Jan K., Kathy H. & Melanie
He'd only been driving for a couple of hours, but to Spike it seemed like an eternity. All he wanted to do was put as much distance between himself and L.A. as possible. If there was any truth to Eve's story, the Senior Partners may already be in hot pursuit. Not that he was all that worried about himself, but he knew that getting a message to Buffy was necessary for more than one reason. He had to tell her about Angel, but he also had to warn her, in case the wrath of Wolfram and Hart reached out to anyone that he or Angel had ever cared about.
The thought of making that call weighed heavily on his mind for a multitude of reasons. So he headed north on 405, cut west to Santa Monica, and raced on towards the Pacific Coast Highway. He hoped maybe the scenic route would help him settle his emotions and focus his thoughts, in order to sort out his next move.
But so far, it hadn't worked. The powerful roar of the Viper's engine and his favorite hard rock classics blaring on the radio offered him some diversion, but he couldn't prevent the events of the past 24 hours from creeping back and taking over his thoughts. And along with the memories, feelings of loss and utter helplessness were pervasive. What if he'd done better, been faster or more clever -- could he have saved any of them? And if he had, would it matter? What would he have done then? What should he do now?
Not like he was running away. No way! Spike was no coward. Never had been. Never backed down from a fight. 'Fists and Fangs' had always been the code he lived by. Better to go down fighting than give up. That code had served him bloody well, too, at least up to now. Yeah, sometimes he took it on the chin for rushing headlong into battle without thinking first, but for the most part his instincts had always saved him to fight another day.
Problem was---now the rules had changed. Fighting everyday type demons was a walk in the park for Spike. But fighting 'organized evil'? Now that was a different thing all together; it required planning and meticulous details and patience. Although planning was something he was certainly capable of doing, and he'd handled a fair amount of meticulous details from time to time, he'd always considered himself a little lacking when it came to patience.
Angel had always been the brooding thinker. Spike was all action. All emotion. He was the doer. Now, without Angel, Wes, Fred and Gunn, he'd have to be the entire team. Even if Lorne was alive, he'd made it clear he wanted noting more to do with the fight. And who knew where Illyria may have gone! Another wave of depression washed over him, and he pounded the Viper's dash in frustration.
"Damn it, Angel," he yelled, "if this is your twisted way of passing the torch, I wish you'd given me a bit more on-the-job training before tossing me out to fly solo!"
He abruptly pulled the car off the road, coming to a screeching halt at a scenic overlook perched high above the rocky coastline.
"Bloody hell! I need a smoke, a drink," he exclaimed, "anything to steady my nerves".
Hoping that at some time he had stashed a few cigarettes in the glove compartment, or maybe a couple of those little liquor bottles he'd snagged off Angel's corporate jet, he rummaged around but came up empty. Suddenly, the reason for the empty glove box hit him. Six months ago he'd been thinking of taking up smoking again, but Fred had pleaded so passionately against it, he decided to abandon the idea.
"Bugger!" he grumbled.
Then he laughed as he remembered her very seriously and earnestly telling him it was a nasty habit, wasn't good for him, and since he'd already given it up once, why start again? He'd countered with some lame line about him not really worrying about dying from lung cancer, but to no avail. She begged him not to cave in, and since it seemed so important to her, he gave it up. In truth, it had touched him that she was so concerned about his health. It made him feel like he actually mattered to someone.
Looking back on it, he again was amazed at how much he had changed. Back in the day, he would never have allowed anyone to criticize or alter his habits, nasty or not. He would have told them to sod off and then ignored any further discussion. He would never have considered changing himself to suit anyone. But then he fell for The Slayer, and that had changed everything.
Now look at me, he mused. Despite the old proverb saying it can't be done, this leopard kept changing his bloody spots, first for Buffy, then for Fred. Damn good thing they didn't insist I give up Jack Daniels as well. Reckon I would've put up a bit more of a fight on that front. But, looks like I won't be getting any help from my old friend Jack tonight, he shrugged. Only got myself to lean on, so I'd best be keeping my wits about me and take care of business.
As he sat there, lost in his memories of Fred and Buffy, renewed dread started to gnaw at his gut. He knew the immediate task ahead of him might be harder to face than his uncertain future. He had to make that phone call---the one he'd agonized over for hours. He owed it to Angel. He owed it to Buffy. She needed to know. Only problem was, how to tell her? How would she take it? Especially coming from him, being that he was supposed to be---well, dead. And not just dead but ashes. Imagine the shock that would be, before he even had a chance to tell her anything else.
God. He should have called her months ago and told her he was alive, but, no. He couldn't bear the thought that he'd no longer have died a hero in her eyes. Couldn't bear to find out for sure that she didn't really mean those last words she said to him in the Hellmouth. When he'd given his life that day, he'd hoped he was giving her a chance to live a better life. When he came back into the world, he wanted desperately to go to her, but couldn't face the chance he might not fit in her life anymore.
So, he did nothing. And this time Angel was dead, but he had survived. What would he hear in her voice when she heard his voice on the phone? Relief? Regret? Indifference? He hated the thought of causing her any pain, but what else could he do?
He was pretty sure she'd be royally pissed at him for not letting her know he'd returned from the dead, and in truth, he probably deserved that anger. But he was absolutely positive that if he didn't tell her about Angel, she'd never forgive him. He had to make the call. He'd never be able to live with or forgive himself if he feared for her safety and didn't warn her. No matter how difficult the call would be, he had to make it.
Suddenly, Spike felt hopelessly lost. It all came crashing down on him at once. Leaning back against the headrest, he stared out the window at the starlit heavens above. The tears that had been threatening to flow ever since he scoured the alley for signs of his friends welled up in his eyes again. He didn't even try to stop them; he just let them fall.
Spike cried for all his fears and insecurities and for all the missed opportunities with Buffy. He cried for Fred, for Wes and Gunn and even for Angel. They were good people. They tried to do the right thing. Sure, they faltered at times, they made mistakes, but they had good intentions.
Guess the path to Hell really was paved with good intentions, Spike thought bitterly. Whoever coined that phrase really hit the nail on the head. Not that he thought all his friends were in Hell. Well, maybe Angel, but Angel deserved better, damn it. Didn't his sacrifice mean anything? Didn't helping the helpless and dying to save the world warrant redemption? Isn't that what Christianity's all about? If it wasn't, he was certainly damned to Hell, too.
Last of all, Spike cried for himself. For the loss of his newfound family that he'd enjoyed all too briefly. He had finally felt like he belonged somewhere, like he fit in and was respected. Even by Angel. And now, they were gone. He was alone again. After awhile, he shook his head and wiped the tears away.
Might as well suck it up and get over yourself, you pathetic git, he sniffed. Sitting here, crying, wouldn't solve anything. For some reason, he'd survived; maybe that meant he still had a job to do. Gotta honor their memories. Carry on the good fight.
A little embarrassed by his emotional breakdown, Spike pulled himself together. Straight and strong again, he whispered a solemn promise.
"Angel, unless Buffy stakes me straight away when she hears the news, I'll find a way to make those bloody bastards pay. Don't know how, or when, but I'll find a way. Maybe that's why I'm still here. To see that none of you died in vain."
A small smile played on his lips, and he added quietly, "Oh, Angel? That crack I made about you burning in sodding Hell? Uh, I didn't really mean it. I'm sure all of you are in a better place now, so no hard feelings, yeah?"
He sighed. If he had a job to do, he'd best get to work. He shifted the car into gear and eased back onto the highway. It would be daybreak in a couple of hours, and he needed to find a safe place to make the call he knew could no longer be delayed.
Spike drove through the streets of Santa Maria looking for a pay phone because he figured that the car phone was likely bugged. Maybe it had been linked up only to spies in the now demolished L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart, but he had no way to be sure. It could have been monitored by one of the now dead Circle of the Black Thorn members, but then again, it might be linked directly to the Senior Partners themselves. Better safe than sorry.
When he found a pay phone, Spike parked the Viper beside it and ripped the car phone right out of the console. He walked briskly and purposefully over to a nearby trash can and tossed the phone inside. With the same strength of purpose, Spike turned and approached the pay phone. He punched in the numbers he had memorized months ago when he had first planned to call Buffy's Rome apartment. Before it began to ring, he slammed the receiver down.
He laughed out loud at his sudden weakness, took a deep breath and dialed once more. He hung up again.
"Bloody hell," he exclaimed. "I'm afraid to make a phone call?"
Shaking his head, he muttered, "What a ponce! Can't keep putting this off." He steeled himself and made the call.
Dawn and Andrew ran toward the phone ringing in their Rome apartment, both yelling, "I've got it!" Dawn won the race, gave Andrew a smug look of triumph and picked up the receiver with a cheerful, "Ciao!"
Spike hesitated for a moment as he recognized Dawn's voice, then spoke rapidly in a hushed and hopefully unidentifiable voice, "Is Andrew there?"
"Oh. You're speaking English. Yes, Andrew is here." Andrew now gave her a look of triumph and reached for the phone, but Dawn moved away from him, asking in a teasingly officious tone, "And whom may I say is calling?"
Spike sighed as he contemplated what course of action to take, then replied, "William. He---he knows me from L.A." Spike waited for Dawn's reaction. Would she relinquish the phone or continue her nosey parker routine long enough to recognize his voice?
Luckily, Dawn lost interest in the game and passed the phone to Andrew. "Some guy named William. Sounds British. Says you know him from L.A."
Andrew looked slightly puzzled but took the phone. "Hello?"
Spike spoke very quickly. "Andrew. Don't panic or say anything that will indicate it's me. This is Spike."
Andrew played along. "Oh, yes, William. I do remember you from L.A. In fact, I remember giving you my business card so that you could call me. I was beginning to think you never would."
"Andrew!" Spike interjected, but Andrew kept jabbering until Dawn got bored and began to leave the room.
"Is this regarding that mint condition action figure of Obi Wan Kenobi? If so, I am still interested in..."
"Andrew, you stupid git. This is important, and I don't have much time. I just noticed a guy down the street who seems to have too much interest in me."
"Really? I always wondered if guys hit on you. There is certainly no question about you attracting the ladies; it just stands to reason that guys---"
Spike growled his aggravation into the phone.
"All right," said Andrew. "It's okay, now. Dawn just went back to her room, and Buffy is lying down in hers, so you can tell me whatever..."
"Enough, Andrew! Listen up. Something bad has gone down in L.A. that Buffy and the rest of you lot need to know. But first, did you ever tell Buffy that I'm alive?"
"Undead again, you mean, not really alive, 'cause, you know..."
"I'm serious, Andrew. If you want to stay alive the next time I see you, answer my questions quickly and stop prattling on, you daft..."
"No, I didn't tell her." Andrew looked around to make sure neither Buffy nor Dawn had come back into the room, and positioned himself so that he'd be sure to see them if they did. Then he continued, "You asked me not to tell, and I kept my promise, mio amico. You said you wanted to tell her, yourself, when you were ready. Since you didn't stick around Rome to tell her when you were over here with Angel, I figured you still weren't ready."
"It's time, then. This news is really bad."
"Bad, like when Boromir died or even worse, like when everyone thought Gandalf died?"
"Yeah, someone's dead all right. Several people, actually. Pretty much everyone Buffy knew in L.A. And I know I'm the one who should tell her, but it's such shocking news, and she'll already be stunned if you hand her the phone, and she hears my voice coming out of it. Don't suppose Rupert happens to be in town?"
"Mr. Giles? No, he's in London. Just Buffy, Dawn and me here in Rome." Andrew's voice and demeanor had become quiet and serious.
"I can help prepare Buffy for your sad tale by delivering the news about you, first, and giving her time to gather her composure before you tell her the rest."
"Not sure about that, Andrew. Did handle yourself better while you were in L.A. dealing with that crazy Slayer, but this will take some finesse. Buffy'll be right brassed off once she gets over the shock."
"Trust me on this, please, Spike? I've learned how to handle serious situations when the need arises. I've changed a lot; you'd hardly recognize me since I finished Mr. Giles' Watcher Training Program. I was still just a Watcher-in-training when you saw me in L.A. Let me prove myself to you. You know how I feel about Buffy and Dawn. I promise I can do this ever so gently."
"All right, Andrew. Have a feeling I may regret this decision, but I think I need to get out of here in a hurry. Like I said, some wanker's had his eye on me for the last few minutes. Not sure who he is. I thought I might be all right once I left L.A., which is definitely not a safe place for me to be right now. Looks like I didn't leave fast enough or get far enough away."
"Don't worry about me; I can handle this. Call back in about twenty minutes or a half hour---however long it takes you to get to a safe phone. Hey, you can even call collect! We can always charge it to the Council; this is official Slayer business. I swear I'll be careful of Buffy's and Dawn's feelings. Ciao, mio amico."
Spike muttered a quick goodbye, and as Andrew hang up the phone, Buffy entered the living room.
"What's this about my feelings? And Dawn's?" She glared at Andrew and yelled, "Dawn! Better come into the living room."
As soon as Spike hung up the phone, he jumped back into the Viper. He sped away as "the wanker" he referred to pulled out a cell phone and started dialing. "The wanker" then hopped into a car that drove suddenly around the corner to pick him up. They drove off in pursuit of Spike.
Meanwhile, Andrew nervously gestured to the sofa, "I think this will work better if you're both sitting down."
"Spit it out, Andrew!" Dawn collapsed on the sofa while Buffy continued to glare at him.
"Please, Buffy. Sit down. This isn't going to be easy for any of us." Andrew gestured again to the sofa as he seated himself in an armchair facing the sisters.
A grumpy and very suspicious Buffy sat down next to Dawn. "You're being overly dramatic, Andrew. Always a sign that you're hiding something, and you know Dawn and I hate secrets, so start sharing."
Andrew leaned forward with a look of both compassion and some trepidation. "You're going to get a phone call in about a half hour or so from someone unexpected."
"From who, Andrew? Enough with the Psychic Hotline attitude and Sherlock Holmes voice," Dawn exclaimed.
"He's been wanting to call you for quite some time, but hasn't felt ready to do so. I'm sure he had his reasons," he continued with a great effort to lay down some conciliatory brickwork for Spike to build upon.
"I don't like all this hedging, Andrew. Just tell us. Tell us right now, or I swear I'll kick you out of this apartment so fast, the door will flatten your skinny butt." Buffy's voice got louder with each word.
"And you know you'll never find anyplace else you can afford on your own. Rome is way expensive!" added Dawn.
"Don't freak out now. Take some deep breaths and find your center like Mr. Giles taught us to do," Andrew implored.
"Andrew!" both sisters yelled.
"What?" Buffy gasped, her eyes wide with confusion.
"Holy shit!" Dawn fell back deeper into the sofa cushions, a look of wonder on her face.
"Calm down. I warned you, but you pushed me into saying it too fast." Andrew smiled broadly, and his countenance became almost beatific. "Spike's come back into our lives---just like when Gandalf the Grey returned as Gandalf the White."
As tears began sliding down all three of their faces, Buffy whispered, "How? And why didn't he want to tell me sooner?" She looked completely gobsmacked and very vulnerable.
"I'm sure he wanted to tell you sooner, Buffy, but things were difficult for him. See, at first, he was a ghost."
"A what? A ghost?" Dawn squealed, revealing almost a mirror image of Buffy's shock, awe, concern and cautious joy.
With a tender smile, Andrew surveyed his audience. "Listen, gentle sisters, as I tell you the tale of the Champion of Sunnydale and how he was resurrected after heroically sacrificing himself to save the world."
Spike alternated his gaze back and forth between the mostly deserted streets in front of him and his rear view mirror. A dark SUV followed steadily behind no matter how many turns he made. He knew the Viper could certainly outrun the SUV if he could make it to a highway, but since they managed to tail him to Santa Maria, they could probably find him again. The sodding Senior Partners probably placed tracking devices in all of Angel's cars. Bollocks! He really liked driving the Viper and didn't want to give it up. As for the two guys currently following him, there was no time like the present.
Spike swerved quickly into the first alley that presented itself. As he reached the next street and turned right, he saw the SUV pull into the alley behind him. When the SUV neared the end of the alley, Spike jammed into reverse and blocked their path. In a flash, Spike was at the SUV's passenger door while his pursuers were still releasing their seatbelts. He yanked open the door and pulled the guy out into the alley. The guy was strong and well built but human, and therefore, no match for Spike.
Spike slammed him face first up against the car. The guy fumbled as he brought a taser gun out of his pocket. Spike grabbed the taser out of his hand and used it on the driver who had finally gotten out of the vehicle and was beginning to aim his own taser at Spike. The driver went down quickly with a resounding thud as Spike spoke threateningly into the first guy's ear.
"Why are you following me?"
"Come on, Spike. You know why. You didn't expect the Senior Partners to just let you go---not after what you guys did."
"So you're from Wolfram & Hart?"
"Another question you already know the answer to. Where's that blinding wit you're supposed to be known for?"
Spike slammed the guy into the car again, eliciting a very satisfying grunt. "Never waste my wit on minions like you, you stupid git. I'd advise you to start answering my questions with a modicum of respect. If the Senior Partners sent you, why are you armed with tasers rather than stakes? Got my lethal weapon of choice handy," Spike said, leaning into the guy's view and flashing his fangs.
"We're not here to dust you!" the guy hurriedly replied as the possibility of his own demise was now abundantly clear. "We're only supposed to keep an eye on you and report back. That's all."
"That's better," said Spike. "Keep the answers coming and you may see daylight yet. What the bloody hell do they want from me? As far as I'm concerned, our battle ended in that alley in L.A. I have no interest in continuing a war, and our death toll bloody well ought be high enough to satisfy even those pillocks."
"That's not the issue. They have an invested interest in you. They just want to stay informed of your whereabouts and what you're doing. Do you think you could loosen up just a bit?" he asked. "I'm finding it a bit hard to breathe."
Spike loosened his grip and spun the guy around, so they could continue their palaver face to face. The guy took several deep breaths and then looked forthrightly into Spike's eyes. "You know what this is all about, Spike."
"If it's about that sodding Shanshu, you can tell those buggers I'm not interested. Not going to be anyone's 'boy'. I'm my own man."
"That's the thing about prophecies, though. It doesn't really matter what you say or what you do, they still play themselves out," the guy shrugged and waited for Spike's reply.
"When's that, then? When's this bloody thing s'posed to play itself out?"
"I don't know. I don't even know if the Senior Partners know. I never met them, myself. I just do what my boss tells me and then cash my paycheck."
"Who's your boss?"
The guy chuckled before answering. "Never met him either, to tell the truth. We used to get our orders from Eve and then Hamilton. The new guy's keeping his identity to himself ---at least so far. All I know is that his voice sounds like he's a Brit, like you, only more cultured, you know what I mean?"
"Nancy boy, eh?" They both laughed and Spike asked, "What's your name, mate?"
"Well, Mike, you seem like a nice enough bloke, but can't have you two following me wherever I go. You've gotta understand that, yeah?"
Without warning, Spike tasered Mike but shoved him into the passenger's seat instead of letting him crumple to the pavement. Then he leaned further into the SUV, smashed what appeared to be a combination GPS and surveillance system and then tasered it, just to be sure it was out of commission. He reached into Mike's pocket and extracted his cell phone, then headed over to take the driver's as well, picking up his taser, too. Never know when such a weapon might come in handy.
Spike glanced quickly around the alley and spotted an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. "Well, now. Looks like my buddy Jack is going to help me out tonight, after all."
He smashed the bottle and used it to slash all four of the tires on the SUV. Confident with his work, Spike whistled as he strode over to the Viper, tossed the tasers in the trunk, turned the cell phones off, tossed them onto the passenger's seat and climbed inside. As he drove off, his thoughts returned to Buffy and the phone call he still needed to make.
Spike continued driving through the dark, almost completely deserted streets of Santa Maria, heading for the highway while keeping an eye out for another pay phone. Once Mike and his partner regained consciousness, they would still be unable to follow him in a car with four slashed tires, so Spike knew he had plenty of time to make his follow-up call without concern for further pursuit. At least not immediate pursuit.
Even if the two men called in reinforcements, it would take time for another surveillance team to arrive in Santa Maria. And by then, Spike would be gone. He should find someone as soon as possible who could search the Viper for tracking devices, in case that's how they had found him here in Santa Maria. As Spike turned a corner, he spotted a 24-hour convenience store with a pay phone in the corner of its parking lot.
His dry throat screamed for liquid refreshment, so Spike decided to enter the store before making the call. Places like this never had any hard liquor, unfortunately, nor anything as good as Guinness, so he'd have to settle for a local brew. He'd never admit it, of course, but he'd developed a taste for cold beer after all of his years in the States. Nothing could beat an English ale, though, served warm as God intended, but every now and then, a cold beer hit the spot. As he paid for a six-pack of Coronas, Spike sized up the hard-looking man behind the cash register. He definitely looked like he'd been around the block several times and sported tattoos on his arms and neck that appeared to be of the prison variety.
The man stared unflinchingly back into Spike's steady gaze and said, "Nice ride, man," as he nodded his head in the direction of the Viper and gave Spike his change.
"Yeah," replied Spike, deciding to take a chance. "Wouldn't happen to know of an all-night chop shop, would ya, mate?"
"Why, officer, I don't know what you could possibly be referring to," said the cashier with a ripe combination of sarcasm and feigned innocence.
"Not a cop," countered Spike, "and can easily prove it to you". Spike quickly flashed into and back out of his game face to show that his intent was not currently slaughter and then asked, "Convinced? And rest assured this beer is all I'm interested in drinking right now."
The cashier had visibly blanched. "Got no quarrel with you, mister. If I tell you a place that might meet your automotive needs, will you leave here without any trouble?"
"Soon as I finish making a call on that pay phone out there, it'll be like I was never here."
"Fine. The highway is just two blocks up the street, but if you keep going another three miles instead of getting on the highway, then turn right on Las Verde Road, you'll come to a warehouse next door to an abandoned tool and dye shop. That shop has an old, battered sign that says Powell Tool & Dye. There's no sign on the warehouse, but there's always someone working there. Guy that runs it's Benny Freeman. If he ain't there, whoever is ought to be able to help you out. Do me a favor, though, and don't mention I sent you."
"Got it", said Spike. "Right on Las Verde. Benny Freeman's warehouse next to Powell Tool & Dye. Never met you. Ta, mate."
As Spike made his way to the pay phone, he opened one of the Coronas and marveled at his unexpected stroke of luck. The Viper would be de-bugged before the night was out. He took a long, cold drink from the bottle. Now, if only the conversation with Buffy would go a tenth as well as the one with the cashier, he'd start believing that maybe his karma had somehow managed to improve.
On another continent, poor Andrew's karma had not served him quite so well. He lay prone on the sofa with a wet compress to his head, looking like he'd been through quite an ordeal. Buffy was now sitting in the armchair that Andrew had vacated, staring at a fixed point on the wall. Dawn was pacing back and forth when, finally, the phone rang again. Dawn stopped and glanced at Buffy who gave a nod as she stood up, but Buffy remained frozen in place as Dawn answered the phone.
"Spike? Is it really you?" Dawn asked in a very small, tentative voice.
"Yeah, Dawn. It's me."
"You big jerk! I can't believe you never called us!" Then her voice and tone immediately softened again. "I mean, I'm really glad you're back, and what you did for all of us that day---that was really something, Spike! I am so proud of you. And...and I've really missed you. I want to see you right away and have a really long talk, but not right now 'cause Buffy wants to talk with you. She let me go first, so that you two can talk longer, which means that I won't get much more time with you. From the look on her face, I'd say that you've got some 'splaining to do, Lucy!"
Dawn finally wound down and took a deep breath as Buffy began to nervously pace the same pattern on the floor that Dawn had paced.
"I know, Bit. And I've missed you, too. Glad you don't hate me anymore."
"I never really hated you, Spike."
"Right. Just wanted to set me on fire, yeah?"
"God, Spike. You can't even imagine how much I've regretted saying that to you, and that I never apologized for it."
As Dawn spoke those words, Buffy turned sharply toward her and then looked quickly away, lost in her own thoughts of regret. Dawn continued, "I've been, like, consumed with regret. Regret sucks!"
"Talking to the king of regret, here, Bit. Don't need to apologize to me."
"Yes, I do. 'Cause I really tried to hate you, because of, you know, what you did to Buffy. Bet I had you convinced, right? Didn't have me convinced, though. I just couldn't really hate you, Spike, you know? You meant, er...that is, you mean too much to me. And anyway, Buffy finally explained to me what really happened that night and about the seriously effed-up relationship you two had during that whole year, so I guess I kinda understand it all now. And since Buffy certainly forgave you, it'd be pretty stupid of me not to. Speaking of stupid, how could you come all the way over here to Rome and not even stay long enough to see us? Hold that thought. Buffy's about to yank this phone right out of my hand. Bye, Spike."
"Bye, Niblet. Thanks for forgiving me."
Buffy had her ear next to the receiver by the time Spike spoke those words, and then grabbed it completely out of Dawn's hand. Dawn reached out for Andrew, dragged him to his feet, and guided him out of the living room as Buffy started speaking.
"I may not forgive you quite so easily as Dawn just did, Spike," Buffy said ominously. "Start talking."
"Hello, Buffy." He didn't know what to say next, so he just listened to Buffy breathing on the other end of the phone and finished off the Corona.
"Spike?" When he didn't immediately respond, Buffy continued, "I understand that you have some bad news to tell me, but first, I'd like an explanation. Not about "the when", and "the how", and what you've been doing in L.A. since you got back. Andrew took care of that for you. By the way, you owe him big time. He took the brunt of my shock and anger. You've just got the aftermath to deal with---the disappointed Buffy."
"I'm sorry, Buffy." Spike opened another beer, certain that he would need a little more fortification to be able to handle this conversation.
"Yeah, I know." She softened suddenly, and the hurt was very clear in her voice as she quietly asked, "Why didn't you at least call me, Spike?"
"I tried, Buffy. I called you in my mind. Every night, I called you. 100 different ways. But it never sounded right. I could never think of a way to tell you I was back, without sounding like a complete fool."
"I---I don't understand."
"As far as you knew, I died in that Hellmouth in a blaze of glory, yeah? Finally stepped up and did the right thing. Was the bloody, noble hero for once in my life. Died, like the champion you said I was."
"Yes. You did. You were absolutely amazing, Spike. I told you I believed in you. I knew you had it in you to do anything you set your mind to do. I knew you were our champion. So...?"
"What?" Spike swallowed the first third of the bottle he'd opened.
"So why wouldn't I want to hear from a bloody, noble hero who miraculously found his way back from death? I didn't avoid you when I came back."
"That's a completely different thing."
"Is not," Buffy argued.
Spike growled a little bit in frustration. "Knew this was gonna be a bitch to get right over the phone." He sighed. "Thought you were finally happy now. Not being the only "Chosen One" anymore. With all the other Slayers around, you could live the kind of life you always wanted to."
"So that means I wouldn't want to hear from you? To see you? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, Spike."
"Yeah? Well, I can be a stupid git sometimes."
"Yeah, you really can."
"At least that's one thing we can agree on. Can we table the rest of this exploration into my stupidity for another time? I really have something important to tell you, Buffy."
"All right. But we are going to have this out, Spike. And face- to-face, too." Her voice softened once again, "I'm so glad you're back, Spike. But knowing you, you probably won't believe how much I've missed you."
"That right, pet? Missed me? Thanks. Helps to know that. But it isn't going to make this next part any easier for me to tell you, and it's going to be very hard for you to hear. Maybe you better sit down." Another third of the beer found its way down Spike's throat.
"That's the second time today someone's warned me to sit down. If it's anywhere near as earth-shattering as what Andrew told me, I'll take that advice." Buffy sat down and steeled herself for bad news.
"You know I've been working with Angel, right?"
"Yes. Andrew explained all that, though I never thought the two of you would ever be able to work together."
"Could hardly believe it myself, pet. Not that it was easy, mind you, but Angel and me---we sort of talked things out and found a way to get along once I got my body back. I know Rupert and you assumed the worst, but Angel really was trying to use Wolfram & Hart's resources against them. Gotta respect a guy who takes the bull by the horns, yeah? I'll explain in more detail later, but for now, believe me when I say that we were doing the best that we could, under the circumstances."
"As incredibly difficult as it is for me to picture you and Angel getting along, I'll take your word for it. So what happened?"
"Angel and the rest of us---we all agreed to take on the whole sodding lot of them. Split off on individual assignments, all at the same time, to take out each member of The Circle of the Black Thorn. They were the demons in charge of handling all of the really dirty business for Wolfram & Hart. By the way, the Wolfram & Hart building's toast. Big pile of rubble. So anyway, afterwards, we were all to meet up together in the alley outside the Hyperion Hotel---you remember that hotel Angel's team used to have as their headquarters?"
"Yeah. I remember. What happened, Spike? You're starting to scare me. Are you hurt?"
"No, no. I'm fine. Did you meet all of Angel's team in L.A.?"
"Well, I knew Cordy and Wesley from Sunnydale, of course. Didn't know the rest of them much at all. Who's hurt, Spike? Is---is somebody dead?"
"Yeah, love. I'm sorry. Cordy died a couple months ago. She'd been in a coma for some time."
"Oh, my God."
"That's not all, pet. Wes also died. Never made it to the alley after his assignment, though the bugger that killed him died, too. The rest of us were a bit battered, 'specially Gunn. That's Charlie Gunn, the tall homeboy? Anyway, we were all hurting, but still ready for the fight, yeah?"
"Tell me, Spike."
"They sent a demon horde at us. All kinds of nasties---even a dragon. You should've seen Angel, Buffy." Spike's voice was full of admiration and respect. "You would've been proud of him, hacking his way through the ones on the ground so's he could have a go at the dragon. It was a hell of a fight."
"He's dead, isn't he?" Buffy asked in a whisper that could barely be heard.
"Yeah, love. I didn't want to tell you, but I knew you'd need to know. I'm the only one left. Don't rightly know how I didn't end up dust, too. Came to just as the sun was rising this morning in that alley. Buffy, are you all right? Maybe you better ask Dawn to...Are you still there?"
"I'm here, Spike." Tears worked there way out of both of Buffy's eyes and began to fall on cheeks that still showed the traces of the happier ones previously shed that day. Her face reflected the pain and loss of another loved one being taken from her. Another one lost while fighting the good fight that never ends.
"I'm sorry I had to tell you all this, Buffy. Are you going to be all right?"
Buffy lifted her chin, straightened her shoulders and moved into battle mode; the pain and sorrow would have to wait. "What about you, Spike? They must still be after you. Can you get to us so that we can help protect you? We can put up another front right here in Rome."
"Things are a bit dodgy right now, Buffy. They've already had me followed once tonight. I drove out of L.A., but they still managed to find me. I don't think I should come there. I'll lead them a merry chase around this bloody country for a while. Don't worry. Won't let them get me. In the meantime, you get hold of Rupert and tell him what happened. Don't forget. It was The Circle of the Black Thorn. He should be able to dig them out of one of his books."
"Spike." She took a deep breath. "I think we should work together on this."
"No," Spike countered firmly. "Buffy, the first thing you've gotta do after calling the Watcher is get you, Niblet and the boy out of Rome. There's a branch of Wolfram & Hart there, and they know me and Angel. They also know we were trying to find you while we were in Rome. Might come after you. And please, take me seriously when I tell you this, do not trust The Immortal to help you out. There are things about that prat that you don't know."
"No, Buffy. You've gotta trust me on this. I promise I'll explain more later. Get yourselves somewhere safe. Maybe go visit Red or the whelp instead of Rupert, 'cause I'm sure there must be a Wolfram & Hart branch in London, too. Get safe, and I'll contact you again as soon as I can. We'll meet up somewhere later for that long, face-to-face talk you want, and you can give it to me good, then. Ask me anything you want then---but not now."
"But how will you find us?" Buffy asked as Andrew walked toward her on his way to the bathroom.
"Got Andrew's business card with his cell phone number. I'll call. I promise."
"No, wait, Spike." Buffy grabbed Andrew's arm and looked into his face for some support as she continued. "The Rome branch of Wolfram & Hart may know about us, but they probably don't know every one of our Slayers. We'll send you one of our Slayer/Watcher teams who've been working in one of the more remote areas of the world. I won't let you talk me out of this, Spike. You need some back-up."
In a moment of inspiration, Andrew mouthed 'Africa' to her. Buffy smiled as she realized Andrew meant Xander and his Slayer. Although reuniting Spike and Xander would instigate some initial grumbling and groaning, at least they knew each other well enough to realize they could depend on each other in a tough situation. Any other Watcher/Slayer team might find it difficult to work with a vampire, despite Spike's newfound credibility as a result of his sacrifice in Sunnydale. Besides, teaming up Spike and Xander was just too funny; they had to do it. She wished she could see Spike's face when he first caught sight of Xander.
"Andrew just suggested a great team, Spike. We'll send them right away. They'll meet you...Where can they meet you?"
Andrew excitedly piped up, "Gilroy! Tell Spike that mission we went to outside of Gilroy. It's totally out of the way. It's perfect."
"Andrew says to tell you to meet our team at the mission near Gilroy. You remember where that is?"
"Yeah, but I work better on my own, Buffy."
"You want me to come over there and hunt down your ass? 'Cause you're getting some back-up whether you want it or not."
Andrew pointed to the bathroom with a somewhat urgent look on his face, and Buffy nodded as she shooed him away with one hand.
"Arrgh. All right, Buffy. I'll meet your team in Gilroy. But if they aren't there within three days, I'm taking off. Don't think it's safe for me to stay put anywhere for long."
"I'll make sure they get to Gilroy as soon as possible. Unless you're in dire trouble, you 'stay put' till they get there. I'm not losing you again, Spike."
Spike savored her last words for a moment, then realized something. "Buffy? How will I recognize them, and how will they know me?"
"Oh, I think I can describe you fairly well, Spike. Still blond and blue-eyed? Still dressed all in black and wearing that same black leather duster?"
Spike smirked as he confirmed, "Still blond and blue-eyed, love. And still dressing all in black, though I need some new clothes. These are several steps beyond the grunge look. But I no longer have the duster. Thinking about getting a short leather jacket and giving the world the chance to ogle my bum."
"Better protect that bum, yourself, so our Slayer doesn't have to. She's a bit young for bum ogling, Spike, but she's a good fighter and knows her job backward and forward. She's a much better student than I ever was."
"Great," Spike groaned. "A young, highly-motivated Slayer, and I'll bet the Watcher'll be an upper-crusty nancy-boy. Can't wait to meet the both of them; we're sure to be the best of mates."
"Like I said, Spike, she knows her stuff, which brings up another reason that our team'll recognize you. Bet you'll be the only vampire at that mission, even if the place is up and running again. I think our Slayer can certainly find the vampire in either an empty mission or a mission full of monks."
"So you're not going to describe them to me or tell me their names?"
"Let's make a game of it, Spike. See if you can spot them before they spot you. And then treat our team right, okay? Promise me you'll give them some respect, Spike. They're well-trained, and they deserve your respect."
"All right, Buffy. I'll be a good vampire and play nice with your people."
"I'm going to hold you to that promise. Bye, Spike. Take care of yourself and call me often so we can keep tabs on this situation. See you soon."
"Can't promise you soon, pet, but I do look forward to seeing you. And the Bit. Bye, Buffy." Spike waited for Buffy to hang up, then hung up as well.
After hanging up the phone, Spike stood there for a moment, savoring the refreshed memory of the sound of her voice. Just hearing it again reminded him how desperately he missed her, how badly he wanted to see her. Realizing he was still holding a bottle of beer, he tipped it and swallowed the last of it. With a sigh, he left the phone booth and walked back to the Viper.
Well, that wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be, and she's right---I should have called sooner.
He wasn't really sure how his words had gone over, and he knew there were still plenty of issues between them, most of which he couldn't address over the phone.
Too much troubled water under that bridge, he figured. Reckon I'll cross it when I get to it.
As he got back into the car, he glanced at the clock on the dash. It read 2:30 AM. He was to meet his new team at the mission outside of Gilroy about two days from now, but Gilroy was a good three-hour drive from Santa Maria. With only about four hours left until sun-up, he decided to get the Viper to the chop shop and then find some place to crash until the next evening. He drove past the highway on-ramp, looking for Las Verde Road and Benny Freeman's warehouse.
Spike had to marvel at how efficient Freeman's little business was. Benny's guys had been more than happy to accommodate his request to revamp the Viper. With a little persuasion from his game face and lots of cold, hard cash, they assured him they would be both rapid and discreet. He would have the Viper back before daybreak---bug free, new paint and tags, satisfaction guaranteed.
Not only were they able to help him out with his car problems, but one of Benny's more 'connected' employees was able to score Spike a clean change of clothes, a leather bomber jacket and even several containers of blood. Spike didn't care where they got the stuff; just as long as the blood wasn't human, he was cool with the deal. He ended up paying a little more for the 'extras', but decided it was well worth it.
The Viper was de-bugged and now sported a deep sapphire metallic blue paint job and Colorado tags. Spike had clothes that didn't reek of demon gore and an ample supply of blood to tide him over for a few days.
A little less than three hours after arriving at Benny's, physically and emotionally exhausted, Spike headed inland on Highway 101, following the signs to a 24-hour Travel Lodge about ten miles up the road.
He pulled into the parking lot and walked into the empty lobby, literally waking up the night clerk at the front desk. He paid cash for a room, and as he left, the clerk didn't give him a second glance.
The first rosy hues of sunrise appeared in the eastern sky as Spike parked the Viper in the lot behind the motel. Finding his room, he went inside, locked the door and pulled the blinds tightly closed.
Back at the chop shop, he had downed the first two containers of blood, but he was still famished. Spike made quick work of another one, savoring the coppery flavor, hoping it would sate his hunger. He stashed the remaining blood in a bucket of ice to keep it fresh. He'd polish it off later, but right now he needed rest. Peeling off his torn and soiled clothing, he headed for the shower to wash off the grime and dried blood.
Ten minutes later, he emerged from a warm shower, relaxed and desperate for sleep. Lying back on the bed, Spike closed his eyes and tried to push the events of the past thirty-six hours as far from his mind as possible. But try as he might, sleep would not come. Instead, he lay there, staring at the ceiling, his mind drifting back to thoughts of Buffy, their relationship and that difficult conversation.
At least she seemed happy that he was back. Hell, he was damn lucky she talked to him at all. Whether she ever does again--- that's another thing all together.
He winced, remembering how strained her words seemed, her voice filled with pain, followed by those agonizing moments of silence. God, he hadn't wanted to hurt her this way. Breaking the news to her about his return to the world was hard enough, but telling her of Angel's departure from it was even worse. In a way, he was glad he'd done it by phone rather than face-to-face, because in truth, he couldn't have borne the sorrow in her eyes. Even if, by some miracle, there had been any joy in them at all at seeing him.
He expected anything involving Angel would somehow end up with him taking center stage, just like it always had. Funny, though, this time it wasn't really jealousy he felt, only a hollow sense of loss for a man he had too often considered a rival and too seldom considered a friend.
But what did it matter now? Everything had changed, and there was no going back---ever.
Spike had chosen to put his life on this course nearly two years ago when, driven by shame and desperation, he had set out on a quest to win back his soul. He knew the price could be high, knew he might not survive the trials, but the hope of making himself worthy of Buffy's love drove him on with incredible strength and courage.
Ironically, the same soul he won to be a better man for her opened up his tortured mind to thoughts of self-loathing and doubt, leaving his sanity in serious jeopardy. Taking advantage of Spike's weakness, The First then tried repeatedly to use him as a weapon against the woman he loved.
When Buffy had found him stark, raving mad in the basement of the new high school, he had never expected her to even speak to him again, much less take him back into her life.
But through all the bouts of insanity, the hallucinations and manipulations by The First, Buffy didn't give up on him. She knew in her heart that he could be a better man. She believed in him. Spike felt tears welling up in his eyes as he remembered her words.
"I saw you change. I saw your penance. You can be a good man, Spike. You are. You may not see it, but I do. I do. I believe in you, Spike."
And believe in him, she had. Rescuing him from The First, she'd brought him back into her home, defended him against family and friends, and then despite the chance that The First might still be able to influence him, she removed the chip the Initiative had implanted in his head to render him harmless to humans. She was bloody amazing! As a result of her act of trust, and with the help of his soul rather than military circuitry, Spike was now in total control of his destiny.
He finally had free will.
Slowly, he began to consider, even dared to hope that Buffy truly did care for him. He knew it wasn't the kind of love he felt for her, and he no longer expected it ever would be. After years where they caused each other nothing but pain and sorrow, her quiet confidence in him was now, somehow, more than enough. In those last days that they shared together, they opened themselves up and became closer than he had ever dreamed possible, supporting, forgiving, and learning to trust one another again.
Simple acts of holding her, watching her sleep, and giving her comfort and courage meant the world to him. They were still the best days of his life.
But then Angel had returned, to bring Buffy the amulet and offer to stay and fight by her side against The First. Spike had seen them kiss, and all his fragile hopes and dreams had come crashing down along with the pieces of his broken heart.
That kiss had confirmed his deepest fears. He realized Buffy still loved Angel and always would. But, despite his pain, Spike was determined to see the fight with The First through to the end. He would never desert Buffy when she needed him.
When she'd returned later that evening and handed him the amulet, explaining that she had sent Angel home and had instead chosen him as her champion, Spike was overwhelmed. Surprised by her actions, yet filled with pride, he tried to maintain a cool indifference. But when she made it clear she wanted to spend the night with him, his resistance crumbled. He welcomed her back into his bed and into his arms. Even though he feared that her attentions were little more than pity for him and comfort for herself, he was content to give her anything she needed from him.
At the end, as he stood dying in the Hellmouth, letting the amulet's power work through him, she had finally said those three little words he had so desperately wanted to hear. His heart had soared. He wanted to believe her, but he couldn't help thinking they were just kind words for a dying man. So he denied her love for him.
By that time, though, he realized that the love he felt for her was its own reward. All he wanted was her happiness.
In their final, fiery handclasp, he saw it all so clearly. He died to give her life. He died to give himself a chance for redemption. He chose to do the right thing, and his sacrifice set them both free.
A perfect hero's death. That's what it would have been, if he'd only stayed dead. But, no, he even bollocksed that up.
Though he often blamed himself, Spike knew his miraculous return to life was not his own doing. If Eve had told him the truth, he had the Senior Partners to thank for that. Their ultimate purpose was still a bit of a mystery to him. One thing was certain, though; Spike wasn't going to play their game or allow himself to be their pawn.
He could blame them for the loss of his friends, but not for his situation with Buffy. He'd pretty much created that debacle for himself. Oh, sure, he had excuses. First, he'd come back as a ghost. Then after he became corporeal again, there was the whole issue of the Shanshu and the competition with Angel to resolve. That little matter of him getting his hands chopped off, and then Fred's demise and Illyria's emergence had all been a bit traumatic, too. They were all reasonable explanations for why he couldn't go to her, but none of them could justify why he didn't at least call.
It had all come back to FEAR---the simple fact that he was too scared to find out the truth about her feelings for him.
In all fairness, when Angel's spies told them Buffy was dating The Immortal, he and Angel did go to Rome to find her. Then that odd twit Andrew had told them both to move on, because she already had. Of course, he also said that Buffy loved them both, but what the bloody hell did that mean? That she loved Angel as a lover and him as her devoted pet puppy?
Frustrated that they couldn't catch up to her, and running out of time to complete their business mission, he and Angel had simply returned home without even talking to her.
Back in L.A., Angel revealed his plans to bring down the Circle of the Black Thorn. With that inevitable showdown looming, Spike didn't think he'd survive anyway, so once again he did nothing.
Then fate threw him another curveball. He actually survived, and now circumstances had forced his hand. So he'd finally made that first contact with Buffy. All he could do now was see what the future held for them.
Frustrated by his own insecurities, he cursed himself, Damn it. Get a grip on yourself, man. No more excuses. No more avoiding the issues. You made the first step; you've got no choice but to see this thing through. Now, stop talking to yourself like a stupid git and get some sleep!
Xander was tossing and turning in his bed, deep in sleep but also deep in the throes of a nightmare. Xander often had nightmares but was occasionally blessed with dreams. Most of his dreams involved pleasant memories of Anya and how wonderful their life might have turned out if he hadn't been too afraid to marry her, but some of those lovely dreams eventually turned into nightmares of guilt about his mistreatment of her and especially about guilt over her death. She would never have fought in that last Sunnydale battle if she hadn't loved him and become so close to his friends.
Guilt and regret concerning that final battle also included the specter in his current nightmare---Spike. How could Xander have been so wrong about the guy for so many years? Spike had definitely changed 'big time'---from the villain they had first met to the comrade in arms and ultimate savior he had become by the end. Why couldn't Xander have accepted him for the good guy he had become instead of the 'evil thing' Xander had been unable to see past? His current nightmare was cruelly tormenting Xander's mixed feelings about Spike, causing him to call out in his sleep.
"No, Spike, no! Please don't take my other eye---I need it. It doesn't belong to you just 'cause you saved it from Caleb." After a moment, Xander mumbled something more, "But...but it's not my fault that you burned up. I would've saved you if I could've. Honest."
The phone, which was placed conveniently on the night stand next to the bed, rang and woke him with a start. Xander looked at the clock which read 2:20 PM; he rolled his eyes and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" Xander said in a slightly muffled voice.
"Hey, Xander, it's Buffy. I'm on the phone with Andrew and Giles."
"I'm here, too, Xander," chirped Dawn. "Since they probably won't let me say anything else, I wanted to, at least, say 'Hi'. So, ciao, Xander!"
"Whoa! Conference call, eh? Sounds like something major is going down. Hello, everyone. So, what's the what?" asked Xander.
"Your voice sounds tired, Xander," observed Andrew. "Are you ill?"
"Actually, you guys caught me napping. Mena and I were out patrolling late last night. She has all that ridiculous energy most 15-year-olds seem to have, although I don't actually recall ever having that kind of neverending abundance of vim and vigor myself. Did any of us? Well, Buffy did, I suppose, what with the Slayerness and all. Anyway, I thought I'd get in a short nap while she's studying with her tutor---especially since we're planning another 'dead men walking' patrol tonight."
"Yeah, 'cause you're such an old man, Xander," teased Buffy. "That's what we call you around here, by the way, 'Old man Xan-man'."
"Sorry for waking you, Xander, but it is imperative that we discuss these matters with you expeditiously," Giles said, effectively curtailing Buffy's teasing and sounding, if possible, more British than usual.
"Matters? And expeditiously? I'm not liking the sound of that. What matters? What happened?"
Xander could hear Buffy take a long, deep, nervous breath. It sounded like she needed to gird herself to address the subject of the conference call.
"Angel is dead and Spike is alive," Andrew jumped in quickly, breaking the silence.
"Andrew! We talked about this. I told you not to tell him; I wanted to do it," Buffy said in an exasperated tone. Andrew and Buffy continued to argue for a bit; Xander, however, had tuned them out.
Did Andrew really say what I think he said? he thought to himself. That's just nuts! How could that be?
"Xander, are you still there?" Giles asked, speaking over Buffy and Andrew's quarreling, which brought it to a fortuitous halt.
"Yes, but...okay, I guess I'm not really understanding this much. I may even still be dreaming."
"You're not dreaming. Do you remember earlier in the year when I told you that Angel was the CEO of that evil law firm?" asked Buffy.
Xander did remember; in fact, he had told Buffy that perhaps Angelus was back, although she didn't seem to think so.
"Yeah, wasn't their name Wolverine and Hart?" Xander responded.
"I believe the name is Wolfram and Hart," Giles corrected.
"Well, apparently, they ended up not cooperating with the law firm after all," continued Buffy. "They tried to thwart the company from the inside. I guess Angel and his people were taking down the Senior Partners, who are some kind of otherworldly beings, by killing off their underlings here on earth. Then they retaliated by sending a demon army to destroy Angel's team, and---and they dusted Angel," Buffy ended her explanation softly.
Xander could tell that she had started to cry, but she managed to muster on. "It wasn't even just Angel, Xander. Wesley died in battle, too. I was always so mean to him, and I never really got to make it up to him ---even though he tried so hard to win me over. I feel so bad about that."
Xander did not know what to say. The truth was he did not really like either Angel or Wesley, but still, they were both 'good guys', fighting the good fight and all. At least, for most of the time that he had known Angel, he was one of the good guys. Angelus was another story altogether.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. I know this must be really hard on you." Xander did not know if now was the best time to change the subject, but he was very curious about the whole Spike part of the story. "What is this about Spike? I mean, we all know what happened in Sunnydale, and there was no way he made it out of that humungous collapse-arama alive."
Buffy took another deep breath and then began to talk. This time she seemed a bit less tearful.
"No, you're right. He didn't make it out. The amulet that Spike used to close the Hellmouth was magically returned to Angel, somehow mystically tied to the Wolfram & Hart building. For some reason that we're not clear on, the Senior Partners used the amulet to bring Spike back. He's been working with Angel and the rest of them for the past year. He even came to Rome once, but he never came to me."
"Well, he did come looking for you, Buffy, but you weren't home that night. He would've talked with you if you'd been here," added Andrew.
"But he could've waited for me to come home," countered Buffy. "He could've cared enough to stick around till..."
And another argument began between Buffy and Andrew, this time with Dawn joining in, which gave Xander a brief moment to consider what he'd just heard.
Xander couldn't help but be relieved that Spike had not stuck around long enough to contact Buffy. After all, even though Spike was good now, it still wasn't that great of an idea for Buffy to be in a relationship with a vampire.
"Listen, Buffy, I know you cared about Spike very much. You probably still do," Xander began. However, Buffy didn't let him finish before interrupting him.
"You're right, Xander, I do still care about Spike. Deeply. Dawn and Andrew seem to think they know exactly how we feel about each other, but they don't quite understand that Spike and I both have some issues to resolve. I'll bet Giles has already started worrying about me, despite his acceptance over this past year that Spike was...is a better man than either of you ever gave him credit for. So even if you think you need to keep warning me about him, Xander---don't. Just don't."
"A whole year has gone by, Xander. I have no idea what my relationship with Spike will be like once we meet again, but I would at least like the chance to see him and find out. And that's what's at stake right now. He's in serious danger. Those Senior Partners---they've got someone following him. I don't want to lose Spike again, Xander. We need to do whatever we can to help keep him safe."
Xander did not like where this was headed. He was sure that soon Buffy would be telling him that she was going to Los Angeles to be with Spike---which was definitely not of the good for her emotional well-being. However, that did not explain why they needed to have a conference call with him.
"So you're going to fly to L.A. to be with your beloved vampire? Great, Buffy. That's just what you need. I hope you have a happy life full of midnight picnics and trips to the butcher. If you want my opinion, well, you already know it, and I promised to stay out of your love life. So if you want to go, I'm not going to tell you not to. It's your life, Buffy. I've learned that I should stop meddling."
"That's right, so please work harder on keeping those thoughts to yourself, okay? The thing is, Xander, as much as I want to go to L.A., I can't. Spike doesn't want me there. He wants to figure things out for himself, but he still needs someone to watch his back. I need that someone to be someone I trust. And it would be very helpful if there was a representative from the Council with him. Most Watchers would find it very difficult to work with and protect a vampire. Even a vampire as worthy as Spike. That's why I want you to go."
Xander almost dropped the phone as he heard Buffy's words.
"Me? Why me? Why don't you send Andrew? At least, he likes the guy," Xander countered, trying hard not to shout.
"No, I need it to be someone I trust."
"Hey, I'm trustworthy! I kept Spike's secret, didn't I? And I finished my Watcher Training Program, too," whined Andrew.
"You're on my black-list at the moment, Andrew, and you know it. So stop begging," Buffy retorted. "Anyway, your Slayer hasn't progessed as far in her training as Mena has. Giles and I are considering dropping her from the program if she doesn't shape up soon."
"Actually, Andrew, I think it best that Anna Maria return to London for some serious discussion about her intentions," added Giles. "You and I can discuss this at more length later. Please let his matter drop for the moment. I agree with Buffy that Xander and Mena are the team to send to California."
Now it was Xander's turn to take the long, deep breaths.
"Buffy...Giles...I...fine." Xander expelled a long sigh. "But I'm only doing this for you, and I'll agree to it only on a temporary basis. I can't handle any long term assignment with Spike. You guys should understand how difficult this will be for me. And probably for Spike, too. You know we can't play nice together for more than an hour at a time."
"Surely the animosity between you and Spike has diminished, Xander," Giles interjected. "I'm certain that the ordeal Spike suffered and the work he's accomplished with Angel this past year will have greatly altered him. And I know that you have matured and become more centered, using the meditation techniques you learned during your Watcher Training. You're still using them, are you not?"
Xander sighed. "Yes, but deep breathing goes only so far, you know. And some things never change."
Another big sigh emanated from Xander. "Well, I imagine Mena will appreciate a trip back to the States. She's always going on and on about how much she misses 'American culture'. She really enjoyed going to school in Connecticut. Of course, while she was there, she missed Kenya. You know what teenagers are like."
"Watch it. You're sounding like 'Old Man Xan-Man' again," Buffy teased. "Thanks, Xander, I love you. Now, I think Giles has some more information for you about your assignment."
"Hey, Buff, before you go, I need to know something. It's about Cordy. Did she...?"
Buffy took another deep breath. "I should have told you. She's dead, too, Xander. I'm so sorry. It's just not right that so many of the people we love have died---and all in such a few short years. I know how much you still care about Cordy."
Xander closed his eyes. "Cordelia...God." Several images of the beautiful young woman flashed through his mind. Why is it that all the girls I date end up dead? Must be the curse of Xander, he thought to himself.
"Bye, Buffy. I'll talk to you later."
"Bye, Xander, and thanks again."
Giles then began to give Xander the information he'd need for his first assignment with Spike. Much to Xander's dismay, there were a couple more assignments to follow the first.
Later that evening, Spike awoke eager to get on the road to Gilroy. Though the clock radio on the bedside table showed the time as 6:30 PM, the day was cloudy, and he decided to take advantage of that fact by getting an early start. Thanks to a little help from Benny's guys, he didn't need to get new clothes or find a butcher shop for a while. Perhaps he'd do more shopping in Gilroy.
He dressed, donned the new leather jacket, grabbed the ice bucket with the remaining containers of blood in it and headed out to the newly painted, sparkling, sapphire blue Viper. Yeah, that color choice was dead brilliant. Matches my eyes, he thought. By 7:00 PM he was back on course heading for Gilroy.
He had to admit that meeting the Council's team at the old mission was actually a good idea. Both the mission and the winery were well secluded and off the main roads. If he couldn't take shelter in the mission, itself, the dense woods surrounding the property would offer ample cover for him to hide the Viper and wait for the contact team to arrive.
Spike was getting a bit anxious, though, about this proposed working arrangement with a Watcher/Slayer team. What would a couple of rank amateurs, regardless of how well trained they might be, have to offer a guy with over 120 years of fighting skills? He appreciated Buffy's concern for his safety, but she knew full well that he was more than capable of taking care of himself.
Still, it did his heart good to think that maybe she really did care about him. Sending a special team to cover his bum. On the other hand, maybe she just wanted them to keep him safe until she could dust him herself.
Actually, he had considered just forgetting the whole deal and taking off for destination unknown until he could sort things out and come up with his own plan for getting out of this mess. But if he did, he knew she'd be hell bent on tracking him down on her own. He was already on shaky ground with the not-phoning-to-say-he-was-alive-again bit, so he figured maybe he'd better play nice and opt for earning some Brownie points with Buffy instead.
The last thing he wanted was to end up being 'babysat' by some rookie from the Council of Wankers and his overzealous, stake-happy new Slayer wannabe. One cross word or a sideways glance from Spike in the heat of battle, and Slay-girl might forget he was one of the good guys. Then all that was left of him would fit into an ashtray.
Rest assured, though, that her Watcher would submit a thorough report on the incident. Giles would have trained him well in that respect.
Giles! Spike smirked as he thought of Sunnydale's former Watcher. Now there was a pompous bastard he didn't look forward to seeing again. Truth be told, he'd wager old Rupert would probably share this sentiment exactly.
God forbid, if he ever did entertain the notion of working with the Council. He could just see Giles now in the Council boardroom going over his resume with the rest of the staff.Work Resume:
William the Bloody aka Spike
Even if Spike's accomplishments were met with a standing ovation, Giles would whip out his BIG RED REJECT STAMP and pound his resume into oblivion. It didn't matter a whit how hard he'd fought for his soul. Never mind how many apocalypses he'd helped avert or how many good deeds he'd done. Spike would never measure up to Giles' qualifications of a 'good man'.
"Bugger him, then!" Spike growled. "It's his loss!"
He really didn't want to work with that bunch of stuffed shirts anyway. He preferred to work solo or one-on-one with Buffy again, but he wasn't quite sure if that prospect even remained an option.
He had to admit, though, that Percy---er, Wes, had been a different sort of Watcher. Well, Watcher cast-off, technically. They had gotten along right well, especially in the end, but then Spike had actually felt like he was part of Angel's team. With the Scoobies, he had never really felt at home, even when he fought alongside them.
Still, it couldn't hurt to tap the COW for whatever help they could offer him since he did need weapons, resources and information--- all luxuries the Council had access to.
So he reckoned he'd be a model vampire. A real team player. One of those motivated go-getters Hamilton had wanted them all to be. He'd join in, help where he could, and get what he needed. Soon as he was sure that Buffy was safe, and the time was right, he'd strike out on his own.
After all, this was really his fight. Didn't want someone else fighting it for him or paying the price. He'd managed on his own for years now, and he didn't see that changing anytime soon.
Spike was so busy thinking about the Watchers' Council that he nearly missed the turnoff to Gilroy. The Viper's headlights reflected off a road sign ahead for Monterey Road. Slowing the car, he took the exit ramp off 101, then turned left towards the outskirts of town. The Gilroy Mission was only a few miles further now, so he kept his eyes peeled for Mission Vineyard Road. Minutes later, he found himself on a winding, tree-lined lane that served as the driveway to the mission and its winery.
The last time Spike had been there, the place had been virtually deserted, the grounds left in total neglect. It was obvious to him now, however, that the mission had been reopened for some time. Approaching the gated stone walls, he noticed a new brass plaque bearing the inscription:
"Let all troubled souls seeking refuge find peace within these walls."
Well, he thought, that's a bit more inviting than the last time I was here. Spike could see light coming from the buildings ahead, so he drove through the open gates and up the cobbled driveway, marveling at the meticulously manicured lawns and gardens within.
As he pulled up in front of the massive oak doors to the mission, he noticed a small courtyard with some type of marble monument in the center. Surrounded by fragrant rose bushes, night-blooming jasmine, and flowering cactus, the monument was illuminated by candle light and appeared to be a memorial. Spike walked closer and examined the writing on the stone.
Engraved in the marble were the names of the monks who had died resisting Caleb, the evil Preacher who had been in league with The First. Below the names was a dedication:
"In loving memory of our fallen brethren. Men of Peace, called to serve in the eternal battle of Good versus Evil. They gave their lives for a higher purpose. May their courage and their sacrifice serve as a reminder that any man, despite his station in life, may be called upon to continue the fight."
Spike stood there for a moment, letting the words hit home. Funny, how unexpected circumstances can alter the course of one's life forever. The benevolent brothers were men of God---pacifists, not soldiers. But when they joined the fight against evil by resisting Caleb, and giving their lives, they became 'warriors'. It may not have been the path they originally set out to follow, but in the end it became the path they chose to take.
Spike had never intended on falling in love with The Slayer, but fate had changed all that. He could have continued to enjoy the typical vampire's evil life, but instead, he took the opportunity that fate provided and changed his life. He chose to become a better man and fight the good fight. Now more than ever, he was committed to continuing this fight, even if he had to go it alone.
The sound of the heavy door opening startled him, and he looked up to see one of the monks approaching him cautiously.
"Can I help you, my son?" the monk asked as he drew near.
Spike turned and found himself face-to-face with the monk that Caleb had branded with his mark. He wracked his brain trying to remember the man's name.
"Actually, mate, I was just admiring the monument. I'm Spike and unless my memory fails me, you're Brother Daniel, right?"
The monk looked puzzled for a moment as he studied Spike's face, but then his expression softened, and he smiled.
"Ahhh yes, I remember you---you're the vampire," he added hesitantly, "the one who was asking questions about Caleb. In fact, I recall you and your associate---you know, the boy who couldn't count or spell very well, gave me quite a scare until I realized you were actually fighting for the cause of good."
Spike rolled his eyes remembering Andrew's inept, tough guy, scare tactics, and replied with a smile, "Guess you can't always judge a book by its cover, right? Sorry we roughed you up a bit that night. Thought at first you might be one of Caleb's men."
"Oh, no need to apologize", Brother Daniel assured him. "In truth, I was grateful to you for forcing me to face my fears and find the courage to go on with my life. I was the only survivor, and it was up to me to honor the memory of my brothers. Opening the mission and winery again is my humble dedication to them and to their lives."
"Seems like we have something in common then, mate", Spike replied. "Looks like we're both survivors. Both left standing to carry on the fight as best we can. You lost your brethren resisting Caleb's wrath. I just lost my friends trying to bring down the kingpins of organized evil. We took out as many as we could, but they had plenty of reinforcements."
"Unfortunately, the forces of evil have always been strong and well-fortified," Brother Daniel agreed. "I can see that you're troubled by your recent loss, but perhaps you might also be concerned for your safety? May we offer you refuge here?"
"Just need to keep a low profile until my back-up arrives. They're supposed to meet me here sometime tomorrow. Being as I'm a bit--- uhhh, sunlight challenged, I was hoping I might find sanctuary here, just until they arrive. If it's not too much to ask, all I need is a dark room and a place to sleep. You'll never know I was here."
"It's the very least I can do, my friend," the monk replied. "I would be honored to have you stay with us. You will be safe here."
Spike thanked him for his kindness, and Brother Daniel led him to a small bedroom at the back of the mission next to the library. Spike was a bit uneasy seeking refuge in a house of God, but Daniel told Spike to make himself at home and promised to inform him when his friends arrived.
On the drive to Gilroy, Spike had finished off the remaining blood from the cooler. He was still hungry, but it would have to do. He made himself comfortable in the tiny room and settled down on the bed to rest. An hour later, thanks to a classic book from the library and an excellent bottle of merlot from the mission winery, he drifted off into a deep and blissfully dreamless slumber.
Xander rented a small truck at San Francsico's airport and drove down the stretch of highway toward Gilroy. His Slayer, Mena, was completely engrossed in the Slayer Handbook. It was a book that Mena read and quoted from very often, most of the time in a effort to prove Xander wrong.
"Oh, this is ridiculous. They really need to update this handbook. I think I shall write the Council about it," Mena said as she closed the book with a sigh.
"Well, what do you need? Maybe I can help you," Xander offered.
Mena gave him a strange, calculating look that indicated she was not sure if this was meant to be a joke or not. "I seriously doubt that. Your knowledge of procedure is regrettably miniscule, Xander, albeit shared sometimes with enthusiasm and good will."
Xander snorted before replying, "I don't think I've ever used the word 'albeit' in a sentence, Mena, but I guess I should appreciate that you're finally admitting I'm trying my best to be a good Watcher for you. I never really saw myself as the Watcher type. If Giles wasn't so hard up to re-build the Council, I'd be a foreman on a construction site somewhere right now, which would make me happier than any clam I ever saw, I might add, instead of on my way to work with a vampire I'd hoped never to see again. If you look in the Guinness Book of World Records for most annoying guy on earth, I bet you find a photo, or maybe one of those daguerrotype things of Spike's face."
"Yes, Xander, so you've said many times since we left Nairobi. If you must know, I am trying to find out the proper procedure for working with a vampire. They have no such information in the handbook. It's all 'see vampire, stake vampire'. But what do you do when the vampire is good?"
Xander glanced over into Mena's warm, brown eyes. "Trust me, there are no good vampires. Spike and Angel are totally unique; that's something you need to learn right now. And Spike and Angel are the way they are only because they have souls. Believe me, they were plenty evil when they didn't have them."
Mena looked at him with a very serious expression on her young face. "I understand that. Still, it would be nice if there was a procedure," she said softly.
That made Xander smile. He visualized the first time he had seen his fifteen-year-old Slayer. She had her brown hair pulled up in a top knot; her hair was very curly and thick. Xander could tell the only way for her to manage it would be for it to be pulled back. Her skin was the color of caramel, not nearly as richly dark as most native Kenyans, since her father was Caucasian. She was petite like Buffy, and when she fought, it was often like watching his good friend as the perky teenager she was when he first met her. Sort of 'deja vu all over again', as jokesters like him liked to say.
However, her personality was very different from Buffy's. Mena followed her orders very closely and waited to be told what to do. She made sure that all of her movements were exactly correct and that every demon was dealt with according to procedure. Sometimes, this annoyed Xander, but over the past year, he had come to enjoy it. Occasionally, though, he wished that Mena would lighten up. He decided that expanding Mena's sense of humor and capacity for fun was just another aspect of his job; it was probably the one part of the job he felt most capable of doing.
Xander finally turned onto the long driveway leading to the mission. They pulled up next to the Viper parked outside and Xander chuckled.
"I doubt that car belongs to one of the monks," he surmised. "Well, it looks like good old Spike has moved up in the world."
Xander glared enviously at the Viper as he and Mena got out of their very middle class rental truck.
"Whatever do you mean?" Mena asked, her curious eyes focused on the architecture of the mission.
"Oh, just that he used to drive a really beat-up, old DeSoto; now he drives a shiny, new Viper."
"Do you think that it might be stolen?" the Slayer asked, immediately suspicious that the vampire had such a nice car.
"Nah, it's probably from the evil law firm he used to work for. Spike wouldn't steal now, I don't think..." Xander wasn't sure if even he believed what he'd just said. "Come on, Mena, let's go wake the dead."
Spike wasn't sure what time it was, but he was pulled back to consciousness by a persistent knocking on the door and Brother Daniel telling him his friends from the Council were waiting for him in the cloister.
As he dressed quickly and followed the monk down the hallway, it occurred to him that he had absolutely no way to verify the identity of these people. Buffy had told him the team would recognize him and know where to find him, but the Senior Partners' thugs had been able to do that, too.
That annoying twit Andrew was never around when you actually needed him. Nerd that he was, Andrew would at least have taught him the secret handshake or given him a magic decoder ring to help determine if they were the real deal. Spike snickered as he concluded that Andrew seriously needed to get a life.
He'd just have to rely on his instincts and a bit of faith. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. All concerns for recognition vanished as soon as he stepped into the cloister and heard the first words out of the new Watcher's mouth.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Spike, the Energizer Vampire. He just keeps coming back and coming back. Though I guess if anyone can come back from 'deader' than 'undead', it would have to be you."
Spike stopped in his tracks, the look on his face one of utter surprise and disbelief.
"Bloody hell---Harris!" he blurted out, then looked sheepishly at Brother Daniel, remembering where he was, and whispered, "Oh, sorry, mate!"
The monk just smiled, genuinely amused by the comedic banter between the old friends. Spike turned back to look at Xander and the young girl he assumed was the new Slayer. The girl, in turn, looked from Xander to Spike with a curious blend of impatience yet amusement on her face. Spike launched back into his tirade.
"This is a joke, right? I mean, you're not really a Watch---and she would never---I can't believe that of all people, she would send me you, Harris!"
Xander just stood there, enjoying the fact that Spike was so noticeably scrambling for words, his smug smile confirming Spike's worst suspicions.
"Oh, God", Spike sighed in exasperation. "If this is true, Buffy must be a lot more brassed off than I thought."
Mena had been studying both men intently but at this point, she turned her attention back to Xander.
"So this is Spike?" she asked, a little surprised at how non-threatening the vampire appeared to be. Not at all like any vampire she'd seen in either London or Nairobi.
"Yep, the one and only. At least, I think he's the only vampire who calls himself Spike. One thing's for sure," Xander continued, laughing, "he's the only vamp I've ever seen that looks like Billy Idol. If there were others, they were smart enough to drop that look before the end of the 80's."
Xander thought his reference to the outdated rock star was very funny. Mena, however, gave him a look that unmistakably showed she neither understood nor shared her Watcher's sense of humor. Spike, naturally, was also unimpressed.
"Notice you've got a new look, Harris," Spike retorted. "Did you let Willow 'mojo' you a new eye because the ladies weren't attracted to your eye patch? Even after Johnny Depp made pirates popular again, you still couldn't make it work for you?"
"No 'mojoing' for me! My new eye is compliments of my Watcher medical insurance, thank you very much. Actually, it's state of the art. I think I might even see better now than I did before. It's definitely good to have my left-sided peripheral vision back. If you're expecting me to thank you again for saving my other eye, I think my previous expression of gratitude ought to be enough. It's not like I never helped save your behind."
"Wasn't asking for thanks and didn't say you never gave me an occasional hand. The eye actually looks pretty good. But if we were to total up the butt-saving, I think my column would be a damn sight longer than yours."
"Excuse me," Mena interrupted their bickering. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Spike," she said as she offered her hand. "My name is Mena Ridgeway. Xander has told me quite a bit about you."
"Oh, I'm sure he has," Spike snorted as he shook her hand. "No doubt, he sang my praises to the rafters. Gave you a right glowing account of my heroism and charming personality. Right, Harris?"
Xander smirked and winked at Mena as he moved closer to Spike, trying to appear forceful and authoritative.
"I made sure to tell her the bad along with the good, just for old times' sake. Since it's obvious we're both totally thrilled to see each other again, we might as well just move it along and get down to specifics right away."
Xander headed toward a table and chairs, evidently thinking they'd sit down so that he could outline his game plan.
Spike followed for just a few steps until he could reach Xander's arm and then spun him around. "What specifics?" Spike asked.
"Oh, Buffy didn't tell you? I'm your new Watcher. At least for now. I made it very clear to both Buffy and Giles that this would be only a temporary arrangement. I don't intend on staying long," he said.
"You're my Watcher? Not bloody likely!" Spike rolled his eyes in disbelief as he internalized everything that Xander had just said. "Well, clearly, Buffy has lost her bloody marbles if she thinks this arrangement is going to work. Only sensible thing you've said is that you don't intend on staying long, and neither do I, for that matter. I'll do much better on my own than with your dubious assistance, so maybe we should just call Buffy and let her know I'm fine. Then you can go about your bleeding Watcher business somewhere else".
"As much as that would have me whistling a happy tune and even dancing a Michael Flatley jig, I can't do that," Xander countered. "We've got orders to back you up whether you like it or not."
"Aren't you a bit out of your element to be playing back-up for me?" Spike taunted. "Never were much of a warrior; more of a carpenter, if I remember---"
"Magombe," Mena muttered her favorite Swahili word for idiots as she stomped over to Spike and Xander. She positioned herself between the bickering men, hands on her hips, glaring up at them.
"Would you just listen to yourselves?" she exclaimed. "You're both acting like five-year-olds and in front of a holy man, too. You should be ashamed."
Brother Daniel, who had been watching patiently from across the room, smiled knowingly. 'Out of the mouths of babes', he thought to himself.
Mena continued to reprimand Spike and Xander, both of whom simply stood there, astonished that this petite teenager could so easily command their rapt attention. There must be something in the Slayer gene that can turn grown men into gobsmacked minions.
"Spike, obviously Buffy and the Council considered you important enough to send a Council team for your protection and back-up. They also must have considered us to be quite capable and the best team to send for this job. Personally, I don't care about any grudges you and Xander may be harboring against each other. Xander and I are a team, and we have been given our assignment. You are to become part of our team for however long it takes to get you to safety and complete our mission."
"That's what I was trying to---"
"Xander, I'd appreciate it if you'd allow me to finish. All I want to do is fight evil and do my job. Can you two please put aside your personal issues, whatever they may be, at least for the time being? If we are to succeed, we need to work together as a team. The better we work together, the faster we accomplish our goals, which means the faster you two can part ways. If, however, you refuse to cooperate, I will call Giles and ask for reassignment, leaving the two of you to continue butting heads like mindless goats all on your own, since you both made promises to Buffy whereas I did not. So what's it going to be?"
Spike and Xander made eye contact for a brief moment but then looked quickly away, clearly embarrassed that they'd been admonished by a teenager. Spike began to think that this young Slayer might need a firm hand to guide her. She was just a bit too pushy and judgemental for someone her age---not that she didn't remind him of another Slayer he knew all too well. And her kid sis, too.
"I take it they give speechmaking classes now for all the Slayers," said Spike. "Or did Buffy give you personal lessons?"
"Actually, I met Buffy only once and very briefly. When Xander found me in Nairobi, we went directly to London for training. We stopped off in Rome on our way back home so that Xander could see his old friends, and so that I could meet Buffy, but there was urgent need for us in Nairobi, so we had to leave later that same day. I hope to get to know Buffy sometime soon, though. She must be even more remarkable than I originally thought if she was able to work with the two of you for so long."
"I think she'll like you," Spike acknowledged with amusement, "since you appear to be cut from the same cloth." Spike noticed that the girl seemed pleased by his assessment, and he continued. "Well, Harris, since we both promised Buffy, she's not likely to let us off the hook. Might as well make the best of it that we can. I know that Buffy'd be right brassed off if I refused your help, after you came all this way and everything."
"Guess as long as it's only temporary, I can deal with it," Xander agreed reluctantly. "And even though I knew it'd be beyond difficult, I did swear to Buffy I'd make an effort to get along."
"Yeah, I said I'd try, too. That bloody woman can make both of us do almost anything, can't she? S'pose we've got at least that one thing in common."
"Good," Mena beamed. "That's much better. Now let's get going, because I'm starved."
"Yeah, me too," Xander agreed. "We can fill Spike in on the information Giles gave us over a burger and fries."
As the three of them prepared to leave, Spike thanked Brother Daniel for his kindness and hospitality. The monk smiled and extended his hand to the vampire.
"Remember, Spike," he said softly, "God gives us the opportunity to discover wondrous things about others and about ourselves. Just approach it all with an open mind, and you'll be amazed what you can learn. Take care and stay safe--all of you."
"Thank you," Spike replied. "I hope you and the rest of the Brothers enjoy peace and safety, too. You deserve it."
When they got outside, Xander headed toward the truck and Spike toward the Viper. Mena took a longing look at the flashy sportscar and said, "I'd really like to ride in the Viper, Xander. You don't mind, do you?"
"Hey, it's my Viper," exclaimed Spike, panicking at the thought of being alone with Mena and having to converse with a fifteen year-old girl all the way into town. "Maybe I'm the one who would mind."
That's all it took to stop Xander from telling Mena 'no' and insisting that she should ride with him. If it was going to aggravate Spike, it had to happen.
"Well, I suppose it would be a good opportunity for you two to get to know each other better. I don't mind, Mena."
"But I do. I mind," said Spike.
"Oh, come on, Spike. It's such a fab car. I promise I won't bite," teased Mena.
"If there's any biting to be done, I'd be the biter, now, wouldn't I?" responded Spike. "You, little girl, would be the bite-ee."
"That's what you think!" laughed Xander. "Mena is just as strong as Buffy was at that age, Spike. Trust me, I know. She could take your ass if she wanted to."
"Is that right?" Spike smirked. "Okay, then, pet, prove it," he dared, extending his arms and gesturing a 'come-on' with his hands, inviting Mena to attack. "Take me down, and you can ride in my Viper."
"Excuse me? I don't play stupid little games," Mena said, frowning and folding her arms across her chest. "I take fighting seriously."
"Just think of it as a sparring exercise, Mena," encouraged Xander. "It'll give you a little warm-up after the long flight. You never know what we might come across once we get into Gilroy."
Xander was looking forward to seeing her topple Spike, especially since Spike apparently wasn't expecting her to be a real challenge.
"Come on, now. You're not scared of me. I saved the world. I'm a good vampire," Spike said softly.
"Which is why it's ridiculous for us to fight," argued Mena.
"Not fight---spar. If it'll make it easier for you to get in the mood, I'll put my game face on."
Spike's eyes flashed to yellow which incited an immediate reaction from Mena. She moved into a fighting stance just as Spike growled and lunged toward her.
Mena tripped him, spun away and jumped onto the platform for one of the statues at the monument honoring the Brothers who had been killed by Caleb. Spike followed her up onto the statue platform, and she kicked him back down to ground level. Of course, he was immediately on his feet again, waiting and grinning.
She flipped backwards off the platform, landing on her feet in front of Spike, so into the rhythm of the fight, now, that she didn't even notice he had reverted back to his human face. She also didn't realize that he was holding back, fighting only hard enough to keep her busy.
"You're quite a climber and a kicker, but can you fight with your fists?" teased Spike.
The two began exchanging punches and moving all around the area between the vehicles and the monument. The dance was in full swing. Xander climbed up into the bed of the truck for a better view.
"I think I can handle my own," Mena said before she began a swift volley of punches, ending with a martial arts throw that slammed Spike against the trunk of a large tree. At his groan, she rushed over to him, asking, "Are you okay?"
As soon as she drew near enough, Spike flipped her over and pinned her to the ground, leaning in close to her ear and uncomfortably close to her neck to say, "Never trust an opponent. If he's fighting with you, his intent is more than likely to kill you." He growled against her throat and then got to his feet, laughing. "I've gotta hand it to you, Harris. That's one hell of a fighter you've got there. She could still use a bit more finesse, but she'll do."
With that, Spike clapped a hand on Mena's shoulder, saying, "You just earned yourself a ride in my Viper, Slayer."
End of The Mission Mission or Can Leopards Change Their
Will Xander lose another quasi-kid sister to the coolness of Spike during just one Viper ride? Can Xander and Spike somehow manage to get along for the duration of this "temporary" arrangement? What the bloody hell did Giles tell Xander about their "assignments"? And just what awaits our intrepid heroes in Gilroy, anyway?
To find out, come back on January 25 for
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