Master of Puppets

by Saber ShadowKitten

Part Fourteen

The scene that Joyce came upon as she entered the waiting room destroyed what little composure she had left. Angel sat on the floor with Spike almost on his lap, the older vampire holding his childe's head to his shoulder, as he rested his cheek on the peroxide-blond's hair. She could hear a quiet, soothing sound coming from him as he gently rocked side to side.

Willow sat behind Angel in a chair, her legs curled under her, as she repeatedly ran her fingers through his dark hair. Cordelia was leaning against Xander, whose arm was around her shoulder, her hand clasping his other hand on top of his knee. Faith was studiously playing with a Styrofoam cup, shredding it into tiny pieces, while Giles sat with his face in his hands, elbows resting on his knees.

"Anything?" Joyce asked, the tears she'd been holding back streaming down her face.

"Joyce," Giles said, rising to his feet and taking the woman into his arms. "I'm sorry, no word a-as of yet." She nodded against his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut to try and stop the pain.

The day slowly passed with little change in the small group's positions or Buffy's condition. The only new occurrence was the arrival of the Chesterton police, who questioned the group and then left to file a report. Joyce had left a message with Buffy's father's answering service, but he had yet to call or come to the hospital. Spike was basically catatonic, his demon face hidden by Angel's embrace the entire time. They were each in various stages of grief, holding onto hope by a fragile thread. None of them allowed to think of what would happen if the tiny, blond Slayer didn't survive.

"Mrs. Summers?"

Six heads shot up at the doctor's voice. Only Angel and Spike remained unchanged as he began to speak. "I'm Dr. Fields. If you would come with me so that I might explain your daughter's condition," he said.

"No," Joyce shook her head. "Anything you have to say to me, you say to everyone. We're all family."

Dr. Fields nodded. "Mrs. Summers, your daughter has experienced acute trauma around the heart due to a gunshot wound at close range. The bullet entered her chest at close to a forty-five degree angle and exited out of her back. She lost a lot of blood and had no pulse or respiratory functions for close to ten minutes before she entered the emergency room. We immediately intubated her and..."

"Skip to the point -- is she alive?" Giles interrupted, holding both Joyce's and Faith's hands tightly in his own.

"She is currently being kept alive by life support," Dr. Fields answered bluntly.

"Can we see her?" Joyce asked in a trembling voice. "All of us?"

The doctor studied the group for a moment, then nodded. "No more than two at a time," he told them. "She's in ICU, room 106."

"Thank you," Giles said before the doctor walked away. "Joyce?"

"Let's go see my baby," Joyce said to him. He nodded and rose with her, looking down at Angel. The dark-haired vampire shook his head no to the unasked question of whether or not Spike should go first.

The two adults left silently, leaving the rest in stunned distress.


"Hey Buffy," Angel said as he half-carried Spike into her hospital room. The blond vampire's head was down, effectively concealing his ridges, though he was still unaware they needed to be concealed. Angel fought down his pain at seeing Buffy hooked up to the various machines, the steady beeping of the monitor the only sign of life in the room. "I brought Spike in to see you," he continued conversationally as he led Spike over to the side of the bed. "He's acting kinda stupid, so I thought you might wanna slap him upside the head for me."

Carefully, he put Spike into the chair next to Buffy, then turned his attention to the small girl. "Oh, Buffy," Angel sighed, reaching out to brush his hand against her cheek. "Don't leave us."

A low growl emitted from Spike and Angel looked down at him. The blond vampire's eyes flashed a warning, the growl becoming more pronounced until Angel removed his hand. Then Spike rose to his feet, pushing Angel away from Buffy with a sharp snarl.

Angel quickly back-peddled across the room to the doorway, away from the animalistic vampire and his mate. He watched as Spike turned to Buffy after a final growl, then slid his duster off of his shoulders. The younger vampire gently covered Buffy with the soft leather, making cooing sounds of worry as he climbed into the bed next to her.

"Angel?" Willow came up beside the dark-haired vampire. He looked down at her and gestured into the room with his head. She peeked around the corner and observed Spike nuzzling Buffy's neck, avoiding the wires and tubes running through her body. She could barely hear the muffled sounds and she watched as his fingers interlaced with the Slayer's, his body as close to hers as he could get.

"He's lost all sense of humanism," Angel told her quietly. "The demon inside of him has reverted to its base, animal-like instincts."

"Is he dangerous?" Willow asked, her own hand seeking and finding Angel's.

"Not really," Angel replied, running his other hand over his face. "As long as I'm here."

"How are you holding up?" she said, concern tinging her voice for him.

"I'm tired," he confessed, pulling her out of the doorway and leaning against the wall. "I haven't done this much as a sire in over a hundred years. Add to that the fact that I now have my soul...I've got all sorts of other concerns I didn't have before when it comes to Spike."

"Like what?"

"Like am I helping him or hindering? Should I force my control on him or let him come to me? Does he even want my help?" Angel replied. "Although, as he is right now, that sort of makes my concerns a moot point."

"Well, I don't know how the whole sire-childe thing works, but I think you're doing a good job," Willow told him. "Over the past twenty-four hours, you've saved his life, protected him from Drusilla, comforted him earlier and held him because he needed to be held. Now, you're watching over him again and I think, in the end, he'll be grateful to you."

Angel gave her a small smile. "You're a wonder, you know that?"

She blushed. "I'm just telling the truth." In response, he brought her hand up to his lips and brushed a kiss over her knuckles.

Angel saw Joyce returning with someone. "Joyce," he said in greeting, stepping back into the doorway.

"Angel, I don't think you've met Buffy's father, Hank," Joyce said, introducing the man beside her.

"No, but Buffy's talked about you," Angel said, extending his hand. "I'm sorry we couldn't meet under better circumstances."

"You're telling me," Hank replied, shaking Angel's hand. "Hello, Willow."

"Hi, Mr. Summers," Willow greeted, scooting into the doorway with Angel to help him.

Angel turned his attention to Joyce. "Spike's in the room right now. I don't know if you can..."

"Spike?" Hank asked with a frown. "Who's Spike?"

"Buffy's, um, boyfriend, I guess," Willow answered, looking up at Angel for clarification.

"He's a little more than that, but that's not why..."

"I want to see Buffy," Hank stated, moving to push past Angel.

Angel stood his ground, not budging under the smaller man's advances. He continued trying to explain the circumstances to Joyce without alerting Hank. "Joyce, he's ‘grr' as the girls say," he said. "He's also very protective..."

"You know, Hank," Joyce said, understanding what Angel was implying. "Why don't we give Spike a few more minutes alone. He only just got in there and..."

"Forget it," Hank said, moving Willow out of the doorway. Angel's eyes flashed dangerously and Joyce went to tug on her ex-husband's arm, but he was undaunted. Taking a step closer, he glared up at Angel, then ducked under his arm before he could be stopped. Angel swore and Willow made a squeal of panic as the dark-haired vampire turned to grab Hank, but it was too late. Buffy's father had stepped far enough into the room to see Spike clearly. "What the hell?!"

Spike shot from the hospital bed at Hank's outburst, snarling wildly as he stood protectively in front of Buffy. His body was half-hunched forward and his hands were up, his unbandaged one in a position to claw. His yellow eyes practically glowed in the dim room, his fangs glinting in what light there was.

Hank stumbled backwards as Angel went around him, putting himself between Spike and Buffy's father. The older vampire slipped into his own game face and growled back at Spike. Joyce and Willow both pulled Hank out of the hospital room and into the hallway. Slowly backing away, Angel kept his powerful rumble up until he was in the doorway, where he stopped completely.

Spike stopped his own snarls and sniffed the air. Then he growled a short, final warning before turning back to the bed. He carefully climbed back in beside Buffy, nudging her cheek with his nose and cooing at her.

Angel took a deep breath and let his human mask descend before turning to face the three in the hallway. He took in Joyce's slight confusion, Hank's fear and Willow's panicked gaze and he sighed, "I am getting way too old for this."

Willow couldn't help but burst out laughing and even Joyce chuckled at his statement. He gave the redhead a wry grin, then motioned to Hank. "I think Hank is about to become a member of the...what does Xander call the group again?"

"The Scooby Gang," Willow supplied.

"Wh-wh-what was that?" Hank sputtered, staring beyond Angel to the scene within the room.

"That, Hank, was a vampire," Joyce informed him. "As well as Buffy's boyfriend."


"I think he's broken," Willow whispered to Angel. He chuckled.

"Come on, Hank," Joyce said. "Let's go into the waiting room. Rupert can explain this much better than anyone can...well, except for Angel." She gave the dark-haired vampire a small smile, then led a still stuttering Hank away.

"I should go help," Willow said. "Or Giles is liable to speak English and no one will understand him." She grinned at her own joke.

"Go ahead," Angel told her after dropping a kiss on her head. "I'll be here if you need me."

"I'll always need you," she replied, then turned and left.

Angel's heart swelled as he watched her go. Then he heard Spike whimper from inside the room and said, "I know, Spike. I'd feel the same way if it was Willow."


"Ok, let me see if I've got this straight," Hank said an hour later. "Buffy is a Vampire Slayer who is in love with a vampire and she fights against evil on a daily basis."

"That about sums it up," Xander said. "Other than you forgot that we help her."

"We help her, Xander," Cordelia said from her seat next to him. "You go for food."

"And a lot of help you've been these past nine months, Miss Chase," he replied. "All those late night tanning sessions sure do help stop the Hellmouth from overflowing."

"I'll have you know I've personally saved at least three people from vampire attacks," she told him. "And they were ugly people, too."

"Your good deeds n-not withstanding, Cordelia," Giles interrupted before the next war between them broke out. "Do you have any further questions, Mr. Summers?"

"I do," Hank said, turning to Joyce. "Why do you let my daughter hang around with these kooks?"

"Hank," Joyce said patiently. "I know it's a lot to swallow in one night, but everything they've said is true. You saw Spike with your own eyes. You heard Angel."

"I think it is more than a lot to swallow," he replied. "How can you let my baby be in there with that monster?"

"Spike's not a monster!" Willow declared. "Well, not anymore, anyway. Not since he fell in love with Buffy."

"Good help, Red," Faith said. "Why don't you tell him about her knockin' boots with Deadboy and his soul-lossage and following reign of terror?"

"Because you just did, Faith," Willow replied. "And leave Angel alone."

"Why? Because you're slappin' skin with him now?" Faith asked.

"Watch it, Faith, or you're going to be wearing a very small pelt," the redhead growled.

"Ladies," Giles said loudly. "That is quite enough."

"Sorry, Giles," Willow said immediately, ducking her head.

"Yeah, sorry, G-man," Faith added a few seconds later.

"Now, Mr. Summers, once more, do you have any further questions?" Giles asked after reprimanding the girls with a look.

Hank opened his mouth to say something when they all heard a loud commotion coming from the direction of Buffy's room. "WILLOOOOW!" they heard Angel yell, followed by a crash.

Willow leapt to her feet and took off down the hallway, Faith on her heels. They rounded the corner and saw Angel pinning Spike flat on the floor, the younger vampire trying to buck his sire off. Faith ran over and added her strength by holding down Spike's legs as the redhead skidded to a stop in front of them.

"Do you have any lavender?" Angel ground out, his teeth clenched tightly together. "Or passion flower?"

"Yes," Willow said, turning and sprinting back the way she came for her backpack. She bypassed the rest of the group as they came hurrying down the hall.

"What is it?" Joyce asked as she came upon the three on the floor.

"Buffy went into arrest," Angel said, his face flickering to his demon face as Spike got a good hit with the back of his head to the dark-haired vampire's jaw. "I had to take him out of there." Xander dropped to one side and grabbed Spike's arm, holding it down. Giles did the same on the other side, leaving the blond vampire only able to snarl loudly at everyone.

Joyce walked around them and gasped when she looked into Buffy's room, seeing numerous doctors and nurses working frantically. "Oh god, my baby."

Hank stood there, wide-eyed, as Willow came tearing back up the corridor. She practically slid across the floor on her knees with her bag, her hands already digging through it. She tossed out zip- lock baggies filled with herbs until she found the one requested. "Lavender," she said, opening it up.

"Crumble a good amount up," Angel instructed, shifting his body so he could move his arm easily. He shifted into game face and bit into his wrist, ripping some of the skin away so it bled freely. Dropping back the human mask, he said, "Mix it in with my blood." Spike threw his head back again and Angel grunted in pain. "Hurry, Willow."

Willow did as told and then Angel shoved his wrist into Spike's face. The blond vampire's nostrils flared and he sank his fangs into his sire's wrist, sucking greedily. "What are you doing, Angel?" Cordelia asked, a worried look on her face.

"Lavender is a calming herb," Willow explained, pulling out one of her spellbooks. She quickly flipped to a certain section and ran her finger down the pages until she found what she was looking for. Under her breath, she chanted,

"Goddess of the moonlight,
goddess of rest,
sooth this creature's savage breast.
Your calming influence is what we need,
an it harm none,
so mote it be."

The redheaded witch made a gesture and a blue light glowed in Spike's eyes. He slowly stopped sucking on Angel's wrist, his body no longer trying to throw anyone off as the magick took effect. Angel gently pulled his arm away and Spike lay his head on the ground, panting heavily, albeit unnecessarily.

"Thanks," Angel said, climbing off the prone vampire and slumping down against the wall. "Damn," he mumbled, bringing his own wrist up to lick the blood off. He was extremely light-headed. Spike took a lot of blood from him, even in that short amount of time.

"Angel?" Willow said worriedly. "Are you ok? You look pale. I mean, paler than normal."

"Yeah," he replied. "I just need to, soon."

"Cordy and I will go, Deadboy," Xander said, rising to his feet. He took two steps towards Cordelia and froze. "Oh god, Buffy."

Five heads whipped towards where Joyce was standing, no one believing that they'd forgotten about the Slayer. Hank was still paralyzed in his spot, staring down at Spike. "Joyce?" Giles said, rising to his feet and going to her side.

The noises from inside the hospital room were now loud enough to be heard in the hallway.



"Three minutes, five seconds."

"Up twenty. Clear!"

And through it all, they heard a steady, high-pitched beep.

Part Fifteen

"There it is! Alright, give her six grams of..."

Joyce slumped in relief against Giles as the doctor's instructions were carried out. Willow had crawled over to Angel and they were holding each other tightly, as were Cordelia and Xander. Faith sat by the calmed Spike, silently throwing up a prayer of thanks to whoever would listen. And Hank still stood there, shaken to his very core.

"We should probably go back to the waiting room," Giles suggested.

"Yeah," Xander said, slightly choked up. "We're gonna go get that blood for you, Angel."

"Thanks," Angel replied, giving the teen a grateful look. Xander nodded and left with Cordelia, arms still around each other.

"What do we do about Spike?" Faith asked. "And the statue over there?"

"I'll take care of Spike," Angel said.

"I'll help," Willow told him.

"Faith, why don't you h-help Mr. Summers back to the, er, waiting room," Giles said.

"Will do," Faith said, standing. She took Hank's arm and started leading him away. "Come on, Mr. S. Let's go get some of that sludge they call coffee here."

"Joyce, come now," Giles said, wrapping his arm around her waist.

"That was too close, Rupert," Joyce murmured. "I'm not ready for my baby to die yet."

"Nor I, Joyce," Giles replied. "Nor I."

"Angel, what are we going to do?" Willow asked after everyone had gone.

"First, we're going to move Spike out of the middle of the floor," Angel said, moving the blond vampire until he was up against the wall. "Then, as soon as all the doctors and nurses clear out, I'm going to take him back in there where he belongs."

"I meant if Buffy doesn't make it," she said quietly.

"I don't know, Willow," he replied. "I honestly don't know."


Once Spike was situated with Buffy again, the leather duster covering her small body, Angel thankfully accepted the stolen blood from Xander and drained it without hesitation. He really didn't care who saw him at that moment, he was so very tired and hungry. Willow stayed by his side the entire time, lending her support and comforting him, as he did for his childe. He really loved the redhead and planned on spending forever telling her that over and over again.

From the doorway of the room, he observed Spike once more as he nuzzled against Buffy, trying to wake her with his purrs and coos. He was much calmer because of the lavender and Willow's spell, although she warned him it wouldn't last more than an hour. He was just glad that she'd been able to help and that the hospital staff had turned a blind eye on the whole cacophony. Maybe he'd just gotten lucky and they didn't see Spike's vampiric face, instead thinking the blond was a hysterical boyfriend.

One thing was for certain, he was exceedingly glad that Drusilla was gone. If she had still been messing with Spike's mind...

Angel let the thought trail off with a shake of his head. He turned when he heard footsteps coming up the hallway and smiled at Willow as she rejoined him after a quick sojourn to the restroom. Silently, she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him. "I love you, Willow," he told her as he returned the hug.

"You've managed to sink your teeth into my heart, too," Willow replied with a small giggle.

He groaned. "That was bad."

"Yes, I know," she said. "It happens."

Spike's vocalizations suddenly became louder and more pronounced, causing the couple to break apart. The blond vampire's purring rolled across the room, punctuated by rapid whimpers and cooing, as if he were talking with someone. They both watched as he brought his hand up and caressed the side of Buffy's face, then leaned forward and gave her a small lick on the cheek.

Angel cautiously crossed the room and suddenly stopped. Willow bumped into the back of him, the same way as she did in what seemed like ages ago. She didn't make a sound as she peeked around him to see why he had halted abruptly. Then she saw Buffy.

Looking right at them.


"Willow, get the nurse," Angel said, although the redhead had already gone to do just that. He moved up behind Spike and met Buffy's hazel, questioning gaze. A large smile spread across his face and the entire world seem to brighten. Spike was making quite a racket now, as if trying to get Buffy's attention back, and she rolled her eyes, causing Angel to laugh. "Welcome back, Buffy. We've missed you. Some more than others," he added with a nod to the blond vampire.

Carefully, he laid his hand on Spike's arm and his childe's yellowed gaze turned to him, still chattering away. He frowned at Angel, but when the dark-haired vampire slid into game face and began ‘talking' back, his face lightened and Angel was able to get him out of the bed just as the nurse and Dr. Fields came back with Willow.

Turning them both so the medical staff wouldn't see their faces, Angel tried to get Spike to be quiet, but was having a very difficult time. **Perhaps the lavender mixed with blood wasn't such a hot idea,** Angel thought.

"Well Ms. Summers, what do you say about getting that tube out of your throat?" Dr. Fields asked. Buffy must have nodded enthusiastically because the doctor laughed. "Ok, on the count of three, blow like you're blowing up a balloon. Ready? One. Two. Three."

Buffy immediately started to cough as the doctor continued to check her over. When she stopped, the very first words out of her mouth were, "Did I die again?"

At the sound of her voice, gravelly as it was, Spike whipped his head around and it was all Angel could do to prevent the vampire from launching himself at her. Buffy arched a brow at the two vamped-out men, then made sure to distract the doctor and nurse from looking in their direction. "So, um, what happened?"

"You were shot, Buffy," Willow explained from near the end of the bed.

Buffy frowned. "Oh. That sucks."

"I'll say," Willow agreed heartily. "Oh! I should go tell the others. Your dad's here and everything! Although he had a big shock when he met Spike, but I won't tell you about that right now. I'll just go now and tell you later. You will still be alive later, right?"

"I plan on it," Buffy told her solemnly as the doctor checked her vitals. Other than a really bad pain in the middle of her chest and a sore throat, she felt pretty good. Like she'd had a great nap with really wonderful dreams involving Spike and chocolate ice cream, her two favorite things.

"Ms. Summers, for a girl who was basically dead twice today, you are remarkably well," Dr. Fields commented, wrapping his stethoscope around his neck.

"Does that mean I can go home? I don't like hospitals," Buffy said.

"No, I don't think you'll be leaving just yet," he replied with a laugh. "But we'll be sure to make your stay here at Chesterton Hospital a pleasant experience."

"Give me something for my sore throat and throw in some chocolate ice cream and you got yourself a deal," she said. The doctor smiled broadly as he shook his head in mock defeat and left the room, nurse in tow.

The second they were out the door, Angel released Spike and practically fell to the floor as the blond vampire rushed over to Buffy and climbed back into the bed. As it was, he upended the chair and smacked the back of his legs pretty hard. After regaining his footing, he put on his human mask and grinned at the Slayer, who was being happily embraced by an ecstatic vampire. "I think I'll leave you two alone for a few minutes."

"Wait, what's going on?" Buffy asked with her rough voice, trying to fend off Spike's nipping and licking mouth. "Why's Spike in game face? And why is he making all this noise? I feel like I'm in a pet shop."

"He should settle down shortly," Angel told her. Spike let out one long coo of delight and the dark- haired vampire shook his head with a chuckle. "Or not. I think I may have made him high by mixing lavender with my blood to calm him down earlier."

"You drugged my boyfriend?" she said. "Good going."

"I try," he replied, then turned to leave again.

"Angel, you didn't answer my question. Why is he acting like an over-excited puppy-dog who thinks he's a cat?"

"Remember what you told me I was like when I first got out of Hell?" Angel said. She nodded, then her eyes widened and she glanced down at Spike. "He's running on base instincts right now. Hopefully, once he's calmed down, he'll revert back to his normal, annoying self."

"I miss a lot when I die, don't I?" Buffy commented. She gave Angel a puzzled look as something dawned on her. "Does this mean there'll be a third Slayer? Or a fourth one, considering the doctor said I died twice today?"


"Spike," Buffy said after Angel had left, her voice harsh from the tube that was in her throat. She brought her non-IV'd hand up and ran it through his hair, trying to get his attention. "Hey, motor- mouth. Shush."

Sighing, she kissed his ridged brow as he nuzzled at her neck and he immediately raised his head to look at her. "So, that's what it takes, huh?" she said. She pulled his head down and gently kissed him on the mouth, her eyes falling shut. His multiple sounds cut off as she deepened the kiss slightly, feeling as though she almost lost out on the best thing in her life.

When she broke the kiss, she opened her eyes to see his beautiful blue ones staring back at her. A smile slowly stole across her face. "Hi," she said quietly. He didn't say anything, he only continue to stare at her until he caught her mouth in a mimic of the kiss they'd shared just a moment before. In fact, it was a perfect repeat, even down to the timing. When he raised his head again, he smiled at her then snuggled back down at her side, his mouth brushing over the side of her neck.

"Buffy!" Joyce said, coming in the door with Hank and Giles not far behind. She hurried to the side of the bed not occupied by Spike and kissed Buffy on the forehead. "It's so good to see you, baby."

"It's good to see you, too, Mom," Buffy replied. "Hi, Dad."

"Hi sweetheart," Hank said, taking Joyce's place and kissing the Slayer, as well. "How are you feeling?"

"Sore," Buffy answered. "Like someone shot me in the chest."

"That's because someone did, Buffy," Giles said from the foot of the bed. He gave her a wry smile. "I am certainly glad to see that you are alright."

"Me, too, but I'm kinda missing a big chunk of stuff," Buffy said. "Like, what happened after I was about to stak-stay with you guys."

"It's ok, Buffy, your father knows about you being the Slayer and about the Game," Joyce told her.

"Oh," Buffy replied. "Wait, how?"

"We had to tell him," Giles said, gesturing to the peroxide-blond beside her, who was ignoring everyone but Buffy.

"Oh again," she said. "Well, then, fill me in. Did we win? Is anyone else hurt? And what happened to Drusilla?"

"Um, we won, no one else is hurt a-and Spike staked Drusilla," Giles replied. "Ah yes, and according to some pillo-, er, representative from the Fehu, your ‘participation' is no longer required."

"You mean, no more kidnaping me in the middle of the night? No more forcing me to play sick games for other people's entertainment?"


"I can deal with that," Buffy said. "Ugh, my throat hurts."

"I'll see if I can get you something, Buffy," Hank said.

After he left the room, Buffy looked from Giles to her mom. "We have a problem, guys. Spike is like Angel was when he got back from Hell."

"Y-Yes, we know," Giles replied. "But Angel reverted back to-to, er, normal, so Spike should as well."

"But what do I do until then?" Buffy asked. "I don't think the hospital is going to let him stay, as much as I want him to, and there's that whole feeding thing."

"I am certain Angel will do something, Buffy," Joyce told her. "Now, I know there are a bunch of people waiting their turn to see you...."


Spike paced back and forth in front of the main doors to the mansion and Angel sighed from his spot on the couch. "Will you sit down. She'll be here soon," he said, setting the book on his stomach. The blond vampire shook his head and continued his walk back and forth. "Willow! Will you come tell Spike to stop pacing, he's making me seasick."

"Spike, you're making Angel seasick," Willow said as she came into the room. Spike ignored her and she went over and sat on Angel's stomach, right on the book.

"Hey, get off my book, lazy butt," Angel said, giving her a slight shove. She fell between his legs and grimaced at him as he laughed.

Life had taken an interesting turn for the ensouled vampire, all within a forty-eight hour period of time. He'd gone from an uncomfortable friendship with Willow, to a comfortable one, to finding out his soul was permanent, to telling Willow he loved her and asking her to move to LA with him, to finally ending up staying in Sunnydale with her instead. She attended Sunnydale University with Buffy, both of them living on campus during the week and pretty much at the mansion on weekends.

Staying in Sunnydale was actually an easy choice to make. Spike did not immediately return to his normal self; the trauma of Drusilla's manipulations and the intense forty-eight hours with Buffy's twice-brush with death left an indelible imprint on him. Angel had automatically taken it upon himself to help his childe come back from his animalistic self, slowly rehabilitating the vampire back to humanity.

It had been over six months now, and Spike still rarely spoke, but his usual hyperactivity had returned, as did his love of music, which was cranked to ear-shattering decibels at all hours of the night. Angel had gotten him a piano as a Christmas gift and sometimes he would sit and play haunting melodies, his whole body lost in the music. The dark-haired vampire was glad Spike hadn't forgotten how to play, for the selfish reason that he wouldn't have gotten to hear the beautiful songs his childe played.

One major change that Angel instilled in Spike was not to hunt for blood anymore. He knew that the younger vampire hadn't killed any of the people he fed from when he returned to Sunnydale to be with Buffy, but it was immensely easier not to have to worry about that part of his nature. Instead, they aided Buffy, Faith and the rest of the Scooby Gang in fighting the evil that seemed to gather at the Hellmouth. No third or fourth Slayer ever showed up, so the group assumed none were ‘called.'

As for the Fehu, nothing concrete was ever found on them. The tape of the final game was sent to Buffy's mother, addressed to Spike, and a detailed article was written on the Internet, but neither helped in ascertaining who the people -- humans or otherwise - were behind the group. Cordelia finally suggested the Fehu must be just a bunch of rich people with nothing better to do with their time. The matter was officially dropped when Willow read an article on a new Game One: The Jungle, featuring new players.

"There's her car," Willow murmured with an impish grin for Angel. "What's your bet?"

"Over the shoulder and straight to his room," Angel replied. "Just like I did when you got here."

She blushed, but the grin remained. "I think he's going to say something this time," she said. "Then over the shoulder and to his room."

"Do you know something I don't?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. You'll never know," she teased. He reached over and tweaked her nose.

Spike hated waiting for Buffy. During the week, he never got time to be alone with her, and it always seemed to take her longer and longer to get there on the weekends, which led to him becoming frustrated because he couldn't express his ire very well vocally. He usually just ended up grunting at her and then shagging her until she collapsed. Which was fun, too, but he'd rather she'd be early so they could do that for longer. The weekends seemed too short as it was.

He heard her car pull up and stopped pacing, stepping back a few feet from the doors so as to not get hit by the sun. He debated how he was going to pounce on her this time, as her footsteps came up the drive. When she opened the door, he made sure to scowl at her so she knew he was irritated.

"Oh, stop making faces, Spike," Buffy told him as she shivered from the cold mid-February weather, pushing the door shut behind her. "Didn't your mother ever tell you that your face would stick like that?"

His scowl deepened in reply.

Buffy rolled her eyes and glanced past him at Willow and Angel. "Hey guys, has my man been driving you crazy with all his talking?" Spike took a step towards her and she held up her hand. "Wait, before you haul me off to have your wicked way with me, I have something for you." She reached into the pocket of the long, well-worn, leather duster and pulled out a small, wrapped package. "Ta-da."

Spike took the proffered gift and frowned, giving her a questioning look. He turned it over in his hands several times, wondering what the gift was for. Then he decided to just open it and find out for himself. Off came the paper, which fell noiselessly to the ground as he stared at the object in his hand, a large smile crossing his face.

"Do you know what today is?" Buffy asked with a grin.

"I love you, Buffy," Spike said, his voice rough from disuse.

"I love you, too, Spi-eeek!" she replied with a shriek as she was hoisted over his shoulder and carried off towards his room.

Willow giggled as she heard the door slam and looked at Angel. "I win, pay up," she said, holding her hand out.

"What did she get him?" Angel asked, tickling her palm with his fingers.

"Oh, I think you'll know right about...," she trailed off as loud heavy-metal music started blaring from down the hall. "Now."

Welcome to the Jungle, we got fun and games, we got everything you want and we know your name....