Chapter 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.





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.


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