Ipseity by Baphrosia [PG-13]
Past Featured StorySummary: After Buffy the Vampire Slayer's apparent death in the collapse of Sunnydale Hellmouth, nobody knows how to go on without her, least of all Buffy herself. 
 
WINNER for BEST POST-SERIES FINALE FIC and BEST DRAMA (Spuffy) and RUNNER UP for BEST PLOT in Round 32 of the SUNNYD Awards.  Thank you!
 

Categories: Season 7, Post-Series, Crossover (AtS), Alternate Reality, Award Winners, Award Runners-Up Characters: Ensemble
Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Character Death
Challenges: None
Series:
Chapters: 28 Completed: Yes Word count: 101,886 Hits: 25,617 Published: June 10, 2015 Updated: August 13, 2015

1. Dawn by Baphrosia

2. Buffy by Baphrosia

3. Giles by Baphrosia

4. Spike by Baphrosia

5. Andrew by Baphrosia

6. Angel by Baphrosia

7. Spike by Baphrosia

8. Buffy by Baphrosia

9. Willow by Baphrosia

10. Lindsey by Baphrosia

11. Faith by Baphrosia

12. Spike by Baphrosia

13. Lorne by Baphrosia

14. Buffy by Baphrosia

15. Dawn by Baphrosia

16. Giles by Baphrosia

17. Spike by Baphrosia

18. Buffy by Baphrosia

19. Willow by Baphrosia

20. Buffy by Baphrosia

21. Spike by Baphrosia

22. Dawn by Baphrosia

23. Spike by Baphrosia

24. Angel by Baphrosia

25. Buffy by Baphrosia

26. Xander by Baphrosia

27. Spike by Baphrosia

28. Buffy by Baphrosia

Dawn by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

A/N: Welcome to a brand new fic! This is MOSTLY PG-13, but if you're uncomfortable with occasional bad language, consider it R.

Ipseity is fully written, and 27 chapters long. I expect to post 2-3 chapters per week. It's more of a plotty gen fic and less of a romance than my previous stories, but the romance is there, I promise.

Speaking of plot, there may be times when things don't make sense, or seem off. It may be on purpose. Wait and see before flaming, if you please. :)

Many thanks to my betas: MargueriteDaisy for general editing, Aderyn Du for help with a Welsh OC, All4Spike for Britpicking, and TheFoxinator for the nitty-gritty nitpicking. Anaross' "Long Day's Journey" was the inspiration for how I structured the story, with each chapter dedicated to a single character's viewpoint.

Disclaimer: All Hail Joss Whedon

Distribution: This is MY story. Please don't archive somewhere else without my express permission, try to sell it, claim it as your own, or otherwise infringe. I used to think these warnings were unnecessary, but a few rotten apples have spoiled the fandom barrel...

And now, on with the show!

 

Dawn

 

 

Dawn jostled her way past the injured to the back of the bus, right next to the lever to open the emergency exit. She figured that way she could throw it open for Buffy, who was sure to be the last one out. Or maybe she'd have to use it for Spike. Not that she'd forgiven him, or even liked him anymore, at all, but he was part of the team helping to fight the Uber-evil. She'd feel kinda bad if he went up in flaming death trying to make it to the front of the bus when she could have easily opened the back end for him.

She vibrated in place, scanning the remaining Slayers as they poured out of the abandoned high school and into the bus. Her fingers clenched the back edge of the seat, tight enough to have already torn through the fabric in more than one place, and she shivered from the awful mix of ramped-up adrenaline that no longer had an outlet, relief that she had made it out alive, and terror that Buffy was dead. Or soon would be.

The wait seemed interminable. But when Faith came running out of the cloud of dust, arms and legs no more than a blur, and yelled, "Go!" over the roar of the brand new high school exploding, Dawn knew they hadn't waited long enough. Buffy wasn't out yet.

Despite the lack of Buffy, the bus peeled away from the collapsing high school and Hellmouth, stench of burnt rubber mingling with the dust that had found its way into the bus.

"She'll be here," Xander said when Dawn protested, sparing her a smile in between tending to the wounded, but she saw it for the empty reassurance it was. Xander couldn't know that. He hadn't been down in the Hellmouth with Buffy anymore than Dawn had. He didn't know if her sister was even still –

"What makes you think she's alive?" somebody nearby said, voicing her question aloud.

"She is," Faith called from the front. "She was right behind me. She'll…" The Slayer grimaced as the bus fishtailed, back end catching dangerously on the encroaching crater.

"We gotta fly," Faith added under her breath to Robin, but Dawn had ears like a bat, or so a dismayed Buffy had claimed innumerable times over the years. "Put pedal to the metal. Unless you plan on making Sunnyhell your final resting place."

Robin didn't. The bus jerked forwards with an extra spurt of speed. Dawn scanned the road behind her, even though a still rational corner of her brain quietly whispered that it was futile. Buffy had been in the high school when it exploded. She'd still been inside when it had collapsed, sucked into the mouth of Hell. Nobody could have made it out alive.

Nobody except Buffy.

Dawn continued to scour the crumbling city for any sign of her sister, choosing to take heart in the others' flimsy reassurances. All she had now was faith, faith that whoever was in charge of this screwed-up universe wouldn't allow Buffy to die a second time. Or third, or fourth, depending on how you counted it.

And as they neared the outskirts of town, her impossible conviction was rewarded by a flying, sister-shaped shadow, and a jarring overhead thump that rocked the already unstable bus. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but Dawn thought she even heard a faint 'oof' over the roar of the bus and the crashing, groaning screams of the dying town receding behind them. Face pressed tight against the glass, she could just barely see what looked like the edge of red-tinted blade Buffy had been carrying peeking over the roof of the bus.

She let herself smile, even as the mouth of the crater leapt forward and caught the back tires again, causing the bus to swerve wildly. Buffy had made it out. Everything was going to be –

"No!" she screamed, and scrabbled at the emergency release. Her mind replayed what she'd seen in a sickening slow-motion loop – Buffy flying backwards, downwards, pinwheeling into the abyss like a broken doll, red blade clattering after her. The bus plowed forward, taking Dawn farther from her sister. "Stop! Stop it, stop the bus NOW!"

"Stop," Faith echoed what felt like lifetimes later. "We're clear."

The lurching, spinning halt slammed Dawn into the lever, and the door popped open and tumbled her out. They were scant yards from the edge of the crater, small rocks still shivering and slipping downward from the lip into the groaning depths. She didn't register the danger. Eyes fixed on the spot where she thought she'd seen her sister disappear, she sprang to the edge, ready to follow, only to be stopped by an arm like an iron band around her middle.

"Let me go! Buffy!" She beat at the arm and kicked wildly, and when the arm only tightened, she threw her head backwards. The resultant bash and crunch of her captor's face left her woozy, but the arm dropped and she flung herself forward. Dawn felt gravity take hold of her as she sailed over the edge, and then something snagged her hair and she slammed backward into a wall of sharp, broken pavement and rocks.

"Buffy!" she shrieked.

"Knock it off, kid," Faith said, her voice thick and congested.

"Buffy. Buffy is down there. Let me go or I'll kill you!"

Faith hauled her up by her hair and dropped her on the ground, none too gently. Dawn blinked against the pain. Willow and Xander's concerned faces swam over her.

"Dawnie," Willow said gently. "Buffy didn't make it out –"

"She did. I saw her, she was here, on top of the bus, and then she slid off. Right –" She flung her arm and pointed. "She's down there. It's not that – we can find her."

Willow and Xander looked out at the vast, groaning crater, then at each other, their expressions troubled and unsure. To the side, Faith hawked and spat. She cupped her bleeding nose and shook her head.

Why were they doing this? Just giving up?

Dawn crawled to the edge, knocking loose an avalanche of debris that she could hear rocketing down the slope long after it was out of sight. "She's down there. She's down there, maybe hurt and bleeding, and I am going to find her. So either help me." She pushed herself up, and glared into their concerned faces. "Or get. The. Fuck. Out of my way."

"We're not saying no," Xander said, hands up in a conciliatory gesture. The ground rumbled, and he threw his arms out to keep his balance. "If there's any chance, you know I'm the first one down there. But we gotta be smart about this. If you die trying to save her –"

Buffy will kill us.

She'll resurrect you and kill you all over again.

It'll kill her. If she's still alive.

Take your pick, Xander's unfinished sentence seemed to say.

Dawn grimaced. "Fine. Get ropes. And water –"

"We don't have ropes or water," Faith said. "What we do have is a busload of injured and dying girls. And Robin's not doing so hot either. Some of those girls are still alive, for the moment, but won't be for long. We need to get them to a hospital, pronto, not go running off on some wild goose chase."

Dawn rounded on her. "I know you don't care about my sister. You'd be more than happy to leave her for dead." She jabbed her finger towards the bus. "Get out of here. We don't need you anyway."

A warm hand fell on her shoulder. "Dawn," Giles said, the reproof evident underneath his mild, restrained tone.

"Buffy," she said. "She –"

"I heard. And we will search for her," he said with a determined look. "As Xander said, if there is any chance… The others are correct, however. A few moments of planning will save us much heartache. Somebody will need to take the injured on to the hospital while we search. Faith?"

To Dawn's surprise, Faith shook her head. "I'm going down. Only someone with Slayer strength is going to be able to navigate that shithole, 'specially with no ropes or climbing gear." Off Dawn's look she added, "Me and big sis ain't never gonna be besties, kid. But that doesn't mean I won't be first in line if she needs me."

Touching, Dawn thought snidely, but now wasn't the time to be questioning the other Slayer's newfound loyalty. "What supplies do we have?"

"I'll go have a look-see," said Xander. "Gather up whoever and whatever might be useful, and send the others on their way."

"I'll help," Faith said.

Dawn turned to Willow. "What about a locator spell? I've got..." She rooted through her pockets, then pulled out an dangly blue earring with a triumphant flourish. "Buffy's earring."

Willow reached for it, but her expression was less than promising. "I'll try my best. But I'm pretty tapped out, not to mention the shockwaves of badness that are rolling up out of the Hellmouth. I have a feeling they're going to interfere with any spells I try to cast."

The color drained from Giles' face. "The Hellmouth is still active? I rather thought – after –"

"Death throes," Willow said. The ground convulsed again, and she shuddered. "I can feel it dying. It's fainter out here, this far away, but…"

Giles surveyed the crater, his expression thoughtful. "The Hellmouth must've collapsed once the First was defeated. Or perhaps that amulet…"

"Spike…" Dawn breathed, her eyes stinging with sudden tears. Buffy was in definite trouble, but at least she'd made it part way out of the Hellmouth. There'd been no sign of Spike. Was it possible he was still alive, but trapped? If it turned out Willow could work her mojo, she'd insist they search for the vampire next.

Buffy would want that. Even if… no matter what, she'd want them to look for anyone else they might have left behind in their frantic escape. She'd probably insist on the gang searching for any other survivors first, before her, Dawn thought with a watery smile. But you're not here, so too bad. You're top priority.

The bus rumbled away, and Xander and Faith rejoined the group lining the rim of what used to be their hometown, along with Kennedy.

"Found this under a seat," Faith said, dropping a length of cable onto the ground. Xander added the depleted school bus first aid kit, a blood-stained blanket, and a bottle of Gatorade to the pile.

"It's not rope, but we can use it to lower people down. Or pull them up," Faith said, nudging the cable with her toe. She turned to peer over the edge. The ground juddered with an aftershock, and she took a steadying step backwards before leaning over again. "Which way are we headed?"

"Willow's going to try a locator spell," Dawn said.

Willow folded her legs and sat, eyes closed and fingertips resting lightly on the ground. "Giles," she said after several tense seconds. "I need you."

Giles joined her on the ground and took her hands. Fists clenched, Dawn silently added her own force of will to Willow's low chant.

When the earring began to rise, spinning slowly in a jerky circle, she held her breath. The blue beads glowed with an otherworldly light, and Dawn clenched her fists tighter.

The earth shook, and the earring slammed to the ground with a pop, wisps of smoke curling upward. More debris tumbled into the crater. Willow's head slumped. "Can't," she rasped. "Maybe… maybe in a bit."

"Looks like we're up," Faith said with a nod to Kennedy. She slung the cable over her shoulder and turned to Dawn. "Point us in the right direction, small fry."

Stomach roiling, Dawn picked her way back to the jutting overhang of asphalt and gave in to the nightmare vision of Buffy pinwheeling into the widening maw. She let it loop through her mind while she tried to match the disappearing landmarks of her vision to the devastation below.

"There." She pointed to a spot that, had the ground beneath it not caved away, would have been no more than a ten minute walk. The twisted remnants of several old building just to the left of where she'd pointed shifted and slithered deeper into the earth. Listening to the creaks and thumps of the still settling crater that had replaced her hometown, Dawn knew it would likely take closer to ten hours for Faith and Kennedy to reach the same spot, even with Slayer strength and speed.

If they could reach it at all.

Buffy had made it out of the high school and to the bus despite impossible odds. Dawn could only pray that same faith that had already bought her a miracle was strong enough for two in one day.

 

*******

 

Static crackle from the walkie-talkie Kennedy had dropped in her lap hours earlier jerked Dawn awake. She wiped the crusted spit from the corner of her mouth and croaked out, "Hello? Kennedy?"

"Are we still going in the right direction?" came the tinny reply.

Dawn shuffled to the edge, searching for the faint glow of flashlight that marked the Slayers' location deep within the darkened pit below. "I – I think so."

Between the lack of light necessary to pinpoint landmarks and the amount of time that had passed, Dawn wasn't sure of anything anymore. Faith and Kennedy's original attempts to climb down into the crater had been unsuccessful. The ground had been too unstable, and they'd had to give up.

Dawn had refused to listen to reason. Her obstinate solo rescue attempt after the others had abandoned the effort had lasted all of a half hour, until she'd sprained her ankle and had to be hauled back to the rim by a very pissed off Faith.

After that, the small group had set up a makeshift camp under the old blanket and shared around the single bottle of Gatorade, waiting for the backlash from the Hellmouth to die out so Willow could perform the locator spell.

Three days later, they were still waiting.

Andrew had returned with the bus several hours later, bringing food and water, and more gear. Soon after, there'd been an attempt to locate Buffy with a rented helicopter, but it had failed. Dawn couldn't quite recall what she'd done when the others had suggested the helicopter pilot turn back, but she was fairly certain she was better off not remembering.

For the next two days, they'd camped out on the side of the road, until the shifting rubble had somewhat stabilized and Faith had decreed it safe enough for another attempt. The others had occupied themselves during the wait with various excursions to the next town over to gather more supplies and check on Robin and the girls in the hospital, but Dawn hadn't been able to bear the thought of leaving, no matter how pointless her vigil. Xander had suggested she go with Andrew and try to get some sleep at a motel that first night, but after her emphatic and explicit response, nobody had dared suggest anything similar since.

"Hey! Hey! Guys –"

Dawn turned. Willow, hunched beside an electric lantern, was staring intently at a map of Sunnydale spread out on the ground.

Limping as quickly as she could, she hurried to join the small group that had congregated around the witch.

"It almost worked!" Willow gestured to the diffuse, twinkling fairy lights hovering over the map. "Soon, Dawnie. Not yet, but soon. Another few hours, maybe?"

Dawn collapsed to the ground, relief and hope making her head spin. "Oh God."

Xander knelt beside her, and she buried her head in his shoulder. The warm comfort of strong arms surrounded her, and it was a long time before she realized the shushing, soothing noises he was making were aimed at her.

She dried her eyes on his shirtsleeves, but felt too limp and wrung out to move out of his embrace. As the sister of the Slayer, and a magical Key hunted by a crazed Hellgod, Dawn had been in her share of hopeless situations. But she'd never felt so lost, so useless and helpless, as she had these last few days.

If it had been the other way around, Buffy would have saved her by now. Her sister would have stopped at nothing.

And Dawn had failed her.

Still buried in Xander's arms, face half-hidden by the hair plastered to her tear-stained face, she heard herself whisper into the heavy silence, "But what if we're too late?"

Giles sighed, and Dawn could hear the soft rustling that meant he was polishing his lenses. "Buffy is the strongest Slayer – strongest person – I have ever met. If anybody could have survived…"

"We'll find her." There was no hesitation in Xander's voice. "Between Willow's witchy mojo and our Slayer-powered rescue squad, it's only a matter of time."

Willow reached for her hand. "Soon, okay? I know it's hard to wait. Not being able to do something is the worst."

Dawn nodded, and the group fell silent once more. Somewhere on the far side of Sunnydale, car lights flared, small pinpricks of light shining through the darkness.

"Think they found anything?" Xander said, returning to a topic of conversation that had occupied their waiting hours over the past few days. A number of cars, emergency vehicles, and trucks had approached the crater from various directions since the collapse. There had even been the occasional flyovers from news helicopters and other small aircraft. On their own road to nowhere, they'd had a few looky-loos, and a parade of rescue workers who had determined the conditions too dangerous to do any rescuing, much to their dismay.

The lack of visitors worried about friends and family had puzzled them for a while, until Faith had pointed out that anybody with good sense – in other words, everybody but their ragtag army – had abandoned Sunnydale days earlier.

Dawn stared at the receding taillights, until she couldn't see them anymore. "Do you think there's anybody else alive down there? Besides Buffy?"

Her head rose and fell with Xander's heavy exhalation. "Most everybody else's… passing… is accounted for," he reminded her.

When Andrew had returned with the bus and supplies, he'd spoken of Anya's final minutes. Dawn had already known, somewhere deep inside, that Anya was gone. She suspected Xander had too, but he'd still taken it hard. They all had.

Between Faith and Kennedy, the whereabouts of all the Potentials, dead or alive, had been verified.

Other than Buffy, the only unknown was Spike. Willow had promised to try a locator spell once they were working again, but after Faith had described the effects of the amulet, Dawn had had to accept that he probably hadn't survived. The only person they had any chance of rescuing was Buffy.

Dawn closed her eyes and sent up another silent prayer for her sister's life.

Don't take her away from me again. I can't lose her. Not again.

The walkie-talkie crackled into life.

"We found something," Faith said. "It looks like part of Buffy's jacket."

Dawn's fingers turned numb. The radio slipped out of her grasp and clattered to the ground.

Giles retrieved it. "Are you certain?"

"No," Faith said, and Dawn had to bite the inside of her cheek to hold back the screams bubbling up from deep inside. "All we've got is a bloody bit of fabric that was caught on a piece of rebar. But if it is part of her jacket, it means we're on the right track. You know? We're going to look around, see if we can find anything else."

"Very good. Er – copy."

After that, the sitting and waiting seemed even more interminable. Dawn paced the edges of their camp, hobbling back and forth while she chewed her knuckles and resisted the urge to pester Faith and Kennedy for continuous updates. The Slayers would let them know when – if – they found something.

Hold on, Buffy, she thought. Just hold on. We're coming for you.

 

Buffy by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Thanks for the reviews!  Speculation and comments are definitely encouraged.

 

Buffy

 

 

Pain.

For a long, long time, all she knew was pain. Misery. Eventually, the nebulous, all-consuming agony resolved into more discrete aches. An arm that throbbed rhythmically, in multiple locations. A dull twinge in her right hip, and a sharp, stabbing pain in her left thigh. Scrapes that burned, brittle things poking into her tender skin. An unscratchable itch in her gut. And a splitting headache so intense, once she became aware of it she had no choice but to vomit, thin bile trickling down her cheek when she couldn't find the strength to roll to her side.

Let me die.

She might have, at least for a little while. She couldn't say. Time passed, marked by drastic changes in temperature: frigid cold, followed by intense heat. Eyes crusted shut, she could only guess it meant day had followed night. When the temperature dropped once more, the constant groans and shrieks surrounding her grew louder, along with the whistling of the wind. She shivered uncontrollably, teeth chattering, head pounding.

Sometimes there were voices. They called to her, but disappeared before she could answer.

She woke, tongue so swollen she could hardly swallow. Her tears of bitter disappointment at still being alive didn't make it any easier to breathe, so she tried not breathing. It didn't work.

Hold on. I'm coming. The words pounded through her skull. Can you hear me? Don't move.

I'm not going anywhere, she thought. Be quiet and let me die.

The voice was louder now. Insistent. "Hold on. I'm almost there."

Something nearby fell with a thump. She moaned as the impact shuddered its way through her body.

"It's okay. Don't move, I'll be there in a minute."

A moment later, a hand cupped her head, tilting it, and cool water trickled into her mouth. She choked. The water stopped, then started again, a few drops at a time.

"You're going to be okay. I'm going to try to move you, so you're more comfortable." A pause, and then, "Can you move your feet?"

She couldn't quite remember how to make her body obey her commands. She focused all her concentration on the not-so-simple task. The attempt left her gasping and shaking, and she had no idea if she'd even managed it in the end.

"Okay, okay. You can stop now. Relax."

The voice muttered on for a while, too low for her to understand. She drifted off, floating in a haze of pain, only to be jerked back to consciousness as her body was moved. She screamed, and screamed again when she was lowered back to the ground.

"I know, I know. Shhhh. It'll be better in a minute. I had to get you off those rocks, okay? The blanket will be more comfortable. Okay, now open up. This will help."

A bitter, foul liquid trickled down her throat. She spluttered and choked. The voice talked her through several more doses, hands smoothing her hair back from her forehead, and then the pain receded.

 

********

 

"Where am I?"

"You're safe. Can you open your eyes?"

She managed to crack open one eye, then promptly shut it against the too-bright light.

"Here. Try again."

This time, the light was dimmer. She could see a lantern glowing nearby, and darkness beyond. "Where am I?" she repeated.

"There was an accident. You… fell. I'm going to get you out of here."

She turned her head towards the speaker. The face was blurry, but judging from the timber of his voice, male. His hair appeared brown in the dim light. "Who are you?" She frowned. It hurt, so she stopped. "Scratch that. Who am I?"

"You don't remember?"

Duh, she didn't bother saying. Sarcasm took too much energy just now.

"Buffy. Your name is Buffy Summers."

"No, really."

He chuckled. "Really. I had nothing to do with it, I promise."

"Buffy," she tried. It didn't feel right. But it didn't feel wrong, either. She let it go, for now. "And who are you?"

The man hesitated. "You sure you don't remember anything?"

Buffy closed her eyes. Various bits of random information made themselves available – six times two is twelve; the capitol of California is Sacramento; the supermarket is on Oakridge Drive – but the who and what of her life remained a blank. She started to shake her head, then thought better of it and croaked out a no instead.

"My name… my name is Rupert Giles. I'm your Watcher."

"Watcher?" It didn't ring a bell.

"Your… guardian, after a fashion. We work together."

"Oh." She put that aside as well. "What happened? To me?"

Rupert offered her a drink. When she'd managed to swallow a little, he said, "Sunnydale – that's where you live – had a cave-in. Most of the town collapsed. You were caught in the collapse." He took her hand. "And here I am, to save you."

Buffy mulled that over, trying to make it fit. "Are there other injured people? My… family?"

"The scientists had advance warning. Most everybody got out ahead of time. You had to stay behind for… work. You cut it a little too close."

She had the feeling he wasn't telling her everything, but couldn't summon the energy to press for answers. "How are we getting out of here?" She tried wiggling her toes again. They obeyed, but it hurt like hell. All her other aches and pains took advantage of the moment to make themselves known, the sharp pain in her thigh foremost among them, and she moaned. "Something tells me I won't be walking anytime soon."

"I think you'll be surprised," Rupert said. "Get some more rest. I guarantee you'll be up and about sooner than you think."

He encouraged her to eat, small bites of an energy bar that tasted like sawdust but helped quell the hunger, and then gave more of the bitter liquid to swallow. "Sleep now," he said, and she did.

 

*******

 

Buffy had lost track of how many times she'd fallen into a drugged sleep, but when she opened her eyes this time, it was with minimal effort.

The man – Rupert – was perched on a nearby rock, sorting through a large rucksack. She took a moment to study him, trying to jog her memory. The breeze ruffled his somewhat shaggy blond-brown hair, and he sported several days' worth of stubble. The rugged look suited him, and went well with the crew shirt, jeans, and sturdy hiking boots combination he had going on. He looked older than her – or so she thought, since she couldn't quite remember her age. He'd called himself her guardian, so he had to be older. Didn't he?

She closed her eyes and focused inward, but nothing new came to her. Panic welled, white-hot and ready to swallow her whole. Buffy took a shaky breath and forced it down. She'd already been there, done that, and had nothing helpful to show for it. She sat up carefully, mindful of the splints on her arm. "I'd kill for a shower."

Rupert chuckled. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty." He slid off the rock, bringing a water bottle and an energy bar.

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "And real food. If I never see another of those disgusting things again, it will be too soon."

"I couldn't agree more. I think I hear a cheeseburger calling your name. But…" He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb, toward the lack-of-trail he'd pointed out earlier as their way out of there. "You're going to have to move your butt, young lady. No more lazing around."

She pushed herself to her feet, groaning out her disapproval for his plan. "I don't know why I put up with you."

"Because I'm a charming bastard. And I'm your rescuer." Rupert held out a hand to steady her. "How you doing?"

"I think I'll live." She squared her shoulders and took a few tentative steps. Realizing that it wasn't as painful as she'd feared, Buffy let out a surprised laugh. She scrambled up over the rock overhang that had been their shelter, and peered back down at Rupert. "What's taking so long, slow poke?"

"Ah, the impetuousness of youth," he said, mouth quirked into a half-smile, then shouldered the rucksack and clambered to her side.

Buffy turned and began to carefully pick her way across the ruined landscape. "You promised to fill me in on what happened here. And tell me more about my life." With Rupert's assurances that it was only temporary, she'd moved from panic over her apparent amnesia into an uneasy acceptance, the demands of her broken body more pressing than those of her broken mind. But now that the overwhelming pain had receded to something manageable, something that didn't eclipse all other thought, the giant black hole of her past was demanding answers once more.

"It's a story, all right. Let's begin with the fun part. Do you believe in vampires?"

"Vampires! No, everybody knows vampires aren't real. Wait." She glared over her shoulder at Rupert. "Is this a trick question? One of those things I should know – vampires are real – and forgot?"

He laughed. "You got me. Most people think vampires are a myth, but a select few know the truth. Vampires – and werewolves and witches and a whole lot more – are real."

"And I'm one of those select few?" she said doubtfully. Rupert's amused expression held, but despite the wry grin, he seemed sincere. Buffy decided to play along. "Great. How did I get to be lucky enough to be one of the chosen ones?"

"Because, Buffy. You are the Chosen One."

Hands on hips, she came to a full stop, in order to glare at him more effectively.

He stopped too. "There's even a spiel: Into every generation, there is a Chosen One. One girl in all the world. She alone will wield the strength and skill to stand against the vampires, etc., etc. She is the Slayer."

"Slayer? One girl in all the world? Okay, now I know you're full of shit. Ha ha, let's make fun of the poor, helpless amnesiac. Asshole," she added under her breath. Tears threatened, barely-repressed hysteria slithering just under the surface of her enforced calm. Buffy tightened her fists, eyes narrowing to slits as she studied the stranger who'd rescued her.

What did she know about this Rupert, really? He'd saved her life, which earned him the majorest of points, but didn't guarantee he was truthful. Or sane.

"Trust me, Buffy. You're far from helpless." He'd climbed to stand beside her, and his intense gaze held hers.

Whoa. Blue. Blue eyes.

"You're stronger than other people. Faster. More agile. Think about how quickly you recovered – believe me, that's not the norm for the rest of the poor saps out there."

Buffy shook her head, still convinced he was screwing with her. "You've been super nice, taking care of me and all, so don't think I'm ungrateful. But why should I believe you? I don't remember anything past a few days ago, so the only person I have to compare myself to is you. And I don't seem to be leaving you in the dust, Rupert."

"As your Watcher –"

"There's that word again. Watcher. What the hell does that mean?"

"It's just a title. It means I watch over you. Train you, guide you, that sort of thing. But being a Watcher comes with perks of its own. I have to be able to keep up with you if I'm going to train you."

With a frustrated sigh, she recommenced picking her way over the twisted remnants of a building. Screwing with her or not, she was far from one hundred percent, and Rupert was her only help out of this crater. She had no choice but to trust him. For now. Besides, other than making her wonder which one of them was the bigger candidate for the cuckoo's nest, he'd done nothing to set her alarm bells ringing. It made zero sense to worry he'd saved her life for unknown nefarious purposes. "So you say. But, Rupert –"

"Giles."

"Huh?"

"Giles. You call me Giles. Most everybody does."

"Giles, fine. You really expect me to believe that not only are there vampires, but I'm some sort of superhero destined to fight them? And why me? Is this something I signed up for, because I have to say, non-amnesia me seems to have made a pretty crappy career choice if almost dying in a crater is where it got me."

"Oh, you're a superhero, all right. One of the best ever, Buffy."

She paused, waiting for him to catch up so he could boost her up. "Gee, thanks. I think."

"But no, you didn't pick this path. It was chosen for you."

Giles laced his fingers together, and she placed one foot into his cupped hands. "Hence the Chosen One?" she said as he raised her up.

"You got it."

Buffy scrambled over the edge, then reached down and grasped Giles' arm and tugged him up. "Lucky me."

"Hey. You are lucky. Most people go through life with no idea who they are. They spend their short, pathetic lives wondering why they were put on this planet. Wondering what their purpose is. You don't have to."

That brought her up short. She took a drink while she mulled over his words, the underlying fervency beginning to win her over despite her doubts. He believed, that much was clear. "But I didn't choose that purpose. If you're telling me the truth – 'cause I haven't decided to believe you yet – and that really is my purpose. But why don't I get a say in my own life? Doesn't seem fair."

Giles laughed. It was a dry, dark sound. "Aren't many get to choose their lot in life. We're all cast into the world with our burdens to bear. Your choice comes after – what you do with the lot you're given."

Huh. Well, if he really was her Watcher guy, Buffy could see why. He had good answers – and he didn't even have to think about them. Of course, presuming his version of This is Your Life was real, she'd probably asked him all the same questions a hundred times before.

Too bad his answers didn't make her feel any better. Maybe it was the amnesia talking, but Buffy didn't feel any more satisfied now that she knew her supposed Purpose In Life.

When they reached a stone ledge that seemed like a good resting spot, Buffy plunked herself down with a groan. "Super healing or not, I need a break. These boots? Not the hiking kind." She eyed Giles' sturdy boots. "Don't suppose you want to trade?"

"Gee, if only I fit into a size tiny."

While they rested, Buffy took advantage of their new, higher elevation to survey the crater. It stretched out ahead of them for miles in every direction. The wind whistled through it, bringing with it the sounds of settling rock and protesting wreckage. A helicopter droned overhead, somewhere on the far side of the ex-town. Besides herself and Giles, Buffy couldn't see or hear any other signs of life. The sudden realization made her shiver.

"You said I stayed behind for my work. Slaying? What was so important I couldn't abandon ship with the rest of the town?"

Giles passed her an energy bar. "I didn't give you the full story before."

"I figured."

"Vampires are a lot like people –"

"With a nasty blood habit?"

He laughed. "And an inconvenient sun allergy. But most are schmucks just trying to find their next meal. Others are more ambitious. Vampires can live a long time – in theory, forever. The smart ones, the ambitious ones, well, they're just like anybody else. They want power. With death and destruction on the side."

"Fun."

"You said it. There's one vamp in particular been gunning for power in these parts. And this –" He flung his arm out. "All this is his doing. He's the reason your hometown is nothing more than smoke and ash."

"A vampire did this?"

"Oh yes." Mouth set in a grim line, Giles' intense blue eyes blazed with fury. "His name is Angelus. And it's our duty to destroy him."

 

Giles by Baphrosia

 

Giles

 

 

He'd fallen back asleep when the update came, sometime in the early morning hours.

Crackle. Hiss. "Anybody there? Hello?"

"Hello, yes," Giles said, grabbing up the walkie-talkie from their makeshift strategy table. "Faith?"

"We found the scythe. The blade. The handle's missing, but there's no mistake."

The news hit him like a punch to the gut, leaving him incapable of protest when Dawn sprang to her feet and snatched the two-way radio away from him.

"And Buffy? Any sign of her?" she asked, hurrying to the lip of the crater.

"Not yet."

"I can't see you. Where are you? Light a flare."

A green light bloomed far below, just as he caught up to Dawn. Giles squinted, but the rhythmic back and forth of the pale green light was all he could make out in the twisted landscape.

He took the radio back. "And how are you doing, Faith? Are you and Kennedy all right?"

"Five by five, G. Plenty of food and water, no injuries. It's creepy as fuck down here, though. Like a graveyard, and not the good kind." There was a brief pause. "A couple hours ago, it sounded like there were voices. People talking. That's how we found the scythe, actually. We thought it might be Buffy, and headed that way."

Again, his breath left him. I'm getting too old for this, he thought. I can't bear it any more. And wasn't that why he'd fled for England last year, and only returned under threat of apocalypse?

How many more times could he be asked to endure this torment? How many more times could he bear waiting to find out whether the woman he loved like a daughter had survived yet another battle with the forces of evil, and not have his heart give out from the strain? A piece of his soul died each time, and perhaps all of him had when Buffy had leapt to her death to save the world. He hadn't been able to love her the same way since, not now that he knew the inevitable agony that awaited him a second time.

Dawn shook his arm. "They heard Buffy? Is Buffy okay?"

"Did the voices – was one of them Buffy's?" he croaked into the two-way.

"Hard to say. Most of the noises down here end up being rats, or buildings settling. I can't tell you how many times we thought we heard somebody only to find nada."

"Unless you count demons," Kennedy said. "We've run into –"

"Shutup, you'll panic the kid," Faith hissed.

Giles tried to turn away, but Dawn was too fast for him. She'd wrapper her hand around his, and brought the two-way to her mouth. "Demons? What about demons? If Buffy's hurt she won't be able to –"

"Don't worry. All we saw was some little troll thing that was more scared of us than Andrew would be of it. It looked harmless. Look, we know we've gotta be close. We're gonna keep looking, and we'll let you know the minute we find something. How's Willow doing with the locator spell?"

Willow, who'd joined them, held her hand out for the walkie-talkie. When Dawn handed it to her, she depressed the button and said, "It's working for those of us up here on the rim. I can find each of us every time. You guys aren't showing up on the map yet, but I figure any minute now."

"Copy that, Big Red. Give us a buzz when we do."

Beside him, the two girls, buoyed by the news, conversed animatedly, a rapid back and forth of 'what if's' and high-pitched exclamations that made the dull ache behind his eyes throb mercilessly. Giles bit back the invective on the tip of his tongue, knowing it was lack of sleep, and a certain amount of remorse, making him so irritable.

He hadn't gone a half dozen steps when he was waylaid by Xander, who stopped him with a hand to the forearm and a low, "Giles, how long can a person go without water? Because it's been four days now, and if we don't find Buffy soon…"

However close they'd once been, Giles had been absent from the children's day-to-day lives for close to two years now. He no longer recalled how to do this, how to be their mentor and father figure. The absolute trust they'd placed in him these past few days, the way they looked to him to solve their problems, like the teenagers they once were, was more than he could bear.

Especially in light of the recent unpleasantness with Buffy, whose opinion mattered most to him. She'd made it clear he no longer held that esteemed position in her life by literally and figuratively slamming the door in his face. All over that – vampire.

That cursed nuisance who'd clouded her judgment. And probably gotten her killed, or at least grievously injured, if what Faith had told him was correct. Buffy had remained behind out of concern for the foul creature, rather than use good sense and evacuate with the others. They'd had to leave her behind, or risk perishing themselves.

Xander's hand tightened around his forearm, and he shook off the fruitless train of thoughts. If recent history served, he would spend enough time brooding over it when sleep next eluded him.

What had Xander asked? Oh. Yes.

"For the average human, four to five days without water would likely result in fatality," he said. "But Buffy is far from average, Xander. We shall have to hope her remarkable constitution will allow her to survive for much longer."

"And we'll find her before then."

Giles could hear the unspoken request for reassurance in the boy's voice. He held back his sigh, and dredged up the energy necessary to respond with the confidence the younger man needed to hear. "I am certain of it."

Xander nodded and moved away. A helicopter droned in the distance, pitch rising and falling as it swooped in and out of the crater, searching for survivors. Giles watched it for a time, wondering if they were searching for someone in particular, or simply searching.

They'd rented a helicopter themselves, that first day, when it had become clear nobody would be capable of descending into the remains of Sunnydale in the immediate future. Giles had paid for the endeavor but remained on the ground, allowing those with better eyesight to accompany the pilot.

Under other circumstances, he suspected the youngsters might have rather enjoyed themselves. Xander had made a crack about his military prowess before running bent double for the helicopter, despite the fact that the blades weren't even spinning. The girls had pressed their faces to the windows, eyes wide with excitement when the helicopter had lifted off. The children, full of hope, had waved goodbye to him, only to return disappointed hours later.

Dawn had been inconsolable.

Not for the first time in the past few days, he thought wistfully of Riley and the Initiative, aware of the irony even as he did so. But the Initiative, no matter how he despised them, might have succeeded where he had failed. It was perhaps one of the few instances in which the military's technology and resources would be far more useful than the arcane and mystical methods upon which their small group typically relied.

He hadn't the foggiest how to contact the soldier, however, and Giles did not trust a matter of such delicacy to the military in general. No, they were on their own. They hadn't even the Council to rely upon.

But when had they ever, truly? They'd always been on their own, relying upon one another as they were now, and mostly successfully at that.

They would prevail again, he told himself.

He almost believed it, too.

 

*******

 

It was the moment of truth.

Willow had performed the locator spell three times now without a hitch, pinpointing Faith and Kennedy's exact location each time. For the past eighteen hours, the two Slayers had searched in ever-widening circles from where they'd found the scythe, without luck. It had been almost five days since the collapse of Sunnydale, five days since Buffy had disappeared. Despite his reassurances to Xander, Giles knew time was running out. A successful locator spell was crucial to ensuring her survival.

The group gathered around Willow held their collective breath as she began the spell. The witch finished her incantation, and then there was a flash of light and a puff of smoke.

Willow stared at the parchment in front of her.

"What is it?" Dawn said. "Where's Buffy?"

"I must've messed up…" Willow scowled. "Let me do it again."

The others stepped back, instinctively giving her space. Willow repeated the proceedings, and was again disappointed with the outcome.

Giles refused to give voice to the obvious implications of the spell's failure. Admittance was tantamount to acceptance. "Perhaps the other spell?"

"But that one isn't as precise," Willow said. She met Giles' eyes, and understanding flashed between them. "You're right; I can at least get them headed in the right direction."

Dawn brought her the necessary ingredients, and Willow began again. Using the spell, she located first Faith, then Kennedy. "Okay, Buffy," she muttered. "Where are you?"

"It'll work this time," Dawn said, her tone far more confident than Giles would've thought possible. "I didn't let her say goodbye. Buffy said goodbye the other time – when she – but I didn't let her say it this time. So it has to work."

Giles stifled a cry, fists clenched, teeth clamped to the inside of his cheek. Dawn's unwavering faith, her childish but tempting logic, was like a lance to his heart. He hadn't said goodbye either. Nor had they reconciled. Not properly.

But he would. He would make amends the moment they found her.

Willow repeated the process a third time. When the incantation was complete, she let out a hiss of frustration.

"Willow?" Dawn said, her eyes huge.

"I – I don't know what's wrong, Dawnie. The spell says – okay, remember that time when I came back from England, and I was invisible to you guys? And you were all invisible to me? I did a locator spell on you then, and it said…"

"Said what?"

"Well, it said you didn't exist. Kinda like now. According to this..."

"Buffy doesn't exist," Giles finished. He was surprised at how steady his voice sounded. His insides were roiling, his breakfast close to ejecting itself. He supposed Xander would say he had his British on.

Dawn blanched. "Doesn't exist as in a magical 'oops the Hellmouth made her invisible'? Or doesn't exist as in…"

Giles didn't answer. Nobody did. He opened his mouth, but couldn't force the words out.

Willow's eventual response was a distant buzzing in his ear, her words nothing more than nonsense to him. Giles found himself at the edge of the crater, peering down into it as though he could discern where his Slayer was, even from this distance.

Somewhere behind him, Dawn's desperate voice rose in pitch and volume with each hysterical word.

This is it, he thought to himself. It's over. She's gone.

When Giles realized the feeling coursing through him was predominantly relief, he fell to his knees and vomited.

 

Spike by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Some familiarity with "Angel: the Series" will help, since that's where Spike went after Sunnydale, and I'll be sticking to canon AtS S5 for a bit. 

 

Spike

 

 

It wasn't until weeks later that Spike understood what Angel had meant when he'd said, in that pissy, constipated voice of his, that Buffy had moved on and to drop it, already.

He'd assumed Angel had meant moved on from Spike, from Angel, from vampires and Hellmouths, from Slaying and sacrificing herself for the greater good. Between his shiny new soul and his deep, abiding love for the girl – the girl he'd died for just so as she could make this exact choice – Spike had accepted it and been happy for her.

Well, mostly happy. He was only human – or once human – after all. Dreams of a cozy crypt for two, complete with white picket fence, would probably never die, no matter how much time passed.

His assumption had been reinforced the few times he'd heard Buffy's name mentioned around Angel's minions. He'd thought their pinched faces and averted eyes were due to some sort of sympathy for the great wanker, now that Buffy had Moved On with her life and given up vampires for good. Some days, Spike even fooled himself into believing part of that sympathy was for him.

It was Fred who clued him in, albeit unintentionally.

"It just proves what I've been telling everybody," she said to him, after Pavayne was locked away.

"That I'm a handsome devil who brightens the place up?"

She smiled. "That you're worth saving."

Spike glanced away, and swallowed. Since the death of his mum – his real mum, not the monster he'd created – nobody but Buffy had ever suggested he was worth anything. Certainly not worth saving from hell. Most would send him there gladly. If his heart hadn't already belonged to the Slayer, he would've handed it to Fred then and there.

"Don't have it so bad, really," he said. "Plenty of room, good company. Even picked up a few new tricks..." He concentrated, and picked up her mug, showing off his new skills. "I guess there's worse things than being a ghost."

"Still." Fred laid her hand over his temporarily solid one. "You're my hero. Thank you."

He looked down at her hand on his, mouth dry. Lines of verse spun out in his head, each worse than the last. He had to draw on all his years of badassery to silence the gibbering poet. Setting down the mug, Spike shrugged and said, "Don't have much use for corporeality, anyhow, not with Buffy off enjoying her shiny new vampire-free existence."

Fred's sudden, keening sobs surprised him. He'd pegged ol' Freddles as the sentimental sort, but this seemed above and beyond, even for her. Spike chalked her tears up to some sort of pent-up reaction to almost dying. Humans tended to be funny about that sort of thing.

But then… a terrible suspicion dawned. He knew he wasn't always the brightest bulb in the box, but this... He replayed what Angel had told him the day he'd emerged from the amulet.

"Buffy! Is she –"

"She's moved on, Spike."

"Where – where is she?"

"Moved on. Now drop it."

"Wanna see her… wanna talk to her."

"That's going to be tough."

That's going to be tough? The asshole couldn't have come right out and said it?

Blissful, willful ignorance. It was his only excuse for not having recognized the sodding euphemism for what it was.

He'd had other concerns, and if Spike had thought, for even a moment, that his sacrifice in the Hellmouth had been in vain… Well, Pavayne would have won, hands down. Hell would have been preferable to this.

He didn't blame the minions for not clueing him in sooner. Other than Fred, and haunting Angel, he hadn't exactly been chummy with the lot of them. They'd all but ignored his ghostly ass. Who would have realized his misunderstanding, never mind set him right?

"Fred," he said carefully, when she'd wiped her eyes. "Buffy – when Angel said she'd moved on…"

"Oh, god. You didn't know." Her eyes filled with tears again. "I thought you knew."

"Knew what, exactly? In the interest of being clear."

Fred reached for his hand, but hers passed right through his. She winced. "After… Willow stopped by. Before they left for England. She told us… well, Angel really, but I was there too."

"Told you what, pet?"

"Buffy didn't make it out of Sunnydale."

If he'd had breath to lose, or a heart to cease beating, the terrible, agonizing pain he felt in his chest might've made more sense. But he was a ghost as well as a vampire, and double dammed.

"What happened?"

"I don't know. That's all Willow said. That Buffy didn't make it out of Sunnydale. Angel… he didn't ask for details."

Spike wanted to rage. He wanted to smash things, kill things, drink himself unconscious and never wake up. But he couldn't do any of that. He could only moan and groan about, useless and unpleasantly sober.

There was one outlet for his rage.

"Spike? Spike, are you okay? Wait, where are you…"

Fred's voice faded as he flew through the building, his insubstantiality an asset for once.

"What happened to Buffy?" Fueled by emotion, his fist connected with Angel's jaw with a satisfying crunch.

Angel staggered backwards. When he made to return the blow, his own punch met with nothing, and he stumbled before righting himself.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Eve, who'd stepped back when he'd appeared next to them in the hallway outside Pavayne's cell, cocked her head. "You didn't know?" she said. "And here I thought you were playing it cool. Hiding your sensitive nature under a mask of thuggish indifference. Either that, or you never really cared for the Slayer."

Spike spared her a look of withering contempt before rounding on Angel once more. "What happened, Angel? Please."

Angel stared at him, paler than usual, but said nothing.

Eve sighed. "If anyone should know, it's you. You were the last one to see her alive, after all."

"Get. Out. Of. Here." Spike accompanied his words with a growl and a flash of fang, painfully aware it was all the threat he could muster. With a small, tight smile, Eve shrugged and left.

"Angel, please," he said when the clickety-clack of her heels had faded. "Buffy. Is she really –?"

His stricken expression was all the confirmation Spike needed.

"What happened? How'd she –"

"I didn't ask. Does it matter now?" Angel turned away, broad shoulders bowed, and trudged down the hallway.

Spike floated after him. All the things he wanted to say – it does matter – she was fine – she made it out, I know she did – was it the amulet's fault? – it's your fault for leaving – it's my fault for not be faster, stronger – tangled up inside his mouth. Instead, he blurted, "You mean this," he gestured angrily at his insubstantial form, "all this was for nothing?"

"That's my boy," Angel said with a sneer. "Only worried about yourself."

"For fuck's sakes. You know that's not – the point was for her to live. For her to be free from all this shit."

Angel came to an abrupt halt. "Well, she is. Free. So, drop it." He strode away, fists clenched, leaving Spike to stare after him.

 

********

 

Spike's memory of the following weeks was fuzzy at best. He couldn't drink, but he could imagine himself drunk, and it was almost good enough. Reality could be bent to desire, and he desired oblivion.

He half-remembered Fred trying to get him to talk, and simply disappearing into walls to avoid her. Another time, Wesley might have approached him and asked him if he desired release. Spike had stared uncomprehendingly at the amulet in the man's hand before sinking through the floor and into the basement, where he had spend the rest of the day staring into Pavayne's unblinking, hate-filled eyes.

At least after the first time Buffy had… moved on… he'd had a purpose to see him through. Caring for Dawn, upholding his promise to Buffy, had kept him from sinking into the desolation and insanity that gripped him now. But even had he thought Dawn might want him around, he couldn't go to her. He was tied to Wolfram and Hart. To Angel.

"How can you sit there like nothing happened?" he raged at the man himself. "Sign your checks and make your deals, like she never even mattered? Like the light hasn't gone out of the world?"

"I swear to god, Spike, if you don't get out of my bedroom right now, I will have you exorcised. Some of us still have responsibilities, you know. Important matters – like saving the world from evil – to attend to bright and early tomorrow morning."

"I saved the world," Spike slurred, waving his conjured bottle of whiskey. "I saved it, and it didn't sodding matter one damn bit. The world could go to hell for all I care, so long as she was in it."

Angel swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat, head in his hands and elbows on his knees. "Yes, I'm sure that's what Buffy would have wanted. Some champion you are," he said with a shake of his head. "If only she could see you now."

"Well she can't, can she? That's the whole bloody point!"

"Just go, would you? Go have your breakdown somewhere else. Anywhere, so long as it's not here."

"Not until you admit you loved her."

With a heavy sigh, Angel said, "You'll go if I do?" When Spike nodded, he said in a low, pained voice, "I loved her. More than anything."

"Not good enough. I know you. You're holding it all inside, like a big, brooding lump of manpain. 'S not good for you, Angel. You have to let it out."

Angel raised his head and stared. "You want me to what, cry?"

"Yes!" Spike smiled for the first time in weeks. "Now you're getting it. You and me, we'll have a good cry. Together."

"You really have gone insane."

Spike patted the couch. "Come on, old man. You'll have to get your own bottle, though. This one's mine."

 

********

 

When Spike noticed Eve coming his way, he faded back into the wall, ersatz bottle of whiskey gripped tight in one fist.

"Don't let me interrupt your brooding," she said.

He reappeared with a growl. "Not brooding."

"Of course not." She nodded to Pavayne. "How's our friend doing today?"

Spike didn't answer.

Eve watched him watch Pavayne, and then she said, "Cheer up, hero. You beat him. Saved the girl and everything."

He huffed out a disdainful laugh. "Still ended up in hell."

"But she didn't." The way she said it, he knew she meant Buffy, not Fred. "You know that, right? I mean, from what I heard, she's probably happier now."

Spike turned his stare on Eve. He wondered if he could corporealize long enough to rip her throat out.

"Between the two of you, you saved the world, back in Sunnydale. Again."

"Don't give a piss about the world."

Eve cocked her head, studying him. "No? Not even the sister – what is her name – Dawn?"

"Dawn?" he croaked, blinking as the name penetrated his artificial intoxication. He'd refused to think about her, refused to think about any of them after realizing Buffy had died. He was in enough pain already. He couldn't handle wondering who else might not have made it.

"You saved her. She'll probably have a long and happy life, thanks to you. I'm sure Buffy would appreciate it."

Spike shook her words off. "I died to save Buffy," he said fiercely. "And I didn't. So sod off and quit trying to make me out to be some damn hero, 'cause I'm not."

Eve smiled. It almost looked genuine. "Deny it all you want, but you are a Champion. Just as much as Angel."

"Yeah? And where's the bloody reward for it? Stuck as a ghost, failed to save the woman I love, tied to my berk of a grandsire and this hellhole for all eternity. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll pass."

"Good deeds don't come with rewards, Spike. If they did, the world would have a whole lot more heroes."

"And again: I'll pass. What's it to you, anyhow?"

Eve shrugged. "Nothing, really. Maybe I just can't help but wonder what Buffy would think if she heard you talking this way. But you're right. It doesn't matter to me." She turned and walked away, and then stopped and looked back over her shoulder at him. "Oh, by the way. I heard you got some mail."

 

********

 

Spike watched the girl shimmy her way up the pole, his gaze fixated on her shapely ass with the focus of the truly plastered. He emptied his glass, and signaled for another.

What would Buffy think?

Why the bloody hell did everyone have to keep asking him that? Now that he was flesh and bones again, the world seemed even more determined for him to pull himself out of the gutter and get on with the business of unliving. Fat chance, when he could finally get properly blotto. He had a lot of drinking to catch up on.

What would Buffy think? the damned voice in his head repeated.

"She wouldn't think anything," Spike muttered. "The Slayer knew I was no hero."

The little voice offered up an image of Buffy placing the amulet in his hand, right after telling him it was meant to be worn by a Champion.

Spike shook his head. "Bollocks. Girl was desperate, is all. Working with what she had."

If you're no hero, why did you stay until the end?

The voice sounded disturbingly like his mother's. Spike tried to drown it out with the fresh glass of whiskey in front of him, but the voice was persistent.

You'd done enough. You could have left with her. But you stayed.

"Bugger off, you dozy bint."

And the cup. You fought for the cup. For the right to be the Powers' chosen Champion. You won. If you didn't care, why did you fight for it, William?

The glass shattered in his hand. Spike watched stupidly as the blood ran down his arm. The waitress appeared, cooing over him and asking him if he was all right. Her breasts jiggled in his face, distracting him from what little pain there was.

He slapped a Benjamin on the table, courtesy of Angel's wallet, and headed for the sewer entrance. On the way past the bar, he snatched whatever bottles were closest to hand, and pulled the cap off one with his teeth.

Change of scenery was what he needed.

Somewhere halfway back to Wolfram and Hart's basement, Spike changed his mind. He stalked down a disused smelling tunnel, until he found an empty and relatively clean nook, and settled in for some serious drinking.

What would Buffy think?

Spike tore the cap off the second bottle and guzzled it down without pausing for a breath. The alcohol finally silenced the voice in his head, but in its place came his own self-recriminations. Why the bloody hell had he let Eve goad him into going after the cup of perpetual stupidity in the first place? Why had he thought, for even a second, that he deserved it?

Buffy, handing him the amulet, flashed before his eyes once more. "I believe in you, Spike," she said in Fred's voice. "You're my hero."

"Bollocks." He upended the bottle, carefully sucking out the last dregs. "All bollocks," he muttered, and slumped over, eyes shut.

 

********

 

"Go on then," he says.

Buffy's face is frantic. "No, no. You've done enough. You could still –"

"No, you've beat them back. It's for me to do the cleanup."

Faith calls to her, but she doesn't leave. He needs her to leave. To be safe.

"Gotta move, lamb. I think it's fair to say school's out for bloody summer."

"Spike!"

She wants him to leave, to live. He can see it in her face, and he appreciates it.

But she chose him for this, to be her Champion, and he needs to justify her belief in him. Prove he is the man she thinks he is. She'd stood by his side, after all he'd done to her. Taken his side over the man she considers her father. Spike knows what that cost her. Once he would have reveled in it. Now -

"I mean it. I gotta do this –" He holds up a hand to stop her from taking the amulet from his neck herself.

He will stay. For her. To atone. To her.

She laces her fingers with his. Their hands catch fire. The pain is unbearable, but the feeling of her hand in his, bound together in this moment, bring unspeakable joy. His soul is afire with it, and he realizes now that he has to stay for himself as much as for her.

For the first time in his life, he knows he is doing the right thing. For the right reasons. And it holds more weight with his soul than Buffy's soft and sincere, "I love you."

"No you don't, but thanks for saying it," he says. Not because he doesn't believe her, but because he doesn't want to be tempted. What he is doing is bigger than both of them.

She leaves, and as Spike fades into nothingness, the idealistic man he once was claims his final thought.

"I could not love thee, dear, so much/ loved I not honor more."

 

********

 

He'd thought about taking off, now that he could. Going off to Europe, to help out with the Bit, if she'd have him. Or maybe hopping in one of Angel's cars and driving off into the sunset, to wander wherever the roads took him. But at the end of the day, it all seemed like too much effort. Spike had lived for Buffy for so long, and before her Dru, and before her his mother, that he had no idea what to do with himself now. With nobody to guide him, to mold him, he didn't know who he was.

Didn't care, either.

Maybe Sunshine would agree to be his new muse, he thought, and reached into his pocket to pay for another drink.

He paused when a fresh drink slid in front of him, and looked up to find a rhinestone cowboy smirking at him.

"Uh, yeah, thanks… but not really my type, Mary. So be a good lad and push off." When the bloke didn't leave, he added, "What are you gawking at?"

"A guy like you, whiling away his time in some cheesy downtown strip dive. Look like somebody who's feeling kinda lost."

Wanker thought to make easy prey of a fellow deep in his cups. Spike did his best to send the fellow on his way, cordial-like, but the tosser wouldn't take a hint. He'd resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to walk away if he wanted to be left in peace, this being a human establishment and less complacent about violence than demon haunts, when the bloke called him by name and asked him if he'd gotten any interesting mail lately.

The conversation got more dramatic after that. Spike stayed, but only because he wanted to know just who it was that had been jerking him around lately. And there was something vaguely familiar about this fellow, though Spike could swear he'd never laid eyes on him before.

The fellow – Doyle – tried to lay the hero trip on him. What was it with everybody trying to convince him of his worth lately? It was enough to make a poor vamp believe in destinies. Or conspiracies. Spike had had enough. The new Champion of the Powers, he wasn't. He got up with the intention of taking off and never looking back, when Doyle managed the right combination of words to bring him to heel once more.

"You don't have to believe me, but if a young girl gets murdered tonight and you didn't lift a finger to stop it, ask yourself… Can you live with that?"

Spike wanted to say yes and walk off without a backwards glance. Wanted it with all his undead heart.

What would Buffy think?

Fuck.

He went with Doyle. Just in case the wanker was telling the truth. And he saved the girl, or a girl, at any rate. Back alleys were filled with bimbos just waiting to become a late-night snack, as the century-plus murderer in him could attest.

Doyle talked at him some more, laying on the Champion thing a little thick for Spike's tastes. "You just helped a girl when there wasn't anything in it for you. That's not like the Spike I know."

You don't know me at all, asshole. "Oh, is that right? And what Spike is that?"

"The Spike that's only out for himself. The one who does good deeds to impress… women."

Spike whirled on him. How dare he use the memory of Buffy to – "You'd best watch your –"

"I'm just saying. You did good. From what I hear, Angel didn't save the girl on his first mission."

"What's Angel got to do with this?"

Doyle shrugged. "Well, nothing. Not anymore."

Spike eyed him suspiciously. He didn't trust this Doyle as far as Fred could throw him.

But on the other hand – being useful. Having a purpose. It was mighty tempting. He knew he needed a reason to keep on going on without Buffy, else he was going to walk out and meet the sunrise one of these days.

What would Buffy think?

"Say I believe you. How's this gonna work? 'Cause I don't fancy myself dogging your heels day and night, waiting on the chance of a message from above."

Doyle grinned and handed him a phone. "This here is all the bat signal you'll need. You do know how to use one of these, right?"

"Fuck you, you little twerp."

"Sorry, Mary, but you're not really my type," Doyle said with a smirk. He saluted and walked off.

Wanker, Spike thought, and sniffed. Doyle rounded the corner, and the familiar something that had been niggling at him came clear.

The man – or whatever he was – smelled vaguely familiar.

He smelled like Buffy.

 

********

 

Spike wasn't too happy to see Doyle again the next night, but it did give him the chance to do some surreptitious sniffing. Along with the time after that, and the time after that. But all he ever caught was a vague almost-Buffy scent, just enough to make his skin itch and his eyes water.

Whatever it was about Doyle's scent that reminded him of Buffy, it wasn't Buffy herself. Couldn't be, what with her being dead and all. Maybe the cowboy had a girl who used the same shampoo. Or maybe with Buffy on his mind so much – especially whenever he played at this hero gig – his mind was playing tricks on him.

Right now he had a different Slayer to focus on. A psycho slayer.

Anxious to get the intel he needed and be on his way again, Spike strode into the conference room of Wolfram and Hart, and -

"Spike?"

"Oh, for the love of –"

"Spike! It's you! It's really you!"

This little twat had made it out of Sunnydale? And was Rupert's top man? Bloody hell.

Spike endured Andrew as best he could, slumping with relief when the boy let him go and got on with his story.

After getting Angel's crew up to date on the history of Slayers – wanker – Andrew went on to explain how they'd changed the world back in good ol' SunnyD. "Six months ago, Buffy Summers, Vampyr Slayer extraordinaire…" Here, Andrew's eyes slid to Spike, and the boy nodded, one comrade to another. Spike blinked, eyes stinging, and nodded back, to his surprise. Bloody soul was making him soft in the head.

"... had her lesbian witch make with the beaucoup de magic. One light show later..."

Andrew went on and on. Kid still hadn't learned the art of brevity. After Spike had heard enough, he stood and said, "You corporates go ahead with your talky-talk. Anybody needs me, I'll be out doing Angel's job."

When Andrew found him later, out hunting for Dana, Spike heaved a sigh of annoyance. He let the little runt tag along, though he refused to admit it had anything to do with being happy to see a familiar face, and one that approved of him no less. One of the only ones who had approved of his feelings for Buffy, in a demented and somewhat disturbing, but still gratifying, way.

Andrew updated him on the rest of the Sunnydale gang without him having to ask. Spike was surprised to find he cared, only a little, mind, about what had happened to them all. He wondered how they were taking the loss of the leader for a second time.

"What's it smell like? Blood, I mean?" Andrew asked out of the blue.

"Oh…" He had to think. "Metallic, sorta. You ever taste a penny?"

"No. Wait… no."

"Smells like that." They'd walked on a bit before Spike got up the courage to ask, "So, the others… they cut up over Buffy?"

Andrew nodded glumly. "Yeah. Nobody says anything, but I think that's why everybody's scattered to the four corners. Too painful, you know?"

Spike knew. "And, uh… No talk of resurrection this time, right?"

He wanted Buffy back, god, how he wanted her back in this world. But he never wanted her to go through that kind of pain again. Never.

"Not that I've heard. But Mr. Giles expressly forbade it. Just in case, I guess." Andrew's response cut into Spike's thoughts, saving him from having to relive the guilt of how he'd made everything worse for her with his demands, of how selfish and destructive he'd been.

"Yeah. Smart of him. Who's got the Nibblet – I mean Dawn – then?"

"She went with Mr. Giles to England. She's in boarding school there." Andrew stopped, arms folded across his chest. "How come you didn't tell anyone you were alive?"

Spike shrugged. "What would be the point? Not like any of that lot would care. Good riddance to bad rubbish, and all."

"That's not… well… I care! You and me, we road tripped. Fought the First Evil side by side. We had a bond."

Bloody hell. Spike walked on before things could get any more awkward. "Sure," he said, throwing the kid a crumb. Apparently the soul made him incapable of crushing the boy's feelings any more than he could his head.

Andrew scurried to catch up to him. "Do you want me to tell the others? I could break it to them gently. I'm good at that sort of –"

"Don't bother. No need for any of them to feel obligated to pretend to care about yours truly."

"Got it. You're a loner. Playing it cucumber, as in 'cool as a'..."

"Just keep your mouth shut."

"No problem, brother. You're a troubled hero. Creature of the night. El creatro del noche."

Spike grimaced. The kid really didn't know when to shut up. "Please stop."

"Living by his own rules. Unafraid of anyone or anything…"

He began to run. Andrew had to huff and puff to keep up, but at least it shut him up. The exertion, which was nothing to Spike with his vampire physique, didn't stop the maelstrom of thoughts in his head. He was on the verge of asking Andrew if he knew any of the details of how Buffy had died when he smelled Dana's blood.

Fresh. Strong.

The other Slayer was close by.

He came to a sudden stop. Andrew crashed into him, asking, "What's wrong?"

"Blood. Smells different. Stronger."

"Like nickels?"

Ignoring Andrew, Spike took off, all his predatory senses focused on the hunt. He refused to think about how good it felt to be hunting a Slayer once more.

 

********

 

The pain – the pain was incredible. And the idea – he couldn't accept it. His hands, gone. Gone. And worse yet to come, no doubt.

Just let her kill you. Be easier.

Part of Spike wanted it, no question there, but another part of him had decided to live. For now. To see if he could play the hero, make a difference. Honor Buffy's memory by being the man she'd seen in him.

"You've got me confused with another man," he said, hoping Dana was listening. Hoping she was capable of understanding. "Visions are mixing with your real memories. All right? Other Slayers, other places. New York. China…" Dana said something he couldn't understand. He realized it was Chinese. "Yeah. That's what you're remembering – other Slayers."

"You killed her."

He tasted the tang of the Chinese Slayer's blood, felt the rush of the kill. It revolted him.

It excited him.

He was a monster. Still.

"Yes, but –" he said.

"You killed them both."

"That and worse," he whispered. He'd only killed the Slayers. Hadn't tortured or raped them, like the thousands of others whose memories she didn't share. "But I was never here."

Dana's lips curled back from her teeth, a maniacal mix of contempt and insanity. "Ask me again why I could never love you."

Spike could only stare, the pain in his chest making a mockery of the pain of his arms.

"I stopped you. Something I should have done long ago." She squatted in front of him. "Can't hurt me anymore."

"No… wouldn't… Buffy." His heart was trying to tear its way out of his chest.

"Doesn't matter," Dana shouted. His head rocked back from the force of her punch. "Head and heart. Keep cutting until you see dust."

"Yes," he whispered. She punched him again, and again, then set the saw to his neck.

Spike kept his eyes closed. Didn't say anything. What could he say? He deserved it. Welcomed it.

He'd never deserved her faith in him.

The stroke of the blade across his skin made him gasp. His blood gurgled down his neck, in slow, sticky streams. Eyes closed, he grit his teeth, trying to prepare himself for the second and hopefully final stroke.

Spike smelled his rescue just before he heard the clatter of the saw on the cement basement floor. He heard Dana's body thump on the far side of the room, heard Angel's low, soothing voice attempting to reason with her.

Buffy, he thought. Eyes still shut tight, he slipped into the dark.

I'm sorry.

 

Andrew by Baphrosia

 

Andrew

 

 

Pen in his mouth, Andrew flipped through the dossier Mr. Giles had given him on Dana Shulps, doing his Professor X best to ignore the giggles from the other end of the cabin. A Watcher is wise and steady. Not easily distracted, he told himself sternly. A loud shout broke his less than laser-like concentration, and he glanced up to see three of his team engaged in a rousing – and painful looking – game of snap, while the others dozed, their soft snores mingling with the quiet drone of the Council jet's engines.

With a shake of his head, he willed himself back on task, photo of a scared young girl with tortured eyes reminding he had a job to do. An important job. A job Mr. Giles had entrusted to him.

There was a mentally unstable Slayer out there – and he'd been tasked with bringing her in.

Andrew had a sneaking suspicion that he wasn't really the top man for the job, despite what Mr. Giles had said, and that Mr. Giles would have preferred to send somebody else – anybody else – in his place. But there wasn't much choice. He was the only one available thanks to the lack of qualified candidates, post-First Evil, and lack of time.

Still. It never hurt to put on a good show of confidence. Mr. Giles had impressed upon him the need for utmost caution in dealing with Angelus, who might or might not be evil again. Vampires who headed up evil law firms were probably a lot like that guy in The Godfather. Angel would respect a show of strength – he hoped – so that was what Andrew would give him.

He'd heard tales of Angelus' cruelty. Andrew really, really hoped he was getting the Green Lantern Angel, and not the Parallax version.

Anyhow. Mr. Giles could have totally put one of the Slayers in charge, instead of him, but he hadn't. Mr. Giles also hadn't kicked him out of the provisional Watcher's Council yet, which must have meant the older man saw something worth cultivating in him. Andrew figured he was like Black Widow, led astray by sinister forces, only to be rehabilitated to the side of the white hats and become a major asset for Team Good.

His thoughts turned to Black Widow as the Council jet bumped down. Natasha Romanov was totally hot. And kicked major ass. Hey – maybe Marvel had based her off of a Slayer. Andrew pulled his notebook out of his breast pocket and jotted down a note to check into that.

After getting his team settled in a nearby hotel – expense accounts were, like, so cool – he double-checked his Watcher's gear in preparation for the upcoming battle of wits. Pipe, jacket, dossiers. Check. The tools made the man, and he would need every tool in his arsenal to combat the evil lurking in the shadows.

Or maybe hiding in plain sight, he thought, standing in the lobby of Wolfram and Hart. Andrew looked around, goggle-eyed. He'd never seen so many kinds of demons in one place, strolling in and out of the lobby like it was an everyday thing.

The likelihood of having to face evil Angel jumped to a code very probable. Andrew swallowed and stiffened his spine, and resisted the urge to check the front of his pants for dampness.

When he recognized the woman headed his way, he took a step backwards and jammed his hand into his pocket, surreptitiously fingering the cross within. Andrew remembered Harmony from Sunnydale High, and thanks to Dawn's story about the time Harmony had kidnapped her, he also knew she was no longer a mortal, but a dreaded Vampyr.

Andrew shivered. But in a one hundred percent manly fashion.

"Are you the guy from the Watcher's Council?" she asked.

Since she showed no signs of wanting to tear into his jugular, he cleared his throat and said, "I am, my good minion. Is your Master about? I have business to conduct with him."

One hand on her hip, Harmony wrinkled her nose in disdain. Andrew lifted his chin a little higher, and half brought the cross out of his pocket.

"Follow me," she said, in a tone that suggested he was the lesser creature between the two of them. Evil, foul, disgusting b-witch of a hellbeast!

Who was wearing a really pretty dress that totally suited her complexion.

Andrew briefly considered the possibility Harmony wasn't evil anymore, since she hadn't even glanced at his neck, but discarded it. Hel-lo, Wolfram and Hart. You probably had to sacrifice a baby just to make it to the first interview. Or at least a pig. Which was really, really hard to do, and icky and not nice at all. He should know.

The introductions with Wesley were awkward, what with Wesley having been fired from the Watcher's Council for gross ineptitude. Andrew felt sorry for the man, who had to be seriously embarrassed. But not too sorry. He knew better than to be trapped into sympathy for a minion of the Evil Empire – sympathy was a slippery slope to being nice, which led to doing favors for the dark side, and that never turned out well in his experience.

Andrew kept a suspicious eye on the green-skinned demon named Lorne while he waited for Angel to return. Under other circumstances, he might have liked Lorne, but he was deep within the belly of the beast and a trained Watcher could never be too careful.

When the woman with the man's name was introduced, Andrew frowned, sure he knew her from somewhere. Her voice was strangely familiar. He was still trying to figure it out when he heard voices, and Wesley said Angel's name.

Eyes closed, he centered himself for the battle ahead. You won't fool me, Senator Palpatine. I know your true identity. He'd come up with a great opening line – Well met, Darth Angelus – when the sight before him knocked his witty repartee right out of his head.

"Spike?" It couldn't be. Could it?

The apparition looked like the Hero of Sunnydale, from his totally bitchin' hair right down to his totally badass boots. Sounded like him too, with that exact same I'm too cool to care about you tone Spike had always had.

"Spike?" he said again, and ran forward, too overcome with joy to stop himself. Anya, Buffy, Spike, the potentials – there'd been so much death. Too many friends had paid the ultimate price in the fight against evil, and now here was Spike, returned to him from the ashes of Sunnydale.

He hugged the vampire, who felt just as firm as he remembered, and even had the same smell – you really got to know a guy's smell when you spent hours behind him on a hog. "It's you! It's really you!" Andrew gushed. "My therapist thought I was holding on to false hope, but I knew you'd come back! You're like… you're like Gandalf the White, resurrected from the pit of the Balrog, more beautiful than ever. Oh, he's alive, Frodo." It was a miracle. A true miracle. "He's alive."

After that, facing down Angelus and his crew of evil minions masquerading as really nice people was easy. Any time Andrew began to feel nervous, he reminded himself that Spike was there. Spike. Spike, who'd risen from evil to become a hero, just like himself. Andrew knew he could trust Spike to have his back.

 

*******

 

On the plane ride back to HQ, Andrew had a celebratory Zima. Just one, though. He was still the man in charge. The man, he thought, with a small smile, thinking of how he'd Mission Impossible-ed his mission of finding and subduing a Slayer gone Dark Phoenix.

And like David to Goliath, he'd stood up to Darth Angelus and his Evil Empire.

When Angel had seen Andrew's team of Vampyr Slayers arrayed behind him, all of whom would have as soon staked him as looked at him, he'd folded and run, tail between his legs like that Scut Farkus bully from A Christmas Story. It had been an outstanding moment, if he did say so himself. Mr. Giles would have no choice but to trust him with more responsibility after this.

It totally sucked about Spike's arms, though. Andrew's eyes teared up, thinking about it, and he sniffled. He wondered if he should call after he got back to England, and see how Spike was doing. Maybe send him a fruit basket. Did vampires eat fruit? Some kinds of bats did, but vampires weren't bats at all, so that wouldn't make any sense.

He made a note to check into it.

Speaking of Spike… Andrew glanced around the cabin, but there was nobody to talk to. Nobody that would care about the amazing epic return of the souled Vampyr from the dead… or more dead… at any rate. He sighed. Such an incredible saga of triumph, and nobody to share it with.

Oh well. Spike had told him not to tell. It was easy to keep a secret when there was nobody worth telling. It would be a lot harder once he got back to HQ. Mr. Giles had a way of getting into Andrew's head and making him spill every last thought, no matter how he tried to ward himself against the older man's Jedi mind tricks.

Taking a sip of his drink, he realized he'd never gotten the story of Spike's resurrection from him. Come to think of it… Andrew wasn't sure Spike had ever really died… ed. Died more. Dusted. All they had was Faith's description of how Spike had channeled pure sunlight, zapping an army of Uber-vamps with a single cleansing blow, the way a Dalek vaporized its victims.

When the Vampyr With a Soul hadn't emerged from the Hellmouth, everybody had assumed that he'd burned up too. According to Willow, even locator spells had suggested Spike was no longer of this world.

All of which led Andrew to wonder if maybe Buffy might not be dead either. They'd never found proof of her demise, either physical or mystical. Just… nothingness. Day after day of searching, and nothing.

Kennedy and Faith had kept at it for days, even after Willow's spells had failed to locate the Slayer. Just in case. The only thing they'd found was the rest of what Willow had later confirmed was Buffy's jacket, shredded and covered in blood. There'd been copious amounts of blood on the ground around the jacket, but of Buffy herself, there was no sign.

No body.

Which was more than a little suspicious. Visions of Buffy Summers descending on the provisional Watcher's Council headquarters, Winter Soldier style, flashed through Andrew's head. But who would play Captain America to her brainwashed Bucky Barnes? Buffy was the Captain America of the team.

After finding the bloodied jacket, Willow had tried one last locator spell. When it had led to a complete lack of Buffy, the SunnyD survivors had come to an unspoken consensus that it was time to give up. Even Dawn, poor thing.

The Scarlet Witch had beaucoup de mojo, but Andrew knew for a fact they hadn't explored all the avenues available for finding the Slayer. He pulled out his notebook and made a note to look into demons capable of piercing the dimensional veils.

Stroking his chin, he mused over the idea some more. Then he wondered if he looked Watcher-ly, stroking his chin that way. Maybe if he grew a beard? It would go well with the pipe. On the other hand, Mr. Giles always looked properly studious and thoughtful when he cleaned his glasses. Very Albus Dumbledore. Maybe a pair of spectacles would give him a greater air of authority too.

Andrew wrote it down in his notebook.

 

*******

 

"Her soul does not exist in this or any other dimension," the Argus Panoptes intoned.

"Are you sure?" Andrew said, then realizing the giant demon who could squash him like a bug might not appreciate his tone, he added, "Oh great and powerful All-Seeing One." He shifted from foot to foot. "It's just – maybe in a dimension you haven't checked yet? Or don't have access to?"

The hundred eyes turned on him. "I see all dimensions, mortal. None can escape me."

"Oh. Right, of course. Ummm…."

Andrew cleaned his glasses, thinking hard. The demon's answer had taken him by surprise. Buffy's soul didn't exist? Anywhere? That was... worrisome. And upsetting. He'd planned on going back to the others and saying, "I know you're sad about Buffy, but good news – she's definitely in a heavenly dimension."

There was no way he could tell the others their friend had been obliterated for all eternity.

Remembering Dawn's distress over a lack of body to bury, he said, "What about her body? Can you tell me what happened to it?"

The giant's eyes blinked, all at different times and in no particular order. Andrew repressed a shudder.

"If you wish for me to answer a second question, you must pay me a second time."

"But…" Andrew said.

"Be gone!" the Argus Panoptes roared.

Andrew scurried out the door, the giant's hot, plasticky breath following on his heels.

"El merdo," he muttered, when he was far out of hearing range. Getting payment the first time had been difficult enough. And morally questionable, Andrew was pretty sure. Was it worth going through all that again?

He thought of Dawn's tearful face. Yeah… maybe. Possibly. Most definitely.

If he could score another mint condition first edition Star Wars collectible Han Solo. And bear to part with it.

The last time had been… really, really horrible wasn't horrible enough to describe it. It was like… Andrew couldn't think of what it was like. There wasn't any comparison.

So it was back to hanging out on eBay, telling himself that use of the Council expense account to purchase exorbitantly priced figurines he could never afford on his own was perfectly justifiable. "It's not like it's for me," he said to the computer screen. "This is for Buffy. So everybody can have some closure."

It took several days, but he finally had what the demon wanted. With the mint original packaging protected by bubble wrap and securely packaged inside a large, sturdy lockbox, Andrew made his way back to the Argus Panoptes' lair.

The giant took his time removing the bubble wrap, slowly peeling back each layer with a hungry gleam in his multitude of eyes. Using a single razor-sharp claw, he cut the seal on the original packaging, removed the very, very expensive figurine with the utmost care, and balanced it on his hand like the precious rarity it was.

"At last I have you, Han Solo," the Argus Panoptes rumbled, every unblinking eye fixated on poor Han. The giant laughed, and opened his mouth wide.

Andrew had to look away. He thought he was going to be sick.

When the crunching had ceased, he said in a wavery voice, "Please, great powerful and All-Seeing One… Where, precisely, can I find the –" He began to say body, but then thought it better not to leave any loopholes, in case there wasn't a proper body anymore. "Any remains of Buffy Summers?"

The giant, who'd closed his eyes in orgiastic ecstasy, chuckled. "They don't exist, puny one. In this dimension or any other. There is nothing left of Buffy Summers."

 

 

Angel by Baphrosia

 

Angel

 

 

Angel landed, hard, and the sword through his chest twisted a little on impact. Even though he had no breath to be knocked out of him, even though a blade through his heart couldn't kill him, or even cause permanent damage, he remained motionless on his back, dazed. It hurt. Besides which, he was getting his ass kicked by Lindsey. Lindsey. In what universe was this even a possibility?

The ass-kicker in question danced around Angel's supine form like some kind of deranged imp, mocking him.

"Who is this? Who is this?" Lindsey ripped off his shirt and tossed it Angel's face, filling his nostrils with the scent of the smaller man's hatred for him. "I came to put down the Angel of old. But he's gone. Look at you – pathetic corporate puppet, kowtowing to the Senior Partners. Phoning it in on a nine-to-five schedule. You used to have fire in your heart." He squatted down to look Angel in the eye. "Now all you've got in there is that big honking sword. How's that feel, boss?"

Something in him snapped, and he realized Lindsey was just kind of sad, really. All that effort, all those carefully laid plans, as he'd called them, because the other man was, what? Jealous? Incapable of letting old rivalries go? Still pissed about Darla?

Whatever. Angel was done playing. Done second-guessing himself.

"Could be worse," he said, and ripped the sword from his chest with a grimace. "If it had been made of wood, you dumbass!"

He went after Lindsey with renewed purpose, taking out all his frustrations, all his doubts from the last several weeks, on the other man. With each blow, Lindsey grew weaker, until Angel knocked him clear across the room.

Cordelia came to stand by his side as Lindsey struggled to his feet. "You okay?"

"I've been worse," Angel said, taking the moment to bask in her presence. Cordy. Awake. He still couldn't believe it.

"So what now?" Lindsey said, no dent in his puffed-up bravado. "Going to kill me for once and for all?"

Angel smiled. "I really don't think I have to."

"Sweetie, your epidermis is showing," Cordelia added, and Angel huffed out a laugh.

Lindsey glanced down at his disappearing tattoos. "Damn," he muttered, the first hint of fear on his face.

Angel would have been lying if he said he wasn't enjoying this moment. "I think the Senior Partners would like a word."

Lights flashed overhead. Lindsey darted a glance at the forming portal, then swung his gaze over to an empty corner near the stairs. "Looks like you're up," he said, just before being sucked into the portal, which closed with a pop.

"Well," Angel said, flashing Cordelia his best heroic grin. "That was –"

"A mistake."

Angel whipped around. And stared, disbelievingly.

Standing in what he'd thought was an empty corner stood –

"Buffy?" Cordelia said. "What the hell? Where did you come from?"

Cordy looked to Angel, brow furrowed, but he had no answers for her. He could only stare at the apparition in front of him. First Cordelia, and now Buffy? Was he really so far off-track with the Powers that they'd sent him a double-whammy of both the near-dead and supposed dead to get him back on course?

"Buffy," he croaked, too overcome to say more. Cordelia placed her hand on the small of his back and nudged him forward. He met her eyes, and she gave him a little smile and nodded.

As he moved towards Buffy, Angel realized two things. The first was that the girl in front of him didn't smell like Buffy – or, more precisely, her smell was more like a lingering trace of the girl he knew. Not quite there. The second was that Buffy didn't quite look like Buffy, either. He'd never seen such implacable hatred in her eyes before, not even as Angelus, and certainly never directed at him.

Ghost, he thought. She's a ghost. Has to be. Or some parlor trick of Lindsey's. It explained why Lindsey had been addressing an empty corner.

Stopping just out of arm's reach, Angel opened his senses wider, trying to get a hint of what, exactly, stood before him. "Buffy?" he said again, tentatively.

"Angelus." Her grin was feral. "Boy, have I got a bone to pick with you."

He shook his head. "Angel. Look, whatever Lindsey told you –"

"Sorry," she said. "Don't know any Lindseys." With that, she drew a sword, lightning fast, and lunged for him.

Where the hell did she get that? He dodged backwards, and realized she'd picked up the sword he'd lost. Buffy lunged again and again, forcing him backwards across the room.

Frantic, Angel looked around for Lindsey's weapon, wanting the ability to defend himself long enough to try to reason with her. "Cordy? Lindsey's sword?" he called out.

"Yeah, bit of a problem with that plan," she said from where she'd backed against the wall to stay out of the Slayer's way. "It shriveled up." She tossed him the pocketknife.

Damn.

Buffy kept after him with single-minded intensity, even when Cordelia tried to distract her. She simply knocked the taller girl out of her way and kept on towards him. Her blade had connected with his body multiple times, making it perfectly clear she was no apparition, and Angel wondered just what she was. Shape-shifter? It couldn't be Buffy – couldn't. This silent, vengeful creature bore no resemblance, beyond physical, to the girl he knew.

Because you knew her so well these last years, mate?

Great. Fighting for his life against who-knows-what, and now Spike in his head. Perfect.

Spike had come back from the dead, thanks to Lindsey, if he understood it right. Maybe Lindsey had brought Buffy back too. If he had, Angel figured he'd thank Lindsey later. After Buffy had not killed him.

And speaking of Spike… "Cordelia," he said through gritted teeth, holding back a hiss of pain as Buffy slashed his arm once more. "Get Spike."

Obviously he wasn't going to be able to take Buffy out on his own. Not without seriously hurting her, or worse. If he could even take her out at all. Already he was a mass of cuts, the smell of his own blood stinging his nostrils. If there was any chance this was the real Buffy, he couldn't take the risk of hurting or killing her, though. He needed help subduing her.

"Angel?" Cordy hovered near the staircase, clearly wanting to come to his aid.

"Go get Spike! I need his help!" Despite the danger to his life, Angel closed his eyes in disgust as the words need and Spike passed through his lips. At least the bleached pest wasn't around to hear him admit such a thing. "Ow! Watch where you're sticking that!"

Buffy swung again, teeth bared. "You're going to pay for what you've done."

With Cordelia out of the way, Angel didn't have to worry so much about keeping the Buffy-thing away from her. He danced around the room, feinting at her face, then spinning a kick into her sword in an attempt to knock it away, using his longer reach to keep her at bay.

"What are you?" he said.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "The Slayer. Giles told me Angelus was clever and cunning, but I guess he was mistaken."

"I am not Angelus."

With a second roll of her eyes, she stabbed him in the gut. Angel resisted the urge to growl at her. In case she was Buffy. But if Cordy didn't get back soon with Spike, he was going to have to get more physical.

Maybe she's a robot. Like Wesley's father.

His next kick disproved that theory when his heel caught the corner of her mouth, releasing a trickle of blood. Unless robots could bleed now…

In an instant, the scent of Buffy's blood permeated the air. And it smelled right. Angel knew that smell, knew the taste of her running down his throat. The smell made his many wounds cry out for the liquid that would repair them. It made his stomach clench with the hunger that never slept. His fangs emerged against his will, followed by a low rumble.

Buffy cocked her head. "Is playtime over?" she said, and spun into him even faster than before.

"Stop," he growled. He dashed away from her and managed to make the leap to the high platform over the stairs. Maybe there he could evade the sting of her blade for long enough to catch his metaphorical breath. "Buffy would never do this!"

"But Buffy is," she said, eyeing the distance. With her shorter legs, Angel hoped she'd decide against the attempt.

She didn't, of course.

He leapt to meet her, crashing her to the ground with him on top. Buffy snarled and raged, pinned by his bulk, and Angel regretted sending Cordy for help. He could have managed this on his own after –

Flat on his back, he blinked stupidly at the circling stars overhead. Buffy gripped him by the hair and, sword hefted, said, "This is for my Watcher."

The blade whistled downward, and Angel closed his eyes against the anticipated blow. Stunned as he was, the idea of moving didn't even occur to him – later he would blame it on unconsciousness.

Buffy's slight weight disappeared, and her sword clattered harmlessly by his head. Relieved by this second sudden turning of the tide, he pushed himself up to find Buffy now pinned by Spike, who was staring at her in shock.

"Bu- Buffy?" Spike licked his lips, his expression disbelieving and amazed and grateful.

If Angel had cared one bit for Spike, his cold, dead heart would be breaking over that look.

It was a good thing he didn't care at all.

"Is it really yo-oof." Spike lay on his back, taking his own turn to blink at the overhead stars.

"And William the Bloody too," Buffy said, rearing back for another punch. "I guess this really is my day. Two-for-one special on justice."

Angel retrieved the fallen weapon and rushed Buffy, saving the smaller vampire's face from another brutal blow. Spike continued to lay there, blinking, his every thought and feeling plain for Angel to see.

Refusing to be affected by Spike's transparent hope and confusion, or be reminded of his own jumble of emotions, he turned back to the Slayer and tried to hem her in with the sword she'd lost. Buffy evaded him, as nimble and quick as he'd ever seen her, and Angel had to admit that even though he now had the weapon and she had none, he still needed Spike's aid.

"Spike," he called. "Little help?"

"I don't understand," the other vampire said hoarsely. "Is it Buffy?"

Angel dodged a kick to the head. "Jury's still out on that. Whatever she is, she came with Lindsey. And she doesn't seem to like us very much."

Buffy sighed and pulled a stake from out of nowhere. "Me, Slayer. You, vampire. Duh."

Eyes fixed on Buffy, Spike hauled himself to his feet. "She smells off. Robot?"

"She bleeds. Doubt it."

"Know she's no ghost. 'Sides, Buffy would never act like this. Shape-shifter?"

"Why's it so hard to believe I just want the both of you dead?" Buffy said through gritted teeth.

"Tell you what," Angel grunted as her fist found his groin. "Let's figure it out when she's a little less homicidal, how about?"

With Spike at his side, and Buffy weaponless, they soon had her boxed in. "How you want to play this?" Spike asked.

"No permanent damage," Angel warned him. "Just in case. Her blood – did you notice its scent?" He nicked her shoulder with the sword, just enough to send a rivulet of red down her arm.

Clapping a hand over the wound, Buffy's heated glare promised retribution.

Spike inhaled and shot the girl in front of them a startled look, speculation mixed with an undercurrent of reverence. "Gentle it is."

Though Buffy fought like a wildcat, leaving what Angel knew would be serious bruises on all of them, he managed to trap one side of her long enough for Spike to get her into a sleeper hold. Spike eased her to the ground as she fell limp, free hand stroking the hair off her brow. "Shh, love," he said. "Shh. I promise we won't hurt you."

"Can't – make you – same promise," she managed before falling unconscious.

Head bowed, Spike held Buffy in his lap, his shoulders quivering. Angel didn't need to see his face to know it was covered in tears. A part of him wanted to join them on the floor.

The other part of him could feel Cordy's sympathetic gaze on his back.

"We need to do something with her before she wakes back up," he said, hating how cold he sounded. But Spike had already claimed the emotional breakdown option, which left him to make the hard decisions.

Typical.

Angel ignored the way the smaller vampire's shoulders continued to shake beneath the leather coat. "Nina's cage should hold her for now. Until we can figure out what's going on. Can you carry her?"

Shooting him a scornful look, Spike climbed to his feet, carefully holding Buffy close. Angel's fingers twitched with the urge to reach out and take her away, to carry her and smooth her brow himself.

But it was better this way. Better that Spike – whom he probably couldn't take her from anyway – was the one carrying her through the basement to the level that housed the cage Nina used. Despite the rightness of her blood, he still wasn't convinced it was Buffy that Spike held in his arms. And if it was Buffy, there were so many questions – how had she been brought back, and why did she hate them so? What had Lindsey done?

Too many questions.

I don't have to worry about it right now, he told himself. We can deal with it later. The thought prompted an immediate and overwhelming sense of relief, and then Angel just as immediately felt like shit for feeling relief in the first place. Buffy was the girl he loved with all his heart. The woman who'd loved him no matter his sins, and showed him how to be a good man. How could he not worry about her right now?

He jumped when Cordelia touched his arm, distracting him from the sight of Spike settling Buffy onto the cot in the cage. She offered him a cautious smile, and his feelings grew even more jumbled.

Cordy.

How could he ignore Buffy in favor of Cordy?

And how could he ignore Cordy in favor of Buffy?

At least Cordy still likes me, a small, petulant corner of his mind pointed out. And she's awake, he quickly added.

"What's the plan, Champ?"

What was the plan? He looked between the two women of his unlife, torn. "I should –"

"Go," Spike said. "You've still got Eve to deal with. I'll sit with – her." He nodded at Buffy, still unconscious on the other side of the bars, and Angel wondered if Spike hadn't used Buffy's name on purpose in an effort to distance himself.

"I'll send Wes down soon, see if he can get a bead on who – what – if she's really –"

Spike half-winced, half-nodded, and settled in on the floor, back to the wall.

Turning away, Angel said to Cordy, "The Powers say anything about this?"

"Not a thing. You'd think Lindsey corrupting the Slayer would be something they'd give a head's up about. Instead all I got was a vision of glyphs."

"Try Lindsey bringing Buffy back from the dead. Maybe."

Cordelia stopped walking. "Buffy was dead? Again?"

Angel nodded.

"Wow, do I feel like yesterday's news. All I did was wake up from a lousy coma."

"But at least you woke up still liking me," he said before he could stop himself.

Cordelia walked on. "I wouldn't be so sure of that if I were you, buster."

 

*******

 

Angel took a breath he didn't need, trying to hold it all in. All the rage and frustration, all the pain and loss of the last few hours.

"No," he said in as calm a tone as he could manage. "We are sending her to Giles, and that is final. He can sort out who or what she is."

"Look," Spike began.

Slamming his fist on the table, Angel said, "No, you look. You and I, even with our vampire senses, can't tell if she's really Buffy, or if she's somebody or something else. Fred and Wes are just as clueless, and when Lorne tried to read her, he got nothing. A complete blank. She's either Buffy and seriously spelled beyond our capabilities to reverse, or she's something else entirely, but either way it doesn't matter. Rupert Giles already doesn't trust us –"

"Doesn't trust you, you mean –"

"Can you imagine what will happen if he gets wind that we may be holding Buffy here? Keeping her from him? Treating her like a prisoner?"

"We're not!"

"Face it, Spike. We are. And what good can we do her anyway? She doesn't trust us one bit. She'll be better off with Giles. Not only is he the expert, but he cares about her. And he's a Watcher. She'll trust him enough to let him help her – at least more than she trusts us."

Thankfully Spike fell silent, finally seeing the sense in Angel's argument, or so Angel hoped. He was sick of bickering with the other vampire, sick of worrying about what was wrong with Buffy, sick of thinking. All he wanted was to curl up in his bed, pillow over his head, and not have to deal with the world anymore. Not have to think about his destiny, not have to think about what the Powers wanted of him, not have to think about the phone call informing him that Cordelia was –

Angel closed his eyes. "Can we argue about this later? I..." He trailed off, unable to finish.

Spike's hand landed on his shoulder, his touch hesitant. "You want to talk about it?"

He considered it. Considered where talking might lead, especially if they got to drinking. It was tempting. Eyes still closed, he half-leaned into Spike's hand before changing his mind and shaking his head. "I think I need to be alone."

"Figured you'd say that." Spike moved to the doorway, and Angel immediately wished he would return. "You change your mind, you know where I'll be. Keeping time with Mr. Daniels and the missus."

"You know you don't have to watch over Buffy. She'll be safe in there – and we'll be safe from her."

"Have to is not the issue."

One corner of his mouth quirked into a weak smile. "Figured you'd say that."

Spike huffed out a dry chuckle in return, saluted, and left him to his thoughts. Angel groaned. Alone with his thoughts was the last thing he wanted to be.

How could they take you away from me? Now? I need you more than ever.

He crawled into bed, buried his head beneath his pillow, and tried to relive the kiss Cordelia had given him without recalling the knowledge that had come with it.

 

Spike by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Y'all are excellent at following the clues.  Turns out a grand total of zero people were surprised by the big reveal of the last chapter.  Which obviously means I'm an excellent clue-giver.  :)

 

Spike

 

 

When he barreled into the subterranean room and saw Angel about to undergo a headectomy, Spike didn't pause to assess the situation. He rushed the assailant and tackled them to the ground without registering anything more than their size (smallish) and their hair (dark blonde). Not until he had them pinned beneath him did he get his first good look at who it was Angel needed help with so badly.

Spike's heart felt as though a giant had caught it in its grip and squeezed tight. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't remember he didn't need to breathe.

"Bu- Buffy?"

Furious hazel eyes glared up at him

Buffy. Buffy Buffy Buffy Buffy...

His brain was stuck on repeat. How she'd gotten there, why she was trying to kill Angel – none of it mattered. Even when her fists slammed his head into the hard floor, repeatedly, all he could think was: Buffy.

"Spike! Little help?" Angel said from somewhere off to the side, and Spike realized Buffy was no longer on top of him but fighting Angel once more.

He shook himself from his daze, and realized something wasn't right. Buffy – trying to kill Angel? Maybe. If she really thought Captain Forehead had gone evil again. But the way she was fighting, all silent, vicious efficiency, wasn't her style. Something was definitely off. "I don't understand," he rasped. "Is it Buffy?"

Angel couldn't tell him. And even after Spike had carried her through the halls of Wolfram and Hart, her slight form pressed close to his heart, his nose buried in her hair, he still couldn't tell for himself either.

A part of him didn't care.

His words to Xander, outside under the tree after they'd brought her back, circled in his mind. If any part of it was Buffy…

Watching her now, through the bars of the cell, Spike wondered what he would do if the girl sleeping restlessly on the narrow cot turned out to be someone or something other than Buffy. Then again, he wondered what he would do if she did turn out to be the girl he'd loved, and mourned, and started to put behind him. How would he fit into her life? Did he even want to, what with her seeming newfound hatred of all things vampire?

Coming so close on the heels of his encounter with Dana, especially after the sting of Buffy's condemnation echoing through the damaged Slayer's mouth, Spike couldn't begin to sort his tangle of emotions.

He sighed, and lit a fag to give his trembling hands something to do.

Somewhere around his sixth cigarette, Buffy woke from her impromptu nap. Though she lay with her back to him, he could hear the increase in her heart rate. A moment later she was on her feet, eyes wild, shaking the bars with enough force he suspected she just might break free, given time. Then she stilled, gaze fixed on the glow of red in the shadows as he took a drag on his smoke.

"Let me out. Now."

"'Fraid that's going to have to wait a bit. But maybe we can hurry it along if you go ahead 'n tell us what you are now, so's we don't have to do the poke and prod to figure it out."

Her eyes narrowed, and Spike knew she was trying to suss out the shape of him in the darkness.

"I'm pretty sure you know what a Slayer is," she said after a long moment. "Seeing how you've killed two and all."

"Three," he said. "But who's counting. See –" He sprang forward in full vamp visage, using his preternatural speed to get right in her face, only a few thin bars of metal between. "Buffy died. On my watch. And you're looking mighty chipper for a dead girl, love. So you're going to tell me just what the bloody hell you are."

Buffy didn't flinch at his sudden leap, or his roar. Wiping the spittle from her face with deliberate calm, she smiled sweetly and said, "I'm your worst nightmare."

Christ. She'd got that part right.

"Look. Nothing would make me happier than for you to be Buffy," he said, trying for a gentler tone. She rolled her eyes, then tipped her head back, examining the juncture of the bars with the ceiling. "But certain facts don't add up. If you're the real deal, how'd you make it out of Sunnydale? Your chums seem to think you didn't. And speaking of chums," Spike said, ticking his questions off on his fingers, "why didn't you let them know you were alive? Where've you been all this time? And what the hell were you doing with Lindsey?"

"I don't know any Lindseys," she said absently, testing the pliability of the bars.

Spike frowned. "Doyle?"

"Never heard of him."

"Okay, play with me here. Who was the bloke you came in with? Urban cowboy with a penchant for mystical looking tattoos?"

Her brow creased. "You mean my Watcher? Giles?"

He didn't think so, not unless Rupert Giles had suffered a severe personality transplant. "Er – is your Giles a Brit, by any chance? Older fellow, glasses, an unfortunate fondness for tweed?"

Buffy had moved to the corner of the cell and was testing the bars there now. "Nope."

Well that explained… dick all. Spike stared at her in frustration, still bollixed as to what he was dealing with. He could only guess that Lindsey had posed as her Watcher, but as to why he would, or why the potentially real Buffy would believe him, he had no idea.

"Tell me," he said, hoping for some sort of clue. Any clue. "Have we met? Before now?"

"Sure. You tried to kill me. A whole bunch of times. It was a bundle of laughs." She looked him in the eye. "By the way, that last time? When you and Angelus leveled Sunnydale? You failed." Her grin turned savage. "You're going to regret that."

"Leveled – leveled Sunnydale?"

"Well, turned it into a big-ass crater if you wanna get technical about it. But I know it was your fault, so don't bother pretending to be so surprised."

Spike shook his head, hoping her words would make more sense. They didn't. Everything she'd said was true, but twisted into something opposite of the actual truth. Buffy's skewed perspective, and the way she'd accepted Lindsey as Giles, made him sincerely doubt she was the real deal.

She moved closer, studying him. "I don't know what you're playing at here, with this I-don't-wanna-hurt-you shit, but you don't have me fooled for a minute. I know all about you, Spike. William the Bloody. Slayer of Slayers. I know the things you've done. The evil you've committed. And I will put you down, one way or another."

The hatred in her eyes, combined with the not-quite scent of her, had Spike taking several hasty steps backward, until he bumped up against the wall he'd been using as a backrest earlier. The Slayer's burning gaze kept him pinned there for long moments. Despite his unease, he forced himself to hold still. He was damned if he was going to squirm like a bug under her scrutiny.

Dismissing him with a disdainful sneer, Buffy turned her back on him and began to examine her cage once more.

Spike let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and examined her too, from the safety of the shadows. Other than the scent of her, if she was a copy, she was a bloody good one. He'd had years to become an expert in all things Buffy – the way she moved, her various expressions, the way she butchered the mother tongue. Her determination, her loyalty to her friends and family –

Hang on – her loyalty to friends and family. "So, pet," he said, head cocked and eyes narrowed. "I'm sure you've told kid sis the happy news, at least. That you're alive. Know you wouldn't have left Dawn in the dark."

Buffy turned to him, one hand on her hip, brow furrowed. "Who?"

He sagged into the wall, and rubbed his burning eyes.

Mark one up for the 'Not Buffy' column.

 

*******

 

"... not going to believe a word I say. But at least hear me out."

Spike stilled, two corners away from Buffy's cell, when he realized the voice belonged to Mr. Manpain himself.

Finally.

So far as he knew, this was the first time Angel had been down here since Spike had laid Buffy's unconscious form on the cot almost forty-eight hours ago. He'd told the brooding one to go talk to her, more than once. How could Angel insist on sending her away without assessing the situation for himself? It was bollocks, was what it was. But Angel must have finally taken Spike's advice, now that Andrew was on his way back stateside to collect the maybe-Buffy.

Spike understood the sudden visit – he wanted to get his time in with the girl too, before she left. Say a few final words. Try one more plea for her to come to her senses. Not that he wanted Buffy to go anywhere, as Wolfram and Hart's constipated CEO could attest after their latest go-around in the lobby minutes ago. Sending her away like this, it felt like failure on his part. If he loved her, shouldn't he know if she was really Buffy? Be able to fix her if she was?

Angel's low, pained voice caught his attention again. Spike stayed back, wanting to give the other vampire room to say his piece. God knows ol' broodypants needed to get at least some of it off his chest.

"... why Lindsey did it, other than to get to me. I'm sorry he used you that way. I know you aren't going to tell me anything, but I just want you to know that if he brought you back from the dead… again… just to hurt me… You – you don't deserve – he…"

Angel trailed off. Spike could hear his flustered discomfiture, and almost pitied him. Buffy's scorn was excruciating at best.

"Look, we've got people coming for you. Good people – your people. They're going to take you to the real Rupert Giles. I know you don't trust me, but you can trust him. He'll help you."

"Gee, I don't trust the vampire who raped me and took my virginity, then went on a murderous rampage and killed people I cared about? Funny how that works."

Spike could feel Angel's anguished jerk from two corridors over, and knew just how he felt. The girl knew Buffy's history, all right, but a twisted version of it. Before now, Spike wouldn't have thought anything could be worse than the truth of what had happened between him and the Slayer, but that was before he'd been subjected to her interpretation of their past.

He faded back to the elevator, and waited for Angel there. The look on the bigger man's face when he shuffled into the corridor was enough to make Spike reconsider opening his mouth, but his need to know won out.

"You really think Lindsey resurrected her?" He couldn't keep his horror out of his voice. Buffy, who'd suffered being ripped from heaven once already, for far nobler purposes...

Angel's broad shoulders slumped further. "Who knows? He's done it before – he brought Darla back, just to hurt me. Why not stick with the classics?"

"Lindsey brought Darla back?"

"It was Wolfram and Hart's idea, their mojo, but he was part of it."

"And if he did it with Buffy… It might explain why she's like this." The implication sickened him, but they had to consider every possibility. She was so cruel. So unlike herself. "Maybe she came back –"

Don't you get it? Don't you see? You came back wrong –

He shut his eyes against the memory, the pain almost enough to send him to his knees. Angel was right. They weren't the ones to help Buffy. Christ, what he'd done to her the last time. The cockup he'd made of trying to give her what she needed. Soul or no, how could he even think she needed his brand of help?

"It's possible," Angel said. "Anything's possible at this point. But she's going to Gile –"

"I agree."

Angel squinted at him. "Did you – did you just agree with me?"

Spike considered needling him, for old time's sake, but the impulse died almost as soon as it was born. "You're –" He still couldn't say Angel was right. He really was incapable of it. "Even in her right mind, Buffy would choose to go with her Watcher and friends, not stay here with us. They'll sort her." He sniffed. "Maybe I'll go with. Seeing as I don't have any grand destiny here after all."

"If you think you should," Angel said, a strange catch in his voice. They eyed each other for a moment, and Spike wondered if the other vampire didn't want him to go. He contemplated throwing out a casual offer to stay, if he was needed 'round these parts, but then Angel nodded back the way he'd come. "Were you going to go see her?"

Spike shrugged. "Was going to check in, but if you were just there… She can be a bit vicious, you know? Gets hard to be around her when she's laying it on."

"I noticed," Angel said, and Spike remembered what she'd said to him. As much as he normally enjoyed hearing Angel's sins rubbed in his face, Buffy's twist on their history had been a bit much even for him.

He decided he could stand to wait a little longer before being subjected to the same. When Buffy would really get going on his evil ways, he'd have to bite his tongue to keep from reminding her of just far she'd fallen herself at times. But this new him, this souled him, would never do that to her. Never again.

At least she didn't seem to know the worst of what he'd done to her. He carried enough guilt over that already.

Spike rode the elevator up with Angel, each of them lost in their own thoughts. For his part, Spike was wishing he could follow Lindsey to hell and drag him back. He wanted answers, and the other man seemed to be the only one who had them. Their questioning of Eve had been fruitless – she'd claimed to know nothing of Buffy's existence, only that Lindsey had had a backup to the failsafe plan. She'd seemed just as surprised as they were to find it was the supposedly dead Slayer.

"We need Lindsey," Spike said as they exited the elevator. "We need to drag him back here and beat the answers out of him."

"Trust me, I wouldn't have let the Senior Partner's take him if I'd known." Angel lowered his voice. "I've got Wesley looking into it. Where he might be."

"Well – good."

Looked like the old man wasn't as removed as he pretended to be after all. Spike tipped him a salute and wandered off to find some trouble to occupy himself with until he felt up to facing Buffy and her vitriol once more.

 

*******

 

Spike lit another cigarette. Buffy wrinkled her nose, but didn't say anything, which was fine by him. She'd quit commenting somewhere after his first pack.

He knew the considerate thing would be to allow her fresher air, but smoking was the only outlet for his jitters. Spike felt as though he were the one in the cage, not Buffy. His nerves had long since frazzled from waiting for the cavalry to arrive and take her away, and he'd discovered the tiny corridor didn't allow for satisfactory pacing hours ago. Hence the chain-smoking, whether Buffy liked it or not.

Seeing as the girl didn't seem to know much about Buffy's friends and family, Spike had taken it upon himself to fill her in while they waited. If she really was Buffy, he didn't know why she was in the dark about her own history, or at least about the existence of her sister, but it made him feel like he was helping her in some small way to describe the people waiting for her.

He thought she appreciated it. Though Buffy was steadfastly pretending to ignore him, she seemed to be intent on his words. At any rate, she'd quit reviling him, which made it almost semi-pleasant to be in her company. She was going to be gone soon; whether she was Buffy or something else, he wanted these last, almost-friendly moments with her. The illusion of Buffy, alive and well, was far too enticing for him to turn down.

"Back to Dawn," he said. "She's fierce, like you. Have to be if she was made from you, eh?"

Buffy shifted, turning her head a little so she could hear better, Spike reckoned. The thought made him smile, and he fell silent for a while, puffing away on his smoke and taking note of the way she strained to hear his next words. He still hadn't sorted if she was his Buffy – bit of wishful thinking, that, calling her his Buffy, but what the hell – but times like this, he supposed she just might be after all.

Either way, no matter who or what she really was, right now she was just a nervous girl awaiting an unknown fate. Spike could sympathize.

"You and Dawn, you'd do anything for each other. And you did. You died for her once. To save her from a Hellgod."

As he went on with his tale, Buffy edged around her cot, until she was half-facing him. Fred had brought her some spare clothes, and she'd chosen a simple blue v-neck tee that dipped between her breasts and left her arms bare. She was rubbing her hands over her exposed arms now, hugging herself as she listened to him, and Spike longed to go in there and give her the comfort she seemed to crave.

He wasn't stupid enough to think she'd let him live if he tried, but it made for a satisfying fantasy. Those last few nights they'd spent together in Sunnydale, wrapped in each other's arms, were his most precious memories. Spike's chest ached with the desire to relive them, almost overwhelming his sense of self-preservation. To be able to hold her, just one more time…

His voice faltered, and he had to light a new fag before he could go on.

He'd been speaking of Dawn for so long, he didn't realize it was her actual voice he heard coming down the corridor until she rounded the corner with Andrew and stopped dead, eyes wide. She stared at him for long minutes, lower lip trembling, and then she brushed past him without a word and reached through the bars to her sister.

"Buffy," she said. "Buffy. God, is it really you?"

"So they tell me," the girl in the cage said. "You're… Dawn?"

The smell of Dawn's tears and the sound of her little, hitching sobs, so familiar from that long summer, made Spike's eyes burn. He grabbed Andrew, who was watching the two women with rapt fascination, and hauled him out of there before either of them could make a fool of themselves. Spike stayed within hearing range, though.

He didn't quite trust this version of Buffy not to hurt Dawn.

"Nobody told me Dawn was coming," he growled at Andrew. If he'd known, he could've prepared himself for the shock of seeing her again. Maybe the way she'd snubbed him wouldn't have hurt so much either.

Andrew tittered. "She wasn't supposed to, but you know Dawn. Try telling her no."

Spike shook his head. He did know Dawn, Bitty Buffy that she was. "Girl understands that might not be Buffy back there, right? She has to be on guard."

"Mr. Giles explained the situation. And my own, um, research suggests it may not be Buffy. We've taken precautions against treachery most vile..." Andrew craned his neck around the corner. "We all want to believe the fates have returned her to us, though. Especially Dawn."

"Know what you mean," Spike sighed.

"You came back, right? Maybe there's some great prophecy in the making. An epic role you two have yet to fulfill... The World's Greatest Slayer and her Vampire Consort!"

Despite the tempting picture the boy's words evoked, Spike said, "Don't be getting any funny ideas in that twisted little brain of yours. Your job is to get the girl back to Giles so he can fix her up, or figure out what to do with her, without Dawn getting hurt along the way. Nothing else." He rapped his knuckles on the top of Andrew's head. "You got it?"

"Like I said, we're prepared for just about anything."

Spike eyed him, wondering why Rupert had put this git in charge instead of coming for his Slayer himself. Then again, the lad had handled Dana well enough. Could be he was man enough for the job.

Still. Maybe Spike should go with them. Make sure Buffy and everybody else got there in one piece.

The low susurration of the girls' voices ceased, and then Spike heard Dawn's determined stride. He threw his head and shoulders back: can't hurt me with your snubs, little girl. But when she rounded the corner, eyes rimmed red and face blotchy and tear-streaked, he sagged. Stupid to posture with this one, when she undid him so.

"Dawn…" he said.

She stopped several feet away and crossed her arms. "Don't. Don't you Dawn me. You – you knew I thought Buffy was dead. You knew how much I would be hurting. And you decided you should continue to play dead too? Let me mourn the both of you for no reason?" Her pitch rose with each word, until she was near-screaming. "You wanted to be dead? Fine! You're dead to me!"

Turning to Andrew, she said in a much lower, but still trembling voice, "I explained the situation to Buffy, and she understands. Let's get going." She threw Spike a venomous look over her shoulder. "I want to get out of this evil place as soon as possible."

"Dawn," Spike tried again. "Maybe I should come with you. You lot might need my help."

"We don't need you. Haven't since Sunnydale. Haven't ever needed you." She walked away as she spoke, spine rigid. At the corner, she paused, back still to him. "We don't need you in our lives, Spike, so I'll thank you to go now. Andrew and I can take care of Buffy from here."

Sodding hell. Bitty Buffy indeed.

"I –"

I, what? He wanted to say goodbye to Buffy. Wanted to apologize to Dawn. Wanted to go with them, to help, to atone for his mistakes. But Dawn was right. They didn't need him in their lives. All he did was cock things up.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, and walked away.

 

Buffy by Baphrosia

 

Buffy

 

 

There was a sharp rap her doorframe, and then Giles stuck his head in her room. "Are you ready to train now?"

"Sure thing! Be there in a jiff," Buffy said, holding her chipper smile until he nodded and left.

Once she was sure she was alone again, she let out a sigh and slumped back onto her bed. Training was the last thing she wanted to do – being here at all, in this crumbling, damp old British dormitory, with all these strangers, was the last thing she wanted, period.

Training, they called it. Hardly. Buffy knew what training was – it was fighting Giles for her life, down and dirty and doing whatever it took to keep her edge. It was wild, and exhilarating, and real. It was preparation for taking on Angelus.

God, she missed Giles.

No. Not Giles. Lindsey McDonald. Or so the vampires had said. Buffy wasn't sure she believed them, but it seemed too vast a conspiracy for everybody in the world to be pretending this stuffy old English guy was the real Rupert Giles if he wasn't. What would be the point, other than to drive her even more crazy?

Either way, Lindsey-as-Giles had been able to keep up with her, and this Giles couldn't. If only he'd let her train against the other Slayers… Every time she suggested it, he hemmed and hawed and said to wait a little, until she'd acclimated to being here.

She might be missing her memories, but she wasn't stupid. She had ears. She'd heard them talking. They didn't trust her. Didn't know if she was the really real Buffy.

Well, that was fine by her. She didn't trust them.

Or herself, either.

With another sigh, she got to her feet and headed down the long, dim corridor, past all the funny little symbols that the redhead – Willow – had been painting on the floor when she'd arrived. Wards, she had decided in the days since then. Against her. At first, she'd thought it nice of them to give her a floor to herself, far from the hustle and bustle of all the teens.

Now she knew better.

She probably should have figured it out sooner, what with her less-than-comfortable seating arrangements on the flight from LA to England. Not to mention the welcome she'd received from Giles and the others once the plane had landed. Buffy shuddered, same as she had then, and then did her best to shrug it off, same as she had then. They had good reason to be so careful with her. She understood, not that it made it any less painful.

If only she could remember her friends. Remember why she should trust them. Remember – anything.

Her loss of memories hadn't seemed like such a big deal when she was with Lindsey. Sure, it had wigged her, not inconsiderably. But every time Buffy had worried over it, he'd reminded her she'd survived near-death, and some lingering trauma was to be expected. She was safe, he'd said, with somebody who knew her. He'd filled her in on her life, and it had been… not okay. And yet okay all the same.

Here, in this place, she wasn't okay anymore. Her loss of memories was a much bigger deal. Without them, who was to say whether she was Buffy or… who knows what? She'd overheard clone, robot, and shape-shifter as possibilities, and who could prove she wasn't? Certainly not her.

She reached the doors of the gym, empty now that all the other Slayers had gone off to bed for the evening.

Finding out there were other Slayers in the world – that she wasn't the only Chosen One – had put the first dent in her unwavering trust in the man who'd called himself her Watcher. If he'd lied about her status as the world's only Slayer…

Buffy's fists clenched, but there was nobody to hit. Nobody to take her frustrations out on, besides poor, stuffy English Giles, and he wasn't the one she wanted to pummel. To say Lindsey was due a major ass kicking if she ever saw him again would be the understatement of her life, or at least what she remembered of it. How could she have been so trusting? So naïve?

She'd been fooled once already, and realizing it hadn't done much for her inclination to put her faith in these other people. Were they really any more trustworthy? Buffy didn't know. She wasn't on the best of terms with her gut instincts these days. Her tentative decision to give her alleged friends the benefit of the doubt had come back to the conspiracy theory. As in: too vast to be one. Besides, her luck couldn't really be that bad, could it?

Put on your happy face, she reminded herself as she dithered outside the doors, working up the will to push them open. These guys are your friends. Maybe. If not yours, then Buffy's, and that's who you are for now.

Andrew had shared the 'good news' with her that her DNA was a match for Buffy Summers, so there was that at least. It meant she probably really was Buffy, with a side of nothing worse than permanent memory loss. The others had seemed to take it as good news, or at any rate, they weren't shadowing her every move quite as much as before.

Buffy wasn't as relieved as her friends seemed to be. If her DNA was a match, why did she smell off, according to the vampires? And what did that even mean? And how gross was it that they'd been talking about the way she smelled? Like she was a dinner entrée gone bad.

Vampires. Duh. She was dinner to them.

She sensed Giles coming towards her on the other side of the doors, and realized he was probably coming to see what was taking her so long.

Smile plastered on, Buffy pushed open the doors.

 

*******

 

Another weekend, and Buffy found herself hiding in her room.

The sister was home from boarding school for the long weekend, and Buffy had dutifully done the fake cheery greeting when she'd arrived, but she could see in the kid's eyes that her efforts weren't quite cutting it. Her hearty sisterly greetings weren't real, and Dawn knew it, but the hope in those big blue eyes every time she saw Buffy made Buffy feel guilty enough to keep up the pretense.

As soon as she could, Buffy had retreated to her room on the pretext of a headache. With the never-ending amnesia they'd decided was the result of the head injuries from her fall, nobody questioned her frequent headaches. It was a handy excuse she took advantage of every chance she got.

Alone in her room, she found herself thinking about Giles. Not Giles. Lindsey. Whatever. He'd been Giles to her for months; it was a hard habit to break. Despite the lies he'd told her, she missed him. Missed the way he'd trained her, missed the way he'd made her feel like she had a purpose. He hadn't expected anything of her other than for her to be a weapon against evil. These people expected her to be a friend, a sister, the person they used to know and no longer was.

She'd tried. Lord, had she tried. But Buffy felt nothing for them, other than faint gratitude, no matter how hard she tried. She didn't remember them. Didn't remember the things they told her about herself, didn't remember her great and heroic deeds, didn't remember caring for any of them. They wanted her to remember them, so much, and when she couldn't, she felt as though she'd failed them all.

Hearing about how they'd searched for her for days following the collapse of Sunnydale (and how it hadn't been Angelus' fault), and how they'd mourned for her… God. Couldn't they see what pressure it put on her? To be grateful they cared, when she felt nothing for them? And meanwhile, while they'd been searching, she'd been with Lindsey, who'd told her he was the only one looking for her.

He'd saved her. He was the one she was grateful to.

She was grateful to a liar, instead of to the people she was supposed to consider friends and family, and it made her feel like the worst person on earth.

It was hard to reconcile the two different histories she'd been given, too. Though she'd had to accept most everything Lindsey had told her was either a lie or a not-quite truth, she'd heard his version first, and lived with it for months. It seemed far more believable to her than their stories.

Dying twice. Sisters who weren't real. An army of Chosen Ones. Vampires with souls.

Ugh.

If Giles called her for another training tonight, or debriefing, she just wouldn't go. That was all there was to it. Who knew what falsehoods that she'd accepted as truth would be shattered this time?

Buffy rolled over, Lindsey's lies echoing in her head.

Are you going to lay there and let me kick your ass? A Watcher is strong. Fast. Hard. But you're the Slayer. You should be stronger. Faster. Harder. Let's go again. Come on, Buffy. You've got to push yourself. Reach deeper. It's you against the evil out there, and trust me, evil doesn't give a shit how tired you are.

Vampires are always evil. Always. Angelus – he destroyed the entire town of Sunnydale. And Spike helped.

Where's your fire? Your outrage? Your hatred? Your strength comes from your hatred. Think of what Angelus has done to those you love. Feel the hatred? Good. Own it. Use it. Or Angelus will wipe the floor with you.

It's you and me against the world, princess. It's your destiny. One girl in all the world. You alone. And that's all we need.

It sure as hell was how she felt. One girl. Alone.

With nobody to give her the answers she needed. Who was she? What was wrong with her? And what was her purpose, if not to kill Angelus?

Angel. As they kept reminding her.

Buffy stared at the ceiling, tired of feeling guilty and obligated, and lost and confused.

She sat up. Maybe it was her destiny to kill Angelus, maybe it wasn't. But she definitely had skills that were going to waste. No matter what Lindsey had or hadn't done, he'd trained her to eradicate evil, and the slaying of vampires had felt right.

Working quietly, she lifted the sash of the window and stuck her head outside, evaluating the distance to the ground. It was three stories down, but she felt confident she could make the jump.

Buffy knew they didn't want her going off on her own. They worried, and probably for good reason. But hey, they'd told her she wasn't their prisoner. Repeatedly. She grabbed her jacket and a fistful of stakes and eased out of the window, butt on the ledge. Then she jumped to the ground, landing lightly on her feet.

Away from the dormitory, she took a deep breath of the night air. Of freedom.

Oh yeah, Buffy thought. That's what I needed.

She took off into the darkness.

 

*******

 

"So… Harry is it?" Buffy said, twirling a strand of hair around her finger and leaning back into the brick wall of the alley behind the pub. Harry nodded and pressed closer. "Tell me, Harry. What do I smell like to you?"

He furrowed his brow, obviously surprised by her question, but he took a deep sniff of the air between them and answered. "Like a girl. A pretty little girl, all alone with me, eh? You smell delicious." He stepped closer and, when she smiled up at him, grew bold enough to rest his hands on her hips. "Good enough to eat," he said, and laughed at his own wit.

"You don't notice anything… off?"

"What, like you're sick or something?" He dragged his nose up the column of her neck, taking his time to inhale her fully. Buffy felt him fang out right before he whispered in her ear, "You smell perfect."

"Why, thank you, Harry. I think that's the nicest thing anybody's said to me for a long time."

Harry blinked, shocked, as she plunged her stake into his back, then drifted away on the breeze. Buffy brushed the dust from her clothes, and set off in search of her next victim.

She found him the next street over, holding court in a thumping, pulsating club, tucked into a semi-quiet alcove with a minion on either side of him and a bevy of girls surrounding them. Not wanting to waste time, she pushed her way through the crowd and onto his leather-clad lap. "Hey there, handsome," Buffy said, arching her body against his. "Wanna get out of here?"

Handsome blinked at her with dark, heavy lidded-eyes, an amused smile playing about his perfect lips. "I am no fledgling, little Slayer, so easily led to my doom. But perhaps we can play later, ma cherie. If you insist."

"Darn. Figured you for an older vamp, what with the lace ruffles and all." She made a face. "That, or another Lestat groupie."

He laughed, amused rather than insulted. "Non, my sweet. I am Roland, at your service." He took her hand and brushed a kiss over her knuckles.

Buffy almost liked Roland, what with his courtly manners and straightforward self-confidence. He was plenty easy on the eyes, too. "So tell me, Roland, how'd you know I was a Slayer?"

"Only a Slayer would carry herself with such confidence. So much power, oui?"

"Oh," she said, disappointed. "There's no, like, special smell that comes with being a Slayer, or something?"

Roland laughed. "Are you so new to this, you seek answers from me? Where is your Watcher?"

"Good question," Buffy muttered, thinking of Lindsey. "I'm just doing my own independent research," she added more loudly. "I'm betting a man of your… experience… would know more than some stuffy old Watcher." She gave him her most winning smile.

"I believe you and I are destined to become good friends, ma cherie." Roland nodded to each of his minions, and soon they had the small alcove to themselves. He slid her off of his lap and onto the chair across from him, so close their knees were still touching, then offered her a full glass of something from the tray on the small table beside them. "A truce, yes? We will drink, and talk like old friends."

Buffy accepted the glass, though she didn't intend to drink anything he gave her. Never, ever trust a vampire, Lindsey's voice reminded her. Toasting her companion, Buffy warned, "Just as long as I'm not on the drinks menu."

Roland's low, rich, dark laughter bubbled out. "Little Slayer. I did not live so long by rushing headlong into my death. I enjoy life, oui? I have no wish to end it." He gestured expansively at the club. "I enjoy humans. Their frantic, hurried little lives are so fleeting. I have no wish to cut theirs short either."

"You saying you don't kill," Buffy said, eyebrow raised.

He shrugged. "I am a vampire. Sometimes, oui. It happens. I get carried away, perhaps. But I do not kill to live, not for many, many years. I have, how you say? Many willing donors. Perhaps you would enjoy it yourself? I hear the blood of a Slayer is especially fine nectar, and I would make it most satisfactory for you, cherie."

His low, seductive words made Buffy shiver. "I think I'll pass." She'd been a vamp chew toy often enough, from what she'd been told. And willingly consorting with a vampire? Not going to happen.

"As you wish. But come, what is your name?"

Annoyed the vampire wasn't behaving the way she'd expected, Buffy reached for her stake, ready to end the ridiculous exchange. However old he was, however civilized he appeared to be, Roland was nothing more than an evil thing.

But the lure of talking, equal to equal, with somebody who didn't hold any expectations – somebody who might be able to answer her questions – was too strong to resist. "Buffy," she said, leaving her stake tucked into her pocket. "Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer."

Roland tipped his head. "Ah. The great Buffy Summers. You have vanquished many foes, and tamed others, from what I hear. Had I known you were in my little corner of the world, I would have come to pay my respects sooner." He took her hand, brushing his cool lips over her knuckles once more. "It is an honor."

"You – you've heard of me?"

"Dracula himself sought the honor of your favor, is it not so? Oui, I have heard of you." He smiled at her, dark eyes dancing. "And you have done me a great favor, though perhaps not intentionally."

Okay. She'd bite. "And what's that?"

"You have tamed the Scourge of Europe, Buffy Summers. With the great Angelus and William the Bloody no longer terrorizing the continent, I am once again free to live comfortably, without the worry an angry mob will hunt me down to pay for their trespasses."

"Oh. Well I didn't… I mean the gypsies did that…"

"Angelus, oui. So the story is. But the Slayer of Slayers… Is it true he sought a soul? To be worthy of you?"

Buffy blushed under Roland's intense gaze. "I don't… So they tell me…" she stammered out.

Damn. He knew her own history better than she did. "Why would a vampire do that?" she blurted before she could stop herself, thinking of what they'd told her Spike had done. Not just the getting of a soul, but sacrificing himself. To save the world. According to Dawn, he'd even helped out, tried to good, before the soul. Out of love for her.

Love. A soulless, evil vampire. There was no way in hell.

"Aren't you vampires all with the grrr, evil, must destroy the world?"

Roland shifted, rolling his shoulders backwards to drape his arms over the back of his booth, lace cuffs draping downwards over the brocade fabric of the bench back. "Evil is the imperative of the vampire, oui. It is our language we are born with. But humans, some they are more evil than others. You have seen this. So it is with the vampire." His gaze roamed the teeming mass of bodies in the club, taking on a predatory edge that made Buffy sit up a little straighter. "To wish to be good, it is an aberration, but for a vampire who is following son coeur, his heart… who is to say what is possible?"

"You think an evil, mass-murdering creature could fall in love?"

His gaze snapped back to her. "With you, ma cherie? Mais oui." He leaned forward, eyeing her hungrily. "Perhaps I am a little bit in love myself. Shall we see if you can tame me too?"

Heart thumping, Buffy scrambled out of her chair, stake at the ready. Roland flashed her a toothy, amused grin, and she lifted her stake a little higher, ignoring the way her stomach flip-flopped and her breath caught. Stupid, arrogant European vampires.

God, what would Lindsey think of her? Hanging out, conversing with a vampire, like he was a man. An attractive – no.

Not. At. All. Attractive.

Evil.

What was wrong with her? Dawn had suggested Buffy had had feelings for Angelus and Spike, and she'd laughed in the kid's face. Feelings? For a vampire?

The way she was reacting to this one, Buffy wasn't laughing at all. Amnesia and identity crisis aside, something was definitely wrong with her. Vampires – evil. Evil and disgusting and why was she trusting anything this one said?

"Relax, mon amour. I do not wish to fight with you, no matter enjoyable it might be for the both of us."

"Give me one good reason not to kill you right now."

"Because." Roland's casual shrug conveyed supreme confidence. "The great Buffy Summers, she is fair and honorable, I am told. Is this not true?"

Buffy had no idea. Not according to Lindsey: according to him she was lethal. Hard. Efficient.

Vampires evil. Destroy them before they destroy you. Black and white. One girl alone.

It was an easy way to live.

Which Buffy Summers was she? A ruthless killing machine?

Or a woman beloved by friends and family, and even by vampires?

 

*******

 

When she stumbled through the front door just before sunrise, exhausted and covered in vamp dust, they were all there in the lobby – Xander, Willow, Dawn, Giles, Faith, and even Andrew. They turned their combined gazes on her, a mixture of relief, worry, disappointment, and distrust.

Dawn broke from the group first. "Buffy! You're okay!" she said, throwing her arms around her.

Buffy tolerated the hug with as much grace as she could. "Just felt the need to get my slay on. Guess you guys missed me?"

"We were – worried. You were gone, and we didn't know…"

"You tripped the wards," Willow said, eyes fixed on something to the left of Buffy's shoulder.

"Guys. I was only killing vampires."

Giles sighed. "You didn't inform us you were leaving, Buffy. I must say –"

"Hey now. You said I wasn't a prisoner. Nobody else needs a permission slip before they leave the building."

"Nobody else is quite in the same circumstances as you, Buffy," Giles snapped. "We had no idea where you were, or what happened to you. You told no one, left no note, and when we attempted to locate you –" He broke off so abruptly, his teeth clacked together and he jerked backwards.

Buffy narrowed her eyes. "When you attempted to locate me, what?" Six pairs of eyes stared back at her with various degrees of guilt.

When the silence remained unbroken for far too long to be comfortable, Faith looked around at the others, then shook her head. "You ain't doing her any favors keeping it from her. Look, B," she said to Buffy, one hand on her hip. "Locator spells don't work on you. Didn't when you were in the crater, don't now. And it freaks everybody the hell out."

"Oh," Buffy said. She really didn't know what else to say. She wasn't too thrilled they'd tried to track her, like some kind of fugitive, but she could see why there were so upset. Locator spells didn't work on her? Yeah, she was upset too. Voice small, she said, "I just needed to clear my head."

Xander hurried to her side and wrapped her in a one-armed hug. "You have – used to have – this habit of running off when things get heavy. We kinda thought you might have gone AWOL. And it – I just got my best friend back. I didn't want to lose you again."

Buffy pulled out of his embrace and stepped away. "No fair holding me responsible for bad habits I don't remember. It's not like I knew you were expecting me to pull a runner, you know."

She turned so she could face all of them at once. "Look, I know this is hard on all of us. But I've let you sedate me, and wave your stinky herbs at me, and take my blood, and whatever else you needed to do. I get you're worried I'm going to go all Manchurian Candidate, or evil clone, or whatever. Heck, I'm worried too. Considering it's me, my body and my head, that we're worrying about, I'd guess I'm worried enough for all of us. I have no idea if I'm Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, but I do know one thing. I know how to kill vamps. So that's what I did – I took a break and did what I know. For one night." Buffy crossed her arms. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you first. I won't do it again."

"We're only trying to help you," Giles said stiffly.

"And I get that. That's why I'm here, because I know you're my friends – or Buffy's friends, whoever she is – and I know you're trying to help. I'm grateful. Really." She dropped her arms. "Even if it doesn't seem like it."

Willow rushed forward. "Oh, Buffy, we know. Well, we don't know – but we know it has to be hard for you. Harder even than it is for us. And we just – we love you so much."

Again with the hugging. These people sure did like to hug. Xander joined in, and then Dawn, and even Giles patted her on the shoulder.

Buffy hugged them back.

And wished she could mean it.

 

Willow by Baphrosia

 

Willow

 

 

Willow couldn't breathe. Couldn't grasp what she'd just heard. With one hand to her mouth, the other clutching the phone to her breast, she stood frozen in the kitchen, eyes shut tight. Her head began to spin. She forced herself to draw a breath. Then another.

She set the phone down on the kitchen counter. Giles' voice continued, echoing up off the tiles, but she ignored it. She needed to make sure the world was still there with her own two eyes, needed to make sure it was still the same one she'd inhabited only seconds earlier. Her footsteps echoed hollowly as she crossed to the front door and opened it to the mid-morning sun. Outside, the birds chirped their merry song. Down the block, the Esperoza twins were skipping rope, brightly colored dresses flouncing in time with their jumps. An old rust bucket of a Chevy rattled up the street, dogs yipping after it.

Same world. Same day.

But something fundamental had changed.

Willow drifted back inside, and brought the phone to her ear.

"Hello? Hello? Willow?" Giles was saying.

"I'm here."

"Er – good. I don't know how soon you can get away, but –"

"Give me twenty minutes," she said, and hung up. In spite of her self-imposed deadline, Willow remained leaning against the counter, her mind blank. She stared out the window, thoughts scattering every which direction, until Kennedy came barging into the kitchen.

"Hey, chica, time to hit the town. You ready?"

Willow turned toward the sound of her girlfriend's voice, her head float-y and light and not quite there. Kennedy loomed, but distantly. Willow closed her eyes, trying to find her center.

"Come on, babe. Time's a-wasting."

The gossamer balloon of unreality popped, and everything went from slow and muddled to over-bright and clear. "No. I've got to go to England."

Kennedy frowned. "What? Why?"

"Buffy." Willow started, surprised to hear the name she hadn't been able to say for months echoing out of her own mouth, the shape of it hard and real. Time went fuzzy again. She shook her head, brow furrowed, and answered the question on Kennedy's face. "Buffy's alive." She turned away, heading to their bedroom to pack.

 

*******

 

"So, do you think Angel's right? This Lindsey guy botched a resurrection?"

Lips pressed tight, Willow dropped her paintbrush back in the pot and stood up, hands on her hips. She considered zapping Xander, who was lounging on the small bed on the opposite side of the room, fingers interlaced behind his head, but settled for a glare in place of electrocution. With the zero sleep and the huge fight she'd had with Kennedy before she'd left Rio, the nonstop worrying she'd been engaged in thanks to the lack of answers she'd gotten from Wesley, and the disturbing results of Andrew's personal quest, she was done in. As in long past the point where deep breaths or counting to a gazillion were going to do any good. Xander's repeated – and pointless – questions were the final straw. "I have no idea, Xander. I won't know anything until they get here. Meanwhile..." She gestured around the room they'd decided to give to Buffy. "Things to do. Help, or go away."

Xander held his hands up in conciliation. "Best I leave the hoodoo to you-do." He squinted at the wall, watching the latest ward fade until it was invisible. "You sure this is necessary?"

"I'm not sure of anything!" Willow snapped. "You know what I know, which is bupkis. And until we figure it out, there's no point in taking any chances."

"Right. It's just... I can't find the bad. It's Buffy."

"Maybe," she said, picking up her brush once more. Obviously Xander wasn't going anywhere, so she was going to have to settle for ignoring him as best she could. She had limited time to get the wards in place before Buffy arrived, and tempting though it was, a silencing spell probably wouldn't do their friendship any favors. She'd already alienated Kennedy, possibly for good. Willow wasn't up for permanently damaging any more relationships today.

As she worked, Xander threw out thought after thought, each one more ramble-y than the last. He was somewhere in the middle of analyzing the likelihood that the woman headed their way was really somebody with Mystique-like powers, pretending to be Buffy in order to infiltrate Slayer HQ, when Giles entered and cut him off with a sharp, "Enough, Xander."

Willow looked up, nerves jangling. "Is it time?"

"It is. Are you ready?"

"Her room is done. I still have to do the hallway."

"It can wait." Giles turned to Xander. "Will you be accompanying us to the airport?"

"I'm offended you even have to ask," Xander said. "It's Buffy."

"Perhaps," Giles said, his smile tight.

 

*******

 

The sight of Buffy, manacled and curled up asleep on a cot inside a barred cage, was too much for Willow. While Xander greeted Dawn, and Giles and Faith listened to Andrew's report, Willow sat on the rollaway steps to the jet and tried to get herself under control.

Breathe, she told herself, stretching her senses downward through the tarmac to connect with the slow, steady pulse of the Earth. Breathe.

The stairs rattled. Willow looked up to see Giles hovering in the doorway. "If you're ready to begin? We won't have long before the sleeping potion Andrew gave her wears off. I'd like to complete as much of our testing as possible while she remains unaware."

"Right," Willow said, climbing to her feet. "With the not wanting Buffy to think we don't trust her and all."

Giles grimaced. "Until we know who or what we're dealing with..."

Willow only nodded. They'd analyzed the situation from all angles, repeatedly, ever since she'd arrived in London earlier in the week. There was nothing left but to collect the data and eliminate possibilities.

An hour later, she wasn't any closer to answers than before. Except now the woman in the cage was stirring, and they were out of time. Buffy's eyes flew open, and her body went rigid. The green shield surrounding her flared incandescent as she fought the magic holding her prisoner.

Dawn leapt to her feet, hands clenched into fists. "Release the spell!"

Willow already had. The green bubble sparked and fizzled, leaving after-spots in her vision. She kept her magic at the ready, though. On the other side of her, Giles slipped his hand into his jacket, no doubt reaching for the taser he'd brought.

"Buffy?" Dawn said. "Hey, it's okay. You're safe."

Buffy remained prone, chest heaving, muscles coiled with tension. Dawn reached through the bars to squeeze Buffy's shoulder, continuing to murmur assurances all the while, until she had her sister's attention. As Buffy visibly relaxed, Dawn said, "We're here. In London. You ready to go?"

"What...?" Brow wrinkled, Buffy stared at the people watching her warily from the other side of the bars. She sat up slowly, legs taut, poised to fight. Or flee.

Willow's brain, ever helpful, provided an image of an animal in a cage. A shivering, terrified animal in a cage.

"Hey, Buffy," she said, swallowing down both guilt and memories of the time she'd been transported to England under less than pleasant circumstances, post-attempted-world-endage. "Welcome home. Well, not home, since this is London, not Sunnydale, but it's where we all are, and they say home is where your heart is, which means this is home now. Right? So..." She gave Buffy a little finger waggle. "Hi."

Buffy frowned at her. She looked at Faith, then Dawn, then back at Willow. Her frown deepened.

"I'm Willow. Your friend?" She winced as she unwittingly turned the last into a question.

"Oh..."

The lack of recognition in Buffy's eyes hit Willow like a slap to the face. Breathe...

Xander pushed in beside her. "And I'm Xander, also known as the Xan-man. You've met Dawn and Andrew, and Willow. That there's Faith. She's a Slayer, too. And this is Giles," he said, gesturing to each in turn.

"Giles..." Buffy studied him for a long time, her acceptance of his handshake and greeting tentative and reserved.

Then she turned to Faith, openly appraising her. "I don't understand. I'm the Slayer."

Faith scowled, but remained uncharacteristically silent.

"Yes, ah, I believe we have much to discuss," Giles said. He turned to Willow, shooting her a look full of hidden meaning, before turning back to Buffy.

Right. Time to get cracking.

Willow pulled Andrew aside. "Got that blood sample?" When he nodded, she said, "Let's head back to HQ now, so you can start analyzing it, and I can finish painting the wards." Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed Andrew's arm and teleported back to the dormitory.

 

*******

 

With Buffy safely installed in her room, the rest of them had gathered in the War Room, as Andrew called it, to chart out a course of action. They had another two days' worth of testing and observation under their belts, but not much in the way of new information.

"Physically, as far as we can tell, she's Buffy," Willow said. "It seems to be her body, at least. If you ignore the part about her scent being off. Except, that's like a fingerprint to a vampire. Their version of a DNA test. Which she failed, according to Angel."

"But her DNA is a match," Andrew said.

"A match to my DNA," said Dawn as she passed the coffee Xander had handed her on to Faith. "Which was taken from Buffy. Maybe somebody took my DNA to make a Buffy?"

Andrew cleaned his glasses. "Your theory has merit, little one. The All Seeing said her body doesn't exist anymore. She could be a clone. A clone of a clone."

"Who says this demon you went to is telling the truth?" Xander said. "Or maybe he's mistaken. Locator spells still don't work on Buffy, right Wil? So, maybe that's why the demon couldn't locate her."

Willow nodded. "I used some of Buffy's hair – or whoever she is-es hair. Point being, nada. Couldn't locate her, even though she was right there in front of me."

"See? Your demon is blinder than me, and I've only got one eye."

Andrew sulked, and made to retort, but Giles cut him off. "It's clear she's human, or of human origin, at any rate. Perhaps a resurrection after all –"

"She says she wasn't dead," Dawn reminded him.

Andrew leaned in. "Shapeshifter –"

"Body swap –" Faith countered.

"Clone –"

"Soul sucker –"

"Alternate universe doppelganger –"

"Or, and here's an idea." Xander slammed his hands on the table, silencing the rising voices. "Maybe it's just Buffy. With amnesia."

Willow sighed. "After all this time? Permanent amnesia is incredibly rare..."

"Not to mention the other issues. Her scent, locator spells," said Faith. "You said her aura is blank, too?"

"Could be something that lawyer she was with did," Willow said. "Wes told me about the tattoos he had. The ones that hid him from prying eyes."

Dawn shook her head. "But we checked for tattoos. While she was sleeping."

Giles cleared his throat. He removed his glasses, then noticing Andrew doing the same, grimaced and replaced them. "It's clear further research is necessary. Until we know more, I suggest we do our best to make Buffy feel comfortable and welcome, but not let our guard down. Perhaps Willow is right, and Buffy has been affected by something this McDonald character did. Perhaps other forces are at work. In the meantime, we have other business to attend to. Faith, do you have a progress report on the DeGlondass situation?"

"I'm going to go finish those wards," Willow said. Giles nodded his understanding, and she slipped out.

 

*******

 

The grounds were quiet and peaceful, this time of day. Soothing. Forcing away the memory of Buffy's stricken expression yesterday morning when she'd learned about the locator spells, along with the guilt that accompanied it, Willow let the soft afternoon sun work its magic, relaxing under its benevolence as she etched glyphs into the building's foundation. They'd made the right choice not to tell her about the locator spells, Willow was certain of it. They'd only been trying to protect her. Help her. Buffy had understood.

Or, Buffy would've understood. If she were Buffy.

Willow shook off her misgivings, and set her brain to the question of why Buffy wasn't Buffy, hoping her grey cells were finally ready to provide an answer. Letting her mind drift, her thoughts returned to the lawyer. Lindsey. According to Wesley, McDonald was nothing more than an ambitious lawyer with a questionable conscience and a deep-seated grudge against Angel. Definitely not a powerful warlock, or a trained mystic, despite the tattoos he'd sported.

It vexed her to think this... this... bit player... might've managed magic too powerful for her to undo, too powerful for her to even recognize. With her skill level these days, Willow couldn't comprehend how she still hadn't figured out what was wrong with Buffy, or if it even was Buffy. Either way, Lindsey accomplishing magic of that level shouldn't have been possible, which made her think Lindsey couldn't have done it. Whatever it was.

A crack of electricity hummed across the backs of her hands, breaking her from her thoughts. She stared at her hand for a moment, surprised, before realizing what it meant. Looking up, Willow saw that, yup, Buffy had stepped outside. Good to get confirmation she could still work some magic.

"Thought I heard somebody out here," Buffy said. "Whatcha doing?"

"Oh, this and that. Strengthening the protection on this place. You know."

Buffy gazed at Willow, her expression inscrutable. "Strengthening the protection against what?"

"Whatever. Any threat."

"Like me?"

"What?" Willow said, flustered. "No, no. Just... whatever. Threat. In general. Lots of demons. Out there." She waved her hand vaguely, cursing her lame explanation.

Buffy leaned against the wall, her gaze distant. "Maybe I should go. Somewhere else. Maybe this isn't the best place for –"

"Wait, what? Go? Why?"

"I can't be the only one feeling the awkward. Not to mention, you're going to all this trouble to figure out what's wrong with my memories, and it's clearly pointless."

Willow jumped to her feet. "Don't be silly, it's no trouble at all. You're our friend. Whatever's wrong, we'll fix it. That's what we do. And after all these years, trust me, we're really good at it. Plus, I don't know, maybe it's safer for you? To stay here? Until the amnesia's gone?"

Buffy shrugged, unconvinced. "Get any farther on that?"

"Not yet," Willow admitted. "We'll get there." She hesitated. "I do have one idea... Something we haven't tried yet."

"What?"

"I could go in your head. See what's the what in there." Buffy frowned, and Willow said, quickly, "I've done it before."

"I don't think our relationship is ready for that yet, do you? You haven't even bought me dinner yet," Buffy said, her light tone belying the tightness at the corners of her eyes. "I mean, that's a big step, and we're just not that close."

"But we are! We used to be!"

"If you say so."

Buffy's casual dismissal of their friendship, friendship that had lived through serious ups and downs – if trying to kill each other wasn't a down, Willow didn't know what was – had her recoiling in dismay. She could feel her mouth beginning to wobble, and she bit down on her cheek, but not before Buffy noticed.

"I didn't mean to be – look. I get you're trying to help, and I guess it's a good idea, but I'm not up for it. Not today, anyway. Maybe later. I'm sorry, but I just don't know you." An unspoken or trust you hung in the air between them.

With an apologetic, "Think I've got another headache," Buffy turned and fled back inside, shutting the door behind her with a whump.

She really doesn't remember me, Willow thought, astonished. She'd understood the woman on the other side of the door wasn't the friend she knew and loved, but only on an abstract level. She hadn't felt it, hadn't known it in her gut, until now.

She really doesn't know me.

And, worse:

And I don't know her.

 

Lindsey by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

I know it's become a thing to thank for nominations for member of the month in the shoutbox, but doing so makes me uncomfortable.  I'm not a fan of proclaiming it for all to see.  On the other hand, I worry the nice folks who nominate me will think I'm ungrateful when everybody else is publically thanking and I'm not.  So I'm just going to assume anybody who's nominated me is reading this story, and put out a general thank you for all current, past, and future nominations.  I do appreciate it. 

This chapter relies fairly heavily on AtS knowledge, especially the S5 episode "Underneath" (the one where they rescue Lindsey from the holding dimension).  Thanks to the writers for borrowed dialogue, etc. 

 

Lindsey

 

 

"I kinda need it now," Lindsey's wife insisted, hand on his shoulder.

He swallowed, nervous dread bubbling up from who knows where. It's just the basement, he told himself, but rather than reassure, the thought made his sweat pool in unpleasant places. "All right. I'll be right back," he said, then paused with his hand on the doorknob, in case she changed her mind.

Trish didn't. "They're on that shelf, where we keep those thingies."

Right. No sweat. Just the basement.

Lindsey opened the door and took a cautious step into the gloom. He could smell himself, rank fear escaping from every pore, but down he went anyway, down, down, down, his heart thudding in his ears with every step.

He peered around the dim room, wanting to grab the stupid bulbs and get out of there before his heart exploded, but what he saw only made it beat faster.

Something wasn't right. Unless his eyes were fooling him, his basement looked distinctly like… a torture chamber?

What gave it away, you shmuck? Was it the chains? The gruesome instruments of torture? The big freaking pile of hearts on the floor?

There was a movement in the shadows, and then a thing stepped forward. Lindsey's heart stepped it up a notch, while acrid sweat poured down his back. He eased his way towards the stairs, but the thing got there first. The flickering candlelight provided more than enough illumination to reveal the evil gleam of excitement in its eyes.

"Oh, it's you." Lindsey tried to smile at the monster intent on torture and bloodshed. "Is it that time again already?"

With the recognition of the Wrath came the return of his memories, front and center the vivid details of what the next several hours would entail. Hey, anticipation's half the fun, right? The Senior Partners were detail oriented like that.

But Lindsey had a secret weapon – his own set of memories, strong enough to hold on to during the hours of torture. They kept him sane; they kept the need for revenge alive in his soon-to-be cut out heart.

The Senior Partners had made a mistake in allowing the return of his memories. Strapped to the post, Lindsey could retreat into his head, lash of the whip a distant sensation disconnected from his reality.

The vampire puts his foot on Lindsey's client's chair. "Really. Hmm. Can you fly?" he asks, and sends the client out into the light. Then the vampire strolls out, casual as you please.

Lindsey calls one of his associates to inform him of the new player in town. On the outside, he's as calm as can be. But on the inside, he's seething. That cocky vamp just cost him. Big. Lindsey is going to make him pay.

The vamp – Angel – is a repeated thorn in his side. No matter how Lindsey tries to remove him from the picture, Angel walks away. Saves the day. Renegade Slayer? Angel rehabilitates her. A second assassin? Angel dispatches it with ease. The law, in the form of an angry, vindictive cop? Angel dodges that one too.

Worse, when Lindsey suffers a crisis of conscience, he turns to the vampire. It sickens him that Angel is the one he trusts to ask for help. It sickens him more that Angel gives it. Just like that. Fucking hero. Angel expects something from Lindsey now – expects Lindsey to make the 'right' choice. But Holland offers him something better. Something he knows Lindsey can't resist.

Power.

Lindsey will do whatever it takes to secure his new position. To gain more power. And that includes participating in the ritual to resurrect the woman foretold to be Angel's downfall. Lindsey chooses not to feel guilty about this.

He feels zero guilt after Angel cuts off his motherfucking hand.

His dislike of the vampire grows a weensy bit more personal after that, compounded by his growing feelings for Darla. Something in her calls to him, and it's not just that she's the tool by which they will destroy Angel. The sanctimonious cocksucker refuses to save Darla's life, so Lindsey does what he has to. He finds Drusilla, as per Holland's orders, and brings her in. It doesn't take much to convince her to do what Angel won't.

Darla, as a vampire, is magnificent. Lindsey falls for her, even harder than before, despite the way she plays him. She's a vampire. He was stupid not to have expected it. Probably stupider still to think she cares for him, in any way, but she hasn't killed him. Not yet. It's gotta mean something, he tells himself.

Later, once more with nothing but a stump thanks to Angel smashing his prosthetic – be glad it wasn't your other hand – Lindsey sits on his bed and stares at his half-emptied closet. Darla is gone. Just gone, without even a goodbye. Maybe Lindsey deserves it for leaving without a goodbye himself before heading off to kick Angel's ass. Stupid of him to have fooled himself into thinking she was his. Stupider of him to have hoped Darla cared for him, or at least appreciated his love for her.

Now he's left with an empty closet and an empty heart, and an empty space where his hand should be.

And, god dammit, he doesn't even like his job that much. Not enough to make up for everything he's been through, all in the name of impressing the Senior Partners and bringing Angel over to their side.

 

*******

 

Lindsey peered around the dim room, wanting to grab the stupid bulbs and get out of there before his heart exploded, but what he saw only made it beat faster.

Something wasn't right. Unless his eyes were fooling him, his basement looked distinctly like… a torture chamber?

What gave it away, you shmuck? Was it the chains? The gruesome instruments of torture? The big freaking pile of hearts on the floor?

There was a movement in the shadows, and then a thing stepped forward. Lindsey's heart stepped it up a notch, while acrid sweat poured down his back. He eased his way towards the stairs, but the thing got there first. The flickering candlelight provided more than enough illumination to reveal the evil gleam of excitement in its eyes.

"Oh, it's you." Lindsey tried to smile at the monster determined to rip his heart out. Literally. "You miss me, big guy?"

With the recognition of the Wrath came the return of his memories, front and center the vivid details of what the next several hours would entail. Hey, anticipation's half the fun, right? The Senior Partners were detail oriented like that.

But Lindsey had a secret weapon – his own set of memories, strong enough to hold on to during the hours of torture. They kept him sane; they reminded him of the pleasure he'd taken in plotting Angel's downfall.

The sting of the mace biting into his flesh faded as Lindsey escaped into his mind.

He'd been surprised to hear that Angel had passed off the Amulet Lilah had provided, along with the chance to be a Champion, to somebody else; he'd been even more surprised to learn it was a now-souled William the Bloody who'd picked up the mantle of Champion.

Of course, none of it had been near as surprising as the news that the Senior Partners had made that bastard the head of the LA branch in the first place. Just like that. And it wasn't something the vampire had even wanted. Angel had taken everything Lindsey had sacrificed for – no, Angel had not taken. He'd had it handed to him on a silver platter.

The news spurs Lindsey to return to LA sooner than planned, half-imagined fantasies of revenge against both Angel and the Senior Partners solidifying into a tangible plan.

But first there is the trip to the bottom of the Sunnydale crater. From what Lindsey's inside source has told him, the Senior Partners don't care about retrieving the Amulet now that it's only Spike stuck in there. They have no use for him.

But Lindsey does.

The helicopter drops him off close to the center of the crater, the pilot outright refusing to return for him. Lindsey isn't concerned. He'd expected as much.

He almost doesn't stumble upon the injured girl in the crater. Would have missed her entirely if he'd been five feet to the left, where the large rock would have blocked his view of her as he ascended. Part of him thinks about continuing on anyway. He has what he'd come for. She isn't his concern.

"Hold on," he says, before he realizes he's made up his mind to help her. "I'm coming." Lindsey doesn't know if the broken-looking girl splayed across the jagged rocks is alive or dead, but he scrambles over to her as quickly as he dares, a steady stream of reassurances accompanying the clatter of rubble that slips and slides beneath his feet.

"Don't move, I'll be there in a minute." He thinks he can see her chest rising and falling, just barely. Lindsey hurries the last few feet, his unnatural strength and grace allowing him to move far more quickly than an ordinary man. Her cracked lips twitch when he holds the water bottle to them, and then she chokes, confirming she is alive after all.

It isn't until after he's moved her and cleaned the blood and dirt from her face as best he can that he recognizes just who it is he's stumbled upon.

The realization that the Slayer has amnesia – the Slayer Lindsey's nemesis loves, no less – sends his thoughts scattering in all directions, few of them chivalrous. The perfect chance at revenge has just landed in his lap, almost as if somebody up there has orchestrated events in his favor. For once.

He'd be a fool not to take it.

Lindsey gives Buffy another hefty dose of painkillers, and once she is asleep, examines the items in his rucksack. Tattooing the Slayer to keep her hidden from whoever might be looking for her will be simple enough, though primitive under the conditions. He doesn't worry about her getting an infection, what with her supernatural constitution. He also doesn't doubt his skills at applying the tattoos – he's successfully applied the protection glyphs to multiple residences over the past year, and even worked on himself a time or two.

Despite his confidence in his abilities, he doesn't brand Buffy while she's sleeping the sleep of the drugged. Or the next time, either. Each time he pulls her clothing back, something makes him hesitate. Something suspiciously like the conscience he thought he'd tossed years ago. Rather, he sits and watches her, finding peace in the way her chest rises and falls with each breath and the way color slowly reappears in her cheeks as her injuries heal.

He's done that. He's saved her. Something he hadn't been able to do for Darla.

In the end, he brands her anyway. He tattoos Buffy with the protection glyphs he dares not use on himself – glyphs not intended for mortals – carefully inking them onto skin unlikely to be bared to others' eyes, at least not until after the Slayer has served his purposes. Even the Powers That Be won't see Buffy coming now.

And then Lindsey adds something more: a set of runes designed to keep her memories from returning.

Slayer isn't likely to follow his plan if she remembers her feelings for Angel, now is she?

It's too perfect an opportunity to resist. And if his conscience ever gets the better of him, he'll point her in the direction of a plastic surgeon and a laser. Then run like hell before she can find him.

After getting Buffy out of the crater, he sets her up in a small apartment not far from his own. Much as he wants to share his wonderful secret with Eve, Lindsey knows it's in her best interests not to know. What she doesn't know can't be tortured out of her.

Fine, his best interests, if you're going to be picky about it. But hers too.

He can't resist gloating to Eve about his perfect backup plan, but never enough to give her any clue of what it is. All he tells her is that he had a surefire way to bring Angel to his knees.

For good, this time.

 

*******

 

There was a movement in the shadows, and then a thing stepped forward. Lindsey's heart stepped it up a notch, while acrid sweat poured down his back. He eased his way towards the stairs, but the thing got there first. The flickering candlelight provided more than enough illumination to reveal the evil gleam of excitement in its eyes.

"Oh, it's you." Lindsey tried to smile at the monster set to carve his heart out of his chest. "You just can't keep your hands off me, can you?"

With the recognition of the Wrath came the return of his memories, front and center the vivid details of what the next several hours would entail. Hey, anticipation's half the fun, right? The Senior Partners were detail oriented like that.

But Lindsey had a secret weapon – his own set of memories, strong enough to hold on to during the hours of torture. They kept him sane; they reminded him of how he'd created the perfect backup plan.

"Come on, Buffy. You've got to push yourself. Reach deeper. It's you against the evil out there, and trust me, evil doesn't give a shit how tired you are."

Buffy jack-knifes to her feet. "Oh, I'm not tired. I'm just getting started." She feints with a left jab and then drops to her heels and swings out a foot, catching Lindsey off guard and knocking him on his ass. Foot planted on his chest, she says, "Whatcha gonna do now, huh, boss man?"

"Something like this." He kicks upwards and almost manages to reverse their positions, but Buffy has been paying attention to his lessons.

"Son of a –" With a high-pitched scream, Lindsey falls to the ground, hands wrapped around his valuables. He rolls on the floor for several seconds before managing to open his eyes.

Laughing hazel ones meet his. "What was that you were saying?"

"You're not supposed to play dirty with me," he wheezes, but secretly he's proud of the girl. She's been hesitant to go all out for weeks. Looks like she's finally gotten over it. "Angelus is the one we kick in the balls, Slayer. Not your doting Watcher."

Buffy only grins, and Lindsey can't help but grin back. So much fire for such a little slip of a thing. Angel isn't going to know what hit him.

"You ready for a break, oh Watcher-of-mine?" she asks, hand extended to help him up.

He shakes off the pain and crouches into a fighting stance. "Not on your life. The moment we stop training is the moment we allow Angelus to win. Again."

Buffy's eyes darken. "Not gonna happen, Giles. He's going to pay for what he's done."

Lindsey scoops up a blunted sword and launches himself at her. She dodges his attacks until she's secured a weapon of her own, and then she meets him blow for blow, until they both lie panting on the floor, chests heaving from the exertion.

"You done good, kid." Lindsey brushes away a strand of sweaty hair that has stuck to her cheek.

"Tell me that after I kill Angelus."

Moments like this, he loves her. Not in the way he'd loved Darla, with all his heart and soul, or in the way he loves Eve, as a man loves a woman. Lindsey loves Buffy the way he thinks a Watcher might love his charge; certainly the real Giles must have loved her this way.

Mostly, though, he loves Buffy because Angel does. And because she is going to destroy him.

 

*******

 

"Oh, it's you." Lindsey tried to smile at the monster sharpening its instruments of torture. "Should I be worried you're reading more into our relationship than I am?"

With the recognition of the Wrath came the return of his memories, front and center the vivid details of what the next several hours would entail. Hey, anticipation's half the fun, right? The Senior Partners were detail oriented like that.

But Lindsey had a secret weapon – his own set of memories, strong enough to hold on to during the hours of torture. They kept him sane; they allowed him the pleasure of imagining all the ways his backup plan might have destroyed Angel.

"Looks like you're up," he says, giving Buffy the go ahead she's been waiting for. She'd argued and argued against him taking Angelus on his own. It's a stupid plan, she'd said, and yeah, she's right. Two on one makes far more sense than having the Slayer stand watch on the sidelines. But he can't explain to her why it matters. Why it has to be this way.

Angel is his to take on. His to destroy.

And Buffy is the backup plan.

The last thing he sees before he disappears into the portal is her shocked, devastated face looking up at him. Lindsey is surprised to find he feels bad about that.

He never did get the hang of being evil.

Which was why he is being teleported away by the Senior Partners, and Angel is still the CEO of Wolfram and Hart instead of him.

Buffy will fix that, though. As soon as Lindsey disappears, she moves, giving away her position. Angel only has a moment to register shock, and hope, before a well-aimed stake crumbles him to ash.

Nah, too fast. Not satisfying enough. Maybe it had gone like this:

Buffy will fix that, though. As soon as he disappears, she moves, giving away her position.

"Angelus!"

"Buffy? What are you doing here? How are you – I thought you were dead!"

"Did you really?" She steps closer to him. "You would have liked to think so. But guess what? You failed."

"Wh- what are you talking about?"

"Less talking. More fighting." With that, she lets loose her fists, pummeling Angel until he lies bleeding and broken on the floor, staring up at her with uncomprehending eyes from his bruised, puppydog face.

"Buffy, I don't understand. I love you!"

"But I don't love you, you disgusting, evil vampire." And with that, she draws her stake and puts an end to Angel.

That was better. But Lindsey could imagine worse fates for Angel. Maybe she hadn't killed him – maybe Angel lived, knowing he'd lost Buffy forever, and not understanding why. Maybe it had gone like this…

 

*******

 

Lindsey was starting to get annoyed with these jokers. What had they called themselves? Spike, Gun, and Angel? Ridiculous names – more proof this was all some practical joke.

The one calling himself Angel sighed and stood. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but we're here to help."

Whatever game they were playing, it had gone on long enough. He pointed to the door. "Okay. Get out. Now."

Angel grabbed him by the shirt, and Lindsey felt a frisson of fear. What if these people weren't pranksters, but something worse? How would he defend Trish and Zach against all three of them?

"Look, we're telling you the truth. You don't want to believe it, that's your choice. Either way, you're coming with us."

"Get off me," Lindsey said, trying to make the bigger man let him go. It wasn't working.

"Maybe this will help you make up your mind." Angel yanked his pendant, the one Trish had given him for his birthday last year, from his neck.

Lindsey collapsed to the ground. As he hit the floor, it all came rushing back to him. All of it. He looked up, realizing he was at Angel's feet.

Angel. Wasn't dead. And Spike was there too.

"Huh. You're both still alive. I didn't expect that," he said before he could stop himself. "What did you do to my Slayer?"

"Your –" Angel reached for him, face contorted with rage and pain.

Spike got there first. "What did you do to her?" His punch sent Lindsey flying across the room, over the back of the couch, where he landed in a heap. Spike leapt after him. Fist cocked for another blow, he yelled, "Tell me what you did to Buffy!"

Before Lindsey could respond, honestly or otherwise, the stuffing erupted from the back of the couch in a hail of gunfire. Spike grabbed his shoulder and fell to the floor next to Lindsey. "What the bloody hell?"

Gunn and Angel dove over the couch and landed beside them.

"Seems the wife isn't taking too kindly to our interference," said Gunn.

"We need Lindsey alive." Angel peered around the corner of the couch, and quickly withdrew behind their less-than-substantial barricade as a spray of bullets bit into the wall, chunks of plaster raining down on their heads. "For now. You two get him outside to the car; I'll take care of Machine Gun Molly."

Lindsey found himself manhandled this way and that as the heroes saved him, possibly against his will. He wasn't yet sure whether ending up in Angel's clutches – or Spike's either, he thought, rubbing his tender jaw – was any better than where he'd been. Sort of an out of the frying pan and into the fire situation.

But either way, he found himself back at Wolfram and Hart, on a plush couch, a now mortal Eve nestled in the crook of his shoulder. And judging from the way Spike kept bringing up the matter of the Slayer, and the way Angel kept twitching, and putting him off to discuss the Senior Partners, his backup plan had worked after all.

Not enough to bring Angel to his knees, the way he'd hoped. But enough to put the hurt on.

Lindsey leaned back, hands laced behind his head, ankles crossed and feet on Angel's coffee table.

Buffy hadn't quite worked out the way he'd hoped. But that was okay. Because it looked like there was some fun left to be had with the big guy yet.

 

Faith by Baphrosia

 

Faith

 

 

It was more kinds of weird than she could count, Faith thought, to be the one the little Scooby gang turned to. Five years ago, she would have killed for this. Did, even.

She'd wanted to be the shining hero everybody looked up to, the one everybody counted on. She'd gotten a taste of that last year, when the others had staged their impromptu coup and tossed Buffy out of her own home. Faith hadn't wanted it quite so much by then, but there'd still been a mean little part of her that had gloated over Buffy's friends choosing her over the other Slayer. Finally.

'Course, the outcome had proven once and for all why Buffy'd always been the Big Damn Hero and Faith the fuckup left to rot in a sleazy motel.

Or in a coma.

Or in a jail cell.

But hell, here she was leading an army of girls, again, the G-man and the Buffettes asking her opinion before every big decision, as if she actually knew what the fuck she was doing. Faith knew she was second choice gal, that they'd have preferred Buffy in a heartbeat, but shit was what it was. Buffy was… not an option.

Being the leader sucked ass.

The moment B was in her right mind, Faith was gonna be out of there, like she'd planned to be post-Sunnydale. Hell, she might even leave before then – hadn't the idea been that they would all be free to live however the fuck they wanted once they'd defeated the First and activated all those other girls?

Too bad evil hadn't paid attention. Nah, instead it had upped its game too. By the time Faith had stuck around long enough to help search for Buffy, and then stuck around longer yet because she felt bad walking out on them when they were all grieving (and, yeah, she'd shed a tear or two herself), there'd been one crisis after another that had required the leadership of an experienced Slayer, and Faith was as close to experienced as it was gonna get.

They hadn't been settled in their new digs long before Willow had fled to Rio on the pretext of solving some crisis, taking Kennedy with her, while Xander had raced off to Africa in search of junior Slayers. The kid had been consigned to boarding school somewhere a long train ride away, leaving Faith and Andrew to hold the fort with Giles and the handful of remaining newbies that had survived the collapse of the Hellmouth.

And then the call had come in from Angel, only a few days after the throw down over that psycho Dana chick. The Scoobies had come hurrying in from every corner of the globe, closing ranks to see to their own. Faith hadn't been sidelined, not one bit, but how could she not have been jealous over the excitement, the joy, the others had shown when they'd heard their fearless leader was to be returned to them once more?

Buffy came first. Always. Faith knew the score.

Jealous or not, she'd been shocked when they'd met the plane at the hangar and found Buffy sedated and bound. And caged. Giles had cautioned them not to get their hopes up. According to the Watcher, Angel had warned him he wasn't quite sure who or what he was sending to them.

Still. Faith hadn't expected this. Not from Angel, and sure as hell not from Andrew and Dawn.

Long story short, Buffy wasn't five by five, and after the initial excitement had worn off, Faith had become the de facto leader again. The Buffettes pretended otherwise, pretended Buffy was the Slayer-in-charge again, and Faith pretended it too. And then they came to her, one by one, on the sly, casually asking her what she thought they should do. It wasn't right. Hell, it was fucked up, was what it was.

Maybe if they gave Buffy free reign, and stopped this half-trusting her thing they had going on, things could go back to normal. Normal-ish. Case in point: the refusing to give B the skinny on what had happened with the locator spells. Sure, there was the small chance Buffy wasn't really Buffy (a six point three percent chance, Andrew had decreed). Caution was advisable. She got it. Faith also got the argument that they didn't want to upset Buffy any more than they had to. But keeping shit like that from her was uncool.

Faith had been the outsider, the untrusted one, all her life. She could see the hurt in the other Slayer's eyes, and knew just how crappy it felt. No matter how many times she might've wished she could trade places with Buffy in the past, now that it had happened? Nuh uh. Thanks, but she'd pass.

 

*******

 

A couple days after Buffy had pulled her Houdini and gone vamp hunting, Faith decided enough was enough. She wanted out of this hellhole, stat, before she ended up taking one of the baby Slayers out with her own stake.

That meant getting Buffy back on her game.

"Yo," she said, trailing the other Slayer down the hallway after the morning planning session let out. "Wanna mix it up a bit?"

Buffy shrugged. "Thought I wasn't allowed to play with the other kids. Just in case my secret programming kicks in, or something."

"Yeah, well. I'm no kid, case you haven't noticed. And I can wipe the floor with you any day of the week, Blondie." Faith flashed her cockiest show-me-what-you've-got smile.

"Really," Buffy said, eyebrow shooting up and speculative glint in her eye. "That isn't the way I've heard it told."

Faith began to walk backwards, aiming for the gym. "Guess you'll be wanting to see which is the truth for yourself, then."

"Oh, I already know," Buffy said, following, then stopped, a hesitant look on her face. "You sure it's safe?"

"Isn't that half the fun?" When Buffy still hesitated, Faith said, "You and me, we were made for violence, and you haven't been getting your recommended daily allowance since you got here. Promise you'll feel a helluva lot better after."

"Well, when you put it that way…"

 

*******

 

Flat on her back, sweat streaming down her face, Buffy gasped, "You're right. I do."

"Huh now?" Faith said, in between desperate lungfuls of breath.

"Feel better."

"Sweet." She rolled to her hands and knees. "Cool new move, by the way. Didn't see that one coming. The lawyer teach you that?"

"Lawyer?"

"That Lindsey guy."

Buffy scooted backwards, until she was resting against the wall. "I forget he was a lawyer. To me, he's a Watcher, you know? But yeah, Lindsey taught me that."

"Can't believe the dweeb in the suit that I met is the same guy we're talking about. Little Lindsey must've grown up while I was in the clink."

"You knew him?"

Faith moved to sit next to Buffy. "Knew? Not so much. He was part of a team that hired me to take out Angel." She chuckled. "The big guy took me out instead. Made me realize I could change, if I really wanted it. Showed me the light, and all that crap." You didn't much care for that, she left unsaid. Old resentments would mean nothing to the woman beside her.

Wrapping her arms around her bent legs, Buffy rested her chin on her knees. "You're a Slayer. You really believe vampires can be good?"

"Vampires? No. Angel? He's about as good as you can get. Well – with the soul. Without it…" She shuddered. "Long as you don't go knocking boots with him, the world is safe."

"Giles and the others don't seem to trust him. Now that he's head of an evil law firm."

"Same evil law firm your Lindsey used to work for." Faith drummed her fingers on her legs, trying to find the right words. "Angel… at worst, he's misguided. If he'd gone evil, we'd know. I've met Angelus. He'd be eating his way through the law firm, not running it. Angel's not that guy."

Buffy sighed. "It's just so… hard to believe. I don't remember him. Or any of this."

"I do, and trust me, it's still hard to believe. But Angel did right by me, even after all the shit I did to him and his. The vamp is a genuine good guy."

"Huh." Buffy was quiet for several moments, and then she said, "And Spike?"

Faith laughed. "That boy is wrapped so tight around your little pinky, he never had a chance. You said 'be good or else'. So he went good, and never looked back."

"I just don't get it," Buffy said glumly. "It shouldn't be possible. And hello, pressure? Who was this Buffy person, that she could do this? I don't think I'm her."

"I wouldn't say that, not after our little throw down we just had. Ain't nobody but you so determined to keep me in my place." She couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.

Buffy turned to look at her. "I can't decide if that's reassuring or not."

Faith shrugged, not sure herself. She stood to stretch, twisting her torso and pulling on her shoulder with the opposite arm. "You feel any of the old sparkage when you were with them in LA? Angel and Spike? Either of them?"

"What? No! I cannot say no enough."

"Really? Huh. Guess you won't mind if I go after Spike myself, then. I could use a good workout, know what I'm saying?"

Faith watched the other woman's reaction carefully, thinking this was the real test of her Buffy-ness. Amnesia or not, the girl was damn possessive of what she considered hers.

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "If that's what floats your boat, be my guest." She stood to stretch too, no hint of jealousy anywhere to be found.

Well, shit. Either Buffy'd finally found her poker face, or there was a pod person in their mix. Andrew's six point three had just jumped up a whole bunch of percents.

 

*******

 

"I've got something," Buffy said the next morning, raising her hand.

Everybody turned to look at her, various degrees of surprise and approval on their faces. It was the first time she'd voluntarily participated in the morning briefings. Faith leaned back in her chair, trying not to grin. Buffy stepping up meant Faith was that much closer to freedom. Maybe yesterday had done some good after all.

Dawn, on another of her endless visits home now that Buffy had returned, turned to her sister. "What is it?"

Even without being able to see her face, Faith could tell how happy the kid was to see Buffy interacting. Poor thing had been through a rollercoaster of emotion after Sunnydale, and it hadn't gotten any better with Buffy's return. Buffy's amnesia, or whatever the hell it was, had been hard on all of them, but it was hardest on the kid.

At some point in the last few months, Faith had realized Dawn could've just as easily been her sister. Had she had her shit together back then, the monks might've chosen her to guard the Key. The realization had made her feel a little extra protective of Dawn – but only a little, mind you. Not like she was going to go all soft and sentimental over nothing more than a could've been.

Buffy, hesitant now that all eyes were on her, looked at Faith. Faith nodded back, trying to reassure her. Come on, B.

"We need to research some old French vampire, goes by the name of Roland."

"You met the Marquis?" Dawn squealed. "Oh my god, Giles won't let me go near him!"

"Wait… You know about this guy?"

Giles cleared his throat. "We are aware the Marquis is in the area. He is neutral, so far as we can tell, from what limited surveillance we have done."

"Hold on," Buffy said. "Powerful old vampire, and all you've done is surveil him?"

"The Council has kept a careful eye on him for years. The Marquis has been known to help us on occasion –"

"And kill on occasion. But you knew that already, didn't you?"

Giles removed his glasses, wincing at the censure in his Slayer's tone. "Yes, we are aware of the occasional death, but the Council has always deemed Roland a low priority. With but one girl in the world, they chose to focus on the more dangerous threats."

Buffy stared at him, flabbergasted. "Guess what? More than one girl now. Whole bunches of girls."

Faith shifted uneasily in her chair, wondering how this was going to play out. She'd been the one to decide the Marquis wasn't a priority, so long as he kept his fangs to himself. Live and let live, as far as she was concerned.

"I'm still not sure going after the Marquis would be the best use of our time," Giles said.

"He's a vampire! Evil, hello? Or is this not what we do now?"

"Did he do something, Buffy?" Willow said. "Because of course we'll go after him if we need to. It's just…" She shrugged. "It's not always black and white. We've lived in the grey zone… always."

Dawn leaned forward. "Think about Spike. He was evil, but you didn't think it was right to kill him once he stopped killing."

"I guess I'll just have to take your word on that. But, hey, let's talk about the key word there – stopped. This Roland hasn't stopped, he admits it himself."

"If he's killing," Faith spoke up, "We'll take him out. You and me. What happened to get him on your radar?"

Buffy frowned. "Nothing. I just – I met him. We talked." She blushed, and stared at the table. "He was actually – charming."

"Well, all right, B! You got yourself another admirer, didn't you?" Faith slapped Buffy on the shoulder. "Tell you what, go hang with him for a couple of days. He'll be fighting on our side in no time."

If looks could kill, Faith would be a smoldering pile of ash. Totally worth it, though. She stood, and gestured at the door. "Come on, let's go ask around. Check up on this Roland." When Buffy only glared, she said, "Anyone tell you 'bout the time you and I took on Kakistos? Now that was a fight. Promise to tell you all about it if you come with."

At a nod from Giles, Buffy sighed and stood. Outside, she said, "I'm only going with you because it gets me out of this place for awhile."

"Don't worry. If we don't find anything to kill, I'll let you try to kick my ass again later.'

"Try?"

Faith grinned and set off for the closest demon pub. "Hey. I was gonna tell you this wicked cool story about two hot chicks with superpowers. So shut up and listen."

Buffy fell in beside her, scowling.

 

*******

 

The reports were coming in fast and furious from the other side of the world. An apocalypse. Maybe the apocalypse.

And Angel was the cause of it.

"Motherfucker," Faith spat, trying to make sense of it all. From what she'd heard, this one was already a hundred times worse than the last apocalypse to end all apocalypses, the one that had flattened good old SunnyD, and that didn't bode well. At all. A sea of tense, expectant faces stared at her, and she closed her eyes against the sight. Buffy was supposed to be the one in charge, not her. She couldn't make decisions like this; hadn't that already been proven?

But Buffy was nowhere to be found.

"How many Slayers we got in the area?"

"Nine who can be there within a few hours," Xander said, looking at his list. "Fifteen if we can get choppers in. We'd have to find a way to pay for them, though…"

Giles blanched, but said, "I'll take care of it."

Faith turned to Willow. "How many can you handle teleporting in?"

"On my own? Maybe two. Any more, I'll be comatose for the next week. If the coven helps, we could get a portal going and send through as many as we can round up."

"Get the coven on the phone, see what they can make happen."

Andrew raised his hand. "What should I do?"

Faith closed her eyes. Why the fuck are you asking me, squirt? Do I look like I know? "Help round up all the girls. Make sure everybody is up to date on what's going on, and is ready to move ASAP."

Giles' large hand clasped her shoulder. "You're doing fine, Faith."

"Am I? Am I really? Because all I can think is 'what would Buffy do?', and I'm pretty sure she'd be –"

"Doing everything she can, the same as you."

"And why isn't she? She should be here. Not me."

"Buffy is… not herself, these days. And you are managing quite well in her stead. She would be proud." Giles cleared his throat. "As am I."

Dammit, now she had something in her eye. She turned away to rub it out.

"He's right, you know," Buffy said, once the others had left. Faith whirled to find Buffy standing in a shadowy corner. "For what it's worth… far as I can tell, you're doing fine."

"How the fuck d'you get there? No, never mind. Just thank god you're here. Willow's seeing about getting a portal opened." Faith ran a hand through her hair. "If she can't, I want you to be the other one she teleports in with me."

Buffy shook her head. "Better pick somebody else. I'm –"

"I need you, B. Memories or not, you're still our best chance."

"I'm not going. The vampire started this. Let him sort it out."

Faith could only stare. "What the hell are you saying?"

Buffy shrugged. "I kill vampires. Not help them. I'm not going."

"You can't leave Angel to this!"

"Why not? He started it. Even Giles doesn't want to help –"

"Yeah, you're right, he doesn't want to help Angel. No surprise there. But he is helping. Because there are innocents involved, and whatever Angel did or didn't do, we have to help them."

Stone-faced, Buffy didn't reply. Her continued refusal, even after months of the Scoobies setting her straight about her past, was a testament to the number Lindsey had done on her. What must have it been like for Angel, she wondered, to have had Buffy turned against him like this?

And Spike? At least Angel, despite his love for her, had built a life of his own. Spike's whole world had been Buffy, and Buffy hated him just as much as she hated Angel. The vamp had to have been devastated.

Brainwashed or not, this wasn't right. "Buffy…"

"You've got plenty of Slayers. I'm not needed."

Seriously pissed now, Faith said, "Dammit, yes, you are needed. You are the one to lead this. You may not remember it, but you're the Big Damn Hero, the one who does the right thing, no matter your personal feelings, and saves the day."

Faith would've denied the hell out of it, but she'd always, always looked up to Buffy. Buffy, who was always in the right, and always had the moral high ground. Something was majorly wrong when she was the one having to preach to Buffy.

"You're so damn good, and righteous, it makes me sick." She shoved her finger at the other Slayer, hitting her repeatedly in the chest. "And that's still in there, no matter what Lindsey did to fuck with your head. This isn't about you, or your feelings for Angel. This about saving the world. So get off your pity party, and saddle up."

Somewhere during her tirade, Xander had sidled into the room. When Buffy made to object again, with her fists, he caught her arm. She rounded on him, but he stood his ground.

Softly, as if soothing a wild animal, he said, "She's right. Whoever you are, I've watched you enough to know you're a good person. You want to do what's right. And if you're our Buff, which I'm pretty sure you are, you'd never forgive us when you got your memories back if we let you out of fighting the good fight."

Buffy slumped, eyes fixed on the ground, and Xander softened his grip and spoke more quietly yet. "You loved Angel more than life itself, but you killed him to save the world. Now you think he's evil, or at best untrustworthy. Any other day I'd say Hallelujah, finally. Me too. But the Buffy I know? Would do the right thing no matter how she felt about Angel. You always do."

Reaching up to wipe away the tears sliding down her cheeks, he said, "I'm not going to tell you that you have to do this or I won't love you anymore. I'll always love you, no matter what, Buffy. Always." He tugged her, and she went into his arms. Xander rested his head on hers. "But I know you'll regret it if you don't go. 'Cause you know it's what's right."

And there it was, Faith thought, as Buffy straightened and nodded. Xander had managed what she couldn't. She wasn't jealous – just relieved somebody had gotten through. Like she'd said, being in the position of having to preach to Buffy? Give her a dormitory full of hormonal girls to manage instead.

Xander took Buffy's hand, murmuring to her, and Buffy nodded again. Whatever the man was saying, it was working.

Faith had heard Xander had saved the world once. The puppyish boy she'd known had grown into a man. A damn fine one at that, she noted, giving him an appraising once over. Hey, apocalypse or not, she was a red-blooded woman who'd had waaaay too much female company these last few months. She'd have to be dead not to look, and she sure as hell wasn't dead yet.

 

*******

 

Faith drummed her fingers against her leg, waiting for the coven witches to finish mojo-ing up a portal.

Twenty-odd people stood against the wall to her left, weapons gripped in sweaty hands, ready to move on her say so. On the other side of her, Buffy and Dawn stood with their arms around each other, occasionally saying something inconsequential, but mostly remaining awkward and silent.

From her vantage, Faith could see both their faces. Their goodbyes were a painful thing to witness: Buffy trying too hard to play the role of older, loving sister, Dawn trying just as hard to believe it was real, and both of them unwilling to say what could be a final goodbye – again – without the pretense of an effort.

She wasn't surprised to see Buffy's expression turn to relief when the portal popped into existence, far quicker than the coven had predicted.

"Gotta jet," Faith said, grabbing Buffy's arm and tugging her to the portal so they'd be the first through.

"But Dawn –"

"No time."

Faith pretended she couldn't feel the kid's big eyes fixed on their backs, drinking in every last moment of her sister before they disappeared, or the way the tension in Buffy's muscles receded with every step they took towards the portal and away from Dawn. There was no time for feeling bad about shit like that. No time for feeling, period.

They had a war to win. The mission was what mattered now.

 

 

Spike by Baphrosia

 

Spike

 

 

Spike had raised his hand yesterday – had it really been only yesterday? – knowing he was as much as volunteering to commit suicide. Now that the moment was at hand, he wasn't quite as keen on the idea as he'd been when it had been more of an abstract notion.

But after his years at the Slayer's side, followed by the past several months with Himself, the whole Champion mentality had managed to rub off on him. Spike wasn't about to welsh now, no matter that the Senior Partners' army put the First's to shame, or that his band of rain-soaked white hats consisted of two vampires, a partially drained Old One, and a mostly dead human.

Pitiful numbers or not, the opening moments of the fight sent Spike's borrowed blood rushing through his veins. When, after cutting down the first foe, Illyria threw back her head and ululated a deafening war cry, he followed suit and dove in with abandon.

Gunn was the first to go. The other three flanked him for as long as possible, until a spiny-headed demon slipped past their defenses and ran him through. Angel and Spike slaughtered the demon with extreme prejudice, not that it made Spike feel any better. He doubted it did Angel either, but it wasn't exactly the moment to be dwelling on their losses.

Some time after they lost Gunn, Illyria took on the dragon despite Angel's having called dibs. They hadn't seen her since, but from the roars and shrieks a few blocks over, it seemed safe to assume she was still venting her feelings with full god-like wrath. Spike and Angel fought side by side until a new influx of demons separated them, but they managed to keep circling back to each other, neither wanting to go down alone.

In spite of the plethora of hits Angel had taken, and the seeming endless supply of foes, Spike wasn't so sure Angel would go down. His grandsire was in fine form, like a Berserker of old. If he hadn't been busy fighting for his own life, Spike might've been tempted to sit back and watch the old man go at it. He was that awe-inspiring.

"How's it going, mate?" Spike asked the next time he found himself back to back with Angel.

Angel grinned, fangs dripping gore, an unholy light in his eyes. Spike figured the look in his own was a match. "Haven't had this much fun in an age, boy. You?"

"It's a nice bit of carnage, all right. Could do with something tastier, though." He spat, still trying to clear his mouth of the vile taste of Fyarl.

"Cheer up, Willie. Maybe the next round they send at us will be lawyers."

"Think those taste even worse."

With a laugh, his grandsire was gone again. Metal clashed on metal. Somewhere up the block, Angel roared. Spike echoed with battle cry of his own, though it wasn't quite as full-throated as the initial one he'd loosed at the beginning of the fight.

The pouring rain had turned to turned to a light drizzle ages ago, and even that was letting up now, but the streets remained slick and dangerous. Blood and gore spattered with every step. He had to consciously make the effort not to breathe, which helped with the stench, but there was nothing he could do to dampen the assault on his ears. Spike liked a good, loud brawl as much as the next demon, but after a few hours of continuous roars, shrieks, and grunts echoing back at you from every side, it got to be a bit much.

He spun and lodged his blade into the chest of a demon. Soon as it fell, he planted his boot on its chest and had to tug with all of his might to dislodge it again. Stumbling backwards, Spike hit up against something wide and solid. Sword ready, he wheeled, only to deflect his blade in the nick of time.

"What is it?" he said, taking in Angel's surprised expression.

Angel only nodded, fangs receding and a slow smile spreading across his face.

Spike turned. "Slayers," he said, spying a small contingent of clearly super-powered girls toppling demons left and right as though they were no more than bowling pins. "Didn't expect that."

"Faith came through."

He raised an eyebrow. "You arrange this?"

"Nope. But I'm not going to complain." Angel decapitated a demon, almost absentmindedly, while Spike parried its companion. "More than enough fighting to go around. Should we go say hi?"

"Get in the way of that bloodthirsty lot? Who's to say they won't take us out next?"

"Good point." Angel turned in the opposite direction. "Plenty of demons this way too."

 

*******

 

They'd cleared their block, and the next, working ever southward with fresh determination, when Spike saw him go down.

"Angel!" he cried, shoving his way through to the spot where he'd seen him last. What the hell had gotten him? The big lug had been doing fine, holding his own with some pissant demon that was barely a threat, when he'd suddenly faltered and disappeared. "Angel? Goddammit, you better not be dust –"

"Here," came the reply from somewhere underfoot. A clearly dead Morchega demon jiggled, massive orange torso wobbling as one of Angel's arms protruded from below, but before Spike could kick the demon off he was attacked from behind.

"Bloody. Hell. Can't. You see. I'm busy?" he said, each word punctuated by a slash of the sword he'd taken off Vrjelo after he'd lost his own. "Now fuck off, there's a good lad," he told the dying creature, shoving it away and turning back to the Morchega behind him.

Angel had managed to half-pull himself from under its carcass, but his progress had been impeded by another Morchega trying to rip his head off with its pincer-like hands. He rolled left and right, barely dodging the thing's attacks, until Spike sank his sword into it.

"What's this, then? Getting tired, old man?"

Angel grunted something at him but accepted his hand, and with a mighty heave that came close to dislocating both their shoulders, popped free. He sprang to his feet and muttered a distracted thanks, head craning around Spike to look down a side street.

Spike craned his head too, wondering what had gotten Angel so flustered.

What he saw made him falter in turn. "Oh, shit. Is that – ?"

"I think so," Angel said.

"Oh, god." Spike reached out and grabbed Angel's arm, using the other man's body as a ballast. "God… Buffy."

Oblivious to the danger they were in, Spike stood frozen at Angel's equally immobile side, both of them drinking in the sight of Buffy as she rained destruction on the demons surrounding her, the gracefulness of her movements belying her deadly precision.

"Buffy," he said again, snapping out of his daze. Sword forgotten, he bludgeoned his way down the street with fists and feet, Angel forgotten too.

"Spike, wait," Angel called after him. A moment later, his heavy hand fell on Spike's shoulder. "Stop, Spike. Maybe we should let her be."

"But it's Buffy," he said, as if that was all the explanation necessary.

"I know, but…" Angel shouldered him into a doorway. "Look, I know Andrew's been emailing you. And we both know her... condition… hasn't improved. She might not be so happy to see us."

"Don't care," Spike countered, aware of just how petulant he sounded and unable to stop himself. He shoved Angel aside, saving his grandsire from death – or at least severe damage – by mace. When they'd cleared themselves some breathing room once more, he said, "I just wanna get closer, mate. Make sure she's all right."

Angel was staring Buffy's way with the same longing Spike felt. "I guess…"

"She can't hate us too much if she's here, eh?" Spike dove back into the fray with a fresh surge of energy.

"You're going to be the death of me one of these days," said Angel when he caught up to him a half block later, tossing him a newly acquired axe.

"Be no more'n payback for what your sodding amulet did to me." Spike paused, head raised, and sniffed the air. "Fresh blood." He turned, following the scent, and pointed to a row of townhouses a block ahead. "Human. In there."

Terrified screams followed his proclamation. He aimed himself toward the sound, axe clearing a path, Angel hot on his heels. In the distance, Spike could see Buffy and a handful of other girls doing the same.

The sight that met them inside the first of the townhouses was not a pretty one. Spike had dealt in carnage and mayhem for over a hundred years, but the scattered remnants of the family that had lived there left him gasping and gagging.

Angel turned to him, stricken. "These people…. What have I done?"

Spike swallowed, still dazed. A crash sounded in the next house, and he forced down his gorge and whirled for the door. "Got work to do. We can flog ourselves later."

Outside, they couldn't enter the next house, which boded well for the occupants' health but meant they were stranded frustrated and useless in the open doorway. Spike and Angel settled on clearing the street while the Slayers rushed to aid the humans huddling inside their formerly safe homes. Now and then he would catch a glimpse of Buffy as she dashed from house to house, but the memory of the massacre they'd been unable to prevent – worse, had been the cause of – was more than enough to keep Spike focused on the task at hand.

The first streaks of dawn were painting the east by the time Spike, weary to the bone, collapsed against an overturned SUV next to Angel and said, "Think we've made a dent?"

Angel surveyed the nearly empty street. A scattering of demons ran here and there, but the few who hadn't yet been slaughtered seemed to be searching for cover. The deafening clamor of battle had diminished as well – either that, or Spike had finally gone mercifully deaf.

"Unless the action went elsewhere…" Angel trailed off, and shook his head. "I hate to tempt the fates this way, but I think we did it." Staring at his hands and torso in surprise, he added, "How? How did we survive?"

"Fucked if I know." Spike groaned and stood. "May as well get as many as we can before Mr. Sunshine forces us to hole up with the rest of the unsavories."

A cluster of demons burst from a house, Buffy hot on their heels. Spike joined the battle, surreptitiously taking advantage of his proximity to Buffy to bask in her presence. She was covered with blood and gore, and wounds to match his own, but he thought she'd never been more beautiful.

Beautiful or not, he made sure to keep the pack of demons between them. Even had he forgotten he was vampire non grata with the Slayer of his dreams, her not-quite-right scent was a sharp reminder he didn't know who he was fighting alongside. More importantly, Buffy didn't remember whom she was fighting alongside. There was a good chance she would turn on him and Angel at any moment.

He hadn't survived the apocalypse to be skewered by the love of his unlife in a moment of not-so-friendly fire.

His caution proved judicious. The second the last of the demons fell, Buffy rounded on them, hands on her hips, eyes blazing. Spike stumbled backwards in the face of her fury. Angel, stiff with tension, kept pace beside him, until they'd been backed into a wall and could go no further.

Lips curled in a furious snarl, Buffy said, "They tell me you're redeemed – the both of you. That what Lindsey told me was a pack of half-truths and lies. But I'm not seeing it. This –" She swung her arm out, gesturing shakily to the houses behind them, and Spike flinched. "This. You started this. All this apocalypse, all this death. Those people in there – everywhere –"

She gagged, ashen, remembering the horrors inside anew.

Buffy's gaze had settled on Angel, but Spike felt her disgust as sharply as if she'd focused him. "You did this." She was trembling now, one arm wrapped tight around herself, the other brandishing a blood-soaked stake.

She looked between her stake and the vampires against the wall, contemplating the death sentence in her hand. Spike didn't dare move. Slowly, she half-lowered her arm, as if against her better judgment, and said, "Get out of my face. I'm not too particular which demons I cut down just now."

Before Spike could process just how close he'd come to being dusted, she was gone.

 

Lorne by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Again, thanks to the AtS writers whose dialogue I've borrowed.  This is the last of the chapters to presuppose AtS knowledge (I think...). 

 

Lorne

 

 

Lorne was not happy. And not unhappy in the 'somebody drank my perfectly chilled Perrier and replaced it with warm tap water' sense, but deeply, soul-searchingly unhappy. The kind even a flotilla of Sea Breezes, followed by front row seats to Donny-as-Joseph, would be unable to cure.

To sum up: of all the days Lorne had wished he'd never set eyes on the six-plus broody feet of Champion with a side dish of martyr complex that was Angel, today was the most wishing-est of them all, folks.

Lindsey had finally dispatched the last of the Sahrvin, and now stood washing his hands at the small, conveniently-placed sink. Part One of their role in Angel's big take-down-the-Black-Thorn plan had taken much longer than Lorne had expected – long enough he felt sure the alley rendezvous had come and gone like Vanilla Ice. Not that he'd been planning on attending, but he had thought a head start out of the city would be a good thing. Now that it was time for Part Two…

Impending wrath of the Senior Partners aside, Part Two sucked. With a capital S, as the kids say.

Lorne fingered the gun in his pocket, the coldness of the metal making his skin crawl, and gave himself pep talk number two hundred and eighteen. Fact: He'd heard Lindsey sing. Chances for redemption were slim at best. Fact: There was going to be a hell of a power vacuum, and history had proven Lindsey couldn't resist power any more than Robert Downey Jr. could resist heroin. Fact: Lindsey had as good as said he was in this to take over Wolfram and Hart after the dust settled. If Lorne went cold feet now, somebody would end up having to do his part later.

Fact: Lindsey was smiling at him. Talking about teamwork. Redemption. "You don't think a man can change?"

Fact: It was time to do the deed. Now. Right now. Clint Eastwood had nothing on him.

Somewhere in the building, a door crashed open. Reinforcements? Avenging Senior Partners? Either way, it was now or never. Lorne gripped the handle, and then promptly let go when another crash sounded, just down the hallway.

Whatever it was, it sounded angry. Hulk Smash angry. And it was fast – that, or there was more than one of the whatever it was. Maybe it would be good to keep the bona fide swordsman around a little longer.

"Think your sword arm's up for more action?"

Lindsey, already moving to grab his weapon, grinned. "What I tell you? It's good to be part of the team."

Lorne grimaced, but didn't say anything. If he lived through whatever came next, he'd wrestle his conscience then. He hurried to the far side of the room as Lindsey took front and center, more than happy to play the damsel to Lindsey's knight in dented and tarnished armor.

"Any idea –" he began, and then and then stopped with a bemused frown when a small, frail, elderly man hobbled through the door Lindsey had destroyed earlier. "Okay, I wasn't expecting that. Were you expecting that?"

The sudden tension in Lindsey's posture suggested he had been expecting that, or at least knew who the old man with the white wisps of hair and monk-like robes was.

Not someone's kindly old grandpa who'd accidentally wandered in, then. Lorne hummed a little "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", hoping grandpa would join in. The downside to his talents? He was as clueless as the next schlub without a snatch of song to read.

Grandpa proved to be one of the few old-timers immune to the charms of the Andrews Sisters. Rather, he folded his arms and managed to glare down at Lindsey from his diminutive height. "You have broken the code, Shri Lindsey. Did you think your betrayal would not go unnoticed?"

"Considering it's been almost a year, yeah, I guess I kinda hoped it had." Lindsey folded his own arms as well, sword dangling casually. "What took you so long?"

"Mocking. Always it is mocking with you, Shri Lindsey." The old man shook his head. "It was the Order of Shamaya who made you. Who hid you. A move we have come to regret most infinitely, as you were hidden from our eyes as well. But…" He gestured to Lindsey's tattoo-free arms. "Now you are not."

"Knew I should've touched up my ink. So, what? Now we fight?"

"Now you bring us the vessel, so we may destroy it."

Despite the old man's thin, reedy voice, Lorne shivered. There was power there; he didn't need to hear grandpa sing to feel it.

"Forgive me, Shri Shamaya." Lindsey dipped his head in a mockery of deference. "But I'm afraid that's not going to happen."

"You have abused the sacred knowledge given you. The vessel has defiled the pure word of the infinite. It must be destroyed."

Lindsey shrugged. "I don't even know where it is."

Shri Shamaya stood taller, seeming to grow at least a foot, and directed a sharp gesture at Lindsey's head. Lindsey jerked.

"Oh boy, here we go," Lorne muttered. He edged towards the doorway. "Well, looks like you two have some things to discuss. I'll just be going…"

The old man flung his other arm Lorne's way. Lorne froze, and not voluntarily, he might add.

"Let him go. He's not part of this," Lindsey said.

Well, that was unexpected. Warmed Lorne right down to the bottom of his heart, too. And now he almost felt guilty about his aborted role in Part Two of the plan – well, almost felt even guiltier.

The old man twisted his wrist, and Lorne's escalating guilt turned to unconsciousness.

 

*******

 

Lorne woke to find himself as immobile as if he'd been trussed for the Sunday dinner on a Pylean farm table. There were no ropes that he could feel, which meant grandpa must have hit him with a wallop of something mystical. Magic was good – magic wore off. Eventually. Maybe. Lorne opened his eyes and cautiously peered around.

Chunks of dead demon, overturned hookah. Well, at least he knew where he was. Even better: not dead yet. Head still attached to body. Things were definitely looking up. Judy Garland knew the value of silver linings, and, by golly, so did Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan.

Not far away, Lindsey stood rigid, eyes locked on Shri Shamaya's. The old man had his hand pressed to Lindsey's chest. Based on the death glare Lindsey had going on, Lorne guessed he was helpless to move away.

"I'm telling you, I have no idea where the vessel is," Lindsey said through gritted teeth. "This is pointless."

Shri Shamaya closed his eyes, a look of utmost concentration upon his face. "The vessel will come, with your knowing or not. I have summoned it. It is only a matter of –" He broke off, eyes wide. His face turned waxy, and he dropped his outstretched arm and took a tottering step backwards. "Portal?" he gasped, head thrown back. "So much power. Too much. What is it?"

Lindsey, eyes narrowed, took a tentative step away from the wizened old man. Realizing he could move again, he grinned. "Guess we fight now, huh?"

Hopeful he'd been freed too, Lorne struggled against his invisible bonds, but they held tight. Just dip him in carbonite and call him Han Solo. On the other side of the room, Lindsey was advancing on Shri Shamaya. Lorne cringed, thinking it would be a massively one-sided fight, only to let out a grunt of surprise when the old man went crazed spinning-Yoda on Lindsey's jean-clad tushie.

Well, there was a sight you didn't see every day – unless you hung out in a George Lucas studio. Lorne might have schmoozed with the evilest of the Hollywood evil over the past year, but at least he hadn't sunk that low, thank the muses. Maybe if he'd stuck with Wolfram and Hart any longer…

Despite Shri Shamaya's surprising strength and prowess, it was clear that whatever had snapped his hold on Lindsey had also sapped most of his powers. The fight went on long enough for Lorne to get bored (not that he'd ever had a fascination with violence in the first place – the only time he wanted to see that much liquid red was in a pitcher of Sea Breezes, thank you very much), but it was very definitively, if slowly, turning in Lindsey's favor.

"If I fail, others will follow," the old man gasped when Lindsey scored a brutal blow to his head. He fell to his knees. "Your sacrilege must be obliterated."

"How about I promise to take care of it real soon?" Lindsey said, and kicked Shri Shamaya in the jaw hard enough that Lorne could hear his neck snap from clear across the room.

Lorne rolled over with a yelp, suddenly free. He climbed to his feet, shaking out the kinks. "I take it His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been forcefully reincarnated." He turned away from the corpse, even smaller in death than it had been in life, with a wince of distaste. "Please tell me he deserved it."

"Depends on your definition of deserve."

"Evil hiding behind a mask of purity?"

Lindsey barked out a laugh. "Sorry to disappoint. Neutral, at best. But, uh, presuming you prefer to count yourself among the still-living, this was the only option. Kind of a him or us type scenario."

"Oh. Well in that case…" Lorne righted a chair and sat on it. The calculating, remorseless look on Lindsey's face when he'd killed the old man had Lorne rethinking Part Two of Angel's master plan all over again, but right now his legs were too shaky to do anything about it. "What's this vessel he wanted? Is it really such a big deal?"

"According to the Order of Shamaya."

"What about according to the rest of us?"

Lindsey righted a seat for himself. "Depends on who you ask." He slumped into the chair.

"And the vessel? What is it?"

"Just a little something I really wanted to keep from the Senior Partners." Lindsey fell silent, head back eyes closed.

Lorne copied his pose. Now that it was quiet, he could hear the distinct rumble of fighting. Something screeched, a drawn out reverberation that set his teeth on edge. "Sounds like the Senior Partners are a little ticked."

"You think?"

To Lorne, it sounded like the battle was getting closer. The something screeched again. Definitely closer. He stood. "Well, that's my cue."

He withdrew the revolver and aimed it at Lindsey's chest. Eyes still closed, Lindsey didn't react. Lorne's hand began to shake, and he half-lowered the gun. "Just… just one more job before I go."

Lindsey sat up at that. Noticing the gun, his expression turned incredulous. And wounded. "You don't think I've changed?"

"It's not about what I think," Lorne said heavily. "This was Angel's plan."

"Angel?" Lindsey burst from his chair. "Angel has you kill me? A flunky? I don't think so! That's not how it's supposed to go down."

"I take it that means you're not betting on getting yourself redeemed either." Lorne raised his arm and squeezed the trigger.

A blurred shape crashed into Lindsey, knocking him to the ground, then sprang up and kicked the revolver from Lorne's hand before he could react. A second kick had him on the ground, a furious Slayer poised to take his head off.

Lorne raised his hands in defense, not that it would do much good if the Warrior Princess decided to rearrange his body parts.

"Well, well. Saved by the Slayer ringing your bell." Lindsey laughed, and Buffy drew her arm back, ready to deliver the killing blow. He grabbed her wrist. "Hold up, Buffy. Let him go."

"Let him go?" She didn't move a muscle. "He was just about to kill you!"

"In all fairness, I probably deserve it."

She turned her glare on Lindsey. "So I've heard. And don't think we won't be having a conversation about the excessive amounts of bullshit you fed me." Little Miss Lemon Drop cocked her head, studying the man holding her wrist. "Is it true? You don't consider yourself redeemable?"

Lindsey seemed to take her question very seriously. "Isn't there always a chance?"

"That's not what you taught me. Giles."

He gave her a wry grin. "You got me there."

Buffy straightened. Lorne took the opportunity to roll away, under a table, only to be dragged out again.

"I'm very attached to all my body parts, I'll have you know," he said, trying to crawl away in a dignified manner and making zero progress thanks to the Slayer's grip on his ankle.

"Really, Buffy, let him go. He's actually one of the good guys."

"He's a demon who works for vampires in an evil law firm. He's one of the good guys now?"

Lorne gave up on his attempt to escape. "Believe me, sugar, nobody regrets my late choice of employment more than I do. But hey, it's been an awkward year all-around. I mean, I'm still in shock over the Janet Jackson Superbowl debacle, how about you? Wolfram and Hart had nothing to do with that, I might add."

"World's not so black and white as I might have led you to believe, Buffy. Sorry about that."

Lindsey's grin didn't look particularly sorry to Lorne.

Based on Buffy's scowl, she didn't find him convincing either. "I should've just let him shoot you."

"You still can."

She sighed. "You saved my life. I'm having a hard time forgetting that little fact, despite your otherwise less-than-moral morals. Hence me choosing to believe you're really a good guy, deep down. Way, way deep down."

"And me?" Lorne said. "I'm a good guy deep down, and on the surface. And everywhere in between. Just ask anybody. Say, any chance I could maybe stand up now?" He was really tired of crouching on the floor like a dog.

Buffy let him go. He jumped to his feet and put an overturned table between them.

"How'd you find me anyhow?" Lindsey said.

"Oh, you know. You find me when I'm on the brink of death, I find you when you're in mortal peril. It seems to be a thing that we do."

"I'm not going to complain."

"Good. And are you going to make this right?" she said, indicating the wall through which they could hear the clamor of battle just outside.

Lindsey scooped up his sword. "What are you talking about? I'm already up fifteen-nothing." He glanced at the wizened corpse of Shri Shamaya. "Make that sixteen-nothing."

Buffy drew herself up, fists on her hips. "Excuse me. It's not my fault I decided to come save your sorry ass first."

"All right then. Still. Got some catching up to do, don't you?" He gestured to the doorway. "Shall we?"

The two of them headed for the door. Lorne stared after them. "So, that's it? We all ride off into our sunsets, no harm, no foul?"

Lindsey turned back to him. "Give Angel my regards." He hooked his arm through Buffy's. She narrowed her eyes at him, but didn't otherwise protest, and Lindsey gave Lorne a cocky grin. "Should I say – our regards." As they left, he turned to Buffy. "First, I've got to check up on somebody…"

"Well, that didn't go as planned," Lorne said to the empty doorway. He sighed, deeply unhappy.

Maybe he could just send Angel a postcard.

Dear Angelcakes,

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Lindsey's alive. Your little ray of Slayer sunshine absconded with him. Cracked one of my horns doing it, too. Doesn't look as though she's cured yet, by the way. Have a fantastic life!

Sure. That could work. In a different universe.

Pocketing the gun he'd dropped, Lorne settled in to wait the apocalypse out. He could deliver the bad news in the morning. Presuming there was anybody left to deliver it to.

 

Buffy by Baphrosia

 

Buffy

 

 

Buffy tumbled through the portal, still caught in Faith's vise-like grip, and shook her head to clear it. She shrugged Faith off and took several quick steps to the right before the next wave of Slayers could crash in to her.

They'd popped out onto an empty street, but despite the lack of activity, an ear-splitting din suggested the battle somewhere very close by. Faith was already directing the incoming Slayers to it, sending them off in groups of four. They looked highly organized and efficient. And deadly.

Why had Faith thought they needed her? They were doing just fine on their own – probably better.

Eyeing the street for hidden dangers, Buffy wondered what had possessed her to change her mind. She'd been all set to give Xander a firm 'thanks, but no thanks', same as she'd done with Faith, when she'd found herself agreeing with him. Not just agreeing, but meaning it. She'd had the sudden feeling she was needed, immediately, on the far side of the world. Giles had told her about Slayer dreams and premonitions, and Buffy had no idea if you had to be actually sleeping to have one, but the feeling had been so strong, so urgent, she'd figured better safe than sorry. Something had told her to get her ass to L.A., pronto, and now here she was.

It seemed as though even magic had been conspiring to get her here, considering how the portal had opened a good hour earlier than the coven had predicted. Now that she had arrived, the feeling that had possessed her earlier was just as strong. In fact...

Buffy whipped around. A low, square building halfway down the block beckoned to her. She eyed it, confused. It was clearly in the opposite direction of the battle, but whatever force had summoned her here was coming from in there; the moment she recognized it, the pull grew even stronger.

Glancing over her shoulder to where Faith was organizing the next squadron of girls, Buffy came to a snap decision. She hurried to the building, then paused outside the front doors. Nothing pinged her Slayer senses, other than the now-fading imperative to find whatever it was that had been calling to her.

She entered cautiously, ears straining for any signs of life. With each step she took, it became apparent a major struggle of some sort had occurred here. The blood splashed across the walls was still wet, and not all of it was of the red variety. Nose scrunched, weapon at the ready, Buffy slowed her steps.

Something loud screeched a few blocks away. When the sound died out, she heard, two doors down the hallway, "... like the Senior Partners are ticked."

"You think?"

Buffy froze, shocked to realize she recognized that voice. "Giles?" she whispered.

She edged her way around the smashed doors in time to see Angel's pet green demon with the blood-red eyes pull a gun. Another step confirmed that he'd pulled it on Giles – er, Lindsey.

Lindsey. Her mind reeled. Buffy had thought he was gone forever, dead or worse, but there he was. The jumble of relief mixed with anger, and a crushing sense of betrayal, blindsided her.  But when she realized Lindsey might actually die, she didn't hesitate to rush to his side. Whoever he was, whatever he'd done, he'd saved her life.

And if anybody was going to kill Lindsey, it would be her.

 

*******

 

Buffy paused as Lindsey turned back to answer the green demon.

"Give Angel my regards." Hooking his arm through hers, he added, "Should I say – our regards."

Finally noticing her glare-of-death, Lindsey offered Buffy a semi-contrite smile as they continued on their way. "First I've got to check up on somebody."

She pulled free and stalked ahead of him, down the hallway. "The secret girlfriend, I take it?" Her tone came out more forgiving than her body language. Buffy deepened her glare and steeled her spine. She was not happy to see Lindsey. Not relieved he wasn't dead. Not one little bit.

"Not so secret anymore. Her name's Eve." Grinning, he said, "I'd say 'I think you're gonna like her', but I hate to tell a lie."

"No you don't," Buffy said, a sharp edge to her voice.

Lindsey looked at her. "No. I don't." They'd come to a stop just outside the main doors, and he turned to face her. "But a part of me does. Sometimes that part even wins."

Buffy searched his eyes, wondering if she'd made a mistake in stopping the green demon. From what everybody had told her, Lindsey was not one of the good guys, and he'd as much as confirmed it. He'd lied to her. Used her. Hurt her, deeply.

But things had been so simple with him. And if he really did want to turn over a new leaf… shouldn't she help him?

Something big slammed into the other side of the door, breaking her scrutiny and reminding her that now wasn't the time to resolve the myriad issues between them. "Meet me back at my apartment?" Buffy frowned. "Do I still have an apartment?"

"Yeah – and it's still protected too, so it should be safe from all this." He jerked his head at the commotion outside. "We'll meet you there. If we make it through the night." Lindsey took her hand, and squeezed it. "I was worried about you, you know. I'm glad you're okay."

"I –" The doors bulged inward, knocking Buffy off balance. She shook her head. "I'm really, really pissed at you. And I owe you a major ass-kicking." The hinges groaned under the weight of whatever was on the other side of the doors. "Which will apparently have to wait until after everything else is done with the kicking. But... I'm glad you're okay too."

The walls around the doors trembled. Gripping her weapon more tightly, Buffy gestured to the door handles. "Ready?"

Lindsey grinned. "Let's do this."

 

*******

 

Buffy was exhausted. More than exhausted. Whatever word meant more than exhausted, that's what she was. She couldn't sleep, though; instead she paced her apartment, her worry for Lindsey mingling with afterimages of the night before –

Lindsey disappearing into the night, sword dripping a trail of blood and gore as he went.

A Slayer caught by a pair of vampires, drained before she could get there.

Barely dodging a mace aimed at her head; grabbing the chain as it whistled by; reversing the momentum so it wrapped around the neck of the ogre who had wielded it.

A gang of well-armed humans, fighting alongside a squadron of Slayers.

Angel gazing at her with soulful, puppydog eyes; the naked longing on Spike's face; their transparent emotions painful and disconcerting.

Screams. The high-pitched, terrified screams of a child.

Carnage.

Oh, god. The carnage inside those houses.

Buffy stumbled to a halt, back of her hand to her mouth, willing herself not to retch again. When she thought she had it under control, she moved to peer out her window into the empty, devastated street below, wondering where Lindsey could be. Should she go look for him? Wait there? She couldn't make up her mind.

A pack of dogs wandered down the street, the leader stopping to sniff at one of the more interesting chunks of dead demon before taking a tentative lick.

Buffy bolted for the restroom.

After, she curled up against the tub, the cold porcelain soothing her overheated cheek. "What am I doing here?" she muttered. Maybe she should go find the others, Faith and the girls, go back to England. Be with her friends and family.

She rejected the idea before it could fully form. They expected so much of her. She was done with that life, done trying to pretend she was somebody she wasn't. This was easier. Simpler.

Or would be, if Lindsey ever showed up.

A loud rapping sounded at the door, and Buffy jerked, startled from the half-doze she'd fallen into. She leapt to her feet, shrieking when her aching muscles protested the sudden move.

"Buffy?" The door shook, causing the painted glyphs on the doorjamb to shiver.

"Coming," she called. "Don't worry, I'm –" She threw the door open, and Lindsey stumbled inside. Buffy grabbed him before he could fall, horrified by his condition.

One side of his face was black and blue, swollen beyond recognition, the other was coated in dried blood from a flapping scalp wound. His clothes were worse than rags, his knuckles split, and one arm hung at an odd angle.

Buffy didn't want to see what lay beneath his clothes.

"My god. What happened to you?"

"Should see the other ten thousand guys," Lindsey slurred. He looked her up and down with the one eye that hadn't yet swelled shut. "Not doing so great yourself."

"Shhh. Don't talk."

She settled him on the couch, and hurried to retrieve the first aid kit. With a wince, Buffy eased his shirt off, then went to work. "I think we need to get you to a hospital."

"They're all full."

"Right. Didn't think of that. And I told you not to talk."

Lindsey grunted. Seconds later, he passed out, which Buffy figured was a blessing. How had he made it to her door in this condition? God, she shouldn't have let him go off by himself to get –

Eve. Where was Eve?

Buffy bit her lip.

Part of her wanted to shake Lindsey back awake, to see if there was something she should do. Some way she could help. The other part of her suspected there was nothing she could do, otherwise it would have been the first thing out of his mouth.

She finished ministering to him as best she could, and then went to poke around the kitchen cupboards to see if there was anything still edible left. The fridge, she'd already discovered, was best left shut tight. Buffy found some dry cereal that had gone stale, but it went down fine with a glass of tap water.

Hunger sated, she curled up in the armchair next to sofa, and willed herself to sleep.

 

*******

 

Buffy reached to take the glass from Lindsey once he'd washed down the painkillers she'd given him. "What happened to you?"

His mouth twisted. "Got there too late. The building was overrun, and Eve…" He closed his eyes, and let out a bitter laugh. "She gave up immortality for me, you know. If I'd never –"

"I – I'm sorry."

"I loved her. But not enough. Not enough to be worth that kind of sacrifice."

Buffy took his hand, not knowing what to say.

"And Angel –" Lindsey sat up abruptly, gasping when the movement jarred the arm she'd just splinted.

"Shhh," Buffy said. "Relax."

"Relax? Relax? He left her there. To die!" He was on his feet now, pacing, limping painfully with every step but too wrought up to care. "Of course, he was going to double-cross me, kill me, and not even bother to do it himself, the fucker, so –" Lindsey whirled and punched the wall. Shaking his hand out, he faced Buffy, his visage a mask of anguish. "Tell me he didn't make it through the night."

"Sorry. I saw him and Spike just before sunrise." When she'd not killed them, despite her instincts to the contrary. If either one of them would have fought back, or moved even a muscle, the outcome might've been a different story.

Lindsey began to pace once more, un-splinted arm gesticulating wildly. "You know what? Good! Gives me a reason to live – to kill him. Or maybe torture – think he'd appreciate that."

Buffy grimaced, not sure whether he was venting, or serious. Aiming to distract him, she said, "Besides killing Angel, what are our plans?"

"Our?" Lindsey stopped, his scattered attention suddenly focused on her. "Is there an our?"

"Here I am. Here you are…" She shrugged. "I was kinda thinking you could be my Watcher again." The idea had come to her while he was sleeping and hadn't let go, no matter how insane it felt to want to team up with the guy who'd betrayed her. "We could go fight evil, just you and me, like old times. Might be fun."

He stared at her.

Picking at the bandage on her arm, she added, "But maybe you had other plans…"

Brow furrowed, Lindsey said, "You – you want to stay with me? Figured you'd be running back to your real life with the others."

"What real life?" Buffy jumped up and crossed the room with jerky, agitated steps. "I don't remember them – don't remember any of it! All I remember is you!"  She stopped in front of him, almost nose-to-nose, hands on her hips. "Did you have something to do with that? Is it your fault I smell wrong, according to the vampires? Did you fix it so locator spells don't work on me?"

Lindsey flinched backwards at her vehemence. "If I did, don't you think Angel and Spike would have gotten it out of me by now? And believe me, they tried. They can be very persuasive when they put their minds to it." He collapsed onto the couch with a mirthless smile. "But there was nothing to tell."

Eyes narrowed, arms crossed, she stared Lindsey down. It didn't seem to perturb him in the slightest. "They wanted to check me for tattoos," she said. "Like you have – er – had."

"And?"

She tugged the front of her t-shirt away from her body and peered down at the bare skin of her chest, as she'd done multiple times since Spike had first questioned her. Then she held her arms out and twisted them, exposing both sides, before craning her neck to examine what she could of her back. "Don't see any. Other than that Celtic-looking one on my hip, but they tell me I already had that."

"Exactly what I told them too."

Buffy whumped down on the couch beside him. "Then what's wrong with me?" She dropped her head into her hands, and in a defeated voice, said, "I was really hoping you would know."

Lindsey reached out to rub her back with small, soothing circles. "You were close to death, Buffy. With serious head trauma. And you were in the Hellmouth for days, bathing in whatever voodoo it was pumping out all that time. I'd be surprised if there weren't weird after-effects."

"Urgh. You think it will ever go away?"

"We can hope."

As much as she wanted to be comforted, Buffy was still too mad at him to let herself enjoy it. She moved to the other end of the couch from Lindsey and leaned back with a sigh. Then she swiveled her head so she could glare at him. "You lied to me. About Angel, about Spike, about Slayers –"

"I did. Used you for my own personal agenda too."

"Well, that's something," she said, huffing out an un-amused laugh. "Should I bother asking why?"

"Do you need to? Thought you would've figured it out by now."

"Angel."

Lindsey grinned. With his swollen, battered face, it looked grotesque. "Angel. We don't see eye-to-eye, you might say."

Rolling her head back to stare up at the ceiling, Buffy said, "I should hate you."

"You don't?"

"I do. But being with you also feels more… I don't know what the right word is. Comfortable? Familiar?" She scrunched her nose. "Comfimiliar?" Buffy sighed again. "You don't expect me to be me. The old me. Everybody else does – that, or they think I'm some kind of sleeper agent, all set to murder them in their sleep. It's exhausting. I feel like a bug under a microscope, and I can't do it anymore. So, I'm running away." She turned back to Lindsey. "Wanna come with? Be my Watcher buddy again?"

Lindsey blew out a long breath. "You know I'm not really a Watcher, right?"

"Yep."

"And I don't have – I'm just a regular human now. Not super-strong anymore."

"But you're still wicked good with a sword."

"I get by."

"Plus, you know, if you're serious about this whole atonement thing…"

One side of his mouth quirked upwards. "Gonna turn me into one of your redemption projects? Add me to your list of conquests?"

Buffy looked at him askance. "As long as you don't mean that in a romantic sense. Because ew. You're – well, not really my Watcher. But you're, like, my dad or uncle… or teacher… or something..." Her mouth could stop moving any time. Really.

"Gee, thanks."

"I didn't mean –"

Lindsey waved her protests away. "Don't worry, I already have a girlfr –" He jerked and crumpled in on himself, chest heaving, breathing ragged.

"Oh, shit, Lindsey, I'm so sorry…" Buffy scooted back to his side, and wrapped her arms around him when he let out a harsh cry. The state he was in, any thoughts of thumping him had long since fled, and now she couldn't help but feel for him. Making soothing, shushing noises, she did her best to hold him together while he vented his grief.

When he trailed off into occasion hiccoughs, she handed him a damp paper towel, then went to look around the kitchen for some food to give him some time to compose himself.

"Hey," she said as she approached the sofa. She handed him the box of cereal she'd snacked from earlier, and a fresh glass of water. "It's not much, but it beats, well, nothing."

"Thanks," he said, his voice hoarse. He grimaced as he chewed a small handful. "Think I'd rather have nothing."

"Suit yourself," she said, snatching the box back and taking a handful for herself.

With another grimace, Lindsey climbed to his feet and went to the window, hissing at every pained step. "Think somebody out there's willing to deliver a pizza?"

Lobbing her all-circuits-are-busy-please-try-later cell phone at his head, Buffy said, "Good luck with that." He fumbled his one-handed attempt at a catch and dropped her phone, and she snickered at his grunted curse. "Maybe you shouldn't have helped fang boy start an apocalypse, dumbass."

"Yeah, maybe, huh? Hindsight's a bitch." Lindsey looked out the window a long time, absently rubbing at the thin scar encircling his left forearm. He sighed, and turned to her. "Did you have somewhere in mind?"

"Huh?"

"This running away plan of yours. We can't stay in Los Angeles – not if you want to avoid being found."

Buffy blinked. She hadn't actually expected him to agree. Nor was she sure it was actually what she wanted. But it was a plan, and plans were good. Much better than feeling lost and alone and plan-less. "Um… I guess someplace with vampires and demons, so we can do our thing… But not too many? Not enough to warrant a Slayer being posted there."

"Good thinking. You look into that."

"What are you going to do?"

Lindsey held out his un-splinted arm, examining the skin left exposed by his t-shirt the same way Buffy had examined her arms earlier. "I'm feeling kind of naked."

 

*******

 

Heaving the last of the bags into the back of the beat up old SUV, Buffy said, "And we're ready to go."

"You sure you want to do this? You can still change your mind." When she shook her head, Lindsey added, "They're probably worried about you, you know."

"That's the problem. Everybody worries so much. It's a giant worry-a-thon, and I'm the object of it. I can't take it anymore." Buffy pulled the tailgate down with a determined yank. "Tell me one thing before we go. Am I the really real Buffy Summers? You didn't replace me with some clone, or doppelganger, or something?"

He smirked at her phrasing. "You are the really real Buffy Summers. The gen-u-ine article. Promise."

She squinted at him. "So you say. But you tend to lie."

"Not this time." He grinned. "Double promise and cross my heart."

"Hmmph. You forgot hope to die."

"It's implied."

"Damn right. Because if you're lying to me again…" Buffy poked him in the chest, and he hissed in pain. "Sorry! Sorry!"

Lindsey undid the next button down on his shirt and eased the fabric open, examining the bandages below with a pained grimace. "Forgot how much tattoos hurt when you don't have superpowers."

"Right. Sorry," she said again. Walking to the passenger side, she asked, "You sure you're okay to drive?"

"Have you gotten any better since I've been gone?"

"That would be a definite no."

"Then I'm more than okay."

Lindsey climbed into the driver's seat, but instead of turning the car on, he sat, looking out the window, contemplating the people in the road. Buffy followed his gaze. A group of old men were trying to right an overturned car on the other side of the street. A little farther away, a woman wielded a push broom, her shoulders slumped and her head bowed. At the opposite end of the block, a pair of firefighters had rigged a hose to the fire hydrant, and were spraying away the blood and gore that had dried into a sticky, congealed crust after two days under the hot sun.

"Maybe we should stay and help them…" she said.

"We'd be here forever." Lindsey shook his head. Gesturing at the woman with the broom, he said, "This part they can handle. The cleanup. You did your part when you kept them alive long enough to be here for the cleanup."

"Maybe… Hey – that guy." Buffy pointed to a small, robed man shuffling along the sidewalk. She frowned, trying to figure out why he looked so familiar, then snapped her fingers. "He looks like one of the dead guys, the night I found you." The old man peered up at Buffy's apartment building. "Do you think he's looking for you?"

"Could be." Lindsey reached across the wheel with his good arm to turn the keys and shift the car into to gear, then pulled away from the curve, managing to swerve only a little despite maneuvering the vehicle with just one arm.

Buffy was impressed. It was still better than she could have done with both hands.

The old man turned slowly, his rheumy eyes scanning the street before looking up at the apartment building again. Lindsey frowned, and let go of the wheel to rub at the tattoos under his shirt. "Good thing we're out of here," he said, and took the wheel again.

"Who is he?"

"Somebody you don't want to meet."

His harsh tone made Buffy fall silent. She scowled, but figured she'd ask again later, when he wasn't trying to drive an SUV one-armed.

They turned the corner, and Lindsey relaxed, his grip on the wheel loosening and the whiteness of his knuckles fading. As they neared the freeway entrance, he said, "Don't suppose I could talk you into killing Angel before we skip town? Just for old times' sake?"

Buffy trailed her fingers over the cool glass of the window, and thought of all the damage the city had endured. "You know, I'm surprisingly ambivalent about the idea. But no. I'm ready to move on from all this. Move on from my old life." She turned to look at him. "Aren't you?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

"Yeah. You are." She rested her head against her window, and tried to ignore the guilty feeling that she was abandoning the people who loved her. Just as Xander had predicted.

Lindsey was right. They were going to worry. And even though she tried to deny it, Buffy was going to worry about them worrying. Her stomach clenched as the SUV accelerated onto the freeway, and not from the sudden burst of speed.

But she couldn't go back. She wasn't the person they wanted her to be. It was best for everybody if she moved on.

She'd send them a postcard next time they stopped for gas. Then maybe everybody could quit worrying.

 

Dawn by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Take a look at the gorgeous, unexpected present RedSatinDoll made for me!  Thank you!!

.

 

 

Dawn

 

 

With every step Buffy and Faith took towards the portal, Dawn's certainty that this was the last time she'd see her sister grew. Dread unfolded in her stomach, spreading cold tendrils throughout her body. It took all her willpower to remain rooted in place when every fiber of her body ached to run after her sister and cling to her. Beg her not to go.

Two steps more, and Buffy and Faith disappeared, a dozen Slayers following after. Dawn's sense of foreboding continued to grow. She was on the verge of running through the portal herself when one of the witches shouted out an agitated warning to the next Slayer in line. Kennedy pulled up short, just before the portal winked out of existence.

"What just happened?" Kennedy looked over to the dais where the five witches sat. "Get it back open!"

The witch who had shouted out the warning collapsed backwards, screaming, and the room devolved into chaos.

Dawn pressed herself against the wall. "I knew something felt off about that portal," she heard Willow say as she dashed by, Giles huffing and puffing at her heels.

"Oh god…" It hadn't just been nerves. Something had been wrong.

"It opened to Los Angeles. We could hear the battle," a raven-haired witch shouted.

"Yes, but can you guarantee it was this dimension? Or that it did not affect those who passed through?" Giles shouted back.

Willow ran by her again, in the opposite direction, this time with Kennedy in tow.

"Wait!" Dawn called, and took off after them. She was panting by the time she caught up to them on the front lawn. "What's going on? Is Buffy – are the Slayers okay?"

"Yes, of course," Willow said. "I'm sure they're fine. We're just going to –" She grabbed Kennedy's hand, and before Dawn could say another word, they disappeared with a loud pop.

When she got back to the gym, Giles and the raven-haired witch were still going at it. The other witches were attending to the one who had screamed, while Slayers milled about, unsure what to do with themselves. In a far corner, Xander and Andrew were having a heated discussion of their own. Dawn made her way over to them.

"What's happening?"

Xander shook his head. "Nobody knows. It's pandemonium central, with a side of bedlam."

"But they're alright? The ones who made it though?"

Andrew's phone rang. "Hello? Yeah? Okay – very good." He climbed onto a chair. "Everybody? Can I have your attention? Hello?" When the room had quieted, he waited several beats longer, playing up the suspense, before revealing his news. "They're okay. That was Willow. She said she has eyes on our girls."

The room exploded in tumult. Dawn tugged on Andrew's sleeve. "She saw Buffy?"

He hopped down next to her and removed his glasses. "Um… she didn't give me any specific names. Just said they'd all been accounted for," he said, polishing the lenses.

All meant Buffy too. Relieved, Dawn rubbed away the tears she'd been holding back.

Her relief didn't last long before her brain, stupid, unhelpful thing that it was, pointed out that just because Buffy had made it through the portal in one piece, it didn't mean she would survive the coming battle.

 

*******

 

It had taken several hours, and was nearing sunrise on the far side of the world, before the coven got a second portal open. Though it seemed Los Angeles had survived the night, Willow's latest call had assured them there was a huge need for reinforcements. Another dozen girls were lined up against the wall, waiting for the new portal to open so they could be those reinforcements.

Dawn waited too, along with Giles, Andrew, and Xander. Tensions had been running high all night, and the majority of the people in the room were fast approaching their breaking point, not least the remnants of the coven's witches.

Half a dozen Slayers disappeared before Dawn made her move. Acting on impulse, she went up on tippy toes to kiss Xander on the cheek. He turned to her, his one eye squinting curiously. She half-shrugged, then spun and dashed towards the portal, snatching one of the waiting Slayers' weapons before tumbling through to the other side. Xander's cry of "Dawn! Stop!" rang in her ears, unheeded.

She got tangled up with somebody for a few seconds, and then she was free, pounding her way away from the shrieks and the roars and the other Slayers. Luckily for her, the witches had opened the portal on the outskirts of the combat zone. Dawn was able to evade the few demons who lunged for her, quickly outpacing them before drawing to a wheezing stop on a quiet side street.

Breath under control once more, she looked around. What to do next? She didn't know; her only plan had been to get to Los Angeles. To Buffy. But, duh, Buffy wouldn't be here. She'd be in the thick of battle. So, right. That was where she needed to be too.

Dawn edged back down the street, keeping to the shadows and small spaces, eyes and ears alert and weapon at the ready. A band of demons ran through the nearest intersection, Slayers hot on their heels. She steeled herself to race to the next hidey-hole, but before she could, a second group of demons lumbered by. One of them, a tremendous, purple scaly thing, stopped and looked down the street in her direction, considering.

Smart, Dawn, she chastised herself, shrinking back into the doorway. Just jump through, all willy-nilly, no plan. Look where willy-nilly gets you.

The demon must have moved on; that, or it was still considering. Dawn peered around the doorpost, heaving a sigh of relief when she didn't see anything waiting to take her head off.

Okay, new plan. No way was she going to be able to find Buffy, not with the legions of Hell in her way. Getting dead wasn't high on her list of priorities, and it wouldn't find her sister besides. She stood, dithering, until what sounded like the distant cry of Xander, calling her name, made up her mind. That way. She would go that way.

And damn Xander for following her. Now she had to feel guilty for bringing him into this too, and how had she been so stupid as to think he wouldn't come after her?

Dawn crept around the corner and in the direction she thought she'd heard Xander's voice, wishing she would have planned ahead a little better. Maybe brought her cell phone along. It took forever to traverse the next block, thanks to the constant need to hide from slavering, bloodthirsty creatures that would've been more than happy to foil her not-getting-dead plan. The eastern sky was well on its way to pinkish-blue when she noticed a pair of demons slinking down the street who didn't make her heart seize up with fright.

One bent down to work at a sewer cover, while the other scanned the area.

"Spike," she hissed. He popped up like a jack-in-the-box, and looked around wildly. "Over here."

His eyes widened. "Nibb – Dawn. What are you doing here?" He peered around again, then narrowed his gaze, scrutinizing her. "And alone?"

"A good question I cannot answer, other than to plead willy-nilly-ism gone wrong."

The confused look both vampires sported made her giggle. Spike curled his lip at her before glancing up at the sky, eyeing it with trepidation.

"Much as I'd love to continue this little chat with you, me and Angel here have imminent other places to be." He frowned. "You really on your own?"

"For now."

"Come on, then," he said with a put-upon sigh. "How is it I always get stuck babysitting you?"

"Hey!" Dawn said. "I don't need a babysitter!"

"We can't take her with us," said Angel at the same time. "Not down there."

Spike growled in exasperation. "Well, we can't leave her up here by herself, either. All manner of nasties still lurking about. And neither of us is going to be much use as a big pile of dust, so." He turned to Dawn. "Chop chop. Down we go."

Angel shook his head and crossed his arms. "Down we go – with all the other nasties that have already fled into the sewers. Who knows how many? We're probably going to be fighting for our lives as it is. Dawn will be safer up here."

Hands on hips, trying to look tougher than she felt after a good hour of hiding from every said nasty, Dawn said, "That's right. And who says I want to go with you anyhow? You're not part of my li – eep!"

Tired of arguing, Spike had grabbed her about the waist and jumped into the manhole. They landed with a wet splash.

"Oh – gross!"

"Shh," Spike said, moving out of the way so Angel could jump down too. He turned to shield Dawn from the worst of Angel's splash.

"Thanks," she grumbled, unhappy to find herself in the sewer but touched Spike still automatically protected her, even after the way she'd treated him the last time they'd met. "So what's the plan?"

Spike shrugged and turned to Angel. "Mon Capitaine? What's our heading?"

Angel rolled his eyes. "I guess the Hyperion's as good a place as any to lay low for the day."

"Right. Because the big, scary, evil won't think to look for us there."

"I don't think they'll come looking for us at all. We seem to have won," Angel said, his tone indicating his surprise at their victory.

Spike snorted. "We survived the night, you wanker. Doesn't mean there won't be payback. Probably a contract on our heads being written up as we speak."

"Shut up, Spike."

"No, you shut up –"

Angel clapped his hand over Spike's mouth, hissing, "Quiet, moron."

The two of them froze, heads cocked, their complete lack of movement turning them into no more than dim outlines in the gloom of the sewer. Dawn held her breath, straining to hear whatever it was that had caught their attention. After several long, painful minutes, during which she had to cross her legs to hold in the sudden, desperate need to pee, Angel removed his hand and relaxed.

Spike spat. "You taste vile."

"You're not so appetizing yourself, Willie." Angel wiped his hand on his jacket. "And you slobbered on me. What is wrong with you? You're like some kind of animal."

"Thought you liked that about me."

"Oh my god!" Dawn's eyes widened in comprehension, her overfilled bladder forgotten in the face of her realization. "That's why you didn't tell us you were alive!"

Spike turned to her, brow creased. "Huh?"

"You –" Dawn pointed to him, then to Angel. "Him." Her finger went back and forth between the two of them. "You're – oh my god."

"Oh your god, what? What are you nattering on about?"

"The two of you! Together! With the –" She blushed.

Angel recoiled. "Dawn, you've, uh, you've got the wrong idea…. We're not –"

"What idea?" Spike said, frown deepening. "We're not what?"

"Together," Angel muttered, his mouth curling around the word as if he'd bit into a lemon.

Spike looked disbelievingly at him before snapping his gaze to Dawn, expression a mix of outrage and disgust. "You think – him – and me?" His voice rose an octave on the last word.

"It's not that big a deal, Spike. I should've known. I mean, it makes sense when you think about –"

"No. Just –" He turned to Angel, who took a quick step away. "Oh, for the love of – let's get a move on, before something even more pernicious than this one here finds us," he said, jerking his thumb at her.

Dawn scrunched her nose. "You're pernicious," she shot back, feeling about twelve years old.

Spike ignored her. "Maybe we can find Buffy. She can't have gotten far."

"Wait!" Dawn grabbed his arm. "You saw Buffy? When? Is she okay?"

He turned to her then, softening. "Yeah, Bit. Saw her maybe half an hour ago, and she was fine. Tired, cut up some, none too happy with yours truly, but fine."

"Oh, thank god." She sagged against the wall, uncaring of how filthy it was, and rubbed her burning eyes. "All right, let's find her, then."

"You didn't arrange a place to meet up?"

Dawn chewed her lip, silent, and refused to meet his eyes.

"She doesn't know you're here, does she." She shook her head, and Spike sighed. "Makes sense. Couldn't quite believe she'd bring you to an apocalypse, even if she is a bit touched in the head these days."

"She's just forgotten," Dawn said, automatically defending Buffy. "It's not her fault."

"Know that, Bit."

"She's still the same?" Angel said. "No change?"

Dawn shook her head. Unable to keep from doing the dance of desperation any longer, she said in a rush, "Look, this conversation is fun and all, but can we get moving? Preferably to someplace with a bathroom?"

Angel flinched away, looking mildly disgusted as he realized what she meant. She would've told him to grow up, but she was too busy trying to mentally calm the urgent twinges of her bladder. Not that it probably mattered, with whatever else was all over her jeans, but still. Peeing her pants was at the bottom of her to-do list for the day, right below dying in a sewer.

"It's going to be too hard to track Buffy from down here," Angel said. "Let's just go to the Hyperion for now. We can figure out a better plan once we get there. Besides, if any of our side's looking for us, that's where they'll check first. We'll just have to hope the bad guys are too disorganized to come after us right away."

Spike nodded and took the lead, guiding Dawn with a hand to her elbow. "You talking to me again, then?"

"This doesn't count."

"End of the world never does. People say all manner of things they don't necessarily mean."

"Spike?" Dawn turned to him, surprised by his melancholic, wistful tone.

He gave her a tight smile, and shook his head. "Let's keep moving."

"And keep your voices down, would you?" Angel said, trudging behind them. "The whole world's gonna know we're here."

"Your wish is my command, oh fearless leader," said Spike.

Dawn snickered. "I don't know how you think you're not a couple."

Spike glared at her and stalked ahead, silent except for the nearly inaudible splash of his boots. Dawn followed, far more noisily, with Angel bringing up the rear.

 

*******

 

"I'm just saying, Dawn. Don't do that again. You nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"I was fine, Xander…"

"By happy coincidence alone! And what if you'd gotten hurt? Or worse? What was I supposed to tell Buffy?"

"Not like Buffy even cares."

Willow let out a tiny gasp. Xander pulled back, shocked. On the far side of the Hyperion lobby, Angel and Spike tried hard to pretend they were too preoccupied with the injured Slayers to hear what was being said on this side.

"Well it's true," Dawn mumbled, face burning. She knew she was being a brat. Heck, she even agreed with Willow and Xander, but the way they'd ganged up on her in front of everybody hadn't exactly brought out her mature side.

"So let me get this straight," Xander said. "You don't think Buffy cares about you. You don't care about her. And despite all the not-caring going around, you had to come after her because…?"

Dawn blinked, faster and faster, but her tears still slipped out. She dashed at them and said, "You know why."

Xander heaved a tremendous sigh, and enfolded her in his arms. "It's confirmed. I'm officially a jerk." He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "With the long night from hell – I'm sorry, Dawnie."

"You had us worried," Willow said, patting her shoulder. "It's not just about Buffy – we're card-carrying members of the 'don't want Dawn getting hurt' club too, you know. I mean, sure Buffy's the president, but we're the co-vice presidents."

Burying her head into Xander's shoulder, Dawn said, "I'm sorry. I just had this feeling –"

"It's done now." Xander gave her a final squeeze, and released her.

Willow nodded and drifted off to help with the injured, while Xander slid down the wall with a mighty groan, and closed his eye. Dismissed, Dawn wandered over to the lobby doors and stared out at the sundrenched street through the filmy glass, watching small groups of haggard people scurry by.

A tall man in a fedora and a brown leather trench coat peeled off from the back end of one group, and headed straight for the front doors. Dawn hurried over to Angel. "Um, somebody's coming…"

The somebody pushed open the door and stood there surveying the room. Dawn's eyes saucered when she realized he wasn't exactly a man, not unless men had green skin and blood-red eyes now. She moved closer to Spike, expecting a fight to break out, but Angel rushed forward, smiling. Spike stepped around her and approached as well, more nonchalant than Angel, but grinning just as widely.

"Miss me, chickadees?" the green man said.

"Lorne. You're okay."

"That's the good news. But the bad news is why I'm here, and not halfway to the golden sands of Rio with a Mojito in my hand."

Angel immediately turned serious. "He's not dead."

"Who's not dead?" said Spike.

"More than not dead. You might want to sit down for this one."

"Who's not dead?" Spike repeated.

"Lindsey," Angel answered offhandedly, then said to Lorne, "Go on."

Spike stepped between them. "Hold on. Why would Lindsey be dead? Me, I like him alive. Seeing as he's the one who has the answers about Buffy, and answers tend to be a bit hard to get out of a dead man."

"Big picture, Spike," Angel said, and shouldered him aside. Spike shouldered his way back, glowering.

Lorne waved his hand. "All a moot point anyway, mes amis. I still recommend you sit. Both of you." When neither of them moved, he said, "No? Fine. I'll sit."

Dawn, no longer afraid carnage was about to ensue, came to stand on the other side of Spike as Lorne eased himself onto the couch with a weary sigh.

Registering her presence, Lorne offered her a tired, apologetic smile. "Forgive me if I ignore the manners my mother never taught me and don't stand to make your acquaintance. Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan, but you can call me Lorne. And you are?"

"Dawn Summers."

Lorne's eyes grew wide. "Of course. You know, you might want to sit…? Nobody wants to sit? Just me?"

"Lorne…" Angel said.

"Right. Get to the reason I hauled my sorry green ass back here." He interrupted himself with a half-groan, half-yawn, then said, "My apologies, compadres… Long, long night. You'll be happy to know the Sahrvin went down as planned. Then there was a bit of a distraction with this fellow who looked like a little old grandpa but fought like Mike Tyson on crack cocaine. Packed a deadly mystical wallop too. Lindsey called him Shri Shamaya, ring any bells?"

Angel and Spike both shook their heads. Lorne went on. "Grandpa was looking for some kind of vessel he said Lindsey had desecrated, but that's neither here nor there, since Lindsey terminated him. Anyhoo, there I was, ready to debut in my first and last performance as Woody Harrelson's father when in comes –" Lorne broke off. "Are you sure you don't want to sit?"

"In comes who?" Angel said.

"Temper, big guy. In comes Miss Summers' big sister herself, bent on saving her faux-Watcher from his fate."

"What?"

"How'd she –"

"Buffy?" Dawn said. "You saw her? When?"

"It was early on, sugar cookie. Hours and hours ago."

Dawn decided to sit after all.

"Tell me what happened. Everything," Angel said, hovering over them. Spike hovered beside him.

"Let's just say the Slayer didn't approve of your plans for Lindsey, jefe. She was hell-bent on putting my lights out for good, but Lindsey, swell guy that he very rarely is, talked her out of it. Then they left. Together."

Spike frowned. "Weren't together when we saw 'em. Just before sunrise."

"Lindsey did say he had to go check up on somebody. My guess is our friend Eve." Lorne shrugged. "Maybe some other demon finished the job I never started. But I was getting a definite planning-to-stick-together vibe off of them when they left. And now that's done –" He put his hands on his knees and pushed himself upright with a groan. "Rio's calling, and I'm answering."

"Lorne…" Angel said.

Hands up, Lorne said, "No… I told you, Angel…"

Uncomfortable with the tension between Angel and the green demon, Dawn left to tell Xander and Willow the news about Buffy.

 

*******

 

It was Sunnydale all over again. Everyone accounted for, except for Buffy. And Lindsey too, this time around. Spike and Angel had been the last to see her. Nobody knew where she was, or if she was even alive. Ditto Lindsey.

This time, rather than hysterical, Dawn grew angrier by the hour. If Buffy had run off with Lindsey, as Lorne had suggested, abandoning them… abandoning her… Then that was all on Buffy.

And why wouldn't she have? She'd done it before, like Xander had said.

Except this wasn't Buffy, as everybody kept pointing out, or at least not Buffy in her right mind. Buffy in her right mind would never abandon her, or so the others said. As if that was supposed to make her feel any better.

So here Dawn was, sister-less, stuck playing nursemaid to the injured with Xander, and feeling helpless while the others sought out and annihilated the remnants of the Senior Partners' army of darkness.

Despite the partial destruction of the wall that faced the alley, they'd ended up staying at the Hyperion after all – between Willow's wards, Xander's construction skills, and the league of Slayers who temporarily called the hotel home, Willow had decreed it safe enough as a home base. There was the added bonus of being able to fit everybody under one roof, although Dawn wasn't sure it was an actual bonus. She could only take so much enforced bonding time with large numbers of Slayers. The supernaturally strong teenaged girls tended to suffer from both estrogen and testosterone overload, often at the same time.

The three days they'd been holed up here had been three days too long, so far as Dawn was concerned, but in spite of Willow's tempting offer to teleport her home, she'd stayed. Just as she had at the Sunnydale crater. This time, she wasn't leaving until she knew what had happened to her sister.

And Dawn knew it was her sister. The one-and-only Buffy Anne Summers. Because, even with the amnesia, even without remembering Dawn, or her feelings for her, Buffy had tried to make Dawn happy. To be there for her. She'd tried so hard, and Dawn had seen how much it had drained her to try.

Buffy had cared. Even when she didn't care. Only her sister would do that.

So Dawn wasn't leaving until she knew for sure.

Spike wandered in sometime around one in the morning and went to search for a replacement weapon in Angel's old office, ignoring the phone when it rang. Xander had just fallen asleep, which left Dawn to rush to answer, scowling at Spike as she passed. They'd barely spoken since the sewers, Spike tentative and polite the few times they had, and she hadn't quite made up her mind how she felt about him yet.

The phone fell silent just as she reached it, then started up again after she turned to leave, making her jump. "Ow!" she snapped, rubbing the hip she'd smacked on the edge of the desk. She grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"

"Oh. Dawn," Giles said. "Er – very good. Yes, well. Is Willow there?"

Dawn rolled her eyes at his obvious attempt to keep whatever it was from her. "She's out," she said curtly.

"Xander?"

"Out too." He was sleeping, but same difference. "Let me save you some time. They're all out, or too injured to come to the phone. Your choices are me or Spike."

"Right," Giles said. "Perhaps I'll ring back later."

"Giles, just spit it out. Oh –" she said, and sat heavily in the chair. "Is it Buffy? Do you know something?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike turn towards her.

There was a long silence on the other end, confirming her fears, and then Giles said in his most careful voice, "I believe so. I received an email this morning. It appears to have been written by Buffy."

"Oh," Dawn said. Not what she had expected. "What does it say? Is it a ransom note? Is she trapped somewhere with a conveniently working laptop and an internet connection?"

Giles cleared his throat. "It appears to be… a goodbye letter."

"What?"

"Er – I don't mean – not a suicide note, if that's what you thought. She's, er…"

Spike came around the desk and took her shaking hand. Dawn stared through him, envisioning Buffy's email in her mind's eye. She knew exactly what it said. "She's running away."

There was a long sigh. "It appears so. Presuming it truly is from her." Giles paused, then said, very gently, "Would you like me to read it?"

Dawn nodded, unable to get the words out. Spike took the phone from her, and set it to speakerphone. "Go on," he said, voice devoid of emotion. "We're listening."

"Dear everybody," Giles read in carefully measured tones. "I hate to be a big chicken and tell you this way, but I guess I'm a big chicken. First of all, I'm fine. Still have all my fingers and toes, and arms and legs too. No memories, but that's nothing new. What I need to tell you is that I'm not going back to London. The Buffy you knew is gone. She died in that crater. Whoever she was, that's not who I am now, and it's too painful to keep pretending otherwise, for both you guys and me. She doesn't seem to be coming back. I think it'll be easier on all of us if you think of me – her – as dead, and move on with your lives.

"I appreciate what you did for me, and I'm grateful to know there are people out there who loved the other me so much."

Giles cleared his throat again, then said, "It is signed 'Buffy'."

Even though a part of her had expected it, Dawn still found she couldn't breathe. She gasped, hands to her throat, trying to hold on to the air her lungs refused to hold.

"I'll let the others know," Spike said, and hung up. He gathered Dawn onto his lap, stroking her hair and reminding her how to breathe – in and out, nice and slow – the way he had, night after night, during that terrible summer.

"That's it, Nibblet. Nice and slow, you've got it."

Dawn dug her nails into his chest, holding on tight, and matched her breath to his until her body remembered how to breathe on its own once more. He continued to breathe with her, rocking her. "Shhh," he said. "I'm here. Not gonna let you go, ever."

"You promise?" she said into his damp t-shirt.

"'Til the end of the world. Long as you'll have me, I'm yours. Always."

"I still hate you."

Spike chuckled, barely. "Can live with that. Come on then, let me see you," he said, tilting her chin up and holding her gaze with his own. His eyes glistened, bright blue and filled with empathy and pain to match her own. "You know it's not your fault, Bit. Not you she's rejecting. She's not herself, right?"

"But she is. She's Buffy, even if she doesn't remember that she is. I've been with her – I've seen who she really is, and she's Buffy. And if she's Buffy, she is. Rejecting me," she said, choking up.

"You listen to me, Dawn." Spike held her chin, forcing her to look at him. "Slayer – Buffy – doesn't know what to do with all these feelings she has. Doesn't know where they're coming from, doesn't have framework to make sense of them, an' it's more'n she can handle just now. That's the crux, isn't it? She doesn't remember. Doesn't remember how much she loves you." He unstuck a damp tendril of hair from her cheek, and smiled. "Doesn't remember how stubborn we are, you and me, either. Else she'd know we're not going to just let her go. Right?"

Dawn sucked in a trembly breath. "Summers women don't give up," she said, echoing the words of encouragement he'd given her when all she'd wanted to do was curl up on Buffy's grave and follow her into the next life.

"That's right. And neither does ol' Spike."

"Even when he really should," she said, repeating the response that had always brought a smile to his face, whenever she said it.

It still did. "Even when he really should," he agreed, with a half-smile.

"You're a jerk," Dawn said, retreating from the pain of Buffy's desertion to focus on Spike's.

He huffed out a laugh. "There a point to this? Not exactly telling me something I don't know."

She laced her fingers in his and rested her head against his chest. "I missed you."

Spike went perfectly still. "Yeah?" he said, voice catching.

"I was waiting for you. In Sunnydale. I waited at the back of the bus, so I could throw the door open for you. But you didn't come." She hiccoughed. "I'm tired of waiting on people. I'm not going to wait for Buffy to come back."

"No?"

Dawn shook her head against his chest. "I'm not waiting, because you and me? We're going to find her."

 

Giles by Baphrosia

 

Giles

 

 

Giles frowned down his nose at the Marquis, presenting his best Watcher's facade of aloof British reserve. It was bad enough to have Spike hounding after him, constantly pestering him for updates on the Buffy situation. At least Spike was souled, and had proven his usefulness on occasion. He was a compatriot, of sorts, and though misguided at the best of times, one couldn't help but believe he would willingly lay down his life for Buffy were it asked of him.

The Marquis was another story entirely. Yet here the vampire was, presuming to ask after Buffy as though he and she shared a connection that entitled him to answers, as though the Provisional head of the Watcher's Council was no more than his message boy.

What was it about his Slayer that drew vampires, souled and unsouled alike, to her?

He shook his head. Not his Slayer. Lindsey's. His lip curled, but the Marquis took it as disdain for himself. That was fine by Giles.

"It is only that I worry, Monsieur." Roland lifted his tumbler of scotch and took a delicate sip. "Buffy, she has not been seen for much time, and I miss our little… tête-à-têtes."

In the corner of Giles' office, Spike glowered. Slouched in an armchair, eyes flashing amber and a sullen pout pulling at the corners of his mouth, the coiled tension in the vampire's limbs screamed barely-restrained violence. Spike was a hairsbreadth away from launching himself at The Marquis despite Giles' earlier entreaties for him to remain calm throughout the meeting if he wished to be a party to it.

As he was not particularly interested in witnessing an all-out vampire brawl this morning, Giles felt it best to hurry Roland on his way. The vampire had no information to impart, only questions of his own, which made this meeting pointless in his estimation.

"Buffy has been otherwise occupied these past weeks," he said. "The situation in Los Angeles requires her extended attention. I'm afraid she simply has not yet had the opportunity to return home."

The Marquis considered this over his drink. He crossed his legs at the ankles, and plucked at the fabric of his elegant trousers. "London has not been the same without ma p'tit cherie's company," he said at last. He knocked back the remains of his scotch and stood. "Mademoiselle Summers very much enlivens my otherwise dull nights. Please convey to her my regards, and my sincere wish for her speedy return."

Giles stood as well, shooting a warning glance Spike's way when the low growl emanating from the corner became audible to his human ears. "I am sure Buffy will be pleased to hear of your concern."

"Monsieur Giles," Roland said, with a slight bow. He turned in Spike's direction, and inclined his head again. "Monsieur William. It is always a pleasure."

Spike muttered something rude, which the Marquis ignored.

As soon as he'd taken his leave, Spike leapt to his feet, a bundle of nervous, angry energy. "Don't know why you even gave that ruffled ponce the time of day! Clearly he was lying out of his frilly arse about him and Buffy. Little tête-à-têtes," he scoffed. "Please."

Giles rolled his eyes. "Yes, because Buffy has never before become enamored of a handsome, centuries-old vampire with a mysterious past and questionable loyalties."

Spike pulled up short, affronted. "Vampire? Excuse me. That's not a vampire, that's a prancing peacock with fangs. A mincing French frog. A –"

"Unfortunate though it is, we can't all have your illustrious past, William the Bloody."

Glowering sullenly, Spike chose to ignore his pointed dig. "Waste of bloody time, is all I'm saying. Wanker didn't know anything."

"I concur." Giles flipped through a dossier. "Nonetheless, the Marquis has global connections, and, however slim, there was a possibility he had information to offer. I felt it wise to grant him an interview. If you recall, Spike, you agreed with my assessment."

"Because we've obviously hit the bottom of the desperation barrel."

Giles leaned back in his leather swivel chair, steepled fingers massaging his temples. He had to admit Spike wasn't far off the mark. The search for Buffy had ground to a standstill within days of her email, and following desperate leads seemed all they'd done since then.

It had been a simple task for Willow to discover the provenance of the email: a cyber café in a small town near the California-Arizona border. Photo of Buffy in hand, Spike and Dawn had gone to question the staff. They'd confirmed Buffy had been there four days earlier, along with a man who matched Lindsey's description. Willow had come through a second time, locating a graduation photo of Lindsey online, courtesy of his law school alumni association. Though the manager had verified Lindsey as her companion, Spike had wanted to be certain.

It was when he'd reviewed the security footage that things had gotten interesting, for lack of a better word.

Neither Buffy nor the man in question had appeared on the tapes. No matter how many times they reviewed the footage, or how many times the manager checked to make sure they had the correct tape, the computer where Buffy had sat appeared unoccupied, as did the table Lindsey had used. And while the manager had confirmed that Lindsey was once again tattooed – across his chest and up and down his arms, man – Buffy's tank top and short shorts had revealed no tattoos the manager could recall.

It made no sense.

The trail, such as it was, had gone cold after that. Giles could feel the familiar frustration mounting, creeping up his spine and settling into a pounding drumbeat in his temples, and Spike's agitated pacing did little to help.

"Look," Spike said. "Dawn's 'bout done with her end-of-year exams. I'll take her back stateside, see what we can sniff up between the two of us. Going to be easier to find Buffy if we're at least on the same continent, don't you think?"

"I'm not sure how, after all this time –"

"It's barely been a month. You've got all the resources of the Watcher's Council at your fingertips! Why not put them to good use?"

Giles frowned. "We have far more pressing matters to spend our time and money on, Spike. Evil never rests, as well you should know, and while I would like to locate Buffy as much as you, may I remind you she chose to leave? She is aware of Lindsey's true nature, and went with him willingly." Perhaps Spike had not yet grasped the defection implicit in Buffy's actions – she'd chosen a liar and an impersonator over her true Watcher, over her friends and family – but Giles had.

"We don't know that she went willingly –"

"I understand this is hard on you. It's hard on all of us."

"It's hard on Dawn," Spike said. "She asked me to help find her sister, but so far all I've done is lollygag about this place, cooling my heels and paying court to Eurotrash vampires. I'm no good to Buffy here."

"Then why are you here?"

"Dawn asked it. Wanted me here while she finishes her summer term. And don't give me any bollocks about not having the resources to chase Buffy down. I'm all the resources you need, so long as you give me some spending cash to keep Dawn fed and housed."

Giles sighed. "When Dawn is finished with her term, we can discuss some sort of fact-finding mission for the two of you." If only to get Spike out of his hair. He supposed he ought to be thankful Spike had at least convinced Dawn to sit for her exams in the first place. The younger Summers had been quite resistant to finishing out the school year, until Spike had stepped in. Giles didn't know what Spike had said to get Dawn back to England, and he didn't care, so long as he no longer had to argue with the teen.

He flipped open his dossier. "Now that the visit from the Marquis is concluded, I have paperwork to attend to…"

Spike didn't take the hint. He flopped into the chair across from Giles, booted foot tapping a staccato beat against the chair leg. "We must have missed something. If Lindsey's tattooed again, she must've been as well. It's the only thing that makes sense.'

"Not according to the café staff, but it is possible…"

"Why else wouldn't she show up?"

Rubbing at his temples once more, Giles said, "Considering the way locator spells have failed to work on Buffy for the past year, perhaps her – er – invisibility on tape is simply another side effect of whatever is the cause of the other abnormalities."

"Like the amnesia?" Spike leapt to his feet, pacing the confines of the room. His agitated back and forth made Giles dizzy. Giles closed his eyes, but it did nothing to shut out the sound of the vampire's voice. "Can't figure how that's lasted so long. Even with head trauma, the girl's got Slayer super-healing power. The amnesia's got to be mystical. A spell, or some such."

"Indeed," he said, eyes still closed. It was ground they'd covered before. Repeatedly.

"With the combined forces of the Superfriends on it these past months, how is it you lot didn't crack the case?"

He removed his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Had he thought of Spike as a compatriot only minutes ago? Clearly he was losing his sanity. "You do realize Buffy's amnesia is not the only issue we've faced this past year? The Watcher's Council was destroyed, there are Slayers to be found and trained the world over, and while the First Evil may have been forced to take a backseat for the time being, demonic activity in general has stepped up its game since then."

Giles had been planning to retire last year. He'd been looking forward to spending his time in the country, working on his memoirs. Instead, the bloody Watcher's Council had gotten itself blown up, and he'd been left to pick up the pieces in a non-stop race against the forces of darkness, with only the likes of Andrew to aid him.

If he were to be honest with himself, no, Buffy had not been his top priority. She was alive, she was safe.

And she was no longer his one and only responsibility. A path she'd chosen for herself, he might add.

"We have had so much to do…" he said tiredly. "And there are so many Slayers, all of whom are now in my care."

Spike, it seemed, had picked up on Giles' unspoken resentment. He opened his eyes to find the vampire staring at him with that hateful, knowing smirk.

"Oh, I see how it is. Still rankles, does it? Buffy chose another path than yours, twice now. She moved on from you. And now she's all disconnected and discombobulated, an' it's easier this way. You can pretend the distance between you is the amnesia's fault, not yours. Meanwhile, you've got all these younger, fresher models hanging on your every word, the way she used to."

His spine stiffened. "You have no idea what you're talking about."

"Don't I? Girl's supposed to be like a daughter to you, but you're not out there doing everything you can to help her. Not the way you once would've."

If he reached for his crossbow, would anybody, other than Dawn, truly care? Giles hadn't forgotten how Buffy had stayed behind, in the Hellmouth, with Spike. How, had she left with the others rather than fuss over him, she would've made it onto the bus and sped away, memories intact. And yet this vampire, who was at least partially responsible for Buffy's memory loss, had the gall to drag his failures into the light of day and lay them out for inspection.

Indignation refused to make more than a half-hearted appearance. The blasted little berk had right of it. Insufferable twat.

If only his father had let him be a grocer. His life would've been so much simpler.

Giles liberated a more-than-decorous amount of scotch into his tumbler, and swallowed far too quickly to appreciate it properly. It burned its way down his gullet.

"Did you know," he said slowly, turning the glass in his hands and watching the remaining amber drops of fluid spin within, "the Council fired me for being too close to Buffy? They were quite right to do so. I knowingly put her safety, her well-being, ahead of the world's. The Council understood the perils of such deep-seated affection. Had she perished, I would've been useless – did become useless. After she died…"

He shook his head, and poured himself another drink. Spike snatched the bottle from him to pour one of his own, then retook his seat, slouching into it with boneless grace.

"But I considered the risks acceptable. When one Watcher failed, there was another to take his or her place. To carry on. Now, who would replace me? Andrew? No, I think not." Leaning forward, Giles looked the vampire in the eye, willing him to understand. Despite behavior to the contrary, Spike was no idiotic adolescent. "I am responsible for thousands of Slayers, for millions of lives. I cannot allow my feelings for Buffy… it is better to remain disconnected, as you say. To keep a distance."

He gulped his scotch and set the glass on the table, feeling the heat in his cheeks rise in time with the burn in his gut. Logical or not, once the words were out of his mouth, Giles recognized them for the excuse they were.

Spike cocked his head. "That what you tell yourself? That how you sleep at night?"

A bitter laugh escaped before Giles could stop himself. "Whatever makes you so certain I sleep?"

 

Spike by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

I received a second unexpected banner, this time from Pfeifferpack (Kathleen).  Look at how gorgeous it is!  It's just neat to find out your story has been inspiring others to make things, especially such beautiful art.  Thank you, Kathleen! 

 

 

 

 

Spike

 

 

Dawn raised the window shade as the plane began its descent, eyes big as saucers at her first sight of Las Vegas.

"Shut that," Spike growled, wincing away from the dim shaft of sunrise that had found its way into the cabin. "You Hoover-ize me, and it's straight back to Merry Olde for you."

"Geez, you're not going to turn all stuffy now that you're my 'chaperone', are you?" she said, putting air quotes around chaperone.

Spike reached around her and shut the shade himself, hissing when the tip of one of his fingers began to tingle. "I am, and you're going to be bloody grateful for it too. Didn't have to wait for you; didn't have to bring you with at all. I would've been able to cover a lot more Buffy-hunting ground without you as albatross around my neck." Dawn turned to him, those saucered blue eyes filling with moisture, her lower lip sliding out. He didn't relent. "Could've stuck you with Zippy the one-eyed wonder carpenter as chaperone."

"We're in this together. You promised."

Fucking hell, he hated his stupid mouth and its stupid habit of making stupid promises before his stupid brain could think them through. Promise he had. It had been the only way to get Dawn to return to England and finish her school year, something he figured Buffy would very much care about the moment she got de-obliviated.

The things he'd done for them of late, both Summers women ought to be beside themselves with gratitude. He'd flown with Dawn to England, lack of necro-tempered glass and all, danced attendance on her while she finished her final term, then flown back round the world in yet another vampire death trap, just so's he could hold the kid's hand and keep her company.

He was becoming a regular jet-bloody-setting vampire. It was ridiculous.

Dawn snuck her hand into his, worming her way into where he'd buried it inside the leather sleeve of his duster in case some other idiot felt the need to see the sunrise. "Thank you, Spike," she said, laying her head on his shoulder.

Bloody fucking ridiculous.

The citrus-y scent of her shampoo, the same scent Buffy had worn when last he'd seen her, during the Los Angeles apocalypse, tickled his nose. "We'll find her, yeah? You an' me, Bit."

"You and me," she agreed as the plane bumped down.

What they'd do if and when they found Buffy, Spike had no clue. He suspected Dawn had none either.

It was a bridge to cross when they got to it. They had to find her first.

 

*******

 

"Vegas was a bust. Got any new leads?"

Angel went silent on the other end of the line, considering.

After Los Angeles, when it had turned out he wasn't dead, hadn't shanshued, and was no longer the head of Evil Inc., or even the head of a supernatural detective agency, Angel had spent his nights wandering the American southwest. Ostensibly he was investigating any Buffy and Lindsey related leads, but from what Spike could tell he mostly brooded, at loose ends, with an equally morose Illyria for occasional company.

Business as usual for his grandsire, far as Spike was concerned. But he'd at least had his ear to the ground while Spike had been off playing big brother across the pond, and had kept him apprised of potential Buffy sightings.

"I don't know," Angel said at last. "Las Vegas was kind of it. I'm surprised you're so anxious to move on; it's your sort of place."

"Not with a kid in tow, it isn't."

"Aw, is she putting a cramp in your style, Spikey?"

"For fuck's sakes, Angel. Piss off." Spike hung up on him, too irritated to bother waiting for anything else the tosser might have to say. He turned to Dawn, who was watching him hopefully from across the hotel room.

Poor kid. She'd been a right trouper, canvassing with photos of Buffy up and down the strip by day while Spike had visited the demon haunts by night. After a week of nothing – zero indications a Slayer was in town – they'd agreed it was time to move on. They didn't have time to waste. Dawn only had a few weeks before her final year of school started, and Spike intended to have Buffy found by then.

After Buffy's swan dive to save the world, Spike had spent a hundred and forty-seven days consoling an inconsolable Dawn, with no way to make it better for her. No way to bring her sister back.

It would be different this time.

"Looks like it's up to us, pet."

Dawn's face crumpled, but only for a moment, and then she drew her shoulders back and nodded. She pulled out the battered map she'd been poring over for the past several weeks and spread it out on the bed. "We know Buffy was here for sure," she said, pointing to the small town with the cyber café. "And they were moving east – at least up until then." Her finger traced the possible routes Buffy had taken, north, south, east, and back west.

"What did you have in mind?" he said, watching the wheels turn in her head. Both Angel and Xander had investigated along each route, independently, without success. Spike figured short of some brilliant flash of insight, they'd end up having to do the same.

She hesitated. "Buffy ran away with Lindsey. Not by herself, but with Lindsey. Before we figure out where, we have to figure out why. What if…" Dawn hesitated again, biting her lip, then raised her eyes to his and said, all in a rush, "What if she wasn't just using him as an opportunity to start a new life? What if there was something between them?"

Spike flinched, unwilling to consider the implications, but his mind went there before he could stop it.

Lindsey could have told her they were more than Watcher and Slayer, and Buffy wouldn't have known otherwise, at least at first. Or maybe something had developed between them over time. The urban cowboy was young and attractive enough, and Buffy had the added cachet of being Angel's girl. Lindsey had a bit of a hard-on for taking what was Angel's, same as Spike. It made an unpleasant sort of sense.

"She ever mention anything like it to you?" he said.

"No… but we weren't exactly sharing secrets. She barely mentioned him at all after she realized he'd tricked her."

"Hardly seems likely she'd still fancy him after that. If she ever did in the first place."

"Going with him at all just doesn't make sense," Dawn said, still tracing routes on the map.

Leaning back, Spike let his gaze go out-of-focus, transforming the map into a fuzzy, abstract blur of lines. "Turns my stomach to think along those lines," he admitted. He scratched at the back of his neck. "Think we need to look at it from a different angle. Buffy doesn't want to be found, so that's going to rule out any place big enough or dangerous enough to warrant a Slayer's attention, and by extension, Rupert's attention."

"But she probably wants to keep slaying – it was the only thing she ever really got excited about. Which means someplace not too small."

"And even if she knows it's a lie now, she was conditioned to think of Lindsey as her Watcher. Likely she wanted him along as her slay buddy," Spike said, pleased with his observation. Better than Buffy wanting McDonald along as her fuck buddy.

Dawn's look was sympathetic. "Yeah, maybe." She turned back to the map, tucking her hair behind her ear. "They could be anywhere by now…" she said.

"Slayer's got a sort of freedom, these days. She could travel wherever she wants. Make up for the vacations she never got to take before."

"So she's, like, on a slay-cation?"

Spike grinned. "Sounds like my sort of holiday. All right, I think we're on to something here. Where'd Buffy always want to go, but never got the chance?"

"There's just one flaw with your logic."

"What?"

Dawn sniffled. "She doesn't remember wanting to go anywhere."

"Oh, bollocks." When the sniffles turned to full-fledged tears, Spike pulled her to him. "Moron, here."

Shaking her head against his chest, she said, "No, it was a good idea. We just have to keep brainstorming."

"Sun's almost down," Spike said with a glance at the clock. "Let's brainstorm in the car."

Dawn scrubbed her hands over her eyes. "Can we ride the rollercoaster at the top of the Stratosphere first? Speaking of things people might have always wanted to do but never got the chance…" She focused hopeful baby blues on him, lashes damp with tears.

Spike sighed, and tugged his wallet from his pocket. How could her refuse her anything?

Especially when it was on Rupert's dime.

 

*******

 

Shamrock, Texas.

Just the sort of place Spike had never cared to go.

He cruised the quiet town, alternately squinting at the address clutched in his hand and the post boxes lining the sleepy streets. The cool night air was dry, a little dusty, and sweet with the smells of sun-warmed earth. It was hard to believe Evil could lurk here.

Then again: small town Texas.

Home to one Sheldon McDonald, warlock and distant cousin of Lindsey McDonald. Bottom of the barrel far as leads went, but they'd all been bottom of the barrel for so long now. Besides, tenuous though it was, at least it was a lead. Spike hadn't had one of those in weeks, and being Rupert's American gopher, running the errands nobody else wanted in between searching for Buffy, wasn't as much fun as – well, it was no fun at all.

On the other hand, 'working' for the council kept Spike on the move, kept him occupied, kept him in cash. Gave him something to do in between scouring the North American continent for one intentionally missing Slayer. Jason Bourne would have been easier to track.

Sheldon proved to be evil with a lowercase 'e', about half as evil as Andrew at his worst. Then again, it was hard to feel too trembly around most magical types after Willow. A My Wicca can beat up your Wicca kind of thing. Sheldon also had zero information to impart concerning his cousin. Lindsey had worked a few contracts for him back in the day, but since then? Nada. Hadn't heard from him; had never seen the pretty blonde girl in the photo before in his life. But wasn't that the Slayer?

"No," Spike said, emphatically. But not too emphatically. Didn't do to seem overly concerned. "Any idea where Lindsey might go if he wanted to lay low?" This after having convinced Sheldon his intentions with regards to Lindsey were on the up and up.

The balding, middle-aged warlock stroked his wispy salt-and-copper beard, eyes closed. "There was a relative – or, we called him Uncle Jed, at any rate – who had a cabin in the deep woods. Over Louisiana way. Lindsey's family spent a summer there, after the little one passed, as I recall." Eyes open now, he scratched his ear. "It was a long time ago. But the old place might still be there. There were powerful magicks around it, too. Good place to be if you didn't want to be found."

Spike thought that sounded a bit too off the beaten path for his quarry, at least the way he and Dawn had figured it. "Anywhere else, maybe with a bit more activity? Of the supernatural type?"

Sheldon considered again. "Linds did have a real fondness for Oklahoma," he said at last. "Could be he's gone up Tulsa way."

Tulsa. Spike didn't know much about the place. It had never rated high on his list of must-sees, meaning the town was no hotbed of excitement. Or evil – same difference, far as the century-old vampire in him was concerned. But maybe there was enough activity to occupy a renegade Slayer and a pseudo-Watcher. At any rate, it wasn't a place they'd looked, or thought to look, before now.

Later that night, he rang Dawn. It was in the wee hours for him, but breakfast time at her English boarding school. "Lo, Platelet," he said when she answered, out of breath from running for the phone.

"Spike! It's only Thursday… Is something wrong?"

When the summer had passed, with no Buffy to be found, Spike had just about had to tie Dawn up and physically haul her back to school. He'd no more wanted to send her back than she'd wanted to go – once Dawn returned to school, it meant summer was over, and with it, his promise to have found Buffy for her before then. If they'd had any leads, at all, he might have been able to rationalize keeping Dawn with him. But they'd had nothing. So, he'd sent her off with a promise to keep up the search, and to call her with updates every single day.

Weeks had passed with nothing to report. Every single day had been reduced to every other day, and then every few days, and was now a once weekly call on Saturdays. Painful as it had been to watch Dawn emotionally disengage from the search for her sister, it had been for the best, to Spike's way of thinking. Dawn needed to live her own life, with her own friends and worries.

It had taken him half the drive from Shamrock to Tulsa to decide whether to share his findings with her now, with the possibility of getting her hopes up for nothing, or wait until Saturday. The knowledge that she'd never forgive him if it turned out to be a real lead was what had finally decided him.

"Think I might have a tip worth pursuing," Spike said.

He pulled the phone away from his ear a split-second too late. "What was that?" he said, phone on the opposite side of his head while he massaged his ringing ear with the palm of his hand.

"Omigod, what, where, how?" Dawn repeated, this time at a reasonable pitch for human and vampire ears alike.

"Tulsa." Spike described his visit with Sheldon, then said, "Makes sense they'd go to ground in one of Lindsey's old haunts. A snake likes the safety of its den, and it's as good a bet as any we've had since Vegas. What do you say, feel like spending a couple weeks where the wind comes sweeping down the plain?"

"I'll be there with my boots on!" There was some more unintelligible squealing, and then, muffled, "Audrey? Anyplace around here sell cowboy boots? And hats?"

 

*******

 

"Spike?"

"Whaddyawant?" He drew the pillow over his head without waiting for an answer. After months on his own, he'd forgotten what it was like to spend time with a human sort – at least any longer than the occasional overnight with an equally lonely woman. Dawn didn't keep the same hours, and even with his vampire constitution, the past two weeks had left Spike severely sleep deprived.

Dawn lifted the pillow. "I'm going to the mall. Don't freak out if I'm not here when you wake up."

"You were just there yesterday," he mumbled, punctuating his observation with a jaw-cracking yawn.

"Yeah, but I promised Willow I'd get her a pair of jeans from American Eagle, and I forgot yesterday. We don't have that store back home…"

Spike tuned out the rest of her prattle and, waving her off, pulled the pillow back over his head. Nice she thinks of Blighty as home now, he thought as he drifted off, glad Dawn finally felt settled in enough to call someplace home after the two long years since Sunnydale.

Several hours later, he woke, stretching out the kinks and enjoying the temporary quiet of the hotel suite. With a yawn, Spike sat up, running a hand through his bed hair and wondering what the Bit would want to do this evening. After a week of searching high and low for Buffy, Dawn's visit stateside had turned into a proper holiday, or as proper a holiday as a girl could have with a vampire as companion. His sunlight allergy curtailed most joint activities, but they'd been managing to have a good time despite his limitations.

He pulled his jeans on and settled in with a microwaved quart of blood in front of the telly. There was something on the news about a rash of gruesome animal attacks near the university, which Spike watched with interest. Animal attacks tended to be code for demonic activity, something he hadn't seen much of in Tulsa. He'd dusted the odd vamp during his nightly forays, and happened upon a demon or two, mostly the harmless kind, but the city had been lacking in the type of action that would hold a Slayer's interest.

Until now.

Spike was wondering what the odds of running into Buffy were now that there was a clear need for a Slayer in town when Dawn came bursting through the door.

"Spike!" she called, cheeks flushed and eyes wild, chest heaving. "Spike, where are – oh. Get dressed, hurry!"

"What's wrong?"

"Buffy," she said. "I saw Buffy."

 

*******

 

By the time they'd sussed out a way to get him from the fancy hotel without covered parking to the car with necro-tempered windows, and then into the mall without covered parking, all without going up in a ball of fire or providing one hell of a show for the muggles, Spike was feeling more than a little cranky.

Dawn had pulled as close to the mall doors as she could on the shady side of the building, and now Spike made a run for it, the smell of charred flesh mingling with the overwhelming stench of department store perfumes as he dashed through the doors. He smoothed back his hair with a sniff, and returned the clerk's stare with one of his own until she looked away.

Dawn found him examining a display of women's shirts a few moments later. "This way," she said, tugging his arm. "She was at the food court. Maybe she's still there."

"You sure it was her?" he said, for what seemed like the millionth time.

"Please." She managed to pull off contemptuous even while double-timing it around the mid-afternoon browsers. "You think I wouldn't know my own sister?"

"Why didn't you talk to her?"

Dawn shot him a terrified look. "I panicked, okay? And what if she decides to run? Not like I can keep up with her if she does. You've got that whole supernatural speed advantage, not to mention smellementary powers"

Long strides easily matching Dawn's hurried ones, Spike wondered just what they would do if the Slayer was still there. After close to a year, his efforts to find her had become a habit, automatic and perfunctory, his original motivation worn down by time and failure. Buffy was gone, and didn't want to be found, and Dawn seemed to have made peace with the idea. But now – now it was real. Spike's heart stuttered in his chest, elation and anticipation mixed with trepidation. What if Buffy did run? What would it do to Dawn?

Hell, what would it do to him? His carefully nurtured stoicism would be destroyed in a metaphorical heartbeat. Just the thought of seeing her...

Buffy.

His chest seized up, and his hands trembled, imperceptibly, enough only he would notice. Spike stuffed them into the pockets of his inconspicuous brown jacket. With his left hand, he caressed the pack of fags therein, taking what comfort he could from the crinkle of cellophane and the weak odor of tobacco. Beside him, Dawn's heartbeat hammered away. She grabbed his arm again, pulling him to a halt when the corridor widened into a food court.

"I don't see her."

"Be calm," he said, hardly calm himself. "Easy does it."

"Can you smell her?"

That was the question, wasn't it? Tracking Buffy had been impossible for so many reasons, not least of which was her altered scent. "I dunno," he said at last. "So many scents, and if Buffy's is still off…"

"Oh, god. It's my fault we lost her. I should have gone after her right away."

"You did the right thing," he said absently, his focus honed in on their surroundings. Was that the barest whiff…?

Spike couldn't scent Buffy, not enough to track her. "Tell me again what you saw."

Dawn sagged. "She was sitting right there –" She pointed. "She had a tray with food and a drink, and a couple of bags by her feet. Gap, Old Navy, Foot Locker..."

"So she'd already finished her shopping."

"Probably?"

And that had been an hour ago, which meant no time to waste dithering. "Let's get moving," he said. "If she's still here, maybe we can catch her."

The two of them took off, not quite running, into and out of each store, up and down the concourses of the mall. They didn't stop until they were back at the perfume counter where they'd first gone in.

"Should we look again?" Dawn said, a little out of breath.

Through the doors, Spike could see the sky slowly darkening. He shook his head, the newscaster's grisly lead story looping in his mind's eye. The apathy he hadn't realized he'd fallen prey to until now fell away, and his blood hummed, thrilling to the anticipation of the hunt.

"No need." His smile was predatory. "Have a feeling I know exactly where the Slayer's going to be tonight."

 

Buffy by Baphrosia

 

Buffy

 

 

Buffy's gaze travelled the vamp-filled room, her eyes finding Lindsey's. He gave the tiniest shake of his head, and she sighed and pushed her glasses back up her nose, resigned to playing the role of Lindsey's paralegal aide for however much longer was necessary. She scribbled unintelligible, meaningless notes, topped off goblets with the blood they'd drugged, and settled for evading wandering hands rather than chopping them off at the wrists. The time would come for that. Soon, she hoped.

Taking on thirty vampires, just the two of them, was foolhardy. Buffy knew that. But she was just so bored.

At last, several vampire heads began to nod. Lindsey removed his suit jacket, and folded it carefully over a chair in the corner. He loosened his tie and began to roll up his sleeves.

Buffy discarded her fake I'm-sexy-and-smart glasses and her own navy blazer, palming the pair of stakes from the pocket before she dropped it. She sidled over to the convention room doors and waited, adrenaline making her hyper aware of each and every twitch from the room's thirty vampires.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen," Lindsey said, drawing his new penknife from his pocket and shaking it out to full rapier length. "I believe this concludes the negotiation portion of the evening."

The worst of the blood-drugged vampires stared, befuddled, while the less greedy of their kin rose from their chairs, fangs bared. "What is this, lawyer?" a small, wiry brunette snarled. "Why does Wolfram and Hart betray us this way?"

"Oh," Lindsey said, feigning confusion. "Did I forget to tell you? I don't work for them anymore." With that, he spun, rapier glinting, and sliced her head from her body. "Your contract is null and void," he said as she exploded in a cloud of dust.

By the time her remains had settled to the ground, even the most dazed of the vampires had leapt to their feet. Most of them rushed the doors, where Buffy stood grinning, a stake in each fist. They stopped short, glancing between her and the man with the sword, who beheaded two more of their comrades without breaking a sweat. Deciding she was the easier foe, they rushed her again.

"Aw, don't leave now," she said. "Things were just starting to get interesting."

Buffy kicked away the biggest and most alert-looking of the vampires, and dusted the less threatening ones as she staked her way through the crowd. Before long, she was down to three opponents, two males and a female who circled her, growling. She circled with them, edging them closer to Lindsey.

"Thought you said these Phoenix vamps were going to be a challenge," Buffy said as she and Lindsey closed ranks, back-to-back, the seven remaining vampires forming a ring around them.

"You're outnumbered," the clan leader, a tall, thin brute with a scar running diagonally from temple to chin, pointed out. He sniffed and grinned, fangs glistening with saliva. "And bleeding. Smells de-licious."

"Bet you say that to all the girls," Buffy said. Lindsey's shoulders flexed against her back. He went left while she went right, and they were down to five vampires. "And, excuse me. I wasn't talking to you. Lindsey? This challenge you promised me?"

Lindsey laughed. "Didn't mean they were tough. Just that there were a lot of them. Like cockroaches."

Four of the vampires rushed Lindsey. Scarface narrowed his eyes and lunged for Buffy, snapping her head to the side with a sharp kick and following with an uppercut that sent her flying across the room to slam into the wall.

Dazed, Buffy could only watch as he bore down on her and hauled her to her feet by her neck. Shaking her like a kitten, he said, "Why did you come here? What game are you playing, Slayer?"

"Game?" Buffy croaked. "Thought it was obvious. You – vampire. Me – Slayer." She kicked out, catching him in the stomach, and slammed her stake home when he doubled over in pain. She fell to the ground with a thud.

Moron.

Buffy dusted herself off and cast a glance Lindsey's way to make sure he was okay. He was facing off against the last two vampires, his sword an extension of his arm as he parried their feints. Fluid and lightning quick, his natural grace made for a riveting display, and she decided it was safe to catch her breath for a moment and take in the show.

They'd rid Phoenix of twenty-eight vampires tonight, soon to be thirty. It was a good night's work. From what Lindsey had said, Scarface and his clan were no Big Bads bent on world dominion, but a vampire was a vampire. Evil to the core, every last one of them.

She frowned. Well, except possibly the two souled vampires. Spike and Angel.

Ugh, she thought, and shook her head. That was why she was here, with Lindsey – so she didn't have to ponder these dilemmas anymore. Didn't have to worry about the old Buffy's life, or her moral quandaries.

Vampires Bad. Simple.

No souled vamps, no souled vamps in love with her, and certainly not two of them. Two. How did that even happen?

Across the room, Lindsey ducked a blow, got caught by kick from the other vampire, then rolled and came up, sword arcing out to slice neatly through both necks. He dropped his weapon and dusted his hands, giving her a cocky grin that set her blood humming and made her smile in return.

"Well, Xena, think we've cleaned up this town."

Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Nope. Definitely not Xena. Or Gabrielle."

She'd thought about taking a new name to go with her new life – apparently a habit of hers – but nothing had appealed so far. They'd been tossing around alternates for the past month, ever since they'd decamped from Los Angeles, and each had struck her as more ludicrous than the last. Only 'Anne' tempted, and Buffy figured she'd already played that scene out. She didn't need a daily reminder of what she'd been told was the precedent for abandoning those who loved her.

"How about She-Ra?"

"That's even more ridiculous than Buffy," she said gloomily.

Still chuckling, he reached out a hand and pulled her to her feet. Hand clasped in his large, warm one, Buffy found herself close enough to feel the heat radiating off Lindsey's body, close enough to catch the masculine, pleasant scent of his sweat mixed with the smell of his cologne. Her eyes travelled from his lips to his blue, blue eyes that seemed to darken as they locked gazes.

Seconds ticked by. Buffy recognized the feeling of residual battle-inspired adrenaline snaking through her veins, seeking an outlet. With nothing left to fight, her blood lust had morphed into just plain lust. It made her skin feel tight and itchy, and desire pool in her belly.

It wasn't the first time she'd had this reaction post-slaying, nor was it the first time she'd felt attraction to Lindsey. Maybe she didn't exactly remember sex, but her body hadn't gotten the memo that you couldn't miss what you didn't know, and it was quite insistent that sex, now, would be of the good. Before, when Lindsey had styled himself as her Watcher, she'd pushed the lusty badness away. Now –

Now he was a partner, not a guardian figure. Now, it wouldn't be so wrong.

His gaze flickered between her eyes and her lips, and then down to her still-heaving chest and back up again. Buffy felt balanced on the edge of a precipice. Her next move would define their relationship.

With a regretful smile, she stepped back, pulling her hand from Lindsey's grasp.

Buffy knew he was still mourning Eve, and beyond that, she'd found some measure of peace and comfort in his company. She didn't want to risk losing that. There was also the question of his trustworthiness – Lindsey might be batting for the white hats just now, but she wasn't sure he wouldn't change his mind again, especially if he perceived a chance to take Angel out. Right or wrong, Lindsey blamed Angel for many things, including Eve's death, and hatred was a powerful motivator. She didn't want to take the chance that she'd someday have to choose between the man she was sleeping with and doing the right thing.

Lindsey gave her a half-smile and stepped back too, and Buffy knew she'd made the right choice. She wanted him as a fighting partner more than she wanted a lover.

But still. Why did he have to smell so damn good? How was that any kind of fair?

"I think we've cleared Phoenix out, or at least as well as we can without attracting attention," Buffy said, breaking the tension between them. "Where to now?"

He picked up his sword and gave it a shake, and it shrank back to pocketknife sized. "How do you feel about cowboy country?"

If Lindsey was anything to go by, Buffy felt just fine about cowboys. "You mean like... uh..." Where did cowboys live? Texas, right? What was in Texas? Maybe she could blame not knowing on the amnesia. "Dallas?" she tried.

"Sure, Dallas. Big city, ought to see some action. Then, maybe Tulsa."

 

*******

 

Buffy sensed them before she saw them – rather, she sensed the vampire before she saw it. She faded into the wall behind a fake potted tree, taking advantage of her unexplained ability to disappear from sight. From there, she observed the mall patrons, searching for the source of the sudden prickling of fine hairs on her arms.

She'd spent the afternoon at the mall, intent on restocking her ravaged wardrobe. Though Lindsey had some sort of secret fund, enough to live off of, it didn't allow for lavish spending sprees. Or so he said, and since it was his money, Buffy didn't feel right asking for more than she really needed. She'd limited herself to new jeans and tops, and comfortable, utilitarian running shoes rather than the cute pair of sandals that had caught her eye. After grabbing something at the food court, she'd window-browsed, putting together the fabulous outfits she would buy if she were a normal girl with a job and a lifestyle that didn't demolish her wardrobe on a nightly basis.

From behind her potted plant, Buffy caught a flash of peroxide blond. She sucked in her breath, heart hammering, and went up on tippy toes. The blond drew closer, and with him, a girl as familiar as – her own sister.

Buffy starfished back against the wall, her mind spinning. She couldn't breathe. Black stars burst in her field of vision. In front of her, the unlikely couple hurried past, towards the food court.

Hands grasping at the plaster and paint behind her, opening and closing in a desperate attempt to find purchase, she forced herself to take a breath. And another.

Dawn. And Spike. Here. In Tulsa.

Looking for her?

She peeled herself off the wall and followed, staying to the edges. The pair stopped at the food court, and Dawn pointed to the table where Buffy had sat earlier.

Check and mate on the why they were here.

Spike swiveled his head, eyes narrowed, scenting the air. Searching for her. Buffy went still, praying whatever camouflaging powers she'd been blessed with worked on vampire senses.

They must have, because a moment later he and Dawn hurried away, weaving in and out of the shops as they passed. Buffy let out her breath and turned and hurried the opposite way, bags forgotten behind the tree where she'd dropped them.

 

*******

 

By the time she reached their apartment, she'd regained control of her breathing. The panicky dread she'd been fighting had eased, but she still banged her way through the front door, muscles painfully tight with coiled tension.

Lindsey appeared at his bedroom door. One look at her face had him striding across the room to grip her by the shoulders. "What happened?" When she didn't answer immediately, he shook her a little. "Buffy. What is it?"

"They found me. They're here."

"The Shamaya are here?" He craned his head to the door, eyes tracing the painted glyphs on the doorjamb. "Did they follow you? How many?"

"There were two of them." She shook her head, brow creased. "The Shim-yam-who?"

"Shamaya. The keepers of the divine. Did you engage them?"

Buffy's frown deepened. "Last I heard, Spike and Dawn weren't the keepers of anything. And no to the engaging. I gaged. Degaged. Did a fade and flee."

"Spike and…" Lindsey's shoulders dropped, and he closed his eyes. "Oh."

Realizing he'd expected someone else, Buffy said. "Who are these Shim- these keepers?"

Lindsey let go of her shoulders and moved to take a seat at one of the bar stools at the kitchen counter. "They taught me a lot of things. Before. When I was in Nepal. And they're not too keen on how I've put some of that knowledge to use," he said with a cynical twist of his mouth. "They've been looking for me since."

"That little old monk guy in Los Angeles."

"Bingo. Ironically, the knowledge they gave me," he said, and pulled up a shirtsleeve to expose his tattoos, "is what allows me to pull a witsec, even on them." Lindsey dropped his sleeve and contemplated her. "You're a target too."

"Me? Why?"

There was a long pause. "By association," he finally said. "And, little old monks or not, they're dangerous, even to a girl like you."

Buffy crossed her arms. "You know, Lindsey, I'm pretty sure you're keeping something from me. And I intend to get it out of you. But – right now, it's time to make like a tree. I'm going to go pack."

She crossed to her bedroom. Lindsey intercepted her at her door. "You really want to run?"

"The last several months didn't make that obvious?"

"You miss your sister."

"She's not my sister," Buffy said automatically.

"You still miss her. Why don't we wait? See what they want."

Buffy hesitated, torn. She didn't remember Dawn, at least not from before, but she did feel guilty about abandoning her. And she had sort of liked the kid, as much as she could like anybody right now and feel like it was real. But, god, she didn't want to go back to that life. She couldn't. She couldn't be a sister, or a friend, or a leader. The only thing Lindsey expected from her was to be the Slayer, and that was all Buffy had to give.

Lindsey sensed her reluctance. "Just check in with the kid. See how she's doing. We can always Thelma and Louise after if you don't like what they have to say."

Scowling, Buffy said, "It's not like we exchanged calling cards. I have no idea how to find them."

"Something tells me it won't be too hard."

"Why do you even care?"

Lindsey stepped out of her doorway, heading for his own room. "I figure wanting what's best for somebody else is part of this whole redemption gig. Like it or not, you care about the kid more than you let on, even to yourself," he said as he walked away. He stopped at his bedroom and turned back to look at her. "What kind of pretend Watcher would I be if I didn't notice?"

Buffy scowled harder.

"By the way – we can't leave just yet. Go turn on the news."

 

*******

 

She was down to the last demon when Spike materialized beside her.

" 'Lo, Slayer." He caught the beast by one of its four arms, jabbed a hard elbow into its plated middle, and swung it back her way. "How things been with you?"

With several hundred pounds of scaly, vicious demon bearing down on her, Buffy chose to focus her attention on timing the swing of her axe for maximum impact rather than on her unsought companion or the sudden tightness in her chest. Her weapon connected with a solid thwok to what might have been the neck, and stuck. The demon roared past her, came to a juddering stop, and turned. It stomped the ground, snorting like a bull.

Ignoring the vampire at her side, and the knots in her stomach, Buffy called, "Lindsey? I need another axe."

"Again?"

One came whistling through the air. She snagged it and widened her stance in anticipation of Scaly's next pass.

"And there's the Invisible Man," Spike said. "Whatcha going by these days, champ? Doyle? Giles? JFK?"

"Either be helpful or get lost," said Buffy. "Or, hey. Just get lost." Scaly rushed her, and she swung her new axe, aiming for one of its legs. Lindsey copied her actions on the opposite side with his sword.

Spike leapt on the demon's back as it passed, using the weapon lodged in its neck as an anchor. He swung himself up, wrapped his legs around the thing's neck, and yanked on the haft of the axe. His actions wrenched the beast halfway around. It screeched and stumbled straight toward Buffy, the earth shaking beneath its heavy steps.

"Damn it," Buffy said, leaping out of the way. She swung her axe high, aiming for an eye. The demon turned, and Spike had to fling himself free to avoid decapitation.

"Watch it!" he said.

"Go find your own party." Buffy got the leg again, hamstringing Scaly. It tottered on one leg, thundering sideways, and went down.

Lindsey leapt forward with his sword and drove it through the demon's eye. Scaly burbled, and fell still.

"Nice," she said, collapsing to sit on the ground next to an equally winded Lindsey. "Good work."

Spike hovered by them, hands in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders up around his ears. Buffy continued to ignore him – she hadn't asked him to come to Tulsa, hadn't asked for his help in killing the demon. Whatever he wanted, it was up to him. She owed him nothing.

Determined to cold-shoulder the vampire, Buffy turned her head, and saw Dawn on the other side of the park, mimicking Spike's pose. "Oh," she said, breath whuffing out of her. She turned to Lindsey, eyes wide.

Lindsey nodded Dawn's way. Leaning in, he said, "I'll see you back at the apartment."

"What?" Buffy grabbed his wrist. "Nuh uh. Stay."

Still whispering into her ear, he said, "You can do this." He brushed a kiss across her cheek.

Buffy turned so she could look into his eyes, a mute appeal in her own.

"Remember how we trained?" Lindsey said. "Push yourself. Reach deeper. You let fear get hold of you now, and it'll never end." When Buffy tightened her grip on his wrist, he gently pried her off. "I'll be waiting for you, Slayer," he said, brushing a kiss across her mouth this time.

Lindsey stood to leave. Buffy gnawed her tingling lip, bemused by his kiss, and contemplated using brute force to keep him at her side. She sighed and let him go with a nod. He was right. She needed to do this.

"Want a word with you, mate," Spike said, eyes hard, the muscle in his jaw ticking.

"Sorry, champ, you can't always get what you want." Lindsey sauntered off, sword slung over his shoulder.

When Spike strode after him, Buffy stepped in front of the vampire, daring him to take her on. He cocked his head, assessing her. "Right," he said with a single, sharp nod, backing down. "Brought someone by to see you."

Buffy turned to look at Dawn. Her long brown hair had formed a curtain, concealing her expression, but her body language was easy to read. Hope, anxiety, and fear of rejection all came through in the way she jittered in place, tense, straining Buffy's way but holding herself back.

Taking a tentative step in Dawn's direction, Buffy said, "Hi." She opened her mouth to say something else, then closed it. She had no idea what else to say. 'Glad you're here' wasn't true. Neither was 'I missed you', not entirely. 'How have you been?'? Lame.

Dawn tucked her hair behind her ear. "Hi," she said back, biting her lip.

"So," Buffy said. She rocked forward on her toes, wondering if she could outrun the vampire, or whether he'd even follow her. "Here you are. In Tulsa."

"We were looking for you."

"Got that," Buffy said. She stared at her boots. Shifted her weight from one foot to the other. A quick glance sideways revealed Spike resting against a tree, expression inscrutable. "How have you been?"

"Okay. I was worried about you."

"Oh. Yeah. Um…" Buffy swallowed. "Not that it means much, but I was worried about you too."

"Wonderful," Dawn said. "Funny way of showing it."

And this was why she had run. They expected so much of her. "I –" Buffy said, leg muscles coiled tightly, ready to bolt.

"Wait," Dawn said, her sullen, accusatory tone replaced by panic. "I understand why you left, really. And – can we just – please? Don't go? We're not here to drag you back, or anything." She flicked a look to Spike. "But even if you don't remember me, I remember you. I love you."

Buffy backed up a step, "Look, I know –"

"We can email," Dawn said hurriedly. "Or text. Or send Christmas cards once a year, stuffed with impersonal form letters. But, please, Buffy. I can't let you go, not completely. You're the only family I have."

"I'm not her," Buffy said.

"You're not not her."

Spike had come to stand by Dawn, his hand on her shoulder. They'd told her he was reformed, a good guy now, but even so, Buffy cringed to see a demon so close to the girl. "Where are the others? Willow and Giles and Xander?"

"Back home," Dawn said. "In England."

Buffy frowned. "Who's here with you?"

Dawn frowned in return. "Spike," she said, the duh implied.

"Just – him? A vampire?"

The teenager stiffened. Spike squeezed her shoulder, and she glanced up at him. Something unspoken passed between them, then Dawn said, "You don't remember. Spike – you've always trusted him to take care of me. And he always has."

Right. Just another reminder she didn't belong in that world anymore.

Buffy decided to throw the girl a crumb. Maybe it would get them to back off. "If you want to penpal it, I – I would like to try." Dawn's face split into a huge grin. "But…" Buffy crossed her arms, then uncrossed them. They hung limply at her sides. "I can't promise anything."

"Okay," Dawn said, her smile dimming. She stepped forward, reaching for Buffy, then stopped, hands fisted at her sides. "Okay, that's – yeah."

"Okay, then." Buffy scooped up her axe, knowing she'd disappointed the girl, but unable to offer more.

Guilt warred with resentment, and resentment won out. Stomach churning, she hurried off, sparing a single backward glance, just long enough to see the vampire enfolding Dawn in a sympathetic hug.

 

*******

 

Buffy wished she could blame her upset stomach on the nachos she'd eaten yesterday for lunch, or maybe a virus, but the truth was she was nervous. Nervous, anxious, unsure of herself, you name it, it all added up to lurking in a hotel hallway, trying to work up the courage to knock on the door at the end of the hall.

Slayer, here, she told herself. And this was what Lindsey had wanted for her. Right?

With ten quick steps, Buffy reached the door, and knocked on it with far more confidence than she felt. Before she could change her mind and retreat, Dawn was in the doorway. Her eyes widened.

"Hey," Buffy said. "Funny story. Lindsey left me."

"What?"

"When I got back last night, after talking to you? He'd cleared out." And left nothing in his room but a note telling her it was for the best. "So I thought, hey – why not see what Dawn's up to?"

Because being alone when you couldn't remember your past? Possibly worse than being with somebody who expected too much from you.

On the way to the hotel, Buffy had almost convinced herself that, with just Dawn, it wouldn't be so bad. There wouldn't be as much pressure, or as many expectations she couldn't meet. She could probably do that.

She hoped.

Besides, no better way to assuage the lingering guilt over abandoning the girl than by being the one to reach out when it was least expected.

Dawn opened the door wider, grinning hugely, oblivious to Buffy's internal turmoil. "I'm so glad you felt like you could come to me," she said. "This is…!" She squirmed like an overgrown puppy, trying to contain her excitement and pleasure at seeing Buffy, and failed.

"Come in!" she squealed, half bear hugging Buffy, half ushering her inside. "I can't believe you're really –" Expression contrite, Dawn glanced and the closed bedroom door and lowered her voice. "I forgot Spike's sleeping. I should – but I'm just so –"

Buffy laughed. "Gotta say, it's nice to feel so wanted."

She gave Dawn an awkward hug, and the girl led her to the couch. "Should I wake up Spike?"

"I'd rather you didn't, if that's okay. He's – it's too much."

"That's okay!"

"Good." Buffy looked at her knees. "In fact, I kind of wanted to talk to you about something."

Besides a fear of being alone, Buffy had had another reason for coming to see Dawn. Leaving a young girl alone with a vampire, souled or not, didn't sit right with her. That couldn't be a healthy environment for a teenage girl. It would be better for Dawn if Buffy stepped in and took over. Or so she told herself.

"How would you feel about coming to live with me?"

Dawn started, surprised. "But what about school? I'll be starting uni soon..."

"Oh. Right." Buffy hadn't remembered, because she'd purposefully distanced herself. Realizing how long it had been since she'd seen Dawn, and how much she'd missed, Buffy felt even more awkward. "You're going back soon?"

"Yeah."

"Of course. That makes sense. Um, well… we could spend the rest of your time here together?"

"If you want!" Dawn bounced on the couch, eyes sparkling. "Did you mean like live together? Because, you can totally share my room here, or we can go live with you, or get a new apartment, or –"

Buffy cringed. "I was thinking – just you and me?"

"Oh." Dawn stilled. "Oh," she said again. "Spike and I had plans..." she said uncertainly.

"I know you're attached to him, but –"

"You're damn well right I'm attached to him!" Dawn said, turning fiercely indignant. "Spike was the one who took care of me when you abandoned me last year! He stayed. You didn't."

Buffy looked away. "I know."

Raising her chin, Dawn said, "Spike and I are a package deal."

"All right," Buffy said. "If that's what you want." She could get rid of the vampire later. Once she had Dawn out from under his thumb.

And if she couldn't, well. The next few weeks were no more than a test run, and then Dawn would be back to England and her own life. Buffy wouldn't have to worry about her any more.

 

Willow by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

An extra-special thank you to Aderyn Du, who guest beta-ed Bronwyn's dialogue for me.

 

Willow

 

 

When Willow realized she was going to be in London the day Dawn had to go to Heathrow to meet Spike in Tulsa, she volunteered to be the one to drive the teen, an offer gladly accepted by Giles.

The Watcher was in-over-his-head busy, as he'd been since the day Council headquarters had blown up going on three years ago, and had few people on hand to whom he would entrust Dawn's safe delivery. Andrew had gone back to Rome, to do whatever it was Andrew did there, and Xander had moved to Cleveland and its nascent Hellmouth with Faith six weeks earlier. (Willow wasn't clear on the details of what was going on between those two, but she planned on calling Xander and getting them. Just as soon as she had the chance. Maybe when she got back home to the flat in Cardiff that she shared with Bronwyn.)

Asking any of the Slayers to drive Dawn was as good as… well, driving under the magic and crashing the car herself. Been there, done that. Turned out Slayers and driving? Un-mixy things, and not just for Buffy. Who knew the ability to slay precluded the ability to drive?

All of which left her as taxi driver for one over-hyper teen with enough luggage to rival Imelda Marcos, but Willow didn't mind. It gave her the chance to catch up with Dawnie, and maybe offer some words of wisdom.

Willow clicked on her blinker and changed lanes, double-checking over her shoulder before merging. "It's just that we –" 'We' was a better word choice than 'I', even if not strictly the correct pronoun in this case. 'I' was judgmental and meddlesome, but 'we' carried the weight of authority and of combined wisdom. "We're worried about you getting your hopes up too high. What are the odds that Buffy is really in Tulsa?"

Dawn's face clouded over, chin jutting out in mulish defiance, before she shrugged it off. "I know. But how can I not try? She's my sister."

Is she? Willow wanted to retort, but held her tongue. Whoever that woman had been, it wasn't Buffy. Not the Buffy they'd known, at any rate. And, yeah, not her fault all her memories had been taken away and she didn't remember the people who knew and loved her, but it was almost like she hadn't even wanted to get her memories back.

Worse, she'd gone and abandoned Dawn. Just – poof. Sayonara, without so much as a forwarding address.

Definitely not the Buffster Willow knew and loved, but she could understand where Dawnie was coming from. She wanted her sister back. Hadn't Willow's own heart given a funny little leap when she'd heard the news of Spike's potential lead?

"Besides," Dawn was saying, "it's always been the plan for me to spend the summer with Spike. Even if we kinda stopped talking about it after awhile…"

They'd all stopped talking about it after awhile. Stopped talking about Buffy, period. The months had drifted by with no further word from her, and eventually the little gang of Sunnydale ex-pats had quit rushing for the phone every time it rang, or holding their breath whenever they checked their email, and gone on with their lives. Not because Buffy/not-Buffy had demanded it, but because what else could they do?

The world kept on turning, evil kept on evil-ing, and the opposition team had to keep on fighting the good fight, with or without Buffy.

"Okay, Dawnie," Willow said. She'd said her piece, and now it was time to drop it. Four years of playing surrogate mother to the girl had taught that lesson well. "Just so you know – we're all here for you. Always. Whether Buffy comes back or not –"

"Yeah, I know." Dawn reached out to grab Willow's hand, squeezing it quickly before letting go. "Thanks."

"So tell me," Willow said, a side-glance confirming just how much more Dawn had matured in the three months since she'd seen her last. How had so much time passed in between trips to London? "How were things with Candice during your final term? And don't give me that 'fine' business. I need all the details, so I can decide whether to turn her into a skink or not…"

 

*******

 

If you'd asked Willow only that morning, she would have said she never expected to see Buffy again. Her friend had vanished over a year ago. Completely off the map, not-a-trace vanished, despite their efforts to find her, and likely to stay that way. There was a big wide world out there in which to disappear.

So it took her much longer than it should have to process Dawn's words.

"Say again?" she told the squealing, babbling teen on the other end.

"Buffy, Buffy, we found Buffy! And guess what, we're living with her! In her apartment! It's really her! Buffy! Oh my god, I was at the mall, looking for the jeans you wanted, and there she was! And then we saw her later, on patrol, but she didn't want to talk to us, except then Lindsey ran off – he was probably afraid Spike was going to beat the crap out of him – so Buffy came to us and…"

Dawn went on and on, a freight train of excitement in Willow's ear. Willow noticed the plant on the coffee table in front of her was looking more than a little singed, and quickly checked her magicks. Oops.

"That's amazing!" she said when Dawn paused for a breath. "You did it! And… you're really living with her? And Spike too?"

"Can you believe it? I still can't believe it."

"Are you sure that's the best idea?" Dawn's enthusiastic obliviousness to the danger of moving in with Buffy/not-Buffy had set off warning bells in Willow's head. "It's just – we never proved she was the really real deal. You should be careful."

"I know it's her," Dawn said. "I know it."

Willow flexed her neck. Too much tension. Not a good thing.

"That's great," she said. Dawn was happy. Spike was sure to be happy. So Willow was happy. Completely happy. Nothing but positive vibes on her end. "It's a miracle. You found her – and she didn't run away."

"She wanted to at first…" the other girl said, some of the wind out of her sails. "But she seems okay now. She's even sort of putting up with Spike. And we're doing our best not to pressure her. Let her come to us, that kind of thing. Spike and I are all with the gentle coaxing of the frightened wild animal routine."

"Good idea," said Willow. "Good –"

Her calm broke, crumbling under the weight of her emotions, and the poor, abused plant went up in a puff of smoke. Buffy. The windows shivered in their frames, rain lashing the panes, mimicking the tears rolling down Willow's face. Her heart ached for her lost friend, for their lost friendship.

She took a deep breath, doing her best to maintain a steady voice despite the way her hands shook. "Is she there? Can I talk to her?"

"Um," Dawn said. "I – so, Buffy doesn't know I'm calling you. Or anybody else. She's… skittish. I don't want to scare her off."

Oh. Oh. "Of course," Willow said. Very calmly. No judgment from her. No resentment that Buffy, even if she was not-Buffy, didn't want to see her, didn't miss her with a fierce ache that rivaled the hole left by Tara.

Willow didn't want to be blame-y. How could she? It would be like blaming a peg-legged man for not being able to compete in a marathon. Buffy was memory-challenged, and couldn't be blamed.

Maybe if Willow kept saying it, her heart would believe it.

She wiped her eyes. "Well, I'm sure you have more calls to make. Ring me back anytime and be sure to keep me updated."

Dawn signed off, but it wasn't long before Willow's phone rang again, this time with Spike on the other end.

"Nibblet gave you the news, then?"

"I don't expect to be able to hear out of my left ear anytime soon."

Spike chuckled. "Excited's an understatement." He paused a moment, before saying, "McDonald did a runner 'fore I could catch up with him, which puts us back at square one when it comes to solving Buffy's total recall issues. Guess it's back on you to save the day."

Not that Buffy wanted her to save the day, no, she'd rather just disappear and forget about her best friends…

Okay, irrational resentment becoming an issue, Rosenberg. Suck it up like a big Wicca.

Aloud, she said, "We tried everything we could think of before, when you sent her to us. What we need is to find our in absentia lawyer-slash-pseudo-Watcher."

"Know that, don't I?" Spike said, his frustration coming through loud and clear. "Problem is, he's got those tats again, means we can't find him. Not with technology, not with magic. Got no recourse but to gumshoe it, which… well, s'pose we did find Buffy…"

He trailed off, and Willow could almost imagine the look on his face. She'd seen it before, when Buffy had come back from the dead.

She gave him a moment to compose himself, then said, "Wesley erased Lindsey's tattoos before, I thought. Couldn't we try that again?"

"Right, but Elvis was in the building with us that time. Proximity seems to matter, seeing as Angel and Blue have tried the spell plenty since then, and the ink on our ghost-man was present and accounted for just the other day."

Willow furrowed her brow, trying to come up with an answer to their problem, while Spike's silence indicated he was doing the same on the other end.

"I wonder how close you have to be. For it to work," she said. "If Lindsey's still in Tulsa…"

Spike inhaled sharply. "Any chance you can teleport over here and try it out?"

"I'll try. But don't get your hopes up," Willow said. Her mouth twisted in a wry smile as she realized she'd told Dawn the same not that long ago. Perhaps the invocation would prove lucky a second time.

Willow hoped so. She missed her friend. Even if her friend didn't miss her.

 

*******

 

Exhausted, Willow collapsed face-down onto the bed, arms flung wide, her slight weight making the pale green duvet fluff outward with a soft whump. One hand landed on a reclining Bronwyn's generous breast. Whether by accident or by design, Willow would never tell.

"You give too much of yourself, cariad," Bronwyn said, slipping off her glasses and putting down the book she'd been reading to pull Willow into a more comfortable embrace. She pressed her lips to the crown of Willow's head, and spoke into her hair. "What do you get back for you? There must be an equal exchange of energy." Bronwyn's lilting voice trickled down Willow's body, making her shiver. "The imbalance creates negative flow and invites darkness to rest within."

"I know, I know," Willow said. Her girlfriend, also head of the Cardiff Coven, was very passionate about balance. Bronwyn had been encouraging her to harmonize her energies ever since they'd moved in together a few months ago, something Willow had to admit she'd neglected to do for… well, ever.

Willow wanted to give. To matter. To be useful, helpful, needed. Except, when it went one way only, all give give give, it left her dry and empty, and oh so dark inside.

Bronwyn tsked. "Did you accomplish anything with this hurry-scurrying around the globe?"

"Not so much," she grumped. "No lost lawyers found, no amnesiacs de-amnesiacked. I was within a block of Buffy, but couldn't even go see her, in case she got frightened and went AWOL all over again. Dawn would've been devastated if she had."

"If Buffy doesn't appreciate your help, why give it? Amnesia or no, she should be grateful for all you do for her. A friend who runs is not a friend worth chasing."

And wasn't that exactly what Willow had been thinking?

Didn't Buffy, even if she was not-Buffy, know Willow would do anything for her? And Willow had done anything and everything – she'd given up any chance at a 'normal' life to follow Buffy. She'd given up going to Oxford to stay and help with the Hellmouth. She'd gotten into magic for Buffy's sake, delving into forces that, while exhilarating, had also been terrifying. She'd almost died how many times – hey, anybody but her remember that night she'd almost been burned at the stake? – and had held Tara as she died from a bullet meant for Buffy.

The old, familiar rage built, clawing at her insides.

Bronwyn lifted Willow's chin and met her gaze, pale blue eyes deeply concerned. "Your Buffy is draining your energy, sure as any vampire. I can see how she hurts you."

"I'm not –"

Shushing her with a calloused fingertip to the lips, Bronwyn said, "The dark place in you is restless. If you do not create balance, it will find a foothold."

Willow sighed, and twined her hand through her lover's hair, absently toying with the ebony curls. "Right now, Buffy is not-Buffy. No matter how much it hurts, my brain knows I can't blame her for being all standoffish." She waited for her emotions to catch up to her logic. When they got as close as she figured they ever would, Willow went on. "And as for balance, Buffy has nothing to give back; in fact, I probably owe her energy. We put her through a lot after Spike and Angel sent her to us. If we'd handled it better, maybe she never would've felt the need to run."

"Are you sure about that? This Slayer of yours sounds very selfish. Losing her memories didn't change who she is; you've told me before how she runs when she doesn't want to cope. Her personality hasn't changed with the amnesia. It has always been about her, hasn't it?"

Willow frowned. What Bronwyn was saying was true… but it also wasn't.

"Sure Buffy can be selfish. Who isn't selfish, now and then? But she's also one of the least selfish people I've ever met. Every day, she gives and gives and gives, to save the world. The world that doesn't even know she exists! She gives to her sister, she gives to us – she put up with so much, over the years. And if she can't do that right now? That's okay. What kind of friend would I be to give up on her? She never gave up on me – never – no matter what I did."

Not even when she'd killed a man. Or tried to kill Dawn. Or almost ended the world.

Willow bolted upright, ramrod straight. "I'm not going to give up on her," she said, full of fire and determination. "It's Buffy."

"Ah," Bronwyn said, a slow smile making the corners of her eyes crease like miniature fans. Willow frowned at her, confused, and the other woman encircled the space in front of Willow's head and torso with a graceful loop of her hand. "The blackness is receding." She studied Willow, her smile radiant. "You have cleared your heart and chosen your path through truth. Now, when you give to Buffy, it will be because you wish to help your friend out of love, not because you wish for her to acknowledge your help. You see the difference? Your energies are still going to your friend, but it will not drain you the same way."

Willow scrunched her nose. "Why do I feel like I've just been led down the path you wanted me to take?"

Bronwyn laced her fingers with Willow's. "I goaded you into making a choice, one way or the other, this is true. But you made the choice, Willow, cariad. All on your own."

 

*******

 

"So, how are things with you and Faith," Willow said several minutes into her conversation with Xander, after they'd exhausted the topic of Dawn and Spike moving in with Buffy.

"Oh, you know, same as they've been." She could almost hear the shrug on the other end. "You know," he repeated.

No, she didn't know. Somehow, more than three weeks had slipped by since her resolution to catch up with Xander. She was done feeling sorry for herself, and done being a bad friend. "Nope, not good enough, mister. I need the straight dope."

"Long as you're not partaking of the funny dope."

"Har har. Seriously, Xander. How've you been? It seems like forever since we talked." At least ten weeks, by her calculation.

He sighed. "I kinda felt it was time for a change… but no matter where I go, turns out my life doesn't much change," he said. "Cleveland has all the fun of a Hellmouth, but without the charm of small town California. Got a part-time gig serving drinks down at one of the demon bars –"

Willow jerked. "Like The Alibi Room? Because you remember how often Willy used to get beat up…"

"Non-violence spell. I'm probably safer there than anywhere else in Cleveland. And I have a direct line to all the goings on in town. I am Information Man, which makes me the man of the hour. Speaking of, holy crap, I think I just figured something out –"

"And you and Faith?" she interrupted.

Xander clicked his tongue. "When there's something to tell, I'll tell. Sadly, there is nothing to tell, and I'll thank you not to keep reminding me." He cleared his throat. "Now, as I was saying. Important news. I have it."

"Well?" she said when he remained silent.

"Just making sure I have your attention."

Willow rolled her eyes, not that he could see. "You have my full and undivided attention, Information Man. Speak."

"Excellent. So, yesterday, at the bar, there were these three little old men. Robes, wrinkles, ratty sandals. The full monk ensemble. I didn't make the connection then, because hey, Cleveland, not Tulsa. But it's a small world, especially given the way our lives work."

"Xander? Point?"

"The point," he said, "is that these little old men are searching for a thirty-something year old human male. Who used to be a lawyer. And – get this – goes by the name of Lindsey."

 

Buffy by Baphrosia

.

 

 

Buffy

 

 

Sharing an apartment with a sister she couldn't remember and an ensouled vampire who might or might not be in love with her turned out to be less Twilight Zone than Buffy had feared, and more Three's Company.

Spike mostly kept out of her way, much to her relief and his continued good health. Sometimes she'd turn to find him watching her, his blue eyes intense and focused in a way that always made her take a nervous step backwards. But the minute she noticed him, he'd nod and give her a half-smile, and leave.

He'd taken over Lindsey's room, although not without some grumbling about the stench of cowboy, and stayed in there most of the day, leaving Buffy and Dawn to hang out and bond. In the early evening, he'd spend time with Dawn while Buffy patrolled, and then head out to do whatever it was souled vampires did all night long.

And Dawn, it turned out, was pretty cool. Without all the worry and distrust that had surrounded Buffy in England, she found herself quickly growing close to the younger girl. Rather than trying to remind Buffy of the relationship they used to have, Dawn seemed intent on forging a new one with her. She'd answer questions Buffy had, and sometimes she'd point out habits or likes and dislikes that were still the same, but otherwise she did her best not to pressure Buffy into being a sister. It suited Buffy perfectly. Instead of trying to live up to the sister Dawn remembered, she could just be a friend. An older, cooler, amnesiac friend.

It had been a week since they'd moved in with her, and Buffy was listening to Dawn's snuffling snores drifting up from the lower bunk and musing over how surprisingly content she was. She and Dawn had spent the day shopping and eating a ridiculous amount of junk food, then come home and eaten popcorn and watched terrible movies until Dawn had fallen asleep against her shoulder.

Buffy had sat there for a long time, stroking Dawn's hair and enjoying the sense of belonging that had eluded her in England. Things with the younger girl weren't perfect – there were times when Dawn tried too hard, and times when she couldn't hide her resentment or anger with Buffy for having left. But, like with Lindsey, when Buffy was around Dawn she felt like she could make peace with her missing memories, and build a new life.

She wasn't looking forward to giving her sister up so soon after they'd found a way to build a relationship, but Buffy knew it would be selfish to ask the younger girl to stay in Tulsa with her. Maybe, Buffy thought as she drifted off to sleep, she could go to England with Dawn and build a new life there.

It was something to consider.

 

*******

 

Buffy woke from a dead sleep, fully alert in an instant. It was pitch dark, and she couldn't tell what had woken her, but the near-silent cries from the bed below soon clued her in. She debated whether to comfort Dawn or allow her the illusion of privacy, but before she could decide, she heard a male voice murmuring words of comfort in a low, soothing voice.

Realizing Spike was in their bedroom despite the shut and locked door, Buffy automatically reached for the stake she'd taken to keeping under her pillow since he'd moved in. She waited, senses straining, to see what the vampire was going to do.

"Tell me the story," Dawn said, sniffling.

"Been awhile," Spike said. "Don't know as I remember it."

"Been awhile since I've had the nightmare."

"Yeah?"

"I guess now that I have something to lose again… And I know you remember, you big faker. It's only been a year since the last time."

Spike said, "Don't want to wake Big Sis up," and Buffy wondered why he was pretending she was still asleep. He had to be able to hear just how fast her heart was beating. "Getting a bit old for this sort of thing, anyway, don't you think?" he added.

"Please?" Silence ensued, followed by, "Pretty please with a cherry on top?"

The vampire let out what sounded like an exasperated sigh, but Buffy got the feeling he was smiling all the same. The bed shivered and Dawn's bedsprings creaked as Spike settled himself on her bed.

"Close your eyes, then," he said, and Dawn mumbled an agreement.

"Once upon a time," Spike began, "there was a beautiful princess named Dawn. Princess Dawn lived in a small but cozy castle, with a wonderful, loving sister and mother, and she had lots of true and loyal friends."

"Don't forget the knight sworn to protect her."

He chuckled. "Indeed. She also had her faithful knight, sworn to protect her life with his very own. But despite the love and fealty of so many, the Princess's life was not an easy one. A wicked queen had laid a curse upon her as a baby…"

Spike continued on, his rough accent smoothing out as he wove the tale of Dawn's life in fairytale form. Buffy found herself scooting to the edge of her bed and hanging her head over, so she could better hear his soft, deep rumble.

"After Queen Joyce died, Princess Buffy had to be both mother and sister to Princess Dawn. And while Princess Buffy was strong and brave, she was but a girl herself. A girl who had also lost her mother, and was just as much an orphan." Dawn's breath hitched, and Spike paused before continuing.

"She had no time to grieve for her mother, though, because the wicked queen was relentless in her quest to steal the kingdom for herself. Princess Buffy had to be strong and brave, not only for her sister, but for the entire land. A true hero, she was more determined than ever to protect her sister, and to break the curse that haunted them. Fortunately for the Princesses, their friends did not abandon them in their time of need. Princess Buffy gathered together her loyal forces, and marched on the wicked queen's lair."

Buffy found herself holding her breath, enraptured by the low, steady sound of Spike's voice, and the story he was telling. It was the story of her past, of the memories she'd lost, but idealized and removed from reality. For once, she could bear hearing about her heroic deeds, because she didn't feel as though Spike were holding up an impossible standard and expecting her to live up to it.

All he was doing was telling a story, and not even for her benefit.

"... but the knight was defeated. He plummeted to earth, his failure to protect Princess Dawn a more bitter agony than his fall. Princess Dawn's last hope lay with her sister. Princess Buffy arrived, ablaze with the light of righteousness, and smote down the queen's evil minion. She freed her sister, but it was too late. The evil minion had drawn blood, and activated the curse."

"I always hope the story will turn out differently," Dawn said sleepily.

"Me too, Platelet. Me too. Who knows, maybe one day it will." Spike sighed, then resumed his narration, even softer than before. "Princess Buffy didn't hesitate. She loved her sister more than life itself, and so she did the only thing she could. She sacrificed her own life so that her sister could live. And though Princess Dawn, and her knight, and Princess Buffy's entire retinue grieved the loss of the one they'd loved so dearly, they promised each other that they would carry on, and honor her memory every day.

"Each morning upon waking, Princess Dawn would think of her sister's noble sacrifice, and though the memory brought sorrow, she chose to respect the gift her sister had given her. Through her grief, she grew stronger and more beautiful, and as brave as Princess Buffy, becoming a true hero herself.

"As the years passed, Princess Buffy watched over her sister from Heaven. She knew her sacrifice hadn't been a sacrifice at all, but an act of supreme love that she could never regret. She was proud of the woman her sister grew into, and the way she ruled the land with a fair and honest hand. The day came when Princess Dawn became Queen Dawn, with a husband and children of her own. She and her true love grew old together, and lived happily ever after.

"And every day, when Princess Buffy looked down from Heaven, she was at peace…"

Spike trailed off. Buffy lay riveted, listening to Dawn's slow, even breaths, and the soft little grunts the girl made when Spike eased himself out from under her. She hastily wiped away her tears, suppressing a sniffle of her own. A moment later, the vampire's face swam before her, his gaslamp eyes a piercing blue even in the gloom.

"Didn't mean to keep you awake," he said, shifting uneasily. "S'just a bit o' something I cooked up back in the day, to comfort kid sis. She had a hard time sleeping, after Glory, an' after you… died. Had a lot of nightmares."

"That's okay. I liked it. Princess Buffy sounds way cooler than the Disney princesses I probably grew up with." After a small pause, she said, "I take it you're the knight?"

He looked away. "No more'n a tarnished knight at best. But Dawn insisted."

Buffy examined his shadowed profile. Right now, witnessing his devotion to this fragile, human girl, and the way he'd comforted her when she was afraid, it was hard to remember that he was a vampire. And if what Spike had just told her was true, he'd taken care of Dawn years ago as well, even without a soul.

It didn't make any kind of sense. She'd refused to believe the others when they'd told her that Spike and Angelus – two of the worst vampires in recent history – had reformed, but she couldn't deny what she'd just seen with her own eyes.

Maybe there was some truth to it after all.

"Spike?"

"Yeah?" he said, face still turned away.

"I'm glad you were there for her. When I couldn't be." After a beat, she added, "Thanks."

He turned back to her, eyes blazing, expression fierce. "Promised, didn't I? 'Til the end of the world."

She swallowed. "I don't remember –"

"Nothing still?" He raised his hand, as if to brush her hair from her face, then dropped it.

"Nada," she said, glad he hadn't attempted to touch her. Having him this close to her bed was disconcerting enough. She loosened her death-grip on her stake, and forced herself to keep an even tone. "And speaking of not remembering – I've somehow ended up with a strange man – vampire – manpire? – in my I'm-positive-it-was-locked bedroom."

"Oh. Right," he said, sheepishly. "I'll just – g'night, lo- I mean, Buffy."

"Goodnight, Spike," she called softly as he closed their door.

 

*******

 

"Hey," Buffy said a few nights later, when Spike emerged from his room, yawning and tousled. "I've heard some things about a new nasty in town, hanging around the stockyards and tearing up the cattle. Sounds – big. I was thinking backup might not be the worst plan I've ever had."

Spike scrubbed a hand through his hair, and yawned again. "Give me a mo' to rise and shine and get my Wheaties in. Got any details on what type of demon?" he said, moving to the refrigerator and rooting around in the crisper drawer reserved for his blood.

He withdrew a bag, and anticipating the smell, Buffy made a faint gagging noise before she could stop herself.

Shoulders stiff, he replaced it, then shut the door and straightened. "Let me wash up, and we'll be off."

"Spike… you can…"

"Know you don't like it. And it's fine. I'll eat later."

Buffy shrugged and turned away. He'd been making an effort to keep his vampire nature to himself, and she wasn't about to argue, not when she did prefer it that way. Accepting a vampire into her life had been Dawn's price of admission, but it didn't mean she had to accept what Spike was.

Vampires Bad. Simple.

She sighed.

If only it were still that simple. Too bad Spike refused to fit the mold. The truth was, Spike was – not horrible. He was surprisingly considerate, and not awful to be around, and had a sly sense of humor she couldn't help but appreciate.

And playing big brother to a lonely teenage girl? Major brownie points in her book.

If she hadn't already known Spike was a demon, Buffy might've gone so far as to say she enjoyed his company. Sometimes, she even thought she felt a hint of the old sparkage Faith had mentioned – she couldn't deny that a bare-footed, bare-chested, rumpled-headed Spike was more swoon-worthy than he had any right to be.

But then she'd remember: vampire.

Just – not such a bad vampire as Lindsey-as-Giles had led her to believe.

"You know what? I've got some stuff to do in my room. You have time to eat," Buffy said. He looked at her, startled, and she shrugged again. "Yeah, it grosses me out, but it's not like you can help it. I'll leave. You eat."

After all, Spike was trying. She could try too.

 

*******

 

When she came back out a half hour later, Spike looked more put together. His hair was slicked back, he had his boots and brown jacket on, and his cheeks held a faint sheen of color, the mark of a recently-fed vampire.

"Any idea what we're looking for?" he asked when they set out, Spike driving and Buffy riding shotgun.

"Whatever we find at the stockyard that's not a cow?" Smirking, she sang, "Which of these things is not like the other? Which of these things does not belong?"

"Smartass."

"Unless it's a cow-pire."

Spike raised his eyebrow.

"You know, like how you vampires look just like people. Makes it hard to spot you. Demons don't usually blend… but if it's a cow-pire…"

He snorted. "Didn't realize you'd gone daft this past year."

"Daft?"

"You know –" He twirled his finger about his ear. "Coo coo for Cocoa Puffs. What's wrong with you? Used that word plenty before and you always knew… Oh."

Buffy stared straight ahead, knuckles white atop her knees.

Silence reigned. Fingers drumming at the wheel, Spike let out a deep sigh. "'M sorry. I forgot, and…" He sighed again. "One thing you've yet to learn about me – my mouth's in no way connected to what little brains I have. Say stupid shit all the time, without thinking it through."

"Let me guess, it's all part of your charm?"

He turned to look at her. "Said a lot of things to you over the years, most of which I regret. And, no, the majority of it you did not find charming. Rightly so. If it's any consolation, the little improvement I've managed to make is thanks to you. For not putting up with my bad behavior. You saw the potential for good in me, and insisted I live up to it."

"Oh," she said. "Well… oh." What was she supposed to say to that?

They rode in awkward silence, until they'd arrived at the stockyards.  When they'd pulled into the parking lot, Buffy blurted, "What was I like? Before?"

Spike laughed. "The biggest, most self-righteous bitch imaginable."

"Oh," she said in a tiny voice, torn between hurt and indignation.

"And the most compassionate, kind-hearted, amazing woman I've ever met. Had to have big brass balls to be the Slayer, yeah?" he said, amused by her stunned expression. He put the car in park and turned to her. "Had to draw your line in the sand, right from wrong, good from bad, light from dark, to do your job. And you were bloody glorious at it. Best Slayer I've ever come up against. You knew how to fight, and you knew what you were fighting for.

"But…" He reached out to run a knuckle across her cheek, and Buffy shivered under his ephemeral caress. "Under that hard-as-nails Slayer exterior lies a woman with the biggest heart in the world. You see the good in others. You forgive, when another wouldn't. You love, when most couldn't. You've been dealt blow after blow after blow, and you pick yourself up, shake yourself off, and go on doing what needs to be done, when the rest of us would have given up ages ago."

She'd heard plenty about her heroic deeds from her friends, and from Dawn, their eyes shining with love and admiration as they told her. Hearing the same from the formerly Evil Incarnate was doubly hard. Even this creature seemed to revere her. Who could live up to such ideals?

Buffy bit her lip, trying to stop the quivering, but it didn't work. "You know I'm not her, right? That Buffy is gone. Me? I gave up. I ran away." Her breath hitched, and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold in the sobs that wanted to escape.

"Nah, you were just taking a much-needed breather. Don't blame you. There's only so much of your do-gooder lot I can stand myself."

She let out a watery laugh, but Spike's attempt to cheer her up didn't help, not when she felt the old, familiar pressure weighing her down, making her want to run. Formerly evil vamp or not, she couldn't bear the thought of disappointing him, the way she'd disappointed everyone else, but what other outcome could there be when held up to the paragon that was Buffy Summers?

Then again, he'd also called her a self-righteous bitch. Maybe he hadn't pedestaled her quite as much as she'd thought.

Surprisingly, that eased the tension.

"So, I'm a self-righteous bitch, huh?" Buffy said lightly, wiping away her tears.

"Oh, fuck, yeah. The biggest. Never happier than when you were putting me in my place," he said, the tease evident in his voice. Spike cocked his head, smiling softly. "Ready to go find us a cowpire, Slayer?"

Buffy climbed out of the car and waited for Spike to come around to her side, rolling her head in an attempt to ease the stiffness in her neck. "Are there vampire animals? I've never seen any, but that doesn't mean much." She grimaced. "Or maybe I have and I forgot..."

 

*******

 

A week later, when Spike joined her on the tail end of her patrol, Buffy didn't even blink. After the cowpire demon – which had turned out to be a pariksit demon according to Spike, but which she perversely insisted on calling a cowpire despite its lack of resemblance to a cow, if only to catch him grinning at her when he thought she wasn't looking – he'd taken to joining her on her patrols after his nightly Dawn date.

"Slayer," he said by way of greeting. "Anything much going on?"

Buffy kicked at a gravestone as she passed. "No. I think it's time to move on from this one-pony town. Besides the cowpire –" – and there was the eye-crinkling grin she was starting to grow awfully fond of – "I've had zero action this week."

"Is that right? Zero action, eh?" Spike's mouth twitched. Buffy narrowed her eyes, and his expression turned to one of wide-eyed innocence. He patted his jacket pocket until he found his smokes, then lit up with an air of studious concentration.

Tossing it away after a few quick drags, he said, "We could spar. If you wanted. Get the ol' heart rate going, get some of that nervous energy out."

"Aw, you nervous around me, Spikey?"

"Bloody right I am. You're itching for a good slay, and I'm the only evil creature at hand."

Buffy twirled the stake in her hand, considering. Without Lindsey around, and the complete lack of demon-y activity, she did have a lot of pent up energy. And Spike could probably provide a challenge, something Lindsey hadn't been able to do this last year since he'd lost his supernatural enhancements.

"Since you offered," she said, spinning sideways and catching him in the back with a light kick.

Spike twisted away and righted himself. Tongue curled behind his teeth, he beckoned with a come-hither gesture. "Come on, then. Show the Big Bad what you've got, little girl."

Eyebrow raised, Buffy said, "Who are you calling little?" and launched herself at him.

The blows they traded soon went from pulled punches on Buffy's part to an all out attack as she realized that Spike not only could keep up, but possibly even take her if he wasn't so clearly holding back. She redoubled her efforts, and then, in what seemed to be an instinctive move, went straight for his nose.

"Ow!" he yelled, stomping in an agonized circle as he cupped his profusely bleeding face. "You bloody bitch! What is it with you and my nose?"

"Sorry." She tugged at his arm, trying to get a look, and he shook her off. "I didn't mean to! My fist just sort of… aimed straight for it."

Wiping at his face with the back of his arm, Spike glared and said in a thick, clotted voice, "Guess it's a good sign something in you remembers." He probed the bridge of his nose with cautious fingers, and Buffy apologized again.

Spike shook his head, scrunching and relaxing his facial muscles. "Almost good as new. 'Sides. Should've expected it."

"What with me being a bloody bitch and all."

Grimacing, he said, "That was the pain speaking. Didn't mean –"

"It's fine. Are you okay?" When he nodded, she said, "Speaking of being a bitch…" Buffy looked away. There was something she'd wanted to get off her chest the last few days, ever since she'd begun to get to know Spike. She sucked in a deep breath, darted a glance at his curious face, then dropped her gaze to his boots. "I wanted to apologize to you. For the things I said, way back when, when you and Angel stuck me in that cage at Wolfram and Hart. You were kind to me – or as kind as possible, under the circumstances – and did your best to help me… and I was horrible to you. So, sorry."

Buffy looked back up to find him blinking at her, mouth hanging open. Hands clenched, she waited for his response, and repressed the urge to start babbling into the heavy silence.

"Not – not that I enjoyed hearing the things you said back when," he said at last, "but I never – knew it wasn't you. So…" He floundered some more, then said, "Thank you. Know that had to be hard for you – you were never much one for apologizing. So, thanks."

Relief flooded through her, making her knees weak. "Now that that's over with…" Buffy started walking, and Spike fell into step beside her.

"I suppose I should apologize to Angel too," she said, as much to herself as to Spike. "I'm guessing if I got to know Angel, I'd see Lindsey had lied about him too…"

"Nah," Spike said quickly. "Angel's a right bastard. Best you stay away from him."

"Oh?"

Spike lifted his chin, but turned away as she continued to study him, kicking at rocks as he walked.

"Hmm," she said, a faint smile playing about her lips. "I see how it is."

"What?" he replied, lower lip outthrust.

"Worried I'll prefer Luke to Bo? Dawson over Pacey?"

Expression inscrutable, Spike gave her a sidelong look, but said nothing other than, "You're off your rocker." Before she could respond, he changed the subject. "And speaking of our renegade Pinocchio. Any word?"

"Who, Lindsey? Nope. Nothing."

"Tosser knew something about your memory loss, I'd stake my life on it," said Spike, scowling. "If I ever get my hands on him…"

"You'll hand him right over to me," Buffy said with a hard look. "I know you two have issues, but Lindsey saved my life. And I don't need you rushing in, playing hero. Understand?"

Spike huffed out a sigh. "However you want to play it, Slayer."

 

*******

 

Worn out from yet another day of shopping with Dawn (who insisted it was just fine to put it all on Giles' credit card, and that he wouldn't even notice the increased purchases), Buffy collapsed onto the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. Beside her, Dawn did the same.

Taking advantage of the current warm and fuzzies, Buffy said, "So, I'm thinking about going back to England, maybe, when you go."

Dawn turned to look at her, eyes huge. "Really?"

Buffy shrugged. "Lindsey was the one footing the bills. Now that he's gone, I'm going to have to get a job at the very least. May as well move too." She looked down at her hands folded in her lap. "If I go… I don't want to go back to London, with all the other girls. That was too much – too many people, too much pressure… But I wouldn't mind being not so far away from you. We could, like, pop over to each other's for tea and scones, or something."

"Oh," Dawn said, and tucked her hair behind her ear. "I didn't want to be an ocean apart either. Which is why I applied to transfer to the University of Tulsa."

"What? Not a chance! You got into Oxford. With all those A-levels thingies you were waiting by the phone to hear about! You're going, missy."

"But I'd rather be with you. That's way more important to me than –"

"Dawn," Buffy said, tearing up. "Oh, Dawnie." She reached her arms out, and pulled the other girl into a tight hug. "I'm – I –"

Come on, Buffy, she told herself. You can say it. If you can apologize to Spike, you sure as hell can do this.

She took a deep, shuddery breath, and said in a rush, "I love you. I know I abandoned you last year, and I don't remember being sisters, but you are. My sister. I know it now. I love you. I can feel it." She pulled away, and looking into Dawn's tear-filled eyes, placed her hand over her chest. "Here."

Dawn's lower lip wobbled, and the tears spilled out. She buried her face in Buffy's shoulder, and Buffy stroked her hair. "Even if I never get my memories back, I'll never leave you again. Promise."

"I love you too, Buffy. I l-love you, and I missed you and – and –" Dawn sobbed, her entire body shaking against Buffy's.

"You won't have to miss me anymore. Okay?" Dawn nodded, and Buffy squeezed her closer. "So we're good? You're going to go to Oxford, and I'm going to go live with you in Oxfordia, or wherever the heck Oxford is. Okay?"

"Okay," Dawn said.

"Okay," Buffy repeated. "Okay."

 

Spike by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Ooh!  The pretty blue ribbon of featured-ness!  Thank you!

 

 

 

Spike

 

 

Spike lay still as a corpse, in theory sleeping, but in truth absorbing every detail he could via preternatural senses. From the other side of the door, one thin piece of hollow wood and a few steps away, came the sound of two heartbeats: one the slow, steady thud thud of the Slayer, at rest; the other the faster lub dub of her sister.

The beat and counterbeat soothed him into a trance-like state, weaving through his consciousness and into his subconscious.

Back in Sunnydale, he'd used to listen to them just this way from his basement cot. Alone in the dank and dark, chained to the wall, they'd been his lodestar. His reminder that, monster though he was, they expected more of him. In the space between each cherished beat, he'd vowed not to disappoint. Not again.

A sharp bang from out in the street stirred him from his reverie, and Spike wiped away the dampness on his cheeks. He'd never thought to be so lucky as to simply bask in Buffy's nearness again. To listen to the steady proof of her existence, and draw peace from it. Concentrating on her heartbeat, which had served as his own for so long, he knew now without a doubt that it was her. Stolen memories and camouflaged scent aside, the rhythms of her body didn't lie.

She was Buffy.

When Dawn had announced her intention for them to move in with Buffy, he'd resisted. Buffy wouldn't want him there, for one, and furthermore, did Dawn really think it was a good idea to move in with an unknown quantity?

I guess you'll just have to come too, so you can protect me, she'd said. Cheeky little thing.

Lying quiet and still, listening to their heartbeats, heartbeats he could pick out of a crowded auditorium, Spike relaxed once more.

Buffy. Dawn.

His girls' heartbeats were the first layer of cherished bedtime lullaby, the percussion, keeping time and rhythm. Intertwining with the thud thud and lub dub came the sighs and glissandi of their breaths, and over those, the muted fluting of their voices, rising and falling in cadence, punctuated by the occasional trill of laughter.

Spike breathed deeply, wanting to wrap himself in their scents. Dawn's, full of youth and vigor and health, mixed with Buffy's not-quite-right one. The difference was less jarring than it had once been.

Along with the two women came Lindsey's essence, overlaying them both despite the fresh sheets and the absence of his personal things. Spike's fangs descended automatically, a subsonic growl accompanying them.

He shifted uneasily, furious with himself and plagued by guilt. What had he been thinking, letting the rat bastard walk away when he had him right there, in his grasp? Spike could've slipped around the Slayer if he'd really wanted to... And they would have the answers they needed now. Cured Buffy of the two-year-long amnesia he was sure Lindsey had somehow engineered.

But getting Buffy to talk to Dawn had been more important at the time, and he hadn't expected the lawyer to be such a coward as to just up and walk away without telling Buffy goodbye to her face. McDonald had cleared out that night, before she'd even gotten back. Must've had his things packed and ready, in anticipation, to be gone so fast.

Yeah. Lindsey'd known Spike would come for him, and had had his exit strategy well planned, right down to that goodbye kiss.

Spike growled audibly as he recalled the scene. Not really a kiss, certainly Buffy hadn't returned it, but it was enough to raise his hackles all the same. He breathed deeper, with purpose, hating himself for it even as he did so.

There was no lingering trace of evidence that there'd been more than kissing between the two, and he knew even if there had been, he should drop it. Wasn't his business. Still. Maybe he could nudge Dawn into asking Buffy about her relationship with Lindsey.

With a shake of his head, Spike retracted his fangs and threw an arm over his eyes, trying to recoup his earlier sense of tranquility. Out in the living room, he could hear the Summers girls preparing to leave: boots being zipped up, purses grabbed and rifled through, last minute touch-ups to hair and makeup.

The outer door opened and shut, and soon the apartment was quiet. Way, way too quiet. With a sigh, Spike sat up and reached for his phone.

Willow had been a bust on the lawyer front. Maybe Angel would have some good news.

 

********

 

Spike looked around the small, drab flat, almost all of which could be seen from his position in the middle of the room. The landlord waited by the door, staring into space with an expression of supreme boredom. A final glance at the tiny north-facing window assured Spike the flat would suit his needs. Wasn't the nicest place he'd ever stayed, but it was far from the worst. About on par with the basement apartment 'Doyle' had given him. Besides, it satisfied all his most important qualifications: a fridge, cable hookup, and cheap as dirt rent without actually having dirt floors.

Most important of all, it was barely an hour's drive from Oxford. Close enough to visit, but far enough to keep from intruding on Buffy and Dawn's new life. Close enough to be there the minute they needed him, but far enough to maintain some sense of independence.

He'd been right pleased when Buffy had announced her decision to return to England with Dawn, doubly so when both she and Dawn had assumed he would return with them. He'd gone with them – of course he'd gone with them. It hadn't even crossed his mind to decline. Giles would have jobs for him in London, same as anywhere, and knowing Buffy and Dawn would be nearby had, for the first time in the long decades since he'd left home with Dru in search of more exotic pastures, made the prospect of returning to the motherland an alluring one.

But living in Oxford was out of the question. It wouldn't do to look as though he was following Buffy across the pond, like a puppy at her heels. Spike had more dignity than that, these days. He had his own life to live, his own mission work. London would do him fine, and was where the fun was at, besides.

"I'll take it," he said.

The landlord nodded without interest. When keys and rent money had exchanged hands, Spike called Giles. "Say, Rupes. About my wheels..."

 

********

 

"You all set for you and Dawn's big housewarming?" Spike said.

He and Buffy were trolling one of the old cemeteries in Oxford, Buffy bundled up against the damp autumn chill. The patrol had been peaceful; not much in the way of demonic activity in these parts, but that suited Spike. It meant Buffy was anxious to spar whenever he came 'round, much as they'd done back in Tulsa on an almost nightly basis.

Sparring with Buffy was pretty much the highlight of his week, and if that made him pathetic, well then, so be it. Besides, from the way her face lit up whenever he suggested it, he rather got the impression it was the highlight of hers too. And no one would ever dare call his Slayer pathetic.

She sighed. "No? I know I have to face them all sometime, but… I liked things the way they were this last month. Just me and Dawn. And you," she added, almost as an afterthought. "It's not so bad when her friends from Oxford come over. They don't know me, so no pressure there. And the other girls I work with at The Grand Café are fine, because again with the not knowing. But it won't be just them…"

"It's the one night. And if it gets too bad, you send me the bat signal and off we'll go to kill us whatever baddie I can rustle up."

Buffy smiled at that. "From what Dawn's said, there's a good chance her Latin professor might have actually been around since the days when Latin wasn't a stuffy, dead language. Could be some slayage potential there."

"Yeah? Better look into it, just in case."

Tipping her head back, she puffed out a breath and watched it fog. "It's dead out here. And not in the fun way."

"Ready to head back?"

"Dawn's got a study group at the flat. I don't want to interrupt them." Before he could extend the offer, she slanted him a sidelong look and said, "Wanna spar for a bit?"

"If'n you want," he said, keeping his surprise and pleasure at her being the one to suggest it first to himself.

It was a good sign. Not just for his relationship with her, whatever that might be. Spike wasn't willing to push for anything, no matter how much he might wish and hope. She didn't remember their history, didn't remember all he'd put her through in the name of love, and it wouldn't be fair to her to try for anything more than a casual friendship so long as that was the case. Even had she her memories, he had no idea where he stood with her. Probably not in the potential lover category. Not since...

Didn't mean he was going to give up what little time he had with her, mind. He was a selfish creature, no denying it.

No, the good was in her reaching out on her own. Making the connections to others she'd once relied upon to keep her strong. Whether she ever regained her memories, she was still the same woman she'd always been, if a little more gun shy than usual. Buffy needed people, whether she admitted it or not.

She stretched, limbering up, and Spike did his best not to stare the way his inner letch wanted him to. He had intimate knowledge of just how limber the girl could be. Best put that thought right out of your mind, Spike, boy. He peeked anyway, briefly, tongue tracing his lower lip in unconscious habit, and turned away before something other than sparring became uppermost in his mind. Whereas he once would've been more than happy to let her see the effect she had on him, reveled in her disgust, even, Spike had no desire to incur the wrath of Buffy.

Besides enjoying their weekly patrol date, he held on to a faint hope that just by being around her, he could spark some memory, the way she seemed to remember her fondness for abusing his nose. Nothing else had come of it yet, but maybe…

"Ready?" Buffy said.

Spike grinned and made a show of cracking his neck. "I was born ready, Slayer."

Rolling her eyes, she rested one fist on a cocked hip, and made an equal show of turning her back on him and walking away. As part of their sparring routine, they'd been working on 'sneak' attacks – sensing a demon before it was on her, something Buffy had decided was necessary after a vampire had almost gotten the drop on her back in Tulsa. She'd dusted it in the end, but the close call had left her shaken.

At least this time she'd only asked him to help train her, not to recount how he'd offed two of her sisterkind.

While it was impossible to sneak up on Buffy, considering she already knew he was there, Spike could vary direction and speed of attack. He slipped into his demon and sped through the boneyard, taking a circuitous path around the Slayer until he reached an old oak directly in front of her. He slithered up it and inched out onto the branch overhanging the path. There he waited, still as the night, crouched on all fours like a predatory cat.

When she passed beneath him, eyes fixed firmly ahead as per the rules, Spike dropped onto her back. Buffy yowled in surprise as she pancaked under his weight. She bucked, and they went rolling across the grass, fighting for dominance, until they ended up pressed against the side of a large tombstone. Spike found himself on top, Buffy's hands pinned over her head, his legs between hers, both of them breathing heavily.

Buffy wriggled against him, still fighting to flip him. Her efforts had a far different effect on him than she intended, and he groaned before he could stop himself.

Her struggles ceased abruptly. She flicked her gaze from his eyes to his mouth, and back again. Her lips parted, pink tongue darting out to wet her lower lip, and her eyes went huge and luminous in the moonlight.

Biting back a second moan, Spike resisted the urge to lower his mouth to hers and test the invitation in her eyes. Despite having recently spent the night with a very lovely and most willing lady-demon by the name of Yasamin, he was as throbbing hard as if he'd gone years without. With all his parts, not just his dick, straining towards Buffy, it took a monumental effort to keep from relaxing into the warm, soft cradle of her body.

An after-image of her, grey-robed and struggling, flashed across his retinas. It broke the spell and sent him hurtling sideways and off of her.

They lay side-by-side on their backs, panting and not speaking, Spike cursing himself for the fool he was.

"I guess that one's your point," Buffy said eventually, voice ragged. He could hear her fisting her hands in the grass, tearing up ragged clumps.

Spike stared at the stars and tried to find his voice. She didn't understand. Couldn't. Buffy didn't have the memory, and he was pretty sure nobody had ever told her, else she would have never accepted him into her life the way she had, even on the outskirts of it as he was. Certainly, she never would've gone soft and willing beneath him.

"Got to get back to London early tonight," he said, shoving to his feet. Spike debated offering her a hand, and stuffed them in his pockets instead. "See you next week, all right?"

Buffy frowned, forehead creased, eyes cautious. Clearly bewildered by his sudden aloofness. "You're not going to go see Dawn?"

Right. The supposed reason for his weekly visits – to stop by and hang with the Bit. "She's studying," he said with a half-shrug. "I'll catch up with her next weekend at the party."

"Okay." Buffy sat up, gnawing at her lip. Looking somewhere to his left, she said, "Thanks for – for helping me patrol."

Hands fisted in his pockets, Spike closed his eyes against the sight of her hurt, confused face. He couldn't walk away from her when she was hurting. Never had been able to. Releasing his breath, he gave her his best smile and offered his hand. "Got time to walk you home first. If it's all right."

"I don't need you to –"

"Course you don't. But my car's that way anyhow…"

"I was going to go patrol the other cemetery first," Buffy said, pointedly ignoring his hand as she got to her feet.

"Thought we could stop off for a hot cocoa on the way. Could use one for the road." She turned away, but not before he caught the beginnings of a smile. "'Sides, think we need to discuss your spectacular failure to notice me in that tree…"

"I totally knew you were there!" she said, tossing her hair. She turned and headed towards home, and Spike fell into step beside her.

Just the way he liked best.

 

********

 

Spike eased open the door of his car, gauging the level of twilight before opening it fully. Necrotempered glass was a brilliant invention; getting Rupert to spring for necro glass for his car had been even more brilliant. Satisfied he was safe, Spike sauntered up the road to the Summers flat.

Judging by the music and the party-goers sprawled on the front steps, the official flat-warming party was in full swing. He stepped around a pair caught in a passionate liplock, then did a double-take when he realized who it was.

"Oi," he said, kicking a booted foot. "Keep it PG for the minors."

Xander blinked up at him, dazed, then disentangled himself from Faith and leapt up. "Spike! Got that card for you –" He rooted around in his pocket, while Faith leaned back on her elbows and smiled lazily up at him.

"Huh?" said Spike, half-distracted by Faith's ample and rather visible cleavage. Looked like it was a shaping up to be a nippy evening in Oxford.

"Oi, you," Xander said, snapping his fingers in his face. "Eyes over here, fang-face."

Spike dragged his gaze back to Xander and the proffered business card in his hand. "What's that?" he said, nodding at it.

Xander shook his head in disgust. "Proof positive you only have a little head after all, wonderbrains."

Curling his lip, Spike said, "And to think I almost didn't care you were in town, Harris."

Other than an eye roll, Xander ignored him. "Remember those monk guys I was telling you about that were looking for Lindsey? Left me a business card in case I saw him?"

"Oh, yeah." Spike reached for the card and examined it. "Order of Shamaya. Sounds sort of familiar, but..." He shrugged and tucked the card into his own pocket. "I'll see what I can dig up. Giles find anything on them?"

"Nothing yet."

Spike nodded, and they traded a few more half-hearted insults before he headed inside, looking for his girls. He was quickly waylaid by Dawn, who accepted his hastily wrapped gift with greedy, grasping hands.

"Ooh," she said when she'd torn off the paper. "Cheetos! You don't know how much I've missed these!"

"Think I got a clue last summer. When you ate all mine. Repeatedly."

Dawn grinned at him, unrepentant. "Gotta go hide these from Buffy." She turned away, gaggle of girls in tow, a pair of them throwing curious glances back over their shoulders at him.

Willow got hold of him next. "Spike! This is Bronwyn," she said, gesturing to a buxom, raven-haired woman in a flowing red caftan. "Spike, Bronwyn. Bronwyn, Spike."

Bronwyn examined him, pale blue eyes openly assessing him. Spike returned the favor.

"Interesting," she said, and took his hand between her warm, calloused ones. "It is good to meet you, finally."

"Pleasure's all mine." Spike resisted the urge to smooth back his hair, but couldn't keep his free hand from creeping up to rub the nape of his neck. "I've, uh, heard a lot about you. Good things," he added.

She laughed, and squeezed his hand before releasing it. "I think Buffy's in the kitchen," she said with a knowing look.

Spike nodded to her and Willow. Pushing his way through the crowded flat, he saw Giles perched on a chair in the corner, holding a beer in one hand and looking out of place amongst all the young people. Spike steered his way to the opposite side of the room. When he got to the kitchen, there was still no sign of Buffy, and he wondered if she'd flown the coop without him. He stood there a moment, not wanting to be unsociable, but the press of warm bodies was reminding him that he hadn't bothered to eat before he'd left London, and he already needed a respite.

The postage stamp garden was occupied, as was the upstairs lavatory. Spike snuck into Dawn's empty room, and from there, out her window and onto the roof. Leaning back against the rough shingles, he dug out his pack of smokes. Nothing like nicotine to calm the blood lust.

Well, excepting blood. But he wasn't likely to find any of that for the taking here.

He was on his second cigarette when the window to Buffy's room slid up, and she began to climb out.

"Oh," she said when she saw him. "Didn't realize you were… I can go."

"Nah." He stubbed out his fag and patted the space beside him. "Need a breather too?"

Buffy gave him a sheepish look. "It's my fifth breather, so need is a questionable thing." She settled in beside him, arms wrapped around her knees, and stared into the distance. "I see you found my thinking spot."

"Not quite the back porch, but it's got its charms." At her questioning glance, he said, "Back in SunnyD. Seemed like whenever you needed to think things through, or get some space, you'd end up on your back porch. You and I tended to end up out there a lot."

"Together?"

"Now'n again," he said with a casual shrug. "That last year, so many under one roof. You and I knew how to be quiet together."

And, for a brief while, not so quiet. Different year, that. Different Spike and Buffy.

She sighed, drawing him from his memories. "What's up, pet?" he said.

Buffy hugged her knees more tightly, and laid her cheek on her arms, face turned towards him. Eyes troubled, she just looked at him.

"Scoobs getting you down?"

She shook her head. "No. Well – it's awkward. No question. They're being so, so careful with me. Like I might break. Or run away again," she said with a wry grimace. "And, you know, I've seen Willow and Giles since we got to England, and sort of made peace with them, but this is the first time I've talked to Xander or Faith since before I left." Buffy puffed out a small sigh. "It's going about as well as you could expect, given the circumstances."

Spike nodded, and they sat quietly for a while. It wasn't long before she began to fidget, toying with the hem of her shirt and jittering her legs.

"Come on, then. Tell Dr. Spike what else is troubling you," he said.

Eyeing his reclining position, Buffy said, "Aren't I supposed to be the one on the couch?"

"Could lie down next to me, if you want. Here." He shucked off his brown coat and laid it across the shingles. "More comfy, like."

Buffy considered for a moment, then lay down and tugged his jacket over her shoulders. "Thanks." Staring up at the night sky, she spoke to the misty stars, hesitating over each word. "I didn't realize until tonight how – lost I feel. Not just the memory thing. But – even the other people who work with me at the Café. They have plans. Degrees to get, careers to have. Me, my big goal in life is to not run away from the people who love me."

Spike propped himself up on one elbow, and resisted the urge to pull her to him. "It's been a rough time for you," he said. "More'n any of them've ever had to deal with, I'd wager."

"When I was with Giles – Lindsey – it wasn't so bad. He'd tell me that I was lucky – I knew why I'd been put on this planet. I had a purpose. I was the Chosen One. All I had to worry about was ridding the world of evil. Then it turns out? Not so much. Slayer, sure. But not the only one. And I still have to figure out who I am. What I want in life."

"Not so different from anybody else, pet."

"No? 'Cause it sure seems like everybody else knows. Everybody down there –" She waved her hand at the party-goers below.

Before he could think of an adequate reply, Buffy adopted a faux-cheery tone that made it clear it was time to drop the subject. "Speaking of the Café. You'll never guess who stopped by last night."

"Who's that?"

"The Marquis. Guess he heard I was back."

"The Marquis," Spike scoffed. "Poser."

Buffy slanted him a look from the corner of her eye, and twirled a strand of hair around her finger. "I dunno. He doesn't seem so bad. Kinda charming, with his old-world manners. Don't you think?"

"Don't be coy, Slayer," Spike muttered, turning from her to stare up at the sky. "Doesn't suit you."

"Coy?" She wrinkled her nose. "What's the matter, Spike? Jealous I'll like another vampire more than you?"

Spike ignored the bit about her liking him. Just an expression, right? "Jealous? Of that ponce? Please."

"He's not such a big fan of yours, either. Didn't like it when I told him I'd be too busy hanging with you to see him tonight." And there went that sideways look again.

He smiled to himself. Buffy was fishing around, trying to suss out his feelings for her, and definitely attempting to be coy about it. "You be careful 'round him," he said instead of giving her the answer she was looking for. "A tame vampire's still a vampire. No matter how mannered. Likely to rip your throat out as not."

"Yeah? You too, soul boy?"

"Only when my keepers forget to feed me."

Buffy laughed and snuggled deeper into his jacket, her hair fanning out around her face like a golden halo. Spike could feel his expression going soft and sappy, and was helpless to stop it. He sat up, pretending a need to stretch before she could catch him out.

Down at the party, the music changed to some inane boy band, and Buffy hummed along, toe tapping to the beat.

"Looks like the amnesia hasn't improved your taste in music any," Spike said. She stuck her tongue out, and the hopeless, love-struck grin returned.

"Spike," she said, rolling onto her side to face him, her expression serious. "What happened between you and me? I know we were – together." Buffy looked down, blushing. "And I get the feeling it didn't end well. But nobody will really talk about it. Sometimes Xander would start, and then he'd clam up and not say another word. And Dawn –"

Spike cringed, his insides shriveling. Had to come up sometime, but why now, when they were having a good moment?

He blew out a breath. "You want the long version, or the longer one?"

Buffy half-shrugged. "Just the truth."

"The truth?" He laughed mirthlessly. "Truth is – truth is I wasn't a good man. Wasn't a man at all, see? But you – you brought something out in me. Made me want to be a man. For you." Buffy's heart sped up a little at his for you, but she didn't otherwise react to his admission. Spike tapped a cigarette out, and toyed with it. "Wasn't any good at it, of course. Tried, though, and eventually you recognized it. Made me want to try even harder after that."

She was watching him, solemn and serious, and Spike had to face away before he could go on. "When you came back from the dead… you were in a bad place. Wanted to help you, but what would an evil creature like me know about that? I only made it worse for you. And you weren't… you didn't stop me. You were hurting too much, trying to punish yourself, and it was my natural instinct to take advantage of your weakness. Don't know that I even realized what I was doing, but I did it all the same. The more I got of you, the more I wanted."

"Was that when we –?"

"Yeah. Eventually, you started to pull yourself out of that dark place, and you left me behind. I fought it – soulless, after all. Wanted to be with you, didn't matter the cost to either of us. Tried to pretend I wasn't such a bad guy, but –"

Spike, no! Stop!

He jerked.

Eyes shut tight, Spike slumped. A light, tentative touch on his elbow made him look up. Heartsick with remorse, he met Buffy's gaze. The lack of recrimination he knew he should find there made it impossible for him to tell her the truth. He couldn't bear to see hatred blossom in her eyes.

He couldn't do it. He'd tell her the full truth and nothing but the truth another time. When he wasn't such a coward.

"When I say don't trust a tame vampire, I'm speaking from experience. Painful experience. Something – happened. And I had to face the truth. In the end, I was a soulless monster. Nothing more. It was my factory setting, see? So I had to change. Had to be a man who –" He broke off, shaking, the memory still too painful after all these years.

What he'd done to her –

"You went and got your soul," Buffy said.

"I did."

Mercifully, she didn't ask him to elaborate on why. "And after that, did we -?"

"Knew better, then, didn't I? Knew we could never be – and so did you." He shook his head. "Eventually we became, I dunno if friends is the right word, but, yeah. Friends, I guess. You called me your Champion, even," Spike said softly, wonderingly, still awed by her faith in him.

"From what I've heard, it was a pretty good call."

"S'pose I cleaned up all right."

Buffy touched his elbow again. "Whatever it was you did – and I think I'd rather not know – it doesn't matter now. That wasn't you."

"Wasn't anyone else," he said fiercely.

"I may not remember what happened, but I do know soulless vampires. And that's not what I see when I'm with you. You're a good man, Spike."

He shook his head, and she got up and knelt in front of him, between his outstretched legs. Buffy put a hand on his chest, the warmth searing through his thin t-shirt, and said, "Yes. You are. You think I tell vampires this every day?"

Spike swallowed, humbled by her conviction. "S'pose not."

Bright, hazel eyes held his, refusing to allow him look away. "Thank you for telling me. I know that can't have been easy."

"Didn't really tell –"

"Stop arguing with me," she said, half-exasperated, half-teasing. She squeezed his arm and turned to slither back off the roof, leaving Spike to sag backwards, his thoughts whirling. He was disappointed she'd left, but what else could he expect after –

Buffy's head popped back up over the edge. "Come on," she said, extending him a hand as if the only possible reason she could imagine for him not following was an inability to climb down by himself. "Before they send out a search party for me."

"Of course," Spike said, bemused, and took her hand.

 

Dawn by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Special thanks to the_moonmoth for answering questions on all things Oxfordia for me. If there are still mistakes, blame it on the bloody colonial, not her.

 

Dawn

 

 

Dawn sat sprawled next to Spike on the edge of the front stoop, legs swinging, heels thunking against the foundation. She reached into the bag and pulled out another handful of Flamin' Hot Cheetos before offering the bag back to the vampire beside her. In the wee, still hours of the morning, there was little noise outside of the crinkling of the bag and crunching of the corn puffs, and the thudding of her heels.

"Good thing I've got more of these at home," Spike said, shaking the near-empty bag and peering inside with a disgusted look.

"Yeah? How'd you get 'em, anyway?"

"Got connections, haven't I?"

Dawn gave Spike the raised eyebrow treatment. "Connections? Who?" she said disbelievingly.

"Have to kill you if I tell you."

She rolled her eyes, and reached over to wipe the orange goo from her hands on his black t-shirt.

"Oi! Watch it, brat," he said, brushing off his shirt. "If your mother could see you now."

Dawn sighed, trying to shake off the sharp sense of loss his teasing words had evoked.

Spike nudged her shoulder with his, until she looked at him. "She'd be right proud of you, kiddo. Oxford."

"Guess I did alright. The party turned out good, don't you think?"

"No fights, no need to call the cops. I'd say it was a success, least from your perspective. I say it's not a proper party without a good brawl, possibly even a decapitation or two, but…"

"Whatever, Big Bad. And hey, Buffy stuck it out, so yay her."

"That she did," Spike agreed. "Think the real test will be tomorrow, when she has to face Xander and Faith without the cushion of strangers."

"Mmm," Dawn said, wondering how that would go. Buffy had begged off helping to clean up due to an early shift at work the next morning, and gone to bed as the party was winding down. Willow and Bronwyn had already left, for the long drive back to Cardiff, and Giles had gone to stay with an old Oxford friend who taught in the antiquities department. Of the Sunnydale gang, only Xander and Faith had stuck around, spending the night in the spare room.

Dawn didn't even want to think about what that implied. Obviously their non-relationship had progressed since the last time she'd seen them. Ew.

At least they were only staying for another day or two, before heading back to Cleveland. Buffy would be able to handle it. She hoped.

"How're classes?" Spike said, distracting her from her musings.

"All right. I don't think they've changed much from the days when you were here, though."

"Never went to Oxford, Bit," Spike said mildly.

Dawn squinted at him through the gloom, and, failing to detect any false modesty, said, "Seriously? Damn. There goes the twenty quid I bet Giles."

"You bet on me being an Oxford man?"

"Well, duh, yeah."

Spike smiled, giving her that warm, friendly grin he rarely showed anyone but her. Or Buffy. "Sorry to disappoint. What'd the old man bet on, then? Cambridge?"

"Uh…"

"Oh. I see. He figured me for an uneducated lout, I suppose," Spike said, and Dawn half-shrugged, embarrassed. "Well, you can tell him I was King's College, in London. Not quite Oxbridge, but respected all the same, in my day."

Sliding from the stoop to the ground below, Spike stretched and said, "Guess I best be getting on, before the sunrise." He patted his pockets, looking for his cigarettes, then pulled out a business card and frowned at it. "You know anything about the Order of Shamaya? Sounds familiar, but I can't quite place it."

Dawn scrunched her nose, thinking. The name sparked a memory, but she couldn't quite catch it either. Damn. Now it was going to bug her, same as a word she couldn't remember, stuck on the tip of her tongue. "I want to say yes? But I don't know why."

"They're looking for our friend Lindsey, if that helps. Some order of little old monk types, according to Harris."

She shook her head. "I know I know it. I just don't know why I know it. I'll look into it tomorrow." Dawn scanned the yard, taking in the scattered remnants of party. "Think I can use research as an excuse to pass on cleaning up?"

"Bet you can talk the houseguests into helping," Spike said. "And on that note – gotta fly, pidge. Have fun with the cleanup." He pressed a kiss redolent of Cheetos to her forehead and sauntered down the walkway.

"Lazy jerk!" she called after him and he laughed and raised a hand in farewell, without looking back.

"Thanks a lot," Dawn muttered. She considered the cans and bottles littering the front porch, then, with a shrug, turned and went inside. They would keep until daylight.

 

*******

 

"See you at the discussion group tomorrow, Dawn."

"See you tomorrow, Freddie," Dawn echoed, doing her best to remain cool and collected under Freddie's attention. The tall, lanky third year student with dark, shaggy hair and even darker eyes gave her a searing, knee-trembling smile, and bounded down the handful of steps outside the Weston Library to join his mates.

"Wowsa," she muttered to herself. "They sure don't make 'em like that back at the ol' boarding school." Resisting the urge to stare after Freddie until he was out of sight, Dawn followed after, far more sedately, and turned and headed for the flat.

Book clutched to her chest, she picked up her pace, wishing she'd taken her bike instead of walking. She was anxious to see how Buffy was surviving Xander and Faith, but even without the worry of how her sister was managing, Dawn would be hurrying home anyway. Buffy was there.

At home.

The novelty of living with her sister hadn't yet worn off. She didn't think it ever would. Most kids her age were ready to leave their families behind, but Dawn had already spent far too long without what was left of hers. She loved coming home to find her sister on the couch, flipping through a magazine, or in the kitchen, getting dinner started. Every time she stood shoulder to shoulder with Buffy at the kitchen counter, chopping vegetables, Dawn had to repress tears of happiness.

"Buffy?" she called, letting herself into the flat.

"Upstairs," Buffy called back.

The relief of hearing her sister's voice, grumpy though it was, made Dawn grin. She was still terrified that someday she would come home and there would be no reply.

Abandonment issues. She had them.

Dawn poked her head inside Buffy's bedroom door and found her sister on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Rough day at work?"

"Work was fine. After work, not so much."

"Oh," Dawn said with a wince. "Xander give you a hard time?"

Buffy rolled to look at her. "Worse. He was on his best behavior. Xander and Faith both. As if I might break. Or, you know. Run away. Again." She sighed. "It's just so awkward."

Dawn nodded sympathetically, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "Speaking of. Where are they?"

"Out," she replied with a vague wave of her hand. "I didn't ask where."

"That's good. It'll give me time to go through this book," Dawn said, hefting said book. An online search had returned little more than a few footnotes on the Order of Shamaya, but one of the footnotes had mentioned a book on medieval Nepal. Lucky for her, Blackwell's had happened to have a copy in stock. Maybe if they could find out more about this Order, they could find Lindsey.

And if they could find Lindsey, maybe Buffy could get her memory back.

"Have fun studying," Buffy said, with a grimace that suggested she didn't envy her younger sister one bit.

"Yeah…" Dawn suppressed a tiny smile of self-satisfaction. Her lead wasn't much, as far as leads went, but still more than either Willow or Giles had come up with as of her phone calls to both of them this morning. Her good cheer faded when she realized that she hadn't bothered to ask Buffy about the Order. Had anybody? Surely somebody had… right? Because if anybody knew anything about some monks looking for Lindsey, it would be Buffy.

Then again, knowing how her sister avoided anything but the most casual of conversations with Giles and the others, there was a good chance nobody had. There was a good chance nobody else would've been willing to bring up anything to do with Lindsey.

Dawn wasn't subject to the same boundaries. She didn't have to be on her absolute best behavior with her sister, not anymore. "Hey – do you know anything about the Order of the Shamaya?"

Buffy's gaze went distant as she thought about it. "Maybe?"

"Some sort of religious order. Xander ran into them back in Cleveland, I guess. They're looking for Lindsey."

"I remember now!" Buffy said, snapping her fingers. She sat up. "Lindsey mentioned them. Just the once. Let me think…" Her brow furrowed, and then she shook her head. "All I remember him saying is that they were the keepers of something. And that they weren't too happy with him."

"Probably why they're searching for him."

"Probably," Buffy agreed. "I saw a couple of the monk guys in Los Angeles. They were on his trail even then." Her gaze went distant once more. "He told me they were dangerous, but then he clammed up and wouldn't say much else. Oh! He did tell me they had something to do with his protection tattoos."

Dawn's eyes widened. "They did?"

If the Order was the reason Lindsey couldn't be found, then maybe they'd know something about why locator spells didn't work on Buffy either. Dawn's mind raced with the implications. Maybe they'd taught Lindsey other things besides tattoos. Something different that he'd done to Buffy.

If only she could remember where she'd heard the name Shamaya before. Dawn glanced at the book in her hand, hoping it would contain the answers they needed.

"I'm going to get to reading this," she said, and headed for her own room, anxious not to waste another minute.

 

*******

 

Dawn stood beside Buffy and waved goodbye to Faith and Xander as their car pulled away. As they headed back inside, Buffy let her smile fade, and she heaved a tremendous sigh of relief.

"Wasn't that bad, was it?" Dawn said. When Buffy only groaned, she said, "Well, you did it, at least. Made through the party and an entire weekend of Xander and Faith!"

Buffy raised an eyebrow at Dawn's perky, chipper voice. "Are you seriously patting me on the head for acting like an adult instead of running away? What next, do I get a gold star for tying my own shoes?"

Flushing, Dawn turned away. "I need to finish going through that book," she said, and stalked up the stairs to her room. She could hear Buffy following her, but didn't stop.

"Dawn – I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be such a bitch."

"It's no big," she said, repositioning the Nepalese-to-English dictionary so it aligned squarely with the corner of her desk.

Buffy sighed. "Really, I'm sorry. It's been a hellish sort of weekend, and I took it out on you."

Dawn finally turned around. Now that she was paying closer attention, she could see that Buffy, whose hands were fiddling with the hem of her shirt, did look far more exhausted than she'd realized. "I guess it was too soon to have people stay over…"

"It's not that," her sister replied, her voice so quiet, Dawn had to strain to hear her. "Or, it's not just that." Buffy looked everywhere but at Dawn.

When she didn't add to her statement, Dawn said, gently, as if she were the older sister, "Then what is it?"

"You and me? The sister stuff? That's good, right? Better than I ever thought it could be. But I'm not…"

"Not?"

Buffy came to sit on the edge of Dawn's bed, still not looking at her. "I feel like there should be more. In my life. This weekend, I realized everybody's got plans and goals. Careers. And I'm –" She waved her hand helplessly. "I serve coffee. Slay the occasional baddie. Make us breakfast by day and hang out with an ex-evil vampire by night. I dunno," she said with a sigh. "Maybe I'm expecting too much. It doesn't sound like I had all that fulfilling a career before…"

"Oh, Buffy." Dawn sat beside her and put her arms around her, ashamed to have not noticed how unhappy her sister was. "I didn't know –"

"Neither did I. But it sort of hit me this weekend, you know? How I've just been drifting. Getting by, instead of getting on with life." She made the helpless motion again.

"What do you want to do?"

With a half-laugh, Buffy shrugged and said, "Hadn't got that far yet. Was still processing the idea that I want more in the first place. And anyhow, it's all pie in the sky anyway. Not like I have any skills besides killing things. Or serving pie. With ice cream, or without, take your pick. That'll get me far."

"You can always go back to school –"

"Yeah, maybe. I'm still thinking things through. It's not like I have a clue what I do want." Buffy stood abruptly and moved to the doorway. "I'll get back to you when I figure it out."

Recognizing that Buffy was going into her patented repression mode, Dawn went after her. "Hey. It's not like I know what I'm doing either. I just came to Oxford because it's what all the other cool kids were doing."

Her sister frowned, surprised, then shook her head in mock disgust. "Guess it's a good thing jumping off bridges is completely out of style, then."

"Totally," Dawn agreed. "Otherwise – splat."

Buffy laughed a little, and Dawn said, "I get scared too, you know. About school, the future – it's scary. For everybody."

"You mean I'm not special?"

"Sorry."

"Darn."

"Thanks," Dawn said.

Buffy squinted at her. "Huh?"

"For telling me."

"Oh." She gave Dawn a sheepish smile. "Guess I should probably take advantage of the whole having a sister to share my problems with thing, huh?"

"Hey sisters are for sharing more than just clothes."

"And now I know what happened to my new green top I thought I misplaced."

Dawn blinked, innocence personified, and Buffy shook her head. "Nope. Won't work on me. Hand it over, kid."

"Oh well. It was worth a shot."

While Dawn rummaged in her wardrobe, Buffy said, "So, while we're in sharing mode…"

"Yeah?" Dawn kept her back to her sister, hoping it would encourage to say whatever it was she needed to say.

She heard Buffy take a deep breath, and then say, all in a rush, "I-think-I-might-sort-of-like-Spike. Am I crazy?"

Dawn froze. She wasn't shocked, only surprised that Buffy would admit it. And to her. She felt the press of grateful tears, and blinked them back. Getting all sappy would only make them both uncomfortable. Extracting the green shirt from her wardrobe, she turned slowly to face a terrified Buffy.

"I think you'd be crazy not to. Now that you've gotten to know him again."

"But he's a vampire. A walking, talking corpse."

"No offense, but so are you." At Buffy's pained look, Dawn said, "All I'm saying is don't hold it against him. Spike may be a vampire, but he's not dead, not any more than you are. And he's not even morality-challenged, not for a long time. Tact-challenged, maybe, and definitely patience-challenged, and really, really definitely good-taste-challenged. But none of those amount to a reason to check yourself into a mental hospital if you're feeling the urge to play kissy-face with him. The blood and booze breath, on the other hand..."

"There is no urge to play kissy-face!" Buffy said with an affronted glare. "I just meant I like him as a friend!"

Dawn shot her sister a look of supreme disbelief. "If you say so." When Buffy's mien turned distant, she reminded herself she was supposed to be encouraging her sister to open up, not push her farther away. Which meant suppressing the impulse to tease, no matter how much she might really, really want to right now. She marshaled her fugitive tact. "I'm sorry I misunderstood what you meant. As nothing more than a friend, I can highly recommend him."

Buffy relaxed at Dawn's conciliatory tone, the tension draining from her taut posture. "He's not so bad, is he?"

"No," Dawn said. "He's really not. Spike's grown up a ton these last few years, which is a funny thing to say about somebody who's been alive for close to two centuries, but whatever it takes. And he really cares about you. Not to mention? Total hottie."

Buffy choked, and turned a deep shade of red. "I hadn't noticed," she said in a squeaky voice.

"Uh huh. 'Course not." Dawn was going to hell, she was sure of it. But the look on Buffy's face was worth it. She handed Buffy her shirt, which Buffy clutched to her chest like a shield.

When Buffy continued to stand there, blinking like a deer in the headlights, Dawn shooed her out of her room, a small smile on her face. "Go on, take your shirt. I've got studying to do."

 

Spike by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Check out the gorgeous Willow icon, made by RedSatinDoll (our reviewer of the month, woohoo!).  Unfortunately, this isn't a Willow-centric chapter to pair it with, but we can still enjoy the pretty!  Oh, and hey!  Thanks for voting me author of the month.  That was a huge, and wonderful, surprise!

 

 

 

Spike

 

 

Spike hadn't been gone from Oxford more than twenty minutes when his cell rang.

"What is it?"

"Those monk guys we've been trying to research? I think they're here," Dawn said.

Ignoring the angry blats of the driver who'd gone into the ditch to avoid his sudden u-turn, Spike raced back the way he'd come. "What makes you think that?"

"I was coming home from the library, and saw a handful of old, robed, monk types wandering about. They stood out, let me tell you. I mean, they might not be the Shamaya monks –"

"But odds are they are," Spike said. Coincidences like these so rarely turned out to be coincidences. "Buffy back?" He'd had to leave their patrol date early, to run a job for Rupert, and she'd been headed off to the final cemetery when he'd left.

"She's still out patrolling."

Mouth set in a thin, hard line, Spike pressed the accelerator to the floor.

 

*******

 

Buffy was surrounded when he found her. She had numerous cuts, and her long sweater dress was torn from knee to hip in way that made Spike's eyes want to linger places they had no right to linger, but she was holding her own. One assailant was down for the count, unconscious or close to it, and another two looked like they wouldn't last much longer. They leaned together against the dirty brick of the alley, robes filthy and torn. The fourth was surprisingly ferocious and agile, despite his diminutive and wrinkled appearance, and Spike was torn between laughter and admiration.

"You gonna laugh or help, bleach boy?"

"What'd you do to piss them off?" Spike said, sliding to intercept a blow to the back of her head from one of the less steady monks.

"I don't know!" Buffy made a quick gesture of frustration before ducking a jab from the monk's walking stick. "I was taking out of a pair of vampires, minding my own business, and then – these guys."

Spike grabbed the wooziest of the three by the neck and shook him. "What you want with her, then, eh?" Woozy's head wobbled dangerously, but he remained mute. Spike shook him again. "Better start talking, old man."

"She has defiled the pure word of the infinite," spat the still-chipper monk trying to aerate Buffy with his walking stick. "She must be destroyed."

"Slayer?" Spike said, turning his gaze on her. "You been defiling without me? I'm deeply hurt."

"I have no idea what he's talking about!"

"Shri Lindsey profaned the vessel. This desecration cannot be allowed."

Buffy dodged backwards, hands up. "Whoa! There's been no profaning on my watch. If you've got issues with Lindsey, take them up with him. I had nothing to do with it!"

"We're looking for him too," Spike said, giving his monk another shake. "Maybe we should be putting aside our differences. Working together."

"We have no need of him now that we have the vessel," said Woozy.

"What vessel?" Buffy had been drawn back into battle with the Caned Avenger. Frustration made her sloppy, and she was taking more hits than she should have.

Woozy seemed to recover himself. Twisting out of Spike's grasp, he withdrew a wicked knife from within the folds of his robe and lunged for the Slayer.

"Oi!" Spike shouted, lunging after him and knocking him into the alley wall.

To the side, the fellow that had been playing possum had joined hands with the remaining monk and begun to chant. A moment later, not-so-unconscious-anymore pointed a wobbly finger at Spike and said, "Nida'unu."

With a yelp of surprise, Spike fell to the cobbled ground, his limbs as immobile as if they'd been bound.

"Bloody hell!" It came out as nothing more than a gurgle. His helpless grunts turned more high-pitched as he realized the shortest of the monks had grabbed up a bit of broken pallet and was bearing down on him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Buffy some distance away, on her hands and knees, stunned.

Balls.

Spike strained with all his might, and managed to force his body to twitch just enough that the wood missed his heart by a sliver.

His muffled howl of pain and outrage caught Buffy's attention. She leapt to her feet, taking in the situation with a single glance. Eyes blazing, countenance as fierce as a Valkyrie's, she tossed her opponent away as though he were no more than a ragdoll. Spike winced as she tore through the remaining monks, as silent and efficient as she'd been that day in Wolfram and Hart's sub-basement.

She'd never looked more beautiful.

Or more terrifying.

Within moments, she stood over him, chest heaving. Other than Buffy's, only two heartbeats remained. And then just one. Spike's invisible bonds fell away, and he sat up cautiously. "Buffy?"

She was shaking now, mixed fury and fear oozing from every pore. "They were going to kill you!"

Her indignation surprised him. And warmed him, too. "Ah, no great loss there. Evil vampire, remember?" Spike said lightly.

Buffy shook her head. "No. You're –"

Spike heard the remaining heartbeat ramp up, and then a blur moved towards them at a speed even he couldn't match. Before he could shout out a warning, Buffy was on her back at the far end of the alley, a walking stick poised to crush her windpipe.

"No!" he shouted, in full game face, putting his own preternatural speed to use. Spike had hoped the old man would, seeing it was a choice between ending the Slayer's life or saving his own, choose to save his own. He didn't. Instead, he pulled his cane back for the killing blow. Spike forced himself to his limits, but he could tell he wasn't going to get there in time.

It was happening all over again. He wasn't going to be fast enough or clever enough –

The old man fell to his knees, panting. Buffy, as petite as she was, towered over him, fists still clenched.

"The vessel will be destroyed," he gasped. "You have ended Shri Shamaya, but it will do you no good. Others will follow. They will have the strength to succeed where we have failed."

Buffy frowned. She appeared relaxed, but Spike could see the coiled tension in her limbs, ready to strike if the old codger so much as twitched funny. "Why am I getting the weirdest feeling of déjà vu?"

"Dunno 'bout you, but he reminds me a bit of the knights that were after Dawn, back when she was freshly minted. Same fervor. Same bloody speech, even. Think you're remembering something?"

"I don't know?" Her shoulders sagged a little. "What should we do with this guy? Can't really let him go, but I don't want to…" She shot a distressed look at the bodies of the other monks, shoulders slumping further.

Spike reached down to grasp the old man's arm. "Got someone to question." He gave the geezer his most bloodthirsty smile. "And I'm looking forward to finally getting some bloody answers."

As he wrapped his hand around the monk's bony arm, Grandpa surged upward and headbutted him, breaking Spike's nose. "You've got to be fucking kidding me," Spike snarled, embarrassed to have underestimated the old man again.

"Abomination!" the monk cried, fists thudding against the Slayer.

"What. Is. Your. Issue?" Buffy said between returned punches. "God, Lindsey told me I'd be a target by association, but this is ridiculous!" She knocked the old man to the ground once more, and this time clocked him in the head for good measure.

He slumped to the ground, unconscious.

And then dead.

"What the hell?" Spike said. Buffy hadn't hit him that hard.

She stared at the crumpled form of the little old monk, eyes wide with anguish. "Is he –?"

"Yeah," he said as she bent over to check his pulse. "He's dead."

Buffy backed quickly away, arms wrapped tight around herself. "I don't understand," she said in a trembly voice. "I wasn't trying to kill them!"

Spike bent down to examine the body. The others had all died right quick too, come to think of it. Once it was obvious they couldn't win. "I'd wager they had some sort of self-destruct button. To keep from being captured, you think?"

Hearing a nearly inaudible whimper, he looked up to find Buffy trembling from head to toe, far more distraught than he'd realized. Spike left the body and hurried to her. Pulling her into his arms, he said, "Hey, love. It's not your fault. You didn't –"

"I did!" She pushed against his chest. "They were human, and now they're dead, and –"

"And you didn't do it," Spike said firmly, trying hard not to remember the last time she thought she'd killed a person, or how badly he'd handled it. "On top of which, they were trying to kill you just a moment ago. Without much care as to whether you were human, I might add. Not exactly innocents, love."

Buffy shuddered in his arms, her face hidden in his shoulder. "Oh, god. That shouldn't matter, should it? I can't just go around killing –"

Spike tightened his hold on her. "Listen to me. You didn't. They swallowed their cyanide pills, or fell on their swords, or whatever the hell it is these types do."

She pulled back to look at him. "How can you be so sure? They were old. And fragile."

"And they could give me a bloody run for my money."

Wracked by a whole-body tremor, Buffy shut her eyes and let him hold her. She didn't cry, but he could smell her tears. "It didn't have to be this way," she said. "We could've worked together to find Lindsey and fix whatever they were so upset about."

"Still got their card. Maybe if I call them up, whoever's on the other end will be more reasonable. Xander said they weren't too forthcoming when he tried it, but yours truly tends to be a bit more persuasive."

"Maybe," Buffy said, her tone doubtful. She sighed, and disentangled herself from his embrace. Spike had to force himself not to pull her back to him.

Gesturing to the corpses, Buffy said, "I guess we should…"

"Yeah."

They worked silently, pulling the four bodies to the side and covering them. "This doesn't feel right," Buffy said. "They're not demons."

"I'll make an anonymous call later. We won't leave them like trash, pet. Promise."

Her head bowed, and her shoulders slumped. "I guess that'll have to do..." Turning away from the covered corpses, Buffy stumbled over an overturned trash bin. She banged into the alley wall, and gasped.

Spike was at her side in an instant. "What is it?"

"It's nothing, just a scratch from the fight, earlier. With the vampires. One got me pretty good. And ruined my dress!" she added with a baleful glare at the long rip up the side. Pulling at it to expose a nasty gash on her hip, she said, "Ow."

She prodded it with one finger, then looked up when Spike let out a strangled noise. "Spike? It's not that bad. I'm not going to die any time soon."

He pointed to her hip, his hands shaking. "That's – that's not your tattoo."

 

*******

 

"Are you sure?" Buffy said for what seemed like the millionth time. "I mean, Dawn's seen it since, and she didn't notice any difference."

They were back at the flat now, Buffy in fresh clothes, hands wrapped around a hot mug of tea. Dawn had taken the seat next to her after Buffy had threatened bodily harm if she didn't stop fussing. Hands jammed into his pockets, Spike shifted in the doorway and debated whether lighting up was worth the combined wrath of the Summers women.

Refusing to look Dawn's way, he said in a low voice, "Trust me, I'm sure."

"But how?"

"Because I spent hours mapping the bloody thing out with my tongue, all right?" He yanked his fags out, wrath be dammed. "Not likely to ever forget the lines of it."

He ignored Dawn's nervous giggle, and the way Buffy's heart rate sped up at his admission. "Tattoo's similar, I'll grant you that. But not the same. It's been added to. That's how Lindsey marked you without any of us knowing."

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Spike exhaled a stream of smoke and hoped they were focused on the Lindsey-tattooed-Buffy part of it all, and not the Spike-spent-hours-licking-Buffy part. Based on the Slayer's still rapid heartbeat and flushed cheeks, it didn't seem likely in her case.

Buffy sighed. "Okay. If Lindsey did tattoo me, then it might explain some things. Like why locator spells don't work on me. He wouldn't have wanted anybody to find me, right?" Jaw clenched, she dropped her gaze, but not before Spike saw the hurt and betrayal in her eyes.

Bloody hell, he'd never wanted to hurt the wanker as much as he did at this moment. His fists clenched uselessly. "Would explain why nobody could find you, down in the Hellmouth. And it fits his M.O."

She twisted, pulling down the waist of her sweats to examine her hip. "But what did he tattoo me with? It doesn't look anything like his."

"Yeah, those aren't Enochian," Dawn said. "Never seen anything like it."

"Wes might've known, but…" Spike trailed off. Wes was dead. "I'm sure between the lot of us, we can figure it out."

"Does it matter?" Dawn said to Buffy. "Can't we just – bzzt – laser it off like you did with that tattoo Giles' creepy old wizard friend gave you? That worked, right?"

Buffy blinked at her. "You're asking the wrong person. Got the whole amnesia thing going on, remember?" She turned to Spike. "Do you…?"

"Wasn't around for that, sorry. Not hard to ring Giles up and ask, though. Is it?"

With a glance at the clock, Buffy said, "No. But it can wait until tomorrow."

Dawn leaned back, and folded her arms over her chest. "So what happened with the monks?" The news of Buffy's altered tattoo had pushed everything else out of their minds, including the self-destructing monks.

"They had a serious hate-on for me," Buffy muttered.

Spike couldn't help but smile at her petulant tone. Back when he'd been the Scoobies' reluctant hostage on the lam from the Initiative, he'd been amazed to discover that the Slayer, this warrior of light who had defeated him and countless others, was still a little girl in so many ways. Looking back on it now, he could admit he'd found it sort of endearing. Still did.

No wonder she'd always defeated him. He'd been an appallingly bad Big Bad.

"They nattered on a fair bit about Lindsey defiling some vessel and how it needed to be destroyed," he said. "Unfortunately, they were more concerned with taking the Slayer out than having a reasonable conversation."

"Vessel?" Dawn straightened, heel of her hand smacking her forehead. "That's it! That's where we heard of them. That green guy in LA… Lorne. He was telling us about Lindsey's fight with –"

"The Shamaya," Spike finished. "And how they were after some vessel. Christ Almighty, why didn't I remember that?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm blaming it on the really bad night," Dawn said.

Buffy frowned. "Wait, they've been looking for whatever this vessel is for that long?"

Suddenly, everything clicked. Nodding at her hip, Spike gave her a grim look. "And I'm pretty sure they've found it."

 

*******

 

It had been a long, frustrating week. Spike had remained in Oxford, in case the monks came back. They'd found Buffy once, somehow, and he was afraid there might be even more of them the next time. Amazing fighter though she was, even she could be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Giles and Willow had dropped everything to join them. Regular calls were being made to Faith and Xander. Even Angel and Andrew had been consulted, and, in Andrew's case, dissuaded from coming to England. The inner circle had gathered in the face of a threat. Buffy was less than thrilled to be the center of everybody's attention, but she bore it stoically. Nobody wanted the Order of Shamaya to succeed in destroying the 'vessel', her least of all.

"Perhaps Dawn's suggestion has merit," Giles said, his eyes red and watery from days spent poring over his books in attempt to identify the glyphs worked into Buffy's tattoo, all to no avail. "It did indeed work with the mark of Eyghon…"

"If the Order of Shamaya is so protective of whatever this is, it stands to reason we won't find it any books," Willow said. Her fingers traced the glyphs they'd copied to a piece of paper, without cease, as if she might decipher their secrets by touch.

Buffy shrugged. "So far we've hit nothing but dead ends. I say let's do it. Any plan that results in de-Buffy-cidaling a bunch of little old men who keel over dead at the drop of a hat works for me. Set me up with the plastic surgeon." She narrowed her eyes. "The Council is going to pay for it, right?"

With a long-suffering sigh, Giles assured her that it would.

"Well, that's settled then." Buffy rushed off, claiming she'd be late for work if she didn't hurry, and leaving the rest of them to stare at the pile of yet-to-be-read books that remained on the dining room table.

When she was out of earshot, Spike said, "Think removing the tattoo will fix her memory problems too?" He hadn't wanted to bring it up in front of her. No need to get her hopes up for nothing.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed. "We can only hope." He replaced his glasses with another, longer sigh. "I don't suppose either of you have any recommendations for plastic surgeons?"

 

*******

 

Spike sat in the car, twiddling his thumbs, fiddling with the radio, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and regretting his offer to be the one to take Buffy to her appointment. He'd forgotten to factor in the time of day, and was now trapped in his car by the death rays from above.

Stubbing out his smoke, he tipped his seat back and tried to give in to the midday torpor that tended to leave him a dash slow and clumsy. Worry for Buffy had him cracking his eyes open to scan the street for robed types every five minutes. He closed his eyes with an irritated grunt, only to open them again when the door rattled.

"Paranoid much?" Buffy said after he'd unlocked it and she'd slid inside. "You worried about getting carjacked?"

"Not a fan of accidental incineration, despite all evidence to the contrary. How'd it go?" Spike gestured to the large bandage poking out from under the band of her sweats.

"Fascinatingly, according to the doctor. Guess he's never encountered indelible ink before."

Spike stared at her, dismayed. "Bugger."

"Exactly. Except I was thinking more along the lines of fuck. Looks like it's on to plan B."

"Do we have a plan B?" Other than finding Lindsey and beating it out of him?

"More research, I guess," Buffy said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. "You ready to head back?" She took in his reclining seat and disheveled hair. "Want me to drive?"

"No!" Spike said, suddenly feeling a lot more awake.

They were just pulling out of the parking space when Buffy said, "Um, Spike? I think we've got company."

He looked over at where she was pointing. A cadre of little old men stood watching the car with rheumy eyes. "That can't be good." Spike zoomed into traffic, keeping an eye on the monks through the rear view mirror. They didn't follow, but stood together in a circle, heads bowed in conference.

Buffy had twisted around to peer out the back window. "That was creepy. Coincidence?"

"Maybe they're looking for the ones we, uh… met… in Oxford. London would be the place to start, wouldn't it?"

"Still…"

"Yeah." Spike switched lanes, a prickle of unease running up his spine. "How many of these fellows you think there are? Obscure order like that, can't be too many of them." He bloody well hoped.

"I guess we'll find out," Buffy said, and pulled out her cell phone to update the others.

 

*******

 

Turned out the order wasn't lacking for members; that, or they'd been followed. Spike noticed a pair later that night, on patrol. Figuring Buffy wasn't up for another fight to the death, he pointed them out, and they skirted around the two old men shuffling down the street and headed home to make sure everybody there was ok.

The flat was quiet. Giles and Willow had gone questing for more research material, and Dawn was still out with her study group.

Lugging a can of paint over to the front door, Buffy said, "Screw the deposit. I think it's time we put Lindsey's protection glyphs to work."

Spike took the brush she offered him, and carefully copied the marks she made on the other side of the doorjamb. They worked shoulder-to-shoulder in comfortable silence, painting all the window and doorframes throughout the flat.

When they were done, Buffy stood back and examined their work with a critical eye. "At least they shouldn't find me here. I don't want Dawn having to deal with these guys."

"Definitely not."

Buffy stared a moment longer, then abruptly turned away. Spike caught the faint sound of a sniffle. His nose confirmed it: she was crying. He shifted uneasily. "Slayer? Buffy?"

"It's nothing," she said.

"Love..." Spike reached out to touch her shoulder, but drew his hand back. "Is it something I...?"

"No! It's just – stupid. Me, being stupid. I trusted him, you know?" Her shoulders shook, and the tear-scent grew stronger. "Even though I knew he'd lied to me before. But he told me he wanted to start fresh, and he was honest about why he'd lied before –" Buffy's breath hitched.

Lindsey.

Spike hovered behind her, not sure what else to do. "He's not worth your tears, love."

Buffy turned to him, eyes fiercely green and wet. "I asked him. Straight up. I said 'Did you do this to me? Did you make it so locator spells don't work on me?' And he said no." Mouth trembling, she said, "Why? Why would lie to me? What did he even do to me, Spike?"

His chest ached for her, the words he'd given her only months ago echoing in his head: You see the good in others. You forgive, when another wouldn't. You love, when most couldn't. It was her blessing, and it was her curse. Buffy's capacity for forgiveness allowed her to carry on long after others would've given up, but made her vulnerable to betrayal. Betrayal she'd had to endure too many times already.

He should know. He'd been the recipient of Buffy's infinite capacity for trust and forgiveness more than once himself, trust and forgiveness he'd never deserved. But she'd given it all the same. Spike wouldn't have been standing here otherwise, trying to find some way to comfort her. "I don't know. But we'll figure it out, I promise. This and whatever he did to your memory."

"He didn't do anything..." Buffy trailed off. "He said he didn't do anything to my memory, at least..."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "And do we still believe him?"

Her hands tightened into fists. "I knew he was keeping something from me about these monk guys. I just didn't realize..." The tears spilled over once more, and she swiped them away with angry, rough movements. "I thought he cared about me. Stupid, huh?  Stupid, stupid Buffy."

He couldn't bear the hurt, and the disillusionment and disappointment in her eyes. He might not understand it, or like it, but neither made Buffy's feelings for Lindsey, or her resultant sense of betrayal, any less real. "A man can mean well, and still do the wrong thing," he said softly. Spike didn't know why he was defending the bastard, but it seemed like he was. Maybe he hoped it would ease her despair. Or maybe he could empathize with meaning well and still doing the wrong thing. "Doesn't mean he didn't care about you."

"Yeah, well." She shook off his defense of Lindsey. "God! When I get my hands on him!"

Spike bared his teeth in agreement, relieved to see Buffy's hurt turn to anger. Anger was what the bastard deserved, to his way of thinking. Not tears. Nobody was worth her tears, himself included. "I'll hold 'im for you, don't you worry."

Buffy smiled wanly. "Thanks." Scrubbing at her face, she said, "And now I have raccoon eyes, I bet. Ugh! I'm just gonna..." She motioned to the stairs, and hurried up them.

A moment later, Spike could hear the water running in the upstairs lavatory. Not sure what to do with himself, he stepped outside for a smoke, cursing himself yet again for having let McDonald slip away back in Tulsa. When he heard Buffy padding back downstairs several minutes later, he carefully snuffed his fag – it was his last one, and Spike had the feeling it would be a while before he had time to run to the corner store and pick up another pack.

Back inside, Buffy stood in the dining room, hands on hips. Fighting stance, Spike was glad to see, though her eyes were still red-rimmed and her cheeks splotchy. She picked up one of the books from the pile on the dining room table, and flipped through it half-heartedly. "Feel like getting researchy with me?"

"You sure know how to show a fellow a good time, Slayer," he said, hoping to jolly a smile out of her.

"That's me, all fun and games Buffy." She sat down with a plop. "If you don't want to..."

"Hmm. Well, it's that or the Black Adder marathon. Guess keeping you alive is a touch more pressing."

"Your concern is overwhelming." And there was the hint of a smile. Buffy passed him the biggest of the books, then settled in with a much smaller one for herself. "We could make it interesting."

Spike looked up. "And how do you propose we do that?"

"First person to find something useful gets a neck rub," she said, rolling her shoulders, a hopeful glint in her eye.

Kicking off his boots, Spike said, "Make it a foot rub, and you're on."

Buffy grimaced at the sight of his seen-far-better-days socks, and pulled her text closer.

An hour and a half later, she had the big book and Spike one of the smaller ones written in French. "Hang on," he said, rereading a passage in his text. "This might be something, but I need to cross-check it with yours." He reached for the text Buffy had.

Glaring, she tugged it out of his reach.

"Just give it to me for a mo'," he said.

She held the book to her chest. "In a minute. I need to go check on something." Buffy got up, taking the oversized tome with her.

Curious, Spike padded after her into the kitchen just in time to see her pull what looked like a magazine out from between the pages of the book and stuff it into a drawer. "Cheater!" he said. "I'm trying to save your life, and you're busy getting the latest Cosmo tips on –" He lunged for the drawer and yanked it open before she could block him.

"The Oxford University Prospectus?" Spike looked up at Buffy's beet red face. "Slayer?"

"I was thinking about going back to school, all right?" she said. "If you laugh –"

"God, no. I think it's brilliant," he said, surprised, but thrilled on her behalf.

Buffy mumbled something, and stared at the ground. Spike stooped to catch her downcast gaze. "Listen here, pet. You might not remember it, but I died so's you could have a life. A real life, doing all things you wanted to do. Plan got a bit off track what with your memories being hijacked and all, but you deserve all the things you had to put aside every day back in Sunnydale, in order to save an ungrateful world. You deserve them now more than ever, Buffy."

She looked up, eyes glistening. "I –"

A loud bang drowned out her words, and the front door frame shuddered. They turned toward the commotion, and then back to each other.

"Say, Slayer, where d'you keep your axes these days?"

"In the handy dandy secret storage coffee table that Xander gave us as a housewarming present."

"Clever." The house shuddered again as they hurried to the front room, making the china clink in the cabinets. "Think your deposit's screwed even without the paint job. Wager it's the Shamaya?"

"How? They shouldn't be able to find the place. Or me."

"Might be they learned some new tricks." He had to raise his voice so Buffy could hear him over the din of them rifling through the weapons chest and the thuds that were growing in intensity.

"Gee, thanks. 'Cause I wasn't worried about these guys at all before now."

Spike hefted the sword he'd chosen over his shoulder, and let his hand rest on her elbow, just for a moment. He'd known Buffy long enough to easily identify the fear in her voice despite the jokey tone, and didn't like it. Already scared was no way to start what was promising to be a major battle.

Giving her his best devil-may-care grin, he bounced on his sock-clad toes until she gave him a reluctant grin in return. "Come on, love. Let's go see who's knocking."

 

Angel by Baphrosia

 

Angel

 

 

Angel tucked his bookmark in its place and carefully set his book down on the nightstand before settling back onto the bed. Hands laced behind his head, he stared up at the ceiling, willing himself to drowsiness even though he knew sleep would be a long time coming.

Days like today, he missed working with a team. Missed having somebody to take him out of his head and his thoughts – missed Cordelia especially.

Falling in love with Buffy and being drawn into her circle had awoken a need for companionship that Angel hadn't realized he'd been repressing for a close to a century. Loneliness and isolation had become second nature to him after the soul – after Darla had sent him away. With Buffy, he'd discovered he liked being an ally in a fight for something bigger than himself, liked being part of a group again. Things had been good – until he'd managed to lose his soul, along with what limited trust Buffy's circle had placed in him.

Burrowing deeper into his pillow, Angel thought about his final months with Buffy. He still believed leaving had been the right choice. Nobody there had trusted him after his return from hell, with good reason. Nobody except for Buffy.

He'd clung to her trust and to her fierce love, but Joyce's confrontation had been a wakeup call. No matter how much he loved her, he could only bring Buffy pain. It wasn't just that she deserved a normal life, something other than a monster in the dark, as Joyce had pointed out. By staying in Sunnydale, he'd been asking her to choose, every day, between the vampire she couldn't ever love completely and the rest of her family and friends. She'd never said anything to him, but he wasn't so clueless that he couldn't see how hard it had been on her every time she chose him despite the misgivings of Giles and the others.

After leaving Sunnydale, Angel had tried to isolate himself again, but the Powers had had other plans for him in the form of Doyle. And then Cordelia. He smiled to himself, remembering her brash, no-nonsense personality. How she'd refused to let him brood – the way was doing now, he thought with a wry smile.

Cordelia.

God, he missed her so much.

Missed all of them. Doyle. Wesley. Fred. Gunn.

He'd gotten them all killed. All the people who'd been part of his team, part of his family. Being on his own was for the best. For everyone. He wouldn't risk it again.

Even the ones who hadn't died, he'd lost just the same. Lorne had disappeared, and Angel had honored his promise never to contact him. Illyria had stayed with Angel for a time, but had grown bored with his company and simply disappeared one day.

Buffy… wasn't Buffy anymore.

And Spike…

After Wolfram and Hart, there'd been Spike. They'd met on occasion to touch base, or to compare notes on the search for Buffy. Spike needed people, and that need had driven him to connect in person when over the phone would've sufficed. Not that Angel was complaining – well, fine, he might've complained whenever Spike had showed, even if he'd been secretly pleased to see him. Their relationship had never been an easy one, but Spike's company was something. Something more than the self-imposed isolation Angel had chosen, and those short times together had left him energized despite his inevitable irritation with the younger vampire.

It never took long for him to miss Spike again once he'd left. It was the mark of just how lonely he was.

But then Spike had finally – amazingly – found Buffy.

And now Angel was alone again. If you could call being surrounded by a couple million strangers alone.

New York was a good choice, though. In the city that never slept, nobody questioned his hours. Nobody cared if he kept to himself. He could get back to his mission. There was plenty of work to be done here. Plenty of other things to keep him occupied, too. He could indulge in his love of opera every single night, if he chose. Go to an art exhibit. Check out the ballet.

Anything but call Connor, or visit him at his dorm, or worm his way into his life.

His boy had a life. A normal, safe, well-adjusted, happy life, and that was the way it was going to stay.

Sometimes Connor texted him – brief updates on how he was doing in school, or a picture of him and a friend at a party, arms slung around each other, a beer in hand. Angel spent hours examining each picture, reassuring himself that he'd made the right choice. Seeing those smiles, so unlike his memories of his own time with Connor, Angel usually decided he'd made the right call.

Usually.

But it was good this way. Better than good.

Absolutely perfect.

He reached for his phone, wanting to see his son's happy, smiling face one more time before he went to sleep, only to drop the phone when it vibrated unexpectedly in his hand. Angel picked it back up and flipped it open.

"Hello?"

"We know what Lindsey did to Buffy. What we don't know is how to undo it."

"Spike?" Angel said, confused, and then his brain caught up to what the other man had said. Eyes narrowing, he sat up, fully alert. "Tell me everything."

 

*******

 

"Not good enough." Angel ran his sword through the small, hairy demon's shoulder, and pulled it back out with a vicious twist. "I hope you have a better answer. Or not." Fangs bared, he grinned. "'Cause I could do this all night."

"Swear, I swear. No seeing of Lindsey, not for many season times. Gone he is, maybe dead. Ejobee not knowing! Ayeee!"

Grimacing in disgust, Angel dropped Ejobee to the ground. He dug the tip of his weapon into the little demon's belly. "Well, where would you look for him, if you wanted to find him?"

Ejobee squeaked in pain. "Always he is talking of Okiehoma. Most magical place. Looking there, yes?"

He didn't think Lindsey was to be found in Oklahoma, not again. Besides, old contacts from Wolfram and Hart who still owed him favors had reported seeing Lindsey around Los Angeles in the past few weeks. Angel leaned into his sword. "Try again."

"This Angel City! Lindsey having many friends in Angel City! Them knowing, not Ejobee!"

"Give me a name. One," he added with silky menace, "that I don't already know."

"Trying The Destroyer you are. The Destroyer finding anybody!"

Angel froze. The almost indiscernible trembling of his hands magnified downward along the blade, making the tip jitter on Ejobee's hairy flesh. The little demon squalled in terror.

"What did you say?" Angel whispered.

"The Destroyer! He is finding all!"

Angel's sword clattered onto the ground. Ejobee scuttled away on hands and knees and disappeared around the corner. Angel didn't notice. He was too busy trying to tell himself he'd heard wrong.

 

*******

 

On the upside, worrying about Connor's extracurricular activities kept Angel from worrying quite so much about Buffy. On the downside, now he had to worry about Connor. Who was maybe not quite so well adjusted and safe as he had thought.

The name The Destroyer was being whispered by demons on every street corner and in every seedy, underground bar, all over Los Angeles. Angel did his best to ignore the rumors. If he didn't know, he didn't have to confront Connor about it. Didn't have to wonder if everything he'd given up, everyone he'd sacrificed, had been for nothing.

Instead, he threw himself into the hunt for Lindsey. Call after frantic cross-Atlantic call from Willow and Spike had him searching the city day and night. Lindsey was in Los Angeles, and, tattooed or not, he wouldn't be able to hide forever.

The coming sunrise sent Angel stalking back to the abandoned Hyperion, Spike's most recent call replaying in his head. He wondered how Buffy was holding up. Angel hadn't spoken to her since the night of the Apocalypse he'd brought down on Los Angeles, which was both a relief and a disappointment. He was glad Spike and Dawn had found her, for their sakes', but he hadn't let himself think about it beyond that.

Buffy was no longer part of his life, by his choice, by fate, by the passage of time. By what Lindsey had done. After the jerk had run off on her, Angel would've cared for Buffy if there had been nobody else, but there were plenty of somebody elses.

If and when they found Lindsey, and made him reverse whatever he'd done to Buffy… well, Angel tried not to think about what might happen then. It was too dangerous to hope, and after two and a half years, it seemed more like a beautiful, distant dream than a real possibility anyway.

Besides, he had his own reasons for finding Lindsey. The ex-lawyer might currently be in hiding, but Angel knew it wouldn't be long before he was back in the game. The power vacuum in Los Angeles was still waiting to be filled – and guess where Lindsey had run to.

Pushing his way through the boarded-up back entrance of the Hyperion, Angel debated whether to call Spike with a lack-of-update, or wait until later in the day. Busy calculating the time difference, and working out whether his moronic progeny would be awake or not, he didn't notice the figure lurking in the shadows of the lobby until he was almost upon them.

"Connor! What are you doing here?"

"Heard my old man was in town," Connor said with a deceptively disarming smile. "Just, you know, not from him. For some reason."

"You mean besides the fact that 'in town' suggests that I would be in Stanford? Where you're supposed to be?"

"What do you care?"

Angel stepped back a pace. The look on Connor's face, the tone of his voice, was familiar.

And it scared him.

"Look kid, your parents –"

"Are they? I mean, I remember them being my parents. But I remember you being my parent too. So…"

"They're your parents," Angel said, willing his expression calm despite the unbearable agony in his chest. "That's your life. Go back to it, Connor."

Connor shook his head. "Go back? That's it? I've got all these mad skills, all these memories, and you expect me to, what, just forget them and be some boring, regular college kid?"

"Yes," Angel said flatly.

"Nah. It doesn't work that way, Dad. You might have abandoned the city, and abandoned me, but there's still work to be done. What used to be your work."

Angel felt a sliver of hope pierce the fear that had gripped his heart like a vice.

Connor was angry. He was furious with Angel, no question. But he wasn't angry mixed with crazy, not like before. At least, Angel didn't think so. It sounded more like...

"You're fighting the good fight now? That's what this whole Destroyer business is about?"

"Somebody's got to, right? And, drunk frat boys aside, not many monsters at Stanford. I got bored."

Angel eyed his son, wondering what it was Connor wanted from him. Worrying that your kid was going to lock you in a steel box and drop you to the bottom of the ocean, again, wasn't the best of feelings. Not that he looked vengeful… but then, Angel had been wrong before.

"Am I one of those monsters?" Angel said.

"I dunno. Are you?" And there was that smile again.

His phone shrilled before he could answer, blaring out the abrasive music Spike had programmed in as his ringtone the last time Angel had seen him. Keeping a cautious eye on the boy in front of him, he snapped, "What is it?"

"Angel, mate?" Spike puffed out between grunts and loud crashes. "Gonna need you to step it up on the Lindsey front. Find the bastard right now, would you?"

"Spike? What's happening?"

"Trying to laser off the tattoo turned out not to be the best of plans. Seems we've turned our girl into some sort of homing beacon for these Shamaya. Figure at the rate we're going we'll have killed them all off eventually, but for now they just keep coming, like bleeding cockroaches."

Angel heard the clashing of steel, and the sound of Spike cursing viciously. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck!" The phone went dead.

He stared at it.

"So," Connor said. "Who're we looking for?"

 

*******

 

Angel couldn't decide if he was proud of his son, or terrified of him. With Connor at his side, they'd accomplished in less than two days what Angel hadn't managed in weeks. Years, really. He focused on the man before him and tried not the think about the swath of destruction they'd left in their wake, or how apt his boy's nickname was.

"Oh look, it's a father-son outing," Lindsey said. He smirked up at Angel from his seat at the bar. "How sweet."

"I don't have time for games, Lindsey." Angel stepped closer, using his larger bulk to loom over the other man. "Buffy's under attack by the Shamaya. We need to know how to remove that tattoo you branded her with, and get them to back off."

Concern and remorse flashed across Lindsey's face, just for an instant, and then the smirk was back. He leaned back against the bar, elbows propped up on the counter. "You need my help, do you?"

"No," Angel said. "Buffy does."

The smirk slipped a little.

"She cares about you. She believes in you. Even now, after you used her and abandoned her. While we're here posturing over who's got the bigger dick, Buffy's fighting for her life – because of something you did to her. So what's it going to be, Giles? Is her faith in you justified? Or am I going to have to torture you to get you to help her?"

Lindsey looked away, his countenance a mixture of worry and disgust. "We're going to need a book back at my place," he said at last, and slid off his seat and made for the door.

Angel followed closely behind, ready to spring after him if he tried to run. Connor took up position on the other side of Lindsey, and the three of them marched, grim-faced and silent, down the street and to a nearby apartment building.

As they rode up the elevator, Angel said, "Why didn't you tell her about the tattoo before you ran off on her?"

Lindsey shrugged. "It's handy having a Slayer in your pocket. Can't deny I liked keeping your girl from you, either."

Angel's hands tightened into fists, but he kept them to himself. For now. Buffy is more important, he told himself, repeating it like a mantra.

In the apartment, Lindsey headed straight for his bookshelf and carefully slid an ancient, brittle book off the topmost shelf. "All right, let's go," he said.

"Go where?"

"To Buffy."

"She's on the other side of the world. We don't have time." Angel pulled out his phone. "We'll call Giles, and you can tell him what to do."

Lindsey hesitated. "It's tricky. And if it doesn't get done just right…"

"Or we could wait, and Buffy could be dead by the time we get there thanks to your pissed off and homicidal friends."

"Damn. All right, I can do my part of it from here. Make the call."

Angel did, counting the rings and hoping they weren't too late. Giles picked up on the fifth ring, and when Angel gave his news, he could have sworn Giles let out a whoop. He turned on his speakerphone and set it on the dining room table next to Lindsey, who read Giles the directions. Lindsey had to repeat himself on occasion, to be heard over the muted sounds of battle coming through from the other side of the world, but it wasn't long before he was done.

"Do you want to call back, or should we wait on the line?" Angel said.

"Er…" Giles said. "I don't have all of these supplies on hand. Hopefully it won't take more than a quick trip down to the local shop. I'll ring you back, shall I?"

"Sure."

"Pip, pip, cheerio!" Lindsey added in an obnoxiously loud fake accent. Connor scowled at him and Lindsey grinned, unrepentant.

"Angel?" Giles said, his tone of voice smoothing from harried to something calmer, and far more menacing. "Would you be so good as to make sure Mr. McDonald is with you when I ring back? I'd have some things to discuss with him."

"Don't worry," Angel said. "He's not going anywhere."

After Giles had hung up, Lindsey lit three tall, red candles, and did his part of the removal spell. "Assuming everything goes well on their end, it's done," he said.

Some chanting, a few herbs, and it was over? After years of frustration and pain on Buffy's part? Too easy, Angel thought. Way too easy.

Mouth pressed in a thin line, he pointed for Lindsey to resume his seat at the table. The three of them waited in tense silence. Lindsey opened his mouth to speak several times, only to change his mind under Angel and Connor's combined glares. At last, the phone rang.

"The tattoo is off," Giles said.

"And the Shamaya?"

"Are still here. They made mention of blood atonement –"

"Blood atonement!"

" – and appear to be waiting on an appeasement sacrifice. However, they seem somewhat more amenable to discussion than they did previously. I believe the crisis has been averted."

Angel let out the breath he'd been holding. "Buffy's okay then? She's back to her old self?"

"I'm afraid I haven't yet had the chance to question her –"

Spike's voice overrode Giles'. "Oi! Rupes! That Angel?" There was a beat, and then Spike was on the line. "Our favorite lawyer still there?"

"I haven't killed him yet, if that's what you mean."

"Good. Whatever that tattoo was, it's not the whole story. There's no more talk of vessel destroying, and Buffy smells like herself again. But she still doesn't know anymore about her past other'n what she's been told."

"That doesn't mean Lindsey had something to do with it," Angel said, watching Lindsey carefully. He looked mildly curious, nothing more.

"You an' I both know he did. I'm thinking a little more persuading might be in order. Before you try to off him this time."

Angel pursed his lips. "I'll let you know what I find out."

If Lindsey felt any trepidation over what was going to happen next, he didn't show it. Angel studied him for a long minute, wondering if he'd give in as easily a second time. Maybe if he played on the man's obvious fondness for Buffy…

"You did a good thing, Lindsey. You saved her."

"My quarrel was never with Buffy."

"You saved her before, too. After the crater collapsed. I never got to thank you for that."

Lindsey laughed. "I only saved her so she could kill you."

Angel grabbed a chair and turned it around so he could straddle it facing Lindsey. He rested his crossed arms on the back. "Here's the thing. Buffy would never do that. If she had all her memories."

It was so minute, Angel almost missed Lindsey's flinch. Almost.

"She's still missing them, huh? That's too bad," Lindsey said.

"Say, son," Angel said to Connor. "It's been a long couple days, and I'm getting hungry. Do you think you could get me some blood while I have a friendly conversation with Mr. McDonald here?"

"I don't care if you torture him," Connor said. "It won't bother me."

Without taking his eyes off of Lindsey, Angel said, "Who said anything about torture? I'm just really hungry."

Connor grumbled, but he left. As soon as the door shut, Angel leaned forward. "Used to be, I could keep a man on the brink of death for months. I'm a little rusty now. You want to help me sharpen those old skills, or you want to just fess up now?"

"Thought you told the kid you weren't planning to torture me."

"Oh, you know. Children. You gotta set a good example for them. Dr. Spock frowns on the whole teaching-your-kid-how-to-make-a-man-beg-for-mercy thing. So we'll just have to get this over with before he gets back."

"Yeah? I'll make it easy for you," Lindsey said. "There's nothing to fess up. Buffy had a nasty fall. She almost died. It's a miracle the only lasting damage was memory loss." He and Angel stared at each for long moments, and then, before Angel could react, Lindsey threw himself sideways. He rolled out of the room and into his bedroom.

Angel followed, only to come up against the tip of a sword.

"You and me, big guy," Lindsey said. "This is long overdue."

"You're still jonesing to fight me?" Angel said incredulously.

"Hey, you cheated me out of our final showdown. Twice. This is the way it's supposed to play out. Welcome to Thunderdome."

With a growl, Angel grabbed the sword, the two of them struggling over it for long minutes. He finally wrested it from Lindsey's grasp and turned it on him. "You still can't beat me." He pressed the point to Lindsey's chest. "You never will."

Lindsey shrugged. "Maybe I can't kill you. But I won." The smirk returned. "I took what mattered to you, and you're never getting her back."

Angel dug the point the sword a little deeper, and a trickle of blood bloomed on Lindsey's shirt. "Are you really going to doom Buffy to a lifetime of amnesia just to hurt me?" When he didn't answer, Angel said, "Dammit, Lindsey, you care about her. I can see it in your face. And despite everything you've done, she still cares about you. Is this really how you want it to end?"

"Feels right. You, doing the deed. Not some flunky. I'm satisfied."

"You're not my nemesis, you retard. You're not even evil! Stupid, yes. Power hungry, yes. Evil? No."

Lindsey looked Angel in the eye. "Yeah, I never did get the hang of that." He grasped the blade of the sword with both hands, and yanked it into his own chest.

Angel stumbled backwards, shocked. "Why?"

Hands still clenched around the sword, Lindsey gritted out, "Your girl's got a way of making a man want to go straight, no matter his intentions. Turns out I don't like the idea of disappointing her. Ironic, huh?" Even coughing up blood, he managed a cocky smile. "This is as close to redeemed as I'm ever going to get. Let's hope it's enough."

He staggered, and Angel caught him. "But what about Buffy?"

With a trembling hand, Lindsey reached up and tapped the back of Angel's head, just above the hollow at the nape of his neck. "You'll know what to do." Coughing wetly, he pressed his forefinger to his red-soaked shirt, and then painted a bloody sigil on his own forehead. "Blood atonement," he gurgled. His eyes rolled back, leaving only the whites visible.

"What does that mean?" Angel shook him. "Goddamit, Lindsey. What about Buffy?"

Lindsey didn't answer.

He was dead.

 

Buffy by Baphrosia

 

Buffy

 

 

"Buffy! Buffy!" Giles came running out of the flat, waving the cell phone in his hand. He puffed his way over to her, parrying attacks with the small blade in his other hand as he went. "That was Angel. He found Lindsey. We have the removal spell."

Relief made her weak, but only for a moment. She rabbit-punched her opponent in the head, sending him staggering backwards, and turned to Giles. "Great. Let's get this over with. Getting so tired of these guys."

"I'm afraid I have to fetch a few things from the shop first." Gesturing to the ongoing battle on the front walk, he said, "If you could clear me a path?"

"Oh sure, leave me to do the dirty work while you go have shopping fun." Buffy barreled through the fight, knocking the monks aside like rag dolls and towing Giles along behind her. "Bring me back a smoothie!" she said as he jumped into his car.

He gave her a tight smile. "I shall return as quickly as possible," he said through the small, open crack of the window, and then roared down the street.

After he'd disappeared around the corner, Buffy fell back into the rhythm of battle, Spike at her side. Willow helped from the sidelines, casting protection spells and undoing any magic the monks attempted. She also maintained glamours to hide the battle and keep the neighbors from alerting the police.

Buffy had called Dawn as soon as it had become clear they was going to be under prolonged attack, and told her to stay away until she received the all clear. Since then, wave after wave of Shamaya had found them, giving them hours, and sometimes only minutes, to catch their breath before being forced to fend for their lives once more.

Despite being utterly exhausted, Buffy was doing her best to prolong the fight with each opponent, as was Spike. Every time the tide began to turn against them, the monks would activate their self-destruct buttons, and as much as Buffy didn't want to get dead, she wasn't happy about being responsible for the deaths of so many humans who were possibly nice little old men under other circumstances.

Finding herself back-to-back with Spike, she said, "How you doing? You want to step inside for a breather?" Willow had created a bubble of protection around herself, which she could maintain indefinitely. She could hold others inside it as well, but only for short stretches of time.

Spike looked up at the slowly fading stars. "Sun'll be up soon enough, and then I won't have much of a choice. It'll be back to the cellar for me. You go on and take a rest, I'll hold them off."

"With any luck this will be over by then," Buffy said. She squinted around her opponent towards the end of the street. "I hope Giles gets back soon. And I hope whatever he's got planned works."

"Hope so too, pet. Go on now. The group's starting to get a little thin; we'd better give 'em a break before they go Jonestown on us."

"This is ridiculous. I have never had to work this hard to lose a fight before."

Spike laughed. "It's a new one, all right."

Buffy made her way over to Willow's protective bubble. "Knock knock?"

"What's the word on the mean streets?" Willow said.

"The word is…" Buffy stared over Willow's shoulder, aghast. "Dawn."

Willow nodded. "Yep, it's almost dawn."

Behind her, a wizened old monk dragged Dawn forward by the hair. "Cease this resistance," he said, "and she will come to no harm. Abomination though she is herself."

"Hey!" Dawn said, twisting to glare into his gnarled face. "Watch who you're calling an abomination!"

The monk examined her, eyes narrowed. "The Key made flesh. Our brothers profaned most grievously." Four more men appeared behind him, chanting softly, and Dawn began to glow a pale green.

Buffy could feel Spike at her back, coiled fury poised to spring into action. "Plan?" he said into her ear.

She looked to Willow, who stared back, ashen. Willow's desperate, apologetic expression told Buffy all she needed to know – there were no witchy tricks up her sleeve. She turned her head and spoke in a low voice so only Spike would hear. "I'll try to buy some time. Maybe if I play along, you can get Dawn away from them…"

Spike squeezed her elbow to let her know he understood, and Buffy dropped her weapon and raised her hands. "I'm ceasing. Let my sister go."

"Buffy, no!" Dawn said, beating her fists against her captor's deceptively iron grip.

"It's okay, Dawnie." Buffy took a reluctant step forward. "Everything's going to be fine." The monks continued to chant, and Buffy took another step. "Let her go," she repeated.

"After."

She nodded at the chanters. "Tell them to stop. I won't fight you anymore, I swear."

The monk holding Dawn studied her, blinking owlishly. "Your honor binds you," he said at last. "I regret that we must erase a Warrior of Light such as yourself. But it is the law. The pure word of the infinite cannot be defiled."

"Not much consolation, really."

"I fear not." He uttered a harsh command, and the chanting stopped. The glow emanating from Dawn faded a little. The monks she'd been fighting with Spike came forward, surrounding Buffy and separating her from the others. "On your honor, Slayer. Come peaceably."

"Right." As the old men wrapped their claw-like hands around her arms, Buffy glanced back at Spike. Seeing that he was prepared to attack, lack of plan be damned, she said softly, "Dawn comes first."

"Slayer…"

"Please."

Spike ground his teeth, the muscle in his jaw twitching wildly, but nodded. Over to the side, Buffy could hear Dawn struggling and crying. She tuned the sound out. She had to focus, to be prepared for an opening.

And if she couldn't find one... She'd done it before, hadn't she? Sacrificed her own life for Dawn's? For the space of a moment, Buffy marveled at herself. Was she really willing to die for somebody she didn't quite remember? To be the hero she'd insisted she wasn't any longer?

The answer was an immediate and resounding yes. For Dawn – yes.

The monks marched her past the circle of Willow's wards and glamour, and though Buffy dragged her feet, she couldn't come up with a plan that would save both her and Dawn, especially now that she couldn't even see the others anymore. She could only hope Spike and Willow were on top of it. "Where are we going?" she said, hoping that talking would distract them from walking.

No such luck. The one who answered spoke without effort, neither breath nor pace flagging. "Far enough your associates cannot interfere."

"Makes sense," Buffy said. "So. What is this word you're so het up about? I mean, if I have to die for something I didn't even do, it would be nice to at least understand why."

That got them to stop. The monks looked at each other uneasily, though whether it was because they didn't want to discuss their secrets or because they felt guilty over killing her, Buffy couldn't say. "Shri Lindsey violated the knowledge given to him," one said at last.

"The infinite is not for the uninitiated," said another. "We do not speak of it."

"Are you talking about God?" Buffy said. "A god? The God?"

There was more consideration, and then one said, "God is but an aspect of the infinite." They began to move forward again. Part of Buffy was interested to actually hear the answers. The bigger part of her was too focused on surviving. She wasn't keen on getting reacquainted with Heaven up close and personal just yet.

"Can't we remove the tattoo somehow? Just get rid of it? No harm, no foul?"

"It is not for others to witness. Merely viewing the word has defiled it."

A second monk added, "It can only be removed by the will of Shri Lindsey. He has made it clear that is not his intent."

Buffy dug her heels in, dragging them all to a stop. "But he has. Will. His will. He will his will." She grimaced, and tried again. "He agreed to let the tattoo be removed. He gave my Watcher the removal spell."

Again, there was much foot-shifting and eye-meeting between the monks.

"If she tells the truth…"

"There can only be one outcome for such desecration –"

"Is not the taking of an innocent life –"

"Defilement requires a blood sacrifice –"

"Should not Shri Lindsey pay it?"

"He is not here."

The argument ground to an uncomfortable halt. The monks looked at each other and then at the ground, avoiding her gaze. Buffy recognized it as the opportunity she'd been waiting for – if only she could be sure Dawn was safe.

Knowing she had little time to act, she shifted her stance. Before she could make up her mind, Giles made it up for her by squealing around the corner and straight at their small assemblage. Buffy leapt towards the car, the monks scattering in her wake.

Without slowing down, Giles threw open the passenger door, and she grabbed hold of the frame, almost wrenching her arms out of their sockets, and tumbled inside.

"The ones back at the house have Dawn," Buffy said. "They were threatening to re-Key her if I didn't go peaceably."

"So Willow said."

"You have the goods?"

"Yes." Giles turned on his high beams, and squinted through the windshield as they penetrated the glamour. "I see them. Looks like a détente. Duck down and hold on."

He wrenched the wheel, and with a loud screech of tires, his tiny car went juddering over the curb and across the yard. Buffy knocked her head against the dash as he threw on the brakes, and then slammed back against her seat, stunned.

"In the flat, quickly," Giles said. "Before they realize you're here."

She threw herself out the door and sprinted for the house. A sideways glance revealed that Giles had stopped the car inches from Dawn and the monks, all of whom were curled on the ground in various protective poses. Spike already had a hold of Dawn's arm and was pulling her towards Willow.

"Into the kitchen," Giles panted as he came through the front door behind her. "The spell is mostly prepared, except for the few final ingredients. It shouldn't take but a minute."

"Hurry," Buffy said, resisting the urge to run back outside and make sure the others were okay. She had to trust that Spike and Willow could manage without her.

Giles dumped his supplies onto the counter. "Light the candles if you please. And then expose your hip. I'll need to paint it with the salve."

"Tell me this is going to work," she said as she lit the candles.

"Do you trust Mr. McDonald to have your best interests at heart and to not have lied about the spell?"

Buffy hesitated. She didn't want to believe Lindsey would willingly hurt her. But then, he'd been the one to do this to her in the first place, never mind lying about it to her face. The backs of her eyes began to burn, but she blinked the feeling away. She was not going to shed any more tears over that – snake.

Giles paused to cover her hand with his. "Whether he lied or not, we shall fix this, Buffy. I promise."

Seeing the naked concern and the warmth in his eyes, Buffy suddenly realized just how deeply Giles cared about her. She'd known it before, or been told so, but never quite believed it. Not like this. "You loved me," Buffy said, surprised, and more than a little awed. "Really loved me."

He gave her a small, tight smile. "I still do, my dear. I haven't shown it as I should, I confess, but there is nothing past tense about my feelings for you." He squeezed her hand, then hesitated, hovering a moment before deciding against whatever else it was he wanted to say. Giles went back to his preparations, and Buffy swallowed back her tears.

She'd spent all this time running, feeling like she couldn't belong to these people.

But maybe she hadn't needed to. It was a sobering thought.

Giles mixed and incanted, reading from his notes. When the candles flared incandescent white, he gestured to her bared hip. Buffy turned so he could slather on the gloppy red mixture.

When the tattoo was completely hidden, Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the back of his clean hand. "Now comes the moment of truth. Are you ready?"

"Ready or not, let's get this over with."

"Very well." He replaced his glasses, and held a hand over the caked-on sludge. "Sud'dha."

Buffy gasped as her skin began to burn. "Giles? Ow?"

"It should only last a moment," he said, expression worried. "There. Look!"

She looked. The red mixture had melted clean away, and along with it, parts of the markings on her hip.

"Is the pain gone?"

Buffy nodded. "And so is some of the tattoo. I'm guessing the parts Lindsey added to the original one."

"I would agree. I suppose Spike could verify…" he added, lips thinning.

"Erm…" Buffy blushed, trying not to recall the erotic images that had plagued her since Spike's admission. "I guess."

"You rest. I'll see what's happening out there and fetch him in if possible."

She got to her feet. "Dawn…"

Giles nodded his understanding, and led the way to the still open front door. He peered outside. "Dawn seems to be safe," he said.

Buffy stepped around him to see for herself. Spike, Dawn, and Willow remained clustered inside Willow's protection bubble, the monks milling around it, including the ones she'd escaped earlier. She strode towards them.

"Hey! Sham-yam guys! Your super-secret sacred word is all gone, so can we call it a day?" Tugging down the waist of her pants to expose her hip, she turned to Spike for confirmation. "Good as old?"

He nodded.

"There is still the matter of blood atonement."

She leveled a glare at the monk who'd spoken. "And how about it not be me who pays it?"

"You know, fawn works really well in a pinch as a substitute for human sacrifice," Willow said. "Have you thought about using a fawn?"

Buffy stared at Willow.

"I'm just saying," the redhead mumbled.

"How 'bout it? Would that work?" Buffy said, arms folded across her chest.

The monks closed ranks and conferred amongst themselves. Giles touched her shoulder. "Since everything seems to be under control here, I'm going to ring Angel back and let him know the spell was successful."

Buffy nodded, and then said to Spike, "It's almost sunrise, Mr. Death Wish. In the house with you, and get Dawn inside too. Before these guys get spell happy again."

"Sure thing, Slayer. Say, you remember that time we sha...ook a house down around us?"

Buffy frowned at the out-of-the-blue question. "No? When did that happen – was I kicking the crap out of you? Again?"

Spike gave her a half-hearted smile. "You could say that."

"Why? What's up?"

"S'nothing important. Tell you later," he said, and motioned for Dawn to follow him.

Keeping a careful eye on the Shamaya, who were still conferring, Buffy said, "How you doing, Wils? I think you can ease back on the protection now. I have the feeling we're about done here."

"My mental muscles are starting to get a little noodle-y." Willow closed her eyes and exhaled, and bubble around her faded, along with the glamour.

"So when exactly were you involved in human sacrifice?"

Willow's eyes shot open. "Me? Sacrifice? No – it was just research. A whole 'what if' thing. You know me, knowledge girl." She busied herself with packing up her supplies.

Sighing to herself, Buffy refrained from reminding Willow that, no, she didn't actually know her habits. Seemed like everybody had amnesia about her amnesia today.

The sun crested the horizon, bathing the battle-scarred front yard in a gentle, rosy glow. The monks continued to argue, gesturing back and forth until, as one, they stiffened. They turned to face Buffy. "The blood price has been met. Our apologies, Slayer." They bowed and shuffled off, stopping to collect the bodies of their fallen comrades as they passed.

"Well that was… weird. Was that weird?" Willow said.

"I'm thinking yes? And I'm also thinking who the hell cares so long as I can sleep for the next twenty-four hours."

Yawning, Willow said, "Right there with you on that." She pumped her fist in the air half-heartedly. "We won! Woo!" she said between two more yawns so large, Buffy could count all her teeth.

"With a side of hoo," Buffy agreed, and trudged inside after her.

 

*******

 

"Of course he's got to bring it himself. Got to ride in and save the day, all white knight in shining armor. Got a bit of hero complex, that one," Spike said.

"Of course," Buffy agreed automatically, her mind elsewhere. Spike had been grumbling over Angel's imminent visit for two days now, and she'd heard everything he had to say on the topic. Multiple times. She no longer felt any guilt about tuning him out when he went into anti-Angel mode.

Taking a deep breath, she squashed the acidic, panicky feeling that had been threatening to overtake her ever since Giles' announcement that Angel had found the solution to her memory loss. She'd finally come to terms with that loss and begun to build a new life. A good life, with family and friends she could trust. And sure, most of them were the same family and friends she'd trusted before the amnesia, but still – it would change. Everything would change. Who was to say it would be for the better?

From everything she'd heard about her past, Buffy kind of thought she was better off without those memories.

She set a freshly whittled stake on the growing pile next to her, and brushed the shavings off her clothes. Angel was due any minute, and she figured she probably ought to freshen up. It didn't do to meet your past looking like something the cat had dragged in.

Buffy was just coming back down the stairs when the doorbell rang. The others all looked at her, Willow and Dawn smiling hopefully, Giles offering her a small nod of encouragement, and Spike doing both before turning to scowl at the front door.

"I guess I'll get it," she said to herself, the butterflies in her stomach morphing into alien babies that were threatening to claw their way out through her insides. Throwing her shoulders back, she raised her chin and opened the door.

Angel stared down at her. His dark eyes searched hers, burning with emotions she couldn't identify. "Buffy."

"A-Angel. Hi. Um... come in?" Buffy wasn't completely comfortable with the idea of inviting him in and giving him access to her home, despite her invitation. Spike had re-earned her trust in the past few months; Angel had not.

"Hi." Angel reached out to brush her hair back from her face before stopping himself and dropping his hand. "It's good to see you." He shifted uncomfortably. "I'll just…" He motioned inside, and Buffy nodded and stepped out of his way.

Before she could close the door, Xander appeared on the doorstep. "Well. With how awkward that was, this'll be a piece of cake." He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

"Xander?"

"Heard big things were happening, and figured I should be here. Couldn't miss a momentous occasion like this." He pulled back to smile at her. "Besides, someday I want to be able to tell everybody how I helped save the world – or at least your memories – and my story will be far more believable if I was actually here."

"Um…"

"Seriously, though. I'm here for whatever you need. Moral support, the inevitable donut run, help holding down whoever it is you suddenly remember you have a grudge against so you can punch them…"

Buffy chuckled. "And if that turns out to be you?"

"I'll try not to run in terror."

She rolled her eyes and waved him inside, repressing the urge to punch him now. Maybe the old her would've appreciated him showing up uninvited, but this was exactly the type of pressure that had sent her running from her friends before.

Then again, she'd probably be happy he was here, post-restoration. Maybe.

If it worked.

If she agreed to it.

"So," Buffy said when they were all assembled in the front room. "What did Lindsey tell you?"

She still couldn't believe he was responsible for her memory loss, but the news of his sacrifice – his blood atonement – meant she had no outlet for her rage and disappointment, or sense of betrayal. Buffy couldn't hate him, because he'd sacrificed himself to save her life, but neither could she be grateful when it was his fault her life had needed saving in the first place. She couldn't grieve Lindsey when she was so angry, either.

He'd taken the coward's way out, and left her to wonder why with no hope for answers.

Worse, all her feelings for Lindsey had taken a back seat to her apprehension over the memory restoration, which left her feeling guilty and even more confused.

"He didn't exactly tell me anything…" Angel shrugged and handed her a letter. "But I found this in his things… after."

Buffy looked at the envelope in her hands. On the front, in Lindsey's writing, it said 'In case of memory loss, break seal'. Turning it over, she saw the seal had already been broken, presumably by Angel. She slipped the letter out and read it through quickly, then a second time, more slowly.

"To erase the runes…" she read aloud, her disbelief mounting. Buffy looked up, and glared at Angel, since Lindsey was unavailable. "More tattoos?"

"So it says..."

She threw the letter down on the table. "Well, that was pointless. Completely pointless." Flinging her arms wide, she added, "I'm a blank canvas. Totally rune-free."

"Perhaps there is a tattoo you missed," Giles said.

"Nothing. Nada. Dawn and I checked every square inch of skin, even between my toes. No more tattoos."

Angel cleared his throat. When she turned her glare back on him, he said, "That's not quite true. There's one place you probably didn't think to check." He reached for her. "Can I...?"

Buffy shrank back automatically, wondering where on earth he thought she might not have looked. The only place she could think of was – ahem – private, and as low as her opinion of Lindsey might currently be, she couldn't believe he'd have violated her that way. Besides. She'd already checked. With a mirror.

Spike leapt to her rescue, stepping between them. "Get your hands off her. Just tell the girl, Angelus, no need to paw at her."

"Relax, you idiot," Angel said. He shouldered Spike aside, and, tapping at the back of his head, said, "Right here, Buffy. I bet you anything that's where he hid it. Will you let me check under your hair?"

When she didn't answer right away, a flicker of hurt crossed his face. "Or let Giles... or somebody..."

She shook off her misgivings. It was only a quick look, to see if his theory was right. Buffy stepped closer, and turned around and bowed her head. "Well?"

Angel combed through her hair, his touch delicate despite his big hands. His fingers tickled the back of her head, right above the hollow where her skull met her spine. "There," he said. "That's where it is."

The rest of the group rushed forward to see. They jabbered excitedly to each other while Buffy held still, forgotten, feeling like an exhibit on display. She pulled away and crossed the room, positioning herself with the back of her head to the wall, away from prying eyes and fingers. "So that's it? We remove the runes, and I'm back to Buffy one-point-oh?"

"According to this, yes, it should be that simple," Giles said, examining Lindsey's letter. "I suppose another visit to the plastic surgeon is in order."

"Great, I'm gonna have to shave my head for laser surgery to work, aren't I." Buffy wrinkled her nose. "No thanks. Is there any other way? Something magical and poof-y and non-Sinead-O'Connor-y?"

"If there's a non-magical way, that's the best solution," Willow said, her eyes sympathetic. "Believe me, I know all about taking magical shortcuts, and turns out? Not so shortcutty in the long run."

"You'll only have to shave the little bit where the runes are," Dawn added. "It's only, like, a square inch… or two. The rest of your hair will cover it."

"Yay," Buffy said. Despite her resistance, shaving her head was the least worrisome aspect. Even the prospect of another round of painful laser surgery didn't bother her. What did worry her was everybody's assumption that she was as thrilled as they to have found a solution, and that she'd be chomping at the bit to get her memories back.

Now that a real solution had been found, Buffy was more unsure than ever. She was okay with her life the way it was. Really.

"Hang on a tic," Spike said. "Do they have to be removed? Can't we just change them? Add more ink and blot them out, like?"

"I suppose," Giles said slowly. "Willow?"

"I can research it."

Buffy shook her head. "Nope, no more tattoos for me. I'm getting them all off, including this one," she said, pointing to now-simplified Celtic one on her hip with sudden determination. "I don't even know why I have it. Do any of you?"

"Sorry," Dawn said. "I don't know when you got it. Or why."

"Anybody?" One by one, they shrugged as she met their eyes.

Except Angel. "You, uh…" He cleared his throat. "You got it after you came back from the dead. You'll remember why soon enough," he said, trying to smile and mostly just looking uncomfortable.

"Yeah. I guess I will," Buffy said. To her own ears, she sounded underwhelmingly unenthusiastic.

Nobody else seemed to notice.

 

*******

 

"Are you ready, Miss Summers?"

Somehow, Giles had managed to find a plastic surgeon willing to haul their equipment to her house and perform the procedure there. Presumably a large amount of cash had exchanged hands before the good doctor had agreed.

Buffy was grateful for Giles' sensitivity, and generosity. After the last botched attempt at tattoo removal, combined with her misgivings about getting her memories back, having it done in the safety of her home went a long way to settling her mind. She couldn't deny that having the others nearby was a relief as well.

"Miss Summers?" Doctor McNamara repeated. "Do you have any concerns you'd like to address first?"

She shook her head. She had a plethora of concerns, but none that Dr. McNamara would be able to address. Buffy could hear the muted voices of the others down the hallway, in the kitchen. In a few minutes, if all went well, she'd remember these people and all they meant to her. Remember herself. Her hopes and goals and dreams. Her fears. Despite the tentative peace she'd reached, last night, in the deep of night, Buffy had had to admit she still felt lost. She didn't know what she wanted. Didn't know where she belonged. Didn't know who she was. It was that uncertainty that had finally tipped her hand.

How could she ever know who she was without knowing who she'd been?

"I'm ready," she said.

"Very good. If you could lie down on the table, please…"

While the doctor worked, Buffy zoned out, refusing to think about the imminent upheaval she was sure to experience. She focused on her breathing, slipping into a light trance, until Dr. McNamara shook her out of it. "We're done, Miss Summers. You may sit up if you'd like, but slowly."

Buffy sat up. She touched the gauze at the back of her head. "Is it gone?"

"There is some residual discoloration, but for all intents and purposes, yes. It is gone."

"But…" She fought back the panic bubbling up through her body. But I still don't remember.

Oh, god. It hadn't worked. It hadn't worked, and now she was never going to get her memories back. Whether she wanted to or not, knowing she didn't even have the choice...

Buffy stood. She swayed, dizzy, and the doctor reached out a hand to steady her. Buffy shook him off and rushed down the hallway, heading for the back door. She couldn't breathe. She needed to get outside.

Dawn poked her head into the hallway. "Buffy? Are you okay?"

"I'm –"

Snippets of color and sound hit her.

Mommy and Daddy bringing Dawn home from the hospital – can I hold her – going to be the best big sister – I'm going to tell Mom – get out of my room – Dawn's terrified face at the top of the tower – knocking Dawn down, tying her up, going to let the demon kill her -

Buffy gasped. "No –"

Hands up, she stumbled backwards. They were all in the hallway now, crowding her.

Running Angel through with a sword – Spike on top of her in the bathroom – Willow's jet black hair and eyes – Giles leaving – Xander in the hospital a bandage over one eye – wanting to crawl back into the grave -

"No, no, no," Buffy said, hands over her ears and eyes shut tight, but she couldn't stop the images flashing through her mind.

Daddy packing his suitcase – Mommy dead on the couch – leaping from the tower – Heaven -

Hands reached for her. Concerned voices buzzed in her ear.

Buffy shoved them all away and stumbled blindly down the hall. She wrenched the door open, and ran.

 

Xander by Baphrosia

 

Xander

 

 

Xander knew Buffy wasn't happy with his unexpected presence. Amnesia or not, she was still his best friend. He could still read her body language.

His hope was that she'd forgive him – and even be happy to see him – the moment her memories were restored. He was serious about being there for whatever Buffy needed. Or not, if that was what she decided. In the past few years, Xander had learned to accept that despite their long friendship, he could only be there for Buffy as much as she wanted him to be. Friendship was a two-way street, and while he'd never stop offering, he couldn't force her to reciprocate.

And, speaking of body language... When he opened the front door to go to his car, there Buffy stood, alone on the stoop, head bowed and shoulders hunched. Xander's first instinct was to close the door softly, and give her the space she seemed to need so much of these days, but then he caught the faint sound of a suppressed sniffle. He paused, torn.

"It's okay, you can come out," Buffy said quietly. "I know you're there." She turned to look at him. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, luminous and full of so much pain, it made his chest ache. "I was just..." She glanced at the plastic surgeon's van parked in the street. "Psyching myself up. Or maybe out. But, whatever. I was just about to go back inside."

Xander moved to let her pass, but then reached out to touch her shoulder. "It's okay if you're scared. Or... if you don't want to go through with it. Nobody's making you."

Buffy stiffened. "Don't tell me you don't want the old Buffy back. The one who likes you."

He winced, but did his best to ignore her cutting words. It wasn't as though Buffy lashing out when she was hurt and confused was anything new, after all. He'd been subjected to plenty worse over the years, and Xander refused to let it deter him now. "See, you're looking at it all wrong. Whatever else that Lindsey guy took from you, he couldn't take your essential Buffyness. You're – you. No question. And he couldn't take away my love for you. Nobody can. But here's the thing. I don't think the old Buffy's in the cards any way you deal them."

She glared at him. "How do you figure?"

"Because... sure, who you are now is not exactly who you used to be. But it's not a bad thing. It's not even an amnesia thing." Buffy made a scoffing noise, and Xander shook his head. "No, really. I'm not the same guy you first met back in good old Sunnydale. I'm not even the same guy you met all over again, in London. I've changed and grown. Hopefully more mentally than from side to side," he said, holding his hands out to indicate his girth.

Buffy gave him a weak smile, but didn't stalk off. Xander took it as a good sign.

"Change is normal. It's good. And I know you feel like we expected you to be the same old Buffy, and maybe we did, but I'm over it. You would've changed and grown into somebody new, amnesia or not. I would've had to accept a new you no matter what. And I would've loved that version of you – just the way I love this version of you – because it's still you."

Buffy stared at him. She swallowed several times, then shook her head. "That's... geez. Probably the most insightful thing I've ever heard. You know, at least that I remember." Her forehead creased. "It never occurred to me to think of it that way."

"Ah, don't be hard on yourself. If I managed insight, it was pretty much a fluke. I open my big, stupid mouth so often, eventually something profound is bound to come out of it."

She snorted. "Still." Buffy took his hand. "Thank you."

"I try," he said, as modestly as he could, but he couldn't quite stop himself from standing a little taller. He'd once been Buffy's heart, and had also been labeled The One Who Sees, and, sure, it was a super-scary evil psycho who'd given him that particular epithet, but Xander sort of liked it just the same. Not to mention, he'd also stopped an apocalypse with nothing but his mouth. And not in a gross way, but by doing what he did best. Talking. And just being there. And loving his friends, even when he didn't so much love what they were doing.

Once upon a time, Xander had been all about But what can I do to help Buffy? Now he was more of a What can I do to help? guy, emphasis on the I – the eye, haha – and the help, and not on the Buffy. Not that he didn't want to help Buffy – of course he did – but it was more about the helping and doing what was right these days, and less about the who he was doing it for.

Still, being Buffy's heart again, if only for a minute, was a good feeling. "So, how 'bout it? Do you want to call the whole thing off? Want me to send Doctor I-have-a-laser-and-I'm-not-afraid-to-use-it packing?"

Her shoulders tightened, and Xander figured he'd pushed too hard and ruined his tiny moment of being a good, supportive friend. But then she sagged against the doorframe. "Yes? No? I don't know. It's scary not remembering your past. But from what I've heard about my past, I'm just as scared to remember it. And who says it'll even work? What if it doesn't Humpty Dumpty me back together again?"

"Then we'll make with the research. You've got something all the King's horses and all the King's men didn't have: us."

For a long moment, Buffy didn't say anything. Then she nodded. "You're right." Before Xander knew what was happening, she was hugging him tightly. "I picked good friends, didn't I?" she said to his chest.

Refusing to panic over his sudden inability to breathe, Xander hugged her back. "I like to think so," he gasped out.

She looked up. "What...?"

"Slayer... strength..."

"Oops!"

Buffy relaxed her hold, but didn't pull away, and Xander dropped his chin to her head. God, he'd missed this... missed their friendship. Before a less-than-manly sniffle could escape, he said, "But, seriously. Do you want to call it off? Take some time to think it through?"

"I don't know." She pulled back to look up at his face. "I've survived two years without my memories. Do I really need them? Whatever I need to know, I've got you guys to ask, right?"

Oh boy. There was a loaded question if he'd ever heard one. "I figure it's like the blind men and the elephant, which is a somewhat fitting analogy," Xander said, indicating his eye patch. "We're all the blind men, who each know our own little part of you, and you're the elephant – the very strong, but very petite, and cute, I might add, elephant –" He'd traced her contours in the space between them as he spoke, and now he snatched his hands to his shoulders in horror as he realized what he was doing. "Let's stop that analogy right there."

"Good idea," Buffy said dryly.

"The point being, each of us only knows the little part we know. We can only give you pieces of yourself. And maybe between the bunch of us, we can create a pretty good picture of who you were, but..."

"It's never going to be the full picture."

"Not really," Xander agreed. "Nobody else knows your deepest Buffy-thoughts. Or your secret hopes and fears. Only you know – knew – those."

Buffy leaned back against the doorframe again, and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she said, "That's exactly why I'd decided to go ahead with the laser removal. Y'know, before I almost changed my mind again."

"Well, great minds do think alike."

"So they say." She grinned at him. "I'll let you know when I find some."

 

*******

 

"Where do you keep the snacks of cheesy goodness?" Xander said to Dawn, rifling through the kitchen cabinets. "I know you've got them hidden somewhere in here."

"Xander, sit down," Willow said. "You're making me nervous with all your wandering around."

"Got my own case of nerves, hence the need for cheesy snacks. Stress makes me hungry."

"What do you have to be nervous about?" Spike said. "You're not the one whose whole life is about to be upended."

Xander came to a halt in front of Spike. "It's empathetic nerves. Buffy's worried, ergo I'm worried. Ergo, cheesy –"

Dawn shoved a bag in his hand. "Sit down and shut up." She took her own chair. "How long do you think it'll take?"

"Dr. McNamara suggested he expected to be finished by six o'clock." Giles glanced at the clock. "Which means it should be over soon. One way or another…"

"If this doesn't work, I'm gonna resurrect Lindsey and kill him all over again," Spike said.

"I'll help!" Willow said brightly. "Done it before, so not a problem." She quailed under Giles' look of reproof.

Angel shifted in his chair. "I think you'll have a lot of help."

"If you hadn't let the tosser off himself –" Spike tensed, head cocked. "They're done."

There was a round of exchanged glances, everybody wondering the same thing: did it work?

"We should give her time to adjust," Giles said. "All of us at once may be overwhelming."

"I'll go," Dawn said. No one argued otherwise. She stepped into the hallway, and Xander heard, "Buffy? Are you okay?"

"I'm –" Buffy began, and then gasped. "No!"

Xander jumped to his feet along with everybody else, his heart tearing in two at the agony in his friend's exclamation. His every instinct was to rush to Buffy's side, but he forced himself to hold back. Spike and Angel leapt into action, less circumspect. When Buffy cried out again, he and Willow shared an anguished look, and Xander gave in to the need to help his friend.

He crowded into the hallway behind Dawn and the others, desperate to comfort Buffy but no clue how. She'd curled in on herself, hands over her ears and eyes shut tight, shuddering in horror.

"Oh, god," Xander said. "What's wrong? Did something go wrong?"

Nobody answered him.

"No, no, no!" Buffy wailed. Dawn and Willow reached for her, begging her to tell them what was wrong, but she shook them off and fled down the hallway and out the back door before anybody could stop her.

Xander stared at the swinging door, in shock.

"I'll get her," Spike said.

"We'll get her," Angel corrected.

"No, guys…" Xander reached out to grab each vampire by an arm, trying not to think about how they could tear him limb from limb with one good pull. "I think… I think…"

"Good job thinking, little blue engine," Spike said. "Meanwhile, we'll be doing."

Xander tightened his grip and spun Spike to face him. "Remember when Willow erased all our memories? I don't know about you, but when I got mine back, it hurt." Willow hissed, and he shot her an apologetic look. "All the bad things, all the painful things came back first, all at once. It was…" He waved his hand, unable to explain just how overwhelming it had been.

"Imagine Buffy," Xander continued. "All the horrible things she's gone through. She's got to be –"

"In so much pain," Dawn said.

"All the more reason to go after her," Spike said testily.

Xander shook his head. "This is how Buffy deals. It might not be the best way, but it's her way. We need to give her a little time to sort herself out."

"Give her time to remember the good things, too," Willow said. "Put it all into perspective."

Dr. McNamara stepped into the hallway, gently rapping on the wall to get their attention. "If you'll pardon me," he said. "Is Miss Summers quite all right?"

"Yes, she's fine," Giles said, hurrying to guide the man back to his equipment. "She – er – was quite nervous about the procedure. Nothing more than a stress reaction, I assure you. May I help you gather up your things?"

"I don't like this," Spike said when they'd disappeared back around the corner. "State of mind the Slayer's in, she'd make an easy target for some nasty."

Dawn laid a hand on his forearm. "Good thing there aren't many nasties in Oxford."

Angel went to stand by the still-open back door and stared out into the night. "It can't hurt for Spike and I to tail her. Just to be sure…"

"Be easy enough to track her," Spike said, joining him in the doorway. "Now that her scent's back to normal."

Xander made a face. "Can I have a side of 'ew' with that 'hello, stalker much'? I'm telling you, space not a bad thing right now. Buffy'll come back when she's ready."

Dawn bit her lip. "And if she doesn't? Again?"

"Even if she does run, she'll be back." They were her friends, and family, and no longer just in the past tense sense. She wouldn't leave them again. Xander hoped. "Eventually."

"Presuming she was going all bats in the belfry because she's getting her memories back, not because something else went wrong," Spike said.

Xander didn't have an answer to that. If Spike was right, they couldn't count on leaving everything to work itself out.

"Oh!" Willow's face lit up. "I could try a locator spell. You know, just to see. Since we haven't tried that yet, and we wouldn't really be intruding on Buffy, just testing to make sure everything's back to normal. Before she gets too far away."

In case we do have to search for her later, Willow didn't say.

"I think it's a good idea," Dawn said. "I'll go grab something of hers to use."

Willow nodded. "I'm out of tumbleweed powder. If somebody can run to the store and get some, while I get everything else set up?"

"On it," Xander said. That was why he was there – moral support and errand boy, the two things he did best. Well, he was a damn fine carpenter too, but that particular skill set wasn't currently required. This crisis hadn't resulted in a trashed house.

Spike followed him to the door. "Best I tag along, keep you safe."

Xander figured Spike wanted to come along out of a need to feel like he was doing something useful rather than out of any concern for him, but he didn't call him on it. He understood.

They walked in silence, Spike swiveling his head from side to side and taking surreptitious sniffs. "Anything?" Xander said.

Spike shook his head. "She didn't come this way."

"Buffy'll be fine."

"'Cause she's been so fine these last few years? How can you be so infuriatingly optimistic, Harris?"

Xander turned to look at Spike. "Because if I stop, I'll just… stop. I have to believe everything will be okay in the end, otherwise…" He shrugged. "Most of the battles we've won over the years, I swear it was only from the sheer power of faith – faith as in belief, not Faith as in my girlfriend. Which means that if I stop believing, the consequences are going to be so much worse than a fairy losing her wings."

Spike snorted.

Outside the shop now, Xander paused, hand on the doorknob. "And if you ever tell Faith I suggested she isn't the reason the world's still spinning, I'll tell Buffy about that godawful poetry I used to find next to her grave."

"I have no idea what you're talking about!"

"Oh, I've got your number, William Wordsworth." Xander ignored Spike's spluttering glower, and entered the shop.

 

********

 

It was a good half hour later before they were all assembled around the kitchen table, Dawn's map of Oxfordshire spread out before them.

"Anybody experiencing major déjà vu?" Xander said, a little creeped out by the whole thing. Sure, they were in a different setting, in a different country, in a different year, and with a somewhat different set of people, but… The dangly blue earring Dawn had produced wasn't helping the creepy déjà vu factor much either.

"Here we go," Willow said. She puffed the tumbleweed dust across the map. "Invenio."

A bright light blazed at the edge of the map. Xander let out the breath he'd been holding. "Nice one, Wils."

Beside him, Dawn wiped her eyes.

"You okay?"

"I was so afraid it wouldn't work," she said.

"I don't think you were the only one. But it did. And Buffy is…" Xander leaned closer to peer at the map, shoving his head in amongst all the other heads crowded over it. "Not even in Oxford? She's on the M40, halfway to London."

"But… why?" Dawn said.

Spike straightened, his eyes glinting yellow. "More important, how'd she get so far so fast?"

"You think somebody kidnapped her?" Angel said.

"I think I'd rather not wait to find out. Let's go," Spike said to Angel. "I'm driving."

"I don't think so. I'd like to live long enough to save Buffy."

"And I'd like to get there in time, grandpa." Pausing in the doorway, Spike looked back over his shoulder. "Keep us updated, Red."

Xander could hear the two of them bickering all the way outside and down the front walk, until two car doors slammed and an engine roared to life.

"And they claim they're not a couple," Dawn said. "You think somebody really kidnapped Buffy?"

"No," Xander said. "But I think getting those two out of our hair is not a bad thing, especially with all that simmering testosterone just waiting to explode. Let them run off on their knight errant mission."

Willow gestured to the glowing dot on the map. "Spike's got a point. How'd Buffy get so far so fast?"

"She can drive. Just… not well," Dawn said. "Maybe we should hope she's been kidnapped after all. She'd be safer."

"Or maybe she hitched a ride," Xander said.

"Okay, but again. Where? Why?"

Xander shrugged. Buffy's mind had always been a bit of a mystery to him, more so of late. Whatever her reasons, he was sure they made sense to her. "Keep doing the locator spell, and I guess we'll find out."

"I'm gonna need a bigger map," Willow said. "She's almost off of it."

"That's the only map I… oh. Duh. Hold on." Dawn ran off. She came back a few minutes later, printouts in hand. "Online maps to the rescue."

Every few minutes, Willow repeated the spell, allowing them to track Buffy's progress across the country. After a short time, Buffy turned south.

"Oh," Willow said. "Oh, oh! I think I know where she's going!"

Giles, who'd rejoined them, squinted at the map. "Where?"

"Heathrow!"

Dawn slumped backwards in her chair. "If she gets on a plane, she could go anywhere."

"Nah," Xander said slowly, staring at the map. "I know exactly where Buffy's going."

"Well don't keep it to yourself!"

He looked up. "Isn't it obvious? Sunnydale."

The rest of them stared at him. "How can you be so sure?" Willow said.

Xander thought about his childhood home, his family, his school. His entire life had been buried in that crater. So had the grave of his one-time best friend, and the body of the woman he'd loved. Almost all of his memories, good and bad, centered on Sunnydale.

For Buffy, it was also the last place she'd been before she'd lost hers. He'd gotten to say his goodbyes, and make peace with it all.

But Buffy hadn't.

"Because if I'd just woken up after two and half years… that's where I would go."

 

End Notes:

Short oneshot of Xander finding Spike's godawful poetry. (Click to follow link.)

Spike by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Here we are, down to the second-to-last chapter. *sniffle* I know, I know, I said there would be 27 chapters. But I added an extra one along the way, and now there are 28 total. I don't think anybody will mind too much that we get one more after this. :)

I'd like to once again thank my betas: All4Spike, MargueriteDaisy, TheFoxinator; as well as my guest betas: the_moonmoth and Aderyn Du. Also, the lovely banners are courtesy of RedSatinDoll and Pfeifferpack. And again, thanks to everybody who reviewed! Even when it's just a smiley face, it's wonderful to get feedback, whether while the story is being posted or years from now.

 

Spike

 

 

Angel reached out to change the radio station, and Spike batted his hand away. Again. "My car, I'm driving, I get to pick the music," he said.

"Just because I got stuck with the crappy Ford Fiesta at the rental desk…" Angel said.

"If you weren't such a damn tightwad, you would've sprung for something with a little more flash. But you didn't, an' I've got the better car, which is why we took it. And why I'm driving. And why we're gonna listen to what I like."

Angel looked out the window, a hint of brood forming on that overblown brow. "Don't forget the necro glass," he said, with a definite sulk to his tone. "Doesn't matter how much I fork over, rental companies don't stock cars for vampires."

"And that. Oh, Cockney Rejects. Good stuff." Spike dialed the volume to max.

"This isn't music! And we won't be any good to Buffy if our ears our bleeding when we find her," Angel shouted, waggling his fingers around his ears.

Spike ignored him, Oi! Oi! Oi!-ing along at the top of his lungs and pounding away on the steering wheel. Buffy was in possible danger, if only from herself, and he was stuck in a car with The Most Boring Vampire in the World. Spike couldn't fight, he couldn't fuck, and drinking was inadvisable at this speed – he did have some sense, no matter what Angel thought – so by god, he was going to enjoy his music. He had to have something to calm his jangled nerves.

Angel snapped the radio off, pointing to the vibrating cell with an annoyed flick of his fingers when Spike protested. Spike grunted in acknowledgement and flipped it open. "Hello?"

"You guys can call off the search and rescue. We know where Buffy's going," Willow said.

He eased off the accelerator. "And?"

"Sunnydale, via Heathrow."

"You talk to her?"

"No-o-o," Willow said. "But she's definitely at Heathrow. The rest is educated guess work. Xander thinks she's gone to get closure. The rest of us have all gotten to say our goodbyes, but for Buffy, it's kinda like it just happened yesterday."

Huh. It did make sense. More sense than her having been kidnapped. Spike said goodbye to Willow, but didn't slow down or turn around. They were closer to his flat now, and his favorite pub besides.

"Red says Buffy's okay and not to worry. She just needs a little time to herself." Spike was still worrying, only about different things now. "Guess you did it, mate. Saved the day and all, twice now. Feel like a celebratory pint?"

"I didn't do it alone," Angel said, puffing out his chest. "You helped."

Magnanimous prick.

Angel leaned back against his seat. "You know what, I think we do deserve a round. God," he said, scrubbing a hand across his face. "It's really over? Buffy's really back to herself?"

"The others seem to think so. S'pose we'll find out."

"Yeah," Angel said, dreamily.

Too dreamily. Angel didn't do teenage girl, not even at his most maudlin.

Spike side-eyed him. He didn't much like the hopeful, expectant, dreamy look on his grandsire's face. The one that confirmed Angel was thinking the same thing he was: now that Buffy had her memories back, she'd remember her feelings for the brooding lout, and it would be back to longing glances and stolen kisses for the pair of them. Didn't help that Angel was the bloody hero of the piece, either, coming up with the save almost single-handedly. Just what the girls always fell for.

He sighed. It was a given he and Buffy would stay friends. Spike figured their current relationship was solid enough to weather the return of unpleasant memories, but the prospect wasn't much consolation at the moment. Maybe there hadn't been anything romantic between them, as much due to his discouragement as Buffy's disinterest, but at least he'd been the leading man in her life.

Until now.

It was almost enough to make him wish Buffy could've stayed amnesiac and Angel-hating. Only almost, of course. But that drink was sounding better and better.

 

*******

 

The London demon population had taken a serious beating over the past week, and now it seemed the word was out: stay out of William the Bloody's way. The lack of beasties didn't do much for Spike's mood. He needed a good spot of violence, something messy and vicious that would preferably last a couple hours. It was that or crawl back into a bottle, and he had too much self-respect to go on a long-term bender these days.

Too bad Angel had left, back to LA and the kid. He wouldn't have minded getting into it with Angel.

Spike scrolled through his cell phone contacts, and gave serious consideration to seeing whether Yasamin was up for some company. He hadn't seen her for ages, not since he'd begun spending most of his nights in Oxford, but it wasn't like he owed Buffy anything. Certainly not celibacy.

He clicked her number, then immediately hung up. Felt too much like cheating, logic be damned. Spike tossed his phone onto the seat next to him and put the car into gear. Maybe one of the outlying cemeteries would afford him the action he craved.

If only Buffy would make it clear where he stood with her. She'd returned from her farewell Sunnydale tour days and days ago, bypassing London and Spike and heading straight home to Dawn. Disappointing, but as it should be. Dawn came first, always would, and he wouldn't love Buffy so if she were any less devoted to her sister.

After Dawn, the next stop on the reunion circuit had been Giles. Who was also in London. Just like good ol' Spike. And still, Buffy hadn't found time to stop by. Next had come Willow, and Xander, who had been staying with Willow and Bronwyn in Cardiff until Buffy's visit.

Again, understandable. Disappointing, but understandable. Those three were as much family as Dawn, and she'd been separated from them in spirit, if not in actuality, for years. There was reconciliation needed post years of amnesia-fueled mistrust and rejection.

Spike had been able to talk himself out of feeling shunned or, worse, as though he'd been relegated to irrelevant with each of those visits. Buffy had things she needed to do. He could wait. No matter how much he wanted to, he wasn't going to force his attentions on her before she was ready. Been there, done that, had the soul to prove it. And the fledgling self-respect too.

It was a bit harder to ignore how she'd passed through London again, without so much as a hello, to hop a plane back to Los Angeles.

Back to Angel.

Ain't love grand.

Spike found himself idling outside a club rather than the cemetery he'd planned on sweeping. Maybe a pounding dance floor was the distraction he needed to keep from fixating on how Buffy'd been gone to California for close to a week with no sign of returning. He eyed the line of revelers, and spotting more than one vamp, made to park his car. He could pretend each of them wore Angel's face as he dusted them.

Maybe Angel would go and get himself soulless again, and Spike could dust him for real. Now there was a happy thought.

Inside the club, Spike prowled the edges, letting himself relive the bygone thrill of the hunt. A century of habits couldn't be undone in a few paltry years. He singled out his mark: a girl just a little uncomfortable in her skin, out with her far-prettier mates. The old him would've given the night of her life.

And then ended it. Messily, painfully. Brutally.

Tonight, Spike settled for making her night one to remember him by. It was atonement, of sorts.

Seeing a pair of his undead kin slip out the back way, girls in tow, he followed them out for a quick smoke-and-stake break. Spike bared his fangs and growled at the giggling, colt-legged girls. "Run," he snarled.

They ran, leaving the two male vamps to stare stupidly at him. "Whatchoo do that for, hey?"

"Honestly? 'Cause I'm a bloody-minded sonuvabitch." Spike staked Tweedledum, sending Tweedledumber into an apoplexy of indecision. His legs went two different directions, leaving him twitching and panting in place.

"You'll answer for that, you will. 'e won't like it. 'e doesn't like other vamps messing on his turf."

"He who?"

Tweedletwo snarled, fists up, but the bottom half of him managed to coordinate for a speedy getaway. Spike took the opportunity to test the nifty folding crossbow he'd nicked from Giles' office awhile back. It pulled a little to the left. He corrected with the second shaft. "Bulls eye."

Not quite the brawl he'd been looking for, but maybe 'e, whoever 'e was, would provide a little more challenge. Spike rejoined the teeming masses, senses alert for a vampire of stature. He found him holding court in a small alcove to the back, a pair of minions on either side of him. "Oh for the love of…"

"Ah! Monsieur William! How considerate of you to pay me a visit." The Marquis urged the girls on his lap to depart with a gentle push, and gestured for Spike to take the chair across from him. "Mademoiselle Summers is well, I hope? She was quite distressed when last I saw her."

Spike sat, warily. "Er –" Last he'd heard of the Marquis had been weeks ago, at the party. Had the ruffled ponce been around since?

Roland flicked his hand at a hovering waitress, and she disappeared. "I trust her business in Sunnydale went well?"

"How'd you know about that?"

"Ah," he said with a dark, toothy grin. "I am, how you say, in the right place at the right time? I am in Oxford, out for a night of pleasure, and I see the Slayer. She is crying, no? Très malheureux, very upset. So I offer my assistance. What else is a gentleman to do?" He paused, awaiting Spike's reaction.

"What else," Spike said dryly.

The Marquis leaned forward and retrieved a red-filled glass from the tray the waitress had placed on the table between them, and offered it to him. "Drink?"

Spike shook his head, and the Marquis took a sip. "Mademoiselle Summers, she wished to go to her former home, in America. She has business to attend, she says. Very important business. So, voilà, I make it happen." He tilted his head and smiled, dark eyes fixated on Spike. "What good is wealth if I do not use it to my advantage?"

"Indeed." Spike bared his teeth in an approximation of a smile, playing along with the Marquis' charade that they were just two friends, sharing a story. "Buffy appreciated it, I'm sure."

Roland waved it off. "And now, it is our turn for the strengthening of friendship, oui? To be allies, perhaps, Monsieur?"

"Sorry, mate, that's Rupert's gig."

"As you say. A drink, then. Something more… appetizing than this." The Marquis set his glass down and gestured to the pair of girls hovering by the steps leading down into the alcove. One took his lap and wrapped herself around him, while the other perched on Spike's stiffened knees. "The necessity of control is a pleasure unto itself. Have you had the good fortune to experience this?" the Marquis said, eyes burning yellow. He bent to the girl's throat, and she let out a tiny mew of pained pleasure as the tang of warm, living blood filled the air.

Spike's mouth watered, and his fangs descended involuntarily. There were willing donors, always had been, Buffy's ex-soldier one of them. Pre-soul, he'd considered it too tawdry. Post-soul, too dangerous. Even souled, repressing his instincts was an ongoing battle. The real stuff, fresh and from the source, brought the demon too close to the surface.

It was too much like a game of Russian roulette, but with innocent lives at stake.

He stood, his willing prey stumbling to her knees from the sudden movement. "Slayer's waiting on me, best get back. Got a bit of a temper, you know?"

"No doubt a large part of her charm." Roland trailed his mouth up the column of his brunette's neck, chasing stray drops of blood, and Spike had to tear his gaze away. "Please, give her my regards."

Spike made for the exit. "Oh, by the way," he said, turning around. "I staked two of your idiots in the back alley."

Roland shrugged. "If they could not hold their own, then they deserved it. Au revoir, Monsieur."

"And up yours," Spike muttered.

The dance floor no longer held his interest. Spike headed for home, his mind spinning. Even the bloody Marquis rated higher than he did. Buffy had taken help from that wanker, but ignored him for weeks now. There was a kick in the teeth he could've done without. Angel, he could bear, but this… this…

It was too much.

 

*******

 

Despite his resolution to be done waiting around for Buffy, playing ever faithful lapdog in exchange for crumbs of affection and respect, it took Spike several days longer to make up his mind to leave England for greener pastures. True, Buffy was a big part of the appeal of his current situation, but not the only reason he'd moved to London.

There was the helping the helpless gig, cleaning up the mean streets for victimkind. 'Course, with hundreds of Slayers on the loose, his efforts were admittedly superfluous. He could work the mission anywhere he wanted. Anywhere at all.

Strike one for the stay column.

Then there was his occasional work for the council, which kept him in smokes and blood. Spike hadn't gone in for helping to train the neophyte Slayers. He was a one-Slayer man, and besides, the Slayer fetish was so last-century. Bit juvenile, really, not to mention dangerous to one's health. But he ran the less savory errands for Rupert, same as he'd done stateside. Again – wasn't a strong enough reason to keep him in London, and could be done anywhere.

Strike two.

Which left Dawn. Who didn't need him anymore, not the way she once had. She was an adult, with a life and friends of her own. She'd outgrown her need for him, more so now she had her sister back in full restored glory. Spike tried to talk himself into staying for Dawn, but he couldn't keep up the lie. It would be his sake, not Dawn's.

Strike three.

No. The only reason to stay was Buffy. And Spike would've, too. He would've been glad for her if she'd found true happiness with Angel, would've contented himself with the friendship they'd built – if only she'd come to see him when she'd returned from Angel. But she hadn't; she'd gone straight back to Oxford.

Do not pass Spike's place, do not acknowledge.

"Well, bugger that," he said, stuffing his clothes and the few possessions he cared about into his duffel.

He'd waited. He'd given her space. Not pressured her. Done all the things a good, soulful, vampire friend should do. Clearly his efforts were pointless when his friendship wasn't important to her, not like he'd thought.

Spike fished some money from his pocket and tossed it on the side table for the landlord, and shouldered his bag. He stood in the middle of the room, surveying the ransacked drawers and wondering whether he was leaving anything important behind. Anything other than his dignity and his foolish heart.

"It's been fun," he said to the empty room, telling himself he was looking forward to being on the open road again. No ties. Lone vamp-ing it.

Christ. He was a terrible liar. Couldn't his brain allow him the kindness of self-delusion?

No point in dragging it out. Best to get going before he found some other excuse to stay. Some other excuse to lurk on the edges of her life, reeking of desperation and obsession. Buffy's not paying attention to me, wah wah wah.

Attractive, that. No wonder the Slayer hadn't bothered to come calling.

Spike strode to the door and yanked it open. On the other side stood Buffy, mouth round with surprise, fist poised to knock.

 

Buffy by Baphrosia
Author's Notes:

Of course Buffy.  :)

 

Buffy

 

 

The long, transatlantic plane ride, followed by the drive to Sunnydale, had given Buffy time to recover her equilibrium and begin to integrate her memories – both the good memories and the ones she'd feared reclaiming (but not feared nearly enough, to her dismay). Despite having shaken off the worst of it, her legs still trembled as she stepped from the car and made her way to the sturdy, towering chain-link fence that surrounded her former hometown. She hooked her fingers through the links and stared out at the vast crater below.

The sight left her with an odd sense of duality. Her body had climbed out of that crater.

But she hadn't.

Buffy turned around, and took a startled step backwards when she noticed Xander and Willow standing nearby, gazing anxiously at her. Her pleasure at seeing her friends, in what could literally be called the first time in years, was tempered by the intrusiveness of their presence.

She studied them in silence. With her memories intact, she could see how they'd aged in the intervening years. Willow had grown her hair back out to high school length, and looked more self-possessed than Buffy remembered, while Xander had lost the softness he'd acquired during his final years in Sunnydale. She wondered what changes time had wrought to her.

"Hi," Willow said with a little finger waggle.

"Hey," Buffy said back. They looked at her, and she at them.

"Is everything…?" Xander knocked his fist to his temple.

Buffy nodded. "Got all my memories back. Even the ones I could've done without."

"I'm sorry," Willow said, grimacing with sympathy.

"Nah, it's good. Weird, but good." Or, it would be eventually. She hoped. Buffy frowned at them. "How'd you guys get here?"

"Air Willow." Xander extended his arms and dipped them from side to side like a kid pretending to be an airplane. "Makes me want to upchuck everything I've ever eaten, ever, but beats waiting in security lines."

Willow slanted a glance at the chauffeur leaning against the Bentley, talking on his phone. "How about you?" she said. "How'd you get here without a passport?"

"Turns out three is the magic number for stalkery vampires obsessed with Buffy," Buffy said. "But this one has a private jet, so I'm not complaining."

Xander took in her faint blush with a concerned expression. "You're not thinking of going for the trifecta of relationships with dead guys are you?"

Buffy shook her head. "Roland is – charming. But no. Not even a little. No soul, zero conscience. Been there, done that, really don't recommend it." She brightened. "You don't think he'd get a soul if I asked nicely, do you?"

"Doubt it," Willow said. "He's no Spike."

With curled lip, Xander added, "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Spike's… unique. I don't think any other vamp would do what he did, not even for you, Buffster."

She sighed. "Yeah, I know. It was just a thought." She looked back at the Bentley. "Too bad. I could get used this kind of pampering."

Willow laughed, and Xander chuckled a little before turning somber once more. "So," he said. "We were just stopping by to make sure you were okay. See if you needed any help."

Buffy surged forward to hug them both, and they wrapped their arms around her in return. "Thanks guys. I appreciate it. I think I just need some time to –" She waved her hand at the crater.

"Say goodbye," Willow said, and Buffy nodded.

"Do you guys want to come back with me? Plenty of room on the jet."

"And miss the fun of my insides roiling violently? Please," Xander said. He handed Buffy her cell phone, along with her wallet and passport. "Call us if you need anything."

"We'll be waiting for you when you get back," Willow added.

Xander shuffled his feet, and with an apologetic half-smile, said, "You are coming back, right?"

Buffy grimaced. "Yes," she said emphatically. "I'm done running. Tell Dawn – oh, god, Dawn, is she – ?"

"She's fine," Willow said. "Worried about you, but not wigging. Too busy panicking about her history test this week to wig over you disappearing without a word."

Was that a hint of resentment? Buffy suppressed a sigh. In all fairness, she deserved it. "I was going to call –"

"Look, we all get it, why you ran. It's no big. I mean it's big, momentous, but –"

"We understand," Xander cut in.

"All we care about is that you're safe. And," Willow added with a slight grin, "Dawn also wants you to know that she doesn't care if you're having an identity crisis, it's still your turn to clean the bathroom whenever you get back."

Buffy snorted. "Talk about lack of incentive."

Willow grinned and hugged her one more time, then grabbed Xander's hand. "Okay, well, if you're...?" At a nod from Buffy, they disappeared with a pop.

The chauffeur, who'd been watching them, didn't even blink.

Buffy turned back to her craterized hometown, her disorientation returning. Years had passed since she'd been here last.

And no time at all.

She remained frozen for a long time, contemplating the shadows as they lengthened across the crater, trying to reconcile her anger with Lindsey and her affection for him. Trying to reconcile who she'd been and who she'd become in the absence of the memories he'd stolen from her.

Not too different, she thought. Not in the end.

Stooping, she picked up a handful of pebbles and tossed them out into the void. They fell a long time. Buffy wasn't sure how long; she couldn't hear when they hit bottom.

When the wind picked up with the setting of the sun, she made her way back to the car. Holding the back door open, the chauffeur said, "Where to, Miss?"

Where to, indeed? Buffy wasn't ready to return to England, not tonight, but she was done here. Maybe her L.A. apartment was still unoccupied. With the painted glyphs on the doorjamb, odds were it had been forgotten and stood empty.

Buffy took one last, lingering look back at the crater as the sun slipped below the horizon. She turned away, and climbed into the back seat. "Los Angeles."

 

*******

 

Suitcase handle gripped tightly in one fist, Buffy stumbled up the walk and into the flat. She'd been across the world and back twice in two weeks now – the second time by commercial coach, which was far less comfortable than Roland's private plane – and jet lag was making itself felt in spite of her Slayer constitution. Not to mention the emotional strain of the past two weeks.

First had come the reunions with her sister and friends, where she'd reaffirmed the relationships she'd already begun to repair these past few months. Returning home to Dawn after her panicked flight to Sunnydale had been emotional, but simple. Like slipping a favorite jacket over a cute new top, and finding the combination was even better than as separates.

Her reunion with Willow and Xander, less so. The three of them had grown apart, even Willow from Xander, and it was painful to realize that the new distance between them was a much a part of growing up as it was the result of her memory loss. They'd built new lives since Sunnydale – lives that didn't center on her or her mission. But the ties were there, too strong to be broken by distance and time, or by fake Watchers with minimal consciences, waiting for Buffy to build on them.

Seeing Giles again, with new-old eyes, had been harder still. There were lingering resentments on both sides, unresolved before the final battle in Sunnydale, and certainly not resolved since. Not to mention new ones on both their parts. But she'd tried, and he'd tried. There'd been ice cream, and maybe she was a bit too old to be bought off by an afternoon at the ice cream parlour and a triple-decker hot fudge sundae anymore, but it had felt good just the same. Promising. Like maybe their relationship was tentative and fragile, but they'd figure it out. She didn't think they'd ever recapture their old bond, but as Xander had pointed out, people changed. Relationships changed. She and Giles would be navigating the minefield of her growing up and becoming an adult – and him becoming the head of the very Council they'd both quit – for a long time yet. It wasn't the amnesia's fault. It was just life.

But if all that hadn't been hard enough, Buffy had followed it with an unbearably intense week with Angel. A week she wasn't ready to think about right now. The gamut of emotions she'd experienced during that time hadn't helped her exhaustion any, and she was spent. Beyond spent.

"Dawnie?" she rasped as she shut the front door.

Dawn thundered down the stairs. "Buffy! Hi!" She took the suitcase from her sister and led her to the kitchen, where she pressed a bowl of warm chicken noodle soup into her hands. When Buffy began to eat, a robotic automation of spoon to mouth, Dawn said, "So. How'd it go with Angel? You were there much longer than you expected."

Buffy set her half-empty bowl on the counter. "It was – emotional. Exhausting," she said, wavering on her feet.

"I bet." Shooing her out of the kitchen, Dawn said, "Bed for you. You can tell me about it tomorrow."

"Thanks." Buffy climbed the stairs, and barely managed to shuck off her boots before she fell into bed, dead to the world.

 

*******

 

Dawn rolled to a halt outside Spike's flat, but left the car idling. "You up for this?" she said, taking in Buffy's downcast eyes and the way she was picking apart her hem.

"Uh huh," Buffy said, without looking up.

"It'll be okay. It's just Spike…"

"Spike is many things," Buffy said. "But I don't think he's ever been just Spike." At least not to her. Mortal enemy, reluctant ally, pain in her ass, secret lover, and closest confidant, yes.

Just Spike, no.

"It'll still be okay. Getting out of the car is going to be the hardest part, I promise."

"Uh huh," Buffy said again, tight eyes staring out the window at the front door.

Dawn reached across and opened Buffy's door, then none-too-gently shoved her out it. "I'll be hanging down at the pub if you need me." She roared off, leaving Buffy alone on the sidewalk.

Right. She was the Slayer. The one and only Buffy Summers. She could face a vampire.

Not just any vampire, her brain reminded her. Spike.

Buffy threw her shoulders back and marched inside. She smoothed down her skirt, which had provided more than adequate coverage when she left home, but had somehow magically shrunk on the drive here. Her blouse had also morphed into something far too revealing. Buffy crossed her arms over it, then uncrossed them. Taking a deep breath, she raised her fist to knock.

The door opened before she could connect. She stared from Spike and his duffel to his ransacked room, and back again. "Spike?" she said, resisting the urge to cross her arms once more.

He leaned against the doorjamb, expression inscrutable. "Slayer," he said. "What brings you by?"

The cold flatness of his voice left her flummoxed. Unable to come up with anything more clever, she said, simply, "You."

Spike looked her up and down. "Just pop by for a quick visit on your way elsewhere?"

"Um. No?" She crossed her arms over her chest, defending herself against his belligerent glare. "I was hoping we could… talk?" Buffy glanced at his bag once more. "Were you going somewhere?"

Spike shrugged. "So talk," he said.

Buffy hugged herself more tightly. "Wow. This is so not going the way I thought it would."

"And how'd you envision this little scenario? Me falling at your feet?"

"More civilized," she snapped, fed up with Spike's hostility. She'd finally gotten up the courage to talk to him, and wasn't about to let his random moodiness scare her out of it. Buffy grabbed his arm and hauled him inside, and with a splayed hand to his chest, shoved him backwards to sit on the couch.

She hovered over him, glaring. "You're pissed at me," she said.

"Aren't you observant."

"You know, the snark's less attractive than you think. Care to tell me why you're pissed at me?"

Spike surged to his feet. "Maybe I'm tired of being treated like dirt, Slayer. Thought we'd played that scene out years ago."

"How am I –"

"I dunno," he said, flinging his arms out. "Maybe by stopping by to see every single other person on the entire bloody planet except yours truly? Leaving me off until weeks later?"

Oh. That was what he thought? The big dummy. "Or maybe I was terrified."

Her hushed admission cut his ranting short. "Terrified of what?" he said, eyes boring into hers.

Buffy looked down at his boots. "Can we sit? Unless..." She glanced at his duffel again.

Spike heaved a tremendous sigh. "Sit," he said, pointing to one end of the couch, and perched on the arm on the opposite end.

She sat, and wrapped her hands in the hem of her shirt, then let go and folded them in her lap. "I – I had a lot of thinking to do, you know. After – everything. It's not easy merging two different realities into one." Spike remained silent, and she took a fortifying breath. "I had to sort things out. Sort out who I was, what I wanted."

"And did you?"

"I don't know." Buffy looked up to see Spike shredding a cigarette, his gaze fastened to his knees, and she smiled a little. Knowing he wasn't quite as blasé as he was pretending to be made it easier to go on. "I think I squared things away with the others. Dawn, Giles, Xander and Willow. And Angel," she added. "I had a lot of things to sort out with Angel."

"I'll bet."

Buffy let his snide tone roll off of her. "Angel and I spent a lot of time talking. And in the end, I – we – decided that we were over." She willed him to look at her, and when he met her eyes, she said, "He's not the man for me."

"Oh I see. Decided it was too dangerous, so you've come for the consolation prize?" He stood. "Well, forget it."

She moved to intercept his storming off. "No, you idiot." Buffy threw out her hands. "God, have you always been this self-involved?"

"You're one to talk."

"Sometimes," she admitted.

Spike narrowed his eyes. When she didn't back down, he perched on the arm once more. "Go on."

She leaned against the other arm. "When Angel called, wanting to see me, I went. I knew he – our past – was something I had to deal with. And better sooner than later." Like ripping off a bandage. Buffy would've gladly put it off, forever, but that wasn't what mature, non-amnesiacs who were trying to get their life in order did, right? "So I went to LA with the intention of putting a future between us to rest. I knew Angel was hoping for a relationship now that I have my memories back, and he didn't take me suggesting otherwise too well. He thought he should have a chance to prove we still had something. And I thought, well that's fair. I mean, we hadn't much been around each other for a long time. Maybe we just needed some time to reconnect, you know?" She shrugged. "Old dreams die hard. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life wondering 'what if'."

"So you two back together now?" Spike said. "That why you were so afraid to see me, thought you'd hurt my poor widdle feelings?"

Buffy laughed. She couldn't help it. "Um, that would be a no. After a few days of enforced quality time, it became pretty clear Angel and I are a thing of the past. Even he had to admit it."

"Oh," Spike said. His eyes burned a little brighter, but beyond that, his expression remained neutral. Buffy was impressed – his poker face was usually far from poker-y.

"Did you know he has a kid? An actual human – ish – kid? That I never knew about?" Spike's mouth tightened, and she shook her head. Focus, Buffy. "Point being, we've grown up. Grown past each other. And anyway, even before I left to see him, I was pretty sure my heart belonged to somebody else. Spending time with Angel confirmed it."

Spike blinked. "Is that right?" He didn't give her anything else to go on, clearly determined to make her work for it.

Well, fine. She could be the one to do the speech thing, this time around. "I have recently rediscovered you and I also have a – past," she said, opting for the most neutral term. "A very messy, convoluted past. Which made coming here, to talk to you, way harder. I thought everything would be easier once I got my memories back, but it isn't. Bringing it back meant reliving it all over again, which is even less fun than it sounds like."

Spike grimaced, his aloofness quickly melting into dismay. He opened his mouth – she could guess for what – and Buffy cut him off with a slash of her hand. She had already re-assessed and then come to terms with everything that had happened between them in the bad old days, and didn't want to focus on that just now. It could wait until later. Assuming there was a later for them.

"Leaving aside the long list of memories that would give nightmares the cold sweats, there's the fact that nothing has actually changed for me. I mean, I've figured some things out, but I still don't know who I am, or what I want. I really thought my path would be laid out before me. But no, that would be too easy. I still have no clue." With a pout, she said, "It sucks, majorly."

Spike huffed out a dry laugh. "Welcome to the real world, Slayer." His expression had gone neutral once more, but his eyes were as bright and focused as ever.

Buffy dropped her gaze to the floor. "And then there's the abandonment issues I didn't know I had until now. Makes it even harder to tell someone I love them. It seems to be a surefire way to get guys to head for the hills."

She looked up to find him studying her, head cocked. Buffy stared back. "Or they tell me I don't really mean it," she said pointedly.

Spike flinched and looked away, but didn't say anything. She was starting to get a little freaked out by his continued terseness.

"So. You'll forgive me if I don't say the words right now. Even if I'm thinking them."

His gaze whipped back to her face. He swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing, gaslamp eyes burning into her.

Buffy swallowed too, toying with her hem once more. "I – I have a lot of things I still need to figure out. Like what I'm going to do with my life now that it's mine again. What I want to be when I grow up. But there's one thing I know for sure. I've gotten to know the real you, Spike, twice now. Even after Lindsey brainwashed me to despise you, I saw who you really were. Strong. Loyal. Stubborn. A friend. A hero. You've been there for me, for my sister, even when there was nothing in it for you. And the real you is somebody I want in my life. It's – terrifying." She held her hand over her heart. "But real. Even before I got my memories back, I knew I – cared about you."

Spike stared at her, his wondering, disbelieving expression painful to witness. She reached out her foot and poked the toe of his boot with hers. "You can say something any time now."

He shook his head. "I'm still waiting for the punch line. Figure there'll be a 'but' any moment now."

Her hands clenched into fists. She'd screwed up by letting her fears keep her away, she got that now, but this was getting ridiculous. Buffy knew one well-aimed punch would break him out of his melodramatic self-pity routine, and likely progress their relationship to the next level too. But they'd spent the past several months building a mature friendship, and she had no desire to destroy that by reverting to their old ways. "God, you're a stubborn ass."

He smirked half-heartedly. "Thought you said you liked that about me."

"I'm pretty sure that's not the way I phrased it." Nothing was going the way she'd planned – okay, yeah, she had imagined Spike falling at her feet in a paroxysm of joy. He must have worked overtime to convince himself she didn't care about him these past weeks. She'd just have to fix that. Buffy scooted along the couch, tugged Spike down from his perch to sit next to her, and interlaced her fingers with his. "I want you in my life, Spike. Always."

He was trembling now, vibrating with the effort to contain himself. "What's that mean, then?"

"I dunno. I mean, I know you have your own life, and I don't expect you to drop everything and come to Oxford. I don't know if you want me in your life."

Dawn had told her to quit being so stupid when she'd wondered aloud if Spike still loved her. But better to give him an out, just in case.

He didn't take her up on it, so she went on. "I don't know if I'm even going to stay in Oxford. I don't – I just don't know." Buffy reached up to cup his cheek. "I was kinda hoping we could figure it out together. If that works for you."

Eyes closed, Spike leaned into her touch. "Yeah," he breathed. He opened his eyes, his expression beatific.

This. This was how it was supposed to go. Buffy smiled, relief mixed with joy. Spike searched her eyes, his smile melting into the crinkly-eyed one she secretly loved.

It wouldn't have to be a secret anymore, she realized.

"Yeah," he said again. "I suppose we could do that."

 

*******

 

Buffy took her turn to cross the stage and receive a diploma in exchange for a handshake. She could hear Dawn's whoops in the crowd, and Spike's ear-piercing whistle, along with the more muted cheers from the rest of her friends. In a bit of a daze, Buffy grasped her rolled paper and returned to her seat to await the end of the Graduation ceremony.

When it was over, she found herself surrounded by other gowned well-wishers. Buffy exchanged hugs and congratulations with her fellow students, and then accepted more congratulations from her friends and Dawn.

"You did it sis," Dawn said. "How's it feel to finally be a university graduate?"

Buffy stuck out her tongue. "Like I'm not the stupidest Summers anymore."

Her younger sister had graduated with a degree in Classics the year before, and, with Giles' encouragement, was now at the University of Cyprus studying antiquities. Dawn had to fend off his none-too-subtle attempts to steer her into becoming a Watcher every time she saw him, but Buffy figured it was a losing battle. With Andrew still claiming to be his top man, Giles was desperate for colleagues more to his taste, and wasn't about to give up.

"I don't think it had anything to do with being stupid," Dawn said. "More like… Mom died… and then you were dead… and the university shut down on account of apocalypse… and then it disappeared into a crater…"

"Yeah, Buffy, even I never graduated from college. Well, not properly," Willow said with a modest shrug. There was the not-so-little matter of the computer science degree MIT had awarded her a few years back. Buffy still wasn't clear on how that had worked out, seeing as Willow had never spent a day in Massachusetts, but whatever. It wasn't like she didn't deserve it.

Bronwyn whispered something into Willow's ear, and Willow blushed. Before Buffy could teasingly question her about it, Giles took the opportunity to congratulate her, eyes suspiciously moist as he pulled her close. "I am so proud of you, my dear," he said.

When Giles finally let her go, Xander was there, hugging and laughing and taking potshots at the 'brains' he was forced to associate with. "I guess I'm the last of the illiterates," Xander said with a wry grin. "Unless…" His eyes slid to Spike.

Buffy opened her mouth to defend her vampire, but immediately forgot everything but Spike when a glance his way revealed him devouring her with hungry eyes. A shiver radiated up her spine as she locked gazes with him.

"Love this look on you," Spike said when he'd edged through the crowd surrounding her and sidled up to her. He ran a finger down the red trim on the front of her long, black robe. "When'd you say you had to return the gown?"

"Very, very soon," she said, trying hard to control her blush. "And it has to be in once piece."

"I can work with that."

"Behave," she whispered, slapping him on the shoulder.

Spike wrapped his arm around her waist, and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Seriously, love. University graduate is a good look for you. And my alma mater too. I'm doubly proud."

"Mmm," Buffy said, leaning into his embrace. "I still say we should strategically appropriate that honors plaque with your name on it. It would look good on our mantle."

"An' I'm telling you it was the equivalent of an attendance award. I'll not be disgracing my rep with that, thank you."

She rolled her eyes at Spike's feeble attempt to maintain his facade as Big Bad, and snuggled into his side. He tightened his hold automatically, and turned to engage Giles in another of their never-ceasing arguments over football. They'd soon dragged Xander into it. Off to one side, Bronwyn and Xander's new girlfriend discussed the Cleveland Hellmouth, while on the other side of them, Dawn and Willow were off on another discourse on some ancient culture or other.

Buffy listened in to the conversations around her, just enjoying the ebb and flow of her loved ones' voices as they bickered good-naturedly. She still didn't have her life mapped out, still didn't know where she was going. She probably never would. But she'd learned something in the last few years.  Something important.

It was the journey that mattered, not the destination. And her companions along the way were what mattered most of all.

Lacing her fingers with Spike's, she smiled. It was going to be one hell of a trip.

 

 

THE END

 

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