***Part Twenty-Three***

Gunn was exhausted to the point Angel thought he might have to carry him. Angel had been ready to call it a night after their first stop. Spike had kept quiet about his preference in the matter, whether he wanted to continue on Angel was not sure, though Spike did seem to enjoy it as much as Buffy did. And the Slayer, and she was the Slayer tonight not Buffy, had only agreed to stop when Angel pointed out that Gunn's exhaustion on top of his wounds was going to get him killed.

Angel had never seen Buffy like this, had not taken Spike's earlier words of her increased strength and speed to heart. It had been over three years since he had seen her fight and she was perfect. She made slaying look like an art with death and destruction her canvas, a crossbow and stakes her paintbrush. Spike had equated her abilities to being one of them, vampire. Angel on the other hand likened her to a goddess, unstoppable, glorious, and beautiful in a demon ass kicking way. He was unfortunately aware of how mortal she was.

Angel was beat up, Spike was too. Buffy had been on the receiving end of a few good licks, too, but nothing seemed to slow her down and she got out of the Jeep as if she had not just spent the last four hours fighting. Gunn refused Angel's offer of a helpful arm out of the Jeep and Angel realized that Buffy had ensnared another into the Slayer web. Men hated appearing weak around her, particularly after the display she had put on tonight. She had been in a zone, absolutely primal as if someone else controlled her body while she fought. She had told him about her experiences with the first Slayer and Angel could picture that Neanderthal-like woman Buffy described clearly now after having seen her tonight.

Their first stop had been a nest in the sewers on the west end of town. Angel had known about it for months, but they just were not strong enough to take them on. He had tried going there on his own to winnow out the gang as best as he could, but he never made a difference. He figured the four of them would put a dent in the nest, but they had done more than that. Buffy had been a non-stop killing machine and while the three men helped the nest now being empty was to her credit.

He remembered now the night Angelus met this Buffy over a century ago. The night William was turned. She had been virtually flawless that night. The largest reason he had not associated the girl from that night with Buffy was that Angel had never seen this Buffy in action. Gone was the uncertain Slayer, the Slayer who needed Angel to teach her anything. No wonder Giles did not believe he made a mistake by leaving Sunnydale, she no longer needed him. Just as she no longer needed Angel. She would always need both men but not for the same reasons.

"That is so gross," Angel heard Buffy say and turned to look. He saw Spike licking his fingers clean of some blood.

"Pet, I don't know how many times I have to explain this to you, I'm a vampire. I eat blood, it does not matter whose or whether it comes from a freshly pierced vein or a fresh cut."

"It's still gross," she said but she laughed. She was obviously not too grossed out about it because her hands searched for anywhere he might be hurt. There was a time it would have been him she was fawning over and Angel had to suppress the feeling of loss that rolled through him at the touching site between the two lovers.

"You know, you two sound like you went for a stroll in the park rather than having spent the last four hours fighting."

Buffy merely shrugged. "Hey, I didn't want to stop, but you insisted. I'm the Energizer Slayer, what can I say?"

God, he was tempted to leave Gunn at the Hyperion and take Buffy and Spike back out on more sweeps. She still had energy to burn and Angel would rather she exhaust it as the Slayer then in bed with Spike. Things had been bad picturing her with her military boyfriend, but picturing her with Spike was worse.

He had heard them earlier when he stopped by their room to let them know he had come back. He had knocked honestly hoping that Spike would hear it and end their coupling to answer the door. It had not happened and Angel believed Spike had heard his knock. Seeing the fresh bite marks on her neck had made him want to dust Spike right there and then. But then he blamed himself. Had his knocking on the door inspired Spike to do it? He found it difficult to believe Buffy would have asked him to do it. He refused to believe it, it went against everything Buffy was. The Slayer letting a vampire feed off of her. She had made Angel in order to save his life, there had been no claiming involved.

It was times like that that Angel conveniently forgot he had left Buffy not the other way around. He had no right to get jealous or make threats, but it was difficult to control himself where Buffy was concerned. The blonde vampire had gone and got his soul for the woman that was the only thing that stopped Angel from dusting him while he slept. Dawn had told Angel what Spike had done to Buffy only days before Connor had tossed him to his watery ungrave. So Angel had had months to dwell on whether Spike was going to come back and finish the job. It was one of the reasons he had a difficult time grasping Spike with a soul, but if anyone could drive a vampire to do the unthinkable it was Buffy.

"I think we've done enough damage for the night, Buffy. That nest should have been enough."

"I suppose," she said with a shrug. "Is Gunn going to be all right?"

"Yeah, we should all probably take a first aid kit stop."

"I'll be fine," Buffy maintained. "Really."

"Ease my mind then, Buffy. You fought more than the three of us did."

"You guys were just dispensing with the death too slow. That's all."

"You're amazing. Spike tried to tell me earlier what you've become but I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."

"Thanks," she said simply her eyes wide watching him, the sincerity of her appreciation not lost on Angel. She was looking for his praise?

"You're welcome."

"And then she did this thing where she flipped through the air, staking one vamp as she passed over him, landed, did a roll, jumped to her feet and pow, stake through the chest of the second vamp," Gunn was recounting some of the night's events to Fred who had brought out the first aid kit.

"It was nothing," Buffy maintained.

"Nothing my ass," Gunn said. "I've never seen anything like it. I mean, I always thought Angel was untouchable, but and no offense, boss, you've got nothing on her."

Angel chuckled and Spike hung back from the small group not looking pleased at yet another man laying praise on his woman. "That would be why she's the Slayer, Gunn, and I'm not," Angel said simply.

"Angel is a finessey type," Buffy agreed.

"It's too bad you can't talk her into moving up here."

"I couldn't afford her," Angel said with a low laugh.

Buffy grimaced at that comment. "Well, I'd love to stay and chat, but well, I really don't want to tonight. I'm off to bed. Spike, you coming?"


"I'm going up, are you coming with me or are you going to stay down here?"

"I'll stay until they're done with the first aid kit then bring it up for you."

"Sounds good," she said, walking up to him. Angel tried not to watch or eavesdrop, but it was just far too tempting and he gave in. "That will give me a chance to shower, get all the vamp dust and demon blood and nasties off me so you can see the damage. Maybe kiss any that need to feel better." The last was said softly, clearly intended only for Spike's ears.

"Sure pet, I'll kiss anything you want me to, whether it needs to feel better or not."

Angel turned away then and went to sit near Gunn. "You going to be all right?"

"He's got a bruised rib or two," Fred answered, indicating the bruising to Angel on Gunn's body.

"I'll be fine; nothing a couple of days of paperwork won't cure."

"You realize if I go down to Sunnydale you'll be in charge."

"Sure I do, but I'm not going to go out in search of things to kill like you and your ex-honey did tonight."

"Well, you wanted to see her in action."

"Shit yeah, I just didn't realize she came with rechargeable batteries."

Angel glanced at Buffy as she headed up the stairs. "That's Buffy," he said simply.

"Yeah, we all know she's Buffy," Fred said, causing all three men to look at her. "What? You're acting like she's the second coming or something."

Angel sensed this was a discussion meant for the couple to have and he would just be in the way so he took the first aid kit and walked toward Spike. "I've got supplies in my room, so I'll doctor myself up there."

"Good, mate, and thanks." Spike regarded his bloodied and dirtied hands as he took the first aid kit from Angel. Angel's hands were not in any better shape. "I might come down in a bit for some blood."

"Right," Angel said with a nod. "You know where it is?"

"Well, I was told in the kitchen, but not shown where."

Angel inclined his head and started walking, Spike followed. "I'll take a couple of packets out to thaw, so we'll both have plenty. Does Buffy still have the freezer in the basement stocked with it?"


"Good, I hated having to go to Willy's."

"That swill he gets away with serving should be outlawed. Pig's blood my ass."

"No kidding, but most probably don't know the difference, Spike. You and I are about the only two who would notice the difference aside from just knowing it was not human."

"I suppose so. I never had much reason to drink blood out of a bag until the government put that chip in my head."

"Is she always like this?"



"Ever since that connection to the first Slayer bit they did. It's gradually increased, but I swear the difference since I left is phenomenal, astounding. I mean I was only gone for a couple of months."

"She's going to get herself killed if she keeps going off half-cocked with no game plan."

"You don't think I know that? You don't think every evening she goes out patrolling alone I don't think it might very well be the last time I see her alive. Again. I've been through it once already, but who am I to try to stop her? I can't stop her from doing her job."

"No, you're right you can't," Angel said, taking out some blood packets from a freezer then some from the refrigerator and then moving to heat those up for both of them. "It's just, there's nothing left of the Buffy that I first saw. She's gone. She's," Angel paused, searching for the right word.

"Grown up," Spike offered appropriately.


"Well, she's not sixteen anymore, Peaches. She is grown up, a woman, and I imagine that might be another reason the Council wants her gone. I'd wager those eighteenth birthday tests are designed to kill the Slayer at eighteen. I'd love to ask her Watcher just how many have actually survived it. I know the two I fought weren't eighteen. Keep them young, uncertain, weak, separated from society and kill them before they have a chance to understand any of it."

"They were never able to break her, separate her."

"No, they weren't, and it's what keeps her going. Hell, even her witch friends couldn't let her go, had to bring her back. I think she's stronger, better and knows it. I thought for a while she had a death wish, but I think it just took her a while to get used to being back."

"Yeah, digging your way out of a coffin and layers of dirt, bugs and weeds will alter your perspective on things."

"I wish I could have saved her from it. They never told me they were doing it, what they were trying. I swear I would have sat until the sun came up the next morning to see if their spell worked."

"I'd love to say something scathingly insulting about now, but I'll refrain."

"Something about me being as big a poofter as you?"

"It crossed my mind."

"Yeah, well, I think I might be a bigger one, getting the soddin' soul for her."

"How's it going?"

Spike shrugged as Angel handed him a cup of blood. "Good days and bad, good minutes and bad. Buffy helps. I guess having this little adventure helps. Meeting her old man didn't help."

Angel grimaced. "I've staked out his house a few times; just curious to know who the bastard is who has left Buffy high and dry for the past seven years. He would stand her up for her birthday and everything."

"He wasn't so bad, gave Buffy a check to pay off the mortgage. I sort of mentioned it to him, that he should be helping more. I was expecting to get thrown out on my ear, but he was surprisingly calm. And he apparently listened. So the house his hers, that should help."


"Is that all then, Peaches? Am I free to go up? I know she's more hurt than she let on."

"Yeah, I smelled blood but she was too busy putting up a front for Gunn to admit she was hurting."

"I think she was just too hyped up to realize it." Spike drained the rest of the blood from the cup and rinsed it out before setting it on the counter. He turned to regard Angel. "Are we all done with the former and current chat?"

"If you are. You've got to learn to keep your demon in check, Spike."

"It's not so easy with the soul."

"Of course not, it's fighting for dominance. You have to dominate it. We could kill, both of us, could go on living just as every other vampire, the soul doesn't stop us from doing that. We stop ourselves, Spike."

"I'm aware of that. The chip doesn't work anymore either, so it's all me making the decisions. And it's just with her I have the control problem. For four months I was fine, unless I saw some man putting the moves on her."

"I thought she was done playing those games."

"No games, she never took them up on it, didn't stop them from asking though."

"And they always will, Spike. Christ, I hated that. One would realize they couldn't make time with her and there would be another right in his wake trying again."

"Nothing I can do about it," Spike said solemnly.

"Just work on keeping the demon in check. Whether she let you bite her or not, Spike, if you get into the habit of doing it and don't curb the demon, you'll kill her." Spike nodded, Angel hoped he understood it was just a warning. If Spike killed her Angel would go after Spike no questions asked, no room for discussion. He saw a look of anger flash through Spike's eyes and decided it was probably time to back off. "Don't forget the first aid kit."

"Right. Night then. Thanks for the blood."

"Not a problem. Good work tonight. It's been a while since we fought together instead of against one another."

"It was nothing, just following the leader," he said and Angel knew he was talking about Buffy.

"You know, Spike."


"I'm not offering to help you because of Buffy. I want to help you because it's what I do. If you're looking for a job, a way to earn some money until you can figure out your own way to do it I wouldn't mind having you work for me once this mess with the Council is done."

"I don't want to live in LA, don't want to live away from Buffy and she won't move Dawn. But thanks for the offer."

"Well, there are always assignments I might need an extra hand with last minute, or something far enough south that it would be just as easy for you to get there as it would be one of us. Not to mention, I could always add Sunnydale to my area of coverage."

"Right, well, it's something to think about. I'm not sure I want your handouts right now. Good night, Peaches. Pleasant dreams."

"Right," Angel said bitterly, and Angel thought he saw a smirk on Spike's end before he turned to leave the kitchen. Goading him. Nightmares were more what Angel would have knowing that they were upstairs together in bed or in the shower. He finished his own cup of blood and threw the cup against the wall, watching as it shattered, shards splattering on the floor, splatters of blood on the wall. "Maybe going to Sunnydale would not be a good idea," he said as he moved to clean up the mess.

"What's that," Fred asked apparently coming to investigate the reason behind the shattering sound.

"Nothing," Angel said, wiping down the wall. The kitchen was still a hotel's institutional kitchen, so cleanup was always pretty easy. Not that he oftentimes had reason to clean blood splatters off the walls in this room. "Why don't you get Gunn to bed or into a bath with some of those Epsom salts you humans use?"

"We were on our way up, actually, when I heard," she said indicating the pieces of the mug on the floor. "I saw Spike come out and I heard things breaking so I wanted to make sure you're all right."

"I'm fine, Fred. I dropped a mug, accidents do happen, even to vampires."

"Okay, if you're sure."

"I'm sure, Winifred. Thanks. Good night."

"Good night. And Angel?"

"Yeah, Fred."

"I'm sorry about not telling Buffy you were back. It was my fault. I knew she knew."

"It's not your fault, had I known Wesley had told her I had gone missing I would have called her myself. Dawn's emails," Angel asked her.

"I checked your email so I deleted them. Sorry," she said her gaze lowered.

"Without answering her?"

"I didn't know. You don't talk about Buffy much, nobody does, so I just sort of thought you wouldn't want me to bother. I mean the kid sister of your ex," she shrugged. "I was wrong."

"You were. There are things about Dawn you don't understand. Don't ever do that again, Fred. Good night."

"Again I'm sorry. Night," she said and left the room as Angel swept the pieces of the mug into a dustpan, dumping it into the garbage can.

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