banner by Always_jbj
Title: The Wind Beneath My Wings
Season: Post NFA
Rating: NC17 to be safe
Word Count: 13800 +
Disclaimer: Joss said we could play with them now that he’s done.
Summary: It’s a few years after NFA, Angel has shanshued and there is a wedding being planned. Sounds like it could be Bangel, doesn’t it? Wrong! Many thanks to my wondereful beta, Always_jbj, for taking a last, hard look at this.
Events were going very well, all things considered. There had been no glitches in the catering plans, no problems with the dress, which was now hanging on the door of the closet. Everyone who needed to be in town for the wedding had made it in time for the rehearsal. The bridesmaids all liked their dresses –or, if they didn’t, they made sure to say they did. Buffy prided herself on finding both a style and a color that would look flattering on everyone.
(No radioactive green for my bridesmaids! I want them to feel pretty.)
Thoughts of the last time she had worn a bridesmaid dress herself led, inevitably, to thoughts of those who were not going to be around for this wedding.
(Ah, Anya. I’m so sorry. You would have loved this – and you probably would have taken over the whole planning thing for me. I hope you’re happy now – wherever you are. I wonder if ex-demons can go to Heaven if they die fighting to save the world? I hope so.)
As she always did when reminded of such things, she then had to wonder where souled vampires went after saving the world. Because, as was always the case, any thoughts of Sunnydale and the people in it evoked visions of bleached blond hair that curled when it was wet, of a trim, muscular body that even now she could almost feel pressed against hers, and visions of clear blue eyes shining with a devotion, the like of which she knew that she would never see again.
Shaking herself, she forced the memories of the vampire she had loved too little and too late to the back of her mind and continued concentrating on the arrangements for the rest of the evening. With the rehearsal already out of the way, she had deemed it a night for relaxing with the old friends who were waiting for her in the lobby. She quickly finished dressing and left her room to meet Willow, Xander and Angel.
The three old friends, and the former vampire who had been on the edges of their group for the first three years that Buffy and her high school helpers had kept Sunnydale safe, were going to a nearby restaurant for a relaxed dinner. To be followed, she hoped, by a good night’s sleep before the final flurry of activity necessary for the following day’s afternoon wedding. Giles was tied up with Council business and, while he’d been there for the rehearsal, would not be rejoining them until it was time to walk Buffy down the aisle.
She greeted Angel with a warm kiss, hugging Xander and Willow tightly as though she had not just seen them a few hours earlier. For the first time in three years, she could feel herself relinquishing some of the sadness with which she had been living since the collapse of Sunnydale. Memories of watching Spike burn up in the Hellmouth - his gratitude for her declaration of love and his denial of its truth on his lips - still haunted her; but the growing realization of how good her life was now had made it easier to accept his sacrifice.
(He wanted me to have this. I shouldn’t feel bad about it. I should be enjoying what he died to give me. That’s the best way to honor his memory. No more moping. I’m alive. I’m getting married to my first love and all my friends are here to celebrate with me.)
When Angel had shown up on the Council’s doorstep, battered and worn, but breathing and as human as anyone else, his story of the fight against the senior partners and Spike’s second demise, had hit Buffy much harder than she would have expected. The knowledge that he had been back for months - without contacting her - only cemented Buffy’s belief that the blond vampire had died not once, but twice, still believing that she didn’t love him.
On those rare occasions that she allowed herself to dwell on it, she often thought that if it weren’t so painful, it would be funny. That the man who could read her so well most of the time could be the only one in that house on Revello Drive not to realize that the Slayer was in love with him. Certainly Giles and Willow recognized it. Dawn saw it. The potentials all saw it. Hell, even Faith had noticed; quickly backing off from her intended seduction of the souled vampire when she saw her sister slayer’s devastated face and the vampire’s guilty reaction to it.
(Leave it to Spike to read me like a book when he was soulless and evil, telling me that I loved him, that I needed him, even when all it got him was a punch in the nose. Give him a soul, and suddenly he decides to believe all those things I told him about being beneath me; about being unfit for me to love. Stupid vampire.)
Only her anger at Spike for not having believed her kept Buffy from falling apart in front of Angel the one time they discussed the blond vampire’s reappearance three months after his “death” in the Hellmouth, and his subsequent decision to remain in Los Angeles. She had clung to her anger until Angel was out of the apartment, and then collapsed; allowing herself to give voice to the renewed grief his story had generated. By the time her newly-human first love returned, Buffy had regained her composure, washed her face, and pushed the memories of William the Bloody as far away from her as they needed to be in order for her to go on with her life.
If Angel noticed that she was quieter than usual for the rest of the day, he attributed it to lack of sleep from their having been up most of the night talking, hugging and rejoicing over his Shanshu. Without his vampire senses, he never smelled the tears she’d shed while he was gone; nor did it occur to him that, had Spike been around, Buffy may not have greeted Angel’s new status quite so happily. His easy assumption that his having become human meant that they were going to be together rankled more than Buffy let on. However, with no one else in her life at that time, she allowed herself to slide into a relationship that was, if not totally happy, at least familiar and comfortable. Even Giles and her friends seemed to be willing to accept that Angel’s reward from the Powers That Be absolved him of any sins Angelus may have committed and they gradually welcomed him back into her life.
She couldn’t have said exactly when they went from the happy reunion, to living together, to planning a wedding. She almost felt as if she had awoken one morning to find herself engaged, with a wedding looming only a few months away and no recollection of how she got to that point. Common sense said that it was almost two years since Angel’s reappearance in her life and that they could not have reached this point without her full and enthusiastic cooperation, but every once in while she could feel the adrenaline flooding her body as a touch of panic went through her. On those occasions, she had to force the Slayer down and convince herself that she was not caught in a trap, but was enjoying her just reward for years of service.
She resolutely denied any possibility that her body might be trying to tell her something about the impending wedding; insisting on attributing the more and more frequent panic attacks to normal pre-nuptial nerves. She hadn’t mentioned the attacks to anyone; she just did her best to hide them and to deny their existence.
As the happy group strolled toward the restaurant, Buffy felt herself tensing up again, her body choosing that particular moment to respond to Angel’s arm around her shoulders with a flight or fight reaction that she could barely control. She unconsciously flinched away from the puzzled man, smiling apologetically when he gave her a hurt look, but carefully remaining just out of reach.
“S…sorry,” she managed to get out between clenched teeth. “There must be vamps around. My slayer senses just went a little nuts.”
Everyone glanced around quickly, noting that it was just barely dusk and the well-lit street was crowded with people hurrying home from work or out for the evening. The chances that there were vampires already about in such a busy area seemed slim and Buffy had to look away from Willow’s suspicious frown.
“Hey! It’s the night before your wedding, Buffster,” Xander tried to break the tension still palpable in the air. “If there are any vamps hanging around, let one of the new slayers worry about them. You’re on your honeymoon – or you will be soon, anyway.”
“R-right, Buffy,” Willow’s concerned face said clearly that they were going to talk, but she loyally chimed in. “It’s a crowded street. Even if there is a vamp, you won’t find him – and then you’d get dust on your clothes…and…oh, look we’re here!” With great relief, Willow pointed to the door of the restaurant and tugged Buffy toward it. The slayer took a deep breath, mentally forcing herself to calm down and conquer the panic flooding her body.
(It’s perfectly natural to be a little uptight the night before your wedding. I’m sure all brides go through this. It’s natural. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to marry Angel. It doesn’t mean I don’t love him.)
She continued her mental chant until she felt that she was once again in control of her body, then smiled and followed her best friend into the building. To prove to herself that she was now fine, she took Angel’s hand and squeezed gently in apology for her strange behavior. Fortunately, he seemed to have taken her excuse at face value and he squeezed back and smiled his forgiveness.
“It’s all right, sweetheart. I didn’t take it personally. I’m sure in a crowd like that there probably were a few vamps getting an early start on the night’s hunt. It’s nice to know that your senses have become so well developed through the years. I remember when you could barely feel any vampires at all.”
“Yeah,” she smiled back. “I got a lot better at it. Spi - I had some help for a while and now look at me – all vamp-feeling girl!”
“It’s okay to say his name, Buffy,” Angel smiled kindly. “I know you spent a lot of time together and that he helped you out sometimes. I understand that he meant something to you. I’ve come to terms with that…well, as best I can, considering that it’s Spike.” She almost thought she heard the now thoroughly human man growl briefly before he continued. “If something reminds you of him, it’s okay to say so in front of me. I’m not jealous.” He grinned and pulled her closer to his side. “After all, I’m the one who got the girl in the end.”
There was no controlling the burst of anger that shot through Buffy’s body causing her to accidentally clutch Angel’s forearm. He yelled in surprise and pain, tying unsuccessfully to pull away from her painful grip.
“What the hell was that about?” he demanded, glaring at her.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m still getting those vamp vibes. I guess they’re making me nervous.” As she spoke, she realized that she actually was getting vamp vibes – strong ones - and they were coming from somewhere in the crowded restaurant. Her eyes flew around the room, unable to pinpoint the source of the sensations.
Willow and Xander had seen the change in her demeanor and sent their own eyes roaming over the room, seeking anything that might indicate patrons of the undead persuasion. Angel, seeing how Buffy was ignoring everything except the tingles on her neck, grudgingly accepted that there were vampires in the large room and made his own experienced scan, coming up with nothing. When the tingles faded somewhat, Buffy relaxed and allowed herself to be led to a table near the dance floor.
She was especially attentive to Angel during the meal, trying to make up for both her lack of affection earlier and for the way she had hurt him when she grabbed his arm. It was still hard for her to remember sometimes that he was now an ordinary human man and that she couldn’t treat his body the way she had when it was almost as strong as hers. He sometimes reminded her of Riley - insisting on sparring with her, only to become angry when she was able to handle him without breaking a sweat. Eventually, for the sake of their relationship, they had agreed that Buffy would only spar with other slayers and that Angel would work out with either the newer slayers or with some of the younger, more physically fit watchers.
The remainder of the meal went well, with the four humans chatting about old times and activities. If Spike’s name came up more often than he might have liked, Angel managed to keep an interested look on his face and to smile at appropriate times. He couldn’t hide his surprise when Xander and Willow laughed about finding a humiliated Spike, clad in Xander’s old clothes, trying to stake himself in the Harris basement.
“That doesn’t sound like Spike!” he interrupted. “He never, ever gives up.”
“Oh, I don’t think he was really trying to do it,” Willow hastened to say. “He was just feeling sorry for himself. If he really wanted to kill himself he could have just walked outside.”
“Or, he could have asked me to do it,” Buffy agreed wryly. “Trust me, at that time in our lives, I would have been happy to help him out.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Buff,” Xander teased gently. “I remember a lot of groping and kissing during Willow’s little spell. You really think you could have knocked off your ex-fiancé?”
“Your what?” Angel’s outraged roar made it clear that he had never been told about the spell that had Spike and Buffy thinking they were getting married.
“It was nothing, Angel.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “A spell. When we still hated each other. We fought the whole time.”
She resolutely pushed back the memories of a skull ring that she’d kept in a jewelry box now buried under a pile of rubble in the California desert. At the time she’d not been sure she would ever have a normal engagement or marriage and she somehow couldn’t bring herself to throw away the symbol of the short time when someone had wanted to marry her.
(Somebody wants to marry me now. Somebody IS going to marry me. Tomorrow. I’m getting married tomorrow. To the love of my life. Okay, maybe not so much the love of my life anymore, but somebody I love. Who loves me.)
Angel subsided into muttered grumbling about vampires that didn’t know their place and witches who should be more careful with their spells until Willow finally leaned across the table to remind him that the witch in question was her, and that she was now powerful enough to turn him into a bug with a flick of her finger. While Buffy and Xander tried to hide their smiles, the redhead continued to glare at Angel until he mumbled an apology and sat back to brood quietly. The three friends immediately went back to reminiscing about the old days before Sunnydale fell into the Hellmouth.
During dessert, a small combo walked out onto the tiny stage and began to warm up their instruments. They were soon joined by a petite brunette who walked to the microphone and smiled out at the audience. She waited for the dinner table chatter to die down enough that she was sure she could be heard and then said with another smile, “We are beginning tonight with a request for a particular song. Apparently we have someone in the building tonight who is getting married tomorrow and just in case they won’t be playing this song at your wedding, here it is now.”
The band went into the introduction and the girl swayed with the music until she was ready to begin. She stepped back to the microphone and began, “It must have been cold there, in my shadow…”
Buffy’s face went white as a sheet, as did Willow’s, once the memories came flooding back. As the singer went on, oblivious to the effect upon her intended audience, a hissed conversation was taking place at the table. While Angel looked on in bewilderment, Willow was rapidly defending herself to Buffy, insisting that she never had, would never think of, and had no idea how the band even knew Buffy was there. Xander frowned at them, as bewildered as Angel, until a random memory from almost eight years ago wormed its way out of his subconscious and he remembered who had told them that Buffy wanted to hear “The Wind Beneath My Wings” at her wedding.
Angel’s anger continued to grow as it became obvious that not only was the song clearly intended for Buffy, but that it was more than just a favorite song. Finally, sounding much like his old, unsouled and non-human self, he growled, “Is anyone going to tell me what’s going on? If you wanted to hear this song tomorrow, Buffy, all you had to do was say so. The whole program doesn’t have to be Barry Manilow songs.”
Buffy ignored him, frantically searching the room with both her eyes and her slayer senses. Angel’s repeated question as to whether she wanted the song played at their wedding brought a resounding “No!” from the slayer and her two equally perturbed companions. As the song ended and the girl on the stage nodded towards Buffy and asked the audience to “congratulate the happy couple”, Buffy did her best to appear embarrassed but happy and Angel waved weakly. As soon as the attention was off their table and the band had gone on to other, less stressful, music, she turned to her intended husband and seemingly changed the subject.
“Tell us again about that battle with the Senior Partners, Angel. I don’t think Xander has actually heard about it.”
Xander’s attempt to say that he had, earned him a hard kick from Willow and he swallowed the words, nodding and agreeing, “Oh yeah, formerly-Deadboy, I want to hear about how you pissed your bosses off so much they threw a whole army at you. Not to mention how you managed to live through it and come out smelling like a rose. So to speak.”
Something about the familiar resentment in Xander’s voice allowed the big man to relax and he leaned forward to talk about the epic battle against an army of demons and a dragon. A battle that he had gone into as a 200-year-old vampire and had come out of a human man, the same age as when he had been turned. He talked about losing Wes and Gunn early on, and about how he and Spike and Illyria had walked into the alley to face the incoming army from hell.
His story centered primarily, of course, upon his own fighting as he admitted that things were too fast and furious for him to know exactly what was going on with his two companions.
“I think Illyria was using some of her time-bending tricks - I remember seeing everything around her moving in slow motion one time. Of course Spike just charged right in, fangs and fists flying. It’s a wonder he didn’t get taken out right away, as dumb as he was.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy’s eyes narrow and he hastened to add, “But brave. He was always brave. Foolishly so.”
“So, Deadboy,” Xander attempted to get Angel back on track. “How did the whole Shanshu thing work? And how the hell did a human get out of that mess alive?”
Angel shifted uncomfortably in his chair, shooting a look at Buffy before he admitted, “The dragon – did I mention there was a dragon? Anyway, I wanted to fight it and Spike kept getting in the way, so I ran around and jumped on its back. It leaped into the air and sort of…bucked me off. When I hit the ground, I was not really conscious for a few seconds and I was just laying there while the dragon got ready to fry me…” His eyes glazed over for a minute, clearly remembering the sensation of being at the mercy of a fire-breathing beast. He shook himself out of his memories and continued with an apologetic shrug.
“Anyway, I’m lying there thinking that as soon as that beast breathes on me, I’m a goner, when I realized that I could feel my heart pounding. And that I was choking on the fumes from the dragon’s breath. I looked up and Spike was just standing there, staring at me.”
“And then what?” Willow prompted. “How did you get away?”
Angel took another look at Buffy, who was listening impassively, having already heard most of this before. He took her limp hand in his and continued.
“I heard Spike say, ‘Bloody hell!’ and then he jumped on the dragon and jerked its head away from me so that the fire went just past my head and into the side of the building. It blew the wall apart and a brick fell on my head, knocking me out again. When I woke up, I was the only one in the alley. Even the demon bodies were gone.”
“So, you didn’t see Spike dust?” Buffy attempted to keep her voice casual and even, trying not to crush Angel’s large hand, which was still holding hers. In his first description of the battle and his shanshu, he had implied that he’d watched both Spike and Illyria disappear.
Rather than extricating himself from her, Angel brought his other hand around and cradled her small one between his.
“He’s gone, Buffy. There is no way that they survived that army unless Illyria was somehow able to teleport them into another dimension. Either way, he’s gone.”
“Did you look for him?” she asked, still maintaining an even tone and allowing him to caress her hand. “Did you see his dust?”
He sighed, releasing her. “Even dead, he’s going to be a pain in my ass, isn’t he?” he grumbled before answering her question. “Buffy, the alley was a mess; it was full of dirt and dust and blood and puddles of rain – and I was newly human, wounded and very, very tired and confused. I didn’t look. When I got knocked out, he was wrestling a fire-breathing dragon – I had no reason to think I was going to find him – or his dust. It’s not like he wouldn’t have come looking for you if he survived it, you know.”
“He knew you were human, didn’t he?” Her face gave no indication of what she was thinking, but Willow gave a small gasp, as she understood what Buffy was getting at.
“Yes. I’m sure he did. I could see it in his eyes, just before he—“
“Just before he saved your life,” she finished for him tonelessly, gently pulling her hand out of his. “He saw that you were human, he saved your life and when you woke up, he was gone. And you didn’t look for him.”
The man looked at his fiancée and her two friends, all now staring at him with what seemed to be accusation.
“I. Had. No. Choice,” he ground out. “I was unconscious. I don’t know what happened while I was out – I just know they were gone. I’m sorry I can’t tell you how he died, or where his dust is, but it really isn’t something I want to be arguing about the night before our wedding.”
“Me neither, Angel,” she agreed suddenly. “Why don’t we all just go on back to the hotel? I still have some things to do tonight.”
Relieved that the subject of his interfering grandchilde had been dropped, Angel readily agreed and waved the waitress over for the check. While he was waiting for his card to be returned, Buffy excused herself to go to the ladies room. Willow rose to her feet, intending to accompany the slayer, but sat again at a small shake of Buffy’s head.
Once away from the table, Buffy shut her eyes and extended her senses until she once again picked up the unmistakable vampire tingles. She followed them as far as a fire exit, stopping when she saw it fall shut behind whomever had just left the building. With a muffled curse, she turned and stalked back to the table, grabbing her purse and waiting impatiently for the others to get to their feet.
She ignored Willow’s questioning glance, and marched out the door and onto the sidewalk. Full night had fallen, and the street, while still crowded, was lit only where there were lights from a building or from a streetlight. The rooftops, alleys and other non- business areas were all dark, with many places in which a creature of the night could hide unseen.
In a sudden burst of respect for tradition, Angel and Buffy had agreed to remain apart the night before their wedding and, with a quick kiss, she sent him off to his hotel room. It was soon obvious to Willow and Xander that Buffy had no intention of going back to her own room anytime soon, and they eventually took the hint and said their good-nights.
With great relief, Buffy turned and quickly left the hotel, allowing her feet to take her wherever they would as she wandered around waiting for the vampire who she was sure was watching her. Without thinking, she had wandered toward the church where she and Angel were scheduled to become man and wife the following day. She approached it hesitantly, wondering if it would be locked or if she even wanted to go inside if it wasn’t. With some trepidation, she pushed on the heavy door, finding that it was open and allowed entrance to the darkened nave. Only a few candles burning near the altar relieved the darkness and Buffy slid into a pew near the back, leaning forward and resting her head on her hands.
She showed no surprise when the familiar tingle began on the back of her neck, waiting patiently for the sound of his leather coat as he entered the church and sat down in the very last pew, directly behind her.
“Don’t turn around, luv,” he begged when she shifted her weight. “It will be easier this way.”
“Easier for who?” she snapped, immediately regretting that her first words to him were combative and angry. “I’m sorry,“ she blurted, whirling around. “I didn’t mean---“ She stopped, frozen by the raw emotion in the eyes boring into hers.
“Hello, cutie,” he whispered, never shifting his gaze. “Did you miss me?”
“How can you ask me that?” She kept her voice to the same soft level as his, but it trembled with pain and anger. “How can you ask me that, Spike?”
He didn’t reply immediately, just continued to stare at her like a starving man suddenly presented with a banquet. If he noticed the anger in her eyes, he didn’t let it distract him from his visual feast.
“You look good, love,” he finally said, as though he hadn’t heard her question. “You’re going to make a beautiful bride.”
Realization of what was about to happen to her life hit her with sledgehammer force. Waiting for her back at the hotel was the man she’d loved since she was sixteen. Facing her, from the back of the church in which she was to marry that man, was the vampire she had come to love and depend on in ways she’d never dreamed of doing with anyone else.
“Why now, Spike? Why did you wait until now?”
He dropped his eyes. “I’m weak, Buffy. You’ve always known that. I couldn’t bear not seeing you again before you—before…”
“And ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’? What the hell was that all about?”
“Ah, pet. That was me jus’ being a wanker. Had to do it. Had to see what you—if it—I’m sorry, love. It was a bloody stupid thing to do. I know that. I’m sorry,“ he repeated, staring at his folded hands.
“If you wanted to see me, why didn’t you just come? Why wait until now – until I’m about to marry somebody else? Why didn’t you come to me, Spike?” She mentally cursed the plaintive note that she couldn’t keep from her voice.
“You had what you wanted, yeah? Didn’t need me mucking about and confusing things for you…” He stopped talking and raised his head. “It would have confused things, wouldn’t it?” he ventured, hope for this final crumb shining in his suddenly intent gaze.
“Would have, could have, still is,” she muttered. “Unless you don’t want me anymore…” She looked up suddenly. “Is that it? Is that why you didn’t find me? You don’t love me any more?”
“If that’s what you need to believe, Buffy—“
She rose to her feet and pointed toward the door, gesturing that they were to go outside. She was fairly certain that the conversation was about to become louder than would be appropriate for a church. As soon as they were safely on the building’s front steps, she whirled on him, not quite yelling, “Never mind what I need to believe. Answer my question. Don’t you love me anymore? Is that why you stayed away? Or is it just that you didn’t believe me when I told you I loved you?”
“What do you want, Buffy?” His own anger, always quick to match hers, making his voice even louder. “Do you want me to say I don’t love you any more? Will that free you to marry him without feeling guilty?”
“I don’t feel guilty!” she yelled, even as the sinking feeling in her stomach told her that it was a lie. That the emotion, which had been sending her into panic mode so often over the past few months, was exactly that - guilt. Guilt that she hadn’t told Spike she loved him soon enough. Guilt that she was marrying Angel, knowing that she no longer loved him the way he thought she did. And now, more guilt, that the vampire who had loved her, if not the longest, then certainly the most, was going to have to watch her pledge herself to another man. It was too much. She dropped her voice again, whispering through impending tears. “Don’t you love me anymore?”
“Just…just let it go, love…Be happy.”
The tiny catch in his voice brought her eyes up, to find that he was also blinking back tears. With a shake of her head, she forced herself to meet his eyes steadily as she asked, “What makes you think I can be happy without you?”
“Have done, haven’t you? Been without me for near to three years now. You look to be doing all right. Nice home, shiny new human boyfriend. ‘S what you always wanted, isn’t it? A home, a family. Chance to raise some little bitty slayers.” He shook his head and looked away. “I’ve got nothing to offer you, Slayer. Take what you’ve been given. Enjoy it. If…when…I think I can handle it, I’ll come ‘round. Maybe I can be the little bits’ devilishly handsome ‘Uncle Spike’, yeah?”
“Why are you doing this?” Her voice was a whisper again as she tried to process what he was saying. “Why are you doing this to me? To us?”
“Because I love you.” His voice was gentle. “Because you deserve better. Not saying Peaches is it, mind you.” He laughed softly, his voice shaky. “But he’s closer to it than I am. He can give you what you want, what you need, what you deserve. Let him love you, Buffy. Let him make you happy.”
With a whisper of air, his lips brushed over hers and he was gone; striding down the street, his coat billowing out behind him. Buffy’s hand was on her lips, her mind still processing his words, when she remembered what Angel had said earlier in the evening. “…after all, I’m the one who got the girl in the end.” With a sobbing laugh, she leapt from the top step, running down the street and tackling Spike just as he turned to face her.
Her momentum carried them to the ground, Spike on his back with Buffy sprawled on top of him. Instinctively his hands had gripped her sides to hold her in place while she got her breath. He frowned at her as she struggled to get enough air to finally gasp out, “What if I don’t want him to make me happy? What if I’d rather be unhappy with you?”
“Buffy…” he began, shaking his head, “You don’t—“
Forgoing any attempt to use words to convince him, she went directly to the one thing she was sure he couldn’t argue with. Surging up his body, she fastened her mouth on his, moving her lips until she felt him begin to respond; then she touched her tongue to his lower lip, nudging it insistently. With a groan of surrender, he opened his mouth and began to return her kiss. Once he had admitted defeat, all his defenses went down and he clutched her like a man drowning; pouring into it the years of heartache and desperation. His arms banded around her body, pulling her against his chest in a way that would have been painful for a normal woman.
Not to be outdone, Buffy fisted her hands in his hair, holding his head in a death grip, as though there might be some question as to whether or not he would remain if she didn’t hold him in place. It wasn’t until they had drawn an appreciative crowd that either of them remembered that they were laying on a public street in a busy city. Buffy raised her head, took one look at the leering faces above them and buried her face in his neck.
“Are they still there?” she whispered, feeling his chest rumble with laughter.
“Oh yeah, Slayer,” he chuckled. “They’re still there. I think they’re waitin’ for the next act.”
“Oh, so not happening,” she growled, kissing him again quickly when she felt him tense beneath her. “Not here. Not now. I didn’t mean not ever,” she whispered before she released his hair and looked down to be sure he understood her.
When she saw the defensive shields drop from his eyes, to be replaced with a dawning hunger, she knew it was safe to get off and let him up. Once the two were on their feet and Spike had flashed some fang at the curious crowd, the onlookers began to hasten away, leaving them standing alone facing each other on the street. As Buffy remained silent, staring at him, she could see the protective fences going back up as he began to doubt her words again.
His shoulders dropped, as did the hands that had been resting on her hips. He stepped back and fumbled in his pockets for his cigarettes, pulling them out and playing with the pack as an excuse not to look at her. When he had put one in his mouth and lit it to his satisfaction, he dropped his lighter back into his duster pocket and followed it with his hands. He looked away, his back hunched protectively as he mumbled, “I’m sorry, love.”
The automatic “What for?” didn’t leave Buffy’s lips as she accepted the reality of the situation and realized that she had no idea how she was going to resolve it. For her response, she chose instead to kick a mailbox, succeeding only in hurting her foot. She hopped around on her uninjured foot briefly, hoping he would at least laugh at her, but the vampire remained silent and passive.
“That should have been your ass, you know,” she groused. The longer he remained uncharacteristically silent, the more frightened she became and the harder she tried to get his attention.
“Would be your right, pet,” he said softly. “I’ve really bunged it up this time, haven’t I?”
“Well…yeah,” she agreed reluctantly, grabbing his sleeve with blinding speed when it seemed he was going to leave. “But not as much as you would have if you’d really died back in that alley.” Her voice was equally soft as she pulled him toward her. She lifted the other hand and cupped his cheek, sighing when he involuntarily leaned into her palm and closed his eyes.
Reassured that he wasn’t about to run off, she slid her hand down his sleeve and linked their fingers. Tugging gently, she began the walk back to her hotel, keeping a tight grip on his hand as the tension in his body told her that he was still thinking about bolting. She kept her grip on his hand until they approached to door to the hotel, where he balked and refused to follow her.
“Where are we going?”
“To my room. Duh! We aren’t through here, and I’m really not that interested in entertaining any more random strangers than we already have.”
His face closed down, even as his feet obediently followed her into the building and to the elevators. At the last second, she turned away and pulled him into the stairwell, pushing him against the wall as soon as the door closed behind them.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
Instead of answering her, he lifted his hand and ran it down her arm, smiling sadly when she shivered at his touch.
“So, we’re to have a last hurrah, are we? Something to remember when you and Peaches have tied the knot and sent me on my way?”
“Is that what you think I’m doing? Is that what you want?” Her face was closed as she took in his words and realized he thought they were saying ‘good-bye’. She waited, her chest getting tighter by the second as he stared into her eyes.
“What I want isn’t really the point, is it, pet?”
“Yes, you bonehead! What you want is exactly the point! If I don’t know what you want, how can I know what I should do? If you don’t want to have se—make love right now, that’s fine. But give me a good reason, Spike. Don’t act like I’m using you and then sending you away.”
“No! Yes! I don’t know!”
“Thanks for clearing that up,” he sighed, his tense posture relaxing just the slightest bit.
“I’m sorry, okay?” The apology surprised him almost as much as the tears he could see her blinking back. “I don’t know what to do – or how to do it - and I’ve got less than twelve hours to figure it out. I don’t know if I should send you away and go get you when I’ve broken it off; or if I should just let everybody know you’re here and…and…that’s just not fair to—“
“What are you sayin’, Buffy?” His body was once again as taut as a bowstring. She could almost see it quivering as he waited for her to respond.
“I’m saying,” she said with firm conviction, holding his chin and looking directly into his eyes, “that I can’t marry Angel. Not now that I know you’re alive. And before you say anything stupid and noble—“ She moved her hand to his mouth, effectively stopping the words before they left his lips. “Before you do that,” she continued sadly, “you need to know that I will be breaking it off tomorrow no matter what you do. I don’t love him. Not the way I love you; and it’s not fair of me to marry him knowing that I don’t love him. So, if you want to be all noble and run away so that I can marry Angel and have a ‘normal’ life… knock yourself out. Just keep in mind that I’m not going to marry him, whether you’re in the picture or not. It’s wrong and it’s not going to happen. All you’d be doing is making me unhappy by leaving me…again.”
The awed expression on his face made it clear that he had heard nothing past “...the way I love you” and Buffy’s face relaxed into a wry smile as she stepped into the arms that were slowly encircling her body.
“Did you listen to anything I said?” she whispered into his neck as his grip tightened.
“Heard all I needed to, love. It’s in your hands now. I’ll do whatever you tell me to. Go. Stay. It’s going to be a mess, either way.”
“It is,” she sighed, leaning back a little to look up at him. “I don’t want to rub Angel’s face in it, but I’d really like to have you here.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to do. I’d tell him right now, but I don’t want to wake him up to do it. I guess it will keep till morning.”
“It’s gonna be a rough day, no matter what, pet. You need to get some sleep.” The gentle hand he ran down her face was soothing and she leaned into it gratefully.
“Don’t wanna leave you,” she murmured into his palm. “I’m afraid you’ll go away again.”
“Never happen, love. You’re stuck with me now.”
“Then come upstairs. Stay with me tonight.”
Nodding silently, he opened the stairwell door and held it while she stepped back into the lobby. Buffy pushed the button for the elevator, then took his hand, linking their fingers as they waited for the doors to open. She told herself she should be feeling terrible about breaking up with Angel, that she was the worst kind of slut to be thinking about cheating on him before he had a chance to learn that he was no longer her fiancé. It didn’t matter. The instant the elevator door closed behind them, she pushed Spike against the wall, climbing his body and pressing herself against the growing bulge in his pants.
Spike’s growl vibrated through her whole body as he grabbed the globes of her ass and pulled her against him even harder. Her entire body was singing with anticipation; Angel, the wedding, her friends – all forgotten as she fell into his frantic kisses. When the elevator reached her floor, he exited it, still carrying Buffy, her legs wrapped around him so tightly that there was really no need to hold her in place.
Not that he was planning to let go – his hands were acting independently of his brain, stroking her firm flesh and silken skin as he carried her in the direction she was pointing. Buffy fumbled in her pocket for the room key, turning in his embrace to stick it in the slot. At the click of the lock releasing, Spike hit the door handle and burst into the room, kicking the door shut behind him. He fell onto the bed, pressing Buffy into the mattress and using his now-free hands to begin removing her clothing.
With Buffy’s enthusiastic cooperation, they were soon naked and they wasted no time on foreplay. He sank into her warmth, stilling once he was buried as deeply as he could go, and fighting back tears when she gasped his name. Her “I love you, Spike. I love you. Say you believe me. Tell me you believe me this time,” released a torrent of words from the vampire – words that continued to flow as his hips began moving against her.
“Say it again. Tell me again, Buffy, my slayer, my love. I believe you. Never leave you again. I promise. Will love you forever. Nothing can keep me away from you now. Missed you so much, Buffy. Thought I’d never hold you again. Never feel you around me, squeezin’ me, holdin’ me. Want to make love to you forever…”
With her arms and legs wrapped around him tightly, Buffy let his murmured words flow over her, his warm, rich voice soothing her emotions while his churning hips were sending her mind and body into incoherence. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” she repeated over and over, her head thrashing from side to side as she built quickly toward her release. With a small shriek, she clenched around him, her final “I love you” almost lost in the vampire’s equally heartfelt “Buffy!” as he emptied himself into her.
“Oh my god,” she repeated softly as she relaxed under him. “I think I was starving.”
Not answering her, Spike kept running his mouth over her face and neck, kissing and licking while his chest rumbled with deep purrs. Without ever fully softening, he began to grow inside her until he was just as hard as he’d been before. He continued to purr, the vibrations running down through his cock and eliciting moans of pleasure from the slayer.
“I missed that sound. Missed it so much,” she whispered. “Did I ever tell you how much I like it when you purr?”
“Might have mentioned it a time or two,” he murmured, still licking her neck and face.
“Couldn’t if I wanted to, love. Might just be purring for the next fifty years…”
She laughed softly, beginning to move her hips in response to the vibrations against her most sensitive parts.
“Fifty years works for me,” she gasped as he began to twist his hips to hit the spot no one but him had ever found.
Those were the last articulate sounds from either of them as they allowed their bodies to become reacquainted. With the initial desperation to connect now out of the way, they fell into a lazy pattern of alternating tenderness and passion that eventually left them exhausted and sated. Spike pulled the covers up from the floor where they’d kicked them and gently spread them over them both as he curled up behind her. When his arm went around her waist, Buffy rested her hand upon his forearm and fell asleep, a happy smile curling the corners of her mouth.
While the slayer and her vampire lover slept through the early morning hours, her maid of honor and the nominal best man met for coffee in the hotel’s restaurant.
“So,” Xander began as casually as he could. “The Buffster went out looking for a vampire last night. Do you think she found him? And, if she did, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“That today is about to get really, really messy?” Willow rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Oh yeah.”
“What do you think she’s going to do? Is she really going to dump Angel – now that he’s all redeemed and breathing – for Deadboy, Jr.?”
“Don’t talk about him like that, Xander,” Willow said absently, tracing patterns on the tablecloth with her spoon.
“See, that’s the difference between Spike and Angel. He knows that’s just a term of endearment. Spike never got all offended by being called a vampire.”
“Maybe not, but it’s still not a nice way to talk about—“
“A nice way to talk about who?” Angel’s smooth voice interrupted before Willow could finish her sentence.
“Uh…” Suddenly the sophisticated and powerful witch was reduced to a stammering teenager again as the former vampire stared at her intently. “Uh…um…nobody. I was talking about nobody.”
Giving her a disgusted look, Xander said clearly, “We were talking about Spike.”
“You know,” Angel continued in a conversational tone of voice, “I think I’ve heard more about Spike in the past twenty-four hours than I have in the last two years. Does anyone want to tell me why his name keeps coming up on what is supposed to be my wedding day?” His voice was deceptively mild, but Willow could see the muscle jumping in his jaw and his eyes were cold and hard.
Before Xander could say anything else, Willow found her courage and spoke up.
“I suppose it’s because something about an impending marriage makes people think about the other…men…in the bride’s life. And you kinda can’t think about Buffy and men without thinking about Spike.”
“Oddly enough, I have no trouble with that at all,” Angel said, still maintaining a cold calmness that was more frightening than if he’d slammed his fist onto the table. “I’m not thinking about Buffy and Spike, and I would appreciate it if our wedding attendants could get him out of their minds and concentrate on what is going to happen today.”
Xander and Willow exchanged looks, but carefully kept their mouths shut and nodded in agreement.
“I think I’ll go see if Buffy’s up yet,” Willow finally managed to get out. “I mean, I’ll go knock on her door and if she answers me…”
“Maybe I should go wake her up,” Angel said, rising to his feet and putting a restraining hand on Willow’s shoulder. “This whole business about not being together before the wedding is getting on my nerves anyway.”
“I should do it!” Willow’s response was immediate and shrill.
“Why would that be, Willow?” Angel’s voice was still deceptively calm, but his gaze was making her very uncomfortable. “Is there some reason you don’t want me to go to Buffy’s room.?”
“Well…I mean…I am the maid of honor, and…I just…”
“We’ll call you if Buffy needs you for something.” Angel’s tone brooked no argument as he strode away from the table, leaving the Willow and Xander staring at each other with horror.
“You don’t think—“
“I don’t know—“
“But if she did—“
“House phone!” Xander leaped to his feet and almost ran into the lobby, heading for the bank of house phones along the wall. Willow threw money on the table and hastened after him, running up just in time for him to hand her the ringing phone.
Buffy’s sleepy “Hello?” gave Willow no useful information, but she gasped out, “Angel’s on his way up!” and waited for the response. She prayed to hear Buffy say, “Oh, okay. I guess I should get up anyway,” but all she heard was a muffled curse uttered by a masculine voice and a whimper from the slayer.
“Couldn’t you stop him?” Buffy’s plaintive question skipped right over any explanations.
“I’m sorry. We just couldn’t think fast enough. I tried to say I’d go get you, but he didn’t let me.”
“Okay. Thanks, Will. We’ll deal. Somehow.”
“So…there is going to be something to deal with?”
“Oh, yeah.” The slayer’s voice softened. “Yes, there is.”
“Do you want us to come up too?” Willow asked loyally, even as every fiber of her being was screaming to be as far away from the upcoming scene as she could possibly get.
“Sure. Why don’t you guys come up and keep Spike company while I talk to Angel? Maybe you can keep him from tearing the room apart while I’m gone.”
“Okay, we’ll be right there.”
She hung up and looked into Xander’s curious eyes.
“We’re damage-control,” she sighed. “Let’s go.”
“So, we were right, huh?” he asked unnecessarily as he followed her to the elevators. “There is going to be damage to control?”
“It seems so. It’s probably a good thing Angel isn’t a vamp anymore – I think that might be more damage than either one of us wants to deal with.”
“Former Deadboy looked pretty scary, just the way he was,” Xander admitted. “Do you think he knows?”
Willow shrugged, watching as the floors crawled by.
“I think he knows something’s going on. And he has to know it’s about Spike.”
“This could actually be a lot of fun,” her friend mused. “Maybe I should have brought popcorn…”
“Xander! Angel’s about to have his heart broken. How can you be so callous?”
“I dunno,” he admitted with a shrug. “It’s just that he’s just as arrogant and superior-acting as a human as he was when he was a vamp. It’ll do my heart good to see him knocked down a peg or two.”
The elevator doors slid open and they shot out, turning quickly to run in the direction of Buffy’s room. They could see Angel, standing in front of the door, on which Buffy had clearly kept the safety chain fastened. He was arguing with her that she needed to let him in so that they could talk and Buffy was insisting just as vigorously that she would talk with him downstairs or in his room as soon as she was showered and dressed.
Just as the out-of-breath attendants arrived to stand behind Angel, they heard a loud “Fuck this!” from the room and the door was wrenched open. Standing on the other side was a half-dressed Spike, his hair still rumpled from sleep and his glare firmly in place. Beside him, Buffy rolled her eyes and retreated from the now-open space, waving everyone into the room with a sigh.
“You are an ass,” she growled at the vampire, marching over to the rumpled bed and yanking the bedspread up to create a place for people to sit. She was wearing only her pajama bottoms and what appeared to be the tee shirt conspicuously absent from Spike’s bare chest.
“Get out.” Angel’s voice cut through the tension, drawing everyone’s gaze back to him. He loomed just inside the doorway, a sharpened stake clutched firmly in his hand.
Pushing Spike behind her, Buffy whirled to face her now ex-fiancé.
“Angel! What are you doing? I know that this has to be…painful. It’s not how I would have chosen to break it to you, but I tried to tell you to wait for me downstairs.“
Ignoring her completely, Angel never took his eyes off the equally intent vampire. With quiet deliberation, he said, “You never should have come here, Spike. You should have stayed ‘dead’. That,” he pointed at Buffy, “is part of my reward for all those years of suffering, and I am not letting you have it.”
“ ‘That’ is a grown woman, you bloody wanker. She’s not yours or mine. She’s her own person and she’ll make her own decisions.”
“Uh, guys? She’s still in the room, you know.”
Although Spike sent Buffy an apologetic shrug, Angel continued to ignore her in favor of arguing with the vampire.
“The Powers promised her to me. And there is no way I’m going to allow you to come in here with your ‘the dead hero is back’ act and take that away.” He finally took his eyes off Spike long enough to address Buffy.
“I’m going to view this as a final fling before you become my wife,” he announced haughtily. “I don’t like it; but I’m willing to overlook it, considering the way he probably took advantage of your gratitude. It’s typical of him, but you don’t have to worry about it any more.” He turned his gaze back to the vampire, who was gaping at him with the same shocked incomprehension as were the three humans in the room. “If you leave now, I won’t have to stake you in front of Buffy. I don’t want her to be upset on her wedding day – so, if you care anything about her, you’ll go quietly.”
Spike’s shift into game face was forestalled by Buffy’s hand on his arm and her quiet “Let me.” She walked slowly toward the man she had been so sure loved her and looked into his condescending face.
“Angel,” she began quietly, but with a steely edge in her voice. “I will say this only once, so please listen carefully. I am in love with Spike. I have been in love with Spike for many years. I was willing to marry you because I thought he was dead and because I thought you loved me.” She threw up a hand to halt his intended interruption. “Now that you’ve made it obvious that neither of those things is true, I don’t feel bad at all about telling you that the wedding is off. I can’t marry you. I will always care about you in some fashion, but right now I don’t even like you very much. And even if I did, I wouldn’t marry you. I don’t love you the way I love Spike. I’m sorry.”
She turned her back on the stunned man, walking directly into Spike’s arms and resting her head on his chest. He stared over her head at his former grandsire, his cold eyes daring the man to argue. Angel glared at them for several minutes before turning to leave the room.
“This is not over,” he said as he went out the door. “You are meant to be mine and I WILL have you.” He stopped and looked over his shoulder at the vampire now holding his fiancée. “You could be dead again, you know. It wouldn’t take much – a piece of wood, being pushed outdoors at the wrong time of day-“
“Get. Out. Now.” The voice was pure Slayer and the large man moved faster in spite of himself, pulling the door shut behind him.
There was silence in the room after the vibrations from the slammed door had stopped. Finally, Xander stepped away from the wall saying, “Well, that went well, don’t you think?”
While Willow and Xander grilled Spike about where he’d been and how he’d found Buffy,she walked to the bed and sat down quietly. It was several minutes before anyone noticed that she wasn’t participating in the conversation and was, in fact, rubbing her face with her hand as though to erase tears.
“Buffy?” The concern in Willow’s voice had Spike back at Buffy’s side in seconds.
“Love? Buffy? What’s wrong?” She could hear the insecurity in his voice and leaned into him reassuringly as she struggled to explain her sudden sadness.
“I just…it’s…I always thought he loved me for me, you know? That he loved Buffy. But he just thought I was part of his reward. I’m just a thing to him – a prize that he doesn’t want you to have.”
She turned her eyes up to the visibly angry vampire beside her. “Did you know that about him? Did you know he didn’t really love me?”
“Bloody hell, no!” he exploded. “Do you think I would have given you up without a fight if I didn’t think the bastard loved you and would be good to you? You know me better than that, Slayer. Don’t you?” he asked more quietly when she didn’t respond immediately. “You don’t think I would have left you to a wanker like that, do you?”
“No,” she whispered, resting her head on his chest. “No, you wouldn’t have done that to me. I’m just glad you’re here now.” She jerked her head up, staring at Willow with suddenly wide eyes. “I almost married him! If the band hadn’t played that stupid song last night, I’d be getting married to him today! How could you guys let me do that?” she demanded of her two surprised friends. “Couldn’t you tell he didn’t love me? Couldn’t you tell I didn’t love him? Why couldn’t I tell? What’s wrong with me?”
Xander raised his hand tentatively. “Uh, Buffster? Do we get to pick which one of those questions to answer or do we have to answer all of them?”
Spike was stroking Buffy’s back soothingly and murmuring to her, never moving his arms from their place around her body. He continued to rub comforting circles on her back until she stopped breathing hard and relaxed against him again. She nuzzled his neck and gave him a sheepish smile before gently extricating herself.
“I’m sorry, guys. If I didn’t know, there’s no reason why you would have. I just can’t believe I was so stupid. What was I thinking?”
Willow gave Spike a small smile and then offered, “I think you were thinking that Spike was dead and…and that it didn’t matter much what you did any more. That’s kind of how it seemed to me sometimes. It was like you let Angel make all these decisions about living together and getting married because you just didn’t care enough to argue about it. I’m sorry, Buffy, I was a bad friend. I should have called you on it.”
Buffy waved her hand dismissively. “I probably wouldn’t have listened, Will. You’re probably right; I don’t think I cared enough to worry about it.” She turned to glare in mock anger at Xander. “Go on. You know you want to say ‘I told you so’. Go ahead. I’ll give you this one time. Get it out of your system.”
He did his best to hide the grin he couldn’t stop. “Me? I told you so? Nah, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t remind you that I asked you a half-a-dozen times if you were sure you wanted to marry that jerk. ‘Cause that would just be…okay, I have to do it…just once, okay?”
Buffy laughed and leaned back into the vampire chuckling behind her.
“Go ahead. One time. That’s all you get.”
“Buffy,” he said seriously, drawing himself up and fixing his one good eye on her. “I told you not to marry Angel… and I was right!” He stopped, grinning widely. “Oh, that felt sooo good!”
He pointed a finger at Spike and said, “Not that I think you necessarily are a big improvement, Fangface, but at least you have a sense of humor. No offense,” he added with a smile.
“None taken, Whelp. I’m just glad you were trying to keep her from making a mistake.”
“If we’re all through bragging about how much smarter we were than Buffy, I’d like to point out that none of this would have been necessary if you weren’t such an insecure pain in the ass.”
She stood up and faced him with her hands on her hips, tapping her foot and waiting for his defense, but he just shrugged and looked at her through his eyelashes, smiling his most boyishly charming smile. In spite of herself, she couldn’t stop the answering smile and when he extended his hand to her she allowed him to pull her down onto his lap.
“As soon as I’m through being happy that you’re back, we’re going to fight about that,” she insisted, curling into him and sighing contentedly.
The vampire went into game face briefly when Xander made gagging motions behind Buffy’s back, but he was grinning through his fangs. The fact that Buffy’s two closest friends seemed happy that he was there with her went a long way toward relieving any doubt he may have had about his welcome. If they believed her when she said she loved him, there was no reason for him not to. He nuzzled her neck before he shook off his fangs, growling softly and causing her to shiver.
Before his attentions could lead to anything embarrassing, Buffy sighed and pushed herself up. She looked at Willow and said with a rueful smile, “I guess we have some arrangements to unmake, huh?”
“Oh my god! “ The maid of honor’s face fell. “We have to cancel the church, call all the guests, the limo…”
She sat down at the desk and began making notes on the pad provided by the hotel. It took almost an hour, but finally there were three lists for them to split up and use to spread the word before people would begin dressing for the wedding. Buffy’s list contained Dawn, Giles, the church and the reception hall. Xander was going to cancel the limo, the band and the ushers; Willow would handle calling all the guests and the florist.
Lists in hand, the two former Scoobies left the room, promising to check back within an hour to compare notes and be sure they hadn’t missed anything. With a wave at the vampire, now reclining on the bed, they went off to cancel the wedding.
Picking up the hotel phone, Buffy began her calls with the easiest ones – she called the church and spoke to a sympathetic rector, telling him only that something had “come up suddenly” and the wedding was not going to take place. She apologized profusely for having taken so much of his time recently and hung up to his sincere wishes for her future happiness. The reception hall went even faster, although not without some grumbling from the banquet manager and a demand for partial payment for whatever foodstuffs were not returnable. Buffy quickly agreed to the amount, writing it down for Giles to deal with.
Left with a choice of her sister or her surrogate father, she eyed the curious vampire before dialing the room in which Dawn and one of the slayers were staying.
“Yeah?” She could hear the yawn in her sister’s voice just before it turned into a shriek. “Oh my god! Tell me I didn’t oversleep! I’m not late, am I?”
Buffy hastened to assure her that it was very early and that she was not calling to wake her up. There was a long pause while Dawn waited less and less patiently for some explanation, finally asking, “Buffy?”
Taking a deep breath, Buffy said quickly, “Spike’sbackandIbrokeupwithAngel.”
“Huh? Did you say something about Spike?”
“Yes. I did. He’s here. He’s not dead, he’s here and I’ve cancelled the wedding.”
“Here? Where here?”
There was no response as Dawn threw the phone down and ran to get dressed. Buffy looked at the shirtless vampire reclining on the bed and said tiredly, “I guess we’d better get dressed. We’re going to be having company any minute.”
He growled, but sat up obediently and began to pull on his socks and boots. When she tried to take off his tee shirt and give it to him, he shook his head, instead reaching for the black button down shirt he’d been wearing over it and shrugging it on.
“You keep it, pet. Looks better on you.”
With a nod and a laugh, Buffy grabbed her jeans and underwear, dashing into the bathroom for a quick shower and to dress. When she emerged, Spike was standing in the middle of the room being alternately hugged and berated by her sister who couldn’t seem to decide if she was happy he was alive or wished he was dead for allowing them to think so. He was finally able to calm her down and push her away far enough to run his eyes over the young woman wearing the face of the girl he’d loved like a sister.
“You look beautiful, Bit. All grown up and womanly.”
“Hey!” Buffy’s voice was playful, but he caught the jealous edge and immediately released Dawn’s arms.
She tossed her head at her sister and flounced over to the only chair, sitting down and waiting expectantly. “Explanations, please,” she said haughtily. “Starting with how Angel is taking this.”
“’Bout well as could be expected,” One of the things they had bonded over years ago, was their mutual dislike for the brooding vampire and they shared a knowing look that erased the years in between.
“So, who else knows?” She turned to Buffy, demanding to be brought up to speed. “Don’t tell me I’m the last one?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, I haven’t even told Giles yet. Although I did cancel the church and the reception, so go me!”
Mentioning her former watcher’s lack of knowledge had her reaching for the phone again, when it rang under her hand. She grabbed it, her “Hello-“ cut off by a voice on the other end. She waited, mouth open, until Giles had run out of air before she said in a chilly tone, “Good morning to you, too, Giles. And, yes, I know exactly what I’m doing.”
She saw Spike begin to frown as it became obvious that the ex-watcher was not as thrilled about his return as were Buffy and Dawn. Holding the phone to her ear, she reached for him, pulling him into a warm hug before she interrupted the man on the phone to say, “Were you planning to ask me anything at all, or have you just decided that whatever Angel says must be the complete truth?”
There was a pause while the man on the other end gathered his thoughts and then, clearly apologized for his initial reaction. Buffy’s angry expression softened as she began to speak.
“In the first place, he is not ‘heartbroken’. I don’t care what he told you. He is furious because he thinks I’m some part of his reward from the Powers. He made it very clear that he considers me a possession – not a…a…loved one. In the second place, Spike doesn’t even have a thrall, and if he did, he wouldn’t need to use it on me because I love him and I couldn’t marry another man now that I know he’s alive. And, in the third place, I’ve already taken care of canceling everything – or the parts of it that Willow and Xander aren’t handling, anyway.”
She paused for breath, and Spike’s vampire hearing could pick up the older man’s apologetic stammering. When he said something about a contingent of slayers accompanying Angel back to the hotel to “rescue” Buffy, Spike’s head flew up and he ran to the door, planning to engage all the locks. Before he could close the deadbolt, the door burst inward, followed immediately by a small group of slayers led by Faith and Robin.
“Oh bloody fuckin’ wonderful,” he growled, his eyes searching the room for weapons.
“Hey there, Liz,” Faith said, her voice friendlier than her eyes. “Gotta say, you’re looking pretty healthy for a pile of ashes.”
“Yeah, well, you know the old saying, ‘rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated’. Not to mention, a lot of other rumors,” he added with a growl.
Faith, Robin and the four younger slayers, had all arranged themselves in a semi-circle in front of the door; opposite them were Spike, Buffy and a lamp-wielding Dawn. Automatically, the slayer and the vampire had fallen into fighting stances that left their weapon hands free if needed. Safely behind the group of fighters, Angel could be seen in the doorway, a look of complete satisfaction on his face.
“You see!” he crowed. “I told you. He has her under thrall. You’ll have to kill him to break it.”
“You dust Spike and I’m going to make the fight that put you into the coma look like a massage.” Buffy spoke only to Faith, knowing that Spike could probably hold his own against the new slayers, at least for a while. Dawn focused her deadly glare on Robin, daring him to take another step closer to her sister and the vampire she loved. Robin was a tall man, and brave, but an angry Dawn Summers – now a tall, athletic woman – was enough to give anyone pause; he raised his hands in a gesture of appeasement and visibly relaxed his posture.
“Drop the stake.” Dawn’s voice was as cold and as hard as any slayer he had met. Unwilling to drop his weapon in the face of the vampire he’d tried to kill years ago, he compromised by making a big show of putting it back into his pocket. Dawn never took her eyes off him, understanding instinctively that he was her responsibility.
Spike was assessing the slayers now moving toward him, watching for signs of weakness or fear, his demon well to the fore. Clearly his reputation had preceded him, as each girl waited for one of the others to lead the charge. Buffy stood defiantly between Faith and Spike, her calm gaze giving no indication of the fear seizing her heart. The idea of losing Spike just as she had found him again was almost paralyzing and she struggled to shake it off before Faith attacked.
“Easy, pet,” Spike murmured. “We’ve been in tighter spots than this. You handle Slayer-the-second there for a bit and I’ll show these wannabes what’s been left out of their trainin’.”
The calm confidence in his voice did its job and Buffy relaxed and gave Faith a smile with a lot of teeth and no warmth. The younger slayer frowned, hesitating, only to hear Angel’s voice behind her.
“What are you waiting for, Faith? You go after Spike. Let the other girls restrain Buffy until we can dust him. As soon as he’s dust—“
“If he gets dusted, I’m going to turn this room into a slaughterhouse,” Buffy said calmly, never taking her eyes off Faith’s increasingly dubious face. “All except for you, Angel. I’m going to keep you alive. For a long time.” She allowed her eyes to flick to his for just long enough for him to read the truth there, then back to Faith.
The tension in the room was reaching a level that required some sort of release, and muscles tensed in preparation for what was going to be a very dangerous fight for all concerned. Only the man standing outside the door, urging the slayers to attack, seemed unperturbed by the tension. Just as one brave young slayer leapt for Spike, stake in hand, a voice roared from the hallway.
“Stop. Now!” Giles’ authoritative bellow froze everyone except Spike who caught the attacking slayer in midair and held her there until she stopped struggling.
“Drop the stake, pet, and I’ll let you down,” he said almost kindly.
“Drop it, Holly,” Giles said, shoving his way past the outraged Angel and into the room. “It appears we may have been misinformed.”
Behind him, Willow and Xander also pushed Angel out of the way, running quickly to Dawn’s side and backing up Spike and Buffy. Willow’s expression made it very clear that it would not be in anyone’s best interest to challenge the five people now ranged against them.
Faith visibly relaxed when the head of the Council of Watchers repeated his command to stop the attack. She leaned back against the desk and said with a grin, “Hey, B. So, short, blond and delicious here doesn’t have you under thrall after all, huh?”
“No,” Buffy answered shortly, still angry about the close call.
The other slayer’s face changed as she turned to look at Angel who was still fuming from the doorway. “I can’t say I’m really surprised, Angel. But I thought you left your evil self behind when you got all warm-blooded again. I guess once a lying demon, always a lying demon, huh?”
“This is unacceptable,” the large man responded with a glare at Giles. “She is mine. This is not her decision to make. And it’s certainly not his,” he continued, glaring at Spike.
“No, Angel, it wasn’t his decision to make,” Buffy said clearly, moving closer to Spike and clasping his hand. “He had no business saving your life and letting me think he was dead so that I would marry you. But he thought it would make me happy, and he loved me enough to almost let it happen.” She turned to glare at the abashed vampire. “It’s just a damned good thing for him that he couldn’t resist seeing if I still remembered him, or I’d be kicking his ass all over the country. And just so we’re clear,” she continued. “I still wouldn’t be marrying you today.”
“I don’t think you understand your situation, Buffy,” Angel said stiffly. “The Powers have given you to me. They gave you to me when you were only fifteen, when they sent me to help you with your duties.”
“News flash, Angel. YOU are not one of my “duties”. Never were and never will be. I was with you because I thought I loved you; and now I’m with Spike because I know I love him. He’s my reward, and I’m not giving him up. Now quit being an ass about it.”
“This isn’t over,” he insisted, glaring at the blond vampire standing beside the woman he thought of as a possession.
“It could be,” Buffy said, a dangerous glint in her eye. “If you try to get Spike killed again, or even threaten him, it could be very over…for you.”
“You wouldn’t kill me,” the man sniffed dismissively. “I’m human.”
“I don’t have that problem, Liam.” Spike’s voice was all the more chilling for its cold, unemotional tone. All the slayers in the room instinctively stiffened as the attractive blond man with the cute curls turned into a master vampire before their eyes.
“Nor, alas, do I,” Giles added his flat voice to the discussion. “You have lied to me and attempted to use the Council’s resources and personnel” - he gestured to the slayers in the room – “for your own selfish purposes. You very nearly caused the deaths of some of my best warriors. It would not be in your best interest to try to cause any more damage. I think you should leave now.”
With a final curse, Angel stepped through the doorway, turning suddenly to fling his stake at Spike’s chest. The vampire easily caught the stake between his hands, his fangs elongating as he smiled at his grandsire. Before he could follow through on the obvious threat in his changed face, there was a burst of light that momentarily blinded everyone.
When they could see again, it was to find a clear bubble floating in the center of the room; a bubble in which could be seen two strangely dressed young people. While everyone else blinked rapidly, trying to decide if they should attack or run, Angel visibly relaxed and came back into the room.
“Hah!” he shouted. “I told you the Powers were—“
His voice was cut off at a wave from the girl’s hand. Everyone in the room found themselves unable to move or speak as the odd-looking girl began to talk.
“We are very disappointed in you, Angelus. When we rewarded our champion with the gift of life, we did not expect him to turn back into the same selfish human that he had been when he died the first time.”
Angel was visibly struggling to speak and she flicked her hand at him again.
“But, I’m your champion! You just said so! You were rewarding me!”
“These are all our champions,” she answered angrily, gesturing at the other slayers, Faith, Spike and Buffy. “Most especially the other souled vampire and his mate. Your arrogant behavior could have cost us the lives of some of our most important warriors on the side of Good. It is inexcusable.”
Visibly deflated, Angel edged back towards the door again, freezing in place when another flick of the girl’s hand halted his progress.
With a sigh, the boy opened his mouth for the first time, addressing Spike and Buffy.
“You have our apologies. He will not interfere in your lives again.”
There was another blinding flash of light and when it was gone and everyone could see again, the room was empty of mystical beings, bubbles and Angel. A quick glance out the door showed no sign of the former vampire in the hallway and there was an immediate babble of voices speculating on what the Powers were going to do with him.
With no one in the room having an actual idea what had just happened, let alone what the strange beings might have done with Angel, discussion eventually tapered off and Giles began shepherding slayers out of the hotel room. Faith gave a cheery wave and pulled Robin out the door behind her. Once her former principal was gone, Dawn relinquished her hold on the lamp and set it carefully back on the table. She threw herself into the chair with a sigh of relief.
Giles faced Buffy and Spike, his manner even stiffer than was normal. He looked Spike in the eye and began, “I owe you an apology—“
The vampire waved his hand dismissively. “You were tryin’ to protect the girl. I’d never hold that against you.”
When the man visibly relaxed, Spike added quickly, “Of course, I will be expectin’ a bottle of really good scotch for Christmas every year. Jus’ to show there are no hard feelings…”
The head of the Watchers Council laughed as he left the room. “That seems like a fair trade for saving the world,” his voice drifted back to them.
“Four times!” Spike shouted after Giles’ disappearing back. “What?” he said when he saw the expression on Buffy’s face. “It’s true. I did. Helped anyway,” he muttered when she continued to look at him.
“Four times?” Xander and Willow looked to Buffy for an explanation, but she just waved her hand and walked away. “Four times?” They looked back at the vampire.
“Yeah, four times. Hit the poof on the head with a tire iron, didn’t I? Gave the Slayer time to stick a sword through his fat gut and send him to hell where he belonged.”
“Too bad they didn’t keep him there,” Dawn muttered, earning a glare from Buffy and smiles from Xander and Spike.
The vampire shuffled his feet briefly, then looked at Willow and Xander as he said, “I want to thank you two for the backup there. Was nice to know we had reinforcements when we needed ‘em.”
“What about me? I was backing up – er, backing you up!. Dawn’s lower lip was doing a good imitation of her sister’s best pout.
“Wouldn’t have expected any less from you, Niblet. Goes without sayin’ you’d be there, doesn’t it?”
Somewhat mollified, Dawn got up and began walking toward the door, taking Willow and Xander with her. With more thanks and a promise to meet later for dinner, Buffy and Spike ushered them out of the room and closed the broken door behind them. It took only seconds for the two strong beings to place a heavy dresser in front of the door, taking the place of the broken locks.
“Suppose we’ll have to pay for that,” Spike grumbled. “What with the poof being all…wherever…now.”
“It’s worth it.” Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist and put her head on his chest. “It’s worth every penny.”
“It is at that,” he agreed, nuzzling her hair and pulling her in more tightly, as he backed toward the bed. “Now where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?”
“About here, I think,” she answered, shoving him down onto his back and landing on top of him. “Just where we should be.”
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