Buffy hit the ground hard -- and the stones that covered the hard ground. Dazed, she looked around her till her eyes focused finally on a familiar red-haired figure.
"Hey, how are you?" Willow was standing in a pentagram, looking at her with that beautiful not-a-vampiress-who-tried-to-hit-on-me grin on her face. "Did you win? Had you finished? Cause we got a problem here...and why are there three of you?"
"Three of me?" Buffy had a strong urge not to look round just in case. Willow was looking over her shoulder now, a puzzled expression on her face. "Please tell me you mean me and two blond duffuses named Spike, not three of me in the literal sense."
"Sorry, and yes to the former."
"Great." Buffy rolled her shoulders a little to ease the future bruising the impact was going to give her. She smiled and still without looking round replied, "Firstly, not to be ungrateful but if this happens again could I please be rescued in a slightly less rocky place? Second, I shopped and there were some nice presents for you guys so I hope you can try to get me those later. Third, can you send one of the Spikes back now please."
"Spike tell me something -- how did it happen? And if it wasn't an accident, you bleed." The menace was clear, this was the Slayer talking not Buffy the vampire.
"Ah! Well I dunno what happened, Kitten." Spike had let go of Altie's hand on impact and no one seemed to have noticed that the contact had been there. "I guess it's just one of those accidents of cross-dimensional whatsit, or maybe Red just doesn't know her own strength. Anyway it's really beyond my control, still I guess 'e might just come in useful, you know what they say, two Spikes are better than one."
"Oh really?" Buffy turned and saw two smiling identical vampires. "What could you possibly....have been doing on this damn hill?!"
Bullet-scarred trees, blast damage, spent cartridge cases, and fragments of what looked like guns, plus a number of bodies scattered down the track that to Buffy's knowledge led to Sunset Ridge. "Willow what's been happening? When did you guys decide to let Browne hold a war? And why wasn't I invited?"
"Well it's like this," Willow began. "Not long after your alternate got drawn through to this world, Treat phoned up from LA."
"The bugger was comin' 'ere like it or not, bringin' a party with 'im, we put's our 'eads together and comes up with a plan of action." Browne's familiar voice drew Buffy's gaze away from two cute vampires to a less cute one, but all the same a comforting if rather ragged sight. "Guess what it was?"
"Errrr, oh let me think, did it involve using violence?"
"Solid call, as I fink the folks round 'ere would put it." Browne's heart felt like it would start beating any second, not only was his Queen back but so was Spike...with a spare Spike in case the first one broke. "Xander and I built some bombs and we bushwacked em. Treat didn't 'ave the smarts you said Trick had, dozy bugger just walked right into it."
"So why the bad....?" Three, just three people. "Ok you guys arn't crying and I can't smell much blood, but were are the others? Where's Angel?"
"We had the vampires almost beat, well other than the fact Treat was about to kill you," Karen explained, conscious that Buffy was sniffing the air, unable to repress totally her demoness's interest in the scent of blood -- and that the blood in question was hers. "When suddenly these guys intervened."
"They were Watchers." Willow took over once more. "They darted everyone but the three of us."
"I got knocked over by Giles and hit my head."
"I got 'it by a whole bloody tree."
"I kinda hid." This was not as good an excuse, Willow knew, but as Oz had told her to do it. "They kidnapped you and Giles."
"I got kidnapped?"
"Yeah Bahadur, an if Willow 'adn't 'ave shot one of them."
"Willow shot one of them!"
"I shot one of them."
"Stone me Red, you shot one of 'em." Spike looked stunned. "I mean to say...shot!"
"WILLOW SHOT ONE OF THEM!"
"It was only with a crossbow."
"WILLOW SHOT..." Buffy realized that time was wasting, her interdimensional travel lag eased fast. "Ok why?"
"The guy was gonna stake Angel, so I shot him in the arm." Willow saw the shock on her friend's face, and then anger, and then she was stepping forward as Buffy jumped up and ran forward into her arms. "I know, you've done the same for me, you've saved Oz before now and me too."
"Oh Will," Buffy said hugging her best friend to her. "I've so missed you, and here you are doing this for Angel. I'm never gonna be able to repay you for this. Oh and I didn't stake you."
It took Willow a second to realize what Buffy meant, then she remembered the hands and the naughty little package that went with them.
"Ohhhh, why do I always have to be the vampiress?" Willow couldn't help but notice two Spikes looking at her in a knowing way. "Did I do anything skanky?"
"Oh not really." Buffy stepped back, the smile dropping from her face. "But
we'll talk about my vacation later. First we have people to rescue and Watchers
to find so we can make them regret the day they ever came to our country."
"Well that's the last of em." Buffy gently laid Xander down beside Anya in the back of the van. Four sleeping figures lay beside a disturbing and large pile of guns, guns that were going straight into the harbor as soon as possible, whatever Browne might think. "Are you sure those things are safe?"
"Absolutely, they're safe as bloody 'ouses, I checked em meself didn't I?" Browne's eyes had a glazed look, he'd just been told that the $10,000 dollars worth of guns he had been hoping to retail back to the source of his C4 weren't going back into circulation. "What's up? Don't ya trust me?"
"Hey, no need to get all pouty just cause I won't let you have your way. You're a good guy now, good guys don't retail illegal guns." Buffy gave the vetala's arm a playful swipe that might have done serious damage if it had been mean unaffectionately. "But I'll make it up to you. Take original Spike with you and go stake those vamps, I know you boys will wanna chat while you do violence."
Really Buffy wanted her vampire followers gone so she could talk to Willow. Karen was sitting in the front of the van whilst Altie had been sent a little down the road to keep a lookout for returning Watchers of the SDP, getting the other boys a job left the Slayer alone with the Wiccan.
Buffy had missed her friend.
"Other than the vamps everything been ok while I've been gone?"
"Yeah, cept for the frantic worry and the vampires I kept accidently summoning it's been good." Willow smiled to show she didn't hold Buffy to blame. "How were you? Did you kill him?" Buffy turned a little and her hair blew clear of her neck in the faint breeze. "And oh god Buffy, you got bit!"
"Huh? Oh yeah, big fight, me and the Master with swords." Buffy realized that it didn't really cover her Spike-inflicted bite and so added hastily, "Which rapidly moved to fangs and claws and he managed to bite me while I was staking him."
"Ouch." Willow had noted the rapid change of story, though, and though she wanted to go easy on Buffy, felt that she had to ask her something. The Wiccan's face flushed. She'd had her suspicions but still she felt like she was overstepping her bounds as she went on. "That could have been a distraction in a fight...I mean, do you remember what it said in those books about vampires Giles tried to hide?"
"The books I just looked at the engravings in and didn't really read." Buffy could have cursed that afternoon, if only she'd concentrated. *Of course post-turning I'd have probably had more hickies that I used to get at Hemery, and fang marks can hang, not a good thing in Sunnydale cause scarves just aren't in this year. Plus becoming a vampiric nympho would be a danger, too.*
"Those, the ones that mention vampiress's coming if they get bit by vampires." Willow's mind froze for a second as another thought surfaced unbidden to cloud her already troubled reaction to the bite."And by other vampiresses?"
"Errrr, I'm sorry Willow but I kinda turned you down." Buffy sat in the back of the van and marveled at quite how much her friend could blush. "No orgasm, fangs just briefly in neck and then stake in heart. Say you weren't thinking that anyone else bit me, were ya?"
"No....cause who else would have wanted to bite you?" Willow spoke the words but her mind thought, *Except Spike.* But for all that if Buffy wouldn't give, there was a limit to how far she could push things. "Other than that, did you have fun?"
"Yeah, there was fighting and there was some major property damage, I wrecked some cars and I got to use a shotgun but don't tell Browne cause he'll sulk. We got the whole town in on the Slaying and the Army but Giles doesn't need to know that or the fact I think I fixed him up with Jenny. Oh and Mayor Wilkins gave me the spell for getting my humanity back, but aside from that it was just a normal couple of days."
"Let me look at you, mate." The bruises on Spike's jaw from the fight in the Bronze had reached the obvious purple stage. Browne scowled as he added, "Will ya look at the state of your boat?"
Tentatively touching the bruise on his face, or boat race in Cockney terms, Spike could only grin. "The Master, hell of a jab on that old git."
Staking his first vamp, Browne scolded his friend light heartedly. "Is it any wonder I look so bloody old all the worryin' you leave me to do? 'Ow many times do I 'ave to tell you in a scrimmage keep yer effin' guard up?"
"Look whose talkin'." Spike caught another good look at the tear in Browne's coat where the branch had torn through. "You look like shit mate, what the fuck 'appened?"
"I said before I got 'it by a tree, I do wish you'd pay attention. A branch went in me back and the 'uman Slayer cut it out." Browne noticed a magazine he'd missed before and lifted it even as Spike staked its former owner. "It was a bit more serious than a thump from an elderly German tourist, let me tell ya."
"Ha bloody ha." Spike needed a cigarette, stopping he opened a packet and quickly lit two passing one to his co-worker he went on. "You never met the bloke, 'e could be fuckin' lethal."
"So can trees." Browne noticing the signs of impending temper, smiled, and patted Spike on the shoulder. "Still I take it 'e's in the ground now which is what matters, eh?"
"Yeah that's the important part." Spike staked another vamp, his mind gradually relaxing from the high-octane stress Sunnyhell had been. He had questions, and he knew from the looks Browne had sent Altie that the vetala had some too. But business first. "What's the LA situation?"
"Gelfman and the Commissionaire of Police are both members of the same golf club." A familiar smirk crossed the vetala's face telling Spike that times were good. "Tomorrow they're playing a round together and Sol will be fillin' the bloke in on what 'appens if the heat on us don't disappear."
"Sol produces a series of films about racist cops, corrupt cops and violent cops all set in the LAPD." There was a part of Browne's back street upbringing that almost made him wish the Cozzers wouldn't give, but he guessed they would. "They call off the dogs and Sullivan gets told to fuck 'isself and leave vampire killin' to us and the Slayer."
"Sounds good." Spike staked the last vampire bar Treat. "As you can see, the Dru problem's solved, my alternate 'ad lost 'is."
"You mean your definitely not leavin'?" Browne stopped dead as the implication struck home. "You're really gonna stay in LA?"
"Yeah, to look after business, be near Buffy...." He looked down at Treat and whispered, "And to keep the tree's from killin' you, cause if they did, mate, I'd kinda miss you."
"Trees, you always gotta be extra careful 'bout those, never can tell when one'll leap out at ya." Browne drew the knife again. "Kevlar, a stake won't get it done. I'm glad your stayin' I'd 'ave missed you somethin' rotten. And I'd 'ave missed Cordie if I'd gone with and the Bahadur, too."
"I know, mate." Spike contemplated a future with Buffy as a mortal friend who gradually aged before his timeless eyes. A girl who lived with another guy, also immortal. One who called himself boyfriend, then husband, then son, then if Buffy lived long enough -- and she would if Spike had anything to do with it -- grandson. "I'll miss her too."
"Buffy are you serious?" Willow's brain was spinning as it tried to get over the shock. Buffy being back to being Buffy! Ok still a Slayer, but other than that, a normal, breathing non-vampire person. Her best friend. "You have the spell? And you got it from Wilkins?"
"Yes to all three." Buffy produced the envelope from her jacket pocket like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, the half smile she gave as she looked at the writing on the envelope was as much a reaction to Willow's widening smile as to any resolution of her own doubts. "I know evil guy, but his Ascension was a bust cause the Master killed so many people, and he wanted to adopt me kinda like he did Faith and get reelected."
"Oh, guess even demons get lonely, and need votes." Willow shook her head. "Which is a point of no importance compared to this. We get Giles back and the two of us will go into full research mode, and if it looks like it'll work, we'll have you breathing again in no time."
"Hold onto that thought, we need to know how long the gap was last time. It could be too late Will don't forget that." Buffy hadn't done anymore than glance at the pages inside the envelope, magick was Willow and Giles's job after all, but as Willow's smile disappeared, she added cheerfully, "But sure if it looks ok, I don't see any reason not to try."
"Good, not for a few weeks though anyway." The Wiccan carefully considered what to do. "I really want to look at this closely before risking it, and you're bound to come out of it weak to say the least. Your body's going to have to adjust, and so we're going to be doing this in the holidays in case you get sick."
"A new me for a new Century, sounds kinda apt." Buffy also had the grade issue, time off for Slaying and getting over killing guys had mounted up. "And who wants to take time off college anyway, it being such fun. And surprisingly vamp-free."
"Well your pre-enrollment sweep was thorough and bloody." Willow really hoped that Buffy wouldn't bring up one particular incident. Vainly as it turned out.
"Oh yeah I remember that, those poor vampires." She grinned letting a little of the demoness show through. "Remember that vamp's face when she realized what she'd taken on?"
"Tough one though, almost a record length of fight post-turning."
"And I suffered personal injury."
"You broke a nail."
"Well isn't that important? And it sure got me pissed on Sunday."
"I noticed that, especially when you ripped her guts out and stomped in them."
"Yeah...sorry bout your jeans."
Willow was pale just from thinking about it. "Don't worry, even vomit stains that big wash out eventually."
"Well it wasn't like you'd not seen slayage before." Buffy shook her head a little, actually that had gone just a little far. Especially the eye-gouging. "Anyway that;s behind us, significant and interesting college years ahead for me to go totally enthused over particulary as if I'm mortal I can move there."
"Buffy.....do you mean?" Willow gave a little squeal of delight and hugged the vampiress to her. The distance that had grown between them since Buffy became so different seemed to be dropping straight away. "Can we room?"
"Well I was thinking what with the loot, and the vamp cash..." Buffy looked at her friend's smiling face and felt the joy of becoming human again. "We could maybe swing an off campus house like Oz has...party at our place?"
"Wow!!!" Willow sat back in the van, stunned by it all for a second or so. "And yes please I'd love to, slight problem of parents wondering how I afford same, but if I don't tell they're likely to assume I'm still in the dorms. Oh darn tootin that's what we'll do...once we get Giles back, that is."
"Yeah, Giles and me." Buffy noted her returning vamps. "I think I know where to start looking too. Did those guys looked wigged that I was alive?"
"From what I could tell through the masks I'd say majorly. They were wigged, touching your hand, feeling that you were warm." The redhead considered the point for a moment before going on. "Aha! Which means they know about you, are confused, but thinking hard about what happened here before and probably will want to try again."
"Which gives us a chance to find them first before they do Giles or me any real damage." She turned and shouted up the slope, "Ok you guys come on we're off, back to the Batcave."
Spike and Browne had passed a moment of silent contemplation after Treat had died, both considering a future that was permanently LA based. It was Browne who broke it, hawking to spit across the vampire's remains. "Well so much for Mr Smartarse, and that's another bit of LA cleaned out."
"True. You know I can't help but think we gotta be a bit more careful about that, mate, we don't want to run out of vamps." The blond sat down on a rock so recently occupied by Karen. "I mean, the Palomino's interesting, but if the vamps all leave town it's just gonna become a normal bar, profitable but without depressed girls looking for a way to keep their looks forever or a good shaggin' out back."
"Cobblers." Browne answered taking the time to obliterate Willow's pentagram. Tales he'd been told about his friend's past adventures led him to suspect that leaving evidence of spell casting lying around for anyone to find wasn't a good idea. "A big metropolis like that is always gonna pull the vamps in mark my words. Lookin' to set up a crew, lookin' to carve out some turf, the fact we keep nobblin' the Masters an' makin' vacancies only makes it more attractive to 'em."
"Suppose so." Spike sighed. "But is that gonna be it forever? One long fight against a constant stream of the buggers till one night we get unlucky?" He saw the grim smile on his friend's face. "Yeah that's the way it's gonna be isn't it...What fun."
"Come on, misery guts, let's 'ead back to the girls and your mysterious twin, and tell me all about yer 'olidays." Browne's face took on a leer. "So Willow the vampire, is she as sexy as I've heard? Did ya get any?"
Mood lightened, Spike started telling Browne what had happened, rapidly turning the conversation to Darla and away from Red. They were laughing by the time Buffy's shout got them running down towards the van, both eager for another fight.
"Everybody in." Buffy got all three of her vamps stashed with her unconscious friends before squeezing into the front with Karen and Willow. "We need to go to the mansion and let Willow do her stuff on the net. And also put the sleepy guys to bed and get the vampires out of the sun."
She noted the concern on the school principal's face. "Don't worry Karen, Giles will be fine. You just wait and see."
"Need a hand with him Pet?" Spike asked as he watched Buffy carry Angel up the path to the mansion's front door. The vampire was thrown casually over her right shoulder and despite the size difference she seemed to be making steady progress. "No, probably not."
"He ain't that heavy," Buffy replied as she strolled past. "And do you seriously think I'm gonna give you a chance to drop him on his head?"
"Well it wouldn't do the bugger any damage would it? I've certainly never seen evidence of any major intellectual processes," Spike muttered under his breath before following the vampiress into the house. "You know it really is bloody off-putting sometimes, a little girl like you throwing hefty big blokes around."
Buffy wheeled round sharply, nearly cracking Angel's head on the door frame as she did so. "Was that an accusation that I lack femininity just cause I'm strong? Cause I'd like you to recall that I can't help it and that you've never had any grounds to complain when we've...done the stuff we've done."
"Hang on to yer 'at kitten, I just meant..." Spike wondered what he meant. "Sometimes it's nice for a girl to let her bloke do things for her. Like 'eavy liftin' for example. It's just a thought, baby, that's all."
"Ok, but 'my bloke's' asleep, Spike, and if you don't mind..." Buffy turned again more carefully this time and walked into the house. "I'm gonna go put him to bed."
"Well then that's that question's answered isn't it?" The Englishvamp found a corner of the hall to quietly slump in till his fellow countryvamps came back down from helping carry in the other dartees. "It's real nice to know where I stand with 'er after all we've been through, I'm sure."
Buffy waited until she was out of earshot, quite along way for a vampire, and then started to grumble at herself. "Ok so Spike's, like, being a gentleman and offering to help carry Angel and you're, like, being a class-A bitch and saying stuff to hurt him, and I can't believe I'm talking to myself in the third person. Vampires-- they're enough to make a person crazed."
"That's what I keep tellin' the blond bugger but 'e just don't listen." Browne emerged from an open doorway just ahead of Buffy. "And I 'ave to live with 'im please recall, oh 'an should you be talkin' to yerself like that?"
"If I want...Browne what are you doing lurking listening to peoples private conversations..." Wishing she could blush, Buffy tiptoed past the smiling vampire and towards the master bedroom. "...With themselves."
"Luv ain't it sickenin'? Poor sods the bloody lot of em, 'uman and vampire alike." Browne looked back into the room where Altie was carefully putting a blanket over Xander and Anya. "Those two are another case, trapped demoness who spent a thousand years torturing blokes and a lad who just can't make 'is mind up. But who knows? They might wind up the 'appiest of the lot."
"Possibly." Altie shrugged. "But they're just mortals, blink and they're gone. Why should you care about them?"
"I'm a people person now, so I care ok?" Browne looked down at Xander and frowned. "Why 'ave you got 'im lying on 'is back?"
"He's comfie like that," Altie replied puzzled and confused at what he was supposed to have done wrong. "An look I laid is bird along side 'im with her 'ead on 'is shoulder, an it's still attached, too, and that's unusual for me I'll 'ave you know. So what's the problem?"
v"Recovery position." Walking over, the vetala, grunting with the pain the movement caused his injured back, moved Xander onto his side and then recovered the two sleeping figures. "What if 'e was sick coming out of unconsciousness? The poor bugger could 'ave drowned. Vampires, nothin' but an uncarin' bunch of sods, the lot of ya."
Browne's raised fist stilled Altie's planned angry retort. Definite instructions to do as you're told stayed his desire to rip said fist and attached arm off and beat its owner to death with it. He just scowled and looked away from the vetala.
"Right the situation 'ere's sorted, so you my lad can just bugger off and find Spike, cause I 'appen to know 'e wants a word with ya." Browne smiled grimly as the pissed-looking blond left the room before following after, first though making sure he turned out the light.
Willow folded Oz's bowling shirt neatly and set it on the chair by the bed in the guest room where Browne had earlier gently deposited her sleeping boyfriend. He was carefully covered by a blanket and looked comfy, which was all Willow needed to see.
"You're gonna be so happy when you hear my news about Buffy. Ok maybe not jumping up and down happy but you'll smile which is enough. It'll be nice to have her back with us don't you think? It'll be like it was before. Though she'll always have the weight of what happened in that tunnel on her mind and Angel will probably want to leave her again and break her heart and I'll have to cuss him cause she won't want to.
"Or maybe it'll be okay this time. I sure hope so." Bending Willow placed a gently kiss on Oz's cheek. "Sleep tight my love, I'll see you later."
And with that the Hacker set off to find something to hack.
Karen pressed the ice pack to her forehead as she sat in front of the computer screen.
"Ow." The pain didn't matter though, the LAX's flight information was a click or two away and Willow would soon be down to look for an Eastbound flight with last minute block seat cancellations. And to find out who'd canceled them, after that it was just a matter of checking to see if the same name came up on property or hotel rooms leased in the area.
*Oh god please let there be a cancellation, I don't want to have to follow you across the world. Thinking about all the hurt you might suffer on the way.* Karen pictured Giles's face as she silently prayed. *But you know I will if I must.*
"Okay then." Buffy set Angel down on the edge of the bed. "Oh look at the sleeping vampire, totally at my mercy."
Letting him fall back from a seated position onto the bed Buffy grinned mischievously. "Camera, where's a camera when you want one? Compromising pics for the office party, not that we have office parties but we should, first thing we do after I'm human again is to play host and hostess to all our friends."
Kneeling she set to work on his shoe laces. "Ok I'm joking about the camera, I wouldn't do that to you...on the strict understanding that the same applies to you, especially if I'm naked, tied up and blindfolded!"
Removing his shoes, Buffy maneuvered the vampire so he was lying in the middle of the double bed and sat beside him, her hands gently resting on his side. "It was supposed to be forever Angel, you and me. But it can't be anymore, I hope you'll understand...I think you will, lover. I know you'll be happy for me."
She moved her legs up onto the bed, lying down beside the vampire, her face an inch or two from his. He looked so peaceful sleeping there, no breath to disturb his stillness. "You'll start with all that wanting me to have a normal life stuff again, but what is that Angel? Isn't it supposed to be being with someone you love? I think that's what it is, and Angel I love you so much it hurts like you wouldn't believe to think you might want to leave me again."
The kiss was fleeting their lips just brushing together. "Please don't go Angel, please don't."
Altie found Spike waiting for him at the bottom of the darkened staircase. The vampire didn't speak to him, he just pointed for his doppelganger to go off down the nearby passageway towards the kitchen. Spike did however speak to Browne, who was following the Alternate down the stairs.
"You sit in with the girls, mate. You're more the tactician than I am. I'm off to 'ave a quick talk with meself." With that he followed the doppelganger, leaving Browne standing alone in the hallway.
"First sign of madness that, an their all bloody doin' it please note." Shaking his head, he walked on towards the living room, adding to himself, "It's a good job I'm 'ere to be the sane rational one what doesn't go round mutterin' to 'iself all day."
"Through here." Just before the kitchen was another door that led into the garage. Dawn was fast approaching outside but no light got through the carefully fitted doors. Spike's DeSoto was parked here and it was to it that he immediately went.
"I'm not giving you this motor you understand, it's just a loan." He unlocked the trunk and began to root around inside, throwing stuff he needed out onto the garage floor. "You'll drive it up to Frisco and meet Dru at the address in the letter, then'll you'll take the car and park it near a lot I'm gonna give you the address of and give the keys to the bloke what owns it. He'll arrange to 'ave it driven back south for me."
Whistler was a busy demon, he had connections everywhere.
"Help us with this would you?" Spike was lifting a heavy wooden box from the back of the car. The other Spike grabbed hold and together they carried it into a corner. "Browne wouldn't want you drivin' off with his toys."
Unable to resist a peek inside the doppelganger's eyes widened with shock. "Do you think it's safe to be drivin round with a dozen hand grenades in the boot of your car?"
"Bein' a vamp Browne can keep the pins in extra tight and pull em fast enough in a fight. And it's always best to be prepared." Actually Spike had taken to avoiding potholes like the plague since he'd taken to driving with the vetala -- you never knew what he'd stash in there. "When you see her be pleased, but not too pleased."
"When I see 'er I'm likely to be so happy I'll want to die, why should I conceal that from her?"
Spike looked at his double intently, a hint of jealousy in his voice as he answered. "Your Dru died lovin' you, mine ran off with a bloody chaos demon and has been shaggin' other demons left right and center ever since. Therefore she'll expect to be allowed to show remorse, to 'ave to win your trust back. If you go in there all puppy eyed and loving 'er she's gonna feel cheated out of the big reconciliation scene she'll probably 'ave planned and that might send her off again."
"All right I'll take it easy on the lovin'." The alternate had seen a lot of stuff go wrong, had been lower than he ever thought he could go, but now this vampire was giving him back his hope. A lump seemed to swell in his throat as he choked out one word, "Thanks!"
"Thanks, don't thank me mate you don't realize what I'm givin' you." Spike slammed the trunk closed and turned to stare harshly at Altie. "You're gonna look after Dru for the rest of your unlife, an by god you're gonna do a better job of it than you did last time. If I hear that you're neglectin' 'er, that yer drinkin' again, then by god the world's not gonna be a big enough place to hide in, do you hear?"
"Yes." Spike had carried that guilt with him for over a year, he'd been in the bar talking it up big with his cronies when he should have been watching her. "I'll treat 'er right, like a Queen."
"Good." Spike took a black, plastic-wrapped bundle from his coat pocket. It was one of several he had removed from the car. "Twenty thousand dollars in non-consecutive bills, spendin' money. Dru's still quite a bit of a loony, she doesn't need the shock of ever seeing two of us so we have to keep well apart. You get a legal motor, you drive East, and then get a ship to Europe, the America's are mine, North and South, the rest of the world's yer oyster.
"Now you may find I've a bit of a rep as a bloke who helps Slayers." Spike noticed the expression of combined disbelief and disgust that Altie was unable to repress. "I love the girl, that's the only reason, anyway just give anyone who mentions it a hard kick in the goolies and curse that bloke whose usein' your name. When the stories of the other Spike keep comin' down the jungle telegraph, it won't take long for you to be believed."
"When do you want me to leave?" Altie looked down at the packet of money in his hands, enough to last for months with the actual living costs of being a vampire. "I feel like I should help you sort out this Buffy problem. Demonstrate me gratitude as it were."
"Last light tonight, we can sort this out an I reckon Giles might not like me reintroducin' a Spike into the environment." Spike took hold of his doppelganger's left hand and, pressing the cars keys into it, folded the vampire's fingers over them. "Sleep in the car, brother, and when you feel the sun set, open the door and drive out of here. I've put a map in it, breaks your journey into easy stages for ya."
"I'll make her happy, I'll never leave her." Altie's arms went round Spike's shoulders as he drew him into an embrace. "An I'll never forget what you've done for me."
"I know mate, you don't need to thank me." Spike hugged the doppelganger back just as tightly. "You're taking away the worries I have about Dru, cause now I know she'll be cared for an I can get on with rebuildin' an unlife knowing that."
He broke clear, his face showing the stress he was under. "Goodbye then, I'll not come back in 'ere again today, you nip in the kitchen and 'ave a couple of bags then rest easy for the drive."
Not giving his alternate a chance to say another word of thanks, Spike turned and nearly ran from the room, trying hard to hold back the tears that Buffy and the others mustn't see. *Goodbye my Dark Goddess, goodbye.*
"How we doing?" Buffy asked as she joined the Wicca, the Principal, and the sleeping Vetala in the living room. "Browne's being helpful, I see."
"We're fine, we have a cancellation on a BA flight, now we're researching Devamp Holdings, Inc. which booked the tickets," Willow answered, not looking up from the screen. "And Browne's resting till he's needed, which is what you should be doing once you've made your phone call."
"Parent!" Willow did look around this time, her expression showing her puzzlement that Buffy seemed to have forgotten all about Joyce. "Telling her you're back safe, go to the telephone, I give you leave to free her mind of worry about you.....and to fill it with worry about her other daughter."
"Oh damn, other daughter?." Buffy answered before realization of where her Alternate had stayed struck home. "A living Buffy in the house, poor Mom I bet that must have nearly broken her heart. And I'm gonna be the daughter who gets told off for being sucked into an alternate reality. Oh I'm so looking forward to another lecture." But with a sigh she went to do as she was told.
"No really, Mom, I'm fine." Buffy stood in the hall in the twentieth minute of the conversation she was having with her mother. "Well, yes, except for that persistent being dead problem."
Joyce Summers hadn't exactly scolded but she'd had issues about Slayers who look before they leap and her daughter perhaps not getting sucked into alternate worlds in future. It was a valid viewpoint and had left the Slayer vamp with a guilt-related feeling of tetchiness. "Sorry....Yeah I know it's no joking matter...Yeah I've put my alternate to a lot of inconvenience, but we'll rescue her don't worry.....Yes I'll drop by later, we're trying to find these guys and I promise I'll cut back on patrolling next week so we can spend time."
Buffy was resisting the urge to tell her Mom her good news. Joyce just didn't need to know about that yet in case the spell was a bust. When she did find out, however, Buffy knew in her heart that all the anguish post her turning would be gone once she held a girl whose heart beat in her arms again.
"Ok, yeah I love you to Mom, I'll see you later ok."
Buffy replaced the receiver and leaned on the table. "I really have got to be more careful, the shocks I'm giving her majorly above what a woman her age should be having to put up with. Why didn't I look into that damn pit before I jumped in?"
"A demon induced belief in yer own invincibility," Spike answered her from the staircase where he had been sitting silently. "It's a common weakness amongst our kind, Slayer, why do you think vampires keep turnin' up here to face you even though they know what's 'appened to every vamp that came 'ere before them? Same thing with you an that pit. You barely even paused to think what might 'ave been in there. You've won so often, you've just lost track of fear."
"You saw what was in there though, Spike, and you followed." Buffy went and sat beside him on the broad stairs, her back against the wall, her chin resting on her knees, her eyes half-closed as she admired his profile. "Don't you know what fear is either?"
"I 'ave two things that are more powerful than any fear, Buffy." He spoke quietly, not looking at the vampiress. "I have love and belief."
"Love, love I can understand, my dear devoted Spike, but belief?" Buffy edged a little closer to him. "What belief did you have that made you risk that jump?"
"The belief, my girl, that you are bloody invincible, the belief that sustains us all through the darkness." Spike turned his solemn gaze upon her. "And it rubs off on us, the Slayerettes, till we all start to feel it. I reckon if that wormhole hadn't closed when it had we'd all have gone through and left this world behind to look after itself just so we could follow you."
"I've tried Spike, I've tried to make them stay clear when I hunt, but they always follow." Buffy gave that half-smile that had taken the vampire's dead heart years ago. For a second he felt the world grow still again, grow silent as it had that first time he had seen her in the Bronze, but her words reached him all the same. "I swear they've saved me almost as many times as I've saved them, but sooner or later it'll happen, the odds are wearing thin that one of them will die. But I can't leave and they won't go, they're too firmly fixed on being good, I guess."
"You think they do what they do cause they like being heroes Buffy?" Spike laughed and shook his head. "That's only a little part of the reason. They do it cause they love you Buffy, they love you and the idea of you and you'll never stop them from doing that."
"I wouldn't want to try." She stretched out a hand and gently stroked his arm. "From the fact that we're having this conversation, from the way you're talking about love, I take it you're staying."
"You already knew I was." His hand gently covered hers. "But you have to let something happen that you might not like."
"Let Altie go look after Dru?" His face showed no surprise that she knew what he had been planning. "Well, we're neither of us natural blondes are we?"
"No pet we're not, how long ago did you see through my little plot?"
"More or less straight away." She smiled as the vampire pouted just a little at the thought of being so easily read. "When you agreed to help you so readily I knew there had to have been some kind of deal struck and a live Dru on offer was the only thing that could have cleaned that vampire up so fast."
"What are you gonna do luv? As a Slayer you can hardly let a vamp go free can you?" Spike tightened his grip on Buffy's hand just a little. "But for me pet, for my peace of mind."
"There's only one man in the world means more to me than you Spike." Buffy saw his head bow a little at the unspoken mention of Angel. Silently, she moved to her knees and, leaning forward, kissed first his hand that covered hers and the his cheek. "But I'm Buffy the Vampire to you now, and she says let my Spike have what he needs to go on with his life, let Dru be loved as I would be loved, but also let my Spike have the strength to find a place for himself. Somewhere where he can be happy."
He turned a little and their foreheads touched gently, their eyes closed in the moment. "I swear I'll try, and I'll always be a phone call away if ever you need my help."
"And I'll be the same, even human, I swear to be your friend, my love, till death do us part."
"Don't say that kitten, don't think it." Spike could not open his eyes to see if she had opened hers. "I don't want to think about your mortality, your death. I want to think of you as bein' alive forever. Godsakes Slayer, if we arn't gonna die here from this pain, let's go sit with Willow and get back to savin' the world, huh?"
"Yeah, you're right." Buffy didn't want to, couldn't afford to be found like this. "Let's go see how Willow's getting on, get our people back. Distract them so Altie can slip away." And with that she rose to her feet and tripped quietly away, leaving Spike to follow slowly behind her.
*LA first and then maybe back to Acapulco eventually after it's over. I'll relax by the pool of a night whilst Browne starts his own little revolution in the Sierra Madre Del Sur. But that's along way down the road yet...I hope*