All About Spike

Belonging
By astraea

A/N: Response to the “Watching You” October/November challenge. (Found at the end.) Although this stands alone, I do have some vague plans to work it into a full and epic series….. This will probably happen around the time that my days start to contain 30-35 hours instead of this paltry 24.

Disclaimer: Joss owns it all. Even Souled!Spike, that I moaned about all summer and about which I now may, perhaps, have changed my mind. Damn man is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-owning.

Spoilers: Big time, neon-flashy spoilers for ‘Lessons’. Probably sliiightly influenced by ‘Beneath You’, but shouldn’t be spoilery.



“She can’t have.”

“She really has,” raged Buffy. “You cannot understand how dead I am going to kill her.”

“Relax, Buffy,” Xander urged the irate slayer, plucking the offending piece of paper from her hand and frowning at it.

“I’m going to *kill* her!” Buffy repeated, finishing on a squeak.

“Murder - not the Guardian-of-the-Year method for dealing with the teenagers,” Xander soothed.

“Loosing the teenager isn’t high on the list either,” retorted Buffy, grabbing the paper back and scrunching it into a tiny ball.

“So. Now that the paper is dead we should probably do the whole ‘plan’ thing.”

“LA! The concert is in LA!” yelled Buffy, beginning to pace again. “She went to *LA*! When I said she couldn’t. She asked and I said no and then she went.”

“Teenagers today.” Xander shook his head sadly. As Buffy glared at him, he took a step backwards with his hands in front of him. “Backing away from scary Slayer temper tantrum here,” he informed her. “Buffy, you need to calm down about this.”

“Calm down? She could get hurt or she could get killed or she could get robbed or she could try to get into a bar with a fake ID…..” Buffy trailed off in horror, her mind balking at the sheer range of ways in which Dawn could get into trouble in LA. Going to a concert; a concert that she wasn’t allowed to go to.

She unscrunched the note once more and read aloud. “Hi Buffy. We’ve gone to LA. Sorry. You can kill me when I get back but I HAD to see The Foo Fighters.” Buffy infused her reading with more sarcasm than she had managed on any of the first three occasions. “Well, there you have it. She HAD to go.”

“And you never did anything like this when you were her age?” suggested Xander, half-smiling.

“I ran away from home for *one* summer because I killed my boyfriend and sent him to hell. And got kicked out of school.” She glanced up at Xander. “Okay, I was way worse. But you know what? I wasn’t the one who had to take care of me! I’m worried about her, Xander.”

“She’ll come back,” said Xander. Noting the impending temper tantrum, he quickly amended his suggestion to, “Or we can go and find her?”

“Yes,” said Buffy, sounding calmer. “We go to LA. We find the concert and drag her out by the ear, thus ensuring that she is publicly humiliated and never wants to set foot outside her bedroom again. We’ll go now.”

“That plan does make going to work more difficult,” pointed out Xander. “Don’t you have a shift tonight?”

“I’m going to go deal with that right now,” said Buffy, with a look of determination. “Won’t be long.”

*****

“And then they said ‘If you were as committed to your work as you are to your outside interests, you’d have a bright future ahead of you’ and I said ‘I’ve worked double shifts when you asked, why can’t you let me have this weekend off?’ and they said ‘You need to prioritise your time, Miss Summers’ and I said ‘My family comes first’ and they said ‘If you want this job you need to be more responsible’ and I said ‘Maybe I don’t want this job’ and they didn’t say anything so I said ‘I quit!’”

“It’s a great story, Slayer,” said Willie nervously, “But you’re scaring my customers away, you know.”

“I’m scaring the demons?” Buffy looked about the bar. Various guarded faces, studiously avoiding her direction. “And that’s not a thing I’d ever want to do.”

“Did you want something?” Willie asked, edging nervously away from her. “Information? *Anything*?”

“Have you heard anything about Spike lately?” she asked casually.

Willie’s demeanour changed. “Spike? No. Not around here,” he said stiffly. “Last I heard….”

“What?” said Buffy, her voice hard and low.

“Last I heard, he was dead.”

“No he’s not.” A vision of Spike in the basement, that look in his eyes. Buffy finished her drink and left.

“Or may as well be,” muttered Willie, watching her leave.

*****

“Spike?” she called, nervously. Stupid Hellmouth. “Spike!” she repeated, a little louder. “I know you’re here somewhere. If you make me traipse around this hellhole looking for you, I’ll….oh!”

“You summoned me, your ladyship?” he questioned, bowing before her, arm sweeping the floor.

“Can you cut the crazy? Please? I just….” She stopped. She just nothing. She should be running to LA with all the slayer-speed imaginable and instead she was sneaking around a school basement looking for him. And now she’d found him. Which meant she should probably be saying something ‘round about now…

“Sorry ‘bout the other day,” he said abruptly. “It was all….” His eyes wandered around the room. “It wasn’t!” he said to the ceiling, glowering at it. “It was a spell,” he shrugged to Buffy.

“O-kay. I didn’t…I wasn’t sure what….I’m going to LA, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t doing a Hannibal Lector on yourself,” she said uncomfortably, her eyes drawn to his clothed chest.

“No consuming the merchandise.” He laughed humourlessly. “What’s in LA?”

“Oh, Dawn ran off,” grumbled Buffy. “I wanna find her and then lock her in a dungeon until she’s eighteen.”

“You don’t have a dungeon.”

“Never too late to get a dungeon.”

“It’s always too late,” he muttered, turning away.

Buffy sighed. “Anyway. Me. Going to LA. So….”

“I’m going to LA.” He looked at her levelly.

“No,” she said patiently. “*I* am going to LA. With Xander. *You* are…..living on the Hellmouth. Why, I do not know. I checked your crypt and it’s there and everything. Bit stinky and damp, but it’s there.”

“I’m going to LA,” he repeated, meeting her eye.

“What is your *problem*? Is this about Angel? Because, I swear…”

“Knock it right out of me, he will,” Spike commented inconsequentially. “Bang!” He punched one fist into his other hand.

“You can’t come with me,” said Buffy firmly. “It would cause, like, death and disaster. And anyway, *why*?”

“I didn’t say I was going with *you*,” he said, sounding suddenly sane. Lucid. Determined. Spike-like, she thought.

“How are you going to get there?” She reached out to lightly touch his shoulder.

“Doesn’t matter.” He shrugged her off.

“It really does. Because unless your melanin levels have changed as much as your  - brain – has, you can’t just hitch a ride to LA.”

“Still a vampire,” he nodded. ‘Once a vampire, always a cuckoo.”

Buffy’s eyes, half closed in despair, fluttered open. “Got that bit right,” she sighed. “Okay, come with. Because that won’t make for an awkward trip or anything. But I swear to God above and the Hellmouth below, if this is all some lame-ass trick, Spike, I will fill you so full of stakes you’ll look like a porcupine.”

“Think nothing of it,” was his only reply.

“Xander should take this well,” she groaned, leading the way out.

*****

“He’s out of his mind,” she argued.

“And it’s contagious, so of course now *you* are too,” reasoned Xander, shaking his head.

“Xander, please. He’s….I don’t know what’s wrong but he’s strange.”

“He’s a vam-pire,” Xander explained slowly.

“He tried to cut his heart out!” hissed Buffy, trying to lower her voice at the vague memory of vamp-hearing.

“Al-righty. Why?”

“I don’t know and I don’t know where he’s been or what’s happened to him but I’m not leaving him here to kill himself.”

“And again with the why?”

“I don’t know.” Buffy admitted. She looked pleadingly at her friend. There wasn’t an answer to that one.

“What is it with you girls that when Spike wants to kill himself, we have to take him places?” grumbled Xander, his hands raised in a gesture of defeat. “I don’t think you have sufficient regard for miracles of nature.”

“He says he’s going to LA. The state he’s in, I’m afraid he’ll try and walk there in the full light of day.”

“And that would be a tragedy for all concerned…Okay! He can come. He’s not going to *talk*, is he?”

“He’s not going to talk sense anyway.”

*****

“What’s his problem?” complained Xander.

“I’m starting to think drugs,” admitted Buffy, glaring at the object of discussion.

“She caressed his cool alabaster skin….” Spike continued to read, the incessant muttering from the back of the car just loud enough to fray the nerves of both Buffy and Xander. And the subject matter wasn’t helping.

“You don’t think it’s a cunning vampire plot to drive us insane?” asked Xander, craning his neck to glare at Spike and the trashy romance novel the vampire continued to read from.

 

“He watched her in adoration….” Spike continued, seemingly oblivious to the controversy.

“And where the hell did he get that thing?” groaned Xander.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to make him eat it if he doesn’t shut up soon.”

“I think I preferred him when he was evil. Insane Spike is really bugging me.”

“From the big glow-y fucker,” Spike informed them, impatiently. “I put up a fight, I’ll have you know.”

“Right, that’s it.” Buffy reached into the back of the car and grabbed the book. He clung to it. As they wrestled briefly, his eyes lit up. She tugged the book from his grasp and threw it out the window.

“Done and done,” she informed Xander.

“You can kill one, but they keep on coming,” said Spike quietly.

“Earplugs would have been a really great addition to this little extravaganza,” pondered Xander.

“I know. And I’m sorry for dragging you along. Especially for dragging you *and* him along. I really do appreciate this.”

“Not a prob. Though we need to not make this a regular weekend routine.”

“I’m on it already. Got a whole dungeon plan.”

“Go easy on the kid,” said Xander, with a sympathetic glance. “New school year, new friends, new ways to drive you out of your mind – it’s what being a teenager’s all about.”

“Her friends. It’s all her friends fault! I thought they were nice kids who wouldn’t kidnap her and drag her to cities where my ex-boyfriend-the-vampire lives!”

”Yes. Dawn is surely an unwilling pawn in their fiendish plot,” Xander returned. “C’mon, Buff. You know it was probably her idea!”

“I’m right here you know,” Spike spoke up. They turned to him, confused.

“Sure y’are,” said Xander. He exchanged a look with Buffy who shook her head.

“Why is it that when one thing gets back to normal, two things go back to crazy?” she grouched. “And when two things get normal, four things go crazy. And when…”

“Give me something to work with here, Buff,” said Xander. “You know, concrete examples.”

“I’m just saying, I think it’s like a mathematical law.” She gasped in sudden horror. “Math is taking over the world!”

Concrete,” emphasised Xander.

“Well, for example, mister construction dude, Dawn’s been really good lately, totally over the klepto thing, and she and I are getting along. Then she pulls this and we all have to take off across the country. And bring the crazy vampire who used to be just the annoying vampire.” Her face twisted slightly in ill-concealed concern. “And after a year of fighting the forces of finances, things were getting back on track, sort of. And I was looking forward to the whole being a part-time counsellor thing and now I have to start looking one of those real jobs that pay the real-life rent. With all my glorious burger-flipping experience, that’s gonna be a laugh.”

“Don’t know that your numbers are adding up, but I get the idea. You do remember that you live on a hellmouth, right?”

She shot him a look.

“And the way I see it, we’re all alive. We’re all happy to be alive. None of us are plotting the end of the world and we ain’t datin’ demons!”

She smiled in spite of herself.

A “You say I’m crazy,” was heard from the back of the car.

“Have done, do and will again,” commented Xander, to no one in particular. “Hey, isn’t this where we’re going?”

“Yes,” said Buffy grimly, scowling at the offending venue that dared to host concerts and corrupt her sister.

“So we….?” Xander looked at her inquiringly.

“So we wait until she comes out,” Buffy conceded, crossing her arms.

“And then….It’s gonna be late. You wanna drive straight back?”

“Oh, sorry Xander. You must be tired. I could drive back?” offered Buffy.

“You? Could drive to Sunnydale? At night? No.”

“Could too!”

“Could not,” echoed Spike from behind them. Buffy turned and glared at the offending vampire. He gazed blankly at the window.

“Buffy, the crazy man’s talking more sense than you. We’re staying here tonight. We’ll drive home tomorrow.”

“Xander, did I mention the bit about me quitting my job, the source of all income?”

“Only four or five times.”

“I know you’re flush these days with the contractual goodness, but we can’t afford a hotel.”

“We can get somewhere,” argued Xander.

“For me, you, an insane vampire and any number of delinquent teenagers?”

“I see your point.”

Buffy took out her phone. “Having a cell phone rocks,” she commented, pressing buttons.

“Who are you calling? ‘Cause, you wouldn’t be thinking of….Buffy, no! We can like, get a mortgage or something…..Noooooo!”

“Hi? Angel? It’s Buffy. We’re having a bit of a mini-emergency…..”

******

“Buffy.” Dawn examined her sister’s face. Few signs of homicidal rage. Okay, this was going alright so far. “You’ve met Kit and Carlos, right?”

“Yes,” Buffy ground out. “How was your concert?” she asked with decidedly fake cheer.

“It was the *best*! And we got autographs. And before, we went to the band’s hotel and I got David Grohl to sign my album!” Dawn twirled in excitement.

“But you didn’t get arrested for stalking?” Buffy checked. Dawn shook her head in denial. “Because that might interfere with my plan to lock you in a dungeon until you’re eighteen.”

“We don’t have a dungeon,” Dawn felt the need to point out.

“I can build one,” said Buffy grimly.

“Dungeon on the Hellmouth is a bad plan,” said Dawn. “It would be like, ‘hi, Dungeon Monster?’”

“Well I hope you and the Dungeon Monster get along well. That’s the only company you’ll be keeping until your *two* *year* *grounding* is finished!” Buffy marched ahead.

“Am I really grounded?” Dawn asked Xander.

“Very much so. Until she forgets,” said Xander, seeming preoccupied.

“Where are we staying tonight?”

He scowled.

“We’re staying with Angel, right? Ouch.” Dawn looked at him sympathetically.

Xander said nothing.

“Angel is a vampire with a whole lame soul-thing going on,” Dawn explained to her friends. “My sister’s ex.”

Kit and Carlos looked at one another. Then to Xander, who remained stoic. Then looked at Dawn. Carlos finally broke the silence.

“When you said that last week was….ghosts….” He faltered. Dawn folded her arms across her chest. “You were for real, weren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Dawn simply.

“And there are actual things, like you said? Vampires and stuff?”

“Yes,” repeated Dawn. “What, you thought I was making it up?!”

“Nooo. Well, yeah. Vampires are real. Wow.” The boy’s face lit up. “Cool!”

“Kids these days,” marvelled Xander. “No falling over with the shock. I blame it on the MTV and the bad horror films.”

“Well I’m sorry you have to see Angel,” said Dawn, grabbing his arm. “It’ll be fun though. I promise.”

“And Spike is here,” said Xander calmly, not looking at any of them.

“Here? *Here*, here?” Dawn dropped Xander’s arm and turned to her friends. “Spike’s a demon with no soul of any kind. Another ex,” she said stonily.

“Your sister has issues,” commented Carlos.

“Tell me about it. Xander, I’m not talking to him!”

“Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see.”

*****

At the Hyperion, uncomfortable greetings were exchanged.

“Thanks for letting us stay. I appreciate this.” Buffy glared at her sister as she promised, “It won’t be happening again.”

“Not a problem. Um, how many people exactly?”

“Well, there’s us,” Buffy indicated herself, Dawn, Kit and Carlos. “And then there’s Xander and….Spike.”

Both Angel and Cordelia looked less happy.

“Xander’s here?” squeaked Cordelia. “I mean - *Spike’s* here?”

“They’re both here,” Buffy confirmed. “Sorry.”

“Why is Spike here?” asked Angel politely, his fists clenched so tight that Buffy could see the white ridges.

“With the hounds of hell at his feet.” Spike, staggering through the door, looked Angel up and down. “You’d know that feeling, mate. You and the horsemen.”

Angel turned to Buffy. “What the hell is up with him?” he demanded. “And why is he *here*?”

“I think it’s good to see you’re showing me such a good example in terms of *substance abuse*!” Dawn told her sister pointedly, still refusing go to look at the once-favoured vampire.

Buffy shrugged dismissively. This was all weird beyond weird. She wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but slayer instincts of hell-avoidance led her to feel she might be keeping the peace around here for some time to come.

“Like we don’t have enough….” Cordelia broke off in mid-sentence as her eyes focussed on Spike’s. “Holy fuck!” she breathed.

“What?” said Angel quickly, laying a hand on her sleeve. Buffy looked at them with a hint of envy.

“Oh my god,” said Cordelia. “Nothing,” she added, turning to Angel and voice returning to normal.

“Buffy, can I talk to you a minute?” asked Angel. He indicated the door.

“Sure,” said Buffy, stifling a groan. There was going to be ‘A Talk.’

“Can I talk to Spike?” said Cordelia, still looking a little odd.

“Knock yourself out,” said Buffy. “In fact, feel free to knock him out while you’re at it.”

Cordelia, followed by a scowling Spike, left the room.

Buffy and Angel left in the opposite direction, closing the door behind them.

Xander and Dawn looked at each other.

“I always say that everything bad can be blamed on a vampire,” announced Xander. Both Kit and Carlos seemed interested.

“Even undone homework?” asked Carlos.

“Especially undone homework.”

*****

“What’s up with Spike?”

“Dunno. What’s up with Cordelia?”

“Dunno.”

They smiled a little at one another.

“He was away all summer,” Buffy finally elaborated. “When he came back, he was doing the Ozzy Osbourne thang.”

“Cordy’s a seer. And - a demon.”

“Well. Okay, then.”

“So I guess we leave them to it.”

“Cordelia’s a *demon*? No, I didn’t ask.”

They sat in uncomfortable silence.

“So,” said Angel eventually. “Why are you looking after crazy Spike?”

“Look, Angel. My life is none of your business.” She wondered if she had managed to dramatically overstate her objection.

“Sure. I know. Sorry.” He stopped. And looked at her. “Why would Spike and ‘Your life’ be in the same sentence?”

“They aren’t,” she assured him. “Although if they were, that would be because I had a fling with him last year.”

“Youhada…..”

As Buffy looked him square in the eye, she considered the possibility that perhaps she did walk on the dark side. Because the overwhelming temptation as she looked into his very confused face was to giggle. It occurred to her that Spike – sane Spike – would have enjoyed this scene. Biting back the feeling of nostalgia? regret? she quickly asked, “So you and Cordelia, huh?”

Angel gaped a bit, before finally smiling. Then laughing.

“We’ve moved on, haven’t we?” he said, and she could see the wonder in his eyes.

“You moved on to Cordelia!” she had to point out, beginning to laugh.

“You moved on to *Spike*?!” he managed.

“Hey! You’re dating a demon!” she argued, clutching the chair to steady herself.

Spike!” he repeated.

“Not really,” she said, calming down.

“Just be careful,” he said, serious again.

“You too – I mean, major credit card bills follow that girl around.”

“She’s changed,” he said gently.

“I know,” she replied. “So have I.”

For a moment, they co-existed in perfect understanding. Buffy felt herself consciously relaxing. All was – not entirely bad with the world.

“You know there’s something coming, right?” he interrupted her thoughts, looking serious.

“Is it bringing pizza?” she enquired. “I know,” she assured him, upon not getting a laugh. “Dreams….and stuff. I don’t know what it is.” She looked at him questioningly.

“Cordelia’s been getting vibes. Strange stuff, nothing specific. But even I can feel it.”

Buffy sighed. Apocalyptic fun that could be felt all the way from Sunnydale to LA was going to be a whole new rollercoaster of hideous fun-lessness.

“I just wanted to say – call if you need us,” he said sincerely. “Don’t die for the lack of a phone call.”

She nodded, touched. “Dying is *not* on the gameplan this year. Getting a job is. And see – cell phone?” She held it up for inspection. “So I can call and say things like, ‘Hey, the world’s about to be sucked into hell!’”

“You can just call and say ‘hi!’ too,” he reminded her.

“That’s technically true,” she admitted.

“Hey, guys!” called Cordelia. She looked enquiringly into the room, as though waiting for an invitation. Buffy felt guilty. She lives here.

“Did you talk to him?” she asked, a little scared of the answer.

“Well, ‘talk’ is probably overstating it. I don’t think he’s quite in the mood to talk to some random stranger yet.”

“But you know what’s wrong with him.” Buffy resented the worry she could hear in her own voice. Worry over Spike.

“You really don’t know,” Cordelia realised.

“What?”

“Why he’s so….why he’s acting this way.”

“He says spell. I think drugs,” said Buffy, hoping her anxiety didn’t show.

“She really doesn’t know,” said Cordelia, smiling at Angel.

“Know what?” he asked.

She smacked him around the head. “How *stupid* are men?” she despaired. “How can you not have seen it?”

“I’m not a seer!” Angel excused himself, rubbing his head. “And ow! And….what?”

“He’s your vampire – relative – thing!” Cordy continued to expound. “How can you not pick up on it?”

“On wha-aa - oh. Oh. Oh my god.” Angel sat down. “He has a *soul*? How did he get it? *Why* did he get it? Why did he come here? Oh my god.” He stood up again. He sat back down.

“Spike has a…” Buffy laughed. “Spike doesn’t have soul! Spike has a soul?!”

“You two are sooo stupid,” Cordelia informed them.

“Spike has a soul,” whispered Buffy, unexpectedly finding herself sitting down.

“He came here to get beaten up by you.” Cordelia poked Angel in the stomach, perhaps more vigorously than strictly necessary.

“Why?”

“Masochistic soul-sire thing,” said Cordelia, concisely.

“I’m going to talk to him.”

“Talk, not beat,” Cordelia reminded him, smiling a little.

He strode out, purposefully, muttering, “Talk….”

The two girls looked at one another awkwardly.

“Look, I know we were never bestest buddies,” began Cordelia.

“Angel trusts you,” Buffy interrupted. “That’s enough.” She closed her eyes. “What did you see?” she asked, hoping the girl understood.

“Pain. Just pain.”

Buffy felt her eyes fill with tears. “He did it on purpose – because of……?”

“You? Oh yeah. Buffy, I saw a whole lot of stuff. Some of it, I don’t understand. Some of it I guess you wouldn’t want me to know.”

“Last year.” Buffy bowed her head. It was amazing how *shamed* she felt, knowing that another person had seen all that, seen her behaviour, even through space and time. “You saw everything?”

“Okay, you have to understand, this whole ‘seer’ thing is weird. I get emotions and images and a big old jumble sometimes. And then some stuff stands out. Like, the pain. Like you – you *dancing*?”

“Oh god.”

“And Spike saving you. And your pain. Buffy, I don’t know what the hell went on, but….”

“Oh god,” whimpered Buffy.

“I could feel what he felt. And why he…..”

“Because of….”

“Yep.”

They looked at each other. “I think we probably sound crazier than Spike,” said Buffy, raising a watery smile. “Is he going to get over the crazy?”

“I don’t know. I know it’s probably up to you.”

Buffy stiffened.

“The soul is at war with the demon and Spike’s caught in the crossfire somewhere. Angel got through it.”

“Eventually.”

“He ever tell you how?”

“Not exactly.” Buffy frowned.

Cordelia smiled knowingly, if a little sadly. “It’s probably up to you.”

So not in my mission statement,” grumped Buffy. “I *kill* vampires. I have *never* stood in Sunnydale cemeteries and preached at them, trying to make them see the light. Never tried to convert them. Never said ‘Oh, go on, do get a soul. I promise I’ll nurse you back to good mental health afterwards.’”

She stopped as the door opened.

“Can we come in?” asked Dawn’s head. “Because we’re bored, and you know, we’re so irresponsible we might just start playing with the lethal weapons out here. Hey – what’s wrong?”

“Spike’s got a soul,” said Buffy in a monotone.

“What, on his shoe?” was the sarcastic reply. “Wait, Buffy, are you serious?”

 Buffy nodded silently.

“No way!” Dawn thought for a moment. “Is that why he’s all…..” She rotated her hand beside her head. She made a face. “Is he going to be like Angel?”

Buffy snorted. Cordelia frowned. “Hey!” she protested.

“What? Oh, no way!” Dawn stamped a foot as she made the connection, looking from Buffy to Cordelia. “Is there no hope?” she wailed dramatically. “Are we *all* doomed to date demons?”

“Dawn, get over it,” said Buffy dryly. “I think you’re safe. You’ll be in the dungeon, after all.”

“Spike’s got a soul,” Dawn informed her sister. It was a brave attempt at a subject-change.

“What are you *talking* about?” asked Xander.

“Oh, Spike’s got a soul,” said Dawn airily. It was a catchphrase worth repeating.

“It really is contagious, isn’t it?” he said wonderingly, looking about the room for some support. “Because, Spike couldn’t…..” He stopped. “I think I’m very, very insane,” he announced to the world at large.

“Why do all the vampires you know have souls?” Kit asked Xander.

“We’re a very bad influence,” Xander replied, looking slightly pale.

“I’m starting to see that,” agreed Kit, nodding.

*****

Angel finally returned to the increasingly tetchy group, a sullen Spike trailing behind. Buffy wondered if it was just her imagination, or did he seem more cranky and less suicidal than previously.

“We talked,” was Angel’s analysis.

“Like, in sentences?” asked Xander. Angel ignored him. Buffy checked Spike over for bruises. He accepted her ministrations with no more than a glare.

“And?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Angel. “It took me one hundred years.”

“Plus some,” muttered Cordelia.

“He’ll be fine,” said Buffy with a certainty she didn’t feel. Although the fact that he was looking daggers at her reassured her somewhat. Pissed-off Spike was reassuringly normal.

“Well I’m just about ready to go to sleep and then wake up and pretend none of this happened,” announced Xander.

Buffy felt even more reassured by Spike’s look of distain.

“I’m kinda ready to curl up on the hard stone floor and fall asleep,” she admitted.

“Or alternatively, we could find everyone beds,” Angel offered. “This is a hotel with a hundred and twenty rooms.”

“Yay for room-y goodness,” Buffy cheered quietly.

“Yep, we could get about three hours sleep before we begin the fun road-trip home,” Xander reminded her.

“Do we have to go by car?” asked Dawn. “All of us? It’s going to be squishy.” She noted her sister’s expression and decided to desist. Tomorrow. She could complain tomorrow.

“Bed,” said Buffy decisively. Everything else, and there was a lot, could be worried about tomorrow.

They were interrupted by a *poof* of smoke. Buffy groaned. Angel grabbed a sword.

“It’s Halfrek,” she grumbled, recognising the cause of the disturbance. “That means you don’t attack her with a sword,” she clarified, a tinge of disappointment evident.

Halfrek, in full demonic-visage, glanced over the assorted masses haughtily.

Angel reluctantly dropped his weapon. “Buffy, great as it is to see you again, next time you’re planning a big fancy-dress reunion in my house, you might wanna call ahead first.”

“Got it.” Buffy looked at him ruefully, before turning on Halfrek.

“Why are *you* here?” she demanded. “Pop concert? Got a soul?”

“I was called,” said Halfrek pompously. “I was called by a young girl in fear of her life.”

Slowly, all eyes turned to Dawn, who cringed.

“I may have said ‘Buffy’s going to kill me’ a couple of times,” she admitted. “But for god’s sake, Hallie! We’ve done this already!”

“No vengeance required?” Halfrek seemed disappointed. “Anyone?” she offered, looking around the group.

“I think we’re all vengeanced-out,” said Buffy tiredly. “Can I wish we were all magickally back in Sunnydale without the hideous drive?”

“No,” said Halfrek firmly, her lip curling at the idea.

“Oh, go on,” urged Dawn. “I really, really wish it?” she pleaded.

Halfrek sighed. “Fine,” she conceded. “I’ll put you all back where you belong.”

*****

“Okay,” said Spike guardedly. “Why are we here?”

“It’s your crypt,” said Buffy slowly, looking around.

“Why am *I* here?” said Spike, looking uncomfortable.

“Where you’re supposed to be,” said Buffy with a smile, remembering. “Where you belong. The bitch got one thing right. There’s no point in hiding on the Hellmouth when you’ve got a perfectly….ew, okay, maybe you need to clean it a bit,  but…..this is where you belong.”

She looked at the bundle of soggy cloth her hand had brushed against. “As do….all the left socks in the world,” she said puzzled, gingerly picking through the mess. “Halfrek’s insane. I guess that explains the truth about Vengeance demons. They’re the ones that make you buy the new socks. They work for sock companies!”

As she babbled, Spike walked slowly around his former home, touching things with a sense of unfamiliarity. He finally stopped. And smiled at her.

“So why are *you* here?

“Because she hates me?” Buffy offered wryly. “I think I’m supposed to belong here too.”

“You don’t,” he said.

“I really do.” She touched his face. “Although, I have to say you’ve let the place go,” she added.

“You could help with the crypt-cleaning,” he offered.

“What, now I’m an unpaid slave?” she mock-griped.

“What do you want to be?” he asked simply.

“Whatever you need.”

They began to clean the crypt.

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