While Willow and Xander grilled Spike about where he’d been and how he’d found Buffy, the slayer walked to the bed and sat down quietly. It was several minutes before anyone noticed that she wasn’t participating in the conversation and was, in fact, rubbing her face with her hand as though to erase tears.
“Buffy?” The concern in Willow’s voice had Spike back at Buffy’s side in seconds.
“Love? Buffy? What’s wrong?” She could hear the insecurity in his voice and leaned into him reassuringly as she struggled to explain her sudden sadness.
“I just…it’s…I always thought he loved me for me, you know? That he loved Buffy. But he just thought I was part of his reward. I’m just a thing to him – a prize that he doesn’t want you to have.”
She turned her eyes up to the visibly angry vampire beside her. “Did you know that about him? Did you know he didn’t really love me?”
“Bloody hell, no!” he exploded. “Do you think I would have given you up without a fight if I didn’t think the bastard loved you and would be good to you? You know me better than that, Slayer. Don’t you?” he asked more quietly when she didn’t respond immediately. “You don’t think I would have left you to a wanker like that, do you?”
“No,” she whispered, resting her head on his chest. “No, you wouldn’t have done that to me. I’m just glad you’re here now.” She jerked her head up, staring at Willow with suddenly wide eyes. “I almost married him! If the band hadn’t played that stupid song last night, I’d be getting married to him today! How could you guys let me do that?” she demanded of her two surprised friends. “Couldn’t you tell he didn’t love me? Couldn’t you tell I didn’t love him? Why couldn’t I tell? What’s wrong with me?”
Xander raised his hand tentatively. “Uh, Buffster? Do we get to pick which one of those questions to answer or do we have to answer all of them?”
Spike was stroking Buffy’s back soothingly and murmuring to her, never moving his arms from their place around her body. He continued to rub comforting circles on her back until she stopped breathing hard and relaxed against him again. She nuzzled his neck and gave him a sheepish smile before gently extricating herself.
“I’m sorry, guys. If I didn’t know, there’s no reason why you would have. I just can’t believe I was so stupid. What was I thinking?”
Willow gave Spike a small smile and then offered, “I think you were thinking that Spike was dead and…and that it didn’t matter much what you did any more. That’s kind of how it seemed to me sometimes. It was like you let Angel make all these decisions about living together and getting married because you just didn’t care enough to argue about it. I’m sorry, Buffy, I was a bad friend. I should have called you on it.”
Buffy waved her hand dismissively. “I probably wouldn’t have listened, Will. You’re probably right; I don’t think I cared enough to worry about it.” She turned to glare in mock anger at Xander. “Go on. You know you want to say ‘I told you so’. Go ahead. I’ll give you this one time. Get it out of your system.”
He did his best to hide the grin he couldn’t stop. “Me? I told you so? Nah, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t remind you that I asked you a half-a-dozen times if you were sure you wanted to marry that jerk. ‘Cause that would just be…okay, I have to do it…just once, okay?”
Buffy laughed and leaned back into the vampire chuckling behind her.
“Go ahead. One time. That’s all you get.”
“Buffy,” he said seriously, drawing himself up and fixing his one good eye on her. “I told you not to marry Angel… and I was right!” He stopped, grinning widely. “Oh, that felt sooo good!”
He pointed a finger at Spike and said, “Not that I think you necessarily are a big improvement, Fangface, but at least you have a sense of humor. No offense,” he added with a smile.
“None taken, Whelp. I’m just glad you were trying to keep her from making a mistake.”
“If we’re all through bragging about how much smarter we were than Buffy, I’d like to point out that none of this would have been necessary if you weren’t such an insecure pain in the ass.”
She stood up and faced him with her hands on her hips, tapping her foot and waiting for his defense, but he just shrugged and looked at her through his eyelashes, smiling his most boyishly charming smile. In spite of herself, she couldn’t stop the answering smile and when he extended his hand to her she allowed him to pull her down onto his lap.
“As soon as I’m through being happy that you’re back, we’re going to fight about that,” she insisted, curling into him and sighing contentedly.
The vampire went into game face briefly when Xander made gagging motions behind Buffy’s back, but he was grinning through his fangs. The fact that Buffy’s two closest friends seemed happy that he was there with her went a long way toward relieving any doubt he may have had about his welcome. If they believed her when she said she loved him, there was no reason for him not to. He nuzzled her neck before he shook off his fangs, growling softly and causing her to shiver.
Before his attentions could lead to anything embarrassing, Buffy sighed and pushed herself up. She looked at Willow and said with a rueful smile, “I guess we have some arrangements to unmake, huh?”
“Oh my god! “ The maid of honor’s face fell. “We have to cancel the church, call all the guests, the limo…”
She sat down at the desk and began making notes on the pad provided by the hotel. It took almost an hour, but finally there were three lists for them to split up and use to spread the word before people would begin dressing for the wedding. Buffy’s list contained Dawn, Giles, the church and the reception hall. Xander was going to cancel the limo, the band and the ushers; Willow would handle calling all the guests and the florist.
Lists in hand, the two former Scoobies left the room, promising to check back within an hour to compare notes and be sure they hadn’t missed anything. With a wave at the vampire, now reclining on the bed, they went off to cancel the wedding.
Picking up the hotel phone, Buffy began her calls with the easiest ones – the called the church and spoke to a sympathetic rector, telling him only that something had “come up suddenly” and the wedding was not going to take place. She apologized profusely for having taken so much of his time recently and hung up to his sincere wishes for her future happiness. The reception hall went even faster, although not without some grumbling from the banquet manager and a demand for partial payment for whatever foodstuffs were not returnable. Buffy quickly agreed to the amount, writing it down for Giles to deal with.
Left with a choice of her sister or her surrogate father, she eyed the curious vampire before dialing the room in which Dawn and one of the slayers were staying.
“Yeah?” She could hear the yawn in her sister’s voice just before it turned into a shriek. “Oh my god! Tell me I didn’t oversleep! I’m not late, am I?”
Buffy hastened to assure her that it was very early and that she was not calling to wake her up. There was a long pause while Dawn waited less and less patiently for some explanation, finally asking, “Buffy?”
Taking a deep breath, Buffy said quickly, “Spike’sbackandIbrokeupwithAngel.”
“Huh? Did you say something about Spike?”
“Yes. I did. He’s here. He’s not dead, he’s here and I’ve cancelled the wedding.”
“Here? Where here?”
There was no response as Dawn threw the phone down and ran to get dressed. Buffy looked at the shirtless vampire reclining on the bed and said tiredly, “I guess we’d better get dressed. We’re going to be having company any minute.”
He growled, but sat up obediently and began to pull on his socks and boots. When she tried to take off his tee shirt and give it to him, he shook his head, instead reaching for the black button down shirt he’d been wearing over it and shrugging it on.
“You keep it, pet. Looks better on you.”
With a nod and a laugh, Buffy grabbed her jeans and underwear, dashing into the bathroom for a quick shower and to dress. When she emerged, Spike was standing in the middle of the room being alternately hugged and berated by her sister who couldn’t seem to decide if she was happy he was alive or wished he was dead for allowing them to think so. He was finally able to calm her down and push her away far enough to run his eyes over the young woman wearing the face of the girl he’d loved like a sister.
“You look beautiful, Bit. All grown up and womanly.”
“Hey!” Buffy’s voice was playful, but he caught the jealous edge and immediately released Dawn’s arms.
She tossed her head at her sister and flounced over to the only chair, sitting down and waiting expectantly. “Explanations, please,” she said haughtily. “Starting with how Angel is taking this.”
“’Bout well as could be expected,” One of the things they had bonded over years ago, was their mutual dislike for the brooding vampire and they shared a knowing look that erased the years in between.
“So, who else knows?” She turned to Buffy, demanding to be brought up to speed. “Don’t tell me I’m the last one?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, I haven’t even told Giles yet. Although I did cancel the church and the reception, so go me!”
Mentioning her former watcher’s lack of knowledge had her reaching for the phone again, when it rang under her hand. She grabbed it, her “Hello-“ cut off by a voice on the other end. She waited, mouth open, until Giles had run out of air before she said in a chilly tone, “Good morning to you, too, Giles. And, yes, I know exactly what I’m doing.”
She saw Spike begin to frown as it became obvious that the ex-watcher was not as thrilled about his return as were Buffy and Dawn. Holding the phone to her ear, she reached for him, pulling him into a warm hug before she interrupted the man on the phone to say, “Were you planning to ask me anything at all, or have you just decided that whatever Angel says must be the complete truth?”
There was a pause while the man on the other end gathered his thoughts and then, clearly apologized for his initial reaction. Buffy’s angry expression softened as she began to speak.
“In the first place, he is not ‘heartbroken’. I don’t care what he told you. He is furious because he thinks I’m some part of his reward from the Powers. He made it very clear that he considers me a possession – not a…a…loved one. In the second place, Spike doesn’t even have a thrall, and if he did, he wouldn’t need to use it on me because I love him and I couldn’t marry another man now that I know he’s alive. And, in the third place, I’ve already taken care of canceling everything – or the parts of it that Willow and Xander aren’t handling, anyway.”
She paused for breath, and Spike’s vampire hearing could pick up the older man’s apologetic stammering. When he said something about a contingent of slayers accompanying Angel back to the hotel to “rescue” Buffy, Spike’s head flew up and he ran to the door, planning to engage all the locks. Before he could close the deadbolt, the door burst inward, followed immediately by a small group of slayers led by Faith and Robin.
“Oh bloody fuckin’ wonderful,” the vampire growled, his eyes searching the room for weapons.
“Hey there, Liz,” Faith said, her voice friendlier than her eyes. “Gotta say, you’re looking pretty healthy for a pile of ashes.”
“Yeah, well, you know the old saying, ‘rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated’. Not to mention, a lot of other rumors,” he added with a growl.
Faith, Robin and the four younger slayers, had all arranged themselves in a semi-circle in front of the door; opposite them were Spike, Buffy and a lamp-wielding Dawn. Automatically, the slayer and the vampire had fallen into fighting stances that left their weapon hands free if needed. Safely behind the group of fighters, Angel could be seen in the doorway, a look of complete satisfaction on his face.
“You see!” he crowed. “I told you. He has her under thrall. You’ll have to kill him to break it.”
“You dust Spike and I’m going to make the fight that put you into the coma look like a massage.” Buffy spoke only to Faith, knowing that Spike could probably hold his own against the new slayers, at least for a while. Dawn focused her deadly glare on Robin, daring him to take another step closer to her sister and the vampire she loved. Robin was a tall man, and brave, but an angry Dawn Summers – now a tall, athletic woman – was enough to give anyone pause; he raised his hands in a gesture of appeasement and visibly relaxed his posture.
“Drop the stake.” Dawn’s voice was as cold and as hard as any slayer he had met. Unwilling to drop his weapon in the face of the vampire he’d tried to kill years ago, he compromised by making a big show of putting it back into his pocket. Dawn never took her eyes off him, understanding instinctively that he was her responsibility.
Spike was assessing the slayers now moving toward him, watching for signs of weakness or fear, his demon well to the fore. Clearly his reputation had preceded him, as each girl waited for one of the others to lead the charge. Buffy stood defiantly between Faith and Spike, her calm gaze giving no indication of the fear seizing her heart. The idea of losing Spike just as she had found him again was almost paralyzing and she struggled to shake it off before Faith attacked.
“Easy, pet,” Spike murmured. “We’ve been in tighter spots than this. You handle Slayer the second there for a bit and I’ll show these wannabes what’s been left out of their trainin’.”
The calm confidence in his voice did its job and Buffy relaxed and gave Faith a smile with a lot of teeth and no warmth. The younger slayer frowned, hesitating, only to hear Angel’s voice behind her.
“What are you waiting for, Faith? You go after Spike. Let the other girls restrain Buffy until we can dust him. As soon as he’s dust—“
“If he gets dusted, I’m going to turn this room into a slaughterhouse,” Buffy said calmly, never taking her eyes off Faith’s increasingly dubious face. “All except for you, Angel. I’m going to keep you alive. For a long time.” She allowed her eyes to flick to his for just long enough for him to read the truth there, then back to Faith.
The tension in the room was reaching a level that required some sort of release, and muscles tensed in preparation for what was going to be a very dangerous fight for all concerned. Only the man standing outside the door, urging the slayers to attack, seemed unperturbed by the tension. Just as one brave young slayer leapt for Spike, stake in hand, a voice roared from the hallway.
“Stop. Now!” Giles’ authoritative bellow froze everyone except Spike who caught the attacking slayer in midair and held her there until she stopped struggling.
“Drop the stake, pet, and I’ll let you down,” he said almost kindly.
“Drop it, Holly,” Giles said, shoving his way past the outraged Angel and into the room. “It appears we may have been misinformed.”
Behind him, Willow and Xander also pushed Angel out of the way, running quickly to Dawn’s side and backing up Spike and Buffy. Willow’s expression made it very clear that it would not be in anyone’s best interest to challenge the five people now ranged against them.
Faith visibly relaxed when the head of the Council of Watchers repeated his command to stop the attack. She leaned back against the desk and said with a grin, “Hey, B. So, short, blond and delicious here doesn’t have you under thrall after all, huh?”
“No,” Buffy answered shortly, still angry about the close call.
The other slayer’s face changed as she turned to look at Angel who was still fuming from the doorway. “I can’t say I’m really surprised, Angel. But I thought you left your evil self behind when you got all warm-blooded again. I guess once a lying demon, always a lying demon, huh?”
“This is unacceptable,” the large man responded with a glare at Giles. “She is mine. This is not her decision to make. And it’s certainly not his,” he continued, glaring at Spike.
“No, Angel, it wasn’t his decision to make,” Buffy said clearly, moving closer to Spike and clasping his hand. “He had no business saving your life and letting me think he was dead so that I would marry you. But he thought it would make me happy, and he loved me enough to almost let it happen.” She turned to glare at the abashed vampire. “It’s just a damned good thing for him that he couldn’t resist seeing if I still remembered him, or I’d be kicking his ass all over the country. And just so we’re clear,” she continued. “I still wouldn’t be marrying you today.”
“I don’t think you understand your situation, Buffy,” Angel said stiffly. “The Powers have given you to me. They gave you to me when you were only fifteen, when they sent me to help you with your duties.”
“News flash, Angel. YOU are not one of my “duties”. Never were and never will be. I was with you because I thought I loved you; and now I’m with Spike because I know I love him. He’s my reward, and I’m not giving him up. Now quit being an ass about it.”
“This isn’t over,” he insisted, glaring at the blond vampire standing beside the woman he thought of as a possession.
“It could be,” Buffy said, a dangerous glint in her eye. “If you try get Spike killed again, or even threaten him, it could be very over…for you.”
“You wouldn’t kill me,” the man sniffed dismissively. “I’m human.”
“I don’t have that problem, Peaches.” Spike’s voice was all the more chilling for its cold, unemotional tone. All the slayers in the room instinctively stiffened as the attractive blond man with the cute curls turned into a master vampire before their eyes.
“Nor, alas, do I,” Giles added his flat voice to the discussion. “You have lied to me and attempted to use the Council’s resources and personnel” - he gestured to the slayers in the room – “for your own selfish purposes. You very nearly caused the deaths of some of my best warriors. It would not be in your best interest to try to cause any more damage. I think you should leave now.”
With a final curse, Angel stepped through the doorway, turning suddenly to fling his stake at Spike’s chest. The vampire easily caught the stake between his hands, his fangs elongating as he smiled at his grandsire. Before he could follow through on the obvious threat in his changed face, there was a burst of light that momentarily blinded everyone.
When they could see again, it was to find a clear bubble floating in the center of the room; a bubble in which could be seen two strangely dressed young people. While everyone else blinked rapidly, trying to decide if they should attack or run, Angel visibly relaxed and came back into the room.
“Hah!” he shouted. “I told you the Powers were—“
His voice was cut off at a wave from the girl’s hand. Everyone in the room found themselves unable to move or speak as the odd-looking girl began to talk.
“We are very disappointed in you, Angelus. When we rewarded our champion with the gift of life, we did not expect him to turn back into the same selfish human that he had been when he died the first time.”
Angel was visibly struggling to speak and she flicked her hand at him again.
“But, I’m you’re champion! You just said so! You were rewarding me!”
“These are all our champions,” she answered angrily, gesturing at the other slayers, Faith, Spike and Buffy. “Most especially the other souled vampire and his mate. Your arrogant behavior could have cost us the lives of some of our most important warriors on the side of Good. It is inexcusable.”
Visibly deflated, Angel edged back towards the door again, freezing in place when another flick of the girl’s hand halted his progress.
With a sigh, the boy opened his mouth for the first time, addressing Spike and Buffy.
“You have our apologies. He will not interfere in your lives again.”
There was another blinding flash of light and when it was gone and everyone could see again, the room was empty of mystical beings, bubbles and Angel. A quick glance out the door showed no sign of the former vampire in the hallway and there was an immediate babble of voices speculating on what the Powers were going to do with him.
With no one in the room having an actual idea what had just happened, let alone what the strange beings might have done with Angel, discussion eventually tapered off and Giles began shepherding slayers out of the hotel room. Faith gave a cheery wave and pulled Robin out the door behind her. Once her former principal was gone, Dawn relinquished her hold on the lamp and set it carefully back on the table. She threw herself into the chair with a sigh of relief.
Giles faced Buffy and Spike, his manner even stiffer than was normal. He looked Spike in the eye and began, “I owe you an apology—“
The vampire waved his hand dismissively. “You were tryin’ to protect the girl. I’d never hold that against you.”
When the man visibly relaxed, Spike added quickly, “Of course, I will be expectin’ a bottle of really good scotch for Christmas every year. Jus’ to show there are no hard feelings…”
The head of the Watchers Council laughed as he left the room. “That seems like a fair trade for saving the world,” his voice drifted back to them.
“Four times!” Spike shouted after Giles’ disappearing back. “What?” he said when he saw the expression on Buffy’s face. “It’s true. I did. Helped anyway,” he muttered when she continued to look at him.
“Four times?” Xander and Willow looked to Buffy for an explanation, but she just waved her hand and walked away. “Four times?” They looked back at the vampire.
“Yeah, four times. Hit the poof on the head with a tire iron, didn’t I? Gave the Slayer time to stick a sword through his fat gut and send him to hell where he belonged.”
“Too bad they didn’t keep him there,” Dawn muttered, earning a glare from Buffy and smiles from Xander and Spike.
The vampire shuffled his feet briefly, then looked at Willow and Xander as he said, “I want to thank you two for the backup there. Was nice to know we had reinforcements when we needed ‘em.”
“What about me? I was backing up – er, backing you up!. Dawn’s lower lip was doing a good imitation of her sister’s best pout.
“Wouldn’t have expected any less from you, Niblet. Goes without sayin’ you’d be there, doesn’t it?”
Somewhat mollified, Dawn got up and began walking toward the door, taking Willow and Xander with her. With more thanks and a promise to meet later for dinner, Buffy and Spike ushered them out of the room and closed the broken door behind them. It took only seconds for the two strong blonds to place a heavy dresser in front of the door, taking the place of the broken locks.
“Suppose we’ll have to pay for that,” Spike grumbled. “What with the poof being all…wherever…now.”
“It’s worth it.” Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist and put her head on his chest. “It’s worth every penny.”
“It is at that,” he agreed, nuzzling her hair and pulling her in more tightly, as he backed toward the bed. “Now where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?”
“About here, I think,” she answered, shoving him down onto his back and landing on top of him. “Just where we should be.”
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