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Because Cavemen Have Fire

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They were always there. She could feel them, sense them, one on each side - like body guards, or loyal servants from times past. Her black shadows. She knew what people said about her, the way the other slayers talked. How her life was a dance with the bizarre and how she was more like a demon than a slayer. How the night was a part of her, how the hunt and the kill and the blood ran deeper in her than the others. And how she shared her life and her bed with two vampires...

But they didn’t understand. And she didn’t care. She’d lived and died and saved the world enough times to do whatever the hell she wanted.

*****

It had all begun back when - thanks to Andrew and Giles - Buffy had had one of the worst days of her life. And that was saying something. There had been yet another Slayer meeting, this time regarding something big in LA. They had no details, but knew that Angel and his team had been involved and were now missing. And then Andrew had burst into tears and told her about Spike. Being told in the same breath that her lover had come back from the dead, but was now probably dead again, was something she could have done without.

After that she threw herself into her work more thoroughly than ever, trying to nab the most dangerous missions if possible. Dawn noticed and told her to take it a little easy - that she didn’t have anything to prove. Buffy had shaken her head, knowing that it was impossible to explain what she was feeling. She promised her sister to be as careful as possible, but she knew that the physical side of things was the easy part. It was the other stuff that was hard...

She tried her best to work out what to do with her life. Since she actually had one - well of sorts. But she was getting very tired of being ‘Buffy the Super Slayer’, of always setting a good example, whether it was wearing fugly kevlar outfits or invariably doing her duty. Not that she didn’t want to fight - she loved fighting - but the whole team thing just wasn’t really her. Maybe she should swap with Rome!Buffy and just par-tay for a while? That Immortal guy sounded like a dream date. But... Rome!Buffy probably wouldn’t want to swap, and Giles would tell her that she was taking unnecessary risks. She could retire of course, but where was the fun in that? Studying might be nice, but... She always came back to that ‘but’. Everyone kept expecting her to ‘move on’, although they didn’t say so. To find someone new, someone who wasn’t a vampire. But there were limits to how many times you could give your heart away, and Buffy had a sinking feeling that twice was the number for her. Why had Angel decided that working for a law firm of pure evil was a good idea? Why had Spike never called? Why were they gone - again - now when she was beginning to realise that maybe there would never be anyone else that she’d want to eat cookie her?

Months went by and Buffy still felt like her life had stalled. One cold November day she was back in America on a rare solo mission, retrieving Magical Artefact #3276 that was guarded by a group of seriously gross fire-demons. The fire demons had been a bit of a surprise - Giles had thought that there’d only be a mystical defence, and had armed her with a counter incantation that Willow had come up with a few months earlier (which in the end she did need, but still... There would be words with Giles!). The thrill of fighting a battle where she was outnumbered and had no backup was wonderfully refreshing and she was buzzing with Slayer energy as she danced her dance of death.

It was now early in the morning, the sun just peering over the horizon, and she was tired, but victorious. ‘Borrowing’ a fire extinguisher from a gas station had been a great idea!

As she was wondering which way to go, her cell rang. She picked it up, smiling as she saw Willow’s name.

“Hi Will... how are you?”

“I’m fine. So did you get the magical thingy? Did my incantation work?” Buffy smiled wryly. Something was definitely up.

“Yes and yes. Easy as pie and the incantation worked like... a charm. As you knew it would, so please explain the real reason for this phone call.”

“OK, you got me. But Buffy...” There was palpable excitement in Willow’s voice now, and Buffy could vividly imagine her friend’s big grin.

“Well as you know some of us have been trying to work out what went down in LA and if there were any survivors, and as a sort of last resort I did this locator spell searching for souled vampires - I mean I wasn’t sure if it’d work, but I though it couldn’t hurt to try - OK, so I might set a carpet on fire again, but apart from that...”

“And you’re calling me because...” Buffy prompted. Willow really had a talent for rambly sentences.

“One of them survived! There’s a very definite dot on the map. Well it’s not actually very well defined - more of a fuzzy blob really... Wait, let me try to get a more specific location. I think I have a more detailed map somewhere...”

As Willow breathlessly reeled off the information, Buffy’s heart suddenly beat faster.

“Willow! That’s really, really close to here. Look...” She stopped, trying to gather her thoughts. “Does anyone else know?”

“Only you and Giles,” Willow answered.

“Good. Can you... can you keep it a secret? I’m going to go find him myself, find out what happened. I really don’t need the junior crowd or the tweed brigade marching in. Just get Giles to put some more money on my debit card so I can get him back to England, OK?”

“Will do Buffy,” Willow replied. “And good luck.”

“Thanks,” she answered before switching off the phone. She took a deep breath. One of them was alive. But which one?

*****

By midday she was finally on the street Willow had marked out on the map she’d sent earlier. Presuming that it wasn’t a fluke or something - Willow was good, but not exactly infallible. And it seemed almost too convenient that she happened to be nearby. It might just be a trap...

As she walked along the sidewalk, she looked out for motels and hostels - transient places where nobody cared who you were. But her keen eyes also noticed a boarded up building, the wooden planks still yellow and bright so it had obviously not been empty long. Sneaking around the back, she found that the back door was unlocked and carefully opened it. But when trying to enter she bounced off thin air, and grinned as she realised that she was up against yet another mystical barrier. After a fruitless search of her bag, she remembered that she’d stuck the incantation in her pocket earlier on. Moments later she was reading it out in a whisper, and just like before a part of the barrier started shimmering and moving - like a silk scarf caught in the wind - allowing her to pass through. As it closed up behind her she prayed that it wasn’t a trap, since the incantation took a good half-minute to work and getting out might be a problem.

Making her way around the ground floor, she noticed that there were still a few pieces of furniture left - an ideal place for squatting. If she was a vampire on the run, this was definitely where she’d stay... the above-ground factor would throw would-be hunters off. Although better be as quiet as possible though, just in case. For once she was glad of her boring super-practical stealth shoes, as her gorgeous new leather boots would have been useless for sneaking around in. Thankfully the rest of her outfit was pretty, although she regretted wearing her fake-fur trimmed coat. The fire demons had singed it rather badly on one side.

She tiptoed her way upstairs, and silently looked in a couple of empty bedrooms, before she finally hit the jackpot. The third bedroom contained a bed, and the bed had an occupant. As she pushed open the door a little more and took another soundless step inside, she suddenly stopped, frozen on the spot. She’d been right... and yet wrong. The bed did not have one, but two occupants! And not just that, but...

She moved closer still, heart in her mouth, unable to tear her eyes from the vampires on the bed. They were spooned up together, Spike against Angel, with Angel’s arm draped around Spike. A blanket covered everything from their middles and down, but it was obvious that they were as naked underneath it as above. She could now see their clothes - Angel’s neatly folded in a corner, Spike’s in a crumpled heap - and their coats thrown over an old holdall. But her eyes strayed right back to the bed. She’d tried so very hard not to think about which vampire might be alive, and had somehow imagined that when she found him - whichever one he might be - he’d be exactly like she’d remembered. Angel would be brooding, Spike loving and/or sarcastic... but this? She was now standing by the bed, and she could still not believe what she was seeing. They looked so... sweet; tender almost, snuggled up like any pair of lovers. Because surely that’s what they were, right? No one slept like that if they didn’t have sex...

She took a deep slow breath. OK Buffy, you can do this. She’d been through this before, and it wasn’t like she’d actually seen anything - not like that time with Spike and Anya in The Magic Box... Remembering that night she suddenly discovered new sympathy for Xander. “I can’t know this!” he’d said and walked away, and she certainly understood the impulse.

But then maybe it was a vampire thing? Or there could be a perfectly logical explanation... Spike always had a thing for sleeping naked...

No, she wasn’t going to leave, now she’d finally found them. Maybe if she tried to focus on one of them at a time?

Leaning in closer she studied Spike’s face. Blond hair slightly messed up, the way she had often ruffled it herself. Sharp cheekbones - sharper than she remembered - and a look of exhaustion that even sleep could not hide. God, what had happened to them? There were faint traces of almost-faded bruises, as well as a shallow cut on his forehead. The scar on his eyebrow was flush against the pillow and almost obscured.

He was really alive! The enormity of that made her almost shake. She’d had a year of believing that he was dead, and then another half year of thinking that he was dead again. So much mourning, and yet here he was - as real as ever. Slowly she reached out to touch his face...

In a flash his hand struck out, grabbing her wrist. Then his eyes snapped open, and instantly he let go of her as though she’d burned him, before scrambling to a sitting position; blue, blue eyes staring at her in utter shock and bewilderment. His movement unsettled Angel, who blinked against the hazy grey of the room and mumbled at Spike to stop turning. Then he saw her too and froze.

...

Muffled sounds filtered in from outside... children playing, a car driving by, road works in the distance. But in the bedroom everything was eerily silent for long, long seconds as Buffy stared at her two vampires and they stared at her.

Finally Spike reached out, awe and wonder on his face, and carefully touched her cheek. “Buffy...” he whispered. “Is it really you?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” she replied, but to her puzzlement he pulled back and sent Angel a cautious look. “Sorry pet, but we’ve had a lot of... things following us. There was something we thought was Dru... She was...” He stopped and swallowed, the memory obviously still painful. “We’re fairly sure it wasn’t her, but....”

Buffy nodded, her mind racing. She needed to prove that she was herself. Just like... when she’d been wearing Faith’s body!

“Oh! I know! Ask me something only I - we - know.”

Spike nodded, and then - just as Angel was opening his mouth - he asked, a host of conflicting feelings suddenly crowding his eyes:

“What was the last thing you said to me in the Hellmouth?”

And suddenly all the feelings she’d been suppressing for months, and that had been stirring and almost overwhelming her these last few hours, came rushing to the surface.

“I love you,” she said, and then she started to cry as she grabbed hold of him. “I love you and you died and came back and you never called - you bastard - and I thought I’d lost you again.”

All she could do was cling onto him - he was trying to calm her down she could tell, stroking her hair and muttering something about being sorry, but it wasn’t enough. Before she knew what she was doing she was kissing him, deeply and hungrily, because she couldn’t not do so...

And his kiss was fire and life and passion and how had she ever lived without him?

When she pulled back, she realised that Angel was watching them. His face was a stony mask, but he wasn’t fooling her - or Spike. Looking from her to Angel, Spike did a little shrug and sighed.

“Go on - kiss him too. We all know that's how you say hello. And I need my pants.”

Buffy was rather thrown, unsure if this was Jealous Vampire Crap, or magnanimous co-existence, but since today was turning out weirder than anything she could have dreamed up she climbed from Spike’s lap and into Angel’s. As Spike slipped out of bed and sauntered over to his clothes pile, Buffy couldn’t help but notice that he was still as utterly gorgeous as she remembered. When she guiltily turned back to Angel she realised that she’d not been the only one to check out Spike’s ass. No doubt about it... something was going on. How - or if - she was going to broach that subject she wasn’t sure yet, because honestly what could she say? “So, does running an evil law firm make you gay?”

“Hey there...” she said, slightly unsure, as she focussed on Angel’s guarded dark eyes. Things had not been good between them since she’d found out about Wolfram & Hart. Actually things just hadn’t been at all. She hoped that she would now finally find out why on earth he’d taken such a path, since with eighteen hundred Slayers to guide she’d had no choice in severing their connection. Spike’s ass would be a far easier subject than what Angel had been doing working for The Big Evil Law firm. Anyway, time to look at the positives:

“So you’re not running an evil law firm anymore and you’re not dust. Both of those are very much of the good.”

He opened his mouth, but before he could speak she moved in and kissed him. Words always made things more complicated and she wanted a moment of ‘not-complicated’ first. She had a horrible feeling that there might not be any more kisses once he told her what had happened in LA...

His kiss was just like she remembered, full of hopes and longing and passion, the seemingly endless miracle of first love.

When they parted she smiled, trying to preserve the moment, but Angel was obviously not going to let anything slide. He looked at her and asked, “So you love him?”

It was like no time at all had passed since that night when he gave her the amulet - Angel even had the same sort-of petulant expression on his face. But this time... she didn’t have to be avoid-y.

“Seems I’m not the only one!” she shot back archly, and that shut him up very effectively - his face suggesting that if a Hellmouth had opened up beside the bed he’d happily have jumped in to get away from her. But he didn’t deny her accusation...

There came a sound like a suppressed chuckle from Spike, but when Buffy turned to look he acted all casual. He had now put on his pants and was looking through the duster for his fags, apparently not going to bother with a shirt. Not a problem as far as she was concerned, what with the distinct lack of hunky men in her life of late.

Smoking paraphernalia retrieved, he picked up Angel’s trousers before walking over to the bed again, dumping the trousers in Angel’s lap. Then with the languid, casual grace of a sleek feline he sat himself down on the bed, his shoulder almost touching Angel’s (before Angel scooted further away), and flicked open his zippo. The flame lit up his face for a few seconds, colour dancing across his features as he cupped his hands around the cigarette. It was eerily familiar and Buffy found herself spellbound by a sight she’d thought she’d never see again.

As Spike shut the lighter, she finally snapped out of it and moved backwards, settling herself into the middle of the bed, facing the two of them. Might as well take the bull by the horns she thought, since if her life had taught her anything it was that Secrets Were Bad!

“So...” she said, looking from one to the other. “Are all vampires bisexual, or is it just you two?”

Angel’s eyes went wide, and Spike almost choked on his cigarette. “Bloody hell Slayer!” he gasped in between coughs and she almost felt sorry for him. This was not the reunion she had dreamt about, and the same probably went for him. But then he’d been the one not to call, so she figured he could stew for a bit. Of course she was happy that they were both alive, but...

Angel had apparently taken a vow of silence, effective immediately, so Spike pulled himself together to answer her, still aiming for flip.

“Well vampires are generally a perverted bunch - it’s pretty much a case of ‘If it feels good, do it!’ Sex is sex.” He shrugged. “Although in our case I think it’s more of a family matter really.” He shot Angel a glance, but Angel was now silently focussed on pulling on his pants under the blanket and Spike took another drag of the cigarette, eyes downcast. The swagger that had effortlessly sustained him when evil was obviously not working all that well anymore.

Then a thought suddenly occurred to her. “Is this... is this why you never called? Because you two were an item?”

Angel made an odd sort of strangled noise and finally tried to find his voice again. “Look Buffy... it’s not - I mean we’re not - well we are, but it’s just...”

Spike turned his head and raised an eyebrow. “What are you? Ashamed of me?”

“Spike - no - yes - it’s just -”

Oh! There was one of the keys to the whole thing, she suddenly realised. They were obviously both embarrassed, but Spike still had his pride. And although he felt ashamed at what she might be thinking about him, he couldn’t help hating himself for feeling like that. Especially given their history. If Angel had uttered the word ‘convenient’ Spike would probably have knocked him unconscious.

Spike shook his head, and pointed at Angel with his free hand. “Look big guy, we’ve done a lot worse than this. And you had to come off that soddin’ pedestal sooner or later. Discovering that you think I’m just as irresistible as she does strikes me as a nice way to go!” He shrugged again. “Remember, she’s not an innocent 16 year old anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time.”

Buffy smiled a little at this - she had a feeling that she’d be falling off Angel’s pedestal fairly soon herself if Spike had his way. Maybe she should keep the discussion focussed on them. “Oh and... sorry, but I’m not sure I get it. I was under the impression that you hated each other.”

“Thin line between love and hate pet. You should know,” Spike shot back.

He had her there, she had to admit. But rather than continue, he suddenly went quiet and thoughtful, silently studying the ever diminishing fag end. The subdued daylight gave the room a feeling of endless dusk, like they were stuck in a bubble outside time.

Then Spike looked up, breaking the spell. “But - in answer to your first question, then no, this has nothing to do with me not calling. This -” he waved from himself to Angel “- the sleeping thing anyway - is kinda recent. Well, unless you go back a hundred years. As for why it started again...” He took a last drag of the cigarette, put it out on the headboard and threw it on the floor.

Buffy felt slightly faint all of a sudden. ‘Again’... he’d said. So it wasn’t a ‘new’ thing at all really. She’d never given much thought to what they’d been like back in their heyday, except for the killing thing of course, even though she knew they’d spent years together. And knowing that Angelus and William the Bloody had been... doing things... put a different spin on a lot of stuff. 'Great job Buffy', she thought to herself. 'You have now grossed yourself out completely.'

She swallowed and tried her best to do some of that suppressing her mother had been so good at. And then Spike spoke again.

“Well Love, you try to stop - or maybe start - an apocalypse, get all your friends killed and end up hunted mercilessly by Evil Inc., and you begin to need some... comfort. And stop worrying about what you should or shouldn’t be doing. Life’s too short.”

She nodded slowly. Yeah, she got that. But of course it led to a bigger matter that could no longer be ignored.

“So... what happened? Why were you at Wolfram & Hart? What about this apocalypse? And did... did everyone else really die?”

They both looked down then, all the awkwardness about their sleeping arrangements brushed aside. Spike lit another cigarette and looked at Angel.

“Sorry mate, but this is your story.” He briefly took hold of Angel’s hand, and Angel closed his eyes as he took a deep breath. Then he looked Buffy straight in the eyes.

“I’m not a righteous man, Buffy. I never was. I just hope you won’t hate me for it.” Then he slowly started to talk.

Chapter Text

The story took a long time to tell. It was obvious to Buffy that Angel was leaving something out, but considering what he left in she was almost grateful. His voice was even and calm, relating tragedies and horrors as though speaking of someone else’s life - not that he wasn’t affected, but his feelings were so tightly under control that she could barely glimpse them.

Halfway through she dug out a couple of chocolate bars and a bottle of water from her bag, since the meal she’d eaten around lunchtime had been less than substantial. She realised that Spike had been right - the question of why they were sleeping together was the least of it. Because there were things in this story that made her very uncomfortable, things that reminded her of the ruthlessness of The Council before the new Slayers had taken over... Dispatching ‘dangerous persons’ in cold blood, doing deals where the end result overrode any qualms about methods. Slowly she moved backwards until she sat with her back against the foot end of the bed, as far removed from Angel as she could get without actually getting off the bed. Not only had he fallen off her pedestal, he was now busy digging himself into a hole. And he still hadn’t explained why he’d started to work for W&H in the first place...

Finally the tale came to the point when they’d all disappeared, and she could tell how raw their feelings still were when looking at their drawn faces. But Angel’s voice never wavered as he recounted their last glorious shining moments. It was breathtaking and terrible, and she was spellbound as Angel’s tale came to the point when an entire army was attacking them.

“Don’t know what happened,” he said. “There was a huge flash and then we were all alone. It must have been Illyria, because she’d vanished too.” He stopped and pulled a hand through his hair in a motion so tired that Buffy’s heart ached. But she didn’t reach across to him.

Spike was playing with his lighter, nervous energy hanging around him, and after a moment he continued the tale. “Didn’t know what to do... we weren’t supposed to have survived. Went underground, hoping that Wolfram & Hart thought we’d died too...”

“Literally underground?” Buffy cut in, grasping at the opportunity to change the subject. “What’s it like? I’ve been wondering, you see, because one of the other Buffies is underground. Is it bad? I feel kinda sorry for her.”

“Other Buffies?” Angel asked, shooting Spike a glance.

“Oh, I never told you about me, did I? Well I’ve got two doubles - one’s underground, and the other’s in Rome, living the life of Riley.” She frowned. “Actually no, I’m living the life of Riley, what with the dangerous, underpaid missions. She’s living the life of... the Olsen twins... What?”

They were both staring at her, the strangest expressions on their faces.

“So... you’re not... were not... dating The Bloody Immortal?” Spike asked.

“No,” she said petulantly. “It’s not fair. From the reports I’ve read he’s like - perfect. What do I have to do to earn some time off?”

But Spike and Angel weren’t really listening, instead they were grinning at each other like loons, obviously sharing some sort of private moment.

It wasn’t easy - she didn’t know how to respond to them anymore. Her head was too full of the information she’d just been given to think clearly. What should she do? Let them go on their way? Bring them back to The Council? What did they want to do?

“Um, so what are you doing here? OK, so it’s not exactly Hollywood, but it’s not the centre of nowhere either. Why did you stop being underground?”

“Well we’ve been trying to figure out how to recreate something like the spell that Lindsey used to keep him hidden from everyone,” Angel replied.

“Lindsey...” She thought back, tried to remember which one was Lindsey. Oh yes...

“The guy you had killed?” she asked, not trying very hard to keep the coolness out of her voice.

“Yeah, him.” Angel replied, not meeting her eyes. She swallowed involuntarily, and took a deep breath. Was the man she had fallen in love with still there somewhere underneath the grim, callous warrior now sitting across from her? Who reminded her of Giles at his worst (“Come on. Say it. Tell me to kill my sister” “She’s not your sister”). When she thought back, she could see that the iron will had always been there, like the time when The First had goaded him into suicide... he would have died for sure if it hadn’t been for the snow. But that had been an act of sacrifice - where had that Angel gone?

And Spike... She still didn’t know what exactly had happened to him either, or what his deal with Angel was. There’d been snippets in the longer tale - Spike had been a ghost, then they’d had a big fight, before slowly learning to tolerate each other more or less - but how and why they’d become lovers was a tale still untold. She didn’t get it - she thought that she’d known him better than anyone, that he’d loved her more than anything in the world... and yet he’d stayed with Angel instead of coming to her. Events that had made her flinch he’d barely acknowledged, appearing almost more concerned about Angel, never moving from his side as he narrated.

Seeing her eyes were fixed on the lighter (and oh the memories...) Spike bit his lip, quickly stuck it in his pocket and continued telling her about the spell.

“Only need one more ingredient - a mystical artifact known as an Ishtan Globe. A... ‘source’ said it was to be found not far from here.”

Buffy’s eyes widened. “I’ve got it!”

“What do you mean you’ve got it?” Angel scrutinised her, frowning.

“I’ve got it, right here in my bag.”

She nearly fell of the bed in her eagerness to retrieve the bag, and as she rooted through it - looking for the softly glowing doodad - she told them about her mission.

“Well that explains why you were in the neighbourhood and how you got through our defence barrier,” Spike said. “I’d been wondering about that.” Then he slowly reached out for it. “Can I have a look?”

“Keep it,” she said, and then almost dropped it as her phone rang.

It was Willow again, and Buffy tried to give as little away as possible, saying that she was fine but couldn’t talk right now and that she’d call Willow back. And could she please discourage Giles from even thinking about calling.

As she closed the phone she realised that she was very tired. Looking at the two of them she yawned.

“Um... is it OK if I get some sleep now? I’ve been up for like 24 hours straight and there’s also jet-lag and stuff...”

A little later she was snuggled up at the foot end of the bed with Spike’s pillow under her head, and the blanket around her. Angel had made a motion as though to get up, but Spike had told him to stay put (she guessed that he’d sensed her discomfort and was silently grateful) and had sorted her out. She vaguely wondered if she could pretend to be asleep and overhear what they’d say when she was out, but far too soon the world disappeared into a soft haze.

*****

Spike and Angel faced each other across the bed on which their Slayer was asleep. Carefully Spike bent down and pulled up the blanket a bit more - the house wasn’t exactly brimming with warmth.

Their girl - their woman - right there with them. Of course she was so much more than that. The judge of their souls, the arbiter of their lives...

“Well that didn’t go too badly,” Angel remarked, “I mean she took the... you and me thing remarkably well.”

Spike shook his head. “Oh come on. She worked that one out the minute she saw us in bed. She was obviously a bit freaked out, but she’ll cope - Buffy is pretty much unshockable when it comes to sex. Main problem I’m guessing is trying to wrap her mind about you not being all that straight... which given your taste in clothes is kinda funny.”

He smiled a little, but then continued soberly. “The other stuff - Wolfram & Hart and killing people... that she might not forgive you - us - for.” Catching Angel’s eye he continued, “You should have told her about Connor.”

“No,” Angel said in a voice that brooked no arguments. “She doesn’t need to know and that’s the end of it. Understood?”

Spike shook his head and wondered why the hell he always fell for the broken ones. Dru, Buffy, Angel... Dru had been beyond mending of course, and he still wasn’t sure if he’d helped Buffy or not. But Angel... he’d done his best, but he had a feeling that it would take shock treatment to get through to him - and Spike wasn’t the one to do that.

Determined to change the subject, Angel asked, “What did you mean she’s unshockable?”

Spike sighed. Well, there was no point in forcing the subject of Connor now... he’d find the right time soon enough.

"Well she and I did pretty much everything - so as far as the sex goes I can't think she's too freaked out. Not a little girl anymore, trust me. I mean she was almost teasing us about it! As for the other stuff..."

He caught Angel's eyes, holding them for a moment, before biting his lip and looking back down at Buffy. "Well, what she doesn't know about she can't be shocked by..."

Angel went back to studying her, and Spike found himself dragged into the same reverie - it felt like a sunbeam had come and landed in their hands for a few moments. Their girl, so full of light and life and everything they wished for. Except of course that it was an illusion. They knew it - knew that she would slip out of their hands again, leaving them blinded and dazed and alone. At least they’d be alone together.

Angel sighed and tore his eyes off her. “So, what now?” he asked.

“We get a box to put her in?” Spike suggested, and Angel silently buried his head in his hands.

Spike grinned, then looked towards the window and the diminishing light and sighed. “Better go get something to eat I suppose - maybe some candles too. I should probably go before it gets dark - less chance of getting attacked. And the shadows will be long now.”

Angel nodded agreement before slowly getting off the bed, grimacing.

Spike frowned. “How’s the leg? It looked bad...”

“Getting better,” Angel said and experimentally put his weight on it before wincing. “Damn. Hurts like hell, but I don’t think there are any fractures.”

Spike nodded and walked round to his clothes pile, picking up his T-shirt and inspecting it sadly. “Ruined. Bloody tentacles. Can I borrow yours for going out - I’ll nab some new ones if possible.”

“Well if you’d worn your coat...” Angel said pointedly.

“If I’d worn my coat it would have been in shreds as well.” He shrugged into Angel’s dark purple shirt and made a face, half from distaste, half from pain. “God I look like a bleeding ponce in this.”

“If you hadn’t tried to get yourself killed maybe your clothes wouldn’t be falling apart. You’re lucky you didn’t end up as a novelty vampire statue,” Angel replied. Then he narrowed his eyes, studying Spike closely. “Your arm OK? I’m not letting you go out there if you can’t fight properly.”

Spike flexed his fingers experimentally. “Yeah, bit... stiff and tingly, but nothing to worry about.”

Angel didn’t look convinced, but Spike pulled on the duster and his boots, then started rummaging through the holdall. “Sword might be a bit overkill... think a dagger’ll be enough?”

He slowly weighed it in his hand and checked the blade. It was a little stained after the last lot of demon blood, but seemed sound. Should be sufficient.

“Strap on a wrist-stake as well,” Angel suggested. “Can’t help to be prepared.”

Spike nodded and moments later was ready to go. “Have we got any money left?”

“A bit... try not to spend it all,” Angel said and handed him a couple of notes.

“I’ll do some ‘creative’ shopping then,” Spike replied and turned to go.

“Spike!” Angel called out and Spike looked over his shoulder. “Just... be careful.”

Spike grinned.

“Never!” he said, and then with one last glance at the bed he silently slipped out the door.

...

When he came back almost an hour later, Angel was sitting on the floor, all the various spell ingredients spread out before him. He was rereading the vague descriptions they’d found in an old compendium, frowning in concentration.

“Hey there,” Spike called quietly, “Stop worrying for a minute - dinner’s here.”

He pulled out several bags of blood from his paper bag and held them aloft. “Got them for free and everything - halfway through the sale the butcher grew another head and tried to eat me. Shoulda brought the sword after all - would have made life easier. Dunno if that means they’ve almost caught up with us, or if he just didn’t like vampires.” He shrugged, not bothered either way. “Of course then I bought a pizza for Buffy, so... still a dip in the funds.”

Angel sighed and beckoned him over. “This makes no sense, dammit. We could do with someone who actually knows magic...”

“Like, say, Willow...” Spike said casually, and handed Angel one of the blood bags.

Angel frowned, and Spike shrugged and let the matter fall. “Looked through some cupboards downstairs but couldn’t find any mugs. So primitive it is...”

He tossed Angel a blood bag, then, after depositing the pizza and the rest of the shopping near the bed, he sat himself down next to the other vampire and bit into his meal.

Fangs, blood, life... it was always primitive. No matter if it came in a pretty cup or straight from the vein it hit the same spot inside - far deeper than a soul or conscience could reach.

After a few moments of quiet, Angel handed Spike half the sheets of paper. “See what you can get out of that. It’s mostly in Latin, but there are some parts that don’t appear to make sense.”

Spike looked it over and frowned. “Might be in code, like the DuLac script - needed the cross to translate it.”

Angel swore and threw his head back against the wall. “I don’t need this, dammit!”

“Shh!” Spike whispered, and Angel instantly looked towards the bed. But Buffy was still fast asleep and didn’t even stir. They looked at each other for a moment, a little unsure. It had only been the two of them for these past six months - hiding, fighting, hunting; stealing across the underworld like shadows. In many ways it felt like the old days again, but without the girls and killing demons instead of humans... well mostly. The intrusion into their world of not just someone else, but the woman they both loved, felt surreal - like a dream. Now and again they’d forget that she was there and be startled by the blonde hair on the pillow.

Sighing they went back to attempting to translate the document, but Spike felt increasingly frustrated. Sitting still; waiting; doing things slowly and painstakingly always made him restless, and with Buffy in such close proximity the feeling was tenfold increased. After a couple of hours, Angel, who was probably suffering in the same way but far better at hiding it, suggested lighting some candles, and Spike readily jumped to his feet. Moments later the room was bathed in a soft golden light; he had found a small mini-mart with more or less everything, candles included, and the security guard had been old, near-sighted and eating doughnuts. Spike could have walked out with half the shop if he'd wanted.

Angel looked up, and then frowned. “Are you still wearing my shirt?”

“Uh... yeah. Must have forgotten. Got some more by the way - so I’ll get out of this one.”

He pulled off the duster and then the shirt, flinching lightly.

“That’s it, I’m having a look at that sting,” Angel said, determinedly, and Spike sighed.

“Fine - but apart from a little numbness it’s - fine. Your leg got off far worse.”

“My leg didn’t get stung by a paralysing agent strong enough to immobilise even you for eternity!” Angel replied, and with a suppressed wince of pain stood up.

The shirt held in his right hand, Spike lifted his left arm - which did feel a bit off if he was honest - and Angel carefully inspected the tiny, triangular sting between his armpit and shoulder blade.

“Doesn’t look too bad,” he said after a moment. “Still a few green tendrils under the skin, but they should die soon without anything to sustain them.”

Slowly he shook his head, exasperated. “What the hell did you attack it for alone? If you’d waited for a minute we could have had a plan.”

Spike scoffed. “Plan? Where’s the fun in that?”

“This isn’t about fun, Spike! It’s about not taking stupid risks and nearly getting the both of us killed.” There were cracks in Angel’s calm facade now, and it was like a red flag in front of Spike’s eyes.

“I’ve been telling you this for more than 120 years Angel, but there’s no point to life without risks. Step out of your bloody comfort zone sometimes, it’d do you a world of good! But no... you’d rather sit behind your big desk and calculate every move before you make it. Oh no wait - you made the big desk disappear with another of your calculated risks. When will you bloody learn to just let go?”

“Spike!” Angel was in his face now, anger and frustration growing exponentially: “Will you just - Shut. The. Hell. Up!

“Make me!” Spike grinned, tongue against teeth - obnoxious, challenging, cocksure. Hell yeah, this was more like it!

And then Angel got that look on his face - eerily calm and dangerous. His eyes turned dark and glittering, and Spike could swear that he could see Angelus far, far behind them - stretching and flexing, getting ready to pounce.

A beat - then Angel pulled him into a fierce kiss. The shirt fell out of Spike’s hand, dismissed and forgotten, as he hungrily responded to the offered release. It wasn’t always like this, but sometimes...

Their kiss was blood and history, fangs and terror in the night, and sins that could never be forgiven. Time came unstuck under their hands and unfolded, the tapestry of their lives at their fingertips.

Spike could feel it tingling through him... the feeling of power and life and bright sparks in the darkness. He needed to tear something to pieces, needed to fight with fists and fangs and his back against the wall. Or maybe do something else instead...

As they slowly pulled apart, he could see his feelings mirrored on Angel’s face, and he smiled triumphantly.

Then their moment was broken by a soft, sleepy whisper from the bed:

“Please... don’t stop...”

Chapter Text

Buffy was somewhere under the sea. She wasn’t sure how she had ended up there, but it was fun - she’d been swimming with mermaids and done all sorts of cool underwater back flips. Now she was sitting on a pretty rock, talking to a Sidekick Bird from a Disney movie (Lion King? She couldn’t remember), wondering how come it wasn’t drowning. To her left she noticed a big flower field, which really was on the bizarre side, given that they were under water... but then Spongebob had a beach, so what did she know? Suddenly through the fishy shoals she saw two figures hop-skipping through the daisies, holding hands. A moment later she saw that it was Spike and Angel, grinning and smiling. As they got nearer, Angel held up his hand where a large ring twinkled and announced: “Spike and I are getting married!”

Buffy frowned. There was something very familiar, and yet very wrong with this, but she couldn’t work out what it was. Then for no reason she could fathom Angel suddenly asked Spike to shut up... and before she knew what was happening she was drifting away - up from the ocean floor, through blue and green and warm softness, half-annoyed that now she would never find out who that bird was...

Slowly she opened her eyes, wondering where she was. Some part of her brain told her that the sea-thing had been a dream, but if this was still part of the dream or not she wasn’t sure. She didn’t recognise her new surroundings at all. The place was empty and glowing with a soft golden light - the only thing she could see... them.

And they were kissing.

Oh God.

Buffy felt her world fall apart and be remade, as she lay immobilised on the spot. They were so beautiful... their bodies taut perfection, muscles rippling under softly glowing white skin, dark head, white head, hands that she knew so intimately holding each other, lips and tongues and bodies moving together...

Oh God.

She had pulled back from the thought of the two of them instinctively, partly from a vague sense of betrayal, and partly because the whole gay sex thing was, well... icky. Of course she and Spike had done all sorts of things, but she still felt a little dirty thinking about it, wondering what was wrong with her. But now, seeing the two of them together like this, her sleepy mind bypassed all her issues and went straight to a far more primitive part of her: Vampires pretty. Buffy want.

She had never told anyone, but there were times when she wondered if Slayers had been made not only to kill vampires, but to do other things as well... She thought that Faith would probably understand. Angel had sensed it, and tried to pull away; Dracula spelled it out; and Spike happily used it against her. And now, caught in this moment that was probably just a dream, she felt that surely it was true. That she was bonded to these creatures of the night in more than just death and that she was created to dance a very different sort of dance with them. That life and death and blood and sex really were all the same thing...

Then they pulled apart, and she was surprised at the acute sense of disappointment that suddenly filled her.

“Please... don’t stop...” she whispered, not knowing if her words would actually carry in this place.

And then the scene shattered.

Their heads snapped around, their faces bearing identical looks of shock.

As though in slow motion Buffy’s head began to join the dots and make sense of what had happened. First: She was actually awake. Second: She was in the abandoned house where she’d found Spike and Angel. Third: She’d just witnessed them kissing - and asked them to carry on!

She blinked and sat up, desperately trying to think of something to say. They were still staring at her, arms around each other, as though frozen in space. The primitive part of her brain noticed that one of Angel’s hands was tangled up in Spike’s hair, the same way hers used to...

She felt the bed sway under her, no idea what to do.

Angel found his voice first, as he slowly let go of Spike. “Buffy?”

Then Spike pulled him back in, looking from one to the other. “No... don’t let go. She likes it!”

Slowly a smile crept over his features, a wicked roguish smile that she remembered far too well.

“You see Angel... vampires make her hot. Well at least these two particular vampires... Don’t they?”

She nodded, mutely, and swallowed, not trusting her voice anymore.

Angel’s face was full of uncertainty and the familiar, hopeless longing that had been their companion ever since he came back from hell, obviously unable to decide how to respond. But Spike was grinning like a little boy on Christmas morning who had been given every toy he had ever wanted. Never taking his eyes off Buffy’s face, he slowly took hold of one of Angel’s hands and experimentally sucked a finger.

Buffy grabbed hold of the blanket, mouth gone dry. How come he could still reduce her to a puddle just with a look or a gesture? It wasn’t fair. It had been so long since Spike had used his sensuality to pull her in that she’d almost forgotten just how... irresistible he could make himself. Looking at Angel she could see that he was also caught in that undefined territory between lust and confusion, and seeing him thus enthralled was - apart from being very, very hot - somehow reassuring. She wasn’t the only one to be mostly helpless against Spike’s charms.

“Now this... is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Spike said, happily. “I know it’s a cliché, but who’s up for a threesome?”

Buffy’s mouth fell open. “That’s not even funny,” she snapped. She remembered this too - Spike being an idiot.

Spike looked back at her. “I wasn’t joking,” he replied.

“But...” she shook her head, wondering which of a million reasons to pick. Maybe she should just go with the obvious. “You know we can’t!” She motioned from herself to Angel, but Spike looked at her as though he had no clue what she was talking about.

“Course you can,” he said.

“But... the curse!” The fact that she couldn’t be with Angel was one of the most fundamental cornerstones in her life. She sometimes wondered what would have happened if things had been different - would their love have been as intense and all-consuming if they’d been allowed to well... consume it? Was the fact that the other was always out of reach what made their feelings so intense? Would they have stayed together or broken up? She was no longer 17, and life had become so much more complicated since then. She knew that love alone couldn’t make a relationship work... and she wasn’t even sure who Angel was anymore. To a great degree it was a stranger wearing those familiar and beloved features. If she could have him now... did she even want him?

“Curse, shmurse,” Spike said and shrugged, finally letting go of Angel. “He’s not going to lose his soul any more than I am. Let’s just say that the goalposts for ‘Perfect Happiness’ got moved from you and to... infinity.”

She blinked. “Splainy?”

Spike sighed, the happiness vanishing from his features as swiftly as it had arrived. He looked at Angel.

“Go on - tell her.”

Angel’s head snapped round, the look on his face one that Buffy didn’t like at all. Before he had a chance to speak, Spike continued. “Tell her the truth - like you should have done from the beginning!”

She frowned. The truth? What was this?

Looking from face to face she could feel the temperature plummet. Angel looked furious, the hands that had so recently been used for caresses balling up into tight fists. But his voice was low and calm when he spoke.

“Spike - we talked about this. Stop this now.”

“No.”

Oh she knew that look. Spike had made up his mind and nothing was going to change it. He was slowly backing away from Angel now, one careful step at a time.

“Spike...”

Buffy shivered. How could Angel pack so much cold anger into one name?

“I am trying to help you, you git!” Spike’s was temper was showing now, too.

What was happening? What was it that Angel hadn’t told her? And how terrible could it be, that Angel was taking such great pains to keep it from her?

Help me? That’s funny. Feels more like you’re trying to stab me in the back from over here. I thought... I could trust you! Shows what a fool I am, I guess.”

Such controlled fury in Angel’s voice... Thin line between love and hatred indeed. They were circling each other, and she wanted to yell at them to stop - to just leave it, whatever it was. Except that was never going to work, was it?

“Dammit Angel!” Spike’s eyes were flashing now, exasperated. “Why do you have to make it so fuckin’ hard to love you?”

Buffy was taken aback by this, and so was Angel obviously. But Spike wasn’t finished:

“Either you tell her - or I will!”

Angel’s face segued from anger into something akin to alarm and terror.

“Spike... I’m warning you...”

After one last look at Angel, Spike turned to Buffy.

“He has a son-”

He got no further before Angel’s fist sent him flying across the room, crashing against the wall.

Buffy stifled a cry and turned towards Angel, shocked in more ways than one.

“Buffy...” he said, helplessly.

“Why... how... A son?” she stared at him, more unsure than ever.

There came a short sharp laugh from Spike. He was wiping the blood off his face, painfully pulling himself up to a sitting position against the wall.

“A human son - heartbeat and everything. Nice lookin’ kid too. Has his mother’s eyes...”

Buffy looked from one to the other, speechless. How could this be?

“Angel?” Slowly she got off the bed and walked towards him. The anger had left his face now, leaving only fear, and he tried to back away from her. Why?

“Tell me,” she said gently, and he shook his head.

“I can’t... Buffy. You don’t understand. It’s all my fault!”

This made no sense and she looked over her shoulder at Spike. He sighed, and slowly stood up.

“Angel. Tell her.” Spike sent her a look full of unspoken messages, and she wasn’t quite sure what he meant. But she took hold of Angel’s hand and led him over to the bed. She hadn’t realised that his leg was hurt, but he was limping as he walked. He sat down carefully, precisely, like every move was an effort - she forgot sometimes how much his past weighed on him. Sitting herself down across from him, his hand still in hers, she waited for him to begin.

“It... all started when I slept with Darla, trying to lose my soul... Or maybe even before, when they brought her back...”

This time round the story came out slowly and haltingly. The calm exterior he had been wearing previously came apart, and she could almost see him unravelling in front of her. So much pain behind his eyes; in every word. How had he lived through it all? Eventually he came to the point when he’d done his deal with Wolfram & Hart, and finally she understood. She almost smiled with relief, because he was still her Angel, was still the same man she’d fallen in love with - willing to sacrifice everything for the one he loved. Older - so much older - and grimmer. But still her Angel. And she knew far too well what it was like choosing between two impossible fates.

He was looking at her now with despair in his eyes, searching her face for something - she didn’t know what.

“I saved my boy, but I doomed us all... Buffy... they all died because of me!”

And in her head she could still hear her conversation with Giles from years ago...

“If the ritual starts, then every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and death... including Dawn.”

“Then the last thing she'll see is me protecting her.”

She’d found a way out - Angel hadn’t.

“Angel...” she stroked his face softly. “I understand.”

Oh she understood. She herself, her friends, Spike... Choices made that could never be undone, and consequences you had to live with every day.

“It’s OK... Angel, we’ve all done things that can’t be changed.”

“No - Buffy - you don’t understand!” He grabbed hold of her, hard enough to bruise. His face was tear-streaked now, and it was as though he was shattering completely, breaking right in front of her.

“I wouldn’t change it. I’d do it all again!” He started crying, burying his face in her chest.

“Oh God. I killed them all, but I wouldn’t change it.”

And she wrapped her arms around him, as he cried out his grief and guilt. Finally she understood what Spike had been trying to do - because he knew that she had been there too.

“But I knew ... what was right. I don't have that any more. I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I don't see the point.”

Just like her, Angel had clung to Spike when the world was a hopeless void. But Spike had known that it wasn’t him who could get Angel to release his pain. For some reason it had to be her - not that she could forgive him, but maybe she could help him forgive himself... Did he still see her as the epitome of beautiful innocence? Was this why he had so feared this revelation? Quite possibly, but for now it didn’t matter.

All she knew was that she wanted to make it better, wanted to help him somehow. She looked up and saw Spike leaning with his hands against the headboard of the bed, watching them. He smiled a little when he saw her, and softly said, “Go on.”

For a moment she didn’t understand what he meant, and then it hit her. The intensity of feeling took her by surprise - seven years worth of self-denial and suppression being swept away in a moment. Then she lifted up Angel’s face and kissed him, like she hadn’t done since their one and only night together. But she was no longer a little girl, unsure and tentative, waiting for him to lead. She knew exactly how to show him what she felt, how to give him what he needed.

He whispered her name, as though it were a prayer, and she could feel him letting himself go and surrender, swept away in passion once more. What was it about her and abandoned houses and sex with vampires? Although this time it really was vampires, plural...

There were kisses and caresses, lust and love and rapture; and sometimes it was Angel, and sometimes it was Spike, and she felt like laughing because finally - finally - she was touching the fire again.

It had always been about the fire, even though she knew that it was dangerous - but now she was holding it in her hands, and no one was dying, no one in danger. It was right there, dancing within her, without burning or consuming, and although blinding, she didn’t pull away.

Chapter Text

Buffy knew how to make a good entrance.

Slowly she pushed open the giant doors of the Watcher’s Council, waited a moment and then strode through, head held high. She could feel her vampires following, as well as see the effect on every person watching.

Watchers - some confused, others unwittingly taking a step back. The two worst vampires on record in Council Headquarters.... and also the only two vampires with souls. Lots of conflict. That was good.

Slayers - most had an instinctive ‘reach for a stake’ reflex. But then there was obviously more to it than just vampires... because Buffy was there.

She looked around slowly, knowing that confidence won at least half the battle.

“Could someone please tell Mister Giles that I’m here?”

Someone scurried off, and she held her ground, waiting. Even without looking she knew that Spike and Angel had done their ‘I’m-as-immobile-as-a-statue’ trick, arms crossed, faces blank. Was it very wrong that she found their otherness comforting?

But she kept her eyes fixed on the huge staircase. Giles would come to her, and they were going to have a little talk. She had finally found what she wanted - no needed - the most, and there was no way he was going to try to tell her what she could and couldn’t do. She was following her heart and her intuition, and although she knew it was risky as hell, this was how she’d stayed alive for all these years. She had thought he understood that by now...

Could it really be only two days since the morning she’d woken up in that house?

*****

It was probably the daylight that did it. Buffy sleepily opened her eyes and tried to stretch - but then realised that this would not be possible. She was wedged in between Angel - spooned up behind her, arm around her middle - and Spike, whose head was on her chest and cramping her arm.

For a moment she lay perfectly still, letting the waves of happiness roll over her. This didn’t happen to her - not with these two at least. And yet it would seem that it had. A happy morning after, with no apocalypse breathing down her neck and neither of them evil... she took a deep, deep breath and wondered at these strange new feelings of complete satisfaction.

Trying to delve deeper she frowned a little. This was not the first time she’d woken up in an abandoned house after having done something she thought she’d never do. And yes, there was a very insistent voice somewhere in her head, telling her that apparently she’d not changed at all since then and that she was a complete freak. But... she remembered that ‘other’ morning very clearly; it had been so awful that it was still etched in her mind. Everything had been wrong. She was wrong, what she’d been doing was wrong, having enjoyed it was wrong and Spike was a whole category of wrong in himself. And now... sure there was a part of her head saying that it’d been a mistake. But all the other parts of her were shouting that it’d been a bloody revelation and more importantly... it had felt right. After a year and a half of feeling adrift and unsure, finally she felt like she fitted again. She felt right, and they felt right and what they’d done felt right - even if it did make her blush.

Did this mean that she was cookies now? Maybe... it didn’t matter. All she knew was that this was how she wanted to wake up every single morning of the rest of her life. Of course it wouldn’t be easy (how did threesome’s function on a day to day basis?) and Giles and her friends would probably freak out, but she was willing to do whatever it took. And not just because of the sex... although... the things they had done to her, working together... a little shiver went down her spine as the exhilarating memories came back... But - because somehow they were the pieces that made her fit.

As she wondered at this strange revelation, she realised that Spike was stirring (which was good, because her arm was almost dead).

He obviously had a moment of confusion, but then he grinned and looked up at her, brighter than the sunshine outside. “Hey there,” she said, and he smiled back. “Hey yourself!” He looked around, taking in the room. “Didn’t break the house this time - that’s good, right?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She had no idea what she was saying, because she was watching Spike, and he was looking at her with that utter adoration on his face that made her all incoherent.

“You are... amazing. I might have said it once or twice before, but you really are.” He stopped and slowly reached out to stroke her cheek. “You’re like sunshine, except you don’t burn... Everything has been so dark, I almost forgot what it’s like in the light.”

He turned to look at Angel, an oddly tender look on his face. “And... thank you. For what you did for him. He’s like the poster child for repression, and half the time I don’t know if he is brooding or if he’s gone catatonic... Although hitting him over the head usually helps clear that up.”

Spike grinned wickedly, and she shook her head, trying not to laugh. But then his face became sombre. “Power is bloody dangerous Buffy. He was... like a king, looking down on everyone else... messes with your head, that.”

She sighed. “You know this you-and-Angel caring about each other thing is going to take some getting used to. It still feels... weird.”

“Not sure ‘caring’ is the word you’re after love, not much with the flowers and the hand holding,” he said, suddenly a bit uncomfortable. “It’s... family I guess. Blood and history and all that. Runs pretty deep in vampires - well some anyway. This modern lot are a disgrace.”

She shook her head, because - vampires! And even worse, she knew exactly what he meant.

“Well, shall we wake up the Patriarch?” Spike grinned, and began poking Angel with his foot.

“Hey - time to wake up Mr Lazy!” Angel tried to turn over, but Spike’s very insistent foot wouldn’t let him be, and slowly he sat up, blinking against the daylight.

Main problem with having both of them around, Buffy decided, was trying to work out which of them was cutest when looking sheepish. Currently Angel was ahead. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him wake up before, and he was just adorable half-awake with his hair sticking up in every direction. Added to this was the fact that he had never really done the awkward-morning-after thing before, and he was obviously unsure how to face the two of them after his complete emotional meltdown the previous night.

Spike of course was having none of it. "Oh get over it. Confession is good for the soul - good Catholic boy like you ought to know that, Liam. It's all the fornicating afterwards that's going to cost you."

At which point Buffy started laughing so hard that they both began to look very worried.

"Um... a nervous reaction I think..." she stammered when she finally got her breath back.

“Buffy...” Spike was studying her very carefully, and Angel was looking even more guilty. “Are you OK? I mean - about last night...”

She swiftly reached out, putting a hand on his arm. “I’m fine. I’m... better than fine. For the first time in a long while I think I’m actually OK. Sure I’m seriously freaked out, ‘cause - group sex! But... last night...”

She paused, trying to find the right words, and realised that that would never be possible, she’d have to make do with ordinary ones.

“Last night was incredible. ”

Spike smiled happily at this. "See? Told you! Give a fella some credit."

“I’ll put a gold sticker in your quarterly report,” Angel dead panned, and Buffy giggled. Right now - life had never been more perfect.

Although... she was getting kinda cold and her stomach was rumbling. Which led to an interesting search for her clothes (how had her top ended up under the mattress?), and cold pizza for breakfast. Better than cold blood though... she wrinkled her nose delicately as she took in the alternative.

"So... what do we do now?" Spike asked. “Get the spell working and get out of here?”

"Suppose so," Angel replied, and carefully deposited the empty blood bag on the floor. "Might actually be able to do more than run away once we're cloaked."

Buffy looked from one to the other. "What? You think you're leaving?"

Spike frowned. "Course we're leaving. They're going to find us soon, and we've got to be on our way."

She took a deep breath. "So... what was this? Just a one-night-stand?"

They almost fell over each other trying to explain, but she cut them off. "I don't care! I want you to come back with me. You could work with The Council. I know Giles would probably take a bit of convincing..."

Spike shook his head. "Need a lot more than that, pet. And sorry, but..." He looked at Angel.

"We're never going to work for The Council." Angel finished. "Especially after -" he stopped and shook his head. "Not going to happen."

“But... you have to come back with me! I’m not going to let you go now I’ve finally got you back.”

Things were suddenly spinning out of control and she felt that familiar sense of panic and dread when all her dreams went *poof*. Not this time! her head was screaming.

They looked at each other and then back at her.

“Come back... for good? How’s that going to work?” Spike was studying her, genuine curiosity on his face. “We get a flat in whichever part of London that is currently poor and full of starving artists, and set up a ménage-à-trois between a lentil shop and a hippie commune?”

“What? No! Yes! We’ll work something out.”

Spike shook his head. “Apart from anything else - it’s not safe for you to be around us.”

“You think I care about that? I’m a Slayer - nothing in my life is safe.”

Angel shook his head. “It’s not just you they’ll come after - it’s everyone around you. Dawn, your friends... I’ve got enough blood on my hands I... I couldn’t bear it if I caused you more pain.”

“But...” she was looking from one to the other, tears almost in her eyes. “...don’t you want me? Don’t you want to be with me?”

“More than anything,” Spike said, swiftly. “But... not if it’s going to get you killed.”

Unbelievable. The sense of déjà-vu was now overwhelming, as was the sudden feeling of dread. Her face hardened.

"Oh, the old 'doing this for my own good' excuse, I was wondering when that was going to show up." She didn't bother to hide the anger in her voice. "How many times is this now? In case you weren't aware, this is my life and I am tired of not getting a say!"

Spike glanced at Angel again, and Buffy suddenly realised how their new closeness could be a serious drawback. Which was re-enforced when Angel spoke up again.

“It's not that simple. There’s the fact that... we have prophecies to fulfill. Not sure which one of us, but there’s work to be done. And... you won’t like it.” He caught her eyes and held them. “I saw you pull away when I told you what had happened at Wolfram & Hart, and that’s still there. I’m the chosen Champion of the Powers fighting in this apocalypse, and that means doing a lot of unforgivable things. I’ve killed people. I probably will again. I’m not sure you could live with that. I don’t like who I am now, but... I don’t have a choice anymore.”

She swallowed bitterly and looked away, knowing the truth of his words, and yet unwilling to concede the point. If she let them walk away would she ever see them again? Could there be a way around all this? Maybe... maybe she could call Willow? If nothing else it'd buy time.

When she turned on her phone she was startled to see 10 messages from Willow and one from Giles. And she was nearly out of power...

Tentatively she pressed the first message from Willow.

“Buffy! Um, this is a little awkward... you know how you asked for me to ask Giles to get you money to bring Mr Souled Vampire back here? Well, he’s not really going to do that - he got... a bit cranky.” Buffy could almost see Willow’s ‘Eeep!’ face. “I didn’t get a chance to talk to him until just recently because he was in this extra-specially long meeting and then he went out for ‘supper’ and he’s wanting to talk to you... Sorry, must run!”

The message stopped and Buffy sighed. She had half-suspected this, and squared her shoulders for yet another fight. What time was it in the UK now? They were ahead over there, right? So about early afternoon. OK, that was fine.

A few rings, and then Giles picked up (thank goodness she had his direct number - his secretary was impossible to get past. Not even threats of violence worked.)

“Buffy? Ah, I’m so glad you called. Willow told me some nonsense about wanting to bring back a vampire...”

“Um - that was kinda true. And Giles... not one - both of them! They’re both alive!”

“Really? Well you must be delighted.”

“Yes! And I want to bring them both back.”

“You can’t be serious. Buffy...” she could almost hear him shake his head.

“Of course I’m serious. They’ve been on the run from Wolfram & Hart for half a year. We could protect them.”

She could hear loud and vocal protests behind her, and stuck a finger into her free ear.

“I don’t understand... Buffy - quite frankly your recklessness astonishes me. Bringing those two here would put the Council at incredible risk. Having read the reports about what went on at Wolfram & Hart I thought we agreed to cut relations with Angel for good. And no one gets out of a contract with Wolfram & Hart, we know that. I understand that you’re glad that they’re alive, but surely you must see that there is no way we could work with them. I’m very sorry Buffy, but I’m afraid I can’t allow it.”

“But Giles-”

And then her cell went dead.

This wasn’t happening. Except of course it was. She turned round, utterly fed up and close to tears. They were both sitting on the edge of the bed, identical black outfits outlining their forms, eyes averted, shoulders hunched.

“Why does this always happen? I’ve lost both of you, and now I’m going to lose you again. And it feels like being ripped in half! And for your information - I don’t think there’s ever going to be a Mr Perfectly Normal Guy who’s going to sweep me off my feet. I gave my heart to you...”

She stopped, unable to continue. Closing her eyes for a moment, trying not to burst into tears, she thought that if nothing else they’d had kept up the tradition of gut-wrenching morning after misery.

Angel looked devastated, but resolute. “I’m sorry...” he said quietly, briefly meeting her eyes before looking down again. At least they weren’t in a sewer...

Then Spike jumped up. “You know what? Screw this. Let’s go to London. The spell should cloak us once we get it working, and I have a feeling it’ll be a lot easier with Willow helping. Angel - the girl of our dreams wants us. Both of us! It’s a chance in a trillion and I’ll be damned if I’m going to throw it away.”

“But-” Angel said, as wild hope began to blossom in Buffy.

“No! No ‘but’! If she loves us enough to try, I say we love her enough to take a chance. Wolfram & Hart are everywhere, so it’s not even going to be a problem finding them again. And also... if we manage to work some sort of truce with Giles without killing him, we could have the archives of The Council to study. Not to mention the fact that Buffy seems to be the one person in the world who can get you to back off.”

Angel appeared too stunned to reply and Spike turned to face her. “We’re coming! He’ll kick up a fuss in a minute, but just ignore that. We’re coming!”

Suddenly laughing, she threw her arms around him.

“You’ll come? Really?”

“Really truly pet. Love’s bitch and all that...”

She smiled fondly, and then remembered something.

“Oh - but there’s a problem... I don’t know how to actually physically get you back. I’ve got enough money for a ticket for me, but that’s all. And I kinda maxed out my credit card a couple of months ago in Paris, so... Also of course there’s the whole daylight thing...”

There was a pause, then Angel shifted a little, looking uncomfortable and yet oddly triumphant. “I’m not saying that I’m going along with this, but if we’re really in need of transport we could always steal my old jet...”

Her jaw dropped. “You had a jet?”

He nodded. “And a helicopter and 12 cars and a penthouse flat...”

Spike sighed deeply. “Still miss that Viper.”

“Wow.” Buffy said. “Just wow. Evil sure does pay, huh?”

“Costs too...” Angel said quietly.

“Which is why you are coming with me,” she said, taking his hand. “You’ve paid enough for now.”

“Also,” Spike cut in, “Don’t forget that we’re strong enough to knock you out, tie you up, put you in a box and take you with us whether you want to or not.” He grinned. “Angel - we get the girl! Be happy already.”

“Actually -” Buffy cut in, “The girl gets you. Now I just have to... oh god, tell everyone else.”

“Can’t do much to help you there pet, although I will try my best not to annoy Harris... much.”

She took a deep breath, the enormity of what she was undertaking slowly sinking in. She would have to explain her... ‘life style choice’ to Dawn, her friends and The Council. Which would be... difficult. To say the least. Well, if they threw her out, she could probably join whatever fight it was that Spike and Angel were fighting. She just needed to... get her shots in first. Because suddenly she was remembering a certain spell from years ago, and the way she had bulldozed her friends’ every objection. And Spike wasn’t even evil anymore. And Angel hadn’t lost his soul. She could do this! Because she’d finally found what had been missing for so long. And now she had it, she didn’t think she’d be able to live without it ever again.

*****

The next two days were spent travelling. They finally reached LA on the second evening - thanks to a very amenable long distance truck driver they got there a lot quicker than expected, which was nice.

As they got close to where the Wolfram & Hart jets were stationed, Angel smiled. “I think there’s one getting ready to go... let’s check it out.”

The look on the pilot’s face was one that Buffy knew she would remember for a long time. It was one thing to be told of Angel’s stint as Wolfram & Hart boss... quite another to actually watch him in action. She recalled Spike describing him as a king, and this was very fitting - all of a sudden he seemed to grow even taller and very imposing. And the way he carried an unconscious expectation of being obeyed absolutely was something that she would take a long time to come to terms with. She knew that she had a touch of it herself, but with Angel it was far more explicit - there were even very disturbing Angelus-like undertones to his behaviour, a casual easiness when threatening violence that made the pilot utterly terrified and her rather worried. Because she believed him.

Spike had taken her hand, and she squeezed it gratefully.

“He had a lot of staff problems,” Spike explained quietly, “often killed them if they didn’t fall in line. If he hadn’t done that... he’d have been dead within a week. It’s a dog eat dog world.”

In her mind she could still hear Angel from their big argument - 'I’ve killed people. I probably will again. I’m not sure you could live with that.' - and closed her eyes. There had to be a way forward, she just had to find it. But that was a problem for another day.

“So... what do we do now?” she asked, and Angel, slumped in one of the comfortable chairs, looked up. “We wait for the actual passengers. Apparently they’re going to Vienna, so they can just let us off on the way. No one need ever know.”

He frowned. “Presuming of course that they have any sort of brains. Never thought I’d say this, but I miss Lilah. She’d get it - would probably even help us.”

Buffy looked at Spike, but he shook his head, apparently as clueless as she. Then they heard voices outside, and instantly Spike vanished. Angel tossed Buffy a crossbow, but motioned her to stay in her seat.

A moment later two women and a man boarded the plane, but stopped dead in their tracks when they saw who was there already. When they turned around, they found the door closed and Spike casually leaning on it - a very sharp dagger in his hands; the shine of the steel reflected in his eyes.

“Well well, it looks like you remember me. How have things been?” Angel’s tone was light, but the tension on the three lawyers’ faces was rocketing.

“Mr Angel...” the tallest of the women replied, “...what a surprise...”

Angel smiled. “But surprises are fun! Now, let me introduce you to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. She’s going to be your Good Cop for this flight.”

Buffy waved with her free hand. “Hi!”

They smiled at her nervously.

“Oh and being a Slayer, she doesn’t really like the Evil Lawyer thing... and Spike of course you know already.”

They turned to look at him, and Spike grinned unpleasantly and started tossing the dagger from hand to hand.

“Now... we need to go to London, which is apparently on your way. So what do you say that we do this nicely and civilly?” Angel was scanning their faces, voice still pleasant, but the look in his eyes left no one in doubt that he was a fraction away from violence.

“There are a few different options... you can either promise to behave and get to ride here in the cabin with us - or you can kick up a fuss and spend the journey tied up in the bathroom. That’s the easy one. The hard one is this - what do you tell your boss? Now either you can go along with whatever excuse the pilot comes up with for our landing in London, and never mention that you saw us. Or... you can try to explain why you had me within your grasp and made no attempt to catch me - which should be fun if your new boss is anything like me.”

He stopped, and his eyes grew distant, voice conversational. “You know nothing gets blood out of the carpet - it’s a real drag... Oh and if whoever-it-is leaves you alive, be sure that I’ll come knocking on your door when you least expect it. I’m sure you remember what I did to employees who disobeyed me?”

There were silent nods from all three.

“Good. It seems you’re all bright enough not to get yourselves killed. Please sit down and make yourselves as comfortable as possible, not forgetting that painful death awaits anyone who as much as thinks about doing something rash - Spike and I are getting kinda peckish. OK?”

Observing the ‘parley’ Buffy curled in a little on herself. He was just so... brutal. Spike noticed, and after a minute came down and sat beside her, waiting for her to speak.

“I get it...” she finally said, “I understand why he is this way. I just - I just wish he wasn’t so...”

“So much like Angelus?” Spike filled in and she nodded again.

“Well - he is Angelus,” he replied. “Spent a hundred years pretending he wasn’t, but no one can keep their true nature hidden forever - which is why he needs you... Why we need you.”

He could obviously tell how unsettled she felt by this, and told her to get some sleep - it’d be morning when they arrived.

As she was snuggling down a little later with her head in Spike’s lap (such a simple thing, and yet it felt revolutionary), she was turning Spike’s words over in her head. She wasn’t sure exactly what he’d meant, but she was starting to have an idea... because she remembered far too clearly what it was like to cling onto her humanity when the darkness was just a tiny step away. Thinking of the two of them, all alone and with only each other to hold onto - she could begin to glimpse how they’d kept each other from falling off the ledge. But maybe she could get them to step back a little...

Slowly she drifted off.

And sure enough, a dull rainy November morning had been waiting for them in London. The upside being no sunshine whatsoever, so they could all just get in a cab and go straight to The Council...

*****

And here they were. Expectation and uncertainty was hanging in the air, and Buffy could almost feel how she was once more becoming ‘The One Slayer’... choosing a path different from everyone else. It was scary and yet familiar and if nothing else she was good at keeping her composure under pressure.

After a minute’s waiting, Giles appeared at the top of the stairs, taking in the situation with apparent calm, but Buffy could see how startled he was - and how angry. Carefully he walked down until he was in front of her, looking from her to her companions and back again.

“Buffy...” he said finally, breaking the tense silence under the watchful eyes of dozens of Slayer and Watchers, “...what on earth were you thinking?”

She tilted her head, and tried to look as though she was carefully pondering his question.

This was it - the moment. From now on there’d be no going back...

“Mostly? That I need to get a bigger bed.”

Chapter Text

There was a silent and barely visible conflict passing over Giles’ face. Finally he spoke, voice cold. “This is hardly the time for jokes.”

“I wasn’t joking,” she answered. Half-turning, she poked Angel experimentally. “Look! Not evil!”

She smiled, as though utterly unconcerned (silently praying that Angel would keep playing along, but then she'd gone along with his dangerous games, so he owed her this), and she could see Giles’ nostrils flare.

“I cannot believe that you could be so reckless. And to bring them here - the danger-”

“Don’t talk to me about danger Giles!” The smile had vanished from her face now, her eyes meeting his in defiance.

“I walked to my own death when I was sixteen to save the world. Danger and death is what a Slayer’s life is! We - all of us - risk our lives every night. And do I have to remind you that The Council and all these Slayers are here only because of me and Willow? Or that the reason there still is a world to protect is because Spike sacrificed his life for it? Wearing the amulet that Angel brought - and that came from Wolfram & Hart. You once told me to look at the big picture. Believe me, I am!”

She held his eyes, praying that he would see sense. She had happily let him steer The Council this past year and a half, since bureaucracy and large organisations were so not her thing. Slowly they had mended their fences as well as they could, and although they didn’t always agree, it was usually easy to find a compromise.

During this last couple of days, travelling with Spike and Angel, she’d been trying to work out what to say, how to get through to him. She understood perfectly well where he was coming from, but he was beginning to be stuck in a groove by now... maybe it was an essential Watcher thing? ‘Go with what you know’? Anyway, she figured that revealing the origins of the amulet should go some way towards shaking him up.

And after a tense moment she found that she was right. He looked down, thoughtful. “You may have a point...”

Then he looked around, taking in all the curious faces, and suddenly appeared rather uncomfortable. “Would you mind coming to my office? This is probably a discussion we should be having in private!”

“Sure,” she said, and motioned her vampires to follow.

*****

Buffy loved Giles’ office. It was like something out of a period drama - all oak panelled walls and deep red leather chairs what you could sink into and never get out of again. The sort of office that she’d always thought he belonged in.

When the door was closed, Giles didn’t immediately jump to the main issue, maybe wanting to give himself some time to adjust.

“Pardon me for asking, but how did you get them back here so quickly?”

“Oh, we hijacked a jet.”

She smiled mischievously.

“You what?”

Oh dear, now he was angry again. But it couldn’t be helped.

“It’s OK! It was an evil jet.” Apparently she could still pull out her best flippant side when arguing with Giles. Good to know.

“Buffy...” he was obviously lost for words. “I can't begin to describe my astonishment at your actions. I know you... love... both of them, but to bring the whole of the Council into danger because of your own wishes strikes me as incredibly selfish.”

The gloves were off now. Fine. She could give as good as she got.

“Did you miss the part where they saved the world? And the fact that they were fighting Wolfram & Hart and lost all their friends? Sure they’ve done some bad stuff in the process, but we have quite a few murderers working here too.”

For some reason this made him go very quiet, and Buffy felt like explaining in a bit more detail.

“Look, they’re working on this spell that’s going to hide them from The Senior Partners. They don’t want to put anyone in danger, least of all me - I practically had to force them to come with me, and as soon as the spell is active they’ll be untraceable.”

Giles looked at her and slowly nodded. “That certainly puts a slightly different perspective on things...” But his voice drifted off as Angel stepped forward.

“Sorry, but it’s not quite that simple.” He turned to Buffy. “I hope you don’t mind, but there are some unresolved... issues... that we better get out of the way before we do anything else. Aren’t there Mister Giles?”

“I’m not sure that I know what you’re referring to,” Giles answered, but Buffy could feel any remaining heat being sucked out of the room.

“Let me enlighten you,” Angel replied. They were facing each other across Giles’ huge desk, and Buffy began to feel very uncomfortable. What was it Spike had said? Something about trying to broker a truce without killing Giles? She had meant to inquire into that, but she had been preoccupied with trying to work out her own defence... And now Angel had turned his face back into stone.

“But before I start, let me explain a little something about where we stand, because we’re not really the best of friends anymore. You see, I’ve lived through more prophecies these last few years than you’ll read in your life. I’ve seen a Power That Was walk this earth, as well as an Elder God from before the time of men. I’ve seen every friend I ever had killed or worse, and tasted the power of The Senior Partners. I am not the same man you once knew. And I have some things I need to bring up.”

He stopped for a moment before slowly continuing.

“First of all, there was your runaway Slayer that we captured for you. You sent Andrew - with twelve Slayers at his disposal - and yet you used me and my team to do your dirty work, not caring about the price we might have to pay. Now I can understand that. You wanted to keep your people safe - and well, we were all working for Evil anyway, weren’t we?”

Giles didn’t reply to this, but his face didn’t show any remorse. Buffy felt rather bad, having herself been involved in this incident - telling Andrew that they would no longer be talking to Angel. Because... politics, essentially.

But Angel wasn’t finished.

“Second... I called in the spring, needing Willow... Do you remember?”

Giles nodded slowly.

“We were trying to save a friend’s life... a woman who spent five years in a hell dimension, who was... sweeter and brighter than you can imagine. She was also the woman that Wesley loved. He watched her die - slowly, painfully; gutted from the inside to be made into a vessel for a demon god... And you refused to help.”

He stopped for a moment, and then got that look in his eyes that Buffy had already learned to dread. He crossed his arms and tilted his head - once again the CEO, laying down the law.

“... But then I did once torture you for hours, so maybe we should call it even and start afresh.”

Buffy was speechless, and if it hadn’t been for Spike taking hold of her hand just then she didn’t know what would have happened.

Giles however had obviously reached his limit.

“How dare you?”

He was leaning forward on the desk, furious.

Angel was still immobile, but his anger was showing now, too. He was studying Giles and spoke very deliberately.

“Your psycho Slayer cut off Spike’s hands! I never got round to using that chainsaw.”

The silence stretched and stretched, and Buffy was looking from face to face with a sinking feeling. Were they going to bring up every past misdeed? And what was that about Dana cutting off Spike’s hands? She turned to him, but he shook his head, very carefully watching the now silent battle of wills.

“You killed Jenny,” Giles finally said, voice cold and clipped.

Angel looked down, apparently silenced. After a moment he lifted his face, his expression was unreadable, eyes distant.

“The first thing I did when I rose as a vampire was to go to my father’s house,” he began. “My little sister - who was only ten years old - opened the door. She thought I had come back to her, as an angel - and invited me in. So I ripped out her throat. And I thought her remark so funny, that I used it to choose my name...”

He was silent for a little while, as though lost in thought. Buffy was fighting back tears, never having known this detail. Spike pulled her into a hug, and she gratefully leaned on his shoulder.

Then Angel continued. “If you want to hate me Giles, please join the queue. Hate is fine, hate I am used to. But if that hatred affected the way you chose to deal with me, and cost people I cared about, then that is not something I can accept. Am I making myself clear?”

Giles was silent for a long time pondering Angel’s words and finally he looked up.

“You have made some very valid points. But I don't think I would have acted any differently if personal feelings hadn't been involved. The Council could never be seen to in any way accept a truce with Wolfram & Hart, and that’s a stand I will always take. However - in the light of what I have heard today, and the fact that you no longer work for them, I think it might be possible to find room for you here at The Council... for a start it would be incredibly helpful for the girls to train with actual vampires...”

He stopped, confused, at the look on Angel’s face. Spike swiftly sidled up to Angel’s side, clearing his throat.

“Remember - no pulling heads off.”

Angel turned to him, incredulous. “Did - did he just say what I thought he said?”

“Well you do look awfully like Oliver Twist...” Spike said, lightly, before turning towards Giles.

“Now Rupert...” Spike began, a mixture of suppressed mirth and indignation playing across his features. “Far be it from me to tell you how to run your Council, but insulting the chosen Champion of The Powers That Be strikes me as less than stellar policy. You see... there’s this Apocalypse that we’re sort of in the middle of. And we’ve got battles to fight and prophecies to fulfil and humanity to save - you know, that kinda thing, I’m sure it’ll ring a bell any moment. So although we’d love to stay and give you a hand with the bitty Slayers, I’m afraid we’re a tad preoccupied.”

Giles stared at him, speechless.

“Of course,” Spike continued, “If you’d like to help us out, like say... lend us a handful of Slayers or let us roam around your archives, that would be great, but if not - then that’s fine.” He held up his hands. “You’re not going to be seeing much of us either way. The reason we’re here is because of Buffy... thought it’d be nice if we could all learn to get along, since it looks like you’re going to be something like our father-in-law.”

He couldn’t help a grin at the end, and Buffy fought hard to suppress the same urge.

Angel took a deep breath. “What Spike said,” he finally said. He turned to Buffy. “Do I have to be evil or something to get any respect?” He silently shook his head and glowered in Giles’ direction.

“Well, they all seem to think we’re just big fluffy puppies with bad teeth who’ll be so deliriously happy to be half-accepted into their little super club that we’ll do whatever. Liked your crew better, Angel.” Spike sounded rather bitter now, and Giles shot him a dark look.

“I am not sure that’s entirely fair, Spike...” he began, but Spike cut him off.

“If it had been Willow who had a trigger in her head, would you have tried to kill her behind Buffy’s back?”

Giles couldn't answer straight away.

“See? Don’t get me wrong Rupert, I get why you did what you did - pretty much the same method Angel here used at Wolfram & Hart. But winning at all costs has a steep price.”

He sighed and held out his arms. “Now - can we all just say that we’re sorry and move on? There’s not one of us that doesn’t live in a soddin’ glasshouse after all.” He stopped, looked around. “Our top priorities are saving the world and making Buffy happy. I think that should mesh rather well with yours. Oh - and we reserve the right to bite Andrew at any time and for no reason.”

And for the first time that day, a shadow of a smile crossed Giles’ face.

“I think your terms are... acceptable,” he said, and Buffy could have kissed him in gratitude.

A little later, when they were almost out the door, Giles pulled her aside.

“Buffy... I know it's not really my business, but are you absolutely sure you know what you’re doing. I mean...”

“Is this the part where you tell me that you want more for me? ‘Cause honestly I think two is going to keep me more than occupied.”

Giles winced and took off his glasses. “I... see. I don’t suppose you’ve given any thought to what sort of example you’re setting...”

She tried to look innocent. “Because of the vampire thing? I know - put it in the new edition of the Handbook - ‘A Slayer can sleep with as many Souled Vampires as she likes.’”

She smiled brightly.

“Very well,” he sighed, and she relented a little.

“I’m sorry Giles, but this is what I need. What we need...” she gave him a little smile, and checking that Spike and Angel were coming, walked out of the office.

Where Willow was waiting.

“Buffy!” she said, excitedly, and bounced out of the chair she’d been sitting in and gave Buffy a hug. The corridor was otherwise empty, which Buffy was very grateful for. Privacy was good.

“How did it go? I came as quickly as I got this-” Willow held up her cell phone, where a snapshot of Buffy, Spike and Angel was displayed, “- but got here just a little too late. Knew I should have teleported!”

Buffy smiled. “It’s so good to see you. And it went... OK. I think.”

She turned. “Did it go OK?”

They looked at each other and shrugged. “Well nobody got hurt...” Spike said, then moved forward. “And it’s good to see you, Willow. How have you been? Still with Kennedy?”

“I’m fine, and still with Kennedy and thank you for saving the world.” She then gave him a hug too, which obviously surprised him, but after a second he gratefully hugged her back.

“And hi Angel.” Another hug, and Willow was repaid with a rare smile.

“I also got a text message...” Willow continued slowly, studying Buffy’s face, “Saying something about - beds?”

“Oh,” Buffy swallowed. “That.”

“So?” Willow prompted, looking curiously from her and to Spike and Angel and back again. “Is it true or just some sort of exaggerated thing like Chinese whispers?”

Why was this so hard, Buffy wondered. Technically Giles should have been much trickier, but then he didn’t want to think of her having sex with anyone, so all she needed for him to do was to accept the situation. Willow... she wanted to understand.

“It’s true,” Buffy answered. “I am... I mean we are...” she took a deep breath. “I’m sleeping with both of them.”

“Okay,” Willow said, in a voice slightly too high pitched, “Okay... that’s... I was kinda clinging to the Chinese Whispers theory...”

“Sorry,” Buffy said, biting her lip. “It’s just... I love them both and…”

’Now they come as a pair,’ was on the tip of her tongue, but she hesitated. They’d been painfully tightlipped about the whole thing (apart from that one kiss she’d witnessed and Spike’s innuendoes which made Angel glare daggers and look uncomfortable), and what even was her life?

As she tried to think of something - anything - to say, Willow held up her hands. “Hey don’t worry. It’s - it’s my issue, and I am behind you 110%, go you for shaking up the system!” She did a little air punch, looking terribly determined and making a pretty decent attempt at hiding her quite obvious deep discomfort.

“Thanks Will,” Buffy said, abruptly remembering when Willow had told her about Tara and her own awkwardness. Well wasn’t this a delightful turning of the tables…

Then Willow suddenly frowned, her attention diverted. “Oh, but what happened to your coat?”

“Fire demons,” Buffy answered, “They could probably smell that it was new and wanted revenge for killing them.”

“Okay, just stand still,” Willow was grinning now and said a strange little incantation, and with a little sparkly ‘puff’ the coat looked like new.

“Oh wow. Thank you, you are a genius.”

“Hey - speaking of genius...” Spike chimed in. “Do you think you could help us with a cloaking spell? We’ve got all the ingredients and a vague outline, but - not really our field of expertise.”

“Let me see,” Willow exclaimed, and then stopped herself. “Actually, let’s go somewhere more private... It’s almost break time for the Slayerettes.”

As they walked down the corridors, looking for an empty room, Spike and Angel gave Willow as much information as they could about Lindsey and how his spell had worked. After not too long they found an unoccupied study room, and Buffy put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, before locking it.

“It’s almost like being back in High School... except for being in charge. Oh and what was that thing about these symbols being all over my walls?”

“They’re quite... decorative,” Angel said, apologetically, and then frowned and looked at Willow.

“Do you think you could make them... smaller? On us, I mean. They just looked a little... silly... and I don’t want them to cover up my tattoo...”

“I’ll make them small and tasteful,” Willow promised in her best school-teachery voice, as she examined the magical artefacts that Spike was handing her.

“Oh! Shiny!” she suddenly exclaimed, as he gave her the Ishtan globe. “Is this the one you got, Buffy?”

Buffy nodded, and Willow slowly turned it over in her hands. “If you look really closely, you can see that the surface is covered in fractals. Actual fractals, getting infinitely smaller but never stopping - this is why they’re so good for covering spells you see, they use the infinity principle to continually repel any attempt at breaking the spell - very much like The Hitchhiker’s Guide actually...” She stopped and shook her head at the looks she was getting.

“Just give me the instructions.”

*****

Halfway through the incantation Willow’s phone rang. Since it had taken nearly an hour to set everything up correctly, the timing almost felt intentionally designed to be annoying.

Muttering under her breath she picked it up, and, after listening for a moment said, “Yeah, she’s here...” and handed it to Buffy, mouthing the word ‘Dawn’.

Oh great, Buffy thought. I was hoping to put it off just for a little while longer...

“Hi Dawn...” she said, and Dawn cheerily replied.

“Hi Buffy! Thought I’d call, what with there being all these crazy rumours going round the Academy about you and Spike and Angel...”

“Already?”

Dawn scoffed. “Please! This is totally Gossip Central - we usually know stuff before Giles.”

“Oh...” Buffy looked down, and studied her boots very carefully. “Well about the rumours... they’re kinda true. I mean I don’t know exactly what they’re saying, but I’m with... As in, sleeping with... both of them.”

“Okay!”

“Okay?”

“Sure! It always struck me as the obvious solution, and if they don’t mind sharing...?”

“No...” Buffy said, feeling oddly light-headed, “They don’t mind sharing...”

This was surreal.

“Dawn - you’re being very calm about this, how...”

Dawn made a ‘pfft’ sound, and Buffy could picture her disdainful hand wave perfectly. “I think it’s all the early emotional scarring, I’m unshockable now. Also, I’m used to you being a freak - it feels... comforting. Oh and does this mean that I can go to orgies now?”

“What? No!” Buffy desperately tried to re-group her brain. “There are orgies at The Watcher’s Academy?”

“Heee! No. I just love winding you up. Sorry. Oh, but - I knew there was something I needed to ask you. Can you tell Spike and Angel that I’ll need to interview them when I come home for Christmas? Our main course this term is ‘Behaviour of the Vampire’ and I’ll totally ace it if I can use quotes from actual vampires. Some of the stuff they teach is just hopeless. Seriously, I knew better when I was twelve. Oh wait - brain wave! I could write my thesis on one of them... or maybe the whole Aurelian line... Woohoo! I am so going to be Head Girl, just wait and see!”

“Dawn...” Buffy tried to say, but was cut off again.

“Oh crap! I have to go - I’m going to be late for my demonology class. At the moment we’re learning about demons who use bodily fluids for attacking - like sputum or mucus or-”

“Bye Dawn!” Buffy said very firmly, and closed the phone. Slowly she looked up at Willow, as she handed the phone back.

“My sister is terrifying and unshockable. I think that is a good thing. No wait - it’s bad, isn’t it? I’ve destroyed her innocence ... I’m a terrible guardian.”

Willow smiled. “Nah, you’re brilliant. She took it well?”

“More than well. She just sort of breezed past it and wants to use them for her school work...”

“Right, so-” Spike cut in. “I’m thrilled the Little Bit is openminded and so forth, but can we get back to the matter at hand?”

Realising that he and Angel were still standing very still in the teeny-tiny mystical circles Willow had drawn on the floor (and had admonished them to ‘Not even get an elbow or a single toe outside, it’ll throw off everything’), Buffy guiltily stepped back and motioned for Willow to continue.

Very carefully turning off her phone, Willow sat back down and started the incantation again.

*****

In the end it had all been over surprisingly quickly. But it definitely worked... Mystical symbols had blossomed across their chests, and when trying to take a picture of them with Willow’s phone, they didn’t show up at all.

“I tinkered a little...” Willow said, smugly, and smiled: “I also added a little bit of confusion and forgetfulness, so people won’t notice you much - you’re kinda… striking…”

Spike smirked in return, shamelessly posing and making the most of his topless status, causing Willow to go slightly pink and turn back to Buffy.

“Actually, what happened to your phone? I’ve been trying to call for days and nothing…”

Buffy pulled a face. “This really nice long distance truck driver gave us a lift and… he said I could charge my cell with his cigarette lighter. Except it sort of just… melted the battery. Maybe it was bewitched, he did say his grandmother had been a demon-”

She broke off to yawn. Despite trying to sleep on the plane (and in the truck before then), she hadn’t gotten much rest, too busy trying to work out how to tackle Giles. And now she suddenly realised that it was done. She’d forced Giles to see sense and her vampires were all safe and magically hidden and she had even spoken with Willow and Dawn…

The steely determination that had kept her going ever since that morning in the abandoned house abruptly melted away and she felt exhaustion close around her like soft grey clouds.

“Sorry, I think we need to get… home.”

She almost tripped over the last word, the weight of it settling solidly inside as Spike, by now shrugging into his duster, caught her eyes.

Home.

It was only a simple two bedroom flat, haphazardly furnished and still feeling more like a place to crash than a substitute for 1630 Revello Drive. But now…

(‘Really, I'm all right. Think I still dream of a crypt for two with a white picket fence? My eyes are clear.’)

And Angel had gone completely silent, carefully and methodically tidying up all the spell ingredients and not looking at either of them.

Deep breath. She could do this. They could do this.

“Go,” Willow said, patting her hand reassuringly. “You look like you need sleep. And I’ll try to get hold of Xander and, um, ease him into it gently.”

Xander. Buffy had forgotten about him completely, and closed her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said. “I would appreciate that… a lot.”

*****

A week later
Xander could never get over how cold England was. And now it was November and horribly damp and grey to boot. He had meant to stay in Africa until Christmas, but Willow had sent a magical telegram and said that if he wanted he could come back now... She had also added something about Buffy finding Spike and Angel and how everything was a bit up in the air. There was obviously more to the story than she let on, but he could easily work out that she needed to talk to him face to face and so agreed to come back. He wasn’t going to say no to an extended holiday... he really was rather exhausted, truth be told.

He’d of course been a bit surprised by the news - he had heard a little about the whole 'Angel-plays-for-the-opposition' and thought they'd never see him again... but then Buffy really had a way of forgiving just about anything. And a couple more fighters could never be a bad thing.

Realising that he was passing close by Buffy's flat, he thought he might as well see if she was home - it had been forever since he'd seen her, and he figured he might just as well get her side of the story first. He asked the taxi driver to change direction, and shortly (for a London taxi journey) afterwards he was skipping up the steps to Buffy's flat. It was around 4 in the afternoon, so she was probably at the Council, but it couldn't hurt to look in.

When she opened the door, he thought that she might faint upon seeing him. "Xander? What are you doing here?"

"Just arrived! Thought I'd stop by and say hello to my favourite Slayer.” Standing in the doorway he looked around the sitting room. "Hey - you've redecorated. I like the stencilling. Very different.”

"What? Oh that. Well that's... I mean - have you talked to anyone-"

She was cut short by an angry yell.

"Spike! You used up all the hot water! Again!"

Seconds later Angel, wearing only a towel wrapped around his middle and displaying some very odd tattoos on his chest, strode into the room, as Spike (thankfully dressed) entered from the kitchen, a mug in his hand. Xander did a double take, but well... Buffy was obviously just putting them up until they could find somewhere different. What with Dawn gone she had the extra space...

"Well if you insist on sleeping in..." Spike said, uncaring.

"Maybe I'd get some actual sleep if you didn't keep stealing the covers.”

"That wasn't me - it was Buffy.”

"She was in the middle!"

Buffy's frantic waving finally stopped their argument, but it was too late.

"You... sleep in the middle?" Xander asked, suddenly feeling faint himself. He’d misheard. That was all. And Buffy would laugh and tell him that it was just a mistake...

Instead Buffy smiled nervously. "I was kinda planning on letting you know slowly... guess I sort of blew that, huh?" He could see how she was silently trying to plead with him, but he was still too astonished to register anything other than abject shock.

Angel had swiftly retreated, but Spike came up to them, face now serious.

"Heard about Anya and wanted to offer my condolences. She was a brilliant woman." He shook Xander's hand, and then with a nod to Buffy went back to the kitchen.

Xander felt as though they’d all punched him, but things were slowly starting to fit together.

“This... this is why Willow contacted me. Buffy - have you gone insane?”

“No...” she said quietly. “I just... I just love them both, OK?”

“But - but -” There were so many layers of wrong that Xander didn’t know where to start. “They hate each other!”

Buffy looked down. “Things change... I’m sorry Xander, but I had to follow my heart.”

He looked at her, noticed how very small she really was, how fragile she could look, and yet how unyielding.

“Buffy... Look you can do whatever you want with your life, but this... I’m going to need some time, OK? And - I’m worried. I don’t want you to get hurt again.”

She smiled softly, a tiny twinkle in her eyes again. “Don’t worry. These days my heart is a fortress - it has two cute vampire guards and everything.”

Xander nodded quietly. “I... should go. I have a taxi waiting. I’ll see you around. Just remember - I’ll always be there for you. Whatever happens.”

(‘Whatever stupid choices you make,’ hanging in the air, unsaid.)

“Thank you,” she said, and smiled, a tendril of hope in her eyes. A little later he was slowly walking down the stairs, trying to fit his brain around what he’d just found out. He didn’t have a clue what to do, really, but he kept coming back to the fact that... she looked happy. And that had to be good. So... he’d have to back away and just let her be. Maybe he could ask to be sent to Australia?

*****

Weeks went by and Buffy discovered many new things. Like the fact that given the right incentive she could become almost nocturnal. And that Angel was very neat, had really, really good taste and took almost as long as her in the bathroom. That Spike had an extensive and encyclopaedic knowledge of British TV - Eastenders and Coronation Street particularly - and that the remote was suddenly a battlefield. That both of them were surprisingly good cooks, although Angel would cook for her, and Spike would cook for them all, so his meals were usually heavy on every spice she had. That they both knew Latin and Greek as well as various other languages and were rather good at research. That the new symbols on their chests were definitely lick-proof. And that they could argue indefinitely about almost anything and sometimes had to be stopped with violence.

The people around her tried to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary was going on, although there were always a lot of whispers and staring when she went to The Council. But then she was rather used to that and it was a small price to pay for happiness... She knew she’d thrown them all in at the deep end, praying that they could make it work, and although it wasn’t easy she was sure it could be done. Baby steps, that was the key.

And then came the night when Spike walked out.

Chapter Text

cavemen_uglybusiness

It started out as just another evening... Buffy came home from her Thursday training with the newest Slayers and headed straight for the shower as usual. Unsure if she wanted to get dressed (= going out slaying) or put on her pyjamas (= staying in playing), she slipped into her dressing gown and went to see what Spike and Angel were up to. Angel was still deep in research mode, but Spike had given up and was flicking between TV channels. They both perked up considerably when they saw her, and soon they were all three on the sofa pretending to watch TV. In reality Angel was trying to convince her to get out of the dressing gown, and she was pointing out that she’d get cold and he’d have to find far better arguments than ‘Because you’re prettier without it’.

Spike rolled his eyes and sighed. “For Christ’s sake, stop being so delicate Angel!” And with a grin he jumped on top of her, his legs pinning her down.

“Spike! No!” she squealed, resolved not to give in and holding on tightly to the hems, as he in turn grabbed hold of the gown and determinedly tried to pull it off.

And then time froze.

He was staring into her eyes, absolute terror on his face, and she could suddenly feel her heart beating far too loudly.

Then he let go of her; slowly, slowly moving backwards, his eyes huge.

“I’m sorry...” he whispered. “I’m sorry... I didn’t mean...”

After a swift look around, taking in Angel’s confused but suspicious face, he shook his head.

“I can’t... This - isn’t working.”

Before she could react he’d grabbed his coat and disappeared out the door.

“Spike!” she yelled, but was held back by Angel’s hand on her arm.

“Buffy - what the hell just happened?”

“It - it doesn’t matter.” She freed herself and then realised that she wasn’t wearing any proper clothes. She turned to Angel: “Go after him! Bring him back!”

He watched her uncertainly, but she said “Go!” in a voice that brooked no arguments, and then he too was out the door.

******

Spike was running - faster than he could ever remember, almost flying over the ground. Streets full of tall Edwardian terraced houses went past in a blur, their windows twinkling with Christmas decorations and flanked by parked cars, bumper to bumper, that he jumped over in two steps. Soon he had reached the local high street with its darkened shops, the obligatory desolate teen crowd and litter strewn pavements. He stopped for a second, then turned towards the Underground station. Get away far and fast. His body and mind were still reeling with shock, unable to process what had happened clearly...

He knew he hadn’t hurt her. Knew that she hadn’t even made the connection until he pulled away - that it really had been just a game. But...

It had felt the same.

Two and a half years he’d tried to repress those goddam memories, the white tiles, the way she screamed, the tears in her eyes, and then suddenly-

His body holding her down, his hands pulling at soft cotton covering her almost-naked body, her limbs struggling, trying to fight him off-

He stopped again at the top of the stairs leading down underground - shaking, and with tears burning behind his eyes. He could still feel her, the sensory memories so vivid it felt like they were scalding him. And the well of emotions that was flooding him was more than recollection. Hope and despair had been akin that day, uncoiling under his hands, and they were wrapping their tendrils around him now, almost paralysing him. Standing motionless he could sense Angel following, and he kept still for another second, unsure. Part of him wanted to be caught, needed to be caught. Angel had seen more than enough, and Angel wasn’t stupid. He would have worked it out by now. But was Angel coming to take him back - or to punish him? Punishment would be good - Angel would understand and would punish him without holding back, something Buffy would never be able to.

But he’d also make him go back. No, he couldn’t take the oblivion Angel offered, he would have to find... something else. So Spike leapt down the stairs, jumped over the ticket machines, punched a guard who yelled at him, and then went down to the Northern Line, a dangerous glint in his eyes. He knew where he was going now.

******

45 minutes later Angel came back. Alone. Buffy had been wondering whether to go after them once she’d put on some clothes, but knew that she’d never catch up and had been confined to impossible waiting, alone with her thoughts.

What had happened? Well apart from the obvious... No, the question wasn’t ‘what’, it was ‘why’. Hadn’t they moved past that incident long ago?

Slowly she turned over the last few weeks in her head, because there had to be something - but... they’d all been happy. There had been no badness of any sort... and then it hit her. They had been holding back. Not with each other, but with her. There had been nights out slaying, and nights in playing, but the two had never mixed. The two of them had argued endlessly with each other, but not with her. Those arguments had always been deflected and not resolved, and neither she nor Spike had been in any way inclined to drag up their dark past... Angel’s big confession had been enough angst for several lifetimes.

She looked up as Angel carefully closed the door and shook his head. “I lost him.”

“But-” she said, defeatedly sinking into the sofa. “But can’t you track him? Smell him or sense him or... something?”

He sighed. “Buffy. This is London. It’s almost a century since I was here last and I can barely find my way around. But for Spike... this is the place he was born, and he still knows it like the back of his hand. It’s... pointless to go looking.”

She swallowed, and yet again thought how much simpler it had been back in Sunnydale. There had not been a single hiding place in the entire town that she didn’t know about.

Then Angel continued. "So, can we get back to the main issue - what happened between you two? Not that I don’t have a pretty good idea, but I’d like some specifics."

She looked down, insides twisting. "I - I can’t tell you."

"No Buffy, you will tell me! If I am to actually live with you, I need to know why Spike just ran out the door as though he'd seen his mother's ghost.”

He wasn’t trying to hide his anger very well, and now his sarcastic side showed up too. "Actually - he'd have taken the sight of his mother's ghost a lot better than this, since he actually talks about his mom! I've spent a year and a half with him, and if I took everything he's told me about your relationship it'd easily fit on a postcard. And what you've said wouldn’t even fill a stamp.”

She crossed her arms and looked up at him defiantly.

“Well it’s not like you two have been forthcoming with the details. How did you get from beating each other up to screwing?”

He stared at her for a long moment, then nervously started walking around the room. It was strange how helpless and awkward he could seem, no matter how tall and imposing. “Not much difference,” he finally said, before coming back and crouching down in front of her. “Look... Spike and I... we’re good. There was a lot of... baggage... that we had to deal with, but we know where we stand now. And it doesn’t matter at the moment - what matters is what happened between you and Spike, because I’m thinking that there’s a lot more to it than just some kinky sex. Although I'm beginning to see why you never talked... You should have told me that he - hurt you."

“He didn’t - I mean he tried, but he didn’t-” She bit her lip, unable to finish the sentence, desperately trying to hold her emotions at bay.

Angel took hold of her hand. “Buffy - it’s OK. I know what Spike is capable of, you don’t have to shelter him.”

“Angel... you don’t understand at all.” She shook her head and took a deep breath. Time to shatter all his illusions about what sort of girl she was.

“Spike wasn’t the bad guy... I was. Most of the time anyway. And you really, really don’t know what I am capable of...”

******

Elephant and Castle. When human, Spike had always loved the name, if not the place, as it seemed to speak of things fantastical and... other: Empire, the Far East, places exotic and intriguing; as well as the wonderful mysteries of fairy tales - knights and dragons and fair princesses. All of them elusive and impossible.

When he’d become a demon all these wished-for dreams had suddenly become dark reality, and the formerly enchanting name now signified something very different: The place where resided the nastiest demon bar in all of England.

Twenty years had passed since he was last here, but he doubted that he’d been forgotten. Although it was probably just as well that he made sure to jolt their memory - and with an expertly aimed kick he knocked the large door off its hinges. It landed on the floor a good 5 feet inside, and in the wake of the giant crash came a total silence as every creature within turned to look at him.

Spike loved a good entrance.

The barman and owner looked up last of all, face slowly going puce as his three eyes fixed themselves on the newcomer.

“Spike!” he hissed, “You should know better than to come back here. Or did you forget that you were banned for life?”

Spike grinned back, violence and destruction dancing in his eyes and a wild malignant joy building up inside. “Oh, but here’s the thing,” he drawled, “I went and died, so technically I’m free to enter again!”

He sauntered up to the bar, insolence and defiance in every move. His heavy boots stepping on the metal door with a harsh hollow sound, his duster swirling about his legs and his face a collection of sharp angles, uncompromising and feral.

After a long look around at the patrons, he turned and stared coldly at the barman, eyes like blue shards of ice. “So - am I going to get a drink?”

The demon flicked a finger, and moments later several seven-foot Krramki demons had surrounded Spike.

“Well now,” he said, looking from one to the other, “Let’s see how much damage I can do before I get myself banned again...”

A fraction of a second later there was a dagger in his hand and sharp, sharp fangs in his mouth - and the dance could begin.

******

Once Buffy’s worst nightmare had been Angel walking in on her and Spike. It was like they had two different boxes in her head: Angel’s was full of all things good and noble and beautiful and Spike’s was bad and dirty and nasty. And never the twain would meet... except... as time went on, Spike had begun to fill his box with a lot of Angel’s stuff. And recently she’d found out that there was a lot of Spike’s stuff in Angel’s box too.

Although the most bizarre twist of all was that her nightmare had been reversed. She had walked in on them. And Angel was now stuck back where she used to be - having slept with Spike but unwilling to discuss it. She really should be made president of that particular club - they could have matching T-shirts and everything: ‘I slept with Spike. Don’t ask me how.’

And as she began speaking about what had happened between her and Spike, for the first time since that midnight talk with Holden, she realised that Angel might possibly be the only person in the world to understand. She would have to destroy his image of her - but that was probably for the best.

“...It was just... I mean I didn’t even like him. But somehow he was the only person I could stand to be around. He just - he was just there. He didn’t need anything, didn’t ask for anything. I - didn’t have to pretend when I was with him.”

Angel looked at her with the strangest look on his face, frowned a little, opened his mouth as though to speak, but then stopped.

“You too, huh?” she smiled, and he nodded.

She sighed and snuggled up closer to him. She loved how he was almost like a piece of furniture in his own right - she felt so safe with him, which was really quite funny considering that she was the stronger of the two.

“You’re not going to like the next bit - sorry. Just remember that you asked.”

The story took a long time to tell, because once she started, the memories blossomed in her mind, like the bruises she'd made on Spike’s perfect skin. And once she’d got past all the badness and the almost-rape, she found that she had to keep talking, because she needed to explain how it all became better. How they’d learned to love each other without all the pain. Or at least with less pain. Angel was a wonderful listener, his face showing neither shock nor surprise, although he probably felt both. But his stoicism made it easier to spill all her secrets.

“He just loves me you see - it was like... his job description. It’s what he does. And I depended on that for so long - used it to keep me going. And I need it still, but I want to give it all back as well. And now he’s gone! Angel - what if he never comes back?”

He stroked her hair softly and said, “He’ll be back. Don’t worry. As soon as he’s done trying to kill himself he’ll come back.”

“How can you be sure?” She turned to face him, not wanting empty promises and soothing lies.

He looked at her, his eyes oddly sad and gentle. “Because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go,” he said quietly, and pulled her head back onto his shoulder.

She nodded and closed her eyes. It was just a question of patience... and Spike managing to survive whatever he was currently inflicting on himself.

*****

Angel stayed awake long after Buffy had finally fallen asleep.

This was what dreams were made of - the two of them alone, Buffy asleep in his arms… And yet Spike had been unerringly correct. He was no more in danger of losing his soul than if he’d still been in a gutter. Although he wished Spike had bothered to explain why in a little more detail. He’d presumed that Spike and Buffy would be the stable part of their little triangle - or rather, the less fucked-up part. They hadn’t really discussed the past much, but then he wasn’t personally willing to discuss his own and Spike’s history, so he hadn’t felt he could really press the issue. And between Buffy’s determination to make things work and Spike’s joyful delight in their new life, Angel had felt that surely they’d have at least mentioned anything that might upset the applecart…

Gently stroking Buffy’s hair, and feeling her gentle breathing, he sighed.

He really should have known better.

He had never realised how damaged she’d been when her friends had dragged her out of heaven (children playing with things they didn’t understand, he’d happily have thrown some punishment their way, except life had already done far more damage than he ever could), but understood far, far too well her subsequent behaviour. It made him ache all the way through, and he had kept a carefully neutral face, even as he had begun to understand why she had taken his own story so calmly; remembered far too vividly the despair that had driven him into Darla’s arms…

("Don’t play games with me,” she’d said as she pushed him away, but games had been the last thing on his mind: "I'm not playing. I just wanna feel something besides the cold."

When she’d laughed, he’d punched her through a glass door.)

He swallowed and dropped a kiss on Buffy’s hair.

No wonder they’d tried to keep the past locked away. That Spike had finally snapped was the least surprising thing of the whole sorry tale.

(Although the soul made sense now. Spike had never explained why, and now didn’t have to.)

What to do? Angel stared into space, unseeing eyes following the lines of the mystical symbols that encompassed the walls, before drifting onto the new, heavily lined curtains, and realised that there was literally nothing he could do, except wait for Spike to return. If they could still carry on playing House was a different question, but not one he could answer.

It wasn’t until Buffy woke up the next morning - still snuggled up to him on the sofa - that she began to freak out.

“Why isn’t he back? It’s light now - we have to find him. He could be injured somewhere with no shade. That’s it - I’m calling Willow and asking her to do a locator spell.”

She jumped to her feet and grabbed the phone - and then stopped as Angel caught eyes. He slowly shook his head and saw realisation dawn - Spike was untraceable. Couldn’t be found mystically, didn’t show up on cameras or CCTV and no one would remember seeing him unless he’d actually interacted with them...

She swayed on her feet, and a second later Angel was there, supporting her.

“I can’t - I can’t do this. Angel - he has to come back. I can’t lose him again!”

And she burst into tears.

’She really loves him’, Angel thought as he wrapped his arms around her. And somewhere deep down a decision was made.

******

Spike finally returned just before sunrise on Sunday morning.

There was the softest of knocks on the door and Buffy practically flew to open it. And then her arms were full of bleeding, injured vampire - he’d obviously used his last strength to get back. “’M sorry,” he muttered, weakly, and then passed out.

A second later Angel was beside her, and together they managed to carry him into the bedroom.

“Why is he so stupid?” she asked, tears in her eyes, as she opened her First Aid kit and tried to work out where to start. It looked like he was injured from head to toe, although not all the blood was his own. Or so she hoped. With a sigh she began to undress him.

Angel, who had been trying to pull off his boots, looked up at her words, almost smiling. “Don’t ask me. He’s always been like this, from the first time I met him. Can’t live with him...”

She smiled back, and finished the sentence, “... Can’t live without him.”

Then she sighed again, because she’d have to cut his shirt off - it was too stiff with blood to come over his head without hurting him. And oh - quite a few nasty-looking deep cuts on his chest as well as some broken ribs.

Carefully they patched him up, and Buffy kept reminding herself that his face would look better in just a few days... Why did they always go for the face? Why had she always gone for the face? Her insides twisted with guilt and worry whenever she caught sight of the swollen eye, the large bruise from chin to ear, the cut on his forehead, the dried blood in his hair that spoke of damage yet unseen.

Angel went to fetch some blood and returned with a large cup in his hand. Not that Spike looked like he was going to wake up soon, but better to be prepared she guessed.

Returning her attention to the First Aid kit, she realised that she didn’t have any pain relief stronger than aspirin. Pointing this out to Angel, she added that she could probably get hold of something from The Council that would be strong enough even for a vampire.

He looked at her for a moment with a very odd expression on his face, and then shook his head.

“No.”

“What do you mean ‘no’?” she asked indignantly. “He’s going to be in incredible pain when he wakes up.”

“But that’s what he wanted,” Angel replied. “It’s not up to you or me to take that choice away from him.”

Excuse me?” she said, disbelieving.

“He wanted physical pain to ease the emotional pain. From what you’ve told me these last few days, I thought that was something you’d understand.”

“But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to let him suffer!”

“Why not?” he asked, that emotionless look on his face that made him seem like a stranger. She’d not seen it at all these past days when it’d just been the two of them - he’d been like the Angel of old, sweet and tender... and it had been wonderful. But she knew that it had been a illusion, a coping mechanism, a way for them to deal. And it had been far, far too quiet. If ever she had needed proof that they needed Spike, she had it now - he forced them both to deal with things they’d rather hide. Although he also made things a lot more difficult...

Then Angel continued. “This was his choice. Hell, I’d have beaten him up myself if he’d asked. He probably would have, except he knew you wouldn’t allow it.”

Buffy suddenly felt faint. “You - would have done that to him?” she asked, voice shaking, as she pointed to the bloodied and bandaged figure on the bed.

“If he’d asked me to, yes,” Angel replied, his eyes like flint. “Did worse than that to him back in the day - if for very different reasons.”

“But...” she stared at him, uncomprehending, and tried grasping for a straw she wasn't sure existed. “But I thought you loved him!”

“I do,” he said without hesitation, as he held her eyes.

She was taken aback, because until now he’d always been so reticent, so unwilling to discuss the matter; that to have him declare his feelings so bluntly seemed almost absurd. Then he shook his head.

“But Buffy - there are good reasons Spike and I don’t talk about what happened between us. Yes we... love... each other, but we’re vampires and it’s... different. And speaking as someone who spent twenty years in the gutter and living off rats as a self-inflicted punishment, then I understand what Spike did. It’s stupid, but I understand it.”

He took a breath and then stopped. Buffy could almost see the words ‘This was all a mistake’ forming on his lips, but then he smiled softly and sighed.

“Go to bed. You must be exhausted - I’ll keep watch over him.”

Slowly he walked over to her and placed a soft kiss on her lips.

“We love you, never forget that.”

She nodded, and took hold of his hand. “I love you too. It’s just...”

“I know,” he said, and slowly she walked off to get some sleep on Dawn’s bed.

******

The first thing Spike sensed when he woke up was Angel, very close by. He opened his eyes, blinked against the daylight that filtered though the curtains and winced. His whole body appeared to be in pain and he almost bit his tongue to stop crying out.

“I fucked everything up, didn’t I?” he said instead, and Angel nodded silently before holding out his wrist.

“Drink,” he said, in a tone that meant no disagreement allowed; but Spike had never paid attention to that tone.

“There’s a perfectly good mug right next to the bed. ‘M not blind. Well not completely.”

Angel shook his head. “Empty. Was for me. You need something stronger than pig’s blood if you don’t want to be bedridden for a couple of weeks. Also it’s almost Christmas and you need to look presentable. Drink!

Their eyes met for a moment, and then with an internal quiver of pure pleasure Spike accepted the undeserved gift.

Blood was life - but this was so much more. It was timeless, a bond from before time: life and death and love and pain - the mixture of demon and human that was at the root of their being. It ran deeper than deep, a connection they could never voice, but that had bound them together since they had been made.

“Thanks,” he said quietly after finally pulling away, sated and fulfilled in more ways than he could name. Angel, who was methodically rolling his sleeve down, answered without looking up. “Could it be that you’re finally learning some manners after all this time?”

Spike shook his head, then reached out and took Angel’s hand, unwilling to lose the contact they’d just shared, and hurting too much to try to keep up any sort of pretence that he didn’t care. There had been a point when he’d been on the brink of losing, of giving up... and what had kept him fighting and eventually winning, despite his injuries, had been the knowledge that there were two people who truly cared about him. Although at the same time, this knowledge was terrifying. Loving was easy. Being loved was something else altogether.

“Thank you,” he repeated, “for everything...”

Angel looked at him then, an oddly shaken look on his face, but didn’t let go of Spike’s hand. After a moment he said, “I need you to tell me what happened.”

Spike nodded, but Angel continued swiftly, explaining. “Not what happened back then, a few years ago. Buffy told me pretty much everything that went on between you... but I need to know what happened the other night.”

He couldn’t deny the great relief - as well as new guilt over Buffy having told that whole long dark story by herself. He tried to work out how to explain it, finding a way that Angel might understand.

“Remember that night - I mean that night, the... first night?”

Angel nodded, face inscrutable.

“And remember the... the bit with the shirt?”

Angel nodded again.

“It was... like that, but magnified a thousand - a million. Like reliving what I... almost... did... in 3-D wide screen Technicolor...” He would have buried his head in his hands if Angel hadn’t still held one of them and his face hadn’t been so bruised. Instead he shook his head, fighting the lump in his throat.

“Perfect recall is a soddin’ bitch! Every move, every tiny detail starin’ me right back in the face as though it was happening again...” A shaky breath, as self-disgust almost choked him.

“You know the way you pin them down? Find a point of leverage so they can’t move - hurtin’ them in one place so they can’t fight back properly...” He stopped, choking. “I did that... did it to her. Can still feel it...”

He sought out Angel’s eyes again. “I - I don’t know if I can do this Angel. This whole Happily Ever After deal, it’s too hard. You two were made for it, but I.... I’ll stay of course, but... I’ll fuck it up again, I know. One of the reasons I never called her.”

Angel had been absentmindedly stroking his hand as he listened, and the soothing motion from this most unexpected source was all that was keeping him together.

“If I can do it, after what I put her through...” Angel said, and Spike almost smiled.

“Yeah, but when you hurt her, you wanted to. Heck I tried to kill her goodness knows how often and that’s never been a problem. But that one time...”

He looked down, and then realised that the Angel had gone completely still. “I hurt her once,” Angel then said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I almost killed her...”

Spike stared at him in shock. “When you had a soul? When? How?”

Then followed the tale of Faith’s poisoned arrow and all that came after, and Spike listened spellbound. How he’d never heard of this he didn’t know, but there it was... and a lot of things suddenly made more sense. But as Angel told of how he’d only pulled away when it was almost too late, how he’d lost himself in the taste of her, something suddenly clicked in Spike’s head.

“But then you know...” he said, suddenly breathless, staring at Angel with wonder.

“Know - what?” Angel looked at him unsure.

“What it was like - when I slept with her, back then. I mean with sex instead of blood - not that there’s much difference of course.” He stopped, mind racing. “Imagine... imagine that she’d bitten you back and then not stopped for 5 hours. That’s what it was like!”

Angel stared at him, speechless. Spike was almost sitting up now - in spite of the intense pain - holding on to Angel’s hand tightly. “That... utter loss of control, of just going with it and never letting up, like dancing with fire...”

He stopped for a moment, holding Angel’s eyes because he knew exactly where Angel’s mind was going now, and then grinned, eyes glinting. “Like that night in Phoenix, but more... brutal and raw.”

Then he shook his head, soberly. “It was unbelievable, but still... I’d never go back. The price was far too high, and she was hurting so much.”

“So - let’s go forward instead.”

Buffy’s voice cut through their bubble, and they looked up in alarm.

“How... how long have you been standing there?” Angel tried to pull away, but Spike held onto his hand. It wasn’t like she didn’t know, and Angel would have to learn to deal with it.

“Long enough,” she said, looking from one to the other. “Going to tell me about Phoenix?”

They caught each other’s eyes and then looked down in unison - the night in question dancing in their minds, blood-soaked and glorious. (Indescribable; unforgivable - the night when the darkness won.)

“It’s OK, you can keep your secrets for now,” she sighed as she walked over and gently sat down on the bed.

“But - I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. About us and what sort of life we’re trying to have.”

They waited patiently and she looked down for a moment. “It’s... harder than I thought. And there’s so much ugliness in our past, and some of your stuff really freaks me out, but... there’s also a lot of good stuff. And I want that good stuff back. So from now on there’s not going to be any holding back. Spike-”

He looked up, meeting her eyes worriedly.

“We’re going to work it out, OK? I don’t care what it takes, if you have to rip a hundred dressing gowns off me, or go to some overpriced therapist, I need you to be all you can be! And that goes for you too Angel. I gave up any dreams of a normal life when I brought you back here...”

Ouch. They lowered their eyes; but then slowly looked up, surprised, when she continued.

“So I want to get everything out of what I’ve got - because I think I got a good deal. I want to rediscover what we had, Spike, but in a good way - like... what I think you two have, as far as I can work out. But for all of us. I want you to make me scream like you did back then...”

She stopped, biting her lip and blushed prettily. “Not there’s anything wrong with what we’ve been doing until now... But - I want it all, OK? You’re demons and I don’t want you to hide that. There’s a good bit of demon in me too...”

She looked from one to the other, and then carefully placed her hand on top of theirs.

For a long moment they sat completely still, uncertain, but then Spike turned to look at Angel, and when their eyes met they knew exactly what the other was thinking...

Their Buffy was a hell of a woman.

******

Christmas Eve.

Hyde Park.

Just the three of them and a helluva lot of demons.

Christmas was going to be great!

******

It had all come about because Buffy had gone to see Giles a few days before and noticed a report on his desk. The Council had heard of a demon gathering in the park, and, not knowing its purpose, Giles had been unsure how to proceed.

Buffy had happily made the decision for him. "I'll do it! I mean - we'll do it. I mean-”

Oh crap! Bad, bad choice of words Buffy.

"I mean... we’ll go. ‘Cause you don't know if it's a false alarm or like a tiny little midnight picnic or half an army, right? So we could spend the night surveying - and if more than like 30 show up we'll call for back-up.”

"I suppose..." Giles replied, slightly dubious.

"Oh come on. None of us is religious, Dawn is going to spend Christmas Eve with some boy's family, and... well Spike and Angel...”

She stopped for a fraction of a second, the events of the last few days flitting through her mind. Better keep that very, very secret.

“...have been doing the research thing for weeks now, and they're driving me up the wall. They could do with a good fight, or I'll have to knock them out."

"Ah yes..." Giles said, face unhappy. "That reminds me - could you tell Spike that there is no smoking allowed in the library? I have left several notes, but they seem to have no effect."

"Sure, I'll try. It just calms him down you see, and otherwise he'd just break something... Did you know that he speaks Latin and Greek?"

"Spike?" Giles said surprised.

She nodded. “And Angel is pretty fluent in Romanian. Not to mention various other languages - human and demon. Oh, and apparently Spike went to university when he was human.”

Giles had been so floored by this that he had given in to her request far more easily than she’d anticipated.

So here they were. Vastly outnumbered, but she had The Scythe in her hand and Spike and Angel on either side, extra sharp swords at the ready, and she knew that there was no way they could lose. A second later the horde fell on them.

Her world became pure instinct, and she knew that it was the same for the other two. She could sense them, and sometimes caught sight of them, gamefaces snarling; swords flashing brightly in the darkness, tainted with dark currents of ruby. Spike was grinning, pure thrill on his face. His recovery had been unnaturally swift, only the ghost of the recently inflicted damage still on his skin. He fought now as well as he ever had, lightning swift and slippery like mercury, confounding his attackers. Angel on the other hand was like a cliff - tall and unmoving - that his assailants crashed and broke upon. And she herself? She was the thing monsters had nightmares about.

How long the battle lasted Buffy didn’t know - time stopped having meaning as their weapons cut a swathe of death around them, and the earth became soaked with blood. Slowly however the lines thinned, and Buffy darted after one that tried to run away, as Spike and Angel dispatched the last few standing.

As she walked back to them she saw that they were side by side, decapitating the last demon with great relish. Then they caught each other’s eyes before slowly turning to look at her, identical expressions on their faces. And something hitched inside, a breath she didn’t know she had held. This was all so new, and complex... And the incident last week had shown just how close to the surface the past still was. But she was sure that they could move past that - and tonight could be a new beginning...

Spike’s expression was familiar - such an integral part of him that he had seemed crippled without it, and it felt so good to have it back (“You know you want to dance...”). But with Angel it had always been different. Not that he wasn’t passionate, but because he kept his passion at bay - had to be forced out of his defences. The only times she could remember him actually coming on to her overtly being when he was evil.

And now... seeing that look on both their faces - a look that said that they didn’t know if they wanted to kiss her or tear her apart - she thought that perhaps finally she understood how... maybe... having Angelus come out to play could be a good thing.

As this treacherous thought formed in her head, she began to realise why explaining this relationship to her friends was so difficult. She'd told them all that she loved Spike and Angel, and of course this was true. There were tender kisses on early mornings, thoughtful gestures, lovemaking that made her forget herself, shared looks that she got lost in, daydreaming, hand holding... a feeling of happiness that was almost unshakeable, no matter the daily difficulties.

But - although love was the cornerstone, there were other parts - things she had been barely conscious of when she brought them back with her, but that had nonetheless been a driving factor in her decision. Darker, deeper urges, otherwise only brought out in battle. She could live in action, in movement - the action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound. And now, letting her demon essence call out to them, she could see them answering - eyes flickering gold - and she knew that their bodies would be humming with energy and passion just like hers and none of them cared for what they had to do tomorrow.

Time to open her Christmas presents early.

Chapter Text

“No.”

“Spike...”

“No!”

“Please...”

“’M not wearing it. End of story.”

“Spike...” Buffy was getting very fed up. “It was Dawn’s Christmas present to you. She’ll be mad if you don’t wear it. It’s just a sweater...”

“Don’t care. And Angel didn’t get a sweater!” Spike’s voice was petulant now.

Buffy sighed. “That’s because she knows that Angel has taste. I mean look at him.”

Which Buffy promptly did again, since Angel looked utterly stunning and drop-dead gorgeous in a charcoal grey suit and dark purple silk shirt (top button undone). Her brain went to a strange clouded over place, because OMG the pretty! She could watch him all day. Except she had a Spike to dress.

So reluctantly she tore her eyes away. “It’s not even like it’s got a reindeer on or anything. It’s nice.”

Spike scowled at her. Buffy felt like banging her head against a wall.

“Angel - tell him!”

“It’s very nice and you’re being an idiot.”

Spike looked from face to face, stubbornness engraved on his features.

“It’s white. And I’m not wearing it.”

“For crying out loud Spike - you don’t mind going out and getting yourself almost killed, but you won’t wear a sweater that your sort-of sister-in-law gets you?”

Silence.

Fine. She’d have to fight dirty then.

“I thought you wanted to make amends... and you can’t even do this one thing for me...”

That one hit home. He looked down, suddenly acquiescent.

“Fine,” he muttered, and with a deep sigh pulled the white sweater over his head.

And then Buffy’s head did strange things to her again, because the sweater mussed up his hair so it was suddenly going curly at the ends, and the white-blond curls combined with the bright white of the very tightly-fitting sweater somehow hit a ‘Spike-is-hot’ button that had never been hit before. How was she going to make it through a formal Christmas Day dinner day at The Council, including unspecified ‘amusements’ afterwards, without dragging both of them into a cupboard somewhere? (It was clear that inviting the vampires was Giles' way of attempting to make amends, so she had decided that they were going, but the problems were... unexpected.)

Logically she should not have an ounce of lustfulness left after last night, as the delicious aches all over her body testified to. They hadn’t stumbled through the door until a couple of hours before dawn, sleeping like dead for less than 3 hours before they had to get up and attempt to become presentable, as well as opening their presents - those that came with shiny bows...

As Buffy put in her very pretty new earrings (combined present from Spike and Angel) she was immensely grateful that she’d had the foresight to buy a long golden dress that went all the way down to the floor, although it had to be coupled with a black cardigan to cover her arms. She looked the picture of respectability, even though she’d be bringing two dates... Looking at them both she smiled devilishly - everyone might disapprove, but they would most certainly also be jealous.

******

A swift taxi journey later they were standing in The Council’s lobby yet again. Only a month had passed, but it felt like so much more - and this time they were just three random figures amidst the crowd... It seemed as though every Slayer had come, as well as every Watcher still alive. As they were admiring the huge Christmas tree next to the staircase that reached almost all the way up to the ceiling, Buffy heard a well known voice call her name.

Delightedly she turned around, just in time to be wrapped up in a big Faith-hug.

“Damn B! Respect!” Faith said, a wide grin on her face as she pulled away. “I see the rumours are true. And how are you, boys? Gotta say you two being here improves the look of the place no end.”

Then followed two more enthusiastic hugs, and Faith shook her head, impressed. “Go you for shaking up the system. Although that dress is kinda... conservative. Trying to look as proper as possible to impress the Old Guard?”

Buffy smiled wryly, since Faith’s own outfit barely fitted into the category of ‘dress’. It was very small and very red, and showcased her attributes to great effect.

“Bruises,” she explained, and Faith chuckled, raising an eyebrow and showing off her dimples. “I’m guessing that the story about needing a bigger bed is true too?”

“Most definitely,” Spike said. “Got it already and very big it is too! Plenty of space for one more if you ever feel like joining in...”

He was happily surveying Faith, and Buffy and Angel automatically chorused, “Shut up Spike.”

“What? C’mon Angel, don’t tell me you’re not checking her out.”

Angel was obviously not going to be dragged into any male bonding and curtly replied, “Faith is my friend.”

Spike rolled his eyes, and conspiratorially leaned forwards to Faith. “He’s just jealous because I’m checking out another brunette. Doesn’t like the competition.”

Faith’s eyes widened quite perceptibly and looked from Spike to Angel. “Whoa! Did you just say - So... there’s more to this than just Buffy?“

Spike grinned, sending Angel a flirtatious look, and Faith turned to Buffy, who nodded slightly nervously and wondered what would happen now.

“Dude! Seriously?” Faith appeared to be actually stumped for once and Spike elbowed Angel.

“I think we shocked her. Didn’t know that was possible.”

“Hey - just... surprised.” Faith was busily recovering. “I mean you think you know someone and then...”

She looked at Angel and frowned. “How the hell did I not know that you swung that way?”

Buffy was watching carefully. She’d hardly gotten a single word out of Angel on the subject, and none out of Spike except what he’d told her on that first morning, the two of them mostly hinting at dark, difficult times that she wasn't willing to poke at just yet. It would seem that Faith wasn’t so reticent.

Angel looked about as uncomfortable as it was possible to be, but seeing as everyone was waiting for him to answer he finally replied through clenched teeth.

“I don’t... swing that way.”

“So - what? You’re straight, but like sleeping with a guy? Sounds like someone’s in denial.”

For once Spike was being silent, his eyes dancing with amusement, and Angel was obviously trying to work out what to say.

“It’s... family,” he finally said, and Faith appeared to roll this over in her mind.

“So it’s like a vampire thing?” she said, and then suddenly turned to Buffy. “Is there something about that in The Handbook? Should we know this?”

“No idea. Never read it. I don’t think so.”

“There’s also the fact that I happen to be very, very good-looking!” Spike chimed in, smugly, and Faith grinned.

“No keeping him down, is there?”

Spike lifted an eyebrow. “That was quite a mouthful young lady. Careful now.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, even though having someone be comfortable enough to joke about the situation was wonderfully refreshing. “Is the double entendre squad going to finish anytime soon?”

“Probably not,” Spike grinned, and Buffy was about to reply when Xander joined.

“Hello everyone and Merry Christmas!” he said brightly, smiling at Faith and Buffy and acknowledging Spike and Angel with a small nod. “What’s today’s topic?”

Faith, blunt as usual, answered. “Those two being sex buddies!”

She waved towards the vampires in question, and Xander did a double take, then laughed uneasily.

“Very funny Faith. Ha ha.”

“You know, that’s very hurtful Xander,” Spike said, face suddenly serious. “Angel and I take our relationship very seriously - don’t we sweetheart?” He turned and looked at Angel with utter adoration on his face, as he took one of Angel’s hands and laced their fingers together.

There was a beat, and Buffy was waiting for Angel to punch Spike across the lobby. But instead the strangest look flitted across his face, before he turned to Spike, eyes soft and mellow. Slowly he lifted up their entwined hands and planted a kiss on the back of Spike’s hand as he turned to Xander.

“Indeed. We were planning a June wedding. And don’t you think Spike looks pretty in white?”

Faith was speechless for the second time in five minutes, Spike - although keeping his smile firmly in place - was obviously considering punching Angel across the lobby, and Xander had gone very pale under his tan.

“OK - the mental images from that little joke are going to give me nightmares for years. I’m going to go find Willow now and see if she has invented any new forgetting spells. Alternatively she could could just teleport me to the savannah close to some hungry lions - that should also take care of it. Have a nice day!”

With these words he turned around and walked off.

“Considering that his best friend is gay, he’s not very open-minded,” Spike observed to no one in particular.

“Young people nowadays,” Angel added, shaking his head.

Buffy looked at them, not very pleased at all.

“You two are in so much trouble!” she said, before running after Xander.

“It was worth it!” she heard Spike call out, as she caught up with her friend.

Feeling her hand on his arm he stopped and turned around, and she smiled apologetically.

“I’m sorry Xander...”

“Buffy,” he cut in, “I’m trying here, OK? I mean - I know they love you and all that, but it isn’t easy. And that last bit was... I have no words. And really, that’s saying something.”

She took a deep breath. Could she do this? Yes, yes she could. They were actively trying to make things work, trying to be open… At least a little.

“OK the whole wedding thing was stupid, but... Faith’s wasn’t joking. They are - or at least were - sleeping together.”

Xander scanned her face, looking for the slightest trace that she was having him on, and then swallowed. “Now I really need a mindwipe...” He stopped and suddenly got a strangely panicky look on his face. “Spike lived with me! For weeks.”

Buffy bit her lip, trying her best not to smile and not succeeding very well. “They’re not gay - or at least so they say. As far as I can figure out it’s some sort of vampires-only thing. I really don’t know much ‘cause they refuse to talk about it. Just - please don’t let them get to you. Things have been a bit... complicated, and we’re still trying to work things out, OK? They’re just releasing steam.”

Xander nodded. “Fine. I’ll repress. They just - seem to be a bad influence on each other.”

“So were you,” she pointed out, as she remembered two Xanders laughing together.

“Huh?” She’d obviously lost him. “That time when you got split in two-” she didn’t get any further, because she suddenly remembered something else.

“Oh! Anya! She wanted to keep both of you...” She smiled triumphantly, and then added, “See? I’m not such a freak after all!”

Xander was staring at her, the memory obviously resurfacing and then he smiled back, that sweet lopsided smile that she’d not seen for quite a while.

“I guess,” he said, then shook his head, still smiling. "Fine. I'll just use my finely honed repressing skills that come with a Sunnydale upbringing. Anyway, I should go see Willow - she wanted my help with something. See you at dinner time.”

“OK,” she smiled, and watched him walk off. Well that had gone... a lot better than expected.

When she got back to the others, Spike and Angel were not in the least penitent, and Faith was still chuckling. Before Buffy could get in a reprimand, Spike’s eyes lit up.

“Hey - it’s Andrew! Let’s go intimidate him. I’ll point out where I bit him, and you can lick your lips and growl.”

Angel grinned, and the two of them vanished with vampire speed.

“Got your hands full there,” Faith observed, and Buffy nodded. “It’s worth it - really, truly, but...” her voice drifted off, watching the two of them, light and dark, identical stances, heads tilted, as Andrew’s face turned paler than she’d thought possible.

“But?” Faith prompted, and Buffy shook her head. “Was I speaking? Sorry, kinda zoned out. Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night... and they’re so pretty...”

Faith did that low throaty chuckle that always sounded dirty, and put her arm around Buffy. “Girl, you’ve got it made.”

Buffy turned to look at her, gratefulness in her eyes. “I’m so glad you’re back.”

“Have the others been giving you grief? Don’t worry sister, I’ve got your back.” Faith was smiling, but there was deep sincerity underneath her words, and Buffy allowed herself to relax a little. She’d been missing Faith intensely these last few weeks, because she’d known that Faith would understand. The two of them had become surprisingly close this past year and a half... both of them remembering far too well what things had been like before Slayers came in hundreds. And Faith really could be ‘the good Slayer’ now... murder was obviously a far lesser crime than sleeping with the undead - or so it sometimes seemed to Buffy, recently. Giles had never actually said anything outright, but she knew that there were people - mostly Watchers - who saw her as a traitor and her vampires as abominations. Although that was not exactly new - having to face them was.

Their conversation was cut short by Dawn who bounced across the lobby, as excited as Tigger, informing Buffy that she’d managed to get most of her professors seated close by Spike and Angel so they could see them eating, since none of them believed that vampires ate actual food. Buffy sighed deeply and buried her head in her hands.

******

Dinner was surprisingly uneventful until towards the end of the main course, when Spike suddenly lifted his head, ignoring Dawn’s long tale of what she was getting up to at The Academy and fixed his eyes on one of the elderly ‘Old Brigade’ Watchers halfway up their table and asked in a voice that, although quiet, carried far.

“Pardon me?”

It took a moment before there was a reaction, but when the Watcher looked up, Spike addressed him directly.

“Forgot that vampires have good hearing? How very careless - of a Watcher no less. Although that’s not really the issue, is it? ‘M just a street ruffian after all, uncouth and unmannered, who doesn’t have anythin’ to do in a place like this... being a vampire and saving the world aside. Did I get the gist of it there?”

Silence had fallen around most of the table now, and Buffy felt paralysed. The other tables had obviously not noticed, for which small mercy she was grateful. Spike slowly picked up his wineglass, taking a leisurely sip, before looking up again. “An’ here I was thinking that the class system was dead...”

The Watcher was silent and stiff as a rod, obviously unwilling to offer any sort of apology.

Spike shook his head, a cold smile on his face. “Oh the joys of the upper middle class. If I had the choice between a drawing room and hell, I’d choose hell. An’ having tried both, I’d be makin’ an informed choice.”

The Watcher matched Spike’s smile and replied, making no attempt to hide his contempt. “Well we have all read about what William The Bloody did to the drawing rooms of London...”

“Of course,” Spike replied, voice deceptively smooth. “Ever wondered why?”

The Watcher shrugged, dismissive. “Retribution against his betters and common envy of that which he could not understand.”

Buffy was struck speechless at such incredible rudeness and had to quell a sudden impulse for violence, but Spike was eerily calm. He took a deep breath, and Buffy could have sworn that the look in his eyes was just like Angelus’s.

“Well, being a little better versed in my own affairs than people working with only hearsay and their own prejudices, allow me to add a few... corrections.”

Looking around at the faces hanging on his words, he suddenly smiled easily, as though discussing the weather. “See, it just so happens that once upon a time I used to be a decent, respectable Victorian gentleman. Thorough education at public school and university, a staunch supporter of The Empire and a Conservative - naturally - and with enough of an inheritance to ensure that I never had to actually do anything as common as work.” He fixed the astonished looking Watcher with a steely gaze and added: “Becomin’ a vampire was like entering paradise after a lifetime spent in purgatory.”

He looked around at the stunned faces and grinned. “Now, you can all go add that to your textbooks. Call it a Christmas present and a lesson all in one. Oh - and if people could learn the difference between minion and Childe that would be really helpful. Considerin’ that vampires are supposed to be your specialty...”

He shook his head, clearly thinking very little of The Council’s expertise.

Angel, who had so far been quietly observing, looked up abruptly. “They don’t know the difference between a minion and a Childe?”

Spike quirked an eyebrow. “Got bored reading about Wolfram & Hart and started researching myself. At least half the books put me as your minion.”

Angel’s face clouded over. “We’ll have to talk to Giles about that. Offspring of mine labelled a minion...”

“Ah... now this brings up an old argument,” a tall bespectacled Watcher a little further up the table remarked. “Mr Angel-”

He stopped, obviously unsure if this was the correct way of addressing Angel, but the vampire nodded. “Mr Angel is fine.”

“Very good. Mr Angel, I noticed that you referred to Mr Spike as your ‘offspring’ - there have long been discussions as to who sired William the Bloody which I am sure you can clear up for us... And as regards the minion/Childe conundrum, then it has often seemed as though the lines can fluctuate a great deal. I would be most grateful for any insights you could provide.”

“Where to start?” Angel said, leaning back in the chair, thoughtful. This man was obviously one of those prizing knowledge and information above all else, and Buffy would bet that he got as excited over books as Giles. And as Angel began speaking, she could almost see him making notes in his head.

“See minions are drones, and as long as they’re bright enough to follow instructions that’s enough - basically they’re disposable. A Childe is chosen with care - they’re special, a companion that you’ll hopefully spend best part of eternity with. Now Spike is an interesting example, because although Sired by Dru, I was the one who handled all his teaching...”

Buffy looked mournfully at Spike. “It’s Christmas and you’re both talking shop. What did I do wrong?”

“Brought us to The Council?” he suggested, and she laughed, before yawning involuntarily. The rest of the table had started talking again, although she was sure that most of them were discussing Spike and Angel now... presuming they hadn’t been doing so before of course.

She sat back, automatically filtering out Dawn’s voice - she was busy quizzing Spike again - and half-listened to Angel expounding on vampire relationships and history. There wasn’t anything new in the information, but she noticed something odd... when speaking of Spike a strange backwards note of pride crept into his voice. Yet another piece for her puzzle. Because they really were a puzzle - she could figure them out individually, but together they were a mystery. And how they got together was even more of a mystery... But then a waiter filled up her glass again, and she lost the thread of her thoughts.

******

More than an hour later the largest of the ‘drawing rooms’ was filled to the brim with Slayers and Watchers, chattering and milling around. Spike had somehow managed to find a nice armchair, and Buffy was snuggled up in his lap, both of them doing their best not to fall asleep. She could glimpse Angel at the other side of the room, deep in conversation with Faith, and suddenly recalling her musings at the table, she turned to Spike and poked him. They were always easier to get talking when on their own.

“Huh?” he said, blinking and trying to pretend that he hadn’t nodded off.

“How did you and Angel end up in bed?”

His eyes grew wide at the unexpected question, and then he looked down, reluctant as usual. She put a finger under his chin and lifted his face back up.

Look - you know everything about me and Angel, and Angel now knows everything about me and you, but I know jack squat about you two. It’s not fair.”

He watched her face, pondering. Then with a sudden mischievous smile answered.

“Well, I guess you could say I seduced him.”

Buffy blinked. “You seduced him?” She shook her head, dumbfounded. “What the hell does that even mean? Did you take him out to a candlelit dinner or... like... hit him over the head with a cricket bat?”

“Ha! Cricket bat! Someone’s been in England too long.” Spike’s face was so smug she felt like hitting him with a cricket bat. She frowned, frustrated at the diversion. “Spike! Why won’t you talk about it?”

Then he suddenly looked past her with alarm on his face. “Oh no he won’t...” he muttered, and Buffy turned to see Andrew standing up, asking who’d like to play charades.

“Oi! You lot!” Spike called out, and most of the room went quiet and turned to look at him, Buffy included. What was he up to now?

“Right! I’ve got a conundrum for you...” He looked around, making sure he had everyone’s attention. “If cavemen and astronauts had a fight, who’d win?”

There was a moment’s silence, then Andrew piped up. “Oh that’s easy...”

And Spike settled back in the chair, a satisfied look on his face, as a host of arguments broke out simultaneously.

But Buffy wasn’t so easily swayed from her fact-finding mission.

“What do you mean you seduced him?” she asked again, and Spike looked at her tiredly and sighed.

“Sorry pet, but...” he stopped and his eyes grew distant. “That’s all you’re gettin’. I can’t...”

He shook his head, eyes unwittingly drawn to Angel, and the expression on his face was such an odd mix of emotions that Buffy resigned herself to ignorance for the time being.

But what had he meant by ‘seduced’?

******

Half a year earlier: June 2004, somewhere ‘underground’.

It had been 5 weeks since the alley. It always came back to the alley in Angel's mind... Five weeks of trying to hide from the Senior Partners, but unable to hide from the ever-present pain and guilt and uncertainty. It constrained him from all sides, weighed him down until he felt like curling up in a ball, away from the condemnation of his own mind. He should have died in that alley - living was a fate he wasn’t sure he could cope with anymore.

It had been a particularly long and difficult night, and before they'd managed to find the place they were now staying Spike had become completely insufferable. Why couldn't he be quiet just once? Angel had managed to quell the strong urge to hit him, but it had been a close call... As he sank into the bed - only bothering to remove his coat and boots - he sincerely wished that they hadn't been forced to sleep in a double bed, although he knew that a bed was better than nothing. ‘Nothing’ being not far below on the list. The place was a demon hide-out of the worst kind - dirty, dingy and with several different kinds of bloodstains on the walls and floor. There had even been a group of Hellions out front that Spike had for some reason been unable to leave alone, and Angel had been forced to drag him away... But this was a place where no one asked questions and everyone took great care to forget you. So exactly what they needed.

Eventually Angel drifted off and his dreams transported him back to a day in early 1882... young William had been even more obnoxious than usual, and Angelus had taken great pleasure in trying to teach him his place - so far nothing had worked, but maybe with time the colt could be harnessed.

He was woken very abruptly when Spike kicked him out of bed.

Blinking against the darkness of the room and the acute pain in his back, he saw Spike's face over the edge of the bed, watching him half-bemused. "Sorry Granddad, but you were getting a bit rambunctious and talkative. Enjoy your trip down memory lane?"

Angel tried to feign ignorance, but Spike of course was having none of it. "Please - I happen to remember that night rather well myself. Something about... finding new and interesting ways of tying me up and other such fun exercises, including timing exactly how long it took before I begged for mercy. All in the name of teaching me respect for my elders... As far as I recall you had a very good time. Although I was surprised that respect involved quite so much buggery... Funny that, what with having been to public school and all, but that had never featured in my lessons before."

Oh god. Angel buried his face in his hands. Was there no end to his litany of sins? Even Spike had been his victim... if he could blush his face would have been burning thinking about all the things he had done to him. His special hobby for years - trying to see how many ways he could try to break little Willy. He'd always won the physical fights, asserting his authority and supremacy, and every time Spike had bounced right back, willpower undented. But Spike was right - he had enjoyed himself. Had taken immense pleasure in all the things he’d done...

Slowly he lifted his head. “Look - Spike...” he swallowed, wondering why he was doing this, and why now. Maybe because there probably would never be anyone else he could apologise to.

“I’m sorry... I’m sorry for what I did to you. All the... for everything.”

Spike, who had propped himself up on his elbows, like a girl at a slumber party, stared at him, his eyebrows going up about 2 inches. His surprise was obvious, but after a moment his eyes narrowed and he tilted his head, studying Angel.

“No you’re not,” he said, matter-of-factly.

It took a few seconds for his reply to sink in, and then Angel could feel the anger he had been forgetting quickly rising again. Here he was, extending an olive branch, and the bastard threw it back in his face? Before he could say something, however, Spike continued.

“Not all of it, anyway. Of course you regret some of it - like pretty much anything to do with Dru I should think - but the other stuff? Oh no. You still dream about it, and those dreams? Aren’t nightmares.”

He looked at Angel; and Angel stared back, silenced. “See Angel, don’t forget that I happen to be the only other creature in existence who knows exactly how you feel. And when you remember those times, they feel good. And you wish they didn’t, so then you feel guilty. Vicious circle you can’t get out of, ain’t that right?”

Angel didn’t answer. There were times when Spike was so frighteningly accurate that it scared him.

“Well then, let me tell you a little story about me and Buffy...” Spike suddenly frowned. “Are you comfy down there? There’s plenty of room up here if you get bored of sittin’ on the floor.”

Angel silently shook his head. He wasn’t getting back on that bed, that was for sure. And if Spike was going to talk about Buffy... maybe it was some sort of pay-back?

“Now I’m not going to go into any details, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, but Buffy and I had a lot - and I mean a lot - of sex. Blow-your-mind stuff, but it was fucked up from beginning to end - for a start I didn’t have a soul...” Spike stopped himself, obviously not wanting to expound on the subject.

“Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is because Buffy taught me something.”

Spike sat himself up, a tiny gleaming jeans-clad Buddha on the edge of the bed.

“You see - things got better. After I got my soul, and she got over being brought back to life. We were on the edge of an apocalypse, and still it was the best time of my life.”

Angel’s eyes were wide with wonder. What was Spike doing? Why tell him this now? After a moment’s silence Spike raised his eyes and sought out Angel’s face.

“We didn’t have long, but in a few nights we put a helluva lot of badness away. She stopped pulling away and holding back - which goodness knows she was more than entitled to - and actually let me be... close.”

There was a pause, and Angel didn’t know what to say. This was as unexpected as his own apology. Then in a flash Spike was in front of him on the floor.

“So you see - what I’m tryin’ to say is that it can get better! No matter what happened in the past, you can start afresh. And it will be better. That’s what Buffy taught me, and what I’m tryin’ to tell you now.”

Angel stared at Spike, searching his face, unsure. Spike suddenly grinned and moved back a little. “Or - because obviously I have to spell this out with big pictures and diagrams - we don’t have to stick to bickerin’ and fightin’. There is another option. I know you got it on with Nina, so clearly the century long celibacy isn’t working for you anymore, and frankly I’d rather stake myself than go through that. And since now there’s only me and you left and we’re stuck with each other... What do you say?” He tilted his head and motioned towards the bed.

Apparently Spike had gone insane, because Angel couldn’t - and wouldn’t - think of any other reason why he was coming on to him. Yes, it had to be insanity... Silently he shook his head.

Spike smiled an oddly soft smile, and leaned forward again. “Listen Champion, I’m no longer a starry-eyed fledgling, and the only one you’re mentally torturing these days is yourself...”

Angel still sat tight. Spike sighed and rubbed his face, thinking.

“You know how you told me about your kid? How you sacrificed everything for his sake, so he’d be happy? Well now... this prodigal son is asking you to sacrifice some of that uptight prissiness of yours so he’ll be happy. Let go a little. Because - crazy as this may sound - I’m also trying to make you happy. Five weeks of non-stop brooding ain’t healthy. Yes, everyone else might be dead, but we’re not! And I’m right here - for fuck’s sake Angel, it’s not like we haven’t done it before.” He sighed, frustrated. “Why won’t you let me help you?”

Angel felt like there were lumps of ice in his stomach, but his head was burning up. No matter how much he longed - except he didn’t long for it, no, he couldn’t - it was impossible. And he didn’t want help - he wanted leaving alone. He remembered being alone and it seemed like bliss. Because he knew that these things never worked out... the last few years had taught him that much. And why was Spike unable to understand that letting go was dangerous? Also - just because he could appreciate Spike’s good looks objectively, it didn’t mean...

Then Spike got a very determined look in his eyes, muttering to himself. “Too bloody stubborn. Let’s try something else...”

Angel closed his eyes, unable to actually turn any of his jumbled thoughts into spoken arguments, and then he felt Spike’s hands carefully undoing the buttons on his shirt. This should be his cue to kick Spike across the room, and yet he appeared to be paralysed.

There was a sudden pause, and he opened his eyes to see Spike frozen on the spot, staring at his chest. “I... just remembered having done this before. Hot pokers... awful music...”

He lifted his eyes, scrutinising Angel’s face. “I’m sorry...” he began, then suddenly took a sharp breath. “Bugger - the guy, Marcus... he liked children.” He swallowed - dismayed, eyes wide with guilt. “You killed him right? Before he hurt anyone else?”

Angel nodded silently, and Spike sighed in relief, before deftly pulling the shirt off his shoulders.

Then before Angel could react Spike’s hands were holding his head, and their faces were less than an inch apart. The combination of scent and touch was affecting in ways Angel found impossible to ignore, and he suddenly felt vertiginous.

Then Spike spoke again.

“Angel, you’re a demon... just for once follow your blood!” he said earnestly, before slowly leaning in to kiss him.

In times past it had always been a power struggle. Angelus had taken, and William had resisted every step of the way. But now all that power and determination was channelled in the other direction. Angel found himself getting lost in Spike’s kiss, and soon his body, and it was unlike anything he’d ever envisaged. Not only was Spike giving Angel free reign, he was determined to give his all in return. It felt like having futilely tried to pull open a door with no success, and then to have the owner suddenly unlock it from the other side. Angel could feel something loosen inside, a hidden corner full of secret desires, primal and wild, and as he opened up Spike responded with joyful, unbound passion. And somewhere in the midst of all this, Angel understood that he never had to count William The Bloody amongst his sins anymore, and he was grateful.

Much later, when they were curled up together in the bed Angel had initially so abhorred, sated and spent and nearly asleep, Spike moved his head a fraction of an inch and whispered in Angel’s ear:

“Cavemen win.”

And for the first time since the battle in the alley, Angel laughed.

******

Two hours later, the discussions were far from dying down. The only people not involved in the arguments were Buffy and Spike, who dearly wished to go home and get to bed, but were waiting for Angel to finish his conversation with Faith - the two of them still catching up after not seeing each other for several years - and a group of elderly Watchers, muttering amongst themselves.

Spike, having just finished a piece of Christmas cake that he deemed much inferior to what he’d had when he was a boy, was watching the arguments with great amusement. Buffy had finally allowed him to remove the sweater, and he was now displaying Dawn’s other present, a black T-shirt with the words ‘I saved the world and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’ emblazoned across the front. She’d made one for each Sunnydale veteran, and they had all been joyfully received.

Buffy followed Spike’s eyes, admiring Willow’s heated debate with one of the new Slayers, and then turned back to her vampire.

“Spike - why are you not joining in? It’s... unnatural for you not to argue.”

He smiled. “Oh, but I know the answer. Don’t want to spoil all their fun.”

“So,” she asked, “Who wins?”

“Cavemen,” he promptly replied.

Her head full of two hours’ worth of arguments, she frowned.

“Why?”

Spike grinned smugly, and moved his mouth right next to her ear, his arms pulling her very tight against him.

“Because cavemen have fire!” he whispered.

And as he captured her lips in an ardent kiss - causing bright flames to leap up inside - she knew exactly what he meant.