***Part Twenty-Four***

Buffy stepped out of the shower not sure she was ready to return to Sunnydale yet. But as Spike and Angel had pointed out she had no choice unless she and Dawn wanted to hide for the rest of their lives. That was not an option for Buffy so returning was the plan. They would be back in Sunnydale early Monday morning and hopefully would have this problem solved before Dawn got back.

Buffy, Spike and Angel had spent over two hours that afternoon sparring after she had a late breakfast with her dad. It had been strange sparring with both of them. Angel was finesse and grace where Spike was more of a street brawler. It was good for her to take on two opponents at one time and it was something she rarely got to do. Fred and Gunn had wandered in every once in a while to watch, but otherwise stayed out of the trio's way. It was probably strange to the couple, because none of them held anything back. True, it was sparring, but none of them believed in going easy on one another. Buffy would never have gotten better any other way.

Buffy did not think Fred liked her, which was okay because it was not Buffy's job to be friendly with Angel's employees. Gunn on the other hand wanted Buffy to come back to spar with him when his ribs weren't bruised. Angel maintained he was strong and capable and Buffy had seen enough last night to believe it.

Spike had taken their bags down to the Jeep and was now lying on the bed with his hands behind his head which was propped up on a pillow. His deep blue eyes were watching her every move as she examined the clothes he had left out for her to wear. "What," she finally asked, wondering if he was angry about something. She had been careful not to make it seem she preferred sparring with Angel. She did prefer it, but only because she was used to Angel even with their three year hiatus from sparring together. She and Spike only had a few days of sparring together, so it was only natural for her to be more familiar with Angel. She just hoped he saw it that way.

"Nothing can't a man watch his woman get dressed?"

"Well, I suppose since the man put it that way. Are you sure you're okay with Angel coming back with us?"

"I don't have much choice. He's right. I can't keep watch twenty-four hours a day. So, this way he and I can take shifts and we'll both be around to protect niblet. I don't suppose your boss would let one of us act as your shadow at work?"

"I don't think that would go over too well, no," she said, buttoning her jeans.

"I just wonder if they'll strike when you're weakest, at work."


"A bunch of innocent people around that you would do your best to save and so forth."

"Oh right, hadn't thought of that. I," she shrugged. "I have to go to work. I can't blow this off, Spike." She slid her feet into her boots and laced them. It was kind of nice staying here in this big old hotel. A little majorly weird sleeping in the same room as Spike, having sex with Spike, while Angel was in the same building. She had tried to be affectionate with Spike without rubbing it in Angel's face. She hoped she succeeded in not alienating or pissing off either of them.

"I was just making the suggestion."

"I can call and ask him."

"You have his phone number?"

"Well, yeah, his cell phone number. He gave it to me in case of an emergency."

"Right, an emergency of the booty call type."

"Excuse me," she said.

"Nothing," Spike said with a scoff.

"Spike. We're not going to play this jealousy game over every man I encounter, are we? Because I'm telling you here and now it'll get old real quick." She stood from the chair and walked toward him. Kneeling on the bed she cupped his face in both hands and kissed him. "Besides, you'd smell them on me anyway. That vampire sense of smell and all."

"Right," Spike said and Buffy sensed he was actually agreeing with her and not just being an ass.

She kissed him again. "Let's go then, honey."

"Can't Angel take his own car?"

"Oh come on, it's only a couple of hours. At this time of night probably not even that. And you two were getting along today. When you both tone down that vampire possessive thing, you're likeable guys. You might even be able to get along, to god forbid after one hundred or so years be something like friends."

Spike ran his fingers along the puncture marks on her neck. They were pretty well gone by now, both times he had closed them. She imagined that was why the scars from Angel were so prevalent, he had not. She sometimes wondered if he had done it on purpose, so she would always have the scars. Did he know she would end up one day with another vampire? "He didn't like this."

"I bet he didn't."

"I don't like it either."

Buffy regarded him sharply, she had sort of drifted off as his finger grazed the side of her neck. "What?"

"I shouldn't do it anymore, not until I've learned to control the demon better. Your blood is different than a regular human's, Buffy. It's intoxicating, addicting, and I wouldn't want to hurt you."

"Do you really think you could? I mean, it's not something I'd want you to do every day or anything."

"I know, pet. And I don't think I'd hurt you, but sometime I may not be in charge." He drew her toward him and kissed the spot on her neck. "Let's go before I decide to keep you here for another night."

"Is it going to be weird for you?"

"What? Sleeping with you with Angel in the next room? So long as you don't take to sleeping in flannel jammies or invite him to join us it won't bother me none. I figure I owe him some payback for Dru. At least you and him are three years past with the ending bit."

"But you said it wasn't entirely Angel's fault with Dru."

"Well, no, she claimed that she did it because she kept seeing you in my head, but still I never shagged you when I was with her. I never even thought about it."

She pouted slightly. "Never?"

"Well, no, maybe after Red's little spell, but not before then. Dru saw things I sure as hell never thought about. But she's like that with her visions. And listen to you. Are you telling me you had naughty thoughts about me, Slayer?"

"Well, you were pretty hot for someone who wanted to kill me even before they laid eyes on me."

"Hot was I?"

"Well, yeah. It's the hair, you know," she said, running her fingers through his bleached curls. "And the accent," she said, kissing his lips. "The eyes," she said, kissing each eyelid. "And this scar here," she said, darting her tongue along the scar.

"Anything else you find hot on me, Slayer?"

"Something not on your face you mean?"

"Well, yeah."

"Something," she said, working his belt and the fly of his jeans. "A little further south you mean?"

"Yeah," he moaned as her hand searched for and found what it was looking for.

"Might ruin my lipstick."

"I'll buy you a whole bleedin' tube," he ground out.

She slid his jeans down a bit to give her easier access. She loved the look in his eyes, pure desire. For her. It was empowering that she could cause him to look like that. There was no time for all out sex, but he would undoubtedly make it up to her later. And that was something she could and would look forward to.


A little later than originally planned the three were on their way to Sunnydale. Angel was driving and Spike sat next to a sleeping Buffy in the backseat. Her head was resting against Spike's thigh with a blanket covering her. He pulled Buffy's cell phone out of her bag and dialed the number her Watcher had given him. It was midnight California time, making it eight London time. Rupert was not always an early riser, but Spike wagered the Watcher would make an exception this once. Spike stroked Buffy's hair with his free hand while he waited for an answer on the other end of the phone.

"Hello," a woman answered.

"Rupert please."


"Yes, ma'am," he said, trying to be polite bearing in mind this woman was giving them a somewhat secure line.

"He's on his way there. He should be there tonight."

"Tonight," Spike said, glancing at his watch. If he was getting in tonight there was no sense in them driving all the way to Sunnydale, they could just stay and pick him up at the airport.

"Sorry, tonight my time, tomorrow morning your time I wasn't thinking of the time difference."

"Well, we're on our way back to the house."

"He plans on renting a car and he's not alone."

Spike frowned. "No?"

"No, he's bringing your friend back with him."

My friend? Spike was puzzled and then realized that Rupert had brought Willow to England with him to help her with her magic. "Right, of course. Good to know," Spike said and it was indeed good to know. Perhaps Willow could be of some use to them. "Anything else then?"

"No, I don't think so. I'll let him know you called if he calls."

"Thanks then. Night."

"Bye," she said and disconnected the call.

"The Watcher's on his way to town with Red in toe."


"Oh sorry, the witch, Willow."

"Oh right, forgot she was in London. Magic detox or something, right?"

"Yeah, I guess, I wasn't around for it any more than you were. A witch might be good to have around, though," Spike said as he looked down at a sleeping Buffy.

Spike told Angel about his trip to Africa, paying attention to Buffy's breathing the entire time for any indication she woke up. Angel told Spike about his extended ocean view vacation and again Spike made sure Buffy did not wake up. She did not need to hear the two of them talking about such tribulations.

"So he offered you his arm then?"

"He did," Angel said simply with regard to Wesley offering Angel his blood after pulling him out of the ocean.

"Well, we sure had our share of interesting years last year in our little blood line, wonder what Dru's up to."

"I don't know," Angel said somberly. "I haven't heard from her in a while."

"Me neither," Spike said and that was the end of the conversation en route to Sunnydale.

Spike woke Buffy once they were almost to the city limits. "Wake up, Slayer. It's time to be on guard."

"Don't wanna," she protested.

"Yeah, I know you don't, but you've got to. Don't want to have to be waking you up in your driveway staring down the barrels of some guns."

"So, what's the plan," she said obviously awake but she had not moved yet. Not that Spike minded she could keep her head on his leg for as long as she wanted to.

"We'll park the Jeep the block behind your house and cut through a back yard."

"Let's just hope they don't have the back door staked out."

"It's two in the morning, Slayer. Angel and I will put our game faces on so we'll have the night vision going for us. And if we can't see them, we'll smell them if anyone's nearby."

"Okay," she said though she did not sound overly convinced. Not that Spike blamed her. This was a different ballgame, these were humans after her. She was not supposed to hurt humans, but self-defense was self-defense. As far as Spike knew Buffy had never officially returned to the Watcher's Council, which meant to Spike they had no right to try and intervene in her life. Spike's life he could understand and suspected they wanted to kill Buffy and take Spike with them. If Buffy was dead and Giles led to believe Spike was killed with her they would have a vampire to prod and probe all they wanted.

Game face in place, Spike regarded Angel in the dark. He had to admire his grandsire in a way. He had left Buffy knowing she did not want him to and yet knowing what he was giving up he had continued to press on and do what was right. He was helping people. Some people Spike reckoned were not aware of Angel's assistance, and Angel preferred it that way. Others, though, probably were more than aware of what Angel had done for them. He helped give Spike hope. If Angel could get through the soul restoration thing twice, neither time wanting the blessed thing, certainly Spike could do it when it was what he wanted.

Angel shut off the Jeep's lights as he pulled into Buffy's neighborhood. "You know," Angel suggested, pulling the Jeep to the side of the road. "There's always the mansion."

"No, Angel," Buffy said quietly. "I'm not going to let them keep me out of my house."

"It was just a thought. If Giles and Willow are coming back and Spike and I are here, too. Where in the hell is everyone going to stay?"

"Willow wouldn't mind sharing with Dawn and you and Giles will just have to take turns in my bed."


"My old bed. You'll just have to sleep when Giles isn't. So I guess that means you'll be sleeping day shift. Or you two can flip for it and see who gets the bed and who gets the couch."

"I guess that will work."

He drove a little further and turned onto the street that ran parallel behind Buffy's street and cut the engine. "I'll get the bags," Spike said and opened the door once all three of them were ready to get out. He would have preferred being the one to cover Buffy's back, but when it came down to it Spike did not know if he could strike a human first. If Buffy and Angel got into it with the Council's goons Spike was sure he could join the fray. One moment of hesitation on his part and he could lose her again.

"They've been here," Angel said, indicating a slip of paper in the doorjamb.

"Great," Buffy said. "We can go in through the window upstairs."

"I thought you came back here to avoid hiding, Buffy."

"Well, yeah, but do we want them to know that we're back at two in the morning?"

"They've probably got less obvious things than this at other entrances and exits, Buffy. They're not stupid."

"Too bad," she said wryly. "Okay, let's go. We can camp out in the living room until morning when Giles gets here."

"Well, kiddies," Spike said. "Let's get on with it then. No need standing on the back porch making obvious targets of ourselves."

"Last chance to bunk out at the mansion."

"No. Let's do it. I mean, even if they're waiting inside for us, they're only human."

Angel unlocked the door since he had Buffy's keys. Buffy walked in first, Spike wagered Angel did not want her to go in first any more than Spike did but Buffy was Buffy so neither offered up a protest.

"Leave the lights off," Angel said as he stepped over the threshold after her followed by Spike.

"Wasn't planning on turning them on. You boys have your enhanced vision and I know the house by heart."

"I'll check the basement," Angel volunteered.

"I'll drop the bags off upstairs and do a walk through while I'm at it," Spike offered.

"I guess that leaves me with here."

"No," both vampires said.

"Just stay here. Spike and I will check out the first floor when we're done with the basement and upstairs."

Buffy was standing in the kitchen, her back against the refrigerator when Spike returned from upstairs. "All clear up there. If they've been inside they were neat about it. No searching through your things or anything."

"Good," she said relieved. She stepped into his arms when he walked toward her. "I hate this. Why won't they just leave me alone? What you did was an amazing thing, I don't know why they just can't leave it be."

"I don't know, sweet." He smoothed down her hair and kissed the top of her head. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm just glad Dawn won't be home until late tomorrow."

"And if they haven't shown themselves by then her friend's folks will keep her, pet. You know they will."

"I know. I just hate imposing and it's not like I can tell them why exactly."

Spike chuckled lightly. "I know, pet. niblet knows you're not just pawning her off."

Spike heard Angel approach the kitchen from the dining room and stepped away from Buffy. She grabbed his hand and squeezed with Slayer strength. "Easy there, Slayer," he said softly. "I'm not going anywhere, Peaches is here is all."


"All clear downstairs and up here. One of the basement windows has a crack in it, but it wasn't broken. A bird might have flown into it or something."

"Good, thanks," Buffy said and Spike felt some of the tension ease from her body.

"Well then," Spike said. "Shall we gather ‘round the tele or something? I reckon none of us is going to sleep tonight."


"I'm going to get a Coke. Do you want something?" Spike had drifted off to sleep while Buffy and Angel were both still wide awake. There was nothing on TV, but thanks to Spike they had HBO in the house. Bad movies were better than the late night crap the networks played. Buffy knew this first hand from months of sleeping on the couch to the TV.

"What," Angel asked. Buffy could tell he was not paying attention to the television, so he must have just been lost in thought somewhere.

"Do you want something to drink?"

"Uh sure, let me go with you."

"Angel, the kitchen is right there."

"Yeah, and there is a door and windows in that kitchen that is right there."

"All right," she said with a pout but could not argue with his logic. She hated that sometimes. She dislodged herself from Spike's arm draped around her waist and slid off the couch. "He hasn't slept since we left my dad's," she whispered as she followed Angel into the kitchen.

"We don't need sleep like humans do, Buffy, don't feel bad."

"I know, but I can't help but realize he's going through so much already. I shouldn't be piling my stuff on him, too."

"Buffy," Angel said, getting her a Coke from the refrigerator. Buffy liked knowing he still knew his way around her kitchen. Not that her kitchen was that big, but still.

"Thanks," she said, twisting off the cap.

"You know," Angel said, leaning against the counter. "I think he wants your stuff."

"Is he," she paused and took a sip.

"Is he what?"

"Is he going to be okay?"

"I don't know," Angel said, looking past her into the living room where Spike lay sleeping on the couch. "It's hard to say, our circumstances were different as you know. I think he's doing remarkably well considering."

"Am I helping or hurting?"

"I think, as much as it pains me to say it, you're helping. But if you don't plan on staying with him you need to tell him."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means he did this for you and I think you can help him, but if you're just staying with him out of guilt or something."

"No, I'm not."

"I can't tell you anything to assure you, Buffy, I wish I could. I was cursed, he sought it out. I didn't want it either time, despite you," he said softly, a hint of remorse in his voice. "Truthfully, I don't want to assure you."


"I leave you to give you a chance for a normal life and you end up with him?"

"Didn't plan it that way. I tried the normal route, it didn't work."

"I never liked Finn anyway."

"Yeah, you told me that once I think," she said, offering him a wry smile. "So what do I do? I mean, do I give him space? Do I keep him busy? Do I do nothing? What?"

"Well," he said, grazing a finger along the leg of his black jeans. "You'll probably have to do all of those things at different times, Buffy. Just be there for him, you'll have to gauge day to day, minute to minute even, what he needs. Just remember he's not that person anymore, don't sit in judgment on him."

"I wouldn't, I couldn't. Angel, how can you say that?"

"You asked the question, Buffy. If you didn't want to hear the answer you shouldn't have asked."

"No, I just meant how can you think I'd do that? I forgave you."

"That was different," he said, avoiding meeting her eyes.

"No, it wasn't."

"Buffy, we fell in love before I lost my soul. You knew Angel before you knew Angelus. It's in your nature to forgive someone you love."

"You don't think I love him?"

"I wish I didn't," he said softly.

"Just tell me, is he going to be okay?"

"I think he stands a better chance with some support, so yeah. He's not living off rats and other unmentionables." He stepped toward her, his fingertips grazing the bite mark on her neck. "Just be careful, Buffy. Trusting him is one thing, the demon is another."

"I know," she said, biting her lower lip. There was a time not too long ago that her stomach would have flipped and her knees would have threatened to give out at being on the receiving end of an Angel caress. Now, yeah it felt nice but it was no longer the same. Was having seen Angelus in action part of the reason? All she knew was whatever she had felt for him three years ago was different now. "I'll be careful," she whispered.

"That's all I wanted to hear."

"It's just," she looked down. "I'm scared. What if he went through all of this and decides I'm really not worth it?"

Angel scoffed, his hand sliding from her neck to her chin. He tilted her head back his brown eyes meeting hers with compassion and concern there. She saw love there, too, though she suspected he did not want her to see that. "Don't ever think that, Buffy. Maybe had my demon not been forced down for one hundred years I would have willingly been resouled I don't know. Do you think he would have come back here after everything he went through if he no longer thought you were worth it?"

"Well, no," she acquiesced after some thought. "Okay, and what if after he's had more time to think about the whole Buffy went back in time and could have stopped Drusilla thing he decides he hates me?"

Angel shook his head and dropped his hand. "I don't think it would happen, Buffy. You made your choice, just as I made mine and Spike made his and so on and so forth. You can't think for everyone and besides, how could he get upset when he would never have met you?"

"I don't know," she said confused. "It's just."

"Buffy, why didn't you kill me that night?"

"I couldn't. I told you that. Despite the things Angelus did. I needed you to be here for me when I first came to Sunnydale. I just couldn't do it. It was not a decision I made consciously, I just couldn't."

"And by not staking me you allowed Dru to turn William. So you made two decisions at once."

"I guess," she said with a slight shrug of her shoulders.

"We're both here for a reason, Buffy. I don't think it's a coincidence Spike ended up here. Hell Mouth aside there are plenty of places in the world after Prague he could have gone. Despite knowing what Drusilla said about the two of you he still came here a second time."

"So you think it was supposed to happen this way?"

"I can't argue with The Powers That Be, Buffy. A vampire seems to be what you need and it can't be me. William was a good man, certainly a better man than Liam was. I was thinking of getting Darla into my bed, William just wanted to escape. I imagine that might play a part in all of it, too."

"So, I just sit here and do nothing unless he asks or tells me to do something?"

"Pretty much, yeah. Don't treat him like he's going to break. Let him patrol with you; let him feel like he's contributing. I told him I'd be willing to extend the coverage of Angel Investigations down here if he wanted to earn some money. He has to do something, Buffy. If he's not kept busy he could go crazy."

"Like crazy crazy?"

"Buffy, you have no idea what it's like. Do you remember what you felt when Faith killed the mayor's assistant?"

"Repulsed and dirty."

"And you didn't even do it. Multiply that by images of over one hundred twenty years of victims, men and women, some of them children even."

"Right, I get it," she said, her shoulders slumping slightly. "He went through this for me. I so don't deserve it."

"You can call me anytime if you need to. It's not easy seeing you with him. It hurts like hell I won't deny it, but all I've ever wanted is for you to be happy. That's why I left; I knew I couldn't give it to you. But I'm here for you anytime. I've told Spike the same thing."

"You've changed," she whispered.

"Yeah, well, getting tossed into the ocean in a cage tends to give you a bit of perspective on things. If I ever find Dru," he said and then stopped.


"I'm going to do what I should have done a long time ago, but with Spike with her," he shrugged and Buffy recognized the look of self-flagellation on his face.

"And he did, Angel," she said, placing both hands around his forearms. "Spike took care of her. You know that."

"I know, but I should have done it even before we encountered William in London."

"As you said, Angel, The Powers That Be obviously had other plans."

"Yeah," he whispered.

"Is Connor going to be all right?"

"He'll figure out the truth for himself soon enough. I think having you and Spike around or at least in the picture will help."


"Well, Spike's one of mine, Dru made him but I taught him and I made her. So, knowing that Spike and I can at least get along and finally meeting you."


Angel scoffed. "Buffy, you're sort of a legend around the office. Everyone knows why I'm in LA and not here. I don't think Connor believed you really existed. And by not believing you existed I don't think he believed I was capable of love."

"Where have I heard that before," Buffy said softly. God, had she really believed that vampire meant inability to feel? "So you're not mad at me either? For, you know, not staking you back then?"

"No, I'm not mad. You did what you had to do. I didn't have much time to dwell on it though truth be told."

"Why not?"

"Dru really should not have been turning anyone. She was not strong enough to finish it. So I had to do most of the work. So my encounter with you was forgotten rather quickly. Sorry."

She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "No reason to be sorry."

"Go to bed, Buffy," he said after a long moment of silence. Should she not have kissed him? "I'll keep watch."

"Thanks," she said, putting the cap back on the plastic Coke bottle. "You know where everything is?"


"Okay. Make yourself at home."


She walked to the archway and then paused and turned around again. "Thanks, Angel. For coming, for taking us in, for everything. I know this can't be easy for you."

"Nothing where you're concerned is ever easy for me, Buffy, but I'm used to that by now. And you're welcome. Thanks for coming to me. It means a lot."

"I wish someone would have called me. Months in the ocean, you had to have been weak."

"I was in pretty bad shape, yeah."

"I would have done it again, you know? Given you my blood."

"I know. I don't think Wesley thought of that, and I wasn't in a state to right away."

"Well, hopefully there won't be a next time."

"Let's hope not," Angel said, offering her a smile.

"Yeah, let's," she said with a slight nod of her head before turning around again and returning to the couch. She slid back on it in front of Spike. He had removed the back cushions so they both sort of fit on the couch. It was not real comfortable, but for tonight when they all needed to be in the same room together it would do.

"Did you have a nice talk, pet?"

"Yeah," she whispered as his hand went around her, drawing her to him.

"Good. Get some shut eye now."

"I plan on it," she said, burrowing into her pillow. "Love you."

"Love you, too, pet."

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