Spike in the City Of Angels, Episode 4:


Choices


by John Cope





Part Twenty



"Hi Willow," Angel answered trying not to sound like he was ignoring the question. "You know I'd really like to thank you for....."

"Saving you from a staking, don't mention it." It was big and oily and painted yellow except for the greasy metal blade. "Why have you got a chainsaw?"

"Cleaning," Angel replied after a couple of seconds thought. "Chainsaw's kinda dirty so I gotta clean it."

He made to pick the saw up. "I'll just take it back into the basement and do that now."

"Did Buffy tell you who tried to stake you?"

"Errr.....yeah."

Willow began to see how things were going to go if she left it up to the vampires. "She mention that we know where the person is?"

"Kinda." Angel saw Willow's expression harden into her resolve face. "Look I....."

"Wanna go chop Riley up with a chainsaw?"

"No, I was just gonna...," Angel began again trying to sound more convincing. "Scare him a little with it."

"What are you going to play, bad cop to Buffy's bad cop?" The Wiccan saw Angel start to scowl a little. *He's gonna start brooding, thinking I'm blaming him for Buffy. I mean let's face it I did the turning not him.*

"Look the guy isn't gonna talk unless he's scared," the vampire began but could see he wasn't getting anywhere so asked instead, "What are you suggesting, that we reason with the guy?"

"No, cause I don't think that will work either, but if you show him that thing it might come back to haunt us." The Wiccan stood and walked over to stand beside Angel. "He's human Angel not a demon, that means we have to let him go afterwards and if we give him even more reason to be sore at us he could make serious waves. Tell people what you and Buffy are."

"Which would be where the scaring comes in." Angel patted the metal casing of the saw. "He won't come looking for trouble again after he's tried a close up look at this."

"How long have you had it?"

"A couple of years or so, it's been down in the basement."

Willow tried to lift the saw and could barely move the implement. "So I guess you've not had it out of there since you were going to cut Giles up with it."

Silent for a moment, the ensouled vampire thought about that point for a few seconds before answering, "He told you guys huh?" The redhead nodded. "Ok I guess between us we can manage without it, do I get to hit him though?"

"I guess if he needs hitting you can hit him first." Willow patted his hand as he took hold of the saw's carrying handle. "But if we're tricky enough we might not have to."

"He's a TA, you gotta figure he must have something upstairs."

"You know little of our ways, but still that's an interesting point...." Willow started picturing the guys who Riley hung with, the guys she'd kept an eye on post-Xander slugging Finn. *Kinda unexpectedly punch it's true, but you'd think he'd have tried to do something about that by now.*

"Willow what is it?"

Angel's voice broke into her thoughts. "Oh, I'm just thinking I might have some ideas as to who else is in this. Riley hangs with a lot of tough looking guys at College, guys who are supposed to be younger than he is but don't look it."

"Are you thinking they're planted by some group or other?" Angel was frowning now, this was something that he'd always worried about. If government got involved he was back to being just another vampire unless he could explain his circumstances, but with Buffy in the same fix."Are you thinking it's the army or the FBI or someone?"

"No." Willow shrugged. "I mean they wouldn't be able to set something like that up without authorization and public knowledge now would they?"

Everything her Mom had ever told her about the US government suddenly came back to her in a jumbled rush. "Oh.....Darn...No it can't possibly be them!"

*******************************************************************************************************************

Walsh checked the figures again. *I really don't think this mix is working, the vampire trait is still too strong.*

Mix human cells and DNA and vampire cells and DNA, add in a splash of demon, then from the hybrid material build a creature with a vampires strength and violent nature but with a humans resistance to sunlight.

*Then find a way to control it in the field so it only kills the people you want it to. That could be the hard part.*

It wasn't going that well. The demons teeming town of Sunnydale had proved to be anything but, and the reason was in her psych class. A little demon killer and her friends who had been so effective over the past seven or so months leaving her with nowhere near enough specimens to work with.

*And all the time there she was a sun-proof vampire. What I wouldn't give for her DNA.*

But that wouldn't happen, the point had been made clear to her when she had asked her backers post their shocking revelation that all the time they had withheld the existence of Slayers and Watchers from her. "The Slayer belongs to the Council, all we're doing is lending them elements of your security detail and nothing more. They won't let you near her and that's that."

Well, what they had got had been Riley and Forrest, but aside from them, all the least experienced members of her team. The cells might be half empty but that didn't mean she was going to let what was in them get out.

*But what I wouldn't give for an hour with that Slayer's DNA.*

************************************************************************************************

"Feel better after your James?"

"My what?" Alternate Buffy asked puzzled by the question.

"Your Jimmy," Jason answered with a straight face.

"Your James, your Jimmy, your Jimmy Riddle, your piddle!" He laughed at her perplexed expression. "It's nice to see you lookin' so relieved luv."

"Ok, you enter a plea of insanity now and I'll accept it straight away." Buffy looked at the gun in the crazy persons hand and with a sigh went and sat on the ground beside her chains. "But at least you're saying weird stuff that's in English unlike that Browne guy who talks some weird language of his own."

"That vampire still out there?" The enforcer wasn't expecting an answer and didn't get one, but the way Buffy looked at him told him what he needed to know. "Tough git that vampire, everyone back round the old manor used to think so."

"You saw him back in England?" the Slayer in her asked. "Where?"

"Round some of the pubs in the Eastend when I was a youngster. He'd be in 'is camel 'air coat over a Saville Row suit. Hangin' with the gangsters and the blagger's." He saw the confused look again. "That's blokes who do armed robberies, always lookin' like he owned the gaffe, 'im and his mate Harry.....literally 'is mate in vampiric terms. Bet the blokes he was drinkin with would 'ave loved that."

"They know he was a vampire?" Buffy asked her interest genuinely piqued.

"No they just though 'e was a bloke to respect cause 'e was so hard." Jason shrugged. "I wasn't surprised though when I found out. So Buffy will you stop him from killin' me?"

"I'll do what I can but don't expect miracles, if I'm chained up down here I'm not really able to help you." She gave him the look. "And no guns, you hurt my alternate or her friends don't expect my help. Also, if they don't show I escape between here and LA, are we clear on that?"

"You'd rather get sent back from here than have to travel to London first?" Jason nodded in understanding. "I can see your point an' you go my word."

"Thanks, but I got other reasons actually," the Slayer replied calmly but with a voice filled with anger. "I don't trust your bosses not to change their minds. They get me back there and they might try the vampire blood after all. Slayer in the hand is worth two in the bush."

"Sensible enough." Jason lifted the gun muzzle so it was pointed over Buffy's head. "Lock yourself back in the chains then darlin' and we'll consider ourselves as having a deal."

Hesitantly, the Slayer did as she was told. "Can I have some food sent down, and some drink too?"

"I'll go get it for you meself." He was smiling as he walked away thinking. *One born every minute, now I'm covered if the vampire Buffy turns up and if I act well enough I'll 'ave 'er on the plane before she realizes I've sold 'er a pup. I think this just might work out after all.*

Buffy tried to get comfortable as she waited for Jason to come back with her food. *Liar or honest, honest I think but then why is my spider sense all tingly. Maybe cause nothing is ever this easy!*

Her scar twisted as she smiled. *I'll play nice for now but the second I get a chance......*

***********************************************************************************************

*Should have gone to see Mom.* Buffy's guilty conscience told her as she drove back to the mansion. *But then I kinda stink of blood and drink and those guys' fear and I don't want to see her if I'm that way.*

Logic told her that her Mom didn't have a vampire's heightened smell and taste and so wouldn't know about the blood she'd walked in or see it dried on the black leather she was wearing. "But I need to be comfy when I see her. Tonight, tonight I'll feel better. More myself."

She turned up into the driveway and slammed on the brakes at the sight of a black car moving through the late evening sunlight towards her. *Altie's leaving, at least I hope it's Altie.*

Dread filled her, dread she couldn't understand since, after all, hadn't she decided she was Angel's girl permanently now. *Oh god I shouldn't want him to stay. I should want him to go off and be happy somewhere else, somewhere where he won't be around to remind me what I did.*

But she knew in her heart that she would always want him near, always want his friendship and advice. *Just no more than that please, for Angel's sake no more.*

The car pulled down beside hers, into the shadow cast by her higher sided vehicle and the window wound partly down. She pushed the button on the electric windows on her car. "Hey Altie is that you?"

"Yes Pet, your boy's staying so you needn't worry." He stayed back from the windows to avoid any stray rays but despite not seeing him Buffy felt relief at the sound of his voice. It wasn't her Spike, the pain and weariness in the voice gave that away. "There was a shadow from the building that fell across the garage door so I thought why not go now."

"I understand." Buffy smiled and added, "You be good, or as good as you can be anyway. And be happy, and be loved."

"Thank you Slayer." Spike wondered why he was saying the words, his demon rebelling against the very idea. But then he thought of Dru and it all became easy. "You be good to, I promise I'll not kill anymore Slayers....well at least as long as you're still bein' one."

"Goodbye."

And with that the window wound up and the car moved away. Towards a new life and a new hope.

*I hope it works out for you this time.* Buffy watched the car in her rear mirror till it passed from sight thinking. *Well Spike's made his choices, now I guess it's up to me to follow through on mine.*

Part Twenty-One



The smell of take out food was the first thing to reach Buffy as she entered the mansion.

*Chinese! Probably nutritious. Oz must have gone instead of Xander.* And sure enough there they all were in the living room, humans and vampires all together. The vamps with blood bags and the humans with cartons of take out in front of them.

"You guys started without me!" Buffy pouted thought she knew it was her own fault for not telling her friends when she'd be back. "Hope you left me some."

"Sorry we thought you'd get something at Willy's," Angel replied wondered at the smell coming off Buffy's clothing, it reminded him of something. *New Minion, the ones who haven't learned to make a clean kill.*

"But not grab yourself a bite.....oww!" The kick Xander's shin received was hard and what made it worse was the fact everyone looked so innocent about it. "That really hurt."

"There's still some blood in the refrigerator and if you want a donut have one, but don't take the Jellies cause their for Giles." Willow got that out of the way before asking,"And how'd things go at Willy's?"

"I errrr..." Tell em the truth or lie, Buffy decided rapidly on a half lie. "Couple of bikers were giving him trouble so I had to slap them around a few times. And waddya mean don't take the jellies? I don't eat remember!"

"Strange how they keep disappearing when you're alone with them then," Willow mumbled before getting to the point. "That's sorta okay Buff, helping people is good, especially Willy after....."

*What I did to him.* She suppressed a sigh and filled the group in on what Willy had said and on the fact that Altie had left.

Everyone looked at Spike sympathetically. Even Angel managed what could be taken for guilt. But the point was ignored in favour of more immediate stuff to save the blonde's feelings.

"So someone else is rubbin' out vamps and demons." Browne and Spike exchanged glances. "But they've not tried it on with you or Angel, makes me wonder that does."

"It's the walkin' round in daylight thing she does," Spike threw back. "Kinda convinces people she's normal and living. My Sire on the other hand is a property owning vampire and that tends to get you noticed."

"And avoided, it's the poor buggers who usually get it in the neck." Browne started to sing to everyone else's alarm. "It's the same the whole world over, it's the poor what gets the blame, while the rich get all the pleasure, ain't it all a bleedin....."

"Thank you." Buffy grinned encouragingly. "But when we need old time music hall or whatever that was we'll ask. We we're discussing why no-ones tried to steal my man from me."

"Wouldn't the fact Angel was with Buffy make them think he was alive?" Willow asked innocently and finding herself surrounded by vampire leers *I wish Buffy wouldn't do that.* The Wiccan blushed as she realized the answers she might get.

"Stayin' power, Red."

"Knowledge, decades of the stuff!"

"We do tend to be handsome."

"If you like tall, dark, an dismal!"

"Please Buff," Xander broke in before Buffy could speak. "Could you please not sink to their level?"

"If Buffy wants to share, let her." Anya gave her beau a wink. He looked back at her nervously puzzling her till the nickel dropped. "Xander don't look like that, there's no way I'd ask these guys to bite you.....no matter how good at intercourse vampires are."

"Thanks for sharing that fact." Xander noted the lack of protests from the potential bitees. "I don't think you got any volunteers anyway."

"Oh I dunno...," Spike murmured grinning at the boy. "In a crisis you could come in quite handy for a snack."

Oz looked at the silent blushing redhead and smiled at her. The question was there unspoken.

"No...," she replied aloud, her eyes half-lowered. "I'd rather have my wolf any day."

"It's the stick fetchin'," Browne opinioned. "That or the 'ealthy h'exercise'."

"That's what I like about vampires they're so forthright," Anya began before catching the look that Xander and Willow were throwing her. "What? I'm a former demon remember? So I knew some vamps..."

"In what sense!" Her boyfriend asked loudly before thinking that maybe he shouldn't raise his voice in company.

"Why Xander you're having jealousy over my ex's." The former demoness had been aware that this was part of the human mating ritual and had almost given up hope that it would happen."Does this mean I can do that thing from Four Weddings and a Funeral now?"

"What thing?" Everyone but Oz asked at once.

"You know where Andie MacDowell tells the English guy how many lovers she's had." Anya raised her hands as if to start counting on her fingers. "Well starting pre-full power center, back in eight hundred and ninety four, there was Thorgil....."

"Ok whose for kidnap?" Willow raised her own hand as did everyone one else except the hopelessly blushing Xander. "Right let's go get in the van."

"Guys......" Xander's head hit the table as his friends abandoned him. "Please just kill me now."

************************************************************************************************

Forrest had to look round the building to find Jason when he got back to the Sunnydale Arms, but eventually tracked him to the kitchens were he was of all things cleaning a plate.

"Hey what's up man, you get the short straw on the chores?" Forrest shrugged at a lack of response and went on. "It's democratic I guess but hardly very boss like."

The mutineer smiled as he whiped the plate dry before putting it on the rack. "First rule of leadership son don't leave all the nasty jobs to your followers, be prepared to do some yourself. Anyway what I really did was feed the Slayer, somebody had to and you lads all seem kinda shy round her."

"It's like having a cougar chained up in your basement that's what it is, nobody here wants their balls ripped off." The Agent had gotten as close as he wanted when they were carrying her unconscious body down the slope. "You didn't unchain her did you?"

"Do I look stupid? I put a plate beside her and cut the food on it up fine, she had to lean over and eat it like a kitty. Quite sweet she looked, too." The lie was easily told and necessary it wouldn't help matters if people found he was so matey with the Slayer. Actually he'd let her unchain one hand and trusted her with a fork. "I'm surprised you boys are so scared of one little girl."

"I ain't," Forrest answered emphatically. "But your 'Boys' sure are, and the stories they've been tellin' bout what a Slayer can do have coloured our judgement just a little."

"Watchers!" Shrugging the Enforcer started looking for a clean cup to get himself some coffee. "Supposed to be members of a secret organization and they shoot their bloody mouths off to everyone. Unlike your lads who seem adept at keepin' stumm. Not a dickie bird 'ave I heard about what the Initiative is or does."

"We ain't some bunch of middle aged school teacher type dudes." Forrest's contempt was obvious. "They really the best you got?"

"Far from it, but that tit Travers let that berk Albany pick the team." Jason didn't see any reason to go into details over the kind of employees the Watchers had in the shadier areas of society. "I'm the only real muscle the pillock brought along. And I don't think I'm doing that bad a job do you?"

"Sure, Mr your whole operations been fucked from the get go cause the Slayer wasn't in town."

Jason smiled, a smile that told Forrest not to go to far with the comedy. He shrugged and went on.

"Way you're sorting things out now makes some sense but I figure it's time we change the emphasis here." Forrest watched the Watcher pour a cup of coffee as he got ready to put his cards on the table. "If I get you an extra security detail in here, plus better weapons than that bolt action crap you guys brought in, can we cut a deal?"

"Depends what sort of weapons and what kinda deal?"

"Automatic and semi automatic dart weapons and guns, electric stun and gas weapons too. All the shit you need to give the Slayer vampire and her friends a proper reception if they find you, or to take that mansion of her boys if she don't."

"And you want in return?" Jason liked the sound of it so far, but there had to be a catch somewhere along the line.

"A couple of hours to check over the turned Slayer." Forrest flashed a fake grin. "You all gotta admit that that ain't too much to ask for all the trouble we've gone to?"

"No, not if you're not gonna try and keep her." Travers would have a fit but beggers couldn't be choosers so Jason nodded. "Alright, but we keep her in sight the whole time....Cause I'm kinda curious to see what you lot are up to."

"Oh just some secret stuff Mr." He could really see Walsh letting the Englishmen watch her medical team at work, but then if the Limeys were prepared to give why shouldn't she. And the stuff she was doing was just research to find a way to destroy vampires after all. *They damn sure should be helping us, we're all on the same team.*

*Get the woman who's running the show in your debt, next thing you know you've got a second bar once you're back in the regular service.* Forrest pictured the look on Riley's face when he found he'd had one put over on him. "We give them till just before sunup to make their move. And if they don't show here we go in."

********************************************************************************************************

The journey to the hospital was fast considering they were using Oz's van but Spike was driving. Oz had stayed behind to guard the outside of the mansion just in case company came to visit whilst Xander was suffering and Anya was sharing.

Willow however had been insistent on coming along. There was no way that the Wiccan was letting them go do this as a vampires only gig and she had made her point quite forthrightly. "I can't trust you guys, I'm sorry but I can't."

"You still don't trust me?" Buffy had replied. "Angel and I have souls Will we arn't about to kill this guy honest."

"We can't hurt him either." The van had nearly left the road as four vampires including the driver turned and stared at her. "We can't, he's mortal, and for all we know not really bad."

"He was going to stake me!" Angel snapped showing more emotion than she was used to from him. "That makes him a bad person in my opinion Willow."

"I've tried to stake you," the redhead pointed out. "And so has Buffy...."

"That's a really weak excuse Will, Angel was evil then and I figure Riley knows he isn't now." The Slayer shrugged her shoulders and asked what she considered the most important question. "Don't you care about Giles and my alternate?"

"Of course I do!" Willow raised her voice in reply, friend or not she wasn't being accused of not caring for Giles."Arn't we supposed to be the good guys? Doesn't that mean no torture?"

"Now 'old on a sec." Browne turned right round in the passenger seat were he rode beside Spike, the two least familiar faces out in the open of the van. "Just 'ow are we supposed to make this Riley geezer squeal if we can't put the literal squeeze on 'im?"

"Can't be done without the boot going in," Spike added his eyes firmly back on the road. "Reason ain't gonna get it done Red, rippin' 'is finger nails out on the other hand....."

"Buffy!" The interruption was plaintive, Willow turning to her friend for some sign of reason. "Please."

"Ok," The Vampire Queen's raised eyebrow stopped the outraged mutterings of her undead followers in a second. "We'll give reason, threat and showing him our fangs a fair try. But if it doesn't work it's Browne with a straight razor for Mr Riley Finn. Giles and my alternate are getting rescued Will, whatever it takes."

************************************************************************************************************

The lot wasn't too crowded and, despite a silent and withdrawn Willow, the team got straight to work. They parked back under some trees as far away from the main entrance as they could get. Riley might have some of his people coming to collect him and the possibility that they might have a description of the Slayerettes transport had to be given due consideration.

"Ok Buffy how do you want to play it?" Angel spoke up first beating the tac vamp to it. "Are we just going to be waiting out here or do we go grab him?"

"Kidnap from a hospital corridor?" Buffy shook her head. "It's the lot or from the vehicle later, the lot would be best. And we've got those spare plates James liberated for Oz so if nobody's looking, switch em, that way Oz won't have to dump his van and pretend it got stolen."

"I'll do that," Willow volunteered with a sigh. "Guess I'm less conspicuous that you guys and you might want to say stuff I'm not going to like to hear."

"Right, firstly remind me to get Willow a present after we're through with this," the Slayer began after the Wiccan had left the van. "Something girlie to show her I'm still her pal. Secondly we need a guy on the inside near the lobby doors. Browne that's you as you're least liable to be recognized guy."

"Tak hai."

"Can't you say ok like a normal person?" Buffy shook her head not waiting for an answer. "Spike and I run interference, waiting to grab Riley once Browne tails him out. Angel's wheel vamp and Willow is in back to throw the doors open once we got our boy." She looked round at her followers. "Everybody clear?"

"Sounds good to me pet." Spike grinned inwardly. *Chance to get 'er out of the poof's earshot.*

"No."

Buffy looked hard at her boyfriend. "And your problem is?"

"I'm not here just to play back up Buffy. My legs better and I'm outside with you whilst my Childe drives." The look Angel cast his Childe brooked no argument. "That okay Spike?"

"Oh certainly your Poofishness, your wish as ever is my command." Spike knew that Angel wouldn't dare go for him in front of Buffy in case she defended him and made the most of the fact. "Best get a move on then hadn't you."

"We sure had," a hurt sounding Buffy replied. "Assuming our Sire and master has nothing else to add." She paused but Angel said nothing. "Browne with me, bring a couple of comm links and we'll check them on the way."

She was out of the rear doors in an instant leaving a worried looking Angel behind. *Well that went well, why the gell did you ever turn to Spike for help?*

*****

"We're gonna 'ave to be careful 'ere Bahadur." Browne walked just behind the Slayer as the two vampires headed for the entrance to the hospital. "I don't fink that they h'appreciates people usin' radios too near their machinery."

"I heard that." Buffy turned around and reached out a hand. "Give me an ear piece and a receiver. When you see a guy fits the description Willow gave you, give your transmit button a click. Then I call up Spike and the van. You follow the guy, and Angel and I grab him and toss him in the back. Unless, that is, his ride is waiting, then it's a different matter."

"Sounds good enough to me." Brown slipped the radio onto his belt and threaded the cables up under his jacket. "Want to try a test?"

"Might as well." Buffy stopped where she was to let the vetala move a little out of earshot. "Go on a few yards and send something."

"What?" Browne asked with a suspicion of a smile. "Anything?"

"Try some poetry," Buffy suggested, adjusting the earpiece and turning away. "Kipling's quite inspirational at times like this."

"Rightee ho." Browne turned his back as well so his smirk wouldn't show then coughed a couple of times as he walked on and began. "On a branch there is a fruit, plump and ripe for sucking."

*Huh?!*

"In her bed there is a flower, hot and ripe for....."

"VAMPIRE!" Buffy was blushing, all the blood she had consumed that day it seemed heading for her cheeks. "No way did Rudyard write that!"

"Well just cause I look thick luv doesn't mean I can't think up my own material." Turning the vetala winked at her. "Curious how your mind can work when your on your tod in a cellar."

"Oh yeah!" Knowing that she really did not need this, Buffy clicked off the radio and, pointing, hissed, "Shooo, hospital, now!"

"Certainly princess." Whistling the Royal Berkshires Regimental quick step, Browne set off to loiter just inside the doors. *Now remember mate, you may be dead, but there's no need to look too fuckin' un'ealty, last thing you needs is some nosey buggers stethoscope down yer shirt.*

"Darn vampires what is it with them?" Buffy whispered to herself. "Ok I guess I must be kinda cute to them but jeeze they're all at it, wanting to jump my bones. Now even James wants to have me....and my demoness is right, I bet he learned some seriously down and dirty stuff on his travels."

A demoness-supplied mental image of what knowledge might entail made Buffy's eyes widen but then another image intruded. An image of Browne. *He is old looking, younger than Angel, true, but still middle-aged. Next thing you know your demoness will be suggesting you jump Giles next chance you get.* There was a familiar giggling sound from somewhere in Buffy's head and a very unwelcome mental image of her leaning back against a door, naked, with her ex-Watcher on his knees before her sprang to her mind's eye unbidden. *Why not?* Her demoness hissed. *He's bound to feel grateful!*

*Oh you sick twisted.......* Buffy slammed into something solid. "Owwwwww....ohhh."

The solid thing was Angel who was standing there giving her that sometimes rather irritating half-smile. "Hey Buffy where were you, you're walking around like you're asleep."

"Sorry, I just relaxed my brain for a couple of minutes." She shrugged. "And where does it say that I have to be the one that concentrates every second, why can't you do the thinking Mr?"

"Fine." Angel bent and captured her mouth with his probing her unprotesting mouth with his tongue. "I think it would be good if you don't walk into the sticking out branch of some tree or other, and for that not to happen maybe your eyes being open is a good thing."

"True, trees can be bad." She had a flash back to the uses she'd occasionally put them to. "Okay so I'm concentrated. How do we blend in?"

"Blend?" Angel showed the facial expression that Buffy had discovered equaled puzzlement.

"We stand round these cars," she patiently explained. "And people will think we want to steal them, therefore we need to do something else."

Angel looked around, trying to think of a blending solution, but Buffy suddenly grabbed his hand and started dragging him across the lot. "Buffy?"

"Bench," she replied to his unspoken question. "We sit over there, hold hands and maybe smooch a little, blending right in."

"Outside a hospital?" Angel asked startled. "Isn't that a rather unusual place to be....blending."

"Not in Sunnydale," Buffy interrupted, smiling. "If you've spent as long patrolling it at night as I have you'd know that the main nighttime blending spots have a nasty rep. So if you're not ready for what couples do up at the point but you wanna be away from your friends..." She sat and patted the bench beside her. "You go find somewhere like this, alone but public and blend."

She held out her hand to him and Angel took it. "Sorry I've been snippy."

"It's all right." Angel brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them, then added looking deep into her eyes. "You've been going through a hell of a lot lately and I guess it's mostly my fault."

"Angel." She smiled at him that half-smile that had won his undead heart so long ago. "I made my own choice, you're not to blame lover, I did what I thought I had to do."



****************************************************************************

***********************************

"They look happier." Willow opinioned from her seat beside Spike in the van. She could tell, however, that the vampire she sat beside wasn't happy at all. His jaw was set as he watched his Sire kiss the Slayer. "You ok Spike?"

"What?" Spike had barely heard the question, so lost was he in contemplation of his unlife's suckingness. "Who me?"

"Yes you." The Wiccan smiled to show her intentions were friendly. "Everyone's proud of what you did, Spike."

"Proud?" The puzzled vampire responded. He shrugged and asked. "Of what exactly Willow, sorry luv but I'm lost 'ere."

"Of you not going bad again." She saw the confusion getting worse so decided she'd have to risk it and use the D word. "Which is what would have happened if you'd gone back to Drusilla."

"And you're proud of me for that?" He frowned still not sure where on the page he was supposed to be or in which volume. "Really?"

"Darn tootin." Willow almost wished she hadn't raised the subject as she heard the pain in Spike's voice, but for all that, went on. "And helping out the alternate plane's Spike and looking after Dru.....not that I necessarily like her but....."

"Yeah Red I get the message." Spike turned his eyes back towards Angel and Buffy. "But I so need to get back to LA."

"I know, it has to be hard for you." Willow's voice caught a little as she tried to empathize, and in doing so remembered her own deep buried guilt over her feelings for Xander. *Deep buried, who am I kidding?*

But she refound her track and went on. "It must be hard, seeing them like that?"

"Willow, luv, what kind of answer are you lookin' for here." There was no menace in Spike's voice, he was however becoming suspicious of what Willow might know. "Has Buffy....."

"Oh Buffy's not said anything to me, but I'm her friend and I can tell she's not always happy." She caught Spike's eye again and held his gaze this time. "And Spike I know from the way you look at her that you love her totally."

"What are you gonna do?" The vampire knew that he couldn't threaten Willow even if he had wanted to. He would just have to unlive with any decision she reached. "Are you gonna tell Angel?"

"Who me? Do I look like the Snitch to you?" Willow smiled and was glad to see an answer smile from the blond. "But if Angel hurts you Buffy will probably never forgive him or, more importantly, herself, and I don't want any of my friends going through that kind of pain, including you Spike."

Reaching over to him she put her hand on his arm. "Go back to LA, Spike, it's for the best, for all three of you."



****************************************************************************

*************************

Browne stood near to the door to the hospital, nonchalantly reading a copy of the National Enquirer that he'd bought from the news stand. *Prince William an' Britney Spears? No it can't be bloody true!*

He had one eye on the corridor as he contemplated the future fall of the Monarchy that he'd loyally served but even so he almost missed Riley as the sling-wearing, black clad youth walked past him. The sleeve of his shirt on the side Willow's arrow had struck home was gone and he looked pale from pain and bloodloss.

*Bugger the bloody Royals here's the man 'imself.* Hastily dropping the tabloid on the small table he was stood next to Browne keyed the send button on his radio.

Then, keeping his distance, he followed Riley out through the doors.

****************************************************************************

*************************

"We're up!" Buffy broke free and whispered as static crackled in her ear. The two ensouled vampires had gone a little further than was necessary for blending in the strictest sense, and Buffy hastily withdrew her hand from what it was caressing in the front of Angel's pants. "Well you kinda already

were."

"I'll manage." Angel morphed to improve his night vision. "That sure looks like our boy." After Xander had punched the TA out, Angel had made quite sure that Riley was pointed out to him at the next possible opportunity. If the guy had ever dared insult Buffy in the Bronze again it would have gone badly for him.

"Spike, we're moving," Buffy whispered into her pre-programmed cellphone and then the two lovers set off across the lot as Buffy retuned to Browne and added, "He got company?"

"No Bahadur 'e's on 'is todd."

"So drive him out towards us."



****************************************************************************

***********************

"Back of the van, luv, and be ready to throw that door open the instant they've got him." Spike turned the key in the ignition and prepared to make a fast turn out of the parking place. "Oh and hang on, this could get rough."



****************************************************************************

******************************

"Great, absolutely great," Riley said to himself as he stood outside the hospital and looked at the complete lack of ride. "You'd think they could spare a car to come get me."

In truth though, a phone conversation with the Professor half an hour before had left him with a sinking feeling that the events of the previous night had not done his career prospects any good.

*I just wanted to stake a vampire.* Riley's arm hurt despite the pain relief, and he really didn't fancy a walk to the nearest bus stop. *Is that so bad an ambition for a demon hunter? It's what I'm supposed to do.*

Why did they want Angel kept undead anyway? What was he special just cause he had a soul? The reasons behind the Watchers decree absolute that Angel not be touched puzzled him extremely.

*What was it going to be, Buffy told that Angel's still alive and if you're good for fifty years we'll let you go be with him.* Picturing Albany in his mind he had to agree that was possible. "I would have been doing her a favor, sparing her all that torment of wondering where he was and who he might be with."

"An' she more that appreciates it my son." The English accented voice was full of humour as it spoke the words from behind him. "An' I'm 'ere to offer you a gesture of 'er h'appreciation."

*Oh fuck.....* A vampire with a London accent! There were two possibilities, one was Spike and the other was Browne. *If it is a vampire?*

Slowly Riley turned his head looking back towards the hospital doors. The vampire standing there was morphed and menacing, but didn't look a thing like Billy Idol. *So I know which vampire it is, so what!*

"I shout and the guys in there are gonna come running out and grab you." Realizing a bold front was his only choice Riley tried to brazen it out. "You ready to risk that. A mass killing in the street?"

Browne opened his big hands out affably. "Do what you like boy, I don't mind cause I can break your neck an' be gone before the sounds left your body." His smile broadened revealing a mouth full of sharp pointed teeth. "Maybe you should try runnin', cause after all I'm quite an old bloke for a vampire, you might....." He trailed off as the wounded commando took off for the main road at a fast sprint for a recently wounded person. "Not bad boy, you catch on quick."

Laughing out loud at the fun to be had Browne set off after him. But not too fast......



****************************************************************************

***************************

"Here he comes," Buffy whispered from her position pressed against Angel's chest.

Officially, they were a couple who stood hugging. Not like there was any reason for two people to hug near the edge of a hospital parking lot, but this was Sunnydale and courting couples are courting couples.

"Which ways he running?" Angel asked into her hair, he was looking the other way.

"Straight at us would you believe?"



****************************************************************************

***********************************************

"Hey!" Riley gasped as he panted down towards the couple standing on the lot. "Can you guys......?"

His voice died in his mouth as the couple he had hoped could help him turned to look at him smiles on their faces. Their ridged demonic faces.

"Oh god no!" Riley stumbled to a stop to stunned by the enormity of his mistake to think of running in another direction.

"Silly rabbit." With a teasing sway of her leatherclad hips Buffy stepped back from Angel and out to his side so Riley could get a good look at her. "Don't you even get how running away's supposed to work?*

"Guess he's even dumber than you thought, trying to stake your boyfriend and then running straight to you." Angel could smell Riley's fear and the dried blood on his shirt, in his tense morphed state he felt his demon stir. *What must it be like for the others? Guess it's good Willow's here.*

"What's up Riley, cat got your tongue..." Buffy swayed closer the fingers of her right hand playing lightly with a tress of her long blond hair. "Speak up Mr Mysterious or I might just rip it out and feed it to one."

"And then I won't be able to tell you a thing, so go ahead it'll save you so much time." He saw the humour in her yellow eyes turn to anger for a second and then back to humour as he finished. "Cause I'm not telling you a thing."

"Yes, you are. But your right about the tongue, there are so many other things to tear off first." Buffy smiled turning waved to Spike to bring up the van. "And now we're gonna turn out the lights. Angel, do your thing."

Angel's clenched fist came in like lighting, it was the last thing Riley saw.

Continued

1