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i like your moxie, sassafras!


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Long Buffy fic: "Two-Part Invention" (part 3)
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
innie_darling
Buffy didn't know what to think when she saw Spike sitting on her front porch, smoking his last cigarette. She'd sat with Willow, been held and comforted, for only an hour, before she remembered that she'd promised to be home by eleven. "Spike? What's wrong?" she asked, fear clenching up her throat before his fairly relaxed demeanor registered.

"Your Watcher just called me," he replied, holding out her cell phone. "Was a bit flustered when he got William the Bloody instead of Buffy the Slayer, but eventually he sputtered out his message."

"And that was what?" she asked wearily, sure of hearing more bad news.

"That you've got to do the daytime patrol tomorrow, pet. Apparently the Council of Wankers sent over a big box o' books on this weather situation we've been havin'. So he needs Willow and the whelp to help him read, leaving you to do the slayin'. He seems to think three heads are better than one, even if one of them is Xander's."

Buffy half-smiled at his derogatory tone and he smiled back. "But why did you come all the way over here? You could have just called."

"I tried that, love, but I kept getting your soddin' machine, and it kept bloody cutting me off."

"There must be a lot of messages on there. Dawn must have turned off the ringer so that Mom could sleep. Do you want to come in?" He followed her in and sat at the kitchen table while she played the messages. The first was from Xander and the second from Willow. She stiffened in surprise when she heard her dad's voice next, leaving the phone number of his hotel in Spain, where he'd be on business for a few months. Giles was next, and she relaxed slightly, hearing in his voice all the paternal affection she hadn't been able to detect in the previous message.

Her Watcher's speech sounded curiously flat coming out of her machine: "Buffy? Are you there? Is everything all right? I tried your cell phone, but . . . Spike . . . answered it. He said you offered it to him so he'd have a way to reach you if the Initiative returned. But, um, I have good news. The Council has sent over some texts that they feel may help us with the meteorological situation at hand, and I was planning on recruiting Willow and Xander to help me go through them tomorrow. That means you'll have to do the daytime patrol as well. We'll meet at the shop after that, at around two? I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy."

Spike could hear Giles's love for Buffy in his voice and smiled; too often the Watcher seemed like only a stern taskmaster disciplining a wayward child, but that evidently wasn't the case. //Good thing she's got him, considering that wanker that claims to be her father obviously doesn't give two shits about Joyce and the kids.//

He frowned as Riley's voice, punctuated by several small gaps of static in which words were lost, filled the kitchen: "Buffy . . . Riley . . . flight's delayed . . . tomorrow night . . . miss you . . . class on Monday? . . . need to talk . . . do this over the phone . . . tomorrow." The message was long, and filled most of the remainder of the tape. Buffy was guiltily aware that she'd forgotten that Riley was due in that night, and felt even more ashamed that she was glad his flight was delayed; after the Friday and Saturday she'd had, she didn't know how much more she could take.

She stopped beating herself up when she heard Spike's recorded voice on the playback: "Slayer? Niblet?" Quieter, he asked "Joyce?" He paused and then continued, "Listen, Slayer, your Watch-" The machine cut him off. He was swearing as he started to leave his second message, speaking more quickly this time: "The Watcher called your cell and got me instead of you. So of course he thought I'd made away with you, despite the soddin' chip in my head. Like I'd answer your phone if I'd just finished draining you! Really -" The machine cut him off again. This time, as his third message started, his curses were more fluent. "So after a good bit of backand -forth, he says that no one's pickin' up at your house, and he needs to be certain you get the message that you're on for daytime patrol tomorrow, and would I make sure you get the message, as I've got nothin' better to do -"

Buffy waited for a fourth message, but there wasn't one. She turned and faced him, trying to arch one eyebrow the way he and Giles could. //It must be a British thing// she decided when she realized she couldn't do it. He looked slightly sheepish for having left so many rambling messages, but instead of teasing him, she offered him a real smile. "What?" he asked, unsure of what he'd done to merit that sweet smile.

"Thank you for not telling Giles or anybody about my mom, about this weekend."

"But you are going to tell him, aren't you, Slayer?" he asked, his brow knit with worry.

"Yes, of course. But it's just nice that it's up to me to decide when." He nodded in understanding, knowing how much she cherished control. They sat in silence for a moment, and then Spike pushed his chair back from the table and stood, ready to leave. "Do you want to come with me tomorrow?" she asked. "To patrol? And then to the shop? You could help us go through the books."

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why the hell he'd want to sit in the same room as Xander, but then he looked at her tired face and found himself agreeing. "Don't know how much help I'll be, though, love. The way the Council writes, taking eight pages to say what only needed a few lines - it's enough to drive a bloke mad." She was looking at him questioningly, as if he hadn't really answered her, so he said, "I'll pick you up here at eleven. That good?" She nodded and walked him to the front door.


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//She's lovely in the light.// That seemed to be all he could think as they patrolled the cemeteries together at high noon. Of course, there wasn't any direct sunlight. It was just that the air didn't have the dusky darkness that he associated with the sight of her. He watched her as she moved smoothly among the headstones, her grace never quite concealing her strength.

He didn't realize that she was watching him too. She saw his loping gait, the power and energy he held in check evident just in the fluid way he walked. She remembered his warning - "You need to know what I really am" - and the fateful way in which he'd said those dangerous words. But it was easier said than done. Who knew what Spike really was anymore? He was a master vampire with a chip that kept him from hurting humans, a man and demon in one, and the friend who'd done everything he could for her mother. She didn't know if Spike knew any better than she did who he really was. She wondered why he'd uttered that caveat.

She spun as she heard him shout, "Buffy! Behind you!" Her right foot shot out automatically, and she kicked one of the vamps that was heading for her to the side. She dared a glance in Spike's direction, assessing their situation. He'd been jumped; one vamp was crawling up him like a child wanting a piggyback ride, and another two were grinning at him, satisfied that he was helpless. His stake had been kicked out of his hand. //No!// she refused to see Spike beaten. Her newfound rage aided her attack, and soon all five of the vamps that had been gunning for her had fallen before Mr. Pointy. Spike was still struggling, but there was a wicked glint in his eye that gave her pause. He'd shaken off the clingy vamp and kicked her hard enough for her to think that crawling away was a good idea, but he was still at a disadvantage, facing two big vamps without a weapon. One of them reached out and pushed him on the chest, and Spike went down easily. //That was too easy// Buffy thought. //He must be planning something.// And indeed his fighting grin was suddenly plastered on his face. Half-sitting, half-reclining on his forearms, Spike's hand moved to his waistband and he unfastened his belt with nimble fingers. He pulled it free of his jeans and wrapped it around his hand a few times, letting the heavy buckle swing loose. In one clean, forceful motion he swung it at his two attackers as they leaned forward to get him, and the edges of the buckle, carefully sharpened for just such an occasion, sliced neatly through their necks. They fell into dust before his eyes.

Buffy ran up to him as he was putting his belt back on. "You missed a loop," she said in an overly dry tone.

He looked down at her, catching the uncertainty she thought she'd hidden. "What's the matter, love? A bit too gruesome? I discovered last time that I don't like bein' left without a weapon. So I made a virtue of necessity."

"I thought you always had a weapon. You know . . ." she gestured vaguely at his face.

"Oh, the vamp powers? Yes, they're all well and good, but drinking a vampire is like drinking the Sahara. 'Sides, the belt comes in awfully handy." She was still silent, so he prodded a bit more. "What is it that's botherin' you? Is it that they died because of a belt, or that the belt is mine?" She felt strangely compelled to answer him.

"It's that you were enjoying it so much. And now I know what that's like. I did it too." Her voice had sunk to a shamed whisper.

"Did what, love?" he asked, stepping close so that he could hear her quiet voice.

"The day we found out about my mom, I had to do a patrol. And there were only two vampires. I dusted one quick, but then I . . . toyed with . . . the other one. I tortured him. I wanted to inflict as much pain as I was in. It was like music every time I heard another of his bones snap, every groan he made. I couldn't believe it was me doing all that, but it was." She finally looked up at him, and he could see tears swimming in her eyes, waiting to fall.

"Shh, easy now, love," he murmured as she stepped into his arms. "So it's happened once. And I doubt, from what you're sayin', that it'll ever happen again. You were hurt and confused, and you had all of this power inside you, screaming to be let out. Usually you're able to control it, but too much had happened, what with your mum bein' ill and your mortal enemy bein' the only person who was around. Trust me, love, I've felt that bloodlust much worse, and I haven't given in to it in over thirty years. Since before you were born. You'll never succumb again, I promise you."

"No," she breathed.

"Buffy?" he questioned her, his head tipping to one side as he studied her.

"No, you're not my mortal enemy," she continued as if he hadn't interrupted. "We were enemies at one point, but now . . . I don't know. I think we might be friends."

He stepped back and held her eye as he declared defiantly, "I'm not one of your bloody Scoobies."

"No," she agreed. "You're special." He grinned at that, and moved forward once more to hold her. He had the right to hold her.



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They walked into the Magic Box together, Buffy feeling more relaxed than she'd believed was possible. "We're done patrolling, and we're ready to read!" she announced in a voice that was almost cheerful. Giles, Xander, Willow, and Anya all turned to look at her, and the odd looks on their faces made her distinctly uneasy. "What? I'm not late, am I? Nope. It's quarter to two. I'm actually early. What's the matter?" Xander and Willow looked down, and Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably; only Anya maintained her level gaze.

Behind Buffy, Spike shifted uneasily. His first thought had been that it was his presence, or rather the presence of him and the Slayer together, that was bothering her friends; he quickly realized, however, that none of them had even glanced his way. He put a hand on the small of the Slayer's back and guided her to a chair at the end of the research table. She sank into it slowly, and repeated, "What?"

"Buffy," Giles began, "we need to talk to you . . ." He had been going to add "alone," but then he noticed how she'd angled her body to keep Spike in her line of sight, how she leaned back in her chair when he touched her shoulder briefly.

Buffy heard his unspoken word, however, and she said, "Spike stays. I asked him to help out, and he agreed, so anything that has to do with this weather thing involves him too. This is about the weather thing, isn't it?"

"Yes," her Watcher agreed quickly, then stopped, at a loss as to how to proceed. He took a deep breath and pushed forward. "When we opened the box, there was a letter concealed between two of the books. It was from Thomas, and it was addressed to me. It said that the books would be a nice addition to my library, but that they wouldn't prove useful in breaking the hold of whatever's got Sunnydale's weather in its grip. He said he did some unauthorized poking around and found the prophecy that would help. He sent it in the letter - it's quite short. As much as I hate it, Buffy, I have to believe that this prophecy is the one we need. Thomas's sister called me this morning; he was found dead outside Council headquarters."

"I'm sorry, Giles," she responded immediately, reaching a hand out towards him.

The heaviness on the Watcher's face remained. "You still need to hear the prophecy, Buffy," was his only answer. He looked down at the letter in his hand and opened his mouth, but found he couldn't bring himself to utter those words. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the back of his hand savagely across his wet eyes, holding out the paper with his other hand.

Xander reluctantly took it and stumblingly read it, his voice clogged with unshed tears: "Two souls, one of darkness, one of light, must ally. Their onion - sorry - union . . . Their union alone can separate day in night and night in day."

"Three guesses as to who the 'soul of darkness' is," Buffy said miserably, looking down at the wooden table.

"What's this about 'union,' Watcher?" Spike asked, stepping forward.

"Union, you know . . ." Giles faltered.

"No, I don't know. That's why I asked. It can mean anything from simple alliance to . . . sexual tie. Is that the best translation job they could do? We need to find the original text and translate it ourselves."

"Spike," Giles answered, keeping his voice low, "this prophecy was written in English. They're not all in dead languages. 'Union' is the word we have to deal with. My guess would be that it means the sexual liaison that you mentioned, as Buffy and Angel are already, in a sense, sort of allies, albeit long-distance ones."

Buffy flinched when she heard Angel's name spoken so openly, and Spike's eyes shifted to her instantly. "Slayer?" He made it a question not with a lift in his voice but with the concern written across his face.

She raised her eyes slowly to meet his, unable to look at anyone else in the room. "I think I liked 'onion' better," she said softly before she ran out of the shop on unsteady legs.


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Trembling or not, the girl was endowed with Slayer speed, and only Spike was able to catch up with her. He caught her in his arms, allowing her to sag against him and beat oddly harmless fists against his chest. "I can't do it, Spike," she said in a ragged whisper. "I can't let him back into my life. Not ever, but especially not now, with everything else that's going on."

"I know, love, I know," he soothed, seeing her Watcher approach. The dismay on her face as he let go of her nearly broke his heart, but Giles pulled her into an embrace before she could say a word. She shifted in Giles's arms so that she could see Spike; satisfied that he wasn't going anywhere, she closed her eyes and let her Watcher rock her gently.

"Giles," she said into his chest, hearing Xander and Willow come running up, "I have bad news too." She could feel Spike standing next to Giles, and his presence gave her the strength to continue. "It's my mom. She's got a brain tumor, and she needs to have an operation. I found out yesterday." She kept her face buried in his chest as she talked, but she knew they'd heard every word.

Giles abruptly stopped rocking and stepped back, putting his hands on Buffy's shoulders so that he could look her in the face, but she kept her head down. Spike came up behind her and looped one arm around her waist, offering her his strength to lean against. She drooped against him, her back resting on his chest, and she finally looked up to meet Giles's distraught gaze. "Buffy, I'm so sorry," he said. "Any help I can give you is yours - you know that." His words were echoed by Willow and Xander, hovering anxiously over her.

"Thank you," she said, a small smile on her face at last. "I think we've got it covered, but it's good to know there's always backup. I really wanted you guys to know."

She turned to Spike, ready to go, but he was looking at Giles. "What now, Watcher? What are you going to do about that prophecy?"

Giles wanted desperately to avoid the question, but he forced himself to answer Spike. "I suppose I'll call Angel, let him know what the situation is. Hopefully he'll understand that this is not an invitation back into Buffy's life; it is simply necessity, a matter of life and death." Giles looked up to see Spike's eyes meeting his sympathetically, as if they were allies, and he knew the vampire didn't want Angel back any more than he did. The Watcher's eyes widened as realization hit - Spike was in love with Buffy.


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When he saw disbelief on the Watcher's usually impassive face, Spike knew his secret was out. He held Giles's gaze, willing him to understand that he hadn't told Buffy; the last thing she needed at this point was upheaval in her love life. Giles was startled by the message Spike's eyes were sending him, and he kept quiet, knowing Buffy would need as many allies as she could muster if she was going to deal with her mother's illness and the monumental awkwardness brought about by the prophecy. Spike nodded, satisfied that the Watcher would keep his secret, and steered Buffy home.

They weren't touching as they walked along, but each was acutely aware of the other as a physical presence. //It's like there's a bubble around us, so that there's only us right now// Buffy thought confusedly. //It's nice.//

Her mother met them at the front door, wearing a purple sleeveless dress, and Spike brightened perceptibly at the sight of her. "Up and about, are we?" he grinned at her, pleased that she looked strong and healthy once more. "Looks like you won't need a chauffeur for much longer."

Joyce smiled at him, touched by his obvious pleasure. She turned to Buffy, still smiling. "Sweetie, you've got a visitor. Why don't you go see him, and I'll make Spike some hot chocolate," she said, winking conspiratorially at the vampire.

Spike's heart sank as he understood that Riley was waiting for Buffy //she's his girlfriend, you wanker// inside the house. "No, thanks, Joyce," he said quickly. "Don't want to wear you out. But I'll take a rain check, all right?"

"Are you sure? It's no trouble. And I'd really like to do something for you, after all you've done for me."

"You already have," he said, turning from her to look at Buffy for a long moment before he turned and walked down the front porch steps.


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She couldn't believe she'd forgotten about Riley again, in the space of less than a day. She'd spent the day thinking about her mother, slaying, crying in Spike's arms, dreading the return of Angel, and crying in Giles's arms. //True, these aren't small problems, but what kind of a girlfriend am I that Riley seems like just one more obstacle to face, one more problem to solve?// She realized that there wasn't a single part of her mind that had whispered that things would seem better once he came back; her mind had apparently chosen Spike to fill that role.

Riley stood when Buffy walked into the den, noting that her eyes were rimmed with pink, matching the color of her tank top. "Buffy? What's wrong?" he asked, wanting to hold her and kiss away all of her problems, knowing even as he thought it that she never had crises that were so easily solved.

"It's um . . . nothing. Just with this weather, the vamps have been carousing around the clock, so we're all kind of tired, and probably a bit on edge." She tried to laugh deprecatingly, inwardly wincing as she heard how false it sounded, but Riley didn't seem to notice.

"Buffy," he began, and bent his legs and then straightened halfway up again.

"Yeah?" she asked, sitting next to him, and he finally decided to sit all the way down too.

"Buffy, we need to talk." Without meaning to, her head dropped toward her chest, making it nearly impossible for him to see her face clearly. He moved off the couch and got on one knee in front of her, peering up at her. "I did a lot of thinking this week. About us, about what my life was before you, and what you've made of it since. And I love you; I want to be with you forever." She hated that word, the word she'd used in her head every time Angel came near her, the word that ultimately betrayed. All she had "forever" were memories, more painful than not. "But I don't know if you want that too."

"What?" she asked, surprised by the turn in his speech. "Riley, I -" She paused, expecting him to interrupt her, but he simply knelt and watched her. His silence unnerved her; she went on the attack. "What do you mean? Of course I don't know about forever! We haven't been dating for that long, and anyway, we're too young to be having this conversation."

"No, Buffy, we're not. People younger than us break up all the time." She gaped at him, unable to believe she'd heard him correctly. He gave her a sad smile and continued. "It was weird being home, staying in my old room. My folks hadn't changed anything. All my trophies were still lined up against one wall, plaques hanging above them - debate, wrestling, football, Olympics of the Mind, everything. And, dumb as it sounds, I thought I'd like to bring you to Iowa someday, and have you see all these awards, have you meet my family, introduce you to my friends." She looked like she was about to cry. He hastened on, "But then it hit me. What those trophies really meant. All my life, I was an overachiever. I put my mind to it, worked hard, kept my nose to the grindstone, whatever clich, you want to use. And I succeeded - the trophies proved it. But at the end of the day, all they meant was that I was an ordinary kid who was just a bit smarter or faster or stronger than the rest. They didn't make me special." She opened her mouth to argue, but he didn't give her the chance. "You are special, Buffy. You're extraordinary. And you don't have any trophies - people can't even conceive of what you do, let alone design a hokey metallic commemorative figurine for it. Looking at those trophies, I realized I'd never be special enough for you, that I wasn't the guy you were going to end up with. I mean, they write prophecies about you! Demons the world over are gunning for you. I don't belong with you; I'm just too ordinary." She couldn't find any words; she couldn't even hold onto any one emotion long enough to recognize it. He stood slowly and bent to kiss her cheek. "I'm sorry, Buffy."


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She was numb. He'd closed the door quietly as he left, but she hadn't moved a muscle since he'd kissed her. She got up and put the kettle on, moving dazedly about the kitchen, filling a mug with cocoa mix and hot water, adding a splash of milk at the end. She finally came out of her haze as the first gulp of cocoa slipped down her throat, scalding as it went. Buffy smiled bitterly - //at least I didn't have to tell him about the Angel prophecy//. She sipped her drink again, wincing at its heat even though the air conditioner was running at full blast. ////I wonder if the Powers That Be did this - getting Riley out of the way so that I'd be free to have my goddamn union with Angel.// She considered it briefly, then dismissed it - //no, he sounded sincere. And the Powers would have done something more dramatic, like him dying in a fire, trying to save a kitten. They'd never have him just . . . leave me.//


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"All's well with you and Phineas?" Spike asked as he walked up the front porch steps that night, ready to patrol with the Slayer.

"Who?" she mumbled, not really listening; she'd found that she couldn't seem to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few seconds.

"Soldier-boy. Finn." When she still looked blank, he rolled his eyes and said, "You know? Your ever-exciting boyfriend?"

//Oh, yeah. Him.// "He seems to be fine," she answered. "He apparently did a lot of thinking while he was away."

"Yeah? Come up with anything earth-shattering?" he asked, sarcasm heavy in his tone even as he talked around the cigarette he'd bent his head to light.

"Yup. He's not worthy of me, so as a favor to me, or the universe, or somebody, he's let me go. Never mind my opinion of the whole matter. He's off like a speeding bullet." //Why do they always leave me?//

The cigarette fell from Spike's mouth as he gaped at her. "He's gone? No more Mr. Mazola?" Elation was building up inside of him until he saw how small she'd made herself by hunching over like a mistreated puppy. "You alright, love?" he asked more gently. "Wait . . . " - suddenly there was pure anger on his face - "this wasn't because of the damn prophecy, was it?" //Damn him for hurting her now. It's not like she wrote the prophecy herself to get Angel back.//

"No, he didn't stick around for story hour. He just went on and on about how I'm special, I'm on a cosmic scale, and he's just a regular guy with some dinky trophies."

The last part threw him a little, but he smirked, "Maybe he was smarter than I thought. Ordinary's exactly the right word for him."

She turned away, and what he could see of her profile betrayed the emergence of a longstanding sadness. "Buffy? What is it, love?" She shook her head stubbornly, not wanting to share what had hurt her the most about Riley's grand finale. But Spike was not about to be denied. He stepped over to her and turned her to face him. "What? Tell me, pet. You're not in any shape to go patrolling when you're wound this tight."

She knew he wouldn't relent, so she spoke quickly, in as flat a tone as she could muster. "When he said he was ordinary, I was thinking that that sounded like a good thing. But then he started saying that I wasn't ordinary. I knew he meant it as a compliment, but it felt like he was calling me inhuman. You know, he's human, and I'm different, so what does that make me? As much as I hate it sometimes, I don't want to stop being the Slayer, ever. But I wish it didn't make me feel like a monster." Despite her best efforts, her voice fell at the last word, becoming nearly inaudible, but Spike heard her anyway.

"Monster?" he repeated, taken completely aback. "No, not at all. Look, love, as big of an ass as he was - is - he really was giving you a compliment. You are extraordinary. Bein' the Slayer makes you so. You can do things most humans can't. But that's not what makes you special - what makes you special is being Buffy, being the kind of friend and sister and daughter you are. Even with the handicap of being the Slayer, you've held on to your humanity. And that's something lots of ordinary humans can't do. Understand?" She nodded slightly, marveling at his eloquence, at his defense of her. "Speak up, love, I can't hear you," he teased, chucking her softly under the chin. When she rolled her eyes at him, he knew she was okay. "You'll have to do better than that" - he mimicked her tiny nod perfectly - "or else I'll make you write 'I am special' fifty times on a blackboard." She grinned at the Simpsons reference and abruptly did a cartwheel on her front lawn.

"Better?" she asked, only half-joking.

"Yeah," he smiled, "and see? You always end up right side up."



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They worked effortlessly in tandem as they patrolled and fought. Buffy could feel that her mind was letting something simmer on the back burner, but it wasn't ready to become conscious thought yet. She shrugged mentally; she felt surprisingly strong, and she knew she'd be able to deal. Rounds done, they walked towards the shop, bantering as easily as they had in the graveyards. They were having a discussion about each other's best moves of the night, demonstrating them as they went along. "I liked this one" - Buffy crouched low, her weight mostly on her left haunch, and then sprang up suddenly, right foot lashing out, leg hooking around as she pivoted, aiming for an imaginary vamp's throat - "a lot."

"Yeah, it's a good move," he agreed with no false modesty at all.

"But you know what makes it even better?" she sidled up to him, giving him a sideways glance. "The duster. The way it hid your legs from your opponent, the way it settled back around you after you finished the kick. It just looked so cool, so Matrix-y."

"Yeah?" he queried, clearly pleased. "Wish I could have seen it, then." He paused, then asked, "What do I look like?"

She was startled out of her ease. "What do you mean? You look like you did before you were turned, when you could still see yourself in mirrors."

"Yeah, but it's been a long time, love. And mirrors back then weren't entirely reliable; they were still figuring out the chemical processes needed to make glass reflect. I just want to know."

"Um, okay. You've got dark blue eyes, a really noticeable scar on your eyebrow . . ."

"That part I know, Slayer," he said, sounding amused. "I very distinctly remember getting that scar. I mean what do I really look like? Do I still look like this?" He dug in his pocket for a slim, flat wallet, and pulled a small square of paper, folded a few times, from its recesses. "Matthew - the man who did the illustrations for the newspaper - did a sketch of me the night I finished my first story." She took the paper and unfolded it eagerly.

There on the page was Spike. He had longer, darker hair, and it was slightly curly, and he wore a pair of thin-rimmed glasses; the eyes, however, were pure Spike. He had a look of energy, of determination. Matthew had captured him in a few strokes of a pen. The hollow cheeks, the direct gaze, the emotions in his eyes, all confirmed the latest version of his autobiography. "Yeah," she said in surprise, "you do still look like that."

He glanced at her briefly, then shrugged and put the paper away again. "Just curious." They walked along for a few minutes before he said, "Know which move I liked best?" She shook her head. He jogged a little ahead of her to give himself room to demonstrate. "It was this one." He planted himself firmly on both feet, right leg slightly behind the left. Without warning, he delivered a snap kick to the chin of an invisible foe. "And you know what the best part is? That you've got a stake in his heart even before your leg has come down. Now that's class." He grinned at her and turned, surprised to discover that they were directly in front of the Magic Box. He held the door open for her, and they went in to the sound of the door chimes overhead.


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He plowed into Buffy, who'd gone stiller than a statue just inside the doorway. Spike froze too when he saw Angel sitting in one of the work table chairs talking to Giles. Xander, Willow, and Anya were standing in a stiff line, watching the two men. All five turned when they heard the chime. Angel stood and walked toward the Slayer, unable to keep his eyes from her beautiful face. She took an involuntary half-step back, and her heel ground down on the toe of Spike's left boot. He made no move to release his trapped foot, remembering how desperately she'd held his arm in the hospital; he wished he could touch her again, reassure her that she had somebody unconditionally on her side. But he knew he couldn't, that she needed to appear strong and independent in front of the man who'd broken her once before. "Buffy," Angel said with a smile as he approached her.

She couldn't speak. Behind her, she heard a voice //Spike's voice// fill the void and drawl, "Bit eager, aren't you, mate? Came rushin' down as fast as your little legs would take you?"

Angel stopped moving and looked at his impertinent childe. "Spike," he acknowledged with a curt nod.

"Or did you tear off in the Angelmobile, braving that infamous L.A. traffic for a chance to see her again, knowin' that this time she couldn't refuse you?" Spike continued without pause. "Odds are, you're a bit early, mate. There's still rituals to be done, to determine the best night for the prophecy to be undertaken, all that sort of thing. So you might have spared us, and only come down at the last minute."

Angel's eyes narrowed, but Giles interrupted, surprised out of his silence. "How did you know about the spells?"

"I've been around for a good long time now. I've got the order of things pretty much down."

"Actually, Spike," Willow stepped forward, trying to ease the situation so that Buffy would stop looking petrified and come sit down, "I'm not that experienced in casting these sort of spells. It'll be easier for me if I've got both Angel and Buffy in the same room." Spike looked at her and nodded, understanding why she'd spoken. He pushed Buffy gently to the table, pulling out the chair that was the most removed from Angel's. She sank into it without a murmur.

Xander stepped forward and cupped her shoulder protectively, showing his disdain for Angel by completely ignoring his presence. Spike backed off, wanting to give them a little privacy, but Xander frowned as he moved away, and indicated with a jerk of his head that Spike should stay right where he was; it was his intent to keep Buffy surrounded, to keep her from having to look at Angel. He began chatting with Spike so that Buffy could follow their conversation rather than be alone with the thoughts in her head. Spike kept up his end of the repartee, his estimation of the boy soaring. Anya was moving excitedly about the shop, gathering the items necessary for the spell, and Giles was coaching Willow quietly in one corner, referring to a large leather-bound book on his lap.

Angel approached Buffy once more, saying quietly, "It's good to see you again, Buffy." She nodded without looking up, and smiled wanly. "How is everything?" he continued.

"Fine," she said, not wanting to tell him the truth about her mother. //He and Mom never really got along anyway. It's not like he'd really care; he's only making small talk.//

"School okay?" he asked, wanting her to look at him.

"Yeah, we start again tomorrow, actually," she said, looking up at last, but going no higher than the third button on Angel's shirt.

"And how's, um, that guy - Riley?"

"Oh, he's super," she responded. "He's got lots of trophies."

Xander frowned at that, but Spike only shook his head at him in a way that discouraged him from pursuing what Buffy had meant. "Great, that's great," Angel replied, unsure of what to do next. He abruptly pulled out the chair opposite hers and sat down, moving so quickly that she was startled into looking right at him.

At the sight of Angel, Buffy went into emotional overload. She realized again how handsome he was, and remembered how charming he had been. She cursed the timing of the prophecy, knowing that only a few years ago she'd have been more than happy to oblige the Powers by jumping into bed with him. And then, suddenly, all she could feel was anger. This man had once claimed her as his soulmate, as the love of his life, declaring that he was the love of hers, and where had that gotten her? //If you're the love of somebody's life, you stay for life. You don't make promises that you don't intend to keep.// She knew that she wasn't being rational, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She remembered the way Spike had looked when he talked about Dru; she had been insane, completely helpless at times, and still she had someone with her, loving her, for one hundred years and more. //Maybe that's just his nature - to do anything for love. And maybe Angel doesn't have that.// She didn't want to believe that; some part of her wanted to believe that Angel had been everything her dreams and heart had promised her first love would be. But now that he was gone from her life, she was able to see with clear eyes where he'd fallen short of her wishes, and more importantly, of her needs. Something else kept nudging at her brain; she couldn't catch it and keep it still long enough to identify it, but it still eased her mind. She raised her gaze to Angel's, feeling suddenly calm and sure of herself as she faced him, knowing that she'd laid the part of her that clung to his memory to rest. "Thanks for getting here so quickly. I guess you were as shocked as I was at such a prophecy?" she asked.

"Oh yeah," he affirmed with a gusty sigh. "Somebody up there must really like the idea of the two of us."

She nodded, adding, "It probably appeals to their sense of irony."

Anya returned, her arms full, and caught the last few remarks. "Oh, the Powers don't really have a sense of irony. But I am surprised that the prophecy was so cheesy."

Angel looked up at her in surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked, looking to Giles, who had risen at Anya's penetrating voice.

Anya saw that the whole group had gathered around her. She said, "You know, Hollywood-ish. It's straight out of Ladyhawke."

"What's Ladyhawke?" Buffy asked.

Willow started to answer her, "Oh come on, Buffy, I even made you watch . . ." but was cut off by Anya's gasp of comprehension.

"Of course! The Powers aren't stealing from Hollywood; Hollywood executives must be the Powers in disguise." No one commented on Anya's theory, and Willow responded once more to Buffy's question.

"Remember when I was going through my Matthew Broderick phase, and I rented everything he was ever in? Ladyhawke was one of them. It's the one where there's a woman - Michelle Pfeiffer - who's a hawk by day and her lover is a wolf by night. They were separated by evil enchantment."

"And Matthew Broderick was the guy?" Buffy frowned, not remembering the movie at all.

"No, he was the thief," Willow responded, unaware that her answer didn't help in the slightest.

Anya jumped in, "They needed to break the spell, and then there was an eclipse, and that did it. End of story."

"Uh-huh," Buffy tried to look as if she were understanding the synopses flying through the air.

Anya sighed in exasperation and grabbed the prophecy from Giles and read it aloud: "Two souls, one of darkness, one of light, must ally. Their union alone can separate day in night and night in day."

Willow nodded, saying, "Wow. That last bit's almost verbatim."

Giles rolled his eyes and took Thomas's letter back and said, "Why don't we get started? Everybody's got an early day tomorrow, so the sooner the better. Are you ready, Willow? Angel? Buffy?"

Continue: Part 4/15
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