Just as everybody had settled into their places for the spell - Willow, Angel, and Buffy forming an isosceles triangle while Anya, Xander, Giles, and Spike hovered nervously at its edges - Xander shattered the silence. "Wait! I just thought of something. What if the um, you know, union causes Angel's soul to go bye-bye?"
They all stopped, dumbfounded because none of them had remembered the danger. Anya grabbed the prophecy again and read it aloud once more, this time laying great emphasis on the word "souls" as she recited.
"Yeah, An, I know, but there's no mention of 'souls' after the deed is done," Xander responded. "It just says the weather thing will go away, but it doesn't promise that we won't be left with yet another problem." His chin jutted unmistakably towards Angel's hulking form.
Willow looked worriedly to Giles, asking, "They wouldn't do that, would they? Make us follow a prophecy that will cause even more problems? And what about Angel? He's . . . he's been on the good path, haven't you, Angel? Were you told that you'd have to make this decision again?" He shook his head silently.
Giles sighed heavily and tried his best to answer the witch. "I know it's not much help, Willow, but I have seen the Powers That Be work in mysterious ways . . ."
"I think you mean Pimps That Be," Spike muttered just loud enough for everyone to hear. Angel stood abruptly at the words, but Spike stared him down, then turned to the Watcher, appealing to him with outrage evident in his eyes. "I mean, where do they get off, makin' the Slayer into their personal prostitute? 'Shag this one and the end of the world won't be so nigh'? She's supposed to fight evil, not have to seduce it! And did anyone think that she might not want to do this? She's risked her life time and again, and it's still not enough! Now they're tellin' her to sell herself when in fact she's been doin' quite well, slaying vamps morning, noon, and night - she's countering the weather's effects already." He let his eyes fall at last on Buffy, and she was staring at him, open-mouthed. He dropped his eyes quickly before she understood all of his reasons for speaking out.
They turned as one in Angel's direction, and he directed his gaze at Buffy as he answered them all. "I don't know why this is happening, or what will happen when we follow the prophecy. All I can say is that I don't think that the one-moment-of-happiness punishment will activate this time."
"Why?" queried Giles, honestly curious about what the large vampire would say.
Xander stood with his arms crossed, ready to lash out if Angel maligned Buffy in any way at all. "Because I would know that she was with me because of a prophecy. Because it wouldn't be about me, about us, but rather about saving Sunnydale yet again."
It didn't escape Spike's attention that Buffy was almost involuntarily nodding in agreement with Angel's sad words, her eyes clear but fixed on a distant point. //She's not in love with the wanker anymore.// He wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
Giles cleared his throat and focused on the Slayer. "Buffy? What do you think?" She considered for a moment and then answered slowly, biting the inside of her cheek as she spoke, "I believe him. I think he'll still be Angel afterwards. But I think Spike's right too. I mean, so far, we've kept the vamp levels pretty much normal simply by routine slaying. And Spike can do the daytime patrols while I'm at school this week. So I don't think we need to bother with the prophecy after all. Do you?"
Spike felt like crowing. He was walking the Slayer home after she'd left the ponce with a flea in his ear. Giles had asked Angel to stick around for a few days, just in case the situation somehow worsened and the prophecy needed to be enacted after all, but Angel hadn't looked at all happy. //Maybe he's finally figurin' out this is not a girl you can just love and leave. That she's not goin' to sit by and wait for him when she's got a life of her own to live.// They reached her house, and he walked up the steps with her.
She had her key in the lock before she turned to face him and said, "Thanks, Spike. It was like everything became clear when you said what you said. I mean the whole prophecy was icky - hello, emotional baggage! - but when I saw him, it was like I just couldn't think at all. I felt sort of doomed to obey." He nodded in understanding as she met his eyes. She opened the door, then smiled and said, "And sorry for volunteering you for daytime patrol, but I just wanted a good reason not to go through with the prophecy-sex."
He grinned back mischievously and said, "Not to worry, pet. I've been handed worse assignments . . . like washing Harris's delicates." He faked a shudder, and she had to laugh.
As she stepped into the hall, she heard her mother call out, "Is that Spike? If that's him, bring him in, Sweetie."
She turned to him and said, "You heard the woman. Come in or I'll be grounded." He laughed and stepped willingly inside.
They found Joyce in the kitchen looking enormously pleased with herself. She met Spike's eye questioningly as he entered and at his slight nod she put the kettle on. "Mom? What's going on?" Buffy asked suspiciously.
"Nothing. I just got Spike a little something to say thanks."
He backed up a step, shaking his head, "No, Joyce, you didn't have to do that. I told you. I'm happy to be of service."
"Nonsense. And anyway, it really is a little thing." She reached over to a basket on the counter and handed a fruit to Spike. He cocked one eyebrow at her and decided to play along. He began peeling it, and his eyes widened as he pulled it in two.
"What is it?" he asked, sounding like a child.
"It's a blood orange," Joyce laughed at his surprise. "I saw them when Dawn and I went grocery shopping today and we thought of you. You don't have to eat it. I just thought you'd get a kick out of seeing it."
He seated himself at the counter and smiled up at her as he popped one sliver into his mouth. "There's something else," she went on.
"Another gift? No. I can't accept it," he said firmly.
"But this one is for me, Spike," Joyce answered quickly. He was clearly puzzled, but he obeyed when she said, "Just close your eyes."
He felt something being placed on his head and opened his eyes when he heard the mingled laughter of mother and daughter. "What? What is it?"
"See for yourself," the Slayer answered, and he pulled it off his head to look. It was a chauffeur's cap, black with a velvet visor.
"I couldn't resist," Joyce said, half-guilty, half-gleeful.
"Put it on again," Buffy said. "It looks good on you." He obliged but pulled it off quickly when he heard Dawn coming toward the kitchen.
"Hey, Snicker-Snacker," he greeted her just as his mug of hot chocolate was placed in front of him.
"Hey, Spike. Nice hair," she responded.
He reached up a hand to smooth it back down, but Buffy said, "Don't. I like it better this way." He shrugged and turned his attention back to his drink and the orange's sweet crescents. Between sips of her own cocoa, Buffy eyed Spike surreptitiously. His tousled hair was catching one of the bright kitchen lights, and it looked like straw that had been spun by magic into gold. A knot was forming in her stomach; it almost hurt to look at him.
Buffy was making her way through toast and orange juice Monday morning when Dawn suddenly gasped and dropped her spoon, splashing milk and Rice Krispies onto the tablecloth. "Oh, crap! I forgot that our weekend assignment was to write a poem and be ready to read it out loud for the class!" She yanked open her backpack and pulled out a notebook, flipping hastily to a blank page. She tapped her pen impatiently on the paper, waiting for inspiration to strike, but nothing happened. Then she remembered the poem she'd written in her diary on Thursday and raced upstairs to copy it into her notebook. She had to run all the way to school, but she still managed to snag a seat next to Kevin in homeroom.
Spike awoke to an unfamiliar sensation that at first he couldn't identify. After a moment's reflection, though, it hit him. Some vestigial sense of responsibility, aided and abetted by his pride in the Slayer's trust, had prompted him to wake up and do the morning patrol as he'd promised. He pulled on his dark clothes, cheerfully recollecting Buffy's epiphany from the night before - //she doesn't love him anymore//. He left the crypt with two stakes, whistling "Patience" as he walked through the first graveyard.
Buffy was in class, trying half-heartedly to pay attention. //It's not like I'll ever need math anyway.// She was too busy recalling the dream she'd had the night before, cut off abruptly by her alarm clock's shrill insistence. She'd been dressed in liquid gold, watching a wolf prowl. It was no ordinary wolf, but there was something about it that wouldn't allow her to classify it as a werewolf of the Oz type either. It stalked almost impatiently in front of her, making tight figure eights, although there were no chains or cages to keep it where it was, in the pouring rain. She looked into its golden eyes as it came steadily towards her, padding softly on its powerful, precise paws. She reached out and her slender fingers were lost in its dense, midnight-black fur, at once coarse and comforting. Abruptly the dark fur had transformed into black leather . . . and there the dream had ended as she'd been jerked out of sleep by the deejay's inane morning chatter.
Sitting in class, she felt her heart racing as it had the night before. She'd been having quite a few odd dreams, and she'd been remembering them, which was unusual unless they were prophetic. //But these aren't, and they're not important. I've got to stick to what's important right now// she ordered herself sternly. She watched as the professor worked through a few examples of integration before another thought popped into her mind. //I wonder how Spike's doing on patrol.//
Spike had moved from Guns 'n' Roses to Widespread Panic, and was still whistling as he worked. He'd only had a few vamps to stake, and it had helped that they'd been strangers to him. He switched from whistling to humming as he made his way to the fourth cemetery. Nothing was stirring, so after a quick walk around the perimeter, he headed for the gate once more. Something glittered in his peripheral vision, and he walked toward the grave marked "Elizabeth Sumner." There, dangling from the top of the tombstone, was a thin gold bracelet set with four small emeralds. Spike shook his head in disbelief and backed away. He looked down and saw the imprint of old-fashioned ankle boots on the dirt and sparse grass of the grave.
//That's got to be bloody Darla's soddin' bracelet.// He remembered the battles that had raged, Dru tearfully trying to appropriate it, claiming Miss Edith was insisting it be her tiara. Miss Edith wanted to be a princess just like Drusilla.
Spike had a clear picture in his mind of what must have occurred only a few short hours before. He saw Dru traipsing through the graveyard, Miss Edith tucked under one arm and the bracelet she'd stolen from Darla clutched tightly in her hand. She'd wandered until she saw this grave, and she ran her fingers over the inscribed name, murmuring, "Nasty slayer." She arranged Miss Edith prettily atop the tombstone and fastened the bracelet becomingly around the doll's head. And Dru and her doll drank tea and ate cakes on the grave of a young girl whose name closely resembled the slayer's.
//Deep breaths, Buffy. Come on, you can do this.// Buffy gave herself a wholly ineffective pep talk as she approached the classroom door. //So what if Riley's there. You don't need him.// She walked in with her head held high and her eyes found him immediately, staring off into space as if he were building castles in the air. It took a while for him to notice her, and he looked over at her with an uncertain smile. She nodded back and sat down as Professor Lillian came in and started taking attendance. //Just get through these ninety minutes and you can go to the shop// she promised herself. She perked up considerably at the thought.
She was utterly absorbed in class when suddenly her thumbs pricked. //Something's coming.// There was a sensation along her spine as if three of her vertebrae had been struck with xylophone mallets. //Vampire.// Her lips parted slightly as it felt like her stomach was filled with butterflies. //Spike.// She checked the clock and the window. The moment class was dismissed, she shot out the door and saw him, his long leather coat making him conspicuous among the barely clad college students. "What's going on? What's wrong? How did you find me?" she asked hurriedly, blinking in surprise when he put an arm firmly around her waist and walked quickly down the hall.
"We need to get to the shop. I found something," was all he said.
"Well, I was going there after class anyway, after I grabbed some lunch."
"We should go now," he responded, scanning the crowd alertly, "while I can keep an eye on you."
Giles was sitting at the research table, muttering under his breath, watching Anya with a jaundiced eye as she moved perkily about the shop. His gaze lightened as it fell on Buffy, and he appealed to his slayer. "Look at her! Says I don't arrange the merchandise properly, I don't deal with customers well, I don't know what's in stock. She says I'm lucky I've got her. I'll tell you, though . . ."
"Watcher," Spike cut in, "I've got bad news."
Giles fell silent and Buffy paled a little at Spike's somber words. He reached into his duster pocket and out came a clenched fist. He opened it so that they could both see at the same time the delicate bracelet lying on his palm. Buffy peered at it and then picked it up carefully, saying, "It's gorgeous."
"It's Darla's," he answered shortly, and she dropped it as if it had come to malevolent life in her hands. Spike told them what he'd seen and deduced while patrolling that morning.
"So Darla and Drusilla are back," Giles said, leaning back in his chair. "And they're after . . ."
"Angel," Buffy replied, just as Spike said "Angelus."
Buffy looked at him in surprise. "Not you?" Spike frowned, not understanding her question. She tried to clarify. "Wouldn't Dru be here to get you back?" she asked, her throat clenching so much it cost her an effort to spit out the words.
"Don't know. Depends if the thrall's broken."
"Shouldn't it have broken as soon as Angelus became Angel again? Like, ten minutes after you carried her away?"
"You'd think so, but it lasted well past that moment," he reminded her in a rigidly emotionless voice.
Giles stepped back into the conversational ring. "But why are they back now? Could they have gotten wind somehow of the prophecy? It can't just be coincidence, can it?"
"Doubt it, mate," was all Spike could say.
Buffy was at the door in a heartbeat. "Where are you going, Buffy?" the watcher asked, worried because he wasn't able to discern what she was thinking.
"I'm going patrolling," she said tightly.
"But Spike just finished . . ."
"She means to go to the mansion," Spike interrupted Giles, his strong fingers flexing unconsciously. "I doubt they'll be there, love."
She moved so fast that she was toe-to-toe with the vampire in less than a second. "Where else would they be?" she demanded, her eyes getting frantic. "What if it's not just Angel they're after? They could be plotting something even bigger. They're so powerful! Darla's his sire, and Dru's his . . ." She broke off when Spike's face tightened at the mention of his ex-lover's name. "Spike?" she asked in a small voice, "what happens if Dru wants you back?"
Giles frowned at the silence that followed that question. Spike was fighting for control, trying to resist the urge to take her in his arms and finally tell her that he loved her. At long last, he answered her. "Nothing happens, Slayer. I'm not getting back together with her. My love for her is a thing of the past. I loved her, I lost her, I moved on."
"But you said that the thrall was Angel's - I mean Angelus's - doing," Buffy argued, unable to believe she was virtually urging him back into Drusilla's arms. "That wasn't her choice. Maybe she still loves you."
"I hope not, Slayer. I don't want to hurt her. But seeing her under his thrall nearly destroyed me, and the only way I could put myself back together was by existing without her. At least she didn't intentionally betray me," he said, his mouth twisting in a sad smile. "She didn't make me regret being in love, and that meant I was able to do it again." Spike's eyes widened as he realized how close he'd come to letting the cat out of the bag.
Buffy had her eyes down, so she didn't see Spike's panic, but Giles did and he interrupted the tete-a-tete instantly. "Buffy? I'm sure Spike needs his rest, and Dawn needs to be picked up from school in about fifteen minutes. Get her and go home. But come by the shop tonight before your patrol and hopefully we'll have figured out where Darla and Drusilla might be hiding. All right?" She nodded, and the slayer and the vampire parted at the door.
Dawn was talking to a tall boy with dread locks, laughing at something he'd said even as she turned away, saying, "Bye. See you tomorrow." The carefree expression disappeared when she saw her sister walking toward her. "Buffy? What's the - Is it Mom? Is she okay?"
"Yes," Buffy answered firmly. "It's just that there are 24/7 vamps, and now they include Drusilla and Darla, so someone will be walking you home from now on."
Dawn's face dropped a little, but she understood the danger too well to argue. As the Slayer's little sister, she was a prime target. Then she brightened. "Can it be Spike?"
"I don't know," Buffy replied, taken aback. She'd been prepared for Dawn to demand Xander, not the vampire. "I can ask him, but we've already got him doing morning patrols. I don't know when he's going to sleep, since I'm sure he'll want to do the night sweeps too."
"Okay," Dawn agreed amiably. "Just ask him. And if he can't, get Xander." Buffy could only smile at her sister's resilience.
Continue: Part 5/15