Giles felt horribly guilty, sending his slayer flying blind, when he knew Darla and Drusilla were on the loose, but he simply hadn't been able to find anything, either in his books, or through the demon grapevine, about where they might be.
As she stood, Spike was right there beside her. "Don't worry, pet, you won't be going in alone."
Willow looked up from her seat next to Giles and smiled at them as they turned to leave the shop. "Be careful, Buffy. You too, Spike," she called, and as they exited Xander entered to pick up Anya.
When she saw him, she smiled but continued on with her enthusiastic restocking; Giles, in an effort to win some quiet research time for himself, had capitulated completely to her demands to reorganize the shop. Xander sighed, knowing he wouldn't be going home with her anytime soon, and seated himself next to Willow. "Hey, G-man, what's with the frown?"
"It's Spike," Giles answered slowly.
"I know the feeling. The bleached wonder always makes me want to turn my smile upside down."
"No, it's . . . it's . . ." Giles hesitated before taking them into his confidence, turning to make sure Anya was nowhere near. "Spike's in love with Buffy," he informed her two best friends in a low tone.
"What! Has the whole world gone mad! He can't!" Xander exclaimed, overturning his chair in his rush to leap indignantly from it.
Willow looked taken aback, but she seemed fairly calm. "How do you know, Giles?" she asked.
"I . . . um . . . deduced it," he finally responded, not wanting to say that he'd read it in the other man's eyes. "And you can't deny that he's been acting quite differently around her for some time now."
They were all silent for a moment. "He's been different around all of us, don't you think?" Willow finally ventured, smiling a little.
"Will? How can you be so calm when you know he's out there with her now? Alone with her right now?" Xander demanded frantically. "Am I the only one who remembers the Angel saga in excruciating detail?"
"No," she replied a little defensively. "I just don't think that applies here. I mean, if Spike's in love with her, he's going to be good. And the soul thing is moot, no matter what happens. And, anyway, we've already seen the worst he can be, when he had the Gem of Amara, and it wasn't that bad. He just went straight for the kill, no head-games, no torturing. And now he's chipped. I don't see how this is a bad thing."
Xander could feel her logic squelching all of his arguments, but he hated to admit it. When he looked into her eyes, though, he knew she'd seen his internal admission of defeat. "Okay. He can be in love with her." She smiled. "But he can't do anything about it," he insisted, just for good measure.
Spike was having a cigarette outside his crypt when Buffy found him the next morning. "Slayer? What are you doin' here, pet?"
"I've come to patrol with you. My classes don't start until noon today."
He smiled and fell into step beside her. It took some time, but they finally came upon a trio of vampires, all of whom charged at Buffy once they heard her heartbeat in the stillness of the cemetery. Spike grinned and threw a crosscut at the blond vampire's jaw. He staked him and turned to find the other two still advancing on Buffy. She was backing away, trying to get them in positions where she could see them both simultaneously, and they were falling for it. Abruptly, she stopped looking scared and lashed out with fists of fury. Her stake found one vampire's heart even as her leg locked around the other's waist. He twisted to avoid the plunge of her weapon and flipped her on the ground. She was up in an instant, panting hard.
Spike's grin was faltering. For anyone else, the moves Buffy was displaying would be damn impressive, but something was wrong. She was a touch slower than usual, she wasn't recovering from the blows she'd been dealt as quickly. He finally realized what was really bothering him: she wasn't bantering at all. He stalked over and had his stake in the vamp's back before he could land another punch.
As the dust between them fell, Spike faced Buffy and noticed the fine sheen of sweat on her face and the slight trembling of her limbs. "Buffy? What's wrong, pet?"
"Nothing," she insisted, shaking her head as if to clear it. "It's just the heat."
"Well, if you're feelin' it, love, why don't you go home and rest a bit? I can finish up the patrol." She shook her head stubbornly, but before an all-out argument could erupt, her eyes rolled up and she collapsed.
Spike caught her as she hovered on the edge of consciousness, and picked her up to carry her home. He was on her front porch, trying to pry the key out of Buffy's tight pants pocket without dropping her or doing something that would make her slap him later, when a car pulled into the driveway. "Joyce?" he called, surprised. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no. I'm just not feeling very well," she replied as she climbed the front porch steps.
"That seems to be going around," he replied, a worried look stealing across his face as she unlocked the door. In his arms, Buffy began to stir. He stood her on her feet in the hallway and said, "You two go right upstairs and get into bed. I'll make you some tea. I'll be up in a minute." He watched in amazement as they turned to obey him instantly.
He ascended the stairs with a mug of chamomile tea in each hand. Buffy's bedroom door was wide open, and as he entered to put the tea down on her dresser, he could hear her splashing the water in the bathroom sink. He continued along the hall to Joyce's room and found her propped up in bed in faded navy pajamas. He placed the mug on the coaster on her bedside table and turned to see her patting the space in front of her. He sat gingerly, not wanting to rock the bed with his weight. "Thanks, Spike," she said, and he smiled in a way that suggested embarrassment.
"Joyce? Should you have been drivin', if you felt ill enough to come home?" he asked.
"No, I guess not. But it's not so far, and I just wanted to get home. And I couldn't ask Carol to close the gallery just so she could drive me home."
"Buffy gave me her cell phone. If you need a ride, just call. I won't mind, I promise."
She nodded and took a sip of her tea. "I appreciate that, Spike."
He looked around awkwardly and was getting up to go when her face scrunched up in pain and she pressed a shaking hand to her forehead. The attack subsided and she looked up to see his wide eyes fixed on hers. He reached out a hand and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and froze when he realized what he'd done. She smiled up at him in realization. "What was she like, Spike? Your mother?"
"A lot like you," he answered quietly, knowing he didn't need to say anymore to be understood. They sat in silence as Joyce finished her tea. He reached out a hand for her empty mug and said, "You need your rest. I'll be downstairs."
"No. Stay. Talk to me."
"Won't that hurt your head?"
"Nope. You've got a nice voice," she teased gently.
"And you've got two of the nicest ears," he responded in kind. "I remember how good a listener you were when I came here after Dru left me."
"I remember too," she nodded. "But you never told me that much about her except for how she left you. What was she like? What was it about her that made you love her?"
He looked at her askance, but her curiosity seemed genuine. "My da was a scholar. Giles-y, as Buffy said. One of his favorite texts was Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. There's a line from it that explains Dru and me better than anything I could come up with. It says, 'Certainly there is no happiness within this circle of flesh; nor is it in the optics of these eyes to behold felicity. The first day of our jubilee is death.'" He drew the words out slowly, like a prize orator. "I'd been happy as a human until everyone I loved was taken from me. It was only with Dru that I got that back. 'The first day of our jubilee is death.' When I was with her, I reveled in being dead, in the way she made me feel. It was so intense, so unadulterated. And I thought it would last forever. Dead with Dru, nothing without her. But," he laughed bitterly, "that bastard Angelus changed all that. So that's it. End of story. I lost her, and I'm not in love with her anymore."
Her hand on his knee startled him into meeting her knowing gaze. "But you are in love again." His eyes got so round she thought they'd fall out of his head. She laughed at his expression. "Mother's intuition. Go on, you can tell me," she encouraged.
Suddenly he felt fearless. He took a deep breath. "It's Buffy," he admitted. He waited for Joyce to throw something at him, to pull a stake from under her pillow, to scream at him to get out and never darken their doors again. Instead, she merely mulled over his confession, thinking over the interaction she'd seen between him and her daughter.
"Yes, you do love her, don't you?" she finally said, and he flopped onto his back in relief.
Suddenly he could hardly contain himself. "She's the one, Joyce. You know? Dru made me feel dead, like that was the best I could be, and for a while, it was. But Buffy makes me feel alive. 'When I am from her, I am dead till I be with her.' That's Sir Thomas again. That was my da's favorite line. And now I finally know what it means."
He smiled his sweetest smile at her as she leaned down to stroke his cheek. "That's the best thing I've heard in a long time, Spike," she said softly. "Now I'm going to sleep. Wake me in time for Passions?" He nodded and closed her curtains. He came back around to her bedside table to pick up her empty mug.
"I'm just going to check on Buffy," he said. "Sleep well."
Until she heard those words, Buffy was convinced that she'd been spontaneously paralyzed. //Spike's in love with me! How? Why? God, how can I make him feel like that when I'm so messed up?// But when she realized he'd be at her door in a matter of moments, she leapt into bed and drew the covers up and got to work feigning sleep.
Spike paused at the doorway to her bedroom and noticed her mug was still full. He sighed in mock exasperation //it's supposed to help her sleep//. He walked over to her bed and saw that she was indeed asleep and smiled at the sight of her at rest. He frowned when he picked up on her racing heartbeat. //She must be sicker than she thought if her heart's goin' a mile a minute even when she's sleeping.//
Spike was walking back to his crypt, feeling more tired than he could remember being in a long time. He was missing his regular daytime sleep. He'd taken Buffy to college, spent a delicious hour with Joyce analyzing Passions and basking in her silent approval, and picked up Dawn when it occurred to him that she should have an escort, given the vamp situation of Sunnydale at the present time. He was ready to drop when he made the last turn and saw Willow sitting in front of his crypt with a stake, a bottle of water, and a paperback novel. "Hey, Red," he greeted. She waved back and stood aside so he could open the door. "Why didn't you just go in? It's not like the place is locked," he queried.
"That would be rude!" she said, looking surprised. "You can't just walk into someone's house uninvited."
"I can't, but you can. If you need it, you now have my permission to come in anytime you want," he responded. She smiled up at him. He sighed inwardly, knowing he was destined not to sleep that day; he recognized her "talk face." "So, what's on your mind?"
"Spike," she began slowly, "we're friends, right?"
"Sure," he said, looking surprised and even flattered as they sat on the tomb.
"And even before, when we weren't, we somehow managed to talk the way friends do. When Dru left you and you . . . took . . . me, we ended up really talking. And then again when you came into my dorm room to bite me, you listened when I needed someone to." She turned slightly to see him looking wary but pleased, and she realized with a pang how lonely he must have been, for so long. She reached out and clasped his hand. "So don't you think we should talk now?"
He was still confused. "Umm, okay," he agreed, then waited for her to make the next move.
Willow rolled her eyes; the subtle approach obviously wasn't going to work. "Giles told us that you're in love with Buffy. Is that true?"
He shot to his feet in surprise, then mastered himself. "Yes," he said simply.
"Why haven't you told her?" He paused, trying to work out if her tone had been disapproving or not. "Well?" she prompted.
"She's had a lot goin' on in her life recently," he protested. "Her mum being sick, school, the constant patrols, that idiot boyfriend of hers dumpin' her . . ."
"What! Riley dumped her?!" Willow yelled, her voice echoing angrily in the stone enclosure.
"Yeah, simpering prat said the Slayer bit was too much for him after all. It crushed her."
"Poor Buffy," Willow's face dimmed, then brightened. "But now you're here!"
Spike blinked. "Does that mean you're on my side, Red?"
"Of course." At his evident astonishment, she smiled and told him the same things she'd told Xander. "Plus," she added, "I remember thinking you were a good boyfriend when you were talking about Drusilla. I want Buffy to have that."
"Yeah, but does Buffy want it?" he said, his tone making it only a rhetorical question. Willow smiled sympathetically.
"Well, what about you, Red? Any new blokes on the horizon?"
She shook her head. "Nope."
"Anything new and exciting in your life?" he tried again.
"Well, I joined a Wicca group at school."
"Yeah, and there's this one girl, Tara, who's really powerful, and we've been working on some spells together. She's been really great." She smiled happily, dreamily. "Remember when that thing with everybody's voices being stolen happened? She's the one who helped me. All we had to do was clasp hands."
"And . . . magic?" he asked slowly, aware of the double meaning.
"Yeah," she agreed nervously, not quite believing that Spike was the person she was suddenly coming out to. He saw her agitation and did his best to ease the tension.
"Red, you're not making this up to turn me on, are you?"
Willow looked up. His teasing words and kind eyes together allowed her, finally, to speak the whole truth. "I'm in love with her." He smiled and nodded, but she was disconcerted by his easy acceptance. "That's it? You're not going to try to talk me out of it?" she asked disbelievingly.
"Who's been trying to talk you out of it?" he demanded, on the edge of anger.
"No one. You're the first person I've told."
"Oh." He was taken aback. "Well, look, I don't know what you want me to say, but give me a little credit, ducks. I'm not some uptight, ultraconservative shit. Besides, isn't that what we've been talking about? No one can choose who they fall in love with," he said as he slung a companionable arm over her shoulder.
"Pretty Spike. Pretty Spike. Pretty Spike," Drusilla was chanting as she and Miss Edith waltzed around the dingy room. Darla was ready to slap her, but knew she couldn't afford to knock those precious visions out of Dru's feverishly bubbling brain. She looked over to the far corner of the room, where Magda sat. They'd found her putting up flyers on campus for the college Wicca group and Dru had immediately sensed great power lying dormant in the girl. Darla had turned her, leaving Dru to feed on the leader of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, who'd been captivated by her otherworldly demeanor.
Magda was good, but she was a beginner, both as a vampire and as a spell-caster. Darla frowned, her optimism fading. Who knew how long the weather would remain this way? Magda was tapping a fraction of the power that was blocking the sun for a spell Dru had found in her cards. The spell to leech the Slayer's power needed to be done quickly, so that Buffy would have no choice but to obey the prophecy and sleep with Angel. And then the real reign of terror could begin.
"Hi Dawn. Is your sister home?" Angel asked.
"No, she's got class. She should be home in about forty minutes."
"Can I come in and wait for her?"
"Nope. My mom's not feeling well, so no guests, no noise. But you can wait out here on the porch. I'll keep you company. Let me just get my homework."
She sat on the step next to him and pulled out her French workbook. He alternated between watching her and thinking about Buffy. He saw her flick a long lock of dark hair back away from her face. "You have pretty hair." She looked up with a smile. "Is that the color Buffy's is naturally?"
"No, her hair is actually a little darker than mine," she answered, waiting for the next question. But he was apparently done talking. She'd gotten through three of the workbook units when he spoke again.
"Has Buffy picked a major yet?"
"Um, no, she doesn't have to declare until the end of this year. But she really likes her poetry class."
"I gave her a book of poems once," he said, pleased by his foresight.
"Really," she said flatly. "That's great." Dawn finished her French and got to work on her geometry. //God, he's boring! Buffy's life must really have sucked for a long, long time.//
With all of her homework done and Buffy still not home, Dawn needed something to do. She turned to Angel. "What were you like as a vampire?"
He was startled. "I still am a vampire."
"Yeah, but I mean, a real vampire, without the soul."
"I don't think I should be telling you those stories."
"Why not? I'm the same age Buffy was when she was called."
"I just don't like to talk about it."
Dawn rolled her eyes in frustration and gave up. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Shouldn't Buffy be here by now?" he asked, his voice cutting over hers.
She checked her watch. Buffy should have been home twenty minutes ago. "She's probably just slaying on her way home. I'm sure she'll be home soon." They sat in a bored silence and waited.
The sound of a book falling drew the attention of both immediately. Buffy was coming down the street, weaving almost drunkenly, her eyes fixed on the sidewalk. "Buffy? What's wrong?" Dawn asked as she ran to meet her sister and pick up the textbook she'd dropped.
"I think I've got the flu," Buffy said as she wrapped her arm around her sister's shoulders to steady herself. "So stay away from me. I might be contagious."
"Not to me," Angel said, and he lifted her arm off of Dawn and wrapped it around his own waist. "Let's get you inside."
Joyce was sleeping on the couch in the den, so Angel took Buffy straight up to her bedroom. Dawn appeared, holding the yummy sushi pajamas and a wet washcloth. Angel waited in the hall while Buffy changed and got into bed, Dawn smoothing the washcloth on her hot, moist forehead. "Buffy, I think we need to talk," Angel said as he stepped back into the room. "About the prophecy."
Buffy tried to sit up and nod without dislodging the washcloth. Dawn was incensed. "Can't this wait, Angel? I mean, she's sick. She needs to rest."
"You're right, I'm sorry. I'll come by before she patrols. What time will that be?"
"I don't know," Dawn answered for her already sleeping sister, crossing her arms defiantly. "I'm not sure if she will be patrolling tonight. She looks pretty bad."
"Dawn, I'm in Sunnydale to help. I just need to talk to her."
"You want to help? Then help Spike patrol tonight and hold off on the conversation bit until tomorrow," she responded, ushering him out of the room and closing the door firmly behind her.
"Oh come on! Live a little!"
"I don't live at all, pet."
"Don't you want to see what it's like to be human in the twenty-first century?"
"And eating ice cream is going to trigger this epiphany?"
"Yes!" She leaned toward him and whispered, mock-confidentially, "It's home-made ice cream."
"I'm not going to get any peace until I agree, am I?"
"Nope!" her hair was a blur of red as she shook her head like a three-year-old.
"All right then, but if I fall asleep, you have to carry me home."
They set off for the ice cream parlor, window-shopping along the way. He was punchy from lack of sleep and she was wired from having finally confessed her true feelings for Tara, and everything they said seemed to them uproariously funny. Spike was doing his impression of Giles as a Fyarl demon ("It's a little tail. It hurts when I sit.") when they ran smack into Riley. He was clearly on a mission, and his squad was following thirty paces behind him, dressed in civilian clothes. Willow was a bit quicker on the uptake than Spike; she took his hand and pulled him into one of the side streets before he could be identified conclusively as Hostile 17. "Thanks, pet," he murmured when he finally realized what she'd done. "I guess a wanker's work is never done."
She squeezed his hand, and said, "Forget the ice cream. Do you want to meet Tara?"
"What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" Tara could hear her mother's voice in her memory, recalling the marvelous way in which her voice would bring to life words on a page. Romeo and Juliet had been her mother's favorite play - the sole claim to romance in her short, unhappy life. Tara began scrabbling through her bookshelves to locate the well-worn volume, but gave it up in frustration. She was too restless to read. She needed peace. She put a CD on and closed her eyes, willing calm throughout her body. Suddenly, there was a soft knock at her door. She opened the door with a happy smile. As she'd sensed, Willow was there, but she was holding the hand of a striking-looking man dressed in black. Tara dropped her eyes immediately and started to stutter out her greetings.
Spike could feel Willow's hand trembling nervously in his own, and it touched him that his opinion of Tara mattered to her. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and turned his attention to the other witch.
Tara knew something was off with this man that Willow was clinging to. //Why is she touching him? God, please don't let her say that's her boyfriend.// She decided to try a quick spell - more a trick than a spell - that her mother had taught her to get a glimpse of someone's aura. She looked up, needing to lock eyes with Spike so that a mental connection could be established, only to find those clear dark eyes already on hers. //He knows the trick too.// She wanted to blush, to squirm under that level gaze, but she didn't. He was watching her, clearly assessing her, but with an air of wanting to be pleased. He wasn't sitting in judgment; he was looking at her, seeing her.
Willow looked on silently as Tara and Spike examined each other, and she slumped a little in relief when Spike's face, immobile as a mask, suddenly softened; he went from unblinking gaze and sharp cheekbones to laugh lines and an easy grin. "Tara?" he asked, extending a hand for her to shake. "It's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you. And," he pulled on their joined hands a bit so that she came a few steps closer as his voice dropped, "I'm a sucker for any girl who listens to Bach."
Tara broke into a shy, lopsided grin. "He's my favorite! My mom and I knew the whole Notebook for Anna Magdalena by heart."
"Mmm," he caught and responded to her enthusiasm. "I always liked the instrumental stuff better than the vocal stuff, myself." He hummed a bit of his favorite minuet. They turned as one toward Willow, wanting to include her. She nodded gamely, although what she knew about classical music could have been written on the back of a postage stamp.
Spike had seen that Tara shared Willow's feelings, and the thought of his newfound friend's potential happiness spurred him on. He decided to give her a bit of a push. "Bach wrote a series of songs for a woman named Anna Magdalena Wilcke, who became his second wife." He paused, knowing Willow would understand what he was really saying. "She was the love he found when he'd lost the one before." He was intensely aware of the heat suddenly emanating from Willow's slender frame. "I've got to go, ducks. I'll see you soon." He ducked out of the room, leaving the two witches alone.
Alone with Tara at last, Willow couldn't seem to find words momentous enough for the occasion, words big enough to declare her love. "Tara?" she asked with an uncertain smile, "umm, about Spike? There's something you need to know about him?" Her nerves were causing her voice to rise at the end of each sentence, making her sound fifteen again. "Just hear me out before you say anything, okay? He's a vampire? He used to kill people - a lot of people. But now he can't, and he doesn't want to either. And he's a friend."
Tara smiled reassuringly at the redhead. "I thought his hand seemed kind of cold. But no one who knows his Bach could be that bad." The acceptance was simple and sweet, and all at once Willow figured out what she wanted to say.
Buffy snapped out of sleep roughly, her eyes and fingertips tingling, scaring Dawn, who'd been bent over her sister, changing the washcloth that still lay on the slayer's forehead. "Jeez!" Dawn exclaimed as she jumped back, one hand on her racing heart, the other clutching the damp cloth.
"Sorry," Buffy apologized in a near-shout.
"Hey, keep it down, okay? I think Mom's still asleep."
"How long has she been asleep? What time is it?" Buffy couldn't seem to modulate the volume of her voice; it was still much too loud for the small room and the proximity of the sisters.
"Pretty much all afternoon. It's seven-thirty now. She was dropping off when Spike and I got home, and she slept right through Angel putting you to bed. Hey, thanks for asking Spike to get me, by the way. He walked right by Kirstie when she started to put the moves on him, and she looked like she was gonna die when he came up to me. It was soooo great." She ended her soliloquy when she noticed that Buffy's nose was wrinkled thoughtfully. "What?"
"I forgot to ask Spike to get you. In fact, I forgot to ask anybody to get you. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. Even if it was just a one-time thing, now everybody thinks I'm a bad-ass because I was with him. It's kinda cool." She eyed her sister's face and tucked the blankets back around her once she sat up. "So how are you feeling? Still flu-ish?"
"No, I feel good. Almost too good. It's like all the energy I didn't have this afternoon is coming back now in spades. Still, no need to look a gift boost in the mouth. I can slay tonight."
Dawn knew better than to argue, and indeed Buffy did look remarkably better. "Can you come downstairs and keep an eye on Mom? I'll make dinner."
Buffy turned on the den lamp and tilted the shade so that the light wouldn't hit her mother's face. With a put-upon sigh, she pulled her math book out of her bag, turning to page 89. She stared blankly at the page and the symbols that adorned it. //What the hell is this? I know I suck at math, but why doesn't any of this make sense?// She dug around in her knapsack until she held the syllabus in one triumphant hand. //Oh. Section 8.9, not page 89.// She was about to flip back the pages of the textbook when something caught her eye. There was a shaded box on the page, the kind used to highlight important formulas, equations, and notations. This one was a review of the symbols used throughout the chapter. "Remember!" was at the top. The first item on the list was " is the symbol for infinity." //Okay. Great. I'll keep that in mind. Figure-eight is about how long it'll take me to get through this stupid assignment.//
Spike walked to the Magic Box, trying to shake himself out of his sleepy state. He entered to find Anya chatting with a customer in her over-eager voice and Giles mumbling to himself as he paced the second floor with an open text in his hand. He nodded at the ex-demon and went up to talk to the Watcher. "Well? Any leads on where Darla and Co might be holed up?" he interrogated Giles.
"Ah. Spike. No, not as of yet. But I'm sure you and Buffy will find them, if not tonight, then certainly in the very near future."
"Don't think Buffy'll be patrolling tonight. She damn near fainted this morning, and she had an afternoon full of classes. She and Joyce and the Niblet are probably having a Summers girls night in. S'alright. Not a lot due to rise tonight - I can take care of it by myself." The door chime sounded, and they were surprised to see Angel walk in.
Spike would have been content to watch Angel try in vain to detach Anya from her customer all night, but Giles called out a greeting from above. Angel took the stairs three at a time, as a way of warming up before patrol. "I just wanted to let you know that Buffy's sick. She won't be patrolling tonight. I'll take care of it."
"Bravo. Standing ovation. Very moving." Spike stood there in the shadows, his eyes mocking, his body leaning indolently against a pillar.
Giles tried to preclude a confrontation by saying, "Yes, I know about Buffy. Spike told me." Then he added mildly, "The two of you will patrol together."
It was hard for Giles to decide which vampire was more pissed off. Angel's eyes narrowed but he stayed silent. Spike, as usual, did not.
"Are you daft? There's no way I'm going anywhere with this git!" He was rocking his weight from his heels to the balls of his feet and back again, clearly itching for a fight. He didn't notice Anya's customer looking up nervously at the second floor and backing away slowly from the counter.
At Angel's low, sibilant hiss, "Spike . . ." the man turned tail and fled.
"That's it! If you two want to be stupid males, at least do it where the customers won't hear you! Training room - now!" Anya shouted. She'd just been on the verge of convincing the man that blue phoenix feathers, five times more expensive than the green ones, were five times as effective. It was a lie, of course, but unattractive men were so gullible.
//No no no no no.// Buffy stopped again. //I haven't been splashed with demon blood. So why am I hearing everyone's thoughts again?// All around her were whispers, voices.
"Why does that girl keep stopping and looking around?"
"If you'd done what I asked, you wouldn't be in this mess."
//Wow, these people must lead boring lives if these are their secret thoughts. Maybe I should put one of them to the test.// She walked up to the nearest man. "Hi."
"Hello," he answered, looking surprised. She waited, but none of his thoughts transmitted themselves to her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, reaching out a hand.
"Fine!" she blurted out - //God, I must look like such an idiot.// "I just wanted to know if you knew what time it is."
He backed up a step and consulted his watch. "It's almost nine. Um, is there a reason you're shouting?"
"Loud concert last night - still can't hear very well" was the best she could come up with.
//What am I hearing if not thoughts?// She picked up the pace and started to jog in the direction of the magic shop. //Giles will know.// Suddenly it hit her. //I'm not Miss Cleo. I'm just bat-girl. I've got super-hearing all of a sudden.// She needed quiet, a little island of peace so that she could sort this out before patrol. She ducked into the alley behind the shop, heading for the back door that led into the training room.
She paused with her thumb on the latch when she heard Angel's voice. "What's the matter, Spike? Didn't you get the memo? I was in hell, and now I've been forgiven. I do good now. And I don't particularly care if you don't like me being back in Sunnydale." His tone was more than mocking; it was downright provocative.
Spike's voice was hard and flat and curiously hollow. "I'm not playing around. You can taunt all you like. After what you've done, you think a little jaunt in hell is going to make it go away? It won't - you left her behind to suffer."
Angel's smirk was apparent in his voice. "Don't tell me you've got a crush on Buffy? Because that's just so -"
"I'm talking about Dru, you fuck!" Spike was choking with fury. "You got her under your thrall . . ."
"No," Angel interrupted angrily. "That was Angelus. That wasn't me."
"Give it a rest, you bastard. You can't lie to me. You and I both know the soul is just a crutch. Angel and Angelus are one. It's just a matter of who's in ascendence and who's in abeyance. I've got both William and Spike inside of me; I call myself by the demon's name, but you can't even admit that your demon is always with you. You bloody coward!" A harsh sob ripped out of his throat, but when he spoke his voice was controlled, at once low and deadly. "Rape." He over-enunciated, and the ugly word rang out so sharply that Buffy's head throbbed as she crouched outside the door. "That's what it was. You got her under your thrall and you raped her up and down. She had no will of her own and you turned her into your whore."
"Oh, she was my whore before then too," Angel responded, his own fury fully roused.
Spike's voice was suddenly weary and infinitely sad. "Not after she met me."
"Well, isn't this touching? A soulless murderer worrying about rape."
Buffy opened the door a crack and watched as Spike whirled and charged, his tears and his left hook catching Angel by surprise. Every punch he landed was retribution, every blow he received penance for not being able to shield his princess.
Angel's head thunked loudly on the wall, and Giles came running. Flinging the door open, he cried, "Stop! I will not have you fighting over Buffy."
Spike clumsily wiped his face dry with his hand as Angel sat up slowly. "Buffy?" he asked, his eyes darting from Spike to Giles and back again.
Spike walked over to the watcher and shepherded him gently out of the training room, closing the door after him. "I knew you had a crush on her. Do you really think she'll . . ."
"I don't have a crush on her. I'm in love with her."
Buffy nearly fell over. She'd almost talked herself into believing that what she'd heard him tell her mom had been a dream, or that she'd misunderstood. Angel was apparently having trouble digesting this information as well. "So if you've got a thing for Buffy, what was all this about Dru?"
Spike's rage rose again. "That was about you hurting someone who couldn't defend herself. That was about me loving her and her loving me and you needing to destroy that even as you hid behind your game face."
"And after all that, now you want Buffy?" Buffy couldn't help wondering if Angel was being deliberately obtuse.
"Yes. People can fall in love more than once."
"Look at that. It thinks it's people."
There was a long silence after Angel's comment. "You know," Spike said finally, in a voice that mimicked calm almost perfectly, "I think that's the first time that you've ever been funny with your Angel-face on. Typical that it should be at my expense."
Angel had gotten his bearings back. He stood up slowly, and pushed into Spike's personal space, deliberately looming over him. "You know you don't have a chance in hell with her."
"That's for her to decide."
"There's nothing to decide. She and I are soulmates. She'll never love anyone the way she loves me."
"You do know she moved on, right?" Spike's voice was cocky, but he was shaken by the certainty in Angel's eyes.
"To Riley? Please. Anyone can see that she doesn't really love him." Angel eyed his step-childe narrowly. "Just like she'll never love you." Spike pushed against Angel's chest with one hand, but the older vampire caught his wrist in a tight grip, not allowing him to leave. "We were two halves of the same person. We were one. We are one."
Spike had thought his emotional roller-coaster had come to a complete stop, but with a sudden jerk it zoomed forward again. He broke free contemptuously of Angel's restrictive grasp and spat, "Listen to yourself! Do you know what you just said? You probably think you sound like some fucking romance novel, but what you sound like is a bleeding idiot! 'We were two halves of the same person!' So where did the other half of her go when she was with you? The half you couldn't be bothered with - the person she was with her friends, with her family, with people who didn't know she was saving their hides every night? You forced her to be less than herself."
Angel stared at him in disbelief. "Wow. Talk about getting it all wrong."
"No, I don't think so, mate. I've seen you in action. You need weakness. And she was ripe for the picking. Hell, she still had baby fat in her cheeks! When you met her she had a new Watcher, new friends, and her mum didn't even know she was the Slayer."
"And now?" Angel's words were clearly a challenge.
Spike rose to meet it. "And now she's sure of what she means to all of them. She knows her own value. And she's not going to fall for some pretty words and a melancholy face." He bent his head to light the cigarette that was suddenly between his lips. "I'm going to patrol." He turned and headed for the back door just as Buffy nudged it closed.
Continue: Part 6/15