A/N: To anyone who is still reading this…thank you.
Thanks to Mari and Sue for betaing it.
The bitch’s aim was off, and while Spike knew he should be grateful, gratitude didn’t make the arrow protruding from his chest didn’t hurt any less. Any urge to thank Lady Luck for sparing his parts faded away the second his hand curled around the wooden stem and attempted to yank it free. Fuck, that hurt. He hadn’t been speared with an arrow in a long time. Not since Prague, he wagered, and those gits’ aim left even more to be desired than the Slayer’s.
“Fuck,” Spike gasped, crashing to his knees. “Bleeding hell.”
Then the air around his head violently vibrated from the power of Buffy’s shriek. His eyes widened and his head whipped up in shock, his body fighting to keep from falling completely to the ground. The look on his girl’s face was unlike anything he’d ever seen. It wasn’t vampire and it sure as hell wasn’t human. Her fangs had descended and her eyes blazed with a fiery ember, as though she’d transcended the point where regular rage knew its place and shattered through the wall guarding the next level. It was so raw, so foreign it nearly scared the shit out of him, but the broken beauty flashing across her face brought him back to earth.
Motion blurred, reminding him of those cartoons with the devil that traveled by courtesy of his own speeding tornado, and Buffy disappeared into a whirl of destruction. His eyes weren’t up to the challenge of keeping up with her; all he knew was the Slayer was standing in the doorway one second and had flown across the mausoleum the next, her body crashing against the far back wall and bouncing to the ground with all the resistance of a rag doll. Buffy heaved a breath and then moved again, this time her eyes centered on Spike.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered again, wincing as her hands seized his body. “Oi, love, watch the chest. Watch the—”
She grabbed the arrow and yanked it free without ceremony.
“Fuck! Warn a bloke before you…” Spike shook his head blearily, his gaze shooting to the limp body of the Slayer his girl had so effortlessly tossed through the air. “Buffy…sweetheart, are you all right?”
She scowled, her demon eyes blinking.
She didn’t answer, and for a few long seconds they stood staring at each other, her expression vacant but primal—the part of her he knew intimately nowhere to be seen. He’d never seen anything like it; he’d never seen a vamp regress to pure animal. Sure, he’d felt his primordial urges battle down those that might be more evolved, but not to the point where his mind blinked out in favor of the inner monster.
He didn’t know whether to be worried or proud. As little as he begrudgingly admitted he understood about claims, it didn’t take a mastermind to suss out what had happened here. Buffy had gone lopsided the second the Slayer’s arrow touched his skin. The part of her that belonged to him, that guarded him, that needed him, had magnified and shoved her better senses to the back so her beast could protect its mate.
“Come on, now,” Spike urged, staggering a step forward. Buffy blinked again, a small growl rumbling through her throat. She glanced down to the hole in his chest, which had already begun to patch itself together, and then back at him expectantly. “Kitten, we don’t have time for this. The bitch’s still breathing and she’s gonna be mighty brassed when she comes to…and as much as I’d love to knock her off good and proper, you and I haven’t talked that out yet I’m doing my bloody best to be a good boy for you right now.” He paused, his jaw tightening. “And you better come back to remind me why, ‘cause I gotta tell you, ducks, notkilling the Slayer is new territory for yours truly.”
Especially when the Slayer in question had pissed him off as much as she had. First with the apartment, busting in on him when all he had in his system was confusion, fear, and adrenalin. If he’d stuck around, he could have made her a footnote in her watcher’s journal rather than railroad himself into a moral gray area that he’d truly never thought to explore.
He wanted her dead, and he wanted it now, and the only thing keeping him from snapping the bint’s neck was the knowledge that Buffy wouldn’t want it this way. He hadn’t promised her anything, because he honestly didn’t know how well a promise like that would hold up, but he likewise understood that their relationship was fragile right now. Toss in a slayer killing and it might fall apart.
Thankfully, Buffy didn’t remain absent long. The empty look in her eyes faded at long last, the bones in her face shifting back to human. She frowned, then, a little dazed.
“Thank bloody Christ,” Spike gasped, seizing her shoulder. “Let’s get outta here.”
He nodded at the wall, where the bird had fallen. “New one,” he said. “Decided to make me a hood ornament. Didn’t take, thankfully.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand…wasn’t she just…how did she get over there?”
Spike bit his tongue. “Doesn’t matter. We gotta move, love, unless you want another dead slayer on your conscience.”
The words sounded harsher in the air than they had in his head, but either way they seemed to do the trick. Buffy snapped out of her stupor and grabbed his arm. “Come on,” she said. “We’ll go back to the apartment. Maybe Angel—”
Something angry roared in his chest. “Angel?” he spat.
“He’ll wonder where I am.”
“Some mysteries shouldn’t be solved.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “He’ll help us, Spike.”
“Not bloody likely.”
“Look, we can argue here or there, but me? I like my chances better with the devil I know. You don’t have to like him, but you do have to trust me.”
Spike grumbled, but it was no use. She had already made up her mind and he knew what that meant. There was nothing to do but limp helplessly after her.
And hope to fuck she knew what she was doing.
She couldn’t stop or her thoughts would catch up with her. Buffy had no idea what had happened and she was quite content to leave it that way. It had been pure and frightening, deep and black—all she remembered was the girl in the doorway. The next second, the world around her had returned and she’d come back to Spike’s concerned eyes burning into hers and the Slayer unconscious on the other side of the mausoleum.
That was fine. She could handle that. It hadn’t happened before, true, but that wasn’t to say it would happen again. She could make it not happen again.
Buffy tossed a quick, careful glance at Spike, who did not look back. She knew he hated turning to Angel, but honestly, she saw little in the way of options. They were in a town far from any home either of them had ever known, and there was every chance the arrival of the Slayer was just the tip of a very large iceberg of problems. Any friend right now was a step in the right direction…even one with ambiguous motives.
The bend in the road turned familiar, and soon she spied the familiar rust-stained brick of the apartment complex. No police cars yet. For the moment, the body she’d left in the hotel dumpster hadn’t been discovered. “There it is,” she said.
“I know,” Spike replied shortly.
She didn’t respond. He would know, she supposed; likely the same way Angel had.
“He might be able to buy us some time.”
“Or he might’ve pointed the bird in our direction.”
Buffy shook her head as they reached the door. “No, the Council dosed those guys they sent after us. The ones we—”
“You told me this already.”
He reeled and looked at her at last, his eyes burning. “I just don’t trust the berk, all right? And sorry to say it, sweetheart, but that’s not gonna change in the next five minutes, so you better hope dear ole daddy plays nice, else I won’t. You hear?”
Buffy nodded. “I hear.”
“Sorry if that upsets you, but—”
“It doesn’t. I’m just…it never ends, does it?”
Spike’s expression softened at that. “No, love,” he replied, shoulders slumping. “It doesn’t.”
Buffy let loose a shaky sigh and pushed the door open before he could work out a convincing counter argument. Only the sight that greeted them wasn’t exactly the one for which she was prepared; Giles sat in the rocker she’d slept in the night before, voice currently in midsentence and head buried in a book. She didn’t hear the words on his lips, nor did she see Angel shadowing the kitchen nook. Her eyes were on the watcher she’d left behind, startled even though she’d known he was on his way. She’d intended to have settled on whether or not she hated him for what he’d done to her by the time he arrived, and in the excitement of the night, she’d forgotten to give it thought.
“Oh,” she said shortly, flummoxed when he glanced up. “I didn’t…I didn’t think you’d…”
Giles removed his glasses and swallowed hard. “Buffy…”
Angel cleared his throat. “Ah,” he said. “Spike. I wondered if you’d made it.”
Spike emitted a low growl. “Piss off.”
Buffy held up a hand, taking an instinctual step back. “Well, this is…sufficiently awkward.”
“Not really,” Angel offered with a shrug. “You said you’d be back in a half hour and it’s been almost three, and if Spike hadn’t arrived by tonight I would’ve been surprised.” He paused and inclined his head at the vampire behind her. “And hello to you, too.”
“Buffy, I…” Giles paused stupidly and shook his head, his glasses sliding again from their rightful place. “I imagine we’re a little pressed for time.”
“How did you know?” she asked.
“The Watcher’s Council was good enough to inform me of their intentions, but when I made my own clear, they effectively cut me from their communication circuit. I daresay we have ten minutes at the most.”
“Buffy knocked out the Slayer,” Spike offered. “Threw her into a stone wall.”
“It was an accident,” Buffy muttered.
Giles sighed. “All right, well…that might have bought us some time.”
“Time for what?”
“To explain what happened.”
She paused, her stomach churning. The more she thought about what had happened, the more she didn’t want to. “Really, that’s not needed.”
“No, really. I’m sorry for…” She shook her head again. Dragging herself back to the mindset she’d been in just a day ago was more than she wanted to take on. “No, I’m not. I’m not sorry for what I said. I was shaken and freaked out, and it was…huge. I know it was for the best and thank you, but…I just can’t be sorry for feeling the way I felt.”
She was extraordinarily grateful, in that instant, that Spike was behind her. He rubbed her arm, giving her strength without saying a word.
Giles swallowed hard. “I…um, I was going to say…the mating.”
Her shoulders fell. “Oh.”
“Buffy, what happened was…” He broke away with a harsh breath, his eyes haunted. “To explain everything that needs explanation requires more time than we have now, but I pray you will give me the chance some day. And I’m doing my damndest not to weep like a child just to see you again, so we best get to business.”
She expelled a deep breath and nodded, though her arms felt heavy and the pressure on her chest had yet to alleviate. Whatever she’d expected when she again met Giles’s eyes couldn’t have prepared her for this particular mental maelstrom, especially when she had yet to recover from Spike’s sudden reappearance into her life. She felt she’d aged so much in these last few days, and while no time at all had truly passed since she’d come back to herself, it might as well have been centuries.
“Now,” Giles said, clearing his throat awkwardly. “I believe, if Angel told me correctly, that he has explained to you the implications of claiming a mate as a vampire.”
Buffy nodded mutely while Spike snorted his derision.
“So we’re being schooled, is that it?” he drawled. “The two of you here to—”
“That’s not what this is about,” the Watcher said sternly.
Angel rolled his eyes. “If you’d keep your trap shut for two seconds—”
“The last thing she needs is the two of you filling her head with useless rot!”
“Or you shutting us out because you feel threatened,” the elder vampire replied.
Spike sucked in his cheeks, his eyes flaring. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Guys!” Buffy’s hands came up, though whether in surrender or to keep the other two from attacking each other, she didn’t know. “The pissing contest can wait.”
Spike held his glare a beat longer before stepping back, his chin jutting up with indignation she doubt he could even attempt to hide. “He started it,” he said.
Angel scoffed. “You are such a child.”
“Yeah,” Buffy muttered irritably. “This is kinda what I meant by pissing contest.” She turned her attention to Giles, a long sigh rolling off her shoulders. It was strange how much time could pass without changing some things, but meant the world of difference to the rest of the picture. Turning to Giles felt natural, felt right. Smiling awkwardly at his befuddled expression, shrugging as the conversation fell from his control, presuming it had ever been there to begin with. “I’m sure you had a point a minute ago.”
“Yes,” the Watcher replied irritably. “The implications are rather simple. Claiming rituals are, as Angel indicated, more complicated than the one you two experienced.”
“Sod off. Doesn’t make it any less real.”
Buffy squeezed Spike’s shoulder. “I don’t think he’s saying it is.”
“I’m not,” Giles agreed, though he plainly would have given anything, up to and including his life, for it to be otherwise. “I am merely saying a bond this complex, and this strong once enacted properly, is something that the world has not seen much of. For a while, it will be crucial that you two remain in tune with each other, if not physically then mentally, as the bond cements itself.”
Buffy blinked. “Giles…”
“Secondly, these bonds cannot be broken without serious repercussions.”
Angel frowned. “They can’t be broken.”
“It’s not advisable.” Giles nodded. “I did find a case wherein a vampire female and a human male had successfully claimed each other, but the vampire was castigated by her Order and the male, upon discovering what would become of her, hired a warlock to sever their bond. The vampire went mad from the loss and the human hanged himself.”
Buffy and Spike exchanged glances. “So,” the former said slowly, “on the list of options, that’s on the bottom, right?”
Spike snarled. “Just try it, either one of you.”
“Calm down,” Angel said.
Giles nodded. “I only mentioned it as an example of the commitment you’ve made to each other.”
“As if we didn’t know,” Spike retorted. “I tracked her down for a reason, mate, and the claim had nothing to do with it.”
“Is that so?”
“I love her.”
“This is not the girl you mated, Spike,” Giles said carefully. “I have to be certain before we proceed…what I am about to advise is in direct violation with the wishes of the Watcher’s Council.”
“Fuck the Council.”
“He loves me, Giles,” Buffy said, her touch dropping from Spike’s shoulder into his hand, her fingers curling around his. “I’m confused and frustrated and…a thousand different things right now, but I know he loves me. He…he doesn’t lie about things like that.”
She avoided meeting Spike’s eyes, as well as Angel’s.
“Very well, then,” Giles said. “We must get you out of here.”
“The Slayer will have already tracked you here,” he explained. “Just the same way Angel, and I’m assuming, Spike did.”
Buffy’s nose wrinkled. “She smelled blood? That’s a power I don’t remember having.”
“She pieced together the bus and the dead kid and the dead kid’s residence,” Angel said, likely more bluntly than he intended. “We need to get you two gone.”
“Right,” Spike said. “Any reason why the two of you didn’t lead with that?”
Giles ignored him and moved forward, his eyes on Buffy. “You have two, maybe three hours before the trace wears off,” he said softly. “We’ll buy you as much time as we can, but the rest…”
“I’ll be fine.”
His mouth pulled into a tender, heartbreaking smile. “I have no doubt.”
There was some magnetic pull between fathers and daughters; this she’d experienced numerous times over the past few years, especially in the wake of her own father’s exit as a permanent figure in her life. When that title had officially transferred from Hank Summers to Rupert Giles, she didn’t know, but he was someone she knew, regardless of what was said or how much they hurt each other, who would love her as though she was his own.
Buffy felt it as his arms closed around her, squeezing her into a hug.
She’d said some horrible things to him, and while she’d meant them at the time, she didn’t mean them now.
“I’ll see you soon,” she swore.
Giles’s embrace tightened. “Goodbye, Buffy.”
Then it was over. Spike’s hands closed around her shoulders, and she was moving. Moving for the door and toward an uncertain future.
The impact of goodbye had never stung so hard.
To be concluded
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