All About Spike - Print Version
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SPOILERS: Starts after BtVS Season 6, Normal Again and AtS Season 3 Forgiving.
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I'm just playing with them.
SUMMARY: Spike gets staked! That's just the beginning of his troubles. S/B romance, S/D friendship, Angel crossover. Please read and review.
CHAPTER 1 - STAKES AND LAWYERS
Wednesday - Evening
It probably wouldn't have happened if he still kept in touch with Angel.
But he was still on the outs with the old poof and they weren't in the habit of exchanging friendly warnings. Of course, torture will do that to a relationship. Angel still resented that incident with the Ring of Amara. And Spike had never quite gotten over Angelus stealing Dru and humiliating him for months when he had been crippled. For that matter, Angelus had probably still been steamed about the time back in the Thirties when Spike had helped Darla capture him and they turned him over to the Master. Yeah, Ol' Batface had been a bit rough, trying to starve and torture the git out of being so soulful and mopey, but it had been for his own good. It might have worked if Angel hadn't escaped a few months later. After that Spike had pretty much left him alone with his gutters and rats.
Still, a few incidents like that could ruin a friendship.
To be honest, however, even if Angel had passed on a warning about Wolfram and Hart, Spike would have probably been too reckless to pay any attention. He had been roaring drunk that night and feeling desperate.
It had been rough after Buffy had left him. That Wednesday was as bad as it got. He had dreamed of the Slayer, fighting and laughing and tumbling with him in his bed. Then he woke up in an empty bed and remembered once again that she was gone. He was a soulless monster and she had said, "I can't love you."
It's all Angel's fault, Spike told himself. Any chance he had with the Slayer was pretty well screwed thanks to his sire. Every time he had seemed to get somewhere with Buffy he found himself confronting the ghost of her first love. Angel had a soul. Angel had been dark and romantically broody. Angel had turned into a soulless demon and betrayed her love. Even when he had recovered his bloody soul Angel had managed to hurt the girl. He had left her.
Underneath the rage bubbled another thought, one that had to be beaten down. Maybe it wasn't his sire. Spike angrily swilled more whiskey. Maybe, when you came down to fundamentals, it was him. Someone, who, no matter how much he changed, no matter how long he shagged her and how mind-boggling the sex, in the end left her feeling as filthy as the grease from the hamburgers she grilled. When she looked at him, she had never seen her demon lover, just a weak, incompetent who had always been beneath her, even before he had been neutered. A convenient shag, not worthy of respect or love.
And that was a thought that was beyond endurance. With enough alcohol, he could blame everything on Angel. He tilted the bottle and the last few drops dribbled out, then he hurled the bottle against the wall of his crypt. He looked around at the burned, shot, scorched rubble. So much for pretending he didn't live in a sewer. The broken glass fit right in. He shrugged on his duster. Time to go out get some money. Time to put on a vamp face and demand spare change and scuttle away if anyone dared to fight back.
At least he wasn't too drunk when he saw Dawn standing in front of the McDonalds. He stood in the dark, looking at the bright lights and listened to the chatter and laughter.
Dawn must have followed her usual Wednesday routine, studying at the library with her friend Janice and then going over to McDonalds for a snack afterwards. The Doublemeat Palace had been closer but Buffy's watchful eye would have cramped the Nibblet's style. Sometimes she and Janice would meet some boys. Back in the summer when he had been looking after her, Spike would arrive and find Dawn in a little group of adolescents, giggling and flirting and acting like a normal teenager. He would give the boys his patented "touch this child and I will drink your blood" look and drive her home.
Tonight, however, there were no boys. She and Janice were standing in the parking lot, waiting for Janice's mom to give them a ride. He smiled and watched them, staying back in the dark. His vampire ears monitored the conversation, checking to see that the Li'l Bit wasn't losing her heart to some teenaged bundle of lust and hormones.
Bloody hell, he missed her. For five months he and the wiccas had practically raised the chit and now he was lucky if he was permitted to see her once a week. At least on Friday he had been scheduled to drive her and Janice over to a slumber party across town. If he could scrounge up some spare change he could treat the girls to some ice cream and get to chat with the Nibblet a bit.
Janice's mom finally arrived and the girls hopped in the car. He wondered how long it would be before Buffy decided that he wasn't good enough to associate with Dawn. He fought a wave of self-pity and snarled. It was time to go to Willy's and get roaring drunk.
It took an entire bottle of whiskey to beat back the pain into a simmering anger. Most of the other demons in the place knew to keep away, but an Arunga demon stumbled into him and they fought it out in the alley. He had reduced it to an unconscious mound of flesh but was too loaded to remember how to kill the bloody thing. Still, by the time he left Willy's the pain had turned to a much more satisfying reckless rage.
Which is why he wanted to kill the Asian bloke he found waiting for him back at the crypt. The bastard was sitting in his favorite chair in front of the telly. The temptation to rip the man's throat out was almost overwhelming. Just wiping the smug look off his face would be worth a week of migraines. Spike switched into game face and, grabbing the lapels of the man's expensive suit, yanked him out of the chair. "What the bloody hell do you think you are doing here?" he roared.
The fellow didn't even flinch. You had to give him credit for balls. "Mr. Spike? Formerly known as William the Bloody? I'm here to offer you a deal."
Spike head hummed with a warning twinge. Despite the cool face, the bloke's heart was pounding. He could smell the blood and the lovely scent of fear. A sudden wave of hunger and rage shook him, making him almost dizzy. Then two years of reflexes kicked in. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply, then began to drag the man to the door.
The man's face still showed no fear. " I take it that you don't want our firm to remove your chip."
Spike froze. The offer slowly permeated the alcoholic haze of his brain. "What did you say, mate?"
The Asian smiled. "I said my firm is prepared to offer you a deal. In return for a minor service, we are prepared to remove your chip. You will then be free to live the normal life of your kind."
One hundred and twenty years of unlife had not made him stupid. "What kind of service?"
"I believe you know a vampire named Angel. He runs a detective agency that is involved in a dispute with our firm. We ask that you help us defeat him."
"Defeat Angel?" The whiskey roared through him and the sick anger he had been feeling since losing Buffy rose to a crescendo. "Where do I sign?"
"Good. My name is Gavin Park and I work with Wolfram and Hart." The lawyer turned and gestured towards the shadows. A small withered woman emerged. She radiated with dark power, some kind of witch probably. "This is Ms. Stanhope, my associate. She will serve as witness and notary for our contract."
She leered and shook hands with Spike. He was not particularly sensitive to auras, that had been Dru's department, but he knew bad news when he saw it. If this was what witches turned into when they worked with dark powers, then all of Red's withdrawal pains were worth the effort. He felt like wiping his hand after touching the woman.
Park had used the time to lay out a contract on top of the flat sarcophagus in the middle of the crypt. Spike shucked off his duster and knelt down to read the small print. It was surprisingly simple; at least it seemed to be. Spike's eyes were bleary from the alcohol and it was hard to concentrate. "Give me the pen."
"Actually," the lawyer sounded a little embarrassed, "you'll have to sign in blood."
That got Spike's attention. "Sign in blood? Like a deal with the devil?" That struck his sense of humor. "Righto! If you can find a soul, you're welcome to keep it. Just get this bloody chipout of my skull."
The witch solemnly watched him as he pricked his finger and scrawled Spike in the three indicated spaces. Then she bent over and, muttering, signed the line under his last signature.
Park watched the proceedings carefully. "Mr. Spike, our firm is aware of your species' rather peculiar code of honor. You are perfectly capable of reneging on a signed contract with humans. Ms. Stanhope is laying a geas on you, compelling you to honor the terms of the agreement."
The small withered woman actually cackled. All she needed to complete the stereotype of an evil witch was a basket of poisoned apples. She finished the muttering and scuttled towards him. Her hand reached out, touching his cheek. "You'll do as you promised. Do you understand, boy?"
Spike recoiled from her hand and tried to scramble to his feet. Her eyes were glazed and black, like Willow's when she was doing her deep mojo. The first awareness of danger filtered through his alcohol-soaked senses. In almost slow motion he saw her lower her hand and reach inside her sleeve. She had a stake hidden inside and now she was raising it and lunging towards him, her snake-like eyes were pinning him in place, freezing him. With effort he raised his hands, shoving her away. She sailed backwards, slamming against a wall and the chip exploded in his head.
Which is why he didn't pay attention to the lawyer behind him. Without changing expression, Park removed a stake from his briefcase and coolly stabbed Spike in the back, through the heart.
The tip of the stake protruded through his chest. He stared at it in wonder for a moment. His mind filled with all he was losing. Buffy, Dawn, love, fighting, friendship . . . Buffy.
He had seen other vampires staked. He often wondered if they had time to know that they were dying. He discovered that there was time for an eternity of regret before his dust settled to the floor.
CHAPTER 2 - DISCOVERY
Saturday - Pre-Dawn
It was almost a relief to be returning to Spike's crypt. That familiar feeling of anger bubbled through her as she thought of him. I won't hit him, Buffy promised herself. She refused to return to that unhealthy tangle of sex and violence that always seem to overwhelm her when she saw him. Her mind flashed with images of his face, the knowing eyes, the cocked eyebrow, the smirking lips that felt so sweet and . . . She shook the images out of her head. He had hurt Dawn. She was angry. She would forbid him to ever associate with Dawn. But she would not strike out.
After 120 years, he was the master of violence. If she lashed out, she was entering his dark world. She knew she would lose her fragile control and once again they would be tumbling together, loving -- no, damn it, fucking each other.
But he had let Dawn down. He had promised to drop her sister off at a slumber party tonight, while Buffy worked closing shift at the Doublemeat Palace. When she had returned home at two, after work and patrolling, she found Dawnie huddled on the sofa. She had covered her up, noting the puffy face and dried tear tracks. So the bastard hadn't shown up.
Probably she should have waited until morning, when Dawn could tell her what had happened. But she was too angry to sleep and almost automatically she found herself striding to confront Spike.
She almost knocked at the door, remembering that she no longer had the right to assume that she was wanted or welcomed. Then her rage bubbled up again. When had she ever had to ask to see him? She slammed the door open.
The crypt was dark, lit only by the faint glow of the new moon through the window and doorway. "Spike! Spike!" No one answered. She stumbled across the room to a table where he kept candles. As she did she tripped on something on the floor. The table had candles, but no matches. Of course, he always used his lighter.
She finally groped her way over to the battered television and turned it on. The dull flickering light filled the room. She looked over to see what she had tripped on.
It was a stake. Beside it was a large pile of dust.
She froze. After glancing around, she slowly stepped over to the pile and knelt. It had a coarse greasy texture that she recognized after years of slaying vampires. No!
She was standing up now. "Spike, where are you?"
She clambered down the ladder, and began looking around frantically. He had to be hiding. Maybe some of the other vamps had come after him. A lot of them were pissed off at him for helping a slayer. The pile had to be some other vampire, because . . .
Her eyes adjusted slowly to the dark, but it was still hard to see. The lower chamber was still in ruins from when she and Riley had destroyed the demon eggs. Beyond the overall damage, however, it looked as if it had been ransacked. Boxes were turned over and clothes and toiletries were scattered over the floor. What wasn't burnt was slashed and gutted. She rushed around the small chamber, looking in shadows, corners. He wasn't anywhere.
She noticed a large portfolio and scattered pictures and papers on the floor. She picked them up and carried them to the upper chamber where the television gave her more light. It was leather, slightly scorched and battered, but it seemed to have survived to general destruction. She examined it and the pictures. Three were photographs of her. A few other pictures were of cities and locations scattered through time. The papers were sketches.
She stared at them. There were six pictures of Spike and Dru. They reminded her of the type of quick portraits artists sold along boardwalks and in tourist areas. The early ones were more formally posed. One showed the two in game face and she wondered if the artist had survived the session. In most, they looked like a young couple laughing, hugging, dressed in the costumes of the decade. In this picture they were hippies, in that one he had his hair in a ducktail. This one had Dru as a flapper and he smirked, wearing a raccoon skin coat. Another was a hilarious caricature of the two of them looking like Sid and Nancy; his hair bleached blonde while Dru looked Goth with black clothes and pale makeup.
One picture, older, stood apart. Two men and two women, wearing Victorian clothes, posed stiffly. Angelus stood grinning, his hands possessively resting on the shoulders of Darla and Drusilla. Darla sparkled, reaching up and touching Angel's hand. Dru seemed dazed, her eyes slightly unfocused. In back of her stood a small man dressed in a shabby suit. Buffy looked again, startled. It was Spike, his hair darker and wavy, looking uncertain beside the bigger vampire. The three were a unit, Spike was beside them, yet seemed to be standing alone.
She ran her finger gently over the almost unfamiliar features. Her eyes smarted slightly, and then she shook her head angrily. He had to be someplace else, hanging out, getting in trouble. She'd find him at Willy's drinking and playing poker. He would be out in the cemetery somewhere, smoking one of his cigarettes. He had to be somewhere.
She climbed up the ladder. This time she noticed his black duster folded and lying on the sarcophagus. She walked over to it, picked it up. In the pocket were a packet of cigarettes and his lighter. Her lips trembled, then she ran out into the night.
Spike's eyes jerked open.
It was hard to focus. He lay panting, confused. Where was he?
He was lying down in some sort of huge wooden box. He turned, trying to figure out where he was and scraped his shoulder on the rough floor. He sucked in his breath at the sudden pain and touched the wound.
Except he wasn't frozen. His chest rose and fell as he breathed. His heart pounded in his chest. And his shoulder was warm. Warm blood leaked onto his fingers.
He was alive!
CHAPTER 3 - WAKING
Saturday - Early Morning
Lilah stared at her co-worker and competitor with distaste. "What makes you think it will work this time. Last time we did something like this, it failed. Even worse, Darla came back and killed over a dozen people."
Gavin smiled smoothly, looking sleek and confident. He didn't look like a man who had been supervising a ceremony since midnight. "Last time was poorly managed. This time I planned everything. Your team chose Darla, Angel's sire. They had been lovers for a hundred years. Our research shows that this vampire, William the Bloody, hates him."
"Besides, William has been bound with blood and magic, not to mention a signed contract. He'll follow orders."
He signaled the two security guards to follow. They stepped carefully over the dust of the five vampires that had been sacrificed in the ceremony. Stanhope was standing by the box.
"It is done."
"He's returned in human form?"
Her mouth smiled, not her eyes. "I followed the videotape of the Ceremony of Raising that you provided."
Lilah turned to her colleague. "She didn't use the scroll of Aberjian?"
"Or Vocah or a bunch of monks. We had videotaped the old ceremony and Stanhope made the necessary modifications. It was more efficient and economical and," he looked through the box's barred window, "just as effective."
* * *
Spike heard the voices and looked around wildly. There was a window up on one side of the box. He tried to get up to look outside, but his body didn't seem to work very well. He staggered to his feet, then his head swam and he fell back on his knees. It hurt. He was weak and everything hurt and he was alive. He bit his lip to keep from moaning, then winced. That hurt too.
Someone was at the window. He peered up and realized he couldn't see very well. Oh God! He remembered suddenly how poor his eyesight was before he was turned. He was back in his old body.
"Mr. Spike?" Every thing sounded different too, duller. He could hardly smell anything. But feeling, that was more acute. He could feel every nerve ending. He could feel his heart, his breath, the rough boards he was lying on, everything.
He tried to answer and his voice was a hoarse croak. That seemed to enough for the other person, however.
"Mr. Spike. I realized you are confused, but we are here to help you. I am sending in two guards to escort you to a bedroom. I imagine that you need to rest."
One side of the box creaked and then was pulled down. He scrambled back and cowered against the light, his eyes trying to adjust. Two large men entered, one pushing a wheelchair. He stared at it. NO! He wasn't going to be bound to a wheelchair again. He braced himself and stood up again, holding on to the box's rough side to keep from collapsing. "I can walk," he growled.
The guards didn't say anything, just tossed some clothes at him. Spike looked at the clothes and suddenly realized he was naked. Several people, including two women were staring at him. As a vampire he wouldn't have given a damn, but now he found himself flushing with humiliation. He hastily pulled the T-shirt and sweatpants on and looked up again. The people were still looking at him. The people . . .
He was looking at people. Not bags of skin over blood. Not prey. Humans with thoughts and dreams and emotions. For over a hundred years he had been as detached from humanity as a cat is from mice. He had terrified and tormented and murdered uncounted numbers of people. And now the connection was back and the horror of what he had done engulfed him.
He was barely conscious of the bodyguards placing him in the wheelchair. They pushed him forward and someone was touching his shoulder, saying something. He turned and found himself staring at the man who had staked him, the man who had destroyed him.
"Is this a soul? Did you give me a soul?"
The Asian looked amused. "You have as much soul as any human, if souls really exist."
But the witch surged forward, grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around until he was looking into her deep, cold eyes. She extended a finger and tapped his chest. "There is a soul there, boy. You feel it burn?" You've played with pain for a century, and now it's your turn."
Memories were crashing in on him. The children that he had romantically given Dru as love tokens, screaming and crying as she killed them. The lovers who had ducked into dark places to kiss and had their throats ripped out. Young people cheerfully leaving bars and parties to die in a welter of blood and agony. He was drowning in a tidal wave of memories.
Gavin watched the man in the wheelchair slump. His already pale skin had gone gray. "What's happening?" He turned. "Doctor, what's wrong."
Dr. Green had come to watch the ceremony, just in case. He stepped forward and examined the subject in a detached clinical manner. "He's in shock." The doctor reached into his medical bag and took out a hypodermic. He felt the specimen's thready pulse and quickly gave him a shot. "Take him to my office."
Spike wasn't aware of the shot, only the peace of sliding from the blood and agony into the sweet release of unconsciousness.
Xander aimed his flashlight at the jury-rigged tangle of wires and shook his head in disbelief. Only being undead had allowed Spike to survive the amateur wiring in his crypt. Obviously electrocution couldn't be added to staking and sunlight as handy ways to eliminate vampires. "I'll have to get the generator out of my truck," he called out to the girls. He had brought the generator and some arc lights from his work site.
Buffy watched him climb out of the lower chamber. He looked pale, tired and puffy. She had wakened him, hammering on his apartment door before four in the morning. He hadn't hesitated or complained, just listened to her problem and come up with a solution. She knew he was still in pain over his break-up with Anya, but here he was, helping her. He walked out to the truck, "Hey, Buffy, give me a hand with this." She joined him and together they wrestled the generator off the truck and into the crypt. She stepped aside and watched him as he positioned the lights in both the upper and lower chamber and hooked them up to the generator.
She turned her head and saw Tara gazing at her with sympathy. It was almost too much. She didn't deserve the sympathy. She didn't deserve the unquestioning support. Buffy bit her lip and fought tears.
"This should do it." Xander pulled the starter cord and the generator chugged to life. Then he flicked the switch and the lights came on.
Tara pointed and he adjusted the lights so that they beamed down on the gray pile of dust. Buffy stared at it and unbidden, she remembered Spike's face. "Tell me you love me," she had said. His face had looked so hesitantly hopeful. "I love you. You know I do." She had stared in those incredible blue eyes. "Tell me you want me." "I always want you," he had said softly. "In point of fact . . ." Then she had pulled him down and for a few brief moments there had been tenderness and no shame.
"There's footprints" Buffy started and saw Xander point to two sets of footprints, in the dust. "And this looks like a knee print. " One set of shoeprints was large, the other much smaller. Are the small ones yours, Buffy?"
She shook her head. "I was wearing my tennis shoes. Those have a heel." She looked over at Tara. "Do you think it was vamps?"
Tara didn't answer. She was kneeling and whispering by the pile. Her eyes were closed, then opened suddenly. She reached over and touched the top of the pile. "That's odd."
She frowned, got up and began examining the crypt carefully. " That way," she pointed towards the hole in the floor.
She climbed down the ladder to the lower chamber. Buffy and Xander scrambled after her. Tara was standing over the burnt bed, looking at the toiletries someone had scattered over it.
The blonde witch was quiet, waiting for the Xander to adjust the light. She was still frowning. Finally she tentatively touched the comb. "Buffy, do you know if Spike ever lost any hair in his comb or left any hair or fingernail clippings?" She turned and looked at the slayer.
Xander snorted. "Considering how much peroxide the guy used, its a wonder he wasn't bald."
Buffy shook her head. "I don't know. Why?"
Tara looked at the two others. "Something feels wrong. I- I mean really bad. You know I'll never be as strong as Willow, but I am good with auras. Everything gives off a kind of radiation and I can see it. It's really ugly in here, especially around the dust. Someone sprinkled something on it that feels like dark magic."
Buffy grasped eagerly at the explanation. "Magic. So there was magic and the dust isn't Spike."
Tara's eyes were sad. "I'm sorry Buffy. But I think the dust is what's left of Spike. I could feel traces left of his aura. But someone has been handling his comb and they put some sort of spell on the dust." She shook her head, looking sad and a little confused. "It feels like the type of spells that are used to control or enslave people, but if they were going to do that, why would they stake him?"
CHAPTER 4 - EXAMINATION
Saturday - Late Afternoon
He looked across the Bronze at Buffy, seeing her as he had that first time. She was dancing, alive and golden. She was laughing, surrounded with friends. Spike stood, cold and alone, worried sick in his gut about Dru's weakness, and he hated the slayer, hated her life and joy, the way she effortlessly moved among friends. He wanted that warmth and hated the way it made him feel, as if he, the Big Bad, was some damned orphan child outside in the cold. She had everything, strength, youth, beauty, friends, life and he wanted to possess her, to kill her and drain the warmth into his cold body.
And now Spike was feeling the warmth. He was pinning her against the wall, ramming himself deep inside her as she moaned with pleasure. Her legs were around his waist and her hands tangled in his hair. Now her mouth lowered itself to his and they were kissing with her warm breath on his face and his tongue probing her sweet mouth. He was warm and wanted and it was wrong.
"You came back wrong!" He was standing in the dark, yelling at her, and her eyes were wide and wounded. He hit her and now Spike could see her flesh bruise. Tears of shock and pain were filling those hazel eyes.
Which turned brown. He was standing in China, seeing the Chinese slayer walking through the bloody streets of the Boxer Rebellion. Now everything was in slow motion. She was a meek, obedient girl, following the orders of her elders and searching for vampires to kill. Around her, her world was dissolving in fire and war, torn by the evil of mankind, but she still dutifully hunted non-human monsters. An hour ago she had wept by the body of her Watcher, a stuffy Englishman, who the Boxers had slaughtered as a foreign devil.
Spike reached out and struck her, watching her flesh bruise. Her eyes said she was in despair, she wanted death. He grinned. He could deliver death. They were fighting now, a glorious dance of death and pain. His eyebrow stung where her sword slashed him. Then he was on her, drinking her blood, drinking her pain and despair. Her eyes were dying, flickering brown, then hazel.
And with a cry he realized he was drinking Buffy, killing her. He let go, but she crumpled to his feet, dead.
And she looked up at him, her skin dark, her face proud. But her deep brown eyes had that familiar look of despair and death. He had read the little blurb, buried deep in the back of the newspaper that her brother had died in a drive-by shooting and had known that she now belonged to him. She fought gloriously, strong and beautiful. He snapped her neck and stripped the long, black duster off her body. He strode off, then looked back at his glorious victory and saw Buffy lying dead in the subway.
So he ran back, sobbing, gathering her in his arms. He held her in the dark and pressed against her, whispering, "You belong in the Dark with me." She moaned and his hand reached up her skirt, pushing aside the panties. They were looking down at the dance floor of the Bronze, where he had first seen her. "You don't belong with them." The friends that had surrounded her and protected her were far below. He looked deep into her eyes, drinking the despair.
And he lowered his head and ripped out her throat.
And screamed. He was sitting in a bed, bathed in sweat, breathing hard with his heart slamming in his chest. Spike looked around wildly, then the memories came back and he realized that he was alive and still a prisoner.
Other memories poured in. He remembered allowing Dru to take his life and his soul. He remembered the pride and the glory of killing slayers. He remembered loving Buffy and the wonder of her entering the dark to give him her body. These were the best memories of his existence.
They tasted like ash.
The years of killing flooded his mind and he rocked in the bed as the pain and guilt washed over him. He had slaughtering people and before that stood aside and let Angelus torture and torment the helpless. Then the memories switched and Spike remembered torturing Angel.
Angel. He blinked. He had envied and admired his sire, then felt hatred when Angel had left to grovel in the gutter and eat rats while moaning about his sins.
Something cold was entering him, the cold, desperate will to survive that had driven Spike for over a century. The lowest vampire in a tiny pack, despised and ridiculed by all but his mad Drusilla, he had risen to power and had a name that vampires across the world had known. He was William the Bloody, the vampire who had killed two slayers. When the Initiative had left him chipped and helpless, he had slaughtered demons until the laughter had died and the others eyed him with fear and hatred. He couldn't kill people, so he drank pigs' blood, warmed in the microwave with spicy flavors and nibbly Weetabix. He couldn't kill the slayer, so he had loved her and for a few brief moments possessed her body.
Angrily Spike rubbed his eyes. He wasn't going to let this crush him. He wasn't going to grovel. The last time he had given in to despair, he had been slaughtered in an alley. He wasn't going to let these bloody bastards control him. If he had escaped from the Initiative, he could damn well escape from a bunch of sodding lawyers.
He staggered over to the door to his room, testing to see if it was locked. It wasn't. It opened and he saw two men sitting in chairs by the door. One stood up, towering over him. "You going someplace?"
Spike considered making a break. A quick survey of the hulking guard convinced him that he wouldn't make it. So he toughed it out. "I think its time your bosses told me why I'm here. Tell them I'm awake."
The other man stood up. He too was a bruiser. Spike surveyed Tweedledee and Tweedledum, impressed that so much muscle power had been hired to control one ex-poet. Then he noticed Tweedledum was pushing a wheelchair. "Sit." He started to protest and was firmly placed in the chair. They pushed him down the hall.
They entered a doctor's office. The doctor, a balding heavyset man, got up from behind the desk. "Mr. Spike, I'm Doctor Green. I'm glad to see that you are up and about. You gave us a scare for a moment."
Spike nodded, biting back the remark that they were still scaring him. Tweedledee and Tweedledum stayed in the room. Did they really think he was going to be able to overpower anyone in this weak body? On the other hand, if the doctor had a scalpel, it might come in handy. He decided to keep an eye out for opportunity.
"Before we can proceed further, we should make sure you have recovered from you, ahem, previous experience. I'm sure it was somewhat stressful."
"That's one way to describe being staked," Spike commented dryly.
The two Tweedles kept him from nicking anything useful. As they glared, the doctor poked and prodded. Since his last visit to a doctor, over a century ago, medicine had come up with a turn-your-head-and-cough routine. Also doctors now took blood. He gloomily contemplated the irony of humans draining him. However, doctors nowadays seemed endlessly fascinated with body fluids. He was given a flask and told to give a urine sample next time he went to the bathroom. He made the doctor repeat that one since it seemed like such a ridiculous thing to want.
The most interesting part of the exam, however, was when the doctor called over one of the bodyguards. "Try to hit him." Spike winced then realized that the command was for him to hit the giant, not the other way around. He hesitated, then punched the man in the arm. His head remained remarkably free of pain. His knuckles hurt like a son of a bitch. The bodyguard didn't even flinch.
He turned and stared at the doctor. "No chip?"
The doctor nodded. "It was dusted with your first vampire body."
"My first? What are you talking about?"
The doctor looked embarrassed. "You appear to be in good health, Mr. Spike. Are there any questions."
Spike had tilted his head, studying the man. Finally, reluctantly, he admitted, "I'm going to need some glasses."
The doctor was fascinated. "Really! Did you have vision problems as a vampire?"
"Not really. Demon vision, y'know."
The doctor had studied Spike, rather like a technician examining an interesting lab rat. "I wish we knew how that works. Unfortunately, vampires don't leave cadavers. Even when we collect specimens from living creatures, the samples turn to dust."
Spike's restrained a shudder. "Sorry I can't help you there. I just know that I seem to have the same lousy eyes I had before I was turned."
"Well, that won't be a problem much longer. But while you are here, I would appreciate you filling this questionnaire on the differences between your human and demon body. Can you read or should I read these out loud to you?"
Spike almost snarled that he had attended Oxford, thank you, and was probably more literate than the doctor was. Then he decided that it wouldn't hurt to have his enemies underestimate him. He had signed a contract so he couldn't claim to be totally illiterate but he hung his head and confessed that he had trouble with big words.
The session seemed to last forever and it was a relief when the bodyguards returned him to his room. They stopped at the doorway. Spike stepped inside and shut the door behind him. He leaned back against it and shuddered as he considered the phrases "your first vampire body," and that his eyes "won't be a problem much longer," Dear God! He thought, They're going to turn me back into a vampire!
It was strange, he really shouldn't mind. He hated being so weak and he missed his keen hearing and sense of smell. Bloody hell, he missed being able to see anything clearly. He had been a vampire for 120 years and should be grateful if they returned him to his old body. Dying might be painful, but he had done it before and could cope.
But he didn't want to be turned. Slowly it had dawned on Spike. If he were turned, then the demon that inhabited his body would use it to murder people. He remembered the trail of death he left behind and nausea swept him. The thought of going back to murdering people, ripping out their throats and swallowing their blood sickened him.
It would be wrong. He almost heard Buffy's voice saying those words. And for the first time he realized what she had been talking about all those months, all those years.
He couldn't go back to being a vampire.
CHAPTER 5 - DRUSILLA
He fought the rising panic. I can do this, he told himself. I've had a century of escaping mobs and vampire hunters. I got Dru out of Prague. I escaped the bloody soldier boys at the Initiative. Hell, I even got away from Glory and she was a god. These people are sodden lawyers. They're used to rules and laws and regulations. I've never played by the rules. I can do this.
His breathing slowed. He ran his hand nervously through his hair and noticed the moisture. Puzzled he felt his face and then remembered. Sweat. Humans broke out into cold sweats when they were afraid. He was human and would be sweating like a pig for the rest of his life, however long it lasted.
He grimaced with distaste. The room had a small adjoining bathroom and he stepped in to wash his face. He started the water, looked up and for the first time in 120 years saw his own reflection.
He saw the same face he had died with, the soft weak face of William the Bloody Awful Poet. Vulnerable eyes, weak mouth, soft sandy hair in waves about his face. If anything, he looked worse than old William, unshaven and dressed in a cheap gray T-shirt and sweatpants. He closed his eyes in disappointment. For 120 years Spike had left this man, this face, behind and shaped himself into something fierce and respected. None of that showed, only the weak face of a bloody fool who had sniveled his way into the arms of the first vampire bitch who would accept him.
Then the anger came. He squared his jaw. He might not look like Spike, but he still had his mind and memories. A surge of grief arose as he remembered the blood and pain he had caused, but he fiercely beat it back. He would use the memories and anger to fight his way out of this captivity, to escape the lawyers and the witch who had destroyed him.
Then his memory slipped again. He was huddled in the corner of an abandoned house. Angelus looming over him. William's face and his shabby suit were covered with blood. He had botched his first kill and now Darla had to break the neck of the man before the neighborhood heard the screams. Angelus battered his face, breaking his teeth, his nose, reducing him to a bloody whimpering pulp. Dru was wailing, begging him to spare her Sweet William.
"We can't afford a stupid vampire in this pack," his sire had stormed. "Do you understand. Most vampires don't last a year because they are stupid." Angel grabbed his hair and yanked his face around, staring deep into his eyes. "We are demons in a human bodies. We have human minds. We can kill people because we use those minds when we hunt. If you just stay demon, if you don't use that mind, you are useless. Think, dammit!"
He had looked at his sire through puffy eyes and tentatively tried to use William's mind. It hurt to use such an alien brain, one that loved and admired beauty and felt pity and kindness. Then Drusilla was hugging him, licking and kissing the blood off of his face. "Your anger is beautiful. It glows like a cup of lightning." Angel shoved her away and she cried in fear.
His anger flared, then he realized how deep it was. It was not just the anger of a demon, but the anger of a man whose shabby genteel poverty had left him stranded on the fringes of society. It was the deep and clever rage of an intelligent man who was mocked and despised by fools.
At that point, William the Bloody had looked up at his sire and smiled through his split and bleeding lips. "I can do that. In fact, I want to do that." He remembered the laughter and mockery at his last party. "My next kill will be much better. But first I need a railway spike."
He was still looking at the mirror, noticing for the first time how cold his eyes were. He had been hunting for Spike's anger, but Spike had been using William's anger. Spike the demon had been shaped by William the human, with all his anger, deep romantic love and hunger for respect. He might have been a good man, as he had once told Cecily, but he had always carried the potential for evil.
And he still had the potential for evil. Having a soul didn't make that any different. He touched the demon anger, his own anger, and shaped it into a weapon. Someday he would have to cope with the consequences of his years as a killer, but not now. Now he had to find a way to escape.
He stormed to the door and threw it open. The two guards were startled and started to get up. He glared at them. "Where's dinner. If you wankers are going to kill me, the least you can do is give me some food. I bloody well haven't eaten all day."
The guards looked at each other. "Get back inside and we'll get you something," Tweedledee rumbled. Spike swore a bit and stepped back inside.
Within a half-hour, Tweedledum entered with a tray. Spike grabbed the tray, took one look and started complaining lacing his complaints with the obscenities that he had acquired in a century of travel. As soon as the guard was out of the room, he hurled the tray across the room.
The bed was next. He tore the sheets off the bed. He ripped the pillow open, and wads of foam flew around the room. It was only when he yanked off the mattress and tipped the bed over that one of the guards finally came in the room.
Spike closed in on him. "Or what? You'll kill me?"
The guard looked bored and punched him. Spike flew backward across the room and slid down the wall. He looked up, holding his bleeding nose. The guard towered over him. "Do I have to hit you again or will you stop making a mess of things." Spike nodded and the guard left.
Spike muttered under his breath. Damn, his nose hurt. Everything seemed to hurt more in a human body. He stumbled into the bathroom and attempted to staunch the bleeding. He yanked off his T-shirt and shredded it, using it to soak up the blood. It was convenient having the reflection, so he could straighten his nose, but he could tell that he would have a couple of shiners if he lived long enough to see tomorrow. William the Bloody Poet was getting bloodier by the moment.
He glanced out at the chaos of the bedroom and gave a grim smile of satisfaction. With luck the mess might keep his jailers from noticing that he had nicked the utensils. Unfortunately they weren't metal, but with a little luck he might be able to come up with something useful.
When he finished, he had contemplated his work. They were pathetic really. How in the bloody hell was he supposed to defeat a vampire with these puny weapons. He really didn't stand a chance, but at least he'd try to go down fighting.
* * *
Waiting was the hard part. He waited in the bedroom and then, when the guards took him to another room and strapped him to a chair, he found himself waiting again. One wall had a darkened window, no doubt where the doctor and others could watch their lab rat get killed and turned by a vampire. He threw them the double-fingered salute. Behind him was a door, where his killer would enter.
And she came. . . Slender and beautiful, fragile and deadly, Drusilla, his dark princess entered the room.
Drusilla had pulled back her hair and wore it in ringlets. Her long dress was dark and Victorian. His heart ached as he realized that she had dressed up for this evening. She was trying to look like she did back when she first turned him. For her, killing him would constitute a romantic evening. Her eyes glittered with passion and mad joy.
Part of him wanted desperately to give in. It had been so much easier when they had floated through Europe, laughing and killing with no cares. William the Bloody, killer of two slayers and his mad beautiful bride. The guilt and the pain of mortal life would be forgotten.
"Drusilla, my love," he breathed.
She leaned over him, gazing at his bare chest, his tangled hair. "Spike," she breathed in a husky whisper. She reached down softly, then with a flick of her nail, slashed open his chest. She had killed a slayer with those nails.
He winced slightly but continued to look deep into her eyes. "Have you come to take me back, pet?"
She smiled and leaned over him, her fingers crawling across his head like a spider. "No plastic to lie to you with its nasty blue shocks. No electricity to tell you that you are not a bad dog." Her face was close to his now and he felt like he was drowning in her eyes.
He looked downward at the straps that bound him. "They trapped me in this body, Dru. How can I be a killer in a human body?"
Her fingers wove themselves in his hair and she yanked his head up, exposing his throat, tearing the hair by the roots. His eyes teared involuntarily with the pain.
She licked the tear and sighed. " And I wonder... what possible catastrophe came crashing down from heaven and brought this dashing stranger to tears?"
He blinked, then remembered. Back in the alley, the night he had first met her, those had been her first words. He had been huddled on a bale of hay, tearing up his poetry, sobbing like a fool over that bint, Cecily. Then he had lifted his eyes and seen Drusilla in all her dark beauty.
He remembered his line, "Nothing. I wish to be alone." God, he had been such a prig.
Her eyes widened with pleasure. She let go of his hair with one hand and stroked his face. "Oh, I see you. A man surrounded by fools who cannot see his strength, his vision, his glory." She carefully drew her nail slicing down along his jawline. She laughed with joy and licked the blood off her fingers. "That and burning baby fish swimming all around your head."
Her eyes were heavy lidded and a touch of blood was still at the corner of her mouth. She still aroused him. He groaned slightly, then nodded down to his hands. "They have me tied up, luv. If you turn me now, they will drive you away and keep me. Help me get loose."
She shifted to vamp face. He held his breath. Then she looked down at his hands and smiled. "You are my puppy. We don't need their nasty leashes." She reached down and casually snapped the leather straps. One, two, three and he was free. Then her cold hand wrapped around his throat and casually lifted him up. She kissed him, her fangs lacerating his lips and her tongue dancing in the blood. He moaned and his knees almost buckled.
"Do you want it?" Her voice was low and husky.
Over a hundred years ago, he had whispered "Oh, yes! God, yes! And signed his own death warrant. Looking deep into her mad eyes, he longed to do it again. He ached to yield his mind, his soul and his life to her. "Yes," he whispered and she could read the truth in his eyes.
She tilted her head and buried her fangs in his neck. Spike cried out in pain as his body bucked against hers in twisted ecstasy. He felt his life flowing into her and his hand clutched her hair, helplessly drawing her closer.
The small thread of sanity left in his mind guided him and he reached into his sweatpants. Drusilla detected the movement and chuckled deep in her throat. His hand moved past his groin to the small plastic weapon he had bound to his thigh with a torn strip of his T-shirt. He pulled it out.
Drusilla's eyes were closed as she sucked and ran her tongue through his flowing blood. He held the weapon up for a minute, despairing in its ridiculous shape. A small cross made of plastic utensils bound together with a strip of cloth from the T-shirt. His lips silently moved in prayer.
He knew her body from one hundred years of love. He knew where every feature was. His head was swimming and he was dizzy from blood loss, but he knew where to guide the cross made from the sharpened plastic knife. He slammed it into one of her bliss-closed eyes.
She screamed in pain and bewildered betrayal and dropped him. He fell heavily, then scrambled to his feet. He stumbled out of the doorway.
He was in a dark alley. Looking far to the right he saw a street. There were lights, traffic and people. He staggered towards it, adrenaline fighting with blood loss.
He heard shouts behind him now. The people on the other side of the observation window must have seen what happened and now they were coming after him. As he held his hand to his throat, he could feel the blood running through his fingers. He prayed he would reach the street before they caught him or that he could die now and remain human.
They were getting closer. The street was in front of him. He took a final exhausted dash into it. Then he was in the street, surrounded by cars, people that could see him.
"Stop!" He tried to flag a car down. "Help me! Stop." No one was stopping. He could see the dark figures of the bodyguards, getting closer. He reeled dizzily and one of the cars brushed him, sending him sprawling. His head slammed against the pavement and the last thing he saw was a bus coming towards him.
CHAPTER 6 - ANGEL
The splitting headache woke Spike up. He groaned and weakly reached back and touched the lump. It was probably a concussion, he had been drifting in and out of consciousness. At least he didn't seem to be bleeding any more; the bandage on his neck was dry. He wondered if he was dying. Humans were pretty fragile and if pain was any indication, he should be dropping off any minute. Ironic. He had gotten into this whole mess in order to get rid of the chip and here he was, still stuck with a blinding headache.
It was hard to keep his eyes open. The black eyes that he had half expected when the guard had broken his nose seemed to be developing right on schedule. He rubbed his face and for the first time noticed the wool hat. Oh yeah, he had been trying to pull it on earlier. When it touched the lump, his head had exploded and he had fainted. Fortunately he had been huddled in a dark closet and no one had seen him.
He was beginning to remember where he was. He had wakened up in an ambulance. Two attendants had been working on his neck and he almost bit one in his original panic. When he had realized where he was, he had croaked out an apology. It took a moment or two to persuade them to not strap him down. He had watched in groggy fascination as they stanched the bleeding in his chest before he lapsed back into unconsciousness.
He had wakened again on a hospital gurney. Someone had inserted an IV into his arm and he looked up dreamily at the blood bag. He wondered vaguely what flavor it was. Then he remembered the lawyers. They would probably be tracking him. If he stayed here, they would find him. He yanked out the IV and struggled off the gurney. The room spun and he almost fell to his knees. It took a few tries but he finally staggered into an elevator and rode to another floor. He remembered trying to find a disguise and looking for someplace to hide.
He obviously had succeeded. Here he was, huddled in a closet. And apparently he had found some clothes to drape over the blood covered sweatpants. He had a cap, a coat and, he winced in discomfort, a pair of shoes a bit too small for his feet. He sniffed the coat. Essence of street people. It was rank, but if he was trying to hide, nothing was more invisible than a homeless person. He couldn't remember picking up the clothes, but his instincts still seemed to be working. For once he was glad that his human sense of smell was duller than his vampire senses.
It was time to escape. Cautiously he slipped out of the closet into a dark, empty hospital room. Two steps later, he wondered if he was going to be able to stay on his feet. The concussion and blood loss had left him feeling lightheaded. He took a deep breath. It looked like skipping out of the hospital and hot-wiring a car so he could drive back to Sunnydale was out. Go to plan B.
What the hell was Plan B? The room had a connecting bathroom and he stumbled and washed his face, trying to clear his head. He stared at the laundry mark on the towel.
L. A. General He was in Angel's territory. Back in the beginning of this whole mess, some lawyer had wanted his help to fight Angel. It was time to call the Ol' Poof and find out what the devil was happening. If they were mad at Angel, why had they come to Sunnydale and staked him?
He shuffled through the halls until he found a nursing station. At first he tried chatting one of the birds up, then realized that with filthy clothes and a face that looked like it had been in a meat grinder, his masculine charm might not be at its best. He tried the pathetic routine, (which actually matched what he was feeling at the moment) and talked her into giving him a telephone book and let him use a phone.
He found the number and a few moments later heard a clear feminine voice. "Angel Investigations. We help the . . ."
"Let me speak to Angel," he interrupted.
The voice hesitated, then, "Who shall I say is calling?"
What was he supposed to say now? If he gave his name, there was enough bad blood between them that the Angel would never come to the phone. Considering that the Poofster had set Dru and Darla on fire , he probably wasn't in the mood for a family reunion. "Tell him that it's . . . Randy Giles and this is an emergency."
There was silence on the other end. Finally, "Angel speaking."
When Angel spoke again, his voice was filled with loathing, "Spike?"
"Some of your lawyer friends made me human. What the hell is going on?"
The other end was quiet. For a panicked moment, Spike was afraid that his sire had hung up. It was a relief when Angel spoke again. "What are you talking about?" He could hear his sire's deep distrust.
"I told you. I 'm human. If your lawyer friends catch me, I get to go back on an all blood diet again. I need a little help here."
"Where are you?"
"In a hospital. LA General."
"I can be there in an hour. I'll meet you in front of the main entrance."
"Spike . . ."
"If this is a trick, if you're working with Wolfram and Hart, I'll kill you myself."
Now the challenge was to stay conscious for an hour and make it to the lobby. He stumbled through the halls, quietly cursing the tight shoes. There were a few signs posted but they were hard to read until he got close. His eyes were lousy to begin with and the swelling made it worse.
His eyesight was good enough, however, that when he went down the elevator, he recognized the hulking figure of Tweedledee standing in the lobby. He hastily pulled the hat a little further down and retreated. The Wolfram and Hart people had arrived.
He tried three different exits, so that he could circle the building and approach the main entrance from the outside. Two had goons guarding them. The emergency room exit had two goons and the witch hovering around them. Finally he decided to risk the direct approach. Most people didn't notice the homeless. Maybe he could slip by.
Tweedledee (maybe it was Tweedledum, he couldn't really tell) was walking away from the lobby doors towards a drinking fountain. Spike shuffled inconspicuously forward. He wished there were more people around but it was late and only the emergency room was crowded. He reached the door and stepped through, breathing a sigh of relief. Angel was nowhere in sight.
Then a huge hand grabbed his shoulder. "Gotcha." He heard Tweedledee's deep chuckle.
Spike tried to twist away. He tried to fake an American accent, make his voice higher and different. Anything to make the bodyguard let go or at least loosen his grip. "Hey! What'cha doing. Lemme go! I didn't do nothin'."
It was pretty pathetic and not surprisingly the guard didn't let go. Instead he twisted Spike's arm behind his back, threatening to dislocate the shoulder. Then, holding the smaller man helpless, he took out a cell phone. "This is Schiller. I found our escapee right by the main entrance. At least I think it's him. You might want to send someone to verify." He twisted the arm a little harder and Spike promised himself that if he did get turned, this bastard would be the first item on the menu. The two moved over to a shadowed area.
After several moments of prolonged pain, a dark haired woman in a business suit stepped out. She spotted the two in the corner and came over.
"What do we have here?"
"I think this is the subject we're looking for."
She took off the hat, gazing at the tangled hair. "Take off the coat."
The goon let go of the arm, clamping the neck instead. He stripped off the coat, leaving Spike shirtless in the cold, clad only in the blood streaked sweatpants. The lawyer's eyes searched the blonde's body, smiling as she gazed at his muscles. She reached out and touched the slash on his chest. "It's our boy." She flipped open her cell phone. " The subject has been captured and identified. Send transportation to the main entrance.
A moment later a dark car pulled up in front of the trio. Spike struggled and swore as his arm was twisted even more. The door on the driver's side opened. Angel stepped out. The vampire started around the car and saw the woman. "Lilah!" he shifted into game face.
Spike took advantage of the woman's distraction and lashed out with his foot. Caught off guard, she tumbled backward, dropping the phone. He twisted, trying to escape the bodyguard's grip. Suddenly Angel lurched forward and the guard let go, backing up hastily.
"Spike, get in the car," his sire growled.
Spike scrambled over to the car and let himself in. As he looked back, he saw the vampire walk over to the woman, kicking aside her cell phone. He towered over the fallen woman, bloodlust in his demon visage.
Spike looked on, puzzled. Was this Angel or had he reverted back to Angelus? He looked deadly. The woman looked up, a small smile playing on her face. The vampire glared down at her as she gazed defiantly up, then he spun and returned to the car, slamming the door. They drove away.
Spike rubbed his arm and watched the speedometer climb. He considered saying something, then gazed at the ridges on his sire's face and decided, for once in his long existence, to keep his mouth shut.
CHAPTER 7 - AT THE HYPERION HOTEL
Late Saturday Night
The adrenaline slowly drained out of Spike's body. As the car sped though the dark, he began to drift off to sleep, dreaming of death and blood and guilt. He awoke with a start and swore slightly, under his breath. Angel turned and glared at him; nothing much got past vampire hearing. Spike shut up. After that he was afraid to fall asleep again and sat fidgeting, trying to stay awake. At one point he turned on the radio and started to search for some good music, only to have Angel abruptly turn it off.
Finally his sire parked the car in front of a hotel. Spike had barely opened his door, when Angel grabbed him by the arm and hauled him into the hotel lobby. He was thrust into a chair and the tall vampire stood glowering over him.
"What are you doing in my city?"
Their entrance had not gone unnoticed. A tall young Black man and pretty young woman joined them. "Who's this?" the man asked.
"An enemy from the past, Gunn. An enemy who has no right to be here."
Spike looked up at his glaring sire and the two solemn people. Any rational individual would be afraid but he was feeling too exhausted to be rational. Instead his old reflexes kicked in. Back in the old days, when they both had been in the same small pack, one of his joys of life had been taunting his sire and watching him explode. Of course it frequently resulted in Spike getting beaten to a pulp, but it had been worth it to watch the fire works.
So Spike found himself smiling in spite of himself. Everyone looked so virtuous and earnest. Once again the Angel boy was master of a pack with his followers hanging on his every word.
"So you've collected some minions, Peaches. What do you call yourself, the Soul Squad?"
The humans weren't in on the joke; they didn't know how mindless and expendable a minion was to a master vampire. But Angel stiffened and looked twice as uptight. Score one for me, Spike told himself and smirked at his sire.
"They aren't minions," his sire thundered. "They're partners and friends."
"Partners," Spike drawled. For the first time since the bloody lawyer had staked him, he was enjoying himself. "That's sounds safe enough." He looked up at the two humans. "Just don't be family. Angel's family has a way of being killed."
The next thing he knew he was being yanked off his feet by his neck. Angel was choking him, his face only inches away. "What do you know about Connor. Is he dead? Has anyone . . ." To his amazement, his sire's eyes filled with tears. The hand that was holding him started to shake and then he was released. Spike crumpled to the floor. Angel turned away abruptly. The girl stated to touch the vampire's shoulder and he shrugged her away.
Gunn was kneeling over Spike and for a moment looked every bit as fierce and deadly as the vampire had. "If you know anything about Connor, you better tell us now," he growled.
Spike shook his head in bewilderment. "Who's Connor?" His voice choked and he lifted his hand to his neck. It was bleeding again. He tried again. "I don't know any Connor."
Gunn turned his head. "Fred, get Lorne. He'll be able to tell us if this guy is lying."
Spike tried to get up, but Gunn kept him pinned to the floor. Angel turned around, watching. Spike gazed up at the vampire, bewildered. His sire's face was stricken, fighting between rage and some sort of unendurable pain.
The girl, Fred, came back leading a green demon with horns. "What do we have here?" the demon asked softly.
Gunn's voice was cold. "One of Angel's old enemies. He's been with Wolfram and Hart and says that someone killed Connor."
Remind me not to have a sense of humor around these guys. "I don't know any Connor." He looked at the horned demon. "If you're some sort of truth detector, tell them. I don't know who they are talking about. I was with the lawyers, but they bloody well tried to kill me. And I certainly don't know anything about this Connor bloke."
The green chap, Lorne, looked at him quizzically. Finally he spoke again in that gentle Nancy-boy voice, "Does anybody else notice that he's bleeding."
Spike was holding the bandage hard, trying to stop the bleeding. He noticed Angel's nose twitch like it used to do back in the old days when he smelled something appetizing. Yeah, someone noticed and he looks hungry. Then the girl knelt down and removed the bandage.
"That's a vampire bite," Gunn gasped.
"No kidding," Spike commented dryly. He looked over at his sire. "Dru wants the happy family back together." He was cold and he found himself shivering as the blood seeped between his fingers.
Angel coldly assessed him. "He'll live." The vampire helped him up and pushed back in the chair. His eyes flicked yellow for a moment and Spike could see his nostril twitch at the scent of human blood. "Lorne, we need to know if he is lying."
The demon sighed. "I'm not a mythical lie detector. I'll tell you if he knows about Connor or if he is a danger to us. But what his aura shows is his path and his own private business.
Angel nodded and then turned and looked Spike intently. "Spike, no tricks. Why are you here? Why are you involved with Wolfram and Hart? Does this have anything to do with Connor?"
Spike groaned. "I'm here because I was trying to get away from the bleeding lawyers. I got involved with them. . ." He stopped, remembering the beginning, some sort of contract he had signed. He glanced at the demon and realized he would have to tell everything. "Because I'm a soddin' idiot. I was drunk, they offered to take my chip out if I signed a contract. They said they were in some sort of dispute with you and I agreed to help." Bloody Hell, he thought. All of this shit is my own damn fault.
"I'm supposed to call them." He saw the disbelief in his sire's face. "That's all. I don't remember all the bleeding details, but it all came down to calling them on the telephone. Nothing else. I don't know this Connor person that you're talking about. I don't know how the call will hurt you or help them. I don't even remember what the call is supposed to be about. I just know that as soon as I signed the contract they staked me. Then I find myself in a human body and they're trying to kill me again!"
The room was quiet.
Then, "Sing something."
Spike stared at his sire in disbelief. "What!?"
The tension around him broke slightly. The girl, Fred, explained. "Lorne can read people. But they have to sing first."
"You're kidding, right?" Spike looked around and it was obvious they weren't. Here he was, bloody, battered and cold and they expected him to sing to them. For the life of him, he couldn't think of a single thing to sing. Finally some ghost of his long distant Victorian childhood emerged and he started. "Long live our gracious Queen."
Fred gave a little giggle and only Angel kept from smiling. Spike felt himself blushing. He had forgotten that particular curse of an English complexion. He stopped the song. "Sod this."
The demon was looking at him intently. "I need a little more. You can hum if you're embarrassed."
Spike scowled, then hummed a few more bars.
Lorne glanced around. "He's telling the truth." He turned to Angel "He's as much a pawn of the Power-That-Be and their prophecies as you are. Why not give the boy a bed and let him rest."
The two humans glanced at Angel and the vampire sighed. "Fine, let's put him in the room we used to keep for Wesley. And Fred, could you get the first-aid kit. We don't need him bleeding over everything."
Spike got up slowly. He was unsteady on his feet so Gunn grabbed him and half supported him as they went to a room with a bed. Fred joined them, with the first-aid kit and he sat on the edge of the bed as she bandaged the wound on his neck. They gave him a warm washcloth and he wiped the blood off his shoulder and chest. Finally he lay down and they left. As he pulled the blankets up, only his sire remained.
"What was that crack about my family getting killed?"
Spike closed his eyes wearily. "You killed your family after you got turned. Remember? You hated your family. Remember? I was being sarcastic and telling them that it's not safe to be related to you."
"No it isn't." Spike opened his eyes, surprised. His sire sounded sad, almost defeated.
Against his better judgement, he felt a stirring of sympathy. "What's going on, Angel? If you wanted me dead because of the Ring of Amara incident, all you had to do was leave me in the hospital. Why the questions? Whose Connor?"
He sire stood by the door and studied him. Finally he spoke. "You aren't the first member of our line they've done this to. They brought back Darla. Then when she finally wanted to remain human, they had Drusilla kill her and turn her. She . . ." Angel couldn't meet his eyes. "She suffered and now she's gone. Connor is her son." There was a pause. "He's my son."
Spike stared. "That's impossible."
Angel shook his head. "I know. But I have a son. And because he's my son, the child of prophecy, he's been kidnapped."
"You thought I was involved?"
"Wolfram and Hart, especially Lilah, were involved. I thought maybe you . . . Never mind. Get some sleep." Angel turned away. Spike watched him leave, stunned. He suddenly realized that somewhere in the last few minutes they had stopped being enemies. For over a hundred years, his rivalry and hatred of his sire had been one of the mainstays of his life and now all he could feel was pity.
Lorne entered, bringing a mug and some pills. Wordlessly Spike took the mug. "Hot chocolate?"
"Hot chocolate and some aspirin. It'll help you sleep. Sorry, but we don't have little marshmallows."
Spike took a sip, cautiously watching the demon. How much had the demon learned about him?
The demon sat down in a nearby chair and watched Spike take the medicine. Then, when he was almost finished with the drink, Lorne commented, "You know, LA isn't really the right town for a Victorian gentleman."
Spike choked. "What did you read?"
"Relax. I pick up psychic vibes, usually pretty vague."
Spike eyed the demon distrustfully. "How vague?"
Lorne smiled. "Enough to know that you've been given what you have only dreamed of having. You were a monster, now you are a man. Someone called you a soulless demon. Now you have a soul. Its time for you to go back home."
The demon smiled as Spike stared at him with open-mouthed amazement. He got up and took the empty cup and started to leave. He seemed to struggle with himself, then turned.
"There's a phone over there on the dresser. You really should call her now. You don't have a lot of time." The demon looked at Spike almost sympathetically, then left the room.
Spike sat stunned. He turned and looked across at the phone. He took a deep breath then got out of bed and went to the phone. It was time to call Buffy.
CHAPTER 8 - PROPHECIES AND SLAYERS
Spike stared down at the phone. What the hell was he supposed to say to Buffy. "Honey, I'm human!" was just too weird. "Hi, I've got a soul. Let's shag," had the advantage of honesty but probably wouldn't work. "I was staked. Did you miss me?" was pathetic. He almost gave up, then decided to just wing it. He dialed Buffy's phone number.
The phone rang. And rang. At the end of three rings the answering machine clicked on. He stood speechless. The answering machine clicked off. Bloody brilliant, Spike! Yeah, that's how to impress the slayer. He glanced over at the small clock by the bed. It was four in the morning. Buffy would have loved waking up so that she could hear about how Spike spent his weekend.
If he didn't call now, however, he probably would never get up the nerve again. He composed a quick message and phoned again. "Buffy, this is Spike. I'm sorry I missed taking Dawn to the party but something important has come up. I'm with Angel in LA."
He hung up the phone and wished he could believe that she cared. She wouldn't, but Lorne's words stuck with him. "Someone called you a soulless demon. Now you have a soul. Its time for you to go back home."
For the first time in weeks, he fell asleep with hope in his heart.
* * *
It was getting close to dawn, a rough time for Angel. Connor had been an early riser and he and his son had always had the hour before dawn to themselves. He stood in the darkened hotel and ached to hold his child again.
He heard a muffled sob and turned. Anything was better than being alone with his thoughts. He followed the sound and found himself in front of Wesley's room. It was Spike. He hesitated and finally opened the door.
Inside Angel saw the blonde turning restlessly in his sleep with tears pouring down his face. Suddenly Spike woke. He blinked wearily and finally asked "Angel?"
"I didn't mean to wake you. I heard you and came to see what was wrong."
The human sat up. "Bawling like a great baby." He wiped his eyes angrily. "How do you stand it Angel?"
"And the memories." Spike ran his fingers through his hair as if he could rip out his brain. He winced as he brushed the lump on his skull. "We've killed and hurt so many people. How are we supposed to live with the guilt."
One of the great torments to Angel's soul had been not only his own deeds but also the fact that he had created Drusilla and through her, Spike. Even when he had stopped killing, his creations had continued. When he had finally left his pack, one his last sights had been Spike, drenched in the blood of a slayer, swaggering through the streets of war-torn China. He tried to see the monster in the bed before him and only saw a miserable young man.
"The guilt never goes away." Angel admitted quietly. "But at some point you realize that other people are more important." He thought of Connor. "Helping other people doesn't bring a single victim back, but it makes living with guilt a little easier. Or . . ."the vampire smiled ruefully, "you can hang around in the gutters for a hundred years and wallow in self pity."
Spike sighed. "I don't think I'm going to last that long in a human body." He looked startled and shifted uncomfortable. "Speaking of bodies, where's the loo?"
"Down the hall to the right." Angel watched as Spike got up, muttering something about it being bad enough to be stuck with a bleeding human conscience, but having to put up with human kidneys was the last straw.
The vampire reflected on his own words. If Lorne was right, the young man was a pawn of the Powers-That-Be and their prophecies, as cursed as he and Darla and Connor. Angel sighed and left the darkened room.
* * *
Spike's stomach woke him up. The aches and pains from his bruises and cuts were minor compared to his hunger He hadn't eaten anything yesterday and was as ravenous as a fledgling.
Before hunting for food, he washed up and tried to straighten his hair. The haircut had made him look like a bloody fop a hundred years ago and now it was just a tangle of sandy curls. He needed a shave and it would be nice to have something besides these soddin' blood-crusted sweatpants, like a shirt, or shoes.
He found Fred at a desk in the lobby. "Food? Well we have some donuts and coffee. There's cream in the refrigerator. And we have tea that we keep for Wes . . . We have tea." She led him to the kitchenette and showed him how to heat a cup of water in the microwave. While getting the cream, he noticed a couple of Angel's bags of blood and realized, with some pleasure, that he would never have to drink pig's blood again.
One bite was a revelation. He stared at the donut in shock. He had nibbled on a donut out of curiosity back in his vampire days but it never tasted like this. Fried dough slathered with sugar was downright nummy. He gobbled it down and then ate another with delicious little sprinkles on it. The third donut had a cream filling. Human tastebuds were fun!
The green demon joined him, dressed in a terrycloth robe. Lorne poured himself some coffee and watched as Spike gobbled donuts two, three and selected number four, a little marvel dripping with chocolate icing. "Really into the calorie scene, aren't we?"
Spike gingerly put the donut down. Human bodies gained weight! How many ads had he seen on the telly for diets and pills and painful looking exercise equipment? After a century of living in a vampire body that remained unchanged, he now faced the possibility of looking like something out of Jerry Springer. Visions of bloated Harris rose and he shuddered.
Lorne was still speaking. "We need to find something for you to wear before those pants start walking on their own. Why don't you take a shower and I'll bring you something."
One thing about being in a hotel, there were plenty of showers. When Spike finished, he found some clothes waiting for him, bright yellow slacks and a charming blue shirt covered with swirls of chartreuse, lemon and purple. It was hard to find an outfit that would make him look more ridiculous than Harris's Hawaiian shirt and shorts had, but the Host had risen to the occasion.
To top it off Angel was waiting for him as soon as he returned to the lobby. The vampire's eyes widened slightly but he kept his face impassive as he said, "Follow me." He led Spike to a study heaped with books and documents.
The books were everywhere but if one looked there was a pattern to the heaps. "Wes. . . one of my former colleagues was studying the prophesies. The Powers that Be seem to be heavily involved with the Master's line. We were mostly concerned with the documents that involved Connor, Darla and myself. But there were others."
Spike looked at the papers. They were in piles. None appeared to be in English. He could recognize Latin, Greek, some archaic French, but most seemed to be in unknown languages.
"The references are coded. Connor, for example tended to be called the Child of the Vampire, Darla was the Mother or the Favorite."
Spike reflected. The Master had always liked Darla best and trusted her with the most important errands. "So what do they call you?"
Angel had the grace to look embarrassed. "The Champion. Also the Father. The one or two prophesies set before the curse call me Satan's Angel."
Spike smirked. Then his sire turned to the other documents. "Drusilla has quite a bit of stuff written about the Mad Queen, these are about the Master himself and I think these," Angel pointed to a modest pile, "may be about you."
Intrigued, Spike stepped over to the pile and leafed through it. "What do they call me? Do I get to be a champion or at least a mad king?"
"No, you are The Slayer of Slayers and I think the later references call you Keeper of the Key."
Spike whipped around, startled. "What? Keeper of what?"
Angel met his eyes. "It wasn't about Connor, so no one has examined the documents very much. But I think the prophecies say you are the Keeper of the Key. There's a lot of stuff written about a mystical Key and you seem to be tied to it."
Spike looked down at the documents apprehensively. Last year Glory, the hell-god, had tried to use Dawn as a key to return to her own dark dimension. Did the pile of documents mean others might try to hurt the Niblet? He frowned.
"I'd like to look at these."
Angel nodded. "Fine. But remember, prophecies are tricky and if you let them, they can dominate your life. But if Lorne is right, and a lot of them involve you, I guess you have the right to know about them."
If the documents were about the Lil' Bit, they could be important. Spike picked up the pile and took the papers over to the desk. His sire left and Spike sorted the documents out, trying to make some sense of things. He sighed; he really did not like studying. Back in the days of being William the Wanker in Victorian England, he had fancied himself a scholar. It was part of the past he had thought he had buried a century ago.
But he had promised a lady to look after Dawn and if these writings contained knowledge that could protect her, he would have to study them. So he brushed up his childhood Latin and Greek and began to wade through the papers.
Within a few minutes, his eyes ached and he searched the desk for some sort of magnifying glass. What do you know, this Wesley character had left a pair of glasses in the drawer. Spike tried them on and they seemed to help a little.
The material he could translate was infuriatingly vague. One document seemed to say, "The Key will allow the Bearded One to flush (pass?) to the Valley of the (Seaweed?). " Another seemed to read that " The (sorcerer?) shall chase the Key and it/she shall rise above (Raw Eggs?)." He was about to forget about it when he read "The Slayer of Slayers shall be humbled in the opening (Mouth?) of Hades and be brought to his (Knees?) in the metropolis of messengers.
Bollocks! He had certainly had his arse royally kicked in the Hellmouth and since angels was another word for messengers, the other line was probably referring to the wonderful time he was having here in Los Angeles. So some of this stuff was true and it probably meant that poor Dawn would have anything but a safe and quiet life.
He heard a noise and looked up. And met hazel eyes. Buffy was standing in the doorway looking at him.
He stared at her wordlessly, struck again by her sheer beauty. Then he suddenly realized what he looked like. Here he sat unshaven, with long soddin' curly hair, battered features, yellow pants and the ugliest shirt in existence and, oh yes, wearing glasses. Bloody, bloody hell! He whipped off the glasses, hiding them.
He sat paralyzed, gazing apprehensively at the woman he loved.
CHAPTER 9 - BUFFY
Dawn had not taken Spike's dusting well. If she had screamed or whined, it would have been a comfort, but the teenager had been quiet, too wounded to cry.
"Do you want to talk about it, Dawnie?"
Dawn had shaken her head. She had looked at her older sister with stricken eyes. "What's the use Buffy? It's not like you cared. I'm the only one that liked him and now he's dead."
Buffy wanted to protest, to say. . . What could she say? That sometimes she had liked him and sometimes she had almost loved him and other times she had hated him and loathed herself for wanting him. That the world without a bleached, swaggering vampire was suddenly a very empty place. She envied Dawn for the uncomplicated affection she had shared with Spike and the uncomplicated grief she could feel at his passing.
Tara had come over and taken care of Dawn last night while Buffy worked late shift and patrolled. It was the first time the blonde witch had spent the night in the same house with Willow since the breakup, but both Wiccas were concerned about the teenager and had put her needs first.
When Buffy had returned she had tried to get some sleep. She had only a few hours until the morning shift and she needed the rest. But sleep eluded her. She had too many memories.
Finally she had gotten up and gone out again. She was restless. With her mother's death there had been a funeral to arrange and things to do and a dozen activities to distract her from the raw pain of her loss. With Spike, there was nothing. No one holds a funeral for a vampire. There was no ceremony to mourn their passage. You couldn't even pray for them; they were demons. A dead pet received more respect than the dust from a complex and intelligent being.
She was going to his crypt to get his duster, she told herself. It would comfort Dawn. She entered the crypt and picked up the coat and almost unconsciously wrapped it around herself. It smelled like him, leather, tobacco, whiskey and something subtler, unique to her lover. My ex-lover, she told herself, and tears finally began to fill her eyes as she remembered the anguished look in his face when she had ended everything.
She decided to take the pictures with her as well. She lit a candle with his lighter and went down into the lower chamber. While she was there she looked around, drowning in the memories. The poor charred bed that they always seemed to miss. The dozens of candles he had used to try and make his dark world romantic. But of all his tattered property, only the pictures and the coat were worth taking, the rest would be left to decay.
She climbed back to the upper level, staring at the crypt for a last time. Her eyes fell on the pile of dust again. It somehow seemed wrong to ignore his remains, to leave it there for bugs and rodents to root through. She finally decided to use one of the cardboard boxes he had been using to clean up his crypt. She swept the ashes up and took them outside.
She carried them over to the woods outside of town. It was a distance and she was tired and sad. When she was finally there, she leaned against a tree and tried to figure out what to do next.
The sky was streaked with the first signs of dawn. If he was alive now, she thought, he would be returning to his crypt, preparing to spend another day hiding from the sun's deadly rays. He had spent over a hundred years in the dark.
As the sun rose, a breeze began to blow. She slowly took out a handful of the dust and watched the breeze lift and scatter it. Handful by handful she scattered the dust. She longed to think of something appropriate to say, some final benediction, but to say anything would be to admit that he was gone from her life.
Finally the box was empty. She was completely drained and exhausted. She made the long walk home and only had time to change before her shift at the Doublemeat Palace began. She buried herself in the mind-numbing job, because for now, anything was better than thinking and feeling.
"Welcome to Doublemeat Palace! May I take your order?"
"Buffy. Earth to Buffy"
Buffy's eyes focused. Willow was standing on the other side of the counter, smiling. A big glowy smile. Buffy glanced over and saw Tara and Dawn standing near the back of the restaurant. Smiling. Everyone was happy. Misery rose in Buffy's chest, threatening to explode. "Willow?"
"Buffy, Spike called. He's in LA."
It was suddenly hard to breathe. She tried to say something but the relief was so painful it choked her. Relief, joy, then anger. How dare he scare her so badly? The emotions battled within her, as she stood, speechless and paralyzed.
Willow leaned forward, speaking in a low voice. "Look, I didn't tell Dawn this, but he's been hurt. Really bad. And they say he's in a lot of danger and needs someone to get him away from the city. "
Fear joined the battle and won. Buffy turned and stepped over to the manager. "I'm sorry to do this, but an emergency has come up. I have to leave." The manager started to protest but Buffy was firm. "Look, you can put me on double shifts next week if you need to, but I'm leaving." She took off her hat and joined the Wiccas and Dawn.
Dawn was radiant. "Buffy, I got up this morning and Spike had left a message on the answering machine. He's at Angel's. So Willow called Angel and they said he's alright."
Willow took over the narrative. "I called Angel's office and there was someone there and they said that Spike really needed someone to take him out of LA." She glanced back as Dawn, clearly not wanting to say everything she had been told. "So I told them that you would come and get him. "
"Me? But. . ."
Tara joined. "It should be you," she said firmly. "And you should take Dawn. She needs to see him."
"But driving to LA?"
Willow grinned. "I know your driving isn't pretty. But it's not a bad drive. Just get on Interstate 5 and get off at Sepulvida Blvd."
"Not pretty" was an understatement. Buffy and cars were very un-mixy. She could fight demons and slay vampires but driving on a freeway scared her. You had to change lanes and no one would let you in and there was always the risk of being in the wrong lane and discovering that you would have to exit to Bora-Bora. She had barely had a chance to shower off the grease and dress before she found herself behind the wheel of the SUV on the Highway to Hell.
It didn't help that Dawn was excited and bouncing and wanting to chatter. Buffy gritted her teeth and tried not to run into the truck that pulled right in front of her. She didn't even notice when Dawn turned the radio on to some obnoxious whiney boy band. "Sepulvida, Sepulvida," she kept whispering to herself, praying the she wouldn't have to change lanes to get to the exit.
It took three hours, but she finally pulled in front of the Hyperion. The fates were kind and she didn't have to parallel park. She shakily got out of the car and followed the bouncing sister up the steps and into the hotel's lobby.
Gunn greeted them. He introduced himself and explained that Angel was sleeping. "Spike's in the study. I can take you to him."
The study? Spike? Buffy was suddenly nervous. For three hours she had been concentrating on keeping the car on the road and hadn't had a chance to think about the blonde vampire. Now she realized that she didn't know how to react. She should be angry because he had broken his word to Dawn and scared them all to death, but another part of her wanted to hold him again.
Gunn showed them the door and she opened it and looked inside. And froze. Who? Spike? It couldn't be. Was he wearing a wig? And where had he dug up those clothes? Then he turned and looked at her and her heart ached when she saw his poor battered face. He was wearing glasses, which he awkwardly whipped off and tried to hide. One poor eye was swollen shut and the other looked so blue and vulnerable.
"Spike!" Dawn broke the silence, surging past Buffy and throwing herself into his arms. He winced in pain, but tried to hide it. She hugged him with tears of relief running down her face, "We thought someone had killed you. We found some dust in your crypt and you were gone!"
Buffy was almost envious as she saw his face relax into that tender grin he saved only for her sister. He hugged the girl and reassured her. "I'm fine, Niblet. I'm sorry if you were scared. But I definitely wasn't killed. In fact. . ." His grin became almost mischievous as he shifted the girl, laying the side of her head against his chest. "Listen."
Buffy started to protest, then she saw Dawn's eyes widen in wonder. "Spike! What's that?" Dawn drew back, looking at him questioningly. "Your hearts beating!" She reached out and touched his forehead. "You're warm. You're human?" Her mouth was open with astonishment. "How'd you get to be human?"
"Just lucky I guess. I got staked and someone worked some mojo and brought me back."
"Was it Willow?" Oh great, Buffy! She mentally kicked herself. Stupid, stupid thing to say.
Spike turned towards her. It hurt seeing how his face changed from the grin he had been sharing with her sister to uncertainty. "No, Red's in the clear on this one. It was some bloody lawyers!"
"What's with the hair?" Dawn reached over and ruffled his long sandy curls. He drew back and almost growled, despite being human. "Hands off, girl. I have you know this was the height of fashion a century ago. It made the birds swoon."
"Right," Dawn snorted. "And the clothes? Did those make them swoon or hurl?"
Spike grinned. "You got me there, Dawn. They're loaners and they look a lot better if your skin is green."
"Who hurt you?" Buffy finally was able to move. She walked closer to him. She wanted to reach out and touch his face. He looked up at her, and she could have drowned in his gaze.
He swallowed, then looked back at Dawn and tried to keep it light. "Nothing to worry about. I just had forgotten how delicate a human body is. I keep breaking it."
"Dawnie, could we have a moment alone?"
Dawn looked at Spike doubtfully. He nodded. "Look, Niblet, I think your sister had a rough time driving here. Why don't you go to the lobby and get one of the blokes there to help you fix her some hot chocolate. They have the type with the marshmallows like your mom made. It might settle the nerves."
"OK. Because you asked." She marched out, pausing only to look down at her shorter sister. "But you should have seen her; her knuckles were white the whole way down."
Dawn left. Buffy watched as his smile faded and he looked back at her. Involuntarily she reached out and stroked his cheek. It was warm, slightly whiskery. He closed his eyes.
Her hand moved down and felt the cut. Alarmed, she looked down and saw the ragged slash along his jawline. And below. . . Her hand reached up to her own neck and self-consciously touched the scar. "You've been bitten."
"Uh, yeah," He rubbed his neck. "Having a bit of a problem with Dru. She wants her old cold Spike back." He looked up at her again. " Lorne, that's the bloke that loaned me these spiffy clothes, suggested I get out of town."
For the first time in this entire awkward conversation, Buffy finally knew what to say. "That's why I'm here, Spike. I've come to take you home."
CHAPTER 10 - WELCOME TO SUNNYDALE
It was hard to breathe. She'd come to take him home, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He gazed at her and managed to choke out, "Thanks, luv."
And Angel came in the room. "Buffy?"
"Angel!" End of quality time for Spike. Buffy stepped across the room. As easily as Dru, she left him for the arms of his sire. The two of them smiled at each other with an ease and comfort she had never felt for him.
Why not? Peaches is her bleeding soulmate, the superman with the soul.
He looked down at his papers, afraid of what his face might show them if they looked back at him. He carefully straightened the paper like the proper scholar he used to be. A quick glance up showed his sire looking all-suffering and noble and Buffy holding a hand to his cheek. Right, the same thing she had done to him a couple of minutes ago and he had felt so soddin' happy about. No big thing, he told himself. If she came across a hurt hamster, she'd probably touch its puffy little cheek and gaze sympathetically at it. His blasted human hearing was too dull to hear what they were saying, but it was probably better that way.
Dawn came in with the hot chocolate and it was all hugs and warm fuzzies when she saw Angel. The Ol' Poof still looked pretty devastated over the loss of his kid, but he managed to rise to the occasion, looking noble, suffering and ever the gracious host.
"Angel, I think these scrolls might be important." It was a shame to break the little Walton's reunion scene but a bloke could only tolerate so much before he heaved. "Is there a chance I can take them with me?"
His ever so generous Sire consented, so Spike gathered the papers and carried them off to the lobby. It didn't help that he saw the Fred girl sitting behind the desk and Gunn sitting next to her, the two of them dripping sappy romance.
He felt the old familiar pain and smiled bitterly at the irony of it all. For weeks he had been telling himself that it must be some bizarre malfunction in the chip, twisting him until he wanted to love and protect the woman he should kill. Now he had no chip and he was still in love with the girl. If he had ever thought about turning human, (and he rarely had) he had assumed that his emotions would be less passionate, more Victorian and proper. They weren't. Here he was, no chip, different body, complete with a soul, still desperately in love with Buffy. There had been no miracle change of personalities, no switch from an Angelous to Angel. He was still the poor wanker who loved a woman who didn't want him.
He looked down at the papers ruefully. Did he really think having a soul would make a difference? Hell, if having a soul made a difference, monkey boy would have bedded her years ago. Captain Cardboard would have been the long haul guy.
"Spike, here you are." He turned with relief and saw Dawn coming toward him. "Let's get to the car. Do you need any help with those." When he shook his head, "What are those for, anyway?"
"Just some records. Angel said it might explain what's happened." Dawn bopped over to say good-bye to Gunn and Fred and he joined her and thanked the couple. Part of him cringed at displaying proper English manners.
The doorway was in shade, but beyond that was the bright California sunshine. Over a century of reflexes made him pause at the edge of the shade, then he stepped out in the sun. For a moment he just stood there feeling the warmth bake in his skin. Back when he had briefly worn the Ring of Amara, he had been too intent on killing Buffy to pay attention to the sun. But now the light surrounded him and the radiance was like a blessing. Colors were brighter, even the colors of his loathsome clothes, and he was dazzled. He found himself grinning like an idiot.
He was looking up at the intense blue sky. "It's beautiful, Niblet. I can't wait to see if I freckle." He turned and saw Buffy behind him and flushed, remembering that the last time he had said that he had tried to kill her.
Buffy's face was still. "Do you want to drive?"
"Please Spike. Drive us home. You don't want to see Buffy drive."
"Sorry, pet, but I can't. My eyes aren't working very well."
Dawn groaned and got into the front. The Slayer took the driver's seat with reluctance. Spike stood for a moment, reluctant to leave the sun for the darkened car interior. He glanced over and saw Angel standing in the hotel doorway. A moment ago he had been so jealous of his sire he could hardly endure it, now he felt a flash of pity. For all his strength and experience, the souled vampire could never know the simple pleasure of walking in the sun. Angel was trapped forever in the dark. He gave his sire a rueful glance and got in the back seat.
* * *
It was the road trip from Hell. Sunday morning freeway traffic had been scary enough for Buffy, but by afternoon, Interstate 5 was busy. Traffic crawled, it was impossible to change lanes and they had to pass two accidents. After the first fifteen minutes, both of her passengers had gotten very quiet and let her concentrate on getting them home alive.
It didn't help that Buffy found herself distracted by Spike's reflection. She looked in the rear view mirror and saw him looking quiet and thoughtful. His bruised face looked so familiar. It's the way he looked after I beat him in the alley. He was just a thing, a soulless thing. The face behind her looked injured and human. He was human with the memories of how she had hurt and used him. She tried to concentrate on the traffic while she remembered beating him, insulting him and rejecting his every attempt to act like a man. And now he was a man, one who had seen and experienced her darkest side.
By time they reached Sunnydale, Buffy was tired and hungry. It was after five and they had skipped lunch. She should have picked something up, but she had paid the electricity bill and barely had enough money to get through to the next payday. She pulled by the cemetery.
Spike got out, then peered back into the car. "I've got a little money stashed away in my crypt. Let me get you some pizza or something. You're in no shape to cook."
Buffy started to protest, then Dawn over ruled her. She gratefully lost the argument. He went into the crypt and changed into his standard jeans and black T-shirt before returning.
She was a spectator at the meal. Dawn and Spike argued about the pizza topping and finally compromised on a half vegetarian, half extra meat and cheese combo. Her sister insisted on a salad, which Spike reluctantly sampled. He grumbled but seemed to secretly enjoy it.
The whole time, it was as if he was using her sister as a shield, a way to keep from talking directly to her. This was the being who had constantly followed her, demanding that they talk. Now, when he glanced at her, he looked almost shy.
When Dawn demanded that he tell them about how he had become human, he spun it into an epic. This was the Spike who could make even a story of killing families an entertaining tale for her sister. The whole weekend sounded like an almost comical adventure. Dawn laughed and Buffy wondered why he had fought so hard to keep from being turned back into a vampire.
The meal was almost over before she asked. "Where are you going to stay, Spike?"
The smile he had been wearing for Dawn faded slightly. "I'll be alright in my crypt."
"In a cemetery. Surrounded by newly risen vampires. I don't think so."
"I can take care of myself, Slayer. Been doing it for a century."
"It's not safe. You need to stay someplace else for a while, at least until you recover from your injuries."
"They aren't that bad. Besides," his voice was quieter. "I don't really have anywhere else . . ."
"Buffy, he could be with us. At least until he gets stronger. "
He frowned, "You don't need to worry. If it gets too bad I might be able to make some sort of arrangement with Clem."
"Buffy, you can't let him go back to the cemetery. He's human now and they'll get him!"
Buffy decided. "Spike, you should stay with us." When he started to protest, she added, "Dawn worries about you. It'll just be a few days until we can get you settled someplace better."
Dawn looked at him with big puppy-dog eyes and he snarled and agreed.
It must have been an act, Buffy decided later. Despite his grumbling, he fell asleep on the couch within five minutes of their arrival. She had gone to the back room to fetch his duster and pictures to return them, but by the time she was back, he was sleeping. He was leaned back, still sitting, so she coaxed him to lie down. She pulled off his shoes, looking at the blisters and cuts on his feet.
Dawn brought a blanket and Buffy covered him up. No one was looking, so she allowed herself to tenderly brush the hair back from his sleeping face.
* * *
She stood by the woods, slowly scattering Spike's ashes. The breeze swirled them around her and they smelled of leather and whiskey and cigarettes. She inhaled, then began to cry softly.
Her head was in Tara's lap. The blond witch was stroking her hair as she cried. "Do you love him? I-It's okay if you do. He's done a lot of good, and, and he does love you. A-and Buffy, it's okay if you don't. You're going through a really hard time, and you only have five days left."
"Five days?" She looked up at the Tara's face, but the wicca was staring up in the air, terror in her face. Buffy looked up. The dust was swirling faster, and flames were shimmering in the swirl. The flames were white and in them shone the image of Dawn, tied up in the tower, blood flowing from the slash in her abdomen. She was crying.
Buffy hugged Dawn, trying to stop the tears. But Dawn was staring up at her with frightened eyes. "I know. Buffy, I know about the ritual! I have to stop it."
"I have to! Look at what's happening! Buffy, you have to let me go! Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing it'll never stop. You know you have to let me ... It has to have the blood..."
Buffy was running now, diving into the open portal. Amid the fear and the pain, she smelled the faint smell of leather and whiskey and cigarettes. The dust brushed her lips.
She woke up. She shivered, praying that the dream was just a nightmare. Don't let it be a Slayer dream! Please, don't let any of that be the future! But in her gut she already knew the truth.
Chapter 11 - HUGS AND BAR FIGHTS
Buffy stared into the dark, fighting fear. If the dream was true, then despite all she had sacrificed, Dawn was still in danger. Despair washed over her and she felt helpless.
She didn't know what to do. She was the Slayer; she could fight. But it was never over. We just keep coming. But you can kill a hundred, a thousand, a thousand thousand and the enemies of Hell besides and all we need is for one of us - just one - sooner or later to have the thing we're all hoping for. One... good... day. If it was just herself, she could face death. She no longer wanted death, but she could face it. But what if her death was meaningless? What if she died and the forces of evil still continued to come after Dawn?
God, she wished Giles was here. She longed for his cool analysis. She could see him, considering her dream, polishing his glasses, and then finding the right book with the right warning. But he had left. She knew he had said it was so she would learn to be responsible. But part of her wondered, was it because he knew it was hopeless and he didn't want to see her die? He didn't want to be here when the forces of darkness finally took her sister.
She got up and washed the tears from her face. She wrapped herself in her warm gray robe and went downstairs to the kitchen.
The silhouette in front of the kitchen window startled her. She turned on the kitchen light and saw it was Spike. He blinked in the light, then frowned and tilted his head. "What's wrong Buffy?" He almost moved towards her, then held himself back.
"I - I just came down to get some water."
"I was making some tea. Want some?"
She nodded and sat down by the table. It actually felt good to let someone take care of her for a bit. She was shivering slightly.
She watched Spike as he moved around the kitchen. He acted like he was familiar with the kitchen and she realized he had probably used it that summer when he had helped care for Dawn. She looked for differences, something that differentiate this man from the monster she had known for so many years. Something dramatic, like Angel emerging from Angelus, when the face of the enemy had suddenly faded into the confused face of the one she loved. But Spike moved and sounded like . . . Spike. He moved briskly, finally bringing over both cups of tea and sitting opposite the table from her.
They sat in silence drinking the tea. Buffy warmed her hands with the cup and let it sooth her dry throat. As she finished, she realized how comfortable she was. She glanced over at his face, battered yet still beautiful. The hurt lips held a gentle smile, as if just being with her made him content. She had always been told that you could see a man's soul in his eyes, yet Spike's eyes were no different when they gazed at her. He still loves me, she realized and it shook her. He was looking at her the way he had after she had crawled her way from the grave. She remembered the being who had made no demands, who had fought at her side. Spike who had listened to her and hadn't judged.
Maybe that was what allowed her to admit, "I had a nightmare and I'm afraid it might be a Slayer dream." She looked over at him. "Do you know what that means?"
He nodded quietly. "I've heard of them. They can warn you about events in the future."
He would know about slayer dreams, he had hunted slayers for a century. She looked for the Slayer of Slayers in the man opposite her. There was no hint of the monster, just a man quietly listening to her.
"At first I was reliving things. It started with scattering your dust."
He blinked, "You scattered my dust?"
"I'm sorry, I couldn't think of any sort of ceremony or anything. But, yes, I scattered it over by the woods."
He looked slightly taken aback. "Nice place, I guess."
"Then your dust swirled and made a portal and I saw Dawn. It was like it was back when Glory had her. And I had to dive into the portal again, to close it."
His face darkened. "We can't let that happen again."
We! He automatically considered it his problem too. She smiled, then said doubtfully, "It could just be a nightmare. Just reliving bad memories."
"Buffy," his voice was low now. "I brought some stuff back from Angel's. There are apparently a lot of prophecies about 'The Key.' Dawn may still be the Key and there still may be powers that want to use her. My Latin is rusty, but I did understand that much "
She didn't want to tell him about dreaming of Tara and her confused confession to the blonde witch. But she had to tell him, "In the dream, there were only five days left."
"Five days until what?"
But she couldn't tell him. She didn't know. Five days until someone once again tried to kill her sister? Five days until she had to die again? After fighting so long, clawing her way back to life. She had tried so hard to relearn how to live. She didn't want to face the pain and fire again. And if she did it this time, who would protect Dawnie the next time. There would always be danger, always people willing to kill the child to use the Key.
She couldn't say anything. Her eyes started to fill with tears. She got up, then found herself paralyzed, shivering. Spike whipped around the table. At first he could barely touch her, that strange hesitancy stopping him. She sobbed, despair filled her and suddenly he gathered her to his chest. She snuggled and felt his strength and warmth engulf her.
"It won't happen this time, Buffy. We won't let them take Dawn."
He lifted her face and gently kissed her forehead. "Listen, pet. One thing I did get from those documents. There are a lot of different stories about the Key. And some of the stories weren't violent; they were just of her allowing different beings to go to different dimensions. We'll save her, Buffy and she'll live a long life." She gazed up at his clear blue eyes, at the honesty and love in them and for the first time in forever, she felt safe.
Of course no moment of happiness can last forever. She got a call from her manager. The bastard had lost no time in taking her up on her promise to do double shifts. One of the opening shift workers wouldn't be there, so she had to go.
* * *
It was a long day. Spike found himself alternating between being concerned over the threat to Dawn and feeling almost giddy at the memory of Buffy in his arms.
The morning had bustled as both Dawn and Willow had gotten up and gone to their classes. He smiled at the memory of Red. Her face had lit up and she had given him a hug. She had always been the Scooby who had accepted him the most, using him as her lieutenant during the long summer when Buffy was dead, even comforting him when he had first been chipped and couldn't kill her.
Dawn was more difficult. A sleepy teenager going to school on a Monday morning is not pretty. But even she hugged him before going off to catch the bus. Then he found himself alone in Casa de Summers. The home where he had been invited to stay. He remembered the months when he had been uninvited and its golden warmth denied to him. How he had longed for the simple human affection he had felt in these walls, watching Passions with Joyce, teasing the Lit' Bit, and just being near Buffy. And now he was allowed to sleep here and he had been hugged three times in one morning.
It was bewildering in a way. He had tried for so long to win the approval of Buffy and her friends. Yet he had always been rejected. Now everyone knew he had a soul and, bang, it was Hug-the-Spike day.
He wasn't going to wear out his welcome. He needed some money and he'd eventually have to get a place of his own, someplace safer than a cemetery.
Spike went back to his crypt, packing up his clothes and looking for anything to pawn. It was amazing, really, how little he had to show for 120 years. His clothes and toiletries fit in a box, and aside from a few chains and cheap punk rings, there was little of value.
He sighed. As much as he hated to, he would have to sell the motorcycle.
It had been his pride and joy; not as useful as his beloved DeSoto, but it had perfected his image as Big Bad. But those days were gone. They had been gone for a while now, at least since the Initiative had captured him, and maybe since the night when he had first seen Buffy dancing in the Bronze. Now he had to admit the Big Bad was gone and he didn't know who he was supposed to be.
He hadn't returned to William and he didn't want that life again. But the easy days of drifting through life and taking what he wanted were over. He would have to find a job, pay taxes, buy food, meet schedules and the whole dreary routine of being human. Yet somehow, the more he thought about it, the more it felt like a new adventure. He had been very good at being a Master Vampire, good enough that he and Dru could stroll into any city and take over. He had even been able to casually become the Master of Sunnydale, home of the Hellmouth. This was a new challenge and he meant to master life far better than poor William had.
Most of the day was spent pawning and selling things. He bought some new steel-toed boots, groceries, and a couple dictionaries and made a point of getting home before Dawn arrived. He didn't think she was in danger yet, but he wanted to be careful. He had picked up a roasted chicken and some vegetables at the market and managed to heat everything up for dinner.
By seven o'clock he was restless. He had been a good boy all day and had even spent a couple of hours struggling with the Latin and Greek scrolls. It was enough to make a bloke want to kill something. He was a bit surprised that the desire for the old rough-and-tumble had survived.
Willow agreed to watch the Niblet, so he drove over to Clem's. He needed some help getting identification papers. The demon underworld had some good sources, but his access to them as a human was limited. Unfortunately, Clem, party guy that he was, was absent.
He had several hours before the Slayer got home, so he went over to the Bronze. He tried his hand at pool and was rather pleased. The difference in his human and former demon body didn't seem to have eliminated his basic skill at the game. When he finally got some glasses, he should be able to hustle up some good money.
He won his last game against some college toff and sauntered to the bar, feeling rather jaunty. He ordered some beer, turned and saw Harris, sitting at a table, gloomily drinking. He grimaced and wondered if he should leave. But if he was ever going to have a chance with Buffy, he needed to at least be on speaking terms with the whelp.
He debated for a moment and decided to get a blooming onion as a peace offering. Harris was turning into balloon boy and would probably respond well to food. Taking the basket, he wandered over to the table and planted himself down.
Xander glared at him. "Go away."
"Just thought you might help me finish this. I'm still a little full." He knew he was supposed to try to make peace, but annoying the boy always gave him a chuckle. "Had a really good meal over at Buffy's. I'm staying there, y'know."
Harris glared at him. The bricklayer was starting to look burly and with his eyes semi-glazed he reminded Spike of the elder Harris. During his stay in Xander's basement pad, surely the low point of his existence, he had seen the boy's father and the family resemblance was growing stronger. "I said GO AWAY!" With a growl, Harris swept the basket off the table and Spike's mug tumbled.
Spike contemplated his beer-drenched clothes and a lovely anger began to grow. "No need to be nasty, Monkey-boy. I'm not the one who drove the little vengeance demon away. If I remember, youre the one who decided to do the big exit."
Xander stood up, towering over him. This is going to be lovely. I've been waiting to deal with Harris when I didn't have that soddin' chip in my head. Spike got up slowly, smiling. "Shall we take it outside?"
They stepped outside into the alley. Spike noted that the whelp had several inches and at least fifty pounds on him. But he hasn't had a century of down-and-dirty bar fighting. He backed up into the dark, "Come on, you pathetic poof. Let's see if you can hit something that can actually fight back."
Harris charged like a bull and Spike backed up quickly, throwing a quick punch to the nose. It gushed blood. Lovely! Then Xander's punch connected to his jaw and he flew backward. Bloody hell! He shook his head to clear it and realized how much weaker he was as a human. He might have the fighting instincts of William the Bloody, but his muscle tone was still that of William the Poet.
He sidestepped quickly when the whelp charged and chopped at the bigger man's neck. Xander blocked the punch and whirled.
"Do we let them kill each other or should we help?"
Spikes eyes widened slightly as he looked into the dark behind Harris.
"Why should human's have all the fun? Let's kill them ourselves." Three vampires stepped out of the shadows.
CHAPTER 12 - PICNIC
Xander froze. Without turning around, he asked, "How many?"
"Three." A quick experienced glance, "Just fledglings. They'll fight like idiots."
"Very strong idiots." Harris reached up his sleeve and took out a stake. Spike grinned. Apparently being part of the Scooby Gang was finally rubbing off on the boy.
Spike took out his own stake. Now that he was filled with human blood and qualified as a nummy treat, he had decided it was time to carry wood.
The three struck. Spike was insulted that they apparently considered Monkey-boy the bigger threat. Two attacked Harris and the small one came after him.
Fledglings were stone stupid and really didn't expect anyone to fight back. He aimed his stake for the heart. Small-and-Ugly brushed it aside with a simple swipe and Spike was reminded once again that William the Poet did not have the body of a warrior. The creature crowded in and penned him against the wall of the alley. It pushed Spike's head to the side.
Spike growled. If he hadn't let Dru take him, he bloody well wasn't going to be drained by a fledgling. He couldn't get the chest so he used an underhand swing and jabbed his stake deep into the vampire's groin. Might not dust the bugger, but it could really kill the appetite. The vampire turned a paler shade of pale and released Spike. It shrieked, bending over and clutching its wounded valuables. Spike grinned, tapped its shoulder and as it looked up, drove a the stake through it's heart.
Harris was actually doing a pretty good job of holding his own, considering he was fighting two vamps at once. Spike surprised himself by going over and tackling one. It must have been because of his squishy human soul, because it certainly wasn't due to any brain activity. He stabbed it in the back and hit a rib, instead of the heart. However it did distract the vampire and it let go of the whelp.
In turning around, it yanked the stake out of his hand, leaving him without a weapon facing a very brassed off monster. He backed off, throwing random bags of garbage at the vampire as if he could gross it to death. Slam, he was up against the wall. He kicked frantically with the steel-toed boots. Over the creature's shoulder, he could see Harris had staked his vamp and was surging to the rescue.
Of course the wanker only managed to jam his stake into the creature' ribcage. Apparently the vampire was half armadillo. The monster roared, let go of Spike and turned to choke Harris. Spike plucked the two stakes out of the creature's back and tossed one to Xander. The two of them then took turns trying to get through the ribs. It twisted back and forth. Finally Harris drove his stake in with a lucky stroke and the vampire vanished in a puff of dust. The dust settled on the two men and they stood and grinned at each other.
"Good fight, mate. Let me get you a beer."
Xander grinned and staggered back into the Bronze with Spike. "I'll get the onions."
He finally got back to the house on Revello Drive shortly after Buffy got back from patrolling. He strolled in with a cocky swagger. "Honey, I'm home!"
Buffy came out of the kitchen, where she had been munching on the last of the salad. "Spike, you've been drinking!"
"No, I've been male-bonding." He strolled over with the old smirk that had irritated and attracted her for years. "Onions, beer and dusting vampires. It was a glorious evening."
She smelled his beer drenched clothes and checked out the dust all over him. "Spike, you're a pig. She tried to keep her face severe, but it was difficult.
"Yes, luv, and you smell like a grease pit. But you don't find me getting insulting."
"Well, I'm going to take a shower and go to bed. And," she saw his mouth opening. "If you even offer to join me in either one, you can go back and sleep in your crypt and have a whole glorious night of fighting vamps."
She took her shower, carefully using all the hot water and went to bed. That left him taking a cold shower, which knowing his hormones, he probably needed. The last thing she heard as she drifted off to sleep was the ex-vampire singing a slightly off-key rendition of "We are the Champions" in the shower.
* * *
Casa de Summers was not a good place for a man with a hangover. Spike had awakened early with nightmares, as he had every morning since he was stuck with a bloody soul. Only this morning, he not only had a guilty conscience, he had a throbbing headache and a queasy gut. Apparently his human metabolism was a complete failure when it came to processing large amounts of alcohol.
Of course once the female population of the household realized what was going on, they turned evil. Buffy cooked bacon and the home filled with the smell of grease. Dawn was obnoxiously loud. Even Willow, sweet Willow, crashed and banged around the house. He frantically wondered what had happened to Hug-the-Spike day.
He took some aspirin and retreated to the basement.
After both Willow and Dawn left, Spike crept out of the cellar and went to the refrigerator. Buffy was sorting laundry and heard him. When she came back from Dawn's room, carrying dirty clothes, she found him scavenging through the kitchen cabinets.
"What are you looking for?"
"Hair of the dog."
It's not even eight in the morning and you're looking for alcohol?!"
Spike looked at her blankly. "Yes."
"Well, you won't find any. We barely have enough money for food, much less beer for you to guzzle at all hours." She started down to the basement, to the washing machine.
He followed her down. "Been wanting to talk to you about that." This was so familiar, the Spike who tagged after her wanting to talk. She turned.
He was still standing on the steps, looking down at her. His voice was surprisingly firm. "I'm not a charity case, luv. I do have some money and if you're letting me stay here, I should be helping out. Paying rent or something."
She was surprised. "Rent? You don't have to pay rent." Besides, paying rent would make his stay official.
"Then let me pay for the groceries. Something. You have enough to do taking care of your sister."
He stepped down the stairs until he was standing next to her, the basket of clothes between them. She stared up into his face, he looked so serious. Her mind flashed back to her first day at the Doublemeat Palace. His face had looked equally earnest. "I can get money," he had said. "How did you get the money?" she demanded.
For the first time he smiled slightly. "Sold the motorcycle. Don't worry, pet, it's honest money. I'm playing by the rules."
"By selling a stolen motorcycle?"
He winced. "Right. But you and the Scoobies made sure demon-boy won't be coming back for it, so I think you earned your share of the loot."
His face was serious again. "Will you let me help?"
Buffy swallowed. Finally, "OK, you can get the groceries this week. I mean we'll be needing more anyway if you are staying with us." He smiled and it made her heart melt. She turned around quickly. "I have to get these clothes washed."
When she came up from the basement, Spike was sitting at the kitchen table, reading old documents and jotting notes on a pad of paper. For a strange moment he reminded her of Giles, which was a very disturbing thought. Buffy remembered him wearing glasses when she had first seen him at the hotel and for an instance pictured him taking them off and polishing them, like the Watcher had. She shook her head at the ridiculous image and walked over to the table.
"Are these the documents you talked about, the ones that mentioned Dawn."
"Yeah, and a bloody pile of crap they are." Poof! There went her image of Spike as Watcher. "I think anytime any soddin' monk got drunk, he sat down and wrote one of these bloody prophesies! It doesn't help that it's been over 100 years since I've had to read Latin."
"Giles said that the Council of Watchers reported there were no documents on Glory or the Key."
"Right, and you trust that bunch of wankers? There's a lot here, luv. Just half of it doesn't make sense and the other half doesn't give a clue about her being in any danger."
"You should show these to the gang. I'll call a meeting for tomorrow."
She called up Xander's number and left a message. On a second thought, she also called Tara. If Dawn was in danger, she would need magic. After she put the phone down, she found herself thinking. What would she tell them? She had had a dream and was increasingly convinced it was true. Dawn was in danger. There was going to be another portal opening. If Spike was right, Dawn would survive. If her dream was accurate, she would have to jump again.
She remembered how afraid she had been back when she was sixteen and learned that the Master would kill her. She remember apocalypse after apocalypse and each time she had been threatened with death. The last time had killed her and still she was back to fight again. If she had to die again to close a portal and save Dawn, she would.
She did find, however, that she regretted the idea. She had been given a few more months of life and what had she done with it? She had spent most of the time being depressed, ignoring the gift of life. She had settled for a job she hated. And she had slept with Spike and treated him like a monster.
She looked back at the man studying at the table. I almost let myself love him, but he was a monster. Now he's a man. And I only have four days left to live. Suddenly a weight was lifted from her chest. If she had only four days left, she would live them fully. It was time to stop hiding.
"Spike, let's get out of here. "
He looked up from the documents, surprised but not disagreeing. "Where do you want to go, luv?"
"Let's go for a picnic."
* * *
Spike wondered how human men ever began to understand women. As a vampire he could smell hormones, the sweet smell of fear, the musky odor of passion. He could hear heart rates and breathing patterns. He could see the tiniest gleam of sweat. Even with all these clues, Buffy had baffled him. Now he literally was without a clue.
They didn't have a basket, so Buffy threw in some fruit, the leftover chicken, juice, paper plates and napkins in a bag. They carried a blanket in the another bag. They walked, which was certainly safer than being in a car with the Slayer. At first Spike thought they were going to a nearby park. They walked past it. All right, maybe they were heading for the green college lawns. They walked past them. By this time he had recovered enough from the hangover to be hungry.By the time they had reached the woods, he was ravenous.
Buffy finally found a clearing she liked and he spread the blanket. He looked around. Very isolated. He watched the Slayer with interest, wondering what was up. He had an idea but didn't want to push his luck.
Buffy seemed to be alternating between nervous and playful. She's flirting with me, he thought in wonder. Open, direct, jump-your-bones Buffy was flirting. How in the hell am I supposed to respond? Neither the Victorian Era nor a hundred years of loving a madwoman had taught him much on modern dating practices. The closest the two of them had gotten to dating was killing a few monsters before shagging each other silly.
Apparently modern flirting and dating involve food. That was fine by him, he and Dru had swapped blood and kisses in their time. And slices of apple were a bit tidier than hemorrhaging corpses. He wondered if this was supposed to be like a first date, since it was the first time he had been with her as a human, or it would be something more interesting. After the food got out of the way and they locked lips, all doubts vanished. Spike was going to get lucky.
The lovely reflexes started to kick in, (as if he could forget a moment of loving his Slayer). As his hands slipped under her top, he nibbled her neck exactly how she loved it. She moaned, throwing her head back and hugged him tighter. Bloody hell, he was in a vise and couldn't breathe! Buffy opened her eyes and, startled, let go.
"Did I hurt you?"
"No luv," he said, contemplating the superhuman he loved. "Just haven't quite healed from my trip to LA."
Somewhere, he knew, the Powers that Be were laughing their arse off. After months of cheerfully teaching his beloved the joys of rough sex that would eliminate any human competition, he was now the human competition. And he had to compete with his vampire past. He had been a being who could shag for five hour straight. And now he was stuck in the body of a bloody poet facing a lover who could crack him like a nut.
Still, if a bloke was going to get killed, this was the way to go. And if his body was that of a poet, his century old imagination was that of a pervert.
So Spike once again was in the arms of the love of his life and unlife. His last thought before things got far too intense for thinking, was that the universe certainly enjoyed the game of Kick-the-Spike.
CHAPTER 13 - SPIKE GETS LUCKY
Spike was masterful, original and innovative. Maximum pleasure delivered with minimum permanent injury. Then somewhere in the process the bloody poet escaped. The next thing he knew he was babbling sweet nothings and they were making tender love.
A century of sophistication and they ended up loving like two giddy teenagers rolling on the grass.
* * *
It felt strange when Buffy woke up. She felt relaxed and lazy and very, very satiated. And, how interesting, there was an arm around her and a pale hand cupping her breast. In fact, she woke up thoroughly cuddled with a warm delicious man spooned against her back. It took her a moment to get oriented. She was in the clearing in the woods with Spike.
She was cuddling with Spike! How's that for amazing! She snuggled closer. Here he was, human instead of vampire, but he still smelled delicious. And, her hand moved backwards, he had those lovely lean muscles. He was sleeping next to her but certain portions of his anatomy woke up.
She rolled over so that she could watch him sleep. Her movement must have wakened him up. His poor battered face was finally starting to heal, most of the swelling had gone done except for the new bruise on his jaw he had gotten from "male-bonding." As she watched, his eyes began to open and she was once again struck by how impossibly blue they were.
He looked shy, almost hesitant. She suddenly realized that he was expecting her "kick him in the head and run out, virtue fluttering."
It hurt thinking she had treated him like that. He had been a monster but somewhere in the monster had been this man that she was with. So she smiled at him, "Wow!"
Spike started to relax, at least, as much as any man could with a beautiful naked Slayer stretched full length alongside his body. "Wow yourself, luv." OK, not great pillow talk, but it beat " I knew the only thing better than killing a slayer would be f-."
She smiled at him. God, she was glowing. She was so incredibly beautiful in the sunlight. She leaned forward and kissed him. Not a passionate kiss. It was a tender loving kiss, the type that would have put old William the Poet into cardiac arrest. He kissed back and let his hand play interesting games with her breast. She reached over to hug him and . . .
"Bloody Hell, woman!!" He flinched away, his back on fire. "What the bleeding, bloody, soddin' . . ?" It didn't help that the love of his existence started to laugh her head off.
"Oh, Spike! Oh my God, Spike! I'm so sorry." The sincerity of that last comment was blunted when she started to laugh.
He twisted back and saw his glowing red posterior.
"Oh Spike, you are so sunburned!"
"What the buggering hell did you expect, Slayer! I haven't been in the soddin' sun in a century. God, this hurts!!"
Buffy tried to look sympathetic, but cruel woman that she was, was unable to keep a straight face. "At least we made it hurt in all the right places!"
Spike proved that you didn't have to be a vampire to growl.
So much for sympathetic, the Slayer was laughing at him. "I can't wait to see if you freckle."
" I am a pasty pale Englishman. I do not freckle. My skin is going to fall off in sheets. What ever made you want to make love in the burning sun, Buffy?"
He probably should have been furious at her laughter, but she looked so damn pretty. He had seen so little laughter lately. Then she wiped her eyes and sighed. "Oh God, Spike. It is such a relief to be able to love you." She hugged him and it was (almost) worth the pain.
He wanted to say something, probably babble something stupid that would ruin everything. But Buffy's face had become serious, as if she realized what she had said. She kissed him quickly. "I think we have something at home that might help the sunburn. Oh, and for the future, Spike, try and find sunscreen 5000+. You'll need it."
They dressed, with only minor groaning from Spike, and walked back to Revello Drive. Buffy was happy and the conversation was light, with jokes, snarky remarks and lots of laughter. There were moments when Spike found himself unable to believe that this was really happening. I'm walking in the sunlight, holding hands with Buffy. She said she's able to love me. This is so bloody unreal. He had lived over a century and experienced many pleasures, but this moment of pure joy was unlike anything he had ever known.
Back at the house, Buffy cheerfully got into her role as nurse. He stripped off and let her rub ointment on all the right places and kiss where it hurt. Her version of nursing didn't match anything he had noticed going on at the Los Angeles hospital, but it certainly made the patient feel better.
It was only when she realized that she was going to be late for work, that they finally got out of bed. He offered to walk her to the Doublemeat Palace, but she had him stay for Dawn.
If Buffy's slayer dream was right, Dawn would probably be safe until Friday, but he didn't want to take chances. He had to see Clem and took her with him. Clem lived in the good part of town, but he wanted to avoid having her out after dark.
It was still daylight, so Clem looked sleepy when they arrived. Still he tried to be a gracious host. He wasn't terribly familiar with the teen set, but he brought out some videos for Dawn to look at while he and Spike were transacting business. "I have Titanic. I heard teenaged girls like Leo."
Spike raised an eyebrow, and the droopy-skinned demon got slightly defensive. "Sophie likes it. Besides everyone dies at the end, so it's not too bad."
Dawn had been looking through the other tapes. "Attack of the Clones? It's not even out yet!"
Clem had the grace to look chagrinned. "Actually its a bootlegged version. I have connections."
With Dawn cheerfully ensconced in front of the television, Spike and Clem got down to business. Clem was a bit startled about his buddy becoming human, but was too easygoing to ask many questions. Getting false IDs through the demon connection was much quicker and cheaper than depending on human sources. With vengeance (er . . . justice) demons and other denizens infiltrating human society, there was always a vast supply of counterfeited records available.
In about ninety minutes, Spike was the proud owner of a birth certificate, passport, social security card, and driver's license. When he decided what job he would apply for, they could come up with some fake college and job experience documents. It was all a bit pricey and would have been cheaper if he could have paid in kittens, but he had figured it would have been hard to explain the mewing to Dawn.
Dawn was disappointed that they had to leave. She asked Clem if he would let her borrow the tape to finish it. Clem looked over at Spike, Spike nodded and Clem agreed. "Just don't let anyone see it. It would tick off George."
"You know George Lucas?"
Clem shrugged. "Well you know, it wasn't really all computer graphics. Check out the bar scene in Star Wars, you can see me a couple of times in that dark corner."
The two of them stopped by the grocery and picked up the night's dinner. Willow was home from college when they arrived and she and Dawn fixed up spaghetti and a salad. Spike had a second helping of garlic bread.
After dinner, the girls worked on their studies and Spike went out into the back yard. He had picked up a pack a pack of cigarettes at the store and was determined to relearn how to smoke. He was slightly amazed how bad the tobacco tasted to his new human taste buds but some vices were worth keeping.
He stared into the night sky and tried to figure out what he had ever done in his century of existence to deserve a day like today.
* * *
Spike tried to stay up until the Slayer returned from patrolling. Unfortunately the past three nights of nightmares were catching up with him and he didn't even realize she had arrived. He woke up as she was pulling off his boots.
"Shhh. Let's get these boots off and you can lay down."
He reached lazily up and tried to pull her down for a kiss. "You're beautiful, Slayer."
"I'm greasy and I have dust all over me. I need a shower."
"Want me to wash your back?"
She smiled slightly. "We'd have to be quiet. I don't want to wake Dawn."
Part of him watched the smile, wondering why all this was happening. In the past, using him had been a convenient way for her to escape her problems. Why had the Slayer agreed to so much, so fast?
The other part of him reacted like any other male on earth would when offered a chance to share a shower with the beautiful naked woman he loved. Grinning like an idiot, he allowed the Slayer to take his hand and lead him upstairs.
Sometimes even the best days can be followed by better nights.
CHAPTER 14 - REVELATIONS
The girl was shivering. She held her flowers tightly to her chest and stumbled forward into the tunnel. "Please don't hurt me, sir."
Spike's voice was gentle. "Don't worry, pet. We're going to take the flowers to a beautiful lady."
Dru was lying down on a coach he had dragged into their lair. She had been through one of her spells and he worried about her. He wanted to bring her something pretty.
"Shhh. This will just take a moment." Spike twisted one of the roses in the girl's hand and watched the blood seep from the scratch. "There that wasn't bad, was it?" The frightened girl shook her head.
He touched the scratch, then went over and touched Dru's cold lips. Her eyes opened and she sucked at his finger like a greedy kitten. He smiled then motioned to the girl to bring the flowers to his beloved. Dru cooed with pleasure and inhaled their fragrance, the subtle scent of rose petals and blood.
"I brought you something to play with, luv." Dru eyed the girl with the first enthusiasm she had shown in a week. He smiled and led the child back to a wall. She whimpered when he chained her arms above her head. "But, sir, you said you wouldn't hurt me." Tears flowed down her face.
He patted the child's face gently. "I won't." He turned and watched his love rise, golden eyed and sharp fanged. "She will."
"Spike." His eyes opened. Buffy was shaking him awake. "What's wrong?"
For a horrible moment he thought she must have seen what he did, then he realized he had been dreaming of his past. He must have stirred and wakened her.
He turned and looked into her sleepy eyes. "Nothing, luv. Just the sunburn making me a bit uncomfortable." He kissed her forehead and she sighed and fell back asleep. He pulled on his clothes and stumbled out of her bedroom. He turned and gazed at his Slayer, sleeping in her childhood bedroom with innocent teen-age posters on the wall.
Spike stepped outside and took out a cigarette. His hand was trembling so much he couldn't light it. Finally he tossed it away in disgust. The kid hadn't even been as old as Dawn. And he had killed thousands. The sky was just starting to glow with a pre-dawn light, but he couldn't see it through the tears.
He wondered how Buffy could have ever let a monster like him touch her. Even more, he wondered how she could believe that a mere soul could ever make him worthy of her love.
* * *
It was late in the morning when Buffy woke up. She stretched and lazily got up, pulling the old gray robe on. As she went downstairs, she noted how quiet the house was. Spike was sitting at the kitchen table, his back towards her, studying the scrolls.
She tiptoed behind him and hugged him. She reached out and ruffled his hair. "Good morning, goldilocks?" He turned his head and gave her a truly evil glare. Encouraged, she continued, "You know I love this hair. The way it bounces around when you-"
He reached up and pulled her head down for a kiss. That shut her up. He raised his head slightly, looking her in the eye. "Point taken, luv. I'll get a haircut. Just haven't had time."
"Your sunburn better?"
His face looked solemn. "I'll live. Let's get you some breakfast?"
Buffy sat at the kitchen table and watched as Spike made tea and toast. "I could get used to being spoiled."
He brought over the toast and some jelly, then got the cups and sat down. He watched silently as she nibbled at the toast. She glanced at him and stopped mid-bite. She could detect vampires with her special sense, but by now she could also recognize them by sight, even in their human guise. They had predators' eyes, sizing up their prey. She gazed at Spike's face and it was the first time she had seen those type of eyes in a human face. "What are you looking at. Do I have jelly on my face?" She touched her mouth nervously.
Spike stared at her intently. "Buffy," his voice was soft. "I hunted Slayers for a century. Got myself two. And if I saw one looking like you do now, I'd figure I was going to have a really good day. You've given up. Whatever this thing is with Dawn, you don't expect to live through this, do you?"
Buffy's eyes went wide, but she didn't deny anything. He was watching her intently and she felt naked under his gaze.
"Been thinking about yesterday. Don't get me wrong, best day I've had in 150 years of existence. But it wouldn't have happened if you thought you were going to live. You would have called a Scooby meeting, gotten to work on solving the problem."
The hard eyes were human now, sadder. "But you already think you know the answer, don't you. That dream has you convinced that you'll have to jump through a portal again."
Buffy looked down, unable to meet his eyes.
"You've given up, so yesterday you took a little holiday before dying." His voice had a bitter edge now. "You didn't have to say anything about love, Buffy. You know I would have done anything for you."
Buffy raised her head sharply. Spike looked so hurt. Suddenly in a world that was spinning out of her control, there was one thing she could fix. "I said I could love you because I meant it."
"Right, I've got a bleeding soul and, bang, you can love me." He sounded angry now.
"Yes, you have a soul and bang, I can finally trust you."
"Trust me? I would have laid my bloody life down for you. You and Dawn. I didn't need a soul for that!"
"Right. And what about if the chip came out? Could I trust you to not kill anyone? Maybe Dawn and I would be safe, but could I trust you not to sneak out and kill strangers? People didn't mean anything to you. How could I love you when I don't know if I would have to end up staking you?"
He was stricken. "Buffy, I wouldn't do that to you. I'd never . . ."
"No, now you wouldn't. You have a soul. But before you were a monster. And I knew what you were. And I kept coming to you." Her eyes were wet and angry. "Sometimes it was the only way I could feel. But every time I started to relax, I would remember that I couldn't love you. I loved Angel and when I couldn't stake him, people died. I was so afraid of falling in love with you and having it happen all over again."
She stood up and went to him and he surged out of the chair. They were in each other's arms, and she had to stop him from kissing her or she might never be able to finish. "Everything was so hard when I came back. The only thing easy was being with you. I could say anything or just be with you. And I started to love you and of a sudden, the only thing that felt right in my life, was wrong. I kept fighting against it and then I was fighting against you and everything was twisted and violent. Every time you were kind, like you used to be, it would scare me and we'd end up hurting each other. It was killing me. So I stopped seeing you. And that was killing me too."
She leaned into him. "Maybe, I will die in three days. But I want to live. I want to be able to feel again. And this time if I love you, it's not wrong. It's the most right thing in the world." She raised her lips and they were kissing. Something cold in her chest seemed to thaw and she could have wept with relief. Then even more of her body began to melt with the heat of their kisses.
The Slayer was late to work. And for the entire shift she found that she was unable to say the company line, "Welcome to the Doublemeat Palace, the home of meaty goodness" with a straight face.
* * *
It had not been a productive day. Spike had spent the day getting a haircut, making a few phone calls and reading documents. By the end of the day all he had were a few more anecdotes of the Key being helpful, aching eyes and decently short hair. He rather missed the bleached blonde look, but it was time to leave the Eighties behind.
The Scooby meeting had been even less productive. Buffy had told the group about her dream, the same edited version she had given Spike. Dawn grew pale and he had reached out to hug her shoulders. The memory of the past summer was as painful as an open wound for both of them.
When it was Spike's turn, he had pulled the documents and translation notes out of his backpack. "If Buffy's dream is right, Dawn is still the Key. When I was back in Los Angeles, I was given a bunch of documents about the Key. Here," he passed them over to the wiccas. "I translated enough of them that it's pretty clear that the Key," he turned towards Dawn, "you, have the power to open gates and portals to other dimensions. I know Glory wanted to use you, but according to most of these documents, it's a power that you will learn to control and use yourself."
That had caused a stir. Spike showed a few of the Latin prophesies to Willow, and she confirmed his translation. The two wiccas had examined the documents.
"When did you learn to read this stuff?" Xander had gaped like a goldfish.
"Back as a human. British education. It was a bit better than Sunnydale High. Besides, I've spent most of the last century wandering around Europe. I can say "Hey gorgeous, come out into the dark with me" in twenty-seven languages and dialects. Can't read that many, but I'm not a total git."
Nothing was resolved. Aside from Buffy's dream, there really was no indication that Dawn was at risk. Dawn was excited by the prophecies indicating she had special powers but none of the translations told her how to use them. In the end, Willow and Tara had stayed behind to work together and Xander had wandered off towards the apartment-of-manly-despair. That had left Spike escorting the Summers girls. When they passed a cemetery, Buffy left to go patrolling. "I'll be back by ten," she said, then gave Spike a PG-13 kiss, since Dawn was watching with avid eyes.
"So what's going on between you and Buffy?"
"You need to ask your sister, Niblet."
"Are you still in love with her?" He started to protest, then stopped remembering that the cat had pretty much been let out of the bag back when he had had the brilliant idea of chaining Buffy up and threatening to kill her. The whole episode had gotten him expelled from the Summer's house and almost cost him any chance of friendship with the teenager.
"Yeah," he said in a gruff voice. "Being human doesn't keep me from being besotted."
"That's cool, because I think Buffy really cares for you. You should have seen her when we thought you were dusted."
They had reached the Summer's house. Spike started to open the door and then hesitated. He sniffed, then realized that his lousy human nose wasn't going to tell him a thing. Still, even without vampire senses he could tell something was wrong.
"Shh, stay here Dawn." He slowly opened the door. The house was dark. He flicked on a light. He couldn't see anything different. But he was very aware of something being dangerously wrong. He entered slowly, holding the stake.
He heard a desperate squeal. Dawn! He dashed back to the door and saw the girl struggling in a giant's arms. Not a giant, Spike realized, but one of those guards that had been the bane of his existence at Wolfram and Hart. Only this time he wasn't weak from being a newly made human.
Spike wore a vicious grin as he sauntered up to Tweedledee, (or maybe it was Tweedledum.) "Hello there. Care to unhand the lady?"
The thug sneered down at him, his arms filled with the struggling child. Which meant he didn't have a free hand to block Spike, when the blonde jumped, whirled and kicked him in the face. It certainly wasn't done with the speed and grace that Spike had back in his vampire days, but his steel-toed boots made an impression. He felt the shudder of the impact through his body and there was the satisfying sensation of teeth and nasal bones breaking. Without the vampire reflexes, he fell on his back, but still, score one for the home team.
Dawn broke loose, leaving the giant exposed. Since Tweedledee was busy holding his bleeding face, Spike took advantage of the distraction to land a lovely kick to the crotch. It was a kick even Manchester United would envy. Spike felt his face twitch and he longed for his fangs. That would teach the bastard to scare Dawn. Since he couldn't drain the bugger, he waited until the giant leaned over to clutch his package, then gave a solid kick to the man's temple.
Spike heard someone shout, so he quickly dragged Dawn inside. "Quick, go upstairs. Call the police." Then he thought about the ineptness of Sunnydale's finest. "Also, call Harris. Even if he's not there, he has an answering machine. The people after you are Wolfram and Hart. Angel knows them. Two of the people involved in this are a Gavin Park and some old woman named Stanhope. Now quick."
"What are you going to do?"
He grinned with the smile that had terrorized Europe. "If our lawyer friends try to come in, I plan to give them a bloody welcome party."
Dawn started to run up the stairs. "Dawn!" She turned. "If I can't keep them distracted until the police come, climb out onto the tree by Buffy's window. No matter what happens, get away. Do you understand?"
The teenager gave him a long look, then nodded. She dashed upstairs.
There was a crash as a window in the kitchen was broken. The back door was smashed open and the forces of Wolfram and Hart poured into the house.
CHAPTER 15 - GRAVE DANGER
Spike's face muscles twitched again. He had fought groups larger than this with fists and fangs and managed to survive. But now he was in this blasted human body. Human's needed weapons. He threw open the Slayer's weapon's chest. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be anything really useful, like a flamethrower or even a decent shotgun, so he grabbed a battle-ax.
He scrambled over to the staircase just as five men surged out of the kitchen. Holding the ax with both hands he placed himself between them and the second story. With luck he could hold them until Dawn escaped.
The group stopped at the bottom, looking up at him. At most only two could come up the stairs at a time. Apparently it was an all-American goon squad since they all seemed to be carrying baseball bats.
The goon in the center unfortunately had not limited his weapons to bats. He pulled out a gun and pointed. "There's no need for anyone to get hurt. Put that down." Spike glared at the gun. A week ago he could have ignored it, now the weapon could kill him. He didn't particularly mind the idea of death, but he wanted to give Niblet some time.
"All right, no need to get violent." Spike held up his left hand in a sign of peace and gave his most ingenuous smile. He stepped down two steps and threw himself to the side. As he did, he grabbed the handle of the ax with both hands and swung at the gun. There was a scream and the gun and most of the goon's hand flew off. Spike reversed his swing and clipped one of the men on the right, then scrambled up the stairs again.
The injured man was screaming and swearing and one of the others turned to take care of him. That left the remaining three lunging up the stairs at him. He was so bloody slow compared to how he used to be. But at least the goons seemed to be used to terrorizing, not actually fighting. He swung the ax once, then they were too close and he had to use the handle to block blows from the bats. One landed on his side and he grunted as he felt his ribs give. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a car horn.
He threw himself at them, knocking two off balance and they tumbled down the stairs. He followed them down, landed a good solid chop with the ax on one of them, then whirled as the last standing goon, closed in on him. He ducked his head in time, catching the bat on the shoulder. The pain made him swear and the ax fell out of his hands. Spike growled and grabbed the other man, closing in too close to use weapons. The other man was stronger, but Spike had more experience killing people. He slammed the goon's nose with the heel of his hand, trying to force bones up into the brain.
A gun went off. Everyone froze.
"Stop right now or I shot the kid in the tree."
Oh hell! They found her. Spike stepped back. "Leave her alone! I'll go with you."
"You're damned right you'll go with us, you fucker!" the goon he had been struggling with swore and hit him across the face. The bigger man pounded on him until a cold voice ordered him to stop.
They cuffed Spike's hands behind his back and led him stumbling out of the house. Spike looked around the quiet suburban neighborhood where each house closed its curtains to the world outside. In an ideal world, neighbors should be calling the police when they heard the fighting or at least when they heard the gunshot, but this was Sunnyhell.
One of the men behind him shoved on his wounded shoulder, forcing to his knees. He groaned involuntarily. "Come on down, kid or we shoot him."
"Don't!" he started to yell. The thug lashed him across the head with the gun and for a moment he lost consciousness. When he came to, Dawn was on her knees, holding him and crying. Damn Summers woman. Not a one of them had any common sense. Back when he first fought Buffy, Joyce, who should have been cowering, had nearly brained him with an ax. Buffy herself, went out night after night, risking her life for an ungrateful world. And here was Dawn, giving up her last chance at escape to save the life of a being who had existed far too long.
"Where's the Key? They say you're the Keeper. Where is it?"
Here was a chance to stall them. "It's not here."
The gun holder put the gun against Dawn's head. "We need you, not her. Show us the Key or she dies."
"It's not here. It - it's in the basement. I'll show you." If he could get a few away from Dawn, lead them to the basement, maybe he could find some way to fight them. Anything to delay things until Buffy or the police arrived.
"We don't have time for this shit!" That was the weak voice of the attacker who had originally held the gun, the leader who had half of his hand cut off. "Pete, get the box out of the van. I kept it under the driver's seat."
The man with the bleeding nose went over to the van parked down the street and came back with a small box. "The old bitch said it shows where power is. The brighter the light on the end glows, the closer you are to the Key."
Looking doubtful, Pete turned it on. A faint light brightened visibly when he approached Spike and Dawn. "Hey, look how bright it's getting. He must have it on." Two of the thugs yanked Spike up and started searching his clothes.
"Hey, look!" Pete had noticed that the light dimmed when he pointed it at Spike after they had dragged him from Dawn. He turned it back towards the frightened child. "It's her."
"Get it," the leader ordered and the two thugs pushed Spike aside and grabbed Dawn.
"Where is it?" Tears were flowing down Dawn's face but she refused to talk. Impatient, the goons started to rip her clothes, looking for a hidden key. She screamed and struggled helplessly.
Spike lunged and was casually beaten back. "Stop it, you bastards." He couldn't stand it. They had ripped her top off, and were probing the pockets of her jeans. All around them, the neighborhood was dark and silent. "It's her, you bloody monsters. Get your hands off her. She's the Key."
The two stopped. "Is that even possible?" asked Pete. The boss stepped forward. He took the box with his uninjured hand and moved towards Dawn. He slid it over her body and finally grunted.
"Put them in the back of the van." They were manhandled to the back of the van and pulled in. There was rope and Spike's legs were bound. His hands were already behind his back in handcuffs, but they passed a rope around his elbows and pulled them together so tightly that the injured shoulder dislocated and he almost passed out. Dawn's hands and feet were tied and they were thrown in the back of the van.
* * *
It was hard to concentrate on staking vamps. Buffy sat by the new grave waiting for the vampire to emerge and tried to not think about Spike. It had been hard enough when he was "the evil blood-sucking fiend." But now he was the human that she had always seen inside the monster and she couldn't seem to focus on anything else.
Tender images filled her mind. Who knew he could make love like that? Of course other images, fierce and sexy came too, back from when he was a monster and she had involuntarily loved the monster too. She had told herself she couldn't love him and lashed against him whenever he had allowed his human side to show. But it was such a relief to stop fighting.
Then her mind switched back to the times they had sparred together, superhuman strength against superhuman strength. He had been the one being that she could fight without holding anything back and he had laughed and given as good as he got. Somewhere in the fights they would finally close in on each other and tumble together fighting and f. . . The new vamp was out its grave and she had been so distracted that he was on her. Of course he was only a stupid fledgling, so she staked him immediately.
She had staked three tonight, counting the newby. That was good enough. It was time to go home. She was dusty and definitely needed a shower. She grinned, remembering last night's shower.
A truck was pulling into the cemetery. Startled, she stepped back behind a tree. She heard Xander calling her voice before she recognized that it was his truck.
"Xander, what are you doing here?"
His face was pale and drawn. "Get in the truck, Buffy. It's bad." Buffy almost stopped breathing. He looked so scared. She slid into the passenger's side and he turned the truck and sped out of the cemetery.
Xander was swearing softly. "It's my fault, Buffy. I stopped by a bar on the way home. I just couldn't face that empty apartment. And when I got home, Dawn was on the answering machine."
"Dawn! What's happened?" They were pulling onto Revello Drive. She saw the police cars pulled in front of her house.
She got out of the truck and stumbled over towards her house. She saw the blood on the sidewalk and the two trails of blood leading out of her house. "Oh my God! What happened?!"
* * *
Spike had tried to comfort the frightened girl as the van carried them through the night. "Concentrate, Lit' Bit. If we can just get these ropes untied, we have a fighting chance. And this time, run. I can't fight them if I'm worried about you." The two of them were back to back fumbling with each other's ropes. The pain of his dislocated shoulder and the ropes cutting off his circulation made his fingers thick and clumsy.
Fortunately Dawn wasn't tied up as tight and her fingers were nimble. She managed to free his feet. Now she fumbled with the knots in the ropes around his elbows.
He was a realist and knew how slim their chances were. "Remember, they need you alive to be a Key. If I know anything about magic," and in his long strange existence he knew more than he wanted to, "they have to wait for the new moon. That gives Buffy two nights to find them. And," he hated to admit it, "with Angel helping her, she'll find you. Those bloody lawyers won't know what hit them when your big sis tackles them. And Peaches, he has a crew that looks like they can handle things. Even if we can't get away, they'll save you. Don't be afraid, they'll save you."
Dawn had gotten his elbows untied. He moaned with relief. He couldn't get the handcuffs off, but at least he could move them to the front of his body. His dislocated shoulder allowed him to pull his arms under him and wiggle through until his cuffed hands were in front of him. The pain was so intense that he almost threw up, but he'd think about that later.
Now that he could see what he was doing, he could work a bit better. He untied her feet first and was working on her hands when the van stopped.
"Listen, Dawn. I'll jump out and distract them. You take off. Don't look back, just run."
He worried that the littlest Summers woman would be as stubborn as the rest. The back of the van opened and he launched himself on the thug opening it. The man tumbled over. Spike scrambled up and head butted the next man. He could hear shouts as Dawn jumped out and dashed into the darkness.
"Be still." His muscles froze and he toppled over. "Be still." The sound of Dawn's running stopped. "Go fetch the child."
Spike found himself hauled up and held, facing the small withered figure of Stanhope. The witch was watching with interest and one of the goons fetched Dawn and held the frightened teenager up before her. He strained to be able to turn his head, but nothing moved.
The witch examined Dawn closely, stroking her face. The girl was quiet and wide-eyed. "How interesting. They chose to put the key into a human body." The crone smiled, "It will make the blood part of the ceremony so much easier."
She turned to Spike. "Well done. She was with you as you promised." Spike's eyes widened in shock and he remembered.
Back at his crypt, before he was dusted:
The Asian had said, "Ms. Stanhope is laying a geas on you, compelling you to honor the terms of the agreement."
The small withered woman actually cackled. She finished the muttering and scuttled towards him. Her hand reached out, touching his cheek. "You'll do as you promised. Do you understand, boy?"
At Angel's hotel:
"They said they were in some sort of dispute with you and I agreed to help."
"I'm supposed to call them. That's all. I don't remember all the bleeding details, but it all came down to calling them on the telephone.
It had not been a productive day. Spike had spent the day getting a haircut, making a few phone calls and reading documents.
He had called Wolfram and Hart and told them that he would be alone with the Key at 1630 Revello Drive in Sunnydale that evening. They had been waiting for him.
He had betrayed Dawn!
He looked at Dawn's shocked tear-stained face and his soul died. He hadn't known what he had agreed to do and he had not remembered making the call, but he had signed the contract that doomed the child. He wanted to say something, anything, but the spell kept him motionless and speechless. The only movement either of them could do was the slow leak of tears from Dawn's eyes.
"Transfer the Key to my car. Put her in the trunk." The witch looked bored now.
"And this guy?"
"You know where to dispose of him. Hurry, it's getting late."
The two goons who had manhandled him before, dragged him into the brush. He was unable to look back, to say anything to the friend he had betrayed. Branches lashed at him and he could not protect his face. Finally they entered a clearing.
Before him was an open grave.
They threw him in.
CHAPTER 16 - TO GO DOWN FIGHTING
Late Wednesday Night
He lay face down in the dirt in the open grave. The spell paralyzed him and he was helpless. His mind and soul screamed but his body remained unmoving.
He had betrayed Dawn. He had phoned Wolfram and Hart. Dawn would die under the knife because he had been a bleeding idiot who signed a contract with evil. He had signed in blood and let himself be spellbound. Buffy had taken pity on him, taken him into her house and her arms and now her sister faced death because of him. In a hundred long years he had seldom given in to despair, but now he wept in shame.
Gradually feeling began to return to his body and he was able to move. He clumsily wiped the tears from his face and struggled to his feet. The grave was six feet deep. He had to get out and rescue Dawn. He had to make it right somehow. He reached up and tried to pull himself out of the grave. The handcuffs and the dislocated shoulder made it impossible and, in agony, he collapsed back down to the bottom.
He had all night to figure how to get out. He dug two footholds in the grave's steep side and crawled up again. As his head cleared the top of the grave, he saw Drusilla. The soil gave way and he fell backward.
He lay on his back in the grave, looking up into the darkened face of his former lover. She examined him coldly and four other vampires joined her. She was regal, the Mad Queen, and the minions clustered around her in obsequious obedience.
"Dru, my love."
She pointed to her whitened eye, still slowly recovering from the stab wound. He had stabbed her with a cross, and her beautiful face would probably always bear a scar.
"Kill him," she ordered the minions.
He didn't stand a chance. But he appealed to the hundred years of memories they shared. "Don't slaughter me like an animal, Dru! At least give me a chance to fight. You always loved to see me fight."
She paused and looked down. "Remember Mexico, Spike. Remember the dog pits and the lovely dogfights." She hissed. "They tore each other to pieces." He saw the bitterness in her face. He remembered the Judge had once condemned the two of them, "You two stink of humanity. You share affection and jealousy." When he had stabbed her with his jury-rigged cross, he had killed the last humanity in his dark beauty and only a monster stood before him.
I'm going to die, he realized. It was a surprise how much he wanted to live. He had to save Dawn. He had been accepted by the woman he loved. He had so much to lose. How many poor sods that I killed wanted to live as desperately as I do. Justice was a bitch. At least I'll go out fighting this time; not meek and sniveling like the last time. Somehow he had always known that he would go down fighting.
And buried deep inside was the foolish stubborn optimism that had guided his life for the last 120 years. Perhaps he had one more escape in him. Perhaps if he fought hard, he could somehow get free and rescue Dawn.
Dru nodded to a minion and clapped her hands. The minion jumped into the pit with him . . . Spike sized it up warily. It was probably only a few months from the grave, a stupid fledgling that had attached itself to anyone stronger, anyone who would do the painful job of thinking. It grinned and approached confidant of its strength.
He really shouldn't have a chance against its greater speed and strength. But it was over-confident. He stepped sideways, out of its charge and whirled, slamming the handcuffs into its temple. It reeled and he plunged his thumb into one of its eyes, gouging it out. The monster screamed and slashed with its fangs. Spike reeled back, his arm torn and bleeding.
The pain and smell of blood maddened the creature and it slammed him against the wall of the grave. The side crumbled, burying them both. Spike choked on the dirt and frantically clawed his way out. He emerged before the fledgling and while it was still pinned by dirt, he gouged out the other eye, leaving it blind. The crumbled wall left the grave shallow enough that he was able to scramble out.
He emerged and Drusilla nodded. Her eyes showed recognition that, human or vampire, he was the Spike who fought even when he knew he couldn't win. This was the being who had attacked an entire mob in Prague to rescue her. For a moment, they exchanged a last glance, recognizing the century of love and pain that bound them.
Dru nodded at two of her minions and they closed in.
Of course it was a hopeless fight. He didn't stand a chance against two. They toyed with him, slashing and tearing at him with their fangs. When he would close in on one, the other would pry him loose. But he got in some blows. They were both bleeding and one had broken teeth where Spike had smashed it in the mouth with his handcuffs.
Nothing was fatal. The pain drove him mad and the lose of blood weakened him. Finally they held him up between them and Dru approached. "Do you want it?"
He lifted his torn and blood streaked face and stared deep into Dru's demon eyes. "Never." he breathed.
"I'll let you die, Spike." Her voice was low and dangerous. "And I won't turn you. My minions will. You'll wake up alone, hungry and stupid. Mommy won't be there to feed you and Daddy won't teach you how to think. You'll have eternity to suffer." Her three minions closed in on him.
They took turns draining him. His last conscious sensation was one of them forcing blood into his mouth and he knew he was damned.
* * *
The phone rang. Willow glance worriedly at her friend. Buffy had not retreated into her self as she had when Glory had taken Dawn, but her face was pale and she had not slept. She gazed dully at the phone and Willow had to answer it for her.
"Summer's residence. Willow speaking."
It was Angel. "Tell Buffy that we have both Park and Stanhope located. The ceremony will probably be tonight. Get here before dark."
Willow looked across the room at Tara. Her lover returned the look. They had lost so much time and had only returned fully to each other last night. They both looked across the room at Buffy. "We'll be there," Willow promised.
* * *
He woke up. Groggily Spike tried to breathe and inhaled dirt. He choked and opened his eyes to total darkness. He tried to scream and the dirt crumbled into his mouth, clogging it. Not for him a coffin or even a simple cloth over the face. He had been thrown in the hole and buried like rubbish.
He flailed in panic. Hunger, fear and confusion filled him and he could hardly move in the heavy dirt. He was strangling on the dirt and the pain in his guts ripped him apart. He clawed frantically.
Eternity passed before his hand emerged in the air. Desperately he dragged himself out of his grave, shaking with panic. He stared at the dark in confusion. Where was he? Who was he?
"Vampire." He turned and something was thrown at him. He grabbed it and went mad with the smell of blood. He bit deep and the sweet liquid coursed down his throat, bringing the first relief from hunger, the first sanity back to his clouded mind.
Then the food turned its frightened brown eyes at him and began to pray.
Startled Spike let it go and it reeled away, collapsing into the dirt.
The hunger raged through his body, but his mind was beginning to clear. His food was human. He focused, seeing for the first time a terrified migrant worker, dressed in shabby clothes. The man was bleeding heavily, muttering something.
He stared. The man was food, skin stretched over rich pulsing blood. He could smell it and hear the flutter of the man's frightened heart. The air was rich with the odor of fear. With a roar, Spike reached for the man, a wolf seizing a sheep, a cat clawing a mouse.
As he raised the man to his mouth, he recognized the muttering. It was Spanish, "Hail Mary, full of grace." Prayer. Confused he let the man go again and screamed his agony and bewilderment into the night.
"Kill him. You need the food."
He turned and saw the witch. He didn't know who she was, but hate filled him and he charged at her. One of several men guarding her reached out with a cross and Spike reeled back, his hand burning. He bared his fangs at her and lunged again, tears of frustration in his eyes and again they beat him off with crosses and holy water.
He turned to run off into the dark, away from the pain and confusion. "Stay." His feet couldn't move.
The witch beckoned and the bleeding man rose to his feet and stumbled back to the vampire. The smell of blood was maddening, but Spike glared at the witch and closed his mouth, defiant. Of all the sensations filling his confused brain, hate was the greatest.
She stared at him clinically. Finally she casually said, "Be still." He felt his body freeze.
"Put him in the van. He'll need more blood to think clearly."
Spike found himself deposited in the van and a small tense man crawled in the back with him. Spike closed his eyes. But closing his eyes didn't block the world out. He could smell. The odors of the van, the sweat of the nervous man beside him, the earth on his body and clothes and sweet and faint in the background, the odor of a young girl.
Pictures of her seeped into his mind. Long gleaming hair, wide innocent eyes, the warm texture of her arms around his neck as she impulsively hugged him, her sweet giggle and a thousand other pictures. Her face, rigid with terror as he was thrown off the tower, leaving her alone with Doc and his knife . . . He groaned, not understanding who he was seeing, why he was having these memories.
The man beside him misunderstood the groan. "Stay calm. I'll give you blood." As the van started, he took a bag of blood out of an ice chest, cut a hole in it and inserted a straw. He shoved it into Spike's mouth. The vampire sucked and drank the deep, rich liquid. The pleasure was so intense it was almost painful. The van was quiet as the man fed the hungry fledgling.
He could think more clearly as the pain in his gut subsided. Suddenly he had a strange clear picture of doing this before, of sucking blood through a straw. Only he had been chained in a bathtub. He had been sucking blood through a straw from a novelty mug. The blonde holding the mug was mocking him, laughter in her hazel eyes. "You want something nicer? A look at my.. poor neck? All bare and tender and exposed.. all that blood just .. pumping away.. " He had licked his lips desperately, torn by lust and hunger. "Giles, make her stop!"
"Buffy." The man's eyes widened as the vampire spoke. But Spike didn't see him. Images of Buffy were flashing through his mind. He desperately grasped for them, like a man drowning in darkness, clinging to a last flickering light. The memories that tumbled through his head were so vivid he could taste them. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair as over a century of memories began to return.
The bag of blood fell and he found himself with a straw dangling from his lips. The small man who had been feeding him was up at the front of the storage space, hammering against the wall that separated them from the front of the van.
"Help! Let me out! He's moving! He's going to eat me."
Spike looked at the small man with amusement. He strode to the front area, relishing the return of his strength, reveling in his sharper predatory senses. He lifted the man up with one hand. It was amusing to listen to the man gibber and squeak. I'm free, Spike thought. I'm finally free of that bloody chip. I can be the Big Bad!
And all I had to pay is Dawn's life and Buffy's love.
He put the man down. Looking at the man's terrified expression sickened him. The man knew that he had been set up as food for the evil blood-sucking fiend. I'm not that predictable, Spike thought bitterly. If I'm going to be a killer again, I'll choose my own soddin' prey, not have the witch select it for me.
"Bring me another bag of blood." The frightened man skittered over to the ice chest and brought Spike another bag. Spike regarded the man sourly. He definitely looked edible and the demon within wanted to tear his throat out.
"I am going to ask you some questions and if you want to live, you'll answer. And remember," Spike inhaled deeply. "I can smell when you're lying."
The man nodded fearfully.
"What's your name?"
"Don. Don Ferris."
Spike winced at the name. It sounded like Dawn and his mind filled with the image of the terrified child as the bastards had torn her blouse. She had been so brave when they had been in the back of the van together, overcoming her fear to concentrate on untying him and helping him plan an escape. He shook his head in bewilderment. The chip was gone. He shouldn't be feeling guilty. He shouldn't care about a human child.
"Well, Ferris, where are we going?"
"I don't know." The little man cowered. "I really don't. I'm just following orders. Mrs. Stanhope needs to perform a ceremony and we were hired to bring you there. But I don't know where the ceremony is supposed to happen."
"Ceremony?" For the first time, Spike felt a stirring of hope. "What day is today?"
"Friday, the 22nd.
Spike's eye's widened. It was the night of the new moon. He had risen from his grave after only two days. Tonight would be the night that they would sacrifice the Key and apparently the ceremony hadn't happened yet. Dawn was still alive!
CHAPTER 17 - VAMPIRE
Late Friday Night
Buffy and the Sunnydale four followed Cordelia up the steps into the Hyperion Hotel. She stared bewildered at the former cheerleader. What had her life come to when Cordelia Chase had lighter, brighter blonde hair than she did?
Angel was in the lobby, waiting for them. The vampire gazed at her and the next thing she knew they were hugging each other and he was gently patting her back. For a moment it was as if she was safe and protected and could finally cry. But it she knew it was an illusion.
She looked up at his face and saw the misery. She had seen it last week, but he had brushed it off and she had been so involved with Spike that she had asked no more questions. But the ageless vampire that she had once loved looked older as if he was slowly being destroyed by grief.
The two former lovers stared at each other as Cordelia introduced the Sunnydale set to Gunn, Fred, Lorne and a solidly built young man, dressed like an Angel wannabe who appeared to have the strange name of Groo.
Fred looked shy but was the first to talk. "Willow, Cordelia told me you were coming. I'm so glad. We have the technology to track Gavin Park, but I think we'll need some magic to place it on him."
Willow was taken aback. "Uh, I don't do magic any more. But Tara does."
Tara stepped forward. "I can move small objects. Is it very heavy?"
Fred smiled and stepped over to show something in her hand to the Wicca. Willow examined it as well and her eyes lit up. She asked a technical question, Fred replied in perfect geek and it was the birth of a beautiful friendship.
"You know much about weapons?" Gunn asked Xander.
"Some." Xander didn't bother with the details on how a single evening wearing a military Halloween costume had somehow given him the commando knowledge that had frequently saved the Scoobies necks. The two and Groo went back to the hotel's weapons room.
Lorne volunteered to drive Fred, Tara and Willow to the street near the Wolfram and Hart building. With some luck they could plant the tracking microchip on Park so that they could trace his movements tonight. If they failed, Angel could probably tail him, but the microchip would make it easier.
That left Buffy and Angel alone, each examining the misery in the other's face.
"I'm so sorry Buffy. I wouldn't have had you take Spike back to Sunnydale if I realized that they would go after him like that. I should have known, even as a human, Spike always attracts trouble."
Buffy blinked. "Spike. No, they were after Dawn. She called after they broke into the house. She identified the invaders as Wolfram and Hart, but she also said Spike defended her and she was going to escape out of the house." Buffy fought the tears. "I think they killed him. There was so much blood. But they were after Dawn."
Angel looked puzzled. "What would Wolfram and Hart want with your sister?"
"What everyone wants." Then Buffy realized how little Angel basically knew about her present life. "Dawn is the Key. She can open doors to other dimensions."
Angel stared then gripped her shoulder. "What do you mean?" His voice was low and intense.
She had been so numb when she first returned from the dead that she had never fully explained about Glory and the Key. They had met shortly after her resurrection and she had barely been coherent. He must have thought that Dawn was some sort of human sacrifice and Buffy died trying to save her. So Buffy explained about the Monks and the Key that they had shaped into a girl. To her, Dawn was her sister, who she loved and would protect. To others, Dawn was an instrument that they would use and discard. "But why would a law firm want to open the way to another dimension?"
"They want to get Connor." Angel growled. Seeing Buffy's baffled look, "My son. He's been kidnapped and taken to a hell dimension. The Key must be the only way to reach Quorthoth."
Buffy was stunned. "You have a son?"
If he had been human, his face would have flushed. But Angel's complexion remained pale. He was silent for a moment then. "By Darla."
"But you . . . she . . . you're both vampires." Buffy's voice rose sharply. "You said you could never have children, you could never risk having sex again. You left me because of that. And now . . . How could you? How could you have a child?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. It was some sort of prophesy." His face became grim. "Connor is a child of prophesy. He holds power and that's what Wolfram and Hart are all about. Power."
Buffy's stomach was sick as she tried to comprehend what Angel had done. Then she remembered, "Darla? You staked Darla a long time ago! She's gone!"
The memory was still painful for him. "Those bastards brought her back. They made her human again and then killed her in front of me. They had Drusilla turn her and I was helpless to stop them."
"Like they did to Spike. They staked him, made him human and tried to turn him again. Why would they do that?"
In a way it surprised Angel. He had finally told Buffy about Connor, and she was more interested in Spike. He had expected to be condemned for having sex with Darla and risking his soul, not to have his deeds dismissed because she was more interested in his vampiric offspring.
"If Dawn's the Key, Spike's the Keeper of the Key. It was in all those documents we let Spike take back to Sunnydale."
"He showed us stuff about the Key. But when they mentioned the Keeper of the Key, I thought it was me. I'm her guardian. How could it be Spike?"
"Buffy, those papers are about the Order of Aurelius."
She blinked, puzzled. He explained. "They are specifically about the vampires of the Master's line. Darla, Spike, James, Drusilla and me among others. It's about vampires and its pretty clear when you go through them that when they mention the Keeper, they are referring to William the Bloody."
At least that explained why they had taken both Spike and Dawn. "But why did they stake him? Why bring him back as a human just to turn him back into a vampire?"
Angel looked bewildered. "I don't know. With Darla, it was part of their feud with me. They knew it would break me to watch her die. But Spike and I . . . we've spent the last century despising each other. They apparently needed a vampire when they use the Key, but how would making him a fledgling again make him different from the vampire he used to be?"
Buffy's eyes widened with shock. "The chip. They did all this so that they could have him be a vampire without a chip. The chip became dust when they staked him. Now, if they turn him, he'll be able to hurt and kill people. They wanted the Keeper of the Key, the vampire with my sister, to be a killer!"
* * *
"Dawn isn't here, yet." Angel returned to the vehicles where the Scoobies and his team were waiting. "Things seem to be set up in a bowl between three hills. There are about twenty people in the bowl and six sentries posted on the outskirts. Everyone is heavily armed. We need to take out the sentries first."
The night was dark. Tara had floated Fred's almost invisible microchip towards Park when he had emerged from the Wolfram and Hart building and it was buried in his clothes. The tracker had allowed them to follow the lawyer as he rode with a team of security people into the hills an hour north of Los Angeles. They held back while Angel scouted.
Gunn, Groo, Angel and Xander were each taking out their assigned sentry. Buffy moved quietly, a hunter stalking her assigned man. She crept through the high grass until she had a clear shot at her target. She gazed through the sites of her crossbow, targeting the sentry for a quick silent kill.
The man seemed to sense something wrong. He shifted his gun nervously, staring into the dark. If he were a vampire or a demon, Buffy would have already taken him out. But he was human. She had killed or injured the Knights of Byzantium when they were fighting to capture Dawn, but that felt totally different than shooting this man who was staring nervously into the dark.
Finally she gave up and lowered the crossbow. She crept further, then launched herself at the sentry. He whipped the gun around and for one fatal moment, hesitated to shoot the tiny blonde running towards him. The next second she was on him and he was down. Buffy nervously checked the unconscious man's pulse, then tied and gagged him. She took the automatic rifle, praying that she would not have to use the unfamiliar weapon.
She gazed down into the bowl. There seemed to be a platform with a stake in the center and piles of what looked like camping supplies lying near it. A dirt trail wove between two of the hills and eventually a dark van drove up to the platform. A group of security people in fatigues and an Asian man in a suit got out of the vehicle. A moment later, they pulled Dawn, bound and gagged from the back.
Buffy started to move then stopped when she saw two men in fatigues come down from the hills. Even from this distance, she could recognize Xander and she assumed the man with him was Gunn. She watched as they positioned themselves casually near the platform.
Dawn was conscious and struggling. It took two men to carry her to the platform.
Xander and Gunn moved. Gunn whipped around, pointing his weapon towards the guards while Xander focused on the men holding Dawn. She couldn't hear what was being said, but she watched as the guards brought the teenager to the two armed men. One bent down and untied her feet and Dawn angrily kicked him in the head. It was startling to see the fighter that her sister had become.
The other guard was starting to untie Dawn's arms, when Gunn collapsed. The men he had been holding at bay focused their weapons at Xander. The carpenter whirled, but before he could raise his weapon, he too collapsed. A shot rang out from the hills, then it was quiet. Dawn tried to run, but was tackled by one of the guards. Buffy coldly aimed her weapon at him but darkness descended before she could pull the trigger.
* * *
Buffy woke. She was tied up, lying on the ground. Around her were the tied and unconscious bodies of their sad little rescue force. Only Angel was awake. She could see him trying to move, but he seemed paralyzed.
She looked around and saw to her horror that Dawn was tied to the stake in the middle of the platform. Her arm was twisted and tied in front of her and blood poured from a deep gash in her wrist. The teenager was white but still conscious. In front of her, on the edge of the platform was a shimmer of light. A portal had been opened.
Several of the guards had gathered the outdoor gear and were loading it into an armored truck. They got in the vehicle and slowly drove it into the shimmering light.
Buffy took advantage of the activity to work at her rope. They hadn't recognized her strength when they tied her and she quickly freed herself. Then, when everyone seemed to be distracted, she launched herself at the nearest guard. Wrenching the weapon from the man, she focused the gun at Park, who seemed to be in charge of the operation. She pulled the trigger in a warning shot and when she got their attention, yelled, "Let Dawn go or I kill this son-of-a-bitch!"
Everyone froze. Then she heard a single voice quietly say, "Be still," and the automatic weapon fell from her nerveless hands. She was paralyzed. Unable to move, except for her eyes, she frantically scanned the crowd until she saw a small withered woman in black gazing at her in triumph.
The woman leered as Buffy struggled desperately against the paralysis.
Then Buffy's horror deepened as she saw Spike standing quietly beside the woman. He was a vampire. They had turned him into a vampire without a chip, a monster who could casually kill. He leaned over and murmured something softly to the woman, then looked up at Buffy with feral yellow eyes.
Buffy screamed soundlessly. Desperately she gazed at the monster, begging for some sign of the man she had loved. There was none. He turned away from her and once again whispered something to the witch. The two of them watched the portal.
The portal was still growing. It was large enough now to show a barren wasteland beyond. Oh God, it's going to need blood to close. I've got to find some way to talk, to tell them to use me, not Dawn. She glanced desperately over at Spike. He was there. He knows that Dawn doesn't have to die. He can tell them to take me.
Spike was watching her again. Then, almost casually he turned towards Dawn and strode over to the platform. Buffy writhed in desperation, trying to break free as she heard her sister scream.
Spike grabbed Dawn, shoving her roughly against the stake. He wrapped himself around the helpless girl and bit her neck.
CHAPTER 18 - PORTAL
Late Friday Night
As the van drove towards the ceremony, Spike slowly drank the last bag of blood and fought to remember. Physically he was a fledgling with all of hunger and explosive energy that implied. He remembered the last time he had been a fledgling, how he had cut a swath through London, leaving a string of death among the petty aristocracy. He had caused such an uproar that his new family had been forced to hide in a mineshaft in Yorkshire. He felt that violence welling up within him again.
But fledglings were stupid. Hell, most vampires were bleeding idiots. "You'll wake up alone, hungry and stupid. Mommy won't be there to feed you and Daddy won't teach you how to think. You'll have eternity to suffer." Dru had voiced his deepest fear, that this time he would be a brainless minion.
If he had a chance of rescuing Dawn, he had to think like a Master Vampire. For over 120 years he had hunted humans and had developed an almost uncanny ability to analyze and prey on their weaknesses. He tried to quiet his twitching body and considered the bastards that had captured him.
Wolfram and Hart had gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to do all this. Maybe they had needed him to help them find the Key, but that didn't explain why they had dusted him, revived him, and then had him turned again. They had not only used him to obtain the Key but had made sure he was a vampire without a chip. Probably they had read all that rot about him being a Keeper of the Key. If so, they must think they needed him to operate Dawn's talent. He smiled grimly, if they thought they needed him, he had found their weakness. He crumpled the now empty blood bag and contemplated Keys and portals and chipless vampires.
* * *
As the ride continued, it was getting harder and harder not to drain the little man in the van with him. "I'm still hungry," Spike muttered then watched with amusement as Ferris twitched. Hell, he could smell the fear and hear the man's heart fluttering, begging him to still it. He got up and strolled over to the man, relishing that once again he could inspire terror. Slowly he took the man's wrist and raised it. When his sense of smell told him that the little man had wet his pants, he laughed. "Just checking your watch, mate. It's not midnight yet." All right, he had decided not to kill the man, but it didn't mean that he couldn't play.
It was a relief when the van finally rumbled to a stop. He positioned himself to leap out of the vehicle as soon as the doors opened. He probably wouldn't get anywhere, but a little fist and fang action would be lovely. Then his feet tingled slightly and he realized that he wasn't going anyplace. The witch had whammied him before the doors were even open. I'll drink your life's blood, bitch, he promised himself.
He could appreciate the irony when the van door finally opened. There was Stanhope, radiating darkest evil, surrounded by crosses and holy water. Did they think he was going be able to attack with his feet magiced to stay still? Maybe they expected him to turn into fog, like Dracula? Then he perked up. They might be afraid that he had mystical mojo. If they read about his past, they knew he was the slayer of Slayers. They regarded him as the Keeper of the Key. They might think he had powers, like Dru minus the babbling insanity.
He decided to play with that image. He stood coolly, almost arrogantly, gazing down at the witch from the van. It was a shame he couldn't switch back into his human face, but still he couldn't control his vampire body well enough yet. Meanwhile Ferris climbed out of the vehicle, with wet pants and rubbery knees.
"You didn't eat him?"
He dropped his workingman's accent for a more educated tone, part William, and part Giles with a touch of Ripper for good measure. "I chose my own prey. I was saving my appetite," he gazed at her jugular, "for other food."
She smiled, her eyes remaining dark and cold. "You know why you are here?"
"To operate the Key. You need to go to another dimension."
"One with no existing portals. Only the Key has the power to create an opening to any dimension."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"We have the Key. Her blood creates portals and when her blood stops flowing, the portals close. My employers need to open a portal to a hell world and will not hesitate to kill her."
Spike radiated disdain. "I've killed thousands of humans. What's one more?"
The witch stared at him suspiciously. "The two of you share a bond shaped by destiny.
He shrugged, "I cared for her when I was chipped and when I was human." Neither one applies now."
"She is the Key to great power."
"Now you're talking. Tell me what's in it for me."
" The dimensions with portals to ours have already been explored. But who knows what treasure and powers await us if we are the first to enter a new dimension?"
"The Key can create a new portal with her blood, but it creates portals that expand and threaten the fabric of our world. Only her death can close the portal. Her blood must stop flowing. The prophecies, however, say that the two of you together can repeatedly open dimensions." She stared coldly. "I will use the Key tonight, even if it means her destruction. But I would prefer to have the Key be reusable."
"I understand blood. It's a gift." He smirked. "She opens portals, I can close them. Explain to me why we need you."
"I have studied portals and dimensions for centuries. I know the locations of treasure beyond counting. There is an elixir of immortality for me and for you, an amulet that will render you forever invulnerable."
He nodded slowly. "Let's deal."
* * *
His nostrils twitched when he smelled the first blood. It was faint and far away. He and the witch had gone to the clearing and he watched everyone set up for the ceremony.
There, a new flow of blood someplace else, then another. The cavalry's coming, he thought hopefully. He remained still. Not that he had much choice in the matter. The witch seemed to have fallen for his bluff, but she wasn't taking any chances with a blood-sucking, unchipped vampire. She had allowed him to walk until they made it to the clearing then froze him into position.
He watched unmoving as a terrified and fighting Dawn arrived and was carried to the platform. Xander and Gunn came into clearing and he was unable to shout out a warning before Stanhope paralyzed first them, then the other members of Buffy's ill-fated rescue squad. The goons gathered and tied the unconscious bodies, and stacked them like cordwood.
Dawn screamed and struggled as she was carried back to the platform and tied. They twisted her arm cruelly so that her wrist was out and exposed.
Then Dawn saw him. Her eyes widened in shock and he died inside as he stood by helpless, unable to speak, unable to move while Stanhope slashed the teenager's wrist and arm. He couldn't even switch back to his human visage, but remained an unmoving monster as his Niblet suffered and bled.
The portal shimmered and about half the goons in the clearing mounted an armored truck that rumbled through the opening. When they were through, the witch returned to him. "It is time for you to close the portal, vampire."
Spike heard the faint scuffle and carefully avoided looking towards the sound. The witch didn't seem to notice anything wrong and mumbled some sort of spell to let him speak. Frantically he tried to keep the witch's attention away from whatever was happening. Then a shot fired and he heard the clear voice of the woman he loved. "Let Dawn go or I kill this son-of-a-bitch!"
Bloody hell, Buffy was pointing an automatic rifle at the lawyer. "Shoo . . ." he needed to warn her that the real danger was here, the witch. But before he could yell a warning, Stanhope muttered, "Be still," and the last stand of Buffy Summers was over.
The witch glared at him suspiciously. He put on his most innocent look, or at least as innocent as his ridged game face could achieve. "What? I tried to warn you."
Buffy was looking at him in horror. He knew she was seeing a soulless monster. What was it that the watchers had taught her? That all he was now was the murderer of her former lover, walking around in the lover's body. I'm still Spike; he wanted to scream to her. I still love you and I'm trying as hard as I can to get us out of this mess. He turned away, numb from the look of betrayal on her face.
The witch was looking at him strangely, so he forced himself to chuckle. "Humans keep looking for a man in the monster. I find it useful when I kill them."
"Is that what you are going to do with the Key?"
"No, I have a much better plan. It will be much more entertaining and useful to let her live."
The witch questioned him on his plans. He stonewalled and finally she backed up and freed his upper body. His feet were freed enough to allow him to walk over to Dawn. He experimentally tried to change course, but the witch was still controlling him.
It killed him. Dawn was looking at him with big hopeful eyes. I'm not the cavalry, Niblet. They already have arrived and failed. I'm just trying to see if I can get you and your Sis out of this alive.
Spike grabbed Dawn, shoving her roughly against the stake. He wrapped himself around the helpless girl and bit her neck. She screamed in terror and surprise.
Spike's fangs barely scraped the soft skin of her neck, releasing her as the first blood oozed out. "Keep it up, Lit' Bit," he whispered almost inaudibly. "I need to talk to you and I dont want the witch to hear me." Dawn struggled, moaning and screaming. He held on to her, his hands flitting down and untying the rope. "I'm going to pretend to drain Willow and Buffy. Then I'm going to create a distraction and you need to run for you life. Understand?"
The teenager was still screaming shrilly as she nodded slightly. She gazed over at the growing portal. "I'll shut it, Dawn. You and Buffy are going to survive, I promise." Dawn looked at him, and his heart ached as he saw that somehow, through all the bloody times he had failed her, she still trusted him.
"Now Dawn, moan a little and pretend to faint. If they think you are unconscious, they might not watch you as hard." As the girl slumped, Spike turned. He pointed at Willow and called out to the witch, "I'll need blood from her." His feet were released and he was able to stumble over to the unconscious redhead.
He tried to shake the girl awake, but she remained under. Only his glaring sire and Buffy were conscious. He held her up and bit deep enough to draw blood. His fledgling hunger made him lust to tear her throat and he was trembling when he let her go.
Finally he approached Buffy. She glared at his bloodstained lips with hate.
He lifted her and felt the invisible vibrating as the Slayer struggled to regain control of her limp body. "Buffy, forgive me," he whispered. And he bit deep into her neck. The sweet wild taste of her blood filled his mouth and his stomach twisted in nausea.
Her body was rigid at first as pain and shock flooded her system. Then her eyes became slightly unfocused as the twisted ecstasy of dying began. The fledgling part of him gibbered in rapture at the blood of a slayer, and he flushed with shame.
Finally he had enough. He let go and whispered. "Pretend you're unconscious. I think I have enough Slayer blood in me to get the portal closed. You see, the dream was false. It's just your blood that's going through this portal, not you. You and Red and the Bit are going to survive. Between your strength and Willow's power, you should be able to figure out how to get away from these bastards." He longed to kiss her goodbye, but his lips were stained with her blood and he knew he was too foul to touch.
He strode back to the witch, and she stopped him too far away for him to strike her. He gazed at her bitterly. "That's how it's done, bitch." He had one last bluff. "You need the blood of three, the Key and two of her bloodline. Drain them, feed the blood to a vampire and toss it through a portal. Its blood will stop flowing and the portal should close."
"Those two are of her bloodline?"
"Her sister and her . . . cousin. Check it out, they all live in the same house. Keep all three of them alive and you'll have a reusable Key."
"Are you sure this will work?"
"Let me go to the portal and I'll show you."
Once again his body turned without his control and he approached the glowing ripple of light. He sighed, looking around. Dawn's desperate eyes were the last things he saw on earth before he stepped into the portal.
He had meant to scream. He wanted to focus all attention on himself, to take as much attention off the Niblet as possible. But he hadn't realized how the portal would rip and boil his blood and his cry of agony was genuine. Fire twisted through his body as he writhed, trapped in the light. It was forever before blackness finally overwhelmed him and he disappeared.
CHAPTER 19 - BATTLE
Saturday - Before Dawn
Spike's limp body crashed to the ground.
He had never counted on surviving. He lay unable to move as he tried to cope with the last remnants of shuddering pain.
Bloody hell, that was beyond anything he had imagined possible.
He didn't know how much time passed before he finally noticed the silence. No, it wasn't silence, there was wind. But there was nothing human. The sounds that the Wolfram and Hart people had made in the clearing were gone.
That scared him. What had happened to Buffy? Dawn? He painfully forced his eyes open.
He was in a wasteland. If he had needed breath, it would have stopped. All around him stretched barren sand and rocks.
Where the hell was he? Then he realized. He was in hell. Stanhope had talked about needing to open a portal to some sort of hell world. Here it was.
Panic filled him. Had he been wrong? Had he just stepped through the damn portal into a new world, leaving the portal to continue growing back on earth? Could only Buffy or Dawn close it? He remembered the agony and groaned. Was that what Buffy had felt when she had died last summer? Would she have to go through that again because he had failed?
He staggered upright and looked around frantically. There was no sign of the portal he had passed through. He was trapped on a hell world with no way of discovering what had happened to the woman he loved.
* * *
Buffy lay paralyzed, still recovering from the shock. Her neck throbbed and she felt slightly dizzy from the blood loss.
Dawn had run. Somehow her sister had gotten free. She heard the yelling and sounds of pursuit and she knew that the witch wouldn't let her get far. Buffy's eyes frantically scanned the unconscious bodies of her friends and Angel's team. They made a formidable fighting force, yet all their strength and power was brought to nothing by a withered little woman who could whisper, "Be still."
Dawn must have escaped when Spike had entered the portal. Her mind flinched when she remembered the horrible image of the portal flaring with blinding intensity as he writhed, trapped in it light. He had yelled, then his voice turned to a growl that rose in pitch as the pain rose beyond endurance.
She remembered her own pain when she had jumped in Glory's portal last summer. It had been a relief to die. But he was a vampire, already dead and the torment seemed to take forever. For several moments he had vanished in the blinding light. Then his body had fallen to the ground, silent at last.
The witch had stepped over to the corpse, staring at it curiously. Finally she had kicked it and watched it roll over limply. She had frowned and only then noticed that Dawn was gone.
Buffy looked over at Spike's body. Somehow the light had burned off his game face and it was the pale face of the human she loved. A hundred images ran through her mind. Spike's blissfully goofy face when she had led him to the shower. Watching him squint and run his hands through his hair as he tried to study the ancient scrolls. The look on his face as they lay in the grass on their picnic and he had finally made love to her as a man. Other images filtered through her mind. Their nights together and the ferocious, powerful sex that had terrified and thrilled her. Her vampire and the tenderness he had tried to hide behind the swagger of the Big Bad.
But it was the last image that haunted her. The monster, the walking corpse of the man that had loved her so sweetly only two days before, watching her with feral eyes. He had stalked over to her sister and her best friend and bitten them. Then he had violated her, tearing her neck, draining her.
She had heard his broken whisper. "It's just your blood that's going through this portal, not you. You and Red and the Bit are going to survive." And she had seen the monster's face, ridged and twisted, with bloodstained lips and tears in his golden eyes.
Tears were running down her face. They blurred her vision and she almost didn't see him move.
Her frozen body didn't permit her to gasp. The fall through the portal should have destroyed him. Instead she saw him slowly move his head and look around totally bewildered. Suddenly she remembered when Angel had closed the portal of Acathla. His blood had opened it and she had had to stab him and drive him back into the glowing opening to close it. He hadn't died closing a portal like she had. The vampire had survived and returned, but the horrors of the hell dimension had driven him mad. She watched Spike apprehensively.
He as was silent as a wild animal, sizing up its surroundings. Then he spotted Stanhope and his human face vanished. With impossible vampire speed, his eyes turned golden and he pounced. Before the witch could speak or react, he was on her, ripping her throat into a gory mass and spitting her blood back into her face.
And Buffy could move. Angel roared and everyone was awakening. Tara was whispering and ropes were falling free. Gru and Angel tore their own ropes off and charged into the confused mass of goons. Buffy danced forward, kicking the gun out of a guard's hands, adrenaline wiping out any weakness from blood loss.
Xander lunged forward and picked up the gun as soon as it touched the ground. The puffy face of the carpenter seemed to have hardened and he held the automatic competently as he backed up to protect the two Wiccas. One of the thugs shot at Spike twice before the vampire wrenched the weapon from him and smashed his face in. The vampire tossed the weapon aside and Gunn grabbed it. By this time Buffy had dashed over and grabbed the lawyer by his lapels.
A series of five shots rang out and everyone looked up. Two guards stepped forward, dragging a struggling Dawn with them. One shot his gun again to get their attention. The other held his weapon firmly at her sister's temple. "Stop now or we kill the girl."
Park looked down at the Slayer and smirked. "I suggest you and your team drop your weapons and back off." When Buffy hesitated, he called out, "Shoot the girl someplace non-lethal." Immediately one of the guards shot Dawn's foot and she shrieked in pain. Buffy blanched and let go. She glanced over at Spike, afraid he would be too far gone to stop, but the vampire was frozen. His golden eyes blazed and he clinched and unclenched his fists.
The other members of the team slowly, reluctantly backed up. The guard shot again, this time missing Dawn's foot by inches, and even Gunn and Gru surrendered their weapons. They stood, lined up and helpless as the guards released Dawn and she crumpled to the ground.
Park watched their surrender, a look of cold satisfaction on his face. "Kill them," he ordered quietly.
The guards looked at each other in confusion. Dawn lifted her pale face and stared, her eyes glaring with pain and hate. Finally one stepped forward and fired. Gru's chest exploded in a welter of blood and he collapsed. Cordelia shrieked and threw herself on him. Next the guard turned his gun on Buffy.
But Cordelia's cries were insignificant compared to Dawn's shriek. The teenager suddenly stood up, glowing with a harsh, eerie green light. Her hands were cupped in front of her, holding the blood that hemorrhaged from her foot. Her eyes glowed with the same intense green. She screamed with hate and opened her cupped hands. The blood, instead of falling to the ground, began to spin, growing brighter and brighter.
Suddenly it was no longer blood, but a growing portal, suspended in the air. But unlike the other portals that stayed in one place, this swooped and engulfed the guard that had pointed the gun at Buffy. Then it swirled backwards and the two men that had held Dawn ducked and scattered.
Angel was the first to move, his face twisting into ridges and fangs. The rest followed. A grim faced Xander picked up the fallen automatic and coldly began shooting. Buffy raced to the lawyer in command of the operation, but had to swerve to avoid the swirling portal.
Spike reached him first and lifted him off the ground. The lawyer struggled frantically, and then Spike chuckled and held him until they were face to face. "This time it's your turn to die." As the lawyer gasped and whimpered, Spike sank his teeth into the man's neck and began to drain his blood. He almost moaned at the sweetness of human blood in his mouth again.
Then he opened his eyes and saw Buffy's horrified face. He choked, and stopped drinking. The man was bloody and pale; his eyes glazed with terror as drool ran down the corner of his mouth. But he was still alive. In disgust Spike threw the lawyer into the spinning portal and with a wail of despair the man disappeared.
Buffy stood looking at the vampire with his fierce eyes and bloody mouth desperately searching for any trace of the man she had loved. Only the monster showed as he watched as the portal lifted and spun to the side. There were screams as guards ducked and scattered. Spike turned, his face lit with the joy of violence. "Got your back, Slayer!"
He was a monster again, but she remembered when he had stopped fighting rather than endanger her sister. "We need to get to Dawn!"
He grinned, fangs gleaming, then dived at the nearest guard. Her presence was obviously holding him back, now. Instead of biting, he punched and kicked them, Jackie Chan on steroids. Normally he liked to watch her fight, stood back and entered when he knew she needed help. But these were humans, his prey, and he enjoyed hitting them far more than she did.
She watched his face morph back to human as they reached Dawn. Then Buffy had eyes only for Dawnie. Her sister's eyes lost the deep green glow and her face crumpled as she lunged forward and grabbed Buffy and wept like a terrified child. The two of them sank to the ground in the turmoil of fighting, clutching each other. After two long days of terror, the Slayer had finally saved her sister. Spike stood over them like a fierce watchdog as they wept.
Xander's approach was the first clue that the last of Wolfram and Hart's goons had fled and the fighting was over. The hard soldier face was beginning to fade back into the countenance of a very ordinary, very tired man who had faced death for his friends. The Wiccas joined and Tara looked over Dawn's injuries.
"Can you help her?" The blood was still flowing from the arm and the foot and Buffy was terrified.
Tara turned towards her lover. A moment of doubt flickered through Willow's face; then at the almost invisible nod from Tara, she reached forward and touched the injured foot. Tara held her other hand and Willow bowed her head. Her eyes remained clear and focused and the blood stopped flowing. She looked up, almost apologetically. "I can help with the pain, but I don't think it's safe to do any more. I'm sorry, Buffy. Tara is weak from trying to protect everyone and it's so difficult for me to tell when I'm going too far." Her eyes were wet and Buffy pulled her into a grateful hug.
It was dissolving into a group hug and Spike, standing over them, guarding them, felt dizzy from the smell of so much blood. They were the Scooby gang, the gang he had fought with, and now they smelt like food. He had lost his humanity and was a monster again. The fledgling part of him wanted to continue to rip and tear, to kill the irritating Harris, to drain the sweet ripeness of Tara. He groaned and staggered away.
He still ached from the portal. He sank to the ground, exhausted, bewildered and desperately hungry for the blood that surrounded him.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. It was Peaches and it must have been a sign of exhaustion that he couldn't muster up a snotty comment for his grandsire. "How long was I gone?"
"It didn't even look as if you went anywhere. You seemed to flicker. How long was it for you?"
"Days. I thought I was trapped there."
"Time moves differently in other dimensions."
Spike looked around at the bodies. There weren't many and the portal seemed to be cleaning them up, sucking them to a different world. "How do you stand being surrounded by all this food? How do you keep from killing them when they trust you?"
"The soul. It's still hard sometimes with people I hate."
"I don't have the chip anymore. And they took my soul when they killed me. Everything feels different."
He shook his head. "Not really. She just stood by and let her minions drain me." He looked up and saw sympathy and understanding in his grandsire's eyes.
Spike felt Buffy's presence before he saw her. Awkwardly he wiped the blood from his mouth before he turned and looked up at her. He could see the hesitation and the deep distrust in her eyes. As a newly created vampire, he shouldn't care what a human thought. Instead, it hurt.
"Dawn wants you."
"Right, the Niblet." Buffy didn't come near him as he struggled to his feet. His legs were weak and rubbery and it was hard to walk. He could feel her watching him and he wondered if she though he had become such a monster that he would try to hurt the child. But then, last time Buffy had seen him without a chip or a soul, he had tried to murder her and her friends. Does she think I'm back to that?
Still, everything was worth while when he saw Dawn. Humanity had once again turned to happy meals on legs, but his Summers women were still the lights of his dark world. He may have lost everything, but at least they had managed to rescue his Lil' Bit. He got on his knees and held the child close to his unbeating heart. "I knew you would save me," she whispered. If he had been a blithering git, he would have wept for joy, but instead he quietly held her and let her sob with relief.
Finally Dawn looked over at the portal she had created. It had swallowed the last of Wolfram and Hart's forces and hung pulsing and growing over the bloodstained platform. "I'm so sorry. I didn't even know what I was doing. I just had to stop them from shooting Buffy." She looked at him, her eyes troubled. "Can we close it?"
CHAPTER 20 - THE MONSTER AND THE PORTAL
Spike watched the growing portal and groaned internally. But he kept his face straight. "No problem, Niblet. I'll just pop in and close it."
He gave the teenager a quick hug and got up. The Slayer was watching him. Probably guarding her sister from the soulless monster. "Buffy," he nodded towards the portal.
She frowned slightly, then kissed her sister's forehead. "I'll be back in a minute, Dawnie. Then we'll get you to a hospital."
"What is it, Spike?" she asked as they walked away from the group. Her face was unreadable and she was carefully keeping her distance from him.
Spike was staring at the portal, gauging it as it grew. "I'm going to need more blood, Slayer." He glanced back at her nervously.
Buffy touched the still tender bite on her neck. "You just bit me a little while ago."
"Your time." He met her eyes. "I've been gone for days."
Her eyes widened. "You . . .?" She remembered the momentary flicker. "I didn't see you for a moment but I thought it was just a trick of the light."
"No." He shook his head. "I thought closing that other portal would be like it was with Glory only this time I'd take your place. I'd drink your blood; jump through and it would be me that was gone. This time you'd survive."
"Instead it was more like how it was with Peac . ." He corrected himself, remembering the grim-faced girl who had been forced to send her lover into hell to save the world. "How it was with Angel. Back when we first teamed up. His blood let him pull the sword out of Acathla, and his blood was needed to close the opening to the hell world. He went in, the opening closed and then, bingo, he shows up again like a bad penny."
"He was in hell, tortured for centuries."
Spike winced. "I lucked out. It was just some sort of weird world with glow-in-the-dark crawdads and lots of critters with fangs. I sort of fit right in. Not much was edible but, hey, no torture." He eyed the glowing portal uneasily. "I wonder what the Bit ordered up this time."
He sighed. "Like I said before, Buffy. If I'm going to close it, I need Dawn's blood. She opened it, her blood will close it."
"You can't take Dawn's. She's lost so much already."
"So have you, Buffy."
"I'm the Slayer, I'll heal."
He stared at her intently. Finally, "Go tell the Scooby club. I don't fancy them staking me when I bite you."
Of course, Harris couldnt stay put. He stormed over as soon as Buffy told them. "You'll kill her if you take any more." When Spike looked up at the still growing portal, the carpenter sputtered. "All right you damn blood sucker. If you need some, take mine."
Even through his bone deep weariness, Spike could appreciate the humor of the situation. "Sorry, Whelp. You can not imagine how truly I'd like to oblige. You are the original nummy treat. But I need the Key's blood. And Dawn and the Slayer are the only two that have it."
He turned towards Buffy and could have wept at her pale drawn face. "I'm so sorry, luv." She stared at him, her face unreadable. Only two days ago he had been a man and her eyes had glowed with love when she looked at him. Now she bowed her head and presented her neck to a demon.
"Close your eyes," he whispered. He shifted back into game face and bit deep into her neck. She whimpered, then clutched him tightly as he drank.
He could feel her life weakening. For an insane moment, the fledgling in him lusted to drain more, to clutch her to his chest, feed her his blood and own her through eternity. He struggled briefly with the monster he had become, then sighed and released her. She was unconscious. He licked the wound, letting the saliva halt the bleeding. She would live.
He looked up and saw Xander glaring down. The carpenter knelt and felt her fluttering pulse. "You almost killed her, you bastard."
"It wasn't enough blood. I can't close it Harris." Spike looked around frantically. Then he realized what he had to do. "Bloody hell." He turned towards the Whelp. "Harris, get Red. We are going to need her help."
Xander hesitated, reluctant to leave his friend with the soulless killer. Then he read the despair in the demon's face and got up. Within seconds Willow was bent over the Slayer.
Spike didn't give her a chance to speak. "I need more blood, Red. The portal needs the blood of the Key and if I take any more from Buffy, itll kill her." He gazed at Willow directly. "I'm going to need Dawn's blood." Willow gasped, and he continued. "You got to knock her out, Red. I can't stand to hurt her and the pain feels almost sexual to the victim. I can't do that to the Bit." The vampire looked at the Wicca desperately. "Please, Red. I don't know if I can do this."
He was suddenly reminded of Willow back in the days when he had first been chipped. Her face was filled with understanding and compassion and the quiet strength that had led them and held them together during the dark days of summer. "We can handle it Spike. But we have to tell Dawn. It's her choice."
They returned to Dawn and Willow explained. "Is Buffy alright? Is she hurt?"
"She'll live Niblet. But it's dangerous to take any more blood from her."
"Then take mine. It's my fault. I opened it."
The years seemed to fall away from her and he could see the strong Summers woman she would become. She took the hands of each of the Wiccas and fell into a quiet sleep. Spike refused to mark her neck, so he bit down into the already injured wrist and began to drain her blood.
He gagged several times, sickened by what he was doing. The monster in him reeled in wonder that he could feel shame at doing what vampires were designed to do. But this was his Niblet. He had sworn to protect her and instead was feeding off her.
He had enough. He wasn't sure how he knew, but it was enough. He licked the wound and heard a snort of contempt from Harris. He rose and stared at the carpenter. "Get them to a hospital."
He was strong now, his body humming from the Slayer's blood. Without a backward glance he strode over and threw himself into the fire of the portal.
* * *
After the blazing pain of the portal, the cold was almost a relief. Spike lay on the snow and slowly tried to recover.
He looked around, but there wasn't much to see. No hell fires, no demons with pitchforks, so far, so good. Although if there had been demons, he probably could have made friends and been back in the local equivalent of a pub. It's not like he had dropped into hell with a soul.
It was dark. Overhead were low clouds, blocking any sight of the sun, moon or stars. Below him and all around him was cold swirling snow. The wind whipped and stung. He wished he had brought his duster. Hell, he wished he had brought a fur coat or the pelt of Nanook of the North.
He wondered how long he would stay. If he was right, passing through the portal stopped the blood flow and killed humans and made unlife miserable (to put it mildly) for vampires. Ultimately, however, vampires reappeared back on earth. At least Peaches had and he had the last time. So if he stuck it out, he would probably end up back with Buffy. Happy ending.
Of course he didn't like that story of Angel being stuck in the hell dimension for centuries. Fortunately he wasn't in a hell dimension.
It was only later, when he had a lot of time to think that he remembered Dante's Divine Comedy had described the lowest level of hell as cold. It was a cold, isolated place where you couldn't even cry because the tears froze your eyes shut. And in the center, a monstrously huge Satan was frozen, gnawing on Judas and two other doomed sinners.
Of course he wasn't in hell, he was just stuck someplace cold. Maybe it was the North Pole of some planet or the giant snow dimension. Still, if he noticed some large bloke snacking on sinners, he'd head the other way.
He waited to return to Buffy. And waited.
* * *
Buffy had been drifting off by her sister's bed. Angel had found them a doctor who owed him a favor and wouldn't ask too many questions about vampire bites and gun shot wounds. Dawn's foot was set in a cast and both of them had received blood transfusions. It only took a few hours for Buffy to recover but it was two days before the doctor said that Dawn was in good enough shape to go home today. Xander was coming by to pick them up.
She looked up and saw Angel. She smiled.
"Is Dawn OK?"
The Slayer nodded and stepped outside the room so that they could talk without waking her sleeping sister.
"He hasn't returned. I waited for him until it was almost dawn, and stopped by tonight as well, but there's no sign of him. At least the portal is closed."
Buffy remembered the long months when she thought Angel was gone forever. She looked at him almost curiously. Their love had been so deep back then. Now, well, Spike was right, they weren't friends. Once the passion had died, she and Angel no longer had much in common. But she knew she could depend on him. Part of her would always care.
"Still pretty bad. She loved Gru."
"Does she know how much you care about her?"
He blinked, then smiled ruefully. "No. For her it's just friendship."
He looked down at the tiny blond. "And what are you going to do about Spike if he does come back? It was pretty obvious last time I saw him that he loves you."
She couldn't meet his eyes. "He was human. It was easy to love him back. But I don't know what to do now. He doesn't have a soul or a chip. But you saw him. He didn't even hesitate jumping into the portals, even when he thought it would kill him. If it wasn't for him, we'd all be dead."
"He always was good in a fight." Angel shook his head at the memory of the reckless young vampire he had known. "It was just difficult to get any peace when he was around. If there wasn't a mob coming after us, he would go out and stir one up."
"Look, Buffy." The vampire reached into his pocket and took out a small folded piece of paper. "I don't know if you want to use this, but. . ." He gave it to her and she unfolded it and began to read. She looked up at him with wide surprised eyes.
CHAPTER 21 - RETURN
A Sunday night
It was strange. The fire of the portal did not melt ice.
Spike noted this in a rather detached fashion. The portal burned. After an eternity of cold numbness, the pain was almost welcome.
The ice that had encased him for so long was melting. He could no longer see so he had no idea where he was. Or what time it was. It would be ironic if, after waiting so long to return, he was reduced to a big pile of dust on his first morning back.
Not much he could do about it. He was too blind to find shelter and didn't have the strength to move into it, even if he found it. Only the mind still seemed to work and unfortunately that had never quit. Long after the cold and ice had blinded him and the hunger left him too weak to move, he had remained totally conscious.
At some point the ice covering his eyes finally thawed and with a sigh of relief he was able to close his eyes. He wasn't quite sure if the wetness on his cheeks was tears or melting snow. He didn't care.
As the thawing continued, his sense of smell began to return. He could smell grass, trees and the distant dawn. He wondered if he could use his sense of smell to locate the trees. If he could just find the strength to move, he might be able to crawl into the shade before the sunlight destroyed him.
He couldn't find the strength.
His mouth began to water and he realized he was detecting the faint smell of blood. He inhaled deeply, too weak even to switch into game face.
"There's something here."
Humans. Prey. He listened as they came closer.
"What is it?"
"It's rather hard to tell."
A male voice. He inhaled the odor of food, then realized the smell was vaguely familiar. They were both happy meals on legs, but he had once known them. Then a new odor, vampire, Angel. He felt someone turn him over.
"It doesn't even look human!"
Angel's voice was soft, "It's Spike."
"What happened to him?" That must be the female he had met an eternity ago at Angel's office. Frank?
"He hasn't eaten in a very long time. I've never seen a case this bad, but starving can't kill us. He's still alive. Fred, hand me one of the blood bags." Spike felt Angel prop him into a sitting position, his back against a rock. Then a straw was inserted into his mouth. He struggled to suck.
"Good grief," his sire's voice sounded torn between exasperation and sympathy. "Here, Cordy, hold his head." Spike choked as some of the blood was poured directly into his mouth. He swallowed and lost himself in the feeding.
He could feel some strength returning. With it, his senses sharpened and he became painfully aware of Cordelia's pulse, the blood rushing through her system. He was drinking pig's blood, but he was surrounded by human blood. He grabbed the human's wrist.
Sanity returned. He had endured pain and isolation for an untold time in order to return to Buffy. If he bit a human, if he tried to return to killing, the Slayer was lost to him. His hand shook as he felt Cordelia's pulse against his skin, then he let go.
His voice was a weak croak. "Get away."
"What did he say?"
He struggled weakly. "No chip. Get away."
Angel grabbed his wrists. He was so bloody weak he couldn't even struggle. "Gunn, there are some ropes in the car. We should tie him up. He's weak now, but when he gains his strength, he could be a problem."
The nausea struck when they were tying him up. After so long without food, Spike's stomach rebelled. The detached observer in him, the portion of his mind that had watched as he froze, starved, then burned in the portal, wryly noticed that he managed to thoroughly spray his sire. It was some time during this very messy process that he finally passed out.
* * *
The raging hunger woke him up. He tried to see where he was but his eyes still weren't working. If pain and itchiness were any measure, his body was starting to heal, but he was still weak. He cautiously managed to sit up, then held his head as the world spun.
He was on something soft, a bed. His sense of smell was working well enough for him to finally identify his surroundings. He was in Angel's hotel, the Hyperion. That explained the shackle on his leg. Trust his grandsire to distrust him so much that he was chained up before he could even walk.
Time passed slowly, hunger making every moment agony. Eventually he heard a door open, then close. More time passed. The door opened again and a warm mug was pressed into his hands. He held it tightly, absorbing the strange sensation of warmth. Finally he tried to bring it to his mouth and hissed in frustration as his hands shook and the blood splashed on his chest. He felt a cool hand steady the cup and lift it to his lips. He must be in sad shape if Angel was taking up nursing duties. Then he lost himself in the sweetness of the blood.
The cup was empty. For a moment he felt like Oliver Twist, "Please sir, I want some more," but a queasy sensation told him he was going to have trouble keeping even the little bit he had already drank. He groped to the side of the bed and placed the cup on the table.
"You couldn't see it, could you?"
He gritted his teeth at the sound of pity in the other vampire's voice. "Right, I don't get to see your lovely face either. I'll survive."
The Poofster didn't rise to the bait.
"How did you find me? Why did you bring me here and," Spike shook the chain, "put this on?"
"We figured you would return so we monitored the portal area. When it went off, we returned to find you. As for the chain, who knew what you would be like after a being stuck in a hell world? You're violent enough when you're your normal self."
Spike snorted. "Right, I'm bloody terrifying." He heard movement, then water running.
A moment later he was given a warm washcloth. "Here, wash the blood off. I'll get you another shirt." The door opened and closed again.
He wiped his face. It felt like a skull. He remembered two years ago. . "You know what happens to vampires who don't get to feed? Living skeletons mate. Like famine pictures from those dusty countries, only not half as funny." He was a damn mummy.
He hated being helpless. And it was worse being helpless around the Poofster. Angelus, his grandsire would have preyed on his vulnerability, indulging in his old habits of inflicting mental and physical torture. But Angel was worse. Angel pitied him.
He growled. After endless numbness, anger felt good. He let his demon flow through him. Angel might pity him, but he wouldn't have chained him unless he still felt some fear. He knew what Spike was capable of when he wasn't crippled by a bloody chip. A bloody killer. A force to be feared. A monster.
So why hasn't he staked me? Why hasn't he set me on fire, like he did Darla and Dru? He could have just left me alone to die in the sun?
The door opened and something soft hit him. A t-shirt. He tried to take off his bloodstained shirt and almost sobbed in frustration as he floundered, too bloody weak to get untangled. His grandsire gently helped. His new shirt was on and he sat, as mortified as when he had been in the wheelchair and Drew had brought him puppies while Angelus watched.
The older vampire noticed his humiliation and after a moment, turned to leave.
Spike heard the door open again and reluctantly spoke. He had to know. "How are the girls? Are Buffy and Dawn alright?"
His grandsire was silent. He could sense something was off. Spike was suddenly fearful. "What's wrong?" The continued silence panicked him. "For God's sake, Angel. What happened?"
"Buffy's been shot."
"No. Dawn was the one they shot. It was her foot. Buffy wasn't hurt except for the blood loss."
"Spike, that was almost three months ago."
The vampire was still as death.
"Somebody named Warren shot Buffy.
Yes, he's apparently one of three . . .
Spike's voice was harsh. "I know who the bugger is. How badly did he hurt her?" His voice cracked. "Is she alive?"
Angel shook his head. "I don't know everything that happened. Cordy and Willow e-mail each other and for a while there we didn't hear anything. Apparently Warren shot Buffy and Tara. Willow was able to save Buffy but not her lover."
"I'll kill the bugger!"
"Willow already did. She's with Giles in England now."
Willow a killer? Tara dead? Buffy shot and hurt? "Bloody hell! Bloody, soddin' hell. I should have been there."
Angel looked up, surprised at the anguish in the younger vampire's voice. "You couldn't have done anything, anyway. He attacked Buffy during the day." He was startled when Spike winced, his sightless eyes filled with tears.
He didn't know how to comfort him. And how odd was it that he would want to comfort Spike of all beings. "She's fine now. Willow wasn't very clear what happened, but apparently Buffy recovered from her wound."
Spike's voice was bitter. "She's been shot. Her best friend turned into a murderer. Willow and Giles are both in England. You didn't know Tara, but she was like a mum to Dawn when Buffy was dead and now she's dead. The only thing that kept the Slayer alive so long has been her family and friends and everything has fallen apart. And you think she's fine? You're a soddin' idiot!"
He wanted to throw something, break the furniture in his fury. Instead he was too weak to even stand. He clenched and unclenched his fists, staring into the darkness. He didn't even hear the door close.
* * *
Time passed. He healed. Gradually the darkness lightened. He regained the strength in his legs and could pace restlessly back and forth.
He had learned patience when trapped in the ice but it seemed to be deserting him. Buffy was patrolling alone with no one to guard her back. He had to get back. Even if she rejected him again for losing his soul, he had to be there to try and help.
Sometime during the fourth day he dissected the mattress. He was fashioning a key from the box springs so that he could pick the lock on his chain when Lorne wandered in with another cup of blood.
He tensed, watching the green demon. "Going to try and stop me, mate?"
"How ya' doing, Sparky. Just brought you a little something. Thought you might need a nip before the trip."
Spike watched the demon suspiciously before accepting the mug. He did a double take. "Wheetabix!" Lorne smiled blandly. "How did you know about . . . How much did you read when I sang?"
"I didn't scan the small print, but some of your recipes for blood drinks intrigued me. Professional weakness. I used to run the smoothest demon bar in this dark and dirty city"
Against his better judgement, Spike found himself relaxing. "You like the recipes?"
"Personally, not my style. But I've think we have a winner with the burba weed and blood combo. Of course I use O-positive, smoother on the palate."
Spike did not need to hear about human blood while swilling pig's blood with chunks. But Lorne made him smile and it had been a long time since that had happened. "Try it out on anyone I know?"
Lorne's eyes twinkled. "Angel. Makes the big bruiser purr like a kitten. Especially that ketchup and crumbled Reese's Pieces number."
That did it. Spike spewed his pig's blood. "That was a recipe the Niblet made up as a joke." The picture of the broody prince of hair gel slurping up candied blood and ketchup was too much and the two demons chortled till they choked.
"Listen. Can the escape routine and let me bring Mr. Sweet Tooth in for a tête-à-tête. The two of you need to mellow things out. Not that chains aren't your look, but you need to get home."
Spike found himself agreeing, then realized he had been had. He considered continuing his escape plan before Angel saw the mattress, then decided to give Lorne a chance to settle things. The demon was smooth and it was amusing to watch him at work. Besides if the Poofster got too pompous, Spike would just think of the ketchup fetish.
Lorne reappeared with Angel. Better yet, he tossed over a can of beer. "Thought this might ease the banter."
"Try bringing a six-pack," The demon just smiled and left him with his sire.
Angel was drinking from a cup. As he settled into the chair opposite the bed, he took a deep drink and looked enormously satisfied. Spike inhaled deeply and nearly lost it when he smelt the chocolate and peanut butter.
"You look more cheerful. Feeling better?"
"Good enough to go home now. Thanks for saving me, again, but Sunnydale calls." Spike took a deep drink of the beer. "It's been fun, but let's just unlock the chain and call it quits."
Spike noticed his grandsire hesitating. Strange. For over a century the balance of power had shifted between the two of them. Angelus had made his life as a fledgling a bloody nightmare. He had showered contempt on the wretched vampire with a soul. Angelus.2 had returned the favor when he had been stuck in the wheelchair. He had tortured Angel over the Ring of Amaras. By rights, Angel should be on top now. He owed his continued existence to his grandsire and between the chain and his current weakness, he was bloody helpless.
But Angel was hesitating. Finally, "I can't let you go out and murder people."
"Fine, I won't eat people. If you don't believe me call in the demon and I'll give him a chorus or two." Seeing his grandsire's skeptical expression, "I want to help Buffy. She disapproves of my natural diet. Hell, when I was human she had me eating vegetables."
The older vampire nodded. "Lorne will be glad to help." He was staring intently at his cup and he chewed on his lower lip. Spike frowned trying to figure out what was coming. His sire wanted something and it must be big.
Finally, "Spike, before you go . . . could you tell me about where you were?"
"Damned if I know. It felt like the North Pole only without St. Nick and the elves to snack on. No food."
If a vampire could grow paler, Angel did. "Is that the last hell world you were in or the first?" Strange, he looked scared.
"The second. The first was no picnic, but at least there was stuff to eat. Unfortunately most of the beasties wanted to eat me first, but it was sort of entertaining if you like a good fight. "
Angel swallowed. "Could a human survive?"
"Maybe. They'd have to be tough. Why are you asking?"
"I think that's where my son is. I told you he was kidnapped. He was taken to Quorthoth, a hell dimension. There's not supposed to be any way to get there. I think that's what all this has been about. Wolfram and Hart want to control Connor because the prophesies say he is important to the final outcome between Good and Evil. They used Dawn to get to where Connor is."
Spike felt sick in his gut. He knew what was coming. "And?"
Angel's eyes were dark and anguished. "I have to find my son. I need you and Dawn to reopen that portal and let me look for him."
"Do you have any idea what you are asking?" Spike's voice was low and dangerous.
"I'm asking Dawn to bleed. I'm asking for Dawn or Buffy to risk their lives being drained by an unchipped vampire. I'm asking you to go back to a hell world." Spike couldn't bear to look at the pain in his grandsire's face. "But he's just a baby. He must be so scared. I have to find him."
Spike closed his eyes and sighed. The future was plain. Dawn would hear of the frightened baby in hell and agree. They would figure out how to reopen the portal to Quorthoth. Then good old Spike would get to jump in and close the soddin' opening and spend a few days fighting beasties that wanted to eat him.
That was the real danger to the Key. Maybe there would be evil beings, human and monster, that tried to capture and use her. But if she ever perfected that little man-eating portal trick she had used on Wolfram and Hart, she would be able to defend herself from the bad guys. But she was a Summers woman with the tender Summers' heart. She would help Angel find his son. She would hear other sob stories from other desperate needy people. And she would help.
And when she did, he would be left having to close the portals. It was either that or watch Dawn or Buffy die.
He was well and truly screwed.
He opened his eyes, looking at his desperate sire. "You'll have to ask Buffy and Dawn. It's their decision. You know them, they'll say yes." His smile was sad. "I'm just the clean-up guy."
He couldn't stand Angel's look of gratitude. "Are we done? "Cause I have places to go and people to ki . . . er . . . help."
They called in Lorne, Spike sang and Lorne gave him the seal of approval. When Angel offered to drive him to Sunnydale, he refused. So instead they took him to the bus station and he climbed aboard the bus back to his home and his Slayer.
CHAPTER 22 - CHOICE
Buffy assessed the vampire doubtfully. It was very new, the dirt from the grave still flaking off its clothes, mud caking his lips. His hands were still torn and bloody. She winced and unconsciously flexed her hands that still bore the scars from her own desperate climb from a grave. Was the mud in his mouth from when it had screamed in panic and bewilderment?
At one time he had been a strong young man with the sun-bleached hair and lean muscles of a swimmer. He was strong enough to be dangerous. Still, he was obviously confused. Reluctantly she nodded.
Dawn grinned and surged forward. The vampire turned. After gazing at the teenager, he stumbled forward. He was inexperienced but he recognized food. Just as he almost had her, Dawn whirled and kicked. Buffy's nervously clutched her stake. The kick was a little slow. A more experienced vampire would have grabbed the girl's foot and thrown her. But this vampire was too new and clumsy. He fell backward, a surprised and betrayed look on his face. He landed on his back and Dawn was on him.
Buffy gritted her teeth. Faster Dawnie! You have to move faster. Dawn plunged the stake into its chest and - whoosh - one less vampire in Sunnydale. The girl looked up amid the falling dust, her eyes glowing with pride.
Another vampire. Buffy's senses tingled and she whirled. And heard the clapping.
"Looking good there, Niblet."
The teenager flew into his arms, almost knocking the vampire off the tombstone, where he had been sitting, watching the action. He grinned and hugged her, his face tender.
"Did you see me dust that vamp? Buffy lets me patrol with her and I'm getting pretty good, aren't I?"
He looked up and Buffy could see that he had been just as scared as she had been, watching Dawn learn the deadly art of fighting monsters. "Can't argue with success can we? But if Big Sis lets me, I'll spar with you and show you some secrets of the trade. We'll work on speed."
"I'll whip your . . ."the teenager's eyes twinkled, "arse."
"My, my and you kiss Justin with that mouth?"
"Justin is so yesterday. Oh Spike," the teenager hugged him tighter, "you've been gone so long."
"Ninety eight days," Buffy whispered.
His head turned and she almost lost herself in the depth of his gaze. "Eternity, Slayer."
That seemed to bring Dawn around. "Spike, you're a skeleton!"
"Yeah," he smirked. "Does wonders for the cheekbones." His face softened when he saw the girl's troubled expression. "It's all right, Bit. The other place I was at didn't have a lot of food. But I'll recover."
"I'm so sorry, Spike. I didn't mean to open anything up. I just wanted to stop them. Everything hurt and I was so mad and scared." Buffy was startled. She knew Dawn was troubled about the whole, horrible attack, but it never occurred to her that her sister had felt any guilt. She had been the victim. But apparently she had gone through these long three months feeling guilty for ripping open a portal and endangering everyone. Worse yet, she must have felt responsible for Spike disappearance when he closed the opening. Why didn't she tell me?
The vampire just hugged the child and wiped away the sudden tears. "Shhh, Niblet. You saved everyone. Those bastards had us stopped cold and you turned everything around. Dont be sorry. You were a bloody hero."
"But . . . you . . .?"
"I had to close it and got a little hungry. That's all right. Give me some blood and bloomin' onions and I'll be back in fighting form." He held the child out at arm's length and examined her. "Bit, you look like you need to get to bed. It's been a busy night, you've made a good kill and tomorrow's a school day."
He was so good with her sister. Without thinking, Buffy found herself asking, "Would you walk with us back home?"
The look of simple pleasure he gave her made her melt. The three of them walked back to 1630 Revello Drive and it felt comfortable. She remembered that last walk the three of them had had before Wolfram and Hart had invaded. Spike had been human and she and he had been a couple. They had sat together at the Magic Shop with no raised eyebrows from her friends. It had felt comfortable, almost like he was becoming part of the family and she had felt free to kiss him in front of Dawn, She had left them to patrol, expecting another delicious night of showers, sex and cuddling after she finished slaying.
And now what? She had a surprise but didn't quite know how Spike would react. She watched him with her sister and wondered. He still seemed to care about them. She felt so hopeful it almost hurt.
"What about the other guys? If you couldn't find any food, maybe they couldn't? Do you think I killed them by creating that opening?"
"Don't know. Never saw any of them. I was in sort of an Arctic area, but they might have been in a better place. I wouldn't worry about them. They knew they were risking their lives when they decided to kidnap and murder people."
They were talking softer now and something he said made Dawn give a watery chuckle. They reached her home and Buffy took her sister inside. "Will you wait here for me? I'll be right back."
Dawn looked at the two of them. "It's OK, Buffy. You two need to talk."
"No Dawn, I have to get something in the house anyway." She turned towards Spike and gave a tight hopeful little grin. "I got a surprise for you." She leaned over and gave him a quick PG rated, Dawn-is-watching kiss. She almost giggled at his shocked expression. She put her arm around Dawnie and they went inside the house.
* * *
He certainly hadn't expected that kiss. He stepped back towards the tree and lit up a fag. OK, in his wildest dreams he had taken her in his arms, she had whispered that she missed him, everything would be all Gone-With-the-Wind and they would go off and shag like bunnies. But he had really expected that she would reject him. She may have loved the human Spike, but now he was back to being a soulless demon. He knew what that meant.
He blew out smoke thoughtfully and watched it drift away in the slight breeze. He definitely had missed smoking; it had been right behind Summers women and blood. He wondered what surprise the Slayer had for him. She had been secretive and pleased and had given him a little kiss . . .
Bloody hell. If this were back in Victorian England, she would come back with cunningly knit little booties. He had felt like a complete pillock back when he was alive and realized that he had had sex without any protection. It wasn't like he hadn't seen enough afternoon specials while trapped in his crypt during the daylight hours. If they were to be believed, one bout of sex between humans and bang, the woman was pregnant and her life was ruined. Actually that didn't really disagree with what he had been taught as a young man in Victorian England. Was Buffy . . . ?
He discovered he had snapped his cigarette in two. He contemplated lighting another but decided his hands were too shaky to play with fire. He'd probably incinerate himself. He paced nervously, especially when he remembered that Buffy had worn a loose jacket rather than her normal skintight apparel.
Buffy came out of the house with a smile, looking around almost eagerly for him. He stepped towards her and she approached him, carrying something. As she drew close, he inhaled deeply. Normal Slayer hormones, none of the warm, almost milky tinge of pregnancy. He was relieved, yet was surprised at the pang of disappointment.
"Spike, is anything wrong?"
"Huh? No, of course not. Oh my duster. Thanks luv."
"Sorry, I took so long, but I had to clean up and Dawn and I had some talking to do. It's been so hard for her since Tara."
"I'm sorry about Tara. She and Dawn got really close over the last summer."
Buffy's face clouded. "She was a good friend. And when she died, Willow . . ." She shook her head, "I can't talk about this now." She turned. "Let's go and sit in the back. We need to talk."
How often had he used that line on her? Spike trailed her, wondering what was up. They sat in the old deck chairs in the back yard and he watched her as she gathered her courage.
"Spike, did you like being human?"
He felt like he was hit in the stomach. "Yes."
She was leaning forward. "But back when we talked about you becoming a vampire, you said you liked it, that getting killed made you feel alive."
It was hard not to touch her. How long had he dreamed of having her here, this close. He didn't know how to explain himself. "Buffy, I've been in hell. I don't know if it was a real hell, but. . . it snowed all the time and there was no food and after a while the snow buried me and I was too weak to fight my way out. I couldn't see or hear or smell and after everything hardened to ice, I couldn't move."
"Oh my God!" Buffy reached out and touched his cheek.
He ignored the pity. "I almost lost my bloody mind. For a while there, I was worse than Dru. But I kept thinking of you. I dreamed of you and remembered everything about you." He held her hand. "And the part I focused on, the part that kept me going were my few short days as a man when you let yourself love me."
He couldn't read her eyes. She seemed so hopeful, almost happy. She reached out and handed him a small, creased piece of paper.
He unfolded it. "The blood of a Mhora demon." He looked up, puzzled. "What's this?"
"It can make you human again."
He stared, disbelieving. "Never heard of such a thing."
"Angel gave it to me. A couple of years ago, right after the Thanksgiving you came to us for help, I was in Los Angeles and was attacked by one. Angel killed it. He must have done research on it. Anyway, after you vanished, he told me about what its blood can do and Willow . . ." Again she hesitated at the Wicca's name. "Willow read up on it and say's he's right. Mhora demons are really rare, but if we can find one," her hands were on his upper arms, "we can go back to where we were." She kissed him.
For once, he was too shocked to respond. He stared at her, not daring to hope.
Strangely he found himself remembering that night when the two of them had smashed each other with their fists and slashed with words before dissolving into their first bout of mind-dissolving passion. "Poor Spikey. Can't be a human, can't be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in?"
Since that dark night in a London stable over 120 years, he had been a pawn of others' choices. Angel and his pack had turned him into a vampire so that Dru would have a caretaker. The Initiative had crippled him as an interesting experiment. Wolfram and Hart had dusted and revived him for their own purposes. Dru and her minions had murdered him to soothe her wounded pride.
He stared at the face of the woman he loved and realized what she was offering. For the first time, he was being was being given a choice. He could be a human. He could be a vampire, this time without a chip to limit his powers. It was his choice.
He finally had the power to determine where the hell he fit in.
He stared at her and realized he was seeing her for the moment as a predator would. She was so close, her mouth vulnerable and her throat unprotected. He could lean towards her, lulling her with soft whispers and slash her jugular. He would stop being chained to a mortal and finally bag his third Slayer. Better yet, as she lay dying, he could savor her blood and force his own blood on her dying lips and she would be his forever. The two of them could roam the world and once again his existence would be simple. He could once again live for blood and the kill, carousing through Europe with the one he loved meekly devoted to him. He would be the Master Vampire and she would worship him.
He smiled. Hell, he could take out the entire Scooby Gang. Red, with her powers and hint of evil, would make a fascinating vampire. Giles and Xander would be minions and he would finally once again be the Big Bad.
He reached forward touching the tender vein in her neck, feeling the glorious pulse. He had the power to return to his past, to once again be a soulless killer. After being crippled for so long, he loved the sense of power. But being a Big Bad was hollow compared to loving the Slayer, protecting and treasuring this brave and precious life. Her fight was his fight, he had learned to cherish her family and even, reluctantly, like her friends. (Except Harris, wild horses couldn't force him to ever admit liking the Whelp.) Since that day so long ago when he had first seen her dancing at the Bronze, his enjoyment of the casual, evil existence of a vampire had been draining and he had increasingly longed to be the man she could love. He could once again be the Big Bad. But he didn't want to.
He wanted to be human again. Even with the nightmares, the soul lashing him for his century of carnage, he wanted to be by her side. He had tasted it and life had been sweet.
He'd actually done humanity right this last time. Who would have imagined that William the Wanker could finally end up with the girl? Buffy had loved him and he had experienced more joy in those three short days than in the rest of his entire existence. He had even begun to dream his old Victorian dreams of sharing a life with the woman you love, of raising children and growing old in each others arms.
That was what Buffy was offering. All of his dreams.
He gazed at Buffy's face. It was glowing and hopeful. For a moment Spike saw the trusting girl who had been destroyed when Angel had left her. He leaned forward and kissed the Slayer on the lips. It was as tender as a good bye.
"And what do we do the next time Dawn opens a portal, luv?"
Buffy drew back, her eyes wide with shock.
The price of his dreams was to be helpless when the women he loved were in danger. It was more than he could pay.
"You know it will happen. She's the Key." He held her hands, trying to force her to listen. "You know the bad guys just keep coming. You fight a hundred, a thousand and they still are going to keep coming. And it won't just be monsters, pet. Humans driven by greed are going to want to use her. And if I let myself be human, then only the death of Dawn or you will close the portals."
Just the memory choked him, but he kept his voice firm. "I can't let that happen. I'll spend eternity in hell before I stand by and watch you die again."
Buffy's eyes were filling with tears and it was tearing him apart. He grabbed her shoulders trying not to lose her, trying to explain. Angrily she shrugged his hands off.
"I love you, Summers. I can't be a normal man any more than you can be a normal woman. You need a monster in your man, someone to help you fight and protect Dawn."
"I don't need a monster. I don't need a soulless monster." She lashed out with her fist. He was still weak from his long starvation and too slow to protect himself. He reeled back and slammed against the fence.
"Buffy!" He was losing her. He had lost her when Dru and her minions had stolen his life and soul. But how could he chose to be helpless again, unable to protect her or her sister? "Buffy, wait!"
She gazed at his bleeding face in horror and turned. He closed his eyes so he didn't have to watch as she ran away.
CHAPTER 23 - DECISION
Late Wednesday Night
The branch whipped Buffy's face and she cried out. She stumbled to a halt, touching the cut on her forehead. It bled heavily and for a moment she found herself thinking of Spike's bleeding face and his look of despair. She had been running blindly and now she was in the woods. She leaned against a tree trying to stop the bleeding, then slid to the ground. Blood and tears mingled as she sobbed helplessly.
It was her worst nightmare. She had allowed herself to love Spike and now he was back to being an unchipped killer. Nightmares of when she had been forced to kill Angel rose to haunt her. How could she do that again?
For months she had been holding on to that stupid scrap of paper. The blood of a Mhora demon would return him to a human, back to the man she had finally allowed herself to love. But he wouldn't do it. And how was she supposed to argue with him. "What do we do the next time Dawn opens a portal, luv?" He wasn't even refusing because he was afraid of a soul or wanted to stay higher on the food chain. He wanted to be able to protect her and her sister. He had already faced two hell worlds to save them and was willing to face more.
"I'll spend eternity in hell before I stand by and watch you die again."
Back when she had faced Glory, she had told her friends that she would kill anyone that came near Dawn and tried to hurt her. She would have allowed the universe to be destroyed rather than see her sister die. Now she had someone who could and would protect Dawn, no matter what the cost.
But it was Spike. He might love her and her sister, but without a chip, he was a murderer. How could she allow him to remain and kill people? Yet how could she destroy the one being who would always be there when her sister was in danger?
Dawn needs him. Then, more reluctantly she found herself admitting I need him.
She suddenly remembered Xander, "But if you really think you can love this guy ... I'm talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred need ... if you're ready for that ... then think about what you're about to lose." Despite the tears, she found herself smiling slightly. How irritated Xander would be if he knew the words about Riley really applied to Spike? But Xander, as irritating and judgmental as he could be, sometimes got it right.
He was right about love. It was a scary, messy and a no-holds-barred need and it was worth fighting for.
She didn't know if she could win. She really didn't know if a vampire without a soul and without a chip could be kept from killing people. According to the Council of Watchers, it was impossible. But then, according to the Watchers and their prophecies, she should have died at the age of 16. She had won impossible battles before.
And the first step was to finally stop running.
* * *
She tried to find Spike. He hadn't returned to his old crypt.
It took two days. Buffy hadn't found him at any of his old haunts. No one at Willey's had seen him. It wasn't until she posted herself at the one butcher's shop that stayed open late that she finally found him. He didn't seem pleased to be found.
"Slayer." Not a good sign.
"We need to talk."
His eyes were cold and angry, "Not really." He walked into the butcher's shop. She waited outside. How strange was this? She was the one that needed to talk; he was the one with no time to listen. Still, if he was buying blood, it must mean that he wasn't hunting. She allowed herself to feel a touch of hope.
He came out carrying several pouches of blood in a brown paper bag. He didn't bother looking at her. She followed him as he strode away. They walked two blocks in silence before he turned and growled. "Bugger off, Blondie. I'm not in the mood."
"Well that makes everything ducky, doesn't it." He didn't slow down.
What could she say that would stop him? "I need to talk to you about Dawn."
She couldn't quite see his face but got the impression that he rolled his eyes. "You said you would spar with her. She needs to know when."
Without breaking stride he said, "Tell her I'll meet her tomorrow at the Magic Shop after school."
"The Magic Shop is closed. Willow wrecked it."
That stopped him. She watched him flex his jaw then turn around slowly.
"All right Slayer. You name a spot. I'll be there for the Bit." He was coldly controlling the anger.
"We need to talk."
"No. You just need to tell me where to meet your sister. Then you can bugger off."
She was finally noticing the first difference between this Spike and the man she had loved. The anger in his eyes was deeper. Had he always been this angry at the way she had treated him? Last year, he seemed to forgive her for anything, but last year he had been chipped. Now he wasn't.
It scared her. She didn't want to lose him. "Please, Spike." She felt like crying, but tried to hold it back. "I'm so sorry I hit you. I was so scared." Now the tears were escaping and it was all she could do not to sob out loud.
He stood silent and gradually she saw the tension fade from his body. He shook his head. "Damn you, Buffy, that's cheating." He almost reached forward, as if to brush her tears away, then sighed. "Fine. I have to put this blood away, then we'll talk."
They walked quietly, side by side. She watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was still gaunt, and looked older, worn, if that was possible for a vampire. Combined with the duster and the unconscious swagger of his walk, he looked dangerous.
They approached a creek bed in the poorer part of Sunnydale. There hidden in the brush, was the old De Soto. Spike opened up the trunk and popped the blood bags into a cooler. He kept one and tore it open, pouring blood into a mug.
He leaned wearily against the car and sipped out of the mug. "So, talk."
"This is where you're staying?"
The vampire shrugged. "It'll do until I get my strength back. I'm not really in the mood to fight with anyone for a home right now." He had finished the mug and filled it again.
"It's not right."
He tilted his head, watching her. "I've stayed here before, Buffy. It's dark. I'm safe during the day."
She looked at the battered car with the painted windows. He had saved her and her sister, endured hell and now he had to live like a bum, huddled in a car during the daylight. "You could come back to our place." She realized what she had said and hastily added, "For a shower." He looked at her and she found herself remembering what they had done the last time he had taken a shower at her house. She flushed. "That wasn't what I meant. I mean, that wasn't what I wanted to say."
"Then what do you want to say?" Spike's voice sounded patient, almost resigned. He looked so tired of the tangled games they always played.
Buffy was tired of the games too. There had to be some sort of way to make their relationship work. She knew what she wanted to say, but not how to say it. "I want to say. . . I want to ask . . . have you hunted since you got back?"
He threw his head back and looked at the sky as if searching for an answer. "How am I supposed to answer that, luv? If I say yes, you stake me. If I say no, you think I'm a bloody liar." When she didn't say anything, he looked directly at her. "No, Buffy. I haven't killed or hurt anyone. You don't tolerate serial killers. I told you a long time ago, I've changed. Do you think," He suddenly hurled the cup away, "I'd be drinking this swill if I was hunting?"
The mug shattered against the ground. Buffy looked at it, then at Spike. "I wish I could trust you."
"For God sake, Slayer. You're living on the Hellmouth, the center of magic. Even the soddin' Watcher had a truth spell. Find an amulet or someone who reads auras. Have Angel send over his bloody demon and I'll sing a stupid song for him. I'm telling the truth, Buffy."
"How can you give up killing?"
He exploded. "I love you!" He leaned forward, and grabbed hold of her arms, his fingers digging bruises into her flesh. "I've told you, again and again, I love you. I'm drowning in you. If it means giving up evil, I will." Buffy stared up at his intense face, reading the desperate love in his eyes. She froze. He slowly leaned forward and kissed her. It was hard, almost violent. He pulled her towards himself.
She almost surrendered. She yielded, then weakly tried to push him away. "No, we can't."
To her astonishment, he let go. He turned and slammed his fist against the car. He took a deep unnecessary breath. "Right, Slayer. Time for you to start running.
"I'm not running. I won't run any more. But I have to understand. How am I supposed to believe that you won't kill? No vampire has ever done that except Angel and he has a soul."
"I don't have a bloody soul. I don't need one to remember the bloody difference between right and wrong."
"But no other vampire has stopped being evil."
He snarled. "Maybe no other vampire has been stuck loving a slayer or with a soddin' chip in their head. Maybe no other vampire was stuck for a damned eternity in hell, having to think about everything they lost when they were murdered and going mad trying to figure out some way to get it back."
She didn't know what to say. The anger seeped out of him and he looked at her with the face she had seen once before, when he stood in her doorway after the disinvite spell and saw all that he had lost. His voice was weary. "Everything seemed so clear when I was a man. I was suddenly able to say the right things and understand why you could never love a monster. I saw what I'd been doing to you, telling you that you were wrong and trying to pull you into my world."
"It all feels different now. It's like I know right from wrong, but humans are back to smelling like food." He grimaced. "I guess I'm back to being evil. I won't do evil, but everything is fuzzier now."
"Is it just because you love me. If you got mad at me or I died, would you go back to killing?"
"I won't lie to you, luv. I don't know." He tilted his head, looking thoughtful. "When you were dead and I was fighting with the Scoobies. . ." He looked reminiscent. "It was a good fight." He met her eyes. "You know me. I like a good brawl, back against the wall, nothing but fists and fangs. It drove Angelus mad. I was always looking for something bigger to battle with, a mob or a slayer. This fight that you do, against impossible odds to save the world, it's like nothing else."
"Back when we first worked together, we saved the bloody world. I'm not just preying on creatures weaker than me, like I used to. We're destroying knights, demons and hell-gods. I may not be good, but I'm a fighter, and this is the best battle there is. Even though I know you can never love a monster, I want to be able to fight by your side."
She wanted to touch him, to reassure him somehow. "I want that. I want us to be able to go back to sparring and patrolling together." She sighed. "I'll ask Giles to help me come up with something."
He shrugged, resigned to the fact that she couldn't trust an evil soulless thing. "Make it some sort of amulet or aura reader. A truth spell would ruin my poker games."
She hated the resignation in his voice, the fact that for the sake of other people and their safety she would always have to doubt him. She owed him so much more. "Spike. I wouldn't have staked you. Somehow I never have been able to slay you." His eyes widened. "But," her voice grew firm, "I can't love a killer. If you kill or even try to hurt a human, I'll destroy the monster in you. I'll take you down and give you the Mhora blood. I'll force you to be human and you'll never be able to close a portal again."
He whistled silently. He remembered being held captive, watching Dawn scream when the goons were on her and being too weak to help her. He remembered the 147 days of agony, knowing that Buffy had died because he had failed her. "You wouldn't put your little sis in danger?"
"Try me." She stared at him coldly. "I can find a way to protect her without using a mass murderer."
She means it. For a moment he could imagine what it would be like, living with the anguish of a conscience, remembering the face of the person he killed and knowing that Buffy or Dawn could die because he had been weak. It shook him to the core.
"Find your magic, Slayer." It was hard to keep his voice from shaking. "I won't kill."
* * *
She was as good as her word. Four days later, she stopped by and told him that Giles had sent something by special delivery. Dawn would pick it up that afternoon and they would use it when she got back from work.
Dawn opened the door when he arrived that evening. She smelled sweet and sleepy and fresh from the shower. She smiled and let him into the house that had so briefly been his home. "I'm making hot chocolate. Want some?"
He wondered if this was how divorced dads felt, separated from the children they wanted to nurture. As if she read his mind, Dawn asked, "When are you coming back to live with us?"
"Don't know if I ever will. Buffy has to trust me first."
"She will. But it's hard. She's the Slayer and responsible for protecting people. And it's hard to believe that a vampire could give up killing." Her tone changed. "How can you?"
"I love your big sis. Besides, you saved me." He smiled at the surprise in her face. "Gave me a chance to cool off. Back when I was first turned, I was a fledgling. You know them, pretty much running on instinct. If I'd stayed, I probably would have done something stupid, like draining people and trying to hide it from Buffy. But your portal put me someplace where I couldn't hurt anyone. And it gave me time to think, not something we vampires do very much."
He'd never tell her how long he had been trapped or that by time he was free he was far, far too old to act like a fledgling. Maybe being sired by minions this time, instead of the Master's line, had left him weaker, he didn't know. But he was old now and far from stupid. Except that human, fledgling or Master Vampire, he still loved the Slayer. Maybe that was stupid, but it remained the core of his existence.
Now he was talking to a girl burdened with incredible power. She was the Key and he wanted her to stop feeling guilty.
"Spent a lot of time thinking of a story. Wanna hear it?"
She grinned. "Is it as good as the 'little girl in the coal bin' story?"
"I liked it."
"Tell me a bedtime story." She sipped on the chocolate and for the moment looked as sleepy and young as a four-year-old.
"Once upon a time there were some monks."
"Oh I think I might like this one."
"They were very good men with a very important job. They had to protect a magic Key. It was green and glowy and very powerful. It could open the doors to new worlds, both good and bad. They had to keep the bad guys from ever getting the Key's power."
"Everything comes to an end, so when the line of monks almost ended, they made a very brave decision. They would make the Key alive. They made it into a little girl."
"Was she beautiful?"
"No, she was a shiny-haired brat. Quiet, Niblet, I'm on a roll."
"So now instead of the monks deciding how the Key should be used, the Key could learn for herself. They put her with the very best family, so she could learn right from wrong. She was given a mother so loving and kind that she could even pity a monster. And she was given a big sister who risked her life every night to save other people. She was surrounded by friends who were basically good people."
He growled and ignored her. "She learned to be powerful. She learned to open portals and she had a nifty little trick of inventing a portal that would suck up any bad guys that tried to use her. It no longer was possible to use the Key for evil because she wouldn't allow it."
He watched her smile. "And now that the Key was powerful, she could open portals for good reasons. Like to help lost babies or find worlds where they had a cure for cancer. She could make things better."
"Is there a vampire in the story?"
"Yeah, a Big Bad. She and her sister somehow made him a bloody white hat."
"But not too good."
"No, they never quite tamed him, but they let him help."
"But the best part of the story is this. Keys can open doors, but they can also lock them. The girl's big sis could handle day-to-day fighting . . ."
("Don't you mean night-to night?" "Hush.")
". . . but it was when someone tried to end the world that things got risky. Bad guys were always trying to open up the Hellmouth and let the forces of evil flood the world. That's when big sis would face death."
Dawn's face was still.
"So the Key learned to close portals and lock them up. And she closed the Hellmouth forever. She and big sis were able to grow old and live happily ever after."
"And the vampire?"
"He just got better looking with age. And the Key did him a favor and stopped opening portals to cold places. Bad guys only got sent to worlds with lots of shade and good beer."
He heard a giggle and turned surprised. How long had Buffy been there?
" 'Night Spike." Dawn kissed his cheek. "'Night Buffy." She vanished upstairs.
He was slightly embarrassed. "How much did you hear?"
Buffy looked greasy but happy. "Enough." She held up the UPS package. "We need to get this over with."
He grimaced. She opened the package and dumped out a yellow crystal and a note. She glanced at it. "Giles says it's from that coven in Devon. If you hold it and tell the truth, it gets a pink glow." She put the note down. "Shall we try it?"
He grimaced and grabbed the crystal. "I'm still hunting." The crystal stayed yellow. "I've given up killing people." It changed, glowing a deep radiant pink. "I'm not hurting any one." Pink. "I'm not stealing." Pink. " I'm not going to hurt anyone. I'm so soddin' virtuous it hurts." Bright pink. He threw it down on the table.
"There's your answer, Slayer."
If his face was still human, she knew it would be flushed with humiliation. "I believed you before. But I couldn't risk other people's lives. I did that with Angel and I won't do it again." She looked at the misery on his face when she mentioned his grandsire and knew she owed him something.
She took the crystal firmly in her hand. "I love you, Spike." The crystal glowed again, a deep luminous pink. "I love the humanity I see inside you." Pink again. This was harder to get out. "And I love the monster in you as well. It's fierce and strong and I've always found it beautiful, even when I was afraid of it." Her cheeks turned as pink as the crystal glowing in her hand.
They sat across the table, staring at each other. Her Spike, her monster, was speechless. Finally, just to break the silence, she asked, "Are you strong enough now to patrol with me again? I was in a hurry to get this all over with and I haven't done my rounds."
"Ah . . ." He cleared his throat. "Right."
She went over to the weapons chest and got out a couple of extra stakes. As she opened the door, she turned. He still looked stunned and hesitant. "After the patrol, we can come back here and shower."
The hesitancy faded and suddenly the obnoxious cocky look that she had missed so much returned. "Right. I got your back, Slayer."
And the two of them went out into the night, side by side.