Chapter Notes:

Stick a BBQ fork in me, this chapter only got done thanks to OffYourBird's speedy beta skills.  Not a whole lot of Spuffy here - yet - they're still doing their dance.  But that will certainly change after this chapter and the next.  Thanks so much for reading!  This is so much fun to write cheers


Spike stumbled through the sewers, his ears ringing from the boxing they’d received.  Going back to Dru after the fiasco of Halloween night hadn’t been as bad as he thought.

 

It had been worse.  

 

His dark goddess had found the strength to give him an unexpected thrashing, though he figured that the anger she released on him would have her spent again soon enough.  More than that, though, she’d thrown him out.  While he knew he could’ve easily overpowered her and taken control of his own nest again, he didn’t have it in him.  No, best to lay low for a few days, give her a chance to cool off, give her the space to change her mind and… fuck.  He slumped against the side of the dank sewer wall.  Who was he kidding?  This wasn’t one of their usual rows.  It had felt different while it was happening, and now that it was over, the rift between them seemed more absolute.  Definitely more permanent.  Spike had done the unpardonable when it came to Drusilla:  he’d betrayed her.  He couldn’t even deny it and he wore it as plainly as the bloody stupid black hat he’d pranced around in.  In time, she might tolerate him, allow him to serve her as his sire, but it would be decades until he’d share her bed again. And her heart?  That cold, fickle thing that he’d tried in vain to win for a century?  That was lost to him forever.

 

“It’s not bloody fucking fair!” he roared and flung the nearly-empty bottle of whiskey he held into the depths of the sewers, the crash echoing behind him.  All he’d done his entire unlife was serve the bitch, bathing her in the sort of unflagging devotion that would mimic the sun itself.  The most he’d ever received was, “there’s my sweet Willie,” or “what a good pet you are, pretty Spike.”  Hers, always hers, he was, but no matter how many feats he performed or decades he spent in service at her side, she would never, ever be his.  He knew that beyond a doubt now and he burned with the knowledge - that, and what a stupid git he’d been.  

 

Still, there was one carrot his wicked mistress had left to dangle to lure Spike back.  Of course, there was.  Once, it would’ve been the simplest, most pleasant task in the world.  

 

When he’d returned to the lair of the factory right before sunup, he’d bobbed along on a wave of tipsiness that had him nearly humming.  The liquor he’d consumed at that dive of a demon bar called Willy’s Place had improved his mood substantially - so had winning a few hands of poker with the local yokels.  Being around his own kind reminded him of what he was:  master vampire, vanquisher of the Anointed One, and the Slayer of Slayers - not some milquetoast wanker of a deputy who championed demon rights, or whatever that naive little baby demon had tried to hoodwink Spike into becoming.  Spike killed slayers, for fuck’s sake.  He didn’t partner with them.  No matter how they melted into his arms, or how fresh and light and free they smelled, or how soft their skin felt to his trembling touch, a line of pure, raw strength threading under that warm velvet, in perfect time with a human pulse.  The sheriff kissed like he did: with complete and utter abandon, throwing every scrap of want and raw need into each press of her lips and swirl of her tongue.  And to his shame, he loved it.  Craved it.  Oh, to have it again…

 

No.  Hell, no.  Spike had a sire, and a sickly one at that, who needed his undivided attention.  He’d been apart from her for far too long.  Time to go play with her as she’d wanted him to hours before - hours that felt like an entire lifetime ago.  

 

He’d slipped into the factory with all the stealth of a thief in the night.  It was eerily still, more silent than usual.  “Drusilla,” he crooned, approaching their bed chamber with cat-quiet feet.  His nose wrinkled in the air, sensing the unmistakable scent of fresh blood.  “Dru?  Daddy’s home.”  

 

Before he could enter the room, Drusilla stepped in front of him, her eyes wide and alight.  “Silly Spike.  What funny games you play.  You’re not Daddy.”

 

Spike frowned.  “Maybe not, but I’m here, which is more than he can say.”  

 

“You’re late.”

 

“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that.  Got caught up in some… Wait.” His nose twitched again.  “Did my princess go out hunting?  You felt well enough to leave on your own?”

 

“Noooo.” She pouted.  “Dalton brought me a treat.  Would you share it with me, lovely Spike?”

 

His mouth watered.  Perhaps he was wrong and Dru wasn’t angry with him after all.  Maybe she had been so consumed with feeding that she’d lost track of time, and didn’t suspect him of anything other than getting preoccupied with his usual mayhem.  His shoulders relaxed.  Hell, he could salvage what was left of their night yet.

 

“Yeah,” he breathed, grinning, and Dru smiled sweetly in return.  She took his hand that held the black hat, and cocked a questioning brow at him.  “For us,” he explained.  “For however you want to play.  Your black hat brute, love, here as ordered.”

 

“Hmm,” she trilled in reply and led him into their bedroom where the blood scent became overpowering.  Spike saw why:  against the wall, hands slack in shackles, hung what had once been a young woman, but had more recently become Dru’s snack.  Her arms and neck and even her thighs were dotted with neat, pinprick bite marks that were sticky with congealed blood.  Dru’s fangs, Spike realized sadly, could still barely descend in order to feed properly.  Still, his beloved had obviously spent enough time with the girl to sip most of the chit’s life away.  The young woman was unconscious and - Spike’s nose curled when he reached her - probably hadn’t been all that healthy to begin with.  There were needle track marks on the insides of her arms, and her cheap knit minidress gaped around her wasted frame.  Sudden fury rose in him.

 

“This is a junkie,” he spat.  “Dalton brought you a junkie to feast on?  What the fuck was he thinking?  This won’t heal you.” He started back toward the main area of the factory.  “Where is he?  Gonna have a word with him about this.”

 

“Gone.”  Dru swayed toward the body, leaning in to lick at one of the seeping wounds on the girl’s shoulder.  “They’re all gone.”

 

Spike stopped.  “Gone?  You didn’t dust them?”

 

“You’re funny.”  Dru giggled.  “They flew away like the birdies.  All to the wind.  Dalton was the last.  Caught me this prezzie since you went away.  Far, far away you’ve been.  Don’t you want a taste?”  Dru stared dreamily into the lifeless woman’s face, stroking her cheek and then winding a lock of hair around a forefinger.  A lock of, Spike recognized, limp but very blonde hair.

 

Spike made a moue of distaste.  Drug addicts were a stringy lot, with thin, bitter blood.  Sometimes, whatever toxins flowed through their veins could make a feeding into a hallucinogenic experience - take Woodstock, for instance - which he’d enjoy occasionally for a lark.  Except this whole blasted night had been one, long damn acid trip and he wasn’t in the mood to add to it.  No, what he needed was untainted blood.  Maybe even a pair of pulsers caught necking on Lover’s Lane, a his and hers set to share with his treasure.  He’d rip open their throats and allow Dru to drink away to her cruel heart’s content and, together, they’d claw and writhe and fuck one another under the moonlight.  But he’d wasted the moonlight, wasted the night, under the influence of magic with the bloody Slayer.  If this was the only way to restore his evening with Dru, he’d do it.  Stifling a sigh, he leaned over to lick the girl’s other shoulder, but she hissed her discontent.

 

“You need to kill her!  Like only you can do, my Spike.”  Dru reached over and stroked his hair over his ear and, to his embarrassment, he instinctively bowed into her touch.  “Let me see it.  Sink your fangs straight where they belong and sup deep.  Like the killer you are.  Like the killer we made you to be.”

 

We.  His throat nearly closed over in rage.  Always “we,” meaning all of the Whirlwind, but Dru and Angelus especially.  While she had sired him, she’d put Spike into Angelus’ clutches for training, and the old sod couldn’t have hoped for a better student.  Fledgeling Spike had been bitter, resentful, hungry, desperately lonely, and eager to please.  Primed for sculpting into the ideal monster.  God, he’d loved it - hated it, too, but loved being part of something.  A thing powerful and unholy and what he could imagine, if only for an instant, belonged to him.  The kill did.  The prey did.  Like this waste of a pulse hanging here before him.  This could belong to him.  Her death.  Licking his lips, he let his fangs descend and closed his eyes.

 

But fuck, it was wrong.  It was all wrong, because all he could see behind his closed eyelids was the gleam of light that was soft blonde hair.  Like the sheriff’s.  The Slayer’s.  This drug-addled bint might’ve forgone most basic hygiene, but she’d washed her damn hair recently, and the faint bloom of that shampoo, the sapor of her sweat, reminded Spike so vividly of his partner from hours ago that his fangs retreated automatically.  All it took was that moment of hesitation and the loss of his demon face, and the next thing he knew, Dru was raining blows over him.

 

“I knew it!” she screeched.  “I knew you were with her!  How could you?  The Slayer!  With anyone but the Slayer!”

 

Weakly, he tried to dodge her, but he welcomed the pain of her punches.  He deserved every one of them and more.  One ear split into ringing and then the other as her closed fists made contact again and again with his skull, until she wilted into a panting heap on the cement floor.  Spike straightened to face her with his hands outstretched in supplication.

 

“Dru, baby, listen.  Please - ”

 

“You reek of her!” Dru raged.  “Did you know that?  You’re covered in her.  How could you come back to me like this, dripping with Slayer muck?”

 

“It wasn’t my fault, was it?  There was this mage, see, and he magicked the buggering costumes.  Hell, you saw it in your vision!  The new player in town.  He’s to blame.  Put my consciousness, everything rotten and decent and me, in the back bloody seat.  What all happened tonight, it wasn’t me.  I wasn’t myself.”

 

Dru stared up at him with eyes full of loathing.  “Oh, my William.  You were more yourself than you’ve ever been - and they saw you.”

 

Spike swallowed hard.  “Who’s ‘they?’”

 

“Where do you think they’ve all gone, your minions?  How could they abide a master who’s in league with the Slayer?  The same Slayer you promised to kill, to bathe in her blood.  But nooo,” Dru keened.  Her mouth was a twisted version of a smile, bitter and vicious.  “You were her second.  Her shadow, and she drowned you in her light.  They all bore witness to your shame and so they scattered.  Only Dalton came back with this for me” - she gestured weakly at the girl - “and the news of where you’d gone.”

 

“I didn’t go anywhere, Dru.  I couldn’t even break out of my own skin.  It was a bleeding, buggering spell!” Spike roared.  “How many times do I need to say it?”

 

“Then kill her!” Drusilla screamed back.  “Kill this one!  Whet your appetite, and then you’ll be fit as a fiddle for the Slayer.  Dance on her grave as you promised, together, the two of us.  Picking our teeth with her splintered bones.  If you won’t…” The vampiress struggled to her feet and braced herself against the girl’s prone body.  “You needn’t bother coming back.”

 

Spike blanched with fear.  Dru had sent him packing before, certainly.  She’d get in a snit and howl and scratch and throw books at him and bade him “get out!” but never like this.  She’d never thrown down the gauntlet of an ultimatum so severe:  kill the Slayer or kiss Dru goodbye.  And Spike was ready to obey, ready to snap the damn beautiful bloody neck of Buffy Summers if it meant being welcomed back into Dru’s arms again.  There was only one problem.  He’d gotten a taste for something while playing the deputy, worse than bloodlust, he now knew.  Because here dangled a still-breathing victim, bruised but pulpy fruit that his demon ached to pluck and devour, and he held back.  Before giving in to his sire for easily the millionth time, he needed something in return.

 

“Why’s it matter?” he asked quietly.  “Me doing in the Slayer.  Never thought you cared much.  Reckon you’re chuffed enough when the job’s finished, but the hunt and the strategy.  That’s all been on me.  Why chime in now?”

 

“You know why.” Dru narrowed her eyes spitefully at him.  “You say it was a spell with her?  It’s one you’re still under.  She’s thralled you, my William, and the only way to break it is to break her.”

 

“Then you’ll be mine?” he blurted.  “Like I’m yours?”

 

Dru watched him owlishly.  “You’ll always belong to me, pretty Spike.”

 

“Yes, love, I know,” he said patiently and ambled toward her, the deputy hat in his hands.  “But after this Slayer, the third bloody one - ” 

 

“The charm,” Dru whispered.  

 

“Yeah, that.  Don’t I finally win you, love?  Get to have you as much as you have me?” he couldn’t help begging.  “After all these years?”

 

“I’m your princess,” Dru insisted. 

 

“Dammit!” Spike curled his hands into fists and hurled the stupid hat to his feet.  “You don’t - why don’t you get it?  You being my princess, it isn’t the same, love, as what I am to you.  It’s - like - you’re above me, for me to worship and revere, but not have and hold, yeah?”

 

“Silly boy,” Dru tsked, clucking her tongue while squeezing the skin of his cheek in a painful pinch.  “What is all this nonsense?  You live to worship.  You hold me every night and you have me like the bad, mean dog that you are, and you love it.  All this time, you’ve loved it, and me, and us.  It’s always been enough.”

 

“Yeah…” Spike got lost in her eyes, but still he felt it:  the empty, yawning gape of “want” inside him that was never, ever satisfied, no matter how many times he feasted or how often Dru cajoled him.  “I mean, no,” he gasped and shook his head.  “You leave me bloody desperate, pet, no matter what I do, how I take care of you, the fucking pits I sink to for you… I’m never enough.”

 

“You’re my Spike.”

 

“But you’re not mine!”  

 

Dru barely shrugged.  “You’re not Daddy.”

 

“Oh, for…” Spike spun away from her, only to rear back and send his fist sailing into the wall with a painful crunch that made him wail with pain.  Or maybe it was from the piercing understanding of how much of a patsy he’d been for so long.  “What the bleeding, fucking hell!”

 

“But you could be,” she added.  Slowly, he turned to look at her.  “Daddy’s lost to the golden light.  It’s the spark in him.  The soul.  Makes him arc to her like a reed to the sun.  Like you did, last night.  But if you kill her, poof!  Sun goes out.  Daddy’s broken.  The hero's feet will crumble and you can be his master.”

 

Spike’s head buzzed from both his beating and his lover’s empty promises.  Despite her seduction, he knew how the scene Dru spun would really play out:  Spike would kill the Slayer, and Angel would certainly break under his hand, but Dru wouldn’t be content with keeping her sire as her puppy for long.  She’d find a way, along with gaining her strength back, to rid Angel of that pesky soul, to make him Angelus again.  Together, they’d bond over ruling the Hellmouth, and Spike, again, would be relegated to scraps - both vampires likely laughing at his gullibility while they fucked and slaughtered their way around Sunnydale.  

 

“Not bloody likely,” he muttered, but hell if he didn’t want to believe.  He gazed at Drusilla mournfully.  Her warped plan aside, there was some truth to what had to happen next, no matter how much it chafed him to admit it.  “So, until I put an end to the Slayer - ”

 

“You’re lost to me, Spike.”

 

“And you won’t even let me stay here?  Tend to you?”  When she shook her head stubbornly, he gritted his teeth in frustration.  “You’re ill, love. What will you do for food?  Is Dalton coming back?”

 

“Doubtful.  This was a pity nibble, for me.  He distrusts you now.  They all do.”

 

“Fine, well, I’ll prove it then, right?  Make ‘em all see.  Find that sodding warlock, string him up until he admits what he’s done and make him pay, and then you’ll all know that I’m no Slayer’s puppet.  Like her sniveling humans.  Like Angel.”

 

“Then you’ll kill her good and proper,” Dru finished and clapped her hands in delight.

 

“Yeah,” he agreed, nodding vigorously.  He could.  Sod it, he would.  Dru had never offered Spike the chance to really be Daddy, not merely play at it.  Maybe it wasn’t a ruse.  Maybe it could really happen.  However, in the meantime… “Who’s gonna look after you, poodle, if you won’t let me?” he asked and cringed at what he knew would be the answer.

 

Dru offered him such a sweet, beatific smile that Spike imagined he could see the novitiate still alive and pure inside of her behind all the deviltry and madness.  “Fetch Daddy, won’t you?  He won’t be able to say ‘no.’ The spark won’t let him.”

 

She was right about that, Spike thought gloomily.  The souled poof would feel sorry for every damn thing that crawled the earth, unless he had to eat it, and then he’d still mourn the loss like his own firstborn.  Spike would barely have to twist Angel’s arm to get him to tend to Dru.

 

“All right.”

 

“I’ll keep Daddy busy, so you can go after the Slayer,” Dru continued and lifted up the girl’s bloody wrist to suck on.  The thought of Angel had obviously perked her up - in a way that Spike himself could never do.  “Then you’ll come back to me, so we’ll all be our happy family again.  You loved it, sweet Spike.  Belonging to Daddy and me.”

 

The bitterest pill of all was that, yes, once upon a time, Spike had all but clung to his sire and grandsire.  Their possession of him, he reasoned, could almost satisfy him as much as having, well, anything for himself.  And so, he charged toward the things he could have - the next slaughter or Slayer - to grab that brief, sweet moment of “mine.”  It never lasted, only spurred him on to the next brawl and the next mangling, and the next, and the next and… Not since Sisyphus had a fool toiled so ceaselessly, deifying what crushed him and still finding reason to hope in what ruined him.  Such had been Spike’s life for a century and it would continue for as long as he allowed it.

 

With a growl, he seized Dru by the shoulders and crushed his mouth to hers as she writhed and squealed and reveled in it, too, how he would take what was denied him even as the after-essence of Slayer surrounded him like leftover smoke.  The initial thrill from forcing his will on her gave way to immediate woe.  Dru adored him bad and rude and hateful.  But after playing the deputy, he’d never felt less at home.

 

“Promise me,” he rasped against her cheek, “that when the Slayer’s dead, you’re mine, love.  Promise!”

 

“Like you promised to come back to me and not dally after the Slayer?” she taunted and then shoved him away.  

 

He hung his head, hurt and exhausted.  “You know it was magic, pet, you know it!  So why do you bloody torment me?”

 

“Because it’s so fun,” she cooed.  “I never had a dolly suffer as pretty as you, darling Spike.  Now chop-chop, you’ve work to do.  Send Daddy to me.  String up the magician.  Kill the Slayer.  There’s a good boy.”  Dru blew him a kiss and returned to the body that hung on the wall.  “As for you, dearie, we’ve got more songs to sing, don’t we?  I’ll begin the melody and you can keep the harmony…”

 

Spike’s watery eyes were still fixed on the ground and he saw, by the doorway, the old battered rucksack from one of the world wars that he’d nicked to hold what remained of his things.  Books, mostly, the same ones Dru had often thrown at his head in anger, she’d now packed up for him instead.  How quaint those past arguments seemed next to this one.  With nothing left to do or say, Spike picked up the bag - and the ridiculous hat at his feet - and headed out of the factory.  

 

— 

 

Buffy wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as she labored over the steaming outdoor grill - the same grill that they hadn’t even owned until Joyce decided that cooking out for the group dinner absolutely, positively had to happen.  Also, she’d moved the dinner up to Tuesday night - maybe because she couldn’t take the suspense of waiting for whatever Buffy refused to discuss.  But that wasn’t even the weirdest part of what had already been a couple of strange days.  

 

With dinner now t-minus ninety minutes and counting, Buffy was sweating, the meat was cooking way too slowly, and with nothing left to occupy herself other than anxiety about the conversation about to take place with her mother, she let her thoughts unwind.  Which was also pretty anxiety-inducing, but not even being called into the principal’s office first thing Monday morning could compare with telling Joyce about being the Slayer.

 

Buffy had managed to avoid Angel all weekend - not an easy feat for a guy who put the “stealth” in “stealthy,” but patrolling had taken her all over and she had this weird instinct that she was always a few steps ahead of him - and hello, wasn’t that annoying, along with being kind of a relief, too?  He was always around, but not there, and Buffy couldn’t help but compare how Angel seemed pretty content to let her dangle most of the time with how Deputy Randy had implicitly had her back.  Sure, the Slayer was supposed to work alone and blah-blah-blah, but the sheriff and deputy had gotten more done - and better - by working together.  Buffy knew that living with her mom, including her friends, basically railing against everything traditional Slayer-wise, made her Calling harder.  Yet, it made living with the dubious Slayer honor easier, too.  After all, she would’ve stayed very much of the dead if Xander hadn’t performed CPR after the Master left her to drown.  Still, Buffy’d have to face Angel eventually.  She only hoped she had an idea of what to say to him when she did.  

 

“Which was zero problem with Snyder, oddly enough,” Buffy muttered, recalling how the principal had yanked Cordelia, Xander, Willow, and Buffy all into his office before first bell and with no hall passes to get them into their first period classes unpenalized.  It was a typical Snyder lecture, ignoring the whole “yo, we live on a Hellmouth, nothing is normal here” Dumbo in the room and focusing instead on how the four of them had been thoughtless, irresponsible, immature, untrustworthy… Buffy zoned out and picked the last remaining chips of her nail polish off.

 

“And how many kids did you rescue?” she muttered at one point - which ended up not being as under her breath as she intended, because Snyder paused and the rest of the group all turned to look at her in horror.

 

“What was that?” the principal asked.  Cheeks burning, Buffy remained still, but the guy was not going to let this go.  “Really, Ms. Summers, I’m interested.  You have something to say.”  The dweeb folded his arms and leaned against his desk, leveling her with a glare.  “Let’s hear it.”

 

Buffy pressed her lips together, wishing the floor would open up and swallow her up, maybe spit her out on a tropical island somewhere.  Hey, it was a fantasy, a girl could dream.  And Buffy knew what she should do - what she would’ve done days before.  Mumbled something about, “no sir, sorry sir, nothing sir,” and let the assault on her and her friends’ characters continue.  But something had changed in her.  Something that wore a big white hat and a shiny star and was all of a sudden not having anybody’s bullshit anymore.

 

Daringly, Buffy lifted her head and met the principal’s beady little eyes.  “I said, how many kids did you rescue?  Because let’s face it.  If it weren’t for us and Mr. Giles, you’d have Missing Child milk cartons being poured all over town.”

 

“I was cleaning up your mess, missy,” Snyder snapped.  “With all the parents of the children you let get away.”

 

“That’s a lie.  I saw the parents on the street.  I talked to them.  They had no idea what to do or where to go until I showed up, and when we brought their kids back - every single one of them on our own with no help from the police, by the way - who was nowhere to be found?  You.  The one who had set up this whole, stupid trick-or-treat scam in the first place to - to what?  Try to convince people that you care?  That you haven’t been feeding them lines for years about what is really going on in this school?  In this town?”

 

Snyder’s face bloomed red.  “You’re suspended.  Two weeks.  You and your little gang of miscreants.  Try explaining that to the college admissions boards.”

 

“No.”

 

Despite his anger, Snyder choked out a shocked laugh.  “Are you serious?  Are you gunning for expulsion here, Ms. Summers?”

 

“No, and not suspension, either.  Not for me, not for any of us.  Because you know.  You know there’s more going on in this town than gangs and PCP.”

 

“And just how do you figure that?” Snyder sneered.

 

“Because I know, too.”  She glanced at her stunned friends around her.  “We all do.  Maybe you’re not willing to talk about it, but we are, to every family that will listen, and that would be a really bad look for you, huh?  That the guy promoting the whole ‘children are our future’ deal is actually actively involved in hiding that we’re being slaughtered?”  Buffy got to her feet and stared into Snyder’s now frightened eyes.  “Who do you work for?  How much are they paying you off to look the other way?  You know what?  Never mind, I can find out.”

 

“You think so?” Snyder hissed.  “How?”

 

Buffy shrugged.  “I’ve gotten this far.  As for Halloween night, the words you’re really looking for are, ‘thank you.’” She nodded to her friends and headed toward the office door.  “Let’s go, guys, before we completely miss first period.”  The remaining three teens got uneasily out of their seats.

 

“Ohhh, no.”  Snyder scurried to the door and blocked Buffy’s way.  “You really think this is over?”

 

“This conversation?  You betcha.  As for everything else going on in Sunnydale, survey says, nope. But I guess that depends on you, too.  How many more of us have to die?  Or be attacked on campus during school events?  How many more bodies have to be stuffed into lockers before, say, the superintendent of schools gets the crazy idea that everything happening here is all. Your. Fault?”  

 

“You wouldn’t.” It was almost cartoon-comical how the principal’s eyes bugged out with fury and terror mixed.

 

“I might.  Especially if you’re barring children from leaving your office.”

 

Snyder darted out of the way and gave Buffy one last vindictive glower.  “This is blackmail.”

 

“Huh, you know what?  I guess it is.”  Buffy opened the door and the rest of the group rushed out.

 

“Don’t think I’m letting this go,” Snyder warned.  “I’ll be watching you, Summers.”

 

“Right back atcha,” Buffy replied and slammed the office door behind her so hard, she swore she could hear something crack.

 

The gang was waiting for her down the hall, but Buffy was having trouble walking.  And breathing.  And thinking.  What in the world had she done?

 

“Okay, who the hell are you and where is Buffy Summers?” Cordelia exclaimed.

 

“Buffy, you were amazing!” Willow cheered.

 

Xander patted her shoulder.  “I don’t know where you hid the can of whoop-ass, Buff, but I for one am pleased as punch you chose to open it on that jerk.”

 

“Guys.”  Buffy was panting, licking her dry lips, and wringing her hands.  “I - I don’t know what to say.”

 

“Well, there’s a switch, because you sure did in there,” Cordelia noted.  “Where did that rant even come from?”

 

“I don’t know!” Buffy cried.  “I really, really don’t know.”  But deep inside, she did.  It was Sheriff Joan who’d run that whole show.

 

“Kicking spineless principal booty and taking names, that’s the Slayer way,” Xander added, and held out his hand for a high-five.  But Buffy waved it aside.  

 

“No, that’s gonna be the way of me getting kicked out of school permanently,” she groaned.  “Mom’s gonna kill me.”

 

“No, Buffy, I don’t think so,” Willow said.  “Did you see the look on Snyder’s face?  He wasn’t just angry.  He was scared.  Like, you really hit a nerve with that whole ‘who are you working for and who’s paying you off’ spiel.”

 

“Did I mention that part was particularly bad-ass?” Xander continued.  “Because yeah - Untouchables-style Eliot Ness meets the best bad cop routine ever level of bad-ass.”

 

“Why did you even say that?” Cordelia asked.

 

“I have no idea,” Buffy answered.  “I just started talking and just kept talking, but… the more I think about it, it fits.  Whatever goes on in Sunnydale, Snyder is giving it a green light.  I can feel it.”

 

“Do you feel awesome?  Because you are awesome,” Xander told her.

 

“Seriously,” Cordelia agreed.  “Gotta give you credit for this one.  You saved me from the three cardinal no-nos that would prevent me from having any kind of a decent social life:  detention, suspension, and expulsion.   This is a win in my book.  Take it.”

 

Xander nudged Cordy with his elbow.  “This mean you might give the Buffster maybe an ounce or two of slack once in a while?”

 

“Yeah, and stop macking on her crushes?” Willow added.

 

Cordelia avoided their eyes guiltily.  “Look, you’re still a huge loser, Buffy.  But… maybe you’re the kind of loser that we need.  So, you keep me out of your Slayer posse of weird, and I’ll pretend you don’t exist.  How’s that?”

 

“Sure, that works,” Willow said.  “Right up until you need Buffy to save you again.”

 

“Well, it’s what she does, right?” Cordy whined.  “It’s not like she’d be going out of her way. Really, I’m the one doing her a favor by giving her a pass.”

 

“Speaking of passes…” Xander fished around in his back pocket and flashed a small pad of paper.  “I managed to swipe these when Snyder wasn’t looking.  We’re flush with bootleg hall passes for at least the rest of the year.”

 

“Xander!” Willow squeaked.  “I can’t believe you did that.”

 

“Pretty sticky fingers, Harris,” Cordelia said.  She leaned over and tore one off the top of the pad.  “But useful.”  With a toss of her hair, she flounced down the hall.

 

“Wow, what a morning,” Willow wondered aloud. “Xander’s stealing, Buffy’s laying down the law, Cordelia’s acting sort of like a human being. What’s gonna happen next?” 

 

Buffy took one of the hall passes for herself with a sigh.  “You really need to ask?”

 

What happened next, Buffy could’ve predicted without any crystal ball necessary:  that after giving Angel the slip for days, he finally found a way to corner her in Restfield later, almost getting himself kicked in the teeth for his trouble.

 

“Hey!” He dodged her spin, which meant she fell pretty soundly on her butt and she swore when she thought of the grass stain that would appear on her favorite bleached-out jeans.  She looked up to see Angel standing there with his hands up in surrender - much like he’d done on Halloween when she’d been the sheriff.  “Just me.”

 

“I see.”  Buffy jumped to her feet and brushed herself off.  Maybe her pride stung a little bit more than her backside, or she simply hadn’t been in the mood to be interrupted on patrol at that particular moment.  But seeing Angel again didn’t fill her with the usual excited butterflies she was used to feeling around him.  Instead, she was kind of ticked.  She glanced around.  “You lost?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean that cemeteries aren’t exactly your scene. Which, don’t even get me started on the wackadoodle irony of that.  You being A. dead, and B. supposedly on a mission to help the Slayer, who happens to be me, and spends most of her waking hours patrolling said cemeteries…”

 

“I’ve been looking for you.”  

 

Swallowing a huff, she picked up the stake she had dropped and stuck it in the waistband of her ruined jeans, then picked up her pace to take a swift stroll right past him.  “You know where I live.”

 

“Yeah, well, it’s not like I thought I’d be welcome there.”  Angel began to follow her.  

 

“But you didn’t try.”  Buffy turned around to face him.  “Did you?”

 

“No, but… Buffy, what’s wrong?  We were supposed to meet up Friday night and I haven’t seen you since.  I get you were weirded out by all the magic that happened, never mind whatever happened with Spike - not that anything really happened with Spike… uh, did anything happen with Spike?”

 

“It was magic,” Buffy replied rotely.  “Just like you said.”

 

“Right, I just - ”

 

“About Spike…”  While she hadn’t any idea where her conversation was going to go with Angel a moment before, suddenly, she had a direction.  “How well do you know him?”

 

Angel’s Adam’s Apple bobbed a few times as he tried to swallow - or maybe buy himself some time.  “Why?  What did he say?”

 

“What do you think he would say?  What is there to say?”

 

Angel paced for a few steps.  “I was going to tell you… God, everything.”

 

“When?”

 

“When I knew… more.  About us.”

 

Buffy snorted.  “Sounds less like everything, and closer to how you’d tell me some things once you had no choice.  Like, you know, now.”

 

“Spike is… family.  In a vampire way.  When I was at my most evil, I turned a woman and, eventually, she wanted a, uh, companion.  So, she made one.  Him.  Spike.  They’ve been together as a couple ever since.”

 

It was absolutely ridiculous that Buffy would feel a pang of anything - least of all jealousy - at hearing that Spike and Angel shared any kind of relationship, or that Spike’s vampire self was in a relationship with another woman.  After all, Spike was not Randy.  Still, hearing that her deputy’s alter ego was taken definitely burned.  

 

“So you were, what?  Evil bros together?”

 

“Something like that.”

 

“For a long time.” 

 

“Some vampires who share a history or a lineage live and hunt together for some… time.”

 

“Great, yeah, I get it.  More efficient murder in numbers.”

 

Angel looked pained.  “Buffy, where’s this going?”

 

“At the school the night Spike attacked us, Xander heard him say that you were Spike’s sire.  Isn’t that what it means when a vampire turns another vampire?  Wouldn’t this woman you turned - ”

 

“Drusilla,” Angel supplied.

 

“Okay, her - wouldn’t she be Spike’s sire?”

 

“It’s uh, complicated.”

 

“Then uncomplicate it.”

 

Angel met her eyes, beseeching her in the dark.  “How do you feel about me?”

 

“Huh?  You mean, right now?  A lot like I’m getting a blizzard of a snow job from you.”  Buffy shook her head.  “I’ve… liked you.  Maybe even cared about you.  But I don’t feel like I could ever really know you.  And I think you want it that way.”

 

“With my past, I haven’t known any other way to be.  You’re uncharted territory for me, Buffy.”

 

“Like you’re not with me?  Slayer kills vampire, not has meaningful conversations and smoochies with in the moonlight.”

 

“If I knew where we stood - ” 

 

“We’re gonna be standing nowhere unless you spill, I can promise you that,” Buffy retorted, barely able to catch her breath.  If she hadn’t recently given her principal a tailor-made dress-down not so long ago, she would’ve been stunned with herself - and really, she was still a little taken aback by her own audacity.  But it felt good.  Strong.  Natural.  Like the sheriff was firmly back in the saddle, and Buffy was in no mood to kick her out.

 

“It was an understanding, with the four of us - ”

 

“Whoa, hold on.” Buffy held up her hand.  “When did a fourth vampire get thrown into the mix?”

 

“Darla,” Angel admitted quietly.  “In our pack, there were four of us.  Me, Darla, Dru, and Spike. I thought you knew.”

 

“Well, not from you, obviously, until now.  What kind of understanding?”

 

“With Dru being… the way she is, she couldn’t exactly be the sire Spike needed.  That’s where I came in.”

 

“How she is?”

 

“She was always touched.  Clairvoyant, with visions.  But after she went insane…”

 

Buffy’s mouth dropped open.  “She went insane after she became a vampire?”

 

“Before.”  Angel winced.  “I made sure of it.  She was my masterpiece of consummate evil.  I broke her bit by bit, killing her family, everyone she loved, and when she tried to seek sanctuary in a convent, I broke in and turned her.  The same night she became Sister Drusilla Keeble.”

 

Buffy couldn’t stop staring at Angel.  He didn’t necessarily talk about his crimes easily - she could tell he carried a mountain of regret - but there was an inevitability about the telling, like what was done was done and he’d washed his hands of it.  

 

“So, you taught Spike - ”

 

“Everything about being a vampire.”

 

“Being a monster,” Buffy corrected.

 

“Hey, he had the drive, there wasn’t much to encourage.  Spike enjoys the rush.  Crash, bash, and kill everything in his wake.  If anything, I tried to teach him patience.”

 

“Right, because that’s what you really want in your well-trained, psychotic killer demons:  a proper appreciation for timing,” Buffy snarked.

 

“That was then!  I was evil.  When I got my soul - ”

 

“Cursed with your soul!”

 

“Okay, yeah, but I’ve been trying to make amends ever since.”

 

“Ever since?” Buffy repeated.  “What have you been doing and where have you been doing it?”

 

“Okay, well, not so much with the doing, until I was shown another path.  A direction for me to redeem myself.” Angel turned up his palms as if the location was obvious.  “Here.”

 

A deep and selfish, yet small part of Buffy ached for something more - some great declaration about forces and stars aligning, fates and destinies crossing that had brought Angel’s path in line with hers, two heroes working in tandem for the same goal.  But she knew then that it hadn’t been that way at all.  Angel had his own path.  Buffy had just been… convenient.  What she felt mostly was akin to making a foolish mistake - like greeting what she thought at first was a good friend she’d glimpsed across a crowded space, only to get closer and realize that she’d been waving to a stranger.

 

“So, palling around with the Slayer on her chugging little train of goodwill fits in great for you, huh?” Buffy cried, tears stinging her eyes.  “You’re using me, Angel.  I can’t believe I didn’t see this before.”

 

“Buffy, no.  I swear.”  He crossed the space between them and took her hands in his.  “You’re important to me for who you are.  Beyond being the Slayer.  I just don’t know if I’m… worthy.  Of any part of you, Slayer or Buffy.”

 

Buffy sniffled.  As much as he’d thrown her for a loop, part of her wanted to hold on to who she had thought he had been before this conversation.  Before Halloween, too:  the mysterious hero in the shadows who would swoop in to help save the day right in the nick of time.  Except, Angel hadn’t been so much with the helping or the saving.  Zero assistance with the CPR sitch, for instance. But Buffy wondered if she could somehow mold him into the leading man she wanted him to be.  She felt like she had to at least try.  Hey, he was single and he had a soul, which was more than she could say for Spike.  Maybe, with a little focused encouragement, Angel could be an ideal Deputy Randy replacement.

 

“You could try,” she offered.

 

He flashed a clumsy grin.  “I thought that’s what I was doing.”

 

“Not how I need you.  And not just you, but any charter dude in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Posse of Weird.”  She squeezed his hands back.  “If you came on patrol with me.  Hung out for all the stuff, even the stuff that’s like, way beyond you.  Studying.  Bronzing it.  The Buffy stuff and the Slayer stuff.”

 

“You want a partner,” Angel realized aloud.

 

“I guess I do.  And given the high grade of freakazoid in my life?  Plus, the limited extended warranty on my life - ”

 

“Buffy…” 

 

“What do you want me to say?  It’s a thing.”  Buffy shrugged.  “I’ve already died once and a more permanent version is out there, waiting for me.  I’m just saying, I want as much as I can have until then.”

 

“You definitely deserve that,” Angel told her and brushed his lips gently against her forehead.  “I want to be whatever - whoever - I can be to be a part of that.”

 

“But?” Buffy prodded.

 

Angel shook his head.  “No buts.  I don’t know if I can be what you need.  I want to try, though.  If it means being with you, being in your life, being important to you, I gotta try.  Question is, will you let me?”

 

“Lemme get through this week,” Buffy hedged.  “It’s already started off as a doozy.”

 

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

 

“I will.”  Buffy smiled.  “How about Friday night?”

 

Angel grinned.  “It’s a date.”  He glanced around the cemetery.  “Seems quiet so far here.  You’ve got this?”

 

“I, uh, yeah,” Buffy decided.  She’d get through the week, like she said, and then she’d have that guy.  Her partner.  Her patrol pal.  Except… part of her wished they could start that part of their partnership right then - and that he would see that, respond to it, without her even having to ask.  But that wasn’t fair.  Was it?

 

“I’ll let you finish up then.”  This time, he pecked his lips against hers.  “See you soon.”  He started to do that thing where he melted into the night, but Buffy called out to him before he could completely disappear.

 

“Hey, Angel?  You were brought up with religion back then, right?”  

 

He stopped and turned to face her.  “Yeah.  Why?”

 

“Did, um, your mom have a favorite saint, by any chance?”

 

“You know, she probably did,” Angel said with a sigh.  “But damned if I ever knew it.  Why?”

 

“No reason.”  She lifted her hand in a wave.  “See you Friday.”  

 

But, she wondered as she reflected on that conversation, while giving a resentful stab to the meat on the grill, how she was supposed to hold out that long?  Maybe a phone call wouldn’t hurt… and right then, the cordless phone on the tray next to her decided to ring.  She lunged for it hungrily.

 

“Buffy?”

 

“Will?”  Buffy’s heart started thudding with nervousness.  “You’re still coming for dinner, right?  No last minute stomach flu or random, last-minute grounding?”

 

“No, no - I mean, yes, of course I’m still coming, don’t worry.  I just wanted to know if you needed anything.”

 

“Sanity would be good.”

 

“Oh, man.  You’re still wigged, huh?”

 

“With a capital W,” Buffy agreed sadly.  “You should see the spread Mom’s dishing out.”

 

“Lasagna, right?  Your mom’s lasagna is super - ”

 

“Right, but now it’s not one salad, but two.  Not only garlic bread, but also rolls.  And brownies.  And me slaying the new grill instead of taking a shower, which I’m definitely gonna have to do here soon if I don’t wanna smell like one of these sausages.”

 

“Sausages?”

 

“Uh-huh.  Fear the power of Joyce.  She keeps trying to get me to spill about what we’re gonna talk about, and the more I make with the vague, the more dishes she adds.  I haven’t seen her break out with a Jell-O mold yet, but the night is still young.”

 

“Oh, wow.  But sausages?”

 

“Grilled Italian sausages, with onions and peppers,” Buffy confirmed.  “I swear it’s like one of those metaphor English class thingies.  Buffy grilling now means Buffy will be grilled later.”  Buffy gave one of the sizzling links a particularly vicious stab with the two-pronged barbecue fork.  

 

“It’s all gonna be okay, I promise.  Giles and Xander and me, we’ve got your back.  Just, you know, if your mom could find it in her heart to not tell any Harrises or Rosenbergs about your Calling that we are totally not in any way involved in - ”

 

“She won’t,” Buffy cut in.  “I swear.  Then again, that’s saying that she’ll even believe me.”  

 

“She will.  Maybe we could… I dunno.  Show her.”

 

“Show her what?  Me in slaying action?”

 

“Why not?  It is the Hellmouth.  What are the chances that if you patrol after dinner that you’re not gonna run into a slay-ready vampire?”

 

Buffy chewed on her lip, mulling it over.  “You really think I could?”

 

We could,” Willow corrected.  “And totally, but more than that, I think we should.  It’s one thing to talk the talk.  It’s another thing to - ”

 

“Trust the dust?” 

 

“Exactly.”

 

“I’ll think about it.  As much as I want my mom on board, I don’t want to have to blow her mind completely in order to do it.”

 

But an atomic-level mindblow seemed to be the one thing Joyce hadn’t planned for that was served up hot and fresh with dinner that night.  

 

There were two good things about the evening.  First, Buffy had indeed gotten her shower and second, all of Joyce’s food was excellent.  Too bad that Buffy was far too nervous to taste most of it.  The whole table seemed to be set with anxiety as well as with placemats - Giles was particularly squirmy - and it only took a lull in stilted conversation once most of their plates were empty for the Watcher to clear his throat meaningfully.

 

“Mrs. Summers, this meal was excellent.”

 

Joyce beamed.  “Why, thank you.”

 

“However, I must direct our conversation to the topic at hand, which is Buffy.”

 

Buffy pouted. “You couldn’t even wait until after brownies?” 

 

“I understand that it was she that initiated the plan for this meeting, and while I admit I had my reservations - ”

 

“Is that repressed English-guy-speak for you demanding if I lost my mind?” Buffy asked.

 

“I’ve come to realize that you being fully informed is likely for the best.  Buffy… she’s, well, 

she’s a very special girl.”

 

“I’m glad you share my opinion of my own daughter, Mr. Giles.” Joyce chuckled.  

 

“Yes, well, her… uniqueness surpasses most traditional descriptions.  Most rational ones as well.”

 

“You’re saying she’s gifted?’

 

“In a very ancient and powerful way, yes.  Perhaps it’s better if I show you” - he pulled a large book out of his leather bag and plunked it right next to the sausage platter in the middle of the dining table - “this.”

 

Buffy started.  It was the same book with the Vampyr inscription on the cover that Buffy had tried to reject in the library on her first day of school.  Joyce was having a similar reaction and recoiled as if by instinct.

 

“What - what is this all about?”

 

“Buffy has a Calling.”

 

Joyce blinked and then huffed out a relieved laugh.  “Oh, Mr. Giles.  You must be mistaken.  We’re more spiritual than religious.  If there’s one thing I know about my daughter, it’s that she’s in no way fit to be a nun.”  She reached over and patted Buffy’s hand.  “No offense, honey.”

 

So none taken,” Buffy answered.  “But that’s not it.  My Calling - it goes back to the beginning of time, really.  It’s one of those things that’s passed on.  Not from like, family to family, like hair or eye color.  But randomly, from girl to girl.”

 

“Generation to generation,” Giles added.  “Into each one, a Slayer is born.  When one dies, the next potential in line is Called.”

 

Joyce’s smile faded fast.  “A Slayer?  Wait, a girl died?”

 

“Oh, Mom.”  Buffy winced.  “Yeah, so many really, but - ”

 

“When?  To call you - when?”

 

“Um, L.A.?”

 

Joyce’s face turned pale and she leaned back into her chair, her hand over her mouth.  “Oh, God.  You said you saw… vampires.”

 

“Vampire Slayer.  That’s what she’s really called,” Willow blurted, and then looked frightened.  “Oops, my bad.  Should I have said that?  I definitely didn’t mean to say that, like, out loud.” 

 

Buffy smiled at Willow gratefully.  “It’s okay.”

 

“Buffy’s the real deal, Mrs. S,” Xander piped up.  “I know, huge with the crazy here, I was right there with you - ”

 

“Not the time, Xander,” Willow muttered, jamming an elbow into his ribs.  

 

“And you?” Joyce rounded on Giles.  “What’s your role in all of this?”

 

“I’m what’s called a Watcher.  Every Slayer has one.  I help train her, both physically with defensive moves, such as hand-to-hand combat, karate, jiu jitsu, Krav Maga, and mentally as well, with meditation and, ideally, intense research and study.”  He glanced reprovingly at Buffy on that last part.  

 

“So, you’re not the school librarian?” Joyce asked.

 

“No, no, I’m that as well.  It’s a convenient but authentic cover that allows me access to Buffy without raising suspicion.  It’s unusual - unprecedented, actually - that the Slayer remain in school, at home, and have a circle of companions who share her secret.  But Buffy is” - Giles flushed as he continued to gaze at his charge - “quite extraordinary, really.”

 

“Aww.” Buffy couldn’t help but feel a swell of affection for the man.  “Thank you.”

 

“You have access to Buffy,” Joyce repeated numbly.  “Including her school records.” 

 

Giles’ smile slipped.  “Well, er, I’m not a member of the administration, more akin to faculty and staff.  I would have no need for her files - ”

 

“But you are in the building,” Joyce argued.  “You could get to them if you really wanted to.”

 

“Uh, I suppose in theory, yes.”  Giles looked flustered.  “It would be unauthorized, but - I’m sorry, is there a point to all this?”

 

“Only that I’m beginning to put together how a simple high school librarian has taken advantage of a sick, young girl who’s already been treated for hallucinations!” Joyce exclaimed.

 

“Now see here, Ms. Summers!” Giles began.

 

Buffy jumped to her feet.  “Mom, no!”

 

“Honey, you need to sit down and stay out of this.”  

 

“I so will not!  You’ve got this all wrong.”

 

“This is a very dangerous man.  He’s obviously brainwashed you, your friends, and who knows how many other naive children into believing some crazy delusion, probably from some old book he uncovered.”  Joyce stood up and took a careful step backward, looking at Giles with wild, frightened eyes.  “Xander, Willow, get behind me now.  Buffy, call the police.  Don’t try to stop him if he tries to run.”

 

To his credit, Giles didn’t even look worried.  Merely exhausted.  “Mrs. Summers, do please calm down.”

 

“Buffy, the phone!” Joyce cried.

 

“Mom, he’s not running.  He’s not even trying.  Because you’re the one acting dangerous and crazy.”

 

“You’re obviously too deluded to be thinking clearly, but I’ll see this man behind bars for what he’s done to you all,” Joyce threatened and shoved her chair into the table to head toward the kitchen phone.

 

“Mom, stop!”  Buffy rushed behind her and they briefly struggled over the receiver hanging on the wall - right up until Buffy crushed it into her hand and let the pieces fall to the floor.  Joyce stumbled backward, dumbfounded.

 

“How did you… how could you?”

 

“Extra strength Buffy, part of the Slayer package.  Remember when I said monsters were real?  Giles isn’t the monster here.  Yeah, he tries to get me to read about them in super old, dusty, and boring books, but he helps me, too.”  Buffy stepped toward her mom and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.  “Helps me avoid things like that.”  She nodded meaningfully to Joyce’s neck.  “Remember?”

 

Joyce slumped against the wall, fingering the faint scar from Darla’s attack the previous year.  “N-no, they said, the doctors that - that I fell.  On a - a - ”

 

“A barbecue fork,” Buffy finished.  “Right.  Which we didn’t own until one came with the spank-me-new grill you had to have me use for this dinner.”

 

Joyce blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of what Buffy suggested.  “That girl - the blonde - she wasn’t a friend of yours.”

 

“Not unless I’m fresh out of enemies.”

 

“She was a vampire?  She bit me?”

 

“Bingo squared,” Buffy replied grimly.  

 

“But, but no,” Joyce gasped, shaking her head stubbornly.  “It’s too bizarre.  Way too far fetched for me to ever believe that there’s anything really like vampires or you’re something called a Slayer - ”

 

“Hey gang,” Buffy called.  The three dinner guests were peeking around the corner from the relative safety of the dining room.  “Anybody up for a field trip?”

 

 

“Buffy, I hardly think this is necessary,” Joyce huffed as the group hurried through the dim light of sunset, the Slayer at the lead with a stake in her hand.  “I didn’t even bring my purse.”

 

“Relax, you won’t need it.  All I need is this” - Buffy twirled the stake as she strolled - “and a well-timed fledge.”

 

“Which Sunnydale is lousy with most nights,” Willow chimed in.

 

“A fledge?” Joyce asked.

 

“Fledgeling.  A newly-risen vampire,” Giles explained.  “They are unreasonably strong and hungry. Also usually quite uncoordinated and stupid.”

 

Joyce grabbed Buffy’s arm to stop her.  “What are you going to do with it?” 

 

“With any luck?  Stake it super fast so we still have time for brownie sundaes.”

 

“Stake it,” Joyce repeated.  “With that.”  She nodded to Buffy’s hand.

 

“The stake,” Buffy said calmly, nodding slowly so that her mom could take it all in.  “Wooden stake plus vampire heart equals major dustage.”

 

Joyce looked bewildered.  “Dust?”

 

“Oh, yeah, it’s a whole Dustbuster eruption of yuck,” Xander said.  “The entire vampire explodes, like, ‘poof.’”

 

“I don’t know if it’s ‘poof’ so much as ‘whoosh,’” Willow argued.

 

“Sound effects aside,” Giles interrupted, “what it means is that when Buffy penetrates a vampire’s cold, dead heart with her wooden stake, what was left of the human husk disintegrates into air and the demon is, well, destroyed.” 

 

“Buffy, this sounds very dangerous!” Joyce cried.   “If any vampire tried to do to you what that one did to me, last year - ”

 

“Too late.”  Reluctantly, Buffy moved the open collar of her blouse aside so that Joyce could see Buffy’s own scarred marks from the Master.  

 

Joyce gasped.  “A vampire did that?” 

 

“Either that, or a really motivated barbecue fork on two legs.”

 

With a shaking hand, Joyce ran her fingertips over her daughter’s neck.  “Oh, sweetheart.  I never knew.”

 

“I know.  I didn’t want you to.  I thought it was too dangerous.  But lately, I’ve been thinking that not knowing is more dangerous.  You’ve already been attacked once, and if the mom of the Slayer is clueless, it would be like having a huge target painted on your back.”

 

Joyce’s expression took on the familiar no-nonsense steeliness that Buffy recognized so well.  “That’s it.  This all ends now.  I’m not sure exactly what I believe you’re involved with, but whatever it is, it’s dark and it’s evil and your life may very well be - ” 

 

“Fledge at ten o’clock!” Xander announced, pointing past the hedge partition between the sidewalk and Shady Hill cemetery.

 

“Oh, goody!” Buffy jumped the shrubbery and sprinted toward the new vampire shaking itself out of the loose grave dirt.  “Just in time for brownies!”

 

“Buffy!” Joyce screeched.

 

“I’ll be right back!” Buffy called.  “Guys, protect my mom!”

 

 

The newly-turned vamp was as groggy and klutzy as Giles had described - almost like her Watcher had ordered up this guy special so Buffy could demonstrate the perfect slay.  A few well-landed punches, a nice roundhouse kick, and the fledge stumbled blindly like he didn’t know what had literally hit him, which was the perfect opportunity for Buffy to slam the stake home and send the vampire bursting into dust.  Even from the distance separating them, Buffy could hear her mother gasp.

 

“No muss, no fuss, just dust,” Buffy proclaimed as she scampered back to her group, tucking her stake back into the waistband of her skirt.  “Brownies now, please?”

 

“Buffy, that was awesome!” Willow grinned.

 

“First class slay all the way.”  This time, when Xander lifted his hand for a high-five, Buffy gratefully slapped back, which made Xander shake his palm with a wince.

 

Giles couldn’t have looked prouder if Buffy had actually finished one of his reading assignments and remembered the material.  “Excellent technique, my dear.  You wasted no time there.  I believe those hours of training are paying off.”

 

“Thanks, I think you’re right.  I feel like I’m growing.  Unless it’s just delayed puberty.” Buffy shrugged.

 

Joyce stood gaping at them all.  

 

“Mom!  Mom, are you okay?”

 

Joyce burst into tears.

 

“Oh, Mom, don’t,” Buffy whimpered, hugging her.  “If you do that, then I’ve got no reason not to do that.”  She tried to hold on, but failed miserably and she found herself sobbing right along with her mother.  “See, this,” she blubbered.  “This is the other reason I didn’t want to tell you, because of this.  The crying, and the worrying, and thinking that this could ever stop - ”

 

“It has to stop!” Joyce insisted, looking up to meet Buffy’s eyes.  “No matter how much extra strength you have from this mystic Calling.  No matter how much you train.  No one can keep this up forever.”

 

Buffy nodded.  “I know.”

 

“You mean all this…?  You won’t get to stop until you’re…” Joyce’s mouth turned upside down.  “Not my baby!”  She pulled Buffy to her chest and cried out her pain.

 

“Oh, Mrs. Summers,” Giles whispered.  “I know this is so much to process.  But Buffy has extraordinary talents.  She’s already beat near-impossible foes.”

 

“It’s true,” Willow sniffed, wiping her own tears away.  “And she has us.”

 

“Damn right she does,” Xander said.

 

“If I may offer this as well,” Giles continued.  “Most Slayers live with their Watchers, separated from family and friends, living violent and solitary and short lives.  But Buffy insisted on a different kind of life, one that seeks to bridge the divide between Slayer and young woman, and I believe it has only made her stronger.”

 

Joyce held Buffy’s face in her hands.  “You did that?”

 

“I couldn’t leave you.  And whatever life I have left to live, I want it on my terms.  If the Council doesn’t like it, they can kiss my Slayer butt.  That’s saying they can even get close enough to pucker up.”

 

“What’s the Council?” Joyce asked.

 

“Another conversation that I believe would be best had over, perhaps, brownies?” Giles offered.

 

“And wine,” Joyce added.  “Lots of wine.”  She wrapped her arm around Buffy and the group slowly made their way back toward Revello Drive.

 

— 

 

“Bloody fucking hell,” came a voice from the shadows.  “What is this?  The family that slays together stays together?  She’s got a gang.  Even the mum’s in on it, the axe-hammering harridan.  No wonder she smacked me proper.  She’s in on it!  They’re all bloody in on it.  How’s a vamp to compete with that?” Spike railed.

 

With a disgusted huff, he picked up the bags of supplies he’d placed on the ground.  All he’d wanted to do was find the stupid warlock and get the wanker to confess so Spike could prove to his mistress and minions that magic had ruled Spike’s behavior on Halloween night - not any deep-seated desire to buddy-up with the damn Slayer.  But he’d been all over town and found no trace of Ethan’s magic.  Dru still refused to see him and Spike took to snatching bags of donated blood from the hospital and leaving them on what had once been his pillow while his beloved slept, so that she’d have at least something to eat when she awoke.  Still, Spike knew he couldn’t put off the inevitable forever.  Dru wouldn’t tolerate being left alone for long, no matter how feeble she was. Soon, he’d have to get the great poof Angel involved in the care and feeding of Drusilla.   

 

Then, out of nowhere came this.  Her.  The Slayer and what appeared to be a whole sodding little Scooby club tagging along with her on, what, a training mission for Vamp Slaying 101?   Despite himself, Spike had to stop to watch her and yes, Buffy was as glorious and magnificent and deadly as he remembered.  Maybe even more so, because she hadn’t hesitated with the vamp tonight.  All business - yet still with that unmistakable rolicking flair of hers that made her so special.  Suddenly, an idea occurred to him.

 

“Hell, ‘course she has a gang.  More like she has a whole posse.  She’s changed all the bloody rules and made her own.  Laying down the law, aren’t you love?  Because she - she is a sheriff.  She’s still the sheriff.”  My sheriff, he averred and oh, hell.  If that was true… if there was part of Buffy Summers where deep inside, being the sheriff came naturally to her?

 

Spike smirked.  “She’s gonna need herself a deputy.”  


Chapter End Notes:

The quote from The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus goes like this, about certain philosophers: "...they deify what crushes them and find reason to hope in what impoverishes them."  I see so much of our poor vamp in this, haha.

Many thanks to OffYourBird for brainstorming with me on the BBQ fork ideas - I wanted Buffy to have a mark that looked like she fell on one, but didn't Joyce already have one from Darla from Season One!  Presto!

Oooh, yeah, and about Prompt #3, which stipulates that a BBQ fork must be actually USED, here is the line in which that happens:  "Buffy gave one of the sizzling links a particularly vicious stab with the two-pronged barbecue fork." 



 





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