussed. Somehow the look worked with the traditional tux to give him an edge and deduct a few years from his worry-prone face.

Dawn and Buffy were stifling their giggles as they pronounced him hot enough to have his dance card filled without any trouble.

“Am I to assume Spike will be joining us at this recipe for disaster that passes for a wedding on the Hellmouth?”

“Yes. I finally made him promise he’d dance most of his dances with me and none at all for that skanky friend of Anya’s that tried to ruin my birthday party. I think there’s a story there, but he’s not telling”

“Ooh, blackmail material maybe.” Dawn perked up. “I’ll have to corner Hallie and find out.”

“There will be no blackmailing of my boyfriend.”

“Buffy! I have to have some ammunition or he’ll never let me date in a few years!” Dawn had a pout nearly as potent as Buffy’s.

“He’s meeting us there, actually. Daylight services are not very vamp friendly. You’d think with all the demons Anya invited she would have thought about that!” Buffy huffed. “Still, it looks like rain, so the sun won’t be as big an issue as on some days.”

“Are you going to have a nighttime wedding when you finally do it?” Dawn was already making plans to cement this relationship between her sister and her favorite vamp.

“Good Lord!” Giles nearly took the door off its hinges as he raced from the house in horror.

“Too soon to even think about things like that, imp! Besides, you scared the substitute father figure. We have to gently move males in that direction,” Buffy quipped. “Especially British Watchery males.”


“I don’t know who’s worse, dear old Uncle Rory or Xan’s daddy not-so-dearest!” Buffy ducked into an alcove to avoid running into the latter. The last thing she wanted was Spike to act on his threat to rip the drunk’s liver out through his nose if he tried to touch Buffy again. ‘Can’t have my man all headachy later.’ Tara nodded sympathetically. She had been hiding from Randy Rory when Buffy had practically bowled her over in her haste to get away from Mr. Harris. “I never thought I’d see the day when demons behaved better than humans.”

“True,” Tara agreed. “All of Anya’s friends are being really nice and peaceful. That boy with the short horns has been a real gentleman with Dawnie--even before Spike growled at him.”

“Yeah, about that,” Buffy sighed, “Probably time for a mom lecture and some research tomorrow. I don’t even know what kind of demon that guy is, and if he thinks he can just waltz in on twinkling hoofs and start up with my little sister, he’d better think again! And I cannot believe what I just said.”

“You’re becoming very open-minded.” Tara nodded with a wry grin.

“Hope my brains don’t fall out,” Buffy shook her head in amazement at the change in her outlook regarding demons. “I’m dating my second demon, helping my best guy friend marry an ex-demon and even thinking about allowing my little sister to date yet another demon!”

“Hey, Buffy!” Clem’s loud and cheery voice broke into the conversation. “You look terrific! That electric green really brings out your eyes.”

“And brings up my lunch,” Buffy agreed with a smile. “Nice to see you Clem. I didn’t know you and Anya were close friends.”

“We spent some quality demon bonding time at your birthday party. Say, Slayer, you really know how to throw a shindig. I’ll be talking about that one for years.”

“You’re looking quite dapper yourself,” Tara complimented Clem and tucked her arm in his. “Mind keeping me safe from the big bad Rory monster?”

“Yeah, that guy has no manners! He’s been hitting on all the ladies here like this was a convention instead of a solemn ceremony. Disgusting,” he shook his head in disapproval his ears flapping wildly.

Spike sidled up to his beloved and whispered, “Who’s the old bloke talkin’ to Harris? Looks to be makin’ the boy as green as your dress.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think he’s one of Xan’s family and he looks human. Maybe we should go rescue the groom.”

A slight commotion at the door interrupted this plan as D’Hoffryn and his entourage arrived. Halfrek was dressed in the same blinding green dress that the other girls wore. She smiled a condescending smile at Buffy and winked at Spike.

“Okay, all bets are off with that one,” Buffy swore as Spike laughed at her show of jealousy.

“Pet, even if she wasn’t wearin’ that hideous gown, I’d not look her way.”

Buffy stuck out her bottom lip in a fake pout. “I’m wearing that same gown.”

“Ah, but on you it just looks radiant,” he vowed.

“Radioactive you mean.”

“Either,” he grinned, “I look at you and it’s not the gown I’m seein’.”

Buffy blushed and swatted him. “No naked images at a wedding, Spike!”

He chuckled, “Well, that too, but I just meant you’re beautiful enough to make anything look good. Can’t get past that lovely face, that unbelievable, delectable, angelic woman you are to notice bad fashion. Remember you wearin’ lots of dodgy costumes over the years and you made them all perfect just bein’ in ‘em.”

Buffy melted just a bit more.

D’Hoffryn was handing a large box to Dawn and explaining his greeting to the confused girl. “Hymen, God of matrimony. His salutations upon you. May the love we celebrate today avoid its almost inevitable decline.” Buffy noticed a long tentacle poking out of one of the many holes in the box and grimaced.

“So, Dawnie, how is everything? Going good? Nothing you…um…might wish were different?” Hallie put on her most ingratiating smile.

“For Yek’s sake, Hallie, take a day off! We’re not here to do vengeance; we’re here to mingle,” D’Hoffryn chided his minion.

Clem was keeping close watch on Tara as Uncle Rory descended on the pair with Cousin Carol in tow. “So, circus folk! What’s that like?” Carol had an avid look of genuine interest.

“Yeah, your…er…friend…the fellow with the warty face went off on his circus ‘heritage’ like you folks are all in some kind of cult,” Rory nearly snarled.

Clem quickly figured out the explanation Anya had given for her demon friends appearance. “Well, ours are ancient ways. Clowning as an occupation grew out of the Commedia Del’Arte and ancient sports, of course….”

Rory was growing impatient. “The thing I’m wondering is if you expect Xander to bring his kids up in some kind of foreign-speaking ‘bow to the east’ kinda cult.”

A passing demon interrupted in indignation, “So you think the children should be raised in ignorance of our ways and customs?”

Carol was appalled. “Oh no!!! The Harris family is very broad-minded. We’re Episcopalians!” She clutched Rory’s arm and maneuvered him away from the bristling demon with an apologetic smile at Clem.

“Broad-minded!” Clem muttered. “Drunks for the most part. Look at that, and on his son’s big day too.”

Tara nodded sadly as she watched yet another argument break out between Mr. Harris and his browbeaten wife. It brought a shiver of remembrance as she saw shades of her own family situation.

Clem picked up on her discomfort immediately. “Let’s get some sunshine while there still is some, okay? Nice girl like you doesn’t need to be around that sort of thing.”

Tara glanced at Xander, hoping he was also missing out on his parents’ display but he was engaged in a deep conversation with an elderly man and not noticing anything else at all. “Thank the goddess for small favors. Poor Xander doesn’t deserve it either.”

“Yeah, he’s a nice boy. Sometimes good eggs hatch even from bad birds,” Clem agreed.

Buffy had rushed into the breach to break up the Haggling Harris Show part six and prevent any further damage. One of Anya’s demon friends had finally had enough of the insults and a row to put Willy’s to shame was about to break loose.

“Hey, didn’t you have a small pink purse?” Mr. Harris asked as part of his brain snapped that he had seen this girl the night before at the rehearsal dinner. He had lost his lunch in said purse.

“Yeah, I did,” Buffy said sadly. She had really liked the purse too. It had been one of her new purchases that made her smile, remembering her financial woes were a thing of the past.

Harris leered at the girl guiding him away from his crying wife and several simmering demons. “Thought so! Hey, what do you say we slip into the back room. I’ll show you my….”

Spike strode up then and interrupted, “You finish that sentence, mate, and you won’t have anything to show ever again.” He turned to Buffy and added, “Thought you could use a bit of a hand with this berk. Don’t want to orphan Harris on his big day, yeah?”

The groom in question was still in deep conversation with the old man who now held a purple glowing orb in his hand. ‘Weird wedding gift,’ Buffy mused in passing, ‘but at least that one doesn’t have tentacles.’

Giles too had noticed the conversation and witnessed Xander slump as if in shock. He moved as quickly as possible through the crowd to get to the boy. ‘I certainly hope one of Anya’s demon friends hasn’t chosen this moment to object to her marrying a human. Something is off with this situation.’

Getting closer, Giles was able to hear the old man saying, “You’ll hurt her less today than you will later. Believe me. Sometimes all two people bring each other is pain.” Try as he might, Giles was unable to get to Xander’s side quickly enough to stop the boy from bolting from the room.

“Xander!” The Watcher moved with agility as he chased the fleeing lad. “Wait a moment!” Giles had a terrible feeling that Xander had just made the worst decision of his young life and someone had to take him in hand before it was one with no chance of being fixed.


“What do you mean Xander’s gone? He can’t be gone; this is our wedding!” Anya looked incredibly fragile and lost, utterly unlike her usual self.

“I’m sure it’ll all sort out. Watcher’s on it, isn’t he?” Spike reassured the girl. “No weeping now, demon girl, you’ll mess that pretty face for no reason.”

Buffy looked out the window at the now rainy gloom and spotted Xander pacing and getting soaked while Giles gestured wildly.

“What’s happening, can you tell?” Buffy whispered as Tara tried to reassure Anya that nothing momentous was taking place outside in the pouring rain.

“Sodding wanker’s pullin’ a runner, so it looks,” Spike spat contemptuously. “Thought I was evil!”

“Giles will stop him, right?” Buffy sounded like she was about to cry and Spike drew her into his arms.

“Sure. Like to see a bloke get away from the Council’s finest,” he quipped. “Rupert will sort things, no need to fear. This dog and pony show’ll just have a slight delay and bit of wet is all.”

Spike spoke a bit louder for Anya’s benefit. “Likely the groom got a bit of the jitters. Thought of marrying such a beauty’s enough to spook anybody.”

That seemed to do the trick with the ex-demon and she began to fuss at her gown again. “Well, he has been a bit nervous. He’ll be fine once we get on our honeymoon. I have some surprises for him! He’ll never look at duct tape the same way again.”

No one had any desire to ask for any further explanation and silence prevailed. “So,” Tara finally said after clearing her throat, “What are those vows you have planned?”

Anya went back to practicing her vows having been mollified by her friends. “And I had seen what love could do to people, and it was … hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then, suddenly there was you, and … you knew me. You saw me! And it was this … you make me feel safe and warm.” She smiled in complete happiness, “So I get it now. I finally get love, Xander, I really do.”


“I’ve seen what love does to people,” Xander was saying to Giles. “It turns ugly and hurtful. You destroy the person you once vowed to cherish.”

Giles had no idea what the old geezer had said to the boy but having seen the Harris parents in action he knew what was on the lad’s mind now.

“You browbeat them until they have no self-esteem and then you actually beat them until they’re unconscious,” Xander was working up quite a rant.

“I love Anya too much to put her through that.” He looked at Giles as if noticing him for the first time. “Tell her that, will you? Make her understand?”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Giles thundered louder than the weather did. “You leave that girl now and you will be destroying something within her that can never be fixed. And you will be shaming her in front of every friend either of you has. No woman-- actually no human being--recovers from something like that, you idiotic boy! Why do you think so many tragic songs and stories involve people being left at the altar? Because it’s highly traumatic and emotionally crippling. It’s the worst form of public rejection by the very person who had sworn love.”
He grabbed Xander’s shoulders and forced him to look at him. “You fear becoming your father? You are well on your way to that if you take the coward’s way this day. If you wish to be a man, you march yourself in there, dry off and marry the woman you claim to love. This is not fate, this is a choice. Are you to be your father and ruin the woman who loves you, or are you to be the Xander I’ve known for years who fights the battles each day and does so bravely? Don’t tell me you can face down any demon but the ones within yourself.”

Xander pondered what Giles had said and his mind flashed to a heartbroken Anya that he knew he’d be leaving behind. “What if I fail?”

“With that attitude, no one would ever accept any challenge,” Giles said in a softer tone. “You take it a day at a time and do your very best.”

“Think this suit will shrink while I’m saying my vows?” Xander shot an embarrassed grin at the Watcher.

One inner demon slayage, one actual demon slayage, and one dripping groom later, the pair were wed and the reception was in full swing.

Buffy and Spike were in a world of their own as they danced to ‘Because You Loved Me’ blaring from the speakers. Spike had been so happy to have his Buffy in his arms that he hadn’t even snarked at the DJ’s choices in ‘perfect’ wedding songs. Having his girl warm and happy and publicly loving him was enough to make even Celine Dion go down well.

Xander had finally dried off enough that he wasn’t soaking his beaming bride so he took a moment while she danced with Giles to check up on his Best Person. “Say, saw you and Tara dancing a while ago. Another celebration in the making?”

Willow smiled happily, “Could be. I think she’s finally coming around.”

Just then, Buffy and her vampire glided into view. Willow narrowed her eyes at the pair. “Something is going to have to be done about THAT though.”

Xander eyed his friend warily. “No poofy stuff at my reception, remember? My family may buy the circus explanation, but if a guest suddenly becomes a toad there will be questions.” He hoped to tease her out of her rapidly worsening mood. Ever since Giles and Spike had questioned her resurrection spell, Willow had been on one large mood roller coaster, one promising plenty of chills, spills and possibly screams. He had also noticed her eyes actually change color and that was something he didn’t want to worry about on his wedding day. “She’ll get sick of him soon enough.”

Willow was already thinking about possible solutions to her vampire problem. “You could be right.” No point in bothering Xander at his reception. Besides, what she was thinking of might require a quick side trip to Rack for a little something borrowed. That was, after all, a wedding day tradition.

Nothing Normal
Chapter 9, Nothing Normal

“No more than two weeks, you promised,” Buffy reminded Giles. “Go see this voodoo doctor and find out what you need to do to fix me up, and then hop on the next plane home.”

Buffy was feeling happier than she could remember being in far too long. Yes, Giles was leaving to see about those empty places she still had, those numb areas, but more importantly he was coming back! Spike was waiting at home for her and that made her more content than she could have imagined. She had no trouble getting in touch with her feelings for the vampire. She had two men, both dearly loved and neither likely to leave her. ‘If you add in loyal Xander, I’ve got a full set!’

Tara had even said that Buffy’s aura was looking more complete than it had since her return. Evidently the love she was feeling and having that love returned were helping her to heal naturally from whatever connections were lacking upon her return. Where there had been gaps, there were now tenuous threads, as if she were knitting together in spite of the problems with the ritual. She had Spike to thank for that.

“It is remotely possible for that to take place, but it is far too important to leave to chance,” had been Giles’ response when Buffy suggested that his trip might not be necessary after all.

Giles and Spike were both stubborn when it came to wanting to see Buffy whole and happy. “I still think a bit of counseling would do you the world of good.” Spike had not backed down on his urging that she find someone to work on her issues, even though she was gloriously happy with him. “Not just about love, pet. You don’t have the confidence a fine woman like you should have. You don’t see yourself the way you should. Should know you’re a woman worth treasuring, keeping. You need to deal with losin’ your mum too. Had a lot dumped on you in a short time, love. No shame in talkin’ it out with someone who’s heard it all before.”

So she had agreed to see a lady Giles found who actually had an awareness of the demon population in Sunnydale and was a well-trained psychologist specializing in grief counseling.

All in all, Buffy felt she was actually moving in a forward direction for once. Her abandonment issues were flowing in her conversations with the doctor and she was beginning to see that the pattern that had haunted her was not of her own making. Like all children of divorce, Buffy had been convinced that Hank had left because of her, and every abandonment afterward merely added ‘proof’ to that assumption. The doctor was painstakingly helping her examine each incident and the reasons why her assumptions were flawed. She had even admitted that Angel had been a ‘complete and total jerk’ to leave her when he did because they couldn’t be together physically. That was a major breakthrough and Buffy had celebrated with Spike in ways that still made her limp a bit.

The sex with Spike had been beyond good. Best of all, Buffy didn’t have to hold back. He could take whatever she gave and not break. He gave as good as he got too, but what had really surprised Buffy was how tender and loving he was at the core. ‘A regular snuggle bunny.’ She grinned at the memory of waking to find Spike wrapped so tightly around her that it took a good five minutes to untangle their limbs so Buffy could get back in time to see Dawn off to school. They were still trysting at the crypt because Willow’s glowering looks could kill a mood faster than anything.

Willow was still grumbling and shooting dirty looks at both Giles and Spike whenever they were in the same room with her. She was taking their contention that there were problems with the ritual far too much as a personal criticism, in Buffy’s opinion. ‘I’m not making that big a deal about it and I’m the one she resurrected, after all!’

There was something off about Willow and now that Buffy was starting to feel a bit better about her life, it was becoming more obvious on a daily basis. Buffy was pretty sure that Willow was still abusing magic, even though she couldn’t prove it. There was something sly about the way Willow acted when Tara was around, calculated and not natural at all. It gave Buffy the wiggins. Willow went off a lot by herself and Buffy had no idea whom she was with, but it certainly wasn’t Tara. When she came back from her mystery trips, she was in a wired daze. There were vibes that came off her that caused the little hairs to stand up on Buffy’s arms if she were in the same room with Willow upon her return.

Giles’ conversation broke into Buffy’s musings. “I shall do my best to bring that book back for Dawn as well. There is scant information on those monks that formed her, but what the Council has should be accessible.”

“I don’t blame her for wanting some clue about those guys. Now that she’s just a normal teenage girl, it’s probably safe for her to look into it. I guess it’s like being adopted and wanting to know something about where you came from.”

They had a little time before Giles’ flight was to leave and were sitting in the coffee bar making small talk. For once, it didn’t seem forced. Everything had become so much easier since she had admitted her feelings for and to Spike. Life was looking up.

“Did you like Dr. Tanner? She did come highly recommended.”

“She’s nice and really pretty. I think she gets what pressure I’ve been under. Losing Mom so unexpectedly and having to be mom to Dawnie all at once are heavy stressors, she said. Of course I left out all the parts about Glory and dying myself, but it has helped to talk.”

“I must say I am impressed that Spike was the one to think of this need for someone to help you sort things. One wouldn’t expect a vampire to even remember the emotional needs of a human.”

“Spike never stopped remembering what being a human is like; we should have seen that all along. He could see how crushing it all was and instead of that making him do the happy dance, he wanted to help. He loves me and he loved Mom too.”

“Yes, well, be that as it may, it is commendable that this unsouled demon has been this supportive. I really need to think about the implications. In the meantime, as long as he treats you well, I won’t attempt to rain on your parade, as they say.”

Buffy hugged Giles hard and long as he rose to answer the call for boarding. He would come around, she just knew it!


For once, Xander was happy that Anya loved her job as much as she did. She hadn’t minded the shortness of their honeymoon in the least, being eager to return to the Magic Box and all her customers and their money. “I just know Giles is practically giving away the store. He is a wonderful man but has no real sense of business at all! Why, he was buying newt feet from a G’brinza who was charging him at least four times what they’re worth! I found suppliers that increased his profit margin a good twenty percent. Goddess have mercy, but I just can’t be gone that long, honey.”

The trip to the bed and breakfast overlooking the Pacific had been short and the weekend long. All in all, it was a perfect way to start their marriage. Xander had been expecting to have to use most of his savings for a fancy honeymoon at Niagara Falls, a trip Anya wanted but was willing to wait for until someone she trusted could be found to run the store. Since his new wife didn’t seem to think anyone else had her abilities at money making, Xander was pretty sure he’d have plenty of time to save up.

Now back on the job himself, he was feeling pretty good about things when Willow showed up bringing lunch and a mission.

“It is just disgusting! He’s a mass murderer and he’s hanging around like he belongs there among decent people. She lets him have a say where Dawn is concerned too. He’s a terrible influence on both of them. You remember what happened with Angel. There is just no good to come from this.”

Willow could see that while Xander might agree in principle, he wasn’t planning to interfere with Buffy’s love life any time soon. Taking a breath, she changed course in her argument. “Look, I’ve been a little on edge since everyone started questioning me. As if I’d ever do anything to hurt Buffy! I admit the ritual didn’t exactly go perfectly, with the demon bikers smashing into the circle and all. I’m even willing to admit that there might be a few things that were less than perfect because of that. So if Buffy isn’t really herself, how can it be anything but manipulation on Spike’s part to move in on her now when she’s vulnerable. I mean, do you really think she would have decided she was in love with Spike before she died? If she claimed to love any vampire, it would be Angel. And weren’t we all a little sick of that old song?”

“You have a point, many points even, but what can we do about it? Like Giles said, Buffy’s a big girl.”

“We can have a little talk with Spike,” Willow suggested. “Let him know we’re on to him and that any thoughts he has of this being a long term victory is wrong and not happening. We let him know that Buffy isn’t unprotected.”

Xander thought about that for a moment and nodded. “Okay, can’t fault friends for that. I’m in. When are you planning this little visit?”

“I was thinking this evening while Buffy is at her counselors. Dawn is planning to go to a movie with Tara, and Spike will probably be hanging out at our house.” Her expression was sour at that thought.

“I’ll be there.

‘Good! That will give me a chance to pay another visit to Rack for a recharge before the fun starts.’ Willow smiled and nearly whistled on her way home.


Spike sipped his warmed blood and glanced at the local paper. “Amazin’ how these morons can take a Grappler demon on rampage and turn it into a domestic dispute! The lot of ‘em are too stupid to live.”

The door creaked as Willow entered, “Gonna need to oil that, I suppose,” Spike complained.
“So you’re the handyman around the house now?” Xander snarked.

“Buffy doesn’t need to keep calling on the happy honeymooner, yeah. Know my way around minor repairs,” Spike glowered at the boy who had been such a thorn in his side over the years but had been relatively silent with objections lately.

“Buffy’s our friend and we’ll take care of her,” Xander postured. “You’re just a short term Angel wannabe.” Looked like the gloves were off.

“That so?” Spike looked as dangerous as he ever had as the Big Bad. “Maybe you should ask Buffy ‘bout that. Seem to me like I’m the one here and the bloody Poof’s in LA being mysterious and brooding. You’re still years behind in Buffy’s maturin’ if you think she’s still carryin’ a torch for my sire.”

“We’re here to tell you that you won’t get away with taking advantage of Buffy like this. She’s vulnerable and not thinking clearly. Giles might be willing to just wait for her to get fixed, but we’re not buying,” Xander was starting to remember how much he didn’t like the bleached wonder.

Spike had the balls to laugh in the boy’s face. “I’m thinkin’ the one not in his clear mind right now might just be you, pup. Buffy loves me. She’s on the mend. Get used to it.”

The quiet witch exuded power and menace but had not spoken until now. “You’re pretty good at moving in and making all kinds of decisions--about Buffy, about Dawn, about my abilities as a witch. You’re just full of opinions, aren’t you, Spike?” In fact, Willow was looking kinda scary with streaks of black in her flame hair.

“As it happens, my opinion’s actually wanted. As for your abilities, I can’t think of a one of your spells that didn’t go balls up at some point,” Spike challenged. “Cookies can’t fix all the messes you’ve made and that’s not my opinion, that’s fact.”

Her eyes became large black orbs and a malevolent sneer formed on her lips. “Send this one to realms away. Leave no trace to find his way. Remove!” Willow’s eyes were ink black and dark veins stood out on her too pale skin as Xander looked on in horror.

Spike had barely vanished before the carpenter broke out in a cold sweat of fear. “Holy Frijoles! Um…Will…this wasn’t what I signed on for. I thought we were just going to talk, scare the vamp. Now I’m kinda the one scared. Buffy’s gonna kill us!”

Willow turned slowly towards her oldest friend and gave him a smile that reminded him of the heart-stealing ghouls from a few years past. “Do you have a problem with my solution, Xander?”

“NO!” Xander wouldn’t have a problem with anything Willow wanted to do or say as long as she was looking like this! “No problems here. We might have some with Buffy later though.”

“Buffy’s used to men leaving her. She’ll deal. She even has a counselor now,” Willow coldly reasoned. “Vampires are fairly fickle, after all.”

Xander was in full panic mode now. Clearly his friend was not the sweet, shy girl he remembered from childhood and where did she get all that scary dark mojo? As touchy as Willow had been when anyone questioned her use of magic, Xander wasn’t about to raise any issues about a vanished vampire. Still, he just knew that it was all going to hit the fan when Buffy found out what Willow had done. ‘Should I bite the bullet and just tell her right away? No, I just got married, I need all my parts, and either Buffy or Willow will remove some if I open my mouth.’

Willow had returned to her normal look save for the Cheshire cat grin that was now plastered on her face. “Well, that takes care of that little problem. I suppose the smart thing to do would be to go by his crypt and move some things so it looks like he’s done what all of Buffy’s boyfriends do and moved on. Moving day, Xan,” she sing-songed.


“Fuck!” Spike was slightly dizzy and felt as if he’d been pulled several directions all at once.

“Language, William!” For all the rebuke, there was also amusement in the gentle voice.

Once his eyes adjusted, he noticed he was back in the mist again with the ‘Not-Joyce’ being.

“And here we just spent considerable energy diverting you back here!” she chastised. “One would think you would be a bit grateful at least. That was a truly nasty dimension the witch had planned for your destination.”

“Red’s off her bloody rocker!”

“More like not in the driver’s seat,” the being clarified. “You have done well in taking care of your Slayer. Congratulations!”

“Not gonna do me any good here in gauzy land. Need to get back to Buffy,” Spike looked about with slight panic. ‘What if these buggers decide that’s that and I don’t get a third shot at a life with her?’

“We wouldn’t do that Spike. This was to be a hero’s reward, remember?”

Spike jumped slightly when his unvoiced thought was answered.

“There are things you will need to know, however. As you have already surmised, things are different now. New paths are opening and we would not have you make grave errors that would result in tragedy.”

“Wouldn’t want that, no.” Spike was pretty sure he didn’t want to relive the FE or see Buffy so beleaguered as she had been that last year. “What’s up with Willow then if she’s not in control?”

“That is not your mission to fix. The Watcher will sort that out well and then take measures necessary to help the girl. It was his responsibility all along to mentor her gift, especially as he knows full well from his own misspent youth what great power in an immature mind and insecure heart can lead to. He should have been concerned long before now.” The being frowned in disapproval. “No, Buffy is your concern and you have done well by her. She is healing and will be stronger for it.”

“Yeah, makes a difference havin’ that moral compass they always went on about.” Spike admitted. It had been worth those trials in Africa to ensure he would know the right things to do and say where his beloved was concerned.

“You speak of the soul you won back in the first timeline.” Spike didn’t like the slight grin on the being’s face.

“Wasn’t easy winnin’ it, nearly didn’t make it. Me mum used to say anything worth having comes hard. Same with that, I suppose.”

“What makes you think the soul still abides in you?”

Spike blinked rapidly in confusion. Fear began to build a pit of fire in his belly at the implications. “Wanna explain that question? Nice and slow, ‘cause I really wanna follow your answer.”

“You inhabit the physical body of the vampire you were at the time you are now living. That body did not house a soul; neither do you now.”

“Wait, you’re sayin’ I lost it somewhere? Damned thing was supposed to be permanent, not go walkies like the Poof’s!”

“You’ve lost nothing and your soul is far from damned. It resides in a peaceful and safe place for the now.”

“You better bloody well give it back. Earned it, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did at that, but we cannot allow you access to it now unless you wish to bring about the same horrors that befell your Buffy and all her town the last time.”

Spike was now in a blind panic. ‘No wonder I had so much trouble doin’ what I wanted found it hard stayin’ away from Buffy! God, I could try to rape her again or worse without the bleedin’ thing. What the hell kind of choice is this to put Buffy at risk from me or relivin’ the stuff from the FE?’

“Your fears will be relieved and questions answered. Calm yourself, vampire, and be still.”

“But it was Buffy’s resurrection that brought out the FE. That eyeball demon told the Watcher that was the reason. Me bein’ all soul havin’ won’t hurt that and I can avoid it triggerin’ me this time.”

“I said to be still. Do not make us force your compliance with that. You should learn patience, vampire; you are certainly old enough to have developed that sort of control. Many of your plans would have gone so much more smoothly had you but been patient.” The being chuckled at that thought. “Of course it is to our benefit that they did not.”

“We told you when you were first here that Angel is the vampire with the prophecy for the Shanshu. In the proper time he will have his sins washed clean and will be given life again. As long as he remains a vampire, however, he MUST remain a vampire with a soul. To release Angelus would be to release a maelstrom of disaster upon the world. Only one souled vampire may exist, however, for the balance to be maintained. This balance was lost when you fought for and won your own soul.”

“You see, that was the important part of it--you sought it. It was not a curse that was done to you. For a warrior of evil to CHOOSE to change sides was unexpected and unheard of! Angel fights on the side of good now only because of that soul and a mistake made by Whistler that led him from despair to the hope of salvation. He had spent a century in regret, convinced that one day he would reap the hell he had sown. He avoided humans but did little actual good. The First Evil was not awakened by his actions.

“When he first was brought to the Slayer, he helped but was…shall we say…less than proactive. He delivered information and warnings for the most part. The few battles he engaged in were minor really, even if they did serve to allow the girl to live and grow. Then he lost that soul.

“When he returned, he was more of an active force for good and that finally drew the attention of the First Evil and it was permitted a limited foray into the world. It was allowed to tempt the souled vampire, to try to lead him to destroy himself to prevent harming the Slayer he had grown to love. With help from us, the First Evil failed in that attempt. Angel’s decision to leave took him out of the main battleground and that served to fix the balance again. Then came you….”

Spike ventured a comment, “But I thought it was Buffy’s return….”

“In the sense that her return led to your flawed relationship and that led you to get your soul…yes, her return DID start that mystical ball rolling. BUT the real trigger was a dark warrior changing sides in a permanent way--your soul. Now one souled vampire had already been factored into the balance, especially as the prophecy makes it clear that his ultimate side has yet to be determined. There cannot be two souled vampires fighting on the side of good. The balance is even more precarious with the break in the Slayer line. It cannot hold with more disruption. No, you may not have your soul unless and until Angel Shanshus or dusts.”

“So then I could go back and see Lurky, get back what’s mine?”

“You will not need to fight for it again. It will be returned permanently if you but ask, but NOT until you will be the only souled vampire in the world, not before.”

“What about between now and then?” Spike really was worried. Before the soul, he had truly believed that he would never have hurt Buffy or Dawn, but he had. Only with the soul did he learn to make choices, the right choices.

“You’ve done quite well without it thus far.”

“We’ve all been lucky, that’s all.”

“Luck plays no part in it. You have focused on others rather than yourself and that has helped you make wise choices. You have opened your heart to those other people that surround you and not limited your caring to Buffy and her sister. Your capacity to love was what attracted our attention long ago--you needed no soul for that!”

Spike was speechless. Here was a representative of The Powers giving permission for an unsouled demon to be with their Chosen One! “Still got the chip. Guess that’ll be okay.”

The Joyce-like being laughed, “That bit of hardware served its purpose the first year you had it! You do not need sharp pains to prevent you from resorting to your baser instincts. You always had good control of your demon even before that chip and now having expanded your view of humans and your ability to love them and care about them, the control will be even better. Besides, even the demon loves Buffy and would not wish to displease her!”

Spike knew the truth of that. All that he was adored his Slayer and all that made him who he was would willingly dust before seeing her hurt ever again. Even when she inevitably died, the knowledge that she might be ‘up there’ watching would keep him on the straight and narrow.


“His stuff is gone! Not the furniture, but all his personal stuff.” Buffy was beside herself.

“What did you do?” Dawn’s voice was harsh in accusation.

“Nothing, I swear. We were happy. He was happy and so was I.”

“Happy guys don’t hit the road. What did you do, call him evil and disgusting again?” Dawn had clearly heard more than Buffy had ever guessed over the years.

“NO!” Buffy was torn between terror that Spike had gone like every other man she had given her heart to and confusion that came from knowing, REALLY knowing, that he had been happy.
Just the night before Giles had left for London, Spike had confided that she was the first. She was the first human he had ever made love to and, more importantly, no other woman had ever actually loved him in return. As a human, his love had been rejected, and with Dru he had always been a pale second choice to Angel. Buffy had spent hours proving that he was not second to anyone with her and was sure she had proven it well. Judging by the look of pure joy followed by utter contentment on Spike’s face, she had confidence.

Coming home from a great session with Dr. Tanner, Buffy had been filled with insights to share with her love, only to find the house dark and empty. She had waited for him for hours before heading to the crypt, convinced that they had gotten their wires crossed. She was sure she had told him that Dawn wouldn’t be home and they could be together at home instead of Spike’s version of a bachelor pad with lots of lawn. But he wasn’t at the crypt either and all of his personal belongings were missing as well.

“This can’t be happening. Not now, not him!” Buffy was rapidly going into meltdown. “He’d never hurt me that way. He’s the one who said I needed the counselor. Why would he pick the one thing to do that would destroy me?”

Willow had been listening from the doorway. “Maybe that was the plan all along, Buffy. Didn’t Angel say he told Spike the only way to kill you was to love you? Maybe he was just waiting to get you really believing he did so that he could pull the rug from under you. He IS an evil vampire and he can’t just kill you--even though the chip doesn’t work on you--without someone staking him.” She shook her head sadly and put an arm around Buffy in false sympathy. “Sounds like the perfect plan to me. Looks like Spike was aiming to get his third Slayer after all.”

“That’s just crazy,” Dawn insisted while Buffy remained silent. “Why would he have stuck around all summer when Buffy was dead if he didn’t love her and me? That just doesn’t make any sense. Of course he loves us.”

Willow had her back to the teen, so Dawn didn’t see the eyeroll and look of annoyance from the witch. “I can’t explain Spike, Dawnie. If you can think of some other reason why he’d leave town, then I hope you’ll share it, because your big sister is really hurting.”

No one had any answers, at least no one who was willing to share.


“So you see it took me forever to admit I had feelings for him. I was really hateful too, said terrible things.” Buffy had gone through half a box of tissue and showed no signs of stopping soon.

“From all you’ve told me I have to admit that it appears to make no sense whatsoever,” Dr. Tanner handed Buffy yet another tissue. “Are you certain your boyfriend didn’t leave some kind of word, a note perhaps, that might have been misplaced? Maybe a family emergency called him away. You really mustn’t jump to conclusions.”

“But they all leave,” Buffy wailed. “I thought he’d be different. His last girlfriend was a real nut case. She didn’t even love him back, but he stayed with her for a century.”
Dr. Tanner gave her a skeptical look.

“Okay, a real long time…seemed like a century,” Buffy amended. The good doctor might be more supernaturally aware than the average Sunnydale resident, but Buffy wasn’t about to admit her boyfriend was a vampire born in the Victorian age! She’d probably think Buffy needed to be locked up, even if she DID believe her. Vampires were just not good boyfriend material in the eyes of any reasonable person. The last thing Buffy wanted was another forced stay in one of those places.

“You cannot lump all men into the same category. Let’s talk this through, shall we?” Dr. Tanner turned back in her notebook to previous conversations. “Let’s start with this Pike from your high school in Los Angeles.”

“He and I broke up when my parents broke up.” Buffy left out that she had pushed him away rather than see him get hurt in her nightly fights against evil. He had fought well there at Hemery but liked it too much, rather like Owen her first year in Sunnydale.

“I believe you concluded in that session that it was likely the stress of your home life problems that led to that relationship ending, correct?”

“Yeah, stress.” Buffy remembered the bad boy roaring off on his motorcycle, vowing to continue fighting the monsters with or without her. She had not heard from him again and only hoped he was still alive out there somewhere.

“The biggest source of your romantic woes was the next boy, Angel, correct?”

Buffy nearly laughed at Angel being referred to as a boy. “Yeah, Angel. I thought he was the love of my life, all mysterious and handsome and…I don’t know…mature, I guess. He read all these important books and had been so many places, done so many things. He knew so much about everything and was always there to make me feel safe.”

“He was much older? I can’t remember the age difference you said there was.”

“A lot older, yes.” Buffy caught the look on the doctor’s face and amended, “Not ‘creepy old guy’ older, just older. I was fifteen when I met him and he was out of school, but he’d seen me before and fell in love right away.”

“Really?” Doctor Tanner had doubts about his not being a ‘creepy old guy.’ “So he saw you and I believe you said he began to follow you around?”

“You make it sound icky, but it wasn’t like that!” Buffy was suddenly very defensive. “Angel was good! He was watching out for me, that’s all.”

“He had no real conversation with you, didn’t really know you, had merely seen you and was worried enough to follow you about?”

“Wow, you make it seem really perverted. It truly wasn’t!”

“All right. So tell me all about your relationship. How did it develop?”

Buffy was quiet as she thought back to those years of angst. She tried to pinpoint ways that the love had grown and realized how she really hadn’t seen Angel as a love interest until that conversation in the Bronze with Willow.

Willow smiled at the spacey blonde. “You lack a guy.”

“I do,” Buffy replied, “Which is fine with me, most of the time, but….”

“What about Angel?” Willow had noted the looks the handsome older guy had been giving her best girlfriend.

Buffy was startled. “Angel? I can just see him in a relationship. 'Hi, honey, you're in grave danger. I'll see you next month.'” She giggled.

Willow agreed, “He's not around much, it's true.”

She still remembered the romantic haze of youth as she imagined Angel being more than clue-dropping guy. “When he is around…it’s like the lights dim everywhere else. You know how it’s like that with some guys?”


“Sound like a lovely infatuation to me. Many relationships begin that way. Tell me how this love developed beyond that?”

Try as she might, Buffy really didn’t have many answers. There was so much of the yearning and the pain and the forbidden but not much of the learning and growing and accepting. Then there was Angelus.

When Buffy finished talking about those hard years and their few meetings since Angel had left town, she was beginning to wonder just what it was she had been clinging to for so long. Angel wouldn’t even like the person she was becoming, this woman so different from the happy-go-lucky young girl he had known. From the few things she had heard about Angel’s choices since moving to ‘his town,’ she was pretty sure she wouldn’t like some of his changes either. Even if it was a law firm headed by demons, it wasn’t right to lock a bunch of lawyers in with Darla and Dru! That had been a shock when the story got back to her. She was also finally able to see that it was far more than Angel’s unstable soul that had caused them to part.

“I didn’t drive him away!” She looked at the doctor like a deer in the headlights. It was epiphany time. “He chose to leave me for his own reasons, really. He said it was for me, but it wasn’t. He was running away from humanity again, from himself.”

“And what is Spike like? Why would he leave?”

Buffy thought hard, going over everything she knew to be true of Spike. “He wouldn’t! Doctor, you’re right; he wouldn’t just leave. Not now. Something had to have happened and I need to find out what.”

Out Of Chaos
Chapter 10, Out of Chaos

“I think you should call him,” Dawn insisted. She was as worried as Buffy. “I mean, at least we’ll know if somebody dusted him.”

“Don’t even say that!” Buffy had done everything short of contacting Angel to try to discover what had happened to Spike. She no longer saw Angel as the Dawson to her Joey, so she wasn’t trying to spare his feelings. No, she was simply sure that her former boyfriend wouldn’t easily help search for her current one, not without countless lectures and a possible bit of violence once Spike was found.

“Really, Buffy, you have to consider the possibility. Spike’s made lots of enemies since he’s been helping you out.” Willow just had to join in. If Buffy didn’t know the girl better, she would swear that the witch was enjoying this in some sick and twisted way. “Riley certainly wanted to turn Spike into Dustbuster food and that was just a few weeks ago. Maybe he came back? Besides, your boyfriend is always pissing someone off, so it could be a local.”

Dawn had grown more and more pale with each scenario proposed by Willow. “Why would his stuff be gone though?”

“Maybe to throw off the Slayer,” Willow suggested and left the room humming a soft tune.

The cup in Buffy’s hand splintered from the pressure she had unconsciously been putting on it as she listened in growing horror. “God, what if he’s dust?! What if I waited too long and now he’s gone forever?”

Dawn pulled out of her own haze of worry for Spike and anger at Willow long enough to really notice the fragile state of her sister’s emotions. She put a reassuring hand on Buffy’s arm. “Come on, Buffy. Do you really think Spike would let someone take him out NOW, when he’s finally got your heart? He’s a great fighter, he wouldn’t go down that easy.”

“If it were a human though….”

“There’s another explanation, we just haven’t found it yet. But we will,” Dawn pledged. “Meanwhile, do you have any objections to my mixing some Nair into Willow’s hair conditioner?”

Buffy had to laugh in spite of her agitated mood. “I’d rather you didn’t tell me, then I won’t have to feel guilty or punish you.”

Dawn imitated zipping her lips and grinned at her sister as she made her way upstairs to see about a bit of mischief. ‘Okay, maybe nothing to make her hair fall out. She’d probably turn me into an iguana or something gross. I’ll think of something though. Bitch!’

Buffy picked up the phone and steeled herself for the inevitable yelling and deep sighs of disapproval. “Hey, Cordy. I need to talk to Angel….. Well, when will he be back? How about Wes then? … What do you mean he doesn’t work there anymore? Cordy, this is important, just tell Angel I need him…. Well, tell him anyway. Yeah, someone’ll be here.”

Xander entered as Buffy was getting off the phone, “Dead Boy going to join in the hunt for Junior?”

“Cordy said Angel had something a lot more important going on than the problems of ‘an old girlfriend.’ I always did hate that girl!” Buffy couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something gleeful in Cordy’s voice when she said Buffy wasn’t that important to Angel any longer. “She’ll have him call when he gets a chance. No guarantees when though.”

“I’m headed to the airport to pick up the G-man. Wanna tag along?”

“Yeah. Somehow just seeing someone actually come back has got to help.”

Xander felt his heart lurch knowing Buffy was hurting so badly when he could end the misery of not knowing. ‘How come the secrets I have to keep are never the cool birthday present kind?’


Into the mist came another figure, this one decidedly not Joyce-like. Her dusky skin was flawless and beautiful and the wings that unfurled as she stretched her arms were delicate and somehow feminine. She wore an ostrich feather in a crown on her inky hair and kohl around her deep brown eyes.

“The order must not be disrupted, son of Sekhmet, she who fed on the blood of humanity to bring punishment in the name of Ra the eternal. It must be maintained. The warrior has been returned to you. All has shifted. You may be her champion, her companion, but this you must do without that which was removed. Already too much has been compromised, adjusted.”

“I know you. Seen your statue at the British Museum. You’re Ma’at. What the bleeding hell do Egyptian gods have to do with this mess?”

The Joyce-like being intervened before the goddess could be affronted by his tone. “Willow called upon Osiris in her ritual. It was through those channels that she was returned.”

“The Slayer’s soul made my feather the weight of a hippopotamus it was so pure. Such a one had earned her rest, but the call for her return was answered by the generosity of Osiris. He saw the same grief in those who called for her return as once he saw in his beloved Isis upon his passing. His mercy permitted her return. As the Slayer line had already divided, it did not upset the balance. That had already been factored. If you choose to ally yourself, it will not upset the scales since you remain a demon and soul-free. However, this must remain your state until the other son of Sekhmet has made his final choice and either let his soul leave the body or he has been rewarded and restored. This is Universal Order and must not be made a game for children. My ruling is just and fair.”

“Right then. So I take my unsouled self back and fight at Buffy’s side and the bloody FE can’t pop out and try to suck the world into chaos this time.” Spike thought for a moment and was more than happy to make that trade. All those lost little girls and Anya, even Sunnydale itself seemed worth going without his soul. Besides, they did say he could have it later if he wanted old William around a bit stronger. “Not like I could force you to give it back anyway.”

“You could not. We seek the return of one of ours now. He who ferried the Warrior back to her earthly shell seeks to manifest in your world and such cannot be. Aken the ferryman is required to return. His duties weary him, but he is not for your world. Those who worship the murderer of Osiris have connected with him and feed from his power, from our power. This cannot be permitted.”

“Fuck.” Spike was stupefied. “Consequences! I told the bloody berks there were always consequences. Let me guess, this Aken wanker hitched a way back through Willow during that mess of a ritual. No wonder the chit’s been superwitch lately. Accounts for the attitude problem too. Wanker don’t want his vacation cut short.”

“You are correct, drinker of blood. Aken resides within the spellcaster, but another both feeds from Aken, and through him, all the Old Ones. This acolyte of Set gives back energy to the flame-haired sorceress and makes her power grow beyond containment. She is jealous to guard this power and that is why she sought to send you far from herself. You and the other are far too knowing.” Ma’at lowered her arms to her sides, resembling a lovely woman more than an ancient god, and charged Spike with a mission. “You must stop this heresy by returning and informing the researcher. He will be able to sever these ties and return Aken to us.” Her eyes narrowed. “I shall judge him for his foolishness at that time.”

“And you expect me to…what?”

“We expect you to make the correct choice.” The answer came from both the Egyptian god and the Joyce-like entity at the same time.

“Boatload of faith in me there.”

“We have weighed your heart as well, drinker of blood, and we fear not.”


“My shaman friend Khaldun owed a debt and has repaid it quite nicely. He is quite the expert in the sorts of dark magic Willow used to return you to us. He is one of the very few practicioners to have studied the Book of the Dead and the Rites of Osiris in their totality. A remarkable man.” Giles fairly glowed with Watchery joy as he recounted his successful mission.

“You look like a happy camper.” Xander grinned at the exuberant man. “You British type guys DO camp, don’t you?”

“Of course we camp!” Giles was outraged at the implied slight on his skills as an outdoorsman. “I’ll have you know that scouting was begun in Britain by Sir Robert Baden-Powell! I have many a fine memory of Brownsea Island. My patrol was among the first to have the pleasure of that fine facility after it was reopened in ’61.”

Xander threw up his hands. “I surrender to your outdoorsy mastery.” His mood turned serious then, as the reason for Giles’ trip occurred to the boy. “So can we fix…you know…anything Willow may have oopsied?”

“As it happens, Buffy was quite fortunate,” Giles gazed with fondness at the girl in question. “Yes, there needs to be a reconnection ritual performed to bind all your emotions back to you. The mending that has naturally begun on its own will be done instantly when we perform it and you will finally be in complete control of the full range of your emotions once again.” He smiled warmly at the look of relief on Buffy’s face. “There is one other issue, however, that we are not certain about. The wording used by Willow may have implications to the Slayer line. She called back the Warrior of the People, and that is, according to some, the Slayer essence itself. We aren’t really sure what sort of complication might arise from that, but it is likely to impact the Potential Slayers more than Buffy.”

“I thought the Slayer line went through Faith now?” Buffy was puzzled. “I mean, no one was called when I died this time, right?”

“As I said, we aren’t really sure what it may mean.” Giles bit his lip. He saw Buffy shuffle in unease and quickly rushed to reassure her, “Still, we are rather confident that it won’t cause a problem for you, my dear.”

“Good.” Buffy let out the breath she had been holding. “I’ve got enough problems without more getting dumped on me.”

“Really? Has something happened in my absence?”

“Spike’s disappeared.”

Giles struggled to dampen his delight in hearing this. He knew that Buffy had given her heart to the vampire and, for some astounding reason, it seemed to have helped her to heal from her trauma far more than anything short of magic. He put on his most expressionless face and inquired, “In what way do you mean disappeared? Have you had a falling out?”

“No, we were crazy happy.” Buffy felt the tears well in her eyes. “He was supposed to be at the house when I got home from the counselor’s. We were going to have dinner and just snuggle at home. He never showed and all his stuff was gone from the crypt. I haven’t been able to find any trace of him, Giles. I’m so desperate I even put in a call for Angel to see if he could sense anything--you know, from being his sire.”

“You had no argument? Spike can be quite annoying. It would be reasonable if you were to have a falling out.”

“No, like I said, we were happy.” The tears finally escaped and made a slow trickle down her face. Giles noticed for the first time the dark circles under her eyes and that Buffy had lost a bit of weight since his departure. “Spike was really cute, he was so happy. He was so domesticated, fussing around making sure I was taken care of. He has the sweetest smile when he’s happy and relaxed.” Buffy sniffed and continued to cry.

Giles was beside himself, never having been comfortable around a weeping female. “I see. Really, Buffy,” he patted her shoulder awkwardly, “Spike is not the sort to just leave if he is attached to someone. Look at the years he spent with Drusilla, for heaven’s sake. There must be a logical explanation for his disappearance and I’m sure you will have the opportunity to punish him suitably for not informing you of his plans.” He could see that he wasn’t helping. “How long has he been gone?’

“Since the Wednesday after you left,” Buffy sobbed.

“Good Lord! That is a long while to be gone without contacting you. Quite unlike Spike, I would have thought.” From the corner of his eye Giles noted the shifting eyes and shuffling movements of Xander and the Watcher had a flash of insight that the boy knew far more than he was saying. ‘Perhaps it will be better to get Buffy sorted first and question Xander in private later.’


Willow felt herself drifting, suspended in air by pure magic. She may not be the Chosen One, but she had something Buffy would never know: the feeling of real power. She felt strong enough to take on the Slayer herself--that is, if she wanted to. ‘Why do I keep having thoughts like that? Buffy is my best female friend!’

Rack looked nearly orgasmic as he fed on the energy and power that flowed through Willow from beyond. The Old Ones nourished him, making him crackle with energy and strength. Never had he a prize like Strawberry before; a treasure, she was!

‘My brothers at the Temple of Set would kill for a chance to connect like this. Soon I’ll surpass them all. I won’t just have the degree of Ipsissimus, I’ll be high priest. Aquino is going to retire soon and that cow Hardy will be no match for the power I command. The ferryman is not important, but he has let me channel the gods that DO matter.’ He gazed in affection at the little girl who had unknowingly gifted him with this opportunity. He had recognized the hitchhiker the moment he met the girl. Rack was nothing if not an opportunist. All it cost him was a bit of normal juice given to the girl and he got back far more in the process. Child had no idea what she could be capable of!


Willow’s eyes were solid black as she weaved drunkenly on her way home. She felt like she could command mountains, manage oceans. She wondered if she were actually evolving? Perhaps in the end she might attain the status of goddess! Take that, all you peons who had looked down their surgically enhanced noses at her all those years. A world full of Cordelia Chases and Harmony Kendalls would be bowing at her feet instead of making fun of her. Willow Rosenberg would be a force to be reckoned with--hell, she already was!

“Hey, Willow!” Amy hadn’t seen Willow in a few days and was eager to blow off some energy with her new best friend. “Did you just get a fill-up at Rack’s? Wanna party?”

Willow smiled with a hint of malevolence. “Paint the town red, you mean? Well, red IS my color!”

The two girls headed towards the mall. They would have at least an hour before closing time to make some mischief that would make even the dimmest citizens of Sunnydale shake in wonder.

Neither noticed the shocked observer of their conversation nor noted they were followed by an unassuming girl who watched in horror as all her worst fears were shown to be true. Tara fled the mall in tears before the two wilding witches had even begun to do their worst damage.

“I could do this all night,” Willow sighed. “It never gets old.”

“Beats running in a wheel,” Amy agreed. “Wanna find some guys and party a different way?” She took in Willow’s cocked eyebrow and sardonic look and amended, “You could find a cute chick. I’m down with either.”

“No, gonna be getting my baby back soon. Savin’ all my loving for Tara.”

“Aww, how sweet.” Amy’s voice was too saccharin to be mistaken for anything other than sarcasm.

“You know, I still have that cage,” The threat of Willow’s words were matched by the cold look in her eye.

“Hey, just kidding!”

“Thought so.” Willow turned her attention to continuing her fun. Giles would be home tonight and she would have to be more careful about her magic use if she didn’t want the old fogey breathing down her neck, trying to reign her in. ‘Jealous! He knows I outclass him in every department and I’m only a college sophomore.’ She turned a wicked grin on Amy and suggested, “Bronze?”


“I would prefer not to have Willow take part in this. Her abuse of magic is dangerous and I do not wish to engage her in any ritual or spell until she has been properly grounded.”

“Wish you’d thought of that a long time ago,” Xander muttered.

“Pardon me?”

“Nothing, Big G.” Xander ignored the snort of irritation at that nickname. “Anya knows her magic; she could help, and Tara usually drops by to check on Dawn and see if Spike’s back. She could help too.” He headed for the phone to place a call to the Magic Box, where his bride was likely still counting the day’s receipts. “If I can pry my lovely wife away from all that green, she’ll be here before you know it.”

“You really think Willow is dangerous?” Buffy cast a worried glance at her Watcher. “Spike said the same thing, you know.”

“I fear he is right yet again.” Giles wondered just when that had happened. “While in London, I called a friend of mine in Devon who has one of the most powerful and well trained covens in the Western world. Athenea has assured me that they can handle Willow, train her in the proper use of magic and self-control. I’d thought to discuss it with her later this evening.”
“Think she’ll go?”

“One can but hope, for all our sakes.”

Tara burst into the house with streaming tears. “Willow’s using magic again. She’s out with that rat girl and they don’t seem to care who gets hurt. They’re laughing and causing all kinds of trouble for innocent people! She swore she wasn’t using magic anymore!” Tara sat at the counter and lay her head on her folded arms as she wept. “I don’t think I can stand this. I was so hopeful.”

Buffy gently rubbed soothing circles on the other girls back and tried to comfort her. Tara had been one of the few people to really get her feelings for Spike. She had been so supportive. Now it was Buffy’s turn. “I’m so sorry, Tara. Giles thinks he may have a way to help Willow, so don’t give up all hope yet, okay?”

Tara, ever concerned for others, sat up and hiccupped slightly from the crying. “How about you, Buffy, you still have hope about Spike?”

“He’ll be back. Spike wouldn’t do this to me. He’d never just gut me like this and leave me to die slowly.”

Xander jumped from his seat as if on fire and made an excuse to call Anya to put a rush her arrival.

‘Yes, that boy knows something and he’s not leaving here until we all know it. I may not approve of Buffy lowering herself to care for yet another vampire, but I’ll not have her in such pain.’

Fortunately for Xander, Anya chose that perfect moment to arrive and the need to perform the small ritual took priority.

“So just a few words in some dead language and I’m all completo-girl?”

“Indeed. Magic, when used properly, is a wonderful thing,” Giles said softly.

“So when all my emotions are online again, will I die from the hurt?”

Giles looked pointedly at Xander. “I won’t stand by and see you in pain. We will do everything we can to get to the bottom of this disappearing vampire problem, won’t we, Xander?”

Giles wasn’t sure, but the response seemed to sound like “Grlp” and that needed no translation to be understood as confirmation of his biggest suspicion.
Setting Red Right
Chapter 11, Setting Red Right

The short and painless ritual left Buffy feeling whole for the first time she could remember. “This is better than therapy and affordable as well--if you don’t count the airfare,” She smiled widely at Giles in gratitude. Tara had set aside her own pain and assisted Anya, Giles and Buffy in completing the four directions and elements needed to make the ritual pull in the power of the natural world.

“I suppose I should wait, but I think this is the perfect time since I have most everybody here.” Buffy decided to cut to the chase: “I’m one hundred percent functioning Buffy…and I still love Spike.”

Xander looked crestfallen. A large part of him had hoped against hope that her fixation on the missing vampire had been induced by her mystical troubles and once this ritual was completed she would come to her senses.

“I rather expected that,” Giles answered dryly. He’d had time to think and come to grips with the idea that Buffy was, as he had told the others, quite old enough to make her own choices. As Spike was not behaving in a threatening manner, there was little he could say in argument. Still, he intended to keep a close watch on the couple for as long as this infatuation lasted--that is, as soon as Spike could be returned to his Slayer’s hearth and home.

The group began to break up, each with his or her own agenda. Buffy was going with Tara to try to hunt down Willow and nip her antics in the bud while Xander and Anya were headed home for more connubial bliss.

“A word if you will, Xander.” Giles stopped the group before they reached the foyer. He really would have preferred Buffy not be present when he asked the lad his pertinent question, but there was no time like the present.

“What’s up, Watcher man? Something I can do you for?” His feigned nonchalance was not fooling the older man one bit.

“For one thing, I would appreciate it if someone in this infernal group at least attempted to speak proper English once in a while,” Giles looked between the two worst offenders only to see no remorse whatsoever on either face. “Oh, never mind. It pains me to realize that I perfectly understand your glib slang,” he sighed in exasperation.

“All day you have been acting as though you are carrying state secrets and the government is onto you. I want to know why.”

“Clueless carpenter here. Don’t know what you mean.” Xander’s body language was as accurate as any lie detector. The peaks and valleys he exhibited were off the chart. If Giles wasn’t mistaken, Xander had even broken out in a sweat.

“You do act strangely, Xander. Are you upset that I’ve been spending so much time building our nest egg?” Anya saw the world through a very narrow lens.

“I think his discomfort only manifests when Spike’s disappearance is discussed.” Giles laid it out clearly. “Perhaps there is some information you would care to share with Buffy and the rest of us?”

Xander had never wanted the Hellmouth to open up and swallow him whole before, but he made an exception this moment. If he told, he was sure to lose at least one friend, and judging by Willow’s power and moods, possibly other things less replaceable. His voice rose at least an octave. “What could I know?”

Dawn glared at him. “If you know where he went and haven’t said anything, I’ll show you uses for your tools that you never dreamed of. You’re Buffy’s friend, not mine!”

Buffy didn’t even correct her sister’s rant so intent was she on watching her friend’s face contort. He looked as if he would cry in desperation and fear. “You didn’t do anything I’ll have to hurt you for, did you?”

“NO! I didn’t do anything to the bleached wonder, I swear!” He was trapped and looked it, with his furtive and desperate looks to the sweet release promised by the open door.

Tara turned to Giles and offered, “We have all the tools we need for a simple truth spell, Giles. Should I set it up?”

“Okay, okay! It wasn’t me! I was only there to back her up. She said we were just going to warn Undead Junior to back off Buffy and not take advantage of her emotional issues. That’s all I signed on for, I swear it.” He turned large pleading eyes on Buffy, begging for forgiveness and understanding.

“She who?” Dawn demanded, her heart filled with dread at the answer she could have predicted.

“Buffy, you know we love you. We’ve been there for you since your first day in school here. We’d die for you. Neither of us would ever want to see you hurt.” He was practically crying. Buffy’s stony face was not offering any hope of forgiveness, even in the face of his mea culpas.

“Ahn, tell them, tell them how I agreed with you to just let this work itself out and not interfere!”

“And yet you did. You decided to make my decisions for me as if I were a child.” Buffy’s voice had never been colder. “What did Willow do, because I’m getting the definite vibe my houseguest has a lot to do with this.”

“She’ll kill me…or worse!” Xander looked about wildly. “Yes, it was Willow. I don’t know what she did, not really. She said some words and got all black streaky with her hair and then Spike went away.”

“Went away how? ‘Walk out the door and down the street’ went away or more ‘poof, he’s gone’ went away? And, Xander, do be specific.” Buffy was not taking prisoners.

“Without the poofiness, just gone. One minute he was messing around in your kitchen and telling us to sod off, and the next he was just gone.” Buffy’s eyes were huge and wet with unshed tears. “I wanted to say something that night, but Willow is seriously scary. I think I’m getting an ulcer over this and I don’t even like the guy.”

“You’re not helping your case here,” Tara suggested. “Don’t you think it would have been the right thing to let someone know Willow was not just abusing magic, but that she was abusing it to the harm of others…or is this like the time you summoned the dancing demon and kept still while people burned?”

“Still coming with me, Tara? Now I have a personal reason to hunt down a certain witch. Maybe if you’re with me you can keep me from killing her.” Buffy motioned towards the open door. She turned to Xander then. “Go home, Xander. I can’t deal with you right now. Maybe we can talk later, but right now I just cannot even look at you.”

A shamefaced Xander started to leave, Anya in tow, when Giles asked, “Do you remember any of the words she spoke? Buffy, I fully understand how you feel just now, but the more I know of Willow’s words and actions, the better able I will be to try to set this right.”

“Fine. I’ll be back after I get some answers of my own. Dawn, if you don’t want to be around Xander at the moment, I give you permission to go to Janice’s for the night. We’ve got enough dark energy in the house without you adding yours.”

Buffy gave Giles a stare that chilled him to the bone. “You WILL get Spike back.” It was not a question or a request.


Giles looked at yet another text, his eyes blurring from overuse. “The boy can quote entire passages from dreadful science fiction films but cannot remember a word spoken by his best friend during a moment of high drama,” he snorted in disgust.

Xander’s physical description of Willow had been more than enough to put Giles on notice that the girl’s powers had far exceeded anything he had imagined. “Would that her control had kept measure.”

Reluctantly, he made a call to Athenea for some advice and information and came back with a bit more. Perhaps he would need what they had given and perhaps not, but Giles was mightily glad he would have it should the need arise. He understood the fear Xander was experiencing and felt its cold finger trace a line up his spine. ‘This is not good at all.’

As he refilled his glass with the last of Joyce’s good Scotch, he regretted wasting it at a time when adrenaline countered its normally soothing effects. The house was empty save for himself, but even so peace certainly did not reign. There was a storm coming, one that he only hoped they would all survive. His understanding of Buffy’s burden pressed down on him as he felt the weight of the outcome settle firmly on his shoulders.

“Wouldn’t mind one of those myself, Watcher.” Spike secretly relished the fright his unexpected appearance would give the man.

“Good Lord! SPIKE!” Giles blamed his slightly inebriated state for his being startled. Certainly he had seen far more unexpected things in his lifetime than a missing vampire popping out of nowhere. “How? Where?”

“How’s due to Red. Where’s thankfully NOT due to Red or I wouldn’t be here. She had a right nasty destination in mind for me. Seems the witch has caught the eye of Buffy’s real boss and they changed my travel plans. Not too pleased with some of the mojo Willow’s been doin’ and even less with what’ll happen if she’s not stopped. Yours truly got picked to be messenger boy. Not here, is she?”

Giles shook his head. “No, Buffy and Tara are out trying to stop Willow from further rampaging about Sunnydale creating havock. I was intent on retrieving you for Buffy.”

Spike’s eyes softened at his love’s name. “How’s my girl?”

Giles raised an eyebrow but didn’t bother to disagree with Spike’s claim on Buffy’s heart. “Much better actually. The ritual was successful and she is the same Buffy she would have been prior to her death. The counselor has been helping her with the earlier issues of abandonment and grief. All in all, she is happier than she has been in years.”

Spike looked crestfallen to think his absence had mattered so little and Giles clearly read his mind. “I do not mean to imply your disappearance has not had an impact. In fact, she has been single-minded in discovering where you have been. She has decided that your character, such as it is, would not allow you to merely leave without word and she has been seeking to discover what must have been done against your will to remove you from her presence. This has strengthened her resolve and kept her spirits up.” Giles smiled fondly. “She is rather focused when a mission involves someone she cares for, as you must remember.”

Giles suddenly remembered Spike’s explanation for how he had returned seemingly on his own power or at least without any magic from any of them. “You said that Willow is about to do something so shattering that powerful beings have decided to interfere. What can you tell me of this?”

“Buckle up, Rupes, this could be a rough ride,” Spike warned and settled in the armchair. Giles’ last shot of single malt quickly made its way down the vampire’s throat, bringing the warmth he always relished. “Know much about Egyptian gods?”


Amy and Willow were giggling and staggering as if drunk. “Did you see the look on that kid when you made his mom float to the top of the food court? Priceless. Not gonna forget that in, like, ever.”

“Woman was full of hot air anyway. It was just nature let loose and isn’t that part of magic?” Willow grinned at the memory and the delightful feel of power coursing so easily from her, manipulating the world around her without even requiring her concentration. “She had no business telling us what to do. No one does.”

“Wonder how many bones she broke landing,” Amy snickered.

“Nothing important,” Willow dismissed any concern with a wave.

“Well, well, look who’s here?” Amy pointed across the mall to a clearly disapproving and angry Slayer and a horrified Tara.

“Shit!” Willow felt a slight flush seeing her reunion plans evaporate in the haze of magic she knew Tara was fully aware of.

“Just do a spell and she’ll come ‘round,” Amy suggested.

“NO. I want her back because she wants to be. It’s not love if you force them.” Willow might have a far different view of many things, but that was one constant. “Might as well have a TaraBot if I force her back. No, I’ll have to make her understand, but I won’t make her love me.”

“Looks like we’ve scared off all the Muggles at least,” Amy giggled. She shot a nervous look at the Slayer and then at her companion. “Think I need to hit the road too. See ya.” She was gone in a flash.

“Having a little fun, Willow?” Buffy’s tone made it clear what she thought of the chaos surrounding them.

“Working off a little steam, yeah,” Willow’s voice was defiant, but the glance she shot Tara showed a bit of nervousness. “I guess Amy isn’t a good influence” That last bit was a gambit. Tara hopefully would take it and place the blame on the other girl for Willow’s excesses.

“I’d say no,” Buffy agreed. “Tell me, was Amy there when you sent my lover away?”

Willow gave a quick look of shock that the Slayer had found out. ‘Damn! I was sure Xander could keep his big trap shut.’ She quickly disguised her surprise and put on a calm, nearly smug look. “Always looking out for my friend’s best interest.” She affected a look of concern. “You’ve had enough heartache, Buffy. No way could I watch you be manipulated like that and not take action. You’d protect me the same way.”

“Willow, that’s just not true and you know it!” Tara was livid. “Your problem with Spike hasn’t got anything to do with protecting Buffy. It’s all about him being onto you and making others see it.”

Willow’s skin began to crackle and spark as the energy built up within her. Her hair streaked as if a bottle of ink had landed on her head and her eyes were huge and black in a face filled with fury. “Well, I guess you’re judge and jury then. I think you’re both just jealous.”

“Of what? YOU?” Buffy snorted. “I have someone who accepts me and loves me so much that he had to be driven away. You had someone like that and you drove her away yourself. You’re only making it worse, you know. Tara sees you really clearly and unlike Spike with me, she doesn’t like what she sees at all. Neither do I.”

Bright purple bolts of energy shot from Willow’s fingertips and flung the Slayer into the tables of the food court, upending them and burying Buffy in metal chairs.

“WILLOW!” Tara moved towards her former girlfriend tentatively.

Willow’s head snapped sideways and she flashed a warning to the other witch. ”Back off, Tara. This isn’t your fight. You know I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You don’t want to hurt Buffy either. She’s your best friend.”

Buffy managed to fling the rubble off of her and made a rush at Willow from behind, knocking her to the marbled tile and landing on top of her. “Get off, superbitch!” Willow warned. She threw Buffy off, causing her to fly into a food counter and knocking the wind from the Slayer as the glass and food flew.

The two former friends began to exchange blows as Willow followed the flying Slayer across the room. Tara watched in horror as neither girl pulled any punches.

“You have to stop this, Willow! We can help you.” Buffy still wanted to save what was left of her friend if possible.

“So noble, Slayer, trying to save your friend even while you’re getting the stuffing knocked out of you,” Willow taunted. “Kinda cute yet sad.”

“What’s sad is seeing someone with so many wonderful things going for her throw it all away for a power rush,” Buffy countered.

The blows were flying fast and furious yet neither was going down. Tara watched, her hand over her mouth, though whether to stop a scream or vomit was in question.

“I’m a Slayer; it’s what I do. I protect the innocent, even if it’s from themselves,” Buffy explained.

“So you’re gonna show me what a Slayer is?” Willow laughed and more magical energy hit Buffy, breaking her hold on Willow and pushing her into the wall.

Tara had had enough. She grabbed Willow’s arm and tried to make her turn to face her and allow Buffy to regain her balance and strength. “Stop it, Willow! Stop it all now!”
Willow didn’t think, didn’t even turn around, but the magic shot from her and into Tara, knocking the girl into a pillar and onto the floor.

“TARA!” Both Buffy and Willow screamed the girl’s name at the same time and rushed to her prone form.

“Oh goddess!” Willow’s hair had gone red even as her face paled to deathly white. “What did I do?” Just as quickly, she changed attitude. She let a hard edge come into her voice and accused, “What did you MAKE me do? Sweetie, you should have stayed out of it and let me just send Buffy back where she wants to be.”

Buffy took the moment of Willow’s conflicted emotions to deliver a blow that made her out of control friend join Tara in the land of the unconscious.

“Need to get you to Giles before you wake up all fresh and ready for round two.”


“So Willow’s actions have not been solely her responsibility,” Giles concluded at the end of Spike’s revelations.

“Wouldn’t say that. No outside force caused her to dabble in the dark. Wasn’t some ancient Egyptian travel guide caused her to sacrifice an animal or call on forces beyond her understandin’ to demand what she ought not. Person opens those doors can’t cry over what comes in.”

“Yes, I am familiar with those dangers.” From the tone of voice Giles used, Spike knew he was referring to something quite personal. “Once something is loosed, it is no longer an issue of one’s original intentions.”

Spike had been watching the Watcher closely since his arrival. The air in the house fairly crackled with magical energy. Spike had been chalking that up to Willow residing there coupled with the ritual he knew had just been performed on Buffy. Now, however, he sensed there was more and all of it centered on the man sitting across from him.

“Got a feeling someone other than Willow’s been dabblin’ of late. Anything you want to share with the class, Rupert?”

“I have been in touch with one of the world’s most powerful covens. They have felt the vibrations emanating from Willow all the way across the miles. Their seers have also been given some warning, nothing specific like the information you have given me, but dire enough to cause them to contact me while I was in London. They are willing to deal with Willow in a positive manner if I can get her to them, and that is what I fully intend to do.” Giles looked uneasy, and if Spike weren’t mistaken, more than a bit guilty.

“I should never have allowed her study of spells and rituals to go unsupervised. Lord knows there were enough warnings along the way that she was adept, and combined with her own emotional weaknesses, her insecurities and desire to bend everything and everyone that matters to her to her will, supposedly for their own good…well…I should have done something long ago.”

“If you’re lookin’ to me to disagree and make you feel better, don’t hold your breath. You’re the adult here. Seems to me you’ve been lettin’ the kiddies have their way for years. When they started actin’ up or got too needy, you just left for safer ground. Plannin’ on stayin’ and seein’ this through now or gonna pull another runner soon as Red’s been subdued?”

“I shall accompany Willow to Devon of course, but, no, I shan’t be leaving Buffy again. You were right, I am needed.” Giles snorted a laugh. “You should have seen the nonsense they came up with to try to explain your disappearance as they researched! I am needed for that if nothing else. How Buffy could accept Xander’s ventures into comic books, science fiction films and gaming books for role-playing characters as viable research material boggles the mind!”

“So the carpenter played dumb, eh?” Giles nodded with a frown. “Not too far a stretch for him. You do know he was there when Willow played vamp travel agent, right?” Spike’s voice held both a touch of bitterness and disappointment. He had his memories of a kinder, more accepting Xander from that last year before they took on the FE in the Hellmouth.

Spike tried to steer the conversation back to his question about the magic permeating the house. “You didn’t answer my question. Got a reason why the hairs on my body are standing up from all the energy in this room?”

Giles gave him a lopsided grin. “I placed a call to the coven to apprise them of the situation as I knew it. They had already noted a dangerous increase in magical power coming from two sources here at the Hellmouth. It seems Willow has been in a symbiotic relationship of power sharing with a mage here in town. The coven has assured me of his intent; his heart is pure evil and merely severing his connection with Willow will not solve this problem in the making. I will need to neutralize him as well. The conduit to the Old Ones will end when he is kept from Willow, but he is powerful in his own right.”

“Yeah, this Rack bloke…I’ve heard of him before. I can deal with him easy enough. Be a pleasure, in fact, him havin’ scared the Bit like he did,” Spike mused.

“The members of the coven have temporarily joined their collective powers to my own. I should be more than able to counter any magics Willow may choose to loose upon the world. I would, however, prefer to contain the battleground to as small an area as possible.”

“Yeah, if you play out Merlin vs. Madame Mimm, more than polka dotted dragons are likely to pop up,” Spike quipped with a grin. “Most of Sunnydale’s likely to get a rare eyeful if that gets out of hand.

“With a less than Disney film result, yes.” Giles had to grin in return at the image presented by Spike’s apt analogy.

“Speaking of the possibility of an actual magical confrontation with Willow…,” Giles bit his lip as his mind pictured all the different things that could go wrong. “It might be best if you were not present. Removing you once again, or dusting you in the worst case scenario, would turn a bad situation into utter chaos by dragging Buffy into the fray.”

“I’m touched, Rupes,” Spike teased. “You actually called my bein’ dust a worst case scenario. Should we pick out the china next week?”

Giles glared at the snickering vampire. “You know full well that I wish anyone but you were the object of Buffy’s affections. You are not worthy of her and you never will be. But I have resigned myself to the reality. I can but hope that one day she will see you for what you are and dispose of you at long last. Until that time, I will hold my peace and do all I can to protect and support my Slayer.”

Spike idly wondered if the Giles in his original timeline had changed his view of him even after he had offered himself up as a burnt sacrifice in the Hellmouth. Judging by his attitude that year he worked at Angel’s side, Spike doubted he had. ‘No soul to guide me. Maybe just filter things through Buffy. What would she want? Loves this old bugger, so she’d want peace.’ He sighed before trying a bit of unaccustomed diplomacy. “Can’t argue that. Know I don’t deserve her. I will do right by her though, and if she ever does decide she wants out, I still will never hurt her. Any hurting of the girl I ever did is in the past now. Not gonna let it happen again. Stake myself first. That good enough for you?”

“Suppose it will have to be. I do assure you, Spike, if you ever DO harm her, I will gladly make sure you are blowing in the wind before you can even blink an eye.”


Spike retreated to Buffy’s bedroom as the Watcher had suggested. Having him in the room as a potential target for the out of control witch would just result in more hurt for Buffy. He could get the drop on Willow if he needed to join in, but he didn’t want to be a distraction for Buffy any more than become a target for more of Willow’s wrath. Time enough to let Buffy know he was back once Willow was no longer a threat.

He had barely closed the door to the bedroom when the front door banged open below. “Giles, need a hand here!” It was Buffy carrying Willow fireman style while a very white-faced Tara followed. There was a slow trickle of blood from a gash on Tara’s forehead and she appeared more than a bit dazed, but at least the gentle girl was still ambulatory.

Buffy placed her burden on the couch none too gently. “Maybe you can get her to tell us where she sent Spike.”

Before Giles could reassure Buffy that Spike was currently just a flight upstairs from her, Willow began to come around. “I gotta tell ya…I get it now. The Slayer thing really isn’t about the violence.” She launched an attack on Buffy, making quick ruin of the living room. “It’s about the power.”

A bolt of energy flew from Willow, lifting Buffy and throwing her into the desk. She slid across and landed on the floor next to it, groaning in pain. Willow stalked across the floor looking pleased with herself. Buffy didn’t get up, having nearly depleted her energy from the earlier fight and then helping get both girls to Revello drive. She was exhausted. The nights without sleep didn’t help either.

“There’s no one in the world with the power to stop me now.” She threw a defiant look at the Watcher in the archway.

A huge blast of green magic energy hit Willow as Giles raised his hand to her at long last. She flew away from Buffy, landing on the open floor and sliding into the foyer. As she came to a stop, she looked up with murder in her eyes and blood trickling from her nose.

“I suppose we’re about to test that theory.” Giles voice was stern and brooked no nonsense. “You must stop what you are doing and stop it now, Willow.”

Willow glared at the Watcher and wiped the blood from under her nose, “Unh unh. No can do. I’m not finished yet.” She struggled to her feet.

“Neither am I,” Giles retorted and made a slight movement of his hand that sent Willow back to the floor. “Stay down.”

Willow looked at him, calculating her odds, “That’s borrowed power,” she concluded with a brittle laugh. “No way is that gonna be strong enough.”

Giles tried one last time to reason with her. “I’m here to help you.”

“Thanks, but I’ve got this one,” Willow snarked. “You should just go back to the bleachers and watch. I mean, that’s what you Watchers are good at, right, watching? Butting in on things that don’t concern you?”

“Both you and Buffy do concern me, Willow.” Giles kept his voice modulated with no emotion showing through. From his peripheral vision he saw that Buffy had finally recouped her strength and was standing at his back. “Stay on this path and you’ll wind up dead.”

Buffy joined in the verbal match. “Willow, listen to him. I don’t want to fight you anymore.”

“I don’t want to fight you either,” Willow conceded and pointed at Giles. “I want to fight him.”

Willow started to get up and Giles made the hand gesture once more, but this time Willow was ready for him and blocked it with one of her own. “No!” Her voice was cold.

Despite himself, Giles betrayed a bit of fear. ‘Lord, I hope the combined powers of the coven and my own rusty addition will be enough.’ Buffy moved closer to him in an offer of silent support.

“Remember how you’ve been questioning my abilities to channel magic properly? Back when you were under the delusion that you were still relevant here, you called me a rank amateur.” Willow was looking smug and fearless.

Giles watched with increasing unease as light began to illuminate the witch’s body and her eyes once more went black as night. A humming noise began to rise from no particular location. “Well, don’t worry about me, Rupert, ‘cause I’ve gone pro. Asmodea! Bring forth--”

Giles made a quick movement and shouted, “Vincire!!” A band of green energy formed around Willow, lifting her from the ground as it encased her in the magical glow.

Willow struggled in her green prison and used all the spells at her disposal to break free, but to no avail.

Buffy’s brow furrowed as she looked Giles in wonder. “What did you do?”

“I contained her and her powers within a binding field. It will put her in a form of stasis while we regroup.”


It had been all Spike could do to stay upstairs while all hell broke loose below. He had to constantly remind himself that his presence would endanger Buffy more than help her.
Now with Willow safely cocooned in Giles’ magic, he dared make his presence known. The look on his girl’s face was more than enough reassurance that he truly had been missed.

“Spike!” She turned a teary gaze on Giles. “Thank you!”

He shrugged and admitted, “I had nothing to do with it, actually. You can thank the Powers That Be for both Spike’s return and for keeping him from being sent to the dimension Willow had planned.”

Buffy was in Spike’s arms the moment his feet were off the staircase. “Oh God, I’ve missed you! I was so worried. Are you really all right?” She began to run her hands over his body as if to check that all was right with him and to reassure herself that he was indeed there.

“’M fine, love. Not goin’ anywhere.” He nuzzled into her neck, raining kisses over her.

Buffy felt the relief rush through her and leaned hard against Spike. He immediately put an assisting arm around her and led her to the couch. The last of her reserves finally gone, she gratefully sank into the cushions and pulled Spike down at her side. “Start talking,” she demanded with a giggle. “I never thought I’d miss hearing your voice so much, seeing your face.” She ran trembling fingers over said face reverently.

“’K, guess I should start with an explanation ‘bout where I wound up.” He gave a quick glance at the contained witch and asked Giles,” She gonna be safely tied up there?”

Tara, who had been standing next to Willow’s floating form, reassured him, “Yes, Spike.
Willow’s power was running down anyway and this field will hold.”

“Right, then. Okay, kiddies, wanna gather round and get comfy, ‘cause I’m only gonna tell the tale this one final time.”
Called To Life
A/N:Poem at end is Love Sonnet LXXIX by Pablo Neruda

Chapter 12, Called to Life

“Morning.” Buffy looked like she could use another eight hours of sleep, even though her smile indicated she wasn’t begrudging the reason for her state. “Coffee made?”

“In the pot,” Giles pointed to the obvious.

“Did you get your witchy friends all up to speed on Operation Willow?”

“Yes. They will be expecting us in two days’ time. Now that we know what went so wrong with Willow, they will be able to put together a plan that should restore Willow’s sense of self as well as help her channel the remaining magic that was always hers.

“Did Tara decide to take you up on the offer to go with?”

Giles nodded. “She wants to give Willow the chance to prove that she can be trusted once more. Tara is one of the most forgiving creatures I’ve ever met, a pure soul by any definition.” Giles smiled tenderly. “Willow is very fortunate.”

“Yup, for lots of reasons,” Buffy agreed. After hearing the entire story from Spike, Buffy was in a more forgiving frame of mind herself. “If it had been just her own thoughts that caused her to do what she did, I don’t know if I’d ever want to see her again, even if the coven did help her get control.”

“Magic is always something that has a price to pay if you do not follow the natural order and laws.” Giles nodded. He could understand Buffy’s feelings. All these many years past and he had yet to fully forgive Ethan Rayne for his dabbling in the darker aspects of magic, even after they had all been badly burned as youths. Somehow it was harder when you knew it was only the person you loved and their desire for power.

“Consequences,” Buffy added. “Spike says there’s always consequences. He’s right. Consequences equal bad, reward equals good. Willow could have had so many rewards for her talents if she had only been more careful. Maybe it won’t be too late for her though. It’s good of you to take her on.”

“I’m not, actually. Athenea will be working with both the girls; I am merely the go-between.”


“Is Spike still sleeping?”

“Like the dead.” Buffy grinned at her own quip.

“I had hoped to discuss this Rack with him, but no doubt there will be some time before I have to bustle about preparing for the trip to Devon.”

Buffy frowned, remembering the mild argument she had with Spike the night before regarding Rack. Spike was intent on taking the mage out on his own. He blamed him for many of the bad things that had happened since Buffy had returned from heaven. Besides preying upon Willow’s insecurities and desire for power, he had facilitated the dream creature’s existence that had led to Dawn’s broken arm and recurring terror.

“I told him he can’t kill Rack, even if he is sooo asking for it,” Buffy revealed. “Rack is human…barely. Not only is it wrong to kill a human, but Spike’s chip would probably put him out of commission for quite a while. Rack’s not worth that!”

Giles had thought about the situation and decided that there was no recourse for dealing with Rack’s crimes using human justice and that Spike had the right of it when all was said and done. “You may be right.” Giles didn’t let on that he only meant the part about Spike not being the one to do the deed. ‘I’ve made the hard choices before. Ben for one, and he was an innocent for the most part.’

“I have looked into his sect. He belongs to a renegade branch of the Temple of Set. They branched off from the Church of Satan in the Seventies. Seems Rack had aspirations of succeeding the high priest in time and sought to increase his power by tapping into the Old Ones through Willow.” Giles frowned again. “Nasty bugger.”

Buffy laughed. “That’s what Spike called him too.” She felt sorry for her friend having to carry those memories with her once she was healed. So many people had been hurt and so much damage done. Willow would never be the same.

“So they have a Church of Satan and a Temple of Set? Is that like a church for demons and vampires?” Dawn had caught the end of the conversation.

“No,” Giles explained. “The Church of Satan was begun by Anton LeVay and it was more about self-indulgence and flamboyance than actual worship of Satan. Love of self was more the theme. They still exist, though the era when they were rather a pop fad has ended. The Temple of Set was founded when Aquino was a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army and broke from the church. He got recognition for it by the U.S. military as a viable religion. Claims to have spoken to Set himself and used that as the basis of his teaching. In Egyptology, Set is often referred to as the evil god, but that is not exactly correct either. Surely Osiris and Isis have grievances against him, as he was responsible for the death of Osiris, but Set was originally the god of the desert and storms and chaos.” Giles thought again of Ethan and his love of chaos. ‘No doubt he has a connection with this group.’

“TMI for early morning, but thank you for the lecture, Professor Giles,” Buffy teased. “Guess they’ll just have to look for someone else for the priest job, ‘cause Rack’s out of the running.”


“Uh…Buffy?” The voice was so soft and low that they barely heard it. “Can I talk to you?
Alone?” It was Xander and he looked like he had gotten even less sleep than the Slayer.

Buffy grabbed her coffee and motioned toward the back porch. “Okay, but if you plan to lecture me on the one hundred reasons why I shouldn’t be with Spike, you can save your breath.”

They sat side-by-side in uncomfortable silence for a while as Buffy sipped her java. “How did we get here?” he asked plaintively.

“Here as in ‘the meaning of life’ here, or here as in ‘Xander tried to run Buffy’s life and now they aren’t pajama party buddies anymore’ here?” Buffy tried to make it sound lighthearted, but there was bitterness in her tone.

“That last one.”

“Scenic route, long drive and back seat driving…lots of back seat driving.” Buffy was not in the mood for any nonsense from her friends, not any longer. They had all lost that right by the choices they had made along the way.

“I wish you had talked to me about Spike,” he began.

“Well, maybe I would have if you hadn’t given me so many reasons to think you’d be an ass about it. Still wearing the scars from my time with Angel, and I didn’t need you picking at those scabs. Spike’s not Angel. He wasn’t Angelus even back when he was still intent on being evil.” Buffy looked her friend in the eye, searching, reading, trying to decide what was going on in there. “Apples and oranges…only thing in common is that they’re fruit. Same with Spike and Angel.”

“They’re fruits?” Xander looked flustered.

“No, and you know that’s not what I meant. I meant the only thing they have in common is that they are vampires.” Buffy rolled her eyes at Xander’s quick attempt at the funny.

They smiled at each other tentatively.

“Suppose you’re right. I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’m kinda out of practice, but I pulled it off.” Xander had been wracked with guilt ever since Willow had played David Copperfield with Spike. All he had done since was think and he was heartily sick of it. “I was remembering Angelus and putting him in Spike’s place. If Angelus had been the one chipped, I don’t think he would have ever come to us for help. More likely he would have had minions burn us out or bring our bodies for his dinner, like the Master did. He wouldn’t have ever tried to change sides either. I guess I can give Spike the benefit of the doubt.”

Buffy looked at him with such hope in her eyes that it broke his heart a bit that his disapproval had clearly caused her such pain. “I just want you happy and if he’s the guy…well…I’ll be watching him, I have to be honest, but I won’t cause trouble.” He offered his hand as a sign of truce. “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Will. You’re my only close friends, my family.”

“Let’s not find out,” Buffy agreed and drew him into a hug. “I love you. You do know that, right?”

“I love you too--and in entirely appropriate ways, as I’ve had to reassure Anya more than once.” He let out the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding and relaxed for the first time in weeks. “So how’s Will?”

“Subdued. Giles did something to expel that Egyptian hitchhiker and she’s pretty ashamed of a lot of stuff she was doing. On the other hand, I’ve had to threaten Amy with stakage to get her to stay away. That girl is a menace just like her mom was! Think the new high school might want another special cheerleader trophy for the case?” They both chuckled at the memory.
“Amy and Rack, both human, and look at the trouble they caused!” Buffy had a faraway look and then grinned at Xander. “Maybe Spike’s right and some humans deserve to be eaten.”

Xander paled. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Afraid you’d be on the menu?” Buffy teased. “You’re safe, and not just because of the chip. He’d never hurt anyone that matters to me, even if he could.”

“You’re that sure of him?”


“That’s good enough for me then.”


The next morning’s newspaper carried the story of a body that sounded suspiciously like Rack’s being found behind a dumpster in an alley near the Sunnydale police station. Buffy hadn’t seen Spike suffer a headache, so she chose to just believe it was a happy coincidence that the warlock was now history. She never saw the gouges on Giles’ arms that indicated a struggle of some sort.

It was better that way.


Tara had taken Willow by her family home to say a goodbye to her parents and make a plausible excuse for the prolonged trip to England. It was one time that the Rosenbergs’ disconnection came in handy.

Giles was packed and ready. ‘The sooner we sort Willow out, the safer we shall all be.’

“Headed back to the land of tea and brollies now?” Spike was dipping his pancakes in blood and making the Watcher vaguely nauseous. He shuddered at the thought that there would likely be many occasions where he would be required to dine with Spike, and knowing the vampire it would never be a pretty sight.

As if reading the Watcher’s mind, Spike smirked and admitted it. “Gotta get my evil any way I can. ‘Sides, you and the whelp could do with a diet. Just doin’ my duty lookin’ after your best interests.” He took another large, dripping bite and smiled to himself at his success.

“In answer to your question, yes, we are all ready for the trip home. The girls will have a day or so in London before we journey to Devon. I promised to play tour guide, at least where the museums are concerned. I doubt I can stomach another trip to the Tower even in the company of such charming ladies.”

“Buffy’s after me to take her to London, show her about. I tried to explain that her bloody Council would have a welcomin’ party if I try that, but she’s not buying. Won’t be able to put her off forever,” he sighed.

“I don’t plan to inform the Council about your…relationship…if that’s what you are wondering,” Giles reassured the vampire. “I love Buffy too much to expose her to the inevitable response of the Council to your liaison. She deserves accolades from them, not admonishments.”

“They’ll be old news before too long,” came a voice unfamiliar to Giles.

“Bloody hell, warn a bloke, why don’t you?” Spike glared at the small demon in cheap clothing. “Do you have to stand upwind? Tryin’ to have my brekkie here and your stench isn’t helpin’.”

Giles bit back a retort and chose not to be side-tracked. “Just who might you be?”

“Name’s Whistler. Mr. Melanin Challenged here met me in the between place a while ago.”

“I see,” Giles nodded. “I take it you are an emissary of the Powers?”

“You could say that. They don’t know I’m here at the moment.” He looked behind him with a bit of alarm. “At least I hope not.”

“If you’re here to take me back, I’m not goin’,” Spike vowed. His stance brooked no argument.

“Naw, you’re here for the duration. Figured I owed you one’s all. Since I got the wrong vamp involved and messed up the Slayer--I feel really bad about that, by the way. Besides, you’re here for a hero’s reward, remember?”

“I doubt Spike is a worthy reward for Buffy,” Giles opined.

“Buffy’s not the one getting the reward; this fashion reject’s the hero getting rewarded.”

“You’re a fine one to give critique on my clothes,” Spike huffed.

“I fail to understand how Spike is worthy of any reward, other than a sharp piece of wood through the heart.”

“That’s why I’m here. Slayer doesn’t need her Watcher being full of suspicion and disapproval. You not trusting Spike led to major bad before. Don’t want that happening again when that Slayer’s kid shows up. Gotta keep what I’m gonna tell you under your hat though.” Whistler nodded towards a squirming and vaguely embarrassed looking Spike. “He’s already changed things enough that not much is likely to go down like it did the first time, but some could still come back to bite him in the ass. Figure they don’t need you making matters worse.”


Giles was ashen. He couldn’t even look Spike in the eye. If what he had just been told were true, it went against everything he believed possible about vampires. To think the annoying berk and perpetual thorn in his side had voluntarily dusted in order to save Buffy and close the Hellmouth was astonishing. That he later fought in another apocalypse trying to make the outcome something other than mere slaughter and dusted yet again was beyond belief. Still, this Whistler was who he said he was. Giles had run a check using the most reliable magic to be certain.

“There’s more. You’re gonna find out anyway in time, first time she gets hurt bad enough to die.”

Spike growled lowly at that thought. “Not happenin’, not on my watch.”

“Relax, Big Bad. It’s not happenin’ at all. Little side-effect of your witch friend’s ritual gone wrong. Seems when she called the warrior of the people that pretty well focused the Slayer essence into Buffy. She’s it. End of the line. No more Potentials. Same with the jailbird. Your Council is already having kittens over that, even though they don’t know why it’s happened.”

“Good Lord!” Giles was horrified. “That cannot be permitted! There must be a way to put things right.”

“Already done. There’s no need for any more Slayers, ‘cause the one you’ve got has no expiration date.”

“Just what does that mean?”

“That means Buffy’s immortal. No Achilles’ heel either. Your Council are already unnecessary baggage, even if they don’t know it yet. Just a matter of time before the Slayer gives them all a nice retirement party and keeps just a few to help with research and the like.”

Giles blinked rapidly. “Buffy is going to live forever?”

“’Til the real apocalypse, yeah.”

Giles turned to Spike. “And you knew this?”

Spike was looking gobsmacked. “First I’ve heard of it. Don’t know how she’s gonna take it. Always goin’ on about wantin’ to be ‘normal’ and not wantin’ to be the Chosen One. Now she’s stuck.” Spike looked down at the table, a small smile creeping across his lips, “Course, I’m not complainin’. Never would’ve turned her, but wasn’t lookin’ forward to watchin’ her age and die.”

“You want to tell her or should I?” Giles asked.

“Why not let him?” Spike quirked his head in Whistler’s direction.

“HEY! Not me! Last time I had news for the Slayer, she threatened to pull out my ribcage to wear as a hat.”

“I wouldn’t worry, girl’s got a better sense of fashion nowdays,” Spike quipped. “Think you’d better let her know before your bosses find out you’ve been down here spillin’ my beans all over.”

“About those beans,” Giles began. He wanted a first-hand account of the wild story Whistler had told about the next couple of years as they had played out before.

Thankfully for Spike’s sake, Whistler had left out the whole soul getting. Giles would be too inclined to demand a replay of that. Maybe one day perhaps, when Angel finally had his Shanshu, Spike would tell the old bugger if he was still around…or maybe not. He’d let Buffy decide about the soul when it was time. For now she would be his guiding light through the dark night of his soul.


They lay in bed limbs tangled and bodies replete. “Think Willow will come back when she’s all better or stay in England?”

“Don’t know. Likely depends on the little girlfriend. Got a feeling where one goes the other will always follow.”

“I know that feeling.” Buffy snuggled closer and kissed a trail up the column of his neck to his ear causing him to giggle in an unmanly way as her tongue began to play there.

“So you’re not pissed that Red put all of it on you forever?”

“If I was alone I might be pissed, but I’ve got you, so how bad can it get?”

Her fingers were making a delightful mess of his curls as her kisses became more focused instead of teasing. She drew back and leveled a grin at him. “I never knew vampires got goosebumps! Hmm…was it this?” She licked his left nipple and blew on it for good measure. “Or this?” Her attention then turned to running fingers softly on his groin bringing on deep shudders of pleasure that his moans gave voice to.

“You’re looking for more lack of sleep, missy, if you keep this up,” Spike warned.

“Oh, I’m thinking keeping things up,” she let her hand close round his cock to emphasize her point, “is of the good. The very, very good.”

Things did ‘keep up’ well until the sun was making itself known and Spike was feeling the lure of vampiric sleep. With his drowsy Slayer in his arms, surrounding him with her warmth, he was more than ready to let Morpheus sweep him away. He was glad neither of them had any pressing need to leave the bed. With the house empty and Dawn at school, they could sleep in all day if they wished. He was in heaven, his heaven, and that would ever be Buffy.

“Spike?” Buffy’s voice was a whisper as she fought off yawns. “Remember when I told you ‘I love you’ for the first time?”

“Never forget it, love. Best moment in my existence.”

“You recited a poem to me,” she said dreamily. “Got any more?”

Spike smiled. “Needin’ a bit of a bedtime tale then?”

“I love to hear your voice. You make poetry come alive. It’s not like just reading them.”

His inner William wept in joy. “Think I can come up with one that fits.”

“By night, Love, tie your heart to mine, and the two
together in their sleep will defeat the darkness
like a double drum in the forest, pounding
against the thick wall of wet leaves.

Night travel: black flame of sleep
that snips the threads of the earth's grapes,
punctual as a headlong train that would haul
shadows and cold rocks, endlessly.

Because of this, Love, tie me to a purer motion,
to the constancy that beats in your chest
with the wings of a swan underwater,

so that our sleep might answer all the sky's
starry questions with a single key,
with a single door the shadows had closed.”

He kissed her closed eyes and smiled gently at his reward, now safe and happy in his arms. They would be defeating the darkness together now, the vampire and his Slayer. She had given life where none had been in a century. He had given her a reason to embrace it. Legends would be written of them, but THIS, this peace, that was theirs alone.