Sequel to Reminders; part of The Voicesverse
Summary: Now complete. Four months after Riley's death, Spike comes back to Sunnydale.
Spoilers: Post-Grave and my two fics, Voices in the Dark and Reminders. A Season 7 AU.
Distribution: Just talk to me, I'm easy.
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Notes: Final chapter of the third installment in an alternate Season 7 AU. Any errors in continuity that may come up during the course of this fic are my own.
Ladies, this one's for you! Thanks to the Usual Suspects: Chris, for being a damn good sport and a grand slam beta; Kelly, who always gets it and stirs things up some more; and Colleen, who gives me excellent fic and great beta. And thanks to everyone who fed the muse! God, demanding little thing that he/she is!
Spike leaned back in the comfortably padded chair in the hotel dining room, watching Buffy talk about the class she was taking at Sunnydale U. She'd deferred the serious conversation about his 'proposition' in good grace, which was damn lucky for him, because once again he was at a loss as to how to start.
One thing about it though. Two glasses of table wine and the slayer was positively bubbling with good humor. Something to remember. He had carefully eased the bottle of wine to his side of the table, remembering that a drunk slayer is a sick slayer. And that his boots *were* new.
"Of course, Giles is so thrilled," she continued. "Higher Education Buffy is back. No more slinging burgers, no more stinky hair. Didn't you think my hair smelled?" she asked, disingenuously. "You never said so."
A question. Which meant he needed to answer. Unfortunately, he'd been looking at Buffy and not necessarily *listening* to Buffy. Oh, there it was. Doublemeat hair. He smiled.
"Well, love, that's an occupational hazard, right? You've got 'em in slayin'. How many pairs of leather pants have you ruined in a fight? The Palace? Hazardous duty of the smelly hair kind. Never minded that part. Minded the damn job."
She sighed. "I know you did. Minded it. The job, I mean. But no more Doublemeat..." She leaned forward. "Hey, did I tell you about Dawn's run in with the Fyarl demon?"
Sitting up abruptly, Spike frowned. "Bit took on a Fyarl?"
"Gee, Spike, she didn't just charge out there to filet him with her sword..." Buffy stopped. "Well, actually she did. But that wasn't the deal. And anyway, I had that cute little knife with me. You know, the silver one I carry in my boot? So I took him out. But not before he doused Dawn's shoes!"
Spike's nose wrinkled. The mucous of the Fyarl demon became a hardened glob as it cooled. "And the Nibblet ended up with a pair of cement overshoes," he said in amusement.
"Huh?" She looked confused.
"Never mind," the vampire grinned. "Just that pesky age difference again."
"You should have seen Giles," she went on. "He had a mallet and chisel, chipping away. And that was just so we could get her feet out. The shoes were definitely dumpster worthy."
Spike laughed. "God, you gotta love Rupert. I can just see him when you showed up at the door. Did he clean his glasses?"
"Wasn't wearing any. It was four a.m. Had on the craziest pajama bottoms, though. I think it embarrassed him. He kept saying they were a gift and nothing else was clean."
Spike laughed, for the moment perfectly relaxed. "The Watcher isn't such a tight ass as you might think, Slayer. Had a couple of drinkin' bouts with him the summer you were gone. Pitiful heaps we were, too. But once he got wound up..."
"Whoa. Rewind. You got drunk with Giles? My watcher?"
"Well, yeah, I did. Lot of things happened while you were gone. And it was quite educational. First, his tolerance for alcohol - quite impressive that. Raised my estimation of the shop-keeper mightily."
Buffy closed her eyes, trying to dispel the image of Spike and Giles drunk and hanging on each others' shoulders. It didn't work.
"And the way he mourns a loss. Almost Irish. Music. Booze. Cigarette smoke. Lots of soul searchin'. Not that I had a soul to search. Not back then." Spike frowned. "Don't know if he ever really forgave me for seein' him like that," he mused. He stared at the empty glass, reached over and poured himself another glass of wine. Finally, he looked at Buffy, an amused glint reappearing in his eye. "Know for a fact he never forgave me for gettin' him hooked on 'Passions.'"
Deciding that she really didn't want to know any more than she already did, Buffy cast around for a different subject. "Oh! And Clem is good! Wants you to come by. Might even come see you here, if he can slip in. He still sits with Dawn sometimes, not that she really needs it. They're really just video buddies. Business has really taken off."
"Yeah, partnerin' up with him was smart," Spike said, relieved that they'd headed off any broody discussions. He pulled out his thick wallet expansively. "See? Flush. ATM card, too. Which is almost more than my ex-Big Bad heart can take," he said shrugging with a self-deprecating grin.
"No more stealing?"
"Nah. Nickin' days are over. Lessen I have to for God and country," he said flippantly. "Don't need much money anyway." He pulled out some bills for the dinner cheque and laid them on the table.
"Hey!" With Slayer reflexes, she grabbed the wallet out of his hand. "What's this? Pictures?" She flipped it open and saw an ATM card and a picture I.D. "You have identification now?" She realized that it was a military card. She stared. "That's you."
"Yeah." Extremely uncomfortable, Spike reached across the table for the wallet.
"No," she said. "Wait." His hand dropped to the table as she scrutinized the picture.
"You're like... all legal now. Like a..."
"Person? Not really." He shrugged. "Still a vampire here. Just a blood sucker with fake papers, a social security number and a vague title.
"A title?" She squinted, trying to find words in all the numbers. "Oh. Vale Project Liaison?"
"Government approved. And sufficiently vague," he said reaching for the wallet again.
"Hold it!" She pushed his hand away. "This doesn't say 'William.'"
Spike sat back, resigned. "Well, no. It's a kind of joke. Bad enough anyone knows the William part of 'William the Bloody'. Needed to get a new name sooner, like the Poof did. I'm not givin' anybody my real name." He nodded at the wallet. "But now I'm stuck with that one, y'see."
She looked up, shoulders shaking with laughter. "Oh, Spike," she gasped. "This is so you! Randall S. Giles? Randy Giles?" She looked at him with eyes brimming with warmth. "'Why not be Horny Giles, or...'"
He rolled his eyes. "'Or Desperate for a Shag Giles?' Okay, Slayer. Fun's up. Give over," he said as he easily recaptured his wallet.
She had willingly surrendered it, weak with giggles. A fresh onslaught of laughter left her with her head lying on the table beside the plate. She cut her eyes over at him and slowly raised her head. "Oh, God, this is great. I haven't laughed that hard since... Well, since before you went to Vale. Thank you, thank you, for the laughy goodness!" Another thought popped into her head. "Wait. You have a code name, don't you?"
"What?" he said innocently.
"A code name. You know, like a call sign? Hey, I saw Top Gun!" she fired back at his amused look. "A code name for...well, coded ...stuff. Communications." She laughed. "Riley had a stupid one. Lilac. But since you're like military vampire guy..."
"Am not," he said indignantly, stung.
"Oh, yes," she said mischievously. "Yes, you are. So. Do you?"
Spike sat silent, looking at her with an upraised brow.
"Well, do you? And is it stupid?"
"Is what stupid?"
"Stop being all avoidy. Now I *know* you have one."
He blew out a breath, steeling himself for the discussion. "Yeah, I do."
"And it is? C'mon, Spike, I'd tell you! Like pulling fangs here," she said playfully, smelling blood. "Give."
She sobered immediately. "What?"
"Shepherd." He leaned forward. "You know what a shepherd is, right, Buffy? Watches over the lambs? Helps them get safely where they're goin'?" She stared at him as he broke eye contact and chuckled wryly. "Not all Grrr!Military Vampire here, much as the thought might amuse you."
He leaned forward again, capturing her eyes in an earnest gaze. "I told you I was goin' to look after Daniel's best interests," he said quietly. "I'm doin' that. And it's in his best interests that the others are taken care of, too. So that's what I do. I fight the red tape and the rigid military mindset and take care of them. Make sure they don't get messed with or shoved off in a hole somewhere to starve."
"Shepherd," she repeated. The word came out in a whisper.
Spike's eyes broke away and found his wine glass. "I think it's about time for that proposition now," he said, draining it.
"Here?" she squeaked, looking around the nearly deserted dining room.
"Why not? But first, Riley Finn."
Daniel popped into the gym and found Marshall working out with Jeffries. "New moves?" he asked, interested.
Marshall laughed. "Probably ancient. Saw Shepherd doing this yesterday. Thought I'd try it. Jeffries is helping out. Making sure I don't find a piece of wood to land on."
Daniel looked around at the spotless gym, made up almost wholly of plastic and steel. "Right," he laughed.
"We might get it some time this decade," Marshall explained. "It's a little complicated."
Sitting down on a weight bench, Daniel nodded knowingly. "Yeah. But remember, he's had over a hundred years to perfect it. It's his street fighting that interests me. I was Golden Gloves in high school. Did a little college boxing, so..."
Jeffries perked up. "Really? Haven't seen any of the street stuff yet," he commented, interested in spite of himself.
"Definitely not in the manual. Not exactly government approved." Daniel rubbed his chin in remembrance. "But it gets the job done." He grinned. "Stomped me into the ground, right here, late one night. And I've got inches and pounds on him."
"Man, I'd like to see that," Jeffries said wistfully.
Daniel laughed. "Well, I did pick up a couple of things. Again, not even close to government approved. And he can show you better, but..."
"No one's around. And we won't be tryin' 'em out in gym or anything," Jeffries said slowly.
"Right," Marshall concurred, looking at the eager look that was slowly beginning to color Jeffries' expression.
Daniel smiled. Looking at Jeffries now, it was hard to see the beginnings of the downward spiral that had lost them Zabowski, but the evals were clear.
"So suit up." Daniel waited, grimacing at their confusion. "That means gameface, okay?"
Shepherd's second in command settled in for a good long bout.
Spike poured himself another glass of wine, and kept his eyes on the glass. "Right then. As you know, not feelin' very comfortable about myself when I left."
The slayer stirred uncomfortably in her seat. "Well, you made a wish and it went..."
"I made a wish and it went right," he interjected, making certain she didn't misunderstand. "Exactly like I wished it. No more Finn. And dead by Drusilla's hand. Literally."
He waved a hand impatiently before she had a chance to speak again. "Now. Had some problems with that. Thought the soul would take care of the evil thoughts. But no. Just lets me know that they *are* evil. Already had a pretty good grasp of *that* anyway. Can still act on 'em. Now, without the chip, could drain that maitre d' like a hose siphoning gasoline out of Harris' car," he said, peering over Buffy's shoulder. "Won't, but could."
Staring at him, Buffy picked up her water goblet and drank.
"Thing is," he continued, "Riley Finn stepped over more than one line. And in more ways than just the ones you know about, Buffy," he said, with a distant look in his eyes. He refocused on her. "So believe me when I say that after four months of," and he laughed ruefully, "soul searching, I'm not sorry I did it. Bugs like that should be squashed, not put away in a cell somewhere, where they can slip out through a crack in the wall."
Looking down, Buffy focused on the napkin in her lap, so that she could think about what he'd said. Finally, she looked back up. "Okay."
His eyes widened. "Okay? Did you just say 'okay'? That's your only comment?" He shook his head. "I cannot believe you, Summers. I've been eatin' myself up over this and..."
Her temper flared. "What do you want me to say? You tell me that you had other reasons besides the ones *I* know for what you did. You won't tell me what they are. You just play Mr. Mysterious Guy about it." She let her anger out in a shaky breath. "Either I trust you or I don't," she said honestly. "I trust you."
Spike's eyes filled with tears. Blinking furiously and looking everywhere but at her, he grabbed the wine bottle. "Bloody hell, Buffy," he said hoarsely.
She reached across the table and took the wine from him, setting it off to the side as she tried to capture his eyes. "Now, about that proposition you've got for me..."
Dawn quietly slipped in the front door of the house on Revello Drive. She stood still and listened. "Buffy?" she whispered. In a moment, in a more normal tone, she again said, "Buffy?" Still not satisfied, she bellowed at the top of her lungs, feet stomping in time with the drawn out syllables. "Bu-ff-fy!"
"Cool!" the teenager exclaimed. "She's still gone!"
Dawn's friend Janice peered around the door. "You sure? Sure she's not here?" At Dawn's nod, she set foot inside the house, looking a little braver, and abandoning the hushed voice for something approaching Janice-Normal. "Cause your sister hates my guts!"
"Buffy doesn't even hate her ex-boyfriends," Dawn countered.
"Nope," Janice muttered. "Just me."
Dawn started up the stairs. "Laptop's in my room. C'mon." She stopped, sensing that Janice was hanging back. "S'okay. She's gonna be late." The girl giggled. "She has a date."
"*Buffy* has a date? You're messin' with me, right? Cause she is like... old."
"She's not so totally old. Just acts like it," Dawn said condescendingly. "Hurry up. We'll check my mail, then sneak back in your house. Very uncool to get caught out on a school night."
"Well, duh. You're the one who had to check your stupid mail!"
"And you're the one who has the Internet Dad, who will be online for just days!" Dawn shot back. She disappeared up the stairs.
Janice took a long look around, then ran to catch up, thudding up the steps in her tall stacks.
She found Dawn logging on, and threw herself across the bed. "So," she said in a deceptively disinterested voice, "this is like 'guy' mail?"
Giggling, the girl's hand moved the mouse into point and click heaven. "Yep. 'Male' mail." She turned quickly to look at Janice. "But not in a boyfriend kind of way. Just a guy who helped me once." Her fingers busily coaxed the computer closer and closer to her email screen.
"Yep," she continued. "'Friend' mail. Who just happens to be... a guy. We stay in touch, and he... Oh! Cool!"
Dawn moved the mouse some more, and clicked on her message. "Willow's laptop is very fast. Like turbo..." Her voice trailed off as she scanned the words on the screen. A shrill cry flew from her lips. "Oh. My. God! Omigod! Omigod!"
"What?" Janice said eagerly, disinterest abandoned for the moment.
Dawn's head turned toward Janice, hair swinging. "Cool beans! He... Um, just cool! Cool, cool beans! Like beanie weenie cool!"
"Oh, yeah." The teen's smile faded slightly as she reread the screen. "That is, if my sister doesn't screw it up," she mumbled.
Janice rolled her eyes and onto her back to stare at the ceiling. "Oh, well, so much for that."
Spike took a deep breath, pushed it out, and began. "Wasn't thinkin' straight when I left here, right? Haven't rested in four months. S'been good for the program, of course, but not so good for me. And when I do pass out, the last thing I think about is you. "
Uneasily, Buffy looked around the restaurant. "Spike, I don't know if..."
"If this is the right place for this?" he finished. "Good a place as any, pet," he said, resigned. "Prob'ly won't take long anyway," he muttered, swallowing hard. "Here's the thing. Got... baggage now."
"Baggage," she said flatly, eyebrows raised.
"Yeah. Twenty-six vampires and Daniel, nineteen support techs and shrinks. That's all the time. Sometimes there's extra. So, yeah. Baggage."
"What are you saying?" So he wasn't coming back. After everything, he wasn't coming back.
"You can't leave the Hellmouth, Buffy. I know that." He leaned forward, trying to capture her eyes in his, willing her to understand what he was saying so poorly. "But I can move the whole lot of 'em here."
He paused as her eyes went wide, then rushed on before she had a chance to cut him off. "Talked to Paxton. Been working up the proposal for a month now. Take two months to refit the old Initiative facility. Wipe away some of the bad there, try to make some good. I can train 'em up, Buffy. It'll give 'em a purpose. Give you some help. Get me home. Where you are."
He hurried along faster. "Been workin' with a few of the vamps already. And Daniel, of course. We can help, Slayer," he said earnestly. "Fight the good fight. Just say the word and we're here." He reached for Buffy's hand, but didn't complete the gesture, hand falling palm up on the table.
Breaking away from her startled stare, he steeled himself for her reaction. "Now," he said, looking down at his hand. "You can just tell me to bugger off." He bravely raised his eyes to her. "Been expectin' it really. Know it feels like I ran out on you. And I did, I reckon. You've got your Scoobies. S'Not like you can't handle yourself. You're the slayer - a damn good one, too. Hell, I should know. It's just..." His voice trailed off as he realized he was rambling. His mouth closed with a snap.
"Let me get this straight. You want to come home. And bring twenty-six vampires with you," she said flatly.
"And Daniel," he amended.
"Move into the Initiative headquarters," she continued, "and play task force. Fight the good fight. Help the helpless."
"God, Buffy, you make it sound like a bleedin' comic book." He shook his head. "Bugger it. I knew this wouldn't work." Getting up, he looked at the money on the table, picked it up, counted it, threw it back down. "I...I'll just go."
He stopped and stared at her, dropping back in his seat. "What?"
"You've got a two day leave?"
"Not a leave," he said bristling. "M'Not army. But, yeah. Two days."
"But you can be back here in two months, right?" she prodded. "You can pull that off? Get everything done and be back here in two months? With the... baggage?"
"Well. Yeah. Give or take. But..."
"You know," Buffy complained, "for some reason guys always seem to leave. Is it me? The slayerness? I don't know." She looked up at him, at his slack jaw and wide eyes. "But you? You leave, but at least you always come back." Eyes glittering wickedly at the hope in his eyes, she leaned back in her chair, chewing her lip, determined to make him twist a little. "Two days, huh?" She nodded slowly. "I think I can be persuaded in two days."