"Well, you're here with me. That's one. And the sky problem's been fixed. That's two. But I wanted to go with you to the shop, pet."
She smiled down at him and lowered her head so that they were nose-to-nose. "You still can - just take the underground railroad."
He was a little startled to see her waiting there when he pushed aside the manhole cover, located in the darkest corner of the Magic Box basement. She grinned at his bemused expression. "Yeah, I've been keeping an eye on you for awhile."
"I told you you knew," he shot back. She extended her hand, and he wrapped his around her forearm and let her help him up and into her eager arms.
"Yes, you're very smart," she said against his mouth; "now shut up."
Their first entrance as a couple made virtually no dramatic splash. It was Spike alone who seemed to cause a sensation. Thomas's letter was falling apart from being handled so much; Willow looked up from reading it for the thirty-seventh time. "Did you know you had a soul, Spike?" she chirped in lieu of a greeting.
"That's rot, Red," he answered amiably. "Don't you think I would've known?"
"But how else do you explain that the sun's out again?"
Buffy's hand stayed comfortably in his as he gestured his ignorance. "I don't know, ducks, but there's got to be something else. Where's that big box of books?"
Giles emerged from the back room. "I just got off the phone with the hospital. They said Joyce should be sleeping all day, so no visitors tonight. If she's alright today, we may be able to bring her home the day after tomorrow." He smiled encouragingly at Buffy, who was looking positively radiant. She lost a little of her glow, however, when he continued to speak, his thoughts on what he'd heard Spike say. "So that means we've got all day to research what has happened."
"Can't we just say 'yay for Buffy'?" she asked, trying to look as pathetic as possible.
"Take me to the back room and have your wicked way with me and I'll say it," Spike murmured in her ear, and looking sad became impossible.
"Why don't we start with what you observed this morning?" Giles said, unable to keep a slight smile entirely off his face. //I've never seen her like this. Not that I'm thrilled she's with a vampire. Again. But the fact that she came here with him, that she's letting us all know they're together, no coy pretense, no spurious disavowals. She's trusting us with her happiness. She trusts him. And she's finally trusting herself again.//
Spike went first. "Nothin' unusual in the sewers. Same old lowlifes, same poker games even."
Buffy chimed in, "Yeah, well above ground, it was like a big old vamp ring-around-the-rosy happened."
"Meaning?" Giles frowned.
"'Ashes, ashes, we all fall down,'" Xander sing-songed, causing Anya to put her hand to his forehead to check for fever, biting her lower lip worriedly.
"Piles of dust. Like everybody in Sunnydale dumped their vacuum cleaner bags out in the street."
"So all the dumb vamps got burned?" Anya asked happily.
"Probably not just the dumb ones. I'll bet a lot of the rabble-rousers got crispy too. It's not like there was a warning."
"Yes there was," Spike cut in suddenly as it clicked. "The stars, love. Last night was the first time since this whole thing started that they've been visible." He pounded the tabletop in frustration. "I should have realized sooner. Might have been able to skip the fright this morning. Took twenty years off my life."
"So what's to research?" Xander asked. "If the sun is shining and the bad guys went poof, what do we need to figure out? I say we play ultimate frisbee instead."
"We still don't know what brought the sun-spell to an end," Giles reminded him. "And I don't know what that prophecy really means. Let's start researching." He divided up the books and they all began to read diligently.
It was Xander who found the prophecy that the Council had insisted was in one of the texts they'd sent. "I got it! Sweet merciful McGillicuddy, I found it! 'Two champions, broken and reborn, alone can heal the skies. If affinity is understood, no power can harm the balance of the world.'"
"Yes," breathed Giles, "that's more like it. How ever did you find that?" he asked, looking at the dense text that spilled into dark columns in the book he was reading.
"It was in a shaded box marked 'Prophecy,'" Xander answered, holding up his book so they could all see. Tara was the first to give in and laugh.
Dusk was falling, Dawn had finished her homework, and Giles was getting ready to drive her home and then take her to Wendy's for a second straight sleepover night. Once they were in the car, Dawn had Giles take a slight detour, and together they packed Spike's stuff and brought it back to Revello Drive.
Alone in the shop, Buffy and Spike were waiting for Angel to join them for a routine patrol. "I'm glad it was you in the prophecy," she said softly as she climbed onto his lap.
"And I'm glad that sex wasn't included," he answered.
She halted her head's descent towards his. "What?"
"The prophecy said nothing about sex. And that means that what happened last night was entirely ours. You came to me of your own free will. And -" he was cut off by the pressure of Buffy's mouth on his.
She pulled back moments later, not wanting to start what they wouldn't have time to bring to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. "Let's do some pre-patrol training," she said, and led the way to the back room.
They were fighting with the same abandon that had been so exhilarating the previous night. And yet the same tenderness that had dominated before still held sway; they allowed themselves to get no closer than a hair's breadth to actually striking each other. Angel's entrance startled them so much that Buffy's heel caught Spike squarely in the shin, and his fist crashed into her cheekbone; they both cried out, more from surprise than real pain.
Angel darted forward. "Buffy, are you alright?"
"Fine, thanks," she said, "and ready to patrol."
He nodded but didn't move towards the exit. "Buffy, I came here through the underground tunnels. I was going through the one that connects the library with the strip mall -"
"That's the long way round," Spike interrupted; "why didn't you just take the tunnel that leads to the shop?"
Angel studiously ignored his step-childe, "- and as I passed the branch that leads to the art museum, I sensed something."
"What was it?" she asked.
"My sire. Darla."
She was so wrapped up in bewailing the destruction of her plans to recover Angelus that she nearly didn't sense the three of them approaching. Drusilla only had eyes for Miss Edith, whose corkscrew curls needed detangling. Angel, Buffy, and Spike stood in the doorway for a moment until Darla looked up with a deliberately casual smile. Angel was instantly weak-kneed. Ever since he'd drunk the bright blood spilling across her breasts the night she'd turned him, desire for her had coursed through his veins. She was more bewitching than any singing siren. He stepped towards her. Buffy stood beside Spike, gazing, as he did, at Drusilla. The darkhaired vampire looked warily confused when she saw Angel, but when she spotted Spike, her trepidation vanished, and she whispered, "My Spike." He held his arms open, and she flew into them, cutting off Angel's path to Darla.
Angel felt the old rage at Drusilla's defection burning through his desire for Darla. As his creation, she should have stayed loyal to him. But she was murmuring, "Spike . . . Spike . . . Spike," while her former lover held her close. Angel glanced at Buffy. //At least there's no way in hell he'll ever get her. Not if he's going to let Dru slobber all over him.//
Buffy waited for the feeling of betrayal to hit her, but it never came. The arms with which Spike held Drusilla were so tenderly fraternal, the expression on his face so sweetly solicitous, that all Buffy could feel was wonder at his capacity for love, both giving and inspiring it. For Drusilla was nestled against him, her cool cheek resting on his - //Dru must be a lot taller than me; the top of my head only reaches to his chin// - and an expression of peace on her face.
The way in which she clung to him, trembling, alerted Spike to the fact that his princess had suffered. For one brief moment, when she pressed her cheek to his, he thought that she'd forgiven him for running out on her. But when she pulled back to look into his eyes, he knew better. The expression in her violet eyes was all too familiar to him; it was the relatively carefree gaze of lunacy. He was grateful that her broken mind had kept her from understanding the true depths of degradation and extremes of torture that Angel had inflicted on her through the thrall, but he was bitterly, guiltily aware that her madness, the madness Angel had sown, meant that the woman supported by the protective parentheses of his arms had no idea that he'd betrayed her. He felt emotion choking him up as Dru rested her forehead against his in the old familiar gesture.
It was Darla who broke the silence, wresting Spike's gaze from Drusilla, and focusing all attention on her. "Isn't this cozy?"
Spike pushed Dru behind him as he turned to face Darla; Dru laced her fingers through his as she stood at his back.
Buffy stepped forward to engage Darla herself. "What are you doing in Sunnydale, Darla?" she asked, something primal uncoiling inside of her as she mentally prepared herself for battle with the Master's favorite and most powerful childe.
"You're slower than I thought, Slayer," Darla sneered. "I've been here for weeks, just waiting for you to obey the prophecy I wrote and jump your ex's bones and restore him to his former glory - and his place by my side."
Spike couldn't believe what he was hearing. "For an emasculating bint, you're dumber than dirt. It doesn't take a shag from Buffy to unleash your boy Angelus."
"No? What does it take, Spike?" she asked. A cold smile grew on her face at his silence. "Cat got your tongue? How about stake got your heart?" she said, unsheathing a hideously long wooden stake and pointing it at him. "I think it's long enough to get both you and your little Ophelia behind you, don't you? Start talking."
Spike shot an anguished look at Buffy and began to speak, edging away from Dru as subtly as he could. "Vamp powers," he said slowly, sensing Buffy preparing herself to attack. "You can have Angelus whenever you want . . . any way you want. All you need is the thrall," he said just as Buffy launched herself at Darla and knocked the stake from her hand.
Buffy heard Angel shout "Spike!" angrily, but then she heard a sound like she'd never heard before. It was Dru's shriek of shame and rage when the word "thrall" unlocked her memory, and images of her rape and forced submission burned once more into her consciousness.
Spike turned his attention from Buffy's battle against Darla to Drusilla just in time to keep her from attacking Angel. "No, love, please, love, don't, pet, please, pet," he pleaded softly, holding her close while she sobbed out her rage; he knew that in the emotional state she was in, she'd be no match for her sire. "It's done, it's over, he won't hurt you again," he soothed, but Dru knew he was lying, that there was nothing to prevent Angel from using the thrall again. Her beautiful face was a mess of tears as Spike tenderly smoothed the hair back from her brow.
His gentle touch eased her shuddering sobs and restored to her the power of coherent speech. "Angel hurt me," she told Spike. "He hurt me everywhere. And he made me hurt you." Buffy heard Dru's words, the high, childlike voice in sharp contrast to the grunts she and Darla made as they grappled fiercely. Angel stood paralyzed as the two most important women in his life fought to the death.
Spike's reply was pitched low, meant for Dru's ears only. "Doesn't matter what he did to me, love. Let me help you now," he said, clasping her hand.
She looked deep into his eyes and saw his love for her there. "Do you forgive me then, my Spike?" she whispered in awe, her long fingers tracing his cheekbone over and over again.
Spike closed his eyes, unable to meet her candid gaze any longer, and his voice, choked with the consciousness of her benediction and his own contemptible, galling guilt, grew louder in a crescendo of fury. "I've got nothing to forgive you for. It was all him. Angel was the one who used you. He raped you and took away your will. What he did is unforgivable. But I knew all along that you loved me, pet. Rest easy on that score. But Angel . . ."
Buffy couldn't help hearing Spike's words, and Darla took advantage of her distraction, beating on her mercilessly. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Angel square his shoulders and pull out a stake, an unreadable expression on his face. Buffy maneuvered so that she was facing him and he'd have a clear shot at Darla's back. But he marched past them and raised the stake high, clearly aiming for Spike's unprotected back.
Drusilla was standing in the charmed circle of Spike's arms, his duster pulled tight on his body to accommodate her slender figure as well. It was only at the last moment that she raised her eyes from Spike's dear, pained face to see her sire looming over them, apoplectic with rage. Angel was infuriated that Spike, having already taken Drusilla from him, was detailing the thrall in an effort to steal Buffy as well. His stake began the downward plunge to Spike's heart. //No!// thought Buffy, panting heavily as she delivered another kick to Darla's head. //No!// thought Dru. She was not going to lose her darling boy to Angel again, not when she'd just found him, loving her despite what she'd done. She twisted Spike away desperately, but the duster that enveloped them both hampered her mobility, and all she could do was pivot them, leaving her in her lover's place. She looked up into Spike's eyes just as the tip of Angel's stake found her heart.
The stake clattered noisily on the ground as she disappeared, and Angel stepped back in shock. Spike sank to his knees, a cry of despair ripped from his throat, covered in the dust of his first love. Darla hissed as the stake Buffy held missed her heart by inches. She swept Buffy's feet out from under her and the slayer fell hard. Darla kicked her once more for good measure and then fled the building. Buffy was in no shape to go after her.
She crawled over to Spike, still on his knees, his face grey and his brilliant hair muted by the dust. She reached out to touch his shoulder blade, sharp and prominent even through the duster, but he remained utterly still.
Angel ran up to Buffy, needing to explain. "You saw, didn't you, Buffy? You saw her throw herself on my stake. I never meant to hurt her."
Neither Buffy nor Spike bothered to dispute him, despite their knowledge of how intimately he'd hurt her with the thrall. "Buffy . . ." he tried again, only to be startled by her shout.
"What the fuck were you going after Spike for?"
"I . . . I . . ."
"Darla's beating me to a bloody pulp three feet away and you decide to attack Spike?!"
Unwilling to admit his motives, Angel couldn't find an answer. He turned and left the building.
Continue: Part 11/15