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What You Wished For

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Chapter 1
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Spike sprawled in his ratty armchair and lifted the bottle once more to his lips. "Bloody bitch! Bloody government scientists too, while I'm at it. Should be me takin' out the slayer, not playin' cheerleader for those bastards. I earned the right."

Spike remembered Buffy's rolling eyes as he gave the thumbs up to the soldier boy, admitting he was Hostile 17 and declaring that if the Initiative really were trying to kill the Slayer, then more power to them. It made for a dramatic exit, or so Spike had thought at the time. The memory of Buffy and her little witchy friend and their eye roll Olympics took a bit out of it though. "Don't really want that lot takin' out the Slayer though. Needs to be a proper fight with a worthy opponent--Me! If I just didn't have this diet enforcer in my noggin, I'd do it, too!"

Spike's ego had been shredded lately and he was tired of just taking it. Bad enough the Slayer had taken the Gem of Amara from him, but then the same soddin' Nazi group that tried to use him as a lab rat in the forties had finally cracked his skull and implanted their bits and pieces, making it impossible for Spike to get a decent meal.

Going to the Watcher had been an act of desperation that may have earned him salvation from starvation or recapture, but the price tag had been his self-respect.

Being handed over to the smart-mouthed boy with bondage issues and then forced to dress like Jimmy Buffet without the benefit of a tumbler of margaritas to take away the sting had been humiliating. Having the Watcher hint that he was somehow fated to play at being one of the Round Table knights in the Slayer's little army had been disquieting, even though Spike had pretended to not hear the suggestion.

But the real kicker was the Slayer herself! They had always had a healthy respect for each other as enemies to be reckoned with. Now the bitch teased him with her neck and her verbal taunts. "Flaccid, my ass! I'll show that bitch how flaccid I'm NOT." At least Spike wasn't chained in the Watcher's bathtub any longer and she couldn't flaunt herself at him. She'd made it clear where he stood through her words, actions and eye rolls.

He wasn't about to admit, even to himself, how much it had hurt to have her look disgusted and wipe furiously at her mouth, crying out, 'Spike lips! Lips of Spike!' as if he were a cockroach or some such when the redheaded witchling's spell was broken. Worse, Spike wasn't even willing to admit how he still dreamed of those hours with a lapful of loving Slayer, hours that brought him closer to happiness than anything had in his entire unlife thus far. No, Spike just wanted the damned chip out of his head and a good shot at taking out Slayer number three or so he told himself as he threw back another drink.

~~~

The smallish female watched the vampire's barren crypt with avid intensity. "He might just be the perfect way to deal with that request! Nothing like a healthy bit of hate to make a body creative." Fuamnach chuckled to herself and smiled with glee, "Of course, tweaking that haughty Halfrek will be icing on the cake, not that she's paid much attention to the career of this William since she set him loose on humanity. Yes, this might serve many purposes."

She tucked in her wispy wings and edged closer to the marble tomb. Taking a deep breath, the female timidly knocked on the heavy oaken door.

"GO AWAY!" Spike was in no mood for visitors, especially of the Slayerette variety. Anyone actually knocking would have to be either the Watcher or the little witch, anyone else would simply slam the door open and come in.

The knock sounded again, a slight bit louder this time. 'Must be the Watcher then,' thought Spike, 'Witch'd probably scurry off in fear from bein' yelled at.' "I said 'go away.' Somethin' wrong with your ears this time, Watcher?"

A responding knock, firm this time, was the only answer. "Right, then, have to open the door just to slam it in the git's face to make the point, I guess." Spike rose from his comfortable slouch and ambled to the door. The rapping continued, further annoying the antisocial vampire.

"Look, told you I'm not interested in bein' recruited in any grand army against evil, you bloody moron." Spike stopped in mid rant, for the sight on the other side of his door was anything but the tweedy Watcher.

"Well, what have we here?" Spike walked around the slight female on his doorstep, looking at her from all angles and delicately sniffing in an attempt to make out just what sort of creature had disturbed his reverie. "Not human but not quite demon either, I'm thinkin."

"Spike. William the Bloody," the girl smiled up at him. She stood no more than three feet in height and looked fragile as a matchstick. She showed no fear whatsoever. Indeed, she looked rather like a cat with canary feathers in its mouth.

"That would be me. What would be you?" Spike couldn't keep the amusement from his voice.

The waif handed him a standard business card and waited patiently for him to read it.

"Fuamnach of the house of Arashmaharr,
specializing in demon justice.

'Even the evil deserve justice'
To contact: perform proper ritual in the sacred circle"

"Very nice. This supposed to mean something?" Spike held the card out to her and suppressed a chuckle at the way the little minx seemed to puff out with pride.

The female visibly deflated at Spike's nonchalant attitude. "I'm a justice demon. Well, actually not a demon, but I work for D'Hoffryn. I handle all requests for vengeance made by demons and other non-humans. I was a fairy originally, so I can't do humans." She sighed as if that fact brought her distress. "Too bad, because I'm really creative! That's how I got this job. I turned my faithless husband's other so-called wife into a fly and even Midir couldn't find THAT appealing! Anyway, I get to provide a bit of justice for demons who've been wronged."

Spike struggled to get his mind fully sober. This was important somehow, he knew it, and he didn't want his friend Mr. Daniels mucking anything up. "Finally! Someone noticed how wrong it is to put a vampire off his food!"

"What?" The girl exclaimed, "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm here because I heard you talking about what you wanted to do to the Slayer while you were drinking in that filthy hole that passes for a pub."

"Yeah, and when I get my fangs back I'll be glad to show I'm not all talk too!" Spike was fully sober now. "I just wish I'd taken care of the bitch when I first got into town instead of playin' with her. Better yet, I wish I'd come to Sunnyhell even sooner and had that face-off before she lost her baby fat!"

"Wish granted!" The girl grinned from ear to ear as Spike disappeared in a puff. Fuamnach sighed in satisfaction. The gray mists of the Nowhereland that appeared when an alternate timeline was created wrapped around her like a comfortable blanket. Time was in stasis as alterations took place. If a human had looked on the scene, it would appear as if time had come to a full stop. "Well, that was simple enough. The vampire just said the magic word and my contract's fulfilled."

"Not quite, fairy girl. You really need to work on research." Halfrek shook her head in disdain. "You should have found out more about why William hadn't already killed this Slayer before you jumped into the wish granting. He won't be able to kill her then any more than he could now. You sent him back with a chip in his head that keeps him from killing humans!"

Fuamnach looked at her fellow dispenser of justice with wide eyes and a sinking stomach. "But surely he's already killed her! Wait! What chip?"

"Go see for yourself," Halfrek replied. "You're going to have one very unhappy customer and D'Hoffryn is none too pleased himself. That's why I'm here: the boss wants to see you right away."

~~~

The Hall of Supplication was filled with tittering vengeance demons waiting to hear the dressing down Fuamnach was sure to receive. D'Hoffryn had become quite partial to the former fairy after his erstwhile favorite, Anyanka, had left the family. There was more than one jealous demon salivating at the thought of possible punishments.

"Can you please explain how you managed to mess up a simple vengeance wish? You could start by explaining just why you chose a third party to make the actual wish." D'Hoffryn was angry enough to have smoke come from his ears.

"My Lord, the demon had just cause to seek the demise of this Slayer. I know that we cannot involve ourselves in matters between a Slayer and her kills ordinarilybut in this case, the demon, a S'Gampos made a widow because of the Slayer's actions, had a valid claim! You know how they are; she was unable to make a wish or even speak for another decade until her mourning period passed!" Fuamnach looked pleadingly at her master.

"Yes, I see why a third party was needed, but I am still unclear as to why this S'Gampos qualified for your services in the first place. We do not interfere with the balance in this way. Slayers kill vampires and demons, vampires and demons kill Slayers. It is all a part of the natural order of things!" D'Hoffryn huffed.

"Yes, but this wasn't natural at all! The Slayer started working with this group of soldiers. The S'Gampos was taken captive by them when the Slayer helped subdue him. They experimented on him and vivisected him. There was nothing natural about it. His widow is expecting their first spawn!" Fuamnach explained. "I overheard the vampire rant about the Slayer and these soldiers and thought he'd be the perfect one to make that wish. How was I supposed to know he couldn't kill her? Who ever heard of a vampire with a computer chip? That sounds like science fiction, not reality!"

"Research," muttered Halfrek, disguising it behind a cough.

D'Hoffryn glared at the doe-eyed justice demon, then turned back to his current favorite. "I fear Halfrek is correct. You should have looked further into things instead of just sending this vampire back in time and expecting him to kill the Slayer thanks to the element of surprise. First, you will explain to the widow why the contract cannot be completed and refund her sacrifices. Secondly, you will spend the next millennium in our research department learning the importance of gathering all necessary information before granting wishes! Dismissed! Oh, and Halfrek, perhaps you would stay a bit and explain your interest in this William the Bloody to me?"

Chapter Text

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Chapter 2
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Spike was disoriented. One minute he had been singing his song of woe to a tiny winged bint and the next he was in the DeSoto in the middle of nowhere. He struggled to remember what the silly chit had said, something about granting a wish. Spike couldn’t remember for the unlife of him what he had wished for, but somehow he knew it was critical for him to remember…and quickly.

Luckily, he was parked in a shady shelter of some kind when he popped into wherever he was. Spike hated to think of what would have happened if he had somehow been transported into broad daylight!

"Somethin’ about the Slayer," he began to remember. "Somethin ‘bout wantin to put a period to her before everything got so bunged up." Spike was beginning to remember his words more clearly. "Bloody hell, I remember! I wished I had come to Sunnyhell earlier than I did and taken the bitch out then, before she knew who I even was! Now if I can only find out how much earlier, I’ll have some clue of where the bleedin’ hell I am."

Spike waited out the sun and then drove to the first town he could locate, searching for a newspaper. He found a small local daily that was filled with everything from Grandma Turner’s famous triple chocolate fudge cake recipe to the latest in the continuing battle between the two-man police force and the scandalous burglars with their recent rash of break-ins into Coca-Cola machines for free pop. Spike couldn’t care less about the crime wave and even less for anything Grandma wanted to serve up, unless it was red and fresh and non-animal for a change. What Spike did care about was the ever important date. March 31, 1997 read the bold print beneath "Planters Vein Clarion".

He chuckled at the irony of the one-horse town’s name. Most likely it referred to some old gold miner who had founded the town. Must not have been much gold in the vein, because there couldn’t be more than seventy-five people in the entire burg! Still, Spike enjoyed the thought that it was a good omen, him landing in a place where veins made a clarion call.

He tried to remember where he had been originally in March of 1997. "Oh, yeah, I remember…" Spike had a clear memory of it all suddenly. He had actually been on his way to Sunnydale. The call had gone out for all the Brethern of the Order of Aurelius to gather for the rising of the prophesied "Annointed One" in preparation for the Master to ascend. Spike didn’t give a rat’s hiney about the Master, Annointed One or any ancient prophecy. Spike believed in making his own fate, not worrying over what some old demon had written when Roman legions still tramped about Europe.

Spike had cared about Drusilla, however. She had been deteriorating badly and Spike truly feared she would soon be lost to him forever. For her, he would cross mountains, deserts, oceans, the floor of hell itself if he had to.

Spike remembered it all as if it were happening around him…

~~~

Spring 1997

Spike looked at his dark lover in concern. Her frail form was becoming more fragile by the day and her mental problems were worse than when Angelus last tortured her. The vigilante group in Prague had nearly destroyed her before Spike managed to turn their attention to himself so that she could crawl to safety and unlife.

Dru’s injuries had been dire, but it was the toll the attack had taken on her psyche that was killing her. She needed constant care or she would forget to eat. Even then, Spike usually had to be right there to force her to feed.

Her visions were still coming strong as ever but they were more difficult to decipher than they had been at any time past. Spike had been useful from the time he had been turned because of his natural ability to understand the dark vampiress and her visions. Darla and Angelus had little patience for their creation.

A century with Dru and now Spike was facing the possibility of being alone, completely alone, for the first time in his unlife. Dru was fading away to nothing. He rose each night in fear that he would be clutching a handful of dust to his unbeating heart and not the dark beauty he had devoted himself to.

There had to be a cure, a way to restore Dru to all her power and glory. Spike knew that sire’s blood was the key, but since Angelus had played Popeye the Sailor on that German submarine during the Great War, Spike lost track of his whereabouts. Dru needed a powerful feeding from her sire to survive and she needed it fast.

"Spike, Mummy is calling for us." Dru had wakened with another of her visions. "The Master is going to ascend and ‘e wants all ‘is family there to see it. All the dollies must ‘ave new dresses and mustn’t be naughty or they shall ‘ave to stay behind."

‘Ascend, pfft. Descend, more like. Overstuffed, puffed up demon of a Master!’ he thought. Master had delusions of raising the Old Ones, as if they’d be grateful and make a place for him in their world. Full demons looked on vampires as lesser beings already--half-breeds. How much more so would the Old Ones? The idea of raising a bunch of uber-powerful demons that would look on vamps as nothing but something to be rid of made no sense to Spike. ‘Bloody Master isn’t just old, he’s senile! Crazier than Dru.’

Spike closed his eyes in resignation. The very last thing he wanted was to make a trip to a backwater town to pay false homage to the oldest member of his Order. "Heinrick the Horrible", as Spike privately called the batlike ancient vampire, was all about ritual and nonsense and Spike didn’t have the patience for it on a good day.

The only other vampire Spike met who had let the demon take over that completely was the little imp on the German sub that called himself "Prince of Lies". Maybe Dru read his memories and confused the two uglies she saw there. Maybe there was no real summons to the Hellmouth after all. He could only hope.

Spike wasn’t sure which would be worse: playing altar boy to the bat or having to deal with that bitch Darla again. Darla had drifted in and out of his unlife at will until sometime in the 1930s when she had stayed with the buried Master to do his bidding and bring him take-out.

Much to Spike’s disgust, Dru had never given up her desire to be reunited with both Angelus and Darla. Spike was the one who loved her! He was the one to take care of her and stay with her, not them! Still she wanted what she wanted. It would never change. They had made her that way and all the love in the world would never change her. If either of them had treated Dru decently, Spike would have been able to accept it, but they didn’t. Spike could deal with their treatment of him, but his lady love deserved better.

"Ooo, the pixies are telling me that the nasty Slayer is there, Spike. She’ll make things ‘ard for Mummy and the Master. You must kill this Slayer, Spike. Kill ‘er like you’ve killed the others. Dance in ‘er blood and feast on ‘er ‘eart," Dru looked avidly at her lover. Suddenly her eyes grew large and round and she let out a scream. "NO! She’ll not ‘ave my Willie. Made ‘im for me, I did, and she was not invited to tea. Puddles for ‘er."

"Dru, luv, calm down. Don’t know what’s got you all in a tizzy, but everything’ll be all right. Spike will take care of everything like always, yeah?" Spike held her close as she continued to growl in frustration at whatever those pixies of hers had whispered.

The vision had taken too much out of her and she soon fell into a deep sleep in Spike’s arms. He gently placed a kiss on her forehead and carried her to their bed. "Don’t worry, poodle, I’ll fix you right up. Even if I have to burn incense and sing odes to that wanker head of the Order. You’re what’s important and I won’t let you down."

As soon as Spike was sure Dru would not be falling into a nightmare-induced fit, he went to get the DeSoto ready for a trip to the Hellmouth, preparing to swallow all his pride if necessary to get the needed cure for Drusilla.

He had entrusted his beloved to the care of four cowed minions he had made just for that purpose. One had been a psychiatrist and another a medical physician before Spike had broken his own private vows and sired them. The other two he had taken based on their brute physical strength. Between the four, Dru would be safe and well cared for in his absence.

He had made it all the way to California, reaching Santa Clara that time, before changing his mind. He had finally had to admit that it was not bloody likely that Angelus, Darla, or the great soddin’ bat would lift a finger for his precious plum. They’d not offer a drop for her survival and Spike knew he wasn’t likely to get very far trying to force the situation, especially if the Order was gathering in force.

He thought, "Maybe if I wait a little while, the Order will scatter again and I can nab one of ‘em for Dru. Don’t care if it’s Peaches, the Madam or the new fair prince of an Annointed One. Go back now and dust the two Neandetrthals and have the other two minions prove their worth. Keep my wicked poodle fine ‘til it’s safer for us both. No sense in going for help only to have that lot snicker and dust us both."

~~~

He remembered his resolve back then as he had turned the old car around and headed back towards Seattle and Dru. Spike didn’t remember pulling over into this little town that first time, but he somehow knew he was still headed towards Sunnydale. "Well, then. Might as well keep going this time round. Course, got a different plan this time." Spike hummed a tune from the "Bouncing Souls" cassette he had in the player and remembered the fierce freedom he felt in ’97, the power surging within him. He didn’t know if that wish rid him of the hunk of junk in his cranium or not, but he’d be putting that to the test before the night was over. Things were looking up.

~~~

One agonizing headache at a truck stop a few miles down the road later, Spike realized his plastic bits and pieces were still as much a part of him as his more desirable fleshly ones. Never one to be discouraged for long, Spike killed a couple of Grimlak demons for the hell of it and helped himself to all the blood he could drain from the meat in the kitchen area of the truck-stop diner while the traumatized and fear-paralyzed short order cook and station attendant looked on in horror. Maybe not the perfect end to his night, but it would have to do.

Chapter Text

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Chapter 3
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Spike rolled into Sunnydale just before the sun made its appearance for the day. He stopped for a ceremonial destruction of the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign, which made him feel more fulfilled than such a simple act should.

His entry into the Hellmouth town was far easier this time around, and not just because he wasn’t tending his ailing sire either. Spike knew the town this time around. He knew places that some demons who had lived their entire lives there had yet to discover. In his efforts to avoid the Initiative, to alternately avoid and pester the Slayer and her groupies, and to research while looking for the Gem of Amarra, Spike had mentally mapped out most of the town.

Spike parked the DeSoto at a conveniently enclosed car park that had easy sewer access and startled the attendant with his spooky knowledge of the attendant’s life. Spike passed it off as special mojo and earned himself more than a bit of street cred with the gawky, half-demon car jockey. The boy had no idea that in another lifetime he had been one of Spike’s meals on the hoof after Spike had picked the geek’s brain for all the information it contained on the local demon population. The boy told Spike his entire life story while doling out the information Spike had truly wanted. This time Spike chose to let him live. That didn’t mean Spike planned to pay for the privilege of parking in the garage any time soon however.

Spike dropped into the sewer network that ran under the whole of Sunnydale and headed for the perfectly lovely crypt that he had just recently moved into when the Watcher had finally tired of Spike being his manacled houseguest. The crypt appeared long undisturbed and Spike was pleased to see that his assumption that it would be unoccupied was correct. "Bit less dust even. Couple of years less," he muttered as he set about making the crypt homelike.

With the gathering of the Order going on at the behest of the Master, Spike wanted to lie low and not draw attention to his presence in town. He wasn’t here to bow to his elders; he was here to do his third Slayer! "Teach that bitch to wipe off my kisses and act like I have some communicable disease." Spike didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that what he was feeling was more hurt than anger.

Shame the chip came back in time with him or he’d hunt down the redheaded witch and pay her back for that soddin’ spell and all the sleepless days it had led to. "Bint would make an interestin’ vamp, for that matter."

Spike shook his head to clear it and ignored the inner voice that offered a silent "thank you" to the Powers for making it impossible for Spike to act on that thought.
He had only sired those four minions since the horrific experience with his mother and the fact he had even considered siring Willow gave his subconscious the willies.

"Willie’s…yes!" Spike grinned as he thought of the weasely bartender. "Slippery bloke’ll have some A-Pos on tap, no doubt. Nothin’ like fresh, but a sight better than the pig swill I’ve been makin do with." Spike really couldn’t imagine the Master’s precious Brethren of the Order entering a place as low class as "The Alibi" "Be able to drop in, keep my trap shut, pick up dinner and be home with none the wiser."

Spike wasn’t sure if the Slayer was aware of the demon bar at this time, but he seriously doubted it. "Chit hasn’t even fallen into undying love with the Poof yet and I’ll just bet he’s the one took her to Willie’s the first time." He vaguely wondered if his grandsire would be around, perhaps getting a bit of nosh himself and finally decided to cross that bridge if and when he came to it.

Angel he could handle, if he had to. The last vamp Spike wanted to run into was Angel’s bitch of a sire, however. Darla and her twisted games, her sadistic turns and her contempt of all things William the Bloody…no, he’d be perfectly happy to not run into her this time around. Darla had been dust by the time Spike and Dru had arrived the first time. "Maybe do the Slayer a final favor and dust granny myself this time around."

He quickly dashed to Willie’s, made his purchase and returned to the crypt before falling into temptation and adding a few bottles of cheap booze to his grocery list. With so many members of his "family" in town, it wouldn’t do to have less than a razor sharp mind. He promised a date for later with his "good buddy" Jack D and vowed to remain sober.

"Try to enjoy a couple of pints of tepid hospital out-of-date, get in a bit of a kip and scope out the situation after the sun goes down," Spike decided. He tossed the legal resident out of his sarcophagus and lined it with a blanket he’d retrieved from the trunk of the DeSoto. "Sorry, old sod. I need this a sight more than you do though. Don’t fall to pieces about it!" Spike laughed at his own joke as the skeleton crumbled from its harsh treatment. He’d have to look into decent bedding pretty soon, but for now he’d be comfortable enough using his duster for a pillow.

~~~

Buffy was still obsessing over her love life. "Will, I’m going to die an old maid! I’ll be the only girl at Sunnydale High who never goes to a school dance or gets some guy’s class ring! I’m going to die a virgin!"

"Buff I really can’t see that happening to you. You’re cute, you’re perky, you’re the Slayer! Besides, if you get too desperate, like you’re way old and almost thirty or something, Xander will still want you!" Willow patted her girlfriend on the shoulder in comfort.

Buffy noted the wistful look on her friend’s face and realized Willow was bravely ignoring the fact that Xander didn’t want her, even though Willow had done everything short of sending him an engraved invitation! "Will, I don’t want Xander. Besides he’s your dreamboat and I don’t poach my best friend’s boyfriends!"

Willow brightened at the thought of someone coupling her with her lifelong crush and put her mind back to Buffy’s problems. "Just because Owen got major lust bunnies for the danger instead of you is no reason to give up! What about that guy you keep talking about? What’s his name…Angel? Maybe he’s your one true love."

"Pffft! He pops in and out like some movie star making a guest appearance on a TV show, making with the crypty. He’s crypty boy and I’m quippy girl; ain’t gonna happen." Buffy smiled at her lame joke.

"Don’t get me wrong, he’s a major hottie. It’s just that all he’s done so far is give me weird warnings and religious jewelry….oh, and he let me keep his jacket. Will, he doesn’t even always stay to help fight! It’s like he’s watching me all the time and that gets a little creepy. He doesn’t hang around and I want a boyfriend that won’t just walk away. That’s all he does!" Buffy’s lower lip pushed out in a charming pout.

"He did help with that anointed guy when we rescued Giles. And…and he did kill that forkVamp for you when Xander was about to become Mr. Mantis. Maybe he just needs some encouragement. Maybe he’s just shy," Willow suggested.

"I don’t know, Will, he’s majorly with the man of mystery vibe and my life has more than enough of that with just me!" Buffy shook her head as she thought of the tall and undeniably handsome older guy as a possible love interest. "He’s gonna have to do more than just give me verbal high fives for slayage if it’s ever gonna move beyond sharing wardrobes."

"Not to change the subject, but to change the subject, did you hear that Mr. Flutie is going to be our chaperone for the field trip on Tuesday?" Willow shifted the stack of textbooks to her other arm as the girls walked toward their lockers.

"Just goes to show that even a principal needs to play hooky at times," Buffy offered. "I’m thinkin’ the city zoo is as close to a Wild Kingdom safari as the old guy is likely to get. You think they’ll get a replacement for Dr. Gregory before the term is over or do we need to worry about more insectoid substitute teachers?"

"We’ll get a new teacher. There’s always been a bigger than normal turnover in all kinds of jobs here at Hellmouth High. I think they’re kinda used to it," Willow said with a nod.

Xander careened to a stop, flipping his skateboard up into his waiting hand as he joined the two girls. "What’s with the glum, fair lady?" he pointedly asked the still pouty Buffy.

Willow was grinning like the lovestruck girl she actually was as she waited for
Xander to notice her. "Hey, Xan." She waggled her fingers in a friendly wave.

"Buffy and I were just talking about the big field trip to the zoo this week."

"And can I just say how much I’m looking forward to that…NOT!" Xander had a scowl on his face as he answered his oldest friend’s question.

"Better be careful there, Xan, this is the Hellmouth and your face might really freeze up that way," Buffy teased.

"Why so down on the trip, Xander? All kinds of fresh air, animaly goodness, popcorn to throw at the monkeys, no geometry?" Willow edged a bit closer to him.

"Can you make certain our less pleasant classmates ditch?" Xander asked.

"Let me guess…Kyle’s been giving you a hard time in gym class again?" Willow nodded sagely in sympathy.

"That whole group better not mate or they’ll eat their own young," Buffy said with a shake of her head. "Rhonda’s been making it her personal mission to get in my face on a daily basis. She’d better back off or I’ll have to practice a couple of the new moves Giles has been teaching me on her."

"You know, you’re right! Enough with the giving power to the local hoodlums . I vote we concentrate on what Will said: me and the two prettiest girls in school checkin’ out the wildlife. " Xander lost his frown as he thought of the possibilities. "I always did see myself on the African savannah one day…"

Willow giggled at the thought of her Snoopy-dancing friend in the wilds of the dark continent. "Scoff not, Miss Rosenberg. I’m made for bigger things than this little town. Not gonna see me digging ditches with the Sunnydale highway department or behind some desk like my old man! I am Xander Harris, danger flees from me."

"Or is that ‘danger is a flea to me’?" Buffy teased him. Xander was still a bit chagrined over his near death in the maw of the Praying Mantis teacher.

"Hah hah, Miss ‘Have Pointy Stick, Will Travel’. I can feel my skills improving with each battle, my manliness growing with each attack!" Xander made motions imitating a sword fighter, nearly stumbling over a trash can as he walked backward talking to the girls.

"Can I just say ‘ewwww’ on the manliness part. No offense, Xan, but I’d rather not think about your manliness just before biology class," Buffy said.

"Wait! You think about my manliness at other times?" Xander stood still in hopeful silence until the class bell sounded and he had to dash quickly to make it to his own seat on time.

Chapter Text

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Chapter 4
~*~

Spike awoke that night with the kernel of a plan. He had dreamed of the last time he returned to Sunnydale to prove he didn’t have a soft spot for the Slayer. It had been a good plan then: get the Gem of Amara, kill the Slayer and return triumphant to Dru. "No reason I can’t put the plan into action now. No Harm here to bugger things up. Slayer don’t even know me, so she has no reason to be on guard. Meet her the first time in bright sunshine and she’ll never see it comin’."

The rest of the night involved Spike recruiting two very stupid but brawny Carflot demons to excavate the tunnels leading to the tomb and its buried gem. Between the three of them, they had broken through to the vault by daybreak. As Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum gawked at the shineys, Spike slipped on the ring and ended the partnership in a permanent way.

"Shame to miss my first date for a suntan," Spike thought with a grin, "But need a bit of sleep after a hard night’s work first." Spike decided to just nap in the tomb where he had found the gem. "Gonna be smart about it this time. Not gonna get all cocky and lose my edge. Make sure the bint sees me in the bright California sunshine enough to not figure me for a vamp before I make my move. Gonna be smart about all this, too," he said as he gazed at the loot in the tomb. "No reason to beg for my blood ever again with this lot. Enough here to hire a decent Doc to pull out the wiring later, if I still want to."

With a smile of accomplishment on his face, Spike drifted into a sleep filled with dreams of plenty, dreams of power, dreams of Buffy in the skimpy little skirts she used to wear. That last one woke him up with a cold chill and a look of fear on his face. "Bugger that! Just a Dru-induced nightmare’s all. No interest in the Slayer except as my number three! Anything else is just my subconscious and all that rot Dru was spoutin’."

~~~

Rhonda was starting to make Buffy long for Cordelia’s company. At least Cordy had some class to back up the attitude; Rhonda was nothing more than a bully. Ever since the other girl had snooped into Buffy’s records in the Principal’s office, Rhonda made it a point to rub in Buffy’s Hemery record every chance she got.

"Got a match, Buffy?" Rhonda’s lip curled in a singularly unattractive way. "Oh, that’s right! No matches for you on school property. We don’t want to lose OUR gym too." The girl cackled a low laugh as she nudged her boyfriend. He hadn’t heard his girlfriends diss on the new girl but laughed on cue anyway.

"Let me guess…," an annoyed Buffy responded. "You plan to be the next Joan Rivers. Good choice ‘cause, just like you, she never seems to get that people are laughing AT her, not with her!" Buffy turned and purposefully headed for the student lounge area and her comrades. At least her friends were smart and funny. Rhonda’s crew had to have a group IQ of only twelve. And as for the funny? Not so much.

Buffy was glad she only had one class with the bitch or there might be hair pulling incidents in her school files. She had promised her mom to keep out of trouble here at Sunnydale High and so far her slaying hadn’t created the same sort of situation that had led to her expulsion from Hemery in L.A. Not for the first time Buffy wished there was somewhere she could return her "gift" and just be a normal high school sophomore with no worries except her love life, her friends, her grades and the occasional smackdown with bitches like Rhonda and friends.

"Hey, Buff." Xander brightened as soon as he saw the girl of his wet dreams coming towards the couch. He had lusted after Buffy from their first meeting when he had nearly knocked her down with his skateboard on the first day of school. She was every dream he had ever had, even down to the superpowers. It was like being best buddies with Wonder Woman, except Buffy was cuter, blonder, younger and she danced like pure sex. He lived for the chance that one day Buffy would really look at him and see him as the perfect Steve Trevor to her Diana Prince.

"Hi, guys. Just had another battle of the nitwits with Rhonda. I need a lobotomy so the fight would be fair for her, I think." Buffy plopped down on the couch next to Willow and glanced at the scribbles on the notepad that was currently in Willow’s lap. "Whatcha doin?"

"Oh, nothing." Willow looked a little sheepish and started to slip the notepad into her Elmo backpack. She giggled nervously and turned to face Buffy, changing the subject none too subtly. "Have you decided who you want for your new lab partner since Owen and you aren’t…you know?"

"Not really. I think everybody’s already paired up and it’s not like Owen and I are mortal enemies or anything. I’ll even let him do the dissecting while I draw the pictures. That will have to fill his need for adventure with me." Buffy wasn’t about to get another regular human involved in her slayage. She worried enough about Will and Xan without having a boyfriend out there every night. Getting rid of the Anointed One on her first date with Owen Thurman had been far too thrilling for the boy but he’d have to go back to getting his kicks by cutting into cow’s eyes and squigging out his lab partner. "What’s with the notes?"

Willow blushed a bit and gave up the attempted subject changing. "I was just making a list of guys you might be perfect with. Since I’ve known most of them since kindergarten, I had a pretty long list too, but Xan keeps finding things wrong with them!" Willow scowled at the boy next to her.

Buffy looked at both her friends, touched and a little confused. "Thanks, Will, but I can get my own boyfriend, you know!"

"Sure you can! You could have any guy you want." Willow looked flustered. "It’s just that with the whole slayage and all, you haven’t had time to get to meet a lot of guys here in Sunnydale except Xander and Angel and they’re not your type, right?"

"And why would you say that, Will?" Xander asked, affronted.

"Well, Buffy was saying that Angel is too much with the ‘man of mystery’ vibe and, well…you’re Xander."

Willow saw the hurt look on his face and tried to fix things. "You know, the best guy friend, like the ‘brother she never had’ guy. As for the slayage, you’re like her Jimmy Olsen or Boy Robin, without the weird living with the older guy, strange exclamations and totally gay costume thing and all."

"So you’re saying I’m sidekick material or even adoptable but not boyfriend material?" Xander clearly had his feelings hurt. "I’ll have you know lots of girls would date me if I asked them! And not all of them started out as larvae either!" Xander got up in a bit of a huff and headed for the men’s room.

"Wow, touchy!" Buffy was more worried over the distressed expression on her girlfriend’s face at the moment. "You still haven’t told him you’re crushin’, huh?"

"No, Buffy, I can’t. He thinks of me like his sister, or one of the guys." Willow looked dejected. "I’ve been in love with him since I was five and all he sees is a playmate, and not in the Hugh Hefner way either." She blushed brightly at the last image.

"Maybe while we are on that field trip you can sneak in some alone time with Xan and trip into his arms or something?" Buffy didn’t understand how Xander hadn’t noticed the worshipful glances Willow was always giving him. Maybe they only needed a bit of a push.

"Yeah, maybe I’ll find a way to bring out the animal in him." Willow joked. "With my luck, it’ll be an iguana or something!"

The girls were giggling when Xander returned. "Well, that bell is my cue to head to my nap in the Human Civilization room. How can anyone look at the world and dare to name a class that anyway?" Xander headed for his promised nap as the girls moved towards their class in another direction.

"Bronzing tonight?" Buffy called over her shoulder.

"Sure, meet you there," Xan replied as he slid into his classroom.

~~~

Spike experienced a feeling of deja vu as he watched the Slayer shimmy and sway to the house band. As Buffy gracefully moved her arms above her head and turned her body into the boy she was dancing with, Spike wondered if the chit really had no idea of the impact her moves had on every male in the room. Girl could slay a man with her sexuality alone. He felt his jeans tighten as he watched and shifted uncomfortably on the bar stool.

He still planned to have his first meeting in the broad daylight but couldn’t resist a bit of recon at Buffy’s nightly home away from home. The fact they carried Guinness at this point in time didn’t hurt a bit either. Spike sipped his brew and watched the young, carefree slayer at play. He overheard the little group making plans to go to the mall the next afternoon when classes were over to pick up new shoes for some school outing later in the week. That might be a good place to be spotted by the girl. Find a nice place under a skylight to show off his lack of allergy to sunlight and all.

While Spike was busy watching Buffy at play, he didn’t notice the female vampire enter the Bronze. True, there were enough vamps there that his senses didn’t pick up on her at first, but blood ties eventually make themselves known. Spike spotted Darla seconds after she had seen him at the bar.

"Well, if it isn’t William the Bloody Annoying!" Darla snarked. "Did you bring Dru to join the party? It won’t be long now until the Master is free and resumes his rightful place." She looked at Spike in disdain. "You still haven’t learned manners, boy! You should have first gone to pay homage to our Master before looking for a meal for yourself. I have to say I’m surprised you answered the call. You were never one for family after Angelus left."

"You were never much as family, Darla." Spike turned and looked at his link to the Aurelian line and inwardly shuddered. He really had hoped to miss out on the great family reunion this time as well, but fate had it otherwise.

"Where’s my Drusilla? Off talking to the tree limbs or something?" Darla snorted at her own wit.

"’Bout now, she’s in Seattle, probably eatin’ Nirvana wannabe groupies or some such. I’m here on my own business, Darla. Got nothin’ to do with you or with Dru." Spike sipped at his Guinness.

"Did you two lovebirds have a tiff? That’s delicious! The Master will be interested in that bit of news. We all thought the two of you would actually last it out, dust together or some other maudlin treacle." Darla looked down her dainty nose at the younger vamp.

"I see you have your eye on the Slayer. Take my advice, Spike: don’t even think of it." Darla’s eyes narrowed in warning. "There’s a prophecy on that one and she’s not for you. The Master will destroy this one after the Anointed One leads her to him. Then the Master will be free and can finally ascend! You keep away from the girl."

"Funny days with you trying to protect the Slayer from me, Darla. Angel would be proud. Might even confuse your reason and hope you’ve grown a soul." Spike laughed as Darla shivered in revulsion at the idea.

"Watch your mouth! And I mean it," She stared intently into his eyes, "keep away from this Slayer."

‘Well now,’ thought Spike, ‘looks like I’m gonna have to start the changes in the timeline already. Won’t do for the old bitch to go blabbin’ about me bein’ in town. Ruins the whole surprise.’

Darla had begun to shark the crowd, looking for easy meals, when she looked back only to see Spike heading for the back door. "Wonder where he’s going?" She sighed in annoyance at having her hunt disrupted. "Better keep an eye on him until we can reign him in. Naturally, Spike would have to show up to ruin all the plans; he was always the best at that." Darla headed for the door as well.

Buffy caught a glimpse of the female vampire she had battled in her first days in Sunnydale, the mouthy one that had helped kill Jesse. She had seen her coming on to the hottie sitting at the bar a few minutes before and had been happy to see that the guy didn’t seem interested at all. When Buffy looked back again, she saw the cute guy going out the back door and Darla heading out behind him.

Buffy leaned over and yelled to Willow over the music. "Duty calls! Got a vamp to dust. Be right back."

Willow grinned back and answered, "Yup, lots of cute bootie tonight! Have fun!"

Xander turned to Willow, "What’s up? Buffy need help?"

"Nope, just got a cramp or something with all the bootie call. She’ll be right back." Willow nodded to the beat of the song playing.

Buffy hit the back door just in time to see Darla’s dust twinkle in the beam of the streetlight. The handsome stranger was pocketing a stake and turning to exit the alley as Buffy watched in amazement. Obviously the guy hadn’t needed her help at all. Buffy watched as the stranger moved pantherlike, strong and powerful strides taking him further from her view.

"Whoa! Gotta ask Giles if Slayers come in male packages too!" Buffy felt herself warm to the idea of there being someone out there that not only would get what her life was all about but could partner her perfectly. The fact the guy was megahot was only a plus. Okay, a major plus, but the idea of someone who could handle himself fighting at her side was a turn-on too.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 5
~*~

 

"There he is!" Buffy grasped Willow’s upper arm in a near painful tug.

"Who and where?" Willow asked with a grimace of pain. "And can your answer be more of the talky and less with the pully? Not all of us have super duper healing powers."

"Sorry, Will. Sometimes I forget my own strength," Buffy said, properly chagrined. "See the guy over there in the food court? You can’t miss him. With the sun hitting that platinum hair, he nearly glows." Buffy got a bit dreamy-eyed as she took in Spike’s appearance. "Maybe he’s a REAL angel--you know, a kind of guardian angel for slayers? He did dust Darla and she was too tricky for me to kill."

Willow looked at the man that Buffy had been rhapsodizing over all morning before their trip to the mall. She had to admit that if she weren’t already madly in love with Xander she might be attracted to all that compact manly goodness herself.
"I see what you mean, Buff. He’s like a ten or even a twelve on the hotness meter." Willow looked at Buffy and could see how interested her friend was in the stranger.
"Sooooo, why don’t you just go up and introduce yourself?"

"God, I couldn’t do that! He looks like he’s probably in college or maybe even works here in the mall. He’d think I was some silly, googly-eyed teenager with a major crush on an older, just slightly older, guy!" Buffy looked wistful even as she spoke.

Willow snorted, drawing Buffy’s eyes away from the walking portrait of salty goodness in black and white. "What’s so funny? You were the one who decided I needed a boyfriend. You were even making lists!"

"What’s funny is that you would really think that any guy wouldn’t be all over you if they thought they’d had half a chance!" Willow rolled her eyes and grinned. "Don’t you even have a clue just how hot you are, Buffy? You walk into a room and Xander doesn’t even know anyone else exists. And he’s not the only one. I’ve seen half the basketball team walk into walls when you pass by! Even a couple of the teachers can’t keep their eyes off of you. And can we both forget I just said that before I spoil the mood with the ick factor?"

"Forgotten," Buffy promised. "Thanks for saying that, Willow, but I can’t really imagine it’s true. You’re my friend and you see me through flowery glasses or whatever. I only had a couple of boyfriends back at Hemery and one of them was too much like Owen, that is if he wore leather and rode a Harley. Pike was turned on by the slaying thing more than he was by me. Just how hot can I be if it’s all about my being able to beat a demon to a pulp or dust a vamp?"

"You must have been Cleopatra in a past life, ‘cause I’ve never met anyone so deep in the Nile," Willow teased. "Really though, I wish I had half your sex appeal! Xander would be at my feet wearing a collar and leash right now."

"Yet another visual I could live without, Will," Buffy smiled at her lovesick friend. "We’re Scoobies kinda like the cartoon, but I don’t really want to see Xan as the actual dog!"

"I might have more of a chance he’d notice me if he were. I kinda have animal appeal," Willow said with a sigh. "But back to you. I think you should go check this guy out. Really, you have a sacred duty to do it!"

"What do you mean a sacred duty?" Buffy asked hoping Willow would come up with a logical reason for her to approach this totally yummy total stranger.

"Well, you did say he dusted that vamp Darla, right?" At Buffy’s nod, Willow continued the thought. "That means he knows about vamps at least and as the slayer you should find out how he knows and how much he knows. He might be some demon hunter or something like that and you’d need to know, since this is your territory and all."

"Good point. Guess I just have to go talk to the cutie before I lose my nerve." Buffy headed across the mall towards the man in the black duster.

Xander walked up just as Buffy neared Spike. He had his hands full of hot pretzels and ice cream dots and was in a bit of a huff that the object of his worship had abandoned him and his yummy treats for some Billy Idol wannabe.

"So what’s up with the Buffster? She develop some weird fetish for leather all of a sudden?" Jealousy caused his normally handsome face to twist into an ugly mask of thwarted desire. "I mean what’s that guy got that I don’t have…aside from attitude, confidence and a certain sinister attraction?"

"Gee, I miss your puppy dog brown eyes, Xan," Willow said sadly. "They’re so much prettier than green."

~~~

Spike had honed in on the conversation taking place across the mall between Red and the Slayer. Seems his getting rid of Grandma had worked in his favor after all. Buffy was strolling towards him, trying her best to look as if she just happened to be headed that way. It was cute really.

It was even cuter when she pretended to accidentally bump into him a moment later. "Oh, sorry!" She managed to look startled even though Spike knew better. "I guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. Did I hurt anything?"

"Take a bit more than a little bit of sweetness like you to hurt me, luv." Spike smiled at her with his most engaging expression. "How ‘bout you? You all right? You collided pretty hard and I think my elbow may have bruised you." Spike looked every bit as solicitous as he once would have been in sincerity as William.

"No, I’m fine. I’m tougher than I look too. Good thing since I’m kind of a klutz today." Buffy looked up at Spike through her lashes, flirting mildly. He had to stop himself from chuckling at her youthful inexperience with the fine art of the flirt. Spike supposed it worked quite well on the young pups, but she had a way to go to reach the levels he’d seen her hit in his own timeline.

"No one as lovely as you could ever really be a klutz." Spike tilted his head and gave her a small heart-melting smile that seemed to convey that he couldn’t see Buffy as anything but perfect. "My guess is that your mind was just on something else. A boyfriend, maybe?" He quirked a brow in interest. If he remembered correctly, Buffy was heart whole at this time.

"No, I’m kinda between boyfriends at the moment." Buffy beamed up at the handsome stranger. "Still not gonna win a graceful award any time soon though." She had a slight pout that had always caused the opposite sex to melt a bit and Spike was not immune.

"Nonsense! Saw you dancing just last night at that club. Never saw anyone move like you do, pet." Spike was surprised to realize he meant what he said. "You were physical poetry out there, makin’ that music live inside you."

Buffy blushed slightly, struck dumb with the knowledge this hottie had noticed her too. She hadn’t seen him even look her way last night.

"Thanks." She nearly stuttered in her sudden shyness. "I saw you there too…at the bar."

Spike raised a brow and grinned at the innocent girl, his tongue curled behind his teeth showing through his slightly parted mouth. "That right? Well seems we’re not really strangers then, eh? Name’s Spike."

At Buffy’s startled look, he decided that THIS Buffy might not be ready to hang about with men calling themselves Spike. "Actually, it’s William, but that sounds too much like a librarian or a member of the chess team. Spike kinda goes with the look, yeah?"

"Well, that much is true. You have a kind of dangerous look with all the leather and attitude," Buffy agreed.

"Think it’s too much?" He pretended to be concerned about her reaction to the whole "Spike" package. "I’m really kind of a pussycat when you get to know me. Doesn’t hurt to look like you mean business though in the real world." He dropped a hint about the scene in the alley that Buffy had been witness to the night before. Spike had heard Willow’s suggestion of opening the demon hunter subject and it sounded like a right fine idea to him as well.

"Maybe I should explain what you think you saw in the alley," Spike said in a whisper. "Don’t want to scare you, but don’t think a pretty girl like yourself should go out all unprotected like either."

"I know about vampires," she noted Spike’s raised eyebrow and look of surprise. "I know about demons too and all kinds of things that go poof in the night," she grinned.

"Mighty brave of you to go out in the alley like that, specially knowin’ the way the world works and all. Little bit of a girl like you could get hurt and I’d hate that." Spike’s honeyed voice poured over the enraptured girl.

"Like I said, I’m tougher than I look," Buffy simpered. As he spoke quietly, her body had begun to lean in towards Spike’s of its own volition. Mere inches of electrically tingling air stood between them. Buffy could swear the hairs on her body were vibrating with the intensity of the charge.

"Well, I’ll have to watch myself then. Be a perfect gentleman and not play the bad boy, if that’s the case," Spike teased.

"I think you’ll be safe with me…er, from me. I meant from me!" Buffy blushed brightly at her gaffe. She decided to cover her slip with humor. She evoked a rigid stance and mimicked an alien from every Sci/Fi B movie she’d ever seen, "We come in peace. We mean no harm to earthlings."

Spike laughed with her, finding himself oddly charmed with this unseen side of the Slayer. The girl could be a real delight when she wasn’t out to ram wood in a bloke’s heart. She was downright playful in a shy way and Spike found this side of her enthralling. He was as mesmerized as he had been when chained in Giles’ tub while she flaunted her lovely neck at him.

"Glad to hear it, pet." Spike upped the ante with a push to further the acquaintance. "You haven’t told me your name though. What do they call you on your home world?"

"Buffy. Buffy Summers," she offered. "They give us weird names on my world." She was so used to the reaction of others to her somewhat silly sounding name she wanted to beat this cute guy to the punch.

"Buffy," Spike repeated in a voice so soft and low it dripped like hot caramel and coated the word with a sweetness she’d never heard when someone spoke her name. Suddenly it didn’t sound silly at all, it sounded nearly erotic! "Buffy," he repeated, making it a caress of infinite tenderness and promise. "Lovely, just like you."

Buffy froze with her mouth slightly parted, a glazed look in her eyes. Spike could tell her reaction to his carefully chosen intonation with every one of his heightened senses. Her heart rate was racing, her body had heated up and the moistness that had coated her panties smelled delicious. All that and her completely befuddled expression combined to tell him he had struck a direct hit. Time to leave while he was ahead.

"Well, Miss Buffy Summers," he kept the same seductive tone, "I can’t tell you how I hate having to be somewhere right now. Is there any chance I might see you again sometime, maybe even dance with you?"

"Uh-huh," Buffy muttered, amazed at her good fortune in actually attracting this glorious hunk of manly goodness. She snapped out of it in time to keep from looking like a completely uncool teenager and turning him off. "I mean, I’d really like that. I’m dying to know how you know about the supernatural world."

Spike grinned and gave a low rumble of a chuckle. "Don’t have to die to find out, pet. You’d be surprised at all the things I know." The look he gave her implied far more than just knowledge of demonkind It spoke of experience in all the best parts of the so-called natural world as well. Buffy wanted to sign him up as her tour guide to that world before it was too late but feared scaring him off.

"I hang out at the Bronze most evenings. But I’ll be glad to give you my number if you’d like. Especially if you’re new in town." Her words began to tumble willy-nilly from her mouth in a rush of attraction mingled with a healthy bit of nervousness in the face of an older, more sophisticated guy. "Well, even if you aren’t new in town, I am. New in town, I mean. Wow, now I’m a verbal klutz too!"

Spike laughed in genuine amusement. "Not at all, luv, and yes, I’d like your number. I’d hate to lose you to someone else without having a chance to charm you myself." Spike thought of his grandsire as he said the words. If all went according to plan, the old boy would be out in the cold before he even had so much as a handshake!

Buffy quickly wrote her home number in the small journal-like book that Spike handed her and they smiled their good-byes.

Across the mall, Xander fumed and Willow glowed, imagining a burgeoning career as the neighborhood matchmaker!

Xander spoke a bit more loudly than needed in hopes the older male would hear and that it would matter. "Come on, Buffy, we need to get those shoes for tomorrow’s HIGH SCHOOL field trip to the zoo!"

Willow elbowed the boy and gave him her best no nonsense glower, lips pursed in annoyance. "Subtle much, Xander? Why don’ t you just scream out ‘cradle robber’ while you’re at it? He’s not that much older than we are. Besides, I think Buffy likes older guys."

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 6
~*~

 

Spike hadn’t been to a modern zoo in his entire unlife. Back when William was a mere lad, he had begged to be allowed an outing to the Surrey Zoological Gardens with its promised delights of both botanical and zoological offerings. Anne had been fearful of such a trip, having the horrible memory of the great terror that occurred at Cross’s Menagerie when she had been a young girl. The famed Elephant Chunee had run amok and had to be shot to death by a sergeant of the guard from Somerset house, lest all the animals break free and join in the chaos. William’s mother had witnessed the fleeing, panic-stricken patrons and the gathering mob of onlookers and had never trusted the idea of being that close to wild, dangerous animals again. William sneaking a trip to this wondrous place while in the company of a few of his school friends was one of the only times he could ever remember disobeying his mother. The display of the animals was quite different in that day.

He watched the group of teenagers being shepherded by a harried-looking middle-aged man from a distance. Spike was uncomfortable with the feelings of admiration he had as he watched Xander Harris take up for some poor chap who seemed to be the designated punching bag to a group of bullies. Harris had volunteered to come to the boy’s rescue quite readily.

Spike didn’t witness the actual rescue, having chosen to follow the intense, odd zookeeper who had issued a threat-laden bit of nonsense to Red and the Slayer. The man was up to no good, even if Spike couldn’t put his finger on just what. By the time he decided it had nothing to do with the Slayer or Spike’s own interests, he had lost the girls in the crowd and had to move quickly to be certain that Buffy would spot him at a distance, again in the blazing sun.

The glare of the sun paled next to the smile on the Slayer’s face when she did see him as they closed in on one another at the monkey house. "Are you following me?" Buffy asked shyly as she moved to Spike’s side.

"In the sense of physically tracing your movements, no." Spike grinned and flashed his best little boy look at the smitten girl. "I overheard your friend yesterday and thought I’d see what the fuss was all about that had the boy so worried about your footwear. I admit I sort of hoped to run into you though. Hope you don’t mind."

"No, I don’t mind at all." Buffy could feel her heart pounding. William was not just interested but had even made sure to be where she was! She sighed inwardly at how nice it felt to have a guy who had all the qualifications for major crushing take notice of her. "Got a favorite animal?"

"I’m partial to the big cats, actually, all that power and grace." Spike lowered his vocal register and continued, "Dangerous too, even though they look tame enough to pet and cuddle. " Buffy wasn’t sure if he was still talking about the cats or himself. "What about you?"

"I haven’t decided, but so far I like all of them. Except the ones in the reptile house. I just can’t cozy up to snakes, I guess, and my friend has frog fear, so we just bypassed it totally." Buffy waved to Willow, who was watching her and grinning like mad.

"That your friend there?" Spike nodded toward Willow, who was still unsuccessfully trying to look uninterested in the blossoming friendship between Buffy and her hottie friend. "Think I saw her at the mall yesterday, come to think of it. Sweet-looking little thing. Can I buy you ladies an ice cream? It’s kinda hot out here today," he offered.

Buffy motioned for Willow to join them and did the introductions, "Willow, this is William…er…sorry, I don’t remember if you told me your last name?"

Spike held out his hand to Willow graciously. "Just call me Spike, all my friends do," he said, deftly bypassing the issue of his surname. "Nice to meet you. I’ll bet your nickname is the same as mine, Will! Calling me Spike will keep things simple, less confusing, yeah?"

"Yeah. Good thinking…um, Spike." Willow was completely under his spell. Here was an obviously cool guy and he wasn’t treating her like some geek.

Buffy decided she didn’t want to encourage any competition over William’s attention and broke in, "Spike was just saying he’d like to buy us an ice cream. Up for it, Will?"

"Ice cream is always of the good." Willow smiled broadly. "I was going to wait for Xander, but he’ll catch up. Maybe it won’t hurt him to chase me for a change."

Spike looked confused at the mention of the boy. "Xander?" Spike prevaricated, "That the fella with the interest in your footwear?"

"Yup, the one and only! We usually hang together, but he went after this kid who was in danger from the human kind of wild animals, high school style." Buffy was proud of her good friend.

"Good on him. Bullies should be eaten." Spike had always held to that belief.

The two girls giggled at his comment and the happy trio headed for the snack hut and Spike’s promised treat.

Just being around this guy was causing all sorts of tinglies in Buffy and her senses were all highly tuned in his presence. She had never had that reaction to a guy before really and it was making her all kinds of nervous. Fortunately Spike was filled with charm and never did a thing to make her blush or feel any more off-balance than she did already.

Willow and Spike laughed and talked, filling in the potentially awkward silences when Buffy’s brain went to mush after each of his special smiles her way. Spike hadn’t even touched her and Buffy was already goo in his company.

"I guess we should go hunt down Xan before he gets left behind. I don’t think he’d like spending the whole night with the wild animals!" Willow picked up the wrappers from all three places and diligently tossed them away.

"Not the four-legged kind, that’s for sure," Buffy quipped. "Will I hear from you later, Spike?" Buffy had worked up the courage to ask if he was going to call as promised.

Spike touched his duster near his heart and looked intently into Buffy’s eyes. "Got your number right here, luv. Was hopin’ you might be at that club again tonight, get that dance I dreamed of all last night."

"The Bronze? Oh, yeah, we’ll be there tonight. I’d love that dance." Buffy was blushing slightly at the buzz from Spike saying he had dreamed of her at all. "See you then….then."

Spike stood and took Buffy’s hand, drawing it to his mouth before placing a soft kiss on the palm "Until tonight then." The sun had warmed his skin enough that Buffy didn’t notice anything that might set off her vamp radar.

His vamp hearing allowed him to overhear the girls as they walked toward the closed hyena exhibit where they had last seen Xander. He smiled at the ease of his conquests.

"Guh!" Buffy felt like squealing. "Did you see that, Will? I mean he kissed my hand, only not like some old movie, like a love story or something!" Willow was as impressed as Buffy by Spike’s gesture and nodded in understanding. "God, his lips are so soft, Will. I bet they taste sweet as candy."

"Maybe you’ll get to find out tonight, Buff," Willow encouraged her friend. "He’s really nice. At least one of us should get some smoochies." She spotted the object of her interest then. "Speaking of smoochable goodness, there’s Xander." Willow and Buffy both called out to him and waved madly to get his attention.

Spike ducked into the monkey house, setting the primates off into a screeching frenzy. "Oh, shut up or I’ll make you lunch," he growled at the cowering animals.

~~~
The Bronze was filled with sweaty young people, all doing the age-old hormonal dance of courtship while pretending not to be interested in each other.

Xander had confused and disappointed his friends with his unusually cruel humor directed at a fat loner that the class bullies had descended upon. Instead of apologizing, he had just sullenly muttered, "Kid’s fat," to the surprise of the girls.

‘Maybe Xander is not feeling well,’ thought Willow. He sure wasn’t acting like himself. He’d seriously creeped out Buffy by sniffing her earlier and saying something about her taking a bath. Weird. He was looking sexier than usual tonight though; he had an edge of bad boy danger in his dress and attitude. Even Cordelia and the Cordettes had noticed him, and in a good way.

Xander had taken his usual seat with Willow and Buffy, but his interest was not there at all. He was looking at the crowd like a predator seeking a meal. He was throwing off energy that made him seem like a caged animal wanting to prowl.

Buffy spotted Spike the moment he came through the entrance. He was dressed up even though he was still in his trademark black. Dress trousers with a knife-edge crease that fit him perfectly were topped off with a black button-down shirt that had to be silk. Buffy longed to touch it to see if it was as soft as it looked. Of course that would mean getting a chance to check out the well-defined abs she had noticed earlier and that was just a bonus.

Willow glanced over to see what had transfixed her girlfriend and waved at Spike to have him join them at the table. "Someone dressed up for you," she sing-songed in a tease to Buffy.

Buffy was pleased to think Spike had made that kind of effort, since the Bronze was ubercasual. She had taken forever to decide what she would wear as she prepared for the evening too. She had finally opted for a pink halter top and cream miniskirt worn above high-heeled pink boots that had cost her entire month’s allowance. She licked her glossy pink lips and smiled at the handsome guy headed her way.

"Hi, Spike. Wow, love the whole ‘man in black’ variation." She reached out a tentative hand to caress the sleeve of his shirt. Yup, silk.

"I stick to the classics. Including basic black, I guess." Spike smiled at Buffy and arched a look at Xander. "This your shoe consultant then?"

"Huh?" Buffy startled as if from a trance and then realized Spike was asking about Xander. "Oh, I forgot you haven’t met! Sorry. Spike, this is Xander Harris, one of my best friends."

Xander noticed the blond male for the first time and his eyes narrowed at some vague tingle he felt at the older guy’s presence.

Spike’s eyes widened slightly in surprise as he noticed a gleam of gold momentarily flash in Xander’s eyes. ‘What’s that about?’ he wondered. ‘’F I didn’t know better, I’d swear the whelp’s got himself a demon. Well, long as he doesn’t give me away, no need to worry.’

"Heard ‘bout you from the girls. Glad you weren’t eaten by one of those hyenas. Name’s Spike." Spike offered his hand to the boy and saw the flash of gold again as Xander shook his hand slightly.

Buffy stood up to lead Spike to the dance floor before anyone could notice the odd vibes between the two. "Come on, they’re playing a slow song. I wanna dance."

Spike turned his attention back to Buffy and allowed her to tug him onto the crowded dance floor. Only Spike registered the slight possessive growl that Xander gave as Buffy led him away and into her arms. Something odd was going on with the whelp and Spike was going to have to Mulder it out so it didn’t interfere with his plans for the Slayer.

Xander watched Buffy with the older guy. There was something about the newcomer that made Xander feel threatened and on alert. His woman wasn’t supposed to be off dancing with the creep invading Xander’s territory.

Xan startled Willow by getting up and grabbing Cordy’s hand as the haughty girl gaped in amazement as well. "Dance, Cordy," he ordered rather than asked.

Willow wasn’t sure which surprised her more: Xander’s boldness or whom he chose to go caveman with. She and Xan had hated Cordelia Chase since childhood.

Cordy was oddly turned on by this weird version of Xander Harris rather smoothly propelling her around the dance floor to a decent cover of a Depeche Mode song. Xander might be a geek, but he could sure dance, much to Cordy’s surprise. All that clocking in on the dance floor with Buffy Summers had turned the boy into a smooth mover.

As Xander danced with the class queen, he kept his eye on the current queen of his adolescent heart. Cordy didn’t notice the lack of his attention and wouldn’t have believed it if she had. She was used to boys reaching for her star and wasn’t surprised Harris had finally made a move on her. Dancing the way he did made Cordy wonder if she might just have to check him out further. Obviously he’d grown up a bit and gotten a bit of polish.

Buffy and Spike were oblivious to the attention their dance was drawing. Buffy had easily slipped into Spike’s arms as if she had been designed to fit there. She molded her body to his and let the music guide her movements in a sensuous rhythm. He felt hard and buff and she felt so right giving herself over to the sensations of dancing with him.

Spike was startled at his body’s reaction to an armful of Slayer. He wasn’t too surprised to feel his cock harden; Buffy always had that effect on him. What did take him aback was the rightness of the feeling. It was like coming home, finally being exactly where he knew he wanted to be. She was warm and soft and trusting in his arms and he found himself hoping the song would never end. Buffy’s body fit neatly into his with her head resting naturally on his shoulder, her breath a whisper on his neck that sent thrills he felt all the way to his balls. She smelled wonderful, all clean and flowery like a warm summer’s day. Her body was still lush with youth, not yet hard-edged and honed from battle. Her soft curves beckoned and teased with their ripe fullness. He felt poleaxed!

The song ended and the band had the good sense to follow it with another slow number. Buffy and Spike didn’t even seem to notice the change in melody, so wrapped up were they in the feel of each other. Somehow Spike thought he might just dance with this Slayer for the rest of her life.

When their dance took them close to the alcove beneath the stairs to the balcony, Spike maneuvered them into its shelter and reached a hand to Buffy’s chin, tilting her face up to meet his lips in a soft kiss. He hadn’t thought out his action and hadn’t planned for anything resembling a makeout session, but the girls eagerly parted lips made all thought stop and instinct take control.

Buffy’s mind had stopped working as soon as she had felt Spike’s lips touch hers. Her lips parted in a soft gasp of surprise and delight. He must have taken her body’s reaction as an invitation to deepen the kiss because he did. Buffy welcomed his tongue’s gentle exploration and tentatively let her own join in the new dance. Spike’s hand had dropped back down and he gripped her hips drawing her even closer to his hungry body.

Buffy’s hands had begun their own path of caresses over his back and down to the slope of his hip, marveling at the feel of him. Like a candle lit by a flame she went from mere attraction to full-blown desire.

Spike lost all sense of time and purpose as he kissed the Slayer with a passion he had never expected to feel without a spell gone wrong. He remembered how it had felt under Willow’s magic and it was a revelation to find that all the desire he had felt then was present now without the aid of the supernatural. Perhaps Dru had been right about his attraction to the Slayer, but that was as far as it went--pure physical reaction!

Maybe if he told himself that often enough he’d actually believe it himself.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 7
~*~

 

Something was wrong with Xander. Really, really wrong. Ever since the previous day’s trip to the zoo, he had been…off. He started hanging out with the bullies and mean kids that he had taken on earlier just that same day! He had been outright hurtful towards Willow and Buffy really didn’t like the way he sniffed at her and how his eyes followed her in a way that made her skin crawl. The only thing Buffy could think to do was to run the changes by Giles.

The Watcher had made droll quips about Xander just being a typical sixteen-year-old boy and how Buffy would have to kill him now. Of course, all humor left the situation as soon as the team mascot disappeared and evidence pointed to a pig-out of the literal variety.

Research not only proved the changes in the teens more than alarming, it took it all to the level of majorly bad life-or-death mojo. Buffy headed off to see just how far into the primal Xander might have descended. She didn’t have to look too hard to get her answer.

~~~

Spike spotted the four teens giving lip to the principal and noticed the demony vibes they were giving off. It was the same vibe Spike had noticed in the whelp the night before. In fact, that was what brought Spike to Sunnydale High School: there was something unsettling with Harris. Spike had the feeling he needed to figure out the problem before it bollocksed up his plans right proper.

Keeping a low profile, Spike watched as the kids followed their authority figure to his office a trifle too eagerly. He debated bursting in on the situation but decided it might raise too many questions he really didn’t want to have to answer. He still looked young for his age but doubted anyone would take him for a high school student by any stretch of the imagination. He didn’t fancy being questioned by the police as a possible pedophile trolling the schoolyard for easy prey. Spike toyed with the idea of paying a visit to Giles, but he had yet to meet the Watcher in this timeline and thus decided against it. No, his best choice was to seek out the Slayer and put her on the scent.

Spike looked into the library, expecting to find the Slayer with her group there. Red was talking with Giles, but there was no sign of Buffy. He listened to the conversation briefly at first but then with increasing interest.

"Are those people eating each other?" Willow felt nauseous as she looked at the illustration that had sent Buffy racing out to find Xander. "Is this what Xander’s going to start doing? ‘Cause, aside from the major ewwww factor, I just can’t see Xander choosing uncooked people over donuts." Willow desperately hoped her oldest friend wasn’t turning into something depicted in the book Giles had found.

"Well, Willow, it isn’t as though Xander is doing any choosing at all. The transpossession has put the animal spirit in charge. Xander has no more control over his desires than one of the hyenas in that film you were watching." Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

"Well, that’s true of most teenage boys, but that doesn’t mean they go off and eat people," Willow noted. "Why would anyone want to turn into an animal anyway? Animals don’t have such an easy life—always getting hunted and having to hide from everything, sleeping outdoors, always having to struggle just to survive unless they’re in a zoo or something and then they don’t have any freedom. I don’t understand why anyone would want that."

"It’s the power they want, Willow. The strength, cunning and utter lack of conscience--soul, if you will--that appeals to these Primals. Just think for a moment of all a person might do if they had no moral qualms, no drive but to satisfy their urges and needs. Add to that pure power that comes from the instincts of a successful predator and it is easy to see the draw for certain types of individuals." Giles sighed in weariness, thinking of the capacity for evil in his fellow man.

"I guess I get that. Sorta. Sounds really selfish! You want something, so you just take it no matter who gets hurt. I’d hate to ever be like that." Willow shook her head vehemently.

"Yes, such desires lead to chaos. I can’t begin to tell you the dangers that can come from that base behavior." Giles shivered inwardly at memories of near seduction to a similar path in his Ripper days. "The end result is rather like what one gets in a vampire: pure animal with no thought for anyone or anything, merely an instinct to gratify the desires of the moment."

‘Pffft,’ thought Spike, ‘lots of humans like that too. ‘Sides, I think about the ones I care about. Load of rot, that.’ Something about what the Watcher said made him uncomfortable though. The part of Spike that still had vestiges of humanity recognized the part that was much like Giles had described. It didn’t feel very good. Spike refused, however, to believe himself to be nothing more than a mindless animal as the Watcher had described. An animal would never have stayed and cared for Dru as he had for a century!

"So," Spike whispered, "the Whelp really IS a whelp! Hyena seems appropriate for Harris, not too far a stretch. Best find the Slayer and let her know about the rest of the pack that were a mite too anxious to get called to the principal’s office."

~~~

"Xander," Buffy tried once more to push past him to leave the room. She had seen proof of the strength the possessed teens had when she saw the mangled cage that had been the short-term home of the hapless little pig, Herbert. Xander showed the same strength now, matching Buffy in a way that only a Master Vamp should be able to do.

Buffy lunged at the boy and knocked him to the ground, not without effort on her part. "I’ve been waiting for you to jump my bones," Xander leered at Buffy.

"Xan, you’re gonna hate yourself for this when you get back to normal. You need to come with me to the library and let Giles help you," Buffy pleaded.

Xander merely laughed inanely and rolled over so that he topped Buffy. He ground his pelvis against her suggestively and started to lower his head.

"Get off me!" Buffy ordered as she squirmed in the beginnings of panic.

"Is that what you really want? We both know what you really want," Xander pushed against her, making clear that he planned to give her what he assumed she wanted. His erection pressed painfully into her tender flesh as Buffy continued her struggle to free herself.

"You want danger, don’t you? You LIKE your men dangerous and mean, right? Just like that leather-wearing punk you were almost screwing on the dance floor last night. Want someone to master you? Well, meet your master, Buffy!" Xander grabbed both of Buffy’s wrists in one hand while he used his other to grope her breast painfully.

Buffy couldn’t get the leverage to push her demented friend off her, so she desperately tried to appeal to whatever part of him was still her Xander. "Xan! You’re in trouble. You’re infected with some hyena spirit, like a demonic possession. You don’t want to do this."

"Yeah? Baby, I’ve always wanted to do this. You look at every other guy but me, Buffy. Well, now I’ve got what you want and you ARE what I want, so we’re both about to get lucky." Xander started to tear at her clothes as Buffy bucked in an ever-increasing attempt to get into a position to throw him off.

"I said get off!" Buffy huffed.

"Think you might listen to the lady, pup," Spike’s baritone joined the discussion as his hands grasped Xander by the collar and yanked him from Buffy’s writhing body. "Part of growing up is learning how to accept ‘no’, Harris. You want to keep that equipment dangling in your drawers, you’d best learn quickly."

Spike had Xander’s arms tightly pulled behind him and lifted the boy slightly off the floor while Buffy found her feet. "Don’t hurt him, Spike. It’s not his fault!"

"Not lettin’ him maul you either, pet. He tries anything like this again and what I do WILL be my fault." He pulled on Xander’s arms, causing the boy to let out a cry of pain. "Can’t take the chance of his pullin’ loose and meetin’ up with the rest of that pack."

"What do you have in mind?" Buffy had her back to the pair as she rearranged her shirt to cover herself.

Spike applied pressure on Xander’s neck, shutting off the blood flow enough to knock the boy unconscious. When Buffy turned around, she found a limp Xander dangling from Spike’s arms. "God, Xander! Spike, what did you do?"

"Don’t worry, Buffy. Boy’ll be fine. Just put his lights out for a bit. Easier to move him if he’s not puttin’ up a fuss," Spike said defensively.

Now that the urgency had ended, Spike was struck with surprise at how hot the rage within him had burned when he had come into the room and seen Harris on top of the Slayer as she begged him to release her. He had never cared much for rape; that had been more Angelus’ modus operandi to sully the innocents. It had offended Spike on several levels to see Buffy in that position. She was the Slayer, a warrior!

Deep within Spike’s heart, however unbeating, he knew that a large part of his anger involved seeing Buffy being groped by anyone other than himself. Buffy was HIS Slayer to kill, to fuck, to touch, to love. He nearly gasped as he heard himself use the word ‘love’ connected with Buffy! Could Dru have been right after all?

Buffy and Spike got Xander’s unconscious body into the library and locked him in the cage. "Wonder where Willow and Giles are?" Buffy remarked.

Willow burst into the library as if on cue and came to a halt at the sight of Xander in the cage. "Oh, thank GOD! At least Xander wasn’t part of it."

"Part of what, Will?" Buffy could tell that something really bad had to have happened to cause Willow to look as pale as she did in her relief.

"Principal Flutie. He’s…he’s… ," the girl tried to find words to explain. "He’s dead, Buffy, like…the pig kind of dead. You know…," she dropped her voice to a whisper, "Eaten."

"Crap!" Buffy looked at her caged friend in horror. "Guess it was a good thing Xander got distracted. I liked Principal Flutie too. He gave me a chance to prove myself."

"What happened with Xander?" Willow looked worriedly at the object of her affection.

"Lets just say his way of wooing a woman didn’t involve a bottle of Chianti and a Yanni CD. Spike came along in time to keep it from getting too bad." Buffy smiled at Spike in gratitude. "Thanks."

"Glad to help," Spike answered, realizing he really was glad he’d been able to be there to keep Buffy from being raped or at least having to hurt her friend to prevent it happening.

"Not that I mind or anything, but why are you here?" Buffy looked at Spike in curiosity, trying to understand why he might be at her school.

The entrance of Giles gave Spike the chance he needed to think of some excuse for his presence.

"Buffy! Oh, thank goodness!" Giles said in a near copy of Willow’s reaction. "There’s been an…incident. I fear the possessed children have taken a human life. We must find them immediately, keep them from doing any further…." He stopped at the sight of the man in black at Buffy’s side. There was something about the man that rang alarm bells in the Watcher, but the distraction of the day’s events kept him from honing in on the cause.

"Hello. And you are?" Giles looked suspiciously at Spike.

"This is my boy…, er m, my friend, Sp..um...William." Buffy stuttered an attempt at an introduction.

"You must be Buffy’s Watcher," Spike said to the shock of everyone in the room.

"How on earth would you know that?" Giles demanded at the same time Buffy gasped out, "You know!"

"Naturally, pet. Spotted you in action before you even saw me that first night. Knew you had to be the one, the Chosen One. Met a couple before in my travels. Bit of a demon hunter myself, remember?" Spike explained.

"Demon hunter?" Giles narrowed his eyes, still not buying it.

"Spike’s the guy who I told you about, the one who dusted Darla," Buffy explained.

"Indeed. I had hoped to meet you, although I scarcely expected it to be here or under these circumstances." Giles circled Spike, trying to put his finger on why the man gave him such a sense of unease. He spotted Xander in the cage at that point and was taken off the scent.

"Good Lord! Is Xander quite all right?" Giles stooped to look at the prone boy.

"He’ll be fine. Probably majorly embarrassed when we fix this, but fine. That’s more than you could’ve said about me if Spike hadn’t come by at the right time." Buffy had noticed the veiled hostility between her Watcher and new boyfriend and wanted to make sure Giles knew Spike was one of the good guys.

With that comment, a discussion commenced in which Buffy explained her encounter with the possessed Xander and Spike’s timely intervention. "I just asked Spike what he was doing here when Will came in and told us about Principal Flutie."

"I’d be interested in hearing the answer to that as well," Giles said, looking at Spike again in suspicion.

"Heard there was an opening for a tutor in the Literature department. Hadn’t planned on staying in town ‘til I met Buffy here. Thought a job would be a good idea," Spike smiled up to the Slayer. "Heard a scuffle, checked it out and stepped in like any right bloke would. Look, with these other kids on the loose, shouldn’t we be trackin’ the lot of ‘em before they get hungry again?"

Spike was going to have to find some way to get around the all too observant Watcher if he didn’t want a piece of wood in the chest and right now the best option was to take advantage of the distractions available. He headed for the library door and turned to ask Buffy, "See you tonight at the Bronze?" At her nod, he smiled and continued, "Good. Well, let’s see if this demon hunter can scare up some delinquents, eh?" With that he made a swift and undusty exit.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 8
~*~

 

Rounding up the cast of "I Was A Teenage Hyena" proved to be almost too easy. They were sleeping the sleep of the overfed and woke to the feel of a large, weighted net wielded by Spike. He puffed with pride presenting his capture to the sputtering Watcher right in front of the clearly impressed Slayer.

Harris was still lunging at Buffy from behind the metal mesh of the book cage. Spike wondered idly just why a high school required a cage of any sort but was perfectly pleased that this one did. The whole pack was soon locked in the makeshift zoo awaiting Giles’ research on how best to take the animal spirit out of the five teens and return them to the normal beastly behavior of the average high school bully. Finally, in the desire for a modicum of peace, Giles shot a healthy amount of tranquilizer into each teen and quiet enfolded the group.

Spike found his thoughts drifting in the peaceful atmosphere that held only the sound of pages turning in the many reference books. Clearly the little prick had the hots for his Slayer friend and the hyena aspect had brought that to the forefront. Spike began to review his interactions with the boy in this different light. There was more to it than just unfulfilled lust, to be sure, but it appeared that part of what caused the Whelp to be a major pain in Spike’s arse was this desire for the Slayer.

At this point in time the boy was as much a virgin as Buffy and most likely the tweedy Watcher, if the old git’s uptight attitude could be used as an indicator. Sure, there was going to be that smart-mouthed cheerleader in Harris’ future and the oversexed ex-demon the boy was joined at the hip to, but that was still in Xander’s future. For now, sex seemed to be the boy’s right hand and fantasies of Buffy… until the zoo trip made the fantasy a possibility.

Spike felt a surge of anger at the memory of Harris’ hand cupping Buffy’s breast, cock nearly bursting from his pants as he ground against her. The bastard was supposed to care about the girl! Her pleas for Xander to stop had fallen on deaf ears, deliberately deaf ears. Spike indulged in a fantasy of his own: ripping the boy’s head off--either of them…or better yet, both!

Spike was surprised to discover just how angry he was. Somehow the thought of Buffy being betrayed in that most elemental way offended Spike and made him wish to protect the girl from anyone ever trying to hurt her that way again.

It was perfectly okay to accept Buffy going out night after night and battling both the big and little bads. That was part of who she was and she was more than a match for most of them. Sexual assault, especially from someone she trusted and cared about, was just not in the job description for a Slayer, in Spike’s mind. He’d pull out the entrails of anyone who dared try it in the future.

So lost in his own musings was Spike that he hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation going on around him. Giles had found the necessary information and plans were being made to transfer the affected teens back to the zoo for a reversal. The zookeeper was being suggested as a logical assistant. Spike broke from his reverie as he realized he might have some vital information.

"Might want to rethink gettin’ THAT bloke involved. Think he may know a far sight more than he’s tellin’. Remember hearing him tellin’ Buffy about the Masai and their dealin’s with hyenas. Seems to me this didn’t just happen out of the blue. Folks go to zoos all the time and don’t wake up lickin’ their body hair and eatin’ their food live. Could be this keeper had some plans for the beasties himself and this lot got in the way."

No one said a word for a while as they thought about what Spike had said. The more they thought, the more sense it made. Giles narrowed his eyes and peered closely at this new male upstart in his Slayer’s life. There was something about this punk-looking, so-called demon hunter that Giles wanted desperately to put his finger on.

If Giles hadn’t already been told the swaggering sod had met both girls in broad daylight, he would have suspected Spike might be a creature of the night. He had so many other traits that screamed ‘vampire’, but Giles knew of no vampire able to wander about under the sun without going up like a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire. As soon as the children were put to rights, he promised himself, he’d do some serious research on this Spike person.

"Well, then," Giles broke the silence, "I suppose there is merit to what you suggest. Perhaps an undercover trip to the zoo to examine the hyena house would be in order." Giles stood and began to gather some small, easily concealed weapons as he continued to reveal his plan. "Willow, continue to read the spell necessary to undo this travesty while I gather the information from the zoo. Buffy, make certain none of these … individuals … manage to escape the cage. There is more tranquilizing agent in my office. Don’t hesitate to dose them again."

"Suppose you’ll be wantin’ me to be your back-up, yeah?" Spike rose to accompany the Watcher.

"I don’t know you well enough to trust you in such a position." Giles stared down the newcomer even as Buffy sighed and began to speak up in her new boyfriend’s defense.

"’S’all right, love. Watcher has a point. Just met and all." Spike never once broke eye contact with Giles. Spike had years of experience observing the Watcher that told him that to push for a relationship at this point would be counterproductive to his plans.

After Giles left, the tension seemed to leave the room as well. Red and Buffy were clearly in Spike’s corner and the atmosphere was suspicion-free for the first time since Spike had entered the library earlier.

Buffy closed her eyes and laid her head on her arms that rested on the table. Spike walked behind her and began to massage her shoulders gently. "You all right, pet?" He knew that the tiredness she was experiencing had more of its source in stress and emotional upset than physical challenge. "Bad memory to be hit with, but your friend will be back to his normally annoying self in no time and you’ll get past this." Spike felt confident in that promise since he had never seen anything that indicated bad feelings between Slayer and Whelp in his own time.

Buffy turned her head and looked up at Spike. "I just wish it hadn’t been Xander! He’s one of the first friends I made here and I really love him." At Spike’s frown, she hurriedly added, "Like a brother, you know?" She sighed and looked at the drugged boy in the cage. "I hope you’re right, Spike."

"I am. You can trust me on this." Spike smiled at her and picked up her left hand, pretending to read her palm. "In fact, I predict the boy will be a permanent part of your life for at least the next few years. Even prove useful a time or two. Why don’t you get some sleep for a while. I’ll keep watch on the sleeping beauties for a bit."

Buffy smiled at him in gratitude and laid her head back down. "I think I’ll take you up on that offer." She sighed in contentment as Spike took off his duster and tenderly covered her with it.

Willow watched the exchange and felt pleased that her friend seemed to have finally found someone special of her own, someone with an obvious tender heart and apparently with fighting skills to match Buffy’s own. Maybe Spike was exactly what Buffy had needed all along!

~~~

The aftermath was almost anticlimactic in its simplicity. The zookeeper was indeed a bad guy and tried to disrupt the reversal spell to assume the hyena powers he had coveted for himself all along.

The pack of possessed teens returned to their normal behavior and the unfortunate events regarding the late principal were explained away with a tale of derailed trains and escaped circus animals. No one questioned the unlikelihood of the official story.

Spike happened to be meeting Buffy for lunch the next afternoon when the now normal Xander was being told of his actions while possessed. None of the group had seen him, so he was able to observe each of them. Buffy seemed to have managed to put the attempted rape behind her. She was clearly assigning the blame to the demonic influence and absolving her human friend from all responsibility.

Xander seemed to have no memory of anything that had happened. When the group split up, leaving only Xander and Giles on the walkway, Spike was able to see that the two had entered into an unspoken oath of silence about the truth. The Watcher made it clear that memory loss was no part of the possession and, with a shared smile, the door was closed on the entire incident.

Spike raged at the thought that Buffy’s Watcher was willing to allow the boy to get away with his attack on the Slayer with no repercussions whatsoever. Forgiveness was one thing, but it should be Buffy’s choice! The idea that the Watcher had entered into a conspiracy of silence that protected the boy from any fallout from his actions enraged the vampire.

To excuse the attempted rape as being all the "fault" of the demon that had possessed the boy was to deny any culpability for the human whose lust had been the seed of the attack. The other pack members had not tried to rape the Slayer, only the one who had harbored those sorts of desires in his unpossessed state.

Spike had always taken responsibility for his actions as a vampire. He knew full well why he had chosen some of his first victims and why he had used the method he had to kill them. The seed of hurt and hatred was in William, but the action was his choice. It was vaguely obscene that Buffy’s own Watcher and her attacker were sharing sly smiles and covering up Xander’s responsibility.

Spike toyed with the idea of cluing in Buffy so she could decide for herself just how much she wanted to forgive and forget and how close she might want the boy in the future. Then again, Spike admitted to himself, how much of the desire to tell came from his own temptation to drive a wedge between the Slayer and the Whelp?

He’d have to think about it before he made that big a change in ‘history’. Best to simply have his arranged picnic with Buffy and enjoy the afternoon for now. He could always reveal the deception later if he chose to.

Harris wasn’t half as big a prick at this point anyway. Maybe subtle changes might be safer than radical ones, safer for everyone. Wouldn’t do to get the Slayer killed by some random beastie just because the Whelp wasn’t there to help this time. Buffy’s life was in Spike’s hands at last and he wasn’t going to let his anger, his dislike and his impatience ruin everything.

The recent events and Spike’s surprising reactions to them and to the girl herself needed some serious thinking actually. Things weren’t going to plan at all. Spike wasn’t even really sure the plan itself was still in play. His desire had seemed to shift from killing the Slayer to kissing Buffy.

This version of the girl was warm and open and accepting of him and his attentions. Spike had to wonder just how it might be to see the promise of Buffy’s love he tasted under Red’s spell actually have a chance at fulfillment. Dru might be crazy, but she wasn’t necessarily wrong, much as he may hate to admit it. The bint really WAS all around him and, more importantly, Spike feared she was also in his heart.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 9
~*~

 

"Hot wings? You brought hot wings for our picnic?" Buffy looked at the interesting choices of food spread before her. The sticky chicken wings looked suspiciously like they had been prepared at the Bronze and the rest was the best variety of junk food ever collected from a convenience store.

"Yeah. Isn’t chicken one of those typical American picnic items?" Spike was a bit stung by Buffy’s reaction to his effort in preparing the feast for their lunch date. It had been over a century since a picnic involved more than selecting an appropriately isolated family to drain, after all! Spike was a vampire, not the Galloping Gourmet. Not like the crypt had a full-service kitchen either, even if Spike had known how to mix up a proper potato salad. Bint should show some appreciation.

Buffy saw the slight pout and flash of hurt on Spike’s face and felt a stab of guilt. "Not that there’s anything wrong with yummy spicy goodness, and no one has ever said no to Doritos and Cheetos as side dishes." She smiled apologetically and kissed Spike lightly. "This is perfect! Every teenage girl’s dream date. Her hot, sexy guy bearing loads of junk food to share on a beautiful California day with no lectures about her cutting one little class to make it a long picnic by the pond. Gotta take advantage of the current lack of principalness in the school while I can."

A mollified Spike stretched out on the blanket and basked in both the sunlight and in hearing Buffy call him "her hot, sexy guy". Buffy looked like a spring
flower herself in her flowy dress with its garden print and her sun-streaked hair gently blowing in the mild breeze. Not for the first time, Spike reveled in the freedom digging up the Gem had given him. He was glad he hadn’t wasted its possibilities like he had the first time.

The two laughed and teased over their lunch, with Buffy making a daisy chain and chasing Spike around trying to crown him with her flower wreath. The chase ended
with a tackle to the blanket and much rolling about and giggling. They looked like something from a TV sitcom cast from the perfectly featured blond stock of California actors.

Spike felt as light-hearted as a boy. Something about this girl seemed to breathe life back in his undead body. She was fresh and untouched by the horrors she
confronted nightly. She still had the razor sharp wit that Spike had enjoyed, but the bitter edge, especially when it was focused on him, wasn’t there.

Spike began to see the damage left by his grandsire and the ill-fated first love that had left the unhappy girl he knew in his original timeline. That girl had already begun to pile on the mortar she used to encase her heart as she sharpened her tongue for more verbal stakings. ‘Poof managed to leave a mess in his wake, even with that shiny soul,’ Spike thought in disgust.

Giles wasn’t used to playing the stalker, but now that all things had returned to normal, or as normal as it could ever be on a Hellmouth, he was determined to
solve the puzzle of this Spike. He watched the couple as they played, ate and traded gentle touches and kisses in the bright mid-day sun.

Giles was perplexed. The vibe he was picking up from Buffy’s new boyfriend simply screamed ‘vampire’, yet in all the annals of the Council, there had never been a
vampire immune to sunlight. Spike acted quite human as well, and not just because he seemed able to consume amazing quantities of high calorie, nutritionally
unsound food either. This Spike was causing every warning bell possible to ring in the Watcher and Giles planned to devote time to finding out just why.

~~~

The Watcher entered his office and looked through the pile of faxes awaiting him. "Free vacation for four to the Caribbean." He sighed in frustration as he
tossed away all but a couple sheets of paper. "There is just no escaping junk mail, even in this electronic age."

He was disappointed in the two valid faxes, one from Council headquarters with information about the next retreat, which Giles had not been invited to attend, and
the other from the school board with a request for his library budget figure for next term.

He had been hoping that his contact at the FBI had been able to run a check on the fingerprints he had managed to get from a paper Spike had handled. At the very least, Giles hoped to discover if the man had a criminal background or was in the country illegally. There was something off about the latter day punk and Giles wanted to root out the obvious possibilities first.

So far, this Spike person had proved helpful and Buffy was clearly smitten. Indeed, Buffy was so taken with this unknown man that Giles felt it imperative to check him
out before things combusted between the two. The electricity was palpable between them and Giles knew he was on borrowed time if he needed to bring the attraction to an abrupt end.

"So what’s the what with Buffy’s new inappropriately old honey?" Giles started at the sound of Xander’s slightly petulant voice. "I mean this guy shows up with his leather and his whole bad boy vibe and suddenly the Buffster turns down the mystery meat surprise in the cafeteria."

"Yes, well, that wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice, now would it?" Giles shook his head at the boy’s rather obvious jealousy. It was perfectly clear to everyone
but the lad himself that Buffy would never see him as anything but a dear friend. "I would think you would be somewhat grateful to Spike for his preventing you from
being an even bigger prat than you were under the hyena influence."

That shut the boy up properly. "Seriously, G-man, what do you think about the guy?"

"I think we don’t know enough to form any sort of opinion so far. There has been nothing in his actions to cause alarm and that is as much as I am willing to
commit to at present." Giles turned to the sound of another incoming fax.

The Watcher pursed his lips and furrowed his brow as he scanned the paper he just received. There was absolutely no record of the fingerprints on file with the FBI or Interpol.

That was good in one respect; at least Giles could rule out Spike as some international criminal. It still left all the same unanswered questions, however. There was an element of danger that was nearly visible with the black-clad newcomer that made Giles fear the worst. Well, not the absolute worst, once the issue of Spike being a member of the undead was settled.

"Well, I guess the guy’s a step up from the last older guy Buffy was making eyes at. I mean what kind of name for a man is ‘Angel’ anyway?" Xander muttered.

"I don’t know that Buffy was ever truly interested in Angel. He seemed merely like a rather more attractive than usual informant." Giles was only half attending to the boy’s attempt at conversation. Evidently the shared secret about Xander’s lack of memory loss was being viewed by the boy as a bond of sorts.

"Is there something I can help you with, Xander?" Giles said with a sigh. He really wanted to be alone with his thoughts to decide where to go from here in his investigation of the actual male who had Buffy’s interest. Xander was too much of a distraction for his taste at the moment.

"No, I’m good." Xander plopped down on the Watcher’s desk and opened a bag of chips. "Will is doing some extra credit work for one of her science labs and
Buffy is off with her new boy toy, so the lunchroom’s a bit empty, if you get my meaning."

"Yes, well, I’m a bit occupied at the moment and think you should perhaps find a more age-appropriate companion to amuse yourself with and let me get back to work for now." Giles said this in a mild enough tone that Xander didn’t take offense.

"Check. Busy Watcher Man. No time to save a fellow human being from a slow death by boredom when there are actual demons to check out, right?" Xander got down from the desk and ambled toward the library door. "Scooby meeting after school this afternoon?"

"No, other than the ongoing issues with the Master, there is nothing to call for a group research project. You are free to get into whatever trouble you might be prone to tonight." Giles smiled at the boy.

It was good to remember that with all his immaturity and annoying faults, the lad was a willing help to his Slayer. Xander had no special skills, no super powers, but he did have plenty of pluck and had never run from a battle, no matter how outgunned.

As soon as Xander left him to his thoughts, Giles went back to his mental list of areas to check out in Spike’s background, areas that might be vital to know about
if he wanted to keep his Slayer safe.

~~~

Spike looked around the dusty crypt. It had served his purpose just fine, as long as his purpose was to lie low from his family until he killed his third Slayer. It didn’t serve his new purpose of making himself an acceptable suitor to the lovely girl he found himself besotted with this afternoon.

He could no longer deny what he was feeling. Everything about the girl excited him. Her strength, power, grace and fighting skills had always attracted Spike. Her openness and sweet disposition that had never been directed his way before were a revelation, however. All the initial attraction compounded by the lust and residual ‘love’ from Willow’s spell in his own timeline had been but a foundation to the things he was feeling after meeting this delightful girl now.

Dru had said Spike loved Buffy; he just hadn’t believed her. Now he wanted nothing more than to set himself up for a long courtship until the girl was old enough to accept all he had to offer. Spike was no borderline pedophile like some he could mention. He’d be there for her every step of the way and if he were careful in his actions, the day would come when he could offer himself as her partner in all things. In just these few weeks, Spike had come to the point where he couldn’t imagine his life without Buffy in it.

After packing up the litter from their picnic and packing Buffy off to her next class, Spike spent the rest of the day hunting down a good forger in the large underground of the Hellmouth. One good thing about Sunnydale’s larger-than-average unofficial population was the network of forgers, hackers and other resources for making an identity out of nothing.

By sundown, Spike had all the paperwork one could purchase to make him a viable official human. Spike had chosen the surname of Edwards, a fairly common
name and it honored William’s father at the same time. So it was that William Edwards, late of London and recently naturalized American citizen went apartment
hunting. Without too much trouble, he found a nice two-bedroom flat with a small garden not too far from Buffy’s school.

A quick trip to a rental store furnished the place to an acceptable bachelor level. He’d add personal touches in time. Maybe Buffy would even help him decorate.

His educational records were all nicely implanted in the California university record system. The sheer number of students attending the various branches of the University of California made inserting a name in proper places a snap for the hacker Spike hired.

Mr. Edwards had no need for work, thanks to the stash of glitteries that had kept company with the Gem of Amara, but he had a ‘background’ that made him employable at any rate. He was now armed with an ordinary enough background as a foreign-born student taking a liking to the States and becoming a citizen after graduating.

Spike knew Giles was suspicious of him and now he had the necessary documents to build a story that might put the Watcher off the scent for a while. He wanted to build some trust before having his unbeating heart noticed by anyone. Actually, Spike was having to put together an entirely new plan since his goals had changed so radically.

He wasn’t yet sure how he wanted to deal with the Watcher. Spike’s new ‘background’ would buy him time to decide at the very least. Part of him wanted to take the chance and just level with Giles, at least the part about him being a vampire. Spike thought his uniqueness due to the chip and Gem might stay the hand of the Watcher, at least until Giles could ferret out the reason for this vampire’s non-human diet and special abilities. Spike was loath to lie for long-- he’d never been very good at it.

~~~

As Spike worked on formulating his new plan in his new apartment, Buffy began her nightly patrol across town.

Three rather formidable vampires seemed to come from nowhere. Buffy was preoccupied with thoughts of the yumminess that was Spike and didn’t notice them until they were almost on her.

"Gotta work on that vamp sensing thing Giles is always trying to teach me," Buffy told herself as she took a swing at the nearest vampire.

As she brought up the stake, one of the three grabbed her arm, surprising her long enough for another to grab her other arm. "Ooo! Okay, okay, nice.."

Buffy was being pulled into an alley and shoved up against a fence when one of her attackers moved slowly towards her. "Okay, look. I really don’t want to fight all three of you…unless I have to."

Buffy kicked one vamp in his danglies and elbowed another before attempting to land a punch on the third. Unfortunately, Vamp #3 neatly blocked Buffy’s move and
slammed her into the fence. Buffy was beginning to think her days were at an end as she struggled to get away.

As one of the vamps moved closer to Buffy, grabbing her head and moving in to deliver a bite, Angel came up behind him and grabbed his hair, pulling the vamp
off Buffy. "Good dogs don’t bite!" Angel punched the vampire as Buffy fought off the other two.

As the fight continued, one of the vamps pulled a security bar from a window and turned towards Angel. "Look out!" Buffy warned. The bar sliced Angel across
the chest, opening a shallow cut. He bent over in pain and Buffy came to his rescue as the vamp prepared to stab Angel.

Having made an opening in the enemy’s flanks, Buffy yelled to her unexpected helper, "Run!" They managed to keep well ahead of the three pursuing vampires.

The duo reached Revello Drive quickly and Buffy wrenched open the front door. "Get in…come on!" She rushed in with Angel hot on her tail. Safely inside, Buffy
slammed the door and locked it. The three vampires looked through the windows at the pair. Buffy could feel her heart race. She rarely ran from a battle, but
this one had gone wrong from the start.

Angel, strangely not out of breath, said calmly, "It’s all right. A vampire can’t come in unless you invite them."

Buffy noticed the seeping wound across Angel’s chest and told him to take off his shirt and jacket while she went for the first aid kit. Inspecting her patient, Buffy noticed a large tattoo of a griffin with an ‘A’ below the mystery man’s right shoulder. Funny, he didn’t look the tattoo type.

"Good thing for me you decided to do a drop-in." Buffy hadn’t added the ‘and chose to actually help’ that she had been thinking. "How did you happen to come along?" She began to clean his wound and bandage it.

"I live nearby. I was out for a walk," Angel lied.

"You weren’t stalking me? I had a feeling I was being followed." Buffy had been creeped out in the past by that habit of his.

Angel smiled his best misunderstood, innocent smile and asked, "Why would I do that?"

Good question, Buffy thought. "You tell me. You’re the mystery guy that pops in out of nowhere, drops some 4-1-1, then books. I’m pretty happy you showed up
tonight, but…if you’re hanging around me like this, I’d like to know why."

Angel gave her his best pouty-eyed puppy dog look. "Maybe I like you."

He was flirting with her! If Angel had tried that a few weeks earlier, Buffy might have been intrigued. Now she merely rolled her eyes. "I have a boyfriend, Angel. I’m not a ‘ho either, so I don’t cheat."

"I’d never think you were anything but perfect, Buffy," Angel tried again.

Buffy was busy looking out the window to see where the trio of vampires had gone. Her mother was going to be coming home soon and the last thing Buffy wanted was to
have her mom encounter them.

Angel peered over her shoulder. "I don’t see them."

Buffy turned to look at the now looming man. "You know, I’m the Chosen One and have to do this whole fighty thing. What’s your excuse?"

Angel took on a serious appearance. "Someone has to protect the innocents out there."

"Yup, that would be me," Buffy sighed. "What does your family think about your career choice?"

"They’re dead," Angel answered in a flat voice.

"Oh, sorry. Was it vampires?" Buffy suddenly felt she better understood this mystery man.

"Yes. It was a long time ago." Angel shifted his eyes back out the window.

"So this is a vengeance thing then." Buffy was relieved to see that the vampire trio did indeed seem to be gone, making the way safe for her mom to come home.

"You could say I have my reasons," Angel replied.

And again with the cryptic. "It looks like our buddies are gone. Do you think you need to drop by the hospital or anything?"

"No, I already had an angel of mercy patch me up. I’ll be fine." Angel leaned in and placed a kiss on Buffy’s lips. She gasped in surprise and tried to pull away, but Angel took her parted lips as an invitation to deepen the kiss. Just as she shoved him away, he went into game face.

Buffy screamed and reached for her stake. Angel growled and tried to shove down the demon long enough to explain. "No, Buffy! I’m on your side. I have a soul, a mission."

As Buffy raised the stake, Angel dashed to the door and out of the house, nearly knocking over Joyce as she came up the porch stairs.

Buffy quickly hid the stake and smiled at her mother in greeting.

"Who was that, Buffy? You know I don’t want you to have male friends over unsupervised." Joyce was tired and the last thing she wanted was a showdown with
Buffy, but rules were rules and the young man she had but glimpsed had shown bad manners right off the bat.

"Angel’s not a male friend," Buffy said.

"From what I saw, he certainly was male." Joyce put her hands on her hips and gave her daughter a no-nonsense stare. "What was a shirtless male who’s ‘not a friend’ doing in my house while I was at the gallery?"

"Umm, about the no shirtyness…nothing happened, Mom." Buffy tried to think of how to explain Angel without getting into the whole slayage issue. "He, um, helps
me with my schoolwork. He knows all kinds of history. He spilled coffee on his shirt and I bandaged the burn, Mom, that’s all."

"That had better be all, missy. You’re only a sophomore, Buffy, far too young to be getting involved with an older boy like that." Joyce looked at her with a worried frown.

"Don’t worry, Mom," Buffy reassured, "I have NO interest in Angel like that. In fact, I think he won’t be hanging around at all from now on."

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 10
~*~

 

"Angel’s a vampire?" Willow was as pale as one herself when Buffy related her encounter of the previous night.

Buffy nodded in affirmation. "He says he has a soul and is fighting the good fight." Looking at Giles, she asked, "Can a vampire ever be a good person?"

Giles removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "A vampire isn’t a person at all. I’ve explained this to you before. It may have the movements, the memories and even the personality of the person it murdered and took over, but it is still a demon at the core. There is no halfway."

"So that’d be a ‘no’ then?" Willow added.

"Well, I think he’ll turn up again anyway. My telling him I already had a boyfriend didn’t stop him from kissing me," Buffy predicted. "What about that whole soul thing, Giles? Do any of your books say anything about a vampire with a soul?"

Giles had been researching ever since Buffy first told her story. "Did you say Angel had a large tattoo on his shoulder blade?" At Buffy’s nod, he asked, "What was it, precisely?"

"Some bird kinda thing with a big A," she replied.

"Like the Budweiser emblem with the eagle and the big B?" Xander saw Willow’s eyes open wide at the question. "What? My dad drinks Bud. I grew up seeing the cans."

"No, not like that," Buffy answered as she peered over Giles’ shoulder to the book he had just opened. "Like THAT," she said and pointed at a sketch in the tome.

"This illustration is the tattoo on a rather notorious vampire named Angelus, ‘the one with the angelic face’. There is a mention that he was sired some two hundred years ago in Ireland."

"I guess they could say he has a pretty face," Buffy said. "Wow, over two hundred, huh! Well, he did say he was older. What else does that book say about him?"

"It would appear that Angelus…er, Angel…left Ireland after killing his family and destroying most of his village, only to wreak havoc in Europe for the bulk of his recorded history," Giles read ahead. "Oh, yes, that could explain his presence in Sunnydale at this time!"

"What is it, Giles? How about some current events instead of ancient history?" Xander had perked up at the revelation that Angel was probably just dust in the making.

Giles looked at the boy briefly before continuing. "This Angelus was sired by Darla. He’s an Aurelian; he was part of a family of vampires that plagued the Continent in the 1800s, the ‘scourge of Europe’. History loses track of his movements around the turn of the century, when he appears to have come to America. No records of his hunting while here. Curious! According to this chronicler, it appears that Angel, as he now called himself, began to shun humanity and other vampires, becoming something of a hermit."

Willow looked hopeful. "So he could be a good vampire! I mean on a scale of one to ten with ten being someone who’s killing every night and one being someone who’s….not."

Giles closed the book and looked at the group with a grim expression. "There is no record, but vampires hunt and kill. It is what they do. As for the soul issue, the book does not reference such a thing. However, now that I am aware just who he is, I can further the research."

Buffy looked pensive as she listened. She replayed her various meetings with the odd vampire and said, "He could have fed on me, but he didn’t. Maybe there’s something to this whole soul thing we should check out."

Xander raised his hand as if in class and asked, "A hundred years or so before he came to our shores, what was he like then?"

"Well, like all of them, he was a vicious, violent animal. Judging by the nicknames he helped earn, I’d venture a guess he was rather more brutal and cunning than most."

"So Buffster, need some help with the stakage?" Xander looked a trifle too willing to help out.

"I think I’ll concentrate on the vamps I know I have to deal with and wait on Angel. He has helped us out from time to time. I’d like to know more about how a vamp can be so unvamplike. This whole soul thing might be important." Buffy looked startled as the bell rang to announce the next class period. "Well, back to the other Ancient History for now."

 

~~~

Spike lay awake thinking over all the details he needed to take care of in this new timeline. He’d have to deal with the Poof before accidentally running into the sodding bastard and having the truth come out in a less than flattering way. There was Dru to deal with as well. She was ailing and in need of care but still capable of creating havoc, especially if she decided to join him here in Sunnyhell.

Spike had already decided he was going to make the most of this second chance at reliving the last few years and he’d be damned if he’d let either his sire or grandsire bugger things up for him.

After talking to Buffy on the telephone for at least an hour and waiting for the sun to lower sufficiently, Spike headed off to put out some possible fires.

The look on Angel’s face was priceless when he opened his door and came face to face with Spike for the first time since the 40s. "Spike!" Angel always had a way of saying that name
that sounded like he was spitting with rage. "What the hell are you doing here? Where’s Dru?"

"How do, Gramps." Spike pushed his way through and into the spartan apartment. "See, those are the very things I need to talk to you about."

"Do come in, Spike," Angel said unnecessarily and with a look of exasperation.

"Thanks. Already did. You blind or just forget you’re a vamp like me?" Spike smirked at the look on his grandsire’s face.

"You are nothing like me, Spike! I have a soul. I am not evil. I don’t kill people." Angel moved across the room and indicated a chair for Spike as he leaned against the wall near his weapons closet.

"Got that right! Never was like you and proud of it," Spike replied. "Only part you got wrong is that I don’t eat people anymore either."

"Right," Angel scoffed. "Just woke up one day and said, ‘I think I’ll stop hunting and killing humans and live off butcher’s blood’. I don’t think so."

"Details a bit off, but pretty close in some ways. Happened overnight, yeah, and got me an account at the butcher’s; feel free to check since I know you’re gonna anyway." Spike was fingering the Chinese statue on the table next to him without looking up at Angel as he spoke.

Angel narrowed his eyes at his grandchilde. "What game are you playing, Spike?"

"No game. Changing my unlife, pops. Gonna make somethin’ of myself, somethin’ more than just a successful killer." Spike ignored the snort of laughter that greeted that announcement. "Got no soul but think I can handle it with the right motivation. Worked so far and now I have other reasons to keep me on the straight and narrow that are none of your business."

"Let’s assume for the moment that I can put aside my skepticism and I’m sure you know I don’t believe your little tale. Why are you here, Spike, to annoy me to death?" Angel wasn’t buying a thing the younger vampire said but would wait to check out his story until later. Meanwhile, he wanted to know what had caused the little prick to show up on his doorstep.

"’M really here ‘bout Dru. She’s worse than ever and needs her daddy, at least her daddy’s blood. Dozy bint’s not gonna make it without you." Spike looked at Angel with a challenge in his eye.

"And I should care….why?" Angel stood stiffly, his entire being radiating self-righteousness.

Spike raised a brow and gave a short, sardonic laugh. "Funny you should ask. Really funny actually, you pompus wanker." Angel moved away from the wall a bit but didn’t interrupt. "You go on and on ‘bout that shiny soul of yours. ‘Bout how terrible you feel over what evil you did. ‘Spect that includes my wicked plum, eh? Funny how you never did a thing to ‘fix’ the mess you made with her when you got that soul. Spent another twenty years travelin’ with us and ignored the girl like you always did unless you wanted to use her. Interestin’ soul you got there not to be wantin’ to help the chit you destroyed."

Angel glowered at Spike even as he inwardly squirmed in discomfort. "You know nothing about it! My soul plagues me with guilt every moment of every day. I’m choking in blood and buried in bodies. You think I don’t regret what I did to Dru? You have no idea."

Spike narrowed his eyes and looked at his grandsire in derision. "So your soul says to sit around and FEEL bad about it! That’s the way you deal with the guilt? The girl can’t even feed herself properly. Needs care all the time. Always did need someone to watch out for her; that’s why you lot let me be, don’t think I don’t know it. I took her off your hands. Been a century, mate, now I’m ready to hand her back to you where she belongs. It’s where she wants to be anyway and since she’s your mess, it should be you cleanin’ it up." Spike got up and headed towards the door, stopping to hand a paper to Angel. "Here’s where she’s stayin’. Time you used that soul for somethin’ more than an excuse to not walk in the sunlight." With that, Spike left, smiling at the memory of his own sunlit picnics and walks with Buffy.

~~~

Spike’s next mission was one he had argued with himself over all day before deciding to just do it. He knocked on the Watcher’s door, hoping the git was already indulging his later habit of knocking back a couple of single malts and reading a bit before bed. Spike also hoped Giles had his weapons stash in the same place he did when Spike was his reluctant roommate.

The door opened and Spike smelled the sherry wood matured malt of The Macallan the Watcher had evidently opened from his small collection of the good stuff. "Evenin’, Giles. Like to come in and speak with you a bit."

Giles had put back more than a couple tonight; the whole issue of a vampire getting as close to his Slayer as Angel had done was unnerving to him. Giles had limited contact with the creature, true, but he was horrified that he had not realized Angel was a vampire and a threat. "I’m not in the habit of issuing invitations, as you can well imagine. Seeing as though you’ve had more time in the sun lately than I have, I’ll make an exception in this case. Come in, Spike, I’ve been wanting a chance to have a talk with you."

Spike stepped through the doorway and grinned secretly at the Watcher’s narrow viewpoint. Paranoia only was useful when it was thorough. Relying only on established vampire data culled from the Council’s libraries had allowed Giles to miss out on the Poof being a vamp and even now prevented the Watcher from
accepting the vibes Spike KNEW he must be feeling!

Spike took a seat on the chest he remembered Giles using to store his assortment of stakes and crossbows and asked, "Feel up to a bit of hospitality, mate. Could use one of those you’ve been puttin’ down."

Giles went into his small kitchen and poured two glasses of more inferior whiskey and handed one to his unexpected guest.

"What can I do for you, Spike?" Giles wondered idly if the young man had gotten wind of his inquiries and was there to confront him.

This was it, the moment of truth. "Ever heard of the Gem of Amara, mate?" Spike watched for a reaction.

Giles searched his whiskey-addled memory and landed on a vague reference he had once read of such a thing. "Some artifact of legend, as I recall. A sort of nearly holy relic to vampires with magical properties that makes a vampire impossible to kill, I believe." Giles looked at the newcomer intensely. "Are you telling me this thing exists?"

"Livin’ proof…or rather, unliving." Spike watched for the meaning behind that to sink in. At the look of dawning horror, Spike continued, "No need to panic, Watcher, not here to hurt you. Not here to hurt anyone. Might say I’ve turned over a new leaf. Got me an idea. Came from you actually, even though you haven’t said it yet."

If what Spike said was true and Giles properly understood his meaning, there was little or nothing Giles could do to protect himself from vampire attack, so he sat down and let Spike continue.

"Best start at the beginning, yeah?" Spike took a deep breath and decided to just spell it all out. Well, maybe not the part about his original motive in making that wish. Wouldn’t do for Buffy to ever know he had given thought to killin’ her.

Over the next hour and a full bottle of cheap whiskey, Spike explained about making a wish and his coming from a future time. He told of retrieving the Gem again, although he didn’t let the Watcher have a clue what it looked like or where it might be on his person. Trust only went so far.

Giles demanded to know just why Spike was supposedly planning to work on the side of good in the great supernatural struggle. "I haven’t noticed a significant rise in the number of vampiric deaths since your arrival. Am I to assume you haven’t gone on a rampage, especially now that you are to all intents and purposes unkillable?"

"First, let’s just prove what I’m sayin’. Got a stake I’m not sittin’ on?" Spike smiled as Giles rightly understood why Spike had chosen to sit where he had. Giles nodded. "Go get it then. What say we prove I’m leavin’ undusty, okay with you?"

"You are wanting me to stake you?" Giles was confused.

"Yeah. No…well, want to prove ‘m no liar anyway. Not wantin’ to put a period to my existence, but, yeah, I want you to stake me. Go on! Here’s your chance! Trust me, the future you would jump at it," Spike smiled.

Giles went to his bedroom loft and retrieved the stake he kept near where he slept. Spike was still sitting on the chest, calmly awaiting his return. When Giles drew near, Spike rose and lifted his shirt. "Don’t want to go ruinin’ a perfectly good shirt."

The stake went in deep and true, but the wound closed up immediately after Giles removed the stake. Spike’s chest remained as pristine as it had been before the wood plunged in.

Giles sat down hard and reached for the bottle, no longer bothering with a glass. "Apparently this Gem is not merely a legend."

"No more than I am." Spike had looked at the book on the Watcher’s table while Giles went for the useless stake upstairs. Now he leafed to the appropriate page and turned the book to face Giles. "Got plenty of wrong information there, but I think you’ll recognize me. Haven’t seen myself in a mirror in a hundred years or so, but I don’t think I’ve changed much."

Giles looked over the article on William the Bloody and his consort Drusilla with growing apprehension. If even half the facts were true, then two of the most dangerous vampires outside of the Master were now in close proximity to his Slayer. This one she even considered her boyfriend.

Spike clued Giles into the situation with Dru and his previous house call to Angel. "Don’t know if the wanker has the balls to assume responsibility now or not, but ball’s in his court. Don’t need to worry ‘bout Dru anyway. If her daddy don’t keep her away, I will."

Giles wasn’t too sure if he should be relieved or not. Spike had confirmed the story about Angel having a soul, however. It was glaringly obvious that the Council was severely underinformed.

"You mentioned that you hadn’t noticed lots more dead bodies since I’ve been a resident." Giles just stared at the vampire and took another deep swallow of whiskey. "That’s ‘cause I’m on the ‘all pig, all the time’ diet. Got me an account with the butcher on 5th street, if you’ve a mind to check." At Giles’ disbelieving look, Spike took another deep breath and decided to reveal more.

"I admit the diet change wasn’t my idea at first. Best tell you ‘bout the little government project they’re likely building underground as we speak." Spike proceeded to tell Giles about his capture and chipping by the Initiative and how he had turned to Buffy and her Watcher for his survival. "So, see, you’re the one first said there might be some higher purpose for the chip."

"So you are saying that the reason you aren’t killing nightly is a computer chip in your head?"

"No, I’m saying I’m not eatin’ the locals because I don’t want to. Chip showed me another way, not that I’m glad the buggers got me, mind. Hurts like a bastard when it goes off and damned inconvenient when a human needs beingput in his place without a migraine. I could have had another vamp, say Dru, do the huntin’ and killin’ and kept at it, couldn’t I?"

Giles pondered the sorts of options Spike would have had and nodded in agreement in the end. "I suppose there is some free will choice involved by your not feeding off of humans now, yes."

"Damn right! Make my own fate, I do." Spike looked indignant.

"So this wish of yours that landed you here, I assume it had something to do with Buffy?" Giles was now quite sober, no matter how much had been consumed.

"Let’s just say that the Slayer and I had a bit of a misunderstandin’ thanks to one of Willow’s spells goin’ bad." Giles looked up, startled at that. "Yeah, need to get the witchlet from trainin’ before she makes a real mess of things again. Red’s got a gift but no control.

"Anyway, back to the question you asked. I was bit put out with the Slayer and spoutin’ off at Willie’s. This wish-grantin’ demon overheard me and, boom, here I am." Spike could see Giles trying to decide just how much to believe of what he was hearing.

"Look, I said something about wishin’ I could start over ... in a way. Not those exact words maybe, but that was my point. Come back do things right even earlier." Spike felt it was close enough to the truth, at least now that Spike better knew his heart. He had never wanted to kill Buffy, maybe even that first time. His words may have made it sound that way as he wished it, but his heart never was in it.

Spike rose and decided to let the Watcher digest what he’d heard tonight before going further.

"Look, I’m not going anywhere. Why don’t you deal with what I’ve said and check what you want. I’ll answer questions later if you’ve got ‘em." Spike dared to hope the Watcher would play straight with him. "Leave it up to you to decide what to tell Buffy. I want to do it myself in my own time and would appreciate it if you let that happen. You may not believe me, but everything between the Slayer and me is real. I realized that I love her. Won’t do a thing to hurt her and will do my best to help and protect her. Make her the oldest Slayer ever by fightin’ at her side. I’d like it if you’d give me the benefit of the doubt."

"For all I know, the only reason you haven’t ripped my throat out is that chip you say you have," Giles spat.

"Chip wouldn’t let me, true, but the reason you’re still drawin’ breath isn’t the silicone and wires. You took me in when I was starvin’. We were never mates, but I don’t wish you ill. Buffy loves you and that’s enough for me."

"Vampires can’t love," Giles began only to have Spike cut him off.

"Like hell! You get that from those books of yours?" Giles nodded firmly. "Lots of crap in them. This one here says Dru’s dust, but trust me when I say you don’t want me producin’ her to prove that wrong. We can love just fine and do lots more than you credit if we’ve got a reason. Buffy’s my reason. Watch and learn. Try being a good scholar instead of a puppet that just talks the party line!"

Spike headed home in a frenzy of conflicting emotions. He hoped Giles wouldn’t say a thing to Buffy at this point but feared he would immediately run to her with the truth. He prayed that the Watcher would come around, Angel would take on Dru’s problems and that all the bright tomorrows he had started to dream of might still be possible. But deep down he knew he had never been that lucky.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 11
~*~

 

Spike wasn’t sure if he had been foolish by bearding the lions in their own dens, but the element of surprise seemed to work well for now. He had known it was only a matter of time before the Watcher stumbled onto the truth about him and Angel had been sure to spot him sooner or later, what with the Poof’s stalking his girl.

Now that Spike had decided what he really wanted to do with the Slayer, he would be spending even more time with the girl. Eventually that would mean running into Angel. All the false identity in the world would not counter either of those two males ruining his relationship with Buffy if they spilled the beans. Giles might not be able to dust him if he were wearing the Gem, but he could plant seeds of distrust in Buffy and bollocks everything up.

Giles at least had seemed to take what Spike told him seriously. He seemed to have decided to wait on telling Buffy because when Spike saw her the next morning, she was all smiles and kisses. She told him about her discovery that her ‘man of mystery’ who had been dropping in with cryptic messages had turned out to be a vampire. "He said he has a soul and works for the good guys now. Just how stupid does he think I am?" She rolled her eyes.

"Doubt he thinks you’re stupid, love." Spike wondered if he should be honest about knowing Angel or not and decided that the great wanker would enjoy letting Buffy know THAT piece of history as soon as he knew Spike was interested in Buffy. Well, time to take another leap.

"Actually, if you’re talkin’ ‘bout Angelus…sorry, Angel …he does have a soul." Spike watched Buffy’s expression with a sidelong glance.

"And you know this, know him…how?" Buffy stopped in mid walk and folded her arms in front of her.

"You could say I’ve had some history with the blighter, old history. The whole soul story’s the truth though. He ate a gypsy back in the late 1800s and was cursed with the soul." Spike had turned to face her and as her arms fell to her sides, he reached for her hand. At least she didn’t pull away from him! He moved her towards a park bench and they sat side by side as he continued.

"Why a soul? Were they all out of boils and blinding torment? What kind of a stupid curse is it to give him his soul?" Buffy couldn’t understand how that was a good enough
punishment for killing an innocent.

Spike smiled and thought how much simpler his life would be if the Romany had just made a lampshade out of Angelus’ hide and dusted the rest of him.

"Well, pet, it’s like this…sorta diabolical really, when a human is turned, he doesn’t have that conscience anymore. No remorse for all the evil he gets up to. It’s a survival thing, if you think about it. How long would a fledgling live if he felt guilty every time he ate? They put that soul back and the Poo…um, Angelus suddenly got hit with all that guilt, see?"

Buffy scrunched up her brow as she thought about it. "So that’s why he became all good deedy vamp."

Spike gave a short burst of laughter. "Hardly! Mostly he just stopped killin’ and changed his diet. Don’t need a soul for that! I think the whole ‘warrior of light’ thing is new for him. He did a couple of good deeds over the century, but I think he was forced to do ‘em."

"Did you meet him while you were demon hunting?" Buffy was still not clear about the relationship between her boyfriend and the vampy guy.

"Not exactly. Let’s just say we knew some people in common and leave it for a bit, okay? I really don’t want to waste any of my day with you by talking about that wanker," Spike sidestepped. He leaned in to steal a kiss that soon put every other male anything out of Buffy’s mind.

~~~

Angel was waiting outside Spike’s apartment when he returned home with his bag of butcher’s best and smokes.

"Took me a while, MR. EDWARDS, but I finally tracked you down," Angel began. "We need a few more things settled before I go see if that’s a real address you gave me for Dru."

"By all means, Peaches, mi casa es su casa and all that." Spike held the door open for Angel to enter ahead of him and wondered what demon he was going to have to kill for telling the Poof where he lived.

"What are you doing here really?" Angel moved into Spike’s space to try to intimidate him with his larger bulk, but Spike wasn’t the nervous fledge he had been when that had last worked.

"Seriously, Spike, you’ve set yourself up here, made yourself all legal and everything. Looks to me like you’re planning a long stay and I want to know why." Angel glowered at him. "If you’re here to get yourself another Slayer, you’ll have to go through me to do it, boy. I’ve got a mission from The Powers That Be to help her and I’m not about to let YOU touch her."

"Think that last bit’s up to the lady in question, don’t you?" Spike felt his anger rise at Angel’s proprietary attitude when it came to Buffy. "Last I looked you were nothin’ but a source of information to the Slayer."

"She’s young. I don’t want to rush the girl. The Powers have something in mind or they’d never have sent me to her," Angel pouted.

Spike raised an eyebrow at his elder’s ego. "And naturally you figured it meant she was supposed to, what, be your best girl?" As he looked at Angel’s set face, he shook his head and headed into the living room with Angel in his wake. "Ever heard of just walkin’ up to the girl and introducin’ yourself? Near scared her with all the stalkin’ and disappearin’."

"How do you know about any of that?" Angel pushed Spike to the wall, pinning him with an arm across the neck.

Spike chuckled low and gave his best smirk as he gasped out, "Not gonna know a thing if I can’t get air to talk, you git." Angel released the pressure on Spike’s throat but didn’t back down.

"Know lots more than you’d ever imagine. Trust me, you don’t want to actually make it with this girl…for everyone’s sake!" Spike shivered slightly at the memory of Angel’s last turn as Angelus. "That curse of yours needs lookin’ into before you try chasin’ the little girls for a bit of slap and tickle or you’ll be as soulless and crazy as Dru before you know it."

Angel said nothing but stared at the younger vamp as if trying to decide where Spike was coming up with his information.

"Look, long story short, I know some things. Things that aren’t gonna happen this time. Don’t matter how I know ‘em, just that I do. You make the soul connection with the Slayer and it all goes pear-shaped and fast. You may think she’s your future, your reward, but she’s not. If they sent you to help her, that’s what they wanted--you to HELP HER, not corrupt her." Angel wasn’t totally buying it, but parts of what Spike was saying were making some impression, he could tell.

"I’m here to help her too," Spike ducked as Angel swung a fist that nearly connected with his eye. "Watch it, not wantin’ a pissin’ contest over Buffy, just answering your question. Told you I had a change of heart. Here to help the Slayer grow old with as few heartaches as possible, that’s all."

"Why should I believe the slayer of Slayers is here to HELP a Slayer? Do you really think I’m that stupid, Spike?"

"Well, yeah, but that don’t make it true." Spike moved from Angel’s grasp and put some distance between them. "Let’s just say I had a visit from a supernatural being that set me on a new course. Came here knowin’ a few things, one of which is that you need to keep your hands off the Slayer if you don’t want to destroy the girl."

"Supernatural being," Angel scoffed. "It did, what, walk up to you and tell you to stop preying on people and come help the Slayer?"

"No, already wasn’t eatin’ the two-legged value meals. This being seemed to think I would be useful here, so here I am." Spike stood tall in his half-truth. Not likely the wee demon fairy would turn up to dispute his version.

"If you’re supposed to help Buffy, why wasn’t I told?" Angel looked like a man who had played his trump card in a tournament.

"You stop hangin’ out in alleys playin’ Rat Terrier and suddenly you’re the confidant of the Powers? Get over yourself, Angelus! You should consider yourself lucky they remembered you out there all soulful with nothin’ to show for it!" Spike rolled his eyes in a perfect imitation of Buffy at her best. "You’ve got your path and I’ve got mine, yeah. If we’re lucky, they won’t cross too often. I’m here to help Buffy. Whether you like it or not, gonna do it."

"My conscience won’t allow me to just take your word for something like this, Spike." Angel was already trying to think of how he could verify any of Spike’s outlandish tales.

"Fine. Don’t answer to you, now do I?" Spike was really tired of Angel’s attitude. "That conscience of yours think on what I had to say ‘bout Dru and decide it was fine to just let her be then?"

"No," Angel answered. "I thought about it and haven’t decided what the best course of action might be."

"Perfect time to go see ‘bout her though, with the Slayer all upset because you still haven’t figured out how to control your demon. Might be smart to leave town for a bit." Angel looked startled. Spike knew him well enough to see the subtle expression change. "If it makes you worry ‘bout Buffy less, I told the Watcher ‘bout bein a vampire and he’s suspicious enough for the both of you. You can afford a few weeks in Washington."

"You told Giles and you’re not a big pile of dust?" Angel said in disbelief

"Go ask him yourself," Spike smirked. "Course, you might not get off as lucky. Watcher’s none too happy with you lying like that. Don’t trust you much. Gotta say I never expected to admire someone from the Council of Wankers, but he’s got taste at least."

Angel was silent for a while, obviously thinking over all the strange information he’d been handed in the last day.

"Angel, I meant it ‘bout Dru. Princess is dying. Slow and painful to watch, it is. Only you can save her. You’re the only one that can do anything ‘bout the worst of her craziness too. Silly bint’d do anything for her daddy, even stop killin’ I’m thinkin. If you really do feel remorse for what you created when you made a mess of that girl, you need to go and try to fix it. You know as well as I do the poor thing isn’t safe to be on her own. You know the kind of person she was before you made her a special project. She’s still an innocent, no matter what the death toll from her fangs. You made her a madwoman before you ever made her a demon, no sin on her doorstep. If you want to do some good, go fix your mess."

Angel had the decency to duck his head in shame as the truth of Spike’s words drove themselves into his soul. "Maybe. Need to be sure you aren’t plotting something bad with Buffy, then I may take a trip up north." He looked Spike squarely in the eye and warned, "If I think for even one second that you are lying, that you might be a threat to Buffy, I’ll dust you myself."

"Not that you’d be able to, but fine with me." Spike had NO intention of Angel ever discovering the Gem!

~~~

Angel appeared to have decided to risk a trip to Seattle, because he seemed to have left town shortly after his visit to Spike’s apartment.

Spike asked the Watcher if he had been contacted by the Poof and heard the tale directly from Giles. Giles admitted that Angel talked to him briefly via telephone and that they had both come to the conclusion that Spike was still a variable that needed watching.

Spike told Giles what he had asked of Angel and where the other vampire might had gone. "Don’t expect the bugger to stay gone though. He’s got it in his head that Buffy’s some sort of reward for his being a good little vamp. You might want to help stop that one, Watcher, ‘cause you don’t fare too well when Angelus comes back out to play."

"Are you saying that Angel loses his soul?" Spike nodded in answer. "Good Lord! I suppose he killed me in your timeline, is that so?"

"No, tried to torture some information out of you so he could suck the whole world into a hell dimension, but he didn’t try to kill you. Afraid he did kill your bird though." Spike shrugged slightly.

"My bird? I haven’t had any time for a social life since coming here, Spike. I think you have finally been caught in a lie!" Giles looked triumphant.

"Won’t be ‘til next year, if it happens again." Spike sighed at the man’s distrust. "Bint’s some kind of computer teacher, gypsy, who tries to shove the soul back in Angelus and he takes it a bit personal. Say, congratulations, looks like you might get a love life after all!"

Giles thought of the attractive new Computer Science teacher and wondered if she might be the one Spike referred to. She looked a bit Gypsy. Perhaps he’d involve himself in that book scanning project after all, get to know the lady in question.

"I must agree that keeping Angelus from running free would seem in the best interests of everyone. Having one vampire running tame is difficult enough to swallow." Giles decided to let things proceed as they were for the time being, only with a more watchful eye on this odd individual that had made so many wild claims.

"Got that right! Don’t think your books do the bastard justice, not from what I read anyway." Spike shuddered in memory.

"Speaking of the chronicles, I found a volume with more information about your particular family. The details about the human you replaced are sketchy, but your career after turning is the stuff of nightmares. If Buffy had the slightest idea of any of it, much less how you acquired your nickname, she would have nothing to do with you." Giles wasn’t as sure of that as he pretended. That was one reason he had chosen to maintain his own counsel for the time being.

"That Council of yours never gets the real story on anything, and when you do, you ignore it. In the first place, nobody replaced anyone. '‘M William the Bloody, just had the brakes removed is all. Chip put the brakes back and here I am, at your service." Spike did feel his curiosity pique though. "Wouldn’t mind a look at ‘em though. Might even tell you the real story, at least the part after the turnin’, that is. No point in embarrassing the bloodline with the sad tale of William, eh?"

Giles couldn’t help it; much as he distrusted this currently undustable vampire, he dearly wanted to play Christian Slater to Spike’s Brad Pitt. As distasteful as that film had been to the Watcher, he practically drooled at the idea of having his own Interview With A Vampire. "Yes, that might even go a way towards proving your intent is as you have said."

~~~

A few nights later the gang was gathered at the Bronze with a couple of new additions: Spike and Jenny Calendar. The self-proclaimed technopagan had proven as interested in Giles as Spike hinted and the recent battle against the ancient evil demon Moloch the Corruptor had made her part of the band to a small degree.

Jenny had nearly given Spike away upon first meeting. Only Giles quickly pulling her aside to ask for her silence about Spike’s undead status kept her from revealing all. The woman kept her eye on the vampire as they worked together to free Willow and stop the old demon from being let loose on an unsuspecting world. Giles promised that his silence would be only temporary, until he came to a final conclusion about the vampire who claimed to be harmless and from the future.

Jenny hadn’t seen anything to prove the vampire harmless. This chip he had spoken of to Mr. Giles didn’t seem to prevent Spike from fighting the minions of Moloch when they were attacking Buffy. She determined to talk to the black-clad undead privately and accepted the group’s invitation for a victory party at the Bronze in hopes of having that chance.

Willow looked glum. She was as delighted as the rest that they had defeated this week’s big bad, but it hadn’t been an especially great experience for her first boyfriend to turn out to be an evil demon set loose on the internet.

"Am I doomed?" Willow dragged Buffy off to the ladies room to ask her advice. "I know this is the Hellmouth and I think I could settle for some demon in a boyfriend… you know, if it’s not an evil one or anything. What’s wrong with me though? Xander has no interest in me as anything but a pal and the only guys interested are, well, just one guy actually and look how that turned out!"

"Nothing is wrong with you, Will. If anything, there’s something wrong with all the guys in Sunnydale that they aren’t knocking down your door. You’re cute and smart and funny and brave and it’s totally their loss." Buffy draped an arm across her friends shoulder and gave her a quick hug.

"You’ll see, one day some guy will look at you and just say, ‘who IS that girl?’ and you’ll find the perfect boyfriend just like I have." Buffy felt a bit guilty with all the gushing she had been doing about Spike lately. It was just that she was so happy she couldn’t shut up.

Buffy knew that Xander wasn’t on the ‘yay, Spike’ team yet, but Willow was fine with him. Of course, that also seemed to have made Willow feel more rejected with her own crush still not interested and Buffy bubbling with kissage tales and stories of how thoughtful and romantic Spike was turning out to be.

~~~

Xander dragged Giles off to the pool tables as soon as he saw that Willow was going to be weepy girl. He felt terrible for his friend’s bad luck and was clueless how to make her feel better. The pool table shone like a beacon of safety from all the talk of boyfriends, lost love and yearning that had been taking place before Buffy and Willow headed for the ladies room.

Spike and Jenny sat lost in their own thoughts as they were left alone at the table. Spike had been silent most of the night, in fact. Jenny knew this was her chance to ask a few questions of the vampire and decided to take it.

"Spike, Giles has told me what you are and about your claims of coming from the near future, your immunity to dusting and something about a computer chip." Spike looked a bit startled but not overly upset at her comment, so she continued. "I was under the impression that this chip prevented you from harming humans, yet in the battle earlier I didn’t see so much as a twinge of pain on your face as you dealt with those guys trying to kill Buffy. Perhaps I could find a way to run a test on that chip to see if it’s malfunctioning."

"I noticed that it didn’t fire too. Can’t say I miss the pain. Can’t say I’m not glad I was able to stop those goons from hurtin’ Buffy either." Spike took a drink and sighed before looking at the teacher. "Look, whatever’s happenin’ I’m still not gonna go off on some killin’ spree. Buffy wouldn’t accept it and I can’t lose her, not now. I’ve got a theory ‘bout why the chip didn’t fire, but yeah, if you want to run some tests, that’s okay by me."

Jenny was shocked at the vampire’s agreement, but it also served to comfort her in a sense. Maybe he really was trying to stay on the straight and narrow. If that was the case he’d need all the help and support he could get to manage it. He’d deserve it too.

"Appreciate it if you’d not say anything to Rupert as yet. Think he’d want to dust first and ask questions later, and even with the Gem, I wouldn’t put it past him to find a way to do it. Fact is, I’m thinkin’ it might be the Gem keepin’ the chip from firin’. Didn’t have it when I first got back to this time period and it was workin’ fine then." Jenny didn’t want to ask how he knew that. "Tomorrow okay with you to check it out?"

"Yes, tomorrow will be fine. I can put Willow in charge of my computer lab at 10:00. Shall we meet in the courtyard then?"

"I’ll be there. Thanks for keepin still ‘bout this." And glad you aren’t gonna have to face Angelus this time, he thought, at least not if I can help it.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 12
~*~

 

Of all the humans Spike was coming to care about--even like, in many cases--the gypsy teacher made him feel most at ease. The Romany people were comfortable with the supernatural world and had always understood shades of gray. They hadn’t cursed Angelus because he was a vampire but because of what he, Angelus, had chosen to do beyond merely killing and eating their girl.

If killing and eating were all it would have taken, then all of the Fab Four would have had souls shoved in them! Darla, Dru and Spike had, after all, dined a la gypsy just after Angel became all soul-ridden. No one sought to punish them for behaving like vampires!

No, Angelus and his "artistry", his depravity, his "taking the time for a proper kill" rubbish had led to the retaliation. The girl was lucky she refused to drink from Angelus or there would have been two daft vampiresses wandering about in need of a keeper.

Jenny Calendar was well schooled in the old ways, for all her technological prowess. She knew well what Spike was and had a pretty good idea of the things he’d done. She also knew plenty about Angelus and was leery of Spike because he had learned all he knew of being a vampire at the feet of that blackguard. Quite literally at times.

Jenny ran a series of tests that checked that the chip actually was discharging electricity to Spike’s neural receptors. The chip worked fine, as did the Gem. If he so chose, Spike could have decided to run merrily through the streets of Sunnydale making a buffet of the citizenry without his brain oozing out his ears in payment. The thing that fascinated Jenny was that Spike had no desire to so much as take a sip from even the most annoying of the students he was surrounded by. And there were times she would have been tempted in his place.

Lies and half-truths were more Angelus’ forte and Spike was feeling more and more uncomfortable with the web he had spun. As much as he realized that his survival and, more importantly, his only chance with Buffy, depended on buying time to prove himself, it still felt wrong to him.

The teacher was slated to a short shelf life in the original timeline and Spike had already decided he would do all he could to prevent that happening, and not only because it was triggered by Buffy sleeping with Angel either. Jenny was more inclined to actually listen to his tale without prejudging. As decent as the Watcher was being this time around, there were still all those prejudices hammered into the bloke by his Watcher’s school. Spike couldn’t overcome them quickly enough.

So the vampire enjoyed having an open-minded audience and made the most of it, sharing stories of the original timeline with his new friend.

"Willow?" Jenny shook her head in amazement. "Shy, little, overachieving Willow?" Spike nodded. "How did she first embrace the Old Religion? Isn’t she Jewish?"

"Don’t know about embracin’ the religion; more like embracin’ the power and the witch has it in spades, even if she hasn’t done more than touch on it. She scares me and I’ve been around a long time. That little "my will be done" spell of hers was so good it netted her an invite to the world of vengeance demons."

Spike sketched out the events that had happened in his own timeline up to meeting with the little fairy demon.

Spike smiled as Jenny doubled over in laughter reading the business card. "Fuamnach! She’s a legend, a fairy queen who turned her cheating husband into an insect of some kind. I’ve heard the tales. So she’s a vengeance demon now." Spike pointed to the card and the demon’s title. "Oh, excuse me! Justice demon. I have to say this is truly unique. I thought I was a maverick being a technopagan, but even the old beings are using business cards now. I wonder if she has a website?"

Even without a truth spell, Jenny knew the vampire was being honest with her as far as possible with the information he had. The story was fantastic to be sure, but that made it more likely to be true rather than less. Jenny had no trouble believing that Spike had his heart stolen by the Buffy of his own time and that his feelings had only deepened with the time spent in her company here.

Love was probably the most powerful motivator in all of human behavior. Wars were started and ended for love. Most history had a love story somewhere in the mix. Love made the powerful weak and the weak as courageous as a lion. Every human was on a quest for love from the moment they come out of the womb and they continued to seek it up to the moment of death. If anything could cause a soulless demon to turn from his own nature and embrace the light, it would be love.

Jenny wasn’t proficient with aura reading, but she was able to sense enough to know that the vampire sitting in front of her read more like a human than a demon. Yes, there was violence and bloodlust, but that could be found in many a human as well. Spike seemed fully capable of having real feeling for the young Slayer.

"Why confide in me, Spike?" Jenny knew the vampire was wanting something from her, something he might not even be sure of himself.

"Don’t rightly know, Dark Eyes. Not used to all this subterfuge. Always been one to just put it out there, ya know. I am what I am. I’m not really patient enough for games. Used to be somethin’ Angelus tried to beat into me. Never took though." Spike looked at Jenny, sighed deeply and closed his eyes. The silence stretched as Spike appeared to be trying to think it through.

"’M not sure what I’m doin’; that’s it in a nutshell. No moral compass, but want to do right by Buffy. Want to make the right choices, keep the Scoobies--all of you-- safe ‘cause Buffy loves you all. Don’t wanna bugger this up!" He looked at Jenny with his whole heart in his eyes. "My one chance for happiness. Always lookin’ for love and now that I can just touch it, I’m scared to death it’ll turn to dust. Not too worried about ME dustin’, just my dreams. Couldn’t survive that."

"And you think that I can…what? Be your Jiminy Cricket?" Jenny gave him a half smile. She was flattered that he seemed to feel she was the right choice for such a responsibility.

"That’s just it; didn’t think. I tend to follow my feelin’s instead of some great plan. My plans seem to blow up rather spectacularly." Spike gave a bitter laugh. "Always that way. Dyin’ didn’t change that one bit. This is too important for me to try to work my way through on my own."

Jenny was surprised at the almost motherly feelings she was having for this little lost vamp. For some reason she really, really wanted him to make good on his desires. She wanted him to succeed and with that thought, she determined to help him.

Spike started talking again before Jenny could let him know her decision. "Told Angelus nothin’ except about Dru. Okay, told him I’m not bitey boy anymore, but doubt the bugger believes me. Told the Watcher pieces of the truth but know he’d never believe I could love Buffy or want to do right by her. ‘Gainst all he’s been taught, ya know?"

"Rupert can be rather old-fashioned, but don’t write him off completely. There’s a rebellious streak in him too and you might be surprised what he can accept when he looks at what’s in front of him." Jenny laid her hand on Spike’s in comfort.

"Hope so. By the time Red did her little spell, the git was pretty entrenched," Spike said. "Maybe it was losin’ you like that. He trusted Angel and then had to deal with Angelus. Be enough to put anyone off vampires, even without all that time with the Council of Wankers."

Jenny shuddered at the memory of what Spike had told her about the next year’s activities. It was essential that Buffy be kept from Angel and if that meant encouraging the girl into giving her heart to the soulless vampire sitting in her office, then that was what she would do. At least this vamp was well able to love her.

"Tell you what, Spike, give me a day to think about all you’ve told me and we’ll talk again. For some reason, I really want to help you. It’s not everyday a person gets the chance to help lead someone onto a path of redemption. I’m honored you chose me." Jenny’s smile was genuine and the warmest thing Spike had experienced in a century.

"So, where is Rupert?" Spike hadn’t seen any of the group in the library earlier and that wasn’t normal.

"Mr. Giles is the new producer of the school talent show," Jenny answered.

The two new friends smiled at each other before falling into gales of laughter.

~~~

"It’s not funny, Spike!" Buffy was beside herself. "The only thing I can do well is kill demons and do the slutty dance. I don’t think Snyder would really approve of either for his little show." She was miserable at the idea that she, Xander and Willow had been ordered to take part in the exercise in pain called a school show.

"And you should have heard Cordelia. I’ve heard more melody from mating cats!" Spike snorted at Buffy’s description. "She’s actually going to sing ‘The Greatest Love’; at least she knows the subject matter well enough…no stretch there. She’s got that CordyLove down pat."

"So what act are you plannin’?" Spike vowed to not miss the performance, not only to be a supportive boyfriend but to store away future blackmail material in case he needed it in the future.

"Willow thinks we should do some kind of dramatic scene. That’s me: Buffy Summers, Drama Queen." Buffy grimaced at the thought. "She’s all excited about doing this old Roman play about Eddy Plex and this whole mom deal."

Spike looked completely confused as he tried to figure out what on earth Willow had planned when he suddenly put it through his Buffy universal translator and laughed delightedly. "Not Eddy Plex, love, Oedipus. The play’s a Greek legend. Greek play too, not Roman. It’s about fate and tragedy and how you can’t escape your fate no matter how you try. There was this prophecy, see. Bloke was gonna kill his da and marry his mum. Even though everyone did all they could think of, even leavin’ the babe on a hill to die…it all happened just like the oracle said it would."

"Ewwww, gross! He married his mom!" Buffy was making horrified faces.

"Didn’t know she was his mum. Complete stranger when they met. That was the tragedy, everybody did what they thought was best and it still all went pear-shaped. Fate’s a fearful mistress." Spike looked serious.

"Do you believe in fate, Spike?" Buffy asked.

"Can’t say as I do, pet. I make my own fate. I’m nobody’s puppet, least of all some ancient gods." Spike turned with Buffy into the espresso bar for a latte.

"I don’t think I believe in it either, at least not the whole doomed love part. I think I want to still believe in happily ever afters." Buffy looked at Spike with her heart exposed to his gaze. Clearly she was willing to think of Spike as her costar in that future and Spike was ready to sign right up for the part.

"One of the kids in the show has a puppet. Freaked Xander out. One of those wooden talking dummies--the puppet, not Xander!" Buffy babbled in her embarrassment. She knew Spike had seen some of her budding feelings and it made her feel shy and vulnerable. She didn’t really feel that Spike would deliberately hurt her, but this was the first time she wanted to put her heart on the line and it was scary.

Spike’s heart soared. He saw the look. He saw her soul. He knew he had a chance. If he didn’t ruin this, he stood a good chance of having everything William and Spike had ever dreamed of all wrapped up in a pretty Buffy package.

~~~

Jenny thought about her conversation with the unusual vampire earlier that day. She hadn’t been raised in the caravans and schooled by the campfires like her ancestors, but she still had a gypsy upbringing. She knew all about Werewolves, Demons and Vampires. She knew the thin veil that separated the living from the dead and that communication still could occur.

She had also heard a story or two of things that Rupert Giles, with all his formal education through the Council of Watchers, would never credit. Being of a romantic nature in her heart of hearts, those old stories had burned themselves in Jenny’s memory like well-cherished books.

At least two stories she remembered involved a vampire loving a human and making an effort to overcome his demon nature. One had even had a happy ending, or as close as such a tale could hope to have: the human’s death had led to the first sunrise walk in years for the vampire lover. As a girl, Jenny had hoped the lovers were reunited in the afterlife, never to part again.

Jenny was convinced that Spike was capable of this sort of life-changing love. He would need help figuring out right from wrong when faced with the murky waters of gray, however. Souled humans had that problem too and often sought advice from their fellows.

Spike was tempted to lay everything out to all the humans around him, just as he had to Jenny. He greatly feared Buffy drawing away from him and her Watcher feeding her fears until Spike had no chance to regain the lost ground.

The Gem made Spike invulnerable to most methods of destruction, but no one knew if there was a loophole. Rupert Giles was a skilled researcher and would have no compunction about seeking and using any method to rid himself and Buffy of Spike if he thought it necessary. The man had a ruthless streak at his core.

In short, complete honesty was a dangerous prospect. Jenny understood Spike’s dilemma. He was by nature honest and unconcerned with the reactions of others to his truths. Deciding what to tell, and when, was not clear to him. Jenny would try to help as best as she could. She would also try to get through to Rupert that not everything he had been taught was gospel.

When it came to the problem with Spike’s grandsire, however, Jenny was determined. She was there because of Angel, after all. To make certain her clan’s curse stood and he suffered.

What Spike told her validated her privately held opinion that the wording of the curse was not safe or even in the best interests of the clan.

Her grandmother had explained that the idea was for Angelus to never feel anything but tremendous guilt and unhappiness. If he had one moment when that were untrue, if he were accepted, loved or appreciated enough to forget how vile he was, the soul would be forfeit. The thinking at the time was that whoever had caused that happiness in him would be so horrified by Angelus without his soul that they would have no choice but to stake him.

Spike had indicated that the forgiving and trusting nature of Buffy was the one factor no ancient spellcaster could have anticipated. Future Buffy would wait too long and, along with creating memories none of the group would ever recover from, Jenny’s own life would be ended. Buffy would never be free of the guilt and fear spawned from the evil that was Angelus.

With so much at stake, Jenny decided that her first order of business was to tell Giles who she really was and what reason had led her to Sunnydale. Angel must be kept far from Buffy to prevent tragedy from happening all over again. The other thing Rupert might be able to help her with was finding a way to anchor that so necessary soul permanently, keeping the demon out of the driver’s seat where Angel was concerned.

Who knew, maybe some good could come from having the souled vampire stable enough to fight on the side of light. First Jenny would seek Spike’s permission to reveal a bit of the tale he had told her.

~~~

Spike offered to treat the entire group to pizza after the school show fiasco was finished. Soon they were gathered round the table laughing and talking as if they had all been together forever.

Xander had begun to accept that Spike was going to be around, so he set aside his jealousy long enough to try a tentative overture of friendship.

Giles and Jenny looked to be a solid couple as well. The Watcher was more relaxed than Spike could ever remember seeing in this or any other time.

Spike was glad he had given permission for Jenny to tell the Watcher some of their conversation. Secrets between couples could backfire. Spike wondered again at his choice to wait to reveal all to Buffy. He could but hope it was the right choice.

The friends were talking over one another, excited as a basket full of puppies. Spike listened, bemused at the group’s attempt to explain the odd performance Spike had been witness to. The entire audience had been left speechless by the tangled jumble of demon slaying, Giles saving, bad acting of timeless plays, and stage fright.

"So the wooden puppet WASN’T the demon?" Jenny was as confused as Spike. "I’d like to just say how glad I am that Marc didn’t succeed in removing your brain, Rupert. Lots of women want mindless boyfriends, but I’m not one of them," she teased.

"Boyfriend!" Xander jumped on that comment with speed he usually reserved for grabbing the last jelly donut.

"Saw that one coming," whispered Willow to a laughing Buffy. "Okay, why is it that I’m suddenly the one attracting the weird. Last week I was catnip to an ancient demon and this week Howdy Doody makes a pass at me. Is it the way I dress?

 

Giles was smiling and laughing along with the children. "And then Principal Snyder asked, ‘is that avant-garde?’ like the total nincompoop he is."

"I don’t know, some performance art is even more odd than what you lot pulled off," Spike offered. "I do think that you managed to cover Willow’s escape nicely though."

"If Xander hadn’t made a mess of his lines, I wouldn’t have been panicky girl," Willow defended. "You don’t understand how many nightmares I’ve had over the years of being in that position, only with less clothes."

"It’s okay, Will, we covered." Buffy knew that not a soul in the audience had any clue of what they should have been seeing and most likely thought they were witnessing experimental theater just as Principal Snyder had.

"Can I just say how glad I am the creepy wooden guy is gone now?" Xander said. "I don’t know what’s worse: dummies or clowns." The boy shuddered in horror.

"Frogs. Frogs are worse," Willow announced. "Frogs or being naked on stage."

Spike had to laugh at the sorts of things this little group found frightening, especially growing up on the Hellmouth.

"Waking up the last human left on earth," Buffy said solemnly. "That’s the worst."

"Failing to keep loved ones safe." Both Giles and Jenny said the same thing at the same time. The strangeness of hearing the foreboding duet sent a chill down Spike’s spine. He’d lived the years that happened when those fears came true.

"What about you, Spike?" Buffy asked. She had seen his stricken look at the comment from the Watcher and his new girlfriend. "What’s your greatest fear?"

"Never used to be afraid of anything really. Nothing much mattered enough to cause that kind of fear." Spike thought about his long unlife and changed his mind. He’d had fears. Still had them, in fact. "That’s not true ‘f I think about it. I guess it’d be the same one the Watcher and his gypsy said. Watchin’ someone I love hurtin’ or worse, ‘specially if I were the cause. Couldn’t take hurtin’ someone I love, do just about anything to stop myself from bein’ able to do that!"

Giles looked with interest at the vampire. Spike certainly looked earnest enough. Perhaps some of what Jenny had said to him earlier in the day bore reflection. Spike certainly wasn’t anything like the Council’s training had said to expect. He didn’t seem at all like a mindless, unfeeling animal.

Giles wasn’t yet willing to trust the vampire, but he might be willing to withhold judgment a bit longer.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 13
~*~

 

Jenny and Giles spent the better part of the morning talking about Spike’s tale. Jenny felt it prudent to leave out the bit about Spike thinking he wanted to come back to this time to more easily kill Buffy. While the Watcher was most interested in the parts that dealt directly with Buffy, Jenny was more troubled by the stories Spike had told of Willow.

It sounded as though the amazingly intelligent girl was a quick study with the spells and rituals of witchcraft but completely unfamiliar with the way of Wicca. The Willow that Spike spoke of didn’t seem to be interested in oneness with the divine and all creation. No humbling of herself in the presence of Mother Earth shone through in his stories. No seeking to become a healer, teacher, seeker or giver either. It sounded as though Willow was tapping into the power for personal gain, to twist the will of others to her own. This was the darkest magic and highly dangerous.

When Spike told Jenny that Willow had been the one to re-ensoul Angelus in his timeframe, she felt a cold chill. To do a spell that powerful and be successful should not have been possible for a novice. Jenny determined that Giles was going to have to take this matter as seriously as he was taking the idea of his Slayer loving a vampire. Personally, Jenny could not see any negatives coming from Spike and Buffy loving one another, but there were many, many dangers from Willow going on with the magic unchecked.

"Really, Jenny, how can you not see the wrongness of it? Buffy has a sacred calling to rid the world of these creatures and you seem to be advocating her giving her heart to one instead." Giles was flummoxed by the idea.

He knew the response he’d get from the Council if they got a whiff of it. Spike would be put down and Buffy removed from her position by a quickly dispatched team. Yet here was this very well versed, intelligent woman who had no great sympathy for the undead stating this budding affair of the heart might be a good thing!

"If Spike loves Buffy, he will continue to change for the better. He can fight at her side, Rupert. He’s a Master Vampire, not some newly turned creature. He’s lived a long time and even kept his insane consort alive. Spike might help Buffy live longer than any Slayer in history simply by watching her back!" Jenny was frustrated by the stubborn streak Giles was displaying, especially since it was built on half-truths and outright lies taught by the Council for their own ends.

"I know what your books say, but there are reasons they are written that way. I happen to understand, even if you don’t think that I do. These girls are so young and the job is a dangerous one. If they had to stop to evaluate whether a vampire or demon MIGHT be salvageable, stop to really peer into the gray areas, they would just die sooner. And it is true that most vampires are beasts that need to be killed." Jenny drew in a deep breath before continuing. "Look…fate, the Powers, whatever, has brought this particular vampire into our lives. For some reason this vampire has genuine caring for your Slayer, as well as a knowledge of some events that color all of our lives forever and not in a good way. I say that’s more important than whatever pat answers the Council put to the question of whether vampires can feel real emotion or not.

"In my experience," she continued, "vampires are much like humans. They vary from being to being. They aren’t little undead clones, Rupert; they are all different. THIS one obviously CAN feel, and deeply I’d guess."

Jenny decided to impart some insights from her own people’s observations. "There are people who don’t love well either. My clan lived in a part of the world where Vampires are quite common, old Vampires. There are stories of grand passion and sacrifice among them. Maybe it’s their age, maybe it’s about how well they can control the demon…I don’t know. I’ve always thought it had a great deal to do with the sort of person they were before they were turned."

"That’s just it, Jenny: they aren’t that person at all, just a demon using the murdered person’s body, memories and intellect!" Giles closed the book he had been using to ‘prove’ his points.

Jenny shook her head sadly. "If you really believe that, then you are not as smart as I thought you were." Giles looked a bit stung at that comment. "I understand why they teach it though. It would make it very hard to kill Aunt Martha if she were turned unless you truly believed there was no Aunt Martha there any longer. Whatever it is that we call the soul may well be gone, but the human is still there, complete with personality and emotions. You can believe what you want, Rupert. I’m only speaking from a knowledge that is older than any of the books you have in that precious library in London!"

They sat in silence for a short while, neither wanting to concede the point yet loath to be arguing, especially about this particular subject.

Finally Giles sighed and decided a change of subject was the best solution. "Well, I suppose we ARE both in agreement on the Angel issue at least?"

"IF you mean that Angel must never be allowed to lose that soul of his, yes!" Jenny shuddered at the very thought. "I know far more about that particular vampire than any of your books might detail. He’s a special project of my family and I am currently their eyes and ears where Angel is concerned. You really don’t want that evil unleashed."

"So we should look into ways of modifying the original curse then?" Giles found Jenny’s research interesting, to say the least. "Are you quite certain you could do this?"

"Not certain, but I don’t dare leave it to chance." Jenny stood up and went to the computer terminal in Giles’ office. "I’ve been in communication with someone who might help me with the wording. Even if Spike is right and it was being with Buffy that removed Angel’s soul in his time, there is no reason to think there might be something else happen that could make Angel just as happy. That soul has to be anchored!"

"Perhaps Willow could assist you. I know she is only starting to show an interest in magic, but she is quite bright." Giles didn’t notice the way Jenny trembled at his words. "You said yourself that Spike told you that Willow will be quite proficient with magic in the near future."

"Yes, and I believe I also tried to point out that her motives and their origin don’t sound too comforting." Giles looked at her in curiosity. "Look, I’d rather not encourage Willow just yet. In fact, I was thinking that you might want to contact the Council for a referral to a really good coven in the area where Willow might begin to study the real roots of magic. I think she needs to understand the purpose behind it, not just how to wield the power. I can help her, of course, but the nurturing environment of a good group of well-trained practitioners would be the best thing for her. I think that Willow, with the proper instruction, would be a great asset. Without it she could be the greatest danger."

"Yes, I quite see your point. Very well, we’ll work on this ourselves and I’ll see if I can find a decent referral for Willow." They were both pleased at the peaceful harmony restored to their relationship with agreement over Angel and Willow.

"As for Spike…," Giles began carefully, "I’ll take your opinion under advisement. I respect your knowledge, however it differs from what I was taught." Jenny smiled happily that her new boyfriend was respecting her views.

"In fact, I have begun to look into prophecies regarding slayers in this era. I would think that a Slayer involved with a vampire would be worthy of a prophecy or two. The two volumes that would help the most, the Tiberius Manifesto and the Pergamum Codex, have become lost to the ages. I have a correspondence with a former Watcher who might have segments translated from the Manifesto and he will be sending them. I hope to discover if there is a reason for this…this…unnatural attraction."

"Of course there’s a reason," Jenny teased, "Buffy is beautiful and Spike’s quite the looker too. Naturally they’d find each other attractive!" Jenny laughed at the expression on Giles’ face. "I think that’s a great idea, Rupert. If all it involved were a superficial attraction, that would be one thing, but I agree that this pairing has the feel of something more than a high school romance."

"Quite," Giles added glumly.

 

~~~

"So Cordy thinks she has some right, ordained from above, to automatically be crowned May Queen!" Buffy was completely irritated by Cordelia. Actually, the problem was that Cordy was living the life Buffy had expected for herself. A life of cheerleading and being crowned high school royalty. Buffy only had that one brief time at Hemery where she had all that before being called by Merrick. If she weren’t the Slayer, she’d love to give Cordy a run for her money.

"Sounds a mite smug of the cheerleader, if you ask me." Spike could see the hurt beneath the anger in Buffy. "Not like she’s the only pretty bint in the school or something." Buffy nodded in silent agreement. "You could beat her without even trying, if you’d a mind to."

Spike was rewarded with one of Buffy’s biggest, most sincere smiles before she leaned over the table and kissed him soundly.

They were at the Espresso Bar for a quick mocha after school. Joyce expected Buffy home by a certain time and Spike was always too eager to see Buffy to wait for her to slip out for patrol. Their regular coffee dates managed to pacify both the people Buffy loved most and she enjoyed spilling about her day to her so sexy and interested boyfriend.

"You really think so?" Buffy, for being completely lovely to look at, was rather insecure since being called. Maybe it was all the killing every night that took some of her feminine confidence away or just being the new girl in school, but she felt wanting in the company of the brunette cheerleader who set the fashion at Sunnydale High School.

"Know so." Spike looked at her with his heart in his eyes and Buffy knew that, to him at least, Cordy wasn’t even in the running. "You’re already my May Queen. Every other month too. If it matters that much to you, pet, why don’t you run against her? Show the bint what a real beauty queen looks like."

"You really are the best boyfriend ever! You do know that, don’t you?" Buffy glowed at his compliments.

"Don’t know about that, pet. There’s things ‘bout me you don’t know, not so nice things." Spike tiptoed around the big invisible elephant that was the truth about himself.

"Well, with a nickname like Spike, I think there’s some sort of requirement to have a bad boy past." Buffy giggled as Spike’s eyebrows shot up. "The black leather’s another tip-off."

‘More ways than one,’ Spike thought, remembering where and how he got the coat in question.

"Hate to go, but have to be home before Mom freaks. So, you up for the traditional ‘meet the parent’ dinner this Friday?" Buffy had finally told her mom a bit about the ‘slightly’ older guy she had been seeing and Joyce insisted on a real meeting.

"I’m sure your mum’s a charmer. No worries, pet. Even put on my best manners for her." Spike had been wondering how he could convince Joyce that his intentions were pure where Buffy was concerned. Well, not exactly pure--okay, not even close, but he was intending to wait. He loved Buffy more than he imagined he could love, but she was still a child in many ways. He had all the time in the world. All he had to do was convince Joyce that he had no intention of pressing Buffy for more than he should at her age.

"Mom wanted to know what you drink. I think she was fishing to see if I’d been drinking with you. She worries. I told her I wasn’t sure, that all we’d had was from the Espresso Bar, and she seemed relieved." Buffy hadn’t mentioned that her first sight of Spike had been at the bar in the Bronze. Some things were best left unsaid.

"I’m sure whatever your mom puts together will be fine." Spike laid a bill on the table as a tip for the harried waitress and held his hand out for Buffy to rise from her chair. "See you later tonight on patrol?"

"Of course! I think the vamps in town should love you, Spike! Since you’ve been patrolling with me, I’m more interested in kissing than staking." Buffy kept hold
of his hand as they walked out of the coffee bar and onto the sidewalk outside.

Spike laughed and kissed her forehead. It didn’t hurt that he had started taking out a few nests before she started patrol either. So far Spike had avoided detection from the Master’s minions. The only ones who recognized him on sight had been dealt with. Darla was dust and Angel off in Seattle with Dru. ‘Maybe,’ Spike thought, ‘Poof’ll just stay up North and unlife will be perfect.’

~~~

Giles nearly had a heart attack as Angel spoke from right behind him. The vampire really had an annoying ability to slip in and out of the shadows without warning!

Angel handed the Watcher an ancient book. "Heard you were looking for this."

Giles looked at the elusive volume, the Pergamum Codex, long thought to be forever lost. He glanced at the vampire in surprise. "Wherever did you get hold of this?" As Angel’s comment registered, he added, "And just how did you hear I was seeking it?"

"Demon underground. You’d be surprised the things we know." Angel puffed up with self-importance. "I’ve collected a lot of interesting books over the years. Picked this one up in Barcelona just after the turn of the century. Monks were using it mostly as a paperweight for lesser scrolls. Something going on with Buffy you’re worried about?"

"Not that it is your business, but there is always something going on, as you put it, with Buffy. She is the Slayer; knowing any possible prophecy regarding her time as the Chosen One can but help." Giles had never been comfortable in the company of this vampire, even before he knew Angel to be one. He was even less comfortable after hearing what Spike said would occur had he not come back to this time. "Thank you for this, however." Manners will out.

Giles began to look through some likely passages immediately. With the Master in town planning on breaking out to freedom for the first time in over sixty years, there was every likelihood there would be multiple prophecies.

Spike chose that inopportune moment to arrive at the library. He had hoped to discuss a few ideas with Buffy’s Watcher about how to defeat the Master when he heard the none-so-dulcet tones of his grandsire.

"Look who’s the bad penny," Spike said in greeting. "Back so soon, Gramps?"

"What are you doing here, Spike? I still don’t buy that whole, ‘just want to help Buffy’ line you tried to lay on me. I know you, Spike, better than anyone else does and I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you."

"You know," Spike said in frustration, "I’m getting pretty sick of you goin’ on about how well you know me! You NEVER knew me, you pompous fuck. Never took the time to find out anything ‘bout who Dru brought home, just tried to mold me into another you."

Angel growled at the accusation. "Didn’t have to look too hard to see the loser Dru thought would be a good addition. Then again, Dru was completely crazy."

"Thanks to you--let’s not leave out that part. I’ve seen you once since Darla turned you out and that was almost a century ago. Where do you get off claimin’ to know my deepest and darkest?"

Giles was getting rather nervous with the two powerful master vampires looking like they would soon begin to fight right there in his library. That would only give ammunition to that idiot Snyder. "Perhaps we could discuss more recent history and leave all the reminiscences for a later time, yes? Spike, Angel has just brought a very valuable reference book that might give us some insight into how to deal with the Master."

"Right nice of you, Peaches." Spike turned to Giles at last. "Find anythin’ yet?"

"Not as such, no." Giles felt the tension lessen slightly but knew it was only a matter of time before the two vampires came to blows.

"Master’s a canny old bastard. The little nipper’s no real threat though," Spike opined.

"Little nipper?" Giles looked interested. "Who might that be?"

"The Annoying, ‘scuse me, Anointed One," Spike answered.

"Buffy killed the Anointed One as soon as he rose. That was just before you appeared on the scene."

 

"Don’t know who Buffy killed, but it wasn’t the puppy. Anointed One’s just a kid. He’s stayin’ down there with the old bat like he’s bloody Prince William or something." Spike never knew that Buffy hadn’t been aware of that fact.

"That would explain what my net friend Luca was quoting. He gave a Bible passage, Isaiah 11:6, and said it might as well be applied to the Anointed One." Jenny had entered as Spike was speaking. "I looked it up." She handed the open Bible to Giles and he read the passage aloud.

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, the lion and the fatling together, and the little child to lead them." Giles read it again to himself as they all digested the words.

"Kind of warm and fuzzy for a message of doom," Jenny commented.

Giles responded, "Well, that depends on where he’s leading them. Aurelius wrote of the Anointed One, ‘the Slayer will not know him, and he will lead her into hell’. That would seem to fit."

"Buffy’s not stupid!" Angel said angrily. "She wouldn’t just follow some kid to hell."

"Might if she thought it was her duty," Spike disagreed. "I think someone needs to tell her the annoying little bugger’s still out there."

"I think someone needs to tell her a bit more than that," Giles said under his breath.

"I was thinkin’ of that bein’ a good idea after dinner on Friday, actually. Less likely to meet up with a pointy piece of wood that way." Spike had been wanting to come clean with Buffy for at least a week. He was hoping to tell her about himself after he’d charmed Joyce though. Maybe a nice tete a tete on the back porch when Buffy was mellow and happy. 'Right helpful Joyce not havin' a clue about Buffy being the Slayer,' he thought.

"Dinner? Telling? What’s been happening while I was gone?" Angel glared at Spike, demanding answers.

"Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m having dinner at Buffy’s on Friday. Gonna let her know ‘bout my past in a way that won’t scare the girl, unlike SOME people." Spike glared back at his grandsire.

"No wonder you wanted me out of town! Sent me to deal with your girlfriend so you could move in on mine!" Angel advanced on Spike with his hands closing into fists.

"Buffy’s not yours and Dru isn’t mine anymore either." Spike stood tall and defiant facing Angel. "Speakin’ of my sire, did you take care of her?"

"She’s no threat anymore," Angel said in a monotone.

"What’s that mean, ‘no threat’? I sent you to get her well, be her daddy and steer her in the right direction, to fix the mess you left." Spike lunged at Angel, pinning him to the cage in his fury.

"She couldn’t be fixed, Spike. Surely you knew that when you sent me." Angel had a satisfied grin on his face as the meaning became clear to Spike. "That it, Spike? You send me there to get rid of your problem so you’d have a clear path to Buffy? Gonna tell Buffy THAT?"

"What did you do?" Spike demanded, his voice a low growl.

"What I should have done with both of you a century ago: I dusted her." Angel yelped as Spike’s fist smashed into his face. He laughed as he wiped the blood from the corner of his lip. "Isn’t that what you expected me to do, Spike? Isn’t that what you wanted?"

"No," Spike whispered. "Didn’t want her dust, just safe." He looked at Angel with pure hatred. "Took you two hundred years, but you finally finished what you started with her, yeah? How’s that soul of yours dealin’?"

"I fixed the problem. Now the only loose end left is you, Spike." Angel pushed Spike off him and the two vampires began to fight in earnest.

Spike was fueled by rage and grief and Angel was not expecting the onslaught from the smaller vamp. Giles and Jenny cleared away from the center of the room, where Spike was pounding his fist into Angel’s face repeatedly.

After the element of surprise passed, Angel got the leverage he needed to throw the other vampire off him. Spike bounced off the book return cart and was back in Angel’s space as soon as the older vamp was on his feet.

"You self-centered bastard! Dru was your doin' and yours to take care of. Made the decision all on your own that what was best for the girl was to put an end to her. Only interest you were really concerned with was your own." Spike laid into Angel again. "Did you tell her it was for her own good as you shoved the stake in?"

Giles had no plan to get between the two enraged vampires, but he had no desire to be sweeping up piles of dust that he would have to explain to his Slayer later. "If you two would kindly take this quarrel elsewhere….I really don’t want to draw that toad Snyder’s attention to the supernatural side of my work."

Jenny was taking the fight a bit more seriously than the Watcher. She could see the pure hatred glittering in Angel’s eyes and the hurt betrayal in Spike’s. There was no way this would end well unless someone took it in hand.

"You both claim to love Buffy." Both vampires turned to the teacher. "If there is any truth to that claim, you’ll stop this immediately."

The fighting pair stopped and waited to hear what she had to say. "Buffy is in love with Spike." Angel started to resume the fight, but Jenny put a hand on his recoiled arm to stay him. "That is HER choice, Angelus."

"You’ve tricked her somehow," Angel accused Spike.

"Not bloody likely. Haven’t told her everything, but been myself ‘round her." Spike glared daggers at Angel. "No trick there. Girl just liked me’s all."

"If I find out you’ve touched her, Spike, I’ll make you WISH I’d staked you today." Angel stalked out of the library in a fury.

Buffy entered before the door stopped swinging shut. "Hi, guys. What’s up? Was that Angel I just passed in the hall?"

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 14
~*~

The awkward silence that greeted Buffy’s question caused her to frown in concern. Her Watcher, her boyfriend and Jenny Calendar all looked as if they wished to be anywhere but there facing her innocent question.

Spike was overwhelmed with an emotion he was not supposed to be able to feel, according to all the experts. Guilt--pure, mind-numbing guilt -- roiled over him like waves from an ocean of regret. His dark princess, the fragile creature who had made him and been his constant companion for a century was nothing but dust now and it was due to him.

The lucid moments when Dru had seemed to appreciate and even love him a little replayed across his memory like a soft melody. Memories of the two of them comforting each other and tending each other’s hurts stung in sharp relief, discordant notes in the song. Now the song had ended and Spike hadn’t even been there to hear the final notes. He, who had vowed to always care for her, had sent destruction to her without a thought or worry.

Now another guilty accusation joined the millions he had over what happened to Dru. Buffy was still so trusting and innocent, yet he was holding back the most important information about himself. She deserved to know the truth. If he did love her, he needed to be honest with her and let her make her choice to accept or reject him as he was. Spike felt himself drowning in guilt and sorrow and grief, and if he didn’t leave right then, he was likely to make a complete git of himself.

Buffy looked hurt and puzzled as Spike sped past her and down the hall without a word. "Okay, why do I get the feeling that I just walked in at the most important part of a movie but missed the rest?"

Jenny had a good idea why Spike left as he did. Perhaps Giles would have a harder time denying the vampire’s ability to feel after witnessing that display. "There was a discussion, an argument between Spike and Angel. I’m sure Spike will tell you ALL about it very soon, Buffy. Those two have a complicated history."

Buffy thought about what Jenny said and decided to let Spike have time to cool down. She knew he’d turn up later, full of apologies and kisses, and then they could talk. ‘Mmm, make-up kissage is of the good,’ she thought. ‘Haven’t had any of that from Spike yet.’

Giles placed the Codex out of view in his top drawer. No sense in alarming Buffy over the news that the Anointed One was still living, or undead. He had too much research yet to do on prophecies involving this ascension and the Master.

"Weirdness abounds everywhere today, I guess," Buffy shared. "My last class was like something out of Arachnophobia! Ms. Tishler was going on and on about listening and suddenly Wendell had all these tarantulas crawling out of his book and all over the room. Even the jocks were screaming like girls!"

"Spiders, did you say?" Giles jotted a note to check on portents involving arachnids. ‘And just this past week it was invisible students. It’s a wonder any education takes place in this school at all,’ he thought.

"Nope, tarantulas. The big, hairy kind." Buffy smiled sweetly at Giles before she could get sidetracked again. She had a reason for her quick trip to the school library and walking in on the scene as she did had nearly made her forget it. "Giles…I sorta need the WHOLE weekend off patrol. I know you said it was okay to skip it on Friday because of the big ‘introduce boyfriend to mother’ dinner, but my dad suddenly remembered he has a daughter and is coming to pick me up on Saturday for a weekend visit."

"Yes, well, I suppose I can work out a way to cover for your absence. Naturally, you deserve time with your father." Giles was surprised to feel jealous of the absent parent who had more legal rights in Buffy’s life than Giles ever would.

"That is, if he DOES show. He’s made promises before and cancelled." Buffy frowned, not noticing the exchange of looks between Giles and Jenny. Too often they saw this sort of neglect, but it wasn’t easy to accept, no matter how common. "Promise if he does ditch me, I’ll do my patrols like a good little Slayer. Might even enjoy taking out a few more nests than usual, actually."

~~~

After school Buffy and Giles headed to the hospital to check on a girl named Laura who had been attacked in the school’s basement. Despite all the unusual activity that seemed to be spelling an apocalypse, Giles hoped that this would turn out to be a run-of-the-mill assault with no supernatural overtones.

The girl was battered and dazed, but seemed lucid enough to answer some questions. Buffy brought Laura a potted plant and smiled at her previously unknown classmate as she asked, "Can you tell us what happened?"

Laura was silent for a moment as she reran the attack through her mind. "I was in the basement. I went down for a smoke." The girl gave a nervous smile to the school librarian who had surprised her with this visit. She hoped he wasn’t going to rat her out to Snyder. "Someone was there already."

"Was is someone you knew?" Buffy half hoped to hear it was an ex-boyfriend or your standard axe murderer. Buffy really had enough on her hands with the Master and his gang plotting who knows what.

"NO. I’ve never seen anything like it." Laura shuddered at the memory of the monstrous looking man who had beaten her so badly. She didn’t notice the look that passed between Giles and Buffy at the word ‘it’.

With trepidation, Giles asked, "Can you describe it?"

Suddenly, Laura became quite agitated and didn’t seem able or willing to talk about the attack anymore. Buffy felt sorry for the girl. She remembered the first time she had encountered something from out of a nightmare only to find it painfully real. "Hey, that’s okay. Don’t worry about it. Just rest for now."

A nurse entered then and started to shoo them out of the room. "This miss needs her rest. Come back and visit later."

As Giles and Buffy were leaving the girl’s room, Laura muttered, "Lucky nineteen."

Giles turned back to the girl in the bed and said, "I’m sorry?"

"It’s what he said…right before…he said ‘lucky nineteen.’ That’s weird, right?"

The pain medication was beginning to work and Laura’s eyes closed as Giles and Buffy left her room. They stopped in the hall outside the door and spotted a doctor checking charts.

"Is this young lady going to be all right?" Giles asked.

"Are you family?" The physician asked in return.

Buffy said, "Friends," as Giles answered, "We’re from her school. I’m on staff there, in fact."

The doctor looked the two over closely and decided to give a bit more information than usual to non-family. "She’ll recover. She has a couple of fractured bones and some internal bleeding. She got off pretty easy."

Buffy was horrified. "Easy?"

"Well, the other one’s still in a coma." The doctor stopped in front of another patient’s room.

"Other what?" Buffy didn’t like the sound of this.

"The other victim." The doctor peered into the room. "They found him a week ago. Same M.O. as your friend, only he’s in worse shape. If he doesn’t wake up soon….."

Two victims! Surely this had to be hellmouthy action. Giles looked like he wanted to take notes.

The doctor looked angry as he said, "Somebody’s gotta stop this guy."

Buffy looked into the room and saw a small boy hooked to machines. "That’s him!"

Giles was startled at the expression on Buffy’s face. "Who?"

"The kid I’ve been seeing around school!" Buffy stared at the child in amazement.

"You’ve seen this child around school?" Giles was puzzled, trying to put it all in context. "The other victim of this brute was at the school? When did you see the boy?"

The doctor caught part of the conversation and said, "Unless you’re talking about a couple of weeks ago, you are mistaken. Billy Palmer was found beaten and unconscious after his little league game a week ago Saturday. He’s been in a coma, in critical condition, since he was admitted."

Giles ushered Buffy away from prying ears and asked again, "When did you see this Billy?"

"Well, the first time was when Wendell had the spider attack. I saw him again when my brain went to oatmealy mush for my history test." She ignored the ‘so what’s new’ look on Giles face. "I thought it was weird seeing such a young kid just hanging around, but he didn’t have any bumpies, so I didn’t spaz."

Giles muttered to himself, "The boy’s been in a coma for a week. How can this be possible?"

"Um, Giles…Hellmouth, remember? Seeing a little kid at the high school doesn’t rank up there on the weirdness factor. Besides, am I Knowledge Girl now? Explanations are your terrain."

Giles was trying to think of an explanation for Buffy’s sightings. "Well, there is astral projection." He saw Buffy’s confused expression and explained further. "The theory that while one sleeps, one has another body--an astral body--which can travel through time and space."

Buffy thought about it, then replied. "Billy’s in a coma. That’s like sleep, right?" At Giles’ nod, she continued, "Could I have been seeing Billy’s asteroid body?"

Giles cringed at Buffy’s malapropism. "Astral body…and I don’t know. I suppose it is possible. The question I have is why though. Why you?"

"I kinda am a weirdness magnet. Maybe that’s why." Buffy thought about what Laura had said and repeated the phrase, "Lucky nineteen…wonder what that means?"

~~~

And still the weirdness continued. Xander appeared in the school hallway clad in just his underwear just after the class goth had a visit from his overly affectionate mom, who kept referring to him as her ‘pookie’.

Giles suddenly found himself unable to read in any of the five languages in which he was ordinarily quite fluent. It was all just gibberish on the printed page. Jenny found herself continually being logged out of her websites, although that turned out to be due to ‘maintenance’ on the server.

The most heartrending event, however, was the unexpected early arrival of Hank Summers. He had Buffy pulled from class for an important discussion.

Buffy was startled to see her dad, especially several days early. "Dad! What are you doing here? I didn’t expect you until Saturday. Is something wrong?" Hank had hardly been an attentive father since her parents’ divorce and Buffy had half longed for and half feared this weekend’s planned visit. For him to show up early could mean many things, most not of the good.

Hank looked a bit sheepish. "Well, I needed to talk to you."

"And this is important enough to pull me from class?" Buffy’s eyes grew wide in fear. "Something IS wrong! Is it Mom?"

"No, no, it’s not your mom. She’s fine, at least I think she is. I haven’t seen her." Hank drew Buffy towards the sunny courtyard. "Could I speak with you a moment? Privately?"

Buffy was getting goosebumps and the feeling that something big was about to happen. ‘Maybe Dad’s gonna tell me he’s marrying that ho secretary he’s been living with,’ she thought with a shudder. Just what Buffy wanted, a stepmom only a handful of years older than she was with the personality of Cordelia! Buffy had met her the woman once and that had been quite enough.

"I came early because there’s something I’ve needed to tell you. It’s about your mother and me and why we split up," Hank began.

‘Damn! Bet Fluffy didn’t remember the birth control,’ Buffy thought as she waited for the inevitable.

"I know we always said it was because we’d grown too far apart, but you’re old enough now to know the truth." Hank sat down next to Buffy at the picnic bench.

Hank drew in a deep breath and looked Buffy in the eye. "It was you."

Buffy let out a tiny squeak of horror. "Me?" Like all kids of divorce, she had secretly feared this was the case, but to actually hear it was unexpected, to say the least. Adults usually kept stuff like that from their kids.

Hank continued on, ignoring the devastation he could see on his daughter’s face. "Having you. Raising you. Seeing you every day. I mean, do you have ANY idea what that’s like?"

Buffy muttered a quiet, "What?" She thought parents were supposed to enjoy those things.

Hank continued rubbing salt into the wound. "Gosh, you don’t even see what’s right in front of your face, do you? Well, big surprise there, all you ever think about is yourself." He didn’t stop, even when tears began to slip from Buffy’s eyes and down her bright red cheeks. "You get in trouble, you embarrass us with all the crazy stunts you pull…I mean you burned down the gym at your last school! Do I have to go on?"

Buffy begged, "No, please don’t," but he went on heedlessly.

"You’re sullen and rude. You’re not nearly as bright as I thought you were going to be. I don’t know where you got your genes for THAT; your mom and I are both intelligent!" Hank stood and looked down at his little girl. "Hey, Buffy, let’s be honest. Could you stand to live in the same house with a daughter like that?"

Buffy was cold and in shock. "Why are you saying these things?" She was crying in earnest now.

"Because they’re true. I think that’s the least we owe one another." Finally, he noticed her sobs and sighed in disgust. "You know, I don’t think it’s very mature of you to get blubbery when I’m just trying to be honest. Speaking of which, I don’t really get anything out of these weekends with you. Why do you think I’ve put them off? What do you say we just don’t pretend anymore. I think we can both find better things to do with our time. I sure thought you’d turn out differently. Thought I could be proud one day."

Hank turned to go after a quick pat on Buffy’s head. She watched her father walk out of her life without a backward glance. As Buffy watched him leave, she spotted Billy Palmer looking at her and then turning to leave as well.

~~~

Giles was listening to the children discuss all the odd events that had been plaguing the school for two weeks. When Xander mentioned that his being in the hallway was like a nightmare to him, Willow suddenly got a "eureka!" look on her face. "Hey, I think I may be onto something here." Giles and Xander looked at the girl in interest.

"You lived your nightmare just like Wendell!" Willow raised her eyebrows as if to indicate the answer was elementary.

"And I was unable to decipher words on a page, became lost in the stacks…of course!" Giles leapt on the idea readily.

Xander was a little slower to follow but did get there eventually. "Are you saying that our dreams are coming true? And if so, why am I not having hot sex with half the cheerleading squad?" At Willow’s glare, he muttered, "Just forget that last part, okay? I’m seventeen--it’s what we do!"

"No, not dreams, Xander. Nightmares. Our nightmares are coming true. Those very things we fear the most are happening." Giles looked almost relieved.

Xander raised his hand, "I know this is the Hellmouth and all, but…um, why?"

"Billy!" Giles exclaimed, startling both teens with his unexpected answer.

Willow asked, "Who’s Billy?"

"The boy," Giles began to explain, "The lad in the coma that Buffy and I saw yesterday while visiting Laura. He was beaten and is in a coma. Somehow, I think, he’s crossed over from the nightmare world he is in into the real world we dwell in."

"And he brought the nightmare world with him. Nice kid," snarked Xander. "Someone has to stop him."

"Indeed," Giles agreed. "Or soon everyone in Sunnydale will be facing their own worst nightmares."

As Giles finished his prediction, Cordy came dashing into the library, her hair frizzed beyond repair. "I don’t understand! How can this be happening? I was just at the salon." She patted her head in a frenzy. "Oh my GOD, I can’t let anyone see me like this!"

Just then two members of the chess club reached in and grabbed Cordy, dragging her to their meeting room. "No! No! Let me go, you geeks!"

"You can be the white queen," said the president of the club.

Willow couldn’t help but smile at the sight of her old nemesis in all her unstylish glory being dragged into the very pit of geekdom.

~~~

Buffy, still reeling from her father’s visit, was headed to the gym for a private cry when she noticed Billy again. He was sitting in the stands and Buffy headed over to join him, hoping the boy wouldn’t disappear again.

"You’re Billy Palmer, right?" The boy nodded. "Why are you here? Did something bad happen to you after your game?"

The boy turned fearful eyes on her. "You know about the game?" Buffy nodded in reply. "I play second base." The boy looked ashamed for some reason.

"Are you ‘lucky nineteen’, Billy?" Buffy was working on a hunch here.

The boy cringed before answering. "That’s what HE calls me."

Buffy frowned. "Who?"

"The Ugly Man. He wants to kill me. He hurt that girl too.

Before Buffy could ask why anyone would want to kill a sweet kid like Billy, the boy whitened and drew back with a horrified cry. "He’s here!"

She didn’t have time to duck as the Ugly Man clubbed her with his deformed arm, knocking her off the bleachers. He connected a second time before Buffy was able to get up from the floor. She landed a high kick to his jaw, but he wasn’t fazed in the least.

The Ugly Man had a club and he was swinging it with precision at Buffy. She was fighting well, but he kept knocking her legs from under her. Deciding that retreat was in her best interest, Buffy rolled to one side and leapt up, following Billy in a limping run from the gym.

Buffy called out to the terrified boy, but he didn’t want to stop even after Buffy jammed the gym door, trapping the Ugly Man inside.

"I’m sorry, I can’t help it!" the boy whimpered.

"Who is he?" Buffy asked. "He’s too strong. I can’t fight him. We have to find my friends. They can help us.

Billy’s eyes rounded in fear. "We have to hide!"

Buffy tried to reason with the boy. "No, he’ll find us."

"Yes, but we have to hide. That’s how it happens. We hide and then he comes," the boy said fatalistically.

Buffy led the boy in the direction of the library only to find themselves outside watching a couple of kids playing ball on the other side of a fence. Buffy saw Billy grow even more tense and tried to reassure him. "They’re just playing. What is it? What’s bothering you?"

The boy shuddered. "Baseball. When you lose, it’s bad."

Buffy smiled at the serious tone used for just a kid’s game. "Did you lose your game last week?"

Billy nodded. "It was my fault. I missed a ball and I should have caught it."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You missed ONE ball and the whole game was YOUR fault? What, you were the only one playing? There weren’t eight other players?" Honestly, and her father had just said SHE was self-absorbed!

Billy looked at her, his eyes solemn. "He said it was my fault."

Buffy felt a chill of understanding. If she were right, she knew one human that was about to meet the Slayer in a not-so-friendly way! "Who said? Billy, did he hurt you after the game?"

Billy was becoming more and more uncomfortable and he begged, "Can we go find your friends now?" They headed toward the cafeteria, but the Ugly Man was coming their way, punching students as he stalked towards them. Buffy grabbed Billy by the arm and changed direction. "Bad idea. Um, come on, this way!" She pushed Billy ahead of her and they ran through some bushes. When they got to the other side of the foliage, Buffy noticed that it was suddenly night and they were in the cemetery. ‘What just happened?’ she wondered.

"Where are your friends? Is this where they are?" Billy looked completely confused.

"No, it’s really not," she replied. "I don’t see the Ugly Man. I also don’t see where the sun and the rest of the world went either."

Billy tugged at Buffy’s arm. "Look at this." He was pointing to a freshly dug grave with an open pine coffin inside. "I guess we’re gonna bury someone. I wonder who died?"

Much to Buffy’s horror, she heard a voice taunting in tone. "Nobody died. What’s the fun of burying someone if they’re already dead?" It was the Master. "So this is the Slayer. You’re prettier than the last one."

"You!" Buffy gasped. "This isn’t real. You can’t be free!"

"Silly girl. You still don’t understand, do you? I’m free because you fear it. Because you fear it, the world is crumbling. Your nightmares are made flesh. You have little Billy to thank for that."

Buffy looked around, but Billy Palmer was gone, vanished along with the rest of the normal world. "This is a dream," she reminded herself.

"A dream is a wish your heart makes," the Master said, parodying the Disney song as he grabbed Buffy by the neck. "This is real life. Come on, Slayer, what are YOU afraid of?" He growled and bared his teeth but didn’t bite before throwing her into the coffin at the bottom of the grave.

"NO!" cried Buffy as the lid slammed shut. "Help me!"

"How about being buried alive?" The Master laughed and began to shovel soil into the grave. Dirt began to fall through the cracks in the coffin as Buffy felt herself slide into panic.

~~~

Willow and Xander had been having their own worst nightmares at the same time. Willow had been thrust onstage to sing opera only to be the victim of thrown tomatoes, while Xander had his own close encounter with the clowns of doom -- his worst nightmare ever.

They came together while on the run from their respective nightmares and finally met up with Giles, who was soon face-to-face with one of Xander’s knife-wielding clowns. As terrifying as the grease-painted John Wayne Gacy wannabe was, all Giles could think was to ask, "Where’s Buffy?"

As the trio hit a dead end and the clown drew nearer, Xander faced his fears at last. He bravely punched his red-nosed assailant in the face and said, "You are a lousy clown! Your balloon animals are pathetic. Anyone can make a giraffe!" With that, the passage opened and they were free. The clown was no longer there to pursue them .

"I feel good, liberated," Xander exulted. "Saved a bundle on future trips to the shrink too."

People were running and screaming all around them as the situation seemed to go from bad to worse.

Giles puffed, "You seem to be the only one. It’s getting worse. In a few hours, reality will fold completely into the realm of nightmares."

Willow looked terrified at the thought. "What can we do?"

"The only thing I can think of is to waken Billy." Giles gazed towards the hospital.

"Shouldn’t we find Buffy first?" Xander may have felt free, but that didn’t mean he was ready to just let things continue.

Willow looked up and noticed the dark area between where they were standing and the hospital. "Excuse me, but when did they put a cemetery over there?" She pointed into the darkness.

Xander added, "And when did it get to be night in some places?"

 

They cautiously approached the mystery cemetery and came upon a freshly covered grave. As they watched in growing horror, a hand reached up through the dirt as someone clawed their way out. All three leapt back and began to search for something to turn into an emergency stake as Buffy pulled herself the rest of the way from her grave.

"I thought I was dead," she said as her friends backed away from her.

"Your face," cried Willow.

Buffy felt the newly created ridges and the sharp points of her fangs and looked at her Watcher warily. "I’m getting hungry."

"She is kidding, isn’t she?" Xander practically begged Giles for a positive response. "How did she get turned? She wasn’t gone all that long."

"SPIKE! I knew a vampire couldn’t be trusted," Giles spat.

"Spike’s a vampire?" Buffy looked shocked and horrified at the same time. "No, he’d never lie to me like that!"

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 15
~*~

 

The group of nervous Scoobies met back at the school library with a subdued Buffy trailing behind. She could tell her two young friends were skittish around her and she had not yet figured out how to get rid of her game face. Giles was being discreet, but she knew his hand was wrapped around the stake he always carried with him in case he felt he had to use it.

It only took a short conversation for him to realize that Buffy still had her soul and that had stayed his hand thus far. Buffy suddenly had far more sympathy for Angel and his souled condition, something she had found a laughable concept barely days before.

While Buffy was frightened at the turn her life had taken, she was confused as well. She had no memory of actually dying. In her typical way, she chose to deal with her sudden inclusion as a member of the undead population of Sunnydale later, much later. Right now her mind was still trying to wrap itself around the betrayal she felt over Spike’s lies. She had thought he was special, different.

Buffy had started to think she’d stumbled onto her long haul guy and that thought had buoyed her on more than one long night. Spike was strong and understood her calling. She had come to really enjoy patrolling with someone who could hold his own. Even Buffy’s fears of the Master had started to calm. Knowing Spike had her back had given her confidence and hope. Now it was as much ash as the vamps she staked nightly. How could she ever trust Spike again?

Giles finally admitted to what the secretive vamp had told him weeks earlier. The mysteries of how Spike could be a vampire yet walk in the sun were explained, even though Giles could not describe the magical Gem the vampire had proven he possessed.

"So we can’t dust his pale ass?" Xander thought back over the months the vampire had been one of the group and was terrified to think the demon had been right there among them. He had actually started to enjoy the man’s company and now he was looking at losing yet another friend because of a chomp-happy vampire, this time in a turning that happened long before Xander had even been born.

Giles closed his eyes before responding. "I was looking into possible ways of taking care of the Spike situation, should it prove necessary. Nothing is truly invincible and, given enough time to research, I feel certain we can find a way to eliminate the threat he poses."

Buffy’s heart felt like it was tearing apart at the words. Spike had lied to her, to them all, yet she couldn’t help but remember that he had also helped them from the start. There had been nothing threatening in any of his actions from the time he joined them and began to court her.

"And me, Giles?" Buffy asked softly, though everyone in the room heard her clearly. "What about me? Are you going to research 100 ways to kill a turned Slayer too?"

"That is rather different, Buffy, and you know it," said Giles indignantly. "Should it ever become necessary, I would, as you might expect, do my duty. I daresay it will not become necessary. You have your soul yet and there is no reason to suspect the demon will be anything but firmly under your control."

"How can you tell I have my soul?" Buffy had wondered about that more than once as the long strange afternoon progressed.

"Well, for one thing, you appear to have no desire to go on a killing spree and your moral sense is as strong as ever," Giles had asked enough questions so that even the most clever demon would have been tripped up in a lie.

"Spike hasn’t done any killing, at least none that wasn’t part of patrolling with me. He seems to have the same basic idea of right and wrong that we do." Buffy tried to reason it out. "But you say he doesn’t have a soul."

Willow nodded in agreement as she thought of the souled, human monsters who had no sense of morality and had done plenty of killing throughout history.

"He doesn’t, Buffy. I’m glad you’ve finally come to your senses." The voice came from among the stacks. "I tried to warn you all. Spike is dangerous. Once he wants something, nothing stands in his way. He was obviously setting Buffy up and now he’s managed to turn her." Angel moved silently as a ghost as he descended the stairs and joined the group. He was still sporting a black eye and several bruises from his fight with Spike the day before.

"I think this is why he wanted me out of town so badly," Angel continued. "He knew I’d dust before I’d allow any harm to come to Buffy." He turned his liquid brown eyes on the newly turned Slayer and silently pled for her to accept his affection and help. "Buffy, I can help you. You don’t have the stains on your soul that I did when I got mine back. You don’t have to do this alone. I can teach you, help you deal with the beast within."

Spike’s baritone sounded from the doorway, "Need to learn that yourself first, don’t you, Pops? Or have you mastered it since you dropped fangs on the girl over a simple kiss just the other day?"

Giles tossed his ready stake to Xander as he made a grab for the crossbow in his desk drawer. Spike saw what he was doing and sneered. "Wantin’ to put on a more public demonstration of how effective those bits and pieces are…NOT?"

Spike looked at Buffy and took in her ridges and fangs. She was really quite the loveliest vampire he had ever seen. Somehow more delicate than she usually was, for all the demon’s influence.

"I see you got the memo ‘bout me, pet," he stated with a flat voice. "Don’t suppose it’ll do a bit of good to say that I was here to tell you anyway." He could see from the coldness in her eyes that he had waited far too long for an easy fix. The ironic thing was that he was telling the truth. He had risen with the determination of telling Buffy the whole truth once and for all, less the parts that involved him thinking of killing her, of course.

"Why?" Buffy’s question spoke volumes about her sense of betrayal and loss. One word had never been so choked with emotion and anguish. "Why did you spend hour after hour, day after day and never say a word?"

"Thought you needed to see for yourself that I was on your side, love. Knew the reaction there’d be if I just announced what I am," he waved his arm, taking in Xander with the stake, Willow with her nervous expression and the Watcher now armed with the crossbow. "Did I at least buy enough good will to tell my side?"

Angel snarled at Spike and moved in front of Buffy as if in protection. "You don’t get any closer, boy. No more games from you. As soon as we figure out where this Gem is on you, you’ll be as much dust as Drusilla."

Buffy seemed willing to allow Angel to take charge and it was breaking Spike’s heart. His strong girl didn’t need the Poof playing grand protector, but she stayed behind Angel’s back, away from Spike.

"Buffy, love, what happened?" Spike was truly confused. His lovely girl, his bright angel was clearly a vampire. No heartbeat echoed beneath her perfect breast. Spike had never heard of anyone rising that quickly and didn’t understand how it could be possible for Buffy to have been turned so fast. He walked towards his grandsire and his love slowly. Just because their weapons couldn’t kill him didn’t mean he wanted to become a pincushion.

"What do you THINK happened, Spike?" Buffy spat. "I let a vampire get too close to me. We all know what a bad idea that is, don’t we?" She was hurt and wanted Spike to hurt just as much as she did. From the expression in his eyes, she knew she’d succeeded.

"I’ve been tryin’ to do the right thing, Buffy. Tryin’ to figure it out as I go, you know. Not that easy knowin’ the right thing," Spike had a catch in his voice that gave truth to his words. "Been over a century since it even mattered. ‘Til I met you, I never cared about human ideas of good and evil, just did what came natural, yeah?"

"We all know what that is," Angel sneered. "You always rushed to the killing fields with glee. You were always a wild animal, Willie boy."

Without taking his eyes from Buffy, Spike calmly replied, "And just who trained that animal, Angelus? Not denying my past, just sayin’ that’s what it is--my past." Spike finally looked each of the humans in the room directly in the eye before going on. "Look, not that it’s any of your business, but I love Buffy. Have from the moment I saw her, even if I didn’t know it then."

Spike looked deeply into Buffy’s eyes and spoke as though just to her. "Saw her dancin’ at the Bronze. She’s like living poetry when she moves, whether it’s dancin’ or killin’ beasties. She glows." He stopped speaking and time seemed to stand still as he gazed into the eyes of his beloved. "Never want to hurt that. You’re all I ever dreamed of, even as a human, all I’ll ever want or need."

The silence was broken by Angel’s snort. "And when you get tired of Buffy? What then? Back to lunch on the hoof? Who’ll be first, Spike? Xander? Willow? Maybe Buffy’s mother? Buffy said she was going to introduce you to Joyce tomorrow night. Planning on having Joyce Summers for your dinner?"

"Not bloody likely," Spike rounded on his grandsire in fury. "Happen to like the lady." Spike forgot for the moment that most of the people in the room had no idea he’d already met Joyce in his own timeline.

"More lies, Spike." Buffy snapped on to that little detail. "You’ve never even met her!"

"Not this time round, true," he began, not stopping to explain at this point. "Even if I never met her, I’d have to love her for bringin’ you into the world, makin’ you the kind and loving girl you are and molding you into the wonderful woman you’re gonna be."

Jenny had entered during Angel’s tirade and had been watching from the doorway as the various players tried to make sense of all the happenings of the day. Buffy seemed to have become a vampire and the truth about Spike was well and truly out. Angelus was making hay while the sun shone as he drove a wedge deeper and deeper between the two erstwhile lovers.

"How can I believe a word that comes out of your mouth, Spike?" Buffy cried. "You’ve done nothing but lie to me from the moment we met." Angel drew Buffy into his arms in comfort and Buffy didn’t pull away. She lay her head on the large vampire’s chest and sobbed as Angel sent Spike a sickly grin of triumph.

"I don’t think you’re needed here, boy," Angel smirked. "I’ll take care of Buffy just like I was always supposed to and you can take this opportunity to get the hell out of town before we figure out how to get past your lucky charms."

"You’re too big and lumbering to be playin’ the leprechaun with the Lucky Charms dreck," snarled Spike, causing Xander to titter at the joke on Angel. Truthfully, all the vampires in the room made Xander feel more like he was in the middle of the bad horror movie Leprechaun than a breakfast cereal commercial. He was seriously wigged.

Willow had been thinking as everyone talked and finally put in her two cents. "Um, guys, this is all majorly weird, like all the other stuff we’ve been dealing with this week. Maybe, because Spike hasn’t hurt anybody since we’ve known him, we can talk about that later and deal with nightmare boy right now?"

Spike wasn’t sure what Red was talking about but was touched that the girl seemed willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. As Buffy snuggled deeper into Angel’s embrace, Spike certainly had no problem feeling like HE was in a nightmare himself. Buffy had found out about him in the worst way possible, his human friends feared him, Buffy hated and distrusted him and his poof of a grandsire was holding his girl! He smiled shyly at Willow and looked at Jenny for some idea of how to behave.

"I think Willow is right," Jenny added. "Rupert, please put that thing down! You know it won’t do a thing to Spike except tick him off and I don’t think your odd code would let you use it on either Angel or Buffy, since they have that all-important soul."

Giles reluctantly put the crossbow on his desk and moved further into the room. "I know you disagree on the importance of a soul in this situation, Jenny," he began.

"I think Spike not having a soul yet helping out against the bad guys should speak volumes, Rupert. It would be a good time to take a deep breath and remember that Spike wasn’t really lying, merely trying to get his bearings and decide what was the best way to tell his story without freaking everyone out."

"Sure, good way to comfort yourself about letting him run tame. Can’t kill him, so just hope he’s telling the truth about wanting to be a domesticated puppy. He’s a killer, vicious and far too good at evil to be allowed anywhere near the Slayer. He’s killed two of them, you know." Angel pressed his advantage while clutching Buffy to his breast.

"What?!" Xander and Buffy both exclaimed at the same time. Buffy looked accusingly at her Watcher. "You didn’t say anything about Spike having killed Slayers."

"Pet…Buffy, look, I’m not here to kill you. I’ll stop anyone else that comes to kill you too." Spike had an edge of desperation in his voice as he prayed Buffy would just listen to him for a while. If Angel would just butt out, there might be a chance to make things right.

Jenny could see where this was going and was more than a bit alarmed at the look in Angel’s eyes. If he were allowed to continue, it wouldn’t take long for Angel to get close to Buffy. Too close. She could see Angelus nearly drooling with anticipation in his mental cage. He couldn’t be allowed to use Spike’s uncertainty and delays to his advantage. Jenny was close to a ritual that would anchor Angel’s soul, but she was not nearly ready to try it out now.

"Buffy, perhaps we should all just take a deep breath. You and Spike need time to talk ALONE and we don’t have that time right now. Why don’t we just step back and deal with things one at a time. Let’s stop these nightmares that are destroying reality and then work out who should have said what and when." Jenny glared at Angel and continued. "Let’s not take unfair advantage either. Buffy has had some shocks and she needs help, not manipulation."

Angel hugged Buffy and placed a kiss on her forehead, causing a low growl to escape from Spike. "Okay, let’s get this taken care of so I can start helping Buffy adjust to her new life."

Giles had been thinking a bit as Willow and Jenny reminded everyone about Billy Palmer and the living nightmares that had become everyone’s reality. "Buffy, have you had nightmares of being turned?"

Buffy looked startled at the change in topic. "Well, yeah, I mean it’s always a possibility when I patrol that some nasty might have a lucky day."

"Maybe by stopping this bigger problem, your…um, condition…will clear up as well," Giles suggested. He was feeling hopeful for the first time since seeing Buffy rise from the ground.

Xander spoke up, "How are we going to stop this again?"

"I believe if we wake Billy from his coma, all will go back to normal." Giles looked at the small group and offered a prayer that it would indeed be that simple.

"Giles, how do we get Buffy to the hospital? It’s daylight and no matter if it’s because of Billy’s nightmares or not, she’s a vampire and Buffy and sunshine are non-mixy just now." Willow was pretty sure there was no shaded path between the school and the hospital, even with the large block of nighttime that cloaked the supernatural cemetery.

Spike closed his eyes, partly in fear but mostly in resignation. Buffy had finally moved away from Angel and was looking frustrated to say the least. "Buffy, I know you don’t think you can trust me again, but I really AM on your side. I love you and even if you send me away, I’m not going back to what I was. Know you’d hate that." He gulped nervously as he secretly slid the ring from his finger. "Here, love, put this on and go do your duty."

Buffy looked at the ring with no real understanding as Spike took her hand and slipped the Gem on her finger. "Nothing’s gonna take you out now, pet. Go wake the boy, yeah?"

Giles stood gape-mouthed as the import of what had just happened sunk in. Spike, the soulless vampire currently persona non grata to all but Jenny, had just given up his invincibility. Giles exchanged a look with Jenny, who also understood what had just transpired. Jenny had an ‘I told you so’ look about her.

Since Spike was many things, but never stupid, he chose the moment of confusion to race from the library and head for a place to wait for the sun to go down and a chance to try to talk to Buffy alone.

"Just what the hell was that all about?" Angel looked perplexed.

"That was about integrity and also love," Jenny answered, as her eyes never left Giles.

"Okay, I’m guessing this ring is how Spike’s been all sun friendly," Xander chimed in. "I’m for the wake-up call plan, so I vote we head to the hospital before things get any worse." Buffy nodded mutely as she stared down at the softly glowing green stone that Spike had given up without even a request. She thought about what had been said and, even more importantly, what she had seen and felt up to this awful day. Finally, she looked up at Angel and spoke. "No staking of Spike. He deserves a chance to explain at least. I mean it!"

Angel reluctantly nodded his agreement. "Agreed. For now. But if he starts to hurt you Buffy, all bets are off."

~~~

The boy looked deceptively peaceful in his hospital bed. The world around them, however, had rapidly descended into chaos. There were giant insects flying in the skies over Sunnydale. The hospital staff were totally ineffective as each was faced with his or her own worst fears and insecurities.

Billy’s doppelganger was in the corner of the room, looking at the group of people gathered around his comatose self. Giles moved to the astral boy and took hold of his shoulders. "Billy! Billy, you have to wake up," Giles gently shook the boy.

Billy looked at the Watcher with a look of calm resignation. "No, I have to hide. I told her" Billy pointed to Buffy. "Have to hide from him."

Buffy turned and saw the Ugly Man coming toward the room.

"Glad you showed up. I’m having a really, really bad day here and I was wanting something to beat up." Buffy fisted her hands and squared off with the Ugly Man.

The monstrosity ignored the vamped Slayer and fixated on the boy in the bed. "Lucky nineteen!"

"Whoo, you’re really scary! I’ll tell you something though. There are a lot scarier things than you and I’m one of them." Buffy stepped between the boy and the Ugly Man.

The man stopped and finally looked at Buffy. Buffy jumped on him before he spoke, knocking him down with all her pent-up anger and frustrations. She punched him full in the face, finally making an impression on the monster.

The Ugly Man fought back, pushing Buffy with his foot and causing her to fall backward. For once that day, Buffy was glad for the extra strength her new vampiric nature gave her as she rapidly turned and kicked the man in the stomach, causing him to double over.

The fight continued with the Ugly Man swinging his club arm at Buffy, narrowly missing her as she moved faster than any of them had ever seen her move before.

Buffy finally got a good grip on the club arm and broke it over her knee. The Ugly Man screamed in pain and fell to the ground unconscious as all the Scoobies stared in amazement.

Astral Billy stared in horror at the monster that had been tormenting him even in his coma. "Is he dead?"

Buffy motioned to the boy and gently said, "Come here, Billy. You have to do the rest. Come on, it’s okay. No more hiding."

Billy looked down at the still body and reached for the Ugly Man’s face. A bright light shone and suddenly all was normal in the world again. The Ugly Man was gone. Buffy felt her heart beating again; it was almost painful in her chest. Outside the window, Sunnydale was returning to as close to normal as that city would ever get.

The boy in the bed began to stir as Willow sighed in relief. "I had the strangest dream and you were all in it!" Billy looked from one stranger to another. "Who ARE you people?"

Giles headed for the door to get a Doctor, but before he could leave the room, Billy’s coach practically ran over the Watcher. "Oh! Huh…Billy’s got company. I’m his little league coach. I come by every day just hoping the little guy wakes up soon. He’s my lucky nineteen? How’s he doing?"

Buffy and Giles looked at each other, silently discussing their next step. Giles then went to the phone at the boy’s bedside while Buffy delighted in showing the bully that his little victim was, indeed, awake at long last.

"Billy’s awake and I think YOUR luck just ran out," Buffy said.

"What are you talking about?" The man tried to edge back toward the door and freedom, but Xander and Willow had moved to block the doorway.

Billy, encouraged by the witnesses, finally spoke what they all knew was the truth, "You said it was my fault that we lost. You punished me for our losing."

Xander grabbed the man by his jacket as he tried to force his way out.

"It wasn’t my fault. There’s eight other players on the team, you know that!" Billy repeated Buffy’s insight and laid back down with a peaceful, vindicated look on his face.

Giles was already relaying details to the police on the other end of the telephone line. The coach was going to be going far away from the fragile but brave boy in the bed.

"Nice going," Buffy smiled at the boy. Billy merely smiled back shyly at the pretty girl.

~~~

 

Buffy invited Willow to stay over, more to keep from being alone with her thoughts than anything else. Still those thoughts were nearly visible to both girls as they spooned Rocky Road and painted each other’s fingernails.

"So…," Willow broached the subject they were all concerned about. "What about Spike?"

"Well, I can’t forget that he’s been lying to me all this time. I really don’t want to see him right now." Willow could sense that Buffy wasn’t nearly as certain as she wanted to sound.

Buffy took another mouthful of ice creamy goodness and twisted the ring on her finger that had allowed her to safely exist as a vampire when she had most needed it. Spike had offered up his own life and safety by giving the ring to her. He was vulnerable now, out there somewhere with no protection. Buffy tried to tell herself it only mattered because she hadn’t yet had the chance to make him pay for his lies, but her heart knew differently.

"Maybe you should do like Miss Calendar said and give Spike a chance to explain," Willow offered. "I mean if Spike loves you and he doesn’t have a soul, it’s pretty…I don’t know…amazing? Miraculous? I really think there are no words for a vampire who’d become good because of love. I think it’s romantic!" Willow fixed Buffy with her very best resolve face and smiled wistfully. "It’s like you’re Belle! You know, Beauty and the Beast! Would that make you a Slay Belle?" Willow quipped, causing the first laugh Buffy had managed all night.

"I just don’t know what to think, Will. He’s so…," Buffy hesitated, "so right. Everything about Spike is…was …perfect. It was like finding my other half. I don’t know what to do! Mom’s expecting him for dinner the day after tomorrow and I don’t even know if I’m going to have to dust him before then."

"I don’t think lying is a dustable offense. If it is, shouldn’t you dust Angel too? Neither one of them came up to you and said, ‘Hi, Buffy, I’m a vampire, but don’t panic, I’m a good vampire here to help you.’ They didn’t, ‘cause we all know the reaction we’d have had. Maybe that’s all it was, Buffy. I think he’s earned the chance for you to hear him out." Willow was solidly in Spike’s corner. Spike had plenty of chances to hurt all of them over the months he’d been in their company. He had the ring that made it impossible to be staked for anything he’d do too. In Willow’s mind, those two facts alone should be reason enough to give the vampire a break.

"Yeah, not going to do anything without being sure," Buffy said sadly. "Is he so perfect for me because he ISN’T a normal guy? Is that what this means, Will? Am I destined to be with a demon of some kind? What does that say about me?"

"It says you’re special, that’s all," Willow comforted her friend.

~~~

Angel didn’t like the idea of eavesdropping, but there was too much at stake going on. He hadn’t been able to track Spike earlier and Buffy had to be protected from her own soft heart.

He’d been strangely disappointed to find Buffy back to being human. He was, however, comforted to see that she still had Spike’s magical ring. If his wayward childe dared come near Buffy, he’d have to get through Angel. The older vamp took up his station, watching the two girls as they giggled and talked. For tonight at least, Spike was not coming anywhere near Buffy.

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 16
~*~

 

Spike finally broke down and dropped by Willie’s for a long chat with his old buddy Mr. Daniels. Bourbon was a very forgiving friend. It was odd to feel the pain he was feeling. Sure, he’d known it would cut deep if Buffy turned from him as she seemed to be doing, but much to Spike’s surprise, having the humans that he had come to care about likely turning from him as well hurt more than he wanted to admit. As he raised his glass, he remembered one human had come to his defense. The gypsy teacher had even tried to talk some reason into the group. Maybe all wasn’t lost yet.

He took his bottle to a sheltered booth and sank in for a planned mind-numbing. Suddenly, the small sprite of a demon who was responsible for this time-travel thing sat down across from him.

"You gonna pop up every time I open a bottle of Jack, demon girl?" Spike determined he’d have to remain sober and in close guard of his tongue unless he wanted to land his arse in an even bigger mess thanks to this miss.

Fuamnach tittered shyly and ducked her head. "No, I’m not a genie. I’m a fairy, or I guess I’m a demon now. Maybe that’s my problem, I’m really not sure what I am half the time." She sighed then shook herself before continuing. "That’s not important. Look, I messed up with your wish. The Slayer’s still alive as ever and no one’s pleased."

Spike’s head shot up at the implied threat against Buffy. "No one hurts the Slayer, got that? I’m not above pullin’ the wings off a fairy. Evil here."

Fuamnach drew back sharply, more than a little afraid of the distraught vampire across from her. "Hey, I only grant wishes. You’re the one who said that was your plan, not me." She chanced a look and was relieved to see that Spike had settled back in his seat. "Anyway, the S’Gampos widow whose pain cried out for me finally wrote out her request and she’s not that interested in having the Slayer die. I’m working on how to fulfill her wish now, ‘cause I REALLY don’t want to try to figure out how to refund those sacrifices!"

"Assumin’ I had a clue about half of that little drama, what’s it to do with me? Spike was interested in spite of himself. "So, Tinkerbell, what do you want with me?"

"Look, D’Hoffryn doesn’t know I’m here." She leaned forward and spoke in a low tone, afraid of eavesdroppers. "I feel bad about how things went with you. I used you to make my job easier and now you’ve landed yourself in a world where your sire is gone and you’re more alone than ever. You still have that chip. Please believe me, I had NO idea about that or I would have made it part of the wish to just put you in your older, chipless, body instead of replacing it with the no-kill version."

"Pet, you’re babbling." Spike was amused.

"I can undo it," Fuamnach offered.

"Undo what? My bollocksing up my one chance to have an unlife worth living and people who care about my stupid existence? Make Buffy understand why I was bein’ careful how much I told her and when?" He noticed the sad shake of the demon’s head and snorted. "Didn’t think so."

"I can send you back, just like none of this ever happened. You’ll have the memories, of course, but they won’t. Everything will be just like it was." Fuamnach looked at the vampire hopefully.

Spike thought about it, what it would be like. He wasn’t sure he wanted to remember how sweet Buffy had tasted, especially willing and in her own mind, not under a spell. He didn’t know if he could stand the pain of loving her when she was as closed hearted as she was in his own timeline. This was the point in time when Buffy was being formed. The Buffy he had known had come through the emotional fires hardened and unwilling to love or be loved. This Buffy was still able to let herself be all that she was born to be. This Buffy hadn’t been left behind by every man she counted on, every man she loved--her daddy, Angel. This Buffy had yet to meet Angelus. With that last thought, Spike knew the only answer he could give if he were true to himself.

"NO. Gotta stay the course, yeah?" He continued talking, even as he took in the look of shock on Fuamnach’s face. "Even if Buffy doesn’t forgive me, gotta stay and make sure that bloody bastard doesn’t rip the heart out of her. Gotta make sure Dark Eyes doesn’t star in one of Angelus’ works of art. Gotta watch Buffy’s back when the big bads come her way. It doesn’t matter if she never loves me again. What matters is makin’ sure she lives to love SOMEONE again. Can’t do that if I turn tail and leave. I’m not leavin’ the girl."

Fuamnach sat silent, humbled in the face of a love strong enough to be self-sacrificing from a creature that wasn’t supposed to be able to love at all.

"Thanks for the offer though, right nice of you. Now fly on back to your boss and do your wish fulfillin’ somewhere else, ‘cause I’ve got fences to mend and things to do. Bloody Master’s still out there plannin’ on killin’ Buffy. Soddin’ Angel’s makin’ moves on my girl and I need to do more than whine about it." Spike looked at Fuamnach and smiled with a bright, genuine smile of appreciation. "Glad you came by. Put things in perspective. Was gonna crawl into a bottle and throw a pity party when I need to be out there dealin’. You’ve shown me the way. Now get lost."

Spike stood and headed for the door and wondered if 10 p.m. was too late to pay a call on the gypsy.

~~~

Deep beneath Sunnydale, the old Master sat with his protégé Colin, The Anointed One. "Fear is a wonderful thing. It is the most powerful force in the human world. Not love, not hate…Fear!

The boy looked up I awe at his master, his teacher. Surely all the wisdom of the ages was encased in one so old.

"When you were a mortal boy, what did you fear?" The Master looked at Colin as if the boy’s answer would solve some great cosmic puzzle.

"Monsters," the vampire boy said quietly.

The Master nodded sagely, as if well pleased by his answer. "We are defined by the things we fear." The Master walked to the large cross buried in the ruins with him and pointed. "This symbol, these two planks of wood, it confounds me. Suffuses me with mortal dread. But fear is in the mind." He put out his clawed hand and touched the cross, not flinching as it began to burn. "Like pain, it can be controlled. If I can face my fear, it cannot master me."

As the boy nodded at this imparted wisdom, the Master turned his face upward with a raptured look on his face. "Something is happening above. Some new, powerful, psychic force. Do you feel it?"

Colin reached out with his mind and could feel…something. "I feel change."

The Master seemed to return to awareness of his surroundings. "Yes, change. For the better or the worse." He smiled his grotesque smile at the young vampire. "My time draws near."

The gathered clan members began to chant in a demonic parody of ancient monks. It was a near religious sound of supplication to whatever gods demons and vampires turned to in such times.

"When I rise, the Old Ones will walk again and the humans will be what they truly are…." The Master locked eyes with the boy. "Meaningless."

~~~

Jenny was pleased to see Spike at her door. She worried that the heartsick vampire might have fallen into mischief after the way the scene had played out in the library.

"Spike, come in. I can’t offer you any blood, but I can brew a real cup of tea," she offered. "One of the side benefits of dating Rupert."

Spike smiled sheepishly and mentally kicked himself for having forgotten the acceptance and friendship of this woman. He felt as if he had taken something precious for granted. "Guess you already know I’m not too sure what to do now, yeah?"

Jenny guided the vampire into her small kitchen and motioned for him to sit. "That’s not because you’re a demon, Spike; that’s how we all feel when our intentions don’t seem to matter in the long run. You never intended to deceive Buffy, but that is how she’s taking it right now."

Spike looked dejected as he nodded in agreement. "Never meant to hurt her. I really was goin’ to tell her. That’s why I was there at the bleedin’ library. Didn’t want to wait for Friday." His face hardened as he remembered the scene. "Just my luck for Peaches to be there and move in like that."

"About that, Spike…I tried to impress on Rupert how dangerous it is to let Angel use this breach between you two to move in on Buffy. As wary of you as Giles may be, he DOES know that Angelus is the greater threat." Jenny moved to the cabinets and pulled out the necessary ingredients for a proper cuppa.

She worked on the magic elixir of comfort as she continued to fill Spike in on what he had missed. "Rupert and I are… well, not exactly fighting, but not on the best of terms at the moment. I am really disappointed in his inability to look beyond what he’s been taught and believe what he sees. That’s bigotry and my people have born the brunt of that sort of thinking for centuries. It rankles."

"Don’t want to be the cause of trouble between the two of you," Spike began apologetically before Jenny cut him off.

"It isn’t you, Spike, although this situation with you has brought it to the forefront. No, Giles needs to get past all that propaganda and deal with reality if he and I have a chance. This time it’s you that revealed his attitude, who knows what it would be next." Jenny sat across from Spike and waited for the tea to steep properly.

"I’m a modern woman in a modern world, but I’m also Romany. My people are ancient in our ways and wisdom. Our wisdom comes from observing and passing on the knowledge gained. We’ve traveled the world, always seeing--not just with our eyes, but with our hearts as well. You don’t get that from books." Jenny sighed her disappointment. "Rupert is a good man and I would love a future with him. But if he cannot look past his books, his wisdom that isn’t, to see what’s before him…." She stopped with a catch to her voice that spoke of the pain she was feeling.

"For what it’s worth, he has it in him to be what you need. I know for a fact that losin’ you was when he lost a big part of himself. Seein’ things here I can tell where the old sod started to tweed himself up and shove that stick up his ar….well, you get the point, no pun intended." Spike would have blushed if he could. "Be in his best interest if you didn’t give up on him yet."

"Oh," Jenny laughed, "I’m not giving up on a thing….just having a healthy pout. Let him stew in his juices for a bit, realize what he has to lose. How about you, Spike. Are you giving up?"

Spike shook his head firmly, "No. Can’t just walk away. May not do any good, but I’m in for the distance."

"I thought so. I for one think you’re good for Buffy." She smiled at Spike’s surprised look. "The Armaya my ancestors put on Angelus wasn’t thought out well enough. The human Liam was bi-lacio--sorry, no good--and the soul isn’t strong enough to totally control the demon. Still that soul, even as weak as it is, is the only thing that protects the world from the far greater evil of Angelus. I don’t have to tell you any of that."

Spike knew that any of the stories he could tell Jenny would be accepted as gospel because she knew the important issue: the character of the being. That was enough without the details of actions being spelled out. "The Poofter still hovering ‘bout Buffy offerin’ to help?"

"You don’t know, do you?" Jenny poured out tea for them both. "The boy in the coma was the source of the nightmares and when he woke up, Buffy was back to her normal, non-vampire self."

"Glad to hear it." Spike was surprised at how strongly he did feel that way. "Funny, you’d think I’d welcome Buffy being an eternal undead, if only for the company. Don’t want her changed though. Love her like she is. Who knows what she’d be like with a demon in her."

"As for Angel, I really don’t know anything for certain. He avoids me for rather obvious reasons." Jenny chuckled at the discomfort she always noted in Angel when he was in her presence.

"I’m planning to do a ritual to anchor that soul of his," she confessed. "The stars will be properly aligned day after tomorrow and I’m going to do it then." Spike nodded his understanding of the importance of the ritual. "It won’t stop his making moves on Buffy, but it will keep him from becoming Angelus with no brakes at all. I wish it could be more, Spike. Just give her time and don’t stop trying to make her understand."

"Think the Watcher’ll try to stake me now that I’m all vulnerable and allergic to the sun again?" Spike looked at the bare finger that had sported his safety insurance prior to that afternoon.

"I wish I could say with certainty. You do need to be careful, especially around Angel." Jenny thought about the situation for a moment and then continued. "Willow is on your side too and she’s spending the night at Buffy’s. Maybe Buffy will be open to a conversation tomorrow. You’re supposed to have that dinner with her mother and Buffy never told you not to come. Why don’t you show up? Take flowers, be on your best behavior. I doubt Buffy will have the nerve to toss you out in front of her mother; too many explanations if she does."

"Well, no one’s ever denied my cheek," Spike laughed. "Might as well twist her knickers a bit more and give it a shot. You will make sure my dust gets properly scattered instead of ending up in a Hoover, won’t you?"

~~~

School had returned to normal. The nightmares returned to the average ‘didn’t study for my test’ and ‘my boyfriend is cheating’ variety for most of the students. Buffy and Willow were waiting in the lunchroom for Xander to join them.

"So what do I tell my mom? She’s been planning this dinner all week and I just know she’s gonna think I’m some easy ‘ho to be all in love with this guy one day and not wanting to see him the next." Buffy looked at Willow in panic. "I can’t say that he shouldn’t come because he’s a vampire and I just found out! Mom would have me locked up."

Willow commiserated with her friend’s dilemma. "You wouldn’t be a ‘ho, Buffy, just a normal sixteen-year-old girl. You hear everyone at school talk about the ‘great loves of their lives’ that change every couple of days! Your mom will deal."

"So you think I should just say that we broke up and dinner is off?" Buffy asked. "She’s gonna be disappointed. Spike’s the first guy I’ve actually invited over to meet her. I think she was more excited than me. She bought me this beautiful dress for the dance that I was going to ask Spike to take me to. Told me this long story about her big Homecoming dance of fate where she met my dad. That should have told me I was jinxed right there." Buffy nearly cried at the memory of her last meeting with Hank Summers.

"Buffy…," Willow hesitated slightly, not wanting to open wounds. "You know Billy’s nightmares may have been part of all that, right?"

Buffy let out a disgusted snort. "Yeah, my first thought too. Nope, I called dad to check on this weekend and he just asked what part of our conversation I’d missed."

"Oh." Willow swallowed the lump in her throat. Really, Buffy had had major bad happen this week and Willow wished she knew how to make the pain go away.

It was clear that Buffy was not so much angry with Spike as she was feeling stubborn and hurt. Part of her wanted desperately to just ignore all her training, to take Spike for the hot, sweet guy she knew him to be and not worry about whether he had a heartbeat or not. Even the Slayer part of her didn’t seem to have a problem with him. Still, he had lied, kept the most important piece of information about himself away from her. She was going to have to work on those vampire tinglies Giles was always talking about before every guy she liked sprouted fangs and surprised her.

"Can I just say how glad I am this is Friday," Xander chirped as he joined the girls. "This has been one messed up week in a series of messed up weeks. Bronzing tonight?"

"I don’t think so. I’d better be there to help eat the roast mom bought for tonight’s dinner. She went all out with the home cookin’ and I think she’ll be more mad at me for all that work going for nothing than for my change of heart." Buffy looked glum. She hadn’t looked this unhappy in all the time since her friends had known her.

"Maybe you could still do dinner and then break up later," Willow suggested. "No reason to get your mom all in ‘concerned mother’ mode."

"Wait!" Xander looked at his oldest friend in horror. "You did NOT just suggest that the Buffster still break bread with the lying vamp, did you?"

Willow glared at Xander, her lips pursed in a flash of anger. "I’m suggesting that Buffy think about having dinner with her mom and SPIKE, whom you liked perfectly well just a couple of days ago, and decide what to say to her mom later! Buffy’s had a really bad time and having her mom all questiony wouldn’t be loads of puppies and giggles."

"I haven’t seen Spike since…," Buffy trailed off. "Not like he’ll just show up on my doorstep."

~~~

Spike looked from one arrangement to another. The Victorian poet that still lived within wondered what response he might get if he ordered up an odd bunch of botanicals to say what he wanted to say. Sadly, the language of flowers was lost to this age. Buffy would not understand the collection of tree branches, leaves and unusual wildflowers that might spell out how sorry he was for lying to her, how he vowed to never betray her trust again and how he longed for reconciliation.

 

Instead he settled on a more normal-looking bouquet that still had meaning. The florist put together the red and white chrysanthemums that spoke of ‘truth’ and ‘I love’ along with the cedar leaf greenery that pronounced ‘I live for thee’ in the dead language William still spoke fluently.

He selected a bunch of daffodils for Joyce to express ‘regard’. Spike had liked the woman’s spirit since his first real meeting at the business end of her axe at Buffy’s school. The woman had a warrior’s heart.

He dressed carefully, laying aside his black denim for navy cotton twill slacks and a soft, sky blue button-down shirt that any mother would approve of. He decided to forgo a necktie and left the top two buttons open, exposing his neck and giving him a casual air.

Bouquets in hand and the steel of determination guiding him, Spike headed towards Revello Drive, not certain at all of his welcome. He really wished he still had that Gem!

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 17
~*~

Buffy was in her room trying to figure out how to explain the extreme lack of guestage for her mom’s dinner. All day long she had put off telling her mom that her new boyfriend William was not going to be joining them for the pot roast that was currently wafting heavenly smells up the staircase to Buffy’s room.

Even harder was how Buffy was going to tell her heart that she wasn’t likely going to be seeing William ever again. He had given her the ring that made him unstakable and let him enjoy afternoon picnics with her, then fled the library without a backward glance.

 

He was a vampire; it was for the best. Buffy couldn’t figure out what Spike had been up to with his courtship of her. He had seemed so sincere in his affection. What she had been sure of was his growing love for her. According to Giles and Angel, there was no way for a soulless vampire to love, not really. Had it all been some cruel game to him? A way to destroy the Slayer emotionally before he came in for the final kill?

Angel had had quite a bit to tell her about Spike and Giles confirmed all of it. Spike was a Slayer killer. His position as a Master Vampire hinged on his reputation for having killed not one but two Slayers in the past.

"I could die for his kisses," her traitorous heart insisted. "No, no going there," replied her Watcher-trained mind. "Spike is evil. He’s here to hurt you and you’re just lucky he was found out in time." A tear trailed down her cheek as she remembered how sweetly he had held her, how hot his kisses were, how safe and happy she had felt in his arms.

Angel had walked Buffy home the night before and filled her in on the history of William The Bloody a.k.a. Spike. She was smart enough to realize that Angel was
painting the blackest picture possible for his own reasons and was also quite aware that Angel had a past to rival anything he attributed to Spike. Still, the picture was alarming.

Giles had said there was more to the story and that he would tell her all he knew on Monday. He wanted a chance to do a bit more research, something about wishes that made no sense to Buffy. She just wished she could go back to the time before she’d had reality shoved in her face so forcefully.

Jenny Calendar had urged Buffy to trust her instincts and give Spike a chance to explain. She reminded Buffy that Spike had given her the Gem of Amara to make certain she would be safe and could do her duty without the vampire handicap. "For him to give up his protection like that without a thought to his own safety has to say something to you, Buffy," she had said.

"Yes, well," Giles added, "I suppose it would be safe for you to hear him out at least. You know what he is now and can take precautions." Jenny had glared at the Watcher over that last bit.

Buffy was so caught up in her own thoughts that she didn’t hear the doorbell or her mother’s soft, "You must be William. Come in."

Buffy was shocked back to reality when her mother knocked on her door to rouse her. "Buffy, you really have to decide on what you’re going to wear now and come on downstairs. Your young man is here and looking a bit nervous. Oh, and he has the loveliest flowers for both of us."

Buffy rushed to the door and looked at her mom with panic-stricken eyes. "Spike’s here? You let him in?"

"Yes, dear, that’s what I generally do for invited guests." Joyce smiled in amusement. "Surely you don’t plan to come to dinner in your overalls! Why, your young man is all dressed up, and quite handsome too. We may need to have a bit of a talk about the age difference later, missy."

"You have no idea!" Buffy said softly. "Mom, maybe you should stay up here and we can go down together as soon as I change." Buffy wasn’t too keen to have her
mother alone with a vampire while she dithered over her wardrobe.

"And leave our guest to be bored to tears while he waits?" Joyce exclaimed in shock. "I think I taught you better manners than that, young lady. Are you afraid of something William might let slip if we’re alone?"

‘Not the way you mean it,’ Buffy thought. "No, it’s nothing like that, Mom. I guess I’m just nervous." Buffy rushed to her closet and quickly grabbed the first outfit she laid hands on. She had never changed clothes so fast in her life, stripping the overalls and t-shirt from her body as fast as her racing heartbeat.

Joyce nodded in approval at the change as Buffy moved around the closet door. Joyce had always liked Buffy in the soft frills of the floral print silk dress. She had hardly seen her daughter wear it since she had given it to her. It came to a respectable length, unlike the extremely short and tight skirts Buffy normally chose. This outfit looked sweet but elegant as it clung to her figure, giving allure without being so obvious. The boy downstairs must be quite special for Buffy to want to make this sort of impression on him.

Buffy started for the door, but her mother stopped her with a chuckle. "I think you look lovely, Buffy, but don’t you think you should take out the braids?"

Buffy’s hand went to her hair and she grimaced to realize she was still wearing her hair in the twin plaits that worked just fine with her farmhand costume. She
rapidly tore off the bands and finger-combed her hair until it lay in soft waves to her shoulders, the perfect style for her feminine dress. "Let’s go. Don’t want to keep William waiting." Buffy practically flew down the stairs with Joyce in tow.

~~~

Giles and Jenny were still debating the whole Spike issue. At least now it was a debate instead of an argument. Spike had done much to impress Giles with his gesture of protection towards Buffy. It certainly didn’t seem as if the vampire had any ill intent toward his Slayer. Giles was still not willing to concede that Spike might have genuine emotions towards Buffy, but he was listening at least.

Jenny finally told Giles all the details Spike had told her, not just bits and pieces. "So when Willow did the ‘Will Be Done’ spell, it awakened things in
Buffy and Spike. Spike didn’t say so, but I wondered about it when he first told me. I did a bit of research and I also made sure of what Willow actually said in
her spell. Giles, she wished for them to be engaged only! Nothing was said about them loving each other! For that to be their response, the feelings had to have
already been there. After the spell ended, the feelings didn’t."

"So you are saying that Buffy, this future Buffy, is in love with Spike?" Giles snorted. "If so, why would Spike have wished himself back here?"

"I think Buffy was so badly damaged by Angelus that she wouldn’t admit her feelings." Jenny shuddered at the memory of what Spike had revealed about that chain of events. "Look, you can come to your own conclusion later. Right now it’s important that you see the real danger to Buffy: Angel. He’s using this misunderstanding to try to worm his way into her heart. You saw her turn to him! He whisked her out of here and walked her home, filling her head with who knows what nonsense and none of us even tried to stop him. No matter how you feel about Spike and his love for Buffy, you must agree that he doesn’t pose a quarter of the danger to Buffy that Angel does."

"That’s true," Giles agreed. "Angel is quite the manipulative bastard. Much of what he told Buffy were partial truths that omitted his own role completely. I plan to fill her in on both vampires’ histories on Monday. The poor girl looked quite done in after all the trauma of the day. But perhaps I should have taken her aside and had that talk before Angel had his turn to spin the information."

"I really think I need to do that ritual to bind the soul to Angel quickly." Jenny gathered her books and purse and headed toward the door. "The very last thing any of us needs is a visit from Angelus. Angel can be harmful enough complete with soul."

"Jenny," Giles began with an unusually gentle tone of voice, "you could stay here and we could work on that together." He had a tentative smile on his face that she hoped didn’t show too clearly how very much he wanted her to stay.

"I suppose I could. You have had experience with spell-casting, after all," Jenny tried not to grin at the excuse they were both using to make up and spend as much time as possible together.

"Indeed," Giles murmured, "I’m always willing to share my…experience with the proper lady."

"And if the lady isn’t totally proper?" Jenny teased.

"All the better," Giles answered before drawing the slightly improper lady into his arms for a soul-searing kiss.

~~~

Spike looked up the staircase, half expecting to see Buffy eyes ablaze and stake held high rather than the vision that greeted him. Buffy looked lovelier than he’d ever seen her. Her color was high and he could tell that she hadn’t expected him show up for dinner. She looked at a loss on how to behave.

"Buffy," Spike began suavely, "You’re breathtaking."

Buffy smiled tightly. "Come now, William, we both know I’m not what took your breath away."

Joyce frowned in puzzlement. The young couple seemed to have some sort of tension between them. Maybe William had a roving eye. Joyce narrowed her eyes and glared at the potential breaker of her daughter’s heart.

Spike attempted to smooth the waters. He’d seen Joyce’s protective stance and had no desire to discover there was an axe in the house that she might take a notion to wield on unarmed vamps. "Buffy’s a little upset with me tonight, Mrs. Summers. We had a little misunderstanding that a good talk will take care of, I hope."

"A little late for talk, don’t you think, Spike?" Buffy replied. She took in her mother’s anxious looks and decided to downplay the problem rather than raise too many questions from that quarter. "Spike, er, William’s right, Mom. We had a couple of points come up about his lifestyle and career that we have to put to rest."

As awkward as the situation was, Spike nearly laughed at Buffy’s veiled puns. His girl had spunk all right! At least she wasn’t trying to stake him in her own living room. "Buffy doesn’t like the night job I had in the past, but I aim to prove that I’ve changed, takin’ my career a whole other direction."

"What sort of career did you have that Buffy so disapproves of?" Joyce asked cautiously.

"Spike’s a musician, Mom--you know…smoky bars, lots of drinking, that sort of thing." Buffy rushed to answer before Spike could come up with a response himself.

"Do you drink too much, William?" Joyce asked worriedly. "Buffy is only sixteen, you know. I don’t approve of alcoholism at any age, but especially not with a minor."

"Not drinkin’ a thing I shouldn’t for quite a long while, Mrs. Summers. Buffy just met someone who remembers me from the old days and knows nothing of me now." Spike looked Joyce directly in the eye and hoped she could see the sincerity of his claim to have reformed even if she didn’t really know from what.

Joyce looked from one blond to the other and decided it was something they’d have to iron out between them. Meanwhile, she decided to get to know this young man
who was so obviously important to her only child. "I’m glad you’ve decided to change, William. Drinking leads to early death." At Buffy’s snort, Joyce turned her look on her. "Buffy, perhaps you should remember that we always taught you to give people second chances."

"Mom!" Buffy looked wide-eyed at her clueless mother.

 

"Well, this is a matter you two will have to settle between you. In the meantime, William, why don’t you have a seat and make yourself at home while I find vases for these lovely flowers you brought." Joyce took both bouquets and headed for the kitchen.

"I can’t believe you had the nerve to show up here!" Buffy huffed under her breath in irritation.

"Couldn’t just let things be the way we left it, love." Spike sat on the sofa and motioned for Buffy to join him. She pointedly walked to the side chair and took a seat there instead. He sighed and closed his eyes trying to decide where to begin. "I really was coming to tell you the whole truth, Buffy. No more lies or hiding."

She was looking at him at least and without the sarcastic look he had half expected. "I don’t know what Angel said after I left, but I can just imagine. Pretty sure he only gave you the worst of it too. Not denying what I am, what I’ve been, done. What’s important is what I am now, what I’ll never be again."

"So you just, what, decided to stop being a vampire? Doesn’t work that way, Spike." Buffy clamped her mouth in a tight line.

"Still a vampire, can’t change that," Spike closed his eyes to keep from rolling them and making the situation worse. "Can change what I choose to do. Not killin’ Buffy, not for a while now and never again, least not anyone except demons and such. Eatin’ from the bag; pig too, not a drop of human. Butcher in town can back that up."

Buffy looked nervously towards the kitchen and hoped her mother wasn’t getting an earful. "All right, later. I don’t want my mom to have to learn about me, about vampires and all, like this. You came for dinner. Fine, we’ll eat. Maybe we’ll talk later."

Joyce came back into the room and picked up on the detente that seemed to have been established. "Dinner’s ready. I hope you like your roast a little on the rare side. For some reason, the oven was being a real demon today."

"Rare’s fine with me, Mrs. Summers." Spike repressed a grin as he offered his arm to Buffy, much to her annoyance.

They arrived in the dining room and Spike was touched that Buffy’s mother had gone all out to make their dinner special. The smells alone proved Joyce could whip up many more tasty offerings than just hot cocoa.

 

"So, you’re a musician?" Joyce began as she passed the potatoes. "What do you play?"

Buffy gulped, afraid her lie was going to be exposed too quickly.

"Guitar mostly, but I had a piano lesson or two back in the day," Spike answered easily. "Sing a bit too, although people either seem to love my voice or hate it."

Buffy was squirming in her seat with the conversation. "We met at the Bronze," she blurted out.

"I see." Joyce did see, actually. Buffy wouldn’t be the first young girl to swoon at a sexy rocker. Joyce remembered getting dreamy-eyed at a Peter Frampton concert herself around Buffy’s age. Of course, she never had a chance to invite Peter for supper.

"So if you’re giving up the band, what are your plans?" Joyce asked in genuine interest. Usually a musician had it in his blood and changing careers, even for
a girlfriend, was seldom a choice.

Spike was heartily grateful for his forged paperwork right about now. "I’ve got a good education, Mrs. Summers, if that’s what you are wondering. Got a proper diploma from UC to show for it. Got a nice trust fund as well. Haven’t had to work in a long time, but I’m capable if I need to."

"So you’re already through college," Joyce frowned. "I knew there was quite an age difference between you, but I had hoped you might just be starting at the
University. I’m not trying to be too old-fashioned, but you’re a bit experienced and Buffy is still just in high school."

Buffy blushed brightly as Joyce nattered on about age differences without a clue of just how vast the difference was. "Mom…," she began.

"Your mum has a point, love. I am a lot older than you are." Spike turned from Buffy’s angry glare back to Joyce. "I swear to you that I only have good intentions where Buffy’s concerned. Not gonna push her for anything she’s not ready for. Didn’t plan to fall in love with Buffy. Came as a big shock to me too."

Spike looked into Buffy’s eyes and hoped she saw the sincerity there. "Couldn’t help myself though. No one like Buffy. Never has been, never will be. Girl like her makes me want to be a better man, do right in this world, do right by her. Can’t help but change forever."

Buffy gulped, feeling her heart rise in her throat. If she could only believe what she was hearing! Spike looked sincere, but he just couldn’t be. Could he?

"This is delicious, Mrs. Summers," complimented Spike as he ate with gusto. "You’re a fabulous cook."

"Thank you, William," Joyce beamed, "Please, call me Joyce."

"Joyce, lovely name." Spike smiled and felt his hopes rise as he connected with Joyce again as he had in his own time. ‘Always was a right nice lady,’ he thought.

The rest of the dinner was enjoyable for all parties. Joyce discovered Spike’s knowledge of art and poetry and they laughed and talked like old friends while Buffy sat in amazement. There was more to Spike than the stories Angel had told her--that was for certain.

Buffy and Spike offered to do dishes after the meal and Joyce readily took them up on the offer. "I have a late call to make to an overseas buyer. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave the two of you with the pile of dishes and head upstairs to make my call from there." Joyce smiled at her daughter. "Be sure to lock up after William leaves, Buffy. William, please don’t be a stranger. You’re welcome to visit even if Buffy isn’t home. Drop by the gallery if you get a chance and I might have a job for you if you’re interested."

"I might just do that." Spike smiled in pleasure. After Joyce left the kitchen, Spike turned to Buffy, "Think you might listen to my side of the story now, pet?"

"Can’t stop you from talking and we do have a ton of dishes to do," Buffy hedged. "I’ll listen. This doesn’t mean everything’s okay between us though."

"Didn’t expect it to," Spike agreed. "Look, Buffy, even if you decide I’m not worth the bother, I’m not goin’ back to what I was. I plan to watch your back ‘til you either die of old age or I’m dust. You’ve changed me, Buffy, make me want to keep changin’"

"Why me?" Buffy asked in a small, quivering voice.

"You really don’t have any idea how beautiful you are, do you?" Spike caught her blush and heard her ‘pfft’ of dismissal. "No, I mean it! Beautiful inside and out."

"Well, I’m glad you think so," Buffy said, slightly embarrassed.

"It’s like someone got into my mind and took every fragment, every dream, every desire I ever had and put them all together in a package I’d never dared dream
up." Spike’s voice dropped to that honeyed tone that made Buffy overheat to hear. "I don’t have you on a pedestal. You’re no plaster saint, got flaws. Wouldn’t have you any other way. Even your flaws are perfect."

Buffy could feel herself weaken under his onslaught. "Why should I believe anything you say, Spike?" Even as she asked, she desperately wanted him to convince her.

"’Cause I’m tellin’ the truth. Willin’ to spend my life provin’ myself to you." Spike leveled a gaze at her that would have convinced the world’s biggest skeptic.

"How about we have another cup of cocoa on the back porch and you try to dig yourself out of this hole you’re in by telling me the whole truth this time," Buffy offered.

"Dug myself out of harder places, pet. Thanks for lettin’ me try at least." Spike held the door as Buffy took the two cups of hot chocolate out onto the old wooden porch gleaming in the moonlight.

They sat side by side on the steps and Spike lit up a cigarette before taking a deep breath to begin. "Guess I should start at the beginning, yeah?"

~~~

Giles fell asleep in the armchair with the open pages of the Pergamum Codex on his chest. He had gone back to research the passages that likely referred to Buffy after Jenny had fallen asleep. He had been too wide awake to join her in slumber and was loath to wake her with his restlessness.

There were sections of prophecy that disturbed the Watcher greatly and he intended to get Jenny’s take on them in the morning. If what he had translated was correct, Buffy wouldn’t live long enough to worry about either Angelus or Spike.

Perhaps he should speak with Spike about what had happened in his timeline. Buffy had clearly avoided death at the hands of the Master then. Perhaps Spike could offer some way to get around the doom foretold in the Codex.

"Hi." Jenny put her arms around Giles in a slow caress. "Missed you next to me when I woke up just now. Anything wrong?"

"Not wrong exactly. I wasn’t able to sleep and thought I’d read a bit, only to fall asleep down here." Giles turned and pulled the dark-haired beauty into his lap. "Forgive me?"

"Nothing to forgive," Jenny smiled up at her lover tenderly. "Although, if you’re feeling really guilty, I can think of a way you can make it up to me."

"Now I wonder what that might be," teased Giles in return. He began to thoroughly kiss Jenny as the passion began to build yet again between them. The Codex fell from his lap as they struggled to get closer in their embrace.

"Sorry." Jenny pulled away and reached for the fallen book. "This was your bedtime reading? No wonder you fell asleep!"

"Actually, what I was reading was anything but soothing," Giles sighed. "If I have translated this correctly, Buffy is to die at the hands of the Master very shortly. I see no way around this prophecy either."

Jenny got up from Giles’ lap and looked at the notes Giles had taken while working on his translation. "This is very serious. The Master’s plans can’t be allowed to happen. Giles, are you sure of this text?"

Giles rubbed his eyes in weariness. "I’m afraid so. The text was lost for centuries, but its reputation is well known. No other book of prophecies has proven as accurate as this. There is nothing in it that has not come to pass."

"Well, I don’t accept that!" Jenny looked indignant. "Some long dead person wrote down some things. That doesn’t mean we have to just throw up our hands and give it over to fate." Jenny had a thoughtful look and remained silent for a moment. "We need to talk to Spike. Buffy was clearly alive in his timeline and the Master was not. We need to find out what was done then and do it now."

"I had thought of that myself," admitted Giles. "Spike may well be our best hope of seeing to Buffy’s survival. I’m rather glad I didn’t stake him, under the circumstances."

"At the very least, Spike’s presence here and his information about Buffy in the future should prove that this," Jenny indicated the Codex, "isn’t a sure thing."

~~~

Spike felt as if a weight had lifted from his shoulders as he headed home from his dinner at Buffy’s. They weren’t where they had been, but there was hope. Buffy had listened to his story, all of it. He hadn’t sugarcoated a thing about his history. The last thing he wanted was for Buffy to discover any other lie or half-truth. Better face her wrath now with a clean slate.

Buffy had been righteously angry when Spike admitted his original plan to kill her and his many attempts to do so in his own timeline. He pointed out that, in hindsight, his heart hadn’t been in it, because he always bollocked it up, just as she had never succeeded in dusting him. She even laughed at some of his stories that hadn’t seemed that funny at the time.

She was intrigued by the chip and the entire Initiative experience. "And then they tried to kill me?" She was irate at the thought of the government targeting her and wondered why they seemed to have found her a threat.

"Not real sure why, pet. That was around the time I made my wish and wound up here." Spike had her laughing again at his description of Fuamnach and her botched wish. "Seems I got a shot at what I really wished for, instead of what she thought I was wantin’.

Got no complaints on how that all worked out, mind."

All in all, the talk had gone a long way toward clearing the air. Buffy wasn’t ready to fall back into his arms, but she wasn’t wanting to see him dust. She hadn’t revoked her mother’s invitation to drop by either and that in itself gave him hope.

Spike’s hope-filled thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a familiar growl. "Spike! Thought you’d have the sense to leave town. There’s nothing for you here except the pointed end of my stake." Angel broke off a branch from a tree and lunged at the younger vamp.

"You know, I was in a pretty good mood," Spike said as he dodged the makeshift stake. He swept his foot, catching Angel on the shins and bringing the larger vampire to his knees. "Getting the chance to bash you around’s only gonna make it better."

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 18
~*~

"What’s with the foliage, Pops? Afraid to face me mano a mano?" Spike accused. "Fists and fangs were always too real for the likes of ‘The Great Angelus’. Looks like the soul didn’t give you any sense of fair play or old-fashioned courage."

Insulted, Angel tossed the makeshift stake to one side and prepared to face off. Spike took up a back stance, preparing for Angel to attack. They hadn’t gone one on one in nearly a century, but Spike knew the first strike would come from the older vampire. Angelus had been secure in his dominant position where Spike was concerned back then and old habits die hard. This was a different Spike though, honed in the fires of survival and tempered in the wisdom of age.

Angel blustered up to Spike and pushed him backwards. Spike allowed his body to fall as close to Angel’s feet as possible. Angel smirked at the easy conquest, not noticing Spike’s deliberate positioning beneath him. Placing his leg tight on Angel’s inside thigh, Spike casually threw Angel over his shoulder. The elder vampire landed flat on his back, the wind knocked out of him.

Angel was up a split second after Spike leapt to his feet. Before Angel could deliver his next punch, Spike nailed him with a solid front kick to the jaw. Angel was beginning to realize the boy had learned a few moves over the past century and this fight was going to take more effort than previously anticipated.

"You aren’t fit to touch the bottom of Buffy’s feet," Angel taunted as he leveled a lunge punch to Spike’s midsection.

"And you’re what…Barbie’s Dream Date?" Spike snorted. "I’m as fit as you and not as likely to eat her friends and family." Spike delivered an elbow punch to Angel’s chest to punctuate his point.

"I have a soul, Spike; I don’t eat people," Angel said sternly. He twisted to the left and used a snap kick that rocketed Spike’s head back upon connection.

"Well, bully for you, Peaches! I don’t eat people either. I just use self-control to stop myself," Spike said proudly as he smashed his knee into Angel’s groin. Angel’s "mfft" of pain sounded like music to Spike.

Angel started to punch Spike’s face only to have Spike use a masterful upper block to prevent contact. The smaller vampire was managing to deflect the worst Angel had aimed his way so far and it was driving Angel crazy.

"Dru cried for you, Spike. I told her you didn’t give a damn about her anymore and sent me to dust her," Angel smiled inwardly as his words hit home with more force than any physical blow. He used Spike’s emotional reaction to land two punches to Spike’s face. Before Spike recovered, Angel used a sweeping kick to knock the younger vampire to the ground.

Spike used his knee to keep Angel from falling on him and raining the blows he intended to deliver. As Angel lost his balance, Spike grabbed at his sleeve and used the momentum to throw Angel over his body to land hard in front of him.

"You bloody bastard," Spike huffed, "You KNOW that wasn’t the only choice!" He was up and hovering over Angel, fury written on his face. "You made her as crazy as a soup sandwich, then just walked away. You could have led the bint, made her behave. Poor thing was already conditioned to do anything her daddy told her to." Spike kicked Angel in the ribs. "Too much trouble for Soul Boy though," he kicked again and was satisfied to hear the sound of a crack as his Doc made contact.

Angel grabbed at Spike’s boot and pulled him off balance long enough to regain his feet. Before Spike was back on solid ground, Angel hit him with a low side kick that Spike spotted in time to use a timely sweeping block to avoid.

Spike was deflecting almost every punch Angel could throw at him with moves he’d mastered over the years. They were both doing plenty of damage as fists and feet connected with muscled flesh, yet neither had a clear advantage.

Spike managed to get a park bench between them to allow time to determine the best offense to finish this pitiful showing as soon as possible. "You forget, I’m from your future. I KNOW how the great Angel & Buffy love story works out. It doesn’t! You lose that precious soul of yours, kill or torture people Buffy loves, try to destroy the world, force Buffy to run a sword through you and otherwise prove what a shining example of manhood you’re…not!" Spike’s words stopped Angel’s advance as he took in what the younger vamp was saying.

"I would never hurt Buffy," Angel denied. "You’re lying."

"It’s all you ever did." Spike looked Angel directly in the eye as he drove his point home. "All your love brought the girl was tears and heartbreak. You left a mess there second only to the mess you made of Dru. Left Buffy so insecure she couldn’t let herself feel or trust her instincts."

Angel moved to Spike’s side of the bench as he listened, fuming at the images Spike’s words caused to flit through his mind.

Angel lashed out with his right fist only to have Spike grab his arm in a strong wristlock. Spike kicked Angel soundly in the midsection without letting go of his wrist. He pulled back slightly and swung out a right side kick behind Angel’s right knee, smiling in grim satisfaction as he heard Angel’s wrist snap in his grasp. "And point goes to the battlin’ Brit," Spike gloated.

Angel cradled his broken wrist and started to lash out with his weaker left fist, but Spike caught it in his hands and asked, "You sure you wanna do that, Pops? Mite hard dealin’ with BOTH wrists broken."

Angel backed down reluctantly. "Look, I just finished levelin’ with Buffy. Not in her good graces again--not yet anyway--but not dust either. Mum likes me, by the way…never did like you," Spike smirked at Angel’s angry glare. "You say you respect Buffy. Prove it! Let her make her own choices now she knows the whole truth. She’s the bloody Slayer, Angel; she can make her own decisions. Needs a partner, not a rescuer."

~~~

Buffy was having a more difficult fight doing her nightly patrol than either of her two suitors. Vampires had never been out in such numbers before and she had to take them out in multiples. "Hmmm. Maybe Giles can explain why it’s suddenly vamp fiesta time on the Hellmouth."

She resented the intrusion of stakage activity when she had important Spike information to process. He had been as sweet as ever and his explanations made sense in a weird ‘this IS the Hellmouth, after all’ way. Time traveling, wish-blessed vampires were as likely as anything else Buffy encountered on a regular basis.

 

She made one more round of the vamp hot spots and headed home to sleep on her decision about letting Spike get up close and personal again. "It’s not like he’s tried to kill me or anything, not this time around anyway.

Spike had been honest about his attempts on her life in his own time period. "Funny how he never managed to kill me then!" Buffy smiled to herself at the idea that Spike had likely never really wanted her dead at any time then OR now. After all, Spike had a century of experience behind him. If he’d been serious, Buffy would have been dead. If he had truly wished her dead when he came back in time, he’d had plenty of opportunity.

Heartened by those thoughts, Buffy headed home. Any doubts she might have had about Spike’s intentions towards her or how he planed to behave from now on had been settled by his honest admissions on her back porch over her mom’s cocoa.

"With all that Spike knows about what’s coming down in the next few years, my job should be a piece of cake," Buffy grinned at the first bit of Slayer-related comfort she’d gotten since arriving at the Hellmouth.

~~~

Giles took the Codex with him to school to double check his final translation of the prophecy that had so terrified him the Friday before. He’d spent the weekend in the company of Jenny and would have contacted Buffy immediately without Jenny’s gentle advice to let the girl have a weekend free of the knowledge of the prophecy’s menace.

"Let Buffy have her dinner with Spike. Let her work through that whole mess without muddying everything up with omens of death. She’s only sixteen, Rupert. Let her have a somewhat normal weekend where her only worry is boyfriend problems." Jenny hoped Spike had gone through with his plan to show up for the dinner with Buffy and her mother.

"That’s just it, Jenny, nothing about Spike is normal," Giles insisted. "Not many teenage girls’ boyfriend problems stem from discovering the boyfriend in question perished before the turn of the century!" Giles looked slightly smug in trumping Jenny’s arguments. "Add to that the time travel, Spike’s personal history and Buffy’s sacred duty and there is nothing normal about the situation at all."

Jenny wasn’t going to let that be the last word. "True, but it may be as normal as the Slayer will ever get. Did you ever think that Spike might actually help Buffy live long enough for close to normal to be possible? Perhaps with a Master Vampire fighting at her side, watching her back, caring about her safety and survival, Buffy could grow to actual old age. I think THAT is a piece of normal we’d all love to see Buffy have."

Jenny was here in the library now, poring over the text and Giles’ translation of it, trying to find some flaw in the ancient prophecy.

"Ho korias phanaytie toutay tay nuktee," Giles read again. "’The Master shall rise and the Slayer shall …my God, how can I tell her?"

As Giles and Jenny looked at each other in shared worry, the ground began to shake. Mugs filled with hot tea began to rattle on the desk, dancing to the edge of the table and crashing to the floor.

Throughout Sunnydale, buildings were swaying as if they were as limber as the swaying palms. Car alarms were going off and people were rushing to perceived safety.

 

There were no cracks in the pavement, but the earthquake-savvy Californians were still unnerved by the magnitude of the tremor.

In the library, along with spilled tea, several bookshelves had toppled over and screams could be heard from the hallway beyond the door.

~~~

In the Master’s lair, the old demon stood with arms outstretched. The child vampire looked up at his mentor in awe. "Yes! YES! Shake, earth! This is a sign. We are in the final days. My time has come. Glory! Glory!" The Master looked as one exalted, gazing down at the demon boy. "Whatta ya think? 5.1?"

~~~

Buffy came into the library and took in the damage with wide eyes. "Wow! Damage looks pretty bad. Are we safe in here or should we make the sacrifice and just go home?"

She looked at Giles and took pity on the non-native; "It’s okay, Giles. Earthquakes happen all the time in California. It’s like Pokemon, Crystal Pepsi and the Macarena; if you wait long enough, they go away. Don’t wig. Well, maybe wig, but not because of the quake. The vamps out there are multiplying like little bunnies. Bunnies with sharp teeth and attitude. I haven’t had a patrol this weekend without a kill count of at least four! They’re getting cocky too."

Buffy could see that Giles was distracted and not really listening to her report. "Um, Giles…care much? The least you could do is show some casual interest. A ‘good Lord’ or taking off your glasses to clean them or something."

Giles had only half heard Buffy’s report. His mind was on the likelihood that Buffy was soon to meet one very formidable Master Vampire and the odds of her winning weren’t looking good. "Oh, sorry…yes, I’m very glad you’re all right. Look, Buffy, I can’t really talk right now."

Buffy shrugged and headed for the door. "Fine, that’s okay. I can’t keep putting this off anyway. I have to meet my terrible fate," she sighed dramatically.

Giles whipped around in horror, "What?"

"Biology, the doom of many a sophomore," Buffy quipped.

~~~

The talk around the lunchroom was divided between the earthquake and the Spring Fling dance scheduled for later that week. Willow and Xander were focusing on the dance of feet rather than the dance of furniture. Willow’s heart sunk as Xander went on and on about his chances with Buffy now that Spike was out of the picture. Willow tried to deflect Xander with hints that Buffy and Spike weren’t actually history. Finally she gave up and stepped back to watch Xander make his move.

"Um…Buffy, the Spring Fling is this week. You know, a time for students to gather and…oh, God," he gulped and then continued before he lost his nerve. "Buffy, I want you to go to the dance with me. You and me, on a date."

Buffy blinked several times in surprise. She didn’t want to hurt Xander but had no desire to date anyone but Spike. Besides, Xander was like a brother or a cousin or something and that was just wrong! "I…I don’t know what to say, Xan."

"Well, there’s always, ‘yes, Xander, I’d love to go to the dance with you.’ That’d work for me," he suggested with a smile.

Buffy decided the best policy was honesty. The last weeks with Spike had taught her that much. "Xander, you’re one of my best friends and I don’t want to spoil the friendship we have."

Even hearing these words, Xander refused to take the hint. "Well, I don’t want to spoil it either. But that’s not the point is it? You either feel a thing or you don’t."

Time for the bluntmaster. "I don’t, Xander. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think of you that way."

Xander looked hurt and lashed out in his rejection, "Guess my teeth aren’t pointy enough." Buffy looked at him in shock and the start of anger, so Xander backtracked quickly. "Look, I’m sorry. I don’t handle rejection well. Funny, considering all the practice I’ve had."

~~~

Jenny came into the library with her hands full of computer printouts. "I’ve been surfing the Web looking for unexplained incidents. I figure that last quake was an omen of some kind."

Giles looked with interest from the papers to Jenny, so she continued. "Here’s the latest. A cat last week gave birth to a litter of snakes." She placed the papers on the table in front of the Watcher. "A family was swimming in Whisper Lake when the lake began to boil. At Mercy Hospital last night, a baby boy was born with his eyes facing inward." Jenny took a deep, shuddering breath. "I’m not stupid, this is apocalypse level stuff! I’d say we’ve got a problem: the end is pretty seriously nigh."

Giles removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "The Master, as we feared. I believe we have run out of time."

"Have you called Spike?" Jenny had been urging the Watcher to take advantage of Spike’s unique perspective, having come from the near future. "You really need to use all the resources you have at hand, Rupert. Now isn’t the time for Council niceties and playing by the same old rules."

"No, I don’t suppose it is," Giles agreed. "How do I tell Buffy that she is slated to die?"

"Maybe you don’t," Jenny suggested.

~~~

"Well," Willow asked the crestfallen Xander, "What’d she say?"

"Apart from ‘no’ does it really matter?" Xander looked dejected. "She’s still jonesin’ for Spike and could care less about me."

Willow could have told him that, but Xander had to find out on his own. Time he put aside his crush and just accept the friendship that Buffy readily offered instead. Time Xander noticed other fish in the sea, maybe even fish he already knew. "At least now you know." She smiled in consolation.

Xander looked at Willow with a hint of calculation. "Yeah, you’re right. Deal’s done, polls are in and its time for the concession speech. I know…WE can go! We’ll have a great time. We’ll dance, go wild! Whadda ya say?"

Willow knew Xander expected a quick ‘okay’ from her but she really wasn’t feeling like being a consolation prize, not even for Xander. "No."

Xander proved her point by not even really hearing her at first as he exclaimed, "Great!" Then she saw the moment her ‘no’ registered. "What? Willow, come on…."

"There’s no way! You think I wanna go to the dance with you and watch you wish you were at the dance with her? You think that’s my idea of hijinks? You should know better." Willow looked at Xander, her eyes moist with unshed tears.

Xander looked at his best friend, for the first time really in months, and saw the hurt there. "I didn’t think. I’m sorry, Will."

Willow needed to get away from Xander, away from seeing her own rejection so clearly set before her. "I’m gonna head home, Xander. See you later."

Xander watched Willow turn to leave. He felt bad that he had hurt her, but felt even worse that he was hurting. "That’s okay. I didn’t really want to go. I’m just gonna go home and lie down and listen to country music. The music of pain."

Willow wondered how many country stations she might find on the radio in her room.

~~~

Giles finally made the call to Spike, grateful the vampire seemed to be able to navigate around town in the daytime, even without the Gem. Spike agreed to come to the library and tell what little he knew of Buffy’s encounter with the Master in the original timeline. Before Spike arrived, Giles was visited by that other vampire in the service of good, Angel.

The souled vampire was still nursing his wrist, but his other injuries from the fight were healed. "Do you really think anything Spike has to say will help?"

Angel read the prophecy from the Codex and could see no other possible outcome except for Buffy to meet with a quick end at the hand of the Master.

There was tension strong enough to cut with a knife when Spike arrived, but no open hostility broke out. Giles greeted the newcomer cautiously. "Thank you for coming this early, Spike."

"Yeah," Angel added, "We want to pick your brain, if you can believe that! Never thought there’d be any crop worth picking before."

Spike raised an eyebrow and looked from vampire to Watcher in curiosity. "This poof speakin’ for you?"

"Actually, no, Angel speaks for himself. While I am grateful for any assistance that leads to Buffy surviving this encounter with the Master, Angel is not representing Buffy in any way."

"You realize I wasn’t in Sunnyhell the first time, right?" Spike had been wracking his brain trying to remember any detail the Scoobies might have mentioned about this time, this battle.

"I remember that Buffy does die, just doesn’t stay that way. By the time Dru," Spike stopped, his eyes closed in pain and misplaced guilt. He tried again, "By the time I got here, there was a whole new Slayer getting called up from somewhere that sounded like the Caribbean. She strolled into town ‘bout the time my plans to fix Dr…er, my plans were startin’ to come together.

"Are you saying there are TWO active Slayers in your time?" Giles was befuddled at the thought.

"Yup. New girl didn’t last long, sad to say. The one that came after her’s still around though, just not exactly active at the moment," Spike shared.

"What, you make a third Slayer kill, Spike?" spat the still hostile Angel.

"Not me," smirked Spike. "You sent a group to grab Rupert here for a game of ‘Torture the Watcher’. Girl got offed by your little army."

Giles was getting tired of all the one-upmanship between the two undead warriors. "Could we get back to the important issues here? I don’t think there is any time to waste discussing a future that is likely already changed."

Giles pulled out the Codex, along with his notes, and spread them on the table before the two vampires. The trio were so engrossed with the prophecy they failed to see Buffy slip into the library.

Buffy heard them talking and was surprised to see Angel and Spike looking like they were working with Giles and not at each other’s throats.

"It’s clear. It’s what’s going to happen, is happening now," Giles was saying.

Spike moved closer to the book on the table, his expression intense. Angel stood arms akimbo with a look that might pass for worry. "It can’t be. You’ve got to be wrong."

Giles shook his head sadly. "I’ve checked it against all my other volumes. It’s very real."

Spike glared at the Watcher, a look of determination fixed on his face. "Well, there’s gotta be some way around it."

Angel’s shoulders slumped in defeat. "Prophecy isn’t to be messed with, Spike. There are Powers at work and you can’t go up against them. If you interfere, you make things worse. There isn’t any way to stop something this well-documented."

"The hell there isn’t," Spike insisted with an angry edge.

Giles sighed and offered, "It’s very plain. Tomorrow night Buffy will face the Master and she will die."

All three turned as one to the sound of Buffy laughing. It was a bitter sound. "SO that’s it, huh? I remember the drill. One Slayer dies, next one’s called! I wonder who she is?" Buffy turned to Giles. "Will you train her or will they send someone else?"

Giles stuttered, "Buffy…I…I…."

Buffy looked from her Watcher to the two vampires, "They say how he’s gonna kill me? Do you think it’ll hurt?" She was crying now and Spike tried to draw her into his arms to comfort her. Buffy moved away, unwilling to be comforted.

"Were you even going to tell me?" she asked of her Watcher.

"I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to, that there was some way around it. That’s why I called Spike to see what he knew about this event in his own timeline." Giles hated the look of resignation he saw on his Slayer’s face. "All the signs indicate…."

"The SIGNS?" Buffy picked up the Codex and tossed it at her Watcher. "Read me the signs." She wiped the notes from the table. "Tell me my fortune! You’re so useful sitting here with all your books. You’re really a lotta help!"

Giles looked chastened. "No, I don’t suppose I am." He took a deep breath and tried to explain what he knew. "Buffy, if the Master rises…."

Buffy pulled back from the three, wild-eyed like a trapped animal. "I don’t care! I don’t care. Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die. I haven’t lived yet!"

Angel chose that moment to start on a speech about destiny and sacred duty. Buffy wasn’t really listening, but Spike was and he was pissed.

"Shut up, you wanker!" Spike took Buffy by the shoulders and looked into her eyes, trying to infuse her with calm. "I don’t believe in fate, love. Person makes their own fate."

Buffy stared at Spike as if he were offering a lifeline as he continued, "Don’t matter what’s in this," he kicked the fallen book. "What matters is what’s in here," he pointed to her head, "and here," he pointed to her heart. Never been a Slayer like you, pet. Nobody able to put you in some dusty book of might bes."

Buffy allowed Spike to pull her into an embrace as she choked back a sob. "I don’t wanna die, Spike."

"Not gonna," he promised. "Hey, I’m from your future, remember?" He tilted her chin up to make her look at the promise in his eyes. "You were a right pain in my arse, love. Swear to you that you were anything but dead." He hugged her tightly and looked over her head towards his grandsire. "So what fate is it that you can’t avoid?"

Chapter Text

~*~
Chapter 19
~*~

 

Spike was pleased that Buffy had seemed to take some comfort from his words and embrace earlier in the day. He felt bad that he had few facts to help the Watcher plan for Buffy’s upcoming battle and her survival. Just knowing that Buffy HAD died yet still lived was encouraging, but not particularly helpful.

Angel had gone off in a bit of a huff, still muttering about Powers and all things happening by plan for a greater purpose. He’d even had the nerve to imply that it might be wrong to save Buffy, especially in light of the coming split in the Slayer line that Spike had told them about. "Should have broken the Wanker’s jaw, not his wrist," muttered Spike angrily.

On a personal note, Buffy had finally agreed to let him take her to the school dance that night. Whatever the old bat of a patriarch to the Aurelian line had up his no doubt overly showy sleeve, Spike hoped he’d wait until this party was finished. Spike wanted the chance to finally reconnect with Buffy and having her in his arms was a big move in that direction.

~~~

Willow was jealous of just how lovely Buffy looked in her formal dress. It was deceptively simple, all white with an alluring scoop neckline that showed off her graceful neck to perfection. Willow wished she had the nerve to dress with the panache of her more stylish friend instead of the sort of goofy look she usually went for in an effort to hide. Shyness had its own fashion statement and Willow’s choice tended towards the fuzzy or the childish.

"There’s been so much vamp activity lately. I just hope they let me get in a dance or two with Spike tonight," Buffy was saying. Inside, Buffy was a bundle of nerves. Her heart was screaming rush back to the place where she had been recently with Spike: warm, alive, safe and loved. Her head kept spewing the same litany she knew had been canonized in the dank halls of the Council. Funny, just as the heart and the head were the two spots to kill a vampire, they were proving to be her undoing as well.

Somehow with Spike at her side, she didn’t question that she would live to see graduation and years beyond. Those years she saw were ones filled with everything her girlish heart could conceive too. There was something just so permanent with Spike, so real and right.

Ultimately, Spike had kept nothing from her. He had told her everything. She knew when and how he had killed his other Slayers. She knew that he hadn’t bothered with going game face in his last Slayer kill. He’d said the girl was tired, had a death wish and that he’d fought her in his human guise to handicap the battle.

"Made it fair. No good if there’s not a chance to end up dust," he’d said. He’d even told Buffy of his every effort to put an end to her life in his own timeline.

Somehow Buffy knew that no matter what she ultimately decided about Spike, she would always be safe from him and safe with him. Maybe that was all she really needed to know to make a decision after all.

Joyce popped her head into Buffy’s room and announced, "There’s something on the news you girls should see."

The news was dire. Vampires. Buffy knew the truth of it and that the nonsense about roving gangs of drug-addled murderers was a not too clever cover-up. "God, looks like half the senior class!"

Willow stared at the image of a crying Cordelia being interviewed about her reaction to her boyfriend’s murder. Kevin’s sheet-covered body was being wheeled out behind her on the screen. "I’ve seen too much," Willow said somberly as she walked from the living room and away from the horror on the screen.

The girls retreated back to Buffy’s room where Buffy tried to comfort the weeping Willow. "It’ll be all right."

"I thought I could take anything, but Buffy, this was different! I know those guys. I go to that room every day," Willow sobbed. "It isn’t our world anymore. They’ve made it theirs. They’ve even taken away the safety of school."

"Don’t worry, Will," Buffy promised. "I’m gonna take it back. Gonna do what I have to do." With grim determination, Buffy picked up a crossbow from her weapons chest and headed for the door. She knew her mom would still be glued to the TV and not even notice her leaving, especially with her friend still sniffling and sobbing in her room. "Stay here. Stay inside, okay?"

Willow nodded in agreement, not even moving from her place on Buffy’s bed.

~~~

The Master tested the invisible barrier that had held him captive since before the last Great War. Now THAT was a bloodbath he would have relished! So much of this lovely, bloody century had been spent in his underground tomb, surrounded by minions, idiots and relics of Christianity. Soon his long wait would be over and he would unleash hell on the world that had moved on without him.

The time was drawing near when the world would know its Master. "Soon," he spoke to Colin and sent the Anointed One to his destined rendezvous with the latest little girl empowered to be his mortal foe. "Soon."

~~~

Giles and Jenny were in the library getting weapons ready. All the signs were clear: the Master was making his move.

"So this Master tried to open the Hellmouth but got stuck in it and now he’s finally going to get out. What then?" She looked at Giles and read the answer in his eyes. "Naturally, try to open the Hellmouth and bring out the demons to end the world as we know it."

Giles leveled a somber gaze at her before replying, "Yes, that about sums it up."

"And this acolyte, this ‘Anointed One’, is a child, according to Spike," Jenny continued at Giles’ nod. "He’s the one that will lure Buffy to the battle, to her death?"

"Buffy’s not going to face the Master. I am." Giles loaded the crossbow and slung the bag of arrows on his back.

Buffy entered as he was speaking and barred the door with her body. "No, you’re really not." She had crossed her arms in front of her and brooked no nonsense. "So, I’m looking for a kid, huh? And he’ll lead me to this Master?"

Giles took in her stance but wasn’t giving an inch himself. "Buffy, I’m not going to send you out there to die. You were right. I’ve waded around in these old books long enough. I’ve forgotten what the real world is like and it’s time I found out. Time to do more than prepare others to fight the battles."

Buffy gave him a fond grin. "You’re still not going up against the Master. I’m the Slayer. I don’t care what that book says. I defy the prophecy, Giles, just like Spike said….I make my own fate."

Buffy knew full well that Giles would still try to take her place in the battle to come. With one quick, unexpected punch, she laid her Watcher out on the library floor at the feet of his girlfriend. "When he wakes up, tell him…I don’t know, think of something clever or at least annoying."

Buffy headed outside and only had to walk a very short distance before she encountered a young boy asking for her help. She knew even without getting close enough for the tinglies that this small child was the Annointed One, the right hand of the Big Bad himself. "It’s okay, I know who you are."

The child vampire didn’t seem surprised at Buffy’s reaction but instead held his hand out to her. She took it and allowed the little child to lead, just as in the prophecy.

~~~

Spike arrived at the library before Giles was conscious again. "What the hell happened to Rupes?" He bent over to check the head injury that was bruising but not bloody.

"Buffy insisted on going out to meet her fate head on. Giles’ head got in the way." Jenny put a hand on Spike to still him from bolting. "She was adamant, Spike. Said she was going to defy prophecy."

"Bloody hell!" Spike was pacing nervously.

"I thought you said she survives, or revives or something!" Jenny began to look alarmed. "Why are you so worried?"

"Things are different this time now, aren’t they?" Spike snarled. "It’s a crap shoot now. Don’t know how it’s gonna go this time."

Giles was moaning and trying to sit up. Spike whirled on him and demanded, "How could you let her go alone?"

Giles looked at the irate vampire in irritation. "As the soon-to-be-purple area of my jaw will attest, I did not LET her go anywhere. Buffy has a mind of her own."

"We have to help her, have to find her." On Buffy’s trail, Spike headed for the door only to run headlong into Xander.

"Whoa, fang boy, where’s the fire?" Xander tried to stop Spike’s progress and was nearly knocked into the lockers for his efforts. Spike grasped his head as the chip fired.

"Buffy’s gone to fight the Master. She needs backup," Spike choked out.

"And she needs this backup…Why?" Xander, not having been in the prophecy loop, clearly didn’t get it. "Buffy’s the Slayer, Spike, not that anyone could tell it by you, of course."

"Bastard’s gonna kill her without help," Spike tried to explain.

Xander drew himself up and all amusement left his face. "Sign me up. Lead the way."

Spike looked at Xander with new respect. The boy had a big pair on him even if he were a bit simple. "You’re way out of your league, whelp. The Master’ll kill you before you can even breathe, if you’re lucky. I’ll handle this. It’s my family, so it’s my problem. I shoulda settled this right off."

Xander narrowed his eyes and refused to be deterred. "How can I say this clearly? I’m going. Buffy’s my family, or as good as, so it’s my problem too."

"Right then," Spike gave in and tossed the boy a stake. "Let’s not waste any more time."

~~~

Colin led Buffy to the entrance to the Master’s lair. He pointed to the opening and invited her with a gesture to enter. The boy didn’t follow her down, Buffy noted.

Hundreds of candles lit the way through the dank and dim. Buffy’s nerves were on a knife edge and she gave a slight start as the Master spoke. "Welcome," his voice dripped with sarcasm as it seemed to come from all directions yet none at all.

"Thanks for having me," Buffy quipped as her heart hammered in her chest. "You know you really should talk to a contractor. Looks like you’ve got some water damage."

The Master twisted his lips in a grotesque version of a smile. "Oh, good. I’ve heard about you, you know. The feeble banter portion of the fight, it is then or we could just cut to the…"

Buffy spun around and shot off an arrow from her crossbow, her target true. The Master deftly caught it midair while Buffy reloaded. "Nice shot. You’re not going to kill me with that thing."

Buffy aimed and prepared to shoot again. "Don’t be so sure."

The master shook his head as if in sadness at her stupidity. "You still don’t understand your part in all of this, do you? You are not the hunter. You are the lamb." With that the Master moved at a speed that defied all physical laws and appeared right next to the Slayer. He knocked the bow from her hands and grabbed her by the neck.

Buffy froze. ‘Oh God, I’m gonna die!’ She thought in terror.

~~~

Spike had finally isolated Buffy’s scent and was well on the trail, with Xander running to keep up. He could hear the vampire murmuring under his breath as he moved pantherlike, following Buffy. "Please, let me be on time. I’ll do anything you want, BE anything you want. Dust me, whatever, just don’t let Buffy die."

In that moment, Xander knew any hope that he might have ever held of winning Buffy’s love was false hope. If they all survived this night, there was no way the vampire and the Slayer weren’t going to be the next big item in the Watcher’s Chronicles. He was surprised to find himself not minding too much.

~~~

Willow and Angel arrived at the same time, rushing into the library. Willow had broken her promise to stay at the Summers house as soon as she realized Buffy had left to go fight the good fight alone. Meeting Angel on the way to the school had done nothing to dispel Willow’s worries as the vampire filled her in on the Codex and the prophesied death of her best girlfriend.

The ground was beginning to shake and the rumble was audible, like a train headed right towards the group. As Jenny and Willow clutched at each other for balance, a gang of vampires rushed the library and began to fight with Giles and Angel.

"Why are they coming here?" Giles looked about in desperation.

As Giles voiced the question, the floor began to crack open and reveal the location of the actual mouth of hell: the library of Sunnydale High School! A green tentacle began to undulate, working its way out of the widening gap and reaching for the humans. Meanwhile, vampires kept on coming through the library door in a seemingly endless supply.

Jenny and Willow ran to a fallen bookshelf and, working together as rapidly as possible, moved it to blockade the library door. As the men fought the beasties, the women tried to keep any more from joining in.

A tentacle wrapped itself around Willow’s left foot and she let out an earsplitting scream that drew Angel’s attention. The vampire quickly grabbed one of Giles’ swords and lopped off the writhing appendage. Two vampires leaped onto his back as he was distracted.

Willow and Jenny armed themselves and rushed headlong into the battle, dodging tentacles, slime and vampires as they sought to reduce the numbers of the enemy.

The tentacled creature finally made its way into the world through the now huge hole in the library floor. It was enormous, having three heads and towering over the puny humans from its full height that reached the ceiling.

Giles grabbed an axe and rushed up the flight of stairs to better aim at one of the heads of the horrifying creature.

~~~

The Master had his hand firmly around Buffy’s throat. She was struggling to break his hold, but just as she managed to get away and run, the Master caught her gaze and she stilled like a rabbit before a snake. The Master edged closer to her, making weird hand motions as hypnotic as his gaze.

"You gave it a noble try. You heard the prophecy that I was about to break free and still came to stop me. Prophecies are tricky creatures. They don’t tell everything, do they?" The Master laughed, then whispered in her ear, "You’re the one that sets me free! If you hadn’t come, I couldn’t go." The demon licked her tender neck and laughed as she shuddered. "Think about that!"

The Master waited as Buffy froze in her horror. He nuzzled a spot on her neck, savoring the fear the roiled off the girl, letting her terror spice up her blood a bit. "Oh, God, the power," he moaned and sank his fangs into her jugular. He only took a few pulls on her artery, growling into her skin as he supped, before he dropped her to her knees.

Buffy fell forward, still in a trance, landing face first in a shallow pool of water.

The Master stepped to the edge of the invisible barrier that had been his bane for so long and, as he forced his hand through, the barrier broke in a burst of energy. Laughter reverberated from the walls as the ancient vampire made his way back into the world he would soon conquer.

Spike got to the fallen Slayer first, pulling her from the dirty water. If his heart still beat, it would have stopped cold at the sight of his beloved, cold, bitten and not breathing.

"She’s dead," a wide-eyed Xander gasped and then choked back a sob.

"She’s not breathing," agreed Spike. He turned Buffy onto her back and finished checking her over. There was no question she was dead, but it had just taken place.

"If she drowned, we can do CPR!" Xander shouted.

Spike knelt beside Buffy and placed his mouth over hers, breathing into her lungs the life-giving air she had to have to survive. Over and over he repeated the movements--air in, chest massage, air in--until finally Buffy gurgled up the brackish rivers of death and began to cough while gasping for air.

"That’s it, love, that’s it! Cough it all out," Spike encouraged.

"I thought vampires couldn’t breathe?" Xander asked in wonder. "How come you can play lifeguard?"

"Stupid git," Spike smiled before explaining. "Vampires do lots of things that require the ability to move air in and out of lungs. I talk and smoke, even pant after heavy exercise. What kind of stupid things have you seen on the idiot tube that would make you think we can’t breathe if we want to?"

Buffy finally finished spewing out the water that had taken her life and was becoming aware of Spike and Xander there with her. "Spike? Xan? What...?"

"Welcome back," exclaimed a joyful Xander.

"See, pet, still gonna be here to kick my arse when needed, yeah?" Spike felt like he could weep at the sight of her breathing on her own.

"Where’s short, gray and ugly?" she managed to gasp out.

"If you mean that bloody soon-to-be-dust head of my family," Spike began, "I think the old bat headed out into the world. My guess is he’s headed for the Hellmouth itself."

"Great," Buffy said, "I thought Sunnydale WAS the Hellmouth."

"’Tis, but there’s an actual way in and out. My guess is he’s headed there for a bit of hell raisin’" Spike helped Buffy up from the ground and looked her over. "You look a picture, love."

Buffy snorted at the flattery under the circumstances. "Yeah, but a picture of WHAT?"

"Always beautiful to me, ‘specially all heartbeat havin’ and lungs pumpin’ air, not water." He put a helping hand under her elbow as the trio made their way out of the lair to put an end to this disaster.

Xander looked at Buffy in concern, "Buff, you’re still weak. We can go after the Master from here."

Buffy smiled at her brave friend and shook her head, "No, I feel strong, different. Let’s go!"

~~~

The Master had reached the roof of the school library and was surveying his planned kingdom. "My world! Oh, my beautiful world!"

Below him, through the skylight, he could see the battle as the demonic squidlike creature continued to avoid death at the hands of the four warriors chopping and lunging at it.

"Yes, come forth, my child. Come into my world and begin the cleansing," the Master crooned in encouragement.

"I don’t think it’s yours just yet." Buffy’s voice, already as strong as ever, broke through the Master’s gloating. He swung his head in surprise, clearly not believing his eyes.

"You’re dead! You were destined to die! ‘So it is written and so it shall be.’ You cannot be here," he quoted from the ancient prophecies in vain.

Buffy grinned in glee, "What can I say? Someone really smart once told me that we all make our own fates." She swung at the Master, knocking him down. "Time to make mine and end yours."

Below the duel of fates, the battle continued with Xander and Spike joining in against the massive calamari from hell. "Didn’t I see this guy in ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea’?" jibed Xander.

"Here you go, Nemo," shouted Spike as he tossed a saber at the lad. He took a double-edged battle axe for himself and leapt on the nearest tentacle, hacking away at the green ugly.

Buffy connected with a powerful roundhouse kick, nailing the Master in the face. He managed to swipe his clawed fingernails across Buffy’s breast, drawing blood. "Bet you wish you’d finished eating dinner before running from the table, now don’t you?" Buffy taunted. She leveled a punch at his kidney.

The Master connected with her jaw, knocking her into the wall of the roof, but she bounced back and responded with a swift side kick that knocked the Master next to the skylight.

"You know," Buffy said, "You’re so excited about being in hell…Be my guest, go there!" With that, she kicked the Master through the skylight and into the library below. The screaming demon landed on a piece of the library table, impaling himself directly through his unbeating heart. They all looked on in amazement as the ancient vampire dissolved to ash, leaving his skeleton behind.

As soon as the Master was no more, the hellsquid disappeared back into the hole that was once the library floor.

"Wow! That’s something you don’t see every day," quipped Xander as the last tentacle slipped beneath the closing gap.

"The Master?" Angel asked while staring at the unexpected remains of the one who had sired his Darla and made his vampire existence possible.

"Dead. The Hellmouth is closed," Giles replied.

"Buffy?" asked Jenny. "Did she make it?"

As if in answer, the slightly bedraggled Slayer dropped from the hole in the ceiling and smiled at her friends. "Yup. Died and everything. It’s been a weird day."

"We should have known a little death wouldn’t stop you," Giles beamed.

"Captain of my own ship, master of my own fate," Buffy responded.

Willow stared at Buffy in shock at her paraphrase of Henley’s poem. Her mouth gaped wide in wonder that her friend had ever heard the line.

"What?!" Buffy grinned at Willow; "I don’t sleep through ALL my classes!"

As everyone gathered round the Slayer, Spike sidled up to Angel. "Glad to see you decided to join the party, even if there was a bloody prophecy. Mite surprised you decided to do more than watch though." Angel glared at Spike, but the younger vamp continued anyway. "Heard that’s what you do. Give a warning, then step back and watch the Slayer do all the hard part."

Angel had the grace to duck his head in remorse. Clearly his planned life at Buffy’s side was not going to be happening now. Judging from the smiles and looks being exchanged between his troublesome descendant and the girl of his dreams, the game was over. Buffy had obviously made her choice and it wasn’t him.

"Guess I need to work on a new five year plan," Angel said quietly. "Tell me, Spike, what did I do in this future world of yours?"

"Well," Spike wished he could lie and tell the git that he had headed for Timbuktu or New Guinea. "You stuck around and put everyone through hell."

"Yeah, I got that message Spike," Angel said in exasperation. Really, he hadn’t done anything wrong and was STILL being made to feel guilty by the younger vamp! "I meant after, once I knew Buffy and I weren’t…you know."

Spike resisted the urge to rub in the loss. It was a good feeling, coming out on top for a change. Still, he was determined to be a better man for Buffy and he had to start somewhere. "You went to your own city, L.A., the City of Angels. Set up a right nice agency helpin’ all the needy of the metropolis just like a regular superhero. ‘Helpin’ the hopeless’ or somesuch. Took the cheerleader with you; looked like there might be somethin’ there in time."

"What cheerleader?" Angel seemed to perk up at the thought of a consolation prize.

"The stacked brunette with the million dollar smile. Cordy, I think her name is," Spike said. ‘Need to get Dark Eyes on that soul anchorin’ plan before Gramps gets his happy on with a different girl,’ Spike thought with determination. He caught Jenny’s eye and motioned for her to join him.

After relating his worries to the gypsy, Spike remembered another loose end to tie up. "Mind keepin’ an eye on my girl for a little bit, luv?"

"Of course I don’t mind, Spike, but what are you planning to get up to?" Jenny teased. She was half expecting Spike to reveal some grand romantic gesture that he would need a bit of time to prepare.

"Just a little item left to deal with. She looks too happy baskin’ in all that love to bother with it." Spike headed for the door before Buffy could notice him leaving.

~~~

The boy looked at the white-haired vampire in curiosity. Colin had never seen this one. He didn’t have the same reverence in his attitude as the Master’s other minions. In fact, they were all chanting and reading from sacred texts that dealt with raising the Master again as the black-clad Master Vampire sauntered towards the Anointed One.

Spike had an evil smirk on his face as he hoisted the boy and pulled him unceremoniously to his feet. "Time for a little less ritual around here," he growled as he twisted the head off the young vampire, "and a little more fun!" Spike wiped the ashes of the unconsecrated Anointed One from his hands and followed up his action by staking the rest of the Master’s old hangers-on.

"Now that all the trash is taken out, time to see ‘bout my girl." Spike was whistling a cheery tune as he headed back towards the school and his bright—no, effulgent—future.

Chapter Text

~*~
Epilogue
~*~

Buffy was in a reflective mood on this bright summer’s day. That morning Dawn had packed up her brood and was well on her way home now, leaving Buffy thinking about all the years of memories that having her little sister visit brought freshly to mind.

She decided to call Willow and Tara as soon as the dinner hour was past in Devon. The two witches now lived there and taught magic to promising acolytes. She missed their quiet wisdom and gentle humor.

Xander and Anya were off on a long delayed road trip across America with their teenagers. It was a last family trip before their William would be going off to college. Buffy had spoken to them all just before they had headed out for their adventure.

Giles and Jenny were still in Cleveland helping the new active Slayer, Vi, adjust to the trials and tribulations of keeping a lid on a Hellmouth. Their eldest son was with Jenny’s family, catching up on his gypsy heritage and learning to be a proper Romipen. Stefan and Nadja were currently annoying their Uncle Spike by keeping him from his sleep. Buffy knew that Spike only pretended to be irritated by the two adolescents who had spent as much time with them as they had with their own parents over the years.

Buffy smiled at the flood of memories and gave thanks, not for the first time, that Spike had made that wish all those years ago. She couldn’t imagine what sort of person she might have become without his love. They’d had their arguments over the years, as do all couples, but she was certain the woman she would have been without him would be anything but the contented woman she was now and had been for so long.

After they defeated and destroyed the Master, Angel had tried his hardest to convince Spike that he was selfish to romantically tie Buffy’s life to a vampire. He had tried to rally her friends and family to insist that she deserved a "normal" life with a "normal" man. It had taken much time and many instances of Spike being the sole reason for Buffy’s survival before Angel finally gave up and butted out of their lives. He was now happily involved with his own far-from-normal life with Cordelia in LA, or The City of Lost Angelus as Spike liked to call it. They all worked together from time to time when true Big Bads made an appearance.

The current active slayer, a sweet girl named Vi, was tending the Cleveland Hellmouth since Buffy and Spike had more or less subdued the one in Sunnydale.

Really, who wanted normal when they could have a life with Spike? Buffy’s thoughts happily ambled back to the start of her joy, her fulfillment.

Buffy had given the Gem of Amara back to Spike that very night, the night they took fate into their own hands. Spike had looked awe-stricken as she took his hand and slipped the ring back where it belonged in a way that mirrored Spike’s own actions days before. "Can’t have my boyfriend all dustable, now can I?" she had asked slyly. As she wrapped her arms tightly around her vampire, she whispered, "I’m not going to lose the best thing that ever happened to me, my own wish come true."

Spike had gifted Buffy with a promise ring that showed his intentions to the world, her mum and, more importantly, to Buffy herself. He didn’t want to rush things with Buffy; they were going to have a long life with plenty of time to explore ways to pleasure each other. After all, there were many ways to make Buffy’s nerve endings sing in joy without having Joyce discover her hidden talents with an axe.

They waited for Buffy to graduate from high school before consummating the passion they had lived with for three years. Spike referred to that time as the longest foreplay he’d ever engaged in.

Spike had been all things tender and loving when the time came, revealing to Buffy her innermost self. They had gone to San Francisco on a short honeymoon after her graduation and at a small, pseudo Victorian bed and breakfast, Buffy learned all about physical love from her genuinely Victorian husband.

To appease Joyce, Buffy and Mr. William Edwards had exchanged vows at a local Justice of the Peace. The simple service was attended by the Scoobies, along with Buffy’s surrogate father, Giles, and his lovely fiancée, Jenny Calendar. A surprise guest in the form of a three-foot tall fairy/demon with a beaming smile caused an alarmed Spike to demand that no one utter the word 'wish' until Fuamnach had departed. Before she left, she made her own wish that the couple always stay as happy as they were at that moment.

The really important ceremony happened on the honeymoon.

Buffy had read all the lore she could hunt down about vampires, their families, and their mating and claiming rituals. She knew that was the sort of bond that she wanted and Spike deserved.

Spike had been stunned when, on the second day of their honeymoon, just as he was nearing climax, Buffy sank her blunt teeth into his neck and drew a small amount of his blood, declaring him to belong to her with a firm ‘Mine.’

Spike had been far too surprised to answer at first. For a moment, Buffy feared that she had started something the vampire didn’t want. When he saw her face fall at his seeming lack of acceptance, however, he quickly replied ‘Yours. Never any doubt of that, love. Always yours.’

Buffy smiled as she remembered the look on Spike’s face when she asked, "So, aren’t you interested in making this more than just me claiming you?" He had cried later when he admitted that he’d never expected her to want to bond formally with him in vampiric tradition. "Dru never wanted to do a claiming, much less a mating. Least not with me." Buffy needed no further proof of just how insane Dru had been.

"Well I’d better be the only one, buster," she’d said with a smile. Buffy had never imagined an orgasm like the one that accompanied Spike’s fangs sliding into her neck as he made his claim. She gently rubbed the scar as she pictured the look of awe he still got whenever he looked at his mark on her neck.

There would be no fat grandchildren for them, but there would be scads of nieces and nephews, just as was the case for Willow and Tara. It was enough. How could a love like theirs ever be less than enough?

~fin