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Out of the Shadows by Aurora
Chapter Seventeen-Eye Opener
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Chapter Seventeen: Eye Opener

Blood. Her blood. Staining his blade. The blood of a temptress, the crimson blood of a dirty girl. Since Eve herself, it ran through the veins of all women.

Adam’s wife, Adam’s love, Adam’s weakness. She was the cause of his suffering. The reason the first man was cast out of Eden for the rest of eternity. His undying trust in her ruined him, denied him a life without sin; a dishonor that would forever shame mankind.

And for her, the punishment was to be everlasting, a reminder of her first transgression against the Lord. Her curse, and that of all her female descendents, was to bleed and to endure the pains of childbirth. It was a mark to be donned by the originator of original sin so that she may never forget the repercussions of her actions. A mark that signified her defiance of God.

Staring back down at the knife in his hand, he smiled sadistically. The Blood symbolized her fall from grace and committing man to the perils of mortality. Yet this blood would not bring forth new life. No, this blood was to end it. A woman’s journey through wickedness began with blood and so it would end with blood, to be shed from a wound in place of her womb, to permanently stain the blade that was to pierce her flesh. His blade.

“You know, you really should clean that thing,” a soft feminine voice called from behind him. “That or just mount it on the wall and be done with it.”

The tall, dark haired man turned around, finding a petite blond woman standing before him. “You’ve taken a new form,” he muttered in surprise, suppressing the traitorous urges that developed within him at the sight of this manifestation of yet another seductress.

“I have,” the incorporeal figure replied without further clarification. “And if you finally put that knife away, Caleb, I might just let you in on who she is.”

Caleb nodded, dutifully laying the weapon down upon one of the many barrels that littered the dank wine cellar.

“I’m Her,” the First vaguely elaborated.

Caleb’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. “Not lookin’ to poke holes in your undoubtedly surefire plan but seeing as how you only appear in the skins of the recently departed, I don’t see how the Slayer poses a threat to you if she’s of the non-living sort.”

The First sighed in mild annoyance. Caleb wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but then again, what the Preacher’s brutish stubbornness lacked in detecting subtext was compensated by the devout obedience it offered.

“Because she didn’t stay dead,” It replied, pacing in front of the befuddled holy man. “Her resurrection shifted the balance, allowed me to put my plan in motion. With you as my right hand man of course.”

“Of course,” Caleb agreed. “Couldn’t blow up the Council and lead the Ray Charles brigade without a solid grasp on the corporeal world,” he went on as his eyes scanned the image being presented to him. “So this is her huh?”

The apparition smiled. “What d’ya think?” the First wondered as it swayed the blond mane it was projecting to and fro.

The self-proclaimed Preacher folded his hands, resting them at level with his waist. “Beautiful,” he immediately stated matter-of-factly. “But so was Delilah before she betrayed Samson,” he venomously added.

“What else do you see?” It inquired, staring directly into Caleb’s reprimanding gaze.

He took a moment to analyze the image of the Slayer standing before him. “Power,” he automatically answered. “And loneliness; the kind of loneliness that comes with true power.”

“Anything else?” It asked encouragingly.

Caleb stared harder, trying to concentrate on whatever it was his Master was referring to. About ready to give up, he finally caught sight of it, glimmering in the corner of the Slayer’s hazel eyes.

“Love,” he whispered, astonishment written in his typically sinister features.

“Bingo,” the First exclaimed, hopping up onto a large wooden wine barrel.

“I don’t understand,” Caleb confessed. “How does this affect us? A woman’s love is as fleeting as the breeze. Eventually her fancy will turn to another wretched soul.”

“And in the meantime?” the First questioned, waiting to see if Its devout little minion could connect the dots.

A menacing smile spread across Caleb’s lips as an evil plan began to formulate in his mind. “We use it against her.”

The First grinned approvingly at his reply. “I knew there was a reason why I picked you.”

“So who’s the unlucky fella?” he asked eagerly, getting excited at the prospect of the carnage he would exact against the enemies of his Master.

“Oh, you’ll meet our favorite couple real soon,” the First assured him. “Assuming she’ll actually take your bait.”

“She will,” he stated definitively.

“And what makes you so sure?” the First asked, slightly intrigued by the man’s confidence.

“Curiosity,” he responded confidently. “Woman's first sin. I offer her an apple. What can she do but take it?”

“You can take the man out of the Preacher but you can’t take the Preacher out of…whatever it is you are now,” the First offhandedly commented before the imitated Slayer’s demeanor suddenly sobered. “When they show up, kill Spike,” It ordered.

Caleb did a double take upon hearing his instructions. “It’s the vampire?!” he asked, stunned. “The one whose head you’ve been playin’ with since he came back to these here shores with a sparklin’ new soul?”

“The same one.”

Caleb gawked for another few seconds until he at last nodded in acceptance. He wouldn’t doubt his Master any further. The First had a plan, which was to be followed, not questioned.

“And the Slayer?”

The First shook its incorporeal head. “No, I want her to get out alive,” It said as it appeared to climb off of its wine barrel throne. “Her defeat will be all the sweeter once she’s been broken.”

Caleb smirked again. “And once she’s out of the picture, it can be mine right?” he asked, sounding like an impatient child.

The First’s gaze landed on the trap door in the cellar floor. “Have you removed it from the rock?”

“I have Bringers on the excavation as we speak,” he notified the First.

“As soon as she’s dead, it’s all yours,” the First permitted, disappearing in a stream of light, leaving Caleb to prepare for the cavalry that would soon be on its way.

The man dressed in black allowed his gaze to momentarily fall to the trap door. He was going to enjoy taking down the Slayer and he was going to really enjoy the prize that awaited him. Once the Bringers dug it out of the stone, it would be his. Not hers to wield.


Buffy walked briskly down Revello Drive, heading in the direction of her house. It was ten in the morning, and she was done for the day, and quite possibly done for good with the whole school councilor gig.

It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy it. If Buffy had the opportunity of a real future with a real career, she could’ve seen herself maybe being a guidance councilor. God knows she could have used a compassionate ear those first few months after she’d been chosen. But no, it wasn’t that she didn’t like the job. To be perfectly honest, there was no job left.

Like on most days, Buffy had expected a steady flow of students coming in to see her that morning. Instead she’d spent her time waiting, with not a single pimply faced teenager stopping by to even say hello.

And as she’d sat, idly waiting to help some obscure troubled teen, she couldn’t help but think of the houseful of scared adolescent girls waiting to be reassured and educated back at home.

Then it hit her, like a ton of self-aware bricks. The pointlessness of her being there, the total waste of time and energy that she’d invested in maintaining this little fantasy, all came crashing down on her conscience. Having half expected to spot a ball of tumbleweed rolling across the vacant school corridors, Buffy had abruptly gotten up from her desk. She’d ignored the booming ticks of the clock’s second hand, attempting to disregard the ominous ringing in her ears. She had to get out of there; she had to go home, where she was actually needed.

So now Buffy was marching down her street, reflecting on how she should have quit weeks ago. The High School had been near empty, classes less than half full with apathetic students. The Principal himself hadn’t even shown up for work, revealing where his job and the school actually ranked on his priority list.

The streets on her return home were lined with houses that were being sold or just completely abandoned. The town was being silently evacuated, the residents of Sunnydale, after having faced an Ascension, a Hell Goddess, and other countless near apocalyptic episodes, knew instinctively that they may not survive what was to come. They could no longer feign the ignorance that had sustained them for all these years.

An ignorance Buffy seemed to have acquired herself recently, deciding to put the blinders on when it came to the world around her. Sunnydale, the High School, the false illusion of normalcy that masked the Hellmouth was gone. There was nothing left to distract her, nothing left to hide behind.

Buffy’s place was with the Potentials, training them with Spike at her side. She knew that now. It was why she was racing home. She had to make up for lost time.

Striding through the front door, Buffy came to a halt in the middle of her front lobby. The house was completely unoccupied. What was it with her today and the eerily deserted locales? While genuinely considering the possibility that she may be suffering from a severe case of room clearing B.O., a familiar face strolled into the hallway from the kitchen.

“Home so soon, luv?” Spike asked, mug of heated blood in hand.

The smile that lit up her face was unconscious, a side product of the giddy reflex Buffy couldn’t help suppress at the sight of the platinum vampire.

“I’ve decided to go on sabbatical,” she lightly stated as she followed him into the living room, taking a seat beside him when he sat down on the couch.

“For how long?” Spike asked, somewhat thrown by the announcement.

“Indefinitely,” she answered, seemingly unaffected by what could potentially be an upsetting bit of news.

Spike took a sip of his breakfast. The likelihood that the Principal had anything to do with her decision wasn’t one he could readily discount. Maybe his girl and the wanker had had a bit of a squabble back at the office over what had transpired the night before. Spike’s eyes suddenly narrowed. If Buffy had lost her job because that pillock couldn’t get over his obsession with retribution, so help him God, Spike was going to make sure the Educator was taught a severe lesson.

“Mind if I ask why the sudden change in heart, pet?” Spike inquired, wanting to see if his theory concerning her unexpected change in vocation was correct.

Buffy sighed, tucking her legs beneath her as she slid to Spike’s side, laying her head on his shoulder. “I was kidding myself,” she started, her voice small. “The whole guidance councilor thing was nice but I have more important things to worry about than the dropping student population of Sunnydale High.”

“Finally noticed the herds of folks migratin’ out of our fair town, have you?” he teasingly wondered. At least now he knew Principal Wood had nothing to do with her decision. Lucky for him.

Buffy’s head shot up to stare at Spike in bewilderment, whacking him halfheartedly on the arm. “You knew and you didn’t say anything?!”

The vampire stared at her with embellished indignation. “’S not like it’s a bleedin’ secret. All you had to do was look out the soddin’ window!” he argued back defensively.

Buffy exhaled, visibly deflated as her brief spell of moral outrage quickly dissipated. “I know,” she relented. “Just trying to displace the blame for my sub par slayering.”

Spike gave her a reprimanding frown. “You’re not a bad slayer, Buffy,” he firmly told her.

Buffy rested her head back on his shoulder, snuggling into his chest as the vampire pulled her closer, one strong arm wrapped around her waist. “I know. But I could’ve been better.”

Spike kissed Buffy’s temple softly. “If you start dwellin’ on the ‘would’ve, could’ves’ luv, you’re gonna find yourself in a high school basement, waxing poetic with the local vermin.”

Buffy giggled at his little spiel. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” she replied. “Rat Whisperer,” she mockingly added.

“Ha bloody ha, Slayer,” he grumpily rebuked. “Last time I sacrifice my self-respect to lighten the mood.”

“I appreciate the gesture,” she assured, still laughing as kissed him on the cheek. “Really, I do.”

“Know what would ease my bruised male ego?” he whispered in her ear.

Buffy’s breath hitched momentarily at the evident need in his voice. Before she made a conscious decision as to how to respond to the vampire’s not too subtle advances, she was grazing kisses along his jaw, leisurely traveling to his lips. She ignored the coppery taste of his kiss, remnants of his sanguine meal, as her tongue slid into his mouth, a soft moan the only soundtrack to their embrace.

Neither moved from their spots on the couch, partly from the concern of becoming too consumed in their passion in such a public area of the house, and also because Spike was still holding his cuppa of O-neg.

Buffy’s hand involuntarily glided up the vampire’s chest, unintentionally scraping his left nipple through the thin cotton material. The unanticipated stimulation made Spike groan and gasp in the same unneeded breath. She could feel the similar stirrings from earlier that morning begin to rekindle as their kisses became more fevered, more hungered.

The Slayer pulled away, panting heavily as she glanced up at Spike with hooded eyes. Again, she had to be the one to put on the brakes. Buffy wasn’t sure where all the Potentials were but she sure as hell didn’t want to give any of them a free show. “Where are the girls?” she asked breathily.

Spike’s glassy eyed gaze met hers, his lust addled mind unable to rationalize why her soft lips were no longer caressing his. “What’s that?” he responded ineloquently.

Buffy smiled at him as she put a tiny bit of distance between them, giving herself some room to breathe. “Where are the SIT’s?” she asked again.

Spike inhaled deeply, sitting back as he regained his composure. “They’re with your Watcher in the backyard,” he explained. “Rupert wanted to school ‘em on the Slayer histories. Figure he thinks it’ll give ‘em purpose, add to group morale and all that rot,” he said indifferently as he placed the mug he’d been cradling on the coffee table.

Buffy worried her bottom lip between her teeth. “So, we have the house for ourselves for a while?”

Spike didn’t give her any time to elaborate before he playfully tackled her, his mouth zeroing in on her beautiful throat. His mouth latched onto the wounds he’d recently marked on her supple column of flesh, his body hovering above her, gently pressing her into the couch’s soft, accommodating cushions. He growled hungrily at the feeling of her breasts pushed up against his chest, at how her thighs cradled his rocking hips.

Buffy’s eyes grew wide at the sensation of his mouth suckling on her neck. Earlier that morning, he had lapped at the bite marks, but it had not produced the mind-melting, spark-spotting, electrical firestorm that was presently raging throughout her body.

She figured she’d been too distracted by other, more prominent aspects of Spike’s arousal to fully feel the affect his lingual ministrations on her wounds. Yet now that the vampire decided to go on full assault, focusing his attention solely on her sensitive neck, Buffy couldn’t deny that Spike’s mark was some sort of erogenous zone.

He had not been the first vampire to sink his fangs into her. She’d been bitten before, three times to be exact, but she’d never been given the opportunity to experiment with the residual tinglies that apparently lingered post-wound infliction. Now that she knew how it felt, how it could feel, both the bite and the sensations subsequent to it, Buffy mentally kicked herself for never having allowed Spike to bite her in all the time they’d been together. Maybe when she was ready to…

Abruptly, Spike released his mouth from her neck, sitting the both of them up in one swift move.

Buffy, lacking all ability to formulate the obvious question of ‘Why’d you stop?’, simply verbalized a ‘Huh?’ instead.

Spike chuckled at his girl’s disoriented appearance, taking some bit of manly pride in the fact that he had rendered her totally loopy with his wicked tongue. Picking his mug of blood back up for another sip, Spike reclined back into the sofa, waiting for the inconvenient reason he had to put an end to the snogfest with his Slayer.

Shaking off the lust induced haze, Buffy’s line of vision followed that of Spike’s, joining his attention to the front door. When it suddenly opened, she stared back at Spike in surprise.

“Buffy?” she heard Xander call out as he stepped into the house.

The Slayer continued to stare at Spike, smiling when she understood his motive behind the cease and desist on their make out session. She knew Spike would’ve loved nothing more than to rub it Xander’s face, to have her best friend walk in on them when they were in mid grope. Instead, he hadn’t dismissed Xander’s approaching presence and had prevented a very awkward situation. Well, awkward for Buffy anyway.

“Thank you,” she whispered in gratitude.

Spike returned the smile, bowing his head in what appeared to be uncharacteristic bashfulness. It was funny that amongst all the naughtiness that had been only recently revived in their relationship, it took her acknowledging his good intentions to get him all but saying ‘aw shucks’.

“Buffy?” Xander called again.

Taking the vampire’s unoccupied hand in hers, she called back, “In here Xand.”

The meaning of the gesture wasn’t lost on Spike. Though his girl was grateful for his averting a potentially embarrassing scenario between her and the Whelp, it wasn’t to say that she was ashamed of what they had, that they were together. He wasn’t her dirty little secret anymore. It made him want to grin like a bloody poofter. But he wouldn’t, not with the Glorified Brick Layer as an audience.

Xander strode into the living room, looking worn and weary, completely oblivious to the coziness being shared by the couple on the couch. He plopped himself down in the small sofa chair, sighing heavily.

Buffy quirked her brow. “You’re home early,” she noted.

“I was just about to say the same,” he replied tiredly. “School cancelled?”

“I quit,” Buffy answered, straight to the point. “You?”

Xander released a sardonic chuckle. “Guess I shouldn’t have jinxed myself with the whole ‘my ass is canned if...’ salutation this morning, huh?” he indirectly explained.

“You got fired?” Buffy asked with surprised outrage. “But you weren’t late.”

Xander shrugged. “Ya know that meeting that I absolutely had to be at?”

“It was so they could fire you,” Buffy pieced together, her tone sympathetic.

“Yeah well it wasn’t just me,” he informed. “The company was picking up and getting the hell out of Sunnydale.”

“No need for building houses if there’s no people around to put them in,” Buffy reasoned.

“And since I wasn’t willing to transfer to another city, they had no choice but to can my ass,” he elaborated. “And to think I could’ve slept in today.”

Buffy cracked a smile. That was Xander, always the jokester even in the face of career ending job terminations.

“You gonna be okay?”

Xander gave her a reassuring nod. “Just gives me more time to help around here I guess.”

“My sentiments exactly,” she rejoined, glancing briefly at Spike, who was quietly drinking his blood.

The vampire had decided it was best not ruffle any of the Boy’s feathers. For Buffy’s sake, he’d maintain some form of civility. Even if it meant keeping his mouth shut.

The three of them turned to the sound of the basement door creaking open, revealing a sleep rumpled Faith. “Hey,” she greeted uncomfortably, hating how all eyes were on her.

“Hey,” Buffy replied when no one else would.

Xander seemed to have suddenly grown very agitated at the sight of the Slayer, and Spike, well he was too busy shooting daggers at the brunette, most likely from his newly acquired awareness of her previous transgressions against his girl.

Buffy on the other hand was feeling surprisingly forgiving. She knew she’d been completely irrational when Faith had shown up the night before, her own insecurities causing her to overreact at threat the other Slayer seemingly posed. Then this morning, after Robin had told her that it had been Faith who had helped him understand her relationship with Spike, Buffy could no longer refuse to believe that the woman standing uneasily in her front hall was not trying to make up for some her past misdeeds. Thanks to Faith’s slight intervention, the Slayer had managed to call truce with Wood.

“There should still be some coffee left on the pot in the kitchen,” Buffy informed, breaking through the unnerving silence.

Faith nodded a thanks but her quest for caffeine was cut short by the thunderous steps of one Andrew Wells, who at the moment was barreling down the stairs, followed by an equally eager Anya. The duo skidded to a stop, looking very much like Laurel and Hardy, about ready to burst at the seams with some kind of harebrained scheme.

“Buffy, good you’re home,” Anya quickly said, excitement laced in her voice. “Andrew and I have been talking.”

“Having a tête-à-tête if you will,” Andrew supplemented in his narrator voice.

Anya shrugged off the nerd’s interruption. “Since you seem to have many girls on hand who could serve as an efficient labor force, we were wondering if we could borrow the Potentials for an afternoon?” she inquired, her tone determined and optimistic.

“What for?” Buffy asked skeptically.

“Everyone knows our days are numbered, just no one wants to bring up the fact were not too far from an apocalypse because they don’t want to make you feel pressured,” she steadily explained with unforgiving honesty.

“We’re like the Rebel Alliance in the final moments leading up to the Battle of Endor,” Andrew piped up.

“You gonna get to your point any time soon?” Buffy asked, becoming increasingly aggravated.

“We need provisions, the kind you can’t get from Walgreen’s,” Anya elaborated. “And now’s the time to be stocking up so we’re not running around like headless chickens searching for crossbows or eye of newt when the First finally decides it wants blood,” she stated in one breathless stretch. “Your blood that is, and our blood vicariously.”

“Thanks for the clarification,” Buffy quipped, waiting impatiently for the purpose behind this business pitch.

“Anya was saying that there’s probably a mundo stash of magic supplies and weapons still left in the Magic Box,” Andrew finally got to the issue, sounding as giddy as a schoolgirl, pausing momentarily with an afterthought. “Well, whatever wasn’t smashed to pieces from Willow’s rendition of Jean Grey turned Dark Phoenix.”

“If we had a few girls with us, maybe we could sift through the rubble and do a bit of salvaging,” Anya pushed further, sounding very much like her former saleswoman self.

Buffy still wasn’t convinced and she clearly showed it with the arching of her brow. “So you just want to give away all that merchandise that never met its money making potential? How unlike you Anya?” she commented. “What’s the catch?”

“Hey!” the ex-demon protested indignantly. “I’ll have you know I love my life more than I love money.”

Buffy sustained her incredulous expression.

Anya sighed in surrender. “There was this shipment of Ghora eggshell that I had promised someone as a form of payment,” she began to explain.

“Payment?” Spike inquired, his interest in the conversation peaking.

Anya groaned in annoyance. “Yes, payment. Which he is now demanding for since he’s hightailing it out of Sunnydale.”

“Why am I gettin’ the impression this transaction was one of the unsavory persuasion, Anyanka?” the vampire asked.

“It’s a debt I have to clear,” she replied through gritted teeth, hating how her bruised pride was on exhibit for all to see.

Xander, who had wisely remained silent for the majority of the conversation, gaped at his ex. She had used the ‘D’ word. Anya Jenkins was a savvy and ruthless in all aspects that concerned her financial standing. Anya did not have debts, even those of the non-monetary sort. “D-debt?” he stuttered.

“Yes,Xander, I’ve recently acquired a few debts,” she snapped back at him. “Since the short return to my vengeance career left me owing more unsatisfied clientele than expected for my takseybacksy wishes, I had to pull a lot of strings with many demons so D’Hoffryn wouldn’t have my hide,” she defended, becoming quite aggravated. “So can we please get me those damn monster eggs before that Parachni demon comes for my legs?” she begged, turning from Xander to Buffy.

Buffy shrugged. “Okay,” she agreed unconcernedly. “The raid of the Magic Box is still a good idea though.”

The ex-demon sighed in relief. “Good.”

“I’ll get a few girls together after they’re done with Giles and we’ll head out,” the Slayer informed her.

Anya nodded, deciding a quiet exit was the best course of action. It would’ve worked, had she not bumped into the complete stranger who was lurking in the hallway.

“Who are you?” she asked.

Faith was rendered speechless from being so unabashedly put on the spot.

Andrew gladly filled in the blanks. “This is Faith. The other Slayer,” he declared, reverence evident in his tone.

“Faith?” Anya repeated the name since it sounded vaguely familiar. Suddenly her head spun to stare accusingly at Xander, who at the moment was sinking deeper into his sofa chair, wishing the upholstery would just swallow him whole. “As in the Faith?!”

The dark slayer slowly began to inch away from the confrontation that was seconds from erupting, her instinct to flee strong from the prospect of having to contend with the easily jealous woman Xander had left at the aisle.

Buffy knew things would get bad quickly if she didn’t intervene. However, Spike beat her to the punch.

“Oi! Demille,” he called out to Andrew. “Get the camera ready. I think Girl, Interrupted here‘s ‘bout ready for her close up.”

Buffy turned to Spike, about ready to object. The last thing Faith needed was for Andrew to go all investigative reporter.

To her surpise, Faith relaxed almost instantly at the suggestion. “Let’s go doofus,” she said, grabbing a hold of the starry eyed geek’s arm, dragging him out of the house to the front porch so that they could finally have that one time exclusive interview away from prying eyes. Specifically, those belonging to one fuming former vengeance demon.

Anya watched the Slayer walk through the front door with suspicion and discontent, her arms crossed in a dramatic fashion.

“Xander? Could I have a word with you?” she asked, not waiting for his response as she stomped up the stairs.

Releasing a long haggered breath, Xander got up from his seat, head hung low as he followed after his ex.

Buffy offered him a sympathetic smile, which he returned with a saddened quirk of the lips.

“So much for civility,” Spike muttered under his breath when the room’s population finally returned to just him and Buffy.

The Slayer sighed in agreement. “I better go check in with Giles, at least let him know I’m gonna be taking over the majority of the training.”

“Demoting me already, luv?” Spike asked teasingly.

“Oh, don’t think you’re going anywhere buster,” Buffy warned lightheartedly. “I still need you. You’ll just be playing a little more…second string from now on. That’s okay, right?” she wondered tentatively.

She didn’t want Spike to think she wasn’t grateful for his help. Buffy didn’t want him to feel like she was just usurping him, reaping the benefits of all his hardwork without having contributed as much to the workload. Granted Spike had only taken up a strong leadership role in the past two weeks, but Buffy still didn’t want to steal his thunder. He really was good with the Potentials.

“Are you kiddin’? ’S a soddin’ relief, is what it is,” he unabashedly responded. “Don’t know how you do it, pet. Nearly two weeks of takin’ over training all on my lonesome and ’m ‘bout ready to throw in the towel,” he remarked, his voice a mixture of exhaustion and relief. “It’s all yours, really, the whole buggering brigade. I’m perfectly content playing second fiddle.”

“You’re not just saying that?”

“Who’s the Slayer here, luv?” Spike argued. “I might’ve had myself a few minions back in the day but ‘m no leader. Even with the soul, ‘m not one for playin’ the hero type, what with the limelight and all, does nothing for the complexion,” he joked with a chuckle. “Prefer it that way, pet. Training the girls, bein’ in charge, that’s your calling, Buffy, not mine. I’d much rather play the part if supportive boyfriend.”

Buffy kissed him softly, her lips lingering on his for a moment, the air suddenly heavy between them. “Okay, but don’t think you’re getting out of a.m. training just cuz you don’t have to be in charge anymore,” she murmured against his lips.

“Slave driver,” he griped in half-seriousness.

“Better believe it,” Buffy countered, giving him one last peck before she got up off the couch, heading through the kitchen to the backdoor.

Spike watched her traipse off, smirking at her cheekiness. He would’ve wanted nothing more than to join her out in the backyard with the Watcher and the rest of the girls, but the pesky morning sunlight had a tendency of shining right onto the back porch, keeping him well away until the sun traveled just a bit further west. It was why the morning routine usually had them out in the front yard. Funny that only in a place like Sunnydale could a large gathering of girls practicing martial arts go unnoticed. Didn’t hurt neither that Sunnydale was nearing ghost town status. Less time spent making up piss poor excuses about holding self-defense classes for the local Girl Scout Chapter. Stupid gullible humans.

The vampire shrugged. Since Giles had taken the Potentials for the morning he had himself some free time. Good thing too. From the stifled shouts and hushed grievances coming from above him, Spike figured he had at least a half hour of eaves dropping to keep himself entertained. It wasn’t like there was much else for him to do. Might as well get his jolies from the Whelp’s misery.


Anya closed the door firmly behind them as Xander tentatively stepped into the empty bedroom, which she had without a doubt commandeered to conduct the inevitable ripping of a new one he was about to endure. He stood in the centre of the room, his demeanor both awkward and exasperated. It wasn’t even noon yet and he was ready to call it a day. The last thing he needed was another heated confrontation with Anya.

“What is it Ahn?” he asked, his wearied frustration blatant in his tone.

She glared at him menacingly, a look she had once only reserved for the male victims she’d punished in the name of her scorned customers.

“Oh, no you don’t,” she instantly went on the defensive. “You’re not allowed to get grumpy with me Harris.”

“Anya, Faith is here to help Buffy,” he went into explication immediately, his patience waning. “She came back with Will last night and I have absolutely nothing to do with her being here.”

The woman before him relaxed slightly, allowing her arms to uncross and dangle at her sides. “I know, alright,” she dejectedly admitted .

“Then what’s with the secret inquisition?” he irritably inquired.

“You honestly have to ask me that?” Anya harshly whispered, hurt detectable in her voice.

“Yes. Yes I do,” he answered ardently. “We decided it’s time to move on. Remember, our one last hurrah? You’re the one who called it a ‘one more time’. You were the one to say it was over first.” He paused, giving himself a moment to calm down. “You can’t make with the jealousy and act the wounded party when us not being together anymore was your idea.”

“You left me,” she verbally punched back.

Xander threw his hands up in surrender. “As much as I would love to rehash this never ending blame game with you I’ve had a pretty rough morning. So fine. Whatever. You win,” he relented, making a move for the door, intent on leaving before they started saying things they didn’t mean.

“We still haven’t talked about what happened yesterday,” she meekly mumbled to his turned back.

Xander stopped dead in his tracks. “Yesterday?” he asked, turning around to face her.

Anya bowed her head, suddenly uncomfortable under his scrutinizing gaze. “We had a moment Xander, after Spike almost decapitated you with the bed, when you squeezed my hand. I…I felt…we...we shared something.”

Xander’s eyes softened, finding it difficult to maintain his exasperation when she looked so vulnerable. “I know,” he whispered back.

“We never had a chance to talk about what happened yesterday and then I come downstairs and you’re there with the woman who stole your virginity, not even acknowledging my presence…”


“And I don’t think it’s fair that you’re putting it all on me that we didn’t get back together after we had steamy basement sex just because I called it a ‘one more time’,” she rapidly continued, ignoring Xander’s protest. She needed to say what she’d been waiting weeks to say. “I mean, I was really confused and after the post-coital euphoria wore off I got insecure. So I said what first popped into my head.

“And when you didn’t object and totally jumped aboard the ‘one more time’ train, I couldn’t take it back and before I knew it we were moving on. And then yesterday…”

“When I squeezed your hand…” Xander supplemented, taking advantage of her momentary pause. “After our moment.”

Anya nodded. “It felt like there was still hope for us, Xander,” she rasped. “It gave me hope.”

Xander shifted from leg to leg, unnerved at the sight of her usually vibrant eyes now brimming with tears. “Ahn…”

She didn’t let him start. If he suddenly took it all away from her now, her pride wouldn’t survive his witnessing the breakdown that was sure to follow. Anya was already finding it hard keeping the tears at bay.

“You need to choose Xander. Once and for all,” she said in a composed and steady manner, trying to downplay the quiver in her voice. “Either be with me or make it final. I can’t do this anymore. I need closure,” Anya pleaded, hating how she sounded so desperate. “At least then, if these are really the last days we have left, we can have some peace of mind. I don’t want to die with any regrets.”

Xander stood still, rendered speechless by her request.

Anya didn’t wait for his reply. She needed some distance before he completely rejected her. She figured his silence could only mean he was trying to break it to her easy. Marching past him, she bee lined for the bathroom, locking herself inside the temporary sanctuary.

Xander, however, had made no effort to stop her. He was still in shock.

What he was supposed to feel was relief, the proverbial weight on his shoulders now miraculously lifted with one liberating ultimatum. Anya was giving him the choice, to sever all ties and move on with a guarantee of no more guilt. If he decided they were really through, she’d live with it, probably not like it, but she’d find a way to deal. Then they could really get on with their lives, even if their life expectancy nowadays only afforded them another two or three weeks.

It should be what he wanted, because if they weren’t going to be together then they should stop torturing themselves with ‘maybe’s’ and ‘what could’ve beens’. Xander should be thanking the gods for bestowing upon him this gift of a free pass out of self-loathing, might as well been handed to him on a silver platter. He should want this. Then why did he feel like the ground was falling out from right under him?

As he stood in Dawn’s room, staring out into the hallway at the closed bathroom door, only apprehension filled him at the notion of officially calling it quits with Anya. His hands were shakings and he could feel a cold sweat breaking out all over his body. Not a single ounce of jubilation or relief could he detect in the maelstrom of emotions running rampant within his gut.

Xander rubbed his face roughly as a sigh fell from his lips, resignedly making his way downstairs to get some fresh air. He needed time to think. Alone.


Spike sat quietly in the Summer’s kitchen at the breakfast bar, out of direct sunlight of course thanks to Buffy’s considerate deed of closing the kitchen blinds. It enabled the vampire to sit and listen in on the training session, not wishing to be left out of the fun since he was going to have to take over with Buffy for the afternoon. Needed to stay on top of the game if he was going to be any use to his girl. Unfortunately, Giles was still on his bloated rhetoric of Slayer tradition and responsibility. Lucky for Spike he had the Demon Bint and Dough Boy playing on Channel 2.

Sipping his second cup of blood, Spike’s eyes briefly met with Xander’s when he entered the kitchen in search for Buffy. Disregarding the vampire without so much as his customary guttural acknowledgement, he headed to the backdoor.

“Where are you going?” Spike wondered, his eyes still centered on the counter space in front of him.

“Like I’d tell you,” Xander uttered beneath his breath.

“Like I care,” he shot back. “Just don’t want you interuptin’ Buffy in mid sentence,” the vampire retorted disdainfully. “Started up one of those speeches she’s become so fond of recently, ‘bout two minutes before you so ungracefully lumbered your way downstairs.”

Xander groaned. He didn’t want to disrupt Buffy when she was in the middle of one of her now famous inspirational rants. He just wanted to tell her he’d be back that afternoon to help with the Magic Box raid. He just needed to go for a walk or something, get his head cleared up, and he definitively didn’t want the whole Summers’ Sorority knowing why.

“Can you just tell her I’ll be back in a few hours. I gotta…” he stopped, remembering who he was talking to. “Just give her the message.”

Spike simply nodded into his cup, his focus seemingly concentrated on Buffy’s muffled voice as he listened to her through the houses thin walls.

Xander, dismissing the vampire with an irritated scoff, pivoted about face to exit through the front door when the vampire suddenly came to life.

“Harris…” he called out.

Caught off guard, he spun around only to catch the flask that had been thrown his way. A peace offering. A very tempting peace offering.

“You heard,” Xander stated not so much asked, not particularly pleased with the idea of anyone, let alone Spike, knowing his business.

“Happens when you’re the resident fly on these walls,” Spike shrugged.

“You do know it’s 10:30 in the morning, right?” Xander halfheartedly contested.

Spike gave him a poignant look. “You can cut the propriety act, mate. Take it or leave it. This here libation is a one time sort of deal.”

“Just had to say it…you know…for the record,” Xander impassively explained, taking a generous swig of whiskey. In a house where the human traffic rivaled that of an international airport, he knew he was taking a risk with his spontaneous happy hour. Deciding the safest bet was to pour himself a cup of joe, Xander spiked the java brew with the amber liquid.

“Figures you’re of the sort to filch bread from a beggar,” Spike grumbled, grabbing his flask from Xander’s overindulgent grasp. “‘Spose to last me a while, you welcher.”

The other man ignored the vampire’s complaints, taking deep gulp of his irished coffee. “God that hits the spot,” he hoarsely proclaimed.

Spike shook his head in disapproval. “You’re a right wanker.”

“Please stop talking,” Xander unemotionally asked, knowing exactly where the vampire was going with the insulting commentary. He should have known that Spike’s momentary call for truce was conditional. The worst part was Xander had to choke down whatever jem of wisdom Spike was about to impart without the security of his routinely sarcastic repartee. He should have just tossed the flask back into the vampire’s face. Stupid post-booze handout obligations.

“Well somebody’s gotta say it and ev’ryone else ‘round here’s too afraid to tell you for fear of shatterin’ your fragile male ego,” he brusquely retorted. “I’ve no such qualms.”

“Oh, joy,” Xander bitterly whispered. “Now the vampire is gonna lecture me on relationships. My day is officially complete.”

“Put a sock in it,” Spike chastised, hating that he had to be the one to talk some sense into the Recently Sacked Brick Layer. God knows no one else was going to take the time to come to the Anyanka’s aid.

“Why should I?” the man at his side shot back.

“‘Cos we’re cut from the same cloth, Anya and I,” Spike started to explain.

“Is this where you act like you know someone just because you found a way into their pants?” Xander bitingly wondered, his voice dripping with contempt.

The vampire glowered back. “Oh, you two are bloody perfect for each other!” he fired back. “Just when I got Anya to stop bringin’ up that soddin’ night that will forever live in infamy, I gotta deal with you and your buggered insecurities,” he rejoined, stifling the instinct to smash the boys head against the counter. “Do us all a favor, Harris. Move on. Everyone else sure has.”

Xander slumped in defeat. “You don’t know her,” he obstinately argued without real conviction.

“Know enough,” Spike said, holding his ground. “Know what it’s like beein’ the Big Bad at the top of your game only to ‘ave it all ripped away from you by a bunch self-righteous prats. An’ to top it off, for lack of better options, you’re forced to cozy up to the likes of you and your lot. A fate worse than death for those of the former demon persuasion.”

“Always willing to put you out of your misery, White Fang,” Xander quipped, taking another sip of his caffeinated booze. “Just point the way to the nearest stake.”

“Sing me a new tune, would you Harris?” Spike wearily implored. “Actually, don’t sing. Don’t even say another word. Just shut that gaping hole you call a mouth for once in your pathetic life,” he ordered vehemently.

“Fine. Just make it quick,” Xander grudgingly responded.

“It’s not easy bein’ what we are. ‘avin’ to suddenly play nice with all the other boys an’ girls after livin’ for so long by our own set of rules. ‘S no simple feat reintegratin’ yourself back into mortal society, ‘specially with you all and your moral superiority, makin’ it like the twelve labors of Hercules just to get into your inner circle,” the vampire bitterly elaborated. “Believe me, a hardship which only pales in comparison to the pain of having you’re heart ripped to shreds by the object of your affection.”

“What are you getting at?” Xander asked with aggravated suspicion. Okay, so he had to admit, Spike and Anya, they shared a few similarities. It still didn’t mean the vampire was an expert or any kind of qualified counsel on his relationship with his ex.

“Buffy hated me for bein’ there for her when no one else could. Pretty much despised the fact that the only connectin’ she made after returnin’ from the great beyond was with a soulless vamp that wasn’ even worthy of her time, never mind her…attentions,” he carefully worded, reminding himself who he was talking to. “Never tired of lettin’ me know just how disgustin’ I was or how ashamed she felt. An’ if her words didn’ cut deep enough, her fists found ways at obliteratin’ what lil’ self-respect I was clingin’ to.”

Spike paused, gauging Xander’s reaction. For once the boy wisely decided to heed his advice and keep quiet. It was probably for the better. The vampire had never intended to divulge as much as he had when he had decided to embark on this therapy session with the Whelp. Any form of a wiseass remark from Xander and this unnatural incident of ‘guy talk’ was irrevocably terminated.

“But no amount of name callin’ and bone breakin’ could scare me off. So long as she came back to me, I could live with not ‘avin’ her, all of her,” he somberly stated, clearing his throat abruptly. There was no way he was going to play confessional with the likes of Alexander Harris. He’d rather endure another round of torture at the ethereal hands of the First than receive any form of pity from the Whelp. He strategically turned his gaze away, focusing his gaze on the mug in his hands. “The day Captain America decided to drop in for a visit changed all that. Guess it was bringin’ the militia bride in tow that got Buffy with the wantin’ more than the usual cold comforts. Shoud’ve known it was too good to be true. Came to put an end to our lil’ liaison that same night.”

Spike glanced over again at the man sitting at his side; the uncharacteristic hush settling between them was making the vamp anxious. If the blanched expression on Xander’s face told him anything, he had an idea where this was all going.

“So you see, Harris, that’s the clincher. Not the verbal barbs she regularly flung my way, not the punches she never hesitated to throw, but for that one moment frozen in time, it was the hope she gave me that did me in, and nearly her in the process.”

If he wasn’t already tense, Xander stiffened even more so when the word ‘hope’ had been uttered, automatically reacting to how the vampire’s sentiments mirrored those of his ex. Spike however was too wrapped up in his tirade to notice.

“Just to ‘ave it, to experience what could’ve been ‘f she jus’ let me in, to ‘ave her, all of her and then ‘ave it all ripped away was my ruin.”

Spike waited for the inevitable rejoinder that must have been lingering on the tip of Xander’s tongue. To his astonishment, it never came.

“Take my advice, mate. Put that humanity you so insistently hang over our heads to use and take your pick. The longer you pull her along, the more she’ll think there’s a snowball’s chance left for the two of you,” Spike insisted, standing up slowly. “If you’re gonna crush her, do it quick, make it painless. Don’t keep her hope alive jus’ ‘cos you’re not man enough to do right by her. You owe her that much,” he finished, the foreboding nature of his guidance not lost on Xander. “Here endeth the lesson.”

With that last muttered interjection, Spike grabbed his coat from off the back of his chair and headed to the front door. He’d risk butting in on Andrew’s stint of interrogative journalism for a few minutes to have himself a smoke. The unintentional heart to heart he’d just shared with, of all people, Xander, had left him somewhat skittish. The vampire was hoping a dose of nicotine would do the trick at calming his nerves.

Xander however couldn’t get himself to move, too dumbfounded at what had just transpired in the Summer’s kitchen. Did he just get a pep talk from Spike?

As that question cycled in his mind, a mantra to his bafflement, the indisputable truth behind the vampire’s message was clawing its way to the foreground of his conscience, making itself heard as a tightening knot at the pit of his stomach.

Xander exhaled loudly. Guess there was no running from it. He had to make a choice about Anya and her place in his life. Now all he had to do was figure out what exactly it was that he wanted.


Two bruised eyes fluttered open as their owner was revived to consciousness. The tubes attached to her arm, providing life sustaining fluids pinched where the needle pierced the skin. The wires recording her vitals netting around her, making her feel like a fly trapped by a spider’s web. A loud, persistent beep rang in her ears, dragging her out of her drug induced haze. Was she in a hospital?

The confusion that had clouded her mind instantly lifted as her memories supplied the answers as to why she was in a hospital bed, hooked up to so many unaccommodating devices. The hooded freaks chasing her. The seemingly Good Samaritan Preacher picking her up in his truck. The knife in her stomach. It all came flooding back.

Fear gripped her unexpectedly, which instantly abated when the rational section of her brain finally kicked in. She was in a hospital, which meant she was safe. He couldn’t get to her here.

Then another sense of urgency began to build in within her. The reason why she had been hiking the town limits so late at night. She’d been on her way to Sunnydale, to find the one person who was supposed to help her, protect her.

Guess it was a little too late for her, considering she was currently checked in at Sunnydale Memorial’s intensive care unit. But he was still out there and there were other girls like her who were none the wiser of what was after them. No one deserved to end up like her. They needed to know.

With great effort, she weakly snatched the button hanging by her bedside, pressing down on the red circle in attempt to draw attention to herself from the nursing staff.

She needed to get a hold of the Slayer. Initially she had been seeking refuge; she’d been promised sanctuary if she found the one and only Buffy Summers. Now her prospective meeting held greater purpose. She had to convey the message, his message, if only to provide the Slayer with incentive to kick his misogynist, priest faking, country boy ass.
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