By Barb Cummings
Sequel to A Raising in the Sun
He'd come to know the sounds she made as intimately as he knew the
contours of her body, or the changing shades of her eyes. Throaty murmurs
of content, kitten-mews of pleasure and mouse-squeaks of surprise, excited
whimpers and lusty screams--all music to his ears, a rhapsody in B, and--
"Love?" Spike dropped out of game face immediately and pulled away
from Buffy's throat. He hadn't accidentally broken skin, had he? 'Ow!'
wasn't part of the program tonight. Buffy didn't answer. She was staring
over his shoulder, widening ripples of surprise in her sea-colored eyes.
One hand fumbled at her bare shoulder, and came away holding a small red-fletched dart. Her lips parted, releasing a small sigh, and her lashes
fluttered once--then her eyes rolled back, her head lolled to one side,
and her hand fell limp to the pillows.
Spike rolled over, putting himself between her and the rest of the
room in time to see Angel--Angel?!--barreling straight at him, eyes a
hell-bright blaze of gold in his normally impassive slab of a face. Spike
whipped round, scooped Buffy up, and flung her across the width of the
bed. She tumbled off the edge in a Maypole flutter of blankets and hit
the floor with a loose-limbed thump. "Sorry, pet!" Inelegant, but it got
her out of the oncoming behemoth's path.
A second later Angel's fists were driving into his face. Ears
ringing, Spike twisted and kicked, his bare heel slamming into his grand-
sire's jaw. The larger vampire grunted, one foot slipping on layers of
rugs as the blow took the momentum from his charge, and collided with the
bed. Angel rose with a bull-shake of his head, blood and slaver flying
from his wounded mouth. His hand shot out and closed on Spike's ankle.
The mattress yawed under their combined weights; Spike overbalanced and
Angel hauled him across the bed in a tangle of sheets. "What the bloody
fuck crawled up your arse and died, you colossal pillock?" Spike yelled.
"You wanted a few pointers, all you had to do was ask!"
Angel ignored him, clamping another ham-like hand around his calf.
Across the room a bookshelf toppled over, spewing its contents in a
chaotic swath across the carpet--Fuck, I just got all that crap off the
floor! and revealing two strange men crouched in the crevice behind it,
crossbow and pistol at the ready. Why the hell hadn't he scented them?
Spike plunged and fought against Angel's grip, scrabbling for purchase
amidst the sheets, Santiago's swordfish caught in the inexorable pull of
the line. His fingers met something cold and hard--hairbrush. He
doubled back on his own length and smacked the back of the brush full-strength across his opponent's nose. Angel howled, but didn't let go; he
heaved Spike into the air and tossed him half-way across the bedroom.
Spike crashed into the dresser, collapsed to the ground and scrambled to
his feet, brandishing the hairbrush with a wild-eyed snarl. That tied it;
he was going to have to kill the lot of them. If word of this fight ever
got out he'd perish from sheer embarrassment. "What do you want? Minions
didn't used to be your style."
"Step aside, Spike." Angel spoke as if Spike's questions were
irrelevant. "I'm here for Buffy. You're just in the way."
"I wouldn't say that's entirely correct," one of the men by the
bookshelf said. "I believe we do have some minor business to conduct with
The soft deadly snick of the crossbow cocking filled the air behind
him. Fuck, fuck, a thousand times fuck; Angel was between him and Buffy's
drugged and helpless form, and fast as he was, he wasn't quite close
enough to the humans to be certain of turning and disarming the man in
time. Outnumbered three to one, wielding a hairbrush against a gun and a
crossbow while his delicates flapped in the breeze...not exactly a
position of strength. Have to do something about that. Spike let the
brush fall to his side, straightened into an insolent damn-I'm-stunningly-
well-endowed lounge, and cocked a thumb at his dresser. "Mind if I slip
into something less comfortable, Peaches? You've gone and lost your
romantic nature living in Lotusville. Time was when you took a fancy to
knock a bloke around you'd spring for dinner first."
An infinitesimal flicker of irritation showed in the slight lowering
of Angel's brow. "Go ahead."
Shoulder blades prickling in anticipation, Spike bent and pulled open
the lowest dresser drawer, taking advantage of the opportunity to sneak a
look in the direction of the bookshelf and mark the exact position of the
two humans. They'd stepped out from the little niche behind the shelf,
and were standing ankle deep in Sunnydale Public Library discards about
eight feet behind him. Heartbeats even, hands steady on their respective
triggers. Professionals. He skinned into a dry pair of jeans, taking his
time with the buttons and maneuvering himself a little closer to the men
in the process. Angel working with a pair of Council wankers--there had
to be weaknesses in this little alliance he could exploit. They hadn't
tried to dust him outright, so Travers must still want him unalive and
kicking. Probably figured him for an easy catch, what with the chip.
"Didn't expect to see you here," he said, still addressing Angel.
"Thought you'd leave her a few illusions. Rupert sussed out that you'd
gone telling tales out of school, but Buffy didn't believe it of you."
The creases at the corners of Angel's mouth deepened in disgust.
"The last thing Buffy needs is more illusions."
"Yeh, well..." Spike pulled a clean shirt from another drawer and
tugged it over his head. Keep up the rhythm and maybe he could go so far
as to get his boots on. "I'd be more convinced of your tender concern if
your gunsels here hadn't just shot her full of horse tranquilizers. What
exactly was it they were planning for that Faith bird of yours again?
Something she'd rather do five to ten to avoid? Kill 'er off, you think,
and make a new Slayer, or just run experiments?"
Another unreadable flicker in those dark eyes. Absolutely maddening.
In a century of poking and prodding he'd never truly managed to penetrate
that implacable reserve. Angel folded his arms across his massive chest
and shifted his weight, a faint smile touching his lips. "Mr. Weatherby
is a registered nurse, as it happens, and Mr. Collins has a set of
voluntary commitment papers--signed--in case you'd like to examine them.
Buffy's decided that in light of the disturbing behavior--that would be
you, Spike--she's displayed in the wake of her traumatic head injury last
spring, she needs a thorough medical and psychological evaluation. Her
sister will of course be provided for by the Council in the meantime."
Spike stared at him, gobsmacked. Had Angel lost the plot entirely,
driven round the bend by progressive hair gel poisoning? "You think her
friends'll believe that? Like hell. You can dust me, maybe. What's the
plan for Rupert? Gonna take him out too? Yeh, that's not suspicious at
all." He searched the other vampire's expression for clues--was that a
hint of uncertainty? Oh, yeah, work that sodding conscience, soul boy.
"Tweedledee and Tweedledum here don't come off too keen on helping out,"
he ventured, with a jerk of his chin at the men beside the bookcase. The
one with the crossbow--Weatherby--tensed. Hah. "That because they're
tender of puncturing your hide, or because they don't care if I do?" He
flashed a knowing smirk at the humans. "Or maybe they know you're
planning on a double-cross of your own. They're bright chaps, those
Watchers." He quirked an eyebrow at Weatherby and let the smirk widen to a
grin. "Funny how it works out, innit? He's on that side of the room with
the Slayer, and you're on this side of the room with me."
Paydirt. Hatred sparked Weatherby's dull eyes to momentary
brilliance, and his finger tightened on the trigger. His partner laid a
calming hand on his shoulder. "I'll give you an A for effort," Collins
said with a genial nod, "but we know all about the chip. And entertaining
as this has been, we've a plane to catch, so--"
"Know all about the chip, do you?" Spike purred, gauging the depth of
the loathing in Weatherby's white-rimmed eyes. "Angelus here tell you the
latest, then? Chip's not working any longer." He morphed into vamp-face.
"And I'm famished."
Weatherby's bony features contorted with fury and betrayal, and his
attention wavered between Spike and Angel--only for a second, but a second
was all Spike needed. He launched himself at the Watchers with a roar.
The crossbow twanged and the bolt buried itself in his shoulder, punching
a searing line of pain through bone and tendon. Spike staggered,
recovered, tore the weapon out of Weatherby's hands as the human
frantically cranked it back for another shot, and flung it across the
room. The crossbow pinwheeled through the air to smash into the opposite
wall. Collins's pistol went off with an ear-splitting crack and Spike
doubled over as a swarm of fiery wasps grazed his ribs and ripped through
the muscles of his side.
Angel vaulted across the bed the moment the crossbow fired, landing
panther-light for all his bulk beside Buffy's unconscious body. Spike
surged to his feet and head-butted Collins in the gut. Collins toppled
over backwards, howling as his spine came into forcible contact with the
solid oak of the fallen bookshelf. Weatherby pulled a knife and Spike
kicked it out of his hand, ignoring the pain that stitched through his
side. A quick glance downwards revealed half a dozen tiny shards of wood
embedded in mangled flesh. He'd completely discounted the pistol, but it
must have been modified to shoot wooden slugs; the soft projectile had
shattered against bone and mushroomed into deadly fragments. Sheer luck
it hadn't come nearer the heart.
Without a glance at his Council associates, Angel swept the Slayer
into his arms, and, to Spike's stunned surprise, raced for the tunnel
opening. Bloody hell, the old bastard had been planning a double-cross
all along! Collins was trying to get up; Spike stamped hard on his ankle
and was rewarded with a satisfying crack. That one wouldn't be going
anywhere soon. He grabbed Weatherby and spun him around, wrenching the
man's arm up behind his back. "ANGEL!" he roared. He yanked Weatherby's
head down, baring the man's ill-shaven and unappetizing neck. "Bring her
back or I swear I'll tear his sodding throat out!"
Halfway down the shadowy corridor, Angel paused, his expression as
enigmatic as always. "The way I figure it, Spike, either you're bluffing,
or you're not. Either way, you lose."
He was gone in a whirl of black leather. "Bugger!" Spike bashed
Weatherby's head into the nearest bedpost for insurance and tossed the man
aside. He rammed his feet into his boots--bastards were still wet, and
there wasn't time to root his Docs out from under the bed. He yanked the
crossbow bolt from his shoulder with a pained hiss and took off after his
vanished grandsire, bootlaces whipping around his ankles. He passed the
landing where he and Buffy had left the bundled Sluorn hide (still propped
against the tiled wall, draining salt slurry into the effluent) and
skidded round a corner. His left foot came down on an untied right lace,
and next thing he knew he was arse over tit against the wall. All but
screaming in frustration, he doubled over and tied his laces with shaking
fingers. He was off again within minutes, but he knew exactly how fast a
vampire could move and any time lost was too much. He pulled up short at
an intersection, realizing to his dismay that he couldn't pick up either
Angel's or Buffy's scent beneath the stink of the sewer. It wasn't just
that the Watchers back at the crypt were masking their scents somehow;
they'd done something that left his sense of smell no better than a living
He schooled himself to stillness and listened. The gurgle of the
sewer mingled with the agonized groans of the wounded Collins and the
distant squeak of rats. Angel knew these tunnels as well as he did, and
was moving as silently as their kind knew how. Spike caught a faint
muffled thumping to the left and raced off down the left-hand fork; if
he'd chosen correctly, he should be able to catch up to his burdened
quarry within a few blocks.
But his luck was no lady tonight. The thumping turned out to be one
of Buffy's ridiculously high-heeled boots tied to a sewer grate, banging
against the metal bars in the flow of the current. Spike ripped it free
with a curse and retraced his steps, but by now Angel had a hopeless lead.
He halted in the middle of the intersection, legs trembling and chest
heaving. The flow of blood from both wounds, sluggish though it was, was
starting to make him dizzy, and his side ached with every breath. Well,
stop breathing then, you great git! Despite the pain, the ebb and flow
of air in his lungs steadied his nerves--it was half the reason he'd taken
up smoking all those years ago, just to have an excuse to breathe. Spike
inhaled and held the breath longer than humanly possible, let it out even
more slowly. Running mad through the tunnels wouldn't get Buffy back.
Information might. His eyes narrowed to golden slits, and his head swung
back in the direction of the crypt. Deep in his chest a low chain-saw
rumble began building momentum.
Someone was about to have a very unpleasant evening.
The last time he'd held Buffy had been an awkward good-bye hug
outside the diner where they'd met after her resurrection. She'd been
lost in his arms, a wispy leaf-skeleton of a girl. She felt more
substantial now, but she was still a very slight burden indeed. Angel
removed her remaining shoe and laid her out in the circle of lamplight on
the bed. Seeing her there produced an unexpected frisson of deja vu. In
just such a seedy pest-hole as this had he held Darla in the last precious
moments of her restored life, before Drusilla had stolen that life and her
soul for the second time.
He should have realized what was happening to Buffy at that first
meeting, before the first courtesy sip of indifferent coffee. He'd
watched Darla go through much the same gamut of apathy, detachment, and
desperation when Wolfram and Hart brought her back. Neither woman, he
suspected, would find the comparison flattering. Angel's eyes fell shut
for a moment, the hopelessness and failure of last year threatening to
overwhelm him. It wouldn't happen a second time.
He sat down in the room's single chair and regarded Buffy's sleeping
face. It wasn't peaceful; her brows were knit, her mouth drawn tight.
She lay curled beneath the threadbare hotel blanket, her body curved like
a half-drawn bow, one arm extended in a search for something, or someone.
Strands of hair twined like ivy around the slender column of her throat,
gathered where her chin tucked into the angle of her shoulder. No wound
there, thankfully; the interruption had come before things could go too
far, and by now even the faint indentations in the skin left by the points
of Spike's fangs had faded. He'd resisted the temptation to check for
bite-marks in less obvious spots.
Travers's private line picked up on the first ring. It was a more
reasonable time of the morning in London now, of course. "There's been a
slight change in plans," Angel said, leaning back against the wall. The
chair-back scraped against old plaster. "The chip's not working."
There was a brief, bristling silence on Travers's part. "How very
convenient," he said with well-bred bile. "I suppose you're going to tell
me they got away? And that you need something else in order to pursue
them? Money? Information?"
"Travers, you have nothing I could possibly want. Buffy's here with
me. I left your men fighting Spike--"
"You mean to say you abandoned them to that monster?"
"My priority is Buffy's safety, Mr. Travers. It never occurred to me
that two highly-trained Council field agents wouldn't be capable of
handling a single vampire." Not quite the truth; he'd felt an uneasy
twinge of conscience about leaving Collins and Weatherby to Spike's not-so-tender mercies, but only a twinge. After the way they'd handled
Faith's case a few years back he couldn't muster much sympathy for their
Travers grumbled, but he couldn't very well argue without casting
aspersions on his own men. "Very well, then--bring Miss Summers to the
rendezvous point as planned, and we'll send a--"
"That's what I meant about a change of plans." Angel stretched his
legs out across the gap between chair and the foot of the bed and propped
his heels up on the worn chenille bedspread. In a way the unexpected
failure of Spike's chip had simplified matters. "Spike was to be your
guarantee of Buffy's cooperation. Until we know for certain that your
people have him in captivity, I'm thinking it would be better all around
if Buffy stays here in the States where I can keep an eye on her."
He hung up on the fulminating Travers--it was getting to be a ritual--and set the phone aside, settling down to his vigil over Buffy's drugged
slumber. Travers would doubtless try to contact Weatherby and Collins
now. He wondered idly if they were dead, or if they'd managed to turn the
tables and subdue Spike. He should care about the outcome, he knew, just
as he should have cared that not everyone at Holland Manners's dinner
party was irredeemably evil...but it all seemed academic. Weatherby's
violent hatred of vampires resulting in Spike's untimely dusting would be
the ideal outcome of this operation, but Weatherby's untimely death at
Spike's fangs had possibilities, too. He'd spun that line of bullshit
about having Buffy committed mainly for Collins's benefit, but if it made
Spike angry enough to shatter his pose of humanity, so much the better.
He left the room once, just before dawn, to walk down to the soda
machine beside the pool. While the ancient machine hummed and clanked
preparatory to spitting out a Diet Coke, Angel gazed through the fence at
the hollow of eggshell-blue concrete, drained for the winter and locked up
now. Soggy drifts of dead mulberry leaves encrusted the cracked bottom.
If Drusilla were here, perhaps her eyes could read the abandoned pool like
a giant's teacup, discovering therein auguries for the coming year.
Better she wasn't. The future had never done him any favors.
The can dropped into the hopper with a clunk and Angel picked it up.
He walked back to the small dingy room with its cheap anonymous furniture
and set it on the nightstand beside the bed. Buffy stirred beneath the
sheets as if the weight of his gaze had reached her in the depths of
It hurt, a little, that it wasn't his name she murmured, but who had
he to blame for that? Spike's words of a week past ate at him--She's
with me because you let her go. If he'd spent the last two years hunting
for a way to remove the curse instead of submitting to it...but he hadn't.
It had never even occurred to him to try. "It's me. You're safe." He
reached across the bed to smooth the hair from her eyes. "How are you
Buffy's hand went to her shoulder, fingers pressing out the residual
ache of the dart. "Someone shot me." She blinked up at the flyspecked
globe of the ceiling light with a muzzy frown. "And then glued my eyelids
together, possibly after raising a small family of pigeons in my mouth."
She sat up, wincing a little, and he could tell she was evaluating the
stiffness in her limbs, assessing her readiness for a fight. She looked
around, still frowning, and then a flare of panic burned the fog from her
eyes. "Spike!" She flipped the blankets aside and jumped to her feet.
"Where's Spike? Did you see him? How long have I been out?"
"Spike's fine. Or he was the last time I saw him. It's eight
o'clock on Friday morning, and you've been asleep for about four hours.
You want something to drink?" Angel gestured at the Coke. "I got diet."
"Thanks." She took the can and gulped half of it. "Travers's people
shot me, right? If you haven't already done it, call Giles and let him
know what's up. Erk, I'm a mess--is my purse around here somewhere? And
what happened to my left shoe?"
"It's probably back at the crypt. Buffy--"
"Never mind, big tough Slayer here, I can go barefoot for a few
hours." She was already bent over the rust-stained bathroom sink,
splashing water on her face and straightening wrinkled clothing. "And you
said Spike was where, again?" She rubbed her upper arms, shivering--was
the room that cold? He had trouble, sometimes, remembering exactly what
the comfort zone for humans was.
"Buffy, we need to talk."
"Do you have any idea of the amount of trouble Spike can get himself
into in four hours?" Catching his expression, she amended, "Silly
question. Did you bring any weapons? If not, we'll have to hit my place
and grab some before going after Spike." She cast a dubious look at the
bed. "That blanket's kind of flimsy; can you make it to the sewers OK?"
"Buffy!" He strode across the room, seized her by the shoulders and
spun her around to face him; after a second of instinctive resistance she
relaxed in his grip. "Listen to me. Spike's in no immediate danger.
Travers's men had orders to take him alive, or as close as he gets to it."
With any luck, they'd violated those orders in self-defense.
"Alive? Then--" Dark-lashed Margaret Keane eyes gazed up at him
with wounded betrayal--the look she'd had that day in the tunnels, when
he'd told her he was leaving, and on the day she'd walked in on him
cradling Faith in his arms. "How do you know--?" Her mouth firmed against
the quiver of her chin. "You...you did tell Travers about Spike and me,
"Yes, I talked to Travers." He hated that look. It was a carpet
knife unhooking his vitals and maybe he'd deserved it the first time, but
this time she had no right to it. "I tried talking to Giles, but he's so
terrified of hurting your feelings by taking the knife away he's willing
to let you cut your own throat with it. The Council was going to find out
about you and Spike sooner or later. This was the only way to be certain
of keeping you safe, to work from the inside." She wasn't thawing, and
Angel's hands fell from her rigid shoulders and dropped to his sides in
frustration. "I told Travers I'd help him capture Spike and bring you in,
at a price, and that price was a guarantee of your health and safety.
They had enough trouble with Faith that he was willing to agree."
"And you trusted Travers?" Buffy asked, incredulous. She stood
bowstring-taut on the worn carpet, fists clenched until the tendons stood
out in the backs of her thin hands, and for a moment Angel thought she was
going to strike him. "You had no right."
"Right?" Resentment flared; Buffy never had trouble justifying her
own I-am-the-Slayer decisions, but let anyone else dare-- "No. I had an
obligation. Suppose you found out Xander was sleeping with Drusilla--what
would you do?" Something in the set of her shoulders made him break off,
appalled. "You didn't think I'd just hand you over to them and leave you
there, did you?"
"I thought--" Her voice cracked and then the shell of stony reserve
was back full-force. "If you weren't planning to hand me over to the
Council, what were you planning to do?"
"Get you away from Spike. Play it by ear. The Council has people
who could help you, with the right pressure applied. Travers thinks
you're out of control. I wouldn't go that far, but Buffy, you're heading
there. I could see it last weekend. I saw it tonight. It's not just
that you're crawling all over Spike. Slaying used to be a sacred calling
for you--now it's a game, or something to make money on. Or, God help us,
foreplay." He wanted her to hear concern and compassion, and feared it
would sound like pity or condemnation. "You...you inspired me, once.
You were a hero. And now...you're selling advertising space on your
Buffy's chin went up and her eyes chilled to wintry grey. Her gaze
fell on the little cluster of glasses sitting on the counter by the sink,
each in their wrapping of sanitized-for-your-protection paper, as if she
would very much have liked to throw one. "You know what? The electric
company is oddly indifferent to the number of times I've saved the world."
She settled for picking up the remainder of her Coke and running her
finger around the rim. "You think I'm thrilled by the idea of spending my
whole life killing yuckies? I want a day job that actually, you know,
occurs in the daytime--but I'm a college drop-out with zero marketable
skills, and until I can get a degree or find something good that doesn't
need one, I man a cash register or flip burgers. Or I kill very expensive
demons. The ever-growing list of Summers creditors are casting their
highly influential votes for the demons. But I do not, I will not make
money on slaying, Mr. Kettle with the supernatural detective agency!
Spike's paying gig and the slaying, totally separate issues. They both
just happen to involve killing things with defective fashion sense."
Angel sighed. "Buffy, this is about you, not Spike. After you told
me what you'd been feeling since coming back, I asked Wesley if there were
any clues in the Scroll of Aberjian that might give us an idea what caused
it. Wesley has access to the entire text of the scroll, not just the
spell Willow copied--Anatole's commentary explains a lot." He ran a hand
through his hair, searching for words. "The Raising spell pulls all the
pieces together. Body, soul, memories....even if some of them are missing
or destroyed. Darla even got the memories of her existence as a vampire,
though the demon wasn't part of her resurrected self." It had haunted
Darla in those last few days, the question of who, precisely, she was now.
The possibility that the clean lines of demarcation he'd drawn between man
and monster could blur had haunted him too, and his dreams had been filled
with uneasy visions of Angel and Angelus, reflecting one another into hazy
infinity. "But it doesn't connect them. Darla--and you--felt
disconnected because you were disconnected. From the world. From
yourself. If you're lucky, the pieces eventually start to click together
again. If you're not lucky...you could go on like that, for years. Numb.
Not dead, but not really alive."
He'd seldom seen Buffy Summers truly afraid, but in this moment her
eyes held a crawling horror that said Anything but that. She banished
the look with a shake of her head and took a half-step forward, facing
down the intangible. "Well, that's...mind-numbingly terrifying. But this
justifies you ratting me out to Travers how, exactly? I'm getting better,
Angel. Big-time clickage."
"There's no guarantee the pieces will fall back into exactly the same
pattern they held before you died. Outside influences could...disrupt
things." He sank down on the edge of the bed, shoulders slumping, and
tried to ignore the headache which was beginning to chip away at the back
of his eyelids. "Travers claims it's a constant struggle for older
Slayers to control certain...darker urges...as their power increases.
Before your death it was a struggle you were winning hands down. Now
you're not even trying." He looked up, eyes bleak. "How long has Spike
been feeding from you?"
"What?" Buffy choked, spraying Diet Coke across the bedspread. "I
told you before--he's never--were you watching--that was just playing!"
"I don't need a diagram to tell when Spike's fed on Slayer's blood,"
Angel snapped. "I was there for his first Slayer kill, remember? I know
"Your Slaydar's gone wonky, then." Buffy flung out both bare unmarked
arms. "Do I look like Spike's been feeding on me? Do you think I could
hide it if he was? Real-life vamp bites aren't cute little pinpricks,
they're great big nasty chomp marks, as I ought to know having survived
three of them, and I think I'd notice if--oh. Oh." Her tirade devolved
into an embarrassed mumble. "There may have been some...exchange of
bodily fluids--but not by biting! And so not your business!"
"Spike drinking your blood isn't my business?"
"Angel," Buffy said through gritted teeth, "Breathe."
Caught by surprise, he inhaled, not the superficial intake of air he
needed for talking, but a deep, real breath--the kind he avoided taking
around her if at all possible. Seeing her was bad enough. Buffy's
essence flooded his senses, warm and female and...very recently off her
courses. Oh, God. "Get it? Buffy is a No Biting zone, and we will
never, ever discuss this subject again, capisce? Look, I've got to go.
Spike could be in trouble and Willow's gone all Dark Phoenix on us and the
First Evil is back in town and I just don't have time for this...this guy
stuff. You and Spike can have your pissing contest after the apocalypse,
"Time?" Angel was on his feet in an inchoate haze of fury, looming
between her and the door. "Do you think I have time to put my entire
life on hold and race down here to pull you out of a briar patch that you
of all people knew better than to jump into in the first place? Well, let
me enlighten you--I don't! Gunn's barely speaking to me since his pals
went on that demon-killing spree, Lorne's sobbing in his Sea Breeze
because his bar's been trashed yet again, Wesley's a wreck since he nearly
took an axe to Fred and the Tro-Clon is coming--and what's that, you ask?
I don't know, but what do you wanna bet it's not good? I have apocalypses
of my own to deal with, but here I am! That's what you want, isn't it?
Someone to be all about you, all the time? The difference is, Spike does
what he thinks will make you happy. I'll do what I think is right, no
matter how much it hurts!"
She flinched as if he'd slapped her. "You're hurt? Excuse me?
I'm the one with a bullseye on my derriere, and Spike may be--"
"Good riddance if he is! Whatever darkness lies in you, he draws to
the surface. Before I loved you I admired you. You made me want to be a
better man." He wasn't going to cry; tears were for boys, for women, for
pansy-ass ex-poets. A man might weep upon release from hell, but on all
lesser occasions he stayed in control of his emotions. She'd seen more of
his tears over the years than anyone, living or dead. "I can't stand by
and watch you drown in him!"
"For someone so damn inspiring," she whispered, "You don't trust me
much, Angel. Did you ever think that maybe instead of drowning in each
other, we'd both learn to swim?"
Angel turned away, not because he couldn't meet her eyes but because
he didn't want her to see the turmoil in his. "There are some tides the
strongest swimmer in the world can't fight." He'd always been the adult
in their relationship, the rock which weathered her emotional storms. It
had been second nature to conceal things from her--that he was a vampire,
that Darla was his sire, that Drusilla and thus Spike were of his getting,
that even knowing of the curse, he'd desired her to the point that would
have destroyed them both. To protect her, he'd maintained, silencing the
inner voice which whispered in the hot still hours of daylight that it was
also to protect himself.
Buffy was staring down at his clenched hands, at the thin half-moons
of crimson along the heel of his palm, where the nails had cut into the
flesh. She took a stiff, unwilling step towards him, then another, and
another. He felt her palm come to rest on his shoulder, weightless as
sunlight, and as painful. Her fingers slid down the length of his arm to
curl around his hand. Tenderness there, but no passion. If he took her
in his arms, kissed her...it would be nothing more than stirring up ashes
just to see if he could. He'd left her behind, but had anything really
"Spike can't change me," said Buffy. "I can't change him. We change
ourselves. Because we want to. Because we have to. You didn't bring me
"I could have."
Buffy's lips parted over a stillborn exclamation. "I could have,"
Angel repeated, his voice diminishing to a ragged shadow of itself. "The
Powers That Be owe me a life. I fought for Darla's life, and I won...
and it was all for nothing, because she'd already come back by magic once.
But I'd still won a life, and when Willow came and told us that you'd
died, the first thing I thought of was that I could bring you back." He
was the one shaking now.
"It wouldn't have been right," she whispered, the delicate moth-
touch of her fingertips fingers tracing the lines of his bowed shoulders.
"I know that. I died a good death, doing what I had to do. I could never
blame you for--"
"It wasn't because it was right." Every muscle was rigid as iron with
the effort of getting the next word out, and the next, as the white-hot
supernova of anger collapsed to a black hole of self-loathing. "God, I
told you once I was weak--I watched them lower you into the ground, and it
was like I was going with you." He remembered black lacework leaves
edging a blood-washed sky; they'd held the funeral as late in the evening
as the mortuary allowed. Spike held onto Dawn like a talisman. The
younger vampire's sobs were barely audible over the dull thud of clods
hitting wood, even to his ears, and that made them all the more
intolerable. You never loved her as I did, you aren't capable of it...
"I grieved for you all summer. And then little by little...it got better.
I began to get over you."
"But that's--" Her hand came to rest, lightly, on his face, lifting
his head. "I never wanted anyone to spend their lives mourning me, Angel."
"You don't understand." Words strung on barbed wire. Each syllable
drew blood. "It was easier with you dead. I didn't have to think about
you being there, two hours away and untouchable as the moon. You were
gone forever, and it was such..." His voice cracked. "Such a relief. I
should have told Willow, or Dawn, at least, that I had a life to spend. I
didn't. I didn't tell anyone. And then last month you called, and the
first thing I thought was 'Oh, God, it's beginning again.'"
Buffy sat down on the bed, pale and stunned, and then, to his
astonishment, she laughed--a broken-backed laugh that was half tears, but
a laugh still. "Let me guess: you feel guilty. Don't. It's--well, it's
not all right, but I get it. I really do. It's pretty much exactly how I
felt when you came back from hell." She shivered, and this time he didn't
think it was from the cold. "It could have. Started again, I mean. I
was so lost...I could have chosen the pain to hold on to. Grab a handful
of razor blades and you'll know you're real." She frowned. "That
metaphor's lost something with the advent of Gillette Daisy."
He couldn't accept that easy absolution. "You were so distant when
we met. You left without asking for anything, and I was grateful. I
didn't want to think about what you might be going through. I could have
prevented all of this. If you'd been brought back by the Powers instead
of whatever dark magics the Raising spell calls on--don't you see, Buffy?
I have to save you now. Because I didn't save you then."
She sighed, cradling her remaining shoe in her lap. "You can't save
me, Angel. If I need saving, it's only me who can do it. I shouldn't
have come back at all, but since I'm here...maybe I needed to put myself
back together differently, and take a good look at all the pieces." She
looked at him. "Do you know how long it's been since I felt good about
myself? All of myself? If I'm a different Buffy, vive la difference."
And who was she now, this new improved reconstructed Buffy? "If it
disappeared tomorrow...the curse...would you..."
There wasn't any good answer to that question, he realized, because
it wasn't the curse holding them apart any longer, on either side. Buffy
stroked his cheek. "I have to go now. I have to find..." Her head
jerked up and her eyes went wide, and she turned towards the door as if
pulled by a magnet. "Spike?"
The door exploded inwards with a crash, and sunlight flooded into the
When your day kicked off with a frantic five A.M. phone call from a
vampire beginning, "Angel's kidnaped Buffy. Get your arse over here and
give me a hand with a spot of torture," you were pretty much assured of a
downhill slide from there. Xander leaned against the crypt wall,
calculating exactly how many hours he could shave off his rapidly
diminishing stock of leave time without cutting into his honeymoon. No
contest between Niagara Falls and rescuing Buffy, but man, Anya was going
to be pissed. "So why am I here again?"
"Because I got tired of recycling my quarters waiting for Giles to
answer his bleeding phone." Spike was prowling back and forth across the
crypt in game face, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, blue smoke
trailing from the cigarette dangling from his lips. He came to a halt in
front of the two men chained to the wall--the very same wall, probably the
very same manacles, he'd used on Buffy last year and no, we are not
detouring down that perverted little by-way. "You know, Harris here is
non-combustible, so no point in stalling for sunrise, mates."
"You'll get sod all out of us, y' goat-buggering corpse," Weatherby
croaked. He stood swaying in his bonds, all snarly and defiant despite
darkening bruises and the runnels of clotted blood oozing from his broken
nose. There were a couple of teeth on the floor of the crypt as well, but
Xander honestly wasn't sure who they belonged to. Collins, unable to put
weight on his broken ankle, sagged in his restraints. He kept making
pitiful little kicked-hound whimpering noises, which Spike didn't seem to
notice. The wailing of victims was probably the vampire equivalent of
Xander'd never considered himself Mr. Sensitive; he couldn't remember
the last time he'd been sick at the sight of blood. He'd watched steam
rising from the savaged throats of fresh vampire kills on long cold
January nights, kicked aside moldering skulls like stray beer cans
searching through ancient tombs, and seen a Who's Who of demons
dismembered in glorious Technicolor. He was down with the carnage, Vin
Diesel cool. Dead bodies didn't bother him any longer.
Still-living bodies, those could still give him a twitch.
Spike drew the end of his cigarette to a cherry red, blew smoke in
Weatherby's face, and then backhanded the Watcher viciously, holding back
none of his strength. Weatherby's scream ended in a choked gurgle. "I
don't ask a lot of life," Spike said. "Come home, have a bite and a nice
snog, and sleep the sleep of the unjust. 'S reasonable, innit?" Another
blow. "And if I can't have that..." He leaned closer. "Then I want to
know where Angel's laired up." He removed the cigarette and contemplated
it for a second. "And I've just had a happy thought: to get what I want,
all I've got to leave intact is your tongue."
The glowing coal-end of the cigarette hovered an inch away from
Weatherby's eye. Xander's stomach turned over. "Spike--"
"Don't be such a big girl's blouse, Harris." But the cigarette
pulled back immediately, and Xander came to the not entirely comfortable
realization that that was why Spike had insisted he be here. Xander
Harris, Rent-A-Conscience, serving Sunnydale since 1997. Weatherby spat
in Spike's face the moment his binocular vision was out of immediate
danger, and the vampire snarled and punched him again. Bones made nasty
soft crunching sounds. Weatherby keened through his splintered nose and
went limp in his bonds, and Spike stepped back with an exclamation of
disgust. "Sod it, he's passed out again."
Xander snorted. "Could that be because you just gave him, oh, his
third concussion of the night? This isn't working."
Human again, Spike wiped his face off on Collins's shirttail and
favored Xander with a sullen cobalt glare. "You think you can do a better
job, be my guest."
"Nuh uh. New York abstains, courteously." Xander averted his eyes
from the captives and retreated to the far end of the little series of
caves, pulling Spike with him. "The hitting? Perhaps satisfying, but not
working fast enough. If Willow were here she could do a truth spell."
God, he wished Willow were here. Threatening violence was fine; heck,
Buffy did it all the time. Throwing a few punches to back up the threats,
also peachy. But at that point, the bad guys were supposed to break and
spill their guts, eliminating the necessity of resorting to the messy
stuff. Criminals were a superstitious and cowardly lot; it was in the
"Yeh, well, she's not here, and Tara's not witch enough to bust
through the Council's Jedi mind tricks--fuck, it took Angelus hours to
soften Rupert up to the point Dru could get to him." Spike ceased his
nervous pacing long enough to drive a fist into the wall in frustration.
A shower of earth pattered to the floor. "And for the first time in my
unlife, I regret to say I'm no Angelus."
Xander grimaced. "Well, I'm sure as hell no Dru."
Spike raked a hand through his hair, leaving streaks of gore in its
wake--the gel had given up the ghost some hours ago and he was starting to
look like a refugee from the undead version of Soul Train. "You're
right," he said, nowise pleased about it. "We haven't time to wear 'em
down properly. We need something that'd make 'em piss themselves even if
we hadn't got 'em chained to a wall."
"Maybe we should try Giles again--see if he knows their deep dark
secrets from their days at Eton," Xander suggested.
Spike snorted. "If that lot's public school, I'm a vegetarian.
'Sides, there's only one deep dark secret an Englishman's got from Eton,
and I'm not in the mood to drop trou and exploit it. What's a Watcher
afraid of, anyway? Ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties are
all in a day's work."
"That's the trouble with fates worse than death, because most of
them?" Xander yawned and rubbed the back of his head. "Aren't.
Except..." He snapped his fingers. "Fate worse than death!" he repeated.
"I'm looking at one!"
Spike vamped out, bared his fangs and crooked his fingers in an
exaggerated pantomime. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Yes, Brain, but where are we going to get the complete score of the
HMS Pinafore at this hour?"
That garnered him a blank look. Then, "Someone'll be singing soon
enough," Spike replied cheerily, and bounded back into the main cavern.
He ripped the remains of Weatherby's shirt away, leaving his neck and
shoulders bare, then ran back to the washstand in the bedroom and returned
with the pitcher. Spike dashed water across Weatherby's face and stood
The Watcher came to, coughing up blood and snot, and slurred, "Think
you're smart...L.A. team'll come down here when we don'..."
"Shut yer gob, idiot!" Collins yelled, springing to sudden livid
life. He licked his swollen lips and eyed Xander with loathing. "Working
with one of them, are you? We made that mistake and look where it's got
us. Think you can get away with this? You'll have the full wrath of the
Council on your neck by midnight, both of you."
Spike grabbed Weatherby's chains and pulled him close. "Oooh,
lovely, a lifetime supply of tweed-wrapped takeout! Tempting, but--" He
sniffed Weatherby's naked shoulder with the air of a connoisseur, and the
man shuddered and moaned, trying to twist away as far as his bonds
allowed. "You'll be calling old Travers up in person and telling him
you're safe as houses."
"Spike, no!" Xander clutched the vampire's shoulder and felt Spike's
fractional wince as he put pressure on the wound. He pulled Spike away
from Weatherby. "You can't do...that!"
"What, make 'em my undead minions, subject to my every whim cos I'm
their sire and master and all? Watch me." Spike shrugged Xander off with
minimal winciness, and faster than blinking his fangs were sunk into
Weatherby's flesh at the angle where neck met shoulder. Crimson beads
welled up around the roots of his canines. Weatherby stiffened and
screamed, thin and high and terrible, jerking violently in Spike's grasp.
Bent over the Watcher's crumpled body, Spike's demonic countenance
was in shadow, lantern-yellow eyes glowing beneath a halo of wild, blood-
matted curls. A hair-raising snarl rolled through the confines of the
crypt, and Xander's hands took off on a not-entirely-voluntary quest for
the nearest sharp piece of wood. He gripped the ever-present stake in his
coat pocket. Act. It's an act. Is it an act? "Spike, think about what
"I'm thinking of nothing but." Spike pulled back, long pale fingers
splayed across Weatherby's cheek as he held the man's head in place, and
whispered in his ear, intimate as a lover. "You can tell me what I want
to know now, or you can tell me later. Every secret the Council's
entrusted you with, you'll spill, and glad to do it. And then I'll let
you go. Back home to meet your mates, and won't that be a party? Me, I
went for the mass slaughter, but you strike me as the type to pick 'em off
one at a time, slow and careful. You got a wife, mate? Kiddies? You
won't have 'em long." He laughed and ran his tongue along the wire-taut
cords of Weatherby's neck. "Or maybe you will. Never saw the use of
siring brats myself, but I hear some fancy it."
Weatherby's harsh panting breath faltered into a mindless whine and
Collins's white-hot loathing could have incinerated both of them on the
spot. "By the time we'd rise your Slayer whore will be long gone and our
own people will know--urk!"
"If you want the comfort of being able to scream," Spike's hand was
at his neck in an instant, fingers digging into the larynx, "You'll not
speak of my lady like that. And as for time--there's ways to speed these
things up." He grinned. "Sounds like the most fun I've had in years."
"I can't let you do this, Spike!" Xander yelled, hoping to hell that
all this was still part of the act. He lunged forward, stake held high,
and while he was still suspended in Matrix slo-mo, Spike turned, smiled
indulgently, dropped Collins, grabbed Xander's wrist and twisted, hard.
Pain lanced up his arm and the stake went flying. Wrist not broken,
ergo, all part of act. Xander tumbled to the floor, trying to look
injured--and to find the stake again, just in case.
The hope which had surfaced briefly in Collins's eyes foundered and
sank into a mire of despair. "Damn you," he sobbed.
Spike melted back into human form and patted Collins's cheek with a
smile that would have done Lucifer proud. "Already taken care of, mate.
Now where's Angel, which flight were you supposed to take out, and what's
this about an L.A. team?"
Ten minutes later they were pounding across the street behind
Restfield cemetery to Spike's car, Spike's blanket flapping madly as they
dodged tombstones in the slanting white light of early morning. Xander
fumbled with the keys to the padlock on the gate of the impound lot while
Spike vaulted the fence, barbed wire and all, and landed with a curse on
the other side, clutching one hand to his ribs. The vampire staggered to
his feet and tumbled into the driver's seat of the DeSoto in a cloud of
acrid smoke, gunned the engine and threw it into reverse. Xander hauled
the gate open in a screech of protesting chain-link and flung himself
into the passenger seat. They tore out of the lot in a screech of burning
rubber, leaving the gate askew behind them. He sank back against the
ancient black leather upholstery and gave up a small prayer to the gods of
the California highways. "Shit. What if Angel was lying to them about
the motel he was in?"
"Then we'll stake out the airport. I get close enough, I'll feel
her." Spike squinted into what little sunlight made it through the
blacked-out windshield and hunched over the steering wheel, lips moving
silently--what did vampires pray to? The dark cotton of his T-shirt
looked wet and shiny where it stretched over his ribs; the fence-jumping
must have torn the healing wound open again. "Get my goggles out of the
glove compartment, Harris, I'm half-blind here."
"And does this actually make any difference in your driving skills?"
A rummage through the wilds of the glove compartment turned up the
welder's goggles and Xander handed them over. He immediately regretted it
as Spike resorted to steering with his knees while he got them adjusted.
"Think Angel's evil again? Maybe the First got to him too?"
"Hang about, hadn't thought of that." Spike considered this worrisome
possibility for a moment. "Nah, Angelus would've had more fun beating me
up. Most like he's just being more of a prat than usual." He laid into
the horn and swerved across the yellow line to pass an arthritic VW
Beetle. "Out of the way, you sodding tortoise!"
Xander watched indistinct shapes whiz by outside the darkened
windows. "'There's ways to speed these things up?' What, Redi-Gro for
"Well, why not?" Spike asked, offended. "Master vampire here. I
could have powers!"
"Oh, right, rub it in."
"So if he hadn't...would you have tried really... you know...
sucking on that guy?"
Spike rolled his eyes. "I was biting his trapezius muscle, you git.
You want to drain someone properly, you've got to get your fangs into the
jugular. And no. Promised Buffy I'd never drink from anyone who wasn't
"So--you'll suck, but you won't swallow?"
Spike spun the steering wheel through a one-handed 180 and the DeSoto
slewed across traffic and bounced into the potholed parking lot of the
motel. Gravel sprayed as he hit the brakes. Xander caught a glimpse of
Angel's convertible through the tiny clear portion of the windshield,
parked in a straggling row of vehicles near the manager's office. Spike
flung his blanket over his shoulders, smirked across at Xander and made a
smoochy face. "Wouldn't you like to know."
Buffy hauled Angel across the bed and out of the rays of incoming
sunlight as two smoke-wreathed figures hurtled through the door. The tiny
room filled with the ever-so-attractive fragrance of burnt vampire, and a
second later, the smoke alarm affixed to the wall over the TV set went off
with a shrill WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE! With the infinite resource and sagacity
characteristic of Slayers, not to mention the lightning reflexes, Buffy
snatched up the half-full can of Diet Coke and flung its contents at
Spike, extinguishing the crown of tiny blue flames which had started to
lick at the tips of his hair. The smoke thinned slightly, but the alarm
continued to wail until Xander, with the presence of mind demanded of
anyone with highly combustible acquaintances, yanked it off the wall and
pulled the battery out.
Spike, singed, blood-streaked, and dripping with NutraSweet, flowed
across the room like a hunting cougar and bared his fangs at Angel--not
the challenge of an interloper, but a reminder that they were on his
territory this time. Angel's jaw clenched and his own eyes flickered
gold. Buffy stepped between them and gave herself up to a dizzy grin of
pride and relief--of course he'd escaped the Watchers. "Spike!"
At the sound of her voice Spike was human again in an instant. Blue
eyes raked her up and down for signs of injury or coercion, and then he
broke into a radiant grin of his own, enveloping her in a sooty embrace
and pulling her half off her feet (and not incidentally, out of Angel's
reach). "Just coming to save you, pet."
"Don't--mmm--need saving." Such a relief, the way suppressed anger
and frustration drained away at his touch, as though his cool solid body
were some kind of emotional heatsink. Urge to kill falling... The
long muscles of his back twitched beneath her fingers, and Buffy became
aware that his shoulder was cold and damp against her cheek. "Besides, I
was just coming to save you." She raised one hand to examine the damp
spot; her fingertips came away smeared with red, and she shook them
accusingly under his nose. "How badly are you hurt? Are the people who
did this still on the loose?" Worried, she ran a hand down his abdomen.
"Here too?" Urge to kill rising...
"Won't say I didn't think about eating 'em, just a little bit, but
they're chained up back at the crypt." Xander nodded confirmation, and
Buffy quashed an infantile desire to say so there! to Angel. She went
virtuously back to assessing the seriousness of Spike's wounds instead.
Spike glanced down at himself, dismissing the damage with a shrug. "'S
nothing, love. Don't need saving either." He winced a little at her
exploratory touch. "Though I might let Niblet get out the instruments of
torture and check for splinters later."
Buffy tugged the lapels of his coat, which still smelled of reservoir
water and duckweed, and whispered, "Sure I can't make it better?"
Spike buried his face in the curve of her shoulder and inhaled,
dropping into that deep dark-chocolate shag-me-now rumble that set her
bones humming. "Oh, yeh. Buffy makes everything better." He bent and
licked the streak of blood from her cheek with a tender little growl.
Xander pulled a small, peeling roll of lozenges from a back pocket
and offered it to Angel. "Tums? I keep them for just such occasions."
Reminded of his grandsire's presence, Spike's growl got deeper and
considerably less affectionate. Angel's only response was a small bored
sigh, which did nothing to improve Spike's temper. Buffy cautioned,
"William..." and the growl subsided to a grumble. "It's all right.
There's been a misunderstanding, and it's over." She sent a meaningful
look in Angel's direction. "Isn't it?"
Angel's dark eyes bored into hers, intense and unwavering. After a
long moment, he shook his head. "No, it's not. I want to help you,
"Giles needs it more," Xander broke in, shifting impatiently from
foot to foot. "Helping, that is. Spike and I were just having a heart-
to-heart with some of the G-man's esteemed former colleagues, and they
happened to mention that they're not the only Watchers watching. Seems
that while Angel was busy double-crossing Travers, Travers was busy
Yay, Buffy thought, real trouble to distract from the latest episode
of The Young and The Lifeless! Angel frowned. "I expected he'd try
something after--what's he done?"
Xander shrugged. "Basically? This whole thing with capturing Buffy
is a big fat red herring. Travers agreed to your kidnaping scheme
because he knew it had a good chance of getting you out of L.A. There's a
second team there now--they went after Faith the moment Travers was
certain Deadboy Senior here was out of town. According to Collins they
were supposed to play along with Angel and keep him occupied for a couple
of days. If they managed to capture Buffy or capture or stake Spike,
bonus. If they didn't, no big. Getting to Faith was the important
thing." He looked a little ill. "Collins wasn't sure, but he thinks
they're going to try to kill her and call a new Slayer."
Angel's face remained expressionless, but his eyes went from startled
to Crush, Kill, Destroy. If anything could divert Angel's attention
from her, it was Faith, and no, not bitter at all, why do you ask?
Strategy Girl strikes again. "You should go," Buffy said firmly.
"Faith's a sitting duck in prison."
"Damn it," Angel snarled. "I should have known. They had a third
partner when they went after Faith last time."
Spike looked grim. "That would be a bloke name of Smith. Remember I
asked what you planned to do about Rupert? Smith's here in Sunnydale,
taking care of the Council's other loose end. I tried to get hold of
Rupes for half an hour this morning before falling back on Harris, and no
joy. I thought he'd just turned his ringer off, but--"
"Right. Giles may be reclaiming his place in the Guinness Book of
World Records for Most Times Conked On The Head as we speak." Buffy
glanced down at her bare feet, out at the inimical expanse of parking lot,
grimaced, and started out the door. Spike touched her shoulder, and when
she looked up, produced from his duster pocket her left boot, somewhat the
worse for wear. "Glass slipper it's not, pet, but--"
She wasn't going to get all misty over a damp boot. Much. "You are
nonetheless my hero. These are, like, my third-favorite pair of boots.
Which might be more impressive if I owned more than three pair right now,
but still. Come on, I can put them on in the car. Shotgun!"
Angel stripped the blanket off the bed and all four of them made a
mad dash for the DeSoto. If there was anything in the world that smelled
worse in the confines of a closed car than one slightly scorched vampire,
it was two slightly scorched vampires. "Giles first," Buffy said,
slamming the door behind her and shifting over to the middle of the front
seat. If there was one thing that last twelve hours had done, it was
banish any residual guilt over Spike-cosying in Angel's presence. "If
he's OK, then Angel can head back to L.A. right away." She laid a
possessive hand on Spike's thigh and felt the muscles bunch as he punched
the car into gear and shoved the gas pedal halfway to China. Eight
cylinders of environmentally unsound horsepower roared to life and the
DeSoto peeled out of the lot in a cloud of exhaust.
"Minor problem. I take the radical step of driving a car that's not
a moving violation in and of itself." Angel rapped on one darkened window
with a knuckle. "I won't be able to leave till sunset."
"Git," Spike muttered. "If there's anything stupider than a vampire
in a convertible...."
Angel raised an eyebrow. "It's a vampire on a motorcycle?"
"If you want to be a vampire on foot, keep talking."
"Shut up, both of you." Buffy glared from front seat to back.
"Angel can borrow this car."
Spike sat bolt upright, taking maximum advantage of the few inches'
difference in their seated heights. "He bloody well cannot!" Buffy's
eyes narrowed. "Oh, bugger, all right, for Christmas and bloody puppies."
He rounded on Angel, with terrifying disregard for oncoming traffic. "But
you bring it back with a full tank, super high octane, mind, not that
horse piss that makes the engine bang like happy hour at a whorehouse.
And get it washed while you're at it. I don't want to get it back with
bugs all over the grill."
Angel smiled tightly. "How about I just strap your skinny carcass to
the grill as a hood ornament and let the smoke from your smoldering
remains keep the bugs away?"
Xander sat back, laced his hands behind his head, and looked from one
snarling vampire to the other. He raised pious eyes to the ceiling of the
car and intoned, "Thank you, Santa, but when I said I wanted Spike and
Angel locked in a closet together, there was this tacit agreement that I'd
be elsewhere when it happened."
Buffy was positive that the Hellmouth situation was affecting time as
well as the good/evil thing, because surely it had never taken so long to
drive across town before, especially with Spike at the wheel. She managed
to avert major bloodshed by insisting upon a detailed recounting of
exactly what Collins and Weatherby had said from Spike and Xander, and a
full report on Travers's plans from Angel by way of comparison. The
DeSoto lurched to a stop in front of Giles's place shortly before nine by
Xander's watch, and Spike was out of the car and dashing for the shelter
of Giles's porch almost before Buffy was. Angel followed hard on his
heels, apparently unwilling to let Spike outdo him in anything, even sun-
related idiocy. The vampires crowded into the thin line of shade along
the front window while Buffy, with Xander at her back, hammered on the
rust-colored Mission-style front door. "There's three people inside,"
Angel said, his ear pressed to the glass.
"That's one too many." Buffy stepped back, fully prepared to kick the
door in, when it swung open to reveal Giles. He was sans glasses and
looked slightly harried, but most definitely conscious. "Giles!" she
cried, pouncing him and giving him a rib-cracking hug. "You're not dead!"
"Buffy!" he exclaimed. "Likewise. I was beginning to worry--I've
been trying to contact you all morning, and Tara said you hadn't returned
home last night--"
"Long story," Buffy squeezed past him into the foyer, and the other
three trailed in after her in a mutual stew of manly bristling and
suspicious looks. "There were rogue Watchers, there was bloodshed, there
was narrowly-averted lossage of really cute shoes. All this in addition
to patrol, Willow-hunting, and a lesson in the correct methods of skinning
giant armor-plated slugs. Is everything all right?" She lowered her
voice. "We know there's a third person in here, and we couldn't get
through on the phone--"
"Lines cut, I'm afraid. I've been using the pay phone in the rental
office." Giles looked irritated for a moment. "Why in this day and age
they wouldn't have assumed I had a cell phone and foregone the property
"Possibly because you still think the electric light bulb is a new-
fangled luxury item?" Buffy peered past him into the living room, still a
disaster area of half-packed boxes and precarious towers of books. "The
Council sent the goon squad a little earlier than anticipated. Spike
caught two of them, but according to them, there's a third one loose here.
He's supposed to take you back to England for the Winston Smith treatment
or something. But the main action is another team of three in L.A.
trying to make Faith no longer a bottleneck in the calling of shiny new
"Ah yes, Mr. Smith. We've met." Giles stepped aside and waved an arm
at the couch. Slumped in the middle of a heap of disarranged cushions was
an nondescript man, lean and slightly balding, dressed in dark Nikes,
trousers, long-sleeved shirt, and stocking cap--either a Council wetworks
specialist, or an elderly Goth with chilly ears. He was rocking slowly
back and forth, staring up at the ceiling and blowing spit bubbles.
"Whoa," said Xander. "Danger, Will Robinson!"
"Ew." Buffy looked back at Giles. Given Giles's history, she wasn't
really sure she wanted to know, but... "What did you do? Were there evil
Giles gave her a thin smile and retrieved his morning teacup. "I?
Nothing. My houseguest, on the other hand..."
Daniel Tanner was sitting at the dining table in front of an
untouched bowl of progressively soggier Weetabix. His head was buried in
his hands, and when he looked up, his eyes were heartsick, far worse off
than the unhappy Mr. Smith. "I didn't mean to," he whispered. "He--he
attacked me, I just reacted--"
"Yes, and admirably quickly, too." Giles took a sip of tea. "The
ingenious Mr. Smith effected an entry to the house through my bedroom
window. Unfortunately for him, I had remained up late researching, and
told Mr. Tanner he might as well use my bed. Mr. Smith mistook Mr. Tanner
for me, and Mr. Tanner defended himself in his own inimitable--thank God--
manner." He gazed thoughtfully at the man on the couch. "I'm informed
that this is the version of the spell which wears off in time, so in a few
hours we can question him. We've been granted a stroke of luck here;
we've captured the entire team before any of them had a chance to report
back to Travers."
Buffy sagged against the stairwell. Finding Giles alive and well
released an inner tension she hadn't realized was holding her up, and four
hours of drugged sleep in a lumpy, Spike-deficient bed wasn't cutting it.
"OK. Angel, take the DeSoto and get on the road to L.A. right now. They
won't be expecting you. Check in on Faith and--" She stopped and drew a
breath. "Sorry. Your town, your rules. Whatever you think'll work.
Just let us know what the sitch is there as soon as possible."
Spike took the keys from his duster pocket as if he was giving up his
liver and held them out to Angel. "If I find one scratch on that car when
you bring it back--"
"Not in the mood, Spike," Angel growled. His eyes lingered on
Buffy's face, as open as she'd ever seen them, full of hope and anguish
She had to say something. "I'll walk you to the car."
It was more of a sprint than a walk; Angel ducked into the shadows of the DeSoto's interior and stared at the dash for a moment to familiarize himself with the equipment. "I'll bring it back tonight if I can," he said, poking at various knobs and dials and wrinkling his nose at the overflowing ashtray. He reached into a trouser pocket and pulled out his wallet, peeled off a few twenties and the keys to his car and handed them over. "Could you pay the motel for my room and make sure my car doesn't get towed?"
"Sure. No problem." She knew lots of words. Sometimes she could even arrange them into sentences. Some of them had to be the right thing to say at a time like this. "We can drive the car over to my place if you want; Spike's probably going to be there tonight, so--"
She gripped the edge of the car door. "Angel, I can trust you from now on, right? Not to pull this bullshit on me? Sunnydale's still my town. You can tell me I'm making the biggest mistake of my life, you can join Xander's We Hate Spike Club and be treasurer--whatever. But if you put Spike in danger again--"
Angel's hands tightened on the wheel. "Yeah? My last sight of Spike
leaving the crypt was him standing over the unconscious body of one
Watcher, about to tear the throat out of the other. Some danger."
"And you left?" Buffy asked--voice perfectly flat, because she was
Calm, Reasonable, Mature Buffy, who didn't get into screaming matches with
her vampire ex any longer. Calm, Reasonable, Mature Buffy was leaving
finger-sized dents in the metal of the car door. She wanted him to
understand, even if he couldn't approve. She wanted world peace and a
pony while she was at it. "Listen, Angel. Get this. Spike is very
important to me. If you'd let Spike die, I would happily send you back to
hell. My job--my real job--is even more important to me. If you'd let
Spike kill a human, I'd make you look back on hell as a fond memory."
His lips took on a bitter twist. "If you're right about him, there
was nothing to worry about."
"And if I'd been wrong you'd have let a man die to prove a point?
God, Angel!" Buffy rubbed her forehead. "Saving me? For the thought,
thanks. For the execution, not so much." He'd gone paler than usual, as
if something she'd said had touched a hidden nerve. "We can't help it,
can we? Hurting each other. It's just something that happens when we get
close enough, like gravity."
He flinched. Just like that. "What I said earlier..."
"Don't say you didn't mean it."
Angel sighed. "Which part? No, I meant all of it. I do want to
elp you, but I can see that forcing it won't work. Just...remember I'm
here if you need me. I've been darker places than you can imagine, and I
know what it takes to walk out of them. It's a hell of a lot harder to go
uphill than down."
"That's...I'll remember." She could get mad again, or try logic. But somehow it didn't feel as if either option would make the situation any better. Maybe she'd just go home and make hot nasty vampire love with Spike instead. With handcuffs, and candles, and illicit borrowing of the strap-on Tara thought no one knew she had stashed under the laundry hamper, and...and letting him smoke in the house! Yeah! I'm bad, baby! "If I do need help, I'll call. Promise." On impulse she leaned down and kissed his cheek. "Don't save me, Angel. Save yourself."
He didn't respond. Buffy stepped back onto the curb and watched
him, a lone blanket-draped figure hiding from the bright sunshine, and then the blackened window rolled up, erasing him from sight. Buffy walked back to the porch, where Spike was lounging against the doorframe, watching. Buffy took his arm and they went inside. A minute later the DeSoto's engine turned over, and the hulking black sedan pulled away from the curb.
Xander shook his head. "Now that guy," he said, "Knows how to make
"Pity he doesn't make them sooner," Spike muttered, watching out the
window as his baby's taillights disappeared into the distance.
Buffy punched him lightly in the arm. "Let's get you home and patched up before you bleed all over something valuable. We need to figure out what to do with the Watcher's Local 201, but I'd like to be less brain-dead when I do it." She looked up at Spike, studying his face. "You do know you don't need to be jealous, don't you?"
Spike rubbed his biceps, a glint of laughter in his eyes. "I figured
that one out when he tried stealing you." He slipped his good arm around
her shoulders and whispered, "You feel the need to take out some
frustration by pounding on something vampire-shaped, love, I'm fit enough
for a sparring match."
Had love always been curled inside her, waiting through the chill of
heart's winter for the proper spring in which to unfold and blossom, or
had she, as Angel feared, built it piecemeal out of wire and tissue paper,
desperate to feel something? She couldn't have imagined this weird,
wonderful, terrifying feeling into existence. She didn't have that much
imagination. "No," she whispered back, "Buffy and edged weapons, bad
combo right now." She bumped her hip against his with a demure smile,
reaching down and digging her fingers into the firm muscle of his ass.
"But having something vampire-shaped pound on me? Very cathartic."
Continued in Part 34