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Ring of Fire

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Chapter 1

Dawn sensed rather than heard her sister come into the bedroom. Buffy rarely sought her out since her return and Dawn felt herself tense in anticipation of something bad.

“Hey,” Buffy gently put her hand on Dawn’s shoulder.

“What time is it?

“It’s late. I just wanted….” Dawn held her breath, frowned and waited for the shoe to drop. “I love you. You know that right?”

Oh yeah, this was bad, it had to be. Buffy never used the “L” word even in the best of times. “What’s wrong?”

Buffy bit her lip and mentally kicked herself. From the depths of her depression the self-accusations began to play in her head. No-one should think something was wrong just because someone said they loved them. This was her fault. Like everything since her mom had died she had failed and failed Dawnie the most. “I know I haven’t been everything I should be, everything mom was but I do love you and always will.”

Dawn gulped and her voice quivered as she demanded, “Why are you talking like this Buffy?” Was she going to leave her? Was she going to send her away?

“There was an accident in the woods. A girl … she was hurt. I hurt someone.”

“Oh my God! Is she all right?”

Buffy felt the tears spill over, “No. No she’s not Dawnie. I’m sorry.”

Dawn sat upright and drew her elder sister into a tight hug trying to offer what comfort she could and fearing it would not be, never could be, enough to help her broken sister.

“I have to tell what I did. I have to go to the police.”

NO! The police would take Buffy away from her again. What was left of her family would be torn apart. This time there wouldn’t even be anyone there to help her cope! Giles was gone, Willow was a mess and had driven Tara away, and even Spike had not been around much since Buffy came back. Where would she go? Who would care? “What’s going to happen? They’ll take you away won’t they?”

Buffy lowered her gaze not wanting to see the fear in her sister’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Dawn felt anger burst into flame from the direction of her overburdened heart. “No, you’re so not! You’re never here. You can’t stand to be around me. You don’t want to be here and now you have an excuse to be gone.”

“That’s not true!” Buffy felt a tinge of conscience hit her because she had to admit there was an element of truth to her sister’s complaint. The idea of being jailed brought more a sense of peace than fear to her.

Dawn pushed Buffy away from her and gave her the coldest look Buffy had ever seen from the girl. “Then go. You’re not really here anyway,” Dawn bolted from the bedroom and ran down the stairs. It shouldn’t have surprised her that Buffy made no effort to follow her, not really. Still it hurt.

‘I’ll call Giles. He’ll know what to do.’ Dawn reached for the phone as if it were her only lifeline and prayed the Watcher would still be concerned enough to respond. She heard the door click behind Buffy and tried not to be further hurt knowing her older sister hadn’t even paused to check on her before heading out to throw herself on the sword of justice.


The bleak alley alongside the police station wasn’t the best location for a lovers spat but Spike was determined. “You’re not going in there.”

He just didn’t get it. She wasn’t Faith; she didn’t kill humans and blow it off. “I have to do this. Just let me go.”

“I can’t, I love you.”

She really didn’t have time for this, for his delusions. “No, you don’t.”

Spike was sick and tired of having her constantly deny his feelings. He hadn’t lived over a century and not known his own heart after all! The bitch drove him crazy at times and all this push and pull was going to be the death of him. Life was so much easier when he simply hated her. “You think I haven’t tried not to?” He could have predicted the punch. She always went for the face first.

“Try harder,” she growled it out between blows but he could tell that his interference was only a blip on her radar. All she cared about was running to the safety of her black and white world. Maybe that was better than her desire to die like she had exhibited of late but it was running from life still and all. She was running from him, from all of them really maybe even from herself.

He grabbed her letting his demon come forth knowing it was going to be a battle and he’d need all his strength to keep her from ending her life this way. “You are not throwing your life away over this.” He had to make her see, make her care.

“Not your choice.”

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” Was it because she had allowed herself to sleep with him? To enjoy it? To feel? Was it something far deeper and scarier?

“A girl is dead because of me.”

He almost replied that many a girl was dead because of him but had the sense to know that tonight that might just lead to a proper dusting. “How many people are alive because of you? How many have you saved? One dead girl doesn’t tip the scale.”

Oops … bloody bint read between the lines anyway. “That’s all it is to you isn’t it? Just another body?” And the fight was on.

At first it was merely Spike trying to prevent Buffy from leaving the alley and Buffy doing all she could to have her own way but as the fists flew at Spike at lightning speed he began to see that far more was happening. It was as if a dam had broken and all the pent up rage within his Slayer was pouring out. All her anger rained down upon him with her fists; at him, at the meddling Scoobies, at mothers who die too young and fathers who leave. Rage at having to come back to a world of fighting and pain and responsibility beyond her years and, yes, anger at herself for feeling all of those things and more.

He never hit her back; he could take it if that was finally what she needed. He’d let her dust him if it led to her getting the poison out of her heart and soul so she could be happy again. “Come on, that’s it, put it on me. Put it all on me. That’s my girl.”

Wrong words. Using her fists to punctuate each word she yelled in his face, “I – Am – Not – Your – Girl!”

She was atop him now and not in a good way. Maybe she really was going to dust him. The blows were continuous now and fierce, no holding back. He let his human face come to the fore, no reason to draw on the demon when he had no intention of fighting back. “You don’t have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside. You can’t feel anything real! I could NEVER be your girl.”

He looked into her pain filled eyes and knew, he KNEW. It was herself she hated the most right now. She was the dead thing who could not feel. All these months and she was as dead as before she returned to him. Nothing he had done or said had helped one bit, maybe it never would. He was all out of clues on how to get through to the girl he once knew and would always love.

She was still pummeling him as he felt everything going black. Soon he’d be unable to even help himself and, frankly, maybe that was okay with him too.


The walk back from the police station had been no more cheerful than the trek to it had been. She supposed she’d have to listen to Spike crowing about having been right after all.

The lights were all on and the whole gang was in her living room. Dawn had clearly been busy. Well too late for another intervention there was nothing to answer to them about … well nothing they were going to know about anyway.

“So, Buffy, wanna spill on the whole ‘I killed a human and didn’t even get a tee-shirt,’ story? Dawnie didn’t have too many details.” Xander looked tired and his boss was going to have a piece of his hide tomorrow if he didn’t get to bed pretty soon.

She told them the story, about the demons and how time went wonky before Katrina seemed to die. Of course she left out all the Spike parts .. not that there’d been any Spike parts.

Willow had started pulling out books as soon as Buffy had mentioned a demon.

Buffy pointed to the colored plate that was an exact depiction of the demons they had encountered. “Yeah, that’s it.”

Anya looked over her shoulder and nodded knowingly. “Ah! The Rwasundi, very rare. It’s presence in our dimension causes a sort of localized temporal disturbance.”

For once everyone remained silent urging her on with their expressions. It made for a nice change. Even Xander hadn’t told her to shut up!

“No wonder everything seemed strange. See human perception is based on linear chronology. Being exposed to Rwasundi for more than a few seconds causes vivid hallucinations. These things just made you think you killed her. She was probably dead long before you stumbled across her.”

Does this mean you aren’t going away,” Dawn was still angry but that didn’t mean she wanted Buffy gone.

“Yeah I’m not going anywhere.”

“So the question is who summoned these guys and killed the girl,” Xander didn’t add, ‘and can this possibly wait till tomorrow,’ much to his credit.

“My money, what little there is of it, is on Warren and his two stooges. The girl was the one Warren was dating until his robot girl came to town last year. Too much coincidence to stumble on her body of all people in Sunnydale not to mention all the games they’ve been playing with me for months now.”

“But murder?” Willow looked horrified. “I just can’t see the Jonathan we all knew from school being a part of that.”

“I don’t know if it was all three of the unholy trinity or not but we need to find Warren Mears. Whatever they’ve done, they’re not gonna get away with it. I’m pretty tired of being their favorite target for their fun and games. I probably should have turned them in as soon as I saw they were the ones who stole that diamond.”

“Um…. Buffy,” Dawn looked wary. “I think you should know that Giles is headed back. I kinda called him when you decided to trade down to ugly orange jumpsuits.”

“Great,” Buffy was in complete sarcasto-girl mode. This was anything but great. Giles left because he thought she was not stepping up to the plate and now was coming back because she had proven him right. Buffy wasn’t too sure how her Watcher was going to see the things that had been going on. She was going to have to make certain he didn’t get a whiff about her sexcapades with Spike!

‘Oh God! Spike!’ Buffy paled at the memory of how she had left him. He wasn’t in any condition to get back to Restfield on his own. She quickly glanced out the front window and cringed at the sight of the morning sun happily shining down on an unwary Sunnydale. If he hadn’t found cover he’d be a pile of alley ashes by now.

“Guys, gotta go check something. I’ll be back.” Buffy nearly ran out of the house tearing up the pavement that she had slowly trudged just hours before. ‘Just let the jackass still be undusty,’ she prayed to no one in particular; after all what deity did one pray to for a Vampire?


Buffy stared at the large pool of Spike’s blood and felt the bile rise in her throat. She knew it was his, she had caused it to flow right there on that spot. Of Spike himself there was no trace. No suspicious dust pile on the already filthy ground, no drag marks to indicate he crawled or was pulled from the now sunny, dumpster crammed alley. “Okay, no reason to think Spike is anything but pissed off somewhere. He’ll probably show up and try to play my guilt to get some warm fuzzies from me.” She really wanted to believe her words and the lack of clear evidence made it easier than it should have been under the circumstances.

“Lots of things could have happened. No reason to expect the worst. Besides Spike is unkillable! The idiot’s lived over a century even having to drag a lunatic all over the world with him. Then there’s all his grand plans that always blow up in his face … none of them’s gotten him dusted. Besides, my luck isn’t that good.” Inside she felt herself cringe at the coldness of her last thoughts.

“God I sound like a cold bitch! I mean Spike helped out when I was … there … and he’s … we’ve … whatever. There must be something wrong with me! I had to have come back wrong to …” Buffy decided to track down Tara before going home and see what her confidant had discovered about her condition. “I didn’t even think to check on him when I left the police station. There has to be something wrong with me, something bad.”


Tara took in Buffy’s strained face and tear filled eyes and fought the urge to gather the Slayer into her arms to comfort her. Buffy would only be embarrassed and, after all, they were only just beginning to get to really know one another as individuals. Hugs just didn’t seem possible right now even if they were clearly needed.

“So give it to me straight. How screwed up am I? I feel about five cats away from crazy, do I need to get fitted for a jacket that ties in the back?” Buffy shot her a false smile and prepared to hear the worst.

“I double checked everything about the spell, about you, and there’s nothing wrong with you.” Tara returned with a completely genuine smile hoping that Buffy would begin to feel better at the news. To her surprise the Slayer began to sob.

“Then why can Spike hurt me?”

“Well you are different. Shifting out of … from where you were sort of funneling your essence back into your body altered you on a basic molecular level. It’s probably just enough to confuse the sensors in Spike’s chip. It’s all just surfacy physical stuff. It’s more like bad cellular sunburn.”

“I didn’t come back wrong?” Tara nodded, again smiling. Buffy felt a part of herself break at the realization that her actions, her choices, her coldness and depression were simply her and not some cosmic accident of her resurrection. “You must have missed something. Please check again,” she sounded desperate even to herself.

“I promise you, Buffy, there is nothing wrong with you.”

“There has to be! This can’t be me, it isn’t me. Why do I feel like this, why am I doing the things I’m doing, letting Spike do those things to me?”

Tara began to worry. She had no idea that Spike had actually been hurting Buffy! This wasn’t good.

“You mean he hit you?”

Buffy looked at her with wide-eyed horror and clear guilt shone from her tearing eyes. “He lets me,” she whispered.

“Oh Buffy,” Tara had no idea what to say. She had read volumes from Buffy’s guilt ridden face. She rather liked Spike and hated to think he had been abused owing to Buffy’s current emotional condition.

“He’s everything I hate. He’s everything that I’m supposed to be against, to kill. But the only time I ever feel ANYTHING is when ….”

Tara decided the need outweighed the potential awkwardness and pulled Buffy into a tender embrace soothing her with small sounds of comfort.

“No one can know! The way they would look at me … I just couldn’t.” She was the picture of shame.

“I won’t say a word,” Tara reassured the sobbing girl.

“Why can’t I stop? Why do I keep letting him in? Right from the time you guys brought me back it was Spike I turned to, Spike who made me feel some peace.”

“Do you love him?” Tara recognized the fear on Buffy’s face and put two and two together. “It’s okay if you do. He’s done a lot of good and he does love you.” Seeing Buffy close off, “It’s okay if you don’t too.”

Buffy sniffled and dried her tears, “Um, why did you ask if I loved him?”

“It just seems that the Buffy I know doesn’t get involved unless she at least cares a bit. You aren’t the kind of girl who does that. If you two have gotten physical more than one time there must be something there besides just sex.” Tara looked at her shyly, “And because I’ve watched the two of you together ever since I met all of you. There’s always been a spark between you. You seem to have some kind of extra vibe in the air when you are together. It was easy to believe you were a couple last year with the bot. I think it almost felt inevitable.”

Buffy blinked in surprise. Had it been there all along, even before she died on the tower, this strange pull, this connection? Was it something she had been building to instead of some weird side-effect of being resurrected and utterly depressed? Did she love him? Could she?

She was a fish let off the hook to slide back into the river Nile by Tara quickly filling the silence. “Like I said though; it’s perfectly okay if you don’t. You’re going through a really hard time and you’re…”

Buffy snorted, “What? Using him? What’s okay about that?”

“Well I doubt it’s that simple. Besides he is letting you use him. Maybe he thinks it’ll help you to adjust and he knows he’s strong enough to take whatever you dish out.

“It is wrong. I’m wrong. Tara I may have killed him, I don’t know. I … God … I beat him senseless and never looked back and now I don’t have a clue where he is or even IF he is. How could I do that?”

Tara searched for anything to try to help Buffy cope. “Well Spike can push all your buttons. Not that it’s okay to beat anyone to a pulp but I’m sure he’ll turn up just fine and you can apologize and never do it again.”

“Oh God! I hope it’s that simple,” Buffy began to cry even harder. “Please don’t forgive me, please don’t.” She wasn’t sure if she was talking to Tara or the missing Spike. More than likely it was said to herself as much as it was to either of them.



The week passed in a routine way. Still no sign of Spike although Buffy had stepped up her search to include the parts of town that mainly catered to demons. She had left enough bruised and battered of them to make the point of how important information on the missing vampire was to her. If anyone had a clue they weren’t letting her in on it though.

Today was a day she was dreading. The only birthday gift she truly could hope for was to finally discover her missing vampire. The guilt was eating away at her and costing her sleep. She hated to admit just how worried she really was.

Maybe he’d turn up tonight at the party Willow was putting together. Knowing he wasn’t wanted should spur him to do just that. He’d come with some lame gift and a boatload of sexual innuendo that would cause her no end of panic with all her friends there and everything would get back to normal.

Buffy was also building a case against the trinity of evil who had plagued her ever since her return. They had all gone to ground which made sense given their last big caper had resulted in the death of Katrina.

Hopefully Buffy would have enough human approved evidence to just let the police and justice system deal with this particular threat to humanity.

Talking to Tara had really helped quite a bit. Buffy was starting to see that she was only fighting herself and her depression and not something mystical and beyond fixing. That made her feel both better and worse; better because when she needed to be she was good at doing what needed to be done in the end and worse because there would not be a quick fix.

Probably a good thing she didn’t need a magical cure since Willow had gone cold turkey. Her friend was a shell of herself without Tara as well as her magic but she was hanging in there. At least now Buffy was noticing. Maybe Giles would be proud of her for that at least.

She and Dawn had a little better understanding too. Dawn had pointed out that Buffy had loved her enough to die for her but what she really needed was for Buffy to love her enough to live for her. Her little sister always asked the hard stuff from her! Still, Dawnie was at least trying to help out and cooperate better and that was a kind of magic Buffy could live with.

One more pass though the cemeteries to clean out the riff-raff and poke around looking for a certain black clad menace and then home for the annual mess known as Buffy’s birthday.


The birthday from hell, Buffy’s annual gift from the mouth of said hell itself, was nearly over. The boy Xander had brought as a blind, as in blind-sided, date was headed for the hospital. Buffy doubted she’d ever see Robert or Ricky or whatever his name had been, again. She comforted herself with the admission that real boys break easily. It was a miracle Xander himself was still alive!

All through the endless night Buffy half expected Spike to show up. It might not have been too bad if he had shown up to share in the non-stop hell-mouthy fun known as Buffy’s birthday party. He would probably have pestered her endlessly, teased her mercilessly and made the endless time fly. Taking down the demon would have been easier too, fun even. They fought well together.

She and Tara talked again as the other guests were crashed out on the floor and on every horizontal surface available at casa Summers. Tara seemed to really accept the idea that Spike was a part of all of their lives. Funny, after all these years it should be obvious to them all really. Tara knew what Buffy’s frequent glances at the front door meant. “Any sign at all?”

“That’s a big no,” Buffy sighed. “I’ve dropped by the crypt every night after patrol and so far I’ve run off a group of Goth teens getting high, two Grixnar demons measuring for drapes, a homeless guy doing something disgusting in the corner and Spikes poker buddies. No sign of Spike at all. He’s missed his regular poker nights each time this week and apparently owes a litter or two of kittens to some really ugly demon with a pink horn in the middle of his forehead.”

Tara looked distressed. “I even hate to ask but is there even any way to know if he … um … didn’t make it out of the alley?” At Buffy’s look of horror she quickly added, “Or, you know, maybe someone helped him up and took him somewhere to heal?”

Buffy was crestfallen. “I don’t know! Maybe I finally pummeled him one time too many and he just left town.”

“I doubt that,” Tara comforted her. “Spike really loves you and he’s not easy to shake either. He even stayed here while you were .. you know … not here.”

“Everyone has their breaking point.”

“Well that’s true but what about Dawn? Spike wouldn’t have gone without letting her know at least. They got really close last summer.”

Buffy sat on the bottom step and sighed. “I told him to stay away from Dawnie after we started, well whatever it is we’re doing. I didn’t want her to clue in.”

Tara nodded, “I get why you were nervous about some of us but I think Dawnie would be over the moon if she thought you two would get together.”

“Yeah she’s a fan club of one. I can just see the reactions of everyone else.”

“I’ve been okay with it haven’t I?” Tara reminded her.

“You don’t have the same history with Spike that everyone else does though. You don’t have any reason to hate him or be afraid of him either.”

“I don’t know about that. He could get kinda scary last summer! His emotions were all over the place and we’d piss him off plenty of times.” Tara smiled remembering some of Spike’s more colorful critiques of their patrolling abilities. “I just mean that he’s not too easy to drive off.”

“If anyone can do it I can. My dad … Angel … Riley … Giles; they all leave. They all want more from me than I can give. I’ve tried to figure out what it is that makes every one of the important men in my life jump ship and it all just comes back to me. I’m not good enough the way I am or something. There’s something lacking in me. I know it’s true right now because I’m hollow inside … there’s not even enough me for me.”

“I’m sure it must feel that way Buffy but I’m also sure you’re wrong.” Tara took a seat next to her on the steps. “Your dad abandoned all of you, that was a character flaw with him. Any man who leaves his kids and doesn’t even support them is a looser, you’re supposed to take care of your children and not all dads’ do. Mine didn’t do right either but in a different way from yours. Neither of them were good fathers.”

“Okay, I guess I have to agree. I mean he hasn’t even bothered to see how Dawn is. Even though she’s not really his daughter, HE doesn’t know that. I know from the phone calls with mom last year that dad had memories planted too. She’s just a kid!”

“There’s my point! It isn’t you that made him leave just like it isn’t Dawn. It’s him.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that one.”

Tara put a comforting hand on Buffy’s arm. “I wasn’t’ here to see your relationship with Angel but from everything Willow’s told me that wasn’t anything you did wrong either. It’s not my place to say a lot about that situation but it seems that the problems you had weren’t because he was a vampire or really even just about the curse. If he had wanted to he could have worked to find a way to get rid of the danger, find a way to be with you even if you couldn’t ...”

“See!” Buffy winced, “He didn’t want to. I know that deep inside. He didn’t want me; want us, enough to find a way to work it out.”

“Again I don’t think it was about you, not really. You know first love is a funny thing especially when you are so young. People change as they get older, you know that. I have to wonder just how much you two really knew one another at all and he could hardly reject you if he didn’t know you could he?”

“I’ve never loved anyone like I did Angel,” Buffy sniffed. “He was so …” The silence grew and Tara raised her eyebrow.

“If you’re having trouble finishing that sentence it should tell you something Buffy.”

Buffy snorted, “The only word that came to mind was mysterious. He’d pop in and warn us about trouble then disappear to his bat cave. I never knew what he was thinking; we didn’t talk much. He always seemed so self assured though, confident.”

“Well he was a couple of hundred years old,” Tara giggled.

“True.” Buffy giggled along with her. “I guess he was my mature older man.”

“Much older man,” Tara teased.


“As for Riley, well I was there and it seemed like you wanted to want him but the feelings just weren’t there, not the kind you can build on. You can’t force feelings,” Tara reminded her. “I doubt you could have been what he seemed to need anyway. Riley always came across as a guy who wanted to be the strong white knight to his lady and you’re not cut out to be anyone’s wilting violet.”

“Not like I got the chance to learn, to compromise. He left! He cheated, demanded I forgive him immediately even though he put us all in danger and then he left! I had major stuff going on and yet he left!” Buffy felt the indignation rise, “Men!”

“You’re preaching to the choir Buffy,” Tara giggled.

“Giles is coming back, Dawnie called him,” Buffy whispered after the laughter died down. “He’s going to be so disappointed in me. He said I needed to accept responsibility and instead I’ve just made a mess of everything.”

“Why don’t you wait till he gets here and ASK him how he feels instead of expecting the worst. He loves you too Buffy. He felt so responsible for you dying, it kinda broke him.”

“Kinda broke me too.”

“Yeah, about that,” Tara bit her lip and tried to pick the right words. Maybe simple was the best in the end. “I’m so sorry, Buffy. Sorry we didn’t check into things more, sorry we pulled you from your reward; sorry we haven’t always been the friends you deserve. You’ve gone through so much and we’ve all been too busy to notice you having problems. I’m sorry.”

Buffy gave her a weak smile, “It’s okay. You guys thought you were helping me, you did what you thought was right. I forgave you all a long time ago.”

“I know but still.”

“I haven’t exactly been all honesty girl either. Haven’t let you know the problems, how wrong everything feels since I’ve been back.”

“We should have suspected though. You lost your mom and nearly lost Dawn and that was before you died. You’ve got the whole world on your shoulders every night and now you have a teenager to raise and a mountain of bills. None of that was news to any of us, we should have seen it.”

“You know, you and Spike are the only people I’ve been able to talk to since I got back. Neither of you are all judgey or expecting me to be ‘good ole Buffy’ right away. That’s how it all started with Spike. He let me just … be. I didn’t have to pretend with him. I could be completely quiet or angry or goofy or whatever I was truly feeling and he was okay with it. He seemed to get that I was not adjusting too well,” She let out a short laugh. “Mr. Observo, that’s Spike. He knows me better than I do at times. Anyway he was my safe place; may have been a dark one but it felt safe.”

“I’m glad you had one,” Tara nodded. “I’m sorry he’s missing now too but I really think he’ll turn up. Buffy he loves you, he wouldn’t abandon you.”

“That’s what haunts me. If he wouldn’t abandon me but he’s gone; then where is he?”

They both started at the light knock on the front door. “Probably the police wondering why Rocky got stabbed at a birthday party.”

“Richard,” Tara corrected absently as Buffy headed for the door.


“So,” Willow put a restraining hand on Tara’s arm, “Spike and Buffy huh? How long?” Willow did not look very pleased even though her tone of voice was even.

Tara raised both eyebrows and moved from her girlfriend’s touch. “How long have you been eavesdropping?”

“I wasn’t. I was headed to the kitchen for a glass of water and overheard.” She dropped the pout and sighed. “I guess I should have noticed especially living in the same house.”

“I don’t think they’ve hung out here, Will.”

“Still. Buffy’s my best friend and now she doesn’t even share.”

“You haven’t exactly been yourself in a while sweetie-pie.” Willow looked like a whipped pup. “I know you’re trying, that’s why I’m here. Buffy just needed more than you could give at the time.”

“I could’ve,” Willow began but stopped when she saw the look of skepticism on Tara’s face. Her shoulders sagged. “You’re right. But I should’ve.”

“We all should have. Buffy has been hurting. She also has been afraid, afraid like we were when we became a couple and worried about how it would go over; if we’d be rejected.”

“I’d NEVER reject Buffy!”

“I know that, but maybe you need to remind her of that too honey. She deserves some unconditional love.”

“I will, I promise.” Willow frowned, “So what’s this about Spike being missing?”

“Long story and it’s not mine to tell but he’s not around and Buffy’s worried.”

“Maybe I could do a locat … er … or not,” Willow looked contrite. “I have to remember not to just rush to magic. I promised and I am really, really trying, honest.”

“I know you are sweetie,” Tara embraced her gently and kissed the top of Willow’s head. “Your heart was in the right place too but we’ll figure out another way to help Buffy find him, okay?”

“We’d better hope Xander doesn’t find out though or he’ll explode.”

“I think he’s going to just have to get used to it, Willow. It really isn’t his business is it?”

“Still gonna be ‘bits-o-Xander’ all over the place when he has to face facts.”

“Maybe we should try to help Buffy that way. Convince Xander to back off so that Buffy doesn’t have to deal with his hissy fit.”

“I’m afraid that WILL take magic,” Willow shook her head and wondered just when life had become so complicated.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2


“Giles!” Buffy threw herself into his arms nearly knocking him to the ground.

Buffy babbled into the older man’s shoulder hugging him as if he’d been the one to return from the dead much to his pleased embarrassment. The whole way back to Sunnydale Giles had worried at his reception. He had rather harshly pushed Buffy away from him in his desire to leave the scene of his greatest mistake for fear she would talk him into staying. He had been shamed at his cowardly retreat ever since.

He had let Buffy die and for that he held no forgiveness for himself, he never would. It wasn’t that his Slayer and daughter of the heart had died in battle, that he had always known to be a possibility. It was lack of information, the Watchers prime job, that had led to Glory getting as far as she did. It was also his getting wounded that had opened the door for Glory in the guise of Ben to walk into that abandoned petrol station and take Dawn. The whole fiasco had been his fault. Buffy had paid the ultimate price for his lacking.

Going back to London tail tucked had seemed a good idea at first. Buffy didn’t need him, not the failed Watcher he had turned out to be. He only brought problems to her. Maybe in London, he had convinced himself, he could study at the vast Council library, relearn what he needed to be a proper Watcher. Perhaps he could research more about things that might impact his so special Slayer.

She was special. Her presence had been hidden from the Council by the Powers after all. Unlike most Potentials she had come out of the blue with her calling. There had to be some reason for that! Certainly her career thus far marked her as unique. If he was ever to be a help to Buffy he needed to get up to speed. There was more to do, likely there always would be but Giles felt a bit better equipped. Now if only the girl could bring herself to trust him once more, not that he deserved it.

He’d been so focused on his own issues he had missed the signs that his beloved Buffy was far too fragile to be deserted at that point in time. He’d flagellate himself over that miscalculation the rest of his life as he would for the elements that had led to her death the previous year. Two years of wrong choices on his part had taken their toll on them both.

Buffy was muttering something that sounded like a litany of apologies for Lord only knew what.

“My dear girl. Of course I’m not disappointed in you. I am terribly sorry if I ever gave you that impression.”

“Little more than an impression Giles.” Buffy reminded him of his less than finest hour. “I think you said something about my having to be forced to stand alone, that you were tired of always being my go-to guy.”

“That’s not precisely what I said and if that is how it came across I am dreadfully sorry, Buffy. Aside from my personal feelings for you I am still your Watcher. Of course you should rely upon me if for no other reason than that.” Giles ducked his head in shame. “The truth is that I was not dealing with either your loss or return very well. I turned craven and ran.”

“That’s all right Giles, why should you stay around.” Buffy started to turn away.

“That’s just it Buffy, I want to be here. I was not able to deal with standing by and watch you have to deal with death, risking death again night after night. Losing you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure.”

“Giles, my best chance of staying alive is to have you here. You and the Scoobies; all my friends and helpers, you are what has gotten me this far. Don’t you see that?” She sniffled into his shoulder. “I’ve made a mess of things since you left. I’ve used people, hurt those who love me, ignored others, been a half-assed Slayer, I’m being defeated by three human nerds for the love of God! I’m tired all the time and can’t seem to feel much of anything except anger.”

Giles patted her back awkwardly, “Admitting these things at least show you are starting to come out of the worst of it though. You are beginning to recognize others and their needs. That’s a first step. With me here to help perhaps you can get your feet beneath you once again and start to heal.”

“I’m sorry Dawn guilted you into coming back. That whole thing is all taken care of, I didn’t kill the girl and only one Slayer is still in jail. It’s a long story that can wait until you get settled in.” She took a deep breath, “So you aren’t leaving again?”

“Not unless you truly wish me to leave. I was going to come back for Xander and Anya’s wedding at any rate, test the waters so to speak. Dawn’s call merely hastened my travel plans.”

Giles looked at his obviously tired Slayer and felt his heart break a bit. She had been so heavily laden with burdens for so long and had precious little help of late thanks to him and his cowardly flight. At least some good had come from his time spent in London.

“Before I beg your pity upon the jet-lagged I do have some news that cannot keep. Perhaps we could sit though and even move from the doorway?” He grinned at the realization that he had hardly crossed the threshold before having an arm full of his Slayer.

Buffy blushed, “Sure. We even still have furniture and everything!”

“A perfect segue actually.” Giles settled in the armchair and waited for Buffy to sit across from him.

“While in London I want you to know that you were never out of my mind. In fact I took it upon myself to see if I could ease your life in some manner. After a bit of crafty negotiation mixed with a liberal dose of blackmail I managed to get Quentin Travers to see that a tired and stressed Slayer was not to his advantage. There is to be a quarterly stipend to address your housing, education and living needs.”

Buffy’s eyes widened. “Are you saying I’m going to get paid?”

“It is only fair. Usually a Slayer is under the direct care of her Watcher and the Council and such expenses are a matter of course. You were different. You lived with your parents and have lived much longer than most Slayers do. Having reached maturity and all the responsibilities that come with that make you a special case as well. It is not really that far a stretch to put the funds into your hands directly.”

She was afraid to ask how much but it had to at least equal the pay from Doublemeat.

“I also approached some art dealers and auction houses regarding the inventory from your mother’s gallery. I believe the pieces we have in storage will fetch enough to pay off this house relieving you of the mortgage payments. There might even be a bit more to pay back bills and start a college fund for Dawn if you so desire.”

Spike would have called her look gobsmacked. “God Giles! Just the thought of a full night’s sleep with no dancing piles of overdue notices is more of a relief than you could know!”

It was Giles’ turn to blush. “I am truly sorry for not having taken this action long before now. You have enough to take care of without the full brunt of adult responsibilities managing a household and raising Dawn. Even someone without the safety of the world on their shoulders or the recent traumas you have suffered would have been crushed by all of that.”

“Can I really turn in my cow hat of shame?” Buffy looked positively wistful. “I’ll even go in early for that pleasure.”

Giles looked a bit confused but understood the spirit of the question at least. “I would think you would jump at such a chance. This … ‘cow hat’? The mind boggles.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Are you the only resident of Sunnydale never to indulge in a Doublemeat double treat?” She could read the answer on his face. “Lucky you.”

Giles only hoped that Buffy’s relief would extend to let her accept his other more intrusive help. “I also took it upon myself to contact your father after Dawn’s telephone call. I wouldn’t have imposed myself in such personal matters if it hadn’t appeared that you might be removed from the picture even if for a short while.”

Buffy look wary but not upset. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing about your situation. In fact I let him start the conversation after introducing myself as a friend and mentor to you girls and a former friend of Joyce. He didn’t have much in the way of conversation. In fact he seemed eager to be done with the topic altogether.” Buffy winced. “I suggested that Dawn, at least, was a minor child and still legally his responsibility. I pointed out that Joyce had never pressed the point but that it was highly unfair to put all his duties on your young shoulders. In the end and after a few carefully chosen legal words he offered to begin sending something in the way of support for Dawn. I’m not certain how much he intends to send but any amount should help.”

“Wow! Even mom couldn’t get him to send support payments, not after his secretary got pregnant and they moved to Spain. Those must have been some legal words.”

“Perhaps the accent aided my case,” Giles smiled as he beat her to the teasing. “At any rate between the two checks you should be able to meet your obligations, perhaps even return to school or at least look for a job you truly enjoy.”

“Oh Giles. You just made this the best birthday ever!”

As they hugged Buffy remembered the missing vampire and silently amended the thought with an ‘almost’. Maybe things were looking up, maybe Spike would be home and healing, full of snark and eyes that spoke of a love he couldn’t be feeling when she dropped by the next day. Maybe pigs could fly … cow hats were sure going to.


Weeks earlier in an alley near the Sunnydale police substation:

Spike groaned and tried to get at least one eye to open. He felt the prickles that warned of an impending sunrise and wondered if he could sense his way to some kind of shelter. Now if only he could just move!
Everything hurt but most of all his unbeating heart hurt. He prayed to any god willing to listen to a demon such as he that Buffy hadn’t gone through with her act of self-sacrifice. He couldn’t understand her insistence that she had to pay for the death of one girl when the lives of everyone else rested on her being free to fight the big and little bads that raked up the real body counts.

‘Bloody Angel’d likely get it,’ he snorted, ‘git and his so-special soul.’ It seemed a soul made one impractical as well as good. No wonder vampires didn’t have them; wouldn’t make it past being a fledge with that handicap.

Spike wasn’t going to make it past this night if he didn’t get his arse in gear and find cover.

“Yo buddy! What in the name of all hellmouth happened to you? Hey, shouldn’t you be somewhere more shady with the sun coming up?”

Spike knew that voice, he couldn’t place it just now but he did know it. At least whoever it was knew he was sunlight challenged and didn’t care. “’Preciate a bit of a hand here,” he gasped out. Damned if he didn’t have more than a rib or two broken as well, likely nicked a lung.

“Sure thing Spike. Let me get my cousin to bring his taxi round and we’ll get you somewhere safe quick as a bunny.”

The transfer from pavement to cab wasn’t one Spike ever wanted to experience again for a long while and he figured that lung was well pierced by know. ‘Buggering bastards at the City Council need to do something about all the potholes in this burg. That’s what taxes are for, not that I pay any.’ Each jolt sent a shaft of pain that brought forth a creative curse.

“Sorry ‘bout that buddy. We’ll be at my place soon and get you patched up good as new.”

Spike thought it might be nice to know just whose place that would be but was unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth. The tingles were stronger and stronger pointing out the urgency in getting indoors and out of the soon to be broad daylight.

“Good thing I came along,” the too cheerful for the circumstances voice continued. “If I hadn’t been looking for a stray litter or two I might have passed right by this alley and never seen you. Poker night tomorrow and need my ante.”

Ah! That was it; the floppy bloke from his weekly games; Clem if he remembered rightly. “Yeah, my lucky day,” Spike couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.

Clem, ever literal, looked at his patient in amazement. “Funny, you don’t look so lucky, Spike.”

“Not feelin’ it either,” Spike coughed and was certain the wet feel was blood. Slayer did a right thorough job this time. He’d be wearin’ purple and black more than a few days even with decent bagged human.

“So big demon huh? Pack of Fyrals?” Clem sounded avid looking forward to a great story to be the first to hear. “Bet he looks even worse than you do.”

Nice as it was to have a vote of confidence in his remaining claim to being a big bad Spike didn’t feel up to any long discussion. “Mind if I save the tale till I’ve had a pint or two?”

“I don’t know if booze is such a great idea Spike. You need real painkillers if you ask me.”

“Was talkin’ blood, Clem. Mind pickin’ up some of Willie’s best? I’ll pay when I’m up and able.”

“Oh sure, sure! Silly me! Forgot all about those vampire healing tales. Different demon, different diet.”

The taxi pulled to a stop and Spike prepared for more jostling. Turned out there was no preparation possible, it hurt like hell.

“Gertie!” Clem called loudly as he kicked open the door. “Got a patient for you.” He smiled down at Spike who he had under the arms as he dragged him into his home. “Gertie’s my sister. She’s great at nursing. Shame really that she can’t work at the hospital. They’re missing out on a fantastic nurse.”

Spike felt the softness of cushions beneath him and figured he was on a couch in a flat somewhere in the demon quarter of Sunnydale. Having come so close to being a pile of dust in a dirty alley he wasn’t too particular about his whereabouts, merely grateful that Clem had come by.

As if reading his mind Clem clucked, “Good thing it was me that found you and not Vixnour. He’s still mad that you cheated him out of his favorite Persian last week. I think he would have just watched as you burned.”

“Yeah, got lots of friends,” Spike sighed. Actually he hadn’t been aware until now that he even had this one. He’d have to be sure to treat Clem better, the bloke was a right one. Nothing wrong with having a friend or two after all. Besides, he owed the affable demon after this nights work.


Spike was feeling a bit better after some warmed A –positive. Gertie had been all that Clem had said and then some. Whatever pills she had given him had taken the pain away entirely. The street value on them would be astronomical considering the buzz he had. He could feel the blood start to do its work and thanks to the female demon the broken bits would knit properly too. Right handy friend she’d make as well!

“So Spike what nasty did you tangle with?”

He owed them the truth. After all with the mood the Slayer was in when he last saw her they had the right to know they might be getting’ on her bad side by helping him out. “Not nasty just a bad case of self-righteousness and a hard on for causin’ me pain.”

His eyes were opened a bit and he could see the confused faces on his pair of good Samaritans. “Buffy,” still no recognition, “Slayer, the.” He saw the shock and fear cross their faces.

“I thought the Slayer and you were an item,” Clem shook his head in confusion. “I mean I know vampires like rough play but you could have seriously fried.”

Spike laughed. “Not that rough we don’t, least I don’t. Slayer and I are … complicated.” No point even trying to explain what he didn’t understand himself. “Let’s just say I got in the way of what the bint wanted and she let me know she wasn’t havin’ it.”

Spike was treated to the startling sight of Gertie crossing herself in a purely Catholic way and couldn’t stop the laugh.

“Gertie got converted a few years ago,” Clem explained. “Baptized and everything.”

“Had a Catholic nanny once upon a time, she was a good nurse too.”

Gertie beamed, “Just doing the Lord’s work my own way.”

Wouldn’t the Slayer’s head just explode with that bit of news! Come to think on it, his was in a bit of a whirl .

“Lovin’ the Slayer is punishment for my sins. That Lord of yours has a right interestin’ sense of humor there,” Spike smiled at Gertie. “Had to fall for a California girl, only the ring of fire could produce someone who could keep shaking my world until I don’t know where to run or if I should hide and ride it out.”

Clem nodded sagely, “Got you by the short hairs doesn’t she,” he ducked a swat from his sister at his vulgarity.

“That she does,” Spike sighed. “Problem is my girl’s hurtin’ and I’m out of clues about how to help her. Don’t have a shiney soul to cough up the right answers and my winin’ it’s not workin’ too well for me. I want to help but don’t know how.”

“Gee, even humans mess that up! Look at Pilar on Passions. She ‘s always trying to help Theresa and it all blows up in everyone face sooner or later.” Clem knew he shared a love for the daytime soap.

Gertie snorted, “That tripe’s all make believe but you are right, even humans mess up when dealing with someone who is hurting. That’s why there are therapists.”

“I’m just scared and that goes against my big bad vampire nature. ‘ Fraid she’ll do something to make things worse for herself, ‘fraid of loosin’ her again. Couldn’t live with that, greet the sun this time if I lose her.”

“It’s clear you really love her,” Gertie wiped a tear away. “I’m sure you’ve helped more than you know.”

“Not really. I think I just made it worse. Silly bint was already walkin on eggs around her so-called friends, takin’ care of their fragile feelin’s then I push her into a relationship she’s ashamed to admit to and now she feels even worse ‘bout herself.”

Gertie patted his hand and handed him another mug of blood.

“I’d ask Angel if the berk wouldn’t go Neanderthal on me and bring out the stakes. “ Spike sighed in weariness. “Never thought that soul of his was important but now I wonder. If I had mine back maybe I’d know where to start and do right by her.”

“All this talk of souls!” Gertie sounded furious. “Father McGann says what we’re calling a soul isn’t that important from what he’s seen. Some demons choose to do right and some humans choose to do evil and the soul doesn’t seem to stop either from making that choice.”

“He’s got a point even if I’m not going to convert,” Clem looked pointedly at his sister. “I’ve seen lots of vampires and demons do the right thing, it’s maybe harder for some, sure. I doubt a soul would give you the answer to helping the Slayer deal.”

“Worth a try. My bag of tricks are all used up,” Spikes shoulders sagged in defeat.

“How would you get your soul back anyway? Wasn’t Angelus cursed?”

“Not planning on munchin’ on some gypsy hopin’ doubt the Slayer’d ‘preciate that! Not gonna ask the resident witch either, that bint’s close to off the spool already.”

“Well looks like you’re stuck trying to figure it out without one.”

Spike looked pensive. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the answer if only the drug cloud let him stumble on it. His face cleared with the memory,” Got it! Long about a century or so past was a vampire named Amarra. Got himself a handy prize in a box for facin’ some demon trials in a remote cave in Africa. Way the legend read all he had to do was pass some tests and he got to pick his prize. Sanely he chose a magic gem that made him impervious to any vampire killin’ methods.”

“Well legends are nice but we can’t build our lives around them,” Gertie said gently.

“This wasn’t just a legend. Had the gem didn’t I?”

“You have the gem of Amarra?” Clem sputtered. “Can I see it?”

Spike grimaced, “Buffy took it off of me and it got destroyed.”

“What happened to that vampire that had it? Did you have to steal it from him?” Gertie was fascinated.

“He was dust. “

“But I thought...”

“Yeah…. Another vampire with woman troubles! Seems he gave the ring to a lover and she betrayed him. Getting’ off topic though … point is he picked his prize and I could pick mine. If Amarra survived those trial so can I.”

“This doesn’t sound good, Spike. You sure you want to go all that way and maybe not even survive?”

“Won’t matter. Either I get my soul and a way to help Buffy or I’m dust and out of her way. My guess is that about now either one would make her feel better.”

Spike brightened now that he had a plan. “Guess I need to look into cargo holds on planes headed to the dark continent, yeah?” He looked earnestly from Clem to Gertie, “Just keep it between us. No point in lettin’ on what I’m goin’ on about. No clue where I am; you never saw me, right?

Gertie looked nervous, “I don’t know. I don’t like lying and the Slayer isn’t one to try it out on.”

“No worries ducks! You don’t really know where I am. Africa’s a big continent inna it?” Spike grinned. “Won’t be a lie to say you don’t know where I am if you actually don’t.”

“Mum’s the word,” Clem promised and mimicked zipping his lips.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3


Buffy watched the helicopter as it faded from her line of sight. This time instead of feeling like she was letting her last chance at happiness fly away she felt one burden lift from her massive guilt pile. She had been right to not commit to Riley. What a jerk!

He’d come barreling back into her life with some trumped up tale about a demon of mass destruction and a weapons dealer there in Sunnydale. He’d even gone out of his way to try to frame Spike not knowing the vampire wasn’t even around to get into that kind of trouble. If that wasn’t enough he brought along a simpering ‘Stepford’ wife to rub under her nose. Perhaps she should come up with a better way of putting that when talking about Sam!

It was so obvious that he was trying to show her what she’d “thrown away” when she didn’t stop his leaving the year before. Instead he made her finally realize that it was the best thing she could have done. The big jerk was trying to punish her for not loving him and set Spike up to have her kill him at the same time!

Buffy would have to think later about just how Riley had known about her and Spike. It unsettled her that the secret trysts weren’t so secret.

She almost laughed when she remembered the look on Riley’s face when he finally got it that Spike wasn’t there to pin this crime on. They had quite a row when Buffy uncovered his plot.


“Was not being able to commit to you such a terrible crime that I deserve you coming back here to drive a knife in the wound? I told you about Angel, how devastated I was to have to run a sword through him. It should have clued you in that it would hurt if I had to dust Spike!”

She clearly saw that Riley had thought about it and deliberately chosen this revenge to counter his hurt pride. That was when the guilt fell away. If he was that insufferable then she had been lucky to have held back and let him go after all.

“You left, Riley. Mom was sick, Glory was tossing me around like a rag doll, Spike was stalking my every move and pissing you off by wanting me and yet you left. You knew my abandonment issues and still you sashayed yourself out of town and left me feeling that I was the one lacking!”

“Why should I have stayed, Buffy? You didn’t give me any reason to hope.”

Buffy snorted remembering all the times she held his hand during the whole Initiative thing and after. “Whatever! You said you loved me. If the shoe was on the other foot I would have stayed to help you with Glory and your mom at least. Okay, I get you leaving eventually but if you really loved me you picked a crap time to do it. I’d have made sure you’d be okay first.”

At least he had the grace to look sheepish even if his jaw was still set in a stubborn clinch.

“And why did you bother to come back? You’ve got your adoring wife who thinks you’re all that and a side of fries. I’ve seen how she practically worships you. What more do you want? You wanted to prove what a great catch I missed? Wanted to harass Spike?”

“Spike’s evil, Buffy. I don’t know why you let him live much less how you can do what you were doing. It’s a good thing he is gone. I promised the bloodsucker I’d stake him for real if he made moves on you.”

“And who gave you that right?” Buffy was furious.

“Someone has to take care of you since you don’t seem to do a good job of it yourself. God, Buffy, I wasn’t gone long before you died!”

“I died doing my duty, for the love of my sister you big galoot. Besides like I said, you could have been part of that battle. Spike was!”

“Is that why you gave yourself to him? Gratitude?” Riley was at his self-righteous best.

“None of your business who, what or why I do anything. You gave up that right. But for the record it wasn’t gratitude,” she shuddered inside at how very ungrateful her treatment of Spike had been given all he’d done to help both with Glory and after.

“He’s a vampire. You deserve better than that.”

She’d had this conversation before in one form or another. Why was it that everyone thought they knew what and who she deserved. Xander had thought Riley was who she deserved and that went to show how good their choices could be!

“What is it with you and with Angel? You won’t stay, you both move on but the minute you sniff out a possible replacement, a rival, you come back to mark territory? I’m nobody’s bone!”

“It’s not like that.”

“It’s exactly like that!

“But SPIKE!”

“Spike at least loves through actions not just words. What we had was maybe squirrelly and dysfunctional but it was real. Even at my most depressed I got that he was trying. He was trying to let me be myself, accepting me as I was not how he wanted me to be. I could be a bitch. I could withhold or be needy. I could be bossy or let him make the decisions … whatever. He took me as I am.”

“So where is this paragon then?”

“It took me nearly killing him for him to give up,” Buffy whispered. She felt the rush of tears to her eyes and willed them back. She would NOT cry in front of Riley of all people.

“Looks like you’re the one in love,” Riley sneered.

Buffy could hear the crickets as the silence extended. God! Was she?


The chopper disappeared from view and Buffy started to turn back to the house. She looked forward to crossing Riley off her nighttime litany of failures. Maybe it would help her sleep a bit. She’d worry about what he’d said about her loving Spike later … much later.

“Something you need to share with the class Buffy?” Xander’s voice had a hard edge.

“Not really.”

“What’s this about you and the blessedly missing evil-undead?”

“What it is … is none of your business Xander.” Buffy walked into the house only to face a room full of questioning faces; all but Tara. The look of sympathy she gave to Buffy warmed her even as she shivered. “So I guess instead of a bath and bed it’s gonna be the Spanish inquisition?”

Willow glanced at Tara and stepped toward her friend. “Buffy, no matter what you’ve done I’m always your friend. You know that, right?”

Buffy felt the previously restrained tears begin to trickle. “Thanks Will. I love you too.”

“Buffy, I really don’t wish to interfere or try to tell you how to live your life even if I cannot see any reason to rejoice in you involving yourself with yet another vampire …” Giles kept his voice gentle.

“Then don’t” Buffy snapped then felt bad seeing the hurt that flashed across her Watcher’s face. “Sorry. Look if anyone here thinks I’m happy with being attracted to another demon you’re the ones crazy. I’m ripped apart about it and I ripped Spike up enough too that he finally left. “

“Thank God for that at least!” Xander spat.

Anya looked between her fiancé and the Slayer and tried to decide just what to say. “Well the attraction makes perfect sense. You are both powerful, attractive beings after all. What are you supposed to do; get orgasms from a guy you can crush if things get too creative?”

“Ayn!” Xander began his usual attempt to silence her. This time it served to piss her off instead of back off.

“I know things! What, you think I’ve been around longer than all of you put together, including Spike, and not seen things? Slayers that become women instead of just little girls usually are attracted to demons, not always vampires but demons. Only a demon has the strength you need.” Anya ignored the shocked looks.
“Besides, Spike is handsome and well formed, why wouldn’t Buffy be attracted?”


“Because he’s, I don’t know, EVIL?” Xander shot.

“He hasn’t done anything evil in a long time,” Dawn defended her missing friend. “I think its squee worthy if you and Spike do get together.”

“What part of ‘left’ did you miss?” Buffy asked dejectedly.

“Pffft. It’s Spike! He’ll be back!” Dawn was grinning and barely containing her glee.

“You’re missing the point,” Xander ground out. “Spike is a vampire, he’s evil to the core and we’ve already been there done that with Angel.”

Buffy flinched, she was stung. Sure she’d told herself the same thing but deep down she knew it was not that simple. “It’s not the same thing. For one thing I loved Angel; I don’t know what I feel about Spike.”

“You used to feel healthy disgust,” Xander continued. “He’s a disgusting thing, Buffy. A killer and … and … and has bad fashion sense.”

“Look! Stop piling on Buffy!” Dawn put a protective arm around her sister. “She’s a grown up and can like anyone she wants to like. Besides Mr. Hawaiian shirt you’ve got a lot of room to go all ‘What Not to Wear’ on anybody. “

Giles really hated saying anything in Spike’s favor but he knew Buffy needed his support now rather than further criticism. “Actually Buffy is right. Spike is nothing like Angel, or Angelus. I’m not saying I approve or that it’s even my right to approve or not but that much is true.”

“How can you say that?” Xander could not believe Giles of all people wasn’t on board the Spike hate express.

“Well, Angelus was a pure predator. He would either find the weakest of the herd or find someone he could weaken, run them to the ground with his games before killing. He fully enjoyed the evil for the sake of evil. He was well known for selecting his prey from among the purest of the pure so he could corrupt them. “ Buffy shuddered at that view of her first love but listened as Giles continued, “Spike’s reputation was quite different. His prey tended to be whoever gave the best fight first. He apparently preferred the challenge of the fight. I believe that is why he has adjusted so well to his situation with the chip. Demons are far more challenging than humans in a fight.”

“You’re saying Spike’s not evil?”

“Not at all. Just that evil does not seem to drive his actions. He is capable of more and not all of it evil. We are all living proof of that given his assistance last summer.” Giles had never entertained these thoughts and was just as shocked to hear them come from his mouth as Xander was. “Just for a moment picture what would have occurred had Angelus been the vampire captured by the Initiative and chipped. What do you suppose he would have done?”

Willow wondered why no one had ever thought about the choices Spike had made. “Angelus wouldn’t have come to us for help that’s for sure! He’d have gotten some minions to kill us all or faked us out into helping only to find a way to kill us later.”

Dawn was nodding, “Oh yeah. Spike used to have a list he called ‘a thousand ways I could kill those annoying scoobies’. I saw it once when I was snoop … er … helping to clean his crypt. It’s only cause he didn’t really want to that he didn’t do any of them not because he couldn’t figure out how.”

“Okay so he’s no Angelus but he’s still not right for Buffy. She needs a good guy like Riley,” Xander began.

“Oh spare me!” Buffy’s eyes shot fire. “You mean the guy who can’t handle me not being a clinging vine? A guy who leaves if I’m not his adoring sweetie-pie? A guy like that Reggie you brought to my party?”

“Richard,” Tara corrected automatically.

“Reggie … Richard… they’re the same; breakable and … and weak,” Buffy slapped a hand over her mouth as the last bit come out. It was true. Humans were weak. She worried about Xander and even Giles in battle and they at least usually held their own! Riley had been a good fighter but still was weak compared to her. She was always concerned that he’d be damaged while trying to take out a nest of vamps or fighting a massive demon. She had no such worries about Spike. He’d even survived Glory. “I want a partner, an equal. Maybe he doesn’t exist but I think Anya’s right. No human is likely to fit that requirement. Maybe Slayers are meant to be alone. To fight then die young and alone.” Buffy felt the tears fall.

She would not, WOULD NOT, let them see her fall apart like this. “Look I’m tired. I’m going to bed now and you can all dissect me and my non-existent love life without me. I’m sure my opinion won’t matter to some of you anyway.” She looked pointedly at Xander and made a quick exit up the stairs. Let her bed absorb the tears she knew were coming.


“Well, that was awkward,” Anya pointed out unnecessarily. She turned her narrowed gaze on Xander, “Just why are you so interested in Buffy’s love life anyway? We’re getting married next week in case you’ve forgotten. The only orgasms you should even be thinking about are the ones you’ll be giving me on our honeymoon!”

“So what’s wrong with the Buffster anyway?” Xander decided to ignore Anya’s latest reference to their love life.

“She’s hurting you idiot!” Dawn gaped at him. “She has been since you guys decided to bring her back here and give up heaven. She goes out every night and gets beat up saving the world and I hear her cry at night. She protects everyone but herself! It was better when Spike was here. She didn’t cry as much even if she was gone more.”

“The world is filled with the walking wounded,” Tara mused. “Some wounds are so deep or so infected that you lose part of yourself or even die. Buffy’s wounds are deep but I think she’ll heal in time even with scars. We’ve all expected her to just be the same as before she lost mom and then nearly losing Dawn. Dying and being pulled back here and having all her duties and the added new responsibilities only made it worse. She’s been depressed and it makes perfect sense. She’s had good reason to be. She’s gone out of her way to keep from hurting us by showing it.”

Willow looked horrified, “I never meant…. I should never … I should have..”

“She knows sweetie,” Tara hugged her. “Keeping her secrets though, it just kinda made it worse. Sort of like her wounds got infected.”

“And Spike’s what? An antibiotic?” Xander snarked.

Tara smiled, “Kinda. Sort of a soothing balm like he was to Dawn while Buffy was gone. He’s surprisingly observant about what those around him are feeling and needing.”

“Used that against us before,” Xander reminded them.

“Long ago, yes but we were still enemies then.” Willow reminded her friend. “It’s true I guess. He took care of Dru a long time too. Maybe he’s just a nurturer at heart.”

“I don’t see how the walking dead can help anyone,” Xander continued unfazed.

“Funny but I never think of dead when I see Spike.” Tara looked thoughtful. “He’s always full of life and emotions. Sometimes I forget he’s not exactly human.”

Willow nodded. “I thought about that a while ago when Spike was hanging around all the time hogging the TV and watching the soaps. It seemed funny that he watched the shows he did and got all involved. It wasn’t like a hunter watching ‘Animal Planet’ it was just like us all identifying with the characters! He’d get caught up in all the emotiony stuff and yell at the screen. It was kinda funny. It was like he still connected to all those human emotions and dramas.” Tara raised a brow and nodded in agreement. “I thought he was just weird but then so is a vampire loving a Slayer I guess. Maybe he still has enough human in him and that’s what makes him so different.”

“Spike is one of the walking wounded too,” Tara pointed out.

“Still not seeing the bleached wonder as walking anything but dead,” said Xander stubbornly while ignoring Anya’s eye-roll.

Tara tried to explain, “We all have scars Xander. Some of us show them on the outside right on the surface, like Buffy right now, and others have their scars inside and hidden. I think Spike has a lot of those. Haven’t you ever noticed how easy it is to hurt his feelings?”

Willow nodded heartily. “Xander really gets under his skin a lot!”

“Exactly! That’s usually when Spike says or does something dumb,” Dawn pointed out. “When you guys say mean things to him he talks about ripping your heads off and drinking from your brain stems if the chip were out … that kind of thing.”

“Inside or outside, damage done to us leaves a wound,” Tara concluded. “We all try to hide it the best way we can so no one can see they are hitting a vulnerable spot. It’s part of our self protection.”

Giles had been listening carefully to the entire conversation both before Buffy left and after. One thing he had concluded was that his dear Slayer had feelings of some sort for Spike and even if part of him would always cringe at the very thought he was not going to leave her with no backup ever again. He’d just have to concentrate on the few positives such a relationship might offer and keep a watchful eye on them. He was not called a Watcher for no reason after all. “Xander, perhaps you should listen to what your fiancé has suggested and concentrate on your own relationships and leave Buffy to make her own free-will choices. I don’t remember any of the rest of us begging for her approval when we began our relationships.”

“Giles has a relationship?” Anya perked up. “Spill! Was that why you abandoned us, dumped Buffy and went to England?”

Giles blushed as the conversation turned from Buffy and her situation to speculation on his own. ‘I hope Buffy will appreciate the sacrifice I make,’ he thought a he permitted the comments and fielded questions.


Spike finished the last of his glass of whisky preparing for the long drive to the village nearest the demon cave he half dreaded but still determined to enter and leave again vampire intactus.

“Bint’s like China! Should have a bloody sign, ‘Draco Dormiens Cave’, poetic really could’ve bit it in China by that Slayer long ago. Might’ve expected a Slayer just like China to finally do me.”

“Whaz at?” The grizzled human on the next barstool had only half listened to the pale somewhat frightening man who had shared his bottle in return for a lift to the interior.

“Just quotin’ Churchill only he was talkin’ ‘bout China. Might as well been talkin’ ‘bout Buffy though. Smart man that Winny. ‘Beware the sleeping dragon. For when she awakes the Earth will shake’. That’s my problem. I had to try to wake the bleedin’ dragon now I’ve got the piper to pay. Still, will be worth it to see her back to her full glory even if my world’ll never be the same.” Spike stared into his empty glass. “Then again my worlds never been the same since I met her. Just another change for the big bad, provided I live through the process.”

The old man gave a shiver. “Hey, what’s that about living through something? You’re not planning on me driving you into some war zone are you because it’ll take more than a bottle of cheap whiskey to be that stupid.”

Spike turned a gimlet eye on the rheumy blighter. “Only battle’s the one inside me mate. “ He smiled dreamily at the memory of Buffy’s occasional soft touch and how breath-taking she was when in her full glory. He’d see her that way again or die trying. “My lady can be a right bitch. Can use words sharp enough to snip the balls right off a man leavin’ him bleedin’ and frustrated but can heal it all up with just one wide-eyed smile, one soft hand on a bloke’s face. I swear one contented sigh from her could cure the dead, does me. A kind word might even make me human. “

“So I’m driving you to see this bitch then?”

He moved so fast the old man didn’t even see a blur, merely felt himself lifted from the barstool by his collar. “You don’t call her names grandpa!” Before he had a chance to choke out an apology Spike had dropped him to grasp his head and scream in pain.

The old man scooted as far from the lunatic before him as possible seeking an escape route.

Spike wasn’t about to lose his ride though and quickly sought to make amends. “Never mind. My fault; usually is. Let’s have us a nightcap before we head out, what say?” He helped the old man to his feet and propelled him to the bar.

He felt her before he saw her. It was like ants walking all over his back, tingles more powerful than even a Slayer caused.

“Perhaps your friend would do better with a rest before your journey, Spike,” and the man next to him slumped, emitting loud snores, head smacking the table.

The woman was young, yet old; ageless he supposed. Spike wasn’t sure what she was but he’d never felt such power in one individual. She smiled benignly at least. That much power had to put a bit of fear in a fella.
“You will be told what you need to know in good time. “ She nearly chuckled. “You really are unique aren’t you? I’ve never spoken to an unclean one before.”

“Hey,” He sounded as offended as he really was but thankfully didn’t give away his fear. “Know some politicians, fully human, more unclean than I’ll ever be!”

She did laugh then. “Yes, I suppose that was impolite of me.”

“Damn straight.”

“You have journeyed a long way in your quest to aid your chief enemy, Spike. That has attracted some attention in very high places. As I said, you are unique if a bit touchy.”

“This about the demon I’ve got a date with later?”

“In a way and in a way not so much. It is more about your intentions and well-meaning but ill-advised plans.”

“Yeah well sister, you got any better ideas of how to fix a Slayer I’m all ears.”

“I was hoping so.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4


Buffy twirled her stake and thought about recent events. One more pass through Restfield, one more wistful look into Spike’s cozy home in hopes of seeing the pest actually there and then back to Revello and macaroni and cheese surprise for dinner.

The good news in Buffy’s life was that Warren Mears and Andrew Wells were behind bars. Jonathan hadn’t been too difficult to persuade that turning on his partners was the best option open to him. The prosecutor was making inroads cutting a deal with Andrew as well. Warren was going down for the death of Katrina at last. There would be jail time for the robberies for the other two but at least they would have a chance to reform. Warren had shown no remorse so Buffy held little hope for him at all. A much chagrined Jonathan might even escape jail altogether even though everyone could see that his conscience would never leave him totally free.

The bad news was that Xander Harris could be as big a jerk as any other guy. He’d gutted Anya by leaving her at the altar and now several of her demon friends were looking to return the favor. Buffy had been trying to defuse that situation ever since the ill-fated non-wedding.

Anya herself had disappeared in the company of D’Hoffryn and Buffy hoped that if she ever did return it wouldn’t be in a way that might force her to kill the girl.

The one positive side-effect of Xander’s ass-hattery was that he had finally stopped harping on Buffy’s feelings for Spike. He’d finally recognized his own inner demon and stopped throwing metaphorical rocks. Buffy hoped that part wouldn’t change as time healed wounds.

Still no sign of Spike though as Buffy sighed and closed the crypt door. Buffy had begun to think he was gone for good. Shortly after her birthday she had decided to never entertain the idea that Spike wasn’t out there driving someone crazy somewhere. No, she’d driven him off and that was a bad enough reality to have to embrace.

She was trying to move forward with life and keep hope deep in her heart that one day he would return. She’d signed up for a couple of the upcoming summer courses at the University and was enjoying the freedom from all things fast food. There was some special reward owed to Giles for making that possible and for his not plaguing her about her tendency to fall into … to be attracted to vampires.

In fact he’d made another quick trip back to London to pick up some books on Slayers origins and legends to see if Anya’s comments on that black day when everyone had found out her secret had any substance. He was due back tomorrow.

For tonight it would be dinner, bath, bed and regret filled sleep as usual. She wished Spike had stayed. She was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel depression wise. ‘Still hate leaving heaven to come back to this but at least I can see some good here too, some hope.’

Maybe if she hadn’t jumped him in that abandoned house but had just built on what they had started it wouldn’t have ended so badly. Spike didn’t know any better. She’d offered the tiger a steak and he’d grabbed it and run.

That wasn’t fair and she knew it. Spike had tried to help her live again, he really had. She just hadn’t wanted to be alive at all then. Maybe that was another reason she’d rushed into sleeping with a vampire. Buffy snorted in amusement, “Literal girl much? Sleep with death why don’t you Buffy.”

“I can help with that,” the newly risen scuzzball offered. “Got a grave right here you can use, not exactly your name on it but, hey, who’s counting?”

One quick spin and thrust and Mr. Accommodating was blowing in the breeze.

“No thanks. Not looking at dying any more but thanks for the offer.”

Spike could have drained her at any time those months they were together. Did she know he wouldn’t or hope that he would? Maybe it was best not to examine that one too closely.

“He had to know. Maybe that’s what all the ‘join me in the dark’ stuff was about. He gave up on me reaching for the light and decided to just have me join him in the shadows as long as it kept me alive.” She bit back a sob. “Idiot vampire! Always saying whatever comes into his head without thinking that it’s guaranteed to get him a right cross to the nose.”

He was probably glad to be missing out on those. Not likely he missed her at all.

She missed him.

She’d even thought about calling Angel to see if he knew where Spike had gone but immediately rethought that one! “I can see it now. He’d ride into town to deprogram me or stake Spike, or both then give me a lecture about white picket fences and head back to L.A. and Cordy.” It hadn’t missed Buffy’s notice that Angel had talked about Cordelia a lot when they’d met again after she came back to life. It surprised her how little it had bothered her.

“Stupid vampire! Didn’t he sense that she needed him? Why didn’t he come home?

Giles was coming back but he was also talking about taking Willow and Tara to study with a coven he knew of in England during the summer. Dawn was giving serious thought to accepting their fathers surprising invitation to come over to Barcelona and meet Cody, the new Summers heir. Buffy wondered if she would ever meet her new little brother but didn’t have any desire to join Dawn for the ‘family reunion’. Sunnydale was going to be empty with just Xander and his boatload of regrets and her with a ship full of her own.


“We have watched you with great interest ever since you struck the bargain with Buffy to defeat Angelus”

“Yeah well, like something you see?” His innuendo was met with a lowering gaze.

“Not in the sense your words imply, sorry. Then again your reply was mere reflex wasn’t it? You have no interest in any female except our daughter-Slayer, not even your former love.”

“Just what are you anyway? I’d guess a Watcher from what you said but I’m getting power vibes off the scale with you and not a sniff of tweed.”

“You might say we watch the Watchers.”

“Might say a lot of things but what I want are some straight answers cause all you’ve done so far is put my driver to sleep and kept me from a pressing appointment.”

“You have no patience. That will be your downfall, vampire.”

“How’s that then?”

“Really you have to ask? You get a germ of an idea then rush off half cocked and find yourself surprised that your grand plotting blows up in your face?” She had the nerve to laugh. Spike was getting tired of being the butt of some great cosmic joke.

“Where was I? Oh yes, introducing myself.” She gave a slight bow of the head looking amazingly regal. “I am one of many although we are fewer in number now. Our time is drawing to a close soon but that is for another story.”

“So what should I call you?”

“You won’t call me at all. I am here at the bidding of the Powers not one to be summoned.” Yep, as arrogant as a royal too Spike decided.

“You think to go to a demon to retrieve your soul do you?”

Spike’s eyes were mere slits as he glared at this being who seemed to have all the answers. “What’s it to you?”

“To me? Nothing!” She did that annoying laugh thing again. “To our daughter-Slayer quite a bit. Buffy has been through more than most and more than she ever should have had to endure. You wish to prove your worth to her by undertaking these trials, to have your soul returned but you choose to go to an evil source to do so. This will not do. You wish trials? You wish answers? Come with me William the Bloody. What you seek cannot be given by a demon.

Without a backward glance she headed for the door with a befuddled vampire in her wake. It wasn’t likely he would be making any progress towards his goal until he let this play out on her terms anyway.


“And so you see my dear, Anya was right. Naturally the Council isn’t forthcoming on the details nor are they interested in any of this becoming common knowledge but it isn’t unusual at all that you find attractions in .. er … less than ordinary..” He fumbled for the right words to say what he wanted to say without having to actually say the distasteful words.

“So you’re saying that me finding first Angel and then Spike attractive isn’t a sign of the end times or that I’m a vamp-loving ho and bad Slayer on top of that?”

“Not quite how I would phrase it but in essence, yes. There is a natural attraction.”

“You know Giles I hated you going back to London but now I’m glad you did.” Buffy beamed at her Watcher. ‘Unnatural attractions’ was one other item to scratch off her ‘Buffy is a bad person and a terrible Slayer’ list. “What other gems of wisdom did you find?”

“A handful of prophecies that might be of interest, they certainly bear examination at any rate.”

“Fantastic, just what I need is more prophecies about me. Last one of those ushered in death number one. Anything I need to start worrying about?”

“Nothing dire, no. A few that would possibly explain why the Powers kept your calling hidden and a couple that make the Council’s attitude towards you understandable, at least from their standpoint.”

“Not gonna spill are you?” Buffy smiled.

“I’d rather you live your life as you choose and not influence you by any feeling that fate is taking a hand. Besides I’m not completely certain about my translations in a few passages.”

“No hints?”

Giles sighed deeply and gave in to the pout of power. “Let’s just say that if you should choose to pursue your interest in Spike it would not necessarily be a bad thing and I won’t fight you on the issue. Though why you had to pick such an annoying vampire is another matter.”

“Wish you’d found that particular prophecy back when he was here and it might have done me some good.”

“I am sorry Buffy. I regret not being here for you but am trying to make it up to you now.”

“And you’re succeeding Giles, I’m not trying to guilt you, truly I’m not.”

“Thank you for that Buffy. Your generous nature is ever appreciated.”

“So you’re headed back to London when school lets out and taking my roommates with you?”

“I think time spent with Eithne Harkness will be just what they both need to focus their powers and make certain they control it not the other way around.”

“Good witch then?”

“The best. I dare say that when we return both Tara and Willow will be forces to be reckoned with.”

“Guess you’d better go then.” The pout was back but thankfully not directed at her Watcher. “This is going to be one big empty house all summer. Xander and I are still walking around the invisible elephants in the room between his Anya issues and mine with Spike.”

“Has Anya returned?”

“She’s back. I haven’t asked her the obvious but judging by her disappearing every once in a while my guess is she’s got another necklace on her. I just hope she keeps business far away from here, Giles because I really don’t want to kill her.”

“No. She’s been a good comrade not to mention business partner,” Giles laughed. “I’ll have a word with her before I leave, warn her to temper her wish granting and to avoid anything that might force you into an action we’d all regret.”

“I can’t really blame her you know. What Xander did to her was awful and we were all more his friends than hers. She didn’t really have anyone to turn to did she?”

“No, I suppose she didn’t.”

“The saddest part is that I think she and Xander still have feelings for each other.”

“They might at that but sometimes feelings are not enough. It comes down to choices made.”

Buffy wondered if Giles was implying something more, something about her own situation.


“Are you ready vampire?”

“Bring on whatever you’ve got; let’s get this show on the road.”

“Again with the impatience! Don’t you even want to think it through before taking our tests?”

“Gonna take the bloody thing anyway so why waste time thinking any more about it?”

“As you wish,” The woman led Spike further into the labyrinth they had entered much earlier. They seemed to have come to the center of wherever it was and in the middle was an altar-like structure with three objects on it. The woman pointed to the altar and all laughter left her eyes. She was dead serious, no more playful banter.

“Upon this table are three vials. Thou must drink deeply of two and go where thou art led. Thou must survive, or not, based upon thy choices. Once begun there can be no change of thy mind or ending of thy trials. Only by successfully completing all three will thy heart’s desire be won.” As she spoke in a voice as deep as hell itself her eyes glowed amber fire. Now she turned that burning gaze fully on him and Spike felt stripped naked before the force of it. “Do thee come of thy own free-will demon?”

Spike nodded, his voice failing him.

“Do thee accept full responsibility for all that is to come and accept the bargain thou hast made?”
Again he nodded acceptance.

“Very well. Then let it begin.”

Spike took the first vial filled with a sickly sludge-like substance and tried not to gag as he swallowed it all.


He felt the power flow through him. He was invincible and knew it. Eternity was before him with none to challenge him or put an end to his existence.

She moved lithely toward him in slow even steps. Her body was swaying hypnotically. “My dark prince has been a naughty boy again. Mummy will have to discipline then.”

Dru had never looked lovelier or in better health. Not like those terrible years when he feared to touch her lest she break.

The vampires giggled, “Rather play happy games though.” Her hand caressed his engorged cock through the denim causing just the right amount of pain as it pressed against the zipper.

“Mummy loves you best, and only, my Spike. No other but you from now on, not even daddy.” Dru began to unzip him carefully showing more genuine concern and love than she ever had in reality. “All yours,” she whispered in his ear teasing the small hairs causing him to shiver in delight. Her hand had him now and was stroking his shaft sensuously just the way he liked it.

“Such a good boy to choose wisely! No one can stand in our way or come between us either,” she cooed. “No living unnaturally, no one to tell you how wrong you are, how unworthy. Just you and me with the world at our feet.”

He could feel the orgasm building as Dru expertly led him to the brink.

“Everything you ever wanted from me,” she promised as he spilled his hot essence over her talented hands. “Yours for the taking.”

He jerked away, deeply shamed he’d let things get this far. Yes he’d always wanted her to be wholly his … in the past. That was it, she was his past, and there was no place for Dru in his present or future. That was a place only filled by a blond goddess who shone with goodness and was far above his touch.

“Dru, luv, already made my choice. The light may burn me but ‘m not headed back into the dark with you. You need to leave and don’t come back. I don’t want to dust you, poodle, but I will if you threaten her ever again.”

Dru shook her head sadly, “Lost. My lamb’s caught in the brambles and now the wolf can eat him. We could have had everything.”

“No Dru, there’s nothing I want to have with you. Not now, not ever.”


“That could be given to you.” The woman raised an eyebrow. “You could live the normal life of a vampire in every way. Another gem could be made to make you invulnerable. Even your sire’s affections could be fixed.”

Spike laughed, “That the best you can do? Think I’d toss everything just to get a fancy bauble and go back to what I had before? No thanks. I’ve evolved beyond that. I’ve seen something better than I ever dreamed and even though I know I’ll never be fit to be at her side that’s where I’ll be if she lets me. A hundred years and only one thing I’ve ever been sure of and that’s Buffy. She’s everything good and pure and even though I’ve seen the very worst of her she is still the one, the only one.”

“So an unnatural life always wanting a woman who clearly sees you as beneath her is your choice? You won’t be happy living that way.”

“Maybe not but I’d rather be unhappy at Buffy’s side than happy anywhere else, with anyone else.”
To the next vial then, vampire.”


The girl was still in his arms, no life left in her. He could taste the thick coppery nectar that had flowed from her, filling him with its power, with life.

Ah yes! This was the life! Find the dollies, drink them down.

He dropped the corpse that now had no meaning to him and stepped on it as he moved away. Another silly bint willing to trust a stranger! So easy to find them. Too easy in a way. Now all he wanted was to find Dru and shag her silly. Well, maybe have a go at the two sailors headed his way first. Nothing like a spot of violence to get the juices running the right direction.

Spike vaguely remembered the scene, not the people of course they were merely that night’s meal but the location. Must have been Paris round the turn of century. He remembered the swath he and Dru had cut through Europe that year! Darla had left them soon after Angelus and they were making a name for themselves apart from the older vamps for a change.

Dru had bathed in the blood at the first house he had sweet talked their way into. A large family as he remembered. Lots of little ones that captured Dru’s imagination and attention. He’d laughed as she played tea party with the youngest two before draining them like she had their older siblings earlier. Spike had taken his time with the mother already and was impatiently waiting for his black dove to finish her games so they could celebrate in real style.

That had been the opening salvo. They all fell before them, the families, convents (Dru had insisted that her daddy would demand they not forgo those!), whorehouses, workhouses, taverns. No one stayed the hand of death when Spike and Dru graced their towns and cities.

He was reliving it all, tasting every throat as if the first time, smelling the acrid smells. It was as real as when it first happened and the demon within was reveling.

Piles of dead children littered the orphanage floor as Dru chased down the few who had escaped the onslaught. Spike had hold of one of the older girls, about ten or eleven and weeping loudly. “Shut it and I’ll make sure it’s quick,” he lied. The girl whimpered as his fangs gouged their way to her jugular vein. He took deep draughts and nearly purred in pleasure as the girl; child really, slipped the mortal coil.

A noise distracted him and he turned his head ripping the neck of the dying child causing the blood to gush all over his hands adding to the bloody glory he already sported.

She stood there looking at him in horror. Her face pale and eyes wide, accusing, and luminous with unshed tears. Clearly she had seen the entire massacre. Her green eyes looked at him with utter disgust and loathing before she turned and ran from the building.



“This is what she sees.” The woman’s words weren’t necessary. Spike was intelligent enough to know the message when delivered.

“Don’t you think I know that?” He shivered and closed his eyes. “I can feel ‘em. I can feel every one of them. Never bothered me before.” He felt the sob build up nearly gagging him. “I’m a vampire damn it! What would you have me do? Not eating people now, can’t undo the past.”

“The chip has prevented you from continuing on this course then?”

“Yes. NO! I don’t know.” Spike was confused. “Not like I was then now am I? Learned to bag it. Know she won’t have me making meals of anyone, ‘sides now I see that girl and think how she’s younger than the Bit. Makes me, I don’t know, kinda sick.”

“So if you did not have this chip you would still, as you say, bag it?”

Spike thought it through before answering. Somehow he knew everything was riding on the honesty of his answer. “I think so. Can’t ever say certain with anything but I know that’s what I’d want. Never want her looking at me that way, never.” The sob escaped at last. “Still a vampire but there’s other ways to get my violence and meals too. Yeah, I’d give it up for her.”

“What about when Buffy is no longer?”

“I’d know she was watchin’ from wherever she’d be. Keep me honest.”

The woman seemed to be listening to someone Spike could neither see nor hear. Finally she nodded and returned her attention to Spike.

“You speak true. There is but one vial left.”

“Bring it,” Spike was feeling confident.

“Still you wish to heal her spirit don’t you?”

“You know I do since you seem to know everything else about me.”

“Well then all you need to do is take the last vial to her and it will do what you could not. Your Slayer will be all she was once more.”

Spike turned and tried to reach for the vial only to see it disappear from the altar. “That’s cheating! Where’d the bloody thing go?”

“You have only to follow the path and take what you have earned.” She pointed to a gap in the walls and Spike rushed forward without hesitation. “You might find the way challenging,” she called to his disappearing back. She sighed and muttered, “Impatience!”

The demon blocking the mouth at the end of the tunnel towered over Spike. Looked like he worked out too, all the time! “So it’s a fight then.” Spike grinned. “That I can do. So wanker, let’s see what you’ve got shall we?”

It was like ramming his fists into concrete backed by iron and no matter how or where Spike hit him it didn’t seem to be making any impression on the giant. The behemoth’s blows, however were taking their toll. Spike felt each one do its damage as they landed. By the time Spike had enough he managed to get behind the birk and soundly twist his head with a resounding crack of finality. He felt like he’d gone ten rounds with a tag team consisting of Glory, Angelus and twenty Slayers. Still the lummox was down and Spike finally could drag his sorry arse closer to the vial that promised to heal Buffy.

Flames from nowhere! Of course, what did he expect after all, a walk in the park? Spike found himself facing a wall of fire with no way round it. “Suppose I’ve no choice but walk through then.” He took a deep breath and prepared for the searing.

The woman offered a suggestion, “You could head back this way if you chose.”

“Don’t suppose I’d get that vial if I did though?” At her look he stood straighter and faced the fire, “Thought not.”

It was more than a wall. A wall wouldn’t have been as thick. He felt the skin burn and melt but rushed through blindly anyway.

Just as he cleared the flames he saw the welcome sight of water. Just what he needed to help put out the still smoldering places on his battered, burned body.

“Aghhhhhhhhhhhhh,” the smoke choked him as it wafted from his ruined skin. “Bitch would put holy water in the mix,” he hugged himself in pain and roared out agonized cries and curses.

He sat there wheezing in pain for a while trying to decide how best to get his prize since there was a whole moat of the clear liquid torment surrounding the taunting vial. He thought about Buffy’s sad face and defeated attitude. He remembered how she seemed just a whisker away from returning to that heaven she longed for. He thought of how she had bared her neck to him in clear hopes that he’d have his one good day and end her existence. What were more burns if he could cure all that? To see her smile again would be worth all the pain.

The moat was wide even though it was only knee deep. Spike strode through as quickly as possible when walking in liquid and the smoke rose from him. He managed to bite back the screams for the most part not wanting to give the bitch of a woman and her superiors the satisfaction.

Reaching the other side he collapsed, passing into unconsciousness for a time beyond his reckoning. It must have been fairly long because many of the burns were already in the process of healing when he woke.

“Drink,” the woman encouraged as she handed him a glass with warm sweet blood. He did.

The vial was in his grasp though he had no memory of having actually taken hold of it before oblivion hit.

“I’m done, I succeeded,” he panted feeling every burn, gash and broken bone. “Still want what I wanted when you dragged me here.” He clutched the hard won vial to himself and glared at the woman. “I believe you owe me one soul rusty as it may be from long time lack of use. You promised that remember? Said I had to get it from the Powers not some demon in a cave. Well give over.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5


The woman was doing that infuriating laugh thing again. “I never specifically said you would earn your soul. I said you would have what you need and what you need is advice.”

She grabbed the precious vial from his hand and before he could stop her she had poured it into the moat of holy water. Enraged, Spike went into game face and lunged at her.

“Ah ah ah! Manners! There was nothing but Mountain Dew in that vial anyway.” She let Spike curse a while, he was better for it. “Did you really think there was a magical cure-all for Buffy’s depression? It was sweet of you to risk everything to get it though. I’m sure she would be touched.”

No soul, no cure in a bottle; Spike was feeling a right fool.

“Don’t be so glum chum,” the woman smiled. “I do have very good advice you know. The Powers care very much about Buffy’s welfare. This hasn’t been a game or exercise in futility.”

“So what was it?”


“Proof!” He gave her a lowering gaze, “What did I prove to you then, that I’m a sucker for a good con game?”

“You proved nothing to us. We know you Spike, I told you that. The proof was for you. You’ve been rushing about acting on emotions and not thinking things through. I’d venture to say that until now you had not considered the changes you’ve undergone.”

Spike was puzzled and it showed.

“You no longer want the people and lifestyle you once did even if you had the chip removed. You no longer have any desires for your sire. You’ve changed, Spike and needed to know it, be certain of it.”

He was one thin inch away from a good sulk. “Fine, I’m a new man, check. How’s that gonna fix Buffy?”

“You also know now that no matter the cost to you it will be paid if it’s for her good. You didn’t know that before did you?”

“Sure I did.”

“And yet you acted without thought to her better good only making things worse!”

His crestfallen look earned him some sympathy. “Your intentions were good but you didn’t think things through. To reach that last vial you had to make a thinking decision, weigh options, and each time you chose what you perceived to be in Buffy’s best interests even when it resulted in great pain for yourself.”

“When you return to her you will better be able to put aside self gratification and concentrate on actually helping her.”

“That’s why I need the bloody soul you crazy bint!” Spike sighed deeply. “How’s a bloke supposed to know the right decision without it? Just ask Buffy; she’s written a book on the importance of souls.”

“Buffy needs you at her side, watching her back. It was intended for her to have just that sort of selfless help.”

“Yeah, yeah, Angel the magnificent … got that memo.”

“No, not Angelus. He cannot make the choices you can without his soul and he cannot be with Buffy without it either.” This time her smile was a genuine and one of near affection. “You, however, have been making choices all along. It isn’t as easy at times but you have shown you can do it even without that prompt from a soul. What makes you think a soul would help you heal your lady?”

“I’d know what to do to help her.”

“If that is what it takes then why have those surrounding her, those who also love her but are soul intactus been unable to do so? Why was Angel unable to aid her when he clearly saw the need during their visit? He saw her depression, how lost she was upon resurrection but had no great soul given epiphany telling him what to do.”

“So give it to me and I’ll make better choices, I’m not that git.”

“If we were to do that you would be sidelined; out of commission, filled with guilt and not effective at all.” She needs you whole and hearty not wracked with remorse and self-doubt. A soul at this point will only cripple you. You will be so deep in your own grief and despair that you will be unable to even think of her much less help her.”

Spike ran his hands over his face, more tired than he could ever remember being and suddenly filled with a nagging despair that he could do nothing for his Slayer after all.

“But is helping her the real reason you would seek such a thing?”

“What? Said so didn’t I? Why else would I want a soul shoved in me?”

“Do you harbor the thought that if you had your soul she might be able to love you as she did your sire? She has often thrown your lack of soul in your face, is that the true reason for your quest?”

“Gave it some thought, sure, won’t lie.”

“You must decide what you truly want, Spike. Do you want to be there to help Buffy even if she is unable to return your love or to do you wish to return to doing all you can to possess her, wear her away until she makes a proclamation of caring? If you love her you will put aside your needs and see to hers.”

That was the problem. “But what are her needs?” He was shocked at how small his voices sounded, how lost.

“Right now she is depressed, she has good reason. Only she can pull herself out of this pit of despair that life’s difficulties and too many losses have caused her to dwell in. While she is struggling though she will need a friend, one who will let her simply be while encouraging her. You began that way upon her return and did quite well until you pushed for more. She will need someone strong to make certain she doesn’t make fatal errors while she heals, a partner but not a sex partner, not yet at least. It needs to be more than that if it’s to be real and lasting. Someone who can remind her of the lovely parts of living, make her want them again. You are ideal for that task. Even though dead you still revel in life…who better to help her remember?”

“So I do what? Just go back and let her use me as a punching bag?”

“No, that is enabling not helping. You go back and offer your help, love and support. You let her know that you ask nothing of her but to be there for her. Lay down ground rules one of which is that you be treated with respect. Make her see you, see beyond herself.”

“But the soul…. How will I know right from wrong?”

“Tsk…you already know right from wrong you just haven’t cared. Now you have reason to care, to try.”

Spike’s shoulders slumped. It felt as if he were back to square one with no real path worked out to get where he needed to be.

The woman looked at him with sympathy reading reams in his dejected frame. “If in the future, when Buffy is whole again, you find that you wish you soul returned for your own reasons such as helping to find your way through the grey areas, then the soul will be yours. You’ve already passed the trials. Perhaps Buffy will be able to help you with the adjustment then as you will have helped her now. Right now giving you the soul would merely put yet another burden on you both.”

“So the Powers are okay with their Slayer partnered up with an unsouled demon?”

“What do you think?”


Buffy was feeling much better, close to chipper in fact. She had the occasional nightmare, usually of being buried alive, but she was beginning to truly heal emotionally. She was still missing Spike more than she would ever have believed possible. She had even admitted it to the gang, Xander included.

Everyone was back home and life was finding its rhythm again for all of them. Xander and Anya had made peace but there would be no second chance for them.

It amused Buffy to notice a glimmer of something between her Watcher and the once-again demon. Perhaps she would be more than just a business partner one day. Good! Giles needed someone and Anya could use help keeping herself from sliding into the ‘evil demon must be slain’ category.

She found the mild flirting between her younger sister and Xander less amusing. Still if it didn’t go beyond that until Dawn was old enough it might not be a bad combination. After all Xander wasn’t exactly mature enough to qualify as an older man. Buffy was going to keep a sharp eye on both of them though until Dawn was at least eighteen.

Spike would have a cow at that development. Buffy figured she would have had to keep the protective vampire from making Xander literally neutered were he there to note the interest. It would be worth the annoyance of constantly intervening just to have him back.

Even Xander had finally come around to the acceptance of Buffy’s desires. No more trying to talk her out of feelings she was only beginning to acknowledge to herself much less to the others. No more arguments about all the many virtues Spike was lacking. “So you’re saying he’s your Mr. Perfect?” Xander had been incredulous and had begun to tick off all of Spike’s worst traits.

No he wasn’t perfect she knew that but maybe she wasn’t perfect for him either. But it was good at first between them, when they were friends, before it all went pear shaped. Now all she wanted was a chance to see how it could have been, maybe still could be, to get a do over. Surely the Powers owed her that at least.

Maybe she should contact Angel after all. Spike had been gone for months and she was worried sick. She might be up to handling a seething, jealous former lover if it got Spike back to her.

So lost in thought was Buffy that she crashed into someone without even knowing they were there. “Sorry, head in the clouds,” she muttered then looked up and saw her own private blue skies staring back at her.

“You came back!” Spike found himself with an armful of sobbing Slayer.

“Never leave for good till I’m dust, Buffy.” He stroked her back soothingly.

She resisted her impulse to hit him. No more of that! She was tired beyond the telling of taking her violence impulses out on Spike. “Where were you? You’ve been gone forever.”

Spike chuckled, “Not quite forever, pet, though it felt like it at times. Spent a good bit of time this past month healing up enough to not scare the kiddies.”

Buffy gasped; surely he hadn’t been so injured by her that it had taken months to heal!

As usual he seemed to know what she was thinking without her saying a word, “No, love, not anything you did. Healed up right quick from that with a bit of help. Got a bit damaged on an old fashioned quest.”


“Had the idea that a soul might be the missing ingredient with us. Wanted to do right by you instead of always drivin you to the brink.”

Buffy blinked tears away. “You’d do that for me even after… ?”

“I’d walk through hell, all the hells, just to see you happy. What’s a soul? I’d be same handsome charming bloke I always was just with a side of remorse and misery.” He smiled broadly. “No brooding like some I know. Can’t undo the past after all.”

Buffy looked at him with something like awe. “You have a soul?”

Spike kinda hated having to answer, to see the look change to the more familiar one of disgust and contempt. “No, still soul free. Did the quest but learned a lesson along the way. Soul’ll still be waitin for later if you want me to snag it. I earned the bloody thing after all!”

“But why did you leave without saying anything? I thought you were dust, prayed you weren’t.” She nearly choked on the words. “Spike I’m so so sorry. I beat you and left you there. I did go back but you were gone and I didn’t know what to think. I did look, all the time. I never stopped.”

He felt dizzy. She cared! He hadn’t counted on that much less her admitting it to him.

“Wasn’t thinkin real clearly. Happens when I’m around you. All I can think about is the bloody ring of fire I’m always dancing on.”

“Geez Spike, drama queen much? I’ve heard that song, mom loved Johnny Cash. I get it… you love me and it burns, burns, burns.” Her voice became very soft and contrite, “I’m sorry I ever doubted your feelings, your love, too.”

Spike was grateful that she had at last realized he wasn’t deluded then chuckled, “Not the song pet, although it’s fittin too. Thinkin more geological”.

Once more Buffy heard crickets and she suspected Spike did too as the silence dragged on.

Spike laughed and explained, “The ring of fire. All the land round the Pacific’s prone to volcanoes, earthquakes and the like 'cause everything’s unstable. Bein' round you’s like that. Can go years, decades, century or so almost peaceful….some of the most beautiful real estate in the world’s in that ring, places most people dream of settin’ down roots.” He hugged her close and shuddered with emotion. “Then with no real warning the ground shakes and everything crumbles or an eruption like St. Helens happens and what was once a mountain looks like a nuclear bomb hit. No time to plan, not really. Oft times complete devastation. No way to plan for it either, not really. Have to either accept it can happen decide it’s worth it or move far away.”

“So you moved away from me?” Buffy was stricken. “But you came back even with me all shaky Buffy?”

“I like danger, thrive on it love, so I’m not movin'. Still gotta accept it’s likely to destroy me in the end.”

Buffy was befuddled, “Then why come back?”

“Cause lovin' you’s the most beautiful, most desirable thing I’ve ever known. How’s a bloke supposed to give up even the slightest chance of touchin’ that beauty out of fear he’ll burn?”

Buffy was too choked up to respond for quite a while. He still loved her and more deeply than ever it seemed. She had no idea how she got that lucky but was planning to keep things as stable and unshaky as possible rather than risk hurting him further.

“You said something about learning a lesson. Mind if I ask what that was?”

He smiled and bit his bottom lip before answering. “I learned that even old vampires can change, can choose. I’m no animal, Buffy. May not be a man precisely but have a mind and a heart even if it doesn’t beat.”

“You didn’t have to go on some quest to find that out! I could have told you. I watched you change, Spike. I wouldn’t have been with you at all if I hadn’t seen that and believed in you.” She remembered her harsh, ugly words that had said just the opposite. Time to undo some of the damage she’d done if possible. “I’ve learned a lot too, like not to say things I don’t really mean and hurt people that I care about.”

It was Spike’s turn to blink back tears. Could she really be saying that she didn’t just see the monster? “Buffy..”

Whatever he had been planning to say was lost in the kiss that came unexpectedly. Her mouth claimed his just as the whole girl claimed his entire being, with nothing held back.

No fleeting kiss of welcome this, no! This was one to be folded away in memory and taken out to be relived throughout eternity. Spike pressed her willing body tightly to him and deepened the kiss. Tongue met tongue in tender caress as hands read each other like Braille.

Buffy traced every healing wound as if her touch alone would heal, and it did, it did.

Foreheads met as Buffy grabbed some breaths in preparation for a second onslaught. Looking into his eyes she felt her heart stop. How could she have ever doubted that he loved? His every emotion was written there for her to see and what she saw was adoration.

She pulled his head lower and began to kiss him again, this time with infinite tenderness and a clear promise of love. This was not mere blind passion but the vow of forever sealed in the silence of lips forged together as firmly as their lives would ever be.

Unseen, the woman smiled and winked at her superiors high above. The couple had finally gotten on the right track together this time and all that fate had in store was open to them. They could choose, there was always free choice, but it looked like they’d make the right ones. In a blink she disappeared her mission accomplished, her daughter-Slayer in safe hands.

Spike took a step back and gasped for a breath he didn’t really need. Buffy frowned, “Did I overstep?”


“Then why the pull back?”

“Just want to take it slow and easy this go round, pet. I’m not going anywhere. Want to do right by you, put you first this time.”

“Don’t you want me anymore?” Buffy felt a brush of the old insecurities.

“Not want you? Are you daft? I want you all the time but more than that, I want you to want me for the right reasons or not at all. I can live without anything but you, Buffy. I want you whole and happy and getting’ what you deserve.” His whole body was straining, fighting its need to gather Buffy in his arms and rushing her anywhere horizontal to push things further but he used his mind, made a choice. “That’s what love is innit? Seein’ to the others needs not lookin’ for reward?”

Buffy smiled radiantly. The silly boy was going to need convincing and she knew just how to do it but first she had some lessons she’d learned to share as well.

“Remember how I said that in Heaven I was warm and safe and loved….seems I learned that all of that’s here for me too if I want it and am ready. I can’t deny you love me any longer and what you just said sounds like that heaven kind of love; unconditional, unselfish and overpowering in a good way. I also know that I was wrong when I said I couldn’t love you. Every day you were gone I learned a lesson myself, that you complete me and that I am better, stronger and happier with you right here with me. I don’t want to be some fault-line; I want to be a life-line. I may not be in heaven any more but I have a chance at a piece of it here, with you.”

They say a person makes their own heaven. Well the one whose foundation was being laid for these two this night would withstand any amount of shaking and explosions. What they would choose to build on that foundation would be awesome and lasting, swaying with the shifts around them but never crumbling. In the end, Spike would have his soul one way or the other and Buffy would have her heart, no longer encased in ice shivering in fear but whole and free. Together they would make history, fulfill prophecy. Together they would be one. The One, the Chosen.