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Three Lions
By Lesley

PAIRING: Spike/Giles/Wesley angst/friendship.
RATING: PG13. I'm English - so is the spelling.
SPOILERS: to end of BTVS S6 and ATS S3
DISTRIBUTION: Just ask. I'll say yes. I just want to know where's it's living. The series, and my other fic, is archived at http://www.myarseisnotpansy.co.uk/lesley/ on the wonderful Magpie's superb London Calling site.
FEEDBACK: Gratefully received, much appreciated, and given a loving home.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine the characters belong to Joss. Chapter titles belong to numerous people more talented than me.
DEDICATION: To everyone who wanted more, thanks for all the kind words, but especially for Magpie, Lori and IsabelleC.
ANGST WARNING - I mean it.

The World Cup is a feature for the first few chapters, but this story has been greatly enjoyed by non-lovers of the beautiful game. Lack of political correctness - which reflects England football supporting attitudes, and the age of some of the characters.

CHARACTER DEATH WARNING.



Part 1. It's Coming Home

Willow drifted down the stairs of the small Chelsea Mews house, which currently was home to a detached watcher and his charges - a re-souled vampire, and a witch recovering from attempted World-endage.

Giles shouted from the kitchen. "Willow? Have you taken your Prozac? It's time. And Spike your Ritalin?"

Ensconced deep in the old sofa, came the sound of, "Yes Dad," from a vampire almost unrecognisable but for the bleached tips to his hair.

Willow slumped into the armchair, by the covered window. Her neck was bound with a choker, which stopped her from accessing her magic, or removing it. She idly considered opening the curtains, and frying the vampire sitting opposite them, but decided it would be too much like hard work.

Spike was curled up over a notepad, and was chewing on his pen in thought. Unfortunately since he happened to be in game face chewing was the apposite phrase, and yet another of Rupert's pens met a tragic fate.

Giles came out of the kitchen, with a couple of cold beers and a de-caff coke for Willow. He gave her the coke. There had been an unfortunate incident, shortly after she arrived in London, and drank 3 cans of full-caff, full sugar coke. It hadn't been pretty. His Aunt's collection of Staffordshire dogs was no more. Not that it had been much of a loss. He'd always hated them, which of course was why the bitch left them to him in the will. He just hoped she wouldn't come back to haunt him, after their tragic demise. Well, if she did, there were some great exorcism spells around.

He turned to Spike, and wondered for a minute why the vampire was in game face. He'd mostly been crying, manic, or writing his autobiography - 'Things I have to Feel Guilty About' since arriving two weeks ago. Considering the tears blotting many of the pages the writing was surprisingly legible, though the language tended towards the overblown.

Giles looked at the telly. He saw why Spike was so riled. The football pundits were showing Maradona's 1986 'hand of god' cheat against England, and following it up with Beckham's sending off in the 98 World Cup. Spike growled at that insult. Giles could identify with that. He threw Spike the twin to the beer he was holding.

Spike came back to himself, caught the beer, put down the paper and the mangled pen and said, "Thanks".  Then continued with, "Sure you don't want to go watch the match down the local? Me and Red here promise not to play with matches, or top ourselves for the next two hours."

Willow snorted. Giles looked sadly at her. Despite everything he, the coven, and his cousin the psychiatrist, tried she remained deep in denial, and wallowing in her depression, and misplaced aggression.

Despite all his histrionics the newer possessor of a soul among the pair was doing by far the best. He'd even taken an interest in this World Cup, though the Sweden match had admittedly been a bit of a setback. Giles had wondered if he should put Spike on Prozac as well as Willow following that one. Bugger it, he'd been tempted to hit the pills himself after the second half. But at least when talking about the footy Spike appeared, well, Spike like. So, while going down the pub was tempting after being cooped up for weeks with this pair of miscreants, he decided to stay and get the vampire talking.

"I'm sure, Spike, beer present and correct, telly sorted, got company, who needs more. How are you doing with the bio?"

"Up to 1923 Giles. God so much…"

Giles wanted to watch the match not have to have to keep Spike away from the wooden spoons again, and Willow was too wrapped up in herself to bother. So footy. "We're gonna get hammered aren't we?"

"Yeah, cheating tossers. Bleeding hand of god, fat git more like. Was there you know? Couldn't be in the stadium…too bleeding sunny. Found a nice bar though with some big tellys, and some fellow Brits. Dru wouldn't come, told me the blue and white pixies wanted to hurt us. Should have listened, the pixies usually told her the scores."

Giles looked at Spike and said, "I worry about you."

Spike snorted with laughter. "'S not catching, over 100 years still just about sane. Poor princess… Should have listened though. Got some good bets from the pixies over the years. Look it's starting!"

"Foul! Ref!

"Book 'im! Send the git off!"

"OOOOOOhhhhhhhhhh. Bugger! Hit the post."

"Foul!!!!!"

Snores came from Willow.

Oooooooooohhhhhhhhh,noooooooooo."

"Go on my son!!!!!! He shoots, he misses."

"Noooooooooooo."

"Go on Michael!!!!!! Foul! Penalty!!!!!"

"Come on, come on my son, You can do it!"

"YYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS"

"BECKSSSSSSSSSSS"

Whistle blows. Two Englishmen look at each other, from where they are standing arms in the air shouting 1 nil, and say at the same time, "We're doomed, 2 - 1 second half," and, "Yeah". So they retrieved more beer from the fridge and sat down.

Giles, wanting to keep Spike in an up phase, asked, "So what about 98? That would have been when you actually left us in peace, right?"

"Yeah! Watched it in Brazil. Great though. The Brazilians hate the Argies almost as much as we do. Watched it in a demon bar in Rio. Went out Argy hunting with some great Brazilian vamps afterwards. They'd been buying me drinks to make me feel better all night. Nice guys! Couldn't find any though. The locals had already munched their way through any Argies they could find. Nice of them to try though! Had worked beautifully as a coping thing in 86." Spike stopped, his face fell and he put his head in his hands. "God, listen to me, enjoyed it then, having problems feeling guilty now. Maybe I got a faulty deal? Oh…hell! Still Evil!"

"No Spike just English!" Giles said - who did after all want to watch the second half.

"You sure?"

"Yes, here, drink beer, watch match, it's starting again."

"Foul!!!!!!"

"Book Him!!!!!!"

"Teddy!!!!!!!"

"Owwwwwwww, nooooooooo, phew."

"They're gonna score, they're gonna score, phew."

"Scholesy!!!!!!!!!!Told you Man U were the biz!"

"Arggggggggggggghhhhh, phew."

"Wayne who?"

"Nooooooooooo."

"Seaman! Ok I confess the pony-tail rocks!"

"No, can't watch, can't watch, yessssssss."

"God no, please no!!!!"

"Nicky Butt, Nicky Butt, Nicky Butt. Man U rule!"

"Veron doesn't!"

"He's a pillock, and an Argy pillock at that!"

"Blow the whistle! Blow the Whistle!"

"No, no, no Millsyyyyyyy!!!!!!!"

As the final whistle blew Spike and Giles were up, arms round each other, jumping up and down singing, "It's Coming Home, it's coming home, football's coming home" and to the telly a rousing chorus of, "You're not singing anymore, you're not singing any more!"

Spike said, "You know I feel better now!"

Willow continued to sleep through it.



Part 2. Three Lions.

Look at them. Sitting there together on the sofa in matching England football shirts. The red ones, as they both claim they're luckier than the white. Course that means hours of debate on English football history, the relative merits of Bobby Moore versus Rio Ferdinand, then onto Pele versus Beckham. Then Man U versus Chelsea and whose foreign players are more 'crap'. If we're really lucky there's a decision by the referee they disagree on, and then we get hours on the off-side rule. Is it a y chromosome thing? Or an English thing, coz the women here seem almost as bad. Giles offered to get me an England shirt. I said no. We went to three shops to find a USA one. I didn't know we were in it. I don't care. I'm not gonna wear it.

Eyes fixed on the clock, nails getting with the chewy. Looking at them what would an outsider see? Father and son? Older and younger brother? Two mates, just sitting watching the 'footy' together? Or the watcher that's stolen my power and a creature that's killed his way round the globe? Or if you include me, how does that change the picture? Looking at the three of us would anyone see three killers? Or would they see sweet, innocent, crayon breaking Willow, the benevolent father figure, and a loveable bad boy with a heart of gold - guv. See, being here, I'm picking up the "lingo".

I'd think about the philosophical aspects, if I weren't so tired.

I'm tired all the time. The Prozac helps me function during the day and Giles gives me something else at night so I sleep. I'm not trusted to have custody of those pills. It doesn't help. I see her in dreams. But I can't be with her even there. All I see is her blood spraying me. I hear the rip as I did that to Warren. I taste Rack as I withered him. The screams fill my head.

I know Giles is sad and disappointed I'm not improving. We actually get let out of this pretty little jail to see the psychiatrist in Harley St. He's Giles cousin, so knows all about demons and witches, and treats burnt out watchers so we aren't anything that special. Except his depression and anxiety scores are going down and mine aren't. That's just wrong. I always come top in tests. It's not fair. He gets trusted with the pencils now. I'm not even allowed to fill in the forms with different coloured pens. How am I supposed to come top when I'm not allowed the right tools?

Look at them. They set the alarm clock for 6 in the morning so they could have, "A right proper build up to the Nigeria match, pet." Giles and Spike in the kitchen cooking a, "Full English", "try some Willow"- just how wrong is that? I can feel my arteries harden looking at it. I get offered a bacon butty instead. What's a butty? Why can't they call it a sandwich like everyone else? And hello! Still Jewish! Bacon bad - if tasty. Trying to end the world doesn't change that! I get offered fried eggs instead. They remind me of Tara and me talking in the dorm after Joyce died, and they tasted like ashes. Everything does.

Seeing what I have of London is strange. Unlike in the movies I can't see Big Ben or the Tower of London, either here or on the way to the shrink. I haven't seen one bowler hat. There are red mail boxes and buses. But the buses mostly seem to be cursed as always late by the football shirt wearing people waiting for them. The only umbrellas seem to be giant golfy things, wielded as weapons by small women on the way to the supermarket, who could take eyes out faster than an expellimus oculli spell.

The supermarket was strange. Spike and me had to go with Giles - not allowed to be on our own. Though teachers pet here looks like he's on his way there. It's not fair. I'm teachers pet. Willow Rosenberg favourite pupil of teachers all my life. Brains girl; that's me. If I'm not, what am I?

But the supermarket wasn't what I expected at all. Oh yes, I expected Giles and Spike filling trolleys with gritty biscuits, mouldy cheese, Marmite and Branston Pickle. What's a branston? Science nerd here - and I never heard of a branston. I always thought English people all looked like Giles or Wesley. I didn't expect to hear so many languages or see so many black, brown and mixed people. Suppose all the forced watching of England's footballing triumphs and tragedies they've inflicted on me should have made me realise. But trying to block out all this football stuff.

It's not really possible. They get up to watch the Saudi Arabia matches. Why?

I got to watch soap operas one evening, rather than the highlights of matches we'd already seen. English soap operas are very different. Not that I understood much of what was said on Eastenders or Brookside. Not that I watch soap operas normally. Shelia Rosenberg's daughter wouldn't dream of something like that - unless as part of an academic study. Not this girl. The only time I ever saw any was when Spike came over that summer to babysit Miss Whiner. But the boys switched over to MTV's top 20 football anthems anyway. If I have to hear 'Three Lions' again I'm gonna kill somebody. I enjoyed killing after all. Some pleasure would be better than none. But I can't feel any pleasure at the moment. So why bother.

I do them wrong. We do get some Fast Show re-runs some nights. I can't laugh though. Laughter died with my shining girl. They laugh. This shouldn't be allowed.

The only positive side of being force fed football is some gorgeous players take their shirts off. Some have great abs. Some need hair cuts. Some are just yummy. But hey! Gay Now! So not enjoying that. Not enjoying anything.

If Spike takes his shirt off, at the end of this match. and runs round the house, like the players do, I'm gonna kill him. Even if he has nice abs. He took my best friend. Best friend huh! But she's mine. I raised her. He didn't! It was my power. And he slept with my real best friends' demon. Not that I ever liked her. Xander's mine. But he slept with her and must suffer. Why didn't he want to sleep with me? What's wrong with me? What's the point?

Full time.

Spike and Giles are going "Yesssssssssss, we're through!!!!!!!" and both have their fists in the air. The picture changes to the Argentina match and both are cheering on Sweden with shouts of, "Sven, Sven, Sven, Sven". There's loud arggghhhhssssss, phews, and at the end of the match both are jumping up and down in glee at Argentina going out, and England and Sweden going through.

It's odd how their allegiances go though. Yesterday we got a great treat to mark Spike's (of course) great progress in dealing with soul insertion related depression. We got to go to the pub - to watch the Ireland match. Yep, yesterday the boys were supporting Ireland. Apparently the British Isles has 5 international teams. And they wonder why I don't understand stuff. But yesterday we got to support Ireland. Most of the Irish team sounded about as Irish as Angel does. It's strange.

But it meant I got to see an English pub. We had to sit at the bar so with the press of people I wouldn't be able escape daddy. The weather was as bad as in the movies, so a big umbrella meant Spike could come with. But being at the bar was odd. We had to pass back pints to people in the crowd that couldn't reach the bar. One man I passed one to said he was from Albania and he only had half a thumb. But he was supporting England and Ireland. I was actually allowed half a shandy to mark the occasion. Didn't work.

But England has gone through to the next round. Spike and Giles are chanting, "Ingerlund, Ingerlund, In-ger-lund". Over, and over, and over again. I always thought this country's name was England. Thought I was good at maps and stuff. Must have been wrong. Great! Now they've moved back to, "Three lions on my shirt" again.

Saturday is gonna be hell - but my life is. So what's new?



Part 3. Hasn't Stopped Me Dreaming

Don't remember much on how I got back to London, let alone how I arrived on Giles doorstep. Once the initial agony was past it's all fuzzy. I know I should remember. Some things did stick. I remember the sheer weight of humanity on the ferry across Lake Victoria. Heat outside, even at night, and the air con of the terminal at the airport in Nairobi. The night flight and arriving back at Heathrow at dawn. I remember that. Catching the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to Chelsea. That's familiar.

Wondering how I knew where Giles was? Piece of piss really. Don't leave your post hanging around your flat with a vampire room-mate. Once a vamp, even a soul positive one, has an invite it don't matter what Country it's for. One invite covers it all. Inherit a nice little mews house in Chelsea, no worries, I'm in, Giles present or not.

I'm glad he was.

You try over a hundred years of my life. Bloke pisses you off. How dead do you want said git? Bored? Bit of slaughter livens things well up. Some tosser insults you? Wear his entrails for ear-muffs. It's fun. It's easy. No soul? Again…piece of piss. Get chipped, not easy but brain? Yep, it works. Wankers say killing innocents bad. If I wanna fit in, yep it's bad, kill the bad guy. If lucky get shagged, or accepted by the waste of space, if un-lucky well what have do you got to lose? You try turning your life around from that and I'd like to see how well you do. 'Specially if instead of encouragement you get kicked in the teeth on a regular basis.

Then you screw up big time, and decide the only way to sort it out is to get all soul-having. Tell me you'd be all level headed and unchanged. You get over a century of the things you''ve done that are unforgivable suddenly drop into your thoughts. Yeah, sure you'd be fine - like buggery you would.

Wasn't sure where to go that morning. Had half a mind to head to Kensal Green, and greet the sunrise, from the grave I fought my way out of 120 odd years ago. Least I'd have been among family.

I didn't, as is bleeding obvious. Did what I did couple of years back. Knocked on the door. Shade wasn't a problem. Weather's as crap as usual. Same result too. Got let in. Don’t know why Giles keeps giving me a chance - I wouldn't. After what happened I was pretty sure there would be a stake with my name on it on the other side of that door. There wasn't.

He gave me a chance.

I owe him everything for that.

He'd already got Red staying. Missed all what went down after I left. Bugger. Shouldn't. But no alternative really. Can’t see me being allowed to help. Always liked Red. Tried to help since we all ended up roomies. She don't want my help. Keeps checking out anything of the wooden persuasion in the near vicinity. She don't want Giles help either. She thinks I don't notice her looking at the household bleach when we're cooking up a curry. Might be fighting my way back to me. Doesn't mean to say I'm blind.

All this psychiatrist stuff is weird. The Victorian in me thinks all this namby pamby stuff is rot. Supposed to grit your teeth and be a man. Ok, being a man might be tricky with a demon inside. But, hey, never been one for the easy way out. Giles was dragging (almost literally some days) Red out to the shrink and told me it'd be easier on her if she had company - AKA me. So, I went. Bloke looks much like Giles. Same kindness too. Didn't realise 'til later it'd be the way forward. Took the pills like a good boy. Less fun than those I've had, second hand or direct, over the years. Of course, initially I wasn't exactly court jester material. Got some very high scores on the ol' depression and anxiety scores. Felt the need to know what exactly I had to feel bad about, hence my little autobiography. What with saving the world, and the multiverse, over the last couple of years I needed the clarity.

Got an unexpected saviour. The World Cup. Thought we were doomed since the original draw. Group of Death and all that. Being in the States for the last couple of years made it more distant, you know? But being back home, it's revitalising you know? The whole country knows and understands why everyone in their right mind hates Argentina. I'm not in the only country on the planet (except maybe Canada) not to understand this is the most important event there is.

When Giles got me a shirt I thought I'd like to die (again) right now. Watching the Argentina match with Giles, and him treating me like any other English mate. Can't put into words how much that meant. Still got a terrible taste in adjectives, you wouldn't want me too.

It helped; I can see that in the charts from the shrink. Don't need the pills so much now. Wish it'd work for Red. Giles tries. I try. Tried leaving her be - Giles lost his Aunty's antiques collection. Bought her some music - she won't listen. When we went to Waterstones for the self help books we got novels too - she wouldn't buy either. She glares at the screen when the football's on. She glares at me and Giles when it isn't. We both try and introduce her to things we love about home. God, it's good to be home. It's the little things; beer served at the right temperature at the local; a decent curry delivered to the house. Tried the local Mexican stuff in SunndyD - far too weak, course any sensible Mexican cooks do a runner from the hellmouth asap.

We all went to the local pub today. England vs Denmark. Willow wasn't keen, but how do you leave someone who tried to destroy the planet at home alone? You can't. We both tried to make her feel included. It didn't work.

We got there an hour before kick-off. Like the Ireland match. Even though it was a Saturday it wasn't as crowded. Suppose, unlike Argentina, we as a country don't have anything in the last millennium against Denmark. Nice though to have a fairly stress free match.

Didn't start that way of course.

You had Giles, me, and the Witch sitting on bar stools, talking to an English and an El Salvadorean hairdresser. All four of us were convinced we were doomed, due to the horrors of both wearing the white shirts of bad luck and playing Emile Heskey up-front. Red was doing her best to sulk and ignore the atmosphere. Weather was home-like enough to let me go to the pub, so my scores were still going up.

Started rough.

"No, don't give 'em the bloody ball! Done too much of that against Sweden and the Argies!"

"What do you expect not having Gerrard in midfield!" From the Watcher.

"Go on my son!"

"Come on Ref! Across the Line!!!!!!"

Yessssssssssss. Ferninand!!!!!!!!!!!! Bobby Moore you've been supplanted!"

"1-0!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" From both us and our new mates.

"Ooooh nice pass Scholsey!!!!!"

"Oooh, Heskey! You donkey!!!!!!!!"

"Why are they playing the donkey? Teddddddddyyyyyyy"

"Argggggggh, phew! Possession! Keep the ball! They can't score if they haven't got the bloody ball!"

"Whatta pass!!!!!!! Go on, go on, go on, yessssssss!!!!!!!! Michael Owen!!!!!!"

"Another 2 pints of Bass and a half a shandy please mate"

"Heskey, you pillock!! Take 'im off Sven!!!!"

"Ooh nice pass! Go on. Yes! Don’t screw it up now! Yes! Heskey shoots, he scores! Arise Sir Emile!"

"Lady Emily more like!"

Half time.

More beer. Kids running around the pub. Red tries to do a runner. Giles has me stand by the exit, no chance. If looks could dust - if it wasn't for that choker it could.

Second half.

"Fowlers on!"

About time too!"

"Who's off?"

"Mills? No. Sinclair, No the left'll be all screwed now! No there he is. Who's off?

"Bugger! Scholesy's coming off. Mind you we're through, gotta save something for Brazil."

"Where's Owen? He's off. We're doomed. Remember 3-0 turning to 3-3 earlier this week, and if we draw then it's penalties!!!!!! Southgate, Pierce! Doomed!""

"Argggggggghhhhh, well over the bar!"

"Seaman, Seaman, Seaman!"

"Is Fowler on the pitch?"

"Becksssssssssss. Arggggggghhh."

He's looking much fitter though."

"Pretty fit" from the Witch.

Nice to see her taking at least some interest.

Whistle blows. Yessssssssssss. We're though!!!!!!!! Brazil next. We're doomed.



Part 4. Don't Cry For Me

I've got three of them now. It's only a three-bedroom house, and I'm not sharing a bed with Spike. In fact I'd like to know what I did in my last life to deserve this. I bloody well hope I enjoyed it, 'cos I'm paying back karma faster than Michael Owen running for a ball in the Argentine penalty area.

He turned up the morning of the Ireland match.

We were getting ready for another lunch down the pub. Open green shirts over the top of the England kit. Well since most of the players are about as Irish as Spike and me you just have to do it. Besides, support for the Anglo-Irish peace process and all that. Needs all the help it can get, and the Irish blokes in the pub on Saturday were supporting us, so it's only fair really.

I say we were getting ready - Spike and me were; Willow was having one of her 'I'm not getting out of bed' mornings. I let her sleep through the early Sweden match, even if she's not safe to leave alone in the house - for herself, or anyone else. I'm not blind. I might need glasses, but you try all that reading and see if you still have 20/20 vision. I've seen her looking at potential weapons.

I thought giving her some space might help - it didn't. Nothing helps. Nothing I do. Nothing my cousin does. Nothing even Spike tries. He's surprised me. But then he always has…for good or bad. Suppose the good times are why I let him in…again.

The state he was in when he arrived on the doorstep I'm surprised he's not gone sunbathing. Not that we've had huge amounts of sun recently, but it's out there. The fact that he tried to help Willow, even when he was clearly in anguish himself, only continued to surprise and please me. I shouldn't be surprised though. Not after seeing him with Dawn last summer, trying to help her cope despite the pain and grief I never expected, and was trained not to believe possible, in a soulless thing.

I honestly thought Willow could do this. The girl I met in the old Library, so long ago it seems now, would. But then she wouldn't have enjoyed torturing me, or that bastard Warren. She loved small furry animals and feared frogs. She didn't take pleasure in killing. She certainly wouldn't have tried to destroy the planet. And for all Xander and Buffy's attempt to rationalise that it wasn't her fault, it was. I know they need to think that, to keep their image of Willow as she was. I've been in her shoes. I…well Ethan and me raised demons for fun. We're responsible for the death of a good mate. We were out of our heads when we did it, but we're no less guilty - so's she.

I thought I could explain this; that she'd know somebody in the World understood, and we could go on from there. I couldn't leave her in Sunndydale. She'd only backslide, and find some way of removing the choker binding her powers. Xander, much as I'm fond of the lad, is certainly thick enough to do help her do it.

Besides the best source of help for her is here. It worked for me a while back. It's working for Spike, combined with his natural Tigger tendencies. God only knows, if I'd known the pills worked on Spike I'd have had him medicated years ago. Soul or no soul he's a dammed sight easier to live with when he's on a more equitable footing.

If she wanted to, and actually tried, I know it'd work for her. My cousin's good, but he was only allowed not to be a watcher when it became clear that a shrink could be useful to the Council. With all the mental and physical stress we can go through most of our doctors, of both sorts, are from watcher bloodlines. Their kids are still likely to get forced into the family business though. There's not much choice in life for some of us. And Buffy always accused me of not understanding being 'chosen' and having an inescapable destiny. Why do you think I never got married or had kids? Think I'd want to put them through this?

Anyway, Spike and me were ready for a Guinness based lunch. Well you have to get in the mood, when watching boys in green with mostly English accents. It's compulsory really, and lunchtime is a bit early for Bushmills. Willow had finally got out of her dressing gown and put on a black on black wardrobe which is always a worrying sign. I checked the fireplace for plants. I know she shouldn't be able to do spells with the binding choker on, but I'm not one of the older surviving field watchers for nothing: continued head injury motif notwithstanding.

Then the doorbell rang.

I haven't been able to have any visitors since Willow and I got here. Then when Spike descended on me that completely ruled it out. You try explaining why all the curtains are drawn on a summer day; and why the crying and wailing heap on the sofa has a mug full of untouched clotted blood on the coffee table.

I had an invitation from some old friends to watch the Jubilee fireworks from the roof of a nearby mansion block and had to say no. Willow might have jumped, or pushed me, or Spike, over the edge at an unattended moment. Even worse she's got a taste for blood now; she might have taken an innocent just to break the tedium.

I've been reading the books that form Spike and Willow's homework, plus some others I got given so I can help them, and me. Though he's the only one doing his homework. It's funny actually. Crouched over forms on his moods. Doing exercises on his thought processes with fangs and ridges when it upsets him. I keep losing pens when that happens. But if it works it's worth it.

I know what she's capable of now, the books help understand it, but we still have to deal with it. If she won't help herself the Council might involve itself. I've kept them away thus far, but I know them. There are still the wetworks boys out there. Spike can't help with that. There's just me, and I know what I should do to an apocalyptic menace. I really don't want to do it. I know I might have to. I hate my life.

Spike still can't hurt humans, which is a relief. The state he was in for a while he could have hurt me, or others, without meaning to at all. The alternating hysterical laughter and heartbreaking sobbing definitely made the old padded cell and straightjacket approach appealing. With that, and Willows silent crying and sullen silence, the last couple of weeks have not exactly been the most fun I've ever had.

But with the World Cup Spike turned the corner. It took him out of his closed loop of guilt, memory and hysterical grief. The mention of playing Brazil next was a bit of setback though. He kept laughing about hunting Argies, and crying about the fun he and Dru had at Carnevale in Rio. Slaughtering the innocent in the Sambodromo in the lulls between the different samba schools dancing. Munching revellers in very skimpy underwear at the Red and Black Ball - where he hadn't even had to change his clothes to fit it. The Gay Ball where they were handed hangover pills, condoms and fans when they'd gone in, and Dru had slaughtered the transvestites hogging the Ladies mirror she couldn't even see herself in. That led to much writing again in his guilt list and howls, alternating with shouts of, "Bring on Brasil!!!!!"

So getting him in a state fit for the Ireland match after an evening of that was quite an achievement. Getting Willow, even grudgingly, willing to come out was a greater one.

Then I opened the door to someone I never expected to ever to darken my doorstep.

"Wesley?"

He stood there with a slightly battered sports bag, and with a raspy voice said, "Mr Giles. I'm sorry to intrude. There's nowhere else for me to go. If I stay in LA, if I stay in hotels…Can I come in?"

I didn't say the words. He works with that bastard Angelus, and while it was still daylight it was pretty cloudy, and he might have been turned. But I left the door open and he followed me in.

He put his bag down and I looked at him. It was a shock. We'd spoken occasionally since he left Sunnydale, so I knew he'd been through some rough times, what with being shot and blown up, but he seemed to have aged 10 years since I saw him last. His voice was raspy, he hadn't shaved recently, and his eyes looked like he'd seen too much. I know that look; I see it in the mirror every morning. Sometimes I see it in Spike's face. I wish I saw it in Willow's. I'd know she'd taken in what she'd done if I did.

Wesley rasped, "Thank you Mr Giles. I…"

It's not the library pissing contest now so, "Just Giles please Wesley. Mr Giles always makes me feel like my father."

At the mention of the 'father' word Wesley grimaced and said, "Thanks, certainly wouldn't want to do that. And it's Wes. My friends call me that. If I had any left that is" with a grim chuckle.

Great, another lost soul for the Rupert Giles Home for Distressed Sunnydale Residents.

I sat him down. We all sat down. Looks like we're watching Ireland vs Spain at home. Spike flicked on the telly. I went to the fridge, got some beers out, threw one to Spike, handed one to Wes, who looked like he needed it badly, and gave Willow a de-everything coke. I don't want to lose anymore antiques to Willow, or anyone.

Wes said thanks and continued, "Giles, thank you. I just need somewhere to rest. I…I have a stalker. If an American bitch calls please say I'm not here. Everywhere I've gone…she's there, or she's on the phone. I just need a break. Please?"

Colour me gobsmacked. The blueberry scone's changed.

No alternative really. I had to say yes. Spike can show his new roommate where things are after the match. Well I'm not sharing with either of them. If Spike kips on the sofa Willow'd be far too tempted by the curtains, and Wes is too tall for the sofa. I certainly can't ask Willow, and, unfortunately, I can see she'd say no if I did.

There must be a big story behind all of this. I mean I don't see Cordelia letting Wes get into this state, from all I've heard over recent years. Even if I wouldn't trust Angel about as far as Dawn could throw him. In the meantime he looks at the end of his rope. Therefore, in need of a match that should be good, but in which none of us is overly emotionally involved in. So, football and beer it is. Sorts out a lot, that does.

So Spike dug out an old Pogues album for atmosphere. Can't sing all the depressing Fields of Athon whatsit or Danny Boy at the beginning of a match. If they lose ok, but for the run up it just has to be 'Fairytale of New York', 'Irish Rover' and 'Streams of Whiskey'.

Hearty singing of the Irish anthem on the telly was followed by a big group hug by the Irish team. Ah well Becks has laid some real smackers on Owen and Ferdinand when they scored - must be missing Posh. Things started well. Most of the pundits picked Spain, which given their dismal track record this World Cup meant Ireland were as good as through. Ireland had some good early play but nothing to cause much excitement. Wes put his beer away before the first five minutes. So did Spike, but I've learned; the fridge is well stuffed with beer now and Spike skilled in the art of retrieving it. The new soul makes him willing to bring out a few cold ones to others too - so that's a plus.

We'd just got the re-fills when "Argggggggg", "Bugger", "Unlucky", and, "Whatever."

The bloody Spanish scored. Ireland didn’t give up though.

"Oh unlucky."

"What do mean? Miles over the bar!"

"Why do some of the players only have 1 name? It makes no sense," from Willow. It's great to see a flicker of life from her.

"Nice save from the Irish lad!"

"Oooohhhhhhhhh, no"

"They've got the posession. Just not getting anything."

"Put on big Quinny!"

"They're missing Keano."

"Robbie's the better one!"

"You impugn my beloved team's captain?" from the Man U supporter. Why did I let a Man U supporter in? I won't be allowed in down at the Chelsea ground.

"They're both tossers."

"Least they win things. What's Chelsea won recently?" I hate it when he's right.

"We can open the curtains you know, sonny!"

"Nah, you'd miss me."

"Like a hole in the head. More beer, we need more beer."

"Bugger they scored again."

"Offside! Clearly offside!"

"Phew, disallowed."

"Clearly in" from Wes.

"Luck of the Irish innit?"

"He shoots, he misses

Half time.

"Nice save from the Irish keeper Why do we have to suffer fumbling Fabien?"

"Awww, close."

"What are Spain doing? Happy with 1-0?"

Penalty! Silence! He shoots! He misses. "They're going out."

Spain score! Silence. Disallowed - loud phew.

"Aw close!" Subsitutions galore. "Phew"

"They're out, look 89 minutes gone."

"Penalty!"

"There's only one Robbie Keane!"

Extra time, and the horror memories of penalties.

"No, not penalties, don't make us go through penalties, please!!"

"Do Spain have any strikers on the pitch?"

"Go on, go on my son!!!! Noooooooooooo!!!!!!"

"Argghhhhhhh."

An agonising 30 minutes later and all three of us Englishmen are flashing back to penalty shoot out nightmares of years past. The British Isles inhabitants don't let down that long and horrible tradition - they lose.

Time to cheer ourselves up, after that sad finish, with a rousing chorus of 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina'. It worked. Even Wes cracked a smile and joined in the chorus with Spike and me. So bring on Brazil!



Part 5. I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I'm sleeping with a vampire. No, not in that way, and not that he isn't attractive, but neither of us is that way inclined. He's got the bottom one of the bunk beds we're currently sharing. Yes Wesley; there is a monster under the bed.

It's ironic really.

I left Los Angeles to escape a soulled vampire of the line of Aurelius. Now I'm sleeping with one. Of course that wasn't the only reason to leave. Being left to die alone by your "friends" will do that. Having the souled vampire you've forgiven time after time try to smother you is quite another. Having the woman you love tell you never to darken the doorstep of the place you're still the boss of is another to add to the growing list. Having her spurn you for the best friend you took a bullet for just puts the icing on the cake. Don't get me started on Cordelia. I never would have believed she'd abandon me.

Then there's Lilah.

Just thinking of her makes me feel sick. Yes I gave her a killer line as she left the apartment. What I wanted to do was to jump straight into the shower and clean every square inch of my skin and hair of her. I wanted to burn the sheets. Open the windows and spiritually cleanse the flat and me with incense. I didn't. I lay there, in sheets that stank of her stifling perfume, and sex.

Getting up would have required more energy than I could manage right then. I did manage it the next morning. I left my flat; it was contaminated. So am I. I shave each morning. It's hard to muster the energy but I do. I was well trained. But when I shave I have to look at myself in the mirror - I hate that. I see someone slipping away more and more each day. I can see I've aged. I feel 100.

It's not like I'm not used to feeling a failure. I've been a failure since I wasn't fast enough to talk. I was probably marked down as a failure the moment I was born. If it had been noticeable any earlier Father would have made sure I never became a problem. I know that. It's not like I'm not used to feeling unwanted or unloved either. The birthday card I got when I was 8 let me know that one. It was a nice card. Some writing in it would have been nicer. Even just a love Mum and Father. Never asked for hearts and flowers, never got it either. But a blank card was a bit much for a child in prep school. Eight-year-olds can be cruel.

It's strange. It seems Spike and I both went to the same school, and I don't think 120 odd years makes that much difference to the pleasures and horrors of an English public school education. It's quite funny actually. Maybe we should go to the Old Boys Dinner together. Both get some payback.

He was certainly the last person/being/thing - you'll have to excuse me but my worldview keeps swinging a bit at the moment - that I expected to see when I threw myself on the mercy of Rupert Giles. Willow was probably the second least likely. The last I heard from Cordelia was that she was doing well at University and was happy. So you'll understand that seeing her as she is, and more so hearing what she did, was a shock.

Then again Rupert Giles house was also the last place I ever expected to be. I tried other alternatives. I took a road trip. When I came back from ghastly fast food places to squalid motels she was in the bed. I locked myself in the flat. She phoned me every hour on the hour. I changed the number. It took her 20 minutes to be back. I pulled out the phone. She filled my mobile phone with calls and texts; I switched it off. Books arrived every hour. UPS must love Lilah; I don't. She's not imaginative though. Honestly, The Manchurian Candidate, Justine by De Sade on top of the Inferno, it's hardly subtle.

Eventually I thought I'd leave the US, get some air of home. Not that I ever really had a home. I was trained to know that from a very early age by Father. "Wesley a watcher may have to move anywhere at a moments notice. We have no home".

The first thing I noticed was all the flags of St George - they were everywhere, on car and van aerials, hanging outside pubs, from flats and homes. Yeah, you see them everywhere in the States - especially in sububia like Sunnydale. Even Wille's had one. I suspect some of the demons had flags outside their lairs. Even in LA after last September there were more flags. But you hardly ever see them at home. Once a year at the Last Night of the Proms and Royal Weddings and Funerals, but not otherwise. So it was a shock to see them everywhere.

I'd forgotten it was the World Cup. Doesn't that make me a traitor? Well I'm used to that particular little feeling. But it's not really surprising. I wasn't allowed to watch sport when I was growing up. That took valuable time away from Latin, Greek and demon languages. At my parents' house I wasn't allowed any television at all. At school only Blue Peter, nothing as evil or fun as Magpie, Match of the Day let alone Tiswas, which the children with the fun parents were allowed to watch. I got the usual watcher approved curriculum at one of the older colleges at Oxford - official course plus all the extras in the evening. So of course I got no time to follow a team or get into the international matches.

Being so busy in possibly the only country in the World - I'm unsure about Canada - not to follow football, or the World Cup, it's not surprising I didn't realise what the flags were up for. The first chap I asked nearly had a heart attack when I asked him what they were up for. Then of course I got a blow by blow account of the Argentina match.

It's not that my parents are dead. I often wish my father were. I've promised myself a small dance on his grave when the time comes. A small pleasure but one has to have something to look forward to. Mum would let me in, but he wouldn't. He'd be horrified I was running from a woman. But what's new. He's been horrified at everything I've ever done. I don't know why he pushed so hard in the Council for me to replace Rupert. Did he want me to fail? Show him he'd always been right about me, as he is about oh so much else.

I was chased out of 3 hotels by calls, notes, and flowers. Doesn’t the woman know I have hay fever? You'd think they'd have my LA medical files, they're big enough, and I know it includes the allergies. They have everything else. My last hope, other than Rupert was my only friend from school. His wife insisted I left after Lilah rang all night every night on the hour. I don’t blame him. They had a small child. Looking at the baby was bloody hard anyway.

So I ended up at Rupert Giles doorstep and watching a football match with a witch, a watcher and a vampire. And I thought my life was odd enough.

Once the match was over Giles took me into the kitchen, where he could keep an eye on Willow and Spike, and we talked. It's such a relief to have someone to listen.

He dragged me along to his cousin the next morning. So now I'm taking my morning pills along with the vampire and the witch. I'm sitting on the sofa doing my homework and discussing my ABCs with a HADD vampire with post re-souling depression. Apparently I have depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I hate the pills - they make me feel hot all the time, even though the weather is so dull Spike can go to the pub for football matches, and does.

They all go, or watch the matches at home with a few beers. It's just so domestic, after all the high drama of life with Angel. It's taking me a while, but it's much more enjoyable. It's fun actually. Watching Spike and Giles watch the Spain match and hearing the, "Does the Spanish manager know they've invented anti-perspirant?" In the Italy vs Korea match, "I thought it was usually us that had the ref against us?" And, "I thought this was footy not boxing." followed by, "Enough blood there for elevensies." The day after we got, "The Italians sacked that Korean geezer? Not right mate."

We all got a laugh when the football pundits reported the American match report of the Mexico vs USA match - bore not one whit of resemblance to the international language of football at all. Incredible result though. It feels good laughing with Spike and Giles. I thought I had Gunn to laugh with; I was wrong. But I've got just so much more in common with Giles, now we've cleared the air, and got some distance from Sunnydale.

Once I got over the shock of Spike asking for, and getting a soul, I found I had a lot I could talk to Spike about. He can even make me laugh about Angel. That makes me feel a bit better. Not much, but every bit helps. He was more than shocked to find he's an uncle/nephew/great nephew. Not surprising really. It took a few pieces of paper to sort out the family trees.

It was good to talk over the prophecy with Giles, to have someone to talk with that understands, and doesn't judge and condemn.

Willow doesn't laugh. She doesn't understand what she's done. She snarks occasionally. I've only been here a couple of days, but I've noticed her glare hatred towards Spike and Giles, when she thinks they aren't watching. I've felt it on my back too. I know that feeling too well to miss it; I wish I didn't.

Tonight we have what Giles and Spike claim is a great treat. In honour of our imminent defeat by Brazil the BBC is showing the 1970 Brazil vs England quarter final. According to them, and the football pundits, this is one of the great matches in history, and a great English failure. And we love those as a nation, don't we.

Giles watched it in Oxford just before his escape from the Council: in the years he became his own man, found his own interests, did what he wanted with his life - the complete antithesis to my own watcher life of conformity.

Spike watched it in Mexico. He told us some of Spike and Dru's tour of North America 1968-71. The mention of Woodstock led to a long discussion with Giles on the relative merits of Jimi Hendrix and Joe Cocker. This of course gave them an excuse to get the albums out. They both loved the Hendrix version of the US anthem. If you've never seen a watcher and a vampire air guitar to Jimi Hendrix you've missed one of the most truly bizarre sights of the new century.

I preferred Joe Cocker, and Willow didn't threaten to smash his albums. So in the run up to the match we listened to Joe Cocker singing 'I get by with a little help from my friends'. You know I think I just might?

The pain and striving in his voice moved Giles and Spike too. The tears that had threatened to pour from Spike's eyes when he was talking about what he'd done at Woodstock made a reappearance. They made another reappearance when the curry arrived. It seems Spike and Giles are having an ongoing 'who can eat the hottest curry' contest. I fail to see why Giles would do that when his opponent's taste buds will just regenerate. But I've missed curry, and they've certainly found a good curry house that delivers.

It was while we three blokes were unpacking the curry, and checking the beer for optimum coldness, that we made a mistake. Well, my mistake for having left my triband mobile phone in my room. I'd got it charged for emergencies, but it was switched off to avoid evil lawyer bitches working for hell.

Willow had excused herself to go to the loo. Can't exactly go with her, any of us.

Unpacking an especially vicious looking vindaloo I spilt some sauce on my shirt. So I went upstairs to change. Getting out a new shirt, I noticed the phone was missing. Going past the loo to talk to Giles about it, I heard Willow talking.

I could hear, "Xander please. I just need something of hers. Please go to my jewellery box. There's a gold circle in there with pretty patterns, it's the only one in the box. It was the first thing Tara ever gave me. I can't sleep. It's awful…Spike's here…Yeah me too. Giles is all over him and won't let me have anything…I need you Xand…Please, you'll get it for me? Please Xand I need you here, and I need it…Please don't tell Giles, he'll only talk it over with Spike and I can't bear to hear her name on his lips…I hate hearing him talk about Anya… Yeah, is too…So you're not going to talk to her? Good she's not good enough for my best friend…You'll do it? I knew I could rely on my Xander shaped friend. Love you." Then silence. This cannot be good.

I went downstairs, but was followed almost straight away by Willow. Need some quality watcher time to discuss this. So it'll have to wait for beer, curry and classic 'footy'. Giles and Spike assure me this is the correct term.

So 'sorted' as Spike put it we sat round to watch. Spike and Giles are in full flight. The national football myths I have to look for are, "Bloody great save by Banks" followed by, "He'd got a better haircut than Seaman as well" from Giles. Also I have to look for, "Tackle by Moore," "The exchange of shirt and handshake between Pele and Moore" and, "A bleeding superb goal by Jairzinho".

It started and the save was good. Of course it was the original commentators. Every time they mispronounced the Brazilian names there were anguished howls, and corrections, from both Spike and Giles. I speak Portuguese as well, but I'm not as vocal a person. I knew Giles spoke it. The fact Spike does was a surprise. That surprise must have showed as he said, "Spent a lot of time down Brasil way mate. Couldn't do that just being able to say, "uma cerveja." He pronounced it right too, lots of sneering, even pronounced "Brasil" properly too, swallowing the end. I shouldn't be surprised, Angel always enjoyed showing off speaking different languages. But Spike always portrayed himself as a bit of a thug, so it was a shock.

There was also, "Knew I should have eaten Revie before he ruined the England team," from Spike. "I'd forgotten how little the teams ran in those days," from Giles. "Martin Peters, Fanny Lee…Giles we have to watch The Italian Job," from Spike. "They kicked each other then too?" from Willow. "Bobby Charlton with hair!" from Giles. "Yeah, had a bit more meself then." from Spike. Not sure I want to imagine either Hippy! Spike! Or Hells Angel! Spike! Which would seem to be the options offered by the era in question.

I slipped upstairs at the short break to write a short note. I passed it to Giles while getting us both more beer.

It was a nice goal; but we still lost, and when she's asleep I've got to talk to Giles. It never ends, does it?



Part 6. Thirty Years of Hurt

The atmosphere in the house changed after the replay of the 1970 match. It was fine, great even, during the programme. I can't remember when I smiled like that. Know it was a bloody long time ago. But, knowing the result does reduce the stress factor; allows you to enjoy the game, be at one remove, so to speak.

I saw Wes pass Giles a note during the match. Still got the eyesight. Saw Giles face drop when he read it. But it was only for a moment, and he did the whole stiff upper lip thing, and if you were Willow you wouldn't have noticed.

I did notice he gave Red twice her usual dose of sleeping pills in a hot chocolate.

It was bleeding obvious that I was supposed to go to bed pretty dammed quick. So I did. Still got the hearing though. The mews got remodelled in the 60's too. Humans can hear through plasterboard, no problem whatsoever for a vampire. I mean if I concentrate I can hear the tube a mile off, the French couple 2 doors down shouting at each other; two watchers in the kitchen is a piece of piss.

So I did the good boy bit. Went to bed after the match, left the boys to it. Even shut the door. Don't make any difference at all to whether I can hear stuff.

So I heard Wes give Giles the potted version of Red nicking his moby and what she told the Whelp. I tried you know. Always liked the little witch. That hurt. I mean, know I deserve it, done some pretty shite things to her, but tried to help too you know? Tried since I got here an all - and that ain't easy. All those screams in my head, makes it bloody difficult to hear anything else. But I tried, and doing that helped me. Giles tried. Never knew Wes before, heard about him sure, on the ol' demon grapevine. Heard he'd started out a complete tosser but was now a bit of the old force to be reckoned with. But he tried too, and it's bleeding obvious he's got his own problems - starts visibly every time the post comes. If Giles mobile goes off he practically leaps through the roof.

Once Giles had stopped shouting at Wes for leaving his phone alone, and berating himself for not thinking of the possibility, he became Action! Watcher!

He got his phone out and called Buffy. Know it was her 'cos he was muttering, "Come on, come on Buffy, pick up the phone! Pick up the bloody phone!" Nobody answered. Not sure how I feel about that. I mean I'd be able to hear her voice even from here, and I'd love to hear her voice. But right now? Not sure I could take the pain. Know I've got an Olympic Record level pain threshold. Not sure I could manage hearing her voice though.

I was lucky. Giles switched to Plan B. Tried ringing fatboy dim. Didn't work either.

Watcher Boy don’t know the meaning of giving up. 'S what I admire most about him. Tried Plan C. Called Anyaka's mobile phone. Can't have been easy for him, he's been avoiding the Anya subject all the time I've been here.

Got hold of the girl. Demon or not, there's no way Anya's going to be away from her mobile and potential customers. So he was all, "Anya? Yes…lovely to speak to you too. The repairs have started? Great! No..right now we have a problem." He described the conversation Wes overheard. "Yes! Buffy and Dawn are patrolling? Oh! But you can teleport to the house? That would be wonderful. Thank you Anya. You'll call me as soon as you get there?"

Short interval.

Giles moby went off. "Anya? You found it? Wonderful! No Xander? Oh?…Was that quite necessary? Yes he does have a hard head." He whispered, "It's ok she's got it" to Wes and I heard both of them exhale in relief. Giles continued, "Do you recognise it, or would you like to describe it?" Then his tone of voice just dropped. "Oh. You're sure? Sorry, yes of course you'd know D'Hoffryn's talisman when you see it. Wonderful job Anya, we all owe you a great deal." I could hear his heart thrashing in his chest and the pain in his voice. "If he's conscious can you put me on to Xander? Thank you Anya…again."

Short break.

"You Stupid Boy!" Knew we shouldn't have watched the Dad's Army repeats before the matches. But I prefer Private Pike to that git any day. "No listen! You nearly gave Willow the means to turn herself into a vengeance demon. Her collar won't work on a demon, and she'll go straight back to what she was trying to do! No I'm not interested. Yes…you deserved to be knocked out! You know better by now! Not it's not enjoyable at all.  If you remember I do have rather a lot of practice in that area! Now put me back to Anya."

Giles took a few breaths to calm himself. Wes put the tea on. Could hear the kettle boiling. "Anya? Could you take the talisman somewhere safe? Thank you. No, we'll deal with that end. Can you warn Buffy? Yes, I know she might not listen. But you'll try? Thank you. Yes, warn Dawn too. Good idea! You'll take care of yourself? Yes… you too. Good night, and thanks."

I can hear the glasses being put on the kitchen table. I have to visualise the bridge of the nose being rubbed. But I'd lay odds it was.

Wes's voice. "Disaster averted?"

Giles. "This time…I'd hoped to avoid this."

"We always do." Wes said, with an intensely sad tone to his voice. "Never works though? Does it?"

"No." I'm not sure I've ever heard Giles voice so defeated. I heard it cracking with grief as he spoke a eulogy over Buffy's grave. I heard it in pain and defiance to that bastard Angelus. I've never heard that tone before though.

Heard the tea hitting the mugs. Then Wes. "Doesn’t have to be you."

Giles supping his mug. "Should be. Has to be. No…they can't do it. They'd enjoy it. No, no choice."

Wes supping his. "You've helped me. You didn't have to. Let me."

"No, my responsibility. I'll deal with her. I wish…no, Anya couldn't even grant that."

"When?"

"She's been stopped for now. Emergency averted. I'll talk to Joe in the morning, see what can be done. Then…we'll see."

"Good doctor that! Very understanding. Nothing I can do Giles? I'd like to help? If you'll let me?"

"Nothing Wesley. Thanks, go on up. I'll see you tomorrow."

Bunkmate headed upstairs. Doesn't take much for a vampire to feign sleep. Just close the old eyes. But this can't be good.

Wes was restless all night. Heard Giles pacing for most of it. Red snored. I'm worried, but they're the good guys right? They took me in, didn't have to. Got me some help when I got myself all screwed up with the soul thing. They're the good guys. It'll all work out. More pills, some knocking of sense into witch's head, rejoining the World through connecting with the footy. It'll work! Won't it?

Must have zonked out as I just caught the tail end of Giles call to his cousin. "You're sure? Yes. OK. You'll get that sorted? Thanks."

It was a funny sort of day. There was no football on the telly. Wes went down to the supermarket and brought back pizza, cream cakes and some nice red wine. Listened to some music. Had a nice sit down around the telly watching Godfather 2. Haven't seen that for ages. That bit where Fredo does the rosary then sleeps with the fishes always gets me.

Early night. Early start after all. Coverage starts 6.30 a.m, kick off at 7.30.

We were doomed from the start. The usual local didn't have a special licence. Wes had been sent on recon yesterday afternoon to check. But he did find a great alternative.

We all headed down to the new place. Superb! Huge screens. Big open area with slavering hoards of England fans all supping pints at 7.00 a.m. Even served some good real ale. The roads were empty and it was cloudy so there was nobody to notice my umbrella and big coat. People had really made an effort though. Blokes with face paint and the flag like a cape. There was even 2 blokes with trumpets and a geezer with a drum. Like being on the terraces. Better than being in a Latin American crowd too - not gonna have to take days to get all the confetti out of the clothes.

Found ourselves a spot where all 4 of us could watch. Good job we got there early 'coz the place was packed by 7.20. Had all the music going. 'Sven, Sven, Sven Goran Eriksson he's from Sweden',' Goldenballs…that's Mr Beckham to you', and of course 'It's Coming Home'. Everyone joined in, "No more years of hurt, Jules Rimet still gleaming, it's coming home, it's coming home!"

Beer in hand the whistle went off.

"Seaman!!!!!" Duh, duh, duh, duh da da da.

"Nice run" Dambusters theme on trumpet major.

"Ouch." "Inger-lund, Inger-lund!!!" From the crowd.

"Seaman! Go David!" And the band played the theme to The Great Escape.

"Get up you big baby! Not gonna work twice you know!"

"Go on my son. Go on. It's Michael Owen! Yesssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

1-0. The pub went mad. Everyone was jumping for joy, arms in the air. Hugging each other, shouting "Yesssssssssss." Everyone except Red, who just looked at the crowd of joyous people with contempt.

The picture on screen moved to Big Phil the Brazilian coach. Everyone shouted, "Losing coach!"

"Ouch! Book the bastard!"

"It's the foot? Which foot is it? Bastards! No! Becks!!!!!"

Scholesy!!!!!

"Phew! Nice tackle Rio! Go on my son!"

Argggghhhhhhh!!! Seaman!!!!!!!!! Bloody hell he isn't getting up! Bloody hell we're screwed!"

"Injury time, just got to focus! Hold on! Bugerrrrrrrrrrrrr! Ronaldo." 1-1.

More beer, a quieter pub senses it's just not our day. Senses that the luck isn't flowing the English way this morning. But will Seaman come out for the second half? And can Giles make it back through the slavering hoards with more beers before the second half.

He did. So did Seaman.

Don't help much.

Free kick. Ronaldinho. Bastard scores. Fantastic goal. Hurts like hell. The pub goes quiet for a bit, but the boys with the trumpets don't give up. Neither do the boys. 1-2.

"Nice run Millsy!"

"Foul!"

"Bloody hell he sent off Ronaldinho! Gotta have a chance now? Don’t we?"

"Heskey!!!!!!! You donkey!"

"Teddy! Teddy!!!!! Teddy!"

"Penalty!!!! No, bugger!"

"He's taking off Owen? No!!!!! Fowler? No? Bollocks it's Dariusl."

"Close him down! The're on 10 men we gotta do it!"

"Phew!"

"Becks! Go on!!!! No!!!!!!!"

"Yes! It's Teddy!!!!"

"He's taking off Ashley Cole? Not Heskey?"

"Well gotta go for it."

"Not our day, mate."

The boys tried, the pub willed 'em on. The blokes with the drum and trumpet played the lot. Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, I'm H A P P P Y, I know I am I'm sure I am, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Dambusters, Great Escape.

Didn't help. Full time. We're out. Everyone comes down from the high of the last few days. Music blasts '30 years of hurt'. We go home.

Giles put the kettle on.

Willow went upstairs to lie down as we'd had a late night and early morning. Wesley followed her after 5 minutes. Must be question time I suppose. I'd make myself scarce, but I'm still under supervision at all times. I mean I've been doing better, but there's still some bad times you know?

Giles put the tea out. Wes came downstairs.

He looked at Giles and said, It's done."

Giles blanched and said, "She was my responsibility - my fault! How dare you!"

Uh? Confused soul having vampire here.

Wes closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead, and said wearily, "And you couldn't have lived with yourself with her on your conscience. You know that. I know that. I have to do something right. I did this. Now I'm ready to pay the price."

I ran upstairs to Red's room. I pushed open the door. I'm not sure why I did. I couldn't hear a heartbeat behind the door. There's only two in the house now. There was a pillow over her face and she was gone.

I could hear shouting going on downstairs but my thoughts just roared in my ears so I couldn't take much anything in. She didn't have to end like this. Did she? People with souls aren't supposed to do this. Are they?



Part 7. Please Don't Let Me be Misunderstood

Spike's gone practically catatonic on me. This time I don't have a Willow to go into a mind and bring somebody back. Oh I know Wesley did what he did to spare me. The Rupert in me knows that, and is grateful. God only knows how bloody grateful I am. Ripper, on the other hand, wants to tear him limb from limb for touching what's mine.

She was you know. Mine. No, not in that way, but I l did love her. It was in a different way to Buffy. She was in some ways easier to love. I always understood her, whereas Buffy sometimes seems like a being from another dimension. I could talk to her about subjects that caused Buffy to roll her eyes or fall asleep. I've been her. I've done some monumentally stupid things in my life. Most of them in magic, and most of them through my own rank arrogance. I've got blood on my hands; it never comes off.

Bloody marvellous! Now I'm going to be having 'out dammed spot' going through my head.

I can't afford that. I shouldn't have blown up at Wes that way in the kitchen. He only took a few more minutes of the life she otherwise would have had -maybe an hour or two at most. The anti-depressant/sleeping pill combination was already in the herbal tea I was preparing for her.

Rupert hates that he took those extra minutes, hours. Ripper's angry. She was mine, my responsibility. I failed her. I failed her by not making her leave Sunnydale for Oxford, Harvard, anywhere not there. Anywhere that she wouldn't build up that resentment of being second fiddle. I failed her by not stopping her forays into magic, even if it saved all of us so often. I failed her by not giving her the guidance to stop her following my own mistakes, and going so much further. I failed.

I wasn't going to fail her in my ultimate responsibility. My responsibility as a watcher, yes, but most of all my responsibility as a man, who loved her. It was going to be easy and as painless to her as possible. No matter what it does to Rupert.

Right now I can't afford to be Rupert. I can't unleash Ripper on Wesley. I have to be Giles. Giles knows what must be done, sees things clearly, and gets it done.

She had to die. I knew that. Wes knew that. No choice there, for either of us. It's bred into our bones. If that fails it's drummed into our heads by parents and teachers practically as soon as we can talk. Responsibility. Sacrifice. The Safety of the World Must Come Before Anything Else. A Clear and Present Danger to the World Must be Destroyed. Even if it's someone you love. You put it down, like you would a beloved pet that had savaged the child next door. You love it but its tasted blood. You hold it lovingly, while the vet injects it with an easy painless death. It's still dead, and you still killed it. But it's what you do. No matter what the personal cost.

I'd already skated dangerously close to the edge of acceptable by bringing her here and trying to help her. But I did honestly think she'd try. I was wrong. I wish I wasn't. But that doesn't help. There'll be time for chest beating, diving deeply into a whisky bottle and all that misery later on. Right now I have a body upstairs, a semi-catatonic vampire whose dealing with some major issues anyway, and a fellow watcher in the kitchen who's just killed someone.

This day just gets better and better.

He is a fellow watcher you know. Just like I was still a watcher when that bastard Travers fired me. It's in you. I don't follow all that Human Genome thing. Demon lore keeps me more than busy enough. But I know we're all interbred for magic, brains, and ruthlessness. It's in the blood. I'm a watcher whether I'm in Sunnydale, studying with the Coven in Devon or right here. He's a watcher. He was a watcher fighting the good fight in LA. He was a watcher up in that bedroom.

So it's a good job I'd already made the calls this morning to the Council, and to my cousin. Oh yes, he may be a doctor and covered by a Hippocratic oath, but he's a watcher too. He's ready to come and certify that Ms Rosenberg was deeply depressed, following the tragic death of her lover and dreadful shooting of her best friend. It's all part of the official story; death by overdose of prescription medication.

Wesley of course buggered that one up nicely. But it won't matter. The calls have already been made to contacts in the police, the undertakers the Council always uses, the US embassy, everyone concerned in fact. The verdict will be overdose, no matter that it was suffocation. The police will just come as a matter of form. The body will be collected. The forms will be filled in. The correct rituals observed. I said once to Buffy the Council's a bit ham fisted at the rough stuff, though they get it done. I also told her they're the best in the World at the bureaucratic, stroke of the pen, string-pulling. I was right; they are. So, now all I have to do is make the trigger call. Alert them to the slight change in circumstances. Wait 10 minutes and then call the ambulance. The call will be routed to an all ready prepared crew.

That's the easy part. I'm going to have to call Sunnydale. I don't know how I'm going to be able to do that. I really don't. But I will have to. Right now I have to put that call and those feelings to one side. It's not easy. Xander, Buffy and the others made fun of that cliché "the British stiff upper lip" over the years. But it's not funny. It hurts to have to do this. I may never be able to tell anyone how much it hurts. But right now it's a cliché I have to live up to. It's the only way to function. To do what has to be done.

You know what's almost the worst thing? In a smorgasbord of worst things. There can't even be a real funeral for her, amongst her friends, with that bizarre American custom of an open coffin, buried in her native soil. She was a witch, a very powerful one. I told her once she wouldn't want to meet the sort of people who could raise the dead like she did Buffy. That method wouldn't work on her. She died from human means, and there are no more Urns. There are other methods though. But she wouldn't be her. She'd be a slave with no will of her own, and with her power intact she'd be a terrible danger.

There was a reason they used to burn witches and scatter the ashes in running water. Ok most of it was the patriarchal oppression of women, religious excess, and sheer banal human evil. But like so many folk practices there was originally a purpose. It was to prevent revenant witch slaves. She will be in the crematorium by tomorrow. We'll scatter her ashes on the Thames; it'll be too dangerous to wait. There are sorcerers in London that would kill to get hold of her body.

I hate that we have to do this. I hate that I won't be able to tell those in Sunnydale that loved her what's going to happen. That the ashes we'll bring back won' t even be hers. But after what happened with Buffy I just can't take that risk. I want to. I can't.

But what is the worst thing? She has to be cremated. She's Jewish and I'm not only putting her in an oven, I'm doing something that's against her family's faith. Sacrilege essentially. That's how her father will view it. It's how the part of me that respects a persons religion, even if I have none myself, views it. The me that loathes and despises the nazis and everything they stood for and did is even more horrified.

Oh I have a get out clause. I'm the executor of her will, all of their wills actually. I have letters signed by Willow, Xander and Anya all expressing the instruction they be cremated. We sorted this out last summer. In case of death by neck rupture they wanted to be cremated. It's always been my instruction whatever the cause. But it's the usual thing here at home. Not there. I don't know why. It would dramatically reduce the number of fledglings Buffy would have to stake. But none of them wanted to have to stake each other. Xander's never really got over staking that friend of his, even if it was by accident. They never managed to bring themselves to stake Harmony, and they hated her. Spike of course is in a category all his own. So cremation and no need for their friends to suffer more than necessary.

But there is no choice. I have to do it. Even if it kills yet more of me.

So time to do. Time for the practicalities. Time to stop Rupert's self-indulgence. Time to bury the anger of Ripper once again. Time to be Giles. And people wonder how I can understand the conflicting natures of soulled vampires, or even Spike before he got his.

So Spike.

Mr William Grey, my friend and occasional business associate in California, for the police record. Over here to enjoy the World Cup in a country where he can watch it live, and that understands, and appreciates, it. Also over as friend and companion to the much loved Ms Rosenberg. Being treated for HADD and depression by my cousin. Depression being due to the loss of the greatly missed Ms McClay, a dear friend and support to all of us. Mr Grey? Seemed appropriate. I even got him the false id to prove it.

Why'd I do that? Why did I let him in? Why didn't I stake him? It's not as if he hasn't hurt me and mine. Sometimes I don't know why to be honest. Yes he's now a potentially powerful tool for the war on the side of good. It's why the Council will now cover up the fact that he's a vampire in a house of death. Severe sun allergy - witness can't go outside during the day. Well it's even true, just a tad more excessive than most photosensitivity, and a lot more terminal.

Ripper loves his company, did so even before the soul. But then Ripper never let ethical issues stop him from doing anything. Rupert loved having a countryman to ease the loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land, but hated that he was going against all the basis of his beliefs to have that, and took it out on Spike. Giles recognised a potential ally, tried to get him on-side, got rebuffed and never quite forgot that.

He's changed. I'm still shocked really that he went to get a soul willingly. He knew what it'd do to him. He's seen it. I've seen it. It makes me forgive him a lot. He's not forgiven himself. I'd like to sit down with him right now and have a long discussion on ethics, why this had to happen and why it's not evil. Why it was worth him getting a soul if that's what people with souls do. After all in this soul business he is a child in so many ways. It's been so long since he had to deal with one. But right now I've got to get into business mode.

So I do.

I got Wes to check the fridge for Spike's meals. I'm pretty sure we're out, but if even nobbled policemen are coming round the house it's never good to have blood in the fridge. It also means I don't have to look at Wes right now. Which is a big advantage. Rational Giles knows and feels some gratitude even, the rest of me is contemplating the attractions of Grievous Bodily Harm. I'd get away with it too.

I went upstairs. First of all attend to the living, well he always seems that way. Even at his most miserable I don't think I ever saw anyone whose emotions are so close to the surface, and who throws himself into life and it's pleasures and pains so much. Besides, I want a minute alone with Willow before the drama starts, and not with a vampire sitting outside the door. I'm not kidding myself that he won't hear it anyway if he wants. But I'd like the illusion of privacy right now at least.

I crouched down next to him. His eyes were puzzled, head tilted slightly, hands buried in his curly hair and tears were rolling slowly down his sharp cheeks. I put a hand on his shoulder. He looked at me and said, "Why?"

I nearly lost it right there. But right now I can't afford to. None of us can.

I looked straight at him. "A short question, that demands a very long answer. Spike, I promise we'll talk, but for now? There was no choice. I wish there was. We tried everything. It didn't work. Now I need you to do some things. For me."

He looked right into my eyes, soul to soul. Must have seen what he needed as he nodded and said, "Later?"

I nodded, helped him stand and we went downstairs. I explained. "Soon I'm going to make a call. It's all arranged." Quizzical Spike expression.

"The ambulance will come for Willow, the police will arrive." Alarmed Spike expression.

"But it's all sorted. The statements are all ready, all you need to do it sign yours." Shocked Spike expression.

"Just so you know the story is…" So I told him the official version. He slumped back down on the sofa.

"The doctor will be coming and he'll give you something." Quite frankly alarmed Spike expression. Bugger! Didn't even think of that. So reassurance time.

"I'd take them myself but I've too much to do. I wish she'd have been as responsive as you to help. You've made me proud Spike." Great now he's crying again. We don't have the time for this right now. I wish we did.

"We all loved her. Nobody wanted to do this, and we'll all shout and cry later. Now there's too much to do. It's the only solution, and I need your help."

With all the usual strength he shows when it comes to the crunch he visibly brought himself together and said, "What do I have to do?" I wasn't lying. I am proud of him.

"Four people came home from the depressing match. One went upstairs with some herbal tea. Her friend William didn't want to re-watch the low lights of how we went out of the World Cup. He got his homework books out and put on some music. He put away the guilt list."

Don't want a copper reading "120 Years of Mayhem" - the ultimate contrast to the sleep inducing '100 Years of Solitude' I'd tried reading for relaxation. Don't want another death on my conscience. I've read Spike's book. I know what went on. Bits shocked even me, let alone even an allied civilian.

I continued. "He put away the thoughts work for all of you." Too orientated to dealing with non-copper friendly issues. "He and Wesley listened to music and read until I went upstairs and screamed. You both came rushing upstairs and saw she was gone. I called an ambulance anyway. I need you to lay yours and Wesley's books and charts out in here. Wesley is sorting out the kitchen. I'm going upstairs now. Everything clear?"

Eyes scrunched up, chewing on his lip, fortunately not in game face, he nodded. Actually, and somewhat strangely, he hasn't morphed once yet. It's the man and the soul that's dealing with all this. I'm not sure that's easier or worse for me.

I gripped his shoulder, squeezed it once and went upstairs.

I opened the door and went in. I could hear the plaintive sounds of Joe Cocker in the background. Joe was singing 'Oh Lord, Please Don't Let Me be Misunderstood'. Trust Spike to find the perfect background music from the admittedly limited choice available in the house.

I forced my attention away from the music to what I'd been dreading.

Spike hadn't touched anything. The pillow was still over her face. I took it away. Blinked away the tears I can't let fall yet and took it into my room. I took one of mine and placed it under her head. I wiped her face. I took the pill bottles out of my pocket. Wiped them, put her fingers round them, and using the ever-trusty handkerchief placed them on the bedside table. I went downstairs picked up the teacup with a little of the pills and herbal tea mixture and repeated the action I'd done with the pills. I know it's not really necessary, but we're trained to cover all angles. I focused in fact on all the little details. Anything rather than look at her. Finally there weren't any more little jobs to do.

So I took a deep breath. I kissed her forehead, stroked her limp red hair for the last time, and made the call.



Part 8. Standin' at the Crossroads

Why a pillow? The psychiatrist, I suppose, would have a field day on that one. No need to see her face? It's easier to kill when you don't have to look the person in the eyes - that's certainly true. Taking out my own nightmares on her? Admittedly I do still wake up feeling smothered, and unable to breathe. But sleeping is over-rated. If I don't sleep I don't have the nightmares.

You'd have nightmares too.

I haven't slept yet since I killed her. I know I will sleep. Just like I know her face will join the others. They wait until I'm getting comfortable. Then they just stare at me. They don't have to say anything. There's nothing they could say, that I don't already say to myself. And nothing I didn't already say to myself at the time I killed them.

Tonight though, there will be a new face to add to the throng. The men I sent to their deaths, as a diversion, in Pylea. Oh yes, it was as part of a battle plan to free the human slaves, and rescue Cordelia. But I still sent them to their deaths. We won. It was the right, and the only possible, decision. I know that. I told Gunn that at the time. They're still dead. They're still my responsibility, and my deaths. Their faces still haunt me.

Connor's face haunts me. Angel's face, before he pushed that pillow over my face still haunts me. Cordelia's face would haunt me, if she'd actually bothered to deign to come and see me. Fred and Gunn's faces always haunt me. Images of them, and what could have been, that's really fun to live with. Lorne's bloody face when I clocked him over the head, that's a fun one too.

Today, I have another set of images to add to the collection.

Spike, in tears and bewilderment. Giles, in fury and understanding. The girl I killed. The girl I wanted not to trade for the Box of Gavrok. If I hadn't given way to Buffy and Giles, and done that trade, the Major might not have ascended. She'd still be dead. Same result. But the children who died at Graduation needn't have. Giles and I looked through the year book - strange custom that - before the memorial service. Young faces, at the start of their lives. Faces in the throng. Faces that might have lived, if I'd been stronger then.

How strong I am now? I just don't know. The biggest part of me - The Watcher - did what he had to. He knew what had to be done, and didn't hesitate. Father would be so proud. OK, that last bit would be a herald of yet another apocalypse, and since we aren't in Sunnydale, it's accordingly unlikely.  I did what had to be done, and as I told Giles, I'm ready to pay the price. Whatever it is.

Part of me. The part that wants it all over with, the part that really can't take much more. That part was happy, when Giles blew up at me in the kitchen. I've seen Giles file. I had to, before I came to Sunnydale. No matter how badly I was prepared for the rest of it. I know what he's done. I know exactly what he's capable of. That part of me that wants this all finished was happy then. It wouldn't have taken him long. I wouldn't have struggled.

He didn't.

I'm still here. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I should be glad, right? Alive, intact, justified, righteous. Fighting the good fight. I should be grieving for a life lost, illusions shattered, shouldn't I? I should be overwhelmed with guilt; for all that there was no choice. Is that it? It's all my fault, for giving her the opportunity, after all. Even if she'd have always found some other way of trying to escape. I should ignore all the work Giles, and the Council, have done, and are doing right now, and go confess. And it's more work too than it should be, because I screwed everything up, like I always do. Isn't confessing what some people would say I should do? Buffy would, I know. She'd be wrong. I do know that. Logic says I should feel no more guilty, right now, than I would for killing a dangerous demon. Logic doesn't have to dream. I do. I know I should feel all these things. I don't. I just feel numb.

I'm smart. I read. I study. I'm trained. I know we're all in some degree of shock. All of us have our own personal demons filtering this experience for us - some of us literally. I know I'm depressed. I have the horrid little pills, and the mood charts, to prove it. I even have enough insight to know I have a few suicidal tendencies right now. But I can't do that to Giles. It just wouldn't be fair. Most of me killed Willow to save him, from having to do it. OK, a small part of me wouldn't have been unhappy if he'd killed me right afterwards. Better him than Lilah. But that would have been selfish, and I'm not allowed to be selfish. I never have.

He's all business now, anyway. The moment I might have got free is past. I have my tasks. I can hear him talking to Spike, and giving him his little jobs. I know neither of us really need to do this. It's all just an exercise in appearances, and giving us something to do, so we don't have to think.

It all went like clockwork. Ambulance, police, undertakers all came and went. "Sign this" and, "Sign that" to Giles. Spike - or William as I had to call him - and I signing where we were told to. In between visitations Giles spoke on his mobile phone to various Council people. It was funny really seeing him with it. I know he hates modern technology, but he's a natural with a mobile, strangely enough. Does it make me really shallow that I'm glad I have a fancier mobile than he has? Or is it a guy thing?

The doctor arrived. He'd spoken with the police, and signed his pre-arranged statement. He made both William and I fill in our little questionnaires. We must have both hit the top of the charts, because he gave us some new pills for tonight, and the next couple of nights, if we need them. No dreams, maybe. I could have kissed him. But I didn't. One doesn't do that sort of thing.

Spike looked a bit wary at the doctor and the pills, but Giles cousin was good. He understood the quite natural concerns, and trust issues, of the vampire, and me. He showed us both, in the medical directory, what we were taking, and the doses that were safe. As I've said before, I think, he's a good doctor. A watcher too, certainly. But also a good doctor. Spike certainly looked a bit more relieved afterwards. Me too, if I'm honest.

That of course was all down to the call I got, over Giles mobile, just after she was removed from the house. My own dear Father. Just ringing up to tear me to shreds, over messing up, "The carefully laid plans of proper watchers." He was just winding up to a really good rant when I got really lucky. The phone battery ran out.

Giles didn't get the landline re-instated when he inherited the place - not really worth it when he didn't live here. With Willow under house arrest/therapy, it wasn't safe to give her access to a phone - as I proved all too badly. So we're on mobiles.

That, of course, meant I had to switch mine on, so Giles could use it if necessary.

At least Father doesn't have this number. Mum does, but he wouldn't think to ask her. I'm not competent enough to own a mobile, in his view. Which is quite true of course, in the circumstances. I'm sure the Council has the number somewhere in my files. But there is no way, in any hell dimension, that my Father would risk losing face enough to ask for it. Not for me, anyway. Even to chew me out, again.

While I deleted, unread, all the text messages from my own dear Lilah Spike rummaged through the CDs. Anything to kill the silence.

From the pained tones of Joe Cocker we moved on to Eric Clapton. Even I can recognise him, and I was never allowed time to listen to music much as a child. Besides I know he's one of Giles favourites, from the hours spent with him in Sunnydale. Even if it was just as background music to researching demons. Oz always insisted on music. Giles always had to keep the boy away from borrowing his records. God! Another one to tell.

We haven't called Sunnydale yet. We can't until she's been scattered. Giles trusts Anya, for some reason. But she's a vengeance demon again, apparently. Wishes could be made. He doesn't trust Xander over this. I can see that alone is tearing him up. Not making the call, even if he can't bear to right now, is even worse. I don't think he can even bear to think how Buffy's going to react, let alone actually talk to her. He's focused on practicalities right now.

One thing Spike hasn't talked about, since I've been here, is Buffy. If her name comes up he goes in on himself. I'd say he goes beyond brooding to the almost catatonic. His eyes show so much pain, they frighten me. Giles doesn't talk about her with him either. Maybe they talked about her before I got here. I don't know, and it would be rude to ask. I am a gentleman after all.

Clapton plays 'Crossroads'. It's appropriate.

"I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knee,

Down to the crossroad, fell down on my knee,

Asked the Lord for mercy, take me if you please."

It's so appropriate it's a wonder Lilah hasn't sent it to me as a token of her what? Affection? Hatred? Lust? Special Project?

"I went down to the crossroad, tried to flag a ride,

Down to the crossroad, tried to flag a ride,

Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by."

The mobile rang. Guess who? No, not Father dearest. I should be so lucky. Even worse. My very own ladylove, Lilah. "You've been a very naughty boy. I like it."

From the stereo came the last line of the song.

"And I'm standin' at the crossroads. Believe I'm sinkin' down.

**************************

The version of Crossroads is from the Eric Clapton Backtrakin' Album, and is sung by Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Wes isn't too knowledgeable about music, as he knows quite well.




Part 9. Mine Eyes Dazzle

It was going to be the cure-all, you know. The complete panacea to all that's wrong with me. The evil, soulless, thing bit. Missed out the 'dead' part of the mantra - nothing can fix that, as far as I know.

I knew having it would hurt. Was bloody right on that score. Knew that getting it would be bleeding hard. Wasn't exactly a walk in the park on a moonlit night - vampires and fists of flame don't exactly mix well. The less said about the beetles the better. Still think the only good ones were John, Paul, George and Ringo. Well John actually, still haven't forgiven Paul for 'Mull of Kintyre'. But John was alright.

Knew that I'd get hit with the guilt, for everything I've done wrong for 120 years. I was. It hurts. It doesn't stop hurting either. Oh, I've felt guilt before. I've always felt more than I'm supposed to, alive or dead. I lived with guilt for 147 days. I knew what it was going to feel like. Hell, I was already in a state of excruciating guilt, when that Dr Who reject stuck his claws in me. 120 years of screams just added to the one already echoing round my head. I just got a symphony of screams to live with, rather than an aria. They were deafening me until I got here. 'Til I got taken in, and shown kindness, help, and acceptance. Then I could hear again - for a while.

Right now? I can't hear anything. Which is odd, because what did that was the silence of a room, where there should have been a heartbeat.

The thought that's deafening me right now is, "Why?"

What was the bloody point? Why go through all that? All that pain. Contrary to what some people think, I don't love pain. I hate it. I want to be happy. I want to be loved. Why am I still suffering from the pain the soul's giving me? If people with souls can do this, why the bloody hell did I bother? Why was it necessary? Wasn't there another way? There had to be, surely.

We've had the discussion. Covered the lot. World in danger, help not only spurned, but actively plotted against. Personal pain sometimes being necessary, in the doing of the right thing.

Intellectually, I know Giles and Wesley did the right thing. But my soul's still screaming. Theirs are too, I can see that.

Ethics - personal and universal, and the consequences thereof. Giles got the scotch out. We went through two bottles. I chain-smoked. I haven't smoked in the house since I got here. Bloody soul made me feel bad about the passive smoking thing. Felt a right pillock standing in the doorway smoking a fag, like some pathetic wage slave, outside the office. Did it anyway. Giles kept cadging my fags. He hasn't done that since we buried Buffy. We talked all night - all three of us.

It was like being back at Oxford, doing Plato, the Stoics, and Socrates, when I was human. Like discussing Proudhon and Rousseau with students, over absinthe in Montmartre, as a fledgling, then eating them afterwards. Showing Left Bank existentialists the real meaning of life, as their life drained into me. The whole soul thing may be new, but I've been around a very long time. I've seen horrors. I've perpetrated horrors. I've enjoyed the odd intelligent conversation with a good meal in that time. A bloke did need some breaks from dolls tea parties in 120 years after all.

I've also saved the World 3 times. That's something a demon isn't supposed to do. But I've always thought outside the box. Got me killed, that did. Led me to throw myself on the mercy of my enemies. Made me fall in love with the only - yes I know there's two - woman in the World that's meant to kill me. Meant that when I did something a demon shouldn't have a problem with I felt what shouldn't be possible. Led me to ol' Lurky, and doing something impossible. I know what difficult choices are.

So, bearing all this in mind, I do understand. I hate it. With every fibre of my being I hate it. I keep seeing her face covered like that. I keep having Webster go through my head. 'Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young'.

They both hate it too. It's obvious.

I knew Giles was capable of this. I've known that since the magic box. I didn't need to smell his scent on Ben, when we disposed of him, after Buffy died, to know that one. I'd just not wanted to think about it. Too many thoughts winging their way round my head for my brain to work at its usual speed, I suppose. That, or right then, I just couldn't face thinking things through to the logical conclusion, of what I'd seen and heard.

Didn't know much about Wesley before this. The stories I'd heard in Sunnydale about him didn't match up with what I'd heard out of LA. But he told us about Connor - still trying to process that whole thing - and what he did in taking the child for the best. So I really should have known. On some level I did. I know that. I just couldn't face it - not on top of everything else. There's a limit you know - to what I can take. There has to be. Doesn't stop it piling on though.

Over the second bottle Wes told all three of us about this Lilah bird, and the whole Wolfram and Hart saga. Gotta love any institution that has it in for the poof. Even if they are evil. Evil with souls, at least in theory. The lawyer all you can eat buffet was a shock. So much for soul = good; again. I think I should have checked to see if there was a 'Dummies Guide to Souls' available, before I got out the old Lonely Planet East Africa guidebook.

I think talking about it helped him a bit. He was carrying a huge weight on his shoulders before he got here - like all of us. Talking it over with Giles, and Giles making some calls to the Council, helped ease that, I think. She's just rattling his chains. The Council can, and will, counter anything she tries. Nothing personal on their part - just business.

None of this helps.

I lived and fought with the good guys. I didn't have a conscience, the men with the books say. I've got a brain, though, a good one too. And I've got love, far too much of it for my own good, or anyone else for that matter. I know that.

So I tried. Nobody helped me. Asked a few times. Usually ended up with broken bones and bruises for me trouble. But I still tried, you know? Odd really. The way I did it? Could almost have been one of those stupid badges you see on some yanks - 'what would Jesus do?' Well since he'd be likely to incinerate me on sight, that one wouldn't work. So I tried 'What would Buffy do?' OK, yes, there were some notable screw-ups whilst on that track. But I did make a reasonable stab at it, most of the time. Might have done better with some help and guidance. But a man shouldn't need that, should he? Should be able to do it by himself.

I failed. When I couldn't think clearly, I couldn't do it. Screwed up massively. The booze didn't help at all either. Know that. Not an excuse though. If I'm honest with myself I might have a problem there.

That's the whole point isn't it? Getting a soul. Being honest with myself. Having a functional conscience. Recognised by all. Knowing right from wrong. OK, intellectually I know what they are. Might have a demon suffusing every fibre of my being, but Mama still raised her boy to know what right and wrong is. Demon just makes doing the opposite fun. Sheer joy in fact. Revel in destruction, sex, and blood. It's a dammed sight easier way to live than hearing your victims pleas for mercy. Over, and over, and over again, until you're deafened by the noise.

I'm not a saint. Never claimed to be. I'm selfish. I did it for her. Most everything good I've ever done has been for her, for the one's she loved, or in her memory. Pre-soul me even thought that maybe she'd forgive me if I got a soul. With a soul I don't know if I can ever face her, not when I can't forgive myself. I'm not sure I can even bear hearing her voice over the phone. That one's pretty inevitable, and imminent too. Giles is going to call straight after we've scattered her ashes. That's soon. It's been a very long night. A very long day too.

I had to get my soul back. I couldn't bear the thought that I might go back to that bathroom. I couldn't do that to her. Even the unchecked demon in me knew that. It's not me. Not when I can think. Well thinking is obviously not something I can guarantee to do. So - getting a soul. Something to step in when I can't think for the pain.

I succeeded.

I'm the only vampire in history to willingly seek out, and get, their soul back. No world's stupidest clause to mine; no shoddy gypsy craftsmanship on this one; 100% mine. I'm 100% stuck with it too, for the rest of my immortal life, which could even be a very long time.

Assuming I get out of here un-dusted.

They've both tried to make it clear I'm not next. That the reasons Willow died don't apply to me. I think they have anyway. I want to trust that. I want to trust them. I want to be trusted. The part of me that survived the 20th Century screams not to trust. But I can't live that way: not anymore.

I've signed on the dotted lines. I've done what's been required of me. I don't think I could move right at the moment, even if both of them came at me with stakes. My heads too full, to move. It's souls, fragrant red hair facing me down when I was drunk and dangerous, someone caring that I didn't kill myself. Good guys, bad guys, the differences thereof. Buffy counting on me to protect Dawn, from Giles, or anyone else out to do the logical right thing.

I've failed Buffy again. I failed her on that Tower, when I wasn't fast enough, or clever enough, to stop that bastard from cutting Dawn. I failed her when the man couldn't keep the demon under control. I failed to see, to let myself see what was going on. She wouldn't have wanted this. I wasn't sure I'd be able to ever face her again before this. How can I face her now?

Willow's dead because I failed. She showed me kindness when I wanted to die, didn't hold a grudge when I tried to eat her. I didn't deserve that kindness - I know that. That's the girl that I'm gonna remember. Not the girl she was at the end. She deserves that, at least.

I know her face will be the main feature of tonight's nightmares. I've been having them every time I close my eyes, since I got the soul back. I call them nightmares; memories would be the more accurate term. But nightmares are what they are, and what I did, and what I have to live with having done. I will. I've got many faults, never pretended not to. Cowardice isn't one of them. I haven't asked for pills to knock me out since I've been here. I'm not taking them now. And not because I'm too scared to sleep, for fear I won't wake up. I'll endure what I have to. I'll pay the piper. I'm not eating rats. I'm not going to crawl into an alley going, "Woe is me," for a century. I'm going to think my way through this. I'm going to understand. Most of all I'm going to make something good come out of this - somehow.

Right now, it's that last part that has me stumped.



Part 10. Picture This

Picture this - late afternoon at a municipal crematorium, three men sit in the uncomfortable chairs at the front. There are other men there: the faceless lackeys of the Council who've carried the coffin in, and which are now standing at the back, desperate only for a fag break. The men at the front don't really take in their presence. Their attention is focused only on the contents of that box. It's a cheap one. The Council has its faults - both of the men in tweed jackets know that only too well. Anya would dispute that being careful with the cash is a fault, that why should they spend more than the bare minimum on a box that is about to go up in smoke. The oldest looking of the three can't help remembering how Buffy took such care to give her mother a nice home for eternity.

There's no service. This isn't the usual scene the room usually witnesses. There's no man or woman in collars mouthing the usual platitudes. No room of those who loved and or hated, or those only there because it was the done thing. There are no flowers. The only thing remotely ceremonial was the opening of the coffin before placing it on the platform. Even that was only meant to be businesslike. A quick confirmation that it was the right body for disposal. The Council, for all its adherence to form and precedent, is a pragmatic body. It has to be. It's why its survived the millennia, whilst the Empires its manipulated, and benefited from, have risen and fallen around it.

The three men at the front made it a ceremony of sorts.

The oldest looking man in tweed was first. He kissed her forehead, and said, "I'm sorry, so sorry. I hope you're at some peace now." The young looking man with ancient eyes gripped his shoulder, even as tears fell from blue bloodshot eyes.

He was next. He wasn't as well dressed as the other two. His black wool jacket swam on him, and was clearly borrowed for the occasion. He stroked the soft strands of red hair that lay on the cheap nylon pillow. Some tears splashed onto the pillow, staining it. Not that it would matter soon. He was barely audible, his voice cracking, and all that could be made out was, "My fault, sorry pet, my fault. Buffy, Tara, Nibblet, my fault, I'm so sorry."

The oldest man led him back to the chair, leaving the young man in tweed at the coffin. His face was frozen, stricken, but his body wasn't. Moving like an automaton, he rearranged the disordered hair, whispered, "Sorry it had to be this way" and closed the lid.

As he rejoined the others the curtains closed and the coffin moved to the fire.

Picture this - much later on the Thames, three men in a small boat. The oldest man is reciting a prayer in one of the many languages and faiths he knows and respects, though he has no faith left for himself. There's a small container in front of him. The white haired man can't keep still. He paces, hands moving, desperate for the familiar comfort of nicotine, any comfort in fact, but unwilling to profane this moment. The other man sits apart, his face in his hands, unable to do anything more right now.

The recitation finished, the oldest man takes the container and moves to the side of the boat. The boat is still, small and low in the water. He's close to the fast flowing tidal river. The white haired man joins him. The other can't seem to be able to move, though he looks up, his face a mask. The older says to the younger looking, "Thanks, but this is my responsibility. My last but one, and I'm doing this." His voice cracked, but he continued, "Go with love, Willow. May you find Tara again, and I'm sorry I failed you. I'm going to do better."

With that he opened the container and scattered the contents on the fast flowing river. The river grew as it also received the tears of the two men at the side of the boat.

Picture this - much, much later, back home in the little house. Three men sit looking at a mobile phone. There are three mugs of tea on the table, each liberally laced with whisky. There's no music. There's no heart for it. All heart has been ripped out of each of the three men, at least right now. All three drained, nothing left. But there is one more thing that has to be done, one of the hardest, in a series of so many hard choices.

The Embassy had told her parents. They weren't even going to curtail their research trip to fly to London. They would be back in Sunnydale in a week's time anyway. She'd be back then, or so they thought. So why interrupt important research to come back sooner. It was one less potential problem, but both the oldest and white haired man had been horrified. The younger man in tweed had just looked ruefully understanding.

The oldest looking man picked up the phone and pressed the buttons for America.



Part 11. Won't Get Fooled Again

She wouldn't do that to me. She couldn't. She's like - Willow. My Willow wouldn't do that to the Xandman. We're supposed to take our pills together in the retirement home. Who's going to remind me? I'm gonna fall over in my walker. She's always been 'there for me' girl. How am I supposed to live without her?

She was the only one. The only one that ever really loved me; who always loved me, the whole me, the only one that never let me down. I let her down. I always let her down. I loved her so much. She's the only clean thing I ever had in my life. The only clean thing I ever loved, and I loved her so much. It hurts. It hurts so dammed much.

I failed her. I've always failed her. I didn't see what was happening. I never did. I messed up her thing with Oz. I'm sure that led to him doing the wild thing with that werewolf, and turning her off men. It's all my fault. I should have protected her. Been there for her - like she always was for me, no matter what dumb shit I did.

I let her go. I let her go with him. But I trusted him. I always trusted him, even after that sick test thing he did to Buffy. I never should have let her go. She should have stayed at home, with the people who loved her. Stayed with me. Not go away to a cold wet island of strangers. I should have insisted she stay with me.

She wouldn't leave me. I know that.

He must be lying. English liar guy. They're all liars. Did George Washington die in vain? All dead princesses, funny swear words, booze, fags - and how weird a word for a cigarette is that. 'Bloody' this, 'sodding' that, and 'I'm smarter than you and I know it' - all of 'em. Rescue their superior asses, and all you get when you say that is the Giles and The Thing one-two, "Well you lot do only tend to turn up for the last years of real wars," "Yeah, trying to bleeding start the next one to make up for it an all." Bastards! Self satisfied think they're so fine bastards.

I bet they killed her.

Oh, it's all, "I'm sorry Buffy, Willow didn't make it. There, there, I'm so sorry, everyone tried so hard, did as much as could be done, but sometimes it just doesn't help." And, "I know it doesn't help, but she didn't suffer, she went in her sleep." Yeah, like I believe that one. Like how dumb do they think I am? Oh yeah, sorry, I forgot, I'm the zeppo, doughnut boy, monkey boy, special needs boy, do try and concentrate Xander. That's me - too dumb to know any better. Well I do. And they ain't getting one over on me. Not anymore, never again. They're gonna pay, and pay, and pay. When I've finished they'll have paid so much An would be impressed.

An, Anya, Anyanka. It's his fault. It's not my fault she became a foul disgusting demon, it must have been his idea. Ok yeah, I did something real dumb. I know that. But that's what I am, isn't it? Dumb. Will's the smart one, not me. But I did it coz I loved her. I did. I know I did. I did - didn't I? Of course I did. It was for her own good, to stop her from getting hurt, stop her from getting hurt like Mom, stop me from hurting her. I didn't want to hurt her; I wanted to love her; I wanted her to love me.

I wanted someone to love me. Me - not the bottle, not like mom and that thing that calls himself my dad. Me - not Buffy and Willow. But you know? Always coming with the last there too. Hey story of the Xandman's life, he comes last - what's with the new? Me first - not a dead disgusting thing? Yeah, like that's likely, hey, story of my life that one. Actually all of 'em are.  

Buffy. My Buffy, yeah like that's the case. My best friend Buffy, well after Willow anyway. The one crying her heart out on the sofa, with Dawn holding her. I can't see her face; Dawn's hair's covering both their faces.

Dawn's face looked relieved for a moment, when the call came. Not for long, but time stood still, like on Trek sometimes. I saw it. She felt relieved my Will was dead. After all she did for her. I know Will tried to hurt her, but she was Will you know? My Will, she was hurting, she didn't know what she was doing. It wasn't her fault. Nothing to forgive. I won't forget that Dawn was relieved, even if she started crying moments later. I won't forget, and I won't forgive. I can't; she's dead.

The dead. The walking, lying, cheating, murdering, raping dead. What it takes to do it for the Buffster - not me, never me. No, gotta be only some disgusting demon thing away from being a mouldy, oozing, George Romero corpse to make it with the Buffster, or any of my women in fact.

If I'd been taken, not Jesse, would she have wanted me then? Yeah, sure like that would ever happen. No dancing in the Bronze, kisses in the cemetery, and rings for us. No - Mr Pointy meet Xander - aw heck I'm all dusty better go take a shower before I hit all that Oweny goodness - that's what it would have been. Expendable Vamp of the week, that'd have been the Xandman. Not oh Angel I wuv you, kill Miss Callender, break my friends bones, torment us all, I still wuv you. Or - you're a soulless monster; take me now you gorgeous hunk of a night-thing. I'm not in the mood tonight; oh how could you do that to me I thought you loved me. Yeah, like some soulless monster can feel anything. Giles told us when I killed the thing that killed Jesse, it's not him, it's an evil thing that took the real victims body. I didn't kill Jesse. I've never done anything wrong to that bastard except letting it live so long, and missing with that axe. Well I can work on my aim.

Wonder if that bastard raped her too, before it killed her.

Will told me its there. I bet Giles doesn't think I know, but I do. I know it killed her. She wouldn't have left me. She loved me. She told me she loved me the last time I ever spoke to her. Did she know how much I loved her? She must have, I told her over and over again that day. But did she know? Really know? She must have, she told me she loved me, she wouldn't have done that if she was going to do anything stupid - would she? She'd have called me, talked it over with me - wouldn't she? We could always talk, about anything, couldn't we? She called me once; she'd have done it again. I'd have done anything for her. She knew that. I know she knew that - I hope.

No, She knew I loved her. She wouldn't leave me. She loved me. I might not be some big sleuth guy but it ain't difficult to know what happened. She was my Will. She wasn't trying to become a disgusting demon. She wouldn't do that. She wouldn't lie to me. She never lied to me. Anya's lying. But she's one of them now, not my An anymore. Giles is lying. I don't know why. Some sick Englishman thing? Dunno, and who am I to try and work it out? I'm the dumb one, remember. But he loves us. I know he does. He wouldn't have hurt her. Even if he did that stupid test he thought better of it later. I know he couldn't have hurt her. It must have been that monster.

If it comes back here I am so staking its ass.

I didn't get a chance to ask what the hell it was doing in the same house as my Will, when I spoke to that lying bastard. Too busy telling me off, like I was some dumb kid. He was too busy telling my girlfriend how wonderful it was that she hit me over the head, with a heavy vase, to talk to me. But hey, story of the Harris upbringing that was, should be used to it by now. Though it was pretty much always beer bottles. Any vases probably got thrown in the couple a months before I was born. There certainly weren't any left in the Harris house. Casa Summers does have them, and they're heavy. I'm taking that out on its hide too - every crack, every bruise, every injury, the murder of my best friend. Its hide, his 'mates' hides, all of 'em. Every sorry son of a bitch that was there; they're all gonna pay big-time.

It's ironic really. I was only over here working on some plans with Buffy to remodel the basement to a training room, when the call came. We were down there with the radio on. It was playing a 'The Who' hour ahead of the tour. I only recognised it because Giles used to play it sometimes on research parties at his place. Not my sort of music, but Buffy seemed to enjoy it - spends way too much time with old British guys. But anything to make her smile, so I forbear.

I could still hear the music as Buffy went upstairs to take the call. It was playing 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. I heard her scream as the song went:

And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song


I'd think the hellmouth was trying to tell me something. But I'm not that stupid, no matter what anyone says. But I won't get fooled again. I've been lied to. She's been murdered. She didn't leave me. She'd never leave me. She loved me. I can't trust anyone else. Its gonna pay, big time. So's anyone that helped it.



Part 12. What's the Story, Morning Glory?

The volcano is awesome. A classic cone reflected against a still clear lake. The whole town is great to chill in, to come down from the shamans and the mountains and just hang in. Bacon and eggs for breakfast in flower filled gardens buzzing with humming birds. Lots of travellers to talk to when I'd go wolf if I had to speak one more word of Spanish. Internet cafes in need of web site design and computer fixage, which pay the few bucks needed to keep on searching.

I'd say this all out loud, but that would take away the mystery. "Cool," sums it all up anyhow.

The searching thing's getting there. Still furry 3 nights a month if I don't practice. But I practice, and I can sleep in cheap hotels now, not cages. That's a good thing. Bondage - not my thing - might be the wolf's. Still working out the whole Veruca cage thing, but I think it was mainly wolf calling to wolf. I can think of Veruca and there's no fur.

Still doesn't help with my Will. I start thinking too much about her and it's fur and fangs - not good. If we do flash forward to 'old lady with blue hair in Istanbul' the old guy might still be furry. Make a pretty funny picture I guess. Werewolf with a walker chasing an old lady round the casbah. One casbah that would be definitely be rocked.

I've been listening to a lot of English music lately. Been travelling with an English Warlock with a walkman full of Oasis, Radiohead and The Verve - some great stuff. The English music reminds me of home. I miss it. But, hey, I'm learning some things from the shamans that mean I might get to go home one day. Even if she's still happy with Tara I'd still like to see her. I'd still like to go home, even if it is hell - or the entrance to it anyway.

In the meantime its local buses full of locals carrying chickens for me. I sold the van a year back. The potholes killed the shocks, and I don't need the privacy so much now. Buses are fun, despite the potholes and the chickens. At least it's not dogs in bags like there were in Ecuador, or the you don't accept sweets on buses thing of Colombia. But they were fun, and I learnt some things there too. Good job being a wolf fixes my back when I change, or with these roads I'd be the first werewolf ever to need a chiropractor.

Mike the Warlock talks enough on journeys too. It takes my mind off the pain from each jolt on barely padded seats. He doesn't seem to mind that I just go, "Ouch" occasionally. The accent reminds me of home too. Though he sounds more like Spike than Giles or Wesley. Mike also gets the deep novels from the book exchanges, and doesn't mind me borrowing them. It's good to have someone talk. I've missed that. I still miss her.

I could shag, as Mike puts it. I get enough offers form girls on the road. I can't. I've never been into that. Went groupie free even before I got wolfed. Can't get into it now, and I can't get involved or it's hello wolf. So it's lone wolf time.

At least with most travellers and locals in the bars, watching the semi-finals, the net cafe should be empty, and I can get my mail in peace. Poor Mike. We only came down here when we did so he could watch the England Brazil match in comfort. At least the beer and fellow Bits seemed to help. If Germany goes through I'm going to have to keep him from his spell-books again.

It's weird. Everyone except us Americans seems obsessed with soccer, and haven't heard about any of our football players - except  OJ, and they're so not impressed there. Mike can walk into a bar anywhere south of the Rio Grande and start talking about great matches of recent years, and Becks foot, and everyone has a view - no matter what the language. It's a good job I'm not a jock, or I'd feel upset. Larry would have been lost. Poor Larry.

Mail time. Oasis playing in the background. As Mike would put it - sorted.



From               HotDevonMeat@aol.com

To                    OzWolf@hotmail.com     

Subject:           whassup!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ozman

any hot chicas down guatemala way dude? Spring Break was awesome. really missed some hot babes down at the gigs in Carmel man. when r u coming home we need you on bass - last one got eaten.

miss ya

Devon



From               TheXandman@hotmail.com

To                    OzWolf@hotmail.com

Subject:           Help Willow

Oz man. I hope you're still using this. I found it in Will's laptop. There hadn't been any messages for some time - but I guess you 2 been giving each other space.

Thanks for opening this. I know you don't owe me nothing. I wish I didn't have to do this, but you gotta know and somebody got to tell you.

She's dead. Willow's gone.

Tara was murdered by some bastard who came after Buffy. Will fell off the magic wagon big time and did some things she wouldn't if she'd been Willow. Giles took her to England to detox. She got a message to me just before she died. Spike's there. Bastard tried to rape Buffy. Now Giles had him in the same house as our Will. Then we get the she died call.

They killed her man. Those bastards killed our girl. She needs you. I need you here when they come back. I'm gonna try but might just need the back up.

Phone me. Reply to this Come home. But don't let her down again. She loved you.

Xander



To                    OzWolf@hotmail.com

From               WWPryce@yahoo.com

Subject:           Important News

Dear Oz,

Giles here, not Wesley, though it's his account we're using, and he had your e-mail details on his hand computer thing.

I know we haven't been in touch recently, but I also know that you loved Willow very much, and that you would want to know, and have every right to do so. I'm so sorry to be the bearer of the worst possible news.

Willow died in her sleep on the 21st of June.

She was staying with me in London, and everything that could be done to help her was done. I don't know if you were in regular contact with each other, or if that was too painful. In case you don't know. Tara was killed by a stray shot meant for Buffy. Willow had been abusing her powers. Tara had left her as a result of that, but Willow had made some progress and they had only just got back together. Tara's death was too much for Willow, and she never really recovered. The best available help was here in London, and she came back here to stay with me. I am sorry to say that help did not work, and she overdosed.

Though she could not help herself she was a great comfort to Wesley and Spike, both of whom are also currently staying with me. They send their deepest condolences, as do I. She will be greatly missed.

I will be bringing her back to Sunnydale in the next couple of days. The formalities have to be attended to beforehand.

With deepest sympathy,

Rupert Giles



I think I sat at the terminal not moving, for what seemed like hours. I couldn't move. It took everything I had not to change - to destroy, to kill, to take out the pain on anything and everyone around me. I didn't manage to stop the change completely. My talons went straight through the table.

As it was it took every mantra, every talisman I had on, every fibre of my being to remain me. If I gave into the wolf right now I might not come back. There's no reason to come back. She's gone. But she can't be. She has to be there - somewhere in the World there has to be a Willow. Even if we can't ever be together again, there has to be a Willow somewhere in the World. It just doesn't work any other way.

My sweetest memories are of her. Her face the first time we ever made love. Willow kissage. Her silly hats, and stealing grenade launchers. My Eskimo, and the sexiest ghost I've ever seen - and by now that's a lot. Giving a whole new meaning to panic.

My bitterest memories are of her too. Seeing her and Xander in the factory, when I was so scared she was being tortured or murdered. Her face when I left. Her tears over what I did with Veruca. Giving a whole new meaning to pain.

The two sets of images just blended in my head on re-run. There's all this pain. All these words in my head. But I can't seem to say anything. I'm numb and my mouth won't even open. I know I'm laconic but this is ridiculous.

The pain's worse than when I was tortured by those nazi bastards.

Spike helped save me from them. I know it was probably for his own reasons, but he still helped get me out. Willow never held a grudge about being kidnapped by him. Almost seemed to like him in fact - even after parent teacher night. Last I heard he had a chip stopping him hurting humans. How could he try to rape Buffy? How could he possibly kill my Willow? How could anyone possibly kill my Willow?

I should believe Xander? After what he did with my Will; I should believe him? I know he loved her. Saw that with my own eyes, and wish to god I hadn't. But why would he lie to me about this? Does he hate me that much? Because I had her, and he didn't?

Willow would have sent me a message, I know she wouldn't just leave. Not if she was still my Will. But was she still my Will? Was she Tara's Willow - happy to follow her to the grave, with no thought for me, or even dear old Xander? Had she changed that much?

We hadn't e-mailed for a long time - too painful for both of us. I wish I had now.

I want to believe Giles. He wouldn't lie to me. But he did that test thing to Buffy.  After that I never quite knew what to believe. I've travelled enough to see people do bad things for what they think are good motives. Hell, those soldiers probably thought torturing me was for mom and apple pie. The death squads, after the shamans we were studying with, probably think just the same.

Wesley? What was Wesley doing anywhere near my Will, after not wanting to trade her for the Box of Gavroc. But there's no way useless, fall over my shadow, Wesley could hurt my Willow.

None of this makes sense. Oasis sings it all for me. I'm still not sure I can talk yet.

"What's the story morning glory

Well?"



Part 13. Should I stay, or Should I Go?

It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. Offering myself up to Lurky - piece of piss compared to this. One on one against a Slayer - been there, done that; got the scar and the coat instead of the T-shirt. Even if I did leave the coat behind, along with the old me. I'd prefer another bout of Hell-god torture. I let the girl I love batter me senseless, and leave me to die alone in an alley - again. That one I'd do again in a heartbeat if it'd make her feel one iota better. And, yes, I do know the shrink would frown at that one - self esteem issues and all that rot. I don't care; I love her.

I'd do anything to stop her hurting. Bloody well did, didn't I? And oh boy it hurt. It hurt getting the soul. It hurts living with the bloody thing, and all the bloody things I did for over a century. It hurts living with myself over what happened with Willow, even if I l know there wasn't a choice in the matter, and we all tried everything we could to help her. Now, to stop Buffy hurting, I've got to do the one thing I haven't faced up to since I got here.

I've got to tell him why I left Sunnydale and got myself fixed with a soul.

I've got to tell him what I did in that bathroom, and why she may not want me to come back with him. It has to be her choice; not mine. I won't hurt her again. If she wants me to come home only so she can beat the shit out of me, then dust me, I'll let her. If she wants me off the planet I'll see if NASA's ever thought about using vamps for long term exploration missions. If she wants me far away from her, but for me to fight the good fight somewhere in the World, I'll do it. If she wants me to stake myself I'll do it. I've got the pencils now.

If he wants to stake me I won't stop him. Hell, I'd give him the bleeding stake myself if I had one. Be more than I deserve anyway.

She's the one subject we haven't talked about. You'd think we would have, wouldn't you? She is the big one after all. Well before Willow anyway. I really thought she'd have told him. Part of me was surprised I wasn't staked on sight when I arrived on his doorstep. The part of me that found the idea of sunbathing appealing at that point was a bit disappointed, to be honest.

But I've got to be honest, even if it kills me. It just might too - especially after what happened with Willow. It's better too if I tell the truth, rather than have this come out from someone else, if he doesn't already know.

I'm a terrible liar; I know that. My face gives me away every time. What I always have been able to do is not mention things, select what I do mention - sins of omission. Must be the English gentleman buried beneath the demon. After all being economical with the truth was good enough for Government Ministers; never used to be a problem for me. It was the result that counted. See want get; and all that. On the subject of Buffy, it was a sin of omission. I couldn't bring myself to talk about what happened. He didn't ask; so I didn't have to either try lying and fail miserably, or confess and face staking. I don't know why he didn't ask. Without knowing what she did say to him I can't know. I couldn't face talking about her, so we didn't talk. Maybe we were both living up to the national stereotype, for once.

Of course it was also the one thing I couldn't face and wail about. I couldn't even face talking about it to the shrink. Just told the guy I'd done something unforgivable, and had no choice but to change. I only got up to 1923 in my little book. That filled enough pages as it was. From what Red and Giles said he took her pretty much straight back to the Coven, to bind her powers, once she'd come down. Didn't pass Go; didn't collect £200. No time for her to talk to Buffy I guess, cos she certainly didn't know. If she had I've no doubt she'd have thrown it in my face at the worst possible moment. So, with all that, unless Buffy'd told him he wouldn't know. Once we'd both started the, don't ask; don't tell, there was never the right moment to talk.

If I'm selfish, and I know the demon in me is selfish, I didn't want to lose the warmth, the friendship, and the support I'd found here. I needed it so badly. I've never really had it before. Didn't have it when I was alive; didn't have it when I was dead. I just wanted, and needed, to feel warm - even if it was only for a little while.

I respect him too. Always have. He was there for me, when nobody else was. I don't want to lose that. I know this thing with Willow is killing him. I want to be there for him, like he was for me. But I can't lie to him either. He'll be making the travel arrangements next, and if she won't have me there I can't go.

The worst bit is that he only really wants me to come because he's worried about me.

I want to go. I want to help him through this. I want to apologise to Buffy. I want to make things right. I want to give her the choice to kill me if it'll make her feel better. I want to try and help Anya sort out her life. Neither of us wanted to hurt anyone, but I know we both did. I want to see my little Nibblet - if she'll let me. If Giles doesn't know, maybe she doesn't either, and there's some hope there. I want to make everything up to her too. Clem's been a good mate to me. I've never really had one before. I can appreciate him better now. It'd be good to see him. I want to pay my debts. I want to pay my debts to all of 'em. I do except Angel from that though. He's still in deficit to me. And I'm very much in two minds about the whelp. I know I should; I just don't really want to, not after the way he treated Anya and me recently. Gotta soul; not become a bleeding saint.

I don't want to go. I'm scared, and I hate that feeling. It's gonna be ugly. I'm still only hanging on by a thread. I'm not sure how much more tugging that thread can take. I'm not sure I can hear her voice in person. I sat there, to give support, while he made the call. God, that was hard. Heard her voice then. Heard her scream. That tore me well up. If I have to see her I might not be able to stand it. It might destroy me - whatever the new me is. But then I didn't exactly make it out of Sunnydale in one piece last time either. The old me's gone after all. Or if it's not gone, it's well buried under this bloody soul.

It's like I've got that bloody Clash song going through my head on auto-replay. Not for the first time in recent years either.

Should I stay or should I go?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double

Why couldn't it be 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais'? I like that song much better. Great memories that one had. I was a very white bloke down the Hammersmith Palais after all. Had a bloody marvellous time down there an all - me and Dru. God, all that blood mixed with the safety pins, the music, the beer bottles, and the gobbing. It hurts so bloody much. I hate this soul sometimes. I know I shouldn't, but I do.

So, time to tell him. It's been a short soulled un-life, and mostly miserable, but with some moments of joy.

***

"Giles. There's something I need to tell you. Dunno if you already know, but if you don't I've got to. You're gonna hate it; but believe me, you couldn't hate me more I do. It's the reason I went off and got the soul. If you want to stake me afterwards I'll stand outside, so you don't have to dust the house. If you can't bring yourself to touch me, to dust me, just give me the stake; I'll do it myself."

God this is hard, but I gotta continue.  "If you don't trust me outside, and don't want to look at me, once I've told you, I'll go upstairs with it. I might be some time." My voice cracked a bit on that one. This is bloody hard enough. No mocking of National Heroes while I'm doing it. Even if the idea of Polar! Explorer! Me! is a classic. My sense of humour's gonna kill me one of these days. Why the bloody hell does it always come out at exactly the wrong moment? I wouldn't mind. I meant every bloody word, and now I sound like a right pillock.

"I'll say this now, in case I don't get the chance later. Thanks for helping me. Know I don't deserve it. Appreciate it more than you could know. Wanna help, if I can. Make up for everything you've done for me. Be there for you two, like you were for me. Make up for a few things. But it can't be my decision. Gotta be hers."

"Ok, you've got my attention. What's so bad to bring on this attack of the drama queens?" Giles said, from the comfy chair.

Deep breath. Might be the last after all - better appreciate it. Plus I need it to talk. OK.

"Dunno what you know about what happened with Buffy and me."

"She told me you'd slept together. We didn't exactly have a great deal of time for Giles as Agony Uncle; the repeat. We did have Willow to deal with at the time. Then there wasn't exactly the time for a long talk afterwards. Too much had to be attended to, and too many injuries fixed up. Is this really the time to deal with this? I've got the flights to arrange, and, to be honest with you, I'm not really sure I want to talk about this. Except to say that if you hurt her I'll kill you."

Bugger.

Well honesty is the best policy, if the most fatal in this case obviously.

"I did. I didn't intend to. I never wanted to. Last thing I ever bloody wanted in fact. But, fact is I did. I didn't take no for an answer, until she clocked me one. I couldn't hear her; it hurt too much. I just flipped Giles. I hurt her, and she had to knock some sense into me. Well, I saw sense. Went and got the soul and..."

He sprang up from his chair and his fist slammed straight into my nose.

***

On the plus side I'm not dusty yet. My nose, however, is definitely broken. But I'll take this one as totally deserved, unlike others - which weren't.

***

Wesley stepped in between us. He put a hand on each of our shoulders, not hard, but enough so that you knew he was there, and just looked at Giles for some time. It seemed to work, and they nodded at each other. Wesley threw me the box of Kleenex for my nose. Then they went into the kitchen and shut the door.

Reprieve or stay of execution? I know I should listen. I can after all - vamp hearing and all. Right now I don't think I really care. I'm too drained. There's a limit and with all that's happened recently, and forcing myself to do this, I just past that limit - with one hell of a speeding ticket. 

Oh, I can hear some things without even focusing. I could hear Wes talking about not throwing away a useful ally. I could hear Giles screaming at Wes for wanting to protect someone who'd hurt his girl; that he'd had more than enough of that from Angel, and he that wasn't about to sit through a replay. Then of course he said he'd thought that I was better than Angel, and that he was clearly wrong. That hurt - a lot. I think that's the point I started crying. I might be wrong, right now I can't think too clearly.

I did hear ever logical Wes say, "But he clearly is better than Angel. He saw he did wrong, and went to fix the problem, to stop it happening again. From my brief experience of Angelus, and your reports of him, it's a quite different situation. He's obviously sorry, and willing and eager to make reparations and apologies. Again, somewhat of a contrast to Angelus, or even the soulled smothering version."

The swearing from Giles muted at that, though it did continue for some time. Then Wes continued with, "You need to get out of here for a bit, away from Spike. Talk things through, away from here. It's early yet. We can go round to the local for a swifty, or two. Come on, let's go and talk things through, away from here."

Giles voice segued out of swearing in Arabic. My mum would have been mortified at some of the insults, but fortunately she didn't find out what her boy became, and didn't speak Arabic either. I do and I deserve every word of it. Giles must have agreed because they came out of the kitchen. He said, "Spike, I know you heard that. Be here when I come back. I want your word on it."

Well that was a no-brainer. "Of course. I'll be here, and thank you."

He snorted, "I wouldn't," and they left.

***

They were gone for hours. Yes, I could have done a runner. I could have continued running. Running from them, from her, from the Council and its lackeys. Yep I could have done that. I didn't. I'm through running. He wants to stake me when he comes back; he can. If she wants to, she can too. I've done what I can. I've done the work. I've made the changes. I'm not running, and I'm not hiding. I'm facing up to what I've done, and I'll pay the consequences for it. I'm also a bloke of his word. Always have been, and I'm not changing now.

***

The half-open whisky bottle sat on the living room table. I'm sure it was watching me. I'm pretty sure I could hear it calling me. It was bloody tempting to let it work its magic. I didn't. Dunno if leaving it there was a test. I doubt it. Not with me springing that little bombshell. It worked like a bloody test though. This test I passed. The bottle remained untouched; not a drop for old Spike. Hey, new start and all that. Gotta continue as you mean to go on, and I can't see Giles being too impressed if I'm hammered when he comes back. Assuming that is he doesn't call in the wetworks boys he was cursing yesterday if he doesn't want to soil his hands with the likes of me.

He came back. They both did.

He sat down, glared at me, and said, "We talked it over. We both agreed with you that it's buffy's call. Well, I made that call. She doesn't want you staked, and will accept your coming back with us. I think it was a shock, and I'm worried since she was alone in the house with nobody to discuss this with, but - you're coming. Get packed! And Spike...you're on your last chance here. Don't blow it."



Part 14. Bittersweet Symphony

He's so cute. His accent is to die for; even I don't understand half he of what he says. He has such lovely long dark hair, even if it's tied back. I so want to play with it.  The whole ethnicy vest and amulet thing - woo, and a big hoo. Yeah, I know preparing the house for 'The Return' isn't exactly primo datage opportunity - but hey, living on a Hellmouth here. A girl's gotta take her hotties when they appear.

Especially when they appear out of thin air.

Mike. Isn't that such a yummy name? Mike the Warlock - aka Oz's best 'mate'. God, it was so cool the way they just appeared in the middle of the kitchen. He finished making all these really amazing signs with his hands. He has gorgeous hands, with some really wacky silver rings. He finished with the chanting, punched the air, and said, "Yes! It worked, Oz! It actually bloody worked! And we didn't explode or anything! Three top shamans to open it, and I managed to close it! Classic!" Did I mention he has a really sexy voice? Then Oz just said, "Hi."

Mike apologised for just appearing in our house, but - and this was so cool! "If we'd come by plane, with our passport stamps, we'd still be going through security. Plus we'd have had to change planes at Miami, and who wants to go there? You lot still haven't discovered the concept of transit." Cute, adorable, and even apologises - nobody ever does that here, no matter what they do.

Oz is so cool. I know I never really met him before - not in the Real World anyway. In my head though, there's all these really great memories of him. In my head he's always nice to me - and cool. Did I mention cool? I've got the memories of him helping Buffy, being devoted to Willow, and quiet, really quiet, but cool - way cool as that Canadian girl we had for a semester always said. I feel these memories. They're real to me. I know they're false. They're all I've got.

In the Real World I'm not even two. I only know Oz from what Willow and Buffy told me. I know I didn't get the whole, 'why he left' story. I'm sure it was, "Complicated." Lots of angst, sex, and violence, with an NC17 rating unfit for the ears of the littlest Summers. But that's what happens isn't it. All men are beasts, and if they don't run out on you on your wedding day, they try to rape you.

She still won't sit down and tell me the whole story. Oh I get bits of it. In the spirit of Summers! Girl! Bonding! I get some of the edited lowlights. I mainly get the, "It was complicated," and, "We both hurt each other very much, not that that excuses anything - just explains it." Then of course she goes Clam-like avoidy Buffy. Of course it's now avoidy Buffy who'll take me patrolling sometimes - so I forebear.

I still don't believe it though. I know he loved her. I know he loved me. He wouldn't have hurt us. He stayed, and cared for me so much when she was gone. That couldn't have been fake. I know it can't have been. Then Xander says such horrible words, and for once she not all denial Buffy. And he ran out on us, like everyone always does. That's got to be a sign of guilt - right? I don't want it to be. I don't want any of this. I wanted it all the way it was in my head, all sweet and us as a family. I guess I was an idiot. Xander certainly enjoys telling me I was.

But I wanted us as a family. I needed that. Every family I have I lose. The fake family in my head, complete with the Father Unit I've never really met. Mom, Buffy and Pumpinbelly - lost to the tumour, or the mess they made of the surgery. Buffy and Me - I lost that when she took my place. Tara, and her funny-shaped pancakes, and Willow and me - lost to Willow's magic binge, along with my fully functioning arm. I get back zombie Buffy - and yes I know the difference, and that she wasn't a real zombie - but she sure felt like one. She'd got no time for me, but plenty of time to throw out Mom's stuff to help out Willow - even after she nearly killed me, and did break my arm - and that hurt, even if nobody cared. I get Tara back - and she was the only one who was there for me - and I lose her again, permanently. I still see all that blood when I close my eyes. I don't do that much now. Turns out I lose Spike at the same time - not that he'd been allowed in the house much for me to lose. Wanted him to herself - and see where that got her.

Now she tells me he's coming back with Giles and Wesley - of all people. What parallel universe are we living in, that he's been staying with Giles, and dares to show his face around here? God! He is so going down! Nobody messes with the Summers girls. Even if she's told me she needs to talk to him, and I'm not allowed to stake him. Why, I don't know. I don't think she does. I certainly don't.

Then again I want a change of universe, from the one where Willow tried to turn me back into whatever it is I am. Green, swirly blob of energy girl. Not real, no matter what they all say. Mike's a Warlock, I shouldn't go near him; he might want to turn me back too. It's so not fair - the first hot guy I've seen, in like forever, and he's one of the things I'm supposed to avoid. Not that he'll probably even notice I'm alive - they always want Buffy. Plus he and Oz are staying with that Devon guy - who'll probably introduce him to all those really hot seniors - my life is so not fair!

I'm still having nightmares about Willow and that room at Rack's. I close my eyes and I see Rack there, all withered, and dead, and disgusting. A group of us were messing about on the swingset in the playground. Kevin was pushing me on the swing, and it was wonderful. Wonderful that is until the back and forth made me all dizzy, and flashed me right back into teleporting from that room into the Magic Box. Tossing your cookies in front of Kevin - so not of the good. Remembering both - so totally of the bad.

She tried to kill me. She tried to kill all of us. Hell, she tried to destroy the planet. I thought that was my job. She stole my memories; and even if they're mostly fake they're all I've got. She tried to kill me, and now I'm relieved she can't do it again. Does that make me evil? Coz, not big with the knowing here. I still don't really know who, or what, I am. Am I good? Am I a soulless thing? If I'm really a green blob of energy do I have a soul? Am I real? Why won't anyone tell me? I need to know.

I do feel some grief. I do. I cried. I'm not evil. I know I'm not. I cried for the girl that looked after me that summer. I cried for the girl Buffy and I watched videos with. I did. Why isn't it enough for some people? Why am I supposed to forget that she tried to kill me and my sister? I thought we're never supposed to forget, or forgive, those who attack us. Why does none of this make sense, and why won't anyone just sit down and talk to me?

She did try. She is trying to be talky Buffy. But she's starting from kindergarten level, and not moving up the grades that fast. Weird thing is that the only one who ever talked about that sort of thing with me is Spike - and that was all to get in my sisters pants - wasn't it? I don't know anything anymore. I don't know if I ever did. Everything's all fuzzy, and all wrong, and I don't like it anymore. I want it to all go away, and everything and everyone to be all right again. I'd make a wish to Anya, but I'd probably only end up starving, locked in the house with everyone's putrid corpses - plus Buffy's ruled out the use of the "w" word anywhere near Anya.

I miss Giles, he was always awkward around me but he'd know. He'd tell me, or he'd try anyway I can't believe all the yuk Xander was saying about him. He didn't want to kill me; I know that. He loves me. Ok, so he's not so good with the showing it, but I know he does. He wouldn't do want to kill me. He certainly wouldn't let Spike rape and murder Willow. It's just too horrible. He just wouldn't. And I know I'm mad, I get told it often enough, but I know Spike wouldn't kill Willow. I know he wouldn't, whatever else he might have done. He liked her. They got on. But then...God, none of this makes sense. I just want my life to make sense!

But I'm a swirly green energy blob, with a Vampire Slayer for a sister, who I'm made from, making her my Mom, who's dead. My best friend was a chipped vampire; and how can a chipped vampire rape or murder anyone? And why won't anyone answer that question? Yeah, I'm just the kid, I can't ask the sensible question. I know nothing - I'm from Barcelona. Great now I'm doing Fawlty Towers impressions. Being around Brits is scary - it'll be the dead parrot sketch next. Did I mention Mike's English?

That went down well with Xander - not. He dragged Oz out to the Bronze for a beer, muttering something about, "Not more Brits," and, "Mel Gibson's got the right idea." That was so mean, leaving poor Mike here with strangers, after he'd teleported him and Oz all the way from Central America. God he's so cool, he's been everywhere! I guess I have too, before I was me, I just don't remember it. I'm not sure if I want to.

Mike's so nice though. He's told me all about where he's been, where he met Oz, and god he's just so adorable! He helped me get all the good china up from the basement, ahead of 'The Return', while Buffy patrolled. We're holding a wake for Willow's return home, I'm told. Nobody ever asks what I want. At least they're not staying here. Anya's new place is big enough - from what I'm told. I'm not allowed to go round there yet. I wonder if it's in a hell dimension, or just overlooks one of the cemeteries? Nobody ever tells me anything.

He's even got cool music. He put on 'Bittersweet Symphony' while we moved enough china to feed the DMP twice over. It'll be our song. Ok he doesn't know it yet, but I do, and that's enough right now. Ok, he's just being nice, and hasn't really noticed I'm alive, but a girl's gotta have some illusions. I've got precious few left.



Part 15. The Boys are Back in Town

I've got the middle seat. I am the buffer zone. They aren't really talking to each other at the moment. There is the pass the tray back to the stewardess meaningless pleasantries, and the ingrained politeness one can't help, when getting in and out of the cramped seats, but it hardly makes for an enjoyable plane journey. The fact that the Council remains it's tight-fisted self only makes it worse. London to LA stuck in economy is hardly the most enjoyable way to travel - even if they did get us the emergency exit seats. But that's just business: nothing personal - no windows to damage a new tool in the war.

It's still less enjoyable than many hell dimensions. And I know all about condemning people to hell dimensions, and the torments thereof. I wish I didn't. I wish so many things; none of which ever come true. Now we're going back to one of my own personal hell dimensions. I have several.

In this one I get to return to the place where I lived down to every expectation of failure drummed into me from childhood. The place I managed to lose not one but two slayers: one to rebellion, one to evil. Well, I paid for that, in blood - mine and others. The place that knows the complete failure: oh so well; and despises it. The place where I have to face those who loved the woman I killed. One of the last places on Earth I ever wanted to return to; and the one place I have to. Oh joy.

We've all got books in front of us. None of us is actually reading them, but they're there. Books as armour; so we don't actually have to talk. Then again that's an ingrained national trait isn't it? Why else would anyone read 'The Times' on a train? Why have a book glued to your face by the mass of sweaty humanity on the Tube, if it's not a defence against having to talk to the person next to you. It works; along with the supplementary allowing you to talk to your neighbour after the train gets stuck in a tunnel for ten minutes. We've been stuck in this plane for hours, but the books are still there, even if none of the pages have been turned, and nobody's talking.

I know what Spike and I are reading. We swapped books before the final match. Before her. We're both reading about thought processes, and changing them to deal with depression. Couldn't, mustn't, have to, should, all the absolutes - all the things I was brought up to be, all that I am, and all wrong according to the books. I'm supposed to be - no that's bad it's another absolute that leads to the black dog of depression; and bad is a label, and labels are bad - no unhealthy not 'bad' - that's a label - according to the books.

He reads like one denying he needs reading glasses. He holds the book at arms length. I hadn't noticed it in the house, but it's obvious on a plane, and looks deeply uncomfortable. Not using glasses is an understandable weakness for one known for 'fists and fangs' I suppose. But it's a weakness I hadn't noticed before. Too much on my mind I expect.

I've spent my life relying on glasses and books - there's never been anything or anyone else I could rely on. Though in the end the books failed me, and I failed. No, I've got that wrong, I failed. I read the books wrong. It's my fault. I always fail.

I know if I could think like these books tell me I would - no - might feel better; without the disgusting pills making me feel like I'm boiling to death at 30,000 ft. But my life is one of absolutes. I don't have that choice. I don't live in the world of the 7.50 from Esher to Waterloo, and my biggest problem in life isn't having a manipulative tosser of a boss, and an unfaithful wife. I live in a world where if I screw up, and don't hold to the absolutes, the entire planet and all it's inhabitants could be destroyed, and/or spend an eternity in torment. I was bred to the absolutes, to do my duty, to know what it is, and to pay the personal consequences without whining about it. I know I would be happier if I could think in terms of the relative, but I don't think in my world that's possible.

If I'm finding it hard I hate to think what it's like for Spike. I haven't had a soul full of absolutes forced into me, to live with a demon full of absolute wants, and a memory full of absolute horrors. If finding the way out of the pit is through the relative, but the only way he can live with what he's done is to follow his conscience, and do what he feels he must, how can he ever be happy. How can any of us? Are we all doomed to feel this bloody miserable for the rest of our lives? And if we are, doesn't somebody have to - so the innocent can be happy, or at least have the chance to heal themselves, like we can't.

I'd talk to Giles about it, but he's put the headphones on, to ensure he doesn't have to talk to either of us. I used my remaining quota of talking to Giles down at the pub, going through why he shouldn't - more absolutes - stake Spike. I'm good at those arguments. I have, after all, had years of practice with myself over how I could justify working with a soulled vampire, and why he wasn't responsible for his actions, but could make amends for them. I've refined them wonderfully - I'd get a First at Oxford with them. I used all of them. Giles, of course, knows them all anyway, and had used them himself to justify his own helping Angel, especially after what Angelus did to him. It didn't help - especially after all Angel put Buffy through, even after returning from hell with his soul intact. He was still spitting blood furious with Spike, and pretty close to returning home with a stake at the ready.

I think it was the disappointment he felt with Spike that made it worse. I know he never really liked Angel, and I could see he'd really started to enjoy Spike's company, as we watched the matches together. The way he giggled when I helped Spike re-do his hair will certainly live with me. I never saw Giles laugh like that before. I don't know if I ever will again. I'd like to. I'd like to smile myself, but I've never had much practice, and I don't know if I can anymore.

I know it was Spike being honest, but most of all giving Buffy the choice what to do with him, that stayed Giles hand. I didn't listen in on the call he made. I feel more than uncomfortable enough about the whole thing as it is, without making it a conference call. From what Giles said, I know she must have said something about what she'd done to Spike that upset Giles, and made Giles sink his pint in one go. When I came back with more beer he just kept muttering that he never should have left them all; that it was all his fault, but no - it wasn't, and he couldn't live their lives for them. When he sank his last pint of the session he did say, "Two wrongs don't make a wrong a right, but if she needs to talk to him, it's her choice. Since I left her to grow up by sinking, rather than swimming, better hope she's finally learnt something, and knows what she's doing. But it's her decision, and the bastard did do the right thing in telling me, even if I hate it, and the right thing in making it up to her on whether or not he comes back. So, let's hope you're right, and that is a good omen. I'm not living through that again. Let's go."

So, we're here, on the world's quietest plane trip.

That's hardly surprising. None of us really wants to go back to Sunnydale. I'm going to give some closure to the loved ones of the girl I killed, and mainly because I can't let Giles go through it alone. I owe him more than that; this is all I can do. I hope it helps. Giles is going because he has too. It's always been down to him, and so he's doing what he always does, even if it's hell. Spike...I don't know. I think that he thinks he needs to face this. I know he wants to repay Giles for all he's done for him, by being there for him in return. I've lost my confidence in my ability to read soulled vampires. Being smothered will do that, strange as it may seem.

I can see this journey's hell on him. When the stewardess came round with the drinks he eyed the bottles like a drowning man looks at a rope. He didn't take one though. Since he didn't I couldn't. Giles gave a rueful smile, and took a fizzy water. We all did, well one needs something to take the pills with. Giles has custody of the little monsters; which remains a good idea. I'm not sure I'd trust myself with a bottle of oblivion. He certainly doesn't.

Giles and Spike are so alike it's scary - well except for the blood drinking, sun allergy thing. Spike put his headphones on as the little plane on the screen moved onto the American continent. Both of them: trying to escape into the music. Both of them failing miserably; but trying the same crutch. They've both got the headphones tuned to the same classic rock channel. With the usual lousy quality of aeroplane headphones that means yours truly gets a distorted stereophonic experience of 'The Boys are Back in Town'.

It's ghastly.

It's worse when the headphones get collected, along with the blankets and pillows, ahead of landing. Back in LA, with a hire car waiting, courtesy of the Council. I feel sick. Spike looks like he's going to be sick. He's gripped the armrest so hard it's broken. Giles looks ashen, but resolute.

Landing.

We let the slavering hoards rush to block the exits. Part of it was blatant common sense, in avoiding any sun exposure to our vampire: the rest, I think, was just not wanting to move. But we did. We had to. We all did what we had to, even if it's an absolute and, therefore, likely to hurt. When we got into the aisle, though, Giles put a hand on each of our shoulders for just a moment. It helped. It helped a little, but it did help.



Part 16. Buffalo Soldier

It's the first time I've been invited into this house since I became a demon again. I'm good enough to help save the World. I'm not good enough to invite for dinner. What's new? She was my bridesmaid. I paid for the dress, and she didn't even try to care for me, when he dumped me, at the altar, in front of everyone I know. She was fast enough to claim to be my friend when it let her tear Spike to pieces. Why is that claim so hard to believe? Must be having lived through that 'friendship.' She was never my friend: not really; she was his. I was there on sufferance. I can see it; now I'm me again. I was the barely tolerated appendage to Xander, not family, not really.

Now I'm invited back in the house. Why? Because Giles might think the worst of her if I'm not invited, after helping, and getting battered to prove it? Because Willow was supposed to be my friend, like she is? Mm...nasty little comments - check; despising looks - check; not listening to a word I say, 'coz what does the ex-demon know about anything - check; failing to do their jobs at my wedding - big check in the debit column. By the Scooby definition of friendship, 'to those that are not us', Willow must have been my friend. If I was able to sell short on how loved they made me feel, I'd be able to pay for the destruction of my shop.

I keep thinking of my last wish, before I came to Sunnydale. It was in Jamaica. It took hours of listening to the woman, in bars that blared out Bob Marley on repeat, before the woman made a wish, on the man that beat her. It was one of my most original. I'm still proud of that one. Every time he hit her he broke one of his own bones. Payback's a bitch, and that was a doozy. I don't have music in my head. I don't hum old rock songs in the shop, like Giles, when he thinks he's alone. I loathe the music of pain Xander inflicted on me, when he brooded about Buffy. But I've got 'Buffalo Soldier' stuck in my head, and I can't get seem to get rid of it, and I hate that. I hate knowing I'm the Buffalo Soldier - or I was for my last human years. Not wanted for me: something to be used, not a real person. I don't like that feeling. It hurt as a mortal. It hurts as me. Something to be used is all I'll ever be to them. I can see that now.

I'm currently being used to bring, and pay for, the liquor.

I'm supposed to forget all about the destruction of my property, the bruises, the unconsciousness, the pain, having my brain manipulated - again. It's a wake, I'm told. I'm supposed be sad, and mourn. It's official. Ppfftt! Humans! It's strange though, I'm still sad for Joyce. She was nice to me, and I miss her, and I still don't understand why she had to die. It hurt so much when I thought Giles was going to die, and he's human, and these things happen. I can still feel that pain, even though I'm me again. I have all these queasy feelings in my stomach, about Spike and Giles arriving. But I don't feel sad about Willow. I have all this baggage from the last few years, saying I should; but I don't. Is this human? Am I a bad demon? I don't understand why it's all still so complicated. It's supposed to be simple. I'm supposed be happy. I was for centuries. It didn't hurt, and I had fun. What have they done to me?

I tried to be Willow's friend. I didn't like her: not after all those little comments. Who would? Helen Keller? But I tried, because I loved him, and it was what he wanted. I always did what he wanted. She never wanted my friendship, or to be my friend. She'd use me; that's true. I tried to ignore it: for him. Why did I waste my breath - that's valuable, and would have been irreplaceable, if I weren't me again. I could have spent my whole mortal existence being insulted, ignored, and put down, if he'd been man enough to go through with the wedding. Why was I willing to do that? Fear? Fear of living, and dying, alone and unwanted? I wish I knew - but I can't grant my own wishes, even if I forgot for a while. Being reminded of the rules by Hallie - now that's embarrassing.

The only ones who really were my friends were Giles, and Spike.

Giles gave me a purpose in life, even if he destroyed my old one, with my necklace. Spike gave me solace, and understanding, even if we couldn't help each other. I've missed them. I'm glad they're coming home - even if it will be awkward, for others, who aren't me. I also don't trust her to look after Giles, after what she let happen to him in the shop, let alone trust her anywhere near Spike. It's why I'm putting the three of them up. After the last time I saw Spike, I want him somewhere I can make sure there's no flying axes anywhere near him. He's my friend. I don't love him. The orgasm was good, considering we were both drunk, and miserable, but we're not going there again. He's the other Buffalo soldier, and we've got to look after each other - right?

I've got the room. Thank D'Hoffryn for that short sale on WorldCom, and that lovely profit, which funded my new apartment. It's big enough for guests too. It had to be, to take the surviving stock from my shop. I couldn't take it all to Arashmahar anyway. D'Hoffryn wouldn't approve of the explosions taking some of the amulets would cause, and I'm still trying to make it up to everyone over the wedding presents thing, as it is. It's not as if my family could send their presents back to Macy's. Besides, after last time, I feel happier having a place for me, and my possessions, outside Arashmahar - something I can't lose, something that's mine.

Xander, of course, was big with not allowing me to have my friends stay in my own home. Well it's my property, and he gave up the right to interfere when he dumped me. He was so full of jealous garbage. "I couldn't have a rapist in my home". I know better. I told Spike to stop, and he did. I'm the one that had sex with Spike, and knows what he's like, not Xander - though from all he says anyone would think it were the other way round. "Giles place is with Buffy". Yes, and being at her beck and call does him so much good. He's my friend, and I'm taking care of him, and any baggage he's bringing with him, even if it's Wesley.

Oz is pleasant, though it's difficult not to be when you just say, "Hey, good to see you," after more than two years. His friend makes up for it though. He babbles like Willow. Since Dawn can't leave Mike alone, I hope, for her sake, Oz hasn't turned gay too. Dawn's a little young for vengeance. I'm pretty sure Mike's not gay though. I saw him eyeing my breasts. At least I have some; unlike some people who shall remain unemployable.

Speaking of vengeance, I don't feel a thirst for it from Buffy. She's much the same as when I got back - a padded cell, compared to Willow's scream. But that's appropriate, I suppose, when she thought she was in a padded cell she didn't try to kill me - I didn't qualify as a friend. Not that I was there, of course, but it's the thought that counts - it's what fuels vengeance. Why would a Slayer need, or want, my services anyway, she can destroy anyone, or anything, she wants. I've seen her do it.

***

Xander's been sent to Super Food World to get more snacks, since he ate all the existing ones. At least I won't have to see him eat with his mouth open anymore. I mean, a vampire eats with better manners, and they prefer their prey alive and screaming. But if he lingers in the chips aisle, at least there's a chance, Giles and Spike will get here before he can start raving again.

We arranged to meet here at Buffy's. It's not like they're using a cab, and having it wait outside with the luggage costing money. I'm not sure a cab would take human remains anyway.

Sound of a car stopping outside the house, and a door shutting. Heavy steps walking up to the door. A knock on that door. Everyone freezes. They're all such drama queens. I opened the door.

***

It was Giles and Wesley. Synchronised exhaling from Buffy and Dawn.

***

I pulled Giles into a quick hug. Well, if I didn't I wouldn't get the chance once Miss Everything's About Me got her hooks into him. Giles hugged me back, and said, "Thank you Anya. Your hair looks lovely brown." I didn't even have to mention it this time. Yay me!

Wesley looked ashen, and just stood there. I didn't know him as a demon, and didn't care to know him as a human. But now I'm me I can see such pain, and such suffering. I can see a child locked into a dark cupboard; a thin woman dumping a teapot on a floor; a bald black man shutting a door; a snarling, spitting, vampire with a pillow. So much pain I can't believe Hallie didn't help. But maybe a watcher child was warded against us, and there are so many abused children in the world, and even we can't be in two places at once. Such agony, such guilt, and I keep seeing pillows, children whose faces change, and pillows.

Buffy did at least wait until Giles finished talking to me before coming up. Her eyes looked huge, and scared. The lower lip came out in a pout and, more apprehensively than I've seen from her before, she looked up at him and said, "Giles?"

He hugged her too, for a long time. More than I got, but she is his slayer I suppose, and I 'm just the business partner, in a destroyed business.

Dawn sat across the room looking bewildered, and confused. Oz observed, and Mike went into the kitchen to make tea.

Buffy unburied her head from Giles jacket, and said, "You don't hate me?"

He smiled, sniffed and said, "Never."

She swallowed, and said, "No Spike?"

Loud snort from Dawn. Buffy let go of Giles, stroked Dawn's hair, and said to her, "We talked about this. It's right he's here, for Willow's sake, and I...I need to talk to him. So...we're ok with this, right?" She nodded, her face buried in her long hair.

Giles let her talk to Dawn. When she'd finished he said, "I wanted to come in first, and see how you are. I also didn't want you to have to re-invite him in person. Making things easier on everyone, and all that."

Tears glimmering from her eyes, or lint from Giles jacket, with a cracked voice she said, "There's no dis-invite, Giles. I know...I know. But there isn't. So..."

Wesley said, "I'll get him. Be useful and all that."

***

He returned with Spike, in a black woollen suit jacket, that swam on his thin form. He was thin before, well I do know exactly what he's like under all that leather. He's dreadfully thin now. I'm gonna need more blood in the cooler.

She's not looking him in the face.

Spike looks sick, looking at Buffy. I didn't think a vampire could look that ill.

But, there's something else about him, about his smell. He smelt wonderful before, now there's something else - something fattening the veins on my face. Such beautiful pain. A girl that looks strangely familiar; a dark haired girl covered in slime and fungus; Buffy pounding his face to mush - screaming obscenities at him. All that pain and scorn, filling me with the power and pleasures of vengeance, and pulling my veins out in my face. His pain was a siren before; now it's irresistible. I would have given him a wish before, now my legs have turned to jello, as every fibre of my demon screams to grant vengeance to such pain.

But there's such a stench of guilt - the reek of guilt over crimes committed; horrors done with joy; and such self-loathing. Guilt that forces down my demon; that denies the right to vengeance. Guilt that believes the pain to be deserved, that denies any right to justice. The stink of the soul that forces my veins back into my skin.

"You've got a soul."



Part 17. Walls Come Tumbling Down

Buffy dropped into the sofa, eyes and face frozen. My poor dear girl, having to go through this again. And she's not the only one. Not the only one slumped on the sofa either. Anya joined her, rubbing her face, and looking a little woozy, which is also worrying. Well, she is my business partner, and she's a demon and not supposed to get ill. What kind of bloke would I be if I weren't a little worried? Oz and a longhaired young man I don't recognise looked at each other. Dawn's eyes opened wide, then she ran over to Spike, tears falling down her face. Spike didn't touch her. I don't think he'd stop her doing anything she wanted to him. I don't think he thinks he's got the right to stop her, or to touch her.

Dawn's fists balled, and she pounded against his chest. The up and down motion, from such a short distance away, combined with the fact she was using the meat of her fist, not the knuckles, let alone getting her shoulders into it, meant she wasn't doing any real damage. No physical damage anyway, the tears in Spike's eyes showed it hurt, nonetheless. If that's Buffy's idea of training her, I'm going to have to give her some tips. Dawn choked out, through her own tears, "But..but, if you've got a soul I can't...I can't. If you've got a soul, it's not your fault, and I have to forgive you, and I know the rules, and I don't understand! How could you, Spike! It was all so simple, and I could hate you, and I could do it, and what I have to do, and how could you do it!"

"Nibblet...Bit...Dawn, I'm so sorry, so sorry, you can't know how sorry I am, how much it hurts, how much I never wanted this."

"You didn't want a soul?" She stopped hitting him, and looked him in the face.

"No, luv, got me wrong. Wanted it; went for it. Got myself totalled getting it, and I'm not losing it: - can't anyway: permanent and all. Nothing but the best for my girls." She snorted. "Sorry, again, shouldn't have said that. Forfeited the right to say that. Know that, and if it'll make you, or your sis, feel even a tad better - go for it."

Spike handed Dawn a stake he must have hidden in the jacket.

He closed his eyes, arms out slightly, and just stood there. Of course if she does dust him, the little bastard'll take my jacket with him. I'd be furious if I wasn't impressed - even if I don't want to be. Wes looked at me. I looked back.

It's not my responsibility anymore. I've done all I can. I've taught them. I've supported them. I did my best. I wish I could have done more; but I've done all I can. It's up to them now. They're adults - hard as it is to believe - except for Dawn. They have to make their own decisions now, even if they don't exactly make the most sensible ones. I can't make their choices for them - even if I'd prefer to spare them the pain I've been through. It doesn't work that way. It never does. Guess I've learnt something too. The children will do what the children will do, but dusting would seem to be a waste - of so many things. But what's new?

Dawn looked at the stake for what seemed like an age - in fact the Bronze Age would have felt short in comparison. She looked at Spike, who opened his eyes, presumably in surprise at being still in one piece. They looked into each other's faces: tears falling down both their cheeks.

She dropped the stake, and threw her arms round him, crying, "I can't. I'm bad, I know that, but I'm not. You've got a soul, and that makes it all ok, but it doesn't, even if that the rules, and I love you, and I still hate you, but I couldn't. I could never...Spike. Why couldn't I do it? Why is it all so complicated? I couldn't. Spike. I can't, and I'm sorry, and I don't understand. I still love you." Spike's arms tightened around Dawn. "Why do I still love you? I shouldn't. You hurt my sister, and you left us, and I trusted you. But it's ok, isn't it? You've got a soul, and that makes all the difference, and you won't ever hurt us again, will you? You won't - you promise? Coz saying right now: can't do this again. I can't...I can't." Dawn cried into his shoulder, and his tears soaked into her hair, as he stroked it.

I picked up the stake, and put it in my pocket. It's not a safe thing to have lying around on the floor, for anyone, but especially with Spike's drama queen tendencies. If Buffy wants to stake him I'm sure she's got a stake of her own - maybe even 'Mr Pointy'. Poor Kendra. What we do to these girls...even if there's no choice. My own poor dear Buffy. I wish I could help. I wish I could tell what she feels, but she just looks in shock right now, and she wasn't too forthcoming over the phone.

The door opened, and Xander came through it. "The Xandman reporting for duty; bearing snacks. Many, many snacks..."

The supermarket bags dropped to the floor, and Xander snarled, "Get your hands off her, you filthy animal!" He glared at Buffy, and continued, "You're allowing that thing to touch Dawn? What's wrong with you people?"

Dawn unburied her head from Spike's shoulder, and looked at Xander. "It's all right Xander. It's cool. Everything's cool. He's got a soul. It's all ok, everything's gonna be all right."

"Yeah, coz people with souls don't, say, shoot people in their gardens, or rape and murder people in their beds. Get away from it, Dawn. Now!"

 "Why don't you stop telling people what to do, Xander, and try listening for a change," said Anya, from the sofa. She was looking more herself again, which is reassuring, even if Xander appears to have lost the plot somewhat.

"What...looking to polish another table?" Xander sneered, whilst rummaging in his jacket.

"No, just pointing out a few home truths, not that you'd recognise them if they came up and bit you, which could be arranged." Anya said getting up.

"You like that do you? One thing I couldn't give you, I guess. No wonder you prefer the evil dead!" spat Xander.

"Xander, really, that was totally unnecessary," I said. Well it was, and I really don't like seeing tears in Anya's eyes. It seems wrong somehow. She's made to do silly dances around the cash register, and know strange and wonderful things, not this. And how the irritating, but loveable, boy from the library turned into such an unpleasant bully I wish I knew. Maybe I could have done something to stop it.  Because I know he can do better than this.

"No, Giles, so necessary. I'm not letting that thing do another Miss Calender. Not on my watch!"

I could feel my jaw clench, and my blood boil, because that, as the children would put it - just so unfair. "Not going to happen Xander. The soul is permanent."

"Checked it did you? Always thought you English old school tie..."

"Xander, Giles, Anya, everybody, please..." from Buffy looking upset.

"No, sorry Buff. If you can't do your duty, someone else's gotta. Time to take this bastard out - which should have been done years ago." Xander pulled out a stake, and lunged at Spike.

"Xander! No!" screeched Dawn.

Time seemed to slow down. Buffy leapt up from the sofa, heading for Xander. Anya threw herself at him. Wesley moved to push Xander's staking arm away from Spike. Spike stood there, looking stupidly stoic, and accepting of his fate. I shouted at Xander to, "Stop! You stupid boy, look, you need to listen!"

The tone of Dawn's scream changed, and blood dripped from her arm, where Xander's stake had caught it. Spike pushed her away from the melee. I saw Oz looking worriedly at his mate, who mumbled something, and the stake flew into his hand. That took some power - which is interesting. Wesley managed to get hold of Xander's arm, and restrain the boy.

"Oh God! Dawn. Are you ok? I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," cried Xander to Dawn, who was holding her arm, the blood dripping onto the floor.

"Yeah sure, whatever. Like, I'm supposed to trust you, and what you say? Try listening to people sometime! Mike! You, like, saved my life! That was so cool! Thank you so much. But...ouch."

"You hurt my sister, Xander! Nobody hurts my sister. Even you," Buffy stated very firmly, with her hands on her hips.

"It was an accident! She tried to stop me. I didn't mean to hurt her. I'd never hurt Dawn. It was an accident. You're ok: aren't you Dawn?"

"Stake me if you like, but nobody hurts the Nibblet! Never again."

"Stop playing your little games, Xander. People get hurt!" from Anya, who was leading Dawn into the kitchen, to look at her arm.

Buffy joined Anya and Dawn. "The medical kit is in the bathroom." Then her eyes got huge, and she stared at Spike.

Great, now Spike and Buffy both looked green. Xander pulled away from Wesley's arm restraining him, and ran towards a lovely wooden chest. Buffy shouted, "That's the weapons chest," to me.

Oz sat down on it. Buffy and Anya left Dawn to run to Xander. Wesley tried to grab his arm again. It's been some years since I played rugby - school in fact - but you never forget, and I still tackle pretty well. I brought him down, and he hit his head hard enough not to try getting up too quick either.

Oz stood up, and opened the chest. He took some rope out, and threw to Buffy, saying, "Not bondage guy, but thinking we're in need of a time out here."

Anya looked at Buffy, and said, "I'm not playing any more bondage games with him. I'll take Dawn upstairs and fix her arm. Come Dawn." Dawn looked at Buffy, who nodded, so she followed Anya to the bathroom.

While Xander was out Buffy and Wesley sat him on one of the dining chairs. I checked his pupils. Hey, lots of experience of head injuries here. This one wasn't serious, and he was already coming round when Buffy finished tying him to the wooden chair.

"Now if you've all quite finished, I'd like to bring Willow in now." I said.

I hate this. I hate the need to lie to the children. I hate that I can't tell them it's not her. It's a vagrant, brought to a strange country, to give closure, and a grave, to the loved ones of a girl who tried to destroy the Earth. But Buffy, Dawn, and Xander need a grave to tend. They need closure. They'll need to feel she's next to Tara, and that they can visit them both. I wish Oz didn't have to go through this too. I was always fond of the lad. It was so good to have someone to talk to that liked the same music - even if he never did say very much. But he has the same rights. I owe him that. I owe it to all of them. It's my fault, so if I have to suffer, to give them that: I will.

If Spike and Wesley have to bear this additional weight of deceit on their consciences, to give peace to the innocent, they'll just have to live with it. It's hard. It burns away at your humanity; but it's necessary. I know Wesley can do this. We're the same in that way. We'll hate it; but we'll do it. We were never given the choice to be otherwise.

The exact contents of the urn are a sin of omission: so I know Spike can do this. He's pretty good at those - even if he's appalling at bald-faced lying. I've had enough experience of both the old and the improved Spike to know he can do this. He wouldn't be here - in any sense of the word - if I didn't have that confidence. He knows they need the lie, and he'll give it to them. It is the least he can do, after all the damage he's done, and he knows that, just as well as I do. He knows the truth would only do them more hurt, and it's pretty obvious that's the last thing he wants. The lie hurts. I'd love nothing better than to not have to do this. But in this, they are the innocent; and that's what we have to do: protect the innocent - no matter what the cost. And it's huge; but has to be done.

I looked both of them in the eyes. The pain in both was excruciating, but having the burden shared helped. It helped enormously.

Spike said, "Need the company mate?"

Wesley said, "If there's anything...anything I can do."

Xander shouted from the dining room chair, "You're not touching my Willow, none of you are gonna defile my Will - not again. I'm going. I'm not letting you bastards touch her, never ever again. In fact..."

Anya looked down at him, used a tea towel as a gag, and said, "Much better."

Buffy glared at her, but looked weary, and left the gag in for a minute. Then she took it out, and said, "Xander, please. I know you're upset; we all are. But we're all supposed to be here for Willow, not to fight each other. You're only making it all hard, and it's just so hard as it is. Please, please don't make me have to throw you out, or put this back. I need you here. Willow needs you here. I know this is hard for you. It is for all of us. But, please be cool, Xander: for Willow, if not for me, or Dawn - who you are so saying sorry to, by the way."

He nodded, and she smiled at him.

I went outside, and leant against the car for a moment. I needed the break. I needed to get some air in my lungs. I needed the break from all of them. I love them all dearly, but bloody hell, they're draining. No wonder I've got more lines than when I arrived here for the first time - no to mention the scars, mental and physical.

All the drama's stuck another of the songs from the plane in my head - even if it's not my usual taste in music. It's appropriate in the circumstances - the Style Council's 'Walls Come Tumbling Down'. Everyone's walls have certainly crashed down on each other, with a vengeance - even without any help from Anya, in an official capacity.

Ah well, at least if all the poison's been lanced, we've got the worst out of the way.

Quite frankly, I needed this over with. There's a limit, to what I can do, what I can take, and what I can do for them all - and I've come pretty close to that edge right now. God, this was so hard. But... this had to be done. Since this was my responsibility, I had to do it. So, I took a deep breath, opened the boot of the car, and took out the urn.

I brought the urn into the house, and placed it on the table.

Oz took one sniff and said, "That's not Willow. I'd know her scent anywhere. That's not her." The hair started growing out of his face, and his nails turned into talons.

He growled out, "What have you done with my Willow? Where.Is.She."



18.The Perfumes of Arabia

Bloody hell!

Oz transformed fully into wolf form as he sprung towards Giles. Only the shredded remains of his jeans slowed him down enough for me to catch him. I had to. In wolf form, a bite, or a bloody scratch, and we get a were-watcher, even if he survives the attack. Furry is not an option - not if I've got anything to do with it. In wolf form I can stop him. I don't want to hurt him. God knows, I don't think I ever want to hurt anyone ever again. But this time I've got to, to save a friend - even if I know I don't deserve him.

Buffy ran towards us. I just had time to shout. "Giles, Wes, keep them all away, they'll get infected."

Talons ripped my skin, with hot breath at my throat. I had to vamp. I'm stronger that way. So's the demon. It's the demon that's needed right now - even if I hate it. Another smashed coffee table. There was rolling, biting, slashing, claws tearing at each other, but I got the bite in. Strong powerful blood that tasted like nectar, it was so full of power. Blood I didn't want to drink. Blood of Buffy's friend. Blood that burned like battery acid as it flowed down my throat. Blood I had to drink to weaken him enough to subdue him, without killing. Because I know perfectly well that would destroy what's left of me.

I was drunk with the blood, but I still heard the dark haired English boy say, "Stop."

I felt the magic.

Oz froze. I stopped drinking and withdrew.

My blood's all over Oz. My nails tore through his fur, and his blood's all over me. I wiped my mouth with my hands.

Who would have thought the kid would have so much blood in him. Yeah, I know it's a mis-quote - so, sue me. But there's so much blood, and so much of it on my hands. Not just his, and not just a damned spot of it either. Oceans of blood: covering my hands. Overflowing: swamping everyone and everything. God, I once said I'd do the backstroke in Buffy's blood. With all the blood I've shed, I could have done.

All the perfumes of Arabia can't sweeten my hands.

It's the first blood on my hands since I got my soul back. I'm stained again. Unclean again. But, who am I kidding? There's so much blood soaked into my hands that I'll never get them clean. Doesn't mean to say I'm gonna stop trying. Nothing else I can do; is there?

Right now the idea of a nice dark cave, away from everyone, and everything, would be just be so nice. I can't do this. I can't just dive back into life. I just want some peace. I want some sleep. I want the screams in my head to just stop. Just for a minute. That's all I want. Some silence. Just so I can get my bearings. Then they can start right up again. I deserve them after all. But now the screams in my head have joined with the ones in this room. Screams, and everyone yelling at each other. But, there's so much noise in my head I can't make anyone out clearly. You try screams with vamp hearing. It hurts. It's so weird that we make so many screams, when it hurts so much.

With a soul it's so much worse. I can feel the screams. I couldn't before. They hurt my ears, but gladdened my heart - even if it couldn't beat. But I deserve this torment. A nice dark cave might be so tempting right now. But that's brooding. It's self- indulgent crap, and doesn't help anyone. I need to start making some amends, and being useful to those that helped me when they didn't have to. So, snap to it Spike.

"Thank you. Mike, is it?" said Giles.

"Yeah. But I didn't do it for you. I did it for Oz, so he didn't kill again. I promised him I'd stop him if it happened again. Each time it's harder to come back to human. He's my mate. So, I did it for him. Not you - not if you've done anything to his girl. Right now, I'm drained, and I'm going to look after my friend."

"Actually, you're not. Spike's right. You could get infected, with all that blood around. All of you could, except for Spike and me. I don't want to chain any of you up every month. I had enough of that with Xander. Spike and I will clean Oz's wounds, and then chain him up." said Anya, bearing kitchen towels to mop up the blood. "Spike, get the chains, I'll start on cleaning him up."

"Gotta love a practical demon." Everyone in the room glared at me. Bugger. "In a friends only sort of way of course."

"You're not getting blood all over my weapons chest. I'll get the restraints, and put them on the floor, but then I want to know what's the story about the ashes. I can't believe there'd be a mix up with her ashes. That's just too horrible. But we need to stop Oz from hurting himself, or Giles, first." said Buffy, looking bewildered, stompy footed, and deeply bothered.

"Me too", said Dawn. She went into the kitchen, and returned with plastic bags to put the towels in. Then brought the medical kit.

"Well, I want answers now. Where is Willow? What have you done with my best friend's body? Destroyed the evidence? Now it's time to kill Oz, coz he knows better. That it? Think we're stupid enough to accept a fake? Coz, - not that dumb." I'd frequently beg to differ on that last point, but right now, I only wish I could.

"Xander, please. That's enough. We're all upset, but I'm sure there's a rational explanation for all this. There has to be. And you're upsetting Dawn." Said Buffy.

"I'm sorry to upset Dawn. But I want an explanation, and I want it now. I'm not allowing my friend to be chained up by a filthy demon, and I wish..."

Anya reapplied the gag. "I've had enough of being insulted. And you despise vengeance demons, so you don't get a wish."

We finished tending Oz's wounds, cleaned him up, and chained him up. We cleaned up the area, and ourselves in the kitchen. Then Anya and I carried him over to Mike, who was looking worried.

Time for some answers. Bugger.

Giles began. "Buffy, you aren't going to like this. I don't. Nobody would. I could lie to you, and say there was a mix up at the funeral parlour. I won't. I can't. There wasn't. It's not Willow. Her funeral was in England. The Council insisted."

"You knew?" Buffy said to me.

I looked at Giles. I can't lie to her. I never could. He nodded almost imperceptibly, but enough. "Yes, I did. We were all there at the funeral. She was among friends. We all tried to help, to be there for her. We failed. Buffy I'm so sorry, but everyone tried so hard. And, at the last, she wasn't alone."

"But why? I don't understand. Why not bring her home?"

"Witch slaves? Am I right Giles?" Anya said.

"Uh?" Said Dawn. Muffled shouts from Xander.

"Such a powerful witch can be resurrected, as a mindless slave. She can be brought back from her coffin, or from ash. She'd be lethal, and a threat to the World. The Council insisted. There was no choice. She was scattered, with due ceremony. She's at peace."

"But why this farce with this fake? Why not just tell us. Why didn't you trust us? That hurts, Giles." Pleaded Buffy.

"I trusted you, Buffy. I'd always trust you. But after you were resurrected we couldn't take the chance of the same thing happening with Willow. There's no more urns - it wouldn't work like it did on you. What would come back wouldn't be Willow. We couldn't trust that no-one would try to resurrect her. Or, since Anya is a vengeance demon, make a wish - which always backfire. I'm sorry, Buffy, there was no other way. But we wanted you all to have some peace, some closure, and a grave to mourn at. That was why there's all this. I'm sorry, it wasn't meant to hurt you."

"It did. I just don't know what to believe anymore. I trust you, Giles, you know that. So I'm gonna have to try and deal. But...but it's so hard. I just don't get all of this. Hey, simple slayer here. Resurrection spells, witch slaves, it's all complicated stuff way beyond me. But, I trust you and that's the important thing." Buffy nodded firmly.

Whew. That went better than I expected. Giles, Wes and I looked at each other, and we all breathed out - even if I didn't need to.

Then there was the sound of a powerful car stopping outside. There was the click of high heels, and a knock on the door.

Dawn opened the door, and a tall brunette stepped into the room.

"Lilah." Sighed Wes.

"Lover." She purred.

"Wesley had sex? Wesley has an orgasm buddy?" From Anya - who else?

"Hardly what I'd call her. But it's not exactly unknown for me to enjoy some female company, Anya. Though enjoy is hardly the term I'd use in reference to this particular tart." Wes said.

"Not really surprising, from what you told us." Giles said, cleaning his glasses. This cannot be a promising sign - if the glasses are being rubbed. Let's face it; we're all royally buggered, and it's only gonna get worse, now the learned bitch representing Hell's here.

"You kissed and told. Wesley, I'm shocked. I thought a gentleman never tells."

"You're no lady. You don't qualify." 1-1 so far. Good to see Wes holding his own.

So this was the infamous Lilah. Statuesque, nice figure, well groomed hair, and clearly expensive designer business slut-wear. Pretty obvious why Wes didn't kick her out of bed. Pretty obvious why he wouldn't want a second go. No sensible male goes back to a black widow spider once he's escaped with his head intact.  Either head in fact. I've never claimed to be sensible - alive or dead.

"Nice shoes. K-Mart having a reject sale?" She said, looking with some distaste at Dawn's shoes. Dawn's jaw dropped, and her face flushed red.

I'd say something snarky, but Lilah's shoes struck me dumb. They're good ones, Ferragamo, or Patrick Cox. How does a male vampire know so much about women's shoes? Not a natural thing you'd think. Not when he spent over a century with Dru. Not when Dru had to keep playing the Cinderella game. Choose a victim by her shoes. See if it fits Princess's foot. If the shoe fits: rip out the heart to save Cinderella from the bad daddy, make love drenched in the blood, 'til Prince and Princess are stuck together forever and ever. So much blood. So much pain. So many shoes - all sodden with the blood. I'm going to be seeing this forever. I see it today. There's no escape. There won't be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.  God, how do I do this? How am I supposed to live with this? With what I've done, what I've seen?

"Hey!" From Buffy, in defending her sister/cub mode. Wouldn't want to be Lilah.

"Mm...The famous Miss Summers. I'd expected a woman, not a pre-pubescent boy. No wonder Angel prefers Miss Chase. A man needs a real woman."

"Really. Wesley, you slept with this?" Giles said.

"Hey!" From Buffy, who continued, "And in what bizarro world would Angel ever prefer Cordelia to me?"

Guess I've got to take it one step at a time. Only thing I can do. Small steps. And nobody hurts my girls - even if I've forfeited the right to call them that. "Hey! That's not nice."  Well it was totally out of order. What she said about Angel though; that's interesting. There's a scar on her neck. I took a sniff. It was old, stale, and masked by other scents, including Wes's but there was a faint hint of Peaches. That stupid, idiotic, bastard. I can't believe he'd do that to us, all over again.

Lilah smiled at Buffy, like a cat munching on a fat canary. "Oh, the same one where he and Darla had such a lovely baby boy. Lovely couple, when they weren't killing my colleagues that is. Such a shame about what happened to the kid. What, he didn't tell you? I'm shocked. I thought you were soulmates." Buffy collapsed on the sofa looking stricken.  I can't go to her. I'm unclean. She wouldn't want me to anyway.

"You utter cow." Spat Wes.

"You boys didn't tell her? That's not very open and honest. I thought you're the heroes. I am so disappointed." She all but wagged her fingers at us.

"You knew", from Buffy to Giles, who'd moved towards her.

"Only what Wes told us. I'm sorry. I really thought Angel would have told you."

"I trusted you. How many more things haven't you told me? What else have you done? How many more things have you forgotten to tell me? How much more am I supposed to take. Coz...running on empty here. There's nothing left. I'm so tired. Just...just leave me alone." Buffy cried, then slumped on the sofa.

"Darling. Your hands look so lovely with blood on them." Lilah said to Wes.

"There's no blood on him. It's on Spike and Anya. But mostly Spike." From Dawn - who'd stopped looking at her shoes.

"Really?" She picked up Wes's right hand and licked his palm, moaning like someone eating the finest foie gras. She did an upper body shimmer of pleasure, and said, "tastes like blood to me." She licked her lips and continued, "Mm...Redhead, faint hint of computer, with an underlying theme of magic. Chateau Sunnydale 1999 Graduation Class?"

"What?" In stereo from the Summers girls.

"Oh. Well that explains things." Anya said.

There were muffled growls, and threats coming from Xander. The Warlock bloke kept quiet, while keeping an eye out on the unconscious werewolf.

Giles and I echoed the stereo effect with, "Bloody hell."

"You bitch." Said Wes, quite coldly.

"It's why you love me, you know that." Lilah said, with a sultry look at Wes.

"Never."

"You've no choice not any more. Think they'll accept you now? After they know? After they know you put a pillow over her head, and smothered the breath out of their beloved little Willow? Oh, no. You've made your bed. I know you liked that bed. It's time to lie down in it. It'll be fun. And you really don't have a choice - not any more. You're mine, and we both belong to Wolfram and Hart. They're the only ones who can protect you. Think the Council will: now they all know? Or would you have a tragic accident? That would be such a shame. You're all alone. Time to come with me Wesley - again."

The silence in the room was tangible - weight, mass, the lot. All noise seemed to have been pulled into the black hole that was Lilah.

Giles and I looked each other in the eyes. We both know what this is likely to cost. I don't see Buffy forgiving either of us for this. She'll see it as a betrayal, and on so many levels it is. But if I turn my back now, after everything they both did for me, I'll be beneath contempt. Ok, I am anyway. But, if I'm gonna make a new start; it's got to be the right start. It's got to be doing the right thing. The right thing isn't turning your back on a friend in need of saving, even if it costs you the World.

The hope of forgiveness from Buffy, and acceptance from Dawn, is my World. I know I just blew that straight out of the water. But I know that if Giles, and me - I know to a much lesser extent, turn our backs on him now, he would fall into darkness. I spent over a century in darkness. It sucks - and that ain't a pun. It just is. If I have to give up my World to save a friend from that, I will. I just did in fact. So did Giles. I can see it in his eyes.

"He's not alone." Giles put his hand on Wes's shoulder.

"Too bleeding right he ain't." I put mine on his other shoulder.

The amazed gratitude in Wes's eyes made it almost worth it.

"You killed Willow?" Buffy said in disbelief to Wes. He closed his eyes.

Xander worked the gag loose. "I told you she was murdered. Did anyone listen to the Xandman? No! It's all; Spike's got a soul now, everything's fine, everything forgiven and forgotten. It's all; Giles would never let anything happen to Willow, you're a mad jealous bigot, Xander. I'm not, and she's dead because of it."

"I should have seen and acted earlier. I remember when you wouldn't trade the box for my Will, you bastard. Why did you have to kill her? She was getting better. She would have come back to me. I know she would. And now she never ever will. And it's all your fault. All three of you English bastards. You're all gonna pay. I'm staking that thing, the moment I get out of this. And you two  - I'm going to the authorities. You don't get away with killing Americans, and definitely not my Willow."

"How naive? Sweet child. Of course they will. It's called friends in high places, you poor deluded boy. Doesn't matter which side you're on; we both do the same things to cover ourselves. They're perfectly safe from whatever little delusions about the law you still hold. Though, maybe not the stake thing, even if it would be a waste of...a soulled vampire? Another one? Interesting. William the Bloody, I think you just made the preservation list, at least temporarily." Lilah looked me in the eyes. It was like looking into the eyes of a cobra. I hate snakes.

She turned back to Xander. "They'll walk out of here: courtesy of the Council or Wolfram and Hart. There's no big difference - just a few minor points of philosophical disagreement - except we're better dressed, and considerably better paid. You're playing with the big boys now. There's no way to win. You've got no choices. Time to recognise that."

Xander glared at her, smiled grimly, then he turned to Buffy.

"Your choice Buffy. Raping murdering bastards, or your family."



Part 19. Isn't it Ironic

I glared at Xander. I don't like it when people try and make me do anything.

"Giles is my family. Like Dawn's my family. Like you are."

"Thank you, Buffy." Giles said.

"But..."

"Don't go there, Xander. Don't try and make me choose; you might not like the answer. Right now I want everyone to stop shouting, and I want to talk to Giles."I glared at my Watcher, and continued, "And I want the truth - all of it."

Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "The truth. I hope you can handle it, it's not pretty. It's not what you want to hear. It's why I tried to spare you all this. But, if you insist," he sighed.

Xander shouted, "We know the truth. Spike killed my Willow. You're all just covering up for him, like you always do!"

Giles snorted. "Xander, stop this. If you want the truth; here it is - Willow's death's is more your fault than it is Spike's."

"No way!"

Giles lost his temper. "Yes way, as you'd put it. Spike only tried to help her get better. He was the innocent in this. Not me, not Wesley, not even Willow - he was. You aided and abetted her in obtaining D'Hoffryn's talisman. I know you loved her. We all did."

"You knew better, especially after the singing spell deaths, but you did it anyway. You worked with Willow to cover up what she was up to. You could have contacted me first. You could have asked Anya's advice over what you were sending. You didn't. It was only by sheer luck that we managed to prevent you helping Willow from turning herself into a vengeance demon, and so freeing herself from the bindings on her powers. You did that. Those facts signed her death warrant."

"No, that's not fair, Giles." Dawn interrupted. Xander had fallen silent.

Giles simmered down. "I only wish that was the case, Dawn. Willow couldn't be put in prison for her actions, because she couldn't be controlled there, and her powers couldn't be removed, just bound. She'd killed for pleasure. She'd tried to destroy the world. It was only a great deal of hard lobbying, and major reassurances on my part, that stopped the Council from ordering her death immediately after she arrived. I got permission to help her, the best possible help to do it, and when Spike and Wesley arrived they tried their very best to help each other and her."

I had to interrupt. "But it didn't help Willow?"

"No. Some people don't want help and don't respond. She didn't. I'm sorry. I didn't want that to be your last picture of her. I wanted you to be able to remember her as she was, before Tara's death broke her. But she tried her very best to return to her apocalyptic ways, and what I had to do in those circumstances was very clear. If I hadn't done it, the Council would have sent a wetworks team in, and I couldn't face her last moments being taken by strangers. It had to be someone who loved her."

I couldn't believe it. I should have, after what he did to me on my eighteenth birthday, but I still gasped, "You killed Willow!"

Dawn's eyes bugged. Anya shook her head. Lilah smirked. Spike's eyes filled with tears he tried hard to blink away, and Wesley just looked frozen. Xander tried to free himself from the chair screaming, "I knew it, I knew it!"

Giles resumed. "No, Buffy, I didn't."

Dawn exhaled in relief, Spike put his hand on Giles shoulder, and Xander subsided. Wesley went to speak. Giles shook his head at him, put his hand on his arm, and said, "A good man took that burden on himself to save me from having to do it. It wasn't something either of us ever wanted to do, and I know you can't forgive us for it, but it was inevitable from the moment she asked for the talisman. It was quick, and she didn't suffer. That wasn't a lie."

All hell broke out from Xander, screaming about liars.

"But we don't kill humans, it's not right! Especially not Willow. There must have been another way."

Wesley tried to talk. "I'm sorry, Buffy, I had to do it. There wasn't another way. We all tried so hard, and we did try everything. I couldn't let Giles live with that on his conscience. I owed him that. I owed you that, after my failure. You need him. You'll never need me. I'm expendable. He isn't. It's why I did it, before he had to. There wasn't a good choice to make, just the lessor of many evils. I know this doesn't help."

"It so doesn't. So you were all in on it. Spike?"

He turned to me, and shook his head very slightly. "I'm so sorry, I should have known. I should have done more. I tried. I really did. Didn't know, pet."

Xander went postal at the word 'pet'.

Dawn shouted over him to Spike, asking why he'd lied to us too. Spike wiped his eyes, and I heard him say, "Trying to do the right thing, Dawn. Trying to give you what you both needed to sleep at night. Trying to repay the kindness I got, that I never deserved... with a little support, not that it's worth much."

Wesley apologised to Giles over and over for, "Screwing everything up so badly." Giles tried to get him to stop. Lilah laughed. Anya looked strange, like she had when Spike came in, before she dropped the soul bombshell.

This all hurt so much. I shouted over the din to get heard. "Stop it. Stop shouting everyone. I can't take it. I can't do it. I wish you'd all just stop, and let me think, just for a few minutes."

Anya turned veiny. Oh God, I forgot. I am so mentally challenged. How could I forget? Ok, I know how, but... "Wish granted."

Everyone but Anya and I froze.

I looked at her. "They're going to be all right? All unstucky?"

"You get exactly what you wished for. You get them all to stop for a while. But they will be back to normal soon, without knowing they were stuck. Make the most of it. And no hurting Giles. Oh, or Spike. They're my friends. I'm not stuck, and I'll be on the sofa watching you."

I looked at each of them in turn.

I loved him, and he left me. I trusted him, and he betrayed me. I needed him, and he abandoned me.  I forgave him, and he does this. I don't understand. I'll never understand, not really. But I should; it's been the story of my life. Why should Giles be any different? I just really thought he was - shows how much I know.

I have all these feelings for Spike. All these feelings I should have. All these feelings I shouldn't have. It was finally getting clearer in my head, then he goes and gets a soul. Why does he do this to me? Why can't he stay in one box? I could deal then. It's not fair. Unsoulled vampire evil - got that; boy I got that one clear. Soulled vampire good - but supporting my best friend's murderer. How am I supposed to deal with that? He never stays in the right box. Why won't he just stay in the box?

I really don't want to lose them. The idea makes me feel sick. I just don't see I've got a choice. Not after Willow. Not after the lies - even if they were for my own peace of mind. Some peace of mind! I love Giles. I do. I haven't got a clue what I feel about Spike right now, it moves around all the time, but I do know that I don't want to lose him either. But I don't see a way to keep them, not after this. They've made their position quite clear. It's all Englishmen together. Not me. Not doing the right thing. They've made their choice. I'm just the one that'll have to live with it.

Wesley's easy. He killed my best friend. Nobody hurts my friends. He wouldn't save Angel. He killed Willow. He was a lousy Watcher. It was his fault Faith betrayed me, and went bad. He is so out of here.

I can't kill him myself, even if part of me wants to. I don't kill humans. I don't! Faith was a fair fight, and I didn't kill her. I'm not even sure exactly what happened with those knights, my brain's all fuzzy there - but if I did hurt them it was all self-defencey and stuff. But I don't kill humans, even killers. I don't. It's wrong. That's the law's job, not the Slayer's. It's what I told Willow, and I was right.

If the Council is going to protect him, and from what Giles said they can and will, Wesley's going to get away with murder. He's already got the closest thing I've got to a Dad supporting him, and whatever it is that Spike is to me - I still can't work that one out - but he's got that too. So I can't kill Wesley. We.Don't.Kill.Humans. If I killed him, I betray everything I still believe in. I'd be lost in the darkness. I can't do that, not again. I'd never find my way out this time.

The darkest part of me, the part that loves the dance, wants his blood. It wants to bash, and tear, and smash bones until there's nothing left. But I rejected the dark. I rejected that part of me. I rejected it in Faith. I rejected it in Spike. I can't go into the dark no matter what the slayer in me wants. I can't sleep on a bed of bones. I tried that. It didn't work out too good for anyone, let alone me.

But If I don't kill him I'll lose Xander. He'll never forgive me for letting Wes walk. But I can't kill him, and that's the only thing that could stop him from walking right out of here. I can't do it. So I'm gonna lose Xander too, I know that. Wesley killed the best friend I ever had, even if she did try to kill me when she lost everything. He's taken everything and everyone I have, except Dawn. I hate him. I wish I could kill him, but I can't. So I guess it's gonna be the Summers girls against the world.

Spike told me once it was my friends and family that kept me connected to life, and kept me alive. I guess I'm gonna find out if Dawn's enough.

No friends.

Oz will never forgive me either - not for Willow's sake, and he shouldn't. I don't. I don't think he'll be doing the expression of joy either at my whatever-he-is draining a substantial portion of his life-blood. I'll be lucky if I don't end up having to kill him when he comes round. God, I so don't wanna have to do that. The only glimmer of light I can see there is what Mike said about Oz not wanting to kill anyone, and so bringing him with. I don't want to lose Oz again, now he's back in our lives, but I know I'm going to - one way or another.

If I throw Giles and Spike out of my life, and Xander turns on me for not killing Wesley, or them, I'll lose Anya too. I've not been a good enough friend to her for her to want to stick around just for me. Not that her sleeping with Spike helped much. But she's a demon, and the two of us as best buds would never have worked. Sooner or later she'd have turned on me, like Spike did, and duty would have called. At least if we're not friends I won't have to go through killing someone I loved yet again. Been there, done that: far too many times, got the T-shirt: it sucked.

No family.

I wish Mom was here, I really do. She'd know what to do, I know she would. I'd like nothing better right now than to curl up in her lap and just cry for months. I don't want to deal with all this, I really don't. I can't.

You know, there were exactly two other people who could have almost taken that place. One helped cover up the murder of the other. One of them told me I could always ask for help, that it was the adult thing to do. Who am I supposed to ask now? Isn't it ironic, my life - the Alanis Morissette track.

I'm not sure if Dawn will never forgive me for throwing Giles and Spike out of our lives, or whether she'll want to hunt them down. I don't see her bouncing with joy at Xander walking away from us in disgust at me. She'll be pissed at me if Mike never shows his face here again, and I don't see Oz ever wanting anything to do with me ever again - even if we do both get out of this alive.

It's hardest thing of all. But, for Dawn's sake I've got to do this. I can't have her think it's ever right to kill people. I must set her the right example, even if it kills me, and this probably will. But I have responsibilities now, and I have to be an adult, and do the right thing - as ever. Hello to the pain, yet again.

There's no Dad for us; he's still missing.

Giles gone. My remaining best friend gone. Spike gone. Anya gone. Oz gone. Angel long gone - and now I hear he had a child, with Darla of all creatures, that he never even told me about, let alone some thing with Cordelia - so much for 'Forever'. Guess I finally learned the truth about the reliability of soulled vampires at last - hell of a time to do it though. Dawn and I'll just have to be enough for each other, and hope that I can do this parenting thing by myself.

I don't think I can. But I don't have a choice. I have to.

Before I have to close that door though, the bitch that enjoyed trashing my life is so going down.

The statues came back to life. Time to live out the inevitable.

"He killed Willow," Xander shouted.

"As was so tactfully told us by Miss SuperSkank here. Which reminds me. I owe her something"

I turned to the bitch that had walked into my home like she owned it, stomped over my family, destroyed my life, and stood there smirking. I punched her in the face. I don't kill humans, but the plastic surgery bills she'd need to fix her broken nose made up for the tears in Dawn's eyes, and my own pain - a very, very small part of it at least.

I went over to the window and saw her car gleaming under the streetlamp. Buffy and cars are unmixy things, but even I could recognise a car whose cost would cover my mortgage. I had an idea: an evil idea, but a goody. I turned to Spike, and god that hurt, but he was the only one who could do it, if I was right.

"Spike, is the chip still active?" I am still the Slayer.

Even if he's got a soul now, I've got a long way to go before I'd trust him with a human life, even an evil one, without the chip, after what he did. And he's never been able to actually lie to me. After what I heard, I couldn't trust Giles and Wesley at all. I couldn't release Xander to do it. I couldn't let him kill them. He can hate me all he likes for that, but I won't let him have that on his conscience.

Spike breathed out hard, closed his eyes, and nodded. "Yes Buffy, all present, correct, and still bloody painful."

I might have smiled. It might have come out as a grimace. "Take that thing back to her car." I went to the weapons chest, and took out the axe. I threw it to Spike. "After you rearrange her bodywork - the auto type that is. We're talking big bills here, major damage, but still drivey. I want that bitch out of my town." Spike, looked back at Giles and Wesley who both nodded to him. He gave me a small smile; not the big grin it would have been before, but we've all changed. He took the axe, and I soon heard the satisfying sound of metal biting into metal and glass smashing.

I turned to the bitch in question; who looked a bit shocked. "Hear that. Plain enough message for ya?"

"I'll sue! You'll be foreclosed on so fast you'll be on the streets before you can breathe," she blustered.

"I think not, Miss Morgan. Stalemate. You can't take Wesley. You can't retaliate on the car. The Council would step in to protect the Slayer, just as it will protect Wesley and me regarding Willow. You know that. You failed. I'm sure your Senior Partners will be most interested in your explanations for that failure to obtain Wesley's services, and in your expenses claim. Good luck," Giles said, while cleaning his glasses. At least some things don't change. In times of crisis, Giles cleans his glasses. Even if just about everything in my crazy life has changed, that fact remains a constant.

Spike came back in, after shaking the axe free of paint fragments and broken glass shards. I must remember to sweep there; I'd hate for anyone to get cut.

He put the axe back. He gave a small smile to Dawn, and said, "Time to leave, Lilah, while you're all nice and intact." He took her arm and almost dragged her out the door.

One down.

Three to go.

Spike returned. I heard the pained sounds of Lilah's car as it left. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, closed my eyes, exhaled, and turned to Giles. Time to lose them. Time for goodbye, forever.

"Giles, Spike, Wesley, I'm going to have to ask you to go. You know I can't have you around Dawn, not after all this. I'm sorry. I know you think you're right, and that's what you believe. I know this isn't what you want to hear, but I'm going to have to ask you all to leave, and not to come back."

"Buffy, no. There must be something. Anything! We can do this, we can work this out. I know we can." Dawn pleaded, her eyes filled with tears.

"You're letting them go! You can't. He killed Willlow, him and his 'mates'. You can't do that - not after what they did to Willow. I won't let you. It's not right!" Xander shouted.

I was right. He'll never accept this - or me: not after this.

Spike's face dropped. He sighed hard, nodded his head, took a deep breath, and then locked eyes with Giles, who'd done exactly the same. They looked at each other for what seemed like an age, when they both turned to me.

Giles looked ten years older. Spike spoke quietly, "Whatever you want, Buffy. For what it's worth, I'm sorry, for everything."

I felt the tears come, but I had to blink them away. I always do.

Xander started shouting again. We all needed quiet for this. So I said, "Let's take this outside."

My two Watchers, and my Spike, left my home for what will be the last time. I followed them to the car. Dawn ran along after me screaming, "No!" and, "You can't do this, Buffy! It's my life and my choice too." It wasn't. It had to be mine. I was the one that had to make it, and it hurt, but it was the only decision I could make and keep them all alive, or in one piece anyway.

Giles turned to me with tears in his eyes. "Buffy, I'm sorry. I won't say goodbye, just au revoir; because you can always call me if you need me, or anything at all. Please, you know that, don't you?"

I nodded. But I had to be strong. "I know. Thank you, but I won't. I can't. I'm sorry, Giles. I have to do this. You know that."

He nodded.

Wesley spoke. He looked like death, but he said, "I know you don't want anything to do with me, and I understand that. I wouldn't want anything to with me either in your shoes, but I am sorry for your loss. I never wanted you to suffer for my failures, and I'm so sorry you had to. Do what you want with me, I deserve it, but I hope one day you'll be able to forgive Giles and Spike for my sins."

"Please, Buffy!" Dawn pulled on my arm. I tried to smile at her; I failed miserably.

"I can't. I wish I could. I have to do this. You know that." Somebody had to be strong, and that person's usually me.

Wesley nodded. "I know. I understand. We have Willow's things. Would you give them to her family, or take them yourself?"

I nodded. Wesley went to the car and took out a big flowery bag I recognised as Willow's. He put it on the ground next to me. I started blinking away my tears again.

Giles had followed him, and brought back a plastic bag. He said, "I bought these for Willow, to try and make her feel included. She didn't want to. There's an England and a USA World Cup shirt here. She never wore either shirt. If you, or Dawn, want them, they're yours. Or give them to Goodwill. If you don't want something I bought for Willow, I'll understand, and take them back with me. Whatever you want."

"Buffy, please, can I have them? Everyone on the girls' soccer team at High School would be so impressed if I did. You want me to be popular and happy don't you?"

Why didn't I do this as well she does? She's so much better at the manipulate-Mom thing than I ever was. It's so not fair. I sighed hard and nodded, "Yes Dawn, if you want the shirts, you can have them. But they're leaving now, so say thank you and your goodbyes."

She swallowed, sniffed, and took the bag. Then she threw her arms around Giles and sobbed her goodbyes. I glared at Wesley, who stood stiffly by the car.

I chewed my lip, and looked at Spike. He looked at me. He bit his lip too, and his eyes filled. He managed to choke out, "Please be happy, Buffy. I'm sorry. I love you. I always will, and if you ever want anything from me I'll come running, but I'll respect your decisions. It's why I got the soul in the first place, so I'd always do that."

My eyes stung with tears. I hate him sometimes.

"Goodbye, Buffy."

I bit back the tears I didn't want, and said, "Goodbye, Spike. Be good, I know you will. What will you do now?"

Dawn untangled herself from Giles, and threw herself around Spike before he could answer me.

Giles answered instead. "He'll come home with me, as Wesley will. There's not just evil to be fought on the Hellmouth, you know. They'll be helping me, if that's what they want."

Wesley said, "Thank you, Giles. I'd be honoured."

Spike managed, "Too bloody right. Thanks. Know I don't deserve it." From the depths of Dawn's hair, he continued, "Bye, Dawn. I'll keep an eye on Giles for you. You take care of yourself. Love you, Nibblet."

That left Giles in front of me. I couldn't stop the tears by now. They poured down my cheeks, and soaked into Giles' suit as he drew me into a long hug. I know I shouldn't have let that happen, but I'm weak. Ask Jenny how weak I am. Sorry, you can't anymore, which is why I was doing this. I can't afford make any more mistakes - people die and it's my fault.

Giles pulled back. "Buffy, there should be words. There aren't. Just know I'll always love you, and be proud of you, and I'll be there for you if you ever need me."

I sobbed. "I know. I love you too, Giles. Thank you, for everything. I'm sorry. I really am. But, goodbye Giles."

He kissed my forehead, and said, "'Bye Buffy."

We hugged for a little longer, but not long enough. It never would have been long enough. Then we pulled apart, both sniffed and looked at each other. Then Giles put his hand on Spike and Wesley's shoulders. They all took a deep breath, and got in the car together.

I watched the car leave with Dawn. We stayed until we couldn't see it anymore.

Then we went inside.

Dawn rushed upstairs to her room. Mike still sat quietly tending the unconscious Oz. Xander seethed in his chair.

Anya had already left.


The End