The Weight of Forever

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Prologue

The bride smiled under her veil, her eyes wide and brimming with tears as she looked past the throng of people and stared at the man she would marry. For his part, the groom had gotten through the morning with flying colors if you didnít count losing a shoe, losing his suit jacket, and not finding either until ten minutes before the ceremony. He reached a hand out, gently helping her up the steps, then nodded at the man who had escorted her down the aisle to give her away.

Some people had balked at a nighttime wedding, saying that California weddings on the beach were meant to be enjoyed in the sunlight, but the bride and groom understood that their guest list contained certain Ďspecial needsí. A big white tent had been pitched near the waters edge and the entire event had been planned to avoid a full moon, since at least three of the guests were werewolves. The front area of the tent was an explosion of color as every type of tropical flower had been arranged around the altar. The bride herself carried a colorful bouquet that was almost as big as she was.

The vows were unique and had been written by the bride and groom, with lots of help from their closest friends. Anyone who knew their story had trouble reigning in the emotion as the groom said, "I feel like Iíve waited a million lifetimes for this moment. I feel like any life before this one was a dream, that I did not become the man I was meant to be until you taught me how. For that, I will love you until the day I die and for that you will have to keep my heart secure. It isnít mine anymore."

Spike glanced around the groom and smiled at Buffy, who was holding her bouquet and the big arrangement that Christine, the bride, had carried up the aisle. He winked at her, just like he said he would, when Miles, the groom, spoke the lines that Spike had actually written for him. Buffy would have known without the acknowledgement from Spike. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she mouthed the words "I love you" with an easy smile.

Their eye contact was broken by the priest asking for the rings. Spike leaned down, whispering to the little ring bearer who held up the pillow that contained the two rings with a big, cheesy grin. Buffy sniffled a little, all the while telling herself not to cry, that she had run out of waterproof mascara, but as the deal was sealed with a kiss and the priest announced Mr. and Mrs. Miles Porter to the room, she was smiling through tears.

Spike offered her his arm as they fell in step behind their friends. "You cry at weddings, love?"

"Shut up," she replied, wiping her cheek with the handkerchief he had pulled from his pocket for her. "It was beautiful."

"I meant every word of it."

"Why didnít he write his own vows?"

"Because heís been working non-stop with you every night."

Buffy glanced over at him. "Was he mad?"

"I think he was glad to have the diversion. Heís been a nervous wreck."

"I donít know what Iíll do without him for two weeks."

"Davies will fill in for him."

"Yes, but Davies isnít Miles. I adore Miles."

"Miles adores you, too. So does Christine."

"How weird is it that weíre doing all this normal stuff together? Movie night with Miles and Christine. Dinner night with Colin and Dawn. Itís like we can forget sometimes that weíre who we are."

"Iím fine with who we are, baby. Who else could survive our sex life?"

They reached the flowered archway at the mouth of the tent and stopped for photographs. They smiled, posed, laughed, and hammed it up for the camera before they set off down the path to the second tent which had been set up for the reception. The rest of the night passed in a happy blur for Buffy. She laughed until her sides hurt when the band announced that the Best Man had requested a special song and dance with the Maid of Honor and began playing a cheesy version of ĎWind Beneath My Wingsí. The minute Spike took her into his arms, however, it became the most romantic dance sheíd ever had and the kiss he gave her left her breathless.

A while later, she slipped her shoes off and stepped into the cool ocean water, hissing a little as the salt seeped into the blisters that had formed on both of her feet. "Ow."

Spike, who had removed his shoes as well and was helping her hold her dress up, had to smile at the irony. "You know, it seems like only yesterday we were in this very same spot with you trying to fight me and me drowning you to teach you a lesson."

"My how far weíve come. The last time you tried to kill me was with sex last night. Iíd call that a change for the better." Buffy wiggled her toes and groaned in relief. "Thatís it. Iím over strappy heels."

Spike caught her arm and pulled her toward him. "Life is good, innit?"

Buffy looked up at him, cupping his cheek with her palm. "Life is perfect. Weíre perfect. I love you."

"I love you, too."

Resting her head against his silent heart she closed her eyes. "I want to feel like this forever."

He kissed her. "Forever isnít long enough, baby, but itíll do."

~ 1 ~

Buffy took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and turned to face the monster that had been steadily increasing its size in the past few weeks. It was mammoth, dominating the small space that she liked to call hers. She crossed her arms and glared at it, daring it to make a move, but it didnít. It sat, mocking her and she came close to growling when Harmony strolled into the office and added yet another folder to the pile that took up every conceivable surface of her desk.

"Are you ever going to finish these?" Harmony asked, indicating the monster that Buffy had been contemplating moments before. "I mean, this is why you have filing cabinets and if I can file then so can you."

Buffy began to hum ĎAnother One Bites The Dustí and grinned when Harmony fled the room without another word. With a sigh, she sat down in the buttery leather chair behind her desk and took a deep breath. It wouldnít be hard. After all, in the amount of time she had worked at Wolfram and Hart she had closed every case file on her desk. What remained was for her to read through the accounts of the cases, file the ones that were correct and to correct the inaccuracies and send them back out to reporting. Instead, she kept pushing them aside, rearranging and moving to the next case.

The bone deep exhaustion she felt manifested itself in a loud yawn and Buffy contemplated shoving the work wily nily into a drawer someplace and leaving on time for a change. It would be incredible to actually spend more than fifteen minutes with Spike that night. They lived together, slept in the same bed, but with the hours she kept their time was very limited. She had her own suspicions as to why, but hadnít said anything yet. It was building, though. It had been far too long since they had been able to do anything except kiss goodnight and fall asleep.

Defeated, she opened the top most file and read through the account of the assassination of a Fergunga demon that had been preying on virgins in the valley. She read through the facts, which she had relayed to the Reporting Division herself and signed her name with satisfaction that it had been recorded correctly. Standing, she gave herself a pat on the back and then carried the file to the corner and stored it under ĎFí for Fergunga.

"One down. One trillion to go." She poked out her bottom lip as Harmony charged in, dropped another folder, and ran back out. "Damn it."

"Bad day?" Spike poked his head into the room and smiled at the picture she made, leaning back against the wall with a lost look on her face. He surveyed the mountain of work and grinned. "This is actually something you have to do every single day, love."

"Who has the time?" she snarled, slamming the ĎFí file closed and stalking back to her desk, where she flopped into her seat. "Between the planning, the killing, the reporting, and the other things like eating and trying to sleep for about four hours a night that is."

Spike frowned. It wasnít the first time he had considered how exhausting her new role as the Head of Assassination had become. For months, she had thrived on the momentum, the fast pace of things, the Slaying and the deadlines. The rush in her veins felt like coming home to her and she enjoyed it immensely at first Now, however, he could see the physical toll it was taking on her. "Let me help."

"Unless you can wave a magic wand --"

"Baby, you told me about most of these. I know what happened and I can check it just as well as you can."

Buffy gave a contented sigh. "I love it when you call me that."

Kissing her on the top of the head, he reached past her and grabbed a stack of files. "Weíll get it done."

They worked together for the rest of the afternoon, pausing to eat lunch and make a few corrections in the reporting of her assassinations. Finally, Spike put his last file in the proper place and stretched. "Next time youíre on your own. This was my day off."

She closed her remaining folder and propped her hand on her chin. "Can I ask you something?"

"Always."

"Maybe itís nothing, but-"

"What?" Spike asked her when she trailed off.

"Do you get the feeling that Angel is trying to purposely keep us apart?"

The thought had definitely crossed Spikeís mind and he had confronted Angel about it weeks before. When he heard Angelís explanation, however, he realized that it was Buffyís own fault. At Angelís request, Spike had not said anything about it and agreed to let her work through it herself. He hadnít known it would take quite so long, though. He shrugged, appearing nonchalant. "I donít know. Weíre busy."

"Thatís it? Weíre busy?"

"Weíve got a job to do."

"Well, I canít keep doing it. I only see you for ten minutes here and there."

"You just saw me for the entire day."

"I need you the rest of the time, too."

"And here I thought weíd be together at least a year before youíd put me on such a short leash." He smiled when he saw that Buffy wasnít sure how to take his comment. "Not that I mind. Iíll even help you pick out the chain."

She grinned a little. "It just feels like my entire life has become Wolfram and Hart. I didnít stay in Los Angeles just to work here. I stayed to be with you and I donít feel like I am."

"If you want to transfer jobs, pet, you can talk to Angel."

"No. I donít want to transfer. I actually like being paid to do what I was doing anyway. I just donít have to like working twenty hours a day most of the time."

"So talk to Angel."

Buffy frowned. Since she had been at Wolfram and Hart her interaction with Angel had been limited to the occasional hello in the elevator or briefings in the conference room about new targets and threats. The ease with which they used to speak had been replaced with an all business approach that didnít allow for small talk or idle chatter. The only time that she had seen him outside the office had been when she was patrolling and stopped for a coffee. He had been leaving a restaurant with Nina and Buffy quickly turned the other way to avoid *that* awkward encounter.

It had become commonplace to see Nina around the office, visiting Angel, bringing him blood, talking to Fred. Fred had actually been the one to introduce Buffy and Nina. It hadnít been as strained as it could have been, but Buffy felt as though every pore on her face had been scrutinized and found lacking by the other woman. Buffy had made a habit of staying in her office as much as possible unless she had something pressing to do.

"What are you thinking?" Spike asked her.

Buffy jumped a little, startled as he wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder. "I donít want to talk to Angel."

"You want me to do it?"

"What would you say, Spike? I havenít shagged the Slayer in over two weeks! We need to get off. Literally. I donít think that will win us any points."

Spike grinned and stated what was right in front of her eyes. "Or you could let the other people in this department pull some weight and stop doing it alone. They keep asking when youíll let them do the job they were doing before you got here."

Buffy suddenly felt very stupid. The department had been running fine for years without her. Of course there were other capable people and instead of utilizing them, she had done everything herself. It wasnít possible to keep the blush from creeping into her cheeks. She was bitching about something that she had created.


As if reading her mind, Spike said, "Youíre used to doing things yourself. Even with a million new Slayers running around, you still want in on every kill. You still quiz Giles and your friends about whatís happening and you ache to be a part of it. Itís no different here. You just have to let other people do their share."

"Why didnít you say anything?"

"Tell the most hard headed woman Iíve ever met how to do her job? Not aching to get staked, love."

"Never stopped you before," she snapped irritably, then checked her watch. "I have to go get ready. Thereís a demon that-"

"Let Miles do it." Spike pulled her to her feet and gave her a kiss. "Tonight belongs to me."

"Mmmm, that sounds good." Buffy hugged him, then giggled a little as he playfully nipped at her neck. "Iíll talk to Miles. You think heíll do it on such short notice?"

Spike nodded. "Heís been begging us to tell you that heís ready and willing to go out without you. The manís been training more than you have."

"He could have mentioned it to me."

"Some things you have to learn for yourself. We had to wait for you to realize that youíre not alone anymore." Spike grabbed her wrist and checked her watch for himself. "I have to go do a few things. Iíll see you back at the apartment in an hour. Okay?"

"Absolutely."

Buffy watched him go, her heart swelling with love. It hadnít been easy for the first couple of weeks, living with him and getting used to his quirks. They had argued over the stupidest things, found the most idiotic things hilarious, and had finally begun to understand what was happening between them. Spike had been right ... it wasnít perfect, but it was real.

She got her data together and called Miles and two other field agents into her office. After explaining how to kill the demon, what it used as a defense and where to find it, she gave them a list of weapons that they should carry and wished them luck. It was comical to watch all three giving high fives and bouncing in excitement. You would have thought that they had been given a million dollars. Buffy had not forgotten how the thrill of the hunt and kill felt. Granted, she had lost that for a while after Spike had Ďdiedí, but in the first few weeks she had taken over at Wolfram and Hart, that feeling had come back tenfold. It was exhilarating at times, stalking the demon, besting it, and earning the accolades of her co-workers. She found herself smiling at them, joining in their enthusiasm.

Miles hung back as the other two agents headed for the supply closet. He flashed a boyish smile, causing the dimples in his cheeks to wink at her. It was hard to believe he was approaching thirty considering his baby face, but the hard lines of his body were purely man and the women around the office didnít mind talking about his attributes at length, even moreso after he had gotten married. He smiled and said, "I appreciate you giving me the chance to lead instead of follow. Even though I usually donít mind following you around. Itís pretty neat to watch you in action. Youíre amazing."

"Are you kidding? You almost kick my ass every single time we spar. Thatís amazing."

"I think you let me."

"Well, not completely." When she had taken the position, Miles had been the first to welcome her, the first to pick her brain about past demons she had faced and the first to volunteer to partner her on their search and destroy missions. She had taken an instant liking to him and enjoyed his company when they were researching or lamenting the long hours over a bag of M&Ms. "But I wouldnít let you do this tonight if I didnít have faith."

"Faith, my ass." Miles sat down across from her, tilting his chair back as he studied her. "You have a date, right?"

"Shut up," she said, grinning at him. "I earned it. Did you not just tell me last night that I needed a day off?"

"Itís a record or something. You bagged what ... three hundred? Four hundred? Just since you been here?"

"Just call you King of the Overstatement. Of course, it felt like a million when I had to file it all this afternoon." Buffy opened her drawer and took out a jar of candy, taking out a Tootsie Roll and holding it out to him. "So, whatís the game plan?"

Miles unwrapped the candy and stuffed it in his mouth. "Kill it."

"Can you get more elaborate-y?"

Chuckling, he said, "I did the research on the demon myself, Buff. To get more Ďelaborate-yí, this thing is too weak right now to head into the city. Itís sticking close to the cave and eating little forest creatures to build up its strength. Weíre gonna let it feed, get tired, and take it out inside the cave while itís contained."

"Keep in mind that the more it feeds on animals the stronger it is. So if you get a chance in the woods ... while itís feeding ... then nail it. It may come back to the cave and have more strength so fresh from the hunt."

"You just finished telling me that you have faith in me." Miles grabbed the candy dish from her with lightning speed, dug out another Tootsie Roll and winked at her. "So, what are you doing tonight?"

"Hopefully Iíll get plenty of sleep."

"Yeah, right. You forget that Iím just down the hall. The walls are thin."

"Itís not like you and Christine donít do your fair share of keeping people awake."

"Newlywed here." Miles flashed his ring at her, then studied it himself, rubbing it as he often did when they patrolled.

"Itís nauseatingly cute," Buffy assured him. "If anything happens tonight, Iíll have my cell on and Iíll-"

"Youíll turn your phone off, rest, relax, and have the perfect night." He tossed the candy back and her and stood. "Iíll see you tomorrow, squirt."

Buffy watched him go, smiling. As he reached for the knob, her smile faded and she said, "Maybe I should come with you."

Miles stuck his tongue out at her. "Quit being a martyr. Go, be in love."

"Be careful."

"If I canít, Iíll name it after you. Or on second thought, I wouldnít do that to my kid."


Buffy threw a piece of candy at him, but he had already shut the door. She sat at her desk for a while longer, watching as the sun began to set. Finally, she filed the remaining folder, straightened a photo of her mother that she kept on her desk, and took a deep breath. Maybe delegating the work wouldnít be so bad. And maybe if she could stop worrying about the tasks she had delegated she would be able to enjoy the night.

*~*~*~

"You have no concept of time," Spike announced as she opened the door. He was sitting on the sofa, twirling a long stemmed rose.

Buffy gasped when she surveyed the room. The floor was littered with rose petals and she could see that they trailed down the hallway toward the bedroom. Soft music was playing from the stereo and there was a bottle of grape juice chilling on the coffee table with two glasses on either side. It was a reminder of the struggle sheíd had with alcohol when they first got back together and a testimony to how much Spike had helped her overcome that demon. "You know," she replied, shutting the door and leaning against it. "I was already seduced. You just had to show up."

"Come Ďere." He patted the seat next to him and watched as she slipped her shoes off. He shifted uncomfortably as she hooked her fingers into the waistband of her pants and slowly pushed them down, her hips moving in time with the music as her lacy red thong was exposed. With a low growl, he started to stand and go to her, but she shook her head. He sat back down, narrowing his eyes as she slowly unbuttoned her shirt and turned away from him, letting it skim over her back. When it was barely dangling from her fingertips, she turned and glanced at him over her shoulder, and the heat that radiated from her gaze drew him to his feet. "Iím not waiting, pet."

Buffy unhooked her bra and let it slide over her shoulders and down her arms, her back still to him. Despite his declaration, he stood perfectly still, unable to tear his eyes away from the picture she presented. Reaching up, she pulled her ponytail free and shook her head, letting her hair fall around her shoulders. She gave him another glance over her bare shoulder and arched an eyebrow, then she hooked her thumbs in her panties and eased them down, bending at the waist as she did and giving him a full view of her backside.

"Bloody hell," Spike snapped, dropping the rose and stalking across the room.

Buffy kicked her panties at him, grinning. They hit him in the face and she seized the opportunity to dart past him. He caught her in the hallway and pinned her against the wall. "I said Iím not waiting."

She gasped as he dropped to his knees, pulling one of her legs over his shoulder. She arched against him as his tongue moved against her swollen flesh, gripping handfuls of his hair. He growled her name against her and she threw her head back, undulating against him as he slid one finger, then two, into her. It had stopped amazing her that he could work her body so well. She closed her eyes and melted under his touch, knowing that her release was going to be fast.

Spike caught her as the orgasm rocked through her, causing her legs to buckle. He laid her on her back and watched her, watched the healthy color flood her face, watched her heaving breasts. The rose petals were spread around her, tangling in her hair and sticking to her arms. Reaching up, he laid his hand against her chest, feeling her heart pound. She was so alive, so beautiful, and she was his.

Buffy heard his zipper being snatched down opened her arms to him. He settled between her legs, kissing her softly as he gently pushed into her. "No. Do it harder."

Spike complied, moving back and then slamming against her. He felt her lifting her hips and rose to his knees, pushing her legs upward as he continued to pound against her. The pressure built too quickly and before he knew it, the sounds of her second orgasm sent him crashing over the edge.

Spent, he flopped down beside her. "And to think, we still have hours to go."

"Iím not complaining." Buffy stifled a yawn and curled against him.

A few moments later, her breathing was even and slow and a snore passed through her parted lips. He kissed her forehead, lifted her and carried her to the bed where he tucked her beneath the cover. He sat next to her, watching as she burrowed into a more comfortable position, still unable to believe that this was his life. "Iím not complaining either," he whispered and watched her sleep for a while.

~*~*

Buffy walked into the break room, bleary eyed and disheveled, in search of coffee. She poured herself a cup and sipped it, willing her body to wake up and furious at herself for sleeping almost fourteen hours when she had wanted to utilize every second of her night off with Spike. She didnít even remember him taking her to the bed, but that was where the alarm had yanked her from sleep.

Her brain was fuzzy as she took another sip and glanced at the newspaper that was lying on one of the tables. The headline caught her eye and she opened it all the way, reading through the front page.

Body of Missing Girl Found Mutilated In Woods

After almost three days of intensive searching for the little girl who wandered away from her campsite, the body of Ashlee Sanchez was found in the woods near the famed Hollywood sign. Her death appeared to have been caused by wild animals. No word yet on the animal in question, but a rash of coyote sightings has-

"Buffy," Angel said quietly, watching her from the doorway.

Buffy was so startled that she jumped, sloshing coffee on her black slacks. "Damn it."

"Iím sorry." He grabbed a handful of napkins and held them out to her, watching as she took them and wiped at her pants. "I need you to come with me."

Something in his tone forced her to stop what she was doing and give him her full attention. She had left Spike in bed, surely he was okay. Where was Dawn? "Why?" she asked, swallowing hard.

"Come on," he replied, gently taking her elbow and leading her back towards the main lobby.

Buffy fell in step beside him as they walked through a small crowd of people and then stood next to him at the elevator. As he pressed his palm against her back to usher her inside, she stiffened. "What happened?"

Angel glanced at the cloister of people and shook his head. "Not here."

When they were alone inside the small compartment, Buffy crossed her arm. "You know, I like this cryptic act about as much as I did in Sunnyda-"

"Iím not being cryptic." Angel interrupted. "I just-"

"You just what?"

"You donít want me to tell you this in front of anyone, Buffy. Iíll tell you when we get upstairs."

"Fine." Buffy pondered the reasoning behind his motives as they elevator stopped a few times to let people in or out. Maybe he was firing her. Maybe he was going to declare that he could not work with her anymore. Maybe he was pissed that she had finally taken a night off.

When she stepped out into the chaos that surrounded Angelís office, she knew it was probably none of those things. Fred rushed past her, red eyed and sniffling. Matilda, the manager of accounting, was blowing her nose loudly into a frayed handkerchief and one of the men who had accompanied Miles on the mission the previous night was standing with his back against the wall and his head down. Buffy drew up short when she saw that the man was holding Milesí coat, a green pea-coat that she had teased him about relentlessly for weeks.

Angel turned to face her. In that instant, he knew that she knew. He leaned down toward her and said, "It was quick. He didnít suffer."

"No." She took several steps back and shook her head. "Donít. Donít say it."

"Buffy, listen to me." He reached out and gently shook her. "He didnít make it. Miles is dead."

"Youíre wrong."

"I went and got him myself."

"Where is he?"

"Letís go into my office."

Buffy let him lead her past Matilda, who reached out and squeezed her arm. She heard the older woman telling her something about Miles loving his job and knowing the risks, but nothing really registered. Sitting on the leather sofa in Angelís office, she buried her face in her hands and tried to convince herself that she had not actually woken up yet, that it was all a bad dream. She felt a hand on her knee and looked up. Angel was holding out a glass of water which she accepted, but didnít drink. "Tell me," she whispered.

Angel pulled a chair up next to her and said, "I got a call from Davies, one of the agents who went with him. He told me that Miles had gone down about ten minutes into the fight. The demon was stronger than they expected, stronger than it should have been and it killed him."

"How did it kill him?"

"Iím not giving you the details."

"Tell me!" Buffy shouted.

"You donít need to know that."

"You know Iíll find out. Everyone finds out everything at this place." When she saw that he wasnít budging, she added, "Iíd rather hear it from you."

Angel considered that for several seconds, then said, "The demon has a sharp blade like bone that juts from the tail." He paused, trying to choose the right words. Nothing came to him so he was brutally honest. "It cut his head off."

Nausea washed over her and she had to swallow back the bile that rose in her throat. Closing her eyes, she pictured it clearly in her mind. Miles would have been fighting hard, his dimples nowhere to be seen. He would have probably attacked from the left and jumped in with both feet, not worrying about the size of his opponent. She pulled on an image of him on his wedding day, staring down at his new bride with adoration and pride. That was the image she wanted to keep. "Did you kill it?"

"No." Angel studied her, noting her shaking hands and the way her eyes focused on nothing. "We tried, but it was just too strong. The only way it could have gained strength so fast is with human-"

Buffyís eyes widened. "The little girl in paper! They said that she was found in the Hollywood hills. It must have gotten her."

Angel considered that. "You may be right."

"No one told me that she was missing."

"You canít be everyone at once, Buffy. You canít save everyone."

"Itís my job to try." Standing, she went to the window and stared out at the throng of cars on the street below. "What about Christine? Who told her?"

"I did."

"Is she okay?"

"No." Angel was struck by how frail the Slayer appeared, arms wrapped around herself, her head resting against the window. Her size had always thrown him, always made him think he had to take extra care with her because she could shatter at any second. She always surprised him, though. Just when he thought she had reached the limit of her capabilities, she dug a little deeper and pulled from a hidden reserve that had boundless strength. "Are *you* okay?"

"How do you think I am?" she asked in a small voice. "It never stops. I say the word, make a decision, and someone dies. A Slayer, a friend-" She turned and looked at him. "You. Spike."

Angel went to her, seriously considered hugging her, but settled for resting a hand on her shoulder. "This is not your fault."

"It is." She leaned against the window again. "I sent him out there because I was selfish and tired."

"Youíre only human. You couldnít keep burning both ends the way you were. No one could."

"Iím not only human. Iím a Slayer. They were the human ones and I sent them to do my job."

"Stop it!" Angel pulled her around to face him and shook her, hard this time. "Youíre not a Slayer here. Youíre part of a team and they werenít doing *your* job, they were doing *our* job. They knew the risks, just like you know them, Buffy. One goes down and another comes along and steps in. Itís the exact same process."

"It is not the exact same."

"They chose to do this! You didnít have that option. Thatís the biggest difference."

Without thinking at all, she pushed his hands off her shoulder and leaned against his chest. "What am I supposed to do? Angel, what happens now?"

Angel hugged her, resting his cheek against the top of her head. "Weíre gonna close for three days out of respect for Miles. Iíll call a meeting with everyone in a little while and let them know what Christine decides as far as the funeral and -"

The door opened and Spike stepped into the room, his eyes narrowing at the sight of Buffy in the other manís arms. He cleared his throat, trying to appear unfazed by their embrace, although he was anything but. "I just heard. Iím sorry, love."

Buffy stepped away from Angel and rushed to Spike. He kissed her softly on the cheek and held her against him, his hand resting on the back of her head. Speaking low, he said, "Thatís how he would have wanted to go out. He loved the fight, that one. You were always telling me that he loved the fight more than you did."

"I want to go home," Buffy whispered.

Spike glanced at Angel over the top of her head, an eyebrow raised. "Are we done here?" When Angel silently nodded, Spike led her from the room, shielding her as much as possible when the people in the main area began to ask her questions. Once inside the elevator, Spike brushed her hair back and studied her face. She was pale and sweat was appearing at her hairline. "Hey, look at me." He tilted her chin and gave her a small smile when her watery eyes settled on his. "Itíll be okay, baby."

Buffy said nothing, simply nodded absently. Her mind was elsewhere.

On a demon in a cave that she would be seeing very, very soon.

*~*~*~

Spike opened the door to discover a tear stained Dawn standing on the other side. He had to hand it to her, she was putting up a good fight with the emotion that was very close to overwhelming her. Wordlessly, he opened his arms and she stepped into them. "I hate death," she choked out between sobs. "We all had lunch together a couple of days ago. He kept stealing Buffyís french fries and she made him go get her more and threatened to kill him if he touched them. She told him she would slit his throat. We never even suspected -"

He rubbed her back, then fished a tissue from his pocket. He had put them there in case Buffy needed them, but so far the Slayer had not let loose a single tear that kept dancing in her eyes. He waited for Dawn to blow her nose and toss the tissue into the wastebasket before he said, "Buffyís in the bedroom."

"Is she sleeping?"

"Sheís doing a good job of pretending."

"The old avoiding trick where she wonít talk about it, acknowledge it, or allow herself to hurt at all? Classic Buffy move."

"How are things out there?"

"Angel called a meeting. Told everyone that Miles was a hero and that he fought through to the end. Christine asked for a traditional service and asked to see Buffy."

Spike nodded. "Thought she might."

"You think sheís mad at Buffy?"

"Grief does funny things to people. If she is mad it wonít last. It wasnít Buffyís fault."

"Did someone say it was?"

"No, but itís human nature to look for someone to blame, innit?"

Dawn nodded. "I guess so."

Spike nodded toward the kitchen. "Want a soda?"

"Sure."

They sat in companionable silence for a while, Dawn drinking a Diet Coke and Spike sipping a cup of warm blood. Part of loving Buffy meant that they both ached when she ached, they both laughed when she laughed, and they both grieved for her when she couldnít properly grieve on her own. The bond between Spike and Dawn had more to do with their love for the Slayer than affection for one another, but at the heart of their relationship was the desire they both shared to see Buffy happy.

Spike drained his cup, rinsed it at the sink, and put it in the dishwasher. Lifting a dish towel, he ran it over the counter top, wiping up a couple of blood droplets, then he opened the oven door to check on the casserole that Matilda had dropped off for their dinner. He poked at it with a fork and decided that it was either very done or supposed to be very hard and unappealing. "Right then. Pizza it is."

Dawn had to grin. "You know, you used to have that whole sexy demon of the night thing working for you. Playing house with Buffy ruined it."

"Who said weíre playing?"

The phone cut her reply short and she finished the last of her cola as Spike picked up. She could gather from the conversation that Giles was on the other end inquiring about things in Los Angeles. As Spike filled him in, Dawn seized the opportunity to go and check on Buffy. She walked down the hallway, smiling when she saw a couple of rose petals lying here and there. If nothing else, Spike still got a few things right.

Knocking lightly, she poked her head into her sisterís bedroom. "Buffy?"

The bed was turned down and she could make out where someone had been lying under the covers, but Buffy wasnít in the bed any longer. Frowning, she turned on the light, crossed the room and lifted her hand to knock on the bathroom door. It was ajar, however, so she pushed it open. It was empty. "Spike!" Dawn cried. She immediately moved to the closet, looking for Buffyís trusty leather Slayer bag, but it was not on the hook.

Spike came running. "What is it?"

"Sheís gone."

"Bloody hell!"

*~*~*

Buffy had waited over an hour for the demon to wake up, but it wasnít obliging her. She sat next to it, staring at the razor sharp tail that had cut Milesí life short far to early. After patrolling with him so often it was easy for her to imagine what had happened. Judging by the blood that was spattered all over the cave and the fact that one of Wolfram & Hartís weapons lay a few feet in front of her, she knew it had taken place in this very spot. Miles, true to form, would have entered ahead of his team. He would have assessed the demon, taken in the surroundings, and made the first move, trusting that everyone would know their job and how to handle it. The tail of the demon probably would not have crossed his mind as he attacked it. He likely never saw it coming and that upset her more than anything about the situation. He never saw it coming.

It would have been so easy to lift the machete that was in her bag and slice through the thick green neck, bringing the demon the same kind of death it had wrought, but she decided it would be better to look the demon in the eye when she destroyed it. She wanted to make sure it knew exactly who did it and give it the chance to fight back. She knew that time was valuable. Spike had probably already realized that she was gone and what her intentions were.

She lifted a heavy rock that was wedged into the ground beside her and threw it, striking the demon in the side of the head with it. It grunted, cried out, and lifted its head, blinking large, orb like eyes as it focused on her. Buffy tilted her head to one side. "You donít look like much to me."

The demon screeched at her, whipping its tail in her direction. Buffy had anticipated this, but she wasnít fast enough. It caught her in the shoulder, slicing her flesh open and sending her flying back against the cave wall so hard that the breath was pushed from her lungs. Moaning and more than a little stunned, she crawled back to her bag and yanked out the machete just in time to sever the blade like bone that Angel had told her about as the demon moved to hit her again. It broke apart with a loud Ďpopí and the demon screeched again, this time in pain. She looked back into the face of it, noted the wide eyes, and hacked again, further up the tail, severing it from the backside of the demon completely.

It began to rise, screaming and flailing, struggling for balance now that the tail was gone. On its hind legs, it stood at least ten feet tall. She was struck for a moment how closely it resembled the prehistoric birds that she had seen at the zoo. The only real difference she could see was that instead of a beak, it had long fangs and a wide mouth. It had short, stubby arms that had ridges and scaly armor that matched the scales on its back and tail. It made a swipe at her with one of those arms and Buffy laughed. She would have to be on its belly before it could reach her that way.

"This is normally never personal for me, but you killed a friend of mine last night." She slammed her boot against its fleshy underbelly, wrinkling her nose when the flesh burst open and spilled blood, guts, and whatever it had eaten the night before on her expensive leather shoes. "Now it really is personal."

Limb by limb, tooth by tooth, and piece by piece, she ripped the demon apart until finally she sat in nothing more than flesh and gore. Every inch of her was coated in blood: hers and the demonís. She was aware that she was hurt, aware that the demon had damaged her arm, but she was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to do anything more than bow her head and finally cry.

She was unconscious when the search and rescue team from Wolfram and Hart found her a while later.

Davies, who had seen enough of the cave to last a lifetime, but volunteered to find Buffy anyway, strapped the Slayer down on the back board and nodded at his team, then he turned and surveyed the scene before him. "Jesus," he mumbled softly.

*~*~*~

Spike was in the command room when the word came down that Buffy was being airlifted back to Wolfram and Hart. He waited to hear the extent of her injuries, then rushed to the infirmary, where everyone had already prepared the emergency room in anticipation of her arrival. Dr. Hanover, the main surgeon, entered the room. He glanced at the vampire and said, "If youíre going to insist on staying, which Iím sure you will, youíll need to wear a mask."

"Iím dead. I canít carry germs."

Dr. Hanover held out the mask anyway. "Youíll need to stay out of the way." To one of the nurses, he said, "The Slayer donated blood last month. Did you type it?"

"Yes, we have six pints here and three more ordered from the lab in case we need it."

Spike secured his mask and allowed a nosy nurse to strap him into a yellow gown, growling the entire time. The helicopter could be heard and he moved to the back of the room, wringing his hands with worry. Angel came in, also wearing a gown, his blue, with a mask on his face as well. He joined Spike. "What have you heard?"

"Sheís alive, but unconscious."

"Did she get the demon?"

"Does that really matter at this point?"

They both drew back as the bloody lump that was Buffy was brought into the room. Instinctively, they both lowered their masks and sniffed the air, then nodded at each other. A majority of it was the demonís blood. Spike moved forward and pushed her sticky hair back from her face. "Bufffy?"

"Move or leave the room," Dr. Hanover said, glaring at Spike until he moved to stand next to Angel.

"Let them work." His own anxiety was powerful, but Angel remained as stoic as possible, then politely turned away when they began to cut Buffyís clothing from her body. After a few seconds, he nudged Spike. "What do you think?"

"It looks like sheís okay except for her arm. It cut her to the bone."

"Damn it. What the hell was she thinking?" Angel shook his head. "Did you know she was doing this?"

"What the fuck do you think? No! I didnít know she was doing this or I would have stopped her."

"You were with her! How did she-"

"I donít know! Okay? I have no idea."

"Good of you to admit it." Angel crossed his arms.

"Piss off. Why are you here?"

"Moral support?"

"From an amoral asshole? Iíll pass."

Angel didnít say anything else for a while. Finally he said, "Is she covered up yet?"

Smirking, Spike nodded. "Sheís been covered up all along, mate."

"Dick," Angel snapped as he turned and glanced over at the gurney. He frowned when he saw the extent of the damage. He moved forward, touching Dr. Hanover on the arm. "Will you have to operate?"

"Yes. The injury is severe and Iím very concerned about the nerves here." The doctor pointed at a ghastly looking patch of stringy flesh. "It could have easily took her head off if it had hit just a few inches higher. Just like Miles."

Spike walked around to the other side of the gurney and took a washcloth from the basin, rubbing away some of the blood and grime from her face. He glanced down at the IV in her hand. "Are you giving her pain medicine?"

"Weíre giving her morphine."

"And she wonít wake up while youíre slicing on her, right? If she wakes up Iíll make sure you donít."

The doctor smiled a little behind his mask. "No, weíll keep her under. It should take about an hour."

"Is there a possibility that she could lose this arm?" Angel asked.

"Sheís the bloody Slayer!" Spike snapped. "She heals faster than anyone alive."

"I think we can save it." Hanover motioned for another doctor to join him at the head of the bed. "We need to intubate her and get this bleeding under control. Why donít you both wait outside."

Angel nodded and headed for the door, but Spike hung back, leaning over her and kissing her softly on the lips before the tube could be inserted. "Iím here, baby," he whispered.

In what they all considered the Ďwaiting roomí, a comfortable beige room with a plasma television and plush leather furnishings, they found a frantic Dawn pacing back and forth. Colin, the young attorney that she had been seeing, gave them a pleading look and held up his hands in mock surrender. She spotted them and rushed across the room, staring from one to the other. "How is she?"

"Theyíre operating."

"What!?" Dawn cried. "Oh my god. Buffy has never had surgery. Not a real surgery! Riley stitched her up a couple of times and -- how bad is it?"

They explained as best they could, then sat down together. Colin, her boyfriend, reached forward, taking her hand and kissing it. "Sheíll be okay," he told her. "Sheís tough as hell."

"What the hell was she thinking?" Dawn asked. "What was she doing? She needs her ass kicked, the fucking idiot."

Spike stared at her, wide eyed. "Watch your mouth, Ďbit."

"It was stupid. It was stupid *and* dangerous."

Before Spike could reply, Angel cut him off. "Buffy has always let her heart dictate her actions. This wasnít different. Sheís going to be just fine."

They sat in silence for a while. Spike stared at the clock on the wall, watching as each minute ticked past, his aggravation and anger growing in leaps and bounds. It *had* been stupid and dangerous. In one breath she promised him forever and assured him that she loved him, but she still had an uncanny ability to cut him out of her life in the moments when she should lean on him. He had taken it in stride for the last time. If she survived, he would make damn sure she understood what they could lose.

After an hour and ten minutes, Spike stood and headed for the door. "Itís been too long."


The door opened, however, and Dr. Hanover entered. He motioned for Spike to join the others and sat next to him across from Angel. "Spike was right about her healing abilities. Once we began working on the tissue it seemed to fuse back together before our eyes. The damage was intense, but I feel itís safe to say that the extent of it doesnít come close to what we feared. It took quite a few stitches and weíve given her plenty of blood to compensate for the loss she suffered. Sheíll need a while in recovery and then she should be fully awake."

"I want to be there when she wakes up." Spike stood and left the room without a backward glance. He had a few things to make very plain to the Slayer.

~*~

"Spike?" She moaned, trying to flex her arm which was heavily bandaged and throbbing severely. "Spike. Hurts."

Spike gently caught her arm, easing it back down to the bed. He brushed her messy hair off her face and kissed her softly on the temple. "Donít try to move it, love."

Her eyes fluttered open and she found his face, trying to focus and make sense of where she was and what had happened. The worry on his handsome features added to the guilt she already felt. Little by little, the pieces of the day began to fit and she squeezed her eyes closed again, shaking her head. The tears came, hard and fast. She sat up, despite his attempts at keeping her on her back and wrapped her good arm around him. His embrace calmed her somewhat. She sniffled and leaned back, looking into his eyes. "Iím sorry."

Everything he had felt the entire day was renewed in that instant. She was sorry and it didnít make a difference to him. He was furious at her. "Damn you, Buffy, you better be," he ground out between clenched teeth.

His comment caught her off guard and her eyes filled with tears again. "I had to do it."

"You bloody well did NOT have to do it. You could have died. Do you understand that? Do you care?" Without thinking, he gripped both of her arms and she cried out. He swore and slid off the bed, putting several feet between them because he didnít trust himself not to shake her until her teeth rattled. "What the hell were you thinking?"

"I donít know."

"You donít know?! Then how can you be sorry?" Spike yelled. He stalked back to the bed and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him. "All you had to do was ask me and I would have helped. I would have been there."

"I needed to do it myself."

"What about what I needed?" He let her go and turned away from her, shoving his hands in his pocket to keep from throttling her. "You think Miles was just *your* friend? You think youíre the only one who cared enough to want a piece of that demon?"

"Youíre pissed because you didnít get a piece of it? Whose fault is that?" she yelled, bursting into fresh tears. "You didnít send him out there! I did!"

"I told you to!"

"Itís not the same!"

"Itís no different!"

"I donít want to fight with you."

"You know Iím right."

"It was something I had to do alone. Maybe you donít understand -"

"You want to be alone? I can leave."

Buffy cried even harder, choking out, "Why are you doing this? Why are you so mad at me?"

"Because you scared the hell out of me!" He turned and glared at her, ready to yell at her for an hour, but it was Buffy and he couldnít. She had her face buried in her one good hand and she seemed so fragile, so beaten, that he went to her. He pulled her against his chest and held on tight. "Donít ever do it again, Buffy. I swear if you do-"

"Donít say something you canít take back." She sniffled and looked up at him. "And donít be mad at me for doing what Iím supposed to do. I mean, Slayers always fight alone."

"You didnít go out there as a Slayer. You went out there as a friend. Donít confuse the two and donít pull the damn Slayer card every single time you do something stupid."

Any response that she could utter died in her throat when the door opened and Christine walked into the room. At barely five feet tall, she was one of the only people Buffy could claim to have a couple of inches on. Her dark hair was pulled back into a pony tail and her face was pale, her eyes red and puffy. The sweater that she wore dwarfed her and was easily recognizable as one of Milesí sweaters. She drew herself up to her full height and stared at Buffy. "I was planning to come in and yell at you, but I could hear Spike handling it. You did very well," she directed at Spike. To Buffy, she added, "You deserved it."

Spike stood, giving Christine a quick hug and speaking to her in a low voice. He turned back to Buffy, his face hard and unreadable as he said, "Iíll be back later."

Buffy opened her mouth to protest, but he was out the door before she could say anything at all. She glanced over at the other woman, but quickly looked away, unable to meet her eyes. The seconds crept by and neither said a thing. Finally, Buffy said, "Are you okay?"

Christine moved closer to the bed, staring at the bandages, reaching out to touch the IV in the back of Buffyís hand. "They said they operated."

"They did." Her voice was hoarse from the amount of crying she had done that day and it hurt from where the tube had been inserted. She cleared her throat, not sure what to make of the topic change. "I wanted to tell you that-"

"I already know, Buff." Christine sat on the edge of the bed and took Buffyís hand in hers. "Itís okay."

"You donít hate me?"

"Youíre an idiot." The dark haired girl smiled sadly. "The only thing I hate you for is trying to get yourself killed. Weíve had enough death to last forever."

"I know," Buffy replied.

Christine was silent for a while, then she said. "When are they letting you go?"

"They havenít been in to talk to me yet."

"Well, if they let you go in time, Iíd like for you to be a pall bearer."

Her eyes were as wide as saucers as Buffy processed the request. "A what?"

"Youíll have to use your good arm for it, but itís only right that youíre involved. Miles would have -" Christine suddenly broke down, sobbing hysterically. "liked that. He would have wanted you to do it."

Buffy hugged her with her good arm, unable to think of anything at all to say that would make it better.

*~*

She was released the next morning, and ignoring the doctorís orders to stay in bed for at least twenty four hours, Buffy spent most of the day helping Christine arrange the funeral. Christine jumped into the planning of it the same way she had planned her wedding, leaving no small detail ignored. Buffy found herself accepting the role as a pall bearer and being fitted for a pair of black slacks, a very slim black vest and coat over a midnight blue shirt. It was exactly what Christine had chosen for Miles to wear as well, and even though the coffin was to remain closed, Buffy could imagine how he would have looked in it.

Despite his promise to return the previous night, Spike never came back to see her. Dawn had visited and Angel had dropped by to bring her flowers and to give her a very harsh talking to that left her feeling even worse than she already did. He had insisted that she come into the office on Monday before she reported back to duty. Both visits had left her in tears and the fact that Spike never came back and didnít answer the phone prevented her from sleeping at all, no matter what pain medication they pumped into her veins.

When she had arrived at their apartment that morning, Spike was in the kitchen, drinking blood from a Pooh mug. Dawn had taken one look at Spike, handed Buffy her prescription bottles and left before Buffy could tell her goodbye. Buffy walked into the bedroom, noting that the bed had been made and set the bottles down. She didnít look at him as he entered the room and opened his closet door. She pulled fresh underwear from her drawer and went into the bathroom where she stripped and finally took a hot shower, submerging even her wounded shoulder under the water with no regard to what the doctor had suggested.


Spike had been gone when she emerged and she had spent the day with Christine.

Now, however, she had no place to go except back home. Her arm had begun to throb again and she was almost certain that a couple of stitches had popped open while she had been fitted for her suit. After her shower that morning she had hastily stuck extra large bandages over the incision instead of taking the time to wrap it with the gauze that she had been given. She would have needed help wrapping it and help couldnít be found.

She entered the apartment, very aware of how silent it was. The silence always came with death and she hated it. She flipped the television on, then turned it up a notch, satisfied that the noise would be a nice distraction. She kicked her shoes off and carried them into the bedroom. It was empty. She had half expected to find him napping and had envisioned herself crawling next to him, pretending that they hadnít endured the past twenty four hours at all. It was already dark outside and she realized, for the first time, that she had not eaten all day. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had ignored the food that had been laid out on Christineís kitchen table.

She put her shoes in the closet and slipped out of her jeans and shirt, dressing instead in sweat pants and a small tank top that left her stomach exposed. In the bathroom, she was shocked at how pale her face was and turned sideways, gasping when she saw that the bandages she had slapped on her arm were heavy and bulging with blood. They resembled leaches and she cringed when she gently pressed against one and felt the blood squish against her flesh. Only the adhesive was keeping it in and judging by how engorged the actual bandage was, that hold was fleeting. How had she not realized how bad the bleeding was? And why was it still bleeding anyway? She had gotten sliced in the stomach the day Spike had Ďdiedí and that had healed before they had reached Los Angeles in the shaky, dirty bus that had been their getaway car.

It would make a mess if she attempted to clean herself up at the sink so she stripped off and hopped into the shower where she wet the bandages to make the removal easier. The stitches had gotten caught up in the tape and she hissed as she felt a couple of them pop open. She worked until the water was cooling and the shower was streaked with blood. The water that swirled in the drain was completely red by the time the last of the bandages had come off. She sighed in relief and leaned back against the shower wall as dizziness rocked through her.

When her teeth chattered, she stepped from the shower and wrapped a towel around her arm as tightly as she could. She used one arm to dry herself and pull her clothes back on. Her face was even paler as she stared into the mirror and she leaned against the sink as her eyes refused to focus on anything. Something was wrong. She didnít know what it was, but something was definitely wrong with her.

After a while, the dizziness passed and she slowly began to unwrap the towel, which had soaked up even more blood. She turned and really looked at the wound. It was swollen and her skin had a sickly greenish tint to it around the incision. Bruising, she told herself. Itís just bruising. Taking her time, she dug through the first aid kit until she found the butterfly stitches and Ďglueí. She used the entire tube of glue trying to get the areas of the cut closed back up. She used a ton of tape and a box of sterile gauze to tightly wrap her arm like a mummy. It wasnít pretty, since she had done it one handed, but it seemed to be holding up and there was no blood leaking through that she could see.

She took three very strong pain pills and curled up on the bed, too exhausted to cry and feeling too sorry for herself to not want to.

*~*

Spike smelled her blood when he walked into the apartment. He put the Chinese food he had picked up on the kitchen counter and carried a vase of flowers that he had bought for her into the bedroom. The balloon said ĎIím sorryí and the small card that sat proudly amongst the roses said simply, "I didnít mean it, love". He turned the light on and saw her hair spread out on the pillow, peeking from beneath the comforter. He sat the flowers on the end table and eased the cover back.

She infuriated him. No one had ever gotten under his skin the way she did. And no one had every gotten into his heart the way she did either. The months that they had shared had been the best months of his life and while they had had their fair share of rocky moments, he wouldnít trade it. Even now, with his anger still strong enough to flare up inside of him, he loved her enough to be the one to apologize.

He watched her sleep for a few moments, loving the way she always curled on hand beneath her cheek. She had his pillow pulled against her and it moved him for some reason, thinking that she had used it as a substitute for him. He took one of the flowers from the vase and trailed it over her cheek. A small frown line appeared on her forehead and he grinned, moving it under her nose. She made a small sound in the back of her throat and rolled onto her back.

"Buffy?" He kissed her forehead, frowning at how warm she felt and how pale her skin was. He shook her, worried now. "Wake up, love."

She stirred a little, mumbling something about being tired. Spike eased the cover back, looking at her arm. The bandages were fresh and stopped at her elbow. He took her hand, noting how blue and swollen it looked. He shook her again, more insistent this time. "Come on, baby. Wake up."

With a moan, her eyelids fluttered open. "I love it when you call me that," she said softly.

"You donít look well. Are you okay?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"Are you still mad at me?"

Spike moved back a little and picked up the flowers, bringing them closer to her. "What do you think?"

She grinned and sat up, groaning as her arm protested and pain ripped through her. She caught the look of concern on Spikeís face and forced a smile, taking the single rose from his hand. "Itís okay"

"Youíve been bleeding."

"I changed the bandages."

"I would have-"

A little spark of anger flared in her. "You werenít here and you refused to speak to me this morning."

Spike pointed at the flowers. "You get that Iím sorry, right?"

"Why?"

"Why am I sorry?"

"No, why didnít you come back last night? Why didnít you come and get me this morning or answer your phone."

"You pissed me off when you said you wanted to do everything alone. I was leaving you alone."

Buffy felt her blood pressure rise. "I said I wanted to kill the demon alone. Not be alone."

"That way youíre feeling right now? Thatís how I felt yesterday when you left *me* alone to go after that demon."

"I said I was sorry."

Spike pointed at the balloon and said, "Then weíre even."

Buffy wanted more than anything for him to take her in his arms and promise that things would be fine. Instead, he went to the dresser, emptying his pockets of loose change and his wallet. "Where have you been?" she finally asked.

"Working."

"Angel said that weíre closed. What were you doing?"

"He came to see you?"

She nodded. "So what were you doing?"

"We got rid of what was left of the demon you destroyed."

The image of what she had done flashed in her head. It had taken her an hour to rid herself of the caked on blood in the shower. "Oh."

He softened a little as he watched her. The paleness of her skin was bothering him. "Remind me never to *really* piss you off, love."

"Too late." She gave him an almost smile and stood, stumbling a little as dizziness hit her again.

Spike was beside her in an instant, holding her around the waist. "Should I call the doc?"

"No." She took a couple of deep breaths and leaned against him. "I didnít remember to eat today. Thatís all it is."

He eased her back onto the bed, telling her to stay there. To avoid pissing him off any more than she already had, she complied and was grateful to him when he returned with a plate full of her favorite Chinese dish. He put a soda on the nightstand and watched as she ate a few bites. "Good?"

"Very. Thank you."

He told her he was going to grab a shower and that he didnít want her moving around much and went into the bathroom. He emerged seconds later, carrying the wastebasket. "Youíre still bleeding this bad?"

Buffy chewed slowly, mulling over her answer. If she told him that the bleeding was still horrific, heíd have her back at the infirmary. "I was fitted for a pall bearer suit today. I think I popped a couple of stitches. It looks worse than it is."

He put the trash can in the corner and moved around the bed. "Let me check it."

"Itís fine. It finally stopped hurting and I really donít want to irritate it again."

"You were fitted for a what?" He finally registered what she said.

"Christine wants me to be a pall bearer."

"Absolutely not. You just had surgery. And youíre a girl."

"I told her I would. And since when is being a girl enough to stop me from anything?"

He sat next to her, brushing her hair back behind her ear. "Are you sure you can take it? I mean, emotionally?"

She swallowed the rice she was eating, suddenly very full and very sick to her stomach. She reached past him, putting the plate beside the vase of flowers. She finally nodded. "I can do it."

He cupped her cheek and tilted his head to one side, making a study of her. "You donít always have to be the strongest. If you want to tell her no you can and no one would fault you for it."

"I donít want to tell her no." Buffy reached up, putting her hand on top of his. "And Iím not the strongest. I think Iíll die if you donít put your arms around me and tell me that weíre going to be fine."

He did.

~*~

Buffy woke up the next morning feeling like her head had been run over by a big truck. It throbbed, making her eyes water. She stumbled into the bathroom just in time to throw up in the toilet. Splashing cold water in her face, she stared at her features. Somehow her eyes appeared to be sunken, her cheeks hollow. Chalking it up to grief and worry, she brushed her teeth and applied enough makeup to give herself some color. Leaving her hair long and loose, she walked back into the bedroom and chose a long, black dress from her closet. The suit she would need to wear would be ready at five that afternoon.

Christine had opted to have a very quick funeral. The plans that she and Buffy had made the day before were detailed, but simple. Instead of a Ďviewingí day, which was normal, Miles would lie in the main ball room of Wolfram and Hart for twelve hours, allowing ample time for everyone to pass by the closed coffin. At six oíclock that night, they would proceed with a traditional service and then head to the cemetery. Christineís parents had argued about the nighttime ceremony and Milesí father had questioned it relentlessly, but Christine had explained about the Ďspecial needsí of some of the guests who were allergic to sunlight.

The zipper on the back of the dress presented a major problem for Buffy. She was relieved when Spike stepped up behind her and handled the situation. When she turned to thank him, her voice caught in her throat. He was wearing a black suit and a midnight blue shirt, identical to the one she had been fitted for.

Spike nodded. "She asked me, too."

"Do you know who else?"

"I know that Davies and Colin are doing it. I donít know if she chose four or six of us."

She tried not to cry as she considered it, but couldnít help herself. "This is going to be really hard."

"I know."

"I donít know how Iíll do it."

"*Weíll* do it."

She took a deep breath and nodded. "I guess we should go down and sign the book or something. I mean, the actual thing is hours away and my clothes arenít ready and -"

He took her hand and kissed the back of it. "If you need to leave or if it gets too hard just say the word."

"Okay."

They met Dawn and Colin at the elevator. Dawn looked pretty, her hair in a very adult french twist and wearing a dark grey suit and light pink shirt. She hugged Buffy, then Spike. "I canít believe the last time we all dressed up and met at the elevator was for their wedding."

Buffy, who had been telling herself not to cry the entire morning, remembered helping Miles look for his shoe the day of the wedding, remembered finding it under the edge of the bed and watching him hop towards her because he had heard it was bad luck to walk in one shoe ... and she lost it.

Spike nodded at Dawn and Colin as the elevator opened and said, "Go on. Weíll be down in a minute."

Buffy walked down the hallway, trying to reign in her emotions. Spike walked behind her. He gave her enough space to let her breathe, but stayed close enough to let her know he was there. After a good five minutes had passed, he said, "Miles would understand if you couldnít do this."

"He would, but I wouldnít." Buffy composed herself and wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her dress. "Youíd think Iíd be good at this death thing after having so much practice."

"Some things only get harder the more you do it."

"When did you become Wisdom Guy?"

"Iíve always had wisdom, you just chose to pretend that I didnít. Like, when I wanted us to be together and you said Ďoh no, my friends wouldnít approveí or when you tried to dance yourself into a flaming mess and I had to stop you and sing those very smart, very full of wisdom lines about living or when you were drinking your weight in cheap liquor and I-"

"It wasnít cheap and I get the point."

He smiled at her. "Iím glad that I didnít have to bring up the whole Soldier-Boy thing because I knew that wouldnít work out from the get go. And it makes me mad as hell to think about it."

She actually laughed, something she thought wasnít possible. "Good one."

"I could go on, but I donít think I need to."

"You really donít."

He offered her his arm. "Ready?"

"Stay right with me, okay?"

"Absolutely, love. Iím not going anywhere."

*~*

Buffy gripped the handle on the dark blue coffin and gritted her teeth, trying not to think about the precious cargo inside. She had been crying almost hysterically when the choir had finished singing and the director motioned for the pall bearers to rise and take their places. Spike had leaned in, telling her that she didnít have to participate, she could just walk next to them, but she had reached for the handle with her black gloved hand and nodded at the others.

As they carried the coffin down the long center aisle that had been created by rows of chairs, she felt Angel reach out and give her hand a reassuring squeeze, the one that lay limply at her side, throbbing with renewed persistence. The pain had become as constant as the agony she felt and she had slipped away to take a couple of pain pills earlier in the day. They had not taken the edge off. She glanced at Angel, inclining her head slightly as fresh tears burned in her eyes. They spilled over as they all stepped into the cool night air and she stared at the hearse that sat waiting for its priceless freight.

For a moment, she thought her legs would buckle as Christinaís wails began again behind her. She felt Davies put a reassuring hand on her back and glanced at Spike, who was across the coffin, but directly beside her. They had been positioned at the very front, leading side by side. Spike raised an eyebrow and she looked away, focusing on the lining of the hearse. Gently, as delicately as she could, she lifted the coffin as high as her arm would allow, to get it inside the car. Her corner bumped the edge and she instinctively brought her bad arm around, using it to lift it the rest of the way.

Davies made a sound behind her, trying to tell her that he had it, but she used both arms and then moved back so the others could walk it in the rest of the way. Massaging her shoulder, she watched as Spike shut the door and turned to her. "Are you okay? Did you hurt it?"

"I donít think so." she lied, trying to keep her face as blank as possible as pain radiated through her.

"I told you-" He stopped himself before an argument started and hugged her. "You were perfect. You did a good job."


Christine walked up and took Buffyís hand. "You can ride with me. Both of you."

Buffy nodded and they followed her to the limousine. Both sets of parents were inside, so they moved to the nose of the car and sat side by side. Buffy leaned her head against Spikeís shoulder as the car eased away from the curb, following behind the hearse. He could feel the fever through his jacket and touched her forehead, then lifted her hand and gasped. It was so swollen that her fingernails looked like they should snap from the nail beds.

"Somethingís wrong with me," she whispered, then stopped him as he leaned toward Christine, obviously about to tell her that they needed out of the car. "Donít. I can do it."

She made it through the service and all the way back to the car before she fainted.

*~*

Spike still wore his suit and as he paced back and forth across the small expanse of the Ďwaiting roomí, but he yanked off the tie he had worn and shoved it into the pocket of his jacket. Fred rushed in, looking frazzled and out of sorts as she dropped a big box full of folders into a chair. "That blade on the end of the demonís tail isnít a blade at all. Itís a fang that it uses to inject venom into the victimís blood stream to make them weak enough for it to eat them."

"Like a snake?" Dawn asked, picking up the top most folder and glancing inside. "Eww. Itís ugly."

"Whatís the antidote?" Angel picked up a folder for himself and flipped through it.

"Weíre mixing it up now. Weíre waiting on one last ingredient, but Wesley has gone to get it."

"What is it?"

"Some belladonna from the Magic Center."

"What can this venom do to her?" Spike glanced over Dawnís shoulder at the contents of her folder. "And how did she miss this information?"

"Well, it should have technically killed her," Fred replied. "Iím thinking the reason it didnít was because she lost so much invenomated blood and received so much fresh blood in the operating room. It must have diluted the poison. Plus, sheís a Slayer and her composite may be such that she canít be affected the way it would affect me or Dawn. And she didnít miss it. Somewhere along the way the information we had about it got mixed up with another demonís file. It was all just a clerical error."

"Well, the clerical staff needs to be fired," Spike growled.

"Excuse me!" Dawn shot back. "I actually need my job and half the time the paperwork we get in is a jumbled up mess and it takes us hours to try to sort it."

"Then try harder! You almost got your sister killed!"

"I didnít do this file, Spike! Iíve never even heard of it! Sheís the one who went after it half cocked! Why donít you blame her!?"

"I have been blaming her, Ďbit! Itís been hell between us!"

"When will the antidote be ready?" Angel asked Fred, moving around the bickering duo.

"As soon as Wesley gets back."

Angel nodded at the others. "Iíll go call him."

Spike sat down in the chair closest to the box and began rifling through the contents. He was ashamed of himself for not noticing that Buffy had quite a few of the symptoms that had been described in detail in the literature. He had been too busy being furious with her, something he was feeling more often than not lately. What had happened to them?


Angel returned a few minutes later. "They giving it to her now."

"It should work instantly if itís going to make a diff-" Fred trailed off, apparently realizing what she was saying. "Itíll work," she added hastily. "No worries."

Fifteen minutes went by and the door opened. Everyone was shocked to see Buffy standing there, looking none the worse for wear. Her color had returned and the bandages were off her arm completely. She held it up, posing like a muscle man and burst out laughing, leaning against the door jamb as she cackled. In the very next instant, she was sobbing hysterically. Spike looked at Fred, who shrugged and said, "The antidote is also called ĎBottled Euphoriaí. But the belladonna was really fresh and that can cause some serious mood swings." She looked over at Buffy who was laughing again, hugging Dawn and punching Colin affectionately on the shoulder so hard that he fell backwards. "Maybe you better get her away from people."

"Great," Spike replied. "While I try to take Sybil upstairs why donít you see if you can find out how long this will last."

~*~

By the time Monday morning arrived, Buffy was completely back to normal. Wolfram and Hart had reopened, but the dreaded silence that accompanied death had carried over into the new day. As she headed for the meeting Angel had requested, all conversation around her ceased. Even Harmony, who usually gave an unwanted critique of Buffyís outfit or hair, moved out of the way and silently watched her pass. It put Buffy in a foul disposition and as she emerged from the elevator and headed toward Angelís office, she was openly glaring at people.

She knocked on Angelís door and he motioned her in, shutting the blinds as she took a seat across from him. "What did you want to see me about?"

"How are you feeling?"

"Iím perfectly fine."

"No side effects?"

"Iím pretty sure I ate an entire tub of ice cream and tried to talk Spike into shaving his head and cried when he wouldnít, but other than that Iím peachy."

He smiled a little, reminded of the time in Sunnydale that she had used that same word to describe herself. She had been anything but peachy at the time, given the fact that she was being plagued by nightmares of the Master. He forced himself not to remember that time and place. "Iím sorry that youíve been through this."

"Whatís that saying? If it doesnít kill me it makes me happier?"

"Stronger. If it doesnít kill you it makes you stronger."

"So thatís why Iím so damn strong." She shrugged a little. "So, whatís up?"

"We need to discuss your actions the other day."

"We already did. You yelled at me for ten minutes in my hospital room."

"I yelled at you as a friend. Now I have to address it as your boss."

A flutter of nervousness ran through her and she bit her bottom lip. "Wolfram and Hart was closed when I fought the demon."

"Thatís exactly right and thatís where I have a problem. You went against me and my orders. I said that Wolfram and Hart would be closing out of respect to Miles and you still took it upon yourself to-."

"I went there as the Slayer. Not as the manager of Assassination."

"Well, the manager of Assassination is suspended with pay pending a psych evaluation."

She forced herself to close her mouth, which had dropped open as he spoke to her. "You have got to be kidding me. Youíre punishing me for doing my job?"

"Your job was to manage your department which you did not do."

"How the hell does that translate into a psych evaluation?"

"Itís standard procedure. You worked the closest with Miles and have obviously been affected by it."

"Anyone who knew him is affected by it! Is everyone in the department going to go through this?"

Angel stared at her for several seconds, then shook his head. "Everyone in your department didnít do what you did, Buffy. You could have died. Davies will take over in your absence. Your evaluation will take place within the week and if they say that youíre fine then you can return to work next Monday." He waited for her to reply. She didnít so he picked up a file on his desk and opened it. "Thatís all. You can go."

Wordlessly, Buffy stood and turned on her heel. The anger she felt was vivid enough to make her shake and there were a million things sheíd like to say, but she bit her tongue. As she reached for the door knob, he spoke again. "No one knows that youíre suspended. They think youíre taking a short leave due to what happened."

"Tell them the truth, Angel. Iíd rather them know that youíre a fucking jackass than think that Iím too weak and pathetic to come back to work." With that, she slammed out of the office and for once, the silence that followed her to the elevator was the last thing on her mind.

~*~

"Itís a little early in the day for something that strong, isnít it? Itís barely ten a.m."

Buffy glanced to her left. Lorne, Angelís demon friend who owned the bar she was currently sitting at, had moved the purse she strategically placed in the seat next to her to avoid company. "Not when itís the kind of day Iíve had," she replied.

"Well, to bad days then." He lifted his own glass of water in a mock toast.

Buffy lifted her drink, tipped it in his direction, and downed the contents. It burned all the way to her stomach and she set the empty glass back on the bar with a grimace. "I havenít had a drop in months."

"Should I be stopping you? Telling your boss that youíre drinking on the clock?"


Buffy motioned for the bartender to fill her glass again. "No. And I donít want you telling Spike either."

"Ooh, sounds bad, precious. Trouble in paradise?"

"Paradise is perfect. Itís the rest of the damn world that needs to piss off." She tossed back the next, more liberal, helping of cognac and made a face. "I had forgotten what this junk tastes like."

Lorne shook his head at the bartender as he started to refresh her glass again. "I heard about Miles. He was a good one. Used to come and sing on the weekends."

"He liked to sing when we patrolled, too."

The bartender laid the bill on the table and Lorne glanced down at it, eyes widening. The Slayer had downed seven shots in the thirty minutes she had been inside the bar. He watched as she dug through her pocket and pulled out a crumpled fifty dollar bill and laid it on the counter. When she reached for her purse, he caught her arm. "You really donít need to drive."

"Unless Wolfram and Hart has moved in the time Iíve been gone, Iím walking back across the street."

"Why donít you favor us with a song?"

"Trust me, Lorne, you donít want to get inside my head."

"Sometimes singing is the best therapy in the world."

Buffy glanced up at the stage. Spike had tried repeatedly to get her to sing for The Host since she had returned to Los Angeles, but she had refused each time, saying that she had done enough singing in Sunnydale to last her a lifetime. A part of her wanted to, wanted to stand up and lay herself bare for the demonís perusal. She wanted to find out what life had in store for her. "What do you see when people sing for you?"

"Itís always different. Sometimes I see their fears, their passions. Sometimes I see glimpses of their future or relive the pain in their past. It can be an emotional ride."

"Does it matter what the person sings?"

"Not at all."


She surveyed the deserted bar and shrugged, beginning to feel the effects of the cognac. "Why the hell not?"

"Excellent." Lorne stood, pulling her barstool back for her.

Buffy followed him up to the stage and took the hand he extended as she climbed the six stairs. He handed her a book, telling her to choose her poison, but she handed it back to him and pointed to the piano. "May I?"

"You play?"

"Once upon a time, my parents entertained the notion that I would be a famous concert pianist. They forced me to take lessons from birth."

"Are you any good?"

"I used to be. Hell, itís like riding a bike, right?"

"Youíre a woman of many talents." He lifted the lid on the piano and eased the microphone stand down into the correct position. "Trip the light fantastic, babycakes."

Buffy sat down, stroking her fingertips along the ivory keys. She glanced out at all the empty chairs and found Lorne sitting midway in the room. "Any requests?"

"Whatever turns you on."

Taking a deep breath, she began to play a slow, familiar tune that her mother used to beg her to play and sing: ĎYesterdayí by the Beatles. Closing her eyes, it was easy to imagine that she was a little girl again, needing phonebooks under her bottom to raise her high enough to press the keys on the old black piano that had belonged to her grandmother. With each word that she sang, she could imagine her motherís face, beaming at her from across the room. She could imagine Miles singing, badly, with her on patrol. She envisioned a million yesterdays in Sunnydale with her friends, back when the weight of the world had been heavy, but theyíd propped her up under the pressure. God, how she missed them all. How she missed her old life.

As the song ended, Lorne was snapped from his reverie by the bartender clapping loudly. Blotting the tears from his eyes, Lorne stood and walked back to the stage. For someone so unbelievably strong and tough, the writings on her heart and soul were painful to behold. He had known that she had suffered in her short life, but nothing prepared him for the glimpses of what she had endured as a Slayer, as a friend, as a child, as a lover. Most of all, he had been shattered by the glimpse of what was to come for her, something only she had the power to prevent. Taking her hand, he helped her down the stairs, noting the way she wobbled on her feet.

Buffy smiled at him. "It was bad, right? Bad enough to make you cry."

Lorne sniffled. "No. It was beautiful. Sit with me for a moment."

She complied, sitting across from him and propping her chin on the palm of her hand. Her mind was fuzzy, the alcohol clearly working to rid her of the pain, just as she had known it would. "So what crazy things did you see?"

"Youíve had more pain and suffering than anyone Iíve ever read." Lorne leaned forward a little, taking her hand. "But youíve also loved more and better than anyone Iíve read, too. Youíre unlike anyone Iíve ever seen. But, you should know that big things are about to happen. Iím not completely sure of what, but I saw you on the beach, fighting a demon, alone. It was killing you, Buffy, and you were trying so hard not to let it, but it was. It will. Donít fight alone. No matter what, donít fight anything alone. You run if something attacks you."

"Run?"

"I mean it, kitten. I know it goes against your nature to haul ass, but something nasty this way comes."

"What kind of demon was it?"

"Big. Ugly. And with pieces of you all over it."

Buffy stood, reaching past him for her purse. "In other words, Angel is really trying to drive home the fact that I donít work alone, right? He told you to tell me this?"

Lorne shook his head. "I canít control what I see. I wish there was a white picket fence in your future and maybe there will be if you listen to me, and get through this. Donít go out alone. Not for a while."

"How long is a while? Is there a time frame on your visions?"

"Give it a week and then sing for me again."

"Fine," Buffy said absently. "Whatever. I need to go."

"Come back in a week," Lorne called after her as she staggered for the front door. "One week! I mean it!"

*~*

Spike could hear her retching when he opened the door. Frowning, he dropped his jacket and made his way to the hallway bathroom where she was praying to the porcelain so fiercely that he half expected her pass out from lack of oxygen. The smell of alcohol was strong and he leaned over, flushing the toilet of its contents as another round of nausea hit her and she rose to her knees to empty the remaining contents of her stomach.

He wet a washcloth and moved behind her, pulling her hair back and wiping down her face. She moaned. "Oh god. Iím dying."

"Serves you right." Spike held her hair as she dry heaved a while longer, then she slumped back down, resting her forehead on the rim of the toilet. He said, "Iím gonna let you have this one, love, but we are not going down this road again. Alcohol isnít a cure-all and Iíll be damned-"

"You canít yell at someone who is sick!"

"Do you want me to show you what yelling is?"

"No." She sniffed, holding her hand out for the washcloth which he gave to her. "I really donít."

"How much did you drink?"

Buffy shrugged. "No more than I used to. It just hit me all at once."

"ĎUsed toí being the key words there. Itís been a while. Did you eat breakfast?"

"No."

"Where did you get it?"

"Lorne." Buffy moaned again and adjusted her weight, trying to find a more comfortable position. "What time is it?"

"Almost noon. You want to tell me why you did this?"

"Angel is an asshole. I hate him."

"If everyone who hated Angel got shit faced then weíd all be drunk all the time."

"I donít want to talk about it."

"He told me what happened, Buffy. He said he suspended you with pay."

"Talk about kicking someone while theyíre down. Heís such a prick."

"You do realize that you deserved that and more, right?"

"What?" She looked up at him so quickly that it made her dizzy and she had to puke again. Spent, she moved away from the toilet and sat with her back against the bathtub, her knees drawn to her chest. "Donít talk to me."

"Youíre not in any position to demand anything. You got what was coming to you! You have got to learn, sooner or later, that there are consequences-"

"Will you stop channeling Giles!? If I needed to hear this shit I would call him!"

"And the problem is that you wonít listen to him either!"

"Shut up! Do you not see that Iím miserable?"

"I do see it and Iím enjoying it."

"Leave me alone."

"Right! How could I have forgotten that you want to be alone. You want to slay demons alone. You want to drink alone. You only want me around when itís convenient for you. I hope you drank to old times this morning, Buffy, because thatís right back where we are."

"Spike, I didnít-"

Saying nothing, Spike turned on his heel and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Feeling sorrier for herself than she had in a while, Buffy curled up on the floor and willed the room to stop spinning.

*~*~

Buffy emerged from the bathroom, freezing cold and clear headed several hours later. She had slept on the cold linoleum, balled up against the chill. It surprised her to think that he hadnít covered her up, had not taken her to their bed. He always thought of her comfort first. Body stiff, she walked down the hallway and into their shared bathroom where she brushed her teeth, rinsed with mouthwash for a good ten minutes, and grabbed a quick shower.

She emerged, dressed in flannel pajama bottoms and a baby tee, to find him sitting in the living room. She had dried her hair and pulled it back from her face in a long ponytail. She sat next to him on the couch, tucking her bare feet under her. He didnít acknowledge her and stared at the television instead. She hit the mute button on the remote in his hand and waited patiently.

"What?" he said finally.

She put her hand on his face and made him look at her. "I love you, Spike, and Iím really sorry."

He stared into her eyes for a long while, then kissed her softly on the mouth. "Me too."

"Do you really think I only want you here when itís convenient?"

"I was mad when I said that. I didnít mean it."

"You feel loved, right? I mean, you feel wanted and important to me? Because Iíve never been really good at love and I tend to screw everything up and people leave and I would die if you -"

He kissed her again, silencing her. "Itís okay. Iím not going anywhere. I know that you love me. I have the letters you wrote me to prove it and you drilled that into my head when you came to Los Angeles to bury your mum. I havenít forgotten." He caught a tear that spilled down her cheek. "Weíre learning as we go, love. Weíre bound to make mistakes and itís going to be hard sometimes, but all the good things are hard to get and harder to keep."

"I hate the way itís been between us the past few days."

"I do, too, but itís okay now." He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her against his chest, kissing the top of her head. "I love you, Buffy, even when you annoy the hell out of me or make me mad enough to kill you."

"Do you love me enough to order a pizza?"

Spike laughed out loud. "I see how you are. Play on my emotions to get dinner."

Buffy grinned at him as he picked up the phone and dialed the numbers. When the pizza was ordered, she slipped across his lap and thoroughly kissed him. "I have the entire week off. What will I do to pass the time?"

"Me."

"I should get started then." Sitting back, she pulled her t-shirt over her head and let it fall to the floor.

Spike reached up to cup one of her breasts, but she pushed his hand away. His jaw tightened as she slid off his lap and slowly pulled the tie in her drawstring pants. Shaking his head, he caught her hands in one of his and pulled the tie with his teeth. "You made me watch you last time. That wonít happen again."

She shivered a little in anticipation as he hooked his fingers in the waistband and pushed her pants, and her panties, over her slender hips, kissing her exposed flesh as he went. Staring down at him, she watched as he nipped her pelvic bone, then circled her belly button with his skilled tongue. He glanced up, catching her eye and winking at her as he urged her to step from her pants and move to the sofa. She needed no coaxing. Naked, she lay back against the cool leather and arched her back as he skimmed the flat of his hand along her ribcage, then down her thigh.

Her legs fell apart, a silent plea for him to touch her where she needed it the most, but he pointedly ignored the invitation and moved lower, massaging first one foot, then the other. He kissed her knees, her ankles, her calves and thighs, until her body was tingling with need and moisture pooled at her center. He put his hand on her belly, holding her down when she attempted to rise up and pull him down, and he silenced her protests with a deep kiss.

"Please," she moaned, breathless.

Tugging one of her nipples with blunt teeth, he dipped his hand between her legs and slid his fingers against her wet flesh. She rotated her hips, pushing up against the friction, then cried out as he pulled his hand away. "Spike!"

He stood up next to the sofa and tugged his shirt off, then attempted to unbutton his pants, but his own arousal had left him shaking and he fumbled the button twice before she sat up and deftly worked the fasten and zipper. His erection sprang free as she shoved his pants down and he started to kick them out the way, then froze as she took him into her small, hot mouth. "Bloody hell." His eyes crossed and he threw his head back.

Buffy wrapped her hand around him, tightening her grip as his hips began to move against her. Suddenly, he was yanking her to her feet. He laid on his back in the floor and motioned for her to come to him. She knew without words what he wanted. She sat on his face, looking toward his feet and cried out as he tongue lashed against her aching flesh. Leaning forward, she took him into her mouth again, trying to make him feel as good as she did.

Her orgasm came so fast that she wasnít prepared for it. He was in the back of her throat when it hit and she cried out, her tonsils vibrating against him which forced him to join her. She swallowed, taking him and his spendings further down her throat. Slowly, she eased back, letting him slide from her mouth and licked the tip of his cock, still pumping him. She squealed a little when he gripped her hips and pushed her forward, rising behind her and slamming himself into her.

On her knees, she leaned against the sofa, burying her face against the leather as he slammed into her. He grabbed her ponytail, pulling her upright so he could slip his hand around them and massage her clit, which has swollen again despite her recent release. Still gripping her hair, he drove into her, hard and fast while his hand did things to her that she had never experienced before.

She reached behind her, clutching at his thigh as she came again, his name a hoarse cry on her lips. He let go of her hair and let her fall back against the sofa. His flesh slapped against hers and the feel of her vaginal muscles grasping and spasming sent him over the edge. He shoved into her one last time and stayed there, buried as deeply as he could go. Leaning over her, he closed his eyes as his own release pulsated through him.

"Oh, god," Buffy moaned a few seconds later. "I canít move."

"I donít want you to move."

"You gave me carpet burns."

"And you enjoyed every second of it."

~*~

Despite the sadness she still felt about losing Miles and the anger she had towards Angel, the next two days passed quietly and without drama. She had cleaned the apartment, watched more television than she could stand, and spent a lot of time with Christine, who had decided that she wanted to take some time off from work and go back home to Nevada for a few weeks. Buffy wasnít sure how she felt about her friendís decision, but had spent Wednesday night helping her pack her suitcase and throw everything away in the refrigerator.

On Thursday morning, the phone pulled her from the nap she had been indulging in on the sofa. "Hello?"

"Buffy, itís Angel."

She contemplated hanging up, instead she said, "What do you want?"

"Your evaluation has been scheduled for three oíclock this afternoon."

She checked her watch. It was just after ten a.m.. "Where?"

"My office."

"Will *you* be there?"

"Not if you donít want me to be."

"I donít."

"Fair enough."

"Do I need to bring anything? Hair samples? Urine? A pound of flesh?"

"No. And could you not bring the attitude either?"

She hung the phone up and sat it on the table, wringing her hands as she contemplated the next few hours.

Salvation came in the form of Christine, who rang the bell and slipped past Buffy when she opened the door. "Whatís up?" Buffy asked as she joined her on the sofa.

"Can you drive me to the airport?"

"Sure," Buffy replied instantly. "Why?"

"I just canít stand the thought of not having anyone there to see me off. Milesí parents left already and my folks went home the night we buried him. You donít mind, right? I mean, I know traffic will probably be a bitch this time of day."

"Hey, if you can tolerate my driving weíll be fine." Glancing at the clock again, she added, "I have to be back by three, though. What time does your flight leave?"

"It leaves at one. Youíll be back in time."

Unbidden, Lorneís warning flashed through her mind. ĎDonít go out alone. At least not for a while.í It was broad daylight, her mind reasoned, The creepy crawlies usually came out with the moon. Still, she felt uneasy about the prospect of being by herself after such an ominous admonition and hung back, grabbing her cell phone off the charger and checking the bars. She had two. It wasnít a full battery, but it should be enough for the rest of the day. She called Spike, letting him know what she was doing and about the evaluation that would take place that afternoon. He offered to ride with her and wait in the car, since all cars at Wolfram and Hart blocked out the sun, but she had politely declined. If something was going to happen in broad daylight he couldnít go there with her. And she would not let him die trying.

Buffy was unable to accompany Christine to the gate due to post 9/11 security so she had to be content to hug her, cry with her, and wave her off with the crowds of other people who stood clustered together near the escalators. She hung around, watching the departure board, and was satisfied that Christineís flight had gone on schedule with her friend on board. Going into the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and dried it, then went into a stall.

She was finishing her business when a low, raspy whisper caught her attention. She ceased her movements and tilted her head to one side. It sounded like someone was in the stall to her left, speaking in low hisses that she couldnít understand. She was about to lean down and look at their shoes when someone in the stall on her right responded, in that same, gravelly tone and she heard one unmistakable word in the jumble of alien jibberish. "Slayer."

Trying to appear as though nothing was out of the ordinary, she stood, pulling her pants up, keeping her eye on the floor lest something reach under and try to pull her feet out from under her. The whispering abruptly halted and she waited, silently, to see if they would make a move. Someone came into the bathroom with a small child who was protesting loudly about something to do with ice cream and Buffy quickly unlocked the door and stepped out, watching as a young mother led a small boy into an empty stall at the end.

She leaned down, looking under the stalls just in time to see a very human foot encased in a pair of pink flip flops disappear upward in the stall that had been next to hers. Moving a little to the side, Buffy glanced between the cracks of the door. She couldnít see anyone which was impossible since she had just seen someoneís foot. In confusion, she turned and started back toward the door, then froze, not believing her eyes.

There, in the mirror, was a girl with flip flops and ratty hair.

She would have appeared human except for one thing.

She was balanced on the top edge of the stall, squatting like an animal about to spring at her. Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but the girl put her finger to her lip and smiled. "Slayer," she hissed softly, barely audible, but undoubtedly there.

Then she exploded, sending blood and flesh all over the Slayer in question and the woman and child who had emerged in time to scream in shock.

*~*~

Buffy gave her statement to the police and allowed the paramedics to fawn over her, worrying over the small cut on her forehead from a piece of the door that had flown at her during the blast, effectively downing her. She refused to go to the hospital and was relieved when they stopped badgering her. A cop wrapped her in a blanket, and led her through the crowd of people toward the police escort out front. Reporters kept thrusting microphones in her face, screaming questions at her, and by the time she made it halfway to the car she was in tears, both from nerves and the actual ordeal. She leaned her face against the officer, who lifted the blanket a little higher to help hide her and put a protective arm around her, yelling at the reporters to give her some room.

The young woman and the little boy were on the seat next to her. Buffy stuck out her hand, "Iím Buffy."

"Feefee," the little boy said and shocked her by climbing into her lap and hugging her.

"Oh, sorry! He never meets a stranger." The woman made a move to get the little boy, but he drew back, opening his mouth to cry.

"Itís okay." Buffy wrapped her arms around him, taking a little comfort in his presence. "Whatís his name?"

"God, youíd think my manners blew up in that bathroom. Thatís Jameson and Iím Melissa Rainey."

"How old is he?"

"Just turned three."

Jameson reached up, touching the necklace Buffy wore. "What that, Feefee?"

"That was a present from my boyfriend." Holding the chain, she let him finger the little charms there, a silver B and a gold S. "Can you say Buffy?"

"Feefee. You my Feefee."

It felt stupid to grin from ear to ear, especially considering that they were all covered in glops of dead girl, but thatís exactly what she did. They made small talk and convinced Jameson to strap into the seatbelt while the car pulled away from the curb. Safely on the interstate, Buffy felt immense relief to see that none of the reporters had been allowed to follow her. Hopefully her identity would remain a secret and she could concentrate on figuring out what the hell had just happened. She gave the officer directions and finally called Spike, telling him that she was almost home. They stopped only once, to let Melissa and Jameson get into another police car that would take them home.

Jameson lingered. "Bye bye, Feefee."

"Bye, Jameson. Be a good boy." Buffy waved out the back glass as they made their way back to the freeway and Wolfram and Hart.

When she gave the officer the code to enter the parking deck, she saw a small crowd had gathered at the elevator, clearly waiting for her. She groaned until the car moved closer and she realized that it was her friends. Dawn, Colin, Angel, Fred and Spike all rushed forward as one, helping her from the car. Dawn didnít even fuss about the state of Buffyís clothing as she hugged her, getting an alarming amount of gore on her pretty white shirt.

Spike had stayed back a little, allowing Dawn the opportunity to see for herself that Buffy was okay, then he stepped forward and held her, closing his eyes. "Youíre killing me, love."

"This time wasnít my fault," she replied, hugging him as Fred patted her on the back.

Angel thanked the officer and joined the others in the elevator, studying Buffy closely. He gently touched the bandage on her forehead. "How bad are you hurt?"

"Iím fine." She pulled the blanket a little tighter. "It wasnít a bomb. There was this girl and she looked human, but I donít think she was. She kept whispering really low in a language that I didnít understand, but she said Slayer. Twice. And she looked right at me before she went boom."

"Why do you think she wasnít human?" Fred asked.

"Because of how she sounded. And she was doing a really other worldly balancing act on the top of the bathroom stalls. And hello, the last time I checked normal people didnít blow up."

Spike and Angel glanced at one another. Angel said what they were both thinking. "Or maybe she was a messed up kid who wanted to make a statement, protest the war or something."

"She called me Slayer. I heard her, Angel."

"Buffy youíve been through a lot in the past few days. Itís possible that you -"

The elevator door opened Buffy stepped out on her floor. "I know what I heard and what I saw, Angel. If you still need to give me a psych evaluation to prove that Iím not crazy thatís fine, but we have to find out what this thing is. She wasnít alone. There were voices whispering on either side of me and I donít think this is the end of it."

Spike joined her and put an arm around as the elevator door closed. "Come on, love."

He led her to their place, then into the bathroom, where he peeled the blanket and layers of clothes from her and started the shower. She stepped inside and gasped when he joined her, fully clothed. "Spike, what are -"

"Shhh." He moved her under the spray of water and ran his hands over her hair, massaging away the dried blood. Staring down at her, he was overwhelmed by the emotions that ran through him. The prospect of losing her was always in the back of his head, bugging him, making him worry that every second with her could be the last. Coming so close in the past few days was terrifying and the magnitude of it was finally sinking in. He felt his eyes well with tears and leaned against her. "I thought I told you not to scare me again."

"Iím really trying to work on that, Spike."

"Work a little harder, love."

Buffy let him bathe away the remnants of the day. Something in his face bothered her, something in his eyes as he inspected every inch of her for himself made her uneasy.

And the last thing she needed was another reason to feel uneasy.

*~*

Her face was plastered all over the news and she groaned as the phone rang again, sending a slash of pain through her head. So far it had been people from Wolfram and Hart, telling her to turn on the television or asking her if the media knew who she was and so far, no one had leaked her name. Every time the phone rang, however, she feared the worst. "Hello?"

"Buffy, my god! Are you all right?"

"Hey, Giles. Iím okay. Iím sorry I didnít call you last night. It was kinda hectic."

"Youíve been all over the world news."

"Why would it be showing over there?"

"Well, they think terrorists hit the airport. Do you agree with that?"

Buffy told him everything she had witnessed and listened quietly while he mumbled to himself. He asked a couple of questions about the appearance of the young girl and asked if Buffy could give him a demonstration of the sounds she made. Buffy did what she considered to be a pretty good imitation and listened as he rattled off what she had told him to someone else.

"Howís the gang?" she asked, when she heard Willow in the background.

"Theyíre fine. Weíve all been a bit overtaxed with a couple of feuds going on amongst the Slayers."

"The Slayers are fighting each other?"

"Not an all out war by any means, but there has been hair pulling and gossip. You know how girls are."

"Hundreds of mini-meís running around ... I canít say Iím sorry to miss it."

Willow began speaking in rapid fire in the background and Giles asked Buffy to hold on. When he came back on the line he said, "Are you near the computer?"

"Yes."

"Weíre going to email you some photos that Willow is currently scanning. Take a look at them and see what you think."

Buffy agreed, promised that she would try to visit as soon as possible, and went into the bedroom to find the laptop. She contented herself to search online, looking at upcoming movies and some music reviews, while she waited for the email to arrive. Five minutes passed before it finally appeared in her inbox. She quickly opened the attachments, waiting for them to load completely.

Another five minutes passed as she sat in stunned silence and stared at the face that had been burned into her memory.

The young girl who had blown herself into a thousand pieces was smiling back at her in the photo, looking exactly like she had in the bathroom at the airport. She looked at the next file, then the next, gasping each time she did so. There were at least fifteen photos of the girl, all with the same hair, the same cherubic face, but there were differences in the teeth, the nose, the eyes that made her realize that they were all different, yet the same.

She clicked out of the attachment and read through Gilesís email.

Buffy,

Is this the girl you witnessed? If so, itís not just one girl as you may have gleaned from the photos. No one is sure where they originate, but the demonology tomes are full of accounts of the havoc they wreak. They are a type of fairy and not the kind that has been portrayed in Disney movies, although Iím fairly certain Walt Disney was a witch since he included so much of what is real into his stories. That, however, is a conversation for another day.

Fairies can be deadly. This particular sort is called the En Kindle. They explode, as you are well aware, when they reach a certain age or when they have been assigned the task of killing someone. Most of the times, news reports call it Spontaneous Human Combustion, but in all cases, the En Kindle has to be physically touching the victim. Itís possible that she would have reached under the stall and grabbed you or leaped upon you. I imagine that she simply ran out of time and nature forced her to erupt before she was able to attack you.


Know this ... once they set their sights on someone and fail, they will attack again. The attacks come in threes, as most things do, and if you survive the third and final, the task is complete and they will deem you worthy of life. They may not attack you as what they are, however. They can shift their shape and employ various other demon breeds who are enamored with them to do their bidding.

Working in your favor is the fact that they only have six days to complete the second and third attempts. If they cannot reach you or draw you out, theyíll move on. Not working in your favor is the fact that the woman and child who were in the room with you at the time of the explosion will likely garner their attention.

Call me if you have any questions. I hope that I have explained it fully.


Get some rest. Youíll need it.

Giles

Buffy read the email through a couple more times and then printed everything. Carrying it under her arm, she made her way to the office supply room and found a report cover to hold it all together. She stopped to make small talk with a couple of the women from the mailroom, who gave her a stack of letters and cards from her co-workers, and made a concerted effort to turn her frown upside down as she entered the elevator and engaged Harmony in a war of wits which she easily won.

The chaos that greeted her as the doors slid open was a sure sign that Angel was in his office. People fluttered back and forth, handing off files and books, they sorted through paperwork and arranged their desks. When Angel was away it was a completely different scene. People were usually engaged in online gaming, solitaire, or had their noses pressed between the pages of trashy romance novels. Buffy herself had participated in a game of Freeze Tag a few weeks earlier when Angel had flown to China.

She crossed the mayhem and tapped on Angelís door, waiting patiently for him to open it. She was a little shocked when Spike pulled it open. His own shock mirrored on his face. "Hey," he said, looking at her in confusion. "I thought you were sleeping."

"I thought you were using the sewers to track down that informant."

"I finished early." Spike reached out, touching the fading mark on her forehead. "It looks better."

Buffy had a sinking suspicion that she had interrupted a conversation about herself. It made her uneasy and worse, it made her mad as hell. She stepped past him and walked to where Angel sat at his desk. "You know that girl who was probably just protesting the war? Turns out she wasnít." She tossed the literature on his desk. "Iím wrong about a lot of stuff a lot of the time, but not this."

Angel picked the file up, flipping through it. He read through the email Giles sent and rose, pulling a book from the mass amounts in his personal collection called ĎFayerye, Elfin, and Trollsí. He checked the index and turned a few pages, sitting back down at his desk.

Spike picked up the discarded file and thumbed through it, then glanced at Buffy. "Youíre not leaving my sight for the next six days, pet."

Buffy normally would have been touched by his concern, but she was actually quite annoyed that he had been consorting with someone she considered her enemy at the moment. "Apparently you didnít read the part where Melissa and her son will be in danger if it doesnít get a shot at me."

"Not your problem." Spike closed the file and handed it back to her. "I talked to Lorne. He told me that you sang for him and what he saw."

Angel glanced up from the book. "What did he see?"

Buffy threw her hands in the air. "My god! Isnít there some client privilege that says he has to keep stuff a secret unless I tell him he can blab? Donít I have to sign a waiver or something?"

"No," Spike told her. To Angel, he added. "He said that he saw her being killed on the beach. And apparently itís not something she thought was important enough to tell me."

"Lorneís wrong," Buffy shot back. "I was drunk when I did it."

"Heís never wrong and I thought you stopped drinking." Angel closed the book and looked up at her. "What he sees will happen, but he also gives you the tools to prevent it. What did he tell you to do?"

"Take two aspirin and call him in the morning," she said with a shrug. When Spike made a move towards her, his eyes narrowed, she took a couple of steps back, putting the chair between them. "Okay, okay! He said that I should run if something attacks me."

"Thatís not all he told you," Spike snapped. "Why donít you tell him the entire story since I wasnít good enough to hear it?"

Buffy stared at the floor, knowing where the conversation was headed. "He told me not to go out alone."

"But you did anyway. You didnít give me a single thought, did you? I canít decide if itís me you donít care enough about or you." Spikeís jaw was clenched so tight that his teeth actually ached. "Angel and I were talking and we donít think-"

"I knew it!" Buffy accused. "If you want to say something about me then say it to me! Donít go behind my back like a couple of ... stupid catty bitches!"

"Fine. Iíll say it." Angel motioned at the chair, but she didnít take it. "Youíre not coming back to work yet. Youíre not ready and Iím not entirely convinced that youíre in the right department."

Spike noted the look on her face and hastily added, "But weíll find you something, love."

"What department would make you idiots happy? Is there a knitting department? With a padded room?" Buffy shouted, her blood pressure rising so fast that it caused her ears to ring. "I slay. That is what I was born to do and thatís what Iím going to continue to do whether you pay me for it or not."

"We think youíd do well in ambush coordination." Angel picked up a leaflet on his desk and held it out to her.

"Yeah, sit on my ass all day and tell other people how to attack things and wait for word that theyíve been killed. Itís not like I donít have any residual guilt left over from all those girls dying in Sunnydale or sending Miles to an early grave. That would be the perfect job for me! If the guilt didnít kill me the boredom would."

"You could give it a try." Spike took the paper from Angel and flipped it open. "You already know this stuff."

"Yes, I do. And I apply it to my slaying."

Angel held up another brochure. "How about the tactical field?"

"No." Buffy could feel her heart pounding, feel the flush of anger creeping into her face. "Iím not changing jobs. Are you really trying to take away any credibility I have?"

"You donít have a say in the matter," Spike shot back. "Itís been decided."

"Why?" She shouted. "I have more years, more kills than anyone in this place! You both are really quick to tell me that itís not my fault that Miles died and then you fire me for it!"

"Youíre not being fired." Spike reached out for her, but she batted his hand away. "Buffy, youíre in over your head."

"I have NEVER been in over my head! I have been doing just fine! Itís funny to me that the first night I DONíT do my job someone died!"

"Thatís not the point," Angel said quietly.

"Tell me what the point is, Angel. Tell me why I suddenly canít do my job!" The feeling of dejavu was intense as she made the demand.

Angel held her gaze for several seconds, then he stood and moved around his desk, leaning back against it as if it were a casual, every day conversation and there wasnít a very pissed off Slayer ready to hit him. "I donít think for one second that you *canít* do it, Buffy. What bothers me is that you wonít. We all know that youíre the most capable person here. Youíve proven it a million times and I kept my mouth shut while you did it. I watched you going out every single night, most of the time alone, occasionally taking Miles with you. I watched you skip meals, lose sleep, lose weight, and track of what you were supposed to be doing here. I watched you neglect your paperwork, neglect your friends, and heard all about how you were neglecting Spike straight from him." He gave a small, subtle shrug. "I know you. When it comes to sending someone out in your place youíre gonna see Milesís face in theirs and you wonít do it. Youíll go yourself and one night youíre going to be too tired, too weak, and too exhausted to beat it. Your job isnít to go after these demons. As the manager ... your job is to make sure your staff gets it done. You wonít.

"Iím looking at you, Buffy, and *I* am seeing Miles. If you donít like the departments that Spike and I talked about then pick your own, hell, create your own and Iíll pay you what you want. Just donít ask me to put you back into the fire because I canít do that."

Buffy exhaled the breath that she had been holding as he spoke. His words hit close to home. Part of her recognized the truth in his words, but another part of her felt like she was reliving the past, when her friends had kicked her out of her own house because they felt she couldnít do the job anymore. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but she did her best, clamping down on the lump that had formed in her throat as she did so.

Some things you knew as a Slayer and knowing when you could not win was one of them. She held out the information on the En Kindle demon and said, "I guess youíll take care of this, then. Her name is Melissa Rainey and she lives in Santa Barbara. Theyíll go after her next."

"Listen, love," Spike began, reaching out to touch her hand.

She pushed him away from her. "Itís fine. And donít worry about what to do with me. I quit."

*~*

"Buffy!"

She had decided to forego the elevator in favor of pounding her aggression out by stalking down hundreds of stairs. She picked up the pace as Spike chased after her, calling for her to stop. Ignoring him, she bounded quicker still, putting a couple of flights between them. When she reached the floor they lived on, she shoved open the door, startling Dawn who was carrying a box of takeout towards her apartment.

"Oh, there you are! I was bringing you din-" Dawn took a close look at Buffyís face and stepped out of her way as Buffy ran down the hallway. "Whatís wrong?"

"Not now, Ďbit," Spike told her, jogging past her. He arrived just in time for Buffy to slam the door in his face. "Damn it," he growled, reaching into his pocket for the key.

"Maybe you better leave her alone." Dawn handed him the Styrofoam plate. "Or come bearing food." She walked away, waving at him as she unlocked her own door and stepped inside. "Good luck."

Spike put the key in and tried to turn the knob, but it wouldnít budge. "Let go!"

"You really donít want to push me, Spike."

"Iím not going to push, love, Iím going to knock you back about ten feet when I kick this door off the hinges." He heard her stomping through the apartment and tried again, sighing in relief when it opened. He peeked around it, making sure she wasnít hiding, then set the food in the kitchen and walked down the hallway.

Buffy was tugging an oversized suitcase from under the bed. Her face was flushed and she didnít look up as she yanked it free and plopped it on the bed, unzipping it. Ignoring him, she went to her closet and pulled a few things from the hangers, throwing them across the room into the open bag. She turned back to the closet to get another handful when he walked up behind her, holding the clothing she had just tossed across the room. "Put them back."

"No."

He grabbed her arms, hugging her back against his chest as she reached for another shirt. "Donít do this."

"Let me go," she said through clenched teeth.

"Thereís no way in hell, Slayer."

She struggled against him, breaking the hold he had and shoving him hard. He fell back against the bed, sending her suitcase flying to the floor. She stared at him, nostrils flared, shaking with anger. "Itís over."

Spike got back to his feet and picked up her luggage, throwing it across the room where it crashed against the computer desk, scattering everything in different directions. Two words. Two short words and it felt like his heart had fallen somewhere into his stomach and lodged there, aching. "You are NOT leaving me."

"Iím NOT staying! You wonít be lonely long. Iím sure Angel will be glad to-"

"This isnít about Angel! This is about you!" Spike yelled. "Youíre pissed because I know you better than you do!"

"No, Iím pissed because you agree with everything HE says just like a fucking lap dog! Fetch, Spike! And you run! Sit and you sit! Tell Buffy sheís a big fuck up and you go right along with it. Whose side are you on!?"

"Iím on my side! The side where you come home to me every night and I donít have to face what Christine is facing! The side where I donít have to wonder if youíre late because youíre hurt! I am on MY side!"

"You knew I was the Slayer!"

"You were! You donít have to be!"

"Right! And in a perfect world you wouldnít need blood to live! Youíd be able to go out any time of day and weíd have a family together! Well guess what? Itís not a perfect world and I am what I am! If you canít accept that then you canít accept me!"

"How long will you keep doing it? Until you die? Until you get too old?" Spike tried to block her as she shoved an armful of clothing under her arm and went to retrieve the suitcase he had upended.

She pushed him again. "Do you really need a reminder of what Iíll do if you keep provoking me?"

"Do you need that same reminder?" His face changed, ridges cut across his forehead and his eyes yellowed. "You are not going anywhere. Weíre talking about this!"

Dropping the clothes, she punched him. He was thrown backwards and slammed against the wall, knocking over the end table and the contents, shattering the lamp. He looked at her, shocked that she had hit him with everything she had. The last time she had done that had been the night on the beach and then when she had agreed to stay, they had promised one another that the violence was over. He lifted a hand, pressing his fingers against the split on his lip. It infuriated him, but it scared him more. She was obviously crossing a line that she didnít care to cross back over. His face changed again, and he felt his blue eyes welling with tears. It unmanned him, made him sick to his stomach to let her witness her power over him at a time like this. He ground the heels of his hands against his eyes and shook his head. When he looked again, she had retrieved her suitcase and was heading back to the closet.

"Just go." Buffyís hand throbbed from the punch it had delivered and she wanted to go to him, to tell him that she was sorry, that she was a fool, but her pride got in the way. She gave into the tears that had been burning in her throat since she had fled Angelís office. "I mean it! Donít make it harder than it has to be."

"If youíre gonna leave me, youíre gonna look me in the face while you do it." His voice cracked as he said it and he suddenly didnít care.

She knelt down, sobbing as she tried to cram a couple pairs of shoes into the suitcase. "Why did you do that?" she cried.

"Because I love you." He sat down on the edge of the bed, pressing his thumb against his swelling lip. "Because Iím not ready for you to not be here."

He sucker punched her with those words, the very words she had spoken to him once in Sunnydale. Crying even harder, she laid her head against the suitcase, which wouldnít zip. A few seconds ticked past and she felt him kneeling next to her, resting his hand on her back. "Just let me go, Spike. Please."

"Tell me how to fix this, baby."

She turned and looked into his face, at the face that she had loved for so long, at the eyes that she could lose herself in for hours. "You canít," she wept. "Itís just over."

"Youíre mad right now, but if youíll hear me out -"

"You want to talk now? You should have told me what was happening with my job!"

"You should have told me, Buffy! You should have told me that you were going after the demon! You should have told me what Lorne said"

"So thatís why Angel did it, right? You went and told him what you found out instead of asking me about it!"

"What I did was -"

"What you did was end it! You just havenít realized it yet!" She yanked the zipper and finally closed the lid. Standing, she went into the bathroom where she retrieved her toothbrush and shampoo which she shoved into her makeup bag. "Iíll send for the rest of my things."

"Buffy, you canít be alone right now. These fairy things are-"

"I hope they come! I hope they come and I hope they win!" she screamed.

Spike backhanded her, not as hard as he could have, but harder than he should have. "Donít you *ever* say that!"

Gasping, she cupped her cheek, staring at him with her mouth agape. "Spike-"

"Iím sorry." He was stunned with himself. He had hit her before, but now he truly understand how something could hurt him more than it hurt her. "I didnít mean-"

She rushed past him, grabbing her suitcase and pulling it behind her. He followed behind her, unable to comprehend that she was actually leaving him, leaving their life over a stupid disagreement. Furious, he grabbed her arm, and said, "If you walk out that door, Buffy, it really is over."

She opened the door in question, stepped into the hall and looked back at him. "Maybe now youíll believe me."

The sound of the door clicking shut, separating them on either side, was the loudest sound either had ever heard.

*~*~

Dawn had known instinctively that Buffy needed to be left alone. She had put fresh linens on the bed and the suitcase in the corner while Buffy was washing her face, then she held out a cup of tea and watched as her sister took it and retreated behind the bedroom door. The sobbing had kept her awake until after four that morning and Dawn staggered into the kitchen after noon to attempt a cup of coffee through bleary eyes. Whatever had happened, it didnít look good. Spike had not come, had not called at all. Dawn had called Angel, who stressed that Buffy couldnít go out alone. She had asked him what happened, but he wouldnít say.

She poured herself a steaming cup, black with two sugars, then made Buffy a cup. She loaded it with sugar and cream and gently knocked on the bedroom door. "Buffy?"

"Yeah?"

Opening the door, she was shocked to see that Buffy was still wearing the clothing she had arrived in and her eyes were almost swollen shut from the amount of tears she had shed. The Slayer was sitting on the edge of the bed and Dawn wondered if she had sat like that all night. "Iíd ask how you are, but I donít need to."

Buffy shook her head when Dawn held out the coffee. "I donít want it."

"Come on, you need to get something on your stomach."

Bursting into fresh tears, Buffy buried her face in her hands. Her entire body ached, her ribs, her back, and most of all, her heart. The mere thought of sleeping somewhere other than their bed was intolerable to her so she hadnít slept at all, hadnít rested, had done nothing but cry and feel sorry for herself. She felt so betrayed, but after just one night away from him, she seriously doubted that listening to her wounded pride had been the right thing to do. It hurt all the way to her soul and she grieved for what she had given up, feeling sick with it.


Dawn sat next to her, putting her arm around her. "You wanna talk about it?"

"I think itís really over."

"Donít think, Buffy. You havenít even slept at all. Youíre exhausted and youíre still too upset about whatever happened. Give it a while longer and then you call him or go see him, whatever you want to do."

"Iím sorry that youíre having to deal with me."

"Please! This is karmaís way of paying me back for all the puberty you had to watch me go through."

Buffy smiled a little, then started crying again. "I miss him."

"Then do something about it."

"It canít be fixed."

"What did he do?"

"I canít -"

"Fair enough. But Iím here if you need me. Oh! Except that Iím not really going to be here in about an hour unless you want me to be. Colin asked me to go horseback riding and Iíll cancel it if-"

"Donít cancel. Go and have fun."

Dawn kissed her on the forehead as the cellphone rang. She glanced at it, then showed it to Buffy, who shook her head. Dawn sighed and answered, "Hey, Spike."

"Is she still there?"

"Yeah."

"Is she okay?"

"Not even close."

"Put her on the phone."

Dawn held the phone out, but Buffy wouldnít take it. She brought it back to her ear and said, "She wonít."

"Bloody hell. That is it!" Spike growled, cutting the connection.


Two seconds later there was a pounding on the door and he shouted, "Buffy!"

"Donít let him in," Buffy told Dawn. "Heíll get tired and go away."

"Thatís Spike youíre talking about. Heíll either knock it down or set fire to it."

"Open the door!" Spike shouted. "Now!"

Buffy stalked down the hall and out onto the balcony, bathing herself in sunlight and turning her back to the entrance. She didnít want him to see her this way, swollen and puffy and tear stained. She would have preferred him to see her laughing and NOT CARING that her heart was broken into a trillion pieces. This would just add insult to injury. She heard Dawn open the door and could hear Spike banging through the house, checking all the rooms.

He didnít have to speak to her for her to know that he was behind her a second later, standing just outside the reach of sunlight in the shadows of the doorway. Inching a little further into the corner, she refused to turn and look at him. She could feel his eyes on her and she took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves.

"The sun *will* set, love."

Buffy glanced down at the street below her. Thereís was no way she could jump, no handy escape ladder that would appear if she tugged an enchanted cord. She had gotten a very fleeting upper hand by using the first thing she could think of to keep the devil at bay. "Please leave me alone."

"No." Spike could tell from her voice that she had been crying and he felt worse than he would have thought possible considering that the previous night felt like an all time low. "Iím sorry I hit you."

"Itís not the first time."

"But it was the last."

"Thatís not why I left."

"I know. But Iím still sorry it happened."

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that she had hit him first and that it hadnít *really* hurt, but she kept quiet. It was too painful at this point to even contemplate the night before. What she wanted was to turn around and walk straight into the arms that he would undoubtedly open for her, but she couldnít. All night long she had replayed the conversation in Angelís office in her head. They thought she wasnít good enough and neither of them could justify their reasons why.

Giles had warned her about accepting a job at Wolfram and Hart, reminding her that it was an entirely different playing field and one that she had never practiced on before. From behind her rose colored glasses, Buffy had assured him that sheíd be fine, that Spike would help her, but Spike had stepped out of the equation from the beginning, watching as she worked herself into a stupor and he hadnít said a word to her to suggest that it wasnít what was expected. If no one corrected her, then how could she be held accountable for her actions?

He stared out at her, aching to find the right words. "I canít stand this. Itís only been one night. I canít go two, Buffy." When she didnít reply, he went on. "Iíve never been a wordsmith. I used to think I was. Just like I used to think that no one in this world could love better than me. I spent years with Dru, taking care of her, catering to her needs, being her whipping boy, her lover, she was my life, and I thought that was what love was, but you showed me that I was wrong. Dru and I, we could have gone on for a million years, and a million more after that."

"I donít want to hear about Dru!"

"Iím getting to the point. Forever for me and Dru was forever, infinity and beyond. For you and me, forever ends when your heart stops. Iíll still love you and want you after youíre gone, but I wonít have you and nothing will get that back. I think of that every single time I look at you lately. Is today it? Is it tomorrow? Losing Miles the way we did made me realize that youíre only human. I love you for that, despite that, because of that ... I donít know. I do know that one day youíre gonna leave me and never come back. Please donít waste our time."

She could feel the resolve she had been adamantly clinging to beginning to crumble, but the wound was still too fresh to let her succumb to the voice in her head that was begging her to go to him. "I need you to leave."

"I canít." Cursing the sun that kept him from going to her, Spike sat down and leaned his head back against the doorjamb, chuckling a little. "Youíre punishing me pretty good. This is torture. You do know that, right?"

She snorted. "Torture is having the man you love do the exact same thing to you that he knew your friends did to you, especially when the man you love saw what that did to you."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Sunnydale!" She spun around and glared at him, not caring that she was a mess and making it worse by crying all over again. "They all told me that I wasnít a good enough leader! They made me give Faith the reigns and brushed me off! You donít seem to want to remember how fucking pissed you were at all of them! You and Angel did the same thing yesterday. *That* is what Iím talking about!"

Spike slowly got back to his feet, realizing for the first time since the whole thing happened where she was coming from. She had talked to him for hours about the pain that sheíd gone through after Sunnydale, the feeling of loss and abandonment, the feeling that she was no longer necessary, no longer a vital part of the Scoobies. It hit him then, complete understanding. She had gone overboard because she felt like she had to prove herself, prove her worth. She was still running from the reminders of what her friends had done to her, no matter how much she thought she had moved on. "I didnít think-"

Her throat screamed in pain as she sobbed out her response. "Do you have any idea what itís like for me to know that *you* of all people donít have faith in me? The reason I believe in myself is because you once told me that I was Ďthe one" and every single time I face a demon I hear that in my head. I am human. Iím not immortal like Dru so I canít give you a million lifetimes, but I wanted to give you this one. You ruined that!"

Forgetting himself, he stepped out onto the balcony, reaching for her. He didnít even feel his flesh catch fire until she lunged forward, pushing him back into the house and slamming the door behind her. Ignoring the smoke that billowed from him, he pulled her into his arms, burying his face in her hair. "Buffy, please. Come home."

"You really hurt me. Worse than anyone has before," she mumbled against his shoulder. Seeing him engulfed in flames had been a cruel reminder of losing him in Sunnydale. Her heart couldnít take it, wouldnít let her pull away from him. Hugging him, she whispered, "Donít do it again."

Dawn watched from the kitchen, peeking around the corner with a smile on her face. She held Buffyís suitcase out to Spike as he led her sister towards the door, giving him a thumbs up as he took it.

*~*

"Feefee!"

Buffy drew up short in the hallway as a little bundle of arms, legs, and floppy curly hair came charging toward her. She bent down in time to grab the child as he flung himself at her, hugging her tight and planting a wet kiss on her cheek. Smiling, she held him at arms length and looked at him. Without the blood and gore he was a handsome little boy. His hair was light brown, streaked with blond and he had the biggest, greenest eyes that she had ever seen. His smile was playful, full of mischief and he had dimples on his cheeks to match the one on his chin. "Hey, Jameson."

As he looked at her, his smile faded and he touched his little hand to her face. "Why you cry?"

Buffy recalled how swollen and splotchy her face had been when she had seen it earlier in the mirror. She gave him a small smile and said, "I was sad, but Iím okay now."

The boy glanced up at Spike and the smile reappeared. "Hi."

"Hello." Kneeling next to Buffy, Spike held out his hand and the little boy shook it. "Iím Spike."

"Spike," Jameson repeated. "I hiding from mommy. Shhh."

"Where is your mom?" Buffy asked him, taking his hand in hers as she stood.

Pointing down the hallway, Jameson stifled a giggle with his hand when someone called his name. He was practically hopping up and down with glee when Melissa came around the corner and put her hands on her hips. Sqealing with laughter, he let go of Buffyís hand and ran down the corridor, peeking back around the corner. "That child will be the death of me," Melissa snapped, but she smiled when she said it. "Hey, Buffy."

"Hey. What are you doing here?"

"That guy Angel came and told us that we may have been marked by whatever group orchestrated the bombing at the airport and said we should come here for protection." Melissa shook her head. "Itís all too weird for words."

"Do you make it a habit of going places with complete strangers?" Spike inquired, studying the girl closely. She was attractive, but plain and she had a far off look in her eye that he didnít like at all. And she should have been keeping better watch on her son.

Melissa didnít appear offended. She was busy perusing Buffy. "He sounded sincere enough and said that Buffy was here and incidentally, Buffy, are you okay?"

"Rough day?" Buffy shrugged a little. "This is my boyfriend Spike."

Melissa shook his hand, then sighed when Jameson called out that she better find him soon. She made apologies for rushing off, then darted around the corner. The little boy shrieked, clearly not expecting her, and his footfalls were loud as he ran from his mother. Spike stared behind them, listening until their voices faded. "Sheís got her hands full, that one."

"I wonder how Angel convinced her to come here so easily?" Buffy moved out of the way so Spike could unlock the door of their apartment.

"He probably pulled the Ďtall, dark, and patheticí routine." He moved aside, nodding for her to enter ahead of him. "Or he could have used this powder that Fredís lab cooks up that makes people do what we say."

Buffy felt odd coming back home, like she had been gone longer than one night. She noticed a couple of garbage bags in the hallway and could tell that the pieces of the broken lamp and some of the debris from the computer desk were inside. The look on Spikeís face when she hit him flashed through her head and she turned, glancing back at him. He paused, suitcase in hand and tilted his head to one side, questioning. "Iím sorry I hit you, too" she told him.

"Watching you leave hurt worse." He closed the distance between them and set her suitcase down. He was unsure of how she would receive him, but he lowered his head, kissing her softly on the mouth. "I love you."

Wrapping her arms around him, she closed her eyes. "I love you, too."

"Do you want to talk about what happened yesterday?"

"We need to, but Iím just too tired." To prove her point, she yawned. "I didnít sleep at all last night."

"Come on." He took her hand and lifted her suitcase again, leading her into the bedroom.

Buffy could feel the welts on his skin and glanced down, gasping. He had a nasty looking burn on the back of his hand and arm. While his cheek had done a good bit of sizzling in the sun, his arm had actually torched. "My god! Your hand."

"Itíll go away as soon as I eat. You know that."

"Then eat something."

"Iíll have to get someone to bring up some blood from the supply. I donít have any."

Buffy chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. "If you took a little of mine then-"

"Not. Happening."

"My blood would heal you faster."

"It doesnít hurt. It can wait." He set her suitcase down in the floor next to the closet. "You want to take a shower or do you want to go straight to bed?"

"You wouldnít have to bite me on the neck. No one would see it."

"No, love."

"I could cut myself and bleed into a cup."

"If you cut yourself then you wonít just bleed from the cut. Iíll kick your ass."

"You got burned because of me."

Spike pulled her over to the bed and forced her to sit down. "This is the problem I have with you. You blame yourself for everything and then you try too hard to fix it. If you really want to make it up to me then promise me five days."

She looked confused. "Huh?"

"The En Kindle only has six days to kill you and then their time is up. They canít attack you again. Yesterday was day one. Give me five more, baby. They canít get to you here."

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Iíll give you five days of me sitting on my ass doing nothing."

He looked skeptical. "That was too easy."

"I didnít say youíd enjoy my company. Youíll suffer."

"Still too easy."

"Itís not like I have anything else to do. Like a job."

"Angel put you on a temporary leave. You have a job, love."

"I donít want it."

Spike sighed a little. He wanted to push the point with her, but he also knew better. "Later, then."

Buffy was still angry, still too raw in her feelings to press the issue so she nodded. "Weíll have to buy a new lamp," she said absently, glancing at the empty night stand.

"Weíll get a couple. I never liked these anyway."

She looked back at him, where he was kneeling next to her and cupped his cheek. His lip still had a little cut on it, from her fist, and he looked even paler, more exhausted than she felt. Her heart skipped a couple of beats when he touched her hand, bringing it around and kissing it. She loved him. But sometimes that wasnít enough. "Are we going to be okay?"

"Iíll make damn sure of it."

"I donít just mean with the En Kindle or with Wolfram and Hart, I mean with us. You and me. Can we do this? Because I donít know if we can do this anymore and I donít know if we can get back to how we used to be."

"Things are bad right now, but I can count up a million times that theyíve been worse and probably predict a million more, but weíre in this together. Donít ever doubt that weíll fix whatís broken, whether itís a lamp or your arm or us. Weíll fix it because we can and weíll fix it because neither one of us can leave it. We may not be how we used to be, but why would we want to be? Everyday weíre closer, better, and understand each other more. I donít want to go backwards when I have countless new things to see and do with you. Donít look behind you, Buffy, look ahead."

"I donít deserve you. Youíre going to realize that sooner or later."

"You do deserve it. Iím a thorn in your side, I irritate the hell out of you, and I force you to rethink everything. Yes, you deserve every last bit of me and more." He smiled at her. "Paybacks are a bitch."

"Thatís not what I meant."

"Donít." He pushed her hair behind her ear and trailed his thumb down the side of her face. Kissing her again, he stood and pulled her with him, easing back the cover on the bed. Without a word, he lifted her shirt over her head and eased her pants down, leaving her in her panties. He would have loved to take her right then, to show her that she deserved the world and more, instead, he nodded at the bed and said, "You need some sleep."

"Stay with me."

"Iím not going anywhere."

A few seconds later she was curled against his chest, feeling relaxed and comfortable.

They both slept for hours.

*~*

Angel glanced at the clock and sighed. He had gone through every resource he had, trying to find a way to defeat the En Kindle and he had come up short every single time. One thing remained the same, no matter how many times he cross referenced it, the En Kindle were often used by the Order of Taraka, the same group that had attacked Buffy in Sunnydale. This tidbit of news unsettled him more than any of the accounts of what the En Kindle were capable of. The Tarakan Assassins were many and far reaching. They were human, demons, and anything in between and you never knew who to suspect until it was too late.

It was not definite that the Order of Taraka was responsible, but it was too much of a coincidence for Angel to brush aside. They had all assumed that Spike had orchestrated it back then, set them on the Slayer to keep her distracted enough that she wouldnít be able to interfere in the ritual to restore Druís power. Angelís sources had assured him that the contract was over, that they would no longer need to be on guard, but what if? And if the Order was involved then Buffy would never be safe until they discovered who had contracted the kill.

With a deep sense of foreboding, he shut the file he had been looking at and stood. He was aware that Buffy had left Spike the previous night, having received a frantic call from Dawn, and he was also aware that the couple had reunited a few hours earlier. It shocked him how relieved he felt that they were together again. It had been hard the first few weeks, seeing them holding hands, having the elevator doors open to them locked in an intimate kiss, hearing her peals of laughter as he chased after her or watching her look up at him with the same look that used to belong to Angel only. Yes, it had been very hard, but he understood with amazing clarity that Buffyís life had led her to this point, to the man she had chosen.

He didnít have to love their arrangement, but he did respect it.

Gathering up a couple of files and an impressively thick book, he headed for Buffyís apartment to discuss strategy with her. Fred stopped him beside the elevator, holding up a pizza box. He grinned and took it. "She eats more pizza than anyone Iíve ever known," she told him. "Normally, we let the delivery guys take it up, but weíre not letting anyone in unless they have pre-approval."

"Thanks, Fred."

"Is it as bad as I think?" She twisted the hem of her shirt, worried. "Because Iíve been researching the Order of Taraka and it feels like weíre in a no win situation."

"Weíll work it out." Angel stepped inside the elevator and gave her his best attempt at a reassuring smile, it faded as the doors shut however.

He knocked on their door a couple minutes later and Buffy opened it, wearing a pale yellow pair of silk pajamas. Her face hardened and he hated that he had that effect on her. He held the pizza box out and she took it. "Can I come in?" he asked.

Buffy stepped back and let him enter, carrying the box to the kitchen while he lingered in the living room. "Want a drink?" she called.

"No, thanks. Whereís Spike?"

"Heís in the shower." She padded back into the room, her feet bare, carrying a slice of pizza and a coke. Making a great show of ignoring him, she flipped the television on and sat down, taking a bite of pizza as she flipped through the channels.

Sitting in the recliner, he flipped through the file and pulled out a piece of paper. "What do you remember about the Order of Taraka?"

Buffy shrugged, watching Brad Pitt riding a horse across the screen in ĎLegends of the Fallí. "Have you ever watched this movie?"

Angel glanced at the screen and shook his head. "I donít think so. Listen, the Order of Taraka sometimes uses the En Kindle as-"

"I donít want to hear it."

"What?"


Buffy finished her slice of pizza and took a drink before she answered him. "If you want to talk about business then Spike will be out in a second. If you want to talk about this movie then Iím all over it. Itís one of my favorites."

"You could be in danger."

"Iím in danger of starving. Are you sure you donít want a drink or something?" She stood and walked into the kitchen.


Angel sat still, his anger building as he heard her humming in the other room. She returned carrying the box and sat back down, carefully selecting a slice and biting into it. "Best pizza in the world. You should try it. Spike thinks that pineapple on a pizza is sacrilege, but then again, this is the same person who likes to use my crust to soak up blood."

Spike chose that moment to enter the room and he stared at them, shocked that they seemed to be getting along for the moment. Sitting next to Buffy, he nodded at the files on Angelís lap. "What you got?"

Angel glanced at Buffy, who seemed to be enthralled with the television. "Did you contract the Order of Taraka to kill Buffy when she was still in high school?"

Spike looked affronted. "Uhm, no."

"Are you familiar with them?"

"Group of assassins, lock onto a target and wonít stop until theyíre done. Usually big, not always demon, but always bad as hell."

"And they use the En Kindle quite frequently. Buffy was a target right around the time you were trying to kill me to make Dru stronger." Angel handed him the file and glanced at Buffy. Her attention was still on the television and she was pulling toppings off her pizza, popping them into her mouth like she wasnít being discussed in the room. "If this is a Tarakan assault then itís just the beginning. Weíll have to infiltrate the group and see what we can find out."

While Spike flipped through the paperwork, Angel said, "Buffy, did you notice whether or not the En Kindle was wearing a ring on her finger?"

When she didnít answer, Spike nudged her. "Does this look familiar?" He pointed to a picture of a ring in the paperwork.

Buffy barely glanced at it and shook her head. Spike frowned, nudging her again. "Could you actually look at it?"

"As the Slayer I can tell you that Iíve seen the ring once in Sunnydale on the finger of a biker type who tried to kill me while I was ice skating. As a witness to the explosion, I can tell you that it happened too fast for me to see and I didnít really care how the thing accessorized." The last thing she wanted was to get into another fight with Spike, so she stood, gathering her pizza and her soda. "If Iím being targeted then you have both established that Iím too stupid to take of myself so I wonít bring anything to this discussion."

Spike sat perfectly still as she left the room, the only sign of his annoyance was the sharp edge of his jaw bone, which protruded as he ground his teeth. Angel flipped open the book, trying to find a passage that had interested him earlier. They both looked up when Buffy came back into the room.

She held out her hand, showing a small lock of her hair. "Take it, Angel. And donít be dumb. Why would you have to infiltrate the Order, which could take weeks, to find out if they have a hit on me, and risk peopleís lives, when all you have to do is put a lock of my hair in Holy Water, drop in a bit of wolfsbane and see if the hair turns black. God, everyone knows that. Freakiní idiot."

Angel took the lock of her hair, which she had tied in a knot to keep it together. "I - I didnít think of that."

"Itís a good thing you were only pretending not to listen, love," Spike said.

Buffy saw the two vampires exchanging knowing grins and it infuriated her past the point of reason. "It doesnít change anything. Iím still not helping you."

"Of course not." Angel made a show of carefully pocketing her hair. "This was definitely no help."

"You know what I mean!" Buffy snapped. "Thatís the end of it. Either way, if Iím marked or not, I donít want to know. You can handle it however you want. Without me."

Angel stood, leaving the book on the table. "You guys can read through the pages I turned down and see what you think. Iíll just go have this very unhelpful tip you gave me processed. Iíll let you know what the results are."

"I donít want the results." Buffy went out onto the balcony, and stared out over the city. The sun was setting and she stayed put, watching as it disappeared into the horizon. She closed her eyes, remembering something her mother used to say about hearing the sun sizzle as it was drowned in the ocean each day. She smiled, leaning against the railing as the wind picked up, lifting the edges of her hair.

Something whooshed in front of her and her eyes flew open. It wasnít the wind blowing her hair and it wasnít the sun hissing as the light was burned out. Hovering in mid air, a few feet from her, was an En Kindle. Bony little wings jutted from its head and they flapped furiously to keep her afloat. She drew her legs up, reminding Buffy of the position that the one in the airport had achieved on the top ledge of the bathroom stalls. Thinking fast, she dove for cover in the apartment just as the glass exploded around her, piercing her flesh and blowing her backward.

"Buffy!" Spike and Angel both raced for her.

She rose up on her own, ignoring the pain in her feet as glass crunched beneath them. Her pretty yellow pajamas were now pink, covered in En Kindle juice. Staring down at herself, she felt her blood begin to boil and stalked back toward the door. "That is *it*."

Spike snatched her off her feet, pulling her away from the glass and the balcony as another En Kindle darted up, waving, looking sweet and innocent while it hovered just outside the perimeter. "They canít come in. See?"

"I could pull the fucking thing in if youíd let me go. I could make it talk in two seconds."

"It could make you explode in less time than that," Angel told her, staring out at the fairy, taking note of its hands which were devoid of any jewelry. "Iíll have someone repair the doors right away. And shampoo the floor."

"I thought you said she was safe here," Spike accused. "You said these walls were protected."

"The balcony is outside the walls," Angel shot back.

"Could you put me down?" Buffy asked.

Spike started to set her down on the floor, away from the glass, but she hissed and leaped back into his arms. "Oww."

Angel glanced down. Small drops of blood were dripping from the bottom of her feet. Kneeling down, he lifted one, staring at the lesions and the glass that was embedded there. "Damn it, Buffy. Youíre full of glass."

"Better than what youíre full of," she replied sweetly.

Spike carried her to the kitchen, depositing her on the countertop and directed her to put her feet in the sink. He ran water over them, rinsing away the blood and loose glass and told her to be quiet when she protested, telling him it hurt. Angel joined them a few seconds later, carrying the first aid kit, which he opened and dug through, finally locating a pair of tweezers. Buffy reached for them, but he held them out to Spike.

"I can do it myself," Buffy snapped, sitting up and attempting to push the blond off her.

The look on his face was enough to silence her protests and she bit her lip, letting him work at least ten pieces of glass from her feet. Once he was satisfied she was going to live, he rinsed her again and turned to Angel. "Give me the bandages."

"No!" She swung her legs around, sending water flying into the floor. "I need to take yet another bath before you put any bandaids on me."

Angel, realizing that Spike would have to carry her to the shower and undress her, cleared his throat. "Someone will be here in an hour to get everything repaired. Call me if you need anything."

Spike agreed that he would and waited until he heard the front door shut, then he kissed Buffy, long and hard, wrapping his arms around her. She was a little shocked, but gave in after a second, hugging him closer and returning the kiss. When he pulled back, she smiled at him. "I like it when you yell at me this way."

"Iím not yelling." Lifting her, he took her to the smaller, hall bathroom and sat her on the edge of the tub while he turned on the tap.

The steam rose quickly, curling the ends of Buffyís hair. She lifted her arms and let him peel her shirt away, then stood on her tiptoes, careful not to let the very bottom of her feet bear her weight, as he slid her pants and panties over her hips. He sat her in the bathtub and pulled the shower massage from its hanger, directing the flow over her head.

She grimaced a second later when she realized that the water going down the drain was bright pink. "Ew."

Spike nodded. "Doesnít smell great either. Nasty little things, really."

"Why canít it just be vampires. Oh! Or trolls! Iím good with trolls!" She shampooed her hair and waited for Spike to rinse it, then she shampooed it again and set to work on erasing the remnants from her skin.

After finally convincing her that she was clean, he lifted her again, and set her on the toilet, handing her a towel for her hair. After retrieving the bandages from the kitchen, he dried her limbs and kneeled back in front of her, checking her feet again. "They look almost healed."

"Just one of the many perks of being a Slayer. They feel fine."

"Iím gonna wrap them anyway. Just to be safe."

Buffy let him. She sat, completely naked, while he used two rolls of gauze on her feet and finally stood and reached for her. "I can walk," she told him. "I think itís okay."

He ignored her and took her to the bedroom, where he eased her back on the bed, then covered her body with his own. Saying nothing, he kissed her, kissed her ear, her neck, her forehead. She responded by running her fingers through the back of his hair and holding him closer still. She whispered, "We have a while before theyíll come to fix the door."

"I was noticing that actually," he replied, slipping the palm of his hand along the curve of her waist. "And even if they knock, Iím not stopping."

Buffy gasped as his fingers slipped between her thighs and began to massage, drawing her hips upward. Her breath caught in her chest as one digit, then two, pressed inside her and his thumb began a circular pattern on her engorged clit. She mumbled incoherently and closed her eyes. He leaned down, kissing her again, loving her with his tongue. Buffy came a second later and promptly burst into tears.

"Hey," Spike whispered, kissing her again. "Whatís this?"

"We almost broke up. Like, completely and no turning back broken up. So broken up that-"

"No, we didnít. We didnít even come close. Did you think Iíd actually let you stay gone?"

"One night! I was only gone one night and it felt like a century. It felt-"

Spike moved his hand against her again. "What does it feel like now?"

She moaned a little and bit her bottom lip. "Like coming home," she finally said.

He soothed her for a few more minutes, promising her that it would be fine, then he let her peel his shirt off as he did away with his pants. When she wrapped her legs around him, he eased forward, slipping into her. He whispered her name, cradled her head in his arms as he pulled back and moved forward again, without urgency. He needed to feel her, to be inside her forever.

Buffy stared up at him, her eyes locking with his as he shifted his hips in a slow, easy pace. She could just make out his features in the glow from the clock, but his eyes were shining, and she was lost in them. He filled her body as well as he filled her heart and she dug her heels against his backside, holding him against her, deep inside her, then she flipped him, easily and took control. On her knees, she sat astride him and rocked, just as slowly as he had.

Spike let her have her fun for all of two minutes, then sat up, pulling her off her knees and guiding her legs around him so that he could angle deeper. Face to face, they sat on the bed, her in his lap, him as far inside her as possible. "You know," he said. "Ancient Eqyptians called this position a promise and only engaged in it when they were sure of their commitment."

"Itís a good thing weíre sure." She kissed him, then leaned back, bracing her hands on the bed as she rocked, harder, against him, pulling him so deep it was almost painful. "Oh, god."

Spike reached between them, rubbing her clit and felt her muscles tighten around him, clenching as she came again. He gripped her hips, slamming against her in quick successions and exploded, leaning his head against her heaving breasts. "I love you," he told her.

"I love you. So much, Spike. So much." Buffy wrapped her arms around him and held him close, kissing the side of his face.

A knock on the door brought both of them down from their high and Spike groaned. "Bloody hell."

"Better get it." Buffy slipped from his lap and the towel on her head fell all the way off, causing her cold hair to slap against her back and she yelped.

Chuckling, Spike retrieved his pants and tossed her the comb from the bureau. When she emerged a while later, taking tender steps on her sneaker clad feet, she was wearing a pair of tight workout shorts and a tank top. She saw Spike eyeing the amount of thigh she was showing rather appreciatively and winked at him. The workmen had made quick repairs and already, a new set of glass doors were being slipped into place.


Spike put his arms around her and said, "Are you going somewhere?"

"To the gym. I have nervous energy or something. I need to burn it off."

"I could go a few more rounds, love."

She grinned and kissed him. "Hold that thought. Iíll be back in a little while."

He watched her go, admiring the way her ass swung back and forth and loving that she knew he was watching.

*~*

The gym was deserted except for Davies, who was running at break neck speed on the treadmill. Buffy climbed onto the stationary bike that was closest to the television and began pedaling, slowly at first, then maintaining a quick, steady pace. Images of herself being led from the airport still dominated the news and she was relieved to hear that her name had not been released yet. Wrinkling her nose, she understood why Giles had sounded so concerned. She was covered in blood and her hair may as well have been as red as Willowís. She flipped the channel and tried to concentrate on a cartoon as one mile, then two, ticked off on the odometer.

The coyote was attempting to catch the roadrunner by painting a tunnel opening on a large rock when Davies touched her on the arm. Buffy slowed down, realizing that sweat was dripping from her and her heart was racing. Glancing at the bikeís settings, she saw that she had cycled for almost thirty miles on one of the highest settings, and she wondered where the time had gone.

"You trying to give yourself a heart attack?" Davies held out a bottle of water and a towel. His black hair was plastered to his forehead and the loose t-shirt he wore was drenched with sweat.

Easing to a stop, she accepted the water and drank thirstily from it. "I didnít realize that I had been at it so long."

"It hasnít been that long. Youíve just been riding like the hounds of hell were after you."

"You were giving that treadmill hell yourself."

He grinned and eased onto the bike next to her. "I had a few hounds to outrun, too."

Buffy took another sip of water and nodded, knowing instinctively what he was talking about. She dreaded the answer, but she asked the question. "Care to talk about it?" she asked.

"I knew youíd want to eventually. What do you want to know?"

"Did he suffer?"

Davies bought himself some time, searching for the right words, by using his own towel to blot his face. Expecting the question and being prepared to answer it were two very different things. Taking a deep breath, he turned his chocolate brown eyes on her and shook his head. "I donít think so."

"Are you sure?"

"It happened too fast for me to be sure of much. We watched the demon go back into the cave and Miles gave us the signal to follow him. We were in there for five, ten seconds and all hell broke loose. I got a pretty good lick in and it spun to face me. It wasnít even aiming for him, just thrashing around and when it turned to hit me, it threw its tail back and cut him."

"Did he see it coming?" Buffyís voice was small, calm.

"Thatís the funny thing," Davies replied. "He wasnít looking at the demon. He was looking further into the cave at something I couldnít see. I yelled to him, but it didnít do any good. It was over before the words got out all the way."

There was a lull in conversation as Buffy pondered this bit of news, finally she asked, "Has anyone gone all the way through the cave?"

"We went back and got you and then I went back and helped Spike get rid of the demonís body, but we havenít been back. At least not officially. Iíve gone a couple of other times. You know." He shrugged a little, wiping the "sweat" from his face, but she was sure there were more than a few tears mingled there.

"I do know." Buffy reached over, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Did you see anything weird when you went back?"

He shrugged a little. "A couple of young girls running around playing. I told them to stay away from the cave and they just whispered at me. It was odd."

"Whispered?" The hairs on Buffyís neck went up. "What did they look like?"

"They had to be twins. They had long, dark hair and they were dressed alike. Right down to their flip flops."

Buffy slipped from the seat of the bike, ignoring the way her muscles burned and protested from the exertion. The En Kindle. It had to be them. Could the cave be their hiding place? She picked up the bottle of water and towel, then said, "I have to go."

Davies watched her leave, scratching his head as she raced around the corner.

*~*

After flipping through a hundred books and searching Willowís demon database online, Buffy surrendered to the fact that no matter how old she got, she still needed her Watcher. She used the phone in the research library and reached for another book while she waited for it to connect. After several rings, Xander answered, laughing. "Xanderís House of Hooligans."

"Hey, Xander."

"Why if it isnít the Buffster. How are you? Whatís going on? What are you wearing?"

She laughed a little. "Iím good, nothing much, and a sweat soaked exercise outfit that would curl your toes."

"Because there is so little of it or because it has been thoroughly worked out in?"

"Both. How are you?"

"Never better. Iím eating scones, drinking tea, and am thisclose to buying a tweed suit. Just call me Giles Jr."

"Sounds fun. Tweed notwithstanding."

"Au contraire. I make it look *good*."

"Iím sure you do. Is Giles around?"

"Enough small talk, huh? Hang on and Iíll track him down."

"Thanks, Xand."

She held for a couple of minutes, engrossed in a passage about how the En Kindle moved from one place to the next. Finally, Giles was on the line and they were exchanging pleasantries for a good five minutes. After giving him her advice on how to handle the closet space at the newly renovated ĎHeadquartersí, she cut to the chase. "Iíve been reading that the En Kindle travels in one big flock. What do you know about that?"

"Just what you said. They travel with their queen and go from one place to the next as a whole."

"Where do they stay?"

"Quite often they live in the woods, but more often than not itís been charted that they live underwater."

"But whatís their point? I mean, vampires kill to eat. Why do these things kill?"

"If youíre asking me for their motivation, Iím sorry. I canít give it to you. They take no nourishment from burning someone. They arenít reborn again by claiming a victim. It seems to be a bit of sport for them."

"You said they have no option but to burn when they reach a certain age. How often does that happen?"

"No one knows. Itís complicated. If the burning is upon one of them and they do not take their intended target then one will burn each day until that target or a new target is killed."

"Thatís depressing as hell. How many of these things are there? And why canít we just wait for them to burn themselves into extinction?"

"If only it were that simple. They always find someone. The longest hunt they had was just over twelve days. On the thirteenth day, they took a child. If they fail too many times, they get careless, take anyone."

Buffy told him about the cave and what she suspected. He listened quietly, then said, "Iím sure that Wolfram and Hart can organize someone to-"

"How do *I* kill them, Giles?"

"First of all, *you* are their target. You must remain out of harmís way until the next few days pass. I know it goes against your nature, but honestly, youíve had a rough go of it lately. Second, tell Angel to set the cave in question with explosives and that will do the job. If youíre right, and the entire clan is inside that cave, it would wipe out the queen."

"And thatís impressive because?"

"It would kill them off. For good."

"Why didnít you tell me that before?"

"No one has ever been able to locate the entire clan. If youíre right about this, it would be completely unheard of."

"Thanks, Giles. I appreciate the help. I should go and-"

"Give me your word that you wonít do anything."

"I promise. I wonít do a thing."

He was silent for a moment. "Are your fingers crossed?"

She glanced down at her crossed fingers and smiled. "Doesnít a personís word count for anything anymore?"

"These are very vile creatures, Buffy. If they get you alone, if they get a chance to kill you, theyíll use every opportunity they can find and then some. Tell Angel what youíve learned and wish him luck. Theyíll be drawn to you. You wonít be able to sneak up on them. You canít. Youíre their target."

They said their goodbyes and hung up. Buffy stayed in the research library for another hour and when she emerged, there was chaos in the main lobby. She moved through the throngs of people, catching snatches of conversation as she went. By the time she found Spike, she understood that someone was missing, but she wasnít sure who.

"Spike!" she called, grabbing his arm. "Whatís going on?"

The vampire turned, relief flooding his face. "Where have you been?"

"In the library. What happened?"

"Jamesonís gone."

"What?" Buffy cried, glancing around them as if she expected to the little boy in the crowd. "How long?"

"About an hour."

"Have you checked-"

"We found him on camera. He went right out the back door."

"Oh my god!" Buffy ran a hand through her hair. "The En Kindle-"

"I know!" Spike shouted, then softened when he saw her face. He reached for her, giving her a quick hug. "I know, love. Weíll find him."

"Iíll come and-"

"No. Youíll wait here. These things are after *you*."

"But-"

"I mean it, Buffy!" Spike moved away from her, heading out with the crowd. "Iíll be back in a little while."

"Damn it!" She moved back through the people, feeling smaller and more helpless than she could remember. She climbed onto the elevator, still swearing, then held the door as Davies raced across the room and climbed in with her.

"Whatís happening?" he asked her. He had changed clothing and given the fresh scent of soap, had been showering during the commotion.

"What do you know about explosives?" Buffy asked him.

"I was bomb squad before I came to work here."

"Excellent." She exited on the floor that the weapons were housed on and smiled at him. "Wanna help me?"

"Bombs, blonds, and working under the radar? Sounds like a plan to me." He followed her, rubbing his hands together. "Where are we going?"

"To the beach because thatís where Jameson is."

"We need to bomb the beach? Did someone build an offensive sand castle?"

"Donít ask questions."

"Gotcha."

*~*

Buffy didnít know whether she felt relief or anger that there was no representation from Wolfram and Hart present scouring the beach. That would have been the first place she would have looked, even if she didnít have Lorneís premonition of her fighting on the beach in the back of her mind. She jogged over the dunes, her back aching under the weight of the fully loaded backpack that rested there. After ten minutes, she grew discouraged and turned to tell Davies that they should go the other way.

An En Kindle hovered just behind them, smiling and looking almost cherubic. Almost. Buffy narrowed her eyes, "Okay, Devil Pixie, where is he?"

It whispered something and when Buffy kept the blank expression on her face, the little fairy jerked its thumb behind it and Buffy nodded, understanding. She followed after it, Davies in hot pursuit. They ran over the ground that they had already covered and Buffy headed up a steep incline that led to a stretch of deserted coast that had become overgrown and filthy. Even from several yards away, Buffy could see Jameson standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by a ring of En Kindle. They were holding hands, swaying back and forth.

Davies caught her as she started to descent the hill. "Look!"

She glanced behind them. A nasty looking creature was working its way toward them, sliding along the sand on its belly, fresh from the water. It had antennae and at least ten arms. It gnashed its teeth, causing the drooping jawls to send saliva flying in all directions. "What the hell is that?" Buffy asked.

"We better call for backup."

"Did you bring a phone?"

"Shit."

"Shit," Buffy repeated, then screamed, "Look out!" as a small En Kindle flew toward them, drawing itself up in a position that Buffy had become all too familiar with. It exploded, but Buffy was already rolling down the hill, taking Davies with her.

"Jesus! What did we need a bomb for when theyíre flying all around us?" Davies yelled, ducking his head as another En Kindle flew toward them.

Buffy kicked it when it perched near them and it erupted in mid air. Dropping onto one knee, she dug through her bag and said, "Iím gonna go take out the squid thing and you get the kid. Theyíre gonna be drawn to me so Iím gonna make sure they see me. Get Jameson and run back to Wolfram and Hart with him."

"Consider it done."

"They squat down before they pop. If one starts to do that the run the other way. I think it paralyzes them when it happens. They canít *not* explode once it starts."

"Buffy, maybe we should-"

She pulled the knife she was looking for from the bag, still thinking of Lorneís warning, and said, "Donít stop, no matter what happens. And donít look back."

He nodded and sprinted up the hill. Buffy ran the other way, intentionally making noise and waving her arms. The En Kindle swarmed up like bees from an overturned hive. Buffy batted two away and lunged at the demon, trying to keep the fairies in her sight long enough to stay safe. The squid-thing knocked her away with one of its long arms and she fell into an unceremonious heap, jumping back to her feet fast as an En Kindle reached for her arm.

It became apparent that the squid-thing was heading for Jameson, that he must have been an intended meal or offering from the En Kindle. Buffy glanced up in time to see Davies duck beneath one of the pixies and grab Jameson, who was howling, before she turned her full attention on the demon, who seemed to realize that his supper was being snatched away. It picked up the pace, which was still slow and languorous, and Buffy delivered a kick to its face that jarred her with the force of it. The squid-thing turned and gripped her with one of itís long arms and attempted to bite her. She held its mouth away from her with her bare hands, then headbutted it in the nose. It reared back and Buffy lost her grip on its mouth long enough for it to sink its teeth into her arm. Luckily, it was the same arm that held the knife, which rammed into the roof of its mouth.

The demon dropped her and she rolled out of the way as it continued its trek across the sand. Davies was long gone, but losing sight of them had not deterred the demon. Buffy swung the knife, shoving it into the demonís side which was no easy feat considering that its flesh was as thick as a tire and just as tough. Pulling the blade loose took all of her strength and when it finally pulled free, she toppled over backwards. An En Kindle landed right next to her, practically on top of her, and Buffy rolled as it pulled itself into its pose.

Gaining her footing, Buffy kicked the little fairy as hard as she could at her intended target and it exploded, taking the squid-thing with it when it did. An angry hissing filled her ears and she turned around in time to see the En Kindle rise again as an angry horde, then surprise her by flying the other way. Buffy, exhausted from the bike ride, and pouring blood from the bite, still gave chase. She didnít have to wonder where they were heading. Grabbing her backpack, she followed.

She ran, full speed, covering several miles before she cut through the woods, following the hissing sounds and drew up short at the entrance to the cave. Wasting no time, she yanked off her pack and wired the bomb the way that Davies had instructed her. Carrying enough explosives in the palm of her hand to wipe out a small colony, she measured her footsteps carefully, holding a flashlight to guide her.

Moving slowly, she eased through the cave, feeling the jagged walls cutting against her flesh as the passage narrowed. She was feeling discouraged and more than a little worried that she wouldnít be able to go all the way when there was a sudden clearing and she found herself standing on the lip of a cavernous hole that was quite full of fluttering fairies. In the middle of the chaos she saw a demon just like the one that had been on the beach. It was squid-like and judging by the way it was grasping the En Kindle who had been present on the beach in its many arms, banging their heads on the floor of the cave ... it wasnít happy.

"The queen," Buffy whispered. Giles had said that they spent much of their lives underwater. Maybe that was the mate she had killed on the beach. That would explain the anger at any rate.

Kneeling down, she set the charge and palmed the detonator. It would be enough to kill them all. It would level the cave and quite possibly feel like a mini earthquake in downtown Los Angeles. Easing back, she retraced her footsteps and began the journey back through the passageway. She picked up the pace as the mouth of the cave loomed in front of her, only to run headlong into onto one of the En Kindle.

It seized her, lifting her off the ground, using her hair as the handles. Buffy cried out, kicking frantically as it pulled her back toward the nest. She dug feet against the rocky walls, searching for purchase and used the hand that wasnít holding the detonator to try to wrestle free. Gripping the fairyís bony wrist, she twisted it, satisfied when it finally snapped, causing the fairy to drop her. Buffy slid down the wall, feeling it cut and tear at her skin, but she wasted no time giving into the pain. She ran, headlong for the entrance and leaped through it at the precise moment that she detonated the bomb.

It was the loudest sound she had ever heard and she thought that it was deafen her with the roar. She could feel debris raking over her skin, could feel her body being lifted and tossed about as if she were a rag doll, and finally, everything was still. The fight was done. Darkness came.


When she came to she found herself wedged between the branches of a tree, approximately fifty feet in the air. With a groan, she pushed against the limbs, easing herself up on the stronger of the two. Shaking her head, trying to see if she had any bearings left at all, she attempted to figure out what to do next. The cave was blazing, fire ripped through the sky, catching trees and grass on fire. She fanned her face, pushing away some of the smoke as she tried to focus. The trunk was a few feet away and she crawled to it, grunting as the branches dug into her flesh.

Climbing down wasnít too difficult. The fire was bright enough that she could see, but hot enough that she felt the hairs on her arms singe. By the time she dropped to the ground, the tree was engulfed in flames and raining fiery leaves and wood upon her. She jogged out of the way, barely escaping being drummed into the ground by a hulking tree that landed just beside her. And so it went, jumping and dodging fiery, falling objects occupied her for the next fifteen minutes as she tried to figure out which way to go.

The steady scream of sirens eventually pulled her back in the direction of the road and she followed, feeling the urge to bend down and kiss the asphalt after the night sheíd had. It was a double relief to have the beach finally loom ahead of her and she picked up the pace, seeing the top of Wolfram and Hart rising up above the skyscrapers. Focusing on one of the tiny squares of light, she imagined it was her apartment with Spike and he was there waiting for her.


It willed her to keep walking.

Even when her aching body begged her to stop.

*~*

Spike covered his ears as Jamesonís wails intensified. He snatched the boy from Davies and handed him off to Fred, who took the hint and disappeared into the elevator with the screeching child. When Spike turned back to Davies, his game face was on and he gripped the young man by the front of the shirt, slamming him back against the wall. "Where did she go after that?"

"I didnít see!" Davies tried to shove the vampire away from him to no avail. He received another backbreaking blow against the wall for his efforts. "She told me to get the boy and not look back, Spike. I did what she asked."

"Why would you leave her!?"

"Because-"

"Because she knew she was gonna die." Lorne stepped forward, laying a hand on Spikeís shoulder. He had joined the search for Jameson, but his thoughts had been elsewhere. The shadow of death was heavy over the City of Angels tonight and he feared in his gut that he knew why. "What he just described to you is what I told her would happen."

"Youíre wrong." Letting go, Spike stepped away from Davies and finally noticed the crowd. "Get away from here! What are you all staring at?"

The crowd dispersed and Spike turned his attention to Angel. "Get a group together. Weíll go search for her."

"You wonít find her, sweets." Lorne shook his head sadly and held his hands up. "I donít write the rules, I just read them to the players. She knew."

"You think I wouldnít know if she was dead?" Spike shouted. "You think my soul wouldnít be lying out there with her somewhere? That I wouldnít know she was gone? You underestimate what we have! All of you do! Always have! Itís not lust, itís not infatuation. I feel her in my very core. I feel her laughing, I feel her crying, and I feel her life burning brighter than my own life ever did. Itís still there!"

Angel ran his hand through his hair and turned to Wesley, clearly unsure of what to do. "Get the Shamans to perform a locator spell. See if they can track down something, anything."

As Wesley departed, Spike looked at Angel and said, "Sheís not dead."

"Spike, the clean up team said she was nowhere to be found on the beach and the demon was blown to bits. If she was out there when it happened it could take weeks to get the DNA back to confirm that. You think this isnít killing me?" Angel held his hands up, surrendering when Spike took a menacing step towards him. "Okay, fine! But I donít know where to start looking."

"She asked me about the cave tonight." Davies interjected. "Do you think she went there?"

Angel mulled it over as he watched Spike pace across the room, leaning his blonde head against the wall before he punched it four times in rapid succession. Dawn rushed across the room, gathering the vampire in her arms when he turned, human face back in place, tears rolling down his cheeks. "Where is she?" Spike cried.

"I donít know," Dawn whispered, following him down as he collapsed on his knees in the floor. She put her hand over his, which was bleeding from pounding against the wall so hard. "But if thereís a way, Spike, sheíll be back. She will!"

Angel could feel tears burning the back of his eyes so he looked away, busying himself by picking up the phone, but he had no one to call. Laying the receiver back into place, he wiped at his eyes and turned again, ready to bark out an order to the nearest person. The command died in his throat however, when the revolving door at the front of the building sprang to life and Buffy emerged a second later, looking as close to death as he had ever seen her.

"Oh my god!" Angel shouted, rushing forward.

Buffyís eyes had locked on Spike, however, sitting in the floor, being rocked back and forth by Dawn. There was blood on his hand. The exhaustion she felt was erased by fear and she found a last burst of strength to rush forward, dropping to her knees next to her lover. "Spike! Are you okay?"

He heard her through the ringing in his ears, saw her through the blind panic and reached for her through the heavy emotion that held him on the floor, crushing her against him. He could tell she was hurt, tell that her breathing was labored and his mind drummed up a million images of her almost leaving him, but he held her and it was enough. For a moment, it was all he needed. He smelled her hair, tasted her kiss, let his hands race over every inch of her before he was convinced that she was there, in the flesh. "Oh, Buffy."


She was stunned when he burst into tears. Real tears. The kind of tears that she had shed for her mother, sitting in the foyer of her old house when she finally came to terms with the fact that Joyce was gone for good. It cut her to the quick. "Iím sorry, Spike. Iím so sorry."

He pushed her away a little, studying her face. "What did you do?" he asked, ignoring the hitch in his voice as he touched a burn on her cheek, then a cut on her chin, then took in her tattered clothing. "Buffy, what did you do?!"

"I came home. I told you I always would." Buffy reached up, brushing the tears off his face, smiling at him. "You gotta learn to believe me."

The smile on her face, the casual way she spoke to him, infuriated him. Easing away from her, he got to his feet, using the hand that Dawn offered as he did so. The ringing in his ears was back, this time from the raw, unfiltered, furor that coursed through his body. He stared at her, jaw tight, his cheekbones cutting sharp angles in his cheeks. She reached for him, expecting him to pull her to her feet, and it was his undoing. "I asked you for five days. You couldnít even give me that so how in the hell am I supposed to believe anything else you say?"

"I know," Buffy slowly got to her feet, dreading what was inevitably to come. "But I realized something and I-"

"I donít give a damn what revelations you had!" Spikeís voice thundered off the walls, off the polished Egyptian floor. Everyone took a step back, even Buffy. "You did it again! Did you not learn a damn thing when you went after that demon alone last time?"

"I wasnít alone! Lorne told me to not to go out alone so I took Davies with me! Ask him! Heíll tell you!"

"I canít do this anymore!" Spike replied, his voice loud and clear. "Do you hear me? Iím done!"

Buffy caught his arm as he walked away from her. "Donít!"

He yanked free. "No. You donít!í

She watched him walk away, her heart feeling like it was somewhere under his feet, being trampled on. Angel stepped forward, wrapping his jacket around her, telling her something about the infirmary, but she didnít hear. She let them lead her where they wanted her to go, but her heart stayed there on the floor, broken.

*~*~

Three days passed. Three days of pure agony for Buffy. Her body was sore, but her spirit was broken, obliterated right before her eyes. She spent the first day in the infirmary, ignoring the people who visited as she watched the door for the one person she wanted to see the most. The second day was spent sobbing on her bed, coming up for air only to retch into the toilet when Dawn forced her to eat soup. By the third day her anger at him was a silent partner and she wore her scorn like a painted mask, glaring out at the world through narrowed eyes.

Angel brought her pizza that night. He didnít wait to be invited into her home when she opened the door, he slipped past her, putting the food on the table and holding up a video. "Legends of the Fall. I thought you could show me what they hype was about."

Buffy shook her head, silently declining the offer. She walked past Angel, back out onto the balcony where she had been sitting for hours. He followed her, noting immediately that there was an unopened bottle of cognac sitting on the ledge. Taking a seat next to her, he pointed at it and said, "What are you doing, Buffy?"

"Itís a war between me and the bottle. A battle of wills. One of us is going to win eventually. I canít figure out which one, though."

"Let me simplify it." Angel picked up the bottle and broke it against the wall, letting the glass drop to the floor. "Problem solved."

"Thereís always gonna be another bottle."

"You can always count on me to help even the playing field."

"Have you heard from him?"

Angel stared out over the city, wishing there was something, anything, he could say to lessen the blow. "No."

She nodded. It was the answer she had expected, but it still burned her to the bones. "Iím going home. My plane will be leaving in the morning."

"You are home. Heíll come around, Buffy. You didnít see him fall apart that night. He does love you."

"I did see him. I know he meant what he said. Itís over."

Angel knew better. "Itís not over. Youíre hurting right now and heís mad as hell that you went back out and risked your life, but itís-"

"Iím the Slayer, Angel. Risking my life is as natural as breathing."

"You agreed to share that life with him. That means he has some say in what you do with it."

The truth in his comment caught her off guard. She sighed. "I canít keeping fighting about this. I really canít."

"This hasnít been a fight about whether or not youíre a Slayer. I know what you are, who you are. This is a fight about you refusing to let other people help. We donít want to keep you down, Buffy. We both just want you to let other people in the game."

"By putting me in another department."

"I thought about it and you donít have to move to another department. You can stay where you are if thatíll make you happy. But I wonít sit back and watch you exhaust yourself again. There will be rules this time. You wonít go out every night and when you do go out you wonít go alone. Slayer or not, you have to lead by example and the people who look to you for guidance need to see that you recognize them as team members."

She shook her head and sighed. "Thanks for the offer, but I just want to go home. Heís not-"

"Get dressed," Angel cut her off. "Lorne asked me to bring you over tonight. Half of Wolfram and Hart is there singing their hearts out for him. Youíll have fun, youíll sing, and maybe Lorne will be able to tell you whether you should stay here or not."

"Heís gonna say what you want him to say."

Angel stood, pulling her with him and ignored her blunt comment. "And for Godís sake, brush your hair. You look like hell."

She actually smiled a little as she made her way to the bedroom and unzipped one of the many suitcases she had packed earlier in the day, pulling out a pair of low rise jeans and a black, sparkly shirt that clung to her like a second skin, baring most of her stomach. After brushing her hair for five minutes, she decided that the weird curling thing it was doing was actually pretty cute, so she sprayed it and let it hang loose. Finally, she added her necklace, the B and the S that Spike had given her, and the earrings her mother had given her for the nineteenth birthday. Happy that she looked presentable, she made her way back to the living room, stopping only to zip into her boots.

"Wow," Angel said, checking his watch. "Do you have a magic wand back there?"

"I clean up nice." Buffy hooked her own watch onto her wrist. "Is there any way at all for me to get out of this?"

"Nope. Letís go."

"You brought over a movie. We should watch it."

"I brought it to break the ice. I donít like Brad Pitt and I knew you wouldnít want to watch it."

"Maybe Iíve changed my mind."

"Weíre going."

"Damn."

Wolfram and Hart was indeed buzzing with their co-workers. Fred was on stage, singing a twangy old country tune that was vaguely familiar to Buffy. Wesley and Gunn were sitting at a table closest to the stage, stomping their feet and clapping their hands to encourage Fred, whose face was a neon pink with embarrassment. She wasnít a bad singer at all. Buffy found herself loosening up a little, glancing around the room at the people she had come to know and regard as friends, maybe even family for a few of them. Matilda waved at her and Davies moved away from the bar, giving her a quick hug and telling her how much he had enjoyed their Ďassignmentí. She thanked him for his help and shook hands with the new guy, Stone, that Davies introduced her to.

The bartender smiled down at her. "Back again, Songbird? That was beautiful the other day."

"Thanks." Buffy climbed onto the barstool and stared longingly at the bottles behind the counter. She knew what she wanted, but she fought the urge. "Could I get a water?"

"Sure thing."

Angel sat next to her and followed her gaze. "So many people look at those bottles and see salvation. They see a release from whatever is bothering them, but itís temporary, Buffy."

"I know. But I still want it."

"You probably always will. You had a problem with alcohol after Sunnydale. A major problem." He held his hands up when she quickly turned to look at him. "You did. We all know it, even you. But you did something about it."

"Spike did something about it," she corrected.

Angel was about to reply when Lorne came up to them and put his arm around Buffy. "Hey, gorgeous!" To Angel, he said, "Whatís new, Suzy Q?"

"Sheís gorgeous and Iím a Suzy?" The vampire shook his head. "That doesnít sound fair to me."

Lorne only shrugged and spun Buffyís barstool around so he could hug her properly. "You scared the beejeezus out of me, kitten. I thought you were a goner."

Buffy hugged him back. She liked him. A lot. "I would have gone out alone and been too distracted by Jameson to focus on the demon and the En Kindle. You actually saved my life."

Lorne waved away her gratitude. "All in a dayís job. So, what are you going to sing for me tonight?"

Eyes widening, Buffy glanced around the packed house. "Are you kidding? Iím not singing in front of all these people. I may have been tipsy as hell last time, but I knew it was just you and your bartender."

"These guys?" The Host made a sweeping motion with his arm, indicating the crowd at large. "They love you. Even if you sucked, which you absolutely donít, theyíd still enjoy it because itís you."

"No can do, buddy. Stage fright. Itís what dashed my parents dreams of that piano playing career they had nurtured since birth," she replied honestly. "I tend to freeze up and forget what Iím doing. Itís not pretty. I may even ralph."

"*You* have stage fright? Fearless Slayer. Able to face down the devil in dark alleys, but you canít hold a mic and sing? Whatever." Lorne pulled her off the stool and tugged her along behind him. She attempted to resist, but he jerked even harder, ignoring her protests. He left her at the base of the stairs that led to the stage and grabbed the microphone from the stand. "I have a real treat for you guys. Buffy sang for me, just me and Mikey over there, the other day and we havenít stopped talking about it since. Sheís incredible and sheís going to sing you a little something tonight so give her some love."

"God! Donít build me up!" Buffy cried. "I suck!"

Lorne caught her before she could rush away and easily lifted her up onto the stage, depositing her on the piano stool. Everyone was clapping, cheering wildly and he leaned down as he adjusted the mic stand. "Just close your eyes and let me in. Even without singing to me youíre sending off some serious vibes. Let me see whatís happening and I can help."

"Gah," Buffy groused. She exhaled and lifted the lid of the piano as her coworkers practically raised the roof. She leaned a little closer to the mic and plastered a smile on her face. "Donít listen to him. Youíre all gonna run in a second."

They disagreed and clapped some more. She took a deep breath, wondering what to sing, but her fingers found the keys on their own and the first chords of ĎUnchained Melodyí filled the room. Her parents had danced to it at their wedding. She had begun playing it for her father when she was only six and theyíd sing it together all the time, even without the music. And at the moment, it seemed to fit.

"Oh, my love, my darling,

I've hungered for your touch a long, lonely time,

Time goes by so slowly and time can do so much.

Are you still mine?

I need your love, I need your love, God speed your love to me."

She was so lost in song that she didnít notice the silence that descended in the bar. She didnít notice the amazed looks that passed between their co-workers or the way Lorne studied her, leaning forward to catch every note she hit with perfect pitch.

And she didnít notice Spike, standing in the corner, unable to take his eyes off her.

"Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea

To the open arms of the sea

Lonely rivers sigh, "Wait for me, wait for me"

"I'll be coming home, wait for me!""

The song flew from her, like a bird that had been caged for too long. Her soul wrapped around the words, aching, bleeding, begging for something that seemed lost; the innocence of her childhood, the peace of Spikeís arms, the promise of a better tomorrow. The same hands that killed demons so easily, glided effortlessly over the keys, creating a haunting melody that seemed to wrap around the hearts of everyone who heard it.

Buffy finished the song, holding a high note, and her fingers stilled.

The applause took a second to come and when it did it was thundering. The color rose rapidly to her face and she absently thanked everyone, shutting the piano and standing. When she turned, Spike was at the top of the stairs, waiting for her. It was too much. Angrily, she hopped over the side of the stage and made her way through the crowd, accepting the pats on the back and the glowing praise that people were heaping on her. Angel tried to catch her, to tell her that it had been amazing, but she shook her head. "Donít."

"Wait!" Lorne, drying his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt, chased after her and caught her on the sidewalk in front of Wolfram and Hart. He pulled her around to face him and said, "Youíve got two roads going in opposite directions and youíre about to take the wrong one."

"Speak in smaller words. Can you please?"

"Thereís nothing in Italy for you."

"But-"

"Go talk to him."

"He left *me*."

"Pride is a cold companion, Buffy. If you push him too hard he *will* let you go."

She glanced back at the bar and saw Spike emerge. His eyes found her and he started across the street toward them. Lorne let her go and cupped her cheek. "You love him. And Iíve seen him sing, sweetie. He had stains of you all over him, even before you came here. You belong together. It wonít be easy, but youíll make it if youíll listen to him."

Lorne leaned down, giving her a quick hug. When he pulled away, Spike was stepping up onto the sidewalk next to them and The Host gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze before he jogged back across the street, drawing more than a few shocked glances.

Buffy turned and headed into Wolfram and Hart, knowing that he was behind her. The place on the wall that Spike had hit had been patched, but not painted. Dawn had given her the sordid details and it hurt her heart to see it, a visual reminder of his grief that night. She glanced down at his hand, which looked none the worse for wear. She stepped into the elevator and moved into the corner, arms crossed over her chest. She could feel his eyes on her, but he said nothing at all. Neither did she.

Inside their apartment, they both moved in opposite directions. She went to kitchen and he went down the hallway, to their bedroom. She took a bottle of water from the fridge and when she turned, he was standing a few feet from her, holding her plane ticket. "This is your answer to our problems?" he asked, his voice low.

She opened the bottle and took a drink, not meeting his eye. "I didnít know if you were coming back."

"Does it make a difference that I did?"

"Did you? Or are you here to get a few of your things and leave again? I donít know what youíre doing."

"I donít know what *youíre* doing. Every single time something happens you run."

"*I* run? I was gone for one night! You were gone for three days!"

"I had some thinking to do."

ĎWell, I hope your thoughts will keep you company."

He tilted his head a little, studying her. "So you are leaving."

"My flight leaves in about six hours."

Nodding, he laid the ticket on the counter. "Iím not going to beg you to stay."

"I didnít expect you to." But she did. She expected him to wrap his arms around her and tell her that he loved her and plead with her not to leave. Maybe thatís the problem, she thought. Maybe she expected too much of him and not enough of herself. Swallowing her pride, she said, "I was really worried about you."

"You looked really worried up there playing Liberace on stage. Just another secret you kept from me, innit?"

"Lorne made me. I didnít want to."

"It was beautiful. I was impressed."

That caught her off guard. "Uh, thanks. Listen, are you okay?"

"The woman I love nearly died. Again. Now everything she owns is packed in our bedroom. How do you think I am, love?"

"I didnít almost die. If you had stayed around to hear about it youíd know that apart from a couple of cracked ribs and a few burns, I was fine. Exhausted, but okay." She took another sip from the bottle, more to have something to do than from thirst. "I wiped out the En Kindle clan, killed their queen. Theyíll never come back or hurt anyone else again."

"But they claimed something precious in the end, didnít they? Was it worth it to lose us?"

Tears welled in her eyes at the finality of his words. "I donít want to lose us."

He fought the urge to go to her, to capture those tears before they could drop onto her cheeks. "But you did."

Buffy followed him when he turned and went back to the bedroom, her heart pounding so hard that it hurt. She watched as he moved one of her bags and opened his closet, pulling a fresh shirt off the hanger. "Please talk to me."

"Iíve talked it to death, Buffy!" His voice was sharp, his tone final. "I canít be the only one who gives in this relationship anymore. You take and take and take from me until I have nothing left."

"I have given you every piece of me."

"Except the Slayer."

"What?"

"You trust me with your body and your heart. You even let me rub against your soul, but you donít trust me with the Slayer."

"I was going to let you bite me the other day!" Buffy shouted. "How is that not trusting you? A Slayer willingly letting a vampire feed from her!? Giles would shit!"

"I am talking about the fact that you refuse to let me to take care of you."

"I donít need someone to take care of me!"

"Exactly. And that makes me want to that much more. I can make you scream in pleasure, but I canít make the Slayer put her weapon down and trust one of us to pick it up. Itís the one part of you that I canít reach, that I canít tame and that kills me."

Buffy gave in to the tears and angrily swiped them away. "I accept that you drink blood and that your face changes when you do. I accept that Iím never gonna see you in the sun and that youíre not going to get old when I do. I accept that youíre going to live a million years past me and youíre gonna move on and find someone else one day. I accept you because I love you. Why canít you accept me?"

"I have no control over anything you so *graciously* accept of me except for one thing. When you die? Iíll burn, Buffy, right out there in the sun next to your grave. I tried to do it every day that you were gone in Sunnydale and I couldnít. When it happens again, I *will*."

"Donít say that."

"Itís true."

"What do you want me to do?" Buffy sat down on the edge of the bed, tears streaming steadily down her cheeks. "Do you want me to tell you that Iíll never fight again?"

"The same way you told me that youíd stay inside and not go out again? The lies roll of your tongue far too easy these days."

Giles had said basically the same thing when heíd heard what she had done. He reminded her that she had promised him she would do nothing and questioned her integrity. "Iím sorry. You probably donít care, but I had every intention of keeping my word. But then I realized that the En Kindle had been in the cave with Miles that night and I knew I had to grab the chance to take them out."

"Alone."

"Davies was -"

"You sent him away and did it alone, Buffy! Iím trying to get you to understand something and you refuse to try. Weíre a team, me and you. I need you to let me in, let me know what youíre doing, not as a co-worker, not as your friend, but as the man who loves you. Donít you think I deserve that?"

"You werenít here."

"How about all the times before?"

"It was *one* time! I didnít tell you I was going after the demon that attacked Miles. How long are you going to hold that over my head?!"

"Until you admit that youíre cutting me out of your life. If you wonít admit it to me at least admit it to yourself."

"I donít mean to. Spike, I asked you a few days ago if you thought Angel was intentionally keeping us apart. You *let* me work myself into a stupor. You *let* me alienate you and do it all myself. And you didnít-"

"Iím not your fucking keeper! I donít want to be!"

"You donít act like it! Stay inside, Buffy! Donít go alone, Buffy! Youíre not in the right department, Buffy! Tell me what youíre doing, Buffy!" She shook her head. "Youíre over protective."

"Because you continually let me down."

Her face crumpled a little. "That really hurt."

"This is getting us nowhere." Spike pulled a pair of pants from the closet and said, "Iím going to take a shower."

She watched him go, her heart hurting so much it took her breath away. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she replayed their conversation in her head and came to a stunning realization. Angel had been right earlier. She had asked Spike to share her life and then cut him out of part of it. She always did that. She had let Angel into her Slayer life, letting him help her, but she had never done the human things with him, not really. She never asked him to come home and meet her mother as her boyfriend, they never did normal couple things. With Riley, he had gotten into her Slaying life and her human life, but he was never able to get her heart. And Spike had everything. Her heart, her soul, her body and mind, but not the Slayer. He was right. The Slayer held him at armís length and worked alone, fought alone and in the end, would died alone.

Buffy refused to accept that.

Standing, she yanked her clothes off and walked into the bathroom. When she quietly slid the shower door open, she found him leaning his head against the wall, his back to her. She swallowed hard when she realized that his shoulders were shaking. She stepped in and lightly touched him on the back.

Spike turned, rubbing his face and stared down at her. "Buffy-"

"Youíre crying."

"I am *not* crying. I got soap in my eye."

She glanced at the soap, which was on the top ledge of the shower and very dry. "Right."

"So what if I was?" he asked, following her gaze. "It doesnít make me less of a man. You already did that to me."

The comment aggravated her to the limit, but she brushed it aside and stepped forward, hugging him. She was beginning to think he would push her away when he finally gave in and hugged her back, resting his head on hers. They stood that way for a few minutes, then she looked up at him. "Iím ready to lay my weapon down."

His jaw tightened and he pinned her back against the wall, holding both of her hands above her head. She didnít fight him, didnít struggle and he lowered his head, kissing her hard. Growling a little, he deepened the kiss and let her arms go, lifting her behind the thighs. He felt her wrap her legs around him and moved his hips, slamming into her. She cried out, her body unprepared, and he lifted her a little higher, using his mouth on her breasts, suckling her nipples until they were hard pebbles against his tongue. She gasped and he lowered her, impaling her fully again, and moved to her neck, licking and nipping at her flesh until she was tingling with need.

Buffy felt her body respond, ignite at the place they were joined and she pulled him a little closer, letting him know that she was ready for more. He angled her and thrust forward, hard, punishing. Frantically, she clutched at him, grinding against him, trying to find friction for her aching clit, but he purposely kept her from release and she was reduced to begging him, pleading with him to let her come. Every minute that passed inflamed her need, weakened her on some primal level.

She wasnít aware that she was crying again until he kissed her, whispering that it was okay. She moaned when he reached between their bodies and ran his thumb across her aching center, pushing her to the brink of orgasm, then over the edge. Her release hit hard, and she cried out, digging her nails into his shoulders. He pounded against her, his palms on her ass as he lifted her and pulled her back down again and again.

Buffy twined her arms around him, listening to the sounds of their bodies slapping together. She kissed the side of his face, his neck, his mouth, whispering that she loved him. He came, growling her name. They stayed that way for a while, until Buffy eased her legs down, forcing him to slip from her. She didnít know what to say, what to do. He held the shower massage out to her and she used it to wash away the traces of their coupling.

The water cascaded over her body, between her legs, and he swallowed hard, his body reacting to her every move. His cock sprang to life again and he saw her glance at his swollen member, then at his face. Taking the shower massage, he hung it and turned back to her, motioning for her to turn around. She did, shivering when he put his hand on her shoulder and pushed her forward. She leaned down, bracing her hands on the wall when he entered her again, this time from behind. The grip he had on her hips was almost painful, and she could tell that it would bruise, but she didnít complain, she relished the sting of it.

It was quick this time. He pumped against her, frantically, and within minutes, his eyes were rolling as he spilled his seed deep inside her. He could hear her heart pounding, feel the way she trembled and took mercy on her. He was not a selfish lover and she had not joined him in release. Slipping from her, he pulled her around and rinsed her again, then he hit the stopper on the tub and turned the shower off so the water flowed from the faucet instead. It pooled at the feet, hot.

It would take a while for the big, round garden tub to fill so he kissed her again, massaging her breasts. He took his time, kissing the column of her throat, then the valley between her breasts. Finally, he turned the water off and sat back, hissing at the warmth, then beckoned her forward. He didnít have to ask twice. She braced her legs on either side of him and he buried his face against her quivering mound. She threw her head back, gasping as he took her to the places that only he could take her, that only he had taken her.

A while later she sat in front of him in the water, her back against his chest, her head resting under his. He had wrapped his legs around her to keep her in place and was trailing a soapy rag over her stomach. She fidgeted a little and he felt her shiver. "Cold, love?"

"I passed cold. Iím heading for freezing."

Reaching up, he turned the hot water on and pulled the plug. He rinsed away the soap, then helped her to her feet and rose behind her. Her flesh was dotted with goosebumps so he wrapped her in the only towel he had brought into the bathroom and hugged her, trying to rub away the chills. "Come on."

The bedroom was cold, even to him, so he pulled the cover back for her and lit the gas logs in the corner. When he turned back to the bed, she was burrowed beneath the cover. He smiled a little and opened the drawer where she kept her nightclothes. It was empty. He swore, silently, and turned to look at the mound of luggage she had packed. It didnít sit well with him and he felt his temper bubbling back to the surface.

"Spike?" Buffy had poked her head out from under the cover and saw the look on his face. "Please donít start throwing suitcases again."

"I wasnít," he told her, even though the thought had crossed his mind. "Do you want me to ring someone to come and get your things, take them down for the cab?"

She sat up, holding the cover against her bare chest, unable to believe her ears. "You want me to go? I thought I just proved to you that I -"

"You proved that I can have your body and that you want mine. What about the rest?"

"Iíll do whatever it takes."

Spike nodded. "Are you sure? Because if you lie to me again-"

"I wonít."

He enjoyed making her squirm. It was so out of the ordinary for her to be the one groveling. He had to clamp down on the smile that was threatening to erupt. "I donít know, love. I canít trust you."

"What!?" Cold forgotten, she leapt from the bed and stalked toward him, not catching the gleam in his eyes as he watched her. "You could trust me with your life! I love you more than I have ever loved anyone and for you to say that-"

"Shut up." He put a finger over her lips and let the smile come. "You really are beautiful when youíre pissed. Thatís why I try to keep you mad."

"Youíre not funny," she snapped as she pulled him down for a kiss.

"I know, baby."

"I love it when you call me that."

*~*

Buffy sat at the conference table, chewing the end of her pen as Angel discussed the latest and greatest threat in Los Angeles. She had gone back to work almost immediately and while she had jumped back into the position with both feet, she didnít overdo it. The responsibilities had been delegated and so far, the most damage done to anyone in Assassination had been a broken bone. And that was because they shut their fingers in a car door.

Glancing across the table, she saw Spike watching her and stuck her tongue out at him. A few days earlier he had given all of her luggage to Goodwill while she was working. She had been leaving the break room with a stale donut and a cup of coffee when she saw them hauling it through the lobby. Her heart had flipped a little, unsure of what to make of it, until Spike had eased his arms around her and whispered, "Just a precautionary measure. Donít worry. I unpacked it all and you are *not* buying new bags!"

She laughed about it for over an hour. Then she had set about proving to him that he shouldnít have worried at all.

"Buffy?" Angel said for the third time.

"Slayer, pay attention!" Spike scolded, pretending that he hadnít been distracting her by sticking his own tongue out and flicking it enticingly. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Huh?" she asked, still staring at the bleach blond vampire who was making her squirm.

"A bezoar. Didnít you fight one in Sunnydale?" Angel did a very good job of acting like he had not seen the exchange, but a small smile tugged the corners of his mouth.

"Yeah, right. It was hatching eggs." She tore her gaze away from Spike. "Nasty thing. Brainwashed Willow and Cordy."

"Weíve got another one. Itís not at the brainwashing stage yet, but itís getting close. How did you kill it?"

"I let it eat me."

"Come again?" Spike said, scarred eyebrow arching menacingly.

"It swallowed me and I hacked it to bits from the inside. Sorta like in ĎMen in Blackí when Tommy Lee Jones lets the big roach eat him so he can go in and get his gun from its stomach. Just like that. Only with less explosions, but almost as much guts and grossness."

"I think I regret that you have so much time for television." Angel handed her the file in his hand. "Go get ate."

"Iím on it." Buffy stood. She glanced over at Davies, who was looking expectantly at her. "Posse up, Wingman. Bring some sharp stuff."

"You got it!" Davies grinned, gathering up his things. "We have to go past In and Out Burger. You up for lunch."

"Always!" Buffy leaned down, kissing Spike on the cheek. "I may be a little late. Itís all the way in the valley."

"Iíll be waiting," he whispered, then pulled her down for a proper kiss, not caring that anyone saw it. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Dispatching the bezoar was easy enough and she actually avoided being eaten. She had to give Davies a lot of the credit. He had attacked it, ripping it to a pulp that even she had to admire. On their way back to the car, he said, "So, did you hear about Christine?"

Buffy nodded. "Sheís coming back to work next week. Iím glad she got away, but I missed her so much. You kept in touch with her all this time, didnít you?"

"Yeah. We talked a lot on the phone."

"Whatís Ďa lotí?"

"Every couple of days." He shrugged, but his face turned bright pink. "Did you know that we worked the bomb squad together years ago? I actually got her the job at Wolfram and Hart and introduced her to Miles."

"I didnít know that! She never told me!"

"She got out of the field when her partner died and said sheíd never go back." Davies loaded the bag-o-weapons into the back of the SUV. "I canít wait to see her again."

Raising an eyebrow, she studied him. It was too soon for Christine to even contemplate moving on, but Buffy had a strong suspicion that Davies would be there when she was ready and would probably be a strong anchor for her during the wait.

They drove back in comfortable silence and the moon was beginning to rise up into the starry sky when they drove past the beach. Buffy glanced out the window, a couple of blocks away from Wolfram and Hart, watching the surf. Something caught her eye and she said, "Let me out here."

Davies saw what she was looking at and smiled. "Itís amazing how you see only him."

She grinned and shut the door, jogging over the sand towards Spike, who was wading, knee deep in the water. He smiled when he saw her and she quickly kicked off her own shoes and rolled up her pants, joining him. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"I was waiting for you."

Buffy kissed him and said, "The last time we did this we were in formal wear and you asked me if life was good. Itís my turn." She perfected an accent just like his. "Life is good, innit?"

"Itís good." He pulled her against him and stared down at her. "It always will be."

"Forever?"

"Foreverís a really long time," he said in a low voice, acting like he was contemplating it all.

"Thatís true. I really should consider all my options." Buffy shrugged and pulled away only to be rewarded with Spike kicking water at her. "Hey!"

He chuckled and did it again. She bent down, cupping a handful and sending it flying into his face. He responded by picking her up and dunking her and when she came up she was shrieking with laughter. Within seconds, they were both soaked to the skin and were grappling for dominance. They wrestled until Buffy was breathless and she staggered, waterlogged, to the beach and sat down. "No fair! Iím tired! I actually worked today!"

"Doesnít matter." Spike flopped down next to her. "I still won."

"You did. You got a very cold, very wet Slayer as a prize and you canít give it back."

"No way in hell Iíd want to."

She leaned her head against his shoulder and took his hand, staring out at the stars reflecting over the calm ocean. "Wanna know a secret?"

"You want me right here on the beach?"

"Thatís NOT a secret, Spike."

"Tell me."

"You were right. I did push you away and Iíll never do it again. Youíre the best thing that has ever happened to me."

He grinned, kissing her on the forehead. "Thatís not a secret, either. Of course I am."

"The secret is that I finally realized it. The *Slayer* finally realized it." Buffy reached up, brushing his curling hair off his forehead. "Iím sorry it took so long."

He stood and held out a hand. "Letís go home, baby."

She let him pull her to her feet. "In case I havenít mentioned it before ... I really like it when you call me that."

Hand in hand, they walked back to Wolfram and Hart, ignoring the way the night crew elbowed one another when Spike swung her up into his arms and carried her into the elevator.

Angel stepped to one side, grinning at the two of them, but said nothing. When they exited onto their floor, he started to tell them to have a wonderful night, but he could see in their faces that they already planned to. He accepted it. Encouraged it. And knew that he had surrendered her into very capable, loving hands.

-The End