Heaven's On Fire

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Heaven's On Fire ******

Buffy was putting the finishing touches on her makeup. Her face, which had gone without sunlight for over a hundred days, was still pale and drawn. The circles under her eyes were hard to hide, even under the heavy concealer, but she gave it a valiant attempt. Satisfied that she passed for someone at least halfway alive, she took a deep breath and turned, digging through her trunk to find a few stakes.

Dawn watched from the doorway as Buffy went through the motions. As far as she was concerned, her sister could paint her cheeks, slash her mouth with red, and dab pressed powder on her nose, but her eyes could never be made up to look anything other than destroyed. That’s how the Slayer looked. Destroyed. And it was a bitter pill for Dawn to swallow. She had spent weeks looking for spells on her own to bring Buffy back, but in the end, she wondered if they should have.

"Buffy?" Pushing away from the wall, Dawn walked into the room and sat down on the bed. "Can we talk for a second?"

Buffy, her back to Dawn, sighed a little and continued to paw through the contents of her trunk. "Yeah, whatever."

"Are you mad at me?"

"Why would you think that?"

"Because you never talk to me anymore. You don’t-"

"Dawn, I’m just a little busy lately."

"Getting drunk isn’t really a good excuse."

Buffy glanced over her shoulder. "I mean busy with killing evil forces."

"Like you do so much of that lately, too."

"Okay, now I’m getting mad at you." Buffy turned back to her trunk, swearing. "Where the fuck is that Holy Water?"

"Are you actually going patrolling?"

"There are some vampires who need to be taken out and I want to do it tonight."

"Can I come?"

"Never gonna happen."

"I got to patrol with the Buffybot sometimes!"

"Well, put her back together then. You’re not slowing me down."

Dawn opened her mouth to tell her that she’d rather have the Buffybot, but bit her tongue instead. She couldn’t blame Buffy for being upset or for having trouble with being brought back. With perfect clarity, Dawn remembered what it was like to find out that she was the Key. That couldn’t even be half as traumatizing as being brought back from Hell. She chewed her thumbnail and decided to take the conversation in a different direction. "Giles made Spike your watcher."

"What!?" Buffy cried, jumping to her feet. The knife that she held in her hand slipped and cut across all four fingers, literally flaying them open. "Owww!" she cried in shock.

"Oh my god!" Dawn jumped to her feet, grabbing up a spaghetti strapped pajama shirt on the floor. She wrapped it around Buffy’s hand and screeched, "Giles!"

"It’s okay," Buffy told her, stunned that she had dealt herself such a painful injury. She swore under her breath when she heard the sound of footsteps thundering up the stairwell.

Giles was the first through the door. He surveyed the blood droplets on the floor and the blood soaked shirt wrapped around Buffy’s hand and grabbed her arm, fearing that she had cut her wrist in desperation. He gently began unwrapping the soiled material, but she pulled away. "Buffy-"

"I’m fine." She held her hand against her chest. The throbbing in her fingers felt ... good. It made her feel alive. "It’s just a little cut."

Spike raced through the door in full vampire face. "You’re bleeding. I could smell it halfway down the block."

"Ew." Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "You may as well put your fangs away. You’re not eating here!"

He felt the ridges on his forehead and cursed, then closed his eyes and forced the demon away. He had been heading back toward town when the scent of her, strong and sweet, wafted through the air. "What happened, love?"

"I’m not your love." Buffy groaned when Willow slipped in behind Spike. "There’s nothing to see, people! I’m just fucking fine!"

Willow ignored her. "I’ll get the first aid kit."

"I don’t need it!"

"I’ll get it anyway!" Willow snapped back at her.

"Let me see it." Spike reached for her, grabbing her arm and yanking her toward him when she tried to pull away from him. "I’m not going to play games with you! Either you do this the easy way or Red puts a spell on you to keep you still. Which is it?"

Buffy didn’t doubt that he would be able to make good on his threat. She rolled her eyes and held her hand out, aware that Giles was watching the exchange carefully. Spike was her new watcher? Surely she had not heard Dawn correctly. She hissed a little and shied away as the vampire peeled the shirt away, pulling at her torn flesh. "Oww!"

"What did you do?" Spike wiped at the fresh blood and surveyed the damage. "You need stitches."

Giles leaned forward, his glasses on the edge of his nose as he, too, studied the wound. "Yes, I daresay you’re right."

Buffy glared at him. "You asked him to be my new watcher?"

Glancing at Dawn, who looked away quickly, Giles shook his head. "I asked him to help you out from time to time. I did not tell him that he is your watcher."

"I’m not doing what he says," she told him.

"Well, you’ve hardly ever done anything I’ve said so that shouldn’t be too hard for you to acclimate yourself to."

"I can’t believe you’re pawning me off on Spike!"

"I believe I just told you that he is not-"

"Whatever!" Buffy pulled her hand away from Spike, who had wisely chosen to remain silent during the exchange. "I have to go."

"To the hospital," Dawn told her, gently touching her arm. "You have to get it fixed."

"I’m the Slayer. I don’t need hospitals."

"Well, you’re going." Holding the bloody shirt back out to her, Spike nodded at the door. "Let’s go."

Willow came back into the room carrying the larger than life first aid kit that Joyce had invested in years earlier. "Where are we going?" she asked, setting it on the bed. She held up a scroll in one hand. A scroll wrapped with a yellow ribbon. "Buffy, this was on the floor by your pants. Do you need it or do you want me to toss it?"

Buffy’s eyes widened and her hand shot out on its own. She wrapped her fingers around it, not even noticing the blood that smeared all over the parchment. She felt it grow hot against her flesh and gasped, unable to believe her eyes as the parchment disappeared only to be replaced by a metal cylinder and lock set.

Bob had said that one bloody fingerprint would make the contract binding.

Buffy had just put five prints on the parchment.

The deal was sealed.





*~*~*~*~

"What is that thing?" Dawn asked, staring down at the locked tube that used to be a roll of parchment.

"It’s a joke." Buffy tossed it into her trunk and slammed the lid, shaken to her core. She hadn’t even read the scroll so surely that would void any deal that may have inadvertently been struck. She put her hands behind her back, willing them to stop shaking. "I should patrol."

"I thought we established that you were going to the hospital." Giles motioned for her to come with him, then frowned when she stood her ground. "Buffy-"

"Let me see," Willow gently reached for her, turning her friend’s palm upward to survey the damage. "Ouch. I can fix it."

"With more magic?" Giles snapped.

Willow shook her head, scowling at him. "No. With conventional medicine."

"She should see the doc," Spike told the girl.

"She doesn’t want to go." Willow turned back to Buffy and said, "Do you want me to see what I can do?"

"Sure." Buffy shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed. The uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach had nothing to do with her hospital phobia and everything to do with the unholy alliance she had just formed. She glanced up at Dawn, who was close to tears. "It’s okay. I’m fine."

Willow kneeled down in front of Buffy and opened the kit. "Dawn, can you get me a big basin full of water and some clean towels?" To Spike, she added, "Can you get the alcohol out of the bathroom?"

With only Giles and Willow left in the room, Buffy felt a little more comfortable. She stared at her watcher ... her ex-watcher ... and said, "What do you know about Belzor?"

"Spike’s the authority on Belzor," Willow replied before Giles could. "He knows everything about him."

"They were probably best friends while they killed millions of people," Buffy said, pointedly looking at Giles. "I feel so safe in his torture capable hands."

"I did not appoint him your watcher!" Giles sat down at Buffy’s vanity, moving a hot pink feather boa that tickled his nose. "I asked him to help you occasionally and you are the one who has been spending all your time in his company. So don’t -"

Willow had unwrapped Buffy’s hand and gasped. "It’s healed."

"What?" Giles leaned forward, staring down at what had been bone baring cuts. There wasn’t even a scratch anymore. "Good lord."

Buffy tentatively flexed her fingers, shocked to see that they were indeed completely healed. "Well, that’s better."

"That’s quick healing, Buffy, even for you." Willow pulled the Slayer’s hand back into hers and studied her flesh again. "Not so much as a scar. Have you been hurt at all since you’ve been back?"

"What do you mean?" She wondered how they would take her telling them that her heart had hurt nonstop since her return.

"I mean, have you had any other injuries that you healed this fast from?"

Buffy shrugged. "I don’t know."

"It’s uncanny." Giles shook his head, studying Buffy. "Do you feel different? Stronger perhaps? You told me after you died at the Master’s hand that you awoke feeling different, more in tune with the Slayer inside you."

"I feel-" Buffy mulled her words carefully. How could she say that she felt devastated, scared, scarred, angry, miserable, and so many other things? "-okay," she lied because okay was not in remotely in the same ballpark as her emotions and the truth was not something she could speak.

Spike returned with the alcohol, followed by Dawn. Willow quickly explained that Buffy was fine and left the room, carrying the first aid kit. Dawn followed her, looking bewildered and Spike sat down next to Buffy, peering at her hand for himself.

"Do you always heal like this?" he asked.

"Apparently I came back stronger."

Spike lifted her hand, pressing against her flesh despite the dried blood there. "It doesn't hurt at all?"


Buffy rolled her eyes as he massaged her fingers. "You know," she sighed. "I am so fucking tired of living under a microscope. You people bring me back and then question my every move, examine me and then cross examine me, and then you act shocked when I get pissed. Just get out of my room!"

Giles glared at her. "You’re behaving like a spoiled child."

"Well being spoiled was never a luxury that I had." She snatched her hand away from Spike and stood, shoving a few more items into her bag. "Saving the world a million times doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time for simple things like having a life or a death for that matter. Not even death can buy me a get out of SunnyHELL free card. But you go ahead and run, Giles. Have a nice life. One that I'll never have. Send me a postcard about it."

"Slayer-"

"Shut up!" Buffy shouted, shoving her bag onto her shoulder. "Don’t wait up for me."

"Where are you going?" Dawn came back into the room carrying a tub of ice cream and moved aside quickly when Buffy brushed past her. "I thought we could stuff ourselves and watch Lifetime television since-"

"For the last time," Buffy shouted. "I’m going out to patrol. Xander was attacked and it’s my job to find what did it. I don’t get to leave! This is my life. So don’t act shocked when I go out and do my job! You brought me back for this!" To Spike, she added, "So help me god, if you follow me I’m staking you. Just leave me alone. For one fucking night ... leave me the hell alone. All of you!"

They watched her slam out of the room with their mouths agape. Spike paced back and forth for a few seconds, then followed her.

"Spike, I think she was serious." Dawn chased after him. "Just let her go."

He winked at her, tapping the end of her nose. "Now when have you ever known me to back down from a challenge?"

Buffy made it to the end of the sidewalk before the strange sensation set in. It was like a tug, somewhere just behind her ribcage, pulling her forward. She dug her feet into the concrete and shook her head as the tugging became more insistent. Taking a step back, she started to rush toward her house, then screeched as her feet left the ground and she was hurtled backward through darkness.

She landed hard against a pile of gravel and groaned, massaging her elbows which had not only broken her fall, but had split open as the rocks stabbed her flesh. Unsure of where she was, she pulled her bag around and dug a weapon from it.

"You won’t need that yet," Bob told her, emerging from behind another large pile of rocks. "We’re at the quarry, since you were concerned with your location."

"You can read my mind?" she snapped, angry now.

"No, I could read the confusion on your pretty little face." He smiled at her. "My job would be easier if I could read minds, though."

"Why am I here?"

"I told you I’d find you when you made your decision."

"About that ... I accidentally bled on that scroll. I am *not* interested in being a part of your organization."

"Blood is binding. It doesn’t matter how it got there."

"That’s not fair. Look, it was a horrible mistake and-"

Bob shook his head. "I don’t believe in mistakes. I believe in fate, destiny, and karma, but not mistakes. Your blood was meant. You were destined to be ours, Buffy, one of us. That’s why you were brought back. That’s why I couldn’t kill you when Glory hired me."

"I thought I killed myself on the night you were supposed to."

"Champions don’t stay dead. Look at Angel." He saw her open her mouth to speak and held up a hand. "No, he’s not one of ours. I simply mean that people like you and him ... you don’t stay dead. The world needs you too much."

"I don’t want to play on your team. I’ll give you the contract back or whatever you need to null and void it."

"Only death. I told you that."

"So kill me. I don’t care."

"No."

"I’ll kill myself then."

"You can try. Your wounds will heal almost instantly now."

So that explained the healing. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the man, who crossed his arms as well, mirroring her scowl. "Stop doing that," she finally snapped. "I’ll find a way out of this. I always do."

"I think when you begin to receive a steady paycheck and find that your life hasn’t been significantly altered you will change your mind." He lowered his arms and smiled at her. "We’re not evil. We simply want to stay one step ahead of the demon underworld. And that brings us around to Belzor."

"He attacked one of my friends."

"I know. I had him under surveillance when your friend, Alexander Harris, thought it would be wise to confront him. Your friend is brave, though somewhat stupid. Even I would know better than to attack a demon when all I had on me was a bag of groceries."

"Xander doesn’t always do the thinking thing."

"Reminds me a bit of you. With the vampires last night." Bob dug through his pocket and pulled out a knife. The handle was shaped like a snake and the blade was long and serrated. "Keep this with you at all times. You’ll find that it will fit just about anywhere and will ride your hand like an extension of your arm. And it becomes what you need it to be."

"You know, I read in Harry Potter than you should never trust inanimate things that can think for themselves."

"It doesn’t think for itself. It *does* read your mind, however. If you need a stake, it becomes a stake. It you need Holy Water, a knife, whatever. You get the point."

"And does it send you a memo to let you know what I’m thinking?"

"No. It’s loyal to you."

"I want out of the deal, Bob. I want the contract torn up and I want you to forget that you know me."

Bob dug into his breast pocket this time and pulled out the thickest wad of cash that Buffy had ever seen. "This is fifty thousand dollars. Half of what I owe you. If you get Belzor, tonight, then the rest is yours."

"And if I don’t?"

"You try again tomorrow. But you lose ten thousand every day that I have to wait. You should have committed the contract to memory."

"I would have if I had bothered to unroll it before I ACCIDENTALLY bled on it." She snatched the snake knife from him. "What if I kill you? Does that null and void it?"

"No. That just means that you’ll be killed by *my* boss."

"Shit."

Bob patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "Look on the bright side. Your money issues are solved."

"I want a new contract so I can read it. And it better be a real one."

Reaching back into his pocket, Bob produced another scroll. "This one isn’t enchanted or anything. And only you can read it."

"Do I have to tap it and say ‘Mischief Managed’ when I’m done?"

He chuckled a little. "I’m glad you read. Study it well. I may quiz you next time."

"About that. Do you have to teleport me every time we talk?"

"No, but if you fight the urge to come on your own I have no choice."

"Where is Belzor and how do I kill him."

"Take his head off. He’s in the sewers already, heading for the talisman."

"I don’t suppose you can teleport me there?"

Bob grinned at her and then she was flying through darkness again. This time she landed with a decidedly ungraceful splash in sewer water. It was cold and she yelped a little, jumping to her feet. She jumped up just in time to avoid the flying tail of Belzor, who was a mere three feet from her and had spun around when she landed.

"Great!" Buffy cried, ducking again as the tail whistled fast through the air. She had wanted to be dropped a good distance behind the demon, not at his feet.

The snake knife sprang to life in her hand. The part that looked like the reptile slithered up her arm, coiling tightly around her flesh and she watched in shock as they eyes turned red, then a four foot blade grew from the handle, crackling with blue sparks.

Belzor took a step away, roaring in anger as his tail swatted at the blade. Buffy brought it down, easily cutting the tail in half. This time Belzor screamed in pain, grabbing the piece of tail from the water and stuffing it into his mouth. "Eww," Buffy moaned in disgust, then watched in shock as the severed tail stopped bleeding and a new fork grew from the nub.

Caught of guard, she didn’t realize that it was whipping toward her again until it dug into the flesh of her shoulder and propelled her forward, straight toward the open mouth of the demon. She dug her feet against the slick tunnel, for all the good it did her, and rammed the blade into the demon’s razor toothed mouth. It howled again, flailing and whipping its tail, which was still embedded in her shoulder.

Her head hit the top of the tunnel, hard, and thought for a second that she would black out. She got her bearings as the demon was lowering its tail again and she shoved the knife further into its mouth, sawing back and forth in an attempt to remove the head. It used its gnarly arms to swat her away and she fell, dodging the tail again as she broke loose from it and rolled.

Buffy shot back to her feet as the demon lunged at her again. This time she sent the blade flying through the air and sliced cleanly through the neck. The head went left and the body went right. For a second, she thought that it was over, then she saw the headless body grappling to its knees as the hands felt around for the head.

"You’ve got to be kidding me." Buffy remembered all too well that the thing had eaten its own tail to grow another one. She glanced at the sword that was still attached to her arm and concentrated. Before her eyes it became a large hammer. Not as big as the Troll hammer that she had bashed Glory to smithereens with, but big enough to make a pancake out of Belzor’s head.

She backed up, raised it over her head, and proceeded to pulverize the head until it was nothing but liquid. Then she drug the body, which had finally gone limp, down through the tunnel, branching off into another direction and set about ripping it to shreds. It wouldn’t be able to form again. There wasn’t enough left by the time she had finished.

When she emerged from the tunnels a while later, wet and cranky, she found Bob sitting on a child’s swing. He motioned for her to join him and smiled fondly. "I knew you were special."

"Am I special enough to get a reprieve? To get out of this mess?"

He handed her another pile of money that was just as big as the first. "Why would you want out when there is so much to gain?"

She flipped through the wad of cash, then stowed it in her bag with the first. "What happens next?"

"Until we need you again you’re free to go about your life as if nothing happened. Pay your bills, buy yourself something pretty and try to enjoy the fact that you’re back." He stood and glanced into the darkness. "Your vampire is coming. Before I forget, here’s the talisman."


Buffy accepted the necklace from him and stowed it in her bag as well. "How did you get it from the vampires?"

"I pretended to be Belzor again and they left."

"Why didn’t you kill Belzor yourself?" She asked him.

"I can pretend to be anything, but at the end of the day I’m just a weak human. I’ve got connections, but I’m not connected to the super strength highway. You corner the market on that." He watched her for a second longer. "We’re not bad guys, Buffy. We’re not. And I’d never ask you to do anything that would go outside of what you were created for. It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be friends. You’ll see."

She watched him walk away and sat down on the swing he had vacated.

Being pulled out of Heaven had been a cruel joke.

But having one hundred thousand dollars and a cool new weapon made it a little easier to swallow. She had protested the arrangement only half heartedly.

At least now her life, the very one she didn’t really want, was a little interesting.

She’d play along.


For now.

*~*~*~*~*

Spike found her swinging back and forth, her hair flying behind her like a flag. He stood with his back against a tree, watching her for a while. When Giles had asked him to look after her there had been no hesitation on his part. He would gladly step in, help her, guide her as much as a soulless vampire could guide anyone and keep her from self destructing. It was easier said than done, however.

He longed to tell the others what had happened to her. Explain about the Heaven she had been ripped from. But she had told him her secrets in confidence and if he understood anything it was that gaining and keeping her trust was the most valuable thing in the world. If he was going to help her, she’d have to trust him.

After a few more minutes had passed, he ventured closer and sat down next to her on another swing. He kicked off, soaring next to her in perfect unison.

"What are you doing, Spike?" she asked as they flew back and forth. She hadn’t expected him to join her. She had expected him to demand answers and attempt to go Dr. Phil on her again.

"Swingin’, love."

"There are other parks."

"You’re in this one."

When her swing moved all the way forward again, she flipped out of it, somersaulting through the air and landing on her feet. Not to be outdone, Spike did a little flip of his own and dropped in front of her. "Wanna hit the slide next?"

"Mostly I want to hit you."

He braced himself, but the blow never came. She sat down on the merry go round and slowly inched it in a circle. When she came back around, he flopped down next to her and pushed off. Buffy raised her feet, sitting Indian style as the rickety old toy bounced in another circle. She rested her head against the rusted railing and watched the park blur past her until she was light headed.

Spike slowed it down and watched her lie back, her eyes closed. "You okay?"

"No."

"Want to elaborate?"

"Not really."

"You were really hard on Dawn back there. On everyone. But it hurt her the most."

"I’m sure you’ll make it better."

"I shouldn’t have to. You should apologize to her. She needs you, you know? Losing her mother and her sister the way she did was hard on her."

"I need a drink." Buffy stood, grabbing her bag.

Spike stood as well. "I’ve told you about the Lair, Buffy. If you keep going there-"

"I know. You’ll get killed." She walked around the swing and headed towards Willy’s Alibi Room. "How could the world overcome such a loss?"

"Let’s go to my crypt. I have plenty of alcohol there."

"Didn’t I tell you that you’d get staked if you followed me?"

"I didn’t follow you, love. You had vanished when I left your house and I couldn’t pick up your scent. I was actually just passing through the park and there you were." He gave an innocent shrug. "Besides, I don’t have any plans."

"You’re *Spike*. You never have plans. That would require a life. Which you don’t have."

"Keep insulting me if it makes you feel better, pet." He nodded back toward his crypt. "Come on then."

"Just because Giles asked you to help me that doesn’t mean that I have to actually spend time with you."

"I know."

"So I’m only going to your place because I don’t really have plans either and *not* because your company is something I like." She moved past him, leading the way and he followed with a little smile on his face.

When they arrived, she dropped her bag and her jacket and helped herself to his scotch. She poured a liberal helping into his favorite glass and tossed it back without so much as a grimace, then downed a second. He sat back in his chair and watched as she surveyed the various bottles that he had amassed. She went for the cognac next, then drew her hand across her mouth and belched.


"Sexy, love," he told her, leaning forward as she began rummaging through his cd collection.

"How do you get all this stuff?"

"My powers of persuasion?"

"Whatever. How often do you go on stealing trips?"

"Only when the urge hits me."

"Everyday then?"

He shrugged. "I have to be careful now. I can’t kill the witnesses anymore."

She put a cd into his banged up radio and leaned back, listening to the sounds of ‘Bay City Rollers’. "This is Giles’ favorite band."

"Who do you think I stole it from?"

She grinned despite herself. "That looks an awful lot like Dawn’s Britney Spears cd."

"I did NOT steal that. She left it here when she stayed with me one night during the summer and it hasn’t been moved from that spot she left it in."

"Do us all a favor and burn it." She pondered his words then and frowned. "Dawn slept here?"

"Yes." Spike leaned forward, turning the volume down a little. "Your friends and the Buffybot had gone on a patrol that lasted overnight. Your house wasn’t safe because a few of Glory’s minions thought it would be fun to avenge her death. We stayed here all night and played games and listened to that alleged singer warble about being hit one more time which I would gladly have done, despite the pain it would have caused."

"You were with her a lot while I was gone."

"I was. Every day. I made sure she was eating right and taking care of herself because you asked me to."

"And you always keep your word?"

"When it comes to you, I do."

"So, you’re going to take this watcher thing completely overboard, right?"

"Only if you force me to. And Giles is right. I’m not actually a watcher. I think he called me a ‘seeing eye vampire’. Bloody tosser is making me keep a journal and everything."

"Can I read it?"

"If you want."

"Giles never lets me read his."

"Well, I’m not Giles. I don’t want to be Giles."

"Yeah, unless he’s playing it really close to the chest, he’s never been in love with me."

Spike was a little taken aback. "So you believe me then?"

"I believe that you believe it. Whatever that means."

"I guess that’s a start."

She resumed flipping through his cd collection and he was relieved to see that the alcohol had apparently lost its allure. He smiled when she pulled out Michael Jackson’s Thriller and raised an eyebrow. "What?" he asked her. "I happen to like him. Gave demons something to dance about, he did."

"I think he is a demon."

"Nah." Spike picked up another cd and handed it to her. "Gene Simmons is a demon."

"Who?"

"Lead singer from KISS."

She stared at the case and grimaced. "Why do they have makeup on?"

"To cover up the ridges on their foreheads."

"That explains so much."

Standing, she went back to the cognac and poured the glass full, then sat down on the sarcophagus and surveyed the contents of the room. "You got a lot of new stuff."

"Are we making small talk to avoid the real issues?"

"I have no issues."

"Buffy, you can talk to me about anything that flies into that head of yours. Anything as long as it’s everything."

She took another sip of the cognac. "I tell you more than I tell anyone. You know where I was."

"I appreciate you telling me, love. But I need you to let me help you with the anger and depression. The only way I can do that is if you let me all the way in."

She shifted uncomfortably. "I am angry. Furious, even."

"At your friends or with Giles?"

"At the world."

"For?"

"Needing a Slayer. At myself for being one."

"And you’re angry at what else?"

"At Dawn for not being able to look at me and see what I went through. At Willow for becoming such a damn good witch. At Xander for going along with her plan to bring me back. At Tara and Anya for loving them both so much that they stay despite how weird it all is. I save the world, die for it, and no one stays with me." She drained the glass and reached for the bottle, drinking directly from it. "Not even Giles."

As he wanted to get her to this point, he found himself aching and at a loss for words. He watched her nurse the bottle for a second, then moved to sit next to her. "You do get that Angel was a dick, right? And Riley was threatened by you. Not just that you’re a Slayer, but because you’re a strong woman. Your dad was a fool to cut you out of his life and your mom never would have gone away if she’d had a say about it. As for Giles, it’s killing him."

"People leave me like clockwork. I get attached, they realize it, and leave."

"It’s not because of you. It’s because they’re weak." He nudged her with his shoulder. "And *I* don’t plan on leaving. No matter how many barbs you throw at me or how many times you break my nose. I’m here for the long haul."

"That’s what they all say."

"I’m like no one else, baby. One day you’ll see."

The liquor was making her woozy, she nudged him back. "And when I get attached to you you’re going to run as fast as you can."

"Love, the day you get attached to me is the day that I will run screaming into the sunlight and not burn up." He smiled at her and took the bottle, draining the contents. "Want to play checkers? Dawn left a ton of board games here."

She laughed then, really laughed. "You want me to play *checkers* with you?"

"I’m a champ. I can’t be beat."

"Please! I am the best strategizer in the country."

"Well, I’m not from this country and I have years on you." He grinned as he set the board up. "Want to wager on it?"

"What are the odds?"

"If I win, you give me a kiss."

"Uh." Her eyes widened. "And if I win?"

"I could give you a kiss." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Anywhere you want it."

She felt her face go crimson. "Or you could agree to stop following me."

"Nope. I told you, I keep my word."

"I’m black," she told him.

"No, you’re red. Like your face." He smiled when the blush in her cheeks deepened. "And I’ll go first."

For the first time in recent history, she wasn't thinking about her own problems.

She was thinking about how to throw the game.

*~*~*~*~*

Buffy stared with mock horror as Spike jumped the last of her red pieces and leered at her. She had purposely made incorrect moves and sabotaged herself at every turn. Trying to sound annoyed, she crossed her arms over her chest and said, “You cheated.”

“I never cheat.”

“Whatever! When I went outside to use the restroom you moved my pieces.”

“Wrong again, love.”

“I’m not kissing you.”

“You protest too much.” He moved closer to her. “Now pucker up.”

“Wait.” She put her hand on his chest, holding him back a little. “Shouldn’t we talk about it? You’re all gung ho on knowing my every thought.”

“What are you thinking?”

She was shocked at how low, how husky his voice had become. It sent shivers up and down her spine. Good shivers. And put tingles in the pit of her stomach. “I’m thinking that you’re taking advantage of someone who is angry and depressed and more than just a little tipsy.”

Spike, who had been inching forward on his hands and knees drew up short. It had started as a little game, but he had become hell bent on kissing her. Now, however, he could concede that she had a point. “Right. I was just windin’ you up, pet.”

“What?” She clenched a handful of the front of his shirt. “I made a bet and I’ll keep it. It’s fine.”

“Nah. We’ll save it for another time.”

Impulsively, she leaned forward, brushing her lips against his. She felt him tense and moved her hand up, running her fingers through the short, silky curls at the nape of his neck. Her tongue moved against his bottom lip, slowly rubbing against him until he opened his mouth. She moaned a little when his tongue danced against hers and one hand wound around her waist, pulling her closer. His other hand tangled in her hair as he deepened the kiss, taking it as far as he dared.

She was breathless when he pulled away. And the tingling in her stomach had become a steady ache in her womb. She gasped, breathing hard and reached for him again, but he moved away, slipping off the tomb. “Spike?”

“Right, then. Debt paid,” he mumbled, turning his back to her so she wouldn’t see the raging hard on that was proudly pushing his pants into an awkward position.

She watched him as he reached for another bottle and twisted the lid, draining half the amber liquid, then drawing the back of his sleeve across his mouth. It wasn’t the reaction she had expected. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but this wasn’t it. “Oh, I forgot. You can’t stand the ‘taste of Buffy’. Better wash again because it could come back.”

He lowered the bottle in front of his crotch and turned to look at her. “What?”

“Nothing. I’m leaving.”

“Buffy-”

“What?!”

“I’ll walk you home.”

“No thanks.”

“You’ve been drinking.”

“I’m clear headed enough to realize that you are a liar.” When he looked affronted, she added, “You’re oh so in love with me until I kiss you and then you’re like everyone else. I get attached, act a little clingy, and all bets are off. Right?”

“That’s not-”

“I’ll see you later.”

He watched her storm out of the crypt, slamming the door hard behind her. “Well, bloody hell,” he muttered under his breath.

Women were insane.

*~*~*~*~*


Buffy slept fitfully. Dawn had been awake in the kitchen when she returned home, but Buffy hadn’t stopped to make small talk with her. Instead, she went straight to bed, shedding her sewer musk clothing as she went. By eight that morning, she was back up, showered, dressed and as far away from her house as she could get.

It was Giles last day as part of their group.

She couldn’t bear to be that close to the source of her pain.

By nine thirty she was chilling on the beach, her bikini top untied to let her pale shoulders get as much undisturbed sunlight as possible. For the longest time, she sat upright, watching the waves rolling into the shore. Then she stretched out on her stomach and pillowed her head on her arms.

She was asleep before she knew it.

“Hey, wake up.”

A gentle shaking pulled her from dreams of silence and comfort and she rolled over, shading her eyes as she stared up at Bob. “What do you want?”

“You’re burning to a crisp.”

She sat up and cringed. He wasn’t lying. “Ow.”

“Vinegar in a tub of cool water should help. But if not, you’ll be healed in a couple of hours anyways.”

“Why is that?”

“You didn’t actually read the contract did you?”

“Didn’t have time.”

“Well, you’re going to have all the time in the world. You’re immortal now. Invincible and impervious and all those other cool sounding words.”

Buffy felt as if she had been splashed by cold water. “What?”

“You’re never going to die.” He raised his hand, motioning at a hot dog salesman. “What do you want on your dog?”

“Huh?” She was still processing his words. Never going to die. Never going to return to Heaven. She took the plain hot dog he handed her and promptly burst into tears.

“Well, for heaven’s sake! If you want a loaded one just say the word!” He took several packets of condiments and slapped a spoon of cole slaw on the hot dog in her hand. “Is that better?”

She handed it back to him and stood, rushing for the bath house. Once inside, she locked herself in a stall and sat down on the toilet, clutching her stomach. A cool weapon and healing powers wasn’t worth it. All the money in the world wasn’t worth it. What had she done? She turned quickly, throwing up the stale bagel she had eaten that morning.

“Are you okay, honey?” a woman called.

“I’m fine. I’m okay. Thanks,” Buffy replied, heaving again.

When she emerged half and hour later she was sweaty and the sun burn was already fading and becoming a rich, bronze color. She could see Bob waving at her and felt as if the world had become a long hallway that she was destined to run down and never get the prize at the end. Moving slowly, since her stomach was still in knots, she paused beside him and began gathering her things. “I have to go.”

“I have another job for you. It pays twenty five thousand dollars and there’s no real time frame for it so you won’t lose anything.”

She nodded, realizing how fruitless it would be to protest. “What is it?”

“It’s a Prongg demon. Bartends at the Devil’s Lair.”

Gasping, she glanced up from packing her bag, glaring at the man. “I know him. He’s harmless.”

“Prongg demons are anything but harmless, Buffy. He’s been feeding on a family of Trelafar demons. They actually *are* harmless. Sort of like unicorns in your Harry Potter books. The blood of a Trelafar demon keeps someone young and virile.” Bob looked bored with the entire conversation. “You have to cut off his forked tongue to kill him.”

“Why is he only worth twenty five thousand?”

“Ahh, the dollar signs have appeared early I see.” He grinned at her. “Because Trelafar demons don’t actually have the resources to pay more than that. And because he’s not worth more. He’s not even worth twenty five. You’re getting it because you’re a special killer.”

“I’m not a killer.”

“Sure you are. Everyone has their price.”

“I don’t want to be Immortal.”

“Neither do I, gorgeous. But here we are. Young and beautiful with the world bowing at our feet. You don’t have to enjoy it yet. You’ll have a trillion years to learn to love it.”

Buffy watched him finish off another hot dog he had purchased and watched him stand. “You said before that you could kill me. I’m not immortal or impervious if you can kill me.”

“Anyone can be killed if you know how. Vampires, demons. You. Me.”

“How do you kill me?”

“Let’s hope to god you never find that out.”

He walked down the beach, catching a big ball and tossing it to a giggling toddler, who squealed with delight.

Another wave of nausea rolled through her and she ran back to the bathroom. This time she didn’t throw up.

But she finally understood exactly what a panic attack was.

*~*~*~*

Giles paced back and forth in the foyer of the Summers’ home, checking his watch every few minutes. He had expected Buffy, despite her anger at him, to at least say goodbye. Dawn had insisted that Buffy had returned home, late the previous night, but the Slayer’s bed had been made and she was no where to be seen when Giles awoke and prepared a lavish breakfast.

It was almost time for him to leave for the airport, so Giles walked back through the house, making sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. Willow descended the stairs and glanced at him. He looked expectant. “Anything?”

“I’ve called her cell phone about ten million times. Xander called and said that he’s still looking all over town with Dawn. I think Dawn’s freaking out on him. But they’ll be back in time for us to go to the airport together.” Willow was exhausted. Mentally and physically and the worry she felt for her Buffy had become a pronounced ache in her forehead. Tara had attempted to massage it away, but the pain had intensified. Four Tylenol had not even taken the edge off. “I’m sorry, Giles. I’m sure this isn’t how you planned your last day with us.”

“It’s quite alright. How is your headache?”

“Worse.”

“Perhaps you should remain here. I can call a taxi.”

“Heck no,” Willow told him, forcing a smile onto her face. “You’re one of us and if you’re going away then you get the Royal Scooby Gang sendoff.”

He returned the smile easily. Sometimes he was able to forget how powerful she had become and was reminded of the young, shy girl she had once been. Her dimpled smile, charming anecdotes and tender heart had a way of shining through. He cleared his throat. “Can we talk for a moment? Before the others return?”

Willow nodded and sat down on the sofa. “What’s up?”

“Buffy isn’t adapting to her new life well.”

“I actually had noticed that.”

“I’d like for you to email me a copy of the spell you used to resurrect her. I need all the details.”

“You can’t undo it!” Willow cried.

“Nor would I ever attempt to. But I would like to try to garner some indication of where she was, attempt to find out which hell dimension she resided in. It could help her heal.”

“Uh, okay.”

“I understand that it was black magick, Willow, and I won’t judge you any further for it. I reserve the right to scowl and say ‘oh dear’, but I understand your motives, however ill conceived they were.”

“Thank you. I think.” She rubbed her forehead, wincing a little as another stab of pain jolted through her. “I only did what I thought was best. I never thought that she’d come back ... so ... so -”

“Scarred?” Giles supplied. “You can see the scars in her eyes. A Slayer lives to fight the evil that dwells in darkness, but she is never meant to dwell there. We can’t know how she passed her time in hell or how long the passage of time actually was to her. By all accounts, one day for us can seem a hundred years for someone in another dimension.”

“That’s kinda what motivated me to bring her back.” Willow leaned forward a little, resting her elbows on her knees. “I mean, I read all about it in your books at the Magick Shoppe. I couldn’t leave her there. And even if I had known that she’d be this messed up when she returned, I still would have brought her out of that.”

“I know.” He affectionately patted her hand. “I can’t help her in the way I would like until I know what she went through.”

“Giles, it could be horrible. Do you really want to do that to yourself?”

“For her, yes.” He glanced down at his watch again when a horn blared outside. “That would be Xander and Dawn.”

Willow stood and opened her arms, enveloping Giles in a rib crushing bear hug. “She loves you, Giles. We all do. Don’t ever forget that.”

“I daresay I’ll have constant reminders.”

“You bet your ass you will!” Willow beamed up at him, then took a step back. “Let’s get going.”

She picked up one of the bags and slung it over her shoulder, swallowing the lump in her throat as he picked up the rest. “Hey, Giles?”

“Yes, Willow?”

“Is Spike really going to need a journal?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll proofread it to make it easier on you.”

“You’re a godsend.”

*~*~*~*~*~

Buffy, still dressed in her bikini, stumbled through the cemetery and into Spike’s crypt, sobbing as if the world had ended. How could she be immortal? How could she wake up every morning knowing that this was her life now, never ending, one more battlefield to find and rule? "Spike!" she cried, throwing down her bag.

He was startled from sleep and grabbed his jeans, yanking them on. He raced up the worn, stone steps from his underground lair just in time to catch her as she raced into him him. "What happened?" he rubbed her back, marveling at the soft warm skin that was exposed to him.

She didn’t reply, just wrapped her arms around him and cried as if she had been broken down the middle. He scooped her up and returned to his bed, lying her back against the cover. Tugging her sandals off, he nudged her aside and laid next to her, pulling the cover up over them both. Wrapping her in his arms, he let her cry against him with no questions or comforting words. She had gone past that. All he could do now was let her cry.

At some point, she slept and he joined her.

He awoke when she stirred, her breathing hitched, and she began to weep once more. Nuzzling her neck, he whispered, "It’s okay, love."

"It’s not," she cried, but she could bring herself to tell him why it wasn’t okay, why it could never be okay again.

"Giles loves you. He’ll come back. You’ll see."

Buffy sat upright in the bed suddenly. She had forgotten Giles! Checking her watch, she leapt from the bed and frantically searched for her shoes. Spike sat up, enjoying the amount of flesh her string bikini showcased. When it was apparent what she was doing, he swung his legs off the side and handed her the shoes he had neatly placed under the edge of the bed.

"Thanks," she said absently, hopping around as she attempted to put them on.

"Where are you going?"

"To the airport."

"Dressed like that?"

She stared down at herself. "Shit."

He followed her up the stairs, watching as she pulled a sun dress from her bag and slipped it on. "His flight is leaving in a few minutes, love. You’ll never make it."

"Can you just shut up and drive me?"

Wordlessly, Spike went back down to his sleeping quarters and pulled on his shirt and shoes, then plucked the keys to his motorcycle off a coffin that stuck out of the wall. "Let’s go."

They rode through Sunnydale at breakneck speed, darting onto sidewalks when the traffic became congested. They arrived at Sunnydale’s only airport with a few minutes to spare. Buffy jumped off the bike and ran as fast as she could into the airport and straight into Dawn, who yelped and fell backwards into Xander’s arms. "Watch out, freak!" the young girl cried at the helmet wearing wrecking ball. Then he did a double take. "Buffy?"

Buffy removed the helmet, smoothing her hair. "Where is he?"

"His flight boarded a few minutes ago. It’s already gone," Xander told her, his voice cold. "Where were *you*?"

"I had problems with a demon."

"At the beach?" He indicated her sunwear. "And on a motorcycle?"

"Spike brought me after I -" She trailed off when Willow and Tara came around the corner. Willow was crying softly and Tara was whispering something to her. They paused when the red head saw Buffy. "I’m sorry," Buffy said softly, recognizing the anger on their faces. "I tried to make it in time."

Willow regarded her with a stony expression. "He waited until the last possible minute. He kept looking for you."

Swallowing hard, Buffy simply nodded and turned on her heel to leave. "Wait a damn minute," Xander called.

She stopped walking, but kept her back to them. Xander, his arm firmly around Dawn, said, "When are you going to wake up, Buffy? Huh? When are you going to start living the life that Willow suffered to give you and stop acting like a zombie?"

Spike walked into the airport, his gaze immediately falling on her. She looked as defeated as he’d ever seen anyone look. He had caught part of what Xander had said and took a step forward. "Buffy?"

She turned on her heel and stared at her friends. "When are you all going to wake up?"

"What?" Dawn asked her, stepping away from Xander.

"I don’t want to be here." Buffy shook her head, wrapping her arms around herself to stave off a chill that only she could feel.

"But we need you." Dawn reached out for Buffy, but the older girl took a step back. "We love you, Buffy."

"You can’t love someone back to life, Dawn. You can magick them back into existence, but that’s all it is. It’s not a real life. I’m just existing." Buffy felt her eyes welling with tears and looked down. "I don’t want to be here," she repeated as if willing some higher power to take her at her word and make it happen. "Don’t *you* get it?"

Spike knew she was a hairsbreadth away from blurting out the truth about where she had been and stepped forward, resting his hand on her shoulder. "Don’t, Buffy."

She turned and looked at him, drew strength from his deep, blue eyes. "Let’s get out of here."

"Okay," he said softly, holding out his hand.

Buffy slipped the helmet back in place and took it, letting him lead her into the darkness.

When the bike roared the life, she leaned her head against his back, willing it to drown out the ache in her chest.

*~*~*~*~

Spike wasn’t sure how long they had ridden away from town. He had hit the highway and traveled north, the beach constantly on their left as they sped away from Sunnydale and away from her demons. After a while, she tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at a convenience store. He nodded and pulled in, parking next to the gas pump. She slipped off the bike and pulled the helmet off again. "Want something?" she asked him.

"I’m just going to top her off, love." He took his wallet out and pulled out a twenty. "Get what you need."

"I have money." Her eyes widened when she realized just how much she had in her bag. The very bag that had been haphazardly wrapped around the back of her seat.

"Just take it, love." He lifted her hand, put the money in her palm and closed her fingers.

She watched as he slid a gas card from his wallet and slid it into the pump, then started fueling the bike. "Since when do banks give *vampires* credit cards?"

"The bank of Giles does not discriminate." He gave her a weak smile. Her eyes were red and puffy and her voice sounded nasally from her earlier breakdown and he was concerned. Bottom line, she had a death wish and that made him uneasy. Slayers who gave up didn’t last long. "Are you hungry?"

She nodded. "I’m going to go use the restroom and maybe find something to snack on."

"We’ll grab something when we start back."

"About that." She bit her bottom lip for a second. "I need to be away for a couple of days. Try to get my head back on straight. You can go back if you want. I’ll find a hotel or something."

"I’m not going anywhere."

An awkward moment passed between them, but neither acknowledged it. After the kiss the previous night, they were both tiptoeing around one another. Buffy was actually grateful that he would be staying. With a small nod, she headed to the bathroom, then into the store where she bought a bottle of water and a candy bar, which she quickly ate while Spike picked up a map and tried to figure out where they were.

She leaned over his shoulder and closed her eyes, letting her pointer finger fall on a random spot. "Let’s go there."

"That’s Death Valley, love."

"Oh, right. That doesn’t sound good."

He glanced back down at the map. "How about Los Angeles?"

"Hell to the power of no." Buffy shook her head vehemently. "Grew up there. Not aching to revisit that sparkling childhood."

"So, where to then?"

"I’m all for winging it. Let’s just drive until the sun is almost rising and find a place wherever that is."

"Sounds like a plan." He climbed onto the bike and waited for her to settle behind him. Whatever it took, he'd get through to her. "Ready?"

"Set and go."

They flew down the highway, destination unknown.

But with every mile that separated her from Sunnydale, Buffy felt a little more relaxed.

*~*~*~*
 

*~*~*~* *~*~*~*

“She what?!” Giles had called Buffy’s house from LAX. The little puddle jumper from Sunnydale had taken less than thirty minutes to land in Los Angeles and he had immediately tried to contact Buffy.

Xander took a deep, calming breath on the other line and explained one more time what had happened at the airport. “And then they left.”

“Damn,” Giles pulled his glasses off and leaned against the phone booth, massaging his pulsing temple. “And you’ve not seen her since?”

“Not so much as a glimpse.”

“I’ll call you from the plane.” Giles said goodbye and hung up, then dug through his wallet for another phone card. He punched in what felt like a hundred numbers and the call was finally connected. “Quentin Travers, please?”

“Password?”

“Buffy Anne Summers.”

“Your name?”

“Rupert Giles.”

“Granted.”

Glancing down at his watch, he began to tap his fingers impatiently. After five minutes had past, Travers answered the phone. “Good day, Mr. Giles. What is the occasion?”

“Good day to you as well, Travers.” Glancing around to make sure no one could hear his conversation, Giles added. “Buffy has been brought back from the dead.”

“Yes, I know.”

“How do you know that?”

“We had activated a new Slayer in her stead and the new girl has lost her strength.” Travers coughed a little. “Forgive me, I’m fighting the remaining vestiges of a horrible head cold.”

“She’s not the same.”

“I can certainly understand why that would be.”

“Can you? Because one would think that being brought back from an unimaginable hell dimension would-”

“You’re certain she was in hell?”

Giles was taken aback. “Where else could she have been?”

“Rupert, she died to save the world. Surely that would earn her a greater reward.”

Giles suddenly flashed back to the wounded look in her eyes, to the night tremors Dawn had mentioned, to the fact that Buffy refused to *live*. It shook him to contemplate what may have happened. “My god. I never even considered-”

“That, I fear, is not the biggest concern we have at the moment.”

“What else is there?”

“You’ve heard of the Alliance?”

Giles frowned, trying to recall where he had heard the term. “Oh, yes, yes. Rogue demon hunters or the like? Always trying to compete with the council. The year I graduated from Oxford they attempted to woo me away from my path as a watcher and into their world. It was a fascinating world if I recall. With much better compensation packages.”

“Yes. For centuries they have approached up and coming watchers and then Slayers.”

“I do remember that, yes.”

“They finally seduced a Slayer to their side, Giles. *Your* Slayer.”

Giles dropped the phone and quickly retrieved it. “What? How?”

“We were notified this morning. She made her first kill for them and was compensated for it. If she makes a third kill we can not get her back.”

“Dear lord.” Giles was aghast. “I’ll stop this immediately.”

“The Alliance will not tolerate your interference, Rupert. If you get too close they will ask her to kill you. She is bound. She can refuse, but I doubt that she would survive the punishment for that refusal.”

“I’ll think of something.”

“I trust you will, old man.” Travers voice was gravely from the sickness. “I’ll send you everything I have about the Alliance. The most important thing to remember is that she is only truly bound after the third kill. If we can revoke the contract before that occurs, she will be freed.”

“A blood contract. They’re almost impossible to break.”

“Blood seals it and blood appeals it. Her blood.” Travers coughed again. “God speed, Rupert.”

Giles hung up and made another phone call. This time to Olivia to let her know that he would be delayed.

Then he returned to the ticket counter and bought a trip to Sunnydale.

What had his Slayer done?

And was it hell that had changed her or heaven?

He was terrified of the answer.

*~*~*~*~

They were in a decent hotel a few miles outside of San Francisco. Buffy had insisted on paying and Spike had caved, allowing her to rent the room. He suspected that she didn’t want to leave a credit card trail. Her friends, much as he was loathe to admit it, deserved to know that she was okay and he called her house the second that she had closed herself behind the bathroom door to take a shower.

“Buffy?” Dawn answered on the third ring.

“No, ‘bit. It’s me. Big sis is fine.”

“Bring her home.”

“She wants a bit of vacation.”

“Giles is coming back.”

“What happened?” Spike glanced at the bathroom and could see the steam coming from under the door.

“I don’t know. He called and said that we had to get Buffy back here.”

The shower turned off and he said, “I’ll try to bring her back tomorrow night. I’ll call again soon.”

“Spike-”

He hung up quickly and shoved the phone card back into his wallet, then sat down on the edge of the bed and quickly turned on the television. He was flipping channels when she emerged in a white robe. Her hair had been secured under a towel and her face was a deep pink from the shower. She glanced at him, then pulled her hair free and combed through it with her fingers.

“Hotel shampoo is evil.” She sat down in a nearby chair and continued to work through her hair. Then she sniffed the back of her hand. “And hotel soap leaves a lot to be desired as well.”

“We should have picked up something.”

“Like fresh clothes.”

“You think you’ll feel up to going home tomorrow?”

She stopped trying to untangle her hair and looked at him. “You want to?”

“Dawn will be worried.”

“I hope they all are.”

“Really?”

She shrugged a little. “Maybe they’ll lay off a little if I vanish for a few days.”

“Really don’t think that’s the answer, pet.”

“Well, what is the answer, Spike?”

He put the remote down on the bed and kneeled down in front of her, taking her hand in his. Buoyed by the fact she didn’t pull away from his touch, he reached up and pushed her hair back, tilting her face so he could look into her eyes. “Honestly? I think maybe it’s time you tell them where you were. The lot of you can have a group hug, cry your little eyeballs out, and then hopefully heal. You can’t keep trying to do it alone.”

“I’m not alone.” She put her hand over his. “Am I?”

“I’m with you every step. No matter what you choose.”

“Why?”

“Because I love you,” He stated matter of factly and looked at her as if she had grown an extra head. “I love you and I care what happens to you. What you said at the airport scared me.”

“Which part?”

“About not wanting to be here.”

She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I don’t. But you don’t have to worry about it. It’s not like I can go back.”

“What do you mean?”

The impulse to tell him about Bob was great. She wanted to lay the burden at his feet and beg him to make it better. She wanted to lay everything bare and let him see for himself how far she had sunk. But she couldn’t. It wasn’t possible to share. “I can’t tell you.”

“What?”

She had a classic lightbulb over the head moment. She couldn’t *tell* him what had happened with the Alliance because Bob had said it would get her killed. But she could SHOW him. She leaned past him, grabbing up her bag. She rummaged through it then gasped with glee when she found a comb. She pulled it through her hair, smoothing away the tangles, and then applied chapstick to her lips.

“Are you going to tell me or not?” Spike finally asked, clearly exasperated. He had known that she was keeping something from him.

“No. I’m going to show you.” Reaching into her bag again, she withdrew the snake knife and held it up.

“What the hell is that thing?”

“Watch and learn.”

She slid her arm into the reptile part and it sprang to life, the head moving toward hers as it looked at her, then the eyes grew red and it became a small, pointed dagger. Buffy pricked her finger and moved to the white wall. Using her blood she sketched the letter ‘I’. Forcing more blood into her fingertip, she wrote ‘AM’. Spike watched in horror, then shook his head.

“Buffy?”

“Hmm?”

“Pencil.”

She turned to find him holding up a hotel pencil that was freshly sharpened. “Well hell. That kind of kills the dramatic effect.” She turned back to the wall and wrote ‘Immortal’ in pencil. Then as an afterthought added, ‘I don’t want to be.’

Spike stared at what she had written. “How?”

She loosened the snake knife and dropped it back into the bag, then pulled the scroll out and tore the ribbon off. She began to read the terms of the contract out loud. She wasn’t actually telling him. He was just eavesdropping. Spike was watching over her shoulder, but she knew he couldn’t see the words. They were for her eyes alone.

And she had never felt more alone in her life.

The more she read the further she sank into desperation.

Her life was pretty much over. The Alliance owned her.

And it had only begun.

*~*~*~*~*~

Spike leaned against the wall of the hotel, then slid down it and sat in the floor, his hands buried in his hair. “And you’re telling me that you did it accidentally? You bled on it without meaning to?”

“Yes.”

“Buffy, why would you keep a scroll like that in your house?”

“I was going to burn it.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know! Okay?”

“We have to get you back to Sunnydale. Giles is there.”

“How do you know that?”

“I called ‘bit to tell her that you were okay.” He stood up and went to the window. The sun had only been up a few hours. They were stuck. “And you say this guy can teleport you any time? And he said he’d kill you if you told about the Alliance?”

“Yes. I was hoping if I got far enough away from him he’d lose the ability or something.”

“The only way to stop from being teleported all over the place is by being rooted.”

“What does that mean?”

“We have to bind you.”

“Like foot binding? That looks painful.”

“This isn’t a joke, Buffy. I’ve heard of this group. They’re deadly.” He sat down on the end of the bed again. “I could bind you to me.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“I drink some of your blood. You drink some of mine.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I did that with Dracula. No thanks.”

Spike raised his scarred eyebrow. “Were you shagging him when you did it?”

“NO!” Then she realized what he was saying and her eyes widened. He would bite her during sex and she would bite him? Her stomach fluttered a little.

“Right then.” He rubbed a palm over his face. “Our other option would be to call Willow and see if she can do a rooting spell. Bind you to your house or something.”

She watched him pace the length of the room. Her stomach fluttered again and she frowned a little. It didn’t feel like sexual fluttering. It was something else entirely. “If I did get ... binded to you ...what would that mean?”

He turned to look at her and his eyes found hers and held. “You would belong to me. I would belong to you. The bond is stronger than teleportation powers or anything else for that matter.”

Swallowing hard, she stood. “Would I be a vampire?”

“No. You know that your heart has to stop for that.”

“But what happens if we stop the Alliance and I’m freed from them? What then? What happens with our bond?”

“It can be broken if we agree to it. But both of us have to agree.”

She felt a faint, familiar tugging behind her ribcage then and her eyes widened. The same feeling from before, when she was yanked off the sidewalk in front of her house. “I think he’s trying to do it right now. Oh god. I think maybe he knows I told.”

Spike watched her for a split second and sure enough, she seemed to fade a little before his eyes. Their decision was made for them. He grabbed her and pulled her against him. “You fight him, love.”

“I- I will.”

Keeping a firm hand on her, he untied her robe, staring down at her soft, toned body. “We’re going to have to go fast, Slayer. None of the buildup.”

“Okay.”


DISCLAIMER: NC17 AHEAD!!! I wrote this type of smut for a friend who wanted Buffy to return this way. (You'll understand that comment when you finish this) There is a reason for it. So, suspend your belief. I hope it isn't horrible. :)




*~*~*~*

He pushed her against the bed and she lay back, shaking a little. He kept one hand on her, trying to anchor her against the Alliance, and with the other he worked his belt and jeans, finally slipping them down just enough for his erection to spring free. He saw her eyes widen when she saw the size of him and smiled, despite the seriousness of the situation. He slipped a finger into his mouth, moistening it, then slid it along her cleft, dipping inside to test her.

She was already wet and his smile lingered.

Buffy saw the expression on his face and pushed her legs closed. "Are you lying to me to get in my pants?"

"No. And you aren’t wearing pants."

"I’m not kidding! If you’re doing this to -" The tingling was more pronounced now and she shook her head, wild eyed. "He’s really trying, Spike. I can feel him."

Wasting no time, he pulled her legs apart and thrust into her, burying himself to the hilt. She cried out in pain and pushed her hands against his hips, trying to hold him back. "Wait!"

"Stop, Buffy," he growled, slamming into her again. "He’s not getting you."

"Oh god." She hissed as he picked up the pace. She could feel herself rending, tearing. "Spike, please -"

He let the demon break free and gazed down at her. Her skin was tanned except for the areas that had been covered by her bikini. He licked his lips and leaned forward, laving one pink nipple, then the other. His tongue traced her tan line, tasted the salt of her skin and it almost pushed him over the edge. She was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. "It’s time, love," he whispered.

She whimpered, feeling her body attempt to stretch enough for him. She wasn’t ready. It was almost as painful as the first time with Angel. No, it was actually more painful. What had happened? How could she feel so - virginal? And how could she still want him despite the pain? "Hurts," she murmured, trying to hold his hips again.

"Turn your head."

"Please stop moving!"

He stilled and leaned down low, licking the artery in her neck. He felt her tense and bit into her, pulling her blood roughly. The chip in his head zapped a little, but seemed to recognize that it was not bloodlust driving him, that he didn’t want to kill her. No, he wanted to save her.

He heard her gasp and cry out, then felt something completely astonishing. She climaxed, her inner muscles squeezing hard on his cock as she surged up against him. That was unexpected. Most mortals didn’t have that reaction to their life's blood seeping away. He pulled his fangs free and bit into his own wrist, watching as his blood splashed against her neck, her chin.

"When I come, drink."

She was still trying to come down from her own orgasm, but she nodded her understanding. He slammed against her, hard, fast and furious. She was tighter than he could have imagined and he was almost certain that he had felt something inside her, like a barrier. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? She was hot, too. Her flesh felt like an inferno wrapped around him and god, it was perfect. He’d had many dreams of this moment, but they paled in comparison.

It was real.

It was amazing. She was finally his.

He was close, so close. He pulled one of her legs over his shoulders, angling deeper still and grunted, nodding at her.

She latched onto his wrist, sucking hard as he pumped into her. His blood was cool and slid easily down her throat. He shouted her name, his hips hammering relentlessly, and then she could feel him swelling and his seed splashing against her womb.

"That’s enough, love." He pulled his wrist free and used his thumb to wipe away the blood on her chin. Leaning down, he used his tongue to rid the blood on her lips, then kissed her, his hands plowing into her drying hair.

She cried out again as he moved inside her and he pushed up on his elbows. "Are you okay?"

Was she? she wondered. He had taken her without preamble and she hadn’t been ready for him. She moved him aside and he slipped from her, grumbling as he did so. She sat on the edge of the bed, then looked down between her thighs. She was bleeding. Not much, but enough to stain the inside of her legs.

Spike moved next to her and followed her gaze. "What the hell?"

"It hurt."

"You’re not a soddin’ virgin."

"It felt like I was."

He pondered that for a second, then went into the bathroom and wet a cloth. Kneeling between her thighs, he bathed away the blood and the traces of their coupling. "You sure it’s not your per-"

"I know when my period is, Spike. Just had it last week." Embarrassed, she pulled her robe over her thighs. "It’s because you hurt me. You didn’t let me get ready. Foreplay is-"

"I should kiss it better then, hmm?"

She gasped when he pulled her to the edge of the bed and pushed her legs open. Her mouth would not comply and tell him to stop and her eyes wouldn’t look away as he slipped the cool rag against her flesh again, showing her that it came away clean, then he lowered his head. She watched as his tongue darted out and rubbed against her. In that moment, she realized that she had been aching for it, for him to touch her, to know her this way. She had been begging him to without realizing it.

Spike parted her flesh, gently, and tasted her. She was perfect.

Buffy’s head fell back and she whispered his name, gasping as he slipped his finger into her. "Oh god."

He loved her slowly with his mouth, nipping and suckling at her flesh until her thighs tightened on either side of his head and she bucked up against him. "Spike!" she cried, holding him against her.

After a few more caressing strokes with his tongue, he sat back on his heels and stared at her mons. "You’re healed," he proclaimed, then eased her back against the bed and covered her body with his. "Let me try again."

"But-"

"I’ll go slow."

He was extremely large. Even if she had been with him before she died it would have hurt. She acquiesced, albeit with a hint of trepidation, and nodded at him. "Okay."

And he did go slow. He eased into her, his forehead pressed against hers and barely rocked his hips at all. She let out the breath she had been holding and concentrated on the feel of him, filling her body so completely. He leaned down, kissing her thoroughly and she could taste herself on his tongue.

It drove her wild.

Hooking her heels behind his legs she arched against him. Her body responded to his like it had been made solely for him, for his pleasure. And hers. "Harder."

He complied and picked up the pace, his hips pistoning, grinding. "That’s it, love," he growled and fastened his lips over the bite mark on her neck, sucking hard.

She bucked off the bed as another orgasm, her third, rocked through her core. He gripped her hips and slammed against her, not capable of holding back for another second. Urging both legs over his shoulders, the sound of flesh slapping against flesh was the only thing louder than their moans. He gripped both of her hands holding them above her head, palm to palm with his, as he came again, her name a hoarse cry on his lips.

Spent, he collapsed over her, gently massaging the bite mark with his tongue to help close the wound. "Better?"

"God yes." Her arms were still over her head and she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to move again. She found the energy to smile at him when he leaned down to kiss her. "I didn’t think -"

"What?"

"I didn’t think I had that in me."

"Well, you do. And I love it." He kissed her again, tugging her bottom lip with his teeth. "Did it hurt that time?"

"I felt like a virgin again. How is that even possible?"

"Maybe when you came back you were literally reborn. Maybe the things you did to your body before you went to heaven were erased and you came back completely whole." He nuzzled her ear. "Stranger things have happened."

"Maybe."

"I’m sorry. If I had known I would have-"

"We had to do it. Right?"

"I wanted to do it as much as we had to do it."

"Me too." She glanced over at him to see if he was as shocked by her admission as she was. For weeks she had relied on him for almost everything and it dawned on her with sudden clarity that she had sought him out because she wanted him, wanted to be with him. Part of her had known all along. Part of her had fallen the night she came back and he had held her hands, telling her how long she had been gone. Yes, it hit her like a sledgehammer and she was positive that it had nothing to do with the bonding they had shared. She had fallen just a *little* when he had let Glory beat him half to death and still wouldn't tell what Dawn was. But just a little. Now, though...

He was staring at her intently and she realized that her confession had not jarred him in the least. She swallowed hard and said, "Do you think it worked? The bond thing?"

"Yes. I can feel it inside me." He studied her face. "Can’t you?"

She stared up at him and was overwhelmed with the desire to touch every inch of him, to kiss him from head to toe, to give him everything she had to give. "I can."

"Do you hate it?"

She pulled him back down for another kiss, then flipped him effortlessly onto his back. Her robe was tossed across the room and she loomed over him, straddling his hips. "Do you hate it?"

"God, only when you stop." He watched her, shocked by the raw emotion coursing through him. "Which you should. If you really were a virgin again then-"

"Shut up, Spike. I’m the Slayer. I can take it and I can do what I want."

"Is that right?" He grinned at the cocky way she flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Show me what you can do then, love."

Easing up a little, she slipped him inside her and moaned, gyrating her hips in a slow circle. "You won’t believe the things I can do, Spike."

His eyes bulged a little as she squeezed him with her vaginal muscles and leaned down, kissing him hard.

For the next few hours she showed him things that he had never dreamed possible.

They napped until noon and Buffy awoke, stretching and yawning loudly, then she smiled. Really smiled. The previous night had been incredible and the life that she had resented was suddenly exhilarating. She felt *alive* and while she still mourned for what she had lost, she also had something to live for. Finally. She rolled over and smiled at the reason. "Spike?"

"I’m not awake."

"Yes, you are."

"Stop talking to my unconscious before you wake me up."

"We have to go home."

"If you expect me to keep up with you after last night, I need rest." He kept his eyes closed. "Sun’ll be down in about six or seven hours, pet."

Buffy darted out of bed and grabbed her bag, digging inside. She pulled the talisman out and let it dangle from her fingertips. "I stole something from you once. A gem of amara. Consider my debt paid."

Spike caught it when she flung it at him and ran his thumb over the stone. "This isn’t a-"

"Not exactly, but it does the same thing. It’s like a designer knockoff. Fits just as good, looks just as good, but doesn’t have the pretty label." She held her hands up innocently. "Just try it on and walk outside."

"I’m taking a huge leap of faith here."

"After last night you can’t trust me?"

He slipped the necklace on and padded to the door, barely opening it and peering outside. Part of his face was hit with direct sunlight and he jumped back, then touched his cheek. It was fine. "Bloody hell."

Darting out into the parking lot, he stared at his hands, then up at the sun. "BLOODY HELL!"

"Spike!" Buffy stood just behind the door, hiding her nude body. "While I don’t mind the view ... I think other people might."

He looked at a couple of elderly people who were staring at him in shock, then realized why.

He was naked.

"Bloody hell," he said again, racing back to the hotel room. He kissed Buffy, then said, "Let’s go home."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Giles stared out the window, watching for Buffy. He had been jumpy, wandering back and forth to the curtains every time a car or motorcycle passed the house. For years, he had helped raise her, helped guide, or rather nudge her, in the right direction. She had not always complied, but never had she blatantly flouted his authority as she had done with the Alliance.

She had slapped his face.

His jaw ached from grinding his teeth so much and as another car passed the house without slowing, he stepped out onto the porch. Dawn was sitting on the steps and, while he had hoped to be alone, he sat down next to her. "Should you really be outside by yourself? After dark?"

"I doubt anyone misses me. Or would miss me if I was eaten alive."

"Well, that’s a very positive attitude. You should bottle it and make millions."

She didn’t acknowledge his attempt at humor. "So, this Alliance thing. You can break it, right?"

"I can. Willow is researching the possibilities right now."

"Why would she do it, Giles?"

He stared out at the lawn, which Xander had mowed earlier in the day, and tried to compose his thoughts. Dawn, of all people, had a right to know the truth. After a few seconds, he said, "I don’t think she was in hell."

"What?"

"I’ve had my suspicions since I returned, since I got a good look at her. If she had been in hell she would have been so grateful to be out that she would be embracing life, not resenting it." He sighed. "I think she was in heaven."

"Oh my god."

"My sentiments exactly."

"But-"

Willow emerged from the house with a handful of papers and smiled, waving them back and forth. "Ta-da! I cracked the Alliance website and we’re saved! They only want vir-"

"Did you use an Urn of Osiris?" Giles interrupted, not looking up at her. "To resurrect Buffy? Did you use the urn?"

The papers slipped from Willow’s hands and she dropped to her knees, quickly gathering them. Giles turned and gripped her upper arm. "Did you?"

"Why?"

"DID YOU!?" he shouted, pulling her forward so that she was nose to nose with him. "Because if you did then you should know that the teachings of Osiris and Jesus Christ were almost the same, many of his passages are word for word with the Bible as luck would have it. An Urn of Osiris is basically the same thing as Jesus’ Grail. They’re used to revoke someone’s stay, Willow. In heaven. That’s why the grail has remained hidden for centuries. In the wrong hands anyone could be brought back from the dead. Anyone! Now, one more time ... did you use the Urn of Osiris?"

Willow began to cry, shaking her head as his words sank into her. "Heaven? Sh- she was in heaven?"

"Yes or no, Willow."

"Yes," she sobbed. "But no one told me what it was."

"And you claim to be so smart." He shoved her away from him and she tumbled back onto the planks of the porch. "She wasn’t in hell. You just assumed. Another of your great mistakes. Where did you get the Urn?"

"Ebay. A desert gnome in Cairo. Anya got it."

"Well, that’s reassuring. And you’re certain it was authentic?" He stood over her as if daring her to stand. Part of his mind raged at him that this was *Willow*, but another part viewed her as the responsible party in the mess that had become Buffy’s life. And his.

"It worked, didn’t it?"

If it had been anyone else, Giles would have slapped her. He contented himself with snatching his glasses off and and glaring at her. "If you think that the sad, miserable, haphazard and broken girl that you brought back is Buffy then yes, it worked. I, on the other hand, would tend to disagree with you."

Dawn sobbed, rocking back and forth on the step. They had forgotten she was there, listening to their exchange. "Maybe she saw mom," she sniffled, wiping her eyes. "If she did ... do you think she’ll tell me? Maybe mom had a message for me!"

Giles leaned down, coaxing the young girl to her feet. "Come inside, Dawn."

"But what if she did, Giles? That could be why she didn’t want to come back. Right? Not because she’s mad at me for making her die."

Willow stood, gazing at the young girl in shock. "You didn’t make her die."

"She died for *me*. In my place. So I wouldn’t have to. That’s got to be why she hates me."


*~*~


Buffy stood a couple feet away, watching the exchange between her friends. They knew. All of them knew. She had left San Francisco with Spike and drove most of the day. He had wanted to stop everywhere and see everything in the light and she hadn’t been able to tell him no. The bike had run out of gas at the end of Revello Drive and she had run ahead when she heard shouts. And she had heard more than she bargained for. "I don’t hate you, Dawn."

"Buffy!" Dawn hurried down the stairs. "You were in heaven. Weren’t you? That's why you're so freaky and mad!"

They all turned and gazed at her, but Buffy was busy reaching for Dawn. She hugged her sister, then cupped her cheek. "I guess my secret’s out."

"Which one?" Giles snapped. As relieved as he was to see her, his fury at her was overwhelming. "That you were in heaven or that you made a pact with the Alliance? Are there more than that?"

"There is one more thing." Buffy glanced back at Spike, who was pushing his motorcycle up the road and was still half a block away. The bond, whatever it was, made her feel him when he was near ... feel him soul deep. She figured that she would spill the truth now instead of waiting. "Spike and I are bonded to each other so that Bob couldn’t teleport me. But, uhm, oh I have a hundred thousand dollars so we’re out of the gutter."

"Bonded?" Giles glanced up the road himself, seeing Spike through shades of red. He stomped down the stairs and pulled her toward him, seeing with his own two eyes the tell tale bite mark on her neck. "You slept with him? You drank from a vampire? Willlingly?"

She nodded and opened her mouth to explain, then yelped as Giles shoved her away and ran toward Spike. Before she could think to react, her watcher had tackled the vampire and both men toppled over the bike and into the street. Giles rammed his fist into Spike’s face again and again while the vampire, who wasn’t aching to fire the chip, simply tried to swat the man away.

"Oh, crap," Willow shouted, rushing toward the melee.

Buffy followed, grabbing Giles under the arms and yanking him back. "Stop it!"

Spike jumped to his feet, standing next to Buffy. "Bugger all! What the hell are you doing, Giles?"

"I trusted you!" Giles roared, reaching for the vampire again.

"Stop!" Buffy shoved him, harder this time and he almost lost his footing. "Just stop!"

"Had to do it, mate! She was fading right before my eyes! I was going to call the witch and have her do a rooting spell, but we didn’t have time."

"You are a dead man." Giles picked his glasses up off the road and cleaned them, still glaring at Spike. "I will pull you limb from limb and make you watch it as it happens. Your heart will be the last thing to go so that you can see it all and when I finally stake it, it will be because you are begging for it."

"Jesus, Giles!" Buffy cried, rubbing her eyes in an attempt to rid herself of the image he had painted. "Are you even listening? We *had* to do it because I was about to be zapped somewhere by the Alliance."

"You didn’t have to do any of it!" Giles shouted, turning his attention to her. "How many times have I drilled it into your skull that you can not trust the word of demons?"

"Not to be a bitch, Giles, but you trusted *Spike* to assume your role," Buffy fired back.

"Not to be a bastard, Buffy, but the last time I checked you weren’t sleeping with me," Giles responded in kind. "And I am referring to the fact that you allowed this representative from the Alliance to seduce you into -"

"There was no seducing!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air. "God, you just blasted Willow for making assumptions and there you go doing the same thing. Here’s a news flash for you. I told the Alliance no! And then when I cut myself I accidentally bled on the contract and they wouldn’t let me back out of it no matter how I tried! So I didn’t CHOOSE to do anything."

"You chose to accept the contract!" His voice was hoarse from the bellowing, but Giles continued. "They attempted to recruit me as well when I was a little older than you and I had the foresight to know better."

"That’s because you had already treaded water on the dark side with your demon conjuring and black magick. Of course it didn’t entice you!" Infuriated, Buffy attempted to hit him below the belt. "You are the last person alive, Giles, who can stand in judgment of *me*. I made a mistake. I admit it. At least I don’t have to run halfway around the world to fix them! At least I didn’t knock someone up and-"

His hand, which had been itching to slap her, got its wish. His palm cracked against her cheek and she reeled, falling back over Spike’s bike. The vampire attempted to catch her, then whirled to face the watcher. "That, mate, will get *you* torn limb from limb."

Buffy slumped on the ground, stunned that he had actually hit her. She noticed Spike and Giles, who were advancing on each other again and did the only thing she could think of. And the only thing she was capable of doing at the moment. She was finally broken.

She burst into tears, cupping her cheek, and curled into a little ball. The life that she had been given? So over it, she thought.

It tore at Giles’ heart to see her in the state she was in. He pushed the fact that she had been ripped from heaven to the front of his mind and moved past Spike, who was trying to intimidate him by baring his fangs. "Get a new routine, Spike."

Kneeling next to Buffy, Giles put his hand on her shoulder. "I’m sorry."

"I didn’t ask to be here. I was ready to go!" she wailed, her voice choking on the harsh sobs. "I hate this! I hate it so bad. Just let me go back! Please let me go back, Giles. Send me back!"

Spike started to go to her, but Willow shook her head. "Let them have this."

"What’s done is done." Giles pulled her into his arms and rocked back and forth with her, kissing the top of her head, her cheek. He felt his own tears falling and buried his face in her hair. "I know it hurts, Buffy. I know it does. Now imagine it a hundred times worse. That’s what we felt when you left us. That’s why Willow did it. That’s why I could never send you back."

Buffy clung to him, hysterical. "Make it stop. Please make me stop hurting so bad."

"If only I could." He hugged her a little tighter, rubbing her back. "Oh, Buffy, if only I could."

Bob applauded from further up the street, then walked confidently to where the Slayer was huddled with her watcher. Rarely did he feel undiluted rage at anyone, but Buffy had enraged him to the point of being reckless enough to crash their little pity party. He glanced at Spike and understood that she had told. Everyone. "You broke the cardinal rule, Buffy. You told. Do you recall what I said the consequences were?"

"Kill me. I don’t care." Buffy kept her face buried against Giles’ jacket. "Just don’t do it in front of my family."

"Oh, it’ll be much worse than death, Buffy."

Spike sized the man up then lunged. Bob’s neck breaking was as loud as a gunshot in the quiet suburban neighborhood and Buffy gasped, sitting up. "He’s dead?"

Spike let the man drop and kicked him, hard, in the groin. "He’s dead. Either he’s dead or a eunuch."

Buffy could only stare at the body. "I don’t get it. He said he was invincible. That I would be, too."

"You couldn’t kill him, Buffy, because you were his recruit," Giles told her. "So he *was* invincible if *you* attempted to kill him. That’s how it works. The recruiter hires someone strong, usually a demon, because the recruiter is human and *weak*."

"But, the chip?" Dawn gazed down at the dead man. "It should have fired if he was really human, right?"

Spike lunged at Dawn, grabbing her around the waist with the intention of devouring her. Nothing happened. Not even a little zap. He turned to Willow and repeated the same. Still nothing. "Hmm."

Buffy stood on shaking legs. She could barely think straight, but she knew that what she was seeing couldn't be good. Surely sleeping with a vampire and having him go evil again couldn't happen twice in her life. "It’s the talisman. I - I think it stops the chip from hurting you because it makes you impossible to kill."

"I could get on board with that." Spike lunged at Dawn again, who screamed and ran behind Willow.

"I can’t!" Buffy caught his arm and spun him to face her. "Bond or no bond, you’re not killing again."

The smile faded from his face and he regarded her intently for several seconds. "This really is what you think of me, innit?"

"Spike, you -"

"You think this chip in my head is what drives me to do right by you? To take care of you and Dawn?" He reached under his shirt and yanked the talisman off, then tossed it at her. "The chip put me in your life, love. Against my will. But it didn’t put you in my heart! You did that on your own."

Buffy caught the talisman and shook her head. "I want you to have it, but I don’t -"

"Just forget it." He moved around the small crowd and righted his bike, pushing it in a big circle and pointing it back toward town. "Bond or no bond, you just can’t stop killing me a little at a time, can you?"

"Spike," Buffy reached for him, but he jerked his arm away and headed up the road. "Damn it."

Willow put her arm around Buffy and leaned against her. "I’m so sorry, Buffy. I didn’t know where you were."

Even though her first impulse was to jerk away, Buffy held her ground, watching as Spike made it to the stop sign and turned left. "I need to go after him."

"No, we have to talk," Giles stated calmly.

"Shouldn’t we get rid of the dead body?" Dawn asked, pointing at Bob, whose head was under his back on the road. "Because ew."

"I got it," Willow said, doing a freaky little wave with her hand and a chorus or strange words that she seemed to sing. The body vanished in a big orange flame.

"Dude!" Dawn cried. "What the heck was that?"

"I told him to go to hell." Willow grinned. "And he did."

"I see I have to speak with you as well," Giles told the witch. "But first, I’d like to take a little walk with Buffy."

Willow and Dawn quickly made themselves scarce and Giles tilted Buffy’s face, examining the red mark on her cheek. He ran his thumb over it, then sighed. "I’ll begin by saying once again that I’m very sorry for striking you."

"And I’ll shrug and tell you that it’s no big." She did shrug. "I deserved it. Happens all the time."

"Which is precisely my point. Just because you’re hit on a regular basis that doesn’t mean you should come to expect it. Especially from people who love you."

"Are we talking about literal or figurative hits?"

"Neither." He walked down the street and motioned for her to follow. "We’re moving along."

She fell in step beside him, painfully aware that they were heading in the opposite direction that Spike had taken. Her heart ached with every beat and she wondered if perhaps she was feeling a little of his pain. To prevent herself from delving too deeply into the bond, she glanced over at Giles and said, "I did come to the airport. I was late. Had a bad day."

"Bad days seem to be served easily on the hellmouth."

"Yeah. I’m glad one of us can get away."

"I’ll never truly be gone. I may not live in the same zip code-"

"Or the same continent. I get it. You’ll call, you’ll write. You’ll even mosey on over to the mouth of hell if the goin’ gets extremely rough. At least for a while." She put her hands in her pockets. "Do me a favor? Don’t tell me that you’ll always be there or that you’ll never stop loving me or that these things happen for a reason. I lived the chiche thing with my dad. I can’t do it with you."

"I said something to you that I shouldn’t have said. I told you that I wasn’t your father."

She visibly flinched a little. "I was actually there for that."

"Just like you, I spent the last few years wishing I could be." He studied her profile, saw her jaw clench, but continued. "In my heart, I am. And I don’t know exactly what kind of heart your actual father has or if he ever listens to it, but I listen to mine. And I am telling you, from my heart, that I will not abandon you."

"Abandonment means leaving someone, Giles. You’re leaving me."

"I’m not. Regardless of where my life takes me, the biggest part of it is always going to be here. With you." He reached out, gently taking her hand. "When you died, Buffy, I felt like my life was over. I did things that I normally would not have done. I took risks because I was afraid that my own life would end and I’d have the same regrets that you had."

"I didn’t have -"

"You did. You never got the chance to be truly happy. It ate away at me and the guilt I felt at failing you was overwhelming." He drew his glasses off, wiping his eyes. "I asked so much of you in life. We all did."

"Giles, I made peace with being a Slayer a long time ago. What I can’t make peace with is that I won’t have you anymore. Do you know what that feels like?" She squeezed his hand in what she hoped would feel reassuring, but her heart literally ached at the thought of losing him. Forcing herself to smile, she added, "I don’t share well."

"It’s not my child’s fault that I was reckless. Please don’t blame him. I want you to be in his life, as his sister, as his mentor and friend." Several tears slipped down his cheeks. "I just want-"

She stepped forward, hugging him tightly. The fight had left her. "He could be a girl. In which case I’ll teach her everything I know."

"God help me." His sigh of relief was shaky as his arms wound around her, holding her against him. "I love you, Buffy. I do."

"I know you do." She breathed in the scent of him and it was as familiar and comforting to her as the smells of the high school library had once been. He smelled like home. "I love you, too."

"I should have known that you had been in heaven, Buffy. I should have realized-"

"That’s not a topic open for discussion." She wasn’t unkind when she said it, but the finality in her voice was firm.

"Fair enough." He held her close for a few sweet moments, then he stepped back. "We do have other things to discuss."

"Can’t we just bask?"

"This bond with Spike-"

"Can be broken as long as we both want it. And I’m pretty sure he does."

"Do you?"

She forced herself to look convincing. "We just did it to stop the Alliance. Really. That was the *only* reason."

"I’m sure he was just being noble and gallant." Giles couldn’t hide the sarcasm in his voice. "Because those are his most predominant character traits."

"Giles-"

"Sorry." He turned back toward her house. "Then there is the matter of the contract with the Alliance. With your recruiter gone it could make it null and void, but just to be on the safe side you’ll have to bleed on the contract again and burn it."

"It’s metal now. I don’t think it’ll burn."

"You bleed on the lock and it reopens. Blood seals it and blood appeals it. You have only made one kill for them. Until the third you’re free to go."

"How do you know these things?"

"The council didn’t hire me for my looks, although-"

Buffy listened to him ramble for a second, then stopped walking and touched his arm. The fact that she had come back as a virgin bothered her. Not just because the soreness between her legs was an awkward reminder of it, but because it made no sense. And it effectively erased the traces of previous lovers from her body, but not from her mind. Or her heart. With Parker, she didn’t mind. But she liked to believe that her relationships with Angel and Riley had made her a little stronger, a little wiser. "Can I tell you something else without you freaking out on me?"

"Nothing you say can possibly ‘freak me out’ any more than you telling me that you willingly slept with Spike."

"This might." She took a deep breath and said, "I think I was a virgin again. No ... I *know* I was a virgin again. Spike thinks maybe my rebirth was literal and-"

His eyes widened. "You were a what?"

"Virgin. Not deflowered. Having of the hymen?"

"Oh that’s just bloody brilliant!" Giles shouted, whirling around to kick the curb. Which he did. Twice. "Just bloody fucking brilliant!"

"Have a cow, Giles!"

"Have you any idea what you’ve done?"

"I’m going to go out on a limb and say no." Cautious of his mood, she put a few feet between them. "Enlighten me."

"A bond between a vampire and a human sexual mate can easily be dissolved should they so wish." He crossed his arms. "But if the human was a virgin that is not the case at all. He drew your blood, your essence, by invading your body twice. With his fangs and his, er-"

"I get the point!" she snapped, cutting him off. "What does the point *mean* exactly?"

"Unless we can somehow reverse the bond with magick, which I am loathe to attempt because it’s dark, even for Willow," he paused, choosing his words carefully. "You will be Spike’s mate. Forever."

"Holy shit."

"Bit of an understatement, but I agree." He sighed and motioned for her to follow him again. "Stranger things have happened, I suppose."

"Spike said that same thing."

He drew up short. "He knew? Because if he did-"

"Not until it was done."

Giles resumed his path, stalking down the street. "You know, you will surely be the death of me."

"Don’t worry, Willow won’t let you stay dead."

*~*~*~*~

*~*~*~*~

Spike fueled the bike and rode back to his crypt, leaving it propped against the outside. The gravekeeper knew he was there. They’d had a nice discussion a few weeks before when Spike had outed him as a Coovudon demon. Looked human enough, but drew strength from corpses being nearby. So, Spike had made a deal with him. He wouldn’t kill the demon and the demon would look the other way as Spike continued to usurp the electricity and rode his bike over the graves.

He rubbed his eyes and sat down in front of the television, flipping it on. Even though Buffy was halfway across town, she was drawing him back. He refused to go. The bond kept her feet firmly in the world, but it wasn’t like a magical rope that pulled them together. No, they could survive without each other, but it would be hard. It would even border on hell. The ache in his chest was proving that already.

How she could doubt him after all they had shared he couldn’t fathom. He had been joking with Willow and Dawn on the street. He’d never hurt a hair on their sweet heads. Now if Xander had been there -

No, he wouldn’t have hurt the little ponce either. For her.

The door opened suddenly and Dawn slipped inside, shutting it quickly. "There’s a man out there sniffing a fresh grave," she told him.

"That’s Marcus. He’s harmless." For a Coovudon demon, he added silently.

"He’s also naked. I’m scarred for life."

"What do you want, bit?"

"Are you okay?"

"Shouldn’t you be at home?"

"It’s too crazy there. Even for me. Giles was forcing Buffy to bleed on the scroll thing again and Willow was trying to hide from him because he wants to ‘have a talk’ with her." She used air quotes. "That usually means that he’s going to yell and make you feel bad at some point. And Xander and Anya showed up being Xander and Anya. So, I snuck out of the house and came to see you."

"Which brings us back ‘round to what you want."

"Did you really bite Buffy?"

"She knew I was going to."

"Angel did that once, too."

Spike raised his eyebrow. "Did he now?"

"She made him." Dawn hopped up on the sarcophagus, sitting Indian style and looking very young. "Do you really love her?"

"Yes." Spike was still contemplating Angel biting what was HIS, but he attempted to push it away so he could speak to Dawn with a clear head. "I do love her."

"Then you shouldn’t have just left like that." She crossed her arms. "I’m just a kid and even I know that when someone already has abandonment issues and is about to be left again ... you shouldn’t do the same thing to her."

"Then why did you leave?" Spike snapped. "You’re not with her either."

"I’m going back," she replied. "Are you?"

"It’s complicated."

"Then uncomplicate it. Do something right for a change."

"For a change? You’re just like your soddin’ sis! What do you think I’ve been doing for months? Longer than that, even!"

"Then give me a ride back home and talk to her."

"You walked over here! Walk back."

"I actually didn’t walk. I hitched." With a smug expression, she slipped off the edge of the tomb. "I’m a rebel that way."

Spike grabbed her. "You’re going to rebel your way across my knee if you ever do something that stupid again."

"I’m joking! Gosh! I rode my bike! You think I’m dumb? I’d probably stick my thumb out and lose my head for the effort. This is Sunnydale."

"Precisely! You shouldn’t be out."

"So, take me home."

"Fine, but I’m not coming in."

"This is what you’ve wanted forever, Spike. She wants you. Like, really wants you. All of you. Not you fitting in an ash tray, but you in general."

"That’s the bond talking."

"I guess I better get used to hearing it. I heard Giles telling someone on the phone about it and said that she was a virgin again when it -"

Spike’s eyes widened as realization set it. She had been a virgin. He let loose a string of curses that had Dawn giving him a thumbs up. "That was impressive. And I don’t even know what half of it means," she told him. "I hope I can remember it."

"It bloody well means that I need body armor."

"Why?"

"Between your sister and Giles, one of them is going to get a stake through my chest."

"You’re not coming in, remember?"

"Right." He grabbed his duster and shoved his arms through it, knowing even as he said it that he would not only go in the house, he’d probably beg to stay.

*~*~*~*~

After Buffy had bled enough on the locked metal cylinder to feed an army of thirsty vampires, it clicked open and revealed the original contract inside. Giles, still intent on reading her the riot act for being such an idiot, handed her a box of matches and led her downstairs to the fireplace. He was reminding her, for the fifth time in as many minutes that things which sounded too good to be true generally were.

"Can I stay under the contract for a few more minutes? At least until the wicked cool healing powers take effect? Because I think you cut me to the bone." She held up her palm, which was still bleeding. "And ow, by the way."

Giles merely removed the fireplace screen and motioned for her to join him. She sighed and laid the scroll on the metal grate. "I’m just saying five, ten minutes tops," she persisted.

"Strike the match, Buffy. If you have residual pain then I daresay it will be a lesson you’ll long remember." He gave her a scathing look. "And the lesson is-"

"I know!" she sighed, setting the contract ablaze. "Things are not always what they seem. Sometimes they’re even worse."

"Nicely stated." He watched as the parchment turned to dust and then reached for her hand, examining the wound for himself. "Should heal nicely."

"In a day or two. I could have waited a few more minutes." She pouted for a second, then shrugged. "You know, as bad as it was, I still have a hundred thousand dollars."

"That I suggest you invest wisely. Sunnydale Mall is doing fine without your contributions."

"You’ll help me with that before you leave, right? Figuring out how to save or invest or whatever?"

He was touched. "Certainly, Buffy. In any way that I can."

She nodded, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. It still hurt her all the way to her toes that he was leaving her, but he didn’t deserve any more of her abuse. She actually felt bad about the way she had behaved. But, she had once told Angel that love made you do the wacky and loving someone and having them leave was bound to invite wackiness and bitchiness in equal measure.

"Something on your mind?" he asked gently, nudging her with his elbow.

"I’m sorry," she said. "About everything. I *am* happy for you. We’ll be okay. I- I’ll be okay, now. I will."

"I know that you told me earlier that this is a closed topic, but I just wondered-"

"What it was like in heaven?" she finished for him, smiling a little sadly. When he nodded, she took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts. "It’s quiet. I mean, you can still think and you know who you are and what you’ve been through, but you feel peace with it all. That’s what everyone says, I know. But it’s true."

"Were there other people there?"

She swallowed hard. "Nothing really had form. I didn’t. They didn’t. But I could feel them all. Everyone I loved and lost. It’s almost like they would go through me at times. Like a ghost hug or something. I could smell mom’s perfume and stuff like that."

"It sounds-"

"It was incredible, Giles." Her eyes welled with tears, but she was able to blink them away. "She was there."

"Your mother?"

"Yes, but I mean Jenny. She’s okay."

"Thank you." It was his turn to blink back tears, but he didn’t quite make it. It was more than he could have asked her to share with him and he felt a hundred pounds lighter. His heart literally soared. "I know that nothing I say will ease the pain of trying to transition back into this world. But I think if you look hard enough, if you listen close enough, and if you allow yourself to live again ... you’ll find that there’s a little bit of heaven in everything we do."

She glanced at him. "That was kind of beautiful."

He gave her hand an affectionate squeeze and stood, helping her to her feet as well. "Tomorrow we’ll discuss your financial situation and your recent, er, acquisition of cash."

Yawning, she nodded. "You think I could get the Watcher Council to pay me?"

"Not on your life."

"I bet Willow could make them pay me."

"Speaking of -"

They both heard Willow swear from the stairwell and heard her footfalls as she raced back up to her bedroom. They exchanged glances and laughed. Then Giles excused himself and headed up after her.

Buffy put the fireplace screen back in place and stood, intent on finding Dawn and making another apology. The front door opened and she frowned. Xander and Anya had left a while earlier and she wasn’t expecting company. In the foyer she was shocked to see Spike helping tug a football helmet off Dawn’s head. Her heart sped up a little when he looked at her, then turned his attention back to Dawn’s predicament.

"I told you to wear the regular one," he growled.

"This one is nostalgic!" she cried. "My ears are stopping it!"

"I can rip them off," Buffy told her. "Where the hell have you been?"

Dawn yelped a little and looked up, helmet still attached in a very lopsided manner. "Uhm, I had a bad dream?"

"Now try one that I didn’t use on mom." Buffy tried to ignore the pull inside her, but found herself invariably drawn in Spike’s direction. She forced her feet to stop in front of Dawn and she tugged the helmet off for her little sister. "What were you doing on the back of Spike’s bike?"

"Gymnastics?"

"Not. Funny."

Dawn put her hands on her hips. "Not. Explaining."

"I will." Spike glanced down at Buffy and his silent heart flipped in his chest. She was beautiful, even with her puffy eyes and red nose. "She just needed a little air. So much happened tonight that-"

Buffy cut him off. "Dawn, go to your room."

"Great! You get to run off and spaz out and *I* get sent to my room for taking a walk."

"Now!" Buffy shouted.

"Ack! Going!" Dawn flew past her sister and up the stairs.

"Don’t be hard on her." Spike reached out, gently gripping the Slayer’s arm as she made a move to follow Dawn up the stairs.

Buffy whirled to face him, yanking free from his grasp. "*You* don’t get to give me advice about being hard on someone. What you did earlier ... just leaving like that? That was hard on *me*."

"I’m sorry, love."

"So am I!" Buffy snapped. "I thought you were different."

"I am."

"No, you’re not! You’re just like everyone else. When the going gets tough you leave. I can’t even pretend to not expect it anymore!"

"I’m not-"

"It’s okay! It’s not like you made promises or anything. Go ahead. Go."

He gritted his teeth against the things he was tempted to say to her. Instead, he pulled her against him and kissed her. Hard. It took a second, but she responded and he let her arms go, relaxing a little when they wove around his neck. He eased back, resting his head against hers. "Here’s a promise for you, love. I’m not going anywhere. Ever. You can’t get rid of me. Bond or no bond, I’m in it for good. Now, if you keep pissing me off, you may find your eternal reward a little sooner than we thought, but-"

"Shut up." Buffy leaned against him, hugging him tight. Their separation, albeit short, had slashed at her soul. She couldn’t be without him another second. "I hate you."

He kissed the top of her head, smiling against her hair. "I hate you too, baby."

Giles cleared his throat at the top of the stairs. The couple broke apart, watching as he descended. Buffy took a step away from the vampire, but he pulled her back against him. "Spike-"

"They may as well get used to it, Buffy. We’re together."

"I feel confident in telling you," Giles said, clearing the last step and stopping in front of Spike. "that I will never ‘get used to it’."

"May as well, mate. I’m not going anywhere." Spike tilted his chin, daring the man to object.

"Can we not have a repeat of earlier?" Moving between the two men, Buffy sighed. "I’m tired. My head hurts. And I just want to sleep."

Giles took her elbow and guided her to the sofa, knowing that Spike was following right behind them. "Willow utilized the time she spent hiding from me to come up with a very peculiar piece of information regarding the bonding ritual that the two of you performed."

Buffy took Spike’s hand in hers as Giles moved to sit opposite them. "What did she find?"

Glancing from one to the other, he narrowed his eyes. "Did either of your vocalize the claim?"

"There was a lot of vocalizing, mate."

"Spike!"

Giles reddened a little, but maintained his composure. "You have to speak the claim aloud and even if you had ... the bond only works between a *human* and a vampire."

"I am human, Giles."

"You’ve been touched by supernatural power, Buffy. It’s what makes you a Slayer. It also brought you back from the dead. No, you’re not merely a human. You’re more."

"But-"

"It’s impossible for two supernatural beings to bond to one another. A vampire couldn’t bond to a werewolf any more than a werewolf could bond to a Feyarl demon."

"I can feel it." Buffy put her hand over her chest. "It’s there, Giles. It’s inside me."

Spike considered what the man had said. After a few seconds, he stood and paced across the room, agitated. "She was disappearing, Giles. Right in front of me. Then we shagged and -"

"I didn’t say you couldn’t anchor her. I said you couldn’t bond with her."

"What’s the difference?" Buffy asked.

Clearing his throat, Giles took a deep breath and said, "I could have touched you and prevented the Alliance from teleporting you. So could Dawn or Willow for that matter."

"That’s just gross!" Buffy’s eyes widened. "I would never have sex with-"

"Do either of you ever listen?" Giles leaned forward. "A simple TOUCH would have anchored you. But -"

"But what?" Spike snapped, returning to sit next to Buffy.

"Only the touch of someone who truly loves the person in danger can give them roots." Giles turned his gaze toward Spike. "So."

"So at least now you believe me!" Spike glared at the man.

Buffy was stunned. She sat perfectly still, her mouth a perfect ‘o’. She could hear Spike and Giles discussing the Alliance and understood that the council had confirmed that the contract was dissolved, but she couldn’t wrap her head around what she had just heard. There was no bond? What could that possibly mean? How could she- "Oh my god." she gasped as realization began to wash over her.

Both men turned their attention to her. She stared at Spike, her eyes welling with tears. "What have you done to me?"

Confused, he shook his head. "Uh, nothing?"

"If - if there isn’t a bond then what’s wrong with me?"

"What do you mean?" Giles asked.

She ignored him, still staring at Spike with a look of abject horror. "That would mean- this whole thing means -" She stood on shaking legs. "No. No. No. I can’t love you. You’re - you’re *Spike*. I can’t love you just based on principle alone! When I thought it was the bond talking that was different, but now? Oh god, the things I did with you!"

"I was actually there, pet." Spike took her hand, pulling her back down and into his arms. "You do love me. I knew it."

"Then I’m stopping! Right now!"

Giles rolled his eyes and stood intent on finding something with a very high alcohol content to drink. He found a dusty bottle of peach schnapps in the back of the pantry and gulped down half the contents. Half an hour later, bottle empty and his head a little woozy, he walked back into the living room. Buffy and Spike were kissing.

He went back into the kitchen to finish the schnapps and found Dawn sitting on the counter. "What are you doing?" he asked, a little dizzy from the drink.

"She loves him."

"Yes, it would appear so."

"She has for a long time. When she died ... I read her diary."

"Dawn!"

"I didn’t do it to be a snoop!" She shook her head. "I did it because I wanted some kind of link with her. I missed her so much."

"At any rate-"

"I know, I know. I’m ashamed." Dawn reached for a bag of chips and dug in, crunching noisily. "What do you think will happen now?"

"I think she’ll heal." Giles sipped from the bottle. "With his help. With all of our support."

Dawn nodded. "Did she say what heaven was like?"

Giles took a deep breath and sighed. "That’s a story that she will need to tell you."

Willow came into the room and grinned. "Major smoochies in the living room. I’m glad Xander isn’t here. He’d probably set the house on fire to pull them apart."

Dawn giggled a little. "You wanna talk about fire? I bet Spike’s going to show her what heaven is all about. And I guarantee you heaven’s on fire where he’s concerned."

"Dawn!" Buffy shouted from the doorway, stunned.

"She has a point, love." Spike nipped her on the ear and wrapped his arms around her. "Just you wait and see."

"For the record," Giles slurred as he drained the bottle a hiccupped loudly. "a real watcher knows his limits."


"I can see that, mate." Spike pointed at the bottle.

"A real watcher would have known better than to shag the Slayer." With a loud belch, Giles drew his hand over his mouth, "You, sir, would be fired and possibly slain if you had been a real watcher."

"Good thing you never promoted me above ‘seeing eye vampire’, innit?" Tossing one of the watcher’s arms over his shoulder, Spike helped him to his feet and led him to the living room, depositing him on the sofa.

"I do believe I’m a bit mullered." Giles leaned his head back. "Spinning room. Dear lord."

Buffy bit her bottom lip as she watched him attempt to remove his shoes. She bent down and tugged his loafers off, then eased his legs up onto the sofa, helping him stretch out. "Giles, you really should go to sleep."

"Perchance to dream," he replied, tossing his arm over his eyes. "And this will all have been a nightmare."

Glancing over at her friends, Buffy said, "He took this really well."

"I wonder how he’ll take me moving in." Spike put his arm around her, kissing her cheek.

"God help me, I’m not asleep yet." Giles snapped. "And I can assure you that I won’t take that well, either."

"But on the plus side, you won’t be here to see it," Spike replied.

Giles glanced out from under his arm, eyes narrowed. "I wonder if Xander would like to be a watcher."

*~*~*~*~*~

Buffy stretched, smiling when Spike moved closer to her, nuzzling her neck. Life had gotten better. She even enjoyed it. For the most part. There were still the demons to contend with. And the aches and pains associated with Slaying. But life was ... good.

Earlier in the day, Giles had arrived with a very pregnant Olivia. They had all enjoyed dinner and ice cream and then Giles pulled her aside, presenting her with an envelope. When she opened it, she was stunned to see a check and shocked speechless when she saw the amount of zeroes on the end of it. She blinked several times, staring at the signature at the bottom. "Quentin Travers?"

"I’ve utilized my time away wisely." He sat down on the front steps and waited for her to join him. "I appealed to the council, reminded them of your recent loss, and made it very clear that future Slayers will be enticed by organizations like the Alliance because there is no real compensation in being a Slayer. What you’re holding in your hand is your pay, retroactive or course, from the date you were activated."

Her throat constricted painfully and her heart swelled with emotion for the Englishman. "The council did compensate me, Giles." Hot tears dropped onto her cheeks as she looked from the check, into his eyes. "They gave me you."

"Yes, well." He removed his glasses, concentrating on cleaning them. He was moved by her words, touched deep inside by the powerful simplicity of her statement. "It’s a fair trade, I’d say."

"Thank you. For everything."

He put his arm around her and hugged her. "I hope that removing the financial burden gives you a small measure of peace."

"I am at peace, Giles. Really."

"I think you are." He studied her face, convinced that the smile she gave him was genuine. "You are the greatest Slayer who has ever lived. Twice, I might add. The council knows your worth. You can expect to be regularly paid."

"What about you? What will you do for money?"

"I resumed my old job as the curator of the British Museum."

"Wow, check you out. Fancy job title and everything."

"Yes, well, ‘watcher’ will always be my fondest title."

"Just wait until you hear ‘dad’. I bet you’ll change your mind."

"I hear it with my heart every time you speak to me, Buffy."

"Aww." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Life really is worth living. You know? I thought that death was my gift, but I was wrong. Every day is my gift. I’m glad to have it."

"Spike makes you happy, yes?"

She leaned back, letting him see the sincerity in her face. "Yes, he does."

"I’ll let you give him this, then." He pulled another envelope from his jacket pocket. "Inside you’ll find a driver’s license, birth certificate, and passport for one William Spike Atherton."

"I - I don’t get it."

"He gave you roots once. It’s time to return the favor."

And return the favor she had.

Several times.

Heaven was on fire, burning deep in her soul, setting her heart ablaze with the love she felt for Spike. As far as she was concerned, it was better than the real thing.

The End

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